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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 25: Descent into Darker Pastures.

Anakin deposited his belongings in his new quarters at the temple; indulging in the temptation to explore them only briefly. There was little to distinguish them from the quarters he shared with Obi-Wan; the same open plan living layout, with four connecting rooms; two beds and refreshers. What did contrast was the appearance of the quarters. When he returned with Obi-Wan to Coruscant; fresh from being assigned as his Padawan, they had entered the quarters they now shared; he in a rush, exclaiming at the furnishings, the art, the models of spacecraft dotted about; Obi-Wan more soberly, his sobriety a puzzle until his new master explained that these were his and Qui-Gon's quarters. It was the first and only time Obi-Wan revealed how much he mourned his master's passing.

These quarters had no pieces of art, and only the bare minimum of standard furnishing. Bland sofas, tables, chairs, walls and beds greeted his crestfallen features, before he reconciled his senses. Not for the first time he wondered how Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had managed to save their credits to personalise their quarters. His master had made reference to kind donations once, but Anakin had never taken the trouble to ask directly. Another thing he should have sought to obtain during his training. Perhaps Padmé or the Chancellor would be willing to contribute.

Leaving his belongings in one of the bedrooms, Anakin left the Temple, collecting his speeder on the way so he might reach Five Hundred Republica before dark. Navigating his way through the tightly packed traffic which dominated the city skyways, he parked the airspeeder in one of the bays situated away from the line of sight surveillance cameras that the apartment block had installed as part of their security system. That way, unless anyone called at his quarters, no one would know that he had spent the night away from the Temple.

Entering the apartment complex, he crossed the lobby to the turbolift and waited for the conical tube to take him to the penthouse level, where the Senatorial and the Supreme Chancellor's residences were located.

"Knight Skywalker to see you, sir," the attendant announced when Anakin was granted admittance to the latter's apartment.

"Anakin, my boy," Palpatine rose from his desk and came to greet him. "I'm so pleased you found the time to drop by so I could congratulate you on your promotion." He paused to shake his hand. "I take it that the mission was a success?"

"Yes, thank you, Chancellor," Anakin replied. "I apologise for not calling earlier, the Council held the ceremony straight after my debrief."

Palpatine waved away his attempt at an apology. "That is usual, my boy. Your master's was only drawn out due to the unusual way in which he gained his knighthood."

A dart of resentment shot into Anakin as he heard this comment, remembering his own duel with Count Dooku. True, he had not killed the Sith, but he still found it difficult to accept that Obi-Wan gained his promotion through battle rather than endure the boring negotiations he had to deal with for his own trials.

"The negotiations went well," he added.

"Where was it they sent you again, my boy?" Palpatine asked. "I believe one of the Council informed me of your location, but I have been so consumed with the peace treaty ratification process that the specifics have quite slipped my mind."

Anakin nodded in understanding and relayed the details of his trials. The Chancellor listened attentively, adding compliments and asking questions in all the right places. He reached the end of tale, his ego boosted and without any mention of the evening he sought at the tavern and what had passed there.

"What about that other matter, my boy?" Palpatine asked when he finished. "Did you have a chance to explore it?"

It was as if the little gold device had a mind of its own, as it seemed to shift about in his pocket when Palpatine alluded to the matter, jabbing Anakin in his side, reminding him of its presence. From the moment he woke upon that mist ridden dawn which met the dark night before, alone in the denigrate dwelling, his clothes scattered about the place, his body aching as though he had endured a lightsaber duel, Anakin had tried to forget every act which he committed during those dark hours before sleep conquered him. However, moments of it would flash into his mind without warning, plaguing him throughout the journey home. It was a relief nothing served to disrupt his focus during his knighting, as he had been worried that it would be sensed by the Masters, especially when he was commanded to deliver a full briefing of his mission before the Council.

His conscience was at war with his thoughts, battling over whether he was justified in committing such an act of marital betrayal. Back and forth his natures went over the conclusions he drew about the Pais briefing, his decision to confide in Palpatine, his actions during his trials. Even now he was still undecided as to whether he had done the right thing. But neither could he pretend that the betrayal had never occurred. He may as well admit that he was out of his depth and seek the Chancellor's advice. After all, the man had been a discreet confidant so far, he had no reason to think that Palpatine would not continue to be so. Taking a deep breath he confided in the man, who listened in the same manner as when he relayed the details of his mission, adding the right comments at the right time.

"My dear boy, you really are too hard on yourself," Palpatine remarked when the tale came to an end. "I know of a great number of men and women who have procured murkier affairs than what you have just described to me. The List is an accepted, if not notorious open secret amongst the populous of the Republic, and most continue their membership after they are married, often with their partner's full consent. What you have committed is an indiscretion at most, which few people need or will ever learn about. After all, how can you prove it to be true? There are no witnesses, except yours and the lady's memory, both of which can easily be influenced."

Anakin looked at him incredulous. "So I am to forget the matter?" He eventually ventured to ask when he realised the Chancellor was being serious.

"That would be wise my boy," Palpatine assured him. "Honesty in this case will only cause a great deal of misery."

"You are right," Anakin conceded. "Thank you, sir."

Palpatine brushed the apologies away. "No problem my boy. Who else could you seek advice from? Certainly not the Jedi." he paused before adding, "you may rely on my discretion of course." He rose from the furnishings, indicating that the visit was at an end. "And now, you best go and see your beautiful wife, before the day is over."

Anakin nodded and rose from the furnishings. Palpatine saw him to the door, then he walked down the corridor until he reached another of the penthouse apartments, this one being the residence for the Senator from Naboo.

Padmé was at her desk when he entered. For a moment Anakin halted upon the threshold of the living area to admire her, hard at work on Senate business, as if nothing had occurred during her absence and his. Caught by her beauty, he forgot all that had passed through his mind concerning her faithfulness, not to mention the lack of his own. On the morrow those truths would be confronted, not tonight.

"Welcome home, my love," he uttered warmly.

She turned and rose immediately from her chair. "Anakin," her voice uttered somewhat distantly, he judged. Silently he waited for her to notice the absence of his Padawan braid, which did not take too long.

"Congratulations Knight Skywalker," she uttered in a tone which belied the praise.

Inwardly he flinched at the reply, reminded of the moment when he confessed to her the atrocity he committed to avenge his mother. Though at the time he implied that he regretted the act, now he believed that he was justified in sousing his grief, just as the Jedi had done on Geonosis before coming to peace with the Confederacy. Still, she had praised him and he had many things to tell her, so he took the words at face value. "Thanks. I've just come from the ceremony. I get my own quarters now, so we don't always have to meet here. And of course, plenty of solo assignments, not to mention the possibility of training my own Padawan, though I doubt I'll do that for several years. And what with the reforms coming to the Order, we can let them know about us."

He saw her frown at this, before saying, "Anakin, I do not think it would be right for you smuggle me in and out of the Temple. Nor do I agree that with the reforms to the code which the Jedi live by gives you a right to inform them of our marriage. The mere fact that we had the union before these reforms would be a cause of concern to Council."

It surprised him that she already knew about the reforms, but then he remembered her reference one night to having spent time with his master and Master Muln on Pais, whom she could have learned about the reforms from. Anakin grimaced, his jealousy rising to the forefront once more. Usually he would trust his master, but he had never liked Garen Muln, believing him to be too much of a bad influence on Obi-Wan. If anyone had told her about the reforms, it would be either of them, and if it was Garen, his motive was likely to be just as bad as the suspicions he held concerning his master's and his wife's actions during the briefing from Pais.

"I wasn't thinking of telling them that we are actually already married," he replied, wondering how stupid she thought he was. "I was going to ask for permission and then I thought we could have our vows renewed here, on Coruscant."

Her frown deepened at that, and he scowled, wondering what so repellent about lying to the Council about the date of their marriage when they were already lying to them. Or was it the idea of renewing their vows that she had a problem with? Such a question only further influenced the suspicion in his mind concerning her faithfulness.

"Ani," she said quietly, her tone catching him by surprise. Emerging from his thoughts, he looked at her, struck by how small she seemed, how uncertain, as though what she was about to say next would provoke something unpleasant from him.

"We need to talk," she continued. "I have been thinking about our hasty marriage and I realise now that we should have waited, and allowed ourselves to properly judge our feelings outside of distressing shared experiences. I cannot speak for yours, but my own feelings have given me to understand that I should ask you if we can separate."

He froze, confusion overtaking all of his senses. "What do you mean?"

Her next words made it completely clear. "Anakin, I want a divorce."

A divorce!?! The word lanced through his brain, causing his heart to pound inside his chest, the sound akin to a tidal wave rushing over him. So real was the illusion his internal emotions triggered that he almost choked. His legs threatened to give way, forcing him to seek the nearest furnishings for support. But barely had he sat down when the pressure within him compelled him to rise and pace in an effort to gain some relief. He wanted to put his hands to his head, to throw his skull against the wall so the pounding inside would stop. But to do so would only invite concern from her, and she was the last person he wanted to appear vulnerable before now.

As soon as he managed to acquire breath to think, questions piled themselves upon his tormented mind. He wondered where this was coming from, what had happened on Pais to cause her to ask this of him, if Obi-Wan or someone else had forced this decision upon her, for fear of discovery or reprisals from the Jedi Council. If her affair with his master was responsible, or she had somehow found about his unfaithfulness during his trials. One by one they assembled to plague his beleaguered mind until the confusion within him was so great, that he had to ask her for answers.

"I'm tired, Ani," she replied to his inquiry. "I'm tired of the secrecy, the constant fights we have been having lately about things we shouldn't even be fighting about. I realise now that as much we might care for each other, neither of us were ready for this, nor will we be able to deal with it, even if it is made public. This marriage isn't working, and we should put an end to it now, before we come to hate each other."

So this wasn't a hasty decision of hers, he realised, as she was speaking. Her response was too eloquent, her justifications too numerous. Clearly something had happened to make her decide this, and instantly the suspicions that he had garnered from the briefing on Pais sprung to mind. "Is this because of Obi-Wan?"

To his complete surprise, she appeared confused by his inquiry. "Obi-Wan? What does he have to do with this?"

He studied her confusion, attempting to use the Force to sense her emotions, only to be frustrated by his clouded state of mind. "I saw you."

"Saw us?" She echoed, plainly confused. "What do you mean, saw us?"

"On the briefing from Pais," he replied angrily, frustrated by her attempt at confusion and his inability to divine what she was really thinking and feeling.

"I don't understand," she uttered quietly, her tone to him sounding more in fear of him discovering her true nature than continued confusion. There was a defiance there too, which further roused his temper, for how dare she be defiant about this kind of betrayal.

"Don't lie to me, you know what you were doing!" he growled back at her.

She seemed to draw breath at this, her pause sought to gain fresh strength for her denials, rather than the truth he so eagerly desired. He was almost convinced now that something had occurred, for her to be so determined in assuring him otherwise.

"There was nothing in that briefing, but words to assure the Republic of our continued commitment to peace, in spite of the sabotage," she protested. "How dare you accuse me and Obi-Wan of what you are implying. I have never been unfaithful to you, Anakin, in word, conversation or look. I simply wish to be free of your anger and constant suspicion."

"I wouldn't be so angry, if you would just stop lying to me!" he retorted. "I know what I saw. Now tell me the truth."

"You saw nothing," she persisted, as she began to back away from him, her movements only serving to further convince him of her falsity. "It is clear to me that you don't trust my word. I wish for you to leave now. All further conversation between us shall be with our lawyers, unless you can promise to restrain your temper."

His incredulity rose, she was really serious now, he could see that, if she was willing to risk discovery by involving lawyers. He had no knowledge of divorce proceedings, and the wealth of experience she seemed to convey led him to wonder how long she had been contemplating this course of action. It was all too easy with this thought to suspect their being a longer relationship between her and his former master than he had originally guessed. Yet she was taking such a risk by involving the law, even with the reforms coming to the Order. "How is this going to be kept secret if you involve lawyers?"

"Naboo is used to dealing with secrets, Anakin," he heard her say somewhat patronisingly, as if he were a youngling, barely up to speed with his letters. "How else do you suppose I was able to find a holy man willing to wed us with only droids as witnesses?"
She had this well in hand it seemed, and was refusing to be persuaded out of it. Well, he was going to frustrate her. He would have some say in this matter, nothing would stand in his way, not even her high-handed manner of dealing with him. "I don't want a divorce. How will that help?"

"You don't have a choice," she returned somewhat spitefully it seemed to his mind, her expression equally defiant. "Just more paperwork and delays."

How dare she claim that he could do nothing but stand idly by. He was a Jedi and had the ear of the Chancellor, there must be something he could do to thwart this motion. She would not be free of him during this lifetime, he would make her see that. "I'll delay as long as I possibly can, then! If I can't have you, no one else will!"

"Are you threatening me, Anakin?" she questioned loftily, as though he were taking a risk in daring to do so. Struck again by her small size, he felt all the scorn of her derision with a certain satisfaction that there was nothing she could do to resist him.

"I shall do more than that," he decided, grabbing her wrist before she could reach behind her and summon her security. Not that they stood a chance against him, how could they, mere mortals against a Jedi, but he felt it would be wise not to tempt their interference.

"Ani, you're hurting me," she protested. "Let me go."

He could not believe her, he barely felt the weight of her arm, or a move of resistance from her, wishing to be free of him. He stared down into her eyes, determined to carry through with his point. He must and would hear the truth from her. "Not until you tell me the truth, and stop declaring this ridiculous intention to divorce."

"I have been telling you the truth," she replied. "And if you continue to do this, you shall have more than a divorce from me to contend with."

"Such as?" He queried, wondering at what else she could possibly do to him.

