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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 31: The Hermit of Serenno

Obi-Wan opened the door of suite 515 of the Aldera Ritz to find almost the same sight which confronted him in Cantham House. The Aldera Ritz was a respected, luxurious hotel, located near the Manarai Mountains, with stunning views of that splendid landscape. Like almost all buildings on Coruscant, it was a high-rise edifice, made of a mixture of stone and transparisteel, in the style of Alderaanian architecture.

Unlike Cantham House, the hotel suite held only two rooms, an open-plan living and dining area with a small kitchen facility in one corner, and a bedroom, separated by a double door entrance. Nothing was hidden from view, the doors were left open, displaying the large bed and the naked body, nestled amongst crumpled silk sheets and blood red rose petals to his sea shaded gaze.
With a wave of his hand, he closed the door behind him, turning the key in the lock, before advancing further within. As before, the dining table held a dinner for two, which showed some evidence of being sampled, presumably by the victim before she succumbed to her fate in the bedroom. The suite was lit as before, a low, romantic setting in the living and dining area, maximum brightness within the bedroom.

He dealt the meal no more than a cursory glance, heading straight for the victim, just in case she was still alive. That hope proved to be in vain, even before he put his finger tips to her neck in quest for a pulse. Already he could see the dark purple bruising upon her, the glassy, vacant expression within her green eyes. Her skin was soft to the touch, and still warm, indicating that she had not been dead long.

Sighing in regret at the loss of life, Obi-Wan rose from his position of leaning over the bed and body to examine the rest of the suite more closely. In contrast to the murder at Cantham House, no one but the victim and the perpetrator had disturbed the crime scene, allowing for the possibility of him finding something which might shed more light on the identity of the latter. Stretching out with his senses, he used the Force to search for echoes of their presence. Every one, even those who did not possess the gift to be guided by that ancient energy, left an echo of themselves in their travels which could be used to identify them. The method for detecting such remnants was taught when one became a master, as well a way to eliminate them, though the skills for that technique were only passed on at the discretion of Master Yoda, to members of the Order who were often tasked with missions of stealth. As useful as this method was, the echoes did not last long, and were easily disturbed by others when they came to the same place.

Despite a thorough search, Obi-Wan could not detect any such echo within the suite. Nor was there evidence of the remnant being erased, or anything else which might point to the identity of the murderer. Exactly what he found at Cantham House. He was aware of his limits as an investigator, but he also knew that if there was evidence to be found, he would have done so by now. Permitting himself another sighing breath in disappointment, his hand slipped into his pocket to retrieve his comlink. He had a contact within the courts, they would handle the rest of this, as they had done with the body at Cantham House.

A medical examination was performed on Aline Kavaria, the results of which proved troubling. Cause of death; strangulation, but not through the act of person or persons unknown laying their hands around Aline's neck, tightening their grip until her life was choked from her, but from an unseen force crushing her bones from the inside out. There was only one conclusion he could draw from this; the murder was committed by someone trained in the use of the ways of the Force. This narrowed down the list of suspects, but not enough, and they were worrisome indeed. Jedi, Sith, or some new previously unknown Force-sensitive being, all in all a force to be reckoned with.

This was only the second death in his investigations, and although he had just put a call through to his contact in the courts, Obi-Wan knew the results of the examination on this victim would reveal the same findings as that on Aline Kavaria. Given the other evidence which was lying about the inert body; the blood red rose petals, no other conclusion could be drawn. And this was the fifth number on the second com device which Bail had given him, the one previously belonging to the Senator from Alderaan. Upon reflection he should be relieved that the four women before her were still alive and capable of allowing themselves to be charmed by him into wine and dinner, but nothing of the intimacy which they answered the call and agreed to the evening in prospect of.

Garen Muln may be his closest friend, not to mention so alike him in appearance that in their youth they were often mistaken for each other, but Obi-Wan never believed in indulging in all of the pursuits his friend pursued. One night of intimacies with women without the intricacies of holy ties or love had never been his desire, even before he met those of the fairer sex that held the potential to claim his heart. When Bail pressed the idea of an undercover assignment upon him, he had been absolutely determined that he would not follow all the rules of the List. He would go through the numbers on the little golden coms which had once belonged to Aline Kavaria and Bail Organa one by one, seek them out to make sure they were still within the land of the living. But he would do all he could to avoid coupling with them.

And so far, he had succeeded. Whether it was down to his notoriety upon the HoloNet, his reputation as a Jedi, or his looks and charm, - though it must said, while he was aware that he possessed the latter, he never allowed those gifts to master his better nature - all the women he had dined with allowed him the courtesy of refusing further intimacies, assured him of their future concern in embarking on such illicit encounters once more, and departed from him on good terms. He then returned to the Temple where he worked off the rich meal and fine wine consumed in a bout of lightsaber training.

Bracing himself, Obi-Wan returned to the body while he waited for his contact from the Courts to arrive. This time when he leaned over the woman, he retrieved not the quest for a pulse no longer present, but the little gold device clutched in her hand. Rising from his position, he studied the third communicator, in the hope that unlike the other two it would hold a record of the last incoming call. Such expectation was in vain however, for the murderer had once again foiled him there, by leaving no trace of the entry in question. At least now he possessed a triplicate which could be taken apart for further examination for the possibility of rewiring and retrieving the entry that way.

For a moment he contemplated giving the device to Anakin, for his Padawan was far better skilled in the art of splicing and rewiring than himself. It took but a second after this thought crossed his mind to remember the current state of relations between them. He hadn't seen his former Padawan since the knighting ceremony. When Vokara Che allowed him full use of the Temple, he searched for Anakin, without success. Until he could confront him, he remained uncertain as to whether the lad was avoiding him, but nevertheless that conclusion was there to be drawn. Certainly, Obi-Wan felt he could no longer trust him to carry out splicing and rewiring on the little gold com in his hand and keep what findings resulted from it between the two of them.

He could not deny that he wasn't disheartened by such a thought. He had believed that their ten years together forged a friendship, as opposed to the bond between master and padawan, so easily severed as the symbol of that apprenticeship was during the knighting ceremony. Had his failure to temper Anakin's emotions merely masked the true state of affections between them so deeply? His apprentice was given to extreme displays, unlike himself, his emotions governed by years of Jedi discipline.

While he had listened and sympathised whenever Anakin had a grief to vent, he never returned the favour, and now he wondered if that reserve had, however unintentionally harmed their relationship. While it was true that there was little he could do to mend the breach, even less considering how successfully Anakin was managing to avoid him, Obi-Wan was disappointed and could not help but feel he had failed his master in promising to take care of the boy. If he was another master he could have excused himself with the memory of Qui-Gon saying only to train the boy, no mention of care, but to him that word was an underlying condition of every vow a Master took when deciding to take a Padawan.

The sound of someone knocking at the door drew him out from his unpleasant introspection. Obi-Wan returned to the entrance of the suite and reversed what a wave of the Force had done with his hand, letting in the forensics his contact from the courts had sent. A part of him was relieved by the interruption, for he had been spending far too much time recently dwelling on his failures as a padawan master that it was starting to affect his judgement. He had the right of it a few thoughts ago. As Anakin was continuing to avoid him there was little he could do to remedy the matter. Whereas there were a few other problems he could put his mind to solving that were far more troubling.

Such as who was responsible for these murders. Given how intensely the List was tied to almost every form of governance within the Republic, it was not hard to fathom one likely suspect. The Sith Lord whom the Order had been searching for ever since he killed the apprentice on Naboo was such a being. Count Dooku had spoken of the being's desire to reform the Republic by miring it within a civil war, which was foiled by the peace treaty, so it made sense that the Sith would attempt some other means of division. The scandal that the List would cause if made public would undoubtedly engender just such an effect.

Yet that did not mean the Sith was solely responsible for carrying out such dark deeds. Before he had employed his lackeys such as Darth Maul and Count Dooku, there was no reason to suppose that he would not do on this occasion, just because the former was slain by his hand and the latter was in a state of asylum at the Temple. There was whoever tried to sabotage the peace conference, not to mention the possibility of another, previously unknown apprentice.

Obi-Wan grimaced as he recalled Count Dooku's warning concerning Anakin. While he had long since admitted to himself that a Sith lord would naturally covert the prophesied Chosen One, until now he had been resolute in denying the eventuality. But with the lad avoiding him, the certainty that he knew his former Padawan too well to discount the event was a certainty no longer. he remembered his first opinion of the boy, tempered by his sorrow and jealousy in being brushed aside by a master he had worshipped and loved, in line with the judgement of the Council, their authority impeccable. Too much fear within him, dangerous, unsuitable to be trained, they had declared and he had agreed with them, although the word he used to his master held quite another meaning altogether.

When he changed his mind about the boy it was tempered again by other circumstances; losing Qui-Gon, fulfilling his master's dying wish, the boy's miraculous heroism in ridding Naboo of the Trade Federation's blockade. All the Council's reservations escaped his mind, only to be dwelled upon later, whenever he failed to achieve something in his training. Now he wondered once more if the Council had been right. At the time, he was convinced that it was more dangerous to leave the boy untrained, but the power that Anakin could now wield, including the recently acquired training from Master Windu was a force to be reckoned with. And there was no denying that Anakin had good cause to have a grievance with the Order over Padmé, though if the conclusions he drew from her expression during the Senate session before the peace conference were anything to go by, his former apprentice had probably disobeyed the Order on that score anyway.

But despite how much his opinion of Anakin had changed since the discovery of their empty apartment after the knighting ceremony, Obi-Wan still found it hard to believe that the Sith lord would find his former Padawan a suitable apprentice. Compared to the predecessors Anakin lacked the discipline, wisdom and experience of Count Dooku, and the silent assassin qualities of Darth Maul. His former Padawan felt too much to deceive convincingly, to lead the whole of the Republic in a dance as the Sith lord had been doing these past ten years. He may not know precisely what Anakin was hiding from him, but he was reasonably certain that it concerned his love for Padmé and hers for him, nothing darker than that.

And yet there was one thing which worried him, more so since that night he entered his formerly shared apartment to discover its emptiness. Something which Padmé had not said when he went to see her while Anakin recovered from Geonosis, before she and his Padawan went back to Naboo, to either agree to remain true to the code, or, as he suspected, join themselves to each other before witnesses and a holy man. She had told him of Shmi's death, insistent that he asked Anakin if he wanted to know more. And he had tried, but it was yet another subject between him and his former Padawan which could not be breached. At the time, with her, he had said that he could forgive Anakin for his disobedience over Tatooine if it was for his mother. But Padmé's attitude concerning his love for Anakin,... she seemed unable to comprehend his affection, or to realise that her own feelings for the boy were like a supernova which would eventually burn out. Their love was too intense for longevity, it lacked true embers of sustainable passion.

It had been that incomprehension which prevented him from confessing his feelings to her, from arguing with her maturely, logically. Her emotions were too overwrought for allow for anything but simple stating of the reality that was her and Anakin's situation. Even as he heard her voice her acceptance, her resignation of his words, he knew she was unconvinced. She had been fixated on the idea that her love could save Anakin, when in truth it would only create another dependence that his apprentice could not allow himself to lose. A young love that had no idea of true domesticity. He dread to think what would happen if they ever disagreed, Anakin's temper was vile at the best of times. She did not know that his apprentice had set the idea of her, the little young Queen who had saved her planet, promised her care for him would never change, upon a pedestal, and would not look kindly on whoever dislodged her, and that included the lady herself.

Her attitude had not lessened his love for her, he knew full well the power of Anakin's charm, and the many who had been caught in its web, often requiring him to untangle them and set things right, usually without his apprentice even realising. That she resisted was both courageous and insensible, but not something which would cause him to begin to care for her any less. This was her first love, requiring time, wisdom and experience to temper her attitude, not remonstrations from others, however well-intentioned. He had waited ten years for her, he would wait all his life, accept that she never would come to care for him if he had to. Such an eventuality would hurt him, but he would rather see her happy than mired in the turmoil which Anakin was likely to cause her.

Obi-Wan emerged from his thoughts at this point to notice that the forensics team had finished their examination of the hotel suite as well as their clearing up so it appeared that the victim had left the room alive, and nothing remained that would any suspicion otherwise to a member of the hotel's cleaning staff. As for the victim, she was being carried out of the room towards the nearest emergency exit in a body bag, requiring him to perform some necessary security tasks, such as taking care of the surveillance systems, and cloaking the party so they would not be noticed by any passers-by. Pushing his thoughts aside, he began to adhere to these requirements, following the team down the self contained staircase out into the city streets, then into the speeder which would serve to conceal the rest of their journey.

He returned to the Temple as the orbital reflectors began to darken, his thoughts still with the body hidden in the mortuary rather than the bright lights of Coruscant night life. As with Aline Kavaria, the murderer had left no clues to point to his or her identity, leaving him stymied in his investigations. All he had learnt about her was a name, living and career, which again was much the same as the first; a year or so younger than he, a business minded, single-focused woman in every way, her only vice, the membership of the List. No living relatives who needed to notified of her death, only a well established investment firm which would happily accept the need to keep the circumstances of her mortal departure secret until there was evidence enough to convict her murder.

The little gold com device was still lingering in his pocket, separated from the other two he already had, as they were indistinguishable from each other and he had no desire to take apart the wrong one for further examination. Traversing the grand lobby of the Temple, he nodded silent acknowledgements to his colleagues as he passed back, heading towards the area of the archives where he could study the piece of machinery properly.

At this hour only the most dedicated of padawans, knights and masters were hard at work, a situation which suited Obi-Wan perfectly, for it meant that of the few present in this area of the archives, none of them would be curious about what he was studying. Still musing over who could be responsible for these atrocities, he sat down before one of the empty booths and placed the com device in the hollowed out scanner. Automatically his fingers stretched to the control panel and tapped out the commands to bypass padawan control and identification process.

