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Intimacy Without Intricacy

Chapter Text


"For the same reason that men do it -
the economics of the arrangement.
It's intimacy without intricacy."


Part 1: A Summons to the Core.

About two standard days after Padmé Amidala married Anakin Skywalker in a secret ceremony upon the balcony of the lake country retreat in Varykino, she, along with the rest of the Republic Senate, were summoned back to Coruscant, for an unexpected and ultimately surprising meeting. The newlyweds were disappointed; though they had been prepared to have only a brief time to celebrate their union, they had not thought that they would be parted so soon. Nevertheless, they were well aware of their responsibilities, and obeyed the summons, risking that the orders of escort given from the Jedi Council to the Padawan would prove a reasonable explanation for their return together.

Fortunately for them, their joint arrival went unnoticed, in favour of the special Senate meeting, which called the two bodies of authority that they served into the large domed arena for the surprising news which the Supreme Chancellor was to announce.

"Senators, Masters," Chancellor Palpatine began as soon as everyone was assembled, causing the former to realise that a selection of Jedi Council members had been called to attend the session as well, making the meeting highly significant, "I come before you today to tell you of the extraordinary message I received from the Separatists." He paused deliberately to allow time for such news to reach all of the beings assembled, and for them to silently speculate what such a message might contain. A master at manipulating his audience, he waited for the theories to be voiced in the form of muttered murmuring between one delegate to another in their assigned pods, before raising his hand and silently calling for silence so he could continue.

"The Separatists have no desire to continue with the bloodshed that began on Geonosis," he revealed. "In their message they declared a longing for a peaceful treaty to be created between themselves and the Republic."

Another pause here, as he digested this troubling piece of information once more, along with his inferior colleagues. He had not been pleased to receive this news, along with the other piece of disturbing intelligence that came to him on the heels of this proposal.

"Count Dooku, as leader of the Separatists, also sought to suggest Pais, as the neutral planet where selected members of the Senate might go to discuss the formation of this treaty, as well as a number of esteemed Jedi negotiators."

Palpatine's gaze rested on the booth belonging to the members of that Order as he spoke, noting their reaction. It was rather fascinating to see their vaunted Jedi serenity flicker briefly from their faces as their true reactions to what their former colleague proposed appeared. Evidently he was not the only one who failed to find his now former apprentice's offer acceptable. Perhaps his plans for the future did not require a complete overhaul after all, if the Order were given reasons to continue to distrust Dooku's new image.

"I come before you to put this offer to your judgement, consideration and possible approval," he added in conclusion. "I now await to hear your opinions."

That the Supreme Chancellor took note of their reactions was no surprise to the Jedi Masters who bore witness to the above special meeting in the Senate. Relations between his office and theirs was gradually developing a distinctively sour taste of late, ever since he accepted the recently passed act of executive powers. It was often said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, a saying more and more members of the Order applied to the Supreme Chancellor's office. Many had come to see a different side recently to the previously confident, compassionate representative of Naboo, and it was a side few could admit to liking.

Other than such growing suspicion, they had no reason to suspect Palpatine was doing anything more than taking notice of their facial reactions to the news he just delivered. A classic politician's manoeuvre, habitually ingrained within them it seemed from the moment they entered office, if not before. Some beings acquired the talent during life, to others the dubious ability was granted from birth.

Besides, their thoughts were focused on more immediate matters, such as the motive behind their former colleague's sudden desire for peace. Dooku's departure from the Order, right on the heels of his Padawan's death, had been a deep and personal blow for many Jedi, particularly those who sat on the Council.

He was a greatly respected Master, considered worthy to join that august body of beings, an offer which he refused out of what they believed at the time was misplaced, yet entirely characteristic modesty. They respected his desire to leave the Order, and the reasons he gave for such a departure, finding them sound and logical, even, dare they say it, agreeing with some of them.

All that did not change when Geonosis arrived. Those of the Order who not only fought on that sinkhole ridden desert planet, but survived, did not doubt that Dooku had crossed to the dark side of the Force, but there were few who believed that such a sithly transformation was not irrevocable.

Even Master Yoda, who had trained him and who was the last to face him in battle, held some doubts on that score. Doubts which only grew when his colleague, Obi-Wan Kenobi, told him of a certain remark Dooku made regarding a old friend now one with the Force, while the Count held him in solitary before sending him into the Geonosian arena. A remark that Obi-Wan had often wondered about when all the fighting was over, as he lay recovering from his injuries.

It was that remark which caused him to be summoned to attend this meeting of the Senate, along with two senior members of the Council. The wisest and most gifted of that august body, they turned to him when the Supreme Chancellor ceased to speak, letting the voices of the Senators reign, waiting for his judgement concerning what they had just heard.

"Whether we believe Count Dooku's intentions to be peaceful or not, does not matter," he murmured at last. "For the safety of the Republic we have to agree to this meeting." His hand came up to stroke the short reddish blond hairs of his beard thoughtfully. "Two things we can be certain of."

"And they are?" Mace Windu asked.

"Count Dooku knows more than we do about the true origins of this setup," Obi-Wan replied. "And we need him to tell us what he knows."

For Padmé Amidala, the news of this peace was as welcome as the victory parade on Naboo ten years ago. She had fought for this since the first planet broke from the Republic while she was in the midst of her second term as Queen. Her fight only deepened when she entered the Senate, as her new role provided her with more authority and opportunity for her voice to be heard across the galaxy.

There was no ambition behind it, no ego, only a stubborn desire for the same peace and harmony which reigned across her native planet to become sovereign over the whole Republic. An impossible dream perhaps, indeed her faith was shaken when she lost Cordé, and then further on Geonosis as she and the Jedi fought for their lives in that force forsaken arena.

But never yet had it died. And she felt a smile briefly settle on her face as she heard the Chancellor relate Count Dooku's proposal. For barely a second it governed, the satisfaction permeating through her mind and soul, gladdening them both, then she concealed the emotion in favour of summoning the strength and resolve to argue the case for peace amongst her colleagues.

Glancing around the arena, she took in the expressions of each and every person present, in a speed almost akin to the reflexes of a Jedi. Noting who was shocked, who was pleased, who was in doubt, who was disappointed. She was not ignorant that some of her less than noble associates were hungry for war.

Profit and ambition were their motives for desiring such chaos, they cared not a jot for the lives of the beings who elected them to their office, if indeed those beings had a choice, for some elections were rigged. Quietly she weighed up which ones who belonged to this corruption that she would need to persuade to cross the aisle. A substantial majority would have to be achieved if the motion was to pass.

When she reached the pod which belonged to the Jedi, she was surprised and pleased to identify Master Kenobi standing with Masters Windu and Yoda. When she last saw him, it was a bittersweet encounter; as he tried to dissuade her from marrying his Padawan. A grave mistake, and obviously an order from someone on the Council, for she could see in him doubts that his words would succeed where all others had failed.

In the end it had only strengthened her resolve, which she regretted, for she respected Obi-Wan and had no desire to lose his friendship, founded in the aftermath of the blockade on Naboo. Now as she looked at him, watching as his mouth drew to a close, evidently concluding whatever view he had conveyed to his superiors, she saw awareness of her observation slowly dawn across his handsome face.

His eyes met hers across the crowded room, and a hush seemed to fall over the Senate, drowning out the canopy of noise from the politicians. For a moment they were aware of no one else but each other. There was an eloquence in their brown and sea eyed gaze, that would never be matched in spoken words. Queries and assurances were conveyed in a matter of minutes that appeared timeless. Was he forgiven for coming to her with what he was ordered to do? Yes, of course. Could he excuse her for what she decided to do afterwards? Yes, absolutely, he could even understand and sympathise. This would not affect their friendship, would it? No, never. Is she happy? Very. Then everything worked out for the best.

Reality swamped around them once more with a rush. Both blinked as their souls and minds worked to recollect their surroundings and the conversations they were previously witnessing. In unison they turned to face their companions, as if the sudden gazing encounter never took place. The remembrance of the meeting would come later, accompanied by a great deal of thought and speculation.

And some regret that more had not occurred.

Padmé returned to her Senatorial apartment only after a lengthy floor vote had taken place, the end result in the favour of agreeing to the Separatists offer of peace talks. She was relieved and pleased that such an outcome ended the meeting, but exhausted by the amount of time it had taken, and the amount of strength she used up in speaking, cajoling, arguing and persuading.

Several hours were spent in such a manner in order to render the substantial majority required for the vote to fall in Count Dooku's favour, followed by more hours of careful tact and diplomacy as the Chancellor nominated which Senators were to be granted the privilege of attending these peace talks.

Palpatine had made sure to put forward a balanced team of pacifists and warmongers, most of whom would be willing to put their private motives aside in view of achieving the best for all concerned. She, along with Bail Organa, Mon Mothma and Garm Bel Iblis and Finis Valorum were just a few of the Senators permitted to join the delegation; allies she respected and whose opinions she valued.

The Jedi had yet to announce who would be coming from their ranks, choosing to remain in the Senate until the vote had been decided before summoning their own Council, but Padmé assumed that they would include a fair number of negotiators.

She wondered if Obi-Wan and his Padawan would be included in that group, having been the last of the Jedi to speak with Count Dooku, aside from Master Yoda. It would be for the best if they were not, for while Padmé knew that she could conceal her feelings for Anakin, she had doubts that Anakin would be able to do the same. He did nothing to hide his feelings from the moment they were reunited.

Yet she had seen Obi-Wan with Master Yoda and Master Windu in the Senate. Padmé let herself dwell on that long eloquent look which had passed between them. Had she imagined his answers to the questions she desired and feared to ask?

At the time she had felt so sure that he understood her, almost as if she had been gifted with the ability to speak to him via the innate sense which actually belonged to him, not her. Then he turned away, as did she, as if nothing had ever occurred. Yet a certain kind of peace existed within her mind, as though her guilt concerning the secrets she now concealed was assuaged.

A strange emotion to possess, as she had little idea what his reaction would be if she or Anakin told him what they had done. She remembered what Anakin had told her of his confrontation with Obi-Wan when she fell out of the ship during the chase for Dooku on Geonosis. The anger his Master had shown convinced his Padawan that he would be expelled if they told him about their union.

But Padmé could not help but feel that anger would not be the emotion Obi-Wan would display. Disappointment, regret, but not anger. For that emotion had already passed between them when he begged her to leave Anakin alone. There was no need to revisit the old arguments again, for they had accomplished nothing.

A beeping sound disturbed her ruminations then, and she frowned as she struggled to locate the source. Glancing around the Senatorial residence, she could see none of the communication devices activated, and she had left Artoo with her husband. Then something vibrated close to her skin, causing her to slip a hand into her pocket. Catching sight of the small device now in her hand, she froze as recognition came to her.

She had forgotten that she was carrying it, in the midst of all that occurred between their first meeting here, in her apartment, and the secret ceremony on Naboo. A part of her felt guilty for ever being tempted in the first place, especially considering what Anakin told her during their wedding night. Picking up the device, she thumbed the reply button, already knowing what her answer would be.

The query came in the usual disembodied voice that belonged to mechanical toners, designed to convey complete and utter anonymity. While depriving the voice of feeling and sex, it did nothing to conceal the significance behind the question, not to those who had long ago learned the full nature of the innuendo with which it was laced.

"Are you free tonight?"

"No," Padmé replied, "Infact, I've left."

"Oh," the voice uttered, startled, for her response was hardly typical. Nevertheless, after a pause, there followed a perfectly civil farewell of, "forgive me for bothering you," before the caller ended the communication

For a moment the Senator studied the device after she switched off, remembering the first time she had been introduced to it, and all the other occasions she had used it since then. It felt odd to be giving it up. But she wasn't saddened by the sacrifice, for it was nothing more than a past time, one she would still have now, though of a different kind.

Slipping it into her pocket, she went deeper into the apartment to find a suitable hiding place for the device. A married man and a Jedi her husband may be, but he was still too young to understand her motives in belonging to this particular clique.

Chapter Text

Part 2: A Prayer Upon Parting

Even before he reached the door to their quarters, Obi-Wan could sense the growing anger and frustration emanating from his apprentice. A quiet sigh of similar, yet infinitely more milder emotions passed through him before he pressed the door release. Walking over the threshold, he calmly took in the scene before him.

Anakin was pacing round the living room, which until this moment had been the perfect picture of Jedi tidiness. However it now seemed to resemble a junkyard after a Gungan had hit it. Various droid bits, rusting parts belonging to defunct speeders, skiffs, or other spacecraft littered the floor, evidently tossed about the room by their dissatisfied owner, who glared at them, his eyes almost the colour of Mustafar. The entrance of his master entirely escaped the Padawan's notice, as indeed would the arrival of anyone at this moment.

Obi-Wan folded his arms and regarded the young man with equal amounts of disappointment and irritation. "Anakin," he uttered in a tone laced with a dash of the Force, designed to call troublesome apprentices to order. Needless to say it was a technique he had to use frequently on the Chosen One.

For a minute it seemed as if the Padawan hadn't heard him, causing Obi-Wan to try another technique he was sometimes forced to employ when dealing with his troublesome charge. Abruptly a piece of machinery flew up from the floor and hit Anakin square on the forehead, not enough to bruise, but enough to garner his attention. He came to a halt and swore in Huttnese, before turning to his unwelcome assailant. Recognition immediately kicked in, and his expression transformed into one of repentant guilt as he glanced at his teacher. "Sorry, Master."

"Well, you've given me an idea as to how to keep you busy while I'm away," Obi-Wan murmured as he deftly navigated his way through the mess which littered the floor. "By the time the Republic delegation returns from Pais, I expect this apartment to contain nothing that resembles mechanical parts, droid or otherwise."

Anakin frowned. "Yes, Master," he uttered in a voice convinced that his Master liked to frustrate him, along with the rest of the Jedi Order. "Why can't I go with you?"

"I thought the Council made their reasons very clear," Obi-Wan answered as he headed into the kitchen to fetch himself a soothing drink that he felt a need for whenever his Padawan decided to be in this mood. As he retrieved the ingredients he made a mental note to collect more supplies for his stock was depleted yet again. "In light of your recent injuries acquired on Geonosis, as well your continual inability to control your emotions, the Council decided that you are ill-equipped to handle a peace mission right now."

"That's not all they decided," Anakin pointed out. "I have to visit a soul healer as well. Why do I have to do that?"

"Master Yoda sensed the wave of pain you suffered after the death of your mother," Obi-Wan replied. "Added to what you endured on Geonosis, he decided that sessions with a soul healer will help you gain control of your emotions."

"I don't need my feelings analysed," Anakin all but yelled back. "I just need the Council to have faith in me."

"They do," Obi-Wan protested. "They only wish to help you reach your full potential, Ani. You have the makings of a great Jedi, but you are struggling to live up to the burden of expectations that the prophecy and the Republic have thrust upon you. I know, my Padawan, I see it in you everyday. Visiting a soul healer is not a sign of weakness, believe me."

"How would you know?" Anakin asked.

"Do you remember those first few years of your training that we spent Temple bound?" Obi-Wan queried, waiting for the young man to nod before continuing. "It wasn't just because I wanted you to gain some friends and adjust to the Order, it was also because Master Yoda asked me to visit a soul healer. Qui-Gon's death affected me deeply. He was like my father, and I needed time to work through those emotions, with someone who is trained in art of healing. I was reluctant to visit the soul healer too, at first. But those sessions helped me to adjust to all the sudden changes in my life, and I hope our relationship as Master and Padawan has been improved by them."

Anakin made no reply to that, gazing at his Master as if this admission had caused him to revaluate what he knew of him. Obi-Wan sighed inwardly, once again unsure about his training methods. Everytime he had tried to tell Anakin about his past before, the boy quickly became bored, causing him to discard another piece of advice from those Masters whom he consulted about training Padawans. So much of the Chosen One was atypical when it came to raising him, that eventually he ceased consulting others and relied on his own initiative. Now he doubted that such reliance was wise. It was his uncertainty which was damaging the training just as much as his Padawan's inability to control his emotions.

Perhaps this time apart would be good for the both of them.

Obi-Wan finished his drink, placed the now empty container in the sink, and wandered back into the disordered living room, heading for the door which led into his bedroom, containing his bed, his clothes and the few possessions every Jedi eventually accumulated at some point during their lives, to begin packing. He could sense his wayward student lingering in the kitchen for a moment in the wake of his departure, before following him first into the living space, then hovering upon the threshold of his room.

"How did you know about my mother?" He asked, causing Obi-Wan to look up.

"Padmé told me," Obi-Wan replied.

Anakin frowned as he tried to account for a conversation he had not witnessed. "When was this?"

"Before you escorted her home," Obi-Wan answered. He crossed the room to his collection of books, causing the impression that his focus was on selecting which ones to take with him rather than the conversation. "I'm sorry that we haven't had time to talk about that, I know what she told you must have been difficult for you to hear."

There was a noticeable hesitation as Anakin puzzled over what his master was referring to, before he decided had nothing to lose by agreeing. "Yes, it was."

"I hope you understand that this is for the best," Obi-Wan added. "Until you are able to control your emotions, such a relationship is impossible."

"Yes, Master, I understand," Anakin replied. For a moment he stood watching as his Master continued to pack. "I'll go and make a start on tidying up."

Obi-Wan waited for his apprentice to leave before he let his mask of serenity drop, as he reflected on what he had just learned from their conversation. Clearly, his Padawan was concealing something from him once more, and if the eloquent glance which passed between the Nubian Senator and himself during the Senate session was anything to go by, he had a fair idea as to what it was. Inwardly he sighed, knowing that there was little he could do about it, other than keep silent if the Council asked, which they undoubtedly would. He was disappointed in them both, but not surprised, for he had known almost from the minute he was asked to see Padmé, the likelihood of his arguments actually succeeding.

He could see her on Pais, for it was reasonable to suppose that the Senate would choose their most pacifist minded members for the talks, which was doubtless why Anakin was so annoyed that the Council had deprived him of his right to accompany his Master on medical grounds. He understood that desire, even envied it, but he would not go against the Council's wishes, not in this case. Anakin needed this time at the Temple, it was vital if he was to complete his training and master his true potential. Hopefully, after this, he would come to understand and manage the deep commitments in his life, proving the sense in the Order's reforms.

In light of the heavy losses on Geonosis, the Council had decided to introduce a wave of reforms, freeing the Order of some of the restrictions imposed upon them in the aftermath of the Ruusan wars. While there was still certain dangers in allowing for attachment both within and without the Jedi, a greater need for increasing the size of the Order was now to be recognised. Knights and Masters, providing they could prove themselves able to handle such commitments, would be granted permission to marry and procreate.

The decision had not been undertaken lightly, a fair number of Councillors expressed their doubts, one or two even objecting outright to the use of such methods, until Yoda's and Mace Windu's judgement in favour of reforms silenced them. Doubtless when the full details of the Council meeting were made public to the rest of the Order there would be much debate, something he would only experience in a limited form, along with the rest of those Knights and Masters chosen to accompany him to Pais.

Pais. Obi-Wan reviewed the information he had gathered from the archives about the rather unique planet, conveniently situated in between the current borders of Republic and Separatist space. A world populated for the sole purpose of bringing races together to negotiate peaceful treaties.

Only Jedi were allowed to carry weapons while staying upon the planet. Members of the Order were granted full freedom to enjoy all that the facilities had to offer, as were the visiting dignitaries concerned, and their safety in each other's areas was assured.

He had never been to the planet before, but his Master had told him of one mission there as a newly promoted Master in charge of a diplomatic contingent. Obi-Wan remembered listening with deep interest as Qui-Gon relayed the story, his mind wondering what the native populous of Pais did when there were no dignitaries to cater to.

Just as the Senate had been cautious in their selection of which Senators were to go, so had been the Council concerning the Order. No, Padawans, only Knights and Masters, and out of those, members who were highly skilled in both diplomacy and self-defence, as well as a contingent of trained healers. The Council were doing all they could to ensure that they did not lose anymore of their Order as they had on Geonosis, though there was an equal danger in sending their best and their brightest on this assignment, while ordering their Padawans to stay at home, perhaps to endure the same fate he once did; losing their Masters.

He had not lied when he spoke to Anakin just now; the loss of Qui-Gon Jinn affected him deeply. Everyday he had cause to wish for the man's advice, his quiet support, a word of praise, or just simply his presence. From the moment he held him in his arms, and vowed to train the boy, a sense of loneliness came over him, one which not Anakin or any member of the Order could quench.

Attachment was his greatest failing, as Master Yoda once accused. Yet he had never seen it that way, not until recently, when he began to wish to hear his Master's voice and encouragement, amidst the increasing uncertainty within his life, regarding everything. Ten years ago he believed himself capable of fulfilling the promise Qui-Gon asked of him, until he realised how much the burden of expectation regarding the prophecy weighed down on him and Anakin both.

Obi-Wan took a deep breath and forced himself to focus on the moment, as he continued to pack for the peace talks, inwardly sending a silent prayer to the ancient being that was the Force to look kindly upon their endeavours, and grant his return with an end to all their present troubles, from Padawans, to wars.

Chapter Text

Part 3: As Their Hearts Were Matched & Mated.

If profit had been the people's concern, Pais would have made an excellent resort, having good weather all orbit round, pleasant cold and warm seasons, an abundance of food and water, with good land for building stable structures. Long, luxurious coastlines, filled with sandy shores made for ideal beaches which vacation villas could have bordered, earning handsomely for those who chose to rent them out to offworld tourists. But the good native people desired a more nobler profession to make use of their natural resources, hence the pacifist vocation which Pais now served.

The Jedi knew the planet well, most having visited the place at one time or another throughout their lives, from the earliest days of their padawanship to their trials, knighthood, master and beyond. Pais regularly served as a training ground for those initiates undergoing their promotion to Knight, where two conflicting races would convene in wait for a treaty to be negotiated. They admired the natives for their foresight and their never ending hospitality, catering for all beings, whatever their walks of life.

Word had been sent ahead to the planet that new delegations would be arriving soon, and when the three contingents of ships; Jedi, Republic and Separatist, - their arrivals staggered so that each had time to land and depart the hangers for their accommodation before the rest - docked on the planet, they found everything prepared for their stay.

The hotels were readied for their occupation, the rooms arranged so that each delegation had separate areas of the building, at significant distance from one another to prevent unsupervised disagreements or spending unchaperoned time together outside of the conference rooms. The Jedi were placed in between the two areas delegated to the Republic and the Separatists, on the assumption that their philosophy of morals, pacifist ideals, and senses of justice would be impartial.

It was this group that were the last to arrive, they did not feel a need to come first, for Pais' security arrangements were known throughout the galaxy for being the safest credits could not buy. A large silver carrier set down on the planet, and numerous masters disembarked, all pausing to take in their surroundings before walking on towards the hotel.

"Well, it isn't in ruins as yet," a voice murmured as its owner came to stand by Obi-Wan. "Pais can retain the reputation it chose as its vocation."

His companion refrained from rolling his eyes, as a few members of the Council were in attendance as well, and their talent for detecting expression in the Force as well as audible conversation was notorious. "If that was the case, I think we would have heard something before we dropped out of hyperspace."

"It is a planet of peace," the fellow Jedi reminded him, "one must presume that explosions upon it are peaceful as well."

"Then who is to say that one hasn't occurred then?" Obi-Wan countered.

"You are right," his companion remarked seriously. "We must investigate this matter at once, for the safety of all concerned. Starting in the bar."

Obi-Wan half chuckled. "Remind me again what was suggested as a reason for requiring your presence here, Garen?"

"I would have thought that was obvious," Garen Muln replied. "Comic relief."

"There's certainly something comic somewhere in that statement," Obi-Wan mused, "though it is more ironic than anything else."

Garen shrugged his shoulders. "Tough crowd," he commented.

The two knights continued their promenade disembarkation from the ship towards the main entrance of the lavish hotel chosen to serve as headquarters for the peace talks. Both had known each other since the Temple crèche, a long and close friendship, serviced by joint missions during their Padawan days, either just themselves and their Masters, or with their other friends; Bant, Siri and Reeft.

Garen and Obi-Wan gained a reputation during their youth for being not only the most promising of Jedi from their generation, or because of their characters, but because of their general handsome appearance. In their youth their marked similarity had often caused them to be mistaken for one another, and for the Order to assign one or the other as decoy protection, until both became Knights some years ago and sought to age their appearance as they took on Padawans.

Obi-Wan had kept his reddish blond hair opting to lengthen the once closely cropped locks and grow a beard, while Garen had dyed his hair black, causing his eyes to appear more green than the sea shaded tones of his friend's. He was more out going than Obi-Wan, but had a way of making his agemate relax, and forget for a time that he was Master to the prophesied Chosen One.

Their natural confidence coupled with their good looks and humoured, gentlemanlike, kind manner, led many a female admirer astray, but rarely was it actively encouraged, at least not on Obi-Wan's side. Garen tended to seemingly cross the line in his flirting, but how far it deepened beyond a dance or conversation was anyone's guess.

The two Jedi entered the reception area of the hotel now, the last of the members of the Order attending to check in at the front desk. While Garen smiled and flirted with the clerk, Obi-Wan entered their details and collected their room keys, before heading to the turbolifts, his quick pace causing his friend to finish the conversation and run in order to retrieve the key to his room. Garen mocked glared at his companion, who merely grinned in the reply, the sequence of movements a oft repeated joke between them.

They parted at the door to their rooms, and Obi-Wan did what he usually did on the rare occasions that his missions caused him to be separated from his Padawan; activate the HoloNet communications and check in with Anakin at the Temple. As was usually the case when such missions occurred, his Padawan could rarely be relied on to be present for such a communication, either having classes or time with his agemates, or some other activity that Obi-Wan hoped did not involve visiting a certain Senator or Supreme Chancellor.

It was a contrast to his own time as a Padawan, when he would make a point of spending his time in quarters so as to be to be present if Qui-Gon ever called. Needless to say, Obi-Wan had discovered many contrasts between himself and the Chosen One since Qui-Gon's passing dictated their future.

Leaving a message, Obi-Wan unpacked what luggage he had brought, then left the room for his next usual port of call; the hotel's bar. Not because he liked or needed a drink, but because it was the best place to ascertain who would be present at the peace talks, or who waited on those present at said peace talks, for the full list of delegates from both the Separatists and the Republic had not been announced upon the HoloNet before the Jedi delegation left Coruscant for Pais.

The bar was the one exception to Pais' tradition of keeping the delegates apart from each other in between official meetings, but what it lacked in separation purposes it made up for in being the most security conscious locale of the lot open to the visitors. Cloaked surveillance covered every inch of wall and furnishing, while the staff were fully trained warriors on the side.

As he entered and took his usual casual survey of the large area, he discovered one part of his fears concerning the whereabouts of his Padawan learner could be laid to rest, for the beautiful figure of Senator Amidala was discerned, sitting at one end of the long, curvaceous table before the drinks cabinet. For a moment he froze, his gaze lingering on her, as he recalled all the times they had encountered each other, the most recent arriving within his mind first. That long gaze across the Senate arena could not have been more eloquent, managing to convey questions and responses that would have been difficult to air in a more audible conversation. Forgiveness for her and his apprentice's recent actions was delivered swiftly.

Obi-Wan wondered if she had managed to detect the brief feeling of envy he felt when what he suspected was equally rapidly confirmed. She was a shrewd assessor of character and in the days before the Jedi arrived on Naboo for the funeral of his former Master, there had been many encounters and long conversations in the gardens of Theed Palace, creating a deep understanding of each other.

For he did envy them, not just because of the nerve they possessed to go through with their impulsive thoughts, but for the choice itself. Given the opportunity, he would have done the same had Cerasi lived. Moreover, she was not the only one whom he would have been sorely tempted to ignore the dictates of the Council for, aside for his brief entanglements with Siri Tachi and Satine, Duchess of Mandalore.

Unfortunately for him, though, his Padawan's actions now rendered his other choice unattainable.

Something caused the woman of his thoughts to look up, making Obi-Wan rapidly school his face into the typical Jedi mask of divine serenity, before risking the notice of the monitoring systems as he joined her at the bar.

"It is a great pleasure to see you again, milady," he remarked as she turned towards him, offering her hand.

"It has been far too long, Master Kenobi," she replied, half chuckling as she did so. "That is, it seems too long since we have had such formalities between us. I would prefer it if we dropped the titles." She paused before adding quietly, "or did our last encounter render such address impossible?"

"On the contrary, milady, if anything, our last encounter restored such intimacy between us. For how could I not forgive such an eloquent gaze, Padmé?" Obi-Wan replied.

She seem to blush alittle at hearing her name uttered in his cultured tones, though perhaps it was a product of his over active hopeful imagination. Certainly her colour brightened and a slender, elegant hand made a slight graceful gesture at the drinks display. "Then permit me to buy you a drink, Obi-Wan."

"Jawa juice," he requested and she relayed the order.

"Actually, he'll have a Telosian Amber, straight up," another voice remarked, causing the Senator to turn round once more.

Obi-Wan refrained from doing so. "Ignore that," he directed the bar tender, waiting until the server was occupied before he added, "I have no desire to repeat our last occasion in a bar, this time in front of several Council Masters, even if I can drink you under the table."

"Please, Obi-Wan, you'll damage my reputation in front of this ravishing lady whom you have yet to introduce," the new addition to their conversation continued.

His friend sighed before performing the necessary introduction. "Senator Padmé Amidala of Naboo, I have the dubious honour of naming Knight Garen Muln."

"Charmed," Garen remarked as he took Padmé's proffered hand and raised it to his lips, a gesture Obi-Wan longed to perform when holding her hand, but always refrained from doing so, either because of his Padawan or their audience. "And you have my thanks, milady," he added when he withdrew his hand and seated himself the other side of her so she was in the middle of the two attractive young knights, "for defying Council orders by going to Geonosis to rescue my friend."

"Well, he jumped through a window and vanquished a Sith for me," Padmé remarked, "so it was the least I could do to return the favour." She gestured at the bar. "What will you have?"

"As my good friend has kindly pointed out the presence of several erstwhile members of our esteemed Council, I'll also go for remaining sober," Garen replied before relaying his order to bartender.

"You'll have to give me details of this bar occasion," Padmé requested during the brief pause before their drinks arrived. "I've rarely seen Obi-Wan anything other than straight-laced."

"Gladly, if in return you'll tell me about this jumping through a window," Garen replied. "It has been far too long since we were on a mission together."

Obi-Wan groaned a little before taking a sip of his drink. "If the two of you intend to regale each other with embarrassing stories about me, then I shall order a Telosian Amber."

"What is embarrassing about jumping through a window?" Padmé asked. "It was the most courageous act I've seen, except for when you vanquished the Sith."

Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow at that. "Unless my memory is failing, you were in another part of the Palace when that incident took place."

"Surveillance recorded the entire thing," Padmé informed him, leaving Obi-Wan to silently wonder at her motives for requesting to see the footage. "Anyway, there really is hardly anything to it. Two Kouhuns were dropped on to my bed by an assassin's probe. After Anakin had disembowelled the creatures, Obi-Wan caught sight of the probe still hovering outside the window and before either of us knew it, he took off and leapt through the transparisteel, capturing it with his bare hands."

Garen considered for a moment before turning to his friend. "She is right you, know. Hardly anything embarrassing in that."

"True," Obi-Wan agreed. "I had thought Anakin would have told you about the chase which followed."

"No, he hasn't," Padmé revealed. "I guess I shall have to go to him to hear the rest of it. Have I earned the right to hear this bar story then?" She asked.

"You have me at an impasse, milady," Garen replied. "I am torn between complying under the face of your beauty, and refusing in honour to my friend."

Obi-Wan laughed at that. "Since when have you chosen friendship over the charms of a beautiful woman?"

Garen pretended to look insulted before relenting. "You're right, my good friend, and that is why you are my good friend and have been lifelong. Obi-Wan, milady, can become very relaxed after a significant number of shots of the aforementioned drink, and on the last occasion, his naming day, I might add, he surrendered to the whims of his friends by allowing us to take him to a bar, get him stinking drunk, then perform a few songs."

Obi-Wan blushed as Padmé turned a warm, almost eager gaze on him. "You can sing?"

"Not only that, he can do it well," Garen revealed. "Drunk or sober. Though when he's drunk it is a lot more entertaining to witness, due to the quality, or lack thereof, presiding within the chosen lyrics."

"Quality?" Padmé queried.

"Forgive me. A more apt description would be lurid," Garen explained, causing the Senator to laugh.

"Having heard that story though, I think I've forfeited the privilege of witnessing a display of this talent," she murmured, with a half expectant gaze at Obi-Wan.

"Like my good friend, it is rare that I refuse a request from a beautiful woman," Obi-Wan replied, causing Padmé's gaze to linger on him.

There was a moment there when they glanced at each other and stilled, as their hearts were matched and mated, the natural end to a friendship forged from the deep understanding and meeting of hearts and minds during long conversations amongst the gardens of the Palace at Theed. But only a moment, gone too quickly for them to even realise what had occurred. Only when a beeping com device caused the lady to excuse herself from their company, did the third witness turn to his friend with a evaluating gaze.

Obi-Wan caught sight of the study and ordered another slightly less sobering drink from the bar this time, though not one as strong as that belonging to Telos. "What ever it is you are imagining, wipe the image from your mind, it is never going to come to pass."

"And why not?" Garen asked, only to receive silence in reply. "Ah, the beautiful Senator is spoken for, is she?" His companion nodded carefully, causing him to add, "since when is that a problem in such times as these?"

"Nubian divorces are notoriously long," Obi-Wan replied. "And if it got out, the other party would not only have my head, but the safety of the galaxy and the Jedi Order would be at stake."

Despite his seemingly carefree attitude, privately Garen was known to be as serious and as intelligent as his friend when the occasion called for it. So it did not take him too long to comprehend who his agemate was speaking of. "You're certain?"

"She all but admitted it to me during our last conversation before he escorted her home," Obi-Wan revealed. "And he has never been particularly adept in concealing something from me, let alone the rest of the universe and the Force into the bargain."

"Granted," Garen agreed. "So your preferred course of action is do sit back and see how things play out?"

"I have no other choice," Obi-Wan replied.

His friend sighed and placed a consoling arm across his shoulders. "I am so sorry, Obi-Wan."

A moment of silent mourning passed between them then, broken only by the sound of another com device beeping, which when Garen retrieved the little machine from his pocket, registered an unusual amount of curiosity from his friend, as well as a rather furtive glance around the bar to see if the rest of the occupants had caught sight of the device's disparate appearance to the traditional Jedi comlink.

"Where are you?" Garen remarked into the device after it had uttered a certain phrase into his ear. "I think we ought to meet in the room. Elsewhere might be too inconspicuous." He paused, his eyebrows raised and his eyes glowing in expectation of a pleasurable evening. "I'll see you soon then."

Obi-Wan relaxed a little as the device was hidden once more. "Isn't that a bit risky considering who we're dealing with on this planet?"

Now it was Garen who raised an eyebrow. "I had no idea you knew about it."

"It is one of the worse kept secrets of the Core," Obi-Wan replied. "And you didn't answer my question."

"Because I won't know until the morning," Garen remarked. "You ought to try it, you know. Do you good."

"Here's hardly the place," Obi-Wan replied.

Garen shrugged. "Its the perfect test. Limited clientele, all vetted to within a parsec of their lives. Trust me, once you're past the awkward recognition stage, its a hell of a way to spend the night." He slapped his friend's shoulder as he rose from his chair. "See you at the peace talks. And may the Force be with you, regarding the other matter, my friend."

"Same to you," Obi-Wan replied as he watched him leave the bar. A moment later he noticed another being, a woman from the Republican delegation also rise from her secluded seat and leave the room. His thoughts followed her for a time, as he dwelt on the character of his life long friend and their membership in the club that was paradoxically the worst and best kept secret of the Core.

The List. An elite clique, formed for the design of allowing highly busy members to meet up for an intimate night, without strings, names, or the promise of future commitment. Anonymity was guaranteed by the promise made by the members and the mechanised disembodied voice built within the com device each member carried. Meetings were usually arranged in one of the many hotels in Coruscant's entertainment district, whose staff could be counted on for being discreet.

He neither approved nor disapproved of the concept behind the List, nor did he envy those of the Order who took full advantage of the virtually open membership for Jedi to escape the chastity constrictions that were now soon to be relaxed. It was just not something he would join, for he had been offered once, some time ago, during his last years as a Padawan.

To have a relationship of that nature with a woman, his commitment to her would need to be as deep as his commitment to the Force. So far, aside from brief entanglements that ended in separation or tragedy, he had only met one woman to whom he would offer such devotion. Until now, he had not been free to declare himself to her.

And now that he was, she was no longer.

Chapter Text

Part 4: Troubling Invitations.

If Padmé had been asked who her com call was from, she would have replied home, which was entirely true. What the inquisitor would have perhaps failed to realise that in case the term home did not signify her parents, sibling and cousins back on Naboo, but her husband on Coruscant.

Even before her marriage, negotiating that fine line between truth and deception, was something which troubled her, and now that she was Anakin Skywalker's wife, such negotiation seemed to become more and more complex day by day. She was the rare exception to the usual Senators; a politician who hated the lying and wrangling and spin which most of her colleagues seemed to thrive on. Something Anakin failed to realise when he declared his affections.

She tried to make him understand, to honour his childhood dreams of becoming a Jedi, but then Geonosis occurred and in the wake of his injuries and the possibility of war, secrecy seemed a small price to pay for happiness. Yet, the line was a concern, and remained one in her mind, especially during moments such as the event which happened just a few minutes ago, when she had to glance at her com, and part from her friends, doing her best to avoid their innocent inquiries as to whom her caller was.

In her mind she could not escape the thought that she was betraying all her friends and family by concealing her marriage, and if the concealment was ever discovered or revealed, the deception would hurt them and herself for deceiving them.

Entering her hotel room, she inserted the com device into the receiver and answered the call, her husband's figure soon filling the holo port. A swift glance at his surroundings brought forward another concern, one connected with that fine line. "Ani, where are you?"

The Padawan frowned. "Our quarters, why?"

"You should be at the Temple," Padmé replied. "What if someone sees you, or your absence is noticed?"

"Com calls by Padawans are monitored at the Temple," Anakin revealed, a somewhat sour tone invading his voice as he uttered his title, for he had hoped that his actions on Geonosis would warrant an elevation to knighthood as opposed to counselling and physical therapy. "To talk to you there I would have to rewire the com system and I can't do that without it being noticed."

"Then you shouldn't call," Padmé answered, causing him to slump noticeably in his chair. "Ani, we agreed not to take risks like this."

"I just wanted to speak to you," he uttered quietly. "I miss you."

Padmé softened her tone. "I miss you too, and I'm sorry. But we have to be discreet." She smiled at him. "Seeing as you've called now, we might as well continue talking. How is your physiotherapy going?"

Anakin sighed, the fingers of his mechanised arm instinctively restless, as he replied. "Its alright. They keep complaining at my attempts to make it work better. Chancellor Palpatine says I should be patient."

"He's right," Padmé replied, restraining herself from attaching two more words to her reply, for she had no wish to start another fight. Since becoming a Senator, she found herself agreeing with less and less of her former minister's political reforms, unlike her husband, whose loyalty to their mutual childhood mentor continued to deepen.

"How are the talks going?" he inquired.

"They start tomorrow," Padmé replied. "Everyone's relaxing tonight. I was just at the bar, with Obi-Wan and Garen."

Anakin frowned. "I thought on Pais, the delegates were kept separate from each other."

"Not in the hotel bar," Padmé explained. Her husband made a noncommittal exhale in return, causing her to speculate rather incredulously, "what's wrong, am I not allowed to spend time with Obi-Wan?"

"No, of course you are," Anakin denied, but the tone was hardly convincing. "I just remembered that I have to call him, that's all. He usually coms me when he's away, and I haven't been in our quarters since he left."

"I'll let you go then," Padmé decided. "He and Garen were still in the bar when I left, but the hotel should just transfer the signal."

"Okay, bye," Anakin uttered, his hand going to the shut off switch before Padmé had time to reply. She sat still for a moment in front of the device, trying to shake the sour note it had left her with. Already it seemed that the gloss was beginning to fade from her marriage.

Doubts continued to creep into her mind, as she faced the constant deception, contrasted with Anakin's sometimes reckless attitude towards it, which was almost ironic when it was he who had suggested the secrecy in the first place.

If she had the time, she would have argued for them facing the Jedi Council, appealing for some relaxation on their code, not just for Anakin's sake, but for others too. Or forgoing a ceremony in favour of a courtship, to see if the secrecy was a small price to pay for a lifetime of happiness.

Agreeing to marry him had been a decision born from impulse, when he was lying in the medbay after surgery to attach the artificial arm, about the same moment when news came through that the Separatists were declaring war.

Obi-Wan's visit to her when Anakin was ready to escort her home caused the rebellious side in her to abandon further reflection on his proposal and forget the consequences. If he meant to make her so angry to decide on such a course of action then he succeeded, for the more and more she looked back on that visit, the more she longed to ask him what he really thought, for it was clear someone else had prompted him to say what he did.

Ultimately, it was Anakin who made her doubt, for he seemed unprepared to handle their union, too young for another commitment to be added to his life. She had hoped she would be able to provide an escape from hard life demanded of the Jedi, but when coupled with the commitments of both their jobs, the war, and now the peace talks, time together away from these responsibilities had been few and far between.

She had married him knowing that his love for her was greater than her own for him, yet he seemed to be growing tired of the affection already, as if bored with a once new toy. Those days spent in Varykino when he had made her laugh, when he loved her with such all encompassing passion as though she was what he had called her when he first set eyes on her ten years ago, seemed so far away now that she began to wonder if she had dreamt them.

Padmé sighed and rose from the desk. Perhaps she was focusing too much on the doubts. Perhaps it would be different when she saw him again.

Early next morning, each of the delegates were called by a member of staff and summoned to the large conference room in the hotel for the first session of the peace talks.

As the Republic and Jedi representatives entered the room and took note of whom the Separatists sent, one in particular caused the pre-existing tension within the chamber, born from meeting with those whom only a while ago they were fighting with, to rise even further.

"Ah, Master Kenobi, what a pleasure it is to see you in much more comfortable surroundings," the initiator of the surprise remarked.

"Count Dooku, we didn't expect you to be here," Obi-Wan replied.

"Oh really? I thought my presence would be a sign of how deeply the Separatists are committed to peace." Dooku paused before adding, "such a shame the Chancellor was too busy to join us."

The question created exactly what the former Jedi had intended; queries inside everyone's minds as to why the Chancellor did not choose to attend the talks. The tension within the room increased by another notch.

"I hope, Master Kenobi, that you would be able to join me this evening for dinner," Count Dooku continued, causing most of the other non Jedi within the room to glance at the knight with curiosity. "I so much wanted to reminisce about old times."

Obi-Wan nodded politely, and with that all civilities were at an end. The Paisians gestured to the seats, and everyone settled into them before the table.

"You have all come here to find a peaceful solution to the suffering which troubles your societies," the Paisian whom was presiding over the talks began. "Whatever the outcome of this first in a session of talks, we ask you all to remember that resolution and heed to it above all else. The healing of your people depends on you reaching an agreement which will benefit everyone without detriment. Let us begin."

A silence settled over the conference as each representative waited for someone else to take up the burden of speaking first. Scars from Geonosis still lingered around those present, the memory of them enforced by the attendance of Count Dooku. The former Jedi kept shifting gaze from one member of his old Order to the next, always returning to Obi-Wan with the same expression that was splayed across his face when they first entered the room, something between a kindly old relative to his favourite descendant and a Rancor who had just sighted their prey.

By contrast Master Kenobi appeared the perfect picture of Jedi serenity, meeting Dooku's stare with unflappable politeness. Inwardly, unknown to all of those except one within the room, the knight had resolved not to let his temper get the best of him as it had the last time he had encountered the master of his master.

Like the rest of his colleagues in the room, he could not ignore that the former Jedi was responsible for deaths of many knights and masters upon Geonosis, but neither could he forget that comment the Count made to him before that fight, about wishing to speak to Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan knew that it was just as equally likely that Dooku had simply tried to test his nerves, but there was something within the phrasing and tone of the wish, something elusive, as though the comment was designed to be coded, indecipherable for those who might be listening, such as a set of allies he no longer trusted.

This was why he accepted the invitation to dinner, though he knew such an acceptance would invite curiosity from everyone within the room, and more than a few questions from those here who sat on the Council, as well those who did not.

Padmé was another, if the expression he caught flashing across her face was anything to go by. No more than a moment did he allow himself to observe her, as a lingering look would invite questions as well, ones he would rather not answer. Conversation between them last night had been brief, but he was grateful for Garen's interruption. It had been too easy lately to find an excuse to spend time with her, and when doing so to forget the barrier between them that was his apprentice.

The beeping of her com device last night was all too painful a reminder that now he was about to be granted the liberty of caring for her, she was no longer free to return such affection, if she had any to return, that is. She had praised his reckless manoeuvre following the attempt on her life, and had watched the surveillance footage of the duel with the Sith on Naboo, as he had discovered last night.

But such interest was only indicative of concern, not love. And those long conversations they had on Naboo were the foundation of their friendship, not anything deeper. Obi-Wan sighed and resolutely shook himself away from these thoughts, for they were doing nothing to convince his mind or his heart of the reality. Drawing his focus back to where it belonged, he sensed that the natives were getting restless. Still no one was talking and progress would not be made unless someone began.

"If we all desire peace, then perhaps we should agree to disband the droid and clone armies," he ventured, the sound of his cultured voice startling everyone.

"The armies are there for our protection," a member of the Separatist delegation replied.

"But who do you need protecting from?" Obi-Wan countered. "If we can establish a peace between us, there will be no need for employing such methods."

"And the Jedi will resume the position of keeping justice throughout the galaxy," another of the Separatists mocked.

"It is what we have sworn our lives towards," he reminded them.

"Above everything else," one Separatist murmured. "How is it that you can understand our troubles when all we have is denied to you?"

"The Force will guide us," one of his fellow Jedi answered.

"How will you know what the Force is telling you will be right?" One of the opposing delegation asked.

"A compromise?" the Paisian suggested. "What about establishing a non-combative agreement between both armies?"

"That could work," one of the Separatists replied after they had given it some consideration.

"We would be amiable to that proposal," Padmé added, speaking for her colleagues after she had received silent, positive gestures from each of them.

"Good," the Paisian murmured, "excellent. We are making progress."

Six, mind-numbing, standard, seeming longer, hours later, and the Paisian finally declared the talks to be in recess for the day, claiming that they had accomplished a great feat for the continued peace throughout the galaxy. The delegates stumbled out of the vast conference room in dribs and drabs, in quest for their rooms or the bar, whichever was the quickest for reaching oblivion.

Obi-Wan did not have that luxury, even if he desired it, though the temptation was foremost in his exhausted mind. He had a dinner date with a former Jedi Master, the master of his revered, late and sorely lamented Master; Qui-Gon Jinn. Until Geonosis he had never had the pleasure, in the dubious sense of the word, to meet with Master Dooku, and then the circumstances were hardly to each others liking.

Both had seen each other at their worse, in close combat, a fight to the death, verbally as well as physically. Hardly the sort of meeting he had imagined. Stranger still was to find them on opposing sides. If his old master was not one with the Force he would have been surprised to discover that his former mentor had left the Order.

Qui-Gon always spoke highly of Master Dooku, often leaving Obi-Wan with the impression that he would meet him when he was worthy enough. On the Nubian mountain where Master Jinn's remains were given up to the Force, Dooku had lurked in the shadows, lingering on the edge of the ceremonial chamber, withdrawing himself from conversation with anyone, even the Council Masters present; Yoda and Windu.

Obi-Wan had a vague sense of the Master being present at his knighting; another ceremony shrouded in shadows, the torch light reflecting off the walls of the Council chamber, the flecks in his auburn blond hair as he knelt before Master Yoda, his head bowed, blue grey eyes closed, wishing that Qui-Gon was at his shoulder, severing the mark of Padawan from his head. Then like the shadows he had faded into the darkness, eventually withdrawing from the Order altogether.

He sought the sanctuary of his hotel room briefly, anxious to be freshly laundered of the wear and tear sitting in that conference room had caused. Shedding his robes, Obi-Wan showered, letting the hot water pound on to his chest as he prepared himself for the dinner. Verbal duelling would doubtless be on the menu, Dooku was a subtle man, known for his wisdom as well as his physical agility. At least this time he would be able to move and break his fast, unless of course the Count had the matrix of that energy shield in which he was contained on Geonosis buried into the structure of the dinner table.

Anakin would have been secretly fascinated by the mechanics of it, and the memory of his Padawan brought to mind another occasion, when the boy had his first encounter with a shower. The young one's astonishment at the sight of so much water caused Obi-Wan to smile in days when the loss of his master was still too raw for comfort. From that moment he had to tear the boy away from the water, for fear he would exhaust the Temple's limitless supplies.

Until Geonosis caused a loss of limb, destroying forever his Padawan's desire to linger under the fountains of such liquid. Obi-Wan felt the pain as deeply as Ani had, the moment Dooku severed the arm from his pupil's body. Lightsabers caused wounds to cauterise immediately, rendering the task of reattaching flesh almost impossible. Before the double blows of Geonosis and Tatooine Anakin had held himself to be invincible, no prey would dare to cross blades with his. Tatooine and Geonosis crippled him, inside and out, wounding the Master as well as the Padawan.

Obi-Wan had come close to loosing a limb or two a few times, broken numerous bones, but never was the damage irreparable. A part of him wondered what Padmé made of the loss, if it had lessened the young Jedi in her eyes. Or did she still imagine him as that little boy she knew on Tatooine, the one who called her an angel from the moons of Iego and won a pod race to save her ship.

Resolutely he pushed his head under the shower, using the pressure of the water to brush such thoughts away from his mind, for they did him nothing but ill. Such distraction was the last thing he needed on Pais, especially when the lady in question was present and the man she was bound to a hyperspace journey away, out of sight, if not out of mind.

Under her smiles and gaze, memories of long walks in the gardens of Theed stole over his senses, causing him to dream, to desire, until some stray word brought forth her secret and his by association. Whether he held his silence for the good of her, or the good of Anakin was indeterminable, though his heart would betray the truth of that answer, just as his Padawan had betrayed him by breaking the Code.

If they had come to him, would he have been so hurt by their actions? It was a question he often pondered, usually with mixed results. The noble part of him would profess to offering his congratulations, standing witness at the wedding, willingly agreeing to keeping his silence, or daring to go before the Council and argue the case. Ultimately it was the fact that they had denied him that privilege to choose which caused him to feel anger and disappointment at what they had done, and wonder if they knew that just by concealment they had presented him with a fate which he had to accept, just as surely as if they had come to him and told him upon their return from Naboo.

A flick of his fingers and the spray dried, leaving stray droplets to slide over the planes of his toned body, eventually descending towards the drain, or doused by the towel which he wrapped around his waist a moment later. Exiting the fresher, he applied another to his hair, massaging the tresses until they were only damp before discarding the towel and attiring himself in fresh tunic and robe. Tossing the previous set into the laundry chute, Obi-Wan took a glance around the room to make sure all was in order, before fastening his utility belt and attaching his lightsaber, then leaving the room.

This part is dedicated to my paternal grandmother, who passed away on 26/1/13

Chapter Text

Part 5: Enlightening Encounters.

There were several ways to dine on Pais. Numerous restaurants in every hotel or within the surrounding suburbs and local townships, ditto for the bars, both of which catered for every species in every walk of life, no matter what their budget or favourite delicacy. Lastly there was the more intimate option of dining in one's hotel room, where anything was on the menu, except for your dinner companion, of course.

Pais was known for catering to every guest's needs above and beyond mere nourishment, their chefs trained to the highest pinnacles of excellence. In short, Obi-Wan could at least expect to enjoy his meal with Count Dooku tonight, if not the conversation which would doubtless be included.

Not one to be afraid, he did not hesitate to knock at the former Jedi Master's door upon his arrival. The imposing barrier slid aside, allowing the subtle smell of burning candles to escape across the threshold.

"Welcome, Master Kenobi," Count Dooku greeted, from his stance near the source of those candles, by the sizeable dining table, which was appropriately adorned for the meal to come. "Please, come in."

Obi-Wan nodded in response before stepping inside, his grey blue gaze taking a quick and thorough sweep of the room as he did so. As usual Pais had made sure that each hotel room resembled another, with the same decor and facilities, designed to disperse the suspicion that one guest was getting preferential treatment at the expense of another. The adornments around the room and upon the table were minimal but stylish. Discarding his cloak on the stand provided, he slowly strode towards the dining table.

"I hear from some of my friends in the Order that you're being considered for a seat on the Council," Dooku remarked, pulling out a chair and making a slight gesture for him to sit.

"Yes," Obi-Wan replied as he sat down. Master Yoda and Master Windu had informed him of the position before he left the Core. "It is a honour I had not expected."

"Is that so?" Dooku sought to confirm. "Qui-Gon always did. I remember him telling me once that you and Master Windu would be the only allies he had on the Council."

"I think he had more than he realised," Obi-Wan murmured. "Master Yoda usually respected his opinion, even if he didn't agree with it." He paused to take a bite of the first course before speaking again. "I always wondered why Qui-Gon never introduced us."

"He meant to," Dooku revealed. "After your trials. He was always very protective of his Padawans, concerned about letting another master influence the relationship. I respected him for it, though I was curious. He always talked about you, I could see that he was very proud and felt privileged to be training you."

Obi-Wan could not help smiling at that, even though he was suspicious that Dooku's motives for mentioning such a compliment were nothing more than a purposeful attempt to curry favour with him. The memory of the rare occasions when his master praised him washed over his mind, along with other fond recollections of their time together.

Qui-Gon had been a hard task master, making sure his training was demanding, but at the same time they had always been close and protective of each other. Which, was why it hurt all the more when they met Anakin and Qui-Gon abruptly announced his intention to train him, without the slightest warning to his quickly discarded Padawan, suddenly deemed ready for the trials. And when he held his master in his arms, watching him draw his last breath, promising him that he would train the boy.

As the bitter feelings crossed his mind, causing a brief turmoil within his emotional psyche, Obi-Wan kept an eye on and his Force sense trained at his dinner companion, waiting to see if he grabbed hold of the weakness in order to exploit it. To his surprise the old master nodded at him. "I heard about that Council session. I was surprised at his casual disregard of you, after all the two of you had been through together. But Qui-Gon must have thought you were ready for the Trials, he mentioned as much to me when we last saw each other before the Trade Federation began blocking Naboo. And he was a stubborn, impulsive being when it came to defending his pet projects before the Council."

Obi-Wan nodded, accepting the praise, as well as the genuineness behind the sentiment which he could detect in the Force. Pausing to take another mouthful of his dinner, he decided to air the main reason why he had agreed to this encounter. "When we were on Geonosis, you mentioned about needing Qui-Gon's advice. I wasn't in the best frame of mind to talk about it then, but I'm willing to listen now, if you still feel the same. I know I'm not my master, but I think I know what he might have said."

Dooku set aside his silverware and regarded his guest for a moment, one which seemed so long, that Obi-Wan became uncertain as to whether this had been such a good idea. As he prepared to backtrack, the Count spoke. "All our actions on Geonosis were quite far from our best. I regret the loss of life expunged upon that sinkhole, especially in light of what I discovered afterwards. Something which made me doubt the deal I made with Master Sidious," he paused, as Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow at the mention of the Sith Lord, waiting for his companion to finish before he let his mind speculate as to the nature of the deal.

"You may not believe me, Obi-Wan, but my motives for leaving the Jedi were what I explained to the Council. My dissatisfaction with the ties between the Order and the Senate, the system of democracy currently operated by the Republic. I entered into the deal with Sidious purely with the intention to discover what he was planning, not to ably assist him in the destruction of not only the Republic, but the Order as well; a fact I found out during Geonosis."

"This is nothing new," Obi-Wan pointed out quietly. "One Sith's motives of destruction and power grabbing are much the same as another's."

"Yes, but Sidious's methods are more, insidious," Dooku replied. "Such as the clones, for example."

Obi-Wan's hand froze midway between carrying his glass to his mouth. "What does he intend to do with the clones?" He asked. If Sidious had access to the clone army, it indicated that he was behind their engineering on Kamino ten years ago, and that his position in the Republic was higher than anyone had previously supposed.

"There is an order built into their genetic training," Dooku revealed. "Once activated, they will kill every Jedi they encounter, from Master to crechling."

Obi-Wan stilled as he thought of the younglings at the Temple, his face blanching as the image of them being massacred appeared within his mind. His appetite for the rest of the meal was abruptly quenched. "How do you know of this order?"

Dooku bowed his head, avoiding the piercing gaze of his companion. "I was the one who erased the location of Kamino from the archives. And the one who discovered that someone ordered for them to be engineered into being, on the directive of Sidious."

"And yet that doesn't explain your actions on Geonosis." Obi-Wan remarked, his tone choked with the gravity of what he had just learned.

"I know," Dooku replied. "I can offer you nothing for that, only my regret that I wasn't able to think of a way to salvage the situation without any loss of life. It was not until afterwards that I learned about the dangers in the clone army's genetics. But you have my word that I have no wish to ensure further mass murders."

"What do you wish for, Count?" Obi-Wan asked, reclining against the back of the elegant dining chair.

"Peace, Obi-Wan," Dooku answered. "A few minor changes to the governing of the Republic, as well as the Order's relationship with it, and in the structure of the Order itself."

"Such simple requests," Obi-Wan murmured wryly. "The Council have already proposed the possibility of reforms to the Order, such as allowing for knights and masters to have romantic relationships both in and outside the Order, and the degree of our relationship with those in the Chancellor's office. But the changes to the government of the Republic, will be difficult to accomplish."

"Now that the Chancellor has accepted his executive orders?" Dooku remarked, finishing Obi-Wan's point, much to the Jedi's surprise. "Yes, I can see how that will be difficult to accomplish. Which, is why I think the Order should distance itself from the executive office, as it might give the Council more of a chance to help those who belong to the Republic should the need arise."

"Do you really think it will?" Obi-Wan queried, for he detected a deadly certainty within the Count's tone, indicative of a grim outlook for the future.

"Possibly," Dooku replied, before rising from his chair to begin clearing the table, signalling the end of the meal. "Will the Order be receptive to this?"

Obi-Wan rose from his seat also, glad to be away from the food, for the sight of it was hardly helping since he learned of one of the orders built into the clones. "Do you wish to rejoin the Order?"

"I don't think I would be granted such an honour, do you?" Dooku uttered, surprising Obi-Wan with his frank sincerity and calm acceptance that he might be lost to the Jedi forever. "No, I meant the peace I and the Separatists are offering, along with my information about the clones."

"I will speak with the Council," Obi-Wan promised. "And let you know. What is the name of the command that will unleash this massacre?"

"Order Sixty-six," Dooku replied.

It was closing on the first hour of the next standard day when Obi-Wan entered the bar, finding the place almost devoid of everyone but the night shift staff. His dinner with Dooku had ended not long after the Count told him the title of the command code which was supposed to unleash a massacre of the Order from the clone army. Retiring to his room, he had contacted the Council with the information, leading to a discussion about how to test this disturbing piece of news, as well as further speculation as to who might be Darth Sidious.

Both debates faded into a general agreement to delay further discussion until the peace conference had progressed, allowing Obi-Wan to sign off. Sleep was not something he felt he could surrender to at present, his mind was still pondering the possibilities roused by his dinner and the subsequent meeting with the Council. Hence his decision to journey into the bar, where, to his surprise, he found one familiar face amongst the scarcity of patrons and staff.

"Good evening, milady," he remarked, bowing a little as he came to stand before the Senator from Naboo. "May I join you?"

"Of course," Padmé said, gesturing to the seat opposite her. "What brings you here so late, Obi-Wan?"

"I just had a meeting with the Council," Obi-Wan explained, sitting down. "Dinner with Count Dooku left my mind in a disquiet mood."

"Why did Dooku want to see you?" Padmé inquired as she gestured for a waiter to come and take her companion's order.

Obi-Wan dealt with the waiter before answering. "He was Qui-Gon's Master. The last time I saw him, on Geonosis, he aired a wish that Qui-Gon was still alive as he felt in need of his advice. My intention in accepting the invitation to dinner, was to see if he was sincere."

"And was he?" she asked.

"It seems so," Obi-Wan paused, inwardly debating on whether to tell her what he had just learned. He found it easy to confide in Padmé, their friendship was such that he trusted her not to betray his confidence, even though he knew that she had married his apprentice against his and the Council's wishes. What he had to relay however, could put her in a difficult, if not dangerous position, and he had no desire for any harm to come to her.

But Padmé merely nodded at his unrevealing response, seemingly content to accept his assurance of Dooku's newly found pacifist sincerity, rather than asking him for further confidences. Obi-Wan didn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed. Despite his dislike and usual distrust for and of politicians in general, there were a few Senators whom he did respect, if not agree with, and the beautiful young woman sitting across from him was one of them. He knew that many of their beliefs regarding democracy were the same from their conversations on Naboo, leading him to regard her with a trust that few people outside the Order had.

At the moment, a part of him was longing to talk with someone outside the Order about the news which Dooku had told him, even though he knew that such discussion would probably end up like the one he had just concluded with the Council. Overriding that temptation was another, the desire to take a break from the troubles of the galaxy, to just be himself, someone he had not the privilege of indulging since those afternoons spent in conversation on Naboo.

"How have you been?" he asked her eventually, letting the latter take over his other responsibilities for now. He needed to relax and unwind, lest he ended up spending the better part of this new day bad tempered from lack of sleep. Jedi could go without sleep for days if they chose, but he had been resorting to that kind of practice too much of late.

He needed this, he realised, astonished and concerned by the depth of his feelings regarding how much he had missed just being with Padmé like this. He had accepted that he was in love with her a long time ago, but he hadn't realise how much he had been denying himself the ability to feel it until now. Out of a desire to pacify his apprentice and to prevent her from realising, he had done his best to conceal the feeling rather than deal with it in the Jedi way, accepting it within the Force before learning to let go. Even he wanted to, that is, and he had known for a long time that he did not.

"Exhausted," Padmé answered, surprising him, causing his eyebrow to raise in response, inviting an explanation. "Senate politics has become a two edged sabre, not knowing who to trust and how far, and what with the situation between the Republic and the Separatists on the brink of war, my duties haven't become any easier. I feel the need to get away from it all, and I know full well that I can't, even for a moment."

Obi-Wan smiled at her, half pleased and half astonished that she felt the same as he, and what's more, was willing to tell him so. He took a sip of his drink and leaned back in his chair before he replied. "So do I. What I wouldn't give for those afternoons on Naboo, ten years ago."

She frowned, causing him to panic for a moment as he thought over what he said and wondered if it let lose some indication of what he felt for her. Her response almost made him sigh in relief. "I thought you wouldn't want to return there, because of Qui-Gon."

He smiled, touched by her compassion. "No, never that. Besides, a Jedi has to face these things, sometimes, you know." He paused, taking another sip of his drink. "I found your planet quite peaceful and beautiful, once the regime was restored, that is."

Padmé smiled at his praise of her home. "There's this place in Varykino, the Lake Country. I wish I was there right now, its the perfect place to relax. There's nothing but lakes and soft green grass. I have a villa there I'd love to show you." She stopped abruptly at this as she realised that she had shown it to Anakin, not that he would remember much of it due to the fact that they hardly ever moved out of the bedroom.

What troubled her about this reminder was that showing the place to Anakin felt like a betrayal to Obi-Wan. As she had talked of the glorious countryside that was the Lake Country, she had entertained a brief image in her mind of spending time with the Jedi Master there, as they had in the gardens of Theed palace ten years ago. Even more troubling, she felt a greater happiness from just imagining that moment, when compared to her brief honeymoon with Anakin.

What was wrong with her, she asked herself. She and Ani were barely married and she found herself feeling happier away from him than in his company. Leaving Coruscant for Pais was a relief, and not just because of the exhausting situation within the Senate. Anakin was different when they were on the Core, she realised. Restless and agitated, with a constant desire to receive the approval of others and not believing it when he did so. Their secret marriage would do little to ease such feelings, she knew, and yet he had been so determined that they should undertake such measures to formalise their relationship.

On Naboo, she had experienced no doubts about going through with the ceremony, however, now as she reflected back on that moment, she knew that her actions were partly motivated by her argument with Obi-Wan. She was sure that it was never his intention to persuade her into doing something he had argued against so vigorously, her own feelings were responsible for such an action. What bothered her was the fact that motivation alone had caused her to marry Ani, not her feelings for him.

"Milady?" Obi-Wan uttered, causing her to break from her thoughts. She looked up at him and smiled, shaking her head, dismissing the slight expression of concern displayed upon his face. She was thankful for his timely interruption. Unconscious as it may have been, he had made her realise that she was married now, and no amount of introspection could change that. She had to accept her new status, and work to make it successful.

Whether she was quite sure about it or not.

Chapter Text

Part 6: Amidst Cloistered Fountain Gardens.

The third day on Pais brought yet another lengthy conference within the bowls of the hotel complex, as the Paisians continued to encourage the delegates of the Republic, Separatist and Jedi Order to form a peace treaty. Many had spoken to their associates after the conclusion of the first meeting, allowing for them to receive a sense of renewed encouragement and desire for the days on Pais to result in success.

Some however, having also spoken to their colleagues, were of the opinion that the peace would never succeed, causing a heady debate within the meeting, mainly about whether war or peace would ultimately prove more profitable for their planets, meaning of course, themselves and if they deigned to remember their existence, their family.

Inevitably, as the talks continued, the parties involved began to turn on each other, attacking insecurities unveiled by the war and the ever over curious HoloNet. Such incidents were not uncommon during negotiations and were often allowed to be vented by those presiding over the talks for it was a popular belief that once these insults finished being traded, there would be no barriers impeding either side.

However, the technique was employed by the people who usually could sense and ride the currents of hostility, carefully and subtly turning the waves into an empathy of harmonious peace, namely the Jedi. But they were powerless against this rising tide of animosity as it was directed at their very Order.

"Geonosis was a Jedi affair," one of the more prejudiced politicos declared. "Blood was shed by them and the Separatists alone. The Republic has been dragged into this war, tainted by association. We should withdraw and let the Order resolve whatever issues they have with the Separatists."

"How are we not involved?" Padmé challenged. "I was held hostage on Geonosis along with Master Kenobi and his Padawan learner. My life, and the lives of countless other Senators have been threatened for daring to fight for peace. We must not withdraw from this conference."

"You only went to Geonosis to rescue Master Kenobi," the politico pointed out. "An action rendered pointless when you yourself were captured. You, Senator Amidala, have dragged us into this war, despite all your protestations for peace!"

"I deeply regret that my actions have been perceived in such a way," Padmé replied. "Nevertheless, let me assure you now, that I am deeply committed to peace."

"Your assurances are as meaningless now as they were during your speeches in the Senate," the politico retorted.

"Senator," another voice remarked in such a tone of authority that it caused those still whispering amongst themselves about the quarrel to be silenced. "I can assure you that Senator Amidala is deeply committed to peace. I have worked with her ever since she joined the Senate and never in all my years of service have I encountered anyone whose private loyalty and principles resembled her spoken polices."

"Let us break for a moment," one of the Paisian officials declared, intuitively sensing that it was best for everyone to leave the talks and calm themselves down. Everyone rose from their chairs, shoving them away from the circular table and headed for the exit.

"Thank you, Senator Organa," Padmé remarked as he exited the conference room to find her waiting outside and politely paused to acknowledge her. "I am gratified that you spoke up for me in there."

"No thanks are necessary," the Senator and Viceroy of Alderaan replied. "I merely said what was right. What few Senators will admit, is that the events on Geonosis were inevitable. This situation has been building within the Republic for a long time. The Separatists know that as well as we do. What you said the Senate all those months ago is as true today as it ever has been. If we offer the Separatists violence they can only show us violence in return."

"Even so, I am grateful for your support, Bail," Padmé repeated, dropping formalities as they continued to walk through the hotel, away from the conference rooms to the leisure areas of the hospitality building.

"You're welcome," he replied. Despite the couple of decades between them, Bail held a great respect for the young Senator from Naboo. Though her outward appearance of youth and beauty sometimes placed her at a disadvantage when compared to the other, more experienced members of the Senate, there was no denying her passion for peace, and for the Republic, which along with her sense of loyalty and principles, as well as a wisdom that was startling in one so young, made her a friend just as much as an ally. This friendship caused him to defend her in the conference room and now it caused him to linger beside her and inquire after her well-being in light of what happened on Geonosis.

"I am well," Padmé assured him. "My injuries were slight compared to those losses suffered by the Jedi."

Bail nodded, remembering what he had read from the recently published reports. "I am glad they decided to join us here for the talks," he continued, "we need to be united if this peace treaty is to be established, let alone given the chance to survive."

Padmé raised an eyebrow at his choice of words. "Of course the Jedi would join us here, there's no question of their commitment to peace," she added, in a voice raised for the benefit of those who were still passing them, not to reassure her companion. Bail was an outspoken ally of the Order, since his defence of the Quarren's baby snatching allegations. "Is there?" she uttered in a lowered tone.

"There are rumours," Bail elaborated in the same decibel. "That the loss on Geonosis was so severe that the Jedi have no choice but to debate for peace and need our and the Republic's assistance to survive. That if they thought themselves well resourced in numbers and weaponry, they would go after the Separatists by themselves." He paused to lower his voice even further. "And that there is a darker threat to the Order which only the Jedi are aware of, something which if made public, would undermine the loyalty of those who still trust the Order."

Padmé nearly froze, for she knew only too well the truth of that last rumour. She and the Chancellor had been sworn to secrecy concerning that darker threat ten years ago on Naboo. "Where have you heard these rumours from?" She asked, for she had been assured that the few who knew of the Sith could be trusted to keep silent.

Bail took in her expression and not for the first time wondered if there was some truth behind the rumours.He had worked closely with Padmé for two years now, ever since she joined the Senate, as one of a group of the only passionate, wise and experienced Senators to advise on the safety of the Republic. If she was concerned enough to ask him about he had heard and who from, then something must be behind the rumours, perhaps even a kernel of truth. "I have certain sources, whose information is usually accurate," he revealed. "Now, what do you know?"

"Things which I'm not authorised to tell you, Bail," Padmé replied with a look which conveyed to him the futility in arguing with her over that. "By the Chancellor and the Jedi Council."

"Then what can you tell me?" He asked her. "Or allude to, at least?"

Padmé hesitated. A part of her dearly wanted to tell him everything she knew, Bail was a good man, someone she trusted and respected. But to do so would betray the confidence of another good man, Obi-Wan Kenobi. And through him, the Jedi Council. As much as she desired to hear Bail's view and advice on the matter, she could not do it.

But she could facilitate an introduction which might allow him to earn the confidence of the Council. If his sources were this accurate, the Order might need his help, especially if this treaty did not succeed.

Glancing at their surroundings, she recovered her bearings as to their current location in the hotel. Their walk had taken them into one of the little cloistered gardens and in the centre of which was an impressive fountain. Compared to those on her home planet it paled, but she freely admitted that she was biased in that opinion. However the fountain reminded her of when she had last been in the company of a friend before such a feature, ten years ago.

Obi-Wan had been meditating before it; the water held a connection to the Force, he explained to her when she asked; the living Force which his late master had been attuned to and he had been attempting to find comfort from it. From that moment on they would always meet at the fountain in the gardens of the Palace at Theed, spending the afternoons, evenings and even mornings when she was free of her duties in conversation. Once she had the rare privilege to learn meditation from him, as he used the Force to ensure that they remained dry despite seated under a waterfall.

It had been an intoxicating and yet serene experience.

A quick survey of their cloistered area however revealed no Jedi meditating under a fountain, or just relaxing within the surrounding grounds. Motioning for Bail to follow her, Padmé returned to the corridor which had took them outside, heading for the foyer. At the main desk she inquired after the whereabouts of Obi-Wan Kenobi and received the reply she had expected; that the Jedi Master was to be found in one of the deserted cloistered waterfall gardens on the edge of the hotel complex.

Paisians prided themselves on knowing the whereabouts of their guests at all times, just as much for their safety as well as the ability to cater for their every comfort. True to the receptionist's word, they found Master Kenobi where security had located him; in a secluded garden which housed a waterfall by the eastern side of the hotel. As Padmé had found him once on Naboo, he was again seated underneath the water, utterly bone dry, his use of the Force causing a gentle translucent barrier between himself and the natural source of moisture.

Barely had she and Bail entered the garden before he was aware of their presence, immediately opening his eyes and rising gracefully to his full height before exiting the fountain. A slight motion from his hand caused the water to resume falling, and then he was before them, offering a slight bow of respect as he greeted them. "Senators."

It took some time for Bail to recover, impressed as he was by what he had just witnessed as well as aware that the sight had not phased his companion in the slightest, who returned the Jedi's greeting. "Hello, Obi-Wan. I hope we are not disturbing you?"

"Not at all," he replied evenly, his entire manner the picture of serenity.

Padmé inwardly blushed from the effect of his warm, gentle tone which felt like the finest Nubian silk wrapping itself around her, yet revealing her soul to his sea shade gaze. "Bail has just informed me of some troubling rumours which I thought best to make the Order aware of."

Obi-Wan nodded, and waited patiently while she succinctly recounted all Bail had told her. When she revealed the one concerning the illusion to the dark side, he let nothing of his concern betray within his features, but she knew that inwardly he was recalling as well as her, the incident ten years ago on Naboo, when he and his late master encountered the Sith.

"There seems to be a concentrated propaganda against the Jedi," he observed when she finished. "Geonosis laid us open to such an attack, but our hand was forced into that battle. Everything that has occurred these ten years was designed to engineer such a civil war."

Bail found himself not as startled by that observation as he expected to be. "You could hear the hunger for war in some of our colleagues within the Conference room earlier. Perhaps the Republic has been at peace for too long."

"Geonosis certainly woke the Separatists to the idea that bloodshed is not something they desire," Padmé added. "But I fear the Senate will need to personally experience such an event before we will hear their less self-serving views concerning the possible formation of this treaty."

"Master Kenobi," Bail began, somewhat tentatively, for he felt that his concern was penetrating the precious privacy of the Order, one that he respected if perhaps believed was greatly misunderstood by most; "is there some truth behind the rumours?"

Obi-Wan reached out with his senses to check that they were still free from eavesdropping before he replied. "More than we wish to be made public to the Senate and the galaxy at present." He paused, leading them to a seating area, gesturing for them to use it, personally moving out a chair for Padmé, before taking one for himself.

"Ten years ago, Count Dooku travelled to Kamino and discovered that someone posed as a Jedi Council Master had ordered a army of clones to be engineered. Anxious to learn more, he delayed contacting the Order, before returning to Coruscant to erase all records of the planet from the Jedi archives. Meanwhile on Naboo, myself and my Master fought a warrior whose existence is the truth behind those dark rumours you have heard. They are known as the Sith. And they are a grave threat not just to the Jedi but to the Republic, and the universe as we know it."

"The Sith?" Bail echoed thoughtfully. "If my memory serves, history records them being rendered extinct after the Ruusan wars over a millennia ago."

"Always two there are," Obi-Wan continued, unconsciously echoing the words of Master Yoda, spoken to Master Windu on Naboo during Qui-Gon's funeral. "Master and apprentice. We have been given to understand that I defeated the apprentice on Naboo, who has since been replaced by Count Dooku. The Master's identity remains unknown."

"Count Dooku is a Sith?" Bail queried, shocked. "But he was a Jedi, was he not?"

"Indeed he was," Obi-Wan confirmed. "My own Master trained under him, and he himself was a favourite of Master Yoda. It was a great shock to the Order when he left, deeply critical of our current practices and philosophies. When he displayed his prowess in the dark side on Geonosis it was an even deeper blow. That is the flaw of the Sith, Senator. Only someone who has knowledge of the Force is vulnerable to the dark side acquiring a power over them. Anger, jealousy and fear lay a Jedi open to the ways of the Sith, which is why the Order has placed restrictions on emotions for so long, for once someone uses the dark side, forever can it dominate their destiny."

"This is why their existence has remained a secret," Padmé added. "Master Yoda swore my court and the Chancellor against revealing it ten years ago. Which, implies that the campaign of propaganda attacking the Jedi is deliberate."

"So the Council believes that everything that has happened over the last ten years a plot to destroy the Jedi, and in its wake the Republic?" Bail sought to confirm.

Obi-Wan nodded. "Master Yoda believes so. The dark side is clouding our access to the Force, preventing us from receiving anything to indicate otherwise, but perhaps that is a confirmation within itself." He paused, stroking his beard thoughtfully. "I caught a sense of it ten years ago on boarding the control ship of the Trade Federation. But then I still had much to learn in the ways of the Force. Now the dark side has grown too powerful for the future to be so easily foreseen."

There was silence within the cloistered courtyard for a time as the two Senators and Jedi Master digested all they had learned. Last night in conference with the Council, Obi-Wan had been advised to collaborate with a Senator or two; preferably ones whose principles were considered impartial. The general consensus had been for Senators Amidala and Organa, and Obi-Wan was pleased that they had sought him out of their own concerns rather than the other way round.

It was uncommon for a Jedi to approach a member of the Senate, for it hinted that the Order was subservient to them. True the Jedi protected them and sought to heal any disruptions that the members discovered, but the Order needed to maintain its distance from the politicians, or their impartiality would be severely compromised. Revealing this much of their concerns and vulnerabilities was a risk, but then so was taking command of the clone army he had discovered on Kamino.

"You said that Count Dooku discovered that someone had posed as a Jedi Council Master, gone to Kamino and ordered those clones," Bail remarked, pulling them all from their reflections.

"Yes, that does seem suspect," Obi-Wan agreed, voicing the Senator's thought before he could do so. "It confirms what Count Dooku told me over dinner, that there is an order within the genetic makeup of the clone army which when activated, will cause the soldiers to turn on the Jedi, with devastating consequences. While he was responsible for ensuring that the Kaminoans engineered them, the Sith Master, Sidious, controlled their genetic makeup."

Padmé raised her eyes at that piece of information. "If he was aware of that, why did he not reveal as much on Geonosis?"

"He says that he wasn't aware of their genetic makeup until after that massacre," Obi-Wan replied, but not without a healthy dose of scepticism. While he had not sensed any deception from the Count, he had felt that the former Jedi Master was not telling him everything he knew, including the identity of the Sith Lord, which he sensed would cause grave consequences for both the Order and the Republic. Once again he let his mind speculate as to who it could be. The conclusions were as always logical and confusing.

Someone who had a position of power, in order to enable the passage of events these past ten years. They also had to be extremely powerful within the Force, Yoda's equal, or, Force forbid, his superior, while at the same time someone whose existence the Order had never learned of, for they were well aware of the potential threats within their rank.

Which, meant that the Sith was beyond redemption, unlike his current apprentice, for they had no concept of the benefits which light enthused within the Force. Once accepted, such parameters never narrowed down the possibilities. In many ways Count Dooku had been the perfect candidate, save for his training by the Order.

Obi-Wan reflected for a moment on the tone the former Master used when referring to Sidious. The perfect mixture of fear and respect. Whoever the Sith Lord was, they were not a foe to underestimate.

"Do you believe Count Dooku is sincere in his desire for peace?" Bail asked.

"I do," Obi-Wan affirmed. "He seems chastened by the events on Geonosis. I sensed nothing in the Force to tell me that he does not deeply regret the loss of life, as well as his part in that massacre." He leaned forward to impress his final thought gathered from that dinner engagement upon them. "Something has shaken his previous convictions. He is no longer sure that the way of the Sith is for him, or of the position he has helped engineer ourselves and the Separatists into."

Chapter Text

Part 7: Thoughtful Insights.

Shortly after Obi-Wan aired this thought they were called back into the conference room, where a chastened politico apologised for the allegations which called for the recess in the first place. From his demeanour it was clear that the apology was a difficult duty to perform, one impressed upon him by his governing body back home rather than something he personally felt was due. Nothing his local authority said had changed his originally held opinion, that much was clear by the ill grace with which he chose to deliver his apology.

However, his views were known to those who had gathered there and that publicity had lost him whatever weight his beliefs might have previously held with his colleagues. If there was one thing which politicians hated to lose it was their ability to spin every argument into convincing anyone who was listening. Now that the entire room knew what he believed, it would be impossible to assuage support from the occupants in the future.

Talks resumed and continued into early evening, the words less charged with attacks directed at the parties involved. Everyone who spoke took care over what they said and to whom they said it to. While this caused much discussion it did nothing to ease the tensions between the parties nor the atmosphere that was a result of the earlier, more heated debates.

Though mindful of this freighted atmosphere, the Paisian lengthened the afternoon session in view of the long recess, so it was not until late evening that the parties were dismissed back to the restaurants, bars and rooms. Most sought the privacy of the latter, taking advantage of the hotel's room service menu, before seeking their beds. Only those used to coping without sleep, either due to training, habit or metabolism ventured else for relaxation.

Bail Organa mentally calculated the time difference between Pais and his home planet of Alderaan before abandoning his original desire to speak to his wife in his room and heading for the bar. Breha would be asleep by now, a rest she sorely needed after their recent tragedy. He still laboured under a burden of guilt that he had been and continued to be absent from her side when their latest attempt at having children ended in another miscarriage. Inwardly he brushed away the grief associated with that word.

One would supposed they would be used to such a term by now, but repetition only dealt a deeper degree of emotion to each event. As always he admired his wife's courage and determination to try again, even though both of them wondered if such a course of action was wise. The tragedies had taken a toll on them, mentally and physically, especially in Breha's case. Some physician's wisdom would have to be consulted before they contemplated trying once more.

He paused at the threshold of the bar, taking in a single glance the swift evaluation of each patron currently within residence. A politician's reflex, but useful in many other, often more honourable professions. Jedi was one, and he caught sight of the young master he had spent much of the recess in conversation with. Obi-Wan Kenobi was seated with another sand coloured tunic robed companion, one who bore a startling resemblance to him, causing Bail to idly speculate the possibility that their relationship ran deeper than ties of Force and friendship, into a sibling connection.

Across from them sat their other recess companion, Padmé Amidala. The young Senator from Naboo remained typically unaware of her alluring beauty which was drawing the attention of every patron within the bar, including the notoriously emotionally detached gifted warriors and diplomats opposite her. The body language of one in particular seemed reverent to her conversation and outwardly attractive appearance. Bail had witnessed a similar position favoured by the Jedi earlier in the day and he wondered once more if either of them were aware of the candle they held for each other.

He had been privileged to witness Padmé make her entry into the nest of Krayt dragons that was the Senate, acquiring a wisdom, dignity, poise that most envied in one so young. As for Master Kenobi, he was more of a mystery to Bail, the Order applying their usual penchant for privacy around the raising of their young, and usually exceptionally gifted students.

He had caught scattered reports of the man over the years, growing more detailed since the events on Naboo and the acquisition of his own equally gifted Padawan, a known protégé of the Chancellor. Not enough to form a definitive impression of the Master, but enough to gain an understanding of him, if somewhat limited. This morning's conversation with him enabled him to fill some, if not all of the gaps.

Obi-Wan was a gifted diplomat, experienced and fluent in reading situations and characters. Confident, but never to the point of arrogance, if anything Bail suspected the man to be humble despite his abilities. Treating as a commonplace event that he was the first Jedi to defeat a Sith in over a millennia was a case in point. He had to be a gifted warrior as well as a diplomat in order to defeat such a monster, as well surviving the massacre on Geonosis, if the severity of the reports were anything to go by.

There were rumours that he would soon succeed to a seat in the Council, an honour rarely given to one so young and his presence here as a member of the Jedi delegation certainly seemed to indicate confirmation of the Order's trust in him. He had a natural charisma about him which drew everybody's attention when he spoke, which together with his good looks and charm made quite a compelling combination.

Bail could imagine him at home in the Senate if the Order had not found him first. A profound loss for himself and his colleagues, for there were too few honourable Senators left nowadays, those who were deeply committed to the welfare of their people and the Republic rather than their own nefarious desires.

Padmé was one of those honourable politicians, and clearly respected Obi-Wan's opinion, judging by her decision to facilitate their introduction and subsequent demeanour during the conversation. A respect that was returned by the Jedi Master, suggesting he held much more than simple admiration for her. Clearly their friendship had been forged during the events on Naboo, so they knew each other better than he did either of them in some respects. Yet was something between them, a barrier both seemed unconsciously aware of and rather cautious in breaching, as if it would have far reaching consequences if they did.

If it wasn't for the Code, Bail knew the perfect solution and Pais was just about as good a place as any where such an arrangement could be managed without attracting attention. He may have left the group some time ago, but he still had the com device, encoded and waiting for use. Since his marriage he had never even been tempted, but he did use it to sponsor Padmé's admission, and it was not uncommon for a Jedi to use the group, such urges typical for them just as much as other species.

Of course it would have to be done without the prior knowledge of the couple, for he knew both would refuse and adamantly deny there was such a need or attraction between them. Even then, if the scheme managed to get them together, he doubted if they would surrender and let the barrier between them fall. Something held them back, preventing them and they were too honourable to forget that even for a moment.

Bail took a sip of his drink and turned his mind back to the limited progress made during the conference today. His keen political mind already knew whose support he could count within his own colleagues to urge the progress forward. Among the Jedi he could count probably Obi-Wan and those who knew of his spoken defence during the Quarren allegations, which had attacked the heart of the Order's traditions and practices concerning taking in and training members from childhood.

To some species such a custom might seem barbaric he knew, but he also understood that the discipline taught to those who were Force sensitive could take a life time to learn. But as for those to whom he could count on for support within the Separatist movement, he was less certain. He understood their misgivings, their reasons from breaking from the Republic, even their desire to protect themselves, but not their alliances with the Trade Federation, or Malastare or Geonosis. Yet Count Dooku seemed to have those questionable corporations under his control.

It caught him by surprise when the former Jedi Master declared his intentions to form the treaty which they were on this planet to create. His recent actions on Geonosis suggested that peace was the last thing the Separatists wanted. No one, neither in the Republic, Separatist, or the rest of the universe would have expected this move after the massacre on that planet, the full report of which still had yet to be publicised. Even Palpatine was surprised and Bail knew that it took a lot for the Chancellor to lose his composure. After what he had learned from Master Kenobi, a part of him regained that emotion, as he wondered what advantage peace would be to a Sith.

The identity of the Master was still unknown, a shudder passing through him as Bail idly speculated who it could be that had held such power in the dark side and the universe to have manipulated events so far. It had to be someone deeply connected within the Republic, possibly allied to or even a member of the Senate, for no private, business, or wealthy citizens could not enact laws. Perhaps someone in the law courts, relishing the power of life and death that they had over each criminal who came to be judged. Experiencing an evil, sadistic pleasure in dragging out every case, the delays for a resolution interminable.

It was all too easy to imagine a Sith at home in such a system, which was why Bail discounted the possibility. Everyone knew that the law courts in the Republic were a mess but one they were unable to reform without a concentrated effort from the Senate. Nearly everyone, no matter what form of life they lived treated them as a joke or with contempt.

He doubted that a Sith would like hiding under such ill respected chaos, and lawyers did not have that much power of the order of the Republic. No, it was more likely that the Sith was in the Senate, and he wondered if the Jedi, while not knowing who it was, held suspicions as to who it might be. His own list would fill several pages of flimsi as there were few Senators whom he did not suspect were using their positions nefariously.

Bail sighed as he realised that his wandering thoughts had managed to successfully distract him again. He was meant to be planning what he would say at the conference tomorrow, his actions to further the peace between the Republic and the Senate. Not speculating over the identity of the Sith lord or contemplating the matchmaking of a Jedi and a Senator. Picking up his glass, he drained the rest of his drink and rose from the stool, deciding to seek his room and his bed. Clearly his mind needed sleep before it could concern itself with the care of the Republic.

"I congratulate you, Obi-Wan, for choosing the impossible yet again," Garen remarked as he joined his friend in the bar that evening, some time before Senator Organa entered the recreation area.

Obi-Wan glanced at his friend, confused as to what he meant, but upon seeing the all knowing smirk barely concealed by Muln's deceptively serene features, he groaned as he divined the topic of conversation. Ignoring him for the moment, he rattled off their drinks and refreshments to the waiter, letting his friend continue to voice his point.

"First Cerasi, a deeply committed freedom fighter with a tragic end awaiting her," Garen added, "then, Siri, one of the most fiery and maverick Padawans of our generation, and now Senator Amidala. Congratulations, you could not have chosen a more high profiled woman to fall in love with. And let us not forget Duchess Satine as well, another famous pacifist leader of her people."

"At least I'm consistent," Obi-Wan pointed out, the wryly delivered comment only serving to make his friend chuckle.

"That's one way to look at it," Garen mused. "The question is, what will you do when the reforms to the Order have been accomplished? Do you really love her that much to put all other possibilities such as Siri and Satine aside?"

"I loved Padmé almost from the moment I met her," Obi-Wan confessed. "Before I met Satine, after Siri and I resolved to obey the Code. I made the choice to love her knowing what the Code advised and of my Padawan's feelings for her. Falling back on old loves would be settling, doing myself and them a great disservice."

"You're too honourable for your own good some times, " Garen observed.

"I know," Obi-Wan replied, causing another chuckle.

"Speak of the angel," Garen murmured, causing his friend to look up and catch sight of the Senator from Naboo entering the bar and making her way over to them.

"What are you two talking about?" Padmé asked as she joined them.

"Obi-Wan's love life," Garen replied, causing his friend to direct a look to him, pleading that he would not reveal the full extent of their conversation.

"I didn't think Jedi were allowed to have a love life," Padmé remarked, raising an eyebrow at their companion, whose face was currently flushed with embarrassment.

"Oh yes, the notorious reputation of the Code," Garen chuckled, "most knights, masters and a Padawan or two from what I've heard, tend to ignore that attachment rule, or forget it exists when they set their eyes on someone interesting. Despite his untarnished reputation," he jerked a shoulder at his friend, "there are a few ladies who broke their hearts over his initial struggle, then resolve to follow the Code."

Padmé raised an eyebrow at that revelation. According to her husband, his master lived the life of a monk, and from what she saw of him during the Blockade Conflict on her homeworld, he had been too serious, too committed to the Jedi to return the admiring looks many of her handmaidens had sent him. But his face was still flushed, his expression a warning to friend to rein in his teasing to contradict what Garen had revealed.

"And once the reforms have been deployed," Master Muln continued, "we'll have official sanction to satisfy the dreams of the members of our adoring fan clubs."

Padmé stilled, barely able to believe what she was hearing. If only she had counselled Ani to wait, half their current turmoil over worrying about the consequences if someone discovered their union would never have existed. "The Jedi can marry?"

"Knights and Masters," Obi-Wan confirmed, disappointing her hopes for Ani was a Padawan still, "provided they have full blessing of the Council," he added before taking a sip of his drink.

