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Untitled Document


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



Part 43: A Dance With a Slave.

He knew that voice. Memories of numerous missions, countless lessons rose up from the depths of his mind, reminding him of happier days. He turned, surveying the appearance of his former master, who was regarding him with a grim expression.

"Where is she?" Anakin asked.

Obi-Wan chose not to answer his demand. "Why did you do it, Anakin?" He countered, taking a measured pace forward. "Why did you kill those women?"

"So you finally figured out who it was," his former apprentice commented with a note of scorn in his tone. "Took you long enough. But you didn't answer my question. What have you done with Asajj?"

"And you haven't answered mine," Obi-Wan remarked. "They were defenceless, innocent citizens whom you murdered. How were those deaths supposed to bring balance to the Force?"

"I no longer answer to you, Obi-Wan," Anakin pointed out. "I'm not your apprentice to order about and hold back. I've become more powerful than you'll ever be."

"You still answer to the Council," Obi-Wan reminded him. "And to the Republic." He took another pace forward. His stance was at constant battle readiness, prepared to defend himself from the moment his former pupil chose to strike. "I never held you back, Anakin. The way of the Jedi is not about power. It is about how to understand the nature of the Force, to listen to the guidance bestowed, and to use what gifts that are given wisely, for the good of all life within the universe."

"Don't lecture me, Obi-Wan. My orders come from the Supreme Chancellor. The Jedi Council answer to him. And those women were hardly innocent. You call what they were doing every night innocent? They were no better than those who sell themselves to achieve the same ends."

"So do you believe such beings should also be murdered?" Obi-Wan queried, not expecting an answer. Truth be told he could have initiated the inevitable fight between them from the moment Anakin arrived, but he was reluctant to do so. As he had told Padmé when he left her in his quarters at the Temple, he had no desire to kill the young man who for many years had been like a son and brother to him. He also had the information he wanted. That the Chancellor was behind this, guiding Anakin's actions. Records on Asajj's ship had proved as much, but such recordings could be falsified, so a verbal confirmation was necessary.

"No, but such intimacy is a valuable commodity," Anakin answered. "It should not be traded so cheaply, nor so frequently."

"What an eloquent motive," Obi-Wan mused. "I hear the echo of the Chancellor's voice in your words. Do you use him to justify every atrocity that you have committed? What about the massacre of the Tuskens on your homeworld. What has the Chancellor to say about their deaths?"

Anakin paled. "How did you know about that? I never told you what happened on Tatooine."

"No, but you should have done. I was your master, I was entitled to know what my apprentice was up to." Obi-Wan took another pace forward. "But I was also your friend. At least I thought I was. If you needed help, you should have come to me."

"I did, and all you told me was that dreams pass in time," Anakin replied. "But they weren't dreams, Obi-Wan. My mother was taken by them, beaten and goodness knows what else, until she was too weak to be saved. She died in my arms. I was avenging her death."

"Would she have wanted you to massacre men, women and children?" Obi-Wan asked him softly. "Her hopes for you were purer than that."

"How would you know?" Anakin countered. "You never even met her."

"I wish I had," Obi-Wan revealed. "She might have aided me in the understanding of a boy I did my best to nurture into knighthood."

"All you did was hold me back," Anakin protested.

"Perhaps my methods were wrong, I see that now," Obi-Wan admitted. "But I'm only human, Anakin. I have my failings, as do you. The Jedi way of life is a long and hard journey. Even at the end we cannot begin to comprehend all the Force has to teach us."

"You're wrong, Obi-Wan. The Jedi have clouded your mind from seeing the true power of the Force. Power which I have now, thanks to my new master."

"Your new master?" Obi-Wan echoed. "Anakin, you were a Jedi Knight. No one should be your master. The Force is your ally, and it is more powerful than you or I, or indeed anyone else can comprehend."

"You see," Anakin sneered. "You've just proved my point. That it is all about power."

"If you believe that, Ani, then I have failed you utterly," Obi-Wan remarked sadly.

Anakin broke off his chilling stare from his former master for a moment in order to cast a glance at their surroundings. "Enough stalling, Obi-Wan. What are you waiting for? As you said, Asajj isn't coming. Or are you too afraid to face me without backup?"

"I'm never afraid, Anakin," Obi-Wan replied calmly to his former apprentice's taunts. "When a Jedi has the Force as his ally, there is no place for fear."

"You will be," Anakin murmured in a deadly voice, as into his hand leapt his saber, the blue blade that should be red now to symbolise his status in the dark side of the Force swiftly igniting. "You will be."

Obi-Wan was given no other warning. Anakin rushed towards him with all the speed of a proton torpedo. He barely had time to retrieve his own saber and block the on coming strike. But the Force was with him, slowing down the attack, speeding up his movements in time to meet the blue blade with green. The lightsabers clashed viciously, the sound of their collision echoing throughout the abandoned warehouse.

Anakin pressed his blade into Obi-Wan's, forcing a strain upon the muscles of each others arms. Obi-Wan returned the pressure. He was completely focused on the fight now, gone were his qualms about duelling with a man who had been his son and brother for almost thirteen years. He could not allow such distractions as those memories to prove costly, for if Anakin was to survive this fight, there was no question of what havoc he would reap upon the Order.

The contest of wills did not last for long. Anakin lost his patience with that particular manoeuvre. He withdrew his blade to sweep the weapon across himself in the opposite direction. Again Obi-Wan met and countered the motion. He knew his apprentice well, he had trained him in lightsaber combat for over ten years. No advantage of mystery would exist in this fight. Even Master Windu's tutelage was not an added strength for Anakin to rely on, as the Korun frequently chose to battle with Obi-Wan in the training salles of the Temple. The two Council Masters were regarded as the most formidable duellists of the Order, and their combat displays held a legendary status amongst the rest of the Jedi.

Anakin also knew his fighting style well, he had been training against it almost all his life. An energetic display would not win against a master of Soresu, nor would the feat of overwhelming power. This duel would be one of endurance on both sides. The environment would be of no use either, unlike his fight with the Sith on Naboo he did not have the constraints of narrow walkways, or a convenient shaft, fathoms deep. Nor was he confined to a cavernous rock chamber, such as the one on Geonosis.

Instead the landscape was a flat permacrete, hard and unforgiving, severe and smooth, enclosed in equally unblemished thick walls, constructed in the same strong, enduring material as those skyscrapers that covered Coruscant. The only exits were motion sensor doors and the landing ports where his speeder was waiting. Artoo was inside that vehicle, keeping the warehouse under surveillance. If Obi-Wan did not manage to make it back to the Temple, Padmé's faithful droid would deliver the tragic news to her and the Jedi Council.

He could not think about that outcome, nor any other part of whichever possible futures that awaited him or Anakin at the conclusion of this duel. He had to focus on the fight, every brush of the sabers, the cadence of their humming laser drawn breaths, the slightest movement from either of their bodies. He laid himself open to the ways of the Force, to what that ancient energy had to tell him, to accept those truths and adapt accordingly.

For the moment all was repetition in the duel, a constant series of strikes exchanged back and forth, in different directions across the body. As yet neither had chosen to test each other's ability to split their concentration by calling forth upon their power within the Force to bring other weapons to bear upon their opponent, such as tossing one of the packing crates into the melee from their various stacking areas within the warehouse, or focusing pressure upon a vulnerable muscle or joint. Doubtless that distraction would occur at some point, when the muscles began to feel the strain from the positions into which they were forced, or when either warrior tired of their present tactics and chose something new.

As of now Anakin was all about aggression, wishing to show off to his former master the strength and power that the dark side gave him. In countering every stroke of the saber which by right should be the blood red stain of the Sith, not the pure azure blue of the Jedi, Obi-Wan stared into his opponent's eyes. He searched for the boy he once knew, whom he had nurtured into the warrior that battled before him now. The child his late master claimed was a vergence from the Force, sent to bring balance. Qui-Gon, now one with the Force, believed himself mistaken in his original choice, that the Chosen One for the Jedi was instead the boy he had taken to be his padawan on Bandomeer.

Obi-Wan did not agree, for nothing about himself felt chosen. But then neither did he feel the same about Anakin, though he had once sworn as much before Master Yoda, argued and defended the prophecy against all those who doubted his late Master's stubborn held belief. Perhaps he talked himself into believing, in the hope that if he said the words often enough, he would come to find a truth in them.