While he waited for the machine to conduct its examination of the little gold com device, his mind pondered again his reasoning behind who could be responsible; whether he was right to blame the Sith Lord, or wrong for refusing to deny that possibility. His every instinct was silently arguing with him to accept this, despite having no more evidence than just a suspicion weighed against the potential damage these murders could do if made public. That outcome was a distinct, almost inevitable eventuality, one he would do well not ignore. But it also meant that he needed to wrap this investigation up quickly, find who was responsible soon, so the Senate could control the outcry, while the Jedi punished the guilty.

For this was not a case for the Courts, where trials could carry on for years, hampered by an ineffectual justice system that was in dire need of an overhaul. Something the Chancellor had promised to tackle, then neglected in light of the threatening civil war within the Republic. And as much as Obi-Wan would like to press Palpatine to turn his attention to the reform now peace was at hand, this case was not one he wished to be used as an example.

The scanner beeped for attention, and Obi-Wan roused himself from his thoughts to attend to the machine's wants. As his sea shaded eyes became focused on his surroundings once more, his pupils caught a familiar artefact in another booth. A quick discreet glance at the occupier confirmed his recognition; one of the Order's most trusted scholars was studying an object he and Bail retrieved from the Sith Temple on Zigoola. The memory of that mission and all its horrors caused him to recall that there was one person whom he could ask about the Sith lord and perhaps receive an insight to his investigations. It would require trusting him with the details, but in his present position, Obi-Wan doubted that trust would be misplaced. After all, he had cause to trust the man before, and he had not been disappointed.

With this in mind, his thoughts were lightened enough to be able to push them aside and turn to examine the com device. The results scrolled before his eyes, his hand absently stroking his beard as he considered them. Not all the findings were what he hoped for. There was no recoverable information concerning identity of members, nor was there signal data to use for location searches. What had been retrieved was a record of the last number dialled, which presented quite another problem.

Obi-Wan could use the number, but if the device was on, he ran the risk of the murderer identifying who was calling him. While he worked through the members of the List logically, their anonymity still largely protected by his reputation as a Jedi and the discretion of the Order, not to mention the somewhat paradoxically sheltered existence within; one which exposed its Padawans to every degree of life, but left them very little time to develop an affinity, let alone an relationship with the beings they met. However, it would not be wise to assume that the murderer used the system; in fact it was highly likely that they knew who they were killing, or at least remembered the numbers they had used. Which meant if Obi-Wan tried their number using one of the little golden coms, they would be instantly on the alert and arm themselves against him.

But neither could he trace the murderer's identity another way. While Bail sponsored some new members, he was not the only former member who did, there were many others who did so too, as well as some of the current members. He could ask Garen for help, but since their return from Pais his friend had been assigned a mission to retrieve those former Padawans from Bandomeer that he had campaigned for the Council to allow them an option to return to the Order if they so choose. With the loss of so many at Geonosis, the Council had not failed to appreciate the need for new members, even those they had once sent away, due to the lack of knights and masters willing to train them.

Which left him only one option; rewiring his com centre in his new quarters to by pass the security procedures of the Temple and Coruscant, so he could call the number from there. Studying his chrono, Obi-Wan powered down the booth and left the archives for the area of the Temple that was reserved for Council apartments.

His new rooms were much the same as he had left them only that morning, a concoction of neutral tones accented by light blues, stylishly adorned with the gifts given to him and Qui-Gon by grateful governments or beings indebted for the Jedi's timely interventions regarding one crisis or another. Having been occupied by him now since he left his old apartment in the master and Padawan area of the Temple, the quarters were tidy, as befitted his nature, but also suggested a lived in appearance which lent the illusion to any who visited him that he had always roomed within the place.

After checking his messages, quietly relieved that none required an immediate response or attendance elsewhere, Obi-Wan set about pulling the com centre apart to reveal the wiring, then an uncomfortable few minutes crouched underneath the desk as he reattached the cables in the positions required. He had taken the precaution of securing the lock on his quarters before he began, a wise one, as if anyone had entered the apartment while he thus engaged, they would have been shocked to see the most creditable master of the Order committing a mischief which his former Padawan was usually charged with.

It was unfortunate perhaps that after all that hard work, the number in question failed to raise a reply, let alone a location as to its possible whereabouts. Frustrated, Obi-Wan left the com centre as it was for the moment, deciding to try again in the morning before he abandoned the idea entirely, then left his apartment for another, taking care to secure the entrance against visitors once more.
Since his request for asylum had been granted by the Council, Count Dooku had spent his time at the Temple akin to a hermit on a lengthy pilgrimage.

Solitary, with many hours spent in meditation, except when roused from his devotions to offer counsel to Yoda concerning a Sith artefact or a wayward Padawan seduced by the temptation of the easy path towards the dark ways of the Force. A master in the form of Makashi, his services had yet to be offered to assist Master Drallig, largely due to his actions on Geonosis. His behaviour and conduct were impeccable; not once had he contacted any of his former disreputable associates; his communications with the Separatists were limited to matters of governing only.

Obi-Wan had not seen him since his return from Zigoola, when several meetings were conducted about the Sith artefacts he and Bail had retrieved. While he respected the former master, and trusted, to a certain extent at least, his reformation, the relationship he maintained with his master's master was not as close as Qui-Gon perhaps might have wished. Still, Jinn would be pleased to see that his former pupil no longer sought out the magnate of Serenno as an adversary.

Dooku greeted him at the first beeping from the door, detecting his arrival through the Force before he had the chance to signal his coming. Brushing aside his concerned inquiries as to whether he was disturbing him, the Count ushered Obi-Wan inside, saw him to his seat, placing before him tea and a steaming bowl of sustenance.

Struck by the warm welcome, Obi-Wan took his time to glance about himself, admiring the suitably austere, yet infinitely Jedi-style furnishings and decor of the apartment. He took a sip of his drink and was pleased to notice that the blend was his favourite, while the food was equally sampled and noted to be delicious as well as needed, for he had yet to consume his evening meal.

When the necessary civilities were swept aside, the Count directly asked what he could do for the Council's newest master. Although Obi-Wan was shielding his thoughts only minimally, he could not detect that Dooku ever attempted to read his mind, so his surprise at the answer which he received was genuine.

"So," Dooku mused, "that scandalous secret has been tarnished, has it? I can't say that I'm shocked by the news. With so many beings involved, in light of their connections, it was only a matter of time before something gelded it. Is this an official mission?"

"No," Obi-Wan replied, causing the Count to raise an eyebrow at the sight of a Council Master neglecting to seek that body's blessing before investigating. Something Qui-Gon was frequently known for doing as well. "The source who entrusted me was understandably anxious that this be kept quiet for as long as possible. And given the current level of interest surrounding the Order's activities, I thought it wise not to inform them."

"A wise precaution," Dooku agreed. "So, why are you informing me? I'd thought that I would be the last being whom you could trust with such a crime."

"Quite the contrary," Obi-Wan replied. "The mysterious Sith lord, whose identity you still protect is the beneficiary of such an epithet. Speaking of him, do you think he would be responsible for these series of atrocities?"

Dooku was not offended by Obi-Wan's rebuke, his frown was more of a reaction due the possibility than at the direct countering by his Padawan's Padawan. After a long moment of consideration, he replied. "My first answer would be no, but given that everything he has attempted to use has failed to achieve his goal, I think he might decide to try using the List, though the uninhibited nature of the group is something which he detests." He paused to regard his companion's reaction. "I see my answer has only confirmed your suspicions. Surely you haven't found anything to implicate him? He's usually so meticulous in covering his tracks and nearly always orders an underling to do the dirty work for him."

Obi-Wan shook his head. "Nothing, which is why I suspected him. With each crime scene there is an attempt to dress it up in the style of a serial killer, but the result is half-hearted at best, as overall the whole appearance leaves a aura almost devoid of any emotion. And yet there is a kind of manic joy in the display, with a healthy mix of rage and sadistic pleasure thrown in for good measure."

Count Dooku nodded grimly. "Yes, the perfect recipe for a Sith. However, I am still of the opinion that he commanded one of his acolytes to do the deeds for him."

Struck by something implied in the scion of Serenno's response, Obi-Wan pondered, and not for the first time, the possibility that the Sith lord and the Count were of an age.

"Given my past experience with some of his deeds, I am inclined to agree," he answered, keeping his speculation to himself for now. "But, unfortunately your confirmation only serves to darken my investigation."

Dooku rose from his seat to clasp his the shoulder of his Padawan's Padawan. "There is little advice which I can give to you that shall be of any comfort, Obi-Wan. But what I will say is this; you can do nothing but continue as you have been. Conduct the investigation as you would any other. If he has planned this as meticulously as he usually does, and I have no doubt that he has, then wherever your investigation takes you next, he will be three steps ahead. You will find the proof you need when and if he intends you to, not before. But by playing him at his own game, you might be able scupper him at last."

Obi-Wan nodded, and rose as the Count withdrew his grip, sensing through the Force that he had learned all he could from this evening. The hermit of Serenno saw him to the door, silent until his guest had crossed the threshold.

"Of one thing you can be certain," Dooku said in parting, "the Sith lord has always vastly underestimated you, Master Kenobi. And that will be his fatal mistake."

Part 32: Murderous Deeds.

Inside a certain room, self contained behind a certain, unremarkable wall, on which it was impossible to distinguish the entrance, a certain villain sat flicking through the news feeds of the HoloNet. As he reached the end of the cycle and began again, his rage rose higher and higher, as the news feeds continued to fail in reporting the one story he wished to hear about.

At any other location, this rage, which by now was so palpable, as to be discerned in his manner and appearance, would have caused alarm on the part of his inferior colleagues, and a fair amount of suspicion on the part of the Jedi Order, not to mention the answer to a quest which began some ten years ago. But within this certain room, no one was able to witness the effect of this rage, except his underlings, if they happened to on the receiving end of his com, that is. Fortunately for them, that screen had yet to be activated.

With one last cycle of the news feeds, which still failed to yield to his demands, his rage rose to a crescendo, resulting in a streak of lightning issuing from his finger to the screen on which the HoloNet feeds were displayed. Such an attack on this piece of machinery was just as unlikely to yield the appearance of the desired feed. Amid sputtering sparks, the image blacked out, and the device abruptly shut down.

Palpatine grimaced at the loss of such a valuable piece of equipment, but he knew that his finances could afford it and that his underlings would instantly replace it, as soon as they heard of the destruction. And if they did not, he would seek to replace them. Such a process did not cause him the amount of rage he felt. His thoughts were directed elsewhere; namely towards the story he had wanted to appear on the news feeds.

Turning to the com screen, he set about directing his rage towards a more appropriate outlet, which would not result in the loss of valuable equipment. Underlings after all, were never indispensable. In a tone of quiet, yet deadly anger, he requested the device to com one of them. While he waited for the reply, a wave of the dark side of the Force allowed him to assume his cloak, the usual trappings of his title as Darth Sidious.

Unfortunately, the com did not possess the power to quantify the level of response time to each underling. So some time passed before the screen filled with the image of the one hailed, and only then did they realise exactly how angry their master was.

"Where have you been, Ventress?" Sidious practically howled at the screen as the figure of a bald, slender, lissome woman materialised.

Asajj, for her sake, was one of the wisest of his underlings, managing to discern within a single glance the level of wrath she was likely to face if she deigned to reply, so wisely, she chose refrain from doing so.

Darth Sidious continued to rant about her whereabouts and her neglect to instantly obey his every whim for quite some time. He required no response, if he had desired one, he would have chosen another underling to vent his rage at, one who would doubtless fail to survive the encounter. Asajj continued to refrain from offering a reply, exercising her own discipline in remaining silent until his anger was spent.

"How is the mission proceeding?" Sidious asked, his tone lighter, but nonetheless still deadly, and this time, requiring a response.

"Well, my master," Asajj replied.

"And my new apprentice," Sidious added, a grim grin suddenly appearing on his face as for a brief moment he allowed himself to savour his current success in keeping the Jedi unaware of the loss of their most valuable member to the dark side, "how does he perform?"

Asajj wisely concealed her own satisfaction over her master's newest acquisition. "As well as you expected, my master. With acute lethalness."

"He has exercised this lethalness on two beings, so far, correct?" Sidious inquired in the same quiet but deadly tone.

"Yes, my master," Asajj answered. "I saw the beings interred myself."

"Then why has there been no word of his success on the Holo news feeds?" Sidious uttered querulously.

For the first time, Asajj's grim features acquired some level of anger. "Kenobi has been keeping the investigation quiet, my master." The name was said with such disgust that if the owner of it had heard, he would have been unable to avoid flinching.

Sidious cackled, much to his underling's surprise. "Ah, so Senator Organa has tasked Master Kenobi with investigation," he paused to savour another harsh laugh. "I wonder how the most staid member of the Jedi Council is taking to the List."

At this Ventress held her tongue, for she had also watched over the Jedi in question and had been most surprised to discover how many assignations Kenobi took. She wondered at the man's stamina.

"Does Kenobi make any headway?" Sidious asked.

Ventress's mind still musing over the frequency of the Jedi's assignations, and the satisfaction she sensed from all the ladies who were on the receiving end of them, that it was with difficulty she managed to realise her master intended no innuendo in his query, however unconsciously conveyed. After a lengthy pause, she strove to answer his question seriously. "He has examined both scenes, my master, and had a contact from the courts conduct forensic investigation. However neither have yielded anything pertaining to your apprentice, myself or you, my master."

"Good," Sidious cackled again. "Everything is proceeding exactly as I have foreseen." He wrung his hands together with satisfaction before continuing. "Now, let us return to my apprentice. Has he chosen his next being on which to exercise his lethalness?"

"I believe so, my master," Asajj replied. "Shall I press him to act upon his inclination?"

"Do," Sidious replied. "The speed may take Kenobi by surprise and cause him to flounder, allowing for the scene to reach the ears of the HoloNet feeders."

If Ventress disagreed with her master's speculative hope, she once more wisely refrained from saying so. Instead she merely bowed her head over her bended knee in obedience. "I will see what you bid is done, my master."

