Panaka gave Padmé yet another blaster as Obi-Wan argued with his padawan. Ever since the Occupation, Panaka never let Padmé out of his sight without giving her a blaster. It was endearing, right until the time Padmé had to return the blasters without him taking offense. More than once Padmé had asked Cordé to do it. Fresh grief stabbed at her heart at the thought.
"I miss her too," Panaka said.
"We all do," Padmé said; dealing with grief as 'we' was easier than dealing with grief as 'I'. Being queen had taught her that.
"Anakin," Obi-Wan said. "You'll do fine."
"But I wanted to go with you and Padmé," Anakin protested, sounding much closer to little Ani from Tatooine than one would expect after ten years as a Jedi padawan.
Obi-Wan put a hand on his shoulder. "The Council decided differently."
"The Council decided wrong," Anakin said grumpily. "I don't know anything about bounty hunters."
"Consult the Archive droids," Obi-Wan said.
Anakin rolled his eyes and left.
Obi-Wan joined Padmé in the shuttle.
"He means well," Obi-Wan said.
Obi-Wan had cut his hair a little -- Padmé really wanted to push it out of his eyes -- and traded his Jedi robes for a sleeveless shirt with a high collar. It suited him. It wasn't that she hadn't noticed earlier how handsome he was, but this made it more obvious.
"I haven't been to Naboo since," he said and paused, trying to find a diplomatic way of phrasing it.
There were no diplomatic ways of phrasing it and even if there were, Padmé was not about to let him use one. "The invasion."
"Since I left with Anakin ten years ago," he replied with a slight smile.
"The reconstruction's going well," Padmé said.
"Good," Obi-Wan said. "That's good."
"Yes." Padmé carefully didn't mention it would have gone better had the Jedi helped, but Obi-Wan had still been a padawan at the time, it seemed unfair to blame him.
They fell into silence. The ship hummed with the low roar of hyperspace. It had been decades since she had ridden a spaceship this big. She let the humming lull her to sleep. Obi-Wan would wake her when they got to Naboo.
It was noon on Naboo and the glare of the sun hurt Padmé's eyes. Obi-Wan, damn him, seemed perfectly fine. It was probably a Jedi thing. She decided not to hold it against him.
The shuttle to her parents' hometown was faster than it been before the invasion -- people back then had complained it was one of the slowest on the planet. Even misfortune served a purpose.
Obi-Wan had protested that visiting her parents wasn't a good way of avoiding assassins, but her father would never have let her hear the end of it if she came to Naboo and did not visit, so to the Naberrie house they went.
They hadn't even made it halfway down the street to the Naberrie house before Ryoo jumped out to hug Padmé and ask Obi-Wan, "Are you a Jedi? You look like a Jedi."
Obi-Wan looked down at himself, as did Padmé. He did not look like a Jedi. He barely looked like himself; he'd shaved, was not wearing his robes and even his lightsabre was hidden in his pack.
"You look like the Jedi who saved Aunt Padmé from the assassin," Ryoo said.
"How do you know about that?" Padmé asked as Obi-Wan rubbed a hand against his jaw, as if he thought his beard might grow back faster this way.
"I heard Gran and Mom talk about it."
"Don't listen to other people's conversations," Padmé told her. In her arms, the girl nodded.
The rest of the Naberries also recognised Obi-Wan, but they were old enough not go shouting about it in the streets. He was beset by a profusion of thanks for saving Padmé, all those years ago, because the official story was still that Maul had been an assassin, sent to kill her personally, not a Sith Lord bent on galactic domination. The tip of his ears burned crimson.
Things continued to be awkward all through lunch and the afternoon, until halfway through dinner Obi-Wan accidentally swept Padmé's glass off the table with his elbow. He had been talking to Ryoo and stopped mid-sentence at the crash. There was a great silence. Obi-Wan used the Force to pick up the remnants of the glass. It'd broken in three neat pieces.
And just like that, to the Naberries, he was no longer Jedi Master Kenobi the Sithslayer, but Obi-Wan, Padmé's friend.
