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Untitled Document


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



Part 37: A Torch Upon the Darkness.

Obi-Wan did not encounter another familiar Jedi enroute to his quarters within the Temple after passing Anakin. Despite his seemingly casual greeting, one simple phrase into which a great deal of thought had been put into, his former Padawan failed to acknowledge both the reply and the encounter. Such an event took a shorter time than the length of consideration that he had given the situation, but he could only shake his head in mild regret, an emotion directed both at himself and his former Padawan. As he performed such a motion, he saw the destination which Anakin had been in quest of, the turbo lift that led to the Council chambers. His anxious concern rose a little, but there was nothing coming from the Force to tell him that he should be worrying more. Doubtless his former Padawan was about to be given his first mission as a Knight.

Avoiding the turbo lifts, Obi-Wan wandered on through the maze of Temple corridors in search of his quarters, content to take the long way round, as opposed to the most direct route. Occasionally he would encounter another Jedi Master, Knight or Padawan, but none of them were as familiar to him as Anakin, causing him to reach his quarters undisturbed by any thoughts save for those on his current assignment, and Padmé. A smile formed upon his face as soon as her name passed into his mind. He had never expected for a moment that he would be fortunate enough to meet with the Senator from Naboo during his assignment.

That she would be a member of the List was a surprise, revealing a facet to her character which was previously hidden from him. And from Anakin it seemed, though that was fortunate for all their sakes, as his former Padawan would not regard the activities of the List in a favourable light. One of the rare notions that they had in common, although Obi-Wan was far more tolerant of the vices which the List practised.

In certain light, the clique could almost be a virtue, for it allowed the members involved to discard all their publicly held prejudices and practices in favour of achieving a more primitive satisfaction within the embrace of another. An exercise in tolerance, that could prove beneficial to the future well-being of the Republic, if the members cared to realise that such a truth existed behind the seemingly scandalous act.

But it was more than tolerance which he and Padmé had exercised during their encounter. That she returned his feelings was startling, counselling him to examine all that had passed between them before in a new light. In many ways their consideration of Anakin's feelings had been their undoing. Not only had they ignored the blessing from the Force, they had allowed a harmful factor to effect his former Padawan which had caused lasting consequences to his character.

Anakin's attachment to his mother was unavoidable, but his love for Padmé could have been, if they had taken the trouble to deal with it, instead of hoping that it was a product of a youthful idealisation that would fade away in time. Such an reproach was the benefit of hindsight, but he had been gifted with the Unifying Force, an ability which dealt with looking into the future, however in motion it may always be.

Master Yoda had often rebuked him for his own problems with attachment, but Obi-Wan knew that his were far more disciplined than Anakin's. He only need to recall the moment when Padmé had fallen from the clone army ship on to the sands of Geonosis to support his assertion. Anakin had been ready to halt the vehicle and jump down to rescue her, inspite of their pursuit of Count Dooku. His Padawan had not given a thought to the possibility that she might be able to reach their destination on her own, until Obi-Wan had threatened and cajoled him into doing so. Perhaps that method should have been avoided in favour of a more mild approach, he knew that he too had been preoccupied with making sure that Padmé was uninjured. Anakin's turmoil and distress overwhelmed his senses to such a degree, making him struggle to sense that she was well.

If Anakin had jumped down to rescue her, none of what he had threatened would have come to pass, for the Order was too concerned with keeping the Chosen One that losing him to love, however much they disapproved of his blatant disregard for the code which existed then. What else would have occurred was more difficult to predict. His former Padawan would have arrived too late to help him with Dooku, he might have fared better or worse in the duel without the distraction which his apprentice may or may not have been. Anakin may not have lost his arm, for he would probably have arrived too late to confront the Count.

But none of those alternatives mattered, for the point to focus on was how Anakin had dealt with his emotions when Padmé fell. Unlike his master he had assumed that no one else could save her but himself. It was one of Anakin's failings, the inability to realise he was not invincible. No amount of training or experience could make him recognise the error, it was simply something which he refused to contemplate.

Which was where their attachment differed. Obi-Wan knew that he was incapable of saving everyone. He knew his limits and that no amount of training would ever render him invincible. To be a student of the ways of the Force was a life long journey, one never truly mastered, despite the rank which he now held and the Council on which he sat. He could love someone and let them go. He may not be content to spend his life alone, but if that proved to be his fate, he would accept it.

If Padmé had remained with Anakin, he would have not fought it, except perhaps under the counsel of others, as he had done in the past. But instead she had chosen to realise her own feelings for him, giving her heart to him in return for his own. Such a gift was humbling, and he would honour the exchange for the rest of his life. His only hope was that in time they would be allowed to acknowledge those feelings without it being to the detriment of his Padawan. Given what Anakin had done to her when their union came to an end, he doubted that to tell him now would do any of them good.

Reminding himself of what he heard Anakin had done to Padmé brought another thought to his mind, that of what he should do with that piece of knowledge now that he had it. His instinct was to inform the rest of the Council, but he could not ignore how the assault would be treated by them. As with any Jedi who used their gift to harm another, their conduct was examined and they were reprimanded and sent to a soul healer. But Anakin was used to facing that from the Council, and such a repeat would only serve to anger him and alienate him from their guidance even more than he was already.

His Padawan was a Knight now, a rank which no one could deny him, even if he was not as disciplined as some of the newly promoted initiates of the Order. Nothing that the Council could do would probably serve any of them any good, he knew. However he could not help but recall all the times in the past when Anakin had used the Force with such brutality before, and he feared that it would not be the last time either.

Entering his quarters, Obi-Wan discarded his cloak before heading into the kitchen area for a cup of tea. With a wave of his hand he flicked the com device on his desk into life, letting the machine warm up while his drink stewed. When the tea was ready he cradled the cup in his hands as he took a seat before his desk and caught up on his messages.

One immediately caught his eye, for it was from Mace Windu, regarding a security risk to a member of the Senate. Specifically, the member from the Chommell Sector, who had asked to meet with a Council member to discuss such concerns over dinner. A smile came to face as he realised that he would be seeing Padmé within just a few hours. This emotion was tempered however by the thought of what security risk could have arisen in the time they had parted from each other in the Corellian Grand. Padmé was no ordinary politician. She would not have requested such a meeting unless it was important.

Rising from his chair, Obi-Wan took himself further into the quarters, to where the refresher and his bedroom were located. Shedding his garments he took another shower, this time solitary and short, before attiring himself in a freshly laundered set of robes. It would not do to greet Master Windu in the clothes he wore during his unofficial assignment. Privately he contemplated the possibility of confiding in the rest of the Council about what Bail had asked him to investigate. He could not be the only member within that body who knew about the List. There were the larger implications behind the murders to consider after all.

From his quarters it was not as long a route to the Council chambers as it was from those lived by the members of the Order who did not sit within that body. Obi-Wan wandered the largely deserted corridors of the rooms which belonged to those members, before reaching a door that led to the series of private meditation chambers, likewise reserved, through which there was an entrance into the Council Chamber itself. Before the entrance he paused, stretching out with the Force to determine who else was in the room. Anakin had been heading that way, and he did not wish to encounter his former Padawan so soon. Not all members of the Council needed to be present in order to assign a Knight or Master a mission.

Still it was disconcerting to learn that it had been Master Yoda and no other who chose to brief the Chosen One. It signified that the mission must have been of some importance, or the Grand Master still had his doubts concerning Anakin's abilities. Perhaps it was both. True he could sense Mace with him, but he could also discern that the Korun master had only recently entered the hallowed chamber. Knowing they would, doubtless they already had, sensed his presence, Obi-Wan joined them.

"Master Obi-Wan," Yoda greeted him in his usual manner.

In reply he offered a slight bow to them both before turning to Master Windu. "I received your message, Mace. Did Senator Amidala confide in you the nature of the security concern?"

"No, she did not," Master Windu replied. "Yet there was something in her manner which leads me to believe that this security concern is a matter that involves more than just her safety."

Obi-Wan felt his frown deepen, even as he tightened his shields around the newly realised returned affection concerning the Nubian Senator. "A concern for Naboo, or a concern for the New Republic?"

"I am uncertain," Mace answered. "She is a careful woman, who hides her worries well, even from a Jedi."

"A debt to Senator Amidala we owe," Master Yoda mused. "Without her help on Zigoola you might still be."

"I am sure she considers our own help regarding the relief of the Blockade Crisis to be an even trade," Obi-Wan countered mildly. "She is not one who expects something in return for the aid which she gives freely," he added, knowing that his companions were probably aware of such a character trait, but felt the point should be made in any case.

"Report to us the nature of her concerns you will," Master Yoda intoned.

"If they relate to larger matters within the galaxy," Obi-Wan assured them with a slight inclination of his head. He had detected enough in the Grand Master's words to realise that it was not a command, merely a reminder of his duty. "Which I sense that they might."

With that parting communiqué, Obi-Wan bowed before them then exited the Council Chamber through the same route which he had entered the room. Once outside however, he took the direct route to the Temple hangar, where he requisitioned one of the airspeeders for the journey to Five Hundred Republica. As he entered the route into the navcomputer, he took the precaution of adding to the automated return system, for it would not do for a Jedi issued airspeeder to spend all night outside the apartments. In response to the Supreme Chancellor's crafted propaganda campaign, every Jedi's actions were closely observed by an increasingly attentive holopress. The last thing he and Padmé needed was attention from them just now.

Such a move might be considered presumptuous on his part, especially as he sensed her nervousness from the moment he came to a halt by the door. It was an emotion to which he was not immune either, for his training had not prepared him for this meeting. Dormé greeted him as he crossed the threshold of the corridor, and he held some mundane conversation with her before she ushered him into the living space, where Padmé was waiting for him.

Her appearance did not calm him one iota, for once more he was struck by her beauty, unable to do no more than cast his eyes about the cascaded yellow into pink shaded gown, adorned by a silver gilded clasp fastened about her neck. Though her hair was only styled simply in a half chignon, the long locks falling down her back did nothing to hide the fact that the dress parted wide underneath her tresses, leaving her soft skin unveiled to his gaze.

Obi-Wan was drawn from his silent admiration of Padmé's beauty by her voice as she nervously greeted him. He managed to return the salutation in the same fashion, as he fell back on his training in order to achieve a semblance of serenity. To his relief this was accomplished, causing him to continue the conversation, politely reminding her of the reason he had come.

She elaborated briefly upon her motive for requesting a visit from the Order, then offered him dinner. To his surprise, Obi-Wan realised that he had not had a bite to eat since he departed from her that morning, so he accepted her invitation. As they wined and dined, he learned that the truth behind her summons was a request that the Order exercise their recently granted voting privileges, a dubious honour accorded to them and the members of the Confederacy through the peace negotiations, and join with various members of the Senate in asking that the Supreme Chancellor give up the executive powers awarded him during the Geonosis Crisis, as that engagement had come to be known since the ratification of the peace treaty with the Separatists.

It was both comforting and unsettling to learn that the Order were not the only ones who felt that Palpatine's grasp of power was dangerous to the Republic. If members of the Senate were questioning his motives in refusing to relinquish the powers granted to him in order to resolve the Geonosis Crisis, then there must be more at stake than the Council previously believed. Due to his position on the Council, Obi-Wan was more well-informed than other knights and masters of the Order about the recent political manoeuvres, perhaps more so than his Council colleagues, thanks to his friendship with Bail Organa and the woman sitting across from him.

He knew that the result of the last time the Senate put the request to the floor had enough votes behind it to force a vote of no confidence in the Chancellor. He could understand Padmé's hesitation in proposing such a measure, after all it was the same move which had won Palpatine his leadership in the first place. Another thing he also agreed with her about was that the Senate would need an overwhelming majority to force the Supreme Chancellor to relinquish his powers. That Palpatine would not go without a fight was evident. What exactly that fight would entail was another matter, and one on which no one dared to speculate for fear of reaching conclusions which were entirely unwelcome.

He agreed to Padmé's request of putting forth the proposal before the Council, asking them to exercise their voting privileges. Silently he wondered if a word to Master Dooku would influence the Confederacy into doing the same. Though the former magnate - and former Jedi Master, as far as the Serennoan was concerned, however much some members of the Order might disagree - had claimed sanctuary within the Temple, Master Dooku still had some connections within the Separatists which could prove useful to the Republic.

Whether the Council would agree to Padmé's request was another matter. A great many of them still refused to involve themselves within the Republic, even though most of their diplomatic and aid assignments came from that alliance of systems. Very few matters relating to trouble in the Outer Rim reached their ears now, a downside of basing the Temple on Coruscant, or could it be that the rising cloud of the dark side was responsible, if so Obi-Wan was uncertain. Perhaps it was time to expand their bases, reach out to Master Altis' Order, attempt an reconciliation with the Master whom anticipated the recent reforms by forming an Order of his own to follow those practises previously frowned upon.

All of this however could be focused upon when he return to the Temple. Now, he should follow an old axiom of his Master's, and focus on the moment. On the woman sitting across from him, whose hand he took hold of once more. Gently he caressed the soft skin that was beneath his callused fingers as his sea shaded eyes sought hers. In the Force he could sense that she still felt a little nervous. He ached to reassure her, but knew he could not, for nothing in their lives was as certain as the Force right now.

Still, such knowledge did not prevent him from rising from his chair to kneel beside hers, nor from his free hand cupping her face to pull her into an ardent kiss. As she leaned into his embrace, he felt her anxiety gradually lessen in the wake of their desires. As it had the night before, the ancient energy that was the Force seemed to swirl around them, full of wondrous possibilities. In sync they rose as one to stand, their lips parting briefly as she took him away from the table through the rest of the apartment to her bedroom.

Though the blinds were shuttered against the light of the city that never slept, no amount of material could cloak it completely, casting an eerie glow over the room, which had not changed since he and his Padawan had rushed in to take care of what had then been the latest attempt on her life. At the time Padmé had seen nothing but recklessness in Obi-Wan's daring capture of the craft which had carried the two Kouhuns that Anakin slayed, but now she saw the love which had lay behind his actions, along with the deadly intensity of affection bordering on obsession in Anakin's. She recalled now how that look in the Padawan's gaze, fresh from slaying the Kouhuns with his saber had terrified her, causing her to turn away from him, in time to see Obi-Wan throw himself at the craft.

But while it was easy to reconcile his past actions with her new understanding of his affections, she still found it difficult to believe that he loved her. That he had been prepared to push the reforms through the Order knowing of her misguided feelings for Anakin, despite his own seemingly orthodox loyalty to their once monastic practises. He sacrificed so much for her, that she felt almost unworthy of the depth of love which he bestowed upon her, as well as a regret that she had not realised from the first what she felt for him.

As if he were reading her thoughts, Obi-Wan cupped her face at that moment, drawing her focus back into the present. "Remember what I said this morning, Padmé. I love you, never doubt that."