"See that you do, Ventress, else next time we speak you shall not escape my wrath," Sidious warned. "Now, what about Jade, have you found her?"

There was a lengthy silence as Asajj tried to find a plausible excuse as to why her search for her master's former Hand had yet to yield a result. Sidious would not accept her close surveillance of his new apprentice as an excuse, he expected his acolytes to be capable of handling at least two assignments simultaneously. Also if there was one thing which would never escape his wrath, it was failure.

"I grow tired of waiting, Ventress," Sidious remarked.

"I fear Nineve Jade has gone to ground, my master," Asajj replied at last. "I have been unable to trace her whereabouts."

"That is not what I wish to hear, my child, " Sidious intoned, his voice acquiring a cadaverous tincture. "The next time we speak I shall expect you to have found at least some trace of her, or you shall be reminded of the degree of importance that is attached to my former Hand being found."

"Yes, my master," Asajj replied with another bow of her head. Inwardly she concealed her fear at the possibility, her mind murmuring a fervent prayer to the dark side of the Force that her search would yield success. She doubted it however, for she could not see how the Force would provide her with a trace of Jade when every other source had not.

Her master signed off, leaving her to think on his threat and doubtless feel threatened. Asajj rolled her eyes at the assumption, but nevertheless could not deny, to herself at least, that she lived in fear in of her master's wrath. She had borne witness to one of his 'reminders' being pressed home, as it were. Even now the memory of it made her shiver and flinch. The acolyte was reduced to a pitiful sight, their flesh smoking from the blows struck by Sith lightning. Seriously injured, they could not move from the spot without assistance, and even then, her master had forbade such help being rendered for a time.

The memory of that incident decided her next actions more than anything else. Assuming her disguise, she left The Works district, climbing into her airspeeder and heading for the highways which littered Coruscant's skyline. While she doubted her success in tracing Nineve Jade, at least she could follow her master's orders regarding his apprentice, in the hope another death would indeed cause Kenobi to flounder, and the resulting reaction from the HoloNet might appease her master from inflicting his reminder upon her.

A grimace crossed her face as she effortlessly navigated the traffic, not due to the delays or ineptitude of her fellow commuters, but at the prospect which was her destination. Master Sidious delighted in his new apprentice, gloated over their every deed, secretly boasted aside at the success of his plan, not to mention his triumph in deceiving the rest of the Republic. But as far as Asajj herself was concerned, she remained unstirred. Her disgust was not because she desired to assume the role of apprentice herself; her ambitions were intent on quite another role, it was due to her conviction that her master had made a grave mistake in his choice.

True, the benefits outweighed some of the discrepancies; they were younger than Darth Tryanus, which made them pliable for any missions, except where wisdom and experience, not mention a modicum of discretion, needed to be exercised. They were also considered to be a hero of the Republic, making their ascendancy into their future position when the time came a easy feat. But their ego was deplorable, their self-discipline almost invisible, and their manner insufferable. In short, their youth was at fault, and prone to impulsiveness, difficult to predict, and she believed it would be to their cost. Darth Maul would have been the superior, had not Kenobi managed to slay him a decade ago.

Kenobi. Asajj Ventress allowed her expression of dissatisfaction to deepen. Though the Jedi had not the misfortune to meet her yet, already she loathed the repute of him. His ability to frustrate her master's schemes was considerable. It was through him her master lost Darth Maul, an excellent, noble warrior who would have made a superb heir to her master's ambitions. His demise at the hands of a mere Padawan learner was most disappointing. Asajj knew that for a time, her master had contemplated taking revenge on said Padawan, but that was before he set eyes on Maul's successor. Sidious' subsequent delight over the prospect was sufficient to dispel his desire for revenge, for this apprentice would need careful tutelage, distractions might prove fatal.

But his focus left that same Padawan learner to become a knight then master, and finally council master, the renowned Negotiator, one of the peace makers of Pais. Asajj was worried and not unwisely, she feared, that left alone, Kenobi could do much to scupper her master's plans, considering how closely involved he was with the latest scandal set to unravel the Republic. Her position of surveillance over the soon to be Darth was a precarious one with which to watch Kenobi as well, for the straddling of both posts might lead the one to discover the other. However, she believed it would not be wise to leave either of them unsupervised for any length of time.

Speaking of which... she emerged from her thoughts as her speeder emerged from the traffic and veered off toward the dwelling where her master had ordered his new apprentice to establish himself. Even though the transparisteel conveyed the appearance of emptiness, a sign from the Force allowed Asajj to ascertain that her master's new apprentice was in residence, waiting for the details of their master's next assignment. Inwardly steeling herself against the likely outcome of this meeting, she disembarked from her vehicle and entered the dwelling.

They greeted her with a certain amount of embarrassment, to which she had to conceal a grin in response. Despite all their experience in the galaxy as a hero of the Republic, her master's apprentice was still very much an innocent when it came to matters of intimacy, a typical product perhaps of his upbringing. An opinion which when expressed aloud the apprentice voiced vehement objection to, no matter where the real truth of the matter lay. Asajj was of the opinion that her master's apprentice was foolhardy in everything, but, like most of her thoughts, she had learned that concealment rather than open dissension served her well and kept her living.

She kept to her own counsel as she relayed her master's orders concerning the matter of his current scheme to usurp the Republic. The apprentice received the new assignment with pleasure, eager to show off the surveillance amassed and a proposed plan of execution. Asajj bore the display with outward deadly enthusiasm. Inside her mind deplored their impetuosity, the arrogance of youth portrayed. When silence reigned the room once more, she took her time in instructing suitable refinements.

Her master's new apprentice scowled, disappointed in receiving censure rather than praise. Asajj was forced to use her charms to placate, a frequent practice of late, and one which caused a considerable amount of distaste. Something had changed since their first encounter where she persuaded conversion; there was a marked stubbornness over discord. Perhaps her master had instructed too forcibly concerning the way to assert sovereignty. She hoped it was not something to do with the other life which they led; that the hero status in the Republic was not tarnished in some fashion. If the gloss began to rub off, her master's scheme would be jeopardised.

At last the apprentice was placated and the improved execution could go ahead. Preparations were made to leave the dwelling, disguises acquired, weaponry honed in alertness. Here Asajj was easier, for in the manner of preparing for battle she could find no fault with her master's new apprentice. Through her observations she could see similarities to Maul, to Tryanus, even to herself and their master.

Coruscant's orbital reflectors were darkening the crowded skyline by the time they emerged from the dwelling to join the traffic. Slipping into the air bound highways seamlessly, they made their way to the chosen rendezvous, one of the hospitality district's most decadent establishments.

Unlike most arrivals they did not enter through the front door. Their entry was gained via the open insecurity of balcony suite, a room that was reserved as a matter of course for the Chancellor's valued dignitaries. No one was allow to query their presence, for fear that the establishment would lose its reputation for discretion. The room would hardly by used in any case, for the other booked by their assignment would serve as the place of execution.

Silently they went about setting up the surveillance equipment which would hack into the security systems for the establishment, erasing their presence when required. It was unlikely that they would be checked, as the need to ensure their clientele discretion overrode the desire to inform investigators about their safeguards. Nevertheless they could not afford for their actions to be recorded.

Asajj kept her eye on her master's apprentice while they worked. They may have carried out two assignments before, but that was no reason to assume their methods were flawless. All her doubts concerning their reckless and arrogant nature still applied, they would need years of careful watching before she would even begin to trust them.

Exactly on time, the little golden comlink vibrated against the veneered sideboard which it was laid upon, signalling the incoming communication of their intended assignment. As she intended her master's apprentice glanced at Asajj for agreement before retrieving the device and answering the call. Ventress was thankful that due to the voice modulator on the device no acting voice was required for she believed it to be beyond her master's apprentice's current level of ability. It was witnessing moments like this that her doubts concerning them were justified, for their years of training at the Temple meant they should have had such skills in abundance. No master was that deficient in their obligation of proper instruction to their Padawan.

Asajj watched as the apprentice assumed their second disguise of civilian clothing, to resemble the usual clientele of this establishment; high-powered business beings. With this ensemble there came more difficulties, none of which they could fix, for their youthful appearance made the perception of being a successfully rich member of the business industry difficult to believe. Success required a wealth of experience which your face could not escape showing some evidence of. Silently she forced herself to be patient, as such looks would only come in time. At least they had the arrogance of authority which could convince where youth would only contradict.

Now the time came for them to part, when she could supervise their work from afar, and hope that they would fulfil their master's expectations. Darth Sidious was not a forgiving being, though he was proving to be far too indulgent with his latest apprentice. Asajj watched them leave the hotel suite by the door this time before turning her gaze to the surveillance holos where she could observe the rest of their actions. There would be a slight delay as they passed from one feed to another, but other than that she would be able to see everything.

She watched them walk down the corridor to the turbolift where they touched the control to be taken to the right floor. There was a slight delay as the holo switched from recording the corridor to the interior of the turbolift, then another as they reached the right floor and exited into another corridor enroute to the room. One last exchange of feeds between them finally before they opened the door and entered the room.

Their assignment was facing the view of Coruscant nightlife from the transparisteel pane which cascaded floor to ceiling at the other end of the suite. Asajj allowed herself a moment to admire their appearance, her eyes tracing their curvaceous figure, an aspect of her mind supplying images of what lay underneath the suggestively provocative garment which they were wearing. Then she returned her attention to her master's apprentice, watching their slow, measured approach towards the assignment. The way they reached out and took hold of their hands with one of their own, closing the other on their mouth to capture their scream. The way they subdued the assignment within a single, deft movement, akin to the dance between a warrior and their prey.

Now subdued, the apprentice lay their assignment upon the bed, amongst the silken sheets and pillows. Positioning themselves above, they allowed their resistance to emerge once more while they slowly ripped the suggestively provocative garment from their body. A silent command from the dark side of the Force prevented their resistance from being victorious. As the apprentice savoured the delights of their flesh, frantic desperation began to commune with the terrifying realisation of what was likely to happen to them, the emotions betrayed by their wide eyes and open mouth from which apprenticed sithly powers greedily sucked their voice. Beneath the desperation lay that which all beings needed and grappled with everyday of their lives; the need to survive.

Slowly that primal instinct conquered their resistance, just as stealthily as the apprentice conquered their body, waiting for the right moment to assert itself. No other alternative was considered, for in that instinct lay an arrogance only one foe could subdue.

This foe entered the realm of the hotel suite now, through the movements of the apprentice after they had succumbed to their basest instincts. Righting their clothing, death allowed one final moment of resistance from its prey before resuming an Sith driven end to their existence. From her stance before the holo surveillance feeds Asajj watched the bruising about their assignment's neck darken in shades until all traces of life disappeared. She watched as the apprentice rose from the bed to spread about the blood red Alderaanian petals that was their signature.

Next they swept the room for traces of their presence, erasing where they found such, from prints to threads to echoes of the Force which belonged to them and only them. Then they walked the short distance from the bed to the door of the suite, exited to the corridor and then the turbolift for the journey back to their room. Only when they were no longer captured by the views of the holo feeds did she turn from them to find him closing the door of their master's usual suite.

There was a pause, a moment caught and savoured, as though time and everything around them held its breath. It lasted for only a fragment of a second as their bodies surrendered to the needs awoken from their shared act of violence. In the middle of the space that once lay between them, they collided, hands frantically tearing the cloths from each other. As layers were torn away to reveal strand upon strand of sinuous flesh her aggressive nature conquered them, just as it had each and every time they surrendered to this primitive union of fluid and skin. She took the lead, savouring the delights of their body, letting them follow only where and when she had traversed first. Her legs wrapped themselves around theirs as she backed them against the wall. Lips, hands, cries, gasps, grunts all took their turns of ascendency in their journey to the heights of ecstasy.

One might call the act love, but there was nothing within their joining to give such a pure expression credence. This was the volte-face, a devouring beast, without care, compassion, or morals. Whose hunger would never be quenched until they had ripped each others' souls apart.

Part 33: Never Knew I Could Feel Like This.

A series of chimes echoed throughout the hall of the Senate, signalling that the latest session was drawing to a close. Senators, Representatives and Aides reversed their pods into their places within circular walls, before gathering their datapads and flimsi, while in the centre of the room, the Supreme Chancellor's podium slowly descended into the depths of the chamber, towards his private office.

Padmé watched the dais descend, her eyes trained on the symbol of the Senate which was etched into the semicircles that served to guard and support the Chancellor's seat. She could not raise them to Palpatine's face, even though he was unlikely to have observed her preoccupation, for he was preoccupied himself, in close conversation with the Vice Chair and his private secretary. Once more he had disappointed her, by refusing to relinquish the executive powers granted to him before the battle of Geonosis. Time and time again the motion had been put before the Senate, acquiring more and more supporters with each attempt. This morning's petition carried enough weight to force a vote of no confidence, but still Palpatine dismissed the motion out of hand.

She was reluctant to put forward another motion that could have the power to enforce the election of a new Supreme Chancellor. Aside from the reputation acquired from her first petition concerning Finis Valorum, Padmé was uncertain that the motion would secure enough support to succeed, and even if it did, there was a very real possibility that Palpatine could be re-elected, for one of his first acts after being granted emergency powers was to remove the term limit statute from the office of Chancellor. Petitioning him to relinquish those powers was one thing, forcing a vote of no confidence upon him was quite another.

However, if Palpatine continued to resist the requests of the Senate they would soon have no choice but to put forward the motion. Criticism of his politics was growing, in committee meetings, outside and inside Senate sessions. Even HoloNet shows were debating about the matter. There was a distant tension between the Chancellor's office and the Jedi Council which few cared to delve too deeply into for fear of upsetting either governing body, and among those who communicated with the Confederacy of Separatists there were pointed references to the recent democracy reforms of Count Dooku.