Inwardly Padmé sighed at hearing the conditions. Few of the Councillors approved of Anakin to give him permission even when he reached knighthood. While they could not fault his determination, they still argued that he was too emotional, too reckless, too rebellious to be ready for the trials. "Why now, after so long?" she asked, careful to make her tone casual and unassuming.

"Count Dooku's departure gave the Council a lot to think about," Obi-Wan replied. "His objections to the Code and our regulations regarding the Republic were sound, but few of the Council members cared to admit such a fact. With the reappearance of the Sith, they decided that it would be advisable to conquer our remaining weaknesses caused by the sacrifices of the Code." He paused to take a sip of his drink. "What with so many of the Masters, Knights and Padawans ignoring chastity and an exception regarding marriage granted to one Councillor, the reforms almost seemed overdue."

Padmé shook her head, unable to conquer the feeling of wide-eyed astonishment inside her. "Anakin painted such a different picture while he was guarding my life on Naboo. He made the missions sound wildly adventurous and interesting, but the life of a Padawan he sketched as very restricted. I find it difficult to believe so much has changed from your generation to the next."

"Oh, Anakin wasn't a saint either, " Garen remarked, causing Padmé to gasp and Obi-Wan to direct a warning look at his friend. "Many's the time me or Obi-Wan had to drag him away from the racing gangs in the Wicko district before the Council got wind of where their Chosen One was. Or conduct a search of the Temple in quest for a droid or two who had their circuits tinkered with. And of course then there's the meetings with the Supreme Chancellor; although none of us can prevent those, no matter how much we try."

Padmé blinked, quietly disturbed by what she was hearing, so much of it in direct contradiction to what Ani had told her on Naboo. He had made the Masters in the Temple seem strict, to the point of imposing draconian methods upon their much maligned Padawans. She recalled his criticisms of Obi-Wan before they left for Naboo, followed by those he uttered during his outburst on Tatooine.

She took in a quiet breath as she remembered receiving the impression of a spoiled young boy throwing a petulant fit in order to gain her sympathy. Silently she compared it with her own upbringing on Naboo; which had been balanced by her personal self-discipline and determination for her future career. There had been little time for jaunts out to clubs or rebellion, even if she had wanted to.

Training to be a Jedi seemed hedonistic by contrast.

But then she had risen to the height of her profession when she was fourteen and Anakin was still a Padawan back then, barely five years into his training. Perhaps she was misjudging him, for he was different from the typical raised from birth Padawan without knowledge of a mother or of the hardships suffered living in the Outer Rim.

Resolutely she pushed her doubts to the back of her mind, reminding herself that he was her husband, older and wiser now since the tragedy of Tatooine, enduring separation from her, the burden of their secret union, the loss of a limb, and the pressure of being the Chosen One. He was entitled to a little rebellion from time to time.

"Why is there concern about his meetings with the Chancellor?" she asked them, realising it was the one thing she had yet to focus on.

"It creates a certain reputation within the Temple," Obi-Wan replied. "There are more than a few Jedi who regard the communication between the Supreme Chancellor and Anakin as a sign of undue favouritism. Some see the relationship as one wishing to exert influence over the other, or to have a permanent informant within the Order. Palpatine's friendliness is also considered disruptive by some to the bond between myself and Anakin, causing doubts about the training, which reflect on myself as well as my Padawan."

"You mean they doubt your ability to train him?" Padmé queried.

"Quite a few masters are of the opinion that the training of the Chosen One should have fallen on much more experienced shoulders," Obi-Wan revealed. "That my training was too unorthodox to be considered a good example for the one destined to bring balance to the Force. Some of that however does come from Qui-Gon's reputation." He paused to drain the remnants of his drink. "Much of Anakin's future will be decided during my absence, seeing how he responds to the tutelage of someone else, his conduct as a Senior Padawan, as the future hope of the Order. Especially when the reforms come through."

He rose from the table and bid good night to both of them. Garen departed soon afterwards, leaving Padmé to the discomfort of her thoughts, as she wondered what Anakin was doing this night, quietly hoping he was in the Temple, meditating, training, confessing to Yoda about the events on Tatooine, their secret marriage even.

Anything but having dinner with the Chancellor.

Chapter Text

Part 8: Supping With A Sith.

"Thank you for inviting me, Chancellor."

"You're welcome, my boy," Palpatine smiled as the young man before him glanced curiously around the residence of the Supreme Chancellor. Anakin had never been invited to visit the apartment before, and as Palpatine hoped he was somewhat surprised by its red and grey coloured interior, a sharp, almost dark contrast to the blue and cream of the Senatorial residence.

Palpatine intended for the whole evening to unsettle and provoke Anakin into confessing what had happened to cause him and Senator Amidala to be on Tatooine when Master Kenobi reported back from Geonosis, and of the ceremony recently performed by a holy man on Naboo, involving a Jedi and a Senator. To deepen their relationship while at the same time distancing Anakin from the Order once more.

"It will be nice to have dinner with someone who isn't a politician," Palpatine added, as he led the boy to the richly decorated dining table, bordered by two tall back chairs, adorned with gleaming white china. "Or a businessman seeking my patronage."

"I hope you haven't gone to a lot of trouble," Anakin remarked, feeling overwhelmed by the grandeur, causing the old man to laugh and shake his head.

"Oh no, my dear boy, no trouble at all," he replied, "my chef on the other hand, has been slaving away all afternoon. Do not be concerned, he is a perfectionist who has never served a young Jedi knight before."

Anakin grimaced at hearing the word he had no real claim to, an expression caught all too easily by his host. "Oh, forgive me, I forgot. Is there still no word on when you will face the Trials, as I believe they're called?"

"No," the Chosen One shook his head, the word coming from him lips sourly. "Master Yoda and Master Windu seem more concerned about me adjusting to my arm, rather than judging whether I'm ready for the Trials."

"And have you?" Palpatine asked gently. "I can only imagine how difficult the loss of a limb must be."

Unconsciously the Padawan flexed the servos within the limb as he answered the Chancellor's question. "I think so. Well enough for the Trials."

"So, forgive an old man's curiosity, but what do these trials entail?" Palpatine inquired as he held out the seat for Anakin to take before sitting down in the other opposite him.

"They're meant to be unique to every Jedi," Anakin explained. "To test their ability, their training, encourage them to depend on only the Force."

"Has Master Kenobi given you some insight into them?" Palpatine asked. "I imagine his own was memorable."

Anakin shook his head. "My Master didn't take the Trials. Master Yoda considered his killing of the Sith enough for him to become a knight."

"Well, it was unique," Palpatine reflected. "In this age, at least. Still, I wonder what he thought of that."

"He didn't like it," Anakin replied, "but there wasn't time for him to take them, as he had me to train."

"I don't see why," Palpatine murmured. "You could have stayed in the Temple while he did so. Younglings don't normally become Padawans until their teens."

"The Council granted him immediate training for me," Anakin explained.

"I see," Palpatine acknowledged, using his tone to convey to the boy some uncertainty concerning his Master's care for him. Carefully he watched as the young man shifted uneasily in his chair, an image of Obi-Wan being ordered to take Anakin on traversing across the planes of his mind. The illusion penetrated the memory banks, causing him to inwardly smile at his success.

The sound of door servos expelled around the room, causing Anakin to glance round for the source in surprise, for their colour was apparently designed to purposefully blend in with the surrounding decor. He had not noticed them during his initial survey of the apartment.

A man entered with several trays of food, his manner graceful and discreet. He made no comment on the guest or what he brought them, just silently laid the dishes down before the Chancellor and Anakin, then made his way out the same door through which he entered. Anakin watched the man throughout his journey, wary at how much similarity his manner bore to that of a slave.

It almost seemed as if he were conditioned or under orders to conduct himself in the way that he did, yet Anakin could not imagine the Chancellor giving out such commands. It contradicted entirely with Palpatine's kind, almost grand fatherly way with him, a manner he only saw life when he was holding court within the senate.

"I hope everything is to your satisfaction," Palpatine remarked, causing Anakin to turn back to his meal, focusing on the dish for the very first time. To his surprise it was one of his favourite's; food he normally expected to see in Dex's diner. He took a bite, and closed his eyes, savouring the perfectly cooked morsel.

"Its delicious, thank you, sir," he replied, his eagerness betraying his youth. "I had no idea you knew my favourites."

"Oh, it was merely a guess," Palpatine added modestly. "I consulted various sources on what young people liked, asked the chef, who was only too happy to try something more complicated than my simple tastes."

Anakin glanced at the meal the Chancellor was eating; recognising it as a native dish from Naboo; one he had seen Padmé consume from time to time. "I'm sure its still delicious," he remarked, careful to disguise his knowledge of the meal, in fear that his recognition might betray his relationship with Padmé.

"Oh yes, the reputation of my chef is untarnished," the Chancellor chuckled. "So, my boy, what has happened to you since I saw you last? Any exciting missions?"

Anakin happily relayed the last missions he had undertaken since his most recent meeting with the Chancellor. In the aftermath of Geonosis there had been a few tasks assigned to him by the Council, and one while the conference on Pais began.

Pais. He wondered what Padmé was doing now. There seemed to be much more than just talks taking place on that planet as she said that she had been in the bar with his Master and Garen Muln. He had assumed that all the delegates would do on the planet was attend the talks. They were supposed to working on a peace treaty after all, surely that would matter more than free time spent in the bar.

Part of him wasn't sure he believed Padmé when she said she had been with his Master and his friend. He remembered the last time Obi-Wan had been in a bar, here when they were chasing that changeling assassin. He had looked conspicuous and uncomfortable in the place, though the way he had easily dismissed the boy selling death sticks was effortlessly smooth.

He couldn't imagine Obi-Wan in a bar, not even with Garen, who he knew through the countless times the knight had pulled him out of activities that, if the Council heard about them, would subject him to severe reprimands. Garen was a rogue, or at least he claimed to be one, but his master was nothing less than the most code adherent Jedi.

"I've been reading reports of what happened on Geonosis," Palpatine began when his guest finished relaying his adventures. "Was it truly as dangerous as they described?"

"Of course," Anakin answered. "Why do you ask?"

"Confederacies offer peace for only two reasons, Anakin," Palpatine remarked. "Either they're so outgunned and out-manned that they're desperate, or they're numbers and weaponry are so overwhelming that the other side have no choice but to talk." He leaned forward. "I read the report from the Jedi Council. They admit there were losses, but nothing significant. Certainly not as large as the rumours circulating suggest. What I want to know is, what are they not telling me?"

Anakin hesitated, worrying that if by telling the Chancellor the truth he was betraying the Jedi. But the leader of the Republic deserved to know the truth. "We lost a great deal of Knights and Masters on Geonosis, sir. If it goes to war, the Order will be spread thinly about the galaxy."

Palpatine stilled, outwardly pretending to be shocked, when in reality the information only confirmed his suspicions. So the Order were starting to lie to him. Good. It would make his continued efforts to alienate them from the Republic all the more successful. "I heard that you travelled from Tatooine to Geonosis with Senator Amidala," he revealed, "your proximity proved vital to aiding your Master on Geonosis. But why were you on Tatooine? It seems an odd choice for the Council as a suitable place to protect a Senator."

He paused to observe the young man before him, hiding his satisfaction the reaction he received for his continued audible speculations. "Or has something happened to your mother? I remember you telling me about your nightmares. I'm glad the Jedi agreed for you to go there."

As he expected, he felt a murky defiance coming from his companion. "The Jedi didn't send me," Anakin uttered, "I went of my own accord."

"To find her yourself?" Palpatine casually queried. "That was very courageous of you, Anakin. I am glad you were able to free her from slavery."

"I didn't," Anakin corrected, his tone resentful, as though he wished he had been able to free his mother from Watto by himself. "Someone else had. He married her and then let her get captured by the Tuskens."

"The Tuskens?" Palpatine pretended ignorance. "Forgive, me, my boy, I'm afraid I'm not familiar with those species of your native planet."

"Monsters," Anakin uttered angrily, the burst of emotion sudden and deadly, causing Lord Sidious to laugh inside his facade of Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. "They're nothing but monsters. They tortured her. She died in my arms."

Palpatine affected a sad, compassionate expression and gently took Anakin's hand. "I'm so sorry, Ani. It must have been terrible for you, not being able to avenge her death. But the Jedi deal with things differently, as I understand."

"Revenge is not the Jedi way," Anakin replied, but the Chancellor could see that it was more out of an effort to convince himself than his dinner companion.

"Yet you wish it was," he murmured, watching for the tell tale flicker in the young man's eyes. "You can speak freely here, Ani. What did you do?"

"I killed them," Anakin answered.

"Good," Palpatine complimented, causing the Padawan to look up in surprise. "They were monsters, Ani, you said so yourself. It is good to kill monsters."

"You don't understand," Anakin replied.

Oh, but I do, my boy, Palpatine answered inwardly. "Then explain it to me."

"I killed them all. Not just the men, but the women and the children too."

The Sith inside Palpatine chuckled. He had expected that reply and it pleased him immensely to hear that Anakin had massacred the Tuskens. Sooner than he had expected, the boy that was the hope of the Order and his future apprentice had taken a step into a much larger world. Everything was proceeding exactly as he had foreseen. "There is nothing wrong in what you did, Ani. The children would have grown into monsters and the women would have only created more. You were right in choosing to dispense such justice."

For a moment the Padawan appeared as if he were about to object to the reasoning, but only for a moment. Palpatine smiled. It was so easy to convince the boy, but he still received an enormous amount of pleasure in doing so. "Still, I don't think we should tell the Jedi of this incident. Their reaction might not be as enlightened."

Anakin shook his head, just as the door slid open again and the same attendant who had given them their meals came to take the empty plates away.

"Congratulations, by the way," Palpatine added almost offhandedly when the attendant had disappeared once more behind the door.

"For what?" Anakin asked.

"Why your marriage to Padmé of course," Palpatine replied, smiling. "I heard about it from the holy man who presided over the union. I hope the two of you will be very happy together. He was overjoyed in being chosen for such an honour."

"B-b-b-u-t..." the young man stuttered as he attempted to gather his thoughts. Palpatine waited for him to form some sort of response, but none came. Still, he was a patient man, and the attendant would return soon with desert. He waited.

Sure enough things went as he had foreseen; with the return of his servant and the desert being placed in front of them before Anakin managed to collect himself enough to make a reply.

"No one was supposed to know," he whispered, as though he had heard the rumours that the Chancellor's residence was littered with audio surveillance. Palpatine smiled as he silently emphasised one word of that rumour; was.

"If the Order were to find out...." Anakin shivered, while the beast inside him chattered to itself and grew another increment.

Palpatine shook his head and reached across to pat the boy's hand once more. "Don't worry, Anakin. It'll be our secret." He returned his limb to the desert, taking a few bites while he waited for his future apprentice to calm himself. Then he began to plant the next seed of mistrust between the Padawan and the Jedi. "You won't have to keep it secret for long, however."

Anakin stilled, his hand pausing from the journey to his mouth. "Of course I will, sir. Attachment is forbidden."

"So the Order proclaims," Palpatine replied. "But they have made an exception for one of the Councillors. And then there's the arrangement they have with those members of the Order who originate from Corellia. Did Master Kenobi not tell you about this?"

"No," Anakin replied. "But how would he know?"

"Your Master is a protégé of Master Yoda, Ani," Palpatine reminded the boy. "His future promotion to the Council has been rumoured ever since he became a Knight. Even before." He paused to take another bite of his desert. "I'm sure he's been in the Council's confidence for a long time."

His dinner companion said nothing, but Palpatine observed what he had expected his comment to produce; a flicker of outrage filtering across his expression which would only serve to deepen the pre-existing mistrust between the boy and his master.

"I'm sure Master Kenobi could persuade the Council to make the same exception for you and Senator Amidala," He remarked, his gaze remaining on the boy's face.

This time the reaction was instant, and not as discreet as the last, but then his guest had never learned the art of subtlety. Petulant scepticism journeyed across Anakin's face, pausing for a minute before the boy remembered the respect his master was owed.

Inside the Supreme Chancellor, Sidious smiled in sithly satisfaction.

When Anakin left, Palpatine used the other concealed entrance within his residence to access the office where he left the identity of Supreme Chancellor far behind in favour of his true, much more darker, name. If used his sithly senses, he would feel the attendants nervously emerging from their quarters to tidy the dining area and ready the rooms for the night and the morning, warily glancing around the residence, fearfully anxious to make sure their preparations were finished before their master reappeared.

Sidious accessed the communications panel before him, opening a comlink with his contact whom he had managed to send in one of the delegations to Pais. A mysterious person, whom he kept to the shadows, informing no one of their existence, not even his apprentice. He trusted this source far more than Count Dooku, whose actions since his delivery of certain technical plans from the Geonosisans were in direct opposition to the master strategy.

"Good evening, my child," he greeted when the young woman's figure materialised on the holo pad before him.

"My lord," she returned, dropping to her knees.

"Firstly, how are the peace talks proceeding?" he asked with dangerous intensity.

"Quite well," she reported.

"What about Darth Tryanus," he inquired. "What has he been up to within this little rebellion of his?"

There a pause before his contact replied. "I didn't think peace was what you had in mind after Geonosis."

"Quite right, my child," he confirmed. Peace was due to the galaxy, just not quite the sort that the Republic had envisioned.

"He has had Master Kenobi over for dinner, my lord," she revealed.

Sidious raised an eyebrow. "Interesting. He didn't mention that particular in his report this evening."

"Master Kenobi seems to think the meal went well, my lord," his source added. "He said as much to Senators Amidala and Organa afterwards."

"I shall have to have another conversation with Tryanus, it seems," Sidious mused. "Did Master Kenobi and the Senators reveal anything else?"

"Unfortunately Master Kenobi used the Force to counteract the hotel's usual surveillance systems where they were talking, my lord," she answered. "I was unable to recover anything more."

"No matter," Sidious uttered, dismissing the apology before it was even uttered. "You have given me enough. I shall call Tryanus later and see what else he let slip. Now, my child, I have a task for you."

"I am ready to do your bidding, my lord," she said.

"I wish for you to provide the peace talks with a small explosive argument, to direct the conference into producing the right conclusion."

"Forgive me, my lord, but explosive is not your usual style," she pointed out.

"Exactly, my child," Sidious added. "Which, is why it shall prove a useful distraction. No causalities, but enough damage to convince them that it was sheer luck that there were no lives lost. Tryanus will not be told of this development, nor any of our other allies upon Pais."

"I understand, my lord," she uttered with a small incline of her head. "It shall be done."

"You may go," Sidious commanded, shutting the communication on his end.

On Pais, Nineve Jade, Emperor's Hand, rose from her knees and set about her master's bidding.

Chapter Text

Part 9: Foreshadowing Troubling Events.

"Tested the veracity of Count Dooku's assertion concerning the clones, we have," Master Yoda uttered. "Telling the truth, he is."

Obi-Wan nodded as he sat down before the holos of his fellow Council members. He hadn't been in doubt of the former Jedi's serenity, his honesty could clearly be sensed through the Force during their dinner, but he knew that the Council would want to confirm the existence of order sixty-six with their own eyes. "What have you done with the clone?"

"He is confined to one of our cells while we plan our next move," Mace replied. "If we choose to treat this matter solely as a Jedi affair, the Senate will raise objections concerning the chain of command between ourselves and the army of the Republic."

Leading to a debate over the Order's entire relationship with that body politic, Obi-Wan mused silently, knowing the same thought was being contemplated by his colleagues. "Yet there will inevitably be countless delays if we turn this matter over to the jurisdiction of the Courts," he added.

"Delays which will only impede the efforts of peace," Adi Gallia remarked. "Which, is why the consensus of this Council is to keep this knowledge between ourselves and Senators Amidala and Organa."

Inclining his head in agreement, Obi-Wan put forth his next question. "Do you wish to me to see if I can find out anything more from Count Dooku about the Sith's plans?"

"If he is willing to continue to talk to you, we have no objection," Master Windu replied. "As to your petition for his possible readmittance into the Order, it is still subject to his continued behaviour."

"A revolution of changes you have suggested, Master Obi-Wan," Yoda added from his seat. "Reforms to attachment, recalls from the AgriCorps, and now lost Jedi you wish to reclaim."

"I merely wish to repay the efforts of the Order for the losses we endured on Geonosis," Obi-Wan replied humbly. While it was true he had begun the debate regarding a need within the Order for more Jedi, it had not just been him who suggested that reforms were needed. "Our numbers were depleted by a battle which could have been avoided."

"Pointless it is to debate the past now," Yoda reminded him. "Deal with the present, we must. A progress report on young Skywalker we have."

Despite being a hyperspace journey away, Obi-Wan could feel the tension within the Council room rise, causing him to sigh as he wondered latest stunt his apprentice had pulled. "How is Anakin?" he asked instead, hoping his tone at least sounded casual.

"Palpatine invited him over for dinner last night," Mace revealed.

Oh. Well, that certainly called for tension. "Did he ask permission of the Council, or was this something you found out after the fact?"

"Ask no permission he did," Yoda replied. "Elsewhere Anakin was when invited."

Elsewhere? Obi-Wan frowned at that word, for it invited far too much speculation. He was also troubled by the Supreme Chancellor forgetting to ask the Council if he may have Anakin over. True, it was merely a matter of courtesy, but one that was usually observed, nonetheless. Not to mention what happened during this dinner. And afterwards, come to think of it.

"Returned late to the Temple, your Padawan did," Yoda remarked, and Obi-Wan was unable to refrain from flinching when the Grand Master finished. The last time the Council used such a turn of phrase was when a ten year old Anakin decided to take a Delta Twelve Skysprite out for a jaunt, causing general chaos among the traffic of Coruscant. "Took his frustration out on a training salle, he has."

He should feel relieved that at least this time the damage was confined to one room in the Temple. But he didn't. Obi-Wan knew that this display of temper was just another incident in the long list of reasons why his apprentice was not ready for the trials. It was after such moments as these that Obi-Wan wondered at the level of the Order's trust in his abilities, when he seemed to be failing Anakin at almost every turn. "I shall take some time to instruct him on the proper ways to manage his temper when I return, Masters."

There was a knock on the door at that moment, disturbing the tense silence which existed within the hotel room. Obi-Wan stretched out with his feelings to determine the identity of his guest, a concerned look acquired by his face as he recognised the Force signature of Count Dooku waiting to be admitted.

"Pick this up later, we shall," Yoda remarked in farewell.

Obi-Wan bowed before them then shut off the holo emitter before waving his hand at the door release, allowing the former Jedi to enter.

As soon as the Count entered he glanced around the room, his eyes fixing on the now blank expanse of desk where the holo emitter had been switched off. "Who were you talking to just now?"

Inwardly Obi-Wan frowned, for he could detect a significant amount of concern leaking from the former Jedi Master's usually impressive shields. "The Council. They were updating me on the events occurring on Coruscant."

"Have you told them about the order embedded within the genetic makeup of the clones?" Dooku asked.

"Yes," Obi-Wan replied, wondering what the Count was driving at.

"Who else have you told?" Dooku queried, his concern rising up a notch.

"Just two Senators whom I trust to keep the information to themselves; Amidala and Organa," Obi-Wan informed him. "Why do you ask?"

Count Dooku stared at him for moment, his Force strength reaching out to try and penetrate Obi-Wan's formidable shielding. The Soresu Master dropped a layer, allowing the Count to see that he was telling him the truth. After a minute the former Jedi sighed, his concern levels lowering alittle. "I apologise, Master Kenobi. I have just had a rather disturbing conversation with Sidious. It has left me wondering who I should trust."

"Deception is the way of the Sith," Obi-Wan reminded him. "And I had thought your actions to be independent of his orders, now."

"To some extent, they are," Dooku explained. "However, I must appear to be serving him in some matters, so he does not grow suspicious of my efforts here."

Obi-Wan nodded and gestured for the Count to take a seat in the small sitting area of the hotel suite. "I believe it is time you and I had a conversation about Sidious and your loyalties to him, Count." He waited for his guest to sit down before he continued. "I know this peace treaty is your idea, and I gather Sidious wanted war, along with the possible destruction of the Republic and the Order, but what I don't know is how you intend to prevent this from taking place without his knowledge."

Dooku leaned forward in his chair as he replied. "It is more a case of attempting to circumvent what he could do to prevent the treaty rather than concealing the matter from him entirely, which is impossible."

Obi-Wan stroked his breaded chin thoughtfully as his mind analysed the wording of the Count's reply. There was something about the way he had spoken, an implication that had to be a key to discovering the Sith lord's identity. "Clearly you distrust him, your loyalties are no longer with him. And yet you still decline to tell me who Sidious is?"

"I can't, Obi-Wan," Dooku answered. "More for your sake than my own. It would put you in an impossible position, requiring you to act on this at once. The peace treaty is far more important."

A Jedi response, which made Obi-Wan smile. He could not deny that a part of him was pleased that his Master's former master was slowly reverting from the Sith he had become after Qui-Gon's passing. He hoped such a sight pleased the spirit of his Master and the Force in which he resided now. "I will respect your secrecy, for now, Count. But as to your conversation with Sidious. What exactly did he say that caused your concern?"

"He's aware that you and I had dinner together," Dooku replied. "And that you had talked with Senators Amidala and Organa. He has no idea what those conversations entailed, Obi-Wan, but his inference was enough. He was on a fishing expedition, and I'm not sure how much I was able to assuage his suspicions."

"If at any time you believe yourself to be in danger, you can come to us," Obi-Wan offered. "I'm sure the Order will offer you protection."

Dooku raised an eyebrow at that. "I see you have inherited my Padawan's penchant for protecting waifs and strays."

"How could I not?" Obi-Wan shrugged. "I was one of them, after all. As was Anakin." He rose up from his chair and started to walk towards the small kitchen area. "Would you care for something to drink?"

"Tea, if you can spare some," Dooku replied. "Speaking of Anakin, I feel I should warn you, that Sidious coverts him."

Obi-Wan stilled, somewhat horrified by the warning. For he knew that Anakin had weaknesses which laid him open to the dark side, more so than other Jedi. If the Chosen One fell..... he tried not to shudder. It was something the entire Order feared could come to pass. "Thank you for that warning. I cannot deny that it is a constant concern."

Dooku nodded, waiting for his host to finish making the drinks and bring them over before he continued. "Anakin reminds me of myself. I was quite a plague on Master Yoda and Master Cerulian during my youth." He took a sip of tea, smiling as his tongue savoured the taste. "Another thing you and my Padawan had in common, the ability to make good strong tea."

Obi-Wan inclined his head in gratitude of the compliment. "I shouldn't be saying this, but I sometimes wonder if I was the right master for Anakin. If I was really able to live up to the promise I made to Qui-Gon."

"Its good that you have these doubts," Dooku mused, surprising him. "A constant confidence in one's abilities can lead to arrogance and in that the dark side lies. But you have been a good Master to Anakin, Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon was right to place his faith in you." He paused to take another sip of his tea. "There is another reason for your uncertainty. The dark side clouds everything, thanks to that Sith."

"He has the ability to do that?" Obi-Wan sought to confirm. If this was true, then the Republic and the Order had more to fear from the Sith than previously thought.

Count Dooku's expression was grim. "There is little which is beyond his scope."

Obi-Wan raised an eye at that, for the phrase seemed to be yet another unconscious implication as to the identity of the Sith. Yet something else occurred to him then, something far more pertinent than that continuous speculation. "Such as sabotaging this peace conference?"

The former Jedi Master's hands froze in mid journey towards his mouth. "I wouldn't put it past him. But I'm not sure if there are any agents within my delegation or the Republic's to whom he would entrust such a task."

"Not sure?" Obi-Wan echoed, frowning. "I thought every representative had been vetted before they were allowed to come here."

"You know as well as I do that vetting barely skims the surface of a being's loyalties nowadays," Dooku replied.

"Let us hope that the peace we are working towards here will change that," Obi-Wan mused wistfully. "I'll alert the rest of the Order's delegation to the possibility, along with Senators Amidala and Organa. Best not to inform the other, more worrisome members of the Republic delegation, especially if this concern turns out to be nothing more than a wild Bantha chase."

Dooku drained his tea and rose from his chair. "And I'll start running my own check on the Separatist delegation."

Obi-Wan walked with him to door, something in the Force telling him that Dooku had more to say, but was unsure if he should. It had to be something else the Sith were waiting to unleash on an unsuspecting galaxy. The last thing they needed was another weapon of mass destruction, yet forewarned was forearmed, all the same.

"There is also something else, I should warn you about," Dooku remarked as they halted before the door. "After Geonosis, Sidious ordered for some technical specifications to be delivered to him. It is a plan of a weapon which when built, possesses the capability to destroy planets."

A small voice inside Obi-Wan's mind scoffed at his previously confident resolve. Forearmed was all very well, providing you had a defence for such a forewarning. How would the Order, or the Republic for that matter, be able to defend themselves against a weapon with that kind of firepower?

Unless they had an ally willing to give them as much information about the weapon as he could. "I don't suppose you happened to keep a copy?"

Dooku inclined his head in a slow confirmation, reluctant to speak it aloud, for fear that the Sith's agent might be nearby. With a wave of his hand he opened the door, revealing a seemingly empty corridor. "I'll see you tomorrow for the talks. May the Force be with you, Master Kenobi."

Obi-Wan bowed in the traditional farewell. "And with you, Master Dooku."

The Count of Serenno stilled at the title, but then returned the gesture, a sign that he had not abandoned all of the old ways. Perhaps there was hope for him yet.

Padmé woke to the sound of a beeping communiqué, having nodded off in the midst of attempting to catch up on some of her flimsiwork. For a brief moment her heart leapt as she contemplated the thought that it might be Anakin calling. Then her worries surfaced about how he might have spent his day and who with, the thought of him enjoying a dinner with the Chancellor springing too easily to her mind.

Their last conversation was besmirched by bitterness, as she lectured him for contacting her from her apartment, while he displayed a moody resentment at her mention of how she had spent her evening with his master and his master's friend. She hoped this one might end on a more pleasant note.

Brushing her clothes, face and hair into neatness, she turned the holo pad on, stilling for a moment as the figure of Obi-Wan materialised. She didn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed.

"Obi-Wan, what can I do for you?" she asked him.

"Forgive me for disturbing you, Padmé," he replied courteously, his perceptive senses discerning her previous occupation.

She shook her head. "No apology necessary." Staring at his blue-tinged figure on the holo pad, she frowned at the seriousness of his expression. "What's wrong?"

"I had a visit from Count Dooku," Obi-Wan informed her. "During our conversation, we speculated over the possibility of this peace conference being sabotaged."

Padmé frowned, the flimsiwork scattered across her desk now the last thing on her mind. "By whom?"

"An agent of the Sith Lord who the Order has been looking for."

She hated to admit it, but he was right; there was a strong possibility. She knew of the search begun by the Order, for the emergence of the Sith had occurred on her planet, even if technically, Master Jinn first encountered the Zabrak on Tatooine, it was clear that the Sith had known what led them there. "I shall keep myself alert for trouble, Obi-Wan."

"Thank you, Padmé," he replied. "I would be grateful if you could also keep this possibility between ourselves and Senator Organa. If such knowledge were to become widespread, there is the possibility that the very idea might undermine the peace talks far more than the reality."

"Of course, Obi-Wan," Padmé replied. "I'll let you turn to informing the other Jedi."

"Thank you, milady. I'll see you tomorrow at the talks."

Padmé nodded, smiling as his holo sketched a bow before signing off. For a moment she let her eyes turn to the flimsi littering her desk. It was work she had been letting pile up since she returned to Coruscant for the vote on the Military Creation Act. In the end, the vote never took place, as events exploded out of her control, resulting in her representative granting the Supreme Chancellor executive powers which he used to bring into the force that very army she had returned to fight against creating.

That attempt cost her the loss of a handmaiden and a dear friend, as well as several members of her entourage and security, before going on to lose many of the Jedi. She could not let her efforts fail this time. An acrimonious end to talks on Pais would spell disaster for any prospect of peace in the future. Though few had wanted there to be a confederacy within the Galaxy, if this treaty succeeded they would have to accept that the Separatists were a legitimate government, just like the Republic.

Which, could lead to other systems desiring to leave the Republic for the Separatists, or vice versa. Before Geonosis many Senators had expressed a desire to secede from the Republic, as distaste with the current system of government ebbed and flowed. The more systems that expressed a desire to leave the Republic, the more others feared the growing confederacy of the Separatists, inviting the distrust which had led to the Military Creation being posed before the Senate floor.

If this treaty was established there would be little incentive for those who requested to leave to stay, and those who feared their exit, would insist that exit be denied, something which if granted would spell the end of the Republic's democracy. But the alternative would mean war, and Padmé felt sure that no one desired to witness a repeat of Geonosis or Naboo on their own homeworlds. No matter how much profit their coffers could gain. If they did, the talks would have ended before they ever began.

All this rumination led her nowhere, other than delaying something she had been putting off, calling the very person she hoped had contacted her, before Obi-Wan revealed himself and made her aware of another concern. Hesitantly she accessed the control panel and set up the holo pad for long distance communication. Then she tapped out the code for her apartment.

Again she was disappointed. After what seemed a litany of beeps, Dormé eventually answered. "Milady, what is it?"

"Nothing," she replied, inwardly sighing.

Some of the frustration must have shown on her face, for her ever resourceful handmaiden smiled at her. "He did come by, milady, but only to convey that he would talk to you tomorrow, if he could."

"Thank you, Dormé." Padmé paused, wondering for a moment if she should ask this, if she really wanted to know or if she would be better off remaining in ignorance. In the end she ploughed ahead, deciding that the knowledge would merely confirm what she already suspected. "Do you happen to know if anything else brought him to Five Hundred Republica?"

Dormé's expression sobered. "I believe he dined with the Chancellor, milady. After coming here he then returned to the Temple."

Just what I had feared, Padmé mused. Along with his Master and the rest of the Jedi Council, as she recently discovered. "Thank you, Dormé. If you can, let him know I will call tomorrow. Arrange a time, then leave me a message."

"I will," Dormé answered. "Goodnight, milady."

"Goodnight," Padmé returned before signing off. Leaning back in her chair, she sighed away her initial frustration at receiving the answer she suspected. Now that she had confirmation, there was little she could do about it. Bringing up the matter with her husband would only result in another fight. Confiding in Obi-Wan would only give him more cause for concern. She just had to hope that when they returned to Coruscant, these dinners would given up in favour of spending evenings with her, or within the Temple.

It was a dim hope at best.

Chapter Text

Part 10: Eyes Within The Storm.

Within his private meditation chamber, Master Yoda breathed deeply, submersing himself in the Force. The ancient power surrounded him, as it surrounded others, penetrating every fibre of life that existed, binding the universe together. As usual he could feel the darkness which had been clouding the light since the re-emergence of the Sith, steadily increasing its intensity as night conquered day. He dove beneath it, searching for a pocket of light in which to anchor himself. A single candle could hold back the dark, just as the end of the night brought another day.

He could sense the light of other Jedi, communing with their ancient ally, their brightness breaching the dark, like shards of broken transparisteel. Pockets of evil remained, greedily seeking out vulnerable servants, beckoning them to answer, seducing them with false promises of reward for their deception. If he focused on that serpent like energy, he would become aware of its voice, and the voice in turn would become aware of him. Hungrily it would latch on to his vast potential, for potential it was, nine hundred years old he may be, but learned everything there is to learn about the Force, he had not! Envious of such potential, the dark side would yearn for him to harness all his negative emotions, and channel them into becoming a Sith.

Turn he would not. Others before him, tempted they had been, even fallen prey had some to the dark side. Learn too late they would that the darkness was never satisfied, that always craved more than any could give, it would. Were such souls lost forever, he wondered, remembering the hope within Obi-Wan that redemption was possible for those once lost who still lived; such as the man who had trained his late master, Count Dooku. Such generosity was typical of Master Kenobi, though Yoda knew that others often wondered that the reason he possessed such compassion was not due to his Jedi training but rather the concerns he held for his own Padawan.

Anakin Skywalker. For a moment Yoda let his senses stretch out to the signature of the boy who had become the hope of the Order, the prophesied Chosen One, as Qui-Gon had once proclaimed to the Council. Saw through Qui-Gon's motives that session he did, misguided as they were. Wished to redeem himself the Master did, for the failure in training Xanatos to resist dark side. Failed to realise that redemption he already had, in the form of another apprentice he foolishly chose to discard. More than capable, Obi-Wan was, a master few could hope to emulate.

Recalled for a moment he did the voice of Master Jinn, when he heard him cry out during Anakin's painful outburst on Tatooine. The loss of his mother, a profound effect had it upon the boy. Determined his future, perhaps? If so, grave consequences there were, for the Jedi and for the Republic. Yet he could not help but wonder if foreseen, such an outburst could have been. Uncertain they all were once, of training the boy, his future master included. Swayed their decision had been, by the re-emergence of the Sith. Too dangerous to leave the boy untrained, his colleagues on the Council had argued, it was. But in training him, also a danger there had been. Forced their hand was by Qui-Gon's stubbornness, his insistence that the being of prophesy, Anakin may be.

But lately, he had pondered, if misread, that prophesy was. The Chosen One was meant to bring balance, it said. Conceived by the midi-chlorians, it said. Yet such truths could be said of all Jedi, as they strove to balance their potential, their emotions, to serve the ancient being that gave them life. Genetics, bloodlines, determine their ability such things did not, only the Force and their character did. Yet so certain they had become of Anakin, despite Zonama Sekot, despite Tatooine. When had their uncertainty given way to blind faith, he knew not. Doubts Obi-Wan spoke of, not just of Anakin, but of himself and his ability to live up to the promise Qui-Gon demanded of him.

Questioned those doubts when spoken of they did, when perhaps learn to take heed they should. Concerns Obi-Wan perceived about the boy from the beginning, whether due to the rejection of the Council, or his own perceptions within the Force, he had not said. Change his mind he did, but only after Qui-Gon asked of him a final obligation. Willing to go against the ruling of the Council he had been, so determined to honour his promise. Become so certain, when did he, that the boy must be trained, or to prevent him from becoming the warrior that he faced down in the melting pit of Theed Palace had he wished?

It is possible, his compassion knows no bounds.

Yoda stilled as the voice he had not expected to ever hear again, spoke to him for a second time. Spoken once before it had, a cry of despair uttered, as a boy made a gruesome discovery, leading him to expel the rage of a thousand lifetimes. Uncertain of what quenched that rage, he still was, despite many meditations upon the matter. Surprised he should not be, not when the Force was his ally, but that was the emotion which was foremost in his mind all the same.

Greetings, Master Jinn. Learned the path to immortality, have you?

Suddenly he was no longer alone in his meditation chamber. Across from him a blue figure materialised into being, upon one of the seats reserved for guests. His features were surrounded by a shimmering haze, but it was clear to whom they belonged.

Qui-Gon Jinn.

The Force was generous enough to instruct me, Master. Learning which I must pass on, among other things I have been charged with.

Yoda smiled as he observed the spirit acquire a sheepish expression. Repentance is one, yes? My forgiveness you do not need to seek. To others you must make your amends.

I know, the spirit of Qui-Gon murmured, bowing his head in shame. Obi-Wan most of all. I did him so much wrong.

Fear his response, do you? Yoda asked.

A bitter smile graced the face of the blue figure. Yes and no. He will say he has already forgiven me, and yet will not accept that I did him wrong. I gave him too much humility.

The Grand Master idly wondered if spirits could feel a sharp rap from a certain gimer stick. Probably not, unfortunately. Words of wisdom he must make do with. Past injuries, change you cannot. Adhere to your own adage you must. Or deliver the warning which the Force has told you to.

Qui-Gon bowed his head in acceptance of the rebuke. The Force adores Obi-Wan, as you and I both know. And yet we have never cared to ask why.

Mysteries certain things should remain, Yoda mused. If known, arrogance in one's abilities, such discoveries can cause.

Like proclaiming to a nine year old boy and the Council at large that he is the Chosen One? Qui-Gon countered ruefully. Don't worry, Master. I have learned my lesson. The strike of your gimer stick is nothing next to a lecture from the Force on misreading prophesies.

Yoda raised an eyebrow at that, mildly wondering once more if spirits could feel the poking or rapping of such instruments. However time for 'I told you so' this was not. Easy to make such a mistake perhaps, when clouded by the dark side as everything is.

For the Force that is no excuse. Qui-Gon informed him. Too narrow our focus has become, encased by years of unflinching rigidity and tradition.

Changes to the Order we are making now, Master Jinn, Yoda revealed. Hope we must that too late it is not.

Qui-Gon shrugged, an almost imperceptible movement from his spirit. Timely for some, too late for others. But then the future is always in motion.

What of Anakin, Yoda inquired. Other insights about him, have you learned?

His visitor sighed, the posture of his spirit form slipping, as though a great burden had been placed about his shoulders. I made so many mistakes about him, Master. About him and with him, ones for which the galaxy will suffer.

So quick to forget your own words of wisdom are you, Yoda admonished with a wave of his gimer stick, noting with some satisfaction that his old pupil could still flinch. In motion the future always is. Immutable, mistakes are not.

Qui-Gon shook his head. Some are, Master. There are some mistakes I have made which will forever dominate his destiny.

Powerful words you speak, Yoda warned him, condemning words. Yet forget you do, that Anakin's choice is his to make. Decide alone his own destiny he will.

What if he is not allowed to do so, Master? Qui-Gon asked. Outside forces manipulate him, compel him to live up to an impossible standard. A standard I wilfully bestowed on him in my impassioned desire to have him trained. He bowed his head in shame once more. I thought I had learned not to repeat the mistakes I made with Xanatos. But I have learned nothing, for I failed Obi-Wan and Anakin just as much.

Yoda raised his gimer stick and pointed it at the spirit in threatening rebuke. Too quick to despair are you. No faith in your Padawans have you? A great Jedi Obi-Wan has proved himself to be.

But you can't deny I made mistakes with him, Qui-Gon persisted. That I failed him during the times when he needed me the most.

Think you are the first to fail your Padawan? Yoda shook his head, waving the gimer stick at his wayward colleague. Perfect no master of a Padawan ever is. Many mistakes they make, the Padawan too. Traits they pass on, stubbornness, recklessness. Defiance in the face of Council rulings.

A smirk graced Qui-Gon's face as he caught the tone behind the thought, implying that Master Yoda's opinion of those traits was not as harsh as he claimed. Despite his self- recrimination, he knew the Grand Master was right. Every member of the Council had at least one failed Padawan behind them. He was not the first to have one turn to the dark side, not by a long shot. Yet the guilt stung him, even now when he was one with the Force. His mistakes haunted him, he who had focused so much on the here and now, frequently reflected over the past, and contemplated possible alternatives. After ten years without his apprentice, he had at last learned the importance of realising the big picture.

There is more to the prophecy than any of us have realised, Master, he warned, words to which Yoda merely raised his eyes. My interpretation wrongly believed that it hinged on finding the Chosen One, when I should have concentrated my focus on what would be needed to achieve the balance they and the Force so desperately seek.

Something between a hum and a huff of breath escaped Master Yoda's lips, indicating that the Grand Master was not happy with his pupil. Qui-Gon had expected such to be the case. He freely acknowledged that he was stubborn, that despite his Padawan's fervent belief, there were concepts which contradicted the code he refused to embrace absolutely. It would surprise Obi-Wan to learn that most of tenets were established after he lost Xanatos to the dark side. None of the covenants had been breached until recently, when he became one with the Force, and learned that certain things he once trusted as certainties were mere illusions within the eyes of that ancient being who bound the universe together.

Balance, Master Yoda echoed the word admonishingly. Goal of all Jedi to achieve such that is. Strive for harmony everyday they do. When found it is unattainable, some times, much suffering they endure in striving to achieve it. Yet always achieve it, they do. It is the way of things. The way of the Force.

There are two sides to everything, Master, Qui-Gon continued, ignoring the admonishment for the moment. Even to the Force. Light and dark, each striving for balance, unable to exist in harmony with each other, without control, except in nature, as shadows do by the sun. Living, Unifying, only the latter is not an illusion. How can one focus on the now when it is gone as soon as one notices it? You have always said that the future is in motion, Master. I did not realise the full truth of your words until I became one with the Force.

Stubborn, always you have been, Yoda reminded him, shaking his head, yet there was a certain pride within his expression, proud that one of his most obdurate Padawans had finally unlearned what they had learned.

Better late than never, Master, Qui-Gon replied, smiling as the Grand Master chuckled in reply.

One of his fingers parted from the others, raised itself and motioned towards the door, the usual silent command of dismissal, causing Qui-Gon to frown.

But I haven't told you everything you need to know, he protested.

Know already I do, that which you wished to tell me, Yoda revealed. Said have you all that needed to be. Found the answers that were sought, I have. Another awaits your apologies.

As always, Qui-Gon knew he was right. Silently he rose from the soft furnishing to bow before the Grand Master, then dissipated into the Force.

Mace Windu surveyed the wreck of the training arena, the sight before him bearing an uncanny resemblance to a junk store after a sandstorm had hit it, a wry grin threatening to break out from under his stern facial facade. He had to admire Skywalker's reasoning. The boy had protested that he only tore the room apart so he could put it back together again. Which, he was in the process of doing so now, seated in the middle, the so called eye of the sandstorm, a training sphere in one hand, a hydrospanner in the other.

It was at times like these when Mace most admired Obi-Wan Kenobi. How the Soresu Master put up with this daily chaos was a miracle which only the Force could begin to comprehend. A stray memory pierced his mind; of that same master as a young Padawan, using Katas to work through his once unruly temper. Perhaps his friend coped because he knew and understood the need to vent one's frustrations.

But the recollection did nothing to ease his concerns about the Padawan before him. From the first moment he met Anakin Skywalker he could sense the conflict within the boy. The large fear hidden deep inside, untamed and uncontrolled, threatening to grow until it overwhelmed not just the youngling who carried it, but all of those around him.

He had been one of those who refused to allow him to be trained, believing that the harnessing of the incredible Force ability inside the young man would do nothing to negate the fear that was also present. The majority of the Council had overruled him, arguing that the boy had to be trained, for the power inside him was too strong to leave undisciplined forever.

For a time he allowed those arguments to convince him, despite Anakin's antics within and without the Temple, his tinkering with every droid he happened to come across, the swoop racing that Garen Muln and Obi-Wan continually retrieved him from, hoping no one on the Council would find out. Even when the latter began to express his own concerns about his Padawan, questioning his ability to train him, Mace denied the possibility that there was some truth to his concerns, reminding him of what his former master believed. And now, when the Master was all but converted, the doubts silenced, swept aside in the wake of the need to focus on larger matters, he and the Grand Master of the Order found themselves questioning the boy's future.

Obi-Wan had asked him to handle Anakin's training while he was on Pais, he had even suggested that he teach the young man some forms of Vaapad, his reasoning being that it might help Anakin gain a greater control on his more darker emotions by learning how to channel the dark side through his unique lightsaber form. But Mace had been reluctant to do so, fearing that once Anakin was allowed to let loose the darkness inside him, he might not be able to rein it in again. The boy did have a tendency to let his passions get the best of him, which was very dangerous when it came to using Vaapad.

The form required the strongest discipline, allowing one to focus only on the energy they were channelling, the quantity of it, the flow of it, a rather detached technique which differed utterly from the usual style of duelling. At the same time the form was rather intense, self-involved, allowing little room for other cares, carrying dangerous consequences if there was a sudden loss of focus. At times it was almost a constant fight against the darkness within oneself. You had to recognise that there was dark side to everything, accept it, channel it, then let it go. It was, Mace mused, the ultimate test of balance, and suddenly he realised that perhaps it was exactly what Anakin needed.

Crossing the threshold of the training salle now known as a sand storm wrecked junk store, the Korun master announced his presence to the Chosen One. "Good morning, Padawan Skywalker."

Startled, Anakin shot a quick glance at his chrono, realising that it was indeed the early hours of the morning, before he returned the greeting. "Good morning, Master Windu."

"Master Kenobi suggested you might like to learn Vaapad," Mace remarked, noticing that the boy's eyes sparkled at the word. "Is this correct?"

The young lad hesitated, glancing around at the chaos of the training salle, wondering what he had done to deserve this. "You aren't going to reprimand me about this mess?"

"After witnessing you following through with your explanation that you tore this room apart so you can put it back together again, any reprimand would be rendered moot," Mace replied. "Besides, this is merely another example that you need something with which to channel your negative emotions."

Realising the Council Master was serious, Anakin made one final adjustment on the training sphere he had been fixing, and then with great care lay the machine aside, before rising to his feet. "I am here to learn, Master Windu."

"Then we'll begin." Mace motioned with his fingers and the remnants of destroyed training spheres, sabres, droids and other equipment which had once made this sand storm wrecked junk store a training salle were swept aside to rest against a far wall by the command of the Force. Then he ignited his lightsaber, raising the purple vertical in salute to his new apprentice.

Who returned the gesture with a smile that bordered on sithly eagerness.

Only later, would the Korun Master realise the significance of that expression.

Chapter Text

Part 11: A Visit From the Ghost of Padawans Past.

A canopy of voices, their dulcet tones the chorus of a symphony, rising to a crescendo. Responses flew back and forth, ascending in decibel, then descending, as if waves travelling through a canyon. Current varied within dialect and dialogue, point and counterpoint, argument and negotiation. Under the supervision of their hosts these beings continued to debate, striving to iron out their differences until nothing impaired their desire for peace. Resistance was futile, humiliating even, for they had gone beyond the point of honourable withdrawal. Pride demanded peace from them now, their egos would settle for nothing less, nor would their people.

Count Dooku of Serenno, formally Jedi Master Dooku, fell into silence for a moment as he listened to the response fielded to him by one of the Republican Senators, concerning a point which he had just offered up for debate. As another Separatist broke into the conversation, along with the voice of one of the Jedi Masters attempting to add a supportive and calming tone to the proceedings, he reflected over all that led him to this peace conference on Pais.

One evening on his native homeworld, he had received a visit from a man he had never expected to meet with ever again, at least until he became one with the Force. During his meditation, he had felt a sudden chill steal over him, which no amount of sensitivity in the ancient being whom he served, or alteration to the internal thermal regulator system could dissipate. Parting his eyelids, he began to blink as he took sight of the figure in front of him, who bore a striking resemblance to his former Padawan; Qui-Gon Jinn. The lately lamented Jedi Master bowed in greeting, before declaring that he had become bitterly disappointed with his former mentor.

Such an opinion had taken him completely by surprise, especially when expressed in so blunt a manner that was typical of his old Padawan's character, not to mention the form and figure of the sight before him, who had clearly been sent by the Force to buck up his ideas. Within minutes, Dooku was awakened into an epiphany concerning the wayward path he had been heading down ever since he left the Order.

Until that evening, he had never realised that his idle wish expressed to Master Kenobi in what had been nothing more than a tactic to get the Jedi to talk, was in fact a very real desire to have a conversation with Qui-Gon, from whom he really needed some advice. Evidently the spirit of his former apprentice was an eavesdropper upon that interrogation, able to detect what his fervent Padawan had not, the unconscious, unspoken wish lying beneath the tactically voiced words.

He had left the Order not as result of the death of Qui-Gon Jinn, but due to the culmination of various, long standing disagreements with the Council, over the way with which said Council governed, and their relationship with the Senate and the Republic. During the years he had spent within the Order, he had witnessed it becoming increasingly detached from the universe in which it existed and recruited members from, and rigid within the structure of life which it established in the wake of the Ruusan Wars. Not that he disagreed with the need for discipline within the Order, or with some of the restrictions which had been placed upon its members as a possible prevention from such conflicts repeating themselves, but unlike others he had not seen the need for isolation from the Republic, or the deprivation of attachment, save for certain exceptions.

Unfortunately, he had been in the minority, one which continued to decrease in size as the years passed by and the Order settled into the new system. For awhile he had followed the practice of his apprentice, calling the Council to account when he could, blatantly disregarding their commands when they gave him no other option. But he was becoming an old man, and he grew tired of continuous debates.

As he began to revaluate his position within the Order, several events occurred which set him on his wayward path. Firstly, his relations had contacted him with the news that his elder sibling had died, leaving him the next incumbent of the ennoblement which had been accorded his family on Serenno for over a millennia. Just as he was debating on whether to accept the title, or allow it to be passed on to the next heir after him, news reached the Order of the blockade by the Trade Federation.

Due to the Council deciding that Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice would answer the request of the Chancellor to mediate over the tax dispute, Dooku had kept an interest on the events which followed. His astonishment over the Council rejecting a nine year old boy unusually strong within the Force was profound, but it was nothing next to his reaction concerning his apprentice's decision to put Padawan Kenobi before the Trials and take the nine year old boy as his new apprentice.

Barely had he time to fully comprehend these events before everything was thrown into confusion with the announcement of an election for a new Chancellor, and return of Qui-Gon and Kenobi to Naboo, to assist the young sovereign in her attempt to free her planet from the clutches of the Trade Federation.

No one expected what happened next, nor were they likely to forget it. Vividly did he recall the state of the Grand Master as he delivered the news, Yoda seeming to age another decade before his tear stricken gaze. The old troll held a profound respect for Qui-Gon, despite, or indeed perhaps because of their frequent disagreements, and was choked by the news of his passing at the hands of the Sith.

Dooku remembered preparing to declare himself ready to take on the young nine year old that his Padawan had so impetuously taken into his care, only to learn from Master Yoda that Kenobi had requested for the boy to become his apprentice, his defeat of the Sith considered enough by the Council to make him a Knight.

Yoda revealed that it had been Qui-Gon's last request to his apprentice that Kenobi take the boy as his apprentice, an act which surprised Dooku, for it seemed unlike his former Padawan to burden a man who had just become a Knight under difficult circumstances. That Kenobi was determined to follow through with the obligation did him credit, but the agreement of the Council, against Yoda's opinion, troubled him deeply. Abruptly he saw what the Grand Master had not, that a dark force was seeking to control future events, not just within the Order, but the Republic as well.

He resigned from the Jedi, soon after Qui-Gon's funeral had taken place, intent on discovering the identity of the Sith behind this dark force. His investigations led him to Kamino, where he discovered the cloning operation, along with the record that a mysterious being, claiming to be Jedi Master Syfo-Dias had requested the army be engineered.

Not wishing for the Order to interfere with his discoveries, for they would likely make the information available to the Republic, causing it to come to the attention of the dark force which he was investigating, Dooku had returned to the Temple and eliminated the location of Kamino from the archives, grateful that his old access codes still worked within the wake of his recent resignation.

Upon arrival in Serenno, he had been contacted by the Viceroy of the Trade Federation, who gave him the ability to get in touch with the dark force, the being having expressed a desire to meet with the recently resigned Jedi and former Master of the lately departed Qui-Gon Jinn. At first the being had hidden his true identity from him, causing Dooku to make himself appear receptive to the dark force's schemes, in the hope that, given time, he would learn all he needed to know.

But he had no idea of the danger into which such openness had thrust him. So subtle was the being's machinations, that he was seduced by layer upon layer of seemingly enlightened beliefs until he no longer knew how to untangle himself from the web he was meshed within. Only when the spirit of his former apprentice visited him, did he begin to see the glow of a candle in the darkness, pointing the way out.

Which led to him declaring a desire for peace, using his position as leader of the Separatists to couch the petition in formal terms, as something he could put before the Senate rather than the Supreme Chancellor, who unwittingly revealed himself as the being behind the dark force when the Military Creation Act was put forward. It was the only option which could perhaps rescue the Republic and the Jedi from the clutches of the dark being.

The Sith had stirred the conflicts into existence in the first place, knowing that the potential of a civil war would place the Republic under his control, granting him the power to dictate events, build up armaments, in all amass himself an empire. It was why Dooku had assumed leadership of the Separatists, in order to assure that this conflict came about.

By petitioning for peace, he could sabotage the Sith's schemes. Providing said peace was established, that is. Splitting the Republic had awakened ancient disagreements, many unresolved, causing the road to peace to become strewn with potential obstacles that might interfere or even prevent the treaty they were attempting to bring into being.

The Count broke from his internal introspection for a moment to glance across at the other people who had braved old disagreements to help him in this endeavour. Like his Padawan's Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi, who had grown into a fine Jedi Master, much as he protested against such an opinion back on Geonosis.

He remembered being surprised when Qui-Gon told him that he had taken on a new Padawan, one previously assigned to the Agri-Corps, despite being a favourite of the Grand Master. After all the grief Xanatos had caused his apprentice, Dooku doubted Qui-Gon would ever surrender to Master Yoda's constant hinting about the young man that the Force adored.

But once he had, the surrender was incredible. Bit by bit, Dooku witnessed his old apprentice revert to the man he had once been before Xanatos destroyed him, all due to the training of the Master who sat across from him now.

In the scant three conversations he had taken with him, Dooku could see why. There was something about Kenobi which drew you to him. Aside from how the Force regarded the man, from crechling to master, there was something else, an indefinable charisma, subtle yet disarming. A natural negotiator in appearance, drawing in confidences, inspiring confidence.

He spoke now, offering up a compromise, his fluent Coruscanti accent gently cutting across the room, overriding dissenters, persuading them to agree by the mere strength of his words. Qui-Gon had trained him well, yet he could recognise nothing of Jinn in him. But that was how it should be. No knight became a master without adapting the teachings of their training to their own style and character. Once they made themselves unique through negotiation, physical combat, then they earned the right to be called Knights or Masters.

Kenobi's first promotion was unusual, at least it was considered as such. Ordeal by Sith was an old trial for a more pre-russan age. That it was accomplished at the price of a master, and the acquisition of a Padawan was even more unorthodox. Dooku recalled being surprised that the Council had acquiesced to his Padawan's dying request that Obi-Wan trained the reputed Chosen One. Inwardly he grimaced as he thought of Qui-Gon's last stray. It had been a shock to sense the boy at his Padawan's funeral, the sheer power within him almost overwhelming him.

At first he had not noticed the fear lying underneath, slumbering, waiting to be stoked into an immutable fire. Only later, when he left the Order, when he discovered that the being behind the dark force wanted that fire, wanted that boy, craving him as a hunter would his prey. Coveting such power was the way of the Sith, he knew, but the sheer strength of that desire had terrified him when he first learned about it.

Even now, it still possessed the ability to discompose him, particularly since he had crossed lightsabers with the boy. Because he had seen the unconscious- or perhaps it was conscious, he was no longer sure of the difference - desire to acquire power, in the vain hope that it would satiate the flame of fear within him.

He wondered if Kenobi knew, recalling that moment an evening ago when he had warned him that Sidious coveted his apprentice, the fleeting expression which played across Obi-Wan's face. No surprise, only anticipated terror, almost as if he had confirmed a previous suspicion. Once more, he experienced a certain admiration for the pupil of his apprentice, for he had let the emotion show only for a second, before responding with his usual inscrutable serenity.

If anyone was Qui-Gon's enduring legacy, it was he and not the supposed Chosen One. Yes, his apprentice had disappointed him by placing a tremendous burden upon a young man barely into knighthood, but it was to Obi-Wan's credit that he had not shied away from assuming that burden, rising to the challenge of it, even if he perhaps doubted himself capable of accomplishing the task.

And he had succeeded, as much as anyone could succeed in training a boy who possessed such a sizeable amount of power. True Anakin was reckless, impetuous, arrogant and unsure of himself, but he was also a competent warrior, capable of formidable strength when solely focused on his opponent. When he fought them on Geonosis, Dooku remembered admiring the boy's achievements inspite of himself. The skill with which he handled his lightsaber, and for a brief time his master's, the strength in his character for not quailing in the face of a superior and more experienced opponent. Kenobi had accomplished more in ten years with the boy that any other master might have.

Someone else broke into the debate taking place before him now; a lighter voice, yet still possessing the same strength of character and eloquence as the previous speakers; Padmé Amidala, Senator from Naboo. She too he had first encountered on Geonosis as she pleaded for Kenobi's freedom, arguing the cause for peace. Young she might be, but formidable, he could not help but admire her as well.

He had yet to have a peaceful conversation with her, but he had observed her throughout this conference, her interaction with Master Kenobi, Master Muln and Senator Organa. Despite her youthfulness in both age and appearance, she had a way about which made you believe she was older than she truly was, as though she possessed experience and wisdom the length of several lifetimes, not twenty-four years. Many looked upon with admiration, not just for her intellect, but for her beauty, which she seemed unconscious of, though perhaps a part of her made use of it.

Politicians needed many strings to their bows if they were to be successful in their terms within the Senate, especially in times of darkness and intrigue, such as this. Despite all her charms, all her wisdom, all her youth, all her passionate desire for peace, she was a natural politician, commanding the same ability as Master Kenobi, to draw people in with her eloquent words, her ceaseless belief in the notion of peace. For all his cynicism Dooku admired that strength within her, that she was able to keep faith when all those around her had lost it long ago. Perhaps it was a factor of her youth, for he vaguely recalled being that fired with the beliefs of the Order before age and circumstance interfered.

When the being behind the dark forces ordered him to kill her, Dooku recalled feeling incredulous at the idea of such a young woman becoming a threat to the Sith. True she had foiled the being's plans once before, as a girl of fourteen, uniting the two disparate races on her world to defeat the blockade set up by the Trade Federation, but surely she could not further upset their schemes?

In the end he had been proved right, despite her surviving three attempts to kill her, she had not been able to prevent the acquisition of the clone army, or the Separatist's declaration for war. Yet she had succeeded as well, for here they sat, arguing for the very peace she had fought for so desperately.

He could see why Master Kenobi admired and respected her, why Master Yoda held the same opinion. Why she had risen to the post of Leader of the Opposition, held membership in the Loyalist and Security Committees. She posed a formidable threat to the schemes of the dark lord of the Sith. After all, she was native of the same planet, overseen his rise from governor to senator to chancellor. She had proved instrumental in paving the way for him to acquire the post. Yet he had also sensed the emotion the Chosen One held for her, a passion which held no bounds.

Anakin believed it was love, he could tell that much from the boy as he had stood beside her, the silent bodyguard while she argued for his master's freedom, but Dooku doubted it was. She loved him, or at least believed she did, though he suspected that it more out of a need to prove that it was possible for a Jedi to love rather than the man the boy she knew had become.

He wondered if the Order knew, Yoda certainly, not much escaped his former master, Obi-Wan perhaps, after all he had trained the boy long enough not to be insensible of the full nature of his character or attachments. Certainly Sidious knew, for he nurtured the emotion within the boy, manipulated him, all the while scheming to do away with the woman in the belief that it would prove the catalyst to the boy's fall to the dark side.

Dooku doubted Sidious' wisdom in turning such power, such a reckless young man to the nature of the dark. Anakin had not the ability to handle the negativity, the overwhelming anger against everything one had ever known, the desire to acquire knowledge and power, to rule over the universe. If Anakin proved his master's expectations, along with those of the Order, those of the Republic even, he could easily defeat Sidious, reason enough for the Sith to desire to turn him.

Yet even if he was turned, there would come a time when he craved more than Sidious could give him, and would seek to end his life, it was the way of the Sith. Ultimately, unless he could develop the ability to accumulate the boy's power within the Force into himself, in the end Sidious would regret turning him.

Senator Organa offered up his voice to the floor now, causing Dooku to consider him. He was the other person whom Obi-Wan chose to trust, a man who despite his ardent support for the chancellor, neither he nor Dooku had trusted to use as an ally for the Separatists. While Organa supported peace, he also believed that the Republic should have the means to protect itself, in the form of a commissioned army rather than constantly relying on the Jedi.

Like Amidala he ruled a world which practised non-violence, banned weapons, valued intelligence and wisdom over age. He was a the member of the Loyalist and Security committees, as well as various other branches of the Senate, a long serving, well loved and respected representative of Alderaan.

Palpatine respected the man's ability, his intelligence, experience, his eloquence, but felt threatened by his natural leadership qualities, the alliances he had discreetly accumulated in such formidable colleagues as Valorum, Mothma, Bel Ibis and Amidala. It was only to be expected that the Jedi would soon seek him out, realising only now that they needed allies within the Senate to protect them against the sithly stoked fires of the negative propaganda campaign that the chancellor's lackeys engineered. If someone ever possessed the daring to propose a vote of no confidence, any one of those, including Amidala and Organa himself could succeed to the post of chancellor.

Dooku pondered for a moment what would happen if Palpatine lost his seat of power, lost the chance for a war, his schemes ultimately all floundered by this conference. He doubted it would be the end of the Sith, or the end of the being's schemes. But he hoped it would give the universe a breathing space, a chance to arm itself against the next rise. That unlike Naboo, Geonosis would become a warning to all, of the peril of relaxing on one's laurels, turning a blind eye to the injustice carried out day after day in the limits of their universe.

He did not want to be here in another ten years time, fighting for a Republic which had become a shadow of its former greatness, for a Jedi Order struggling to reform itself after too many years of rigidity and isolation, for a motley band of systems and Federations, loosely grouped together, laughingly calling themselves a confederacy, when in reality the one thing they possessed in common was self serving desire for profit and power.

He caught something out of the corner of his eye just then. A flash of red hair, fleeting across his gaze, disappearing before his vision could properly make sense of the significance of such a colour. Someone called out his name and he turned away from his introspection back to the conference, respectfully asking for them to repeat the question, so he could answer in a competent manner.

The canopy of voices, their dulcet tones the chorus of a symphony, rising to crescendo, had no idea what was to come. Their responses, flying back and forth, ascending in decibel, then descending, as if waves travelling through a canyon, would never anticipate such an event, believing it to be impossible. Current varied within dialect and dialogue, point and counterpoint, argument and negotiation, but never in the least suspicion of what was to come their way.

Under the supervision of their hosts these beings continued to debate, striving to iron out their differences until nothing impaired their desire for peace, believing that they would remain protected as they had always been, by Pais' enduring ability to guard the lives of the beings who sought their neutral planet and hospitality.

Resistance was futile, humiliating even, for they had gone beyond the point of honourable withdrawal, only deliberate sabotage could threaten their continued participation. Pride demanded peace from them now, their egos would settle for nothing less, nor would their people, but in view of what was to come, perhaps pride would be mollified by a dignified retreat, in the face of insurmountable odds.

Explosions rocked the conference room.

Light came first, a cascade of red, orange, yellow, punctuated by harsh streaks of black, followed by the shock waves which served to shatter the transparisteel viewscreens, the glasses beside each being's position. Last to arrive was the sound, echoing throughout the cavernous room, rebounding off walls, doors, tables, chairs.

And suddenly the idyllic world of Pais was covered in debris, metal, wood, glass, and most terrible of all, bodies of unconscious beings, who had risked so much to come here in the aim of forming a treaty, and now had risked their lives as well.

Chapter Text

Part 12: A Besetting Sin.

A canopy of voices, their dulcet tones the chorus of a symphony, rising to a crescendo. Responses flew back and forth, ascending in decibel, then descending, as if waves travelling through a canyon. Current varied within dialect and dialogue, point and counterpoint, argument and negotiation.

Under the supervision of their hosts these beings continued to debate, striving to iron out their differences until nothing impaired their desire for peace. Resistance was futile, humiliating even, for they had gone beyond the point of honourable withdrawal. Pride demanded peace from them now, their egos would settle for nothing less, nor would their people.

Bail Organa withheld from offering his viewpoint for a moment, his mind still troubled by the suspicion which Padmé had made him aware of the night before. In a way it was obvious that the peace conference would be a target for terrorism by those who wished to sabotage any possibility for a potential treaty between the Republic and the Separatists.

But at the same time, it was inconceivable. Such things were not meant to happen on Pais, the world and its citizens strove to keep the planet neutral from conflict, unblemished from the often petty concerns of the universe. A safe haven for those who wished to fight for peace using words, not blows.

If an explosion were to occur here during the conference, that reputation which the beings of Pais had been nurturing for a millennia would be destroyed. And it would send a dark message to the rest of the known universe; no one, no planet was invincible. Yes it was a harsh reality of life that most were aware of, but few accepted such a truth, preferring to dream that some day, immortality would be possible.

One consequence he feared to contemplate, yet knew that he had to, was the end of the conference, the end of peace between the Separatists and the Republic. No matter which side was responsible, it would be difficult to trust anyone who had attended to form a treaty worth only the datapad it was written on. Even the Jedi would not be immune from suspicion, thanks to a dedicated propaganda campaign which was currently being waged against them.

As far as he was concerned, he did not suspect any of the delegation from the Order here to be a saboteur, but nor did he know enough about them to justify that assurance. Despite his conversation with Master Kenobi, his knowledge of Padmé's respect for him, the rumoured future Jedi Council Master was still an elusive character. A typical Jedi trait, but one considered unfavourable in such dark times as these.

Bail glanced over at the man now, watching him as he and his colleagues silently sat listening to the member of the Separatist delegation who was speaking at this moment. His hand was idly stroking his neatly trimmed beard, his expression a mixture of concern and the usual serenity all Jedi possessed. Of what Obi-Wan was thinking behind that thoughtful gaze few could even begin to descry, let alone be accurate in their assumption.

It was the same expression he held during their conversation, leaving the speaker convinced that before them was a serious committed listener to whatever they had to say. The natural face of any priest, diplomat, politician, or physician. As the holder of similar poses, he knew that such a mask could conceal a wealth of thoughts, unexpressed yet considered, all the while remembering what the person before them was saying, so they could answer with an eloquent response if required.

Deceptive perhaps when described like that, but everyone carried within them a natural ability to deceive, however unconsciously or consciously it was practised. Most would find it unpleasant and distasteful to be the bearer of such characteristics, but everyone was a hypocrite when it came to stripping down emotions to their barest forms. Based on this, one should not hesitate to suspect everyone within the room capable of committing an act of terrorism.

And that included himself. He might never admit it, but Bail knew he was not above dirtying his hands when the occasion called for such measures. Not that those measures included terrorism, but he did employ a highly capable intelligence network, who supplied him with information which he had not informed the Chancellor or his colleagues in the Senate that he was aware of. Information was a commodity and an expensive one at that, particularly in such times as these, where possessing certain facts could mean the difference between war and peace.

However, a lot of knowledge as well as a little was just as much a dangerous thing. When Obi-Wan explained the true vulnerability of the Jedi to the Sith, he understood why so much of the Order remained a mystery to outsiders. If the truth were known, the tide would turn against the Jedi irrevocably.

Which brought him to consider the Count of Serenno. Like the rest of the Senate, and he half suspected, the Chancellor, as well as the Jedi, he was surprised when Dooku requested this peace conference. Geonosis might be presented as a victorious rout by the gushing HoloNet journalists, but to those who had access to the security reports, or a first hand account of the battle, what occurred was considered a very near thing.

If what he heard from his intelligence network was accurate, - and he had never had an occasion yet that proved otherwise -the Jedi would be severely stretched even in peacetime, let alone during a war, and that was including the vast resources of the clone army from Kamino.

Bail let a frown fleetingly cross his face as he considered the clone army. For those who were observing him in the conference, no one would question the expression, the current speaker happened to be offering a rather disturbing view point. No one except perhaps the Jedi probably suspected what he was really frowning about. Unlike Padmé, he had argued for the Republic to have an army, not because of the threat from the Separatists, but because he believed the army would provide support for the Jedi.

When it emerged that such an army had been found, and that it was made of clones, he had witnessed a good number of his colleagues, who previously offered only cautious support to the MCA, breathe a sigh of relief. He had understood that emotion; no one liked sending their citizens off to war, but he had also been disgusted by perception of the clones becoming cannon fodder. Reducing them to the same level as droids, although there were some who felt disgust in assigning that term to machines as well.

Now, thanks to Master Kenobi, he had confirmation of the information he received from his intelligence network; that the clones had not been ordered by the Jedi. He didn't doubt the assurance of Obi-Wan that no Jedi had asked the Kaminoans for these clones to be engineered, but there was so much secrecy nowadays that he wouldn't be surprised if someone in the Order had.

However, he did think that a Sith or a Separatist was a more likely suspect. And it troubled him, deeply, because they could have just as easily ordered an advanced series of droids to be built. Using clones suggested that they wanted the perception of cannon fodder, that they wanted the Republic to lower their morals, revaluate their ethics. To what end he was uncertain, but he could easily speculate; the beginnings of xenophobia. And if this peace conference failed, and the war turned into one of race, the Republic was heading for a very dark end.

For a moment he wondered if that could narrow down the number of possible identities for the Sith lord the Jedi were looking for; human with a distaste for other races. But it could easily mean that the Sith was a being with a distaste for humans, even more so perhaps given that the clone army were made up of human males. Deliberately he moved his mind away from the subject. Curiosity was his besetting sin.

Resolved to concentrate on the conference, he roused himself from his introspection in time to catch the rising level of voices within the room. The disturbing notion which a previous speaker had offered as a viewpoint was now being hotly argued against by several others, and also, much to his disgust, argued in favour of as well. Quietly seething, he listened to each of the voices in turn, before taking a deep breath, preparing to offer his own arguments and set a number of his colleagues, as well as those belonging to the Separatists straight.

At the last he was prevented, as Master Kenobi intervened, his serene voice suggesting an eloquent compromise designed to answer everyone's concerns. In some respects it was similar to his own unvoiced response, although, he reluctantly conceded, more diplomatically worded. Whether such was more due to his education or the benefit of the Force he did not know, nor did he care to choose.

Since Geonosis the Jedi had been placed under a large HoloNet spotlight, their deeds offered up to the Republic's hungry, and so far, adoring ears and minds. But the novelty would only last so long. Questions would ensue, then the Jedi would be judged and suddenly the pedestal which they had been placed on for over a millennia would be in danger of toppling forever. They needed all the friends they could get.

He could understand why people questioned the Order's actions, their motives, he questioned them too, more through a desire to test presumptions assumed about them, than doubt in their practices. Preconceived arrogance about one's capabilities to the detriment judgement they held of others irritated him, usually because it was a character trait which a lot of beings he had to deal within his capacity as Senator and a scion of his House of Alderaan believed he possessed.

Despite his privileged upbringing, he had been taught that with wealth and authority came responsibility. He had trained in self defence, although he understood that theory was nothing when compared to the real thing, but nor did he think that his position on Alderaan or in the Senate gave him a certain immunity from the harsh realities of living.

From her chair beside him Padmé spoke, her graceful eloquence carrying a wisdom beyond her years. Bail reflected over when he had first come to hear of her, as an advisor on the Antilles campaign for the post of Supreme Chancellor. Her brief speech to the Senate was legendary, not just because it had replaced Valorum with Palpatine, but due to her courageous actions afterwards, when she freed her planet from the Trade Federation blockade and united Nubians and Gungans.

When she stepped into her predecessor's shoes, everyone assumed she would resemble Palpatine in her style; a provincial Senator thrust into the spotlight, somewhat out of his depth. They failed to comprehend that the events during her first term as Queen of Naboo were not a fluke, but an example of the measures she was willing to take to make difference.

Bail had not been one of those beings. He welcomed her into the Senate, to the committees on which he served, knowing she would be well suited to such challenges and might even be able to make a difference where others had failed. Not only did she fulfil his expectations, she rose above them, achieving nearly all her aims. The Military Creation Act was one of her few failures, if indeed it could be counted as such, for Jar Jar Binks, her representative, had put forth the vote in favour, whilst she was on Geonosis.

During times when the Senate was in recess he had taken her to Alderaan to meet Breha, and witnessed the two of them become fast friends. Bail smiled as he remembered a time when his wife had tried to find a nice young man for Padmé, being a happily married woman, she only wanted her friend to find the same. But Senator Amidala had rebuffed the suitor, claiming not to be interested.

Whereupon when they returned to Coruscant, he had introduced her to the List, handing her a comlink and explaining the unique rules which members were required to adhere to; no names, no rough stuff, initiator pays for the cost of the room and any other charges entailed.

Initially he was hesitant in doing so, not knowing if she would treat the somewhat infamous anonymous group with contempt as some did when they heard of it. Yet she had tried it instead, telling him that she found the nights a somewhat salutary experience. It had been the same for him, when he had been an active member; having been retired except for sponsoring when he met and then married Breha.

He watched Master Kenobi as Padmé spoke, observing the same admiration he had seen in the bar a few nights ago. Out of the corner of his eye he caught another Jedi doing the same, the man who had been with the Senator and the Jedi in the bar, the Jedi who bore startling resemblance to his colleague. They had yet to be personally introduced, but he knew his name was Garen Muln. The Jedi Master nodded and winked at him, before returning to his previous observation, indicating possibly a shared knowledge, and perhaps an ally in possible matchmaking schemes.

Turning his focus back to the conference, Bail moved his own gaze on to Count Dooku, wondering at the man's motives once more. Obi-Wan said that when the Count was a Jedi, his master, Qui-Gon Jinn, had been Dooku's Padawan, the Count in turn being an favourite of Master Yoda. It was extraordinary that the man, coming from such a legendary line of training, would leave the Order, and according to Obi-Wan, train as a Sith.

Yet the former Jedi Master had also proposed this peace conference, warned himself, Padmé and the Order through Master Kenobi about the threat that the clone army posed to the Jedi. Bail did not know much about the Sith. Historical records from the last time they posed a threat to the Republic were over a millennia in age, vague and obscure, as well as being partially destroyed by time. Neither had Master Kenobi conveyed much in his explanation of them, aside from the somewhat disturbing fact that every Jedi was vulnerable to becoming immersed within the dark arts.

Negative emotions. Most Jedi claimed to be above them, leaving outsiders to assume that any feelings were alien to them, yet they used them everyday of their lives. Due to the HoloNet's gushing breathless reports of their heroic deeds, their words were becoming quotes used by every young fan; phrases such as 'stretch out with your feelings,' or 'I have a bad feeling about this.' Mere phrases some might argue, but emotions tended to govern one's outlook on life. They usually determined what you believed in too, no matter how rigorous a control was placed on them. Often they could lead you astray, alter your life drastically, but they also gave you a certain strength to survive a seemingly impossible situation.

Which was why Bail was glad that the Order was going through reforms. The news might not have been made public yet, but his intelligence network was reliably accurate when it came to acquiring information such as this. Alterations to Code which the Jedi lived by would doubtless prove not to suit everyone, but progress would never be made without ruffling a few feathers. And who knows, perhaps this would resolve whatever it was that prevented Obi-Wan and Padmé from admitting how they felt.

Beside him the Senator from Naboo paused, a gaze partially flickering towards him, causing Bail to panic briefly as he contemplated the possibility that she might have had descried what he was thinking by the expression on his face. In a second he was able to push the momentary worry aside as he realised that her glance had been a silent plea for support, as a member of the Senatorial delegation was continuing to resist conceding to the point she was making. Abandoning his introspection, Bail offered his voice to the cause which she was eloquently stating.

The member of the Senate wasn't being stubborn for the sake of it. He had genuine concerns, and as much as Senator Amidala had a way with words, her youth was not something that the confederate was willing to disregard. As soon as Bail began to add his support, he could see the being's resistance gradually subside. Sometimes perception outweighed one's ability to accept that their concerns would be taken seriously. Another view often led by emotions. Despite the noble ideals of the Republic, few were ever as unbiased or impartial as they tended to claim.

When he had fully assuaged their colleague's concerns, Bail fell silent, letting the Pais ambassador decide and put forth the next point they needed to reach agreement on. They were making good progress here. The peace treaty which most of his political colleagues had professed a certain scepticism in becoming established was gradually being realised. Between the three delegations present, each one had chosen who to send in good faith, selecting beings who were able to debate and resolves matters calmly and rationally.

When they all returned to their homes certain associates would probably do all that was within their power to try and prevent this treaty from properly being established. Bail could only hope that no one who had been instrumental in the construction of it would lose that faith when they encountered such opposition.

Across from him, he caught a sudden movement. Obi-Wan frowned, his expression of typical Jedi solemn serenity slipping from his visage. Bail knew that such incidents were rare, and immediately his thoughts returned to the possibility that somebody had come here intent on sabotaging the peace treaty before a single word was written.

The canopy of voices, their dulcet tones the chorus of a symphony, rising to crescendo, had no idea what was to come. Their responses, flying back and forth, ascending in decibel, then descending, as if waves travelling through a canyon, would never anticipate such an event, believing it to be impossible.

Current varied within dialect and dialogue, point and counterpoint, argument and negotiation, but never in the least suspicion of what was to come their way. Under the supervision of their hosts these beings continued to debate, striving to iron out their differences until nothing impaired their desire for peace, believing that they would remain protected as they had always been, by Pais' enduring ability to guard the lives of the beings who sought their neutral planet and hospitality.

Resistance was futile, humiliating even, for they had gone beyond the point of honourable withdrawal, only deliberate sabotage could threaten their continued participation. Pride demanded peace from them now, their egos would settle for nothing less, nor would their people, but in view of what was to come, perhaps pride would be mollified by a dignified retreat, in the face of insurmountable odds.

Explosions rocked the conference room.

Light came first, a cascade of red, orange, yellow, punctuated by harsh streaks of black, followed by the shock waves which served to shatter the transparisteel viewscreens, the glasses beside each being's position. Last to arrive was the sound, echoing throughout the cavernous room, rebounding off walls, doors, tables, chairs.

And suddenly the idyllic world of Pais was covered in debris, metal, wood, glass, and most terrible of all, bodies of unconscious beings, who had risked so much to come here in the aim of forming a treaty, and now had risked their lives as well.

Chapter Text

Part 13: Musings of a Nubian Senator.

A canopy of voices, their dulcet tones the chorus of a symphony, rising to a crescendo. Responses flew back and forth, ascending in decibel, then descending, as if waves travelling through a canyon. Current varied within dialect and dialogue, point and counterpoint, argument and negotiation. Under the supervision of their hosts these beings continued to debate, striving to iron out their differences until nothing impaired their desire for peace. Resistance was futile, humiliating even, for they had gone beyond the point of honourable withdrawal. Pride demanded peace from them now, their egos would settle for nothing less, nor would their people.

Padmé Amidala felt optimistic about the peace treaty as she listened to the opening words from the Pais ambassador, who refreshed everyone's memories about what had taken place during the previous meeting, before proposing the first topic to be discussed during today's. At last they were making real progress on what most of her colleagues in the Senate and she imagined a fair number of those in the Confederacy as well believed would never come to pass. If the fair minded dealing and the willingness not only to listen but to compromise continued, a peace treaty would be established soon.

Which meant she could return home. Technically to her apartment on Coruscant as opposed to her parents house on Naboo or the villa in Varykino, but home all the same. Anakin would have his duties as a Jedi while she would still have work to do within the Senate, such as making sure the treaty held within the Republic, so the Core would remain her home for some time to come. For a moment she resisted dwelling on her husband, but the conversation which had taken place between them the night before continued to haunt her mind.

Despite her initial concerns, it had begun well. She had been worried that there would still be some lingering resentment from the argument during their last discussion, but as usual, that only emerged towards the end. From the moment she received an answer to the opening hail she sent to her apartment at the agreed time, Anakin seemed genuinely pleased to talk with her.

After they had exchanged the usual pleasantries about each other's well-being, she had explained her theory about this carefully arranged conversation; it gave them a chance to talk, but allowed those who might be suspicious believe she was talking to her handmaidens about Senatorial business - for they as opposed to Jar Jar were representing her in the Senate this time - as well as matters from her homeworld. It also showed that she trusted her husband to be able to get away from the Temple without arousing suspicion; something she took care not to mention to him; knowing that it would make him defensive.

Conversation then focused on what he had been doing; as he revealed that Master Windu was giving him lessons in Vaapad. She was surprised and impressed, as he had told her before that the Korun Master's lightsaber combat style was something which Master Windu had created himself, and was very particular about who he trained in the form.

Anakin spoke excitedly about the honour and the challenging nature of the form, as well as using the Force in such a different manner. As usual he was confident that he would soon master the technique, and Padmé refrained from tempering his mood by advising him to be cautious, to take his time and not to doubt himself. The political wrangling within the conference, while frustrating, was helping her in handling her husband's fluctuating moods.

He then asked after her activities, although he refused to be convinced by her belief that they would leave Pais with a workable peace treaty. She understood his scepticism, after all the last time he met Count Dooku, he lost his arm, not to mention the injuries to Obi-Wan. But that didn't mean that the response failed to rankle her, as she inwardly noted his failure to treat her with same courtesy with which she had treated him.

Despite that, she felt that they were talking as normal married couples did, experiencing the type of marriage she had always dreamed of. Any problems they did have, would ultimately be smoothed out by the time she returned to Coruscant, she felt sure.

So imbued by the cordial relations between them was she, that Padmé decided to casually ask about his dinner with the Chancellor. Immediately, her husband tensed, his response a curt inquiry as to how she had learned of the evening. Ignoring his reaction for the moment, she mentioned that Obi-Wan had told her, having learned of the request which the Chancellor had put to the Council during his own com call home. A lie she felt uncomfortable using, but some instinct prevented her from telling him the truth; that she had heard about it from Dormé. At the end, she repeated her initial question.

His reply returned them to the resentful atmosphere of there first conversation; as he asked scathingly how her dinners were with Obi-Wan and Garen. Stung, she accused him of implying that she was jealous of his relationship with the Chancellor. He in turn yelled at her for accusing him of being jealous about her friendship with his master. Bluntly she countered with a question regarding that emotion, knowing full well he was, whether he chose to admit it or not. Angrily he stated that that was different, to which she had countered that he had as much right to dictate who her friends were as he did.

Things went downhill from there. Over and over the fight covered the same ground, until she couldn't stand talking to him any longer, causing her to end the call. Barely had the com system shut down when the device beeped, signalling that she had another hail. Furiously she hit the switch, only to begin to calm down when a holo of Dormé's figure materialised. Her handmaiden explained that Anakin had stormed out of the apartment.

Inwardly Padmé breathed a sigh of relief, grateful that her husband hadn't taken his anger out on any of her staff. But such a move was only a partial comfort, for she feared what else he might do damage to.
Or who.

Not for the first time, she recalled his actions on Tatooine, how he had dealt with his anger over the death of his mother by wiping out an entire tribe of Tuskens who were responsible for her death. At first when he told her about it, her concern had been for him, causing her reaction to be perhaps less than it should have been.

How the knowledge that the man who claimed to love her could so callously wipe out a tribe of beings did not terrify her then as it did now, seemed incredible. Almost as if a part of her condoned the violence, accepted his justification. Of course, it had been forgotten in the wake of Geonosis, and the argument she had with Obi-Wan, causing her to do exactly what he had hoped to persuade her not to do.

Something, which yet again, she was doubting the wisdom of. Not in her reasoning, for the Order was beginning to come round to accepting most of what she privately believed; that there was strength in attachment, not the threat of the dark side. But she was wondering if Anakin was mature enough to realise that. Their backgrounds were as disparate as one could get; but both had aged them beyond their years, so his youth when measured against her own had rarely bothered her. Now she wondered if it was a factor which she should have considered before accepting his proposal.

Another consideration which seemed to have escaped her too, was the implications behind his violence on Tatooine with respect to his Jedi training. He had recognised the danger in the Lars' homestead, realised that he should be above taking such revenge. But neither had he, as far as she knew, had sought counselling on the matter from the Order. She because it had annoyed her that Obi-Wan hadn't bothered to ask Anakin what happened, while Anakin's hesitation she imagined originated from his fear that the Jedi would expel him from the Order if they knew.

What concerned her though, was how they didn't know. Jedi senses were legendary, and Anakin's skill in the Force was powerful. They should have been able to sense that something was wrong with him.

Unless they had, and they were waiting for him to admit it, to realise that he needed help. She knew that until Anakin admitted that there was a problem, no one would be able to resolve it, least of all himself. But that left her with limited options. She could not feed his ego all the time, in a vain effort to keep him calm, it would only make things worse. But she was running out on the number of times she could call him on it.

Padmé was contemplating trying to speak to Obi-Wan, seeing if she could perhaps seek his advice as to how to deal with the matter when she heard him speaking, causing her to come out of her introspection and listen to the conference. From the sound of things, she had tuned out when one of the confederacy speakers was talking, and the point he had been trying to make was not in the least complimentary. Several of her colleagues had waded into the affair, only causing the debating point to turn even more ugly, whereupon Obi-Wan had decided to step in.

And with a skill would make his master proud, he was slowly but surely soothing the ruffled feathers. In admiration she listened to his carefully crafted eloquence, observing what effect it had on the injured parties. The member from the confederacy delegation glanced at Count Dooku before conceding, while her senatorial colleague continued to view the words of compromise with scepticism. For a while she let Obi-Wan continue to try and persuade him, while she searched through her knowledge to find a reason behind the being's stubbornness.

Within a few moments she had it; the Senator was from a system who had dealings with Jedi in the past; in a case which had stirred up a lot of unrest in that part of the galaxy for a time. Needless to say, the system gained a certain dislike for the Order's methods. So she waited for Obi-Wan to reach a pause in his words and then spoke up, hoping the voice of a colleague would encounter more success.

It turned out to vain one; the Senator refused to accept her words as well. Taking a measure of his face, she noted the cause for his resistance; her youth and limited years spent as a member of the Senate. A common misconception which she was used to encountering, where the strength of her convictions and her eloquence achieved mixed results. Discreetly she glanced at Bail who was sitting next to her, using a pause in her reasoning to silently convey that she needed assistance. She hoped he would be able to descry her wordless plea.

He did, leaning forward in his chair so he could see the being he was addressing, his words an echo of what she had been saying, but with the added appearance of age and experience through his longer period as a member of the Republican Senate. Padmé fell silent, watching as their colleague's valid concerns were met. When that was achieved Bail fell silent too, letting the Pais ambassador choose the next topic of conversation.

She was grateful she had a friend like Bail with her here on Pais. Grateful that he had chosen to look past her youth when she entered the Senate by welcoming her on to the Loyalist Committee, introducing her to like minded colleagues with whom she could talk freely, giving her the opportunity to make a difference in the arena she had worked so hard to become a member of. He was a true friend as well, introducing her to the delights of Alderaan during one recess, and his wife Breha, in whom Padmé another she could trust almost as deeply as she trusted her attendants. The two of them had a lot in common, both being sovereigns of their systems, married to husbands with demanding careers.

Like her sister's, the Organa marriage was one she admired, although she soon discovered that it had been marred by personal tragedies and heartache. She was not sure she could cope as ably as they seemed to with miscarriages. As for Anakin, she doubted he would either.

There was also another aspect of life on Coruscant which Bail had introduced her to, she remembered with an inward blush. Sponsor was the more accurate description; he had given her the comlink and relayed to her the rules behind the secret club known as the List. At first she had been shocked that such a club existed, and that many of the Core's elite citizens were anonymous members. Curiosity eventually won over her astonishment, causing her to have a brief dalliance with it, before more serious matters took up her time.

Idly she wondered if there were any members in the conference room, and if there were was such fraternisation taking place on Pais. Not that she had any desire to rejoin the group. For all her doubts about her husband, she was still a woman of principles, who held adultery in contempt. With some members of the club she knew that didn't matter, though the anonymous policy held true, there were times when you discovered their identity after the fact, in a chance meeting or a HoloNet campaign. If there were members on Pais, because there were only three delegations who met everyday in the same room, the chances of recognising and knowing each other's name were almost certain.