"I shall make known your conduct to the Jedi Council," she revealed. "What you're doing now, is not true to the proper behaviour of a Jedi."

Anakin tightened his grip, feeling for the first time the frailty of her flesh, the weakness in her compared to the power his body could muster. He imagined her before the Council, the strength of her attack failing against their habitual contrariness. her words would count for nothing, for he was the Chosen One, and he would prevail. "I doubt the words of a Senator against the words of the Chosen One and the Chancellor will cause those in the Council to support your accusations."

"Perhaps," she conceded and rightfully so, "but if your grip tightens any further, I shall have evidence to support my claims over any you may wish to make."

He glanced at her arm seeing the red marks spreading from his pressure on her skin. He could and would dismiss them, after all it would only be her word against his, but he had ways of making her feel such without leaving evidence that could be counted. "Then I shall inflict injury where no evidence can be summoned."

Clenching his real free hand into a fist, he summoned the Force to his aid. The Krayt inside him shrieked exultantly as he laid an invisible choke hold upon his wife. He remembered the anger he felt during that dark night when he took that other woman to his bed, and meted out the revenge he felt now. This was his justice for her betrayal, she must and would submit, as a wife should to her husband.

Eventually he tired of the method, of the expression she sent towards him, the harsh unjust anguish framed in her face. His wrist and Force induced choke hold relinquished, she slid to the floor like a broken doll or droid. Only half aware of his actions, he struck her again, the metal arm clashing fiercely with the material of her gown. Again and again he pounded into her, fore bearing all her attempts to shield herself, striking her before she could even attempt.

Then suddenly two sets of hands strong-armed from behind, and he was hauled away from her, away from the residence, deposited outside as one would the rubbish. Before he had time to collect himself, re-entry was barred to him, the doors locked.

Part 26: A Venture into the Wilderness.

Obi-Wan roused himself from sleep to greet Anakin upon his return, as soon as word reached him through the Temple communications network he was off, out of their quarters, down the corridors and turbolifts to the hangar bay. Hardly any one else was about at this time of night, Coruscant's reflectors having dimmed some time ago. All younglings were asleep in their beds, Padawans, Knights and almost all Masters as well, though the Council were roused from theirs to receive and welcome the Chosen One home from his mission.

He reached the hangar bay in time to observe the arrival of the craft, silently admiring the smooth docking his Padawan achieved. For Anakin anything mechanical was akin to a lightsaber, an extension of his body, every nut and bolt intimately familiar. Through his apprentice his own flying had improved, though he had grown out of the recklessness he still had to lecture Anakin over on occasion.
None of that was displayed today however. The cockpit cover popped up, and with a Force aided jump, his Padawan stood before him.

"Welcome home Anakin," he murmured, genuinely delighted to see him. "Did you have a successful mission?"

"I think so, master," Anakin answered.

Obi-Wan held back a frown as his apprentice fell into pace beside him. Usually Anakin was brimming over with enthusiasm if the mission went well, eager to boast of his exploits and brief the Council over how he believed it could go better. Rarely was he uncertain of a mission's success, as he appeared to be so now. Silently he wondered what had happened to cause his apprentice to doubt himself.

As they walked down the corridors towards the turbolifts, he also noticed that Anakin kept sneaking looks at him, as if he wanted to ask him something but was afraid of his reaction. Normally his apprentice wouldn't hesitate to venture a query, indicating that something was deeply troubling his Padawan. Realising this, Obi-Wan was tempted to come to a halt and confront his apprentice directly, even though they were duty bound to present themselves before the Council, where after Anakin had offered his report on the mission, his knighting ceremony would take place. Until they entered the Council chamber he still had time to offer his Padawan some advice, if indeed it was advice that Anakin was seeking. Once knighted, the need for independence would be required.

However, Anakin rarely volunteered when something was troubling him, nor did he confide when pushed to do so. The chances of his success in discovering what was a concern were minimum. So reluctantly he made the only delay he could, slowing his pace through the corridors until they reached the turbolift, where any attempt to manage the journey would be taken out of his hands by the mechanism controlling those conical tubes.

The delaying tactics had achieved little success by the time they reached the grand central entrance foyer, from where it was just a few steps into one of the turbolifts. Anakin continued to be silent throughout the short journey within that tube to the floor of the Council chamber. Delving into the Force, Obi-Wan tried to get a sense of what his Padawan was feeling, but to no avail. Even the training bond was silent, suggesting that his apprentice was exercising a vigorous control over his inner discipline.

Coming a halt before the entrance to the Council Chamber, Obi-Wan motioned the doors apart with a wave of his hand. At last he felt something emanating from Anakin, a whisper of surprise, causing him to realise that he had not informed his apprentice of his recent elevation to the Council. Nothing he could do about that now, short of stating the obvious.

Stepping the left, he gestured for Anakin to enter before him, and then for the first time since his return he felt a measure of the old Chosen One pride appear. Understandable in the face of what was to come, every Padawan deserved to feel some degree of pride upon obtaining their knighthood. His own had been present, though muted as it was by the loss of his master, the knowledge that the Sith had made a reappearance from the shadows of history, that he had defeated of them, and the prospect of a potentially dangerous padawan to train.

He followed his pupil inside, standing behind him as was customary for the debrief of a Padawan's trials, bowing deferentially to the masters present, who acknowledged their arrival with a nod. His empty seat would be moved into the chamber when the ceremony was over.

After the acknowledgement of their arrival, Anakin began his debriefing of the mission. Obi-Wan listened carefully to the details, for the trial missions usually remained confidential between Padawan and council until the former returned to receive judgement. This was supposed to allow for impartiality on the side of the master, so they could submit their apprentice forward for promotion with a clear conscience. He was surprised by how routine the mission sounded; domestic trade negotiations between a planetary council and a mining family. Something which should have been below the purview of a Jedi, even a Padawan on his trials.

If he was a cynical being, he would have suspected someone within political circles had done some manoeuvring in order to gift Anakin this plush assignment. Even though the Council operated sole control over what and who they dealt with, usually attempts were made to resolve the matters through other means, such as the Senate or local governments. The right word in the right ear could easily manipulate events so a matter became a Jedi concern. Masters had even been known to employ such underhanded methods in order to ensure such an alternative to prevent something unsavoury from becoming public knowledge.

Then again, considering the assignments he and Anakin were usually entrusted to handle, perhaps the banal was a useful lesson, teaching him that nothing was below the Chosen One's notice, and life in the Order was not always an exciting matter of life or death. He wondered how Anakin had reacted to the mission on first hearing, how he had dealt with the delicate art of diplomacy, not usually one of his strengths. Certainly nothing was betrayed through his manner whilst he delivered the briefing. His voice was monotone, the words unambiguous, his meaning succinct. Perhaps these weeks apart, and time spent learning the dangerous saber skills of the Vaapad form of combat had done Anakin some good.

When Anakin came to the end of his debriefing, Obi-Wan delved into the Force where he could hear the thoughts of the Council. Only recently had been granted the privilege of accessing such a level within the Order, though in this instant he was not allowed to lend his voice to judgement, only to submit his apprentice to theirs. Receiving the reply he expected, for he had been told by Yoda and Mace that this mission was merely a formality for the padawan's knight before they assigned Anakin to carry it out, he emerged from the Force and placed his hand on the boy's shoulder.

"I humbly submit my Padawan learner for the ceremony of knighthood, masters," he uttered, before applying pressure to his clasp, motioning Anakin into a kneeling position.

The Council rose from their seats to gather around the crouching apprentice. Motioned by one of them through the Force, the lights within the chamber darkened, clothing them in the symbolic darkness which was required for the ceremony.

"Jedi we all are," Master Yoda remarked. "Speaks through us, the Force does. Through our actions, and what is real, proclaims itself it does. Here to acknowledge what the Force has proclaimed, today we are." He ignited his lightsaber and placed it in a hover above Anakin's shoulders as he continued. "By the right of the Council, by the will of the Force, Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight of the Republic, I dub thee."

Obi-Wan ignited his own saber, and applied the blade to the Padawan braid he had first given his apprentice on Naboo, ten years ago. A smell of burnt feathers permeated the room, the plaited strands of hair falling silently to the floor.

"Take up your lightsaber, Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight," Master Windu instructed. "And may the Force be with you."

Anakin rose to his feet and ignited his blade, raising the weapon to the heavens. Obi-Wan followed suit, allowing a smile to form in recognition of the great achievement which his apprentice had just earned.

One by one the blades were extinguished and the lights restored. Obi-Wan blinked, letting his pupils adjust, and found his now former apprentice had left. There was something vaguely ominous in the manner of his parting, as though it foretold of a future darkness. Shaking the feeling away, he turned to his colleagues, finding that his chair had suddenly appeared. Feeling somewhat self-conscious, he assumed his seat, though a quick glance showed no one was observing him.

When all the Council members were seated, another door opened, from the corridor which led to the private meditation chambers, the ones that were reserved for Council members, or privileged masters. And in this case, former ones too, Obi-Wan noted, as Count Dooku walked into the chamber.

"Masters," the scion of Serenno greeted them, with a nod to the pupil of his pupil.

"Requested a temporary asylum, Count Dooku has," Yoda informed the Council at large, gesturing at his former initiate with a slight motion of his gimer stick.

"Has the Count committed some crime on Serenno?" Plo Koon asked, his tone inviting some source of amusement amongst the Council.

Dooku shook his head, his manner deferential. "Recent events have given me a desire to seek your counsel masters, and that of the Force. I was uncertain of which side I would hear if I chose asylum elsewhere."

"Immune to the dark side, the Temple is not," Yoda pointed out.

"I am aware of that, Master Yoda," Count Dooku replied. "Nevertheless, here I have the protection of the Order, should the Jedi chose to grant me such a privilege."

"Do you need our protection in any other matter?" Master Ki-Adi-Mundi inquired.

"I do not believe so, Masters," Count Dooku responded.

Mace Windu turned to the Grand Master. "Have you fulfilled your desire for further conversation with the Count, Master Yoda?"

"Learned all he wishes to tell, I have," Yoda answered. "A decision on this matter, I have already reached. Your counsel, wish to hear I do."

Obi-Wan delved into the that special level of the Force where the Council debated, feeling the presence and thoughts of his fellow colleagues. All were naturally cautious on allowing a man who had been responsible for the death of many Jedi to stay within the Temple walls, and enjoy the protection of the Order. But there was also present a Force aided overwhelming feeling that the Count's stay could prove useful, whether or not their doubts continued to remain unfounded. This was doubtless the conclusion which Master Yoda had reached.

"Reached agreement the Council has," Master Yoda stated when the members emerged from the Force and returned to the chamber once more. "An asylum we grant you."

Count Dooku bowed. "Thank you, masters." He said before exiting the room.

"And now, we will discuss the reforms to the Order regarding attachment," Mace Windu began. "Master Yoda has given us time to become accustomed to these rules. I take it that there are no objections to establishing them?"

"With due respect, Master Windu, I believe they are already practised," Obi-Wan remarked. "After all, who among us can claim to feel nothing when training a Padawan?"

"Excellent point, Master Kenobi makes," Yoda mused. "Agreement have we all reached?"

There was a positive answer within the Force, and the Grand Master tapped his gimer stick on the floor to indicate that the matter was resolved and meeting at an end. One by one the masters rose and slowly departed from the chamber, heading for their quarters.
Obi-Wan walked the short distance from the entrance of the Council Chamber to the turbolift, keying in the control for the quarters he shared with Anakin. Silently he waited for the tube to descend, contemplating how the rest of the Order would take to the new attachment rules, preparing himself to handle his former Padawan's reaction to them.

Anakin would be a mixture of smugness at being proved right, and anger at being denied the opportunity to attach himself before, namely to Padmé. For a moment he wondered too how Senator Amidala felt about that. She seemed to have forgiven him for his interference, but her feelings for his Padawan were more difficult to determine. On Geonosis and immediately after, when she fought to get access to him in the Temple halls of healing, her feelings were clear, but during their time together on Pais, the emotions were muted. As though her affections had changed, or lessened.

Exiting the turbolift, he crossed the grand lobby to another row of them, which accessed the corridors to the living quarters. Keying in the floor reserved for Masters and Padawans, he stood still once more, waiting for the tube to ascend.

He found himself puzzled by what he could sense of Padmé's feelings during their time together on Pais. Before she had seemed so certain in her attachment to Anakin, so determined to defy the Code which the Order lived by, almost flouting it in his face. But on Pais her manner had changed completely. She was reserved, anxious to be forgiven for the harsh words which had passed between them before she returned home, until summoned back to the Senate. Certainly he regretted much of what he had said to her, forced into the visit as he had been by Master Yoda. But her defiance had been such that he was surprised to see it so easily assuaged, their friendship restored, even strengthened.

As he reached the door to his and Anakin's quarters, his thoughts still dwelled on the nature of her affections, so much so that it took some time before the alteration of his surroundings penetrated his notice. When it did, he halted upon the threshold of his former Padawan's room in surprise. He had not expected to be confronted with bare walls and furnishings, devoid of occupancy. Not even the evidence of the previous resident, his late Master, Qui-Gon Jinn, remained to give him comfort.

Feeling bereft, he stood there for some time, a part of him unable to take the emptiness in. No note, no stray piece of possession could be found. It was as if he had never had a Padawan, or a Master. The room felt alien to him, uninhabited, devoid of any form of matter or substance to which he could claim a kinship.

When at last he could turn away, it was not by choice. Other needs prevailed through the method of a beeping sound emanating from the com device. Recollecting himself, he crossed the quarters to the desk on which it was located, keyed in his access code, and waited for the representation of the being who wanted to speak to him to materialise upon the holo pad.