Once, when she was sovereign of Naboo and even before, she had admired Palpatine for his staunchly defended principles, his faithful and dedicated service both to his home planet and to the Republic. Now Padmé found herself questioning where his loyalties lay, and if his principles were still governing his actions. Lately it seemed that he cared more about his ambitions than his conscience. When he stood for election he had vowed to stop corruption, seek justice for Naboo and defend the constitution. Since then a decade had passed and still the corruption existed, while the crimes committed by the Trade Federation remained free of retribution from the Courts. The Republic struggled to maintain a cohesive force, while threats from ambitious systems had almost propelled them into a civil war.

At the brink of that conflict she and her colleagues had looked towards Chancellor Palpatine for salvation, offering him executive powers in the hope that he would be able to broker a peace between the Republic and Separatists. Instead he had endorsed an army and sent it to rescue the Order and herself. He had offered the Separatists violence in return for their violence. He had all but declared war on the Confederacy.

Padmé knew her own actions were not wholly blameless, she should have held more consideration for what her position in the Senate symbolised within the Republic before going to rescue Obi-Wan from Geonosis. In forcing Anakin to do so she had given a legitimate excuse for the Senate to declare war. But she did not demand her rescue, only her release, and was quite prepared to fight her way out of there. She had not been fighting for the Republic, she had been fighting for herself and for her friends. She had been prepared to die for her choice, but not for the Republic to go war over it.

Her decision to go to Pais and negotiate for peace had been in part the repayment of the debt she felt that she owed to those who had rescued her and the Jedi from Geonosis. While she sat across from those who she once fought on that desert sinkhole, she had come to understand that their concerns and reasons for leaving the Republic resembled her own misgivings concerning recent political policies. She had come to respect the opposing delegates, even Count Dooku, admiring their commitment to forming the peace treaty. There had been no deception in their previous combative actions, only mistrust and uncertainty in a governing body which had once abused them.

Since her return Padmé had not lost sight of that treatment, nor the unacknowledged condemnation of it from some of her colleagues. It was as if Pais restored her vision of the Republic, allowed her to perceive through the veil of Palpatine's rule for what it really was. She had gone into the Senate determined to heal the wounds she knew still existed in those worlds on the Outer Rim, even nearer. Wounds like slavery, tyranny, and injustice. Years had passed since her entry into that governing body and these injuries lingered. Concealed like the bruise on her torso, visible only to those who cared to look.

Palpatine had done nothing to heal these wounds, despite the support out there for him to do so. Instead he claimed to have his ideals frustrated by the limits of government, achievable only if he assumed more and more power. Now he had the power but still those wounds lingered.

"Milady?" Captain Typho softly inquired with a gentle touch to her shoulder, causing her thoughts to pause as she became aware of her surroundings once more.

With one final glance at the symbol of the Republic, Padmé turned to leave the pod, her handmaidens and security detail providing an escort as she exited the Senate hall for a walk in the surrounding corridors. Her thoughts were still preoccupied by the possibility of putting forth a vote of no confidence in the Chancellor. If she were serious about such a motion, then she would need to gather the support of her colleagues before requesting for an election a second time. Silently her thoughts began to recall the names of the members of the Senate, along with their affiliations and political policies.

Barely a few paces from the entrance to the Senate hall, and a tuneful chorus of beeps from her other faithful bodyguard alerted her to the passing presence of someone familiar to Artoo, rousing Padmé from her thoughts once more. She too soon recognised the approaching figure and came to halt as she uttered a greeting of her own.

"Master Kenobi!"

In his usual manner, Obi-Wan drew to a halt before her, acknowledging her greeting with a graceful bow. "Senator Amidala," he uttered formally, for they were surrounded by her passing colleagues, their encounter too public for hellos of a more intimate nature.

"It has been far too long since we last saw each other, Master Kenobi," Padmé added with a slight movement of her hand, gesturing for him to join her in the midst of her entourage. "Would you care to walk with me awhile, or do you have duties pressing?"

"I would be honoured, milady," Obi-Wan replied, before falling to place beside her. His hand came to rest on Artoo's domed head in a gentle caress. "It has been far too long since I have seen you as well, Artoo. I had not realised that you'd returned to Senator Amidala's staff."

Padmé knew not how to explain the droid's resignation from serving Anakin without airing matters that she was reluctant to confess to Obi-Wan, let alone in such a public setting, and Artoo respectfully adhered to his mistress's unspoken wishes regarding his own opportunity to respond. Nor did she notice the reference that Obi-Wan made to Artoo, revealing that he had not seen his former Padawan lately. Instead she changed the topic of conversation. "I hear you have been elevated to the Jedi Council. Let me offer you my congratulations."

"Thank you, milady," he said, acknowledging the compliment with a slight bow. "I am honoured by the Council's decision. I never looked for so high a recognition of my services."

"Nevertheless, it is a position which you deserve, in my opinion," Padmé assured him. She cast a keen glance over his figure, observing the absence of his limp, an injury he had earned during the mission to Zigoola, causing her to inquire further. "I hope you have recovered from your last mission."

Obi-Wan nodded. "I have and I thank you for your timely escort home, milady."

"It was the least I could do in return for the service you have rendered myself and my home planet." Padmé paused as she took in the all too public corridor, a part of her mind and heart wishing for a more intimate setting. In her decision to avoid him through her shame in her actions concerning Anakin, she had forgotten the ease of his master's company, how highly she valued his friendship, so freely offered from him without thought of return, the true essence of a Jedi. There was no need for her to keep herself from that regard, especially out of some misguided consideration for her soon to be ex-husband. "If your duties allow, would you care to join me for dinner one night, Master Kenobi?"

He turned to her when she finished her inquiry, allowing her to catch a brief glimpse of the astonishment which he felt in receiving such an invitation. Not due to the measure of their acquaintance, originating instead from his natural humility and ignorance of his measure as a being, which was attractive and well worth knowing to all those who took the time to notice and observe. A seemingly long look passed between them, eerily similar to that which was exchanged in the Senate some months ago. She held her breath, wondering if she had made a mistake in airing her desire, as if she had somehow betrayed how much she had come to care for him.

"I would care to do so, milady," he replied at last, causing her to breathe again.

"Tonight?" She offered gingerly.

He frowned slightly before answering. "I'm afraid I have a meeting tonight. How about tomorrow?"

Padmé smiled. "Tomorrow it is," she answered.

"Until then, milady." Obi-Wan uttered.

A soft smile formed upon Obi-Wan's face as he heard her reply and lingered long after she parted from him at the threshold of her Senatorial offices. He wandered down the corridor in silent thought for a while, touched by her kind gesture of friendship. He had not seen her since she rescued him and Senator Organa from Zigoola, parting from her before he began recovering from his injuries suffered on that planet under the watchful eye of Vokara Che and the halls of healing within the Temple. Her escort had been a quiet one, seeming to understand and respect his need for silent contemplation without a word from him. But now that he looked back on that journey, Obi-Wan realised that there was another motive behind her silent acquiescence, an equally unspoken wish for contemplation of her own.

Something had happened to her since their last encounter on Pais, something profound to have borne within her so deep yet subtle a change. He wondered if it was related to Artoo's return to her staff, for previously the little blue and white droid had been his former Padawan's faithful co-pilot, exchanged for his gift of the golden protocol droid which he had brought back from his diversion to Tatooine. Obi-Wan had not dared to speculate why they had felt a need to exchange gifts, choosing to accept that it was more reasonable for Anakin to have a droid who suited his needs, as a Jedi whose ability with the Force allowed him to understand, even acquire a certain fluency in languages, rendering the functions of a translator and protocol droid useless.

He remembered his first encounter with Artoo, when he was acknowledged by one of Padmé's handmaidens posing in her role as Queen of Naboo, for his efforts to restore the hyperspace drive while under fire from the Trade Federation. He had become Anakin's co-pilot then too, as his former Padawan destroyed the ship which controlled the invasion force, rendering the battle droids powerless. She could have given Artoo to the boy then, in gratitude for his services. Instead the droid remained by her side, guarding her during the attempts on her life, then assisting her and Anakin during their adventures from Coruscant to Naboo, to Tatooine, then to Geonosis.

Yet considering the brief passage of time between the exchange and Artoo's return, Obi-Wan wondered now if the gesture was an impulsive one, regretted once made, now swiftly reversed. She had offered him no explanation, nor would it be proper for him to inquire, at least in so public a setting as the corridors of the Senate.

Which caused him to contemplate afresh her desire for them to have dinner. He felt guilty for concealing from Padmé his prior engagement that prevented them from having dinner tonight, but his current unofficial assignment left him little choice. He had made the call to the next number concealed within the little golden comlink that had once belonged to Bail during his membership in the List before his journey to the Senate this morning. As yet his investigations had revealed little to shed any light as to the identity of the being who was murdering the members, their actions threatening to unleash a scandal upon the Republic from which few would recover. The crime scenes had frustrated the labs of the Temple, as well as the forensic lab which Bail had managed to acquire the usage of through his contacts within the Courts.

Though his discussion with Count Dooku caused him to suspect the Sith lord which that magnate of Serenno had once served under as the mastermind behind these series of atrocities, there was little Obi-Wan could do refute or confirm that suspicion. He could not put the matter before the Council, nor could he confront the Sith himself, for he still had no idea who the Darth was. Count Dooku, despite being taken into his confidence concerning the murders, still refused to reveal the identity of the master he once served, and the Council were no closer to figuring out who it could be either. Faced with such an impasse, Obi-Wan found himself contemplating the worse case scenarios, in an effort to arm himself for the occasion when the evil was at last unveiled. The Sith must be someone who held a position of note within the Republic, for his master's master to conceal their identity so assiduously.

"Master Kenobi, thank you for coming so promptly," a voice uttered, rousing Obi-Wan from his thoughts and causing him to realise that he had reached his destination. Raising his internal shields upon his thoughts, he bowed before the Supreme Chancellor. "I am go where I am called, Your Excellency. How may the Order assist the Republic today?"

"A small request," Palpatine informed him as he gestured for Obi-Wan to join him inside his private office. "I was hoping to retain the services of your Padawan for a brief assignment."

Obi-Wan withheld from displaying a frown of confusion, as he had thought that the Chancellor would have learned of Anakin's elevation to knighthood, as he claimed frequently to follow the Chosen One's career with great interest. "I am afraid that I must disappoint you, Chancellor, for Anakin is no longer my Padawan learner. He became a Jedi Knight shortly after the negotiations on Pais were officially concluded."

"I see," Palpatine smiled. "In that case I offer my congratulations, Master Kenobi, in succeeding to train your first protégé. Do you happen to know how I may contact him so I can request his services properly?"

"Through the usual channels, Chancellor," Obi-Wan replied, while his mind wondered what Palpatine's real motive was in requesting this meeting. While his former Padawan had enjoyed an almost familial relationship with the Nubian, he had preferred to keep his contact with the Chancellor as formal and distant as most of the Council and the Order had, for he could not find it within himself to trust a man who continued to hold on to his office at the expense of a government crying out for reform and reversal of certain executive orders dealt out before the combative encounters on Geonosis.

"I shall do that," Palpatine promised, before rising from his chair and exiting the office in unspoken but clear farewell.

Obi-Wan contemplated the splendour of the Chancellor's office briefly, before he turned and exited the room, heading back to the Temple.

Padmé scrolled through the list of com codes in her own little golden device, after the end of another long, hard day spent in the Senate and with her lawyers. The latter had left a sour taste in her mouth, as she endured her frankly not as soon to be ex-husband's as she would like, angry and sulky silence. If there was one thing she learned during her marriage, it was that Anakin did not like to lose.

Due to the circumstances surrounding their union however, it was the one thing he would gain from their divorce, loss. He was not entitled to anything of hers just as much as she was not entitled to anything of his, but the fact that she was regarded by both her lawyer and his as the victor in this settlement, rankled him. She had not been surprised to receive such a reaction; her husband's emotions still lacked maturity in that respect; but it had affected her all the same, leaving her with the perhaps equally immature desire to commit revenge, albeit one she would take care that he never learned about.

She went past the numbers she knew, desiring for once an encounter with mystery, one of the many chief attractions about this sensual clique. Her previous encounters with the familiar had caused her to hold back from full intimacy, causing her to speculate that the very familiarity of each previous date might be the very thing which was holding her back from accepting nothing more than a pleasing dinner companion. Possibly she was being reckless, but the impulse, the temptation to experience something, someone new could not be ignored.

The com device was designed to tap into a part of the HoloNet restricted to the group's contacts space, encrypted so as to be virtually impregnable, which was updated with new members or edited when those wished to leave the group alerted their sponsors to their desire to withdraw. As she scrolled down the unfamiliar series of digits she noticed that the quantity had shrunk lately, possibly due to many doing what she and others she knew who also previously belonged; marrying. There were some she knew who had kept their membership afterwards, their unions chosen for practical or political reasons. It disgusted her, but she was not blind to the more murkier aspects of this group she had rejoined.

For a brief time she allowed herself to savour another thought, the pleasure she would gain from meeting with Obi-Wan tomorrow night. It would be the first time she wouldn't feel guilty for talking to him, as if she was betraying their friendship by lying to him about Anakin, and betraying her soon to be ex-husband by spending time with his former Master. Even on their good days, he had been overly jealous of who she spent her time with, as if he had never trusted her to be faithful. She sometimes wondered if it was because he never had been faithful to her. He was away on so many missions that few Jedi or political colleagues alluded to in front of her that she began to believe the motives for his absence were nothing to do with his duty to the Republic. He managed to deceive Obi-Wan about his desires regarding her, perhaps not completely, but enough for him to turn a blind eye, who knows what else he could have deceived his master about.

Randomly, she let the small scrolling screen come to a stop and for a moment she glanced at the series of numbers, as if she could determine the character of the being to whom they belonged to. There were times, even now with all this bitterness inside her, that she envied her husband's ability with the Force. But then even that ancient energy had its limits, as she knew that only too well. Swallowing the sour taste which awoke within her mouth at each reminder of her husband away again, she pressed the accept button and put the device to her mouth.

