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Oasis Begins

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Oasis Begins In Dawn's Azure Light Aisle.

Episode I: Azure and Gold

so blue, 't was a dream,
An impossible, unconceived hue,
The high sky of summer dropped down
Some rapturous ocean to woo.

Azure & Gold by Amy Lowell (1874-1925)
From A Dome of Many Colored Glass.

Part 1: Thoughts of Death In Far Flung Fields.

Qui-Gon Jinn, Jedi Master, was dying, a sad truth known only to members of the Council and Obi-Wan Kenobi, his Padawan learner. The wasting disease which wreaked havoc on his body appeared to have no source, despite vigorous examination by the most revered and learned Jedi Healers, and therefore it rendered a cure impossible. While the Master had become reconciled to his fate, the Padawan was having difficulty even accepting the idea of it.

For Obi-Wan, his master had been the only father he had ever known, those in the temple, his only family. He had been raised there since his potential in the Force was discovered, learning first with every youngling in his generation under Master Yoda, then with Qui-Gon. The two masters were his anchors in a galaxy which rarely flowed smoothly.

Now as he learned that he was to lose one, it was as if he were being cast adrift in space. He had been raised to trust in the Force, to believe that things happened for a reason, yet he could see no reason in a great Jedi slowly dying. Unlike his master, he paid a strict adherence to the Code, but now those tenets of Jedi philosophy provided him with no answers, let alone comfort. Not for the first time he was greeted with his master's perspective and he was unable to find answers or comfort there either.

Focus on the moment, Qui-Gon told him. He was standing before the guard rail on one of the many hanger ports which were attached to the Temple. His gaze was fixed on the constant airborne trafficways of Coruscant City, the capital of the Core, the Republic. Usually, such a scene served to calm him, assisted in focusing his thoughts, like the sunrise and sunsets of the worlds which they visited during their many missions out in the field, but now only the realisation of his whereabouts was as far as he got before his mind told him once more that Qui-Gon was dying.

Until the possible becomes actual it is only a distraction. Another of his master's credos. But Obi-Wan could not ignore the distraction, because his master's death could happen at any moment. The cruel irony of Qui-Gon's disease was while it could not be cured, his body could still rely on the Force to sustain him, via healing trances, which he, or thanks to training provided by the Temple healers, his Padawan, could induce upon the ageing and diseased body. Such trances allowed Qui-Gon and his Padawan to go on missions for the Republic, like the one which they had been given now.

A set of systems allied under the Trade Federation had placed all trade routes to the mid rim system of Naboo under a blockade, in protest of the current taxation on trade routes, which the government had seen fit to impose in order to break a crippling deficit in the Republic's economy. While the Senate was locked in motions of legality, Chancellor Valorum approached the Jedi to send a team to investigate. Qui-Gon volunteered their services. Obi-Wan had not been to the planetary system before, so he spent time in the Temple Archives researching before their departure, whilst Qui-Gon consulted the healers. At the mere thought of the word the Padawan flinched before deliberately turning his thoughts in another direction.

Perhaps his future knighting, although that was a subject fraught with turmoil now too. A Padawan's readiness for the trials which could make him a knight was at the discretion of their Master. If Qui-Gon died before he declared to the Council that Obi-Wan was ready, his training would be incomplete. If he was lucky, he would either be given a new master to train under, or the Council would knight him. But Obi-Wan did not believe in luck. After his group training under Master Yoda, he waited for a master to choose him as their Padawan, in vain as it turned out, leaving him with other less powerful Force users to join the Service Corps. If Qui-Gon had not discovered his potential during the journey to Bandomeer, Obi-Wan would have spent the rest of his life in the Corps. Outsiders would call that luck, but Obi-Wan knew it was all Qui-Gon. His Master had a penchant for acquiring strays. Idly he wondered if they would acquire any during this mission.

-Obi-Wan, are you ready for departure?- a voice lanced through his mind.

-Yes, Master,- he replied in the same manner. Filing his ruminations into his mind and bringing his research concerning the mission into the forefront, Obi-Wan turned from his traffic-gazing to the craft which he would fly to the Chommell Sector, moving to prep the vehicle for departure.

Padmé Amidala stood before a window, dressed as Queen for the last time. Her people had elected her in good faith, believing her to be the best candidate for the throne. And now, as she watched the invading army below progress ever closer towards the Palace, she knew that she had failed them. By continuing to act passively, to believe that negotiation would work, all the while hoping that the Senate would support her, that Chancellor Valorum's Ambassadors would arrive, in short, that some one else would solve what was her crisis. She was not the youngest monarch elected, and she had promised her people that her youth and inexperience would not be an issue. Yet she had relied on both of these factors as an excuse to appeal to the Senate.

Her people were peaceful, like herself, the last thing they wanted was war. But she should have known that a fight was inevitable from the moment the blockade began. She should have done what she could to prepare them for this possibility, for the invading force marching below her now. The guilt weighed upon her, as heavily as the crimson robe which adorned her small form, hiding her youth from the outside world. Elaborate designs to convey her majesty, aswell as protection from those who might wish her harm felt nothing more than costumes now, a symbolism rendered insignificant when the planet was more concerned with invasion. She wanted to shred these robes of office, to show the galaxy that she was mortal like her people, and hurt by the injury which the blockade caused. But the Naboo clung to this symbolism, to the mythology of majesty, while offworlders often found the rich austere clothes and intricate hairstyles imposing in their own right, even before she spoke so much as a word. For her people's comfort, she was obliged to uphold at least the appearance of authority, even though such power was now rendered useless by the invading army marching below.

"Milady?" A voice called out, causing her to turn her head a little, at the arrival of one of her handmaidens; Sabé. Unlike the others, she was dressed in another of the elaborate costumes which belonged to Queen Amidala; a black layered gown with an oval head dress, which was adorned with two gold craved clasp covered orbs, unlit jewels of the same gems that were attached to her crimson dress before the hemline and black feathers. Sabé had painted her face in the same pale white tone which Padmé used to hide her youth. The whole effect was designed to display a monarch in mourning; for the turmoil visited by others on her country. Her handmaiden's arrival was the signal for her to change; into one of the flame coloured dresses worn by her attendants and assume her decoy's role, another layer of protection from the Trade Federation. Ironically, her wish to shred her robes of office was about to be granted.

"I'm ready, Sabé," she replied, stepping back from the window and walking to join the handmaiden who would now act as Queen Amidala at the threshold of the room. Decoys were a part of the security measures which Captain Panaka employed when she became Queen, along with self-defence and basic weapons training. Nearly all her attendants had been selected with their resemblance to her in mind, for precisely this eventuality. At the time such defence seemed unnecessary, but now Padmé realised the value behind it, for such skills she would doubtless need to employ in the near future.

By the time the Viceroy had arrived, Padmé was merely another of the handmaidens who attended the Queen. Initially she was worried that they had seen through her deception, but the Viceroy was too full of the fruits of his victory to look beyond the face paint which hid her faithful double. Silently she followed Sabé and the others out of the Palace through to the outdoor Plaza, under the close escort of the droid soldiers. They reached the wall of the gatehouse, when suddenly there was a humming sound and two men jumped down from a balcony above them. Within seconds four of the droids were down, the rest likewise succumbing until there were none left.

After leading them to a quiet empty alleyway out of sight of the other soldiers, their two rescuers swiftly bowed before them in silent greeting, while the third who had accompanied them picked himself up from his less than graceful jump to the Plaza floor, muttering in a disfigured tongue his judgement about the encounter.

"Your Highness, we are the Ambassadors for the Supreme Chancellor," the older one said, addressing her decoy.

"Your negotiations seem to have failed, Ambassador," Governor Bibble remarked.

"The negotiations never took place," the older one explained. "Your Highness, we must make contact with the Republic."

"They've knocked out all our communications," Panaka informed them.

"Do you have transports?" The elder one inquired.

Panaka nodded. "In the main hanger. This way."

Hurriedly they ran into the Palace, using one of the many secret access ways to the hanger, coming to a breathless halt at the threshold of the chamber. From her position just behind her decoy, Padmé saw the battle droids, the sheer volume causing her to blanch in fear that they could not escape them.

"There are too many of them," Panaka concluded.

"That won't be a problem," the older Ambassador remarked. He turned to the Queen. "Your Highness, under the circumstances, I suggest you come to Coruscant with us."

"Thank you, Ambassador, but my place is here with my people," Sabé replied, as ordered to do so by her Queen only moments ago in the Council chamber, after all global communications were blocked, before the invasion party landed, should such a rescue arise. Padmé now mused over the wisdom of this reply, doubting what good she could do her people if she was arrested by the Viceroy.

"They will kill you if you stay," the Ambassador declared.

Governor Bibble shook his head incredulously. "They wouldn't dare."

Panaka agreed. "They need her to sign a treaty to make this invasion of theirs legal. They can't afford to kill her."

"The situation here is not what it seems," the Ambassador replied. "There is something else behind all this, Your Highness. There is no logic in the Federation's move here. My feelings tell me they will destroy you."

The Governor turned to the Queen. "Please, Your Highness, reconsider. Our only hope is for the Senate to side with us. Senator Palpatine will need your help."

Panaka shook his head. "Getting past their blockade is impossible, Your Highness. Any attempt to escape will be dangerous."

"Your Highness, I will stay here and do what I can," Governor Bibble promised. "They will have to retain the Council of Governors in order to maintain control. But you must leave."

Sabé turned as she replied, catching sight of her handmaidens. "Either choice presents a great risk to all of us."

"We are brave, Your Highness," Padmé said, a carefully worded response designed to convey to her decoy that she agreed with the Ambassador's suggestion.

"If you are to leave, Your Highness, it must be now," the Ambassador added.

"Then, I will plead our case before the Senate," the Queen answered. "Be careful, Governor," she added, before following them into the hanger.

"We need to free those pilots," Panaka informed their rescuers. His hand moved to his rifle as he advanced forward, but immediately the younger ambassador smoothly forestalled him with his hand.

"I'll deal with them," he declared, before heading towards the area where a group of droids held the pilots hostage.

Padmé felt her gaze drawn to his actions, watching him from her place within the group of handmaidens travelling with the Queen. She saw him ignite his lightsaber, jump to aim simultaneous kicks at two droids, and realised only then that the Supreme Chancellor had sent the Jedi to help her. He must have more faith in her world than she had previously believed.

The younger Jedi made quick work of the droids, calling to the pilots to head for safety, whilst the elder disabled those guarding her spaceship. She watched him as he fought with his lightsaber, recalling how hard her self-defence training had come to her, pacifist that she was by nature. He made it look so easy, using the weapon as if it was nothing more than an extension of himself, yet at the same time, when he was listening to her decoy's conversation with his companion, he held himself at peace, a calmness she found elusive lately. She envied him, but without resentment. She also felt drawn to him, in a way she could not explain. Time seemed to slow, to still, as she watched him, as though the Force was telling her to remember this moment, this man, for their would change her life forever. While she had never been to able to use the power, she trusted in her intuition, her instincts, which never led her wrong.

She followed her decoy and the other handmaidens up the boarding ramp into the ship, a couple of the freed pilots and the younger Jedi following. The elder finished off the droids then leapt onboard. Padmé watched the ramp close, then joined her maids in the Queen's quarters, where she watched the vulnerable craft's passage through the blockade, via the onboard communications system. She frowned as she heard the argument put forth concerning Tatooine as a safe port for repairs, the world notorious throughout the galaxy for being under the rule of the Hutts, but she saw the point in the Jedi's reasoning, besides they had little choice if she wanted to reach the capital. The fact that the planet was suggested by the younger Jedi only made her more curious about him. Padmé kept her gaze on him as Captain Panaka briefed her decoy and attendants about the escape through the blockade in the Queen's chambers following the jump to lightspeed.

"An extremely well put together little droid," Panaka concluded in praise of the machine which had proved instrumental in restoring power under fire. "Without a doubt, it saved the ship, as well as our lives."

"It is to be commended," Sabé said, catching Padmé's slight nod of consent just before she spoke. "What is its number?"

Panaka stepped forward and examined the marking on the droid's head. "R2-D2, Your Highness."

"Thank you, Artoo Detoo," Sabé said with a smile as the droid beeped in return. "Padmé!" she called, causing her to move her gaze from the younger Jedi and walk from her place beside the other attendants to bow before her decoy.

"Clean this droid up the best you can," Sabé requested. "It deserves our gratitude. Continue, Captain."

Panaka looked towards the Jedi, and the elder one carried on with the briefing. "Your Highness, we are heading for a remote planet called Tatooine. It is a system far beyond the reach of the Trade Federation. There we will be able to make needed repairs, then travel on to Coruscant."

"Your Highness, I do not agree with the Jedi on this," Panaka declared.

"You must trust my judgement, Your Highness," the elder Jedi said, without elaborating as to why.

"I have heard your reasoning, Master Jedi," Sabé revealed. "Via the internal comm and while I accept that it is not controlled by the Trade Federation, it is still dangerous. I know however that we have little choice if we are to reach Coruscant in time. Therefore I agree with this course of action."

Panaka bowed, followed by the Jedi and then all departed her quarters, leaving her alone with her handmaidens.

Sabé turned to her Queen with a small, knowing smile. "And what will you do when we arrive at Tatooine, Your Highness?"

"I imagine I will wait on board the ship until we depart for the Core," Padmé replied.

"And talk with the younger Jedi?" Eirtaé teasingly inquired.

"Why would I want to do that?" Padmé asked innocently.

"We've all seen your interest in him," Rabé revealed.

"And his in you," Sabé added.

Padmé stilled. "Really?"

He looks when you realise you're staring and you look away," Eirtaé answered.

"Oh." Padmé felt her face blush. Then she frowned. "He's a Jedi. He's some years older than me. And I'm Queen of a planet under blockade. This cannot happen."

And yet it is, Padmé realised silently as she left the quarters to find somewhere to clean up R2D2. She had not spoken a word to him or he to her. They did not know the other's name. But she wanted to know everything about him. If being a Jedi was all he wanted. If his voice was always that rich when he spoke. What made him laugh, cry, smile, if he sang. If when he looked at her he saw someone he could learn to love, not a young girl who was terrified for her world's survival.

She wondered what was happening to her, why all her thoughts drifted so easily into thinking about him rather than the planet and the people she was elected to reign over and care for. Soberly she schooled her focus upon them, trying to imagine the fear they felt at being forced out of their homes into camps by armies of droids. It was not difficult, all too easy in fact, causing her to wonder if her mind had unconsciously chosen to think about the Jedi as a defence to maintain her rationale, her courage to leave her world and her people to appeal their case before the Senate. Not for the first time she started to doubt if she was worthy of the authority her people chose to honour her with.

R2D2 beeped and came to a halt, causing Padmé to leave her thoughts and focus on her surroundings. They had reached the maintenance bay, the perfect place to find everything to clean her companion. Pressing the release for the door she followed R2 inside, found a cloth on the workbench nearby and began to clean.

Kneeling before the droid, who tootled happily at her efforts to wipe the combat scorch marks from his covering, it was easy for her thoughts return to her world, her people. She worried for the handmaidens she had to leave behind, her advisors, her security, her pilots. She tried not to think about her family but inevitably images of them would appear in her mind, their faces contorted with terror at the sight of the droids. Her parents who had sacrificed so much to help her career, her sister Sola newly married, she had attended the wedding just after her election, in the guise of a handmaiden to keep the attention on the bride. It caused her to heart to ache remembering that event now and contrasting it with their reaction to the invading droid army.


The loud high pitched voice startled Padmé, causing her to jump as she looked up at the visitor, a Gungan who appeared deeply apologetic for causing such distress.

"Sorry, nomeanen to scare yousa."

"That's all right," Padmé assured him.

"I scovered oily back dare. Needen it?" he asked her.

"Thank you, this little guy is quite a mess."

"Mesa Ja Ja Binksss," he introduced himself as he handed her the oil can.

"I'm Padmé," she returned. "I attend Her Highness. You're a Gungan, aren't you? How did you end up here with us?"

It was with great difficulty that she managed to translate Jar Jar's reply; his presence seemed to be due to running into the Jedi, who saved his life. Padmé wondered if the Gungans would be discovered by the droids, or if the Trade Federation believed them to be a myth like every other offworlder.

The door opened, revealing the Jedi, the elder of whom stepped forward and addressed the Gungan.

"Jar Jar, you will accompany me on Tatooine," he requested. "The droid as well, handmaiden."

Padmé nodded, R2 beeped curiously and Jar Jar prostrated himself before the younger Jedi in despair, preventing him from following his master.

"Noooo, Obi-Wan, sire, pleeese, no mesa go!"

"I'm sorry, Jar Jar, but Qui-Gon is right. Tatooine is a multinational spaceport, a trading centre. You'll make him appear less obvious by going along," the young Jedi replied.

Padmé turned back to R2, rubbing the cloth against his dome, her mind unable to wipe away the expression of fear which Jar Jar wore, and the combination of the invasion upon her planet. She imagined the Gungan's reaction to the invasion, and her heart quivered at the thought that her actions were damaging not just her people but another race as well, whose existence most were ignorant of. Her vision blurred as she finally let loose the full extent of her grief, but not entirely to distinguish desert browns closing in, followed by flesh tones which parted to press against either side of her forehead in stroking circles.

Under so gentle a massage Padmé felt a calmness settle over her, as gradual as the turn of the tide. When her vision cleared, she found a pair of blue grey eyes staring back at her.

"I apologise if I startled you," he uttered gently. "I hope you are feeling a little better."

A little better? Padmé echoed silently, marvelling at the understatement. "I am, thank you," she replied, realising that she felt eerily calm and composed. How had he done that?

"Partly the Force, partly massage," Obi-Wan explained to her unaired inquiry. "I know it was a little inappropriate, but I felt your pain and I wanted to give you some comfort."

"It wasn't inappropriate at all, thank you." Padmé found herself savouring the syllables in his name now she knew it at last, along with the clipped Coruscanti accent with which he spoke.

"My pleasure," he uttered, his eyes meeting hers, the myriad of colours reminding her of a warm and welcoming pool of water. He smiled at her, and she found herself wanting him never to do anything else.

Feeling her face flush, she turned to cleaning R2 again, who beeped happily under her administrations.

"I'm afraid you cannot be too clean, R2," the Jedi said as he picked up a cloth and, kneeling beside her on the floor, began to assist in the restoration. "He must appear to be a native, not a remarkable droid who bypassed several systems to bring the shields back online under heavy fire."

"Truly exceptional," Padmé murmured. "Not a droid destined to spend his life on a moisture farm."

"Sometimes others decide that fate for you," Obi-Wan said with feeling.

"What do you mean?" Padmé asked.

"Jedi younglings who aren't selected by a Master serve in the AgriCorps," he explained. "If it hadn't been for Qui-Gon, I would have spent my life on a farm. What about you? Did you always want to be a handmaiden?"

"I'm not a handmaiden," she blurted in reply, without concern for her cover. Padmé froze as she heard the words echo through her head, out before she had given thought to her reply. Why did she say that? Since when had she found herself unable to lie to him? "I mean, none of us are, really. From time to time we protect the Queen as her decoys."

"So have you always wanted to be a decoy?" Obi-Wan asked with a grin.

Padmé was about to answer, when suddenly she saw him still, his expression transforming into one of eerie distant calmness before he muttered a hurried excuse, rose from his knees and took off out of the room at a run. She followed him in time to see him come to a stop and fall gracefully to the ground to cradle his Master's head in his lap. As she neared him, Padmé watched Obi-Wan place a hand on Qui-Gon's forehead, closing his eyes, his face a trouble expression of concentration. After a moment he rose up and levitated his master's body with the Force.

"It's just a seizure," Obi-Wan explained before Padmé could ask. "He'll be well in a few days. I'll go to Mos Espa in his place." He was walking away to the quarters assigned to the knights before Padmé could even reply with her excuse of informing the Queen, when in reality she was about to persuade her Chief of Security that she could do with a trip to a desert world trading port.

As she made her way through the ship to locate and speak to Panaka, the image of Obi-Wan cradling his master remained in her mind. His moves, his utter seeming calm facade throughout was too practised to render the incident out of the ordinary. Evidently something was wrong with the Jedi Master, something grave and personal else they would have been warned that this might occur. Padmé hoped it was not mortal, for she feared the image in her head was not just in the past, but in the future too and she feared for the young man whom she only just met.

Chapter Text

Part 2: Of Sands & Slaves.

If Obi-Wan had heard Padmé's thoughts, he would have silently confirmed them. He had done this before. Too many times in fact. Seizures were a product of Qui-Gon's illness; the occurred without warning or cause. One of his worst fears now was that one day his Master would fail to emerge from the seizure. Everytime he was able to place Qui-Gon in a healing trance- the irony of those two words did not escape him -Obi-Wan would breathe more easily. As he did now while using the Force put his master into the bed in the Quarters they shared on the Nubian vessel. The Padawan looked at his Master one final time before leaving him to recover while he checked the engines to see what else needed replacing.

It did not take long to discover that the hyperdrive was inoperable. When he had changed into farming clothes, Obi-Wan checked the rest of the ship before collecting Jar Jar and R2D2 from the maintenance bay. He looked in on Qui-Gon before leaving. His master was still deep in a healing trance, which would render him incapable of handling anything while they were on this planet. Obi-Wan hoped that the Queen's security forces were adequate protection for the ship and those on board while he was away.

With the Gungan and the droid following, Obi-Wan stepped onto the golden sand of the desert outskirts of Mos Espa. The extreme heat which came from the system's two suns caused him to raise his cloak over his hair, which he had deliberately restyled to disguise Jedi traditions, the long thin Padawan braid coiling the rest of his hair into a low lying tail. Behind him Jar Jar made an idle comment about the heat, while R2D2 beeped a worried soft sequence of notes.

He had barely left the ship when the head of the Queen's security called out to him.

"Wait!" Panaka cried, causing Obi-Wan to turn round. He hid a smile when he recognised the captain's companion, dressed for the trip into town, her blue poncho style gown a discreet contrast from the flame shades of the handmaiden garbs he had last seen her attired in. "Her Highness commands you to take her handmaiden with you. She wishes for her to observe the local populous. She is curious about the planet."

If it had been any other handmaiden, Obi-Wan would have resorted to his Master's usual indifference to authority and refused. Although the addition of a woman to the travelling cabal provided another convincing level to the deception that they were farmers out to buy supplies, it was also another person at risk from the dangers of a Tatooine space port. He looked at Panaka, who did not look particularly happy about this command either, probably just as concerned for the handmaiden's safety, but doubtless would insist on following the order through, his obedience to his Queen resolute and immovable.

"I can speak several languages," Padmé revealed, her voice not quavering at the prospect of this trip. "And I've been trained in self-defence."

"Don't make me go back and tell her you have refused," Panaka added.

"This is not a good idea," Obi-Wan finally said. "But we don't have time to take the matter up with the Queen. So just stay close to me, and keep an eye on Jar Jar."

"Why?" Padmé asked.

"Because he's curious and clumsy," Obi-Wan replied. "Which will get him into trouble on this planet."

Padmé nodded in acquiescence, whereupon Obi-Wan turned and began walking towards the port once more. He knew she wanted to ask about Qui-Gon, he could feel the question in the Force, but he wasn't ready for that conversation. He had no desire to put doubts about Qui-Gon's competency into hers and consequently the Queen's head, nor did he wish for his Master's illness to appear as serious as it indeed was, knowing his Master did not regard his mortality in the same light as he did. Instead he launched into a brief description of Tatooine; authorities, sources of trade, relationships with the Republic, with neighbouring planets, illegal practices, main produce.

"Tatooine is home to Jabba the Hutt, who controls the bulking of the trafficking in illegal goods, piracy and slavery that generates most of this planet's wealth. Jabba controls the spaceports and settlements, all of the populated areas. The desert belongs to the Jawas, who scavenge whatever they can find to sell or trade, and to the Tuskens who live a nomadic life and feel free to steal from everyone. There are a number of farms as well, outlying operations that take advantage of the climate, moisture famers for the most part, operated by offworlders not a part of the indigenous tribes and scavengers, not connected directly to the Hutts," he finished with. "This a rough and dangerous place, which most beings who are not inured to such harsh conditions avoid. The few spaceports like this one are havens for those who do not wish to be found."

"Like us," Padmé remarked.

Obi-Wan nodded in agreement. They had entered the port now, passing through the market area towards the warehouses for pilots and other engineers. He sank into the Force, allowing it to guide them to the right trader for this deal, trusting the ancient power to succeed in this matter just as it had with placing Qui-Gon in a healing trance. Suddenly he felt a strong concentration which suggested a strong Force presence was nearby, the type of ability he usually felt from Yoda; but unlike the renowned Jedi Master's, this was untapped, untrained. It seemed to be coming from one of the lesser traders, which suited his preference for discretion, having no desire for their route to be traced, at least until they were safely on Coruscant.

"We'll try one of the smaller dealers," he said as he led them to the source.

The shop was a typical example of it's species; piles of broken spaceships stacked behind the building, the odd part or two cluttering up the entrance. Inside were various droids, mostly verging on antique, all powered down and in desperate stages of decay. Motivators, couplings, wires and other junk or parts littered the floor, filed away only to allow space for a walkway and service area. A pilot could assemble several ships from this collection, every one fully customisable and unique, along with an eclectic group of repair droids.

To Obi-Wan's surprise, the owner was Toydarian, immune to the persuasion techniques of the Force, causing him to doubt that he had sensed the power emanating from this shop in the first place.

"What do you want?" he asked in his own tongue, hovering in midair before the Jedi, his wings fluttering so fast as to appear nothing more than a blur.

"I need parts for a J-type 327 Nubian," Obi-Wan replied in his.

The shop owner switched from his native language to Basic. "Ah yes, ah yes. Nubian. We have lots of that. What kinda of junk?" He inquired before breaking off to yell in his native dialect to an assistant to come in and mind the store, in less tactful terms than he had greeted his customers with.

Obi-Wan was no stranger to the horrors of the universe, but even he was surprised to discover that the source of the high level of Force power came from a slave boy of no more than nine by the looks of him. He scrambled in, covered from head to foot in dirty rags, scrawny, yet relatively well nourished. Trying to appear indifferent and therefore used to the sight of slaves, Obi-Wan added, "My droid here has a readout of what I need."

The Toydarian glanced at the droid with a calculating eye, accustomed to pricing machines in nanoseconds, mentally deciding how much funds he could con out of this customer in his mark up of the parts. He then turned to the boy, proceeding to yell at him in his native language about his absence and tardiness. Obi-Wan observed with a mixture of seeming Jedi indifference, as though the conversation was either uninteresting, or incomprehensible, when the reality was just the opposite.

The boy though flinching when his master raised his hand, replied with confident defensive attitude as to his previous whereabouts, before mounting a stool and clambering over the service ledge to mind the shop while they were out back. Obi-Wan felt the strength in the Force which belonged to the boy, but none of the recognition which indicated that the lad was fully aware of such an ability. He wondered why the Jedi had not discovered him before now.

Due to the decision made by the majority of the Jedi to adhere to celibacy, there had been many trips made by scouts to the Outer Rim territory in quest for Force sensitives and many had been found. Why not this boy? Unless he was too much of a risk to take, he deduced. Older than usual initiates, much more powerful. Obi-Wan knew the dangers of leaving such power untrained, but there was just as much risk in teaching someone how to harness that power. The legacy of the Lost Nineteen, Jedi who had fallen to the dark side or left the order, taught them that.

Obi-Wan spared the boy one last look before he followed the trader outside to the view the wares. As he did so, he caught Jar Jar examining something in his hands. He stepped towards him, took the piece of junk and returned it to it's original location.

"Don't touch anything," he warned before joining the trader outside.

It turned out to be short viewing of the wares, when the Toydarian informed him Obi-Wan that Republican credits were worth little on Outer Rim planets such as Tatooine. The Force seemed to misfiring on all fronts today; a child strong in the Force but too old to be trained; parts attainable to repair the ship but impervious to his currency; a beautiful woman to protect, single yet unattainable. Obi-Wan paused as he wondered why his mind brought that forward for consideration. Now was hardly the time to be thinking about Padmé, even though she was all he had been able to think about ever since he noticed her while his Master briefed the Queen.

"We're leaving," he announced to her as he entered the shop once more, interrupting the conversation between her and the boy, causing Jar Jar to drop what fresh piece of junk he was fiddling with and step to his side.

"Why?" she asked as she hurried to join him and the rest of their group outside.

Obi-Wan sought a secluded spot between two buildings before he replied. "Is there any thing on board the ship that we can use to trade for parts? Republican credits are worthless around here."

"A few containers of supplies," Padmé answered after a few moments thought. "The Queen's wardrobe maybe. Not enough for you to barter with. Not in the amounts we need."

Obi-Wan sighed. "Another solution will present itself," he murmured with more confidence than he truly felt. The Force had brought them here for more than just a boy, he was sure.

"Noah gain," Jar Jar moaned mournfully. "da beings hereabouts cawazy. Wesa robbed un crunched."

"Not likely," Obi-Wan replied. "We have nothing of value, that's our problem."

"Perhaps one of the vendors in the market cater to tourists," Padmé suggested. "We could exchange the credits for jewels."

"Or persuade one of them more easily to accept the tender," Obi-Wan added. "It's worth a try."

They emerged from the blind alley, Obi-Wan intently scanning the market stalls for suitable candidates. He hated using the Force in this way; manipulating another's free will for his own purposes, but if he wanted to gather enough funds to purchase the parts for the ship, he had no choice.

"What did you mean by more easy to persuade?" Padmé asked him.

"Find me a human vendor and I'll show you," Obi-Wan replied.

Padmé cast her own gaze over the outdoor stalls, observing each one in turn until she spotted a human trader, whereupon she pointed them out discreetly to the Jedi.

The content of the wares became more apparent as they walked closer to towards the booth. Jewels, Obi-Wan realised. Perfect.

"Choose something," he instructed her. "Anything you like," he added, suddenly desirous to buy her something.

Padmé was no stranger to jewels. Since her inception first as Princess of Theed, then Queen, she had been granted not only sight, but the privilege to wear Naboo's finest gemstones. Possession was temporary however, was only as long as her term of office. Whatever she chose, it would be the first gift which she did not have to return to the giver after her reign ended. Carefully she examined the wares which the vendor had to offer, wondering how her companion was going to persuade the seller to accept Republican credits. Then she saw an item which almost took her breath away. It was a beautiful necklace, the fine expensive metal shaped in a complicated yet elegant filigree, enclosing gemstones of the deepest purple.

"May I have a look at that piece?" She asked the vendor.

"Aah, you have made an excellent choice," the trader replied as they lifted the necklace off the hanger to place in Padmé's hands. "This piece is exquisite, is it not? See the flourishes here and here? You can press them apart to turn it into a clip for your hair, or into two separate items; a hair brooch and a necklace."

Obi-Wan saw Padmé's wondrous gaze on the item in her hands and suddenly the tool no longer felt so nefarious. "How much?"

The trader named her price and form of currency. Another who would refuse Republican credits it seemed. Padmé prepared to return the item with a heavy heart, feeling guilty that she was thinking of herself when her planet was in turmoil, when she saw Obi-Wan make a small gesture with his hands; as if he were a conductor directing a symphony from an orchestra.

"Republican dataries will do," he said at the same time as he performed this movement with his hand.

"Republican dataries will do," the trader repeated, accepting the funds calmly as the Jedi handed them over.

"How?" Padmé asked as they turned away from the stall.

"The Force can be a powerful influence on the weak-minded," Obi-Wan replied. "Here, let me put it on you."

Padmé held out the necklace for him to take, then lifted her hair so he could fasten it around her neck. Obi-Wan's hands lingered on her skin, as he fought a sudden urge to kiss her. Hastily he reminded himself that she was probably the same age as the Queen, whom according to his research was fourteen. Too young for him to be even contemplating such thoughts, for he was eleven years older. Not to mention that while he still a Padawan such things were forbidden.

Then a commotion erupted in the middle of the trading area, causing him to look up and see Jar Jar being harangued by a vicious looking Dug. By the time he and Padmé arrived at the scene the Gungan had already been rescued, by the boy who worked at the warehouse which they had just visited.

"Hi," he greeted them with. "Your buddy here was about to be turned into orange goo. He picked a fight with a Dug. An especially dangerous Dug called Sebulba."

"Nosir, nosir," Jar Jar protested fearfully. "Mesa hate crunchen. Dat's da last ting mesa wanten."

"Nevertheless, the boy is right," Obi-Wan remarked. "You were heading for trouble. Thank you, my young friend."

"Anakin Skywalker, meet Obi-Wan Kenobi," Padmé said.

They shook hands, then Anakin led them through the stalls, stopping before one owned by a wizened woman who smiled kindly at him.

"Hello Jira," Anakin greeted. "I'll take four pallies today." he reached into his pocket and produced three coins, accidentally dropping one.

Obi-Wan bent to pick it up, the action unknowingly revealing his lightsaber from it's hidden resting place beneath the poncho to the boy.

Anakin gasped silently at the sight of the legendary weapon, then returned his attention to his purchase. "Whoops, I thought I had more, make that three, I'm not hungry."

"Gracious, my bones are aching," Jira said as she handed the pallies to the boy. "Storm's coming Ani. You better get home quick."

"Thanks." Anakin turned to his friends. "Do you have shelter?"

"We'll head back to our ship," Obi-Wan replied.

"Is it far?" Anakin asked.

"On the outskirts," Padmé answered.

"You'll never reach the outskirts in time," Anakin said. "Sandstorms are very, very dangerous. You can shelter at my home, it's nearer. Come with me. Hurry!"

He led them through the vendors stalls as the winds grew in their intensity, dust and sand grains gathering around them as they entered a housing quarter. Anakin led them inside one of the small dwellings which were stacked like packing crates on top of one another.

"Mom, I'm home," he called out as they entered a cozy, minimal, simple home, with a comforting quietness compared to the noise of the storm raging outside.

A woman about the same age as Qui-Gon entered the room with brown hair and a kindly looking though perplexed face. "Oh my, Ani, what's this?"

"These are my friends, Mom," Anakin replied. "I'm building a droid," he revealed to Padmé, before dragging her to his room, leaving Obi-Wan to introduce themselves.

He bowed before her. "My name is Obi-Wan Kenobi, your son was kind enough to offer us shelter from the sandstorm."

"I'm Shmi Skywalker," she returned, uncertain and concerned that her frugal way of living, rendered necessary by her slavery, would prove inadequate to him.

Obi-Wan felt her uncertainty through the Force and retrieved some ration capsules from his pockets, pressing them into her hands. "I have enough food for a meal."

"Oh thank you," Shmi replied. "I'm sorry if I was abrupt. I'll never get used to Anakin's surprises."

"He's a very special boy," Obi-Wan remarked.

"Yes I know," Shmi murmured, her expression one of complete understanding, as if she were privy to a secret he could only guess at.

Suddenly a beeping began to enamate from his pockets; the comm device he had been handed by Captain Panaka before leaving the ship. It was fortunate that sandstorms did not affect communications, he mused, before retrieving the device from beneath his poncho.

"Excuse me," he uttered with a slight bow before walking towards the yard access which he had seen on his entrance into the quarters.

Despite being exposed to the elements the yard held a hushed calm which belied the violence of the sandstorm raging around them. Conditions were suitable for him to answer the comm.

"There is a communication coming from Naboo, Padawan Kenobi," the Captain said at the other end of the line.

"Play it," Obi-Wan replied.

The message was patchy, with a great deal of interference, but there was more than enough to convey the desperation felt by the sender; Governor Bibble. Obi-Wan listened to the message carefully, as it relayed that food supplies were cut off, that the death toll was catastrophic, and that it was urgent that the Queen contact them. He felt the despair in the Governor's voice, but he also felt something darker behind it. Something planned and plotted, designed first to lure, then to trap the Queen and the Jedi, he realised.

"It's a trick to establish a trace," he replied into the comm device. "Send no response. Send no transmission of any kind."

"Aye, sir," the Captain uttered.

"How is Master Jinn?" Obi-Wan asked.

"Still sleeping," Panaka answered.

"Contact me if you receive anything else, or when he wakes," Obi-Wan requested.

"We will," Panaka replied before ending the call.

"What if it is true?" A voice asked behind him, making Obi-Wan turn round and see that Padmé was standing on the threshold of the yard.

"I would have sensed it," Obi-Wan assured her, pocketing his comlink. "Either way, we're running out of time." He observed her as she came towards him. She appeared to be concerned for more than her family and the Queen. Something preoccupied her. A burden placed upon her which she now doubted she was worthy of or ready for. He knew that feeling well, he had experienced it ever since Qui-Gon's illness was diagnosed.

"How can you have that much faith?" she asked him. "Is it the Force?"

"Yes, your Highness," Obi-Wan replied, causing her to gasp.

"How did you know?" she queried.

"You have the demeanour of someone who is carrying a heavy responsibility," he answered. "I know it well." he adjusted his stance. "When you are in a time of need, what do you listen to?"

"What's inside me," Padmé replied. "My intuition."

"So do the Jedi," Obi-Wan explained. "Except inside us is the Force. And a powerful ally it is."

She frowned at his speech pattern, causing him to chuckle.

"I'm sorry, you'll understand when you meet Master Yoda," he remarked. "the Force led us to you, your Highness, and it led us to this planet. It also led us to the warehouse and to Anakin. What did he show you?"

"A protocol droid he had built himself for his mother," Padmé answered. "It was remarkable. He told me that a Hutt named Gardulla owned him and his mother, losing them to Watto over a pod race. How could a nine year old be capable of so much skill in complicated mechanics?" It astonished even her, who was from a planet which regarded children capable of the same intelligence as adults and therefore be allowed the same rights.

"The Force," Obi-Wan replied. "It provides some with affinity for machines, or rather enhances whatever natural talent that already exists. Sensitivity produces heightened reflexes, a certain preconscious. Even amongst those who are untrained and or who have no knowledge of their true potential. Were you ever tested, your Highness?"

"Padmé," she corrected. "I'm undercover, remember."

"I will," he promised. "It was wise to employ a decoy on Naboo. However it is dangerous to do so here. And to keep such a security measure from myself and my Master."

"More dangerous than remaining on the ship while your Master heals?" She countered.

He blanched, turning from her. She reached out and clasped his hand before he could. "I'm sorry. I'm sure you're worried about him. The truth is I wanted to be with you. I wanted to learn more about you."

Obi-Wan blushed for there was no mistaking her meaning or look. Then he took her into his arms. She rested her head against his chest, closed her eyes and breathed him in. As he did the same, holding her slight figure, he reminded himself that he was a Jedi, that he could not be anything else, that she was young and the Queen he had to protect. There was no time for this. A part of him wondered if there ever would be.

Obi-Wan closed his eyes and breathed in the gentle flowered smell which belonged to her, partly to recognise her again when she assumed her role and duties as Queen, partly to savour and remember this closeness when they were parted, before he gradually withdrew from the embrace.

"Come, lets go inside," he proposed. "I'm sure dinner will be ready soon."

Chapter Text

Part 3: The Knight & The Lady of The Lake.

As she listened to the conversation during dinner Padmé reflected on how little she knew about the Republic. She had spent her whole life helping others, working first in the Refugee Movement, then as an Apprentice Legislator, centring her focus on education and ethics, relying that they would teach her about the Republic. She had experience in travelling to other systems, helping displaced people and others who did not have the bounty which Naboo had given her, but she had forgot the hardships faced by those on Outer Rim worlds.

As she listened to Anakin and his mother talk about the devices planted inside them, which would detonate if they ever ran away from their enslavers, Padmé was horrified by how little value their lives were held. On Naboo every life was precious, and children were the future. She could not understand the clear disregard of the Republic's antislavery laws.

But then the Trade Federation were doing the same to her world. The fragility of the Republic caused her to wonder if the Senate could do anything to help her people. She should have stayed with her people, but what could she have done to ensured that the invasion force was defeated? Fighting was beyond her people, just as she was sure it was beyond the Gungans who if Jar Jar was anything to go by, were just as incapable of fighting seasoned warriors such as the droids of the Trade Federation. No, she had to hope that tomorrow Obi-Wan would be able to use the Force and trade their Republican credits for currency with which he could buy the parts they needed, so they could continue their journey to Coruscant and she could appeal to the Senate, praying that they would be able to help her.

"Have you ever seen a Podrace?" Anakin asked them.

Padmé and Jar Jar shook their heads, the Gungan releasing his tongue to lasso a piece of fruit from a bowl towards his mouth.

"They have Podracing on Malastare," Obi-Wan revealed. "Very fast, very dangerous."

"I'm the only human who can do it," Anakin said, causing his mother to glance at him. "Mom, what? I'm not bragging. It's true. Watto says he's never heard of a human doing it."

"You must have Jedi reflexes if you race pods," Obi-Wan observed.

At that moment Jar Jar decided to grab another piece of fruit with his long tongue from the bowl on the table. His previous performance had been rude and noisy, causing the Padawan's next actions. Before the Gungan's tongue was barely past his mouth, Obi-Wan trapped the organ between his thumb and forefinger.

"Don't do that again," he warned, before letting go, causing it to snap back inside Jar Jar's mouth.

"You're a Jedi Knight, aren't you?" Anakin asked him then.

"What makes you think that?" Obi-wan inquired.

"I saw your lightsaber," Anakin answered. "Only Jedi carry that kind of weapon."

"Perhaps I killed a Jedi and stole it from him," Obi-Wan posed.

"I don't think so. No one can kill a Jedi Knight," Anakin stated with certainty.

Obi-Wan smiled sadly. "I wish that were so."

"I had a dream I was a Jedi," Anakin said. "I came back and freed all the slaves. Have you come to free us?"

"No, I'm afraid not," Obi-Wan replied.

"I think you have," Anakin argued. "Why else would you be here?"

Obi-Wan smiled, reflecting once more how perceptive and observant Anakin was, despite his youth. "I can see there's no fooling you. You must not let anyone know about us. We're on our way to Coruscant on a very important mission."

"How did you end up here?" Anakin asked.

"Our ship was damaged and we're stranded here until we can repair it," Padmé replied for the Jedi.

"I can help," Anakin offered. "I can fix anything!"

"I believe you can," Obi-Wan assured the boy, "but out first job is to acquire the parts we need."

"Wit no nutten mula to trade," Jar Jar mourned.

"These Junk dealers must have a weakness of some kind," Padmé murmured.

"Gambling," Shmi revealed. "Everything here revolves around betting on those awful races."

"I've built a racer!" Anakin added. "There's a big race tomorrow on Boonta Eve. You could enter my pod."

"Anakin, settle down," Shmi pleaded. "Watto won't let you."

"Watto doesn't know I've built it," Anakin pointed out. "You could make him think it's yours and you could get him to let me pilot it for you."

"I don't want you to race, Ani," Shmi pleaded. "It's awful. I die everytime Watto makes you do it."

"But, Mom, I love it," Anakin argued. "And they need help. The prize money would more than pay for the parts they need."

Obi-Wan shook his head. "Your mother is right. Is there anyone friendly to the Republic who might be able to help us?"

Shmi shook her head.

"We have to help them, Mom," Anakin persisted. "You said that the biggest problem in the universe is that no one helps each other."

"No," Obi-Wan uttered forcefully before the boy made his mother concede. "I don't want to put your son in danger. We'll find another way."

A silence settled over the dinner, as Padmé glanced at Anakin's disappointed face, his mother's relieved one, and Obi-Wan's who was deep in thought. She was glad he had refused. She did not want Anakin rising his life for her. It bothered her that so many people were risking their lives for her world already.

Obi-Wan's communicator beeped, causing him to excuse himself from the table and head outside to answer.

"Padawan," Qui-Gon greeted him with.

"Master, it's a relief to hear from you," Obi-Wan replied, just as Padmé placed herself on the threshold of the yard to listen again.

"How are things going so far?" Qui-Gon asked, causing Obi-Wan to give a full briefing which recapped everything that had occurred to them since their departure from the ship. He left out the purchasing of his gift to her, causing Padmé to smile and blush as she recalled the moment, her hand unconsciously clasping the necklace which rested upon her chest. She remembered how he had lingered in fastening the clasp, the touch of his fingers upon her skin, his warmth breath arousing something deep within her. If the sound of Jar Jar's predicament had not reached their senses, she wondered what would have occurred.

"Why did you refuse the boy's offer?" Qui-Gon queried when the briefing was concluded.

"It was too dangerous, Master," Obi-Wan replied. "I remember the racing on Malastare. There was an extremely high level of mortality amongst racers and spectators."

"Yes, but none of the racers had the Force, Padawan," Qui-Gon pointed out. "The boy has, and the Force meant us to help him."

Padmé frowned. How could Master Jinn be so certain Anakin had the Force when he had not even met him? His reliance on the judgement of his Padawan appeared to be paradoxical at best.

"Master, we cannot put the boy under such a risk," Obi-Wan said, causing Padmé to smile at his objection. "Nor can we rest the whole outcome of this mission on a podrace."

"You should have more faith in the Force, Padawan," Qui-Gon admonished. "Accept the boy's offer. And fetch a blood sample from him."

Obi-Wan bowed his head. "Yes, Master," he replied before ending the communication. He returned the device to his pocket, then looked up to meet Padmé's gaze. "I don't want to put the boy in any danger either, but my Master is in charge of this mission. Persuading minds is not a power Jedi should resort to in achieving their aims. Besides there is no other way."

Padmé shook her head. "I do not understand your Master. How can he trust your judgement concerning Anakin possessing the Force, but not the level of danger in him risking his life for us?"

Obi-Wan smiled a little. "Qui-Gon is a Master in the Living Force. The here and now. He also has a habit of using unorthodox methods during missions which frequently put him against the Jedi Council. But he is one of the best Masters I have even known. He also has a penchant for acquiring strays. That is how I became his Padawan."

Padmé frowned. "I thought you were raised by the Jedi."

"I was," Obi-Wan confirmed. "I was given to the Jedi when I was a few weeks old. I was placed in the crèche until I was old enough to begin my training under Master Yoda. We learn at the temple until our teens. Then a Master or Knight selects us as their Padawan and we train under them until out trials for knighthood.

"But there are those who are not selected, either because they are not strong enough in the Force, or a Master does not choose them. They are sent to serve in the Jedi Corps and never become knights. That was my fate, until Qui-Gon ran into me during a mission which I helped to succeed. He realised that he had misread my abilities and claimed me as his Padawan."

"He misread your abilities?" Padmé echoed. "You mean he saw you before?"

"Yes. I was competing in the lightsaber trials. My opponent already had a Master, everyone had except me. I was frantic to impress Qui-Gon so I was too aggressive in my methods. I won but Qui-Gon judged me too dangerous to train."

"So why did he take you later?" Padmé asked.

"Because he realised my strengths lay in the Unifying Force. The ability to see the big picture, to predict the future. He had trained under such a master who possessed the same ability. He knew how well they could compliment each other."

Padmé came closer to him. "I had no idea the Force was two sided."

"It is multifaceted," Obi-Wan gently corrected. "There were also those who have channelled their negative emotions into the power; as oppose to their more positive feelings. The Jedi seek to gain a greater understanding of the Force, never to control it for their own advantage. Those who try become Sith, corrupted and evil."

Padmé frowned. "How can emotions make you evil? They're part of us all, negative and positive. They're what make us human."

Obi-Wan took her hand. "Yes, but if you allow them too great a reign over your actions and reason, then they might blind you to the greater good. When coupled with the ability to use the Force, emotion can become a danger, if not controlled or let go. It can destroy those that we love as surely as it destroys ourselves."

"Those that you love?" Padmé echoed, curious. "I though the Jedi were not allowed to love."

"It is not commonly known," Obi-Wan revealed. "My Master fought for attachment to be extended over the whole Order only very recently. The old decision to deny it is only retained towards Padawan learners, because we have yet to gain the kind of training necessary to learn how to love, but not let that love become an obsession. To allow the person we love to grow, or to leave us, if it is beneficial to their welbeing. To care for someone, but not at the expense of the greater good."

"I am glad of that," Padmé murmured, as she tried to hide her blush as to why she was pleased to learn that the Jedi were allowed to love. "Because from the way I see you care for Master Qui-Gon, I do not think attachment was ever forbidden to your Order. After all, it teaches you to serve the greater good, to keep justice and peace within the galaxy. What use are such lessons without knowing what is like to live in the galaxy? If you truly had to forbid yourself from ever showing love or compassion, it would only teach you the reverse."

Obi-Wan nodded, reflecting once more how much he respected and admired this young woman before him, whom he had only come to know since their first meeting abroad the Nubian craft which carried them here. "Padmé, never doubt that your people were right in choosing you as their sovereign. For you have more sense of morals, justice and compassion than any one I have ever met who call themselves leaders of their worlds."

Padmé blushed at the praise, though she was pleased to receive it from him, for his opinion of her had rapidly become very important to her. She gazed back at him, meeting the steady glance of his blue eyes, which seemed to alter their colour oh so slightly with every expression he greeted the universe with. She wondered if it was a product of her affection for him, already deeper than it should be, or if it was because he was a Jedi. It provoked her into asking a question. "What is the Force like?"

He stayed silent for so long that she feared she had breached an intimacy between them that he would not permit. But before that fear could grow into a verbal retraction he began to speak. "No, you can ask. It is just difficult to explain in a proper depth to answer your question. The Force is as boundless as the ocean. It flows through the life of every being within the universe, from the smallest creature to the largest mountain. For those who possess the sensitivity, it can speak to them, tell them of things to come, or provide a glimpse into something one cannot yet understand. For the Jedi it guides us, allowing us to use it to help those in universe who need such assistance as we can provide."

"And for the Sith it is a tool to used as a mean to furthering their own cause," Padmé reasoned, smiling a little when she received his nod that her deduction was accurate. "But how can they not realise that this will ultimately cause their own destruction?"

"Mostly because they were never taught to do so," Obi-Wan replied. "The Sith have been extinct for a millennia though. Wiped out by their own inability to realise that their quest for power will destroy them just as you have said."

"What about those who have left the Order?" Padmé asked, recalling from her education of the rumours about such Jedi she had heard during her youth, rumours she was able to confirm when she joined the Apprentice Legislature. "How do they view the Force?"

"Most leave the order because they disagree with our methods in training," Obi-Wan explained. "Or because they feel that they cannot give up their familial obligations once they learn of their nature. But it is true that some left because they turned to the Dark Side, either to learn more of the power or to protect others from the harm such teachings inflict."

"But if they realise that harm how can they be of the dark?" Padmé asked. "Could someone not help them to find redemption or their way back?"

Obi-Wan shook his head. "I've never heard of anyone doing so. Nor do I believe it is possible. I have never experienced it myself, but the dark side is a threatening, malicious presence, one which will always have a power over you, if you ever allow it to do so."

Padmé frowned. "That sounds alien coming from an Order bound by compassion."

"It is one of the most difficult concepts about the Force," Obi-Wan replied. "I'm not sure how else I can explain it to without showing you."

"Showing me? Can you really show someone the Force?" Padmé asked, eagerly. Ever since her parents told her of the time she had taken the test offered by the Jedi and pronounced borderline, she had always wondered at what sort of life she would lead if the midi-chlorians inside her had been of the right amount for training.

"I'll try and show it to you," Obi-Wan replied. "If you'll trust me to enter your mind. I won't hurt you or invade your privacy."

"I trust you," Padmé assured him, the extent of how much she trusted him both frightening and exciting her.

"Close your eyes," Obi-Wan instructed.

Padmé obeyed. Darkness surrounded her, but she could still feel the touch of his hand, gentle and reassuring, a comfort, a light to take away any fear she might have held.

"Focus on a place where you have always felt safe," Obi-Wan continued. "You're alone, aware of only yourself, yet you can feel something surrounding you, calling to you. It is familiar, it is what you listen to when you are called to act. The voice, the feeling that tells you this is the right thing to do."

Listening to his voice, Padmé imagined her home world, not invaded by the droid army, but peaceful and free as it always was in her youth. In her mind she created a place from her memories, which she had visited during free hours of her youth; the Lake Country. Her family had a place there, one which she had spent her summers in, swimming or savouring what she knew, turning it over inside her head, examining it from all angles. Knowledge was precious to her, as precious as the need to help others, for she knew she could help them better the more she learned, yet she also knew the dangers of acquiring knowledge without a recognition for compassion, thought, logic, and reason. Every sunrise and sunset she would stand alone on the balcony outside her room, watching the horizon as it changed colour, and she would feel that awareness which Obi-Wan had told her of.

The place was unusually vivid, every shade sparkling with a depth of colour she had previously never noticed, yet somehow she knew instinctively that it belonged. Then she felt a touch upon her hand, the same touch which she felt in the real world, and as she recognised this familiarity she turned to find Obi-Wan beside her. He was clad in the same robes she would see upon him now if she opened her eyes, yet there seemed to be a light surrounding him, almost mingling with his form. She lowered her gaze to where their hands touched on the balcony ledge and was surprised to see the light encompassing her hand as well as his.

"That light you see is the Force," he said to her, his voice soft, but as audible as if he had spoken at a normal decibel. She could hear him speaking to her but she could also see him, for the image of him inside her mind moved his lips in sync. Then she realised that it was not just his image which she could see. She could feel him with her inside her mind. Not necessarily every thought or every feeling, but the sensation produced when he felt them, and the warmth she gained from his contact. Turning her mind's eye from that contact, she gazed out at the horizon, and saw the same light, surrounding everything, from the surf within the ocean which stretched out before them, to the sun as it descended slowly from view.

"It's beautiful," she murmured, the word feeling inadequate, for never had anything else which she had ever seen and ascribed that word to could even equal the sight that met her eyes at this moment. "This is what you see in your mind all the time?"

"Yes," He replied, the mental image of his gaze leaving her form to glance in the same direction as her, at the sunset. "See that storm on the outskirts?"

Padmé was about to deny it, for the sky seemed perfect to her, but then she caught the darkness in the clouds to the left of the setting sun, the white vapour twisting and greying before her. As her mind focused on the image, she watched the grey turn darker and darker, and bright lightning cracking it into shards. She could feel the storm advance, closing in on them, disturbing their peaceful intimacy. Like the darkness that the invading droid army was gradually inflicting on her world right now, she realised, the revelation chilling her.

"That is the dark side," Obi-Wan murmured, and suddenly she understood the power of it, the temptation. She could see how it could suck you in, like quicksand, never to return, the struggle only making it worse.

Just as the storm seemed to near them, and the sun disappeared behind the horizon, she saw the images slowly fading gradually from her consciousness. Without a prompt from Obi-Wan, she opened her eyes to find their hands still resting one on top of the other on the yard ledge. She looked up into his eyes, the blue grey irises darkening to a more pure azure, drawing her towards him. She closed her eyes, felt his breath upon her lips, then suddenly the moment was broken by another.

"Master Kenobi?" Shim Skywalker said as she stepped outside. Padmé opened her eyes to find Obi-Wan some distance from her, conveying the impression that they were not about to kiss just moments ago. She almost felt if she had imagined such an intention on his part.

"Please, call me Obi-Wan," he said to Shmi humbly. "I am no master, only a student of the Force."

"Obi-Wan," Shmi acknowledged. "I came to say that Anakin is right. There is no other way. I may not like it, but he can help you. He was meant to help you."

Obi-Wan nodded. "My Master agrees with you. Come, let us go tell Anakin the news."

Padmé watched them go, her mind still very much with the moments alone spent inside her mind in Obi-Wan's embrace. She had seen so many different sides of him since their first meeting as he jumped down from a covered bridge to rescue her. His decisive warrior qualities in dispatching part of the droid army. His compassion in dealing with R2D2, herself, Jar Jar and his master. The passion and joy within him as he showed her the Force. He was older than her, probably wiser than her, yet he treated her as an equal, respected her opinions, presented other viewpoints for her to consider, without the insistence to conform to them. He seemed to care deeply about the lives of others, as his reluctance to accept Anakin's offer showed. He appeared confident in his ability with the Force, but not to the point of arrogance, rather humility. There was a noble quality about him, a gentleness and gentility. He cared deeply for his Master, despite objecting over Anakin's risk in his offer to help.

Padmé recalled the moment when she saw him rush to Qui-Gon's side after sensing his collapse. She wondered once more what was wrong with the Jedi Master, who had to be suffering from something far more worse than possibly just fatigue. Yet the Jedi selected him for this mission, so he must still be able to perform his duties. Or they judged that Obi-Wan could easily fulfil them if Qui-Gon fell ill. Padmé wondered how long he had until his knighthood. She was sure it could not be long, for he appeared to her to be the equal of his Master already, if not superior in some aspects. As a Queen she tried to remain neutral, impartial, but despite telling herself not to judge Qui-Gon harshly, Padmé could not help but feel a little dislike for the Master because of his attitude to Obi-Wan, Anakin and Shmi. His illness could affect his behaviour, she told herself. She might see a different side to him when they returned to the ship.

For the first time since their departure into Mos Espa, Padmé allowed herself to think of her home world. She could not escape feeling that leaving to appeal to the Senate was an act of cowardice. That she had betrayed her people by leaving them to the mercy of the droid army and the Trade Federation. She wondered about the darker conspiracy which Qui-Gon had alluded to. Was it merely a ploy to persuade her to go with them?

Despite this suspicion she also felt that there was more behind the blockade, and the invasion of Naboo. Her brief encounters with the Neimoidians left her with the impression that they were merely a facade, hiding the real face of whoever it was behind this scheme. Their protest about the tax on trade routes did not justify invasion, they had to have a deeper motive. Whatever it was, Padmé believed they would find the answers on Coruscant.

She sighed. She had always wanted to travel to the Core world, but this was not the reason she had in mind to use. Before her decision to run for Queen, she had worked towards becoming a Senator. The only reason she had not entered herself against the current incumbent was her belief that she was too young. A part of her laughed at the irony; too young for the Senate, not for the throne. This mission was teaching her many things; foremost that she had a lot more to learn.

Padmé returned to the rooms of the small dwelling, her gaze coming to rest on Obi-Wan and Anakin, as the young knight to be listened attentively to the boy as he described pod racing. Though she could not hear the words she could read their lips and discern the nature of the conversation from Anakin's expressive and rapid hand movements.

Eventually it was the Padawan's turn to describe something as Padmé noticed Anakin fall into an eager silence, waiting. A gasp escaped her as an object from the table floated in midair, travelling smoothly to hover above the boy's opened hand. She had seem him levitate his Master, seen him place said Master in a healing trance, seen the Force through his eyes, but it was still a little wondrous to watch. She saw Obi-Wan talk with Anakin seriously, kneeling before the boy so he was on a level footing with him, respecting his views, as he took the oval ball out of the air and rested it in the palm of his hand. She watched Anakin close his eyes, then suddenly the object floated again, hovering above the Padawan's hand. Anakin opened his eyes and gasped at his new found ability.

When Shmi emerged from her room with space blankets and bedding for them, the object was back under Obi-Wan's control, floating to its home on the table. Anakin was blinking sleepily, the trick tiring him out, whereas Obi-Wan had not even broken into a sweat. Padmé watched him usher the sleepy youth to bed, as she realised the strength of her interest in him, She knew now why her thoughts concerning the suffering of her world were seemingly so easily distracted. But she also knew that she should savour these moments for once they returned to the ship, there was less chance she would see him again. Their duties would part them on Coruscant and when the blockade and invasion of her planet ended. Such separation should have caused her to protect her heart, but she was already in too deep for that.

She loved Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Chapter Text

 Part 4: Debts & Partings

The storm cleared and behind it a new day dawned, leaving little evidence of the turmoil before, save for a few scattered wares and sand covered ships or machines which owners and traders were unable to secure away in time. They roused themselves with the sunrise, in order to brush away the golden grains before they crystallised in the heat.

Obi-Wan woke early as well, desirous of communing with the Force before the rest of the household were awake. His conscience had turned the objections and concerns over Qui-Gon's orders into feeling of guilt for doubting his teacher and mentor. There were few Jedi like Qui-Gon, who took a wayward pupil back despite his mutiny against every tenet of the Code, who allowed for their Padawan to hold different principles than they, who granted a student liberty in missions and when expressing opinions different to their own. In truth, he had been blessed with the best Master the Temple had produced, who could easily sit on the Council but for their strict adherence and rigidity to the Code. From now on, Obi-Wan resolved, he would use everything he had learned from his Master, to show Qui-Gon how much he respected him and that he was ready for the Trials, so his Master felt no guilt concerning his illness preventing him from completing the training of his last Padawan.

With this resolution in mind, Obi-Wan returned to the room of the slave dwelling where he had spent the night, along with Jar Jar and Padmé. His gaze seemed to settle naturally on her, as he recalled encountering the same pose first thing this morning and the thought that he would happily wake up beside her for the rest of his life.

Such a belief was not something a Padawan should possess. Marriage was not as rare amongst the Jedi as most people commonly believed, particularly recently, thanks to his Master, who had harangued the Council until they agreed to extend what had been known as the Corellian experiment to include the entire Order.

Celibacy however was the preferred lifestyle choice for the majority of Jedi engaged in the field. Many believed that family would not understand the absences or the fact that they held duty of keeping peace in the Republic above their own lives. It was also mandatory that Padawans withheld from any forms of attachment for the teaching of precisely such a principle.

Obi-Wan agreed with the latter doctrine, but he did not believe that non-Jedi were incapable of understanding or dealing with their lifestyle. The same restrictions applied to any monarch, Senator, or pilot in the Republic. While he had left the Order once for the sake of a cause and love, he was determined that such a conflict would not rule him again. He believed it was possible to remain a Jedi and become a husband. It was something his Master believed too, as he told him when he accepted him back after the affair at Melida/Daan ended in tragedy.

Nevertheless he was getting ahead of himself. He barely knew Padmé, who was a good few years his junior and Queen of the Naboo, whom he and his Master were charged to protect. He was still a Padawan and if Qui-Gon or worse still, other Jedi knew his feelings at this moment, he would remain one for some time. And he had no idea what she felt about him either. That moment after he showed her the Force could have just been felt by his heart. Both of them had things which were more important to worry about than their feelings. Her planet was in turmoil, romance was probably the last thing on her mind. It was time to try and protect themselves from allowing such feelings to distract or affect, before they became too deep, though he suspected that his own already were.

Anakin emerged bleary eyed from his own room and Obi-Wan beckoned him over, grateful for the distraction. The boy was bright, inquisitive, compassionate, generous, eager and Force sensitive. If his Master had his way, which by asking for Obi-Wan to obtain a blood sample was any indication, the boy would become a Temple initiate, putting him years behind other Padawans his age. Obi-Wan needed to teach him as much as possible, while making sure Anakin wanted to become a Jedi and understood the sacrifices he would make if he accepted Qui-Gon's offer.

Usually it was the youngling's parent's who made such a decision, but Anakin was older than normal initiates, capable of making his own choices. When he taught the boy last night, Obi-Wan found him to be a quick study and talented, just like other Jedi younglings his age. If the Council decided not to accept him, he was already determined to help the boy out, by returning to train him after he was knighted. As yet Anakin had no idea of the power he could wield, dangerous for him if someone decided to make use of such power for their own machinations. But then neither did Obi-Wan and he was over twice his age. He wondered if Qui-Gon knew the full extent of his power. And if he would have time to do so.

With that sobering thought, Obi-Wan set about preparing to continue the mission, suddenly anxious to have Qui-Gon safely back at the Temple. The elusive bad feeling he had felt on board the Trade Federation ship was returning, causing him to wonder if more was at stake than just the safety of the Queen and the illegal occupancy of her planet.

He occupied himself with keeping Anakin busy until the boy's mother woke along with the rest of the household and served them all a morning repast. Then, along with Jar Jar and Padmé, they returned to Watto's shop to persuade the trader to lend them his young slave for the race.

Watto was naturally suspicious as to their competency for this. "The boy tells me you want to sponsor him in the race. You can't afford parts. How will you do this? Not on Republic credits I think." He laughed.

"My ship will be the entry fee," Obi-Wan replied, before producing a small holo device from his tunic. He thumbed it on, to display the Nubian spacecraft in scale, grateful that Padmé was keeping Jar Jar out of trouble outside, for he knew her reaction to this piece of the negotiation would not be good.

"Not bad, not bad," the Troydarian murmured as he studied it. "A Nubian."

"It's in good order," Obi-Wan assured him. "Except for the parts we need." He hoped that events would go their way, so that giving up their only transport off Tatooine would not be required. If Anakin lost the race, they would be stranded here. Once more Obi-Wan doubted the wisdom of his Master in resting the fate of their mission on one small boy who they barely knew.

"But what would the boy ride?" Watto asked. "He smashed up my pod in the last race. It will take some time to fix it."

Obi-Wan sensed anguished shame from Anakin, who protested. "It wasn't my fault really, Sebulba flashed me with his vent ports. I actually saved the pod, mostly."

Watto laughed. "That you did. The boy is good, no doubts there."

"I have acquired a pod in a game of chance," Obi-Wan lied. "That fastest ever built."

"I hope you didn't kill anyone I know for it," Watto remarked, seeing through part of the deception already, which did not bode well. "So you supply the pod and the entry fee, I supply the boy. We split the winnings fifty-fifty, I think."

Obi-Wan pretended mild outrage at such a proposition, because he knew Watto was only opening the haggling with this deal. "Fifty-fifty! If its going to be fifty-fifty, I suggest you front the cash for the entry. If we win, you keep all the winnings, minus the cost of the parts I need. If we loose, you keep my ship."

Watto considered this counter offer, while Anakin flashed him a shocked glance, trying to hide his nerves from view, not knowing the Padawan could feel them in the Force.

"Either way you win," Obi-Wan added, knowing he and the rest of them would be stranded if the boy lost. He touched the Force for guidance, wondering if there was another way to purchase the parts they needed. But the response he received was to trust in the boy, in a successful outcome. Strangely, it reassured him only a little.

"Deal!" Watto agreed before turning to Anakin and adding in his native tongue, "your friend is a foolish one, methinks."

Obi-Wan pretended not to understand, then discreetly secured a power pack before exiting the warehouse to see the pod, back at Anakin's home.

The craft was small and large, constructed from two Radon Ulzer 620c turbines, with two vast engines and a compact cockpit, connected to the propulsion by steelton coils of platted wiring. Covered in armour plating and shielding, it looked fast and dangerous. It's driver approached with the easy confidence of a race veteran, adjusting a piece of wiring before leaping into the cockpit and flipping the controls. Obi-Wan handed him the power pack, marvelling at the sight of a small boy dwarfed by the powerful pod which he drove. He had a certain affinity with machinery, he could fly almost anything and fix every part of them, even build a hyperdrive from scratch, but he trembled at the thought of racing in such a craft as this and for the boy who was prepared to do this for the welbeing of strangers.

Anakin slotted in the power pack and turned on the ignition. The engines fired up like rockets, a loud constant rumbling as Anakin grinned at the success. His enthusiasm was contagious, making Padmé smile and Obi-Wan, who felt for the first time that this plan might actually work.

Night fell on Tatooine, the light from the double sunset allowing Anakin to work on the podracer until the twin celestial orbs disappeared below the horizon. Obi-Wan helped where he could as the boy fine tuned the machine until he was confident that it would survive the race tomorrow.

Shmi joined him as he stood on the threshold of the dwelling, watching Anakin as he cleaned off the podracer before storing the vehicle away for the night. Obi-Wan could sense worry over the safety of her son during the race tomorrow, concealed behind mild resignation, knowing she could not discourage him from participating, and how much the youngling enjoyed racing, not giving a thought to the reckless risking of his life, or the amount of worry over his safety his mother would feel during the race.

"You should be proud of your son," he said, seeking to give what reassure he could. He would not have Shmi believing that he was willing for Anakin to risk his life for the sake of their mission. "He gives without any thought of reward."

Shmi nodded, a small smile gracing her face. "He knows nothing of greed. He has..." she trailed off, unsure of how much to confide in the young Padawan.

"Special powers," Obi-Wan finished.

"Yes," Shmi confirmed, surprised he already knew.

"He can see things before they occur," Obi-Wan added. "That's why he appears to have such quick reflexes. It's a Jedi trait."

Shmi sighed. "He deserves better than a slave's life."

"The Force is unusually strong with him," Obi-Wan added as he silently agreed with her. "That much is clear. May I ask, who was his father?"

A brief pause ensued, causing Obi-Wan to wonder if he had asked too much. He was about to retract his query when the reply from Shmi startled him completely.

"There was no father," she replied. "I carried him, I gave him life, I can't explain what happened." She paused to look into his eyes. "Can you help him?"

"I wish I could," Obi-Wan replied sadly. He had debated the question of Anakin's future throughout the day, knowing that the boy's admission to the Temple depended on his freedom being secured, and he could not see Watto agreeing to that, particularly if Anakin won the race, for his value would be increased to the gambling Troydarian. "Had he been born in the Republic we would have identified him early and he would have become a Jedi." Because he would be still a babe, and no use to the Troydarian. "But his freedom needs to be secured. If he wins the race tomorrow, I doubt Watto would part with him easily. And the Council might argue that he's too old, his emotions are too developed. He would struggle learning to control them as his power with the Force is honed into recognition."

"Nine is too old?" Shmi queried incredulously.

"I was trained almost from birth," Obi-Wan replied. "As are all initiates. It takes a lifetime to learn the ways of the Force and tremendous sacrifice along with constant discipline over every part of your body and mind."

"But why did you teach him last night if he can't be accepted into the Temple?" Shmi asked, still sceptical.

"Because he should be trained," Obi-Wan replied. "Else he could be manipulated into using his power for evil. There's too much Force within him to remain untrained. I hope to try and give him enough control before we leave. I won't forget him. If I can't free you both, I'll come back and train him when I've passed my trials."

"I don't care about my freedom," Shmi said. "Only Anakin's."

"Who is too attached to you," Obi-Wan added. "Which could also affect his training."

Shmi nodded, conceding the point. "I thank you for your thoughtfulness on this matter," she said before returning inside. Obi-Wan watched her go, feeling somewhat inadequate that he could not do more to help. He turned to observe Anakin, whose startled cry had caught his attention. The boy was studying his hand, which seemed to contain a cut.

"Anakin, come here, let me tend to that," he called out, causing the boy to look up and run over to him. Obi-Wan moved to the ledge where they could sit comfortably while he treated the minor injury.

The youngling was restless, gazing at the stars above them as Obi-Wan treated his cut. "There are so many! Do they all have a system of planets?"

"Most of them," Obi-Wan replied. He hoped the boy would not ask him to name all of them. Though he and his Master's journeys about the galaxy during his training had been numerous and varied, and one of his favourite past times was to star gaze whenever a moment during a mission afforded him the opportunity, he could not remember all of their names, there were too many to do so.

"Has anyone been to them all?" Anakin asked.

"Not likely," Obi-Wan replied.

"I want to be the first one to see them all," the boy vowed.

Obi-Wan wondered if such a wish could be granted, even if Qui-Gon had his way and the boy became a Jedi, he doubted on the likelihood of there being a mission to every single planet in the universe. "There good as new," he declared, transferring the blood sample he had just obtained on to a comlink chip.

"Ani, bed time!" Shmi called, causing the boy to scramble off the ledge they were sitting on and go inside. Obi-Wan made sure he was gone before activating the comlink.

"I have the blood sample you requested, Master," Obi-Wan said.

"Send it," Qui-Gon ordered.

Obi-Wan duly obeyed, putting the sample in the device which would transfer it to the one which his master possessed aboard the ship, who would then put it to be analysed by the computer. The results would be ready in minutes.

"I'm coming over," Qui-Gon said after the allotted time had passed, taking his Padawan by surprise.

"Master, are you sure that's wise?" Obi-Wan asked. "You're still recovering. I can handle matters here."

"Your concern is noted, Padawan," Qui-Gon replied. "But I'm still coming. Prepare for my arrival. You will return to the ship while I take care of things there."

"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan replied before ending the call. A mixture of feelings rose within him, none of them good. He knew that the result of the scan had to be exceptionally high in the midi-chlorians, else his master would have remained on the ship. The age old quarrel was about to rear its evil head again.

"What's wrong?" Padmé asked, causing him to look up and find her on the threshold of the yard, just as she had been the last time he contacted the ship. Had she known how much he needed to her right now, he wondered. Just one look from her has the ability to calm his conflicted thoughts and emotions. Although she also awoke a set of entirely different ones, which he shouldn't be thinking about, not with a mission depending upon a small Force sensitive boy, a planet in jeopardy and a Queen to protect.

"Qui-Gon is coming to take charge," he informed her. "I am to go back to the ship after he arrives."

"But why?" Padmé asked. "I thought he was ill."

"He's better now," Obi-Wan replied. "And he wishes to see Anakin for himself."

"Why does he need to see the boy?" Padmé queried. "Is your opinion not good enough?"

"Evidently not," Obi-Wan replied, the honesty startling him for he did not mean to tell her of the bitterness he was feeling. "Though I was the one who gathered the findings on the prophecy for him."

"Prophecy?" Padmé echoed, coming forward to stand beside him.

"Ancient Jedi lore refers to the coming of a Chosen One who will bring balance to the Force," Obi-Wan explained. "Qui-Gon has been searching for him for...." hurriedly he changed what he was going to say, "well, a long time. He believes Anakin could be him."

"How can he tell?" Padmé asked. "He hasn't even laid eyes on him."

"I gave him a blood sample from the boy," Obi-Wan replied. "Qui-Gon ran a midi-chlorian count on it. I do not know the result, but it must have been high enough to warrant his decision to resume charge of the mission." He looked at her before adding, "midi-chlorians are small,"

"I know what they are," Padmé interrupted, placing her hand on his to show him she meant no insult by doing so. "I never answered your question before. I was tested and pronounced borderline. Not powerful enough to be take to the temple. My parents told me when I decided to run for election to be Queen. I was grateful that the results did not prevent me from taking the throne, or being raised with my family, although I've often wondered what would have happened if they were." She paused, observing him. "You don't believe Anakin could be the Chosen One, do you?"

"No," Obi-Wan replied, confirming her belief. "I've never believed in the prophecy. It says that the Chosen One is conceived by the Force, but no where does it that the person must be a Jedi, or indeed hold any position."

"Immaculate conception is not an unusual detail," Padmé reasoned. "Many prophecies and legends include it. And Shmi said there was no father. Would that not prove the theory?"

"How long have you been standing there?" Obi-Wan asked, amazed at how he had failed to notice her. "But she is a slave, Padmé. You told me that Gardulla the Hutt sold them to Watto. And Hutts are not unknown for forcing their slaves to use pleasure as a means to securing trade deals."

Padmé blanched at the implication behind his words. "You could be right," she conceded, unable to ignore the possibility.

"Qui-Gon will not even consider that," Obi-Wan added with a sigh." I have always been the more practical one, while he is the idealist who rebels against the Council on a regular basis. He will find a way to free Anakin and persuade the Council to accept him."

"And what if he does not?" Padmé asked. "Or the Council refuses?"

"Then he will defy them and take the boy as a Padawan," Obi-Wan replied.

"Where will that leave you?" Padmé inquired, worried that she might not see him again once they arrived on Coruscant, worried that he might not fulfil his dreams, leaving him cast adrift in the universe, alone and rejected.

"Unless another Master takes me, I'll be sent back to the Agri-Corps," Obi-Wan replied. He shook his head, laughing somewhat bitterly.

"He can't train the both of you?" Padmé asked.

Obi-Wan shook his head, leaving unsaid his belief that Anakin would be his Master's sole focus even if Qui-Gon was allowed two Padawans at the same time. For he knew that his Master would be determined to prove who he believed the boy was to be.

"How dare he?" Padmé cried. "How can he cast you aside like that? How can you be so calm? If I were in your position I would resent his rejection. I would be saddened by his inability to trust my judgement and skill to continue this mission. I would be angry at his behaviour concerning you, Anakin and his mother. The cavalier attitude he uses in dealing with your lives. How will Anakin feel if the price of a better life is separation from his mother? And what of Anakin himself, will he learn of the extreme expectations which your Master has placed on him? How can he think of freeing a boy from slavery only to bind to another, albeit of a different kind. What your Master offers Anakin is no freedom, and the boy is too young now to realise it. And when he learns about it, the burden of expectation will change him beyond repair. He will shun others, and those who come to know the reason why will shun him or use him for their own devices. It is better that he stays here, for that type of slavery is one which will not only force him into a life of solitude, but last as a stain upon his character forever!"

"If you were in my position, you would know that sadness, resentment and anger can lead you to the dark side of the Force," Obi-Wan replied almost forcefully, remembering that only recently, before Qui-Gon was ill, he would have felt exactly what she was describing. And he probably still did, he realised silently, but it was coupled with the awareness of what he said next. "And that once you start down that dark path, it will forever dominate your destiny. You would remember that you are a Jedi, that you are better than this."

"To feel emotion is to be human, Obi-Wan," Padmé pointed out. "Anger, resentment, and sadness only have power if you repress them, allowing them to build up inside you until they dominate your life. To deny those feelings gives them such power."

"I'm not denying I have them," Obi-Wan replied, a confession which surprised her. "I'm telling you that I have to accept them and release them into the Force, causing them to disappear. Such emotions are dangerous to Jedi." He sighed, looking away from her and out towards the view of Tatooine at night. "I have had to deal with rejection and exile all my life," he added softly. "I am no stranger to it, so it has little power over me."

Padmé shook her head. "How can it not make you doubt yourself or your abilities?"

"Perhaps I should," Obi-Wan countered.

"No you should not," Padmé objected almost furiously. "I saw your skill against the droids. You are a remarkable warrior. You have skill, precision, compassion. You possess an innate duty to put others before yourself. Obi-Wan, you are a natural Jedi."

He bowed his head before her praise, touched and honoured by it. He realised again that he was beginning to feel other emotions that were not Jedi, directed towards the beautiful young woman who has just defended him so bravely, so wisely now.

Padmé reached out and touched his cheek with her free hand, causing his blue eyes to meet her own dark brown ones. "Your humility does you credit. And if things come about as you believe they will, there will always be a place for you on my security forces. I could not bear the thought of you wandering the galaxy alone."

He placed his free hand over the one which caressed his face, stopping himself before he surrendered to the almost overwhelming temptation to lean forward and kiss her lips. "Thank you. I will remember your offer." He paused, recalling her other words, spoken in defence of Anakin. Unknowingly, she had aired many of the uneasiness he felt over freeing the boy and taking him as a Jedi Initiate. "And you were right about what you said of Anakin. It is why I promised Shmi that if I wasn't able to free him and his mother, I would find some way to come back and train him myself when I am knighted. But that is now out of my hands. However, I will try to make sure that he is not given that burden of expectation, not from Qui-Gon or from the Council." He glanced down at their hands, knowing he must part from her while he still had the strength to do so. Gently he removed her hand, and freed his other. "I had better go and prepare Anakin and his mother to expect Qui-Gon's arrival."

Padmé watched him go with a heavy heart, knowing that the chances of them ever being alone together again were few. When she returned to the ship, assuming this mission was successful, for now Qui-Gon was coming to take charge, she was feeling less certain of the outcome, she would be Queen Amidala again, preparing to solicit the aid of the Senate to end the blockade of Naboo. Even if she had chosen to stay on the planet, they would not have had as much chance for moments together as they did have here. She wanted to call him back, to say something of her feelings, but she was unsure if he would receive them positively. After all she was a great deal younger than he and they barely knew each other. Did he even feel the same way? Padmé shook herself, reminding her wayward feelings that she was a Queen who should be thinking about her people and their welfare, not about a future Jedi Knight assigned to protect her.

But as the evening lingered and Obi-Wan's departure along with his Master's arrival drew ever closer, Padmé found it difficult to think about anything else. Along with her worry over Obi-Wan, she felt angry at his Master for how little respect he showed to his pupil by abruptly taking charge like this. And his diffident attitude to Obi-Wan's safety during his nocturnal journey back to the ship, as well as that of her crew, handmaidens and decoy, whom was the Queen, unless he had discovered her true identity like Obi-Wan. She wondered what Shim and Anakin would think of him and if she was wise in contemplating accompanying Obi-Wan back to the ship rather than staying here. But then again, would her continued presence be a balm to Shmi and Anakin? They would need one person who sympathised with their fears and concerns over the pod race. As much as she wanted to return with Obi-Wan to the ship, it was her duty, as the true author behind this mission, to stay here and lend her support.

But it did not stop her from watching carefully as Qui-Gon arrived and Obi-Wan introduced him. Nor did it shop her from accompanying Obi-Wan to the door. She followed him outside, causing him to turn round.

"You should be inside, milady," he said gently. "It is not safe for you to be out at night on a planet like this."

Padmé shook her head. "I could not let you go without saying goodbye, Obi-Wan. Or without thanking you for what you have done."

He inclined his head to her. "I am only doing my duty as a Jedi."

"You have done far more than that," Padmé affirmed.

He bowed a little again. Then his resolve asserted itself. "Please, milady, go back inside."

Padmé stood firm. "Not until you are gone."

Seeing her stubborn expression, Obi-Wan relented. Giving her one last glance, admiring her beauty framed by the light from inside, almost akin to a halo. Anakin had told him only this morning that he thought Padmé was an Angel, and now Obi-Wan realised the aptness of the young boy's praise. He did not want to leave her behind, but he must. Reluctantly he turned round and began to walk away from the dwelling, from her.

Padmé did not let him get far. An irresistible impulse seized her and before she lost her courage she called out to him, causing him to stop and turn, in time to receive her embrace as she ran towards him. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her lips to his. For a kiss it was brief, but the touch was enough to convey a warmth to both which spread through their bodies, giving truth to the feelings they felt. Obi-Wan felt the Force cheer inside him, a rousing chorus of acceptance for such love, granting consent to let it deepen and grow. He felt himself raised to the limits of the sky, into the light of the Force, and Padmé beside him, the height of ecstasy.

Then the nature of their surroundings returned to him and reluctantly he reached up to part her hands from his neck. He brought them before his face and with his eyes never leaving hers, raised each one to his lips, bestowing a breathless devout benediction.

Then their hands parted and he turned away to walk back to the ship.

And she watched until his figure left her vision, then returned inside.

Chapter Text

Part 5: In The Company of Allies.

An eerie dawn settled as Obi-Wan arrived at the ship, the memory of Padmé's brief kiss enough to sustain his feelings throughout the lonely journey. The confirmation that they both felt the same was incredible, but it didn't change the nature of their relationship. He was still a Padawan, she was still so young and a Queen. Their feelings would have to wait.

He used the Force to lower the under carriage and entered the ship, raising it once he was inside. He turned in the direction of the cockpit, intending to check in with the pilots and the security, but he was prevented by the dark orange yellow wash dress before him. He raised his eyes to the head, a little chilled to see the resemblance to Padmé and how already he could tell the difference just from her face.

"The Queen wishes to speak with you immediately," she said.

"Perhaps you best hand me a comlink code then," Obi-Wan said with a small smile, "else I have a long walk ahead of me."

She gasped, then returned the smile, chuckling a little. "Did she tell you, or did you guess?"

"Both, in a way," Obi-Wan replied.

"How is she?" Her handmaiden asked.

"Resolute, troubled," Obi-Wan answered. "Beautiful, intelligent, brave," he added, causing her to smile. "Stubborn, thoughtful. Shall I go on?"

The handmaiden shook her head and laughed. "That's Padmé. Milady is rarely content to let others risk their lives for her." She paused to offer her hand. "I am Eirtaé. Sabé and the others would like to hear what has happened so far, Master Kenobi."

Obi-Wan took her hand and bowed. "Pleased to meet you, Eirtaé. I would be happy to tell you as much as I can. And it's just Obi-Wan or Padawan Kenobi. I'm not a Master yet. Only a student and servant of the Force."

Eirtaé nodded, blushed at his charming manners, then led him to the quarters of the Queen and the Handmaidens.

"How long have you been her handmaiden?" He asked as they walked down the ship's corridor.

"Since she was elected," Eirtaé replied. "We were chosen because of our resemblance to her. But we are trained and when a Queen ends her term we remain in our office unless she seeks another where we can be of use. We train those who succeed us, or seek a public, diplomatic office ourselves."

"And do you frequently make use of acting as her decoys?" Obi-Wan queried.

"Depends on milady," Eirtaé answered. "We are in that difficult position of advisors. We can express our opinions as to her safety, but we cannot prevent her from taking risks. Even Captain Panaka cannot completely overrule her decisions. Just as you can only advise your Master to take better care of himself. And follow his orders when he chooses otherwise."

Obi-Wan nodded. "I think even when I pass my trials I shall find it impossible to dissuade him from something he sets out to accomplish."

As he finished speaking, it was with surprise that he realised what he had said. Even though he had doubted being in a position to take his trials only a few hours ago, the Force chorus he received during confirmation of Padmé's feelings, now convinced him that he would. Indeed all he desired now seemed possible. It was an unsettling feeling, a certainty which he had never experienced before, but though it alluded to the dark side, he realised that it wasn't intended to do so, instead it was just a calm assurance that he would become a knight, and he could follow his dreams, whatever they may be.

He followed Eirtaé into the room where he had stood when his master briefed the Queen over the plans to go to Tatooine. It was when he first noticed Padmé and it felt a little unsettling to talk only with her handmaidens. The girls seemed to understand this, for Sabé had discarded the elaborate dress of the Queen, in favour of the handmaiden gowns. Each had left their cowls off, allowing Obi-Wan to observe their differences from Padmé.

Which he could. Aside from the variations of shades in their eyes and hair, Obi-Wan found himself able to detect even the more subtle differences with ease, even though he realised that he could not possibly know Padmé this well after their so short acquaintance. He could conclude that the Force was behind this, which was a contradiction for he knew it was not the Jedi way to read the Force with emotion, yet at the same time, he could not see how such a notion could be avoided, for emotion coloured everything, including logic and reason.

Perhaps he should ask Qui-Gon about such matters later, though that would mean confiding in him how he felt about Padmé and Obi-Wan wasn't sure he was ready to, just yet. There were rarely secrets between him and his Master, although Obi-Wan was beginning to wonder if Qui-Gon knew how bitter he felt about the search for the Chosen One.

Obi-Wan was surprised himself at the level of bitterness within him concerning the matter. He knew a part of it must derive from his insecurities over his training, the sometimes constant battle for acceptance from his Master, who was probably still protecting himself from harm because of Xanatos, his previous Padawan's betrayal. He had assumed, perhaps hopefully, that the nature of Qui-Gon's illness would gradually bring them closer as Master and Padawan, but now he was concerned that they would only drift further apart.