Just as he stared now, in the hope that if he stared long enough, he would find the boy he had once known and nurtured into the dark sith warrior which he now faced. But no matter how hard he stared, how deeply he plunged his sea hued eyes into those flame lit pupils before him, he only found the Sith. He had sworn to Padmé that he would not kill the man who was like both brother and son to him, but nothing of those men remained. Even the shell of the body that once housed them appeared different, tainted by the wrath of the dark side that now resided inside him. Yet still he found himself searching for the slightest glimmer of recognition.

Each of his duels were about searching for something, it seemed. With the Zabrak it had been the life of his master that the silent warrior had stolen, while against Dooku it was the respected Jedi who had trained the late Qui-Gon Jinn. In Ventress he had looked for the truth behind the scandal that threatened to tear apart the Republic.

Noble quests, every one of them were, and all answered in ways he had not expected. Within them truths were revealed which wrought a difficult acceptance. Time had done nothing to assuage that battle and he doubted it would commit the same miracle when this duel was done and dusted. Already he knew that this would be the hardest truth to accept, that the memory of this day would haunt him forever, no matter who was left standing at the end. There would be no victory in this continuous crossing of sabers, only defeat, for he had failed in the promise he swore to Qui-Gon, just as Anakin had failed in the promise he swore, innocent of what such a desire might bring him.

Would it have been different, if the boy was brought to the Temple as a babe, as others, including himself had been, he wondered. But no one could answer him that, not even the Force, for it was a past and a future which would never come to light.

With that realisation Obi-Wan fell into the teachings of his late master, focusing on the moment, on the touch of each saber to saber, the blows struck which he had to defend. Yet the thoughts inside him lingered, even as he strove to lose their tails within the heat of the battle, waiting for the aftermath, when doubtless he would dwell upon them all the more.

Inside the warehouse, the echoes of saber against saber rebounded back and forth within the confines of the duracrete. Outside the city the routine of Republic life reigned, ignorant of the battle raging amidst the Works District, the blood about to be shed on the Jewel of the Core Worlds. Such knowledge could not be imparted to them, for appearances would deceive. Their eyes would tell them that it is two Jedi fighting each other, perhaps even just practising how to wield the justice which their Order swore to carry out. Only those who had the gift of the Force would learn to delve deeper within the minds of the duellists and discern that this was a duel of the fates, a fight of good against evil, a trial of dark verses light.

Anakin continued to press his saber forward, grinding the blade against his opponent's, as he sought to attempt to find a way of twisting his weapon underneath to strike at a vulnerable spot. Obi-Wan defended against the blow by allowing the move to reach a follow through, before reversing his own blade with it. A growl of frustration escaped from his enemy, whose aggression only increased in the wake of this thwarted attempt.

Urged on by the pressure of their arms, the crossed blades gradually lowered between them, until Anakin changed his two hand grip for one and sought to strike his former master. Obi-Wan anticipated the move, and knowing his hand would be no match for the steel laced within the mechanised limb coming towards him, used the Force instead to counter it. Anakin growled again as his fist encountered nothing but air, fighting against it in vain. Withdrawing, he tried a different area, only to receive the same resistance.

Giving up hope of breaching the sudden Force created wall between them, Anakin returned his hand to his saber, whipping the weapon upwards with lightening speed. Obi-Wan let the saber rise so as to avoid a blow upon his jaw, before repositioning his blade once more to strike at his opponent afresh. This time the angle allowed him to press the blade towards Anakin's face, the glow of the humming weapon illuminating his angered countenance. He angled the blade into the jaw of his former apprentice, and the strike sent his opponent reeling backwards.

The move was unusual on his part, and could be construed as mildly aggressive, contradictory of his nature as a Soresu master, but Obi-Wan knew that he had to adapt his stance, incorporating the mixed saber training acquired during his youth, if he wished to draw this duel to the desired conclusion. He and Anakin were far too aware of each other's ways in the way of saber training, that a need to draw upon moves which might make his present ones difficult to predict and thus procure an advantage, were proving necessary.

Anakin regained his battle stance, but not before a flicker of surprise danced across his expression. Clearly he had not expected his former master to initiate such an attack. When he raised his saber once more, there was a noticeable hesitancy about his movements, before something within seemed to provide him with the strength to continue. Such a response did not produce a similar one from Obi-Wan however. For in the hesitancy he could only see uncertainty regarding who would survive the duel, not the young boy he thought that he had once known.

The sabers clashed fiercely, blue against green, their blows coming thick and fast, meeting pace for pace, as if one wished to tire the other out by such a continuous rain. Each time Anakin's blade danced away and towards Obi-Wan's, the blue coloured beam stroked the floor between them. Obi-Wan kept a part of his force senses trained upon the spot where the saber struck. Lightsaber beams had never been known to melt duracrete before, but there was always a first time. Occasionally the floor would reflect the glow of the beam, but other than that the blows made little impact.

When Anakin tired of that futile exercise, he began to move about, exploring the confines of the vast warehouse, searching for some weak spot which he might use to his advantage. But Obi-Wan had chosen well, perhaps too well. The structure was sound and unyielding to the blow of a saber, on the few occasions he was allowed to parry with the walls instead of his former master. He began to feel as if he were a pitten, toyed in the hands of Krayt dragon, similar to the one that howled inside him, night and day.

Obi-Wan saw the beast within his former padawan, but he also saw how Anakin used the essence of that animal to sink himself into the depths of the dark side. He realised now that the dragon had been caged until his former master unlocked the Force potential inside the boy, letting the creature loose. Now the Krayt's talons were firmly unfurled, and no amount of persuasion could restrain them.

He followed his opponent around the warehouse, meeting him blow for blow, parry for parry. Soon he began to realise that having failed in his attempted to scar the floor with his saber, Anakin now wished to see if the walls and roof would remain untouched by similar treatment. In this Obi-Wan reasoned his former padawan might have more success, there was a reason that this warehouse had been abandoned after all. Though the walls were made of the same unforgiving material as that which built most of the skyscrapers that occupied Coruscant's endless city, the roof was decidedly frailer.

And if the roof fell, their duel would be vulnerable to the curious eyes on the HoloNet, who would leap at the chance to cover a fresh aspect of the Jedi Order. Since the Chancellor's propaganda campaign, allegedly engineered to improve the Republic's opinion of the Jedi, but whose real motive Obi-Wan now suspected was just the opposite, the holo journalists were hungry for any sight of a Jedi as soon as they emerged from the Temple. Force knew what they would make of this fight, but the coverage would reach the Chancellor, who would do his upmost to rescue his sithly underling, by whatever means he could.

So Obi-Wan upped his saber skill another level, striving to protect the duel from the glare of those inquisitive beings. He caught Anakin unprepared, trapping him in a corner of the warehouse. For a moment they stood facing each other, sabers crossed between them, waiting.

"Why do you hesitate?" Anakin taunted him. "Finish it, Sith Killer. Or is it that you are no match for the power of the dark side?"

"I've heard that before, I never thought to hear it from you." As he uttered this, Obi-Wan sought through the Force, and reversed the polarity of the electrodrivers in Anakin's hand. His opponent's durasteel grip sprang open, releasing the blue light into his free hand, as he moved swiftly to catch it, keeping the blades in the cross position before him. "The flaw of power is arrogance."

"You hesitate," Anakin echoed the taunt once more. "The flaw of compassion."

"It's not compassion," Obi-Wan uttered sadly. "It's reverence for life. Even yours. It's respect for the man you were. It's regret for the man you should have been."

And with that he let the blades extinguish the life before him.

Part 44: A Duel with the Devil.

The seats in the Senate Chamber were full to capacity. Padmé, Bail, Mon and the rest of the Loyalist Committee had spent days mustering the political masses required for a session such as this. Officially they were required to listen to the reading of an amendment which was attached to a minor point of law before it went to the committees for further consideration. Such a session was usually attended only by those Senators who cared about the amendment in question, and the representatives of those who did not. For what Padmé intended to raise before the chamber today however, she and her colleagues needed everyone to be present.

As she surveyed the crowded pods, her mind recalled a similar view over ten years ago. The sight had been overwhelming back then, to a young Queen barely into her first term as sovereign of the Naboo. She had been so frightened for her people that she was willing to agree to the merest offer of help from any seeming ally. Oh, she seemed brave enough on the outside, attired in her finest and most imposing sovereign regalia, her youth concealed by the magnificent robes and adornments, her fear by the powder upon her skin, red rouge upon her lips and elsewhere about her face.