He drew her towards him, meeting his lips with her own in a kiss which spoke to the depth of her soul, arousing a courage from somewhere deep inside her, enabling her to find her way through the layers of clothing covering his skin. He seemed content to let her undress him first, only returning the favour when she finished, his hands moving from where they had come to rest at the small of her back, in an upwards caressing motion to the silver clasp which fastened the dress around her neck. One click and the material fell to pool at her feet, leaving her unfettered before his tender gaze.

"You are so beautiful," he murmured, his sea shaded eyes caressing every inch of her, lingering on the bacta patch which hid the injury that Anakin had dealt to her. His hand reached out towards it and for a moment he regarded her solemnly. "Do you still need evidence of this?"

She realised now why he hadn't healed it the night before, not just because it was not the right moment, but he thought that the bruises would be required for her divorce proceedings. Softly she shook her head, then forced herself to stand still as he peeled back the bacta patch, laying his hand upon the multicoloured spectrum which his Padawan had caused, as he called upon the ancient power in which he was versed to heal it.

The last time he had healed her was when they were facing the droidekas on Geonosis, when she had been too distracted by the possibility of their dying to even realise he had done such a thing. Now however, through the eerie shuttered glow she could observe the gradual transformation of colour which he worked upon her flesh, savour the sensations which the healing seemed to create inside her. Attempt to define the look in his sea shaded eyes that never left her own.

It was only when she felt him begin to caress her breasts that she realised the healing was finished, giving way to other desires. Her own hands became adventurous too, exploring him until their strength to keep their feet on the ground gave way to their growing passion, and he swept her up into arms to lay her upon the bed.

This time there was a certain fierceness to their union which was lacking from the night before. Not enough to overcome the tender caresses, or to cast doubt upon the passion that was unleashed, but the result came to plunder the depth of their love even further, to a plane previously undiscovered. Last night had been about exploration, tonight was about confirmation, of their feelings and of their pleasure, bound together in an exactness which took their breath away.

In the afterglow they fell back amongst the pillows, their joined hands landing last upon the linen sheets, both sated and breathless. Idly brown eyes met blue in an eloquent gaze, exchanging glances of mutual enjoyment.

"It was never like that," Padmé murmured.

Obi-Wan turned to her with an inquiring look, silently requesting her to explain what she meant. When she hesitated, he added a further plea by raising her hand that he still clasped to his lips, quietly assuring her that she had no need to dissemble with him.

"I was just realising how much of a mistake I made," she continued in the same soft tone. "Why did I marry him, Obi-Wan? I don't know any more. It was never him I loved, it was always you."

"Since when?" he asked her quietly, turning his face towards her.

"Naboo," she replied, reminding him of the moment when he first encountered her, seconds after leaping down from a raised cloister in order to dismember a few dozen droids of the Trade Federation who held her hostage.

"Why did you never tell me?" he queried.

"Because we had responsibilities," she reminded him. "I knew what my heart still felt from the minute we shook hands upon our reunion, but I also realised when Ani spoke that he was still interested in me. I don't know why I once believed that my own feelings reciprocated his. I felt compassion for him, but never the love I should feel. But then neither did he." she turned to face him. "Why didn't you argue your case when you visited me before he and I left for Naboo?"

"I didn't think you returned my feelings," he replied, causing her to frown. "Padmé, I saw you kiss him before you entered the arena, what was I supposed to think?" He sighed and took a breath before continuing. "I saw the future on Geonosis, just not the future I wanted. On Naboo, it was all I could do to honour the last wishes of my master. Ten years later, what I felt was tempered by the feelings of my Padawan and the need to complete his training before raising the question of reform within the Order before the Council. A reform born out of selfish motives, ones which I knew would give Anakin grief, as well as you, even if his feelings were returned. But, considering what you endured at his hands, I wish I had."

"That's another thing I cannot understand," Padmé remarked, "why did I kiss him then, why did I tell him that I loved him? I didn't. I was terrified for him and what he had done, I was torn between arguing with him to tell you and telling you myself."

"What had he done?" Obi-Wan asked.

She told him then, of the events on Tatooine, when she and Anakin had gone to find his mother, only for him to retrieve her dead body from the Tusken Raiders, confessing to her later of the price he had paid in surrendering to his desire for vengeance.

"I'll never forget what he said and how he said it," she uttered as she came to the end of the tale, "'I killed them. I killed them all. They're dead, every single one of them... Not just the men, but the women and children too. They're like animals and I slaughtered them like animals.' He said that he couldn't control himself, that he didn't want to hate them, but he couldn't forgive them either. I didn't know what do, let alone how to tell you. I knew you would blame yourself for failing in your promise to Qui-Gon and I could not let you do that."

"Nevertheless, you should have told me," Obi-Wan admonished gently. "Yoda felt something happen to him, what he was unsure, he told me so when we returned. When I confronted Ani, he remained stubbornly silent, unwilling to confide in me. I knew then that I had failed Qui-Gon, but there was little I could do to change things, unless Ani desired to be helped." He sighed and raised her hand to his mouth once more. "All the injuries we could have prevented if we had just found the courage to be honest with each other."

"It was not courage and honesty which failed us, it was compulsion." she countered, causing him to pause in his sojourn and turn to her, curious and concerned. "Or at least, I came to believe that I was compelled today."

He frowned as he contemplated the rather unsettling thoughts which were aroused by her startling revelation. "You are sure that your view is not tainted by his recent actions?"

"Yes and no," she answered slowly, after a great deal of thought. "My view of him has always been influenced by our first meeting, as has his. That view blinded us from seeing the changes in each other which a decade has dealt, changes which we refused to accept."

Softly Obi-Wan gathered her into his arms as he focused on her words. "If you are right, then you and he are not the only ones. The Order was blinded as well, first by their fears of change, then by the belief that he would prove the truth of the prophecy. However, who was it who blinded us? Anakin or the Sith?"

"But why would the Sith care?" Padmé queried. "And on Geonosis? Could their power extend so far?"

"Imagine what could happen if the Chosen One turned," Obi-Wan murmured, "or was compelled to turn. A Sith seeks out the shadows which already lie within you, and uses them to spread the darkness further. And Anakin's shadow has always been his fear that he will not fulfil his dreams, which are now blinded by the hopes of others."

"I can believe that Anakin is being manipulated," Padmé agreed, "but I do not think that advocates his guilt."

"Nor do I," Obi-Wan replied, "but it is not his guilt which is in question. What worries me is how far can he fall before it too late for him to rise again."

As soon as Coruscant's optical receptors signalled the commencement of standard daylight hours, the Senator and Jedi Master rose from their bed and broke their fast together, in the same room that contained their dinner the night before. Unlike the morning spent at the Corellian Grand, both were required to attend to their duties almost immediately, hers a morning committee meeting in the offices of the Senate, his a Council briefing in which he would voice her request that the Jedi exercise their voting privileges. So they rose from sleep, allowed themselves a brief but luxurious coupling before breakfast, whereupon Padmé bade Obi-Wan farewell.

He took the long way home, opting to use public transport as he had sent the distinctive Jedi issued airspeeder back to the hangar during the night, deciding to treat the curious stares which the Jedi always encountered from others as an exercise in tolerance. In the end however, the decision was taken out of his hands. For before he reached the nearest public transport station, his attention was drawn towards a crowd of beings, gathered together for some as yet inexplicable reason, in the midst of what was otherwise known as the Senatorial district. Calmly he manoeuvred his way through the exclaiming hoard, until he reached the eye of the storm, whereupon his own serenity was dashed into the orbital highways located above.

What he had expected to see in the midst of this crowd was a creature dead from exposure, a domesticated or feral animal maybe, or a homeless being, which was not an uncommon sight on the planet commonly heralded as the Jewel of the Core Worlds. However what he found instead gave him pause, and caused him to exercise Jedi discipline on retaining his composure, for it would not do to alarm the crowd any further than they already were. For what lay before him was not an common sight on the Jewel of the Core Worlds. It was something he had last encountered over ten years ago.

A murdered Jedi.

Part 38: To Glance Upon a Truth Unknown.

The funeral took place that evening, attended by friends and colleagues of the murdered Jedi, as well as the members of the Council. Inside the Temple, the hush which surrounded the ancient burial rites was fraught with disturbing emotions, as those present attempted to reconcile within themselves the horror from which they could not escape. A Jedi becoming one with the Force was not uncommon, it was natural. But what had happened to the knight discovered within the Senatorial District of Coruscant, was entirely unnatural.

However it was also an all too common fate for the Jedi since the re-emergence of the Sith. It was no comfort at present to accept that the funereal flames would soon consume all sight of the mortal wound which was so eerily reminiscent of the fate visited upon another but ten years earlier, for the memory of it would still endure, along with the holos taken by the ever curious members of the holopress, who arrived before the Order could take the body away.

Within the ranks of the Council stood Obi-Wan, his serenity regained but not without considerable effort. Silently he watched the flames as they consumed the murdered Jedi, his thoughts not focused on the moment, or on the eerie similarity which this bore to another funeral that he had witnessed over ten years ago. Instead he dwelt upon the events which followed his discovery of the Jedi. By the time he had ascertained that the knight was one with the Force and called for the necessary authorities within the Order, the holopress had already taken the liberty of spreading news of the tragedy far and wide. It was with great difficulty that he managed to remove the little gold comlink which was resting in the grip of the Jedi's outstretched hand, unseen, before his colleagues from the Order came to recover the body.

Upon their arrival at the Temple, the body of the knight resting on a stretcher which hovered in the midst of himself and his colleagues, they were greeted by a representative from the Courts, and one from the executive office. Supreme Chancellor Palpatine's aide had not been too happy when he strove to assure both bodies of authority that this matter was, and would remain, within the purview of the Order. However a few members of the holopress had managed to follow the procession from the Senatorial District to the steps of the Temple, and it was the fear of how they might view any emotional reaction which kept the aides from showing their true feelings.

Inside, Obi-Wan found Master Windu and Master Yoda awaiting him and it was to them that he confided his impressions of the murder, as well as the care of the victim. Almost as an afterthought did he relate the request from Senator Amidala, though to him and to the Council, it was anything but. For the first time the Order had been granted the right to exercise their authority within the Senate, and their decision regarding the way that they did had to be the right one, not just for themselves but for the Republic.

For while they agreed that Chancellor Palpatine must relinquish the executive powers granted him, not all of them believed that exercising their vote in the Senate would make him do so. Nor were they comfortable with the perception that it would inevitably create of where their allegiance lay. The way of the Jedi was for peace and justice, determined by the Force, not by whatever earthly authority happened to be in power at the time. Their independence from those very authorities was what allowed beings from all over the known galaxy to appeal to them.

Yet were they really perceived as being independent of the Republic anymore, Obi-Wan wondered. For over a millennia the base of their Order had remained on Coruscant, with various outposts on other worlds serving as libraries or retreats. Those of the Order who spent their lives within the latter appealed to the authority of the Council, on Coruscant. Judged in that light it was easy to see that their independence from the Republic may not be recognised by those worlds who did not belong to such political alliances. If they did exercise their vote within the Senate, that view would deepen into a certainty in some eyes.

However, he did not know of any other way to make the Chancellor relinquish his executive powers, save perhaps via the use of a lightsaber. An image that would hardly bestow upon them any favours, in the eyes of any being, whether they supported Palpatine's authority or not. Jedi mediated their way into political disputes, reserving the use of a lightsaber for what were termed aggressive negotiations, when the beings they were mediating with had already decided to fight. The Chancellor was resisting the wishes of the Senate to relinquish his powers, but he was not doing so with any weapon except words.

And they had voiced their view to him about his executive powers in words many times since their delegations' return from Pais and the ratification of the peace treaty with the Confederacy. But while they had managed to persuade him to send the clone army home to Kamino and to accept that the Separatists should be allowed a representation within the Senate, as well as the Republic being granted the same within the Confederacy, they had not managed to convince him to give up his executive powers. Perhaps if they decided to exercise their voting privileges within the Senate he would be more receptive to surrendering them, but privately Obi-Wan doubted it. He had a feeling that threatening the Chancellor with a saber might become reality within the near future, and he was not sure if it was just a feeling or the Force that was telling him it would be a possibility.

With Padmé's request put under consideration, the Council had focused on the murdered Jedi for the rest of the day. To his horror Obi-Wan learned that the Jedi had been assigned to watch over the mysterious duties which the Chancellor had asked to be entrusted to Knight Skywalker. For the Council, or rather Masters Yoda, Windu and Dooku, to put the activities which the Chosen One had been charged with under surveillance was a sign of grave importance. That the Knight charged with the surveillance had been killed and by lightsaber, could only mean one thing; that whatever these duties were to which the Chancellor requested that Anakin be assigned, no one else was permitted to know about them.

It also indicated more strongly than ever that the Sith were here on Coruscant, for no one else had the skill to kill a Jedi with a lightsaber. As for the alternative, Obi-Wan refused to contemplate it, despite what he recently learned. However, such a fact did not disturb the Council as much as it should, for the suspicion of the Sith being located on the jewel of Core worlds had lingered within their thinking almost from the moment of their re-emergence on Naboo. By killing the Knight and leaving him out in plain sight for any being on Coruscant to see, not to mention the planting - or existence, for there was no way for Obi-Wan to determine the Jedi's membership of the List now he was dead - of a certain little gold comlink, the Sith were showing the Jedi that they were not afraid of their Order. Infact, it was perhaps a declaration of war.

Now more than ever they needed to discover what lay behind the duties which the Chancellor had asked for Anakin Skywalker to be entrusted with. Only one being within the Order could reveal their mysteries, and he had yet to return to the Temple, despite several messages sent to his comlink requesting him to do so. For Anakin not to obey such requests was commonplace, but fresh from his discussion with Padmé over what his former Padawan may or may not have been compelled to do, Obi-Wan found the Knight's tardiness far more troubling than usual.

As for their speculation over such compulsions, he was still keeping his own counsel for the moment, for he did not think it would be wise to trouble the Council with such a matter at this time. Not only would it colour their view of Anakin, it would serve to further alienate him from the Order at a moment when he needed them more than ever. It may be a saying amongst the Jedi that once you started down the dark path it would forever dominate your destiny, but that axiom did not mean that when a Jedi fell the Order turned their backs on them. Count Dooku was a recent if perhaps extreme example, and it would be unwise to make comparisons between him and Anakin.

Yet the similarities were there, Obi-Wan realised sadly, there was no sense in ignoring them. Like Dooku, Anakin was possibly being manipulated into using the darkness which existed inside him to achieve those wants that Order used to deny. He had sought to avenge himself against those who killed his mother, just as Dooku had sought to avenge himself against Republic and the Order, when he discovered that the teachings he had hungered to acquire were dark instead of light.