"Bail," he greeted in surprise when the familiar form of the Senator from Alderaan came into shape. "What can I do for you at this hour?"

"I was wondering if you could come and see me," Bail replied. "I hope I have not disturbed you?"

"I've just come from a Council meeting," Obi-Wan explained. "I can be over in a few minutes."

"I'll see you then," Bail replied, before signing off.

Obi-Wan stared at the empty screen for a moment, wondering what was troubling his newly acquired friend from the Senate. He seemed to be collecting politicians. Then he keyed in to check his messages, before accessing the accommodations department. Within a few minutes his questions were answered. There was a new apartment waiting for him, a privilege granted to Council members. Ascertaining its location, he made use of another honour, and requisitioned for a squad of domestic droids to transfer his belongings. Finally he keyed in the code which allowed for his communications to be transferred to the device awaiting for him in his new apartment.

With one last glance at the empty rooms, he exited the quarters and headed for the hangar bay once more, where he took an airspeeder and plunged into the night traffic of Coruscant, heading for Five Hundred Republica.

"They call themselves the Friends of the Republic," Bail began once he had welcomed Obi-Wan into his apartment, seen to their needs for refreshment, then quartered themselves in the understated luxury of his living room at Cantham House. "They first contacted me a little over four years ago. At time the Alderaan government was in negotiations with Chandrila for a join mining venture on Aridus. My wife's family has connections to the Corporate Sector, and some of those connections were involved with the project. The information provided by this group helped avert a diplomatic and humanitarian disaster that would have engulfed not only Alderaan and Chandrila, but several other key Republic systems as well."

"And they did so because they are friends of the Republic?" Obi-Wan queried with a considering frown.

"And because they would have been directly impacted by the resulting scandal if the mining venture had been allowed to continue as planned," Bail added.

"In other words they were motivated by personal gain," Obi-Wan translated.

"I don't deny that enlightened self-interest was a factor," Bail allowed. "But its also true that many lives and many livelihoods were saved by their intervention." He shrugged. "After all, self preservation isn't a crime."

"And they assumed you would also act out of enlightened self-interest?" Obi-Wan mused aloud.

"They gambled that even if I wasn't motivated by doing the right thing, I'd use all my political power to avoid a scandal that would damage my House," Bail replied. "But even if doing the right thing had meant exposing my family and connections to censure, then I would not have hesitated. Many lives were on the line."

Obi-Wan nodded as he searched his memory for details about this narrowly averted disaster. "Not that I doubt you, Bail, I don't recall hearing anything about this."

"It was handled at the highest diplomatic levels, with the utmost discretion. If the details had leaked, we'd still be mopping up the political fallout today." Bail paused before continuing. "Since then, these Friends of the Republic have proven themselves five more times after our initial encounter. They were matters of internal Alderaan security," he added, refraining from going into detail, and Obi-Wan respected his right to privacy regarding such matters. "They also have informed me of the details concerning the truth behind the order of the clone army, and that Count Dooku was responsible for the injuries you and your Padawan endured on Geonosis."

Obi-Wan's frown deepened. "That would indicate that their resources are immeasurable and their pockets deep. How does your arrangement with these people work? Do you meet with them?"

"No," Bail replied with a shake of his head. "I've never seen or spoken to them. Their communications are text-based and encrypted. Coded messages sent in shortburst over a secure link they gave me at the time of the Aridus situation. And I can't contact them. They don't work for me. If they learn of something they think I should know about, they tell me."

"And what is they have warned you about that is so serious you have taken the risk of confiding in me about their existence?" Obi-Wan asked.

"A warning of a Sith plot to destroy the Jedi," Bail revealed. "Mention of a planet called Zigoola, followed by a series of coordinates which will eventually lead to its location where they will meet with us. An express request that I inform someone within the Order about the danger."

Obi-Wan leaned backwards into the confines of the furnishings, steepling his fingers together to stroke his beard in deep thought. "Zigoola," he mused, remembering the last time he learned of a planet which he had never heard of before. "I can't say I've ever heard of it."

"Neither have I," Bail replied. "I daren't risk searching the Senate archives, but I presume that those of the Order will be more reliable and discreet."

"Perhaps," Obi-Wan allowed. "But they have been tampered with before." He rose from the chair to pace a little. "Did they give you a timeframe as to the meeting?"

Bail shook his head. "I have taken the usual precautions of memorising and then destroying all record of the message." He paused, studying his friend's face. "What will you do now?"

"I'll need to talk with Master Yoda," Obi-Wan replied as he came to a halt before the Senator. "Possibly also with a contact of my own who has helped me in past with locating hitherto mysterious and unknown planets. If I can, I will inform you of what action we take. But be aware, this is now a Jedi affair."

"I understand," Bail assured him. "Shall I prepare a ship?"

Obi-Wan nodded. "That is a insightful question. While we are being such, I suspect you will hear from me within an hour or so, with instructions to meet. Until then, Bail."

"Good day, Obi-Wan," Bail returned before seeing him out.

It was fortuitous perhaps that Count Dooku was with Master Yoda when Obi-Wan returned to the Temple. Joining the Grand Master and his companion in the former's private meditation chamber, he briefly related the situation to them both

"A disturbing development this is," Yoda mused.

"If you'll forgive me, Master Yoda, disturbing is an understatement," Count Dooku added. "I know of Zigoola. The planet is a Sith haven, concealed from the Order by Sidious for decades. Only he would have allowed Senator Organa's friends to learn of its existence."

Obi-Wan turned to him. "Has Sidious infiltrated this group?"

"Yes," Dooku admitted. "Until now he has only been monitoring their activity, waiting for the moment when he can use something to ruin the Senator. Now he may wish to kill two mynocks with one stone."

"A trap for the Jedi and for the Senate, you believe this is," Yoda murmured. "Right you may be. But ignore this information, we cannot."

"I agree, Masters," Dooku assured them. "However, if I might venture to suggest whoever you send on this mission takes some precautions?"

"What precautions do you have in mind?" Obi-Wan inquired.

"A companion, immune to the Force. Not a squad of clone troopers," Dooku demurred, "though doubtless they would be useful," he allowed, "but such an assignment would attract undesired attention. A trained medic on standby would be advisable, and a the use of a Ysalamiri on a nutrient frame would be equally vital, so as to protect the Jedi from the affects of the dark side."

Yoda nodded thoughtfully. "All necessary requirements, I agree. Take it I do, that no one but to Senator Organa will these sources talk?"

Obi-Wan inclined his head in response. "Yes, Master."

"Then proceed he and Master Kenobi, will, on this dangerous mission," Yoda decided.

Such announcement did not take Obi-Wan by surprise. After all, he had all but accepted it the moment Bail first informed him. Nor was the company of Senator Organa unwelcome, but it did lend an added risk to the mission that they could have otherwise done without.

Rising from his seat, Obi-Wan bowed to Count Dooku and Master Yoda, then exited the meditation chamber. Stopping by his newly acquired apartment, he collected a few necessities, then called on the halls of healing, where a medic was already waiting with a nutrient frame on hand. Assessing the creature upon it, Obi-Wan silently wondered what his friend would make of the animal.

After receiving general instructions as to the Ysalamiri's care, Obi-Wan took a deep breath and mounted the animal about his shoulders. The effect was instantaneous. Within seconds the Force was gone from him, a physical blow that, had he not been prepared for it, would have doubtless crippled him. Crossing to the com device, he sent a message to the Senator, asking him to go to the hangar bay with his ship.

After the healer had stocked his backpack with a few medical supplies not normally included in the usual first aid kit assigned to all Jedi during field missions, Obi-Wan bowed in gratitude and headed for the hangar bay.

Part 27: Cleansing Herself of His Wounds.

When Padmé came to, she found herself abed, a sheet covering her, concealing her injuries, but not erasing their existence from the concerned gaze of her security who hovered over her. Soldier and Handmaiden, they regarded her with kindly eyed glances, ones that despite their intentions conveyed reproachfulness nonetheless. She felt ashamed of herself. She had forgotten the principles in which she had been raised. She had been untrue to her nature, the unyielding stubbornness within her.

Below the sheet her skin was burning, raw from the damage he had done. A med droid had attempted to relieve some of the pain she noticed from the slight numbness she felt, along with the sense that she had been sedated for a brief period after she passed out. Nothing had been done to remove the bruising however. She need not query that, she knew why such methods were prevented from being induced. To make sure she would not yield to the temptation of pretence or conceal the evidence from the divorce proceedings that would follow. Ones which, if she didn't initiate, her security most assuredly would.

First however, there was something much more pressing which she needed to establish. "Where is Anakin?"

Captain Typho's face was grim. "My agents ejected him from the building, milady. I have taken the liberty of changing the access codes and barring him from further admittance to this apartment. Shall I do anything with the droid?"

Threepio. She had forgotten about him until now. Anakin had given him to her after Geonosis, when she bestowed upon him Artoo, whom she would really like back, as she dreaded trusting him with the droid who had done so much for her during the Blockade of Naboo. Even though Threepio was entirely innocent of the damage done by his master, she shrank from the mere notion of seeing the golden protocol droid just now. "If you could make sure he no longer deals with visitors, I'll see him when I am ready. If you are able to go to the Temple and retrieve Artoo, I would be most grateful, Captain."

Typho bowed before her. "It shall be done, milady. Anything else?"

Well, that was pointed, but then her security were not known for their subtlety. Infact she was surprised that they hadn't chosen to inform her lawyers of Anakin's actions already. "Contact my lawyers and instruct them to initiate divorce proceedings. Emphasise the need for discretion and speed."

"I will take care of that for you, milady," Dormé informed her.

"What of the Senate?" she asked next. "Has my absence been noted?"

"Senator Organa and Master Kenobi left a message for you," Dormé replied. "We have heard since from the Temple that Master Kenobi is on a mission, and from Minala that Senator Organa has taken some leave. We have said that you were invited to the women's retreat on Chandrila."

A good cover. The retreat was a highly diplomatic function and it was considered a great honour to be invited. No communication with the outside was permitted. It would serve to explain her absence until she was well enough to return to work. Minala Lodilyn was Bail's very efficient personal assistant, who was just as dedicated to the Senate as her employer. Silently she wondered about the nature of their messages, why they had both chosen to call her before leaving, but until she was ready to face them, that was something which would have to remain a mystery.

"Thank you both," She instead said to Captain Typho and Dormé. Carefully, she held out her hands for both of them to take hold of. "And please, don't blame yourselves for what has happened. It was my own fault, and Anakin's. No one else's."

Soldier and handmaiden nodded, though their expressions as to whether their mistress should blame herself remained dubious. With a final squeeze of her fingers, they parted from her side to do the jobs she had asked of them.

Alone Padmé took a deep breath before lifting aside the linen sheet. Her survey of the bruise was grim viewing. She flinched from the ghastly contrast between her typically pale skin, and the myriad of purple shades within the large bruise that covered one side of her slim waist. A spectrum ranging from light in the outer rim to the five dark circles within the core, where the fingers of his artificial hand had thundered across her body.

It would be some time before the injury faded from view, and before she no longer felt the pain of its existence. In time the memory would add itself to that cause, preying on her emotions, her ability to function. She had to harness her inner strength, that innate, often wilful stubbornness of hers, endure and survive. This could not be allowed to happen again, with or without the protection of her security, though she doubted that Captain Typho would let her out of his sight for some time to come.

In the meantime, Dormé would return soon with news from her lawyers. She had to prepare herself to speak with them, and that meant rising from her bed. Pressing her elbows into the mattress, she bent her legs towards herself before pressing them down, the spring within the motion of the movement helping her to rise. Sitting up, she drew in a breath from her diaphragm cautiously, testing the extent of the injury. Her body protested, but it was a pain she must and could endure. Rising from the bed, she walked into her fresher, and disrobed before stepping into a shower. The shearing heat of the water caused her bruise to sting, but apart from that, she was able to cleanse herself physically of his touch.

When she was done, she surveyed the bruise in the mirror, carefully pressing her fingers across the rims of colour, noting how much pressure each could handle. She would have to avoid embracing friends and visitors for a while. Hopefully she would be able to compensate for the absence of her usually tactile nature. She reached out to the small cabinet beside the mirror, and retrieved a box of bacta patches, which were covered with a layer of synthetic skin and minuscule perforated air holes, designed to allow the wound to breathe while it recovered under the bacta's healing properties. Withdrawing one of the large ones, she applied the bacta to her bruise.

Grimly she surveyed the results of her concealment within the mirror. Synthetic skinned patches were the most refined of the bacta treatments, sourced from a physician whom she had seen concerning Anakin's arm, exploring the possibility of concealing the artificial limb from view. Doubtless her soon to be ex-husband would have thrown a fit if he had learned of her squeamishness, but the doctor had cautioned her on their practicability for such a task, so she had never mentioned the possibility to him. Besides it was not squeamishness, it was born out of a concern for him, so he would not have the daily sight of the servos, the gleaming metal to remind him of what he had become. A overly symbolic shallow perception perhaps, but one she had thought might have mattered to him.

Now they would be used for their proper purpose, and she felt no guilt for doing so. Until she had dealt with her lawyers and come to a resolution regarding whether to inform the Jedi Council of Anakin's actions, she needed them so her body could heal. With one last final look, she exited the 'fresher and turned to her wardrobe, selecting from her generous supply of clothes a garment she felt comfortable in, but was 'dressy' enough for dealing with her lawyers, as well as a section of fastenings positioned over her abdomen, so she would be able to show them the extent of her injury, granting them sufficient cause to override any objections her soon to be ex-husband would have.