It was not that he believed Anakin should not be trained, in fact he had promised the boy's mother that he would undertake such training himself if the Council refused, though with what authority he could after his knighting begin such unorthodox training he did not know. He was just concerned that his Master would push him aside in order to take the boy on before the Council sent him back to his mother.

It was a selfish feeling, he knew, something he should be above, so close to becoming a Knight as well as something he rarely felt, having always put the cares and wishes of others before his own. After all, his record with Qui-Gon had proved to the Council that he was worth more than a career in the Agri-Corps. He knew from the meetings with Master Yoda and Master Windu when Qui-Gon's illness was first diagnosed that they had a high respect for his abilities. If they and the rest of the Council members deemed his Padawanship incomplete after Qui-Gon declared his intention to become Anakin's Master, then another Master would hopefully volunteer to finish Obi-Wan's training.

The briefing did not take long. Obi-Wan kept certain things back, such as the conversation about the Force, the nature of Anakin, the relationship between himself and Qui-Gon and the parting farewell between him and Padmé, along with his gift to her. In turn however he learned more about the woman he now knew he was in love with, which, naturally, he found his feelings for deepening as a result.

Afterwards he checked in with the security on board, visited the pilots in the cockpit, before travelling to the engine room to prep the hyperdrive and everything else for repairs. There was no doubt in his mind that his Master would succeed in acquiring the parts, whether the race went Anakin's way or no. Qui-Gon was one of the foremost negotiators in the Order, master of every form of persuasion, not even above using sheer stubbornness to carry him to success in missions when all else failed.

When his work was done, he settled into a meditation, his last idle thoughts were spent wondering what Padmé would make of his Master, if she chose to spend time with him.

Padmé returned to the dwelling, encountering Shmi's warm smile and Master Jinn's thoughtful gaze. She wondered if they had seen her farewell to Obi-Wan, if she had broken part of the Code. Perhaps their conduct could be considered questionable given the mission and their positions, but she did not believe that they had behaved without circumspection or restraint. Though they had recognised their feelings were the same, they had not acted upon them, nor had either of them taken advantage of the other.

After making the acquaintance of Qui-Gon, Anakin returned to bed, intending to rise early and carry on working on the Pod. A nervous silence ensued as she, Shmi and Jar Jar adjusted to the Jedi Master's presence. Padmé exerted herself to ask after the Queen and the other handmaidens, as well as the rest of the crew abroad her ship and was pleased to see that her enquiries had the dual effect of easing Shmi's nerves about Qui-Gon, as the Jedi Master answered Padmé with kindness and assurance.

He asked her to show him the pod with which Anakin was to race tomorrow, and she led him outside, gently lifting the protective cover off so he could see the design and mechanics. She told him what she knew of it, having heard Anakin's eager description of the pod while his protocol droid introduced itself to R2D2.

"You really believe he will win tomorrow?" She found herself asking when she had finished describing the pod.

"I know he will," Qui-Gon replied.

"Obi-Wan said that you prefer to focus on the here and now," she said, "how can you know the future with such a philosophy?"

"I have faith in the Force," Qui-Gon answered, studying her curiously. "How come my Padawan told you that?"

"I asked him to describe the Force to me," Padmé replied. "He was kind enough to consent to my request."

Qui-Gon continued to study her. "You seem to be well acquainted with my Padawan."

Padmé felt she had to be careful in her reply. "We conferred over the mission. He wished to know what the Queen's opinion would be concerning the decision to trust the success of the mission upon the competency of a young boy. Naturally such an opinion would be influenced by my view of Anakin and the mission."

"And what is your opinion of Anakin?" He asked, his intense expression conveying to her his need to know the truth, rather than a diplomatic response.

"He's a sweet boy," Padmé answered. "Desirous of being helpful, but naturally ignorant of the danger to himself and the concern felt by those close to him. Perhaps innocent of the expectations his success might fulfil and the sacrifices he could be forced to make."

"You disapprove of my methods, don't you?" He deduced.

Now perhaps a little diplomacy was called for. "I'm not sure I have the experience or knowledge to give an unbiased view, Master Jinn."

"I doubt such diplomacy kept you back from giving your opinion to my Padawan," he said, but without any resentment in his tone.

"Then, diplomacy aside, yes I do, Master Jinn," she said. "Particularly in your treatment of your Padawan."

She was surprised to see him smile. "Perhaps I have been hard on Obi-Wan," he conceded. "And some times without justification, though he is headstrong. He will be a fine Jedi whom it has been an honour to train. Which I will tell him, when we travel to Coruscant. As to my methods, my only defence is that I follow the Force. Obi-Wan and I may have different ways in doing so, but it is what has made us so good a team. I will be both proud and sorry to loose him to Knighthood."

Padmé felt her opinion of him altering, despite herself. "I thought the order did not encourage attachment with Padawans."

"That doctrine is usually misinterpreted," Qui-Gon replied. "We encourage it on the basis of commitment, to the Order, to peace and justice, above our desires, our emotions. Only those Knights and Masters who learn to differentiate between attachment and possession have the potential to become remarkable Jedi."

Padmé silently wondered if she was biased in believing Obi-Wan to be capable of such. "Why then is attachment not commonplace amongst the Jedi? Does it not create a deficit in numbers and within the Force?"

"It is not widely known," Qui-Gon answered. "And there are few Jedi who believe outsiders to the Order are capable of understanding the level of commitment it commands."

"That is a shame," Padmé remarked. "Because I believe if such information was more widely known, then the level of negative opinion about the Jedi, regarding them as people who consider themselves superior and above ordinary mortals might be lowered."

"Perhaps," Qui-Gon allowed. "But where there is fear of the unknown from lack of ability to read the Force, there will always be distrust. No level of knowledge can alter that."

Padmé could not deny the truth of his words. "Well, we have an early start tomorrow," she said. "And I know Anakin intends to rise early and continue to work on the Pod. I think I will retire now. Good night Master Jinn, and thank you for this discussion." she turned to leave him alone in the yard.

"Good night, your Highness," he returned, causing her to halt and turn. "Before you go, I ask you to be careful of your feelings and that of Obi-Wan's. While he is still a Padawan and you are still so young, they are forbidden from being acted on."

"But not from realisation or understanding, I hope," Padmé said softly.

Qui-Gon only smiled and shook his head before letting her go in.

Chapter Text

Part 6: Scythe's Long Shadow.

Padmé woke early the next morning, with mixed thoughts and emotions about everything, yet with the sense that there was an underlying clarity and resolve concerning the future, which she would learn in time.

She found Qui-Gon and Jar Jar awake already, along with Shmi, whose conversation with the former ceased on her entrance. After returning her greeting, he and Jar Jar left for the arena.

When she and Shmi finished preparing provisions, Padmé went outside to wake Anakin. She found R2 in the yard, checking over the pod. Riding towards them on Eopies was Anakin's best friend, Kitster, who she met during the demonstration of the pod the day before.

"I hope you're about finished," Padmé asked the droid, who beeped an affirmative. She reached out and touched Anakin's cheek, rousing the boy.

Anakin yawned and opened puzzled eyes, looking at her. "You were in my dream. You were leading army into battle."

Padmé frowned, for there was certainty and truth in his voice, yet the vision was out of character for her. "I hope not; I hate fighting. Your mother wants you to come in and clean up. We have to leave soon."

Anakin nodded, then directed Kitster to hook the Eopies to the pod for towing. "I won't be long. Where's Qui-Gon?"

Padmé smiled as she realised from the boy's familiarity that the Jedi had taken pains to get to know him this morning. "He and Jar Jar left already. They're with Watto at the arena."

Anakin nodded and Padmé returned to the dwelling.

They arrived at the arena to find Qui-Gon finishing a conversation with Watto. The Troydarian flew over to them and said something to Anakin in his native tongue before heading out to the viewing stands with a smug laugh.

"What did he mean by that?" Anakin asked.

"I'll tell you later," Qui-Gon answered before walking over to the other Eopie to help Shmi down.

"This is wizard. I'm sure you'll be able to do it this time, Ani," Kitster said.

"Do what?" Padmé asked.

"Finish the race of course," Kitster replied.

"You've never won a race?" Padmé sought to confirm.

"Well, not exactly," Anakin said.

"Not even finished?" Padmé persisted.

"Kitster's right, I will this time," Anakin sheepishly assured her.

"Of course you will," Qui-Gon added, but Anakin wasn't looking at him, he was looking at Padmé and her concerned expression. "I won't let you down."

Padmé nodded, rapidly concealing her worry over the future. "I know you won't. You carry all our hopes." She knelt to kiss his cheek.

They followed the young contender out on to the grid, then left him with Qui-Gon to take the lift to the viewing platform. Padmé and Shmi watched the Jedi Master say a few words to the boy after he had lifted him into the pod, then he joined them at the platform.

"Is he nervous?" Shmi asked.

"He's fine," Qui-Gon replied. His somewhat dismissive tone provoked Padmé into speaking.

"You Jedi are far too reckless," she began. "The Queen,....."

"The Queen trusts my judgement, young handmaiden," Qui-Gon broke in. "You should too."

Padmé watched him walk away from her. "You assume too much." She longed to prove him wrong, remind him of his deduction last night, but now was not the time. Quelling her anger she silently followed everyone to the platform. A part of her wondered if Obi-Wan had acted so, as he might follow his master's methods and orders, she would be equally mad with him. Reluctantly she was forced to concede that she would, as so much depended on Anakin's victory.

Which at first seemed uncertain. Padmé watched via the portable holo viewscreen as his engines stalled, halting the pod on the start marks. As he crossed the line for the start of the second circuit sixth, Padmé's thoughts were in turmoil, as her worried mind began to consider alternatives to acquiring the parts. Would Qui-Gon use the same mind trick Obi-Wan did to exchange Republic credits for jewels with which to buy the parts? Padmé believed he would, but she knew that there was something she was unaware of in the negotiations which might render the bartering for parts pointless. If they were stranded here, what would happen to her people, her planet? By the time they were rescued, if they were, the occupation of the planet would be long established. And she would have failed her world and her people, along with all of those who held faith in her.

She glanced at the Jedi Master, taking in the serene composure, the closed eyes. It was clear that his mind was not with them, but with the Force, observing Anakin's progress. He seemed so confident that the boy would win, but Padmé was too worried for her world to find the confidence contagious. Already Selbulba had caused two racers to crash, another was in the pits and a fourth who had stalled the same time as Anakin collapsed on the start in a heap as his engines shot off the cables into oblivion across different parts of the canyons which aligned the track. To win, Anakin would have to beat the Dug, who seemed determined to make sure no one could.

In the second lap, Padmé watched Anakin climb to fourth, flying through the wreckage of two more causalities to Selbulba, to level with the Dug as they crossed the line for the final lap. Hope rose within her as she watched the two fight for the lead, along with an equal mixture of fear when the two pods collided and locked with each other. Shmi gripped her hand as they held their breath, knowing the vicious Dug would break free, even at the expense of Anakin's life or pod.

But not today. For in this race it was the turn of the Dug to endure defeat, as Anakin held his ground, the steering rod, the main armature and the main horizontal stabiliser his only causalities. Selbulba's pod flew apart, the engines exploding, the cockpit skidding to a violent smoking stop. Anakin flew past as the Dug's shrieking fit to become, as the commentator announced, the youngest winner of the Boonta Eve Classic.

As the crowd broke into applause, viewing platforms were lowered to give them the chance to cluster around the victorious racer, who had brought his pod to a stop before jumping out to hug his cheering best friend. Padmé soon joined them, along with Jar Jar, Shmi, Qui-Gon and the droids, the Jedi Master lifting the boy on to his shoulder to let the crowds see him.

In an hour the spectators had dispersed, along with most of the competitors, save Anakin who was checking over the pod, assessing the extent of the damage, what parts were required, and the time it would take to fix it. Padmé and Shmi were watching nearby, waiting for Qui-Gon who had gone to settle things with Watto. The Troydarian had been conspicuously absent from the celebrations, causing Padmé to wonder if he had wagered on another racer winning as opposed to his young slave.

The Jedi Master rejoined them now, two Eopies trailing behind him, towing the parts they needed to continue to Coruscant. Padmé congratulated and thanked Anakin again, before mounting one of the beasts, sitting behind the Jedi, who promised to return the animals by midday. They waited for Jar Jar to clumsily mount the other, then rode off back towards the ship.

Obi-Wan was waiting for them, his compact form emerging from the craft to halt before them. "I was getting worried," he greeted, his deceptively youthful face intense, his blue grey eyes squinting in the extreme glare of Tatooine's twin suns.

Qui-Gon dismounted, helping Padmé down before his Padawan had a chance. "Start getting this hyperdrive generator installed. I'm going back. I have some unfinished business. I won't be long."

"Why do I sense we've picked up another pathetic lifeform?" Obi-Wan remarked jokingly.

Qui-Gon did not see the humour in it. "It's the boy who's responsible for getting those parts. The boy whose blood sample I ran a midi-chlorian test on last night."

Obi-Wan dealt his master a hard glance, which Qui-Gon returned before riding away. His gaze remained upon his Master until the harsh glare of the suns obscured his view, then lowered to meet Padmé's eloquent dark brown eyes, and slender gentle hand seeking his own. He allowed her to take it, escorting her up the ramp and inside to the company of Rabé, before letting go to oversee the loading and repairs of the acquired parts.

Padmé's gaze remained on him as she asked her handmaiden how the Jedi had been during her absence, and then after the welbeing of all the others onboard.

"He seemed content enough when he debriefed us, milady," Rabé replied, after answering on the welbeing of the others in the positive. "We have not seen him since then. He's kept to the cockpit, the engine room, their quarters." She smiled as Padmé strained to keep an eye on the young Padawan. "We believe he feels the same as you do, milady."

Padmé blushed and turned her gaze from the entry ramp. "We do not have time for this now. We have a Senate petition to prepare."

"Captain Panaka wishes to speak with you first, milady."

She nodded, walking away to their quarters, knowing how annoyed her security was with her for the decision to explore the planet. The time for such curiosity was over now, and she forced herself to concentrate on State matters until the commotion of Qui-Gon's return recalled her and Panaka to the corridor, in time to meet with Anakin as he ran onboard.

"Qui-Gon's in trouble! He says to take off now!" He cried anxiously, out of breath.

Padmé ran to the cockpit, the boy and Panaka following, the former recounting the events of his and the Jedi's return to the ship.

Obi-Wan and the pilot turned from the controls at their entrance.

"Qui-Gon's in trouble," Padmé announced.

Instantly the pilot and Jedi turned back to the controls, the latter raising his gaze to scan the horizon, his blue grey eyes moving rapidly until they found the sight of his master in a fierce pitched battle with a dark cloaked opponent. Despite the harsh glare from the twin suns reflecting off the sand, they could all see that there were two lightsabers clashing against each other, green verses red.

"Take off," Obi-Wan instructed. "Leave the ramp down and fly over there low."

He did not need closer proximity to clarify what he already knew. There was only one name for the red and black skinned horned being. But it was a term which he had only read about in the bowels of the archives at the Temple, concerning an order which was meant to have been wiped out a millennia ago. If they had returned, there was more at stake than aggressive protests against taxes on trade routes. He watched the being move about the desert, his Master's checks and counters. Obi-Wan fought the anxiety inside him as he realised how his Master could be weakened by this encounter.

"Qui-Gon," he murmured, causing Padmé to reach out, placing a hand on his shoulder in a gesture of support. He tore his eyes from the viewscreen to glance at her in gratitude, before leaving the cockpit for the entry ramp.

Anakin followed and they reached it in time to help the Jedi Master to his feet, as the ramp closed and the ship accelerated to leave the planet. Qui-Gon appeared well enough, but his Padawan could see what he tried to hide from the boy; beads of sweat across his brow as his suffering body came to terms with the battle it had just fought. He had barely escaped with his life, the being possessed the potential to be his downfall.

"Are you alright?" Anakin asked.

"I think so," Qui-Gon replied. "That was a surprise I won't soon forget."

"What was it?" Obi-Wan inquired, his blue grey eyes checking his Master over.

"I'm not sure," Qui-Gon answered. "Whoever or whatever he was, he was trained in the Jedi arts. My guess is he was after the Queen."

"Do you think he'll follow us?" Anakin asked.

"We'll be safe enough once we reach hyperspace, but I have no doubt he knows our destination. If he found us once, he can find us again."

"What are we going to do about it?" Anakin asked.

"We will be patient," Qui-Gon replied. "For now, lets get you settled in, Anakin."

With a graceful movement he rose to his feet, causing Obi-Wan to rise also. He watched them walk down the ship, folding his arms across his chest, wrapping the hands through his sleeves, his face deep in thought.

The Force seemed to be telling him that the being would be the first of many unpleasant surprises during this mission.

Chapter Text

 Part 7: Core Passage.

Later, during the night watch, in her handmaiden garb of orange and yellow, Padmé entered the common room to access a communications port. She had heard the transmission once already, and the second viewing, with the addition of Governor Bibble's worry worn face as he appealed for her to contact him did nothing to assuage her fears. She knew the message was a trap which had traced their position, resulting in the strange being who battled with Qui-Gon, but there was still a part of her which believed the message's deception. After all, her planet was suffering under an invasion force, her people moved to camps, their supplies monitored and controlled. Largely a pacifist race, most Naboo were strangers to such hardships and would likely fear the invaders.

With a sigh Padmé reached out and pressed a button, ending the playback. It was pointless to dwell on such matters when she could do nothing yet to change them. Such logic however did not help to assuage her fears or concerns. Or quiet the voice inside her which argued that she should have remained with her people rather than deciding to appeal to the Senate, who would doubtless debate and delay matters, until the damage to her world was beyond repair. But what could she have done? Only an army could stop an invasion force and they had none. Not even the Jedi, despite the universal legends which made their reputation, could fight for her and win against such a mass of enemy.

Speaking of Jedi... she felt a warmth slowly wash over her as two arms embraced her from behind, wrapping themselves around her waist. Padmé let herself lean against him, surrendering to the comfort he offered through the Force and through himself, knowing that once they reached Coruscant there would be no more time for such closeness. A thought suddenly occurred to her. If the Senate refused to help, the Jedi would be obliged to withdraw theirs and she would never see Obi-Wan again.

"Don't despair, Padmé," he murmured softly, his clipped Coruscanti accent warm against her ear. "The future is always uncertain and changeable. Who knows what it may hold for us."

"Is that supposed to be comforting?" She asked in a light tone, erasing any sting in the query.

"Jedi wisdom takes years to understand and even longer to accept," Obi-Wan returned. "And a lifetime to learn," he added.

"Qui-Gon said you'll be a fine Jedi," Padmé remarked. "Whom it was an honour to train."

"High praise from him," Obi-Wan murmured, touched despite himself. "Did he say anything else?"

"He promised to tell you himself how highly he thinks of you before we reach Coruscant," Padmé replied. "And he cautioned the two of us against acting on our feelings while you're still a Padawan and I'm fourteen."

Obi-Wan stilled as he recalled her youth and the knowledge that his master knew. "I think I'll be having an interesting conversation with my Master soon."

"He offered a silent blessing," Padmé added. "No objection to realising our feelings for each other."

Obi-Wan smiled at that. "This is the one thing on which Qui-Gon and I think alike. He sees the Code as merely a set of guidelines with which to live the path by. If the Force tells him something different he obeys it."

"And you?" Padmé asked.

"I tend to follow it more strictly," Obi-Wan replied. "Masters have more independence than Padawans. I obey the Code in every respect except attachment, for I believe the Jedi doctrine contradicts completely avoiding emotion. But I don't openly rebel, not without cause, I have to have the Council's approval for my trials. And I feel I have to keep myself in check, so Qui-Gon is more cautious too, although such methods rarely work."

"It must put you in a difficult position when he does something they disapprove of," Padmé said.

"Frequently," he revealed, before sobering. "Padmé, if the Senate refuses, the Jedi will still help." A hand left her waist to caress her face. "You must not loose hope."

She met his intense blue grey gaze, then turned away before either of them could surrender to desires far more mature than them. To discover Anakin watching them from the end of the room, his small form curled up on the soft furnishing of the booth which half surrounded a circular table.

"Are you alright?" Padmé asked.

"It's very cold," he replied.

Immediately they were by him, Obi-Wan taking the brown Jedi cloak from himself to wrap over the boy, while Padmé placed an orange red blanket over his small shivering form.

"You come from a warm planet, Ani," she remarked comfortingly. "A little too warm for my tastes. Space is cold."

"You seem sad," Anakin said as he looked at them.

"The Queen is worried," Padmé replied. "Her people are suffering and dying. She must convince the Senate to intervene or else...." she let the sentence trail off, the ending already clear to the boy.

"And you?" He asked Obi-Wan.

"I am worried for the same things as Padmé," Obi-Wan replied. "And about the being who fought with Qui-Gon. His presence makes the future clouded and uncertain, even for a Jedi."

"I'm not sure what's going to happen to me either," Anakin confessed. "I don't know if I'll ever see you again," he added to Padmé, before reaching into his pocket and drawing out a small craved piece of wood. "I made this for you. So you'll remember me. I craved it out a Japor snippet. It will bring you good fortune."

"It's beautiful," Padmé murmured as she took it from him. "But I don't need this to remember you by."

Anakin glanced from her to Obi-Wan, causing her to recall what he had said to her in Watto's shop. Aside from calling her an angel, he had declared that he would marry her. The sentence had both amused and startled her, for he had said it in a tone of such conviction, almost as if he had travelled to the future and seen such an event taking place.

"Many things will change when we reach the capital, Ani," she said softly, "but my caring for you will remain."

"I care for you too," he said, "only I miss...." he swallowed a sob.

"You miss your mother," Padmé finished for he could not.

Anakin nodded, allowing his tears to escape and causing Obi-Wan to wish that they had managed to free Shmi too.

"Your feelings do you credit, Ani," he said, turning the boy's gaze to him. "But you must learn not to give them power over yourself, else they could be used against you."

Anakin nodded and they stayed with him, comforting him with their presence until he fell asleep.

Qui-Gon was meditating when Obi-Wan returned to their quarters. After seeing Padmé to hers, he had retrieved the ship's sensor logs concerning the lightsaber skirmish, both for the report to the Jedi Council and for himself to study anew. Seeing his Master's pose however, caused him to slip the recording into his pocket and fall gracefully to his seat to mirror the motion. As he sank into the Force, he touched the training bond he held with him, detecting the light healing trance his Master had placed on himself. Sinking deeper, Obi-Wan tried to find the source of the mortal disease which was slowly killing his Master. It was a search he performed regularly, each time without success. He believed or rather hoped, that if he found the source he could heal his Master. But he never even came close to discovering which part of Qui-Gon's body was struck with the illness first. The damage and rate of decay never varied wherever he looked.

Qui-Gon opened his eyes. "It is the will of the Force, Obi-Wan," he said softly.

"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan replied, though in a tone which indicated that he was not prepared to concede that such was the case.

His Master sighed, for the disagreement was an old one, ever since the Temple physicians concluded that they could do nothing but delay the onset of his disease. "How is it, Padawan mine, that you have such faith in the Force to give it's blessing on your feelings for Padmé, yet you do not believe it when it comes to my fate?"

Obi-Wan blushed at this, then had the humility to look chagrined. Qui-Gon was right. He was treating the Force selfishly, emotionally, not with humility or compassion or logic or reverence as a true servant should. "I'm sorry, Master," he uttered, bowing his head in shame.

It was rare that he had to admonish his self-effacing Padawan on arrogance and Qui-Gon did not like doing it, knowing the damage it often did to his self-esteem. Rising from his seat he walked over to Obi-Wan and placed an arm round his shoulders. "Your feelings do you credit, Obi-Wan," he said, unconsciously repeating the words his Padawan had said to Anakin only minutes ago. "And you are right to believe them regarding Padmé."

He looked up at that. "I am?"

Qui-Gon nodded. "It has been an honour to have you as my Padawan, Obi-Wan. I have taught you all I can about the ways of the Force. Indeed there are times when your understanding of it surpasses mine. At the end of this mission I shall be recommending you for the Trials. Earlier if the Council reacts the way I expect them to concerning Anakin."

Obi-Wan went from pleased to concerned in the space of seconds. "You really believe Anakin is the Chosen One?"

"Yes, Obi-Wan, I do," Qui-Gon replied. "Did you not think so when you spent time with him?"

Obi-Wan wondered how best to reply without disappointing his Master who rarely gave such compliments or words of praise as he had just now. "He's a special boy who is very strong in the Force," he finally allowed.

Before Qui-Gon had too much time to examine his apprentice's answer, the com beeped, signalling that they were arriving at Coruscant. Master and Padawan rose from their seats and went to the cockpit.

Chapter Text

Part 8: Test Politic.

The Nubian craft settled gracefully on to the landing dock where Chancellor Valorum's shuttle was waiting. Followed by the Queen and her Handmaidens, the Jedi along with Anakin and Jar Jar disembarked from the ship to meet the two men clothed in the dress of the Republican Senate who were waiting for them, along with a contingent of guards who served as security escorts.

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan bowed before Senator Palpatine and Chancellor Valorum then stepped aside to allow the politicians to return the gesture to the Queen.

"It's a great relief to see you alive and well, Your Majesty," Senator Palpatine greeted her, smiling. "May I present Supreme Chancellor Valorum."

"Welcome, Your Highness," Valorum said. "It is an honour to finally meet you in person. I must relay to you how distressed everyone is over the current situation on Naboo. I have called for a special session of the Senate so you may present your request for relief."

"I am grateful for your concern, Chancellor," the Queen replied quietly.

Senator Palpatine led his sovereign, her security chief and her cadre of Handmaidens to the shuttle. "There is a question of procedure but I feel confident we can overcome it," he said as they walked away.

In her handmaiden robes Padmé spared one last glance at the Jedi before urging Anakin to join them on the shuttle.

When they had arrived at the Senator's office, Padmé shed her disguise and changed into the robes of her true position. She joined the Senator and Captain Panaka in the office.

"The Republic is not what it once was," Palpatine said, almost apologising for such judgement. "The Senate is full of greedy, squabbling delegates who are only looking out for themselves and their home systems. There is no interest in the common good, no civility, only politics." He sighed as though weary of his role. "It is disgusting. I must be frank, Your Majesty. There is little chance the Senate will act on the invasion."

Padmé frowned inwardly, the makeup of her elaborate dress hiding any physical display. "Chancellor Valorum seems to think there is hope," she said, recalling Sabé's conversation with him after he had finished speaking with the Jedi and escorted her to Palpatine's office. Sabé had been very impressed by his deep concern and determination to help, secretly sending the Jedi to rescue her sovereign so she could make her case.

"If I may say so, Your Majesty," Senator Palpatine replied, "the Chancellor has little real power. He is mired in baseless accusations of corruption. A manufactured scandal surrounds him. The bureaucrats are in charge now."

"What options do we have?" Padmé asked.

"Our best choice would be to push for the election of a stronger Supreme Chancellor, one who could take control of the bureaucrats, enforce the laws, and give us justice," Palpatine replied. "You could call for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum."

"He has been our strongest supporter," Padmé said in shock. "Is there no other way?"

"Our only other choice is to submit the matter to the Courts," Palpatine answered.

"There is no time for that," Padmé replied, her temper rising. "The courts take even longer to decide than the Senate. Our people are dying, Senator. We must do something quickly before it gets any worse."

Palpatine gave her a hard look. "To be realistic, Your Highness, I believe we are going to have to accept the Trade Federation control as an accomplished fact. For the time being, at least."

Padmé shook her head. "That is something I cannot do." It seemed as if her suspicions concerning the worth of this journey would prove to be true. A part of her questioned as to why she should even bother trying to appeal to the Senate if she was so certain what their response would be. She remembered what Obi-Wan had said about the Force; how to hear it speaking by learning to quiet your mind. That was what she felt now; a voice inside her, telling her that she must appear before the Senate, whether the outcome bore her people good or ill. The suffering of her world would be made known to the Republic, and who knows, perhaps their conscience would be awakened into reform and action, putting aside corruption and bureaucracy in favour of the common good.

At the Jedi Temple, in the one area of the core not dedicated to commerce or politics, another special session of Council had been called, before whom Qui-Gon delivered his briefing of the mission while his Padawan stood silently beside him, to observe and learn. His part in the mission was recounted by his Master, who dealt the appearance of his illness no more than moment's pause, conveying the impression that it was nothing more than a minor hindrance to an otherwise eventful journey from Naboo. Despite their numerous times of contention with his unorthodox methods, the Council still held a healthy respect for Qui-Gon, which was displayed by their silence on the illness as well, dealing it the same amount of attention Qui-Gon had. But when his Master reached the conclusion of his report, his judgement that the being he faced in combat was a Sith Lord, respect gave way to incredulity.

"A Sith Lord!?!" Master Mace Windu all but growled.

"Impossible!" Master Ki-Adi-Mundi added. "The Sith have been extinct for a millennia."

"Threatened the Republic is if the Sith are involved," Yoda murmured gravely, the one voice in the Council who did not doubt the veracity of Qui-Gon's claim.

The Korun Master calmed in the face of his fellow Councillor's acceptance. "I do not believe the Sith could have returned without our knowledge," he said however, his opinion still unchanged.

"Hard to see, the dark side is," Yoda half reminded all present. "Discover who this assassin is, we must."

Ki-Adi-Mundi nodded in agreement. "Perhaps he will reveal himself again."

"This attack was with purpose," Master Windu added, "that is much is clear. The Queen must be his target. He will try again."

Yoda lifted his arm to place emphasis on his instruction. "With this Naboo Queen you must stay, Qui-Gon. Protect her, you must."

"We shall use the Sensor logs and all our resources to unravel this mystery and discover the identity of your attacker," Mace decided. "May the Force be with you."

The head of the Council echoed the phrase, a clear dismissal, and in obedience to the order, Obi-Wan turned to leave, but Qui-Gon remained, causing him to come to a halt. Knowing what was coming, Obi-Wan folded his arms into his cloak, and turned, a hard stare forming on his face, signalling his misgivings about what his Master was going to say.

"More to say, have you, Qui-Gon?" Yoda queried.

"With your permission, Master," Qui-Gon said, "I have encountered a vergence in the Force."

Yoda's eyes widened and Obi-Wan felt the tension rise within the room as once more they bore witness to unorthodox methods. "A vergence, you say?"

"Located around a person?" Mace asked.

"A boy," Qui-Gon revealed. "His cells have the strongest concentration of midi-chlorians I have ever seen in a lifeform. It is possible he was conceived by the midi-chlorians."

Obi-Wan recalled his own incredulity when his Master asked him to research the prophecy during a time when the illness had confined him to the healer's ward at the Temple, grounding his Padawan also. He wondered again why his Master was so determined to find the Chosen One, if perhaps it was related in some form to his mortal frailty, his last chance to champion a seemingly impossible cause into fruition. He could sense the same disbelief in his superiors now, all revered Masters of the Force, for only the best sat on the Council, all sceptical of Qui-Gon's claim.

"You refer to the prophecy," Mace said, half seeking to confirm what they heard. "Of the one who will balance to the Force. You believe it is this boy."

For once in his life, Obi-Wan saw his Master hesitate. "I don't presume..."

"But you do!" Yoda interrupted. "Reveal your opinion is, Qui-Gon!"

Faced with the usual level of objection and disbelief, Obi-Wan's Master found his resolve once more. "I request the boy be tested."

There was a pause as the Councillors reflected over everything they heard concerning the boy during the briefing, and Master Jinn's usual and legendary success when it came to championing lost, impossible causes.

"To be trained as a Jedi you request for him?" Yoda queried quietly.

"Finding him was the will of the Force," Qui-Gon replied. "I have no doubt of it. There is too much happening here for it to be anything else."

The Council only had option before them now; to grant this unorthodox request. Qui-Gon had once again forced their hands into action. Perhaps the result was under their control, perhaps not. Knowing the Jedi standing before them, few believed this.

"Bring him before us then," Mace directed with a barely perceptible sigh.

Yoda announced their reluctant consensus. "Tested he will be."

Chapter Text

Part 9: Queen Takes Chancellor.

Padmé changed clothes again before her appearance in the Senate Hall, shedding the light cream mesh of lace work for something far more imposing; red and gold, broad shouldered and flowing to disguise her youth and height, extensions to her dark hair framing her face and most of her upper body in an elaborate style. Beneath the costume she wore the gifts from Anakin and Obi-Wan, the wealth of her impressive gown making them undetectable. From the latter she had heard nothing since their parting at the landing dock, but she had just said a brief and horribly formal farewell to the former who had been summoned to appear before the Jedi Council at the Temple. Padmé did not know whether she wished for the boy to become a Jedi, knowing how terribly he missed his mother. It seemed in this world that nothing desired came without a price.

She rejoined Palpatine and her security, a solemn procession to the Senate pod assigned to Naboo, the former still advising her of the soundness in his proposed actions.

"If the Federation moves to defer the motion, Your Majesty, I beg of you to ask for a resolution to end this session and call for the election of a new Chancellor."

"I wish I had your confidence in this proposal, Senator," Padmé replied quietly, unsure if the fate of her planet would be changed by unseating their strongest champion, the man who had risked two Jedi to rescue her to make this appeal in the first place.

"You must force a new election for Supreme Chancellor," Senator Palpatine persisted. "I promise you there are many who will support us. It is our best chance. Our only chance."

"You truly believe Chancellor Valorum will not bring our motion to a vote?" Padmé asked him.

Her Senator shook his head. "He is distracted, he is afraid. He will be of no help."

"The chair recognises the Senator from the sovereign system of Naboo," Valorum said now, calling the pod forward into the centre of the arena, allowing no further time for thought.

"Supreme Chancellor, delegates of the Senate," Palpatine began, rising from Padmé's side to address the floor. "A tragedy has occurred on our peaceful system of Naboo. We have become caught in a dispute of which you are all well aware. It started right here with the taxation of trade routes and has now engulfed our entire planet in the oppression of the Trade Federation."

At that moment the pod assigned to the guilty party rushed forward, it's Senator anxious to protest. "This is outrageous. I object to the Senator's statements."

"The chair does not recognise the Senator from the Trade Federation at this time," Valorum declared, causing the pod to float back to the docking clamp.

"To state our allegations, I present Queen Amidala, the recently elected ruler of Naboo to speak on our behalf," Senator Palpatine continued, stepping aside to allow her forward.

"Honourable representatives of the Republic, distinguished delegates, Supreme Chancellor," Padmé began. "I come to you under the gravest of circumstances. The Naboo system has been invaded by the droid armies of the Trade Federation. As I speak before you now, my people are being taken from their homes and herded into camps. If it had not been for the actions of the Jedi, I would not be standing here, forced instead to sign a treaty legally endorsing this unlawful occupation."

Once more the pod from the Trade group floated out from it's moorings to object. "This is incredible. We recommend a commission be sent to Naboo to ascertain the truth."

"Overruled," Valorum decided.

Another pod travelled to the floor now, it's occupier speaking in favour of his guilty colleague. "The Congress of Malastare concurs with the honourable delegate from the Trade Federation."

"The point," Valorum began, before breaking off to consult with his aides.

In the interim Palpatine crouched beside his Sovereign. "Enter the bureaucrats, the true rulers of the Republic and on the pay role of the Federation I might add," he murmured. "This is where Chancellor Valorum's strength will disappear."

Sure enough, the Senator was correct in his judgement. "The point is conceded. Queen Amidala of the Naboo, will defer your motion to allow a commission to explore the validity of your claims?"

Padmé fought to contain her anger, however some of the emotion leaked through her tone. "I will not defer. I have come before you to resolve this attack of our sovereignty now. I was not elected to watch my people suffer and die while you discuss this invasion in a committee." She paused here, wondering if this was the right thing to do, wondering if her actions here would be questioned in the future. Not for the first time did she feel that there was a greater significance to this than just the fate of her planet. But what choice did she have? If Valorum was prepared to concede on such an flimsy excuse for procedure, then it was her duty to prevent other worlds from suffering the same fate as Naboo.

"If this body is not capable of action, I suggest new leadership is needed. I call for a vote of confidence in Chancellor Valorum."

The Senate arena, previously so quiet, now erupted into a chorus of voices, so many as to make the words indistinguishable from the canopy of noise. Padmé's gaze turned to the Chancellor, who had collapsed into his chair, a look of utter disbelief across his suddenly weary brow. As his Vice Chair called for Order, his eyes returned Padmé's eloquent stare, recognising the apology contained therein, and silently assuring her that he did not hold it against her.

Silence was eventually restored in the arena the last to speak seconding Queen Amidala's motion for vote. The Vice Chair called for a recess as Palpatine leaned forward to speak to her once more.

"You see, Your Majesty, the tide is with us. Valorum will be voted out, I assure you, and they will elect a new Chancellor, a strong Chancellor, one who will not allow our tragedy to continue."

Later, with the dubious gift of hindsight, Padmé would swear that she could detect a note of deadliness in the Senator's tone.

While the Republic suffered this political upheaval, Obi-Wan cautiously rejoined his Master upon a balcony at the Jedi Temple. The sun had just begun to set on the city which never slept, barely imperceptible among the many lights from the numerous skyscrapers which littered the horizon. Since the decision by the Council to test the boy, Obi-Wan had only seen his Master once, during the brief and tensely filled silent journey to retrieve Anakin and escort the boy to the Council. While the test was conducted, Qui-Gon was called to the healers, leaving Obi-Wan to his own devices. For a time he had gone to the training salles, practising his lightsaber skills in readiness should they encounter the Sith again.

Despite all his frustrations and embarrassment directed towards his Master however, Obi-Wan met with him as soon as he emerged from the healer's ward. He knew already what the Council's decision would be. The Code was clear about the risk in introducing a child to the ways of the Jedi after their first year of existence. From his time with the boy, Obi-Wan could see the potential within him which his Master saw. But he could also see the dangers, such as the boy's attachment to his mother, to adventure, to glory. Anakin's background as a slave on a harsh Outer Rim world also tell against him, for while it inured him to the sacrifices being a Knight would demand, it also had an impact on his emotional development.

Initially Obi-Wan had been willing to forward the boy's cause as much as his Master, but faced with the Council's doubts as well as his own misgivings concerning the prophecy, Obi-Wan felt obliged to caution his Master before he faced a further drop in his reputation before the Council and the Order. Already he had gone further than Obi-Wan believed was wise, by proclaiming his belief that the boy was the Chosen One before the Council, who, try as they might to avoid it, would judge Anakin with that impression in mind, increasing the possibility that Anakin would learn of Qui-Gon's expectation, and feel burdened by it, if he was accepted into the Order.

"The boy will not pass the Council's tests, Master," he uttered quietly, "and you know it. He is too old."

Qui-Gon remained impassive, observing the sunset. "Anakin will become a Jedi, I promise you."

"Don't defy the Council, Master," Obi-Wan almost pleaded. "Not again."

"I will do what I must, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon replied. "Would you have me any other way?"

Yes, Obi-Wan was inclined to reply, but he withheld the word within. "Master, you could be sitting on the Council by now if you just follow the Code. You deserve to be sitting on the Council. They will not go along with you this time."

Qui-Gon smiled. "You still have much to learn, my young apprentice. And you should know what I will do if they refuse."

"Master, if you do, they are unlikely to accept my readiness for the Trials either," Obi-Wan pointed out. "You know how stubborn they are when they are forced into doing something they disagree with."

"And you know how stubborn I am in championing a cause I believe to be good," Qui-Gon replied.

"I do," Obi-Wan conceded, bowing his head. "It doesn't stop me from worrying though, Master."

Qui-Gon laid a hand on his shoulder. "I know, Padawan, and I value it. Just as I value your honesty, even when we disagree. Whatever happens, you will be a fine Jedi, just as I intend to see Anakin become."

Padmé Naberrie Amidala stood before the large window in Senator Palpatine's office, deep in thought. The Senate had been recalled from recess, where the process to elect a new Supreme Chancellor had begun. Nominations followed by votes, meaning even longer before the invasion of Naboo was considered, let alone overturned, even if it could be by then. Appealing to Coruscant had brought her planet nothing and herself only a reprieve. She had to go back and save her world before it was too late.

Jar Jar came to stand beside her. "Mesa wonder why da guds invent pain?" he asked, quietly respectful.

"To motivate us, I suppose," Padmé replied.

"Yousa tinken yousa people gonna die?" Jar Jar asked.

"I don't know," Padmé answered.

"Gungan's ganna get pasted too eh?" Jar Jar asked.

"I hope not," Padmé said.

"Gungans do die'n without a fight," Jar Jar assured her. "Wesa warriors. Wesa gotta grand army. Dat why you no liken us, methinks."

Padmé stilled, no breath escaping her as she suddenly realised that her escape had indeed given her people something. Now it was up to her to prove that they were right to have faith in one so young as her.

There was a rustle of noise as the door opened, announcing the return of Captain Panaka and Senator Palpatine.

"Your Highness, Senator Palpatine has been nominated to succeed Chancellor Valorum as Supreme Chancellor," Panaka informed them.

For some reason, the news did not cheer Padmé as much as she thought it should.

"A surprise to be sure," Senator Palpatine added, "but a welcome one. I promise, Your Majesty, if I am elected, I will bring democracy back to the Republic, I will put an end to corruption. The Trade Federation will loose its' influence over the bureaucrats and our people will be freed."

"Who else has been nominated?" Padmé asked.

"Bail Antilles of Alderaan and Ainlee Teem of Malastre," Panaka informed her.

"I feel confident our situation will create a strong sympathy vote for us," Palpatine added. "I will be Chancellor, I promise you."

"I fear by the time you have control of the bureaucrats, Senator, there will be nothing left of our cities, our people, our way of life," Padmé remarked.

"I understand your concern, Your Majesty," Palpatine replied. "Unfortunately the Federation has possession of our planet. The law is in their favour."

"With the Senate in transition, there is nothing more I can do here," Padmé continued. "Senator, this is your arena, I feel I must return to mine. I have decided to go back to Naboo."

"Go back!?!" Palpatine cried. "But Your Majesty, you could be in danger. They will force you to sign the treaty."

"I will sign no treaty, Senator. My fate will be no different from that of our people," Padmé replied. "Captain, ready my ship."

"Please, Your Majesty," Panaka pleaded. "Stay here where it is safe."

"No place is safe, if the Senate doesn't condemn this invasion," Padmé replied. "It is clear to me now that the Republic no longer functions as a democracy. If you win the election, Senator, I know you will do everything possible to stop the Federation. I pray you will bring sanity and compassion back to the Senate."

Palpatine bowed as she passed him and returned to the dressing room to prepare. She must keep her true role until they landed on Naboo, where the next phase of her plan would begin.

Chapter Text

Part 10: Trials of Dreams.

Obi-Wan stood before the doors to the Council chambers silently reviewing all the times he had been here before with his Master, as Qui-Gon harangued the members into surrender over a seemingly impossible cause.

First there had been the argument to change the wording of the Code, to allow Padawans and other Jedi to realise that emotion was unavoidable in life no matter what the situation, for it coloured every thought and view one made. That by becoming distant and detached one risked losing the ability to understand the way of the universe, of compassion, guidance and justice, all things which made the Jedi who they were. Not only had he convinced the Council to see the wisdom in his point of view, Qui-Gon had managed to achieve a new system of training the younglings to recognise emotion, as well as the adoption of the older Code, which by changing the word 'no' for 'yet', allowed the existence of emotion within the Order.

Secondly, there had been the argument that younglings should not be denied of their potential to become Jedi just because no Master had chosen to accept them as their Padawan learner. Qui-Gon reminded the Council of the scarcity of Jedi recently, brought on not just by the Lost Nineteen, but practice of celibacy, and the decision to send talented initiates to Bandomeer. He displayed Obi-Wan as the perfect example of where such a mistake had been made, and made a point of thanking Master Yoda for sending him on a mission to the service corps planet while his future Padawan also travelled there, enabling him to realise the potential the boy had, leading them to one of the finest partnerships of the Order.

Obi-Wan had never felt more proud of his Master than that day when the Council agreed to review each youngling who did not get selected, presenting them with the option of remaining at the Temple for more learning, or leaving to follow another career. The numbers of the Order had increased significantly since then.

Lastly, there had been the occasion when Qui-Gon had fought for the extension of what had become known as the Corellian experiment. The Jedi who came from said system were unique in the Order, in that they rarely ventured beyond their native planet for missions in the field, and defied the Code on a regular basis by forming attachments and having children, who went on to become Jedi under their parent's tutelage.

Apart from one notable exception made to a Council Member, the Order accepted such practice only amongst those Jedi who were from Corellia, knowing the planet's tradition in regarding family as important. Qui-Gon however fought to extend the experiment to include the entire Order, arguing that allowing Jedi to marry would increase numbers and destroy the common impression formed by outsiders that the Jedi considered themselves superior to non-force sensitives, being determined to isolate themselves from the Republic which they served.

Now, they were here again, this time on the subject of the Chosen One, whom his Master seemed convinced was Anakin. Obi-Wan observed the boy as he stood beside Qui-Gon, his curious eyes darting about the corridor they were waiting in, taking in every detail they could see. He could not deny that Anakin was powerful in the Force, he could sense the signature in him, a beacon of light so bright as to be immediately distinguishable from all the others who were in the Temple at this moment. But he doubted that Anakin was the Chosen One. True the boy possessed great potential, but his background told against him, having an undeniable impact on his emotional, physical and intellectual welfare.

Instead of freeing him from the clutches of slavery, Qui-Gon had simply bound the boy to another type of indentured service, one from which he could not escape, and would expose him to even more of the evil in this universe. Already the Council's impression of the boy had been coloured by his Master's belief in his potential, rendering the outcome of this meeting dubious whichever way the judgement went.

Whatever this day held for Anakin, the moment would be forever imprinted upon the mind of the boy, inevitably clouding his fate. If he came to learn of the main reason why Qui-Gon had strove to free him, and Obi-Wan held now the increasing certainty that he would, then a burden would be placed on him from which he would never escape, and one that he could never possibility fulfil, perhaps even exceed.

A Chosen One said to bring balance to the Force. Such a concept meant that the Force was unbalanced at this time, which Obi-Wan could not see the logic in, unless the existence of the Sith whom his Master had fought meant that, as oppose to showing the Order that the dark side had to coexist with the light, else chaos would ensue.

But if Anakin was a vergence, then that would imply either that a more powerful Sith existed than the one Qui-Gon fought, and or the boy was meant to learn about both sides of the Force in order to balance it, indicating that the darkness of the Sith was due to rise over the Jedi once more. With all this reasoning in mind, could the Council really afford to take the risk of training Anakin? Obi-Wan doubted it. However he knew his Master's stubbornness, his often single-minded determination to force the Council into conceding the wisdom of his argument. Whatever their judgement, Obi-Wan did not doubt that Qui-Gon would fight to achieve Anakin's acceptance to the Temple, what ever the cost might be.

And while he applauded such methods, Obi-Wan feared what the outcome might prove, and who would be the looser in the conflict.

The doors opened, causing the Jedi to rise to their feet, and enter the chamber, Anakin ushered ahead by Qui-Gon, all three halting in the centre of the room.

"Finished we are with our examination of the boy," Yoda declared. "Correct you were, Qui-Gon."

Master Windu nodded. "His cells contain a very high concentration of midi-chlorians."

Obi-Wan caught the emphasis on 'very high' as opposed to vergence. He knew what was coming even as his Master presumed otherwise.

"He is to be trained then."

"No," Mace replied. "He will not be trained."

Obi-Wan took a side glance at Anakin, feeling sorry for him in having his dreams shattered so publicly. Did the Council have any idea what this could do to a boy already abused by slavery? And yet his Master was equally culpable for not insisting that Anakin remain outside while they heard the judgement of the Council. Obi-Wan knew the Jedi were expected to accept a ruling like this without question and Anakin had a right to hear it. But the boy was not a Jedi, and a little compassion could go a long way in salvaging this situation from having so much of a lasting impact on him.

Qui-Gon was surprised. The word "no," escaped his mouth in a tone full of disbelief.

"He is too old," Master Windu continued. "There is already too much anger in him."

Obi-Wan could feel the anger in this room, but he did not believe it came from Anakin, not at this moment.

"He is the Chosen One," Qui-Gon insisted, causing his Padawan to groan inwardly as his worst fears were proved. "You must see it."

"Clouded this boy's future is," Yoda remarked. "Masked by his youth."

Obi-Wan restrained himself from rolling his eyes at that cryptic comment, which could easily be true of any child, Force sensitive or not. He saw his master take in the gaze then of every single councillor and he realised what was coming. He braced himself for it.

"Very well, I will train him then," Qui-Gon said. "I take Anakin Skywalker as my Padawan apprentice."

Even though he had been warned and anticipated these words from his Master, Obi-Wan was still vulnerable to the shock such a declaration produced. He felt the emotions rising within him, all too familiar, his master having rejected him once before, until the mission to Bandomeer had proved him wrong. Determinedly he sent them into the Force, focusing his attention on the here and now.

"An apprentice you already have, Qui-Gon," Yoda said, a sharply reminder. "Impossible to take on a second."

"We forbid it," added Mace.

"Obi-Wan is ready," Qui-Gon declared.

Before he entered the room, when his master had prewarned him of this, and even when he had spoken of it to Padmé, Obi-Wan had not come to a decision concerning his readiness to become a knight. The Force told him it was a certainty when he was with Padmé, but he had been determined not to appear too eager, too sure of his abilities, for it was not his way, or a Jedi's for that matter. Yet now before he realised what he was about, he heard himself answer, "I am, I am ready to face the trials," in a voice which failed to mask the turmoil of emotions he believed he had under control.

Yoda shifted his gaze towards him, raising an eyebrow in mild rebuke. "Ready so early are you? What know you of ready?"

Qui-Gon looked at him, his expression somehow conveying both apology and admonishment all at the same time. "Obi-Wan is headstrong and he has much to learn still about the Living Force, but he is capable. There is little more he can learn from me."

Obi-Wan saw Yoda never remove his gaze from him as he mastered his emotions. "Our counsel we will keep on who is ready, Qui-Gon," the revered Master remarked.

"Now is not the time for this," Mace said, abruptly bringing the matter to a close. "Queen Amidala called for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum and the Senate will being voting on the replacement tomorrow. She, we are advised, is returning home which will put pressure on the Federation and could widen the confrontation. Those responsible will be quick to act on these new events."

"Drawn out of hiding her attackers will be," Yoda predicted.

"Go with the Queen to Naboo and discover the identity of this dark warrior who attacked you, be it Sith or otherwise," Master Windu ordered. "That is the clue we need to unravel this mystery."

"Decided later, young Skywalker's fate will be," Yoda declared.

"I brought Anakin here," Qui-Gon uttered quietly. "He must stay in my charge. He has no where else to go."

Obi-Wan silently recalled Shmi Skywalker's face as she argued, pleaded and cajoled for him to take her son as a Jedi. Anakin did have somewhere to go, but this was not the time to argue it, particularly not by Qui-Gon, who was still determined to win this fight.

However, on this point the Council the was willing to be generous. "He is your ward, Qui-Gon," Mace conceded. "We do not dispute that."

"But train him not!" Yoda uttered forcibly. "Take him with you, but train him not."

"Protect the Queen," Mace added, "but do not intercede if it comes to war until we have the Senate's approval."

"May the Force be with you," Yoda added in his dismissal.

As Obi-Wan bowed, watching his master do the same, nudging Anakin into the gesture with a firm hand on his shoulder, he heard Master Yoda's voice inside his mind.

-Speak with you, I will,- he said through the Force. -Before you leave, in my rooms.-

-Yes Master,- Obi-Wan replied back before following Qui-Gon and Anakin out of the Council Chamber.

The last time Obi-Wan had been asked to go to Yoda's rooms was when the venerable Master had told him about the mortal nature of Qui-Gon's disease. The Grand Master had been unusually discomposed, appearing saddened, tired and old to a young Padawan so recently accepted back into the order for a second time.

He remembered feeling fearful upon entering the rooms, only to be bathed in the brilliance of the Force, as it seemed to seep from every particle within the Master's chambers. Yoda had been as gentle as he was with his clan students, honest almost to a fault, but a comforting balm as well which Obi-Wan had badly needed just then. Yoda gave him the strength to deal with Qui-Gon's illness and paved the way for him to gain training in healing techniques, the very ones that helped sustain his Master in missions for now.

So despite the Master's judgement on him during the Council meeting, Obi-Wan held no qualms about meeting with him before his departure. He pressed the signal square outside and waited for the door to slide open, allowing him admittance into that room, where the Force still held a brilliancy unparalleled by any other place in the Temple, even the room of a thousand fountains.

He closed his eyes, allowing the Force to wash over him, remembering how he had felt when he showed Padmé the wondrous sight of the Force, how he had tried to achieve conveying the same kind of joy he experienced whenever he visited this Master, or mediated in the room of a thousand fountains. The same chorus washed over him, bathing him in all it's glory.

Master Yoda's voice caused him to return to the moment. "Flowering youth is," he said, a deceptively inane comment, which Obi-Wan felt almost sure was a reference to Padmé. Nothing escaped the foremost Master of the Order it seemed.

"Your opinion on Qui-Gon's illness I need," he began then, ushering Obi-Wan to the meditation cushions with his gimmer stick.

Obi-Wan sat down, sinking gracefully into the crossed leg pose. "He seemed to be coping well, Master," he answered.

Yoda hummed, causing Obi-Wan to wonder if he had chosen the wrong reply. "Are you asking me if I think his illness is affecting his judgement?"

"Know what I ask," Yoda replied, "determine your answer, you must!"

It was a question which Obi-Wan had spent most of the mission silently wondering about. Still he was no closer to an firm opinion one way or another.

"I don't know, Master."

Another hum escaped the revered Master, this one more thoughtful. "Right on one thing, Qui-Gon was," he uttered quietly. "Ready are you."

The words caught him by surprise, as Yoda it seemed knew they would. "Thank you, Master," Obi-Wan answered.

"Needed not your gratitude is," Yoda replied. "Proved yourself a Jedi when last we met like this."

Obi-Wan nodded numbly, his mind still processing the thoughts this revelation had created. "You wish me to remain with Master Qui-Gon," he realised aloud. "To help him with his condition."

Yoda nodded. "Serves you well, your insight always has. Important your continued presence by his side is. Necessary to this mission and the future."

Should he say it, Obi-Wan wondered, half suspecting Yoda knew his feelings already. The Grand Master had always treated him with honesty, it was only right of him to reply in kind. "I would return Qui-Gon to Naboo anyway, Master."

Yoda snorted, tapping his gimmer stick on the floor before pointing it at the Padawan. "Know this already, I do. Ignorant of your feelings for Queen Amidala, I am not! Passed on some of his rebellious nature, Qui-Gon has. Warn you to be careful, I need not."

Bowing his head Obi-Wan nodded. "Yes Master. I know. And we will be." He lifted his head at this and wondered if he imagined the smile on Yoda's face, so brief its presence was.

"Go now you may," the Master said, causing Obi-Wan to rise and bow. "May the Force be with you, Obi-Wan."

"And with you Master," Obi-Wan returned before exiting the room.

Chapter Text

Part 11: Falling in to the Shadow.

When Padmé returned to the landing dock, she saw Qui-Gon rise to his full height from a conversation with Anakin, while Obi-Wan was nowhere in sight. A momentary worry entered her head as she wondered if the Council had granted Master's Jinn's request to train Anakin, leaving Obi-Wan to fend for himself or perhaps under another Master, meaning that the last time she saw him was at the landing dock hours before when they had no chance to exchange a proper farewell. Then she caught sight of a brown cloak emerging briefly from the ship and she felt comforted that her other rescuer was also returning to Naboo.

"Your Highness," Qui-Gon said, bowing slightly as she neared him, "it will be our pleasure to continue to serve and protect you."

"I welcome your help," Padmé replied in a civil tone as he fell into place to walk beside her for a moment. "Senator Palpatine fears the Federation means to destroy me."

"I promise you, we will not let that happen," Qui-Gon replied with another bow, letting her and her handmaidens pass him.

The brown robes had disappeared by the time she entered the ship and with the Jedi Master close behind her escort, Padmé concluded that he and his Padawan must have had a quarrel before her shuttle arrived. After waiting Master Jinn to follow Anakin to the cockpit, she dismissed her handmaidens and Captain Panaka, then entered her chambers to find, as she had suspected, a pacing, preoccupied Padawan Kenobi.

"What happened?" She asked him as she walked towards him.

He looked up from where his gaze had been fixed on the floor, to freeze her form with a deep blue grey gaze, full of emotional turmoil. Slowly and in a concise a manner as was rendered possible by this conflict, he told her everything that occurred in the Council Chambers concerning Anakin and himself.

It was the first time she had ever seen Obi-Wan like this, even when he told her about Master Jinn's decision to take over the mission on Mos Espa, forcing a temporary separation between her and him. Now she realised the danger emotions held for the Jedi, along with the tremendous control Obi-Wan possessed over his, extremely careful as he was throughout the narrative to let his temper leak only as far as his tone and his eyes. His respect for her, Anakin, the Council members, even his Master, never wavered once, though it was clear that he held Qui-Gon's conduct in contempt.

Padmé held her silence until he reached the end, whereupon she reached out to tentatively touch him in a gesture of support, her hands fixing a grip on his brown cloak. Gently he pried the well worn material from her grasp, to take the slender fingers and palm in his callused own, hardened from years of lightsaber training. "Poor Ani," she murmured, her brown eyes seeking out his, which had become the shade of the ocean again. "And poor you."

"I knew what was coming," Obi-Wan replied. "Qui-Gon even had the courtesy to warn me of his actions." He bowed his head a little, the misplaced guilt rising within him. "It should not affect me like this."

"It's understandable that it does," Padmé reasoned. "The Council did not force him into doing this, he gave them no choice. How can you accept such a thing calmly, even as a Jedi?" She shook her head in frustration. "When I didn't see you on the platform I feared the worst. Then I caught sight of your brown cloak."

He smiled. "I sensed your concern. We had a quarrel over Anakin on the platform. I didn't mean to fight with him, especially in front of Ani, but...." he breathed in deeply, sighing. "I best go and find him, make amends."

"I'm afraid it will have to wait," Padmé uttered. "I need to speak with both of you, as well as Jar Jar and my escort, about what I intend to do when we land on Naboo."

"Of course," Obi-Wan said, inclining his head. "I'll go and summon them, your Highness." he added, performing a far more flamboyant bow.

"Thank you, Master Jedi," Padmé returned, along with the smile. She watched him go, then prepared herself for the briefing which was about to take place.

As it turned out, the apology had to wait until they arrived on Naboo, in brief moment of privacy while Jar Jar went to fetch his sovereign. Whether he sensed his Padawan's conflict or simply wished to avoid him, Obi-Wan could not tell, for aside from the meeting in the Queen chambers, Qui-Gon never purposefully sought him out, the two of them reserving any comment they made aboard the ship during hyperspace for others.

Now, as they stood side by side, a little distance from the Queen and her escorts, although Padmé had assumed the role of decoy once more, trusting in Sabé to perform the necessary overtures she intended to make with Boss Nass. She had been very mysterious in the briefing which she summoned the Jedi, handmaidens, security and Jar Jar for, only revealing that she wished to meet with the Gungans, and Jar Jar was to be her emissary.

Obi-Wan could sense the strong disapproval of her security captain, clearly concerned that his Queen had once more ignored his advice by travelling to a planet on which her life was at risk. He was standing with the decoy now, but his eyes were fixed on Padmé, watching her as she talked with Anakin. His gaze was also on her, even as his mind focused on making amends with his Master, observing her compassion for the small boy who had been thrust into this dangerous mission, who gazed up at her with a look of admiration.

Obi-Wan frowned. He could not blame Anakin for possessing such a feeling, he was guilty of such emotions too, but there was something which told him that this could prove dangerous in the future. That strange, elusive feeling which he had sensed from the very beginning of the mission, causing him to wonder if it was that which the Council used as their motive to reject Anakin, and if his Master was truly guided by the Force in continuing to champion his cause.

"I have been thinking," Qui-Gon said suddenly, breaking the silence between them. "We are treading on dangerous ground. If the Queen intends to fight a war, we cannot become involved. Not in her efforts to persuade the Gungans to join with the Naboo against the Federation, if that is what she intends by coming here. The Jedi have no authority to take sides."

"But we do have an authority to protect the Queen," Obi-Wan reasoned. "Even if our actions will be misconstrued by others."

"It is a fine line we walk, then," Qui-Gon added, facing him.

Obi-Wan knew now was the moment to speak. "Master, I behaved badly on Coruscant and I am embarrassed. I meant no disrespect to you. I do not wish to be difficult in the matter of Anakin."

"Nor have you been," Qui-Gon replied. "You have been honest with me. Honesty is never wrong. I did not lie when I told the Council you were ready. You are. I have taught you all I can. You will be a great Jedi, my young Padawan. You will make me proud." He held out his hand and Obi-Wan gripped it, bowing his head in gratitude at the praise which a part of him still felt he did not deserve.

With this brief shake their bond and friendship as Master and apprentice was restored to its previous intimacy once more, and he turned his eyes back to Padmé and Anakin with relief, which increased when he saw the boy walk away from the Queen to meet with the returning figure of Jar Jar, who emerged from the water to announce that the Gungan capital was deserted. For a brief moment they contemplated the possible capture of the species, only for Jar Jar to declare that his people must have retreated to their sacred place, which with a request from Qui-Gon, he led them to.

Obi-Wan kept his gaze on Padmé as her decoy tried to make the necessary overtures to convince the Gungans to form an alliance with them. Seeing the passage of emotions across her face, and knowing as he did of her real position upon this planet, he was not surprised when she emerged from the cadre of handmaidens to make her way to Sabé's side.

"You did well, Sabé," she murmured quietly to her handmaiden, who stepped back to allow her sovereign precedence. "But I will have to do this myself."

"Who dis?" Boss Nass snapped.

"I am Queen Amidala," Padmé announced. "Sabé serves from time to time as my decoy, my loyal bodyguard. I am sorry for the deception, but given the circumstances, I am sure you can understand. Although our people do not always agree, Your Honour, we have always lived in peace. Until now. The Trade Federation, with all its tanks and maccaneks has destroyed all that we have worked so hard to build. The Gungans are in hiding, and the Naboo have been imprisoned in camps. If we do not act quickly, all that we value will be lost forever. I ask you to help us, Your Honour." She paused before correcting herself. "No, I beg you to help us."

Before all assembled, Queen Amidala of the Naboo knelt on bended knee before the Gungans. "We are your humble servants, our fate is in your hands. Please help us."

Around her the handmaidens and security followed suit, as did Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, causing a shocked Anakin to do so too. Obi-Wan's gazed flicked from Padmé to the Gungans, trying to get a sense of their feelings as a general hush fell over the meeting.

The leader of the Gungans laughed deeply, before replying, "Me like dis! Dis good! Yous no think yous greater den da Gungans!" He walked towards the Queen, his hand held out to her in friendship, causing Obi-Wan to smile. "Yous stand, Queen Amidoll. Yous talk wit me, okay? Mebbe we gonna be friends after all!"

"They're back!" Anakin called out, as Captain Panaka and his security were first sighted upon their return from Theed, their sovereign having sent them out to the city on a reconnaissance mission. Since Boss Nass' decision to form an alliance with the Queen, she had been locked in a strategy sessions with the Jedi and the Gungan Generals, as they discussed the best way to overcome the forces of the Trade Federation. R2 provided a holo map of the capital city, but until the security forces returned from their information gathering, the allies had no true idea concerning the weight of the forces ready to oppose them.

"I think we got through without being detected, Your Highness," Panaka reported to his Queen when he had reached the meeting.

"What is the situation?" Padmé asked him.

"Most of our people are in the detention caps. A few hundred officers and guards have formed an underground movement to resist the invasion. I've brought back as many of the leaders as I could find."

"Good," Padmé replied. "The Gungans have a larger army than we imagined."

"We'll need it," Panaka remarked. "The Federation army is much larger than we thought too. And stronger. In my opinion, this isn't a battle we can win, Your Highness."

"I don't intend to win it, Captain," Padmé informed him. "The battle is a diversion. We need the Gungans to draw the droid army away from the Theed, so we can infiltrate the palace through the secret passages and capture the Neimoidian Viceroy. Neimoidians don't think for themselves. Without the Viceroy to command them, they will cease to be a threat." She turned to her silent protectors. "What do you think, Master Jedi?"

"A well conceived plan, Your Highness," Qui-Gon complimented. "It appears to be your best possible move, although there is great risk. Even with the droid army in the field, the viceroy will be well guarded. And many of the Gungans may be killed."

Boss Nass shrugged unconcernedly. "They bombad guns no get through our shields! We ready to fight!"

"The difficulty's getting into the throne room," Panaka informed them. "Once we're inside, we shouldn't have a problem."

"We will reduce the Gungan causalities by securing the main hanger and sending our pilots to knock out their orbiting control ship," Padmé revealed. "Without the control ship to signal them, the droid army cannot function."

"But if the Viceroy should escape, Your Highness, he will return with another droid army and you'll be no better off than you are now," Obi-Wan added. "Whatever else happens you must capture him. If he is allowed to escape I'm certain he'll show no mercy a second time."

"And we will, Obi-Wan," Padmé assured him. "I have no doubt of that."

It was not a long or hard journey from the sacred swamps where the strategy session was ended, but a slow one, the pace set by the need for stealth and to add the element of surprise to their three pronged attack. The Gungans went to secure their battleground, and the Naboo travelled to their capital, using the secret passages in the waterfalls, coming to a brief halt directly across from the hanger entrance. Panaka, along with a contingent of fighters set himself up in a position opposite Padmé and her forces, preparing to catch the droid squads and tanks between them in a crossfire.

"Once we get inside, Ani," Qui-Gon uttered to the boy as he took his place by the Jedi, who were beside the young Queen, lightsabers at the ready, "you find a safe place to hide until this is all over."

"Sure," Anakin promised, a little too easily in Obi-Wan's opinion.

"And stay there," Qui-Gon added, his own sense detecting enough to produce the same suspicion as well.

In front of them Padmé activated her glow rod, sending the prearranged precoded signal to Panaka, whereupon a reclaimed hover tank moved into direct view of the droids and with her forces on both sides of the plaza unleashed it's weapons and opened fire on one of the Trade Federation squad vehicles in the courtyard beside them. The explosion was enough to cause the tank to drop to the ground, flatting the droids nearest, and making the rest turn in the presumed direction of the threat.

When enough droids fell uselessly to the floor, the Queen and her escort rose from their hiding place and ran across the plaza, the two Jedi providing projection throughout, as Qui-Gon deflected blaster fire from the Naboo and Obi-Wan dismembered a still active droid before joining the Queen at the entrance to the Hanger bay. The doors opened on her keyed in command, and with the Jedi infront and pilots following, they stormed the area.

"Ani, take cover," Qui-Gon ordered, his voice somehow still distinguishable amid the sharp noise of blaster fire.

"Get to your ships," Padmé commanded her pilots, who bravely dodged shots to obey their Queen.

The droid army guards continued to fire at them as the ships collected pilots and droids before taking off in steady formation, heading out of the hanger towards the atmosphere and the control craft which orbited the planet overseeing the blockade and invasion. One ship did not make it, blaster fire catching one of the wing propellers, sending it crashing into the streams outside the hanger.

Captain Panaka and the other contingents of Naboo joined the battle for full control of the hanger bay, and quickly they achieved that objective. He ran to his sovereign's side as soon as the blaster fire had ceased to be a threat.

"My guess is the Viceroy is still in the throne room," Padmé said to him.

Panaka nodded. "Red group, blue group," he called, causing Naboo to look to him, "everyone this way," he directed, his arm waving ahead towards the passages which would ultimately lead them to that destination.

"Hey, wait for me," Anakin cried as he emerged from his sanctuary, one of the remaining ships left in the bay, R2 D2 behind him.

"Anakin, stay where you are," Qui-Gon ordered as he and Obi-Wan joined the advancing Naboo.

The boy started to protest. "But I...."

Qui-Gon sent him a hard look, and Obi-Wan backed it up with one of his own. "Stay in that cockpit."

Ahead of them the doors opened, revealing a dark cloaked figure. Padmé stilled as it lifted his cowled head, the Queen recognising him for the Sith Lord who had fought Qui-Gon on Tatooine. She remembered seeing the tattooed creature on the viewscreen in the cockpit of her cruiser, but it was nothing compared to the threatening flesh so close to her now. His eyes were a myriad of shades, narrow bands of yellow darkening to red, as if they had been bleached by the sun. The cowl framed his red and black face, falling in folds over the rest of his body, hiding nothing of the deadly strength which seemed to stretch out before him like an aura. She sensed the same powerful ability from the Jedi, but this was their nemesis, turning the Force into a tool of death far more frightening.

"We'll handle this," Qui-Gon declared, stepping forward through the Naboo to face the creature.

Padmé encountered his Padawan's steady gaze, Obi-Wan's blue eyes sending a silently eloquent look to assuage her fears concerning his safety. "We'll take the long way," she ordered her forces, who turned to the left of the Jedi, moving quickly out of their way.

Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon dropped their cloaks and fired up their lightsabers, the green and blue blades swooping into their chosen methods of defence, waiting as they always did for their enemy to make the first move.

The Sith disrobed of his dark cloak in sync, before activating his lightsaber, revealing not one, but two red blades, emerging from both ends of the hilt. He presented the weapon horizontally to the Jedi, waiting for them.

Obi-Wan called upon the Force and somersaulted over the Sith, his blue blade moving to block his enemy's moves as he landed behind him. His mind was focused on this battle, knowing his Master could not fight and defeat the Sith alone, as the first encounter warned him on Tatooine.

He did not notice the destroyer droids which rolled out of hiding to confront Padmé and the Naboo, nor Anakin's actions to take care of that threat, activating the craft he had sheltered in, firing on the droids before the autopilot took over and flew him out of the hanger to join the rest of the fleet. Later he would be able to deduce from his memory Anakin's heroic actions, but now only the Sith commanded his attention, as he moved his blade in the styles he had been trained; Ataru, Soresu, Shii-Cho, Sokan, Niman.

Every Padawan learned the basics of each form of combat, specialising in their preferred form once they became a knight, some times even before. Obi-Wan had a certain advantage however, for his Master had trained under one of the finest warriors in the Order, Master Dooku.

A pupil of Yoda, Dooku was unsurpassed for his technique with the lightsaber, even designing his own unique hilt and form of combat. He had taught Qui-Gon everything he could, and in turn Qui-Gon had passed those lessons to Obi-Wan. Still, before this, rarely had he been called to use his lightsaber in such a battle, even when they had fought Xanatos and Bruck to protect Master Yoda.

The last encounter to which this bore the most resemblance was the final round of the Padawan combat competition, which he had participated in, along with Bruck, a deadly rival during his days in the temple clan.

He had been so desperate during that fight to gain Qui-Gon's approval that his aggressive methods and emotions turned against him, forcing him to achieve a hollow victory, as he won the bout, but lost the chance of becoming a Padawan. Now however, there was only the question of how long his Master could fight before succumbing to the ravages of the disease inside him. Obi-Wan would have to reserve his aggression, store his energy, bide his time in preparation for taking on the Sith alone.

Their enemy gave ground now, moving towards two doors behind him, motioning with his free hand at a droid part, using the Force to make it leap to the command panel and open them. He continued attacking, seemingly retreating into the power station, but in reality leading the Jedi to the battleground of his own choosing. Around him were narrow catwalks, the pathways between generators and shields to the reactors which managed the power of the Palace, criss-crossing roads akin to the transparent traffic routes of Coruscant, calling for close quarter fights, forcing his enemy to split their focus between countering his blade and keeping their balance.

The Sith seemed to sense through the dark side of the Force that Obi-Wan was trying to protect his Master, as he raised his leg during one move to send him to the floor with a kick to his side. Obi-Wan rolled up almost immediately, moving his lightsaber out of the way of his body, darting back to take the lead into the duel once more, only allowing a grunt to escape from his Jedi demeanour. With his Master they forced the Sith to the edge of the main platform in the reactor room, but the Sith anticipated the manoeuvre, jumping away from them on to one of the catwalks.

Calling upon the Force, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon followed him.

Padmé and her forces came to a temporary halt in one of the wide ceremonial corridors enroute to the throne room, stealing behind marble pillars due to the heavy blaster fire from the droids. As she settled into the pattern of deflection and return, she knew that this would only delay their attack, and perhaps cause the Viceroy to escape.

"We don't have time for this, Captain!" she cried to Panaka, raising her voice under the sharp noise of blaster fire.

"Let's try outside!" He suggested. Judging his moment, he turned his blaster away from the droids to fire at one of the large windows across from them. "Go!"

Dodging shots, they ran to the opening, Panaka calling for Ascension guns. Handing one to his Queen after they had climbed over the ledge, in unison they raised the weapons and fired the ropes inside, fastening them to the beam above the highest window, before using the retractor to lift them to the last corridor before the throne room.

Padmé moved carefully on the ledge to one side and aimed her weapon at the glass in front of them. After the broken shards settled on the floor, she and her forces leapt inside.

With a kick to the jaw, the Sith sent Obi-Wan flying off the catwalk into oblivion, causing the Padawan to call on the Force to save himself. His lightsaber flew away from his hand, and he reached out and clutched the ledge of a walkway just above him, his weapon landing on top of it.

By the time he had raised himself to stand on that platform, Obi-Wan saw his Master and the Sith fighting on the main route that led to the service corridor for the melting pit. Designed to store the energy residue from the power station, it was protected by five shields which partitioned the corridor into small sections. The Sith had reached the last of these before the melting pit, Qui-Gon was caught between four and five. And due to the fall, Obi-Wan had only reached the first.

He gathered his breath and energy reserves, watching as the Sith deactivated his lightsaber and settled into an alert stance, his red eyes glancing between both himself and his Master, who had dropped to his knees in a temporary meditation. Obi-Wan powered off his saber, but he did not follow his Master's lead. He knew Qui-Gon needed it, for so far the duel would have taken a tremendous toll on his resources, split as they often were between sustaining his body from the fight, and from the disease inside him, and although it would probably prove beneficial to him also, Obi-Wan knew he had not the time for one.

If, or rather when his Master tired, he would have to take on the Sith single-handedly, which meant conquering the distance between himself and the creature as quickly as possible. He needed to time when the shields powered down, measuring how long he would have to call on the Force to aid his running to his Master's side. And he needed to find where the control panel for the shields was located in the room, for if he failed to reach his Master in time, he would need to shut them down via the Force.

He found the one at his end first, and with a hard glare directed towards the Sith, turned part of his vision on the panel, memorising its controls. He could not use this one, for Qui-Gon was still meditating. Deactivating the shields now would give the Sith just as much advantage as him, while his Master would be vulnerable to the former's attack. Logic and practicality dictated however that the panel at the other end of the corridor would have been designed with the same principles, allowing him to call on that one if he had to.

His task done, Obi-Wan followed his Master's tactic, but remained standing, as he sank into the embrace of the Force.

In the corridor Padmé and her forces reached the entrance to the throne room, only to be prevented from entering by Destroyer droids. As the machines surrounded them, she knew that they had little hope of retreating to the window, and even if they could, the manoeuvre would rid them of their goal to capture the Viceroy. Whereas..... she hid her smile as the solution to their plans formed in her mind.

"Throw down your weapons," she ordered her forces. "They win this round."

"But, Your Majesty, we can't!" Panaka objected, glancing at her in shock.

"Captain," Padmé broke in, her dark brown eyes fixing on his, "I said, throw down your weapons."

Panaka let his blaster drop to the floor, never taking his eyes from his sovereign. As the droids came to seize the weapons, he saw her hand move to the comlink sewn into her clothes, her slender fingers sending an encoded transmission.

"Have faith, Captain," she remarked quietly, and it was time for him too to hide a smile, as he realised her plans.

Obi-Wan heard the signal from the Force and activated his lightsaber. A second later the shields dropped, Qui-Gon and the Sith powered up their weapons and resumed the duel. He waited for the barriers to complete their cascade collapse, then summoned the Force and ran through the corridor to join them.

He wasn't fast enough. Reaching the last of the shields, Obi-Wan heard the quiet click of capacitors as they turned to raise the barriers once more, forcing him to a halt. Leaning his body away from the forward pace of his booted legs, he blinked as the laser came down, the red glow clouding his vision for a moment. Frustrated his tore his gaze from his Master and the Sith to locate the control panel knowing he needed to join in the duel before Qui-Gon's reserves gave out.

But luck was not with him. The search rendered in vain, he turned helplessly towards the duel, forced to watch as Qui-Gon seemed to gain an advantage, keeping the Sith on the defensive, until the creature realised and darted away. Worry, fear and anger threatened to overwhelm him but he pushed them away into the Force, knowing what was coming next, knowing there was nothing he could do to prevent it. Ever since his Master was diagnosed with the disease, he had prepared for this eventuality, intensifying his training in the hope that if the worst occurred, he would have time to try and save him.

Then the moment came. The Sith feinted a blind reserve lunge, which Qui-Gon caught too late, his green blade missing the chance to protect his body from the wound which the Sith dealt to the midsection. Due to the width of the laser blade, the deep burn through flesh, organs and bone was narrow, but it was enough. Qui-Gon stiffened under the impact, then dropped to his knees, his lightsaber clattering to the ground as his hands instinctively went to the wound.

Obi-Wan was not aware at first that it was his own voice which cried out the howl of angry despair that echoed through the shield to encompass the entire power station. Preparation was no substitute for the horror of reality. Control over his emotions died the moment he saw his Master, whom he loved like a father, fall to the floor, sinking into unconscious oblivion. In a rage he tore his gaze from Qui-Gon to the Sith who stood waiting for him, the enemy appearing gleefully smug at the victory, confident that defeating the Padawan would prove even less of a challenge.

The shield separating them powered down and Obi-Wan sprinted into the fray, determined to prove the creature wrong.

Escorted into the throne room, Padmé fixed her expression into one of feigned frustrated defeat, as her eyes caught sight of the Viceroy and his underling standing a short distance from the throne itself. Their fractured red monochrome eyes turned on her, seeing through the simple understated mask of the decoy to power which lay behind her, revealing her true identity as leader of the Naboo.

"Your little insurrection is at an end, Your Highness," he said confidently. "The rabble army you sent against us south of the city has been crushed. The Jedi are being dealt with elsewhere. You are my captive. It time for you to put an end to the pointless debate you instigated in the Republic Senate. Sign the treaty now."

Just at that moment, the plan she had time to transmit via her comlink arrived, in the form of Sabé and her contingent of forces coming down the corridor she had just been escorted through. Her decoy was still attired in the elaborate hairstyle and makeup which went with Queen Amidala, fooling the Neimoidians completely.

"I will not be signing any treaty, Viceroy!" Sabé called out in a tone of voice similar to the formal one Padmé used as sovereign. "Your occupation of our planet has ended!"

"After her!" the Viceroy ordered his droids, emptying the throne room of some his security forces. "This one's a decoy!"

Her escort distracted, Padmé made her way to the throne, pressing upon the release button to a secret compartment where several blasters were stored. She reached in and tossed one to Captain Panaka, before retrieving one for herself. Together they quickly disabled the rest of the droids in the throne room.

"Jam the doors," Panaka ordered to their freed fighters.

Padmé came before the Viceroy once more, who seemed bewildered by the reversal of fortunes which he had undergone so rapidly. "Now, Viceroy, we will discuss a new treaty."

Fortunately for Obi-Wan, his anger fuelled him into a formidable opponent to the Sith lord, who despite using such power himself was caught unprepared by the violence of the Padawan's attack. Stroke for stroke the duel rose in intensity as Obi-Wan pressed forward that advantage, before darting away in an effort to make the battleground his own.

The manoeuvre worked, calling the Sith to come forward, allowing Obi-Wan to call on the Force and his natural talents, anticipating where the blade would strike, and into what position his weapon could direct it. Choosing his moment, he struck his lightsaber at the double hilt of the Sith's, parting one from the other, sending the now useless half skittering down the service corridor.

His opponent however was just as capable with one blade as with two. Slowly the advantage slipped away. Energy reserved fuelled by anger and despair, negative emotions which the Jedi were never trained into using, gradually dried up too, forcing Obi-Wan to combat his feelings concerning the unconscious figure of his Master, lying motionless on the ground across from the duel.

As he sent them out into the Force, he saw the Sith attempt the same move he had used to send him off the catwalks earlier, and turned so the kick sent him into an Ataru somersault, the result giving no ground.

The Sith turned his back on the service corridor which they had ran through. Obi-Wan pressed forward, hoping to send the creature back down there. But suddenly his opponent let go of his weapon, using one gloved hand to send the Padawan forward. Caught unprepared, he fell backwards into the melting pit.

Obi-Wan summoned the Force and reached out, catching one of the oval metal pods which supported the vast shaft. He hung there helplessly, watching as the Sith kicked his deactivated lightsaber, sending the weapon down into the bottom of the pit, rendering him defenceless.

At least it appeared so. Obi-Wan however, knew of another weapon within reach. As the Sith attacked the edge of the shaft with his red blade, trying to use the sparks in an effort to make him fall, he was summoning the Force within himself, showing the Light what he intended to do.

And the Light answered him. He leapt upwards, his hand reaching out for Qui-Gon's saber, activating the green blade as the hilt fell into his grip. Somersaulting over his opponent's head, he struck out with the weapon.

The Sith threw him a stunned incredulous look of disbelief, before his body surrendered to the mortal injury, falling down the melting shaft in half.

Obi-Wan stood there for a moment, watching the body fall, then he thumbed off the saber and ran to his Master's side.

Falling into a crouch he cradled Qui-Gon's head. "Master."

"Too late," Qui-Gon breathed out. "Promise me you will train the boy."

"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan cried, even as he shook his head in disagreement to the first judgement.

"He is the Chosen One," Qui-Gon uttered, more it seemed for himself than for his Padawan. With a shaking hand he reached out and touched Obi-Wan's cheek in a fatherly caress. "He will bring balance."

Qui-Gon's eyes closed and a last breath escaped his lips. Tears fell down Obi-Wan's face as he gathered his father into his embrace.

Chapter Text

Part 12: Future Vows.

For a time the Viceroy stood silent, as his mind attempted to realise the enormity of his defeat, and that of the victory which this young woman staring at him now had achieved. Outside his droid forces fired uselessly at the doors, jammed against any entry, even from the Nubian force which carried the decoy that had fooled him into this position. Even if she had been defeated, he could not bargain with the sovereign, who would listen to nothing but the new treaty she insisted he must sign.

Then everything fell into an abrupt silence, as all the sharp noise of blaster fire echoing beyond the jammed doors ceased.

Captain Panaka turned to his Queen with a worried look. "What's going on?"

"Try communications," Padmé ordered. "Activate the viewscreens."

He went to the crescent shaped table which the chairs and throne encircled, pressing the button to bring the communications into life. Before them the holoscreen displayed the various views of Naboo, showing the defenceless droid forces amidst thousands of cheering Gungan soldiers, and the exploding control ship in orbit above the planet.

Padmé allowed her smile to show. "Viceroy, take a seat. We shall discuss the new treaty which I have in mind."

"Your Highness," Panaka called out, causing her to turn midroute to her throne.

"What is it, Captain?" She asked him.

"I think the medics will be needed in the melting room of the power station," he said, his voice heavy with the gravity of the situation.

She turned her gaze to where his was directed, at a section of the holoscreen where surveillance for that room of the Palace was located. Quietly she focused on the figures positioned on the ringed catwalk which surrounded the melting shaft. Concern rose within her as she identified the Jedi robes.

"Reopen the doors!" she ordered her soldiers. "Call the medics to the melting pit!" she added before hurrying towards the exit.

"Your Majesty!" Panaka called out in an attempt to call her back.

But Padmé would not be deterred. "We will have time to deal with them later, Captain," she replied, before directing him to assign her forces to guard the Viceroy and his underling in the throne room.

She didn't stop running until she had reached the two figures on the catwalk. One crouched over the other, gathering the prostrate form into his embrace, tears falling from his face. Motioning her escort and medics to pause, Padmé darted forward, gracefully falling to her knees before the grieving Padawan.

He looked up, his blue grey eyes meeting her brown ones as soon as she sought his out. "I put him in a healing trance."

Padmé breathed a sigh of relief. "Do you need the medics?"

"They would prove useful," he replied, and she turned, beckoning them forward. With infinite care he lowered Qui-Gon to the ground, allowing them to encircle and treat him, before rising slowly to his feet.

She rose to, watching him as he seemed to tear his gaze from his Master to her form, intuitively realising his need for distraction. "A pilot managed to knock out the control ship, deactivating the droid army. I have the Viceroy and Rune Haako in my throne room, ready, if not necessarily willing to sign a treaty of my own divining."

"Good," he murmured, his Coruscanti accent deep under the weight of emotion he was still enduring. "Where is Anakin?"

She bestowed upon him a puzzled expression. "I thought he was in the hanger bay."

Obi-Wan shook his head. "I believed he powered up the ship he was in and fired on the destroyer droids which barred your exit," he explained. "After that, I think the ship went into autopilot."

Padmé nodded as she understood the direction of his concern. "I'll have the pilots commed and asked to land." She looked at him carefully, studying the burnt clothes, trying to descry if he carried any injuries.

He answered her unspoken query. "I just need some rest."

"I'll have one of the apartments aired for you and Master Jinn," she informed him.

Despite the weight, from somewhere inside himself he managed to muster a graceful bow, and smile, if a little small. "Thank you, milady."

"And you, Master Jedi," she returned, before leading the way out of the melting pit.

Obi-Wan stood before the window of the room in Theed Palace's healer's wing assigned to his Master. Qui-Gon lay on the bed behind him, deep in a trance which somehow he had mustered the energy and the Force for after defeating the Sith. A strange sense of calm had settled over him awhile ago, which he could only ascribe as a numbness, his Jedi training managing to detach a part of himself from the trauma he had undergone, allowing him to examine and reflect.

Most of his actions during the duel he could not recall, no easy feat for a Jedi, who learned to pull their memories from the Force with vivid detail. Vague flashes penetrated his mind; the first view of the Sith as he appeared to him in the hanger bay, occasional moves he had managed to use to his advantage, ones which were not anticipated by the Sith, the long moment he spent hanging inside the melting pit, the thrust of Qui-Gon's lightsaber as he used the weapon to kill the creature.