Which was where the similarity ended, for Obi-Wan did not know if Anakin's anger was directed against what he perceived as the Council's doctrine, or simply anyone who denied him something he desired. In Padmé's case it was clearly the latter, an action which he would have found hard to justify even if he did not care for her as he did. Not for the first time in his musings over his padawan did he find himself agreeing with what Padmé had said. In many ways Anakin was still a youngling. His years spent as a slave together with Jedi training may have forced him to mature earlier, but in some instances he viewed the world very much as a crechling would when denied a treat.

However, no crechling would avenge the death of their mother by laying waste to a tribe of beings. Padmé's words concerning the event haunted him, for he could not deny feeling a certain measure of complicity regarding the massacre. By ignoring Anakin's dreams about his mother, he wondered if he had, however unwittingly, set such a dark step into motion. Like his Padawan he was gifted in the Unifying Force, he should know a vision when he heard one. When Anakin first told him of the dreams, it would have been a simple matter to go before the Council and request leave for them both, to investigate them. If the Council refused, Yoda could have been persuaded, as he often overruled Qui-Gon when he had a vision during his own apprenticeship. Or he could have followed his old master's policy of informing the Council after he and Anakin had returned from Tatooine.

Whatever his culpability in the matter, Obi-Wan knew that such speculation was rendered useless by the reality he was temporarily ignoring. Instead he should be pondering whether his assistance in the matter would have prevented Anakin's most recent actions, or merely delayed them. Slaughtering a Tribe of Tuskens was not the first dark act which his former padawan had committed. There was that incident involving the Blood Carver known as Ke Daiv, just three years after the Blockade Crisis. Although Anakin was his padawan then, if he had been raised in the Temple, his move into the ranks of apprentice would have been denied by that dark act, just as his own duel with Bruck Chun caused Qui-Gon to refuse accepting him before the mission on Bandomeer which brought he and his master together.

Obi-Wan could not deny that such memory had influenced his actions regarding Anakin's behaviour at that time. But now he recalled his own master's trials regarding a former apprentice by the name of Xanatos. It was a past which his master rarely talked of, and then only in brief terms. He had better success in recovering details of their past from the Jedi archives, not to mention his own encounter with the fallen and therefore former Jedi apprentice on Bandomeer.

Casting that aside however, in the end, the debate on Anakin came down to one point; when should he stop attempting to excuse the actions of a youngling as misguided in order to treat them for what the Order would view them as; the acts of a fallen Jedi. There was another word which his colleagues in the Council would use, but despite all his apprentice had done, Obi-Wan refused to apply that label to his former padawan just yet.

A layer in the Force shifted, arousing Obi-Wan from his thoughts and causing him to turn his head in the direction of the door to the memorial chamber. Through the transparisteel he could see Anakin coming to a halt outside the door. Opening himself to the Force, he let the other Council members know, although he knew that such a motion was a courtesy, considering his former Padawan's power within the Force. Doubtless the other Council members had already sensed the knight's somewhat tardy arrival.

If Anakin had still been his Padawan, Obi-Wan would have left the memorial chamber in order to find out what had kept him, possibly use his diplomacy skills to pass on the Council's disappointment on to his shoulders instead of his apprentice, but experience as a master had taught him that such an exercise was pointless long ago. The Council usually saw through this particular method of negotiation, and his attempt to pre-empt them from finding out what had kept his padawan tended to annoy Anakin all the more.

Within a few minutes the service came to an end, the doors to the Memorial entrance opening to let the attendants exit. Obi-Wan followed the rest of the Council, who clustered around Anakin as he bowed to them in greeting.

"Forgive me, Masters, for my tardiness, but my duties to the Chancellor prevented me from replying to your summons promptly," Anakin replied.

Master Windu frowned. "In future, Knight Skywalker, you should remember that your obligation to the Order takes precedent over anything the Chancellor may require of you."

"Even a threat to the Republic?" Anakin queried, causing Obi-Wan to sigh. His former Padawan's penchant for questioning those in authority had reared its head once more.

"In the light of such a threat, doubtless we will be aware of it, before the Chancellor is notified," Master Windu remarked.

Anakin looked prepared to counter that assertion, however Obi-Wan sent out a probe through the Force via their old training bond, advising him not to. For a brief moment Knight and Master met each other's gaze wordlessly, then former turned his eyes on Master Windu and conceded to the Korun Master's authority. For Obi-Wan, the hesitation in his former Padawan's loyalties was troubling.

While the knight settled down to debrief the Council regarding the details of his mission so far, Obi-Wan felt another brush past him, with a hastily murmured phrase whispered into his ears. "We need to talk."

His senses were so finely attuned that he recognised the Jedi immediately. "My apartment," he offered as a suitable meeting place, adding the security code needed to access his quarters via the Force.

There was a quick nod of acknowledgement, then the Jedi was gone, leaving him to return to the nature of the impromptu Council meeting which had formed around Anakin, a slight frown upon his face the only sign to indicate that the encounter had troubled him.

What seemed like hours later, but in reality was probably barely half of one such epoch, the Council parted from Knight Skywalker, with Obi-Wan giving his former padawan a brief glance before falling into their ranks as they returned to the corridor which contained the quarters reserved for them. His was located not far from Masters Yoda and Windu, and it was to them that he bade his farewells for the night to, keeping himself shielded, hoping neither of them had noticed, yet all the while feeling that they had, for the two grand masters knew him entirely too well.

Left alone as they continued to traverse the corridor towards their own rooms, Obi-Wan tapped in his access code and entered his quarters, closing the doors behind him with a swift prompt from the Force. Only then did he motion for the lights to come on, arranging a soft setting designed not to bring attention to the being who was surveying the view of Coruscant which the cloaked transparisteel gave.

"Nice view," his guest commented. "If I'd known that Council Masters are bestowed such plum apartments, perhaps I would not have come so quickly to my decision."

"Something is troubling you," Obi-Wan observed as he took in the tense appearance of his usually suave and self-assured friend, knowing full well that he was stating the obvious, but uncertain of how else to begin what he sensed would be a unsettling conversation.

"I'm thinking of leaving the Order," his companion announced, causing Obi-Wan to pale in the process.

"Why?" He asked when his voice came back to him.

"For the age old reason," his friend informed him, "I've fallen in love."

Obi-Wan's frown deepened, along with the level of his confusion. "Garen, there's no need to leave the Order due to that fate any more."

His friend of many years standing nodded tiredly, as though he had held this discussion countless times. "The being of my choice happens to be a rather dangerous woman. If I stay in the Order and acknowledge the relationship, I put everyone in peril, including her."

"How did you meet?" Obi-Wan asked.

"Through the List," Garen replied. "She was who I met on Pais, although I was involved with her long before that. While we initially met through the List, it wasn't too long after our first encounter before we ceased to be casual partners. She soon learned that I was a member of the Order, and in turn confided in me that her own occupation was equally prone to high risk situations. It was only during the peace negotiations that she confided to me her troubles. She didn't request my help, but then I gave her no choice but to accept it."

"Why is acknowledging your relationship such a threat to the Order and the Republic?" Obi-Wan inquired.

"Because her employer is interested in taking over the Galaxy and will stop at nothing to make sure he succeeds," Garen answered, the reply shocking his friend.

For some moments a silence reigned over the quarters as Obi-Wan digested the horrifying truth for what it was. Glancing at his friend, he knew by the set of Garen's jaw that he would be unable to persuade him from following through with his decision, however much Obi-Wan disagreed with it. And yet as he prepared himself to say farewell, a flash of insight from the Force robbed him of such a noble salute, providing clarity where previously he had believed to have reached an impasse. Silently he crossed the length of his quarters to clasp his friend's shoulder in a gesture of support, before summoning the ability to speak. "Where is she, your lady?"

His friend turned to him, suspicious. "Why do you ask?"

"Because I need to speak with her," Obi-Wan replied. "It is possible that she may have information which might be useful."

"Useful?" Garen echoed. "Obi-Wan, what do you mean?"

"When we returned to Coruscant from Pais, I was charged with investigating Zigoola, as you may recall," Obi-Wan began, pausing to await his friend's acknowledging nod of recollection before he continued. "During the course of that mission Senator Organa and I became good friends, deepening the acquaintance we had formed on Pais. Shortly after we returned to Coruscant, he found an old liaison of his, from his time in the List, murdered in his residence.

"Uncertain as who to trust, he called on me and requested that I go undercover into the List to find the murderer. That was several weeks ago, and more murders have occurred, this Jedi the latest, although I am uncertain as whether the presence of the gold comlink in his hand was a plant or just an added bonus. We have come to believe, that someone, most likely the Sith whom the Order has been looking before, aims to bring the List into the limelight, tearing the Republic apart in the ensuing scandal."

To his surprise, Garen did not appear in the least startled by this disturbing vision of the future. If anything his solemn expression deepened along with the silence. Patiently Obi-Wan waited for him to speak.

"It might take a while to convince her that this is the right course," he uttered at last. "During her years of employment, her boss made a habit of providing her with a display of what could happen should she chose to betray him."

Obi-Wan's clasp on his friend's shoulder merely tightened. "Let me know if you need my help."

Part 39: What Once Was Lost.

It had been a stroke of luck finding that little gold comlink within the Jedi's belongings. A finishing touch to the crime that would send shock waves not just through the Order but the Republic as well. Watching as the unsuspecting citizens of the Republic discovered the body, Asajj could not help but feel a measure of success in foiling the Order's attempt to discover the schemes of her Master. Of course there was a certain amount of concern within her mind regarding how the Order had discovered her Master's schemes, considering that Master Kenobi was supposed to be the only one who was aware of them, having been recruited by Senator Organa to undertake the unofficial, and only investigation, without first seeking permission from the Council.

She had taken a great pleasure in attempting to discover such from the victim before he had succumbed to his wounds. But the Jedi had protested to the last that he was only ordered to follow the Chosen One, to try and discover precisely what duties that the Chancellor had tasked him to undertake. A lie of course, what he had admitted was merely a cover taught to him by the Council, to submit to his torturers. But true as well, from a certain point of view, for the Chosen One was assigned by the Chancellor to undertake the duties which had resulted in the investigation that was under Master Kenobi's purview. As for herself, Asajj had been tasked with preventing others from discovering who was behind these duties, as well as the cause of them, Master Kenobi included.

The irony that said Master had been the one to instruct the very being who carried out these duties he was investigating, did not escape her, even if it escaped the Knight in question. Anakin Skywalker had little idea that the atrocities which he carried out in the Chancellor's name were being examined by the Jedi Master who undertook to train him to be the tool of Darth Sidious that he had become. Nor did he realise that the beings he killed were only guilty of belonging to the List, nothing more. A clique his wife had once belonged to, something else he was ignorant of.

Oh yes, her Master delighted in ironies. Sometimes Asajj had the sense that there were a few more ironies in which her master delighted in that he did not permit her to be privy to. Such nonnesicence did not cause her resentment, she understood that there were always to be things which she would remain forever ignorant of, that her Master knew far better than she. It way the of the Sith to guard those skills the teaching of which might leave them vulnerable to attack. Masters would always possess far more knowledge and power compared to that of their apprentices. And Asajj was content to remain an apprentice, for now at least. She had no desire to inherit her master's schemes, she would much rather create her own. Not everyone wished to rule the universe, that was something she could delegate upon others.

In front of her there was a change to the previous sensationalist landscape, as a sea of sand coloured cloaks tipped by long leather boots with varying shades of hair drove back the hoards of curious spectators. Asajj grimaced as those waves took the form of the very master whose presence she had not wanted coming upon this little scene. However there was little she could do to prevent him from taking charge of the victim, not unless she wished to reveal her presence to the entire hapless population of Coruscant, and the Order along with it. Lord Sidious would not be pleased with her if she did such a thing.

He had already lost one apprentice at the hands of Obi-Wan Kenobi, he had no desire to lose another. Though Asajj doubted that she would be defeated by him, that is until she watched the surveillance footage of the exhaust shafts where the then Padawan had taken the life of Lord Sidious' previous apprentice. Granted those events had taken place ten years ago, the Master before her now, who was currently calmly attempting to persuade the crowd gathered around the body to go away in vain, was older and not necessarily wiser, according to the humour that her master was some times in. But he had a young padawan to train and from what she had witnessed in the holovised footage of the battle of Geonosis - holovised because the Geonosis delighted in making their executions public spectacles - such training had only served to increase his prowess.

For a moment Asajj let her imagination run wild as she contemplated the only two outcomes of such an entanglement with Master Kenobi. No matter how one might dress them up, there would be only two outcomes, victory or defeat. To whom those titles would belong was up to the Force to decide.

Before her the sensationalist landscape altered once more, as the crowd reluctantly parted to let the fresh wave of sand coloured cloaks in, who promptly surrounded the first, cutting off the sight of the body, much to the crowd's rapidly expressed cries of disappointment. The Jedi paid the spectators no heed, splitting their focus between Master Kenobi and the victim, whom they quickly lifted on to a stasis stretcher via the use of the Force. A few swift turns, and the now funereal escort made their way to the transport which they had arrived in, taking their departed comrade on board.

With the body and Jedi departed, Asajj had no reason to stay. Turning her eyes from the ever decreasing dot that now was the transport as it joined the airways enroute to the Temple, she set about her own journey, towards the luxurious apartment provided for her by Lord Sidious. Located in one of the many skyscrapers that made up the planet size city which was Coruscant, from the exterior it appeared to be long since abandoned in favour of gleaming constructs comprised of transparisteel and durasteel. Inside however, the deceptively distressed facade ended, giving way to an entire network of rooms, furnished to the highest standards, reserved for the Sith Master's privileged employees.

One of which who was waiting for her, although if asked about the Sith Master and his employee, would provide quite a different answer in comparison to herself. As far as he was concerned, his employer was the Supreme Chancellor under the purview of the Jedi Order. That the Supreme Chancellor and the Sith Master were one and the same being, he had yet to comprehend, let alone be informed such was the case. Yet still he blindly followed the duties doled out to him, under the equally blind foresight of the Jedi Council. Another one of her Master's ironies in which he delighted. How might he react when he learned the truth was something which Asajj speculated upon daily, knowing that she had to be on her guard at all times when she was in his company, else risk her Master's wrath in letting him find out the depth of the deception laid upon not just him but the Republic and the Order too soon.

He looked up at her entrance, and for a few minutes they stood and sat scowling at each other, neither willing to be the one to break the silence which existed between them first. Such a stormy countenance was his typical expression, often making Asajj contemplate what others saw in him, particularly that soon to be ex-wife of his. Her Master was deeply disappointed with Senator Amidala, but then she had always been a constant thorn in his side from her days as the sovereign ruler of the Naboo. Why he had even begun to believe that falling in love with his 'pet' would suddenly make her a willing tool was beyond Asaji's comprehension. That she soon fell out of love with him was no surprise to Asajj either, for she was tiring of the boy as well, though she only seduced him at the behest of her Master.