Dressed, she entered her living room, where another surprise greeted her, that of an inert Threepio, propped up against one of the walls.

"I didn't mean for Typho to shut him down," she cried out to Dormé, who left the com desk as soon as she heard the tone of her mistress's voice.

"He didn't, milady," her handmaiden informed her.

"Then who did?" Padmé asked as she crouched down before the golden protocol droid, her hand reaching out to the power switch.

"I'm not sure, milady," Dormé answered. "We found him like this."

"Oh, hello, Mistress Padmé," Threepio uttered at that moment, turning their attention to him. "Dear me, what I am doing here?"

"Hello, Threepio," Padmé uttered, finding herself strangely calm, considering she had flinched from talking to the protocol droid only half an hour ago. "Can you tell me what happened to you?"

"I remember Master Ani greeting me," he replied. "He told me that he wanted to surprise you." His photoreceptors flickered as he glanced around the room. "Oh I say, is it morning already? I'm terribly sorry, Mistress Padmé."

"Its quite alright, Threepio," she assured him, helping him to his feet, rising to her own at the same time. Her injury protested at the motion, causing a hand to go to her waist, while at the same time her mind reminded herself that in the future she must restrain such natural impulses so her distress was not noted by those she wished to remain ignorant.

"Oh dear, Mistress Padmé, are you alright?" Threepio asked. "I'm so dreadfully sorry if I have injured you."

"Don't worry, Threepio, it wasn't you," Padmé replied. "Threepio, I want you to promise me something, okay?"

"Well, of course, Mistress Padmé, anything," Threepio answered.

"This promise will mean refusing Anakin admittance into my company and my residences from now on," she cautioned. "Will you still be able to obey?"

"But, Mistress Padmé, Master Ani is my maker, and your husband," Threepio exclaimed. Then he caught the look on her face. "Oh my, did he..." Threepio paused, but it was obvious that he had made the connection. "I am so terribly sorry, Mistress Padmé. Of course, I will tell him he is not allowed to see you."

"Thank you, Threepio," Padmé replied, feeling quite touched. It seemed her misgivings were for naught, as the droid had surprised her once more. Like Artoo, he was more than a machine, he seemed so compassionate and understanding, as though he knew exactly what Anakin hid from the world. She could trust him to do what he had always done for her, especially since she realised who was responsible for switching him off.

"Milady, your lawyers are waiting for you," Dormé declared at this moment.

Padmé thanked her handmaiden, then followed her into the area off her apartment's living room, where the desk that held the com lay. Carefully, she sat herself down, and prepared for the next difficult conversation.

Surprisingly, the conversation with her lawyers was not as bad as she had prepared and persuaded herself into thinking it would be. Quietly they listened to her plight, deferentially asked to see and record the evidence; - whereupon she posed for holo-imaging and promised to send what findings the med-droid had diagnosed - then assured her that they had set proceedings in motion, and she would hear from them in due course.

After that Padmé dealt with the messages she had been left, attending to the ones from Bail and Obi-Wan first. To her astonishment, she discovered that the message Minala had left was a ruse; the Senator and the Jedi were on a fact-finding mission together, the details of which they would brief her with, if they could, when they returned. She felt guilty that she hadn't been available for them when they called and worried as to whether her absence had in turn caused them some concern.

But as much as she would like to spent some time wrestling with her conscience, at present, time was one thing she didn't have. Putting aside her wonderings concerning where and how Bail and Obi-Wan were in the same place as her feelings on what Anakin had done to her, Padmé turned to the rest of the messages left from her colleagues, friends and family, as well as the work she missed in the Senate. To her relief the peace treaty had been ratified; her personal assistant Sovi was kind enough to deliver her vote via proxy; she could put her signature to the ratification whenever she was ready to return to work. As for everything else that the Senate called flimsiwork, she spent the rest of the day ploughing her way through it.

When her com was blank screen instead of the line upon line of Aurabesh, she shut the device off and leaned back in her chair, her hands reaching to massage what kinks she could out of her body. At last her mind could return to the events which had first preoccupied her conscious when she woke this morning.

In fact it was all too easy to recall that she had been sitting here when her husband walked into her apartment. Days may have passed between that night and this, but what met her gaze was no different. The view Coruscant which this room in her apartment gave out still looked the same through the transparisteel before her. The apartment was still quiet, almost devoid of people, though she knew if she got up she would soon find Dormé, and Threepio in the kitchen, hopefully with Captain Typho and Artoo. Her security had not informed her of his return, let alone if he had been successful in his retrieval mission, but Typho was operating under her usual instructions of not disturbing her until she was finished running her little corner of the galaxy, the same policy she had in place that night.

Rebuking herself for her timidity but still using the caution anyway, she glanced at the open entrance leading from the living room to where she sat. It was all too easy to imagine Anakin's form appearing upon the threshold, welcoming her home. She recalled when she had first moved into this neighbourhood, objecting to the status value which it garnered, letting herself be persuaded by Anakin, Captain Typho, Bail and Palpatine that it was a wise move to ensure her safety. Despite her misgivings, she had conceded to their assurances, for Five Hundred Republica was one of the safest districts on Coruscant.

But now that safety had been compromised, by one of the people who had convinced her of it in the first place. Yet she couldn't move. If she did, it would mean she was afraid of Anakin, and it would be all too easy for him to find the new address even if she wanted to. However, there were risks in staying here. While it prevented questions being asked, it did not prevent the possibility of her husband's ability to bypass the security codes and breach her quarters once more. Nor did it prevent her from being reminded of what he did, but then she doubted a new place would erase those memories either.

There was of course the easy option; she could tell the Jedi Council of what he had done. She didn't have to mention that she and Anakin had broken the Code, she could just tell them of the injury. But that in turn would cause difficulties, not just for Anakin, but for herself and the Jedi Order. Thanks to Palpatine, Anakin was one of the most recognisable faces of the Order. If his violence became public, it would damage the Order's reputation of protecting the Republic. Certain secrets might have to be admitted, such as the existence of the Sith, and how vulnerable the Jedi were to such transformations.

Yet, should she really keep silent? This was not Anakin's first act of violence; the massacre of the Tusken Raiders proved that he was capable of inflicting more damage, that murder did not trouble his conscience if it meant vengeance. She knew well what the Code said; once a Jedi started down the dark path, to the ways of the Sith they would fall. And Anakin was a powerful Jedi, if he fell to the Sith, he would pose an even greater risk to the Republic and the Order.

But would telling the Order only accelerate his fall, or had he fallen already? That was the question which she needed to resolve. And Padmé couldn't find an answer, not without asking another Jedi, which would cause them to ask why she was inquiring within the first place. Nor could she raise the subject with Obi-Wan, as he would realise to whom she was alluding to. She could not allow him to blame himself for Anakin's own choices. And he may have his own evidence with which to find hers convincing by; for the incident on Tatooine and the violence visited upon herself cannot have been all, as she had once thought.

So, from a certain point of view, she had answered her concerns. The Order could not be informed of Anakin's actions. Not until she was sure that telling them would protect him from becoming an even greater risk to the Jedi. Which would mean that if she was ever in public with Anakin, she would have to pretend that things were fine.

And that was going to take a considerable strength of resolve.

Days passed, and slowly, her injury began to heal, allowing her to move about without showing visible signs of pain.

When such healing was realised, Padmé knew she had to return to work. Thanks to the connections she had made with Chandrila, she was familiar with the length of the retreat and it would soon end. Allowing for travel time from the planet back to Coruscant, she had a deadline to resume her duties, though the thought of going outside filled her with dread.

Such fears had to be overcome however, as she needed to return to work, and to prove to herself that what Anakin had done was not going to rule the rest of her life. So she braved the sights outside her apartment, with Captain Typho and his security team discreetly following her at all times. Outwardly she tried to appear that she wasn't flinching from the sight of everyone and everything, only those who took the trouble to look could discover that something was wrong.

Gradually her fears were conquered, and she returned to her normally busy schedule, taking over the chair of the committee meetings from which Bail was still absent. Privately she worried about him and Obi-Wan, for she knew that the longer they stayed away the more dangerous the mission they were on was likely to be. But she could not make her concerns public for it would invite unwelcome questions. Nor could she make a trip to the Temple without the possibility of running into her soon to be ex-husband.

Anakin. Since the night of the attack, she hadn't seen him. Oh, she knew he was still on the planet, for her security were keeping a close eye on him, while her lawyers dealt with his resistance to the divorce on an almost daily basis. His refusal was staunch, but so were her solicitors and in the end, thanks to Nubian law, she knew which side would prevail. She was fortunate not have had direct dealings with him, but a part of her was aware that such a possibility might be inevitable, for the Jedi were never isolated from the running of the Republic.

Something she was reminded of when Threepio alerted her to a visit from the Grand Master of the Order at half-past three one morning.

"Regret this intrusion I do, Senator Amidala," Yoda began once she had emerged from her bedroom to join him in her living area, "but on urgent business I have come."

Hoping that this was about Bail and Obi-Wan rather than anything to do with Anakin, Padmé nodded. "I gathered as much, Master Yoda, given the hour."

Yoda leant on his gimer stick as he continued. "A favour I would ask of you, Senator. Should you agree, in your debt would the Jedi Order be."

She smiled at that, though inwardly she knew that the reverse was true. "There can never be talk of debts between us, Master Yoda. What do you need me to do?"

"Word I have received from Obi-Wan Kenobi," Yoda revealed, to her relief. "Stranded he is with Senator Organa, on a planet called Zigoola."

She was glad to hear such news, though not as to them being stranded, but being alive. She had been so worried about them. "They're alright?"

Yoda nodded. "They live, but they have no ship, and send a Jedi to rescue them, I cannot. A Sith planet, Zigoola is."
Immediately her fears doubled. A Sith planet! What on Naboo were they doing investigating a Sith planet!? She longed to ask, but knew now was not the time for such a question. Doubtless she would learn what she needed to know when she rescued them, for that was what she suspected Yoda was asking her to do. "I take it then you'd like me to fetch them, Master Yoda?"

"Yes," the Grand Master confirmed. "The reason for my visit that is. To ask for your assistance in this sensitive matter."

"Of course I'll assist you," she promised immediately, knowing that it would be simple to ensure her staff took care of business while she was absent once again. At least this time she was doing something worthwhile. "Always. Whenever and however I can."

"In danger from the Sith you will not be, Senator Amidala," Master Yoda informed her solemnly. "Deserted the planet is, save for Master Kenobi and Senator Organa. However clone troops I will send with you. In Wild Space is Zigoola. A dangerous destination and from home a long way."

Clone troops? Immediately she wondered how badly Bail and Obi-Wan were hurt. Part of the genetic coding from Kamino included medical expertise, and as it was a Sith planet the Order could not send a dedicated Jedi healer. Nor could they send anyone else within the Senate, for aside from her and the Chancellor, no one was else was aware of the re-emergence of the Sith. "Of course, Master Yoda. The Royal yacht's one of the fastest ships on Coruscant, and its ready to fly at a moment's notice. At top speed the clones and I will be there before Bail and Obi-Wan know it. Do you have the coordinates?"

Yoda handed her a data crystal. "Plotted on here the fastest course is, Senator. Follow it, and avoid trouble you will," he answered. "Also on it are life-sign signatures for Master Kenobi and Senator Organa. Easy that will make finding them, I think. The clone troops I will send at once to your private spaceport."

Once again she was touched by Yoda's concern and thoroughness. While he was evidently worried for Obi-Wan and Bail, he was also aware of her safety. "Master Yoda, I will bring Obi-Wan home to you, safe and well. On that you have my solemn word."

Relief touched the Grand Master's features. "Thank you, Padmé. Upon me you must call if ever a service for you I can perform."

Oh, if only she could call on him to solve the dilemma of Anakin. But that was her own concern for now. "I'll remember that, Master Yoda."

Part 28: Perspectives.

"All right, Senator!" Captain Korbel called up to her. "You're good to go."

Padmé leapt to the top of the ramp, and came to a stuttered halt in the hatchway. Bail was standing at its base, waiting for her.
He looked appalling.

"Senator Amidala," his voice greeted her, as he tried to perform a courtly bow. It made an odd contrast to the ragged clothes which he wore and the dirtiness of his appearance, as well as the gaunt pallor his body had acquired.

Aware of her Senatorial dignity with the presence of the clone troops formed below her, she descended the ramp to meet him. She wanted to hug him, but she was afraid she would cause him more injury than he was currently visibly suffering.

"Senator Organa," she returned his greeting instead. "I understand you need a lift."

Bail attempted to laugh, but his voice cracked and she could see he was breathing hard. At last he replied, "Only if you're going my way. I wouldn't like to put you to any trouble."

"No. No trouble," she answered. "There might be a small fee... Oh, Bail." She dropped her attempts at banter and hugged him.

"I'm sorry," he muttered as he returned the embrace. "I stink."

Somehow she sensed he was apologising for more than just how he smelt. "You're alive. Where's Obi-Wan?"

"Hello, Padmé," another cracked voice greeted her then, just as Bail released her from his embrace. "Riding to the rescue again."

If Bail's appearance had caused her concern, with Obi-Wan it was magnified tenfold. He hobbled towards her, his clothes in tatters, his face smeared with dirt, his skin mottled with injuries, the most severe of which was hidden from her view by makeshift bandages wrapped around his right thigh. About his shoulders she could see a strange creature attached to a nutrient frame, who did not seem content with his ride, or his surroundings, as every now and again he or she hissed at them both.

"Obi-Wan," she whispered, tears slipping down her face, forgetting to hide how deeply she had come to care for this particular Jedi.