Her voice had not let that fear show, as she put forth a carefully rehearsed plea for the Senate to aid her for the mercy of her people. In hindsight, she should have ignored the Senate back then, ignored Master Qui-Gon Jinn's plea that they make for Coruscant, and instead gone to the Gungans at once. Her trip to the jewel of the Core worlds had been an exercise in futility, serving only to accomplish the manoeuvre of a Sith into the office of Supreme Chancellor.

Now she strove to remedy that previous mistake, albeit ten years too late. A repeat of what she had done a decade earlier, replace one Chancellor for another. Who was a question she and her colleagues did not finish debating in their last meeting before this session. Several names were offered up as a solution, each a surprise to the owner of them, who never considered themselves for such a role. But that was precisely the sort of being they needed, for the Senate had had its fill of ambitious, self-serving Chancellors. In Padmé's mind there were several candidates suitable, and she did not include herself, although many of her colleagues had suggested that she put herself forward. To be Supreme Chancellor was not a role she had ever imagined taking on. Representing a system was one thing, representing the Republic would be quite another.

The seat which stood for that office was still empty and no doubt the noise of the crowds within the Senate chamber would not be silenced until it was filled. A part of her desired the seat to remain empty forever, for Palpatine possessed a charm that was known to dazzle even those who previously distrusted him. His presence could change the outcome of this meeting, his eloquence could wreck all their plans. But as much as she wished him to remain in his office, his presence was required. Not only were they bound by law to allow the Supreme Chancellor to hear this motion of no confidence concerning his governance, they needed him here whilst the Jedi searched his office and awaited his return.

For if the vote was to succeed, all of what Palpatine planned to bring to light had to remain in darkness, just as all that he had schemed to shroud in the shadows had to be brought forth before the eyes of the Senate. The scandal of the List must remain the worst kept secret of the Republic, whilst the murders of several business minded members of the Republic and that List were brought to light, along with the nature of sixty-sixth order encoded into the clone army's genetic makeup, and the charges directed at Palpatine.

Padmé knew that putting these charges to Palpatine was one thing, getting him to admit to the truth of them was quite another. After all he had merely given the orders, it was others who carried them out. He could quite easily claim that they had misunderstood his proffered advice. And of those, she and her colleagues could not be certain that they would admit to carrying out their crimes under the orders of Palpatine. Nute Gunray and the others of the Trade Federation might, if it would help them during their trials at the Courts, when that almost ineffectual system decided to rouse itself into action, that is.

Count Dooku was under the sanctuary protection of the Jedi, he might be inclined to testify against his former master, for he had finally admitted the truth to the Council, who in turn briefed her and other members of the Loyalist committee. But as for the person who had carried out the murders of those prominent members of the List, he was in no position to do so.

She had waited for Obi-Wan to return from his duel within the Jedi Council Master's quarters at the Temple. Not for a moment had she doubted that he would return, despite his protest to her that he would not kill the man who had once been his brother, friend and son all at once, no matter what injury the man had visited upon her, and other members of the Republic. Obi-Wan was a good man, a good Jedi, and he would do what he must, what ever the emotional grief such an act would visit upon him afterwards.

He had entered his quarters quietly, two lightsabers holstered at his hip. As the door to the bedroom closed behind him, he had wrestled the weapons from his belt and dropped them upon the nearest chair, before sinking to the floor. She watched as slowly, his hand came up to cover his face, his fingers running through the hairs of his beard, over his grief stricken eyes, then through his hair.
Wordlessly she had risen from the bed to kneel before him, stretching out a hand to take his other in her own. As soon as the clasp was made, he pulled her into his arms, seeking the comfort that only their embrace could give.

How long they sat there neither of them knew. At some point they moved into the bed and fell asleep, for her next recollection after that embrace concerned waking the morning after, to find Obi-Wan returned from a Council meeting. He informed her then that after the Senate delivered their motion of no confidence within the Supreme Chancellor, a deputation of Jedi Councillors were to await him in his office, with the express purpose of arresting him. If he did not come willingly, they would do what they must to make him yield.

And if he did not yield..... such an possibility may have been left unsaid, but Padmé knew it was likely to happen. She felt more fear concerning the outcome of that event than she did when Obi-Wan went to meet with Anakin. Palpatine may be facing the best of the fighters that the Order had to offer, but he was a Sith lord, as the recordings on Polis Massa had proved him to be, it was not to be supposed that faced with several Jedi he would obligingly surrender to their charges. His death was the most hoped for outcome, which was why his presence was required at this Senate session, so none could claim that replacing him was a treasonous coup.

Her gaze had rarely wavered from observing the central pod yet she was still taken by surprise when it finally rose to a suitable height within the Senate Chamber, announcing to all that the Supreme Chancellor had arrived. Slowly the conversations died out, allowing silence to reign for a brief moment before Palpatine began to speak.

"Senators and Representatives, the point of law up for discussion today is the Sector Governance Decree Amendment," the Supreme Chancellor began. "All those in favour of this Bill going before the Committees for further debate, please vote now."

Sector Governance Decree. There had been outrage within the Loyalists when that bill was first put to the committees. Having a Senator representing their planet's interest on Coruscant was democracy, albeit ineffectual at times. At least the people could trust that their representatives would look after their best interest. But no one could suffer the idea of an offworlder coming to their planet to govern them. It was an invasion by stealth, and for the committees, the very bill that gave them reason to turn against Palpatine. Especially when the amendment attached included the right for that governor to have an army of clones at their beck and call.

Padmé touched the controls on her pod which allowed it be released and float forward, further into the centre of the Chamber.

"Point of Order, Supreme Chancellor."

"The Senate recognises the Senator Amidala from the Chommell Sector."

"On behalf of the Chommell Sector I cast the amendment down," she remarked.

One by one other pods emerged from their places within the chamber to join her, adding their voices to her plea. Only when the cry was unanimous did a flicker of surprise begin to show upon Palpatine's face.

"The author of this amendment has no place within these chambers," Padmé declared. "I move for a vote of no confidence in Supreme Chancellor Palpatine."

Within the Chancellors' Office, four Jedi Council Masters waited. The HoloNet feed was on, displaying the live footage of the proceedings within the Senate, giving them advanced warning of when the Supreme Chancellor would return, facing the knowledge that the Senate had voted for a motion of no confidence within him.

Masters Yoda and Kit Fisto stood still, their sole focus trained upon the Holo. Masters Windu and Kenobi were searching the executive office for the remaining evidence with which to convict Palpatine within the eyes of the Republic. Once a piece was found, it was scanned into a datapad and then in turn sent to receivers which were located within the Senate pods of the members of the Loyalist Committee, who in turn presented the evidence to the rest of their colleagues. All four were silent, not even communicating within the Force. There was no need for discussion, for agreement on what was to be done had already been reached by the Council during a meeting earlier this morning.

Agreeing on what needed to be done with Palpatine had been relatively easy to reach. He was too dangerous to be taken in custody and put to trial before the law courts, especially considering that he had most of them in his pocket. Which left them with no choice but to kill him. Deciding who would face the most powerful Sith lord since the end of the Russan Wars had taken time. There were many excellent fighters on the Council, one for every form of saber art and then some, but few who had faced a Sith lord and lived to tell the tale. Master Yoda was an obvious choice, as was Master Windu. The former for his skill and years of experience, the latter due to his particular saber form, one which he himself had created.

Master Kit Fisto, a master of Shii-Cho, was a veteran of Geonosis and a hundred other lethal hot spots, had been a third choice. A shade taller than Obi-Wan, he possessed the typical features of his race, Nautolan. His volatility and courage were renowned, as he turned the most basic of saber forms into a masterpiece of fight craft. Among his padawan learners had been Bant Eerin after the death of Master Tahl, through which relationship his friend from the crèche Obi-Wan had come to know him well. His membership of the Council was almost as recent as Obi-Wan's however, so his selection as one of the Jedi to face the Sith lord Palpatine was something of a surprise.

No one had questioned Obi-Wan's selection, except for Kenobi himself. He had faced Anakin the day before, and though he had defeated him in time to recoup his strength and skill within the Force, the duel still affected him now, emotionally, mentally and physically. He had yet to properly come to terms with the death of his former padawan at his own hands, or what it meant to be the Chosen One whose coming was prophesied. Much of what took place yesterday still seemed like a dream to him.

