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The Calm In The Mirage.

How is it that, being gone, you fill my days,
And all the long nights are made glad by thee?

Amy Lowell; A Dome of Many Colored Glass.

Part 20: Bounty Hunter at Sixty Six.

Padmé half expected Obi-Wan to ask her to stay with R2 and the ship while he visited Jango Fett, but there was no uttered warning for caution when Lama Su left them to their own devices albeit briefly, before Taun We returned to show them to the bounty hunter's apartment. Both of them were too preoccupied with what they had seen to rouse from themselves from the silence. Neither of them had anticipated the encounter with the clones, the discovery that ten years ago someone had laid out an order for such an army for the Republic. The devious nature behind this cold, calculated preparation struck them forcibly. Someone had carefully guided the Republic to this point, stoking the fires of dissent, of separation, and of corruption until they were tangled in a web of darkness, forced to settle for the fait accompli which awaited them here.

A shiver passed over her body, chilling her from head to foot, the cold causing her to somehow hear the rain which was still pouring down outside, despite the substantial barriers of the building protecting them from Kamino's harsh climate. Droplets clung to her and Obi-Wan, stubbornly refusing to soak into their clothes or skin, or evaporate into the spotlessly white corridor they were walking through. The atmospheric weather was kindred to her emotions and the revelations they had learned. Anxious, her mind contemplated what was happening on Coruscant while they were here, if the Senate were debating the Military Creation Act at last.

Viewing the clones here, such a vote seemed redundant to her now.

The door to Jango's apartment opened, revealing a small boy, strikingly identical to the clones they had seen being trained into soldiers. Only this child was actually ten years old, with no genetic modifying installed within him.

"Boba," Taun We greeted the child with a friendly manner, "is your father home?"

"Yep," the boy answered abruptly, his dark eyes staring at Padmé and Obi-Wan, in a manner which Padmé found chillingly compelling.

"May we see him?" Taun We asked.

"Sure," Boba replied, his gaze still on the Senator and Jedi Master. He stepped back, letting them cross the threshold into the apartment. "Dad! Taun We's here!"

Padmé had contemplated why Jango Fett had wanted an a clone for himself, for it seemed so out of character for a bounty hunter to want a child. She assumed until now that Boba was meant for some other purpose, another way to make profit, but to hear the boy call Jango father caused her to rethink about the man who had been hired to kill her, a man she was now to meet.

"Welcome back, Jango," Taun We remarked as the man came into view now, several years older and a few pounds heavier than the clones they had seen, but not appearing deficient for his occupation by those differences, for the latter was added muscular strength, and the former, experience from years in the field. "Was your trip productive?"

"Fairly," Jango remarked, studying the Senator and Jedi with interest.

"These are Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi and Senator Padmé Amidala," Taun We remarked. "They have come to check on our progress."

"That right?" Jango uttered, in a tone which indicated little care, either for the visit, or the clones which brought him sight of these guests.

"Your clones are very impressive," Obi-Wan said, his tone careful to show none of the emotion he felt at seeing them, or the original who tried to kill the woman he loved. "you must be very proud."

"I'm just a simple man trying to make my way in the universe, Master Jedi," Jango answered, his tone casual, and therefore deceptive.

"Aren't we all?" Obi-Wan remarked, his gaze moving from examining the bounty hunter to search the rest of the apartment.

Padmé kept her gaze on Jango, knowing Obi-Wan would find whatever proof he was looking for, waiting to see if the bounty hunter might betray a certain conscious of the evidence. Aside from moving slightly to block the Jedi's view of an open room, there was no change in his studious gaze.

"Ever make your way into the interior as far as Coruscant?" Obi-Wan asked.

"Once or twice," Jango answered.

"Recently?" Obi-Wan persisted.

Now Jango's gaze became suspicious. "Possibly."

"Then you must know Master Sifo-Dyas," Obi-Wan remarked, trying to gauge the man's reaction to the name.

Jango turned to his son and spoke to him in a foreign tongue, one Padmé had not heard before. She concluded it must be a coded language of some sorts, for Obi-Wan seemed to understand it within the Force, as he adjusted his gaze again, directing it to the open room before Boba moved to close the door, blocking his view.

"Master who?" His father queried.

"Sifo-Dyas," Obi-Wan repeated. "Isn't he the one who hired you for this job?"

"Never heard of him," Jango remarked.

"Really," Obi-Wan frowned, for he could not detect any deception in the man's tone, or through his signature in the Force.

"I was recruited by a man called Tryanus on one of the moons of Bogden," Jango informed them.

"Curious," Obi-Wan murmured, his suspicions concerning someone using Sifo-Dyas as an alias now confirmed.

"Do you like your army?" Jango asked.

"I look forward to seeing them in action," Obi-Wan replied.

"What about you, Senator?" Jango remarked. "From what I hear off the HoloNet, you are one of the main opponents for this army."

"That was precisely why the Chancellor asked me to come," Padmé replied, the deception coming to her as easily as her years spent wrangling for votes in the Senate. "A sceptic's views are just as a valuable as a believer's."

"I can assure you, Senator, they'll do their job well," Jango said. "I can guarantee that."

"Like their source?" Obi-Wan murmured, his question more of a statement, rousing only a smile from Fett. "Thank you for your time, Jango."

"Always a pleasure to meet a Jedi and a Senator," the bounty hunter remarked, the density of his tone managing to convey the farewell as a veiled threat.

Obi-Wan ignored it, and Padmé followed suit, walking behind him at a pace to level when they left the apartment. He turned to Taun We once the door was closed.

"If you would be so kind as to prepare the information for Senator Amidala now," he remarked. "She and I must be departing for Coruscant soon."

"Of course," Taun We said with a small deferential bow, before walking away, leaving them alone in the corridor.

"Are you alright?" Obi-Wan asked her as soon as the Kamino was gone.

Padmé nodded. "I'm fine, thank you, Obi-Wan. What are we to do now?"

"I must contact the Council and inform them of what we have discovered," he replied. "Master Yoda will probably order me to take Fett into custody, in which case you must have the ship ready for a swift departure."

"What about providing you with covering fire?" Padmé asked.

Obi-Wan smiled despite himself. "It might be necessary, but I would not have you put yourself in such possible danger, milady. Remember what you promised me."

"I do," Padmé replied. "And now I must ask you to promise me something, Master Jedi. Take care of yourself. I would not like to witness another action similar to that of jumping from a balcony or through a window."

He grinned and she had to withhold herself from blushing due to the charm the expression carried with it. "I promise, milady."


Master Yoda did ask for Obi-Wan to bring Jango Fett back to Coruscant for questioning, and after instructing R2 to look after her, he left Padmé with the droid and the ship to go and find the bounty hunter.

Sheltering herself from the weather, Padmé climbed into the twin cockpit, closing the plasteel behind her. After prepping the Delta Twelve for departure, she retrieved the datapad Taun We had given her when they left, which contained all the information she could ever possibly want to know about how to make a clone army. The lengths the Kaminos went to and the amount of detail caused her much thought, as well as managing to distract her when Obi-Wan did not immediately return. Despite her concern for him, she knew how capable he was in his vocation, and the memory that he had been involved in much more difficult missions than this managed to ease that anxiety a little.

Focusing her mind, she studied the information Taun We gave her carefully, searching each section for any possible hint as to the identity of who was behind the order of this army ten years ago. Unfortunately, she did not find anything revealing on that score, but something she did find troubled her far more. An unique set of orders, controlled by voice activation, designed to be imprinted on each brigade of clones once they were officially given the go-ahead to fight for the Republic.