"Are you free tonight?"

"I am." The voice which answered was the same, an unrevealing and bland tone which everyone received, courtesy of an inbuilt mechanism within the device to disguise each member's voice from recognition.

"The Corellian Grand," she decided, for as she had initiated the contact, it was up to her to arrange bookings and billings. "Wait for me at the bar."

"I'll be there," he replied before she heard the quiet click signifying his signing off from the conversation.

She put the device back in her pocket and accessed the hotel's site on the HoloNet to arrange the booking. Quick, easy, efficient, and done, all before she has time for doubts or to wonder if she was doing the right thing. In many ways the List was like a drug on the senses, exciting and addictive.

But it held one comfort. It never led to what she had experienced with Anakin, and that allowed her to smile, albeit secretly as she summoned the strength to endure her next series of meetings.

The bar of the Corellian Grand was relatively quiet, but then it was supposed to be at this late hour. Her arrival was unnoticed, for she slipped in through the grand entrance silently, taking time to pause and see if from this distance, she could ascertain who she was about to meet. Slowly her eyes roamed about the cavernous room, scanning each occupant for the com device that would identify them. Other members would be surprised by her actions she knew, preferring to chose the solitude of a room to confirm they were meeting the right person, but she had always found a thrill in meeting them at the bar, allowing them to wine and dine her before following her upstairs, the anticipation somehow sweeter than the encounter itself. Lately she had used this foreplay as a method for calming her nerves, and restoring her courage, which never seemed to last past desert, causing an anticlimax in more ways than one.

Guests were milling around, even at this time of night, enjoying the usual last dram of lum or caf before going to bed. Behind the bar stood the waiters, unobtrusive and discreet, obeying the dictums of their customers without question. Rapidly her gaze passed over each and everyone of them, until she reached the man she was looking for. His clothes were tailored to his form, outlining the handsome figure which the garments concealed. Although their shades were dark, they harmonised with the lighting system that covered the ceiling and walls of the bar, rendering his attractive figure strikingly. One hand held a drink, half consumed, while the other rested on the bar's transparisteel surface, and upon the precious crystal, lay the small com device she knew, for she owned one just like it, as did every member of their exclusive club.

It was the hair that did it. Frozen suddenly by her traitorous memory, Padmé's brown encircled pupils took in every inch of him, confirming that she was not dreaming, or imagining who was waiting for her. He was alert, waiting for someone, his head poised to turn round in the direction of the entrance, when he would catch sight of her. When he would most likely gasp, just as she was doing now. Then he would slip the device back into his pocket, walk up to her, apologise, and insist, insist that this must never, ever, happen again.

She had a split second to decide, no more, no less. Yet it seemed to last much longer than so minuscule a passage of time should. How she felt about this development could be considered later. Now it required her to be impulsive, to trust her instincts, and accept a truth which until recently she had always denied herself. And not allow her mind or her heart to be surprised at the apparent ease and speed by which she could fulfil all of these requirements.

Catching sight of a passing waiter, she requested the use of his pen and notepad. Her surprisingly calm hands took a piece of the proffered flimsi, and quickly scribbled down the number of the room which she had previously booked. Then she pointed out to the attendant whom she wanted the note to be given to.

He bowed in a silent farewell, leaving her side to attend to her request, whilst in front of them the figure at the bar started to turn his head in her direction. By the time his eyes reached where she had been standing, she was gone.

"Sir, I was asked to give you this."

Obi-Wan turned back to the bar, and took the small scrap of flimsi which the waiter standing before him had proffered before his free hand. Politely he thanked the attendant and waited for him to be occupied with another customer, whereupon he unfolded the flimsi to read the message contained therein.

Room 505.

The abruptness of the note did not surprise him, for it was far more usual for him to receive the room number with the name of the hotel during the initial arrangements, as opposed to waiting in the bar for the encounter. Members of the List hated lights and crowds, where they stood a risk that their faces might be recognised, and scandals might be leaked. All the same, he did wonder why she had changed her mind. Perhaps she had recognised someone in the bar whom she preferred not to become a witness to her actions tonight.

This was his second encounter of the night, the first having concluded earlier in the evening, allowing him time to answer and accept this date which the little golden comlink alerted him to. His first encounter had ended in the same manner as all his encounters did, no further than either of them being wined and dined. He had managed to put them on their guard, politely decline their offer for further intimacy, before charmingly withdrawing from their company.

Finishing his drink, he picked up the little gold comlink and exited the bar, turning towards the sumptuous hallway reserved for the hotel's turbolifts. His finger pressed the button and summoned one, waited for it to arrive, whereupon the doors slid apart and he stepped inside.

Room five hundred and five was cloaked almost entirely in darkness. Even the transparisteel panes which dominated two walls were deprived of their full power to display Coruscant at night, a tinted setting casting a smoky fog over its glory. He could descry the shapes of the room's furniture, and the silhouette of the woman who waited for him, but no more. Used to this, the typical guises of the List members who had reasons to hide, he kept silent as he closed the door behind him. Had he been a willing member he would have respected their right to such privacy, but he was undercover in a murder investigation where everyone who belonged to the List was a possible suspect, so he used his ability in the Force to see if he could sense deception in her thoughts and heart. What he received surprised him, causing him to hesitate before obeying the beckon call of her slender hand.

She turned round as soon as she felt his breath upon her skin and captured his mouth with hers before he could form the words. Her passionate, almost frantic kiss caught him off guard, allowing him to realise that she knew him and despite all that should have caused them to pause and talk before engaging in such intimacy, at this moment she held no desire for prudence. And from the instant that her lips touched his, Obi-Wan was overcome with the same emotion.

He never knew he could feel like this, all caution vanished from inside him as he matched her fervour and pace. Their hands moved to continue what their mouths had begun, his slipping round her slender waist to caress her back, hers to pull apart his civilian clothing. With his chest bare she pushed him back towards the bed, down on to the covered silk mattress. Lips were reluctantly separated, leaving him to watch as she put her hands to the lacing of her dress, the fumbling fingers a further sign of her nerves. Reaching out, he gently stilled them.

"We have all night," he reminded her softly, before using his skill with the Force to finish what her hands attempted to begin. Silk slipped gently down her arms, falling at her waist, while her long hair was released from confinement, descending in curly tresses around her breasts. Using his grip on her arms, he gently but firmly pulled her down upon the bed to kneel between his legs and then captured one of them in his mouth. She whimpered and then moaned, clasping his head with her free hands, pressing him closer, arching her back when he released her arms to clasp her silk covered behind. He took his time worshipping her, sucking in her oh so soft skin, learning exactly what she liked, what gave her the most pleasure, so when he pulled away to gaze at her shrouded face, the nerves were gone.

Boldness reappearing suddenly within her, she stood up, letting the dress fall from the rest of her body to the floor, revealing herself to him. Even in this darkness he could not help but admire her beauty standing before him for the first time, unfettered by any adornment, elaborate or simple. Slowly he rose up from the bed and shed the last of his clothing also, letting her take in what she could see of him, before he pulled her close, and she felt just how much he desired her.

Cupping her cheek he stared into her eyes, the temptation to confess to her everything he felt almost irresistible. But he feared to speak, as if that would cause them to cease from continuing this intimacy, that the strength of his feelings would overwhelm her own, causing her more fear than what he could already sense from her emotions. So instead he said nothing and tilting his head he caught her lips in a long kiss, drawing out her tongue for another sensuous duel.

This time when they reached the bed he let himself fall across the entire surface of the sheets, lightly catching her as she fell with him, their mouths and tongues still entwined. A brief struggle for dominance ensued, before he rolled them over so he could continue sampling the delights belonging to her within his arms.

Parting from her lips, he descended in a slow sensuous journey, determined to worship every inch of her skin, knowing he might never have this opportunity again. His senses alert, he learned by heart what she liked, giving all of himself over without any thought of reward, the true essence of a Jedi. Yet something was given to him in return, the secret of her, pure and untainted by any, a knowledge few could claim the privilege of having. Not her soul, for neither of them knew each other well enough for that, nor her heart, unless that had been symbolically exchanged long ago when they first met, but that part of her which lay beneath the surface of her sweet soft skin, all that claimed her as a woman. An awareness of this was ever more apparent in his motions, as he reverenced her with kiss and touch and taste, receiving the grace to continue in kind.

When he reached her thighs, she opened herself willingly before him, her passion lidded gaze watching as he expertly probed this final level of intimacy. Her sweet moisture clung to his fingers and tongue like dew on morning grass, seeping through the layers to permanently embed the taste of her into his heart. Teasingly he drew out every moment of pleasure, heightening every inch of the sensations until all reached their peak at once, a series of exploding stars upon her vision and her senses as she cried out in ecstasy.

In the heady afterglow he worked her down slowly and gently, before withdrawing himself to lie upon the sheet along side her. Quietly he observed her in the dimly cloaked light, as her rapid breathing gradually slowed, a soft smile of satisfaction never leaving her face. Before he had time to savour all the emotions coursing through him, she had rolled over to return the favour. Her mouth caught his in a long sensuous kiss, very nearly taking his breath away. Soft moist lips soaked the reddish blond hair which covered the cleft in his chin, then bared teeth to tenderly nip at his throat. He sensed that she wished to be as thorough in her journey as he been, and a hope rose inside his heart which he had to hurriedly bury deep down, for fear the emotion would betray itself across his face.

As she descended, her beautiful mouth seemingly taking in every inch of his skin, he felt as if he was being stripped bare before her eyes. All his vaunted control, his legendary serenity and years of self discipline faded away in her wake, their departure leaving him open and vulnerable. And she knew, without him showing the merest sign, for there was depth, feeling and emotion in every touch of her lips. He realised that neither of them had cared to remember why they came here; the code of the List was broken from the moment he answered her beckon call. This night was never to be counted as the others which each of them may have partaken in; an endless, meaningless series of anonymous uncommitted couplings, but merely as the first of many intimate unions between them. A thing of beauty, arisen from the scandalous dark depths they exposed themselves to. Something to cherish, to savour, to treasure, as they cherished, savoured and treasured the taste and touch of each other just now.

By then her deft touch encountered the length of his desire, which she expertly roused into the height of ecstasy. Reaching fulfilment, he found himself on the brink once more far earlier than any previous lover had provoked in him. Drawing her mouth away, she sank herself upon him, a blissful sigh escaping their mouths as they reached the hilt of each other. Gazing up at her, he took in the vision before him; creamy skin darkened by the night and long flowing hair, spun round her like shimmersilk, the moment seared into his memory forever. Then he clasped her hips and guided her motion, thrusting deeper and deeper inside her until the stars exploded around them.

Sated she collapsed against his chest, unaware until he murmured her name once more that both of them had foregone the need for that concealment during their union. Holding her breath as she felt his lips brush her head in a tender benediction, Padmé summoned her courage to ask him how long he had known who she was.

"From the moment I walked into the room," Obi-Wan replied. Sensing her confusion, he added, "I held you in my arms on Geonosis. I healed your cuts while we paused before the droidekas, thinking all hope was lost. I would know you anywhere."

He dealt another kiss to her head and this time she didn't forget to breathe, nuzzling her soft cheek against his taunt chest instead. "Speaking of wounds," he added, "where did you get this?" His hand brushed the bacta patch covering her waist.

No one else had noticed the synth-skin, but he. True no one but he had been allowed to penetrate this veil of intimacy, but she knew that the protection over her bruising could not always be concealed by her clothing. Strangely it didn't surprise her, even though she had not prepared what she would tell him if he asked over their dinner. "It was why I joined the List," she murmured, avoiding a direct answer. "To regain my trust in others." She looked up to find a pensive expression splayed across his face. She knew he wanted to know, but perhaps he would not press her until she confided in him of her own free will. And she was not ready tell him yet. "What about you, why did you join?" She had wondered about his motive ever since she first caught sight of him in the bar, for his membership seemed so out of character.

"Bail asked a favour of me," he replied before telling her the full truth of the matter. She frowned, her sharp mind attempting to hazard out the answers to the puzzle just as he did. Though scandal attached itself to the List like lichen to rocks, the members of the group did not deserve to be murdered or to be blamed for murders which they did not commit, nor did they deserve to have this secret brought out into the harsh, hypocritical and judging spotlight that belonged to the members of the holopress. They were good beings, this secret aside. And there were too many upon whom this matter touched, enough to destroy the Senate, the Republic and perhaps the Jedi Order as well in one swoop.

"That is their motive," Obi-Wan mused, following her unspoken yet entirely eloquent reasoning with his Force senses. "And it is that which puzzles me; for who would want to destroy the Republic? It cannot be the Separatists, their determination to negotiate a peace between themselves and us was sincere. The Force points towards something darker, or someone hiding in the darkness." He paused before adding, "or perhaps it is both."

"Another Sith?" Padmé queried, remembering the one he and his Master faced on Naboo nearly fourteen years ago, receiving a quiet nod from Obi-Wan in reply. She shivered, either from his confirmation of her query, or a lack of warmth, causing him to tighten his embrace around her, his hand unconsciously brushing the bacta patch as he did so.

"You never answered my question," he remarked, moving the same hand from the concealing bandage to her chin, tilting her head until she could no longer avoid his searching and anxious gaze.

"I don't want you to blame yourself," she uttered softly.

For a moment he continued to gaze at her, until the answer came to him, whereupon a wave of sadness swept across his face. "Anakin," he realised in a whispered emotion leaden tone, a myriad of regret, guilt, shame, anger, horror, sorrow, directed at not just himself, but at his former Padawan and at the woman he held in his arms. "I should have begged you not to return to Naboo," he added.

"You did," she reminded him. "We would have found another way, Obi-Wan. I was too much in love with him then to refuse him anything."

"And now?" he asked.

"Our divorce will be final in a few weeks," she answered.