He remembered striking the fatal blow, surveying the body for a moment before gathering it for burial. Sith he may have been at his end, but Anakin had spent much of his life as a Jedi, and Obi-Wan felt that those years and achievements should be honoured with a Jedi burial ceremony at the Temple. Fortunately the Council had agreed with him. The next memory was of entering the bedroom of his quarters, removing the sabers from his belt to toss into the nearest chair, before sinking down to rest against the wall. A hand had come to clasp one of his own, while his other journeyed over his face in an attempt shake himself from the dreamlike state into reality. Padmé's hand. The last thing he recalled was pulling her into his arms, resting his head upon her shoulder, whilst he wept for a friend he had lost so long ago, a truth only realised after his death.

When he woke they were in his bed, and the comstation was calling him awake, summoning him to a meeting in the Council Chambers. He returned in time to see Padmé waken, brief her on the resolution he and his colleagues had reached, before they parted from each other, she for a final meeting with the other members of the Loyalist Committee before they went to the Senate, he for the stealth march upon the executive chambers, which they would invade as soon as the Supreme Chancellor had quit them for the Senate arena. Neither of them had had the time to come to terms with Anakin's passing, he knew that, and nor were they likely to get a chance to do so until they dealt with Palpatine.

It was Padmé's turn at the moment. The HoloNet feed showed her speaking eloquently about what they had discovered on Polis Massa, as she relayed the evidence that was in the Loyalist Committee's possession, to give her request for a vote of no confidence in the Supreme Chancellor the weight which was required. Idly Obi-Wan wondered if Master Yoda had told anyone else what they discussed in his quarters before he duelled with Anakin. It was unlikely. However when the rest of the Council did learn, their reactions would be interesting to say the least. Only one of the Council members was married, Ki-Adi-Mundi, in order to save his race from possible extinction. He had been granted a special exception from the obedience to the Code, in view of his home world's plight.

Now, thanks to the reforms, no such distinction was required, but his and Padmé's union would still be viewed as extraordinary, because of the positions they held. The Order was meant to be above politicking. They may advise Senators, representatives, even Supreme Chancellors if their advice was requested, but they held themselves back from putting their counsel into practise directly. The Order was supposed to stand apart from the Senate, to be seen as independent of its actions in governing the Republic. His and Padmé's relationship would be seen as a symbol of unity between the Order and the Senate, a sign that the Jedi were involved in matters political, whether either of them chose to capitalise upon such perception or not.

Upon the HoloNet feed, Padmé had reached the end of her evidence. Bail Organa now stepped forward, to deliver what they had discovered during the search of the Chancellor's office that morning. Compared to the evidence found inside Asajj Ventress', craft on Polis Massa, the Sith lord had been far more careful to hide his dark side, by concealing it beneath seemingly innocent items, among them a recording device hidden within the desk. What he intended to use that for, they feared to contemplate.

The brief pause between Padmé's speech and Bail's allowed for the focus of the feed to light upon the Chancellor for a moment. As usual his expression was carefully crafted to reveal nothing but confusion, dismay and surprise at the charges laid before him. Obi-Wan wondered what the Sith lord was thinking behind that mask. No doubt he was plotting what he would say when the Senate was required to give him a chance to defend himself, after all the evidence had been presented.

Until now, Palpatine had been seen by the Republic as a saviour from the ineffectual and corrupt system that went before him, operating under Chancellor Valorum. Certainly no one could deny the truth of that. The Senate had been corrupt, not because of Chancellor Valorum, but because of the inter-committee scheming that still existed today. Palpatine had not wiped the corruption from the Senate, because he was the cause of it. Now, as before, he used it to his advantage.

Whatever beneficial means he had gained from this however, were now gone, as Senator Organa called upon the Senators and Representatives to cast their votes as to whether they held any confidence in Palpatine's governance. This was the critical moment for all concerned, and the four Jedi ceased their other actions to focus upon the results of the vote which was taking place within the Senate Chambers. In the pod belonging to the executive office, the staff looked at a loss as to what to do. Palpatine appeared unmoved, even as the votes in favour passed a majority without a single one cast against.

Only when everyone within the Senate who had a right to vote had done so, did the now former Supreme Chancellor react. In a quiet voice that seemed to echo across the entire chamber, he remarked how very saddened he was by the rise of distrust against him, engineered, he was sure, by the enemies of the Republic, who wished to do their alliance of planets everlasting damage. After swearing an oath to the effect that he would bring these parties out of the shadows in which they hid to face the rigours of justice from the Courts, Palpatine quit the Senate, his pod slowly descending into the pit that would lead to his chambers below.

Inside the executive office the four Jedi prepared to face him. With a flick of the Force one shut down the HoloNet feed, then assumed a guard position like the rest. The executive office still showed clear evidence of their searching, but attempts to conceal such actions would have been useless, as Palpatine would know what they had found there from Senator Organa's testimony in the Senate Chamber.

The Sith lord's entrance was quiet, but even so the Jedi sensed his presence. For once it was impossible to miss the overwhelming darkness which surrounded Palpatine, for the former Supreme Chancellor had done nothing to cloak himself from the light side of the Force. Each one of them could feel the strength of the power which he usually held hidden inside him, under layer upon layer of deception that had kept them from determining the identity of the Sith lord until now. If it had not been for Asajj Ventress' ship, the Order, and the Senate would still be ignorant of such knowledge.

None of them could take comfort from being free of the darkness which had clouded their ability within the Force. That Palpatine had lifted the veil was troubling enough, but with that freedom there had come a price which had not yet occurred to them.

The Sith had changed. The Sith had grown, had adapted, had invested a thousand years of intensive study not only into every aspect of the Force but of Jedi lore itself, in preparation for exactly this day. The Sith had remade themselves.

They had become new.

While the Jedi -

The Jedi had spent that same millennium training to refight the last war. They may have discarded the chastity of the Code, begun to allow members to live as all other beings within the galaxy lived, to have a partner, to have children, but, save for Vaapad, their fighting philosophy remained the same as it was a thousand years ago.

The new Sith could not be destroyed with a lightsaber; they could not be burned away by any touched of the Force. The brighter the light of the Jedi, the darker the shadow of the Sith. How could one win in a war against the dark, when the dark itself had become the war's own weapon?

Masters Yoda, Windu, Fisto, and Kenobi knew within that instant, such an insight held the hope of the galaxy. But if they fell here, that hope would die with them.

Palpatine did not appear taken aback to find four Members of the Order lying in wait inside his office. If anything, Palpatine seemed pleased to see them.

"Why, Master Yoda, what a pleasant surprise," he remarked casually as the door closed behind him.

"Hardly a surprise, Chancellor," Master Windu answered. "And it will not be pleasant for any of us."

"I'm sorry?" Palpatine feigned confusion. "Greetings, Master Windu. Master Fisto, hello. And Master Kenobi, I am pleased to see you. I trust your former apprentice, Knight Skywalker is well. It is has been a few days since I heard from him."

"Unfortunately, Knight Skywalker is now one with the Force," Obi-Wan replied, the tone of his voice managing to hide the grief which he still felt.

So that was the threat I felt. Palpatine's features turned serious. "I am grieved to hear such news. This is a sad day for the Order. In his passing a light has gone out and the entire galaxy will feel the weight of such a loss."

He made for his desk, but succeeded in only taking a step further into the room, as none of the Jedi drew back to allow him through. "What brings four Jedi Masters to my office at this hour?"

"Know who you are, we do," Master Yoda remarked. "What you are. At an end, your rule is, and not short enough it was, I must say."

"Ahh, you have heard of the Senate's rule of no confidence," Palpatine presumed. "I must confess that I did not think such news would reach the Jedi Temple so quickly. As to what else I am, I'm afraid you'll have to enlighten me."

"You are a Sith lord," Kit Fisto revealed.

"Am I?" Palpatine queried. "Even if true, that's hardly a crime. My philosophical outlook is a personal matter. In fact, last time I read the Constitution, we have very strict laws against this type of persecution. So I ask you again: what is my alleged crime? How do you expect to justify your actions before the Senate?"

"We're not here to argue with you," Master Windu said, as Obi-Wan began to cast his eyes around the office once more. This conversation was starting to sound a little too staged for his liking, almost as if Palpatine was recording the event as means of escape. But they had destroyed the recording device concealed within his desk, unless he had another hidden elsewhere about the office.

"No, you're here to imprison me without trial. Without even the pretence of legality. So this is the plan, at last: the Jedi are taking over the planet."

"I assure you, we have full backing from the Senate," Obi-Wan informed him, though he doubted that such a comment would remain recorded if the Jedi suffered defeat during this bout, as they had the last time they faced such a Sith lord.

"Don't try to resist," Master Windu warned.