R2 uttered a series of beeps before raising the plasteel, causing her to look up in time to see Obi-Wan leap into the front seat of the cockpit. Relief coursed through her as she examined him and aside from being drenched, found him uninjured by the encounter with the bounty hunter.

"I was forced to attach a homing beacon to his ship," he informed her as his hands gripped the controls and readied the craft for take off.

Padmé put the datapad away and strapped herself in. "Any reckless manoeuvres?" she asked him.

"A few," he admitted, flying the Delta Twelve into the atmosphere. "What about you, has the schematics Taun We gave you revealed anything?"

"Not as to who was behind the order for their creation in the first place," Padmé replied. "But there are a series of voice recognition orders which are very troubling."

Obi-Wan could feel the level which they were troubling her through the Force as he guided the Delta Twelve into the hyperspace docking ring. "Any one in particular we should be worried about?" He asked her.

"Number sixty-six," Padmé replied before plugging the pad into a port. "R2, archive a copy of these, please."

The data appeared on Obi-Wan's viewscreen as the ship went into hyperspace. Grimly, he scrolled through the information until he had reached the order in question. "Well, this confirms matters. Whoever was behind this was after destroying the Jedi as well."

"You've expected this?" Padmé asked him.

"When I killed the Sith on Naboo, there was speculation as to whether or not he was the apprentice or the master," Obi-Wan explained. "Sith work only in pairs. With the increasing amount of dark power clouding the Force, the Council came to believe Darth Maul was the apprentice. His master must have ordered these clones."

"I do not like where this is going," Padmé murmured as the proximity signal beeped, declaring the end of hyperspace.

"Nor I," Obi-Wan agreed.

He manoeuvred the Delta Twelve out of the hyperspace ring and set the craft on an intercept course with the bounty hunter's ship. Ahead of both was a large planet, surrounded by an asteroid ring.

R2 beeped, the series of notes managing to convey slight worry.

"Seismic charges," Obi-Wan warned and flipped the ship into a tight roll deftly dodging the end trajectories of both devices.

Jango's ship flew into one of the larger asteroids, causing them to follow, not realising such a move was unwise until after they emerged back into the vast field and discovered that the bounty hunter's craft was now behind them.

Obi-Wan swore, executed the Delta Twelve through another series of tight flips and rolls in an effort to avoid the oncoming fire. "Oh blast! This is why I hate flying."

Padmé wondered at that, for he was by far more than a competent pilot, but she realised that he meant because of the enemy they were facing, not the trip itself. The ship shuddered, and her faithful droid beeped, the translation appearing on her screen. "R2 says the long range transmitter is knocked out."

"Just what we needed," Obi-Wan murmured as he swerved through the closely packed asteroids, trying to force the torpedo on their tail to into a destructive collision. "R2, prepare to jettison the spare parts canisters. Release them now!"

Behind them the torpedo fixed its' sights on the spare parts and denoted itself. In the ensuring explosion, Obi-Wan flew the craft into hiding atop an asteroid, powering down to avoid further detection from the ship.

"Any idea where we are?" he asked her while they waited.

Padmé checked the starchart. "Geonosis," she replied. "Too far for a direct comlink with Coruscant. If we can contact Anakin on Tatooine, he might be able to relay."

"I wonder how he's doing," Obi-Wan uttered as he checked the radar once more. "Well, R2, I think we've waited long enough. Follow his last known trajectory."

There was no sign of the bounty hunter's craft when they entered Geonosis' atmosphere. The red sand surface reminded Padmé a little of Tatooine, but neither she nor Obi-Wan had time for nostalgia before they caught sight of civilisation.

"Trade Federation," Obi-Wan remarked, identifying the unusually large concentration of ships immediately. He landed the Delta Twelve some distance away, by the cover of a rock formation. "I'm going to investigate further. If I'm not back in half an hour, contact Anakin on Tatooine and have him convey a message to the Council. Then leave for Naboo."

"Obi-Wan, I will not leave while you're in danger," Padmé vowed.

Carefully he rose to his feet as the plasteel covering the cockpit came away, and turned round to face her. "Yes, you will. I'll survive easier knowing you are safe. Please, Padmé, I beg you. If I don't come back, go to Naboo."

Reluctantly she inclined her head in silent obedience. "Take care," she advised, and he nodded before leaving the ship.


Part 21: Confessional Deceptions.

(Dedicated to my maternal grandmother, may she rest in peace.)

Padmé waited anxiously for Obi-Wan to return, knowing that she would not hesitate to go after him if he did not. There was no way she would leave here knowing he might be in danger. After dealing with the Trade Federation ten years ago, she had no fear of encountering them once more. She had never seen Obi-Wan angry before however, and she hoped her decision would not incur his wrath.

To her relief, he returned to the ship within the time frame he estimated and she raised the plasteel before prepping the transmitter. Obi-Wan spared no time for describing to her what he had witnessed, choosing instead to convey it the same time he told his Padawan, whom he now tried to contact.

"Anakin? Anakin, do you copy? This is Obi-Wan Kenobi."

There was some delay, then his apprentice's voice resonated loud and clear over the comlink. "I copy, Master. What's the matter?"

"My long range transmitter has been knocked out," Obi-Wan replied. "Retransmit this message to Coruscant."

There was another short pause before they received a reply, as the apprentice routed the message through his ship's system. "Okay, report," Anakin added.

"I have tracked the bounty hunter Jango Fett to the droid foundries on Geonosis," Obi-Wan uttered. "The Trade Federation is to take taking delivery of a droid army here and it is clear that Viceroy Gunray is behind the assassination attempts on Senator Amidala. The Commerce Guilds and Corporate Alliance have both pledged their armies to Count Dooku and are forming an....Wait!... Wait!!"

Two droidekas suddenly rolled into view, causing Obi-Wan to turn round and ignite his lightsaber to block their blasters. In the ship Padmé prepared to raise her own weapon but before she could they were overwhelmed by the Geonosians, captured and sent into a state of unconsciousness.


When Padmé woke, she found herself in a small cell, deep underground, formed by the dense structure of the Geonosian carved stalagmites.

"Padmé, thank the Force you're alright!" a voice cried, causing her to turn as she realised it did not belong to Obi-Wan.

"Anakin, what are you doing here?" she asked him. "Where's Obi-Wan?"

"I don't know," he replied. "I came to rescue him, but it wasn't too long until they caught me too. What are you doing here, I thought you were going to Naboo."

"Master Yoda agreed to let me go with Obi-Wan to Kamino," she explained. "Then we tracked the bounty hunter to here." she paused, studying him. He seemed to have aged since she last saw him. "What happened on Tatooine?"

To her surprise he gathered his knees towards his body, burrowing his head into them, causing his voice to sound as if he were further away. "Mom's dead."

He seemed so forlorn as he uttered the news, so lost, so much like the child she had come to know in Mos Espa and Theed all those years ago. She rose to her feet and walked the short distance which separated them. Then she knelt beside him, placing a comforting arm around his slender body.

"Tusken Raiders kidnapped her before I ever left the Core," he explained, tears threatening to choke his voice. "I tried to rescue her..... but she died in my arms. Why did she have to die? Why couldn't I save her? I know I could have!"

"Ani, you are only human. You're not all-powerful," Padmé reminded him gently. "You can't save everyone."

"I should be!" He cried, grief giving way to anger, causing her hand to freeze from stroking his back. "Someday I will be... I will be the most powerful Jedi ever! I promise you, I will even learn to stop people from dying."

