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Daniella's Bureau; A Fanfic And Desktop Site


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


Part 1: A Summons to the Core.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And they are?" Mace Windu asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And some regret that more had not occurred.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Are you free tonight?"

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

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

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

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

Part 2: A Prayer Upon Parting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"How would you know?" Anakin asked.

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

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

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

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

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

"Padmé told me," Obi-Wan replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 3: As Their Hearts Were Matched & Mated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Quality?" Padmé queried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now that he was, she was no longer.

Part 4: Troubling Invitations.

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

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

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

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

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

The Padawan frowned. "Our quarters, why?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"How are the talks going?" he inquired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 5: Enlightening Encounters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Order Sixty-six," Dooku replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And was he?" she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whether she was quite sure about it or not.

Part 6: Amidst Cloistered Fountain Gardens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It had been an intoxicating and yet serene experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parts Seven-Twelve.

© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 2021. All rights reserved.