He made no reply to that, his mind still lost in thought over everything which had passed between them. Silently she waited for him to speak, knowing he was blaming himself and reluctant to go into too much detail which would only deepen his sense of guilt. This was why she hadn't wanted to tell him in the first place, for ever since she bore witness to his grief at loosing his former master, she had learned how he tended to take others faults as his own infractions.

Then, to her surprise, he shifted himself out from under her and slid down the bed until his head was level with the bacta patch. Slowly he peeled away one corner of the synth-skin, revealing the mottled coloured bruise to his sea eyed gaze. For some time he studied the injury, so long it seemed that she thought he was using his ability in the Force to heal it. But then he moved forward and tenderly laid his lips upon the inflamed skin. The depth of emotion behind the gesture caused her to gasp, for until tonight she held no notion that he felt this way about her.

Pulling away, he glanced up at her, finding her eyes in the cloaked light of the room to deliver an expression full of unspoken meaning. Then his hands gently clasped her hips, his mouth moving forward to give her pleasure once again.

Part 34: The Morning After.

As their duties within the Temple and the Senate were not pressing, they saw no harm in spending the next morning within the easy freedom of their current environment, and made use of the Corellian Grand's excellent and discreet room service. The meal of fruits and sweet or savoury pastries was not consumed without seeking each other's own nourishment, as they sampled morsels of each other's soft or hard flesh also, savouring the taste with equal parts enjoyment, pleasure and desire. Half way through all thought of food was set aside, as they succumbed to temptation and made love again.

"So," Obi-Wan began when he had set the empty tray outside the door to the suite along with the sign not to be disturbed, allowing her to catch a view of his finely tone figure from both sides before he rejoined her upon the bed, "what was it you wanted to talk about?"

Padmé could not help but laugh at that and he laughed with her, pleased to see her happy and easy within his company after all which had passed between them the night before. "I merely wanted us not to neglect our friendship any longer."

"We shall always be friends, milady," he replied seriously. "However many times we do this."

She raised an eyebrow at his boldness. "Do you foresee a repeat performance then, Master Jedi?"

He leaned forward, closing the short distance between them. "Many, many repeat performances, milady," he said in a deep, warm voice, leaving her cheeks flushed and her heart racing in memory.

She watched him as he drew back from her to take a sip of tea, remembering his manner last night, contrasting it with the one she saw now and the one she had known before. A part of her was still in wonder at their actions last night, marvelling at her impulsive decision to welcome this intimacy between them when she had quailed and declined offers from other encounters, and the pleasure she had found in doing so, as well as marvelling at his ability to put her pleasure before his own, a Jedi in that respect as well as every other. Abruptly she remembered their excuses to each other for not meeting the night before and it caused her to ask in a deceptively light tone, "do you say that to all the women you've bedded?"

His smiling face transformed into a sudden expression of vulnerability and when he raised his chin in order to gaze at her, there was something in his eyes which she recalled seeing but once before, when he begged her to not give into Anakin's desires, before she left with the wounded Padawan for her home world and their secret nuptials.

"There was no one else in the List. I only wined and dined, until last night. As for others, I follow the will of the Force, which led me to them then and now to you. Padmé, I love you," he murmured softly.

A genuine frown formed across her face then, before a silent revelation swept it away. Of course Anakin had never loved her as he should, selflessly, else he would have held his peace during their stay at Varykino, instead of telling her that she could become a scar upon his heart unless she admitted to having feelings for him. She would not have been cautioned by everyone who knew them not to act on their feelings. He would not have used her thus during those last torrid days of her return from the peace conference at Pais. Realising all of this did not reconcile her, nor ease the profound regret she still held regarding her actions, but it granted her a sense of understanding at least, and she was grateful for that.

His confession of his feelings did not escape her either, causing a soft smile to grace her features as she met his gaze once more. Memories of their time together, from the moment they first met until this moment between them which was happening now played inside her mind, as she recalled the warm and close friendship that they somehow fell into seamlessly, without any awkward words said or feelings declared. The safety she felt whenever she was around him, a safety she had never felt or experienced in Anakin's arms.

Most of all she remembered the times she had felt tempted to kiss him, or wished that he had kissed her, and how she savoured the occasional clasp of her hand by his, and the heady intimacy contained in their Nubian greetings; her hands and cheeks graced by the touch of his lips as well as hers upon his. She realised now how easily she had fallen in love with him, so easily that she had not fathomed the depth of her feelings and devotion until this moment, as she lost herself in his sea shaded eyes.

"I love you too," she uttered, causing him to blink as he took the words in, and the sincerity which lay within her sweet voice, "I know that you may find it difficult to believe, but I have truly loved you all this time."

She would have said more, but he had moved his hands to cup her face, before kissing her, cutting off the rest of her defence, making her understand that he neither needed nor required one, for he had believed her from the second she uttered the declaration.

When he drew back, his expression still retained that vulnerability which he had only revealed to her once before. Padmé held her tongue, waiting for him to voice whatever it was that still prayed upon his mind.

"If we are to continue, we need to exercise a certain amount of discretion," he uttered eventually, his sea shaded eyes never moving from her own.

"Of course," she agreed, causing him to blink in surprise, making her aware that her easy acquiescence had not been what he was expecting. "Obi-Wan, we are both aware of how highly our duties are regarded by the Republic. We have to place our commitments to the beings we serve before our own feelings. To publicise our relationship would take attention away from those who need it the most; those who suffer while our governments continue to while away their existence." She paused before asking with a half-smile, "What? Did you expect me to rail at you for the secrecy?"

"It is rather hypocritical of me after our conversation before you and he left for Naboo," Obi-Wan pointed out.

"No more than my own actions when I blithely surrendered to him before plunging the Republic into a war I verbally fought against," she countered.

Her reply caused him to raise his eyebrows as his astonishment increased. "Padmé, you are not responsible for what happened on Geonosis."

"I failed to remember the symbolism of my position. I declared war on the Separatists in my misguided belief that the Jedi would not arrive in time."

"And who sent the clone army after us?" Obi-Wan reminded her. "If you hold yourself responsible, you must also blame Masters Windu and Yoda, the Chancellor and myself, along with Master Dooku and anyone else who took part in that sorry affair." He shook his head firmly. "In truth, what happened on Geonosis was inevitable. Another move in a series of pieces played out by a grand master manipulator, determined to remould the universe into an empire under their sovereignty."

Padmé stilled as she took in his words. Evidently they had gone past discussing their own feelings on to much more fundamental matters concerning the state of the universe in which they lived. This was not the first time he had confided in her his discontent with the way in which the Republic they both served was governed, but now she felt the full weight of his decision to trust her with not just his thoughts but all which he held dear, another sign of how deeply he was committed to her.

As she realised this her body stirred itself out of her previous immobility, turning his hand which until now she had not known was gripped by one of her own. Her mind was also in the midst of its own revelations, as she understood the truth of what he was saying, along with the serious consequences such a dark scheme implied for the fate of the universe. She acquired now a clarity as to the fate of her actions in the Senate, while another part of her speculated upon the identity of the grand master manipulator they both knew existed. Hastily her memory caught the final fragment of what had surprised her, causing her at last to speak.

"Master Dooku? Has the Count of Serenno recently resumed his former position within the Order?"

"He is seeking sanctuary with us for a time," Obi-Wan revealed. "I've been in consultation with him lately about the possible motives behind bringing the scandal of the List to light." He paused, considering his next words. "He refuses to reveal the identity of the Sith who seduced him into forming the Confederacy, for what reasons none of us dare to hazard, but he confirms that their role is what the Council believes it to be."

"Do you think we can stop them?" Padmé asked him softly. "Or is their stranglehold on the universe too strong to avoid a direct and public confrontation?"

"I hope we can stop them," Obi-Wan replied, "Which is not the same thing." He paused again, as his eyes shifted from hers to glance at their joined hands, a symbol not just of their new found intimacy with each other, but their commitment to the vows that they had just exchanged only moments ago. "Given the uncertain times in which we live, no one can afford to declare who their friends or enemies are just now."

Padmé nodded, knowing he referred not just to their relationship, but to what he had confided in her concerning Count Dooku, and the Sith lord who held the fate of the universe in his stranglehold. His trust in her caused her to inquire concerning some of her own political views which were troubling her. "Has the Council kept themselves aware of the recent contention within the Senate?"

Obi-Wan's gaze returned to meeting her own. "We have. It is dangerous ground upon which you begin to tread. Another vote of no confidence will set a perilous precedence."

"Nevertheless, there are those in the Senate who feel he is forcing us to use it," Padmé informed him, her mind asking the question she dare not voice, hoping that he would hear it, just as he had heard many of her unspoken thoughts recently.

In reply he said nothing, merely nodding to show her that he had received and understood her thoughts and that he would put the matter before the Council, alerting them to the possibility. "There is also Anakin to consider," he uttered, reluctant to name the man who had caused them injury, but equally aware that they could not ignore him either.

"Do you see him?" She asked, before beginning to elaborate. "I know he has been knighted, he informed me so during the last night of our union."

"Not since the ceremony," Obi-Wan revealed. "I returned to our previously shared quarters to find he had moved out. Every last trace of him erased." He paused as he saw her flinch, causing him to direct a quick glance to the bacta patch which shielded the bruising on her waist, as her words caused him to speculate on what else had occurred during the night his Padawan was knighted. "What happened?"

"He came to me expecting to celebrate his knighting," Padmé said, her mind imagining that scene of finding the previously shared quarters empty, which Obi-Wan had so calmly described, yet betrayed with his downcast expression how deeply the event had hurt him. "For our union to go public, thanks to the passage of the reforms within the Order. And I told him I wanted a divorce. " She grimaced as she remembered his response. "He did not take the news well. But our marriage was a mistake. Neither of us understood how we really felt about each other, and the depth of secrecy we placed on our attraction to each other was misguided in the extreme." She paused, taking another breath, for this was the first time she had confided in anyone but her lawyer what took place that night. "When he realised that reasoning with me was futile, he resorted to other methods of persuasion. My security intervened before the injuries he committed became too grievous."

Obi-Wan froze at her choice of words, the usage of them bringing to mind similar dark days in his training of Anakin, and the similar dark acts which he had borne witness to his Padawan using. "Did he use the Force?"

Padmé nodded, her thoughts betraying the outcome of that evening, as her voice could not. The impact on Obi-Wan was profound, as he considered if he could bring such actions before the Council. But even as the notion entered his mind he reluctantly discarded it, knowing that they would do nothing more than reprimand the knight, their hope in the Chosen One fulfilling his prophecy too great to brook omens against any evidence of his failure.

Inexplicably she seemed to understand his despair at what would be an exercise in futility, for she gripped his hand tightly to rouse him from such speculation, before saying, "do not concern yourself, I have come to terms with the injury which he has done me. To seek some form of justice from the Council would only serve to anger him, not provide the help when he needs it the most."

"You believe there is still good in him?" Obi-Wan asked in light of her choice of words.

"I don't know," she replied softly. "Sometimes I see a monster unleashed, other times a lonely, wretched little boy, in need of comfort." She caught his expression as she uttered this, and witnessed the look of self-blame which crossed his face. "Obi-Wan, you haven't failed him."

"You don't know that, Padmé," he countered, tenderly to soften the implied rebuke. "There are many aspects in my training of him which I do regret. He has been mishandled both by myself and the Council. But we cannot undo what has already been done. Yet I cannot foresee a panacea to his turmoil. And I worry that he has already gone on too long without one being offered."

It was not until later that they reluctantly parted from one another, so soon a separation they would have preferred not to endure, but for the commitments that required her presence at the Senate, and his with the Council at the Temple. After they promised to speak again at the end of the day, Jedi and Senator bade farewell in the traditional Nubian fashion before steeling themselves to turn round and walk away.

Obi-Wan headed for the Temple via a complicated route, deployed in order to discourage those who might wish to follow him, or curious at the sight of Jedi in civilian clothes in the business district at this time of a Coruscanti day.

Since the rise of tensions within the Republic which led to Geonosis, certain masters and knights within the Order had lost their previously anonymous reputations, thanks in part to an organised public relations campaign which the Chancellor's office had deemed necessary in order to dissolve the recent levels of distrust which some civilians within the Republic claimed to hold concerning the Order's activities.

As far as the Council were concerned, the campaign only seemed to deliver the opposite effect, creating more distrust of the Order, not to mention the determination to publicly recognise individual Jedi, making it increasingly difficult for them to operate discreetly. Of course the easiest way to reassume that anonymity had been to apply a Force aided disguise, but thanks to the increased surveillance erected on Coruscant in light of the recent threats to the members of the Senate, this aspect of the Force was rendered useless, causing him to rely on more old fashioned methods. It involved him doubling back at random points, abruptly disappearing down side streets, occasionally making use of local public transports, until he reached the Temple from an utterly different direction to the one which he had left the previous day.

When he entered the main hall, he caught sight of a familiar figure walking down the corridor, one he had not seen since their elevation to the status of a knight. Upon catching sight of him, a myriad of emotions entered Obi-Wan's mind, as he contemplated whether to confront his former Padawan or just pass him by.

There were masters in the Order who would not have cared to find that the Padawan whom they had just knighted had cleared out their room and left for their own quarters without so much as a word of goodbye. But then Obi-Wan was not most masters. In his days as a Padawan, he had heard tales of two kinds of relationships which were commonly fostered between Padawans and Masters, and what he had desired for his own, if he ever rose to such hallowed ranks, was to be the second kind; the one where Masters kept in touch with all their former Padawans, providing a sounding board whenever they still needed advice. It was the kind of relationship he had hoped to earn with Qui-Gon, a possibility which ended with Master Jinn's passing.

To learn, as he arrived at his old apartments the night after that knighting ceremony that he had failed to do so with Anakin as well, was unsettling. But it was not one which he could admit to his colleagues in the Council either, for Anakin was not most knights. In accepting the role of master to the Chosen One, Obi-Wan had assumed a lonely place within the Order. No matter how many times he had begged the Council and those Masters who had taught Anakin during his Padawan days, the Chosen One had still been singled out, instead of being treated as one youngling among the many who could touch the Force. The result had isolated both him and Anakin, and instead of it bringing them closer together, it had only seemed to drive them further apart.