"Anakin..." she began, trying to placate him, but he ignored her.

"It's all Obi-Wan's fault. He's jealous! He knows I'm already more powerful than he is. He's holding me back!"

What was this? Where was this coming from, Padmé wondered. He had expressed dissatisfaction with his master's teaching methods before, but not like this. Something else must have happened for him to be this upset. "Ani, what's wrong?"

"I... I killed them," he remarked hesitantly. "I killed them all. They're dead, every single one of them... Not just the men, but the women and the children too. They're like animals, and I slaughtered them like animals... I hate them!"

Padmé stilled in the silence which followed. She felt sick at the enormity of what the young man in her arms had committed. How could a Jedi be driven to perform such a massacre? But Anakin was not yet a Jedi, even if such a distinction could excuse him from the evil of such a deed. Nor could she focus on the turmoil created in her own mind if she wanted to help him come to terms with it.

"Why do I hate them?" Anakin cried, grief consuming him once more. "I didn't... I couldn't... I couldn't control myself. I... I don't want to hate them... But I just can't forgive them. I'm a Jedi. I know I'm better than this. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry!"

She held him in her embrace, stroking his back, murmuring intelligible sounds of comfort, until the emotion was assuaged.


When Obi-Wan woke, he found himself being restrained by a laser electronically charged forcefield, and, standing on the ground outside this containment, the last Jedi to join the ranks of the ranks of the Lost Twenty, waiting to speak to him.

"Where's Senator Amidala, you traitor!" he almost growled.

"Hello, my friend," Count Dooku remarked ignoring his inquiry. "This is a mistake. A terrible mistake. They've gone too far. This is madness."

Obi-Wan forced his concern for Padmé to the back of his mind, before adding in a calmer voice, "I thought you were the leader here, Dooku."

"This had nothing to do with me, I assure you," the Count answered a little too easily. "I promise you I will petition immediately to have you both set free."

"Well, I hope it doesn't take too long," Obi-Wan remarked. "We have work to do."

Dooku looked at him carefully. "May I ask why a Jedi Knight and a Senator are all the way out here on Geonosis?"

"We've been tracking a bounty hunter named Jango Fett," Obi-Wan replied, returning the thoughtful gaze. "Do you know him?"

"There are no bounty hunters here that I'm aware of," Dooku remarked. "Geonosians don't trust them."

"Well, who can blame them," Obi-Wan murmured. "But he is here, I can assure you. Now where is Senator Amidala?"

"She is enjoying the pleasures of Genosian hospitality," Dooku answered. "I must warn you that the Trade Federation who are visiting want her dead."

"I'm sure you'll remember to treat her with the respect her position in the Republic deserves," Obi-Wan said, lowering his tone into a threatening decibel.

"It's a great pity that our paths have never crossed before, Obi-Wan," Dooku continued. "Qui-Gon always spoke very highly of you. I wish he were here. I could use his help right now."

"Qui-Gon would never join you," Obi-Wan vowed.

"Don't be so sure, my young Jedi," Dooku countered. "You forget that he was once my apprentice just as you were once his. He knows all about the corruption in the Senate, but he would never have gone along with it if he had known the truth as I have."

"The truth?" Obi-Wan queried.

Dooku looked into his blue grey eyes. "What if I told you that the Republic was now under the control of the Dark Lord of the Sith?"

Obi-Wan tried not to let such information unsettle him, but his mind had already begun to contemplate such a possibility, due to what he and Padmé learned on Kamino. "No, that's not possible. The Jedi would be aware of it."

"The dark side of the Force has clouded their vision, my friend," Dooku revealed. "Hundreds of Senators are now under the influence of a Sith Lord called Darth Sidious."

Obi-Wan shook his head, a useless motion inside a electronically charged forcefield. "I don't believe you."

"The Viceroy of the Trade Federation was once in league with this Darth Sidious," Dooku continued. "But he was betrayed ten years ago by the Dark Lord. He came to me for help. He told me everything. The Jedi Council would not believe him. I tried many times to warn them but they wouldn't listen to me. Once they sensed the Dark Lord's presence, it would then be too late. You must join me, Obi-Wan, and together we will destroy the Sith."

Obi-Wan heard the words, but he mistrusted the sentiment behind them. He had seen the army the Separatists were building, which together with the clone army, was only another indication that someone had been quietly working to send the Republic into a civil war. He knew Dooku's reasons for leaving the Order were not what he was claiming here, for Qui-Gon had informed him of the truth a long time ago. "I will never join you, Dooku."

Dooku smiled, confirming Obi-Wan's mistrust. "It may be difficult to secure your release," he all but threatened before leaving the cell.


Padmé felt Anakin still under her comforting strokes and she lowered her arm as his head rose from the crouch to let his blue eyes meet her dark ones. Abruptly he leaned forward, seeking her lips with his own, making her draw away in shock.

"Anakin, no. What is this?"

He looked at her, turmoil of a different kind clouding his features. "From the moment I met you, all those years ago, a day hasn't gone by when I haven't thought of you. And now that I'm with you again, I'm in agony. The closer I get to you, the worse it gets. The thought of not being with you makes my stomach turn over - my mouth goes dry. I feel dizzy. I can't breathe. I'm haunted by the thought of kissing you, touching you, swearing my entire soul to you. My heart is beating, hoping such a vow will not become a scar. You are in my very soul, tormenting me. What can I do? I will do anything you ask."

She stilled, his words shocking her. She knew that she should not be surprised, for their last conversation on Coruscant had made his feelings perfectly clear, yet she could not help but feel astonished at the depth of love he professed to feel.

"If you are suffering as much as I am, tell me," he added.

The words caused her thoughts to reach a resolution. She had made her choice a long time ago, giving her heart to his master. But she could not tell him that, not while he was in this condition, struggling to cope with the death of his mother and the dark deed of revenge he had visited on the Tusken Tribe who kidnapped her. "I can't. We can't. It's just not possible."

"Anything's possible," he argued, "Padmé, please listen..."

She shook her head, interrupting him. "You listen. We live in a real world. Come back to it. You're studying to become a Jedi Knight. I'm a Senator. If you follow your thoughts through to conclusion, they will take us to a place we cannot go. I will not let you give up your future for me."

"You're asking me to be rational. That is something I know I cannot do," Anakin replied. "Believe me, I wish I could wish my feelings away, but I can't."

"I am not going to give in to this," she informed him sadly. "Both of us have a duty to the Republic which will inevitably interfere. When I first met you, all you wanted was to be a jedi. You will come to regret giving up such a dream which you have spent ten years working so hard towards. And you would resent me for making you do so."

"No, I wouldn't," Anakin vowed. "Besides it wouldn't have to be that way. We could keep it a secret until I pass my Trials. Then I only need the Council's blessing."

"Then we'd be living a lie," she pointed out to him, "One we couldn't keep up even if we wanted to. And once the Council discovered it, they could expel you from the Order, Chosen One or no. You will have disappointed everyone who ever believed in you. I will not allow you to sacrifice your dreams, Anakin. Nor do I want to live a lie. And if you loved me as much as you say you do, you would not force me to make this choice."

He did not reply immediately, causing a uncomfortable silence to fall over the cell. Padmé breathed deeply, preparing herself for another counter argument, before he spoke. "No. You're right. It would destroy us."