He embraced her too, though there was a distance within him, as though he was keeping himself in check, protecting her from the true extent of his suffering. "Its not as bad as it appears, Padmé."

"Not as bad as it appears!" she echoed with incredulity. "Let's start with the most obvious, shall we? What happened to your leg?"

A glance was exchanged between him and Bail, a peculiarly complicated one, which she wondered at, before the Jedi Master replied. "Its nothing. Truly. A lightsaber mishap."

She remembered the last time that had served as an explanation; Geonosis, when Dooku almost crippled him before dismembering Anakin. "Again?"

"At the risk of being pushy, Padmé, I really want to get the vape off this rock," Bail said then. "So can we.... you know... go?"

"Of course," she replied, but not before sending them a look to make sure that they both knew that this conversation wasn't over.

With help from the clone troops, they climbed on board her ship, and she followed them inside. A careful tenderness from Captain Korbel and his team was employed as the troops installed the Senator and Jedi in the quarters of her yacht.

"I'll get us out of here," she uttered, allowing herself to lightly touch Obi-Wan's cheek with her hand before she left them to the care of the medics.

Only when the course was laid and the ship had entered hyperspace did she return to the quarters. Muffled voices waylaid her upon the threshold.

"Well," she heard Bail say. "Is it coming back?"

A long silence seemed to pass before she heard Obi-Wan reply. "Yes."

"See?" Bail said, the reproof gentled by his tone. "I told you the Sith couldn't stop you being a Jedi. Not forever, anyway."

"Yes you did," Obi-Wan replied in a choked tone, the like of which she had only witnessed once before, when she came to in his arms after the explosion on Pais. No words were exchanged between them, but none had been needed, for what he was feeling then had been clearly displayed upon his face.

More conversation passed between Bail and Obi-Wan, but while Padmé forced herself to forget the words, though she couldn't forget the sentiment which she descried behind them. Evidently the friendship which had begun on Pais was now deepened thanks to whatever had occurred on Zigoola. And she was glad of that, for she dread to think what might await Obi-Wan at the Temple concerning Anakin. He was a good Jedi, and though he might not be aware of it, Anakin could rarely hide anything from him.
Privately and guiltily, she wondered how long their own friendship would last once he divined what was wrong.

"Padmé." She roused herself from her thoughts to find Bail standing before her.

"Obi-Wan's not the only one who needs first aid," she reminded him. "We've got six medics on board, remember. One of them is yours."

"That sounds good," he replied with a nod. "But I would just like to sit here for a while first. Can we just sit, do you think?"

"Of course," she said gently. "And if you want to talk, I'm here."

"Not now," he answered. "Maybe later."

She patted his arm. "Anytime, my friend."

Not quite a week had passed before Obi-Wan could avail himself with routine. His healer, Vokara Che, had only just released him from the halls of healing three days ago, with strict instructions not to tire himself or to step beyond the walls of the Temple precinct. The warning was as effective as an Geonosisan containment field. Within minutes of him settling his body under one of the fountains in the Temple's lush arboretum, Master Yoda had accosted his peace of mind with a reminder that he had yet to brief the Council about his experiences on Zigoola.

The Sith artefacts had occupied them whilst he was recovering. Due to Count Dooku's knowledge of the planet and the precautions concerning the Ysalamiri, he and Bail had managed to salvage what they could from the Sith Temple before it destroyed itself around them. If it had not been necessary to touch the Force in order to contact Master Yoda, if one of the artefacts within the Temple had not caused their ship to crash, destroying any normal forms of hyperspace communication, Obi-Wan doubted he would have experienced the full measure of hatred upon a Sith planet.

Hatred was an understatement, as he explained to the Council yesterday. There was more light in a single drop of water from this arboretum than there had been on that planet. That he could feel in his whole body when released from the protection of the Ysalamiri. It had been the most lonely, the most bereft he had ever felt. Not even Qui-Gon's death, or the sight of his empty apartment after Anakin's knighthood had affected him thus.

Thinking of Anakin.... that was something else his return had yet to address. Usually Vokara Che had to bar him from the halls of healing whenever Obi-Wan was convalescent, just as she had to forbid Obi-Wan from visiting when the situation was reversed. But Obi-Wan hadn't seen him. When he was up to it, he would make a more thorough search of the Temple, but for now, the absence of his former apprentice was just another troubling concern with which to distract his thoughts from the memory of his experiences on Zigoola. Not that he wanted to dwell on what had happened to him and Bail there, but reminders were inevitable.

He had not been bereft of company whilst convalescent in the halls of healing. Taria Damsin, an old friend of his, was there too. She was also under the strict rule of Vokara Che, though her illness, unfortunately, was of a mortal nature. Soon he would be attending another funeral, just as untimely as the last. Like Qui-Gon, and Garen, it had not taken her long to divine his feelings regarding a certain Senator. But unlike his friend and former master, Taria knew more than they ever could. For once they had felt a drop of the same emotion, and indulged themselves within the feeling. Not breaking the Code, but bending it all the same. It never went as deep as the wealth of emotion he felt for Padmé, yet there was no denying it all the same. For a time the emotion ruled them, then faded, as these things often did, allowing them to remain friends without regret on either side.

And like his other friends, Taria availed herself of the rights to divine when he felt something worth bending, even breaking the soon to be non-existent no attachment rule, finding out all she could about the woman in question, and grilling him on why he refused to give into the emotion, especially as now there no longer any rule against him doing so. Which meant he had to explain why all over again, ignoring the wisdom he'd lately received from his master, wondering at the same time if Qui-Gon was monitoring him as he did so. He imagined there must be some degree of difference to the Force with death, but ever since his former master had shown himself in spirit form, Obi-Wan had been dealing with the possibility that he was being watched.

Taria hadn't been any happier with his reservations than Garen was. While he understood their position, neither of them knew Anakin as well as he did, for his apprentice had always been rather uncomfortable around his master's friends. He knew Anakin would not be able to handle the idea of his master feeling the same emotions as he did for Padmé, and rightly so perhaps, especially when he had been very hypocritical regarding his apprentice's desire to break the rules.

However, only to Anakin did he appear so. Obi-Wan knew that as much as his apprentice claimed to feel what he felt for Padmé, the depth of emotion that they both felt was in reality galaxies apart. Anakin's was for a Queen he could protect in a gilded palace, against all outsiders; selfish, obsessive, possessive. Obi-Wan saw the woman behind those titles of Queen and Senator, honoured her the right to take care of herself, to come to rescue as she had done on Zigoola. But though everyone who divined his feelings were convinced she did, not once did he expect her to return what he felt.

He had not been surprised at Yoda's choice of rescuer from the Sith planet. Given the message he and Bail managed to send through the darkness they experienced there, sending someone immune to the Force, backed up by a squad of medically trained clone troopers was a sensible alternative. Nor were they many beings who knew of the dangers posed by the Sith and who were in a position to mount such a rescue at such short notice. He was also relieved to see her, since he hadn't been able to give her a farewell in person before he left for Zigoola. Come to think of it, her sudden departure for the retreat on Chandrila was unusual, given they had only just returned from Pais. But then none of them had known when they left how long the peace conference was going to take. It may have just been a coincidence.

Obi-Wan longed to see her, but knew that would be difficult. Aside from his suspicions concerning her relationship with Anakin, there were her duties in the Senate and his at the Temple. Their paths could not just cross. But then again, maybe Bail would invite them to dinner one evening, a visit that wouldn't include Anakin, unless his presence was requested, for the Senator did not know his former apprentice. It wasn't alone, but he didn't think he could trust himself alone with her yet.

Zigoola had played with his emotions. Even inside the Force bubble which the Ysalamiri used, he had to learn how to cope without the guidance of the ancient energy, though he was unhampered by the voices from the dark side which tortured him when he ventured forth from the beast's protection. Feeling the return of the lightness in which he was raised was a relief, but also strange, as his reunion was tainted by the torture he endured through the protection of the Ysalamiri and that brief moment when Bail took the creature away, before giving him that lightsaber injury so he could contact Yoda.

Count Dooku's cautionary advice was both a blessing and a curse, for it had not prepared him for the full onslaught of the Sith will which penetrated his brain when the protection from the Ysalamiri had been taken away. But neither would he have been comfortable not taking such protection to Zigoola. Bail and he might not have survived if he had to endure days of the Sith onslaught.

The memory of that voice, the constant chant of, 'die Jedi,' was a painful one. Vokara Che and Yoda warned him that he while should not dwell on the experience, it had changed him, and he must adapt to that change. And adapt he would, he was still a Jedi, if Zigoola had taught him anything, it was that. Which was why he was underneath one of the fountains in the arboretum, so he could learn to adapt to the change within the comfort of an old and familiar skill.

There was also another reason, one which he was reluctant to reveal to anyone, yet something he had to try. Hearing that voice of the Sith, might possibly allow him to sense the danger of the dark side which was clouding the light of the Force on Coruscant. The one who the Council all agreed originated from the Sith master they were still looking for, the identity of whom Count Dooku still refused to reveal.

Delving into the depths of the Force, Obi-Wan focused on that part of him which had changed, working to harness it to search. At first nothing happened, but he was a patient man, as all those years training Anakin could testify.

Eventually after what seemed like hours but really could have only been minutes at best, he felt something. Cautiously he waded deeper, seeking for some sign of recognition. There was no reply, but then he never expected one.

Surroundings emerged, as though he was looking through the eyes of the Sith, immune to the creature's awareness, but there with him, wherever he was. Focusing on the view, Obi-Wan was both astonished and alarmed to realise that it was Coruscant. Keeping an eye on the creature, he tried to recall where he had seen that view.

When the memory was confirmed, his and the Council's worst suspicions, were also.

Palpatine paced in his office, content to let his true sithly self be free from the restraint of the role of Supreme Chancellor, knowing that he would not be disturbed for the next hour. He had just come from the Senate eatery, where to his shock he had seen a worn Bail Organa chatting to Padmé Amidala and that annoying, but infinitely useful, Gungan, who granted him executive powers before Geonosis, just as he wished. For some time he had been fielding questions over the absence of the Senator from Alderaan, and had been prepared to lay out a flimsy inquiry followed by an equally useless search party, before reporting his unfortunate demise, along with that of Master Kenobi.

But his presence in the Senate eatery meant that the Senator had survived, and thus so had Master Kenobi he suspected, though he had yet to set eyes on the Jedi himself. It was a reasonable assumption, for the Jedi was favoured by Yoda and that little troll would have expressed his concerns by now if Organa had failed to return with him.

Clearly, he had underestimated their ability to foil him at every turn. Such a conclusion disgusted him, until now he was of the opinion that no one in existence was capable of sabotaging his plans. Even Kenobi, whom he had once contemplated turning to the dark, for the challenge and pleasure received in turning one so firmly devoted to the light and so potentially powerful would have been infinite. Yoda's favoured protégé would have made an excellent apprentice. The duel with Maul on Naboo convinced him further, for there he had sensed the sudden rush of anger which Kenobi briefly embraced, his innocence in dealing with such an emotion rendering his skill inferior and his steps uncertain. Even when Kenobi let go of the anger and defeated Maul, Palpatine still felt the potential there to convert him.

Landing on Naboo, congratulating him, he caught sight of the one being who changed his mind. Anakin Skywalker, the Chosen One. A mere boy, but powerful, naive, stubborn and precocious. Where the newly promoted Knight Kenobi greeted the new Chancellor with a respect that hid a disdain for politics, his soon to be apprentice was fascinated by him and the power he held inside. Although nonnescient in the ways of the world, the power inside the Chosen One had recognised a equal inside Palpatine, and latched on. From that moment, his destiny was decided.

Occasionally, during moments like these, Palpatine harboured certain regrets concerning his transference of choice. The Chosen One still had much to learn, and failed to realise how much Obi-Wan Kenobi could teach him. Apprenticeship to the dark side required subtlety, patience, a rigorous self-discipline and infinite artistry. Four things which Anakin Skywalker had yet to learn, or realise the value of.

Revealing the existence of Zigoola to the Friends of the Republic had been a test in temptation as much as a possible opportunity to rid himself of two foils in his side. If Obi-Wan had surrendered to the will of the dark side which lived and breathed upon that planet, Palpatine would have considered such a result just as much a victory as his and Senator Organa's deaths would have been. Both Senate and the Jedi would have been devastated by such an outcome, their shock too pungent to fight him, as he brought the Republic and the Order to their knees before his Empire.

That outcome would have been interesting, possibly more so than his present schemes, hindered as they had been by Dooku's desire for peace. The whereabouts of his wizened apprentice were at present unknown to him, doubtless because the Count of Serenno wished to avoid the wrath of Sidious. Usually he would focus his efforts on finding the wayward apprentice, but Dooku had always been a stepping stone, a temporary place holder, until the Chosen One was matured and ripe for plucking.

Such a moment was at hand, and required his full attention if it was to succeed. In his current schemes, modified due to Serenno's sudden pacifist conversion, the fall of Chosen One could not be a tragedy paraded openly before the Order and the Republic. It had to be showered in the cloak of darkness he had used to cement his own rise to power. Like him, Anakin needed to wear a mask, to deceive the world of his true nature. Something his master was more suited to, but Palpatine doubted that there was anything left which could tempt Obi-Wan to the dark side now.

If he succeeded, then he could employ his third scheme, one which would tear the Republic and the Order apart in a scandal that no one was immune from.

Part 29: Her Beauty Drowned In Blood.

"This is Senator Organa, requesting clearance to land," Bail uttered before transmitting his security protocols.

"Authorisation confirmed. Clearance to land accepted," the automated device responded before a more lively reply was added. "Your usual path is clear. Welcome back, Senator."