" Resist? How could I possibly resist? This is murder. This is treason. Security, someone! Help me! Murder, Treason!"

Then he smiled, as from his right hand extended a blade the colour of fire.

"We destroyed the hidden recording device," Obi-Wan said as one by one the Jedi unleashed their own blades, Mace's Windu's blade a streak of purple against a sea of green.

"I gathered as much from the state of my desk, Master Kenobi," Palpatine replied. "What did you do to it? It looks as if someone drove a lightsaber through it. You really must be careful with those weapons of yours. Someone could get hurt."

"A Jedi's weapon is his life," Master Fisto uttered. "We wield them in the service of the Order and the Republic."

"What a convenient sentiment with which to avoid responsibility for murderous and treasonous acts such as this," Palpatine mused.

"If we could trust that you would never bother the safety or liberty of all beings again, we would offer to negotiate," Obi-Wan commented.

"I would not give you the satisfaction," Palpatine replied. "If you only knew how long I have been waiting for this...."

And with that he made his move, a sudden leap into the middle of the half-circle that they had made before him, his blood red saber fast and furious. The four Jedi struggled to meet his strike, however now that the fight was upon them they quickly strove to make up whatever ground they had previously lost. Palpatine met them blade for blade, stroke for stroke. The fight was more intense than that which took place on Geonosis, as though the four were battling against hundreds of foes rather than one. During the Council meeting there had been some members who argued that four against one Sith was overkill, others that only all their might would stand a chance of prevailing against him.

When it came to the vote however, not all of them were willing to involve themselves in such a battle. Not because they were afraid, but because they knew that there was a possibility that not all might survive this battle. That there should be some left behind, ready to take the fight and the reins of the Order, should the Sith prevail.

Palpatine believed he would, that much was clear. His features bore all the marks of how much he was enjoying his duel against the four most renowned Jedi of the Order. Upon the masters faces only grim determination was displayed. This was not a joy or an adventure. It was something which must be done, and they would see it through. No matter the cost.

Kit Fisto was the first to fall. The Nautolan was a swift fighter, trained in delivering fast blows, but the saber technique in which he was a master was the basic form taught to every Jedi, and in it lay many vulnerabilities. Once they had learned Shii-Cho, most Jedi chose to harness another saber form, usually a more challenging one, with fewer weaknesses.

All of them foresaw the end of the fatal blow, but none of them could prevent it. In this, as in all things, the future was in motion, and no matter how they tried to protect their colleague, his end was certain.

Palpatine scoffed at them as he celebrated his victory. His strike pace remained unchanged, even as he stepped over the dismembered body of the Nautolan. "Four Jedi against one Sith, I call this overkill, gentlemen."

The three remaining masters seemed to agree with him, for almost at once Yoda and Windu stepped back, leaving Kenobi alone to face Palpatine. Obi-Wan was not surprised by the move, for it was agreed during the Council meeting that out of all the masters within the Order, he had the most experience against the reborn Sith. His preference for the Soresu form of saber combat also gave him in advantage as it relied upon responding to the enemy, waiting for them to tire or make a mistake, then strike them down. And he was the Chosen One, a fact known only to those within this room, although whether Palpatine was aware of such information had yet to be determined.

Certainly he seemed a little discomposed by the Jedi taking him at his word. For a time the two combatants circled each other, stalking the edge of the makeshift fighting arena that had been the executive office. Both kept their lightsabers at the ready, the red and blue blades hovering waist height, the ends pointing to the richly upholstered floor, waiting for the other to make their first strike.

Palpatine met Obi-Wan's steeled gaze with a glance that was ten times as deadly, but the Jedi never flinched. His encounter with Anakin yesterday had prepared him for this; facing such evil magnified in the figure of a seemingly benevolent being. In a way this would be the easier battle, for his emotions were not as deeply invested as they were in the duel with his former padawan. Unlike Anakin, Obi-Wan had no interest in keeping Palpatine alive, or redeeming the man either.

The Sith tired of waiting for the Jedi to make the first strike, instead fulfilling the silent wish of the Soresu Master with a series of quick hard saber thrusts aimed across the space between them.

Obi-Wan read the impatience and approach in his opponent's eyes. He reacted quickly, his wrist flashing up his own saber in time to meet with the blows, countering each one with a an easy grace which belied their deadly speed and skill. The Sith growled in response as each strike was foiled, but the Jedi never relaxed his stance, watching his opponent, waiting for their next move.

"So Knight Skywalker met his end recently," Palpatine remarked as he embarked on another series of quick thrusts. This time each one followed a different angle, the change of degree in them designed to twist his opponent's wrist into impossible positions. Obi-Wan grimaced with the responses, but bore them well, for he foresaw that they were merely a distraction, in favour of the deeper battle which the Chancellor intended to use through another of his deadly weapons; his voice. "By your hand, presume?"

"No, by yours, Sith," Obi-Wan replied, bringing his blade to bear upon the red one that for the moment passed frighteningly close to his face just then.

"Mine?" Palpatine scoffed as he pressed the point home, waiting for his opponent's arm to begin to shake from the combined pain, tension and weight of his attack. "I was merely the voice to his thoughts. You are the one who struck the fatal blow."

Obi-Wan said nothing for the moment, letting the Sith think that he needed all his strength to keep the red blade back with his own.
Unsatisfied by the silence, Palpatine persisted. "Tell me, Master Kenobi, how did it feel to kill your own apprentice?" he taunted.

"It was something I had to do, nothing more," Obi-Wan finally replied. What he spoke was true, from a certain point of view. The time to adjust would could later, when the Republic was free from this potential Sith domination, or when he was one with the Force.

"Killing the Chosen One was something which must be done?" Palpatine crackled incredulously, before answering his own question.

"It was a masterstroke which should have brought the end to your despicable Order."

Again the Jedi said nothing, increasing his opponents frustration. Instead Obi-Wan directed himself to what remained of the desk, currently lying in pieces behind them. Using the Force he lifted one of the pieces up and sent it flying into the back of his opponent.

Palpatine was unprepared for the blow. His figure took the full force of the impact, folding in half, whilst Obi-Wan backed away from the Sith, in a darting leap which placed him beside the waiting Council Masters.

"Your weakness, your overconfidence is," Master Yoda warned the Sith as he recovered, twisting to destroy the piece of furniture with his blade so the Jedi could not use it on him again. "Cannot be understood by the dark side, the Force."

"Even a fraction of the dark side is more power than your Jedi arrogance can conceive," Palpatine fiercely replied, "living in the light, you have never seen the depth of the darkness. Until now."

He leapt forward, his blade ahead of him, the hilt in a one handed grip while from the finger tips of his free hand spored deadly streaks of lightning, aimed at the trio of Jedi.

Obi-Wan could only counter one and he did, meeting the crackles with his blade, as the two Masters beside him reignited their own weapons to counter that of the Sith. The lightning dissipated on impact with the blue saber, only to flare up once more as the wielder sent another wave, and then another, his red lightsaber tangling constantly with that of the other two Council Masters.

Then Master Yoda abruptly shut down his blade, letting Master Windu take on the task of defence, to catch the lightning in his hand and send it back to the Sith. The strike was beautifully timed, catching the Chancellor in an unguarded spot, causing him to recoil while his robes singed from the impact.

"Generous the dark is, patient it is, and wins it always does," Master Yoda admitted, as his colleagues advanced stealthily forward, intent on capitalising upon the wound which the Grand Master had struck. " But within the heart of its strength weakness lies. Enough to hold it back, one lone candle is. More than a candle, love is. Ignite the stars, it can."

"Love?" Palpatine scorned, insensible of the danger which awaited him. "What do the Jedi know of love? Love led your Chosen One into the path of darkness."

"You're wrong, Sidious," Obi-Wan uttered quietly, as his saber struck swiftly catching the Sith lord off guard. Smoke rose from another part of the Chancellor's robes. "It taught me the true nature of the Force. Balance, in all things."

For the first time a look of horror entered Palpatine's expression. "No."

"Yes," Obi-Wan corrected, as he took the Sith lord down.

Part 45: Drawing to a Close.

Padmé woke to a glorious sight. Outside the rays of the Nubian sun were glistening off the waves of the sea. Dew kissed blades of grass surrounded the rich blue waters, upon which animals who could not feast within the waves rode and broke their fast. On previous days all of these sights would have captured her interest and won some praise, but something else accompanied them this morning which rendered all of them insignificant.