She looked at him, but he would not meet her gaze, rising to his feet and walking to the corner furthest from her. He knelt upon the hard ground, closing his eyes, and she realised he was mediating. She remembered contacting Obi-Wan once only to find him in such a pose, though he preferred a crossed leg style. Anakin it seemed was determined to be different once more, and yet he did not realise that there were many similarities between him and his master, foremost the affection they held for her.

The notion that two Jedi had fallen in love with her did not even flatter her ego for a moment. Anakin's attachment was vastly different from Obi-Wan's. He had considered the consequences, waited for his knighthood, waited for her to make the choice. Not once had he put pressure on her or attempted to persuade her to surrender to the emotions between them. It was always up to her, and he would wait, however long it might take.

Whereas his padawan still saw her as angel from his childhood dreams, one whom could be his anchor in a dark, uncooperative world. She had no desire for that sort of co-dependent relationship. And there was his dark deed on Tatooine. How could he take such revenge on another race? Padmé knew it was not the Jedi way, but neither was it something she could understand, or even empathise with. She felt as if he was heading into a dark place, pleading for her to follow him, to surrender to him.

It was something she would not do.


Part 22: The Shroud of the Dark Side.

Obi-Wan did not have time to reflect on the encounter with Count Dooku, for two Geonosian guards entered his cell to release him from the forcefield a few minutes after the former Jedi Master - and now probable Sith - left. His freedom was brief, leaving him no time to summon the Force to his side before he was handcuffed and escorted down a dark hollowed out stone tunnel into a large arena. Four tall simply craved pillars stood in the middle of this expanse, one of which his escort fixed the chains attached to his handcuffs, raising his hands above the rest of his body. From the sound of the cheering and the sight of the crowds in the many viewing balconies which circled the arena, he concluded that his death sentence was about to turn into a show.

Directing his gaze to the tunnel entrance, he descried another tumbrel emerging from the darkness, carrying two more condemned prisoners. The sight of brilliant white cloth, still startling even in this desert climate, instantly brought some relief to him. As the tumbrel travelled into the arena, more of Padmé's figure came into view, along with that of his Padawan. Both were defiantly calm, the Senator carrying herself as regally as she had done during her sovereign youth, while Anakin, though his mental shields leaked some turmoil into the training bond, wore a solemn expression which befitted any knight when faced with such a fate. If Obi-Wan had time to realise his emotions, he would have known that he had never felt prouder of his apprentice than at this moment.

Naturally, his eyes returned to Padmé, whom once she had descended from the tumbrel, discreetly reached into a small space between a purse on her belt and retrieved what he presumed was a piece of wire which she put in her mouth before the Geonosians chained her to the furthest pillar. Silently he admired her resourcefulness once more before turning to his Padawan. "I was beginning to wonder if you had gotten my message."

"I retransmitted it as you requested, Master," Anakin replied, his tone betraying his emotional state as somewhere between irritated and angry. "Then I decided to come and rescue you."

Obi-Wan glanced up at the chains which secured them both to their pillars before he replied with, "Good job!" deciding to use the banter between them as a way to keep his apprentice focused on the task at hand; securing an escape out of this. The odds might appear to be insurmountable, but he knew that there was a reasonable chance they could delay proceedings long enough for the rescue the Order would send.

It was difficult to see Padmé with Anakin chained between them now, and there was too much going on around them for Obi-Wan to use the Force out of a purely selfish desire to rescue her. He had no doubt of her resourcefulness in such a situation as this, so he turned his focus on the entrance of the dignitaries in the widest witness balcony which encircled the arena, then on the words one of the Geonosians was speaking.

"The felons before you have been convicted of espionage against the Sovereign System of Geonosis. Their sentence of death is to be carried out in this public arena henceforth. Let the executions begin!"

A loud cheer from the large crowd erupted, echoing around the arena. In the midst of this ruckus, three gates opened to reveal the chosen weapons of death; a Reek, a Nexu, and a Acklay. All equally fearsome creatures to face even with the Force, not to mention the guards which escorted them, one which did not survive his moment of dubious honour for long, as his efforts to restrain the animal he was in charge of proved unwise; the Nexu turned on him, leaping up and taking his head in it's vicious mouth.

"I've got a bad feeling about this," Anakin murmured, unconsciously quoting his Master from a decade ago. Obi-Wan briefly recalled that moment aboard the Trade Federation ship; when he had been a padawan with his own master, before he had ever met Anakin or Padmé. The innocence he felt back then seemed like a lifetime ago, heady, yet tranquil, something he almost longed for in light of the chaos this fight would inevitably plunge him, his apprentice and the woman he loved into. He was grateful Qui-Gon was resting at the temple, and he hoped neither Mace nor Yoda chose to inform him of the events which were about to transpire. The last thing his former Master needed was a full scale opening battle that he was facing now, one which Qui-Gon would not hesitate to enter, trusting in the Force to carry him through, without care for the disease which resided in his body.

"Well, this should be fun, for them at least," he remarked, causing his apprentice to glance at him, verbally asking for clarification, revealing that he was not as focused as Obi-Wan would like him to be.

"Never mind," he added, "you ready for a fight?"

"The fight?" Anakin echoed the word with heavy scepticism.

"You want to give the crowd it's credit's worth don't you?" Obi-Wan asked him. "Just relax. Concentrate. You take the one the right. I'll take the one on the left."

"What about Padmé?" Anakin asked, turning to look at her, giving Obi-Wan the chance to see her as well.

Just as he had suspected, the resourceful Senator had successfully picked one lock of her restraints and was now using the chain as a climbing aid to ascend to the top of the pillar.

"She seems to be on top of things," he remarked to his apprentice and then there was no more time for talking as the Acklay charged him. The beast was a ghastly fearsome looking creature, his sheer size giving Obi-Wan no option other than to duck and hope for the best. Within seconds the animal's charge managed to destroy the chain, and Obi-Wan adopted a dodge and weave tactic to avoid being struck by the vicious stone like claws whose ability to injure left compelling evidence by way of a sizeable dent in the pillar behind him.

Atop her pole, Padmé gripped the chain with both her hands, watching the Nexu who prowled the floor menacingly, waiting for a moment to strike. He scrambled up the pole towards her, and she used the chain to strike him, managing to hit him twice before she received a blow in return, harsh claw marks to her back, causing her to emit a sound something between a growl and a scream for the pain. Grimly she focused, allowing her emotions and mind no time for nothing more than that single sound of weakness. Then she let go of the chain and leapt off the pillar. When the metal links went slack, she used them to send her body into a swing, just as the Nexu leapt towards her. Raising her feet, she aimed a powerful kick into his abdomen, sending the beast to the ground, causing it to mewl pitifully. Seizing this brief pause, she retrieved the wire and began to pick at the other lock on her cuffs. When she was free, the Nexu was waiting for her, only to be crushed by the Reek, whom Anakin had managed to tame into a mount.

"You okay?" he asked her.

"Sure," she replied.

"Jump on!" he added, and she leapt from the pillar to land behind him, before casting her gaze around the arena to find Obi-Wan.

The Acklay soon tired of the Jedi Master's dodge and weave game and opted for a more direct method of kill, using its body strength to send the pole he had dented down on top of the man, crunching the stone between his diamond shaped paws. Obi-Wan seized this relative freedom and ran for one of the guards, trusting in the Force and in the nature of the animal to follow him, which it did, climbing over the remains of the pole.