Anakin drummed his fingers against the counter. He tapped his foot. He clicked his nails against the durasteel.
Finally -- finally! -- the droid came back. It did not, of course have any of the information Anakin needed. It did not, in fact, have any information.
Anakin took back the dart and marched out of the Temple. Had Obi-Wan been there, he would have accused Anakin of stomping, but Obi-Wan wasn't there so Anakin merely walked forcefully.
He picked up his favourite speeder from the hangar. Driving really really fast -- too fast, Anakin, too fast! -- helped him think. It reminded him of podracing, between the speed, the thrum of the engine and the way everything else just faded away. Back home, everything had been simpler.
Home. Obi-Wan was gone, Anakin could go home.
Padmé had missed Naboo. It had been years since she'd come to Varykino and yet everything seemed exactly the same, despite the fact that she was alone with Obi-Wan. There were still fishes in the lake and the fishing gear was still stored below the stairs. Fishing had always been her sister's favourite activity more than hers, but it was the sort of calming activity she thought might appeal to a Jedi -- a Jedi like Obi-Wan, at least.
She put the proposal to him.
"I've never gone fishing before," he said.
That was not a no. "I'll teach you."
"Then I accept gladly."
Her uncle's boots were too big for him and there were no other shoes remotely near his size. Her own shoes were slightly too big, the cloth having lost its tightness after all this time, but they fit well enough. They took the stairs down the cliff face to get down to the beach.
"When you said 'beach', I expected sand," Obi-Wan said.
Padmé threw her line and sat down on the shingle beach. "There are no sand beaches on this side of Naboo."
He nodded and tried to copy her line throw. The wind caught the line, blowing it back in his face. He tried again, to no better results. "Ah. Little help?"
Padmé got up. She took the line from him and showed him the throw. This time when he tried, the line tangled itself on a rock.
She put her hands on his, his skin warm against hers, and guided him through the movement. He tried again. It was better, but not quite there yet.
After a few more tries, he said, "I think I'll just use the Force."
"Well, now, that's just cheating," Padmé said.
"I won't tell if you don't," he said, but he waited for her to nod before he did use the Force.
The line cut through the air. It did a little salute before dropping into the water. Padmé disguised her laugh with a cough.
He smiled back at her. She looked away and patted the beach next to her. He sat down. She showed him what to do with the other end of the line -- tie it around a bottle of Gallo cider. The bottle would fall when a fish got caught and pulled on the line.
"Won't the bottles break?" Obi-Wan asked as he opened one.
She shook her head.
She wondered if she should explain that it was tradition to drink every time you caught a fish and leave when you had drunk all the alcohol. She decided not to. Knowing Obi-Wan, he would insist on keeping with tradition, and they had brought too much to drink for two people. They'd return after sunset, or when Obi-Wan got bored, she decided.
Obi-Wan handed her a bottle and she took it, squashing the tiny voice at the back of her head going but we haven't caught anything yet!.
Padmé drank. "How are you finding Naboo so far?"
"It's peaceful," he said. Before she could reply to that he said, "No thanks to me, I know."
"I don't blame you," she said. "I blame the Jedi. But let's not talk of politicians, I hear they're not to be trusted."
He hid a smile behind the pretence of running his hand through his beard. It'd grown back. For the first few days it had look hilariously awkward -- "I wish Anakin were here to see this" "I most assuredly do not" -- but he was back to being handsome again.
Padmé finished her drink.
The bottle tied to his line fell. Obi-Wan rushed to his feet, with a soft "Ah!"
Padmé got to her feet more slowly and joined him in pulling the fish out of the water. It was a fairly small barwolf, maybe half a meter or so in length. Her grandfather's recipe for grilled barwolf was probably still in the house somewhere. Padmé wasn't all that fond of the taste of barwolf and if memory served the recipe involved too many steps. They would have to eat something else. Fruit salad was also a traditional Naboo dish.
She untangled the fish from Obi-Wan's line and freed it back into the river. Obi-Wan carefully folded his line. At her raised eyebrow, he said, "It seems unlikely I'll throw it properly again. And using the Force is cheating."