Obi-Wan was meditating on the balcony, his attitude visible due to the drawn curtains which let the light of day stream into the bedroom. She had seen a Jedi meditate before, during her last sojourn in Varykino Anakin would often be found upon her balcony, his posture stiff and unyielding, lending himself an even more foreboding presence than usual.

With his former master however, meditation was a far more attractive prospect. Obi-Wan did not stand still. He moved. Some times he held a lightsaber with which to illustrate his moves as part of the art of saber forms, others, her previous experience of fighting beside him was enough to recall and realise what he was doing. Aside from the armed or unarmed display, there was another difference that made her search her mind for memories; a pair of slim fitting trousers usually served as his only attire.

She had not been one who was swayed by handsome or ugly displays of flesh. Obi-Wan was attractive, something she had never denied to herself, but it was the beauty which came from within that drew her to him. Like his former apprentice, Obi-Wan was an athlete, but his muscles were more attuned to his compact frame, rather honed to extremes. There was also an artistry, an elegance and an certain finesse about the Jedi Council Master's moves that could not fail to attract her attention. Added to this was the privilege that she alone was granted a witness to this display, which often portrayed a sense of vulnerability that was rarely shown from Obi-Wan, except when they were alone.

Solitude was what they had sought in coming to Varykino. As soon as he was elected Supreme Chancellor, Bail Organa had rapidly enacted several executive orders. One of the first was to declare a recess, allowing all Senators and Representatives a much needed break from Coruscant. As soon as the Jedi learned of this, Obi-Wan had requested and was granted leave from the Council. He had also sought their blessing on another matter which Padmé was to remain ignorant of for some time, though she suspected that she could take a guess at the truth of the matter in question, for he had also talked with her parents before they left Theed for the family's retreat in the Lake Country.

Just as they had presumed when meeting Anakin, her family had wondered at the nature of her relationship with Obi-Wan when she introduced him to them, when they sat down to eat, and when she was helping her mother and sister clear up. Unlike the previous occasion however, Padmé had done nothing to dispel their suspicions. Nor had Obi-Wan for that matter, who charmed them all with his impeccable manners and general affability. Behind that charm, there was a vulnerability though, one which she hoped that time together in her family's retreat at the Lake Country would heal.

Padmé had noticed it from the moment he returned to his quarters within the Temple, after fighting with Anakin. The duel with Palpatine had not begun the healing process, if anything that vulnerability was increased. As with his first bout against a Sith, she had watched the surviving holo feed, but it had not been a private viewing. Palpatine had hidden another surveillance device within the walls of the executive office, and the entire record of events was laid out before the eyes of the Senate after the conclusion of the duel.

For many Senators it had been an eye-opener, as they came to understand the true power of the Jedi and Sith for the first time. In witnessing it they realised the depth of evil which lay inside Palpatine, just as she had done when she saw Obi-Wan defeat the Sith apprentice on Naboo. While her colleagues divided their attention between Sith and the Jedi however, her gaze remained on Obi-Wan.

Throughout the duel he had carried an expression of grim determination. Afterwards though, when he knelt upon the floor to check that Palpatine had indeed expired, his grim facade dropped to reveal what two fights in two days had cost him. This was not the first time she had seen such a reaction. She had observed the same thing on Geonosis, when Count Dooku offered the Jedi one last chance to surrender, before Master Yoda came with the clone army.

He had kneeled beside a fallen comrade then, checking their life signs, before rising from the floor of the arena, taking a deep breath as he did so. He had been tired, but not as exhausted as she saw he was on the holo feed. Geonosis had not cost him as much as defeating Anakin and Palpatine had. Their demise marked the end of the Sith, not the middle. A new path awaited him, as it did the Republic. But none of them could begin to walk upon it until they had come to terms with what lay behind them.

So she had taken him to Naboo. First to the Queen and court, then her family, he insisted, for that was how things were done, and she did not argue with him. Only when they had stepped on to the balcony style entrance of her family's Varykino retreat, did he let his mask of Jedi serenity drop, and the healing begin.

Moving pass such grief however, was not accomplished without a considerable struggle. At first Obi-Wan had tried the traditional way of healing which belonged to the Jedi. For a whole Nubian day he meditated, out on the balcony outside the bedrooms, sometimes still, either sitting down on the sun kissed stone floor, or standing as though he were gazing upon the deep blue sea. Occasionally he had tried what Padmé had seen this morning, but his body had soon wearied of the moves, lacking the energy to see them through to completion.

When he emerged from such meditations a day later and still suffering, it was to attempt other, less unorthodox techniques. Padmé had sat with him, listening as he talked through with her everything he felt or experienced concerning the duels, until his voice was hoarse. That helped, but only a little, leaving him at a loss, confused as to why something so usually straightforward was now so twisted that he could not see pass it.

He had let her try something else then. At first he had been stunned by her kisses, too shocked to respond or even let her have her way with him, if that was she intended. Then, as her hands began to wander about just as much as her lips, he surrendered to her desires, allowing her to push him back against the furnishings. It was during the midst of their union that he realised the truth of what Master Yoda had spoken while he and Palpatine duelled.

Love was indeed more than a candle, and it could ignite the stars. It could also heal a confused and grieving Jedi, who wondered why he felt sad over the demise of two sith who had injured him and the woman he loved, as well as the Republic and the Order he served. As he learned to accept his grief, he also let go.

With acceptance came recovery. In the afterglow of their loving, unable to do anything but watch him sleep, Padmé was reminded of when she had rescued him and Bail from Zigoola. Obi-Wan had spent most of the return from that Sith ridden planet back to Coruscant and the Temple in a Jedi healing trance, watched over by herself, Bail and the medic clone squadron given to her by Master Yoda.

Considering the distance from Zigoola to the Core, she had been surprised to see that Obi-Wan was not completely recovered when they touched down within the Temple's hangar. He claimed as much to the Jedi healer who met them with Master Yoda, but both insisted on taking him to the Temple Sickbay anyway. It was not until later that she learned how much the experience on the Sith planet had affected him and Bail, which was similar to this moment, as she came to understand how much everything since then had affected him as well.

Today though, he was meditating using Katas, a sign that he was recovering. Padmé smiled at the sight, and leaned back against the pillows, content just to watch him. She might join him out there this morning, if he would be willing to teach her something of the art. The events of the past several days had taken their toll on her as well, leaving her exhausted, physically, mentally and emotionally.

For the most part she had brushed her turmoil aside in order to help Obi-Wan, for she knew that his grief was the greater. She had lost Anakin a long time ago, on Tatooine after he killed the Tuskens, if truth be told. Dealing with the removal of Palpatine too was a grief she had mastered previously. Shortly after she had won her seat in the Senate, she had discovered that her former mentor was not the morally minded being he professed to be. It had been her self-recrimination, lack of experience and supporters within the Senate that kept her from immediately reversing her mistake.

Still the actual deed itself had been a trying moment, as too was seeing Obi-Wan and the other Jedi duel with the former Supreme Chancellor in all his unmasked Sith glory. What followed was equally tiring, as the Senate began to debate and nominate who would take the Chancellor's seat. No one was given a chance to change their minds as the session began straight after the conclusion of the holo footage which featured the duel.

Names were called out as one by one several senators put either their colleagues or themselves forward to take over the reins of the executive office. Some declined the honour when their names were suggested, including herself, much to the disappointment of a members of the Loyalist Committee, who were forced to accept her genuine reluctance to take on such a challenging role at this time.

Eventually a short list emerged, and the Senators and representatives put forward their votes. A few days later, during which the executive offices and Palpatine's apartment were cleaned, and funerals were held for the Sith lord, Anakin and Jedi Master Kit Fisto, Bail Organa was declared the victor. One of his first acts was to remove all the executive orders which Palpatine had installed since he was granted such a privilege, before putting the Senate in recess, with a promise of a Republic wide general election to clear out the remaining corruption.

Padmé left the Senate after this and returned to the Temple, where she had been spending most of her time, with Obi-Wan in his quarters, although she was careful to keep such occupation discreet. Whilst she had been involved in Senate matters, he had attended the funerals of the Sith lord, Anakin and Jedi Master Kit Fisto. The former was held aboard Palpatine's personal yacht, the other two at the Temple. From what Obi-Wan had told her when his meditation failed during their first day here, the services had all varied in length and content, and though somewhat similar, were still conducted with the reverence that was due to all life in the eyes of the Force. A mark of respect which few of the Senate had been willing to bestow on Palpatine, especially when the depth of his deception was revealed.