Which brought to mind another whom Lord Sidious had wished to use her feminine assets for the benefit of his schemes. Nineve Jade, his so called Hand. A mere assassin without artistry, as far as Asajj was concerned. However, the woman had gone on the run, so Jade was now her trouble. And Jade had been nothing but trouble since Lord Sidious assigned the task of finding his Hand to Asajj. For a woman without artistry she had proved to be rather original in her choice of hideouts, as Asajj had been unable to trace her.

Such a failure on her part had not sat well with Lord Sidious, who took pleasure in providing her with a display of what would happen to her if such a lack of success continued. So Asajj had used as many resources which belonged to her Master as she could, sending scouts out far and wide across the galaxy, whilst she kept an eye on Lord Sidious' other 'pet', the so called Chosen One of the Jedi Order, Anakin Skywalker. Who was proving more and more difficult to manage by each and every dawn of a new Coruscanti day.

"When did you get here?" she asked him now, electing to be the one who broke the silence first. Such a retreat was by no means a victory to him, he was merely a pawn among many in Lord Sidious' schemes for universal domination.

"Sundown," he replied, still scowling.

Asajj glanced at the transparisteel which cloaked them from view whilst providing an magnificent perspective of the Works district in all its somewhat dubious glory. She had taken a circuitous route back to the apartment, doubling back on herself until the orbital reflectors began their arduous descent into darkness. A part of her had hoped to come upon a deserted suite of rooms, but unfortunately she had sensed the Chosen One's presence even before she crossed the threshold of the skyscraper. "I hope you weren't followed."

His scowl deepened, a sight which Asajj had not thought possible. "I'm not stupid."

Only years of self discipline in the Sith arts kept Asajj from laughing out loud concerning the irony of that particular statement. "No, I suppose the Temple's famed educational structure took care of that," she murmured, electing not to tell him of his shadow which she had just disposed of, for the time being. The Chosen One may be under his control, as far as Lord Sidious was concerned, but Asajj had no desire to test that theory by informing him that she had just killed a Jedi. If his reaction was an adverse one, however hypocritical it may be, she had no desire to be the one responsible for losing sight of two of Lord Sidious' 'pet projects.'

Despite the Temple's famed educational structure, her companion failed to find the sarcasm in which her reply was delivered. He turned in the direction of the com station that occupied a third of the room. "A message came in for you earlier," he informed her.

'Really? You astonish me,' Asajj remarked thoughtfully to herself as she turned and headed for the com station, from which a flashing light could be discerned, signalling the arrival of said message that had attracted her attention as soon as she entered the room.

Clicking the access indicator, Asajj hunched over the screen and tightened her Force shielding against the Chosen One's curiosity. Privately she was surprised that he had not read the message himself. Then as she read the message all other thoughts faded away, her focus settling on the other trouble which her master had assigned her.

Nineve Jade had emerged from the shadows at last.

Garen left his friend's apartment in the Temple feeling reaffirmed in his previous decision. Before he had allowed Nineve's fear of her previous employer to sway him, by agreeing that they should leave everyone and everything they had ever known to start new lives elsewhere in the galaxy. When she had first suggested this to him, he had argued that it felt cowardly not to remain and confront her employer with the full weight of the Jedi Order behind them. It was then that Nineve told him who her employer was. Until that moment he had never asked and she had never revealed, as though it were an unconscious policy between them. The shock was enough to persuade him to agree. So they made their plans and he prepared to leave the only family he had ever known, for the new one which he would form with her.

Family was the condition which decided their first destination. When she came to him on Pais only the Force would serve to confirm what she feared to tell him, yet knew that he had every right to know. Now her condition was immediately discernible, and her fear of her employer finding them critical. Medical remoteness was what they required, a place where she could deliver safely without the worry of her employer sensing or finding out the reason why she left. Coruscant could not serve, nor Alderaan, or indeed any of the planets located within the Core Worlds region, famed though they were for their peaceful regimes and first class medical services.

Which left them with only one place; Polis Massa. An asteroid outpost, located in the Subterrel sector in the Outer Rim, from which they could arrive and depart as soon as they were able without anyone learning where they were. It was manned by droids whose memory banks could be altered along with all other records that could have shown such a base to be their location. Nineve had departed from Pais for the base via a circuitous route, while he returned to Coruscant to make his farewells to the Order.

And since his return, the Force had been screaming in his mind that running was the wrong thing to do. Yet he could not foresee an alternative with which to convince Nineve. Her faith in the Force was tainted by her employer's uses for the ancient energy. Her own ability to use the power with which she had been imbued with had been exploited too many times for her to place the same amount of trust in it that he put in his.

This dilemma left him with little choice but to continue with their original plans. Leaving the official announcement of his resignation before the Council till last, perhaps in a bid to delay his departure as long as possible, Garen chose to visit his friends and say a personal farewell to each in turn. Obi-Wan had happened to be his first, and fortunately, his friend had served to provide him with a reason with which to convince Nineve to stand and fight.

That his friend was involved in such an investigation surprised him, Obi-Wan was not someone who would undertake something like this without confiding in at least one of the Jedi Council first. Maybe the influence of Qui-Gon Jinn's training was leaking through. Still that he agreed to keeping a clique like the List a secret whilst working through the membership to find the murder.... Garen shook his head. If he was having a hard time convincing himself of his friend's role in this, how would he manage to convince Nineve, he wondered.

Perhaps by focusing on the bigger picture, how the Sith Lord was using the List to tear the Republic apart. It made a change from seeking unlimited power and the massacre of the Jedi. The latter had nearly succeeded at Geonosis, without the arrival of the clone army, Jedi would have been severely depleted in numbers. If the Separatists had not sued for peace... Garen stilled as he realised why the Sith had reverted to this plan.

A moment was all he needed to adjust. Falling back on his training, he let go of the revelation, as well as all of the emotions that were roused within its wake. Reaching the hangar bay, he headed for his ship. Climbing into the cockpit, he traded greetings with his astromech before firing up the engines. Tapping at the navicomputer, he filed a false flight plan with Coruscant flight control, before engaging the thrusters and heading out of the Temple, towards the crowed airways and beyond.

It had started like any other relationship formed within the List. A quick anonymous communiqué, followed by a night spent at a hotel. Parting in the morning, which was where it should have ended, as the little gold comlinks were set to randomise. However, most members came to remember the codes assigned to their previous assignations, allowing for them to acquire a second night with who ever they chose. A second would become a third, then a fourth, until they abandoned all attempts to follow the rules, using the little gold comlink merely to set up their next meet.

Then one night she or he, perhaps it was both of them for neither could remember enough about the assignation in question for sure, they were careless and landed themselves in trouble, as the old saying goes. Naturally only she became aware of the conception first. Unwilling to reveal the matter to her employer, knowing that he would take the child away and use him or her for his own, malicious ends, she left his service at once.

If it had just been herself to consider, she never would have gone to him, the risk was too great. But he had a right to know, not to mention being given a chance to care for their future charge, one which could be snatched from them if her master tracked them down. When she met him she was not sure what his response would be. Even though she knew his vocation, she had not expected him to be so reckless in his acceptance of her troubles to take them on as his own and offer his help.

His recklessness had lasted long enough to hear her out, then he objected, throwing a few home truths in for good measure. She knew it was cowardly to run, but he had no idea what they were up against. So she told him the identity of her employer, the one barrier he had never breached. To his credit he never let the shock show, though she could tell her confession had sent him reeling. With great reluctance, he conceded to her plans.

Plans that led her here, to Polis Massa, where she waited for him to join her. She knew it would not be easy for him to say farewell to all he knew, but it was necessary that they abandoned everything and everyone they had ever known. Anonymity would be their only saving grace from now on. Any who learned the truth of their origins would be in danger from the wrath of her old master. And the one who was in the most peril was not even aware of it yet. The thought of what he could do to her child terrified Nineve. She had been raised under his care, given into her trade without a thought to what she had wanted for her life.

Her child would suffer the same fate, compounded by her own inability to weave a better one. Even going on the run could only delay that fate, for her master's resources were limitless, and his ability to find someone impeccable, as previous experience had shown her. But she could not give up in the face of this despairing thought. For there was always the hope that they would escape him, live a life outside of his influence untouched by evil. It was a heady thought that her child might grow up in such innocence. One powerful enough to persuade her that anything was possible.

An alarm started beeping on a console nearby, its beeps the usual flurry of code for proximity. Nineve moved to consult the sensors, and confirmed for the rest of her senses what the beeping had already told her; a ship had just emerged from hyperspace. Beyond that, the asteroid's equipment was centred around medical matters. Nothing in the sensors could tell her what type of ship it was, whether it was a friend or a foe. However the outpost was known only to Jedi, so she could reasonably presume who had just arrived.

Carefully she rose from her chair, a cautious motion due to her current condition, before heading out of the room towards the entrance to the hanger bay. The lights flashed as the craft landed, blinded her, causing Nineve to shield her gaze. By the time she regained her vision, it was too late. The cowled figure was already upon her, a red lightsaber in hand. With no time or space to ignite her own, Nineve retreated from the heat of the laser, back the way she came, knowing that her enemy would follow. Her emotions were in turmoil, the most dominant of them fear, not just for herself but for her lover and for her child, a condition which only heightened her flight or fight mindset.

Ventress' weapon cast an eerie portent of what was to come all the way down the length of the corridor. Nineve had heard of her, but never seen the woman before now. With her white skin stretched across her head without pause for hair or even the evidence that such follicles once existed, she resembled more droid than being, capable of only following orders. Her master seemed to prefer that those under his command follow without question, causing her to wonder why he had chosen her to be his Hand. Perhaps she was merely an experiment, one he could cast aside if proved unsatisfactory. Inwardly she shuddered, remembering his usual methods. One thing was for sure, he had not sent Ventress to kill her. She was to take her back, where she would be forced to bow before her master's feet, and then writhe in agony until he let her die.

Only he would not do that to her. No, she realised as she called her own saber to her hand, igniting the purple blade across herself to deflect her attacker's slash. There would be a different kind of torture thrust upon her. And that torture would be unending, compounded by her own guilt and complicity. For she would be helpless to help the one she protected now, and must continue to protect at all costs.

Her last thought, her last hope, before she gave herself completely to the duel, was that Ventress never discovered the secret she was hiding within herself, however discernible it appeared to be. For the only way to save her child from the fate which her master would force upon them, was if neither of them lived to suffer through it.

Part 40: Chiaroscuro.

Some time after Garen's departure Obi-Wan returned to the Memorial Room. As the morning light invaded through the transparisteel, gracing his features in their meditative pose, the past assaulted him. Memories of a similar night spent thus, ten years ago, as he emerged from the relative innocence of his apprenticeship into the harsh world of knighthood and mentoring. In Theed he had been exposed to the elements, unable to shield himself from the sight of the funeral pyre. He remembered the quiet flickering of the amber flames, the unending glow of their embers. A slow and gentle breeze, catching the ash within its embrace, taking the only father he had ever known away from him. No death, only the Force. There was a certain irony to that aspect of the Code, an irony he was just as sensible of then as now.

Back then he was only aware of the darkness that began to grow and now only continued to do so, surrounding everyone and everything, as an elusive feeling from the Force which he could not define. Even now he did not know the depth of its power, nor the source from whence it came. Yet he could make an educated guess, one which he feared would be proved unerringly right. And if it was, there was one other conclusion that his thoughts led him to form, something which made a horrifying kind of sense, but it was a path he did not wish travel upon, yet knew he would be doing so, all the same.

This turmoil in his thoughts was why he had returned to the Memorial Room, in an effort to reach some sort of clarity. Usually the Room of a Thousand Fountains would suffice as a meditative aid but that chamber was too full of the Living Force to be of any use to him just now. What he needed was the cold and dark ominous portents of the future which spoke to him in these surroundings, that whispered to him last night while he waited here for his former apprentice to answer the Council's summons. Sinking into their depths, he searched for the lone candle of light that would hold the shadows back. He would not give into his fears, for they would only serve to fog such a glow. He would listen to the voices of the Force, to those who had become one with the ancient energy, for ought they had to tell. And their advice he would take, even if it broke his heart to do so.

For he could not escape the fact that the murdered Jedi was assigned by the Council to discover the nature of the duties which the Supreme Chancellor had given to Anakin. Clearly someone was determined to make sure that the Order would not find out exactly what it was the Chancellor had charged Anakin to carry out. And given that, it was also clear that what ever it was, the Order would not approve, although they rarely approved of anything which came out of the executive office nowadays. However, what was far more troubling was the cause of death.

At first glance it appeared that the Jedi had died from a blaster shot to the heart. Upon closer inspection, the wound was more comparable to someone placing a saber hilt directly over it, before igniting the weapon. Such a method of execution suggested that an evil mind either wielded the saber or gave out the order to do so. Added to this was the same lack of Force echo which Obi-Wan was entirely too familiar with. He had come across it in his investigations into the series of murders tasked to him by Bail Organa. If the two were connected, and it was beginning to look like they were, then he needed to inform the Jedi Council about what he had been investigating.

As he contemplated how that particular briefing would undoubtedly go, his mind recalled another, when he was the padawan of a Jedi Master whose missions often caused the Council the same amount of vexation. Qui-Gon Jinn always worked without seeking the purview of the Council first. He believed that his duty was to the call of the Force before anything else, as his entanglement on Tatooine clearly showed. When their partnership had first formed it had been the hope of the Council that a by the code padawan would tame the unorthodox master. However Obi-Wan now realised that it was his master who had corrupted him. Nowadays, without the unruly nature of Anakin Skywalker to tame, he served the call of the Force more than he did the Code of the Order.

Anakin. The thought induced mention of his former apprentice caused him to sigh inwardly. Anakin would not take kindly to his interference concerning the newly promoted knight's assignment. His friendship with the Supreme Chancellor had always been a quiet source of contention within the Council, split between those who saw the advantages to be gained from it and those who viewed the executive office with distrust. As for himself, he had always been rather wary where the relationship was concerned, even though he had seen that the Chancellor took care to be nothing more than a kindly uncle of sorts.

Not once had the man interfered with his training of Anakin, but Obi-Wan had felt the politics of his guiding hand in Anakin's rebellions more than once. The knight's loyalty to his friends was absolute, and though they had been friends whilst he trained him, Obi-Wan suspected that if it came down to a choice between himself or Palpatine, Anakin would choose the Supreme Chancellor first. Given his upbringing, the knight's trust in Palpatine was rather naively absolute. Coming from slavery should have made Anakin wary of any authority, as it had proved the case with Council over the years, but his faith in the Supreme Chancellor had so far proven unshakeable. What was it about the man that had sparked such a relationship between them from the moment of that fatal meeting on Naboo all those years ago? 'We shall watch your career with great interest,' he had said, in a deceptively kind tone, which hid an underlying threatening layer of a hunter to their prey. And now he had him in his grasp absolutely.