Even more vague was the moment he held his Master in his arms, promising faithfully to do what he asked, knowing that he would agree to anything in that space of seconds in which he summoned the Force and called upon the healing techniques those at the Temple had taught him. He didn't think they would work. After all, they were acquired for treating the disease, not a fourth degree burn from a lightsaber. Yet they had, for the proof lay behind him, in the form of his sleeping Master. And now that Qui-Gon was in that healing trance, Obi-Wan had time to think about what he had promised his Master.

To train Anakin. Something he had found himself promising Shmi so easily on Tatooine, yet now as he stood here, Obi-Wan found the oath difficult even in theoretical terms. He could simply forget it; afterall, Qui-Gon believed he was dying, he would never have made him agree to such a promise otherwise. But there was no ignoring the request now it had been aired, and from a certain point of view, it made sense.

Despite the healing trance, his Master would not be completely well when he woke, the illness would still take its toll on his body, until he would be grounded at the Temple permanently. If the Order accepted Anakin, Qui-Gon would be in no condition to take him into the field when he was ready, and Obi-Wan doubted that there would be few Masters or Knights willing to consider training a boy accepted at nine from a life of slavery. Despite all his Master's efforts, there were still very few unconventional Jedi in the Order, and Anakin would need an unconventional Master, to whom emotions were not alien.

Yet, Obi-Wan hesitated to take that role himself. He might consider himself ready for the Trials, Yoda considered him ready, but not to take on a Padawan. Knights were suppose to have a few years solo in the field, a few years teaching at the Temple before they could take a Padawan. Learning as such was one thing, but teaching such was entirely another.

Perhaps an unconventional approach was called for here, he mused. Both he and Qui-Gon would train Anakin. Two Masters training the same Padawan was as rare as two Padawans under one Master, but one could argue that a Padawan had many Masters while they learned at the Temple, only one in the field. Assuming the Order agreed to accept the boy for training.

Obi-Wan had sent the Council a detailed report of Anakin's brave actions during the attack on the Trade Federations' control ship, which he had learned through an interview with the boy while Qui-Gon was attended to by the Palace healers. Though Anakin had claimed to possess no plan for destroying the ship, it was clear to Obi-Wan that the Force had guided his actions, saving the lives of the Gungans and the Naboo. He had also included a less thorough report of his and Qui-Gon's actions, which the Council would have to be satisfied with for now, as he was experiencing a certain difficulty recalling every moment of the duel with the Sith.

If he paused his thoughts for a moment to consider the view below him, he would notice the aid crews working across the capital, beginning the restoration of the city to the beauty which the armies of the Trade Federation had destroyed by their invasion, and the Nubians in determination to take back the planet. He would join them tomorrow, along with most of the Palace's occupants, including Queen Amidala. The young sovereign was still in talks with the Viceroy, awaiting communications from the Senate and the new Chancellor of the Republic, whom they had yet to learn the identity of. She had returned to her throne room after escorting him and his Master to the healer's ward, somewhat reluctantly, her concern for him clear upon her face and in her thoughts.

It was time to consider and reflect on those too, as much as he hated to do so. But he could no longer ignore their positions in the Republic. He was still a Padawan, she was Queen of her world. Their relationship would be viewed as a political alliance in the eyes of the Republic, and the backlash from that would inevitably damage them as they tried to cope with leading a personal life under the public spotlight. Of course, their love for each other should be strong enough to ignore this, but there was no denying their responsibilities and their duties. The burden on her would be heavy, perhaps too heavy, for she still had her youth to contend with.

Only one option seemed sensible to him. That they should wait. Not just until he had passed his trials when such a relationship was permitted, but until her term as Queen came to an end. After that, only the unconventionality of a Jedi forming an attachment would incur a backlash.

Apart from her it was easy to contemplate this, to plan for such a time, to be rational. But as Obi-Wan prepared to meditate over the events of the duel, it occurred to him that it might not be as easy when she was with him.

Padmé stepped into her private apartments in Theed Palace and uttered a relieved sigh. After many hours spent locked in talks in the throne room, the Viceroy of the Trade Federation could finally be sent back Coruscant for his trial. The treaty that he signed was in fact a confession relaying all his actions concerning the blockade of her planet. It was not as detailed as she would like, there were certain glaring gaps which convinced her that the Trade Federation had not acted alone, but the Viceroy was too terrified to tell her who ordered him to invade her world, protesting that the mysterious person would kill them. Despite all that he had done to her people, her generous nature resisted pressing him further.

Slowly she stripped off her gown, glad to be out of the combat clothes she had worn ever since they returned to the planet. Letting the swathes of material fall to the floor, she stepped over the crumpled heap and moved towards the large wardrobes containing her vast collection of robes, majestic and simple. Her hands moved instinctively towards the latter, before her mind reluctantly moved them to the official wear expected of Queen Amidala.

The ship carrying the new Supreme Chancellor and members of the Jedi Council would be arriving shortly, and she was no longer in such danger which demanded that she could hide behind her decoy in handmaiden cowl and gown. The irony of her feelings now compared to the last time she had stood here did not escape her. She no longer doubted the faith of her people in choosing her for their Queen, but this time she wanted to be herself and to meet with Obi-Wan. She had not seen him since she bade him farewell at the healer's ward. Padmé did not want the last time she saw him other than official moments to be in the melting pit. The image of his vulnerable form, tears falling down his face even as he worked through the Force to save his Master would haunt her forever.

Perhaps it was selfish of her but she wanted to see if she could make him happy, if he still felt for her what they had realised on Tatooine. If he was willing to listen to a proposal she had decided to make, in view of the present restrictions placed on them. She loved him. To offworlders that concept was extraordinary, wrong almost, but they did not know that the maturity which young Nubians reached for was matched by their education.

Despite her youth she loved the Padawan, and she was fully aware of all the implications which accompanied that love. Her heart ached to be with him, to make a life with him, but her head was still rational. Her mind knew that they had responsibilities and commitments; he to the Jedi Order, she to the Naboo, both of them to a peaceful Republic. There was a reason why they found comfort in the knowledge that their beliefs, their ideals were the same. To love someone without losing those ideals which were your foundations, that was true intimacy. She had realised that when he showed her the Force on Tatooine. Just as she realised that now was not the time to savour that attachment, still technically forbidden.

But that time would come.

They could not look at each other, but they knew instinctively where their thoughts lay, and it was not with the Neimoidians who stood before them, their heads bowed in remorse. Nor was it with the handmaidens, Anakin, Panaka, Governor Bibble, or any other Nubian official who stood with them. Neither was it with the sleek metallic craft which was the Chancellor's transport, that just touched down behind the Viceroy.

Padmé looked to him and reminded him of his duty. "Now, Viceroy, you are going to have to go back to the Senate and explain all this."

"I think you can kiss your Trade franchise goodbye," Panaka remarked.

The Neimoidians turned round to begin the arduous walk to the transport, as the ramp lowered to reveal the new Supreme Chancellor of the Republic. Escorted by his guards, he walked towards the Queen with a proud smile.

"Congratulations on your election, Chancellor," Padmé acknowledged the new title with appropriate surprise. Only later would her mind question as to whether she truly felt any. "It is so good to see you again."

"It's good to be home," Palpatine replied. "Your boldness has saved our people, Your Majesty. It is you who should be congratulated. Together we shall bring peace and prosperity to the Republic."

The Chancellor turned to the robed figure nearby. "And to you, Jedi Kenobi, I give thanks, as well to your Master. Our people are in your debt." His eyes lowered to the small boy standing beside him. "And to you, young Skywalker. We shall watch your career with great interest."

Obi-Wan bowed his head in acknowledgement of the Chancellor's praise, then met the slight glance she directed towards him, before walking over to the members of the Jedi Council who had also arrived. He ushered Anakin in front of him, then into a bow, a courtesy which he also performed.

"Proved myself and Qui-Gon right you have, Obi-Wan," Yoda began. "Much to discuss have we. But see Master Jinn first, I wish."

"Of course, Master," Obi-Wan replied, before stepping back to let the Council members walk across the plaza once more.

Later, as the sun lowered slowly to meet the waterfall horizon of Theed, in a large reception room not far the quarters assigned to him and his Master, Obi-Wan dropped gracefully on to one knee before the diminutive Master Yoda, whose size was nothing when compared to the power and wisdom of the Force he carried inside him. Having seen and talked with Qui-Gon, then seen and talked with Anakin, the Jedi now wished to talk with the brave Padawan who had done his duty and so much more in the Relief of Naboo.

"Confer on you, the level of Jedi Knight the Council does," Yoda said. "But agree on you taking this boy as your Padawan learner, I do not."

Obi-Wan remained on bended knee before the Grand Master of the Order. He answered in a calm, composed voice, leaving the heart to process that one of his life long dreams had been granted. "Qui-Gon believes in him. I believe in Qui-Gon."

Yoda almost sighed in the face of such Jedi implacability. "The Chosen One the boy may be," he conceded, "nevertheless, grave danger I fear in his training."

"Master Yoda, I gave Qui-Gon my word," Obi-Wan reminded him. "I will help him train Anakin. Without the approval of the Council if I must."

"Qui-Gon's defiance I sense in you," Yoda remarked irascibly. "Need that, you do not. Agree, the council does. Yours and Qui-Gon's apprentice, young Skywalker will be."

"Thank you, Master," Obi-Wan replied. He watched the revered Jedi come to a halt in his pacing, observing his mood in the Force before he asked his question. "Master Yoda, before that happens, will you grant me something else?"

Yoda regarded him curiously. "Name your request."

Obi-Wan met his gaze. "I ask to under go the Trials, Master, as other Padawans have done before me."

"And what trial should we give you?" Yoda asked. "Equal the test you have already undergone, no trial of our making would."

"Master, I have no desire to be known as the former Padawan who killed a Sith to become a Knight," Obi-Wan confessed. "Not only does it set a precedent for other Initiates, it lends an allusion of aggression to an Order which prides itself on peace and compassion."

There was a moment of silence as Yoda considered this. "Your point you make well, Obi-Wan. Wisdom and maturity have you gained, not only because of this mission."

Obi-Wan bowed his head, knowing Yoda referred to Qui-Gon's illness. His Master was still healing in the quarters assigned to them within the Palace. Padmé had called for Naboo's most learned physicians to assess him and offer what they treatments they could. Obi-Wan appreciated the gesture, even though he doubted they would reveal anything new or hopeful in the nature of his Master's health.

"Grant this request we shall," Yoda said, surprising Obi-Wan, for he did not think Yoda would. "A more peaceful matter of diplomacy we shall seek for you to negotiate."

Obi-Wan bowed his head in gratitude. "Thank you, Master."

He watched the Head of the Order turned to leave the room, his walking stick tapping rhythmically against the floor. As he reached the darkness which cloaked the threshold of the chamber, he stopped and performed a slight yet graceful bow.

"Queen Amidala, for your hospitality, we thank you," he said.

"You will always be welcome here, Master Yoda," Amidala replied, before stepping aside to let the diminutive Grand Master leave.

Obi-Wan rose from his knees as the Queen came into view, his Jedi training only just saving him from letting loose a slack jaw. Since their brief reunion during the aftermath of his fight with the Sith, when he feared his Master was about to become one with the Force, he had only seen Padmé once, in her official ceremonial robes for welcoming the new Supreme Chancellor, her old Senator to Naboo, along with the Jedi Masters of the Council who chose to accompany Yoda.

Now she came towards him not in her formal wardrobe, but in simple clothing, almost as simple as his own, yet made somehow beautiful by her beauty, both within and without. A yellow dress embroidered with flowers, reminding him of the images he had seen in her mind when he showed her the Force. He wondered where that place was, he never had the chance to ask her. It harked him back to their conversations in Mos Espa, when he could forget she was the Queen, because they had other concerns.

Since their return to Naboo he had tried to press upon himself that she was a Queen and above him, beyond his dreams, for now at least. Her formal wear during the greeting had helped him remember that, but now as he saw her, recalling what Anakin had called her, he wanted to forget that duty would part them soon, that her youth parted them anyway, in favour of staying with her here.

"Congratulations, Knight Kenobi," she greeted him with, coming to a halt directly before him, the light from the window streaming upon her ensemble, adding extra jewels of colour to the needlework and mesh, catching within the necklace he brought her, which hung around her neck.

"Thank you, Your Highness," Obi-Wan replied in the same formal tone, as he smiled at how once again she had been watching over him by listening to his conversation with Master Yoda.

"I think you will pass this trial easily, though I understand why you want to do so," she added, causing him to smile.

"It shall be different," he allowed, "but nonetheless I shall be glad to undergo the proper, traditional trial and ceremony after all. It is a comfort in the face of the approaching storm." He paused before asking, "How is Master Qui-Gon?"

"His healers say he is recovering well," Padmé answered. "Aside from his other condition, he should be well enough to leave in a few days."

"I would ask if you make sure that condition does not become public knowledge," Obi-Wan uttered. "It is a tragic truth known only to members of the Council, and myself."

"Hence why he asked for you to help him train Anakin," Padmé realised.

Obi-Wan nodded, and for a moment they allowed a silence to settle between them. Then she stepped a fraction closer to him.

"Do you think we shall ever see each other again?" She asked softly.

"If the Force wills it," he replied.

"Our duties force us to part in a few days," she added.

He let his eyes run over her body, remembering the many occasions during their time together that he had held her in his arms. Even though he just comforted her, he had been unable to deny to himself how much he loved her. And even though he knew she felt the same way, he still could not let her throw away all she had worked so hard for. "You're so young," he whispered. "You still have all your life to live."

She met his gaze with her own. "So do you," she uttered softly. "Which is why I have a proposal to make."

Obi-Wan stilled. "I'm listening."

"I promised my people I and those elected after me would reign by terms. One of my first acts as Queen was to amend the constitution to include this rule. If after my reign we meet again and still feel the same, who is to prevent us from exploring the possibility?"

"No one," he answered, before he was even aware of doing so.

"Good," she smiled. "Now, my healers have an idea as to how help Master Qui-Gon. While it cannot cure him, it will help prolong his life, without putting a strain on himself, as I am sure his use of the Force to do so does."

"What did they have in mind?" Obi-Wan asked.

"Placing himself in stasis for certain periods," Padmé replied.

Obi-Wan considered the idea. "They believe he can do this without risk to his life?" He asked her.

"Yes, they have developed a technique which is similar to hibernation," she explained. "Without the risks similar treatments such as Carbon Freezing include."

"I take it you asked him if he would consent to this," he remarked.

Padmé nodded. "I did and he replied that it should be the will of the Force."

The new Knight smiled. "Perhaps it is selfish of me to urge that the healers prepare this technique. But I fear I shall need his help in training Anakin. It is unusual for a Knight to take on a Padawan so soon after their trials. Then Anakin is an unusual case. A special case."

"Do not forget that," Padmé urged softly. "A part of me fears that he has little idea of the trials he will face to become a Jedi. What sacrifices will be called on him."

"So do I," Obi-Wan replied. "I will do all I can. To keep that promise and the other, Your Highness."

She smiled at the emphasis he placed on her title, the same he had placed in her chambers aboard the ship before her boldness saved Naboo. "See that you do, Master Jedi."

As the dawn of a new Nubian day eclipsed across Theed, crowds flocked to the plaza which held the entrance to the Palace, where a great parade of the brave Gungan army came to present themselves before their new allies. In columns they rode and marched down the paved street, amidst cheers and waves of ribbons, falling all around them.

Upon the steps before the grand entrance of the Palace stood the Nubian government, joined by the Supreme Chancellor and members of the Jedi Council. In the front row Queen Amidala awaited Boss Nass, looking at her most beautiful. She was wearing a white pink silk gown which clung to her form, bodice cut, with two thin straps placed on the shoulders, hidden by a floor length cloak which was adorned with countless pink petals. Her hair was in another of those incredibly intricate styles, behind which lay a white lace halo attached to the cloak. The sun made the colours shine and sparkle, as did her smile, which she bestowed on every creature present, and in particular the brave Padawan, now almost Knight of the Jedi Order who graced a row to the left of her.

Beside him stood Anakin Skywalker, decked in the new robes of a Jedi Padawan, thoughts full of everything which had happened to him since he had met Obi-Wan Kenobi and Master Qui-Gon Jinn on Tatooine.

That Jedi stood beside Master Yoda, his outward appearance seemingly much restored, so convincingly that few were aware of the reality which lay behind his eyes. Qui-Gon did not much care for celebrations such as these, but he understood the need for them, just as he understood why Obi-Wan had chosen to heal him in the melting pit. He knew the Knight was a great Jedi, capable of becoming renowned in his own right, and he held no doubt that had Obi-Wan left him to become one with the Force, he would have found the ability within himself to train Anakin as well as any Master in the Order.

But he also realised that Force intended another purpose for his pupil, just as it intended another for him, else it would not have let Obi-Wan's healing trance work. Clearly there was a reason for Qui-Gon to live, just as there was a reason for this parade. Whether the end was the same for both, only the future could tell.

The Gungans came to a halt before the stairs, and Boss Nass descended from his Kaadu, Jar Jar clumsily following, to ascend the stairs and meet Queen Amidala. Fellow sovereigns stood facing each other before the Palace doors, smiling as Amidala presented Nass with the Globe of Peace. The Gungan raised the sphere high so all those gathered might view the swirling lights inside, and a great cry rose towards the sky.

Amidala glanced around her once more amidst the cheers, her brown eyes meeting the blue gaze of her faithful Knight. He returned her smile, his pupils full of future promise, aware how fragile things were, how only time would tell if their vows would hold.

Beside him stood another who thought the angel gaze down upon him, and bestowed upon him not just her smile, but her heart and her hand as well.

Chapter Text



The Calm In The Mirage.

How is it that, being gone, you fill my days,
And all the long nights are made glad by thee?

Amy Lowell; A Dome of Many Colored Glass.

Part 13: Thoughts & Emotions During Rogue Outbound Storms.

"The Chosen One Qui-Gon gave to us all, not proven, full of fear and yours to save. And if you do not save him...."

Obi-Wan still dwelt on Yoda's words, said to him long before the mission to find Vergere began, before Anakin had met the Blood Carver known as Ke Daiv. Before all he and Qui-Gon had to worry about was the latest invented droid creating havoc about the Temple, or the next pit race it's designer had chosen to compete in.

Now they had to worry about something else their Padawan was capable of. Something far darker than racing or droids.

The discovery of Ke Daiv's body continued to haunt him, along with the knowledge of what Anakin had done. Such power not only brushed the dark side of the Force, it embraced and accepted it, as shadows seduced light. It did not matter that Anakin had felt unable to control the power, or experienced remorse after the deed was done, the anger he expressed during that time was a cause for concern.

Qui-Gon had been distressed by the report of it, which he heard when Obi-Wan and Anakin returned to the Temple. Only recently recovered from a particularly bad seizure, he was prevented from joining the mission by the Healers. To Obi-Wan, who had witnessed part of the betrayal which Xanatos had dealt upon his Master, it seemed that Qui-Gon feared he had failed again in his teaching of the Chosen One of the Jedi.

Until, much to his surprise, Qui-Gon began to defend Anakin's actions, almost to the point of justification, resulting in the first quarrel between himself and Obi-Wan since the latter's knighthood ceremony three years ago. Obi-Wan did not deny that Anakin regretted the act, or that the deed had been beyond his control, but he could not attempt to clear the boy of all the guilt in committing the act, as Qui-Gon now tried to do, for Anakin had accessed a previous point of contention with the Blood Carver as the focal point for his anger.

His former Master's behaviour had surprised him. Obi-Wan remembered well the effects of Xanatos' betrayal upon Qui-Gon. It left him exposed to all the emotions of recrimination, guilt, anger, grief, distrust, insecurity even incredulity. But not once had he attempted to excuse or justify Xanatos' actions. Not to the Council, not to Obi-Wan.

Yet again, it seemed, Anakin was to be treated differently.

"Ke Daiv did try to murder him," Qui-Gon had said when Obi-Wan finished relaying his report of the mission. "Anakin had a right to defend himself."

"In such a violent fashion?" Obi-Wan queried incredulously.

"The act was out of his control, padawan," Qui-Gon reminded him gently. "He still has much to learn, but he did realise that point, and he did feel guilt afterwards. Surely we should not condemn him?"

"I am not suggesting that, Master," Obi-Wan replied, running a hand through his hair as he tried to summon the wisdom and the strength for this debate. "But nor do I believe that we should just forget that the act even took place. Anakin certainly won't."

"Which is precisely why we should," Qui-Gon argued. "The boy deserves not to have the incident rule the rest of his training. Already there is a level of expectation concerning him about the Council. Knowledge of this deed will only add to it."

"Such an expectation would not have existed if you held your tongue concerning the prophecy when the Council rejected him," Obi-Wan pointed out.

"Anakin has a right to know of the enormous potential inside him," Qui-Gon countered.

"Perhaps," Obi-Wan allowed. "But such knowledge, now rendered commonplace, has and will continue to subject him to an unusual amount of pressure. More pressure than any padawan should face. As his teachers, it is our duty to relieve him of those burdens, to give him the guidance and strength he needs to accept such perception."

"You've just argued more in favour of my point than your own," Qui-Gon said. "I think Anakin has learned from this lesson. He does not need to be reminded of it."

"Master Cho Leem warned us to be careful," Obi-Wan added. "I think we should follow her advice."

"I shall talk with her," Qui-Gon remarked, before leaving the quarters. "Seeing as you put such stock in her diagnosis," he added, leaving Obi-Wan to flinch at the emphasis and the tone behind it.

Master Thracia Cho Leem left the Order last night. Without any explanation. It was presumed she had gone to continue what he and Anakin failed to finish, to find Vergere, her former apprentice. But Obi-Wan wondered if she had seen something in her healing of Anakin, something that made her pause, for when it was over she had pulled him aside and warned him and Qui-Gon to be careful in their tutelage of the boy. She had also apologised for her words to him in Counsel, when they were assigned to the mission, before advising him to seek solace of his own, for his soul could do with it.

Which is what brought him here, to the private com port in the quarters he shared with Anakin and Qui-Gon at the Temple. Silently he tapped out the special coded preset she had given him for precisely such a call, pressed the send key, and waited for a response.

His patience was swiftly rewarded. The blank screen before him coalesced into a beautiful young woman, with dark brown hair loose and cascading down her back, and equally dark eyes that sparkled as they regarded their caller.

"Master Kenobi, what brings this rare pleasure of seeing you to me?" Padmé Amidala Naberrie, Queen of all the Naboo, asked.

Obi-Wan glanced at the chrono and immediately felt contrite. "Forgive me for disturbing your sleep, milady, I had no idea the hour there was so late."

"There is no need for an apology, I have yet to fully retire," Padmé smiled at him, unable to restrain a blush as she caught his fine blue grey eyes appraising the way her nightgown clung to her body. "And you did not answer my question."

He bowed his head, hiding his eyes from her searching gaze. "I needed to see you," he replied simply. "To hear your voice."

Padmé was concerned. "What happened, Obi-Wan? Are you allowed to tell me?"

"A rather harrowing mission," he replied, for the details were now classified. "For both myself and Anakin. Which resulted in a fight with Qui-Gon."

"Oh, my love," she murmured, the words surprising both of them, as her hand reached out to touch the holo of him, wishing she was on Coruscant to offer him proper comfort. He put his fingers upon the screen where hers were placed, his mind wishing the same.

"Tell me something," he asked softly. "Anything. I just need to listen and look."

She obliged, relaying to him the events of her life since their last conversation. Obi-Wan leaned back in the chair before the holo and let the sweetness of her voice wash over him, along with the sparkle in her dark eyes, and the lustre which the light of the stars behind her bestowed upon her figure. His mind took in the words with which she used to describe her days, allowing their blessed normality to soothe and comfort his harried mind, until the wisdom was gained to heal the breach with his former Master once more.

"And keep in touch," Master Windu added.

"I will," Obi-Wan replied, before turning round and heading towards the entrance of the Council Chamber. When he reached the threshold however, he paused to face the Korun Master. "Emotion is not the enemy, Master Windu. It is present within all of us, everyday of lives, no matter how much we deny it. Learning to deal with every aspect of it is the true test of any Jedi."

Mace dwelled on his words for a moment, then bowed his head in acknowledgement of the wisdom and insight in the advice. "Perhaps you are right, Obi-Wan." He raised his dark eyes to level with the blue grey ones of his friend's former apprentice. "Clear skies, and may the Force be with you."

Obi-Wan bowed. "And with you, Master." he pressed the release for the door and exited the Council Chambers.

Silently, he made his way to the quarters he shared with Anakin and Qui-Gon, his mind meditating on the best way to inform the latter that he was again to stay at the Temple while their padawan went on another mission. Lately the Council had become more and more protective of Qui-Gon, worried that the illness which wracked his body would hinder him if he participated in some of the more lively field missions. It was a judgement which Qui-Gon railed against, and lately, as his illness waxed and waned, one he attempted to flout. Recently Obi-Wan chose to forget informing his Master about the latest mission, in favour of avoiding the fierce debate that usually arose over the protective nature of the Council and his padawans.

Thus, when the door to the quarters they shared opened to reveal his Master pacing the floor of the living space, Obi-Wan was prepared to see this debate through.

Whatever the cost.

Qui-Gon came to halt as soon as he caught sight of him. "Well, where to this time?"

"Barlok," Obi-Wan replied. "To assist Master C'baoth in his negotiations between the local government and the Corporate Alliance." Assist was a loose term, for Master Windu had actually ordered him to keep an eye on the Jedi Master. But if Obi-Wan couched the assignment within just such a term he might loose Qui-Gon's interest in the matter and thus keep him Temple bound.

"Another one," Qui-Gon mused thoughtfully. "The Republic seems to endure so many such disputes these days."

Obi-Wan nodded, shielding his thoughts as he observed his Master. Qui-Gon had recently come out of a stasis session where his body was put to sleep as a further delay concerning the onset of his illness. As a result he appeared and felt stronger than he usually was when dealing with the effects which the disease visited upon his body. Yet, Obi-Wan also knew that this facade did not last long. Despite the best efforts of the Nubian physicians who suggested this treatment, the affliction continued to pour great strain on Qui-Gon.

"I think I shall stay here," Qui-Gon decided, surprising Obi-Wan for he had expected much more of a fight. "Master C'baoth will not want me interfering in his missions, nor you and Anakin for that matter."

"That is true," Obi-Wan agreed. "But I shall do as the Council instructed me."

"As should we all, young one." Qui-Gon murmured, sinking into the large sofa behind him, causing his companion to regard him with a critical eye.

Obi-Wan caught the hidden strain within his Master's eyes, noticing for the first time since he entered the quarters the extreme effort his body was using to keep him awake. "Master, did something happen with the stasis?"

Qui-Gon shook his head, placing a hand above his pupils, sighing as he let the fingers massage his temple. "The Healers informed me that the more they resort to putting me in stasis, the greater the possibility that I will fail to return from it."

"Does that mean abandoning such treatment?" Obi-Wan asked.

"For a time," Qui-Gon confirmed. "Such is the nature with an unidentifiable illness. Experiment only if there is no risk to the sufferer." He sensed the rising levels of concern and moved a hand from his temple in an effort to quell them. "Fear not, padawan mine, this will pass, though perhaps not as quickly as it should."

"Maybe I should ask Mace to assign someone else," Obi-Wan murmured, as he watched his Master anxiously.

"No, you and Anakin go," Qui-Gon urged. "The sudden quietness of this apartment might restore me."

Obi-Wan mocked frowned. "We don't make that much noise, do we?"

"You, no. Anakin on the other hand, with his constant tinkering...." Qui-Gon smiled as he let the sentence end. "That reminds me, have you found his latest project?"

"Not yet, why do you ask?" Obi-Wan inquired.

"Because I don't think Master Yoda is going to like it. I came across the plans on his datapad. Something to do with a reverse gimmer stick hit device...."

Just find a way aboard," Mace asked him. "However you have to do it."

Obi-Wan nodded, then bowed before exiting the Council Chamber. This was the second time he had greeted Master Windu alone in that room recently, and the second time he was assigned to watch Master C'baoth. Armed with the full up to date details of the Outbound Flight project, he mulled over the information and the Jedi who had requested to go all the way back to the quarters he shared with Qui-Gon and Anakin.

Theoretically, Outbound Flight was a sound project. A noble quest of exploration into the Unknown Regions, a chance to terraform more planets, expand manufacture and food supplies, an opportunity for a second Jedi Temple, where a new code could be written. Obi-Wan could understand why eleven Jedi Knights and six Masters put their names forward when one considered benefits such as these.

But he could also comprehend why the Council were so concerned, for this was not the best time to loose eighteen Jedi from the Order. Not to mention the recent troublesome propaganda about the Order which was spreading through the Republic like wildfire. Accusations concerning their involvement in the Blockade Crisis, the heavy-handed attitude of some Masters and Knights - C'baoth amongst them -when dealing with Republic or non- Republic citizens. The some times healthy suspicion adults held when dealing with their gifted offspring.

He dealt the list of Masters and Knights a cursory glance, his mind searching through his impressions of them. The fact that most were C'baoth's equal when it came to unwholesome reputations conveyed a disturbing message to those in the Senate and elsewhere who regarded the Jedi with suspicion. Some of the names on this list were also those who disagreed with the Council on a regular basis about the way the Order was run. It suggested that the Order was treating this mission as an opportunity to get rid of the most rebellious members. Or that it was sending those they trusted into the Unknown Regions on an insidious invasion plan.

These were the suspicions which were spreading through the Republic right now; most of them unfounded, but when viewed in a certain light, hard to deny. Given the amount of unrest and corruption, some mistrust was understandable. But it was the last thing the Republic needed. Just as sending away a quota of the population skilled in engineering and exploration was unwise.

But the reputation Master C'baoth amassed after Barlok, meant anyone and everyone who were not onboard before, were now. And those who still held caution were subjected to the Master's forthright persuasion. Obi-Wan could not help but worry over the outcome of this mission, not just for the Jedi, but for the Republic citizens going along.

His chrono beeped, reminding him of the time on Naboo. When he was inbetween assignments, he usually took the trouble to call Padmé. The thought of hearing her voice at this moment was soothing balm to his troubled mind. Looking up, he got his bearings and set off for his quarters.

The place was deserted when he entered, not unusual, for Anakin had classes and Qui-Gon was teaching some of the Senior Padawans when his strength permitted. Obi-Wan crossed the living room and entered the study, where the com device bordered the three way desk in the centre of the room.

Seating himself in the chair before his workspace, he tapped in the familiar number of digits which she had given him before he left Naboo and leaned back against the nerfhide covering while he waited for the services to connect.

Unhappily, his patience was only rewarded with an answering message. For a moment he savoured her tone as the recording delivered the polite words, then spoke into the com, leaving a note of his own promise to get in touch when he could.

"Settle yourself in, Master Kenobi," Chancellor Palpatine said. "It's likely to be a very long and weary day."

And he was right, Obi-Wan mused as he almost stumbled through the doorway of his quarters, collapsing in a exhausted, inelegant heap upon the sofa. The negotiations with Roxuli's central government and the system's asteroid mining colonies made the trials of C'baoth and Outbound Flight appear to be a breeze; a minor concern in the grand scheme of things. He was fortunate the Chancellor had taken the decision to stay onboard out of his hands, for it was a selfish move to remain with Outbound Flight, when the Republic was struggling so much. The project to explore the Unknown Regions now seemed akin to rats abandoning a sinking ship.

He and Anakin had experienced all the bad parts of the Republic while they were on board; from the mutinous dissent and suspicion of their citizens, to the overbearing attitude of Master C'baoth in regard to anyone questioning his authority. Frankly, Obi-Wan was relieved to get Anakin away from the ship, for his apprentice did not need to be taught that such arrogance delivered results. Nor that mind melding in the Force was a good technique either. In fact, C'baoth seemed to heading down the path which led to the dark side, if he continued to assert his methods and authority against the rising tide of dissent and suspicion from Outbound Flight's crew and passengers. Obi-Wan feared for the outcome of the mission, and he doubted that one lone voice would have steadied the ship.

The Council would need a briefing from him, a summary of all the events before he delivered his report in full tomorrow morning, but Obi-Wan felt such a task was presently beyond him right now, and any attempt would convey an unhealthy display of negative emotion. He needed a hot shower, something soothing to eat and drink, then bed, before any of the normal procedure after an assignment could take place.

Summoning the energy to rise from the sofa, he opened his eyes just in time to greet his apprentice with a glance as Anakin entered their quarters.

"Master, a call came through for you while we were out," he said, handing him the pad which contained the message and number.

Obi-Wan took the device and cast his blue grey eyes over the string of digits. Abruptly his mind found a new siphon of energy and he rose to his full height. "I'll be using the com for the next hour," he announced.

Anakin frowned. "Are you calling her?" he asked.

The terse accent to his voice caused Obi-Wan to pause. Only tiredness prevented him from answering in his usual calm fashion; he responded in a clipped snap. "Yes, I am."

He felt Anakin's resentful stare follow him all the way to the com.

"Your Highness."

Padmé smiled as she turned to greet her visitor who was regarding the elaborate outfit she wore as Queen Amidala with a new sense; the eyes of someone who would be wearing such costumes soon. She remembered her own awe during that moment, silently wondering how she would manage to breathe in them, let alone walk across a room. "In a few days it'll be the other way round."

"It still doesn't seem real," Jamillia mused, her hands unconsciously touching simple folds of her handmaiden gown. "What did you feel when you first took the throne?"

"Strange," Padmé replied. "I'd been working towards it for years and suddenly there it was. Before I had time to adjust the blockade came."

"What do you think you'll do now?"

"Get used to being an ordinary citizen again," Padmé replied. "Take a vacation. Maybe settle down." she caught the interested gaze of her successor. "Why do you ask?"

"I was wondering if you'd consider a seat in the Senate?"

"Is Horace stepping down?" Padmé sought to confirm, for she had heard nothing from Senator Vancil about this.

Jamillia nodded. "Health concerns. I was only informed this morning."

Padmé laughed slightly. "I shall have to get used to not being informed first of everything that goes on in the Republic."

"Seriously, would you consider taking his seat?" Jamillia inquired. "I know you could do much good."

"I could also do much bad," Padmé countered, watching her successor smile in disbelief. Her reputation had only increased since the blockade, few maintained a healthy respect of her impervious nature to failure.

Jamillia shook her head. "I highly doubt that."

"Who suggested my name be put forward?" Padmé asked.

"The Chancellor," Jamillia answered. "He recalled your moment appealing our case before the Senate during the Blockade Crisis, how well you captured the attention of all his colleagues, inspiring them to make a fundamental change. When Senator Vancil called him this morning, he mentioned your name as his successor, and Horace assented without a moment of hesitation."

Padmé frowned. For some reason, the news that Chancellor Palpatine recommended her for the post, troubled her, more than she liked to admit.

"Milady, I'm not asking for an answer straight away," Jamillia added. "There is still time. Take that vacation and think about it."

Padmé nodded, returned the bow the Princess of Theed gave her, then waited for the doors to close before she sought the peaceful solitude of the balcony, away from the glaring beeping sound of technology.

The view was different from the one which she really sought when she stood on such marbled floors nowadays, but she enjoyed the pleasure it brought her all the same. Ever since Obi-Wan showed her the Force the view from balconies seemed inadequate somehow.

Padmé sighed and closed her eyes as the mere thought of him served to comfort her. Communication between them had been sparse lately due to the increasing number of missions the Order assigned to him and his apprentice. In the early days they could spend hours chatting across comways, now, they barely had time for general inquiry into each other's welbeing before he or sometimes she was called away. After the abrupt end of each message she found herself longing for the days when there were no titles between them except Jedi; in other words when her reign as sovereign of Naboo came to an end.

And now that it was about to, she had another title beckoning her. Senator. Not a role with which, if she was honest with herself, she hadn't contemplated running for, at some point in her life. But that had been before she met Obi-Wan. While it was true that she never expected to give up her career when she settled down with the love of her life, she hadn't meant it to be a high profile one by that time either. While the office would give her ample excuse to spend time on Coruscant, it would draw just as much, if not more attention upon her and any relationship she had.

Yet she could not deny the appeal of the position. The amount of good work she could do, not just for the Republic, but for Naboo as well. From the moment she became an apprentice legislator, she had dreamt of rising to such a position, never expecting her appeal for reform of the elective monarchy to grant her sovereignty. Aside from the news that Chancellor Palpatine recommended her for the post, there was no real objection in her heart or her mind for accepting it.

Padmé took one last look at the splendour of Theed, which the Palace balcony conveyed in all it's glory. She listened to the voice inside her, the one she always trusted to guide her future. It was telling her to take this post.

A smile creased her lips before she turned to go inside.

Padmé almost stumbled into her office in the Senate, exhausted from the welcoming ceremony. If she had known there were some many procedures for a Senator's first day in office, perhaps she would not have been quite so eager to take the post.

She blinked as she took in her desk, a piece of furniture which she thought she had left spotless that morning. Now piles of gifts cluttered the fine Alderaanian Kiirn, leaving not one particle of the dark wood unblemished by fancy flimsi or ribbon.

After the exhausting day in the Senate, the task of opening each present was beyond her right now. Padmé sank down in her chair, the calm eye in the storm of these gifts, her eyes casting only a cursory glance over them, noting for any which might make her smile.

One did, much to her surprise. Wrapped very simply, with a single, elaborately knotted ribbon around a white piece of writing flimsi, the gift lay in the centre of her writing plane, with a note from her handmaiden, Dormé, saying that this was sure to bring her comfort.

Intrigued, Padmé retrieved the scissors which her attendant had also thoughtfully laid nearby, and snipped the ribbon in order to preserve the elaborate knot. Turning the box over, she carefully prized apart the folds, the strength of the writing flimsi such as to prevent tearing without a great deal of force.

When the flimsi lay flat upon the writing plane, it revealed an intricately carved box, made of fine Alderaanian Kiirn, surrounding Nubian semiprecious gemstones. A gold clasp was placed in the middle of the top, designed to be pressed for release.

Padmé obliged, and the surface parted, lowering to either side, as in the centre, a glass dome rose from a small dais. The sight within caused her to gasp, taking in a shallow breathless air of joy and pleasure.

Her favourite Nubian flower lay posed beautifully within, in that perfect stage between bud and full bloom. Below, the green stem was suspended on a rotating dais, allowing one to see the flower from every angle.

As it circled round to display the back, Padmé noticed another small piece of white writing flimsi, lying within the lid of the box. She reached for it, cautiously prizing the seal from the edge and straightened the folds.



Congratulations, Senator Amidala
I have no doubt you will perform miracles
within your new position. All my love,

Padmé let her fingers trace the elegant handwriting, as her mind tried to imagine his clipped Coruscanti accent speaking the words. She was touched beyond measure that he found the time to prepare and send this to her.

Chapter Text

Part14: Absence of the Heart.

"Padmé, there's a call for you."

The former sovereign of the Naboo rose from the bench swing in the rear gardens of her family home where she had been watching her nieces play, and darted inside, brushing past the smiling form of her sister Sola with graceful haste. The large comlink screen was located in the study, a flashing icon waiting for her to acknowledge the incoming message. She could do naught but smile at the figure of the sender.

"Good day, Milady," he greeted her as soon as she answered.

"Hello, Obi-Wan," Padmé replied. "How are you?"

"I am well," he assured her, moving to seat himself in the chair behind him. The holocamera adjusted for the change in focus, revealing the Jedi Knight's location; the sleek hi-tech interior of a Delta Twelve Skysprite. "And you?"

"Enjoying a welcome break," she replied. "Unlike you, I see. And Anakin?"

"His dreams trouble him still," Obi-Wan confided soberly. "As to the other, it is why I called. To apologise for my absence if you return to the Core before I do."

"Obi-Wan, there's no need," Padmé said, "I know the commitments of the Order are vast, your responsibilities many, often all-consuming. And I never expect you to visit everytime I am on Coruscant."

"I know," he replied with a smile, "which is why I do."

She blushed at the unspoken charm which his expression conveyed. His hair grown into shoulder length, a beard cresting his chin from a desire to appear less youthful so his authority was not corrupted by age. But while these features did convey that impression of experience, they also conveyed a warmth and a charm which disarmed many who were fortunate to meet with the Knight. The years had been kind to him. Her Padawan was no longer a young man but every inch a Knight. "Where do you go this time?"

"Ansion," he replied, "a minor border dispute. Jedis Luminara and Barriss were sent ahead of us. Although from what I hear from Bail, it has implications for the Republic."

"You think they will secede to the Confederacy?" Padmé asked. Since the failure to raise the Financial Reform Act to a vote in the Senate, many planets had left the Republic to join this Confederacy of Independent Systems.

"We intend to make sure they don't," Obi-Wan informed her. "If Ansion goes, the Confederacy will have gained an extremely strategic planet, and countless others could follow in their wake."

"That might happen anyway if this Military Creation Act goes to the floor," Padmé admitted sadly. Only since joining the Senate soon after her two terms as Queen came to an end, had she become aware of how fragile the Republic seemed to be. Despite everything corruption still existed in the Senate, making the appeal of the Confederacy all the more tempting to some. "I was just with Queen Jamillia today. More details came to light."

"And none of them pleasant reading," Obi-Wan remarked, to which she nodded. Despite the fact that the creation of an army for the defence of the Republic would help the Jedi Order tremendously, there were no Knights or Masters who would truly welcome it, and he was one of them. If the act was voted in, relations between the Republic and the Confederacy could only worsen, along with those worlds involved in either side.

Inside the Delta Twelve there sounded a loud beep, announcing that the craft was soon to drop out of hyperspace. Obi-Wan acknowledged the call with a glance and a hand on controls, before speaking to her again. "I'll see you when we get back," he promised.

"I look forward to it," Padmé said softly. "May the Force be with you, Obi-Wan."

"And with you, milady," he replied before the message came to an end.

Sola was with her daughters when Padmé returned to the bench swing outside, a curious expression displayed across her face. "So that was the legendary Obi-Wan Kenobi," she remarked, needing no confirmation, for the Knight had introduced himself when she answered the call.

Padmé nodded anyway, her gaze moving from her sister to her nieces as they chased each other round the garden. "Yes, he called to tell me that he'd been ordered to Ansion," she informed her sister, her voice distant, as though it was still with him, like her thoughts.

"I see why you like him," Sola added. "Tell me, was he always so charmingly handsome?"

That brought her sharply back to her surroundings. "Sola!"

"Don't worry, baby sister, I'm a married woman, remember?" Sola reminded her with a laugh. "Besides, vows do not preclude one from looking. And you never answered my query."

"I'm a Senator," Padmé uttered firmly. "Senators do not allow such shallow impressions to influence their opinions."

"You're also a woman," Sola countered. "And he's a man. A man whom you have kept a holo correspondence with for ten years."

"We're friends," Padmé protested, but only half-heartedly. Though she had never admitted it to her family, her feelings for Obi-Wan had never changed.

Sola sighed. "Padmé, you have given so many years of your life to the Republic. When are you going to make one for yourself?"

"You speak as if I've wasted those years as Queen and Senator," Padmé remarked, evaluating her sister's appraising glance.

"I don't deny that you've done a great deal of good," Sola corrected. "For Naboo and for the Republic. But even though I'm no politician, I see where the approaching storm on the horizon is heading. It's no longer a question of if there will be war, but when."

Padmé shook her head. "Not if I can help it," she replied.

"And when will you realise that you need to make a life for yourself before it's too late?" Sola asked. "I see the sparkle in your eyes when you watch my children. I know how much you love them. Don't you want a family of your own?"

"I...." Padmé paused as her gaze settled on Ryoo and Pooja, unable to deny the affection she felt for them. Though she had joined public service on Naboo, a family of her own had always been something she wanted. "I'm working right now for something I deeply believe in. For something that's important."

"And after this is settled, after the Military Creation Act is far behind you, you'll find something else that's really important. Something that concerns the Republic and the government more than it really concerns you," Sola predicted.

"How can you say that?" Padmé asked her.

"Because it's true and you know it's true," Sola replied. "When are you going to do something just for yourself?"

"Is everyone to be defined by their children?" Padmé asked incredulously.

"Of course not," Sola answered. "But at the same time, you cannot spend all your life seeking and spending all your energy in the service of ideals and of others. Yes, life is full of sacrifice, but to ignore something which will give you even more energy to fight for better Republic will only result in alienating you from the very people you want to help."

Padmé sighed, the breath acknowledging that some of her sister's points were reasonable. "But if the Military Creation Act becomes law, Sola, war will inevitably follow. Do really wish me to put any child through that?"

Her sister was unable to answer and a silence settled over the siblings which neither of them wished for. Padmé had intended to win the debate, though a part of her half hoped that Sola would have something to say in response. It was a hollow victory however, for she was denying to herself a want which needed to be surrendered to soon, if the Military Creation Act became law. But her doubts remained, and not just because of herself, but of the man whom she would choose to have that family with if she could.

They both had responsibilities, he more than her, not to mention that the public perception of their relationship had not been changed by her choice to enter the Senate. Even assuming he wanted children, for it was something they had not discussed. Despite a correspondence of coms over the ten years since their first encounter, where they had exchanged views, beliefs, ideals, preferences, past times and confidences, their feelings was something which they had never aired, not even as far as to say the reasons why. Numerous though these were, some perfectly reasonable and logical in times such as this, the distance had incurred a natural doubt as to whether their attachment was still present to the level it had been when they first confessed it on Tatooine.

Whatever her fears, it was something she would have to summon the courage to air with him when they next met.

Weeks passed, and few things changed. Padmé returned to her offices in the Palace plaza, immersing herself in the holonet communications which came daily, even hourly to her link station, as the polls monitored the probable outcome of the vote for the Military Creation Act. The date for her return to Coruscant had been set, which meant careful and detailed preparation on what she wanted to say to her fellow Senators, and the necessary security that would accompany her; Handmaidens and Nubian guards. Unlike her predecessor she still found the worth in a decoy and due to the differences between herself and Queen Jamillia a few of the handmaidens who had served her during the second sovereign term volunteered to serve when she became Senator.

Her holo was on at the moment, displaying the numbers, with a soldier on one side and a flag of truce on the other to indicate for or against. It sickened her to see the names of her colleagues, knowing that most them would be determining their position not with a care for the needs of their world or the Republic or peace, but out of personal gain, for business contracts, manufacturing deals, division of forces implementing the law on their own planets, even payoffs for just saying aye or nay. The depth of corruption often caused her to wonder if Sola was right and she was wasting her life in the pursuit of something which at the moment looked wholly impossible to realise.

A rumpus outside drew her attention from the depressing sight to the large window at one end of her office, and she glanced through the panes to see a cadre of men fighting upon the paved courtyard floor. Nubian security forces appeared and began to deal with them.

The portal to her room was slid aside then, after a brief abrupt knock of forewarning, making her turn from the window to see Captain Panaka striding in.

"Just checking, Senator," he informed her, still incredibly formal, but Padmé felt comforted by the mere sight of him. The years had been kind to him too, at twice her age he still had the physique and the health for his post, along with the affection for the sovereign he once served, and the one he did now.

"Shouldn't you be seeing to the security of Queen Jamillia?" she asked him but without any real rebuke.

"She is well protected, I assure you," Panaka replied.

"From?" Padmé asked. Her absence from the capital to spend time with her family had precluded her usual care for Nubian disputes, which were usually few and far between.

"Spice miners," Panaka answered. "Contract issues. Nothing to concern you, Senator. Actually, I was on my way here to speak with you, about the security for your return trip to Coruscant."

Padmé frowned. "That is weeks away."

"Which gives us more time to properly prepare," Panaka replied.

There was another knock at the door and Captain Typho, Panaka's nephew and Padmé's chief of security since her appointment as Senator, walked in. "I have some bad news. The Trade Federation have decided to cast their lot with the Confederacy."

Such news troubled Padmé into silence only for a moment. "We've suspected all along that Count Dooku and his separatists would court the Trade Federation and the various commerce guilds. Viceroy Gunray is an financial opportunist. It was only a matter of time before he decided to see the profit in this."

"I'm much more concerned with the implications to you, Senator," Panaka said. "The separatists have shown themselves not to be above violence. There have been assassination attempts across the Republic."

Padmé could not ignore the truth in that, for Obi-Wan had been involved in the rescue of one of those Senators over the Financial Reform Act, an article of law which she still believed might have prevented so many systems leaving the Republic if it had been put to vote.

"But wouldn't the separatists consider Senator Amidala an ally at this time?" Typho asked. "I know you are no friend towards secedence from the Republic, but concerning the Military Creation Act, you have always stated publicly that you prefer negotiation over force. Would not the separatists agree with your vote?"

"With the alliance of the Trade Federation, I am not so sure of that as I once was," Padmé revealed.

"That alliance demands we tighten security around Senator Amidala," Panaka decided.

"Please do not speak of me as if I am not here," Padmé protested.

"In matters of personal security, Senator, you are not here," Panaka insisted. "At least your voice is not. My nephew reports to me, and his responsibilities on this matter cannot be undermined. You must take all precautions."

"Even cancelling my return?" Padmé asked.

"If events demand it, yes," Panaka answered. "But we know this vote is important, Senator. Rest assured we will do all we can to make sure you are safe to attend."

Chapter Text

Part15: Once More Under Scythe's Shadow.

A month since the communiqué and Obi-Wan Kenobi was back on Coruscant, albeit in a less calmer frame of mind than he had been when he left, and for once it had nothing to do with his Padawan's flight technique. The border dispute on Ansion turned out to be worse than the description suggested, matters escalating into battle lines being drawn, which he only managed to prevent disintegrating into war via negotiation with his words and his lightsaber. Peace reigned across the planet once more, and Ansion's membership with the Republic was likewise secured, along with the safety of fellow Knight Luminara and Padawan Barriss. Four Jedi to deal with what the Council had termed a 'minor border dispute' in an Order whose numbers were already pressed, despite all attempts to increase them. It was almost as if the Republic was clamouring for the creation of the army which their Senators continued to debate into a stalemate.

Not that Obi-Wan agreed with the Act, nor indeed did most of the Order. The Jedi were founded on tolerance and a desire for peace arm in arm with justice. Creating an army, even commanding or serving in one, was in direct diametric to those beliefs. Yet, however they strove to prevent the need for such a force, the more the galaxy seemed to flounder under the lack for one. He had just returned in time to learn that the Trade Federation had thrown it's lot in with the Confederacy, and their vast resources in machines and droids only moved the Republic one step closer to creating an army of their own. As much as he believed in a peaceful future, maybe war was just matter of time.

Which led him to contemplate what the Jedi Order would do when such an event occurred. The easiest answer was to cut themselves off from the matter entirely, but their ties to the safety of the Republic were impossible to ignore. None of them could excuse themselves from participation, not even the senior Padawans, among whom was Anakin. In the ten years since he and Qui-Gon had first discovered him, the young boy had advanced further and faster in his training than any other initiates his age.

Few disputed now that he was the Chosen One, and in spite of all his efforts, it was a title which Anakin himself was all too aware of. Already he held himself to a high standard, protesting under his and Qui-Gon's desire for restraint, for patience, always pushing himself ahead with an insatiable curiosity and a confidence bordering on arrogance. But his emotions were not fully disciplined, something which concerned Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon far more than the Council, who seemed content to forget their previous misgivings. Maturity in his Force ability was the one thing which caused them to delay his trials, a notion which naturally irritated the Padawan. He chafed under the restraint, ignoring that he was the youngest initiate to be so close to the trials, ignoring that he had two Masters of considerable repute not just in the Order, but the Republic.

Obi-Wan disputed such a fact as far as he himself was concerned, though he could not deny that there were more Jedi and citizens who knew his name now than ten years ago. Since his knighthood he had paid diligent attention to continuing his training, as more and more missions in the field called for his skills with the lightsaber to advance. A Soresu Master, it was widely held belief in the Order that he equalled Master Yoda and Master Windu in terms of his ability. But it was his talent for negotiation which garnered tantamount respect, something he was proud to have learned from his Master.

Qui-Gon was still suffering under his illness. It was rare that he emerged from the Temple for active field duty now. His resources in the Force were by no means depleted, nor did the stasis which he underwent four times a year hinder his physical or mental strength. But there was a noticeable frailty about him, which appeared to be slowly increasing. Obi-Wan still searched for a cure, but he was aware more now than ever that time was running out. Just like the inevitability of the Republic being drawn into civil war, so was the shadow of death drawing upon Qui-Gon Jinn.

A swift breeze broke his gloomy thoughts just then, and he returned to his stargazing. Not that one could see stars any more in the Coruscant skyline, numerous traffic lanes and rising levels of pollution deprived all observers of that hope. Fortunately there was something else to draw his attention. Just as the rise and fall of a wave within the ocean supported and foretold the board of a surfer, so did the currents of the wind support and foretell the arrival of pilot and his craft.

Four as it turned out; as one large cruiser under the escort of three smaller starfighters hoved into view. Obi-Wan savoured the appearance of each one, his fascination for such vehicles not entirely destroyed by the crazy antics of his Padawan. He noted the lack of weaponry on the large cruiser, a sleek silver craft with the wings of an avian and the grace to match. Effortlessly they surfed the skyline, avoiding traffic lanes in their approach vector to one of the numerous hovering dockyards buried around Five Hundred Republica.

It did not take him long to join the dots, recognising the ship and the landing coordinates, realising who was most likely aboard. He turned from the balcony towards the entrance to the Temple, knowing he would have to move fast if he wanted to arrive before the Senator and guards left for their apartments.

He heard the explosion in the turbolift, the sound of the shock waves echoing through the shaft, followed by the echo through the Force, the forewarning of death. Barely a second later the klaxons rang along with other alarms and the turbolift began to slow down as the security override went into place. Obi-Wan reached out with the Force towards the control panel, reverting the cylinder back to its original speed. Inside him his heart pounded and frustration threatened to overwhelm his composure, before he let loose his Jedi training, reminding himself that even with the Force, he would be there too late.

Pieces littered the docking platform, blackened and charred almost beyond recognition. Most of the Nubian Royal Cruiser had survived the blast, but it was clear even from the perimeter that the ship was a write off. Around it's burning hulk stood the smaller escort crafts, which fared far better. These however were not the figures Obi-Wan focused on as he stepped out from the turbolift. Instead his gaze was drawn to one of the seven bodies which lay on the permacrete, decorated in a swathes of black and white, topped with the remains of a crumpled black head dress. He knew those Senatorial clothes well, almost too well, having seen them at their best on Amidala during the last session. With difficulty he dragged his eyes from the scorched material to the darkly clad figure crouching over the wearer, the long dark hair which cascaded down one shoulder the only thing to distinguish her from the other pilots of the escort.

"Cordé!" he heard her cry as the pilot gathered the woman to her chest.

"Milady, you are still in danger," her security captain cried, the urgency in his voice clear even to the Knight who still stood some distance away, seemingly unable to move closer, as though his proximity made the difference between illusion and reality.

Padmé slowly restored her decoy to the permacrete and rose to her feet. When she spoke the desolation was foremost in her tone. "I shouldn't have come back," she uttered and for a moment nothing mattered but the death of her friend, which she could have prevented by staying on Naboo.

"This vote is very important," Typho said beside her. "You did your duty, Senator, and Cordé did hers. Would you diminish her death by standing here and risking your safety? What good would her sacrifice be?"

"Enough, Captain," Padmé turned away and began to walk towards the turbolift for the transport. Only then did her eyes find Obi-Wan waiting for her. Without another thought she almost flew into his warm embrace and let loose her grief.

Obi-Wan tangled a hand in her hair and wrapped the other round her slim waist as his eyes moved from the wreckage to the solemn face of Captain Typho, who acknowledged him with a nod before raising a comlink to his lips. Measures had to be put in place before those responsible realised their mistake and tried again. For now, it must look to the Republic that the Senator from Naboo had been assassinated.

He murmured intelligible words of comfort, his mouth close against her ear, his fingers caressing her hair, his quiet strength restoring her. It seemed an age since he had last held her like this, when they were young and out in the far flung reaches of the galaxy. Since Tatooine and Naboo their encounters were brief conversations in between missions and Senate meetings, or held across the holonet comms, none of which were ideal places to drop the formality required of a Jedi and a Senator.

Underneath the words however their exchange somehow always managed to contain the warmth which existed between them, the feeling she could put any number of words to yet still found herself unable to define. Memories of their meetings were enough to sustain her when they were apart, making the reality even more enduring. Her sister's words came back to her, the constant question as to when she was going to seize a life of her own. She knew it would be with the man who held her now, she just hoped he still felt the same.

Padmé felt the equanimity return to her. The tears ceased and she was able to draw back to look up at his face. Obi-Wan was all compassion and understanding, his silence conveying to her what words could not. She knew they needed to part, he to the Temple, she to the Senate, yet she did not want his comforting presence to leave her side right now. "Obi-Wan, I need to get to my apartment and change, then to the Senate. Can you come?"

"If you wish," he replied, though he would have followed her anyway. He knew of the threats against her, it was something he always kept an eye open for, a difficult counter balance to his duties as a Jedi. There were those in the Order who viewed such care as dangerous attachment, but he saw it as one of his greatest strengths. Somehow in the ten years they had come to know each other, he mastered the ability to care for her, and let go of that devotion when duty called for him to do so. He had realised the complexity behind the lines of a doctrine which he had taught almost from birth; attachment is forbidden, possession is forbidden, for to combine the two spells disaster.

But love is permitted, once this rule is understood. To attach is to cling to someone who is only transitory, who grows as the years go by, who dies, as all things do, even stars. To possess them is to deny them that right to grow, to die. To love however, is to accept both of these truths, and then realise the freedom which lies within that acceptance. That love never fades, but grows, until it passes into the Force. And the Force becomes the better for it.

They parted from each other to fall into line beside each other, and with Captain Typho following, they reached the turbolift to take the short journey to her apartment. Unlike the arrival to the planet, her entrance to the suite of rooms occurred without incident, not even joyful relief, for Jar Jar and Dormé had already been briefed of the truth and the need for concealment. The handmaiden ushered her mistress into the bedroom to change out of the flight suit into robes more suited for addressing the Senate. While Padmé no longer hid her face for this role, she still realised the need for presentation and intimidation, and the black gown of mourning with gold under shift was a perfect example.

Only minutes had passed since they left the docking platform, ensuring that by the time they arrived at the Senate, news of the explosion and her supposed death had just finished being relayed via the Chancellor to her colleagues. Palpatine was at his most charming; conveying the words with a tone full of sadness yet underlined with a strength that still insisted he was for negotiation with the Separatists, that he refused to answer the clamouring of his more vocal Senators; the cries for an army, for war. Somehow, they still listened to him, still trusted his wisdom and ideals, which was possibly why he was still Chancellor though he had long outstayed his legal term limit.

Padmé held misgivings over this, along with many other events which had occurred upon the floor during her terms as Queen and Senator. But she did not disagree with the words which her former Senator uttered now.

"Peace is our objective here, not war."

"You say this while your friend lies dead, assassinated by those same people with whom you wish to negotiate?" The Senator from Malastare countered. "Did you not just name Amidala as your friend?"

The arena erupted into chaos at that moment as voices clamoured over one another for the right to speak. Such a sight filled Padmé and the Obi-Wan with disgust. They stood in the Senatorial pod now, along with Captain Typho, Jar Jar and Dormé. Padmé turned to her handmaiden and murmured, "this is exactly why Count Dooku was able to convince so many systems to secede."

"There are many who believe the Republic has become too large and disjointed," Dormé observed. "Not just those who have joined the Separatists."

Obi-Wan stayed silent and kept to the shadows. It was not the place of the Jedi to interfere or make with politics, it was only to serve those who did. A task he and many others of his Order had found increasingly difficult of late, especially when confronted with the chaos that was the present Senate. It was why Count Dooku had left the Order, refusing to work with a Republic which no longer functioned. His departure had affected many of the Jedi, but Qui-Gon the most deeply, for his former Master was Dooku's Padawan.

Now his leadership of the Separatists hung over the Republic like the shadow of the remaining Sith which clouded the ability of the Jedi. He had killed the apprentice on Naboo ten years ago, leaving the Master hiding somewhere in the galaxy, waiting for the moment to strike again. The Council believed that if they discovered that Master, they would be able to restore peace back to the Republic. But they also knew that the only way to find him was to protect and serve while it endured this chaos. Even if that servitude came with a price, as sacrifices often do.

"My most noble colleagues," Padmé began, her tone at its most Senatorial, rising over the general clamour to echo throughout the arena. "I concur with the Supreme Chancellor. At all costs we do not want war!"

At the sound of her voice the floor fell silent, before a rapturous cheer broke out and the Senators pressed their hands together in applause at the sight and sound of her.

"It is with great surprise and joy that the chair recognises the Senator from Naboo, Padmé Amidala," Palpatine announced.

"Less than an hour ago, an assassination attempt was made upon my life," Padmé began after the cheering and applause had faded away. "One of my bodyguards and six others were ruthlessly and senselessly murdered. I was the target, but more importantly, I believe this security measure before you was the target. I have led the opposition to building an army, but there is someone who will stop at nothing to secure its passage."

Obi-Wan cloaked his presence as he listened to her, admiring the strength and determination in her tone, the belief in her convictions. It was because of her and the other members of the Loyalist committee, which also included good Senators such as Mon Mothma, Garm Bel Iblis and Bail Organa, that the Order felt their choice to continue to protect and serve the Republic was justified. They were the ones who commanded the respect and hope of the people who elected them, and ironically, the ones whose lives were frequently at risk for precisely such reasons, as proved by the mixture of rancorous and rapturous cheers from those present within the vast arena.

"I warn you, if you vote to create this army, war will follow." Padmé continued. "I have experienced the misery of war first hand; I do not wish to do so again."

Her voice and the words she uttered were begnning to turn the tide, steering the future away from the rancour towards the rapture. But the future was not immutable and one dissenter raised their voice in objection.

"This is insanity!" Senator Orn Tee Taa cried. "I move that we defer this vote immediately!"

Padmé turned her gaze towards the Twi'lek as she continued to speak. "Wake up, Senators, you must wake up! If we offer the Separatists violence they can only show us violence in return! Many will loose their lives, and all will loose their freedom! This decision could well destroy the very foundation of our great Republic! I pray you do not let fear push you into a disastrous decision. Vote down this security measure which is nothing less than a declaration of war! Does anyone want that here? I cannot believe that they do!"

Obi-Wan inwardly cheered at her words, but his gaze had moved from her to the three main dissenters within the arena; Senators Orn Tee Taa, Ask Aak and Darsana. Even before the former spoke, he knew what they were going to argue, and he feared that as usual, the Senate would gladly adhere to the delay rather than commit themselves to a vote whose outcome was likely to change the Republic forever, whether the result was aye or nay.

"By precedence of order, my motion to defer the vote must be dealt with first," Orn Tee Taa said. "That is the rule of law!"

Supreme Chancellor Palpatine turned an expression full of sympathy upon his former sovereign. "In view of the lateness of the hour and the seriousness of this motion, we will take up these matters tomorrow. Until then, the Senate stands adjourned."

The master controls of the Senatorial pods were activated, and the devices slowly reversed back to the section of the wall which was assigned to them. Padmé waited for the artificial lighting to darken before she turned to her silent Jedi, whose solemn face conveyed sympathy and understanding. As much as Obi-Wan hated politics and politicians, she knew that unlike many who possessed such emotions, he at least understood and accepted the value of their democracy.

"It is at moments like this that I wish the Chancellor would just abandon loopholes and call for the vote to take place," she remarked. "At least then we would know for sure, one way or another. As it stands, I fear it is only a matter of time before our floundering forces the Separatists into violent action regardless."

Obi-Wan nodded. "It is a fine line which the Chancellor walks," he observed. "But you are right, delay can only work for so long."

Padmé sighed as her chrono beeped, quietly proclaiming the hour. "I have a meeting with the Loyalist Committee early tomorrow morning, and tonight I must talk to the relatives of those lost in the explosion." She ceased speaking then to gaze into his blue grey eyes, her silence conveying perfectly the words she left unsaid, which were received by him almost as if they were heard through the Force.

"And I have to report to the Council concerning the events of Ansion," Obi-Wan informed her, his apology over his prior commitments equally unsaid yet still heard by her. He bowed gracefully over her outstretched hand, taking it in his own. "Good evening, milady," he uttered in farewell, before touching the smooth skin he held with his lips.

"Good evening, Master Jedi," Padmé returned, the title reminding them both of a time a decade past, causing them both to see a smile form upon each other's face before they left each other's sight.

Just as before the words I'll see you later were left unsaid, yet heard.

Chapter Text

Part 16: What Misconceptions May Prevent.

Obi-Wan may have let the words take flight within the Force, but he had doubted that there would be a truth to them. During the years since her term as Senator began, on the rare occasions whenever they were on Coruscant at the same time, their duties allowed them little time together beyond the usual brief acknowledgement in passing as they walked along the corridors of the Senate, or if they passed each other in traffic. He had not accounted for the Chancellor asking that his former sovereign was placed under the protection of the Order, or for Palpatine to suggest that he should be in charge of said protection. Not that he was unhappy with the decision, because it might give him and Padmé the opportunity to talk about things which neither felt comfortable saying over the com.

However, assigning him meant assigning his padawan. A few years ago Qui-Gon would have taken the reins of responsibility concerning the Chosen One from him, but his former Master was no longer able to leave the Temple for field missions. His health was increasingly erratic, the seizures more and more frequent, each one worse than the one before. Just before he and Anakin were sent to Ansion, one took hold of Qui-Gon, grounding him in the healers ward. It had taken a great deal of persuasion to call the padawan from his beside. Even now that they had returned, the boy's emotions were still conflicted, making Obi-Wan doubt that the Council was right to obey the Chancellor in giving them this assignment.

"You seem a little on edge, Anakin," he observed now, glancing at his companion in the turbolift as it rose upward towards the apartment of the Senator from Naboo.

"Not at all," Anakin lied.

"I haven't felt you this tense since we fell into that nest of gundarks," Obi-Wan added, ignoring the lie in his attempt to get the young man to calm.

"You fell into that nightmare, Master, and I rescued you, remember?" Anakin reminded him pointedly.

"Oh yes," Obi-Wan chuckled, causing the Padawan to smile. "You're sweating. Relax. Take a deep breath."

"I haven't seen her in ten years, Master," Anakin said as he admitted the true source of his anxiety at last.

"She's not the Queen anymore, Anakin," Obi-Wan reminded him.

"That's not why I'm nervous," his Padawan murmured.

You're not the only one, Obi-Wan thought, allowing the words to pass no further than the privacy of his own mind. He recalled one of the last times he had talked with her before they left Naboo, the constant desire to behave rationally, to make allowances for her youth, and in the end she had been the one who offered the mature proposal. He wondered if she still felt the same way. His feelings had changed it was true, but only in the sense that they were deeper and better founded.

He remembered holding her on the platform, the remains of the explosion behind her, the way she clung to him as she poured out her grief. She had grown more beautiful in the month since he last saw and spoke to her, if that were possible. He hoped that the death of her decoy and handmaiden did not grieve her too much. Her compassion for others was one of the many things he loved about her, but often compassion could lead to one's undoing, as he recalled her affectionate promise to his padawan all those years ago on her ship. She had no idea of course that Anakin would take the words in the way that he did, but that one moment was bound to cause them trouble in the future.

The turbolift came to a halt and Knight and Padawan stepped out to walk into the reception hall of the apartment, coming face to face with a joyful and overly enthusiastic Gungan, who thanks to his anxiety the night before made no reference in his greeting to the fact that Obi-Wan had been here yesterday. The Jedi was grateful for that discretion, unintentional it may be, for the knowledge of such an event was hardly likely to eliminate Anakin's present internal conflict.

"Obi! Obi! Obi! Mesa sooo smilen to seein yousa. Wahooooo!" Jar Jar cried.

The Gungan's enthusiasm was infectious. Obi-Wan smiled as he shook the large hands that reached out to greet him. "It's good to see you, too, Jar Jar. You remember my apprentice, Anakin Skywalker?"

Jar Jar grew even more excited. "Noooooooo! Ani? Noooooooo! Little bitty Ani? Noooooooo! Yousa so biggen! Yiyiyiyyi! Ani!!"

"Hi, Jar Jar," Anakin replied before his breath was taken away as the Gungan swept him up into a hug.

"Shesa expecting yousa. Ani... Mesa no believen!"

Obi-Wan's gaze moved from his apprentice to take in the rest of the room, a motion which he did not have the time to do so the night before. As with most apartments belonging to the Senators, the rooms seemed to a reminder of home, and every inch of this apartment displayed the beauty of Naboo.

"Mesa here. Lookie... lookie... Senator. Desa Jedi arriven," Jar Jar declared as he led the Jedi towards the Senator.

Padmé broke from her conference with Dormé and Captain Typho to step forward and greet her new protectors.

Obi-Wan bowed before her. "It's a great pleasure to see you again, Milady."

"It has been far too long, Master Kenobi," Padmé uttered as she took his hand. "I'm so glad our paths have crossed again. But I must warn you that I think your presence here is unnecessary."

He smiled at her, his understanding unspoken, yet heard as always. "I'm sure the Jedi Council has their reasons."

She turned to his apprentice, whom she had not seen since their farewell on Naboo, for it was much more difficult for Padawans to leave the temple in search of acquaintances than it was for their Knights and Masters. "Ani? My goodness, you've grown."

Anakin tried for smoothness and as usual forgot the other half of Yoda's most quoted doctrine, thus failing abysmally. "So have you... grown more beautiful, I mean... and much shorter... for a Senator, I mean."

Obi-Wan turned to glare at him for crossing the lines of protocol once more, but Padmé just laughed, letting the meaning behind the sentence disappear. "Oh Ani, you'll always be that little boy I knew on Tatooine."

As his apprentice fell into embarrassed silence, Obi-Wan spoke again. "Our presence will be invisible, Milady, I can assure you."

"I'm very grateful you're here, Master Kenobi," Captain Typho remarked. "The situation is more dangerous than the Senator will admit."

Padmé shook her head as she found a seat, gesturing for the Jedi to do also. "I don't need more security, I need answers. I want to know who is trying to kill me."

"We're here to protect you Senator, not to start an investigation," Obi-Wan declared firmly, too firmly for his apprentice's liking.

Anakin forgot his embarrassment in face of his anxiety over her safety. "We will find out who's trying to kill you Padmé, I promise you."

Obi-Wan turned to him with a telling look. "We will not exceed our mandate, my young Padawan learner!"

"I meant in the interest of protecting her, Master, of course," Anakin rapidly tried to rephrase his assurance.

But as usual Obi-Wan saw through the cover. "We will not go through this exercise again, Anakin. And you will pay attention to my lead."

His words, the dressing down infront of Senator Amidala was too much for the young apprentice to take. "Why?"

"What?" Obi-Wan exclaimed with a calmness that was almost deadly. More and more lately, Anakin was questioning the rule of Council, chafing under their orders. Another reason why his Trials were delayed, though he had yet to realise it.

Anakin ignored the rising temper of his Master and continued to push his point home. "Why else do you think we were assigned to protect her, if not to find the killer? Protection is a job for local security. It's overkill, Master. Investigation is implied in our mandate."

"We will do exactly as the Council has instructed," Obi-Wan replied. "And you will learn your place, young one."

"Perhaps with merely your presence, the mysteries surrounding this threat will be revealed," Padmé diplomatically remarked, ending the disagreement. "Now, if you will excuse me, I will retire."

She rose to her feet and the Jedi followed suit, Obi-Wan adding a bow to the etiquette. But like his apprentice, his eyes continued to observe her as she left their presence in favour of the peaceful atmosphere of her rooms.

"Well, I know I feel a lot better having you here," Captain Typho admitted. "I'll have an officer situated on every floor and I'll be in the control centre downstairs."

"Thank you, Captain," Obi-Wan replied. "I promise you we will make sure this does not interfere with the Senator's duties. I know how important it is that she continues to carry them out during these times."

"Mesa busten wit happiness seein yousa again, Ani," Jar Jar said. "Deesa bad times, bombad times."

"She hardly recognised me, Jar Jar," Anakin uttered forlornly, sounding very much the little boy Padmé remembered. "I've thought about her every day since we parted, and she's forgotten me completely."

Jar Jar shrugged. "Shesa happy. Happier den mesa seein her in longo time."

Obi-Wan turned from Typho to his apprentice, knowing the boy needed activity before his emotive thoughts ruled him once more. "Anakin, you're focusing on the negative again. Be mindful of your thoughts. She was pleased to see us. Now lets check the security here."

"Yes, my master," Anakin replied.

Later that night, when Anakin had left the apartment to check in with the healers at Temple concerning Qui-Gon, Padmé left her room and joined Obi-Wan on the balcony.

"Milady," he bowed.

She walked forward until she was directly before him, a vision in a simple white shift, which hung loosely around her upper arms, her long dark hair pulled back into a high half ponytail, the dark curled strands cascading down her back. He noticed the chain encircling her neck, and followed the links to the end, whereupon he discovered the gift he gave her in the sands of Mos Espa ten years ago. "I'm surprised to meet again when so little has changed."

"Anakin has grown," Obi-Wan replied, puzzled as to her meaning.

"In some ways," she agreed. "In others he is still that little boy we met on Tatooine." Her hand reached out to where his were folded against his chest. "Just as you are still the knight who jumped from a palace passageway to rescue me."

Now her meaning was unmistakable. Obi-Wan allowed a hopeful smile to grace his face, letting her part his hands to stroke one of the palms with hers. "And you, milady, are still the Queen in disguise."

She understood him, as he had known she would. "Where has Ani gone to?"

"He's checking in with the Healers at the Temple," Obi-Wan replied.

"Qui-Gon's condition is worsening?" Padmé astutely inquired.

"Gradually," Obi-Wan answered. "Paradoxically. Anakin was told recently, which has heightened his emotions lately. We had hoped to keep it from him until he was ready for his trials, but Qui-Gon suffered an attack before we departed for Ansion, bringing the illness and truth out into the open."

"Do you need to continue to train him until his trials?" she asked.

"That depends on Qui-Gon," he replied. "And on Anakin."

Padmé frowned. "It appears our duties will soon part us again," she murmured.

"Perhaps," he allowed. "Neither of us are tied to one planet anymore however."

"And the Force has caused us to spend some time together," she added.

"I'm certainly not one to argue with the Force," he agreed.

"Then why don't we make use of this time it has given us?" she suggested.

"When your life is at risk?" Obi-Wan asked her. "I would not be the Jedi you believe me to be if I surrendered to that temptation."

"Obi-Wan, I have faith in your ability to protect and love me," Padmé assured him. "And if we wait, when you have found those who are after me, you'll be sent on another mission, and we will be parted again."

He looked at her, accepting her point, but still reluctant to risk her life by dividing his attention, though both would be focused on her. "Padmé, I cannot refuse you anything. But even assuming your safety, separation is a necessary part of our lives. I am a Jedi, and you are a Senator. What ever the outcome of this mission, we will have to endure some distance between us, frequently. Are you sure?"

She moved closer, her arms climbing to wrap themselves around his neck, mirroring the movement she had made when they first kissed, that brief affirmation during a separation, on Tatooine, all those years ago. Her lips touched his gently, tentatively, still a little unsure that he would agree. "Yes," she uttered, the word blowing warm breath into his mouth.

Obi-Wan barely allowed the word to finish before he kissed her, wrapping his arms around her waist, pressing one against her back while raising the other in a sensuous journey upwards to entangle in her hair. As she kissed him back he pressed her closer to him, seeking to feel no barrier between them, even air. Their lips touched and parted as they had longed to all those years ago in Mos Espa, but without the restraint of their positions from then, for now he was a Knight and Master to a Padawan, she a Senator, their love was no longer made to wait. The Force broke in chorus around them, a joyful salutation which he remembered hearing that first time, only more eloquent, more devout. He wanted more of her, and he knew from her response that she was equally desirous of him, but the Force had also warned him to the return of a witness, who would not take well to seeing the crush his heart had harboured for ten years shattered so right before his eyes.

He pulled himself gently from her embrace. "Anakin," he murmured, his tone enough to remind her to distance herself from him, and return to her bedchamber, so by the time his Padawan was pressing the door release to the main room, Obi-Wan was alone within, rising from a meditative pose on the sofa.

"How is Qui-Gon?" he asked, calling the wondering gaze of his apprentice to come to rest upon him.

"Recovering," Anakin replied. "He agrees with me that investigation is implied within our mandate."

Obi-Wan frowned. This was another piece of the Padawan's behaviour which alarmed him more and more of late; the constant determination to pit his and Qui-Gon's styles of teaching against one another. His former Master's affection for the boy forced him to become the disciplinarian, a role he did not relish. "At some point we may be called upon to track down the source behind the attacks on Senator Amidala. But for now our role is to protect."

Anakin nodded, his thoughts displayed across his face, clearly now occupied elsewhere. Obi-Wan noted the shadows underneath his eyes, recalling their presence during the mission to Ansion. "You look tired."

"I don't sleep well anymore," Anakin admitted.

"Because of your mother?" Obi-Wan sought to confirm what he and Qui-Gon suspected to be the source of their Padawan's recent anxiety.

Their apprentice sighed. "I don't know why I keep dreaming about her now. I haven't seen her since I was little."

"Dreams pass in time," Obi-Wan reminded him.

"I'd rather dream of Padmé," Anakin revealed. "Just being around her again is intoxicating."

"Be mindful of your thoughts, Anakin, they betray you," Obi-Wan remarked, inwardly aware that he was walking a fine line between his own emotions as well as that of his Padawan. "You've made a commitment to the Jedi Order, a commitment not easily broken. While you are still a Padawan such thoughts are forbidden. And don't forget she's a politician. They're not to be trusted."

"She's not like the others in the Senate, Master," Anakin protested.

"It's been my experience that Senators are only focused on pleasing those who fund their campaigns," Obi-Wan argued in the hope that it would make his apprentice see maturity. "And they are more than willing to forget the niceties of democracy to get those funds."

But as usual it was a vain one in favour of the Padawan's dimming enthusiasm concerning his teaching methods. "Not another lecture, Master. Not on the economics of politics. And besides, you're generalising. The Chancellor doesn't appear to be corrupt."

Obi-Wan held reservations over that. "Palpatine's a politician. I've observed that he is very clever at following the passions and prejudices of the Senators."

"I think he is a good man," Anakin protested. "My instincts are very positive about..." abruptly he broke off, turning towards the bedroom where Padmé was sleeping.

The Knight was already moving towards the source of the disturbance he detected in the Force. "I sense it, too."

Anakin was the faster and reached their destination first, bursting through into the bedroom to find two Kouhuns crawling across the bed towards the sleeping Senator. Rapidly he leapt upon the bed, drawing out his lightsaber to slash the creatures in half, killing them.

Padmé woke and instinctively shied away from the bright laser sword, her gaze almost running from Anakin's harsh one to that of his Master.

Obi-Wan met her eyes only for a moment, before his caught a slight movement outside the large shuttered window. He then broke into a run, crashing through the glass to catch the assasin probe in his arms before it could take flight.

A shocked gasp escaped her at this display of his abilities, and she turned in time to hear Anakin ordering her to stay here before running out of the room to help his Master.

Typho and Dormé entered the room then, the latter sitting upon the bed before her. "Are you all right, Milady?" she asked.

Padmé nodded, her gaze moving back towards the broken window, where Obi-Wan had disappeared. The reality of what had just happened was only now beginning to sink through. She glanced at the remains of the Kouhuns upon her bed, knowing them to be poisonous. Yet she could not help but think that Obi-Wan had taken the greater risk by grabbing the droid who transported them, in the hope that the machine would lead him to the assassin.

"You need to move out of here, Senator," Typho commanded, and Dormé rose from the bed to fetch a dressing gown.

"I wouldn't be able to sleep anyway," Padmé informed them as she stood, letting her handmaiden place the robe about her shoulders. She headed for the living area.

Captain Typho followed her and Dormé. "I'll call maintenance and have them clean the area once the evidence has been examined," he remarked.

"Thank you, Captain," Padmé uttered as she sank down on to one of large sofas where she had been talking with Obi-Wan and Anakin mere hours before. The memory of that discussion was too poignant for her to remain settled and she rose once more to pace near the balcony, knowing Typho and Dormé would not allow her to go out upon it and keep watch for the two men which occupied her thoughts.

Where were they now, she asked herself, almost fearing to imagine the journey Obi-Wan was taking, at the mercy of the probe, dodging and weaving through the airborne traffic until Anakin presumably caught up with him in a transport. The moment he broke into a run and leapt through her window haunted her mind, which unconsciously seemed to have slowed the pace of it down, allowing her to see the skill behind it, the miraculous talent of the Force. She often dreamt of the time he had shown it to her, all those years ago on Tatooine, when their love was somehow innocent, despite the threat to herself and her world. In the decade since then he must have gown in his ability to use the Force, just as Anakin had gown in height and into his own powers, though clearly not in control of his emotions.

She had felt the conflict from him and she was borderline Force sensitive. Obi-Wan had confided in her during their conversations over coms about his doubts concerning the boy, his uncertainty in his teaching style, how Qui-Gon's methods often forced him into being sterner than he would have liked. She saw that earlier this evening, as Anakin questioned the meaning behind Council's mandate concerning her. Clearly the boy lacked control of his emotions, the discipline which Obi-Wan had seemed more secure in when he was a Padawan.

Padmé wondered if he had been like that when he was Anakin's age, for when she first saw him he was five years older, yet even as she contemplated the thought, she could not make it reality. She recalled her conversations with Ani a decade ago, contrasting the man whom she had seen now, and not liking the result. He had wanted to become a Jedi so much. Yet now the apprenticeship seemed to be hanging over him like a shadow, becoming a burden he was unprepared for. Obi-Wan had questioned ten years ago if it was right to take him into the Temple, and she now feared that he had been right to do so.

Chapter Text

Part 17: Persuasions.

It was dawn before either of them returned, as the light from the artificial orbital mirrors which magnified and reflected the heat and light from the sun that Coruscant encircled slowly cast itself over the vast metropolis. Padmé felt herself relax as Obi-Wan and Obi-Wan alone entered the apartment, his unharmed appearance and expression of Jedi composure assuring her that nothing untoward had occurred.

"I left Anakin to make the report to the Council," he explained after he came to halt before her, bowing slightly. "I thought you would want to know what happened too."

Padmé was pleased that he had understood her so well. "Thank you, I do." she turned to usher him to the sofas, her pleasure increasing as he chose to sat down beside her. Dormé was overseeing the cleanup in her bedroom, while Typho was monitoring security in the control room downstairs, leaving them alone in each other's company.

Obi-Wan told her all that occurred to him and Anakin the night before, his report concise yet detailed, allowing her to imagine the tense journey he took at the control of the droid, the wild ride in the transport with Anakin, the trap sprung on the assassin before she died at the hands of the bounty hunter who hired her.

"What do you do now?" she asked him.

"I imagine the Council will order us to track down the bounty hunter," Obi-Wan replied. "While you are escorted home to Naboo."

Padmé frowned immediately. "I will not run away, not while the vote for the Military Creation Act is being decided. My absence will give those who sent the assassins after me exactly what they want."

He almost winced at her response, the sense of it logical and reasonable. "I will try and convey that to the Council, though I doubt they will comply with your wishes, milady. As their actions showed last night, these assassins can attack you anywhere while you are here. They may even feel desperate enough to attempt something while you are in the Senate."

"And would it not follow that they might try something while I hide away on my homeworld?" Padmé countered.

Obi-Wan smiled. "Of course, you are right, milady. Well they might."

"So I can stay here then," Padmé decided. "Although there are too many high rise buildings for you to jump out of. I fear for your safety as much as mine."

"There's no need," he assured her with a warm smile. "I have the Force watching over me. As I watch over you." He leaned forward, intending to kiss her. The door chime sounded suddenly, causing him to rise. "Anakin," he uttered, glancing at the chrono across from them. "I did not realise so much time had passed."

Padmé followed him to the door. "You will see me soon, have no doubt of that, Master Jedi."

He smiled at her. "May the Force be with you until then, milady."

She pressed the release and the door slid back to reveal Anakin, who seemed surprised to see Obi-Wan with her. Master and Padawan acknowledged each other with no more than a glance before the former exited the apartment.

"The Council has ordered for me to escort you home, Padmé," Anakin announced grandly, causing her to frown.

"Just you?" she queried.

"Obi-Wan will track down the bounty hunter," Anakin explained.

"I do not like this idea of hiding," Padmé replied, turning away from him and walking towards her room.

Dormé looked up from her packing as soon as they entered. "Chancellor Palpatine left a message, milady, which I took the liberty of reading. He asks you to comply with the advice given by the Jedi Council."

"Thank you, Dormé," she replied. "Could you find Jar Jar for me? I will need to impress upon him what he needs to do in my absence."

Her handmaiden nodded and left them alone.

Anakin smiled. "Don't worry, now that the Council has ordered an investigation, it won't take Master Obi-Wan long to find this bounty hunter."

Padmé turned a hard look on him, annoyed at his casual overrule of her wishes. "I haven't worked for a year to defeat the Military Creation Act not to be here when its fate is decided!"

"Sometimes we have to let go of our pride and do what is requested of us," Anakin observed.

The words and tone seemed to her very patronising, provoking her to respond in kind. "Pride?!? Ani, you're young, and you don't have a very firm grip on politics. I suggest you reserve your opinions for some other time."

"Please don't call me that," Anakin said.

"What?" she asked.

"When you say Ani it's like I'm still a little boy, and I'm not."

Padmé breathed deeply, aware she was taking her frustrations out on the wrong person. "I'm sorry, Anakin. It's impossible to deny that you've grown up."

"Master Obi-Wan manages not to see it," Anakin replied, turning away from her, moving to the area by the window, outside which a droid was still repairing. "What was he doing here just now anyway?"

She knew this was a touchy subject, but she had to say something in his defence. "Mentors have a way of seeing more of our faults than we would like. It's the only way we grow. As for your question, he thought I would want to know what had happened last night. And I did."

"Don't get me wrong," Anakin added, "Obi-Wan is a great mentor, as wise as Master Yoda and as powerful as Master Windu. I am truly thankful to be his apprentice. But in some ways, I'm ahead of him. I'm ready for the trials. I know I am! He knows it too. But he feels I'm too unpredictable. He's holding me back."

She watched him as he used the Force to float one of the ornamental balls from a nearby dish. Was the motion unconscious, or another desire to show off to her? For the moment she gave him the benefit of the doubt. "That must be frustrating."

"It's worse," Anakin replied petulantly. "He's overly critical! He never listens! He just doesn't understand. It's not fair!"