"It's not about the fish, it's about the people," Padmé said.
"I rather doubt the Gungans would appreciate getting tangled in a line," Obi-Wan said.
"Not the people you're fishing, the people you're fishing with." The river here was not nearly deep enough for Gungans. It deepened, a couple miles downstream and there were some Gungans living in the bend of the river there.
"There's a relief." He was smiling again. It was a good look on him.
Padmé sat down and leaned back on her elbows. She couldn't say that and not provide some subject to discuss, one that wasn't politics. "Do you watch Galaxyvision?"
"I don't have the time," he said. "I did enjoy Naboo's song last year, if not the performance."
Padmé couldn't argue there. The performance had been a disaster, with the stage catching fire halfway through. It hadn't even been Skyé Tarven 's fault, it was one of the Alderaanian props that had malfunctioned. And then Alderaan had had the gall to win anyway, despite Skyé carrying her song all the way through with the stage on fire. Bail had apologised to Padmé personally, even though it wasn't his fault. Maybe this hadn't been the best subject to pick, if one wanted to stay away from politics.
"I wanted to compete when I was six," she said.
"No." Obi-Wan was incredulous.
"Yes. But..." She sang a few notes and Obi-Wan's horror was not faked.
"We're definitely not going to catch any fish now," he said. He meant it as a joke, but it still hurt. He must have felt it -- the Force, most likely, as she knew her face had not betrayed her -- and changed the subject. "The water's rising."
"Tide's coming in," she said. The sun was beginning to set too. At least they'd notice before Obi-Wan got to experience the tradition of getting caught by the tide and get back drenched.
"In a river?!"
Padmé took a deep breath. Looked like it was time for the traditional 'explain how Naboo water works to the foreigner' speech. "Naboo's unique geology creates unique tidal forces..."
Tatooine was still the sorriest sand ball in the whole galaxy. Anakin had been there for barely five minutes and he already had sand everywhere.
He ran into Kitster at the spaceport and that alone would have convinced Anakin that the Force was on his side, but Kitster was also able to tell Anakin the dart was from Kamino -- apparently a Kaminoan ship had crashed a few years back and Kitster had wrangled enough money out of the deal to get himself an apprenticeship, a proper one, the kind that let you leave Tatooine when you were done.
Anakin told Kitster to come visit him on Coruscant.
Despite Kitster's assurance that Watto's shop was exactly where it had always been, it still took Anakin three tries to find it. It looked nothing he remembered. It was dirty and old and small; he had to bend his head to get inside.
It took Watto a few seconds to recognise him, but he seemed happy enough to see Anakin and told him where his mother had gone without any trouble. Not that Anakin hadn't been ready in case there was trouble, but it was good that there was not.
Anakin came across the vaporators before he did the Lars farm. There was a girl his age working on one. He said hi.
"Hi," she said. "I'm Beru Whitesun."
Anakin squinted at her -- she did look familiar. "Are you related to Mantisa Whitesun?"
"My aunt once removed," she said. "She was sold off-planet last year."
"I'm sorry," Anakin said. Last he'd heard the Whitesuns had been well on their way to buying their collective freedom. Beru's branch of the family had been free since her mother, if her remembered her family ties right.
"Is it that bad, being sold off-planet?"
"I wasn't sold," Anakin said. "I was freed so I could become a Jedi".
"You're Shmi's son!" Beru said. She grabbed Anakin's hand and started running towards the homestead.
Anakin almost fell over from the unexpectedness of it, but his Jedi training had given him good reflexes -- he was never telling Obi-Wan. They got to the homestead as a warparty was setting out.
"Beru!" said a boy not much older than Anakin. "And?"
There was an awkward silence.
An older man stepped forward and put a hand on Anakin's shoulder. "Son. I've got some bad news."
Anakin shrugged his hand off.
"Your mother was captured by Tusken raiders," the man continued speaking, but Anakin couldn't hear him over the roaring in his ears.