The Genosian pointed his weapon towards the jedi, but Obi-Wan moved passed him, his hand reaching out instinctively to take the spear into his grip, the force sending the guard off his steed on to the hard floor of the arena. The Acklay crushed the Geonosian's chest with one strike of it claw as it neared Obi-Wan, who chose to dodge from the claws again and again until he could strike what he hoped was a vulnerable part of the beast's body; the front join from it's neck to his first claw. Such a moment came and such a wound was made, but it did not subdue the Acklay, who used his mouth to take the spear out, breaking the wood between his teeth.

Obi-Wan ran for the Reek which Anakin had tamed, leaping on to the back behind Padmé, who rested her hand upon his thigh, caressing in a smooth line to his knee before letting go. He touched her back near her belt in silent reply before fixing his gaze on their new enemy which the Geonosians had summoned into the arena, seven droidekas who swiftly surrounded them, unrolling into strike positions.

Before they could fire however, Obi-Wan felt the Force signal, and he glanced towards the large balcony in which Count Dooku, the Fetts and the members of the various delegations from the Separatists stood. The purple flash confirmed Mace Windu's arrival, and he allowed a brief smile to cross his face as he saw the rest of the Jedi the Councillor had brought ignite their lightsabers and prepare to strike.

Then the droid army emerged from the tunnel, causing the Jedi to jump from their balconies to face the oncoming force. One Jedi tossed a couple of lightsabers towards them, and Anakin was the first to ignite his blade, aiming it carefully at his master's cuffs to break the metal which restrained him.

Frightened by the sudden onslaught of blaster fire, the Reek reared, causing them to fall to the floor of the arena. With a roll they were soon on their feet again, Padmé grabbing a blaster to defend herself, aiming the weapon at the rider of a tumbrel before mounting the beast, using its pace to her advantage while she picked off droids one by one. Anakin soon joined her, mounting the tumbrel behind her, using his lightsaber to deflect and return blaster shots. Their makeshift teamwork bore fruit until one blaster shot mortally wounded her mount, sending them to the ground. Padmé sought the shelter of the tumbrel as she continued to fire, while Anakin continued to deflect, return and protect.

Mace landed before Obi-Wan and the Masters fought back to back for a while until the frightened Reek charged, separating them. The Councillor went to deal with the animal, while Obi-Wan continued to deflect blaster shots back at the droids. Abruptly they began to back away from him, and he heard growl which caused him to turn round. The Acklay was back to try and kill him, but this time he had a weapon mightier than the spear. Aiming for the front claws, Obi-Wan dismembered the beast, sending the front of the animal to the floor, hitting its face away from him, before flicking the hilt of his saber back and forth in his hands in time to bury the blue blade in the creature's chest.

The droid forces caused the Jedi to retreat into a protective circle upon the floor of the arena. Obi-Wan knelt before one of the fallen, touching the side of his colleague's head as his senses appealed to the Force for assistance. Unhappily his healing talents could do no more than send relief from a painful death. Regretfully he performed such duty before rising to his feet and raising his eyes towards the balcony where the Separatists leaders stood in witness. Gradually the blaster fire lessened in intensity and furore before a signal from Count Dooku caused the machines to come to a complete halt.

"Master Windu!" He called out. "You have fought gallantly. Worthy of recognition in the history archives of the Jedi Order. Now it is finished. Surrender - and your lives will be spared."

Mace's answer was deadly and precise. "We will not be hostages for you to barter with, Dooku."

"Then, I'm sorry, old friend," the Count replied. "You will have to be destroyed."

Droids raised their weapons and the Jedi raised their lightsabers, prepared to fight the inevitable. Dooku made the motion to order the machines to fire, when the sound of engines caused another pause.

Padmé raised her gaze to the sky and caught sight of countless ships, bearing what appeared to be the clone army from Kamino and..... Master Yoda? She was amazed how serene he looked in the face of such chaos. "Look!"

Six gunships landed before the surviving Jedi, and clone troopers flooded the space between them and the droids, allowing for the former to seek the safety of the ships. Deflecting the blaster fire, Obi-Wan followed her and Anakin on to one of the vessels, which ascended into the sky, journeying towards the Trade Federation ships they had seen on their arrival upon the planet.

"Hold on!" He ordered as the vessel swerved dangerously, causing them to take hold of the supports above their heads.

"Aim right above the fuel cells," Anakin directed the clones, who obeyed, causing the enemy ship to explode.

"Good call my young padawan," Obi-Wan complimented. His blue grey eyes saw the rapid desire to exit felt by some of their opponents. "Those Federation starships are taking off. Target them quickly."

In combination with the ground troops, they managed to destroy one of the spherical starships. As the ensuring dust cloud from the explosion began to dissipate, Obi-Wan caught sight of a tiny Geonosian speeder escaping. "Look over there."

Anakin identified the rider. "It's Dooku! Shoot him down!"

"We're out of ordinance, sir," the clone pilot informed him.

"Follow him!" Anakin ordered.

Padmé glanced around at their numbers. "We're going to need some help."

Obi-Wan shook his head. "No, there's no time. Anakin and I can handle this."

He felt her worry in the Force and turned to reassure her, but before he could the gunship lurched from a hit, titling in an extreme side angle, sending one clone trooper to the ground, and Padmé along with him.

"Padmé!!!" Anakin cried out in terror. His eyes never leaving her form he shouted an order at the pilot. "Put the ship down! Down!"

Obi-Wan darted to the opening, his keen eyes anxiously searching for her while his mind reached into the Force. When he received the reply that she would be well, he turned to his fearful apprentice. "Don't let your personal feelings get in the way." Then he turned to the pilot. "Follow that speeder."

Anakin ignored him. "Lower the ship!"

Obi-Wan had no time to sigh at his Padawan's stubbornness, his inability to trust in the Force, or to perform his duty when those he loved appeared to be in danger. Nor could he tell Anakin that Padmé would be fine, because it would invite the type of questions that his padawan was not in a fit state to handle answers to at present. Frankly, Obi-Wan doubted that he was ready to face a former Jedi Master either, but neither could anyone after the fight they fought in the arena. The only alternative was to reason and cajole him into obedience. "Anakin, I can't take Dooku alone. I need you. If we catch him, we can end this war right now. We have a job to do."

"I don't care," Anakin replied. "Put the ship down."

"I am your superior, these troops are under my command. If you chose to listen to your feelings rather than the Force over this, and commit an act of recklessness, you will be expelled from the Jedi Order," Obi-Wan threatened, knowing full well he and Qui-Gon probably wouldn't let him be, but hoping the point would hit home.

Anakin still resisted. "I can't leave her."

"Come to your senses," Obi-Wan tried one last time. "What do you think Padmé would do if she were in your position?"

His apprenticed sighed, relenting. "She would do her duty."

"And so will we," Obi-Wan returned, before turning to the clone pilot. "Follow that speeder!"


The gunship trailed the speeder to a stalagmite tower from which a landing port waited. Leaping from the vessel Obi-Wan and Anakin followed the smaller craft inside, coming upon the former Jedi Master as he stood before a slender control panel.

"You're going to pay for all the Jedi you've killed today, Dooku," Anakin announced with deadly intensity, while his Master sought guidance from the Force and his years of experience in the field.

"We'll take him together," he instructed his apprentice. "You go in slowly on the..."

Anakin cut him off. "No, I'm taking him now!"

Obi-Wan only had time to cry out "Anakin, no!" but it was useless, as Padawan rushed forward, his lightsaber raised.

Dooku raised his arm and sent out a torrent of Force lightning, sending his opponent across the room, into an adjacent wall.

Anakin slumped to the floor semi-conscious. Obi-Wan directed some of his healing aids to the boy before he readied himself to face Dooku.