Padmé laughed at his tone. "I'm sorry, you sounded exactly like that little boy I once knew, when he didn't get his way."

"I'm not whining! I'm not." Anakin protested.

"Anakin, I didn't say it to hurt you," she remarked, disconcerted by the underlying anger in his tone. "Just don't try to grow up too fast."

"I am grown up," he said, looking at her intensely. "You said it yourself."

She had to turn away, the dark gaze was too intense not to feel intimidated by. "Please don't look at me like that."

"Why not?" he asked her.

"Because it makes me feel uncomfortable," she replied.

"Sorry, Milady," Anakin apologised but his tone belied the truth of his words. "I'll go and alert Captain Typho of your forthcoming departure."

Padmé only let her shiver of fear show itself when the source who had caused it exited her bedchamber. Her gaze moved from the entrance to the newly repaired view of Coruscant's airborne traffic ways, attempting to allow the sight to wash over her, in the hope that it might quell her growing uneasiness. The hope however, was in vain. Ever since she had fully took him in as he clumsily tried to give her a compliment, she had been struggling to accept how much he had changed from the sweet little boy she once knew.

There was an edge to the sweetness now, his heart tempered by experience in the galaxy where he was called on more often than not to fight rather than debate peacefully. As for the temper itself, she did not believe it had matured with the rest of him. Quick to challenge, to take offence, to return the insult, to rebel; none of these she had seen in the boy, but all she saw in the man who left her room just now. His inability to control his anger troubled her, along with the clear evidence of how he felt about her.

Ten years ago she had humoured his affection, knowing he missed his mother, knowing that his belief in her beauty would most likely lessen as he encountered the wisdom in Jedi teaching. But time appeared to have only worsened his attraction to her. He seemed to idolise her, to the point of obsession. His apology for making her feel uncomfortable was not in the least sincere, as though he believed that she was lying, or that she would learn to appreciate this feeling in time, under his persuasion.

Frankly, he almost frightened her.

This thought made her decision for her. Turning to her wardrobe, she gazed at her remaining clothes, considering, while her hand pressed the private comlink clutched within her palm. By the time the door to her chamber swished open she had selected the most convincing garment for her plan of action, placing it around herself with a deft flick of the wrists as she turned to face her handmaiden.

"Yes, Milady?" Dormé asked.

"I need to go out for a while," Padmé replied. "Keep everyone here until I have returned, understood?"

Dormé nodded, inwardly concerned, but half comforted by her mistress' choice of disguise. She knew where the Senator would be, if the alarm were raised during her absence.

In the Jedi Temple, one Master of a Padawan and one of the Council walked along the corridors which bordered the atrium, the third and most wise and revered of all the Masters riding in a small repulsor chair beside them.

"I am concerned for my Padawan," Obi-Wan remarked. "He is not ready to be given this assignment on his own yet."

"The Council is confident in this decision, Obi-Wan," Master Yoda replied.

"The boy has exceptional skills," added Master Windu.

"But he still has much to learn, Master," Obi-Wan argued. "His abilities have made him... well, arrogant."

Master Yoda nodded. "Yes, yes. It's a flaw more and more common among Jedi. Too sure of themselves they are. Even the older, more experienced ones."

"Remember, Obi-Wan," Windu continued, "if the prophecy is true, your apprentice is the only one who can bring the Force back into balance."

"If he follows the right path," Obi-Wan allowed. "But there are too many influences on him at present which determine his actions. His feelings are too conflicted, his temper unpredictable and often dangerous."

"I fear Master Kenobi is right, your graces," a voice remarked at this moment, causing the three Jedi to blink at the unexpected sight of a seemingly hooded Master standing suddenly before them.

Padmé lowered her cowl, revealing her identity. "I apologise for deceiving your Padawan, Master Kenobi, but I felt such action was necessary. To speak with you of my doubts about him in his presence would only worsen his internal conflicts."

"Discuss this rebellion against our protection later we will, Senator," Yoda said. "Concern you, Anakin Skywalker does?"

"Yes," Padmé replied. "I do not think I can trust his protection. This is no criticism on your teaching, Master Kenobi, or on Master Jinn's. Anakin has changed from the sweet little boy I knew, with regards both to his temper and his ability to trust. I feel his...." she struggled here, uncertain if she should use the word, but decided that they must know the full depth of her concern, before it became too late, "affection for me could turn into an dangerous obsession, and influence his judgement negatively."

"You do not injure, me, Milady," Obi-Wan uttered, "it is a concern of mine as well. Coupled with the nightmares he has been experiencing lately, I do agree and urge that Anakin should be given another assignment."

"Such as?" Master Windu asked.

"Leave from the Temple," Obi-Wan answered. "Allow him to see his mother on Tatooine. Time with her will not only dissipate his fears, but provide distraction from the heavy burden of expectation concerning the prophecy we perceive him proving. I know we forbid Padawans from attachment, but with Anakin it is unavoidable. He had too long a time with his mother. To give her up now is preying on his development as a Jedi."

"Agree with you, I do," Yoda decided. "To Tatooine young Skywalker will go."

"What about the protection for Senator Amidala?" Mace Windu asked.

"To the Padawan's Master, that will fall," Yoda replied. "Discover who is behind the attempts on your life, Obi-Wan will." He turned to the Padmé. "Remain here you will, Senator, until finished with his task Obi-Wan is. Then leave for Naboo with him you will."

"Yes, Master Yoda," Padmé replied.

The two Council members left her with Obi-Wan, who turned, gesturing for her to accompany him. "I am glad no one else was witness to that," he remarked.

"Why?" she asked him.

"Because if it got about the Republic that the most revered of the Order are susceptible to the wishes of a Nubian Senator, it would spell instant chaos," he replied, making her laugh.

"Are you not glad I sought this audience?" Padmé asked him.

"Yes," he admitted, smiling at her. "I was not happy that the Council chose this assignment for Anakin's first solo mission."

"When you told me that he still cared for me, I always imagined it was still a crush," Padmé remarked. "I had no idea it was this apparent and deep. There are times when he almost frightens me."

Obi-Wan glanced at her with concern. "That is worrying. I hope this leave to visit Shmi will calm him when others have failed to."

"Have you kept her informed of his progress?" Padmé asked, and he nodded as they stepped into the turbolift.

"I have sent what reports I can," he replied. "With Tatooine being on the Outer Rim however, it has been some time since I have received a reply. Not that such delay is a reason to be concerned, considering where she lives now."

Padmé nodded. "I remember. I wonder how aware Anakin is that you and Qui-Gon frequently break the Code for him."

"Not as aware as I would like," Obi-Wan replied. "Qui-Gon has a way of describing such rebels as minor inconveniences, not something that if the Council knew would have him and I reprimanded." He paused, considering. "I thought that by doing this for him, he would learn to control his emotions, to respect the Code while he is a Padawan. But if anything it seems only to have made him worse."

The turbolift came to a halt and they exited the container, Padmé slowing her pace so she would not loose her companion as he led her through the Temple.

"I suppose I should ask where I will be staying?" She remarked, turning to glance at him. "Does the Temple have such things as guest rooms?"

"You'll be staying in the quarters I share with Anakin and Qui-Gon," Obi-Wan informed her. "Qui-Gon's still in the healer's ward at the moment, and with Anakin going to Tatooine, there are two spare rooms."

"Thank you," she said. "Am I allowed to return to my apartment and collect some things?"

"I'll do that," Obi-Wan replied. "As you arrived here without detection, it is wise not to risk such again. I will tell Dormé for you, and I will need to inform Anakin of the change in the Council's decision."

"What about the Chancellor?" Padmé asked. "I should inform him that I am still available for the vote."

"That's if its held before I finish my investigations here," Obi-Wan reminded her. "And as I do not have much to do, you might be on your way to Naboo before it takes place. We shall receive word if the Act is about to put to the floor. Until then I see no reason to inform the Chancellor for now."

Padmé nodded, hoping inwardly that she would not leave before the vote. She was about to ask Obi-Wan what he had left to do here, but he came to a halt and turned, waving the door before them open with the Force. He then stood back to let her enter first.

Surprise was her initial impression. From the rumours she had heard of the Jedi Temple, as outsiders were rarely granted the privilege of a tour, she half expected the quarters to be monastic; devoid of ornament or decoration. Comfortable furniture however formed the main living area, which was styled with sculptures and paintings that were a pleasant and peaceful contrast to the views of the hustling city coming from the window. Five doors occupied one wall, the first of which was partially open to reveal the refresher, and the second a small private kitchen.

"It's beautiful," she murmured as Obi-Wan met her gaze.

He smiled. "I'm glad you like it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll go to your apartment and arrange things."

Chapter Text

Part 18: Courtship Amid Investigations

Obi-Wan breathed a small sigh of relief as he exited Master Yoda's quarters. He had not expected the news of his confession to go down well, love was still a rare thing within the Order, viewed as alien and dangerous by the more conservative Jedi, despite all Qui-Gon had done to have it encouraged over the years. Until now, he had kept silent over the matter, knowing how he felt about Padmé, but aware that they had agreed to wait in order to do their duty to the Republic. However he believed the head of the Order was well aware of his feelings, due to a cryptic comment he had made when he was last asked to his quarters. Yoda had a way of finding out everything concerning the Jedi.

Now with the change to this mission, he felt that a full confession of his intentions was only right. He expected a urge for caution, a warning, perhaps even a reprimand for possessing virtually the same feelings as his Padawan for the same woman, using them as a reason to change the Council's decision regarding Anakin's assignment, but all Yoda had said in reply was 'aware of it, I am. Ten years have passed, Jedi you are still. Need my approval you do not. Only that of the Force.'

Now this meeting was over, he could continue on to Padmé's apartment in Five Hundred Republica, where a more difficult meeting would most likely take place. He had not been there when the Council gave Anakin the assignment, but judging on what he had heard from Qui-Gon, who had, their apprentice gave little objection to the orders other than stating that it would be hard to make the Senator leave the capital, which had won him an audience with the Chancellor in order for him to make his former sovereign obey.

Since the Naboo Crisis Palpatine had taken an unusual amount of interest in the once small boy who did so much to save his home world from the Trade Federation. In Anakin's eyes the Chancellor was another mentor, and one whom, unfortunately for Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, he tended to obey more than the Jedi. It was a friendship Obi-Wan worried about, though Qui-Gon believed that it had kept the Chosen One under a certain amount of discipline and taught him the value of patience.

The Council's initial rejection of Anakin perhaps prevented him from giving them any respect for their rule and desire for unquestioning obedience from Padawans. But the boy's fast rise to the threshold of the Trials had not helped either. Qui-Gon believed Anakin was ready, but Obi-Wan was reluctant to join him in that judgement.

In ten years the presumed Chosen One had succeeded everyone's expectations, even manage to dispel a lot of the doubts held by the Council, but there were moments when Anakin also proved himself to be reckless, arrogant and stubborn, more concerned with the survival of his mentors or those close to him than the mission. He was compassionate and loyal, two things required by the Order, but not ready to sacrifice the latter when the moment demanded it.

What Padmé had said of him rang true, the young boy whom they met on Tatooine had been replaced by one aware of his abilities and his status as a Jedi of prophecy, which made him believe he knew best when his mentors presented him with something he did not agree with. Anakin was constantly on edge, anxious to advance his training, to prove himself, but Obi-Wan was worried that his motives were not to serve the Republic, but to realise his dreams. Resentment over the rejection and other's impressions and expectations, haunted his being, causing the struggle with his emotions which held him back from the Trials.

And then there was Padmé. His childhood crush was bordering on obsession, the idealised view of her beauty and intelligence remained unchanged from his youth. Obi-Wan felt hypocritical for judging Anakin when he also loved her, but the boy's behaviour in her apartments earlier only seemed to justify his concerns, along with the willingness to escort her back to Naboo, alone. His motives were almost selfish, desiring to prove to the young woman that he had grown up, and that he would marry her, in defiance of the Code as he said he would a decade ago, little caring for the state of her affections.

"Where is she?" he could hear his pupil ask now as he entered the rooms. Obi-Wan settled his gaze on Anakin as the doors closed behind him, before moving on to Dormé and Captain Typho, who looked surprised at the Padawan's quick temper.

"Senator Amidala is at the Temple," he replied to Anakin now. "She has requested that her departure for Naboo is delayed a few days in hope that the Military Creation Act will be put to the Senate by those behind the plot to assassinate her, thinking she is absent and therefore unable to cast her vote. In view of the importance of the vote, the Council have overruled their previous decisions and decided that her protection will be my assignment."

"What?" Anakin queried in a low, almost dangerous tone. Behind him the handmaiden flinched alittle before wisely choosing to continue packing her mistress' belongings. Captain Typho remained in the room, listening.

Obi-Wan ignored the negative emotion behind the tone, it was after all what he expected to receive in reply. "Yes, Padawan?" he asked, hoping the term of address would remind the boy of his place.

"What about me?" Anakin elaborated. "I was supposed to take her to Naboo."

"In light of the dreams you have been having recently, the Council decided to give you some leave," Obi-Wan replied. "You can go to Tatooine and visit your mother."

Anakin looked shocked. "They agreed to that? I thought Padawans were not allowed contact with their family."

"Usually a Jedi is given to the Order before they can even remember their family," Obi-Wan pointed out. "You are an unique case, Anakin, which is Mace and Yoda agreed to my suggestion."

His apprentice had started to smile, but by the end of the sentence, a frown came over him. "This was your idea?"

"Yes," Obi-Wan replied. "Why does that matter?"

Anakin shook his head, but the frown remained. "It doesn't. Shall I go and inform the Chancellor of the change in plans?"

"I see no need to," Obi-Wan answered. "My investigations here may finish before the vote is put to the Senate. No, you go back to the Temple and depart for Tatooine."

"Thank you, Master," Anakin acknowledged before leaving the apartment.

Obi-Wan turned to watch him go, trying to get a sense of the boy's emotions through the Force, but the Padawan was shielding, a common habit of late. Respecting his privacy, he walked away toward Captain Typho, who smiled at him.

"Personally, Master Kenobi, I am glad the Council changed their minds," he admitted. "I do not think she would have obeyed your apprentice. She's not one to follow orders."

"Yes, I remember," Obi-Wan returned the smile. "The Council however, are only just learning this."

Dormé re-entered the room. "Milady's belongings, Master Kenobi."

"Thank you," Obi-Wan replied, deftly taking the case from her hand before she could object. "I'll let you know when we leave for Naboo."

He returned to his quarters in the Temple to find Padmé on the balcony, admiring the view of Coruscant it gave. With the artificial reflections directed from the system's sun, he also found a view to admire, that of her. Never had he the time before to just gaze at her unobserved, to note the changes from Queen to Senator, the growing of her beauty. Ten years ago he had been careful to keep himself from overstepping the boundaries, even mental ones, but as the years passed and her final term as sovereign ended, he became more and more aware of his desire for her. And now they had agreed to explore the connection between them. Last night he had held her in his arms, kissed her, caressed her, touched her. The moment he had sensed Anakin's return was almost agony, and yet somehow he knew they would receive the time to enjoy such an embrace in the future, without any intrusions.

Now was not the moment however, for he had an investigation to finish. So he stepped forward to join her resting place before the ledge. "Did Anakin see you before he left?"

Padmé turned, bestowing a beautiful smile upon him. "No. Infact I did not realise he had returned to the Temple."

"Master Yoda allocated one of the ships for him to use," he explained. "And I told him you were here."

"How did he take the news?" Padmé asked.

"Better than I expected," he admitted. "With something almost approaching maturity. Perhaps he is ready for the trials."

"You were more mature than he is when I met you," Padmé remarked. "And you were still a Padawan. Allowances should not be made just because he might be the Chosen One."

Obi-Wan stilled, realising she was right. He was so used to everyone giving Anakin consideration because he was presumed to be the Chosen One that he had slipped into doing such himself. Perhaps that was why Anakin was being difficult lately. He needed to be treated as a normal Padawan, to learn humility, even maturity.

"So," he began, changing the subject, "I'm afraid I cannot be a tour guide or fulfil any duties of a proper host while you are here, milady. I need to continue my investigations. Would you prefer to stay here, or accompany me? I can arrange for us to be alerted if the Military Creation Act is put to the Senate."

"To accompany you," Padmé decided. "And don't you think we're beyond titles now?"

"Probably," he smiled at her. "It is a habit however, so you'll forgive me if I lapse from time to time?"

"Of course, Master Jedi," Padmé returned the smile. "So, where to first?"

"The analysis cubicles," he informed her. "To see if this can be identified and sourced." He held up the toxic dart which he retrieved from the murdered assassin last night.

Padmé turned her gaze on the lethal weapon, remembering the Kouhuns who were set on by the victim of this small speck, surprised that something so tiny could cause death.

Obi-Wan put the dart back in his belt and together they walked through his quarters into the corridor, heading for the turbolift.

As they entered the main lobby, Padmé was struck by the size of it once more, as she had been when she first arrived, cowled in quest of him and Master Yoda, too preoccupied about the uncomfortableness inside her caused by Anakin to appreciate the sight before her. Now she had the freedom to admire for Obi-Wan took his time in the passage through the vast hall, which seemed to her far larger than the walls which held it from the outside she always saw from the Senate.

The decoration was understated which made it all the more impressive. Though she was only borderline Force sensitive, she could feel the strength of that entity here, savour the peacefulness it awoke inside her. When she had first stepped into the political arena over ten years ago as an apprentice legislator, she remembered feeling that same peace, a sense of belonging, of home. And with the man she loved by her side, that emotion was all the more apparent.

The room where the analysis cubicles lay was bustling with Jedi and Padawans alike, all too focused on their studies to look up and notice the Senator from Naboo walk in with Master Kenobi. Obi-Wan led her to an empty slot, pulling out the chair for her to sit down before retrieving the dart from his belt and placing it in the tray.

"It's a toxic dart," he explained to the SP-4 droid waiting. "I need to know where it came from and who made it."

"One moment please," the droid replied. The screen before her began scrolling through information, specs and diagrams on various weapons, the speed causing Padmé to blink and look away. She turned to her companion, observing him as he watched the screen, his blue eyes darkened into a deep azure. This was the Jedi Knight before her now, not the man who had kissed her so passionately in her apartment last night. Her heart pounded just at the memory of it, his touch vivid, the moment imprinted on her mind. She knew that she should be thinking about her duty to the Republic and who were behind the threats against her life, but just as a decade before, her mind seemed fixed on the distraction that was Obi-Wan Kenobi.

This time though, she was determined not to let their duties separate them. Her sister was right; she had to find the balance between her duty and her life, before it was too late. And something told her that moment was fast approaching, the same elusive feeling which told her to remember the Knight standing beside her ten years ago when he rescued her.

"As you can see on your screen, subject weapon does not exist in any known culture," SP-4 explained, the analysis finished. "Markings cannot be identified. Probably self-made by a warrior not associated with any known culture."

Obi-Wan frowned as he lifted the dart out of the tray. "You may not be able to figure this out, but I think I know someone who might," he murmured. Placing a hand on her shoulder, he turned to add, "Padmé, will you wait at my quarters while I go and talk to my contact? I should not be too long."

Padmé frowned at the words, even as she savoured the sound of her name enunciated by his rich Coruscanti accent. "I thought I said that I would prefer to accompany you, Obi-Wan?"

"I'm going into Coco Town," Obi-Wan elaborated, "hardly a suitable place for a Senator, or a lady."

"Neither was Tatooine for a Queen," she reminded him. "And I am coming with you."

He gazed into her brown eyes, noting their brilliancy, the intelligence within them, the beauty around them, and realised that he had not the will to refuse her. "You, milady, are a deadly foil to a Jedi's will."

"Only one, I hope," she murmured smiling at him.

"Considering how you managed to persuade Yoda and Mace to agree with you, I'm not so sure," he returned, the same gesture appearing across his face. "Well, if you're coming with me, you need another disguise."

"I know just the thing," Padmé replied.

He was not surprised to discover that she had a suitable disguise, nor how well it suited her; the gold lace framing her face in a half halo, falling to folds of a cowl around her, cresting the slightly darker cloak below which hid her dress. Unable to resist, he kissed her before they left the Temple, summoning his Jedi restraint to keep himself from unveiling the rest of her hidden beauty.

Obi-Wan hailed an airtaxi which drove them to the business district in Coco Town, one of the less affluent areas of the capital, signified by crowded, small streets, buildings built so close to one another to appear almost merged, the degree of pollution dirtying the permacrete and plasteel, even the ground which was practically the mantel of the heavily industrialised planet.

Padmé took in her new surroundings with a careful eye, one evolved from many years of being someone whose' life was always in some degree of danger due to her position, her career, her level of commitment to Naboo and the Republic. She knew Obi-Wan of old, that the conventional Jedi who followed the Code so strictly was just one facet of his character, that his friends and contacts outside the Order were just the opposite, a legacy from his apprenticeship to that most unconventional of Jedi Masters; Qui-Gon Jinn.

Even so, she had not expected him to meet with a contact in a diner such as this. It reminded her of an old holofilm location, faded and antique, yet infinitely a classic. Even the furnishings recalled to mind the old style of filming, monotone grey with a bold red accent.

A droid came towards them as Obi-Wan halted just inside the diner, regarding the Jedi with a suspicious gaze, if that were possible for a droid. "Can I help ya?"

"I'm looking for Dex," Obi-Wan replied.

There was a noisy clanging of pots and pans colliding with one another, and the droid turned to shout into the kitchen behind her. "Someone to see ya, honey. Jedi by the looks of him."

Padmé blinked despite herself at the huge being who popped his head out through the hatch in response, presumably the eponymous owner of the diner. His teeth, small and close together, were fearsome, until altered by the huge smile on his face as his large eyes focused on her protector.

"Obi-Wan!" he half bellowed in a warm accent which spoke of a nomadic existence.

"Hey, Dex," Obi-Wan returned with a grin.

"Take a seat, old buddy, I'll be right with ya!" Dex replied.

Her knight nodded and showed her to one of the empty booths by the windows which viewed the street outside. She slid down across the seat first, then he followed, their thighs brushing against each other as the furnishing cushioned under their weight.

"You want a cup of Jawa Juice?" the droid asked them.

Obi-Wan glanced at her, and receiving a nod, turned back to the droid. "Yes, please."

The droid disappeared into the kitchen, leaving them alone only for a minute, for Dex was the next to emerge from that almost hidden room. Obi-Wan rose from his seat to greet him, and as the two comrades embraced each other Padmé could not help but smile at the ease of the friendship she saw before her.

"So, my friend, who is this beautiful woman beside you?" Dex asked as he sat down, taking Padmé's hand gently in his and raising it to his lips.

"This is Padmé Amidala," Obi-Wan replied, lowering his voice so the name was indistinguishable above the noise of conversation from other customers within the diner. "A friend of mine from the Naboo Crisis. Padmé, this Dexster Jettster, an old friend of mine from my days as a Padawan."

"Please to meet you, Dex," Padmé remarked, bestowing upon him a smile reserved for friends, a far cry from the one reserved for the political arena.

Dex beamed at her. "Honoured, milady," he returned, kissing her hand once more letting go of it, his expression widening as her hand was secured in one of Obi-Wan's. "So, my friend, what can I do for ya?"

"You can tell me what this is," Obi-Wan replied, retrieving the dart from his belt once more with his free hand and giving it carefully to Dex.

The old space pirate examined it with some sort of awe, a healthy respect for the mortal power it yielded, as well as a disgust that such a thing was in existence. "Well, waddya know, I ain't seen one of these since I was prospecting on Subterrel beyond the Outer Rim."

"Do you know where it came from?" Obi-Wan asked.

"This baby belongs to them cloners. What you have got here is a Kamino saberdart."

Finally, a name, or rather a planet could be put to the source of the threats against her life. Padmé knew she should feel some relief, but instead all she could feel was tension and suspicion, that her life was merely a tool, a distraction from the grander scheme buried underneath all this.

"I wonder why it didn't show up in our analysis archives," Obi-Wan murmured.

"It's these funny little cuts on the side which give it away," Dex explained. "Those analysis droids you've got over there only focus on symbols, you know. I should think you Jedi have more respect for the difference between knowledge and wisdom."

"Well, Dex, if all droids could think, there'd be none of us here, would there?" Obi-Wan countered with a laugh. He took the dart back, and sobered at the feel of the small but deadly weapon in his hands once more. "Kamino doesn't sound familiar. Is it part of the Republic?"

"No, it's beyond the Outer Rim," Dex replied. "I'd say about twelve parsecs south of the Rishi Maze. It should be easy to find, even for those droids in your archives. Those Kaminoans keep to themselves mostly. They're cloners and good ones too."

"Are they friendly?" Obi-Wan asked him.

"It depends," Dex replied.

"On what?" Obi-Wan queried.

"On how good your manners are," Dex replied, the word manners implying something other than its' usual, mild meaning. "How big your pocketbook is."

Obi-Wan gazed at the dart thoughtfully, his mind travelling those parsecs, calculating how long it would take him to get there, the complications he could face in hyperspace, and most importantly, how he was going to persuade Padmé to stay in the Temple while he was there. Certainly not with a date here, although it might be a good start. "Say, Dex, I don't suppose we could have a couple of menus?"

Dex caught the unspoken meaning behind his friend's expression and words. "Sure, my friend. Lunch is on the house."

Chapter Text

Part 19: Darkness upon the Horizon.

Padmé was not a suspicious woman by nature, but she knew what thoughts were passing through her Knight's mind as he walked with her back to the Temple. After Dex had left them to enjoy a free meal, Obi-Wan had moved to sit opposite her, and they indulged in one luxury which she had never expected to have, a date. There they were in the diner, not a Senator and a Jedi forming a political alliance, but Padmé and Obi-Wan, two beings very much in love, building on the foundations of a relationship ten years old, laying the ground work which would secure it for the future.

For once they had forgotten about politics, about the danger her life was in, as was his, just as much if not even more so. Instead they had talked about all the things which the comms between them over the years rarely included; their ideals, hopes, and dreams. Though it was not spoken, both of them knew already how things would stand between them after this mission was over. It was no longer a question of if, just a matter of when.

Nevertheless, she knew when Obi-Wan was plotting to protect her, and as she walked with him towards the Temple, their arms companionably linked with one another, she pinched the material of the brown cloak which hugged his compact toned form. "If you think I will sit idly by in your quarters at the Temple while you travel to Kamino, think again."

He did not even halt in surprise. "The Military Creation Act could be put to the Senate while you are absent," he pointed out calmly.

That caused her to pause, but only for a moment. "You fight, dirty, Master Jedi. However, so can I. This trip to Kamino may provide some insight as to what the Separatists are planning. If perhaps they plan something more than slowly persuading planet after planet to leave the Republic. As a member of the Senate and the Loyalist committee, I have a right to listen and witness those plans."

"Padmé, this trip will most likely bring me into direct contact with the bounty hunter hired to try and kill you," Obi-Wan replied, dropping all formality and political duelling. "I would be failing in my duty as a Jedi and as a man who loves you if I let you come with me."

She did come to a halt now, her grip on his arm pulling him, turning him to face her. "As you know, I am more than capable of defending myself. I am prepared to follow your orders once we arrive there, but I will be using every persuasion possible towards Master Yoda and Master Windu to come with you."

He gazed back her, equally resolute. "And if Yoda refuses, you will be staying here, make no mistake."

"If he refuses, I will," Padmé promised.

Obi-Wan sensed her sincerity in the Force, and raised her hands to his lips, bestowing a devout, discreet kiss before he continued to escort her towards the Temple.

"Where to this time?" she asked him as they entered the vast lobby once more.

"The hall of the Archives," he replied, letting go of her hands to fall into a formal pace beside her, as the mantle of their roles within the Republic became necessary to assume once more. She glanced at the Jedi who passed them, noting no surprise, and admiring them for the strength, the discipline they kept on their focus. If they had been walking down one of the corridors of the Senate, her colleagues would not be able to keep such composure. A part of her could not help feeling slightly disgusted by that revelation.

The negative emotion was entirely done away with by the time they entered the hall of the Archives. She had thought the entrance lobby vast, but this was far larger, with long columns of shelves seemingly stretching towards the heavens, embossed by pedestals on which were dark grey busts. To her surprise, she recognised the one Obi-Wan came to halt before, that of Count Dooku.

"What is he doing here?" she asked him softly.

"There is one for every member of the Lost Twenty," Obi-Wan explained. "A note of respect for the wisdom, for the Jedi, the Order has lost. He was Qui-Gon's master, you know, and Yoda's Padawan. No greater honour is accorded for a Jedi, to be trained through all their apprenticeship by the Grand Master of the Order. When Yoda declares an interest in a pupil, you know they must be special." he paused, considering, thoughtful. "I still wonder why he left. Despite his relationship with Qui-Gon he is something of a mystery to me. From his reputation he was one of the Old, a traditional duellist, yet a profound diplomat and pacifist. His loyalty used to be unquestionable."

"Do you know his reasons for leaving?" Padmé asked, intrigued by his description despite herself, and her suspicions about him being responsible for the threats against her.

"He said to Master Yoda that he disagreed the Jedi's position within the Republic. How deep our loyalty is to the Senate, and whether we could trust that said loyalty went both ways. I know it is a sentiment many have come to share, including myself at times."

Padmé nodded, silently agreeing. "Come on, lets research Kamino," she proposed, anxious now to reach the end of this disagreeable business.

"I think you could spend days in here," Obi-Wan mused, sensing her almost childlike eagerness and awe at the vast amount of information the Jedi archived.

"You know me so well," she replied as he led her to a nearby console table, pulling out the chair for her. She entered the name of the planet on to the screen, and they waited for the mechanical mind to pull up the appropriate information.

They were both surprised however, when the computer announced that according to it's records, Kamino did not exist.

Obi-Wan's next stop, after consulting with the venerable mistress of the archives and receiving the same result as the search on the computer, took Padmé by surprise. Of all the places within the Temple, a classroom full of younglings was not one she had expected to visit. The sight of small children in miniature desert robes caused her to smile, an expression which was almost stolen by the helmets they wore and the small lightsabers they wielded. She had no idea combat training started this young. Even on Naboo, with its emphasis that children were just a capable as adults, the youth apprenticing to a career from an early age, this dedication would seem disturbing.

Yet Obi-Wan was smiling, a genuine smile, full of fond remembrance as they walked towards the Master who presided over this lesson. Padmé felt herself relax as she realised that this must have been how he learned, and he was the humblest, gentlest Jedi she believed the Order had ever produced.

"Don't think.... feel," the Master was saying, his distinctive voice easily recognisable. "Be as one with the Force. Help you, it will."

Yoda turned round as Obi-Wan came to a halt before him. "Younglings enough, visitors we have. Master Kenobi and Senator Amidala."

In unison the younglings closed down their lightsabers and raised the visors of their helmets. "Welcome, Master Kenobi. Welcome Senator Amidala."

"Hello, younglings," Obi-Wan returned, his voice warm and deep, causing them all to smile and relax. "I'm sorry to disturb you, Master, but I have need of your assistance."

"What help to you can I be?" Yoda asked.

"I'm looking for a planet described to me by an old friend," Obi-Wan replied. "I trust him and the information he provided, but the system doesn't show up on the archive maps."

"An interesting puzzle," Yoda mused. "Lost a planet, Master Obi-Wan has. How embarrassing, how embarrassing."

The younglings chuckled, as he intended. "Gather younglings, around the map reader. Clear your minds, and find Obi-Wan's wayward planet, we will."

Obi-Wan placed the hologlobe he had been carrying from the Archives on to the small stand of the map reader, and the device activated it, displaying the known universe around the room, the small specks of light which represented systems and stars clustering all around them.

He paused, smiling as the youngsters worked through their excitement at the sight of the display, as Padmé visibly restrained herself from reaching out to touch the speck which represented Naboo. Then he walked further into the display, towards the cluster which symbolised the Rishi Maze.

"This is where it ought to be," he remarked, gesturing at the space twelve parsecs away with his fingers. "Gravity is pulling all the stars in this area inward to this spot. There should be a star there, but there isn't."

"Most interesting," Yoda mused. "Gravity's silhouette remains, but the star and all its planets have disappeared. How can this be? An answer? A thought? Anyone?"

Obi-Wan was not surprised that the venerable old Master had addressed such inquiries towards the younglings. It was an old truism of the Order that you never stopped learning as a Jedi, that youth had as much to teach as age and experience did. Masters learned as much from their apprentices as the Padawans did from them.

A hand went up from one of the youngsters. "Because someone erased it from the archive memory, Master," the boy answered. With his blond cropped hair and wide eyes, the boy almost reminded Obi-Wan of Anakin, as he once encountered him on Tatooine all those years ago.

Yoda grinned. "Truly wonderful the mind of a child is. Uncluttered. The data must have been erased."

With the use of the Force Obi-Wan deactivated the map reader, calling the hologlobe back to his hand. The stars disappeared, leaving the room cloaked in darkness, a suitable atmosphere for the rest of their discussion.

"To the centre of gravity's pull go, and find your planet you will," Yoda decided.

"But, Master Yoda, who could have erase information from the archives?" Obi-Wan asked. "That's impossible, isn't it?"

"Dangerous and disturbing this puzzle is," Yoda replied. "Only a Jedi could have erased those files. But who, and why, harder to answer. Meditate on this, I will. May the Force be with both of you."

Obi-Wan raised his eyes at the slight change to the customary farewell. "You're not going to even try and persuade her to stay here?"

"No try there is, Master Obi-Wan," Yoda reminded him. "Only do or do not. Sense in the Force I do that Senator Amidala you will need. Important, you both are."

"Thank you, Master Yoda," Padmé replied.

Obi-Wan bowed before the grand Jedi, then exited the room.

"I'm having doubts that leaving Jar Jar in charge of my Senate duties was such a good idea," Padmé confessed as they came out of hyperspace.

"I did think you would rely on a decoy," Obi-Wan admitted from his seat in front of her in the cockpit of the Delta Twelve Skysprite.

"After what happened to Cordé I didn't want to risk losing another," Padmé replied. "They have become my closest friends since I was elected."

He did not know what to say to that which had not already been said, so he settled for changing the subject. "There it is, right where it should be. Our missing planet, Kamino."

Padmé looked at it through the view of the triangular plasteel which covered the cockpit, while between them R2D2 beeped curiously, a translation appearing on their computer screens.

"I have no idea who might have altered the files," Obi-Wan replied to the droid. "Maybe we will find some answers down there. Disengage the hyperspace ring."

R2 complied, and Obi-Wan flew the ship into the atmosphere of Kamino, revealing a planet with no natural landscape. Ocean covered the surface mantle entire, while clouds dominated the skyline. A transmission penetrated their communications, asking for identification, and he activated the signal beacon, sending the appropriate files which were required in rely. Minutes later another transmission was sent to them, directing them to landing coordinates in Tipoca City.

The closer Obi-Wan flew towards the water, the rougher the ride got, unconsciously resulting in a display of his flying skills. His apprentice was a natural pilot, but the Master was by no means incompetent, indeed he was far from it, navigating the stormy planet with ease and confidence of talent combined with training. Performing a flyby of the artificially constructed cityscape the Senator and Jedi surveyed the world which might hold the answer as to who was behind the attempted assassination of her, possibly more, if the implication of such a planet being deleted from the Jedi archives was taken into consideration.

Landing the craft of the designated pad, Obi-Wan powered down the ship before lifting his cloak over his head, noting the rain which continuously fell to the ground outside. Padmé followed suit, a white cowl to match her skin tight combat suit, something which the Jedi Knight employed tremendous restraint not to stare at, or touch ever since he saw her in it when she emerged from his room in the quarters at the Temple after changing for this mission.

Disembarking from the Delta Twelve, they darted across the permacrete towards the plasteel door which slid back to let them inside the building.

"Master Jedi, Senator, so good to see you," said voice from the white light brilliancy of the entrance lobby.

Obi-Wan and Padmé lowered their cowls which turned out to be useless protection from the elements, causing them to wipe the water from their faces before they could properly focus on the extraordinary being who greeted them so kindly.

"I am Taun We," she continued. "The Prime Minister expects you."

Obi-Wan frowned before partly echoing her words in response. "We're expected?"

Taun We inclined her head. "Of course. Lama Su is anxious to see you. After all these years we were beginning to think you weren't coming. Now please, this way."

With one of her long thin arms she gestured toward the corridor ahead of them. Keeping their questions to themselves, Obi-Wan and Padmé followed her, their keen eyes taking in everything which their sense were confronted with.

Reaching a large door, Taun We motioned the barrier to slide back, revealing a large white room, in which the Prime Minister was revealed, rising from a large oval shaped chair that appeared to be attached to the ceiling. "May I present Lama Su, Prime Minister of Kamino. And these are Master Jedi..."

Obi-Wan caught the question before it could be aired and bowed, smoothing away the unintentional offence. Though they were expected, clearly their names were still a mystery, just as this entire planet and its secrets were a mystery to him and Padmé. "Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Senator Padmé Amidala."

"I trust that you are going to enjoy your stay," Lama Su remarked after indicating for them to take a seat, to which they acquiesced. "We are most happy that you have arrived at the best part of the season."

"You make us feel most welcome," Obi-Wan returned, and Padmé held back her smile, having come to know his diplomatic tone well over the years of their acquaintance. She loved the rainstorms on Naboo, she would spend hours out in them at Varykino, savouring the feel of their temperate moisture on her skin, but the storms on Kamino would make everyone seek a dryer climate. She glanced at her protector, noting the way the moisture caused his hair to sleek back over his head, longing to run her fingers through it.

"And now to business," Lama Su added. "You will be delighted to hear that we are on schedule. Two hundred thousand units are ready with another million well on the way."

Deducing what the word unit meant was all too easy, thanks to what information Dex had given them. What troubled Obi-Wan more was the implication that someone had ordered them in their name. "That is good news."

"We thought you would be pleased," Lama Su remarked.

"Of course," Obi-Wan returned.

"Please tell your Master Sifo-Dyas that we have every confidence his order will be met, on time and in full," Lama Su continued. "He is well, I hope."

Master Sifo-Dyas was far from well, in fact he was dead, but Obi-Wan could hardly reveal such information. "He is well, Prime Minister, but busy. Knowing we were in the area, he asked us to visit and check in with you."

"You may tell him that he should be proud of the army of clones we have build for him and the Republic," Lama Su remarked.

This almost brought the both of them to exclaiming 'the Republic!' but discipline and diplomacy restrained them from voicing such incredulity out loud. The implications were astounding. An entire army of clones ordered ten years ago, the first units conveniently finished in time for the debate over the Military Creation Act in the Senate? Whoever placed the order, and Obi-Wan did not believe for a moment that it was Master Sifo-Dyas, must have created a plan insidious and detailed, calculated for everything to unfold precisely. But for what purpose? To lead the Republic into a civil war? He did not understand what rewards such chaos would achieve, not for the Sith, not for anyone.

"You must be anxious to inspect the units," Lama Su remarked.

"That's why we're here," Obi-Wan replied.

Lama Su rose from her chair, causing Obi-Wan and Padmé to follow suit. "Allow me to take you on a tour."

Padmé matched her pace with her protector, choosing the right moment to lean into him and ask the question which had bothered her ever since the name was first mentioned. "What happened to Master Sifo-Dyas?"

With his gaze fixed on their host, Obi-Wan chose the right moment to reply. "He was killed over ten years ago. Who it ever was who ordered this army, it was not a Jedi Council Master, or Yoda would have warned me before we left."

Padmé acknowledged that piece of information with a nod. Inside her mind was screaming. The pockets of frustration at the constant stalemates in the Senate were finally overflowing into anger, pure in the extreme. Self-contained however, for the small part of her which thrived on rationale had no desire to let the emotion consume her entirely, nor did she wish for Obi-Wan to feel it, though with his strength in the Force, he was probably no stranger to it, in fact she suspected that he was experiencing such emotions himself as he gazed at the clones Lama Su was proudly showing them.

All for nothing. Ten years spent keeping the Republic at peace and it was all for nothing. While she and the few remaining uncorrupted Senators fought for peace and unity, someone had been quietly working to send the Republic into civil war. Her efforts were useless, noble at best, but a waste of time. If she had known when she was Queen what she knew now, she might have stood a chance to stop this, but even as her mind contemplated that possibility, her rationale realised it was an idealistic hope, born out of guilt that her actions contributed to the future the Republic was facing now. Too late. Everything was being discovered too late to prevent it from occurring. She was fighting a certain defeat and as she realised that, her actions no longer seemed noble.

"Would it be possible to have access to the schematics of the methods you have used to design these clones?" She asked Lama Su, aware that her voice was quavering from the turmoil within her mind, hoping their guides would not detect it. "I would like to see what behavioural makeup you have given them, among other things."

"I would be happy to provide such information for you," Taun We answered.

"Thank you," She remarked, before falling into silent contemplation, wondering what more disturbing revelations she might learn from studying such information.

Obi-Wan clasped her hand, the simple gesture sending waves of comfort to her from within the Force. Padmé marvelled at his optimism even as she realised he was feeling the same conflict as herself. Ironically that empathy gave her and himself the strength to see this through. The clone army was not the only thing they had come to Kamino to investigate after all; it still remained to be seen if her assassin was hiding on the planet too. If he was connected to this decade old scheme, he or whoever hired him could prove to be the weak link in this intricate chain.

Conversation eventually led to that. After she and Obi-Wan had asked the usual questions expected of their inspection and received disturbingly impressive answers, the Jedi asked about the original.

"A bounty hunter named Jango Fett," Lama Su answered. "We felt a Jedi would be the perfect choice, but Sifo-Dyas hand picked Jango himself."

The notion of an army of Jedi clones floored Obi-Wan so much that Padmé felt the shock pass through his physical connection to her.

"Where is this bounty hunter now?" He asked.

"He lives here," Lama Su replied. "But he's free to come and go as he pleases. Apart from his pay, which is considerable, Fett demanded only one thing, an unaltered clone for himself."

"We would very much like to meet this Jango Fett," Obi-Wan remarked, a thought as well as a request.

"I would be most happy to arrange it for you," Taun We assured them.

By this time they had reached the end of the parade style corridor, which opened into a wide viewing platform. When they reached the edge, they discovered the sight below; row upon row of clones, clad in white armour plating, faceless, anonymous. The perfect army for any mode of attack.

Or invasion. For as Obi-Wan and Padmé forced their gaze upon the disturbing parade, seeing every clone march in perfect step with each other, they were not just seeing these finished units. They were seeing the droid army that invaded Naboo; marching across docking bays and green lush fields. A vision of the future swam before their eyes; the clones parading in the streets of Coruscant, overseen by members of the Senate, approaching their spaceships whilst above the sky slowly surrendered to the darkness.

Senator and Jedi were powerless to prevent it.

Chapter Text

Part 20: Bounty Hunter at Sixty Six.

Padmé half expected Obi-Wan to ask her to stay with R2 and the ship while he visited Jango Fett, but there was no uttered warning for caution when Lama Su left them to their own devices albeit briefly, before Taun We returned to show them to the bounty hunter's apartment. Both of them were too preoccupied with what they had seen to rouse from themselves from the silence. Neither of them had anticipated the encounter with the clones, the discovery that ten years ago someone had laid out an order for such an army for the Republic. The devious nature behind this cold, calculated preparation struck them forcibly. Someone had carefully guided the Republic to this point, stoking the fires of dissent, of separation, and of corruption until they were tangled in a web of darkness, forced to settle for the fait accompli which awaited them here.

A shiver passed over her body, chilling her from head to foot, the cold causing her to somehow hear the rain which was still pouring down outside, despite the substantial barriers of the building protecting them from Kamino's harsh climate. Droplets clung to her and Obi-Wan, stubbornly refusing to soak into their clothes or skin, or evaporate into the spotlessly white corridor they were walking through. The atmospheric weather was kindred to her emotions and the revelations they had learned. Anxious, her mind contemplated what was happening on Coruscant while they were here, if the Senate were debating the Military Creation Act at last.

Viewing the clones here, such a vote seemed redundant to her now.

The door to Jango's apartment opened, revealing a small boy, strikingly identical to the clones they had seen being trained into soldiers. Only this child was actually ten years old, with no genetic modifying installed within him.

"Boba," Taun We greeted the child with a friendly manner, "is your father home?"

"Yep," the boy answered abruptly, his dark eyes staring at Padmé and Obi-Wan, in a manner which Padmé found chillingly compelling.

"May we see him?" Taun We asked.

"Sure," Boba replied, his gaze still on the Senator and Jedi Master. He stepped back, letting them cross the threshold into the apartment. "Dad! Taun We's here!"

Padmé had contemplated why Jango Fett had wanted an a clone for himself, for it seemed so out of character for a bounty hunter to want a child. She assumed until now that Boba was meant for some other purpose, another way to make profit, but to hear the boy call Jango father caused her to rethink about the man who had been hired to kill her, a man she was now to meet.

"Welcome back, Jango," Taun We remarked as the man came into view now, several years older and a few pounds heavier than the clones they had seen, but not appearing deficient for his occupation by those differences, for the latter was added muscular strength, and the former, experience from years in the field. "Was your trip productive?"

"Fairly," Jango remarked, studying the Senator and Jedi with interest.

"These are Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi and Senator Padmé Amidala," Taun We remarked. "They have come to check on our progress."

"That right?" Jango uttered, in a tone which indicated little care, either for the visit, or the clones which brought him sight of these guests.

"Your clones are very impressive," Obi-Wan said, his tone careful to show none of the emotion he felt at seeing them, or the original who tried to kill the woman he loved. "you must be very proud."

"I'm just a simple man trying to make my way in the universe, Master Jedi," Jango answered, his tone casual, and therefore deceptive.

"Aren't we all?" Obi-Wan remarked, his gaze moving from examining the bounty hunter to search the rest of the apartment.

Padmé kept her gaze on Jango, knowing Obi-Wan would find whatever proof he was looking for, waiting to see if the bounty hunter might betray a certain conscious of the evidence. Aside from moving slightly to block the Jedi's view of an open room, there was no change in his studious gaze.

"Ever make your way into the interior as far as Coruscant?" Obi-Wan asked.

"Once or twice," Jango answered.

"Recently?" Obi-Wan persisted.

Now Jango's gaze became suspicious. "Possibly."

"Then you must know Master Sifo-Dyas," Obi-Wan remarked, trying to gauge the man's reaction to the name.

Jango turned to his son and spoke to him in a foreign tongue, one Padmé had not heard before. She concluded it must be a coded language of some sorts, for Obi-Wan seemed to understand it within the Force, as he adjusted his gaze again, directing it to the open room before Boba moved to close the door, blocking his view.

"Master who?" His father queried.

"Sifo-Dyas," Obi-Wan repeated. "Isn't he the one who hired you for this job?"

"Never heard of him," Jango remarked.

"Really," Obi-Wan frowned, for he could not detect any deception in the man's tone, or through his signature in the Force.

"I was recruited by a man called Tryanus on one of the moons of Bogden," Jango informed them.

"Curious," Obi-Wan murmured, his suspicions concerning someone using Sifo-Dyas as an alias now confirmed.

"Do you like your army?" Jango asked.

"I look forward to seeing them in action," Obi-Wan replied.

"What about you, Senator?" Jango remarked. "From what I hear off the HoloNet, you are one of the main opponents for this army."

"That was precisely why the Chancellor asked me to come," Padmé replied, the deception coming to her as easily as her years spent wrangling for votes in the Senate. "A sceptic's views are just as a valuable as a believer's."

"I can assure you, Senator, they'll do their job well," Jango said. "I can guarantee that."

"Like their source?" Obi-Wan murmured, his question more of a statement, rousing only a smile from Fett. "Thank you for your time, Jango."

"Always a pleasure to meet a Jedi and a Senator," the bounty hunter remarked, the density of his tone managing to convey the farewell as a veiled threat.

Obi-Wan ignored it, and Padmé followed suit, walking behind him at a pace to level when they left the apartment. He turned to Taun We once the door was closed.

"If you would be so kind as to prepare the information for Senator Amidala now," he remarked. "She and I must be departing for Coruscant soon."

"Of course," Taun We said with a small deferential bow, before walking away, leaving them alone in the corridor.

"Are you alright?" Obi-Wan asked her as soon as the Kamino was gone.

Padmé nodded. "I'm fine, thank you, Obi-Wan. What are we to do now?"

"I must contact the Council and inform them of what we have discovered," he replied. "Master Yoda will probably order me to take Fett into custody, in which case you must have the ship ready for a swift departure."

"What about providing you with covering fire?" Padmé asked.

Obi-Wan smiled despite himself. "It might be necessary, but I would not have you put yourself in such possible danger, milady. Remember what you promised me."

"I do," Padmé replied. "And now I must ask you to promise me something, Master Jedi. Take care of yourself. I would not like to witness another action similar to that of jumping from a balcony or through a window."

He grinned and she had to withhold herself from blushing due to the charm the expression carried with it. "I promise, milady."

Master Yoda did ask for Obi-Wan to bring Jango Fett back to Coruscant for questioning, and after instructing R2 to look after her, he left Padmé with the droid and the ship to go and find the bounty hunter.

Sheltering herself from the weather, Padmé climbed into the twin cockpit, closing the plasteel behind her. After prepping the Delta Twelve for departure, she retrieved the datapad Taun We had given her when they left, which contained all the information she could ever possibly want to know about how to make a clone army. The lengths the Kaminos went to and the amount of detail caused her much thought, as well as managing to distract her when Obi-Wan did not immediately return. Despite her concern for him, she knew how capable he was in his vocation, and the memory that he had been involved in much more difficult missions than this managed to ease that anxiety a little.

Focusing her mind, she studied the information Taun We gave her carefully, searching each section for any possible hint as to the identity of who was behind the order of this army ten years ago. Unfortunately, she did not find anything revealing on that score, but something she did find troubled her far more. An unique set of orders, controlled by voice activation, designed to be imprinted on each brigade of clones once they were officially given the go-ahead to fight for the Republic.

R2 uttered a series of beeps before raising the plasteel, causing her to look up in time to see Obi-Wan leap into the front seat of the cockpit. Relief coursed through her as she examined him and aside from being drenched, found him uninjured by the encounter with the bounty hunter.

"I was forced to attach a homing beacon to his ship," he informed her as his hands gripped the controls and readied the craft for take off.

Padmé put the datapad away and strapped herself in. "Any reckless manoeuvres?" she asked him.

"A few," he admitted, flying the Delta Twelve into the atmosphere. "What about you, has the schematics Taun We gave you revealed anything?"

"Not as to who was behind the order for their creation in the first place," Padmé replied. "But there are a series of voice recognition orders which are very troubling."

Obi-Wan could feel the level which they were troubling her through the Force as he guided the Delta Twelve into the hyperspace docking ring. "Any one in particular we should be worried about?" He asked her.

"Number sixty-six," Padmé replied before plugging the pad into a port. "R2, archive a copy of these, please."

The data appeared on Obi-Wan's viewscreen as the ship went into hyperspace. Grimly, he scrolled through the information until he had reached the order in question. "Well, this confirms matters. Whoever was behind this was after destroying the Jedi as well."

"You've expected this?" Padmé asked him.

"When I killed the Sith on Naboo, there was speculation as to whether or not he was the apprentice or the master," Obi-Wan explained. "Sith work only in pairs. With the increasing amount of dark power clouding the Force, the Council came to believe Darth Maul was the apprentice. His master must have ordered these clones."

"I do not like where this is going," Padmé murmured as the proximity signal beeped, declaring the end of hyperspace.

"Nor I," Obi-Wan agreed.

He manoeuvred the Delta Twelve out of the hyperspace ring and set the craft on an intercept course with the bounty hunter's ship. Ahead of both was a large planet, surrounded by an asteroid ring.

R2 beeped, the series of notes managing to convey slight worry.

"Seismic charges," Obi-Wan warned and flipped the ship into a tight roll deftly dodging the end trajectories of both devices.

Jango's ship flew into one of the larger asteroids, causing them to follow, not realising such a move was unwise until after they emerged back into the vast field and discovered that the bounty hunter's craft was now behind them.

Obi-Wan swore, executed the Delta Twelve through another series of tight flips and rolls in an effort to avoid the oncoming fire. "Oh blast! This is why I hate flying."

Padmé wondered at that, for he was by far more than a competent pilot, but she realised that he meant because of the enemy they were facing, not the trip itself. The ship shuddered, and her faithful droid beeped, the translation appearing on her screen. "R2 says the long range transmitter is knocked out."

"Just what we needed," Obi-Wan murmured as he swerved through the closely packed asteroids, trying to force the torpedo on their tail to into a destructive collision. "R2, prepare to jettison the spare parts canisters. Release them now!"

Behind them the torpedo fixed its' sights on the spare parts and denoted itself. In the ensuring explosion, Obi-Wan flew the craft into hiding atop an asteroid, powering down to avoid further detection from the ship.

"Any idea where we are?" he asked her while they waited.

Padmé checked the starchart. "Geonosis," she replied. "Too far for a direct comlink with Coruscant. If we can contact Anakin on Tatooine, he might be able to relay."

"I wonder how he's doing," Obi-Wan uttered as he checked the radar once more. "Well, R2, I think we've waited long enough. Follow his last known trajectory."

There was no sign of the bounty hunter's craft when they entered Geonosis' atmosphere. The red sand surface reminded Padmé a little of Tatooine, but neither she nor Obi-Wan had time for nostalgia before they caught sight of civilisation.

"Trade Federation," Obi-Wan remarked, identifying the unusually large concentration of ships immediately. He landed the Delta Twelve some distance away, by the cover of a rock formation. "I'm going to investigate further. If I'm not back in half an hour, contact Anakin on Tatooine and have him convey a message to the Council. Then leave for Naboo."

"Obi-Wan, I will not leave while you're in danger," Padmé vowed.

Carefully he rose to his feet as the plasteel covering the cockpit came away, and turned round to face her. "Yes, you will. I'll survive easier knowing you are safe. Please, Padmé, I beg you. If I don't come back, go to Naboo."

Reluctantly she inclined her head in silent obedience. "Take care," she advised, and he nodded before leaving the ship.

Chapter Text

Part 21: Confessional Deceptions.

(Dedicated to my maternal grandmother, may she rest in peace.)

Padmé waited anxiously for Obi-Wan to return, knowing that she would not hesitate to go after him if he did not. There was no way she would leave here knowing he might be in danger. After dealing with the Trade Federation ten years ago, she had no fear of encountering them once more. She had never seen Obi-Wan angry before however, and she hoped her decision would not incur his wrath.

To her relief, he returned to the ship within the time frame he estimated and she raised the plasteel before prepping the transmitter. Obi-Wan spared no time for describing to her what he had witnessed, choosing instead to convey it the same time he told his Padawan, whom he now tried to contact.

"Anakin? Anakin, do you copy? This is Obi-Wan Kenobi."

There was some delay, then his apprentice's voice resonated loud and clear over the comlink. "I copy, Master. What's the matter?"

"My long range transmitter has been knocked out," Obi-Wan replied. "Retransmit this message to Coruscant."

There was another short pause before they received a reply, as the apprentice routed the message through his ship's system. "Okay, report," Anakin added.

"I have tracked the bounty hunter Jango Fett to the droid foundries on Geonosis," Obi-Wan uttered. "The Trade Federation is to take taking delivery of a droid army here and it is clear that Viceroy Gunray is behind the assassination attempts on Senator Amidala. The Commerce Guilds and Corporate Alliance have both pledged their armies to Count Dooku and are forming an....Wait!... Wait!!"

Two droidekas suddenly rolled into view, causing Obi-Wan to turn round and ignite his lightsaber to block their blasters. In the ship Padmé prepared to raise her own weapon but before she could they were overwhelmed by the Geonosians, captured and sent into a state of unconsciousness.

When Padmé woke, she found herself in a small cell, deep underground, formed by the dense structure of the Geonosian carved stalagmites.

"Padmé, thank the Force you're alright!" a voice cried, causing her to turn as she realised it did not belong to Obi-Wan.

"Anakin, what are you doing here?" she asked him. "Where's Obi-Wan?"

"I don't know," he replied. "I came to rescue him, but it wasn't too long until they caught me too. What are you doing here, I thought you were going to Naboo."

"Master Yoda agreed to let me go with Obi-Wan to Kamino," she explained. "Then we tracked the bounty hunter to here." she paused, studying him. He seemed to have aged since she last saw him. "What happened on Tatooine?"

To her surprise he gathered his knees towards his body, burrowing his head into them, causing his voice to sound as if he were further away. "Mom's dead."

He seemed so forlorn as he uttered the news, so lost, so much like the child she had come to know in Mos Espa and Theed all those years ago. She rose to her feet and walked the short distance which separated them. Then she knelt beside him, placing a comforting arm around his slender body.

"Tusken Raiders kidnapped her before I ever left the Core," he explained, tears threatening to choke his voice. "I tried to rescue her..... but she died in my arms. Why did she have to die? Why couldn't I save her? I know I could have!"

"Ani, you are only human. You're not all-powerful," Padmé reminded him gently. "You can't save everyone."

"I should be!" He cried, grief giving way to anger, causing her hand to freeze from stroking his back. "Someday I will be... I will be the most powerful Jedi ever! I promise you, I will even learn to stop people from dying."

"Anakin..." she began, trying to placate him, but he ignored her.

"It's all Obi-Wan's fault. He's jealous! He knows I'm already more powerful than he is. He's holding me back!"

What was this? Where was this coming from, Padmé wondered. He had expressed dissatisfaction with his master's teaching methods before, but not like this. Something else must have happened for him to be this upset. "Ani, what's wrong?"

"I... I killed them," he remarked hesitantly. "I killed them all. They're dead, every single one of them... Not just the men, but the women and the children too. They're like animals, and I slaughtered them like animals... I hate them!"

Padmé stilled in the silence which followed. She felt sick at the enormity of what the young man in her arms had committed. How could a Jedi be driven to perform such a massacre? But Anakin was not yet a Jedi, even if such a distinction could excuse him from the evil of such a deed. Nor could she focus on the turmoil created in her own mind if she wanted to help him come to terms with it.

"Why do I hate them?" Anakin cried, grief consuming him once more. "I didn't... I couldn't... I couldn't control myself. I... I don't want to hate them... But I just can't forgive them. I'm a Jedi. I know I'm better than this. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry!"

She held him in her embrace, stroking his back, murmuring intelligible sounds of comfort, until the emotion was assuaged.

When Obi-Wan woke, he found himself being restrained by a laser electronically charged forcefield, and, standing on the ground outside this containment, the last Jedi to join the ranks of the ranks of the Lost Twenty, waiting to speak to him.

"Where's Senator Amidala, you traitor!" he almost growled.

"Hello, my friend," Count Dooku remarked ignoring his inquiry. "This is a mistake. A terrible mistake. They've gone too far. This is madness."

Obi-Wan forced his concern for Padmé to the back of his mind, before adding in a calmer voice, "I thought you were the leader here, Dooku."

"This had nothing to do with me, I assure you," the Count answered a little too easily. "I promise you I will petition immediately to have you both set free."

"Well, I hope it doesn't take too long," Obi-Wan remarked. "We have work to do."

Dooku looked at him carefully. "May I ask why a Jedi Knight and a Senator are all the way out here on Geonosis?"

"We've been tracking a bounty hunter named Jango Fett," Obi-Wan replied, returning the thoughtful gaze. "Do you know him?"

"There are no bounty hunters here that I'm aware of," Dooku remarked. "Geonosians don't trust them."

"Well, who can blame them," Obi-Wan murmured. "But he is here, I can assure you. Now where is Senator Amidala?"

"She is enjoying the pleasures of Genosian hospitality," Dooku answered. "I must warn you that the Trade Federation who are visiting want her dead."

"I'm sure you'll remember to treat her with the respect her position in the Republic deserves," Obi-Wan said, lowering his tone into a threatening decibel.

"It's a great pity that our paths have never crossed before, Obi-Wan," Dooku continued. "Qui-Gon always spoke very highly of you. I wish he were here. I could use his help right now."

"Qui-Gon would never join you," Obi-Wan vowed.

"Don't be so sure, my young Jedi," Dooku countered. "You forget that he was once my apprentice just as you were once his. He knows all about the corruption in the Senate, but he would never have gone along with it if he had known the truth as I have."

"The truth?" Obi-Wan queried.

Dooku looked into his blue grey eyes. "What if I told you that the Republic was now under the control of the Dark Lord of the Sith?"

Obi-Wan tried not to let such information unsettle him, but his mind had already begun to contemplate such a possibility, due to what he and Padmé learned on Kamino. "No, that's not possible. The Jedi would be aware of it."

"The dark side of the Force has clouded their vision, my friend," Dooku revealed. "Hundreds of Senators are now under the influence of a Sith Lord called Darth Sidious."

Obi-Wan shook his head, a useless motion inside a electronically charged forcefield. "I don't believe you."

"The Viceroy of the Trade Federation was once in league with this Darth Sidious," Dooku continued. "But he was betrayed ten years ago by the Dark Lord. He came to me for help. He told me everything. The Jedi Council would not believe him. I tried many times to warn them but they wouldn't listen to me. Once they sensed the Dark Lord's presence, it would then be too late. You must join me, Obi-Wan, and together we will destroy the Sith."

Obi-Wan heard the words, but he mistrusted the sentiment behind them. He had seen the army the Separatists were building, which together with the clone army, was only another indication that someone had been quietly working to send the Republic into a civil war. He knew Dooku's reasons for leaving the Order were not what he was claiming here, for Qui-Gon had informed him of the truth a long time ago. "I will never join you, Dooku."

Dooku smiled, confirming Obi-Wan's mistrust. "It may be difficult to secure your release," he all but threatened before leaving the cell.

Padmé felt Anakin still under her comforting strokes and she lowered her arm as his head rose from the crouch to let his blue eyes meet her dark ones. Abruptly he leaned forward, seeking her lips with his own, making her draw away in shock.

"Anakin, no. What is this?"

He looked at her, turmoil of a different kind clouding his features. "From the moment I met you, all those years ago, a day hasn't gone by when I haven't thought of you. And now that I'm with you again, I'm in agony. The closer I get to you, the worse it gets. The thought of not being with you makes my stomach turn over - my mouth goes dry. I feel dizzy. I can't breathe. I'm haunted by the thought of kissing you, touching you, swearing my entire soul to you. My heart is beating, hoping such a vow will not become a scar. You are in my very soul, tormenting me. What can I do? I will do anything you ask."

She stilled, his words shocking her. She knew that she should not be surprised, for their last conversation on Coruscant had made his feelings perfectly clear, yet she could not help but feel astonished at the depth of love he professed to feel.

"If you are suffering as much as I am, tell me," he added.

The words caused her thoughts to reach a resolution. She had made her choice a long time ago, giving her heart to his master. But she could not tell him that, not while he was in this condition, struggling to cope with the death of his mother and the dark deed of revenge he had visited on the Tusken Tribe who kidnapped her. "I can't. We can't. It's just not possible."

"Anything's possible," he argued, "Padmé, please listen..."

She shook her head, interrupting him. "You listen. We live in a real world. Come back to it. You're studying to become a Jedi Knight. I'm a Senator. If you follow your thoughts through to conclusion, they will take us to a place we cannot go. I will not let you give up your future for me."

"You're asking me to be rational. That is something I know I cannot do," Anakin replied. "Believe me, I wish I could wish my feelings away, but I can't."

"I am not going to give in to this," she informed him sadly. "Both of us have a duty to the Republic which will inevitably interfere. When I first met you, all you wanted was to be a jedi. You will come to regret giving up such a dream which you have spent ten years working so hard towards. And you would resent me for making you do so."

"No, I wouldn't," Anakin vowed. "Besides it wouldn't have to be that way. We could keep it a secret until I pass my Trials. Then I only need the Council's blessing."

"Then we'd be living a lie," she pointed out to him, "One we couldn't keep up even if we wanted to. And once the Council discovered it, they could expel you from the Order, Chosen One or no. You will have disappointed everyone who ever believed in you. I will not allow you to sacrifice your dreams, Anakin. Nor do I want to live a lie. And if you loved me as much as you say you do, you would not force me to make this choice."

He did not reply immediately, causing a uncomfortable silence to fall over the cell. Padmé breathed deeply, preparing herself for another counter argument, before he spoke. "No. You're right. It would destroy us."

She looked at him, but he would not meet her gaze, rising to his feet and walking to the corner furthest from her. He knelt upon the hard ground, closing his eyes, and she realised he was mediating. She remembered contacting Obi-Wan once only to find him in such a pose, though he preferred a crossed leg style. Anakin it seemed was determined to be different once more, and yet he did not realise that there were many similarities between him and his master, foremost the affection they held for her.

The notion that two Jedi had fallen in love with her did not even flatter her ego for a moment. Anakin's attachment was vastly different from Obi-Wan's. He had considered the consequences, waited for his knighthood, waited for her to make the choice. Not once had he put pressure on her or attempted to persuade her to surrender to the emotions between them. It was always up to her, and he would wait, however long it might take.

Whereas his padawan still saw her as angel from his childhood dreams, one whom could be his anchor in a dark, uncooperative world. She had no desire for that sort of co-dependent relationship. And there was his dark deed on Tatooine. How could he take such revenge on another race? Padmé knew it was not the Jedi way, but neither was it something she could understand, or even empathise with. She felt as if he was heading into a dark place, pleading for her to follow him, to surrender to him.

Chapter Text

It was something she would not do.

Part 22: The Shroud of the Dark Side.

Obi-Wan did not have time to reflect on the encounter with Count Dooku, for two Geonosian guards entered his cell to release him from the forcefield a few minutes after the former Jedi Master - and now probable Sith - left. His freedom was brief, leaving him no time to summon the Force to his side before he was handcuffed and escorted down a dark hollowed out stone tunnel into a large arena. Four tall simply craved pillars stood in the middle of this expanse, one of which his escort fixed the chains attached to his handcuffs, raising his hands above the rest of his body. From the sound of the cheering and the sight of the crowds in the many viewing balconies which circled the arena, he concluded that his death sentence was about to turn into a show.

Directing his gaze to the tunnel entrance, he descried another tumbrel emerging from the darkness, carrying two more condemned prisoners. The sight of brilliant white cloth, still startling even in this desert climate, instantly brought some relief to him. As the tumbrel travelled into the arena, more of Padmé's figure came into view, along with that of his Padawan. Both were defiantly calm, the Senator carrying herself as regally as she had done during her sovereign youth, while Anakin, though his mental shields leaked some turmoil into the training bond, wore a solemn expression which befitted any knight when faced with such a fate. If Obi-Wan had time to realise his emotions, he would have known that he had never felt prouder of his apprentice than at this moment.

Naturally, his eyes returned to Padmé, whom once she had descended from the tumbrel, discreetly reached into a small space between a purse on her belt and retrieved what he presumed was a piece of wire which she put in her mouth before the Geonosians chained her to the furthest pillar. Silently he admired her resourcefulness once more before turning to his Padawan. "I was beginning to wonder if you had gotten my message."

"I retransmitted it as you requested, Master," Anakin replied, his tone betraying his emotional state as somewhere between irritated and angry. "Then I decided to come and rescue you."

Obi-Wan glanced up at the chains which secured them both to their pillars before he replied with, "Good job!" deciding to use the banter between them as a way to keep his apprentice focused on the task at hand; securing an escape out of this. The odds might appear to be insurmountable, but he knew that there was a reasonable chance they could delay proceedings long enough for the rescue the Order would send.

It was difficult to see Padmé with Anakin chained between them now, and there was too much going on around them for Obi-Wan to use the Force out of a purely selfish desire to rescue her. He had no doubt of her resourcefulness in such a situation as this, so he turned his focus on the entrance of the dignitaries in the widest witness balcony which encircled the arena, then on the words one of the Geonosians was speaking.

"The felons before you have been convicted of espionage against the Sovereign System of Geonosis. Their sentence of death is to be carried out in this public arena henceforth. Let the executions begin!"

A loud cheer from the large crowd erupted, echoing around the arena. In the midst of this ruckus, three gates opened to reveal the chosen weapons of death; a Reek, a Nexu, and a Acklay. All equally fearsome creatures to face even with the Force, not to mention the guards which escorted them, one which did not survive his moment of dubious honour for long, as his efforts to restrain the animal he was in charge of proved unwise; the Nexu turned on him, leaping up and taking his head in it's vicious mouth.

"I've got a bad feeling about this," Anakin murmured, unconsciously quoting his Master from a decade ago. Obi-Wan briefly recalled that moment aboard the Trade Federation ship; when he had been a padawan with his own master, before he had ever met Anakin or Padmé. The innocence he felt back then seemed like a lifetime ago, heady, yet tranquil, something he almost longed for in light of the chaos this fight would inevitably plunge him, his apprentice and the woman he loved into. He was grateful Qui-Gon was resting at the temple, and he hoped neither Mace nor Yoda chose to inform him of the events which were about to transpire. The last thing his former Master needed was a full scale opening battle that he was facing now, one which Qui-Gon would not hesitate to enter, trusting in the Force to carry him through, without care for the disease which resided in his body.

"Well, this should be fun, for them at least," he remarked, causing his apprentice to glance at him, verbally asking for clarification, revealing that he was not as focused as Obi-Wan would like him to be.

"Never mind," he added, "you ready for a fight?"

"The fight?" Anakin echoed the word with heavy scepticism.

"You want to give the crowd it's credit's worth don't you?" Obi-Wan asked him. "Just relax. Concentrate. You take the one the right. I'll take the one on the left."

"What about Padmé?" Anakin asked, turning to look at her, giving Obi-Wan the chance to see her as well.

Just as he had suspected, the resourceful Senator had successfully picked one lock of her restraints and was now using the chain as a climbing aid to ascend to the top of the pillar.

"She seems to be on top of things," he remarked to his apprentice and then there was no more time for talking as the Acklay charged him. The beast was a ghastly fearsome looking creature, his sheer size giving Obi-Wan no option other than to duck and hope for the best. Within seconds the animal's charge managed to destroy the chain, and Obi-Wan adopted a dodge and weave tactic to avoid being struck by the vicious stone like claws whose ability to injure left compelling evidence by way of a sizeable dent in the pillar behind him.

Atop her pole, Padmé gripped the chain with both her hands, watching the Nexu who prowled the floor menacingly, waiting for a moment to strike. He scrambled up the pole towards her, and she used the chain to strike him, managing to hit him twice before she received a blow in return, harsh claw marks to her back, causing her to emit a sound something between a growl and a scream for the pain. Grimly she focused, allowing her emotions and mind no time for nothing more than that single sound of weakness. Then she let go of the chain and leapt off the pillar. When the metal links went slack, she used them to send her body into a swing, just as the Nexu leapt towards her. Raising her feet, she aimed a powerful kick into his abdomen, sending the beast to the ground, causing it to mewl pitifully. Seizing this brief pause, she retrieved the wire and began to pick at the other lock on her cuffs. When she was free, the Nexu was waiting for her, only to be crushed by the Reek, whom Anakin had managed to tame into a mount.

"You okay?" he asked her.

"Sure," she replied.

"Jump on!" he added, and she leapt from the pillar to land behind him, before casting her gaze around the arena to find Obi-Wan.

The Acklay soon tired of the Jedi Master's dodge and weave game and opted for a more direct method of kill, using its body strength to send the pole he had dented down on top of the man, crunching the stone between his diamond shaped paws. Obi-Wan seized this relative freedom and ran for one of the guards, trusting in the Force and in the nature of the animal to follow him, which it did, climbing over the remains of the pole.

The Genosian pointed his weapon towards the jedi, but Obi-Wan moved passed him, his hand reaching out instinctively to take the spear into his grip, the force sending the guard off his steed on to the hard floor of the arena. The Acklay crushed the Geonosian's chest with one strike of it claw as it neared Obi-Wan, who chose to dodge from the claws again and again until he could strike what he hoped was a vulnerable part of the beast's body; the front join from it's neck to his first claw. Such a moment came and such a wound was made, but it did not subdue the Acklay, who used his mouth to take the spear out, breaking the wood between his teeth.

Obi-Wan ran for the Reek which Anakin had tamed, leaping on to the back behind Padmé, who rested her hand upon his thigh, caressing in a smooth line to his knee before letting go. He touched her back near her belt in silent reply before fixing his gaze on their new enemy which the Geonosians had summoned into the arena, seven droidekas who swiftly surrounded them, unrolling into strike positions.

Before they could fire however, Obi-Wan felt the Force signal, and he glanced towards the large balcony in which Count Dooku, the Fetts and the members of the various delegations from the Separatists stood. The purple flash confirmed Mace Windu's arrival, and he allowed a brief smile to cross his face as he saw the rest of the Jedi the Councillor had brought ignite their lightsabers and prepare to strike.

Then the droid army emerged from the tunnel, causing the Jedi to jump from their balconies to face the oncoming force. One Jedi tossed a couple of lightsabers towards them, and Anakin was the first to ignite his blade, aiming it carefully at his master's cuffs to break the metal which restrained him.

Frightened by the sudden onslaught of blaster fire, the Reek reared, causing them to fall to the floor of the arena. With a roll they were soon on their feet again, Padmé grabbing a blaster to defend herself, aiming the weapon at the rider of a tumbrel before mounting the beast, using its pace to her advantage while she picked off droids one by one. Anakin soon joined her, mounting the tumbrel behind her, using his lightsaber to deflect and return blaster shots. Their makeshift teamwork bore fruit until one blaster shot mortally wounded her mount, sending them to the ground. Padmé sought the shelter of the tumbrel as she continued to fire, while Anakin continued to deflect, return and protect.

Mace landed before Obi-Wan and the Masters fought back to back for a while until the frightened Reek charged, separating them. The Councillor went to deal with the animal, while Obi-Wan continued to deflect blaster shots back at the droids. Abruptly they began to back away from him, and he heard growl which caused him to turn round. The Acklay was back to try and kill him, but this time he had a weapon mightier than the spear. Aiming for the front claws, Obi-Wan dismembered the beast, sending the front of the animal to the floor, hitting its face away from him, before flicking the hilt of his saber back and forth in his hands in time to bury the blue blade in the creature's chest.

The droid forces caused the Jedi to retreat into a protective circle upon the floor of the arena. Obi-Wan knelt before one of the fallen, touching the side of his colleague's head as his senses appealed to the Force for assistance. Unhappily his healing talents could do no more than send relief from a painful death. Regretfully he performed such duty before rising to his feet and raising his eyes towards the balcony where the Separatists leaders stood in witness. Gradually the blaster fire lessened in intensity and furore before a signal from Count Dooku caused the machines to come to a complete halt.

"Master Windu!" He called out. "You have fought gallantly. Worthy of recognition in the history archives of the Jedi Order. Now it is finished. Surrender - and your lives will be spared."

Mace's answer was deadly and precise. "We will not be hostages for you to barter with, Dooku."

"Then, I'm sorry, old friend," the Count replied. "You will have to be destroyed."

Droids raised their weapons and the Jedi raised their lightsabers, prepared to fight the inevitable. Dooku made the motion to order the machines to fire, when the sound of engines caused another pause.

Padmé raised her gaze to the sky and caught sight of countless ships, bearing what appeared to be the clone army from Kamino and..... Master Yoda? She was amazed how serene he looked in the face of such chaos. "Look!"

Six gunships landed before the surviving Jedi, and clone troopers flooded the space between them and the droids, allowing for the former to seek the safety of the ships. Deflecting the blaster fire, Obi-Wan followed her and Anakin on to one of the vessels, which ascended into the sky, journeying towards the Trade Federation ships they had seen on their arrival upon the planet.

"Hold on!" He ordered as the vessel swerved dangerously, causing them to take hold of the supports above their heads.

"Aim right above the fuel cells," Anakin directed the clones, who obeyed, causing the enemy ship to explode.

"Good call my young padawan," Obi-Wan complimented. His blue grey eyes saw the rapid desire to exit felt by some of their opponents. "Those Federation starships are taking off. Target them quickly."

In combination with the ground troops, they managed to destroy one of the spherical starships. As the ensuring dust cloud from the explosion began to dissipate, Obi-Wan caught sight of a tiny Geonosian speeder escaping. "Look over there."

Anakin identified the rider. "It's Dooku! Shoot him down!"

"We're out of ordinance, sir," the clone pilot informed him.

"Follow him!" Anakin ordered.

Padmé glanced around at their numbers. "We're going to need some help."

Obi-Wan shook his head. "No, there's no time. Anakin and I can handle this."

He felt her worry in the Force and turned to reassure her, but before he could the gunship lurched from a hit, titling in an extreme side angle, sending one clone trooper to the ground, and Padmé along with him.

"Padmé!!!" Anakin cried out in terror. His eyes never leaving her form he shouted an order at the pilot. "Put the ship down! Down!"

Obi-Wan darted to the opening, his keen eyes anxiously searching for her while his mind reached into the Force. When he received the reply that she would be well, he turned to his fearful apprentice. "Don't let your personal feelings get in the way." Then he turned to the pilot. "Follow that speeder."

Anakin ignored him. "Lower the ship!"

Obi-Wan had no time to sigh at his Padawan's stubbornness, his inability to trust in the Force, or to perform his duty when those he loved appeared to be in danger. Nor could he tell Anakin that Padmé would be fine, because it would invite the type of questions that his padawan was not in a fit state to handle answers to at present. Frankly, Obi-Wan doubted that he was ready to face a former Jedi Master either, but neither could anyone after the fight they fought in the arena. The only alternative was to reason and cajole him into obedience. "Anakin, I can't take Dooku alone. I need you. If we catch him, we can end this war right now. We have a job to do."

"I don't care," Anakin replied. "Put the ship down."

"I am your superior, these troops are under my command. If you chose to listen to your feelings rather than the Force over this, and commit an act of recklessness, you will be expelled from the Jedi Order," Obi-Wan threatened, knowing full well he and Qui-Gon probably wouldn't let him be, but hoping the point would hit home.

Anakin still resisted. "I can't leave her."

"Come to your senses," Obi-Wan tried one last time. "What do you think Padmé would do if she were in your position?"

His apprenticed sighed, relenting. "She would do her duty."

"And so will we," Obi-Wan returned, before turning to the clone pilot. "Follow that speeder!"

The gunship trailed the speeder to a stalagmite tower from which a landing port waited. Leaping from the vessel Obi-Wan and Anakin followed the smaller craft inside, coming upon the former Jedi Master as he stood before a slender control panel.

"You're going to pay for all the Jedi you've killed today, Dooku," Anakin announced with deadly intensity, while his Master sought guidance from the Force and his years of experience in the field.

"We'll take him together," he instructed his apprentice. "You go in slowly on the..."

Anakin cut him off. "No, I'm taking him now!"

Obi-Wan only had time to cry out "Anakin, no!" but it was useless, as Padawan rushed forward, his lightsaber raised.

Dooku raised his arm and sent out a torrent of Force lightning, sending his opponent across the room, into an adjacent wall.

Anakin slumped to the floor semi-conscious. Obi-Wan directed some of his healing aids to the boy before he readied himself to face Dooku.

The Count was confident he could defeat the Master just as easily as the apprentice. "As you can see, my Jedi powers are far beyond yours. Now back down." He raised his arm and summoned another barrage of Force lightning.

Obi-Wan held up his lightsaber, letting the blue blade take the full brunt of the fire, absorbing the power. "I don't think so," he replied, his voice rich and deep in the confidence of his ability.

Dooku ignited his own blade, the red colour confirming Obi-Wan's previous' suspicions. Falling into the form he learned under Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan advanced fast, swinging the blue blade towards his opponent. Speed however was no match for the Sith, whom soon showed that he had not taught everything he knew to his old Padawan.

"Master Kenobi, you disappoint me," he goaded Obi-Wan. "Yoda holds you in such high esteem. Surely you can do better."

Breathing deeply, summoning more of the Force, Obi-Wan struck again. He knew he could not hold Dooku for long, the battle in the arena had depleted a lot of his energy. While Anakin was recovering, as was Padmé, for he could sense her even now, so far away, however, he would do what he must.

Then Count Dooku held his blade into a tight thrust between them, moving the hilt in an arc until he caught Obi-Wan out with a quick strike at his wrist. Obi-Wan flung his arm away, but not in time to avoid the red blade wounding the upper part. Dooku then struck his thigh, sending him to the floor.

His lightsaber was too far from his fingers, and he could not summon the weapon to his side through the Force in time to meet the onslaught of the red blade which descended towards his body. Obi-Wan was not afraid to die, his senses reaching out to his love as he felt the heat from the laser steadily increase.

And in the mists of the Force, Padmé answered him.

Chapter Text

Author's Note: The rating changes here to NC17/18/M etc.

Part 23: Love in the Aftermath.

Padmé, my love, whatever happens, I'll be with you always, his voice murmured into her mind. She was reminded of that moment when he showed her the Force all those years ago on Tatooine, the safety she felt in his embrace, the light which shone around him like a halo and above all the love he rarely spoke of, for the feelings were in their infancy then. She wondered now at his choice of words, but time did not allow her to ponder their meaning fully, for another voice intruded on her thoughts, causing her to open her eyes and rise from the sand.

"Are you all right?" the Clone officer who had fallen with her asked.

She nodded. "I think so."

"We better get you back to the Forward Command Center," he declared.

Though her ears heard him, her mind heard something else, an elusive yet clear message, which she felt sure was from the Force. Now she understood her knight's meaning she shook her head, hoping she would not be too late to save him. "No, no. Gather up what troops you can. We've got to get to that hanger. Get a transport. Hurry!"

Obi-Wan, my love, do not despair yet. Help is on it's way, she uttered silently into her mind, hoping that elusive ally would send the message on.

Obi-Wan, my love, do not despair yet. Help is on it's way. Her voice calmed him immediately, just as the blue blade of his apprentice landed across the narrow gap between him and Dooku's lightsaber, saving him.

"That's brave of you, boy - but foolish," Dooku uttered in scorn. "I would have thought you'd have learned your lesson."

"I'm a slow learner," Anakin replied.

Obi-Wan summoned his weapon towards him with the Force, and called out to his apprentice before tossing him the lightsaber.

Anakin caught the hilt then ignited the blade, bringing both it and his own to bear on the Sith. He used the blades to the best of his growing ability, but Chosen One or no, he was no match for the former Jedi Master. It was not long before Dooku severed the hilt of Obi-Wan's blade, then Anakin's arm at the mid point between shoulder and elbow, sending the youth to land on the floor beside his Master.

Obi-Wan watched Dooku turn and he directed his eyes to the shadows splayed across the landing dock floor. A large one seemed to be moving steadily forward, and he wondered if Mace was coming to their aid.

But no, another, even more revered warrior was about to enter the fray.

"Master Yoda," Even Dooku's voice betrayed a certain respect.

The Grand Master of the Order rested his hands calmly on his gimmer stick, a gaze full of steel directed at his old Padawan, his very presence reminding Obi-Wan of one of his most vital lessons; size matters not. "Count Dooku."

"You have interfered with our plans for the last time," Dooku declared, before summoning a piece of machinery towards the revered master. Yoda let his gimmer stick clatter to floor as he summoned the Force to move the device away before it could do the serious damage which the Sith intended. Dooku tried another which produced the same response, before causing part of the cave's ceiling to fall on the Master.

Again Yoda deflected the fractured rocks.

"Powerful you have become, Dooku," he observed. "The dark side I sense in you."

"I have become more powerful than any Jedi," Dooku replied. "Even you, my old Master." He raised his hand and summoned Force lightning. But even that was avoided, the revered Grand Master using his bare hand to return it to the source.

"Much to learn you still have," Yoda judged.

Dooku retrieved his weapon. "It is obvious this contest will not be decided by our knowledge of the Force, but by our skills with a lightsaber."

As his opponent drew the ignite blade in a formal salute before himself, Yoda swept his cloak aside and called his own weapon to his hand. Opposite two of his students had the rare opportunity of seeing the Grand Master in a duel, a wondrous sight even in the midst of such darkness. Every cut, thrust, parry and strike was met, draining the Sith's energy until he could return the attack, leaping into the air. Neither Anakin nor Obi-Wan could isolate a single move from another so fast was Yoda's form, his blade nothing more than a green blur of light.

"Fought well you have, my old Padawan," Yoda remarked as their blades repelled each other in the space before them.

"This is just the beginning," Dooku replied. He summoned the dark side of the Force, directing his ally towards the crane nearest Obi-Wan and Anakin. The metal support tubes buckled under the weight before slowly descending. Obi-Wan tried to reach out with his own reserves to hold the crane aloft, and within the training bond he felt Anakin summon his depleted strength to assist.

Knowing it would not be enough, Yoda added his own strength to the task, and Dooku seized the chance he had engineered, darting into his ship. Within moments the craft was up and running, taking off out of a torpedo shaped exit.

Padmé's cavalry arrived too late, the gunship docking time for nothing more than useless blaster fire at the already out of range sail ship. Lowering her weapon, she ran inside, her keen gaze taking in the scene. Her heart stilled at the sight of her knight and his apprentice, their prone forms at right angles upon the bay of the hanger. Yoda was walking towards them, and she ran to Obi-Wan's side, her hand reaching for the comlink in her belt to call for medics. He summoned what was left of his Force strength to rise from the floor to meet her, but equally forcefully she pushed him gently yet firmly back down.

"Anakin's badly hurt," he protested, trying to resist, yet somehow unable to do so.

"So are you," she countered, her eyes running over his face before pulling at the material which surrounded his wounds, checking their degree of severity. Nimbly she cleared the area around them, preventing whatever infection had not escaped the lightsaber's blade cauterisation, yet managing to leave him almost completely clothed. Then her dark gaze returned to his face, surprised to see a smile honouring it.

"On second thought, I think I'll stay here with my beautiful and attentive nurse," he murmured, reaching for her hand. His face sobered as she grimaced at the pain to her own wounds which the stretch caused, before moving to sit by his side. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine," she assured him. "They're only scratches. Yours are burns."

"Mine can be healed by a Jedi trance," he returned, "yours need the medics."

"Do you really have the energy for one right now?" she asked him, not even surprised when he reluctantly shook his head. "Then just stay here and wait for someone else to do their job for a change."

"Yes ma'am," he replied, causing her to laugh.

"And don't you forget it," she added, making him smile again. Abruptly he tried to look for his apprentice, causing her to adjust her position so she could seem him being attended to by Yoda. The venerable Jedi Master was checking boy's wound, his gimmer stick tapping on the cavern floor in tune with his emotions.