It might seem a little strange to describe the Chancellor as a hunter. But the description could not have appeared to be more apt to Obi-Wan right now. He had stalked his prey for years, analysing their weaknesses, looking for ways to defeat them, and when he failed at his first attempt, merely turned to another strategy. Or rather adapted the first, as the prey was still enduring the suffering which some of the first had engineered upon them. There was the cloud of evil which fogged their ability to use the Force effectively, to detect the presence of the Sith whom they had been searching for, not realising that he was hidden right before their eyes, carrying out his work in the building nearby. Even though he was beginning to emerge from that cloud of deception, not everything was clear to him.

That the Chancellor was the Sith they had been looking for all these years seemed incredible. However, who else could it be that was behind the death of the Jedi whose funeral so recently took place with this room, not to mention the duties that they had been prevented from finding out about? And not only did they have the Order within their grasp, but the Chosen One as well. If Anakin was the Chosen One, or prophecy was for the Jedi, he mused. For the thought occurred to him now that it could equally be for the Sith. Qui-Gon had always spoken of the Chosen One being the most powerful Jedi in existence. A vergence from the Force. But power was not the goal of the Jedi. That attainment belonged to the Sith. Only the end of the prophecy appealed to the light side; achieving balance within the Force. But even that could be misinterpreted, for the Force was neither good nor evil, only an ancient energy which surrounds everyone and everything, within and without, binding the universe together. It was the will with which one used the Force that determined the effect of such a power upon a being or the universe.

And the Chancellor had used the Force with an evil will. He could see it now, with the gift of hindsight, how cleverly he had engineered his way into the office of the highest authority within the Republic, turning each and every crisis to his advantage, if not possibly engineering each one of them himself. For a Senator had to forge connections within the Senate in order to bargain for votes, and judging by how well the Trade Federation had escaped justice since the Blockade of Naboo, it was all too easy to realise that Palpatine had probably engineered the attack on his own home planet in the first place. If such was true, he was perhaps responsible for the gradual decline of the Republic, the formation of the Separatists, and the move to an all out civil war, only prevented by Dooku's determination for peace.

Why had the Count of Serenno sued for peace? His Master's Master had never fully explained his motives, though given his request for sanctuary within the Temple, being in fear of his own safety, if not his life was probably one of them. Betrayal was the way of the Sith after all, and he could imagine that the Chancellor would not take too kindly to having his plans for civil war being thwarted as they had been by the peace treaty. The scandal he crafted to replace them was far more insidious, clouding the motives as to why he would desire war within the first place. Yes, it would give him the excuse to assume more authority, to see that the Jedi were heavily decimated as leaders of the standing army which he had engineered, but once that was achieved what would he need an arsenal of clones and warships for?

Few confederacies, federations or alliances challenged the Republic. If someone had not whipped the leaders of the Trade Federation into a frenzy of frustration, he doubted the Blockade Crisis would have occurred in the first place. And once Padmé had defeated the siege laid out upon her home system, Nute Gunray along with the rest of the Trade Federation retreated quietly back into their business franchise, in fear of the justice from the Courts which never came. Only at the behest of Count Dooku had the Trade Federation exercised the resources that they had at their disposal once more, leading to the Battle of Geonosis. A battle which if it had not been for the clone army, the Jedi would not have walked away from. Even with them they had not escaped unscathed. Their numbers were gravely depleted, so much so that his desire to reform the Code had not gone unnoticed or unsupported.

Whatever the Chancellor's motives behind the decision to arm the Republic into a dictatorship, Obi-Wan knew that he was now wasting his time meditating in the Memorial Room. He needed to inform someone else within the Council of his theories, for theories were all they were, he had no proof as yet. If he had proof, he would have gone to the whole Council, but as it is, he could only think of one Jedi who would have the foresight within themselves to realise these suspicions. Emerging from his counsel with the Force, he left the Memorial Room and set off for that Master's apartment.

One turbolift ride and several corridors traversed later, the journey soon proved to be a fruitless exercise, for the Grand Master was not within his quarters. Knowing that the Council were not in session, otherwise he would have summoned, Obi-Wan headed for the private meditation rooms that had been placed at the Grand Master's disposal. Fortunately they were not too far from Yoda's quarters, located as they were on the same floor. However, once he reached them, he realised that the Grand Master was also not to be found there either. Sighing he retrieved his comlink from his pocket and accessed the Order's communications centre, where all padawans, knights and masters were required to register their current location if they were not be found within the Temple walls.

The news of Master Yoda's location both surprised and worried him. He was with the Chancellor. Hurriedly he accessed the schedule of the executive office, which all Council Masters were granted the privilege of seeing. At the first sight of the meeting he breathed a sigh of relief. Master Yoda had been joined by a few Senators as well. It consoled him greatly at this moment to learn that the Grand Master would not be alone with the possible Sith lord.

Filing a request for the Grand Master to visit him upon his return to the Temple, Obi-Wan put his comlink away before heading for his quarters. He had no desire to inflict his current disquiet upon anyone else within the Temple by seeking the more publicly communed rooms. Nor did he wish to spend his time waiting for Master Yoda within the hallowed halls of learning that were the archives. He would have to hope that some matter of housekeeping had arisen in his absence from his quarters, which would occupy his thoughts and time until the Grand Master could see him.

Padmé entered her quarters in Five Hundred Republica with all the energy of one who has spent far too many hours in a series of pointless committee meetings. From the moment she had left her apartment this morning, her time had been taken up in endless moments of reassuring various fellow Senators that her support or disdain was still with the matter that currently concerned them the most. It was tiring having to maintain an outward attitude of politeness, diplomacy and conciliation in the wake of so much posturing and dramatics. Days like this made her question why she had accepted Queen Jamilia's request to serve as Senator. She could have spent her time in politics serving a much worthier cause for her people, either within the Court of Naboo or elsewhere within the Republic.

A memory of sea shaded eyes and a certain lustre which they acquired when a particular emotion possessed them, caused her to reassess her frustration. Although she could not predict the future, it was entirely possible that had she not accepted the post of Senator she would not have been reunited with Obi-Wan in the way that she had. The time spent with him was more than enough consolation for all of the days spent in the fashion she had spent today. Even those months she had endured married to Anakin she would not give up if it meant losing the few precious nights spent in the embrace of his master.

Though she could not yet refer to her marriage in the past tense. She still had the negotiations of the Nubian divorce courts to endure before she would be granted that privilege. Only a few meetings left, but that was hardly a comfort. Anakin's temperamental petulance combined with his continuous childish outbursts or stormy silences, together with the aristocratic disdain of their lawyers as they went through the motions was enough to render even the shortest meeting a torture, though as for which was worse; enduring those or the committee meetings of today, Padmé was uncertain.

Her clothes felt heavy upon and she summoned what little energy she had left to move forward once again, heading towards her dressing room. In comparison to those garments she had worn whilst serving her two terms as sovereign of the Naboo, her Senatorial clothes were far more comfortable. But nothing compared to those she wore when she was not serving the needs of her people and the Republic, however brief those moments were. Waving a hand at the door sensors, she paused as the wardrobe revealed its contents, before surveying each article in turn. As she did so, searching her memory as to the last time she had worn that piece of clothing, or this, her mind idly pondered what she should do with the rest of the day.

Almost immediately the image of sea shaded eyes and the certain lustre that they acquired when a particular emotion possessed them, offered her a possible solution to her pondering. They had not seen each other since the night she invited him over to dinner to discuss a possible alliance between the Jedi and the Senate in a move against the Chancellor. A night when the murdered body of a Jedi had been discovered not far from the Senatorial Residential district. She wondered if the death had anything to do with his investigations, or the Sith lord that Order was searching for, or any other matter that the Jedi might have been tasked to carry out.

Understandably that event had preoccupied the attention of the Jedi Council, to the extent that they had yet to deliver an answer to her request on behalf of those interested members within the Senate. Aside from that, there was no official reason to see him, yet Padmé wanted to see him, very much. And not about the matter that concerned the Senate. Her motives were far more selfish, for she desired to bring out that certain lustre within his sea shaded eyes.

Similar desires had occupied her once before, on a day like this one, years ago in her first terms as Senator, when Bail introduced her to the exclusive clique known as the List. It had been after another series of endless committee meetings that he had tossed her the gold comlink, laid out the rules and set her up with her first date. Several encounters later she grew more daring, to the extent of asking her sister for a particular gift that, in the end, Padmé had yet to don, due to her marriage.

Her visits to Naboo before her life was threatened had been few and far between, it was not until the last one when she introduced Sola to Anakin that her sister managed to acquire and bestow upon her the gift in question. For some reason she had been too embarrassed to wear it for Anakin. Now she was very glad to have never found the courage to do so. Using such a gift for his master would feel soiled if she had clothed herself within in the outfit for another.

Carefully she lay the garment upon the sofa bed nearby before turning to her wardrobe once more for something to conceal it. She already knew that she would have to visit the Temple, so something resembling a Jedi cloak would be preferable. Vaguely she recalled seeing a garment in the same shade of sand in her wardrobe previously, though she was at a lost as to how it came to be there, for she could not recall ever wearing such a colour before.

At first she froze as she caught hold of the cloak hanging in her wardrobe, horrified at the appearance of the garment, convinced she and her security had thrown everything belonging to Anakin out. Then her courage rose and she reached out with a hand to take it from the hanger. Putting it before her nose, she inhaled a strong smell which calmed her instantly. Smiling she savoured the scent, wondering how the cloak came to be in her arms. It awoke a need within her for something daringly wicked, irresistible to refuse. Padmé laid the cloak on the sofa bed until she was able to use it, whereupon she swept it across her shoulders, laid the hood about her hair, and turned to leave the apartment.

Obi-Wan gasped in surprise as he opened the door. Expecting no one but Master Yoda to darken his quarters, he was astonished to find none other than the Senator from Naboo, in disguise, standing before him, awaiting to enter. Ushering her inside, he closed and locked the access with a wave of the Force before turning round to ask her how she had managed to get in.

Padmé smiled as she gestured to the cloak. "I found this in my wardrobe, and I thought I should return it to you. Would you care to take it from me?"

He could not resist her provocative gaze. Standing before her, he raised his hands and parted his cloak, to reveal a dress of shimmersilk that was so sheer as to display all of her beauty under skinned coloured gauze. "And where did you acquire this?"

"You have my sister Sola to thank for that," Padmé replied, watching him as his sea coloured gaze eyed her appreciatively.

"I certainly will, when I meet her," he murmured, his eyes coming to halt upon the small hook which fastened the garment around her waist. A slight change of focus in his thoughts and the shimmersilk fell apart, revealing a narrow shaft of the skin that lay beneath. The sheer material retreated to the side, creating the illusion that she was wearing just his robe, and as he stepped closer to her, Obi-Wan knew that he would never look at that particular piece of clothing again without recalling this moment.

As his eyes acquired that certain lustre which she loved, Obi-Wan took her into his arms, his fingers delving inside the cloak to part the shimmersilk hiding beneath. He soon discerned by a stroking touch that the garment had almost no back, fastening low over the rise of her derriere. With a deft touch from the Force that too was soon parted, and his hands explored those curves, causing a groan from her mouth which had long since been captured by his own, their tongues engaged in a rousing duel.

Eventually his cloak dropped to the floor, revealing the skin shaded gauzy shimmersilk in all its glory. Occupied as they were in discovering the delights to be had through their kiss, Obi-Wan would only catch sight of her sister's gift when the time came to part the silk so it could descend from her body to the floor. Before that his own clothes were shed, as Padmé took her fingers upon a questing journey to discover the flesh that Jedi robes concealed. Such time passed in an arousing, languorous manner, as each particle revealed was savoured by her in a slow, deliberate fashion.

Within his eyes the lustre deepened, rendering the shade a blue that reminded her of Naboo's lakes, the depths she had once plundered during her youth. Now another stretch of water awaited her, encompassed within flesh and bone, the waves of love and the Force. It was a heady experience, for Obi-Wan gave himself over to her entirely, the true essence of a Jedi. No other allowed her that privilege, not without an unspoken desire for something in return, often something she could not find it within herself to give.

Until Obi-Wan she had not realised that it was because she could not love them as she should. Some part of her was protecting herself, until that night she and Obi-Wan had met and mated. Their love had not heralded or announced its arrival, nor whispered quietly within their ears or minds as they first laid eyes upon each other. Instead it had crept upon them as a slow sunrise, strengthening over time, until they were ready to realise such an emotion.

His clothes shed from him, it came time to part their mouths. Padmé blushed as Obi-Wan cast appreciative eyes over the gauzy skin shaded shimmersilk, lingering where her curves gave way to the natural shadows they created. Tenderly his hand found hers and he led her further into the quarters, the living area where a fire glowed before two long sofas and a cloth covered table, devoid of adornment. Within his eyes was the lustre that she found so enticing that her own could not leave their gaze, causing her surprise as a slight flicker of his free fingers allowed the gauzy shimmersilk to slip from her body.

She lay down on the table before him, her eyes never leaving his, and he ran a hand slowly down the length of her slender body, brushing over her breasts, causing her back to arch in pleasure. His eyes left hers to follow his journeying fingers, watching as he pressed her hard nipples into his palm, then gently ran them down her stomach before dealing a caressing series of strokes upon her thighs, causing her to squeeze her hips together, trapping his questing fingers in between. Lifting his gaze from the imprisoned hand, his eyes roamed slowly upwards.

Padmé regarded him lovingly as she posed below his gaze, waiting for him to move. Slowly he began to do so, gently sliding a finger inside her, causing her to gasp, then she sighed in pleasure as he stroked her. Another soon joined the first, then a third, causing her legs to part, as she opened herself to him. His free hand slid up her body, coming to a halt before her breasts, before rising over the mounds to fondle her hard nipples once more. She arched herself into him, her back rising as her hips bucked in tune to the motions of his fingers. Within his eyes the lustre deepened to a new depth, her own brown shades caught as she drowned inside the blue lake above her.

A soft cry of regret was emitted from her mouth as Obi-Wan withdrew. Another cry, this time of pleasure, as he came to rest above her, filling her with another part of his flesh. The glowing firelight danced across their bodies as they fell into the rhythm of the ancient loving waves, casting shadows where the light could not reach. Within and within out, in tune with the pounding of their hearts, the breath of the fire, their souls found the lone candle with which to ignite the cascade of stars inside them, stoked to life by their love.

Night never captured Coruscant when the sun set. Aside from the orbital reflectors which denied the darkness that privilege, there were the lights of every building, street and highway, leaving it to stalk the shadows like a predator, in the vain hope of a blackout or some other power drought. Night found the two lovers within the comfort of a bed instead before the fire that witnessed their first in what was to be a series of unions that day.