The Count was confident he could defeat the Master just as easily as the apprentice. "As you can see, my Jedi powers are far beyond yours. Now back down." He raised his arm and summoned another barrage of Force lightning.

Obi-Wan held up his lightsaber, letting the blue blade take the full brunt of the fire, absorbing the power. "I don't think so," he replied, his voice rich and deep in the confidence of his ability.

Dooku ignited his own blade, the red colour confirming Obi-Wan's previous' suspicions. Falling into the form he learned under Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan advanced fast, swinging the blue blade towards his opponent. Speed however was no match for the Sith, whom soon showed that he had not taught everything he knew to his old Padawan.

"Master Kenobi, you disappoint me," he goaded Obi-Wan. "Yoda holds you in such high esteem. Surely you can do better."

Breathing deeply, summoning more of the Force, Obi-Wan struck again. He knew he could not hold Dooku for long, the battle in the arena had depleted a lot of his energy. While Anakin was recovering, as was Padmé, for he could sense her even now, so far away, however, he would do what he must.

Then Count Dooku held his blade into a tight thrust between them, moving the hilt in an arc until he caught Obi-Wan out with a quick strike at his wrist. Obi-Wan flung his arm away, but not in time to avoid the red blade wounding the upper part. Dooku then struck his thigh, sending him to the floor.

His lightsaber was too far from his fingers, and he could not summon the weapon to his side through the Force in time to meet the onslaught of the red blade which descended towards his body. Obi-Wan was not afraid to die, his senses reaching out to his love as he felt the heat from the laser steadily increase.

And in the mists of the Force, Padmé answered him.


Author's Note: The rating changes here to NC17/18/M etc.

Part 23: Love in the Aftermath.

Padmé, my love, whatever happens, I'll be with you always, his voice murmured into her mind. She was reminded of that moment when he showed her the Force all those years ago on Tatooine, the safety she felt in his embrace, the light which shone around him like a halo and above all the love he rarely spoke of, for the feelings were in their infancy then. She wondered now at his choice of words, but time did not allow her to ponder their meaning fully, for another voice intruded on her thoughts, causing her to open her eyes and rise from the sand.

"Are you all right?" the Clone officer who had fallen with her asked.

She nodded. "I think so."

"We better get you back to the Forward Command Center," he declared.

Though her ears heard him, her mind heard something else, an elusive yet clear message, which she felt sure was from the Force. Now she understood her knight's meaning she shook her head, hoping she would not be too late to save him. "No, no. Gather up what troops you can. We've got to get to that hanger. Get a transport. Hurry!"

Obi-Wan, my love, do not despair yet. Help is on it's way, she uttered silently into her mind, hoping that elusive ally would send the message on.


Obi-Wan, my love, do not despair yet. Help is on it's way. Her voice calmed him immediately, just as the blue blade of his apprentice landed across the narrow gap between him and Dooku's lightsaber, saving him.

"That's brave of you, boy - but foolish," Dooku uttered in scorn. "I would have thought you'd have learned your lesson."

"I'm a slow learner," Anakin replied.

Obi-Wan summoned his weapon towards him with the Force, and called out to his apprentice before tossing him the lightsaber.

Anakin caught the hilt then ignited the blade, bringing both it and his own to bear on the Sith. He used the blades to the best of his growing ability, but Chosen One or no, he was no match for the former Jedi Master. It was not long before Dooku severed the hilt of Obi-Wan's blade, then Anakin's arm at the mid point between shoulder and elbow, sending the youth to land on the floor beside his Master.

Obi-Wan watched Dooku turn and he directed his eyes to the shadows splayed across the landing dock floor. A large one seemed to be moving steadily forward, and he wondered if Mace was coming to their aid.

But no, another, even more revered warrior was about to enter the fray.

"Master Yoda," Even Dooku's voice betrayed a certain respect.

The Grand Master of the Order rested his hands calmly on his gimmer stick, a gaze full of steel directed at his old Padawan, his very presence reminding Obi-Wan of one of his most vital lessons; size matters not. "Count Dooku."

"You have interfered with our plans for the last time," Dooku declared, before summoning a piece of machinery towards the revered master. Yoda let his gimmer stick clatter to floor as he summoned the Force to move the device away before it could do the serious damage which the Sith intended. Dooku tried another which produced the same response, before causing part of the cave's ceiling to fall on the Master.

Again Yoda deflected the fractured rocks.

"Powerful you have become, Dooku," he observed. "The dark side I sense in you."

"I have become more powerful than any Jedi," Dooku replied. "Even you, my old Master." He raised his hand and summoned Force lightning. But even that was avoided, the revered Grand Master using his bare hand to return it to the source.

"Much to learn you still have," Yoda judged.

Dooku retrieved his weapon. "It is obvious this contest will not be decided by our knowledge of the Force, but by our skills with a lightsaber."

As his opponent drew the ignite blade in a formal salute before himself, Yoda swept his cloak aside and called his own weapon to his hand. Opposite two of his students had the rare opportunity of seeing the Grand Master in a duel, a wondrous sight even in the midst of such darkness. Every cut, thrust, parry and strike was met, draining the Sith's energy until he could return the attack, leaping into the air. Neither Anakin nor Obi-Wan could isolate a single move from another so fast was Yoda's form, his blade nothing more than a green blur of light.

"Fought well you have, my old Padawan," Yoda remarked as their blades repelled each other in the space before them.

"This is just the beginning," Dooku replied. He summoned the dark side of the Force, directing his ally towards the crane nearest Obi-Wan and Anakin. The metal support tubes buckled under the weight before slowly descending. Obi-Wan tried to reach out with his own reserves to hold the crane aloft, and within the training bond he felt Anakin summon his depleted strength to assist.

Knowing it would not be enough, Yoda added his own strength to the task, and Dooku seized the chance he had engineered, darting into his ship. Within moments the craft was up and running, taking off out of a torpedo shaped exit.

Padmé's cavalry arrived too late, the gunship docking time for nothing more than useless blaster fire at the already out of range sail ship. Lowering her weapon, she ran inside, her keen gaze taking in the scene. Her heart stilled at the sight of her knight and his apprentice, their prone forms at right angles upon the bay of the hanger. Yoda was walking towards them, and she ran to Obi-Wan's side, her hand reaching for the comlink in her belt to call for medics. He summoned what was left of his Force strength to rise from the floor to meet her, but equally forcefully she pushed him gently yet firmly back down.

"Anakin's badly hurt," he protested, trying to resist, yet somehow unable to do so.

"So are you," she countered, her eyes running over his face before pulling at the material which surrounded his wounds, checking their degree of severity. Nimbly she cleared the area around them, preventing whatever infection had not escaped the lightsaber's blade cauterisation, yet managing to leave him almost completely clothed. Then her dark gaze returned to his face, surprised to see a smile honouring it.

"On second thought, I think I'll stay here with my beautiful and attentive nurse," he murmured, reaching for her hand. His face sobered as she grimaced at the pain to her own wounds which the stretch caused, before moving to sit by his side. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine," she assured him. "They're only scratches. Yours are burns."

"Mine can be healed by a Jedi trance," he returned, "yours need the medics."

"Do you really have the energy for one right now?" she asked him, not even surprised when he reluctantly shook his head. "Then just stay here and wait for someone else to do their job for a change."

"Yes ma'am," he replied, causing her to laugh.