Padmé remembered one question she had asked Bail when she joined; if any members were Jedi. He had replied that while he hadn't entertained a Jedi himself, there were rumours that some beings who belonged to the Order also belonged to the List.

Having heard from Anakin that the Code forbade attachment, she knew that the club provided a loophole, as it allowed the intimacy of sex, without the intricacy of feelings, so it wasn't unlikely that some members were. However, she wondered now why she had asked the question. A part of her knew the answer, she was just reluctant to accept it completely, for it meant when she returned home, she and Anakin would have to talk, and his reaction would not be pretty.

Surreptitiously she glanced at the Jedi across from her, half imagining his reply to her current thoughts. As much as she resented being proved wrong, she knew now that her reasoning with regards to attachment and Anakin had been flawed, whereas his was not, even if he had gone the wrong way about telling her. But she still believed she was right about members of the Order being allowed to love.

Admitting that her marriage wasn't perfect was one thing, deciding if she should end it was premature. Nubian courts granted divorce, but only after a series of negotiations and counselling to see if there was a way for the marriage to be salvaged before terminating the union completely.

If she had publicly married Anakin, they would have been required to have talks with the Nubian counsellors to make sure they were ready for such a commitment. She felt hypocritical for ignoring a part of her home world's legal system, but there was little she could do about it now, save perhaps getting Anakin to agree to go to counselling and she knew that would be as much of a battle as if she told him she wanted to end their marriage.

She wasn't ready to end her marriage yet. Not only had it barely begun, she felt that if she and Anakin could just sit down and talk without fighting, they could work something out. For all her doubts, she still loved him, though it was not the love of her parent's marriage, or her sister's or Bail's. None of them had given up at the first hurdle and she would be disappointed in herself if she did.

With that resolution in mind she returned to the conference, focusing on what a member of the Confederacy was saying. As she did so, she risked another glance at Obi-Wan, to find his gaze directed not towards the speaker but to another part of the room, where there were chairs for those members of the delegation who had brought attendants. Paisians were generous in providing seats for everyone, but they never left spares.

Yet this one, the one which Obi-Wan was looking at with a frown, was vacant. She watched him as his expression turned distant, inward as though he was using the Force, which she suspected he was. Then he looked towards the other members of the delegation which the Order had sent, as though perhaps to see if they had sensed what he had and if not to warn them of what was to come.

Then he turned to her, as everything erupted into chaos.

The canopy of voices, their dulcet tones the chorus of a symphony, rising to crescendo, had no idea what was to come. Their responses, flying back and forth, ascending in decibel, then descending, as if waves travelling through a canyon, would never anticipate such an event, believing it to be impossible.

Current varied within dialect and dialogue, point and counterpoint, argument and negotiation, but never in the least suspicion of what was to come their way. Under the supervision of their hosts these beings continued to debate, striving to iron out their differences until nothing impaired their desire for peace, believing that they would remain protected as they had always been, by Pais' enduring ability to guard the lives of the beings who sought their neutral planet and hospitality.

Resistance was futile, humiliating even, for they had gone beyond the point of honourable withdrawal, only deliberate sabotage could threaten their continued participation. Pride demanded peace from them now, their egos would settle for nothing less, nor would their people, but in view of what was to come, perhaps pride would be mollified by a dignified retreat, in the face of insurmountable odds.

Explosions rocked the conference room.

Light came first, a cascade of red, orange, yellow, punctuated by harsh streaks of black, followed by the shock waves which served to shatter the transparisteel viewscreens, the glasses beside each being's position. Last to arrive was the sound, echoing throughout the cavernous room, rebounding off walls, doors, tables, chairs.

And suddenly the idyllic world of Pais was covered in debris, metal, wood, glass, and most terrible of all, bodies of unconscious beings, who had risked so much to come here in the aim of forming a treaty, and now had risked their lives as well.

Chapter Text

Part 14: A Noticeable Exit.

A canopy of voices, their dulcet tones the chorus of a symphony, rising to a crescendo. Responses flew back and forth, ascending in decibel, then descending, as if waves travelling through a canyon. Current varied within dialect and dialogue, point and counterpoint, argument and negotiation. Under the supervision of their hosts these beings continued to debate, striving to iron out their differences until nothing impaired their desire for peace. Resistance was futile, humiliating even, for they had gone beyond the point of honourable withdrawal. Pride demanded peace from them now, their egos would settle for nothing less, nor would their people.

Obi-Wan Kenobi delved into the embrace of the Force, splitting his conscious concentration between the conversation and his ability to sense the minds of the beings in the room. As a rule all Jedi tried to refrain from reading the thoughts of those not gifted with the Force, or the privilege of being trained at the Temple if they did possess the right amount of midi-chlorians, albeit untapped. But there were times when such an technique was called for, when there was a greater risk of lives being lost if the ability was ignored.

Such as the possibility of an attack threatening to sabotage this peace conference. Pais, while a peaceful planet in every sense, was not immune from the troubles which plagued the universe. On the contrary it thrived on them, providing itself as a sanctuary on which those troubles could be resolved. From that perspective it could be argued that a native of the world might have a motive for sabotaging a conference, in the need to keep the delegations coming. But if that were true, ultimately it would backfire on the planet, robbing Pais of its invulnerable reputation.

The guilty party had to originate from either the Republic, the Separatists or, Force forbid, the Order. Normally Obi-Wan would have instantly dismissed the latter, but with the presence of Count Dooku in the room, he could not avoid suspecting his colleagues. For a moment he focused on the former Jedi Master, a member of the Lost Twenty, those who left the Order of their own accord, without any explanation. He had more reason than most of his colleagues to distrust the man, having been personally detained by him on Geonosis, and betrayed through the Count being the master of his late master.

Yet, oddly, those were the very reasons which made him open to the possibility that Dooku was serious about desiring peace. When he spoke to him last in his room, the Count had sounded weary of war, of being mired in the dark dealings of the Sith who seemed to be manipulating everything. Including the former Jedi who was his apprentice. His temporary apprentice, that is. Few beings liked to be considered dispensable, even Jedi, though such a care was somewhat in tune with their beliefs. It must have been a harsh blow to Dooku, who after so many years as a notable Jedi, abandoned his life to the dark, only to learn that he would be discarded once his new master gained control of the Chosen One.

Anakin. The revelation that the Sith coveted his apprentice was not as much of a surprise as perhaps it should have been. He was only too aware of the value that Anakin held for both sides, and of the volatile bundle of emotions inside the young man susceptible to manipulation. What the world expected of him, what the Order excepted of him.

Lately, Obi-Wan had found himself questioning those expectations, comparing them to what he expected of the young man who he had trained for over ten years. At the core, what he desired Anakin to become was the same any master desired of their Padawan, a well respected knight, then master.

However, he also wanted his apprentice to be content with the life Qui-Gon introduced him into, to understand the high standard that a Jedi held themselves to, the sacrifices sometimes demanded of them. What his late master never had the chance to teach the boy before getting to agree to leave behind the only kind of life he had ever known.

In a way his own master had manipulated Anakin into leaving Tatooine, exposing him to the world and the Sith before he was ready, perhaps against the will of the Force. While Qui-Gon had argued that it was the will of the Force that asked him to free the boy from slavery, to train him as a Jedi, Obi-Wan had wondered lately whether it was really what the Force intended. He couldn't help but pose the following; if the Force intended Anakin to be trained, why have him born so far from the reach of the Temple? Why have him discovered later than usual age of initiates? Along with these questions were others more worrying; was Anakin really the Chosen One? If so what kind of balance was he to bring to the Force?

Qui-Gon had called the impressive amount of midi-chlorians inside Anakin a vergence of the Force. The Council had leapt on to what he was not saying; that he believed Anakin to be the Chosen One. From that moment a set of high expectations had been placed on his apprentice, which had only risen the more Anakin excelled in his training. For he had excelled; his skills were beyond the level of other Padawans. But his weakness remained; the inability to discipline his emotions, a requirement demanded of every knight and every master. The very thing which a Sith would feed and thrive upon.

Obi-Wan knew that the discipline was not something which could be taught, only learned through experience, through instinct. Emotions were unique to every being, only they knew how to master to them. He believed Anakin capable of doing so, but he knew that his belief alone was not enough. His Padawan had to believe he was as well. Padmé had once accused him of doubting Anakin, something he knew, despite all his denials, he had not yet convinced her of otherwise. Whether she knew that Anakin doubted himself was another matter.

The truth was, he had never doubted Anakin, only what was claimed about him. For him the prophecy of the Chosen One was troubling. So much of it was incomplete, yet to be understood or discovered by the Order. But what they had discovered so far, led him to doubt that it was something the Jedi should believe in. There was an implication behind the words, that equated chosen with power.
And gaining power had always been the aim of the Sith.

Calling Anakin the Chosen One, exposing not just him, but the entire Order to the prophesy, was a mistake, he believed, as it placed the boy under a high amount of pressure and expectation, one that few could rise above to carve out their destiny. In a sense it was another kind of slavery, one from which he was even less likely to escape. But the alternative was also troubling. Keeping the nature of the prophesy secret, or never training the boy at all, never taking him from Tatooine.

He knew what slaves dreamed of, the chance to live a life free of the demands of their master. The Order was a servitude, but all those raised into it were asked if it was an Order that they wanted to serve. Admittedly few had known little of life outside the Temple, no matter how much they exposed to it, so often there was only one answer to that question. Yet it was asked of every Jedi when they finished the trials, before they swore their vows which would make them knights.

Given what Anakin had to sacrifice recently, Obi-Wan often wondered if his apprentice would choose what few others had. But then again, if he and Padmé had done what he suspected them of doing during her brief return to Naboo, then his apprentice was just as likely to answer yes, determined to prove that the Order was wrong in denying him attachment.

Presented with such a discovery, he knew that the Council would not take the matter lightly. While they had agreed to implement a wave of reforms which would ultimately grant all Jedi the same chance, they were more likely to refuse to allow one which had been taken in secrecy, as it would be viewed as a symbol of disrespect to their authority.

For Anakin, this refusal would be seen as yet another unjust sentence which the Order had placed on him. His resentment of the Council would continue to grow, whether he decided to leave in view of their refusal or not. All his life he had been exposed to the harsh injustice of the universe, those who wished to corrupt it for their own benefit rather than for the good of others. It had given him grand ambitions, the desire to fix the very injustices he had been exposed to. But he was impatient, eager for the quick result, easily frustrated when it appeared yet again that it would take time before such problems were resolved. It was a feeling Obi-Wan admired, though the temper which was the result of the frustration always disappointed him.

If Anakin was indeed the son of suns, the child of the Chosen One prophesy, perhaps instead of it being the task of him to bring balance to the Force, it was the task of the Force to bring balance inside him, Obi-Wan considered. And through the process, come to a better understanding of the mystical boundless energy which surrounded and penetrated the universe, binding them together. It would be a hard task, much harder than the one currently presumed to be true, but no more than what was required of every servant of the Force.

Abruptly the atmosphere within the conference room altered, the recent geniality giving way to tension, as a debate upon a certain point became vigorous. Switching his focus to the matter under contention, Obi-Wan listened carefully to the words of the delegates, delving into the embrace of the Force to sense their feelings concerning the debate, then spoke, entering his own voice and views into the fray. With the skill learned under his late master's teachings, he smoothed the ruffled feathers of both sides, then put forth a suitable compromise which both delegates could not fail to find acceptable.

He was reaching the end of his suggestion, with the Senator from the Republic delegation continuing to remain stubborn in his refusal to concede to the point he was making, when Padmé spoke, her intelligent mind evidently knowing the reasoning behind her colleague's continued resistance. Smoothly he withdrew from the conversation, listening to her eloquent plea for the Senator to listen to reason.

But the Senator was old and unused to accepting information from such a young woman as she. Distrusting her wisdom on the count of her youth he continued to underline his point of contention, until Bail Organa leaned forward, adding his voice to the debate. Unlike Padmé, he had served a number of years in the Senate, as well as the post of Viceroy on his home world of Alderaan and as an aide to his predecessor, Senator Antilles, who had been one of Palpatine's rivals for the position of Supreme Chancellor. Finally the Senator began to give way, slowly and gradually, though Obi-Wan could sense through the Force that it had only taken one sentence from Bail for him to accept the compromise given.

Politics. It was such a superficial world, focused so much on perception rather than truth, spin rather than democracy. He accepted that there were some Senators who took their responsibilities seriously, who truly attempted to represent their people and fight for their needs, but most of those in the Senate were little short of hypocrites, enslaved to their own or their family's ambitions before those of the beings who elected them. Opposite him were the only two exceptions he was aware of, but his natural disdain for the breed hadn't provided him with the opportunity to become well acquainted with others.

Though this peace conference had only begun a few days ago, he had come to know most of the delegation from the Senate, not deeply, but perhaps enough for a initial impression. So far he judged them to be hard working, committed beings, who cared about the systems they represented, or at least provided a convincing display of doing so. Well educated, seemingly open-minded politicians, who were desirous of forming a peaceful alliance, one that was fair, at least for the Republic. How much they cared about the view of the Confederacy, or even the Jedi was another matter.

He wondered if any of them had given a thought to sabotaging the peace talks. Given their past history, his most likely suspect was someone from the Confederacy delegation, but Obi-Wan felt unable to rule out the possibility that a member of the Republic could be capable of such treachery. Politicians were not known for their honesty or clean dealings. Most were given a trained, though not necessarily practised background in law too, which provided them with the ability to argue their way through many a scrape. Many had secrets too, past deeds which they would rather not be brought to light.

And the woman across from him was not invulnerable to such a weakness. If his suspicions were right, she had the most damaging secret of all, one which could entwine both the Senate and the Order into a scandal if it was found out before the reforms went through. Even when the reforms were passed, he doubted the news of the union would pass by without a fuss from the HoloNet. Aside from Anakin's reputation, the Senator had her own claim to fame as the young sovereign who had called for a vote of no confidence in the former Supreme Chancellor.

Obi-Wan inwardly sighed. He was aware that he was being hypocritical, frowning on Anakin's and Padmé's relationship, stating his disapproval and the Order's current opinion of such attachments. There was also a degree of jealousy in his objections, as he often contemplated what he would do if his dreams were granted. Leaving the Order for love was not a new thing to him, he had done such twenty-three years ago when he committed himself to the cause of the Young on Melida/Daan.

With Siri too, there had been the temptation, open discussion of a joint departure, resolved into a close friendship in the end. And if Satine Kyrse, the Duchess of Mandalore had asked him, he would have done. But the latter would have been a consolation, rather than a true commitment. Such a departure would have thrust him into the spotlight just as Anakin's secret relationship threatened to do so, but it would not be without regret, as he gave up the Order and any hope of Padmé returning his love.

Did she suspect his feelings? It was something he often wondered, when he caught her looking at him unguardedly, lost in thoughts he could only begin to imagine. They were so often on his mind that he worried his features betrayed his heart. Garen took only an evening in their company to descry the emotion, and he suspected that if his other friends witnessed them together they would realise just as quickly too. If he was truly so transparent, it was only a matter of time before she became aware of them as well, if she was not aware already.

He knew what her response was most likely to be, doubtless it would resemble the arguments within his mind at present, about his hypocritical disapproval of her relationship with Anakin, the double handed treatment of them. Their friendship, which had only just been restored from that argument at her residence before Anakin escorted her back to Naboo, would be broken forever.

Resolving once more not to think about the matter further, as well as never revealing to her how he felt, Obi-Wan pushed his wandering thoughts away from his conscious and focused himself on the events within the conference room. And in doing so his timing could not have been more flawless.

In the part of the space belonging to the members from the Separatist delegation, a woman rose slowly from her chair, quietly heading for the double door entrance. She had long, gently curled red hair, in a more vibrant shade than the tint to his blond strands, and green eyes. Dressed in a black, fitting jump-suit, her slim figure strangely made little impact on a room full of the opposite sex. Even during deeply committed peace talks, no one would be hard pressed not to notice her beauty.

Yet here she was, quietly exiting the room with as little fuss as possible. Almost as if she was doing all that she could to ensure that her departure remained unnoticed by everyone. Obi-Wan called to the Force, trying to get a read on her, meeting a solid, almost duracrete shield in response.

She did not even turn round to glance at him, yet she had to have sensed his suspicion, given the impenetrable reception he received. Her ability within the Force was impressive, and unusually well disciplined, for someone who had not been trained by the Order. Which immediately put him on alert. His mind recalled the speculation he had shared with Dooku, Bail and Padmé recently, concerning the possible sabotage of the conference. He frowned, turning from the door to the woman sitting across from him.

The last thing he remembered, before everything turned into utter chaos, was leaping from his chair, over the conference table, his arms outstretched to protect the woman he loved.

The canopy of voices, their dulcet tones the chorus of a symphony, rising to crescendo, had no idea what was to come. Their responses, flying back and forth, ascending in decibel, then descending, as if waves travelling through a canyon, would never anticipate such an event, believing it to be impossible. Current varied within dialect and dialogue, point and counterpoint, argument and negotiation, but never in the least suspicion of what was to come their way.

Under the supervision of their hosts these beings continued to debate, striving to iron out their differences until nothing impaired their desire for peace, believing that they would remain protected as they had always been, by Pais' enduring ability to guard the lives of the beings who sought their neutral planet and hospitality.

Resistance was futile, humiliating even, for they had gone beyond the point of honourable withdrawal, only deliberate sabotage could threaten their continued participation. Pride demanded peace from them now, their egos would settle for nothing less, nor would their people, but in view of what was to come, perhaps pride would be mollified by a dignified retreat, in the face of insurmountable odds.

Explosions rocked the conference room.

Light came first, a cascade of red, orange, yellow, punctuated by harsh streaks of black, followed by the shock waves which served to shatter the transparisteel viewscreens, the glasses beside each being's position. Last to arrive was the sound, echoing throughout the cavernous room, rebounding off walls, doors, tables, chairs.

And suddenly the idyllic world of Pais was covered in debris, metal, wood, glass, and most terrible of all, bodies of unconscious beings, who had risked so much to come here in the aim of forming a treaty, and now had risked their lives as well.

Chapter Text

Part 15: To Follow, If They Chose To Do So.

Nineve Jade had carried out her orders well. No one was hurt within the explosion. The conference room was an absolute mess, full of shards from broken transparisteel, Paisian mahogany, and linen, soaked in liquid from the pitchers provided for hydration, that nourishment slightly heated by the explosion, but everyone had survived the blast. All were thrown to the floor from the force of the impact, so while it was highly possible that everyone possessed a few bumps and bruises, but no injuries, life threatening or otherwise. Exactly what the dark lord of the Sith had ordered.

Padmé blinked away the dust from the debris as she opened her eyes. Unconsciously she nuzzled the soft, yet firm piece of furnishing she was resting on, somehow having landed upon it, thrown there by the force of the explosion. Except she soon realised that it wasn't a piece of soft furnishing. Below her ear there sounded the steady beat of a heart. Hesitantly she shifted herself until she caught sight of the face of the being to whom the organ belonged. His features were instantly recognisable. Grey blue eyes silently returned her gaze.

Obi-Wan Kenobi.

She remembered him frowning at something right before the blast. An empty chair, recently vacated, in the area of the room assigned to the confederacy delegation. He must have leapt over the desk to protect her as the explosion struck. And now she lay upon his chest, his arm wrapped round her waist. It felt like the safest place in the universe. Her mind recalled the last time she was in her husband's arms, just before they parted in her cruiser on the docking platform beside the Senate. Anakin had been a bundle of conflicting emotions, despair at their parting, their honeymoon cut short, anger at the outside forces interfering with them, frustration at having to hide their relationship from the universe. Her calm determination to put up with it only seemed to irritate him all the more.

When they separated, she to go to the Senate, he to the Temple, her relief was palpable. Along with her guilt for feeling like that. Searching her memories, she cast her mind further back, desperately trying to recall a time when she felt as safe in her husband's arms as felt in Obi-Wan's right now. The result was both disappointing and disturbing. Even in the blissful days spent at Varykino after their wedding she hadn't felt this kind of untouchable peacefulness. With Anakin it was always a nervous anticipation as to what was going to swing his mood next. Here, in Obi-Wan's arms, she knew nothing could disturb them, not even the Order's conflicting views on attachment. She was filled with the comforting temptation of wanting to lie here forever.

And upon that realisation came another more disturbing revelation concerning the future stability of her marriage, causing her to hurriedly rise from her position. She stilled as his hand came up to assist her, cautiously checking her over. He had done that once before she recalled, when they were surrounded by droidekas on Geonosis. Afterwards the wounds on her back hadn't hurt quite so much. Turning, she paused, her mind silently contemplating the infinitesimal distance from his mouth to hers. It would be so easy to just slip and kiss him. Already her overactive imagination was speculating on what would happen if she did, and how wonderful it would feel.

Startled, she rose to her feet, rapidly putting some distance between them, glancing around the remains of the room to survey the damage. Around them the rest of the delegates were also rising to their feet, members of the Order assisting those who were experiencing some difficulty. Dust fell from their once immaculate expensive tailoring, covering the parts of the floor which weren't already cluttered with debris from the explosion. They were lucky that the ceiling still held, otherwise the entire structure of the hotel could have caved in on top of them.

Turning, she peered through the motes of dust to the large frame which once held the transparisteel, staring at the contrasting sunny countryside which surrounded the hotel complex, full of lush green grass, blooming flowers, ripening plants, buzzing insects and fluttering avians. As far as the rest of Pais was concerned, nothing had occurred to disrupt its ordinary afternoon. Stretching her senses, Padmé caught the faint sound of an engine gunning; the familiar telltale whine of a star ship taking off. Raising a hand to protect her eyes from the glare of the sun, she squinted until her pupils located the small craft, steadily climbing into the atmosphere and from there to space.

Presumably whoever was flying the little silver craft was responsible for the chaos of the conference room. Pais rarely attracted tourists, taking care to put peace talks above all other catering to the usual hotel kind of clientele. Located as it was on the border between Republic and Separatist controlled space hardly gave it a suitable refuelling status either, as most travellers preferred to chose the more business minded systems of either side which were only a parsec or so away that the extra particle of fuel required didn't matter so much.

She wondered if Obi-Wan or anyone else had managed to get a good look at whoever it was who had caused the explosion and just exited the atmosphere. Not that it mattered, for it was highly unlikely that they would be able to identify them. A saboteur who had taken this much care to cause an explosion which only damaged the room as opposed to the occupants themselves would doubtless be just as careful when it came to protecting their identity and affiliation. Assuming they worked for anyone that is. For all they knew who it was could be an independent operator.

A conclusion quickly rejected almost as soon as she thought of it. No independent had anything to gain by making sure the peace process failed, unless one counted the dark lord of the Sith whom the Jedi were searching for, and Padmé doubted that he worked alone, not when one considered how many conflicts the Order believed he was responsible for causing. He'd managed to get his apprentice inside one of the most secure parts of Theed palace to kill a Jedi master after all. Not to mention organising the blockade which had caused the Jedi and his apprentice to be sent there in the first place. That could not have been done by one being alone, it would have taken time, planning and a measure of trust that the Trade Federation would carry out their blockade.

Who now played a major component in the Separatist Confederacy. Not for the first time did she contemplate the possibility that the Sith lord might be behind the Separatists as well. Count Dooku, according Anakin and Obi-Wan was a Sith, the new apprentice, who had replaced the one Obi-Wan killed on Naboo. Or former Sith, if his desire for peace was still to be believed. For all they knew this explosion could have been his scheme all along, to show the Republic, the Order and the Confederacy that peace was out of the question.

That was what most of the opposition in the Senate had put forward when they debated over this proposal in the first place. Their arguments had been convincing, unrelenting even. But they numbered only a small minority, compared to the majority of Senators who still firmly believed that there could be a way to form an alliance with the Confederacy, one which operated on peace rather than war. Too many for all to attend this peace conference, which was a good thing, because if news of this got back to the Core, they would need their supporters arguing that this explosion only deepened their commitment to peace, rather than weakening it.

Was there still to be a peace, she wondered, her gaze instinctively travelling towards the area of the room assigned to the Confederacy, realising the full horror that the saboteur had caused once more. The distrust which days of talks and the kind assistance from their hosts had slowly erased would now return, if indeed it had ever completely disappeared in the first place. After days of establishing the foundation for a peaceful, working alliance, they were now back to square one.

Obi-Wan was making his way over to Count Dooku, lending the former Jedi Master a hand in order to help him rise from the floor. The magnate of Serenno looked aged by the explosion, possessing an old world weariness about his appearance, grateful for the support of his Padawan's Padawan. Gracefully making the motion look apparently so much less than it was, Obi-Wan helped the Count to his feet and casually checked him over, as the rest of the Jedi were doing with the other delegates.

After making sure everyone was okay, as whole they went to work on shifting what they could of debris from the explosion. Paisians were ill-equipped to deal with this type of clearing, having never experienced terrorist threats before. Their host, after he was helped to his feet by a Jedi, stood staring at the cleanup operation, obviously at a loss as to what to do, before realising that with this room destroyed another would be needed for the rest of the talks. Knowing that the people around him would not appreciate a reminder as to what they came here to create, he quietly exited the room and went about organising another.

Assuming there would be any more peace talks, that is. Cooperation was all very well when there was something before them that no one could find something to disagree about, unless someone happened to ask who caused the explosion that is, but when the debris was cleared there was no way of knowing how any of the delegates would talk to each other. Whether they would too busy searching for someone amongst them who looked guilty or gleeful and blaming them for the explosion. Or that it wouldn't matter who was to blame for the destruction, the mere fact of it occurring would be enough to put all three parties at odds with each other once more.

It was obvious who the fingers of blame would be pointed at first, even before the none too discreet glances were aimed at them after a path across the entire remains of the room had been cleared. Suddenly it was as if that path created a division where previously there was none. Using the cleared narrow space as an excuse to separate, to revert to their delegations as they continued the cleanup. Occasional glances shot across the line, as if some unguarded expression would give away the guilty party. Although most of the delegates from the Senate and the Jedi had been chosen because of their reputable reputations, all of them were vulnerable to prejudice, and it was only to be expected that the preconceived notions about the Confederacy would soon expose those prejudices.

The division wasn't broken until the Paisian host returned. He made his entrance quietly enough, his arrival unheard even by the Jedi, who were no doubt preoccupied by the mental speculation on who could be responsible for the explosion, and the tension in the room since its occurrence. Before speaking he momentarily surveyed the clean up operation happening before him with a kind of envy, knowing that his species' inability to cope with such situations would have never achieved this much during his absence, nor appear so composed whilst doing so either.

"If I may interrupt," he began, causing the delegates to come to a halt, stretch to their full heights, and turned to look at him as he spoke. He waited until he had their sole focus, before adding, "the new conference room is ready for the rest of the peace talks, if you would care to join me there, I shall show you the way."

"I notice you didn't ask if any of us still wanted to continue with the peace talks," one of the delegates uttered.

"In all honesty I confess that such a thought had not occurred to me," their host replied. "Should I be asking the question?"

For all their natural deference to their clientele, the Paisians were not afraid of using psychological warfare when it came to reconciling two warring sides, as was shown by the host's technique of flipping the question back to the delegates, giving them the responsibility of answering, making it appear that the whole fate of a treaty rested solely on them.

"Did you miss what happened here?" The delegate asked, gesturing at the remnants of the debris which had yet to allocated a temporary pile in some area of the room until more suitable cleanup equipment could arrive. "Do you really think any of us would want to continue talking with them after what they just did?"

"So you're accusing us of arranging this explosion?" A delegate from the Republic Senate asked, outraged.

"Oh, don't look so surprised," the first delegate remarked. "Politicians are not above arranging circumstances such as these to come out on top. Nor are the Jedi, for that matter."

There was a momentary pause as everyone was shocked into silence by the accusation just thrust at an Order who prided itself on integrity and honesty. However it was only momentary. Thanks to the recent propaganda campaign against them, such accusations were fast becoming normal, and while the disgust at being the recipient of them had not disappeared, the inability to respond had long ago.

"You dare to accuse the Jedi Order of causing such an atrocity?" one of its less tactful delegate masters queried in incredulous tone.

"Hardly an atrocity when no one dies, is it?" the first delegate pointed out somewhat smugly as if the fact that there had been no loss of life proved that the Jedi were responsible.

If anyone did think of a pithy comeback to that last question it was beyond the hearing range of the Paisian, and not through any disability to his health, for the voice of whoever it was became lost in the melee of the full-scale argument which erupted at that moment. Helplessly he watched as the previously peaceful conference disintegrated right before his eyes, with the delegates shouting at each other, warily thankful that only the Jedi were allowed to carry weapons upon his world, though he would not have put the other delegates above the practice of smuggling devices in if they could.

Just when he was about to despair of the parties ever reaching a pause, let alone a peaceful conclusion, the elder being who was head of the Confederacy delegation called out for silence, his ability in the Force put to good use as he applied it to his voice so the words were audible to all concerned. For a moment the Paisian wondered if the Order would be willing to train his species to convey such a technique, for it could prove useful in future conferences. But then he realised that it might not be as half as effective without the power of the Force behind it.

"Gentle beings, I believe that finding or proving whoever is responsible for this atrocity is a moot point," Count Dooku continued. "The fact is that the explosion occurred. And if we allow it to destroy the delicate trust which I dare to hope we have been building between us these past few days, then we are giving those responsible exactly the victory that they desired by arranging the explosion in the first place. May I suggest that we deprive them of the achievement of such a goal and continue working towards establishing a peace treaty."

The magnate of Serenno didn't wait for an answer to his eloquently worded statement. Instead with an elegant grace which belied his age and contrasted strongly with the current state of the room, he turned about and headed for the exit, disappearing from view seconds later, leaving the rest of his delegation, and everyone else behind.

To follow, if they chose to do so.

Chapter Text

Part 16: Thoughts & Revelations, Disturbing & Elusive.

Nineve Jade knew something was wrong from the moment the response to her request for a meeting arrived. And it was nothing to do with the encrypted words or the beeping of her ship's communication system. However, it had everything to do with her ability in the Force, trained for over twenty years, honed to a razor-sharp ability by her master. The anything but benign being who called her his Hand.

How many years she had been operating under this title she was uncertain. For as long as she could remember, her master had been her guardian, her teacher, her superior. He had found her as a crechling, she believed, not that he had ever enlightened her as to her origins, or parentage, nor had she ever cared enough to ask. Over the years, he had steadily trained any such desire out of her, nurturing her, - though the techniques he used belied the meaning of that word, - into his Hand.

The term encompassed many occupations, amalgamated into one. Assassin, bodyguard, spy, subordinate, she was all these and more. On occasion she was required to give out orders to others, entrusted with his authority, as a quasi-second in command. Dooku, while being his apprentice, had little authority when compared to hers, not even the faintest grasp of the empire which her master held.

Which perhaps was why he had decided to betray them by offering the Republic a peace treaty. Her Master had to realise that was the Count's motive, despite his anger concerning the former Jedi every time his name was discussed. Or maybe the emotion was directed more toward himself, for failing to contemplate this possibility in his so meticulously planned scheme for galaxy wide domination.

A scheme which had suffered yet another setback by her actions on Pais only hours ago. Nineve sighed, and slumped back against the confines of her cockpit flight chair in frustration. The thing that annoyed her the most concerning what she had done was the consequences from the explosion. The device had worked perfectly, doing exactly what her master had ordered, destroying the conference room without harming anyone inside. What it had failed to do was convince everyone within that room about the futility of peace between the Republic and the Confederacy, which was the end result that her master had intended to occur.

Something else his supposedly meticulously planned scheme had failed to anticipate. Not that he would appreciate her pointing this out to him when she reported in. He was already aware of her failure, unless he had somehow missed the HoloNet wide briefing on the sabotage to the peace conference and how despite the danger in continuing the delegates were still prepared to do so. She had been monitoring the broadcasts ever since her ship dropped out of hyperspace on the approach to Coruscant after leaving Pais, waiting for a reaction from those delegates to see if the explosion had worked. Sure enough, the evidence appeared as soon as she entered orbit of the Core.

The briefing was short, and not open to any questions from the press, who were never allowed on Pais as rule anyway, but the message could not have been clearer. A member from each delegation had been present, seated behind a table, the backdrop the remains of the conference room. The choice of surroundings had been deliberate, her training taught her that; a useful symbolic point to underlying that each member was well aware of the danger they were in, but their determination to continue to work towards a peace treaty was not about to be scuppered by an explosion, and neither should that of the beings who they served.

Equally deliberate was the choice of delegates, she had realised too. Count Dooku, as head of the Separatists, a clear message to the Republic that he was still committed to the treaty he had proposed in the Senate, as well as a less than subtle dig concerning his presence and the Chancellor's decision not to go. It also served to act as a continued show of defiance to Palpatine, for while Dooku was unaware of her existence, he was not stupid enough to believe that his master would not attempt to sabotage the peace process.

From the Republic was Padmé Amidala, again another appropriate choice. As leader of the opposition in the Senate and a member of the Loyalist and Security committees, her words carried weight within the galaxy. Her presence underlined her previous commitment to voting against the Military Creation Act, reminding the beings she represented that despite what her actions on Geonosis might have portrayed, she had was still a pacifist at heart.

And finally there had been Obi-Wan Kenobi from the Jedi Order. Aside from the obvious need for a Jedi to be present at the briefing, the Master's being there was a silent argument against the negative propaganda that had been spreading about the universe lately regarding the Jedi - another one of her master's tactics in his allegedly meticulously planned scheme. Master Kenobi had been at Geonosis too, his capture leading to that incident in the first place. His name had risen to some prominence because of this, one of the few members of the Order whose actions were publicised, not because he was a member of the Council, although there were rumours flying around that he was soon to assume such a position.

What was also apparent from his presence was another attack at her master, though Kenobi had no way of knowing such. It had been he who killed Palpatine's last apprentice, with the help of his master, who was Dooku's apprentice when the Count still belonged to the Order. His presence at the briefing was supposed to convey to her master another mistake in choosing Dooku as his apprentice, for it laid her master open to possibility of betrayal, through the Count choosing to trust the apprentice of his former pupil than his new master. Not to mention reminding Palpatine that Kenobi was capable of taking down a Sith, and could easily do so again.

All this she realised long after the briefing ended. During the broadcast she was still too angry at her failure to focus on the symbolism behind the words. Each of the three delegates had spoken, their words succinct, their meaning unmistakable. They were outraged by the attempt by perpetrators unknown to sabotage the peace process. Yet they had no desire to let them succeed in their aims. Despite the danger, they were all still committed to working towards a peaceful treaty between the Confederacy and the Republic. The briefing was merely an aid to alert the beings they served of the danger, and their continued commitment to keeping the peace.

With that, the briefing ended, leaving her fuming, as well as the worrying realisation that her frustration with herself would be nothing compared to what her master would be experiencing. Or what he would express, she had mused when she received his encrypted message, detailing where her debriefing would take place. Due to the risk of discovery their meetings on Coruscant were arranged to take place in different locations every time, ones which were swept for surveillance thoroughly before hand.

The location for this one only added to her concern about how he would express his anger. As soon as she had decrypted the message and entered the coordinates into her ship's navigational system, her mind had contemplated the most likely possibilities based on how angry she believed he would be. When her ship's navigational system revealed the location to be an empty warehouse in the Works district, her worse concern was solidified. It was the ideal place for him to do anything he wanted, hurt, main, even kill her if his anger was sufficient. She wasn't indispensable after all, no matter her position she was merely another servant of his rule, subject to his justice.

She did have another option open to her, she knew, one which she had contemplated before she entered Coruscant's atmosphere to land. It would be an easy matter to turn her ship around, return to hyperspace and leave his employ. Her salary was generous and her training easily adaptable to surviving away from her master. But she had dismissed the notion almost immediately. For while it was an attractive prospect, she knew that her resources were by no means unlimited, whereas his were. If she ran, she would be running for the rest of her days, for as long as he was alive, because he would track her down, and then he would most certainly kill her.

While at the moment, such a fate was a mere possibility.

Nineve shrugged. Such a conclusion was hardly a comfort, but the alternative was worse. She had no choice but to go and see him. Rising from her chair, she shut down her ship, secured it from intruders, then left for the Works.

Padmé returned to her room that night rather than heading for the bar to spend another evening in the company of Obi-Wan and Garen. Not because spending those few hours before seeking some sleep alone was what she wanted to do. She needed time to think about what she had learned during those first minutes after the explosion.

And what she planned to do about it.

Until now she had failed to find a spare moment to form her resolves. After Count Dooku's proposal, everyone had followed the magnate of Serenno into the new conference room for the continuation of the peace conference, much to her, and judging by the shocked features, the Count's also, not to mention every other delegate's matched expressions of similar emotions, all of which could be combined into one, that of surprise.

What followed then surprised them even further; they all sat down and resumed the talks, almost as if the explosion had never taken place. When their host brought the conference to an end for the day, she, Obi-Wan and Count Dooku set up the live Holo feed for their broadcast about the explosion and their continued commitment to peace, a briefing which had been discussed, organised and agreed to by every delegate involved.

By the time the briefing had been recorded, it was late, providing with an excuse to seek her room, even if she didn't feel like sleeping yet. Entering that luxurious location, for Pais accepted no less than the best, whatever the wealth of their clientele, she began to take off the elaborate costume of her official garb in favour of something more comfortable. The process took a little longer than usual, as she was undressing without the aid of her attendants, choosing, unlike most of her colleagues, to come alone to Pais for the conference and leave her staff on Coruscant to maintain a voice in the Senate.

When she was attired in a nightgown and robe, she sank down on to the bed and turned her mind back towards that moment when she almost kissed Obi-Wan. Or rather, thought about kissing him. Now that the second their lips were so close for the impulse to breach her emotions was nothing more than memory, she felt that she could reflect on the temptation objectively. For it had to be a temptation, nothing more. Something felt only by her, noticed by no one else. She couldn't discuss the impulse with Obi-Wan, for that would only make matters worse. All she could do was put it down to hormones and forget about the incident.

But that was easier said than done. Every sensation from that impulse lingered in her mind. Her imagination was even daring to complete the move, fantasising about how the kiss might have felt, how his lips would taste, whether it would be different to Anakin's. Guilt rose to the forefront of her mind as her thoughts brought up her husband. It would be unfair to draw a comparison between Anakin and Obi-Wan, especially based on something which still existed in her imagination. Yet she was aware of one thing concerning Ani. During their brief honeymoon, first in Varykino then enroute to Coruscant, he hadn't satisfied her sexually. He had come close, but never close enough. She put it down to his inexperience, half assured that if they were given some time, she could help him give her satisfaction.

However, there was some part of her which doubted that. It was the same part of her who queried his confession during their wedding night when compared with what happened afterwards that seemed to belie such words. The part of her who argued whether she wanted to live in a secret marriage the rest of her life, what it meant about children, and everything else she had wanted from such a union. Insistently it protested against her dismissal concerning Anakin arguing that there was more significance in the lack of satisfaction than she gave credit for. Not to mention the objection concerning her same determination to deny that the need to kiss Obi-Wan had been nothing more than a momentary impulse.

Padmé sighed and rose from the bed. Reflecting on the impulse was obviously a bad idea. Perhaps she should call her residence on Coruscant instead; Dormé might have some business from the Senate or Naboo that she could occupy herself with. For a minute she debated on speaking to Anakin, but decided against it. She was hardly in the right frame of mind to speak her husband just now. She might let something slip, and cause another misunderstanding.

Ignoring the part of her who was asking herself why she seemed so reluctant to rouse her husband's anger, Padmé sat down in front of the communications panel. Keying in the usual code for her residence, she waited for her attendant to pick up.

In the end, Obi-Wan didn't go to the bar. Garen proposed such a plan to him and Padmé, and he refused soon after she, though his excuse was not the same as hers. Instead he returned to the remains of the first conference room, to see if he could use the Force to gain a more clearer view on the young woman he believed responsible.

There was a memory enhancing technique used in the Force to aid recollection of the past. A skill taught to Padawans when they were told about their heritage, given a chance to explore their past before they made a commitment to the Order. One of the secrets of the Jedi, never made public to those outside the Temple, even who chose to view them with contempt for taking crechlings from their parents. Something his Padawan had been taught, but not with his heritage in mind, for he knew that already.

Quietly he stood in the space between the debris waiting to be cleared as soon as trained crews arrived to do so, his blue grey eyes closed, his mind deep in the embrace of the Force. He felt the guidance taking him into the recent events of the day, before the explosion. Cautiously he focused his mind, careful not to direct it in case he missed something or the connection was broken. The most important thing was - no pun intended - not to force the Force, but to let it flow through you, let yourself go along for the ride, for you would learn what you wanted to know, even if it did not seem so clear when you did so.

He saw the conference table, the delegates gathered round, some taking notes others listening to the speaker. Behind them aides were present, most belonging to those Senators who had come or the delegates sent by the Separatists. A few were paying no attention to the talks, catching up with each other, having been parted by their bosses leaving the Republic. Others were listening, or giving the appearance of doing so, their inner thoughts elsewhere.

In the midst of these was the woman with red hair and green eyes, her features composed in the image of perfect attentiveness. Yet Obi-Wan knew from the minute he set his gaze on her that a peaceful future for the galaxy was the last thing on her mind. He could read her intentions through the Force, her calculating brain, focused on her master's agenda. Not only that, he realised with a gasp, but her own ability to harness the ancient energy.

He realised now who she worked for, the Sith lord they had been looking for ever since he first overcame the apprentice who killed his master on Naboo. For a moment he wondered if she answered to Dooku, but dismissed such a conclusion immediately, for the impressions he sensed from her contradicted such a chain of command. No, she answered to the Sith lord, who, angered by his apprentice's desire for peace, had decided to sabotage the conference and put the galaxy back at war.

Opening his eyes, he emerged from his memories to discover that he was no longer alone within the conference room. Standing some distance from him was one of the very beings he had been recalling.

Count Dooku.

The magnate of Serenno met his even handed gaze with a small nod of wordless acknowledgement. Before the silence between them could step into awkwardness, he spoke in a tone designed not to travel further than was necessary. "I see you've come to the same conclusion I reached."

Obi-Wan didn't bother countering the statement, Dooku probably used the same methods as he to recall the events of this day, no matter whether he was fully a Sith or some thing in between that and a Jedi. To deny would imply that he still believed Dooku was working for the Sith lord, when he no longer did.

"Do you recognise her?" He asked.

Obi-Wan expected Dooku to shake his head, but instead the Count nodded. "Not enough to put a name to, but I've seen her before." He paused, and Obi-Wan could sense that he was thinking about when he had seen her, and where. "I can tell you one thing. My old master has a habit of using beings who can easily be disposed of if things go wrong."

Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow at that. "Your old master?"

Dooku matched his expression. "I think I lost the title of apprentice from the moment I declared my intentions to hold these peace talks."

There was something about the way he replied, almost a little too calmly, the words oddly composed, deliberate even. Obi-Wan tried to sense the meaning behind them, but it was elusive, so he pushed his suspicion aside to deal with later, when he more to go on. For now he nodded slightly before adding, "you'll have to reveal his identity some time, you know."

Dooku inclined his head in acknowledgement. "I know. But not today."

Chapter Text

Part 17: Questions & Doubts.

When Obi-Wan returned to his hotel later that night, the short droid like sounds of the communications panel beeping greeted him. Closing the door, he took off his cloak, hanging the garment on the hook that was fastened on the reverse, then wandered over to the desk. Sitting down he keyed in the code which would silence the sound and turn the red flashing light into permanent, signalling that the line was in use, before tapping the sequence of keys that allowed him to answer the call.

Anakin greeted him with a half worried half relieved expression. "Master, I just saw the press briefing, how are you?"

"I'm fine, Anakin, thankyou," Obi-Wan replied, inwardly relieved to hear from his Padawan. Observing the young man before him, he noticed that the tortured anxiety and frustration regarding his passions was no longer so apparent on his face. He looked more like a Senior Padawan should appear on the cusp of knighthood. Evidently the extra training under Master Windu had done him a world of good. "Fortunately the bomb only caused damage to the conference room, everyone within remained unharmed."

"Have you found out who is responsible?" Anakin asked.

Obi-Wan hesitated in replying, unsure if his response would rouse his apprentice's anger. However answering him was unavoidable. "I believe the person involved may be an agent of the Sith lord we've been looking for."

Anakin nodded, his expression unchanged. "And they managed to leave the planet before they could be captured?"

"Yes, though I imagine their master won't be too happy with them after seeing the press briefing and hearing our desire to continue with the conference. I don't think we'll be troubled by such sabotage again." Obi-Wan took a breath then changed the subject. "Enough about the conference. How is your training with Master Windu coming along?"

The composure dropped to be replaced by a child like enthusiasm Obi-Wan had not seen since Anakin turned thirteen. "Hard, but exciting, Master. I'm learning a lot. Master Windu thinks I'm making good progress."

Obi-Wan nodded, unable to keep a grin from his face as well. It was rare that he saw his Padawan like this, as the boy that he lost sight of when Anakin entered his teenage years. Now coupled with the resolved expression he had seen earlier, his worries about the young man before him began to ease. "I'm glad to hear that. Coming from Master Windu, good progress is the equivalent of the highest praise."

Anakin frowned. "You haven't spoken to him then?"

"No," Obi-Wan replied. "Why would I need to?"

"I thought he might contact you," Anakin replied.

"He'll probably talk to me when I return from Pais," Obi-Wan added, seeing the frown disappear from his apprentice's face as he accepted that explanation. "Besides, I wanted to make sure you had no problems with Vaapad first; its a hard fighting style that few Jedi can truly master. Mace only selects pupils whom he believes have the potential to do so, because the technique can be dangerous."

Anakin nodded. "I know, he told me that it channels the dark side of the Force from your opponent through you." He paused, as though he were about to say something more, but then the com panel on his end emitted a sharp beep, indicating that another was waiting to talk to him. "I have to go, Master. May the Force be with you."

"And with you, Padawan," Obi-Wan returned before turning the communications system off. Reclining back in the chair, he smiled as he recalled Anakin's resolved features, how well his apprentice seemed to be coping in comparison to his previous state in the run up to the fight on Geonosis. He had been worried when he left for Pais that the time apart from Anakin would worsen relations between them, as it had with him and Qui-Gon, when he left the Order for a time. Anakin was older than he had been, but the circumstances were relatively the same, the need to accept the sacrifice of a lost love identical.

He had never told Anakin about Cerasi, and the question Qui-Gon put to him when he returned. Obi-Wan wondered for a moment if he needed to ask his pupil what his master had asked him. It was something which preyed on his mind ever since he tried to persuade Anakin to give up his love for Padmé. His reasoning was simple, albeit rather selfish; if his Padawan answered as he had done when Qui-Gon asked him all those years ago, he would have failed to honour another promise he had made to his master.

When Qui-Gon asked him, Cerasi was dead and he was back with Order, having no reason to stay on Melida/Daan. His master had nothing to lose in asking that question, whereas if Anakin answered how he feared, he would lose not just his Padawan, but the woman he loved, and possibly the respect of the Order for failing to finish training a Padawan such as the Chosen One.

Obi-Wan sighed, knowing he was being selfish and yet unable to find the strength through that knowledge to ask Anakin what Qui-Gon had asked him. By keeping silent on the subject he was being a coward as well, something else which should have spurred him into asking the question, but knowledge of that flaw had also failed to do so.

It was what had led him to talk to Padmé instead, to convince her to be reasonable and accept that Anakin had a commitment he could not give up. But this motion also caused another doubt in his mind, as to whether he truly loved her. He could not help but think that if he truly loved her, he would have let her be with the man she loved. That he would find the strength within himself to ignore the doubts about her and Anakin having a relationship, in favour of granting her happiness. It was a dilemma of his own making, and one he knew that he had to resolve and soon.

But first there was the matter of a peace treaty between the Republic and the Separatists. Pushing his troubling thoughts aside, Obi-Wan rose from the chair and headed for the balcony to meditate before he went to bed. He would need a good night's rest in order to focus on the next round of talks.

The being waiting on the line turned out to be the Supreme Chancellor's private secretary, with a message from Palpatine, requesting that Anakin join him for a meal. Anakin answered the communiqué with trepidation, unsure if he wanted to go, yet knowing he could not refuse, for the Chancellor would only go through the Council and cause a fuss, destroying their approval of him, an approval which Anakin felt he had only just won.

There was another reason he did not want to have dinner with the Chancellor; the troubling discovery that Palpatine knew he and Padmé were married. No one was supposed to know about the secret ceremony which had taken place in the villa at Varykino, save for himself, Padmé and the holy man who had performed the ceremony. Since he had never breathed a word about the wedding and he knew Padmé held her peace too, it must have been the priest who dropped word to the Chancellor, as Palpatine had said, assuring him that he would keep his knowledge secret from the Order.

Who, according to the Chancellor, would soon grant permission for Jedi to marry anyway, knights and masters, that is. He was rather surprised by that piece of news, as well as the fact that there was a married master on the Council, and the Corellian Jedi ignored that part of code also. How this gave his master the right to insist that he give up Padmé he did not know.

For a moment his fingers hovered over the sequence of buttons which would call back to his master on Pais, while his mind contemplated confronting his master about that very issue. However he soon realised the futility of the motion, and the consequences it would doubtless wrought. Obi-Wan and he had just recovered their relationship after it fractured during Geonosis and the argument over his desire for Padmé.

He had been so angry at him for forcing them apart, for ignoring the pain he was feeling over his mother, refusing to believe that the dreams he was having might be some kind of Force vision and that his mother was in real danger. A part of him still blamed Obi-Wan for his mother's death, he still partially believed that if he had been able to go to Tatooine after the first dream he could have saved her from dying in his arms in a Tusken camp.

And through that, he could have saved himself the subsequent pain of his revenge. He would not have massacred the tribe who had her, because she would still be alive. This earlier rescue would also have given him more time with Padmé on Naboo, in that idyll of the villa at Varykino, where untroubled by dreams, he could have started their relationship.

He knew that this was a petty regret, after all they were married, but their courtship felt a little tainted to him, soured by the conflict their duties dragged them into. Not to mention the uncomfortable scene in the Lars homestead where he had confessed to her what he did to avenge his mother. There had been something in Padmé's expression that bothered him, a slight flicker of fear and possibly revulsion at the act. Sometimes he convinced himself that he'd imagined the emotion, for by the time he all but collapsed into her arms nothing except compassion and concern were splayed across her face.

Whether it was his imagination or no, those emotions haunted him, just as the conversation with Palpatine had haunted him. He almost wondered if the Chancellor intended to unsettle him that evening. Every inquiry he had made related to the usual tension he was suffering in his life, from his secret relationship with his wife to the Order, the Council, and Obi-Wan.

Yet there had been nothing in the tone of his voice or his expression to suggest that the Chancellor had such a motive. Palpatine greeted him like an kindly old uncle, catering to his tastes and taking an interest in his day to day past times. In all his past encounters with the Chancellor there had been nothing to suggest that an ulterior motive of the kind Anakin now suspected him of. So why had the discovery that Palpatine knew about his and Padmé's marriage bothered him so much?

It was a question which haunted him from the moment he came to his senses in the midst of the chaos that was previously an arena for lightsaber training. Pushed aside briefly during his conversation with Master Windu, temporarily forgotten in the light of learning a new lightsaber technique, but always hovering in the back of his consciousness, like a remote laser sphere, similar to the one he happened to be repairing when Master Windu entered the arena that time. He had yet to think of an answer which would nullify the trigger so to speak, save perhaps that he felt a certain propriety over what was rightfully a secret between him and Padmé. As far as he was concerned, no one else had any business knowing about the ceremony which declared them man and wife.

Something which he would have to make clear to the Chancellor when he had dinner with him tonight.

Chancellor Palpatine allowed a sithly smile to grace his features as he watched the briefing from Pais once more. It must be noted that such satisfaction was not his original emotion when upon first witnessing this holo feed. Anger clouded his mind during the live broadcast, the emotion within him so pungent and powerful that he almost betrayed himself in front of the Senate.

He was astounded that the explosion had only made the delegates more determined to commit themselves to forming a peace treaty, and annoyed at himself for failing to realise the possibility of such an outcome. Containing those thoughts and feelings had never felt more important during the political session, and never so much of a struggle.

Which was why his Hand had taken the brunt blunt force of his vented rage. Jade was recovering in the Manarai Medicentre, under the treatment of highly trained specialists and protected by highly trained security. His cleaning staff had worked around the clock to remove the scorch marks from the walls of his private residence. Such an explosion of rage had cost him, but it also conveyed a valuable lesson. Control and Patience. These two words had been his mantra from the very beginning of his teaching. They were difficult skills for a Sith to master, but their rewards were infinite.

Reminding himself of their power forced him to realise not just the price for giving into his rage, but insignificance of what caused such emotion in the first place. The Pais briefing was merely a setback, nothing more. Sequestering himself away in his private residence, he replayed the recording, and the more he watched the feed, the more he realised that it betrayed the delegates just as much as it assisted them. The feed was show of strength, a response to whoever was behind the bombing. It was designed to convey that the delegates on Pais would not be swayed by sabotage. That they were determined to have peace, even at the cost of their lives.

And within in that determination lay their weakness. By recording this statement, they were challenging those saboteurs to reveal themselves, to make a mistake. They were putting up a show of strength, to hide their concerns behind. Defence, not offence, the typical reaction of the Jedi. Their choice of representatives equally deliberate too; Amidala, Kenobi, Dooku. The unofficial leaders of each delegation; two Jedi and the head of the opposition in the Senate.

Dooku's presence was a petulant act of rebellion against his apprenticeship. Palpatine had given him power, position and wealth, and in return, this was how the Count of Serenno chose to repay him. True the man was only a temporary student, his holding placement for the Chosen One, but that did not make the betrayal hurt any less. However, the magnate was not a stupid being. He must be cognisant of the fact that his presence on the briefing cast his lot with the peace process irrevocably. Dooku would not cajole the Separatists into war, what Palpatine had ordered him to do. But nor could he persuade those less peaceably minded cohorts to listen to him either. In the long term this could cost him more than his alliance with the Sith had ever done.

Amidala had also laid herself open to attack as well. Her life had been threatened many times; both as Queen when she opposed the Trade Federation blockade on her home planet and as Senator during the passage of the Military Creation Act. Of course, he had been behind those attacks, but such a truth made no difference to the rumours that circulated concerning them.

When she had been a Queen opposing the blockade, many accused her of abusing her power by interfering with Senate affairs. Her opposition to the MCA was seen by some to be a smoke-screen to smooth its passage through, especially when her decision to go to Geonosis and rescue Kenobi was taken into consideration. Rumours argued that by joining the Jedi in the fight upon that planet she revealed her true allegiance to the creation of a clone army with which to defend the Republic. She became a symbol also to those who were listening to the negative propaganda campaign against the Jedi by rushing to the rescue of one of their most decorated knights.

Kenobi helped to augment these rumours, but by sitting next to Amidala, he also lay himself open to another scheme Palpatine was quietly bringing to boil. Their position was the reason for his continued replaying of the holo feed. He spent hours watching their every move, be it gesture, word, or look, until he had enough to use as a tool in his seduction of the Chosen One.

Anakin would be incredulous at first to the suggestion that his wife and his master were having an affair. But in time, he would come to believe the truth Palpatine taught him, just as he had concerning his revenge on Tatooine. It would deepen his mistrust of the Order, of his master. Enforce his determination to use what they had taught him against them, to cause their undoing.

Palpatine allowed himself a sithly smile as he reminded himself that the best deceptions were built upon a foundation of a truth whose innocence could be twisted into guilt.

"Thank you for inviting me, Chancellor."

"You're welcome, my boy," Palpatine returned as he ushered the young man into his dining room.

Anakin tried to get a grip of his emotions, reminding himself not to be overawed by the opulence of the room, the red and black shades of the decor, the shiny metallic smooth cutlery, or white ceramic plates resting quietly on the dinner table. It took every ounce of focus and concentration that his life and his training at the Temple taught him, and even then the effort was paltry at best.

He wanted to rail at the Chancellor, for the atmosphere seemed almost designed to discompose him, but letting his anger get the better of him would only cause him to lose sight of his intention to press upon the Chancellor the importance of keeping his marriage secret, even to those who already knew. Padmé would be disappointed and shocked if she learned that the Chancellor knew of their union, for the secrecy was just as important and necessary for her position as it was for him.

"Chancellor," he began as Palpatine led him to the table, and saw him seated before seating himself. "About my marriage to Padmé. I apologise for reacting to your awareness of the matter with terror. I should have realised the possibility of your knowledge, as the ceremony took place on Naboo. However, I must ask for you to keep your knowledge of this matter secret, even from Padmé, as well as the Order. I cannot foresee the union becoming good news to the Jedi, even if what you say about the reforms is true."

Palpatine, whose kindly old uncle smile had slipped from his face, replaced by a grave seriousness, nodded even before Anakin finished making his point. "Of course, my boy. I'm sorry I gave you any uneasiness by revealing that I knew in the first place."

"It was just a shock," Anakin reiterated. "The ceremony was meant to be a private celebration of our commitment to each other, nothing more."

"I understand, my boy," Palpatine replied. "And I will never mention it again, I promise."

Anakin's relief was evident, and he returned to glancing at the servants access, waiting for the first course of the meal. Inwardly, the Chancellor smiled at how easy it was to placate the boy, how evident the chaos of his emotions appeared in the Force. He knew however that it would not do to make the boy aware of what else he knew, so he swiftly changed the subject to something which they could talk about.

"How goes your training? Have you learnt anything new since we last saw each other?"

The Chosen One beamed at the opportunity to boast of his new achievements. "Master Windu has been teaching me his personal lightsaber fighting style; the Vaapad."

When this information was revealed, the Chancellor had difficulty in keeping his sithly grin from view. If there had been some way for him to excuse himself from the dining room so he could take the full measure of the pleasure he experienced from such a reply then he would have done so.

As it was he could only store the emotion in him, as he had stored the rage caused by briefing from Pais inside him, to be released later. How naive the Order were! How trusting, how unsuspecting. When Anakin took his revenge on the beings who murdered his mother, he had felt the rage inside the boy, so potent it was, he had been sure that the Order could not escape from sensing it either.

Master Yoda, for all his whimsical eccentricities, was not an old fool, his knowledge of the Force could not have kept him ignorant of the grave mistake that the Chosen One had committed. Windu, his fast track lieutenant, was his confidant, and surely would have been informed of the Chosen One's transgression. Yet here was evidence of the Korun teaching him Vaapad; the one lightsaber technique which asked a Jedi to use the dark side!

True, it was only supposed to channel the dark energy of one's opponent, but that distinction was often unrecognised by those who used such a technique, particularly in the heat of a vicious duel. Vaapad was a dangerous technique, of which Master Windu was well aware, yet that fact did not seem to prevent him from continuing to teach those whom he thought could master the style.

"Vaapad?" Palpatine now echoed in a curious tone as he roused himself from his thoughts. "I think I have heard of the style, but I am not immediately familiar with it. It sounds most unusual, my boy, what does it entail?"

Exactly as the Chancellor had intended, Anakin launched into a detailed description of the technique, as the servant brought in the dishes for the first course, and the topic continued to occupy the room throughout the rest of the meal. The boy's curiosity knew no bounds, and when combined with his tendency for recklessness, a taste for adventure and an ego never truly satisfied, the rewards were bountiful. His pride had been touched in being singled out by Master Windu for training, his ego soothed and massaged as he found the style challenging but easy to learn. It was something which caused him once more to stand out from those Padawans, knights and masters in the Temple, a difference that both rankled and pleased him in equal measure.

And in time, as the power of using such a style grew within Anakin, his susceptibility to the dark side would equally increase, giving Palpatine the luxury of just choosing the right moment to make the seduction complete.

Everything that Anakin knew about Vaapad was exhausted by the time desert was served. Once more the Chancellor smoothly changed the subject, asking the boy how he was getting on with his fellow senior Padawans, whom he was obliged to interact with whenever his training had him temple bound.

The inquiry caused Anakin to blush a little with embarrassment. It was a sore subject, and the Chancellor was well aware of that, else he would not have brought it up. Anakin's agemates had at first welcomed him when he came into the temple, only to turn away as the boy sought his pleasures elsewhere, in dangerous pursuits, and allowed himself to be influenced by those who indulged in these past times, as well as politically dubious figures such as himself. While the boys had distanced themselves first, the girls had lingered a little longer, for Anakin was not unattractive, and his passion for adventures only increased the temptation.

One in particular caused Palpatine to let his lips form once that sithly inward smile. She had been installed within the Temple by him as an informant upon the Chosen One's activities when he was temple bound. A test designed to challenge the boy's commitment not only to the Order, but to the young Queen whom he declared he would marry one day. She bore a resemblance to Amidala, although she was more willing to follow his guidelines than the young Queen now Senator ever had been.

Sure enough, Anakin mentioned her name, commenting on how she had stayed his friend when most of the other Padawans had inexplicably turned away from him. Palpatine made a soothing statement on the fickle nature of young people, allowing his privately held satisfaction to increase when Anakin agreed with him before continuing to chat about his informant who friendship was valued. All too soon did the boy let slip that he had crept out of the Temple on several nights with her, in order to show off to her the delights of Coruscant usually barred to Padawans.

Palpatine knew about these nights, long before Anakin mentioned them, or was even made aware of their eventuality. He instructed his informant to tempt the Chosen One out of the temple, and he was pleased with the success of his plan. However, his surprise was touched, as Anakin continued to talk about the nights, until abruptly cutting off his description, causing a violent reddening of his cheeks.

"What is it, my boy?" He asked casually, while his mind harnessed the Force and stretched out his senses to the Chosen One.

Anakin denied that there was anything of significance in his sudden pause and continued, changing the subject without any degree of subtlety. The events of the night which he had withheld from Palpatine however continued to linger in his mind, and the dark lord of the Sith seized upon those memories eagerly.

Only to drop the matter with a strong disgust. He had not instructed his informant to seduce in so intimate a fashion. She had been ordered to lay him open to such a seduction, not to gleeful lead him into committing it. Yet another of his agents to have failed him in short succession. Reluctantly he delved back into the fabric of the Chosen One's mind, forgetting in his first foray to seek out if the seduction had any additional consequences that his calculating mind had not foreseen.

Fortunately for him Anakin was dwelling not upon the night itself, but what the act had cost him, and what further acts it led him into committing. As Palpatine's disgust for his youngest and previously promising informant grew, so did his admiration, as he realised that her actions had led the boy into being unfaithful to the woman he intended to marry before he was reunited with her when he ordered for Jedi to protect her against his cleverly crafted attempts on her life. Not only that, but he had also concealed the matter from Amidala, allowing her to believe that he was an inexperienced boy before entering the marriage bed.

Deception was never a good foundation for marriage and the couple had compounded layer upon layer of such deceit by choosing to keep the ceremony secret, to pretend to those who knew them that they were unattached, and now one was pretending to the other. His plan to use the union as another tool to seduce the Chosen One to the dark side of the Force would rendered easy by this discovery.

"I was surprised by the briefing from Pais," Palpatine mused when Anakin mentioned the broadcast in order to distract the Chancellor from his abrupt pause and flushing cheeks. "I'd have thought that beings were much more discreet about their relationships, but evidently I have been judging others by my own standards and not theirs."

"Relationships?" Anakin echoed the word with a frown, exactly what the Chancellor intended him to do.

"Ah, then you saw it too, did you? I am sorry for that. I had such hopes that all would be well, but then such is the fickleness of women and the frailty of love." Palpatine paused then rose from his chair rather suddenly. "Forgive me, my boy, I must cut this evening short. A glance at the chrono has just reminded me of an important conference call I am scheduled to make in a minute or so with the governor of Caamas." He helped Anakin from his seat and bade him his usual kindly old uncle farewell, then showed the boy out, confident that his abrupt comment would do far more damage than a blunt description ever could hope to achieve.

Chapter Text

Part 18: Peaceful Visitations.

Another day, another peace conference. The Paisian sun had well and truly set by the time the delegates left the talks for the bar and their rooms. Padmé was astonished by how much progress they were suddenly making, as if the explosion awakened everyone's pacifists desires.

Either that or the delegates were anxious to get the talks over with so they could go home to safer pastures. The cynical part of her had a feeling that was the real reason behind the sudden enthusiasm all of her colleagues and fellow delegates abruptly acquired for lengthy conference sessions, objecting to their host's often timely calls for a recess until a particular point had been sorted out.

Whatever the truth behind the progress, she was glad of it. A treaty between the Separatists and the Republic was now looking possible, instead of an idealistic fantasy. Soon, there would be something on flimsi and datapads to take back to the Senate, and she could return to Coruscant. Maybe have some time with Anakin, if his duties were still temple bound, that is. A chance to sort out their relationship, to make it work.

If she still wanted to make it work. The doubts as to whether they had made a big mistake by marrying each other continued to prey on her mind. She remembered all too well that conversation they had at her villa in Varykino, before they took off to Tatooine and from there to Geonosis. She had been so rational then, so firm on the idea that having a relationship was impossible. That the duties they had, she to the Senate, he to the Jedi were more important than what they felt for each other. Now, she wasn't even sure what it was that they felt for each other.

Sighing, she tried to shake the doubts from her mind, focus on the work her handmaiden had sent over the com last night, but to no avail. Her thoughts continued to search for answers as to why she believed that the feelings she felt from brief time she spent with Anakin before their marriage were suddenly so intangible. As if she had been imagining them. Even during the explosion, she hadn't wondered about how he would feel if the saboteurs had actually killed her.

But then the answer was obvious. Devastated. He would have been devastated. Angry too, frantic with desire to avenge her just as he had avenged his mother by massacring the tribe of Tusken Raiders who had captured her before beating her and starving her to death. Padmé shivered, the guilt at possibly being responsible for the death of millions troubling her deeply. She found his degree of dependency on the people he loved frightening.

Back on Tatooine, after she discovered him in the garage of the Lars Homestead, when he had finished yelling at her, blaming Obi-Wan, throwing tools to ricochet off walls, before breaking down and finally confessing what he had done, she had felt terrified. The cool deadly tone of voice he used, coupled with the simple words, no prevaricating, no justification. Even his avowal that he was a Jedi and knew that he should be better than this seemed more unnatural rather than natural.

Or truthful.

Her responses had been automatic, what she thought he would expect her to say. Almost what she felt compelled to say. By the time her eloquence and feeling returned, Owen had called them to the memorial outside, whereupon Anakin seemed to have recovered his equilibrium. Certainly he seemed more himself as he knelt before the grave, letting the handful of sand he had gathered slip through his fingers.

Then there was no time to dwell on the matter or on what she felt. Threepio and Artoo abruptly intruded upon the memorial service to bring news of Obi-Wan's capture. The briefing with the Council as they played back that recording, her fears and worries for his safety, as opposed to his Padawan's, foremost in her mind. Even the quarrel between herself and Anakin was trivialised, perfunctory almost, as he reminded her of Master Windu's mandate and she pointed out the loophole within the Korun's words, as she fired up the ship for the journey to Geonosis.

In the end, it made the Jedi's mission more difficult, turning the whole affair into a political mess of galactic proportions. Her avowal before they entered the arena was unwise in hindsight, given what happened next. She had survived explosions on landing platforms, Kouhuns crawling across her bed, a droid construction plant. Escaping the clutches of a Reek, Nexu and Acklay were nothing next to that. Her claim that she was not afraid to die was false, for why else would she have confessed her love, if love it was, then fought so hard to live?

I thought we had decided not to fall in love. His reply was petulant, smug almost, as he sulkily pointed out the flaw in her confession. She recalled the grief in her voice as she whispered the words, sealing the vow with a kiss. Without a care for the guards escorting the tumbrel, or the arena full of beings they were about to enter. Now her concerning care over their secret bordered on paranoia.

Perhaps that was the problem; their marriage was a secret. As though it were something they were ashamed of. When the Jedi made their reforms public, perhaps she and Anakin could admit their vows, live their relationship publicly, with only the concerns typical of other couples. No longer would there be any need for concern over holo conversations, who they spent time with, that being or beings unaware of their non-single status. After all, the troubles and difficulties of keeping their union a secret was the foundation of most of their quarrels. When that caution was rendered unnecessary, perhaps then she would remember their love and why they agreed to marry each other in the first place.

Despite reaching this conclusion, her doubts did not disappear. But she was able to bury them, to finish the work her handmaiden had sent via the HoloNet, then leave her room and venture into the bar on the ground floor of the hotel.

After ordering her drink, she surveyed the room, managing to ignore the rise of emotions within herself as she descried the two Jedi she had unconsciously been searching for. Catching Garen's eloquent gaze she retrieved her drink from the bartender and joined him and his friend in their booth. Again she ignored the feelings within her heart as Obi-Wan looked up from his drink to meet her greeting gaze with a grin.

For once their conversation was not of politics or the progress of the peace conference, but of home questions; exchanging anecdotes of their youngling days. Even Anakin was talked about with ease, though Padmé could not prevent her smile slipping as his name was mentioned, or a part of a story recounted of which she had already heard his side of the tale. Nonetheless, the time passed agreeably, and when she left to seek her bed for the night, it was with the feeling that she been nothing less than her usual self.

"What?" Obi-Wan queried as Garen looked from him to their departing companion. After an unrevealing, yet entirely eloquent silence, he shook his head at his friend in a vain appeal. "Don't start."

"I'm not," Garen replied. "I'm just wondering if you think she's happy."

"And yet you are," Obi-Wan murmured with a sigh. "I think so, why?"

"I don't think she is," Garen mused, only for his friend to raise a sceptical eyebrow. "I know I don't know her as well as you do, but you're looking with the eyes of someone too involved to see clearly, my friend."

"Suppose you're right," Obi-Wan allowed. "What am I do about it?" Another eloquent silence, causing him to shake his head. "No, Garen. Telling her would be a big mistake."

"So certain are you?" Garen remarked in a passable imitation of a certain Grand Master, safely away in the Temple, and thus unable to rap his companion with his gimer stick in retribution at the impression. "Seriously, I'm beginning to wonder if you fear her affirmation more than her rejection. What was it you said to me some months after you rejoined the Order? That you would honour Qui-Gon's requests. Doing so regarding Anakin was hard, it is still, but you did. Now you should do the same regarding the other one."

He paused to retrieve and then glance at the message on his vibrating comlink, before smiling as he rose from his seat, clasping his friend's shoulder in farewell. "Think on it, Obi-Wan. Ask the Force. The answer might surprise you."

Garen's words haunted Obi-Wan that night more than he would have liked to admit, causing him to dream of the occasion when he had promised to do such a thing; in the early months of his return to the Order, still mourning the death of Cerasi. He had come back, begging Qui-Gon to take him on, and he remembered rousing his Master into a temper, causing him to feel terrified at the slightest word or look. It had led to some uncomfortable times, the awkwardness between them finally broken by Qui-Gon.

His dream took him immediately into the past, thrusting him into the quiet, serious boy he had been back then, far too serious for his age and far too anxious to remain in the Order. He had been trying to mediate without success, and reproaching himself for the failure when he was still a young Padawan, with much to learn. Qui-Gon approached him then, offering his hand. For the first time, he saw the memory through his master's perspective, something which if he wasn't so tired, he would have questioned.

An Event during the aftermath of Melida/Daan...

Qui-Gon hesitated as he stood upon the threshold of his Padawan's room. Since his return Obi-Wan had been so dedicated; absorbing every piece of training like he had spent his exile in the desert, as opposed to the war torn world of Melida/Daan. Not once had he asked for help, working alone at each piece he was handed until it was perfected. Qui-Gon sighed, knowing he had to steal moments like this just to see his Padawan, who seemed to have crafted the ability to avoid him to that same level of perfection.

He knew the reason why, and it broke his heart; Obi-Wan was scared of him. Qui-Gon didn't deny the accusation, in fact he agreed with it all too readily, for he had certainly done enough to make the boy scared of him since he had returned to the Order. Yoda had called him on it more than once. But he had been so terrified of losing the boy like he had lost Xanatos, that the harshness which clouded their initial meetings became a protective shield over his heart once again.

Now that had to change. He was determined to restore their relationship; he missed the carefree, lighthearted, curiously innocent boy that Obi-Wan had been when he first became his Padawan; the one who had cajoled a grumpy old master into caring for him like a son.

"Padawan, come with me," he began, causing the boy to look up. He flinched as he caught sight of the vulnerability in his expression. There was something far too serious about his Padawan at times; he feared that the Force was preparing him for the hardships he would endure in the future.

"I want to teach you something," he elaborated, knowing it would rouse Obi-Wan's curiosity, if nothing else. Hesitantly he held out his hand, unable to avoid flinching again as he saw the boy's equal hesitancy in taking the proffered limb. Carefully he led him out of the room, and into the corridor, steeling himself against the nervousness he met from his Padawan, knowing that this was the first time he had led him out of their quarters to learn something since he returned. Obi-Wan still feared they were going before the Council for another reprimand.

He was pleased then to see a smile on the young man's face when they reached their destination. The room of a Thousand Fountains was a favourite of Obi-Wan's he knew, remembering fondly the many times he had encountered the boy there with his friends, before he was even aware of general green troll led conspiracy for him to become that boy's master. Qui-Gon was struck by the realisation that they were back to the relationship they had before Bandomeer, something he had swore never to let return. This made him more determined than ever to restore the bonds with his Padawan.

Gently, he led Obi-Wan to one of the large fountains; away from the other Jedi who had chosen to visit the room that morning. Waving his hand before the waterfall, the motion causing the liquid to still, the sequence of movements not as fast as Yoda usually showed the younglings when they were receiving his teachings; he drew out the transition, gradually slowing the water to a standstill. He smiled as Obi-Wan turned to him in amazement at what he had just done. "That is what you are here to learn, Padawan."

Qui-Gon watched as his Padawan reached out to touch the unnaturally still water, amazed by the flourish on a well loved technique, and eager to learn. He took the boy's hand again and led him through the water, parting the stillness as if it were a curtain of shimmersilk. Gently he guided the young man into a meditative pose directly under the still liquid, assuming one himself before he began.

"Visualise a drop of water, Obi-Wan," he said, addressing his Padawan by his first name, a term he had not used for what seemed like too long a time. "Now imagine that water is falling into your hand. Reach out with the Force, and slow the descent."

To his delight, the young man caught on quickly, but then Obi-Wan was gifted in the Force, extraordinarily so. "Good, Obi-Wan, good. I'm going to give you control of the waterfall. Let me know when you are ready to split your concentration."

Another pause followed, slightly longer than the last, as he carefully shifted his control of the fountain on to his apprentice. To Obi-Wan's credit, the transfer occurred without spilling a drop. Patiently, Qui-Gon waited for him to declare he was ready for the next step.

"I'm ready, Master," Obi-Wan replied.

He felt nervous about breaching this, but it had to be done. "When was the last time you were happy, Obi-Wan?"

A drop of water escaped, splashing upon his head, causing Qui-Gon to smile ruefully at the unconscious reproach. "Forgive me, Padawan, but we have to overcome this distance between us. I have missed you so much. I know I have no right to ask, and I know I have treated you harshly. There is no excuse for my actions. All I can do is promise you that I will endeavour to make amends. Please, let me in."

What followed was an agonising silence, before his Padawan confessed. "On Melida/Daan, in Cerasi's arms."

Qui-Gon allowed that revelation to settle inside him. He was not surprised, but all the same, the knowledge saddened him. "You really loved her, didn't you?" he murmured, causing another drop to slip from the water. Not on his head this time, but instead the space between them, back into the pool which their meditative poses floated upon. "Obi-Wan, answer me this; what did the Force tell you when you left to be with her?"

Another droplet broke from the waterfall, landing between them before his Padawan answered.

"It told me to let Cerasi have my heart," he whispered.

"Then you were right to do so," Qui-Gon replied, causing Obi-Wan to raise his gaze to him in astonishment. "Love is not against the code, Obi-Wan, especially when the Force speaks to us, blessing the affection. If you ever encounter such a call again, promise me you will have the courage to honour such a request."

Obi-Wan's voice when he replied held none of the grief which he had spoken with since his return. Instead it was laced with gratitude and affection, a feeling which Qui-Gon realised that his apprentice had never lost for him, despite all that he had done.

"I promise, Master."

Present Time...

Obi-Wan blinked as the memory came to an end. It was unusual seeing it from his master's perspective, yet with it he had gained a useful insight. He realised too the lesson behind such an event; to respect his own Padawan's feelings when it came to the woman they both loved.

"I'm sorry I broke my promise, Master," he murmured, feeling the need to say it aloud, in the privacy of his hotel room.

"There's no need for apologies, Padawan," another voice said, one all too familiar and too well loved, startling him. "I broke mine as well."

Obi-Wan turned to find an extraordinary sight; a shimmering blue figure hovering before him, bearing the shape and Force signature of his former master. "Qui-Gon?" he murmured in shock, unable to believe what he was seeing.

His former master was smiling softly at him. "Hello, Obi-Wan. Don't worry, you're not hallucinating. The Force has generously granted me this." Qui-Gon paused, struggling it seemed, to find his composure. "It is good to see you, my Padawan. I'm so sorry."

"For what?" Obi-Wan asked.

"I should not have ignored your need for comfort during my final moments," Qui-Gon replied. "I should have told you how proud I am of you. And I should not have burdened you with the training of a Padawan, so soon after you became a knight."

Obi-Wan shook his head. "Master, I understand why you did, I came to terms with your reasons a long time ago. But I thank you for praise."

"I never gave it enough, Obi-Wan. You are a fine Jedi." Qui-Gon hovered forward. "There is so much I wish I could say, so much I desire to make right between us. But now is not the time. The Force granted this to remind you of your promise that you made all those years ago, Obi-Wan. Why have you not honoured it?"

His former Padawan sighed at the spirit of his old master. "You know why, Qui-Gon. Anakin loves her and she him."

"But you have felt the prompting from the Force, have you not?" Qui-Gon queried.

"What prompting?" Obi-Wan shook his head in befuddlement.

The spirit copied the motion, causing the Jedi to smile at the odd sight. "You are so concerned over proprieties, my Padawan, to listen to what the Force wants you to realise. What you should have taken the courage to do before they married."

"I know I should have," Obi-Wan replied with a sigh. "But I respect what they feel for each other too much to speak of my own selfish desires. I don't need the Force to keep reminding me of what I can never have."

"The Force is reminding you, because one day you might," Qui-Gon revealed. "And don't mention Yoda's epithet about the future being in motion, for I've seen some of what is come, Obi-Wan, and I know you and she will need each other."

Obi-Wan nodded, accepting his Master's view, even if he didn't believe such was possible yet. "Anything else, Master?"

Qui-Gon smiled. "Whatever doubts you may have about teaching Anakin, Obi-Wan, you haven't failed him. He has failed you, and that failure will cost us all."

Chapter Text

Part 19: The Fallacy of an Epiphany.

It can't be true, Anakin murmured to himself as he stared at the com device, waiting for the machine to play the briefing from Pais again. He had been repeating those four words silently to himself ever since he left the Supreme Chancellor's residence, followed by another nine he felt sure would convince him, providing they were repeated often enough, that is. He had to mean someone else, some other briefing.

Yet every time he watched the holo, his doubts grew, reducing the voice that uttered those thirteen words to a plaintive whisper. He had a healthy ego, something he was well aware of, though perhaps not as much as his mentors would prefer, one usually stubborn and constant in the belief of her love. However his fears were equally powerful, captured within the hold of that Krayt dragon caged inside his core, fears which were locked in a duel with the voice.

At the moment, those fears were winning.

Innocent gestures that when he first saw them escaped his notice, now held an adulterous significance. Glances away from the camera he now knew were directed at each other. Hands hidden under the large expanse of Alderaanian Kiirn that he now knew were secretly clasped together, or perhaps even caressing their neighbour's thigh. Each repeat of the briefing only served to damn them further in his horrified gaze.

His memory wasn't helping their case either, for it seemed to be deliberately recalling every piece of their past and interpreting it in another, far darker way. Her argument about why they shouldn't have a relationship. Their age difference, which never bothered him until now, was also abruptly rendered as another motive. Admitting her feelings, just before they entered the Geonosian arena, now seemed a deliberate ploy, her certainty that they were going to die there no certainty at all. Both of them were pre-prepared to fight their way out, he now recalled.

The decision of the Council for her to be escorted home by him when he knew that Yoda and Obi-Wan had to be aware of what he felt for her. Neither of them had been discreet after the duel with Dooku and the return to the Temple on Coruscant. And finally her insistence upon a secret ceremony on the balcony of her villa in Varykino, now appeared to be a disguising detail with the aim to placate his insistent pursuit of her.

Their alleged wedding night, in the afterglow of their love making, the look in her eyes he had caught, gone so fast he'd believed it was a product of his imagination, now the key to a truth; one of disappointment. He hadn't satisfied her. But she hadn't helped him to do so either. Which was deliberate, he could see that now. She had wanted the whole business over and done with as quickly as possible so she could get back to Coruscant.

And see him. As the briefing began playing from the beginning once more, Anakin turned his focus for the first time on to his mentor. He recalled all those meetings with the Queen his master had before they left Naboo ten years ago. The mocking conversation they had in the turbolift on their way up to the Nubian residence. His slight turn of the head when Anakin had embarrassed him by trying to give her a compliment. Her put down reply, reminding him of his youth and naiveté. His loss of temper every time Anakin so much as mentioned her name, or affected to care about her.

Everything that had puzzled him before made more sense now he knew the reason behind it all. They were humouring him, using him as a shield for their secret relationship. Distracting those who would disapprove of their love by pretending it was he at fault. Waiting until the reforms in the Order took place, whereupon they would reveal the truth, having no more need to hide their feelings.

Leaving him alone once more. All his life, people had left him. They promised him love, but that love was always false, or it never lasted, someone or something took them away from him. First there was his father, whoever he was, man or the Force, depending on whether he believed Watto, his mother or the Council. Anakin knew that there was nothing which could determine definitively all the way, he never saw his mother with anyone who could have been a possibility. Then Qui-Gon, who swept into his life, bargained away his hardships and showed him off to a larger world. Only to be taken away from him, first by the Council, then by the Sith on Naboo.

His mother, guiding him, protecting him, loving him, until she let him go to achieve his dream, believing he was safely in the hands of a Jedi Master. Anakin knew she had few choices, little to offer him if he stayed with her on Tatooine, but he also had the future she never foresaw, and wondered lately if she had, whether she would have been so eager to let him go. Or whether he would have been so eager to try to become a Jedi if he had known her fate ten years ago.

Obi-Wan cared for him he believed, though now he wondered if that were true, in light of what he had seen in this briefing. He had warm memories of his early Padawan years under Obi-Wan's care, but they were now tainted by the times he disagreed with his mentor, or when Obi-Wan declared that he was disappointed in him. Soured too, by the condemnation, the inability within his master to let him be with the woman he loved.

And now Padmé, who denied she cared for him, then contradicted that vocal denial by showering him with affection from the moment they met. He still remembered her words on the ship on the way to Coruscant when she covered him with a blanket because she saw he was cold. Many things will change when we reach Coruscant, Ani. My caring for you will not be one of them. She lied to him even then, uttering those words while she pretended to be a handmaiden when she was the Queen. Deceived him into thinking they were equals. That everything he dreamed involving them was possible.

For ten years he had kept his word, honoured his vow that they would marry one day. She blushed as she met him in her residence, kissed him on Naboo at her villa, on Geonosis in the arena, at their wedding in Varykino. Yet always her words contradicted those displays of affection, except for that one time. I truly deeply love you. Could he still believe that quiet whisper, when she had denied the truth of those words more often than she said them?

Questions began to form in his mind, as he attempted to deny it to himself once more, wondering how it possible that his mentor, the most code bound Jedi of them all, favourite of Yoda and the Council could do this. It required a deception he had not thought Obi-Wan capable of. Padmé too, though he knew her well enough to realise that she was always concealing something from him. Usually it was to do with her work as Senator, not the affair he now suspected her of having.

He tried to doubt it, he wanted to believe what he now saw was false so desperately, but such determination only continued to convince him that it was so. That they had been having a relationship since Naboo, deliberately deceiving him by pretending to return his feelings, to keep him from realising the truth that the Supreme Chancellor had seen.

What kept him questioning however, was the vague way in which Palpatine had told him the news. Directness was always a penchant of the Chancellor's and Anakin admired the man for it, such a refreshing contrast to the cryptic mannerisms of the Council and his Master. Yet for this matter he had been vague, when Anakin expected him to apologise for noticing the relationship and then tell him about it. He had been direct when he congratulated him about his marriage to Padmé after all. Why had he been vague, unless Anakin was mistaken about which press conference he meant?

It can't be true. He had to mean someone else, some other briefing. Perhaps those thirteen words still had a power over him after all.

But still he continued to watch the briefing, staring into the holo of the three figures until his vision began to blur with threatened exhaustion.

Waiting for a victor within the internal duel between his Krayt dragon and those thirteen words his inner voice was still shouting.

Nineve Jade exited the private residence of her master via the same method that every secret agent or contact of his used; an old abandoned waste disposal tunnel. Situated several metres below ground, the other entry and exit point took her into the heart of the district of Coruscant known as The Works. Inside a disused warehouse, where her ship sat waiting.

Outwardly her stance was professional; the cold hardened, almost military demeanour of a highly trained assassin. Her red gold hair was slicked into a long plait, falling rigidly down upon her back. Her soft skin was encased in a dark emerald jumpsuit, which showed off all her curves whilst simultaneously rendering them unattainable. She walked with a swift, assured pace, her eyes fixed on her destination; the cockpit of her sleek and efficient, heavily equipped fighter, yet always alert, like the rest of her senses, should anyone be waiting in the shadows to confront her.

Inwardly she was fuming.

She thought her master had better respect for her than this.

True, she merited punishment for the failure of her Pais sabotage, but he had no right to force her to endure the indignity of this particular mission. After all, she had never failed him before, there was no reason for him to demote her not just in his eyes but in the eyes of everyone who had heard of her and the power she wielded for her master. Delegating this kind of mission to her was an insult to her intelligence and to her training, forcing her to make use of the disgusting occupation most suspected her of working for on the rare occasions the Sith lord that was her master invited her to some public function.

Not to mention having to sit through his patronising lecture on where she had gone wrong, followed by an equally humiliating talk concerning the details of her next assignment, how he had managed to arrange her indoctrination, as it were, into something which, not only had she learned about years ago, but was an active member of, unbeknownst to her master.

Nor did she plan on telling him any time soon either. He may give her a job, provide her with the means to live, to heal her when she was injured - the last of which had happened to be at his hands, which she had just recovered from - but he did not, nor ever would, own her. She would keep herself independent from his schemes for as long as she could. It would be, perhaps, the only way she might survive them. His opinion on the group he had secured her indoctrination to was laughable, especially when she heard what he wanted her do once she had established herself as a member.

Only now, as she entered the cockpit of her sleek and efficient, heavily equipped fighter, did she begin to fully comprehend how dangerous his plan was. If she obeyed his orders and succeeded in accomplishing what his evil insidiously scheming mind instructed her to achieve, the consequences for the Republic would be devastating. Worse than the violent end that the Clone Wars he previously tried to ensure had in mind. The psychological effects alone held the potential to damage every citizens' morale permanently. His scheme was vicious, subtle, and scandalously gruesome. It contained a malicious streak few of his other plans possessed. Which was why it terrified her when none of his schemes ever had before.

She couldn't help but think that it stood more than a fair chance of actually proceeding as he had foreseen.
If she obeyed his orders. Nineve grimaced as she contemplated that temptation once more. Never before had the possibility of outrightly disobeying him occurred to her. She had seen the punishment he delved to those who rebelled against him. The pain and suffering seared across their mind and body as they attempted to endure it. Hers, earned by the failure of the Pais sabotage had been mild in comparison to some. Few escaped the vicious grip of his sithly power. Even thinking of the word mutiny was liable to penetrate his perceptive and paranoid mind, with dangerous consequences for those concerned. To actually forgo all caution and self-preservation by acting on such thoughts was quite another matter.

But Nineve knew that she had been contemplating such a mutiny from the moment she entered the old disused sewer tunnel. As soon as she felt she was out of the region of her master's questing, sithly mind, free to think of her own thoughts without the possibility of interference or retribution from him. Her chosen destination was an act of rebellion in itself, for her assignment should have prevented her from leaving Coruscant for a long time.

She also knew that this mutiny had been simmering in her brain almost from the beginning of her servitude to the Sith lord. Another by-product perhaps of her determination to survive his schemes and not perish as all his other agents and contacts had before, during and after her. Usually at the wrong end of a lightsaber or his Sith lightning anger. Sometimes with her, or another witnessing, for he liked to have spectators at these events, as their every reaction, whether conscious or unconscious, gave him a sense of pleasurable power.

Imperial assassins, she knew, were only as good as their last kill. Discretion, swiftness, and caution were valued, as well as intelligence and oddly enough, beauty. In a female good looks were deadly, for too often for those who they were sent to kill trusted that their disarming appearance meant that they would never do them wrong. Beauty overwhelmed suspicion, especially when coupled with a haunting vulnerability that spoke of a hard past. An expression which she never needed to fake, for it was acquired naturally by the lifestyle she led. Alone, no friends, many long term lovers with no strings, one master, and a surplus of kills, either by her own hand, or stood witnessed to, in the form of her master's ruthlessly gruesome disposal.

Long term lovers. She chuckled mirthlessly as that phrase echoed in her mind. It was one way of looking at the members of the List she supposed. She was pretty sure that it was how most of the members viewed Coruscant's most notoriously worse kept secret society. A form of relaxation, a break from their complex, career driven lives. Certainly it was the view she first employed when she joined, until one encounter led to something quite unexpected.

She fell in love. She, Nineve Jade, the Sith Lord's Hand, fell in love. Something she never believed was possible. Something she attempted to ensure would never come to pass. Assassins were encouraged to live in isolation. No family, no ties, nothing that allowed them to be traced by anyone who may come after them, especially their employers. The drawback was that such isolation gave you a feeling of loneliness which was so intense, that when you found something which breached the isolation, the intervention was almost as bad as the addiction. Such feelings immersed themselves around you, drowning you, utterly and completely. Once you dived in, there was no way out.

Nineve had tried to resist. Stubbornness had been a character trait of hers for as long as she could remember, withstanding all obstacles, until now. Now that previously hardened will of duracrete withered under the slightest touch or softly spoken word. The feelings within her were even more powerful than the Force. That swirling mass of energy, born of everyone and everything, that bound the universe together, crumbled under one four letter word. Within the power of that word, she was bound, helpless, imprisoned. Something she hated being from the earliest awareness of her existence and swore when her master allowed her to breach the walls to become his Hand, never to endure in her life ever again.

But he was imprisoned just as much as her, and in that lay a certain strength. One she had never known before, and which, she now knew so intimately, that she wondered how she had coped being without such a trait for so long. And that strength grew with each and every encounter, endured each and every moment which they spent apart, giving her the courage to commit acts she had never imagined herself committing. Such as rebelling against the man who practically raised her. The Sith lord who delegated tasks to her that he, in his lofty position could not run the risk of doing himself. Not without being revealed for who he really was, in all his evil, sithly incarnate glory.