"You'll have to keep that robe," Obi-Wan murmured aloud as they lounged across his bed in the afterglow of a long, luxurious, perfectly pleasurable, afternoon. Unlike her he had nothing to hide his natural state, modestly matter of fact about his bareness on display, possessing no idea of how appealing or handsome he was to her sex.

"I wouldn't want to deprive you of one," she remarked, wondering what he meant.

Adjusting his arm so he could lean upon the bed, he parted the robe to reveal her own nakedness, a callused fingertip deliberately brushing her nipple as it hardened in response to an encounter with the filtered air. "I shall not be able to wear it without the memory of seeing you thus distracting me," he explained, making her blush.

She watched him as his fingers continued their pilgrimage, noting the serious, intent expression in his eyes. He seemed utterly vulnerable to her as he lay on the bed, the serene facade of the Jedi Council Master removed from his face as if a veil that protected his true self from those he did not wish to see.

Ever since that night at the Corellian Grand, she had been permitted to breach this veil, though now as she gazed into his sea coloured gaze, she realised that he had always let her in, for she had seen this lustre of intimacy many times. It was a rare privilege, one which she felt unworthy of being granted, though she knew he would disagree. The revelation emboldened her to ask something that had been on her mind for what seemed a long time, yet it was only since she realised her true feelings for him, and learned of his for her.

"What will happen after my divorce is final?" she uttered, the question causing his fingers to pause in their explorations. "Will I be free?"

"You've always been free, to me," Obi-Wan replied seriously. "I love you, Padmé, but that doesn't tie you to me anymore than it ties me to you. It is up to you how you want to live your life after Anakin. No one can chose your path for you but yourself."

"And if I choose to be with you?" she persisted, gazing deeply into his eyes, watching as he received her question for what his heart desired.

"Then you'll make me the happiest man alive," he murmured. "But only if you are sure."

She leaned down until their lips were almost touching. "I'm sure."

Their kiss threatened to continue into another deeper realm of pleasure, as his arms slipped underneath the sand coloured material to caress her soft flesh, until a chime emanating from the door caused the lips to pause and the hands to still. Obi-Wan called to the Force to identify the caller, a brief flicker of panic crossing his face when the reply was received.

Mouthing to her their identity, causing her own expression to acquire the same sense of brief panic, he silently motioned her to stay as she resumed her previous pose, while he rose from the bed and grabbed a pair of sleep pants to make himself decent before his unexpected guest. Upon leaving the room he stole a devout kiss from her lips once more, and gazed at her one final time from the threshold before making his way into the living room of his quarters.

Pressing his hand to the release control, Obi-Wan bowed in welcome to his visitor. "Master Yoda, how may I be of service at this late hour?"

The Grand Master of the Order regarded him with the same solemn affectionate expression as he always had, before entering the apartment, his gimer stick quietly tapping upon the floor. "Heard you wanted to see me, I did," he remarked. "My service I offer."

Obi-Wan smiled, let the door close and joined the Master as he made himself comfortable upon one of the sofas within the room. "It may be nothing, but I wondered if the nature of Anakin's assignment to the Supreme Chancellor was put before the Council."

Yoda frowned, the first indication to the answer he would give. "His service, the Chancellor requested, without motive or explanation." He paused, studying his colleague. "Something this has become?"

Obi-Wan nodded, before telling him what he had seen and theorised during his mediation within the Memorial room, along with the knowledge that he acquired during his investigation charged to him by Bail, and his time spent with Padmé. He concealed how he had come by such observation, for not only did he feel that his beloved needed such a protection, at least for the moment while they were not free to pursue their relationship publicly, the Grand Master was still a traditionalist at heart, and though he had leant his approval to the changes now applied to members of the Order, he had not given his blessing.

Yoda bowed his head as he consulted the Force before replying. "Feared this outcome I did. Expected however, it was." Raising his head, he looked his protégé in the eye. "Wrong about the prophecy, your master was."

"Anakin is not the Chosen One?" Obi-Wan queried in surprise.

"Chosen One he is, but not for the Jedi. For the Sith," Yoda replied, causing his colleague to gasp in horror.

"How long have you known this?" Obi-Wan asked when he found breath to speak.

"Suspected for a long time I have. Knew for sure I never did. Misinterpreted the prophecy, your master. Two Chosen Ones it foretold. Bring balance to the Force their existence would. One for the Dark, a vergence of power, one for the Light, adored by the Force. The Dark one slayed he would be, by the Light."

"Do you know who is the Light?" Obi-Wan questioned.

Yoda nodded, his gaze steady. "Watched over him I have, ever since he was found. Honoured with his training, I was not, but unlike his Master, doubted his future never. Realised the truth did his Master, when one with the Force he became."

Obi-Wan froze as he realised the meaning behind Yoda's cryptic reply. He had been given an answer to his past, one which explained much, but the future was a more immediate concern. "Master Yoda, he is like my brother. I will not fight him."

"Cuckold him you can, but not fight?" Yoda queried, causing his protégé to blanch as he realised that the Grand Master had sensed Padmé's presence.

"I love her," Obi-Wan confessed, his features hardening into resolve. "Her divorce will be final soon."

"Fight for her would you?" Yoda asked.

"I already have, many times," Obi-Wan pointed out.

Yoda hummed, then reached out and with one of his crawled hands grasped the Council Master's knee. "A special place in my heart, you have always had. So does she. Disapprove of your union, I do not. But avoid facing him, you should not. Your destiny, it has always been. Prophesied, the ending is."

"A Jedi does not go into a fight with victory assured." Obi-Wan reminded him.

"If firm in the Light of the Force he is, victorious a Jedi will always be," Yoda replied. "Whatever the outcome."

Part 41: Upon An Asteroid Base.

Obi-Wan had little time to dwell on the Grand Master's words for within a moment a message was patched through from the communications centre within the Temple; a garbled, hurried and urgent sounding series of crackles, originating from the outpost on Polis Massa. Such emergencies were put through immediately to the Grand Master wherever he happened to be on Coruscant, in this case the communication system overriding the usual personalised access codes given to each Jedi in order to broadcast the message.

The content of the message was a shock to all within the quarters; for no one from the Order was scheduled to be within the asteroid outpost at this time. Located in the Subterrel sector within the Outer Rim, it was a usually a base for all Jedi whose assignments carried them into the outer reaches of the galaxy, a rare occurrence since the formation of the Separatist Confederacy. But it was not that the asteroid was occupied which disturbed the Masters. It was the identity of the messenger; Garen Muln. One of Obi-Wan's closest friends since his crèche days, he had informed Obi-Wan that he was thinking of leaving the Order the night of the funeral for the murdered Jedi. Managing to persuade him otherwise, Obi-Wan had not expected his friend to take him up on his offer assistance if such was needed. Garen was an accomplished Master, capable of defending himself and those in his care. That he needed help indicated the situation was a grave matter.

Yoda hesitated not to give Obi-Wan the task of travelling to Polis Massa. He even authorised that the Senator from Naboo could go with him, once Obi-Wan had taken the liberty of breaching his friend's confidence by confiding to him the content of the conversation which had taken place after the funeral of the murdered Jedi. He had little choice considering the message was broadcast on the emergency channel reserved for Council Masters and not his own personal comm. Garen would understand and forgive him. Provided they could rescue him and his companion from the distress in which they found themselves.

After the Grand Master left to inform the rest of the Council, Obi-Wan returned to his bedroom, where he found Padmé dressed and ready for departure. She had heard the message from his comstation by the bed, and without hesitation called for her security to land her yacht outside on the balcony landing pad, a privilege all Council Masters were granted. Once the ship arrived she had gone aboard to change into her white combat suit, whilst her security cleared their flight plan with the Temple and Coruscant Flight Control. No attention was garnered by her actions, the Jedi had called on her before, and as the Leader of the Opposition within the Senate, it was her rare privilege not to need permission from other Senators in order to depart.

Within minutes they were aboard her yacht, exiting the jewel of the Core Worlds for a remote asteroid base within the Outer Rim. As soon as they were within safe distance from Coruscant, Padmé engaged hyperspace.

"How long have you known Garen?" she asked her copilot, carefully eyeing his thoughtful, concerned expression.

"Since I was a crechling," Obi-Wan replied quietly, the comment causing her to smile. "What is it?"

"I'm just picturing you as a mischievous youngling," she replied, to which he matched her own countenance.

"We were," he confessed, "the trouble was that for a number of years there was an uncanny resemblance between the two of us, and we would delight in fooling our carers into thinking one was the other. Master Yoda was usually called in as he was the only one who could tell us apart. As the years passed and the resemblance remained, I became more Code conscious, while he blackened his hair." He paused, his smile fading. "It didn't surprise me to learn that he had joined the List. But I was surprised when he told me of his intentions to leave the Order. Garen was never the type to cut and run. And he wasn't either, he was only willing because he could see no other option. I hope she's worthy of him."

They drifted into silence for a while, watching the hyper streamed star lines of space, their thoughts contemplating what they might find on the remote asteroid base that they were travelling to. Garen's message had revealed little in the way of clues about what they would be facing. Obi-Wan knew Padmé could take care of herself in a fight thanks to their participation in the Battle of Geonosis and the Blockade Crisis on her homeworld ten years ago. There were not many Senators who could do so, she and Bail Organa were a rare breed amongst a security conscious Republic.

"Can you handle a saber?" He asked her wonderingly.

After a degree of thought, Padmé nodded slowly. "Captain Panaka did train us to use staffs and swords while I was Princess of Theed. Why?"

In reply he retrieved a silver cylinder from his carryall and handed it to her. "This was Qui-Gon's. Considering the number of missions I went on with Anakin where he lost or mislaid his, I thought I ought to have a spare with me at all times just in case." Glancing at the chrono, he added, "we have some time before we arrive, we should use it wisely."

Padmé studied the weapon in her hand thoughtfully, judging the weight, eyeing the controls. She was a sharpshooter with her blaster and during her defence training Captain Panaka had declared that she could dance as well as she could fight. She knew that she could never measure up the level of excellence practised by the Jedi, but the idea of trying the weapon out intrigued her.

Rising from their seats, they headed to the largest room within the yacht, where Obi-Wan instructed her on the basics of using such a weapon, and how to work the controls, which despite their minimalist appearance, were actually quite sophisticated. Dialling down the power of the lasers to a training mode, he stood back for a moment as she ignited her blade and moved about the room, getting use to the feel of the weapon. Only when she was comfortable with using it did he ignite his own blade and engage hers.

The sparring session was unlike anything she had ever experienced. Even though she had witnessed Jedi at their finest in the Battle of Geonosis, watched the surveillance footage of Obi-Wan's fight with the Sith ten years ago on Naboo, there was something quite unique about experiencing such a duel first hand. Master Kenobi's fighting style had changed Forms in the ten years she had known him, from an acrobatic display she had seen in Anakin's saber work to a highly defensive style which he was famed for, thanks to the propaganda from the HoloNet. From her contacts within the Senate, Order and Jedi Council, Padmé knew Master Kenobi was considered the best defensive swordsman in the Order and it was not hard to see why. In every move there was a grace and elegance that was rarely seen outside a ballroom, coupled with a undeniably powerful expression of concentrated focus which was splayed across his countenance.

Her own style was no match, but after a time she found herself able to mimic some of his form, even without the aid of the Force. She grew to appreciate his teaching methods, unlike his previous padawan, who always claimed that Master Kenobi held him back from reaching his full potential. Padmé also realised immediately the incredible discipline under which Obi-Wan operated, the strength of power that he kept banked within him as they sparred. He lacked the aggression with which Anakin had always fought, an emotion that she came to realise had hindered her soon to be former husband from reaching the full potential he so desperately craved.

As for Obi-Wan, he found much to admire about Padmé's style of fighting. Due to their shared experiences in the Blockade Crisis and the Battle of Geonosis he knew she was a good shot, capable of improvisation, as she had shown with the chain to attack the Nexu, but he had no idea that she could fight as well as she was doing so with a saber.

Volunteering the weapon had come from an instinctive urge inside him as he contemplated what they might be facing when they arrived at Polis Massa. Jedi normally travelled in twos, a Master and a Padawan, something that might be expected from whoever it was they would face. Padmé's youthful features and her slight statue would lend itself to such an outward deception, and possibly fool their opponents into believing that they were not capable of fighting with any other weapon.

Padmé's previous experience in using a sword aided his tutelage else he doubted that their journey time in the ship would have enabled her to lend a convincing image to the deception of a Master travelling with his Padawan. Jedi were trained to handle sabers from a young age, the foremost swordsman of the Order taught the youngest classes; Master Yoda. Without the Force the weapon was still as useful to those who were trained to use it, though the ability to harness that ancient energy added an extra depth to fighting with a saber. Despite lacking that ability, Padmé picked up the skills quickly, managing to mimic some of his style, as well as adapting her own.

The ship's chrono had been timed to give them a warning before they arrived in the system, allowing them to call an end to the sparring session while they still had time to regain the energy for whatever lay ahead. Obi-Wan used what was left of the journey to meditate, while Padmé researched the layout of the asteroid base.

Coming out of hyperspace, the ship approached Polis Massa and its neighbouring asteroids cautiously. Within the cockpit the two passengers used the scanners to survey the surface and found three ships; one a Delta-Twelve, standard issue to any Jedi, and two other unidentifiable crafts, both reading an impressive array of shielding and weaponry. Engaging the landing struts, Padmé checked her blaster before handing Obi-Wan a spare, along with an extra power pack. A Jedi's weapon may be his life but it never hurt to have a backup.

Sabers at the ready they exited the ship, senses on high alert, brown and blue eyes casting around, taking in everything. Ahead of them stood the entrance to the base, ominously silent. Located on their right and left were the ships her yacht's sensors had picked up, and aside from the Delta-Twelve, neither of them looked familiar. Such strangeness was hardly comforting as they eyed the weaponry outlined across each hull. Both ships appeared to be highly manoeuvrable and deadly.

Leaving the crafts behind they advanced cautiously towards the entrance. With a wave from the Force Obi-Wan opened the door ahead of them. Almost at once the violent humming and clashing of lightsabers echoed from within the base. Clutching their own where the silver cylinders hung on their waists, the couple headed inside. Following the sound of the duel, they went deeper into the base, until the proximity of the battle forced them to halt in a nearby alcove, whilst they plotted how to enter the fight, aid and assist the Jedi in his quest to defeat the Sith.