"Thank you," Bail returned before signing off. His fingers made a few minor adjustments to his approach vector, and as his ship entered the atmosphere, he finally pulled his thoughts away from Alderaan. From its lush, beautiful earth, the splendour of its mountains, the graceful beauty of its cities, towns and villages. From the people he served, though they were always in his thoughts, just as the planet was, in so many ways. And from his wife, Breha.

She had been happy to see him, even if it was only for a lightning visit. That was its usual length, the duties of a galactic Senator rarely allowed him anything else. But in this case he had lingered, under advisement from the Jedi Vokara Che at the Temple Halls of Healing, the medic clone trooper who had treated him enroute from Zigoola, and the Supreme Chancellor himself. Palpatine had been insistent that he take the time to recover, using his own planet's experience with the Sith as an authority. And Padmé agreed with her former advisor, assuring him that the Republic could cope without him for a while.

He relented at last because of Obi-Wan. His friend, for Master Kenobi was his friend now after all they had faced together on Zigoola, was in a worse state than he, but his determination to return to his duties had been just as firm. He surrendered to treatment from the medics during the journey back to Coruscant, but as soon as they entered the Temple, he had insisted he was fine. Master Yoda was relieved to have Bail's support, along with Padmé's and the healer, although little of that emotion was revealed within the Grand Master's impassive features. After reasoning failed, Bail resorted to blackmail, if Obi-Wan didn't take a break, neither would he. A politician's tool, the Jedi had called it, but one that worked nonetheless.

So Bail returned to his residence Cantham House, retrieved some belongings, warned his wife to expect him, and requisitioned another ship to fly home. Breha had left a light burning in the window, and welcomed her shamefully neglectful husband home with open arms. The lightning visit did not last long enough, but then no lightning visit of any length would qualify as enough where his wife was concerned. Yet he cherished that time spent in the comfort of her arms, as he always did, and the memory of her sultry voice would sustain him until the next lightning visit was granted.

On one thing he had to disappoint her. Breha insisted that while he was there it would be good to visit the fertility expert his scientist friend Tryn Netzl recommended. The physician had been amenable to them trying again, but Bail feared that Breha's concerns for him while he was away from Alderaan, and the stress caused by her duties to govern Alderaan in his absence might cause the pregnancy to fail once more. Breha was saddened by his reluctance, but in the end she conceded that the delay might give her body time to recover from the last miscarriage she suffered, before he left for Pais peace conference.

Who knew when he would have time to return home for such an extended period. Bail hoped that with the peace treaty between the Republic and the Separatists, such a luxury would be granted him and his colleagues soon. He was not the only one who had relatives waiting for him away from the Jewel of the Core Worlds. It was an optimistic hope considering the troubles which had occurred before the peace treaty perhaps, but one which he harboured nonetheless.

Approaching the crowded traffic lanes of the capital, Bail accessed the HoloNet news feeds, letting the audio review transmit while his eyes remained focused on his flight path to Cantham House. Raised brows graced his features as news of the Jedi Order's reforms were announced. Obi-Wan had not informed him of that, but then his friend had been careful about what he revealed to him, and Bail respected his privacy. The news was unexpected to say the least. For Order to decide to perform a volte-face on attachment, something extreme must have occurred.

Immediately a possibility presented itself to him, one he found hard to dismiss out of hand. When he was on Pais he remembered their lingering looks, the body language which betrayed to his mind the attraction that lay between them. He had not thought they would succumb to such feelings. But perhaps Obi-Wan's position in the Order granted him the liberty to argue for the reform. Since Geonosis the names of the Order's most ablest knights and masters had become public knowledge, and it was quickly realised by most who were acquainted with the Jedi Council that Master Kenobi was a protégé of the Grand Master. While attending the peace conference, Bail heard rumours to the effect concerning the likelihood of Obi-Wan ascending to a seat within that body upon his return to the Core.

He did not doubt that Obi-Wan deserved such an honour, nor the hand of Padmé. But he was surprised, given how discreet they had been in his company enroute from Zigoola and on Pais. In fact what he witnessed caused him to wonder if they were even aware of each other's feelings. Yet he could not think of another reason as to why the Order would advance such a series of reforms. There was already a married Council member within the order, Master Ki-Adi-Mundi, granted an exemption from the Code because his species suffered from low birth rates. Obi-Wan, as far as Bail was aware, could not claim such an exemption, so it would make sense that he would use his skills as a negotiator to argue for the reforms to apply to the entire Order. But still, it seemed somewhat out of character, considering what Bail knew of him.

Arriving at the suspended docking bay which had been cleared and secured for his arrival, he roused himself from his thoughts and engaged the landing procedure. Exiting the ship, he climbed aboard the waiting airspeeder and climbed the skies once more.
The traffic lanes thinned as he arrived in the district which contained his apartment. Like many of his colleagues Bail resided in the luxurious building known as Five Hundred Republica. Cantham House was not far from Padmé's or Palpatine's penthouses. He responded to the security requests, slowing his airspeeder down as he passed through each checkpoint until he reached the landing bay outside his home from home.

Only when he powered down the airspeeder and exited the vehicle to stand upon the balcony entrance did he realise something was not right. There was a soft candlelit glow to his apartment which he did not recall leaving on when he left for Alderaan.
Slipping his hand into a pocket, Bail withdrew his blaster and cautiously entered his apartment. Taking care not to disturb his surroundings, he forced his eyes to adjust to the lighting, glancing around to make sure he took note of everything.

Nothing within the living area appeared to be wrong, save for the soft lighting effect which graced the furnishings. Nevertheless Bail could not afford to let down his guard until he searched the rest of Cantham House. Still cautious, his investigation penetrated the dining area, where another difference caught his eyes. All the trappings of a meal for two were laid upon the table, together with the appearance that two had partaken of the delights which graced its surface. Had a member of his staff, knowing his master would be absence off planet for sometime, been using the apartment as a base for their romantic assignations? It was a reasonable supposition, but Bail trusted his staff and knew that not one would betray his trust in such a fashion.

Eventually he reached the bedroom area of Cantham House, where further sights served to rouse his concerns. An assortment of linens, edible delicacies and liquid intoxicant littered the floor and furnishings, causing him to take even further care as to where he trod. Still the apartment appeared deserted, causing him to wonder about the whereabouts of his staff, for not all of them were granted leave whilst he was away on Alderaan. Inside his mind the voice of his caution began to make war with his desire to continue the investigation, debating the wisdom of abandoning the apartment in favour of his Senate office, where surveillance records would reveal the rest of the damage without risk to himself.

But the adventure in search of and upon the Sith planet Zigoola encouraged him to proceed. A reckless manoeuvre perhaps, but one he was committed to, for to turn back might as easily put him at risk just as much as further investigation could.

In contrast to everywhere else within the penthouse, the principal bedroom was fully lit, causing Bail to hesitate upon the threshold, for he was concerned as to whether or not the intruders would still be present. For an seemingly endless minute he stood at the door, holding his breath, listening for the slightest sound which might betray the offender. Silence was all he received in reply.

Highly alarmed, Bail abandoned his post and entered the room. The sight which met his eyes took complete hold of him, shocking every facet of his senses. If an intruder had been concealed in some as yet unchecked part of the apartment, not only would they have escaped his notice now, but they could have also accomplished to do what Zigoola failed. The Senator from Alderaan was insensible to anything but the hideous sight before him.

During his search for the Sith planet he had become acquainted with death and the violent way in which conflict often dealt with it. While the experience rendered him no stranger to such sights, they failed to inure him to them. In some ways the one which greeted him now was worse, for the contrast between it and the Alderaanian decor was vast. As his senses slowly returned to him, Bail's horror only increased.

For, once, he had known woman now sprawled inelegantly across his bed. Known her intimately. To see her again, so suddenly after many years, her beauty drowned in blood sickened him. Her lifeless eyes prevented him from rushing to her side, a caution he would do well to err within, he realised, as he remembered the source which lay behind their past nocturnal encounters.

Wrenching his gaze away from her, he searched for that device. Such a course of action did not take him long, and its location was another source of concern to him. Clearly the author of this foul deed meant for it to be found, and the implications troubled him, for it spoke of a danger not just to himself, but to the Republic.

It was with that in mind which decided his next move. Exercising the same caution he had used from the moment he entered, Bail withdrew from the room and checked the rest of his apartment. Only when he was satisfied as to it being empty did he seek assistance. However, a part of him remained within that room, contemplating the fate of the woman sprawled inelegantly across his bed.

Wondering how she came to be thus, and who could have lured her there.

She was a beautiful woman. No one who had encountered her before was insensible of such. Intelligent and successful, aware and unaware of her assets, a paradoxical but intoxicating combination which only enhanced what she was blessed to possess. Wealth and power finished her character but did not consume it. Many were lured by her siren quality but few were granted the privilege of real intimacy.

As a finance director of Aldera Investments her portfolio was sound and prosperous, her acquaintance wide-ranging, her stock secure. This garnered her quite a reputation within the Senate and the Courts, as well as the business district of the Core and a certain if some what loose protection from the vagaries of the press. In reply she respected their discretion, knowing that it would behove her to do otherwise, for such actions could cost her everything.

For like many other beings who lived most of their lives on Coruscant, she was prey to a certain vice, one which she used frequently. Gloriously independent, she had yet to find, or even possess the inclination to do so, a partner in life, and for the moment preferred the transitory nocturnal encounters which this vice provided. For her it bestowed all the benefits of intimacy without intricacy; allowing her a flexibility she believed marriage would not. It was a lifestyle she knew would be frowned upon by the hypocritical holonews workers, but only if she exposed her actions publicly. As long as she was discreet, no one cared to observe.

On this particular night she received an unexpected call. Though the device did everything to disguise the voice, once the location for the evening was relayed, no deceptions could exist. She was more than surprised, she was shocked. That he of all beings should request for her now. He was once a member true, but it was widely known that since his marriage he had given up the group. Nor was he the kind of man who would cuckold his wife. No one who had seen the couple together could doubt their affection. Yet there was no denying the location she had been called to. Of course she could refuse, but the mystery would continue to haunt her, and perhaps if she went, she would be able to prevent the night from conquering that level of intimacy.

Resolving to go did not deter her from doing everything she could to avoid going. A late business meeting or the chance encounter with a friend or acquaintance would suffice. It could not be anything more, there had to be a plausible motive, and one which he would hear of and understand. Doubtless he would see the reasoning behind her avoidance, and rethink his plan to have her for a night.

Yet all her hopes were for naught, for the hours passed and nothing arose to prevent the encounter from coming to pass. Returning to her apartment after work she dressed for the evening, in a gown suitable for the occasion but in no way similar to those which were her usual preference for nights such as these. He had seen her in such before, he would fathom at her motives and come to understand. If not, then she had vastly underestimated his character.

There was nothing untoward about the day or the prospect of what was likely to come during the evening which could cause her unease. No omens coloured her thoughts with spectres of a foreboding nature. Nor did she possess the gifts which some beings do that would enable her to sense the possibility from the divining of the Force. In short, she was completely unprepared for the events which occurred that night.

An accomplished pilot, she drove her own airspeeder to the district in which Five Hundred Republica was situated. Her apartment was not far, but those who lived on Coruscant rarely walked during journeys that could be traversed more easily in vehicle sky lanes above. Parking the airspeeder in an area which was not canvassed by the surveillance systems, she exited the vehicle and entered the building, heading for the turbolifts where she keyed in access for the penthouse level.

Even the solitude which she found upon that level did not disturb her. She was well aware of the fact that few beings lived upon this floor, and their apartments were not suitable for children or large households. Also, they were discreet, considerate and hard working people whom would not even notice her arrival, let alone her departure.

Cantham House was softly lit, but no attendant was there to greet her arrival. This was not unexpected, on such nights as these a depth of discretion was employed, but she had hoped to be greeted by her host.

Alarm gradually began to stir within her as she continued further into the apartment and found the place devoid of beings. Her concern only deepened as she remembered that he was off planet on leave and was not expected back for some time. It was a piece of information which had not been bandied about, for it would not do to convey the impression that he was neglectful of his duties to his people and the Republic.

If only she had withdrawn from the apartment upon the instant of remembering that. She would have escaped the terrible fate which awaited her. Or perhaps she would have been able to fend off the unseen attack. But a disturbance attracted her attention, and curious as to who would dare to reside in Cantham House while the Senator was absent, she ventured further into the penthouse.

This emotion only deepened as her keen eyes caught sight of the dining table, the meal that was displayed there, garnishing the finest china and graced by the choicest of beverages. Unable to resist she stepped forward and sampled a few of the delicacies, pleased and emboldened to discover that some were known to him as her favourites. Surely she must have been mistaken in thinking he was off planet. Perhaps he had returned to surprise her. Flattered by the attention, she no longer questioned his motives, or suspected him of inviting her because of their previous intimacy in expectation of further entanglements. He was conscientious to a fault at times; this level of care and discretion could merely due to a desire to discuss something he wished kept from official channels for now.

Only when the disturbance repeated itself did she look up from the dinner to investigate the apartment further. It was a short walk from dining area to the bedrooms, and now she observed a bright light leaking through the partially closed door of the principal one. No longer alarmed, her caution was conquered by her curiosity as she moved towards the luminous shadow.

Pushing the door back, her astonishment at the sight which met her eyes carried her over the threshold. Blood red Alderaanian rose petals lay scattered across an unmade bed. The room was brightly lit, lending a incongruous slant to this seeming romance. Her alarm returned at the strange, ominous sight, even though she neglected her caution in order to venture towards the bed and retrieve one of the petals for inspection.