It had also put him in a difficult position. His concerns over Anakin could not be raised without causing further disruption between himself and his former Padawan, not to mention the Council, and the Order. And the concerns, when aired, no matter how valid, might seem insignificant points with which to judge the Chosen One, or indeed any knight by. He may have masters whom he respected and counted as friends on the Council, but those bonds could count for nothing when the matter of the Chosen One was raised.

For all that had passed between them as well over the years, he owed it to Anakin to discuss his concerns with him, rather than going to the Council. He owed it to Padmé to ask her soon to be ex-husband why he chose to assault her. He owed it to Qui-Gon to ask the knight if that sweet little boy his master had known so well was still cowering underneath the layers of age and wisdom which Anakin seemed to have acquired. For a moment he dwelled on that resolution, wondering at the choice of his words, in particular one so incongruous that it could be a prompt from the Force. Could it be that was the answer, that the Chosen One was scared of the world which Qui-Gon Jinn had launched him into?

Obi-Wan knew the answer to that question as soon as his thoughts composed it, as he contemplated another truth as well. It was he who had launched Anakin into the world, not Qui-Gon. Master Jinn may have taken the boy from his homeworld to Tatooine, but Master Yoda had been prepared to send him back there, forestalled by the vow of a newly minted knight anxious to prove himself on a death bed promise. Would it have been better for Anakin if he had kept his mouth shut, allowed Master Yoda to send him back to his mother? In truth, there was no answer to that save for wild speculation, but the question bothered him as much as the previous one which his mind composed had.

There was another option which he had not contemplated either, during that meeting between him and Master Yoda, ten years ago in a room in Theed Palace, during a Nubian sunset. An option he would never have thought to contemplate if Qui-Gon Jinn had not been his master. As a maverick Jedi who frequently bore contentions with the Council, Master Jinn's friends were of similar minds, and one had chosen to form his own Order, away from Coruscant. An Order where the Code was largely ignored, where younglings were younglings first, only allowed to become Padawans when they were old enough to truly understand the duties such a commitment entailed.

An Order that did not send younglings who found no masters to Bandomeer, the masters training as many as they could handle. An Order that allowed marriage, a difference that still counted, despite the reforms taking place within the Coruscant sect. Thanks to his Master, Obi-Wan could have taken Anakin and his mother to the Master who led this Order, Master Altis, with no doubt of their reception. After all, Master Jinn had not specified where Obi-Wan should train Anakin.

But Obi-Wan had not reasoned with himself as to what would be the wisest course in that Theed Palace room before sunset. He had been grieving over his master, listening to the Force's insistent plea to obey his master's last words, anxious to return to the Temple on Coruscant where everything was familiar. Forgetting that none of it would be to the boy he had been asked to train. It had been a selfish decision, and this future was the result of it.

But no amount of retrospection could solve that mistake for him. He had to deal with that future now, come to terms with the mistake he had made, accept what consequences it may or may not hold for the galaxy, and let it go. It was the Jedi way, whether you were a student of Master Yoda or Master Altis. But it would be a hard road to walk all the same.

And this silent contemplation brought him no closer to an answer over whether to greet Anakin or to pass him by without acknowledgement. In the event he settled for simple politeness, for his sudden discourtesy would have been noticed and remarked upon by his Padawan, despite Anakin often failing to follow his example during his apprenticeship.

Leaving the choice of returning the greeting up to the young knight, who once more left his Master feeling bereft, as he passed him by without a word or look, as though Obi-Wan had never been there to begin with.

Part 35: The Path of the Chosen One.

While his former master was occupied puzzling out his dilemma, Anakin had not even registered Obi-Wan on his senses, for his mind was consumed by concern over the motive behind Master Yoda summoning him to the Council Chamber. There were only two reasons a newly promoted knight would be called into that grand lofty room; either he was about to be assigned his first mission, or he had done something wrong. And ever since he had joined the Order, Anakin found himself summoned into that chamber more often for the latter than the former.

Walking down the main hall of the Jedi Temple was an impressive experience, with its tall, simple but classical arches and a gold rimmed blue floor covering that seemed to disappear into the ends of the galaxy, symbolised by the reverent light which shone from Coruscant's tinted reflectors through large transparisteel windows. It was also an unusual one for Anakin, for he usually tended to avoid the more public spaces of the Temple, where fellow colleagues who passed him by gave him an all too familiar judging glance. Not that he had been in the Temple that much lately to record such looks. His recently assigned quarters in the wing which was reserved for knights was collecting dust, as were the boxes which cluttered up its living area, still yet to be unpacked.

Where he had been spending his nights was not a subject suitable for appropriate conversation, nor a location he wished to be spending his nights in, much less discovering that the Jedi Council had found him out. In his heart of hearts, the heart which was currently waging a losing war with in his fear, he would much rather be sleeping beside a certain Nubian Senator. Padmé. He rarely saw her now, except in the company of their lawyers. He had a meeting with that trio this evening and he was looking forward to that about just as much as the one he was going to have with Master Yoda as soon as he crossed this hall.

What he had done to incur these meetings with her and their lawyers was something which tortured him, as much as the actions he took in vengeance against the Sand People for the death of his mother. His memories of that night were vivid, and unpleasant. The sudden surge of uncontrollable anger inside him. Shock at her calmly delivered request. Suspicion as to her motives in wanting a divorce. Distrust in her explanation. Her look of fear as his Force grip encircled her neck and began to squeeze. Collapse, followed by her reflex responses as his mechanical hand pounded blow after blow into her abdomen. He hadn't been able to stop himself, the rage ran too deep for him to assuage.

At some point he lost all consciousness of everything. When he became aware of his mind and surroundings once more, her security was standing over him. Anakin had never seen Captain Typho look so grave. In succinct sentences he was told to never darken the door of the Senator's apartment again, or the Jedi Council would be informed. He was asked to surrender Artoo, and informed that the next time he met with Senator Amidala, her lawyers and security would be present, and divorce proceedings would be initiated.

Convinced that the annulment of their marriage was conceived by her desire to relinquish the secrecy laid upon them by the restrictions of the Order, Anakin had tried to see her before the first meeting with the lawyers was arranged, only to be prevented from doing so by her security. By the time he arrived at one of the disused Senate offices where the first meeting took place, his guilt and contrition over his actions were waging war with his anger at hers and her security, the former's defeat rendered inevitable when her lawyer proceeded to put him in his place as if he were nothing more an insignificant grain of sand on the desert plains of Tatooine. He hadn't even been able to apologise to her.

Briefly merging from his thoughts, Anakin realised that he had reached the turbolifts which climbed up to the Council Chambers. Pausing from his walk, he waited for one to arrive before entering the narrow chamber. Only after keying in the desired floor in the control panel, could he return to his mulling over those events and persons who seemed determined to thwart him from achieving what he wanted in life.

Padmé's lawyer was not the only one who belittled him during the meetings; his own legal adviser treated him with the same contempt. Even Artoo, who had previously served him so loyally, now threatened him with bodily harm if he dared to take his anger out on his soon to be ex-wife a second time.

But that prospect still awaited him. Now he only had a few seconds before he would be admitted to the sight and judgement of the Council, either to be given a reprimand over some hitherto unknown infraction of the code, or to assigned his first solo mission as a knight. If it was the first, he knew not how they had found out about that, and if it was the second he would have to refuse. He could not leave Coruscant now, not without admitting defeat in the divorce, although that outcome seemed inevitable. His presence seemed to count for nothing in that for their lawyers were content to work their way through the dissolution without input from either of their clients.

Of course it was possible that Chancellor Palpatine might intervene to prevent him from leaving the Core, but Anakin doubted that would have any effect on the Council. He was not insensible to the tensions which existed between that office and the Senate since the moment the peace talks were proposed, he just could not understand why they existed. The service which Chancellor Palpatine was rendering to the Republic was right and proper and just. In him they did not have a better leader, nor would they find one capable of managing the Senate and the rest of the government. It would have been impossible for him to attend the peace conference as Count Dooku did for there was no one suitable to take care of the Senate in his absence.

At this point the turbolift came to a halt, and he was forced to exit the narrow chamber in order to proceed to the entrance of the room which held the Council. Out of a habit arising from his fears whenever he entered those illustrious chambers, he stretched out his senses to determine how many of the Council were present. As usual this attempt met with little success, for there existed a special barrier between the minds of the Council and the rest of the Order which not even the Chosen One could hope to penetrate. He hoped Obi-Wan was away on a mission. He had not seen his former master since his knighting ceremony and his mind was arrested by a sudden guilt regarding his conduct over what state and how he left his and his master's quarters that night.

He was much surprised therefore, when the doors slid apart, to reveal Master Yoda and Master Yoda only, waiting for him to enter the Council Chamber. The Grand Master was standing before the chairs, in the centre of the room, unconsciously allowing for the strains of the Coruscanti Sun from the planet's orbital reflectors to cast a gentle shadow on the beautifully inscribed floor upon which he stood. His hands rested on his gimer stick, his chin resting just above them, as his eyes stared at Anakin thoughtfully. As always the Chosen One became disconcerted by this gaze, which appeared to be of a deep and penetrating nature, as if his entire being was laid open to the scrutiny of the Grand Master, who seemed to wield the judgement of the Force within his cryptic conversations.

"Knight Skywalker, welcome," Master Yoda began.

Anakin advanced forward and sank down on bended knee before the grand master. He could feel a powerful presence inside him, exploring his thoughts and emotions, and he lowered some of his shielding to allow the access to penetrate further. However, the foresight of the Grand Master was not permitted to witness all of his thoughts, especially those concerning his recent assignment from the Chancellor and where he had been spending his nights and days away from the Temple. Those musings were only for himself alone, and Anakin took care that the deception with which he hid them remained undetectable by the Grand Master.

"How feel you?" Yoda murmured, the sound of his gimer stick clicking on the floor, as he circled the Chosen One, who focused his gaze and concentration upon the intricate patterns within that surface, waiting for the Grand Master to continue.

"Much I sense in you," Master Yoda continued, the tone of his voice phrasing the query as a possible conclusion of the Chosen One's feelings. Possible only, because there was always something in the Grand Master's tone which implied dissatisfaction with what he could see in the Force, as though he found the Chosen One wanting. Anakin reined in his feelings of resentment which were always roused whenever this occurred and waited for the Grand Master to continue. Yoda paused and tapped the floor with his gimer stick as he began to circle the kneeling knight again. "A mission I have for you."

Anakin remained silent, knowing if he inquired about the mission, Yoda would only further delay telling him about it. So eager are you, he would say, as if such a character trait was another fault. He wanted this meeting over as quickly as possible, before the Grand Master discovered something which he desired to remain concealed.

"Your services the Chancellor has requested," Yoda revealed, causing a measure of surprise to be released from Anakin's mind. He had not realised that Palpatine would want to make the duties which he was currently fulfilling an official obligation. However such a move made sense, as it allowed him to remain planetside and delayed the Council from giving him another mission under their own purview.

"On a matter of grave importance, the Chancellor requests," Yoda continued. "The safety of the Republic is at stake, he insists, but only to you will he explain his motives for clouding the petition in such secrecy. Accept this assignment do you?"

"Yes Master," Anakin replied. "I am honoured that the Chancellor would chose to favour me with such a duty."

Master Yoda merely hummed a while before adding, "unusual this is, yet question we do not. Ours is not to reason why, only the Force will reveal that answer."

Anakin said nothing to this, silently hoping that this was the end of his being summoned to the Council Chamber. Master Yoda appeared cryptic and perplexing at any time, but today the Chosen One found him to be even more mysterious than usual. He was nervous enough about sudden discovery of what he was doing for the Chancellor and more besides, he did not need to add the concern from the Council to his emotions. Not for the first time did he silently speculate as to what lay behind the recent tensions which had arisen between the Jedi Council and the office of the Chancellor. There had to be a reason behind why the depth of trust between the two authorities was now deteriorating. He knew that the Council were unhappy with the recent negative propaganda that the HoloNet news agencies seem bent on spreading, but how that could relate to their relationship with the Chancellor he did not know. The Senate received good and bad press all the time, it was something that the executive office could not control.

No there was something else which led to their tensions, something darker, perhaps related to Count Dooku's sudden disappearance since the formation of the peace treaty, or the search for the master of the ways of the Sith who trained the apprentice which killed Master Jinn. Anakin was somewhat sceptical of the theory that an apprentice of the Sith could kill a Jedi Master, but it was what the Council believed. He remembered landing back in the hangar bay of Theed Palace, in time to witness Padmé rushing into the reactor room where Master Qui-Gon and his apprentice had disappeared into, to face the red and black skinned monster he encountered on Tatooine. He recalled climbing out of his ship and following her, whereupon he saw her come to halt before the crumpled figure of Master Qui-Gon, and the weeping form of his apprentice. It was the first time he had seen Obi-Wan display his emotions. Not one tear had he shed at the funeral.

Padmé stood by him that night too, solemn and silent, but he remembered her gentle expression when she guided every other attendant away, leaving the apprentice behind to say his farewells in private. His last view of that night was his master, standing cowled before the dying embers, looking vulnerable and fragile, yet strong and enduring all at once.

That image of Obi-Wan haunted him for years, as he struggled to understand his master, a task which even now he had yet to fully comprehend. When his mother died, he came to understand some of the emotion which he had seen, or at least hoped he had descried in his master's form during that time. For after the anger passed, after he had vented his rage upon the Tusken Raiders who took her, when he was standing at the grave, he remembered the numbness, an emptiness inside him which nothing could seem to fill. Not even the partial shame which overtook him as he realised that what he had done were not the actions of a Jedi. And it was only partial because there was a part of him which could not help but feel justified in what he did.