That courage was within her now, deep inside of her, encompassing her every step, from the moment her master - that wasn't right, for he wasn't her master, not anymore - dismissed her so casually from his sight, even before. The strength of that four letter word ran deep within her veins, as deep as the forceful energy her former employer taught her to recognise, to harness and use. Now she was using something else, something far more powerful than the forceful energy, yet so startlingly similar in so many ways. One she had never known was within her, that she previously thought herself capable of feeling, even expressing. Until someone else had taught her to realise, to recognise, to harness and to use.

She was on her way to see that someone now. In outright mutiny against her former master, risking certain death when he found out, for he would, he always found out. She should care about that discovery, fear it, having witnessed the deadly mortal retribution it bought many, many times, yet neither cares could touch her. Love had given her that strength, that immunity, that protection. It had given her power, in the way that nothing else, not even the Force, ever could.

For a moment she dwelled on that revelation, her fingers touching controls, firing up her sleek, heavily equipped fighter, her eyes gazing through the view screen, not over the district of The Works, but further, far away, towards the sculptured towers of the Jedi Temple. Did they know, she wondered. Were they even aware of the power which lay in that four letter word they denied themselves through the rigid regulations known as the Code. Like her they had been taught and trained to ignore the strength which could be found in the emotion of that word. For fear that it would damn them, as it once damned their ancestors a millennia ago. A power which had since been forbidden to be recognised, harnessed and used, by both sides, light and dark.

Maybe that was the reason.

He was surprised to receive the coded signal, though his face betrayed nothing beyond his usual reaction to calls of this nature. Unlike most coms from this unique device, it was a violation, for it allowed identification of the caller, in a group where anonymity was a prized commodity. Effortlessly he resumed his previous occupation, waiting for the right moment when he could make his excuses without inviting comment for his doing so. When such a time came, he rose from his chair, and made his way out of the bar, towards the turbolifts.

His journey up to the room was solitary, undisturbed by nothing except his ruminations as to why he was receiving this coded signal now, in light of all that had passed between them during their last encounter.
Coming to a halt outside the door to the room, he tapped the encrypted sequence of symbols which would grant him entry upon the small remote which was encased within the veneer. Once accepted the barrier slid aside, allowing him to enter, closing after he crossed the threshold.

Inside there was no light, save for that which was provided by the surrounding buildings, giving the furniture within a somewhat eerie quality. Silently he let his vision adjust to the muted system, until his eyes could distinguish the silhouette of her curved and slender figure, outlined against the transparisteel.

"I thought you weren't coming back," he ventured carefully, catching her almost desolate expression reflected by the transparent surface before her.

"So did I," she answered, her tone resigned, the words so softly spoken he had to strain his senses to hear them.

For a moment he evaluated her seemingly casual pose, the unusual vulnerability which she was revealing to him. When he finished, he could only reach one, inescapable conclusion. "You're in trouble."

A brief smile, humourless, devoid of joy, but nonetheless beautiful, breached her pained features as she replied. "So are you."

He caught the innuendo in her tone just as she had in his judgement of her. "Why?" He asked, advancing forward from his stance by the door.

There were many ways she could have confided in him, but, as usual, she made him work for the confession, just as she had for every facet of their relationship. "I've left my job."

He knew that could not be the only explanation for her return and her expression, she was too much of a fascinating complexity for that. "There are other jobs."

She shook her head at his seeming incomprehension. "You don't understand."

"Then explain it to me," he softly requested, taking another pace towards her.

For the first time since he had known her, she appeared to be at a loss for words. When she did speak, her response chilled him to his very bones. "My ....boss... if he finds me he will kill me."

Not if he had anything to say about it, he silently vowed to himself. However he knew such a display of commitment would not comfort her. "Everyone dies."

"And anyone with me," she added as if he had not spoken.

Several more paces forward, until he reached the middle of the room. "I'm serious," he replied, his tone warm as he acknowledged her concern for his existence.

"So am I," she returned, her voice firm and unyielding.

Another couple of paces forward as he took note of her response. "Consider me warned," he uttered, his tone deceptively mild.

Whether she caught the meaning beneath his reply was unclear, her next words could have been just as a much a warning to herself as well as to him. "It will be dangerous."

At last he conquered the distance between them, his hands slipping themselves around her waist, bending his head to nose aside her curly scarlet tresses until his mouth could close upon her ear. "Remember who you're talking to."

"How could I forget?" She countered before her eyes closed and a soft moan of pleasure escaped her lips in response to his decision to feast on her skin. "I still have the bruises."

"You wanted that spar, I seem to recall," he reminded her as his assault upon her skin continued. "Its not my fault that you laid yourself open."

Swiftly she turned round in his arms, her gaze meeting his, causing him to cease his previous caresses.

"Seriously, Garen, I don't want to lose you."

"You won't," he solemnly assured her. "Nineve, you're stuck with me."

Chapter Text

Part 20: Bladed Wings Upon A Star.

"Gentled beings," the Paisian host began as the delegations arose from their companionable discussions into silence so they could hear what he about to announce. Producing a thick wad of flimsi, he waited for their eyes to settle upon his serene features before continuing. "As a result of your many conference sessions during your time spent as our guests, I have here the first draft of what will become a peaceful treaty between the Republic, the Separatist Confederacy and the Jedi Order."

Paisian aides, who were for the first time granted access to the conference room, now took the sheets of flimsi from their superior and began handing a copy of the treaty out to every member of the delegations. Wafer copies were handed out to the Senate aides and confederacy assistants. Silence continued to reign over the room as everyone began reading the draft and making what notes they felt were necessary.

When everyone reached the end of the document, the flimsi was placed upon the transparisteel conference table, beneath which ran a series of scanners wired to pick up and collate the notes and or queries each delegate had made, before printing the changes on the sheets before them to read and review once more.

A tediously longwinded yet necessary process, Bail mused silently as he read through the newly printed draft before him, taking in what notations others had left. But at last they were heading towards the clear skies of peace. When they first arrived on Pais to sit down in a conference room, he hadn't really believed peace would be possible. Oh, he had wanted it with every fibre of his being, but a part of him feared that there was too much blood shed for peace to wash away.

Geonosis had been a shock to everyone, whether they had been a part of the battle, or just read the reports which filtered through the HoloNet or security committee meetings. Immediately some had washed their hands of the matter, ignored the casualties, the violence, the tangled political mess, claiming that it was none of their concern, for they were not a Jedi, Separatist, soldier or politician. Then there had been some who wanted everyone else to hear and accept their opinion on the entire affair, however judgmental and uninformed that opinion might be. Beings who all too happy to procrastinate about war and peace and anything else that they deemed worthy of having an opinion about, but Force help anyone who dared to express a different view.

He remembered standing on that balcony overlooking the parade of the Republic's latest technological advancements. Of those large, rather fearsome in appearance, space ships, hovering over an expanse of white armoured clone soldiers. Reports from Geonosis were still filtering through, despite the return of the Jedi contingent, much depleted. The enormity of what they had committed themselves to had yet to truly sink in, the Senate was still adjusting to the vote in favour of granting the Chancellor executive powers.

But what he remembered most of all was the sense of foreboding within his mind as he stood with the rest of the Senate's Loyalist Committee. A premonition almost, of a future he feared to contemplate. As he stared at line upon line of white armoured troopers, the pure colour a seeming symbolic contradiction of the fury they were about to unleash, he could see this mass swarming on other worlds, in space combat with the Separatist droids. The wounded returning to the Core, the powers of the executive office growing, the quiet resignation of the silent majority who wished for nothing more than peace, and the political mess to leave them alone. He wondered when all of it would end and if they had not made a terrible mistake by committing themselves to this sort of armament.

Relief had never come so swift as it did when he was summoned to the Senate to hear Count Dooku's offer for treaty negotiations on Pais. And as he silently counted the numerous show of support in the Senate, he was not the only one who felt such an emotion. Clearly the sight of those large space ships and line upon line of white armoured clone soldiers had woken everyone to the ramifications of war, causing them to take a step back and realise that peace was a much more preferable alternative.

There were some however, of whom he had not believed capable in holding such thoughts; those whose industries would have benefited from the demands war would bring, and who volunteered for the delegation with such a nefarious motive in mind. He was pleased to be proved wrong, as he saw their signatures of agreement by each paragraph, even citations where the language could be improved to eliminate certain loopholes. Clearly the damage caused by the saboteur had caused them to rethink their previous motives for joining the delegation to Pais.

As he waited for the treaty changes to be assimilated and dispersed once more, Bail reflected on the explosion and the aftermath. The rapid destruction of the previously peaceful discussions into almost violent verbal debates on who was responsible for the sabotage. If Count Dooku had not stepped in when he did, Bail was sure that would have been the end of the peace conference, not to mention the possibility of further negotiations. His proposal that they should continue merely to deny those behind the sabotage victory was a suitably apt response as it had the effect of fighting a battle, only without the causalities that the total destruction of talks would have ensured.

Though what followed after their Paisian host had guided them into another conference room was nothing to do with the peace talks, but rather a thinly veiled PR stunt designed to assure the Republic and the Confederacy that peace would still be possible, despite whatever reports they may have heard of an explosion on Pais.

A highly crafted political show, even down to who would represent each delegation and the backdrop for them to sit before while the feed was broadcast. Untouched Paisian countryside surrounding the remains of the conference room, wrecked by the explosion, behind the leader of the Separatists, Senator Amidala, who as leader of the opposition in the Senate was de facto head of the Republic delegation and Master Kenobi, now a known figurehead of the Jedi Order, thanks to accounts of his actions on Naboo and Geonosis.

Thinly veiled and highly crafted aside, the briefing had done the job. No more attempted sabotages had taken place, allowing them to get on with the business of forming a treaty. Bail wondered however if they had escaped unscathed. While it was true that the saboteur had not tried again, there was the possibility that they simply saw through the stunt and decided to bide their time, or try another approach. After all, when this treaty was deemed acceptable to all, it still required ratification from the Senate and the governing body of the Confederacy, something which he was by no means certain their delegations could ensure.

Pais was a neutral world, but the drawback of its chosen vocation was isolation. The world benefited from the most up to date technology, allowed the guests to govern their own concerns without having to leave, but there was a distance here which no Republic world or Separatist planet possessed. Bail was surprised that those who they had left behind were content to let them form this treaty, for it would have been quite easy for the war to erupt beyond the point of no return before the delegations could leave Pais. And if someone had realised that, they would know that no one belonging to the delegations would be able to stop them from doing so.

Another draft of the treaty appeared before him, and he pushed his thoughts aside to read through the document once more. Ignoring the temptation to skim-read paragraphs, for the treaty was long and full of political jargon, he trained himself to recognise the innuendo, search his intellect for words that could not be held up to another interpretation.

If the peace between the Republic and the Confederacy was to succeed, they needed an airtight treaty which could stand the test of scrutiny. Only then could he be content to return to Coruscant, then to Alderaan, for a much needed vacation with his wife. Breha.

At the thought of her name he almost smiled, letting the demeanour of Senator and Prince of the House of Organa drop to reveal the man behind the reputation. It was one thing he would be grateful to Dooku for. If he had gone ahead with the war, he would have to cancel the vacation he arranged to surprise her when they suffered another loss in the child bed.

Once more the treaty transmitted and collated itself through the wired conference table, as he pondered if it was too early to call in a favour with the Jedi. They were renowned for having expert medics, healers as they called them. His best friend Tryn Netzl may have put him in touch with one of the best fertility specialists in the Republic, but if he was honest with himself, he and Breha had exhausted that avenue long ago. Since his first meeting with Master Kenobi, he, Padmé and the Jedi had talked frequently, discussing the peace treaty, who could be behind the sabotage, whether they could trust Dooku. There was an ease about their conversation that he had not expected, talking with a member of the Order.

Part of him grimaced as he as he realised how that sounded. He had been so determined to distrust the negative propaganda campaign that he forgot to censor his own ruminations. He had been sceptical of meeting with the Jedi. As much as he respected them now, he had held reservations about their position with regards to the governance of the Republic. There were times when their methods of handling things left a lot to be desired. However, since meeting them, he had often wondered if the Senate was just as much to blame for their unorthodox style. He noticed that officials had the habit of taking the Jedi for granted, and then judging them without a concept of their motives and talents.

Working with their delegation as he had done ever since he came to Pais taught him that there was more to a Jedi than the ability to sense and manipulate the Force. They were intelligent, charismatic, and confident. Highly trained diplomats, with a political finesse thrown in that you rarely saw outside of the executive branches of the Senate. Strip away all their skills, the mysticism of their ability to use the Force, they were just like anyone else. And it was a privilege to know them.

A soft beeping sound broke his ruminations, causing him to glance down at the flimsi before him once more. The treaty was ready and waiting for another read through. Bail focused his mind and began.

It can't be true. He had to mean someone else, some other briefing. Those thirteen words still had a power over Anakin, even when he woke to find the briefing from Pais still playing on its programmed repeated loop the next morning. Closing down the com panel, he rose from the desk and left his quarters, knowing that the only way he would be able to reach a conclusion as to who he should believe, was to confront the being who had brought the matter to his attention in the first place.

Hurriedly, ignoring the other Jedi about the halls at this time of day, he made his way through the Temple to the hanger where the speeders were kept. Leaping into his silver continuously modified model, which as a result was far more advanced when compared to the standard cruisers issued to the temple, he fired up the repulsors, lifting the craft into air. Dodging the dawn mainstream traffic in his usual suicidal manner, he made good time in reaching his destination; the residence of the Supreme Chancellor.

Palpatine's residence appeared all that was dark and unwelcoming, but Anakin ignored the sights which would persuade any other visitor that the occupant was asleep and to come back another time. He reasoned that the Chancellor wouldn't have said anything unless he expected him to return. And Palpatine had said he was welcome to visit any time. This conversation had to be conducted now, he needed to be back in time for his training session with Master Windu. While Obi-Wan accepted his apprentice's penchant for tardiness, and turned a blind eye to his whereabouts, the head of the Jedi Council required explanations, and Anakin had no desire to meet with the Vaapad Master's disapproving stare by telling him that he had gone to see the Chancellor.

Despite his skill in learning the Vaapad form, Anakin found that he still had yet to earn the full approval of the Korun master. Mace Windu was a highly trained Jedi who worked his students hard, by the use of one on one, long and intense training sessions. At every acquirement of a new move, or presentation of the next one to master, the risk to using such a move within the dark side was underlined. Frankly Anakin was getting tired of the constant reminding, though at first he had wondered if it was a test of Master Windu's, as the Councillor had been suspicious of him from the moment he first walked into the Council chamber as a boy of nine.

This however, was seemingly belied by the reluctant approval with which his contemporaries were now regarding him. The Temple was no exception to the saying news travels fast, within minutes of his first lesson everyone was talking about him, speculating what he had done to earn the honour of becoming Master Windu's latest student. After the initial ego boost of acquiring such an honour had worn off, Anakin felt that they were not asking the right question; that instead they should be pondering about what latest breach of Jedi training had he committed now to incur the close surveillance of the second master of the Temple.

Even though it was barely dawn, the entrance floor of Five Hundred Republica was still occupied by aides and or owners of the illustrious residences that this luxurious apartment building contained. One slight application of the Force and he managed to weave past them, though a few were doubtless wondering what he was doing there at this time of morning, even those who did not recognise him. Heading for the turbolift, he was fortunate to find one which was devoid of passengers for his journey to the penthouse level, where the Chancellor's apartment, along with his wife's and a few other notable members of the Senate were located.

Or perhaps they were fortunate, for no one needed to witness his stormy expression as he marshalled his arguments. He remembered the last time he felt this level of anger, on Tatooine, when he slashed his saber through the tent in which his mother had died, intent on destroying the entire tribe. Even now he could not remember any of faces of the beings he had massacred. Men, women, children, none of them mattered, except as the murderers of his mother. For that night he had been judge, jury and executioner. For that night he had been a God, his lightsaber an extension of his wrath.

Until he caught sight of Padmé's fear stricken expression, the magnitude of what he had done was incomprehensible. Only her horrified features caused him to feel guilt over the crime he had committed. The level of horror he had sunk to. Before seeing her, his only concern had been whether the rage he experienced reached his master or anyone at the temple, particularly Master Yoda. He had forgotten she would have a view on the matter too, and one quite different from the Order, but every bit as terrifying.

He was amazed that he managed to persuade her to agree to marry him after witnessing her fearful expression. Somewhere between the message from Obi-Wan and the dodge droid run before capture, trial and sentence, she had lost whatever made her fear him. By the time he escorted her back to Naboo, she was ready to commit herself to him forever. Why after that, he wondered, had the doubts surfaced once more? When had his ability to persuade her faded away, to be replaced by what he had seen on that recording of the briefing from Pais. When did she remember that he terrified her again?

At that moment the turbolift came to a halt and the door slid back, urging him into the reception hall of the Supreme Chancellor's residence. Anakin pushed aside his wayward thoughts to focus on the task at hand. Stepping out of the small circular chamber he took a glance around the room, somewhat surprised not to see Palpatine's major-domo, who usually never seemed to sleep. His current location held a shrouded, sleep ridden appearance, as if it were attempting to press on him the possibility of coming back at a far more sociable hour.

As usual, he was oblivious to observing such niceties.

Carrying on through, as if he had every right to be here at this time of the day, Anakin was quite surprised to be halted by the normally wide open doors of the Chancellor's living area. He remembered Palpatine saying to him once that he preferred beings to feel comfortable with him, assured that he would see them any time, that his office should not inhibit them. In short, his door would always be open, no matter where he was, or when it was. However, before him now were two closed doors, barring him from entering the residence any further. This somewhat imposing barrier cast an uneasy atmosphere about the penthouse apartment which he had never experienced before, unveiling a different side to the man he had known nearly all his life.

Before he was even aware of his actions he was hesitantly raising his fist to the door, his knuckles intent on a collision course with the surface of the veneer. A half hearted attempt at best however, and he was already stepping back away from the barrier, ready to turn and go home, when to his surprise the doors slid open.

"Anakin?" Chancellor Palpatine uttered, his eyes blinking steadily, as if he was trying to wake himself up. "What are you doing here so early, my boy?"

If he had been focusing on anything, he would have noticed the dark garments that the Nubian was wearing, topped off with a black cloak that was almost Jedi in its simplicity. He might have even observed the telltale walk of a man carrying a lightsaber. But none of these worrying factors even registered with his self-consumed mind, which currently only seemed capable of playing that briefing from Pais on a constant playback loop.

"What did you mean about the fickleness of women and the frailty of love?" He asked him, his voice soft but deadly, a microcosm of anger. "Just what was it that you saw in the briefing from Pais?"

"The briefing from Pais?" Palpatine frowned as if confused. "My dear boy, I hope this has not kept up all night?"

A sudden surge of relief flooded through his drought-ridden mind, effortlessly sinking the vast amounts of pent-up worry and anger which had fuelled his odd dream conquered sleep. Strange how one inappropriate visit could have the power to settle his concerns when thirteen words had done nothing but prey upon his thoughts since he last left this penthouse apartment.

However, as he nodded in confirmation, the flood proved to be the last flow before someone pulled the plug to drain, as his companion's expression turned sympathetic. Within minutes there was a consoling arm placed about his shoulder, and he was hauled through that previously closed barrier into the living area.

"I had hoped you would pay that comment no mind," Palpatine was saying as he guided him to the nearest soft furnishings and sat him down before fetching a replenishing drink. Placing the medicinal dose in his mechanical hand, the Supreme Chancellor added, "I can see now that it was a mistake to let so much pass in a mere slip of the tongue."

"How long..." Anakin trailed off, taking a sip of the ale before his voice decided to fail him further.

"You've know them better than I do, m'boy," Palpatine replied. "How long do you think is possible?"

The young Padawan shrugged helplessly. In truth, Obi-Wan and Padmé had just as much of a foundation for a relationship as he had with her, save for the difference in the age and experience. However, until recently, he had never considered his master to be anything but a bound by the code Jedi.

"What do I do?" he sighed hopelessly, realising too late that he had spoken out such a despairing query out loud.

A certain look graced the Supreme Chancellor's features, one which the too much lauded Chosen One had trouble putting a name to. "What do you want to do?" He asked.

Silence reigned the residence as Anakin contemplated the number of motions running through his mind, none of them good moves for any of the parties concerned. Truth be known, he was not sure what he would do when they returned from Pais, assuming what he believed he saw was true. Part of him was still hoping that what he had seen implied on the briefing was just a product of his fear of losing her.

"I don't know," he at last answered, the tone a whisper akin to despair. Closing his eyes he fell back against the confines of the sofa, raising his free hand to cover them, as he let loose all the pent up turmoil within his mind, his strength in hiding the emotion exhausted.

Opposite him the Supreme Chancellor smiled a sithly grin as he delved into those mired emotions, the Sith master within rejoicing at the vulnerability which the Chosen One was showing. Everything with his future apprentice never quite went exactly as he had foreseen, Anakin was too unpredictable even for the power of the dark side. But at this moment, Sidious knew it would not take much to seduce the boy away from the Order. The union with the Nubian Senator had been his undoing, just as he had hoped, though much sooner than he had anticipated.

He supposed he should be grateful for Dooku's sudden prickling of a conscience. If the Count of Serenno had not asked for peace talks, he would not be sitting with the Chosen One right now. Instead Anakin would be far away, fighting the Clone Wars, as the little green troll had named them. By bringing the Republic and the Separatists to the brink of war Sidious hoped to expose and inure his future apprentice to violence and death, the conflict helping him to grow all the more powerful in the Force.

He had not realised that peace talks days after the boy's secret marriage would accomplish the same end result. Such a revelation astonished him, for he realised that perhaps he should have known the boy would be vulnerable now, recovering as he was from the twin tragedies of his massacre on Tatooine and Geonosis. Add the separation from his wife just days after the secret ceremony which joined them together and you had the recipe for conversion.

The timing was fortuitous. Before Anakin arrived, he had been working late in his role as Sith lord, confirming his suspicions that his Hand had betrayed him. Since summoning her from Pais after the sabotage to the peace talks failed to produce a breakdown into conflict, he had given her new orders, contingent to staying on Coruscant. However, he had since discovered that she had ignored those orders, taking her ship and departing from the planet. Inquiries he made with his other agents soon revealed her destination. She had returned to Pais. For what reasons he could not be certain. But her betrayal had left a hole in his plans, a hole which had to be filled.

And perhaps Anakin was in a position to do so. Sidious considered the boy before him, still exhausted by groundless worry that his wife was being unfaithful to him, with his master. Courtesy of a comment he had made during their last evening together. Doubtless revenge was coursing through the boy's mind, though what manner such revenge would take was as yet uncertain. In his guise as Palpatine he would have to coax the Chosen One into choosing the right path. It would require patience and a delicate touch, not the bullying method he had perfected for the Clone Wars conversion.

But the reward was sweet, and task suitably challenging for a powerful Sith lord in need of an occupation. Sidious smiled and set to work.

"I am here, Master Yoda," Obi-Wan began after he had activated the holo. He had woken to a beeping sound which he discovered to be coming from the comm device, and hurriedly dressed when he recognised the encircled bladed wings upon a star, the symbol of the Jedi Council, indicating that a member of that illustrious body was contacting him. "What's wrong? Has something happened to Anakin?"

"Nothing wrong there is," the Grand Master answered, his surroundings revealing the location to be not the Council chamber, but his private meditation suite, reserved for only the most private and usually most important conversations. "Merely wished to speak to you about Anakin's progress I did."

"And does he make progress?" Obi-Wan asked, his gaze fixing on the other Jedi Master who had been given permission to join Yoda in his meditation room, Anakin's current instructor.

Mace Windu nodded slowly, his serious expression revealing little as usual. Whether he still held reservations about Anakin's future Obi-Wan was unable to determine. "He's taken to the Vaapad style well, even adapting some of it slightly to include the forms he learned from you and Master Drallig."

Obi-Wan nodded, not surprised to learn as much. Evaluating the Korun Master's grim facial expression, he made excuses for his pupil, an all too common habit when discussing the Chosen One with senior Jedi. "He has a habit of doing that. Improvising to see if he can make things work better."

"Knows few limits his confidence does," Yoda observed thoughtfully. "Becoming a powerful Jedi he is."

An ominous silence greeted that statement as his companions attempted to determine what the Grand Master meant as well as whether they agreed with such a sweeping statement. Neither could deny that they still shared some doubts on that score, nor that the Grand Master obviously felt those same concerns, else he would have chosen to utter a different epithet. As Yoda was all too fond of saying, not to mention reminding his pupils, power does not make one great.

"His skills do him credit," Obi-Wan murmured at last, knowing there had to be some reply to Master Yoda, even if it was a noncommittal one at that.

"More have you to say, Master Obi-Wan?" Yoda prompted with several taps of his gimer stick. "Champion him you once did. Now so thoughtful. Why?"

Obi-Wan shrugged. It was clear that Yoda had summoned him not for a defence of his Padawan, yet here he was prodding for such a response. He felt he was being tested just as much as Anakin. "I'm not sure what you would have me say, Master."

"Nothing I would have you say," Yoda admonished with another series of taps. "Determine what to say you must."

"You think him ready for the trials?" Mace ventured to ask.

Abruptly the gimer stick was raised from the floor and pointed at the Korun Master. "Say that I did not! Assume that you must not."

"Then why did you call us here, Master, if not to debate Anakin's readiness for the trials?" Obi-Wan inquired.

Yoda let his arm return to his previous position, then snorted. "Talked with you, Qui-Gon did?"

Mace clasped his hands together and leaned forward, intrigued, obviously uninformed of the appearance of the late master to Yoda and Obi-Wan beforehand, while Obi-Wan froze before slowly nodding in agreement. "Yes, Master."

"Talk to you of Anakin, did he?"

Once again Obi-Wan nodded. "He told me that Anakin has failed me, Master. And that the failure would cost us all."

Yoda nodded, humming at the reply, but adding another snort at the end. "Become ominous and vague in the Force, your master has. No longer concerned with the now, but the future, he is. More to learn, your Padawan has, but little of it can we teach. Acquire what is missing by himself he should. Nevertheless, undertake the trials Anakin must."

Silence greeted this judgement, as the Grand Master probably expected. After Geonosis the general opinion amongst the Council had been that Anakin was not ready to undertake the trials. This was not in light of his actions on Geonosis, but more in a judgement arising from the culmination of his time in the Order.

It was a common misconception that the transition from Padawan to Knight happened to every Jedi as soon as they reached a certain age. Usually it was dependent on their skills, maturity and self discipline. Some Padawans had been declared knights as young as fourteen standard years, others not until their thirtieth naming day. Determining when a Padawan was ready to undertake the trials was an art, unique to every initiate.

However this was the first time Obi-Wan knew of that a Padawan would undertake the trials so soon after a judgement that further training was needed. Or with so much self discipline to master. There was an admittance of failure implicit in Yoda's pronouncement, but who had failed whom? Even without the benefit of hindsight Obi-Wan knew he had not been ready to take on a Padawan, but he felt justified in doing so after spending time with the youngling on Naboo, and in light of Qui-Gon's dying request. Yet his master had admitted now that he was wrong to demand that Obi-Wan undertake such a responsibility.

Despite the assurances of the Grand Master and Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan could not help but feel he had failed Anakin. Never before had a Padawan been so unprepared for their trials, nor had the Order been resigned to just promote an unready initiate. Another exception made for the Chosen One once more, and just as equally distasteful the example set. Not that Anakin would be told any of this. So determined to become a Jedi, the boy was sure that his trials were unreasonably delayed, set far behind those of his agemates. In truth, he was not the first to undertake them, but nor was he the last.

"Tell him tomorrow you will, Master Kenobi," Yoda instructed, causing Obi-Wan to bow his head in acknowledgement. At least the traditions would be observed, which was some comfort he supposed. "Upon your return the knighting ceremony perform we will."

With that Yoda signed off, leaving Obi-Wan in worse comfort than he had experienced before he realised who the call was from. Silently he stared at the enduring symbol of the Council, the encircled bladed wings upon a star, his mind unable to deny the ominous signs which the emblem had suddenly appeared to acquire.

Chapter Text

Part 21: A Time For Us.

"Delegates," their Paisian host greeted them with that next morning as they assembled at the conference table, the epithet designed to assign none of those present a superiority over another. "Yesterday we sat here and drafted a significant document. Today I ask you all to declare your allegiance by signature to uphold the wisdom of that treaty agreed by everyone here within this room."

There was a lengthy pause as the Senators, Jedi and members of the Separatist Confederacy read through the pads before them. One final check that everything needed to be covered by the treaty was couched within the words suitably and understandably, before committing themselves to the peace with a retinal scan. That the treaty would be ratified not just through the Senate but every planet involved was merely a formality, but the delegates were required to make sure there were little, if indeed any grounds for dispute.

Obi-Wan pushed aside his trepidation concerning his future conversation with Anakin in order to give the document before him the full attention which it deserved. After the bloodshed of Geonosis it was important that this peace treaty was upheld. The onus to keep the peace would not just be on the Jedi, but each of the delegates present. And, inevitability, if it failed, to them would the responsibility and guilt fall.

Just as it was with the conversation last night, there was nothing within the peace treaty to provide any comfort or reassurance. Words mattered little when there was an ideology at stake, as he had learned, not just to his cost, but that of the Republic. Nevertheless, he could see nothing wrong within the treaty before him. Raising the pad to his face, he allowed the device to record his retina on the document. An acknowledgement of which would be dispatched to the master treaty which their Paisian host currently held.

Padmé read through the words before her, conscious of the implications this treaty held not just for those present, but for the Republic, Confederacy and the Order as a whole. If any part of this treaty was declared unacceptable by any of the governments involved, everyone here would be to blame for not allowing for such a possibility. Unlike the Military Creation Act, none of them could afford for this treaty to be bungled. Doubtless there would be those who felt obliged to uphold the peace, just as she had felt when she learned on Geonosis that her representative had signed the very act she had risked her life to oppose.

Not that she blamed Jar Jar for his actions. If the MCA had not been rushed through the Senate, the Chancellor not granted executive powers to enable it, she and many of the Jedi on Geonosis would have been killed, or made prisoners of war. Count Dooku would never have listened to his conscience, and this peace treaty would never have existed. As distasteful as peace might have become to some beings, this was the happier alternative for everyone concerned. Reaching the end of treaty, she raised the pad to her eyes, allowing the device to record her allegiance.

Bail Organa kept one eye discreetly focused on the other delegates, watching as each one of them read through the peace treaty, some beings occasionally turning to their aides for consult when a word or term failed to be understood. Determined to have a fair gathering of all sides to negotiate this treaty, not everyone here could claim a fluency in language or diplomacy. This was a vitally important document, none of the beings responsible for its drafting and ratifying it could afford to remain ignorant regarding any of the clauses.

That they had succeeded in crafting this peace treaty was incredible. When they first came here, the bloodshed of Geonosis still fresh upon every being's mind, it had been doubtful that such a peace would be accorded. Nor in such a civilised manner by a number of his colleagues whom back in the Senate he could never count on for support in getting certain bills ratified into law. Granted there were a number of reasonable, like-minded fellow Senators present; Padmé Amidala, Mon Mothma, Garm Bel Iblis and Finis Valorum to name a few. There were some here whom he may not know to count as friends but know he could count on their support as well. However, the sizeable number of delegates whom previously he could not call upon for support could have made things extremely difficult, even perhaps sabotaging the treaty altogether.

But no one had. And whilst previously a good outcome such as this might have troubled him as auspicious, the point was that shortly this peace treaty would be ratified. No more would the Republic be troubled by the need for an army or any other potentially warmongering policy. At least not until this event was a moment in history, and he was not a man who borrowed trouble for the future. On the contrary he did everything to ensure that the future would take place. Raising his pad to his face, he let the device record his retinal agreement to the terms of the treaty, then sat back and waited for the rest of the delegates to finish ratifying it.

When the required number of scans - in other words all - were recorded in the master treaty which their host was holding, the Paisian rose from their seat to address those present once more.

"Delegates, you just have witnessed the treaty I hold," the Paisian uttered. "Note that this is a momentous day in the history of your governments. In one standard hour, a formal ratification of this peace treaty will be recorded by esteemed members of the HoloNet Broadcast Association. In the evening, this establishment will be hosting a reception to celebrate the declaration of peace between the Republic and the Separatists. Until then, I wish you good day."

Obi-Wan retired to his room, where he set up the com to talk with his Padawan. Already his mind was preparing himself for the conversation as though it were akin to aggressive negotiations. So much of his time with his Padawan was spent in negotiation and rarely did the debate go his way. Not without Anakin making his displeasure known, usually to all concerned. Keying in the access codes, first for Coruscant, then the Temple, then his quarters, he rehearsed his opening gambit and sent a prayer to the Force that his Padawan would take the news at face value and in a positive manner.

As usual the com device emitted a short series of beeps, designed to alert the person being hailed that there was a call waiting. Most messages allowed for only a certain number of times that the sequence would be repeated before asking the caller to leave a message. Usually Obi-Wan would have taken such an opportunity, even though it meant merely delaying whatever debate he might have with Anakin rather than avoiding it altogether. In this case however, the traditions of the trial demanded that he waited for Anakin to answer, so he bypassed the message locking cycle.

He never bothered to count the number of times that the sequence repeated itself before Anakin answered the call, as his Padawan never replied straight away. However, he was sure on this occasion that the bypass system was worn out by the time the blank screen cleared, revealing a bleary-eyed, stormy countenance within the visage of the Chosen One.

"Are you alright?" He asked, his previous strategy replaced by his concern for the boy.

"I'm fine," Anakin answered. "I just didn't sleep well. What's going on?"

Obi-Wan recognised the tone, and wisely refrained from inquiring further. Unless Anakin was willing to talk, he would not get an explanation any time soon. "The Council have requested your presence. They wish to give you details on your new assignment."

Immediately there appeared a certain spark in his Padawan's eyes. "A solo assignment?"

"Yes," Obi-Wan replied. "Otherwise known as your trials."

Rapidly the clouds cleared from Anakin's countenance. His apprentice suddenly appeared as eager as a youngling, untainted by the horrors of Zonama Sekot. The youngling Obi-Wan often missed.

"My trials!" Anakin cried. "Do you know what it is? Will I be done before you come back? Do I need to wait for your return?"

"No, I don't know what it is," Obi-Wan replied, "Padawan's Masters are never granted that privilege unless their apprentice chooses to tell them about the mission. No, you do not need to wait for my return, you must complete your trial without my advice or guiding hand. And as to whether you'll be done before I return, that depends on you, the nature of the trials, and the will of the Force."

"Of course," Anakin acknowledged. "I shall do my best not to disappoint you, master."

"You never have," Obi-Wan murmured. "I'll let you go and prepare. I have a press conference to attend."

His apprentice frowned. "A press conference? Not like the last one, is it? There hasn't been another explosion, has there?"

"No, we've crafted and signed the peace treaty," Obi-Wan replied, puzzled by Anakin's reaction to what had been a parting comment.

"Oh," his Padawan exhaled with something almost akin to relief. "I guess I'll see you upon my return then, Master. May the Force be with you."

"And with you, Anakin," Obi-Wan returned before signing off. For a moment he pondered the reaction his apprentice displayed. However, he could not think of anything that had been wrong with that briefing about the delegates determination to continue inspite of the bombing of their conference room.

Brushing the mystery aside, he disappeared into the refresher, preparing himself for the press conference.

On Coruscant, his apprentice practically leapt from his chair, all thoughts from the turmoil in which he had spent the night before forgotten. At last, he was to undergo the trials and become a knight. He had no doubt about his success. It was necessary, not just for himself, but for his wife. Once he was a knight he didn't have to worry about keeping his marriage a secret from the Order. He could shout it from the rooftops of the Temple if he felt so inclined.

Knowing the Council would not take well to his present appearance, Anakin took care to make himself into the dutiful Padawan of Master Kenobi before leaving the quarters he shared with his master. A thought crossed his mind as he headed down the corridor towards the grand lobby for the turbolifts which would take him to the council chamber. Would he be able to have his home outside the temple walls when he told them of his marriage to Padmé? He knew knights were allowed to have their own quarters, but he would feel uncomfortable living with his wife in the Temple. The Nubian Senatorial Residence was much nicer with its penthouse location and breathtaking views.

For the entire journey up to the council chamber he indulged himself in the luxury of imagining he was already knighted. Picturing his wife's reaction, that of the Chancellor's, his master and the rest of the Order. He recalled Obi-Wan's knighting ceremony, performed when they returned from Naboo. A mysterious occasion, cloaked in smoke and lightsabers, but one his master seemed touched by, as much as he understood his master back then.

Permitted to attend due to his status as the knight's new Padawan learner, He had witnessed Obi-Wan kneel before Master Yoda within a circle of drawn lightsabers, the mark of his Padawan achievements severed by the Grand Master's blade. One by one those present had congratulated him, before he made his way to Anakin's side. A marked contrast to what he had seen of Obi-Wan on Naboo, a silent constantly watching pupil, highly critical of the way his master had acquired Anakin, yet evidently talented in lightsaber combat. For the most part Qui-Gon had seemed to ignore him, yet Obi-Wan remained by his side.

He supposed Obi-Wan had given that same attention during his own training, as much as he had resented such protection at times. Yet he had been on his own for several days now, except when he had to spend sessions with a soul healer or Master Windu, and he found himself missing his master's presence. For all their disagreements, Obi-Wan had been a constant in his life, a shield against an unpredictable, sometimes horrifying universe. Against a Council determined to see the dark side in him.

The turbolift came to halt, causing Anakin to rapidly school his thoughts. It would not do to have such negative opinions within his mind when meeting the Council. They might just refuse to give him his trials and he could not have that. He was a Jedi knight, had been for years. It had just taken the Council awhile to acknowledge his rank.

As he walked down the small corridor which led to the grand entrance of the Council Chamber, he allowed himself to contemplate what sort of mission he would be given for his trials. Not an escort mission, or a duel with a Sith, unfortunately, he had already been through those trials, gaining a wife and losing an arm in the process. As much as he would have liked either of those challenges, the Council would probably choose something he had never experienced before. Although what that could be, he had no idea, he'd certainly experienced plenty compared to the average Padawan.

With that last thought he came to a halt before the grand entrance of the Council Chamber, the closed barrier managing to appear somewhat imposing to his much vaunted ego. Clearing his mind of the wayward scattered thoughts which currently littered his psyche, Anakin brushed himself down and pressed the admittance request control.

As the doors swished sideways, permitting him to enter, he took in the sight of every seat in the Council full, a rare and somewhat unsettling sight. He had thought some had joined the delegates from Pais, but clearly if they had, those had already returned, indicating that the parties were close to an agreement. Usually one or another were represented by blue holos as they toiled away on missions no other Jedi could be trusted with. To see them all present reminded him too much of his first introduction to them as a youngling slave boy recently freed. Suddenly Anakin felt his confidence plummet through the floor, his bravado replaced by a tingling fear that he was about to lose everything.

"Padawan Skywalker," Mace Windu began, leaning forward in his seat, his right as head of the Council to open proceedings. "I take it you received your master's message regarding our summons?"

Gone was the recent friendliness he had experienced during their training sessions in the form of Vaapad. Anakin gulped, feeling very much like a nervous youngling. "Yes, Master Windu. I came as soon as he informed me."

Yoda moved his gimer stick to rest under clasped hands below his chin and in a manner which was eerily reminiscent of that first meeting ten years ago, he murmured, "how feel you?"

Unlike that meeting however, Anakin knew that the Council would not take kindly to false courage. "Apprehensive of the fate which awaits me."

"Learned much you have," Yoda observed, leaning back into the confines of his chair, the gimer stick resting at an angle. "Remember your training, help you it will."

"Yes, Master," Anakin replied solemnly.

"A mission for you we have," Yoda revealed.

Anakin nodded, his dark blue eyes slowly taking the measure of every Council member, and then gathered himself, making sure that they knew he was ready to prove himself to all of them if he had to, as he waited for the details of his trials to be revealed.

Padmé surveyed the ball-gown Dormé had packed for her somewhat apprehensively. Ordinarily she would have no compunction attending the function this evening in such sumptuous attire, but on this occasion the gown revealed a little too much skin for her liking. She knew that custom required she danced and the thought of some guests who were bound to ask her, and whom she could not refuse, touching her skin, was unsettling to say the least. Not to mention the ones whom ordinarily she would have no problem dancing with.

Abandoning the dress for a moment she rummaged through the rest of her wardrobe to see if her handmaiden had packed anything more suitable. Due to the sudden nature of these negotiations Padmé had not had the time to assist Dormé in the packing. She had been too busy attending the Senate as the Senators and the Chancellor picked who to send to Pais. Added to that she had to select a representative to govern in her absence, then converse with Queen Jamillia and the government back on Naboo. Finally soothe a Gungan whose feelings were a little saddened by her decision not to have him as her representative this time. As much as she held affection for Jar Jar, Padmé dread to think what he might do if she left him to run her office again, however instrumental his last actions within that role of office had been regarding the blood shed on Geonosis.

Reluctantly she gave up the search for another gown as she reached the last garment in her wardrobe. Despite her misgivings she would have to wear the purple Nubian silk. Shredding her current garment she disappeared into the refresher, showering away all the hours of peace treaty signing and public briefings. A treaty declaration in front of the esteemed HoloNet press was never a fun gathering at the best of times, and this bunch had been particularly annoying. Half way through the questions she was beginning to wish their Paisian host had not allowed to be asked, all concern for the peace treaty had subsided in favour of scandal mongering. She wouldn't have been surprised if the group had been gathered from the society section.

Emerging from the refresher, she picked up the gown, noticing the extra layer attached to the hanger with much relief. Thankfully she slipped on the transparent skin shift that Dormé had thoughtfully included, which while it did nothing to hide her beauty certainly protected her flesh from unwanted attention. Then she unhooked the purple silk and carefully gathered the garment around her body. As she fastened the discreetly hidden clips Padmé moved to standing before the mirror, wordlessly surveying her reflection. Even with the skin coloured shift the silk clung to her. Anakin would throw a fit if he saw her wearing this to a Senate function, let alone this celebration. She was thankful no press had been permitted to cover the occasion.

There it was again, that irrational fear of her husband's temper, the one which appeared when he confessed to her the full horror of his bid to rescue his mother on Tatooine. Not just fear at what he had done, but fear concerning the nature of what he had done would do to him. Jedi or no, there were laws, moral laws against committing such atrocities. She'd been half tempted to tell his master, but there was no way she could burden Obi-Wan with this. He worried too much over Anakin as it was, and perhaps with good reason. However, that kernel of fear refused to go away, continuing instead to grow deep inside her.

And now it was daring to exercise a command over where she went, who she saw and what she wore. Padmé blinked at the regal woman staring back at her, knowing the reflection was only surface deep. Where was the girl who had donned a handmaiden's uniform, formed a previously impossible alliance and rescued her blockaded planet?

A spark flashed into her eyes as she recalled those somewhat innocent days, almost untainted by the dirty politicking she was more familiar with now. Reassuring herself that the girl was still there, underneath the finery and the fear, she fixed her hair into an artful stylish coil her handmaiden would have been proud of, then determinedly turned away from the mirror and walked out of the room.

More than a few fellow delegates turned to gaze at her as she headed down the corridor to the turbolifts. Senator Amidala was a beautiful woman and those who previously thought of her as only young and intelligent were now beginning to realise that third asset. She was a valuable colleague to have and those she passed began to see that the Senate was not the only place where they would be proud to have such a woman by their side.

The turbolift was already occupied, and when the door swished aside, the passenger gave out a long, low whistle of appreciation, followed by an elaborate bow, before reaching out to take her hand, bestowing upon the soft skin a devoted kiss. "Milady, you look stunning."

Padmé blushed, but inwardly the candle inside her which was that girl who had secured the peace and freedom of her world, acquired a strength to its flame. "Thank you, Garen," she added as entered the lift. "Will Master Kenobi be joining us?" She asked, knowing that the Jedi delegation were all on the same floor, between the area of the hotel occupied by the Separatists and the section by the Senators.

"Momentarily. He has been detained by the Council," Garen informed her. Privately he wondered what his friend would make of the Nubian Senator's ensemble. A smirk crossed his face. He'd give anything to be there when his friend caught sight of Senator Amidala. If anything could make Kenobi drop his mask and reveal the feelings for her, this dress could.

The turbolift resumed its journey down to the grand entertaining floor, which Pais had installed with magnificent reception rooms, featuring expansive views of the planet's glorious countryside. At night the view was lit by soft glowing torches, allowing for the divine exposure of the land under a starry sky.

A few dignitaries were already present when Padmé entered, Garen offering his arm to her in true courtly fashion. Some were engaging in dancing to the classical music an orchestra of Paisians were performing, but most were quartered off the sides and corners of the room, talking, or else out on the promenade decking, enjoying the views.

"Would you care to grace my hand with yours, milady?" Garen asked, and she nodded, allowing him to elegantly sweep her off on to the floor into the waltz.

Memories flooded into her mind of dancing lessons, and the celebrations after freeing her planet from the blockade; the various social occasions she had attended as Queen then Senator. Padmé had danced with Jedi before, as well as her fellow colleagues, and as always one could tell the difference between those who had trained privately, at the usual finishing schools, or the Temple. For her, the Jedi seemed to produce the superior dancing partner, a by-product of the lightsaber forms she supposed.

Garen was a superb dancer, as she quickly discovered, able to lead her through the steps of the most intricate waltz. Forgetting all outside influences she allowed herself to swept way in the beauty of the steps, the silent admiration of an attractive, intelligent man who flirted with her without fear of, or desire to let such a dalliance touch her heart, along with the occasional quip of conversation when the music and dance allowed.

Afterwards he escorted her off the floor into the corner of the room occupied by Senators Organa, Mon Mothma, Bel Iblis and, to her surprise, Count Dooku, who looked humbled to be considered welcome in such company.

"Senator Amidala," he remarked, bowing before her. "May I say what a pleasure it has been to converse with you in much more hospital circumstances. I hope you will allow this treaty as the foundation of a new and more favourable understanding between us."

Padmé nodded, she was not above a reconciliation of sorts, however much a part of her still found difficult to trust or like the man after what injuries he inflicted on Obi-Wan, Anakin and the Jedi. "Of course, Count."
"The Count was discussing with the us possibility of allowing delegates from the Separatists to stand in the Senate," Bel Iblis revealed.

She raised an eyebrow at that. "As part of continuing the foundations formed from the peace treaty?" she murmured thoughtfully.

"Exactly," Dooku replied. "Do you think the Chancellor would be amenable to such representation?"

Padmé stared at him considering. There was a slight smile on his face which suggested that he knew much more than he was willing to let on, and not just about the Chancellor. "Such a decision would be up to the members of the Senate," she replied, "but with the support of the delegation here, such a custom might be practised."

"Would you be one of the delegates, Count?" Garen asked.

"Yes," Dooku replied. "I am considering returning to Coruscant for a time. I would like to talk with the esteemed members of the Jedi Council, if they are willing to grant me such a privilege."

"I am not authorised to speak for them," Garen replied. "But I am sure I can find someone who is."

Padmé frowned at his reply. "I thought a few of the Council were here for the negotiations?"

"A few were, yes," Garen confirmed, "but they have since returned, as their services are required in the Core. A few Padawans are taking their trials, and all Council members are required to be present for the mission briefings. Master Kenobi's among them," he added, as the grand entrance foyer into the ballroom admitted the Jedi in question.

Some of the guests present turned to glance at the new arrival, taking in the sight of a Jedi Knight in dress uniform with a measured stare, all realising how attractive the knight in question was. Padmé felt her heart skip a beat as she cautioned herself to take a deep breath when his grey blue gaze met hers across the crowded room. If she had the power to slip behind his Jedi mask she would have been as discomposed of what he was thinking as he was by what she was wearing. He knew she was beautiful, but rarely had he seen her in anything which showed off that beauty. The gown clung to her curves, her long dark her hung in elegantly coiffure curls, restrained by sparkling jewels of the same shade as the silk which covered her skin. An image of him peeling away those silks and gemstones sprung to mind, causing his heart to hunger.

"Padawan Skywalker is to undergo his trials?" Count Dooku sought to confirm, unknowingly breaking the spell between the Chosen One's Master and the Nubian Senator. "I would have thought the darkness of Geonosis earned him his knighthood like that Sith duel did his master."

"The Council desired that he be given time to recover from the injuries he suffered on Geonosis. And Obi-Wan requested that Anakin be granted the traditional trials," Garen informed him, as his friend crossed the ballroom to join their group. "An honour he wished he had earned himself," he added quietly.

"As I heard, he had earned that honour well before the incident on Naboo," the Count of Serenno murmured quietly. "My old pupil was just reluctant to lose him so soon to the ranks of the Knights."

Padmé raised an eyebrow at that, then hurriedly schooled her features into unthinking serenity as Master Kenobi finally joined them.

"Senators, Count," he greeted in his rich Core accent. "Garen."

"Good evening, Obi-Wan," Garen returned. "Your talk with Anakin went well?"

"As well as I hoped," Obi-Wan replied. "He was brimming with enthusiasm." Privately he wondered how long that would last. Though the Council had not revealed the details of the mission to him - that was up to the whim of his apprentice - he did not think it would meet with Anakin's expectations.

"Master Kenobi, Count Dooku has just informed us that he was planning a sojourn on Coruscant," Bail Organa informed him.

"Is that so?" Obi-Wan murmured, turning to the Count.

Dooku nodded. "I had hope to spend a little time in the Senate and Temple, if the Council will permit me that honour."

"I shall speak with them about it," Obi-Wan replied.

Bail finished his drink, handing the glass to nearby waiter, then he held out his hand to the beautiful Nubian Senator. "Padmé, may I have this dance?"

Padmé placed her hand in his outstretched one and allowed herself to be swept out on to the dance floor once again.

Obi-Wan turned to watch her, unaware of the expression which flitted across his face as he did so. Fortunately Garen was the only one who caught sight of it. He too wished he could dance with the lady who held his heart, but Nineve had decided to remain in their room, believing it would be unwise for her to show her face down here, as amongst the delegates there were some beings who might recognise her.

"Dance with her," Garen whispered to his friend, referring to Padmé, concealing his grin as a fleeting expression of shock flitted through Obi-Wan's face.

The comment was beautifully timed, as the music finished before the orchestra prepared for the next piece. Bail escorted Padmé back to their cadre, practically right in front of the Coruscanti master.

Obi-Wan thought of Anakin back home, then found the beautiful Senator's brown eyed gaze, seeking out his own. With a elegant bow, he held out his hand. "Would you do me the honour, milady?"

Padmé found herself swept back to the moment he had held her in his arms after the explosion, then to their reunion when he and his padawan were assigned to protect her against the attempts made on her life,before she discovered what Anakin felt for her still. She placed her hand in his. "It is I who would be honoured, Master Kenobi."

No one but the Knight and the lady witnessed him bestowing a kiss upon that hand before moving it to rest against her heart in the required position of dance. As he swept her out on to the floor it was as if there was no one else in the universe but them. For as long as the music played they felt a wealth of limitless possibilities gracing their minds. A thousand temptations begging to be contemplated, even played out.

A series of possible futures mapped themselves out within their imaginations, enticing their hearts as their bodies moved as one in the steps of dance. Not even the Force was cautioning them, other than the occasional word to the wise. To be mindful of all which had passed to give them this time, this place. That divine being of energy had faith that they would endure every storm. What they needed now was a glance of what the future could bring, if they possessed a mind and desire to bring such an event about. One powerful enough to linger within their memory, long after the last note faded away.

Chapter Text

Part 22: Initiation.

Anakin Skywalker slumped into the private booth of the little tavern he had found and surveyed the menu for alcohol. Normally he would be disgusted with himself for resorting to such a method in order to survive a mission, but on this occasion, his boredom was such that he had to make an exception. If he didn't finish this evening without getting thoroughly and utterly drunk, then this planet had no redeeming qualities.

Selecting a reasonably priced ale that was well within his budget for the mission, Anakin spent the time it took for the waiter droid to bring him what he planned to be his first in a series of drinks, contemplating how to explain away this part of the mission expenses. There was no way his meagre personal savings would cover the eventual bill, for despite the fact that he usually hated being drunk, thanks to the Jedi technique of cleansing toxins from the body, he could hold his drink more than most. Tonight however, those skills would be forgotten.

Providing he was sober long enough to remember them.

The droid placed the first glass of lum before him and Anakin decided to show off by draining the liquor in one go. Motioning the machine to bring him another, he leaned back into the confines of the nerf leather covered seats and reflected over what had led him here.

When the Jedi Council sprung this mission on him as his trials, he had been hoping that the mission details were a cover for devious undertakings followed by a lightsaber duel at the end of it. Assignments from the Order rarely managed to remain simple and whenever he or his master were involved, never failed to be interesting. So far, this mission had managed to accomplish both goals, or rather failures, and it was only his first day.

Instead of featuring a cover for operational deception followed by aggressive negotiations, the mission turned out to be exactly what the Council had told him it would; a simple, practically mind-numbingly straightforward verbal negotiation on ownership rights regarding a local mine, in which a vast source of highly valuable durasteel had recently been unearthed. The mine was family owned and naturally the owners wanted to keep it within the family. Their local council however, wanted the profit laced from the selling of the durasteel to benefit the entire planet, something it could also quite easily do, while not depriving the family who owned the mine from seeing some of its riches either.

Talks arranged first by the planet's governing body and then by the Senate had resolved nothing, causing the members involved to turn to the Jedi.

Who, in their dubious wisdom, had decided to send him.

A wisdom which Anakin found himself questioning almost from the moment he had been given the assignment. Wondering why they decided to send him as opposed to one of their trained negotiators who hadn't gone to Pais, or one of the Council members who had returned, or better still another senior Padawan ready for his or her trials, who had some background in negotiations such as these. It was not that that he didn't believe himself capable, it was just usually he let Obi-Wan handle these types of talks, while he remained alert, waiting for the moment in the talks where they turned sour, when a lightsaber might need to be used.

He also couldn't help but wonder if there was something deliberate about the Council's decision to send him here. Almost as if they expected him to fail, so he would return to the Temple a humbler and much more willing to learn Padawan. He would not put such deviousness past the Council, especially since their decision to have him undergo his trials had come mere weeks after Geonosis and their orders that he recuperate, learn to use his prosthetic, and visit a soul healer. Surely Master Windu's conclusions gathered from teaching him Vaapad could not have altered their opinions about him this much.

Anakin had spent much of the talks pondering these thoughts in his head and reaching no useful, or for that matter, comforting, conclusions. Attempting to find some now, in this tavern which he had sought out for the sole purpose of getting drunk, would accomplish nothing either, except the failure to lose his sobriety.

Soundlessly he allowed himself to concentrate on nothing more but the gap between each drink, until he lost count of how much he had consumed. Then he allowed his fingers to slip inside his tunic pocket to caress the gift which the Chancellor had given him before he left his residence that tormented dawn.

At first glance the little gold device held nothing remarkable about it. No one could be blamed for believing it to be nothing more a small, portable comlink. Which, as the Chancellor had explained to him, was precisely what it was. But it was also a comlink with a difference. Not only did it contain a small viewscreen, allowing the user to scan listed numbers, but it also held a built in voice modulator, which disguised both the person using the device, and who they were speaking to.

A perfect comlink for undercover missions, one might conclude, except that these comlinks could only be used by anyone and everyone who had access to them. It was the fact that this access was vigorously controlled which rendered the comlinks mysterious and unusual. For nobody could have one without the invitation of another who had one. Nor did an owner know who else possessed one, unless they happened to see the device about their person. And when it was almost indistinguishable from a normal comlink, acquiring such knowledge was impossible.

The Chancellor had impressed upon him never to reveal that it was he who had given him this device, and Anakin had been a little puzzled by that, until the Chancellor explained that anonymity was the very basis behind the comlink, and vital to all those who owned one. For if the knowledge was ever revealed to the Republic at large, the Senate and the Order were liable to collapse under the weight of the scandal involved.

Such an explanation naturally caught his attention. At first he had been incredulous at the very idea of the Jedi being involved in something scandalous. But the Chancellor assured him that it was indeed the case. After assuring the older man that he would betray nothing of what had passed between them this evening, Anakin came to learn, much to his horror, that scandal was a perfectly apt description.

And an utter understatement.

The comlink he held in his hand, as he discovered that night, and others like it, belonged to members of an exclusive, invitation only, clique, otherwise known as the List. A group of individuals, anonymous in all but number, grouped together through one dubious interest. Via one call through this comlink or any other, two members would met up and spend the night with each other. Without names or credits, or the slightest form of commitment exchanged between them. In short, what he had access to in his hand at this moment, was the universe's largest free brothel.

On Tatooine, as a slave owned by first the Hutts and then Watto, he had grown used to the concept of beings selling themselves. The flesh trade in all its vices had flourished on the lawless planet, where the harsh weather and lack of water made almost anything a valued commodity. By the time he could walk and talk he knew the facts of life, or rather, the acts which normally led to producing life, as well as the steps which the beings involved strove to avoid doing so. He had seen females and males, though thankfully not himself or his mother, being bartered over for all manner of pleasurable sins. Childish innocence was not a concept beings from Tatooine understood, yet alone believed existed.

He had often wondered what would have happened if the Hutts had never sold he and his mother to Watto, or if Qui-Gon had never freed him from slavery. Cliegg Lars would have hardly wanted him getting in the way of his pursuit of his mother, if Watto had kept him that long. He had proved himself useful in fixing things, but he would have soon outgrown the ability to compete in the pod races. No, Anakin had come to the conclusion that Watto would have sold him on as soon as he was too tall to fit into the pods. And his mother would be able to do nothing but watch. If he was lucky he had might have got himself sold as a bodyguard, or a mercenary, or a soldier, even a pirate. But Tatooine auctions also catered to the brothels of the universe, and none of them would be as dainty as the List purported to be.

Becoming a Jedi Padawan however, had hardly protected him from the darker side of the known universe either. Nearly every mission he and his Master had been sent on dealt with the murkier side of the Republic, or those worlds situated on the fringe of that alliance of planets, augmenting the knowledge he had gained from his childhood on Tatooine. Curious and chafing under Obi-Wan's training, Anakin had sought out all forms of amusement he could, from the mildest to the most dangerous, becoming adept at avoiding his master, who usually hauled him out of them either for a personal reprimand, or a formal one in front the of Council.

When he had met Padmé again, he had been surprised to find her as innocent in the murkier dealings of the universe as she was ten years earlier. Frightened of shocking her, he had concealed what he learned, allowing her to believe he was even more innocent than she upon their wedding night. Now however, he began to wonder if such was really the case. For the Chancellor had implied that all of the Senate were aware and possibly members, of the List, along with a significant proportion of the Order.

He remembered once more that brief flash of disappointment he had caught during their brief honeymoon in the villa at Varykino. The one so rapidly hidden he became convinced that he had imagined it. The unusual closeness between her and his master that he saw in the briefing from Pais after the explosion, along with that implication the Chancellor had made concerning them. Her many years of service in Senate, punctuated by a few breaks away from Coruscant. Just where had she been spending each recess, he wondered.

Another ale was deposited before him by the waitress droid and Anakin sipped it moodily, realising abruptly that he had been unconsciously using the Force to siphon off the effects of the alcohol he had already consumed. He was still entirely too sober for his liking. Grimly, he set the impulse aside and swallowed the rest of the drink before signalling to the barkeep for another.

Placing the special comlink upon the table, he stared at the small viewscreen, his blue eyes keenly observing the scrolling list of hailing codes. None were familiar to him, but then again there was no reason why they should be, for each was entirely unique and assigned randomly to each member upon their invitation to the List. Even he had one now, embedded within the comlink, his access to it blocked, due the anonymity of the group. Since no one knew their number, each meeting was truly secret, only repeated as if by luck. If he really wanted to, Anakin supposed he could try splicing for the number, but at the moment, a part of him was still incredulous as to the motion of him tapping on a code and then the receiver deciding if they were willing to spend the night with him.

He realised of course that there were limitations within the devices. For one thing it required for the receiver to be on the same planet if they were to meet up. A long distance location finder was built into the device, but for him to meet anyone of them right away, they would have to be on the same planet as he. Which, if he hadn't been within hours travelling distance of the Core, would have narrowed the parameters considerably. As he was, all they would have to do is agree which planet to meet on, then catch the next transport. Which would require funds for said transport, as well as funds for the room, not to mention a room being available, though it was impossible to render the Coruscant hotelier district fully booked for any length of time.

Pondering this thought, Anakin realised he was still much sober for his liking, and continuing to think about the details of the List, would keep him in that sobriety for quite some time. Really, he had only one decision to make. Whether or not to try the comlink during this mission, or wait until he was back on Coruscant, and additionally, whether he preferred to do so in a drunken state. If he decided not to remain sober, he would have to wait for someone to call him, as etiquette required whoever arrange the meeting paid for the room, as well any additional expenses, such as drinks and or a meal, none of which he could afford at this moment.

So there was no point in further exploring device tonight. Unless it rang, he had to ignore the possibilities behind it, and focus on getting drunk.

A task which he had yet to do.

Clasping at the fresh drink placed before him, Anakin pushed aside his remaining mistrust and curiosity, then set about accomplishing that desire.

Padmé returned to her room with the music of the dance which she waltzed with Obi-Wan foremost in her mind. When the door closed she leaned against it, as her thoughts returned to that moment, reflecting on all she had felt. The sensations which the dance created seemed just as powerful now as they were then, causing her to lose the strength to stand, leaving her no choice but to sink to the floor. Gently, cautious of ruining the Nubian silk, she gathered her knees to her chest, before resting her head upon them. D

Dancing with Obi-Wan had felt so natural. That safe feeling which she always savoured whenever she was within his arms had been present, but this time with an additional thrill of untapped desire. With every step she was aware of the touch of his hand upon the small of her back, just above the silk, his callused palm against her transparent skin shift. His other hand had clasped one of hers, pressed below her shoulder, above the strands of silk, sheer linen, flesh and bone which sheltered her heart. As they crossed the room, encircling their way through the other dancers, she could feel the ends of his recently trimmed hair caress her other hand, as it clasped the back of his neck.

She had felt an almost irresistible desire to stroke him there, to finger the ends of his new hair style, which leant an added air of sophistication to his cultured Coruscanti accent. Before her had been the accomplished Master, not the rugged Knight or tempered Padawan. A man confident in almost everything, except what she felt for him, as she realised during their waltz, for she could read the uncertainty in his eyes, their sea shaded gaze never leaving hers. Nor could she make a move to withdraw her own from them, as lost in the moment as he.

Everything within the ballroom faded from her notice, except for the music which seemed forever embedded upon her mind, and an atmosphere which she had been unable to shake. It was something she had never encountered before, nor ever likely to do so again, for the sensations were being bestowed upon her. Conducted to a grand design, influenced by neither herself nor Obi-Wan, but by another who flowed through them.

Untutored she was in the ways of the Force, but not entirely ignorant of its methods, she had been unable to deny its existence within the waltz, for those sensations which called to her throughout the dance belonged to it, urging her to look, listen and learn. To prepare herself for future which the divine energy could not only foresee, but was offering up to her. A future not with Anakin, but with Obi-Wan, presented in such a way as to erase any argument which might have come to mind. And not just her mind, she realised, for the energy had shown that hereafter to Obi-Wan too.

What startled her the most was how receptive they had both been to the notion, how much they desired and welcomed such a union. For the first time she realised the extent to which Obi-Wan admired her beauty, her intelligence, her very soul.

The revelation caught her completely by surprise. She had not expected him to ever feel something beyond the mutual respect and friendship built upon the many years they had known each other. Despite those encounters with him in the palace gardens on Naboo, she regarded his opinion of her to resemble that which he felt for Ani, an almost parental, fraternal indulgence. He was a Jedi after all, who must have encountered more fascinating women than she in his lifetime. Nothing could have singled her out from the rest.

But there was no mistaking the look his sea shaded eyes bestowed upon her tonight, the warm admiration in his expression. There was a fire in his eyes, a depth of desire she realised had always been there, concealed by layers of Jedi serenity, now laid bare by the will of the Force. She knew if they had been alone, she would have erased the distance between them, letting his hands caress her, while her lips tasted his. Fantasies previously only explored in her imagination, born from a somewhat youthful fascination of the brooding Padawan he had once been, to the Knight and then Master who danced with her now.

When the music reached its coda, the two of them coming to a gentle halt before parting to opposite corners of the floor, she had realised something else too. That her marriage to Anakin was over, before it had even properly begun. What she felt for Obi-Wan was deeper than anything she had ever felt for Anakin, and it was unfair on all of them to stay in what would soon prove to be a loveless marriage. She was already cautious concerning his temper, his reactions as to who she spent time with, not to mention her revulsion for the atrocity he committed on Tatooine. Coupled with the secrecy demanded due to his commitment to the Order and her desire for a family, there was nothing keeping her married to him.

Realising this brought another set of problems however; all centring how best to break such a decision to Anakin. His temper would most likely erupt, along with his persistence and impatience, for they had married on Naboo, and Nubian divorces, while highly regarded for their discretion and care, also held the reputation of being the longest proceedings within the Republic. Her motive offered by way of explanation to Anakin could not be the whole truth, as it would only worsen the contradictory mess of feelings he held for his master. She could not foresee how to avoid denying Obi-Wan's influence however, coming to such as decision as she had fresh from Pais.

Sighing, Padmé summoned the strength to rise up from the floor and take off the Nubian silk gown. Carefully she hung the garment up, so the creases acquired from her previous position would be gone before she packed in the morning. Quietly she continued with her current line of thought as she changed into her nightgown. There was an overwhelming temptation to delay mentioning the matter to Anakin, but in view of the lengthy Naboo divorce proceedings, she could not really afford to do so.

While the divorce and the reforms to the Jedi would allow her to reveal her feelings to Obi-Wan, Padmé knew she must keep them silent. Anakin would never take well to the news and there would be no way to keep the relationship a secret from him, unless they kept it secret from everyone else. And she could not, would not do this again, the pressures and the experience too painful to attempt a second time. Nor did she believe that Obi-Wan would willingly enter into such a relationship. He was an honourable man, who served the Order to best of his abilities. His sense of duty, his very conscience, would not allow him to lie for their love.

Once more her decisions had laid herself open to an impossible position, though this time it was of her own making, uninfluenced by all but Anakin. She could not stay married to him, but nor could she marry anyone else while he still claimed possession of her, even when his legal right was annulled. Obi-Wan had warned her, and though his method was hardly befitting his title of the Negotiator, he had been right to do so.

Padmé fished out her jumpsuit and pocket comlink, knowing that in her current state of mind she would find little sleep tonight. Once attired in the former, she put her hair in a simple ponytail and headed for the hotel's gym in the hope that physical exertion would conquer her present mental equilibrium.

The comlink began to beep.

Anakin blinked wearily as he looked up from where his head was resting upon the tavern table, surrounded by empty ale glasses. For a moment he failed to recognise the difference between the small gold coloured device and the one issued to him by the Order, causing a somewhat panicked fumbling through pockets as he tried to recollect where both devices were kept.

Finally he fished the device out of a pocket of his robes, having achieved his objective upon entering the tavern several hours ago. He was presently on his way to total alcohol induced oblivion, but the sound of the hail coming from this particular device caused him reluctantly to use the Force to initiate the usual detoxification methods.

Wordlessly he held the device in his hands before him, as his mind tried to work past the sudden incomprehension at the sound it was emitting and why. His first impulse was to ignore the hail, for it was unlikely that the person hailing was close enough to meet him, and did he really want to try this tonight anyway, or even at all?

But his usual fearless curiosity won over and almost before he was even aware of it, his fingers were tapping the acceptance button and putting the device to his ear.

"Are you free tonight?" a sexless mechanised voice asked with an almost seductive air.

"Yes," Anakin replied.

"Where are you?" the voice inquired.

Anakin gave the name of the tavern and planet.

"There is a small house round the corner, I will meet you there," the voice replied, signing off without giving him a chance to refuse.
Slipping the device into his pocket, Anakin beckoned a droid over and paid up his rather expensive liquor bill. Detoxifying the last remnants of his drunkenness away, he headed out of the tavern to find the house and the woman - at least he presumed it was a woman - waiting for him there.

Her description was accurate, the small, ground level house was indeed just round the corner. Dark except for one small light shining through an equally small window, casting a glow around the figure waiting outside. Using the Force to aid his perception, Anakin was soon able to distinguish her lithe form from the surrounding darkness. Her hair was jet black, a surprising contrast to her pale blue eyes, one of which seemed more artificial than the other. As he came closer he could see that she was a Dathomirian, causing him to wonder if she had any talent with the Force.

As he came to a halt before her, she gave him a thorough appraisal, her stare almost cold and somewhat calculating. "You're younger than I thought you would be," she murmured. Taking a pace forward, she encircled him, continuing her evaluation until Anakin felt he was an exhibit on display. When she came full circle, her pale blue eyes never leaving his form, her opinion was left unaired as she swept into the dwelling, expecting him to follow her rather then requesting him to do so.

With ever increasing trepidation, Anakin took one last glance at their surroundings, and then stepped inside.

One room was encompassed within the four walls, a simple bed in a corner, and a large hearth with a roaring blaze, the only light in an otherwise primitive dwelling. If it were not for the absence of sand, Anakin would have felt he was back in the slave community on Tatooine. However, he barely had time to take in his surroundings, for as soon as he closed the door she leapt upon him, tearing off his Jedi robes.

Her mouth foisted itself upon his, as she set the pace and the course of the rest of the night. Anakin could do naught but follow her lead. Like the dwelling, there was something very primitive in her lovemaking, an animalistic desire to conquer his body with her own. She scratched his skin, gripping, groping with a fierce tenacity that matched the strength of his cybernetic arm. Her passion caused him to respond with equal intensity, a stark contrast to the gentle, almost kid glove way he made love with Padmé. He forced any thought of her away, except to remind himself of the anger he felt when he saw her during the briefing from Pais, the closeness with his master. That dark emotion was seized upon by his lover, as she lay siege to his body.

She pushed him on to the bedding, her hands clawing him as she impaled herself. Tightly she gripped him, until he felt as if he was being drained of all his strength, physically and forcefully. Powerfully she rode him, pressing him into the cloths beneath his body, her mouth emitting loud guttural growls. With a keening cry she reached her climax, driving him to completion simultaneously.

Anakin barely had time to draw breath before she deftly swapped positions, managing to keep him inside her. Her nails ran slowly down his back, delving themselves between his buttocks until he groaned with arousal. Though he was on top of her, she was still very much in control, urging him to ride her harder and harder. With every stroke he hammered her into the mattress, as her keening cries urged him onwards, her muscles growing ever tighter around him. At times he felt like he was killing her, the air around them thick with the Force, pounding in time with their hearts, chanting with their breath, as though he were on her homeworld, attending the legendary Dathormirian witch incantations.

The union was intense, deeper than what he had ever experienced, even with Padmé, whom he claimed to love more than life itself. Not only was the air thick with the Force, but he felt the power of that ancient energy in a way he never had before. Eddies swirled over and through him, plunging him down, into the very depths, until he believed he could almost drown within the currents. A crackling sound penetrated their world, reminding him of the lightning he endured from Dooku, but which he knew to be from the large fire, the only source of light within the dwelling.

Again and again she conquered him, until he collapsed from exhaustion. Uncaring as to the risk to himself, or to her in this somewhat dubious neighbourhood, he let himself fall amongst the bedding, seeking another oblivion through unconsciousness.

His companion spared him a glance, then with a soft growl checked him over to make sure he was uninjured. Her master would be displeased if his prize were mortally harmed. He had been most angry with Dooku when he learned of the dismemberment on Geonosis. Gathering her clothing, she dressed herself, leaving him the digits of her code within the List, scrawled on to a piece of flimsi, wrapped around the golden comlink, secured in a pocket of his robes.

Leaving the dwelling, she waited until she was a suitable distance from the place before shedding the wig from her head. Only when she was inside the cockpit of her ship did she discarded the thing completely, desirous of no one discovering the item and tracing it to her.

Dropping to one knee before the holo projector, she hailed her master.

"Ahh, Asajj," Darth Sidious greeted her. "Report, my Hand."

"He has been plucked, my master," Ventress answered.

"Excellent," Sidious murmured. "Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen."

Chapter Text

Part 23: Homecoming.

The Senate and Jedi delegations docked at the Senate entrance hanger, returning in triumph to Coruscant. A welcoming committee was there to greet them, which included members of the Jedi Council, the Chancellor, and noted Senators who did not attend the Pais negotiations, as well as the esteemed members of the HoloNet press. The political body disembarked first, allowing the members of the Order to discreetly transfer their guest into a transport for the Temple.

When the knights and masters descended from their ship, the fuss was still focused upon the Senate delegation, allowing Obi-Wan to greet Masters Yoda and Windu in relative privacy. A single look passed between the three of them was all it took to determine that his decision regarding the guest had been the right one.

With all the skill of a Grand Master, Yoda led them away from the cluster of Senators and press, down the colonnade towards the southern exits for transports. Leaving from where they had just arrived would render attention in an Order which craved solitude and discretion. Idly Obi-Wan wondered how long such preferences would remain so when the new reforms were ushered in.

"The Council is awaiting your report of the sabotage and the rest of the negotiations," Mace remarked.

Obi-Wan nodded, but added a demur all the same. "I'm not sure I can contribute anything more beyond what those of the Council who attended already have."

"Vital everyone's viewpoint is," Yoda murmured. "Caught something others perhaps missed, you might."

"Very well," Obi-Wan conceded. "I take it Anakin is still undertaking his trials?"

"Lengthy negotiations we gave him," Yoda explained. "Unsure when your return for the knighting ceremony would be."

"Ah," Obi-Wan murmured. "He could do with mastering his patience before he becomes a knight."

"Impulsive he has always been," Yoda agreed. "All too common a trait among Padawans."

"So, with Anakin soon to be a knight, what will you do with yourself now?" Mace inquired. "Attend the initiates displays for another apprentice?"

"Not immediately," Obi-Wan replied. "I do not wish to give Anakin the impression that I was waiting to be rid of him."

Windu nodded, knowing behind that decision was a reflection of Qui-Gon's faults, who had been quick to dismiss his shining Padawan upon finding and freeing a slave boy from a desert planet.

"Consider perhaps another role, you might," Yoda remarked.

Thinking that they were still talking of teaching, Obi-Wan replied, "With all due respect, masters, I don't think I could handle a classroom full of initiates or Padawans."

"Another role in mind we have," Yoda revealed. "Your wisdom the Council would welcome."

Obi-Wan came to a halt in surprise. "Masters, I am honoured," he paused, at a loss for words, utterly taken aback. Not since Mace set the record as the youngest in the Order to be admitted to the Council had a Jedi been promoted so rapidly. He never knew his abilities were valued so highly. For others, this promotion was predicted for quite some time, almost from the moment word reached of his actions on Naboo, if not before, whenever they saw him in company with the two Grand Masters of the Order. But to Obi-Wan they were simply friends he acquired, Yoda through his youngling years, Windu through his friendship with Qui-Gon. He did not realise that they valued him for himself rather than who his master was.

The three Jedi reached the end of the colonnade, then boarded the waiting taxi. Little was said during the journey, as the Council Masters allowed him to come to terms with his new role, and the sobering implications which it bestowed. He had never been ambitious, it was not in his nature, seeking the role of Councillor for his master, never for himself. Qui-Gon never sought such a promotion, but always predicted that his Padawan would find himself offered a seat amongst that body before he, something which Obi-Wan had frequently protested. Still, he could not deny the honour of what they were offering him, nor the fact that he would accept. Not because he had to, or because he wanted to, but because the Force was prodding him to do so, and it was that energy which a Jedi always served first before any desires of others, or indeed their own.

Arriving at the Temple, they headed for the Council chamber, where Count Dooku was waiting on a seat outside the grand double door entrance. Upon catching sight of them, he rose from his chair and went down on bended knee before the Grand Master.
"Penitent, are you, my old Padawan?" Master Yoda murmured, his clawed hand reaching out to rest upon the magnate of Serenno's head, almost in benediction.

"For many things, master," Dooku replied.

"Much to atone for, you have," Yoda agreed, before removing his hand. "Into chambers, come. Listen to your defence, the Council will."

Mace waved his hand, using the Force to part the doors, then entered the room, Dooku following. Obi-Wan hung back, intending to go to his quarters, until Yoda turned and gestured for him to enter the room as well.

Dooku waited for all to assemble and seat themselves before he began. "When I left the Order after Qui-Gon's death, I was disillusioned with many of our traditions and customs, as I made clear to you all. Hearing of my nephew's unexpected passing, I returned to Serenno to reclaim my family's estates and title. I intended to lead a simple life, explore the wisdom of the Jedi lore, manage my inheritance. But that was not to be."

The Count paused here, taking a breath, as he entered the shameful part of his tale. "I received a visitor at my home, he offered to teach me some of the learning he had acquired from an old master in the ways of the Force. I was astonished that he knew so much about it, and in my ignorance I eagerly absorbed all I could. He was a highly subtle, devious creature, by the time I realised the full nature of what I was learning, I was too deeply submerged.

"I could not see a way out, so I submitted myself to carrying out his plans. He convinced me that the Republic needed to be reformed and prepared for a race of beings from the Unknown Regions, who would invade our territory. He claimed to have foreseen such events occurring in a vision, and I was too naive to question him. He sent me to Kamino, to oversee the engineering of the clones. While there, I learned of Master C'baoth's Outbound Flight scheme. It was not until after I returned from Kamino, that I discovered he had destroyed the ship."

A startled gasp came from several Council members then, causing a general pause to the proceedings. Mace leaned forward in his chair, seeking to confirm the dreadful discovery they had just learned. "He destroyed Outbound Flight?"

Dooku nodded. "I have no definitive proof, but I do know that such was his intention all along. He considered C'boath a threat, and hoped the scheme would rid the Republic of many Jedi. However, the planning caused him considerable concern. Not only was the scheme limited in the selection of who from the Order went, but at one point he had to make sure that two members were taken off the ship before it disappeared from the Republic."

"Who were those two members?" Obi-Wan asked, although he had a feeling that he already knew the answer.

The Count's eyes found his. "You and your Padawan, Master Kenobi. Sidious considers Padawan Skywalker to be a special project of his. He was extremely displeased to learn I had dismembered him on Geonosis."

"He wasn't the only one," Obi-Wan murmured quietly.

Dooku inclined his head. "I can imagine. I endured his punishment, but by then I was disheartened and ashamed of myself and the destruction which I had wrought under his orders. I also acquired plans of a new weapon which he planned to develop, one he claimed would destroy the alien's homeworld, but one which I knew would also be used as a method of control over planets within the Republic who resisted his rule. At last I could see a way out of the hole I had dug for myself. He wanted a civil war in which he could reform the structure of the government. As the leader of the Separatists, I could easily sabotage that scheme. So I contacted the Senate and asked for peace negotiations."

"In what way is Padawan Skywalker a project for Sidious?" Master Ki-Adi-Mundi inquired.

Obi-Wan stilled. He hoped that question would not be aired, for he feared he already knew the response, and the implications it would carry. He had hoped to ask Dooku in private consultation with Yoda and Mace, but sadly that was not to be.

"Sidious hopes to turn him to the dark side," Dooku replied simply. "He believes that if the Chosen One is by his side, nothing can stop him."

"And who is Sidious?" Obi-Wan asked before anyone could consider the response which they had just received.

Dooku hesitated, bowing his head. "I'm not sure I should tell you," he said at last. His gaze was not directed at them, his eyes staring into the view behind the chairs, distant and thoughtful. Obi-Wan heard a whisper in the Force, and he knew the magnate was using that form of communication to beg for privacy on that subject. "Such knowledge is dangerous, difficult to prove, and he would most likely learn of such a betrayal and seek to change his plans, preventing you from sabotaging his." He paused, before adding, almost as if in afterthought, or perhaps compelled by the Force. "Sidious has the means to manipulate the government. Our hands are somewhat tied."

"If we could gain assistance from the Senate, would that help?" Mace asked.

"It depends on whose support you receive," Dooku replied.

"So," Yoda murmured, his clawed hands coming to rest upon the gimer stick, placed between his chin, "achieved a peace you have."

"Not without the help of others far more learned in those methods used to acquire such a state than I," Dooku replied, with a slight bow directed to Obi-Wan and the Council Members who had been with them on Pais at the negotiations.

"Other plans do you have?" Yoda continued.

"I am uncertain and ignorant of such a future, masters," the Count answered. "I leave such matters to the will of the Force."

"Charge you, with crimes of war, we could," Yoda mused, allowing his old pupil to react to that prospect before he continued. "Submitted to our judgement and our graces you have."

"And abide by the Council's ruling I will," Dooku vowed.

"So eager to accept our wisdom now, are you?" Yoda queried.

The magnate of Serenno bowed his head. "I have learned the price of my arrogance in ignoring your advice, masters."

With that a silence settled upon the Council chamber, as the masters within contemplated all which they had learned. Obi-Wan knew that they were communing with the Force, giving their judgement to one another, awaiting guidance from the divine energy. He too sank into the waves, seeking the same, and was met there by Master Yoda, who granted him admittance into that higher plane of consideration, as one who had witnessed the Count's actions on Pais, and soon to take his place amongst these learned masters. It was a heady sensation, powerful and humbling.

"Stay with us, you shall," Yoda eventually declared, announcing the judgement of all concerned. "Further conversations we shall have."

Dooku bowed, going down on bended knee once more as the Council members rose from their seats, the session at an end. He did not rise until the Grand Master came to stand before him, when only four were left in the room.

"Come," the Grand Master commanded, gesturing to the door which led to the turbolift that accessed the corridor leading to his private meditation chamber. "Further council with you we seek."

Anakin returned from his trials with no such fanfare or mass reception. His ship docked in the Temple hangar, his master was his only waiting attendant. Silently he thumbed open the roof of the cockpit, then climbed out, descending from the craft with a jump. Affecting his usual enthusiasm, he approached Obi-Wan.

"Welcome home, Anakin," his master greeted him, and it was all the Padawan could do not to flinch at the word. The first of the lies began, for the only place he considered home was a certain penthouse apartment belonging to the Senator from Naboo. "Did you have a successful mission?"

"I think so, Master," Anakin replied as he stepped back from the embrace and fell into step beside Obi-Wan. Not the correct position for a dutiful Padawan, but since when had he been dutiful, Anakin mused. He snuck a glance at his master as they walked out of the hangar bay into the corridors of the Temple, heading for the grand lobby where the turbolift for the Council chamber was stationed. His appearance had not altered much from their last parting; the hair still clipped to that shorter style he had adopted after Geonosis, the beard still neatly trimmed. Anakin wasn't sure what he had expected; a certain difference, an sudden glow, a glint to the eye, the colour of his skin. Perhaps a lilt to the Coruscanti accent which his voice favoured. Something that would betray his actions on Pais, lend credence to the closeness to Padmé that he saw in the briefing.

He wondered how long it would be before he saw his wife. Briefings from Padawan Trials were rumoured to be lengthy, followed by the ceremony, if you were lucky. Certainly not before nightfall, he wagered, especially if he visited the Chancellor as well. Palpatine requested that he do so when he left the quarters that night, the little gold comlink which he had been given by him sitting in a pocket of his robes.

That device had acquired a new treachery now, one he considered justified in light of her actions on Pais, but now, after the event had been committed, he was uncertain if instead he should have sought the moral high ground. He could still assume such a position if he choose, but then so could she, and was it really something he should do in an evening where he desired honesty from her. And did he really want to do it this evening, when hopefully he would be basking in the glory of his knighthood, looking to receive her congratulations, enjoy the pleasures of her body, glory in their reunion, in their marriage. No, he resolved to confront her tomorrow, when he was more likely to garnish an earlier absence from the Temple.

Obi-Wan came to a halt, causing Anakin to blink in surprise, as he realised they had reached the entrance to the Council Chamber. Their passage from the hangar bay to the grand lobby then inside the turbolift had completely passed him by. His master waved his hand at the doors, his motion causing them to slide aside, much to Anakin's astonishment. Abruptly he realised that his master was about to be promoted too, if he had not been through the ceremony already, for only Council Members had the power to prize apart this entrance by their own gestures within the Force. Resentment stole through him, the old pain of always being in his master's shadow, his achievements once more falling short, compared as always to the one Master Yoda favoured.

But then Obi-Wan stepped aside, allowing him to enter the chamber first, and for the first time he felt the power of being independent, a soon to be knight, a master of his own achievements, a representative of the Order. Above all a Jedi. He was the Chosen One now, the Council must and would recognise him as such. He stepped into the room, managing to refrain from swaggering, coming to a halt in the centre of the titled floor, whereupon he bowed before that august body.

His master did not take a seat, allowing Anakin the quiet satisfaction that this promotion would be before Obi-Wan's. Instead he stood behind his apprentice, upon the edge of the wider circle, silently listening as Anakin delivered his report on the mission. Careful to keep his voice devoid of emotion, to make sure that the briefing was clear and precise, everything a dutiful Padawan should convey.

If he had expected praise for a job well done, he was to be disappointed, for nothing was said after the end of his briefing was reached. Instead a short, seemingly long pause followed, before he felt a hand come to land on his shoulder; Obi-Wan's he realised, as his master uttered in solemn Coruscanti tones, "I humbly submit my Padawan learner for the ceremony of knighthood, masters."

Another moment of silence, then some pressure was applied from that hand to his shoulder, a wordless command to kneel before the assembled body. Quietly he obeyed, sinking down on bended knee as the lights were darkened with a wave of Master Windu's hand, and the Council Masters closed themselves around him.

Sudden fear rushed through him, as the Krayt dragon inside him roared in agony. He felt as if the masters were surrounding him, judging him and finding him unworthy, about to drown him in this darkness forever.

"Jedi we all are," Master Yoda remarked. "Speaks through us, the Force does. Through our actions, and what is real, proclaims itself it does. Here to acknowledge what the Force has proclaimed, today we are. By the right of the Council, by the will of the Force, Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight of the Republic, I dub thee."

At this moment his master removed his hand from Anakin's shoulder and unsheathed his lightsaber. The blade ignited and with one stroke severed the Padawan braid from his head. Anakin caught the smell of burned hair wafting through the Council Chambers, seeking passage amongst the humming blades of light.

"Take up your lightsaber, Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight," Master Windu instructed. "And may the Force be with you."

He rose from the floor smoothly and unsheathed his blade, igniting the saber and raising it up to the heavens of the chamber as he had seen Obi-Wan do many years ago. In sharp contrast to that ceremony there was no congratulation from other Council members, no whispered words to him before Master Yoda opened proceedings. Resentment and arrogance stole through him as he both considered the disdain in which he seemed to be held, and the assurance that there was nothing this body could teach him which he did not already know. One gesture of praise he received, a smile from his Master, as the Council members raised their own blades to the heavens, declaring the ceremony to be at an end.

He returned to the Master Padawan quarters he shared with Obi-Wan, to find two messages awaiting him. The first a general one from the Temple housekeeping services, congratulating on his knighthood, and informing him that his own private quarters were now available, his right due to his new rank, and where in the Temple that they were located. It held his interest only long enough for the location to be memorised.

The second was from the Chancellor, who it turned out had also heard the news. Palpatine's message was overflowing with praise, along with an invite to dinner this evening, though he understood if Anakin couldn't make it, as he knew there were other people who would want to celebrate his promotion with him. It may not have been spelt out, but the implication was clear enough, a reminder that the Chancellor still knew of his marriage, and was handling his knowledge discreetly. If his master had seen this message by chance, there was nothing in it to suggest that Anakin had broken the code and married.

As he acknowledged receipt of the messages, replying to the Chancellor that he did have plans but would stop by briefly, then closed down the com, Anakin considered for a moment his union with Padmé, the opportunity he had now to come clean with the Council and ask permission to marry, when the reforms were up and running. Though he had yet to hear of those reforms from anyone besides the Chancellor. Naturally he anticipated the possible fuss the Council would undoubtedly make if he told them the whole truth; a part of him had already decided not to do so, but he had yet to consider what the state of his marriage would be after he had his planned conversation with Padmé about the briefing from Pais.

He realised now that he had assumed that after informing her of his suspicions, they would talk and that would be that. Nothing from the conversation could have the power to upset his marriage. The possibility had never occurred to him until now, and almost immediately he found his mind dismissing the notion. Nor could his little indiscretion cause damage either, for both were the same in his mind, and if Padmé claimed nothing happened, and he would know if she were telling the truth via the Force, in which case his own indiscretion would never be aired.

Glancing at his chrono, Anakin decided that he might as well start packing. He didn't have to move out of his shared quarters with Obi-Wan, but Knights often took on new Padawans, especially Councillors, who were sometimes given new quarters too, as befitted their promotion. He also briefly entertained the idea of having Padmé over, smuggling her in and out secretly after sundown. Not to mention the possibility of taking on his own Padawan, which he had no intention of doing just yet. It would be nice, he decided to have his own quarters and not have to worry about the tense silences between him and Obi-Wan whenever they were on planet and he didn't spend the night in their quarters. Not that Obi-Wan ever asked where he had spent the night - he stopped asking a long time ago - but there was always the air of that question being asked, whether unspoken or no.

When Anakin finished packing, his master had still not returned from the Council chambers. Checking the com, Anakin discovered no messages, indicating that something serious was occupying his master's mind, for Obi-Wan usually remembered to leave a message if he was going to be late.

For a moment he debated leaving one of his own, a general farewell and thanks for all their years of training and friendship. But he reasoned that there was no need, he would see his master soon, either as a Councillor when he was given a new mission, or Obi-Wan would seek him out.

With one last look at his now empty room, bare walls, furniture devoid of personal belongings, Anakin picked up the stuff he had acquired during his Padawan years and those he had from Tatooine, then left the quarters.

He did not look back.

Chapter Text

Author's Note: This chapter features a scene which involves domestic violence. If you would prefer not to read it, please stop after Anakin clasps Padmé's wrist.

Part 24: The Breath Was Stolen From Her Throat.

Padmé returned to her penthouse residence with her arms full of work, fresh from a lengthy Senate meeting which had lasted two hours, and would have taken a great deal more if not for the Chancellor's timely intervention; and several committee meetings that dealt with the same business which had occupied the floor of the Senate, though it must be said with smaller numbers and less petty-minded objections.

Before her return from Pais she had hoped that the peace treaty would pass without too much of a ruckus from those in the Senate who had not been invited to put in an appearance at the negotiations. This hope had been tempered by her intelligence and experience of dealing with her political colleagues; knowing they would doubtless want to examine the treaty before agreeing to let it through.

As usual, her intelligence proved to be correct, though it vastly underestimated how long her colleagues wished to plough through the minutiae of the document. Half a dozen times had an Aide or Representative or Senator, miffed at not being granted an invite, decided to query the meaning of a word before the Chancellor called a halt to the inquisition, subtly implying to them that any more questions raised regarding definitions would cause those Senators who were part of the Pais delegation to doubt their ability to do their work, or to be trusted to do said work by their colleagues.