"To think only minutes ago he was duelling sabers and floating objects," Obi-Wan murmured, causing her gaze to turn curious. She had never realised that Yoda was just as capable as any other Jedi in the field, assuming his size and his age prevented him from such combat. Evidently, though she had been mistaken, for clearly he had fought Dooku when Obi-Wan and Anakin were no longer able to.

Resolving to ask him later for the full details of the duel, she carefully sank down to lie beside him, her face seeking the soothing warmth which emanated from his chest. His arm came to rest around her, deftly avoiding the deep scratches across her back. As she closed her eyes and listened to the steady vibration of his heartbeat, another resolution formed within her mind.

Whatever faced them in the future, nothing would part them from one another in the midst of battle ever again.

Inevitably, they were separated, shepherded into transport which conveyed them to the large starship orbiting Geonosis, where the medical bay awaited their arrival.

Thanks to the days of his Padawanship spent in the healer's wing of the Temple, Obi-Wan used the Force to restore himself so he could leave his bed before a doctor could assess him, seeking the room where his apprentice lay. Only his natural courtesy prevented him from intruding upon the doctors who tended to the boy, forcing him to pace the floor of the waiting room until one emerged from theatre to speak to him.

"Thank you for waiting, Master Kenobi."

Now he turned round as the physician entered the room. "How is Anakin?"

"He is recovering well," the healer replied. "The surgery was a success. He will need some sessions of physical therapy, but the robotic appendage will soon become as capable as the arm which it replaced. If not better."

"Thank you, doctor," Obi-Wan inclined his head, though in his mind he still held several misgivings concerning that pronouncement. "And Padmé?"

"I'm sorry, who?" The physician asked, frowning.

Blast. Obi-Wan inwardly flushed at the level of concern in him which caused him to drop official formality for a moment. "I meant to inquire after Senator Amidala."

"I'm afraid Senator Amidala did not seek treatment, Master Kenobi," the physician replied, still frowning a little. "Should I ask her to come to the med ward?"

"No," Obi-Wan replied. "I'll go and find her myself. Thank you, doctor."

As soon as he was out in the corridor he sank into the Force, searching through the currents for the unique signature which belonged to her.

The location surprised him.

Silently he opened the door to the quarters, stepped through and closed them behind him with the Force. He paid no more than a glance to the surroundings, even though this was the first time he had visited the quarters assigned to him since arriving onboard. No, his concern was for the woman whom he quickly found, lying in his bed.

As he sat down upon the mattress before her, she opened her eyes, the slight flinch of her back causing him to inquire, "why aren't in the med ward, milady?"

"I wanted to see you," Padmé replied softly. "I thought you would prefer to heal yourself."

He couldn't help but smile at that admission, another sign of how well they knew each other. "I do," he confirmed. "I have no desire to trouble others, particularly in such circumstances as these. But you should be in the med ward. The last time I saw those cuts they looked deep and painful."

"It's just a scratch," she protested, moving to sit up. But the wounds across her back caused her to grimace in pain, belying her previous protest.

Rapidly he rose from the bed to climb behind her. She moved forward, allowing him sit comfortably, cautiously raising a hand to place her hair over her shoulder so he could study the injuries properly.

The cuts did not appear to be as deep as he had imagined them to be when he first saw them. He flinched as he recalled her scream at the pain which they incurred, the damage they were doing to her beautiful skin. Breathing in deeply, he focused himself into something approaching a jedi medic.

"I better attend to these myself before they get infected," he murmured.

She felt him brush her side as his hand reached down to his belt and retrieved something. A laser cutter as she discovered when he began to use it against what was left of her top. When he was done, she lifted her arms from the bed and slid the remainder off chest, adjusting the sheet she rested under for dignity's sake. Then she felt the warmth emanating from his hand as it hovered about her scratches, a quiet gasp escaping her as he used the Force to restore her skin.

Only when it was over did his hand conquer the distance and touch her. She turned to face him, about to thank him with softly spoken words and a kiss, but then she noticed the deep far away look of his blue grey eyes. While his hand caressed her, the mind was not aware of such movement, but somewhere else. At the fight with Dooku no doubt, reflecting on his decisions, his actions and the dubious nature of the results. She still had yet to hear a full account of it from him, but she knew the direction which his thoughts were taking right now. Her hand went to his face and caressed his cheek, halting his absent exploration and bringing the mind back to her.

"Obi-Wan, it was not your fault," she said softly.

He blinked at her, clearly not expecting such words to come from her. "How do you know I was thinking that?"

"Because I know you," she replied. "You did enough, more than enough. Anakin is his own person, rash, reckless and impulsive when his blood is up. And Yoda values the two of you too much to ignore your safety during a fight. He probably blames himself for failing to defeat Dooku, just as Dooku's underhand methods enabled his escape. Do not blame yourself, love. Others are culpable, not you."

She could see the protest form in his eyes, but before a word escaped his mouth she had covered it with her own. Idle hands became active once more, as he tangled one in her hair while moving the other in a wondrous journey across her skin. Deftly she managed to turn round in his arms, slipping herself underneath the sheet which no longer protected her dignity, all the while her lips not leaving his. Pressing herself against him, she strove to bring his mind away from the horrors which occupied them only hours ago, into the pleasure she was sure their first intimate union would ultimately bring.

When he felt her front ripen against him, Obi-Wan pulled away, breathing deeply. His eyes sought Padmé's, waiting. When her brown pupils met his; passion, desire and love clearly apparent, he didn't need to ask if she was sure and neither did Padmé for the emotions were equally reflected in his blue gaze.

She began to undress him, untying the belt and parting the tunic. His hands lingered down her back, a slow caress, briefly pausing to ease the passage of his clothes down to the bed. They returned to her belt when he was as bare as she and in unison they rose upon their knees to continue the disrobing.

Dropping the last item carelessly to the floor of the ship, Padmé turned her eyes upon him eagerly to explore his physique. Amid the now slight injuries from his duel with Dooku she saw the toned body of a warrior, not one who slavishly worked hard to keep his muscles, but one who used his figure as an extension of himself, another tool in his service to the Order and the Republic. There was no vanity in her Knight, only a confidence in his manner which hid a vulnerability few were aware of. It showed in his gentleness as his lips sought hers once more, waiting always for her consent before he continued, returning the touch with the same degree of emotion as she.

He had not been idle while she surveyed him, taking the time to return the favour, and now as he sought her lips once more, Obi-Wan savoured the image in his mind, admiring the curve of waist, her slender, lithe form which she granted him the privilege of seeing. Though no stranger to the secrets of women, he still considered her to be superior than any other he had known before her, for once he left Naboo there were no others who even came close to knowing him like this. Leaving her swollen lips he moved to sample those delights now, seeking the area of her neck where her pulse betrayed the pounding of her heart, his beard mingling with a lock of long brown hair, which, thanks to his curious hands, now hung free of any adornment or restraint around her.

A gasp escaped her lips as he nipped at the skin, and Padmé let her own hands grow curious, exploring the planes of his smooth chest upwards to his neck before caressing the shoulders to finish upon his back and in his long reddish blond hair. She remembered the short cropped style he sported when she first knew him, with the little ponytail shaped like a painter's wide brush and the long thin plait which he had told her once was the mark of a Padawan, with beads for every accomplishment.

Those small trophies were in her keepsake box back at her apartment on Coruscant, given to her after his knighthood ceremony one month after he left Naboo. The plait he gave to his Master, in gratitude for choosing to train him, but it was also something she had spent most of the nights after he left until then fantasising about, picturing herself using it to pull her to him for a kiss which would rival the one she impulsively bestowed on him in Mos Espa. Now she used his new, mature and even more attractive style to keep his lips worshipping her skin.

If he had been privy to her thoughts he would have smiled, but Obi-Wan was far more agreeably occupied in worshipping her skin, his mouth journeying further down her body, setting an exquisitely slow pace, pausing over those places where his talent in the Force told him would give her the most pleasure. Her own response was equally successful in divining those sources for arousal within him, causing him to wonder if he really had heard her that moment in the landing dock, asking him not to give up hope. She told him once that she was borderline Force sensitive, but until now he had never questioned to what extent it limited or allowed her a talent in using the ancient power.

Now they were about to join in the most sacred and intimate of ways, it felt right to let that power bind them together too, for both were ancient and holy within the nature of the universe. Sinking into it's embrace, he used the Force in a journey around her body, letting follow his lips and hands, straying where it may, lingering where she wished, for immersed thus, he could hear her desire clearly.

Then she touched him, and all coherent thought left his body. Her boldness in her desires soon came to match that of her questing fingers, causing him to loose control, not just of his emotions or feelings, but even of the Force. If it were possible their connection came from something far higher than that ancient strength, older than the dawn of time, revered more than any deity the galaxy could care to name. Future movements were a series of sensations brought on by sight, smell and touch, as everything within them combined for the first time in every possible way. He felt the Force explode around them, a silent continuous chorus of pleasure impossible not to sense, which only served to confirm the naturalness of their union, as though this was not the beginning of their love, but the middle.

Afterwards he fell back against the pillows, gathering her in his arms. Padmé smiled as she nestled her head against his chest in pure contentment. She had not meant for her kiss to lead to this, but she held no regrets that it did. Reality was far superior to the numerous fantasies she had dreamed over the years while their duty allowed them few opportunities to be together. Not only did their union feel natural with no awkwardness, it also felt blissful, easy, as everything else had when they came to know each other. She was not naive in the ways of love, she knew that relationships required work, the harder the better to be considered truly worth it, but with Obi-Wan, only their duties which took them from each other's company seemed arduous.

Suddenly he used his embrace and the Force to raise her so her face was level with his own. In a voice that seemed to be as rich and as deep as the shade of blue in his eyes, he uttered two words which would irrevocably alter their lives, both personally and professionally. "Marry me."

Padmé felt she should be surprised to receive such a question, but she wasn't, far from it in fact. She needed no time to pause and reflect on her reply, for not only did her mind know as soon as his rich voice finished asking the question, that elusive feeling which she first encountered ten years ago as she watched him free her pilots on Naboo, the sensation which she was sure came from the Force, confirmed it. "Of course," she replied, causing him to smile, before kissing her.

The union of lips was brief this time, a resolution formed by both of them as they realised there were many things which needed to be aired in conversation. He began the exchange, telling her of the duel which took place in the hanger, what he had felt the moment she fell, and the words he was sure her heard her say. As with every mission he felt at liberty to recant to her, the detail was present but concise, allowing her to imagine the scene in a way which did not differ too far from the reality.

When he reached the end of the tale it was her turn, and she confirmed his suspicions that she had indeed heard those words he sent her and replied in the same manner. She went on to tell him of where she had been held, and what Anakin told her concerning his feelings.

"I can't say I'm surprised," he remarked, "but I had hoped time with his mother would lessen their intensity. Not that falling in love with you is wrong, but in his mind you are upon a pedestal, and I fear the fall from grace will be harsh, for both of you."

Padmé nodded. "Even if there had not been you, I would not allow myself to fall for him. His mind has yet to conquer his emotions, with them he is still very much the child we met ten years ago. And of course, there is what happened on Tatooine to consider."

He stilled, a feeling of dread surfacing. "What happened on Tatooine?"

Softly she relayed to him what Anakin had told her, knowing he had to be made aware of the matter, not just as one of the boy's Masters, but because Anakin's entire future in the Order would be affected by this dark event.

Obi-Wan did nothing but listen, waiting for her to finish the tale of events before he made any reply. While his outward appearance was the perfect picture of Jedi serenity, his inner mental state was anything but. He felt sick at the sound of what his apprentice had done. The betrayal caught him to the quick, for it was a betrayal, not just of Anakin, but the Order and everything he had tried to teach his Padawan.

In one night, the Chosen One had committed an act which would change him irrevocably. Even the fact that he spared one thought for the consequences did little to change the disappointment he felt at learning this. He and Qui-Gon had been so certain they could teach the boy. Now it seemed all their efforts were for naught, this dark deed the price of their arrogance. Their confidence in their teaching had failed not just the Chosen One or the Order, but Anakin himself.

Padmé saw the thoughts and emotions playing across his features despite all he did to hide them. Softly she stroked his cheek, bringing his blue gaze to rest on her. "Do not blame yourself, Obi-Wan."

"How can I not?" he countered. "This is my fault."

"Why? What could you have done to prevent this?" Padmé queried. He bowed his head, thinking how to answer her, but before a word escaped his mouth, she continued. "I have seen you with him, listened to your doubts and counselled them. If your teaching is at fault, so is mine."

He could do naught but concede at this truth, for over the years they were apart he often confided in her his uncertainties over taking a Padawan so soon after his trials. A sigh escaped his lips as he wondered aloud. "What must he be feeling? I do not even know if he will confide in me or Qui-Gon about this. He must tell us before we can help him."

"What about the Council?" Padmé asked.

"They can never learn of this," Obi-Wan replied. "As far as they are concerned, one dark deed is enough. Anakin would be expelled and lost forever, chosen one or no."

Mention of the Council immediately caused Padmé to think of what he had just asked her, and her willing response. "And what of us? Can the Council learn of us?"

"I have to ask for their blessing, a matter of tradition. But Masters and Knights are not forbidden attachment, as you know." He slipped his fingers under her chin, raising her face to meet his. "Have no fear, my love, they will approve."

"Unlike Anakin," Padmé murmured. "My fall from the pedestal may come sooner than you think, Obi-Wan."

He grimaced, a slight frown settling underneath his beard. "Telling him will be difficult, but it must be done." Silently he shook his thoughts about that conversation away, knowing it would be wise not to speculate, and better to live in the moment, as his master taught him all those years ago. "Where do you wish to marry, my love? On Naboo?"

Padmé smiled. "Yes. In Varykino, the lake country. I have a house there, I used to spend every summer enjoying it's beauties. Do you remember when you showed me the Force?" He nodded. "Well, that balcony was straight out of my memories."

"I wondered where that was," he remarked, smiling at her enthusiasm. "A small ceremony, then?"

"Yes, only friends and family. I have no desire to turn it into a HoloNet event." She turned to him teasingly. "Especially as you have yet to meet my family. At the moment they only know you as the guy whose comms cause Padmé to almost trip up in her rush to answer them."

He could not help but chuckle at the image her words put inside his mind. "I better improve their opinion of me then, when I escort you home."

Abruptly she sobered. "I never did fight the MCA. Infact, I've almost endorsed it. Cordé died in vain."

"No, she didn't," he assured her softly. "The fight was taken out of your hands long ago. A darker hand has manipulated and engineered everything to conspire for this future. The Republic is heading towards a dark abyss, and we must ensure that we're ready for it."

Chapter Text

Part 24: Confessions, Promotions.

"Masters," Obi-Wan bowed gracefully before the two Councillors after he entered their meeting room. Yoda was upon his usual chair, while Mace was standing before one of the large plasteel windows, which displayed views of the capital. The Korun Master ushered him to join his stance.

"Where is your apprentice?" he asked.

"Undergoing the first of his physical therapy sessions," Obi-Wan replied. "He's anxious to return to active duty, but I would rather he had some leave in light of his mother's death."

"Granted that will be," Yoda decided. "But not for long. The shroud of the dark side has fallen. Begun, the Clone War has."

Obi-Wan bowed his head. "The information Senator Amidala and I discovered on Kamino serves to darken that war even further."

"We read your report," Mace informed him, turning from the plasteel. "It is troubling that someone has planned our demise. The Order's numbers have been diminishing too much of late, and the battle on Geonosis has only worsened matters."

"Plan for such a future, we must," Yoda proposed. "Small the Order has become, despite Master Qui-Gon's efforts. Too many Jedi we have lost."

"Is Skywalker ready for the Trials?" Mace asked Obi-Wan.

"There is little else that Qui-Gon and I can teach him," he answered carefully, knowing that the Masters had asked him here to ensure he had no objection when the motion was declared before a full Council session. "Anakin believes that he is ready. I see no reason to hold him back from realising his dream, other than what happened on Tatooine."

"Powerful wave of darkness he endured," Yoda murmured. "Regret he does now. Amends he wishes to make. Jedi he will be, too soon or no."

"Many Padawans will realise the Trials sooner than we would wish because of yesterday," Mace remarked, understanding Obi-Wan's doubts.

"Vital to the future Skywalker is," Yoda murmured. "As are you, Master Obi-Wan. Join the Council you will."

Obi-Wan gasped, surprised at the unlooked for offer. "Masters, I am honoured, but are you sure? I know that I haven't been the conventional Jedi..."

"Agreed a long time ago this was," Yoda interrupted. "A great Jedi you will become. Foreseen it I have. Strong runs the Force in your family."

"Speaking of family," Obi-Wan turned to face both of them. "I have asked Senator Amidala to marry me, and she has accepted. I now seek the Council's blessing."

"Granted, Master Obi-Wan," Yoda uttered with a grin, and Mace broke into a rare smile too before adding his consent with a nod. "Only the second Councillor to form an attachment. Make sure you are not the last, we must."

"When do you plan to have the ceremony?" Mace asked him.

"Very soon," Obi-Wan replied. "I hope to escort Padmé back to Naboo, and we will marry then. Of course, if the Order needs me, we will delay."

"Leave you may have," Yoda informed him. "But expect a long one you must not."

"I don't, Master," Obi-Wan assured him. "We are prepared for that eventuality."

"Talk with Senator Amidala we must," Yoda added. "The help of our friends in the Senate we will need regarding Kamino."

"Do not ask her to come to the Temple," Mace said, picking up from where Yoda left off. "We must be discreet in our actions for now." He waited for Obi-Wan to incline his head in acknowledgement before continuing. "When will you break the news to Anakin?"

"I mean to visit him after this meeting," Obi-Wan answered. "It is not a task I relish, but it must be done. Hopefully the news of his Trials will console him."

"Make sure he is fully prepared for them, Obi-Wan," Mace remarked. "Much of his performance within them will have an impact on his future with the Order."

Obi-Wan wondered at Mace's words as he left the Council Chamber, the meaning behind them troubling him, as he took the turbolift to the grand entrance hall before crossing that large expanse in quest of the Healers ward. Located in a relatively isolated spot of the temple, the ward possessed similar rooms to the rest of building, but with a security system which almost rivalled that placed around the crechling centre, in order to protect those patients within, and the Jedi without, from the emotional and sometimes mental and or physical trauma the former endured to bring them to that part of the ancient building.

After stepping through the small Ysalamiri barrier which created a thin Force resistant bubble between the ward and the rest of the Temple, Obi-Wan headed for the physical therapy rooms. Laid out like training salles, they were designed to aid members of the Jedi who lost their limbs in their service to the Republic, to deal with or without the replacement they were given during surgery.

His Padawan was one of the first to be given the new robotic style of replacement limbs, and from what Obi-Wan could sense, Anakin was already learning not only how to use the arm, but to tinker with it as well. He held no doubt that his apprentice's knowledge of machines probably rivalled that of the designers of the arm, but Obi-Wan was concerned as to how Anakin felt about the arm, how it would affect the rest of his life in the Order. As he came upon the salle where Anakin was training, he could see the youth practising Katas, adjusting to the additional weight of the arm both with his body and within the Force.

"Master," he cried, coming to a complete halt the moment he sensed Obi-Wan's arrival, closing his lightsaber down.

Faced with such enthusiasm, Obi-Wan hated to cause distress. But he could not afford to delay the matter any longer, as he and Padmé would leave for Naboo after the Senate declared a recess tomorrow afternoon. "I am pleased to see you coping so well, Anakin. How does the arm feel?"

"It feels good," Anakin replied, his face sobering a little. "A lesson to my impulsiveness. I shall heed to your plan next time."

Obi-Wan nodded, somewhat surprised by this show of maturity. "I have some news for you. The Council has asked me to prepare you for your trials after our leave is up."

Anakin was stunned, but only for a moment, whereupon a grin lit up his face that rivalled the one he displayed during his victory on Boota Eve. "I knew it. I knew I would be one of the youngest knights the Order has produced."

Obi-Wan frowned at the reply, but let it pass in view of what else he had to tell him. "There is more I have to tell you. Master Yoda and Master Windu have conferred a place on the Council upon me."

He was not sure how Anakin would take this piece of news, but his pupil did smile and reply positively. "I glad, Master. There is no one who deserves such an honour more. Is that all you have to tell me?"

"No, there is one more piece of news." Obi-Wan took a deep breath. "Padmé and I are getting married."

In an instant, the gladness was gone, replaced by white hot anger, mixed with a dose of incredulity. So powerful were these feelings apparent in the Force, that Obi-Wan almost stumbled under the strength of their wave.

"What?" was the first verbal response, a word said with such harshness of tone that his Master visibly flinched. "When did this happen?" he finally asked, the struggle evident in his voice. "How long have you kept this from me?"

"We've been discreet," Obi-Wan corrected gently. "The nature of our relationship was apparent, if you chose to look. We both knew how difficult this would be for you."

"I'm sure you did," Anakin scoffed.

"Anakin," Obi-Wan admonished mildly. "You know Padmé and I have been friends for a long time. You were present at the beginning and end of every field mission, where I asked for privacy while I sent a comm to her. I never hid the her identity, nor how I feel about her. We realised this affection between us ten years ago, in Mos Espa. But we held back because of our responsibilities. Now with the Clone War upon us, we realised that we can afford to wait no longer without presuming our future." He took another breath. "I know this will be difficult for you to come to terms with, but you must."

"Must I!?!" Anakin countered. "Who are you to dictate my emotions!?!"

"I am your Master," Obi-Wan replied. "And I hope, your friend. Anakin, we are worried about you. So is the Council. The state of your emotions, your inability to keep them disciplined, this is what holds you back from becoming a great Jedi. What has kept Qui-Gon and myself from declaring that you were ready for your trials earlier. You have to learn to let go of everything you are afraid to loose."

"This, coming from you," Anakin uttered. "You hypocrite. By attaching yourself to her, you're breaking the Code."

"I am not," Obi-Wan said calmly. "Attachment is forbidden, possession is forbidden. But how can you love someone and possess them? Or be attached to them? To truly love someone, is to learn to let them follow their own path, at the expense of your selfish desires. That is the foundation of every union, whoever you choose to be. I love Padmé, but if she chose not to return that affection, I would let her go, just as she would me if the situation were reversed. When she fell from the gunship on Geonosis, I knew she would be alright, I could sense such an outcome in the Force. I also knew that I should continue with doing my duty, as she would have if I had fallen. The Order does not teach us to ignore emotion, or to isolate ourselves from our feelings, but to accept them, then let them go."

Anakin drew in a breath, then abruptly seemed to calm down. "Can I go and see her? Talk to her about this?"

"Of course, you don't need to ask my permission," Obi-Wan replied. "She's in her apartment, packing for our departure."

His apprentice nodded, then walked past him silently, exiting the training salle without another word, though the state of his feelings within the Force was quite eloquent. Obi-Wan sighed as he stared after him, a mixture of emotions clouding his own mind, none of them worth dwelling upon. Closing his eyes, he sent a message to Padmé, hoping to warn her of her forthcoming visitor, and the mood he was likely to be in. When Anakin disappeared out of his sight, he left the room and went to see another patient in the healer's ward.

"Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon greeted, smiling as his former apprentice entered the room. "I was just about to return to our quarters. How are you?"

"I am well, thank you, Master," Obi-Wan replied, habit and affection keeping him from addressing his former mentor by his name. "It won't be our quarters for much longer, I'm afraid. Padmé and I are getting married."

Qui-Gon's smile grew larger before he briefly embraced his former padawan. "My congratulations, Obi-Wan. It is about time. When is to be the ceremony?"

"Not long after the Senate goes into recess," Obi-Wan replied. "I've just been to tell Anakin, who did not take the news well. Nor did I expect him to."

"Give him time, padawan mine," Qui-Gon advised. "He will come to terms with your relationship eventually."

"I will," Obi-Wan promised. "How are you? Did the healers give you any indication as to when your next stasis will be?"

"In a few months," Qui-Gon shrugged, brushing the concern aside, his usual resolve to protect his protégé, which always caused Obi-Wan to worry even more. "Come. Walk with me and tell me what else I have missed."

Padmé received a general idea of Obi-Wan's message, her sensitivity in the Force no longer heightened by danger or anxiety, but it was enough to understand who was coming, and prepare herself for his arrival. She too, had been about delivering the news of her forthcoming nuptials, first to her sister Sola over the comm, then to her staff, before preparing for her return to Naboo, and writing the general announcement for the HoloNet. Her sister, handmaidens and security officers had taken the news extremely well, the former managing to make her blush as they teased her concerning the signs of affection which they noticed, and her usual dismissive response, out of a care for being discreet.

Now all need for discretion was to be lost, for when the announcement was put on the HoloNet, the Republic would descend into a frenzy, translating the wedding into the romantic story of the age, a media circus she hoped to escape the worse of, while she and Obi-Wan celebrated their wedding in Varykino.

When Dormé gave her notice of Anakin's arrival, she was in the middle of examining the latest news from the Senate, exclaiming at Jar Jar's actions in her absence. She respected Palpatine, both as her former Senator and Chancellor, but she had no desire to grant him executive powers, especially in light of the information she and Obi-Wan discovered on Kamino. But the reports now associated her opinions with her representative, giving the motion an unlooked for and potentially alarming show of support.

"Anakin, how are you?" she asked him, taking care not to glance at his new arm. Curiosity and compassion were equal in her thoughts, along with a slight feeling of guilt that she had not arrived sooner with her reinforcements, perhaps being able to prevent this injury.

"Why didn't you tell me you were in love with him?" He thundered back at her, his volume and tone causing her handmaiden to flinch.

Padmé turned to her friend and attendant. "Dormé, could you go and oversee the packing, please?"

"Of course, milady," Dormé replied before leaving the room. Padmé waited for the doors to her bedroom to close before she turned to reply to Anakin. "Lower your voice, please, Ani. I didn't tell you, because I knew it would provoke this reaction."

He seemed to recoil at her calm response, falling into the sofa across from her. His whole posture appeared suddenly exhausted, as if he were struggling to bear the weight of the universe. "It is true then," he murmured, his hands coming to travel over his face and through his hair. "You will marry him."

"Ani," Padmé uttered gently. "I am so sorry. We knew this news would sadden you. It is why Obi-Wan and I took such pains to be discreet over the years."

He nodded, even while his mind still rebelled. "All that time after Naboo, I dreamt of you. Of living there, married to you, shut off from everything but our love. How did I not notice you and he right under my nose?"

"Your dreams can deceive you," Padmé remarked, even though his question was rhetorical. "I hope someday, you can come to terms with this, Ani. Both Obi-Wan and I will understand however if you do not wish to come to the wedding."

He moved his hands from his face to look at her, appearing somewhat composed. "When will that be?" He smiled. "I must apologise to my Master. I was too busy yelling at him to ask and offer my congratulations."

"I'm sure he understands," Padmé replied. "As for the wedding, it is too be on Naboo, as soon as possible. With the war, the Senate will not be in recess for long, and Obi-Wan will be called to the field, I imagine."

"He might not be," Anakin mused. "But I'll let him tell you that piece of news. As for me, after my leave I will take the Trials."

Padmé was shocked, but she managed to conceal it with her usual poise. "I'm glad, it is what you always wanted. But forgive me, do not Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon need to know what happened on Tatooine?"

Anakin sobered. "I will tell them, but after their leave is up. I have learned my lesson, Padmé, and I do deeply regret my actions after my mother....." he swallowed a sob, "passed away. But I will become a Jedi. I know this as well as I know my own soul."

"I'm sure you will," Padmé replied, resolving to ask her affianced about the matter when he visited her as promised later. "So, what do you intend to do with your leave?"

As the orbital mirrors rotated to allow the skies of Coruscant to gradually darken into night, the Senator from Naboo was still entertaining, her social obligations a necessary course to endure before she could justifiably leave for her home world. Various Senators commed her, with a multitude of messages, most of them invites for the numerous social events and gatherings which had been arranged as part of the political junket to occur while the Senate was in recess. Padmé pleaded her excuses to all of them, gratified that her nuptials would prevent her from attending them, for it was while she was present that her disgust for politicians would evolve on a par to rival Obi-Wan's.

When that Master of the Jedi finally arrived at her apartment, she was talking with Bail Organa, the Senator from Alderaan. Since her inception to the political arena, Bail had become a very close friend and ally, his views and stance in the Republic resembling her own, along with a character she could respect and admire for remaining unsullied by scurrilous corruption or petty self interest.

He broke into a smile as the Jedi entered the room unannounced, talking with a beaming and blushing Dormé, who, like all of her handmaidens and household staff, had fallen under the charm of the man that was soon to be the husband of her mistress. "Obi-Wan, I hear congratulations are in order."

"Thank you, Bail," Obi-Wan returned, shaking the Senator's hand, for along with Padmé and Senators Mon Mothma and Garm Bel Iblis, Bail was one of the few politicians he respected, and considered a friend, both to the Republic and to himself. "I hope you will be able to attend the wedding?"

"As I was about to inform Padmé, it depends if Breha is up to travelling." He smiled, but his face was now etched with concern for his wife's welbeing. "She and I have the fortune to be expecting again."

Obi-Wan regripped Bail's hand in compassion and support. "I hope things go well for you, old friend, this time." He knew the couple had experienced many losses, news kept from the public eye, as the Senator had no desire for sympathy votes, or unnecessary attention focused on himself and his beloved wife.

"We trust in the Force," Bail replied. "I'll let the two of you be alone now." he moved to exit the apartment.

"Bail, when you have the time, there are some friends from the old folks home who wish to speak to you, and others," Obi-Wan remarked.

The Alderaan Senator nodded. "I shall make myself free, have no fear of that. Goodnight both of you."

Padmé rose from her seat after the doors closed, Dormé leaving the couple alone to show Bail out. She made her way to Obi-Wan's side, eagerly accepting his embrace. "I have missed you, my love."

Obi-Wan kissed her hair. "And I you." He ushered her back to the sofa. "Did Anakin come and see you?"

She nodded, leaning into him as they sat down. "He took the news from me slightly better than I gather he took it from you. He also told me that he is to take his Trials."

"Yes." Obi-Wan paused, considering the conversation he had with Qui-Gon on the subject. "He hasn't told either of us what happened on Tatooine, but Master Yoda was clear that he must become a Knight. Even though he felt the wave of darkness Anakin experienced on Tatooine, as did Qui-Gon, during meditation."

"He added that you had some news too," Padmé continued. "Does it concern our wedding?"

"No, though both Mace and Yoda readily gave their blessing," he replied, dealing another kiss, this time to her lips. "They offered me a seat on the Council."

Padmé looked up at him with an overjoyed smile. "That is excellent news. I am so happy for you. Will this alter your leave?"

"I'm uncertain," he replied. "Yoda did warn me that it would not be long. But Qui-Gon told me once not be mindful of the future at the expense of the present. We must learn to savour the moment, Padmé, before the Republic enters the battlefield."

"Savour the moment?" Padmé mused with a small teasing smile. Abruptly she rose up from her seat beside him to cross the room.

"Where are you going?" Obi-Wan asked.

"To dismiss Dormé and others for the night," Padmé replied, standing before the entrance to her bedroom. "We have some moments to savour."

Obi-Wan smiled and followed her in.

Chapter Text

Part 25: Domestic Affairs.

Padmé had not expected to arrive on Naboo aboard her private cruiser, nor with Obi-Wan. Before she persuaded the members of the Jedi Council to alter the assignments, she would have been showing Anakin around the Palace, awakening the nostalgia from his memories as a child, trying to ignore the emergence of his feelings towards her, while at the same time attempting not to disappoint him with outright rejection.

Now however she was returning home not disguised as a refugee in fear of her life, but as a member of the Senate who supported the creation of the clone army, whose representative also granted the Chancellor emergency powers. The transferral of so much authority to one person worried her.

Palpatine had earned her respect a long time ago, but over the years that regard became tempered with caution, as the Trade Federation continued to escape justice and the wheels of corruption continued to turn. And she was not alone in her concern. Members of the Jedi Council agreed with her, as did some of her closest allies in the Senate, which had led to a very interesting meeting in Cantham House before she and Obi-Wan left Coruscant.

They had not been alone on the ship, Jar Jar, her handmaidens and Captain Typho accompanied them, kindly bestowing privacy, yet allowing the couple to begin what would be a gradual adjustment to the nature of their future lives. With the Senate in recess and so many of its members taking the chance to enjoy a break from politics while they could, there was no need to leave a Nubian presence on Coruscant to oversee things in her absence. Most of her household would attend her wedding, then spend time with their families, granting her and Obi-Wan a chance of privacy in Varykino before their duties recalled them to the Core.

Master Kenobi now took control of the cruiser, guiding the craft to a smooth landing in the hanger of the Palace. Padmé remembered well the last time she had been with him in the bay, stealing through the secret passages to take the droid army by surprise, ordering the pilots to their ships, trying not to worry for his or Qui-Gon's safety when the Sith revealed itself, forcing her group to take a more public route to the throne room.

Though their attack was a success, there was a part of her now that could not help but wonder if the blockade had been another cog in the dark scheme, along with the ordering of the clone army and the Separatists. She felt that so far they were only seeing pieces of the puzzle, the overall design remaining a mystery to all but the author, whoever that may be.

Disembarking from the ship with R2D2 in tow, they left Dormé, Jar Jar, Typho and the rest behind, crossing the hanger to the corridor which led to the cloistered courtyard between bay and the main rooms of the palace. Sunshine poured across the formal gardens displayed within, causing an instant smile to both their faces, banishing the dark thoughts from their minds as they embraced the quiet serenity of Theed.

Padmé led the way, Obi-Wan keeping an even pace with her, allowing both of them to take in how the sunlight made their dark brown and reddish blond hair glisten, the latter's newly trimmed and styled, a more befitting appearance for a member of the Jedi Council, though officially he would not assume his position until Anakin passed his Trials, which would take place after they were recalled back to the Core. They made an attractive couple and it was that which drew the eye of those court attendants who happened to catch sight of them as they crossed the circular cloister, not their reputations as Senator and Jedi Master.

"I had forgotten how beautiful Theed is," Obi-Wan remarked as they mounted the steps which led to the main part of the Palace.

"The way it shimmers in the sunlight - the way the air always smells of flowers and the soft sound of the distant waterfalls is almost magical," Padmé agreed. "The first time I saw the Capital, I was very young. I'd never seen a waterfall before. I thought they were so beautiful. I never dreamed one day I'd live in the palace."

Obi-Wan smiled at her, before teasingly asking, "Well, tell me, did you dream of power and politics when you were a little girl?"

Padmé laughed. "No! That was the last thing I thought of. My dream was to follow my father by working in the Refugee Relief Movement. I never thought of running for elected office. But the more history I studied, the more I realized how much good politicians could do. So when I was eight I joined the Apprentice Legislators, which is like making a formal announcement that you're entering public service here on Naboo. From there I went on to become a Senatorial Advisor where I attacked my duties with such a passion that before I knew it, I was elected Queen.

"For the most part it was because of my conviction that reform was possible. The people of Naboo embraced that dream wholeheartedly, so much so that my age was hardly an issue in the campaign. I wasn't the youngest Queen ever elected, but now that I think back on it, I'm not sure I was old enough. I'm not sure I was ready."

"I'm sure your subjects would disagree with you there," Obi-Wan said. "I remember hearing that they tried to amend the Constitution so you could stay in office."

"Truthfully, I was relieved when my two terms were up," Padmé admitted. "So were my parents. They worried about me during the blockade and couldn't wait for it all to be over. For a while I tried to please them by staying out of public service, but I could only ignore my desire to help the Republic for so long. When the Queen asked me to serve as Senator, I couldn't refuse her."

"I'm glad you didn't," Obi-Wan replied. "I doubt we would have had this reunion otherwise. We spent so much of the decade past snatching conversation between my missions with Qui-Gon and Anakin. The Order seemed to delight in sending the three of us to the outermost regions of the galaxy."

"Because they knew you could handle it," Padmé responded. "There's never been a time when we haven't needed peacemakers in the Republic."

"Negotiators is more like it," Obi-Wan judged. "Attending towards the aggressive methods rather than the pacifist."

Padmé nodded, remembering one communication between them which took place shortly after a mission requiring aggressive negotiations, Obi-Wan having to take both sides to the point of battle before they would agree to talk. "There are times when I wish for peace to reign over the galaxy forever. But I know that the ability to overcome discord and difference is a part of every life, no matter the species."

"My only hope is that our children will endure less dark times than we. But then I believe that is the wish of every parent," Obi-Wan said, catching his companion's gaze in time to see her eyes widen, for until now she had forgotten her desire for children. To have her intended speak of them so naturally was surprising, breaking a silence of ten years studied avoidance in referring to such future plans, ones they dreamed of, but never expected to be realised so soon.

An image rose in her mind of three younglings, a boy and a girl with their father's features, and another dark haired girl, the image of their mother. She saw them playing in the fields of Varykino, watched over from her position of leisure in Obi-Wan's arms. The scene filled her with a peace she'd rarely known, quieting her into a comfortable silence as they covered the remaining distance to the throne room.

In unison they bowed to Queen Jamilla, who rose from her chair to take her predecessor's hand in a firm grip of relief. "We've been so worried about you. Both of you," she added with a look to the Jedi Master. "From the reports of the attacks on Coruscant, to the account of the battle on Geonosis. To know that two of our world's heroes are safe in the midst of war is gratifying."

Padmé saw a blush grace her beloved's features, as he came to terms with the level of high regard in which he was held by all of Naboo for his actions during the blockade. As always his humility in receiving such praise did him credit. She wished there were others who accepted such compliments as he.

"Thank you, Your Highness. I only wish I could have served you better by remaining on Coruscant for the vote. Though I am not sure my voice would have made a difference, considering what Master Kenobi and I discovered on Kamino. War is always something I have hoped the Republic would avoid," she said now to her sovereign. "It is troubling to discover that someone has worked so insidiously behind the scenes to make sure all the efforts to negotiate with the Separatists were in vain."

"How many systems have joined Count Dooku and the Separatists?" Jamilla asked.

"Thousands," Padmé answered. "And more will leave the Republic now that war with them has been officially declared. No doubt systems will leave the Separatists as well, having no desire to lose lives in what they believe is a political battle."

"It is a sad day for the Republic," Governor Bibble despaired. "There hasn't been a war since the formation."

"Do you see any way through negotiations to bring the Separatists back into the Republic?" Jamilla appealed to her Senator.

"Not if they feel threatened," Padmé replied. "Already, with the help of the Trade Federation and the Commerce Guild, they have amassed an army which cost many lives of the Jedi Order. We were fortunate that someone ordered the clones from Kamino, otherwise we would not be talking now."

"The armies of commerce," Jamilla mused. "Why has nothing been done in the Senate to restrain them?"

"I am afraid that despite the Chancellor's best efforts, there are still many bureaucrats, judges and Senators on the payroll of the guilds," Padmé revealed.

"It is outrageous that after all those hearings and four trials in the Supreme Court, Nute Gunray is still Viceroy of the Trade Federation," Governor Bibble cried. "Do those money makers control everything?"

"Remember, Counsellor, the courts were able to reduce the Trade Federation's armies," Jamilla reminded them. "Which is a step in the right direction."

"However," Padmé added, "now that we are at war with the Separatists, the size of those armies will increase once more."

"The Jedi have not been allowed to investigate and bring forth proof of their illegal activities," Obi-Wan informed them. "We were told that it would prove dangerous to the economy."

"We must keep our faith in the Republic," Jamilla remarked. "The day we stop believing democracy can work is the day we lose it."

"Let's pray that day never comes," Padmé agreed.

"And now, I believe congratulations are in order," Jamilla continued. "I had an audience with your father yesterday. Your parents are eager to meet your betrothed."

"They shall have that opportunity today," Padmé replied. "We plan to go there as soon as my duties are finished here."

"In that case let us make sure such duties are finished as soon as possible," Jamilla proposed with a smile.

Despite Jamilla's declaration it was not until the afternoon that the couple were able to leave the court for the residential district of Theed. The Naberrie house was located in a side street, the stonework of the house flourished with native wild flowers in concealed trellises, conveying the impression that the building had grown out of the earth it was erected upon, its appearance the product of a fairytale of knights and damsels in distress.

Padmé had barely reached the staircase which ascended to the door before two little girls of six and four came running down the stairs, taking care not to ruin their dresses. Brunette and blond, the nieces were little miniatures of their Aunt who Obi-Wan came to a halt to observe as she cried aloud their names and bent down to hug them when they reached the last step. He could not help but smile at the reunion, his mind imagining another in the future, only with their own offspring.

"Ryoo, Pooja, meet Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi," Padmé said after she released the two younglings, whose brown eyed gazes settled on the desert robe cloaked man that now came to stand beside their Aunt.

She watched as Obi-Wan knelt down to meet them, taking their tiny hands gently in his own large ones, his Coruscanti accent soft and warm, a smile gracing his features even as his mouth moved. Within moments the girls were charmed into easiness, chattering to their Uncle until he suggested they went to wake up Artoo, who had accompanied them, whereupon they laughed and left the Jedi to rise up so he could join their Aunt in ascending the stairs.

They entered to find the occupants gathered in the dining room, Padmé's sister emerging from the kitchen to cross the passage before them, her hands holding a large bowl of food.

"They're eating over at Jev Narran's later, Mom," Sola said over her shoulder in the direction of the room she had just left. "They just had a snack. They'll be fine." She smiled at her sister, and set the bowl down on the table before turning to greet her. "Padmé, you're late. Mom was worried."

"The Queen wanted a briefing of the current situation," Padmé explained. "Obi-Wan, this is my sister, Sola."

"Hello, Jedi Kenobi," Sola said, holding out her hand, which he took after he had inclined his head in greeting. "It's nice to finally meet you in person, instead of across comways."

"And you," Obi-Wan replied. "Please, call me Obi-Wan."

Sola nodded before leading the way into the dining room, where two other men rose from the chairs to welcome the visitor. "Obi-Wan, these are my husband Darred Janren, and my father Ruwee."

"Honoured to meet you both," Obi-Wan remarked, shaking their hands in turn.

"Mom's making dinner," Sola explained. "As usual your timing's perfect. Though I doubt you've been starving all the way from Coruscant."

Padmé smiled knowingly. "Enough to feed the whole town?"

"You know Mom," Sola remarked. "I don't know if my baby sister has told you, Obi-Wan, but no one has ever left this house hungry."

"Well one person did once," Padmé added, "but Mom chased him down and dragged him back in."

"To feed him or to cook him?" Obi-Wan queried wryly, causing everyone to chuckle.

"And this is my mother, Jobal," Padmé added as Jobal came in also bearing a large serving bowl, whose appearance resulted in the laughter increasing, until Jobal's imposing stare quieted everyone.

"You're just in time for dinner," Jobal remarked by way of greeting. "I hope you're hungry, Obi-Wan."

"A little," he replied.

"He's being polite, Mom," Padmé said smiling at him. "We're starving."

"Then you came to the right place at the right time," Ruwee remarked, gesturing for all of them to sit at the table.

"Honey, it's so good to see you safe," Jobal uttered as they began passing the serving bowls around. "We were so worried."

"Dear..." Ruwee began with a sigh.

She brushed him off. "I know, I know, but I had to say it. Now it's done."

"I was perfectly safe, Mom," Padmé assured her. "I had my Jedi protector to watch over me," she added with a smile directed at Obi-Wan, who readily returned the gesture.

Ruwee glanced at his prospective son-in-law. "Was she in danger?"

"She was," Obi-Wan replied honestly. "Her position in the Senate brings her many enemies, as you know. But she will not come to be harmed by them while she is my care, I promise you."

"Thank you," Ruwee said. "Now, when did this engagement come about? I thought the Jedi were forbidden attachment."

"It is true, we once were," Obi-Wan confirmed. "But some years ago the Master who trained me debated with the Council to extend the exception made to Corellian Jedi and Master Ki-Adi-Mundi concerning attachment. He was successful, but the majority of the Order still cling to that rule. It is something which will need to be encouraged to occur more often, with what happened on Geonosis."

"Obi-Wan and I decided ten years ago that we wanted a relationship, but it wasn't until after Geonosis that he asked me," Padmé added, blushing as she remembered how he did venture the question. "We were thinking of having the ceremony in the house at Varykino, during our stay here."

"That soon?" Jobal echoed, surprised. "It does not leave us long to prepare the ceremony, honey."

"Neither of us want a large service," Padmé explained. "Simple and quiet, with only close friends and family. The war will call Obi-Wan back to the Core soon, and myself when the Senate ends its recess. This is the only time which will suit."

"Then after this meal, we shall begin making the preparations," Jobal added with a smile.

"Sometimes I wish I'd traveled more," Ruwee confessed to Obi-Wan as they walked about the gardens after dinner, "but I must say, I'm happy here."

"Padmé tells me you teach at the university?" Obi-Wan inquired. "That must be very rewarding."

Ruwee nodded. "Yes, and before that, I was a builder. I also worked for the Refugee Relief Movement when I was very young."

"Are all Naboo interested in public service?"

"Naboo is generous," Ruwee replied. "The planet, I mean. We all have what we want. All that we could want. Food is plentiful, the climate is comfortable, the surroundings are beautiful. We are a very fortunate people and we know it. That good fortune should not be taken for granted, so we try to share and try to help. It is our way of saying that we welcome the friendship of those less fortunate, that we do not think ourselves to that which we have, but rather, that we feel blessed beyond what we deserve.

"And so we share and so we work, and in doing so, we become something larger than ourselves, and more fulfilled than one can become from idly enjoying good fortune." He turned to regard his companion with a careful gaze. "From what I hear, the Jedi are even less inured to privilege, yet they exercise the same service."

"Privilege is a relative term," Obi-Wan remarked. "Though we sacrifice our birth family and homeworld when we enter the Order, we are not denied food, shelter, money, comfort, or technology. It is because of the tendency to keep most of the traditions within our Order private, almost to the point of secrecy, that few outside the Jedi perceive the luxuries and privileges we possess. The Force has provided us with a rare gift, which we train hard to make the most of, which in turn helps the galaxy we strive to serve and protect."

"Such as those whom we love?" Ruwee ventured, a searching question from a devoted father.

Obi-Wan nodded. "I know I am probably the last man you would expect your daughter to marry, sir, but I love her. I always have, from the moment we first came to know each other on Tatooine. I am humbled, gratified and honoured that she returns my affections, and understands the hardships our married life will endure."

"Actually, you are exactly the man I expected my daughter to choose," Ruwee remarked. "Padmé has always been someone destined to help others. She has found her place in the world, earlier than most do, and despite all the dangers such a position incurs, I know she would be saddened to leave it. I also know that she could never truly fall in love with someone unless they possessed the same selfless desire to help as she. I will be honoured to gain such a son in law as you."

Obi-Wan could only incline his head in silent gratitude, his emotions too full for anything else.

"Is this you?" Obi-Wan asked, as his curious eyes caught sight of the holoframes which spanned some of one wall of Padmé's bedroom.

Night had settled over Theed a few short hours ago, the skies around the Naberrie home darkening gradually, warmed by the soft glow of the wall lamps of each room. After dinner, the family had retired to the living room, where conversation was filled with wedding plans until Sola and Darred took their family home, giving the engaged couple an excuse to retire themselves for privacy.

Padmé moved from her wardrobe and nodded. "That was when I went with the relief group to Shadda-Bi-Boran. Their sun was imploding, and the planet was dying. I was helping to relocate the children. See that little one I'm holding? His name was N'a-kee-tula, which means sweetheart." she sighed regretfully. "He was so full of life. All those kids were. They were never able to adapt to life off their native planet."

Obi-Wan sobered, turning to another holoframe. "And this one?"

"My first day as an Apprentice Legislator," Padmé replied. "Notice the difference?"

He turned, catching sight of her nightgown for the first time. Unlike the simple white shift she had worn at her apartment on Coruscant, this was made of Nubian silk, white with delicate embroidered flourishes and thin sleeve straps. As before, the material completely covered her modesty, yet the look in her dark brown eyes as she gazed into his own conveyed a sight which was equally just as alluring. Around her neck the necklace he gave her in Mos Espa hung, the purple contrasting with white.

That moment on Coruscant was disturbed by Anakin's return, who knows where that kiss might have led if they were alone. But now there would be no such interruptions. Without another word he took her into his arms, the touch of his lips to hers ending all further conversation for the rest of the night.

Chapter Text

Part 26: The Storm Upon The Outskirts.

When Obi-Wan woke the next morning it took only the sight of the woman in his arms to bring everything about himself into clarity. For a moment he just stared at her, not thinking of anything, then he tore his gaze away to settle on the window, where through the mesh curtains he could see the Nubian sun slowly emerging above the horizon.

It had been several days since he had taken a moment to pause and reflect on everything that happened recently. Geonosis and the consequences for the Republic aside, his life was about to change forever. Yesterday he experienced something he had never known; family life. To ascribe the same word to the Order was to assign a difference to the concept. Jedi were mostly monastic, their only companion, only attachment, was the Force. They were raised from a young age to respect their comrades, justice, morals, truth, and the Force, but they were not taught to regard such things as constant, as he witnessed most families doing so.

Everything fades in time, he had said as much to Anakin only days ago. Yet, he realised now that he had been wrong, for there was one thing about his life which had never faded, his love for Padmé. From the moment he realised his feelings for her, the emotion was set deep inside himself, never to degrade. He was aware of what the code taught him about emotions, but this love somehow went beyond such connotations. The closest thing he could ascribe it to was the Force, for once he was aware of it, the being had never left him.

Like the woman he held in his arms, the Force would change, as he would change, adapting to new skills, to new events, warning him of the approaching storm he would soon be swept up in, but it would remain, always within him. To love Padmé was the same as saying he was a Jedi; the feeling defined him as surely as the Order once had. He knew what could happen to her, the dangers she was in, not only as leader of the opposition, but also as a senator, and as a woman. To deny that he would not fear these outcomes was to deny that love, yet he also knew that he was not all powerful, that there were things he could not fix. Loosing her was something he could not prevent, for she was not his to loose. She was her own person, who chose to love him, and for that he would always be grateful.

He had not realised until recently, that Qui-Gon taught him a valuable lesson aboard the Trade Federation ship ten years ago. He was mindful of the future, but not at the expense of the present. To really love someone was to savour every moment spent with them, good or bad. Fearing what the future would do to them would destroy that love, which would never die, even if the person did.

Padmé shifted minutely in her sleep, causing his gaze to switch from the sunrise back to her. The knowledge that she returned his affection still possessed the ability to astound him, even now. She could have anyone, yet she had chosen to share her life with him, fully understanding the hardships they would endure, the separation rendered by their duties in the Republic. The perception with which everyone who did not know them would view and judge their union through.

Marriage within the Jedi on Coruscant was rarely acknowledged. Master Ki-Adi-Mundi had four wives due to the customs of his endangered race, but neither they or his children ever visited the Core. A union of Jedi and Senator would be a very public sight, however discreet he and Padmé endeavoured to be. But perhaps it would challenge the current perception of the Republic, the distant regard with which Jedi and Senators were held. Or those within the Order who still regarded marriage as an incompatible concept would come to see that the benefits far outweighed the change to one's previously solitary existence. Whatever happened, they would accept it, never letting the judgement and opinions affect them, for they were who they were, nothing could change that.

For him, love had never been as alien as perhaps it was to the rest of the Order. Qui-Gon was an unconventional Master, outwardly stern and distant, a hard taskmaster, but in their private moments, he was the closest person to being a father that Obi-Wan had ever known. Their beginning may have been rocky, uncertain in the wake of Bandomeer, and when they endured a bad time after the events of Melida/Daan, but the regard had never faded.

Qui-Gon taught him the value of love after that crisis when he returned to the Order, a conversation which ultimately set him apart from every other Jedi, which made him unconventional, but still highly respected in an Order slow to change. While he acknowledged it, he never took it for granted, nor let affect who he was, for such arrogance was never in his nature. Love gave him Qui-Gon and Padmé, he knew their worth, and he would be forever grateful for it. The relationship he had with his master he had tried to pass on when he trained Anakin, but for some reason or another, it never quite truly worked. Anakin was a brother, a comrade, not a son.

Now there was a very real possibility that he would become a father as well as a husband. During their talks over the comm, he had come to learn of Padmé's desire to have a family, a notion as inherent to her as her service to Naboo and the Republic. It was something which he had never expected, nor loath or desired, simply because until Padmé came into his life, the possibility had never occurred to him. He was familiar with children, it was hard not to be in the Order, for the Jedi encouraged everyone to establish a healthy rapport with every living creature within the universe, making sure each Jedi volunteered in every part of Temple and field life, from crèche to grave. Still, he could not deny that a part of him was unsure how he would deal with his own.

The difficult moments in his relationship with Anakin, notably his failure to teach him to realise his full potential weighed upon his mind, even as Yoda declared the boy ready to take the Trials. He recalled how Qui-Gon had taken the news of Anakin's actions on Tatooine after the death of his mother. Apparently the wave of dark emotions had been felt by him and Master Yoda. Yet, while they agreed it was something to be concerned about, the act was not a barrier to Anakin's knighthood, after the Order had lost so many on Geonosis. Obi-Wan wished he could ask Anakin about the matter, but unless the boy admitted it, he would be invading his privacy, and the query would undoubtedly damage their relationship.

He was still unsure that Anakin was ready for the Trials, the boy could still be an enigma at times, unable to conceal his emotion, to discipline himself, to lose his recklessness. But then he had been like that during the last year of his padawnship, and he had never lost someone as close to him as Anakin had, so he could not judge the boy unready because of a such a dark act. Ultimately it was something he would have to monitor, from his position on the Council.

The Council. It was an honour which he had never looked for, an ambition which he had never possessed. When he thought of all the Masters within the Order, all those upon the Council, he did not imagine himself to be on par with their wisdom or their skill. At his core he was simple knight, a servant of the Republic, a man, nothing more. Yet, just as Qui-Gon had asked him to train Anakin and he pledged to do so, the Council asked, and he would obey, taking the office they presented before him. As he would serve in the war which the Republic was plunged into now.

He could not help but display a grimace at the thought of it. Aggressive negotiations were the last resort in the Order, despite all the preparation undertaken in learning lightsaber skills. Too lately combat had become the norm in carrying out justice for the Republic, the first solution instead of the last. Now he knew that someone had planned for this ten years ago, and the deception chilled him. The timing was all too convenient, the prime suspect all too obvious to be key in this complex web. Strands were missing, evidence they badly need to prove to a blinded Republic the truth. Evidence which would have to be gathered, which would take time, and he doubted that there would be enough.

A stirring in the Force caused him to realise that Padmé was close to waking. For the first time a doubt concerning their actions occurred to him. Was it really wise to marry while the Republic was sliding into the war, while the darkness beckoned towards them from the horizon? Logic told him to protect her by delaying this union once more, yet he could not find the will within himself to do so. If now was too late, then so was a decade ago, when they had just begun to love each other. To delay would be to misunderstand Qui-Gon's advice aboard the Trade Federation ship. Together they would be mindful of the dark future that was to come, but not at the expense of the moment.

"You're thinking," she murmured, her brown eyes blinking as they adjusted to the light of the dawn streaming into the room.

The oddity of her greeting made him smile. "A dreadful habit of mine. Something you'll have to remind me not to do, milady."

Now it was her turn to smile. "I thought we were beyond titles, Master Jedi."

"Milady is one title you will never loose," he answered, looking at her steadily. "There's always been something about you which demands that term to spring forth, no matter what disguise you wear."

Padmé laughed. "But there's never been a disguise when I'm with you, Obi-Wan. Easiness, comfort, safety, above all love, but never masks. I remember thinking after I first saw you glance at me in the grounds of the Palace all those years ago. That one look laid open my soul, and there was no going back." She turned, causing him to still, reminding himself to breathe as she adjusted her pose in his arms. "Now, I worry that you have begun to doubt that we should do this."

He bowed his head, accepting the truth in her memory and her words. But he would not lie, he never could, to her. "I did doubt that we should be doing this. But what we found out on Kamino has made me realise it is too late for doubts."

She nodded. "It was always too late." Her hand brushed his chin, returning his pupils to her own. "But I don't want to spend another decade of just snatched conversations, never knowing when, or if, we can see each other again. I want the memory of this," she kissed him, the depth and power in such a brief touch surprising him, "to sustain those absences, to sustain the certainty that whatever happens you will always return."

"I can't promise that, my love," he reminded her gently. "I'm not all powerful. No one in this universe is, not even the Force. Everything fades, even the stars burn out."

To hear him repeat the words she said to Anakin back in the cells on Geonosis convinced her that she had made the right choice, not that there had ever such an option for her heart in the first place. "I know, yet I cannot shake that certainty from myself. In some shape or form, you have always been there."

Obi-Wan's reply was just as sincere. "As have you."

"How can you be so calm?" Sola asked as she carefully shook the folds from the veil before placing the garment upon her sister's head.

Padmé let her hand caress the material, another smile gracing her face. "I just am. Weren't you when you married Darred?"

Sola shook her head. "No, and well you know it. I was a nervous wreck."

Her sibling smiled as she recalled that occasion. "I thought that was because you were worried the journalists would discover my presence there and blast the ceremony across the HoloNet."

"That scenario never even crossed my mind," Sola replied, to which her sister just smiled again, infuriating her all the more. "Please, tell me. Is it him? Has he used a Jedi mind trick on you?"

"No, that only works on the weak minded," Padmé explained. "But yes, it is him. I knew this day would come, from the moment we first came to know each other. I may not have imagined the ceremony or the length of time, but I knew our lives would unite like this." She sighed as Sola frowned. "I'm probably not making myself clear. His love calms me. It is as simple as that."

"Well, at least there is one calm in your life," Sola remarked as she secured the final pin and stepped away. "There, finished."

Padmé rose from her seat to survey the dress and veil in a full length mirror. This gown was part of Naberrie heritage, worn by every bride within the family. Some day it would be Ryoo who stood here, and Pooja, and her own children, in the dressing room of the house in the Lake Country, not far from the balcony where her knight was waiting for her. Recalling the words he uttered to her only this morning, the last time she was able to speak with him freely before they were swept away into a whirlwind of traditions for this short, yet life changing ritual, she knew that her wish for her children, even for her nieces to wear this gown was just that in the face of the approaching darkness.

Learning Jedi philosophy however was easier than living by it, something else he had once said to her, when he was only a little older than she was now, attempting to comfort her after she heard the forged transmission concerning the fate of her invaded homeworld, sent in an effort to trace her. Yet, she could not help feeling the truth in her reply to him, for she did feel the certainty of their survival with him, that their love would remain, even when the stars burned out. Her hand went to the piece of jewellery around her neck, the gift from Obi-Wan while they wandered through Mos Espa. The gemstones complimented the gown beautifully, almost as if the necklace was intended to be worn with it.

"It is time," her father said and she turned to face him, walking away from the mirrors to stand beside him. She saw the tears in his eyes, the myriad of emotions he felt in giving her away, without needing him to say a word.

Keeping her own silence, she squeezed the hand which reached out for hers, the look she returned him just as eloquent as his own, before they exited the room, to walk the short distance to balcony, where she would face her light in the darkness.

Obi-Wan felt her brief pause upon the threshold, and he turned, meeting her gaze. He did not need confirmation from the Force that this was right, that everything in his life had prepared him for this moment, he knew it already. Behind and before him, the holy man, friends and family invited to attend, faded from his vision, even from his ability to sense them through the Force, leaving only her, vivid in the detail. Yet he could find nothing with which to describe her appearance, even beautiful was an inadequate word. He felt certain that in years to come he would recall the way the lace clung to her skin, the way the veil crowned her hair, the simplicity and the purity which her whole form always seemed to convey. And he would call her beautiful, say that he loves her, but these words would never hope to convey all of his feelings, none ever could.

She joined him within moments, her father placing the slender smooth hand he held in his callused one, hardened by frequent lightsaber use. Her bowed head gazed upon that union, then rose to meet his blue eyes with her brown ones, as they waited patiently for the holy man before them to solemnise another joining, the ritual confirmation of what their instincts told them a long time ago.

Their ears heard the words of the priest, their minds understood the symbolic meaning behind them, yet somehow, their souls were not there to register them. Instead they were upon the stone floor within the memory of that balcony, as she recalled it ten years ago when he first described to her the nature of the Force. Where everything from themselves to the flowers which crested the trellises, to the stone panelling upon the ground, to the clouds within the sky, glowed in a halo of light. When he had taken her in his arms, and with a voice soft by her ear uttered, "See that storm upon the outskirts?"

Padmé turned, not towards the sky, but to the empty chairs signifying the guests present at their union. Yet they were not empty. Masters Windu, Jinn and Yoda were in three, not far from where they stood. And further back was Anakin, solemn and grave, trying to be happy for the woman he claimed to love, but failing abysmally, for across his face there was displayed a mixture of emotions, none of them good.

Even further back stood another figure, his features cowled from her vision, yet her mind told her that she knew him, whispering a name she refused to accept, for now. A dark cloud surrounded his form, blue lightning crackled across his figure, the sound unbearably loud, breaking the comfortable peace between them.

"So this is how liberty dies," she heard herself say, "with thunderous applause."

"Padmé," Obi-Wan uttered, and she turned to face him. "Everything fades. Even the stars burn out. The dark is generous and it is patient and it always wins, but in the heart of its strength lies its weakness: one lone candle is enough to hold it back. And love is more than a candle. Love can ignite the stars."

Behind them the lightning crackled, breaking into shards of bright, blinding light.

Chapter Text

Part 27: Oasis.

The storm began as evening fell on Varykino, the natural conclusion to an unusually warm day in such a temperament climate as this. Clear droplets cascading down from a still blue sky, pouring down the windows, producing a vibrating hum as they bounced upon the ground. Increasing as to intensity and density, it turned flowers into fountains, stone floor balconies into stream basins, and the Senator of Naboo into a young girl who laughed as she eagerly held her hands out to welcome the drops on her skin, as it soaked her back-less pastel gown and her long dark hair. The material clung to her figure, outlining every curve, crowned by the dark gentle curled tresses, both of which glistened in the light from the villa.

"Padmé," Obi-Wan called out from the threshold of the room which led to the balcony, "you'll catch your death!"

She turned to him and laughed. "No, I won't. Come out, the view is glorious!"

To her surprise, instead of continuing to urge caution, he joined her outside, his arms coming to rest loosely around her waist as she twirled before him.

"Yes, it is," he murmured, but his blue grey eyes were only looking at her.

Padmé gazed up at him as the rain fell on his newly trimmed reddish blond hair, down his face into his beard, and then she forgot the rain pouring down her clothes and his, her hair and his, for the sound was lost in the midst of her pounding heart and his, as they kissed. It began as gently as the ones before, until their lips parted to taste, whereupon they began drinking each other in as if discovering an oasis in the midst of a desert world.

Their clothes were soaked but they made an adequate blanket. He laid her down gently upon them, his lips never leaving hers. Despite the weather they slowed the pace, knowing the mutual need to savour each facet of a moment which would never come again. To capture within their memories the way the rain drops briefly rested on her skin and his, the touches which caused each bite of pleasure, how soft her skin felt under the caresses of his callused hands, how smooth his felt under hers, the combination of tenderness and passion in which he took her, the look in her eyes and his as they became one.

Afterwards they hurried inside, Padmé watching him as he used the Force to fetch his cloak and towels, plucking the former out of the air to wrap around her, his hands lingering at the edges which rested below her face. He returned her gaze, a silent vow never verbalised before abruptly breaking away to hand her a towel and take one himself.

She watched him as she dried her hair, awed by the amount of passion hidden under his Jedi facade. She had seen him fight with such deadly precision, now she had received such devout love and here he stood calmly drying his hair. Padmé cast her eyes over him, noting his toned strength gained from years of combat training, the tight reign he was keeping on his desires, which she blushed to see the evidence of. They had been married mere hours ago, known each other for ten years, yet everything about him seemed new and wondrous to her, just as she realised from his burning gaze that it was the same of her to him.

He turned to her, catching her look, and his movements slowed. The towel fell to the floor as he came towards her, and with a swift elegant movement swept her into his embrace. Her towel and then his cloak dropped to the floor in rapid succession.

They left the jumbled mess in the wake of their journey to the bed where he lay her down with infinite care and grace, and she pulled him on top of her with an understated rush. Skin met skin in an effort to sate desires both knew would never tire, despite the inability to restrain the urgency they felt in uniting them. Shyness and hesitancy due to this new depth of intimacy between them had long since given way to boldness, though the initiator always carried out an eloquent search within their gaze for consent before going following through. Always the inquiry would prove needless for refusal was never given, but manners were too much a part of their natures to rescind even when they were alone.

Afterwards he would gather her into his arms, a brief pause to savour what had passed between them, to relish in the knowledge that many more such intimate unions would now be a frequent part of their lives together.

"Did you have any suitors after I was gone?" he asked her, suddenly curious.

She shook her head, the motion tickling his chest with her dark brown tresses. "Not after you were gone. Before, when I was in the last years of the Apprentice Legislature. His name was Palo. He had dark curly hair, dreamy eyes..."

"I get the picture," he remarked, his hand brushing the curves of her breasts, almost as if to remind her of his presence. "What happened?"

"He went on to become an artist, and I was elected Princess of Theed." She turned her head slightly to look at him. "What about you? Was there anyone while you waited for me?"

"No one after you," he replied, "but two before you. When I was thirteen, Qui-Gon and I were sent to mediate with the elders and youth of Melida/Daan."

"I remember hearing about the rebellion," Padmé said. "What happened?"

"The youth cause became important to me," he answered. "Before I realised it, I started questioning everything I had worked so hard to achieve. Then I met Cerasi. She was beautiful, passionately concerned for her people, eloquent, intelligent. I told Qui-Gon that I loved her and wanted to leave the Order for her, for there was no way a Jedi could marry then, let alone a Padawan, especially one so young as I. For I was young, too young to understand what I wanted. Or what I felt. She died in my arms during the battle."

Padmé brushed the back of his hands with her own, silently offering condolences. "And the other?" she asked.

"Qui-Gon and Yoda allowed me to rejoin the Order. A few years later I was reunited with a friend, Siri Tachi. We'd always felt a brief attraction, and when Qui-Gon was haranguing the Council over extending the Corellian experiment, we entertained the possibility of having a closer relationship. But the attraction I felt faded the moment I laid eyes on you." He smiled, remembering the moment. "When I wanted to kiss your neck after I fastened that necklace on you, I knew you were in my heart, even though it was hardly proper for me to feel such emotions for a girl eleven years my junior back then."

She smiled at having her suspicions about that moment in their past confirmed. "Age was never a pause for thought for either of us. Our hearts were in too deep before we learned to practise caution. Is she still in the Order?"

"Yes, she and her Padawan are on a field mission, which is why she did not come with Bant, Reeft and Garen to the ceremony."

"That reminds me, something odd occurred then," and she went on to describe the vision she saw in her mind whilst they stood before the holy man.

Obi-Wan stilled as he came to understand the symbolism contained within. "Let's pray it was a warning," he murmured. "And the end means that the light will triumph over the storm which is coming."

Then he kissed her, driving the vision and every other thought out of her mind.

"I'd like to bring our children here," Padmé remarked, "if we can."

Obi-Wan turned his gaze upon her, unable to do naught but admire the contented picture she presented to him as she lay in his lap within the fields near the waterfalls of Varykino. Sunlight caressed everything from the droplets within the fountains and pools to the dew drying blades of grass they and the remains of their picnic rested upon. As it caressed her tanned arms and pale yellow flower embroidered dress, the same one she had worn when she presented him with a proposal ten years ago in the palace at Theed, along with the parts of her brown hair not sheltered by his face or arms, or the clasped weaved nets.

"How many do you want?" He asked her.

"Three," she answered promptly. "That was how many I imagined when you first mentioned them. Two girls and a boy running about these fields while you and I watched them as we are now."

Strands of her recollection drifted into his mind, making him smile. "We shall, whenever our leaves permit."

"Can you raise and teach your own children?" Padmé inquired.

"The Corellian Jedi do, so I see no reason why not," Obi-Wan replied. "Though it might be wise for them to know the ways of the Temple, the war could insure our absence frequently."

She didn't need to query his assumption concerning the length of the war, they had been delaying the conflict so long, years of battles seemed inevitable. Not for the first time she wondered what impact their absences would have on their children. "How do you feel about that?" she asked him.

"I cannot ignore that it will have an effect on them," he replied. "But I hope it will not be too long. It will never change my feelings for them, though, or for you."

Padmé knew it would not, even before he spoke such assurance. "Sometimes I feel selfish for taking this time now."

Obi-Wan nodded in agreement. "I don't know if there is much else we can do. There's only the fledging of a case, and all too soon the war will call us back." he paused, relishing the quietness and peacefulness which seemed to surround them, as if Varykino would be a haven to them from all the sorrows of the Republic's twilight. "It may seem trite, but the Force tells me to take this while we can, or we may never have another chance."

That advice from the Force never left their minds throughout their stay in the Lake Country. While it did nothing to sour the time they spent in the house, fields and the waterfalls, the words and the meaning behind them remained within their minds, serving to make the time profound and deep, a sacred series of moments they would carry within them always.

Time passed slowly, the Force was on their side, as they learned to live with each other day after day, to deepen the intimacy between them which had existed since they first met. Waking up together was still a novelty, despite their lives spent each with a sizeable household, there had still been times when they knew solitude, and now such time would only happen when they were apart, doing their duty. Knowledge of each other's habits, past, and opinions was another, for their natural reserve and distrust concerning security over the comways created a barrier over their more private personas.

It took time for them to realise that they had no need to test the waters between them, that they could express a dislike for aspects of each other's vocations, without one or the other being hurt by the feeling or opinion. Respect for the differences between them had long been one of the foundations of their relationship, something distance never destroyed. Days soon became filled with debates, another method of foreplay in expressing their love. Valuable insight was even gained due to the airing of some topics, as bit by bit they came to know how the other spent their life when they were apart.

What surprised Padmé the most was Obi-Wan's willingness to teach her anything she wanted to know about the Jedi, including lightsaber combat. It was a long held opinion of the Republic in general that the Order was mysterious by nature, rarely showing their gifts to outsiders. Keepers of the peace they may be, but few earned the privilege of seeing those gifts put into action. The Masters and Knights who weren't charmingly dismissive of their abilities or the curiosity shown by others, were arrogant to the point of intellectual snobbery. Obi-Wan however, as she had learned a long time ago, was an unconventional Jedi and held no doubt that his wife would be just able at handling a saber as well as she handled a blaster.

"If you're in trouble and I can't get to you, I'll be slightly calmer knowing you can use anything in range," he explained when she asked him why. The possibility that she might be facing someone else with a lightsaber remained unspoken.

She soon discovered that the Force was no impediment to handling a lightsaber, once the user adjusted to the weight of the hilt, combat with the weapon resembled the higher complex styles of fencing. Fighting with a sword was another of the self-defence methods Captain Panaka had taught her and her handmaidens when she elected Princess of Theed; so it did not take long before her husband came to realise that she was a quick study, the level of her ability in the Force the only barrier to reaching his level of swordsmanship which, while he never believed others who referred to him as one of the most formidable warriors within the Order, he accepted that he was just as competent as any Master Jedi.

Padmé strongly sided with the former, an opinion founded on the security recordings of the encounter with the Sith at the Palace, and fortified by the moments when she would wake to find that she had slept in, and he was practising Katas outside. Free of tunic, the thin short sleeve shirt and trousers he wore to protect himself from the elements of the dawn served only to remind her of his physical attractiveness, which, as she had come to learn during their new intimacy, had aged as well as his face. Her mind sometimes drifted as she observed him, mainly to pause and reflect on what she had learned about him. In many ways he was still an enigma, some parts of his character as yet undiscovered by her inquisitive nature. That was half the attraction, the knowledge that she would never quite learn everything about him, even though he was more open and vulnerable with her than he ever was with anyone else.

His generous nature astounded her, even now. In the company of others, for there was a discreet kitchen staff at the lake house who left the supplies of foodstuffs that would sustain them while they were here, he was charm itself, but there was always a certain distance which the charmed never discovered until afterwards, when they had time to pause and reflect, and realised that the Jedi had purposefully revealed nothing of substance.

But when they were alone, amongst the lush greenery of the fields, the warm water in the lakes which his eyes reminded her of, or inside the house when the staff departed, that charm adapted to reveal his intelligence, his passionate side, his vulnerability, the emotions Jedi claimed to let go of, when really they were carefully controlled behind a disciplined mind.

She recalled back to the moments they spent on Tatooine, and realised that he had never hidden from her, she'd become a confidant from the earliest moments of their acquaintance. A result of her insistent curiosity or of the Force? Probably a little of both she decided. Though he had needed someone to confide in back then, they both did, swept into a crisis neither had any idea was likely just the first stage in a insidious plan to destroy the very thing they worked so hard to serve. Confidences between them was another foundation of their relationship, the comfort in knowing that neither would judge the other on the beliefs they confessed to hold, or the worries they harboured deep within. Something they would need for the future, she was sure of that.

Obi-Wan activated his lightsaber to continue the Katas, and for a moment Padmé's thoughts were broken by the steady hum, a sudden disturbance to the peace of this Nubian dawn. She marvelled at how the blue blade was an extension of his body, never coming close to harming him. A stray memory then slipped into the forefront of her mind, the moment when she had requested the surveillance tapes of the duel in the melting shaft from Captain Panaka.

Her chief of security had been confused by the inquiry, perhaps less so than when she abandoned negotiations with the Neimoidians in order to verify the truth of what she first saw in that vast room; a grieving apprentice couched over a dying mentor, but puzzled nonetheless. It took her a long time before she could actually bring herself to watch the tapes, knowing they would be hard viewing even with the knowledge that Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon had survived against the odds.

When the courage finally rose within her to follow through with her initial curiosity, there was surprise as to why she hadn't given in sooner. Caution over what was to come gave way to fascination as she observed the opening moves of the Jedi and the Sith, the techniques they used in combat, the noise from the constant hum of the lightsaber blades, punctuated by sharper decibels each time red clashed with blue and green.

By the time Obi-Wan fell from the catwalk Padmé found herself utterly wrapped up in the events with no thought as to the end result. Her emotions were just as conflicted as his was when he cried out through the laser shields as the Sith impaled his Master. And her heart stilled as she forgot to breathe when he fell over the edge into the melting shaft. She flinched as the Sith slashed the edge of the circular hole, the lightsaber causing sparks to fly from the cables which enclosed the perimeter.

Then everything within her jumped as Obi-Wan suddenly leapt from the depth of the pit and one swift movement snatched Qui-Gon's lightsaber from where it fell to disembowel the Sith. Tears fell from her eyes when he deactivated the blade to drop to the floor and gather his Master into his arms. How he managed to enforce a healing trance Padmé did not know, and she was surprised when Obi-Wan confessed to her that, still to this day, he didn't either.

Memory of this was brought on by his lightsaber teachings. Padmé had been surprised to be given his saber to use while Obi-Wan duelled with Qui-Gon's old one. She thought it would be returned to the Jedi Master after the fight with the Sith. However, as her husband had explained, both he and Qui-Gon constructed new ones upon their return to Coruscant, the Master bestowing his old saber as a gift to the Padawan when he passed his formal trials. She had found it odd that an Order who claimed to forbid possession would let sabers become the exception to that rule.

Padmé allowed a smile to grace her features as she recalled asking if she could construct her own. Obi-Wan replied that it would be unwise for a Senator to show such knowledge of the Force to have a saber attuned to their body in times as these. Then followed their first fencing bout, the end result turning into a tussle on the floor which was a precursor to foreplay of a more sensual kind.

As if he had sensed the direction of her thoughts- it was very likely -Obi-Wan powered down his weapon and opened his eyes to meet hers with a charming smile. Clipping the saber to his belt, he straightened his posture before making his way over to her.

"You slept late this morning," he observed, dropping gracefully to his knees before her as she lounged on the bed.

Padmé shrugged. "You say this like it's an unusual event."

Concern crested his features. "It didn't used to be." Closing his eyes, he tentatively touched the fragile tendrils of the Force which resided inside her mind, seeking for a change in the currents. Sensing nothing apparent on the surface he delved deeper, sifting through the layers as any archaeologist would when confronted with a dig site. The difference, when he did find it, was slight, but even at this stage noticeable. Concern gave way to peace, one which he had never known before, nor expected to encounter.

By the time he opened his eyes, his wife was considerably worried. "Obi-Wan, just tell me what's wrong?"

"Nothing, my love," he replied, rising from his knees to take his place beside her upon the bed. "Quite the contrary in fact."

She watched him with varying mixture of emotions, all of them displayed upon her face, free of the politician's mask since their first moment of intimacy like this on Geonosis. His smile grew as his mind contemplated the obvious conclusions, it was about right, after all, caution was the last thing on their minds at that moment. But he kept his silence, waiting for her to speak. Equality and honesty, two of the foundations of their union, along with intelligence and strength. It made for a compelling combination.

A smile eventually came to caress her mouth once more, one full of promise and mystery, the ever alluring temptation before which he would always willingly surrender. "How long do you think?"

"I am uncertain. Since Geonosis, perhaps?" He raised a eyebrow to accompany the inquiry. "You would know more about this than I, my love."

Padmé nodded distractedly as her own mind contemplated the math. "I wonder if we'll be lucky enough to be together when the time comes?"

He frowned at her, the full impact of the expression belied by the utter joy displayed across his azure pupils. Softly he quoted part of the Code. "'There is no luck, there is the Force.'" Then with an extra degree of gentleness, he took her into his arms and surrendered to that temptation.

Chapter Text

The Sapphire Shaft.

And your eyes hold the blue-bird flash,
The sapphire shaft, which is truth.

Amy Lowell, A Dome of Many Coloured Glass.

Part 28: Fonder the Heart During Absence, Is.

In contrast to the usual settings when such meetings took place, Cantham House was unusually quiet and devoid of all but the regular attendants. A substantial apartment in the building of Five Hundred Republica, the diplomatic residence for Alderaan was an old presence in the political district of the Core, home of the Organas for at least a millennia.

Bail Organa was a more recent addition to the line, taking the title of Prince Consort when he and his wife married, Senator and Queen as much of an oddity as an union as Senator and Jedi. Despite the many agendas which could be made from it, the marriage was a love match, marred only by the desire to have a family sabotaged by fate.

Breha's determination to have a child of her own flesh and blood knew no bounds and Bail's devotion to her was profound and steadfast. Until she was ready to give up, neither adoption or surrogacy would be considered. Each time she quickened, hope rose within their hearts, making sadness all the more poignant when the babe stilled. Such news was kept from the HoloNet as much as possible for their views on the matter would only cause the grieving couple more stress. Their friends would come into their confidence however, for such unwavering support was always welcome.

Padmé felt uncomfortable about her attendance today, for this would be the first meeting where her own quickening would be visible, a sight Bail did not need to see at this time, for their last expectations ended tragically only a standard week ago. But he had requested her presence in order to persuade another to their cause.

He greeted her as she came in, one glance direct at her normally slight figure enough to realise her state. He raised her proffered hand to his lips.

"Congratulations," he uttered sincerely. "I hope your expectation proves fruitful. And do not worry on my account. It was just not meant to be."

"How is Breha?" Padmé asked as he ushered her to a chair.

"Recovering," Bail replied, a sad smile gracing his refined features. "And Obi-Wan, how did he take your news?"

"He found out before I was even aware of it," Padmé revealed, her smiling glow twinge by the sadness of his absence. She had not seen her husband since just after their return to Coruscant, Obi-Wan and Anakin being posted to the front as soon as their leaves were over.

Bail sobered as he descried the concern hidden in her seemingly light hearted reply. "Do you know where he has been stationed?"

Padmé shook her head. The Clone Wars had started too quickly for everyone's liking, delaying the ritual traditions of the Order, causing Obi-Wan's and Anakin's promotions to be postponed in the favour of their duty to the safety of the Republic.

"Well, I'm on the Strategic Welfare Committee," Bail reminded her. "I'll see what I can find out."

"Thank you," Padmé returned gratefully.

"I see despite all, some things have not changed," an elegant voice said as its owner entered the room.

Bail raised his head to acknowledge the new arrival. "Greetings Finis," he remarked. "I trust your journey here was uneventful?"

"If by that inquiry you mean to ascertain that I wasn't followed, then, yes," Senator Valorum replied.

Padmé turned round and made her way over to the former Supreme Chancellor. "I am sorry for my actions concerning you during my reign. If I could go back in time and alter them, I would do so, believe me."

"You had my forgiveness a long time ago, Padmé," Valorum replied, his tone softened. "I do not blame you, we were out manoeuvred by seemingly trustful colleagues."

"That is what we are here to talk to you about today," Padmé revealed.

When Padmé returned to the penthouse apartment that was the official residence for the Senator from Naboo, the orbital receptors were long past over the yardarm. Darkness was gradually falling across the planet, but the lights from the numerous buildings that conquered the land of the Core still continued to glow, betraying various displays of occupation.

As for their own quarters, the rooms were bathed in the softness of candlelight, the artificial wall pods adjusted to deliver the same romantic setting in every room, which harmonised perfectly with the Nubian decor. Searching her memory for the time she could have remembered to program this lighting setting before she left this morning rapidly provided a negative, leaving her to conclude that Dormé had ensured the mood for the evening.

Hope rose within her breast. Did that mean she might finally be reunited with her husband? Obi-Wan was called to the front barely a night after they returned to Coruscant from Naboo, his departure the latest in a wake of Jedi Masters and Padawans, promoted to General and Commander respectively in the minds of the Clones under their command. A kiss and a meaningful look was all time would permit them before he submitted to the orders, and the Senate was recalled from recess not long afterwards. Padmé did not dare to even call his name out loud, fearing her heart would be disappointed.

"You're half right," his familiar warm, charming, cultured tone remarked, alerting her to his presence on the shrouded balcony.

Padmé stepped forward to join him there, blinking at his preference to remain cowled in the shadows, a potent reminder to the enemy of his Jedi heritage. As her brown eyes adjusted to the darkness surrounding her husband, she could not fail to observe the solemn, haunted look which marred his features. Her hand came up to cup his face, relieved when he did not shy away from her touch, a flinch she was expecting to come into play. Instead he leaned into the tender caress, an arm tentatively emerging from his brown cloak to wrap around her now rounded waist. His hand tensed as it came to rest on her swollen belly, the child within acknowledging the presence of its father as well as his mood through the Force.

"She senses your concern," its mother now confirmed, causing him to raise his eyebrow curiously at her. "As do I," she added.

Now he was deeply intrigued. "I had no idea that was possible."

"You are in good company," Padmé revealed. "Neither did the healers at the Temple. But then I believe mothering from those outside the Order is still new to them."

He nodded absently, his mind focused on the first part of her previous reply. "How do you know it's a she? I thought we were letting this be a surprise."

A teasing small smile graced her features. "Motherly intuition. And that scene my mind saw on Naboo. The two girls playing with a boy. One of them was older, while the other two appeared to be the same age."

"I think you'd remember one of Master Yoda's most used dictums," his voice changed to resemble that of the revered Jedi. "'Always in motion the future is.'"

"Funny," she murmured. "You never let that piece of sage advice bother you when a vision crosses your mind."

He pulled her closer to him as his equanimity slowly returned. "Well it was either that or 'listen to your husband,' and I know better than to instil such values into our family."

"Good, its' nice to see you realise who rules the roost," she remarked, leaning against him as his other arm embraced her, enfolding her within the warmth from his cloak and from himself.

"Always you," he replied, turning to kiss the palm which still caressed his face. "Always you, milady."

She titled her face so their lips could touch, another affirmation of the love which along with the Force ensured this union. The joining rapidly turned passionate, causing her to adjust herself so she could face him, the motion allowing him to let his hands travel, one upwards to tangle itself in her elaborately styled henna tresses, the other in a continuous sensuous caress of her clothed figure.

Her own hands were by no means idle, one traversing the toned planes of his chest as well as one could when they were buried beneath a Jedi tunic, while the other threaded itself into his trimmed beard and red gold hair. In unison their mouths opened to let their tongues duel. A gasp escaped her lips while something half way between a moan and growl slipped out of his as he pulled her even closer. Beneath the layers of clothing that barred their flesh from touching something twitched in readiness, the movement intent on being granted consent to continue.

Without a word or parting, she backed them towards their bedroom. Obi-Wan followed her willingly, all previous preoccupation forgotten. Layer after layer of clothing was gradually removed until nothing separated their bodies from that most intimate union. Carefully they fell upon the bed, caution observed now another was growing within her. He took her so gently, so tenderly, drawing out the bliss for as long as they could bare, the moment when it came at last leaving them boneless.

Afterwards as they lay side by side he fell into the embrace of the Force, seeking out the current that was their child. The signature glowed brightly, welcoming its father into a bond far more profound than any he had ever known before, save with its mother. Words failed him as he observed the connection in all its glory, the ancient being wrapping itself around their future first born, loving the child as much as it loved the father who half gave it life, or so he was led to believe by many of his mentors within the Order. He felt the fond gaze of his wife beaming down on him as he nestled next to her rounded belly, and raised his eyes to catch her own in his.

"Hello, wife," he uttered. "I apologise for the odd greeting earlier."

"You were preoccupied," Padmé returned, shaking the apology away. "As for what it led to, you'll never need forgiveness for that." she smiled and her hand reached down to caress his beard, the expression widening in pleasure as he leaned into her touch. "But I still wish to know what kept you to the shadows when I came home."

He bowed his head, refusing to meet her eyes for a time. "The war," he replied simply, "and all its horrors. Geonosis was bad, but compared to what Anakin and I have faced recently, it was nothing."

"And how is Anakin?" She asked. "Is he seeking solace?"

"I left him with Qui-Gon," he replied. "But I doubt if he's broken his silence. I don't believe he ever will. Something's changed him, Padmé. He's suddenly older, mature, every inch the Jedi the Council could wish for."

Padmé studied his thoughtful, conflicted features. "You don't trust it?"

"I try to," he confessed. "But as we are reminded by Master Yoda, there is no try, only do. And there's something I never told you. What happened on Tatooine wasn't a fluke. He's fallen before." Slowly he told her what took place after the mission to Zonama Sekot. By the end of the tale pulling the blankets which covered their bed over them both did nothing to sever the shivers that the tale had induced. Yet Obi-Wan used the Force to do so anyway, waiting anxiously in the silence which followed for his wife to speak.

"Why did you never tell me this?" Padmé asked him at last.

"At first, I was not allowed to. The Council classified the event. I debated on telling you when I called you, after that fight with Qui-Gon, but I didn't wish to worry you. It was a bad time, not just for Anakin, but for myself as well. I thought I had failed him as his Master, and Qui-Gon as a Padawan. I did not want to burden you with such a web of selfish guilt."