"Stay here," Anakin said. He pulled his speeder to himself, all the way from the vaporator and jumped on.
The Tusken raiders always set up camp in the same place. It wouldn't be easy for a warparty to break in, but for a Jedi alone, it was. And if that meant there were no witnesses? Anakin could live with that. The raiders couldn't, but Anakin certainly could.
The children, he left alive.
His mother was heavy in his arms when he went back to the homestead, but she was alive.
Padmé sat on the balcony, drinking a glass of water.
Once she was satisfied Obi-Wan was still asleep and not going to interrupt her, she got out her datapad and pulled up the senate files she had been working on before this "vacation".
There was something odd about the budget -- the paperwork was too convoluted, even by galactic senate standards, and Padmé couldn't get the numbers to come out right.
Padmé started going down the Hoojib hole of the galactic budget, looking through every sub-budget. It was possible that it was just a clerical error -- the amount wasn't that huge, not compared to the operating budget of an entire galaxy -- but it was still a substantial sum, and if it really was unaffected, Padmé knew where she would push for the money to go (education, specifically the literacy project for outer rim planets).
When she'd tallied up all the sub-sub-budgets, she found the right amounts for their sub-budgets everywhere, but the sub-budgets did not add up to the total budget.
She ran the numbers twice. Every time the result was the same.
There was one budget she hadn't looked at, because it had never once changed, in all the millennia the republic had existed. It had not even been adjusted for inflation. For all she knew, it might not even have gotten converted from Ancient Republic Credits to New Galactic Credits. Not that it mattered, because as far as she knew, that budget didn't get used.
The Jedi's upkeep on mission was paid for by either the Republic or the host planet depending and the Senate budget was only for "personal expenses", of which the Jedi had none, being Jedi.
All the missing money was being funnelled through the Jedi budget, where it left immediately for parts unknown -- to know these parts, one had to be a Jedi, a Jedi's identification code.
She went and woke Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan had gone full-blown flopfish in his bed, the top sheet unmoored and not one of his limbs not poke out of a new side of the bed. At least he didn't snore.
She bumped her knee against his foot. His foot twitched, but he didn't wake up. So much for the fabled Jedi situational awareness.
She reached over to shake his shoulder. He grabbed her hand.
"Padmé." His breath ruffled her hair. "What are you doing?"
"Waking you. It's past noon."
Obi-Wan's drink sat untouched on the table as he read over Padmé's work. She barely resisted the urge to click her nails against the table. What she had found could be interpreted as accusing the Jedi High Council of corruption.
He entered his passcode. It worked -- if he had not been a Jedi Master, it would not have, no padawan had access to this level of clearance -- and the budget opened on the holoscreen.
The budget had exactly one line.
"Who's Master Sifo-Dyas?" Padmé asked.
Kamino didn't so much have an atmosphere as a wet-osphere. Anakin had grown up on Tatooine, okay, this much water just wasn't natural.
Especially not when he had to wait outside right in the middle of it, just because the Kaminoans couldn't be bothered to install an entry vestibule.
He was five seconds away from opening the door with his lightsabre when it opened from the inside.
It was the first time in months Anakin had to look up to look someone in the eyes. He didn't like it.
"Master Jedi," the Kaminoan said. "I apologise for the wait."
Anakin was busy wondering if all Kaminoans were 90% neck so he almost missed what he was told next. "There are other Jedi here?"
"Jedi Masters Naberrie --" who Anakin had never even heard of "-- and Kenobi."
Wait. What? Wasn't Obi-Wan supposed to be on Naboo?
Something definitely smelled fishy here, and it wasn't the Kaminoan. Anakin drew his lightsabre and hid it in his hand inside his sleeve.
It was only his Jedi ReflexesTM that prevented him from dropping said lightsabre when he saw who 'Jedi Master Naberrie' was. And to think Obi-Wan had the gall to complain that Anakin sometimes didn't think things through!
Anakin raised an eyebrow at Obi-Wan. What he meant was 'as much as Jedi robes fit Her Royal Highness Amidala she is neither an actual Jedi nor supposed to be here', but what he said was, "Master Kenobi."