And if this indeed turned out to be the case, he was more than happy to oblige them. Faced with the implication of new elections that would halt any Senate business being carried out for months, the Aides, Representatives and Senators complied, allowing the subject of the treaty to be granted preliminary acceptance status, so those who had real concerns were at liberty to air them in committee.

The Chancellor then changed the subject of the floor, giving those from the Pais delegation a chance to catch up with what business had been occupying the Senate which due to security was not trusted to be aired across the Republic's communications network. Some of her least esteemed colleagues who had been part of the inquisition passed the rest of the meeting in a funk at being told off, but the rest allowed the matter to go to committee and returned to the usual politics.

In the committee meetings which followed, she, along with the rest of delegation faced a few questions, but, thanks to the Chancellor's threat, none that left any of them questioning their skill in crafting the treaty. By the end of the sessions, she was relieved to learn that the document was in all likelihood to be ratified by the Senate during the course of the next day.

Returning home, armed with briefings from the work she had left in the care of her aides and representatives, Padmé had little idea of what events had passed in the Temple, or that her husband would be dropping by shortly. Rarely did business relating to the Order penetrate the Senate floor, let alone HoloNet news, as the Jedi valued their privacy regarding its members lives. Seating herself at the desk where she dealt with all her work, located in a room off the living area, she was soon immersed once more in the business she had left behind when she departed for Pais, under the care of Dormé, whom from past experience she knew to be just as able, if not more than competent in managing the cares of their native system in her absence.

Thus when her husband walked through the open doors leading from the living area into the room, she was completely caught by surprise.

"Welcome home, my love," he uttered as though it had been she who had just entered the apartment, not him.

Startled, Padmé had turned from the work on her desk to face the visitor, then rose from her chair to greet him properly. "Anakin," she began distantly, aware of her tone, but being unable to affect anything else, considering what she had resolved to do with regards to her husband upon their reunion.

Silence met her reply, causing her to wonder if he had noticed her unaffectionate tone. Upon judging his facial expression, she concluded that all was well, on the contrary, he was waiting for her to notice something about him. All this passed within the space of a moment, giving her time to observe what was different about him, but not enough for him to begin to suspect that there was something troubling her.

"Congratulations, Knight Skywalker," she remarked, though privately her own opinion on his promotion was questionable at best. Since her initial reaction to his confession of what he had done to avenge his mother's death, Padmé had begun to doubt not only his right to continue to be a Jedi, but her own convictions in keeping such a matter from his master or a member of the Council.

From her many meetings with Obi-Wan on Pais it was clear that he did not know about the atrocity; perhaps he entertained certain suspicions, though she suspected these pertained to the relationship between herself and his Padawan, rather than what they were doing on Tatooine when he called them from Geonosis. Anakin had not asked her to keep the confession he made confidential, his turmoil at admitting what he had done to her alone had been enough to assure her silence. But she knew that he had not told his master or anyone else, for fear of what they might do, rather than accept the possibility that he needed help coming to terms with the full horror of his actions.

Fortunately Anakin took her congratulations at face value. "Thanks. I've just come from the ceremony. I get my own quarters now, so we don't always have to meet here. And of course, plenty of solo assignments, not to mention the possibility of training my own Padawan, though I doubt I'll do that for several years. And what with the reforms coming to the Order, we can let them know about us."

Much of this reply shocked her out of her own response. She froze after the second sentence had passed his lips, and the nature of the third almost entirely escaped her notice. When the fourth came however, so too did the memory of what she had resolved to do regarding their reunion, and the unhappy notion that she had to air her decision to him before he was run away by his enthusiasm on the subject.

But first she had to deal with what had distressed her most in what he said. "Anakin, I do not think it would be right for you smuggle me in and out of the Temple. Nor do I agree that with the reforms to the code which the Jedi live by gives you a right to just inform them of our marriage. The mere fact that we had the union before these reforms would be a cause of concern to Council."

He frowned at her, unhappy no doubt with her negative response to his schemes, and her insistence upon keeping their union secret. Despite the need for secrecy being his idea in the first place, not to mention that there was more of a need on his side rather than hers for it to remain so, Padmé knew Anakin still wished to boast of their marriage to any who might or might not care to listen.

"I wasn't thinking of telling them that we are actually already married," he replied somewhat petulantly. "I was going to ask for permission and then I thought we could have our vows renewed here, on Coruscant."

Padmé inwardly sighed at yet another display of her husband's immaturity, not to mention his decision to deceive the Order once more concerning himself. Revealing to the Council their attachment should be an end to the lies, not a move to compound them by making them believe he had waited for the reforms before binding his life to her. As to the idea of renewing their vows here, it would only prolong what she knew would be a lengthy separation.

"Ani," she began, knowing she had to air this subject now, however much she desired not to do so upon the first night of their reunion. "We need to talk. I have been thinking about our hasty marriage and I realise now that we should have waited, allowed ourselves to properly judge our feelings outside of distressing shared experiences. I cannot speak for yours, but my own feelings have given me to understand that I can no longer continue living like this and I should ask you if we can separate."

He froze, a confused frown making its way across his face. "What do you mean?"

Padmé took a deep breath, realising that she had been so concerned in putting her feelings across that she had failed to make sure her meaning was comprehensible. "Anakin, I want a divorce."

Silence followed her declaration; a lengthy pause which showed little sign of breaking. Padmé watched him a little fearfully as he took to the nearest sofa, changing his mind almost immediately, rising from the furnishings to pace the confines of the room. She did not know which was more preferable, this silence or an outburst. The latter she had expected, even prepared herself to deal with a little, but as usual he seemed to have confounded her once more by reacting contrary to her expectations. Another lesson in how little they knew each other, another a sign as to how necessary their divorce was.

Finally he turned to her and asked, "What's brought this on?"

"I'm tired, Ani," she replied honestly. "I'm tired of the secrecy, the constant fights we have been having lately about things we shouldn't even be fighting about. I realise now that as much we might care for each other, neither of us were ready for this, nor will we be able to deal with it, even if it is made public. This marriage isn't working, and we should put an end to it now, before we come to hate each other."

He was frowning at her, clearly still puzzled, yet she could see in his eyes some glimmer of realisation. "Is this because of Obi-Wan?"

Now it was her turn to become confused, a part of her wondering if he knew of the conversation she and his master had before their marriage, the one which had convinced her to marry him in the first place. "Obi-Wan? What does he have to do with this?"

Anakin took a step closer to her, a predatory look upon his face which almost caused her to back away in fear. "I saw you."

Her confusion increased, knowing that was impossible, for he had still been recovering from his injuries acquired on Geonosis at the time Obi-Wan confronted her with his and the Order's concerns regarding her relationship with Anakin, before they got married on Naboo. "Saw us? What do you mean, saw us?"

"On the briefing from Pais," he replied angrily.

"I don't understand," she uttered, thoroughly confused, wondering what the briefing from Pais could have to do with this, why it was making him so angry.

"Don't lie to me, you know what you were doing!" he growled back at her.

All this while he was walking towards her with the same predatory expression, his eyes now a mixed shade of colours, more yellow than the blue she was used to seeing. She could not understand why his anger was directed at a simple press briefing. Nor of what he was accusing her and his master of. Or rather, she had her suspicions, but if that was his motive behind his anger, she found it incredible that he would believe such of them. Padmé took another step back, glad of the desk behind her, the com device on there that allowed her voice to call for her security. She had a feeling that she might have need of them.

But her mind also hoped that there was still some way she could resolve this encounter without requesting for such assistance. She was a grown woman, not to mention a senator, and while he may be some years younger than her, he was still and man and a knight of the Jedi Order. They should be capable of sorting this out in a mature, reasonable fashion. "There was nothing in that briefing, but words to assure the Republic of our continued commitment to peace, in spite of the sabotage. How dare you accuse me and Obi-Wan of what you are implying. I have never been unfaithful to you Anakin, in word, conversation or look. I would never chose to betray you in such a fashion and niether would Obi-Wan. I simply wish to be free of your anger and constant suspicion."

"I wouldn't be so angry, if you would just stop lying to me!" he thundered back at her, and she took another step backwards, as if distance would subdue the strength of his wrath. "I know what I saw. Now tell me the truth."

"You saw nothing," she reiterated, taking another step away from him. Her mind was whirling, wondering at how she had lost control of this argument, why he was accusing her of unfaithfulness, and why he suddenly wished her to be scared of him. "It is clear to me that you don't trust my word. I wish for you to leave now. All further conversation between us shall be with our lawyers, unless you can promise to restrain your temper."

"How is this going to be kept secret if you involve lawyers?" he asked her, his attack changing tack at last.

"Naboo is used to dealing with secrets, Anakin. How else do you suppose I was able to find a holy man willing to wed us with only droids as witnesses?" She did not mean to be insulting as to Artoo and Threepio, but matrimony usually required witnesses whose memories could not be altered or erased.

"I don't want a divorce," he replied back, somewhat petulantly. "How will that help?"

"You don't have a choice," she returned. Before his arrival she had been willing to be reasonable, to talk about this, and if needs be, agree to a separation so he had time to adjust to the parting. But no more. His reaction had convinced her there was nothing to be gained in trying to reason with him. "Just more paperwork and delays."

"I'll delay as long as I possibly can, then!" he cried back. "If I can't have you, no one else will!"

"Are you threatening me, Anakin?" she asked, as her back came to rest against the edge of her desk, where the com panel lay. It was voice activated and words such as the one which she had just used would trigger an alarm, rousing the concern of her security.

Without warning he lunged forward and grabbed her arm with his artificial limb. "I shall do more than that," he uttered quietly, his tone so deadly that she quailed in fear. In a way this quiet anger of his was even worse that the thunder he had portrayed earlier. She tried to struggle, but he only tightened his grip, hurting her.

"Ani, you're hurting me," she whispered. "Let me go."

His grip remained, his eyes staring down at her. "Not until you tell me the truth, and stop declaring this ridiculous intention to divorce."

"I have been telling you the truth," she replied. "And if you continue to do this, you shall have more than a divorce from me with which to contend with."

"Such as?" He all but scoffed.

"I shall make known your conduct to the Jedi Council," she pointed out "What you're doing now, is not the proper behaviour of a Jedi."

Anakin's grip tightened even further, causing more pain to her arm. "I doubt the words of a Senator against the words of the Chosen One and the Chancellor will cause those in the Council to support your accusations."

Inwardly she frowned at his allusion to Palpatine, but focused on accomplishing her immediate freedom. "Perhaps, but if your grip tightens any further, I shall have evidence to support my claims over any you may wish to make."

To her horror Anakin drew her even closer to him. "Then I shall inflict injury where no such evidence can be given."

Suddenly she felt her breath stolen from her throat, her response dying before it even reached her lips. She could feel his grip still on her arm, but there was a new source of pain, centred around her neck, one that she was unable to voice a fight to, for his clasp was preventing her from doing so. Her free hand tried to pry away his invisible grip which surrounded her neck, but her fingers could not prevent her bones being crushed from the inside.

As her body struggled for air, she felt herself gradually lose all ability to remain aware of her actions and his. Vaguely she managed to comprehend that he had released his vice like grip of her wrist, allowing her to fall to the floor.

She felt herself losing consciousness, then suddenly her throat was released, only for a deep blow to land upon her waist. She tried to curl herself into a ball to protect her body from further blows, but they were coming too fast, and her reactions were too slow. Still she couldn't cry out, nor give a thought or a concern as when or if her security would come to her aid. Shame ripped through her, casting as deep a blow as the artificial fist rained blows down upon her waist. Once she believed herself capable of self defence. No more taking her security for granted.

Her last thoughts were for Obi-Wan, as she realised what he would suffer upon learning what depths of darkness she had driven his Padawan to.

Chapter Text

Part 25: Descent into Darker Pastures.

Anakin deposited his belongings in his new quarters at the temple; indulging in the temptation to explore them only briefly. There was little to distinguish them from the quarters he shared with Obi-Wan; the same open plan living layout, with four connecting rooms; two beds and refreshers. What did contrast was the appearance of the quarters. When he returned with Obi-Wan to Coruscant; fresh from being assigned as his Padawan, they had entered the quarters they now shared; he in a rush, exclaiming at the furnishings, the art, the models of spacecraft dotted about; Obi-Wan more soberly, his sobriety a puzzle until his new master explained that these were his and Qui-Gon's quarters. It was the first and only time Obi-Wan revealed how much he mourned his master's passing.

These quarters had no pieces of art, and only the bare minimum of standard furnishing. Bland sofas, tables, chairs, walls and beds greeted his crestfallen features, before he reconciled his senses. Not for the first time he wondered how Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had managed to save their credits to personalise their quarters. His master had made reference to kind donations once, but Anakin had never taken the trouble to ask directly. Another thing he should have sought to obtain during his training. Perhaps Padmé or the Chancellor would be willing to contribute.

Leaving his belongings in one of the bedrooms, Anakin left the Temple, collecting his speeder on the way so he might reach Five Hundred Republica before dark. Navigating his way through the tightly packed traffic which dominated the city skyways, he parked the airspeeder in one of the bays situated away from the line of sight surveillance cameras that the apartment block had installed as part of their security system. That way, unless anyone called at his quarters, no one would know that he had spent the night away from the Temple.

Entering the apartment complex, he crossed the lobby to the turbolift and waited for the conical tube to take him to the penthouse level, where the Senatorial and the Supreme Chancellor's residences were located.

"Knight Skywalker to see you, sir," the attendant announced when Anakin was granted admittance to the latter's apartment.

"Anakin, my boy," Palpatine rose from his desk and came to greet him. "I'm so pleased you found the time to drop by so I could congratulate you on your promotion." He paused to shake his hand. "I take it that the mission was a success?"

"Yes, thank you, Chancellor," Anakin replied. "I apologise for not calling earlier, the Council held the ceremony straight after my debrief."

Palpatine waved away his attempt at an apology. "That is usual, my boy. Your master's was only drawn out due to the unusual way in which he gained his knighthood."

A dart of resentment shot into Anakin as he heard this comment, remembering his own duel with Count Dooku. True, he had not killed the Sith, but he still found it difficult to accept that Obi-Wan gained his promotion through battle rather than endure the boring negotiations he had to deal with for his own trials.

"The negotiations went well," he added.

"Where was it they sent you again, my boy?" Palpatine asked. "I believe one of the Council informed me of your location, but I have been so consumed with the peace treaty ratification process that the specifics have quite slipped my mind."

Anakin nodded in understanding and relayed the details of his trials. The Chancellor listened attentively, adding compliments and asking questions in all the right places. He reached the end of tale, his ego boosted and without any mention of the evening he sought at the tavern and what had passed there.

"What about that other matter, my boy?" Palpatine asked when he finished. "Did you have a chance to explore it?"

It was as if the little gold device had a mind of its own, as it seemed to shift about in his pocket when Palpatine alluded to the matter, jabbing Anakin in his side, reminding him of its presence. From the moment he woke upon that mist ridden dawn which met the dark night before, alone in the denigrate dwelling, his clothes scattered about the place, his body aching as though he had endured a lightsaber duel, Anakin had tried to forget every act which he committed during those dark hours before sleep conquered him. However, moments of it would flash into his mind without warning, plaguing him throughout the journey home. It was a relief nothing served to disrupt his focus during his knighting, as he had been worried that it would be sensed by the Masters, especially when he was commanded to deliver a full briefing of his mission before the Council.

His conscience was at war with his thoughts, battling over whether he was justified in committing such an act of marital betrayal. Back and forth his natures went over the conclusions he drew about the Pais briefing, his decision to confide in Palpatine, his actions during his trials. Even now he was still undecided as to whether he had done the right thing. But neither could he pretend that the betrayal had never occurred. He may as well admit that he was out of his depth and seek the Chancellor's advice. After all, the man had been a discreet confidant so far, he had no reason to think that Palpatine would not continue to be so. Taking a deep breath he confided in the man, who listened in the same manner as when he relayed the details of his mission, adding the right comments at the right time.

"My dear boy, you really are too hard on yourself," Palpatine remarked when the tale came to an end. "I know of a great number of men and women who have procured murkier affairs than what you have just described to me. The List is an accepted, if not notorious open secret amongst the populous of the Republic, and most continue their membership after they are married, often with their partner's full consent. What you have committed is an indiscretion at most, which few people need or will ever learn about. After all, how can you prove it to be true? There are no witnesses, except yours and the lady's memory, both of which can easily be influenced."

Anakin looked at him incredulous. "So I am to forget the matter?" He eventually ventured to ask when he realised the Chancellor was being serious.

"That would be wise my boy," Palpatine assured him. "Honesty in this case will only cause a great deal of misery."

"You are right," Anakin conceded. "Thank you, sir."

Palpatine brushed the apologies away. "No problem my boy. Who else could you seek advice from? Certainly not the Jedi." he paused before adding, "you may rely on my discretion of course." He rose from the furnishings, indicating that the visit was at an end. "And now, you best go and see your beautiful wife, before the day is over."

Anakin nodded and rose from the furnishings. Palpatine saw him to the door, then he walked down the corridor until he reached another of the penthouse apartments, this one being the residence for the Senator from Naboo.

Padmé was at her desk when he entered. For a moment Anakin halted upon the threshold of the living area to admire her, hard at work on Senate business, as if nothing had occurred during her absence and his. Caught by her beauty, he forgot all that had passed through his mind concerning her faithfulness, not to mention the lack of his own. On the morrow those truths would be confronted, not tonight.

"Welcome home, my love," he uttered warmly.

She turned and rose immediately from her chair. "Anakin," her voice uttered somewhat distantly, he judged. Silently he waited for her to notice the absence of his Padawan braid, which did not take too long.

"Congratulations Knight Skywalker," she uttered in a tone which belied the praise.

Inwardly he flinched at the reply, reminded of the moment when he confessed to her the atrocity he committed to avenge his mother. Though at the time he implied that he regretted the act, now he believed that he was justified in sousing his grief, just as the Jedi had done on Geonosis before coming to peace with the Confederacy. Still, she had praised him and he had many things to tell her, so he took the words at face value. "Thanks. I've just come from the ceremony. I get my own quarters now, so we don't always have to meet here. And of course, plenty of solo assignments, not to mention the possibility of training my own Padawan, though I doubt I'll do that for several years. And what with the reforms coming to the Order, we can let them know about us."

He saw her frown at this, before saying, "Anakin, I do not think it would be right for you smuggle me in and out of the Temple. Nor do I agree that with the reforms to the code which the Jedi live by gives you a right to inform them of our marriage. The mere fact that we had the union before these reforms would be a cause of concern to Council."

It surprised him that she already knew about the reforms, but then he remembered her reference one night to having spent time with his master and Master Muln on Pais, whom she could have learned about the reforms from. Anakin grimaced, his jealousy rising to the forefront once more. Usually he would trust his master, but he had never liked Garen Muln, believing him to be too much of a bad influence on Obi-Wan. If anyone had told her about the reforms, it would be either of them, and if it was Garen, his motive was likely to be just as bad as the suspicions he held concerning his master's and his wife's actions during the briefing from Pais.

"I wasn't thinking of telling them that we are actually already married," he replied, wondering how stupid she thought he was. "I was going to ask for permission and then I thought we could have our vows renewed here, on Coruscant."

Her frown deepened at that, and he scowled, wondering what so repellent about lying to the Council about the date of their marriage when they were already lying to them. Or was it the idea of renewing their vows that she had a problem with? Such a question only further influenced the suspicion in his mind concerning her faithfulness.

"Ani," she said quietly, her tone catching him by surprise. Emerging from his thoughts, he looked at her, struck by how small she seemed, how uncertain, as though what she was about to say next would provoke something unpleasant from him.

"We need to talk," she continued. "I have been thinking about our hasty marriage and I realise now that we should have waited, and allowed ourselves to properly judge our feelings outside of distressing shared experiences. I cannot speak for yours, but my own feelings have given me to understand that I should ask you if we can separate."

He froze, confusion overtaking all of his senses. "What do you mean?"

Her next words made it completely clear. "Anakin, I want a divorce."

A divorce!?! The word lanced through his brain, causing his heart to pound inside his chest, the sound akin to a tidal wave rushing over him. So real was the illusion his internal emotions triggered that he almost choked. His legs threatened to give way, forcing him to seek the nearest furnishings for support. But barely had he sat down when the pressure within him compelled him to rise and pace in an effort to gain some relief. He wanted to put his hands to his head, to throw his skull against the wall so the pounding inside would stop. But to do so would only invite concern from her, and she was the last person he wanted to appear vulnerable before now.

As soon as he managed to acquire breath to think, questions piled themselves upon his tormented mind. He wondered where this was coming from, what had happened on Pais to cause her to ask this of him, if Obi-Wan or someone else had forced this decision upon her, for fear of discovery or reprisals from the Jedi Council. If her affair with his master was responsible, or she had somehow found about his unfaithfulness during his trials. One by one they assembled to plague his beleaguered mind until the confusion within him was so great, that he had to ask her for answers.

"I'm tired, Ani," she replied to his inquiry. "I'm tired of the secrecy, the constant fights we have been having lately about things we shouldn't even be fighting about. I realise now that as much we might care for each other, neither of us were ready for this, nor will we be able to deal with it, even if it is made public. This marriage isn't working, and we should put an end to it now, before we come to hate each other."

So this wasn't a hasty decision of hers, he realised, as she was speaking. Her response was too eloquent, her justifications too numerous. Clearly something had happened to make her decide this, and instantly the suspicions that he had garnered from the briefing on Pais sprung to mind. "Is this because of Obi-Wan?"

To his complete surprise, she appeared confused by his inquiry. "Obi-Wan? What does he have to do with this?"

He studied her confusion, attempting to use the Force to sense her emotions, only to be frustrated by his clouded state of mind. "I saw you."

"Saw us?" She echoed, plainly confused. "What do you mean, saw us?"

"On the briefing from Pais," he replied angrily, frustrated by her attempt at confusion and his inability to divine what she was really thinking and feeling.

"I don't understand," she uttered quietly, her tone to him sounding more in fear of him discovering her true nature than continued confusion. There was a defiance there too, which further roused his temper, for how dare she be defiant about this kind of betrayal.

"Don't lie to me, you know what you were doing!" he growled back at her.

She seemed to draw breath at this, her pause sought to gain fresh strength for her denials, rather than the truth he so eagerly desired. He was almost convinced now that something had occurred, for her to be so determined in assuring him otherwise.

"There was nothing in that briefing, but words to assure the Republic of our continued commitment to peace, in spite of the sabotage," she protested. "How dare you accuse me and Obi-Wan of what you are implying. I have never been unfaithful to you, Anakin, in word, conversation or look. I simply wish to be free of your anger and constant suspicion."

"I wouldn't be so angry, if you would just stop lying to me!" he retorted. "I know what I saw. Now tell me the truth."

"You saw nothing," she persisted, as she began to back away from him, her movements only serving to further convince him of her falsity. "It is clear to me that you don't trust my word. I wish for you to leave now. All further conversation between us shall be with our lawyers, unless you can promise to restrain your temper."

His incredulity rose, she was really serious now, he could see that, if she was willing to risk discovery by involving lawyers. He had no knowledge of divorce proceedings, and the wealth of experience she seemed to convey led him to wonder how long she had been contemplating this course of action. It was all too easy with this thought to suspect their being a longer relationship between her and his former master than he had originally guessed. Yet she was taking such a risk by involving the law, even with the reforms coming to the Order. "How is this going to be kept secret if you involve lawyers?"

"Naboo is used to dealing with secrets, Anakin," he heard her say somewhat patronisingly, as if he were a youngling, barely up to speed with his letters. "How else do you suppose I was able to find a holy man willing to wed us with only droids as witnesses?"

She had this well in hand it seemed, and was refusing to be persuaded out of it. Well, he was going to frustrate her. He would have some say in this matter, nothing would stand in his way, not even her high-handed manner of dealing with him. "I don't want a divorce. How will that help?"

"You don't have a choice," she returned somewhat spitefully it seemed to his mind, her expression equally defiant. "Just more paperwork and delays."

How dare she claim that he could do nothing but stand idly by. He was a Jedi and had the ear of the Chancellor, there must be something he could do to thwart this motion. She would not be free of him during this lifetime, he would make her see that. "I'll delay as long as I possibly can, then! If I can't have you, no one else will!"

"Are you threatening me, Anakin?" she questioned loftily, as though he were taking a risk in daring to do so. Struck again by her small size, he felt all the scorn of her derision with a certain satisfaction that there was nothing she could do to resist him.

"I shall do more than that," he decided, grabbing her wrist before she could reach behind her and summon her security. Not that they stood a chance against him, how could they, mere mortals against a Jedi, but he felt it would be wise not to tempt their interference.

"Ani, you're hurting me," she protested. "Let me go."

He could not believe her, he barely felt the weight of her arm, or a move of resistance from her, wishing to be free of him. He stared down into her eyes, determined to carry through with his point. He must and would hear the truth from her. "Not until you tell me the truth, and stop declaring this ridiculous intention to divorce."

"I have been telling you the truth," she replied. "And if you continue to do this, you shall have more than a divorce from me to contend with."

"Such as?" He queried, wondering at what else she could possibly do to him.

"I shall make known your conduct to the Jedi Council," she revealed. "What you're doing now, is not true to the proper behaviour of a Jedi."

Anakin tightened his grip, feeling for the first time the frailty of her flesh, the weakness in her compared to the power his body could muster. He imagined her before the Council, the strength of her attack failing against their habitual contrariness. her words would count for nothing, for he was the Chosen One, and he would prevail. "I doubt the words of a Senator against the words of the Chosen One and the Chancellor will cause those in the Council to support your accusations."

"Perhaps," she conceded and rightfully so, "but if your grip tightens any further, I shall have evidence to support my claims over any you may wish to make."

He glanced at her arm seeing the red marks spreading from his pressure on her skin. He could and would dismiss them, after all it would only be her word against his, but he had ways of making her feel such without leaving evidence that could be counted. "Then I shall inflict injury where no evidence can be summoned."

Clenching his real free hand into a fist, he summoned the Force to his aid. The Krayt inside him shrieked exultantly as he laid an invisible choke hold upon his wife. He remembered the anger he felt during that dark night when he took that other woman to his bed, and meted out the revenge he felt now. This was his justice for her betrayal, she must and would submit, as a wife should to her husband.

Eventually he tired of the method, of the expression she sent towards him, the harsh unjust anguish framed in her face. His wrist and Force induced choke hold relinquished, she slid to the floor like a broken doll or droid. Only half aware of his actions, he struck her again, the metal arm clashing fiercely with the material of her gown. Again and again he pounded into her, fore bearing all her attempts to shield herself, striking her before she could even attempt.

Then suddenly two sets of hands strong-armed from behind, and he was hauled away from her, away from the residence, deposited outside as one would the rubbish. Before he had time to collect himself, re-entry was barred to him, the doors locked.

Chapter Text

Part 26: A Venture into the Wilderness.

Obi-Wan roused himself from sleep to greet Anakin upon his return, as soon as word reached him through the Temple communications network he was off, out of their quarters, down the corridors and turbolifts to the hangar bay. Hardly any one else was about at this time of night, Coruscant's reflectors having dimmed some time ago. All younglings were asleep in their beds, Padawans, Knights and almost all Masters as well, though the Council were roused from theirs to receive and welcome the Chosen One home from his mission.

He reached the hangar bay in time to observe the arrival of the craft, silently admiring the smooth docking his Padawan achieved. For Anakin anything mechanical was akin to a lightsaber, an extension of his body, every nut and bolt intimately familiar. Through his apprentice his own flying had improved, though he had grown out of the recklessness he still had to lecture Anakin over on occasion.

None of that was displayed today however. The cockpit cover popped up, and with a Force aided jump, his Padawan stood before him.

"Welcome home Anakin," he murmured, genuinely delighted to see him. "Did you have a successful mission?"

"I think so, master," Anakin answered.

Obi-Wan held back a frown as his apprentice fell into pace beside him. Usually Anakin was brimming over with enthusiasm if the mission went well, eager to boast of his exploits and brief the Council over how he believed it could go better. Rarely was he uncertain of a mission's success, as he appeared to be so now. Silently he wondered what had happened to cause his apprentice to doubt himself.

As they walked down the corridors towards the turbolifts, he also noticed that Anakin kept sneaking looks at him, as if he wanted to ask him something but was afraid of his reaction. Normally his apprentice wouldn't hesitate to venture a query, indicating that something was deeply troubling his Padawan. Realising this, Obi-Wan was tempted to come to a halt and confront his apprentice directly, even though they were duty bound to present themselves before the Council, where after Anakin had offered his report on the mission, his knighting ceremony would take place. Until they entered the Council chamber he still had time to offer his Padawan some advice, if indeed it was advice that Anakin was seeking. Once knighted, the need for independence would be required.

However, Anakin rarely volunteered when something was troubling him, nor did he confide when pushed to do so. The chances of his success in discovering what was a concern were minimum. So reluctantly he made the only delay he could, slowing his pace through the corridors until they reached the turbolift, where any attempt to manage the journey would be taken out of his hands by the mechanism controlling those conical tubes.

The delaying tactics had achieved little success by the time they reached the grand central entrance foyer, from where it was just a few steps into one of the turbolifts. Anakin continued to be silent throughout the short journey within that tube to the floor of the Council chamber. Delving into the Force, Obi-Wan tried to get a sense of what his Padawan was feeling, but to no avail. Even the training bond was silent, suggesting that his apprentice was exercising a vigorous control over his inner discipline.

Coming a halt before the entrance to the Council Chamber, Obi-Wan motioned the doors apart with a wave of his hand. At last he felt something emanating from Anakin, a whisper of surprise, causing him to realise that he had not informed his apprentice of his recent elevation to the Council. Nothing he could do about that now, short of stating the obvious.

Stepping the left, he gestured for Anakin to enter before him, and then for the first time since his return he felt a measure of the old Chosen One pride appear. Understandable in the face of what was to come, every Padawan deserved to feel some degree of pride upon obtaining their knighthood. His own had been present, though muted as it was by the loss of his master, the knowledge that the Sith had made a reappearance from the shadows of history, that he had defeated of them, and the prospect of a potentially dangerous padawan to train.

He followed his pupil inside, standing behind him as was customary for the debrief of a Padawan's trials, bowing deferentially to the masters present, who acknowledged their arrival with a nod. His empty seat would be moved into the chamber when the ceremony was over.

After the acknowledgement of their arrival, Anakin began his debriefing of the mission. Obi-Wan listened carefully to the details, for the trial missions usually remained confidential between Padawan and council until the former returned to receive judgement. This was supposed to allow for impartiality on the side of the master, so they could submit their apprentice forward for promotion with a clear conscience. He was surprised by how routine the mission sounded; domestic trade negotiations between a planetary council and a mining family. Something which should have been below the purview of a Jedi, even a Padawan on his trials.

If he was a cynical being, he would have suspected someone within political circles had done some manoeuvring in order to gift Anakin this plush assignment. Even though the Council operated sole control over what and who they dealt with, usually attempts were made to resolve the matters through other means, such as the Senate or local governments. The right word in the right ear could easily manipulate events so a matter became a Jedi concern. Masters had even been known to employ such underhanded methods in order to ensure such an alternative to prevent something unsavoury from becoming public knowledge.

Then again, considering the assignments he and Anakin were usually entrusted to handle, perhaps the banal was a useful lesson, teaching him that nothing was below the Chosen One's notice, and life in the Order was not always an exciting matter of life or death. He wondered how Anakin had reacted to the mission on first hearing, how he had dealt with the delicate art of diplomacy, not usually one of his strengths. Certainly nothing was betrayed through his manner whilst he delivered the briefing. His voice was monotone, the words unambiguous, his meaning succinct. Perhaps these weeks apart, and time spent learning the dangerous saber skills of the Vaapad form of combat had done Anakin some good.

When Anakin came to the end of his debriefing, Obi-Wan delved into the Force where he could hear the thoughts of the Council. Only recently had been granted the privilege of accessing such a level within the Order, though in this instant he was not allowed to lend his voice to judgement, only to submit his apprentice to theirs. Receiving the reply he expected, for he had been told by Yoda and Mace that this mission was merely a formality for the padawan's knight before they assigned Anakin to carry it out, he emerged from the Force and placed his hand on the boy's shoulder.

"I humbly submit my Padawan learner for the ceremony of knighthood, masters," he uttered, before applying pressure to his clasp, motioning Anakin into a kneeling position.

The Council rose from their seats to gather around the crouching apprentice. Motioned by one of them through the Force, the lights within the chamber darkened, clothing them in the symbolic darkness which was required for the ceremony.

"Jedi we all are," Master Yoda remarked. "Speaks through us, the Force does. Through our actions, and what is real, proclaims itself it does. Here to acknowledge what the Force has proclaimed, today we are." He ignited his lightsaber and placed it in a hover above Anakin's shoulders as he continued. "By the right of the Council, by the will of the Force, Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight of the Republic, I dub thee."

Obi-Wan ignited his own saber, and applied the blade to the Padawan braid he had first given his apprentice on Naboo, ten years ago. A smell of burnt feathers permeated the room, the plaited strands of hair falling silently to the floor.

"Take up your lightsaber, Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight," Master Windu instructed. "And may the Force be with you."

Anakin rose to his feet and ignited his blade, raising the weapon to the heavens. Obi-Wan followed suit, allowing a smile to form in recognition of the great achievement which his apprentice had just earned.

One by one the blades were extinguished and the lights restored. Obi-Wan blinked, letting his pupils adjust, and found his now former apprentice had left. There was something vaguely ominous in the manner of his parting, as though it foretold of a future darkness. Shaking the feeling away, he turned to his colleagues, finding that his chair had suddenly appeared. Feeling somewhat self-conscious, he assumed his seat, though a quick glance showed no one was observing him.

When all the Council members were seated, another door opened, from the corridor which led to the private meditation chambers, the ones that were reserved for Council members, or privileged masters. And in this case, former ones too, Obi-Wan noted, as Count Dooku walked into the chamber.

"Masters," the scion of Serenno greeted them, with a nod to the pupil of his pupil.

"Requested a temporary asylum, Count Dooku has," Yoda informed the Council at large, gesturing at his former initiate with a slight motion of his gimer stick.

"Has the Count committed some crime on Serenno?" Plo Koon asked, his tone inviting some source of amusement amongst the Council.

Dooku shook his head, his manner deferential. "Recent events have given me a desire to seek your counsel masters, and that of the Force. I was uncertain of which side I would hear if I chose asylum elsewhere."

"Immune to the dark side, the Temple is not," Yoda pointed out.

"I am aware of that, Master Yoda," Count Dooku replied. "Nevertheless, here I have the protection of the Order, should the Jedi chose to grant me such a privilege."

"Do you need our protection in any other matter?" Master Ki-Adi-Mundi inquired.

"I do not believe so, Masters," Count Dooku responded.

Mace Windu turned to the Grand Master. "Have you fulfilled your desire for further conversation with the Count, Master Yoda?"

"Learned all he wishes to tell, I have," Yoda answered. "A decision on this matter, I have already reached. Your counsel, wish to hear I do."

Obi-Wan delved into the that special level of the Force where the Council debated, feeling the presence and thoughts of his fellow colleagues. All were naturally cautious on allowing a man who had been responsible for the death of many Jedi to stay within the Temple walls, and enjoy the protection of the Order. But there was also present a Force aided overwhelming feeling that the Count's stay could prove useful, whether or not their doubts continued to remain unfounded. This was doubtless the conclusion which Master Yoda had reached.

"Reached agreement the Council has," Master Yoda stated when the members emerged from the Force and returned to the chamber once more. "An asylum we grant you."

Count Dooku bowed. "Thank you, masters." He said before exiting the room.

"And now, we will discuss the reforms to the Order regarding attachment," Mace Windu began. "Master Yoda has given us time to become accustomed to these rules. I take it that there are no objections to establishing them?"

"With due respect, Master Windu, I believe they are already practised," Obi-Wan remarked. "After all, who among us can claim to feel nothing when training a Padawan?"

"Excellent point, Master Kenobi makes," Yoda mused. "Agreement have we all reached?"

There was a positive answer within the Force, and the Grand Master tapped his gimer stick on the floor to indicate that the matter was resolved and meeting at an end. One by one the masters rose and slowly departed from the chamber, heading for their quarters.
Obi-Wan walked the short distance from the entrance of the Council Chamber to the turbolift, keying in the control for the quarters he shared with Anakin. Silently he waited for the tube to descend, contemplating how the rest of the Order would take to the new attachment rules, preparing himself to handle his former Padawan's reaction to them.

Anakin would be a mixture of smugness at being proved right, and anger at being denied the opportunity to attach himself before, namely to Padmé. For a moment he wondered too how Senator Amidala felt about that. She seemed to have forgiven him for his interference, but her feelings for his Padawan were more difficult to determine. On Geonosis and immediately after, when she fought to get access to him in the Temple halls of healing, her feelings were clear, but during their time together on Pais, the emotions were muted. As though her affections had changed, or lessened.

Exiting the turbolift, he crossed the grand lobby to another row of them, which accessed the corridors to the living quarters. Keying in the floor reserved for Masters and Padawans, he stood still once more, waiting for the tube to ascend.

He found himself puzzled by what he could sense of Padmé's feelings during their time together on Pais. Before she had seemed so certain in her attachment to Anakin, so determined to defy the Code which the Order lived by, almost flouting it in his face. But on Pais her manner had changed completely. She was reserved, anxious to be forgiven for the harsh words which had passed between them before she returned home, until summoned back to the Senate. Certainly he regretted much of what he had said to her, forced into the visit as he had been by Master Yoda. But her defiance had been such that he was surprised to see it so easily assuaged, their friendship restored, even strengthened.

As he reached the door to his and Anakin's quarters, his thoughts still dwelled on the nature of her affections, so much so that it took some time before the alteration of his surroundings penetrated his notice. When it did, he halted upon the threshold of his former Padawan's room in surprise. He had not expected to be confronted with bare walls and furnishings, devoid of occupancy. Not even the evidence of the previous resident, his late Master, Qui-Gon Jinn, remained to give him comfort.

Feeling bereft, he stood there for some time, a part of him unable to take the emptiness in. No note, no stray piece of possession could be found. It was as if he had never had a Padawan, or a Master. The room felt alien to him, uninhabited, devoid of any form of matter or substance to which he could claim a kinship.

When at last he could turn away, it was not by choice. Other needs prevailed through the method of a beeping sound emanating from the com device. Recollecting himself, he crossed the quarters to the desk on which it was located, keyed in his access code, and waited for the representation of the being who wanted to speak to him to materialise upon the holo pad.

"Bail," he greeted in surprise when the familiar form of the Senator from Alderaan came into shape. "What can I do for you at this hour?"

"I was wondering if you could come and see me," Bail replied. "I hope I have not disturbed you?"

"I've just come from a Council meeting," Obi-Wan explained. "I can be over in a few minutes."

"I'll see you then," Bail replied, before signing off.

Obi-Wan stared at the empty screen for a moment, wondering what was troubling his newly acquired friend from the Senate. He seemed to be collecting politicians. Then he keyed in to check his messages, before accessing the accommodations department. Within a few minutes his questions were answered. There was a new apartment waiting for him, a privilege granted to Council members. Ascertaining its location, he made use of another honour, and requisitioned for a squad of domestic droids to transfer his belongings. Finally he keyed in the code which allowed for his communications to be transferred to the device awaiting for him in his new apartment.

With one last glance at the empty rooms, he exited the quarters and headed for the hangar bay once more, where he took an airspeeder and plunged into the night traffic of Coruscant, heading for Five Hundred Republica.

"They call themselves the Friends of the Republic," Bail began once he had welcomed Obi-Wan into his apartment, seen to their needs for refreshment, then quartered themselves in the understated luxury of his living room at Cantham House. "They first contacted me a little over four years ago. At time the Alderaan government was in negotiations with Chandrila for a join mining venture on Aridus. My wife's family has connections to the Corporate Sector, and some of those connections were involved with the project. The information provided by this group helped avert a diplomatic and humanitarian disaster that would have engulfed not only Alderaan and Chandrila, but several other key Republic systems as well."

"And they did so because they are friends of the Republic?" Obi-Wan queried with a considering frown.

"And because they would have been directly impacted by the resulting scandal if the mining venture had been allowed to continue as planned," Bail added.

"In other words they were motivated by personal gain," Obi-Wan translated.

"I don't deny that enlightened self-interest was a factor," Bail allowed. "But its also true that many lives and many livelihoods were saved by their intervention." He shrugged. "After all, self preservation isn't a crime."

"And they assumed you would also act out of enlightened self-interest?" Obi-Wan mused aloud.

"They gambled that even if I wasn't motivated by doing the right thing, I'd use all my political power to avoid a scandal that would damage my House," Bail replied. "But even if doing the right thing had meant exposing my family and connections to censure, then I would not have hesitated. Many lives were on the line."

Obi-Wan nodded as he searched his memory for details about this narrowly averted disaster. "Not that I doubt you, Bail, I don't recall hearing anything about this."

"It was handled at the highest diplomatic levels, with the utmost discretion. If the details had leaked, we'd still be mopping up the political fallout today." Bail paused before continuing. "Since then, these Friends of the Republic have proven themselves five more times after our initial encounter. They were matters of internal Alderaan security," he added, refraining from going into detail, and Obi-Wan respected his right to privacy regarding such matters. "They also have informed me of the details concerning the truth behind the order of the clone army, and that Count Dooku was responsible for the injuries you and your Padawan endured on Geonosis."

Obi-Wan's frown deepened. "That would indicate that their resources are immeasurable and their pockets deep. How does your arrangement with these people work? Do you meet with them?"

"No," Bail replied with a shake of his head. "I've never seen or spoken to them. Their communications are text-based and encrypted. Coded messages sent in shortburst over a secure link they gave me at the time of the Aridus situation. And I can't contact them. They don't work for me. If they learn of something they think I should know about, they tell me."

"And what is they have warned you about that is so serious you have taken the risk of confiding in me about their existence?" Obi-Wan asked.

"A warning of a Sith plot to destroy the Jedi," Bail revealed. "Mention of a planet called Zigoola, followed by a series of coordinates which will eventually lead to its location where they will meet with us. An express request that I inform someone within the Order about the danger."

Obi-Wan leaned backwards into the confines of the furnishings, steepling his fingers together to stroke his beard in deep thought. "Zigoola," he mused, remembering the last time he learned of a planet which he had never heard of before. "I can't say I've ever heard of it."

"Neither have I," Bail replied. "I daren't risk searching the Senate archives, but I presume that those of the Order will be more reliable and discreet."

"Perhaps," Obi-Wan allowed. "But they have been tampered with before." He rose from the chair to pace a little. "Did they give you a timeframe as to the meeting?"

Bail shook his head. "I have taken the usual precautions of memorising and then destroying all record of the message." He paused, studying his friend's face. "What will you do now?"

"I'll need to talk with Master Yoda," Obi-Wan replied as he came to a halt before the Senator. "Possibly also with a contact of my own who has helped me in past with locating hitherto mysterious and unknown planets. If I can, I will inform you of what action we take. But be aware, this is now a Jedi affair."

"I understand," Bail assured him. "Shall I prepare a ship?"

Obi-Wan nodded. "That is a insightful question. While we are being such, I suspect you will hear from me within an hour or so, with instructions to meet. Until then, Bail."

"Good day, Obi-Wan," Bail returned before seeing him out.

It was fortuitous perhaps that Count Dooku was with Master Yoda when Obi-Wan returned to the Temple. Joining the Grand Master and his companion in the former's private meditation chamber, he briefly related the situation to them both

"A disturbing development this is," Yoda mused.

"If you'll forgive me, Master Yoda, disturbing is an understatement," Count Dooku added. "I know of Zigoola. The planet is a Sith haven, concealed from the Order by Sidious for decades. Only he would have allowed Senator Organa's friends to learn of its existence."

Obi-Wan turned to him. "Has Sidious infiltrated this group?"

"Yes," Dooku admitted. "Until now he has only been monitoring their activity, waiting for the moment when he can use something to ruin the Senator. Now he may wish to kill two mynocks with one stone."

"A trap for the Jedi and for the Senate, you believe this is," Yoda murmured. "Right you may be. But ignore this information, we cannot."

"I agree, Masters," Dooku assured them. "However, if I might venture to suggest whoever you send on this mission takes some precautions?"

"What precautions do you have in mind?" Obi-Wan inquired.

"A companion, immune to the Force. Not a squad of clone troopers," Dooku demurred, "though doubtless they would be useful," he allowed, "but such an assignment would attract undesired attention. A trained medic on standby would be advisable, and a the use of a Ysalamiri on a nutrient frame would be equally vital, so as to protect the Jedi from the affects of the dark side."

Yoda nodded thoughtfully. "All necessary requirements, I agree. Take it I do, that no one but to Senator Organa will these sources talk?"

Obi-Wan inclined his head in response. "Yes, Master."

"Then proceed he and Master Kenobi, will, on this dangerous mission," Yoda decided.

Such announcement did not take Obi-Wan by surprise. After all, he had all but accepted it the moment Bail first informed him. Nor was the company of Senator Organa unwelcome, but it did lend an added risk to the mission that they could have otherwise done without.

Rising from his seat, Obi-Wan bowed to Count Dooku and Master Yoda, then exited the meditation chamber. Stopping by his newly acquired apartment, he collected a few necessities, then called on the halls of healing, where a medic was already waiting with a nutrient frame on hand. Assessing the creature upon it, Obi-Wan silently wondered what his friend would make of the animal.

After receiving general instructions as to the Ysalamiri's care, Obi-Wan took a deep breath and mounted the animal about his shoulders. The effect was instantaneous. Within seconds the Force was gone from him, a physical blow that, had he not been prepared for it, would have doubtless crippled him. Crossing to the com device, he sent a message to the Senator, asking him to go to the hangar bay with his ship.

After the healer had stocked his backpack with a few medical supplies not normally included in the usual first aid kit assigned to all Jedi during field missions, Obi-Wan bowed in gratitude and headed for the hangar bay.

Chapter Text

Part 27: Cleansing Herself of His Wounds.

When Padmé came to, she found herself abed, a sheet covering her, concealing her injuries, but not erasing their existence from the concerned gaze of her security who hovered over her. Soldier and Handmaiden, they regarded her with kindly eyed glances, ones that despite their intentions conveyed reproachfulness nonetheless. She felt ashamed of herself. She had forgotten the principles in which she had been raised. She had been untrue to her nature, the unyielding stubbornness within her.

Below the sheet her skin was burning, raw from the damage he had done. A med droid had attempted to relieve some of the pain she noticed from the slight numbness she felt, along with the sense that she had been sedated for a brief period after she passed out. Nothing had been done to remove the bruising however. She need not query that, she knew why such methods were prevented from being induced. To make sure she would not yield to the temptation of pretence or conceal the evidence from the divorce proceedings that would follow. Ones which, if she didn't initiate, her security most assuredly would.

First however, there was something much more pressing which she needed to establish. "Where is Anakin?"

Captain Typho's face was grim. "My agents ejected him from the building, milady. I have taken the liberty of changing the access codes and barring him from further admittance to this apartment. Shall I do anything with the droid?"

Threepio. She had forgotten about him until now. Anakin had given him to her after Geonosis, when she bestowed upon him Artoo, whom she would really like back, as she dreaded trusting him with the droid who had done so much for her during the Blockade of Naboo. Even though Threepio was entirely innocent of the damage done by his master, she shrank from the mere notion of seeing the golden protocol droid just now. "If you could make sure he no longer deals with visitors, I'll see him when I am ready. If you are able to go to the Temple and retrieve Artoo, I would be most grateful, Captain."

Typho bowed before her. "It shall be done, milady. Anything else?"

Well, that was pointed, but then her security were not known for their subtlety. Infact she was surprised that they hadn't chosen to inform her lawyers of Anakin's actions already. "Contact my lawyers and instruct them to initiate divorce proceedings. Emphasise the need for discretion and speed."

"I will take care of that for you, milady," Dormé informed her.

"What of the Senate?" she asked next. "Has my absence been noted?"

"Senator Organa and Master Kenobi left a message for you," Dormé replied. "We have heard since from the Temple that Master Kenobi is on a mission, and from Minala that Senator Organa has taken some leave. We have said that you were invited to the women's retreat on Chandrila."

A good cover. The retreat was a highly diplomatic function and it was considered a great honour to be invited. No communication with the outside was permitted. It would serve to explain her absence until she was well enough to return to work. Minala Lodilyn was Bail's very efficient personal assistant, who was just as dedicated to the Senate as her employer. Silently she wondered about the nature of their messages, why they had both chosen to call her before leaving, but until she was ready to face them, that was something which would have to remain a mystery.

"Thank you both," She instead said to Captain Typho and Dormé. Carefully, she held out her hands for both of them to take hold of. "And please, don't blame yourselves for what has happened. It was my own fault, and Anakin's. No one else's."

Soldier and handmaiden nodded, though their expressions as to whether their mistress should blame herself remained dubious. With a final squeeze of her fingers, they parted from her side to do the jobs she had asked of them.

Alone Padmé took a deep breath before lifting aside the linen sheet. Her survey of the bruise was grim viewing. She flinched from the ghastly contrast between her typically pale skin, and the myriad of purple shades within the large bruise that covered one side of her slim waist. A spectrum ranging from light in the outer rim to the five dark circles within the core, where the fingers of his artificial hand had thundered across her body.

It would be some time before the injury faded from view, and before she no longer felt the pain of its existence. In time the memory would add itself to that cause, preying on her emotions, her ability to function. She had to harness her inner strength, that innate, often wilful stubbornness of hers, endure and survive. This could not be allowed to happen again, with or without the protection of her security, though she doubted that Captain Typho would let her out of his sight for some time to come.

In the meantime, Dormé would return soon with news from her lawyers. She had to prepare herself to speak with them, and that meant rising from her bed. Pressing her elbows into the mattress, she bent her legs towards herself before pressing them down, the spring within the motion of the movement helping her to rise. Sitting up, she drew in a breath from her diaphragm cautiously, testing the extent of the injury. Her body protested, but it was a pain she must and could endure. Rising from the bed, she walked into her fresher, and disrobed before stepping into a shower. The shearing heat of the water caused her bruise to sting, but apart from that, she was able to cleanse herself physically of his touch.

When she was done, she surveyed the bruise in the mirror, carefully pressing her fingers across the rims of colour, noting how much pressure each could handle. She would have to avoid embracing friends and visitors for a while. Hopefully she would be able to compensate for the absence of her usually tactile nature. She reached out to the small cabinet beside the mirror, and retrieved a box of bacta patches, which were covered with a layer of synthetic skin and minuscule perforated air holes, designed to allow the wound to breathe while it recovered under the bacta's healing properties. Withdrawing one of the large ones, she applied the bacta to her bruise.

Grimly she surveyed the results of her concealment within the mirror. Synthetic skinned patches were the most refined of the bacta treatments, sourced from a physician whom she had seen concerning Anakin's arm, exploring the possibility of concealing the artificial limb from view. Doubtless her soon to be ex-husband would have thrown a fit if he had learned of her squeamishness, but the doctor had cautioned her on their practicability for such a task, so she had never mentioned the possibility to him. Besides it was not squeamishness, it was born out of a concern for him, so he would not have the daily sight of the servos, the gleaming metal to remind him of what he had become. A overly symbolic shallow perception perhaps, but one she had thought might have mattered to him.

Now they would be used for their proper purpose, and she felt no guilt for doing so. Until she had dealt with her lawyers and come to a resolution regarding whether to inform the Jedi Council of Anakin's actions, she needed them so her body could heal. With one last final look, she exited the 'fresher and turned to her wardrobe, selecting from her generous supply of clothes a garment she felt comfortable in, but was 'dressy' enough for dealing with her lawyers, as well as a section of fastenings positioned over her abdomen, so she would be able to show them the extent of her injury, granting them sufficient cause to override any objections her soon to be ex-husband would have.

Dressed, she entered her living room, where another surprise greeted her, that of an inert Threepio, propped up against one of the walls.

"I didn't mean for Typho to shut him down," she cried out to Dormé, who left the com desk as soon as she heard the tone of her mistress's voice.

"He didn't, milady," her handmaiden informed her.

"Then who did?" Padmé asked as she crouched down before the golden protocol droid, her hand reaching out to the power switch.

"I'm not sure, milady," Dormé answered. "We found him like this."

"Oh, hello, Mistress Padmé," Threepio uttered at that moment, turning their attention to him. "Dear me, what I am doing here?"

"Hello, Threepio," Padmé uttered, finding herself strangely calm, considering she had flinched from talking to the protocol droid only half an hour ago. "Can you tell me what happened to you?"

"I remember Master Ani greeting me," he replied. "He told me that he wanted to surprise you." His photoreceptors flickered as he glanced around the room. "Oh I say, is it morning already? I'm terribly sorry, Mistress Padmé."

"Its quite alright, Threepio," she assured him, helping him to his feet, rising to her own at the same time. Her injury protested at the motion, causing a hand to go to her waist, while at the same time her mind reminded herself that in the future she must restrain such natural impulses so her distress was not noted by those she wished to remain ignorant.

"Oh dear, Mistress Padmé, are you alright?" Threepio asked. "I'm so dreadfully sorry if I have injured you."

"Don't worry, Threepio, it wasn't you," Padmé replied. "Threepio, I want you to promise me something, okay?"

"Well, of course, Mistress Padmé, anything," Threepio answered.

"This promise will mean refusing Anakin admittance into my company and my residences from now on," she cautioned. "Will you still be able to obey?"

"But, Mistress Padmé, Master Ani is my maker, and your husband," Threepio exclaimed. Then he caught the look on her face. "Oh my, did he..." Threepio paused, but it was obvious that he had made the connection. "I am so terribly sorry, Mistress Padmé. Of course, I will tell him he is not allowed to see you."

"Thank you, Threepio," Padmé replied, feeling quite touched. It seemed her misgivings were for naught, as the droid had surprised her once more. Like Artoo, he was more than a machine, he seemed so compassionate and understanding, as though he knew exactly what Anakin hid from the world. She could trust him to do what he had always done for her, especially since she realised who was responsible for switching him off.

"Milady, your lawyers are waiting for you," Dormé declared at this moment.

Padmé thanked her handmaiden, then followed her into the area off her apartment's living room, where the desk that held the com lay. Carefully, she sat herself down, and prepared for the next difficult conversation.

Surprisingly, the conversation with her lawyers was not as bad as she had prepared and persuaded herself into thinking it would be. Quietly they listened to her plight, deferentially asked to see and record the evidence; - whereupon she posed for holo-imaging and promised to send what findings the med-droid had diagnosed - then assured her that they had set proceedings in motion, and she would hear from them in due course.

After that Padmé dealt with the messages she had been left, attending to the ones from Bail and Obi-Wan first. To her astonishment, she discovered that the message Minala had left was a ruse; the Senator and the Jedi were on a fact-finding mission together, the details of which they would brief her with, if they could, when they returned. She felt guilty that she hadn't been available for them when they called and worried as to whether her absence had in turn caused them some concern.

But as much as she would like to spent some time wrestling with her conscience, at present, time was one thing she didn't have. Putting aside her wonderings concerning where and how Bail and Obi-Wan were in the same place as her feelings on what Anakin had done to her, Padmé turned to the rest of the messages left from her colleagues, friends and family, as well as the work she missed in the Senate. To her relief the peace treaty had been ratified; her personal assistant Sovi was kind enough to deliver her vote via proxy; she could put her signature to the ratification whenever she was ready to return to work. As for everything else that the Senate called flimsiwork, she spent the rest of the day ploughing her way through it.

When her com was blank screen instead of the line upon line of Aurabesh, she shut the device off and leaned back in her chair, her hands reaching to massage what kinks she could out of her body. At last her mind could return to the events which had first preoccupied her conscious when she woke this morning.

In fact it was all too easy to recall that she had been sitting here when her husband walked into her apartment. Days may have passed between that night and this, but what met her gaze was no different. The view Coruscant which this room in her apartment gave out still looked the same through the transparisteel before her. The apartment was still quiet, almost devoid of people, though she knew if she got up she would soon find Dormé, and Threepio in the kitchen, hopefully with Captain Typho and Artoo. Her security had not informed her of his return, let alone if he had been successful in his retrieval mission, but Typho was operating under her usual instructions of not disturbing her until she was finished running her little corner of the galaxy, the same policy she had in place that night.

Rebuking herself for her timidity but still using the caution anyway, she glanced at the open entrance leading from the living room to where she sat. It was all too easy to imagine Anakin's form appearing upon the threshold, welcoming her home. She recalled when she had first moved into this neighbourhood, objecting to the status value which it garnered, letting herself be persuaded by Anakin, Captain Typho, Bail and Palpatine that it was a wise move to ensure her safety. Despite her misgivings, she had conceded to their assurances, for Five Hundred Republica was one of the safest districts on Coruscant.

But now that safety had been compromised, by one of the people who had convinced her of it in the first place. Yet she couldn't move. If she did, it would mean she was afraid of Anakin, and it would be all too easy for him to find the new address even if she wanted to. However, there were risks in staying here. While it prevented questions being asked, it did not prevent the possibility of her husband's ability to bypass the security codes and breach her quarters once more. Nor did it prevent her from being reminded of what he did, but then she doubted a new place would erase those memories either.

There was of course the easy option; she could tell the Jedi Council of what he had done. She didn't have to mention that she and Anakin had broken the Code, she could just tell them of the injury. But that in turn would cause difficulties, not just for Anakin, but for herself and the Jedi Order. Thanks to Palpatine, Anakin was one of the most recognisable faces of the Order. If his violence became public, it would damage the Order's reputation of protecting the Republic. Certain secrets might have to be admitted, such as the existence of the Sith, and how vulnerable the Jedi were to such transformations.

Yet, should she really keep silent? This was not Anakin's first act of violence; the massacre of the Tusken Raiders proved that he was capable of inflicting more damage, that murder did not trouble his conscience if it meant vengeance. She knew well what the Code said; once a Jedi started down the dark path, to the ways of the Sith they would fall. And Anakin was a powerful Jedi, if he fell to the Sith, he would pose an even greater risk to the Republic and the Order.

But would telling the Order only accelerate his fall, or had he fallen already? That was the question which she needed to resolve. And Padmé couldn't find an answer, not without asking another Jedi, which would cause them to ask why she was inquiring within the first place. Nor could she raise the subject with Obi-Wan, as he would realise to whom she was alluding to. She could not allow him to blame himself for Anakin's own choices. And he may have his own evidence with which to find hers convincing by; for the incident on Tatooine and the violence visited upon herself cannot have been all, as she had once thought.

So, from a certain point of view, she had answered her concerns. The Order could not be informed of Anakin's actions. Not until she was sure that telling them would protect him from becoming an even greater risk to the Jedi. Which would mean that if she was ever in public with Anakin, she would have to pretend that things were fine.

And that was going to take a considerable strength of resolve.

Days passed, and slowly, her injury began to heal, allowing her to move about without showing visible signs of pain.

When such healing was realised, Padmé knew she had to return to work. Thanks to the connections she had made with Chandrila, she was familiar with the length of the retreat and it would soon end. Allowing for travel time from the planet back to Coruscant, she had a deadline to resume her duties, though the thought of going outside filled her with dread.

Such fears had to be overcome however, as she needed to return to work, and to prove to herself that what Anakin had done was not going to rule the rest of her life. So she braved the sights outside her apartment, with Captain Typho and his security team discreetly following her at all times. Outwardly she tried to appear that she wasn't flinching from the sight of everyone and everything, only those who took the trouble to look could discover that something was wrong.

Gradually her fears were conquered, and she returned to her normally busy schedule, taking over the chair of the committee meetings from which Bail was still absent. Privately she worried about him and Obi-Wan, for she knew that the longer they stayed away the more dangerous the mission they were on was likely to be. But she could not make her concerns public for it would invite unwelcome questions. Nor could she make a trip to the Temple without the possibility of running into her soon to be ex-husband.

Anakin. Since the night of the attack, she hadn't seen him. Oh, she knew he was still on the planet, for her security were keeping a close eye on him, while her lawyers dealt with his resistance to the divorce on an almost daily basis. His refusal was staunch, but so were her solicitors and in the end, thanks to Nubian law, she knew which side would prevail. She was fortunate not have had direct dealings with him, but a part of her was aware that such a possibility might be inevitable, for the Jedi were never isolated from the running of the Republic.

Something she was reminded of when Threepio alerted her to a visit from the Grand Master of the Order at half-past three one morning.

"Regret this intrusion I do, Senator Amidala," Yoda began once she had emerged from her bedroom to join him in her living area, "but on urgent business I have come."

Hoping that this was about Bail and Obi-Wan rather than anything to do with Anakin, Padmé nodded. "I gathered as much, Master Yoda, given the hour."

Yoda leant on his gimer stick as he continued. "A favour I would ask of you, Senator. Should you agree, in your debt would the Jedi Order be."

She smiled at that, though inwardly she knew that the reverse was true. "There can never be talk of debts between us, Master Yoda. What do you need me to do?"

"Word I have received from Obi-Wan Kenobi," Yoda revealed, to her relief. "Stranded he is with Senator Organa, on a planet called Zigoola."

She was glad to hear such news, though not as to them being stranded, but being alive. She had been so worried about them. "They're alright?"

Yoda nodded. "They live, but they have no ship, and send a Jedi to rescue them, I cannot. A Sith planet, Zigoola is."

Immediately her fears doubled. A Sith planet! What on Naboo were they doing investigating a Sith planet!? She longed to ask, but knew now was not the time for such a question. Doubtless she would learn what she needed to know when she rescued them, for that was what she suspected Yoda was asking her to do. "I take it then you'd like me to fetch them, Master Yoda?"

"Yes," the Grand Master confirmed. "The reason for my visit that is. To ask for your assistance in this sensitive matter."

"Of course I'll assist you," she promised immediately, knowing that it would be simple to ensure her staff took care of business while she was absent once again. At least this time she was doing something worthwhile. "Always. Whenever and however I can."

"In danger from the Sith you will not be, Senator Amidala," Master Yoda informed her solemnly. "Deserted the planet is, save for Master Kenobi and Senator Organa. However clone troops I will send with you. In Wild Space is Zigoola. A dangerous destination and from home a long way."

Clone troops? Immediately she wondered how badly Bail and Obi-Wan were hurt. Part of the genetic coding from Kamino included medical expertise, and as it was a Sith planet the Order could not send a dedicated Jedi healer. Nor could they send anyone else within the Senate, for aside from her and the Chancellor, no one was else was aware of the re-emergence of the Sith. "Of course, Master Yoda. The Royal yacht's one of the fastest ships on Coruscant, and its ready to fly at a moment's notice. At top speed the clones and I will be there before Bail and Obi-Wan know it. Do you have the coordinates?"

Yoda handed her a data crystal. "Plotted on here the fastest course is, Senator. Follow it, and avoid trouble you will," he answered. "Also on it are life-sign signatures for Master Kenobi and Senator Organa. Easy that will make finding them, I think. The clone troops I will send at once to your private spaceport."

Once again she was touched by Yoda's concern and thoroughness. While he was evidently worried for Obi-Wan and Bail, he was also aware of her safety. "Master Yoda, I will bring Obi-Wan home to you, safe and well. On that you have my solemn word."

Relief touched the Grand Master's features. "Thank you, Padmé. Upon me you must call if ever a service for you I can perform."

Oh, if only she could call on him to solve the dilemma of Anakin. But that was her own concern for now. "I'll remember that, Master Yoda."

Chapter Text

Part 28: Perspectives.

"All right, Senator!" Captain Korbel called up to her. "You're good to go."

Padmé leapt to the top of the ramp, and came to a stuttered halt in the hatchway. Bail was standing at its base, waiting for her.

He looked appalling.

"Senator Amidala," his voice greeted her, as he tried to perform a courtly bow. It made an odd contrast to the ragged clothes which he wore and the dirtiness of his appearance, as well as the gaunt pallor his body had acquired.

Aware of her Senatorial dignity with the presence of the clone troops formed below her, she descended the ramp to meet him. She wanted to hug him, but she was afraid she would cause him more injury than he was currently visibly suffering.

"Senator Organa," she returned his greeting instead. "I understand you need a lift."

Bail attempted to laugh, but his voice cracked and she could see he was breathing hard. At last he replied, "Only if you're going my way. I wouldn't like to put you to any trouble."

"No. No trouble," she answered. "There might be a small fee... Oh, Bail." She dropped her attempts at banter and hugged him.

"I'm sorry," he muttered as he returned the embrace. "I stink."

Somehow she sensed he was apologising for more than just how he smelt. "You're alive. Where's Obi-Wan?"

"Hello, Padmé," another cracked voice greeted her then, just as Bail released her from his embrace. "Riding to the rescue again."

If Bail's appearance had caused her concern, with Obi-Wan it was magnified tenfold. He hobbled towards her, his clothes in tatters, his face smeared with dirt, his skin mottled with injuries, the most severe of which was hidden from her view by makeshift bandages wrapped around his right thigh. About his shoulders she could see a strange creature attached to a nutrient frame, who did not seem content with his ride, or his surroundings, as every now and again he or she hissed at them both.

"Obi-Wan," she whispered, tears slipping down her face, forgetting to hide how deeply she had come to care for this particular Jedi.

He embraced her too, though there was a distance within him, as though he was keeping himself in check, protecting her from the true extent of his suffering. "Its not as bad as it appears, Padmé."

"Not as bad as it appears!" she echoed with incredulity. "Let's start with the most obvious, shall we? What happened to your leg?"

A glance was exchanged between him and Bail, a peculiarly complicated one, which she wondered at, before the Jedi Master replied. "Its nothing. Truly. A lightsaber mishap."

She remembered the last time that had served as an explanation; Geonosis, when Dooku almost crippled him before dismembering Anakin. "Again?"

"At the risk of being pushy, Padmé, I really want to get the vape off this rock," Bail said then. "So can we.... you know... go?"

"Of course," she replied, but not before sending them a look to make sure that they both knew that this conversation wasn't over.

With help from the clone troops, they climbed on board her ship, and she followed them inside. A careful tenderness from Captain Korbel and his team was employed as the troops installed the Senator and Jedi in the quarters of her yacht.

"I'll get us out of here," she uttered, allowing herself to lightly touch Obi-Wan's cheek with her hand before she left them to the care of the medics.

Only when the course was laid and the ship had entered hyperspace did she return to the quarters. Muffled voices waylaid her upon the threshold.

"Well," she heard Bail say. "Is it coming back?"

A long silence seemed to pass before she heard Obi-Wan reply. "Yes."

"See?" Bail said, the reproof gentled by his tone. "I told you the Sith couldn't stop you being a Jedi. Not forever, anyway."

"Yes you did," Obi-Wan replied in a choked tone, the like of which she had only witnessed once before, when she came to in his arms after the explosion on Pais. No words were exchanged between them, but none had been needed, for what he was feeling then had been clearly displayed upon his face.

More conversation passed between Bail and Obi-Wan, but while Padmé forced herself to forget the words, though she couldn't forget the sentiment which she descried behind them. Evidently the friendship which had begun on Pais was now deepened thanks to whatever had occurred on Zigoola. And she was glad of that, for she dread to think what might await Obi-Wan at the Temple concerning Anakin. He was a good Jedi, and though he might not be aware of it, Anakin could rarely hide anything from him.

Privately and guiltily, she wondered how long their own friendship would last once he divined what was wrong.

"Padmé." She roused herself from her thoughts to find Bail standing before her.

"Obi-Wan's not the only one who needs first aid," she reminded him. "We've got six medics on board, remember. One of them is yours."

"That sounds good," he replied with a nod. "But I would just like to sit here for a while first. Can we just sit, do you think?"

"Of course," she said gently. "And if you want to talk, I'm here."

"Not now," he answered. "Maybe later."

She patted his arm. "Anytime, my friend."

Not quite a week had passed before Obi-Wan could avail himself with routine. His healer, Vokara Che, had only just released him from the halls of healing three days ago, with strict instructions not to tire himself or to step beyond the walls of the Temple precinct. The warning was as effective as an Geonosisan containment field. Within minutes of him settling his body under one of the fountains in the Temple's lush arboretum, Master Yoda had accosted his peace of mind with a reminder that he had yet to brief the Council about his experiences on Zigoola.

The Sith artefacts had occupied them whilst he was recovering. Due to Count Dooku's knowledge of the planet and the precautions concerning the Ysalamiri, he and Bail had managed to salvage what they could from the Sith Temple before it destroyed itself around them. If it had not been necessary to touch the Force in order to contact Master Yoda, if one of the artefacts within the Temple had not caused their ship to crash, destroying any normal forms of hyperspace communication, Obi-Wan doubted he would have experienced the full measure of hatred upon a Sith planet.

Hatred was an understatement, as he explained to the Council yesterday. There was more light in a single drop of water from this arboretum than there had been on that planet. That he could feel in his whole body when released from the protection of the Ysalamiri. It had been the most lonely, the most bereft he had ever felt. Not even Qui-Gon's death, or the sight of his empty apartment after Anakin's knighthood had affected him thus.

Thinking of Anakin.... that was something else his return had yet to address. Usually Vokara Che had to bar him from the halls of healing whenever Obi-Wan was convalescent, just as she had to forbid Obi-Wan from visiting when the situation was reversed. But Obi-Wan hadn't seen him. When he was up to it, he would make a more thorough search of the Temple, but for now, the absence of his former apprentice was just another troubling concern with which to distract his thoughts from the memory of his experiences on Zigoola. Not that he wanted to dwell on what had happened to him and Bail there, but reminders were inevitable.

He had not been bereft of company whilst convalescent in the halls of healing. Taria Damsin, an old friend of his, was there too. She was also under the strict rule of Vokara Che, though her illness, unfortunately, was of a mortal nature. Soon he would be attending another funeral, just as untimely as the last. Like Qui-Gon, and Garen, it had not taken her long to divine his feelings regarding a certain Senator. But unlike his friend and former master, Taria knew more than they ever could. For once they had felt a drop of the same emotion, and indulged themselves within the feeling. Not breaking the Code, but bending it all the same. It never went as deep as the wealth of emotion he felt for Padmé, yet there was no denying it all the same. For a time the emotion ruled them, then faded, as these things often did, allowing them to remain friends without regret on either side.

And like his other friends, Taria availed herself of the rights to divine when he felt something worth bending, even breaking the soon to be non-existent no attachment rule, finding out all she could about the woman in question, and grilling him on why he refused to give into the emotion, especially as now there no longer any rule against him doing so. Which meant he had to explain why all over again, ignoring the wisdom he'd lately received from his master, wondering at the same time if Qui-Gon was monitoring him as he did so. He imagined there must be some degree of difference to the Force with death, but ever since his former master had shown himself in spirit form, Obi-Wan had been dealing with the possibility that he was being watched.

Taria hadn't been any happier with his reservations than Garen was. While he understood their position, neither of them knew Anakin as well as he did, for his apprentice had always been rather uncomfortable around his master's friends. He knew Anakin would not be able to handle the idea of his master feeling the same emotions as he did for Padmé, and rightly so perhaps, especially when he had been very hypocritical regarding his apprentice's desire to break the rules.

However, only to Anakin did he appear so. Obi-Wan knew that as much as his apprentice claimed to feel what he felt for Padmé, the depth of emotion that they both felt was in reality galaxies apart. Anakin's was for a Queen he could protect in a gilded palace, against all outsiders; selfish, obsessive, possessive. Obi-Wan saw the woman behind those titles of Queen and Senator, honoured her the right to take care of herself, to come to rescue as she had done on Zigoola. But though everyone who divined his feelings were convinced she did, not once did he expect her to return what he felt.

He had not been surprised at Yoda's choice of rescuer from the Sith planet. Given the message he and Bail managed to send through the darkness they experienced there, sending someone immune to the Force, backed up by a squad of medically trained clone troopers was a sensible alternative. Nor were they many beings who knew of the dangers posed by the Sith and who were in a position to mount such a rescue at such short notice. He was also relieved to see her, since he hadn't been able to give her a farewell in person before he left for Zigoola. Come to think of it, her sudden departure for the retreat on Chandrila was unusual, given they had only just returned from Pais. But then none of them had known when they left how long the peace conference was going to take. It may have just been a coincidence.

Obi-Wan longed to see her, but knew that would be difficult. Aside from his suspicions concerning her relationship with Anakin, there were her duties in the Senate and his at the Temple. Their paths could not just cross. But then again, maybe Bail would invite them to dinner one evening, a visit that wouldn't include Anakin, unless his presence was requested, for the Senator did not know his former apprentice. It wasn't alone, but he didn't think he could trust himself alone with her yet.

Zigoola had played with his emotions. Even inside the Force bubble which the Ysalamiri used, he had to learn how to cope without the guidance of the ancient energy, though he was unhampered by the voices from the dark side which tortured him when he ventured forth from the beast's protection. Feeling the return of the lightness in which he was raised was a relief, but also strange, as his reunion was tainted by the torture he endured through the protection of the Ysalamiri and that brief moment when Bail took the creature away, before giving him that lightsaber injury so he could contact Yoda.

Count Dooku's cautionary advice was both a blessing and a curse, for it had not prepared him for the full onslaught of the Sith will which penetrated his brain when the protection from the Ysalamiri had been taken away. But neither would he have been comfortable not taking such protection to Zigoola. Bail and he might not have survived if he had to endure days of the Sith onslaught.

The memory of that voice, the constant chant of, 'die Jedi,' was a painful one. Vokara Che and Yoda warned him that he while should not dwell on the experience, it had changed him, and he must adapt to that change. And adapt he would, he was still a Jedi, if Zigoola had taught him anything, it was that. Which was why he was underneath one of the fountains in the arboretum, so he could learn to adapt to the change within the comfort of an old and familiar skill.

There was also another reason, one which he was reluctant to reveal to anyone, yet something he had to try. Hearing that voice of the Sith, might possibly allow him to sense the danger of the dark side which was clouding the light of the Force on Coruscant. The one who the Council all agreed originated from the Sith master they were still looking for, the identity of whom Count Dooku still refused to reveal.

Delving into the depths of the Force, Obi-Wan focused on that part of him which had changed, working to harness it to search. At first nothing happened, but he was a patient man, as all those years training Anakin could testify.

Eventually after what seemed like hours but really could have only been minutes at best, he felt something. Cautiously he waded deeper, seeking for some sign of recognition. There was no reply, but then he never expected one.

Surroundings emerged, as though he was looking through the eyes of the Sith, immune to the creature's awareness, but there with him, wherever he was. Focusing on the view, Obi-Wan was both astonished and alarmed to realise that it was Coruscant. Keeping an eye on the creature, he tried to recall where he had seen that view.

When the memory was confirmed, his and the Council's worst suspicions, were also.

Palpatine paced in his office, content to let his true sithly self be free from the restraint of the role of Supreme Chancellor, knowing that he would not be disturbed for the next hour. He had just come from the Senate eatery, where to his shock he had seen a worn Bail Organa chatting to Padmé Amidala and that annoying, but infinitely useful, Gungan, who granted him executive powers before Geonosis, just as he wished. For some time he had been fielding questions over the absence of the Senator from Alderaan, and had been prepared to lay out a flimsy inquiry followed by an equally useless search party, before reporting his unfortunate demise, along with that of Master Kenobi.

But his presence in the Senate eatery meant that the Senator had survived, and thus so had Master Kenobi he suspected, though he had yet to set eyes on the Jedi himself. It was a reasonable assumption, for the Jedi was favoured by Yoda and that little troll would have expressed his concerns by now if Organa had failed to return with him.

Clearly, he had underestimated their ability to foil him at every turn. Such a conclusion disgusted him, until now he was of the opinion that no one in existence was capable of sabotaging his plans. Even Kenobi, whom he had once contemplated turning to the dark, for the challenge and pleasure received in turning one so firmly devoted to the light and so potentially powerful would have been infinite. Yoda's favoured protégé would have made an excellent apprentice. The duel with Maul on Naboo convinced him further, for there he had sensed the sudden rush of anger which Kenobi briefly embraced, his innocence in dealing with such an emotion rendering his skill inferior and his steps uncertain. Even when Kenobi let go of the anger and defeated Maul, Palpatine still felt the potential there to convert him.

Landing on Naboo, congratulating him, he caught sight of the one being who changed his mind. Anakin Skywalker, the Chosen One. A mere boy, but powerful, naive, stubborn and precocious. Where the newly promoted Knight Kenobi greeted the new Chancellor with a respect that hid a disdain for politics, his soon to be apprentice was fascinated by him and the power he held inside. Although nonnescient in the ways of the world, the power inside the Chosen One had recognised a equal inside Palpatine, and latched on. From that moment, his destiny was decided.

Occasionally, during moments like these, Palpatine harboured certain regrets concerning his transference of choice. The Chosen One still had much to learn, and failed to realise how much Obi-Wan Kenobi could teach him. Apprenticeship to the dark side required subtlety, patience, a rigorous self-discipline and infinite artistry. Four things which Anakin Skywalker had yet to learn, or realise the value of.

Revealing the existence of Zigoola to the Friends of the Republic had been a test in temptation as much as a possible opportunity to rid himself of two foils in his side. If Obi-Wan had surrendered to the will of the dark side which lived and breathed upon that planet, Palpatine would have considered such a result just as much a victory as his and Senator Organa's deaths would have been. Both Senate and the Jedi would have been devastated by such an outcome, their shock too pungent to fight him, as he brought the Republic and the Order to their knees before his Empire.

That outcome would have been interesting, possibly more so than his present schemes, hindered as they had been by Dooku's desire for peace. The whereabouts of his wizened apprentice were at present unknown to him, doubtless because the Count of Serenno wished to avoid the wrath of Sidious. Usually he would focus his efforts on finding the wayward apprentice, but Dooku had always been a stepping stone, a temporary place holder, until the Chosen One was matured and ripe for plucking.

Such a moment was at hand, and required his full attention if it was to succeed. In his current schemes, modified due to Serenno's sudden pacifist conversion, the fall of Chosen One could not be a tragedy paraded openly before the Order and the Republic. It had to be showered in the cloak of darkness he had used to cement his own rise to power. Like him, Anakin needed to wear a mask, to deceive the world of his true nature. Something his master was more suited to, but Palpatine doubted that there was anything left which could tempt Obi-Wan to the dark side now.

If he succeeded, then he could employ his third scheme, one which would tear the Republic and the Order apart in a scandal that no one was immune from.

Chapter Text

Part 29: Her Beauty Drowned In Blood.

"This is Senator Organa, requesting clearance to land," Bail uttered before transmitting his security protocols.

"Authorisation confirmed. Clearance to land accepted," the automated device responded before a more lively reply was added. "Your usual path is clear. Welcome back, Senator."

"Thank you," Bail returned before signing off. His fingers made a few minor adjustments to his approach vector, and as his ship entered the atmosphere, he finally pulled his thoughts away from Alderaan. From its lush, beautiful earth, the splendour of its mountains, the graceful beauty of its cities, towns and villages. From the people he served, though they were always in his thoughts, just as the planet was, in so many ways. And from his wife, Breha.

She had been happy to see him, even if it was only for a lightning visit. That was its usual length, the duties of a galactic Senator rarely allowed him anything else. But in this case he had lingered, under advisement from the Jedi Vokara Che at the Temple Halls of Healing, the medic clone trooper who had treated him enroute from Zigoola, and the Supreme Chancellor himself. Palpatine had been insistent that he take the time to recover, using his own planet's experience with the Sith as an authority. And Padmé agreed with her former advisor, assuring him that the Republic could cope without him for a while.

He relented at last because of Obi-Wan. His friend, for Master Kenobi was his friend now after all they had faced together on Zigoola, was in a worse state than he, but his determination to return to his duties had been just as firm. He surrendered to treatment from the medics during the journey back to Coruscant, but as soon as they entered the Temple, he had insisted he was fine. Master Yoda was relieved to have Bail's support, along with Padmé's and the healer, although little of that emotion was revealed within the Grand Master's impassive features. After reasoning failed, Bail resorted to blackmail, if Obi-Wan didn't take a break, neither would he. A politician's tool, the Jedi had called it, but one that worked nonetheless.

So Bail returned to his residence Cantham House, retrieved some belongings, warned his wife to expect him, and requisitioned another ship to fly home. Breha had left a light burning in the window, and welcomed her shamefully neglectful husband home with open arms. The lightning visit did not last long enough, but then no lightning visit of any length would qualify as enough where his wife was concerned. Yet he cherished that time spent in the comfort of her arms, as he always did, and the memory of her sultry voice would sustain him until the next lightning visit was granted.

On one thing he had to disappoint her. Breha insisted that while he was there it would be good to visit the fertility expert his scientist friend Tryn Netzl recommended. The physician had been amenable to them trying again, but Bail feared that Breha's concerns for him while he was away from Alderaan, and the stress caused by her duties to govern Alderaan in his absence might cause the pregnancy to fail once more. Breha was saddened by his reluctance, but in the end she conceded that the delay might give her body time to recover from the last miscarriage she suffered, before he left for Pais peace conference.

Who knew when he would have time to return home for such an extended period. Bail hoped that with the peace treaty between the Republic and the Separatists, such a luxury would be granted him and his colleagues soon. He was not the only one who had relatives waiting for him away from the Jewel of the Core Worlds. It was an optimistic hope considering the troubles which had occurred before the peace treaty perhaps, but one which he harboured nonetheless.

Approaching the crowded traffic lanes of the capital, Bail accessed the HoloNet news feeds, letting the audio review transmit while his eyes remained focused on his flight path to Cantham House. Raised brows graced his features as news of the Jedi Order's reforms were announced. Obi-Wan had not informed him of that, but then his friend had been careful about what he revealed to him, and Bail respected his privacy. The news was unexpected to say the least. For Order to decide to perform a volte-face on attachment, something extreme must have occurred.

Immediately a possibility presented itself to him, one he found hard to dismiss out of hand. When he was on Pais he remembered their lingering looks, the body language which betrayed to his mind the attraction that lay between them. He had not thought they would succumb to such feelings. But perhaps Obi-Wan's position in the Order granted him the liberty to argue for the reform. Since Geonosis the names of the Order's most ablest knights and masters had become public knowledge, and it was quickly realised by most who were acquainted with the Jedi Council that Master Kenobi was a protégé of the Grand Master. While attending the peace conference, Bail heard rumours to the effect concerning the likelihood of Obi-Wan ascending to a seat within that body upon his return to the Core.

He did not doubt that Obi-Wan deserved such an honour, nor the hand of Padmé. But he was surprised, given how discreet they had been in his company enroute from Zigoola and on Pais. In fact what he witnessed caused him to wonder if they were even aware of each other's feelings. Yet he could not think of another reason as to why the Order would advance such a series of reforms. There was already a married Council member within the order, Master Ki-Adi-Mundi, granted an exemption from the Code because his species suffered from low birth rates. Obi-Wan, as far as Bail was aware, could not claim such an exemption, so it would make sense that he would use his skills as a negotiator to argue for the reforms to apply to the entire Order. But still, it seemed somewhat out of character, considering what Bail knew of him.

Arriving at the suspended docking bay which had been cleared and secured for his arrival, he roused himself from his thoughts and engaged the landing procedure. Exiting the ship, he climbed aboard the waiting airspeeder and climbed the skies once more.
The traffic lanes thinned as he arrived in the district which contained his apartment. Like many of his colleagues Bail resided in the luxurious building known as Five Hundred Republica. Cantham House was not far from Padmé's or Palpatine's penthouses. He responded to the security requests, slowing his airspeeder down as he passed through each checkpoint until he reached the landing bay outside his home from home.

Only when he powered down the airspeeder and exited the vehicle to stand upon the balcony entrance did he realise something was not right. There was a soft candlelit glow to his apartment which he did not recall leaving on when he left for Alderaan.
Slipping his hand into a pocket, Bail withdrew his blaster and cautiously entered his apartment. Taking care not to disturb his surroundings, he forced his eyes to adjust to the lighting, glancing around to make sure he took note of everything.

Nothing within the living area appeared to be wrong, save for the soft lighting effect which graced the furnishings. Nevertheless Bail could not afford to let down his guard until he searched the rest of Cantham House. Still cautious, his investigation penetrated the dining area, where another difference caught his eyes. All the trappings of a meal for two were laid upon the table, together with the appearance that two had partaken of the delights which graced its surface. Had a member of his staff, knowing his master would be absence off planet for sometime, been using the apartment as a base for their romantic assignations? It was a reasonable supposition, but Bail trusted his staff and knew that not one would betray his trust in such a fashion.

Eventually he reached the bedroom area of Cantham House, where further sights served to rouse his concerns. An assortment of linens, edible delicacies and liquid intoxicant littered the floor and furnishings, causing him to take even further care as to where he trod. Still the apartment appeared deserted, causing him to wonder about the whereabouts of his staff, for not all of them were granted leave whilst he was away on Alderaan. Inside his mind the voice of his caution began to make war with his desire to continue the investigation, debating the wisdom of abandoning the apartment in favour of his Senate office, where surveillance records would reveal the rest of the damage without risk to himself.

But the adventure in search of and upon the Sith planet Zigoola encouraged him to proceed. A reckless manoeuvre perhaps, but one he was committed to, for to turn back might as easily put him at risk just as much as further investigation could.

In contrast to everywhere else within the penthouse, the principal bedroom was fully lit, causing Bail to hesitate upon the threshold, for he was concerned as to whether or not the intruders would still be present. For an seemingly endless minute he stood at the door, holding his breath, listening for the slightest sound which might betray the offender. Silence was all he received in reply.

Highly alarmed, Bail abandoned his post and entered the room. The sight which met his eyes took complete hold of him, shocking every facet of his senses. If an intruder had been concealed in some as yet unchecked part of the apartment, not only would they have escaped his notice now, but they could have also accomplished to do what Zigoola failed. The Senator from Alderaan was insensible to anything but the hideous sight before him.

During his search for the Sith planet he had become acquainted with death and the violent way in which conflict often dealt with it. While the experience rendered him no stranger to such sights, they failed to inure him to them. In some ways the one which greeted him now was worse, for the contrast between it and the Alderaanian decor was vast. As his senses slowly returned to him, Bail's horror only increased.

For, once, he had known woman now sprawled inelegantly across his bed. Known her intimately. To see her again, so suddenly after many years, her beauty drowned in blood sickened him. Her lifeless eyes prevented him from rushing to her side, a caution he would do well to err within, he realised, as he remembered the source which lay behind their past nocturnal encounters.

Wrenching his gaze away from her, he searched for that device. Such a course of action did not take him long, and its location was another source of concern to him. Clearly the author of this foul deed meant for it to be found, and the implications troubled him, for it spoke of a danger not just to himself, but to the Republic.

It was with that in mind which decided his next move. Exercising the same caution he had used from the moment he entered, Bail withdrew from the room and checked the rest of his apartment. Only when he was satisfied as to it being empty did he seek assistance. However, a part of him remained within that room, contemplating the fate of the woman sprawled inelegantly across his bed.

Wondering how she came to be thus, and who could have lured her there.

She was a beautiful woman. No one who had encountered her before was insensible of such. Intelligent and successful, aware and unaware of her assets, a paradoxical but intoxicating combination which only enhanced what she was blessed to possess. Wealth and power finished her character but did not consume it. Many were lured by her siren quality but few were granted the privilege of real intimacy.

As a finance director of Aldera Investments her portfolio was sound and prosperous, her acquaintance wide-ranging, her stock secure. This garnered her quite a reputation within the Senate and the Courts, as well as the business district of the Core and a certain if some what loose protection from the vagaries of the press. In reply she respected their discretion, knowing that it would behove her to do otherwise, for such actions could cost her everything.

For like many other beings who lived most of their lives on Coruscant, she was prey to a certain vice, one which she used frequently. Gloriously independent, she had yet to find, or even possess the inclination to do so, a partner in life, and for the moment preferred the transitory nocturnal encounters which this vice provided. For her it bestowed all the benefits of intimacy without intricacy; allowing her a flexibility she believed marriage would not. It was a lifestyle she knew would be frowned upon by the hypocritical holonews workers, but only if she exposed her actions publicly. As long as she was discreet, no one cared to observe.

On this particular night she received an unexpected call. Though the device did everything to disguise the voice, once the location for the evening was relayed, no deceptions could exist. She was more than surprised, she was shocked. That he of all beings should request for her now. He was once a member true, but it was widely known that since his marriage he had given up the group. Nor was he the kind of man who would cuckold his wife. No one who had seen the couple together could doubt their affection. Yet there was no denying the location she had been called to. Of course she could refuse, but the mystery would continue to haunt her, and perhaps if she went, she would be able to prevent the night from conquering that level of intimacy.

Resolving to go did not deter her from doing everything she could to avoid going. A late business meeting or the chance encounter with a friend or acquaintance would suffice. It could not be anything more, there had to be a plausible motive, and one which he would hear of and understand. Doubtless he would see the reasoning behind her avoidance, and rethink his plan to have her for a night.

Yet all her hopes were for naught, for the hours passed and nothing arose to prevent the encounter from coming to pass. Returning to her apartment after work she dressed for the evening, in a gown suitable for the occasion but in no way similar to those which were her usual preference for nights such as these. He had seen her in such before, he would fathom at her motives and come to understand. If not, then she had vastly underestimated his character.

There was nothing untoward about the day or the prospect of what was likely to come during the evening which could cause her unease. No omens coloured her thoughts with spectres of a foreboding nature. Nor did she possess the gifts which some beings do that would enable her to sense the possibility from the divining of the Force. In short, she was completely unprepared for the events which occurred that night.

An accomplished pilot, she drove her own airspeeder to the district in which Five Hundred Republica was situated. Her apartment was not far, but those who lived on Coruscant rarely walked during journeys that could be traversed more easily in vehicle sky lanes above. Parking the airspeeder in an area which was not canvassed by the surveillance systems, she exited the vehicle and entered the building, heading for the turbolifts where she keyed in access for the penthouse level.

Even the solitude which she found upon that level did not disturb her. She was well aware of the fact that few beings lived upon this floor, and their apartments were not suitable for children or large households. Also, they were discreet, considerate and hard working people whom would not even notice her arrival, let alone her departure.

Cantham House was softly lit, but no attendant was there to greet her arrival. This was not unexpected, on such nights as these a depth of discretion was employed, but she had hoped to be greeted by her host.

Alarm gradually began to stir within her as she continued further into the apartment and found the place devoid of beings. Her concern only deepened as she remembered that he was off planet on leave and was not expected back for some time. It was a piece of information which had not been bandied about, for it would not do to convey the impression that he was neglectful of his duties to his people and the Republic.

If only she had withdrawn from the apartment upon the instant of remembering that. She would have escaped the terrible fate which awaited her. Or perhaps she would have been able to fend off the unseen attack. But a disturbance attracted her attention, and curious as to who would dare to reside in Cantham House while the Senator was absent, she ventured further into the penthouse.