"Obi-Wan," Padmé sighed, causing him to blink as he looked at her. "You don't need to put before me the compassionate, humble, perfect Jedi all the time. I have been your confidant for over a decade. Remember I handled my world being invaded during my first days as Queen. I think I could handle knowing about what you wrongly believe are your failures back then just as well." She smiled and added another before he could utter the thought himself. "And don't think of apologising for burdening me while I'm in this condition, either."

A rueful expression grazed his features. "I thought you liked my chivalry."

"I do, certain aspects of it at least. Just don't forget who I am." She paused to smile at him. "Lord Kenobi."

Obi-Wan grimaced. "I hate that title. Why some of your colleagues chose to address me by that honorific as opposed to the ones I have earned, Force only knows."

Padmé laughed. "Which is why we rarely associate with the ones that do. It's reassuring in a way, you know. Our allies are the ones who treat you with the respect that is due to those of the Order."

"Speaking of which, how did things go with Senator Valorum?" Obi-Wan asked her, having been aware of the plans to invite the former Chancellor to the meetings taking place at Cantham House.

"Very well. Bail was wise to include him." Padmé paused as she tried to search her husband's serene composure for clues regarding foreknowledge of her next inquiry. "Have you heard about Breha?"

"Mace sent me the news before Anakin and I left the front." Obi-Wan sighed, his sorrow for their friend deeply felt. "I did think fate would be generous this time."

"As did I," Padmé bowed her head in mutual regret. There had been an idle fancy of hers that their own child would have a playmate in the form of the next Organa. Now that was no longer to be. Brushing aside the selfish wish, she summoned her courage and asked the question whose answer she least desired to know. "When is your next posting?"

"I wish I knew," Obi-Wan murmured. "The sound of the comlink is now a thing I dread to hear."

Padmé silently nodded, her own relief denied by the uncertainty as to when this time together would be paused by the war. A part of her was fearful to leave their bed, as if it had become a cocoon from the war torn universe, but this was the life she now lived, it was pointless to run from it. Cowardice did not become her, it never had. "Are you hungry? If you left Dormé in charge of the light theme, she probably prepared something for us."

Obi-Wan smiled at her teasingly and leaned over her, half prepared to pounce. "Not for food," he remarked.

She returned the expression, let him come a little closer, then rolled away to rise from the bed, letting him fall face flat upon the mattress. "I'm eating for two now, and I did hear of your fondness to inhale."

He watched her as she pulled a dressing gown from the wardrobe to cover herself, then rose also, taking a cloak from his own to appear decent for the meal. "You've been spending too much time with Qui-Gon."

"Not just Qui-Gon," Padmé added, as he followed her into the dining room, "Master Yoda, and Mace also had their own stories to add."

"I knew it was a mistake to let the Grand Masters of the Order remain off the frontline and present for the Cantham House meetings," Obi-Wan mocked moaned before graciously moving her chair away from the table to seat her first. "You'll discover all my failings."

"And you have presented a new subject," Padmé continued. "According to those at the Temple, you don't have any."

"Oh, I have many," he returned dryly, "but let's turn to something to else, for I have no desire for my wife to feed my ego tonight."

He sat down across from her, and for a while there was a comfortable silence, as the couple broke their fast to enjoy the meal which her thoughtful handmaiden had left for them.

If they cared to ignore the view of the cityscape which the apartment offered, this moment could be in the house at Varykino far away from the war and all its sobering horrors. For Obi-Wan, it was a haven away from the perils of the battlefields and the increasingly empty Temple, for only Junior Padawans and the younglings with their Masters were in residence now, the rest called to serve the Republic in some backwater planet usually located in the far flung reaches of the galaxy.

Fighting a war which he knew the Republic was manipulated into, did not sit well with him, especially as so far they had been unable to secure firm evidence of this engineered scheme. Order sixty-six was not enough, the wording subtle and conveniently vague to be vulnerable to dissembling. Count Dooku's assertion that the Senate was under control of a Sith Lord could be counted, but only if the law courts would be willing to hear the testimony of a traitor to the Order and the Republic. This was why they established the Cantham House meetings in the first place, to gather the evidence, the only drawback was that it was not coming quickly enough. They needed time, and the ever constant concern of those in attendance upon the Organa residence was that time would run out before they had anything substantial.

Consciously he shifted his focus from that subject back to the woman sitting opposite him. Senator, wife and mother, three vocations which Padmé seemed to carry off effortlessly, though he knew his absences must be a heavy burden to bear.

He had not meant to add to her concerns by his behaviour upon her return to their apartment, drawn into the shadows first by his experience on the battlefield, saddened by the amount of lives he felt loathed to take, the darkness he was exposed to by the trials of this war. Yet he'd been unable to move from the shadows, struck by how the light flattered her beauty, adding another layer of softness to the glow which the quickening gave her. He dare not voice the hope that he would be granted leave when the time came, nevertheless it was present in his mind, that now fervent prayer that the Force would be generous enough to bestow another blessing.

Family was something he never expected, even when his former Master succeeded in haranguing the Council to extend the Corellian experiment. Yet now he knew it, his heart was anxious to savour it, not as an attachment or possession, but to give as much as had been given to him in return, the very essence of love.

Padmé raised her glass and uttered a word, the sound of her beautiful voice enough to break his introspection. "Cordé," she uttered, airing the name for consideration.

Obi-Wan followed suit, acknowledging the name with a sip of the Nubian Shiraz. It was an exchange began when they first learned of their expectation, an effort to distract their minds from the national troubles to the simple joys of their growing family. He offered one of his own. "Benumi."

The topic continued throughout dinner, as they threw names back and forth, until nothing remained of the meal but the table dressings, and the memory.

Chapter Text

Part 29: The Essence of Titles.

At the Jedi Temple, Master Obi-Wan Kenobi was known for serenity. The perfect image of a man who is adored by the light side of the Force. Whom every good Padawan acknowledges as the role model they should aim to resemble. His pace is measured, his movements precise, his words crafted by efficiency and succinctness.

Even in battle this understated elegance never gives way to irritation or speed. The Negotiator, as he was becoming known thanks to the HoloNet, would not let the slightest hint of vulnerability show itself to the world, as he talked sword drawn enemies out of bloodshed. Rhetoric was his skill, his persuasive way with words considered an art form by Senate as well as Temple. Politicians would scorn, those tainted by rumours of corruption or unsavoury alliances, but all would admit, in private at least, that Master Kenobi could beat them in debate, without seeming to even to try.

For those fortunate or unfortunate to witness him in battle, when negotiations entered the aggressive phrase, they saw the same art practised with the lightsaber. Defence held until it became an advantage, the enemy remaining ignorant of his defeat, only to realise at the last that their surrender, whether mortal or no, was foreseen from the moment they drew his laser blade upon themselves.

Therefore, those who claimed they saw Master Kenobi running from the enormous grand entrance lobby of the Temple all the way to the Healer's Ward, were widely treated with disbelief and derision. Nevertheless, it was true, and he had the best reason in the world for abandoning his usual grace that day.

Master Windu was there to greet him at the threshold of the Ysalamiri barrier, and even the solemn Korun could not restrain himself from smiling in bemusement at the sight of his friend coming to a sudden halt before him.

"Is she?" He asked, the end of the sentence he dared not to think, let alone speak.

His future fellow Councillor put him out of his misery. "They're both fine, Obi-Wan," he said, placing his hands about midway on Soresu Master's arms. "Infact you only just missed it." Mace withdrew his hands and turned aside to let him pass.

Obi-Wan resumed his usual pace once more as he navigated his way through the reception area to the room from where he could sense his wife's unique signature through the Force. There was another present too, no longer muffled, further evidenced by the bundle in Padmé's arms, from whom the Senator looked up to welcome him inside.

Words failed him as he reached her, leaning over slightly to brush her lips with his own, before turning azure eyes to the babe in her arms, who regarded him calmly, the bond of fatherhood long established. Tentatively his hands reached out, one to touch the soft small cheek, the other to the tiny hand, whose grip encircled a finger instantly.

"How are you?" He asked at last, turning to her, the apology written in his eyes.

"I am well," Padmé assured him, smiling. "It happened so fast, too fast for you to arrive in time. A hour earlier, and it would have been the floor of the Senate which witnessed the birth."

"Wonder what the HoloNet would have made of that," Obi-Wan murmured. "Did I arrive in time for a name?"

"Unless you want to keep Baby Girl Kenobi," Padmé returned.

Obi-Wan pretended to think about it. "Hmm, no, I think we'll go with the one we decided on."

"Then prepare to hold Cordé Amidala Kenobi," Padmé said, and he adjusted his arms, carefully slipping out his captured finger so he could take the babe from her.

"Hello, little one," he murmured as he held her, recalling his days from volunteering in the Crèche. Another image passed through his mind as Cordé's dark blue eyes returned his gaze; a surgical room, the feeling of tragedy, his wife's eyes forever closed.

But then he glanced at Padmé, and the vision faded away.

The rituals for knighting are relatively simple. After a night spent alone in meditation, the Padawan would walk to the Knighting hall, where at the beckoning of his Master, they would enter that grand room to kneel before twelve Masters of the Order, whose ignited sabers pointed to the floor in a glowing, humming circle of light.

Master Yoda would say, "We are all Jedi. The Force speaks through us. Through our actions, the Force proclaims itself and what is real. Today we are here to acknowledge what the Force has proclaimed." His gaze would then land upon the initiate before continuing with, "Step forward, Padawan. Anakin Skywalker, by the right of the Council, by the will of the Force, I dub thee, Jedi Knight of the Republic."

The braid would be cut as the rank was pronounced, whereupon another Master, usually a Council Member would say, "Take up your lightsaber, Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight. And may the force be with you."

A general salute would then follow, as the Masters present acknowledged the newly fledged knight and his great achievement.

For Anakin Skywalker, the ceremony was no different, except in its delay, the ceremony postponed frequently due to one far flung planet battle or another. Nor was the ritual any different for his Masters, whose own ceremonies had been conducted with just as much understated pomp and circumstance, the last twelve years ago.

Obi-Wan could not sense his now former Padawan's thoughts concerning the long awaited for ceremony, for Anakin kept himself shielded most days, the war making openness in bonds a rarity. Aside from his trials, the Negotiator and the Hero With No Fear, as the Chosen One was now called by an adoring fan base, had not been apart in serving the Republic, standing side by side on those far flung planet battles which delayed this important rite of passage. Until his marriage, Obi-Wan had been able to discover most of what his apprentice was thinking, but since Anakin came to know of his mentor's feelings for the woman he loved, a distance was observed, which not even little Cordé could conquer, though she was spoiled rotten whenever her 'uncle' came calling.

Thus he could only speculate as to what his Padawan thought of this ceremony, contrasting such deductions with what passed through his own mind twelve years ago. Master Yoda had resided over it, bemused by a pupil's insistence to take another trial when he had killed a Sith on Naboo barely a month ago. Yet he knew Obi-Wan would not want to be singled out or regarded as the new standard to which every Padawan now needed to aim. So Kenobi took another trial, passed it with distinction, and afterwards bestowed his braid to Qui-Gon, sending the beads to Padmé. Quietly he wondered what Anakin would do with his, holding no expectation to receive either, considering the recent distance between them.

So he was not surprised when the newly fledged Knight dropped the braid into the hands of Qui-Gon Jinn. The Chosen One had always been closer to the now frail Master. His illness was suspected of being in its final stages, though the Healers still possessed no idea as to when said stage would end, or if a cure was not beyond the realm of possibility. Qui-Gon left it to the will of the Force, teaching at the Temple when his health permitted, or receiving visits from his colleagues and friends when it did not. He had been Temple bound since the beginning of the Clone Wars, his strength no longer able to withstand combat, unable to avoid the frequent seizures. Yet the Living Force resided with him, allowing him to remain in the here and now, for the present.

"And these are for you, Master," Anakin said, causing Obi-Wan to come out of his introspection in time to catch the beads poured into his free hand. Gratified, he wordlessly closed his hand around them, before taking his apprentice in an embrace, the distance healed over by this one simple gesture.

Padmé came home from the Senate one afternoon to discover a sight not witnessed outside the Temple walls. Dormé beckoned her in with a nervous expression, unsure if her mistress would permit the visit before she returned home, a worry the Senator quickly put to rest with a few comforting words and a quiet nod, before walking further into the living room of the apartment. Respectfully, she bowed before the Grand Master, who had turned from his young pupil to acknowledge her arrival.

"Senator Amidala, pleased to see you, I am," he greeted.

"Master Yoda," Padmé returned, before bending down to take her daughter in her arms. Cordé was just over a year old, with her father's shade of hair and her mother's eyes, possessing a serene disposition and a compassion which rivalled both her parents. Rising back up to her full height, she added, "what brings you here?"

"Requested at the Temple, yours and Miss Kenobi's presence is," Yoda replied, resting his hands upon his gimmer stick. The revered Master was an unofficial tutor while Obi-Wan was serving on the front line, and Cordé one of the few younglings to receive her first lessons outside the Temple.

"What for?" Padmé inquired, curiously.

"Surprise, is all I will say," Yoda answered, before walking towards her.

Padmé let the Master pass by her, then fell into pace behind him. Silently she followed the Jedi to the turbolift, where they took one down to the path level of the Core. Around them Coruscant's populous gave the procession a respectful berth, the Grand Master using the Force to divert any deep degree of interest until they reached their destination.

Keeping a tight hold of her inquisitive daughter, Padmé followed Yoda through the grand entrance of the Temple and into another turbolift. Only when she reached their destination did she at last realise why he had invited them here.

Neither Senator nor youngling were startled by the darkness surrounding the humming glow of lightsabers, the blades angled towards the floor, encircling a kneeling Knight of the Order. Yoda took his place as the presiding Master, and gestured with his hand for Padmé to stand in the space behind himself and Mace Windu, the Korun Master acknowledging her presence with a smiled glance before turning to the kneeling figure in the centre of the twelve being circle.

"We are all Jedi," Master Yoda announced. "The Force speaks through us. Through our actions, the Force proclaims itself and what is real. Today we are here to acknowledge what the Force has proclaimed." His eyes turned to the Knight kneeling before them. "Step forward, Knight." the man rose from his knees, took a pace forward, then knelt down once more, this time to receive the saber as it passed above his shoulders. "Obi-Wan Kenobi, by the right of the Council, by the will of the Force, I dub thee, Jedi Master of the Republic."

"Take up your lightsaber, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Master," Master Windu requested. "And may the force be with you."

Obi-Wan rose from his knees and unclipped his blade. Igniting the weapon, its blue glow travelled from the floor to the ceiling, as he acknowledged the Masters before him with a return salute. He then powered down the blade as the lights were waved back on, before smiling at his wife and daughter.

Padmé stepped forward and wrapped her free arm around his waist. "Thank you, for this surprise, Master Kenobi."

"My pleasure, milady," he replied, bending his head a little to kiss first her, then Cordé. "I had to spend a night in meditation, which is why I didn't let you know I had returned."

Padmé nodded. "I'll let you off, just this once," she smiled at him. "Do you have time to for a celebration with us?"

"Of course," he replied, stepping away to turn to one of the Masters to alert them to their departure.

"Not so fast, Master Obi-Wan," Yoda declared, causing all eyes to turn to him. "One thing more to give you we have."

The Masters led the family into the room next door, and the Councillors among them took their customary seats, leaving a few places empty.

"Take your place, Councillor Kenobi," Master Yoda requested as he indicated to one of them.

The being who greeted Padmé and Cordé in the entrance lobby of Cantham House was not one of the household staff, or one of the trusted aides. Instead it was a scruffy dark haired youngling, about seven years old.

"Hi, Senator," he greeted, sketching a brief bow before running out of the door. Padmé turned to watch him go, curious at the sight and manner of the stranger.

"I see you've met Han," Senator Garm Bel Iblis remarked as he joined her at the threshold, causing Padmé to turn to face her Corellian colleague.

"Han?" Padmé queried, bending down to let Cordé walk into the apartment, for the youngster was now quite adept at the newly acquired skill.

"Han Solo," Garm explained. "I met him during my schools lecture tour back home in the last recess."

"He must be an intriguing pupil for you to take him on so early," Padmé mused, inviting the Senator to continue.

"Yes, he asked me two irreverently phrased yet highly pointed questions," Garm continued as they arrived at the living room of the apartment. "The first regarding the ethics of the anti-alien bias starting to creep into the legal structure of the Republic, the second about some very specific instances of corruption involving some of our colleagues in the Senate."

"Not the sort of questions you'd expect from a seven year old," Padmé remarked, and her companion nodded.

"Which is why I offered him a job. He has no family, no credits to his name, and was in enough trouble with the school that they were almost relieved to rid of him." Garm smiled. "They have no idea of the true worth of the pupil they're abandoning. He's become my courier and unofficial informer. The last person anyone would suspect."

"So we are making progress at last?" Padmé asked.

"Not as much as we would like, " Bail answered as he greeted her, "but some." he handed her a datapad. "This is what we have so far."

Padmé sat down and scanned through the information. When she reached the end of the evidence, she raised her thoughtful gaze to Bail. "Why is it that now we have just enough for the Courts, he controls a super majority which will prevent us from charging him?"

"Same reason as always," Finis Valorum replied, "they're anxious to end the war. Or to acquit themselves of responsibility within the matter."

Padmé returned the pad to Bail, her thoughts inevitably focusing on her husband, and his possible whereabouts now. Despite his appointment to the Council, Obi-Wan's negotiating skills, both rhetoric and aggressive were still demanded upon the battlefield, in a war which the Separatists were doing their level best to intensify recently.

"In other quarters," Mon Mothma said, breaking the silence and rousing Padmé from her thoughts, "work is at last complete. When you next visit, you can tell them they may begin when they feel ready."

"That is a relief," Padmé remarked. "The propaganda has been increasing of late." As she spoke her gaze settled fondly on her daughter, who abruptly stilled, a small smile stealing across her face. "If you'll excuse me, Senators, I believe my husband has returned."

Mon Mothma turned in the direction of her friend's glance and smiled. "It's extraordinary how well that bond works, considering her age."

"The Force runs strong through the Kenobi family," Padmé revealed, as she lifted her daughter into her arms, "according to Master Yoda."

Inclining her head in farewell, Padmé departed from Cantham House and took the turbolift to the penthouse residence for the Senator from Naboo.

"Obi-Wan?" She called after entering the apartment. Her husband appeared from his hiding place on the balcony, unable to hide the happiness he felt at seeing them, though a sheepish expression fell across his daughter's face.

"I see I shall have to stop letting her know if I want to surprise you," Obi-Wan murmured, wrapping an arm round Padmé's waist before leaning down to brush his lips against hers. The passion and emotion within the exchange took his breath away, causing him to pause before deftly taking his daughter into his arms to greet her. His blue eyes met the brown gaze of his love with an eloquent unspoken promise of what was to come.

"How long do you have?" Padmé asked.

"A month," he replied, causing her to let loose a grin. "I thought we could spend it on Naboo. Everything's packed aboard the ship, waiting for you to say yes."

Her reply was just what he desired.

Chapter Text

Part 30: Arrivals of Power.

Padmé turned her face away from the sky, though the horrifying image continued to haunt her mind. Smoke trailed from scorched buildings, bombarded by the Separatist gunships which took part in a raid upon the Core, their merciless destruction intended only to serve as a distraction for the real motive behind their attack; to kidnap the Supreme Chancellor. A major coup for the alliance and something of a mixed Sabacc pot for those in the Cantham House Committee. Though Palpatine's absence could grant them permission to conduct a search of his office, the propaganda created via the HoloNet would only serve to increase the now unofficial dictator's popularity amongst the ignorant or corrupt masses.

Few citizens in the Republic suspected the real truth behind the Clone Wars and those that did were fast becoming aware of the need to conceal such knowledge and concerns, while those who were corrupted by the insidious scheme cared little for the civilian casualties that Coruscant would suffer today.

Inwardly she flinched as her ears caught the sound of yet another medic ship heading towards the scene of yet another injury stricken being. Today's raid had come too close to home, forcing an evacuation of the Senate, which was not without bloodshed, as she and her colleagues were constrained to use their blasters to fire upon the droid army that attacked the arena in order to seize the Chancellor. In a way she had been thankful for her previous experience in facing such close quarter conflict, resulting in a greater accuracy than most Senators who claimed knowledge in weaponry. She was also thankful that Cordé had been safely out of harms way in the Temple crèche, for Five Hundred Republica had not escaped a scorching either.

Which brought her back to the surroundings she was encircled by now, the Healers Ward within that building where her husband was raised and where their daughter had been safely protected during the raid. And the thought of her husband brought her to seek a further assurance from the patient she was visiting.

"Do you really think they will send for them?"

Qui-Gon's gaze was the perfect mixture of serenity, compassion and understanding. "Who else could they count on to succeed? His team has the highest ratio of success."

"It's just been so long, Qui-Gon," Padmé murmured with a sigh. "Five months spent fearing the truth in the worst rumours, the constant struggle to keep Cordé innocent from them and therefore content. And then there's the politics. Every move I or Mon, or Bail, or Garm, or Finis make, he is three steps ahead of us, carving more and more power away from the Senate and into his own control. Opposition is no longer effectual, there are too many self serving fools concerned about their own survival before that of the people we serve." She paused to ask him something else. "Has Mace discovered anything?"

"He's tracing the source as we speak," Qui-Gon replied. "Though the word of a Jedi is no longer held in very high regard any more. Few of those fools will be surprised if we announce our suspicions because relations with the office have become... difficult."

"There's rumours that the Order collaborated with the Separatists to bring this kidnapping about," Padmé revealed in disgust.

"Such news does not surprise me," Qui-Gon returned. "Whatever advantage this move has gained us, we lose in the face of public perception and belief. His moves will also become harder to predict."

Padmé frowned. "By this reasoning then we have to let things play out as he wants them to?" she queried, her companion's nod a confirmation she feared would be the case.

Qui-Gon inclined his grim face. "It may be our only hope."

"You coming?"

Obi-Wan forced himself to muster the usual trace of a smile. "I haven't the courage for politics. I'll brief the Council."

Anakin frowned. "Shouldn't I be there too?"

"No need. This isn't the formal report. Besides," Obi-Wan gestured at the large number of journalists and cameras that hung around the Senatorial docking, eager to congratulate the heroes who rescued the Supreme Chancellor from the clutches of General Grievous and Count Dooku. "Someone has to be the poster boy."

"Poster Man," Anakin retorted, pained.

His former Master could not help but let loose a chuckle. "Quite right, quite right. Go meet your public, Poster Man."

The Jedi Knight took a step towards the crowd, then turned back as a thought occurred to him. "Wait a minute. This whole operation was your idea. You planned it. You led the rescue. It's your turn to take the bows."

"You won't get out of it that easily, my young friend," the Councillor returned with a shake of his head. "Without you I wouldn't have even made it to the flagship. You killed Count Dooku and single handedly rescued the Chancellor, all the while, I might be forgiven for adding, carrying some old broken down Jedi Master unconscious on your back. Not to mention making a landing that will be the standard of Impossible in every flight manual for the next thousand years."

"Only because of yours and Qui-Gon's training, Master," Anakin started to say.

"That's just an excuse," Obi-Wan cut him off. "You're the hero. Go spend your glorious day surrounded by politicians and journalists."

"Come on, Master, you owe me," Anakin protested. "And not just for saving your skin the tenth time..."

"Ninth time," Obi-Wan corrected. "Cato Neimoidia doesn't count, it was your fault in the first place. I'll see you at the Outer Rim briefing in the morning."

Anakin took another step, then the real motive for the Negotiator's hesitancy finally became clear. "She's at the Temple, isn't she?"

Obi-Wan nodded. "It's where we agreed to meet if Coruscant was ever raided."

His former apprentice frowned. "And I thought we no longer had secrets any more?"

"There are some things between a husband and a wife which will always remain private," Obi-Wan replied. "Now go."

He watched the Hero With No Fear walk away from the shuttle, the hatch cycle close, and then he waited for the craft to lift off before he turned to face the other occupant and R2, the smile upon his face fading away. "You wanted to speak with me."

Mace Windu rose from his seat to observe the scene on the docking platform, a frown forming across his features as he observed the Chancellor put his arm around the Chosen One's shoulder to pose for the cameras. "It's Anakin. I don't like his relationship with Palpatine."

"We've had this conversation before," Obi-Wan pointed out. "It's usually you and Master Yoda who counsel my own concerns on this friendship."

"There is something between them. Something new. I could see it in the Force," Mace replied grimly. "It felt powerful. And incredibly dangerous."

"I trust Anakin with my life," Obi-Wan replied carefully, waiting for his friend to confess more of his concern.

"I know you do," Mace added, turning his eyes to him. "I only wish we could trust the Chancellor with Anakin's."

"Yes, Palpatine's policies are questionable," Obi-Wan continued with a frown. "To me his doting on Anakin like a kindly old uncle to his favourite nephew always seemed a deliberate relationship on his part."

"The Chancellor loves power," Mace confirmed. "If he has any other passion, I have not seen it."

Obi-Wan sighed as the view at last betrayed the outline of the Temple, from which he could sense his wife and daughter, waiting for him. He had hoped for a private reunion, some time away from the present strife in the Republic. Now from the sound of things that was not to be. "What would you have me do?"

"I am not certain," Mace admitted. "You know my power; I cannot always interpret what I've seen. Be alert. Be mindful of Anakin and careful of Palpatine. He is not to be trusted and his influence on Anakin is dangerous."

"I know all this, Mace. I haven't missed that many meetings at Cantham House." Obi-Wan shook his head. "Have you managed to confirm that the capture was an inside job?"

"What else could it be, the timing was too much of a coincidence. We traced the Sith Lord to an abandoned factory in The Works, not far from where Anakin landed the cruiser. When the attack began, we were tracking him through the down level tunnels. The trail led to the subbasement of Five Hundred Republica."

"And who's handling the investigation?" Obi-Wan inquired. "I'd be happy to sit in, I know my perceptions are not so refined as some, but..."

Mace shook his head. "Interrogate the Supreme Chancellor's personal aides and advisers? Impossible. Palpatine will never allow it, though he hasn't said so."

"But he doesn't have the authority to interfere with a Jedi investigation..." Obi-Wan started to say, only to falter. "Does he?"

"The Senate has surrendered so much power, it's hard to say where his authority stops," Mace replied. "And with Anakin's instability rendering him ineligible for Mastery, his relationship with the Chancellor is no longer considered the asset it once might have been." He sighed. "You haven't been here, Obi-Wan. You don't know what it's been like, dealing with all the petty squabbles, the special interests, the greedy, grasping fools in the Senate, and Palpatine's constant, cynical, ruthless manoeuvring for power,- he carves away chunks of our freedom and bandages the wounds with tiny scraps of security. And for what? Look at this planet, Obi-Wan! We have given up so much freedom- how secure do we look?"

Obi-Wan felt his heart seize inside him, not even the signature of his wife and child a comforting balm any more. He recalled the last happy days he spent with them, at the villa in Varykino, five months ago. It had been the first time he experienced the normal day to day of family life, with nothing to care about except the happiness of Padmé and Cordé, as their baby girl became familiar with the splendour of Naboo's Lake Country and the extended family from her mother, spoiled by visits of grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins, who were more than willing to keep the crechling occupied while her parents enjoyed a second honeymoon.

The temptation to stay there forever, and never return to Coruscant was as potent then as it felt now. But equally present was the hope that somehow, the Republic would see what was wrong with the Chancellor's rule and unite to overturn it once more. Current plans from the Cantham House Committee were not so optimistic, waiting for Palpatine to play his Sabacc hand before they showed theirs.

"Mace, we'll go to Yoda together, and among the three of us we will work something out," Obi-Wan at last replied. "Some way of forcing Palpatine's hand. A very, very wise Jedi once said to me; 'we don't have to win. All we have to do is fight.'"

"I seem to have forgotten that particular Jedi," Mace answered slowly. "Thank you for reminding me."

As they entered the Temple, Obi-Wan sank into the embrace of the Force, seeking the precise location of his wife and daughter, trying to ignore the guilt which pressed on his mind caused by his five months absence spent fighting in the Outer Rim. He found Cordé first, the distance leading him to deduce that she was in the crèche with the younglings. For a moment he savoured the bright Force signature of his daughter, which seemed to him to be like a beacon in the darkness that surrounded the Jedi, his hope for a better future.

Then he let go and searched for his wife. Quicker than he expected, the location presented itself to his mind, causing his feet to move along the corridors, pausing in turbolifts and passing through the Ysalamiri barrier which protected the healers ward, until he entered Qui-Gon's room.

Padmé moved from her place beside his former Master's bedside to embrace him, her slender arms wrapping themselves around his compact toned figure, her lips finding his for a fiercely passionate welcome home kiss. Obi-Wan let himself forget that they weren't alone and indulged in the pleasure of her touch, his own arms encircling her to tangle a hand in her hair and caress the smooth skin of her face.

As he savoured the embrace of his wife, secure in the knowledge that he would not be parted from her for a while at least, his senses detected something else which was waiting for him, something which five months ago was too small to detect. The sensation was familiar and yet new, the shock of it causing his hands to still, and his mouth to draw back from hers, as his eyes searched hers for confirmation. Her glistening glow and small smile was his answer, and he swept her off her feet to twirl her round in celebration, before gently setting her down to let his hand touch the evidence of her second quickening. Behind him Artoo beeped his own salutation, assuring his mistress that all was well with him also.

Then he drew back from her to speak to the other occupant of the room, wrapping an arm around her swelling waist while he did so. "Hello, Master."

Qui-Gon smiled at his former pupil, who despite his now superior elevation in rank still insisted on the old formality, a sign of the respect and attachment he felt towards the only father he ever knew. "Welcome home, Obi-Wan. I am relieved to see you visiting these rooms relatively unharmed for once." He paused to take a much needed breath before further inquiry, trying to ignore the sudden concern which appeared on the couple's faces. "How is Anakin? And I presume you rescued the Chancellor?"

"We did, destroying General Grevious' ship in the process. Anakin is well," Obi-Wan replied. "At present he is with the Chancellor, satisfying the vocal needs of the press." he paused to change his tone from light hearted to sombre. "He killed Count Dooku."

Qui-Gon bowed his head, the loss of his once former Master painful, despite the differences in their loyalties to the Force and the Republic. "I hope he will find redemption and forgiveness now he is at peace," he murmured. "Now, I'm sure you'd much rather be spending time at home than here."

"Master," Obi-Wan began to say, but Qui-Gon shook his head. "Mace or Anakin can fill me in on what else occurred. And briefing the Council can wait. Go."

In the end, Chancellor Palpatine did not lift martial law until the light started to fade from the orbital mirrors, causing Obi-Wan to deliver his briefing to the Council before he, Cordé and Padmé were able to leave the Temple for the privacy of their apartment in Five Hundred Republica. Together they put their daughter to bed, before shedding their robes of office and duty in favour of comfort for the night.

Padmé stood before the balcony rail brushing curls into her long brown hair while she waited for Obi-Wan to join her. Clothed in an ivory blue Nubian silk night gown, the material looped high over her chest to low down her back, secured by thin straps from a crystallised oval flourish below her slender neck, around which lay her purple necklace. The silk fell in gentle folds to the floor, concealing the recent changes to her figure. A smile caressed her face as her husband emerged from the shadowed lights of their living room to recline against the wall beside the threshold, his blue grey eyes fixed on her in open admiration.

"I'd like to have the baby on Naboo," she remarked, continuing to brush her hair. "In the Lake Country, away from everything and everyone. Those times we spent there five months ago have been on my mind ever since we parted."

"Mine too," Obi-Wan replied, while he stretched out with the Force to bond with the new signature growing inside her. Or rather, signatures, he realised in awe. "You mean babies, my darling."

She almost dropped the hairbrush. "Twins?" she queried, receiving a questioning nod in reply. "I didn't have the healer check, I just wanted to make sure everything was okay. I did think something was different, for my sensitivity seems stronger this time." Padmé paused, fingering a curling lock of hair almost absently. "We'll have to make some changes to the nursery there. If we can get away."

Obi-Wan nodded, running a hand through his hair with a sigh before he joined her at the balcony rail. "I hear from Mace that his power is increasing."

"There's little anyone can do to stop him," Padmé admitted sadly. "I ran a comparison between what laws we had with Finis and what Palpatine has now. The results were frightening. Soon he'll render the Senate completely ineffectual, and then only the Order might be able to stop him."

"Mace is not optimistic on that front," Obi-Wan confided. "Our allegiance is to democracy, to your body of governance. Once it is gone, it will be difficult to mount any legal move against him. He has our best fighters stationed at the furthest reaches of the galaxy, allegedly protected by legions of clone troopers. If the Sith Lord turns out to be someone from his office, then a coup will become our only option."

"And the war?" Padmé asked him. "How did Anakin kill Count Dooku?"

"I'm not sure," Obi-Wan replied. "His last attack on me left me unconscious. I only came round after we tried to leave the ship. Anakin seemed guarded in telling me how, while Palpatine was almost gushing with fatherly pride. But with him gone, there is only Grievous left. If we can take care of him, we can end this war."

"Who will the Order send?" Padmé inquired.

Obi-Wan shrugged. "Mace or Yoda, I think. Current strategy is to force the Sith Lord's hand, to make him declare his intentions. If the strongest of the Order, the Grand Masters, are out in the field, he might feel more confident in doing so." He moved to embrace her, gently resting her head against his chest. "Don't worry my love, I'm not going anywhere."

"It's hard not worry," she confessed as her face nuzzled against the warmth of him which she could feel through his tunic. "Everytime I'm parted from you now, I fear another Ventress will take you, and nobody will be able to come to your aid. Those months when there were whispers of your death..." she shivered, even as he tightened his embrace around her, knowing there was nothing he could do or say to assuage these concerns, for they were a by-product of being married to a Jedi, however unnatural or negative such emotions were.

"Do you want me to talk to the Council, ask for some leave?" he inquired, only for her to shake her head in a surprisingly resounding refusal.

"No, I will not have you give up your duties just to ease my worries," she added. "You are too good a Jedi for the Republic to lose right now."

He said nothing in response to the praise, but then he never required his ego to be massaged by her or anyone, which was precisely why he was so good a Jedi. Instead he bent his head to catch her lips with his, as they at last let themselves savour the pleasure of their reunion.

Later that night, while they slept, a beeping disturbed the silence of their bedroom, causing Padmé to rise from the sheets and wander into the living room. Carefully she navigated through the relative darkness that had settled upon the apartment, and sat down before the holo-emitter, her hand reaching out to press the receive icon.

"Anakin," she greeted as soon as the caller became visible. "Welcome home. Do you need to speak with Obi-Wan?"

"No, it's you I wanted to see," Anakin replied. "Are you alright?"

Padmé frowned at the inquiry, surveying his face and manner, deducing that he had not spent a restful night's sleep. "I'm fine, why, what's wrong?"

"I had a dream," he murmured. "It was like the ones I used to have about my Mom, before she.... died." He paused, raising his eyes to level with her own. "It was about you."

"Oh," Padmé uttered, unsure what to say. The very idea of Anakin dreaming about her after his confession on Geonosis was unsettling, let alone the theme.

"You die in childbirth," he continued, the words forced from his mouth, as if he didn't want to warn her, let alone fear the imagination of such an event.

She held back from sighing, knowing he would not take kindly to her scoffing at his prophecy. This fear was only natural for him, coming from Tatooine, where medical facilities were available only to those who had money, rendering death in childbirth common amongst the slavering community. "Ani, nothing will happen. I have regular checks at the Healers' Ward in the Temple, and a top flight personal medical droid is at my beck and call." Not to mention that Obi-Wan would know if something was wrong, and surely she would too, for the children would convey it through the only language currently open to them; the Force.

He seemed to shrink in his seat, the mechanical hand clenching so tightly that she could not help experiencing a flicker of fear. "You are pregnant then," he murmured, his voice full of dread, mixed with an unhealthy amount of anger.

Padmé held herself back from experiencing the same emotion, telling herself that he was still suffering from the effects of the dream, that he did not realise what he implying, or who he was angry at. "Yes, Ani, and I am perfectly well."

If the statement reassured him, there was no way to know, for a masked expression threw itself across his face as he replied. "Oh, well, congratulations. I guess I should go, let you get some sleep."

"Ani," she began to say, but the scene went blank, signalling the end of the call. Sighing, she moved to switch the device off, but then the machine admitted another beep, before filling with lines of coded Aurabesh, appearing to those who did not possess the decrypt as the endless repeat of three letters, grouped into three.

But Padmé knew full well what this message meant, and who was the probable sender. Her hand reached out to the touch screen and pressed the hard copy button, transferring the coded message to the datapad she used for the Cantham House Committee. The inbuilt decrypt automatically translated the seemingly endless gobbledegook into legislative phrasing, revealing itself to be the latest executive orders from the Office of Supreme Chancellor, regarding the Sector Governance Decree and the Security Act Amendment; Jedi Jurisdiction. The headings alone were enough to trouble her; as she read further into the message, her concern only deepened.

Rising from the chair, she returned to the bedroom, and found Obi-Wan sitting up, the lights a soft glow, highlighting his handsome features, adding another aspect to the blue grey eyes which were wordlessly observing her.

"Who was it?" he asked.

Carefully she climbed on to the bed, and he took her into his warm embrace before she replied. "Ani, and a message from Bail." she handed him the pad.

Being the husband of a Senator for over three years now helped Obi-Wan to become adept in reading political briefs, as much as he claimed to loath the concept and those who used it as their living. Since the beginning of the Clone Wars, even before, there were a few politicians who were the exception to his professed disgust, and not just the woman in his arms who sat patiently waiting for his opinion on the report before them.

"There it is," he murmured when he reached the end of the message, his tone one of resignation and regret. "In two acts of law he has effectively put an end to the jurisdiction of the Senate and of the Order."

"What do you think he will do next?" Padmé asked, trying to force aside the image of a offworlder arriving on her homeworld with a brigade of clone troopers in tow. The similarity to the blockade thirteen years ago was all too evident.

"My guess is he will put someone he can trust on the Council," Obi-Wan replied grimly, "which brings us back to our first caller. What did Anakin want?"

"Did he ever tell you that he suffered from nightmares regarding his mother?" she asked him.

"Yes, when we were assigned to protect you, and just before. I wish I had listened to them," Obi-Wan confessed. "Perhaps we could have saved her. From what I found out since, she was captured by the Tuskens when we took the mission to Ansion."

Padmé bowed her head, the possibility of the dream containing some truth within it occurring to her for the first time. "He had a dream about me dying in childbirth."

Instinctively Obi-Wan tightened his embrace, one of his hands slipping to feel the swell of her belly through the silk she wore. "It won't happen."

Despite voicing such defiance to Anakin earlier, Padmé found herself adding support to the Knight's nightmare. "But what if he's right?"

Obi-Wan shook his head. "The Force would not be so cruel." He raised his hand from her waist to her chin, turning her to face him. "It is just his anxieties, my darling. Everyone is putting a lot of pressure upon him to end this war, including himself. Anakin carries the burden of all our expectations. I honestly don't know how he deals with it, and I don't think he does either. He is fiercely loyal to all of those he counts as friends, and we are all pulling him in different directions, unconsciously demanding him to follow us. He's about to lose Qui-Gon, and he also is still learning to face the fact that you and I are married. Remember how he dealt with news of Cordé."

Padmé nodded, sighing as she released her temporary concern. Anakin was the first to learn of their news when they returned from Naboo nearly three years ago. He had been so concerned about her and so angry at Obi-Wan that for a while he refused to see or speak to either of them. Only through their combined patience together with the counsel of Qui-Gon did he at last make amends. But since then relations were always cautious and tentative, and the couple had taken care not to be too affectionate in his presence.

Her husband leaned forward to catch her lips in his, and she forgot the troubles which disturbed them from their rest. She turned herself round in his arms, her hands exploring the toned planes of his chest as he slid the straps of her gown down her arms, his mind stretching out within the Force to lower the light of the lamps until nothing but the lights of Coruscant's night sky played shadows across their sensuously moving forms, seeking the contentment reached by their unity.

Neither of them had seen each other since the night the twins inside her now were conceived, in a second honeymoon on Naboo. Tenderly, passionately, they took their time to acquaint themselves with each other's bodies, Obi-Wan sweeping a long, loving glance back and forth as he lowered the nightgown to reveal her flesh, his mouth dropping to take her nipples into his mouth one by one, sucking and licking while she pressed her hands into his red blond hair, keeping him there, until her need called his mouth back to her own, and their bodies came together in the ancient dance, instilling within themselves a heaven from the chaos which surrounded their worlds, a light within the darkness that was slowly sinking what was left of the Republic.

Chapter Text

Part 31: Politics.

Next morning, the Cantham House Committee convened not in its usual location which gave the group its name, but around the sick bed of one of its members; Master Qui-Gon Jinn, in the Healers ward of the Jedi Temple. Such a feat was not accomplished without difficulty, as they faced opposition from the medical sovereigns of that domain, who were forthrightly vocal in their protests and guidance concerning the patient's stress levels and overall health. Whether their comments were entirely welcome was judged best by the patient, who was heard to grumble through the Force to his former Padawan several choice words relating to the medic's parentage and behaviour, causing the Council Master to take great pains to conceal a smile behind his customary Jedi serenity.

"The Chancellor's goal in this, unclear to me it is," Yoda murmured when he finished reading the latest amendments to the frankly now poor and tattered Constitution, his voice gravely and grave, his entire manner thoughtful. "Though nominally in command of the Council the Senate may place him, the Jedi he cannot control. Moral our authority always has been, much more than legal. Simply follow orders the Jedi do not!"

"I don't think he intends to control the Jedi," Mace remarked. "By placing the Jedi Council under control of the office of Supreme Chancellor, this amendment will give him the constitutional authority to disband the Order itself."

"Surely you cannot believe that this is his real intention?" Padmé queried, leaving forward in her chair. Obi-Wan's hand went to the small of her back, applying a gentle Force massage to the pain he could sense there, causing her to flash a smile at him.

"His intentions are irrelevant," Mace continued. "All that matters now is the intent of the Sith Lord who has our government in his grip. And with this Sector Governance Decree to blackmail the Senate into complicity, the Jedi Order may be all that stands between him and galactic domination."

Yoda shook his head in resolute denial. "Authority to disband the Jedi Order, the Senate would never grant."

Mace was equally just as firm in his grim convictions. "The Senate will vote to grant exactly that. This afternoon."

"The implications of this, they must not comprehend!" Yoda tapped his gimmer stick on the marble antiseptically cleaned floor.

"It no longer matters what they comprehend," Garm Bel Iblis added sadly, "they know where the power is and they will cling to it unless someone else appeals to their self-serving interests."

"But even disbanded, even without legal authority, still the Jedi would we be," Yoda reminded those Masters present. "Jedi Knights served the Force long before there was a Galactic Republic and serve it we will when this Republic is but dust."

"Master Yoda, that day may be coming sooner than we think," Padmé informed the revered Grand Master. "That day may be today."

"We don't know what the Sith Lord's plans may be," Obi-Wan added, "but we can be certain that Palpatine is not to be trusted. Not anymore. This draft resolution is not the product of some over zealous Senator, we may be sure Palpatine wrote it himself and passed it along to someone he controls to make it look like the Senate is once more 'forcing him to reluctantly accept extra powers in the name of security.' We are afraid that they will continue to do so until one day he is forced to 'reluctantly accept' dictatorship for life."

"I am convinced this is the next step in a plot aimed directly at the heart of the Jedi," Mace continued. "This is a move towards our destruction. The dark side of the Force surrounds the Chancellor."

Obi-Wan nodded in agreement. "As it has surrounded and cloaked the Separatists since even before the war began. If the Chancellor is being influenced through the dark side this whole war may have been from the beginning a plot by the Sith to destroy the Jedi Order."

"Speculation!" Yoda cried. "On theories such as these we cannot not rely. Proof we need. Proof!"

"Proof we have," Padmé reminded them. "Obi-Wan and I discovered the first clues back on Kamino three years ago. Plans for an army that was a decade old, bred for precisely the right moment, given to the Republic to be commanded by Jedi, until such time when order Sixty-six is activated. Consider what the war has done to the Order, by placing every Knight and Master in the field over the command of a legion, stationed in battles located at the furthest reaches of the galaxy. So when the order comes to pass, no one will be able to come to their rescue."

"The question now becomes what will he do with those in the Temple while this occurs," Mace remarked. "We must be ready to act. He cannot be allowed to move against the order. He cannot be allowed to prolong this war needlessly. Too many Jedi have died already. He is dismantling the Republic itself. I have seen life outside the Republic, so have you Obi-Wan, Padmé. Slavery. Torture. Endless war. I have seen it on Nar Shaddaa and I saw it on Haruun Kal. I saw what it did to Depa and to Sora Bulq. Whatever its flaws, the Republic is our sole hope for justice and for peace. It is our only defence against the dark. Palpatine may be about to do what the Separatists cannot; bring down the Republic. If he tries, he must be removed from office."

"Removed?" Senator Fang Zar echoed. "You mean arrested?"

Yoda shook his head in sadness. "To a dark place, this line of thought will lead us. Great care we must take."

"The Republic is civilisation. It's the only one we have. We must be prepared for radical action. It is our duty." Bail resolved.

"But you are talking treason," Fang Zar reminded him.

"I am not afraid of words, Senator," Mace remarked. "If it's treason then so be it. Who of us can recognise treason nowadays? The morality of the Republic and the Order as become shrouded in a twilight of darkness. I would do this right now, if I had the Council's support. The real treason would be failure to act."

"Such an act, destroy the Jedi Order it could," Yoda murmured gravely. "Lost the trust of the public we have already...."

"No disrespect, Master Yoda," Mace interrupted, "or to you, Senators, but that is a politician's argument. We can't let public opinion stop us from doing what is right."

"Convinced it is right, I am not," Yoda countered. "Working behind the scenes we should be, to uncover Lord Sidious. To move against Palpatine while the Sith still exist, dangerous and unwise. This may be part of the Sith plan itself, to turn the Senate and the Republic against the Jedi. So that we are not only disbanded, but outlawed."

"To wait gives the Sith the advantage," Mace countered.

"Have the advantage they already do!" Yoda cried back. "Increase their advantage we will, if in haste we act!"

"Masters, Masters, please," Obi-Wan broke in. "Perhaps there is a middle way."

"Ah of course; Kenobi the Negotiator." Mace commented mildly, his voice still grim but without sarcasm. "I should have guessed. That is why you asked for this meeting isn't it? To mediate our differences if you can."

"So sure of your skills you are?" Yoda mused. "Easy to negotiate this matter is not!"

Obi-Wan took a deep breath, glanced at everyone present, then began. "It seems to me, that Palpatine has himself given us an opening. He said, both to you Master Windu, and in the HoloNet address he gave following his rescue, that General Grievous is the true obstacle to peace. Let us forget about the rest of the Separatist leadership for now. Let Nute Gunray and San Hill and the rest run wherever they like, while we put every available Jedi and all of our agents, the whole of Republic Intelligence if we can, to work on locating General Grievous himself. This will force the hand of the Sith Lord, he will know that Grievous cannot elude our efforts for long, once we devote ourselves exclusively to his capture. It will draw Sidious out, he will have to make some sort of move, if he wishes the war to continue."

"If?" Mace queried. "The war has been a Sith operation from the beginning with, forgive me, Qui-Gon, Dooku on one side and Sidious on the other, it has always been a plot aimed at us. At the Jedi. To bleed us dry of our youngest and best. To make us into something we never intended to be. I had the truth in my hands years ago back on Haruun Kal, in the first months of the war. I had it, but I did not understand how right I was."

Yoda nodded solemnly. "Seen glimpses of the truth we all have. Our arrogance it is which has stopped us from fully opening our eyes."

"Until now." Obi-Wan added. "We understand now the goal of the Sith Lord, we know his tactics and we know where to look for him. His actions will reveal him. He cannot escape us. He will not escape us."

There was silence for a moment as everyone contemplated the words of the Negotiator. Rarely did they have the opportunity to see him in action except in edited media across the HoloNet. Now they could listen to the full measure of his voice, the cultured tone gently persuading their tempers to calm, their minds to see reason.

Yoda managed a smile of pride at his former pupil. "Seen to the heart of the matter, young Kenobi has."

"Yoda and I will remain on Coruscant, monitoring Palpatine's advisers and lackeys, we'll move against Sidious the instant he is revealed," Mace decided. "But who will capture Grievous? I have fought him blade to blade. He is more than a match for most jedi."

"We'll worry about that once we find him," Obi-Wan added.

"Until the possible becomes actual, it is only a distraction," Qui-Gon reminded them. "If we co-ordinate our efforts, we might catch Sidious off guard."

Fang Zar, one of the new additions to the Cantham House Committee, shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "I'm not sure I like where this is going."

"None of us likes where this is going," Bail remarked. "That's exactly the point. We can't let a thousand years of democracy disappear without a fight!"

"A fight?" Giddean Danu echoed. "I can't believe what I'm hearing. Bail, you and Master Windu both sound like Separatists."

"Perhaps they had the right idea from the beginning," Qui-Gon mused. "Dooku only left because he distrusted the Senate in the wake of its growing corruption, the inability of the Order to remain unaffected. He turned to the dark side later, manipulated by Sidious, who has sought since to use the war as a means to advancing his power and influence."

"It has become increasingly clear to all of us," Mon Mothma added, "that Palpatine has become an enemy of democracy. He must be stopped."

"We have the organisation in place," Bail revealed. "And the resources for survival, both for the Republic, and for the Order. All that remains for now, is to force our enemies' hand."

A knock sounded upon the door to Qui-Gon's room, and the committee fell into silence as the Padawan entered.

"The Chancellor's shuttle just docked, Masters," she reported.

"Palpatine is here?" Mace sought to confirm.

"No, he has asked for Knight Skywalker to go and see him," the Padawan replied.

"Go, find him, I will," Yoda remarked, rising from his place on Qui-Gon's bed. The rest of the Senators and Masters followed suit, waiting for the venerable Grand Jedi to depart before following Mace to the secret entrance and exit back into Coruscant's busy byways.

"I better start the Outer Rim briefing," Obi-Wan remarked as he rose from his chair, his hand reaching out for that of his wife's. Deliberately he passed close to her on way out, his face pausing beside hers. "I'll see you this afternoon, my love."

Padmé bestowed a warm smile upon him in silent reply, her brown eyed gaze following his form as he exited the room, before she departed to follow her colleagues from the political arena.

Obi-Wan reached the entrance to the War room and turned to observe his wife, his blue grey eyes wordlessly admiring her regally serene form, the elaborate gown which somehow managed to hide her quickening. After the furore caused when they were expecting Cordé, they decided to keep further pregnancies unwraps for as long as possible. Neither imagined that it would be easy to conceal twins, especially with her slight figure, but so far few had queried or inquired. Being with her and knowing her so intimately, he could tell of course, even without the Force, for a certain glow cast itself around her, brightening her every feature, from the light of her eyes to sparkle of her smile.

He recalled the night before, as he surveyed her bare skin in the heady state of afterglow, the happiness which radiated from her as they made love. She was never far from his thoughts, whether he was in her arms or away serving on the front line of the Outer Rim. He could not imagine a life without her, or remember a time when he didn't know her or love her, nor could he believe, when he saw her like this, her regally serene features concealing the heart of a wise warrior, that there was a truth in Anakin's nightmare.

Now he just had to convince the Knight of that.

The briefing on the Outer Rim Sieges over and still no sign of his former apprentice, caused Obi-Wan to make his way to the docking bay where the Chancellor's shuttle, empty yet guarded, waited for Anakin to board. He was there because he wanted to warn Anakin about the trap he was about to walk into, one which might prove all his dreams, yet be soured by the restrictions which the Jedi Council would enforce. Yet how to go about it? Obi-Wan was still unsure, though his mind had been occupied with this matter all through the briefing, perhaps even before.

And he found himself still hunting for the right words even as the tall form of his once apprentice came out of the darkness, and began walking towards him. Obi-Wan looked up from his absent examination of the deck to observe the Knight's appearance, noting with confusion the neglect to put on fresh tunics since their return from rescuing the Chancellor, leading him to silently wonder where Anakin had spent the night, let alone most of the morning. Not sleeping, if the tiredness betrayed by his red rimmed eyes was anything to go by. Something else he needed to talk to him about, though he relished doing so just as much as he did airing this conversation.

"You missed the report on the Outer Rim sieges," he settled for first.

"I was .... held up," Anakin replied. "I have no excuse." He glanced at the shuttle, the Guards waiting beside it. "Is Palpatine here? Has something happened?"

"Quite the opposite," Obi-Wan continued. "That shuttle did not bring the Chancellor. It is waiting to bring you to him."

"Waiting for me?" Anakin sought to confirm. He patted his robes, searching for a device he mislaid as regularly as his lightsaber, which his mentor was grateful to see hanging off his belt. "But my beacon hasn't gone off, if the Council wanted me, why didn't they call?"

Obi-Wan was relieved to see him ignorant of the Chancellor's plans. He hoped perhaps vainly, that it would make his task easier if he heard their side first. "The Council has not been consulted."

Anakin frowned. "I don't understand."

"Nor do I," Obi-Wan admitted, though he was afraid that a part of him understood only too well. "They simply arrived quite some time ago. When the deck duty Padawans questioned them, they said that the Chancellor has requested your presence."

The Knight's frown deepened. "Why wouldn't he go through the Council?"

"Perhaps he has some reason to believe that the Council might have resisted sending you," Obi-Wan replied carefully, his blue grey eyes wordlessly noting Anakin's reaction. "Perhaps he did not wish to reveal his reasons for this summons. Relations between the Chancellor and the Council are ...... stressed."

For a moment there was silence on the docking bay as former pupil and Master ingested this information, inwardly speculating about its possible meanings, motives and consequences. Anakin then raised a face full of concern to meet that of his once teacher, a man whom he still considered a brother in arms, despite all. "Obi-Wan, what's going on? Something's wrong isn't it? You know something, I can tell."

Obi-Wan sighed. He yearned for those days when things were that simple. "Know? Only suspect. Which is not at all the same thing."

"And?" Anakin prompted.

"And that's why I'm out here, Anakin, So I can talk to you," Obi-Wan replied. "Privately. Not as a member of the Jedi Council, infact, if the Council were to find out about this conversation, ..... well let's say I'd rather they didn't."

"What conversation?" Anakin cried. "I still don't know what's going on!"

"None of us does. Not really." Obi-Wan ran a hand through his hair, reminding himself that he was committed now. "Anakin, you know I am your friend."

"Of course you are..."

Obi-Wan cut in. "No. No of courses, Anakin. Nothing is of course anymore. I am your friend, and as your friend I am asking you; be wary of Palpatine."

The frown returned, as did Obi-Wan's tiredness. There were times when Anakin's nonnescient was exhausting. "What do you mean?"

"I know you are his friend," he affirmed. "I am concerned that he may not be yours. Be careful of him, Anakin. And be careful of your own feelings."

"Careful?" Anakin echoed. "Don't you mean mindful?"

"No I don't. The Force grows ever darker around us, and we are all affected by it, even as we affect it. This is a dangerous time to be a Jedi. Please, Anakin. Please be careful."

It was entirely the wrong moment to try for a rakish smile, still Obi-Wan was half relieved his friend had the courage to muster one. "You worry too much."

"I have to..." he began to say, but his pupil finished the response before he could.

"Because I don't worry at all right?"

Obi-Wan shook his head. "How did you know I was going to say that?"

"You're wrong you know," Anakin replied, his eyes moving past Obi-Wan towards the outline of Five Hundred Republica. "I worry plenty."

Obi-Wan didn't need to follow the direction, he knew already what Anakin was searching for. Or rather who. "That's another thing I've been meaning to talk with you about. How long have you been experiencing this nightmare?"

"Last night was the first," Anakin replied. "How long has Padmé been pregnant?"

Obi-Wan brushed the question aside, too irritated by the tone to answer. You didn't need to be a Jedi to detect the anger which lay behind his 'brother's' words, it was all too clear, clouding the previous level of confidence between them. "That's hardly relevant." Nor was it difficult to work out, for they had both been absent from the Core for the same amount of time. "Why did you feel it was necessary to tell Padmé about it?"

"I wanted her to be careful, to prevent the future I saw, if I could." Anakin sighed. "Obi-Wan, I was right about my mother. I don't want you to loose Padmé the way I lost her."

"What would you have me do?" Obi-Wan asked him softly. "Persuade her to give the child up? She's too far along already. Surrogacy? Such a procedure at this stage would be risky to both of them. And you're forgetting something, Anakin. Padmé is a strong woman. Far stronger than you or I. She had no difficulty with Cordé, and according to the healers and the med-droid, she'll have no trouble this time either."

"Master, please," Anakin pleaded. "You can go into the archives. You have access to information I don't have. You can find a way to prevent this from coming to pass."

"And I am telling you Anakin, with all this information at my disposal, it will not. Now I understand your fears, coming from Outer Rim planet such as Tatooine, where death in childbirth is common. But it does not happen on Coruscant. Or Naboo."

"How can you not be concerned?" Anakin asked. "You were the same when she was expecting Cordé; the perfect picture of Jedi serenity. While I,"

"Were a gibbering wreck," Obi-Wan finished, mildly. "I was worried, Anakin, though you may not have seen it. But I had faith in the Force, and in Padmé. I would have let her down, as well all of those in the Order, by surrendering to such negative emotions. And you will too, if you continue to listen to your fears."

"It's hard not to," Anakin whispered as his eyes turned the shuttle which awaited for him. "So much is uncertain these days."

Obi-Wan had no response to that, because for once the Knight spoke the truth.

The motive behind the Chancellor's actions regarding Anakin were soon made clear to the currently Temple bound members of the Council, who summoned those stationed in the field for an immediate conclave on the matter. Such Masters appeared via holo, their blue transparent bodies adding a somewhat eerie quality to the room, where ruling was usually reached and decided by silent and mutual contemplation of the Force. Since Obi-Wan's recent elevation to the body however, the General had rarely experienced such a simple and exquisite form of communication.

Despite their initial doubts concerning the identity of Anakin Skywalker as the Chosen One, they now possessed faith in his abilities to prove their often extremely high expectations. It was a view which Obi-Wan had never shared, knowing the boy better than they, witnessing the young Knight's all too frequent defiance of orders in favour of doing what he believed was right. Something which he tried to convince the Council about time and time again.

But while they held agreement with him in never making the lad a Master until he showed a better control of his emotional state, they were determined to use this executive manipulation from the Chancellor's office to their advantage, at the risk for Anakin, to which they seemed blind, no matter how hard Obi-Wan tried now to make them see.

"Yes of course I trust him," he reiterated, for what seemed like the tenth time since this plan was first proposed. "We can always trust Anakin to do what he thinks is right. But we can't trust him to do what he's told. He can't be made to simply obey. Believe me I've been trying that for many years."

"An unintentional opportunity the Chancellor has given us," Yoda said, a pointed reminder to his former pupils, for most of those on the Council now had grown under his initial tutelage. "A window he has opened into the operations of his office. Fools we would be to close our eyes."

"Then we should use someone else's eyes," Obi-Wan advised, and with a tone of such authority, that the revered Master glanced at him with raised brows. "Forgive me, Master Yoda, but you just don't know him the way I do. None of you does. He is fiercely loyal and there is not one gram of deception in him. You've all seen it; it's one of the many arguments that some of you, here in this room, have used against elevating him to Master: he lacks the true Jedi reserve, that's what you've said. And by that we all mean that he wears his emotions like a HoloNet banner. How can you ask him to lie to a friend, to spy on him?"

"That is why we must call upon a friend to ask him," Agen Kolar countered confidently, his gaze directed at Obi-Wan.

Who shook his head, just as surely. "You don't understand. Don't make him choose between me and Palpatine...."

"Why not?" Plo Koon asked from the bridge of the Courageous where he was directing the battle against the Separatists in the Ywllander system. "Do you fear you would loose such a contest?"

"You don't know how much Palpatine's friendship has meant to him over the years," Obi-Wan persisted. "You're asking him to use that friendship as a weapon. To stab his friend in the back. Don't you understand what this will cost him, even if Palpatine is entirely innocent? Especially if he's innocent. Their relationship will never be the same...."

"And that," Mace broke in with, "may be the best argument in favour of this plan. I have told you all what I have seen of the energy between Skywalker and the Supreme Chancellor. Anything that might distance young Skywalker from Palpatine's influence in the future is worth the attempt."

"I will of course abide by the ruling of this Council," Obi-Wan conceded, albeit reluctantly, for inwardly he still held many doubts regarding the wisdom behind this proposal. A part of him was worried that by choosing Anakin, they were playing right into the Sith Lord's hands, and he feared that this part of him would be proved correct.

"Doubt of that, none of us has," Yoda remarked, smiling at the young man who never once proved wrong his expectations, or shifted his burdens towards someone else in favour of his own survival. Obi-Wan was the Temple's real prize, precisely because he did not realise it. "But if to be done this is, decide we must how best we use him."

Ki-Adi-Mundi spoke through his holopresence. "I too have reservations on this matter, but it seems that in these desperate times, only desperate plans have hope of success. We have seen that young Skywalker has the power to battle a Sith alone, if need be; he has proven that with Dooku. If he is indeed the Chosen One, we must keep him in play against the Sith, keep him in a position to fulfil his destiny."

"And even if the prophecy has been misread," Agen Kolar added, "Anakin is one of the few Jedi we can best hope would survive an encounter with a Sith Lord. So let us also use him to help us set our trap. In Council let us emphasise that we are intensifying our search for Grievous. Anakin will certainly report this to the Chancellor's office. Perhaps as you say that will draw Sidious into action."

"It may not be enough," Mace said. "Let us take this one step further, we should appear short handed and weak, giving Sidious an opening to make a move he thinks will go unobserved. I'm thinking that perhaps we should let the Chancellor's office know that Yoda and I have both been forced to take the field...."

"Too risky that is," Yoda broke in, "and too convenient. One of us only should go."

"Then it should be you, Master Yoda," Agen Kolar proposed. "It is your sensitivity to the broader currents of the Force that a Sith Lord has most reason to fear."

Yoda nodded thoughtfully. "The Separatist attack on Kashyyyk, a compelling excuse will make. And good relations with the Wookiees I have; destroy the droid armies I can, and still be available to Coruscant, should Sidious take our bait."

"Agreed," Mace spoke for all sensing the consensus through the currents and eddies of the Force. "And one last touch. Let's let the Chancellor know, through Anakin, that our most cunning and insightful Master, and our most tenacious, is our choice to lead the hunt for Grievous."

"So Sidious will need to act, and act fast, if the war is to be maintained," Plo Koon said, nodding approvingly.

"Agreed," Yoda added, verbalising the consent from all present.

"This sounds like a good plan," Obi-Wan added from his position as the main strategist within the Temple and the Order. "But which Master do you have in mind?"

His query was met with only silence, accompanied by gentle expressions of quiet amusement, until he realised that the Master they were talking of was none other than him.

From the moment he entered the room, Obi-Wan could tell that Anakin was angry. The negative emotion rolled off him in waves, disrupting the light side currents of the Force which still swirled round the room, clouding them with darkness. Not for the first time did he suspect that the Chancellor used his relationship with the young Jedi to manipulate him. However, for what purpose he was still uncertain. As he had said to his former apprentice earlier, suspect was not the same as knowing. Though if it was to turn him against the Order, to have one of their own bring them down, then the merits of the proposal they were about to make to him would lower considerably.

"Anakin Skywalker," Mace began, causing the wandering blue eyes to fix on him, "The Council have decided to comply with Chancellor Palpatine's directive, and with the instructions of the Senate that give him the unprecedented authority to command this Council. You are hereby granted a seat at the High Council of the Jedi, as the Chancellor's personal representative."

The long moment of silence which met this proclamation served only to increase Obi-Wan's worries. From his chair he observed the young Knight, who now had broken the record for the youngest Jedi to be offered a seat on the Council since that of Mace Windu. After appearing suitably shocked by the appointment, his face now held an expression which seemed to suggest that something had just been confirmed in his mind. That this move by the Council was predicted by someone else, establishing Anakin's loyalty towards that person even further than it was set already. Obi-Wan did not need to name the man in his mind. He knew who it was already, and far too well for his liking.

"Thank you, Masters," Anakin at last replied. "You have my pledge that I will uphold the highest principles of the Jedi Order."

"Allow this appointment lightly, the Council does not," Yoda remarked. "Disturbing this move by Chancellor Palpatine is. On many levels."

Anakin bowed his head in acknowledgement, but not perhaps in perception. "I understand."

"I'm not sure you do," Mace added. "You will attend meetings of the Council, but you will not be granted the rank and privileges of a Jedi Master."


Obi-Wan flinched from the sheer power which lay behind such a simple, small word. That Anakin didn't even bother to hide his disbelief from the Council spoke rather eloquently in favour of the argument which he attempted to make earlier. Though he had warned him only hours ago that his relationship with the Chancellor might put him in exactly this kind of position with the Council, Anakin had clearly not listened to any of it.

"How dare you? How dare you? No Jedi in this room can match my power, no Jedi in the galaxy! You think you can deny Mastery to me?!"

And, just as clearly, he hadn't listened to Obi-Wan's and Qui-Gon's lessons over the years about governing his anger, his ego and applying the attributes that made a Jedi Master. Obi-Wan directed a glare at his former pupil, slowly shaking his head.

"The Chancellor's representative you are," Yoda remarked, his tone as grim as Obi-Wan's inward ruminations. "And it is as his representative you shall attend the Council. Sit in this Chamber you will, but no vote will you have. The Chancellor's view you shall present. His wishes. His ideas and directives. Not your own."

Perhaps that was one thing the directive had failed to appreciate about the Council; the ability to take an request and use it in its literal, yet subtle terms. Obi-Wan understood, even if his former apprentice did not, the great need not to assign a political voice to the Order, who remained as the moral authority of the Republic, even in the twilight years.

"This is an insult to me and an insult to the Chancellor," Anakin warned, is voice still a fountain of unvented fury. "Do not imagine that it will be tolerated."

Mace shot a stare towards the young Knight that was as cold as the young man's voice, his strict discipline unusually strained. "Take your seat, young Skywalker."

Obi-Wan saw the look Anakin sent back towards Mace, and feared for the lives of several members of this Council. He knew that the youth's opinion of them was never positive; Anakin still resented them for their public rejection of him when he was first brought before them, thirteen years ago. And to give him his due, the Council had not done much to destroy that unhealthy perception of them either.

"Anakin," he uttered softly, bringing the young Knight's attention upon him, "please."

To his surprise, his former apprentice surrendered, releasing the anger and bowing before the members in an act of contrition. "Forgive me, Masters," he uttered before taking the seat by Obi-Wan.

The rest of the conclave was conducted smoothly, most of the plans for future strategy having been worked out before the new member was invited inside the chamber. Obi-Wan saw Anakin retreat into his own thoughts, only emerging when the plans for Yoda to go to Kashyyyk were proposed, his desire to be out in the field palpable, leaving his former Master to wonder if perhaps the battlefield would be the best place for him, safely away from the Sith Lord whom seemed to be more of a threat to the Chosen One than the Chosen One was to him.

Agen Kolar called Obi-Wan to his side after the meeting was declared to be over, and for a few minutes the Zabrak managed to allay the General's fears, as he inquired after Senator Amidala and young Cordé. Though Obi-Wan's demeanour remained solemn and grave throughout the conversation, there was a welcome warmth to his cultured accent, and a joy in his words as he answered the questions which provided him with the strength to face his next discussion with Anakin.

Who waited for him outside in the vast grand lobby of the Temple, that seemed to have sensed his temper and turmoil, by choosing to remain devoid of its usual occupants; Padawans, Knights, Masters and younglings, all walking from one room of the Temple to another, all in search of a deeper understanding in the wisdom of the Force.

"This is outrageous!" Anakin cried as soon as Obi-Wan stood before him. "How can they do this?"

"How can they not?" Obi-Wan countered, determined to make his companion understand. "It's your friendship with the Chancellor, the same friendship which got you a seat at the Council, that makes it impossible to grant you Mastery. In the Council's eyes, that would be the same as giving a vote to Palpatine himself!"

"I didn't ask for this," Anakin protested. "I don't need this. So if I wasn't friends with Palpatine I'd be a Master already, is that what you're saying?"

Obi-Wan sighed. Why was becoming a Master so important? He feared that he already knew the answer. "I don't know," was all he said, though really he did.

"I have the power of any five Masters," Anakin boasted. "Any ten. You know it, Qui-Gon knows it, and so do they."

Did he listen to anything they taught him? "Power alone is no credit to you..."

"They're the ones who call me the Chosen One! Chosen for what? To be a dupe in some slimy political game?"

"Didn't I warn you, Anakin?" Obi-Wan reminded him. "I told you of the .... tension between the Council and the Chancellor. I was very clear. Why didn't you listen? You walked right into it."

"Like that ray shield trap." Anakin scoffed, reminding him of their last mission. "Should I blame this on the dark side too?"

"However it happened," Obi-Wan replied, "you are in a very .... delicate situation."

"What situation? Who cares about me? I'm no Master, I'm just a kid, right? Isn't that what it's about? Is Master Windu turning everyone against me because until I came along he was the youngest Jedi ever to be named to the Council?"

Obi-Wan sighed in frustration. "No one cares about that."

"Sure they don't," Anakin remarked sarcastically. "Let me tell you something. A smart old man said to me not so long ago; age is no measure of wisdom. If it were Yoda would be as twenty times as wise as you are..."

"This has nothing to do with Master Yoda!" Obi-Wan raised his voice, which had no effect whatsoever in quelling the tirade from the Knight before him.

"That's right. It has to do with me. It has to do with them all being against me. They always have been, most of them didn't even want me to be a Jedi. And if they'd won out, where would they be right now? Who would have done the things I've done? Who would have saved Naboo? Who would have saved Geonosis? Who would have killed Dooku and rescued the Chancellor? Who would have come for you and Alpha after Ventress..."

"Yes, Anakin, yes," Obi-Wan interrupted the ego driven flow. "Of course. No one questions your accomplishments. But accomplishments are not the only attribute of a Master. Emotional and mental discipline, duty and service, moral purity, these are also requirements required from every Jedi. You are not a special case, just because you may be the Chosen One. Many believe you have only gotten this far because of your relationship with Palpatine. And it's your relationship to Palpatine that's the problem. And it is a very serious problem."

"I'm too close to him?" Anakin queried. "Maybe I am. Maybe I should alienate a man who's been nothing but kind and generous to me ever since I first came to this planet. Maybe I should reject the only man who gives me the respect I deserve..."

"Anakin, stop," Obi-Wan cut him off once more. "Listen to yourself. Your thoughts are of jealousy and pride. These are dark thoughts, Anakin. Dangerous thoughts in these dark times. You are focused on yourself when you need to focus on your service. Your outburst in the Council Chamber was an eloquent argument against granting you Mastery. How can you be a Jedi Master when you have not mastered yourself?"

Silence met this query, and Obi-Wan waited patiently as Anakin passed his flesh hand over his face. In a much calmer and softer voice, the Knight asked, "what do I have to do?"

Obi-Wan sighed, reluctant to speak to him about this. But he promised to abide by the Council's ruling. And the Council were determined to use this directive. "The Council approved your appointment because Palpatine trusts you. They want you to report on all his dealings. They have to know what he's up to."

"They want me to spy on the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic?" Anakin cried incredulously. "Obi-Wan, that's treason."

"We are at war, Anakin," he replied. "In such times, treason is often ambiguous. The Council is sworn to upheld the principles of the Republic through any means necessary. We have to. Especially when the greatest enemy of those principles seems to be the Chancellor himself."

Anakin's blue eyed gaze narrowed disapprovingly. "Why didn't the Council give me this assignment while we were in session?"

"Because this assignment is not to be on record," Obi-Wan replied. "And while it is in session, you are the voice of the Chancellor, the man who will report back to him what has taken place. With such orders, the Council has to be careful as to how they are delivered."

"You are trying to turn me against Palpatine," Anakin murmured. "You're trying to make me keep secrets from him, you want to make me lie to him. That's what this is really about."

"It isn't," Obi-Wan replied. "It's about keeping an eye on who he deals with, and who deals with him."

"He's not a bad man, Obi-Wan. He's a great man, who's holding this Republic together with his bare hands..."

"By staying in office long after his term has expired," Obi-Wan pointed out. "By gathering dictatorial powers...."

"The Senate demanded that he stay!" Anakin protested. "They pushed those powers on him..."

"Don't be so naive," Obi-Wan cut in. "I know how much Padmé fights to save what remains of their tattered Constitution. The Senate is so intimidated they give him anything he wants."

"Then it's their fault, not his," Anakin argued. "They should have the guts to stand up to him."

Obi-Wan did not bother to try and explain to him that no one in the Senate possessed that kind of power any more, because Palpatine had taken it away from them. "That is what we're asking you to do."

"He's my friend, Obi-Wan," Anakin almost whined.

"I know," he uttered softly. "I know."

"If he asked me to spy on you, do you think I would do it?"

Obi-Wan had no answer for that question. To be honest, he wasn't sure that he would like what his answer might be.

"You know how kind he has been to me," Anakin added, his resistance all but worn away now. "You know how he's looked after me, how he's done everything he could to help me. He's like family."

Obi-Wan frowned. He did not like where this was heading. "The Jedi are your family."

"No, they're your family. I'm not like you. I had a mother who loved me."

"And I have a wife and child who love me, Anakin. I'm not incapable of understanding your need for familial bonds. But such attachments are not what make us Jedi. By clinging to that love, treating it as something which is tangible enough to control, we are making ourselves vulnerable to the dark side. But that is not what I need to talk to you about, not today. We're not asking you to act against Palpatine. We're asking you to monitor his activities. Palpatine himself may be in danger. This may be the only way you can help him."

"What are you talking about?" Anakin asked.

Obi-Wan sighed. He held doubts about telling him this, but perhaps this was the only argument to which he would listen. "I'm not supposed to be telling you this. Please do not reveal we had this conversation. To anyone, do you understand?"

"I can keep a secret," Anakin said slowly.

"All right," Obi-Wan took a deep breath. "Master Windu traced Darth Sidious to Five Hundred Republica before Grevious' attack, and based on that, we think that the Sith Lord is someone within Palpatine's closest circle of advisers. That is who we want you spy on, do you understand? If Palpatine is under the influence of the Sith Lord, he may be in the gravest danger. The only way we can help him is to find Sidious and to stop him. What we are asking of you is not treason, Anakin, it may be the only way to save the Republic."

"So all you're really asking," Anakin concluded slowly, "is for me to help the Council find Darth Sidious."

"Yes, yes that's it exactly," Obi-Wan replied, sounding relieved. But from what he observed on Anakin's face, and what he could not sense from his tightly shielded Force presence, served to inwardly wipe away any trace of that emotion.

Chapter Text

Part 32: Death Holds No Dominion.

It was a solitary ride in a hovercar back to the apartment of the Senator from Naboo, and Obi-Wan was glad, for the past few hours had given him a lot to think about. Many things troubled him; the Council's ruling, Anakin's reaction, Palpatine's motives, the curse of inactivity which seemed to have settled on the Cantham House Committee.

Strangely the only battle he felt confident about was his one with General Grievous. At least in that he could predict the strategy of his enemy and choose how best to defeat it. However, it meant being parted from Padmé and Cordé again, at a time when Sidious could reveal himself, a potentially dangerous moment for all of Coruscant. He had no doubt that she could defend and protect herself and their children, there was just something troubling about his absence on an Outer Rim world - for he believed that's where Grievous would be hiding -while the main conflict was taking place within the Core. Not that he believed his presence could dictate the outcome, just that only he and Qui-Gon understood Anakin enough to possibly predict his actions, and Qui-Gon was too frail to use that knowledge where it might do some good.

Deftly he brought the hovercar to the docking entrance of the Nubian penthouse at Five Hundred Republica. Thumbing off the ignition, he raised his blue grey eyes from the countless buttons and gauges that littered the control ledge to search what he could see of the rooms laid out before him.

A smile settled over his face as he caught sight of his wife playing with their daughter, quietly helping her in practising within the Force, floating one of her plush toys, frequent gifts from their friends in the Senate, the Order and the Naberries. Cordé was spoilt rotten, but the little girl had inherited his humble character, accepting the gifts as honoured tokens, happily donating them to others less fortunate than herself whenever her mother and father came into contact with such distressed causes.

Artoo beeped contentedly beside them, no doubt recording the moment for the future. The little droid would be accompanying him when he left to fight Grievous, indeed Obi-Wan could rarely persuade Artoo to remain behind the line of any battlefield. Normally he would not have such a close relationship with a machine, but there was something eerily human about the little unit who had first made their acquaintance as they cleaned him after he saved the shielding of the Nubian Royal Cruiser.

"Daddy," Cordé cried, and the spell was broken as the plush toy dropped to the floor and Padmé slowly rose to her feet. Artoo tootled his own greeting as the little girl toddled off towards her father, who quickly climbed out of the hovercar to Force catch her in his arms as he entered the apartment.

"How are my beautiful girls?" he asked as he settled Cordé across his chest, and reached out a hand to claim one from Padmé, who leaned forward to kiss his cheek.

"About as content as we can be without you," Padmé replied, drawing back a little to better examine the look which filtered across his face. She descried his future departure along with the reason behind it, before he even uttered a word. "They're sending you to fight Grievous, aren't they?"

Obi-Wan nodded solemnly. "I can stay until word is sent regarding the location of his bolt hole." He paused, gazing at her searchingly. "Have you seen Anakin today?"

She frowned. "No, why? Has something happened?"

"You could say that." He told her about the ruling of the Jedi Council in view of Palpatine's latest directives. "Understandably, he's not happy about it. Whether he'll actually do what they asked of him is another matter entirely."

"Do you think Palpatine will suspect?" Padmé asked. She knew all too well how incapable Anakin was of deception. She remembered what the Knight spoke of the Chancellor three years ago, his admiration for the man already set so high. Such a request made by an Order whom he did not hold in same amount of regard would not sit well with him.

"Part of me worries that by doing this we're playing right into his hands," Obi-Wan confessed. "But I don't see an alternative. There's no one else in the Order whom he trusts."

Cordé's little hands played with the hairs of his neatly trimmed beard, causing her father to turn his gaze on her, a dancing smile gracing his previously solemn expression. "Daddy has to go and fight again, sweetheart. Do you promise to brave and help your mother and your future siblings while I'm away?"

"The Force will be with me, Daddy," Cordé replied, sounding all too wise for her years. Obi-Wan titled his head to brush her rosy cheek with his lips. "Always, my child."

He let her down to the ground, and she toddled back to Artoo, leaving him to take hold of his wife, who gazed up at him with concerned brown eyes. "Come with me."

He led her through to their bedroom and helped her to sit upon their bed, sliding down behind her. Silently he pulled her close to him, resting his head upon her shoulder.

"What is this, some sort of Jedi Lamaze class?" Padmé asked him.

"In a way," he replied. "Close your eyes and empty your mind."

She complied, the request familiar to her from the early days of their marriage, spent in Varykino, when he taught her the ways of the Force, letting all the worry and stress caused by the result of the latest Cantham House Committee flow out of her, until she was left with the single bright current which belonged to him. "I feel you," she uttered.

"Good," he praised. "Now, memorise that signature."

Padmé concentrated her mind upon his unique sense in the Force, examining every part of it until she would know it instinctively. Unlike his previous lessons to her about in the ways of Force; basic meditation and defence with a lightsaber, this was completely foreign idea which seemed to delve into the mystical legends of the Jedi, one which had she not been with child would be beyond her borderline strength.

The twins growing inside her enhanced that sense, allowing her the privilege of seeing what other Jedi saw in her husband; a bright beacon of light surrounded by the loving tendrils of the Force. The being adored this man, nurtured and protected him, in return for the unswerving devotion with which Obi-Wan served.

Padmé recalled his stance Geonosis, when he surrendered his whole self over to the Force, trusting in its wisdom to grant him the day. Not once had he failed to prevail and though the victories came with a price, the Force protected him, always. Just as those around him felt driven to protect, so did the being who granted him this gift. Infinitely humble, he knew naught of it and it was precisely why the Force adored him so. Seeing this, Padmé knew who would survive the encounter with Grievous, and it would not be the robotic despot.

"Now, follow me," he whispered, his voice warm in her ear, his presence strong in her mind. She caught the course of the current and travelled along it. She reached a point where it fragmented into separate streams. A flash of light showed her which one to take, an old path, appearing shrivelled and darkly foreboding. She travelled along the darkness until there was a patch of light, bright enough to almost blind the universe.

"That's Anakin's signature," Obi-Wan informed her.

"Does he know I can sense him?" Padmé asked.

"No, this is the old training bond," Obi-Wan explained. "Severed upon his Knighting. Now I want you to memorise this one as well."

Padmé did so, looking at every aspect until she knew it almost as well as Obi-Wan's. In contrast to her husband's, Anakin's Force presence could not be more diverse. The blinding light was a shrouded facade, behind which lurked a terrible beast, its tail rattling, its mouth hissing venom.

For as long as she had known him the Knight always felt he had something to prove, and his current in the Force was no different. Gone was the precocious child, whose compassion knew no bounds, its replacement was a suspicious man who searched for the dark self-serving motive behind everyone's agendas. A tortured hero whom the Republic venerated. Not for the first time did she wonder if Anakin's life would have been better if Qui-Gon had not taken him from Tatooine.

She considered the monster hiding behind the light, wondering if it was an omen or if Anakin had been tempted by the dark side too many times. Dare she tell Obi-Wan what she could see? She had no desire to disappoint him or add a sense of doubt to his teaching methods. Her husband already possessed an unhealthy tendency for assuming misplaced feelings of guilt, the first seeds planted by his Master, who lost his previous Padawan to the dark side.

"No need to worry," he murmured in her ear, "I know already."

"Has he turned?" She asked him quietly.

"Not yet," Obi-Wan answered, the implication clear enough. "A lot of the conflict that lies within him has to do with his inability to master his emotions. Now I'll show you one who has what Anakin should have if he is to become a Master."

He took her back up the stream until they reached the single path, whereupon he led her along another current. Though this one appeared similar to Anakin's, the cracks of darkness seemed more contained.

"That signature belongs to Mace," he revealed, before asking her to memorise it.

Once more she examined the signature before her, the darkness within controlled and managed. She remembered when Obi-Wan taught her the basic lightsaber forms, learning that Mace was a Vaapad Master, a self-invented style which embraced and channelled the darkness of an opponent and surrendered to the thrill of battle. The form was entirely unique and no one practised the style without Mace's approval, because of the risk with the dark side. One of the foremost warriors of the Council and of the Order, Mace had been chosen to apprehend the Sith Lord when his identity was finally discovered. All of the Jedi who attended the Cantham House Committee were Masters with a blade and excepting Qui-Gon, Yoda and Obi-Wan, all would aid Mace when the time came.

Padmé expected Obi-Wan to show her the signatures of those Masters who would aid the Korun, but to her surprise, he only led her to Master Yoda's, whose signature filled her with a sense of calm unlike any she had ever known. She recalled her first meeting with the revered Grand Master of the Order, her young mind wondering how a so seemingly small and frail being managed to father an order and teach so many knights to face enemies like the ones she witnessed Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan fight. She remembered when her husband told her of Yoda's duel with Dooku, his ability to save Obi-Wan and Anakin from being crushed. Lastly, she recalled when they presented him with their daughter, the lustre acquired by his eyes when he pronounced her to be the combination of everything good in her parents. Yoda was truly a remarkable being of many contrasts.

"And now for those of our children," Obi-Wan murmured, a slight catch in his voice, and his sense led her down short bright paths, showing her in turn that of Cordé, then the twins growing inside her. Padmé felt the awe in which he regarded them, unknowingly the same emotions with which the Force regarded him. Some times she worried what they would make of a world changing before their eyes, unlike the one that belonged to their parents, dark and full of suspicion, war. She worried for their survival, yet when she observed their signatures now, she found that concerned assuaged, as the Force assured them of their endurance through the dark times, into a brighter future.

"Why are you showing me all this?" Padmé asked her husband softly when he brought her out into the world once more.

"Because if any of them are in trouble while I'm away, only you will be in a position to do something to help them," Obi-Wan replied. "Such an ability might mean the difference between saving their lives and losing what remains of the Republic."

"Do you think we really can save it?" She murmured. "So much of it has already been lost. Whatever happens, the Republic our children know will not be the one we mourn."

Obi-Wan gave no response to that, her words were too close to the truth. For all of the meetings at Cantham House, began to gather incriminating evidence to check the balance of the power and restore the good back to the Republic, nothing but delay and stopgaps had been accomplished, making the decline all the more plain to those involved. There was conflict everywhere, from the front line battlefields to the Senate, even inside the Order itself, a sign of the growing darkness, and the growing fear that it would soon conquer the light.

Conflict existed inside all of them, including himself, as he yearned both to be on Coruscant sorting matters out, wherever Grievous was hiding, and in Varykino, where he and Padmé had nothing to trouble them, save boredom from a blissfully quiet retirement. Both of them were involved in duty since their youth, experienced so much that threatened the peace they strive to save. A sense of tiredness was understandable, yet they were well aware that if they surrendered to that selfish desire now, they would deserve the guilt and more offered in reprisal. The Force had called them to these paths a long time ago, to deny their capabilities would be to deny the very existence of that being.

Yet, the Force was infinitely generous, it sensed the need for two of its servants to rest and gather strength from the comfort of each other. Which was why it sang encouragement into their auras as she turned her face to his, lips moving to touch. Mouths explored first each other, then rounded cheeks and closed eyelids, until someone summoned the presence of mind to wave the doors to the room close with his hand, granting privacy. Beyond that barrier he sensed Dormé amusing her late friend's namesake, Artoo probably still nearby. Gently he withdrew them from their bonds with their children, shielding them from the love they were too young to comprehend, a difficult skill when such affection was involved. Quietly they broke to shift positions, remove layers of Jedi and Senatorial robes until nothing but skin sufficed to separate them.

Communion such as this was a rare event between them now, the war parting them from sight, sound and touch too much for nothing but snatched conversations, and brief, chaste embraces. In a way it resembled the time of their courtship, when she was a Queen and he a young Knight, thrust into roles of leadership by conquering a Sith and defeating an occupying army of droids, when all that granted them sight of each other was holo technology.