The Republic had emerged from that dark cloud of corruption into a new and hopefully brighter future. Its scandalous secrets remained protected while justice would prevail over the corruption which had previously existed. As soon as the Senate recess came to an end, the quest to root out the corruption from within would begin, Chancellor Organa had promised, in the form of a re-election of all Senators. New candidates for every post would be considered, including her own, and Padmé welcomed the chance to let the citizens which she represented judge her worthiness for the office she held once more. Above all, she hoped that upon her return to the Senate, the corruption would be destroyed forever.

However, she knew that the changes would not happen over night, that it would take time before the Republic became the symbolism of justice and democracy which she dreamed of. Until then there would be a lot of work to do for all concerned. These days in Varykino would probably be the last time she took a sojourned on Naboo for awhile. She had to make the most of them.

Rising from the bed, she put on her night clothes before joining Obi-Wan outside. While the Naberrie retreat on Varykino was situated in an isolated spot, the lakes were not always private from those who sailed their blue seas. It would not do for them to see that their Senator had gone to bed wearing nothing. Nor would the temptation help the Jedi in accomplishing the meditation which he had only successfully set himself now. The time to savour such pleasures of the flesh would come later.

The Force felt different after the death of Sidious. Before it was as though the Jedi had been in a cave, their only source of light a crack between fallen rocks. Even those who had not known that the power of the dark side was affecting them, felt their abilities were diminished until now. The light had found them, lifted the fallen rocks aside until the Jedi were able to rise and walk out of the cave and into the sunlight.

Everything was brighter, as they saw that celestial orb again after all those years trapped in darkness. Their senses were sharpened, their powers heightened. It was a heady experience, which they were still learning to savour. While the younger ones celebrated, the elder members of the Order breathed a sigh of relief, many taking a moment just to bask in the glory of it.

For Master Dooku the light proved just as intoxicating as his first taste of the darkness had once been. Greedily he savoured every facet of the ancient energy, letting the sensations overwhelm his focus until he was lost to his surroundings. Only his training saved him from detection, as outwardly he appeared every bit the recently redeemed master, who was honouring the privileges granted him through the sanctuary that was offered by the Council. He was the first being who had been offered such for over a millennia. No other member of the Lost Twenty had been given the right to return to the Temple after they had left the Order, let alone reside within its walls.

When Obi-Wan Kenobi offered him the ancient privilege, Dooku had been surprised, and initially reluctant to take up the offer. Aside from feeling that he had done little to deserve it, he also knew that his residence could put the Order at risk from suffering the wrath of Master Sidious, once that Sith lord discovered the depth of his former apprentice's treachery.

However, as the talks on Pais turned to a real, indisputable peace treaty between the delegations from the Republic, the Jedi Order and the Separatists, Dooku realised that he needed to return to the Temple, and not just for his own safety, but for that of the Confederacy. As their elected leader, his previous dark side philosophy put them and the peace treaty at risk, and not just from Sidious.

At the Temple he would be able to distinguish the difference between the dark and the light of the Force once more, then learn to walk the path of the latter again. If he stayed with the Confederacy after the ratification of the treaty, there was a danger that he could lose sight of his redemption, in favour of dealing with Sidious' wrath in the same manner that the Sith lord decided to deal with his treachery and betrayal.

Enjoying the sanctuary of the Temple however, was not without risks. He would not be allowed outside the building, and his reasons for needing to seek such protection were subject to the Council's judgement. As much as he would have liked to confide in the same beings whom he once countered as his peers, Dooku hesitated from telling them everything. He was lucky that they had chosen to respect his privacy.

Of course if they had demanded the truth from him, he would have told them who Sidious was, but not without doing all he could to dissuade them from confronting Palpatine immediately. Not that he doubted their ability to refrain from acting without thought, but the position of the Sith lord would have required them to act as soon as possible, rather than waiting for the right moment. An action which might have caused disaster for not only the Order, but the Republic as well.

Fortunately they had allowed him to tell them in his own time. Which was only when Obi-Wan and his friends returned from Polis Massa to confront him with the evidence of who Sidious was. With Asajj Ventress dead, only Anakin and Palpatine remained, and with the Senate on their side, Dooku knew that the time was right for the Council to react. Even then, the future had still been uncertain. Though he knew that Obi-Wan was very capable of facing a Sith, Sidious was far more powerful than himself, Darth Maul and Asajj. It would take a considerable feat of strength within himself and the Force to defeat Sidious.

That Obi-Wan Kenobi had managed such a feat did not surprise him. The padawan of his padawan had always managed to find ways of accomplishing the impossible. However he also knew that there was something else behind him, something which the Council was keeping amongst themselves for the moment.

Dooku understood their restraint, such knowledge in the wrong hands could only pose a threat not just to Obi-Wan, but to the beings he was close to, as well as the Republic, the Order, the Confederacy and the rest of the universe. This was an improvement on the last time they believed that they had found the Chosen One. It was fortunate that the mistake had been rectified so quickly, otherwise who knows what might have happened.

His need for reflection at an end, Count Dooku emerged from his meditation to gaze at his surroundings afresh. The Room of a Thousand Fountains was teaming with the Force, water and the Jedi, each one basking within the glory of the light.
And he was pleased to be amongst them once more.

"I still think Mara Jade-Muln doesn't sound as bad as you think," Garen remarked as he took a seat beside his wife.

Nineve rolled her eyes before replying, her focus still fixed on the sight in front of them. "Her name stays as it is. Deal with it."

The girl in question was only a few months old, and had just taken her first steps into a larger world. Her red hair glistened from the light of Coruscant's global reflectors that shone through the transparisteel panes which covered the Room of a Thousand Fountains. She could not walk, she was barely beginning to learn how to crawl. Nor could her mind comprehend the gravity of what her parents bantered about, or even respond. Yet she was laughing at what a master of the ancient energy was currently showing her, an energy which existed not just inside the master and her parents, but within her as well.

Garen, Nineve and Mara's arrival at the Temple after Obi-Wan Kenobi and Senator Padmé Amidala rescued them from Polis Massa, had been a quiet affair. The Order rarely created a fuss about returning Jedi and theirs was no exception, although for Nineve and Mara, it was their first visit to the Temple.

While the two Jedi were debriefed by the Council, Padmé took Nineve and Mara to Garen's quarters and got them settled in. Masters Yoda and Windu then visited, along with Obi-Wan and Garen, as Nineve gave a full confession of her life spent as an agent of Master Sidious. She claimed responsibility for the explosion on Pais, as well as luring a Jedi away from the Order, having first an affair, then a child by him.

To her surprise the Jedi were quite understanding and considerate regarding what she had done, and were willing to help her keep her freedom, in exchange for revealing all she knew of Darth Sidious. Nineve happily turned over every piece of information she had to the Council, who then left her and Garen in favour of a meeting to discuss all they had learned. It was Obi-Wan who returned later to inform them that the Council planned to send a contingent of Jedi to confront the Supreme Chancellor, after the Senate passed a vote of no confidence in his leadership.

Nineve knew that such an action was necessary to defeat her former employer, but she was concerned as to whether the Jedi had the ability to end the Sith's life. Sidious was powerful, more powerful than any being of the dark side they had faced before.

Experience in fighting a sith was not enough. Neither was mastery of the Force. Combine them and one might stand a chance, but it was a slight one at best. As for Garen, her lover had become equally concerned when he learned that not only was his friend Obi-Wan going to be a member of that Jedi contingent, he would be the main force charged with defeating Darth Sidious. Nineve never saw him in action on Polis Massa against Asajj Ventress, but she knew of his reputation, yet like her lover she too was worried about the possibility of defeat.

Both of them were relieved when Obi-Wan returned to the Temple unharmed, having defeated Palpatine with the help of Masters Yoda and Windu, though at the cost of losing Kit Fisto to the Force. After the funerals were held for the latter and for Darth Sidious, Nineve and Garen held a quiet ceremony of their own, the first marriage conducted in the Temple for over a millennia. After some discussion amongst the Council as to who would preside over the ceremony, Master Windu was elected.

While Master Yoda was considered the Grand Master of the Order, it was the Korun who held the title Master of the Order, the elected leader of the High Council. When the reforms within the Code were passed, the permission to marry was subject to receiving a blessing from the High Council, so it made sense for the head of that body to conduct any ceremonies held within the Temple.

Despite the union being the first of its kind to held within the Temple for over a millennia, the ceremony attracted little attention, as attendance was limited to Garen's close friends, his master and the High Council, as well as anyone whom Nineve wished to attend. Obi-Wan and Padmé stood up with them, the Nubian Senator taking the care to invite her handmaidens so Nineve did not feel as though she was the only non-Jedi present. Afterwards a reception was held within the Room of a Thousand Fountains.