This emotion only deepened as her keen eyes caught sight of the dining table, the meal that was displayed there, garnishing the finest china and graced by the choicest of beverages. Unable to resist she stepped forward and sampled a few of the delicacies, pleased and emboldened to discover that some were known to him as her favourites. Surely she must have been mistaken in thinking he was off planet. Perhaps he had returned to surprise her. Flattered by the attention, she no longer questioned his motives, or suspected him of inviting her because of their previous intimacy in expectation of further entanglements. He was conscientious to a fault at times; this level of care and discretion could merely due to a desire to discuss something he wished kept from official channels for now.

Only when the disturbance repeated itself did she look up from the dinner to investigate the apartment further. It was a short walk from dining area to the bedrooms, and now she observed a bright light leaking through the partially closed door of the principal one. No longer alarmed, her caution was conquered by her curiosity as she moved towards the luminous shadow.

Pushing the door back, her astonishment at the sight which met her eyes carried her over the threshold. Blood red Alderaanian rose petals lay scattered across an unmade bed. The room was brightly lit, lending a incongruous slant to this seeming romance. Her alarm returned at the strange, ominous sight, even though she neglected her caution in order to venture towards the bed and retrieve one of the petals for inspection.

The delicate fragrance barely reached her senses when her breath was stolen from her. In terror her hands attempted to go to her throat in order to fend for her release, but something prevented them. Paralysed by the unseen grasp of her attacker, there was little she could do to defend herself.

She was aware of little after that. Vaguely she felt the sensation of falling upon that bed, crushing the rose petals beneath her, their shade giving a colour to the future which awaited her. All too soon her breath and other senses were stolen from her, one by one, until the last candle of life within her was silently extinguished.

This was not like before. Of course that situation was entirely different, and there was no reason to expect any similarity, save except for the emotions which such an act would necessarily cause. However, though anger, rage and the excitement and desire which accompanies those emotions were present, they appeared uttered different in comparison to the last time when such feelings were felt. It was not realised yet of course that there was a reason why there was a difference. One act had been committed in vengeance, a rage all consuming and inconsiderate, rapidly succumbed to and not so easily conquered. Another acted out of cold blood, with much preparation before hand. Disciplined, cautioned and tempered, by one who is no longer a rank amateur; but a master at such atrocity.

Such a promotion was not achieved without some assistance, although murder does not demand an apprenticeship or an accomplice. However, those were imperative in this case for the act was to be carried out within surroundings unfamiliar, upon a person hitherto unknown. These circumstances were not unusual, yet it cannot be denied that they appeared so to the murderer, for this was their first foray into them. No longer were they an independent power, with free gratis in the taking of a life. Instead a humble - actually, no, never that - servant, submitting to a higher authority, killing who and when ordered to. Such a position was never to their liking. All their lives they had been subservient in one form or another, to beings less deserving than themselves and now to bow once more when they had just earned their freedom; it was mortifying.

But they could not do without that authority. Like it or not, the power protected them, allowed them to take their full pleasure without the risk or fear of getting caught. Indulged their proclivities, provided the means to obtain them whenever they desired. By granting such they were given a freedom hitherto unknown before as well; to live a life beyond society's constraints, the rules that governed the civilisation in which they lived. And the return was just as great; no remonstrance, no guilt, only the reward they were truly due.

The first act in this scheme required many obstacles to overcome, entailed a number of difficulties and risks. Access to Five Hundred Republica, the most exclusive of apartment districts on Coruscant; it was a privilege granted by ownership and favour, not easily obtained but all too swiftly lost. Unseen arrival and exit to one of the penthouse apartments was also required, a task equally dangerous. An airspeeder could not be used, such a vehicle would be noticed by the roving holo reporters and the building's surveillance systems. Therefore a more elaborate means of transportation was used; one requiring just as much dexterity, though considerably less automotive control.

At first the twisted cord floundered their ego, reminding them of their mortality, the sheer drop which awaited their first slip, into the dark depths of Coruscant's city limits. Without their training, or the prospect of what lay ahead if one accomplished this goal, it was doubtful that they would have succeeded in their task. Perhaps it was just as well that their stubborn nature knew no bounds. Still a part of them could not help but wonder at what would happen if they did fall, how their fate might be regarded, what their motive was in being found at this luxurious locale. Their death would disappoint a thousand hopes and dreams that none had yet to realise would never be accomplished, even now. A different, easier path was presented to them long ago.

Soon they reached their desired destination and quietly released their grip of the rope to leap to the floor of the balcony entrance. Landing quietly on the marbled floor, they treaded swiftly but softly towards the interior. In their caution there was no need to concern themselves with the possibility of disturbance, for the apartment was deserted, its current custodian at present on shore leave upon his native planet, his household staff occupied upon a contrived matter at his office. Yet it would do well to make sure that the apartment appeared to remain empty until the arrival of the intended victim this evening, else some other unexpected visitor might attempt to intrude and thus intervene within the affair.

Having established themselves within Cantham House, they now set about preparing the place for the expected unsuspecting visitor this evening. Drapes were drawn about the many windows, partially shielding the view of Coruscant's city lights, veiling too their murderous intrusion and intent. The dining table was laid, a meal of sophistication prepared and then laid upon it, graced by the best dinner service, a wine of appropriate vintage poured to air at a suitable hour. When the time of victim's arrival approached, the lighting system was set to its most romantic setting, while they retreated to the bedroom, where another atmosphere was to be arranged.

It was vital that the appearance of the bedroom was a contrast from the dining area. Though Alderaanian blood red rose petals were to be scattered across the bed linen, the lights would be at their maximum setting. This would present a challenge as to where they would conceal themselves, but a solution soon presented itself, in the form of the door opening at an angle sufficient to all themselves to hide behind it when opened.

Lying in wait here put them at a disadvantage; it was some distance to the entrance, they would not be able to hear the arrival of their expected, unsuspecting visitor. But they held within them other gifts which would compensate for that obstacle. With these they would be able to distinguish between a mere sound of a settling building adjusting to changes in heat and populous and one of more purposeful intent.

Patience had never been their strongest suit, yet tonight it was a skill to be practised, as the minutes seemed to slow down in their passing to complete each hour. No chronological guide could assure them otherwise; the lights of Coruscant concealed the natural night lights, and no other aid existed within sight. So they honed their weakness, all the while inwardly despairing that the scheme would ever come to fruition. And just when it seemed all their plans, hopes and skills were in vain, their unsuspecting victim came.

She wondered cautiously into the apartment, her senses on alert, and they pondered the possibility for a moment that she knew of their unlawful presence and dark intent. But her feet instead of retreating, only ventured further inside, causing them to feel relief. In their mind's eye they could see her wonder at the setting of the apartment, the surrender to sample the tempting dinner laid out on the dinning table. Her curiosity about the bright shadow of light leaking out from under the door of the principal bedroom.

Poised to strike, they waited for her to investigate, to push aside the door and enter the room. So close were they, that her breath was felt on their skin, her gasp of surprise audible and distinct. She ventured further into the room, coming to a halt at the foot of the bed, her hand reaching out to caress one of the blood red petals to see if it was real.

They waited until her hands were occupied, whereupon they thrust themselves out of their hiding place, their gifted grip around her throat and arms, restraining them. With the aid of the transparisteel they watched her horrified face struggle for air, for release, for the ability to defend herself, all in vain. Enjoying their power over her, the slow withdrawal into the cradling embrace of death.

Before she fell amongst the petals and linen, they used their gift to strip the gown from her body, admiring her generous assets which the light could do nothing to hide from his vicious gaze. Releasing her, they let her fall upon the bed, while they searched amongst her things for the one device which would put the finishing touch to this display. A small but intricately formed piece of technology, as gold as the colour of her hair. Lifting it from her belongings, they advanced towards the bed and placed the device in her hands.

With one backward glance at the destruction which they had wrought, they left the way they had came.

Obi-Wan received the call in the grey hours of early morning, a time when all Jedi, including those privileged enough to serve on the Council, should be safely asleep, or perhaps seeking communion with the Force. Bleary eyed from a long day spent studying the surveillance logs which recorded the activity going on in the office of the Supreme Chancellor, in an effort to determine whose eyes he had been staring through during his search for the Sith lord, it took him a minute or two to identify the source of the rather urgent beeping sound which originated from his com panel.

With a groan he rose up from his bed, resting his arms on his bent knees to support his still half asleep body, as he used the Force to enhance his sight, his sea coloured eyes staring at the small screen. A feeling of puzzlement swept into his mind when he identified the identity of the caller, causing him to rise, grabbing his cloak to wrap around himself for the sake of decency, before he made his way over to the desk.

"Hello there," he uttered after pressing the receive button, "I thought you weren't due back for another week or so."

"Things changed," the caller replied grimly, causing the Jedi to sit up and take note of the rather worried tone. "Look, can you come over?"

"Now?" Obi-Wan frowned. "Bail, what's wrong?"

"Something I'd rather not discuss across comways," the Alderaanian Senator answered grimly, half glancing behind him as if he feared being seen.

"I'll be over as soon as I can," Obi-Wan assured him, before turning the com off and rising from his chair to change. For some reason best known to himself he chose to forego his desert robes in favour of some civilian clothing, usually reserved for undercover assignments. Jedi robes tended to attract more attention than the Order desired these days, thus it was sometimes useful to go incognito.

He arrived at Cantham House to find that two of Senator Organa's aides had been posted outside the entrance, another unusual occurrence at this early hour. They noted his arrival, evidently having been told to expect him, and spoke into their ear coms to alert the Senator within before letting him inside.

Obi-Wan wandered through the empty splendour of the reception rooms into the private area of the residence, taking care to note the state of the penthouse house apartment. Nothing escaped his eyes; not the lighting or the remains of the dinner laid out upon the dining table. Closer inspection revealed how little that meal had been disturbed, though the quality of the dishes appeared delicious, however they were now spoiled from neglect.

Leaving the dining area behind, he encountered the Senator from Alderaan waiting for him by the threshold to the principal bedroom suite.

"I'm going to need your discretion on this one, my friend," Bail remarked. "This matter must not go before the Council," he stressed, before letting him inside.

What stopped the Jedi Master from asking why was the body lying across the spoilt sheets of the bed. Obi-Wan came to a halt beside this piece of furniture and studied the warm corpse; a beautiful, blond woman, late twenties to mid thirties, wearing nothing, her assets caressed by the linen sheets and the scattered petals of blood red Alderaanian roses. Around her neck were the discoloration marks typically associated with strangulation, though the bruising appeared oddly arranged for fingers to have been the cause.

Carefully he reached out and touched the skin briefly with the back of his hand. The warmth which still emanated from her indicated that she had not been dead long, no more than an standard hour at most. Obi-Wan turned to his friend. "You found her like this?"

Bail nodded from his place by the open door. "When I came home, the place was still locked, no sign of forced entry, nothing on the surveillance holos."

"Do you recognise her?" Obi-Wan asked him.

Silently and almost reluctantly, his friend nodded once more. "This is where things get complicated. Her name is Aline Kavaria, she worked at the Aldera Investment Bank in the Financial district." He raised his hand and pointed to something on the bed, clutched in the woman's hand. "That is how I met her."

Obi-Wan turned in the direction of his friend's gesture, his gaze landing on a small com device nestled in the woman's lifeless palm. He knelt to study it more closely, taking in the small, intricate markings until their meaning was defined, whereupon he rose to his full height, and stared at the Senator with a raised eyebrow.

Bail held up his hands. "I'm no longer a member, I swear. I gave up when I met Breha." He watched the Jedi Master acknowledge the reply for the truth it was, then his own eyebrows began to rise as he interpreted the meaning of the silence. "You aren't..... are you?"

"No," Obi-Wan replied. "But it is both the best and worst kept secret on Coruscant." He glanced back at the bed. "Although," he added soberly, "that could be about to change."

"That's why I called you," Bail remarked. "It can't. The List has to remain a secret, Obi-Wan, not just for the good of the Senate, but for the good of the Republic. If a scandal such as this was made news, no one in the Senate would be allowed to keep their office unless they could prove that they have never belonged to the List; along with those in the financial, business, law and health districts. Which would prove an impossible feat for all concerned, even those who are utterly nonnescient of its existence."

For a moment Obi-Wan looked as if he was about to object, but then he realised Bail was right. Once those who belonged to the List were outed, anyone caught in a holo with them in a hotel or restaurant, would be rendered guilty by association. Everyone would lose, not just those who were corrupt and deserved to do so, but beings like his friends; Garen, Bail Organa and Padmé Amidala, who faithfully served the Republic ahead of their own desires.

"What do you suggest?" He asked.

Bail looked at him nervously. "An undercover operative joins the List to find out whoever did this."

"You mean me," Obi-Wan deduced.

"The List is designed so no one member knows every number," Bail explained. "I can give you my old com from the days when I belonged, as well as hers, but it could be anyone of them, or none at all. And you're a Jedi."

"The Force cannot detect murderers," Obi-Wan argued.

"It can tell when someone is lying," Bail countered. "You know how much damage this could do to the Republic. It may very well accomplish what Geonosis failed to. Someone is using the List not just to murder, but to destroy all the good we have worked so hard for." The Senator paused before adding one final caveat. "You are the only one I can trust."

After those words, silence fell across the room, appearing to cloak everything in the intrigue and secrecy attached to this notorious group. Obi-Wan's gaze switched back and forth between his friend and the dead woman lying on the bed. He already knew what his answer would be, but he also knew the consequences behind it.

The List once held a reputation within the Jedi as the loophole in the attachment restrictions laid on each member, now recently reformed, but he knew that there were some who still used the group. Despite his relationship with Qui-Gon and later Anakin leading him towards such loose interpretation of the Code, he still preferred when he could to follow it above and beyond what the Order demanded of him, especially since his elevation to the Council. To his heightened sense of morality this was a dirty assignment.

But Bail was right. There was no one else he could trust.

Chapter Text

Part 30: An Angel From the Moons of Iego.

Padmé could not refrain from flinching as she read over the latest progress report from her lawyers. The next round of negotiations required her to attend meetings with them and those Anakin may have hired, not to mention Anakin himself. These would be difficult to arrange, but not impossible. She shuddered at the thought of seeing her husband again.

Since escorting Bail and Obi-Wan home from Zigoola she had resumed her duties as Senator with more fervour than ever, scarcely allowing for anything else to capture her attention. Throwing herself into work to heal the injuries to her heart, mind and body may not be the best solution, but at present it was one of the few she was willing to entertain. She could not face going home, reluctant to face the kindness of her family, unsure that they would remain insensible of the grief which lay upon her heart. Her sister and her parents were ignorant of her marriage, and she had no wish to inform them of her current misery caused by it, for their kind words and comfort would only deepen the inner torment she felt.

Obi-Wan was another she had not seen since she escorted him and Bail home to Coruscant from Zigoola. She learned of his convalescence at the Temple, unsurprising considering the injuries she observed despite all his efforts to conceal them. However she had learned that he was returned to duty, promoted to the Council. She was pleased and proud, knowing he deserved such a reward, though he was too humble to realise it. But she could not face calling him or seeking him out to offer her congratulations. Her guilt over her actions, over what Anakin had done, was too fresh, too deep. The bruise still visible, though hidden under bacta, the memory still haunting.

Artoo watched her as she peeled back the synthetic skin to survey the condition of the bruising. Another bodyguard she had acquired, his attendance was more devoted and dedicated than her security detail, which she had thought previously to be impossible. Not for a moment had he let her out of his sight, attending every senate and committee meeting. He and Threepio had quite a discussion when she first discovered that Captain Typho had managed to retrieve him from the Temple, one which caused the golden protocol droid a lot of shock and consternation. From that moment Threepio only left the apartment when Padmé required him for translation, otherwise he greeted her when she returned and reported to her security if anyone had called or visited in her absence.

The stocky domed droid emitted a mournful tone as she pressed her hands to the bruising, testing how each part responded to pressure, taking a deep breath when the touch caused her pain. Slowly but surely the injury was healing, and the med droid who checked her over assured her that there was no internal damage. Reaching into the medical cabinet before and above her, she rummaged around the supplies within for another of the bacta patches, as her bruising required a fresh one. Instead her hand touched something small and compact. Puzzled she pulled the thing out to examine it further.

Only the when the device was in her hands did she recognise it. Small, and seemingly insignificant, the little gold communicator lay nestled in her palm. It appeared harmless to Artoo, certainly nothing which should render his mistress an alarmed expression. Never the less, that was what her face acquired, causing the droid to roll over and extend his grip to retrieve and the examine the device himself.

"No, Artoo," Padmé closed her fingers over the device. "Its fine. Nothing for you to worry about, I promise."

She had completely forgotten that she had hidden the thing in the medical cabinet. Jedi used the Force for healing, rendering the cupboard one of the few places which Anakin was unlikely to investigate, not that he had any idea that she owned the device anyway. Or knew what it was if he did ever lay his hands on it.

Opening her fingers again, she studied the small golden communicator, her mind silently recalling the first time she had been handed the device. It was after a long, boring committee meeting, she and Bail were alone in a conference room, gathering flimsi and pads together, venting their exasperation concerning some of their less than noble colleagues. Both of them were tired, yet restless too, which made Bail suggest they should take up a sport or some other hobby with which to while away the night. Although she was fond of sports Padmé found the artificial atmosphere of Coruscant uncomfortable so preferred to enjoy that sort of past time at home. It was when she refused that Bail had first tossed her this device. Catching it one handed, she had studied the thing, then looked up to meet the Alderaanian Senator's slightly sheepish expression.

When she asked what it was, and received a shocking answer in reply, all manner of wild thoughts passed through her mind. She knew Bail quite well by then, or at least she thought she did, and for him to offer her this as an amusement was very provocative. For a moment the possibility of his being interested in her crossed her mind, and he must have seen it done so, for he blushed before denying the implication. He hadn't indulged since his marriage apparently, but he did sponsor initiates, to which she raised another eyebrow, as she wondered what exactly the sponsorship entailed. After another blush, he assured that it merely encompassed an introduction of the rules, plus the gifting of a com device with the all the numbers of all the members, plus her own created and released into the group.

If it had been any other night, she probably would have refused him. But restless and anxious for something to occupy her, joining the List was too tempting to deny. Bail selected a number for her, belonging to someone who was a complete gentleman, he assured her. As it turned out, he had impeccable taste in men. Her date was talk, dark and handsome, witty, clever and an excellent lover. With him to warm her bed, her first foray into the List could not have gone better. From that moment on, she indulged in the delights of this exclusive and luxurious clique, relying on Bail's recommendations for a time before becoming bold enough to try on her own.

Until the troubles began, the attempts on her life and the Military Creation Act, whereupon her security insisted she give up the encounters for awhile, as they could not guarantee that someone would not use it to cause her death. Until she met Anakin and Obi-Wan again, and fell in love with the former, before realising how deeply she cared for the latter. Since then the com device had remained in the pocket of one of her dresses, then hidden in the medicine cabinet when she returned from Varykino, and realised that she was still carrying it in her dress pocket. Now it rested in her hand, like a token of a former life, one in which she barely recognised herself. Where had that self-assured and daring libertine gone? Anakin may be the Chosen One but he could not take that away from her through his punches and choke hold. He did not have the right to do so.

Rebelliously Padmé turned the device on, her dark eyed gaze scanning through the scrolling list of numbers until she found the first one, the one that Bail recommended. For a moment her finger lay poised over the small touch screen dial button, her nerves threatening to get the better of her, until she furiously forced the digit down. Putting the device before her mouth, she waited for the talk, dark, handsome, witty, clever and excellent lover to pick up.

"Hello?" the disembodied voice conveyed nothing of his character, but she had an excellent memory, and the numbers never changed.

"Are you free tonight?" Her query was a whisper that she could have slapped herself for, it sounded so scared and anxious. Fortunately the coded modifier conveyed no display of such emotions to the receiver.

"I am," the voice replied, sensing nothing of her inner turmoil, quietly eager at the prospective delights of the night to come. "When, where?"

"Eight. The Corellian Grand." It was a superb hotel, located in the business district of Coruscant, the furnishings luxurious but understated, the rooms magnificent in splendour, the food delicious, the staff discreet and the service impeccable.

"I'll see you at eight," he replied before ending the call.

Padmé stood staring at the com device, wondering if she had just made a big mistake.

"Do we need to continue with the restraining injunction?"

From her side of the table Padmé shivered, glancing at her soon to be ex-husband as she did so, hoping the motion had escaped his notice. The lawyer he had found was a supercilious article, who delivered his inquiry in a patronising tone, as though no one else in the room possessed the intelligence to comprehend what he was talking about.

"I think that would be wise, don't you?" her own lawyer countered, his tone quiet, but far more deadly. He was a self-contained, reserved, elegant fellow, seated casually beside her, legs crossed, his hands holding the papers he was studying with a narrow gold edged, half-rimmed pince-nez covered gaze. In many ways he was the perfect foil for his opponent, delivering a far more convincing careless attitude.

Across from her, Anakin glowered, incensed by their arrogance. While in every meeting their lawyers silently contested the battle of wills, he was the first to lose his temper. He continued to allow them to rile him up, to make him feel as if he were the slave boy from Tatooine once more. Padmé could see in his face every time. If she loved him still she might have pitied his insecurity, but now it only made her feel ashamed that she ever felt something for him in the first place. She recalled now her avowal of love to him on Geonosis in the light she should have judged it, as a warning to step away from the precipice, instead of walking forward to fall off the edge, crashing into darkness. Love should not make you feel like you were dying, it should make you feel all the more alive.

What a contrast to the man she dined with last night. Slightly older than her, his career established, his manner confidently assured, but never arrogant. He had charmed her effortlessly into a good mood, given her ease and compliments, good food and wine, as well as intelligent conversation. Arriving at the hotel she had been so nervous of what she had done, that she almost turned round for home. Even the knowledge that her security were still keeping a close attendance upon her did nothing to ease her concerns.

Then her date had arrived, and swept her into an intimate dinner in one of the Grand's finest suites. According to the rules of the List the onus was upon her to book and pay for the room, but in her impulsiveness and doubtfulness she had forgotten, something he never mentioned. Even though she never said a word he seemed to realise that a dark matter was troubling her, and quietly deferential, his gallant attitude throughout the night served to bring her ease, confidence, and, for awhile, forgetfulness.

Such character traits led her only so far. Caught up within the fine food and drink, the intelligent, witty conversation, it almost slipped her mind what event which an evening such as this would usually conclude with. After desert, he rose from his chair and took her into his arms for a waltz, allowing the gentle strains of the background music to begin the tune of another dance upon their bodies.

His lips were soft upon her neck, his first touching caress was tenderness itself. But when the moment came of fingering a fastening in her dress, she froze, all her ease forgotten. An overwhelming feeling of panic gripped her, she felt as though Anakin was there in the room, watching her, holding her, ripping the dress from her body, about to ignore her refusal and demand his rights as her husband to devour her flesh and take her to his bed.

Her date must have seen the panic on her face, for he withdrew, offering apologies, pouring the onus of blame upon himself, when in truth it was her who was at fault. Wiping tears from her face, he listened as she haltingly gave a flimsy excuse, one nowhere near the truth and insisted that they continued. But the meaning of her stance was clear; the evening was over. He kissed her gently, offered his hope that she would be well soon, then bade her farewell. She could not have asked for a better understanding from him, but nonetheless she was ashamed of herself for quailing at the last. Alone she had been determined that Anakin would not make her a frightened woman. Yet inspite of all her determination, he was succeeding.

Now he sat stonily opposite her while their lawyers continued to negotiate the dissolution of their marriage. In many ways he was still the boy she first knew ten years ago, only with none of the slave child's pleasing looks and innocent manners. A part of her pondered where that boy had gone, why he disappeared, and how they had come to this in such a short passage of time.

"The injunction is pointless," Anakin interrupted the lawyers, who had long since moved on to other matters while he was still brooding over this one piece of legality. "Her security doesn't let me come anywhere near her."

"Is it any wonder considering the degree of damage you inflicted?" her lawyer remarked, his tone full of disdain, both for the interruption and the man, not to mention the injury which he had inflicted on his client.

"That's not the point!" Anakin thundered back. "She is my wife!"

To his credit her lawyer didn't even flinch at the force with which these words were delivered across the conference table. "In a matter of months that will no longer be the case. Such an injunction, my good fellow, is there not just to serve as a reminder to you, but as a justification of why we are bringing this suit in the first place. It will last as long as you continue to create a fuss. Civility costs nothing."

"It costs me her," Anakin muttered stonily.

"You will lose her no matter what degree of fuss you make," her lawyer replied. "The truth of the matter is that you lost her a long time ago, my dear boy."

Padmé could see Anakin's anger rising, the term of address her lawyer was using served only to aggravate his straining temper. His flesh fingers began to form a fist, the air crackling with the power of that which bound everything within the universe together. But before the object of his anger was affected, Artoo darted forward with his charger, zapping the palm apart. Anakin recoiled in shock, glaring at the droid who regarded him belligerently, silently daring his former master to call him out, for he was more than eager for such a challenge.

Beside her lawyer merely raised his eyebrows, such displays of temper were beneath him and considered not worth his notice. "The injunction stays. What's next?"

One failed encounter with the List did not cause Padmé to abandon her membership. If anything her stubborn determination not to let what Anakin had done to conquer her once confident and sensuous nature made her use the little golden com device nearly every night.

The theory filled her with a strange sort of contentment; sober politicking during the day, sensuous pleasure during the night. A cadre of successful, highly intelligent, attractive and uninhibited men, without any concerns in showing her exactly how much they wanted from her, and what they were willing to give in return. In practice however, surrendering to that sensuous pleasure required a courage which was beyond her. After the first frantic desire to conquer her fears appeared in order to conceal the initial awkwardness on her part, the memories of past nights under Anakin returned and with them her confidence to be just as uninhibited, desirous and giving, disappeared.

She kept to the old numbers that she used before, hoping they would restore her fractured self-esteem, recollect that she was beautiful, allow herself to feel what it was like to be desired and to take and receive such decadent ecstasy. But no matter how gentle the guys were, how slow or how fast they started to seduce her, foreplay was as far as any of them got. They were generous with her, almost far too understanding, though she more than appreciated their ability to shrug off her refusal and leave, kindly paying the bill of the room. But even during those brief moments when she was able to forget her fears, when nothing but conversation, food and wine occupied her mind, she realised the sheer contrast between them and her soon to be ex-husband. Marriage paled in comparison, as she realised the true extent of failure within her union with Anakin; his selfishness through everything, and her own failings for forming the union in the first place.

They had barely given their marriage a chance, entering it out of a fit of pique in response to the Order's once rigid code constraints. Marriage had been the solution to the Order's threat of tearing them apart; by allying themselves in a holy union, there was nothing the Jedi could do to deny their love. Duty had called them back to the Republic, sweeping her off to peace negotiations, parting them before they had any time to become acquainted with living with each other, or adjusting to living a secret life, nor to the domestic realities of their actions. It would have been better if they had just formed a more intimate relationship, without the intricacies which marriage demanded, using each other until they were tired of it before moving on to someone else.

Instead this divorce was ruining not just their friendship, but the respect, admiration, pride, in short everything she had once felt for him. And it was damaging him as well, destroying what little progress he had made in controlling his temper, his rigorous self-discipline from Jedi training. Obi-Wan had warned her about this, when they were arguing right before she left for Naboo with his apprentice. 'Better a small cruelty now, than a crushing devastation later,' he had said in urging her to give him up. In reply she had said that he would never forgive her, to which he merely asked her if she could forgive herself if loving her destroyed him.

'I'd die,' she had said in response to that, and in a sense, she had. A part of her, that which was reckless, impulsive, courageous, self-assured, in short, all that had made her first Queen then Senator, was dead. In return, she had destroyed him, not entirely, but the effect was threatening, in light of the injury he visited on her, the frequent losses of temper. She wondered if it was affecting him at the Temple, if the Order had noticed the destruction their alliance had wrought upon him. Only now did she begin to comprehend what she had done; she had destroyed the Chosen One. In her guilt she did not take into account that he was responsible for his own actions, for the darkness he committed on Tatooine before their marriage or relationship was even begun. For that he had realised was not worthy of a Jedi, whereas in injuring her he had felt no such compunction.

Chapter Text

Part 31: The Hermit of Serenno

Obi-Wan opened the door of suite 515 of the Aldera Ritz to find almost the same sight which confronted him in Cantham House. The Aldera Ritz was a respected, luxurious hotel, located near the Manarai Mountains, with stunning views of that splendid landscape. Like almost all buildings on Coruscant, it was a high-rise edifice, made of a mixture of stone and transparisteel, in the style of Alderaanian architecture.

Unlike Cantham House, the hotel suite held only two rooms, an open-plan living and dining area with a small kitchen facility in one corner, and a bedroom, separated by a double door entrance. Nothing was hidden from view, the doors were left open, displaying the large bed and the naked body, nestled amongst crumpled silk sheets and blood red rose petals to his sea shaded gaze.

With a wave of his hand, he closed the door behind him, turning the key in the lock, before advancing further within. As before, the dining table held a dinner for two, which showed some evidence of being sampled, presumably by the victim before she succumbed to her fate in the bedroom. The suite was lit as before, a low, romantic setting in the living and dining area, maximum brightness within the bedroom.

He dealt the meal no more than a cursory glance, heading straight for the victim, just in case she was still alive. That hope proved to be in vain, even before he put his finger tips to her neck in quest for a pulse. Already he could see the dark purple bruising upon her, the glassy, vacant expression within her green eyes. Her skin was soft to the touch, and still warm, indicating that she had not been dead long.

Sighing in regret at the loss of life, Obi-Wan rose from his position of leaning over the bed and body to examine the rest of the suite more closely. In contrast to the murder at Cantham House, no one but the victim and the perpetrator had disturbed the crime scene, allowing for the possibility of him finding something which might shed more light on the identity of the latter. Stretching out with his senses, he used the Force to search for echoes of their presence. Every one, even those who did not possess the gift to be guided by that ancient energy, left an echo of themselves in their travels which could be used to identify them. The method for detecting such remnants was taught when one became a master, as well a way to eliminate them, though the skills for that technique were only passed on at the discretion of Master Yoda, to members of the Order who were often tasked with missions of stealth. As useful as this method was, the echoes did not last long, and were easily disturbed by others when they came to the same place.

Despite a thorough search, Obi-Wan could not detect any such echo within the suite. Nor was there evidence of the remnant being erased, or anything else which might point to the identity of the murderer. Exactly what he found at Cantham House. He was aware of his limits as an investigator, but he also knew that if there was evidence to be found, he would have done so by now. Permitting himself another sighing breath in disappointment, his hand slipped into his pocket to retrieve his comlink. He had a contact within the courts, they would handle the rest of this, as they had done with the body at Cantham House.

A medical examination was performed on Aline Kavaria, the results of which proved troubling. Cause of death; strangulation, but not through the act of person or persons unknown laying their hands around Aline's neck, tightening their grip until her life was choked from her, but from an unseen force crushing her bones from the inside out. There was only one conclusion he could draw from this; the murder was committed by someone trained in the use of the ways of the Force. This narrowed down the list of suspects, but not enough, and they were worrisome indeed. Jedi, Sith, or some new previously unknown Force-sensitive being, all in all a force to be reckoned with.

This was only the second death in his investigations, and although he had just put a call through to his contact in the courts, Obi-Wan knew the results of the examination on this victim would reveal the same findings as that on Aline Kavaria. Given the other evidence which was lying about the inert body; the blood red rose petals, no other conclusion could be drawn. And this was the fifth number on the second com device which Bail had given him, the one previously belonging to the Senator from Alderaan. Upon reflection he should be relieved that the four women before her were still alive and capable of allowing themselves to be charmed by him into wine and dinner, but nothing of the intimacy which they answered the call and agreed to the evening in prospect of.

Garen Muln may be his closest friend, not to mention so alike him in appearance that in their youth they were often mistaken for each other, but Obi-Wan never believed in indulging in all of the pursuits his friend pursued. One night of intimacies with women without the intricacies of holy ties or love had never been his desire, even before he met those of the fairer sex that held the potential to claim his heart. When Bail pressed the idea of an undercover assignment upon him, he had been absolutely determined that he would not follow all the rules of the List. He would go through the numbers on the little golden coms which had once belonged to Aline Kavaria and Bail Organa one by one, seek them out to make sure they were still within the land of the living. But he would do all he could to avoid coupling with them.

And so far, he had succeeded. Whether it was down to his notoriety upon the HoloNet, his reputation as a Jedi, or his looks and charm, - though it must said, while he was aware that he possessed the latter, he never allowed those gifts to master his better nature - all the women he had dined with allowed him the courtesy of refusing further intimacies, assured him of their future concern in embarking on such illicit encounters once more, and departed from him on good terms. He then returned to the Temple where he worked off the rich meal and fine wine consumed in a bout of lightsaber training.

Bracing himself, Obi-Wan returned to the body while he waited for his contact from the Courts to arrive. This time when he leaned over the woman, he retrieved not the quest for a pulse no longer present, but the little gold device clutched in her hand. Rising from his position, he studied the third communicator, in the hope that unlike the other two it would hold a record of the last incoming call. Such expectation was in vain however, for the murderer had once again foiled him there, by leaving no trace of the entry in question. At least now he possessed a triplicate which could be taken apart for further examination for the possibility of rewiring and retrieving the entry that way.

For a moment he contemplated giving the device to Anakin, for his Padawan was far better skilled in the art of splicing and rewiring than himself. It took but a second after this thought crossed his mind to remember the current state of relations between them. He hadn't seen his former Padawan since the knighting ceremony. When Vokara Che allowed him full use of the Temple, he searched for Anakin, without success. Until he could confront him, he remained uncertain as to whether the lad was avoiding him, but nevertheless that conclusion was there to be drawn. Certainly, Obi-Wan felt he could no longer trust him to carry out splicing and rewiring on the little gold com in his hand and keep what findings resulted from it between the two of them.

He could not deny that he wasn't disheartened by such a thought. He had believed that their ten years together forged a friendship, as opposed to the bond between master and padawan, so easily severed as the symbol of that apprenticeship was during the knighting ceremony. Had his failure to temper Anakin's emotions merely masked the true state of affections between them so deeply? His apprentice was given to extreme displays, unlike himself, his emotions governed by years of Jedi discipline.

While he had listened and sympathised whenever Anakin had a grief to vent, he never returned the favour, and now he wondered if that reserve had, however unintentionally harmed their relationship. While it was true that there was little he could do to mend the breach, even less considering how successfully Anakin was managing to avoid him, Obi-Wan was disappointed and could not help but feel he had failed his master in promising to take care of the boy. If he was another master he could have excused himself with the memory of Qui-Gon saying only to train the boy, no mention of care, but to him that word was an underlying condition of every vow a Master took when deciding to take a Padawan.

The sound of someone knocking at the door drew him out from his unpleasant introspection. Obi-Wan returned to the entrance of the suite and reversed what a wave of the Force had done with his hand, letting in the forensics his contact from the courts had sent. A part of him was relieved by the interruption, for he had been spending far too much time recently dwelling on his failures as a padawan master that it was starting to affect his judgement. He had the right of it a few thoughts ago. As Anakin was continuing to avoid him there was little he could do to remedy the matter. Whereas there were a few other problems he could put his mind to solving that were far more troubling.

Such as who was responsible for these murders. Given how intensely the List was tied to almost every form of governance within the Republic, it was not hard to fathom one likely suspect. The Sith Lord whom the Order had been searching for ever since he killed the apprentice on Naboo was such a being. Count Dooku had spoken of the being's desire to reform the Republic by miring it within a civil war, which was foiled by the peace treaty, so it made sense that the Sith would attempt some other means of division. The scandal that the List would cause if made public would undoubtedly engender just such an effect.

Yet that did not mean the Sith was solely responsible for carrying out such dark deeds. Before he had employed his lackeys such as Darth Maul and Count Dooku, there was no reason to suppose that he would not do on this occasion, just because the former was slain by his hand and the latter was in a state of asylum at the Temple. There was whoever tried to sabotage the peace conference, not to mention the possibility of another, previously unknown apprentice.

Obi-Wan grimaced as he recalled Count Dooku's warning concerning Anakin. While he had long since admitted to himself that a Sith lord would naturally covert the prophesied Chosen One, until now he had been resolute in denying the eventuality. But with the lad avoiding him, the certainty that he knew his former Padawan too well to discount the event was a certainty no longer. he remembered his first opinion of the boy, tempered by his sorrow and jealousy in being brushed aside by a master he had worshipped and loved, in line with the judgement of the Council, their authority impeccable. Too much fear within him, dangerous, unsuitable to be trained, they had declared and he had agreed with them, although the word he used to his master held quite another meaning altogether.

When he changed his mind about the boy it was tempered again by other circumstances; losing Qui-Gon, fulfilling his master's dying wish, the boy's miraculous heroism in ridding Naboo of the Trade Federation's blockade. All the Council's reservations escaped his mind, only to be dwelled upon later, whenever he failed to achieve something in his training. Now he wondered once more if the Council had been right. At the time, he was convinced that it was more dangerous to leave the boy untrained, but the power that Anakin could now wield, including the recently acquired training from Master Windu was a force to be reckoned with. And there was no denying that Anakin had good cause to have a grievance with the Order over Padmé, though if the conclusions he drew from her expression during the Senate session before the peace conference were anything to go by, his former apprentice had probably disobeyed the Order on that score anyway.

But despite how much his opinion of Anakin had changed since the discovery of their empty apartment after the knighting ceremony, Obi-Wan still found it hard to believe that the Sith lord would find his former Padawan a suitable apprentice. Compared to the predecessors Anakin lacked the discipline, wisdom and experience of Count Dooku, and the silent assassin qualities of Darth Maul. His former Padawan felt too much to deceive convincingly, to lead the whole of the Republic in a dance as the Sith lord had been doing these past ten years. He may not know precisely what Anakin was hiding from him, but he was reasonably certain that it concerned his love for Padmé and hers for him, nothing darker than that.

And yet there was one thing which worried him, more so since that night he entered his formerly shared apartment to discover its emptiness. Something which Padmé had not said when he went to see her while Anakin recovered from Geonosis, before she and his Padawan went back to Naboo, to either agree to remain true to the code, or, as he suspected, join themselves to each other before witnesses and a holy man. She had told him of Shmi's death, insistent that he asked Anakin if he wanted to know more. And he had tried, but it was yet another subject between him and his former Padawan which could not be breached. At the time, with her, he had said that he could forgive Anakin for his disobedience over Tatooine if it was for his mother. But Padmé's attitude concerning his love for Anakin,... she seemed unable to comprehend his affection, or to realise that her own feelings for the boy were like a supernova which would eventually burn out. Their love was too intense for longevity, it lacked true embers of sustainable passion.

It had been that incomprehension which prevented him from confessing his feelings to her, from arguing with her maturely, logically. Her emotions were too overwrought for allow for anything but simple stating of the reality that was her and Anakin's situation. Even as he heard her voice her acceptance, her resignation of his words, he knew she was unconvinced. She had been fixated on the idea that her love could save Anakin, when in truth it would only create another dependence that his apprentice could not allow himself to lose. A young love that had no idea of true domesticity. He dread to think what would happen if they ever disagreed, Anakin's temper was vile at the best of times. She did not know that his apprentice had set the idea of her, the little young Queen who had saved her planet, promised her care for him would never change, upon a pedestal, and would not look kindly on whoever dislodged her, and that included the lady herself.

Her attitude had not lessened his love for her, he knew full well the power of Anakin's charm, and the many who had been caught in its web, often requiring him to untangle them and set things right, usually without his apprentice even realising. That she resisted was both courageous and insensible, but not something which would cause him to begin to care for her any less. This was her first love, requiring time, wisdom and experience to temper her attitude, not remonstrations from others, however well-intentioned. He had waited ten years for her, he would wait all his life, accept that she never would come to care for him if he had to. Such an eventuality would hurt him, but he would rather see her happy than mired in the turmoil which Anakin was likely to cause her.

Obi-Wan emerged from his thoughts at this point to notice that the forensics team had finished their examination of the hotel suite as well as their clearing up so it appeared that the victim had left the room alive, and nothing remained that would any suspicion otherwise to a member of the hotel's cleaning staff. As for the victim, she was being carried out of the room towards the nearest emergency exit in a body bag, requiring him to perform some necessary security tasks, such as taking care of the surveillance systems, and cloaking the party so they would not be noticed by any passers-by. Pushing his thoughts aside, he began to adhere to these requirements, following the team down the self contained staircase out into the city streets, then into the speeder which would serve to conceal the rest of their journey.

He returned to the Temple as the orbital reflectors began to darken, his thoughts still with the body hidden in the mortuary rather than the bright lights of Coruscant night life. As with Aline Kavaria, the murderer had left no clues to point to his or her identity, leaving him stymied in his investigations. All he had learnt about her was a name, living and career, which again was much the same as the first; a year or so younger than he, a business minded, single-focused woman in every way, her only vice, the membership of the List. No living relatives who needed to notified of her death, only a well established investment firm which would happily accept the need to keep the circumstances of her mortal departure secret until there was evidence enough to convict her murder.

The little gold com device was still lingering in his pocket, separated from the other two he already had, as they were indistinguishable from each other and he had no desire to take apart the wrong one for further examination. Traversing the grand lobby of the Temple, he nodded silent acknowledgements to his colleagues as he passed back, heading towards the area of the archives where he could study the piece of machinery properly.

At this hour only the most dedicated of padawans, knights and masters were hard at work, a situation which suited Obi-Wan perfectly, for it meant that of the few present in this area of the archives, none of them would be curious about what he was studying. Still musing over who could be responsible for these atrocities, he sat down before one of the empty booths and placed the com device in the hollowed out scanner. Automatically his fingers stretched to the control panel and tapped out the commands to bypass padawan control and identification process.

While he waited for the machine to conduct its examination of the little gold com device, his mind pondered again his reasoning behind who could be responsible; whether he was right to blame the Sith Lord, or wrong for refusing to deny that possibility. His every instinct was silently arguing with him to accept this, despite having no more evidence than just a suspicion weighed against the potential damage these murders could do if made public. That outcome was a distinct, almost inevitable eventuality, one he would do well not ignore. But it also meant that he needed to wrap this investigation up quickly, find who was responsible soon, so the Senate could control the outcry, while the Jedi punished the guilty.

For this was not a case for the Courts, where trials could carry on for years, hampered by an ineffectual justice system that was in dire need of an overhaul. Something the Chancellor had promised to tackle, then neglected in light of the threatening civil war within the Republic. And as much as Obi-Wan would like to press Palpatine to turn his attention to the reform now peace was at hand, this case was not one he wished to be used as an example.

The scanner beeped for attention, and Obi-Wan roused himself from his thoughts to attend to the machine's wants. As his sea shaded eyes became focused on his surroundings once more, his pupils caught a familiar artefact in another booth. A quick discreet glance at the occupier confirmed his recognition; one of the Order's most trusted scholars was studying an object he and Bail retrieved from the Sith Temple on Zigoola. The memory of that mission and all its horrors caused him to recall that there was one person whom he could ask about the Sith lord and perhaps receive an insight to his investigations. It would require trusting him with the details, but in his present position, Obi-Wan doubted that trust would be misplaced. After all, he had cause to trust the man before, and he had not been disappointed.

With this in mind, his thoughts were lightened enough to be able to push them aside and turn to examine the com device. The results scrolled before his eyes, his hand absently stroking his beard as he considered them. Not all the findings were what he hoped for. There was no recoverable information concerning identity of members, nor was there signal data to use for location searches. What had been retrieved was a record of the last number dialled, which presented quite another problem.

Obi-Wan could use the number, but if the device was on, he ran the risk of the murderer identifying who was calling him. While he worked through the members of the List logically, their anonymity still largely protected by his reputation as a Jedi and the discretion of the Order, not to mention the somewhat paradoxically sheltered existence within; one which exposed its Padawans to every degree of life, but left them very little time to develop an affinity, let alone an relationship with the beings they met. However, it would not be wise to assume that the murderer used the system; in fact it was highly likely that they knew who they were killing, or at least remembered the numbers they had used. Which meant if Obi-Wan tried their number using one of the little golden coms, they would be instantly on the alert and arm themselves against him.

But neither could he trace the murderer's identity another way. While Bail sponsored some new members, he was not the only former member who did, there were many others who did so too, as well as some of the current members. He could ask Garen for help, but since their return from Pais his friend had been assigned a mission to retrieve those former Padawans from Bandomeer that he had campaigned for the Council to allow them an option to return to the Order if they so choose. With the loss of so many at Geonosis, the Council had not failed to appreciate the need for new members, even those they had once sent away, due to the lack of knights and masters willing to train them.

Which left him only one option; rewiring his com centre in his new quarters to by pass the security procedures of the Temple and Coruscant, so he could call the number from there. Studying his chrono, Obi-Wan powered down the booth and left the archives for the area of the Temple that was reserved for Council apartments.

His new rooms were much the same as he had left them only that morning, a concoction of neutral tones accented by light blues, stylishly adorned with the gifts given to him and Qui-Gon by grateful governments or beings indebted for the Jedi's timely interventions regarding one crisis or another. Having been occupied by him now since he left his old apartment in the master and Padawan area of the Temple, the quarters were tidy, as befitted his nature, but also suggested a lived in appearance which lent the illusion to any who visited him that he had always roomed within the place.

After checking his messages, quietly relieved that none required an immediate response or attendance elsewhere, Obi-Wan set about pulling the com centre apart to reveal the wiring, then an uncomfortable few minutes crouched underneath the desk as he reattached the cables in the positions required. He had taken the precaution of securing the lock on his quarters before he began, a wise one, as if anyone had entered the apartment while he thus engaged, they would have been shocked to see the most creditable master of the Order committing a mischief which his former Padawan was usually charged with.

It was unfortunate perhaps that after all that hard work, the number in question failed to raise a reply, let alone a location as to its possible whereabouts. Frustrated, Obi-Wan left the com centre as it was for the moment, deciding to try again in the morning before he abandoned the idea entirely, then left his apartment for another, taking care to secure the entrance against visitors once more.

Since his request for asylum had been granted by the Council, Count Dooku had spent his time at the Temple akin to a hermit on a lengthy pilgrimage.

Solitary, with many hours spent in meditation, except when roused from his devotions to offer counsel to Yoda concerning a Sith artefact or a wayward Padawan seduced by the temptation of the easy path towards the dark ways of the Force. A master in the form of Makashi, his services had yet to be offered to assist Master Drallig, largely due to his actions on Geonosis. His behaviour and conduct were impeccable; not once had he contacted any of his former disreputable associates; his communications with the Separatists were limited to matters of governing only.

Obi-Wan had not seen him since his return from Zigoola, when several meetings were conducted about the Sith artefacts he and Bail had retrieved. While he respected the former master, and trusted, to a certain extent at least, his reformation, the relationship he maintained with his master's master was not as close as Qui-Gon perhaps might have wished. Still, Jinn would be pleased to see that his former pupil no longer sought out the magnate of Serenno as an adversary.

Dooku greeted him at the first beeping from the door, detecting his arrival through the Force before he had the chance to signal his coming. Brushing aside his concerned inquiries as to whether he was disturbing him, the Count ushered Obi-Wan inside, saw him to his seat, placing before him tea and a steaming bowl of sustenance.

Struck by the warm welcome, Obi-Wan took his time to glance about himself, admiring the suitably austere, yet infinitely Jedi-style furnishings and decor of the apartment. He took a sip of his drink and was pleased to notice that the blend was his favourite, while the food was equally sampled and noted to be delicious as well as needed, for he had yet to consume his evening meal.

When the necessary civilities were swept aside, the Count directly asked what he could do for the Council's newest master. Although Obi-Wan was shielding his thoughts only minimally, he could not detect that Dooku ever attempted to read his mind, so his surprise at the answer which he received was genuine.

"So," Dooku mused, "that scandalous secret has been tarnished, has it? I can't say that I'm shocked by the news. With so many beings involved, in light of their connections, it was only a matter of time before something gelded it. Is this an official mission?"

"No," Obi-Wan replied, causing the Count to raise an eyebrow at the sight of a Council Master neglecting to seek that body's blessing before investigating. Something Qui-Gon was frequently known for doing as well. "The source who entrusted me was understandably anxious that this be kept quiet for as long as possible. And given the current level of interest surrounding the Order's activities, I thought it wise not to inform them."

"A wise precaution," Dooku agreed. "So, why are you informing me? I'd thought that I would be the last being whom you could trust with such a crime."

"Quite the contrary," Obi-Wan replied. "The mysterious Sith lord, whose identity you still protect is the beneficiary of such an epithet. Speaking of him, do you think he would be responsible for these series of atrocities?"

Dooku was not offended by Obi-Wan's rebuke, his frown was more of a reaction due the possibility than at the direct countering by his Padawan's Padawan. After a long moment of consideration, he replied. "My first answer would be no, but given that everything he has attempted to use has failed to achieve his goal, I think he might decide to try using the List, though the uninhibited nature of the group is something which he detests." He paused to regard his companion's reaction. "I see my answer has only confirmed your suspicions. Surely you haven't found anything to implicate him? He's usually so meticulous in covering his tracks and nearly always orders an underling to do the dirty work for him."

Obi-Wan shook his head. "Nothing, which is why I suspected him. With each crime scene there is an attempt to dress it up in the style of a serial killer, but the result is half-hearted at best, as overall the whole appearance leaves a aura almost devoid of any emotion. And yet there is a kind of manic joy in the display, with a healthy mix of rage and sadistic pleasure thrown in for good measure."

Count Dooku nodded grimly. "Yes, the perfect recipe for a Sith. However, I am still of the opinion that he commanded one of his acolytes to do the deeds for him."

Struck by something implied in the scion of Serenno's response, Obi-Wan pondered, and not for the first time, the possibility that the Sith lord and the Count were of an age.

"Given my past experience with some of his deeds, I am inclined to agree," he answered, keeping his speculation to himself for now. "But, unfortunately your confirmation only serves to darken my investigation."

Dooku rose from his seat to clasp his the shoulder of his Padawan's Padawan. "There is little advice which I can give to you that shall be of any comfort, Obi-Wan. But what I will say is this; you can do nothing but continue as you have been. Conduct the investigation as you would any other. If he has planned this as meticulously as he usually does, and I have no doubt that he has, then wherever your investigation takes you next, he will be three steps ahead. You will find the proof you need when and if he intends you to, not before. But by playing him at his own game, you might be able scupper him at last."

Obi-Wan nodded, and rose as the Count withdrew his grip, sensing through the Force that he had learned all he could from this evening. The hermit of Serenno saw him to the door, silent until his guest had crossed the threshold.

"Of one thing you can be certain," Dooku said in parting, "the Sith lord has always vastly underestimated you, Master Kenobi. And that will be his fatal mistake."

Chapter Text

Part 32: Murderous Deeds.

Inside a certain room, self contained behind a certain, unremarkable wall, on which it was impossible to distinguish the entrance, a certain villain sat flicking through the news feeds of the HoloNet. As he reached the end of the cycle and began again, his rage rose higher and higher, as the news feeds continued to fail in reporting the one story he wished to hear about.

At any other location, this rage, which by now was so palpable, as to be discerned in his manner and appearance, would have caused alarm on the part of his inferior colleagues, and a fair amount of suspicion on the part of the Jedi Order, not to mention the answer to a quest which began some ten years ago. But within this certain room, no one was able to witness the effect of this rage, except his underlings, if they happened to on the receiving end of his com, that is. Fortunately for them, that screen had yet to be activated.

With one last cycle of the news feeds, which still failed to yield to his demands, his rage rose to a crescendo, resulting in a streak of lightning issuing from his finger to the screen on which the HoloNet feeds were displayed. Such an attack on this piece of machinery was just as unlikely to yield the appearance of the desired feed. Amid sputtering sparks, the image blacked out, and the device abruptly shut down.

Palpatine grimaced at the loss of such a valuable piece of equipment, but he knew that his finances could afford it and that his underlings would instantly replace it, as soon as they heard of the destruction. And if they did not, he would seek to replace them. Such a process did not cause him the amount of rage he felt. His thoughts were directed elsewhere; namely towards the story he had wanted to appear on the news feeds.

Turning to the com screen, he set about directing his rage towards a more appropriate outlet, which would not result in the loss of valuable equipment. Underlings after all, were never indispensable. In a tone of quiet, yet deadly anger, he requested the device to com one of them. While he waited for the reply, a wave of the dark side of the Force allowed him to assume his cloak, the usual trappings of his title as Darth Sidious.

Unfortunately, the com did not possess the power to quantify the level of response time to each underling. So some time passed before the screen filled with the image of the one hailed, and only then did they realise exactly how angry their master was.

"Where have you been, Ventress?" Sidious practically howled at the screen as the figure of a bald, slender, lissome woman materialised.

Asajj, for her sake, was one of the wisest of his underlings, managing to discern within a single glance the level of wrath she was likely to face if she deigned to reply, so wisely, she chose refrain from doing so.

Darth Sidious continued to rant about her whereabouts and her neglect to instantly obey his every whim for quite some time. He required no response, if he had desired one, he would have chosen another underling to vent his rage at, one who would doubtless fail to survive the encounter. Asajj continued to refrain from offering a reply, exercising her own discipline in remaining silent until his anger was spent.

"How is the mission proceeding?" Sidious asked, his tone lighter, but nonetheless still deadly, and this time, requiring a response.

"Well, my master," Asajj replied.

"And my new apprentice," Sidious added, a grim grin suddenly appearing on his face as for a brief moment he allowed himself to savour his current success in keeping the Jedi unaware of the loss of their most valuable member to the dark side, "how does he perform?"

Asajj wisely concealed her own satisfaction over her master's newest acquisition. "As well as you expected, my master. With acute lethalness."

"He has exercised this lethalness on two beings, so far, correct?" Sidious inquired in the same quiet but deadly tone.

"Yes, my master," Asajj answered. "I saw the beings interred myself."

"Then why has there been no word of his success on the Holo news feeds?" Sidious uttered querulously.

For the first time, Asajj's grim features acquired some level of anger. "Kenobi has been keeping the investigation quiet, my master." The name was said with such disgust that if the owner of it had heard, he would have been unable to avoid flinching.

Sidious cackled, much to his underling's surprise. "Ah, so Senator Organa has tasked Master Kenobi with investigation," he paused to savour another harsh laugh. "I wonder how the most staid member of the Jedi Council is taking to the List."

At this Ventress held her tongue, for she had also watched over the Jedi in question and had been most surprised to discover how many assignations Kenobi took. She wondered at the man's stamina.

"Does Kenobi make any headway?" Sidious asked.

Ventress's mind still musing over the frequency of the Jedi's assignations, and the satisfaction she sensed from all the ladies who were on the receiving end of them, that it was with difficulty she managed to realise her master intended no innuendo in his query, however unconsciously conveyed. After a lengthy pause, she strove to answer his question seriously. "He has examined both scenes, my master, and had a contact from the courts conduct forensic investigation. However neither have yielded anything pertaining to your apprentice, myself or you, my master."

"Good," Sidious cackled again. "Everything is proceeding exactly as I have foreseen." He wrung his hands together with satisfaction before continuing. "Now, let us return to my apprentice. Has he chosen his next being on which to exercise his lethalness?"

"I believe so, my master," Asajj replied. "Shall I press him to act upon his inclination?"

"Do," Sidious replied. "The speed may take Kenobi by surprise and cause him to flounder, allowing for the scene to reach the ears of the HoloNet feeders."

If Ventress disagreed with her master's speculative hope, she once more wisely refrained from saying so. Instead she merely bowed her head over her bended knee in obedience. "I will see what you bid is done, my master."

"See that you do, Ventress, else next time we speak you shall not escape my wrath," Sidious warned. "Now, what about Jade, have you found her?"

There was a lengthy silence as Asajj tried to find a plausible excuse as to why her search for her master's former Hand had yet to yield a result. Sidious would not accept her close surveillance of his new apprentice as an excuse, he expected his acolytes to be capable of handling at least two assignments simultaneously. Also if there was one thing which would never escape his wrath, it was failure.

"I grow tired of waiting, Ventress," Sidious remarked.

"I fear Nineve Jade has gone to ground, my master," Asajj replied at last. "I have been unable to trace her whereabouts."

"That is not what I wish to hear, my child, " Sidious intoned, his voice acquiring a cadaverous tincture. "The next time we speak I shall expect you to have found at least some trace of her, or you shall be reminded of the degree of importance that is attached to my former Hand being found."

"Yes, my master," Asajj replied with another bow of her head. Inwardly she concealed her fear at the possibility, her mind murmuring a fervent prayer to the dark side of the Force that her search would yield success. She doubted it however, for she could not see how the Force would provide her with a trace of Jade when every other source had not.

Her master signed off, leaving her to think on his threat and doubtless feel threatened. Asajj rolled her eyes at the assumption, but nevertheless could not deny, to herself at least, that she lived in fear in of her master's wrath. She had borne witness to one of his 'reminders' being pressed home, as it were. Even now the memory of it made her shiver and flinch. The acolyte was reduced to a pitiful sight, their flesh smoking from the blows struck by Sith lightning. Seriously injured, they could not move from the spot without assistance, and even then, her master had forbade such help being rendered for a time.

The memory of that incident decided her next actions more than anything else. Assuming her disguise, she left The Works district, climbing into her airspeeder and heading for the highways which littered Coruscant's skyline. While she doubted her success in tracing Nineve Jade, at least she could follow her master's orders regarding his apprentice, in the hope another death would indeed cause Kenobi to flounder, and the resulting reaction from the HoloNet might appease her master from inflicting his reminder upon her.

A grimace crossed her face as she effortlessly navigated the traffic, not due to the delays or ineptitude of her fellow commuters, but at the prospect which was her destination. Master Sidious delighted in his new apprentice, gloated over their every deed, secretly boasted aside at the success of his plan, not to mention his triumph in deceiving the rest of the Republic. But as far as Asajj herself was concerned, she remained unstirred. Her disgust was not because she desired to assume the role of apprentice herself; her ambitions were intent on quite another role, it was due to her conviction that her master had made a grave mistake in his choice.

True, the benefits outweighed some of the discrepancies; they were younger than Darth Tryanus, which made them pliable for any missions, except where wisdom and experience, not mention a modicum of discretion, needed to be exercised. They were also considered to be a hero of the Republic, making their ascendancy into their future position when the time came a easy feat. But their ego was deplorable, their self-discipline almost invisible, and their manner insufferable. In short, their youth was at fault, and prone to impulsiveness, difficult to predict, and she believed it would be to their cost. Darth Maul would have been the superior, had not Kenobi managed to slay him a decade ago.

Kenobi. Asajj Ventress allowed her expression of dissatisfaction to deepen. Though the Jedi had not the misfortune to meet her yet, already she loathed the repute of him. His ability to frustrate her master's schemes was considerable. It was through him her master lost Darth Maul, an excellent, noble warrior who would have made a superb heir to her master's ambitions. His demise at the hands of a mere Padawan learner was most disappointing. Asajj knew that for a time, her master had contemplated taking revenge on said Padawan, but that was before he set eyes on Maul's successor. Sidious' subsequent delight over the prospect was sufficient to dispel his desire for revenge, for this apprentice would need careful tutelage, distractions might prove fatal.

But his focus left that same Padawan learner to become a knight then master, and finally council master, the renowned Negotiator, one of the peace makers of Pais. Asajj was worried and not unwisely, she feared, that left alone, Kenobi could do much to scupper her master's plans, considering how closely involved he was with the latest scandal set to unravel the Republic. Her position of surveillance over the soon to be Darth was a precarious one with which to watch Kenobi as well, for the straddling of both posts might lead the one to discover the other. However, she believed it would not be wise to leave either of them unsupervised for any length of time.

Speaking of which... she emerged from her thoughts as her speeder emerged from the traffic and veered off toward the dwelling where her master had ordered his new apprentice to establish himself. Even though the transparisteel conveyed the appearance of emptiness, a sign from the Force allowed Asajj to ascertain that her master's new apprentice was in residence, waiting for the details of their master's next assignment. Inwardly steeling herself against the likely outcome of this meeting, she disembarked from her vehicle and entered the dwelling.

They greeted her with a certain amount of embarrassment, to which she had to conceal a grin in response. Despite all their experience in the galaxy as a hero of the Republic, her master's apprentice was still very much an innocent when it came to matters of intimacy, a typical product perhaps of his upbringing. An opinion which when expressed aloud the apprentice voiced vehement objection to, no matter where the real truth of the matter lay. Asajj was of the opinion that her master's apprentice was foolhardy in everything, but, like most of her thoughts, she had learned that concealment rather than open dissension served her well and kept her living.

She kept to her own counsel as she relayed her master's orders concerning the matter of his current scheme to usurp the Republic. The apprentice received the new assignment with pleasure, eager to show off the surveillance amassed and a proposed plan of execution. Asajj bore the display with outward deadly enthusiasm. Inside her mind deplored their impetuosity, the arrogance of youth portrayed. When silence reigned the room once more, she took her time in instructing suitable refinements.

Her master's new apprentice scowled, disappointed in receiving censure rather than praise. Asajj was forced to use her charms to placate, a frequent practice of late, and one which caused a considerable amount of distaste. Something had changed since their first encounter where she persuaded conversion; there was a marked stubbornness over discord. Perhaps her master had instructed too forcibly concerning the way to assert sovereignty. She hoped it was not something to do with the other life which they led; that the hero status in the Republic was not tarnished in some fashion. If the gloss began to rub off, her master's scheme would be jeopardised.

At last the apprentice was placated and the improved execution could go ahead. Preparations were made to leave the dwelling, disguises acquired, weaponry honed in alertness. Here Asajj was easier, for in the manner of preparing for battle she could find no fault with her master's new apprentice. Through her observations she could see similarities to Maul, to Tryanus, even to herself and their master.

Coruscant's orbital reflectors were darkening the crowded skyline by the time they emerged from the dwelling to join the traffic. Slipping into the air bound highways seamlessly, they made their way to the chosen rendezvous, one of the hospitality district's most decadent establishments.

Unlike most arrivals they did not enter through the front door. Their entry was gained via the open insecurity of balcony suite, a room that was reserved as a matter of course for the Chancellor's valued dignitaries. No one was allow to query their presence, for fear that the establishment would lose its reputation for discretion. The room would hardly by used in any case, for the other booked by their assignment would serve as the place of execution.

Silently they went about setting up the surveillance equipment which would hack into the security systems for the establishment, erasing their presence when required. It was unlikely that they would be checked, as the need to ensure their clientele discretion overrode the desire to inform investigators about their safeguards. Nevertheless they could not afford for their actions to be recorded.

Asajj kept her eye on her master's apprentice while they worked. They may have carried out two assignments before, but that was no reason to assume their methods were flawless. All her doubts concerning their reckless and arrogant nature still applied, they would need years of careful watching before she would even begin to trust them.

Exactly on time, the little golden comlink vibrated against the veneered sideboard which it was laid upon, signalling the incoming communication of their intended assignment. As she intended her master's apprentice glanced at Asajj for agreement before retrieving the device and answering the call. Ventress was thankful that due to the voice modulator on the device no acting voice was required for she believed it to be beyond her master's apprentice's current level of ability. It was witnessing moments like this that her doubts concerning them were justified, for their years of training at the Temple meant they should have had such skills in abundance. No master was that deficient in their obligation of proper instruction to their Padawan.

Asajj watched as the apprentice assumed their second disguise of civilian clothing, to resemble the usual clientele of this establishment; high-powered business beings. With this ensemble there came more difficulties, none of which they could fix, for their youthful appearance made the perception of being a successfully rich member of the business industry difficult to believe. Success required a wealth of experience which your face could not escape showing some evidence of. Silently she forced herself to be patient, as such looks would only come in time. At least they had the arrogance of authority which could convince where youth would only contradict.

Now the time came for them to part, when she could supervise their work from afar, and hope that they would fulfil their master's expectations. Darth Sidious was not a forgiving being, though he was proving to be far too indulgent with his latest apprentice. Asajj watched them leave the hotel suite by the door this time before turning her gaze to the surveillance holos where she could observe the rest of their actions. There would be a slight delay as they passed from one feed to another, but other than that she would be able to see everything.

She watched them walk down the corridor to the turbolift where they touched the control to be taken to the right floor. There was a slight delay as the holo switched from recording the corridor to the interior of the turbolift, then another as they reached the right floor and exited into another corridor enroute to the room. One last exchange of feeds between them finally before they opened the door and entered the room.

Their assignment was facing the view of Coruscant nightlife from the transparisteel pane which cascaded floor to ceiling at the other end of the suite. Asajj allowed herself a moment to admire their appearance, her eyes tracing their curvaceous figure, an aspect of her mind supplying images of what lay underneath the suggestively provocative garment which they were wearing. Then she returned her attention to her master's apprentice, watching their slow, measured approach towards the assignment. The way they reached out and took hold of their hands with one of their own, closing the other on their mouth to capture their scream. The way they subdued the assignment within a single, deft movement, akin to the dance between a warrior and their prey.

Now subdued, the apprentice lay their assignment upon the bed, amongst the silken sheets and pillows. Positioning themselves above, they allowed their resistance to emerge once more while they slowly ripped the suggestively provocative garment from their body. A silent command from the dark side of the Force prevented their resistance from being victorious. As the apprentice savoured the delights of their flesh, frantic desperation began to commune with the terrifying realisation of what was likely to happen to them, the emotions betrayed by their wide eyes and open mouth from which apprenticed sithly powers greedily sucked their voice. Beneath the desperation lay that which all beings needed and grappled with everyday of their lives; the need to survive.

Slowly that primal instinct conquered their resistance, just as stealthily as the apprentice conquered their body, waiting for the right moment to assert itself. No other alternative was considered, for in that instinct lay an arrogance only one foe could subdue.

This foe entered the realm of the hotel suite now, through the movements of the apprentice after they had succumbed to their basest instincts. Righting their clothing, death allowed one final moment of resistance from its prey before resuming an Sith driven end to their existence. From her stance before the holo surveillance feeds Asajj watched the bruising about their assignment's neck darken in shades until all traces of life disappeared. She watched as the apprentice rose from the bed to spread about the blood red Alderaanian petals that was their signature.

Next they swept the room for traces of their presence, erasing where they found such, from prints to threads to echoes of the Force which belonged to them and only them. Then they walked the short distance from the bed to the door of the suite, exited to the corridor and then the turbolift for the journey back to their room. Only when they were no longer captured by the views of the holo feeds did she turn from them to find him closing the door of their master's usual suite.

There was a pause, a moment caught and savoured, as though time and everything around them held its breath. It lasted for only a fragment of a second as their bodies surrendered to the needs awoken from their shared act of violence. In the middle of the space that once lay between them, they collided, hands frantically tearing the cloths from each other. As layers were torn away to reveal strand upon strand of sinuous flesh her aggressive nature conquered them, just as it had each and every time they surrendered to this primitive union of fluid and skin. She took the lead, savouring the delights of their body, letting them follow only where and when she had traversed first. Her legs wrapped themselves around theirs as she backed them against the wall. Lips, hands, cries, gasps, grunts all took their turns of ascendency in their journey to the heights of ecstasy.

One might call the act love, but there was nothing within their joining to give such a pure expression credence. This was the volte-face, a devouring beast, without care, compassion, or morals. Whose hunger would never be quenched until they had ripped each others' souls apart.

Chapter Text

Part 33: Never Knew I Could Feel Like This.

A series of chimes echoed throughout the hall of the Senate, signalling that the latest session was drawing to a close. Senators, Representatives and Aides reversed their pods into their places within circular walls, before gathering their datapads and flimsi, while in the centre of the room, the Supreme Chancellor's podium slowly descended into the depths of the chamber, towards his private office.

Padmé watched the dais descend, her eyes trained on the symbol of the Senate which was etched into the semicircles that served to guard and support the Chancellor's seat. She could not raise them to Palpatine's face, even though he was unlikely to have observed her preoccupation, for he was preoccupied himself, in close conversation with the Vice Chair and his private secretary. Once more he had disappointed her, by refusing to relinquish the executive powers granted to him before the battle of Geonosis. Time and time again the motion had been put before the Senate, acquiring more and more supporters with each attempt. This morning's petition carried enough weight to force a vote of no confidence, but still Palpatine dismissed the motion out of hand.

She was reluctant to put forward another motion that could have the power to enforce the election of a new Supreme Chancellor. Aside from the reputation acquired from her first petition concerning Finis Valorum, Padmé was uncertain that the motion would secure enough support to succeed, and even if it did, there was a very real possibility that Palpatine could be re-elected, for one of his first acts after being granted emergency powers was to remove the term limit statute from the office of Chancellor. Petitioning him to relinquish those powers was one thing, forcing a vote of no confidence upon him was quite another.

However, if Palpatine continued to resist the requests of the Senate they would soon have no choice but to put forward the motion. Criticism of his politics was growing, in committee meetings, outside and inside Senate sessions. Even HoloNet shows were debating about the matter. There was a distant tension between the Chancellor's office and the Jedi Council which few cared to delve too deeply into for fear of upsetting either governing body, and among those who communicated with the Confederacy of Separatists there were pointed references to the recent democracy reforms of Count Dooku.

Once, when she was sovereign of Naboo and even before, she had admired Palpatine for his staunchly defended principles, his faithful and dedicated service both to his home planet and to the Republic. Now Padmé found herself questioning where his loyalties lay, and if his principles were still governing his actions. Lately it seemed that he cared more about his ambitions than his conscience. When he stood for election he had vowed to stop corruption, seek justice for Naboo and defend the constitution. Since then a decade had passed and still the corruption existed, while the crimes committed by the Trade Federation remained free of retribution from the Courts. The Republic struggled to maintain a cohesive force, while threats from ambitious systems had almost propelled them into a civil war.

At the brink of that conflict she and her colleagues had looked towards Chancellor Palpatine for salvation, offering him executive powers in the hope that he would be able to broker a peace between the Republic and Separatists. Instead he had endorsed an army and sent it to rescue the Order and herself. He had offered the Separatists violence in return for their violence. He had all but declared war on the Confederacy.

Padmé knew her own actions were not wholly blameless, she should have held more consideration for what her position in the Senate symbolised within the Republic before going to rescue Obi-Wan from Geonosis. In forcing Anakin to do so she had given a legitimate excuse for the Senate to declare war. But she did not demand her rescue, only her release, and was quite prepared to fight her way out of there. She had not been fighting for the Republic, she had been fighting for herself and for her friends. She had been prepared to die for her choice, but not for the Republic to go war over it.

Her decision to go to Pais and negotiate for peace had been in part the repayment of the debt she felt that she owed to those who had rescued her and the Jedi from Geonosis. While she sat across from those who she once fought on that desert sinkhole, she had come to understand that their concerns and reasons for leaving the Republic resembled her own misgivings concerning recent political policies. She had come to respect the opposing delegates, even Count Dooku, admiring their commitment to forming the peace treaty. There had been no deception in their previous combative actions, only mistrust and uncertainty in a governing body which had once abused them.

Since her return Padmé had not lost sight of that treatment, nor the unacknowledged condemnation of it from some of her colleagues. It was as if Pais restored her vision of the Republic, allowed her to perceive through the veil of Palpatine's rule for what it really was. She had gone into the Senate determined to heal the wounds she knew still existed in those worlds on the Outer Rim, even nearer. Wounds like slavery, tyranny, and injustice. Years had passed since her entry into that governing body and these injuries lingered. Concealed like the bruise on her torso, visible only to those who cared to look.

Palpatine had done nothing to heal these wounds, despite the support out there for him to do so. Instead he claimed to have his ideals frustrated by the limits of government, achievable only if he assumed more and more power. Now he had the power but still those wounds lingered.

"Milady?" Captain Typho softly inquired with a gentle touch to her shoulder, causing her thoughts to pause as she became aware of her surroundings once more.

With one final glance at the symbol of the Republic, Padmé turned to leave the pod, her handmaidens and security detail providing an escort as she exited the Senate hall for a walk in the surrounding corridors. Her thoughts were still preoccupied by the possibility of putting forth a vote of no confidence in the Chancellor. If she were serious about such a motion, then she would need to gather the support of her colleagues before requesting for an election a second time. Silently her thoughts began to recall the names of the members of the Senate, along with their affiliations and political policies.

Barely a few paces from the entrance to the Senate hall, and a tuneful chorus of beeps from her other faithful bodyguard alerted her to the passing presence of someone familiar to Artoo, rousing Padmé from her thoughts once more. She too soon recognised the approaching figure and came to halt as she uttered a greeting of her own.

"Master Kenobi!"

In his usual manner, Obi-Wan drew to a halt before her, acknowledging her greeting with a graceful bow. "Senator Amidala," he uttered formally, for they were surrounded by her passing colleagues, their encounter too public for hellos of a more intimate nature.

"It has been far too long since we last saw each other, Master Kenobi," Padmé added with a slight movement of her hand, gesturing for him to join her in the midst of her entourage. "Would you care to walk with me awhile, or do you have duties pressing?"

"I would be honoured, milady," Obi-Wan replied, before falling to place beside her. His hand came to rest on Artoo's domed head in a gentle caress. "It has been far too long since I have seen you as well, Artoo. I had not realised that you'd returned to Senator Amidala's staff."

Padmé knew not how to explain the droid's resignation from serving Anakin without airing matters that she was reluctant to confess to Obi-Wan, let alone in such a public setting, and Artoo respectfully adhered to his mistress's unspoken wishes regarding his own opportunity to respond. Nor did she notice the reference that Obi-Wan made to Artoo, revealing that he had not seen his former Padawan lately. Instead she changed the topic of conversation. "I hear you have been elevated to the Jedi Council. Let me offer you my congratulations."

"Thank you, milady," he said, acknowledging the compliment with a slight bow. "I am honoured by the Council's decision. I never looked for so high a recognition of my services."

"Nevertheless, it is a position which you deserve, in my opinion," Padmé assured him. She cast a keen glance over his figure, observing the absence of his limp, an injury he had earned during the mission to Zigoola, causing her to inquire further. "I hope you have recovered from your last mission."

Obi-Wan nodded. "I have and I thank you for your timely escort home, milady."

"It was the least I could do in return for the service you have rendered myself and my home planet." Padmé paused as she took in the all too public corridor, a part of her mind and heart wishing for a more intimate setting. In her decision to avoid him through her shame in her actions concerning Anakin, she had forgotten the ease of his master's company, how highly she valued his friendship, so freely offered from him without thought of return, the true essence of a Jedi. There was no need for her to keep herself from that regard, especially out of some misguided consideration for her soon to be ex-husband. "If your duties allow, would you care to join me for dinner one night, Master Kenobi?"

He turned to her when she finished her inquiry, allowing her to catch a brief glimpse of the astonishment which he felt in receiving such an invitation. Not due to the measure of their acquaintance, originating instead from his natural humility and ignorance of his measure as a being, which was attractive and well worth knowing to all those who took the time to notice and observe. A seemingly long look passed between them, eerily similar to that which was exchanged in the Senate some months ago. She held her breath, wondering if she had made a mistake in airing her desire, as if she had somehow betrayed how much she had come to care for him.

"I would care to do so, milady," he replied at last, causing her to breathe again.

"Tonight?" She offered gingerly.

He frowned slightly before answering. "I'm afraid I have a meeting tonight. How about tomorrow?"

Padmé smiled. "Tomorrow it is," she answered.

"Until then, milady." Obi-Wan uttered.

A soft smile formed upon Obi-Wan's face as he heard her reply and lingered long after she parted from him at the threshold of her Senatorial offices. He wandered down the corridor in silent thought for a while, touched by her kind gesture of friendship. He had not seen her since she rescued him and Senator Organa from Zigoola, parting from her before he began recovering from his injuries suffered on that planet under the watchful eye of Vokara Che and the halls of healing within the Temple. Her escort had been a quiet one, seeming to understand and respect his need for silent contemplation without a word from him. But now that he looked back on that journey, Obi-Wan realised that there was another motive behind her silent acquiescence, an equally unspoken wish for contemplation of her own.

Something had happened to her since their last encounter on Pais, something profound to have borne within her so deep yet subtle a change. He wondered if it was related to Artoo's return to her staff, for previously the little blue and white droid had been his former Padawan's faithful co-pilot, exchanged for his gift of the golden protocol droid which he had brought back from his diversion to Tatooine. Obi-Wan had not dared to speculate why they had felt a need to exchange gifts, choosing to accept that it was more reasonable for Anakin to have a droid who suited his needs, as a Jedi whose ability with the Force allowed him to understand, even acquire a certain fluency in languages, rendering the functions of a translator and protocol droid useless.

He remembered his first encounter with Artoo, when he was acknowledged by one of Padmé's handmaidens posing in her role as Queen of Naboo, for his efforts to restore the hyperspace drive while under fire from the Trade Federation. He had become Anakin's co-pilot then too, as his former Padawan destroyed the ship which controlled the invasion force, rendering the battle droids powerless. She could have given Artoo to the boy then, in gratitude for his services. Instead the droid remained by her side, guarding her during the attempts on her life, then assisting her and Anakin during their adventures from Coruscant to Naboo, to Tatooine, then to Geonosis.

Yet considering the brief passage of time between the exchange and Artoo's return, Obi-Wan wondered now if the gesture was an impulsive one, regretted once made, now swiftly reversed. She had offered him no explanation, nor would it be proper for him to inquire, at least in so public a setting as the corridors of the Senate.

Which caused him to contemplate afresh her desire for them to have dinner. He felt guilty for concealing from Padmé his prior engagement that prevented them from having dinner tonight, but his current unofficial assignment left him little choice. He had made the call to the next number concealed within the little golden comlink that had once belonged to Bail during his membership in the List before his journey to the Senate this morning. As yet his investigations had revealed little to shed any light as to the identity of the being who was murdering the members, their actions threatening to unleash a scandal upon the Republic from which few would recover. The crime scenes had frustrated the labs of the Temple, as well as the forensic lab which Bail had managed to acquire the usage of through his contacts within the Courts.

Though his discussion with Count Dooku caused him to suspect the Sith lord which that magnate of Serenno had once served under as the mastermind behind these series of atrocities, there was little Obi-Wan could do refute or confirm that suspicion. He could not put the matter before the Council, nor could he confront the Sith himself, for he still had no idea who the Darth was. Count Dooku, despite being taken into his confidence concerning the murders, still refused to reveal the identity of the master he once served, and the Council were no closer to figuring out who it could be either. Faced with such an impasse, Obi-Wan found himself contemplating the worse case scenarios, in an effort to arm himself for the occasion when the evil was at last unveiled. The Sith must be someone who held a position of note within the Republic, for his master's master to conceal their identity so assiduously.

"Master Kenobi, thank you for coming so promptly," a voice uttered, rousing Obi-Wan from his thoughts and causing him to realise that he had reached his destination. Raising his internal shields upon his thoughts, he bowed before the Supreme Chancellor. "I am go where I am called, Your Excellency. How may the Order assist the Republic today?"

"A small request," Palpatine informed him as he gestured for Obi-Wan to join him inside his private office. "I was hoping to retain the services of your Padawan for a brief assignment."

Obi-Wan withheld from displaying a frown of confusion, as he had thought that the Chancellor would have learned of Anakin's elevation to knighthood, as he claimed frequently to follow the Chosen One's career with great interest. "I am afraid that I must disappoint you, Chancellor, for Anakin is no longer my Padawan learner. He became a Jedi Knight shortly after the negotiations on Pais were officially concluded."

"I see," Palpatine smiled. "In that case I offer my congratulations, Master Kenobi, in succeeding to train your first protégé. Do you happen to know how I may contact him so I can request his services properly?"

"Through the usual channels, Chancellor," Obi-Wan replied, while his mind wondered what Palpatine's real motive was in requesting this meeting. While his former Padawan had enjoyed an almost familial relationship with the Nubian, he had preferred to keep his contact with the Chancellor as formal and distant as most of the Council and the Order had, for he could not find it within himself to trust a man who continued to hold on to his office at the expense of a government crying out for reform and reversal of certain executive orders dealt out before the combative encounters on Geonosis.

"I shall do that," Palpatine promised, before rising from his chair and exiting the office in unspoken but clear farewell.

Obi-Wan contemplated the splendour of the Chancellor's office briefly, before he turned and exited the room, heading back to the Temple.

Padmé scrolled through the list of com codes in her own little golden device, after the end of another long, hard day spent in the Senate and with her lawyers. The latter had left a sour taste in her mouth, as she endured her frankly not as soon to be ex-husband's as she would like, angry and sulky silence. If there was one thing she learned during her marriage, it was that Anakin did not like to lose.

Due to the circumstances surrounding their union however, it was the one thing he would gain from their divorce, loss. He was not entitled to anything of hers just as much as she was not entitled to anything of his, but the fact that she was regarded by both her lawyer and his as the victor in this settlement, rankled him. She had not been surprised to receive such a reaction; her husband's emotions still lacked maturity in that respect; but it had affected her all the same, leaving her with the perhaps equally immature desire to commit revenge, albeit one she would take care that he never learned about.

She went past the numbers she knew, desiring for once an encounter with mystery, one of the many chief attractions about this sensual clique. Her previous encounters with the familiar had caused her to hold back from full intimacy, causing her to speculate that the very familiarity of each previous date might be the very thing which was holding her back from accepting nothing more than a pleasing dinner companion. Possibly she was being reckless, but the impulse, the temptation to experience something, someone new could not be ignored.

The com device was designed to tap into a part of the HoloNet restricted to the group's contacts space, encrypted so as to be virtually impregnable, which was updated with new members or edited when those wished to leave the group alerted their sponsors to their desire to withdraw. As she scrolled down the unfamiliar series of digits she noticed that the quantity had shrunk lately, possibly due to many doing what she and others she knew who also previously belonged; marrying. There were some she knew who had kept their membership afterwards, their unions chosen for practical or political reasons. It disgusted her, but she was not blind to the more murkier aspects of this group she had rejoined.

For a brief time she allowed herself to savour another thought, the pleasure she would gain from meeting with Obi-Wan tomorrow night. It would be the first time she wouldn't feel guilty for talking to him, as if she was betraying their friendship by lying to him about Anakin, and betraying her soon to be ex-husband by spending time with his former Master. Even on their good days, he had been overly jealous of who she spent her time with, as if he had never trusted her to be faithful. She sometimes wondered if it was because he never had been faithful to her. He was away on so many missions that few Jedi or political colleagues alluded to in front of her that she began to believe the motives for his absence were nothing to do with his duty to the Republic. He managed to deceive Obi-Wan about his desires regarding her, perhaps not completely, but enough for him to turn a blind eye, who knows what else he could have deceived his master about.

Randomly, she let the small scrolling screen come to a stop and for a moment she glanced at the series of numbers, as if she could determine the character of the being to whom they belonged to. There were times, even now with all this bitterness inside her, that she envied her husband's ability with the Force. But then even that ancient energy had its limits, as she knew that only too well. Swallowing the sour taste which awoke within her mouth at each reminder of her husband away again, she pressed the accept button and put the device to her mouth.

"Are you free tonight?"

"I am." The voice which answered was the same, an unrevealing and bland tone which everyone received, courtesy of an inbuilt mechanism within the device to disguise each member's voice from recognition.

"The Corellian Grand," she decided, for as she had initiated the contact, it was up to her to arrange bookings and billings. "Wait for me at the bar."

"I'll be there," he replied before she heard the quiet click signifying his signing off from the conversation.

She put the device back in her pocket and accessed the hotel's site on the HoloNet to arrange the booking. Quick, easy, efficient, and done, all before she has time for doubts or to wonder if she was doing the right thing. In many ways the List was like a drug on the senses, exciting and addictive.

But it held one comfort. It never led to what she had experienced with Anakin, and that allowed her to smile, albeit secretly as she summoned the strength to endure her next series of meetings.

The bar of the Corellian Grand was relatively quiet, but then it was supposed to be at this late hour. Her arrival was unnoticed, for she slipped in through the grand entrance silently, taking time to pause and see if from this distance, she could ascertain who she was about to meet. Slowly her eyes roamed about the cavernous room, scanning each occupant for the com device that would identify them. Other members would be surprised by her actions she knew, preferring to chose the solitude of a room to confirm they were meeting the right person, but she had always found a thrill in meeting them at the bar, allowing them to wine and dine her before following her upstairs, the anticipation somehow sweeter than the encounter itself. Lately she had used this foreplay as a method for calming her nerves, and restoring her courage, which never seemed to last past desert, causing an anticlimax in more ways than one.

Guests were milling around, even at this time of night, enjoying the usual last dram of lum or caf before going to bed. Behind the bar stood the waiters, unobtrusive and discreet, obeying the dictums of their customers without question. Rapidly her gaze passed over each and everyone of them, until she reached the man she was looking for. His clothes were tailored to his form, outlining the handsome figure which the garments concealed. Although their shades were dark, they harmonised with the lighting system that covered the ceiling and walls of the bar, rendering his attractive figure strikingly. One hand held a drink, half consumed, while the other rested on the bar's transparisteel surface, and upon the precious crystal, lay the small com device she knew, for she owned one just like it, as did every member of their exclusive club.

It was the hair that did it. Frozen suddenly by her traitorous memory, Padmé's brown encircled pupils took in every inch of him, confirming that she was not dreaming, or imagining who was waiting for her. He was alert, waiting for someone, his head poised to turn round in the direction of the entrance, when he would catch sight of her. When he would most likely gasp, just as she was doing now. Then he would slip the device back into his pocket, walk up to her, apologise, and insist, insist that this must never, ever, happen again.

She had a split second to decide, no more, no less. Yet it seemed to last much longer than so minuscule a passage of time should. How she felt about this development could be considered later. Now it required her to be impulsive, to trust her instincts, and accept a truth which until recently she had always denied herself. And not allow her mind or her heart to be surprised at the apparent ease and speed by which she could fulfil all of these requirements.

Catching sight of a passing waiter, she requested the use of his pen and notepad. Her surprisingly calm hands took a piece of the proffered flimsi, and quickly scribbled down the number of the room which she had previously booked. Then she pointed out to the attendant whom she wanted the note to be given to.

He bowed in a silent farewell, leaving her side to attend to her request, whilst in front of them the figure at the bar started to turn his head in her direction. By the time his eyes reached where she had been standing, she was gone.

"Sir, I was asked to give you this."

Obi-Wan turned back to the bar, and took the small scrap of flimsi which the waiter standing before him had proffered before his free hand. Politely he thanked the attendant and waited for him to be occupied with another customer, whereupon he unfolded the flimsi to read the message contained therein.

Room 505.

The abruptness of the note did not surprise him, for it was far more usual for him to receive the room number with the name of the hotel during the initial arrangements, as opposed to waiting in the bar for the encounter. Members of the List hated lights and crowds, where they stood a risk that their faces might be recognised, and scandals might be leaked. All the same, he did wonder why she had changed her mind. Perhaps she had recognised someone in the bar whom she preferred not to become a witness to her actions tonight.

This was his second encounter of the night, the first having concluded earlier in the evening, allowing him time to answer and accept this date which the little golden comlink alerted him to. His first encounter had ended in the same manner as all his encounters did, no further than either of them being wined and dined. He had managed to put them on their guard, politely decline their offer for further intimacy, before charmingly withdrawing from their company.

Finishing his drink, he picked up the little gold comlink and exited the bar, turning towards the sumptuous hallway reserved for the hotel's turbolifts. His finger pressed the button and summoned one, waited for it to arrive, whereupon the doors slid apart and he stepped inside.

Room five hundred and five was cloaked almost entirely in darkness. Even the transparisteel panes which dominated two walls were deprived of their full power to display Coruscant at night, a tinted setting casting a smoky fog over its glory. He could descry the shapes of the room's furniture, and the silhouette of the woman who waited for him, but no more. Used to this, the typical guises of the List members who had reasons to hide, he kept silent as he closed the door behind him. Had he been a willing member he would have respected their right to such privacy, but he was undercover in a murder investigation where everyone who belonged to the List was a possible suspect, so he used his ability in the Force to see if he could sense deception in her thoughts and heart. What he received surprised him, causing him to hesitate before obeying the beckon call of her slender hand.

She turned round as soon as she felt his breath upon her skin and captured his mouth with hers before he could form the words. Her passionate, almost frantic kiss caught him off guard, allowing him to realise that she knew him and despite all that should have caused them to pause and talk before engaging in such intimacy, at this moment she held no desire for prudence. And from the instant that her lips touched his, Obi-Wan was overcome with the same emotion.

He never knew he could feel like this, all caution vanished from inside him as he matched her fervour and pace. Their hands moved to continue what their mouths had begun, his slipping round her slender waist to caress her back, hers to pull apart his civilian clothing. With his chest bare she pushed him back towards the bed, down on to the covered silk mattress. Lips were reluctantly separated, leaving him to watch as she put her hands to the lacing of her dress, the fumbling fingers a further sign of her nerves. Reaching out, he gently stilled them.

"We have all night," he reminded her softly, before using his skill with the Force to finish what her hands attempted to begin. Silk slipped gently down her arms, falling at her waist, while her long hair was released from confinement, descending in curly tresses around her breasts. Using his grip on her arms, he gently but firmly pulled her down upon the bed to kneel between his legs and then captured one of them in his mouth. She whimpered and then moaned, clasping his head with her free hands, pressing him closer, arching her back when he released her arms to clasp her silk covered behind. He took his time worshipping her, sucking in her oh so soft skin, learning exactly what she liked, what gave her the most pleasure, so when he pulled away to gaze at her shrouded face, the nerves were gone.

Boldness reappearing suddenly within her, she stood up, letting the dress fall from the rest of her body to the floor, revealing herself to him. Even in this darkness he could not help but admire her beauty standing before him for the first time, unfettered by any adornment, elaborate or simple. Slowly he rose up from the bed and shed the last of his clothing also, letting her take in what she could see of him, before he pulled her close, and she felt just how much he desired her.

Cupping her cheek he stared into her eyes, the temptation to confess to her everything he felt almost irresistible. But he feared to speak, as if that would cause them to cease from continuing this intimacy, that the strength of his feelings would overwhelm her own, causing her more fear than what he could already sense from her emotions. So instead he said nothing and tilting his head he caught her lips in a long kiss, drawing out her tongue for another sensuous duel.

This time when they reached the bed he let himself fall across the entire surface of the sheets, lightly catching her as she fell with him, their mouths and tongues still entwined. A brief struggle for dominance ensued, before he rolled them over so he could continue sampling the delights belonging to her within his arms.

Parting from her lips, he descended in a slow sensuous journey, determined to worship every inch of her skin, knowing he might never have this opportunity again. His senses alert, he learned by heart what she liked, giving all of himself over without any thought of reward, the true essence of a Jedi. Yet something was given to him in return, the secret of her, pure and untainted by any, a knowledge few could claim the privilege of having. Not her soul, for neither of them knew each other well enough for that, nor her heart, unless that had been symbolically exchanged long ago when they first met, but that part of her which lay beneath the surface of her sweet soft skin, all that claimed her as a woman. An awareness of this was ever more apparent in his motions, as he reverenced her with kiss and touch and taste, receiving the grace to continue in kind.