Now as with then, the encounters never seemed enough, the hunger sated only briefly, passions put on pause. However much time seemed to slow when they held each other in their embrace, too often did they feel in the afterglow the transitory nature of life, despite knowing that when the Force was with them, death held no dominion. Even with evidence of that love growing inside her, the double beings swelling her slight statue, causing differing positioning, yet still resulting in that same ecstasy of release.

Afterwards they emerged from the room in simple attire, capturing Cordé's attention, content to provide their firstborn with the unusual opportunity to spend time with both her parents at once. Her happy, contented nature seemed to be a calm eye in a storm of political chaos which those in the Order now found themselves too deeply involved in.

Geonosis thrust the Jedi into a combative situation which most would have eagerly chosen to isolate the Order from, protesting that it was a Republic matter and below the moral level of their service to the Force and democracy. In hindsight perhaps those naysayers were the wiser, for the action would have saved the lives of many Masters and Knights. But would the Republic be any better off than it was now? No one could be certain in answering that.

If the Order chose that course, Obi-Wan would have found himself torn, for by then he was committed not just to the Jedi but to Padmé as well. He was not the only Jedi married, but he was the only one married to a Senator, and not just a Senator but the leader of the Opposition, the foremost check on the Supreme Chancellor's constant grab for power. His loyalties would have been in conflict, doubtless forcing him to choose one or the other. It would not have been hard, yet he knew which side he would sacrifice, selfish though his choice may be, for it was moments like this with Padmé and Cordé that he remembered what he was fighting for, and found the strength to continue such a battle.

Dawn brought the moment to a close, rousing them from their bed as his hand emerged from the sheets to grab the comlink which always lay close beside him and bring the device to his mouth.

"Yes?" He answered, freeing another hand to wipe the sleep from his face, before resuming hold of the one he spent most of the night touching in some form or other.

"We are calling the Council into a special session," Mace Windu replied, "We've located General Grievous."

"Thank you, Master Windu," he acknowledged, even as the hand which held his gripped even tighter, causing slight pain. "I'm on my way."

He thumbed the device off and returned it to its resting place, before rolling round to face her, silently taking in the worried gaze. Solemnly he allowed a hand to grace the smooth line of her jaw, his fingers softly stroking the skin he found there. Blue grey eyes searched brown ones before moving forward for a brief joining of lips, the former eloquently assuring the latter that all would be well.

Quietly they moved from the bed, parting to dress, she in light robes more suited to the time of day, he in all the trappings of Jedi regalia. Finished before he, she watched him as he added the brown robe to his layer of cream tunics, clipping the lightsaber to his belt, running a hand through his hair to quell the last remains of sleep. His mind was already fully alert to what he would face in the next few hours; a meeting of the Council, travel to wherever it was Grievous had been found.

She was concerned by the speed in such a finding, another confirmation that whoever caused the war was deeply embedded in the inner workings of the Republic and through it the Order itself. Provenance of the source however was not something to worry about right now, quenching Grievous was the first part in a larger conspiracy to force the Sith out from the shadows.

Obi-Wan turned from the mirror to catch her eyes, rousing Padmé from her thoughts. She rose from her seat to follow him into the room which housed their baby girl, still sound asleep in her tiny bed. Careful not to disturb her, he cautiously approached the piece of furniture, and learned over to brush her rosy cheek with a farewell kiss. A part of him was thankful that she was still too young to be aware of all the horrors her parents faced, while another wondered what burdens she would be forced to bear as she grew older.

Padmé accompanied him to the landing dock, her thick robe sheltering her body from the morning mist and cold, while hiding her quickening from the hungry curious eyes that belonged to the early avian members of the press who were doubtless watching. Obi-Wan turned to wrap her into his arms, pressing his face against the curls of her long unbound dark brown hair, inhaling the unique scent which belonged to her. Closing his eyes his mind brushed the signatures of the twins inside her, another farewell which his heart struggled to perform.

A series of beeps roused them from the momentary sadness, as Artoo trundled out from the apartment to join his Master, having decided to accompany Obi-Wan on this mission as he had every mission ever since the Jedi married his Mistress.

"Keep him safe, Artoo," Padmé requested of the droid, before turning to her husband as he drew back from their embrace. "And you do the same. May the Force be with you, Master Kenobi."

"And with you, milady," he returned.

A final look of unspoken yet utterly acknowledged love passed between them, before he mounted the seat of the hover car and rode away.

The special session of the Council was remarkably short, yet about ten times as frustrating. Obi-Wan emerged from the chamber more troubled than when he went in, and with a desire to dodge another conversation with his former apprentice. Quickening his pace, he sought a turbolift to take him to the domain of the Healer's ward, his mind seeking the calming embrace of the Force, and wisdom which only that being, his wife and his former Master seemed to be able to provide.

As usual Anakin had arrived fresh from the Supreme Chancellor's office, with a holo projector of Utapau, where Senate Intelligence had located General Grievous. Previously neutral, the sinkhole planet was located just where they predicted, in the Outer Rim. It was disturbing, just as Anakin's new position now provided him with a valid excuse to frequently visit the Chancellor, not to mention learning that Senate Intelligence, along with direct command of the Galactic army were now both under the jurisdiction of that Office.

Naturally that office's representative had volunteered to lead the army which would face Grievous, and just as naturally the Council objected, voting to enforce what had already been agreed privately. Obi-Wan hadn't been surprised by Anakin's desire to leave the Core where his entire being was in turmoil to face an enemy that was in contrast easier to destroy, nor had he been surprised when Anakin objected to him going alone. The last time the Council split up the team brought the wrath of Ventress upon him. Also, he could not forget that fighting Dooku had rendered him unconscious, not while the man who defeated the Sith was there to remind him and the Council.

Unanimous vote to send him was the result, Anakin's silence taken for compliance, albeit forced as most of the Masters present were well aware. Obi-Wan sympathised with his frustration, but there was little he could do to convince his former apprentice of the logic behind sending one Master to Utapau, not without confiding in him the real motive in the Council's decision.

Reaching Qui-Gon's room, Obi-Wan paused, observing his former Master from the view point of the door. Seated in a chair, Qui-Gon's eyes were closed, his mind in quiet communion with the Living Force. With the light from the orbital mirrors dancing off his now pale skin, there was an added frailty to his former Master, one which over the years since the encounter with the Sith on Naboo Obi-Wan had seen steadily increase. That Qui-Gon had not long in this world was certain, but it seemed more apparent now, leaving him with a foreboding sense that this would be their last chance for conversation of any kind.

He crossed the threshold, causing Qui-Gon to turn and open his eyes. "How are you, Master?"

"Better than you, it appears," Qui-Gon studied him, peering through the facade of Jedi serenity into the turmoil lying beneath. "When was the last time you meditated, Padawan mine?"

"I'll have time during hyperspace to Utapau," Obi-Wan replied, moving across the room towards where he sat.

"So that's where Grievous sank himself," Qui-Gon quipped. "And the Council are sending you- a good choice. But I sense that is not what troubles you."

Obi-Wan lowered himself into the chair across from his Master. "Anakin."

"It is natural for you to worry, Obi-Wan, perhaps even doubt. But he is the Chosen One. He will bring balance."

"There are those who believe that prophecy may have been misread," Obi-Wan revealed, avoiding his Master's gaze.

"There are those who viewed my methods in teaching you as unsound," Qui-Gon countered, causing him to look at his Master with surprise. "Even unwise, trying to balance a sense of the Living Force in one so strong in the Unifying. Who said that my failure with Xanatos would affect our relationship. And in some ways they were right. But no one could deny that it was the will of the Force which brought us together." Qui-Gon smiled. "I regret that I caused you to be unsure of yourself, Obi-Wan, but I have never regretted training you. In many ways you are far more than a Padawan to me. Just as Anakin is to you. We can instruct as much as we like, but in the end it is up to them what path they follow. Whatever the future bodes, good or ill, it is his choice, no one else's. His fault or his triumph, no reflection on our teaching methods."

Obi-Wan nodded, all too aware why Qui-Gon chose to say this now. "I still have a bad feeling about all of this."

"Have you done all you can to prepare?" Qui-Gon asked.

"Short of meditation, yes."

"Then you must trust in the Force." Qui-Gon smiled. "Now, I must ask of you one thing before you go."

"Anything, Master."

Qui-Gon's eyes shone with as yet unshed tears. "Careful, Padawan mine. You may not like it."

Chapter Text


Part 33: A Song of Farewell.

Obi-Wan could not avoid Anakin forever, but at least when he left Qui-Gon's room, albeit sad, but resigned to the promise that was asked of him, he was more prepared to deal with the young man's anxieties. He found his former apprentice pacing about the dockyard, watching as the last of the hover tanks travelled up the ramp of the assault cruiser. The Council was taking no chances, sending a force three systems the size of Utapau, and these battalions of clones with their synchronised genetically designed march followed the vehicle up the ramp.

"Hello, Anakin," he greeted, causing the young Knight to turn round, watching him as Obi-Wan checked over his starfighter, and as Artoo ran through a final system analysis.

"I have a bad feeling about this," Anakin remarked. "You're going to need me on this one, Master."

"It may be nothing but a wild Bantha chase," Obi-Wan tried, knowing through the Force that would not be the case. "Your job here is much more important, Anakin."

"I know. The Sith." Anakin's mouth looked as if he tasted something bitter just in the very word. "I just - I don't like you going off without me like this. It's a bad idea to split up the team. I mean look what happened the last time."

"Don't remind me," Obi-Wan grimaced as he thought of Ventress. Frankly, he had been relieved that Anakin disobeyed orders to go and rescue him. "But I have returned unscathed from solo missions before. The one I undertook for my Knighthood, for example." He stepped away from the starfighter to claim a clutch of Anakin's arm, his callused hand brushing the servos in the finger joints, while his free hand clasped where flesh met machine. "Even when we work separately, we work together. We have the same goals; end the war and save the Republic from the Sith. As long as we are on the same side, everything will come out well in the end. I'm certain of it."

"Well, I suppose you could be right. You are, once in a while. Occasionally."

"Farewell, old friend." Obi-Wan let go of his arm and turned to go.

"Master, wait." Anakin paused to let him turn, then bowed his head in shame, before raising it to face him once more. "I know I've disappointed you in these past few days. I have been arrogant. I have not been very appreciative of your training, and what's worse, of your friendship. I offer no excuse, Master. My frustration with the Council, I know that is none of your fault and I apologise. For all of it. Your friendship means everything to me."

Obi-Wan took his arm once more in the same grip he had before, with the same affection. "You are wise and strong, Anakin. You are a credit to the Jedi Order, and you have far surpassed my humble efforts at instruction."

His former apprentice frowned. "Just the other day, you were saying that my power is no credit to you."

"I'm not speaking of your power, Anakin, but of your heart. The greatness in you is a greatness of spirit. Courage and generosity, compassion and commitment. These are your virtues. You have done great things and I am very proud of you."

Anakin bowed his head, silent in face of the praise. Obi-Wan let him take the words within, then released his arm. "Well, I believe I hear General Grievous calling my name. Goodbye old friend. May the Force be with you."

"May the Force be with you," Anakin returned.

Obi-Wan boarded the cruiser, turning to one of the observation transparisteels, his eyes falling upon the young Knight who stood to watch the ship depart. The Force was singing to him a song of farewell, ominously poignant. He could not help but wonder if this would be the last time he saw any of those he left behind alive or well.

Padmé changed for a Cantham House meeting after Obi-Wan had gone, leaving their daughter in the capable hands of Dormé while she descended the levels to Bail's residence.

The meeting was a short one, merely a formality to exchange news, to alert the political members of the actions of the Jedi Council; the departure of Obi-Wan for Utapau. Bail, Mon and Garm cast her sympathetic looks, which she tried not to take comfort from. To surrender to the knowledge of how deeply she felt his absence would be a betrayal of their love. They had a duty to the Republic, to democracy, even before they met each other. Without it they would be different people, unworthy of each other's devotion.

Senate sessions occupied the rest of her morning, as she negotiated her way through the various committees Naboo was a member of. Few of these meetings held any significance now, or authority for that matter. But to absence herself would only draw attention to her changing loyalties, when so much of her life was too public already.

She returned to the penthouse at Five Hundred Republica for a late luncheon, to find Anakin Skywalker wandering about the living room.

"Ani, what are doing here?" she asked. "Shouldn't you be at the Temple?"

"I should be meditating," he replied, coming to a halt before her. "But I can't find my centre."

She took a moment to observe him, silently contrasting the dark Jedi robes to those her husband wore, their characters, their manners. In many ways they were so similar, and yet so different. Both of them carried many burdens for the Republic, one believing it no trouble at all, the other wishing another could take his place. Doubtless Anakin wished he could take place of him in her heart. There was a reason why she rarely saw him when she was carrying Cordé, and it was not the war.

"Is there anything I can do to help?" She asked. "Obi-Wan taught me some of the basic principles. It helps us."

Anakin flinched the moment she mentioned his name. "Perhaps this wasn't such a good idea." He moved to go.

She caught his flesh wrist, preventing him. "Ani, what have I said?"

"It's just, I can't stand to see you like this," he confessed. "Quick with his child." Carefully he ran his other hand through his hair. "I know that I should, but I can't."

Padmé couldn't say anything to that, only squeeze his hand and look at him in sympathy. They were all too aware that their marriage had done nothing to alter the young Knight's feelings for her, though they had hoped that in time he would come to realise the difference between love and obsession. The true measure concerning attachment within Code.

"I'm sorry," Anakin sighed. "I just - I feel like I'm in free fall. Free fall in the dark. I don't know which is up. I don't know where I'll be when I land. Or crash." He shut his eyes, attempting to prevent the tears which leaked through, but even so, a few escaped. "I think it's going to be a crash."

She wanted to reach up and stroke his cheek. She was tactile in her friendships, it was her way, but she knew that the gesture would wound him, for she represented all that was forbidden to him. So she could only squeeze his hand again, prompting him to reopen his eyes.

"You should tell someone," She advised. "Qui-Gon. Master Yoda. I'm sure if they knew the truth, they'd grant you leave, away from all this."

"I don't know of any place where I could go to make things seem clearer." Anakin replied. "Except the past. Things were possible then." He looked at her.

Padmé met his gaze steadily, remembering the many times during her marriage, when Obi-Wan was away, even when he was only in another room, that Anakin had alluded to this hope of his. Now, as before, she said to him what she always said.

"Ani, I do care for you. But I don't believe that being your wife instead of Obi-Wan's would have changed the conflict inside you. That is something only you can resolve."

"If I could just save you from my nightmares," he murmured.

"That is not the root of your anxieties," she replied.

"Perhaps not, but it would help me choose which side to be on," he confessed, causing her to worry.

She let go of his hand and moved to sit down. "Why do you need to choose a side? Ani, you have a duty to the Order, to the Republic."

"The Republic is changing," he remarked. "So is the Order. You have to know this."

"I know that everything that was good about it is being destroyed before our eyes," she murmured, her gaze drifting from him to the view her penthouse carried of the Temple. The gracefully sculpted building dominated the skyline in view, not because of the power which walked within it's walls, but because of the beauty with which it was designed. The symbol of justice and democracy. Of hope. "I know who's responsible for it," she added, careful not to compromise what she knew. "I just wish there was enough evidence to convict."

"Who is it?" He asked her, suddenly the eager, desperate boy he had been when they were imprisoned on Geonosis. "Padmé, I must know."

She turned to him, and in her mind, heard not just his plea, but that of the Force. It was beckoning her to reply. When she spoke, it was the ancient being's words she used, her voice its vessel. "You know in your heart who it is, Ani. Now you just have to accept it."

Light years away, Obi-Wan shut himself off in his assigned quarters of the assault cruiser, away from the noise of the clone battalions, the beeping of the flight droids, even that of Artoo, in the company of everything except the Force. He sank into its embrace, letting the waves surround him utterly, bathing him in comfort. It was too long since he meditated, so long that he struggled to recall the occasion when Qui-Gon asked him. But it was not so hard that he experienced difficulty in finding his centre.

Yoda was the first one to teach him the art of communing with the Force, when he knew nothing of the world but the Temple, and the beings within in. A precocious crechling, curious to the point of reckless, so mischievous that he had a reputation for pranks which even Anakin, with all his tinkering with the kitchen droids and a certain Grand Master's gimmer stick, had never surpassed. But when he was with Yoda he was calm, willing to listen to what the Force willed of him. Now, older, perhaps wiser, he let it come into his mind, and answered it's silent request.

To possess the Unifying Force was to experience a certain perceived view of the future. In motion though it always was, some outcomes were limited, actions predictable. His mind would receive a vision of the future, similar to Anakin's nightmares, except that these were never a product of his worse fears. Appearances, as he had often learned, could deceive, as would visions. It was a concept which he tried to teach Anakin without success.

He saw a planet of sinkholes, containing droids and clones, battle lines drawn. Animalistic sounds and smells permeated the senses, the cry of a mystical beast, faithful to the last, even at the expense of her life.

The smell of blood, the stench that belonged to death.

Suddenly a cry broke through the silence of his mind, as though a thousand voices had cried out all at once and were suddenly silenced.

A single shot of blaster fire. He was free falling, to where he knew not. Waves of water broke the crash, protecting his body, saving his life.

Beeping paved his escape. Stars flew past his troubled brow. An ancient voice calmed the chaos in his mind, a sweet one the sorrow clawing at his heart.

Flames licked at his vision. Death stalked sacred halls, destroying the peace forever.

Betrayal. A nasty word, it hung on their lips.

You were my brother, I loved you.....

The last was familiar, he'd seen it first twenty-two months ago. His love lying upon a surgical table, her eyes forever closed. Something small touched his cheek, encountering hot wet tears of grief.

Everything dies, Padawan. Even the stars burn out.

The Force was speaking to Padmé. Never before had she felt such urgency, such need for her to obey or else fear the consequences.

She left her apartment and sequestered a hovercar, guiding the vehicle through the constant flow of traffic until she reached the window of the Chancellor's office. Just as she pulled along side, the transparisteel broke, causing her to crouch to protect herself from harm as the fragments shot past.

When the sky was clear, she looked up to see the figure of Mace Windu holding the Chancellor at saber point. The sight was no surprise to her, for she knew that they had traced the evidence regarding the Sith to the apartment complex in which Palpatine's residence, along with many of the Senate, including her own, was. She'd suspected his motives for a while, and though now to have her suspicions confirmed was still a shock, there was also a sense of clarity and understanding, in everything from the origin of the wars to the Separatists, to the Trade Federation blockading her world. From the beginning, this was his insidious scheme, to cement his rise to power.

Blue lightning crackled between them, generated by the Force she recalled, remembering when her husband recounted to her his ability to deflect it from Count Dooku on Geonosis. She wondered how he was doing, if he had defeated General Grievous. Palpatine looked frail, as if the lightning had aged the life out of him. He looked to be the victim of a Jedi's fall, but she remembered what Obi-Wan told her; appearances can deceive.

The lightning intensified, and suddenly Mace's lightsaber came flying towards her, the purple blade shutting off due to the internal mechanical inbuilt safeties within the hilt. Padmé adjusted the hovercar to catch the weapon, only noticing then when it landed on the floor between the front and rear seats that the wielder's hand was still attached. The wound did not bleed, another blade had cauterised it.

But Palpatine carried no blade.

She returned to the transparisteel, just in time to see Mace collapse and fall under the Chancellor's abruptly re-energised attack. Again she used the craft to catch him, and he landed in the seat alongside her.

To her surprise he recovered fast, cradling his severed limb in the long sleeves of his battle worn cloak. "We have to get to the Temple."

Padmé did not object with the offer of the med centre, knowing that the Temple healers could perform miracles, as well as being discreet. The Chancellor would put his own spin on this, Mace's life would not be worth the reputation he garnered if they sought the aid of Coruscant's med centre.

She increased the speed and weaved her way through the traffic until they arrived at the gracefully sculpted building, all the while listening as Mace recounted what took place inside the Supreme Chancellor's office. To her surprise, her reaction was calm, composed, even. The news she feared once confirmed did not make her clumsy in her actions, or cause her to crash before they arrived at the Temple.

She grabbed his dismembered hand and then helped him out of the vehicle, keeping an even pace with him until they reached the healer's ward, behind the safety of the Ysalamiri barrier.

"Evacuate the Temple," he ordered her as the healers surrounded him and began to work. "The younglings first and their crechers. Now that we've failed to catch him, the Chancellor will be after every Jedi."

Padmé obeyed, hurrying to the communications room. Giving the precoded order to evacuate, she also sent out a distress code to all the active Jedi, warning them to come back to the Temple at their own risk, and advising them to meet the evacuates at the designated coordinates for the sanctuary planet. The code was dependent on a unique answer from every warrior, a precaution assigned to them after Geonosis.

By the time she saw the first ships depart from the docking area, Mace joined her, his arm in a stasis sling, a mechanised protective bacta bracelet before the flesh of his hand.

"You must come with us, Padmé," he urged.

"I can't," she replied. "The Chancellor will summon the Senate. If I'm not there he'll know something is wrong."

Mace nodded. "Be careful of Anakin, he's no longer himself."

"I know, somehow, I felt it," she murmured, astonished at her calm reaction to what should be a sad and shocking revelation. "I'll attend the Senate, then wait for Obi-Wan. He'll want to find me first."

Mace nodded. "When you're both safe, join us at the coordinates. May the Force be with you."

"And with you," Padmé added, before walking away. To her surprise Mace followed her. "What are you doing?"

"It has to appear that nothing has changed," Mace replied. "That the Jedi were caught unawares. I will prepare things, then leave. I promise."

Padmé returned to her apartment, and spent time at her desk, alerting the members of the Cantham House Committee, contacting Captain Typho to ready her ship for immediate departure. When she entered the living area, her gaze instinctively checking on Cordé and her handmaiden, her brown eyes caught a whisper of flames, and she turned, to see that the Temple was on fire.

Rosy smoke clouded the morning mist, shrouding the slender, slowly crumbling towers. Her hand flew to her mouth, even as her rational mind urged for calm.

A speeder materialised out of the smoke, its rider cutting through the traffic at a speed, recklessness twinge with urgency. Standing still, she watched it as the craft came to an abrupt stop at her balcony dock, the owner finally visible.

She turned to her handmaiden. "Dormé, I need you to decoy for me. There's someone who might come by here, and I don't want them to know that I'm gone."

"Of course, milady," Dormé replied, rising from the floor.

"No of courses, this will be dangerous. If he suspects, even for a moment..."

Her handmaiden's gaze was steadfast. "I won't let you down, milady. I promise."

"Thank you," Padmé knelt to gather her first born from the floor. "Cordé, my heart. We have to go on a little trip with Uncle Bail."

"Daddy," she uttered, her big blue eyes fixed on her mother, reddish blonde curls dancing about her head.

Padmé nodded as she exited the apartment for the Senatorial docking ring on the floor below. "Yes, we're going to see your father."

The icy water shocked him into full awareness, lapping against Obi-Wan's eyes as he risked a glance at his surroundings. Blackness met his blue grey pupils, giving no indication of how deep underwater he might be, or even in which direction lay the surface. Liquid coiled within his lungs, threatening to choke him, yet he paid it no mind.

Relying on the discipline of his vocation, he called his hand to clip the lightsaber hilt which it feverishly gripped to the belt around his sodden tunic, then forced the water from his lungs. A moment's splutter later, and his other hand fetched the emergency breathing device from his waist, putting the device to his lips before he started to swim in the direction which the Force willed of him.

The vision had given him warning, but not preparation. He recalled the sound of the blaster shot, aimed for a direct kill. Boga jumping clear as the ricochet triggered an series of explosions in the rock face, the animal knowing instinctively of the betrayal which the Force attempted to warn him about. She protected him, at the cost of her life.

Obi-Wan mourned her for a moment, then let the grief leave him, just as he should. He focused on the here and now, the journey towards the surface, trying not to think about the rest of his vision.

Trying to ignore the end which the Force presented him with.

Breaking the surface, his fingers sought and found purchase to climb the rest of the way out of the well. He emerged into a grotto, negotiating his way past the creature which it housed, out to the bright light of a docking bay. A very familiar docking bay as it turned out, the one where he defeated Grievous. The remains of the general still littered the deck, along with the starfighter which belonged to that enemy, and a squat blue and white droid, who answered to the designation of R2D2.

"Artoo, what are you doing here?" he asked softly. "I thought I left you with my ship."

His wife's faithful little droid beeped a reply which sounded half way between a reprimand for being ordered to do precisely that and doubting he would abandon him when he was under strict instructions from his mistress to watch over him.

"Well, in that case, I'm very grateful to see you safe and alive, my old friend," Obi-Wan replied. "Now, I don't suppose you can fit in that ship, can you? I think it's the only transport out of here which won't be fired on."

Artoo beeped a passable mimicry of Yoda's 'size matters not,' before trundling towards the craft. Opening one of his blue panels that were arranged across his midsection, he produced his little saw, and firing his booster rockets, created a hole within the craft, directly behind the cockpit, to which he secured himself in, and began speaking to the ship's computer.

Obi-Wan took a last glance at his surroundings, then leapt into the cockpit, taking the starfighter out of Utapau's planetfall so fast he broke the gravity well and made the jump to hyperspace before the Vigilance could even launch its fighters. Jump after jump carried him further and further from the Outer Rim, until he felt safe enough to risk communications.

"You know," he commented to Artoo, "integral hyperspace capability is rather useful in a starfighter; why don't we have it yet?"

The droid's reply scrolled across the viewscreen before him; to keep the Order in line. Not only a quip, but also far too close to the truth for Obi-Wan's liking.

"Do we have anything from the Core?" he asked.

Recall code, Artoo replied. All Jedi to return to the Temple, immediately.

"Order Sixty-six," Obi-Wan murmured, his heart sinking. A part of him had hoped for more warning than this series of coded beeps. It was not to be.

"Emergency Code Nine Thirteen," he said, waiting for the computer to respond.

The silence surrounding the starfighter was deafening.

"Emergency Code Nine Thirteen. This is Obi-Wan Kenobi. Repeat; Emergency Code Nine Thirteen. Are there any Jedi out there?"

Further silence.

"Any Jedi, please. This is Obi-Wan Kenobi declaring a Nine Thirteen Emergency."

His heart sank to the pit of his stomach as the silence became poignant. Artoo beeped sympathetically, trying to offer his master some small comfort, before a sudden burst of static conquered the deathly quietness.

"Please repeat," he uttered, daring to hope. "I'm locking on to your signal. Please repeat."

A scaled down form of a familiar friend appeared in blue holo before him. "Obi-Wan, are you alright? Have you been wounded?"

"No I'm not wounded, Bail," he replied, "but I'm certainly not alright! My clones turned on me. I barely escaped with my life."

"There have been ambushes all over the galaxy."

Obi-Wan bowed his head, mourning for the loss of life, the passing of the Order's twilight into night. "Have you had contact with any other survivors?"

"Only one," Bail Organa replied. "Lock on to my coordinates. He's waiting for you."

His legs started to shake as soon as the booted soles hit the deck of the Tantive's shuttle bay. To put one in front of the other with a measured pace was pure agony, but it was all he could do to keep himself from falling into the shock of grief which crawled at his mind, pulled at his thoughts, and dragged tears from his eyes.

Those blue grey windows to his stricken soul glanced almost feverishly around the gleaming white walls of the ship in an effort to find something, anything to focus his concentration on, to stop his thoughts from dwelling on the dark attachment of grief.

She met him upon the threshold of the corridor to the conference lounge, her form clothed in the dress of her handmaidens, signalling to his fractured mind that she had felt it necessary to employ a decoy. He also saw how evident her pregnancy was with only a flame toned gown to conceal quickened swollen flesh instead of the layers of Senatorial garb.

Her glorious henna hair cascaded freely down her back in coils of small curls, crowning a youthful face which when whitened once ruled a whole system. Now it reigned over his heart and he surrendered to her compassionate gaze, allowing her to enfold him into her open arms, pulling him close.

He pressed his face into her hair, swamping his senses in that sweet smell, forcing his weight not to press on hers for she carried not only their children but the future of the Order. He tried to ignore that, for it only served to remind him of the death sentence in the number Sixty-six. To remember that they were warned, but it happened anyway. Thousands of Jedi wiped out with a single command, betrayed by the Republic they once served.

"Remember," she whispered in his ear, her soft lips brushing the cold skin, chilled by recent events, "appearances can deceive."

He drew back, thinking she meant herself, but she shook her head, before telling him what she did to rescue Mace from his encounter with Lord Sidious. Palpatine, the Sith Master. Frightening how suddenly everything that was mysterious about the past thirteen years, from the Blockade of Naboo to the Clone Wars made sense in the knowledge that the Chancellor was behind it.

He almost collapsed when she went on to tell him about the evacuation of the Temple, managed by her and Mace, before she left the sacred building and the Korun Master while he remained behind to employ a deception planned for precisely this moment.

"What about him?" He asked, his voice hoarse as if from overuse.

"Mace promised me he would leave," she replied.

Obi-Wan shook his head, for he knew something which might make the Korun Master change his mind and stay.

A promise he had been asked to fulfil.

"Where's Cordé?" He inquired, his Force sense too occupied in striving to keep himself upright, and in staving off the shock to properly focus on sensing the whereabouts of their precious daughter.

"Breha's amusing her in the conference lounge," Padmé answered, "along with Bail and Master Yoda."

"He fetched her?" Obi-Wan sought to confirm. The Queen of Alderaan rarely left her planet, indicating that something serious must have occurred.

"Bail wasn't sure what happened until he saw me," Padmé explained. "He witnessed a Padawan trying to fight off the clones outside the burning Temple. He flew away to fetch us, then we made planetfall on Alderaan before going to Kashyyyk." She smiled, though her brown eyes were glassy with unshed tears. "She needs the practice."

Obi-Wan understood, his mouth opened in a brief gasp of surprise. Fumbling, his hand found hers, and they walked down the corridor to the Conference Lounge.

"Daddy," Cordé cried, rising up from her place on the floor to embrace her father.

Summoning more strength, he bent down to pick her up, pressing her rosy cheeks to his lips in a silent greeting. Holding her about her small waist, he took the proffered hand of the other Queen in the lounge with his free one and raised it to his lips. "Your Highness."

"None, of that, Master Kenobi," Breha motioned. She gestured to the empty seats. "Let us all be equals here. Titles have little importance now."

He sank down on to a chair, Padmé taking one beside him. Cordé lay subdued against his chest, her sensitive Force abilities realising the need for quiet.

"Heard from no one we have," Master Yoda began, confirming to Obi-Wan the dreadful news that all of those Jedi stationed in the field were probably one with the Force, cut down by their own troops, the gravest betrayal of command.

"What of the beacon?" he asked. "Mace wouldn't have encoded the recall command."

"He didn't," Padmé informed them. "He ordered me to send out the coordinates for the Sanctuary, encoded to each Jedi's own private channel."

"Responsible for the recall, someone else is," Yoda concluded.

"It's clear what we have to do then," Obi-Wan remarked, "there may be those who did not receive the first message."

"What are you saying?" Bail asked, the ends of his mouth drawn downwards to his elegant goatee.

"I'm saying, we have to go back to Coruscant," Obi-Wan replied.

"It's too dangerous," Bail cautioned, "the whole planet is a trap."

"Yes. We - ah," Obi-Wan choked back the name of his brother, for a dangerous truth coiled in the pit of his stomach. "I have a policy on traps."

Chapter Text

Part 34: Chiaroscuro.

"There's something you must know," Padmé said after the door closed behind him, giving them privacy in one of the Tantive's living quarters.

"If it's about Anakin, I know already," Obi-Wan replied, dropping his mask of Jedi serenity to show that the grief of losing thousands of Jedi, among them many of his friends and including his former apprentice, still affected him. "I felt his death in the Force."

Padmé froze at that statement, before ushering him into the nearest chair. Obi-Wan watched her bewildered as she wandered about the room, methodically checking inside the sideboards made from Alderaanian Kiirn, their polished dark wine services a remarkable contrast to the stunning white walls of durasteel. He said nothing as her search soon appeared to prove fruitful, as she produced a bottle of fine Alderaanian brandy and two glasses, which she placed on the table before him, pouring a large snifter into each. Obi-Wan didn't ask her the obvious question, waiting for her to be the one who would break the silence.

She took a seat beside him, and slowly, in a quiet voice, told him everything that Mace told her, regarding the events in Palpatine's office. As denial gave way to acceptance, he found himself taking a sip from the glass, conveyed by hands which shook so much he feared for the stability of the cylindrical crystal structure.

Carefully, he lowered the glass back to the surface of the table, before letting his face fall into the comforting embrace of his arms. He barely felt her fingers reach for his, the shock numbing senses.

"I should have let them shoot me," he murmured, insensible of everything within his life but that of the failure which he had just learned. "No. That was already too late. It was already too late on Geonosis. The Zabrak on Naboo, I should have died there.... before I ever brought him to Coruscant -"

"Obi-Wan, no," Padmé gently pried his hands away from his face, forcing his eyes to look into hers. "You did not make him fall. Not you, or Qui-Gon, or the Council, or the Order. Or me. This was his choice."

"Was it?" he asked her, his voice suddenly hoarse. "He had him from the moment he stepped off that ship. 'We shall watch your career with great interest.' He meant every word. And more besides."

"I can't deny Palpatine manipulated him," Padmé replied. "But it was Ani's choice. There were many occasions when he could have listened to your teachings, but he chose not to do so."

"How can you take this so calmly?" He asked her.

She smiled at him, slightly. "I've had several hours in hyperspace to get my head together." Her hand squeezed his. "If you had died on Naboo, he would have had Anakin much sooner, and the consequences would have been dire."

"They're dire now," Obi-Wan pointed out. "It is no comfort to know that I have only delayed his fall."

"Is it one to remind you that if you had died, we wouldn't here having this conversation? That we wouldn't have our daughter, who is playing with Breha and Bail right now? Or the twins growing inside me?" She paused to let him take that in before adding, "and if you listened to the Force, to what you showed me only days ago, you would realise that he hasn't turned completely. There is still good in him."

"What are you saying?" He asked her.

"You can turn him back."

The first thing which they noticed when the Tantive docked on Coruscant was the clone troopers which guarded certain Senatorial ships. Fang Zar's and Tundra Dowmeia's crafts bore all the regalia of impoundment, causing a moment of nerves as they waited for a pair of troopers to post themselves by their boarding ramp, and a sigh of relief when nothing occurred.

"How do you want to play this?" Bail asked as they prepared to disembark.

"We'll escort you to the Senate," Obi-Wan replied, for an emergency session had been declared, calling all Senators back to the Core. "After that we'll go to the Temple. Then our next move will be to take down the Sith. After that -" he broke off, for no one knew what would happen then.

Padmé was the only one disguised as the four of them stepped from the turbolift to the level for the Convocation entrance, which was also guarded, but that was the norm from the earliest days of the Senate's inception. Her hood was raised over her hair, her quickening hidden by additional layers of handmaiden garb, ones used to hide just such an expectation. She kept her eyes lowered as they came to a halt before the two guards, who seemed under the impression that they were in line for a promotion for capturing her husband and the Grand Master of the Order who stood behind her and Bail.

"Welcome back, Senator," one said. "May I see your clearance?"

Bail presented his identichip, which was given the usual cursory examination.

"Thank you, you may proceed," the guard returned the identichip, then turned to the beings behind the Senator. "We will take custody of the Jedi."

"May be it would be better if we remained with the Senator," Obi-Wan murmured, his hand in a pose which Padmé remembered seeing from their day in Mos Espa, when he brought her the purple necklace that lay beneath her gown.

"That seems reasonable," the guard agreed.

"Thank you," Obi-Wan uttered. "May the Force be with you, Bail. Milady."

Padmé entered the Convocation chamber without looking back, for she knew that Yoda and her husband were already gone.

Even now, the Temple was still guarded, as every clone began the laborious task of identifying the dead and checking their names against Temple records. More were posted to every entrance to keep a helmet visor out for any Jedi who dared to respond to that recall code.

However, none of them knew about the entrance and exit reserved for those of the Cantham House Committee.

Obi-Wan and Yoda stepped inside cautiously, lightsabers unignited but at the ready, just in case something emerged from the shadows.

And one voice did just that.

"You broke your promise."

Obi-Wan turned and faced the source of the words, still within darkness. "I never made one to you. I only made one to him."

"You said that you would not leave his side at the end."

"I promised to obey his last wishes," Obi-Wan replied. "Which I have."

Mace Windu stepped out of the shadows, his face grim as he stared at his fellow colleague, the once padawan of his old friend. He sighed, a small breath of grief escaping his mouth. "I did not want him to go like that."

"Neither did I," Obi-Wan confessed, lowering his head to study the well trod floor. "But it was his choice, and I respected it." He raised his blue grey eyes once more, the relative darkness around them hiding the glassy quality which unshed tears added. "He is one with the Force, as many others are today."

"And the victim of Sidious' new apprentice," Mace remarked, bringing another grim expression, this time to all of the Master's present.

"I know," Obi-Wan remarked, quietly. "Padmé told me. We need to change the recall code, and then I need to see the internal surveillance records."

"Seeing will only cause you pain," Master Yoda reminded him.

"Then it is pain I have earned," Obi-Wan replied, remembering his rather less composed reaction onboard the Tantive in hyperspace. "I am not afraid of it."

He stepped away, leading them towards the communications room, but he did not miss the last words Yoda spoke.

"You should be."

Bail and Padmé slipped into the rear of Naboo's delegation Senate Pod, taking the seats beside where Dormé, in all the trappings of Senator Amidala, sat, listening to the speech coming from the seat of the Supreme Chancellor.

"These Jedi murderers left me scarred, left me deformed, but they could not damage my integrity! They could not deform my resolve! The remaining traitors will be hunted down, rooted out wherever they may hide and brought to justice, dead or alive! All collaborators will suffer the same fate. Those who protect the enemy are the enemy! Now is the time! Now we will strike back. Now we will destroy the destroyers! Death to the enemies of democracy!"

Padmé leaned forward. "What's happened?" she asked her decoy in a low whisper, though no one could have heard her over the noise that reigned over the arena, waiting for the Chancellor to continue.

"He's been presenting evidence all afternoon," Dormé replied, her lips cautiously moving to prevent their conversation from being noticed by others who would have cause to query the nature of it. "Not just the assassination attempt. Apparently the Jedi were involved in a conspiracy to overthrow the Republic."

Below them the frenzied noise of the arena quietened down as the Chancellor spoke again. Palpatine's features looked as though they had been caught in the middle of a lightning storm, which in a sense, was exactly what happened. "This has been the most trying of times, but we have passed the test. The war is over!"

Senators erupted into cheers of triumph.

"The Separatists have been utterly defeated and the Republic will stand! United! United and free!"

Another explosion of cheers.

Inside the pod belonging to the delegation from Naboo, all occupants were quiet. As were several others in other pods, if one cared to look.

"The Jedi Rebellion was our final test- it was the last gasp of the forces of darkness! Now we have left that darkness behind us forever, and a new day has begun! It is morning in the Republic!"

More cheering.

Padmé stared at the Chancellor, the Sith lord in all his glory, finally free to do what he wanted with his Republic, and murmured three words. "Here it comes."

Bail frowned. "Here what comes?"

"You'll see."

"Never again will we be divided! Never again will sector turn against sector, planet turn against planet, sibling turn again sibling! We are one nation, indivisible!"

Yet more cheering.

"To ensure that we will always stand together, that we will always speak with a single voice, and act with a single hand, the Republic must change. We must evolve. We must grow. We have become an empire in fact, let us become an Empire in name as well! We are the first Galactic Empire!"

Senators broke into an ecstasy of applauds, verbal and physical.

Bail turned to the women beside him in shock. "What are they doing? Do they understand what they're cheering for?"

Padmé and Dormé shook their heads.

"We are an Empire that will be continued to rule by this august body! We are an Empire that will never return to the political manoeuvring and corruption that have wounded us so deeply; we are an Empire that will be directed by a single sovereign, chosen for life! We are an Empire ruled by the majority! An Empire ruled by a new Constitution! An Empire of laws, not of politicians! An Empire devoted to the preservation of a just society! Of a safe and secure society! We are an Empire that will stand ten thousand years!"

No one could stop the cheers now, they were a continuous rumble of noise below the volcano which was the Chancellor's powerful rhetoric, a contrast to his seemingly frail appearance.

"We will celebrate the anniversary of this day as Empire Day! For the sake of our children! For our children's children! For the next ten thousand years! Safety! Security! Justice and Peace! Say it with me! Safety, Security, Justice and Peace!"

The voices of the Senate took up the cry, turning the words into one continuous chant of noise, while those within the pods whose members answered to the Cantham House Committee, sat or stood stunned at the chaos surrounding them.

"So this is how liberty dies," Padmé murmured, so quietly Bail and Dormé could barely hear her. "With thunderous applause."

"We can't let this happen!" Bail cried, rising to his feet. "I have to get to my pod - we could still enter a motion -"

"No." Padmé seized his arm, sheer force of will, or perhaps it was sheer will of the Force holding him down. "No, Bail, you can't enter a motion, you can't! Remember what we saw on the docking bay. Fang Zar has already been arrested, along with Tundra Dowmeia. It won't be long until he hauls every Senatorial member of the Cantham House Committee into the Courts. If you, or any of the others voice your objections now, their lives will not be worth the flimsi it is printed on. That motion will be their death warrant."

"But I can't just stand by and watch-"

"You're right. You can't just watch. You have to vote for him."


"Bail, it is the only way. It is the only hope you have of remaining in a position to do anyone any good. Vote for Palpatine. Vote for the Empire. Make Mon Mothma, Finis Valorum, and Garm Bel Iblis vote for him too. Be good little Senators. Mind your manners and keep your heads down. And keep doing all those things we never talked about here. The time for them will come."

"Padmé," Bail bowed his head in a drawn out sigh. "You have my word, and I'll make the others see reason. But what about you? Are you under suspicion?"

Dormé answered his question. "Palpatine's Representative came to see me last night. According to him, the only reason that the wife of Obi-Wan Kenobi is not under suspicion, is his assurance of her unswerving loyalty to her former Senator."

Bail frowned at the unspoken implications. "If he forces you to do anything, I'll -"

Don't worry about me, Bail," Padmé whispered, her eyes turning towards the podium of their new Emperor, whose yellow sithly eyes seemed to bore into every particle of her soul. "I don't know I'll live that long."

Mace brought him forewarning, indeed he had his own memories regarding another past apprentice to recollect all too well what occurred when one fell, but nothing could have prepared him for the reality. When Xanatos turned, his sithly induced revenge was directed solely at him, Obi-Wan was only caught in the crossfire by virtue of being his successor to the role of Padawan learner. Never before had he occasion to witness a pupil directing their revenge regarding their failures at the entirety of the Order. And hopefully, he would never have to ever again. Hope could be pushed aside, for his illness virtually guaranteed that such a sight would be his last.

Like Xanatos' successor, he could not deny feeling some guilt and responsibility for the fall of his latest and last pupil, for the misery and devastation which was about to be visited on the Jedi in this, their twilight years. Nor could he deny himself a chance to prevent what was about to come, or perhaps just partake in the event, even if the cost was likely to be his own life. Obi-Wan had understood that when he chose to keep his peace as opposed to any objection he might make after he aired such a plan to him before he left for Utapau. However, he was well aware that others, such as his oldest friend, might be more vocal with their opinions and wishes regarding his end. All he could do was hope, as he protested obedience to such directions, secretly planning his mutiny, that in the end, they would also understand.

So he waited until Master Windu was gone from the medical wing, along with the rest of the staff and patients posted there, Kamino clones filing in from the secret Cantham House Committee entrance, where the ship had docked some time ago, unseen by those who would gain a malicious advantage from witnessing such an arrival. His friend was in haste, too conscious of the little time they had with which to spring this last final Sabacc hand into play, to notice that one clone was missing from those assigned to the med bay. He had cancelled the order for his replica during the war, doubting that he would live to see the end this worst case scenario engineered them for. And, like everyone else within the Order, he was about to be proved wrong.

Clones, surveillance, transparisteel panes and he were the only witnesses then to the end of the Jedi Order. He watched through the third of that quartet he chose to become a member of, as the armoured troops bore down the central avenue in a slow, deadly march towards the grand entrance. Their leader at the forefront, darkly cloaked in his usual Jedi apparel, though now those muted shades seemed in hindsight a warning of what was to come. The face was hooded and grim, like a storm on the outskirts, threatening now to burst upon the sunshine and let a hail of judgement rain down.

When he could no longer see the armoured soldiers or their leader, he returned to the medical wing, to wait, like the others there, for his possible end. A part of him was already certain of that outcome, he had seen the reality in his former pupil's face, he knew that there was no escape. Yet the other part, that side of his character which had always rendered him a maverick in the eyes of the Council and the Order, still hoped to achieve the impossible. To bring forth redemption and conquer the Krayt dragon from within.

Unlike his former Padawan, he could not watch how the other clones stationed about the Temple would meet their end. The med bay was stationed away from rest of the Temple, sheltered from the security room and Council chamber, positioned out of the way from the impulsive impetuous curiosity of the young. Instead he could only imagine each shot fired from one of the white armoured clad soldier's blasters, each cut or thrust of the blue lightsaber which should have been red, to properly reflect where the owner's true loyalties now lay. He would not live to see the horror displayed within the surveillance holos, the violence visited on every part of the Order that was currently Temple bound, from the eldest and least able to defend themselves, to the small younglings, too innocent to even comprehend the wealth of revenge their murderer showed them. But his and the clones imaginings were probably the equal when compared with the reality, or perhaps the inferior, a comfort to those whose end would inevitably follow.

Eventually the massacre reached the medical wing, a legion of white armoured clad soldiers firing blasters unknowingly upon their own kind. Order Sixty-six was too broad in its outline to allow for independence in thought; if it looked like a Jedi and fought like a Jedi, then it was to be struck down like the rest of the Jedi, indistinguishable from those they were designed to protect. There was to be no wonder at the lack of Force, for the soldiers were incapable of detecting such sensitivity. One by one, from the staff to the patients, each victim was put to the judgement of their deadly accuracy, the end assured by their engineered desire to be thorough when carrying out their duty.

Their leader arrived while he was still alive, fighting with the best of the staff, defending themselves and those too incapacitated attempt such mutiny to the Empire's judgement. A hood still cloaked his face, concealing none of the anger splayed across it, instead only intensifying the white hot rage of revenge. Yellow eyes glowed within the darkness like the twin suns from his homeworld, casting their deadly heat upon the frail figure of his former Master. For a moment he frowned, as he perhaps sensed the deception being played on him and his battalion, realising the distinction between a clone and the real thing who stood within the midst of them. It was what his teacher had counted on to sway him from his massacre, stop him from falling into the darkness that was the way of the Sith. Until now, it had not occurred to his teacher that it would turn out to be the one thing which would aid that descent.

Anakin Skywalker dove through the mass of slaughtered victims, meeting the fighting form of his former Master, Qui-Gon Jinn. His last sight of him had been a stark contrast to the seemingly vigorous man before him now; pale and sickly in his bed, the debilitating disease within the lastly deathly throes of its mortal torture. Perhaps if that vision of him was repeated, it would have prevented what would happen next, but neither of them would be granted the opportunity to find out. The Force had rewarded them instead with a ending that was bittersweet; one last mortal joust.

"It is fitting that I should find you," Anakin said, his lightsaber at the ready, waiting for the green coloured one belonging to his opponent to make the first strike. "For in our last combat I was the pupil. But now I am the Master."

Qui-Gon would not be provoked. "There is still time, Ani. You can still walk away from this darkness your new Master has swept before you. All you need to do is give me your lightsaber."

"And what?" Anakin scoffed. "Humble myself before Master Yoda like a misbehaved youngling? I have listened to his judgements for the last time. I will not allow myself to be enslaved to you and your kind again."

"Enslaved?" Qui-Gon echoed. "Anakin, it is Palpatine who is the enslaver, not us! He would bind you to the darkness, force you to commit atrocities darker than any revenge you have ever visited before. You cannot allow your past to cloud your memories of being a Jedi, or it will doom you forever."

"How dare you accuse him!" Anakin thundered back. "He is the only one who has ever listened, the only one who truly showed me support. All you and your kind could do was to deny me the full power I held over any member of the Order."

"Power is not what a Jedi craves," Qui-Gon countered. "We seek only a deeper understanding of the Force. Do not cast a judgement on us that should be directed at the Sith, the kind to which your new Master belongs, and calls you to join."

"I knew it would be a mistake speaking to you," Anakin uttered in deadly finality. "I will not stand and hear more of your lies."

What followed next was a flurry of saber clashes, prophesied Chosen One verses the Maverick, a duel to the death. Around them desert shaded clones littered the battlefield, the white armour clad ones moving on to other parts of the Temple, leaving Jedi and Sith to defend and battle against their deeper philosophies. The outcome was inevitable, for the righteous was never assured of victory when illness threatened to conquer him. Blue laid waste to green, gaining first the advantage then the victory.

Obi-Wan saw Qui-Gon meet his end bravely, as he had always desired to from the moment he learned of his mortal diagnosis, then reached forward to turn the surveillance holo off, too sickened by grief and guilt to be able to watch any more.

He was waiting for her, in the shadow of the cockpit of their skiff, his arms folded against his chest, his features grief stricken. Without a word she motioned to her decoy to aid Captain Typho in preparing the skiff for departure, then joined her husband in the darkness.

Opening his arms, he drew her into an embrace, similar to one they had shared years ago, when she was carrying their firstborn. Cordé was still with Breha aboard the Tantive, which would leave for Alderaan soon, via Naboo. It was too dangerous for her to travel with her parents, who would not be arriving on Naboo for some time.

During the journey to the Core they had planned to leave Coruscant for good, knowing the Sith would not allow them to survive, even at the request of Anakin, that's if it even occurred to him to ask. They would clear out the Senatorial penthouse residence and leave for Naboo, then hide themselves at the Jedi Sanctuary until the plans were in place to overthrow Palpatine's schemes.

But first they would talk to Anakin.

"How was it?" she asked him, looking up from her place of rest against his comforting warm brown cloak.

"Harder than I thought it would be," he replied, referring to the plan the Council decided on when they learned of Order Sixty-six. It was two fold; involving the secret construction of a sanctuary Temple on a previously deserted planet in the Outer Rim, and, in the event of an attack upon the Coruscant Temple, evacuation of the Jedi stationed there, who would be replaced by clones, engineered only for death.

A hard decision for the Council to reach agreement on, and one even harder for Obi-Wan to see through to conclusion, as he and Yoda inspected the bodies to confirm what Mace already knew; cause of death by lightsaber. The Clones were good, the best that Kamino could supply, with a only a residual sense of the Force ability which their originals possessed. No one wanted copies of themselves able to defeat storm troopers or even a Sith, but the resemblance was hard to accept, almost as hard as the knowledge that one of their own had put them to death.

Anakin had fallen to the dark side. Just as he had murdered those Tusken Raiders in revenge for the death of his mother, so had he murdered those at the Temple, for what motive Obi-Wan could only guess at. It was not all his fault, there were many who felt a sense of guilt for this, and in light of what was concealed from him, there was a chance that he could be redeemed, though Obi-Wan would have never believed it of any one before. The new Emperor had manipulated him into doing this, and the Jedi were clones.

Save one. And that one troubled Obi-Wan.

When he agreed to witness Qui-Gon's request that he die with the all the dignity of a Jedi Master, in defence of the Force, he had hoped that his former Master would survive an attack on the Temple. He had hoped Anakin would not stoop to kill someone he regarded as a mentor and a father. And that hope remained in his heart, until he heard Mace's voice after he entered the Temple. Until he saw Qui-Gon's body, in the smoking remains of the Healer's Ward, positioned as though he fell defending with the clones of the Healers. Did Anakin even give him a chance to speak and reason? No one, not even the holo he forced himself to watch could answer that, for such words held the ability to linger within the mind long after they had been spoken, perhaps serving to provoke reflection and change, save for the young fallen Knight himself, another motive for confronting him.

"Anakin," he remarked, before breaking off to correct himself, even though it hurt to utter the new title Palpatine had bestowed on him, "Vader, is on Mustafar. Ordered to take care of the Separatist leaders." He paused to look at his wife steadily, preparing himself for what he was about to voice. "Padmé, I don't think you should come with me."

"Why not?" she asked, looking back at him with a slight frown, as if to remind him that they had been through this during the journey here, Senator verses the Negotiator, the former winning the debate, as she reasoned and cajoled him into taking her with him, despite his reservations in light of her condition and what Anakin might do when confronted with something else another of the Order had denied him.

"Mustafar is hardly the best planet for you to be seeing in your condition," he replied, knowing what she would say, but needing to voice his concern all the same.

"We've been through this, Obi-Wan," Padmé reminded him. "I am pregnant, not an invalid." She saw him flinch at that word, and immediately, she understood why he was so reluctant. "Oh. Qui-Gon."

"Yes," he confirmed. "Why did I think Ani would never commit such a deed? I should have refused his request, have Mace take him out of there, kicking and screaming."

"Mace doesn't blame you, does he?" Padmé asked, relieved to see him shake his head in a resounding negative.

"No, but he was angry that I agreed and left him no explanation." Obi-Wan sighed, releasing part of the emotions he felt into the Force as he did. Not all, he wasn't ready for that, nor had he truly begun to deal with them either. That would come later, after he talked to Anakin. He turned back to his wife. "If I can't stop you from coming, will you at least promise me to step back if you feel yourself in danger? And if you feel he is in danger."

"I promise," Padmé replied, quietly and seriously, without a hint of a silent plan to interpret his request in a certain way.

Obi-Wan said nothing, but bent his head and pressed his lips to hers, a brief vow taken before they clasped hands and ascended the boarding ramp.

Chapter Text

Part 35: Ordæl bi fyr.

The trip to Mustafar was quiet, too quiet. Before they left Coruscant they dismissed Dormé and Typho to the Tantive, charging them with the care of Cordé until, Force willing, they arrived on Naboo. As they journeyed from the Core to the Outer Rim, sitting side by side in the cockpit of the sleek Nubian skiff with only Artoo for backup, the silence threatened to overwhelm them. Yet none of them would break it, and nor did they feel that they could. It was the calm before the storm that would face them on that fiery, volcanic planet, and an ominous calm at that.

Obi-Wan's eyes fixed on their violent surroundings the moment the ship left hyperspace. Landing, even on such a precarious planet as this was child's play when one had the Force to guide them; he did not need his sight, only his senses. The former was liable to deceive oneself, however unintentionally. Before those blue green grey pupils lay the fire that was Mustafar, and he could not help but feel that it was an appropriate setting for the trial ahead of them. He may have pleaded with Mace and Yoda to face the Emperor, but it was only a show, and he hoped they had not seen it as such. He needed to talk with Anakin, reason with him before he fell too far to come back. He may not have believed in the possibility of redemption before, but now he had to, for Anakin's sake.

He would do what he must, for all their sakes.

Padmé turned to him, her tanned flight suit emphasising every curve of her quickening, reminding him once again of the dangers for her upon this planet. But he knew that she stood a better chance of reasoning with Anakin first. Her sweet voice always managed to soothe him into serenity before his, or Qui-Gon's, or meditation ever could. Anakin would only be angry if he saw them together, a reminder to his fevered mind of something which he could never have.

Wordlessly she lay a hand on his bearded chin, the caress serving as a reminder to him of her promise. Then she rose from her seat and left the cockpit.

He turned to watch her go, before sinking into the embrace of the Force, fixing his focus on her signature, waiting for the moment that ancient being would tell him to follow. He had served the being faithfully till now, and he must continue, else betray the teachings by giving into the dangerous fear he had warned his pupil against in vain.

Outside Padmé came to a halt before the once young Knight who had run so confidently towards her, with open arms, expecting an embrace. There was nothing of the youth who strove to gain her love in him, or of the little boy who once proclaimed that he would marry her. Only a Krayt dragon, barely contained, threatening to howl.

"Ani," she uttered in a voice of such despair which brought him to a breathless halt, which seemed to speak through his body into the depths of his soul like a lance. "What have you done?"

"I have saved you," he replied, confused. "Saved you from my nightmare."

"This is my nightmare," she informed him sadly. "The death of the Republic. You killing innocents, Separatists, Jedi,...." her voice choked as she realised once more the risk to the twins she carried inside her. "Younglings."

A frown of disappointment settled upon his face. "It needed to die. And those were clones. The Jedi lied to me. They always lied to me."

"So did you to them," she countered. "From the very beginning you concealed that fear I still see inside you. That inability to loose those you claim to love."

The frown deepened. "You've been spending too much time with him. I conquered that fear. And I have become more powerful than any Jedi. Any Sith. I am strong enough to save you, to save our Empire."

Padmé couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Our Empire?"

"Yes. Let Palpatine call himself Emperor. Let him. He can do the dirty work, all the messy, brutal oppression it'll take to unite the galaxy forever, unite it against him. He'll make himself into the most hated man in history. And when the time is right, we'll throw him down. We'll be heroes. The whole galaxy will love us and we will rule. Together."

"No, Ani," Padmé shook her head, despair coating her body as it coated her sweet voice. "It was never about power. You still have so much to learn. You're doing the dirty work, the brutal oppression. He's made you his apprentice. His slave. And he will never give you what you want, for it is not his to give. Or is it yours. There is no need for you to save me, unless you kill me yourself."

He shook his head, the frown disappearing, or perhaps settling deeper inside him. "I would never do that. I love you. And with him gone you can be mine."

"You're wrong," Padmé added. "I'm not yours. I was never yours. Or Obi-Wan's. Never anyone's. Possession is never love."

Anakin turned his head from her, a clear sign that he was tired of this conversation. "I don't want to hear any more. The Jedi turned against me. Don't you turn against me."

"I don't know you anymore," Padmé replied, slowly backing away, towards the ship. "You're going down a path I can't follow."

His eyes went from hers, staring over her shoulder, and she knew her husband had sensed her distress and was emerging from the cover of the ship to protect her from the Sith who faced her now. "Because of Obi-Wan?"

She would not flinch. She would stand her ground until he tried to take it from her. "Because of what you've done. What you plan to do."

"Liar," Anakin threw the insult harshly back at her. "You're with him. You brought him here to kill me."

"No, I brought him to talk with you," Padmé corrected. "To bring you back."

"LIAR!" His rage surged, almost beyond control.

"Padmé," her husband's beloved Coruscanti accent caressed the distance between them, calm even in the face of such deadly anger. "Move away from him. He's not who we thought he would be. He will harm you."

"I would thank you for this," Anakin remarked, every word almost spat from his mouth in spiteful, pride laced, contempt, "if it were a gift of love. Palpatine was right. Sometimes it is the closest who cannot see. I loved you too much, Padmé." Anakin's flesh hand closed into a fist, settling an invisible Force chain around her little neck. "I loved you too much to see you. To see you for what you are."

Padmé could not respond.

She had no breath left to speak.

Anakin was choking the air from her.

"Let her go, Anakin."

Anakin was deaf to her facial plea, and to the verbal one which belonged to her husband, and the one which belonged to the Light of the Force.

His grip continued to tighten.

Obi-Wan's voice dropped to match the steel blue ice of his eyes. "Let. Her. Go."

Finally, Anakin obeyed. She fell to the durasteel, gently and silently, as if her body was a petal falling from a flower. Obi-Wan watched her go, then faced her attacker. "Anakin, what have you done?"

The young apprentice was unrepentant. "You turned her against me."

Obi-Wan replied with the truth. "You have done that yourself."

Anakin let his cloak fall to the floor, his gloved hand twitching menacingly towards his lightsaber. "You will not take her from me."

Obi-Wan took off his own, letting the dark brown fall to duracete floor, unveiling the lighter shades beneath. "Your anger and your lust for power have already done that." He stepped away from the boarding ramp, keeping his eyes on Anakin, who circled past Padmé towards the skiff. "You have allowed this dark lord to twist your mind until now. Until now you have become the very thing you swore to destroy."

"Don't lecture me, Obi-Wan. I see through the lies of the Jedi. I do not fear the dark side as you do."

He turned his back, giving Obi-Wan a chance to kneel down and check on his wife. His hand went to her face, a loving caress upon the soft skin of her cheek, his finger length reaching to the pulse point below. It was thin and erratic. Quickly he dipped into the Force, and gave her some of the healing techniques he learned from those at the Temple, when Qui-Gon was first diagnosed. Her borderline sensitivity, enhanced by the twins inside her, met his own one bravely, almost defiantly in the face of the trauma visited upon her body. His hope renewed by such a sign, he rose to his feet, ready once more to visit the justice of the Force upon the Sith who cast her down.

Anakin continued with his attempt to justify his atrocity. "I have brought peace, freedom, justice and security to my new Empire."

"Your new Empire?" Obi-Wan echoed the words with incredulity. "Anakin, my allegiance is to democracy. Not the dictatorship which comes from treachery or the spending of innocent blood."

Anakin sighed in disappointment at his response. "Don't make me kill you. I'll give you a chance, for old times sake. Walk away. Go some place out of the way. Retire. Meditate. That's what you like, isn't it? You don't have to fight for peace anymore. Peace is here. My Empire is peace."

"Did you say that to Qui-Gon?" Obi-Wan asked him. "Did you even allow his words to be heard? To reason against the lies your new Master spoke? Or did you just cut him down, along with the rest of those in the Temple?"

"He was a clone," Anakin replied simply. "They were all clones. You lied to me."

"Yes, they were clones. Yes, I and the Council concealed that from you. We had to, because of your relationship with the Chancellor. Your new Master." Obi-Wan let go of the disgust he felt in accepting those words. "But Qui-Gon wasn't a clone. If you had acted as you should have done, you would have realised that." He glanced down at his wife. "This is between you and me, Anakin. Let her go back on to the ship. She needs medical attention."

"She stays. You don't get to take her anywhere." The words shot like blaster blots from his mouth. "You don't get to touch her. She's mine, do you understand? It's your fault, all of it. You made her betray me."

"Anakin," Obi-Wan sighed. "I am not in charge of her mind. No one is. And, as she said to you earlier, when she was still able to talk, possession is not love."

Again, truth was ignored. "If you're not with me, then you're my enemy."

"Only a Sith deals in absolutes." Obi-Wan unclipped his lightsaber and held it at the ready. His next words would not be an absolute, however they may have sounded as such, for duty within the light was always in a constant state of evaluation, in respect to the unknown of the future. Once they were spoke however the time was past for verbal negotiations. Ones of a more aggressive nature would now take their place, on the part of his former brother at least. "I will do what I must."

Contempt mixed with determination for victory in the battle ahead filled Anakin's vengeful tones. "You will try."

If Yoda had been here, there would be the usual customary reply, one given to every student who every uttered those three words. But Yoda was not here. He was on Coruscant, no doubt duelling with the Emperor by now. It was time for Obi-Wan to do the same with the Emperor's apprentice.

Even though it would break a piece of his heart.

His blue blade ignited, then Anakin's followed. He flipped over in a large Force abled leap to face him, the humming blades clashing and parrying so fast that Obi-Wan could do nothing but give ground. But that was his intention, his way. The way of a Soresu Master. Anakin knew it, for they had trained together as he acquired the ability after Naboo, while he instructed the boy in the forms of Ataro and Djem-So, Qui-Gon on hand when his health permitted him to assist in the teaching.

He took a step back, then another, and another. Until he felt the heat of the volcanic rivers behind his back, whereupon he used the clash of the blades to turn away from the edge of the platform, until Anakin thrust a kick at his chest, sending him towards the doors of the compound where the massacred bodies of the leaders of the Separatists lay.

They emerged on to narrow catwalks, a hark back to his first encounter with a Sith, if Obi-Wan cared to indulge in such horrific nostalgia. But he had no time for anything, not even to acknowledge the lesson of his master, to focus on the here and now, for the here and now was countering each thrust of the lightsaber that should be red, but was still blue, the once colour of the eyes that belonged to its owner. His friend. His brother. His apprentice. That humming blue blade was the last piece of light that remained of Anakin Skywalker. A light which would soon be extinguished.

One way or another.

Obi-Wan continued to give ground, even as they reached the conference lounge littered with the bodies of the Separatists leaders. Their blades clashed into the control panels nearby, a stream of sparks created. Fingers twitched as they gripped the blade, causing sudden movements in those belonging to the corpses, triggering the blasters within their grip, sending bolts flying towards him. He flicked back with the light of the Force, sending them into a constant ricochet across the large room.

Anakin jumped back a little. "Don't make me destroy you, Obi-Wan. You're no match for the power of the dark side."

"I've heard that before," Obi-Wan replied sadly. "But I never thought I would hear it from you."

The Sith lord in the making pressed the blades towards his former Master, the residual heat from the lasers so close as to be felt by his skin. Obi-Wan reached out with the Force and pulled the last trick he felt he had left, one which his brother never knew, one which succeeded so well with General Grievous on Utapau. Inside the black glove which coated his brother's artificial hand, the polarity of the electrodrivers was reversed.

A lightsaber fell from that gloved hand, to be caught by Obi-Wan, who raised the two blue blades into a cross before himself, as if the weapons were a symbol of all he sought his entire life to defend. "The flaw of power is arrogance."

Anakin waited for the move which signalled his death. When it did not come as quickly as he had expected, he gloated contemptuously. "You hesitate, the flaw of compassion."

"It is not compassion, it is reverence for life," Obi-Wan revealed calmly. "Even yours. It is respect for the man you were. It is regret for the man you should have been."

Anakin forced him back against a wall. "I am so sick of your lectures."

Obi-Wan met the yellow eyes which stared back at him, as the bones inside his hands began buckle in response to the invisible choke hold of the Sith. But like his wife, he would not let his body break. He simply accepted the possibility of death, which he never feared, having mastered that natural perversity long ago, and with that let go of everything, including the blades. The weapons clattered to the floor, the inbuilt safeties within the hilts powering down the laser swords so they did not melt the floor beneath their owners. Obi-Wan called his back to him, and let Anakin's roll away to another part of the room.

It did not belong to the Sith who stood before him.

With his artificial hand Anakin captured Obi-Wan's neck, choking him. He forced him down towards the surface of the table, holding his weapon away from him with a crushing grip by his flesh hand on the wrist. Obi-Wan let him control the descent, his body bending backwards until it protested with a grunt, then sent his booted leg between the Sith's in a kick to his rear, causing Anakin to let go in order to avoid falling off the table.

Obi-Wan rolled to his feet, ready to counter.

Anakin kicked his face, the force of the blow sending them both to the table, Obi-Wan now losing his saber. The Council Master sent a kick to his knee joint, sending the former Knight now apprentice once more toward the surface again. He called his lightsaber from the floor and brought it down towards Anakin, who caught his in time to repel the blade.

He forced Obi-Wan to give ground so he could get up and together they duelled into the space between the observation holo tables, blades clashing until Obi-Wan used his hand to force Anakin away. The apprentice countered with his own hand, the two opposing sides of the Force working like magnets, sending them to opposite sides of the conference lounge.

They hit the consoles with the same force of impact. Anakin rose first, a Force abled leap towards Obi-Wan, who rolled away in time for the blade to clash with the controls of the lava gathering devices.

The colour coded status of the cranes flashed from blue to red ominously, indicating a future malfunction.

Obi-Wan directed the blue blade away towards a threshold control, releasing the blast door he stood infront of, letting the duel continue outside, on the promenade that surrounded the entire compound. A few more clashes and parries of the blue blades, then Anakin directed another kick to his face, again causing him to back away.

They reached the thin conduit pipes which stretched over lava ridden rivers, designed for collecting the precious metals created within this vast planetary sized furnace. Obi-Wan leapt first, holding his weapon out before him as he adjusted his balance on the precarious surface. Anakin paused, letting him gain it before jumping on, and for a moment they focused on keeping themselves upright, while a droid carrying a small lava filled bucket, flew towards the conduit, caught sight of them, and scurried away in terror.

Obi-Wan jumped down to a coupling nexus of the main collection plant, Anakin quickly followed. He directed another fist swipe at Obi-Wan's face, propelling him away. Anakin reached for him, clasping his wrists, their blades forced upwards beside the volcanic flares, like shafts of blue light splintering the flame coloured doomed seas of hell. Obi-Wan turned the clasp against his opponent and flipped them round. He forced their blades down towards the platform, then his eye caught sight of the lava coating the walkway behind his opponent and he backed away on to the crossbar, Anakin following. They sought the relative shelter of separate hollow gaps within the sculpted platform as they waited for the eruption to pass.

The lava sent the crane to the river, and Obi-Wan ran towards the other end of it, away from the fiery death that now threatened their brief refuge. Anakin followed, both of them using the Force to remain upon it as their gravity shifted when the crane hit the river.

Somehow they continued to clash blades during their ascent towards the top, as Obi-Wan caught sight of the waterfall of lava they were heading for. He looked about him for an alternative, and saw a cable, strong enough to bear his weight and he grabbed it, swinging away from the crane.

Anakin caught one too, and they swung towards each other for another clash and parry of blades, the Force directing the swing. Obi-Wan swung away, and caught sight of a small floating repulsorlift platform. He let go of the cable and fell in a Force abled fall towards it.

He turned in time to see the structure they were previously standing on begin to be consumed by the lava. But he did not bow his head in a silent farewell to his old friend. For his senses could still detect Anakin's signature, and he knew that he was walking through the fire towards him to continue this duel.

He saw the blade before he saw the owner, a beam of light piercing the lava, as Anakin landed on a repulsorlift droid, his mind overriding the controls.

Obi-Wan met the blade with his and they clashed and parried again. Drained of energy as they both were, for this fight was sapping everything within them, they paused mid-combat, and he spoke, his words an apology. "I have failed you, Anakin. Qui-Gon has failed you. Just as you have failed yourself, and those who loved you."

Anakin ignored the truth behind such a sentiment. "I should have known the Jedi were plotting to take over."

Despite all, the Uncle's manipulation had conquered the teaching of his brother. Yet still Obi-Wan tried for redemption. "Anakin, Chancellor Palpatine is evil."

"From my point of view the Jedi are evil."

And as usual there was no try. "Well then you are lost."

They were parted briefly by another floating repulsorlift platform, this one carrying droids and machinery on its way to the cremation recycling plant. The droids had not the abilities to realise the consequences of their fateful journey, let alone the consequences which awaited whoever emerged from this duel, if any one ever did, for they were shrouded in mystery, like the rest of the future.

"This is the end for you, my master," Anakin pronounced as he leapt on to the repulsorlift, almost falling if not for the iron grip of his boots upon the edge. They clashed and parried blue blades until Obi-Wan leapt away to the rocky banks.

"It's over, Anakin," he gestured around him, "I have the high ground."

"You underestimate my power," Anakin returned petulantly.

"Don't try it," Obi-Wan pleaded.

Don't make me do this.

But he did.

He was never one to refuse a challenge.

Anakin leapt, and Obi-Wan did what he must. In one swift move he severed the three remaining limbs of his former brother, first one leg, then the other, and then the arm, sending him clattering down the ash ridden beach that led into the lava river.

Obi-Wan turned off his saber and clipped it to his belt. Then he met the accusatory red rimmed yellow eyes of his former brother. "You were the Chosen one! It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them! Bring balance to the Force, not leave it in darkness." He turned round and climbed up the beach, collecting Anakin's saber from where it had fallen when he used his.

Behind him a voice continued to defy the death which awaited him. "I hate you."

Obi-Wan glanced back towards the body, feeling nothing but sadness at the remains of his sibling before him. "You were my brother, Anakin. I loved you, but I could not save you."

Flames caught the cauterised joint of Anakin's knee. Slowly they spread to the other limbs, consuming every part of his body.

Obi-Wan watched until he could stand the sight no more, then turned and left.

He found Artoo in the conference lounge, the quiet beeps explaining to him that in an effort to preserve her safety, the droid had dragged his mistress inside the ship.

"Thank you, Artoo," Obi-Wan replied, his voice a whisper of the clipped Coruscanti accent, his strength almost spent.

Wordlessly he followed the faithful attendant, the one who had been witness to so many encounters between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Padmé Amidala, up the boarding ramp of the skiff and into the confines of the small medical bay.

Padmé lay upon one of the beds, her slight form wrapped in the embrace of a Force healing trance. Her pulse was stronger than before, but he could tell that she needed more than what his slight medical talents could provide before she fully recovered. Obi-Wan reached out and pressed a hand to her cheek, the back of his finger tracing a loving caress, as he tried to suppress the memory of what his former apprentice had done to them.

ferooo-wheep pero, Artoo uttered, causing him to turn from his wife and follow the droid into the cockpit. A loud beeping from the proximity control was the reason for Artoo's concerned utterance.

Another ship had just entered orbit.

Obi-Wan did not need the aid of the Force to guess who was on board. Quickly he secured and readied the skiff for departure, escaping the atmosphere just as the Emperor's shuttle made planetfall.

Punching the coordinates in for the alien medical base of Polis Massa, the skiff made hyperspace seconds later.

For Padmé the journey was a Force induced blur, likely to be forgotten in the wake of the future yet to come. She had no knowledge of the speed her husband pushed the skiff to use, or how soon they arrived at the asteroid based medial station, the closest one to Mustafar. She did not hear his frantic comcalls to Master Yoda and Senator Organa, asking them to meet him at Polis Massa, and why, nor the tender worry with which he lifted her from the makeshift medical bay and carried her out of the skiff, into the shocked sighting of Bail, who ushered them quickly to the nearest examination room.

She was blind also to the sight of her husband's pacing as he, Bail and Yoda waited for the med-droid to finish his exam and present them with his diagnosis. Deaf to the judgement that labour must be induced, else she might die if she carried the twins to full term.

"But Ani -Vader injured her neck," Obi-Wan pointed out. "How it is possible that she could loose her life if we wait?"

"The injury caused undue stress upon the twins, Master Kenobi," the droid replied. "If we wait, you risk losing not just your wife, but your children as well."

"Isn't there equal risk in her giving birth now?" Obi-Wan all but yelled back, causing Bail and Yoda to look at him in shock.

"Yes, increased by the injury upon the skeletal structure of her neck," the droid confirmed. "But we cannot repair that until she gives birth, and in comparison to waiting, this is the safest option."

Obi-Wan glanced over the med-droid's shoulder, through the tranparisteel plane of glass into the surgical delivery room where his wife lay sedated. "I need to ask her."

"I would advise that your wife remains uniformed of this decision," the med-droid remarked. "Such knowledge would only increase her stress levels."

"You don't understand," Obi-Wan protested, his voice raised, all care for Jedi serenity gone from his mind. "I need to speak to her. She's strong woman, she can survive this. She needs to know. She will not like decisions concerning herself to be made without her input."

"I would advise against it, Master Kenobi."

Obi-Wan took a step forward, intending perhaps to further emphasise his point, but he was prevented by the sharp tap of a gimmer stick to his knee. He turned to Master Yoda, who looked at him with sympathetic rebuke.

"Forget yourself, Obi-Wan," he said. "Wish to join your apprentice, do you?"

Obi-Wan sighed, and took a deep breath, releasing his emotions into the Force. Then he turned to the med-droid. "Do what you think best."

"Yes sir," the med-droid replied before returning to the surgical bay.

Obi-Wan's gaze drifted to the transparisteel once more, his hand coming up to his beard as he tried to remain calm, summoning strength for the next ordeal he and Padmé had to endure.

When Padmé woke, she found herself upon a surgical bed, a large metallic vent encasing the lower half of her body, a med-droid fussing around that end of the room, and her husband's form leaning over and gazing at her anxiously.

"Obi-Wan," she managed to utter, her voice hoarse as if from overuse, "what's happening?"

"You need to have the twins, my love," he replied, his hands caressing her cheek.

"No," she objected, shaking her head as emphatically as she could. "It's too soon."

"We don't have a choice, dearest," he replied. "An....." his voice choked on the name, "Vader," he corrected himself, "left us little choice."

She turned from him towards the metallic rings which encased her, trying not to worry about the math which whirred through her brain regarding the children. Closing her eyes, she tried to use what Obi-Wan taught her only days ago; the ability to sense the signatures of her children.

A feeling of panic arose when she discovered she didn't even have the strength for that mental process.

"They're fine," Obi-Wan assured her, knowing what she was feeling, as soon as she had opened her eyes widely, seeking his assurance.

Padmé took comfort in the knowledge that he was still unharmed from whatever occurred after Ani.....- Vader, she corrected herself -tried to Force choke her. The smoke stains and saber rents upon his cream tunic did not escape her notice, and neither did the sadness in his blue grey eyes, but now was not the time for what would be an undoubtedly hard conversation for the both of them. She needed to save her energy for the task ahead of her.

"Don't worry, my love. You need to save your energy," Obi-Wan spoke aloud then, echoing her resolve. A contraction swept through her body, and she realised that he must have fused his ability in the Force with what little she had herself, as well as the children's in an effort to help her. For she felt only half the pain she was expecting to come from induced pre-term labour, even with the all the advances of the medical technology. She remembered how quickly Cordé had come into the world, at her time and as naturally as the Temple Healer's ward allowed.

The birth of the twins was a stark contrast.

It seemed a long time had passed to her mind when the med-droid emerged from the tent encircling her legs with a small and quiet bundle in her arms, but it could not have been more than minutes, drawn out by the status of her troubled mind. Not a sound emerged as the med-droid cleaned and checked the babe, but Padmé was not unsettled by the lack of crying, her firstborn had been exactly the same. The Temple Healers had told her it was to do with the Force bond that Obi-Wan nurtured within Cordé from the moment he first sensed her, acquainting her with the world so when she emerged from her mother it would not seem so strange and terrifying.

"A boy," the droid declared, handing the babe to Obi-Wan, whom took his son with the same wondrous awe he felt the first time he had been in this position.

"Hello, little one," he murmured, brushing his forehead with a kiss, before bending down to let Padmé touch his cheek with her finger.

"Luke," she whispered softly, her fingers feather-like against his soft skin. Her eyes met Obi-Wan's who nodded in silent approval. The name had come up during their first dinner in the Coruscant Naboo residence after his leave from the front line of the Clone Wars. Due to the conclusion to that bitter series of battles, they had no time to begin another such debate for the twins.

A smaller digit reached out from the blanket for hers, briefly reaching his intended goal. Obi-Wan gently pulled away and rose to his full height as he sensed the onset of another contraction. "Patience, little one, your mother still has to bring your sister into this world."

Padmé closed her eyes, waiting for the pain to pass before she opened them to frown at him. "Sister? I thought I told you not to use the Force in divining the sex of the children."

Her husband smiled as he received a response indicative of her full strength returning. "Sorry, my love. Now you have to live, so you can rebuke me properly when you are ready."

She frowned as she caught the serenity upon his face and within his voice. "It was really that uncertain?"

"If you carried the twins to term, yes," he replied, remembering the somewhat frantic conversation with the physicians before labour was induced. Bail had been quite shocked to see his friend so close to losing his almost vaunted self control, a timely reminder of who he was from Yoda the only preventive. A part of him still didn't know how he had managed to survive the events of this day without losing his mind. He hadn't even a moment to pause and reflect.

He wasn't sure he wanted to.

"A girl," the med-droid announced, this time to the surprise of no one.

"Leia," Obi-Wan heard Padmé murmur as the physician brought the babe towards them. She glanced at their daughter, then breathed a sigh before closing her eyes.

Half a dozen alarms abruptly went off, and he could only watch, as his mind acknowledged the fearful allusion to his vision playing out before his eyes, before the med- droid handed him his daughter and forcibly ushered him out of the room.

Chapter Text

Part 36: Myself the Sacrifice.

There were two funerals which took place in Theed that day. The first was a short ceremony, no parade, no ritual burying, only words and mourning. For there was no body to cremate or crypt, only a life to remember, to eulogise, to martyr. A sad affair, for the death of one so young was to be pitied, considered a waste of potential. One much regretted by the new Supreme Emperor, who viewed the death with considerable anger, not only in his inability to prevent it, but for the task which it presented him with.

He had come too late to Mustafar, arriving at the sight of Anakin's death to find only the smouldering remains of an artificial arm. The brilliant boy whom he had manipulated from the moment of his birth was no more. Anakin helped him achieve revenge on the Jedi Order, he helped overthrow the Republic, but he was not here now to ensure the survival of the new Empire. The apprentice to whom he could delegate the evil duties to, trusting that he would carry them out to the best of his ability was nothing more than a decomposing burned corpse. Palpatine would have to find a new apprentice now, and train him into the bargain, which would take time he could ill afford. The honour and duty of tyrant would have to be his for the foreseeable future.

Anakin Skywalker's funeral could have taken place on Coruscant or Tatooine, but Naboo requested for the honour to mourn the young Hero with no Fear who had done so much for their planet. Palpatine granted the privilege, attending the ceremony himself, along with crowds of citizens from every walk of life, and almost every planet that Skywalker had visited. The task of delivering the eulogy fell to the Supreme Emperor, who spoke eloquently and powerfully about the life of this young victim of the Jedi Order, whom he had mentored from the moment he encountered him, after his heroic achievements in the relief of the Blockade Crisis. A plaque was placed on the walls of the hanger in Theed Palace, and a monument was erected in the National Memorial gardens, close to the Royal Crypts.

The second funeral was carried out with more fanfare and more people. A stasis coffin contained the body, which was escorted on a gun carriage, towed by Royal Nubian steeds, as befitted the victim's office and station in life. Behind the transparisteel covering said victim appeared composed, peaceful, free of the many burdens and responsibilities upon which so many depended. Infront and at the back a parade of relatives and officials escorted the carriage, their attire purple and black, the weeds of mourning properly observed.

Palpatine was once more a guest of the proceedings, his solemn face concealing a wealth of interesting emotions, which if any Jedi still surviving had dared attended the funeral, would have found most intriguing to analyse. He was saddened and pleased, grieved and relieved, shocked and gleeful. Throughout their life the victim had done many things to both thwart and ensure his eventual succession to Supreme Emperor, earned his respect for possessing superior intellect and skill, as well as a reputation which despite all, would become a legend across his new Empire. If he could have counted on their future loyalty, the victim would have made an helpful ally, had they lived to see the dawn of his crowning achievement.

Like Anakin, the victim could have been buried on Coruscant, but Naboo once more requested for the privilege of their National Memorial Gardens as the location of the body's eternal resting place. Due to this, much of Coruscant's citizens had made the journey to Theed, along with almost the entire Senate, barring those whom Palpatine had chosen to release from office for questioning, on charges of treason. Other citizens from other planets also numbered within the guests, from all walks of life and species. Among the attendants in the solemn procession was a lone astromech droid, who beeped mournfully to itself everytime its optical receptors happened catch sight of the body with the stasis coffin.

Queen Apailana opened the ceremony, her speech an eloquent and powerful hail of all the victim's achievements, in life and in death, their skill and intelligence, the respect they earned throughout the Empire, and lastly, attempted to capture the essence of the grief which all those present carried within them at this loss of life.

"I now give up the stage to the victim's family, who have lost a person that can never be replaced. For the Empire new legends and names will rise, while the old legends endure, but the family will never find another so worthy relative." She turned to her left before adding, "Senator Amidala, will you be so kind as to take the stage."

Padmé Amidala, once Queen of the Naboo, now Senator and Leader of the Opposition, bowed before her sovereign, relinquished the hand of her daughter to her sister, then took the Queen's place before the crowds present and above the stasis coffin which carried her husband, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

"Honoured Citizens of the Empire," she began, "we are here today to mourn a hero of our universe; Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. I am here to mourn not just a member of that ancient Order, but a man, a husband and a father. He has been the love of my life for thirteen years, and I know not if I shall ever encounter his like again, either in this world, or the next. I come before you not to speak of the Council Master, but of the man, who many here were privileged to know. Obi-Wan was kind, generous, and selfless. He was a gentleman to all, elegant in his manners, eloquent in his powers of persuasion. I do not know much of the Force, but I know he was not just a Master, but one who was respected and regarded as such, both in combat and in negotiation. He was a loving husband and father, one whom I hope my daughter shall remember not just from my memories, but from her own as well.

"Obi-Wan was a hero of our Empire. But he was also a victim." Padmé paused here to let the startled gasp echoed by the crowds slowly die out. "A victim of an Order who manipulated him into using his ability in the Force for the nefarious act of treason that threatened our noble Emperor. A victim who sacrificed time to experience and enjoy the early years of our marriage and his daughter's life, to fight in a needless war. Obi-Wan hated to take lives; he regarded every part of nature as sacred. But he was a servant of this Empire, who performed his duty without question. Each time he was called to the field, he was forced to become someone of note; a general, a negotiator, a warrior, a hero. He much preferred a life of quietude, with his daughter and wife. We have lost a King amongst men, and I have lost the Emperor of my heart and soul."

Padmé stepped from the pulpit into a respectfully silent crowd, inwardly shocked by her speech. As Leader of the Opposition she had always been a strong advocate not just of peace, but of the Jedi Order. To denounce them so publicly, and on such a day as the funeral of her husband, convinced those who previously were wavering in their loyalty to the new Empire. Others silently mourned that they had lost a potentially valued member of the old ways and the Senate, who could have feasibly led and overthrown the darkness which now settled upon their Republic.

Emperor Palpatine was both amazed and pleased by his former sovereign's transformed loyalty to his cause. He feared since her marriage that he would loose her support and naive respect for those opinions and values he always proclaimed to hold. That the death of her husband would anger her, propelling her into the figurehead of the rebellious souls who would doubtless rise against his government in the days and years to come. To have her public assurance of alliance was a blessing he did not expect nor hope to achieve.

Ceremony over, the parade of Naberries, Senators and citizens who counted themselves close to the Jedi Master encircled his coffin once more, as the gun carriage conveyed his body away from the grand central plaza, towards Theed's National Memorial Gardens. Obi-Wan Kenobi was to be laid to rest in the Naberrie family crypt, where, as customary, his wife and daughter would spend the night watching over his resting place, before departing at dawn for Varykino, where Senator Amidala would take her solitary mourning period until she was permitted to return to the Senate.

The crowds accompanied the solemn procession to the Gardens, silently admiring how well the flowering blooms looked in the night which had settled over Naboo's capital many hours since. Inwardly their hearts grieved for the daughter who had lost her father so young, and for the wife, their Senator and former sovereign, both attired in their weeds of mourning, a beautiful harmony of purple and black. Silently they observed the two women, accompanied by the family's faithful astromech, descend the stairs down into the crypt behind the floating stasis coffin, until the sculpted stone door slid shut, sealing the end of the funeral.