As a sign of their blessing upon the union, the High Council assigned an apartment to the family, as well as rights and privileges to use the training salles, archives and meditation rooms for Nineve and Mara, when the latter was old enough. Garen's master, Clee Rhara, even offered herself as a tutor in the ways of the Jedi, if Nineve ever desired to explore her true Force potential. Though reluctant at first, having spent so much time in the Temple amongst beings who welcomed her and respected her abilities, limited as they were, Nineve could not deny that one day soon she would accept Master Rhara's kind offer.

Her decision had a lot to do with her daughter, whose wonder regarding the Force ability within her was innocent and infectious. Master Yoda supervised her introduction, as he did with all the younglings in the temple, or so Garen informed her, but Nineve could not help feeling that their daughter had earned exceptional treatment which was not just due to her extra ordinary heritage. She found the way in which the green little troll dealt with Mara's insatiable curiosity, stubbornness and willpower - for as her father was fond of saying already, she had inherited her mother's taste for independence - incredible, and wondered how his patience endured to supervise all the younglings whose care he was charged with.

Her gaze lingered on her daughter, wondering what was in store for her future. According to her father, the future was always in motion, but Nineve hoped that daughter managed escape many of the pitfalls that her mother had endured. Growing up in the Jedi Temple was certainly the right way to start and better than the one she had previously contemplated, on the run from her employer the Sith lord, with occasional visits from her Jedi lover, unless he decided to ignore protests and leave the Order to be with her.

That night when she had first confided in him about the existence of their child had been a mixture of ease and difficulty, as they traded comments back and forth, hers defensive, his infuriatingly reasonable, as he dissolved all her reasons to bade him farewell and continue running, in favour of a life with him.

When he had left her in the hotel room to join the celebrations concerning the peace treaty, she had contemplated disappearing, leaving him a note in which she asked him not to find her, attempting to assure him on paper what she had failed to do in conversation. But in the end the prospect of a life spent in constant fear of the threat that her Sith lord employer might find her and her child was too great to leave Garen free from the trouble that life with her could bring upon him.

It was to his credit that he had not shirked his responsibilities once, taking the news on board in his usual reasonable way, even finding her a place to hide and have her child in safety, away from Coruscant and an employer who could easily find out about them once she put a foot inside the med centre or the Temple. Sidious had been too attuned to her Force abilities, it would have been easy for him to find her, as it had proved when he sent Asajj Ventress after her. She was lucky that Garen had gone back to the Temple and had the foresight to recruit his friends when they learned of her distress.

At first she had been reluctant to return to the Temple with them, even the lure of a position serving the Nubian Senator could not tempt her from the lonely asteroid. It was only when Garen and his friends discovered the true identity of her previous employer and promised to bring him to justice that she accepted the Jedi Order's offer of sanctuary, as well as a commitment to provide Jedi training for her daughter.

It was the life which she imagined that she might of had herself, if Sidious had not found her and parents before the Jedi could. She had been just a little older than Mara was now when he took them away from her. She never saw them again, never discovered what happened to them. She presumed he had killed them, or ensured that they had met with some tragic accident. If the same occurred to her and or Garen, at least Mara would be safe with the Jedi.

But who knows what would happen in the future, after all, it was always in motion. Nineve let go of her speculative thoughts and contemplation, focusing her thoughts instead on the here and now, where they belonged. The future could wait.

Qui-Gon smiled. From his position he could see how calm his padawan was, despite the day being one of the most important of his life. Anyone else would be nervous in his place, but with the Force singing around them, it was no surprise to see him so composed, as he stood with the holy man near the edge of the balcony that bordered the lake which surrounded the villa that he had been staying in, waiting for his love to arrive, and for the ceremony to begin.

Apart from Qui-Gon, there were other guests present, invited to witness this ceremony. Granted he had not received a formal invitation, how could he when he was one with the Force, but the ancient energy had granted him the privilege, while Obi-Wan and Padmé invited a few friends from the Temple, the Senate, the Jedi High Council, Padmé's family, security and handmaidens from her days as Queen and now as Senator, as well as Artoo and Threepio.

No one had been there to see what had led to this ceremony; the proposal had been a private affair between his padawan and Padmé. Even the staff who looked after the villa at Varykino for the Naberrie family had been requested by Obi-Wan to leave for few days to give the couple privacy while he asked her. From what little Padmé had said, the moment had been romantic; a candlelit dinner, an abundance of scattered petals from her favourite blossoms.

The Force had not granted him the privilege to see the proposal either, he had merely been listening to what she told her sister when she met her family after they arrived for the ceremony. If the precious metal and precision cut Illum crystal ring which she wore on her finger was anything to go by, his padawan must have been planning this longer than Qui-Gon had been aware of. He may be one with the Force, but that did not grant him the ability to see everything. Plus there were some things which it was just not right to intrude upon.

Turning his gaze away from the balcony, Qui-Gon looked towards the villa, where most of Padmé's family had friends had been quartered since they arrived, readying the bride for the holy rite. They could have married on Coruscant at any number of spots, even within the Temple as their friends Garen and Mara had just a few days ago, or on Stewjon, Obi-Wan's home planet, but there was something about this balcony, with its breathtaking views across the lakes of Varykino, surrounded by lush green plains and mountain peaks. Something which even the shadow of the previous match with Anakin Skywalker which took place here that ended so traumatically, could not erase.

That was a ceremony which Qui-Gon had chosen not to witness, even though the Force would have allowed him to do so, as the ancient energy had permitted him to see everything that Anakin endured or enacted. A lesson in being mindful of the Unifying Force, he supposed, and it was true that he would not have imagined the boy he encountered on Tatooine defying the Order to marry, or massacre an entire tribe of Tusken Raiders to avenge the capture and death of his mother.

But even if he had known that, he doubted that knowledge would have prevented him from doing all he could to free the boy from slavery and ensure that the Order trained him. He was aware that he had given them little choice, by making it his dying request of Obi-Wan, one which he should not have made, but he did not regret giving the boy a chance of becoming a Jedi.

In the end, it was Anakin who made the decision to fall, just as it was Xanatos. Still, Qui-Gon could not deny that he felt a certain responsibility in what the boy had done to those closest to him, or in revenge because he lost those closest to him. Not to mention what vile acts Palpatine had manipulated him into committing.

It was not just his guilt which stopped him from witnessing the ceremony between Anakin and Padmé, it was also out of a sense of loyalty to Obi-Wan, whom he knew cared more deeply for the Nubian Senator than the padawan he had taken on. An unselfish love, pure and everlasting, as opposed to the boy's emotions, though Anakin was too young to understand his feelings for what they really were.

What Padmé's motives had been for marrying the boy Qui-Gon was uncertain, though he presumed it had been out of love however incomplete her understanding of that emotion had been at the time. He hoped that she understood now, that her feelings for Obi-Wan were just as powerful as what he felt for her. He could not bear to see his padawan put through such misery if they were not.

Given how much the Force glowed around the villa, Qui-Gon knew that he was worrying needlessly. The ancient energy had bestowed its blessing upon the match, a good indication as to how long it would last, and how happy it would be. While the future was always in motion, the adoration of the Force never erred. That was the prerogative of those who tried to interpret it. Only when he had become one with the Force had he learned that understanding the ancient energy, interpreting what it told could take a life time to comprehend.

There was a rustling of curtains, then the doors leading off the balcony and into the villa opened to admit the Naberrie family, minus the bride's father and handmaidens. Obi-Wan turned away from the holy man to watch as Padmé emerged with them, clothed in a white vintage glimmer silk gown, made up a mixture of sheer muslin and lace. A quiet gasp of admiration made its way through the assembled guests and the groom, whose eyes deepened their intense colour and stare as his gaze followed her progress towards him.

Qui-Gon saw his padawan whisper something to Padmé as she arrived at her place before the holy man, making her blush as Obi-Wan took her hand in his. Letting the words of the ceremony wash over him, Qui-Gon listened to the Force, as the ancient energy continued to cast a glow over the balcony, its radiance steadily increasing by the nanosecond. When the rite reached an end, the light from the ancient energy was almost blinding.

A gentle tug and Padmé was drawn into Obi-Wan's arms, his lips gracing hers with a kiss. Behind them the sun slowly descended as the day drew to a close.



© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 2021. All rights reserved.