"Anakin," Obi-Wan said and raised both eyebrows in reply, clearly meaning 'relax, Anakin'.
"Master Naberrie," Anakin said. To Obi-Wan, he raised his other eyebrow to convey 'excuse you, how am I supposed to relax when you're messing with my investigation?!'.
Obi-Wan didn't react to this, which told Anakin Obi-Wan very clearly needed to brush up on his eyebrow semaphore.
"How nice of you to join us," Padmé said.
The Kaminoan asked if they were waiting for anyone else and was told to go ahead anyway, so all three Jedi -- or "Jedi" in Padmé's case -- were taken on a tour of the cloning facilities, in which a clone army was being grown, for the Republic! And ordered by Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas to boot.
Obi-Wan and Padmé shared what was definitely A Look at that as if it was them and not Anakin leading this investigation.
The clones' original model was a Mandalorian named Jango Fett who was not currently on planet and there went Anakin's hope of interrogating him; surprise appearance by Obi-Wan and Padmé or not, Anakin was determined to see this investigation through. And because he, at least, was supposed to be there, he got to order Obi-Wan back to Naboo, because it was technically his mission, so he was technically in charge, so he technically out-ranked Obi-Wan -- Anakin could really get used to this.
He did have to promise Obi-Wan he would tell the Jedi High Council and Padmé that the Galactic Senate would be informed, but he was going to do that anyway.
Padmé rolled away from under Obi-Wan's arm. He made a noise in the back of his throat. She kissed him and told him to go back to sleep.
It was probably best if Obi-Wan woke up alone and had time to think before they talked about what had happened the previous night.
She watched the sky lighten as the dawn rose over the Coruscant skyline and read the daily news. It had been a few weeks since Kamino, so she was starting to lose trust that Anakin had told the Senate -- perhaps the Jedi High Council had forbidden him to do so -- but the headlines managed to both prove her trust hadn't been misplaced and make her insides turn to ice.
Count Dooku of Serenno had declared war on the Republic.
Padmé might still be on leave, but she needed to be in the Senate immediately.
Sabé was there before Padmé had finished getting up. "I'll ready your clothes and transport. Talk to your Jedi."
"He's your friend, you talk to him." Padmé's reply lacked any kind of fire. If she was to return to active duty as Senator, she needed to talk to Obi-Wan.
Sabé rolled her eyes. She picked up Padmé's breakfast from the table.
"Talk to me about what?" Obi-Wan asked. "Hi, Sabé. How's your wife?"
"Hi, Obi-Wan. I'm busy right now, we'll catch up later," Sabé said. She held up two hair ornaments to Padmé. Padmé nodded at the right one and Sabé left to prepare the clothing -- a layered dress in five parts with a shawl -- that went with it.
"About last night," Obi-Wan started. It was a good guess, had the political not caught up with the personal.
Padmé nodded at him to go ahead. They had five minutes to get this conversation over with, she did not expect the political part would take more than three.
"The Jedi code forbids attachment," Obi-Wan said. "It is, however, silent on the subject of sex, so you don't have to worry about having seduced me with your 'feminine wiles', as the tabloids so charmingly put it last week."
"I'd apologise about that," Padmé said, "but it was Anakin's fault."
"Indeed." Obi-Wan looked away for a moment. "Padmé, I..." His voice trailed off.
"Obi-Wan," she said. He looked up at her. She continued. "If the Jedi code sees nothing wrong with friendship and is silent about sex, I doubt it will have much to say about friends having sex, even repeatedly." She reached out and touched his lips with her fingertips. "And you know where to find me."
Obi-Wan closed his eyes. He took a deep breath and seemed to come to a decision. She waited for him to speak, but he remained silent.
"There's something else." She moved away, picked up the datapad and showed it to him. "I need to be in the Senate."
"Go," he said. His mouth set in a grim line.
With Sabé's help with the clothing -- and especially with Sabé's driving -- Padmé made it to the Senate just in time for the extraordinary session that had just been called by Palpatine.