When he reached her thighs, she opened herself willingly before him, her passion lidded gaze watching as he expertly probed this final level of intimacy. Her sweet moisture clung to his fingers and tongue like dew on morning grass, seeping through the layers to permanently embed the taste of her into his heart. Teasingly he drew out every moment of pleasure, heightening every inch of the sensations until all reached their peak at once, a series of exploding stars upon her vision and her senses as she cried out in ecstasy.

In the heady afterglow he worked her down slowly and gently, before withdrawing himself to lie upon the sheet along side her. Quietly he observed her in the dimly cloaked light, as her rapid breathing gradually slowed, a soft smile of satisfaction never leaving her face. Before he had time to savour all the emotions coursing through him, she had rolled over to return the favour. Her mouth caught his in a long sensuous kiss, very nearly taking his breath away. Soft moist lips soaked the reddish blond hair which covered the cleft in his chin, then bared teeth to tenderly nip at his throat. He sensed that she wished to be as thorough in her journey as he been, and a hope rose inside his heart which he had to hurriedly bury deep down, for fear the emotion would betray itself across his face.

As she descended, her beautiful mouth seemingly taking in every inch of his skin, he felt as if he was being stripped bare before her eyes. All his vaunted control, his legendary serenity and years of self discipline faded away in her wake, their departure leaving him open and vulnerable. And she knew, without him showing the merest sign, for there was depth, feeling and emotion in every touch of her lips. He realised that neither of them had cared to remember why they came here; the code of the List was broken from the moment he answered her beckon call. This night was never to be counted as the others which each of them may have partaken in; an endless, meaningless series of anonymous uncommitted couplings, but merely as the first of many intimate unions between them. A thing of beauty, arisen from the scandalous dark depths they exposed themselves to. Something to cherish, to savour, to treasure, as they cherished, savoured and treasured the taste and touch of each other just now.

By then her deft touch encountered the length of his desire, which she expertly roused into the height of ecstasy. Reaching fulfilment, he found himself on the brink once more far earlier than any previous lover had provoked in him. Drawing her mouth away, she sank herself upon him, a blissful sigh escaping their mouths as they reached the hilt of each other. Gazing up at her, he took in the vision before him; creamy skin darkened by the night and long flowing hair, spun round her like shimmersilk, the moment seared into his memory forever. Then he clasped her hips and guided her motion, thrusting deeper and deeper inside her until the stars exploded around them.

Sated she collapsed against his chest, unaware until he murmured her name once more that both of them had foregone the need for that concealment during their union. Holding her breath as she felt his lips brush her head in a tender benediction, Padmé summoned her courage to ask him how long he had known who she was.

"From the moment I walked into the room," Obi-Wan replied. Sensing her confusion, he added, "I held you in my arms on Geonosis. I healed your cuts while we paused before the droidekas, thinking all hope was lost. I would know you anywhere."

He dealt another kiss to her head and this time she didn't forget to breathe, nuzzling her soft cheek against his taunt chest instead. "Speaking of wounds," he added, "where did you get this?" His hand brushed the bacta patch covering her waist.

No one else had noticed the synth-skin, but he. True no one but he had been allowed to penetrate this veil of intimacy, but she knew that the protection over her bruising could not always be concealed by her clothing. Strangely it didn't surprise her, even though she had not prepared what she would tell him if he asked over their dinner. "It was why I joined the List," she murmured, avoiding a direct answer. "To regain my trust in others." She looked up to find a pensive expression splayed across his face. She knew he wanted to know, but perhaps he would not press her until she confided in him of her own free will. And she was not ready tell him yet. "What about you, why did you join?" She had wondered about his motive ever since she first caught sight of him in the bar, for his membership seemed so out of character.

"Bail asked a favour of me," he replied before telling her the full truth of the matter. She frowned, her sharp mind attempting to hazard out the answers to the puzzle just as he did. Though scandal attached itself to the List like lichen to rocks, the members of the group did not deserve to be murdered or to be blamed for murders which they did not commit, nor did they deserve to have this secret brought out into the harsh, hypocritical and judging spotlight that belonged to the members of the holopress. They were good beings, this secret aside. And there were too many upon whom this matter touched, enough to destroy the Senate, the Republic and perhaps the Jedi Order as well in one swoop.

"That is their motive," Obi-Wan mused, following her unspoken yet entirely eloquent reasoning with his Force senses. "And it is that which puzzles me; for who would want to destroy the Republic? It cannot be the Separatists, their determination to negotiate a peace between themselves and us was sincere. The Force points towards something darker, or someone hiding in the darkness." He paused before adding, "or perhaps it is both."

"Another Sith?" Padmé queried, remembering the one he and his Master faced on Naboo nearly fourteen years ago, receiving a quiet nod from Obi-Wan in reply. She shivered, either from his confirmation of her query, or a lack of warmth, causing him to tighten his embrace around her, his hand unconsciously brushing the bacta patch as he did so.

"You never answered my question," he remarked, moving the same hand from the concealing bandage to her chin, tilting her head until she could no longer avoid his searching and anxious gaze.

"I don't want you to blame yourself," she uttered softly.

For a moment he continued to gaze at her, until the answer came to him, whereupon a wave of sadness swept across his face. "Anakin," he realised in a whispered emotion leaden tone, a myriad of regret, guilt, shame, anger, horror, sorrow, directed at not just himself, but at his former Padawan and at the woman he held in his arms. "I should have begged you not to return to Naboo," he added.

"You did," she reminded him. "We would have found another way, Obi-Wan. I was too much in love with him then to refuse him anything."

"And now?" he asked.

"Our divorce will be final in a few weeks," she answered.

He made no reply to that, his mind still lost in thought over everything which had passed between them. Silently she waited for him to speak, knowing he was blaming himself and reluctant to go into too much detail which would only deepen his sense of guilt. This was why she hadn't wanted to tell him in the first place, for ever since she bore witness to his grief at loosing his former master, she had learned how he tended to take others faults as his own infractions.

Then, to her surprise, he shifted himself out from under her and slid down the bed until his head was level with the bacta patch. Slowly he peeled away one corner of the synth-skin, revealing the mottled coloured bruise to his sea eyed gaze. For some time he studied the injury, so long it seemed that she thought he was using his ability in the Force to heal it. But then he moved forward and tenderly laid his lips upon the inflamed skin. The depth of emotion behind the gesture caused her to gasp, for until tonight she held no notion that he felt this way about her.

Pulling away, he glanced up at her, finding her eyes in the cloaked light of the room to deliver an expression full of unspoken meaning. Then his hands gently clasped her hips, his mouth moving forward to give her pleasure once again.

Chapter Text

Part 34: The Morning After.

As their duties within the Temple and the Senate were not pressing, they saw no harm in spending the next morning within the easy freedom of their current environment, and made use of the Corellian Grand's excellent and discreet room service. The meal of fruits and sweet or savoury pastries was not consumed without seeking each other's own nourishment, as they sampled morsels of each other's soft or hard flesh also, savouring the taste with equal parts enjoyment, pleasure and desire. Half way through all thought of food was set aside, as they succumbed to temptation and made love again.

"So," Obi-Wan began when he had set the empty tray outside the door to the suite along with the sign not to be disturbed, allowing her to catch a view of his finely tone figure from both sides before he rejoined her upon the bed, "what was it you wanted to talk about?"

Padmé could not help but laugh at that and he laughed with her, pleased to see her happy and easy within his company after all which had passed between them the night before. "I merely wanted us not to neglect our friendship any longer."

"We shall always be friends, milady," he replied seriously. "However many times we do this."

She raised an eyebrow at his boldness. "Do you foresee a repeat performance then, Master Jedi?"

He leaned forward, closing the short distance between them. "Many, many repeat performances, milady," he said in a deep, warm voice, leaving her cheeks flushed and her heart racing in memory.

She watched him as he drew back from her to take a sip of tea, remembering his manner last night, contrasting it with the one she saw now and the one she had known before. A part of her was still in wonder at their actions last night, marvelling at her impulsive decision to welcome this intimacy between them when she had quailed and declined offers from other encounters, and the pleasure she had found in doing so, as well as marvelling at his ability to put her pleasure before his own, a Jedi in that respect as well as every other. Abruptly she remembered their excuses to each other for not meeting the night before and it caused her to ask in a deceptively light tone, "do you say that to all the women you've bedded?"

His smiling face transformed into a sudden expression of vulnerability and when he raised his chin in order to gaze at her, there was something in his eyes which she recalled seeing but once before, when he begged her to not give into Anakin's desires, before she left with the wounded Padawan for her home world and their secret nuptials.

"There was no one else in the List. I only wined and dined, until last night. As for others, I follow the will of the Force, which led me to them then and now to you. Padmé, I love you," he murmured softly.

A genuine frown formed across her face then, before a silent revelation swept it away. Of course Anakin had never loved her as he should, selflessly, else he would have held his peace during their stay at Varykino, instead of telling her that she could become a scar upon his heart unless she admitted to having feelings for him. She would not have been cautioned by everyone who knew them not to act on their feelings. He would not have used her thus during those last torrid days of her return from the peace conference at Pais. Realising all of this did not reconcile her, nor ease the profound regret she still held regarding her actions, but it granted her a sense of understanding at least, and she was grateful for that.

His confession of his feelings did not escape her either, causing a soft smile to grace her features as she met his gaze once more. Memories of their time together, from the moment they first met until this moment between them which was happening now played inside her mind, as she recalled the warm and close friendship that they somehow fell into seamlessly, without any awkward words said or feelings declared. The safety she felt whenever she was around him, a safety she had never felt or experienced in Anakin's arms.

Most of all she remembered the times she had felt tempted to kiss him, or wished that he had kissed her, and how she savoured the occasional clasp of her hand by his, and the heady intimacy contained in their Nubian greetings; her hands and cheeks graced by the touch of his lips as well as hers upon his. She realised now how easily she had fallen in love with him, so easily that she had not fathomed the depth of her feelings and devotion until this moment, as she lost herself in his sea shaded eyes.

"I love you too," she uttered, causing him to blink as he took the words in, and the sincerity which lay within her sweet voice, "I know that you may find it difficult to believe, but I have truly loved you all this time."

She would have said more, but he had moved his hands to cup her face, before kissing her, cutting off the rest of her defence, making her understand that he neither needed nor required one, for he had believed her from the second she uttered the declaration.

When he drew back, his expression still retained that vulnerability which he had only revealed to her once before. Padmé held her tongue, waiting for him to voice whatever it was that still prayed upon his mind.

"If we are to continue, we need to exercise a certain amount of discretion," he uttered eventually, his sea shaded eyes never moving from her own.

"Of course," she agreed, causing him to blink in surprise, making her aware that her easy acquiescence had not been what he was expecting. "Obi-Wan, we are both aware of how highly our duties are regarded by the Republic. We have to place our commitments to the beings we serve before our own feelings. To publicise our relationship would take attention away from those who need it the most; those who suffer while our governments continue to while away their existence." She paused before asking with a half-smile, "What? Did you expect me to rail at you for the secrecy?"

"It is rather hypocritical of me after our conversation before you and he left for Naboo," Obi-Wan pointed out.

"No more than my own actions when I blithely surrendered to him before plunging the Republic into a war I verbally fought against," she countered.

Her reply caused him to raise his eyebrows as his astonishment increased. "Padmé, you are not responsible for what happened on Geonosis."

"I failed to remember the symbolism of my position. I declared war on the Separatists in my misguided belief that the Jedi would not arrive in time."

"And who sent the clone army after us?" Obi-Wan reminded her. "If you hold yourself responsible, you must also blame Masters Windu and Yoda, the Chancellor and myself, along with Master Dooku and anyone else who took part in that sorry affair." He shook his head firmly. "In truth, what happened on Geonosis was inevitable. Another move in a series of pieces played out by a grand master manipulator, determined to remould the universe into an empire under their sovereignty."

Padmé stilled as she took in his words. Evidently they had gone past discussing their own feelings on to much more fundamental matters concerning the state of the universe in which they lived. This was not the first time he had confided in her his discontent with the way in which the Republic they both served was governed, but now she felt the full weight of his decision to trust her with not just his thoughts but all which he held dear, another sign of how deeply he was committed to her.

As she realised this her body stirred itself out of her previous immobility, turning his hand which until now she had not known was gripped by one of her own. Her mind was also in the midst of its own revelations, as she understood the truth of what he was saying, along with the serious consequences such a dark scheme implied for the fate of the universe. She acquired now a clarity as to the fate of her actions in the Senate, while another part of her speculated upon the identity of the grand master manipulator they both knew existed. Hastily her memory caught the final fragment of what had surprised her, causing her at last to speak.

"Master Dooku? Has the Count of Serenno recently resumed his former position within the Order?"

"He is seeking sanctuary with us for a time," Obi-Wan revealed. "I've been in consultation with him lately about the possible motives behind bringing the scandal of the List to light." He paused, considering his next words. "He refuses to reveal the identity of the Sith who seduced him into forming the Confederacy, for what reasons none of us dare to hazard, but he confirms that their role is what the Council believes it to be."

"Do you think we can stop them?" Padmé asked him softly. "Or is their stranglehold on the universe too strong to avoid a direct and public confrontation?"

"I hope we can stop them," Obi-Wan replied, "Which is not the same thing." He paused again, as his eyes shifted from hers to glance at their joined hands, a symbol not just of their new found intimacy with each other, but their commitment to the vows that they had just exchanged only moments ago. "Given the uncertain times in which we live, no one can afford to declare who their friends or enemies are just now."

Padmé nodded, knowing he referred not just to their relationship, but to what he had confided in her concerning Count Dooku, and the Sith lord who held the fate of the universe in his stranglehold. His trust in her caused her to inquire concerning some of her own political views which were troubling her. "Has the Council kept themselves aware of the recent contention within the Senate?"

Obi-Wan's gaze returned to meeting her own. "We have. It is dangerous ground upon which you begin to tread. Another vote of no confidence will set a perilous precedence."

"Nevertheless, there are those in the Senate who feel he is forcing us to use it," Padmé informed him, her mind asking the question she dare not voice, hoping that he would hear it, just as he had heard many of her unspoken thoughts recently.

In reply he said nothing, merely nodding to show her that he had received and understood her thoughts and that he would put the matter before the Council, alerting them to the possibility. "There is also Anakin to consider," he uttered, reluctant to name the man who had caused them injury, but equally aware that they could not ignore him either.

"Do you see him?" She asked, before beginning to elaborate. "I know he has been knighted, he informed me so during the last night of our union."

"Not since the ceremony," Obi-Wan revealed. "I returned to our previously shared quarters to find he had moved out. Every last trace of him erased." He paused as he saw her flinch, causing him to direct a quick glance to the bacta patch which shielded the bruising on her waist, as her words caused him to speculate on what else had occurred during the night his Padawan was knighted. "What happened?"

"He came to me expecting to celebrate his knighting," Padmé said, her mind imagining that scene of finding the previously shared quarters empty, which Obi-Wan had so calmly described, yet betrayed with his downcast expression how deeply the event had hurt him. "For our union to go public, thanks to the passage of the reforms within the Order. And I told him I wanted a divorce. " She grimaced as she remembered his response. "He did not take the news well. But our marriage was a mistake. Neither of us understood how we really felt about each other, and the depth of secrecy we placed on our attraction to each other was misguided in the extreme." She paused, taking another breath, for this was the first time she had confided in anyone but her lawyer what took place that night. "When he realised that reasoning with me was futile, he resorted to other methods of persuasion. My security intervened before the injuries he committed became too grievous."

Obi-Wan froze at her choice of words, the usage of them bringing to mind similar dark days in his training of Anakin, and the similar dark acts which he had borne witness to his Padawan using. "Did he use the Force?"

Padmé nodded, her thoughts betraying the outcome of that evening, as her voice could not. The impact on Obi-Wan was profound, as he considered if he could bring such actions before the Council. But even as the notion entered his mind he reluctantly discarded it, knowing that they would do nothing more than reprimand the knight, their hope in the Chosen One fulfilling his prophecy too great to brook omens against any evidence of his failure.

Inexplicably she seemed to understand his despair at what would be an exercise in futility, for she gripped his hand tightly to rouse him from such speculation, before saying, "do not concern yourself, I have come to terms with the injury which he has done me. To seek some form of justice from the Council would only serve to anger him, not provide the help when he needs it the most."

"You believe there is still good in him?" Obi-Wan asked in light of her choice of words.

"I don't know," she replied softly. "Sometimes I see a monster unleashed, other times a lonely, wretched little boy, in need of comfort." She caught his expression as she uttered this, and witnessed the look of self-blame which crossed his face. "Obi-Wan, you haven't failed him."

"You don't know that, Padmé," he countered, tenderly to soften the implied rebuke. "There are many aspects in my training of him which I do regret. He has been mishandled both by myself and the Council. But we cannot undo what has already been done. Yet I cannot foresee a panacea to his turmoil. And I worry that he has already gone on too long without one being offered."

It was not until later that they reluctantly parted from one another, so soon a separation they would have preferred not to endure, but for the commitments that required her presence at the Senate, and his with the Council at the Temple. After they promised to speak again at the end of the day, Jedi and Senator bade farewell in the traditional Nubian fashion before steeling themselves to turn round and walk away.

Obi-Wan headed for the Temple via a complicated route, deployed in order to discourage those who might wish to follow him, or curious at the sight of Jedi in civilian clothes in the business district at this time of a Coruscanti day.

Since the rise of tensions within the Republic which led to Geonosis, certain masters and knights within the Order had lost their previously anonymous reputations, thanks in part to an organised public relations campaign which the Chancellor's office had deemed necessary in order to dissolve the recent levels of distrust which some civilians within the Republic claimed to hold concerning the Order's activities.

As far as the Council were concerned, the campaign only seemed to deliver the opposite effect, creating more distrust of the Order, not to mention the determination to publicly recognise individual Jedi, making it increasingly difficult for them to operate discreetly. Of course the easiest way to reassume that anonymity had been to apply a Force aided disguise, but thanks to the increased surveillance erected on Coruscant in light of the recent threats to the members of the Senate, this aspect of the Force was rendered useless, causing him to rely on more old fashioned methods. It involved him doubling back at random points, abruptly disappearing down side streets, occasionally making use of local public transports, until he reached the Temple from an utterly different direction to the one which he had left the previous day.

When he entered the main hall, he caught sight of a familiar figure walking down the corridor, one he had not seen since their elevation to the status of a knight. Upon catching sight of him, a myriad of emotions entered Obi-Wan's mind, as he contemplated whether to confront his former Padawan or just pass him by.

There were masters in the Order who would not have cared to find that the Padawan whom they had just knighted had cleared out their room and left for their own quarters without so much as a word of goodbye. But then Obi-Wan was not most masters. In his days as a Padawan, he had heard tales of two kinds of relationships which were commonly fostered between Padawans and Masters, and what he had desired for his own, if he ever rose to such hallowed ranks, was to be the second kind; the one where Masters kept in touch with all their former Padawans, providing a sounding board whenever they still needed advice. It was the kind of relationship he had hoped to earn with Qui-Gon, a possibility which ended with Master Jinn's passing.

To learn, as he arrived at his old apartments the night after that knighting ceremony that he had failed to do so with Anakin as well, was unsettling. But it was not one which he could admit to his colleagues in the Council either, for Anakin was not most knights. In accepting the role of master to the Chosen One, Obi-Wan had assumed a lonely place within the Order. No matter how many times he had begged the Council and those Masters who had taught Anakin during his Padawan days, the Chosen One had still been singled out, instead of being treated as one youngling among the many who could touch the Force. The result had isolated both him and Anakin, and instead of it bringing them closer together, it had only seemed to drive them further apart.

It had also put him in a difficult position. His concerns over Anakin could not be raised without causing further disruption between himself and his former Padawan, not to mention the Council, and the Order. And the concerns, when aired, no matter how valid, might seem insignificant points with which to judge the Chosen One, or indeed any knight by. He may have masters whom he respected and counted as friends on the Council, but those bonds could count for nothing when the matter of the Chosen One was raised.

For all that had passed between them as well over the years, he owed it to Anakin to discuss his concerns with him, rather than going to the Council. He owed it to Padmé to ask her soon to be ex-husband why he chose to assault her. He owed it to Qui-Gon to ask the knight if that sweet little boy his master had known so well was still cowering underneath the layers of age and wisdom which Anakin seemed to have acquired. For a moment he dwelled on that resolution, wondering at the choice of his words, in particular one so incongruous that it could be a prompt from the Force. Could it be that was the answer, that the Chosen One was scared of the world which Qui-Gon Jinn had launched him into?

Obi-Wan knew the answer to that question as soon as his thoughts composed it, as he contemplated another truth as well. It was he who had launched Anakin into the world, not Qui-Gon. Master Jinn may have taken the boy from his homeworld to Tatooine, but Master Yoda had been prepared to send him back there, forestalled by the vow of a newly minted knight anxious to prove himself on a death bed promise. Would it have been better for Anakin if he had kept his mouth shut, allowed Master Yoda to send him back to his mother? In truth, there was no answer to that save for wild speculation, but the question bothered him as much as the previous one which his mind composed had.

There was another option which he had not contemplated either, during that meeting between him and Master Yoda, ten years ago in a room in Theed Palace, during a Nubian sunset. An option he would never have thought to contemplate if Qui-Gon Jinn had not been his master. As a maverick Jedi who frequently bore contentions with the Council, Master Jinn's friends were of similar minds, and one had chosen to form his own Order, away from Coruscant. An Order where the Code was largely ignored, where younglings were younglings first, only allowed to become Padawans when they were old enough to truly understand the duties such a commitment entailed.

An Order that did not send younglings who found no masters to Bandomeer, the masters training as many as they could handle. An Order that allowed marriage, a difference that still counted, despite the reforms taking place within the Coruscant sect. Thanks to his Master, Obi-Wan could have taken Anakin and his mother to the Master who led this Order, Master Altis, with no doubt of their reception. After all, Master Jinn had not specified where Obi-Wan should train Anakin.

But Obi-Wan had not reasoned with himself as to what would be the wisest course in that Theed Palace room before sunset. He had been grieving over his master, listening to the Force's insistent plea to obey his master's last words, anxious to return to the Temple on Coruscant where everything was familiar. Forgetting that none of it would be to the boy he had been asked to train. It had been a selfish decision, and this future was the result of it.

But no amount of retrospection could solve that mistake for him. He had to deal with that future now, come to terms with the mistake he had made, accept what consequences it may or may not hold for the galaxy, and let it go. It was the Jedi way, whether you were a student of Master Yoda or Master Altis. But it would be a hard road to walk all the same.

And this silent contemplation brought him no closer to an answer over whether to greet Anakin or to pass him by without acknowledgement. In the event he settled for simple politeness, for his sudden discourtesy would have been noticed and remarked upon by his Padawan, despite Anakin often failing to follow his example during his apprenticeship.

Leaving the choice of returning the greeting up to the young knight, who once more left his Master feeling bereft, as he passed him by without a word or look, as though Obi-Wan had never been there to begin with.

Chapter Text

Part 35: The Path of the Chosen One.

While his former master was occupied puzzling out his dilemma, Anakin had not even registered Obi-Wan on his senses, for his mind was consumed by concern over the motive behind Master Yoda summoning him to the Council Chamber. There were only two reasons a newly promoted knight would be called into that grand lofty room; either he was about to be assigned his first mission, or he had done something wrong. And ever since he had joined the Order, Anakin found himself summoned into that chamber more often for the latter than the former.

Walking down the main hall of the Jedi Temple was an impressive experience, with its tall, simple but classical arches and a gold rimmed blue floor covering that seemed to disappear into the ends of the galaxy, symbolised by the reverent light which shone from Coruscant's tinted reflectors through large transparisteel windows. It was also an unusual one for Anakin, for he usually tended to avoid the more public spaces of the Temple, where fellow colleagues who passed him by gave him an all too familiar judging glance. Not that he had been in the Temple that much lately to record such looks. His recently assigned quarters in the wing which was reserved for knights was collecting dust, as were the boxes which cluttered up its living area, still yet to be unpacked.

Where he had been spending his nights was not a subject suitable for appropriate conversation, nor a location he wished to be spending his nights in, much less discovering that the Jedi Council had found him out. In his heart of hearts, the heart which was currently waging a losing war with in his fear, he would much rather be sleeping beside a certain Nubian Senator. Padmé. He rarely saw her now, except in the company of their lawyers. He had a meeting with that trio this evening and he was looking forward to that about just as much as the one he was going to have with Master Yoda as soon as he crossed this hall.

What he had done to incur these meetings with her and their lawyers was something which tortured him, as much as the actions he took in vengeance against the Sand People for the death of his mother. His memories of that night were vivid, and unpleasant. The sudden surge of uncontrollable anger inside him. Shock at her calmly delivered request. Suspicion as to her motives in wanting a divorce. Distrust in her explanation. Her look of fear as his Force grip encircled her neck and began to squeeze. Collapse, followed by her reflex responses as his mechanical hand pounded blow after blow into her abdomen. He hadn't been able to stop himself, the rage ran too deep for him to assuage.

At some point he lost all consciousness of everything. When he became aware of his mind and surroundings once more, her security was standing over him. Anakin had never seen Captain Typho look so grave. In succinct sentences he was told to never darken the door of the Senator's apartment again, or the Jedi Council would be informed. He was asked to surrender Artoo, and informed that the next time he met with Senator Amidala, her lawyers and security would be present, and divorce proceedings would be initiated.

Convinced that the annulment of their marriage was conceived by her desire to relinquish the secrecy laid upon them by the restrictions of the Order, Anakin had tried to see her before the first meeting with the lawyers was arranged, only to be prevented from doing so by her security. By the time he arrived at one of the disused Senate offices where the first meeting took place, his guilt and contrition over his actions were waging war with his anger at hers and her security, the former's defeat rendered inevitable when her lawyer proceeded to put him in his place as if he were nothing more an insignificant grain of sand on the desert plains of Tatooine. He hadn't even been able to apologise to her.

Briefly merging from his thoughts, Anakin realised that he had reached the turbolifts which climbed up to the Council Chambers. Pausing from his walk, he waited for one to arrive before entering the narrow chamber. Only after keying in the desired floor in the control panel, could he return to his mulling over those events and persons who seemed determined to thwart him from achieving what he wanted in life.

Padmé's lawyer was not the only one who belittled him during the meetings; his own legal adviser treated him with the same contempt. Even Artoo, who had previously served him so loyally, now threatened him with bodily harm if he dared to take his anger out on his soon to be ex-wife a second time.

But that prospect still awaited him. Now he only had a few seconds before he would be admitted to the sight and judgement of the Council, either to be given a reprimand over some hitherto unknown infraction of the code, or to assigned his first solo mission as a knight. If it was the first, he knew not how they had found out about that, and if it was the second he would have to refuse. He could not leave Coruscant now, not without admitting defeat in the divorce, although that outcome seemed inevitable. His presence seemed to count for nothing in that for their lawyers were content to work their way through the dissolution without input from either of their clients.

Of course it was possible that Chancellor Palpatine might intervene to prevent him from leaving the Core, but Anakin doubted that would have any effect on the Council. He was not insensible to the tensions which existed between that office and the Senate since the moment the peace talks were proposed, he just could not understand why they existed. The service which Chancellor Palpatine was rendering to the Republic was right and proper and just. In him they did not have a better leader, nor would they find one capable of managing the Senate and the rest of the government. It would have been impossible for him to attend the peace conference as Count Dooku did for there was no one suitable to take care of the Senate in his absence.

At this point the turbolift came to a halt, and he was forced to exit the narrow chamber in order to proceed to the entrance of the room which held the Council. Out of a habit arising from his fears whenever he entered those illustrious chambers, he stretched out his senses to determine how many of the Council were present. As usual this attempt met with little success, for there existed a special barrier between the minds of the Council and the rest of the Order which not even the Chosen One could hope to penetrate. He hoped Obi-Wan was away on a mission. He had not seen his former master since his knighting ceremony and his mind was arrested by a sudden guilt regarding his conduct over what state and how he left his and his master's quarters that night.

He was much surprised therefore, when the doors slid apart, to reveal Master Yoda and Master Yoda only, waiting for him to enter the Council Chamber. The Grand Master was standing before the chairs, in the centre of the room, unconsciously allowing for the strains of the Coruscanti Sun from the planet's orbital reflectors to cast a gentle shadow on the beautifully inscribed floor upon which he stood. His hands rested on his gimer stick, his chin resting just above them, as his eyes stared at Anakin thoughtfully. As always the Chosen One became disconcerted by this gaze, which appeared to be of a deep and penetrating nature, as if his entire being was laid open to the scrutiny of the Grand Master, who seemed to wield the judgement of the Force within his cryptic conversations.

"Knight Skywalker, welcome," Master Yoda began.

Anakin advanced forward and sank down on bended knee before the grand master. He could feel a powerful presence inside him, exploring his thoughts and emotions, and he lowered some of his shielding to allow the access to penetrate further. However, the foresight of the Grand Master was not permitted to witness all of his thoughts, especially those concerning his recent assignment from the Chancellor and where he had been spending his nights and days away from the Temple. Those musings were only for himself alone, and Anakin took care that the deception with which he hid them remained undetectable by the Grand Master.

"How feel you?" Yoda murmured, the sound of his gimer stick clicking on the floor, as he circled the Chosen One, who focused his gaze and concentration upon the intricate patterns within that surface, waiting for the Grand Master to continue.

"Much I sense in you," Master Yoda continued, the tone of his voice phrasing the query as a possible conclusion of the Chosen One's feelings. Possible only, because there was always something in the Grand Master's tone which implied dissatisfaction with what he could see in the Force, as though he found the Chosen One wanting. Anakin reined in his feelings of resentment which were always roused whenever this occurred and waited for the Grand Master to continue. Yoda paused and tapped the floor with his gimer stick as he began to circle the kneeling knight again. "A mission I have for you."

Anakin remained silent, knowing if he inquired about the mission, Yoda would only further delay telling him about it. So eager are you, he would say, as if such a character trait was another fault. He wanted this meeting over as quickly as possible, before the Grand Master discovered something which he desired to remain concealed.

"Your services the Chancellor has requested," Yoda revealed, causing a measure of surprise to be released from Anakin's mind. He had not realised that Palpatine would want to make the duties which he was currently fulfilling an official obligation. However such a move made sense, as it allowed him to remain planetside and delayed the Council from giving him another mission under their own purview.

"On a matter of grave importance, the Chancellor requests," Yoda continued. "The safety of the Republic is at stake, he insists, but only to you will he explain his motives for clouding the petition in such secrecy. Accept this assignment do you?"

"Yes Master," Anakin replied. "I am honoured that the Chancellor would chose to favour me with such a duty."

Master Yoda merely hummed a while before adding, "unusual this is, yet question we do not. Ours is not to reason why, only the Force will reveal that answer."

Anakin said nothing to this, silently hoping that this was the end of his being summoned to the Council Chamber. Master Yoda appeared cryptic and perplexing at any time, but today the Chosen One found him to be even more mysterious than usual. He was nervous enough about sudden discovery of what he was doing for the Chancellor and more besides, he did not need to add the concern from the Council to his emotions. Not for the first time did he silently speculate as to what lay behind the recent tensions which had arisen between the Jedi Council and the office of the Chancellor. There had to be a reason behind why the depth of trust between the two authorities was now deteriorating. He knew that the Council were unhappy with the recent negative propaganda that the HoloNet news agencies seem bent on spreading, but how that could relate to their relationship with the Chancellor he did not know. The Senate received good and bad press all the time, it was something that the executive office could not control.

No there was something else which led to their tensions, something darker, perhaps related to Count Dooku's sudden disappearance since the formation of the peace treaty, or the search for the master of the ways of the Sith who trained the apprentice which killed Master Jinn. Anakin was somewhat sceptical of the theory that an apprentice of the Sith could kill a Jedi Master, but it was what the Council believed. He remembered landing back in the hangar bay of Theed Palace, in time to witness Padmé rushing into the reactor room where Master Qui-Gon and his apprentice had disappeared into, to face the red and black skinned monster he encountered on Tatooine. He recalled climbing out of his ship and following her, whereupon he saw her come to halt before the crumpled figure of Master Qui-Gon, and the weeping form of his apprentice. It was the first time he had seen Obi-Wan display his emotions. Not one tear had he shed at the funeral.

Padmé stood by him that night too, solemn and silent, but he remembered her gentle expression when she guided every other attendant away, leaving the apprentice behind to say his farewells in private. His last view of that night was his master, standing cowled before the dying embers, looking vulnerable and fragile, yet strong and enduring all at once.

That image of Obi-Wan haunted him for years, as he struggled to understand his master, a task which even now he had yet to fully comprehend. When his mother died, he came to understand some of the emotion which he had seen, or at least hoped he had descried in his master's form during that time. For after the anger passed, after he had vented his rage upon the Tusken Raiders who took her, when he was standing at the grave, he remembered the numbness, an emptiness inside him which nothing could seem to fill. Not even the partial shame which overtook him as he realised that what he had done were not the actions of a Jedi. And it was only partial because there was a part of him which could not help but feel justified in what he did.

Master Yoda was still ambling in his usual circuit around him, the gimer stick tapping along the floor in time to his quiet padding. Mutely Anakin wondered if the Grand Master had any notion of what he was thinking. He had that uncanny ability to see straight through him from the first moment he appeared before them for testing. No dismissal had come from him yet, nor did it seem he was to receive one anytime soon. From the first time he entered this room he always wished to leave, yet there was a part of him which argued that the Chosen One had more right to sit on the Council than anyone else. It was disconcerting to feel that he both belonged and did not belong inside such a room.

He wondered what Obi-Wan felt now he was a Council Master. Doubtless it felt normal to him, after all he had been raised for such a role from birth, unlike himself who was picked out of the dust because of his gifted ability, not because of himself. He remembered that meeting between himself and Obi-Wan and the masters who came to Naboo for Qui-Gon's funeral. There was a kinship there, which he had not seen before, as though Obi-Wan was held in high regard by the Grand Master. A strange sight, but one which became common over the years of reporting to him and the Council for missions. The contrast between the regard they felt for him and the Chosen One was always so very great.

Such feelings of inadequacy should be beneath him, he was the Chosen One after all. He had as much right as any other Jedi to the Temple to be granted the privileges of rank which came with padawan, knight, master, a seat on the Council, if not more, due to the power he held within him from the Force. It was something which Chancellor had taught him to realise, yet faced with the constant humility from Obi-Wan day after day of his apprenticeship, he had struggled to comprehend which was the correct behaviour. One was looked on with approval by the Council, while the other coming from him often received mixed results. Even when he tried to show humility, there was disapproval, as though they did not quite believe it was a genuine emotion.

Anakin sighed inwardly as Master Yoda reached the zenith of his circuit only to begin again without so much as a word or exhalation in the way of dismissal. He had wondered so many times over the years how to fit in, to appear as if he belonged to the Order. Yet his departure from it, this mission that the Chancellor insisted he take, seemed so much easier to comply with, so much more natural to fulfil. When he had murdered the Tuskens in his fit of rage, that too seemed easy and right, though he was taught to believe it was wrong.

Yet he had felt nothing but joy when he took to the skies above Naboo and fought to rid the space lanes of the Trade Federation, nor did he feel anything when he fought the droids which rained down on them during the battle of Geonosis. He remembered fighting with Padmé, trading teasing remarks between laser fire and saber deflection. She had not taken any pleasure in the battle. Nor had his master for that matter, whom he recalled bending over a fallen comrade in a final farewell just before the clones rescued them.

Yet pleasure was what he had felt, a youthful appreciation that was akin to his feelings during his victorious pod race. Qui-Gon had taught him then to trust his feelings, so it must mean that it was not wrong to experience such emotions. But however much he told himself that, he could not reconcile himself to the possibility that what he felt was not what a Jedi should feel. Nor could he ignore the question which inevitably followed on the heels of that suspicion; if he was not a Jedi, what was he?

"To the Chancellor, you must go," Yoda suddenly commanded, catching him by surprise. Emerging from his thoughts, Anakin rose to his feet, bowed out a farewell to the Grand Master and exited the Council Chamber.

For a long time after the Chosen One's departure, Master Yoda remained in the Council Chamber, his hands resting upon his gimer stick. Though his eyes continued to stare at the elaborate cravings on the door, his focus was elsewhere, deep within the caverns of the Force, seeking guidance.

The meeting with young Skywalker had unsettled him. Much in him did he sense, much which he did not like. Forming doubts was he, about many things of which he had once been so certain of, and amongst them, foremost, his judgement of Anakin was. So sure had he been that the boy should not be trained, despite all the persuasions of his fellow councillors, and of Qui-Gon Jinn, only to surrender his objections at the last to a newly knighted being whose own objections were now converted in a determination formed from a dying bequest. Doubt Obi-Wan he did not, blame him he did not, for favoured by the Force he always had been, and it was his interpretation of that favour which had led him astray. For interpretation was all he had to rely upon, until now.

Before being interrupted by the message from the Chancellor regarding an assignment for young Skywalker, he had been studying the Sith artefacts retrieved from Zigoola. And like what he had found, he did not. Disturbing were their traits, for despite all their portents of the dark side, a truth to the light did they reveal. A truth to the prophecy of the Chosen One, hidden to the Jedi until now. One which had the power to change all that had gone before.

With this new perception in his mind he had been called away from his studying by the Chancellor, to attend to the request he tried to subtly order. In his mind the perception remained when he surveyed young Skywalker as he relayed to him the message from Palpatine, to which the Chosen One reacted with surprise and then obedience. Reconciled was he to the authority of the Chancellor, in a time when a great number of the Jedi were not.

Dangerous this reconciliation was, and not just because that it differed from the feelings of the Council regarding the Chancellor, but because of this new perception. Yet prevent or avoid granting such a request he could not, for show his thoughts too early that would. But nor could he ignore the possibility that gone too far they had for this perception to change anything for the good. Always in motion the future may be, but inevitable some things were.

Behind him the doors to the private meditation areas swished aside, and into the chamber Master Windu did step. He was followed by another recently accepted back into the fold, that of Count Dooku. As Yoda turned to face them, a third joined their meeting, his entrance startling the two recent arrivals, who had not witnessed a Jedi Master forming from the divine energy of the Force before.

"Unlearned what was learned have I," Yoda murmured, "Now face the consequences, we must."

Qui-Gon's form adopted a position of guilt. "It was my blindness which lead us down this path, Masters."

"Time for recrimination and regret, there is not," the Grand Master rebuked. "To see into the ways of the Force a life time can it take. And always uncertain, the future is."

Count Dooku glanced at the door through which a certain knight had recently exited. His recent return, as well as his close connections to Master enabled him to pick up on the journey which the Grand Master's thoughts were taking. "No matter how discreet the surveillance, it will be detected."

"But what else can we do?" Master Windu countered. "We know nothing of his plans, an ignorance which has cost not just us but the Republic also."

"And what of the Chosen One?" Qui-Gon queried.

"Our help he will need, if to survive this journey he has," Yoda remarked. "A long road before him lies, dangerous and unknown. But walk it alone, he will not."

Chapter Text

Part 36: Affirming Loyalties.

It was odd how when it was with the right being, keeping a relationship secret no longer felt wrong, Padmé reflected as she walked down to the lobby of the Corellian Grand. She greeted Captain Typho with a response which matched his own upon catching sight of her, the unspoken but eloquent expression of mutual understanding which passes between one's security and their detail when the latter shirks their protection for several hours. Falling into the line of his security radius for her return to her senatorial residence, Padmé continued to muse over her night spent with Obi-Wan. It was a night which she did not anticipate, for she had never dared to hope that her recently realised feelings for him were reciprocated. Also, while she was still angry with herself for not being able to overcome her fears due to what injuries Anakin had visited upon her, a part of her had become accustomed to spending only dinner with those she contacted through the List.

Which was why she was surprised by her somewhat impulsive decision to abandon that part of the evening with Obi-Wan in favour of conquering her fears. She had tried to spend the night with those whom she had already encountered within the List, yet she had failed, but with Obi-Wan, her fears had been present, only to be conquered in the face of his gentle tenderness, not to mention his feelings for her. Maybe it was that which had made the difference, in giving her the courage to conquer those fears. She realised that she had been wrong to look for her recovery in the List, though it had led her to Obi-Wan. Her injuries had been caused by great emotion, a element of morality which the List tried to avoid. What happened last night had been the only way to assuage that wound.

She felt honoured and humbled that Obi-Wan had chosen to trust her with his love, when he could have easily chosen someone else. She was not naive enough to believe herself to be his only choice, she had heard several rumours concerning him since their first encounter ten years ago, especially concerning the Duchess of Mandalore. That they had to conceal their relationship due the actions and feelings of Anakin based on what injuries he had caused to her, annoyed her, but it was a secrecy which she could live with, for now. However there was something else relating to Anakin which caused her a source of puzzlement; her reasons for agreeing to marry him in the first place.

On Naboo, she had resolved to accept that whatever they might feel for each other, it would be wrong to embark upon a relationship. He was training to be Jedi Knight, she was serving the Senate, their duties would be a source of strain that she was unsure either of them could have managed to balance alongside a relationship. It was a response which was designed to let him down easy, because at the time she knew that her love for him spanned only the depths of friendship, nothing more. She had been certain that his were the product of his childhood, adolescent crush, and would fade away once he matured. Yet on Geonosis, as they faced each other in the tumbrel before entering the arena, she had felt an overwhelming urge to agree that their feelings for each other were the same. And then afterwards, while he recovered at the Temple and she waited for a chance to see him, she decided to marry him out of a desire to prove to the Order that a Jedi could have love despite what the Code said rather than the level of commitment which should be felt upon entering such a state.

Clearly, something had occurred to her during that period of time between her reaching that resolve on Naboo to her confession during Geonosis. Yet however unconsciously she had realised it, she could not understand it, for choosing to act on the basis of such a decision was unlike her. She was given to a reluctance to commit herself to something without at first giving it a great deal of thought. It was how she had come to decide to run for the Senate after her term as sovereign of Naboo came to an end, despite the need within her for a family of her own. And the reason why she had accepted the post as leader of the Opposition, as well as becoming a member of several committees within the Senate. Why she had decided not to support the Military Creation Act, even though she believed that the Republic should not solely rely on the Jedi to sort out their problems.

She still recalled every layer of thought which she had conceived to help her reach those decisions, but when it came to seeking out those reasons as to why she married Anakin, Padmé could not recall anything but the memories of when the decision was already taken, while Obi-Wan was counselling her against it. She had not thought herself to be still capable of such a petulance reserved for younglings. Yet clearly that the only answer she could give to assuage that puzzlement, and it served to create nothing but more mystery.

Abruptly her security detail came to a halt, causing Padmé to abandon her thought trail in favour of responding to the security measures which were managed by the Senate for the care of their members. Only when she passed the checks was she at leisure to return to those musings, although now she chose to contemplate when and how she and Obi-Wan would be free from the secrecy imposed upon their relationship by Anakin, however indirectly. Their divorce proceedings had not provided him with the maturity he still lacked in regards to how he perceived his feelings for her, and she doubted that when those came to an end and granted them the right to marry another that such an understanding would not be reached by him then either.

Preparing to deal with his feelings would be an inevitability she realised. As for the rest of the Republic, her relationship with Obi-Wan would come as a surprise, but not an unwelcome one, though she would expect a dubious reception from some members within the Senate, and possibly the Order, despite the fact that the reforms were through. A few masters and knights had taken the decision to have families recently, so if theirs was ever allowed to see the light of a Coruscant day, it would not be an oddity, though it would still be the first union between a Jedi and a Senator.

Her family would be surprised, but only because she had not told them that her contact with the Jedi extended beyond the level of diplomatic and protection dealings which the HoloNet recorded. She had told them of Master Jinn and his Padawan, how they had rescued her from the troops of the Trade Federation, taken her to Coruscant and then escorted her back when she decided to liberate Naboo without the help of the Senate. She had even mentioned how Master Jinn had found Anakin and decided to train him as a Jedi. And they had met him briefly when he was protecting her on Naboo. Sola had even teased her about the relationship and Padmé knew her sister well enough to see that she was not convinced by her vehement denials that there was nothing between her and Anakin.

But she had not mentioned that the youngling, as he was then, had feelings for her, or the friendship she formed with Master Jinn's Padawan after he became a knight. Perhaps if she had chosen to confide in them, she might have been able to prevent her mistaken union with Anakin. But she had been so used to protecting her family from the dangers which her chosen career exposed her to. They had been so concerned about her safety while the blockade was imposed on Naboo, that she had not wanted to worry them further, particularly over what was in the end, a minor, selfish problem which would have little impact over the fate of the Republic.

At least that was what she had believed then. Now, Padmé wasn't so sure. Marrying Anakin as she had, whether it was a mistake or no, enabled her to understand the damage that a Jedi could inflict with the power which they were trained to harness and wield upon the universe. Whether it was for the good or for the bad, the decision was theirs alone, subject to the influence of the beings around them, and their relationship with those beings. Anakin's life as a slave had a direct effect on how he regarded his power within the Force and his place within the universe.

In his years as a youngling he had come to realise the harsh realities of life too soon, without acquiring the maturity and wisdom which came with learning and age to accept that one could not change them. Discovering that he had the power to wield the Force while that young, had given him the impression that he could use it to escape that harshness, even prevent it. And when he failed, he reasoned that it was a fault related to that power. That if he was stronger, or had more, he would have succeeded. He had not realised yet that it was the way he used the power within him which prevented him from succeeding. From becoming the Jedi which the Order hoped he would become, the Chosen One.

If he really was the Chosen One, Padmé mused, as she and her attendants reached her offices. Absently she uttered a greeting to Sovi, her personal assistant, coming to a brief halt while she waited for Captain Typho to check her office for security risks, a precaution which had become a habit ever since the threats visited on her life. While she waited she ignored the thoughts which had been gathering in her mind, awaiting reflection, to catch up with Sovi regarding any Senate business which she may have missed, or if there were any messages awaiting her return.

Only when Typho rejoined them and declared her office safe did she leave her assistant and security chief behind, taking a seat behind her desk, and resume the reflection which her mind desired. So rarely did she have an opportunity to do so, prevented by the concerns of those beings which lived on her planet and those within the Republic. Such chaos was a matter of routine in her career, she had learnt by virtue of necessity to juggle the masses without devoting a care to her own concerns until a moment arose where she had nothing else to concern herself with, or was forced to do so. Lately she had avoided the process, unconsciously sensing that there were things she did not like to think about, but there were truths which she would have to realise, however unwelcome or painful they might be. Her relationship with Anakin had been one of them, the nature of the darkness within the Republic another.

The latter was a Jedi way of describing the current state of affairs within the Republic, but it was also the best way to do so, for the trouble was a multitude of elements which no one could assign to one being or source, yet were all connected to one another, and which only made sense when assigned to the feeling that something was wrong, and had been wrong for a long time. She had caught a sense of this when she left Naboo to appeal before the Senate ten years ago, which had led her to accept her successor's request that she take up the post of Senator.

Upon her return to that chamber of governance, the sense had only intensified, along with her inability to procure a solution which could resolve the darkness, or perhaps shine a light through it. She was well aware that she could not fix everything, at best only lend a hand to those who wished to do so. But she also knew now that it was not just within the Senate where the darkness lay, but within other structures in the governance of the Republic as well. Even the Jedi were not immune, as the actions of Anakin had showed. But was he the only source of darkness within the Order, if indeed he was a source at all?

Padmé sighed and shook her head. Her contemplation was not giving her any answers, nor did she believe that she was closer to forming them. What had happened between her and Anakin clouded her judgement, not to mention having an impact on him which she could not have anticipated, even though she felt responsible for it. Such past experience should have taught her to be wary of getting involved with another Jedi, but Obi-Wan was utterly different compared to his former Padawan.

When she considered him, she knew that there was never a moment when she had felt afraid of his power within the Force, his ability to wield it for the good of the Republic. Instead her fears had been directed at what could happen to him, what impact such an eventuality would have on Anakin, on the Order, on the Republic, on her. Since she had realised her feelings, these fears had not changed, but they were laced with an understanding of him, and through him the Force, the Jedi and the Republic. They had not clouded her judgement of him, or the universe around them.

One example sprang easily to her mind, when she and Anakin had been on Tatooine, after receiving and relaying his message to the Temple concerning what happening on Geonosis. She remembered how the message had petered out in wake of an attack from a droideka, and how she felt when Master Windu ordered them to remain where they were. Caught up in the aftermath of what he had done to avenge the death of his mother, Anakin had stubbornly clung to Master Windu's orders. It was she who had rebelled, pointing out that Geonosis was only a parsec away, taking the decision out of his hands by implementing the flight path into the ship and readying it for departure. At the time, she believed her desire to rescue Obi-Wan came from her concern for Anakin, the reminder of what his actions had done when away from the influence of his master. She had not given a thought to how her actions might be judged by those within the Senate, how her position as a member of that body cast an added weight on her movements.

For a Senator to rescue a Jedi from the Confederacy was an act of war, and those actions had led them into war. But she knew that if faced with such a decision again, she would do the same. Not because of what she felt for Obi-Wan, but because she understood now where her desire to rescue him had come from. She may not have the ability to wield it with the same skill that Anakin and Obi-Wan were trained in, but from her relationship with them she knew that the Force existed in everything, and that the fate of everything rested within it. Even before she had considered what difficulties the rescue would involve, Padmé had known that she would do it. There was no doubt within her mind, in comparison to when Anakin was involved, only the decision and all the thought which went into forming it.

Yet all the same it bore a similarity to when she confessed her feelings to Anakin in the tumbrel, before they entered the arena to reveal themselves and by their appearance, their rescue attempt, to Obi-Wan. Padmé felt herself frown as she shifted her position, leaning forward in her chair, resting her chin on the palm of her hand. Was her confession a product of the Force? Almost as soon as she posed that question, she could hear the answer come to her, causing her to raise her head in order to shake it in firm agreement with that conviction.

As she did so however, she realised that the question and the answer had brought her a sort of clarity in regards to where that confession had come from. Not from the Force, but possibly by someone who could wield and manipulate that energy. The conclusions which came from that thought were frightening, for it was unsettling to realise that she had been under the influence of that darkness for a time, without knowing it.

As had Anakin, although that was not a surprise, for it was something which she had always been aware of, ever since he told her what he did to avenge his mother. She had called him human then, even though she had known that such an action was extreme, whatever species you happened to be. The fact that he was still under the influence of that darkness was inescapable, and Padmé wondered how much he was aware of that. But what caused her the most concern, was whether he fought against the darkness, or allowed himself to be ruled by it. Even worse, if he had learned to wield it himself.

She could not believe that her feelings for him, whatever they were, had determined the influence of the darkness. They had not determined Obi-Wan's actions, although she knew that his feelings for her differed from Anakin's. No, the influence lay elsewhere, it came from another source, that same source which had transformed him from youngling she had first met into the man whom she knew now. And someone within his life wielded that influence, manipulated it for their own purposes. Whom she did not know. Possibly the same being who was responsible for the state of affairs within the Republic at this moment, perhaps they were behind the murders which Obi-Wan was investigating, though Padmé doubted that they actually the person who was carrying them out. Such evil rarely chose to dirty their hands by committing the crimes which would achieve their schemes. And it had to be someone with authority, a being of prominence within the Republic, for Coruscant had a way of keeping itself separate from the rest of the worlds which belonged to that alliance.

She recalled her own ignorance of Senate politics being realised while she was a Queen waiting for their permission to speak on behalf of her planet, inspite of her diligence in keeping abreast of current affairs, not just on Coruscant, but on every planet within the Republic, unconsciously planning ahead for her future career within that governing body. As a Senator one had access to everything, not to mention a certain authority which few could supersede. But a Senator could not have the ability to wield the darkness, unless that is they had an ability within the Force as well. However that did not mean that they could be or would have been a Jedi, for the names of those who had left the Order were well known, being so few, rising to prominence through the position which Count Dooku had only recently enjoyed.

A former Jedi entering the Senate would have caused as much consternation as that which occurred when the magnate of Serenno had become the leader of the Separatists. Which meant whatever training they had, it was knowledge they had gained from outside the Order, possibly from someone else who was adept in the dark arts. She recalled with a shiver the being whom Obi-Wan had fought on Naboo, wondering if he had been the one who cultivated the darkness which surrounded the Republic now. Who had passed on his knowledge to a successor. Padmé frowned once more, for though she had reached an answer, it was one which she did not like, and what's more, she was not entirely sure that the Sith was the answer.

Her comstation uttered a short series of beeps, signalling an end to her contemplation. Reluctantly she pushed her thoughts aside before reaching forward to attend to what ever it was. By the time the lines of encrypted com had finished scrolling across the screen her mind was clear and ready to focus on her work. Gradually the machine worked upon the decrypt until it began to coalesce into an image which bore a more familiar resemblance. Padmé rapidly schooled her features as soon as the caller came into being.

"Senator Amidala," Chancellor Palpatine remarked, his tone and style of address indicating that despite the appearance of the screen, he was not alone in his office, hence the formal nature, as could not address her as he usually chose to do. "I am gratified to find you in your Senatorial chamber. Your prudence for punctuality does you credit."

"Thank you Chancellor," Padmé remarked, her tone one of calm openness, while inwardly her mind was in a high state of alert, wondering what his motive was for calling her across encrypted com, and who else was with him. "But I am sure you did not call me merely to show your appreciation. How may I help you?"

"How perceptive you are," Palpatine murmured, his head slightly inclined by way of a silent compliment. "A rumour has reached me that the Repeal for Executive Powers is to be tried in the Senate again, possibly as an Amendment to another statute which has to be passed. I hoped you might be able to confirm or deny the rumour."

Inwardly her mind was reeling, frantically trying to figure out how he had come to learn such news, but Padmé let none of this consternation show. "I am afraid I have not heard any rumours pertaining to such an amendment, Chancellor," she answered. "Be assured I will let you know if I do in the future."

"Thank you Senator," the Chancellor replied. "Now, I am sure I must be interrupting you from your work, so I shall disturb you no further."

"No interruption, I assure you, Chancellor," Padmé responded courteously, before signing off.

For a moment she did nothing connected to the matter. To do so would have signalled the depth of her deception just now. For in truth she did know about the Amendment Repeal, for it was something which she, not to mention the members of a certain committee, had conceived as a way of getting the Chancellor to relinquish the executive powers which he had been gathering since Geonosis first thrust them upon him. Powers which she was convinced that he was not using for the good of the Republic. The peace treaty with the Separatists gave them the basis they needed for him to relinquish these powers, and if he was the good man which she had believed in since accession to the throne of Naboo, he would have willingly given them up. But he had not, and that troubled her, along with other members of the committee. It signalled to them that the Chancellor was no longer the man that they had believed him to be. Possibly it was a sign that he had never been the man they believed in.

Padmé focused on working through the senatorial business which had called her into the office that afternoon, pushing aside her concerns about the amendment until all that lay before her was the finely polished surface of Nubian Kiirn which formed her desk. Then she rose from her chair and exited her office, pausing before Sovi on her way. From his post by the wall, Captain Typho emerged to escort her to the committee meeting, which had been scheduled a long time ago, and would thus raise no alarm within the executive offices, despite the fact that it was the committee with whom she had conceived the Repeal in the first place.

Beside her Artoo trundled as a piece of further protection. They made an odd trio as they progressed through the maze of corridors within the Senate building, then out into the natural air of Coruscant before climbing aboard her personal speeder enroute to Cantham House, but no one turned a curious gaze upon them, far too concerned with their own concerns than what the Senator from Naboo might be doing.

Minala Lodilyn, Bail Organa's personal assistant, greeted the trio as she ushered them inside the Alderaanian's Senatorial residence. Within the main living space Bail rose from his chair where he and a few of the other early arrivals were gathered, welcoming her. With all the decades of experience as a member of the Senate, he surveyed her seemingly unrevealing expression and astutely interpreted its unspoken eloquence. "I take it that you do not bring good news."

She shook her head, following him as he turned and shepherded her to one of the sofas. "I am afraid that rumours of our Amendment have reached the Executive office," she informed them before sitting down. "Chancellor Palpatine talked to me just after I returned to the Senate."

"Has he alluded to who might be behind them?" Mon Mothma asked.

"No," Padmé replied. "But the fact that he knows about the rumours is troubling enough. I thought we knew who our friends were within the Senate."

"Evidently, our friends do not," Bail murmured, before another chime signalled the arrival of further members of the committee.

When all of the beings who had conceived the Amendment Repeal, along with countless of other statutes designed to convince Palpatine to relinquish the powers which he had been subtly gathering ever since Geonosis, arrived, a long discussion ensued as they cogitated at length on what should their next moves be, now that the rumours had reached the office of the Supreme Chancellor. The last time they had introduced this Repeal, there had been enough votes to enter a motion of no confidence, a motion which had once ushered the former Senator from Naboo into the executive office.

A manoeuvre which Padmé keenly regretted bringing to the Senate floor all those years ago. She knew that she could not have predicted what would happen, but her mind could not rid herself of the feeling of guilt all the same. Now, just as then, they would have difficulty in predicting who outside of this committee would support the Repeal, now that the Chancellor knew of it. Yet they had no choice but to bring it to the Senate floor, lest they wished to see the Republic that they once knew continue to be slowly destroyed before their eyes.

She recalled what she and Obi-Wan had talked of last night, how the murders of members of the List could be the basis of a plot to destroy the Republic with a scandal. Like the war with the Separatists had threatened to do, and now Palpatine seemed to desire to do so as well on a political front. Obi-Wan had shared his concerns with her, the concerns of a Jedi Master whom was a well-respected member of that Order, not to mention its ruling Council. They had a representation within the Senate, one which was granted the authority to vote, in a wave of amendments which were passed, recognising the Confederacy as a form of government, who had also been recently granted that same privilege. Perhaps there was another way to accomplish this, one which the Chancellor would not expect.

"What if we confided our concerns to the Jedi Council?" she posed, aware that her suggestion would be a surprise to most of her colleagues present.

"The Jedi do not tend to involve themselves in matters of governing," Mon Mothma reminded her.

"But they do have a voice," Padmé countered, "not to mention a vote. As do members of the Confederacy. Remember, most of those former Senators who joined the Separatist movement did so because of their disagreements with Palpatine, not because of their belief in the Republic." She rose from seat to walk about the room as she continued to put forth her point. "And I know that there are those on the Jedi Council who disagree with many of the Chancellor's policies." Her journey took her to the large pane of transparisteel which covered one wall of Cantham House. As she surveyed the view, she continued. "Such a move would prove a surprise to the Chancellor, for he would not expect us to consider consulting with such bodies, even after the peace conference on Pais."

Silence greeted her statement, but she knew that the sudden need for peace within the room was not a form of outright objection. They were considering the possibility that her idea was not without merit. Patiently she waited for them to reach consensus, or the confidence to voice their support to her proposal.

Finally Bail spoke. "How we would go about this without raising his suspicion?"

"Request one of their members to visit us," Padmé suggested. "For the Jedi it could be a security or diplomatic concern within their purview. For the Confederacy a chance to catch up with an old friend."

"We'll do these meetings separately," Mon Mothma decided. "You have had the most recent security concerns, Padmé. It is you who should meet with the Jedi." She turned to survey the rest of the Senators gathered. "Who will meet with an old friend from the Confederacy?"

One of the members volunteered a name, which was agreed to after some deliberation. Padmé took care to steady herself as she declared whom she would meet with. It gave her an excellent excuse for seeing him again, but she had no desire to reveal her feelings at present, even to those in this room who she trusted absolutely. Meeting with a Jedi who was a friend was one thing, making known that she was having a romantic relationship with them was entirely another.

Shortly afterwards the meeting broke up, and one by one the Senators made their departures from Cantham House either for their offices or their own residences within the Core of the Republic. As usual she was one of the last to leave, exchanging a fond farewell with Bail, whom asked her to pass on his regards to the Jedi she was to meet. Since Zigoola the friendship which had begun on Pais had deepened between the Alderaanian Senator and the Jedi Master into an understanding which traversed freely over the old prejudices that the Senate once held - and some times still did - of the Order.

On her way back to her own residence Padmé stopped by her office to check in with Sovi and posted a call through the proper channels to the Jedi Council. Master Windu was the one who met her request, and despite her initial concern, he readily agreed, promising to inform his colleague, who would drop by her residence this evening.

Evening came, and with it a return to her apartment, where she found herself nervously fussing about the furnishings, worrying over the meal that Dormé assured her would be perfect, along with the gown she had changed into rather than her usual Senatorial garb. For some reason tonight she felt like a young woman rather than a politician, and briefly wished for those comforting surroundings of the Naberrie homestead which she had known when she was. Her life of public service had aged her far more rapidly than perhaps it should, but these were times which one lived in.

It was in the midst of forming this conclusion when the chime rang out, signalling that she had a visitor. From her position in the living area, Padmé heard the voice of Dormé welcoming Obi-Wan into the apartment, and rapidly called on all of her training, including that which she had learned from him, in the gardens of Theed Palace all those years ago, to calm herself.

He entered the room in his Jedi robes, an expression upon his face which she was half surprised to see match her own. "Hello."

"Hello," she greeted in the same tone.

For a moment they stood silently, uncertain as to who should begin and with what. Last night it had seemed so much easier, surrendering to the desire which existed between them, discovering that the attraction went further than that, reaffirming their friendship in the aftermath of a love newly realised, which was blessed by a feeling that though discretion was needed, it was right for them to feel as they did, for the Force rejoiced in the union.

"Master Windu led me to understand that you wished to speak to me about a security concern," Obi-Wan recollected at last.

"Yes," Padmé began, "well, from a certain point of view, that is. I have a meal prepared, do you want to talk about it over dinner?"

Obi-Wan nodded. "That would be wonderful. I must confess that I've been so busy today that I haven't had the chance to grab a bite to eat."

Padmé laughed a little, her nervousness fading somewhat. She gestured for him to follow her over to the table, where a meal was laid waiting. "In the house of Naberrie no one is allowed to leave hungry. And if someone does, we go out and fetch them back."

He chuckled at that, before pulling the chair out for her, his smile remaining as she flushed in appreciation of his manners. He saw to the wine being poured into their glasses, then took his seat opposite her. "A certain point of view," he mused after they had taken a drink. "I can only conclude, for you to mean that the security risk is directed at not just you, but at others also."

"Yes. I know that the Council have a right to attend Senate briefings, that usually some one of your Order sits in," as she finished speaking, Padmé looked to him in the hope that what she had observed only occasionally was right.

"We do," Obi-Wan confirmed. "Although we try not to exercise our voting privileges unless we have to."

"I'm afraid that is what I am asking of you," Padmé confessed. "No doubt the Council have made you aware of what happened before Master Yoda went to Kamino to summon the clone army to rescue us from Geonosis?"

"They have," Obi-Wan replied. "I understand that there was an emergency meeting of the Senate, and a representative requested for the Chancellor to assume executive powers."

"I rather wish Jar Jar had not put forth that particular motion," Padmé remarked. "If I had been there, I would not have done so. Forgive me, but from a political standpoint, it was a Jedi affair, and the Senate had no right to interfere."

"You are absolutely right," Obi-Wan agreed. "As I understand Master Yoda announced his intentions to get the army while in counsel with the Chancellor, Senator Organa, Master Windu and Jar Jar. Whatever others may have felt, it was not for them to interfere."

"Until I became a hostage," Padmé mused. "I feel responsible for dragging the Republic into a war which I was against from the beginning. I should have thought of my position as a Senator instead of my friendship to you."

Obi-Wan reached across the table and took hold of her hand. "Padmé, I do not hold you responsible for the war. You saw an opportunity to rescue me, and I am grateful for the attempt. Who knows what might have happened if you and Anakin had not been there. Perhaps the delay made all the difference. But if you had remained on Tatooine, and left the Jedi and the clone army to rescue me, I doubt it would have prevented the war with the Separatists. They were massing together an army, and few prepare for war unless they intend to start one."

"Thank you," Padmé uttered, returning his grip in kind before they relinquished the contact in favour of finishing their meal. "So, we are rescued from Geonosis, and the Republic prepares for a war with the Separatists. Suddenly the Confederacy calls for a peace conference. We go to Pais and conceive a treaty, which on our return is ratified by the Senate. Now is the time for the Chancellor to relinquish his executive powers. Except he has avoided every opportunity to do so."

"No matter how many times members in the Senate put forth their requests for him to do so," Obi-Wan finished. "I recall the last time such a measure was put the floor, there were enough members to force a vote of confidence."

"Yes," Padmé nodded. "But there is a reluctance to voice such a motion. It is how he rose to power in the first place after all, and there are a growing number of us who feel that the Chancellor will not quietly surrender his post."

"Are you asking for the Council to make him do so?" Obi-Wan queried.

Padmé shook her head. "We hope that if a powerful majority can push forth an amendment to repeal his powers that he will not have a choice but to surrender them, or else show his real agenda."

"And you think that a show of solidarity from the Order will convince others that this is the right move?" Obi-Wan sought to prove.

"Not just the Order, but the Separatists as well. Some members left the Republic because of his political stance," Padmé revealed.

Obi-Wan nodded. "I will voice your request to the rest of the Jedi Council. But I cannot assure you that they will agree to exercise their voting privileges. However, I do not think they will refuse without strong reason. You know of our current relationship with the executive office."

"Yes I do," Padmé raffirmed. "And that's all I ask of you to do."

Chapter Text

Part 37: A Torch Upon the Darkness.

Obi-Wan did not encounter another familiar Jedi enroute to his quarters within the Temple after passing Anakin. Despite his seemingly casual greeting, one simple phrase into which a great deal of thought had been put into, his former Padawan failed to acknowledge both the reply and the encounter. Such an event took a shorter time than the length of consideration that he had given the situation, but he could only shake his head in mild regret, an emotion directed both at himself and his former Padawan. As he performed such a motion, he saw the destination which Anakin had been in quest of, the turbo lift that led to the Council chambers. His anxious concern rose a little, but there was nothing coming from the Force to tell him that he should be worrying more. Doubtless his former Padawan was about to be given his first mission as a Knight.

Avoiding the turbo lifts, Obi-Wan wandered on through the maze of Temple corridors in search of his quarters, content to take the long way round, as opposed to the most direct route. Occasionally he would encounter another Jedi Master, Knight or Padawan, but none of them were as familiar to him as Anakin, causing him to reach his quarters undisturbed by any thoughts save for those on his current assignment, and Padmé. A smile formed upon his face as soon as her name passed into his mind. He had never expected for a moment that he would be fortunate enough to meet with the Senator from Naboo during his assignment.

That she would be a member of the List was a surprise, revealing a facet to her character which was previously hidden from him. And from Anakin it seemed, though that was fortunate for all their sakes, as his former Padawan would not regard the activities of the List in a favourable light. One of the rare notions that they had in common, although Obi-Wan was far more tolerant of the vices which the List practised.

In certain light, the clique could almost be a virtue, for it allowed the members involved to discard all their publicly held prejudices and practices in favour of achieving a more primitive satisfaction within the embrace of another. An exercise in tolerance, that could prove beneficial to the future well-being of the Republic, if the members cared to realise that such a truth existed behind the seemingly scandalous act.

But it was more than tolerance which he and Padmé had exercised during their encounter. That she returned his feelings was startling, counselling him to examine all that had passed between them before in a new light. In many ways their consideration of Anakin's feelings had been their undoing. Not only had they ignored the blessing from the Force, they had allowed a harmful factor to effect his former Padawan which had caused lasting consequences to his character.

Anakin's attachment to his mother was unavoidable, but his love for Padmé could have been, if they had taken the trouble to deal with it, instead of hoping that it was a product of a youthful idealisation that would fade away in time. Such an reproach was the benefit of hindsight, but he had been gifted with the Unifying Force, an ability which dealt with looking into the future, however in motion it may always be.

Master Yoda had often rebuked him for his own problems with attachment, but Obi-Wan knew that his were far more disciplined than Anakin's. He only need to recall the moment when Padmé had fallen from the clone army ship on to the sands of Geonosis to support his assertion. Anakin had been ready to halt the vehicle and jump down to rescue her, inspite of their pursuit of Count Dooku. His Padawan had not given a thought to the possibility that she might be able to reach their destination on her own, until Obi-Wan had threatened and cajoled him into doing so. Perhaps that method should have been avoided in favour of a more mild approach, he knew that he too had been preoccupied with making sure that Padmé was uninjured. Anakin's turmoil and distress overwhelmed his senses to such a degree, making him struggle to sense that she was well.

If Anakin had jumped down to rescue her, none of what he had threatened would have come to pass, for the Order was too concerned with keeping the Chosen One that losing him to love, however much they disapproved of his blatant disregard for the code which existed then. What else would have occurred was more difficult to predict. His former Padawan would have arrived too late to help him with Dooku, he might have fared better or worse in the duel without the distraction which his apprentice may or may not have been. Anakin may not have lost his arm, for he would probably have arrived too late to confront the Count.

But none of those alternatives mattered, for the point to focus on was how Anakin had dealt with his emotions when Padmé fell. Unlike his master he had assumed that no one else could save her but himself. It was one of Anakin's failings, the inability to realise he was not invincible. No amount of training or experience could make him recognise the error, it was simply something which he refused to contemplate.

Which was where their attachment differed. Obi-Wan knew that he was incapable of saving everyone. He knew his limits and that no amount of training would ever render him invincible. To be a student of the ways of the Force was a life long journey, one never truly mastered, despite the rank which he now held and the Council on which he sat. He could love someone and let them go. He may not be content to spend his life alone, but if that proved to be his fate, he would accept it.

If Padmé had remained with Anakin, he would have not fought it, except perhaps under the counsel of others, as he had done in the past. But instead she had chosen to realise her own feelings for him, giving her heart to him in return for his own. Such a gift was humbling, and he would honour the exchange for the rest of his life. His only hope was that in time they would be allowed to acknowledge those feelings without it being to the detriment of his Padawan. Given what Anakin had done to her when their union came to an end, he doubted that to tell him now would do any of them good.

Reminding himself of what he heard Anakin had done to Padmé brought another thought to his mind, that of what he should do with that piece of knowledge now that he had it. His instinct was to inform the rest of the Council, but he could not ignore how the assault would be treated by them. As with any Jedi who used their gift to harm another, their conduct was examined and they were reprimanded and sent to a soul healer. But Anakin was used to facing that from the Council, and such a repeat would only serve to anger him and alienate him from their guidance even more than he was already.

His Padawan was a Knight now, a rank which no one could deny him, even if he was not as disciplined as some of the newly promoted initiates of the Order. Nothing that the Council could do would probably serve any of them any good, he knew. However he could not help but recall all the times in the past when Anakin had used the Force with such brutality before, and he feared that it would not be the last time either.

Entering his quarters, Obi-Wan discarded his cloak before heading into the kitchen area for a cup of tea. With a wave of his hand he flicked the com device on his desk into life, letting the machine warm up while his drink stewed. When the tea was ready he cradled the cup in his hands as he took a seat before his desk and caught up on his messages.

One immediately caught his eye, for it was from Mace Windu, regarding a security risk to a member of the Senate. Specifically, the member from the Chommell Sector, who had asked to meet with a Council member to discuss such concerns over dinner. A smile came to face as he realised that he would be seeing Padmé within just a few hours. This emotion was tempered however by the thought of what security risk could have arisen in the time they had parted from each other in the Corellian Grand. Padmé was no ordinary politician. She would not have requested such a meeting unless it was important.

Rising from his chair, Obi-Wan took himself further into the quarters, to where the refresher and his bedroom were located. Shedding his garments he took another shower, this time solitary and short, before attiring himself in a freshly laundered set of robes. It would not do to greet Master Windu in the clothes he wore during his unofficial assignment. Privately he contemplated the possibility of confiding in the rest of the Council about what Bail had asked him to investigate. He could not be the only member within that body who knew about the List. There were the larger implications behind the murders to consider after all.

From his quarters it was not as long a route to the Council chambers as it was from those lived by the members of the Order who did not sit within that body. Obi-Wan wandered the largely deserted corridors of the rooms which belonged to those members, before reaching a door that led to the series of private meditation chambers, likewise reserved, through which there was an entrance into the Council Chamber itself. Before the entrance he paused, stretching out with the Force to determine who else was in the room. Anakin had been heading that way, and he did not wish to encounter his former Padawan so soon. Not all members of the Council needed to be present in order to assign a Knight or Master a mission.

Still it was disconcerting to learn that it had been Master Yoda and no other who chose to brief the Chosen One. It signified that the mission must have been of some importance, or the Grand Master still had his doubts concerning Anakin's abilities. Perhaps it was both. True he could sense Mace with him, but he could also discern that the Korun master had only recently entered the hallowed chamber. Knowing they would, doubtless they already had, sensed his presence, Obi-Wan joined them.

"Master Obi-Wan," Yoda greeted him in his usual manner.

In reply he offered a slight bow to them both before turning to Master Windu. "I received your message, Mace. Did Senator Amidala confide in you the nature of the security concern?"

"No, she did not," Master Windu replied. "Yet there was something in her manner which leads me to believe that this security concern is a matter that involves more than just her safety."

Obi-Wan felt his frown deepen, even as he tightened his shields around the newly realised returned affection concerning the Nubian Senator. "A concern for Naboo, or a concern for the New Republic?"

"I am uncertain," Mace answered. "She is a careful woman, who hides her worries well, even from a Jedi."

"A debt to Senator Amidala we owe," Master Yoda mused. "Without her help on Zigoola you might still be."

"I am sure she considers our own help regarding the relief of the Blockade Crisis to be an even trade," Obi-Wan countered mildly. "She is not one who expects something in return for the aid which she gives freely," he added, knowing that his companions were probably aware of such a character trait, but felt the point should be made in any case.

"Report to us the nature of her concerns you will," Master Yoda intoned.

"If they relate to larger matters within the galaxy," Obi-Wan assured them with a slight inclination of his head. He had detected enough in the Grand Master's words to realise that it was not a command, merely a reminder of his duty. "Which I sense that they might."

With that parting communiqué, Obi-Wan bowed before them then exited the Council Chamber through the same route which he had entered the room. Once outside however, he took the direct route to the Temple hangar, where he requisitioned one of the airspeeders for the journey to Five Hundred Republica. As he entered the route into the navcomputer, he took the precaution of adding to the automated return system, for it would not do for a Jedi issued airspeeder to spend all night outside the apartments. In response to the Supreme Chancellor's crafted propaganda campaign, every Jedi's actions were closely observed by an increasingly attentive holopress. The last thing he and Padmé needed was attention from them just now.

Such a move might be considered presumptuous on his part, especially as he sensed her nervousness from the moment he came to a halt by the door. It was an emotion to which he was not immune either, for his training had not prepared him for this meeting. Dormé greeted him as he crossed the threshold of the corridor, and he held some mundane conversation with her before she ushered him into the living space, where Padmé was waiting for him.

Her appearance did not calm him one iota, for once more he was struck by her beauty, unable to do no more than cast his eyes about the cascaded yellow into pink shaded gown, adorned by a silver gilded clasp fastened about her neck. Though her hair was only styled simply in a half chignon, the long locks falling down her back did nothing to hide the fact that the dress parted wide underneath her tresses, leaving her soft skin unveiled to his gaze.

Obi-Wan was drawn from his silent admiration of Padmé's beauty by her voice as she nervously greeted him. He managed to return the salutation in the same fashion, as he fell back on his training in order to achieve a semblance of serenity. To his relief this was accomplished, causing him to continue the conversation, politely reminding her of the reason he had come.

She elaborated briefly upon her motive for requesting a visit from the Order, then offered him dinner. To his surprise, Obi-Wan realised that he had not had a bite to eat since he departed from her that morning, so he accepted her invitation. As they wined and dined, he learned that the truth behind her summons was a request that the Order exercise their recently granted voting privileges, a dubious honour accorded to them and the members of the Confederacy through the peace negotiations, and join with various members of the Senate in asking that the Supreme Chancellor give up the executive powers awarded him during the Geonosis Crisis, as that engagement had come to be known since the ratification of the peace treaty with the Separatists.

It was both comforting and unsettling to learn that the Order were not the only ones who felt that Palpatine's grasp of power was dangerous to the Republic. If members of the Senate were questioning his motives in refusing to relinquish the powers granted to him in order to resolve the Geonosis Crisis, then there must be more at stake than the Council previously believed. Due to his position on the Council, Obi-Wan was more well-informed than other knights and masters of the Order about the recent political manoeuvres, perhaps more so than his Council colleagues, thanks to his friendship with Bail Organa and the woman sitting across from him.

He knew that the result of the last time the Senate put the request to the floor had enough votes behind it to force a vote of no confidence in the Chancellor. He could understand Padmé's hesitation in proposing such a measure, after all it was the same move which had won Palpatine his leadership in the first place. Another thing he also agreed with her about was that the Senate would need an overwhelming majority to force the Supreme Chancellor to relinquish his powers. That Palpatine would not go without a fight was evident. What exactly that fight would entail was another matter, and one on which no one dared to speculate for fear of reaching conclusions which were entirely unwelcome.

He agreed to Padmé's request of putting forth the proposal before the Council, asking them to exercise their voting privileges. Silently he wondered if a word to Master Dooku would influence the Confederacy into doing the same. Though the former magnate - and former Jedi Master, as far as the Serennoan was concerned, however much some members of the Order might disagree - had claimed sanctuary within the Temple, Master Dooku still had some connections within the Separatists which could prove useful to the Republic.

Whether the Council would agree to Padmé's request was another matter. A great many of them still refused to involve themselves within the Republic, even though most of their diplomatic and aid assignments came from that alliance of systems. Very few matters relating to trouble in the Outer Rim reached their ears now, a downside of basing the Temple on Coruscant, or could it be that the rising cloud of the dark side was responsible, if so Obi-Wan was uncertain. Perhaps it was time to expand their bases, reach out to Master Altis' Order, attempt an reconciliation with the Master whom anticipated the recent reforms by forming an Order of his own to follow those practises previously frowned upon.

All of this however could be focused upon when he return to the Temple. Now, he should follow an old axiom of his Master's, and focus on the moment. On the woman sitting across from him, whose hand he took hold of once more. Gently he caressed the soft skin that was beneath his callused fingers as his sea shaded eyes sought hers. In the Force he could sense that she still felt a little nervous. He ached to reassure her, but knew he could not, for nothing in their lives was as certain as the Force right now.

Still, such knowledge did not prevent him from rising from his chair to kneel beside hers, nor from his free hand cupping her face to pull her into an ardent kiss. As she leaned into his embrace, he felt her anxiety gradually lessen in the wake of their desires. As it had the night before, the ancient energy that was the Force seemed to swirl around them, full of wondrous possibilities. In sync they rose as one to stand, their lips parting briefly as she took him away from the table through the rest of the apartment to her bedroom.

Though the blinds were shuttered against the light of the city that never slept, no amount of material could cloak it completely, casting an eerie glow over the room, which had not changed since he and his Padawan had rushed in to take care of what had then been the latest attempt on her life. At the time Padmé had seen nothing but recklessness in Obi-Wan's daring capture of the craft which had carried the two Kouhuns that Anakin slayed, but now she saw the love which had lay behind his actions, along with the deadly intensity of affection bordering on obsession in Anakin's. She recalled now how that look in the Padawan's gaze, fresh from slaying the Kouhuns with his saber had terrified her, causing her to turn away from him, in time to see Obi-Wan throw himself at the craft.

But while it was easy to reconcile his past actions with her new understanding of his affections, she still found it difficult to believe that he loved her. That he had been prepared to push the reforms through the Order knowing of her misguided feelings for Anakin, despite his own seemingly orthodox loyalty to their once monastic practises. He sacrificed so much for her, that she felt almost unworthy of the depth of love which he bestowed upon her, as well as a regret that she had not realised from the first what she felt for him.

As if he were reading her thoughts, Obi-Wan cupped her face at that moment, drawing her focus back into the present. "Remember what I said this morning, Padmé. I love you, never doubt that."

He drew her towards him, meeting his lips with her own in a kiss which spoke to the depth of her soul, arousing a courage from somewhere deep inside her, enabling her to find her way through the layers of clothing covering his skin. He seemed content to let her undress him first, only returning the favour when she finished, his hands moving from where they had come to rest at the small of her back, in an upwards caressing motion to the silver clasp which fastened the dress around her neck. One click and the material fell to pool at her feet, leaving her unfettered before his tender gaze.

"You are so beautiful," he murmured, his sea shaded eyes caressing every inch of her, lingering on the bacta patch which hid the injury that Anakin had dealt to her. His hand reached out towards it and for a moment he regarded her solemnly. "Do you still need evidence of this?"

She realised now why he hadn't healed it the night before, not just because it was not the right moment, but he thought that the bruises would be required for her divorce proceedings. Softly she shook her head, then forced herself to stand still as he peeled back the bacta patch, laying his hand upon the multicoloured spectrum which his Padawan had caused, as he called upon the ancient power in which he was versed to heal it.

The last time he had healed her was when they were facing the droidekas on Geonosis, when she had been too distracted by the possibility of their dying to even realise he had done such a thing. Now however, through the eerie shuttered glow she could observe the gradual transformation of colour which he worked upon her flesh, savour the sensations which the healing seemed to create inside her. Attempt to define the look in his sea shaded eyes that never left her own.

It was only when she felt him begin to caress her breasts that she realised the healing was finished, giving way to other desires. Her own hands became adventurous too, exploring him until their strength to keep their feet on the ground gave way to their growing passion, and he swept her up into arms to lay her upon the bed.

This time there was a certain fierceness to their union which was lacking from the night before. Not enough to overcome the tender caresses, or to cast doubt upon the passion that was unleashed, but the result came to plunder the depth of their love even further, to a plane previously undiscovered. Last night had been about exploration, tonight was about confirmation, of their feelings and of their pleasure, bound together in an exactness which took their breath away.

In the afterglow they fell back amongst the pillows, their joined hands landing last upon the linen sheets, both sated and breathless. Idly brown eyes met blue in an eloquent gaze, exchanging glances of mutual enjoyment.

"It was never like that," Padmé murmured.

Obi-Wan turned to her with an inquiring look, silently requesting her to explain what she meant. When she hesitated, he added a further plea by raising her hand that he still clasped to his lips, quietly assuring her that she had no need to dissemble with him.

"I was just realising how much of a mistake I made," she continued in the same soft tone. "Why did I marry him, Obi-Wan? I don't know any more. It was never him I loved, it was always you."

"Since when?" he asked her quietly, turning his face towards her.

"Naboo," she replied, reminding him of the moment when he first encountered her, seconds after leaping down from a raised cloister in order to dismember a few dozen droids of the Trade Federation who held her hostage.

"Why did you never tell me?" he queried.

"Because we had responsibilities," she reminded him. "I knew what my heart still felt from the minute we shook hands upon our reunion, but I also realised when Ani spoke that he was still interested in me. I don't know why I once believed that my own feelings reciprocated his. I felt compassion for him, but never the love I should feel. But then neither did he." she turned to face him. "Why didn't you argue your case when you visited me before he and I left for Naboo?"

"I didn't think you returned my feelings," he replied, causing her to frown. "Padmé, I saw you kiss him before you entered the arena, what was I supposed to think?" He sighed and took a breath before continuing. "I saw the future on Geonosis, just not the future I wanted. On Naboo, it was all I could do to honour the last wishes of my master. Ten years later, what I felt was tempered by the feelings of my Padawan and the need to complete his training before raising the question of reform within the Order before the Council. A reform born out of selfish motives, ones which I knew would give Anakin grief, as well as you, even if his feelings were returned. But, considering what you endured at his hands, I wish I had."

"That's another thing I cannot understand," Padmé remarked, "why did I kiss him then, why did I tell him that I loved him? I didn't. I was terrified for him and what he had done, I was torn between arguing with him to tell you and telling you myself."

"What had he done?" Obi-Wan asked.

She told him then, of the events on Tatooine, when she and Anakin had gone to find his mother, only for him to retrieve her dead body from the Tusken Raiders, confessing to her later of the price he had paid in surrendering to his desire for vengeance.

"I'll never forget what he said and how he said it," she uttered as she came to the end of the tale, "'I killed them. I killed them all. They're dead, every single one of them... Not just the men, but the women and children too. They're like animals and I slaughtered them like animals.' He said that he couldn't control himself, that he didn't want to hate them, but he couldn't forgive them either. I didn't know what do, let alone how to tell you. I knew you would blame yourself for failing in your promise to Qui-Gon and I could not let you do that."

"Nevertheless, you should have told me," Obi-Wan admonished gently. "Yoda felt something happen to him, what he was unsure, he told me so when we returned. When I confronted Ani, he remained stubbornly silent, unwilling to confide in me. I knew then that I had failed Qui-Gon, but there was little I could do to change things, unless Ani desired to be helped." He sighed and raised her hand to his mouth once more. "All the injuries we could have prevented if we had just found the courage to be honest with each other."

"It was not courage and honesty which failed us, it was compulsion." she countered, causing him to pause in his sojourn and turn to her, curious and concerned. "Or at least, I came to believe that I was compelled today."

He frowned as he contemplated the rather unsettling thoughts which were aroused by her startling revelation. "You are sure that your view is not tainted by his recent actions?"

"Yes and no," she answered slowly, after a great deal of thought. "My view of him has always been influenced by our first meeting, as has his. That view blinded us from seeing the changes in each other which a decade has dealt, changes which we refused to accept."

Softly Obi-Wan gathered her into his arms as he focused on her words. "If you are right, then you and he are not the only ones. The Order was blinded as well, first by their fears of change, then by the belief that he would prove the truth of the prophecy. However, who was it who blinded us? Anakin or the Sith?"

"But why would the Sith care?" Padmé queried. "And on Geonosis? Could their power extend so far?"

"Imagine what could happen if the Chosen One turned," Obi-Wan murmured, "or was compelled to turn. A Sith seeks out the shadows which already lie within you, and uses them to spread the darkness further. And Anakin's shadow has always been his fear that he will not fulfil his dreams, which are now blinded by the hopes of others."

"I can believe that Anakin is being manipulated," Padmé agreed, "but I do not think that advocates his guilt."

"Nor do I," Obi-Wan replied, "but it is not his guilt which is in question. What worries me is how far can he fall before it too late for him to rise again."

As soon as Coruscant's optical receptors signalled the commencement of standard daylight hours, the Senator and Jedi Master rose from their bed and broke their fast together, in the same room that contained their dinner the night before. Unlike the morning spent at the Corellian Grand, both were required to attend to their duties almost immediately, hers a morning committee meeting in the offices of the Senate, his a Council briefing in which he would voice her request that the Jedi exercise their voting privileges. So they rose from sleep, allowed themselves a brief but luxurious coupling before breakfast, whereupon Padmé bade Obi-Wan farewell.

He took the long way home, opting to use public transport as he had sent the distinctive Jedi issued airspeeder back to the hangar during the night, deciding to treat the curious stares which the Jedi always encountered from others as an exercise in tolerance. In the end however, the decision was taken out of his hands. For before he reached the nearest public transport station, his attention was drawn towards a crowd of beings, gathered together for some as yet inexplicable reason, in the midst of what was otherwise known as the Senatorial district. Calmly he manoeuvred his way through the exclaiming hoard, until he reached the eye of the storm, whereupon his own serenity was dashed into the orbital highways located above.

What he had expected to see in the midst of this crowd was a creature dead from exposure, a domesticated or feral animal maybe, or a homeless being, which was not an uncommon sight on the planet commonly heralded as the Jewel of the Core Worlds. However what he found instead gave him pause, and caused him to exercise Jedi discipline on retaining his composure, for it would not do to alarm the crowd any further than they already were. For what lay before him was not an common sight on the Jewel of the Core Worlds. It was something he had last encountered over ten years ago.

A murdered Jedi.

Chapter Text

Part 38: To Glance Upon a Truth Unknown.

The funeral took place that evening, attended by friends and colleagues of the murdered Jedi, as well as the members of the Council. Inside the Temple, the hush which surrounded the ancient burial rites was fraught with disturbing emotions, as those present attempted to reconcile within themselves the horror from which they could not escape. A Jedi becoming one with the Force was not uncommon, it was natural. But what had happened to the knight discovered within the Senatorial District of Coruscant, was entirely unnatural.

However it was also an all too common fate for the Jedi since the re-emergence of the Sith. It was no comfort at present to accept that the funereal flames would soon consume all sight of the mortal wound which was so eerily reminiscent of the fate visited upon another but ten years earlier, for the memory of it would still endure, along with the holos taken by the ever curious members of the holopress, who arrived before the Order could take the body away.

Within the ranks of the Council stood Obi-Wan, his serenity regained but not without considerable effort. Silently he watched the flames as they consumed the murdered Jedi, his thoughts not focused on the moment, or on the eerie similarity which this bore to another funeral that he had witnessed over ten years ago. Instead he dwelt upon the events which followed his discovery of the Jedi. By the time he had ascertained that the knight was one with the Force and called for the necessary authorities within the Order, the holopress had already taken the liberty of spreading news of the tragedy far and wide. It was with great difficulty that he managed to remove the little gold comlink which was resting in the grip of the Jedi's outstretched hand, unseen, before his colleagues from the Order came to recover the body.

Upon their arrival at the Temple, the body of the knight resting on a stretcher which hovered in the midst of himself and his colleagues, they were greeted by a representative from the Courts, and one from the executive office. Supreme Chancellor Palpatine's aide had not been too happy when he strove to assure both bodies of authority that this matter was, and would remain, within the purview of the Order. However a few members of the holopress had managed to follow the procession from the Senatorial District to the steps of the Temple, and it was the fear of how they might view any emotional reaction which kept the aides from showing their true feelings.

Inside, Obi-Wan found Master Windu and Master Yoda awaiting him and it was to them that he confided his impressions of the murder, as well as the care of the victim. Almost as an afterthought did he relate the request from Senator Amidala, though to him and to the Council, it was anything but. For the first time the Order had been granted the right to exercise their authority within the Senate, and their decision regarding the way that they did had to be the right one, not just for themselves but for the Republic.

For while they agreed that Chancellor Palpatine must relinquish the executive powers granted him, not all of them believed that exercising their vote in the Senate would make him do so. Nor were they comfortable with the perception that it would inevitably create of where their allegiance lay. The way of the Jedi was for peace and justice, determined by the Force, not by whatever earthly authority happened to be in power at the time. Their independence from those very authorities was what allowed beings from all over the known galaxy to appeal to them.

Yet were they really perceived as being independent of the Republic anymore, Obi-Wan wondered. For over a millennia the base of their Order had remained on Coruscant, with various outposts on other worlds serving as libraries or retreats. Those of the Order who spent their lives within the latter appealed to the authority of the Council, on Coruscant. Judged in that light it was easy to see that their independence from the Republic may not be recognised by those worlds who did not belong to such political alliances. If they did exercise their vote within the Senate, that view would deepen into a certainty in some eyes.