For Sith the opponent was, however not the one that the Order had been looking for since the death of what was presumed to be the apprentice on Naboo. Obi-Wan did not feel that the swirl of dark emotions which surrounded her was powerful enough to prove to be the master who had trained the Zabrak he defeated ten years ago. That she was a woman was in some dispute, for her features were angular, almost droid like. He had little time to analyse her features thoroughly to determine her species, for he was too busy evaluating her fighting style, and how his friend was measuring up. Garen had not faced a Sith before, but some times even such previous experience did not help a Jedi to defeat their opponent. Nor would it be wise of him to suddenly intercede, as he might risk hurting his friend rather than the warrior he was facing.

Glancing at Padmé, he saw that she had discarded her grip of the saber in favour of her blaster, raising the weapon gripped firmly in her hands, aiming it at the Sith. Such a move had proved affective on Geonosis, he hoped the same would achieve some degree of success here. Catching her eye, he nodded at her, allowing her the privilege of judging the best time to fire.

In the end the gunshot was by no means as accurate as they hoped, but as a method of distraction it more than served its purpose. The assailant moved her blade to intercept and deflect the shot towards the wall of the corridor, breaking her attack off Garen for a moment, which in turn caused the shot to ricochet back and forth between the walls until the power of the laser receded completely. He seized on the opportunity, striking with his saber at her unprotected body, wounding her slender waist.

Padmé knew instinctively that her next shot would also be blocked, so she turned her gaze to Obi-Wan as she contemplated what to do next. The Jedi Master's eyes were not upon her or the fight, instead they shifted between the floor and the ceiling of the corridor, as though he were judging something. Within a moment she discovered what that was, as he leapt forward and upwards, in a manoeuvre which harked back to his days as the padawan of Qui-Gon Jinn. Landing behind the assailant with his lightsaber ignited and in hand, he struck at her as she reacted with fury to the wound which his friend had inflicted.

Wounded and trapped between two Jedi, one tiring, the other fresh and ready for the fight, the Sith was by no means outgunned. She more than held her own, turning her blade from a single shaft of red light into two, as the duel harked back to Obi-Wan's first fight with such a dark side warrior ten years ago. Up and down the corridor they battled, the red, green and blue blades a constant swirl of activity, as they slashed and clashed with each other and the walls of the corridor. From her alcove Padmé watched for a time, until an avenue for venturing deeper into the base was given. Obi-Wan had said that Garen was meeting his companion here, so given the presence of the third ship within the landing bay, it must follow that she was elsewhere within the base, possibly injured. It was imperative that she find her, just in case the assailant gave them no choice but to abandon the base for hyperspace.

Dodging the three duellists Padmé made her way down the corridor behind them further into the base. Keeping her blaster handy in case the Sith had brought friends, she checked every open door way as she went. For those that were closed she hurriedly pressed the activation controls, or waved her free hand in the direction of the automatic sensors. Most of the rooms were full of medical scanners, beds and droids, the latter powered down, waiting for the command to wake up. Some times she passed the occasional operations room or generators that quietly blinked away, undisturbed by the fight within the base.

The corridor which she was traversing went around and through the base as continuous curve, allowing her to survey almost every room. Behind her the echoes of saber upon saber grew fainter as she travelled deeper within the base, searching for the pilot of the third ship. Now and then a sound came to her, causing her to pause as she tried to identify it, hoping it to be coming from the woman she was looking for. However such hopes were usually and quickly disappointed as the sounds revealed themselves to be droids or indications of information from the sensors and other controls monitored by the machinery of the base. She pressed on despite the disappointment, knowing that who she was looking for had to be somewhere within the base.

At last she heard something which was indicative of a life form. Pausing in her search, she stilled until her senses could trace the direction of where the cries were coming from. Once she had that, Padmé forgot her cautious pace in favour of dashing towards the source of the sound, although she never let up her check of every other room that she passed, just in case something else awaited her. All the while the cries became more and more audible as their level of distress sung out a tune she could not hope to identify until she caught sight of the source in question.

Rounding the latest in the series of curves within the corridor, a flash of red alerted her that she had found what she was looking for. Coming to a halt, she entered the room cautiously, wary of the possibility that it might be a trap. Once she had satisfied herself that nothing was lurking in the shadows, awaiting to pounce, Padmé turned her gaze upon the woman she had been searching for.

She was a little taller than herself, with hair the colour of sunset and eyes a deep emerald shade she had sometimes found in her own lover's. Slender and well formed, aside from the swollen belly that her fingers clutched frantically, indicating the source of her distress. This woman was in labour, and judging by the panicked concern displayed upon her countenance, the time for her to give birth should have been far off.

Padmé knelt before her, holstering her blaster before reaching out her hands to help. "Easy, easy," she murmured in soothing tone. "I'm here to help. You're safe now."

"Garen?" the woman queried as her stress eased a fraction.

"Obi-Wan's helping him," Padmé replied. "Has he told you of him? They have been life long friends." She turned her gaze to the swollen belly. "How far along are you?"

"Not far enough," the woman gritted out as she suffered through a contraction.

Recalling from her time spent with Sola during the births of her nieces, Padmé waited for the pains to subside, then calmly checked the rate of progress. "Can you stand? We need to get you to the medbay, and there's one not far from here."

"I think so," the woman nodded, and clutched at her hands, grateful for such assistance at this time.

Helping her to her feet, Padmé wrapped an supporting arm around the woman and together they ventured into the corridor. Keeping a cautious eye and ear on alert for possible attackers, she guided her companion towards the nearest medbay.

Getting her on to the bed was another matter, but fortunately the medcenter beds were equipped with repulsor lifts, allowing for them to be lowered and then raised to the usual height. Padmé stepped back as the med droid went about its work.

From this point in the base it was impossible to hear the three way saber fight, allowing her no chance to try and discern who was winning, the Jedi or the Sith. It reminded her of the blockade ten years ago, when she went on to face Nute Gunray of the Trade Federation while Obi-Wan and his master battled the Sith that had laid in wait for them in the hangar bay of Theed Palace. Padmé hoped that the symbolism did not carry through to the ending, where, with Nute Gunray in custody, the blockade lifted and communications restored, she had returned to the hangar bay to find Obi-Wan grieving over the body of his master.

Worrying over the duel would buy her no favours however, so she returned her focus to the labouring woman in front of her, taking grip of the hand which clamoured for aid, recalling what she remembered of her sister's child births. At the foot of the bed the med- droid laboured, uttering soothing beeps until the child was safely delivered. Padmé found its odd curved shapes and coloured eyes faintly disturbing, but her companion paid them no mind as she focused on bringing her child into the world.

By the time word reached her concerning the end of the duel, her companion's labours were over, the baby girl was resting in her arms and they were all on first name terms. Nineve, whom Padmé learned was the name of her companion, was relieved that despite the early delivery her daughter was well and after all she had done to help her, held no qualms about her newborn resting in Padmé's arms. She was in need of the same, as it had been an exhausting day. But her mind and her worries were with her lover, who she had last seen leaping over her to shield and fight against the Sith that Nineve's ex-employer had sent after her. Though she had been reassured by Padmé that his friend was here to help him, she would not be easy until Garen was by her side once more.

Then suddenly a fair-coloured bearded man with a kindly face appeared over Padmé's shoulder, his arms coming to rest around her waist just below where her arms cradled the newborn. He was followed by her own man as Garen stole to her side, sheepish and bruised, but very much alive. He took her hand in his and gestured at his friend. "Nineve Jade, meet Obi-Wan Kenobi."

Obi-Wan bowed his head as much as he could in his position. "Greetings, milady." He turned to the newborn, smiling kindly at her. "Welcome to the universe, little one."

"What happened to the Sith?" Padmé asked him softly.

"Dead," Obi-Wan replied. "We'll take the ship back with us to Coruscant. I sense there is more to discover here still." He dealt a kiss to her cheek before turning his gaze back to the child in her arms. "I could get used to you thus. She's strong in the Force."

"I hope she learns to use it wisely," Nineve murmured, "Unlike her mother. For my actions on Pais, Master Kenobi, I apologise."

Obi-Wan acknowledged the gesture with another slight bow of his head. "No need, milady. I admire your ability to make sure no one was harmed. There are not many who would grant their adversaries such a privilege."

"It was what my employer wanted," Nineve replied. "But it had the opposite effect to the one he intended. As for my next assignment, I couldn't do what he asked, so I left his employ and he put that Sith in my place. With orders to kill me if she found me. No one leaves his employment alive, if they know his true identity."

"And you do?" Padmé deduced from those words.

"It was necessary sometimes, for me to see him in an official capacity," Nineve replied. She turned her head to her man. "Garen tells me that you wish for us to return to Coruscant and assist in defeating him. It is not that I lack the courage, but I do not know how. He is too powerful in the Republic, who would believe us?"

"We will need proof," Obi-Wan murmured. "Which the ship that belonged to your assailant, might provide us with."

Proof they found, he and Padmé, when they left the couple and their daughter alone in the medbay recovering from the birth and the fight. Inside the ship within the communications system, where there were records of holo messages between the Sith and her master. In those he presented himself as a hooded spectre, his gravely, crackling voice speaking from within that dark hole of seeming nothingness, scarcely unrecognisable.

But present also, were other recordings, of conversation between the Sith and another, concerning her Master's orders, the very same he had dealt out to her during their conversations. The identity of the other was still a shock to them both, inspite of the conversation Obi-Wan had held with Master Yoda before they left Coruscant. His former padawan, her soon to be former husband, the previously prophesied chosen one of the Order, had taken the path of the dark side, which would forever dominate his destiny.

"How many meetings do you have left?" Obi-Wan asked her, after the full scale of the horror that awaited them concerning Anakin and the Sith had finished unfolding within the records of the communications system.

"Just one," Padmé replied. "I will go there protected. Captain Typho is vigilant, and my lawyers have had a restraining order in place ever since he first laid a hand on me."

Obi-Wan nodded, resigned. "I will have to go to the Council with this. By the time your meeting is over, I imagine we will have come to an agreement over what the Order will do with the Chancellor and Anakin."

"We at the Senate must take action as well," Padmé replied.

"Then together, will the Order and Senate act," Obi-Wan murmured in the style of the Grand Master. "And may the Force be with us all."

Part 42: Dissolution.

If Padmé felt any apprehension during her meeting with Anakin after what she, Nineve, Garen and Obi-Wan had discovered on Polis Massa, she chose not to show it. Her concern was not directed at herself, he had already visited all the injury he could upon her, it was for her lawyer and his, along with the security Captain Typho assigned, Artoo, and the Judge who would be present during the meeting this day.

His role was to preside over the final measures which would nullify her union with Anakin; listen to the results of the negotiations that had occurred since she first sought this course of action, and witness the documents of flimsi and data records which would render the divorce official. A series of formalities which would suggest that the meeting was likely to be short, but Padmé had learned from long experience of participating in several committee meetings with only one item on the agenda, that even formalities could be drawn out into lasting an entire day.

She and Obi-Wan had agreed to meet after their meetings were over, for he was expected at the Council Chamber, to debrief his colleagues over what he, Garen, Nineve and herself had discovered on Polis Massa. Since their return from that asteroid base the Jedi had allowed for Nineve and her child to stay with Garen at the Temple, and taken the ship belonging to the Sith they encountered into their custody.

The Council was also going to discuss whether they would exercise their Senate privileges and side with those politicians who wished to put forth a motion for a vote of no confidence concerning the Supreme Chancellor. If they chose to do so, it would be the first time that the Order had ever involved itself in such matters, setting a precedent that could and doubtless would influence what the rest of the galaxy thought of them. For many years they had resisted the temptation to involve themselves so directly in Republic politics, even if they did advise the Supreme Chancellor, along with countless other Senators, as well as mediate over disputes on worlds throughout the galaxy.

Lately more members of the Order had become known figures of the Republic, courtesy of the executive office's somewhat ambiguous propaganda campaign. Count Dooku's history as a former Jedi when he emerged as the leader of the Separatists had done little to help the Order's reputation. The announcement of the reforms to the Order concerning attachment also coloured the impression formed by those who knew of the Jedi. Beings had become used to seeing only Masters and their padawans about the galaxy, to learn that they could marry now caused some to speculate if they would take their wedded companions in the same fashion as they took recruits to the Order.

Padmé was in the unique position of refuting this, if she chose to do so. Her first union with a Jedi had been conducted in the normal fashion, albeit secretly, although the latter proved reluctant to let go of her once he had her. For a moment her mind was flooded with memories of that last night, as she compared the violent behaviour he exhibited then to what she had learned in the recordings of the ship that they had found on Polis Massa.

She was no stranger to Sith, but of the three she had encountered, each were entirely different from each other. The first, the one that Obi-Wan defeated, had been a silent individual, monstrous by this very aspect of his personality, making him appear as a threatening predator. Count Dooku was unusual, a former Jedi, highly respected by the Council, an intelligent and capable leader of men. She recalled his manner on Geonosis, the almost regal quality about him as he accepted Master Windu's counter that they were not hostages to be bargained with.

As for Anakin, Padmé still regarded him as a troubled and dangerous boy. There was that certain youthful insecurity about him, a determination to prove himself, coupled with the frustration of having and how to go about it. Often his methods included a form of violence or a display of temper, particularly when something that he desired was denied him. In his youth she had never felt afraid of him, but since he was assigned with his master to protect her, Padmé had felt a certain fear, whenever he acquired a particular look.

For a time she believed that fear was a by-product of her emerging feelings for him, but now she knew that it came from the instinctive part of herself, which had always realised that becoming close to him would put her and any one close to her at risk. A part of her wished that fear had prevented her from marrying him, as it would have saved her from much of her recent troubles, but there was little she could do to change the past. She was grateful that the only injury incurred was upon herself and not upon any of her friends or family, except perhaps for Obi-Wan. And by the end of the day, her union with him would be over.

It was strange. She had desired so much from the marriage, more so than Anakin, who seemed to want nothing but the possession of her. Children, companionship, love and respect, so many things which her parents and her sister enjoyed in theirs. Now it was to be over, putting her in search of such things again, although some she seemed to have already found, with Obi-Wan. Before they left for Polis Massa he had accepted her choice to be with him, in his unselfish offer of love. Usually there was a time to experience being solitary and single again after the end of a union, common sense ruled that a relationship formed so quickly tended to be a rebound one, but Padmé knew that what she had with Obi-Wan would last a lifetime.

She rose from the chair before her dressing table and exited into the living room, where Captain Typho was waiting. Outside would be a cadre of security, her escorts almost everywhere she went now, including the trip to the Jedi Temple that no one but herself and Obi-Wan was supposed to know about. They were nothing if not discreet, and she half suspected that they had accompanied them to Polis Massa as well. She was used to security, from the moment she put herself forward for the position of Queen of the Naboo, but their devotion had increased ever since Anakin laid a hand on her. Moments of privacy, when she managed to experience them, became something to be savoured.

"Everything's ready, milady," Typho said.

"Good," she murmured. "Then let's go."