The delicate fragrance barely reached her senses when her breath was stolen from her. In terror her hands attempted to go to her throat in order to fend for her release, but something prevented them. Paralysed by the unseen grasp of her attacker, there was little she could do to defend herself.

She was aware of little after that. Vaguely she felt the sensation of falling upon that bed, crushing the rose petals beneath her, their shade giving a colour to the future which awaited her. All too soon her breath and other senses were stolen from her, one by one, until the last candle of life within her was silently extinguished.

This was not like before. Of course that situation was entirely different, and there was no reason to expect any similarity, save except for the emotions which such an act would necessarily cause. However, though anger, rage and the excitement and desire which accompanies those emotions were present, they appeared uttered different in comparison to the last time when such feelings were felt. It was not realised yet of course that there was a reason why there was a difference. One act had been committed in vengeance, a rage all consuming and inconsiderate, rapidly succumbed to and not so easily conquered. Another acted out of cold blood, with much preparation before hand. Disciplined, cautioned and tempered, by one who is no longer a rank amateur; but a master at such atrocity.

Such a promotion was not achieved without some assistance, although murder does not demand an apprenticeship or an accomplice. However, those were imperative in this case for the act was to be carried out within surroundings unfamiliar, upon a person hitherto unknown. These circumstances were not unusual, yet it cannot be denied that they appeared so to the murderer, for this was their first foray into them. No longer were they an independent power, with free gratis in the taking of a life. Instead a humble - actually, no, never that - servant, submitting to a higher authority, killing who and when ordered to. Such a position was never to their liking. All their lives they had been subservient in one form or another, to beings less deserving than themselves and now to bow once more when they had just earned their freedom; it was mortifying.

But they could not do without that authority. Like it or not, the power protected them, allowed them to take their full pleasure without the risk or fear of getting caught. Indulged their proclivities, provided the means to obtain them whenever they desired. By granting such they were given a freedom hitherto unknown before as well; to live a life beyond society's constraints, the rules that governed the civilisation in which they lived. And the return was just as great; no remonstrance, no guilt, only the reward they were truly due.

The first act in this scheme required many obstacles to overcome, entailed a number of difficulties and risks. Access to Five Hundred Republica, the most exclusive of apartment districts on Coruscant; it was a privilege granted by ownership and favour, not easily obtained but all too swiftly lost. Unseen arrival and exit to one of the penthouse apartments was also required, a task equally dangerous. An airspeeder could not be used, such a vehicle would be noticed by the roving holo reporters and the building's surveillance systems. Therefore a more elaborate means of transportation was used; one requiring just as much dexterity, though considerably less automotive control.

At first the twisted cord floundered their ego, reminding them of their mortality, the sheer drop which awaited their first slip, into the dark depths of Coruscant's city limits. Without their training, or the prospect of what lay ahead if one accomplished this goal, it was doubtful that they would have succeeded in their task. Perhaps it was just as well that their stubborn nature knew no bounds. Still a part of them could not help but wonder at what would happen if they did fall, how their fate might be regarded, what their motive was in being found at this luxurious locale. Their death would disappoint a thousand hopes and dreams that none had yet to realise would never be accomplished, even now. A different, easier path was presented to them long ago.

Soon they reached their desired destination and quietly released their grip of the rope to leap to the floor of the balcony entrance. Landing quietly on the marbled floor, they treaded swiftly but softly towards the interior. In their caution there was no need to concern themselves with the possibility of disturbance, for the apartment was deserted, its current custodian at present on shore leave upon his native planet, his household staff occupied upon a contrived matter at his office. Yet it would do well to make sure that the apartment appeared to remain empty until the arrival of the intended victim this evening, else some other unexpected visitor might attempt to intrude and thus intervene within the affair.

Having established themselves within Cantham House, they now set about preparing the place for the expected unsuspecting visitor this evening. Drapes were drawn about the many windows, partially shielding the view of Coruscant's city lights, veiling too their murderous intrusion and intent. The dining table was laid, a meal of sophistication prepared and then laid upon it, graced by the best dinner service, a wine of appropriate vintage poured to air at a suitable hour. When the time of victim's arrival approached, the lighting system was set to its most romantic setting, while they retreated to the bedroom, where another atmosphere was to be arranged.

It was vital that the appearance of the bedroom was a contrast from the dining area. Though Alderaanian blood red rose petals were to be scattered across the bed linen, the lights would be at their maximum setting. This would present a challenge as to where they would conceal themselves, but a solution soon presented itself, in the form of the door opening at an angle sufficient to all themselves to hide behind it when opened.

Lying in wait here put them at a disadvantage; it was some distance to the entrance, they would not be able to hear the arrival of their expected, unsuspecting visitor. But they held within them other gifts which would compensate for that obstacle. With these they would be able to distinguish between a mere sound of a settling building adjusting to changes in heat and populous and one of more purposeful intent.

Patience had never been their strongest suit, yet tonight it was a skill to be practised, as the minutes seemed to slow down in their passing to complete each hour. No chronological guide could assure them otherwise; the lights of Coruscant concealed the natural night lights, and no other aid existed within sight. So they honed their weakness, all the while inwardly despairing that the scheme would ever come to fruition. And just when it seemed all their plans, hopes and skills were in vain, their unsuspecting victim came.

She wondered cautiously into the apartment, her senses on alert, and they pondered the possibility for a moment that she knew of their unlawful presence and dark intent. But her feet instead of retreating, only ventured further inside, causing them to feel relief. In their mind's eye they could see her wonder at the setting of the apartment, the surrender to sample the tempting dinner laid out on the dinning table. Her curiosity about the bright shadow of light leaking out from under the door of the principal bedroom.

Poised to strike, they waited for her to investigate, to push aside the door and enter the room. So close were they, that her breath was felt on their skin, her gasp of surprise audible and distinct. She ventured further into the room, coming to a halt at the foot of the bed, her hand reaching out to caress one of the blood red petals to see if it was real.

They waited until her hands were occupied, whereupon they thrust themselves out of their hiding place, their gifted grip around her throat and arms, restraining them. With the aid of the transparisteel they watched her horrified face struggle for air, for release, for the ability to defend herself, all in vain. Enjoying their power over her, the slow withdrawal into the cradling embrace of death.

Before she fell amongst the petals and linen, they used their gift to strip the gown from her body, admiring her generous assets which the light could do nothing to hide from his vicious gaze. Releasing her, they let her fall upon the bed, while they searched amongst her things for the one device which would put the finishing touch to this display. A small but intricately formed piece of technology, as gold as the colour of her hair. Lifting it from her belongings, they advanced towards the bed and placed the device in her hands.

With one backward glance at the destruction which they had wrought, they left the way they had came.

Obi-Wan received the call in the grey hours of early morning, a time when all Jedi, including those privileged enough to serve on the Council, should be safely asleep, or perhaps seeking communion with the Force. Bleary eyed from a long day spent studying the surveillance logs which recorded the activity going on in the office of the Supreme Chancellor, in an effort to determine whose eyes he had been staring through during his search for the Sith lord, it took him a minute or two to identify the source of the rather urgent beeping sound which originated from his com panel.

With a groan he rose up from his bed, resting his arms on his bent knees to support his still half asleep body, as he used the Force to enhance his sight, his sea coloured eyes staring at the small screen. A feeling of puzzlement swept into his mind when he identified the identity of the caller, causing him to rise, grabbing his cloak to wrap around himself for the sake of decency, before he made his way over to the desk.

"Hello there," he uttered after pressing the receive button, "I thought you weren't due back for another week or so."

"Things changed," the caller replied grimly, causing the Jedi to sit up and take note of the rather worried tone. "Look, can you come over?"

"Now?" Obi-Wan frowned. "Bail, what's wrong?"

"Something I'd rather not discuss across comways," the Alderaanian Senator answered grimly, half glancing behind him as if he feared being seen.

"I'll be over as soon as I can," Obi-Wan assured him, before turning the com off and rising from his chair to change. For some reason best known to himself he chose to forego his desert robes in favour of some civilian clothing, usually reserved for undercover assignments. Jedi robes tended to attract more attention than the Order desired these days, thus it was sometimes useful to go incognito.

He arrived at Cantham House to find that two of Senator Organa's aides had been posted outside the entrance, another unusual occurrence at this early hour. They noted his arrival, evidently having been told to expect him, and spoke into their ear coms to alert the Senator within before letting him inside.

Obi-Wan wandered through the empty splendour of the reception rooms into the private area of the residence, taking care to note the state of the penthouse house apartment. Nothing escaped his eyes; not the lighting or the remains of the dinner laid out upon the dining table. Closer inspection revealed how little that meal had been disturbed, though the quality of the dishes appeared delicious, however they were now spoiled from neglect.

Leaving the dining area behind, he encountered the Senator from Alderaan waiting for him by the threshold to the principal bedroom suite.

"I'm going to need your discretion on this one, my friend," Bail remarked. "This matter must not go before the Council," he stressed, before letting him inside.

What stopped the Jedi Master from asking why was the body lying across the spoilt sheets of the bed. Obi-Wan came to a halt beside this piece of furniture and studied the warm corpse; a beautiful, blond woman, late twenties to mid thirties, wearing nothing, her assets caressed by the linen sheets and the scattered petals of blood red Alderaanian roses. Around her neck were the discoloration marks typically associated with strangulation, though the bruising appeared oddly arranged for fingers to have been the cause.

Carefully he reached out and touched the skin briefly with the back of his hand. The warmth which still emanated from her indicated that she had not been dead long, no more than an standard hour at most. Obi-Wan turned to his friend. "You found her like this?"
Bail nodded from his place by the open door. "When I came home, the place was still locked, no sign of forced entry, nothing on the surveillance holos."

"Do you recognise her?" Obi-Wan asked him.

Silently and almost reluctantly, his friend nodded once more. "This is where things get complicated. Her name is Aline Kavaria, she worked at the Aldera Investment Bank in the Financial district." He raised his hand and pointed to something on the bed, clutched in the woman's hand. "That is how I met her."

Obi-Wan turned in the direction of his friend's gesture, his gaze landing on a small com device nestled in the woman's lifeless palm. He knelt to study it more closely, taking in the small, intricate markings until their meaning was defined, whereupon he rose to his full height, and stared at the Senator with a raised eyebrow.

Bail held up his hands. "I'm no longer a member, I swear. I gave up when I met Breha." He watched the Jedi Master acknowledge the reply for the truth it was, then his own eyebrows began to rise as he interpreted the meaning of the silence. "You aren't..... are you?"

"No," Obi-Wan replied. "But it is both the best and worst kept secret on Coruscant." He glanced back at the bed. "Although," he added soberly, "that could be about to change."

"That's why I called you," Bail remarked. "It can't. The List has to remain a secret, Obi-Wan, not just for the good of the Senate, but for the good of the Republic. If a scandal such as this was made news, no one in the Senate would be allowed to keep their office unless they could prove that they have never belonged to the List; along with those in the financial, business, law and health districts. Which would prove an impossible feat for all concerned, even those who are utterly nonnescient of its existence."

For a moment Obi-Wan looked as if he was about to object, but then he realised Bail was right. Once those who belonged to the List were outed, anyone caught in a holo with them in a hotel or restaurant, would be rendered guilty by association. Everyone would lose, not just those who were corrupt and deserved to do so, but beings like his friends; Garen, Bail Organa and Padmé Amidala, who faithfully served the Republic ahead of their own desires.

"What do you suggest?" He asked.

Bail looked at him nervously. "An undercover operative joins the List to find out whoever did this."

"You mean me," Obi-Wan deduced.

"The List is designed so no one member knows every number," Bail explained. "I can give you my old com from the days when I belonged, as well as hers, but it could be anyone of them, or none at all. And you're a Jedi."

"The Force cannot detect murderers," Obi-Wan argued.

"It can tell when someone is lying," Bail countered. "You know how much damage this could do to the Republic. It may very well accomplish what Geonosis failed to. Someone is using the List not just to murder, but to destroy all the good we have worked so hard for." The Senator paused before adding one final caveat. "You are the only one I can trust."

After those words, silence fell across the room, appearing to cloak everything in the intrigue and secrecy attached to this notorious group. Obi-Wan's gaze switched back and forth between his friend and the dead woman lying on the bed. He already knew what his answer would be, but he also knew the consequences behind it.

The List once held a reputation within the Jedi as the loophole in the attachment restrictions laid on each member, now recently reformed, but he knew that there were some who still used the group. Despite his relationship with Qui-Gon and later Anakin leading him towards such loose interpretation of the Code, he still preferred when he could to follow it above and beyond what the Order demanded of him, especially since his elevation to the Council. To his heightened sense of morality this was a dirty assignment.

But Bail was right. There was no one else he could trust.

Part 30: An Angel From the Moons of Iego.

Padmé could not refrain from flinching as she read over the latest progress report from her lawyers. The next round of negotiations required her to attend meetings with them and those Anakin may have hired, not to mention Anakin himself. These would be difficult to arrange, but not impossible. She shuddered at the thought of seeing her husband again.

Since escorting Bail and Obi-Wan home from Zigoola she had resumed her duties as Senator with more fervour than ever, scarcely allowing for anything else to capture her attention. Throwing herself into work to heal the injuries to her heart, mind and body may not be the best solution, but at present it was one of the few she was willing to entertain. She could not face going home, reluctant to face the kindness of her family, unsure that they would remain insensible of the grief which lay upon her heart. Her sister and her parents were ignorant of her marriage, and she had no wish to inform them of her current misery caused by it, for their kind words and comfort would only deepen the inner torment she felt.