"And don't you forget it," she added, making him smile again. Abruptly he tried to look for his apprentice, causing her to adjust her position so she could seem him being attended to by Yoda. The venerable Jedi Master was checking boy's wound, his gimmer stick tapping on the cavern floor in tune with his emotions.

"To think only minutes ago he was duelling sabers and floating objects," Obi-Wan murmured, causing her gaze to turn curious. She had never realised that Yoda was just as capable as any other Jedi in the field, assuming his size and his age prevented him from such combat. Evidently, though she had been mistaken, for clearly he had fought Dooku when Obi-Wan and Anakin were no longer able to.

Resolving to ask him later for the full details of the duel, she carefully sank down to lie beside him, her face seeking the soothing warmth which emanated from his chest. His arm came to rest around her, deftly avoiding the deep scratches across her back. As she closed her eyes and listened to the steady vibration of his heartbeat, another resolution formed within her mind.

Whatever faced them in the future, nothing would part them from one another in the midst of battle ever again.


Inevitably, they were separated, shepherded into transport which conveyed them to the large starship orbiting Geonosis, where the medical bay awaited their arrival.

Thanks to the days of his Padawanship spent in the healer's wing of the Temple, Obi-Wan used the Force to restore himself so he could leave his bed before a doctor could assess him, seeking the room where his apprentice lay. Only his natural courtesy prevented him from intruding upon the doctors who tended to the boy, forcing him to pace the floor of the waiting room until one emerged from theatre to speak to him.

"Thank you for waiting, Master Kenobi."

Now he turned round as the physician entered the room. "How is Anakin?"

"He is recovering well," the healer replied. "The surgery was a success. He will need some sessions of physical therapy, but the robotic appendage will soon become as capable as the arm which it replaced. If not better."

"Thank you, doctor," Obi-Wan inclined his head, though in his mind he still held several misgivings concerning that pronouncement. "And Padmé?"

"I'm sorry, who?" The physician asked, frowning.

Blast. Obi-Wan inwardly flushed at the level of concern in him which caused him to drop official formality for a moment. "I meant to inquire after Senator Amidala."

"I'm afraid Senator Amidala did not seek treatment, Master Kenobi," the physician replied, still frowning a little. "Should I ask her to come to the med ward?"

"No," Obi-Wan replied. "I'll go and find her myself. Thank you, doctor."

As soon as he was out in the corridor he sank into the Force, searching through the currents for the unique signature which belonged to her.

The location surprised him.

Silently he opened the door to the quarters, stepped through and closed them behind him with the Force. He paid no more than a glance to the surroundings, even though this was the first time he had visited the quarters assigned to him since arriving onboard. No, his concern was for the woman whom he quickly found, lying in his bed.

As he sat down upon the mattress before her, she opened her eyes, the slight flinch of her back causing him to inquire, "why aren't in the med ward, milady?"

"I wanted to see you," Padmé replied softly. "I thought you would prefer to heal yourself."

He couldn't help but smile at that admission, another sign of how well they knew each other. "I do," he confirmed. "I have no desire to trouble others, particularly in such circumstances as these. But you should be in the med ward. The last time I saw those cuts they looked deep and painful."

"It's just a scratch," she protested, moving to sit up. But the wounds across her back caused her to grimace in pain, belying her previous protest.

Rapidly he rose from the bed to climb behind her. She moved forward, allowing him sit comfortably, cautiously raising a hand to place her hair over her shoulder so he could study the injuries properly.

The cuts did not appear to be as deep as he had imagined them to be when he first saw them. He flinched as he recalled her scream at the pain which they incurred, the damage they were doing to her beautiful skin. Breathing in deeply, he focused himself into something approaching a jedi medic.

"I better attend to these myself before they get infected," he murmured.

She felt him brush her side as his hand reached down to his belt and retrieved something. A laser cutter as she discovered when he began to use it against what was left of her top. When he was done, she lifted her arms from the bed and slid the remainder off chest, adjusting the sheet she rested under for dignity's sake. Then she felt the warmth emanating from his hand as it hovered about her scratches, a quiet gasp escaping her as he used the Force to restore her skin.

Only when it was over did his hand conquer the distance and touch her. She turned to face him, about to thank him with softly spoken words and a kiss, but then she noticed the deep far away look of his blue grey eyes. While his hand caressed her, the mind was not aware of such movement, but somewhere else. At the fight with Dooku no doubt, reflecting on his decisions, his actions and the dubious nature of the results. She still had yet to hear a full account of it from him, but she knew the direction which his thoughts were taking right now. Her hand went to his face and caressed his cheek, halting his absent exploration and bringing the mind back to her.

"Obi-Wan, it was not your fault," she said softly.

He blinked at her, clearly not expecting such words to come from her. "How do you know I was thinking that?"

"Because I know you," she replied. "You did enough, more than enough. Anakin is his own person, rash, reckless and impulsive when his blood is up. And Yoda values the two of you too much to ignore your safety during a fight. He probably blames himself for failing to defeat Dooku, just as Dooku's underhand methods enabled his escape. Do not blame yourself, love. Others are culpable, not you."

She could see the protest form in his eyes, but before a word escaped his mouth she had covered it with her own. Idle hands became active once more, as he tangled one in her hair while moving the other in a wondrous journey across her skin. Deftly she managed to turn round in his arms, slipping herself underneath the sheet which no longer protected her dignity, all the while her lips not leaving his. Pressing herself against him, she strove to bring his mind away from the horrors which occupied them only hours ago, into the pleasure she was sure their first intimate union would ultimately bring.

When he felt her front ripen against him, Obi-Wan pulled away, breathing deeply. His eyes sought Padmé's, waiting. When her brown pupils met his; passion, desire and love clearly apparent, he didn't need to ask if she was sure and neither did Padmé for the emotions were equally reflected in his blue gaze.

She began to undress him, untying the belt and parting the tunic. His hands lingered down her back, a slow caress, briefly pausing to ease the passage of his clothes down to the bed. They returned to her belt when he was as bare as she and in unison they rose upon their knees to continue the disrobing.

Dropping the last item carelessly to the floor of the ship, Padmé turned her eyes upon him eagerly to explore his physique. Amid the now slight injuries from his duel with Dooku she saw the toned body of a warrior, not one who slavishly worked hard to keep his muscles, but one who used his figure as an extension of himself, another tool in his service to the Order and the Republic. There was no vanity in her Knight, only a confidence in his manner which hid a vulnerability few were aware of. It showed in his gentleness as his lips sought hers once more, waiting always for her consent before he continued, returning the touch with the same degree of emotion as she.

He had not been idle while she surveyed him, taking the time to return the favour, and now as he sought her lips once more, Obi-Wan savoured the image in his mind, admiring the curve of waist, her slender, lithe form which she granted him the privilege of seeing. Though no stranger to the secrets of women, he still considered her to be superior than any other he had known before her, for once he left Naboo there were no others who even came close to knowing him like this. Leaving her swollen lips he moved to sample those delights now, seeking the area of her neck where her pulse betrayed the pounding of her heart, his beard mingling with a lock of long brown hair, which, thanks to his curious hands, now hung free of any adornment or restraint around her.

A gasp escaped her lips as he nipped at the skin, and Padmé let her own hands grow curious, exploring the planes of his smooth chest upwards to his neck before caressing the shoulders to finish upon his back and in his long reddish blond hair. She remembered the short cropped style he sported when she first knew him, with the little ponytail shaped like a painter's wide brush and the long thin plait which he had told her once was the mark of a Padawan, with beads for every accomplishment.