The Senate was in session, quibbling over some minor business which she had left her trusted handmaiden and Representative, Dormé, to attend. Just as her marriage had been a secret, so was her divorce proceedings and it was inevitable that the meetings would clash with the occasional Senate or Committee session. Since Jar Jar had signed over executive powers to the Supreme Chancellor, and his realisation that such a move was not what she would have wished, causing his withdrawal to Naboo, she had handed the reigns of Representative over to her handmaidens, who either posed as her, or themselves, depending on the level of importance each session merited.

Today was the latter, so her absence would incur no queries from the interfering members of the HoloNet, or anyone else who felt that they had earned that right to inquire after her whereabouts. There had been days, in the infancy of her Senatorial duties, that she considered no session too unimportant to attend. The years however had passed, and jaded her, causing her to apply the practice that everyone else followed, attend only those where she could effect some change for the good of the Republic. While the absences granted her some freedom to follow her own, private pursuits, they also granted her the opportunity to make a difference for the good of the Republic outside the Senate as well as within its walls.

Despite the secrecy, the divorce proceedings still took place where they should, in Coruscant's Courts district, inside a conference room located midway up one of the many skyscrapers that defined the jewel of the Core Worlds as a one large city. It was reserved under the Judge's name so no one could ascertain what was occurring behind the large, nondescript mahogany doors. All parties involved arrived separately in unmarked vehicles after a long complicated journey designed to foil any possible tails.

The lawyers were already there when she and her cadre walked into the room, having a companionable chat that would be a contrast to the official conversations between them which would take place soon. Upon her entrance both rose to offer her the usual courtly greeting, gently inquiring after her welfare, to which she replied in kind. She held no ill will against either of them, for both had treated her fairly, fighting for her rights to the best of their ability. Even the one who represented Anakin, who after realising he would get nothing but petulance and querulous excuses from his client, chose to serve his purpose by agreeing to what ever his opposite desired.

Anakin was the last to arrive, his entrance reluctant as always, having no desire to be present at these proceedings, though any absence on his part would serve to achieve the dissolution of their marriage in any case. There were moments when Padmé felt sorry for him, knowing that he still loved her in his own way, that she was all he had ever wanted. In this, as in almost everything, he was a still a boy, unable to see past the need to have her, no matter what the cost. Now he was to lose her, although he had lost her the moment he laid a hand on her in violence. He had not realised that yet, she knew he still believed that if he said sorry enough times she would call an end to these proceedings and disband the restraining order her security had put him under after they evicted him from her apartment.

Unlike her, he would probably never recover and move on from this, he would be angry and jealous the moment he found out about her and Obi-Wan, all the more so because he had been his master. No matter how many times he had hurt or disappointed Obi-Wan, Anakin would always claim that all the fault was on his master's side, never the padawan. No, Obi-Wan was the one who had held him back from reaching his true potential, from finding and freeing his mother earlier, from saving her from the Tuskens, and probably Cliegg Lars as well. His hero complex was a selfish one, carrying within a need for his deeds to be recognised, to be lauded and remembered. A by-product of his upbringing in slavery, the denial and brutality of life visited upon him from an early age.

But as much as Padmé could find reasons to excuse his behaviour, she knew that he was not alone in his impoverished childhood. There were others like him, born into similar circumstances, who had risen above the poverty and brutality to become distinguished role models. Just as there were some who had become despots and slavers in their own right. Anakin was not the first, and he would not the be last. His destiny did not exclude him from judgement, even when it was previously believed to be a force for good.

His downfall was due to his failure to realise that he was not special, his reliance on his destiny being an escape from any wrongdoing and the consequences that rose from committing such sins on his part. Such knowledge kept her compassion from granting his wishes now, from excusing the violence he visited upon her, the members of her household, and the droids. She remembered when he confessed to her the massacre of the Tuskens who had taken his mother, the mistaken belief on her part that if she surrendered herself to their love that she could save him from committing further acts of darkness. In truth, no one could save him but himself, and until he realised that, his soul would remain unreachable.

The Judge entered the chambers, causing everyone present to remain standing until he had took his seat. After nodding a deferential greeting to all, he motioned for them to take their places before declaring the proceedings were in session. He then appealed to the lawyers to name themselves and their clients, before stating their case.

What followed a brief description of her marriage with Anakin told to the judge, the circumstances of the union's foundation, the brief days spent in wedded bliss, those spent apart as she attended the peace conference on Pais and he remained within the Jedi Temple, their fraught communications during that time, followed by their reunion and her decision to tell him that she wanted a divorce. His reaction to such news, and the ensuing violence visited upon herself and her household, her lawyer concluded, which led to the marital dissolution proceedings being held here today.

Evidence of that violence was presented before the Judge, in the form of the holo images of her injuries taken at the time, along with testimony from her security as well as herself. Throughout the case for her defence Anakin's countenance was stormy, his very dangerous expression providing the basis for the judge to believe that this young man was quite capable of delivering such an assault and doubtless would do so again.

Her lawyer spoke in a quiet voice, his manner this time very matter of fact, his previous aristocratic style that riled his colleague's client so much, gone from the proceedings today. No emotion ruled his record, nor drama for the sake of illustration or otherwise. He let the facts speak for themselves.

When it came to the turn of Anakin's lawyer, the events of their marriage were laid out again, accompanied this time by a record of his client's harsh upbringing at the hands of slavers, his cloistered life spent inside the Jedi Temple. Gone also were the lawyer's elitist mannerisms, as he too told his case in a quiet matter of fact way, without emotion or drama, letting the account speak for itself. He made no attempt to let his client's background and upbringing become source of excuse for his actions, even those he was unaware of, namely the massacre of the Tuskens in the wake of Shmi Skywalker's death. Nor did he offer up that his client knew that the assault he visited upon his wife was wrong, or that he was willing to face the consequences for incurring such suffering. The time to offer up such recompense had passed, to do so now would accomplish nothing.

During these proceedings the Judge offered little of his own thoughts, limiting himself to occasionally airing a query or two when he desired something to be explained further. Neither side put forth any objection to how the other rendered their accounts, allowing no insight to his thoughts through that way either. However unfamiliar both she and Anakin were with this form of legal process, they knew that the judgement was a foregone conclusion, he was present merely to oversee the dissolution of their marital union, nothing more. He would not press them into another series of counselling sessions, or would he suspend the annulment for a certain period of time.

With the restraining order still in place against him, Padmé speculated that this would probably be the last time she saw Anakin. She wondered what would happen to him now. She knew that the Jedi Council would most likely send someone after him, given the evidence they found aboard the ship on Polis Massa. Depending on who it was, and Padmé instinctively felt that it might be Obi-Wan, there was a possibility that Anakin might not live freely for much longer. Obi-Wan had confided in her that he would do everything he could to see that Anakin was redeemed, for he had no desire to kill his brother, whether it was his destiny to do so or no. If Anakin would let himself be redeemed was another matter.

Anakin's counsel came to the end of his report, which was followed by the Judge asking if either of the couple, or anyone else in the chamber wished to add something to what had been said. Padmé thought Anakin might chose to offer another apology at this point, since his counsel had offered none on his behalf, but the Jedi remained as silent as she. When enough time had passed to render a suitable pause, the Judge spoke.

"After examining all the evidence to hand, hearing the testimony from both counsels, it behoves me to declare this union at an end, allowing both parties to find another partner elsewhere, if that is their wish." He took hold of the gravel and tapped it lightly upon the mahogany table. "This session is concluded, this union nullified."

He rose from his chair, causing all present to rise also. One by one, starting with the counsel and ending with the Jedi, he shook hands, taking care to offer a few consoling words. The opposing counsel also exchanged shakes, between themselves and between the clients whom they had represented.

Anakin made no move to go over to her to offer the same conciliatory gesture, probably because the restraining order was still in place, so Padmé took it upon herself to walk over to him and put forth her hand. He seemed astonished to find her standing before him, as though his thoughts were not within this room, but with other matters or beings elsewhere, but after a moment he took her hand, and slowly raised his head to meet her gaze.

"Goodbye, Anakin," Padmé remarked quietly, before using the grip to pull him into a brief embrace. His free hand came up to return the gesture, causing her to still as she encountered the touch of his mechanised hand for the first time since that night. "Take care of yourself," she added.

Captain Typho was there to make sure the Jedi let go, then with one final glance at his rather forlorn looking figure, Padmé walked away.

Anakin watched her go with a heavy heart. Even though he was involved with Asajj, he would still have Padmé back in a heartbeat, if she let him. He was surprised to receive that hug from her. He was so used to her denying him anything he desired from her. The words she had used as well were strange. As though she expected to never see him again. While the restraining order was in place, Anakin could see her point, but he doubted that he would never run into her again. Both of them were always in the thick of events too much to avoid each other completely.

On the other hand that was during times of strife, when the Republic needed the likes of those who were willing to defend it with everything they had. Now that the peace treaty between themselves and the Separatists was in place, the only time their paths might cross would be if there was a Senate problem or a Chommell Sector problem. Anakin groaned. He was not comfortable at the thought of never seeing Padmé again. But nothing about this situation was easy.

Ever since he had let his temper get the better of himself, everything in his life had slipped out of his hands to be controlled by someone else. About the only thing he had succeeded in achieving was his knighthood. That had come with the price of his marriage. If he had been on Pais with Padmé none of this would have happened. As Obi-Wan's apprentice he should have been with the Jedi delegation, not kicking his heels back on Coruscant. True, he got to acquire the skills of the seventh form of saber combat, but he could have got such training upon his return. As for the soul healer, well, the counselling branch of the Order had never got in touch with him, so he chose not to do so either.

Beyond him, the lawyers were exiting the chamber, talking companionably with each other, as they had done so almost everyday of these negotiations. The Judge was following, leaving Anakin alone. He moved away from the table to survey the prospect offered from the transparisteel. High rise skyscrapers dotted the skies, separated by waves of traffic lanes, all equally heavily occupied.

Coruscant's Court District was located some distance from the Senate and Jedi Temple, so neither of those impressive landmarks could be seen from here. Not that either would provide any source of comfort at this present moment. Anakin's thoughts were far beyond this nondescript view, they drifted outwards, above the mantle of the planet, into the stars. Where Asajj was travelling just now. She had left to track down a missing young woman who used to work out of the executive office. Apparently the Supreme Chancellor had been worried about her ever since she disappeared, shortly after the conclusion of the Pais peace conference.

In Asajj's roughly fierce embrace, he could forget all his troubles. Burdens of being the Chosen One no long seemed insoluble in her arms. He didn't love her, nor did he believe that she felt any affection for him, but the intimacy that they shared soothed their wounds and assuaged some healing. With her away from the Core he felt more isolated and lonely than he had ever done so before. He had little to cure that ail, little to call his own. Padmé had taken Artoo back, and as for Threepio, the golden protocol droid had accompanied the Senator to the negotiations once, to respectfully request that he be permitted to remain within Padmé's household.

Certain droids were still considered the property of their owners and in cases of gifts given during a marriage, they were usually expected to be returned to their previous owner. But Threepio had argued quite eloquently to be granted permission to remain in the Senator's service, and the lawyers had agreed. Which left him his lightsaber, and the meagrely equipped quarters within the Jedi Temple. Even the rooms he shared with Asajj were hers, and not given to him by the Chancellor, although Anakin was certain that if he asked, Palpatine would be kind enough to bestow.

Such a thought was tempting, but the gift would give him little except another place of refuge away from the Temple. His quarters there felt bare and forbidding. As though they were judging him, just as the rest of the Order chose to do so. At times he almost wished that Qui-Gon had left him on Tatooine, or that he had never encountered the Jedi and Padmé, the two things which caused him such heartache now.

But such a possibility would have left him ignorant of the power within him, power that could have saved his mother, if he had been given the chance to do so. She had been the only one who had loved him unconditionally, the one being no one could replace. Her death at the hands of the Tuskens had marked the start of everything going wrong in his life. He wondered if the death of those raiders sparked an omen that blood would always stain his hands, even if he could see no evidence of it.

Outside the optical reflectors shifted to begin the gradual descent of darkness upon Coruscant's sky. Lights slowly lit up the skyscrapers before him, as those charged with working late hours on the planet which never slept, required more visibility with which to see by. Others were closing up their offices or chambers, leaving to sample the nightlife that the jewel of the Core Worlds had to offer, or for home.

Anakin's thoughts still preoccupied him, a prelude to what would be an unsettled night, unless the Chancellor's office called with fresh orders regarding his recent assignment. Upon his countenance the grimace which reigned there deepened at the thought of his current mission. What he had been requested to do troubled him, though not enough to refrain from carrying the orders out. To hold back and ask questions would doubtless only deepen the puzzle.

As the Chancellor had said to him when he was first given this mission, the beings he found were only pieces of the puzzle. Once the nature of their deaths and the life they led emerged into the public scrutiny of the HoloNet, only then could the whole be assembled and understood.

But someone was preventing that from occurring. After he had committed the act, he would monitor the HoloNet News Network carefully, keeping a look out for any notice of the incident. However numerous they were becoming, none registered even a missing beings' report. Even if the beings had no one left behind to notice that they had disappeared, a incident report would have turned up by now. Clearly someone was going to a great deal of trouble to keep the acts from becoming public.

Usually that meant only two things. Either someone within the Courts District had reasoned that the same being was behind all of the acts and was waiting to catch them in the midst of their next murderous act, or the Jedi were involved. Anakin suspected it was the latter. However, what troubled him was that if someone in the Order was investigating, why someone from the Chancellor's office had not chosen to inform them that these deaths were being sanctioned for the good of the Republic.

There was a common understanding between the Council and the Executive Office that they keep each other informed of whatever came across their respective desks which had the potential to expose the Republic to danger. Such silence from both ends troubled him, yet he could not disobey the Chancellor's orders. Perhaps next time an anonymous tip off to one of the Holo journalists might prove productive.

Inside a pocket within the confines of his cloak, a comlink vibrated, causing him to call the device into his hand. Asajj had left him a message to say she was on her way, and could she meet him at the usual landing rendezvous. Anakin responded that he would, before putting the comlink away.

With one last glance at the darkening patterned lit skyline, he turned to exit the chambers for the hanger bay where he had left his SoroSuub. Climbing into the vehicle, he gunned the engines. The speeder rose out of the bay and into one of the many traffic ways that littered the sky.

There was no ship waiting for him when he arrived in the Works District, but then he knew that Asajj was doubtless still dealing with Coruscant's custom officials. Even a pass from the Supreme Chancellor himself did not grant you clear skies immediately. However, he could sense that he was not entirely alone, and that was enough to make him exit his vehicle.

"I'm sorry, Anakin," a voice said somewhere behind him, "but Asajj won't be coming."

Parts Forty-three-Forty-Five.

© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 2021. All rights reserved.