One by one they dispersed, departing the planet for their homeworlds or Coruscant, leaving what was left of the Kenobi family to continue their mourning in private.

Inside the Naberrie family crypt, a nervous period of waiting ensued, with Cordé and Artoo watching Padmé as she paced the length of the tomb, the veil thrown carelessly from her face, resting slightly askew across the elaborate hairstyle that contained her dark brown tresses, her eyes moist from long ago shed tears at the words she committed herself to speak during the ceremony, seemingly betraying both her beliefs and her principles.

When the door slid aside once more, she did not start in alarm, but turned in relief as the comforting sight of a cowled Korun entered the holy resting place. Mace Windu lowered his hood after the door closed, and silently nodded to her, the prearranged signal which meant that she could proceed as planned.

Padmé dashed to the stasis coffin, her fingers feverishly pressing the button which released the transparisteel. As the clear half cylinder slid aside she touched the cheek of her husband with a shaking hand that carried the ringed symbol of their love and commitment to each other, stroking the skin in a tender caress.

"I love you, Obi-Wan," she uttered, in a surprisingly calm voice, while her heart pounded beneath her chest, anxiously waiting for a reply.

He opened his eyes, their blue green grey gaze moving instantly to her brown one, and a relieved cry escaped her mouth before she bent her head and pressed the closed lips to his. Willingly he returned the kiss, his hand moving from his chest to return the caress on her soft cheek, his tongue parting her red lips to duel passionately with hers.

Mace withstood their reunion for a good five minutes before politely coughing to remind them where they were and who they were with. Obi-Wan smiled against his wife's mouth, then let go of her so she could straighten herself, allowing him to climb out of the coffin to greet Artoo and gather his daughter into his arms.

Out of the shadows that covered the foremost wall of the crypt emerged Bail Organa and Darred Janren, carrying between them a dead clone of Obi-Wan, which was to take the resting place in the coffin, just in case Palpatine or any one of his minions became suspicious of this carefully orchestrated concealment. The being had been engineered on Kamino, along with all the others of the Temple bound Jedi Order, designed to confuse those who wished to murder them.

"The twins?" Obi-Wan asked his wife.

"Safe with their grandparents, cousins and Aunt," Padmé replied. "We'll collect them on our way to the Lake Country." She ran her eyes up his figure, from the brown booted legs to the red gold strands of hair. "How are you?"

"Well, all things considered," he murmured, his free hand reaching out to caress her soft cheek once more. "And you? I had the easier part, while you spoke those words which went against all you ever fought for."

"It was hard," Padmé confessed, "but necessary. And don't forget, this is just the first occasion. I shall have to continue professing my new allegiance in the Senate during the years to come." She paused before adding, "I pray the Force will not allow many to pass before this Empire is swept away and the Republic is restored."

"As do I," he murmured, before drawing her into his embrace. His hands drifted round her hair, fingering past the veil to tangle briefly in the brown curls before moving down the slender planes of her back to a waist still burdened by the aftermath of her concealed pregnancy. In hindsight such a move had been fortuitous, protecting their children from wave of mass murder which swept over not just those members of the Order, but anyone who showed the slightest hint of Force sensitivity.

"We had best go," Mace reminded them all. "It would not do to observe the usual ritual of waiting until the dawn, just in case he has watchers in place."

"There's a secret passage we can use," Padmé informed them, pointing towards a shadowed corner at the other end of the crypt. "It will take us into my family's home, and from their you can depart to your ships."

"What will you do now?" Bail asked.

"The Order shall disappear," Mace answered. "To the sanctuary planet where we shall reform and wait until the time has come to act."

"And you, Padmé?" Bail inquired.

"You shall see us on Coruscant, when the mourning period is over," Padmé replied, causing another startled gasp to escape from his mouth.

"Such a move is too dangerous, not just for yourselves, but for all of us. How shall you avoid detection?" he asked.

"I can cloak myself and the children, or wear inhibitors," Obi-Wan explained. "We shall keep to the apartment. But if the risk becomes too great the children and I will either return to Varykino or the sanctuary planet."

"We'll make contact only when necessary," Mace added. "May the Force be with us all." He pause to bow before everyone present, then gestured to Padmé. "Senator Amidala, if you would be so good as to lead the way."

Padmé nodded and with her husband and daughter following, walked to the shadowed corner of the crypt, where she gently turned one of the sculpted mythical beasts that adorned the walls of tomb, commanding the secret entrance to reveal itself. Then one by one they stepped into the dark passage.

Soft candlelight emanated from the house at Varykino, guiding the way for the small gondola which floated along the lake the Naberrie estate bordered, carrying the Kenobi family to what would be their undisturbed sanctuary for the next few months. Dormé had gone ahead of them to prepare the villa for their arrival, stocking the food cupboards, undertaking the few housekeeping duties required to make the place clean, before she joined her family on Naboo. Though no one was about to observe the occupants of the slender craft, Obi-Wan had donned the gear of a gondolier to escort his family home, while Padmé kept her veil covering her face, Cordé similarly attired and seated by her, the twins were resting in a bassinet in her lap. Not a word passed their lips, or a beep from Artoo, whose mini repulsor rockets carried him alongside the gondola, his weight would have capsized the craft if he placed himself inside it.

Obi-Wan drew the boat into the dock, a swift flick of the Force causing the rope to fall into his waiting grasp, then he set about securing the boat, while their faithful droid entered the villa, his optical receptors sweeping about the place in a quick but thorough security and surveillance check.

With the help of her husband Padmé climbed out of the craft, carrying the twins in her other hand, while Obi-Wan saw her safely on the dock before bending down to lift their daughter out of the craft. Artoo uttered the all clear, and they entered the villa.

After putting Cordé, Leia and Luke to bed, they walked into their own room, where they removed the cumbersome articles of clothing the funeral masquerade required them to don. Obi-Wan was the first to finish, and he stepped behind Padmé to help her from her elaborate gown, until every inch of her glorious flesh was revealed to his tender loving gaze. He drew his arms around her waist, pulling her flush against him, and laid his lips on her neck.

Padmé closed her eyes as his mouth worshipped her skin, tilting her head until her dark brown curls rested upon his board toned shoulders. When his lips moved to caress her face, she turned her mouth to meet his, before turning in his arms. Her hands came up to explore the smooth planes of his chest, and one of his restrained a wrist, the tips of his fingers brushing the soft rise of her breast, his mouth moving to the roof of her eye, kissing the edge of her forehead.

Obi-Wan gently moved them to the bed, where he pulled her down upon him amongst the sheets, the small flames on the candles which surrounded them flickering amidst the slight current of breeze their movement created. He bent his legs to press his knees against her back, as she knelt about his hips, kissing his chest, writhing in pleasure as his eloquent hands worked their magic inside her.

She let him guide her into bliss, then manoeuvred upon him, rising to rest her back upon his thighs as they became one. Her eyes opened as he contorted his back, his hands splayed out on the bed behind him, so his mouth could capture her nipples, lavishing attention on both of them until they cried out each others names upon their release.

In the heady afterglow he fell back against the thick duvet and gathered her into his arms, his hands tenderly caressing her abdomen, which still displayed the hint of post pregnancy they worked so hard to conceal. She rested her face within the crook of his neck, as her fingers worked to release her curls from the elaborate hairstyle they were still contained within. When her hair was freely flowing down around them, he turned his head to press a kiss to the dark brown tresses.

"Tell me what happened on Mustafar," she asked quietly, for this was the first chance since they left that volcanic planet to come to terms with everything that took place there.

Leaving no detail out, he related to her all that occurred from the moment she lost consciousness when Anakin reluctantly let her go from his Force choke hold upon her neck. At times his voice shook with emotion, or his words failed him for a minute, but not until he reached the moment where the med-droid ushered him from her side on Polis Massa did Obi-Wan break down, whereupon she held him until his grief was spent.

After she gave birth to the twins, the med-droids ushered Obi-Wan out of the room in order to undertake the delicate operation to repair the damage to her neck. By the time she woke, his concern faded to relief as he held the twins beside her bed, until she regained the strength to take them into her arms.

Over the next few days, as she recovered from the labour, they met with Masters Windu and Yoda, and Bail and Breha, eventually conceiving the plan to fake Obi-Wan's death, enabling Padmé to transform herself into one of Palpatine's fervent supporters, her deception designed to confuse the Emperor, while secretly she and her husband involved themselves in the newly formed Alliance to Restore the Republic, whose members were the survivors of a committee who once met regularly at Cantham House.

When she was fit to travel, they erased all traces of their presence from the medical centre, forging a false record of Obi-Wan's death there before departure; the Organas to Alderaan, Master Yoda to the remains of the Order on the sanctuary planet, while the Kenobis and Mace travelled to Naboo, the Korun Master hiding himself within the Naberrie crypt in time for the masquerade funeral of his Coruscanti colleague. Obi-Wan then set himself into a deep Jedi trance, the kind which instilled the appearance of death upon him, vulnerable only to a preset voiced command, entrusted to his wife, with Mace's presence a backup if Padmé's words failed to revive him.

Padmé held her husband as he slept, his grief over Anakin temporarily spent, silently reflecting over these events. Many more such deceptions were to be carried out in the future, for it would take years, building up the Alliance until it was in a position to overthrow the Empire. She recalled the vision she experience during their wedding, how prophetically the symbolism portrayed future alliances, along with the storm of the darkness that now settled over the Republic, resting upon the horizon.

She prayed to the Force that they possessed the strength to endure what was to come.

Chapter Text

Part 37: Forever.

Padmé entered the penthouse Senatorial Residence for the sovereign system of Naboo in absolute silence. A motioning hand signal from her handmaiden indicated that the surveillance system was deactivated, before Dormé stepped forward to help her mistress out of the elaborate trappings of an imperial Senator. Layer after layer was carefully removed until a Nubian silk slip was all that remained, clinging to her slender figure. Padmé thanked her handmaiden with a nod of gratitude before walking from the living room through her bedroom and into the expansive ensuite fresher.

She switched the shower from sonic to water, turning the temperature up to an almost burning level of warmth. Her hands reached into her dark brown hair and removed the pins and combs which supported the buns and plaits, then she slid the silk slip down her body until it pilled in a heap around her feet. Closing her eyes, her hand went to the nearby entertainment system, and to the sound of soothing Nubian melodies she placed herself under the pouring hot water.

The pounding droplets hailed down her body, a comforting balm to her troubled soul, burdened by the daily deception she willingly placed upon herself. Everyday in the newly named Imperial Senate, a governing body fast becoming unnecessary in the wake of the Emperor's regional governors exercising brutal control over every planet within his tyrannical grasp, she would present herself as the loyal supporter of Palpatine, unquestioning and obedient to his every whim or rule. A cover designed to guard the Alliance to Restore the Republic, to deceive Palpatine from noticing the secret actions of her colleagues on the former Loyalist Committee, or the operations of her system's citizens, in their systematic sabotage of the Imperial weaponry and transport.

Her speeches, once proud, powerful, eloquent words about liberty, truth and justice, were now merely echoes of the Emperor's, his own form of twisted morality. Her dress was sombre purple and black, a permanent memorial for the Republic she secretly aided to restore, and the husband whose death she had faked. The social networking functions were a constant torture in studied avoidance, as she graciously refused matrimonial proposals from the toadies of her former Senator. Each of them, much to her disgust, failed to grasp the concept of her disinterestedness and loathing for their manners, characters and the methods they used in abusing the power Palpatine bestowed on them for their numerous acts of tyrannical torture.

Condensation began to steam the mirrors, the almost extreme heat of the water creating a cloud around her, but Padmé noticed none of it, so preoccupied in letting the balm work its magic on her body. Her constant fear was that the Empire would last beyond her strength to deal with the deception. Abruptly she stilled, pressing her forehead against the tiles, singing part of the melody which came from the entertainment system. Such lyrics, the work of a notable Nubian artist had always been a comfort to her. While not as good as her husband's, her voice smoothly adjusted to pitch and tempo of the song, lingering over the symbolism behind the lyrics reverently.

When she stood upright, two strong arms tenderly snaked themselves around her small waist, pressing her against his muscular compact figure. She did not jump in horror, for she knew of only one warrior who attempt such a potentially reckless manoeuvre. Obi-Wan pressed kisses along the length of her shoulders, upwards against her neck, then across her cheek until she turned to let their lips meet. Each time he visited her on Coruscant he ran the risk of the Emperor sensing him, but he'd learned a way to become an invisible void within the Force, undetectable by any who sought to track him.

Padmé turned round in his arms and caught his lips in a powerfully passionate kiss, her movements suddenly frantic. Sensing the turmoil in her mind, Obi-Wan responded with equal energy, lifting her into his embrace, opening his mouth to let their tongues duel in a sensual foreplay of what was to come. His hands clasped the soft skin underneath her hips, supporting her as he thrust himself inside her, obeying the silent urging of her thoughts; harder, faster. Blue green grey eyes met dark brown ones as their lids parted to let black pupils meet, Padmé raising her head as he pressed her against the tiled wall, the water raining between them as they cried aloud in reaching bliss.

In the heady afterglow they assisted each other's ablutions, massaging away the physical and mental aches caused by the trials of the day. Wrapping a towel around themselves they left the fresher to rest upon the bed. Obi-Wan quietly took her into his arms, her slender form resting across him as he let her hair caress his bearded chin. His eyes travelled towards the ceiling, but let the sculpted flourishes bypass his senses. Feeling her fingers fiddling with the limits of the towel wrapped around his hips, he stroked her the soft skin of her upper arm until the movement calmed itself.

"How are they?" She asked at last.

Obi-Wan smiled, then quietly told her about what she had missed in her children's lives. Cordé had just entered schooling, while Luke and Leia were receiving basic instruction of the Jedi life which had framed their father. Their eldest's training was a little more in depth, though oddly, she was not as powerful in the Force as her younger brother seemed to be. While Leia and Cordé held considerable potential worthy of any Jedi, inherited genetics be damned, Luke had something which one day would become the equal of his father's. Surrounded by adoring grandparents, Aunt, Uncle and cousins, their three children were protected from the horrors of the Empire in which their parents unwillingly lived. Padmé and Obi-Wan had both decided long ago that their offspring would not come to Coruscant until the Republic was restored.

"I miss them," Padmé murmured, the words unnecessary, but stated nevertheless. She returned to Naboo during every Senate recess, but just one second absent from her children was too much for her peace of mind.

Obi-Wan said nothing in response. Instead he bent his head to allow his lips to brush her hair, smiling as she nuzzled her face against his chest in reply. A moment later he changed the subject. "So, how angry is he?"

"Almost Sithly so," Padmé replied. "He cannot account for the mechanical failures, nor find any evidence of sabotage. Each time the project advances a step forward it takes at least four back. It is no closer to finishing than when we discovered it two years ago."

"Such a shame," Obi-Wan murmured innocently, causing her to chuckle.

Two years ago, during a regular patrol of the Imperial dockyards, one of their teams had discovered the construction of a large spherical craft, the size of a small moon. Calling on the aid of their Bothan spies, the Alliance soon discovered it was being built in mind of wiping out entire planets. Outraged at the future existence of such technology, the Alliance began to employ a series of undercover operatives in missions of sabotage upon the vessel, successfully thwarting the Emperor's plans at every turn. Her husband had been placed in charge of planning these mechanical failures. It was a continuous source of amusement for those Senators who knew of the sabotage to see the Emperor attempt to control his reaction every time fresh reports concerning the latest mechanical failure was given to him while the Senate was in session.

"What about that the search?" Padmé asked tentatively, for the other sabotage tasked to the Order was a difficult and disturbing one, not just for the Order and those belonging to the Alliance to Restore the Republic, but for Obi-Wan and herself.

Obi-Wan stiffened underneath her as he always did whenever she ventured to inquire about the Order's efforts to sabotage Palpatine's quest to find another apprentice. The task involved a visit to Mustafar to confirm official Imperial reports of Anakin's death, causing Obi-Wan to admit his less than merciful emotions as he took Mace to the place where he stood and watched as the Chosen One breathed his last.

Mace remained silent throughout the briefing of the duel, choosing to just glance at him in sympathy, then clasp his shoulder before leading him back to the craft which brought them here. Obi-Wan had almost glared in reply. Empathy he did not need, the guilt and self recrimination were still too fresh then. He wanted someone to yell at him, to blame him for the mistakes he made with Anakin. For he had failed the boy, by allowing the tension between them, blinding himself to the relationship with Palpatine, distancing himself from his apprentice, ignoring the boy's visions, instilling the strict discipline he learned from Qui-Gon's treatment of him, such methods he previously swore he would never use with a Padawan until then. Choosing not to resolve the conflict between them concerning Padmé. He continued to examine every argument with Anakin or Qui-Gon over their teaching methods until he naively came to believe that he alone was responsible for the boy's fall.

Someone finally chose to fulfil his selfish desire. Padmé yelled at him after a particularly tiring day with their twins, who picking up on his emotions had screamed and cried until she lost her temper, telling him that if he continued to blame himself for Anakin's defiance against his good instruction, for the Emperor's manipulative and merciless seduction, then he would let Sidious win, by destroying their love and destroying the twins. Her words, though deeply regretted afterwards, were much needed to quench the arrogance which lay in assuming such guilt, in daring to believe that he held a greater power over beings than that which belonged to the Force. Obi-Wan realised in his quest for someone to blame, he had forgot the wisdom of his elders, along with the Code. Slowly he began to accept all that occurred with Anakin.

Then he let it go.

However, the incident still haunted them, for with confirmation of Anakin's death brought Palpatine's wish for a replacement, and the task of sabotaging that desire fell under the jurisdiction of the Order. It forced them to examine the Emperor's methods of seduction and manipulation, to realise - much to their mutual terror -how quickly the conversion from Jedi to Sith could occur in uncertain times such as these.

It haunted Obi-Wan and Padmé every time Palpatine inquired after Cordé, or when they had to move the children from Naboo into hiding on the Jedi Sanctuary planet, because the Emperor had decided to visit his homeworld. Obi-Wan and Padmé were frightened by the possibility of the Sith getting his hands on their children, and for a Jedi to endure such emotions was disturbing, not just to the Order, but to himself.

"He tries," he answered her at last. "But that is as far as Yoda will let him succeed."

Padmé nodded, her still wet brown curls tickling his chest in the movement. Then she asked the question she dreaded to voice, for these visits were more precious to her than the ones they were granted during the Clone Wars, when they had the luxury of openness if someone happened to disturb their hard earned privacy. "How long do we have?"

Obi-Wan wanted to answer forever, but he had never been able to promise her that. This was worse than the brief interludes they were given during the Clone Wars for at least they lasted longer than these indulgences, conducted openly rather than in constant fear of discovery and death. Then she was allowed to mourn his absence, as opposed to removing all trace of his existence from the apartment when he left.

"As long as the Sith allows," he uttered.

Padmé adjusted herself to lie fully upon him, the towels shifting as she raised her slender figure to level his face with her own. "Not long enough," she murmured before kissing him.

His hands came around her, tangling themselves in her drying dark brown hair. "Forever would not be long enough, my love."

Chapter Text

Part 38: Enough.

Fingernails cut into skin as the mind commanded the fist to squeeze itself even tighter. Across the room a throat struggled to survive as its supporting skeletal structure was crushed very very slowly into thousands of minuscule pieces. The odds of drawing another breath however were soon rendered impossible. Body and soul surrendered to the illusory light which beckoned them into the Force.

Supreme Emperor Palpatine watched the body fall to the permacrete without uttering a word. Not even the simple pleasure of choking a being to death quelled his frustration now. The punishment of a subordinate usually fell to a Sith Lord's apprentice, but the trouble was that he had no apprentice. He lost his apprentice nine years ago. An apprentice in whom he spent over a decade of manipulation and seduction upon to ensure that his full to the dark side would last a lifetime.

One cannot wait for the dark side to simply take hold of a being. Especially if said being has lived under the influence of the Jedi Order as Anakin had, albeit from the age of nine. A Sith Lord had to nurture the darkness inside the being, stoke the fire of negative emotions, of doubts, insecurities, and fears, until the animal within breaks free of its Force restraints, takes over the rationale and rules that apprentice unchallenged. Only then is the conversion permanent, the anger and fear unending.

Palpatine had converted Jedi into Sith before, he even turned those Force sensitive beings undiscovered by the Order to the dark side. But never had he experienced the satisfaction he felt with Anakin's conversion. Never did the transformation feel so sweet or his pleasure so complete. In one moment he achieved all he worked so hard to gain; the end of the Republic, the end of the Jedi, and the end of the Chosen One.

Then he made a fatal mistake. One order which changed everything he planned to unfold in the future of his new Empire. He sent Vader to Mustafar to deal with the Separatist leaders. In hindsight this was the equivalent of sending a Rancor after a Twi'lek; too much of a superior force against defenceless, cowardly beings. A squadron of clones could have easily despatched the Separatist leaders, he had not needed to send Vader to do so.

But he did. He grew complacent and overconfident in his moment of glory, and in that moment, he lost sight of the possibilities. Of two Jedi surviving their assassin squads. In sending Vader to Mustafar, he failed to realise that the Jedi might endure to face them both.

And kill either of them.

Obi-Wan Kenobi. Yoda. The two names haunted his mind even now, when he had heard no trace of them for nine years. Yoda, the little annoying troll, he could dismiss easily from his thoughts, usually in the simple action of choking a lackey to death, but the name of the other Jedi was a source of anger which nothing could diminish. For he was the cause of the nine year absence of an apprentice by his side. He left Darth Vader to burn to death on the shores of a lava river. If he had not felt so strongly for the boy he spent a decade and more training, Palpatine would have pondered the possibility of turning to the Jedi Master who resisted a merciful end for his fallen apprentice.

That would have been an interesting prospect. But Kenobi was too firmly entrenched within the Light, even then when he turned and walked away from his fallen apprentice. Even when he died, Palpatine could feel the light side of the Force beckoning Kenobi to come and rest in peace within its torrid goodness. By the time he calmed down to contemplate the possibility of training him, death took the last Jedi away.

Well, that was not quite true, Palpatine reflected, as he turned his Force aided gaze on the signatures walking past his office. There were still Force sensitive beings in the world, including one trained by a Jedi, albeit for just the first years of their life. One such fine specimen was walking past his office walls at this very moment.

In a flash of movement which belied his general aged appearance, the Emperor rose from his throne and walked towards the double door entrance of his office. He exited the room in time to cause the two figures to come to a halt, ensuring that a necessary exchange of civilities took place.

"Your Majesty," they chorused, bowing slightly.

"Senator Amidala, Miss Naberrie," Palpatine returned. "What a pleasant surprise it is to run into the two of you. I was just thinking of getting myself a late supper, and I would dearly love you both to join me."

"Thank you, Your Majesty, but perhaps another time," Senator Amidala replied. "We have had a long day and my handmaiden has laid out a quiet meal for us at our residence."

"Are you sure?" Palpatine persisted. "Young Miss Naberrie would appreciate the sights of the capital at night."

"I agree, Coruscant by night is beautiful," Miss Naberrie answered. "But I have been working very hard, Your Majesty, as has my mother, and I beg you to excuse us."

"Of course," Palpatine replied, his face broken by a smile. Inside his mood was anything but serene. He watched the two women walk further down the corridor with something approaching a growling sigh, yet the sound did not escape his mouth. Another attempt to begin the process of recruitment only to be rebuffed once more. He was growing tired of Cordé Amidala Naberrie's excuses. If her mother was not such a powerful aide in the Senate, he would have taken the girl by force long ago. Seducing Kenobi's daughter to the dark side would be the ultimate revenge.

Yet he could not achieve it.

Perhaps that was why he found the substitute wanting, even though they did everything asked of them. By a startling coincidence, the being was nine years old, the same age Anakin was when he first made his acquaintance. There was all the challenge of seduction and manipulation, a chance to feed the ego and betray the parents, with the added nostalgia of symmetry. But that nostalgia tore at his heart, for it only served to remind him of what he had lost at the hands of Kenobi.

He watched Senator Amidala and her daughter turn the corner, disappearing from his sight. A part of him still wondered why both stopped using the Kenobi name a year or so after the Master's funeral on Naboo. The reasons Senator Amidala gave at the time were perfectly sound and logical; she wanted to ease her daughter's sufferings until she was old enough to deal with the way her father died, that Amidala was memorable for the Blockade Crisis, and therefore his own rise to the throne, the beginning of the Empire. But still he wondered if perhaps they thought such public use of the name would torture him as the memory of it did.

No matter, now. Palpatine took a breath and turned in the other direction, heading for his private hanger bay. His thoughts turned to the other nine years old project that was constantly failing as well. The reason he choked a being to death in his office just now. A project few knew about except himself and, in his personal opinion, a rather less than dedicated team of engineers.

It was conceived on the eve of the Clone Wars after the battle of Geonosis, although construction did not begin until he established his Empire three years later. One of those talented engineers handed the plans for the project to his apprentice at the time, who handed them to him after he barely escaped with his life from a duel with Kenobi, Yoda and his future, albeit brief, apprentice. Sending Dooku to his death was a lot easier after that event, though in hindsight it would have been better to keep the man alive just in case Vader was killed on a volcanic planet. But that was the past, only the present could occupy him now, and that present was the latest trouble with the three dimensional result of those plans Dooku handed him twelve years ago.

The Death Star. Even the name sang with Sithly satisfaction in Palpatine's mind, providing he could ignore the countless data pads piling up in upon the desk in his office, full of systematic failures. One by one they cropped up, no matter how many he assigned to conquer the problem, or how many he punished as an example to the rest. It was almost as if the little moon did not want to be finished, which of course, it wasn't going to be, if the failures continued to occur. He was just thankful that news of the latest one was not given to him in the midst of a Senate session. He had no desire to loose another representative from that body of politicians, however symbolic he may have rendered them lately. If he wasn't so sure that none of the Senators knew of his project, he would have suspected most of them to be laughing at him now, except when his temper got the best of him and decided to kill a member of their body.

Clearly, this project now required his personal attention, and that meant leaving Coruscant for a time. A message would be sent to Senator Amidala in the morning for her to take over some of his usual duties. Not executive powers, but the usual meetings and paperwork that took up his office days. Meanwhile he would travel to the shipyards where the space station was resisting construction, and see the extent of the damage for himself.

He was also going to take with him his substitute, his apprentice in all but name for no one would take what was to have been Vader's role within his Empire. Nine was a young age to learn the ways of the Sith, but the being was a bright and willing child and it was time he recognised that potential.

Palpatine halted in his walk mid way down the corridor, outside one of the many Senatorial offices which lined his route. Raising his hand to press the panel beside the door, the long ebony-coloured cloak fell from his wrist to reveal the wrinkled skin caused by his last but one lightsaber duel all those years ago.

The panel turned green and the doors slid back, granting him admittance. He stepped inside, his careful yellow eyes taking in every particle of the room, from the elegant decor to the young receptionist who jumped rapidly from her chair as she realised who was visiting her Senator's offices.

"Your Majesty, this is an unexpected pleasure," she murmured in a lyrically light tone, brimful of so much sickly goodness Palpatine almost stumbled in the face of it. "The Senator will be happy to see you, I'm sure."

"Thank you," Palpatine remarked. "What is your name, young one? I don't believe I have seen you serving the Senator before."

"Ahsoka Tano, Your Majesty."

"Honoured to meet you, Mistress Tano," Palpatine inclined his head deferentially and was just about to exchange further civilities, when the door of the inner office slid open and the Senator entered the room.

"Your Majesty, it is a pleasure to see you," the Senator remarked after performing a small bow. "How can I be of service to you at this late hour?"

"I was about to take a journey to one of the shipyards, Senator Organa," Palpatine replied. "And I was wondering if your eldest would like to accompany me. You mentioned sometime ago that she has expressed an interest in flying."

"Why, thank you, Your Majesty," Bail replied. "As luck would have it, she and her sister are with me now, I was just showing them the duties of a Senator." He turned his head and called them out. "Mara, Noémié, come here, please."

The two girls rose from their chairs and exited the room. Their father stood aside to let them pass and take their bows before the Emperor, who regarded them with deceptively concealed curiosity.

"Mara," Bail continued, "the Emperor has asked if you would like to accompany him on a journey to the shipyards. Would you?"

"I would like that, father, if I may," Mara replied.

"Then it is settled," Palpatine decided, smiling at the young woman. "I shall meet you at the hanger, young one."

He bowed before exiting the room, continuing on to his private dock with an decidedly evil smile upon his face.

Inside the office for the Senator from Alderaan, there was a moment of silence, as the four beings within waited for the last traces of the Emperor's evil signature to fade from their notice. At Ahsoka's signal, the surveillance devices were switched off, along with the timer to erase all traces of the following conversation.

Bail turned immediately to his eldest. "Mara, are you sure you are ready for this?"

"I am, father," Mara replied. "Master Yoda warned me during our last visit that this was coming. He has done all he can to prepare me. The rest lies in the will of the Force."

"In that case, I hope it is with us, my child," Bail remarked. "And not with that Sith ridden being who will be by your side from now on."

He drew his daughters into an embrace, thankful for the day Breha told him she was quickening once more, thankful for the moment the med-droid placed them in his arms. It was not until his dinner with the Kenobis that he and Breha learned of their children's extraordinary gift in the Force, and grew to be wary of the Emperor detecting such potential. It had taken nine years of training under Master Yoda to lead them to this planned moment, but even now, Bail still feared for the safety of his fearless red hair eldest, knowing what happened to the last nine year old who had the misfortune to meet with Palpatine.

Senator Organa held his girls tightly, and prayed the same fate would not fall upon them, for so much more depended upon the success of their plans.

The fate of restoring the Republic.

Chapter Text

Part 39: Rebel Alliance.

The night before their plans were set in motion, a dinner was held at one of the private villas in Varykino, Naboo. It was attended by a select number of guests; three Senators, their significant others and their offspring. A informal affair, the event was unusual only in the conversation, for the villa was one of the few Senatorial residences to have no surveillance employed by the Empire, as the Emperor was under the impression that the Lake Country villa was no longer used, due to Senator Amidala's grief in losing her husband. He had no idea that Obi-Wan Kenobi was very much alive, living there with the children when danger did not require him to hide on the Jedi Sanctuary planet, or when he decided to risk detection by visiting his wife on Coruscant.

After travelling through hyperspace on deceptive routes, doubling back, and employing false destination evidence, three unmarked Senatorial crafts touched down at the Lake Country's spaceport. Each vessel carried nothing that could be traced to the correct planet of origin, and every craft was designed to erase the travel records should someone attempt to board them unlawfully.

One particular vessel was the last type of ship that anyone would consider belonging to a Senator. Devoid of theme or artistry in appearance, it was littered with a crawling mass of unique upgrades that naturally, when dealing with such complexity, often required frequent and detailed repair. A hybrid of the YT thirteen hundred, it was equipped with a larger hyperdrive than the standard of that class, and two heavily modified Girodyne SRB42 Sublight engines. Most of the ship was testament to the phrase heavily modified, which while giving the craft an unusually fast speed, also led to almost continuous unpredictability.

Those who saw the vessel whether in dock or during flight, called the ship a hunk of junk and admired anyone's willingness to book passage inside the craft, let alone fly the ship. Its proud owner called it the Millennium Falcon.

Senator Garm Bel Iblis turned to observe this young man now, as he powered down the ship, reflecting over how long it was since he first assigned him as his aide. Han Solo was more than a competent pilot, or an intelligent young man, he was like a son to him. As his courier, Han gained access to some of the ugliest sights of the Empire, but not once did he flinch or waver from his duty in keeping their efforts to restore the Republic a secret. He made his disgust at what he saw known to the Senator, and Garm would ask his advice on how to handle such matters when they were in a position to deal with them discreetly. Injustice could be fixed within the Empire, as long as it was swift and quiet.

Because of his hard work and ability to escape detection, this was the first time Han had accompanied him to dinner with the Kenobis. Garm wondered what he

would make of them. In public, Senator Amidala and her daughter were every inch upstanding members of the Empire, Palpatine's strongest vocal supporters in the Senate. In private, every member of the Kenobi family were active members of the Alliance to Restore the Republic. Until tonight, Han's contact with them was nothing more than in passing during the Cantham House meetings, and occasionally when Garm needed him to act as courier to deliver something on Coruscant. He had never even met the youngest Kenobis, who were a year into their jedi training as their father's Padawans. Raised in secret, they spent their time on Naboo and the Jedi Sanctuary, under the watchful eye of the Order and their parents. Luke and Leia were the best kept secrets of the Rebel Alliance, biding their time until they would follow in their parent's footsteps.

"Senator?" Han spoke, causing Garm to emerge from his thoughts.

"Yes, Han?" He remarked, turning the copilot's chair to face the aide.

"Do I have to come tonight, sir?"

The Senator from Corellia frowned. Han was rarely formal, unless he was asking something he expected to be refused. "Han, you do remember what Senator Amidala was like before the Empire, don't you?"

"During that one and only meeting when I was seven? Sure."

Garm heard the sarcasm in the youth's tone and inwardly smirked. "I promise you, Han, the Senator you know today will be completely different tonight. Padmé is Palpatine's most vocal supporter for one very good reason; she agrees with absolutely none of it."

"She lies that well?" Han shook his head. "I don't believe it."

"Trust me, you will after tonight," Garm replied before rising from his chair. His young aide followed suit and together they disembarked from the Millennium Falcon.

A brightly cloaked figure awaited them at the end of the ramp. "Greetings, Senator, Captain Solo."

Bel Iblis frowned. "I apologise, milady, but which one are you?"

The handmaiden smiled. "Eirtaé, Senator. Dormé, Ellé and Moteé are still on Coruscant." Infact, Dormé was playing decoy for her mistress in order to confuse the Emperor as to her real location, for it would not do for all the Senators invited to be noticed in their absence from the Core at the same time.

"In that case, it is a pleasure to meet you, Eirtaé," Garm remarked, turning on the Corellian charm, as he took her hand and raised it to his lips.

Eirtaé refrained from rolling her eyes for she was no stranger to such flattery from politicians, having served her mistress for many years.

"Please, follow me."

She took them through a maze of alleys from the space port, turning this way and that, down so many blind corners until Han wasn't sure which way to take to lead them back to the ship. Then they emerged into a rural area where trees replaced houses and cobblestones the permacrete. He raised his gaze as they came into the clearing, catching sight of the curved roomed villa. Placed on the shore of one Varykino's many lakes, the villa seemed like a beautiful lighthouse in a peaceful, isolated idyll. The two of them couldn't help but exchanges smiles with their guide as their breath was taken away by the sight.

The handmaiden led them up the steps, pushed open the door, then through to the living space where everyone was gathered. Despite the impressive speed of the Millennium Falcon, they were the last to arrive, due to the deceptive routes everyone employed before laying in a course for their true destination. Eirtaé's mistress was in conversation with Senator Organa, and standing beside her was a man Han could not remember seeing before, his arm resting around the Senator's waist. They turned as the trio of arrivals drew nearer, causing Han to catch sight of their faces. His mind felt a flash of recognition and he was quietly searching through his memories by the time Eirtaé presented them.

"Garm," Senator Amidala uttered warmly as she took his hand, leaning forward to allow the Corellian to return the greeting in the traditional Nubian fashion. "Did you have a good journey?"

"Yes, thank you," Garm replied. He gestured to the man beside him. "You remember Han Solo?"

"Of course. Han, it is nice to have you here, in the freer surroundings of my home," Padmé remarked. "Like the days spent at Cantham House."

The Committee. Han remembered some of those days, despite his sarcasm regarding his youth to Bel Iblis inside the Falcon. Which was why he was able to finish Senator Amidala's introduction as she asked him if he recollected her husband, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

"Han, it is good to meet with you after so long," Obi-Wan replied, taking his hand. "Garm was telling me about the new ship you've acquired the last time he was here. He said it was the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy."

"She doesn't look like much, but she's got it where it counts," Han replied, accepting the legendary General's opening overture of conversation, allowing himself to be guided to another part of the room while the Senators talked politics.

He delved into describing the Falcon's specifications, oddly pleased that the Jedi Master actually seemed interested as opposed to being merely polite. As he slowed his pace down to match Kenobi's change of speed, he saw that they were nearing the younger generation of people gathered. Han realised now that he was older than all of the children who were here but younger than the Senators and their significant others.

Han could identify three of the four women and one boy who were gathered in this area of the room, having seen most of them during his courier work on Coruscant. The eldest he knew was Cordé Amidala Naberrie, though he supposed he should now add Kenobi on to that trio of names. Standing near her were two other young women he recognised, the twin daughters of Senator Organa and Queen Breha of Alderaan; Mara and Noémié. The latter was the image of her parents, dark hair, dark eyes, while Mara was a spitfire of green eyes and red hair. Beside her was the only guy in the group, with fair hair and blue grey eyes, which rarely strayed from the eldest Organa. Lastly was another woman, also unknown to Han, but one whom immediately captured his attention. She was a vision of dark brown hair and eyes, slender and petite. No longer did he feel slightly annoyed with Kenobi for bringing him to the teenagers group. He wanted to learn everything he could about this woman.

"I believe you have met Cordé, Mara and Noémié," Obi-Wan remarked, causing the conversation between the group to stop as they turned their gaze on the newcomers. "But you will not have met my youngest two before. Leia, Luke, this is Han Solo."

Perhaps it was uncharitable for him to still find amusement in the situation, but he did. Obi-Wan took another glance at the sight which was the source of his humour, allowed himself to chuckle inwardly, then rebuked himself a little once more. Uncharitable, and ill befitting of a father, who probably should be protecting his youngest daughter from the suitor he introduced in the first place. If it wasn't for the fact that Leia was quite capable of defending herself, and ably displaying such methods at this moment. The young pilot took the matter equally seriously, yet his face could not conceal the glint of amusement and affection in his brown eyes, for a woman ten years his junior, yet proving herself to be his equal if not his superior in intellect as she eloquently and soundly defended her cause. Han had given up the battle sometime ago, only his stubbornness and attraction still endured.

Obi-Wan turned his observation away from them, remembering his own desires during such a time as Han and Leia were experiencing now, when he met his love; twenty-seven years ago, not far from this very villa. He would have given anything for the harmony and liberty that existed around his daughter to encircle his own first day with Padmé, but the Force determined otherwise. It was not the way of a Jedi to dwell on the past, or to regret the nature of it. Peace and acceptance came a long time ago, leaving only stray, wandering thoughts at what might have been. He brushed them away and returned to the here and now, as his late Master once taught him.

Intimate, free conversation had given way to a part of time for eating and drinking, the traditional perquisites of a dinner party. Not since the days of the Republic had they time to gather with such friends and family that surrounded him and his family now; the Organas, Mon Mothma, Garm Bel Iblis and Han Solo. A partial reminder of the days spent at Cantham House, though with a larger group than was here now. He recalled some of the members; Finis Valorum and other signatories of the petition of the Two Thousand, most of the Council of the Order and Qui-Gon Jinn when his health permitted.

Talk back then consisted of strategy, politics and debate, constant forward planning and rethinking of ways to prove and expose a Sith's guilt, before removing the man from the highest elected office in the galaxy. A contrast to the dinners before now, taken place during the early days of the Empire, when conversation slipped into the realms of therapy and mourning, as they struggled to cope with all they had lost. When acceptance came, the occasions reverted to the meetings of Cantham House, as they changed their tactics and adjusted their plans to include the new possibilities now open to them.

This dinner however, was to be unique and for that memorable. Gone was the time for strategy, politics and debate. Such topics were long past the stage of exhaustion and priority. It was time now not for words but for action, and this evening was the calm before the storm which they planned to erupt on the morrow. Even now however, they had to be careful, the reason why he was the only Jedi Master present. Palpatine's rule turned bigoted and racist a long time ago, making the non-attendance of beings like Master Yoda and Chewbacca a wise precaution. Rarely did the Order break orbit from the planet which was their Sanctuary, and neither did those races who could not pass for human travel beyond their native planets.

On Naboo the Gungans retreated into their oceanic realms, while the Nubians strove to continue their way of life as much as they could under the tyrannical overlord of a man who was once their Senator. In public they supported their new voice of the Senate, grateful that their young Queen could still endure in the face of so much injustice. Privately they protected her and her bloodline, along with those allies who risked their lives to visit, voice, and vision as they waited for the day when the Rebel Alliance would break from the secrecy that guarded their lives previously.

And that time was tomorrow, a day which this evening was to mark, just as it served to honour all which came and went during the days before. Obi-Wan glanced down the dinner table, taking in each and every face present, remembering what brought each of them to this evening. Firstly, Senator Mon Mothma of Chandrila, a great friend of his wife, and a powerful voice in the dying days of the Republic. It was she along with Senator Organa who sought to form the group of resistance against the Chancellor. Without their resources, Obi-Wan doubted that most of those present would still be here tonight.

Next to her sat Senator Garm Bel Iblis, often caught on the opposing end of many of Mon Mothma's debates, as the politician warred with the Corellian within. He often urged for a public rebellion instead of the stealth tactics they employed against the Empire, at first convinced such actions would bring about a quicker end to the injustice currently inflicted upon the galaxy. As the years passed however, he was soon persuaded to relent, when he came to realise the lives that would be lost in fighting a superior force so openly.

Beside him were Breha and Bail Organa, Queen and Senator of Alderaan. During the dying days of the Republic they were prepared to fight using the same methods as Garm, but their realisation of the impossible odds was accepted far sooner. This was further compounded when they learned of the special gifts the Force chose to bestow on their children. Mara and Noémié were born only months after Luke and Leia, in a labour as almost as stressful for the Organas as the latter's was for the Kenobis during the last day of the Republic; the first day of the Empire. Time and time again in the past Breha found herself quickening, only for her and her husband's hopes to be dashed tragically and suddenly. Such stresses bore heavy tolls upon the Queen's body, making the possibility that another attempt could kill her or the younglings ever more likely. Yet Breha prevailed and so did her beautiful daughters and perhaps for the very reason of their sensitivity in the Force.

Mara Jade Organa's midi-chlorian count was strongest of the two, and the Force had placed a hard and dangerous course before her to ensure the freedom to use her power for the greater good. As soon as her existence was known by Palpatine, the Sith lord coveted her, seeking to seduce the purity of light inside her into a darkness approaching his own. But the Force alerted her parents long before the danger could make itself known, preparing them and their daughter for when the time came, so they could use that desire within the Emperor, and twist it into their own selfless motives. Mara was a double agent, deceiving Palpatine almost from the first moments spent in his company. She took her instruction from her parents and Yoda, used her resourcefulness to assist the Alliance by manipulating the Chancellor into believing that she could someday replace the apprentice he once lost.

Noémié Jaiet Organa was just as talented in the Force as her sister, but her strongest ability lay in following the footsteps of her father. When Bail felt she was ready, he would let her take control of his post in the Senate, which, Force willing, would be under the restored Republic. For now she shadowed her father as Mara shadowed the Emperor, learning to walk the fine line of deception, a skill every Senator still loyal to the old ways needed to acquire in order to survive for the day when such lies when no longer necessary.

In between the twins sat his son, Luke Benumi Naberrie Kenobi. At fourteen, he was a year into his Padawan training, though since his birth Obi-Wan took care to teach his son the ways of the Force. There were days when such lessons felt to beyond his capabilities, the nature of Anakin's fall weighing upon him. Careful guidance however, and some times a strong word to 'buck up his ideas' as his wife once put it, would cause him to accept the impossibility to alter the past, to learn from it instead and use it skill to change the future.

Luke was not Anakin, who had been like a brother to him, he was his son and he could not compound the darkness by letting another child fall into its lingering shadow. So he learned from his mistakes and Luke grew into his abilities with the Force, never allowing the darkness to taint him, no matter how much he might one day have to encounter it. In return the Force nourished the boy with the same affection that it showered upon his siblings and his father, though all possessed the humility not to realise this.

Between Noémié and Leia was Han Solo, Garm Bel Iblis' aide and protégé. Obi-Wan had not seen the man since the dying days of the Republic, when he was youth of seven and Garm's courier for the meetings at Cantham House. He knew from the Corellian Senator's visits to Padmé that Han had earned his military training and pilot certificates on Corellia, acquiring the Millennium Falcon during a Sabacc game while he was working undercover for Bel Iblis. Garm always spoke highly of the young man he discovered during a scholastic tour of lectures, and Obi-Wan found no reason to disagree with him from his own conversation with Han this evening.

Then the aide caught sight of Leia and Obi-Wan had another reason to learn more about the man as the Force whispered to him the significance of this meeting. He wasn't shocked by the words, indeed there was a curious symmetry to them, for he and Padmé were about those ages when they first set eyes on each other, not so long ago. He could only hope that Leia and Han would have a happy courtship, if indeed this evening led to such, future being in motion and all that, possibly taking less years to accomplish what he and his wife had now.

Leia Breha Naberrie Kenobi was proving to be the image of her mother, in both looks and character. She joined the Apprentice Legislators as soon as she was able, adopting a false name, rising to become a notable, if discrete star of Naboo's local governance, for they were careful to keep her from Palpatine's notice so far. The Nubians guarded the offspring of their beloved Queen Amidala faithfully, alerting them as to when the Emperor decided to pay a visit so the twins and their father could escape to the Jedi Sanctuary for a time, for she and her brother had yet to learn their father's ability to cloak himself in the Force.

After this evening's dinner, she was to play a vital role in the plans of the Alliance, one she had fought for as eloquently as Mara Organa had for her own dangerous position. Like her brother she was strong in the Force, but her focus was drawn more to her mother's interests, something with which Obi-Wan wisely chose not to interfere. For now she was in conversation with Han Solo, regarding the man's apparent fascination with her as something approaching impudence and arrogance. But she was still enjoying his company, laughing and responding to his teasing in kind. Obi-Wan's eyes lingered fondly upon her, for it was rare his children allowed their youth to come to the fore, anxious to prove themselves worthy of inheriting the responsibility of their parents, a trait of their characters which they obviously inherited from their father, despite all his efforts at prevention.

Cordé Amidala Naberrie Kenobi was likewise prepared for a prominent role within the future events due to begin on the morrow. She had inherited a combination of looks from both her parents, with her father's sea coloured changing eyes and reddish blond hair including flecks and strands of a shade resembling her mother's dark brown colouring. Her personality was likewise an equal joining; with her mother's keen political sense and her father's easy charm and diplomacy. Humility, modesty, intelligence, all three Kenobi offspring possessed, as well as the Force, and she wielded the ability just beyond the level of her brother's current skill.

With her sensitivity came the risk Mara and Noémié ran, for unlike her siblings she could not be hidden from the ugly gaze of the Empire, her existence no secret to the Senate. From the earliest days of the Empire her father taught her to hide the ability the Force bestowed upon her, concealing its true wealth from those who wished to use it to cause pain. Unlike her brother and sister she still held vague memories of the time when she was free to display these abilities, before others and the kind little oddly spoken creature she only understood later to be the head of the noble Order her father served so loyally. These memories enhanced her determination to help her the elders in restoring freedom and justice for all.

Obi-Wan turned to the figure sitting between himself and his first born, the woman who had blessed him with her love and those three wondrous children. Padmé Amidala Kenobi grew more beautiful in his eyes with the passing of every year he came to know her. This, together with her strength, intelligence, sense, passion and countless other aspects caused him to endure when at times all seemed lost. In her own way she was still a Queen, not just of his heart but of the Alliance, the group she helped form and persuaded to include the Order, bringing about a partial survival. During these dark days of the Empire she stepped into her dangerous new role of deceiving Palpatine, pretending to be his strongest supporter just as he had once deceived her thus in order to gain the post he held now.

She pretended he was dead whilst she was on Coruscant, or in the presence of their enemies, continuing a deception they engineered to achieve the plans they would unleash tomorrow, as well as the sabotage of the Emperor's prize weapons. He knew the strain it put on her, the hurt caused in having to hide all trace of his existence whenever he took to visit her, to part herself from their children when the Senate demanded her attendance. That she had not surrendered was testament to the love they found, and to her strength of character, the very thing which placed such a burden upon her in the first place.

What about himself? At last he paused to reflect upon his survival since Mustafar, the imposed self exile he endured to protect his children and his wife, followed by the Order and the Alliance, as he engineered the sabotages against the Emperor's prized weapons. Even now, though fourteen years had passed, the memory of Anakin served to make him cautious, to make him laugh or cry. He rarely gave into the despair of guilt at failing him, Padmé had put paid to that years ago.

He accepted that he could not change the past, but he was still in the mourning stage for his first padawan, and he did not believe he would fully pass it until the Empire was at an end, and Palpatine was one with the dark side of the Force. Not that he desired to avenge the slow insidious manipulation of his friend and brother, but he knew that justice would go a long way to heal the parts of his soul injured on Mustafar. Only then could he accept the role Yoda and Mace wanted to bestow upon him, without feeling that someone else deserved it more.

He looked around the table a final time, wondering if they would all gather together a year from now, on Coruscant after the Empire's end. The future was always in motion, yet they essentially ignored the possibility of defeat in their plans which would begin upon the morrow. It was a concern, the likelihood that not all of them would survive the days to come. Preparation only accomplished so much, they could anticipate the Emperor's response only so far. Time had passed, too much in the opinion of some, not enough in the minds of others. Release was up to the same generation who were forced to surrender fourteen years ago.

Older they may be, wiser perhaps, but capable of victory this time was equally as much a matter for debate at it had been then. None of them were getting any younger after all, and the stresses of living under the present rule, especially with so much of the dark side clouding the true light of the Force, caused considerable strain. But further delay was out of the question, not just because of their children, or the lives enduring and lost through the Empire's harsh reign, but because the longer their deception went on, the greater the chance of the Emperor coming to suspect what they had in mind to unleash upon him.

"To the morrow," Padmé spoke, raising her glass and her voice, causing everyone within the room to fall silent and acknowledge this heartfelt prayer. "And may the Force be with us all during our endeavour."

Beneath the table, Obi-Wan clasped her hand, as he silently hoped that the future would prove the truth of conviction in her words.

Chapter Text

Part 40: Eligere.

Elections. Palpatine had come to view the word and the period in the year as one of the foundations of his long, illustrious career. Votes had seen him rise from a lowly government post on Naboo to Senator, then Chancellor, and finally Emperor of the Galaxy. He was a master of campaigning, charming people to his whims until they regarded him as a god. Which, in a sense, he was. The dark power of the Sith was strong inside him, he held the life and death over every creature within his grasp. Now that he had risen to the highest position within his universe, he need never hold such polls again, nor run for something he had already earned.

The underlings below him though, held no such luxury. For them, government positions came in cycles, determined constantly by the will of the subjects they served. Life appointments did not exist for them, no godly powers could determine the length of their reign. If he deemed such action necessary, Palpatine could intervene on the Senator's or Governor's behalf, manipulate their planet's citizens into believing he or she was still capable of representing them in the Senate. But rarely did the Emperor find such action justified or necessary. Afterall, that body of politicians had little impact in the grand schemes of things now, not since they handed him executive powers during the Clone Wars. They were the last vestiges of the Republic. Relics, long past their time, even their symbolism.

Perhaps not however, their illusion. While he held names like Organa, Mothma, Bel Iblis and Valorum in contempt, the subjects who voted for them in droves still believed that the persons who bore these names could work miracles. Even Amidala, firmly entrenched as the voice of his propaganda, was still loved and adored by the Naboo. Five exceptional names who could possibly hold their positions for life, just as he intended to rule long after they faded away into the ashes of history. Despite their questionable ideals, they were as canny as the political despots they secretly loathed, rarely putting other names forward for contesting their seats when that time of year came round.

As a matter of courtesy, Palpatine was given a list of every seat up for re-election, along with the names of the persons who considered themselves eligible for the positions. Usually such a document would barely hold his attention for more than five minutes, as most of the aides were in his pocket, enabling him to obtain the names before they announced that they intended to run. Today, however, he had reason to for his yellow Sithly eyes to suddenly halt midway down the piece of flimsi, as he read the words which were liable to cause considerable shock to his beleaguered brain cells.

Senator from Naboo.

Their existence within the document caused Palpatine to blink in disbelief, for he had no idea that Amidala had decided to retire from the Senate. Despite being a favoured citizen of Naboo, her aides, along with those who names he held in contempt, were not in his pocket; invulnerable to all of his attempts at bribery or corruption. When had she determined to withdraw? What possible motive could cause her to take this piece of action?

Hurriedly he ran his eyes down the names considered as likely candidates to run for that office in contention. One caught his eye. Leia Skywalker. Leia Skywalker? Palpatine blinked, convinced he read the flimsi wrong. But no, a second, then a third examination revealed the same name. Who was Leia Skywalker? He had never even heard of her before. Letting the flimsi fall to the surface of his desk, he leaned back into the confines of his chair and considered. Skywalker was not a Nubian name, though Leia certainly was. The conclusion was obvious. At some point, without his knowledge, his late protégé mated with a Nubian and begot a daughter. Darth Vader's heir was contesting the Senate seat for Padmé Amidala. It was almost too good to be true.

Was she aware of the legacy? Palpatine concluded that she had to at least know of her father's heroic efforts during the Blockade and the Clone Wars, though obviously not Vader's dark end on Mustafar. Turning to the holo centre on his desk his wizened hands tapped out her name into the search engine. Moments later her likeness stared back at him from the frame beside her brief bio. Fourteen, the same age as Amidala when she began her career. Varykino, her county of origin. Mother unknown, father, Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight. Palpatine grinned at the opportunity which this presented him with. If Leia inherited anything from her father, the Force was sure to be strong within her. His search for a suitable apprentice might now be ended.

For a time his eyes were drawn to her likeness, as he noted the strong resemblance she bore to Padmé Amidala. One of her handmaidens could be a plausible contender for the girl's mother, as Anakin would have met them during the Blockade and when he protected the Senator ten years later. Palpatine wondered how Vader had found the time for such a secret relationship, right under his nose and without he or the Jedi Order getting wind of the union. But then Kenobi found the time to marry Amidala, so perhaps it was not so inconceivable that his apprentice had secretly followed his example.

Returning to the flimsi, the next position under Senator of Naboo caught his yellow eyed gaze. Sovereign of Naboo. How time flies. Since Amidala illustrious' reign, her successors rarely won a second term, the Nubians still searching for a worthy monarch to continue her enduring legacy. He ran his eye down the list of contenders. Again, one name caught his attention, though unlike the last, it was by no means a surprise.

Cordé Naberrie.

Now the reasons for Padmé's retirement were no longer so mysterious, she intended to help her daughter when she took the throne, as being of Amidala's blood, she undoubtedly would. Sixteen was no barrier to the post, but he was puzzled as to why this had not occurred earlier, after all her mother had served two years in that office when she was the same age.

The timing of these elections was fortuitous, as it gave him the perfect excuse to visit his homeworld, officially to preside over the election and ceremonies which would follow, unofficially to seduce the daughter of his protégé into the ways of the Sith. Whether Leia won her seat in the Senate or not, she would become his apprentice, and a force to be reckoned with throughout the Empire.

She would join him, or die.

Having ensured that the governing of the Empire would continue despite his absence long ago, Palpatine departed from Coruscant the moment the Senate closed for the election recess. Deciding not to travel directly to Naboo, he stopped off at the Imperial shipyards to hear from his Hand how construction of the Death Star was progressing. Since his decision to use Mara Organa as his overseer, the levels of system failure and power shortages had lowered considerably. There were still some difficulties, the occasional problem cropping up now and again, but otherwise work on the small moon was proceeding smoothly.

Palpatine gazed at the half finished space station now, hovering amidst the Imperial Star Destroyers and Battle cruisers; presently half their size yet infinitely superior in both fire and man power, when she was fully operational, that is. Smiling at the depth of evil concentrated in just one small sphere, he recalled the moment when the plans were presented to him, as the Republic welcomed the clones which would signal theirs and the Order's end. Count Dooku paid for the role of the courier for such plans with his life, but then that apprentice was only a stop gap in the wait for Anakin's fall. Palpatine had been fully aware of Dooku's desire to switch sides if the opportunity was presented to him and made worth his while. If Master Kenobi had been a little more clear headed on Geonosis his insidious scheme would have collapsed before the Clone Wars ever began.

Turning his gaze upon his red haired young apprentice, the Emperor allowed his thoughts to drift and settle on her, admiring the way she carried herself, the authority she conveyed despite her youth, the passion contained behind her lithe form and beautiful features. Looking at her often made him regret that he did not find the time during his younger days for a wife and family, thereby ensuring his succession. Of course, if he had, his offspring might have betrayed him before he reached the role of Senator. It was the way of the Sith, and he would have expected no less. Just as he would welcome the day when Mara decided she was strong enough to challenge him.

The girl was feisty, a formidable warrior with an intelligence to match and a grace about her movements which turned every lightsaber duel into an elegant dance. None of that could be suspected from her current position, as she stood talking with one of the many engineers assigned to construction. She had already learned the ability to mask her skills, her devious nature almost a match for his own. Palpatine contemplated what her reaction would be if she knew that one of the first planets he would threaten to use the Death Star on was Alderaan. Despite all her training she was still steadfastly devoted to her family. Bail Organa, for all his public loyalty was a constant thorn in his side that he would not hesitate ridding the Empire of, and his daughter would learn a vital lesson.

Before him stood his greatest creations; his apprentice Hand and the Death Star. Both half completed, bursting with potential, and unfinished evils eagerly waiting to be let loose upon an unsuspecting galaxy. Palpatine could feel the anticipation within the Sithly Force, a strong tingling sensation, highly addictive and equally intoxicating. The temptation to let them loose upon his Empire, to delegate the ugly tasks upon their shoulders was almost overwhelming, but he had not got where he was today without patience, one of the most difficult skills for a Sith to master. No, he would bide his time, wait for the moon to be finished and invulnerable, only then would he unleash it upon an unsuspecting galaxy. How many planets would remain after his launch, he wondered? Silently he ticked off the ones he planned to destroy purely on principle. Alderaan, Mon Calamari, Kashyyyk, Hoth, Dagobah, and all the other worlds full of insignificant creatures, inferior to humans. The citizens of the Empire would learn from the past mistakes of the Republic, or their planets would risk similar destruction.

"Are you pleased, Your Majesty?" Mara asked him as he came down from the dais to join her at the construction view port.

"You have done well, my young Apprentice," Palpatine replied, clasping her slender shoulder with one of his wizened hands.

He stood admiring the small moon for a moment longer, watching as one of the outer armour-plated durasteel panels was fastened to its neighbours, concealing the vulnerable internal structure from space.

"I must go," he murmured, causing her to turn. "I have a meeting to attend on Naboo. I shall see you in a few days."

Mara dropped gracefully to one knee as his hand left her shoulder to caress her red hair in benediction. Discreetly, she watched him walk away, remaining still until the doors hid her from his presence. Then she rose to her feet and walked to the workstation nearby, where she called up the monitors covering the departure dock. Silently she watched his ship exit the Imperial yards.

"He's gone," she murmured into the small comlink concealed about her wrist. "Prepare yourselves for his arrival." She waited for the thanks and farewell reply, then uttered her own blessing upon the journey. "May the Force be with you."

She turned from the workstation and called the chief overseer to her side. "Begin evacuation," she ordered, and he inclined his head in acknowledgement. "I want everyone off this station and all the cruisers departed from the nearby shipping yards before this thing self-destructs."

And this time, Force willing, there would be nothing left of the Sith to report news of this fatal sabotage to.

Across the galaxy, Naboo emerged from the brilliancy of space, as if it were a precious gemstone enclustered by thousands of diamond stars. Before the large Imperial Battle Cruiser which had just exited hyperspace, it appeared dwarfed and vulnerable. Home world of the Emperor, it was one of the few planets guaranteed survival from the Death Star, despite the existence of the Gungans. Yet still it felt the danger others experienced, the fine line between life and death, loyalty and rebellion. Naboo had never been indifferent to the suffering of others, it was not her way or nature. Blessed with the gifts of wealth, health and an ecologically sublime weather system, it endowed its citizens with generosity and compassion, with the need to help other worlds less fortunate than they.

Palpatine was the exception to that rule, his nature was generous only so far as his own needs were involved. He'd often wondered if those who gave him life were not native to Naboo, but research proved otherwise. A mutation was he, set apart from the rest, to lead his people into a better way of life. The next spark on the evolutional chain, endowed with powers which if used well, would enable him to rule the galaxy forever.

He used his personal craft to breach Naboo's atmosphere, the small, sleek silver skiff, spearing the clouds and blue sky like the crest of a wave upon a limitless sea. Despite his advanced ageing, a result of his last but one battle with the remnants of the Jedi, he was a capable pilot, requiring no one, not even his bodyguards to escort him about his homeworld. Signalling the hanger controls, he waited for the entrance doors to slide back, then flew into the landing dock of Theed Palace.

There was no ceremonial escort awaiting his arrival, no sign of a welcoming committee. But then his visit was unexpected, a surprise for the hopeful candidates for the role of Princess of Theed. Still, a part of him had wanted some notary to suddenly enter the hanger, coming to a breathless halt, bowing and apologising profusely, exclaiming what a pleasure this visit was, how honoured the people would be by his presence.

Exiting the craft, he descended the boarding ramp and touched the stone floor of the hanger, his eyes surveying the yellow ships clustered around his silver craft, and the larger craft which belonged to the Queen. One of those carried his apprentice once, when his brave actions in destroying the control ship of the Trade Federation brought him to his attention. Palpatine indulged his emotions for a moment, searched and found the signature remnants Vader left behind.

He wondered if the daughter would be just as impressive.

Turning from the ships, he walked towards the doors leading the numerous corridors of the Palace. Abruptly, before his feet had even neared the proximity, the wooden barriers slid apart, to reveal a cloaked figure.

Instantly his senses went on full alert, as his yellow sithly eyed gaze rose to meet those of the cowled figure.

A man he whose funeral he thought he had attended fourteen years ago.

With a wave of his hand, Kenobi let the brown cloak fall from his shoulders, pooling into a circle around his booted feet. A small cylinder of durasteel slipped into his hand, the saber igniting into a shaft of brilliant blue.

Palpatine had to admire the boldness of this trickery, the years of deceit and deception this Jedi endured until this moment. But Kenobi was no Windu, nor was he Yoda's equal.

This would be an easy victory.

He stepped forward, and a brush of wind ruffled his cloak from behind, causing him to turn. From the corner of his gaze he caught the arrival of another figure, also attired in desert Jedi shades, a long thin plait gracing one side of his features, which were a stunning combination of his mother and father.

"And who are you, young one?" Palpatine murmured aloud, though inwardly, his quick mind could already guess the answer.

"I am Luke Kenobi," the youth replied. "A Jedi. Like my father before me."

Chapter Text

Part 41: Ordæl bi Szablya.

"Good Senators of the Empire, I come before you today, not to formally announce my intention to rescind another term of office, but to confess before you all a grievous sin. For many years now, I have lied. I have spoken false truths, given voice to treasonous acts against humanity and all good races who reside in our once noble galaxy. In doing so I have betrayed those who looked to me as the voice of truth, peace and justice throughout the Republic.

"Until now, my reasons for committing such an act needed to be concealed from you, for your own protection as well as that of myself. The time has come however to release myself from the silence imposed upon me from the day I first spoke such lies, on the eve of my husband's funeral. What none of you knew at the time, what I have taken such care to conceal, was the illusion of that entire ceremony, from first to last. A necessary deception, as elaborate as the plot I will also bring forth into the open now. A plot against every being within the Republic, and most importantly, a plot against the Jedi Order."

By now, Padmé had everyone's attention. In each pod, the Senators and their aides were sitting upright, their eyes wide and alert, fixed on her figure as she stood in the place where Palpatine usually did, having been charged with assuming the authority of his position during his absence, when she pleaded an excuse for not joining him in a visit to their homeworld. The excuse was nothing short of a barefaced lie; her real intention was to stay behind all along, to deliver this speech in his absence to the Senate, using her eloquence and influence to cause them to rise up against the Emperor's treachery, while simultaneously, Mara Organa would be overseeing the explosion of the Death Star, and her husband and son were duelling with Palpatine in the reactor room of Theed Palace.

"This plot began, I am ashamed to say it, on my homeworld of Naboo. By a man who I trusted, who had been my mentor from the earliest days of my election as Princess of Theed, then Queen. He seemed a good, kindly, old man, who dedicated his life to politics out of a deep seated need to help people, as all Nubians do. At fourteen, perhaps I can be excused for placing my trust in such a front and font of deception, but on my world, youth is no shield for accepting responsibility. He took advantage of my naiveté, of my desire for peace and justice, by insinuating himself into the good graces of the Naboo, and the Senate. Behind our backs he called the Trade Federation, and manipulated them into issuing a blockade against my world, knowing that the Republic would send the Jedi. Once he heard of my survival and escape, he persuaded me to issue a vote of no confidence, enabling himself to take the position of the highest office in the galaxy. Then he sent his apprentice after the Jedi.

"Perhaps he underestimated the strength of the master and padawan team, or perhaps he calculated for precisely such an outcome. Whatever thoughts were in his mind during that time, I am not certain. To acquire the office of Chancellor was his primary goal, and that he secured effortlessly. His new title afforded him the authority to direct the actions of the Republic, to conceal his true intent from the Republic, and ultimately, to revenge himself against the Jedi. After searching and finding a new apprentice, he sent the man to Kamino, where an order was laid out for an army of clones. Officially prepared to protect the Republic in a war which he would first engineer into being, their real task was something far more insidious. Within their code of battle was a unique order, authorised by their ultimate General, the Chancellor. Entitled Number Sixty-six, once sent it would cause the clones to turn upon their commanders in the field, their Jedi superiors, and murder them."

Padmé took a breath and continued. "The Jedi never rebelled against the Republic, nor did they plot a mutiny. Instead the Emperor persuaded mistrust and suspicion to grow within the soul of the brightest of their ranks, the prophesied Chosen One, until the boy led the army in a massacre upon the Temple."

They had prepared for this moment for many years. As soon as Luke was old enough to hold a saber, his father took him to the room where he fought his first Sith, led him through the fight step by step, until every inch of the place was known intimately to both father and son. Nothing was a better teacher than experience and Luke came to know every pitfall, every raised walk way, every feature of the cascade shielding.

Obi-Wan had faced Asaji Ventress alone, faced Grievous alone, faced Anakin alone, but those battles were fourteen years ago and more, and though he and Padmé were loathed to expose their son to the dangerous influence of the Emperor, they also realised that Luke could be a vital key to defeating him. For Palpatine would not be expecting to face Master and apprentice, and assume, once he adjusted to this, that the son would employ the same saber techniques that had defined the father's reputation as the Negotiator.

Not so. Luke learned from Obi-Wan, but he also studied under Mace Windu, and Master Drallig, the sword master of the Temple, and Yoda, until he understood their fighting styles enough not just to imitate, but to combine and adapt into a style uniquely his own. At fourteen, he was the leading swordsman of the padawans yet to graduate to knighthood who were saved from the massacre at the Temple. Unaware of his full potential, the boy would become the rising star of the Order, brave yet humble, like his father. Luke still insisted that there was much he had to learn, yet, if truth be told, Obi-Wan had little left to teach him. If he continued to progress as he had done, he would become the youngest Knight of the Order.

And before him stood his first trial.

Palpatine was caught off-guard, but not for long. Quickly he adjusted, turning a mocking gaze from the son towards the father. "So that was what your wife was hiding under her heavy gowns. Twins strong in the Force. You did well to hide such prizes from me, Kenobi. This a visit full of surprises."

"Luke and Leia are the first of many," Obi-Wan replied, smirking at the Emperor as he waited for him to ignite his red blade and strike. "A pity you will not live to see the rest."

"Such is the will of the Force," Palpatine mused. "Think you and a puny boy can defeat me so easily?"

"Think you can defeat us so easily?" Obi-Wan countered. "Come on, old man. Give us your best shot."

Palpatine laughed and as if from nowhere, a silver cylinder appeared in his hands, the red blade ignited to meet Obi-Wan's blue one. He parted his hands, twisting one behind him to send a sliver of lightning to Luke, but the boy caught the potentially painful shafts with his green lightsaber, just as his father had done many years ago. In front of him Obi-Wan reversed the opening strike of the Emperor's blade, the clash of lights echoing throughout the expansive, quiet room.

"So be it," the Sith murmured, and abruptly shifted grip of the silver cylinder within his hand. Another red blade shot out of the end, to deal with the dual opponents of master and padawan, just as his first apprentice had done, twenty-seven years ago. Flicking the blades outward, he struck both of the opposing ones simultaneously, causing Obi-Wan and Luke to respond, their movements easily flowing.

They had prepared for this as well. Remembering the methods of Darth Maul, it was not unlikely to suppose that the apprentice had learned to use the dual blade under his master, so ensuring Luke knew how to deal with such a weapon was a priority. With the help of the surviving masters, they constructed double headed sabers and practised with them in this room, against Master Windu, whose style with the sword was designed to deal with darkness within himself, as well as to channel that which flowed through his opponent. Obi-Wan and Luke dipped into Vaapad now, using their power in the Unifying Force to channel the vast evil they faced in the Emperor.

Sidious directed them through the entrance into the narrow cat walks of the reactor room, as they fell into the movements of a battle conducted there twenty-seven years ago, when the Jedi were still innocent of the darkness they had yet to encounter.

"The Jedi were aware of the growing dark side rising against the Force, more aware than any of us ordinary beings could understand. With the appearance of the Sith on Naboo, they knew that another would soon make themselves public, for there are always two; master and apprentice. At first they were not sure who was conquered on Naboo, but soon they came to realise that it was the apprentice, and that the Master was insidiously working behind the scenes in order to pull the Republic apart with civil war, and amass an Empire of his own making within its place.

"Realising his wrath would be directed against them, they looked towards ensuring their own safety, while trying to defend that which belonged to the Republic. Despite their powers, they were not utterly omnipotent, research and discovery could aid or hinder a survival, one dependent on the good favour of the Republic they swore to protect. Offering of service was their choice alone, a hermit lifestyle just as easily suited them, the quiet communion with the Force. If we rejected them, to that solitude they would retreat, without regret, if perhaps understanding.

"For years the Master of the Sith spread rumours and half truths about the Jedi across the Republic, encouraging the fear and illwill towards them. Growing the ideas of their tendency to take control, to assume absolute authority, until it was all too easy to believe that they could engineer a mutiny against the Republic.

"Then he took one of their padawans under his wing, manipulating him until he distrusted the Jedi, until he embraced the dark side to become the very thing he feared. With the help of the clone army he laid waste to the Temple, believing as we all did, that the Jedi wished to seize power for themselves. He slaughtered men, women, and younglings, while his Master secured his role as Emperor.

"In slaughtering these innocents, the apprentice is not wholly to blame. Manipulated into surrendering to the darker side of his nature, to the fear inside him, guilt also lies with the Master of the Sith. Palpatine has laid waste to our Republic for years, tormenting our citizens, torturing non-human races, killing Force sensitives. And we have let him. Fear has consumed our sense of morals, of truth, justice, peace and freedom. Thousands of beings have paid a terrible price for our fear. No more, I tell you, no more. We must rise against the tyrant who has caused such terror amongst our citizens. I urge you all to stand up and declare a vote of no confidence in Emperor Palpatine."

Padmé drew breath and waited. The silence was brief, and when it ended the explosion was sudden and violent. Voices cried out, crying for the restoration of the Republic, for a new Chancellor. Dimly she tried to sort through the mess, the noise almost overwhelming her. Names were proclaimed across the floor, people she could put her faith in, some whom she had worked beside for fourteen years, trusted with her secrets.

Not surprisingly, though to herself it was, one of them was her own.

Palpatine had not shed his cloak, but the swirling black garment did nothing to hinder his movements. He alternated between his opponents, striking first at the father, then the son, in a calm measure of their skills and style. Obi-Wan and Luke were also calm, responding to him, never advancing first, letting him believe he was dictating the field of battle, when in reality it was actually the other way round.

Sometimes the red blade crackled with lightning, the blue light fusing into the red to produce a strange colour, the dark force splintering off the blade as it struck the opposing blue and green. Humming echoed throughout the reactor room, sound waves bounding off the clashing blades, ricocheting into the walls and back. The sound altered in cadence with each swing of the saber, or movement of the owner. Despite his aged appearance, the Emperor was not out of his depth between his two opponents, his moves young and energetic. Around him the dark side of the Force swelled, as if a fearsome invisible black cloud, the stench of evil so pungent as to be almost suffocating. Even with the combined Light from father and son, the darkness stood triumphant in all its superiority.

But the Light was not going to let it win. It resided strongly within Obi-Wan and Luke, shown by each move they made, balanced along the battlefield they knew so well. Their opponent was not out of his element here either, but that was to be expected, after all he was a native to Naboo, and a resident of the Palace during his long political career.

They traded blows back and forth across the catwalks, blade to blade, with the occasional use of Force Lightning. No fists from this Sith lord, his hands continually swapping grip of the silver cylinder carrying his red blades, as he struck first at Obi-Wan, then Luke. Waiting for one or the other to tire, the old man or the young youth, but neither granted him such pleasure.

He would have taunted them, testing the stability of their emotions if he had the breath to do so, but a swift scan of their Force sense soon erased the possibility of seducing one or the other to the dark side mid battle. Obi-Wan was still firmly adored and protected by the light, a bright beacon of all its goodness, and Luke had clearly inherited his father's warrior-like serenity.

He wondered how they managed such a feat of faith, willingly surrendering themselves to the Force, letting the ancient power dictate the outcome of the battle, uncaring if they lived or became one with the being. Yet somehow it imbibed a sense of survival within them, as he used the blade to strike at their booted feet. The Jedi merely jumped over the saber, landing securely on the cat walk once more. Changing tactics, he directed more blows to the body, making it difficult for them to block, their sabers forced into odd, uncomfortable grips, dangerous angles, the points often meeting the shiny surface of the durasteel floor. Using the double headed blade in this way enabled Palpatine to draw the halves towards different limbs simultaneously, causing his opponents to adjust their balance as they bent to swerve their bodies away from the saber, rendering their ability to remain on the cat walks severely untenable.

Luke was the first to fall, caught off balance in leaning to avoid the red blade, his bend placing too much pressure on his spine and feet. The latter slipped and he fell from the catwalk. Reacting quickly, he kept hold of his lightsaber, shutting off the green blade and letting the Force land him somewhere safe.

Obi-Wan felt his son fall at the same time as his blue green grey eyes caught sight of the actual event. Abruptly he flipped his saber and jabbed an elbow at the Emperor, knocking him from the walkway too, then jumped down to where his son had just landed.

"Why didn't you go on ahead?" Luke asked him.

"Because that's not the Jedi way," Obi-Wan replied. "We do this together."

They looked about for the Emperor, and quickly found him, executing a Force aided leap to the cat walk which provided access to the melting pit. Calling the light side of that ancient being to them, father and son followed, making sure to keep up with each other, as they both knew that getting separated by the shields was not a wise move.

As soon as Palpatine entered the melting room, he felt the faint echo of the death of his first apprentice. Darkness still hung over the area and while he waited for the Master and Padawan to join him, he indulged his senses for a moment. What he deduced from the place surprised him. He could feel anger not just from Maul, but also from Kenobi, the negative emotion the boy left behind when he first witnessed his Master being mortally wounded, then used in defeating the Sith. The Negotiator battled with the darkness within himself in this chamber, and conquered it to defeat Maul. Palpatine never knew this, for such information was not revealed on Palace surveillance. To conquer such emotion, then defeat the Sith and heal his Master was quite an extraordinary feat. Again he experienced the regret of not going after Kenobi as an apprentice, paving the way as it would for a dynasty of Sith.

Then father and son were upon him, and he had no time for further thought, or even the will to sweep down the shields with a wave of the Force, for the Kenobis were using their own power to disable the cascade mechanism. Rushing towards him, Luke leapt into the air and landed behind him with a strike of his green saber, so fast that the Emperor barely managed to respond, repelling the weapon away with a red blade of his own. Obi-Wan was just as quick to face him, striking out as soon as Palpatine met the move from his son, and the Emperor was unable to prevent the impact. The blue blade cut through the black fabric of his cloak, down through the equally dark tunic into the flesh below.

Uttering a harsh growl, Palpatine let loose his anger on the elder Kenobi in a flurry of rapid saber movements, ignoring the boy behind him. Obi-Wan had faced such speed with the blade before, when duelling with Grievous, and calmly upped his own pace with the blade, allowing himself to consume the whole of the Sith's attention, so Luke could strike with impunity.

Which the padawan did, a long cut across the Emperor's back, causing another growl and the rapid saber moves to falter. Palpatine reared out his chest, allowing Obi-Wan a chance to wound him there too, causing him to growl again and double over in pain.

Granting him a moment to recover, the Jedi stood waiting.

Palpatine dropped his weapon, the red blades withdrawing on impact with the durasteel, to clutch at his sides. Dimly he examined the wound he could see, narrow and long, spread across the upper half of his chest. Given the amount of pain his mind was suffering, it was fair to imagine that the cut upon his back was the same. Annoyed that he had been given two such wounds and one by a youth barely into his padawan training, the Emperor saw red. Summoning the dark side to his beleaguered body, he reached out and grabbed the cause of all his defeats, all his present suffering and hurled him into the pit behind.

Obi-Wan grabbed back, determined to take the Sith with him, and Luke was forced to dart aside hopelessly as he watched his father and the leader of the Empire disappear down the shaft. Shutting off his blade, he advanced cautiously towards the perimeter and peered worriedly into the hole.

"Dad?" he called out.

"I'm here son," Obi-Wan replied, and Luke breathed a sigh of relief as he saw his father holding fast to the same round nodule which saved his life twenty-seven years ago. Below him the shaft crackled with aftershocks of Force lightning, a sign of the Emperor's demise. "If you'll give me a minute to catch my breath, I'll be right with you."

And sure enough he was, using the same move as he did years before, flipping over his son to land behind him. Luke waited for his father to stand, then checked him over, noting only one sign of damage.

Smirking his held up the hilt of his own saber. "This weapon is your life, father."

"I can always make another," Obi-Wan replied, returning the smirk before pulling his son towards him for a hug. "If we ever have need of one again."

Author's Note: Here we are at the end of the story. I have enjoyed every moment of writing what is I hope to be the first of many in this fandom. I would like to take this moment to thank everyone who reviewed the story; among them Barbwire Rose, Noobian Rose, LupisNoctis, November9Noir, Storykeeper, Kenobifan, Briseis, Tiernery Beckett, Valiowk, Valariy Scot, HighCentaur-Lord Chorion III, Kicho14, spiritp, and many many others. I am more than grateful than words can say for your kind compliments, constructive criticism, and encouragement, as well as your constant inspiration and welcoming into this fandom.

Chapter Text

Part 42: Long Ago......

"Tell us a story, please Grandpa."

Obi-Wan Kenobi looked up from his work into the big brown eyes of his eldest grandchild, Jaina Kenobi Solo. Her twin brother Jacen was standing on one side, and their younger brother Anakin on the other. In front of them were their cousins; Jinn and Cerasi Kenobi Kismavar and Ben and Padmé Organa Kenobi. All gazed up at him pleadingly, and as usual when confronted with such expressions, he found the request impossible to resist.

"Very well," he laid aside his work and rose from his chair, leading them into the living room of the house at Varykino. Gathering them around a comfortable sofa, he leaned back into the confines of the nerfhide and began. "Not so long ago, and near to home, there was a young being who....."

"No, Grandpa, you're telling it wrong!" Jaina cried.

Obi-Wan affected innocence. "Am I?"

"Yes!" the grandchildren cried in unison.

"I'm terribly sorry," he replied, changing his look to one of pathetic confusion. "I'm an old man, you know...."

"You're not old, Grandpa!" Jaina insisted.

"I'm not?"

Jaina nodded her head vigorously. Of all the grand children, she was usually the most vocal and outspoken. A natural leader, like her mother and grandmother before her.

"Okay, I'll try again. Once upon a time, there was a young woman who......"

"That's not it either, Grandpa!" Jaina cried.

"Isn't it?" Obi-Wan frowned. "I was sure that was it." He put his hand to his forehead and massaged the temples. "I must be getting old to confuse stories like this."

"You're not getting old, Grandpa," little Padmé assured him solemnly. With her mother's red hair and her father's,- and consequently her grandfather's -blue eyes, she was a complete contrast to her namesake, but when she spoke, it was as if her grandmother was in the room.

"I'm not?" Obi-Wan asked her in the same solemn tone.

"No, you're not," her namesake uttered now, causing the Jedi Master to look up as Senator Amidala walked into the room. Coruscant's governing body was currently in recess, allowing for the great leaders of the Republic to return to their home planets and spend time with their family. "But that doesn't mean you, Cerasi and Jaina can feed his ego. Your grandfather has enough beautiful women following him around as it is."

"Really, milady, I see only one beautiful woman, and I follow her around," Obi-Wan returned smoothly, causing his wife to blush before shaking her head and pointing her finger at the group imperiously.

"You owe our grandchildren a story, Master Jedi," she reminded him, before joining the group, taking a seat beside her husband. He lifted his arm and let it fall about her shoulders, smiling as she rested her head in the crook of his neck.

Outside the rain continued to pour down, clothing the lush green grass and stone walkways, denying the children the privilege of playing outside, and their grandparents a moment to themselves. Despite the recess, their parents were detained by duties; Leia in her capacity as Chief of State on Coruscant, her husband on Corellia as part of his Senatorial lecture tour, Luke and Mara at the Jedi Temple in their teaching classes, Cordé and Nwaé at Theed Palace advising the present Queen of Naboo. Obi-Wan and Padmé were the first to be freed from their duties to the Jedi and the Republic, and they took the kids off their parents' hands to spend some time in the Lake Country.

Many years had passed since that fateful day when the Emperor met his death in the reactor room of Theed Palace. The Republic had been restored to its full glory, somewhat less tarnished than it was before, with first Padmé, then Mon Mothma and then Leia as Chief of States. Gently each had guided the Republic away from the tyrannical tendencies of the Empire into the peace, freedom and liberty it stood for now. The Jedi Order was flourishing, restored to the Core Temple, and, though it exercised more independence than in the days of the Old Republic, it still served the new body of that name with the same unswerving loyalty as before. Jedi marriages were more of a common practice too, with initiate intake age varying from crechling to youngling, even to teenager in some cases.

As for the Kenobi family, they too flourished under the new regime. Padmé retained her seat in the Senate, while Obi-Wan rose to- as far as he was concerned -the astonishing height of leader of the Order after Yoda's passing. Cordé was a important member of the Nubian government, after working in the legislature, where she met her husband Nwaé, who would one day run for governor. Luke did become the youngest knight of the Order, rising to a position on the Council and a teacher. Despite knowing each other since their youth, he and Mara endured a long and sometimes rocky courtship before marrying a few years ago. Leia and Han were the first of the family to grant grandparent-hood upon Obi-Wan and Padmé, marrying when Leia was twenty-eight. Leia reigned as Queen of Naboo for two terms before joining the Senate as the junior Senator from the Chommell sector, where her husband, much to the surprise of all concerned, soon joined her when Garm Bel Iblis suggested his name for the junior seat from Corellian System.

Noémié Organa was expected to succeed her parents, but for now she was the junior Senator for the Alderaan sector, while Mara pursued her Jedi ability as a teacher and Councillor of the Order. She was still a prominent member of Republic Intelligence, although now her time was more focused on Padmé and Ben, whose gift with the Force was a stunning combination of their gifted parents. The Force ran strong in the Kenobi family Yoda had once said, and each generation was continuing to prove this rule, with Anakin's namesake the most advanced in his training.

Anakin. Obi-Wan still grieved for the boy, although a great deal less than he used to. He held a special place in all of the family's heart, even though only Cordé had known him, and barely remembered him at that. Leia and Han asked for his and Padmé's blessing to name their youngest son, just as Cordé and Nwaé had regarding Jinn and Cerasi. The prophesy of the Chosen one had been fulfilled, though there was still disagreement over his identity. It was no longer a fiercely debated topic of the Order however, for the Sith were gone. No new dark apprentices or masters had emerged from hiding for years, and the cloud of darkness which hung over the Order as long as Palpatine was alive dissipated with his death. The Jedi were wary, but relieved that no such darkness threatened their existence anymore.

Qui-Gon Jinn. Obi-Wan couldn't help but wonder sometimes what his mentor would make of the Republic now. He died as the old one died, fighting amid the clones they engineered to save the Order. Chances are, he would not have lived to see the death of the Empire, his illness was determined to be in its last throes, and his master had never been one to accept death quietly. But there were times when he could hear his voice, almost see his eyes looking fondly upon him, and the life he lived and shared with his family. Before Yoda became one with the Force, he mentioned of teachings, a way to commune with one who has passed from the land of the living into the realm which belonged to that ancient and revered being. He was the last of the old, Mace dying some years before him, the last living key to the old wisdom. While he was head of the Order, Obi-Wan would seek to keep the memory of all they taught him alive, for it made the Jedi what they were now.

The future was before them, one content to remained shadowed, the Force assuring the being it adored that there was nothing to fear from it. Obi-Wan trusted the answer, but it did not stop him from questioning, the Unifying sense strong within him. The ancient being allowed and accepted the inquiry, for it had made the man this way, and held no desire to change him now. He was content to wait for the future to unfold in its own way, the philosophy his mentor once taught him applied to so many aspects of his and his family's life. Conclusions were there to be drawn; his grandchildren would continue to grow and flourish under their family's, the Order's and the Republic's teachings. Eventually they would reach knighthood and marry, granting him and Padmé the title of great grandparents, if the Force allowed them to live that long. Or perhaps they would see them as Qui-Gon or any of the other old Jedi now one with the Force did.

From above, looking down below, with blessing.

He glanced at his wife, knowing she would speak to him soon, prompting him into telling the story he had pretended to begin telling their grandchildren. A life time and more had passed since they first met each other on this very planet, when he leapt out of a raised cloister above an archway and saved her life. Neither of them had known back then how many times they would be called on to rescue one another, to deepen a relationship of kindred spirits, seeking pieces to themselves they did not know were missing. Countless things had brought them together, and just as many could have easily led them down another path, away from the joy they would find with each other. Obi-Wan did not care to wonder what would have happened to either of them had they ignored their initial attraction, along with the whisperings of the Force, prompting them to take note of one another, to realise a future union and what bliss awaited them from following through in such a proposed motion. Sadness lay that way, and he would not wish that upon their lives, when so much joy surrounded them now.

"A long time ago," he began, in a richly cultured voice, "in a galaxy far far away......"

The End.