Those small trophies were in her keepsake box back at her apartment on Coruscant, given to her after his knighthood ceremony one month after he left Naboo. The plait he gave to his Master, in gratitude for choosing to train him, but it was also something she had spent most of the nights after he left until then fantasising about, picturing herself using it to pull her to him for a kiss which would rival the one she impulsively bestowed on him in Mos Espa. Now she used his new, mature and even more attractive style to keep his lips worshipping her skin.

If he had been privy to her thoughts he would have smiled, but Obi-Wan was far more agreeably occupied in worshipping her skin, his mouth journeying further down her body, setting an exquisitely slow pace, pausing over those places where his talent in the Force told him would give her the most pleasure. Her own response was equally successful in divining those sources for arousal within him, causing him to wonder if he really had heard her that moment in the landing dock, asking him not to give up hope. She told him once that she was borderline Force sensitive, but until now he had never questioned to what extent it limited or allowed her a talent in using the ancient power.

Now they were about to join in the most sacred and intimate of ways, it felt right to let that power bind them together too, for both were ancient and holy within the nature of the universe. Sinking into it's embrace, he used the Force in a journey around her body, letting follow his lips and hands, straying where it may, lingering where she wished, for immersed thus, he could hear her desire clearly.

Then she touched him, and all coherent thought left his body. Her boldness in her desires soon came to match that of her questing fingers, causing him to loose control, not just of his emotions or feelings, but even of the Force. If it were possible their connection came from something far higher than that ancient strength, older than the dawn of time, revered more than any deity the galaxy could care to name. Future movements were a series of sensations brought on by sight, smell and touch, as everything within them combined for the first time in every possible way. He felt the Force explode around them, a silent continuous chorus of pleasure impossible not to sense, which only served to confirm the naturalness of their union, as though this was not the beginning of their love, but the middle.

Afterwards he fell back against the pillows, gathering her in his arms. Padmé smiled as she nestled her head against his chest in pure contentment. She had not meant for her kiss to lead to this, but she held no regrets that it did. Reality was far superior to the numerous fantasies she had dreamed over the years while their duty allowed them few opportunities to be together. Not only did their union feel natural with no awkwardness, it also felt blissful, easy, as everything else had when they came to know each other. She was not naive in the ways of love, she knew that relationships required work, the harder the better to be considered truly worth it, but with Obi-Wan, only their duties which took them from each other's company seemed arduous.

Suddenly he used his embrace and the Force to raise her so her face was level with his own. In a voice that seemed to be as rich and as deep as the shade of blue in his eyes, he uttered two words which would irrevocably alter their lives, both personally and professionally. "Marry me."

Padmé felt she should be surprised to receive such a question, but she wasn't, far from it in fact. She needed no time to pause and reflect on her reply, for not only did her mind know as soon as his rich voice finished asking the question, that elusive feeling which she first encountered ten years ago as she watched him free her pilots on Naboo, the sensation which she was sure came from the Force, confirmed it. "Of course," she replied, causing him to smile, before kissing her.

The union of lips was brief this time, a resolution formed by both of them as they realised there were many things which needed to be aired in conversation. He began the exchange, telling her of the duel which took place in the hanger, what he had felt the moment she fell, and the words he was sure her heard her say. As with every mission he felt at liberty to recant to her, the detail was present but concise, allowing her to imagine the scene in a way which did not differ too far from the reality.

When he reached the end of the tale it was her turn, and she confirmed his suspicions that she had indeed heard those words he sent her and replied in the same manner. She went on to tell him of where she had been held, and what Anakin told her concerning his feelings.

"I can't say I'm surprised," he remarked, "but I had hoped time with his mother would lessen their intensity. Not that falling in love with you is wrong, but in his mind you are upon a pedestal, and I fear the fall from grace will be harsh, for both of you."

Padmé nodded. "Even if there had not been you, I would not allow myself to fall for him. His mind has yet to conquer his emotions, with them he is still very much the child we met ten years ago. And of course, there is what happened on Tatooine to consider."

He stilled, a feeling of dread surfacing. "What happened on Tatooine?"

Softly she relayed to him what Anakin had told her, knowing he had to be made aware of the matter, not just as one of the boy's Masters, but because Anakin's entire future in the Order would be affected by this dark event.

Obi-Wan did nothing but listen, waiting for her to finish the tale of events before he made any reply. While his outward appearance was the perfect picture of Jedi serenity, his inner mental state was anything but. He felt sick at the sound of what his apprentice had done. The betrayal caught him to the quick, for it was a betrayal, not just of Anakin, but the Order and everything he had tried to teach his Padawan.

In one night, the Chosen One had committed an act which would change him irrevocably. Even the fact that he spared one thought for the consequences did little to change the disappointment he felt at learning this. He and Qui-Gon had been so certain they could teach the boy. Now it seemed all their efforts were for naught, this dark deed the price of their arrogance. Their confidence in their teaching had failed not just the Chosen One or the Order, but Anakin himself.

Padmé saw the thoughts and emotions playing across his features despite all he did to hide them. Softly she stroked his cheek, bringing his blue gaze to rest on her. "Do not blame yourself, Obi-Wan."

"How can I not?" he countered. "This is my fault."

"Why? What could you have done to prevent this?" Padmé queried. He bowed his head, thinking how to answer her, but before a word escaped his mouth, she continued. "I have seen you with him, listened to your doubts and counselled them. If your teaching is at fault, so is mine."

He could do naught but concede at this truth, for over the years they were apart he often confided in her his uncertainties over taking a Padawan so soon after his trials. A sigh escaped his lips as he wondered aloud. "What must he be feeling? I do not even know if he will confide in me or Qui-Gon about this. He must tell us before we can help him."

"What about the Council?" Padmé asked.

"They can never learn of this," Obi-Wan replied. "As far as they are concerned, one dark deed is enough. Anakin would be expelled and lost forever, chosen one or no."

Mention of the Council immediately caused Padmé to think of what he had just asked her, and her willing response. "And what of us? Can the Council learn of us?"

"I have to ask for their blessing, a matter of tradition. But Masters and Knights are not forbidden attachment, as you know." He slipped his fingers under her chin, raising her face to meet his. "Have no fear, my love, they will approve."

"Unlike Anakin," Padmé murmured. "My fall from the pedestal may come sooner than you think, Obi-Wan."

He grimaced, a slight frown settling underneath his beard. "Telling him will be difficult, but it must be done." Silently he shook his thoughts about that conversation away, knowing it would be wise not to speculate, and better to live in the moment, as his master taught him all those years ago. "Where do you wish to marry, my love? On Naboo?"

Padmé smiled. "Yes. In Varykino, the lake country. I have a house there, I used to spend every summer enjoying it's beauties. Do you remember when you showed me the Force?" He nodded. "Well, that balcony was straight out of my memories."

"I wondered where that was," he remarked, smiling at her enthusiasm. "A small ceremony, then?"

"Yes, only friends and family. I have no desire to turn it into a HoloNet event." She turned to him teasingly. "Especially as you have yet to meet my family. At the moment they only know you as the guy whose comms cause Padmé to almost trip up in her rush to answer them."

He could not help but chuckle at the image her words put inside his mind. "I better improve their opinion of me then, when I escort you home."

Abruptly she sobered. "I never did fight the MCA. Infact, I've almost endorsed it. Cordé died in vain."

"No, she didn't," he assured her softly. "The fight was taken out of your hands long ago. A darker hand has manipulated and engineered everything to conspire for this future. The Republic is heading towards a dark abyss, and we must ensure that we're ready for it."


Volume Four