Obi-Wan was another she had not seen since she escorted him and Bail home to Coruscant from Zigoola. She learned of his convalescence at the Temple, unsurprising considering the injuries she observed despite all his efforts to conceal them. However she had learned that he was returned to duty, promoted to the Council. She was pleased and proud, knowing he deserved such a reward, though he was too humble to realise it. But she could not face calling him or seeking him out to offer her congratulations. Her guilt over her actions, over what Anakin had done, was too fresh, too deep. The bruise still visible, though hidden under bacta, the memory still haunting.

Artoo watched her as she peeled back the synthetic skin to survey the condition of the bruising. Another bodyguard she had acquired, his attendance was more devoted and dedicated than her security detail, which she had thought previously to be impossible. Not for a moment had he let her out of his sight, attending every senate and committee meeting. He and Threepio had quite a discussion when she first discovered that Captain Typho had managed to retrieve him from the Temple, one which caused the golden protocol droid a lot of shock and consternation. From that moment Threepio only left the apartment when Padmé required him for translation, otherwise he greeted her when she returned and reported to her security if anyone had called or visited in her absence.

The stocky domed droid emitted a mournful tone as she pressed her hands to the bruising, testing how each part responded to pressure, taking a deep breath when the touch caused her pain. Slowly but surely the injury was healing, and the med droid who checked her over assured her that there was no internal damage. Reaching into the medical cabinet before and above her, she rummaged around the supplies within for another of the bacta patches, as her bruising required a fresh one. Instead her hand touched something small and compact. Puzzled she pulled the thing out to examine it further.

Only the when the device was in her hands did she recognise it. Small, and seemingly insignificant, the little gold communicator lay nestled in her palm. It appeared harmless to Artoo, certainly nothing which should render his mistress an alarmed expression. Never the less, that was what her face acquired, causing the droid to roll over and extend his grip to retrieve and the examine the device himself.

"No, Artoo," Padmé closed her fingers over the device. "Its fine. Nothing for you to worry about, I promise."

She had completely forgotten that she had hidden the thing in the medical cabinet. Jedi used the Force for healing, rendering the cupboard one of the few places which Anakin was unlikely to investigate, not that he had any idea that she owned the device anyway. Or knew what it was if he did ever lay his hands on it.

Opening her fingers again, she studied the small golden communicator, her mind silently recalling the first time she had been handed the device. It was after a long, boring committee meeting, she and Bail were alone in a conference room, gathering flimsi and pads together, venting their exasperation concerning some of their less than noble colleagues. Both of them were tired, yet restless too, which made Bail suggest they should take up a sport or some other hobby with which to while away the night. Although she was fond of sports Padmé found the artificial atmosphere of Coruscant uncomfortable so preferred to enjoy that sort of past time at home. It was when she refused that Bail had first tossed her this device. Catching it one handed, she had studied the thing, then looked up to meet the Alderaanian Senator's slightly sheepish expression.

When she asked what it was, and received a shocking answer in reply, all manner of wild thoughts passed through her mind. She knew Bail quite well by then, or at least she thought she did, and for him to offer her this as an amusement was very provocative. For a moment the possibility of his being interested in her crossed her mind, and he must have seen it done so, for he blushed before denying the implication. He hadn't indulged since his marriage apparently, but he did sponsor initiates, to which she raised another eyebrow, as she wondered what exactly the sponsorship entailed. After another blush, he assured that it merely encompassed an introduction of the rules, plus the gifting of a com device with the all the numbers of all the members, plus her own created and released into the group.

If it had been any other night, she probably would have refused him. But restless and anxious for something to occupy her, joining the List was too tempting to deny. Bail selected a number for her, belonging to someone who was a complete gentleman, he assured her. As it turned out, he had impeccable taste in men. Her date was talk, dark and handsome, witty, clever and an excellent lover. With him to warm her bed, her first foray into the List could not have gone better. From that moment on, she indulged in the delights of this exclusive and luxurious clique, relying on Bail's recommendations for a time before becoming bold enough to try on her own.

Until the troubles began, the attempts on her life and the Military Creation Act, whereupon her security insisted she give up the encounters for awhile, as they could not guarantee that someone would not use it to cause her death. Until she met Anakin and Obi-Wan again, and fell in love with the former, before realising how deeply she cared for the latter. Since then the com device had remained in the pocket of one of her dresses, then hidden in the medicine cabinet when she returned from Varykino, and realised that she was still carrying it in her dress pocket. Now it rested in her hand, like a token of a former life, one in which she barely recognised herself. Where had that self-assured and daring libertine gone? Anakin may be the Chosen One but he could not take that away from her through his punches and choke hold. He did not have the right to do so.

Rebelliously Padmé turned the device on, her dark eyed gaze scanning through the scrolling list of numbers until she found the first one, the one that Bail recommended. For a moment her finger lay poised over the small touch screen dial button, her nerves threatening to get the better of her, until she furiously forced the digit down. Putting the device before her mouth, she waited for the talk, dark, handsome, witty, clever and excellent lover to pick up.

"Hello?" the disembodied voice conveyed nothing of his character, but she had an excellent memory, and the numbers never changed.

"Are you free tonight?" Her query was a whisper that she could have slapped herself for, it sounded so scared and anxious. Fortunately the coded modifier conveyed no display of such emotions to the receiver.

"I am," the voice replied, sensing nothing of her inner turmoil, quietly eager at the prospective delights of the night to come. "When, where?"

"Eight. The Corellian Grand." It was a superb hotel, located in the business district of Coruscant, the furnishings luxurious but understated, the rooms magnificent in splendour, the food delicious, the staff discreet and the service impeccable.

"I'll see you at eight," he replied before ending the call.

Padmé stood staring at the com device, wondering if she had just made a big mistake.

"Do we need to continue with the restraining injunction?"

From her side of the table Padmé shivered, glancing at her soon to be ex-husband as she did so, hoping the motion had escaped his notice. The lawyer he had found was a supercilious article, who delivered his inquiry in a patronising tone, as though no one else in the room possessed the intelligence to comprehend what he was talking about.

"I think that would be wise, don't you?" her own lawyer countered, his tone quiet, but far more deadly. He was a self-contained, reserved, elegant fellow, seated casually beside her, legs crossed, his hands holding the papers he was studying with a narrow gold edged, half-rimmed pince-nez covered gaze. In many ways he was the perfect foil for his opponent, delivering a far more convincing careless attitude.

Across from her, Anakin glowered, incensed by their arrogance. While in every meeting their lawyers silently contested the battle of wills, he was the first to lose his temper. He continued to allow them to rile him up, to make him feel as if he were the slave boy from Tatooine once more. Padmé could see in his face every time. If she loved him still she might have pitied his insecurity, but now it only made her feel ashamed that she ever felt something for him in the first place. She recalled now her avowal of love to him on Geonosis in the light she should have judged it, as a warning to step away from the precipice, instead of walking forward to fall off the edge, crashing into darkness. Love should not make you feel like you were dying, it should make you feel all the more alive.

What a contrast to the man she dined with last night. Slightly older than her, his career established, his manner confidently assured, but never arrogant. He had charmed her effortlessly into a good mood, given her ease and compliments, good food and wine, as well as intelligent conversation. Arriving at the hotel she had been so nervous of what she had done, that she almost turned round for home. Even the knowledge that her security were still keeping a close attendance upon her did nothing to ease her concerns.

Then her date had arrived, and swept her into an intimate dinner in one of the Grand's finest suites. According to the rules of the List the onus was upon her to book and pay for the room, but in her impulsiveness and doubtfulness she had forgotten, something he never mentioned. Even though she never said a word he seemed to realise that a dark matter was troubling her, and quietly deferential, his gallant attitude throughout the night served to bring her ease, confidence, and, for awhile, forgetfulness.

Such character traits led her only so far. Caught up within the fine food and drink, the intelligent, witty conversation, it almost slipped her mind what event which an evening such as this would usually conclude with. After desert, he rose from his chair and took her into his arms for a waltz, allowing the gentle strains of the background music to begin the tune of another dance upon their bodies.

His lips were soft upon her neck, his first touching caress was tenderness itself. But when the moment came of fingering a fastening in her dress, she froze, all her ease forgotten. An overwhelming feeling of panic gripped her, she felt as though Anakin was there in the room, watching her, holding her, ripping the dress from her body, about to ignore her refusal and demand his rights as her husband to devour her flesh and take her to his bed.

Her date must have seen the panic on her face, for he withdrew, offering apologies, pouring the onus of blame upon himself, when in truth it was her who was at fault. Wiping tears from her face, he listened as she haltingly gave a flimsy excuse, one nowhere near the truth and insisted that they continued. But the meaning of her stance was clear; the evening was over. He kissed her gently, offered his hope that she would be well soon, then bade her farewell. She could not have asked for a better understanding from him, but nonetheless she was ashamed of herself for quailing at the last. Alone she had been determined that Anakin would not make her a frightened woman. Yet inspite of all her determination, he was succeeding.

Now he sat stonily opposite her while their lawyers continued to negotiate the dissolution of their marriage. In many ways he was still the boy she first knew ten years ago, only with none of the slave child's pleasing looks and innocent manners. A part of her pondered where that boy had gone, why he disappeared, and how they had come to this in such a short passage of time.

"The injunction is pointless," Anakin interrupted the lawyers, who had long since moved on to other matters while he was still brooding over this one piece of legality. "Her security doesn't let me come anywhere near her."

"Is it any wonder considering the degree of damage you inflicted?" her lawyer remarked, his tone full of disdain, both for the interruption and the man, not to mention the injury which he had inflicted on his client.

"That's not the point!" Anakin thundered back. "She is my wife!"

To his credit her lawyer didn't even flinch at the force with which these words were delivered across the conference table. "In a matter of months that will no longer be the case. Such an injunction, my good fellow, is there not just to serve as a reminder to you, but as a justification of why we are bringing this suit in the first place. It will last as long as you continue to create a fuss. Civility costs nothing."

"It costs me her," Anakin muttered stonily.

"You will lose her no matter what degree of fuss you make," her lawyer replied. "The truth of the matter is that you lost her a long time ago, my dear boy."

Padmé could see Anakin's anger rising, the term of address her lawyer was using served only to aggravate his straining temper. His flesh fingers began to form a fist, the air crackling with the power of that which bound everything within the universe together. But before the object of his anger was affected, Artoo darted forward with his charger, zapping the palm apart. Anakin recoiled in shock, glaring at the droid who regarded him belligerently, silently daring his former master to call him out, for he was more than eager for such a challenge.

Beside her lawyer merely raised his eyebrows, such displays of temper were beneath him and considered not worth his notice. "The injunctions stays. What's next?"

One failed encounter with the List did not cause Padmé to abandon her membership. If anything her stubborn determination not to let what Anakin had done to conquer her once confident and sensuous nature made her use the little golden com device nearly every night.

The theory filled her with a strange sort of contentment; sober politicking during the day, sensuous pleasure during the night. A cadre of successful, highly intelligent, attractive and uninhibited men, without any concerns in showing her exactly how much they wanted from her, and what they were willing to give in return. In practice however, surrendering to that sensuous pleasure required a courage which was beyond her. After the first frantic desire to conquer her fears appeared in order to conceal the initial awkwardness on her part, the memories of past nights under Anakin returned and with them her confidence to be just as uninhibited, desirous and giving, disappeared.

She kept to the old numbers that she used before, hoping they would restore her fractured self-esteem, recollect that she was beautiful, allow herself to feel what it was like to be desired and to take and receive such decadent ecstasy. But no matter how gentle the guys were, how slow or how fast they started to seduce her, foreplay was as far as any of them got. They were generous with her, almost far too understanding, though she more than appreciated their ability to shrug off her refusal and leave, kindly paying the bill of the room. But even during those brief moments when she was able to forget her fears, when nothing but conversation, food and wine occupied her mind, she realised the sheer contrast between them and her soon to be ex-husband. Marriage paled in comparison, as she realised the true extent of failure within her union with Anakin; his selfishness through everything, and her own failings for forming the union in the first place.

They had barely given their marriage a chance, entering it out of a fit of pique in response to the Order's once rigid code constraints. Marriage had been the solution to the Order's threat of tearing them apart; by allying themselves in a holy union, there was nothing the Jedi could do to deny their love. Duty had called them back to the Republic, sweeping her off to peace negotiations, parting them before they had any time to become acquainted with living with each other, or adjusting to living a secret life, nor to the domestic realities of their actions. It would have been better if they had just formed a more intimate relationship, without the intricacies which marriage demanded, using each other until they were tired of it before moving on to someone else.

Instead this divorce was ruining not just their friendship, but the respect, admiration, pride, in short everything she had once felt for him. And it was damaging him as well, destroying what little progress he had made in controlling his temper, his rigorous self-discipline from Jedi training. Obi-Wan had warned her about this, when they were arguing right before she left for Naboo with his apprentice. 'Better a small cruelty now, than a crushing devastation later,' he had said in urging her to give him up. In reply she had said that he would never forgive her, to which he merely asked her if she could forgive herself if loving her destroyed him.

'I'd die,' she had said in response to that, and in a sense, she had. A part of her, that which was reckless, impulsive, courageous, self-assured, in short, all that had made her first Queen then Senator, was dead. In return, she had destroyed him, not entirely, but the effect was threatening, in light of the injury he visited on her, the frequent losses of temper. She wondered if it was affecting him at the Temple, if the Order had noticed the destruction their alliance had wrought upon him. Only now did she begin to comprehend what she had done; she had destroyed the Chosen One. In her guilt she did not take into account that he was responsible for his own actions, for the darkness he committed on Tatooine before their marriage or relationship was even begun. For that he had realised was not worthy of a Jedi, whereas in injuring her he had felt no such compunction.

Parts Thirty-one-Thirty-six

© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 2021. All rights reserved.