However, he did not know of any other way to make the Chancellor relinquish his executive powers, save perhaps via the use of a lightsaber. An image that would hardly bestow upon them any favours, in the eyes of any being, whether they supported Palpatine's authority or not. Jedi mediated their way into political disputes, reserving the use of a lightsaber for what were termed aggressive negotiations, when the beings they were mediating with had already decided to fight. The Chancellor was resisting the wishes of the Senate to relinquish his powers, but he was not doing so with any weapon except words.

And they had voiced their view to him about his executive powers in words many times since their delegations' return from Pais and the ratification of the peace treaty with the Confederacy. But while they had managed to persuade him to send the clone army home to Kamino and to accept that the Separatists should be allowed a representation within the Senate, as well as the Republic being granted the same within the Confederacy, they had not managed to convince him to give up his executive powers. Perhaps if they decided to exercise their voting privileges within the Senate he would be more receptive to surrendering them, but privately Obi-Wan doubted it. He had a feeling that threatening the Chancellor with a saber might become reality within the near future, and he was not sure if it was just a feeling or the Force that was telling him it would be a possibility.

With Padmé's request put under consideration, the Council had focused on the murdered Jedi for the rest of the day. To his horror Obi-Wan learned that the Jedi had been assigned to watch over the mysterious duties which the Chancellor had asked to be entrusted to Knight Skywalker. For the Council, or rather Masters Yoda, Windu and Dooku, to put the activities which the Chosen One had been charged with under surveillance was a sign of grave importance. That the Knight charged with the surveillance had been killed and by lightsaber, could only mean one thing; that whatever these duties were to which the Chancellor requested that Anakin be assigned, no one else was permitted to know about them.

It also indicated more strongly than ever that the Sith were here on Coruscant, for no one else had the skill to kill a Jedi with a lightsaber. As for the alternative, Obi-Wan refused to contemplate it, despite what he recently learned. However, such a fact did not disturb the Council as much as it should, for the suspicion of the Sith being located on the jewel of Core worlds had lingered within their thinking almost from the moment of their re-emergence on Naboo. By killing the Knight and leaving him out in plain sight for any being on Coruscant to see, not to mention the planting - or existence, for there was no way for Obi-Wan to determine the Jedi's membership of the List now he was dead - of a certain little gold comlink, the Sith were showing the Jedi that they were not afraid of their Order. Infact, it was perhaps a declaration of war.

Now more than ever they needed to discover what lay behind the duties which the Chancellor had asked for Anakin Skywalker to be entrusted with. Only one being within the Order could reveal their mysteries, and he had yet to return to the Temple, despite several messages sent to his comlink requesting him to do so. For Anakin not to obey such requests was commonplace, but fresh from his discussion with Padmé over what his former Padawan may or may not have been compelled to do, Obi-Wan found the Knight's tardiness far more troubling than usual.

As for their speculation over such compulsions, he was still keeping his own counsel for the moment, for he did not think it would be wise to trouble the Council with such a matter at this time. Not only would it colour their view of Anakin, it would serve to further alienate him from the Order at a moment when he needed them more than ever. It may be a saying amongst the Jedi that once you started down the dark path it would forever dominate your destiny, but that axiom did not mean that when a Jedi fell the Order turned their backs on them. Count Dooku was a recent if perhaps extreme example, and it would be unwise to make comparisons between him and Anakin.

Yet the similarities were there, Obi-Wan realised sadly, there was no sense in ignoring them. Like Dooku, Anakin was possibly being manipulated into using the darkness which existed inside him to achieve those wants that Order used to deny. He had sought to avenge himself against those who killed his mother, just as Dooku had sought to avenge himself against Republic and the Order, when he discovered that the teachings he had hungered to acquire were dark instead of light.

Which was where the similarity ended, for Obi-Wan did not know if Anakin's anger was directed against what he perceived as the Council's doctrine, or simply anyone who denied him something he desired. In Padmé's case it was clearly the latter, an action which he would have found hard to justify even if he did not care for her as he did. Not for the first time in his musings over his padawan did he find himself agreeing with what Padmé had said. In many ways Anakin was still a youngling. His years spent as a slave together with Jedi training may have forced him to mature earlier, but in some instances he viewed the world very much as a crechling would when denied a treat.

However, no crechling would avenge the death of their mother by laying waste to a tribe of beings. Padmé's words concerning the event haunted him, for he could not deny feeling a certain measure of complicity regarding the massacre. By ignoring Anakin's dreams about his mother, he wondered if he had, however unwittingly, set such a dark step into motion. Like his Padawan he was gifted in the Unifying Force, he should know a vision when he heard one. When Anakin first told him of the dreams, it would have been a simple matter to go before the Council and request leave for them both, to investigate them. If the Council refused, Yoda could have been persuaded, as he often overruled Qui-Gon when he had a vision during his own apprenticeship. Or he could have followed his old master's policy of informing the Council after he and Anakin had returned from Tatooine.

Whatever his culpability in the matter, Obi-Wan knew that such speculation was rendered useless by the reality he was temporarily ignoring. Instead he should be pondering whether his assistance in the matter would have prevented Anakin's most recent actions, or merely delayed them. Slaughtering a Tribe of Tuskens was not the first dark act which his former padawan had committed. There was that incident involving the Blood Carver known as Ke Daiv, just three years after the Blockade Crisis. Although Anakin was his padawan then, if he had been raised in the Temple, his move into the ranks of apprentice would have been denied by that dark act, just as his own duel with Bruck Chun caused Qui-Gon to refuse accepting him before the mission on Bandomeer which brought he and his master together.

Obi-Wan could not deny that such memory had influenced his actions regarding Anakin's behaviour at that time. But now he recalled his own master's trials regarding a former apprentice by the name of Xanatos. It was a past which his master rarely talked of, and then only in brief terms. He had better success in recovering details of their past from the Jedi archives, not to mention his own encounter with the fallen and therefore former Jedi apprentice on Bandomeer.

Casting that aside however, in the end, the debate on Anakin came down to one point; when should he stop attempting to excuse the actions of a youngling as misguided in order to treat them for what the Order would view them as; the acts of a fallen Jedi. There was another word which his colleagues in the Council would use, but despite all his apprentice had done, Obi-Wan refused to apply that label to his former padawan just yet.

A layer in the Force shifted, arousing Obi-Wan from his thoughts and causing him to turn his head in the direction of the door to the memorial chamber. Through the transparisteel he could see Anakin coming to a halt outside the door. Opening himself to the Force, he let the other Council members know, although he knew that such a motion was a courtesy, considering his former Padawan's power within the Force. Doubtless the other Council members had already sensed the knight's somewhat tardy arrival.

If Anakin had still been his Padawan, Obi-Wan would have left the memorial chamber in order to find out what had kept him, possibly use his diplomacy skills to pass on the Council's disappointment on to his shoulders instead of his apprentice, but experience as a master had taught him that such an exercise was pointless long ago. The Council usually saw through this particular method of negotiation, and his attempt to pre-empt them from finding out what had kept his padawan tended to annoy Anakin all the more.

Within a few minutes the service came to an end, the doors to the Memorial entrance opening to let the attendants exit. Obi-Wan followed the rest of the Council, who clustered around Anakin as he bowed to them in greeting.

"Forgive me, Masters, for my tardiness, but my duties to the Chancellor prevented me from replying to your summons promptly," Anakin replied.

Master Windu frowned. "In future, Knight Skywalker, you should remember that your obligation to the Order takes precedent over anything the Chancellor may require of you."

"Even a threat to the Republic?" Anakin queried, causing Obi-Wan to sigh. His former Padawan's penchant for questioning those in authority had reared its head once more.

"In the light of such a threat, doubtless we will be aware of it, before the Chancellor is notified," Master Windu remarked.

Anakin looked prepared to counter that assertion, however Obi-Wan sent out a probe through the Force via their old training bond, advising him not to. For a brief moment Knight and Master met each other's gaze wordlessly, then former turned his eyes on Master Windu and conceded to the Korun Master's authority. For Obi-Wan, the hesitation in his former Padawan's loyalties was troubling.

While the knight settled down to debrief the Council regarding the details of his mission so far, Obi-Wan felt another brush past him, with a hastily murmured phrase whispered into his ears. "We need to talk."

His senses were so finely attuned that he recognised the Jedi immediately. "My apartment," he offered as a suitable meeting place, adding the security code needed to access his quarters via the Force.

There was a quick nod of acknowledgement, then the Jedi was gone, leaving him to return to the nature of the impromptu Council meeting which had formed around Anakin, a slight frown upon his face the only sign to indicate that the encounter had troubled him.

What seemed like hours later, but in reality was probably barely half of one such epoch, the Council parted from Knight Skywalker, with Obi-Wan giving his former padawan a brief glance before falling into their ranks as they returned to the corridor which contained the quarters reserved for them. His was located not far from Masters Yoda and Windu, and it was to them that he bade his farewells for the night to, keeping himself shielded, hoping neither of them had noticed, yet all the while feeling that they had, for the two grand masters knew him entirely too well.

Left alone as they continued to traverse the corridor towards their own rooms, Obi-Wan tapped in his access code and entered his quarters, closing the doors behind him with a swift prompt from the Force. Only then did he motion for the lights to come on, arranging a soft setting designed not to bring attention to the being who was surveying the view of Coruscant which the cloaked transparisteel gave.

"Nice view," his guest commented. "If I'd known that Council Masters are bestowed such plum apartments, perhaps I would not have come so quickly to my decision."

"Something is troubling you," Obi-Wan observed as he took in the tense appearance of his usually suave and self-assured friend, knowing full well that he was stating the obvious, but uncertain of how else to begin what he sensed would be a unsettling conversation.

"I'm thinking of leaving the Order," his companion announced, causing Obi-Wan to pale in the process.

"Why?" He asked when his voice came back to him.

"For the age old reason," his friend informed him, "I've fallen in love."

Obi-Wan's frown deepened, along with the level of his confusion. "Garen, there's no need to leave the Order due to that fate any more."

His friend of many years standing nodded tiredly, as though he had held this discussion countless times. "The being of my choice happens to be a rather dangerous woman. If I stay in the Order and acknowledge the relationship, I put everyone in peril, including her."

"How did you meet?" Obi-Wan asked.

"Through the List," Garen replied. "She was who I met on Pais, although I was involved with her long before that. While we initially met through the List, it wasn't too long after our first encounter before we ceased to be casual partners. She soon learned that I was a member of the Order, and in turn confided in me that her own occupation was equally prone to high risk situations. It was only during the peace negotiations that she confided to me her troubles. She didn't request my help, but then I gave her no choice but to accept it."

"Why is acknowledging your relationship such a threat to the Order and the Republic?" Obi-Wan inquired.

"Because her employer is interested in taking over the Galaxy and will stop at nothing to make sure he succeeds," Garen answered, the reply shocking his friend.

For some moments a silence reigned over the quarters as Obi-Wan digested the horrifying truth for what it was. Glancing at his friend, he knew by the set of Garen's jaw that he would be unable to persuade him from following through with his decision, however much Obi-Wan disagreed with it. And yet as he prepared himself to say farewell, a flash of insight from the Force robbed him of such a noble salute, providing clarity where previously he had believed to have reached an impasse. Silently he crossed the length of his quarters to clasp his friend's shoulder in a gesture of support, before summoning the ability to speak. "Where is she, your lady?"

His friend turned to him, suspicious. "Why do you ask?"

"Because I need to speak with her," Obi-Wan replied. "It is possible that she may have information which might be useful."

"Useful?" Garen echoed. "Obi-Wan, what do you mean?"

"When we returned to Coruscant from Pais, I was charged with investigating Zigoola, as you may recall," Obi-Wan began, pausing to await his friend's acknowledging nod of recollection before he continued. "During the course of that mission Senator Organa and I became good friends, deepening the acquaintance we had formed on Pais. Shortly after we returned to Coruscant, he found an old liaison of his, from his time in the List, murdered in his residence.

"Uncertain as who to trust, he called on me and requested that I go undercover into the List to find the murderer. That was several weeks ago, and more murders have occurred, this Jedi the latest, although I am uncertain as whether the presence of the gold comlink in his hand was a plant or just an added bonus. We have come to believe, that someone, most likely the Sith whom the Order has been looking before, aims to bring the List into the limelight, tearing the Republic apart in the ensuing scandal."

To his surprise, Garen did not appear in the least startled by this disturbing vision of the future. If anything his solemn expression deepened along with the silence. Patiently Obi-Wan waited for him to speak.

"It might take a while to convince her that this is the right course," he uttered at last. "During her years of employment, her boss made a habit of providing her with a display of what could happen should she chose to betray him."

Obi-Wan's clasp on his friend's shoulder merely tightened. "Let me know if you need my help."

Chapter Text

Part 39: What Once Was Lost.

It had been a stroke of luck finding that little gold comlink within the Jedi's belongings. A finishing touch to the crime that would send shock waves not just through the Order but the Republic as well. Watching as the unsuspecting citizens of the Republic discovered the body, Asajj could not help but feel a measure of success in foiling the Order's attempt to discover the schemes of her Master. Of course there was a certain amount of concern within her mind regarding how the Order had discovered her Master's schemes, considering that Master Kenobi was supposed to be the only one who was aware of them, having been recruited by Senator Organa to undertake the unofficial, and only investigation, without first seeking permission from the Council.

She had taken a great pleasure in attempting to discover such from the victim before he had succumbed to his wounds. But the Jedi had protested to the last that he was only ordered to follow the Chosen One, to try and discover precisely what duties that the Chancellor had tasked him to undertake. A lie of course, what he had admitted was merely a cover taught to him by the Council, to submit to his torturers. But true as well, from a certain point of view, for the Chosen One was assigned by the Chancellor to undertake the duties which had resulted in the investigation that was under Master Kenobi's purview. As for herself, Asajj had been tasked with preventing others from discovering who was behind these duties, as well as the cause of them, Master Kenobi included.

The irony that said Master had been the one to instruct the very being who carried out these duties he was investigating, did not escape her, even if it escaped the Knight in question. Anakin Skywalker had little idea that the atrocities which he carried out in the Chancellor's name were being examined by the Jedi Master who undertook to train him to be the tool of Darth Sidious that he had become. Nor did he realise that the beings he killed were only guilty of belonging to the List, nothing more. A clique his wife had once belonged to, something else he was ignorant of.

Oh yes, her Master delighted in ironies. Sometimes Asajj had the sense that there were a few more ironies in which her master delighted in that he did not permit her to be privy to. Such nonnesicence did not cause her resentment, she understood that there were always to be things which she would remain forever ignorant of, that her Master knew far better than she. It way the of the Sith to guard those skills the teaching of which might leave them vulnerable to attack. Masters would always possess far more knowledge and power compared to that of their apprentices. And Asajj was content to remain an apprentice, for now at least. She had no desire to inherit her master's schemes, she would much rather create her own. Not everyone wished to rule the universe, that was something she could delegate upon others.

In front of her there was a change to the previous sensationalist landscape, as a sea of sand coloured cloaks tipped by long leather boots with varying shades of hair drove back the hoards of curious spectators. Asajj grimaced as those waves took the form of the very master whose presence she had not wanted coming upon this little scene. However there was little she could do to prevent him from taking charge of the victim, not unless she wished to reveal her presence to the entire hapless population of Coruscant, and the Order along with it. Lord Sidious would not be pleased with her if she did such a thing.

He had already lost one apprentice at the hands of Obi-Wan Kenobi, he had no desire to lose another. Though Asajj doubted that she would be defeated by him, that is until she watched the surveillance footage of the exhaust shafts where the then Padawan had taken the life of Lord Sidious' previous apprentice. Granted those events had taken place ten years ago, the Master before her now, who was currently calmly attempting to persuade the crowd gathered around the body to go away in vain, was older and not necessarily wiser, according to the humour that her master was some times in. But he had a young padawan to train and from what she had witnessed in the holovised footage of the battle of Geonosis - holovised because the Geonosis delighted in making their executions public spectacles - such training had only served to increase his prowess.

For a moment Asajj let her imagination run wild as she contemplated the only two outcomes of such an entanglement with Master Kenobi. No matter how one might dress them up, there would be only two outcomes, victory or defeat. To whom those titles would belong was up to the Force to decide.

Before her the sensationalist landscape altered once more, as the crowd reluctantly parted to let the fresh wave of sand coloured cloaks in, who promptly surrounded the first, cutting off the sight of the body, much to the crowd's rapidly expressed cries of disappointment. The Jedi paid the spectators no heed, splitting their focus between Master Kenobi and the victim, whom they quickly lifted on to a stasis stretcher via the use of the Force. A few swift turns, and the now funereal escort made their way to the transport which they had arrived in, taking their departed comrade on board.

With the body and Jedi departed, Asajj had no reason to stay. Turning her eyes from the ever decreasing dot that now was the transport as it joined the airways enroute to the Temple, she set about her own journey, towards the luxurious apartment provided for her by Lord Sidious. Located in one of the many skyscrapers that made up the planet size city which was Coruscant, from the exterior it appeared to be long since abandoned in favour of gleaming constructs comprised of transparisteel and durasteel. Inside however, the deceptively distressed facade ended, giving way to an entire network of rooms, furnished to the highest standards, reserved for the Sith Master's privileged employees.

One of which who was waiting for her, although if asked about the Sith Master and his employee, would provide quite a different answer in comparison to herself. As far as he was concerned, his employer was the Supreme Chancellor under the purview of the Jedi Order. That the Supreme Chancellor and the Sith Master were one and the same being, he had yet to comprehend, let alone be informed such was the case. Yet still he blindly followed the duties doled out to him, under the equally blind foresight of the Jedi Council. Another one of her Master's ironies in which he delighted. How might he react when he learned the truth was something which Asajj speculated upon daily, knowing that she had to be on her guard at all times when she was in his company, else risk her Master's wrath in letting him find out the depth of the deception laid upon not just him but the Republic and the Order too soon.

He looked up at her entrance, and for a few minutes they stood and sat scowling at each other, neither willing to be the one to break the silence which existed between them first. Such a stormy countenance was his typical expression, often making Asajj contemplate what others saw in him, particularly that soon to be ex-wife of his. Her Master was deeply disappointed with Senator Amidala, but then she had always been a constant thorn in his side from her days as the sovereign ruler of the Naboo. Why he had even begun to believe that falling in love with his 'pet' would suddenly make her a willing tool was beyond Asaji's comprehension. That she soon fell out of love with him was no surprise to Asajj either, for she was tiring of the boy as well, though she only seduced him at the behest of her Master.

Which brought to mind another whom Lord Sidious had wished to use her feminine assets for the benefit of his schemes. Nineve Jade, his so called Hand. A mere assassin without artistry, as far as Asajj was concerned. However, the woman had gone on the run, so Jade was now her trouble. And Jade had been nothing but trouble since Lord Sidious assigned the task of finding his Hand to Asajj. For a woman without artistry she had proved to be rather original in her choice of hideouts, as Asajj had been unable to trace her.

Such a failure on her part had not sat well with Lord Sidious, who took pleasure in providing her with a display of what would happen to her if such a lack of success continued. So Asajj had used as many resources which belonged to her Master as she could, sending scouts out far and wide across the galaxy, whilst she kept an eye on Lord Sidious' other 'pet', the so called Chosen One of the Jedi Order, Anakin Skywalker. Who was proving more and more difficult to manage by each and every dawn of a new Coruscanti day.

"When did you get here?" she asked him now, electing to be the one who broke the silence first. Such a retreat was by no means a victory to him, he was merely a pawn among many in Lord Sidious' schemes for universal domination.

"Sundown," he replied, still scowling.

Asajj glanced at the transparisteel which cloaked them from view whilst providing an magnificent perspective of the Works district in all its somewhat dubious glory. She had taken a circuitous route back to the apartment, doubling back on herself until the orbital reflectors began their arduous descent into darkness. A part of her had hoped to come upon a deserted suite of rooms, but unfortunately she had sensed the Chosen One's presence even before she crossed the threshold of the skyscraper. "I hope you weren't followed."

His scowl deepened, a sight which Asajj had not thought possible. "I'm not stupid."

Only years of self discipline in the Sith arts kept Asajj from laughing out loud concerning the irony of that particular statement. "No, I suppose the Temple's famed educational structure took care of that," she murmured, electing not to tell him of his shadow which she had just disposed of, for the time being. The Chosen One may be under his control, as far as Lord Sidious was concerned, but Asajj had no desire to test that theory by informing him that she had just killed a Jedi. If his reaction was an adverse one, however hypocritical it may be, she had no desire to be the one responsible for losing sight of two of Lord Sidious' 'pet projects.'

Despite the Temple's famed educational structure, her companion failed to find the sarcasm in which her reply was delivered. He turned in the direction of the com station that occupied a third of the room. "A message came in for you earlier," he informed her.

'Really? You astonish me,' Asajj remarked thoughtfully to herself as she turned and headed for the com station, from which a flashing light could be discerned, signalling the arrival of said message that had attracted her attention as soon as she entered the room.

Clicking the access indicator, Asajj hunched over the screen and tightened her Force shielding against the Chosen One's curiosity. Privately she was surprised that he had not read the message himself. Then as she read the message all other thoughts faded away, her focus settling on the other trouble which her master had assigned her.

Nineve Jade had emerged from the shadows at last.

Garen left his friend's apartment in the Temple feeling reaffirmed in his previous decision. Before he had allowed Nineve's fear of her previous employer to sway him, by agreeing that they should leave everyone and everything they had ever known to start new lives elsewhere in the galaxy. When she had first suggested this to him, he had argued that it felt cowardly not to remain and confront her employer with the full weight of the Jedi Order behind them. It was then that Nineve told him who her employer was. Until that moment he had never asked and she had never revealed, as though it were an unconscious policy between them. The shock was enough to persuade him to agree. So they made their plans and he prepared to leave the only family he had ever known, for the new one which he would form with her.

Family was the condition which decided their first destination. When she came to him on Pais only the Force would serve to confirm what she feared to tell him, yet knew that he had every right to know. Now her condition was immediately discernible, and her fear of her employer finding them critical. Medical remoteness was what they required, a place where she could deliver safely without the worry of her employer sensing or finding out the reason why she left. Coruscant could not serve, nor Alderaan, or indeed any of the planets located within the Core Worlds region, famed though they were for their peaceful regimes and first class medical services.

Which left them with only one place; Polis Massa. An asteroid outpost, located in the Subterrel sector in the Outer Rim, from which they could arrive and depart as soon as they were able without anyone learning where they were. It was manned by droids whose memory banks could be altered along with all other records that could have shown such a base to be their location. Nineve had departed from Pais for the base via a circuitous route, while he returned to Coruscant to make his farewells to the Order.

And since his return, the Force had been screaming in his mind that running was the wrong thing to do. Yet he could not foresee an alternative with which to convince Nineve. Her faith in the Force was tainted by her employer's uses for the ancient energy. Her own ability to use the power with which she had been imbued with had been exploited too many times for her to place the same amount of trust in it that he put in his.

This dilemma left him with little choice but to continue with their original plans. Leaving the official announcement of his resignation before the Council till last, perhaps in a bid to delay his departure as long as possible, Garen chose to visit his friends and say a personal farewell to each in turn. Obi-Wan had happened to be his first, and fortunately, his friend had served to provide him with a reason with which to convince Nineve to stand and fight.

That his friend was involved in such an investigation surprised him, Obi-Wan was not someone who would undertake something like this without confiding in at least one of the Jedi Council first. Maybe the influence of Qui-Gon Jinn's training was leaking through. Still that he agreed to keeping a clique like the List a secret whilst working through the membership to find the murder.... Garen shook his head. If he was having a hard time convincing himself of his friend's role in this, how would he manage to convince Nineve, he wondered.

Perhaps by focusing on the bigger picture, how the Sith Lord was using the List to tear the Republic apart. It made a change from seeking unlimited power and the massacre of the Jedi. The latter had nearly succeeded at Geonosis, without the arrival of the clone army, Jedi would have been severely depleted in numbers. If the Separatists had not sued for peace... Garen stilled as he realised why the Sith had reverted to this plan.

A moment was all he needed to adjust. Falling back on his training, he let go of the revelation, as well as all of the emotions that were roused within its wake. Reaching the hangar bay, he headed for his ship. Climbing into the cockpit, he traded greetings with his astromech before firing up the engines. Tapping at the navicomputer, he filed a false flight plan with Coruscant flight control, before engaging the thrusters and heading out of the Temple, towards the crowed airways and beyond.

It had started like any other relationship formed within the List. A quick anonymous communiqué, followed by a night spent at a hotel. Parting in the morning, which was where it should have ended, as the little gold comlinks were set to randomise. However, most members came to remember the codes assigned to their previous assignations, allowing for them to acquire a second night with who ever they chose. A second would become a third, then a fourth, until they abandoned all attempts to follow the rules, using the little gold comlink merely to set up their next meet.

Then one night she or he, perhaps it was both of them for neither could remember enough about the assignation in question for sure, they were careless and landed themselves in trouble, as the old saying goes. Naturally only she became aware of the conception first. Unwilling to reveal the matter to her employer, knowing that he would take the child away and use him or her for his own, malicious ends, she left his service at once.

If it had just been herself to consider, she never would have gone to him, the risk was too great. But he had a right to know, not to mention being given a chance to care for their future charge, one which could be snatched from them if her master tracked them down. When she met him she was not sure what his response would be. Even though she knew his vocation, she had not expected him to be so reckless in his acceptance of her troubles to take them on as his own and offer his help.

His recklessness had lasted long enough to hear her out, then he objected, throwing a few home truths in for good measure. She knew it was cowardly to run, but he had no idea what they were up against. So she told him the identity of her employer, the one barrier he had never breached. To his credit he never let the shock show, though she could tell her confession had sent him reeling. With great reluctance, he conceded to her plans.

Plans that led her here, to Polis Massa, where she waited for him to join her. She knew it would not be easy for him to say farewell to all he knew, but it was necessary that they abandoned everything and everyone they had ever known. Anonymity would be their only saving grace from now on. Any who learned the truth of their origins would be in danger from the wrath of her old master. And the one who was in the most peril was not even aware of it yet. The thought of what he could do to her child terrified Nineve. She had been raised under his care, given into her trade without a thought to what she had wanted for her life.

Her child would suffer the same fate, compounded by her own inability to weave a better one. Even going on the run could only delay that fate, for her master's resources were limitless, and his ability to find someone impeccable, as previous experience had shown her. But she could not give up in the face of this despairing thought. For there was always the hope that they would escape him, live a life outside of his influence untouched by evil. It was a heady thought that her child might grow up in such innocence. One powerful enough to persuade her that anything was possible.

An alarm started beeping on a console nearby, its beeps the usual flurry of code for proximity. Nineve moved to consult the sensors, and confirmed for the rest of her senses what the beeping had already told her; a ship had just emerged from hyperspace. Beyond that, the asteroid's equipment was centred around medical matters. Nothing in the sensors could tell her what type of ship it was, whether it was a friend or a foe. However the outpost was known only to Jedi, so she could reasonably presume who had just arrived.

Carefully she rose from her chair, a cautious motion due to her current condition, before heading out of the room towards the entrance to the hanger bay. The lights flashed as the craft landed, blinded her, causing Nineve to shield her gaze. By the time she regained her vision, it was too late. The cowled figure was already upon her, a red lightsaber in hand. With no time or space to ignite her own, Nineve retreated from the heat of the laser, back the way she came, knowing that her enemy would follow. Her emotions were in turmoil, the most dominant of them fear, not just for herself but for her lover and for her child, a condition which only heightened her flight or fight mindset.

Ventress' weapon cast an eerie portent of what was to come all the way down the length of the corridor. Nineve had heard of her, but never seen the woman before now. With her white skin stretched across her head without pause for hair or even the evidence that such follicles once existed, she resembled more droid than being, capable of only following orders. Her master seemed to prefer that those under his command follow without question, causing her to wonder why he had chosen her to be his Hand. Perhaps she was merely an experiment, one he could cast aside if proved unsatisfactory. Inwardly she shuddered, remembering his usual methods. One thing was for sure, he had not sent Ventress to kill her. She was to take her back, where she would be forced to bow before her master's feet, and then writhe in agony until he let her die.

Only he would not do that to her. No, she realised as she called her own saber to her hand, igniting the purple blade across herself to deflect her attacker's slash. There would be a different kind of torture thrust upon her. And that torture would be unending, compounded by her own guilt and complicity. For she would be helpless to help the one she protected now, and must continue to protect at all costs.

Her last thought, her last hope, before she gave herself completely to the duel, was that Ventress never discovered the secret she was hiding within herself, however discernible it appeared to be. For the only way to save her child from the fate which her master would force upon them, was if neither of them lived to suffer through it.

Chapter Text

Part 40: Chiaroscuro.

Some time after Garen's departure Obi-Wan returned to the Memorial Room. As the morning light invaded through the transparisteel, gracing his features in their meditative pose, the past assaulted him. Memories of a similar night spent thus, ten years ago, as he emerged from the relative innocence of his apprenticeship into the harsh world of knighthood and mentoring. In Theed he had been exposed to the elements, unable to shield himself from the sight of the funeral pyre. He remembered the quiet flickering of the amber flames, the unending glow of their embers. A slow and gentle breeze, catching the ash within its embrace, taking the only father he had ever known away from him. No death, only the Force. There was a certain irony to that aspect of the Code, an irony he was just as sensible of then as now.

Back then he was only aware of the darkness that began to grow and now only continued to do so, surrounding everyone and everything, as an elusive feeling from the Force which he could not define. Even now he did not know the depth of its power, nor the source from whence it came. Yet he could make an educated guess, one which he feared would be proved unerringly right. And if it was, there was one other conclusion that his thoughts led him to form, something which made a horrifying kind of sense, but it was a path he did not wish travel upon, yet knew he would be doing so, all the same.

This turmoil in his thoughts was why he had returned to the Memorial Room, in an effort to reach some sort of clarity. Usually the Room of a Thousand Fountains would suffice as a meditative aid but that chamber was too full of the Living Force to be of any use to him just now. What he needed was the cold and dark ominous portents of the future which spoke to him in these surroundings, that whispered to him last night while he waited here for his former apprentice to answer the Council's summons. Sinking into their depths, he searched for the lone candle of light that would hold the shadows back. He would not give into his fears, for they would only serve to fog such a glow. He would listen to the voices of the Force, to those who had become one with the ancient energy, for ought they had to tell. And their advice he would take, even if it broke his heart to do so.

For he could not escape the fact that the murdered Jedi was assigned by the Council to discover the nature of the duties which the Supreme Chancellor had given to Anakin. Clearly someone was determined to make sure that the Order would not find out exactly what it was the Chancellor had charged Anakin to carry out. And given that, it was also clear that what ever it was, the Order would not approve, although they rarely approved of anything which came out of the executive office nowadays. However, what was far more troubling was the cause of death.

At first glance it appeared that the Jedi had died from a blaster shot to the heart. Upon closer inspection, the wound was more comparable to someone placing a saber hilt directly over it, before igniting the weapon. Such a method of execution suggested that an evil mind either wielded the saber or gave out the order to do so. Added to this was the same lack of Force echo which Obi-Wan was entirely too familiar with. He had come across it in his investigations into the series of murders tasked to him by Bail Organa. If the two were connected, and it was beginning to look like they were, then he needed to inform the Jedi Council about what he had been investigating.

As he contemplated how that particular briefing would undoubtedly go, his mind recalled another, when he was the padawan of a Jedi Master whose missions often caused the Council the same amount of vexation. Qui-Gon Jinn always worked without seeking the purview of the Council first. He believed that his duty was to the call of the Force before anything else, as his entanglement on Tatooine clearly showed. When their partnership had first formed it had been the hope of the Council that a by the code padawan would tame the unorthodox master. However Obi-Wan now realised that it was his master who had corrupted him. Nowadays, without the unruly nature of Anakin Skywalker to tame, he served the call of the Force more than he did the Code of the Order.

Anakin. The thought induced mention of his former apprentice caused him to sigh inwardly. Anakin would not take kindly to his interference concerning the newly promoted knight's assignment. His friendship with the Supreme Chancellor had always been a quiet source of contention within the Council, split between those who saw the advantages to be gained from it and those who viewed the executive office with distrust. As for himself, he had always been rather wary where the relationship was concerned, even though he had seen that the Chancellor took care to be nothing more than a kindly uncle of sorts.

Not once had the man interfered with his training of Anakin, but Obi-Wan had felt the politics of his guiding hand in Anakin's rebellions more than once. The knight's loyalty to his friends was absolute, and though they had been friends whilst he trained him, Obi-Wan suspected that if it came down to a choice between himself or Palpatine, Anakin would choose the Supreme Chancellor first. Given his upbringing, the knight's trust in Palpatine was rather naively absolute. Coming from slavery should have made Anakin wary of any authority, as it had proved the case with Council over the years, but his faith in the Supreme Chancellor had so far proven unshakeable. What was it about the man that had sparked such a relationship between them from the moment of that fatal meeting on Naboo all those years ago? 'We shall watch your career with great interest,' he had said, in a deceptively kind tone, which hid an underlying threatening layer of a hunter to their prey. And now he had him in his grasp absolutely.

It might seem a little strange to describe the Chancellor as a hunter. But the description could not have appeared to be more apt to Obi-Wan right now. He had stalked his prey for years, analysing their weaknesses, looking for ways to defeat them, and when he failed at his first attempt, merely turned to another strategy. Or rather adapted the first, as the prey was still enduring the suffering which some of the first had engineered upon them. There was the cloud of evil which fogged their ability to use the Force effectively, to detect the presence of the Sith whom they had been searching for, not realising that he was hidden right before their eyes, carrying out his work in the building nearby. Even though he was beginning to emerge from that cloud of deception, not everything was clear to him.

That the Chancellor was the Sith they had been looking for all these years seemed incredible. However, who else could it be that was behind the death of the Jedi whose funeral so recently took place with this room, not to mention the duties that they had been prevented from finding out about? And not only did they have the Order within their grasp, but the Chosen One as well. If Anakin was the Chosen One, or prophecy was for the Jedi, he mused. For the thought occurred to him now that it could equally be for the Sith. Qui-Gon had always spoken of the Chosen One being the most powerful Jedi in existence. A vergence from the Force. But power was not the goal of the Jedi. That attainment belonged to the Sith. Only the end of the prophecy appealed to the light side; achieving balance within the Force. But even that could be misinterpreted, for the Force was neither good nor evil, only an ancient energy which surrounds everyone and everything, within and without, binding the universe together. It was the will with which one used the Force that determined the effect of such a power upon a being or the universe.

And the Chancellor had used the Force with an evil will. He could see it now, with the gift of hindsight, how cleverly he had engineered his way into the office of the highest authority within the Republic, turning each and every crisis to his advantage, if not possibly engineering each one of them himself. For a Senator had to forge connections within the Senate in order to bargain for votes, and judging by how well the Trade Federation had escaped justice since the Blockade of Naboo, it was all too easy to realise that Palpatine had probably engineered the attack on his own home planet in the first place. If such was true, he was perhaps responsible for the gradual decline of the Republic, the formation of the Separatists, and the move to an all out civil war, only prevented by Dooku's determination for peace.

Why had the Count of Serenno sued for peace? His Master's Master had never fully explained his motives, though given his request for sanctuary within the Temple, being in fear of his own safety, if not his life was probably one of them. Betrayal was the way of the Sith after all, and he could imagine that the Chancellor would not take too kindly to having his plans for civil war being thwarted as they had been by the peace treaty. The scandal he crafted to replace them was far more insidious, clouding the motives as to why he would desire war within the first place. Yes, it would give him the excuse to assume more authority, to see that the Jedi were heavily decimated as leaders of the standing army which he had engineered, but once that was achieved what would he need an arsenal of clones and warships for?

Few confederacies, federations or alliances challenged the Republic. If someone had not whipped the leaders of the Trade Federation into a frenzy of frustration, he doubted the Blockade Crisis would have occurred in the first place. And once Padmé had defeated the siege laid out upon her home system, Nute Gunray along with the rest of the Trade Federation retreated quietly back into their business franchise, in fear of the justice from the Courts which never came. Only at the behest of Count Dooku had the Trade Federation exercised the resources that they had at their disposal once more, leading to the Battle of Geonosis. A battle which if it had not been for the clone army, the Jedi would not have walked away from. Even with them they had not escaped unscathed. Their numbers were gravely depleted, so much so that his desire to reform the Code had not gone unnoticed or unsupported.

Whatever the Chancellor's motives behind the decision to arm the Republic into a dictatorship, Obi-Wan knew that he was now wasting his time meditating in the Memorial Room. He needed to inform someone else within the Council of his theories, for theories were all they were, he had no proof as yet. If he had proof, he would have gone to the whole Council, but as it is, he could only think of one Jedi who would have the foresight within themselves to realise these suspicions. Emerging from his counsel with the Force, he left the Memorial Room and set off for that Master's apartment.

One turbolift ride and several corridors traversed later, the journey soon proved to be a fruitless exercise, for the Grand Master was not within his quarters. Knowing that the Council were not in session, otherwise he would have summoned, Obi-Wan headed for the private meditation rooms that had been placed at the Grand Master's disposal. Fortunately they were not too far from Yoda's quarters, located as they were on the same floor. However, once he reached them, he realised that the Grand Master was also not to be found there either. Sighing he retrieved his comlink from his pocket and accessed the Order's communications centre, where all padawans, knights and masters were required to register their current location if they were not be found within the Temple walls.

The news of Master Yoda's location both surprised and worried him. He was with the Chancellor. Hurriedly he accessed the schedule of the executive office, which all Council Masters were granted the privilege of seeing. At the first sight of the meeting he breathed a sigh of relief. Master Yoda had been joined by a few Senators as well. It consoled him greatly at this moment to learn that the Grand Master would not be alone with the possible Sith lord.

Filing a request for the Grand Master to visit him upon his return to the Temple, Obi-Wan put his comlink away before heading for his quarters. He had no desire to inflict his current disquiet upon anyone else within the Temple by seeking the more publicly communed rooms. Nor did he wish to spend his time waiting for Master Yoda within the hallowed halls of learning that were the archives. He would have to hope that some matter of housekeeping had arisen in his absence from his quarters, which would occupy his thoughts and time until the Grand Master could see him.

Padmé entered her quarters in Five Hundred Republica with all the energy of one who has spent far too many hours in a series of pointless committee meetings. From the moment she had left her apartment this morning, her time had been taken up in endless moments of reassuring various fellow Senators that her support or disdain was still with the matter that currently concerned them the most. It was tiring having to maintain an outward attitude of politeness, diplomacy and conciliation in the wake of so much posturing and dramatics. Days like this made her question why she had accepted Queen Jamilia's request to serve as Senator. She could have spent her time in politics serving a much worthier cause for her people, either within the Court of Naboo or elsewhere within the Republic.

A memory of sea shaded eyes and a certain lustre which they acquired when a particular emotion possessed them, caused her to reassess her frustration. Although she could not predict the future, it was entirely possible that had she not accepted the post of Senator she would not have been reunited with Obi-Wan in the way that she had. The time spent with him was more than enough consolation for all of the days spent in the fashion she had spent today. Even those months she had endured married to Anakin she would not give up if it meant losing the few precious nights spent in the embrace of his master.

Though she could not yet refer to her marriage in the past tense. She still had the negotiations of the Nubian divorce courts to endure before she would be granted that privilege. Only a few meetings left, but that was hardly a comfort. Anakin's temperamental petulance combined with his continuous childish outbursts or stormy silences, together with the aristocratic disdain of their lawyers as they went through the motions was enough to render even the shortest meeting a torture, though as for which was worse; enduring those or the committee meetings of today, Padmé was uncertain.

Her clothes felt heavy upon and she summoned what little energy she had left to move forward once again, heading towards her dressing room. In comparison to those garments she had worn whilst serving her two terms as sovereign of the Naboo, her Senatorial clothes were far more comfortable. But nothing compared to those she wore when she was not serving the needs of her people and the Republic, however brief those moments were. Waving a hand at the door sensors, she paused as the wardrobe revealed its contents, before surveying each article in turn. As she did so, searching her memory as to the last time she had worn that piece of clothing, or this, her mind idly pondered what she should do with the rest of the day.

Almost immediately the image of sea shaded eyes and the certain lustre that they acquired when a particular emotion possessed them, offered her a possible solution to her pondering. They had not seen each other since the night she invited him over to dinner to discuss a possible alliance between the Jedi and the Senate in a move against the Chancellor. A night when the murdered body of a Jedi had been discovered not far from the Senatorial Residential district. She wondered if the death had anything to do with his investigations, or the Sith lord that Order was searching for, or any other matter that the Jedi might have been tasked to carry out.

Understandably that event had preoccupied the attention of the Jedi Council, to the extent that they had yet to deliver an answer to her request on behalf of those interested members within the Senate. Aside from that, there was no official reason to see him, yet Padmé wanted to see him, very much. And not about the matter that concerned the Senate. Her motives were far more selfish, for she desired to bring out that certain lustre within his sea shaded eyes.

Similar desires had occupied her once before, on a day like this one, years ago in her first terms as Senator, when Bail introduced her to the exclusive clique known as the List. It had been after another series of endless committee meetings that he had tossed her the gold comlink, laid out the rules and set her up with her first date. Several encounters later she grew more daring, to the extent of asking her sister for a particular gift that, in the end, Padmé had yet to don, due to her marriage.

Her visits to Naboo before her life was threatened had been few and far between, it was not until the last one when she introduced Sola to Anakin that her sister managed to acquire and bestow upon her the gift in question. For some reason she had been too embarrassed to wear it for Anakin. Now she was very glad to have never found the courage to do so. Using such a gift for his master would feel soiled if she had clothed herself within in the outfit for another.

Carefully she lay the garment upon the sofa bed nearby before turning to her wardrobe once more for something to conceal it. She already knew that she would have to visit the Temple, so something resembling a Jedi cloak would be preferable. Vaguely she recalled seeing a garment in the same shade of sand in her wardrobe previously, though she was at a lost as to how it came to be there, for she could not recall ever wearing such a colour before.

At first she froze as she caught hold of the cloak hanging in her wardrobe, horrified at the appearance of the garment, convinced she and her security had thrown everything belonging to Anakin out. Then her courage rose and she reached out with a hand to take it from the hanger. Putting it before her nose, she inhaled a strong smell which calmed her instantly. Smiling she savoured the scent, wondering how the cloak came to be in her arms. It awoke a need within her for something daringly wicked, irresistible to refuse. Padmé laid the cloak on the sofa bed until she was able to use it, whereupon she swept it across her shoulders, laid the hood about her hair, and turned to leave the apartment.

Obi-Wan gasped in surprise as he opened the door. Expecting no one but Master Yoda to darken his quarters, he was astonished to find none other than the Senator from Naboo, in disguise, standing before him, awaiting to enter. Ushering her inside, he closed and locked the access with a wave of the Force before turning round to ask her how she had managed to get in.

Padmé smiled as she gestured to the cloak. "I found this in my wardrobe, and I thought I should return it to you. Would you care to take it from me?"

He could not resist her provocative gaze. Standing before her, he raised his hands and parted his cloak, to reveal a dress of shimmersilk that was so sheer as to display all of her beauty under skinned coloured gauze. "And where did you acquire this?"

"You have my sister Sola to thank for that," Padmé replied, watching him as his sea coloured gaze eyed her appreciatively.

"I certainly will, when I meet her," he murmured, his eyes coming to halt upon the small hook which fastened the garment around her waist. A slight change of focus in his thoughts and the shimmersilk fell apart, revealing a narrow shaft of the skin that lay beneath. The sheer material retreated to the side, creating the illusion that she was wearing just his robe, and as he stepped closer to her, Obi-Wan knew that he would never look at that particular piece of clothing again without recalling this moment.

As his eyes acquired that certain lustre which she loved, Obi-Wan took her into his arms, his fingers delving inside the cloak to part the shimmersilk hiding beneath. He soon discerned by a stroking touch that the garment had almost no back, fastening low over the rise of her derriere. With a deft touch from the Force that too was soon parted, and his hands explored those curves, causing a groan from her mouth which had long since been captured by his own, their tongues engaged in a rousing duel.

Eventually his cloak dropped to the floor, revealing the skin shaded gauzy shimmersilk in all its glory. Occupied as they were in discovering the delights to be had through their kiss, Obi-Wan would only catch sight of her sister's gift when the time came to part the silk so it could descend from her body to the floor. Before that his own clothes were shed, as Padmé took her fingers upon a questing journey to discover the flesh that Jedi robes concealed. Such time passed in an arousing, languorous manner, as each particle revealed was savoured by her in a slow, deliberate fashion.

Within his eyes the lustre deepened, rendering the shade a blue that reminded her of Naboo's lakes, the depths she had once plundered during her youth. Now another stretch of water awaited her, encompassed within flesh and bone, the waves of love and the Force. It was a heady experience, for Obi-Wan gave himself over to her entirely, the true essence of a Jedi. No other allowed her that privilege, not without an unspoken desire for something in return, often something she could not find it within herself to give.

Until Obi-Wan she had not realised that it was because she could not love them as she should. Some part of her was protecting herself, until that night she and Obi-Wan had met and mated. Their love had not heralded or announced its arrival, nor whispered quietly within their ears or minds as they first laid eyes upon each other. Instead it had crept upon them as a slow sunrise, strengthening over time, until they were ready to realise such an emotion.

His clothes shed from him, it came time to part their mouths. Padmé blushed as Obi-Wan cast appreciative eyes over the gauzy skin shaded shimmersilk, lingering where her curves gave way to the natural shadows they created. Tenderly his hand found hers and he led her further into the quarters, the living area where a fire glowed before two long sofas and a cloth covered table, devoid of adornment. Within his eyes was the lustre that she found so enticing that her own could not leave their gaze, causing her surprise as a slight flicker of his free fingers allowed the gauzy shimmersilk to slip from her body.

She lay down on the table before him, her eyes never leaving his, and he ran a hand slowly down the length of her slender body, brushing over her breasts, causing her back to arch in pleasure. His eyes left hers to follow his journeying fingers, watching as he pressed her hard nipples into his palm, then gently ran them down her stomach before dealing a caressing series of strokes upon her thighs, causing her to squeeze her hips together, trapping his questing fingers in between. Lifting his gaze from the imprisoned hand, his eyes roamed slowly upwards.

Padmé regarded him lovingly as she posed below his gaze, waiting for him to move. Slowly he began to do so, gently sliding a finger inside her, causing her to gasp, then she sighed in pleasure as he stroked her. Another soon joined the first, then a third, causing her legs to part, as she opened herself to him. His free hand slid up her body, coming to a halt before her breasts, before rising over the mounds to fondle her hard nipples once more. She arched herself into him, her back rising as her hips bucked in tune to the motions of his fingers. Within his eyes the lustre deepened to a new depth, her own brown shades caught as she drowned inside the blue lake above her.

A soft cry of regret was emitted from her mouth as Obi-Wan withdrew. Another cry, this time of pleasure, as he came to rest above her, filling her with another part of his flesh. The glowing firelight danced across their bodies as they fell into the rhythm of the ancient loving waves, casting shadows where the light could not reach. Within and within out, in tune with the pounding of their hearts, the breath of the fire, their souls found the lone candle with which to ignite the cascade of stars inside them, stoked to life by their love.

Night never captured Coruscant when the sun set. Aside from the orbital reflectors which denied the darkness that privilege, there were the lights of every building, street and highway, leaving it to stalk the shadows like a predator, in the vain hope of a blackout or some other power drought. Night found the two lovers within the comfort of a bed instead before the fire that witnessed their first in what was to be a series of unions that day.

"You'll have to keep that robe," Obi-Wan murmured aloud as they lounged across his bed in the afterglow of a long, luxurious, perfectly pleasurable, afternoon. Unlike her he had nothing to hide his natural state, modestly matter of fact about his bareness on display, possessing no idea of how appealing or handsome he was to her sex.

"I wouldn't want to deprive you of one," she remarked, wondering what he meant.

Adjusting his arm so he could lean upon the bed, he parted the robe to reveal her own nakedness, a callused fingertip deliberately brushing her nipple as it hardened in response to an encounter with the filtered air. "I shall not be able to wear it without the memory of seeing you thus distracting me," he explained, making her blush.

She watched him as his fingers continued their pilgrimage, noting the serious, intent expression in his eyes. He seemed utterly vulnerable to her as he lay on the bed, the serene facade of the Jedi Council Master removed from his face as if a veil that protected his true self from those he did not wish to see.

Ever since that night at the Corellian Grand, she had been permitted to breach this veil, though now as she gazed into his sea coloured gaze, she realised that he had always let her in, for she had seen this lustre of intimacy many times. It was a rare privilege, one which she felt unworthy of being granted, though she knew he would disagree. The revelation emboldened her to ask something that had been on her mind for what seemed a long time, yet it was only since she realised her true feelings for him, and learned of his for her.

"What will happen after my divorce is final?" she uttered, the question causing his fingers to pause in their explorations. "Will I be free?"

"You've always been free, to me," Obi-Wan replied seriously. "I love you, Padmé, but that doesn't tie you to me anymore than it ties me to you. It is up to you how you want to live your life after Anakin. No one can chose your path for you but yourself."

"And if I choose to be with you?" she persisted, gazing deeply into his eyes, watching as he received her question for what his heart desired.

"Then you'll make me the happiest man alive," he murmured. "But only if you are sure."

She leaned down until their lips were almost touching. "I'm sure."

Their kiss threatened to continue into another deeper realm of pleasure, as his arms slipped underneath the sand coloured material to caress her soft flesh, until a chime emanating from the door caused the lips to pause and the hands to still. Obi-Wan called to the Force to identify the caller, a brief flicker of panic crossing his face when the reply was received.

Mouthing to her their identity, causing her own expression to acquire the same sense of brief panic, he silently motioned her to stay as she resumed her previous pose, while he rose from the bed and grabbed a pair of sleep pants to make himself decent before his unexpected guest. Upon leaving the room he stole a devout kiss from her lips once more, and gazed at her one final time from the threshold before making his way into the living room of his quarters.

Pressing his hand to the release control, Obi-Wan bowed in welcome to his visitor. "Master Yoda, how may I be of service at this late hour?"

The Grand Master of the Order regarded him with the same solemn affectionate expression as he always had, before entering the apartment, his gimer stick quietly tapping upon the floor. "Heard you wanted to see me, I did," he remarked. "My service I offer."

Obi-Wan smiled, let the door close and joined the Master as he made himself comfortable upon one of the sofas within the room. "It may be nothing, but I wondered if the nature of Anakin's assignment to the Supreme Chancellor was put before the Council."

Yoda frowned, the first indication to the answer he would give. "His service, the Chancellor requested, without motive or explanation." He paused, studying his colleague. "Something this has become?"

Obi-Wan nodded, before telling him what he had seen and theorised during his mediation within the Memorial room, along with the knowledge that he acquired during his investigation charged to him by Bail, and his time spent with Padmé. He concealed how he had come by such observation, for not only did he feel that his beloved needed such a protection, at least for the moment while they were not free to pursue their relationship publicly, the Grand Master was still a traditionalist at heart, and though he had leant his approval to the changes now applied to members of the Order, he had not given his blessing.

Yoda bowed his head as he consulted the Force before replying. "Feared this outcome I did. Expected however, it was." Raising his head, he looked his protégé in the eye. "Wrong about the prophecy, your master was."

"Anakin is not the Chosen One?" Obi-Wan queried in surprise.

"Chosen One he is, but not for the Jedi. For the Sith," Yoda replied, causing his colleague to gasp in horror.

"How long have you known this?" Obi-Wan asked when he found breath to speak.

"Suspected for a long time I have. Knew for sure I never did. Misinterpreted the prophecy, your master. Two Chosen Ones it foretold. Bring balance to the Force their existence would. One for the Dark, a vergence of power, one for the Light, adored by the Force. The Dark one slayed he would be, by the Light."

"Do you know who is the Light?" Obi-Wan questioned.

Yoda nodded, his gaze steady. "Watched over him I have, ever since he was found. Honoured with his training, I was not, but unlike his Master, doubted his future never. Realised the truth did his Master, when one with the Force he became."

Obi-Wan froze as he realised the meaning behind Yoda's cryptic reply. He had been given an answer to his past, one which explained much, but the future was a more immediate concern. "Master Yoda, he is like my brother. I will not fight him."

"Cuckold him you can, but not fight?" Yoda queried, causing his protégé to blanch as he realised that the Grand Master had sensed Padmé's presence.

"I love her," Obi-Wan confessed, his features hardening into resolve. "Her divorce will be final soon."

"Fight for her would you?" Yoda asked.

"I already have, many times," Obi-Wan pointed out.

Yoda hummed, then reached out and with one of his crawled hands grasped the Council Master's knee. "A special place in my heart, you have always had. So does she. Disapprove of your union, I do not. But avoid facing him, you should not. Your destiny, it has always been. Prophesied, the ending is."

"A Jedi does not go into a fight with victory assured." Obi-Wan reminded him.

"If firm in the Light of the Force he is, victorious a Jedi will always be," Yoda replied. "Whatever the outcome."

Chapter Text

Part 41: Upon An Asteroid Base.

Obi-Wan had little time to dwell on the Grand Master's words for within a moment a message was patched through from the communications centre within the Temple; a garbled, hurried and urgent sounding series of crackles, originating from the outpost on Polis Massa. Such emergencies were put through immediately to the Grand Master wherever he happened to be on Coruscant, in this case the communication system overriding the usual personalised access codes given to each Jedi in order to broadcast the message.

The content of the message was a shock to all within the quarters; for no one from the Order was scheduled to be within the asteroid outpost at this time. Located in the Subterrel sector within the Outer Rim, it was a usually a base for all Jedi whose assignments carried them into the outer reaches of the galaxy, a rare occurrence since the formation of the Separatist Confederacy. But it was not that the asteroid was occupied which disturbed the Masters. It was the identity of the messenger; Garen Muln. One of Obi-Wan's closest friends since his crèche days, he had informed Obi-Wan that he was thinking of leaving the Order the night of the funeral for the murdered Jedi. Managing to persuade him otherwise, Obi-Wan had not expected his friend to take him up on his offer assistance if such was needed. Garen was an accomplished Master, capable of defending himself and those in his care. That he needed help indicated the situation was a grave matter.

Yoda hesitated not to give Obi-Wan the task of travelling to Polis Massa. He even authorised that the Senator from Naboo could go with him, once Obi-Wan had taken the liberty of breaching his friend's confidence by confiding to him the content of the conversation which had taken place after the funeral of the murdered Jedi. He had little choice considering the message was broadcast on the emergency channel reserved for Council Masters and not his own personal comm. Garen would understand and forgive him. Provided they could rescue him and his companion from the distress in which they found themselves.

After the Grand Master left to inform the rest of the Council, Obi-Wan returned to his bedroom, where he found Padmé dressed and ready for departure. She had heard the message from his comstation by the bed, and without hesitation called for her security to land her yacht outside on the balcony landing pad, a privilege all Council Masters were granted. Once the ship arrived she had gone aboard to change into her white combat suit, whilst her security cleared their flight plan with the Temple and Coruscant Flight Control. No attention was garnered by her actions, the Jedi had called on her before, and as the Leader of the Opposition within the Senate, it was her rare privilege not to need permission from other Senators in order to depart.

Within minutes they were aboard her yacht, exiting the jewel of the Core Worlds for a remote asteroid base within the Outer Rim. As soon as they were within safe distance from Coruscant, Padmé engaged hyperspace.

"How long have you known Garen?" she asked her copilot, carefully eyeing his thoughtful, concerned expression.

"Since I was a crechling," Obi-Wan replied quietly, the comment causing her to smile. "What is it?"

"I'm just picturing you as a mischievous youngling," she replied, to which he matched her own countenance.

"We were," he confessed, "the trouble was that for a number of years there was an uncanny resemblance between the two of us, and we would delight in fooling our carers into thinking one was the other. Master Yoda was usually called in as he was the only one who could tell us apart. As the years passed and the resemblance remained, I became more Code conscious, while he blackened his hair." He paused, his smile fading. "It didn't surprise me to learn that he had joined the List. But I was surprised when he told me of his intentions to leave the Order. Garen was never the type to cut and run. And he wasn't either, he was only willing because he could see no other option. I hope she's worthy of him."

They drifted into silence for a while, watching the hyper streamed star lines of space, their thoughts contemplating what they might find on the remote asteroid base that they were travelling to. Garen's message had revealed little in the way of clues about what they would be facing. Obi-Wan knew Padmé could take care of herself in a fight thanks to their participation in the Battle of Geonosis and the Blockade Crisis on her homeworld ten years ago. There were not many Senators who could do so, she and Bail Organa were a rare breed amongst a security conscious Republic.

"Can you handle a saber?" He asked her wonderingly.

After a degree of thought, Padmé nodded slowly. "Captain Panaka did train us to use staffs and swords while I was Princess of Theed. Why?"

In reply he retrieved a silver cylinder from his carryall and handed it to her. "This was Qui-Gon's. Considering the number of missions I went on with Anakin where he lost or mislaid his, I thought I ought to have a spare with me at all times just in case." Glancing at the chrono, he added, "we have some time before we arrive, we should use it wisely."

Padmé studied the weapon in her hand thoughtfully, judging the weight, eyeing the controls. She was a sharpshooter with her blaster and during her defence training Captain Panaka had declared that she could dance as well as she could fight. She knew that she could never measure up the level of excellence practised by the Jedi, but the idea of trying the weapon out intrigued her.

Rising from their seats, they headed to the largest room within the yacht, where Obi-Wan instructed her on the basics of using such a weapon, and how to work the controls, which despite their minimalist appearance, were actually quite sophisticated. Dialling down the power of the lasers to a training mode, he stood back for a moment as she ignited her blade and moved about the room, getting use to the feel of the weapon. Only when she was comfortable with using it did he ignite his own blade and engage hers.

The sparring session was unlike anything she had ever experienced. Even though she had witnessed Jedi at their finest in the Battle of Geonosis, watched the surveillance footage of Obi-Wan's fight with the Sith ten years ago on Naboo, there was something quite unique about experiencing such a duel first hand. Master Kenobi's fighting style had changed Forms in the ten years she had known him, from an acrobatic display she had seen in Anakin's saber work to a highly defensive style which he was famed for, thanks to the propaganda from the HoloNet. From her contacts within the Senate, Order and Jedi Council, Padmé knew Master Kenobi was considered the best defensive swordsman in the Order and it was not hard to see why. In every move there was a grace and elegance that was rarely seen outside a ballroom, coupled with a undeniably powerful expression of concentrated focus which was splayed across his countenance.

Her own style was no match, but after a time she found herself able to mimic some of his form, even without the aid of the Force. She grew to appreciate his teaching methods, unlike his previous padawan, who always claimed that Master Kenobi held him back from reaching his full potential. Padmé also realised immediately the incredible discipline under which Obi-Wan operated, the strength of power that he kept banked within him as they sparred. He lacked the aggression with which Anakin had always fought, an emotion that she came to realise had hindered her soon to be former husband from reaching the full potential he so desperately craved.

As for Obi-Wan, he found much to admire about Padmé's style of fighting. Due to their shared experiences in the Blockade Crisis and the Battle of Geonosis he knew she was a good shot, capable of improvisation, as she had shown with the chain to attack the Nexu, but he had no idea that she could fight as well as she was doing so with a saber.

Volunteering the weapon had come from an instinctive urge inside him as he contemplated what they might be facing when they arrived at Polis Massa. Jedi normally travelled in twos, a Master and a Padawan, something that might be expected from whoever it was they would face. Padmé's youthful features and her slight statue would lend itself to such an outward deception, and possibly fool their opponents into believing that they were not capable of fighting with any other weapon.

Padmé's previous experience in using a sword aided his tutelage else he doubted that their journey time in the ship would have enabled her to lend a convincing image to the deception of a Master travelling with his Padawan. Jedi were trained to handle sabers from a young age, the foremost swordsman of the Order taught the youngest classes; Master Yoda. Without the Force the weapon was still as useful to those who were trained to use it, though the ability to harness that ancient energy added an extra depth to fighting with a saber. Despite lacking that ability, Padmé picked up the skills quickly, managing to mimic some of his style, as well as adapting her own.

The ship's chrono had been timed to give them a warning before they arrived in the system, allowing them to call an end to the sparring session while they still had time to regain the energy for whatever lay ahead. Obi-Wan used what was left of the journey to meditate, while Padmé researched the layout of the asteroid base.

Coming out of hyperspace, the ship approached Polis Massa and its neighbouring asteroids cautiously. Within the cockpit the two passengers used the scanners to survey the surface and found three ships; one a Delta-Twelve, standard issue to any Jedi, and two other unidentifiable crafts, both reading an impressive array of shielding and weaponry. Engaging the landing struts, Padmé checked her blaster before handing Obi-Wan a spare, along with an extra power pack. A Jedi's weapon may be his life but it never hurt to have a backup.

Sabers at the ready they exited the ship, senses on high alert, brown and blue eyes casting around, taking in everything. Ahead of them stood the entrance to the base, ominously silent. Located on their right and left were the ships her yacht's sensors had picked up, and aside from the Delta-Twelve, neither of them looked familiar. Such strangeness was hardly comforting as they eyed the weaponry outlined across each hull. Both ships appeared to be highly manoeuvrable and deadly.

Leaving the crafts behind they advanced cautiously towards the entrance. With a wave from the Force Obi-Wan opened the door ahead of them. Almost at once the violent humming and clashing of lightsabers echoed from within the base. Clutching their own where the silver cylinders hung on their waists, the couple headed inside. Following the sound of the duel, they went deeper into the base, until the proximity of the battle forced them to halt in a nearby alcove, whilst they plotted how to enter the fight, aid and assist the Jedi in his quest to defeat the Sith.

For Sith the opponent was, however not the one that the Order had been looking for since the death of what was presumed to be the apprentice on Naboo. Obi-Wan did not feel that the swirl of dark emotions which surrounded her was powerful enough to prove to be the master who had trained the Zabrak he defeated ten years ago. That she was a woman was in some dispute, for her features were angular, almost droid like. He had little time to analyse her features thoroughly to determine her species, for he was too busy evaluating her fighting style, and how his friend was measuring up. Garen had not faced a Sith before, but some times even such previous experience did not help a Jedi to defeat their opponent. Nor would it be wise of him to suddenly intercede, as he might risk hurting his friend rather than the warrior he was facing.

Glancing at Padmé, he saw that she had discarded her grip of the saber in favour of her blaster, raising the weapon gripped firmly in her hands, aiming it at the Sith. Such a move had proved affective on Geonosis, he hoped the same would achieve some degree of success here. Catching her eye, he nodded at her, allowing her the privilege of judging the best time to fire.

In the end the gunshot was by no means as accurate as they hoped, but as a method of distraction it more than served its purpose. The assailant moved her blade to intercept and deflect the shot towards the wall of the corridor, breaking her attack off Garen for a moment, which in turn caused the shot to ricochet back and forth between the walls until the power of the laser receded completely. He seized on the opportunity, striking with his saber at her unprotected body, wounding her slender waist.

Padmé knew instinctively that her next shot would also be blocked, so she turned her gaze to Obi-Wan as she contemplated what to do next. The Jedi Master's eyes were not upon her or the fight, instead they shifted between the floor and the ceiling of the corridor, as though he were judging something. Within a moment she discovered what that was, as he leapt forward and upwards, in a manoeuvre which harked back to his days as the padawan of Qui-Gon Jinn. Landing behind the assailant with his lightsaber ignited and in hand, he struck at her as she reacted with fury to the wound which his friend had inflicted.

Wounded and trapped between two Jedi, one tiring, the other fresh and ready for the fight, the Sith was by no means outgunned. She more than held her own, turning her blade from a single shaft of red light into two, as the duel harked back to Obi-Wan's first fight with such a dark side warrior ten years ago. Up and down the corridor they battled, the red, green and blue blades a constant swirl of activity, as they slashed and clashed with each other and the walls of the corridor. From her alcove Padmé watched for a time, until an avenue for venturing deeper into the base was given. Obi-Wan had said that Garen was meeting his companion here, so given the presence of the third ship within the landing bay, it must follow that she was elsewhere within the base, possibly injured. It was imperative that she find her, just in case the assailant gave them no choice but to abandon the base for hyperspace.

Dodging the three duellists Padmé made her way down the corridor behind them further into the base. Keeping her blaster handy in case the Sith had brought friends, she checked every open door way as she went. For those that were closed she hurriedly pressed the activation controls, or waved her free hand in the direction of the automatic sensors. Most of the rooms were full of medical scanners, beds and droids, the latter powered down, waiting for the command to wake up. Some times she passed the occasional operations room or generators that quietly blinked away, undisturbed by the fight within the base.

The corridor which she was traversing went around and through the base as continuous curve, allowing her to survey almost every room. Behind her the echoes of saber upon saber grew fainter as she travelled deeper within the base, searching for the pilot of the third ship. Now and then a sound came to her, causing her to pause as she tried to identify it, hoping it to be coming from the woman she was looking for. However such hopes were usually and quickly disappointed as the sounds revealed themselves to be droids or indications of information from the sensors and other controls monitored by the machinery of the base. She pressed on despite the disappointment, knowing that who she was looking for had to be somewhere within the base.

At last she heard something which was indicative of a life form. Pausing in her search, she stilled until her senses could trace the direction of where the cries were coming from. Once she had that, Padmé forgot her cautious pace in favour of dashing towards the source of the sound, although she never let up her check of every other room that she passed, just in case something else awaited her. All the while the cries became more and more audible as their level of distress sung out a tune she could not hope to identify until she caught sight of the source in question.

Rounding the latest in the series of curves within the corridor, a flash of red alerted her that she had found what she was looking for. Coming to a halt, she entered the room cautiously, wary of the possibility that it might be a trap. Once she had satisfied herself that nothing was lurking in the shadows, awaiting to pounce, Padmé turned her gaze upon the woman she had been searching for.

She was a little taller than herself, with hair the colour of sunset and eyes a deep emerald shade she had sometimes found in her own lover's. Slender and well formed, aside from the swollen belly that her fingers clutched frantically, indicating the source of her distress. This woman was in labour, and judging by the panicked concern displayed upon her countenance, the time for her to give birth should have been far off.

Padmé knelt before her, holstering her blaster before reaching out her hands to help. "Easy, easy," she murmured in soothing tone. "I'm here to help. You're safe now."

"Garen?" the woman queried as her stress eased a fraction.

"Obi-Wan's helping him," Padmé replied. "Has he told you of him? They have been life long friends." She turned her gaze to the swollen belly. "How far along are you?"

"Not far enough," the woman gritted out as she suffered through a contraction.

Recalling from her time spent with Sola during the births of her nieces, Padmé waited for the pains to subside, then calmly checked the rate of progress. "Can you stand? We need to get you to the medbay, and there's one not far from here."

"I think so," the woman nodded, and clutched at her hands, grateful for such assistance at this time.

Helping her to her feet, Padmé wrapped an supporting arm around the woman and together they ventured into the corridor. Keeping a cautious eye and ear on alert for possible attackers, she guided her companion towards the nearest medbay.

Getting her on to the bed was another matter, but fortunately the medcenter beds were equipped with repulsor lifts, allowing for them to be lowered and then raised to the usual height. Padmé stepped back as the med droid went about its work.

From this point in the base it was impossible to hear the three way saber fight, allowing her no chance to try and discern who was winning, the Jedi or the Sith. It reminded her of the blockade ten years ago, when she went on to face Nute Gunray of the Trade Federation while Obi-Wan and his master battled the Sith that had laid in wait for them in the hangar bay of Theed Palace. Padmé hoped that the symbolism did not carry through to the ending, where, with Nute Gunray in custody, the blockade lifted and communications restored, she had returned to the hangar bay to find Obi-Wan grieving over the body of his master.

Worrying over the duel would buy her no favours however, so she returned her focus to the labouring woman in front of her, taking grip of the hand which clamoured for aid, recalling what she remembered of her sister's child births. At the foot of the bed the med- droid laboured, uttering soothing beeps until the child was safely delivered. Padmé found its odd curved shapes and coloured eyes faintly disturbing, but her companion paid them no mind as she focused on bringing her child into the world.

By the time word reached her concerning the end of the duel, her companion's labours were over, the baby girl was resting in her arms and they were all on first name terms. Nineve, whom Padmé learned was the name of her companion, was relieved that despite the early delivery her daughter was well and after all she had done to help her, held no qualms about her newborn resting in Padmé's arms. She was in need of the same, as it had been an exhausting day. But her mind and her worries were with her lover, who she had last seen leaping over her to shield and fight against the Sith that Nineve's ex-employer had sent after her. Though she had been reassured by Padmé that his friend was here to help him, she would not be easy until Garen was by her side once more.

Then suddenly a fair-coloured bearded man with a kindly face appeared over Padmé's shoulder, his arms coming to rest around her waist just below where her arms cradled the newborn. He was followed by her own man as Garen stole to her side, sheepish and bruised, but very much alive. He took her hand in his and gestured at his friend. "Nineve Jade, meet Obi-Wan Kenobi."

Obi-Wan bowed his head as much as he could in his position. "Greetings, milady." He turned to the newborn, smiling kindly at her. "Welcome to the universe, little one."

"What happened to the Sith?" Padmé asked him softly.

"Dead," Obi-Wan replied. "We'll take the ship back with us to Coruscant. I sense there is more to discover here still." He dealt a kiss to her cheek before turning his gaze back to the child in her arms. "I could get used to you thus. She's strong in the Force."

"I hope she learns to use it wisely," Nineve murmured, "Unlike her mother. For my actions on Pais, Master Kenobi, I apologise."

Obi-Wan acknowledged the gesture with another slight bow of his head. "No need, milady. I admire your ability to make sure no one was harmed. There are not many who would grant their adversaries such a privilege."

"It was what my employer wanted," Nineve replied. "But it had the opposite effect to the one he intended. As for my next assignment, I couldn't do what he asked, so I left his employ and he put that Sith in my place. With orders to kill me if she found me. No one leaves his employment alive, if they know his true identity."

"And you do?" Padmé deduced from those words.

"It was necessary sometimes, for me to see him in an official capacity," Nineve replied. She turned her head to her man. "Garen tells me that you wish for us to return to Coruscant and assist in defeating him. It is not that I lack the courage, but I do not know how. He is too powerful in the Republic, who would believe us?"

"We will need proof," Obi-Wan murmured. "Which the ship that belonged to your assailant, might provide us with."

Proof they found, he and Padmé, when they left the couple and their daughter alone in the medbay recovering from the birth and the fight. Inside the ship within the communications system, where there were records of holo messages between the Sith and her master. In those he presented himself as a hooded spectre, his gravely, crackling voice speaking from within that dark hole of seeming nothingness, scarcely unrecognisable.

But present also, were other recordings, of conversation between the Sith and another, concerning her Master's orders, the very same he had dealt out to her during their conversations. The identity of the other was still a shock to them both, inspite of the conversation Obi-Wan had held with Master Yoda before they left Coruscant. His former padawan, her soon to be former husband, the previously prophesied chosen one of the Order, had taken the path of the dark side, which would forever dominate his destiny.

"How many meetings do you have left?" Obi-Wan asked her, after the full scale of the horror that awaited them concerning Anakin and the Sith had finished unfolding within the records of the communications system.

"Just one," Padmé replied. "I will go there protected. Captain Typho is vigilant, and my lawyers have had a restraining order in place ever since he first laid a hand on me."

Obi-Wan nodded, resigned. "I will have to go to the Council with this. By the time your meeting is over, I imagine we will have come to an agreement over what the Order will do with the Chancellor and Anakin."

"We at the Senate must take action as well," Padmé replied.

"Then together, will the Order and Senate act," Obi-Wan murmured in the style of the Grand Master. "And may the Force be with us all."

Chapter Text

Part 42: Dissolution.

If Padmé felt any apprehension during her meeting with Anakin after what she, Nineve, Garen and Obi-Wan had discovered on Polis Massa, she chose not to show it. Her concern was not directed at herself, he had already visited all the injury he could upon her, it was for her lawyer and his, along with the security Captain Typho assigned, Artoo, and the Judge who would be present during the meeting this day.

His role was to preside over the final measures which would nullify her union with Anakin; listen to the results of the negotiations that had occurred since she first sought this course of action, and witness the documents of flimsi and data records which would render the divorce official. A series of formalities which would suggest that the meeting was likely to be short, but Padmé had learned from long experience of participating in several committee meetings with only one item on the agenda, that even formalities could be drawn out into lasting an entire day.

She and Obi-Wan had agreed to meet after their meetings were over, for he was expected at the Council Chamber, to debrief his colleagues over what he, Garen, Nineve and herself had discovered on Polis Massa. Since their return from that asteroid base the Jedi had allowed for Nineve and her child to stay with Garen at the Temple, and taken the ship belonging to the Sith they encountered into their custody.

The Council was also going to discuss whether they would exercise their Senate privileges and side with those politicians who wished to put forth a motion for a vote of no confidence concerning the Supreme Chancellor. If they chose to do so, it would be the first time that the Order had ever involved itself in such matters, setting a precedent that could and doubtless would influence what the rest of the galaxy thought of them. For many years they had resisted the temptation to involve themselves so directly in Republic politics, even if they did advise the Supreme Chancellor, along with countless other Senators, as well as mediate over disputes on worlds throughout the galaxy.

Lately more members of the Order had become known figures of the Republic, courtesy of the executive office's somewhat ambiguous propaganda campaign. Count Dooku's history as a former Jedi when he emerged as the leader of the Separatists had done little to help the Order's reputation. The announcement of the reforms to the Order concerning attachment also coloured the impression formed by those who knew of the Jedi. Beings had become used to seeing only Masters and their padawans about the galaxy, to learn that they could marry now caused some to speculate if they would take their wedded companions in the same fashion as they took recruits to the Order.

Padmé was in the unique position of refuting this, if she chose to do so. Her first union with a Jedi had been conducted in the normal fashion, albeit secretly, although the latter proved reluctant to let go of her once he had her. For a moment her mind was flooded with memories of that last night, as she compared the violent behaviour he exhibited then to what she had learned in the recordings of the ship that they had found on Polis Massa.

She was no stranger to Sith, but of the three she had encountered, each were entirely different from each other. The first, the one that Obi-Wan defeated, had been a silent individual, monstrous by this very aspect of his personality, making him appear as a threatening predator. Count Dooku was unusual, a former Jedi, highly respected by the Council, an intelligent and capable leader of men. She recalled his manner on Geonosis, the almost regal quality about him as he accepted Master Windu's counter that they were not hostages to be bargained with.

As for Anakin, Padmé still regarded him as a troubled and dangerous boy. There was that certain youthful insecurity about him, a determination to prove himself, coupled with the frustration of having and how to go about it. Often his methods included a form of violence or a display of temper, particularly when something that he desired was denied him. In his youth she had never felt afraid of him, but since he was assigned with his master to protect her, Padmé had felt a certain fear, whenever he acquired a particular look.

For a time she believed that fear was a by-product of her emerging feelings for him, but now she knew that it came from the instinctive part of herself, which had always realised that becoming close to him would put her and any one close to her at risk. A part of her wished that fear had prevented her from marrying him, as it would have saved her from much of her recent troubles, but there was little she could do to change the past. She was grateful that the only injury incurred was upon herself and not upon any of her friends or family, except perhaps for Obi-Wan. And by the end of the day, her union with him would be over.

It was strange. She had desired so much from the marriage, more so than Anakin, who seemed to want nothing but the possession of her. Children, companionship, love and respect, so many things which her parents and her sister enjoyed in theirs. Now it was to be over, putting her in search of such things again, although some she seemed to have already found, with Obi-Wan. Before they left for Polis Massa he had accepted her choice to be with him, in his unselfish offer of love. Usually there was a time to experience being solitary and single again after the end of a union, common sense ruled that a relationship formed so quickly tended to be a rebound one, but Padmé knew that what she had with Obi-Wan would last a lifetime.

She rose from the chair before her dressing table and exited into the living room, where Captain Typho was waiting. Outside would be a cadre of security, her escorts almost everywhere she went now, including the trip to the Jedi Temple that no one but herself and Obi-Wan was supposed to know about. They were nothing if not discreet, and she half suspected that they had accompanied them to Polis Massa as well. She was used to security, from the moment she put herself forward for the position of Queen of the Naboo, but their devotion had increased ever since Anakin laid a hand on her. Moments of privacy, when she managed to experience them, became something to be savoured.

"Everything's ready, milady," Typho said.

"Good," she murmured. "Then let's go."

The Senate was in session, quibbling over some minor business which she had left her trusted handmaiden and Representative, Dormé, to attend. Just as her marriage had been a secret, so was her divorce proceedings and it was inevitable that the meetings would clash with the occasional Senate or Committee session. Since Jar Jar had signed over executive powers to the Supreme Chancellor, and his realisation that such a move was not what she would have wished, causing his withdrawal to Naboo, she had handed the reigns of Representative over to her handmaidens, who either posed as her, or themselves, depending on the level of importance each session merited.

Today was the latter, so her absence would incur no queries from the interfering members of the HoloNet, or anyone else who felt that they had earned that right to inquire after her whereabouts. There had been days, in the infancy of her Senatorial duties, that she considered no session too unimportant to attend. The years however had passed, and jaded her, causing her to apply the practice that everyone else followed, attend only those where she could effect some change for the good of the Republic. While the absences granted her some freedom to follow her own, private pursuits, they also granted her the opportunity to make a difference for the good of the Republic outside the Senate as well as within its walls.

Despite the secrecy, the divorce proceedings still took place where they should, in Coruscant's Courts district, inside a conference room located midway up one of the many skyscrapers that defined the jewel of the Core Worlds as a one large city. It was reserved under the Judge's name so no one could ascertain what was occurring behind the large, nondescript mahogany doors. All parties involved arrived separately in unmarked vehicles after a long complicated journey designed to foil any possible tails.

The lawyers were already there when she and her cadre walked into the room, having a companionable chat that would be a contrast to the official conversations between them which would take place soon. Upon her entrance both rose to offer her the usual courtly greeting, gently inquiring after her welfare, to which she replied in kind. She held no ill will against either of them, for both had treated her fairly, fighting for her rights to the best of their ability. Even the one who represented Anakin, who after realising he would get nothing but petulance and querulous excuses from his client, chose to serve his purpose by agreeing to what ever his opposite desired.

Anakin was the last to arrive, his entrance reluctant as always, having no desire to be present at these proceedings, though any absence on his part would serve to achieve the dissolution of their marriage in any case. There were moments when Padmé felt sorry for him, knowing that he still loved her in his own way, that she was all he had ever wanted. In this, as in almost everything, he was a still a boy, unable to see past the need to have her, no matter what the cost. Now he was to lose her, although he had lost her the moment he laid a hand on her in violence. He had not realised that yet, she knew he still believed that if he said sorry enough times she would call an end to these proceedings and disband the restraining order her security had put him under after they evicted him from her apartment.

Unlike her, he would probably never recover and move on from this, he would be angry and jealous the moment he found out about her and Obi-Wan, all the more so because he had been his master. No matter how many times he had hurt or disappointed Obi-Wan, Anakin would always claim that all the fault was on his master's side, never the padawan. No, Obi-Wan was the one who had held him back from reaching his true potential, from finding and freeing his mother earlier, from saving her from the Tuskens, and probably Cliegg Lars as well. His hero complex was a selfish one, carrying within a need for his deeds to be recognised, to be lauded and remembered. A by-product of his upbringing in slavery, the denial and brutality of life visited upon him from an early age.

But as much as Padmé could find reasons to excuse his behaviour, she knew that he was not alone in his impoverished childhood. There were others like him, born into similar circumstances, who had risen above the poverty and brutality to become distinguished role models. Just as there were some who had become despots and slavers in their own right. Anakin was not the first, and he would not the be last. His destiny did not exclude him from judgement, even when it was previously believed to be a force for good.

His downfall was due to his failure to realise that he was not special, his reliance on his destiny being an escape from any wrongdoing and the consequences that rose from committing such sins on his part. Such knowledge kept her compassion from granting his wishes now, from excusing the violence he visited upon her, the members of her household, and the droids. She remembered when he confessed to her the massacre of the Tuskens who had taken his mother, the mistaken belief on her part that if she surrendered herself to their love that she could save him from committing further acts of darkness. In truth, no one could save him but himself, and until he realised that, his soul would remain unreachable.

The Judge entered the chambers, causing everyone present to remain standing until he had took his seat. After nodding a deferential greeting to all, he motioned for them to take their places before declaring the proceedings were in session. He then appealed to the lawyers to name themselves and their clients, before stating their case.

What followed a brief description of her marriage with Anakin told to the judge, the circumstances of the union's foundation, the brief days spent in wedded bliss, those spent apart as she attended the peace conference on Pais and he remained within the Jedi Temple, their fraught communications during that time, followed by their reunion and her decision to tell him that she wanted a divorce. His reaction to such news, and the ensuing violence visited upon herself and her household, her lawyer concluded, which led to the marital dissolution proceedings being held here today.

Evidence of that violence was presented before the Judge, in the form of the holo images of her injuries taken at the time, along with testimony from her security as well as herself. Throughout the case for her defence Anakin's countenance was stormy, his very dangerous expression providing the basis for the judge to believe that this young man was quite capable of delivering such an assault and doubtless would do so again.

Her lawyer spoke in a quiet voice, his manner this time very matter of fact, his previous aristocratic style that riled his colleague's client so much, gone from the proceedings today. No emotion ruled his record, nor drama for the sake of illustration or otherwise. He let the facts speak for themselves.

When it came to the turn of Anakin's lawyer, the events of their marriage were laid out again, accompanied this time by a record of his client's harsh upbringing at the hands of slavers, his cloistered life spent inside the Jedi Temple. Gone also were the lawyer's elitist mannerisms, as he too told his case in a quiet matter of fact way, without emotion or drama, letting the account speak for itself. He made no attempt to let his client's background and upbringing become source of excuse for his actions, even those he was unaware of, namely the massacre of the Tuskens in the wake of Shmi Skywalker's death. Nor did he offer up that his client knew that the assault he visited upon his wife was wrong, or that he was willing to face the consequences for incurring such suffering. The time to offer up such recompense had passed, to do so now would accomplish nothing.

During these proceedings the Judge offered little of his own thoughts, limiting himself to occasionally airing a query or two when he desired something to be explained further. Neither side put forth any objection to how the other rendered their accounts, allowing no insight to his thoughts through that way either. However unfamiliar both she and Anakin were with this form of legal process, they knew that the judgement was a foregone conclusion, he was present merely to oversee the dissolution of their marital union, nothing more. He would not press them into another series of counselling sessions, or would he suspend the annulment for a certain period of time.

With the restraining order still in place against him, Padmé speculated that this would probably be the last time she saw Anakin. She wondered what would happen to him now. She knew that the Jedi Council would most likely send someone after him, given the evidence they found aboard the ship on Polis Massa. Depending on who it was, and Padmé instinctively felt that it might be Obi-Wan, there was a possibility that Anakin might not live freely for much longer. Obi-Wan had confided in her that he would do everything he could to see that Anakin was redeemed, for he had no desire to kill his brother, whether it was his destiny to do so or no. If Anakin would let himself be redeemed was another matter.

Anakin's counsel came to the end of his report, which was followed by the Judge asking if either of the couple, or anyone else in the chamber wished to add something to what had been said. Padmé thought Anakin might chose to offer another apology at this point, since his counsel had offered none on his behalf, but the Jedi remained as silent as she. When enough time had passed to render a suitable pause, the Judge spoke.

"After examining all the evidence to hand, hearing the testimony from both counsels, it behoves me to declare this union at an end, allowing both parties to find another partner elsewhere, if that is their wish." He took hold of the gravel and tapped it lightly upon the mahogany table. "This session is concluded, this union nullified."

He rose from his chair, causing all present to rise also. One by one, starting with the counsel and ending with the Jedi, he shook hands, taking care to offer a few consoling words. The opposing counsel also exchanged shakes, between themselves and between the clients whom they had represented.

Anakin made no move to go over to her to offer the same conciliatory gesture, probably because the restraining order was still in place, so Padmé took it upon herself to walk over to him and put forth her hand. He seemed astonished to find her standing before him, as though his thoughts were not within this room, but with other matters or beings elsewhere, but after a moment he took her hand, and slowly raised his head to meet her gaze.

"Goodbye, Anakin," Padmé remarked quietly, before using the grip to pull him into a brief embrace. His free hand came up to return the gesture, causing her to still as she encountered the touch of his mechanised hand for the first time since that night. "Take care of yourself," she added.

Captain Typho was there to make sure the Jedi let go, then with one final glance at his rather forlorn looking figure, Padmé walked away.

Anakin watched her go with a heavy heart. Even though he was involved with Asajj, he would still have Padmé back in a heartbeat, if she let him. He was surprised to receive that hug from her. He was so used to her denying him anything he desired from her. The words she had used as well were strange. As though she expected to never see him again. While the restraining order was in place, Anakin could see her point, but he doubted that he would never run into her again. Both of them were always in the thick of events too much to avoid each other completely.

On the other hand that was during times of strife, when the Republic needed the likes of those who were willing to defend it with everything they had. Now that the peace treaty between themselves and the Separatists was in place, the only time their paths might cross would be if there was a Senate problem or a Chommell Sector problem. Anakin groaned. He was not comfortable at the thought of never seeing Padmé again. But nothing about this situation was easy.

Ever since he had let his temper get the better of himself, everything in his life had slipped out of his hands to be controlled by someone else. About the only thing he had succeeded in achieving was his knighthood. That had come with the price of his marriage. If he had been on Pais with Padmé none of this would have happened. As Obi-Wan's apprentice he should have been with the Jedi delegation, not kicking his heels back on Coruscant. True, he got to acquire the skills of the seventh form of saber combat, but he could have got such training upon his return. As for the soul healer, well, the counselling branch of the Order had never got in touch with him, so he chose not to do so either.

Beyond him, the lawyers were exiting the chamber, talking companionably with each other, as they had done so almost everyday of these negotiations. The Judge was following, leaving Anakin alone. He moved away from the table to survey the prospect offered from the transparisteel. High rise skyscrapers dotted the skies, separated by waves of traffic lanes, all equally heavily occupied.

Coruscant's Court District was located some distance from the Senate and Jedi Temple, so neither of those impressive landmarks could be seen from here. Not that either would provide any source of comfort at this present moment. Anakin's thoughts were far beyond this nondescript view, they drifted outwards, above the mantle of the planet, into the stars. Where Asajj was travelling just now. She had left to track down a missing young woman who used to work out of the executive office. Apparently the Supreme Chancellor had been worried about her ever since she disappeared, shortly after the conclusion of the Pais peace conference.

In Asajj's roughly fierce embrace, he could forget all his troubles. Burdens of being the Chosen One no long seemed insoluble in her arms. He didn't love her, nor did he believe that she felt any affection for him, but the intimacy that they shared soothed their wounds and assuaged some healing. With her away from the Core he felt more isolated and lonely than he had ever done so before. He had little to cure that ail, little to call his own. Padmé had taken Artoo back, and as for Threepio, the golden protocol droid had accompanied the Senator to the negotiations once, to respectfully request that he be permitted to remain within Padmé's household.

Certain droids were still considered the property of their owners and in cases of gifts given during a marriage, they were usually expected to be returned to their previous owner. But Threepio had argued quite eloquently to be granted permission to remain in the Senator's service, and the lawyers had agreed. Which left him his lightsaber, and the meagrely equipped quarters within the Jedi Temple. Even the rooms he shared with Asajj were hers, and not given to him by the Chancellor, although Anakin was certain that if he asked, Palpatine would be kind enough to bestow.

Such a thought was tempting, but the gift would give him little except another place of refuge away from the Temple. His quarters there felt bare and forbidding. As though they were judging him, just as the rest of the Order chose to do so. At times he almost wished that Qui-Gon had left him on Tatooine, or that he had never encountered the Jedi and Padmé, the two things which caused him such heartache now.

But such a possibility would have left him ignorant of the power within him, power that could have saved his mother, if he had been given the chance to do so. She had been the only one who had loved him unconditionally, the one being no one could replace. Her death at the hands of the Tuskens had marked the start of everything going wrong in his life. He wondered if the death of those raiders sparked an omen that blood would always stain his hands, even if he could see no evidence of it.

Outside the optical reflectors shifted to begin the gradual descent of darkness upon Coruscant's sky. Lights slowly lit up the skyscrapers before him, as those charged with working late hours on the planet which never slept, required more visibility with which to see by. Others were closing up their offices or chambers, leaving to sample the nightlife that the jewel of the Core Worlds had to offer, or for home.

Anakin's thoughts still preoccupied him, a prelude to what would be an unsettled night, unless the Chancellor's office called with fresh orders regarding his recent assignment. Upon his countenance the grimace which reigned there deepened at the thought of his current mission. What he had been requested to do troubled him, though not enough to refrain from carrying the orders out. To hold back and ask questions would doubtless only deepen the puzzle.

As the Chancellor had said to him when he was first given this mission, the beings he found were only pieces of the puzzle. Once the nature of their deaths and the life they led emerged into the public scrutiny of the HoloNet, only then could the whole be assembled and understood.

But someone was preventing that from occurring. After he had committed the act, he would monitor the HoloNet News Network carefully, keeping a look out for any notice of the incident. However numerous they were becoming, none registered even a missing beings' report. Even if the beings had no one left behind to notice that they had disappeared, a incident report would have turned up by now. Clearly someone was going to a great deal of trouble to keep the acts from becoming public.

Usually that meant only two things. Either someone within the Courts District had reasoned that the same being was behind all of the acts and was waiting to catch them in the midst of their next murderous act, or the Jedi were involved. Anakin suspected it was the latter. However, what troubled him was that if someone in the Order was investigating, why someone from the Chancellor's office had not chosen to inform them that these deaths were being sanctioned for the good of the Republic.

There was a common understanding between the Council and the Executive Office that they keep each other informed of whatever came across their respective desks which had the potential to expose the Republic to danger. Such silence from both ends troubled him, yet he could not disobey the Chancellor's orders. Perhaps next time an anonymous tip off to one of the Holo journalists might prove productive.

Inside a pocket within the confines of his cloak, a comlink vibrated, causing him to call the device into his hand. Asajj had left him a message to say she was on her way, and could she meet him at the usual landing rendezvous. Anakin responded that he would, before putting the comlink away.

With one last glance at the darkening patterned lit skyline, he turned to exit the chambers for the hanger bay where he had left his SoroSuub. Climbing into the vehicle, he gunned the engines. The speeder rose out of the bay and into one of the many traffic ways that littered the sky.

There was no ship waiting for him when he arrived in the Works District, but then he knew that Asajj was doubtless still dealing with Coruscant's custom officials. Even a pass from the Supreme Chancellor himself did not grant you clear skies immediately. However, he could sense that he was not entirely alone, and that was enough to make him exit his vehicle.

"I'm sorry, Anakin," a voice said somewhere behind him, "but Asajj won't be coming."