Master Yoda was still ambling in his usual circuit around him, the gimer stick tapping along the floor in time to his quiet padding. Mutely Anakin wondered if the Grand Master had any notion of what he was thinking. He had that uncanny ability to see straight through him from the first moment he appeared before them for testing. No dismissal had come from him yet, nor did it seem he was to receive one anytime soon. From the first time he entered this room he always wished to leave, yet there was a part of him which argued that the Chosen One had more right to sit on the Council than anyone else. It was disconcerting to feel that he both belonged and did not belong inside such a room.

He wondered what Obi-Wan felt now he was a Council Master. Doubtless it felt normal to him, after all he had been raised for such a role from birth, unlike himself who was picked out of the dust because of his gifted ability, not because of himself. He remembered that meeting between himself and Obi-Wan and the masters who came to Naboo for Qui-Gon's funeral. There was a kinship there, which he had not seen before, as though Obi-Wan was held in high regard by the Grand Master. A strange sight, but one which became common over the years of reporting to him and the Council for missions. The contrast between the regard they felt for him and the Chosen One was always so very great.

Such feelings of inadequacy should be beneath him, he was the Chosen One after all. He had as much right as any other Jedi to the Temple to be granted the privileges of rank which came with padawan, knight, master, a seat on the Council, if not more, due to the power he held within him from the Force. It was something which Chancellor had taught him to realise, yet faced with the constant humility from Obi-Wan day after day of his apprenticeship, he had struggled to comprehend which was the correct behaviour. One was looked on with approval by the Council, while the other coming from him often received mixed results. Even when he tried to show humility, there was disapproval, as though they did not quite believe it was a genuine emotion.

Anakin sighed inwardly as Master Yoda reached the zenith of his circuit only to begin again without so much as a word or exhalation in the way of dismissal. He had wondered so many times over the years how to fit in, to appear as if he belonged to the Order. Yet his departure from it, this mission that the Chancellor insisted he take, seemed so much easier to comply with, so much more natural to fulfil. When he had murdered the Tuskens in his fit of rage, that too seemed easy and right, though he was taught to believe it was wrong.

Yet he had felt nothing but joy when he took to the skies above Naboo and fought to rid the space lanes of the Trade Federation, nor did he feel anything when he fought the droids which rained down on them during the battle of Geonosis. He remembered fighting with Padmé, trading teasing remarks between laser fire and saber deflection. She had not taken any pleasure in the battle. Nor had his master for that matter, whom he recalled bending over a fallen comrade in a final farewell just before the clones rescued them.

Yet pleasure was what he had felt, a youthful appreciation that was akin to his feelings during his victorious pod race. Qui-Gon had taught him then to trust his feelings, so it must mean that it was not wrong to experience such emotions. But however much he told himself that, he could not reconcile himself to the possibility that what he felt was not what a Jedi should feel. Nor could he ignore the question which inevitably followed on the heels of that suspicion; if he was not a Jedi, what was he?

"To the Chancellor, you must go," Yoda suddenly commanded, catching him by surprise. Emerging from his thoughts, Anakin rose to his feet, bowed out a farewell to the Grand Master and exited the Council Chamber.

For a long time after the Chosen One's departure, Master Yoda remained in the Council Chamber, his hands resting upon his gimer stick. Though his eyes continued to stare at the elaborate cravings on the door, his focus was elsewhere, deep within the caverns of the Force, seeking guidance.

The meeting with young Skywalker had unsettled him. Much in him did he sense, much which he did not like. Forming doubts was he, about many things of which he had once been so certain of, and amongst them, foremost, his judgement of Anakin was. So sure had he been that the boy should not be trained, despite all the persuasions of his fellow councillors, and of Qui-Gon Jinn, only to surrender his objections at the last to a newly knighted being whose own objections were now converted in a determination formed from a dying bequest. Doubt Obi-Wan he did not, blame him he did not, for favoured by the Force he always had been, and it was his interpretation of that favour which had led him astray. For interpretation was all he had to rely upon, until now.

Before being interrupted by the message from the Chancellor regarding an assignment for young Skywalker, he had been studying the Sith artefacts retrieved from Zigoola. And like what he had found, he did not. Disturbing were their traits, for despite all their portents of the dark side, a truth to the light did they reveal. A truth to the prophecy of the Chosen One, hidden to the Jedi until now. One which had the power to change all that had gone before.

With this new perception in his mind he had been called away from his studying by the Chancellor, to attend to the request he tried to subtly order. In his mind the perception remained when he surveyed young Skywalker as he relayed to him the message from Palpatine, to which the Chosen One reacted with surprise and then obedience. Reconciled was he to the authority of the Chancellor, in a time when a great number of the Jedi were not.

Dangerous this reconciliation was, and not just because that it differed from the feelings of the Council regarding the Chancellor, but because of this new perception. Yet prevent or avoid granting such a request he could not, for show his thoughts too early that would. But nor could he ignore the possibility that gone too far they had for this perception to change anything for the good. Always in motion the future may be, but inevitable some things were.

Behind him the doors to the private meditation areas swished aside, and into the chamber Master Windu did step. He was followed by another recently accepted back into the fold, that of Count Dooku. As Yoda turned to face them, a third joined their meeting, his entrance startling the two recent arrivals, who had not witnessed a Jedi Master forming from the divine energy of the Force before.
"Unlearned what was learned have I," Yoda murmured, "Now face the consequences, we must."

Qui-Gon's form adopted a position of guilt. "It was my blindness which lead us down this path, Masters."

"Time for recrimination and regret, there is not," the Grand Master rebuked. "To see into the ways of the Force a life time can it take. And always uncertain, the future is."

Count Dooku glanced at the door through which a certain knight had recently exited. His recent return, as well as his close connections to Master enabled him to pick up on the journey which the Grand Master's thoughts were taking. "No matter how discreet the surveillance, it will be detected."

"But what else can we do?" Master Windu countered. "We know nothing of his plans, an ignorance which has cost not just us but the Republic also."

"And what of the Chosen One?" Qui-Gon queried.

"Our help he will need, if to survive this journey he has," Yoda remarked. "A long road before him lies, dangerous and unknown. But walk it alone, he will not."

Part 36: Affirming Loyalties.

It was odd how when it was with the right being, keeping a relationship secret no longer felt wrong, Padmé reflected as she walked down to the lobby of the Corellian Grand. She greeted Captain Typho with a response which matched his own upon catching sight of her, the unspoken but eloquent expression of mutual understanding which passes between one's security and their detail when the latter shirks their protection for several hours. Falling into the line of his security radius for her return to her senatorial residence, Padmé continued to muse over her night spent with Obi-Wan. It was a night which she did not anticipate, for she had never dared to hope that her recently realised feelings for him were reciprocated. Also, while she was still angry with herself for not being able to overcome her fears due to what injuries Anakin had visited upon her, a part of her had become accustomed to spending only dinner with those she contacted through the List.

Which was why she was surprised by her somewhat impulsive decision to abandon that part of the evening with Obi-Wan in favour of conquering her fears. She had tried to spend the night with those whom she had already encountered within the List, yet she had failed, but with Obi-Wan, her fears had been present, only to be conquered in the face of his gentle tenderness, not to mention his feelings for her. Maybe it was that which had made the difference, in giving her the courage to conquer those fears. She realised that she had been wrong to look for her recovery in the List, though it had led her to Obi-Wan. Her injuries had been caused by great emotion, a element of morality which the List tried to avoid. What happened last night had been the only way to assuage that wound.

She felt honoured and humbled that Obi-Wan had chosen to trust her with his love, when he could have easily chosen someone else. She was not naive enough to believe herself to be his only choice, she had heard several rumours concerning him since their first encounter ten years ago, especially concerning the Duchess of Mandalore. That they had to conceal their relationship due the actions and feelings of Anakin based on what injuries he had caused to her, annoyed her, but it was a secrecy which she could live with, for now. However there was something else relating to Anakin which caused her a source of puzzlement; her reasons for agreeing to marry him in the first place.

On Naboo, she had resolved to accept that whatever they might feel for each other, it would be wrong to embark upon a relationship. He was training to be Jedi Knight, she was serving the Senate, their duties would be a source of strain that she was unsure either of them could have managed to balance alongside a relationship. It was a response which was designed to let him down easy, because at the time she knew that her love for him spanned only the depths of friendship, nothing more. She had been certain that his were the product of his childhood, adolescent crush, and would fade away once he matured. Yet on Geonosis, as they faced each other in the tumbrel before entering the arena, she had felt an overwhelming urge to agree that their feelings for each other were the same. And then afterwards, while he recovered at the Temple and she waited for a chance to see him, she decided to marry him out of a desire to prove to the Order that a Jedi could have love despite what the Code said rather than the level of commitment which should be felt upon entering such a state.

Clearly, something had occurred to her during that period of time between her reaching that resolve on Naboo to her confession during Geonosis. Yet however unconsciously she had realised it, she could not understand it, for choosing to act on the basis of such a decision was unlike her. She was given to a reluctance to commit herself to something without at first giving it a great deal of thought. It was how she had come to decide to run for the Senate after her term as sovereign of Naboo came to an end, despite the need within her for a family of her own. And the reason why she had accepted the post as leader of the Opposition, as well as becoming a member of several committees within the Senate. Why she had decided not to support the Military Creation Act, even though she believed that the Republic should not solely rely on the Jedi to sort out their problems.

She still recalled every layer of thought which she had conceived to help her reach those decisions, but when it came to seeking out those reasons as to why she married Anakin, Padmé could not recall anything but the memories of when the decision was already taken, while Obi-Wan was counselling her against it. She had not thought herself to be still capable of such a petulance reserved for younglings. Yet clearly that the only answer she could give to assuage that puzzlement, and it served to create nothing but more mystery.

Abruptly her security detail came to a halt, causing Padmé to abandon her thought trail in favour of responding to the security measures which were managed by the Senate for the care of their members. Only when she passed the checks was she at leisure to return to those musings, although now she chose to contemplate when and how she and Obi-Wan would be free from the secrecy imposed upon their relationship by Anakin, however indirectly. Their divorce proceedings had not provided him with the maturity he still lacked in regards to how he perceived his feelings for her, and she doubted that when those came to an end and granted them the right to marry another that such an understanding would not be reached by him then either.

Preparing to deal with his feelings would be an inevitability she realised. As for the rest of the Republic, her relationship with Obi-Wan would come as a surprise, but not an unwelcome one, though she would expect a dubious reception from some members within the Senate, and possibly the Order, despite the fact that the reforms were through. A few masters and knights had taken the decision to have families recently, so if theirs was ever allowed to see the light of a Coruscant day, it would not be an oddity, though it would still be the first union between a Jedi and a Senator.

Her family would be surprised, but only because she had not told them that her contact with the Jedi extended beyond the level of diplomatic and protection dealings which the HoloNet recorded. She had told them of Master Jinn and his Padawan, how they had rescued her from the troops of the Trade Federation, taken her to Coruscant and then escorted her back when she decided to liberate Naboo without the help of the Senate. She had even mentioned how Master Jinn had found Anakin and decided to train him as a Jedi. And they had met him briefly when he was protecting her on Naboo. Sola had even teased her about the relationship and Padmé knew her sister well enough to see that she was not convinced by her vehement denials that there was nothing between her and Anakin.

But she had not mentioned that the youngling, as he was then, had feelings for her, or the friendship she formed with Master Jinn's Padawan after he became a knight. Perhaps if she had chosen to confide in them, she might have been able to prevent her mistaken union with Anakin. But she had been so used to protecting her family from the dangers which her chosen career exposed her to. They had been so concerned about her safety while the blockade was imposed on Naboo, that she had not wanted to worry them further, particularly over what was in the end, a minor, selfish problem which would have little impact over the fate of the Republic.

At least that was what she had believed then. Now, Padmé wasn't so sure. Marrying Anakin as she had, whether it was a mistake or no, enabled her to understand the damage that a Jedi could inflict with the power which they were trained to harness and wield upon the universe. Whether it was for the good or for the bad, the decision was theirs alone, subject to the influence of the beings around them, and their relationship with those beings. Anakin's life as a slave had a direct effect on how he regarded his power within the Force and his place within the universe.

In his years as a youngling he had come to realise the harsh realities of life too soon, without acquiring the maturity and wisdom which came with learning and age to accept that one could not change them. Discovering that he had the power to wield the Force while that young, had given him the impression that he could use it to escape that harshness, even prevent it. And when he failed, he reasoned that it was a fault related to that power. That if he was stronger, or had more, he would have succeeded. He had not realised yet that it was the way he used the power within him which prevented him from succeeding. From becoming the Jedi which the Order hoped he would become, the Chosen One.

If he really was the Chosen One, Padmé mused, as she and her attendants reached her offices. Absently she uttered a greeting to Sovi, her personal assistant, coming to a brief halt while she waited for Captain Typho to check her office for security risks, a precaution which had become a habit ever since the threats visited on her life. While she waited she ignored the thoughts which had been gathering in her mind, awaiting reflection, to catch up with Sovi regarding any Senate business which she may have missed, or if there were any messages awaiting her return.

Only when Typho rejoined them and declared her office safe did she leave her assistant and security chief behind, taking a seat behind her desk, and resume the reflection which her mind desired. So rarely did she have an opportunity to do so, prevented by the concerns of those beings which lived on her planet and those within the Republic. Such chaos was a matter of routine in her career, she had learnt by virtue of necessity to juggle the masses without devoting a care to her own concerns until a moment arose where she had nothing else to concern herself with, or was forced to do so. Lately she had avoided the process, unconsciously sensing that there were things she did not like to think about, but there were truths which she would have to realise, however unwelcome or painful they might be. Her relationship with Anakin had been one of them, the nature of the darkness within the Republic another.

The latter was a Jedi way of describing the current state of affairs within the Republic, but it was also the best way to do so, for the trouble was a multitude of elements which no one could assign to one being or source, yet were all connected to one another, and which only made sense when assigned to the feeling that something was wrong, and had been wrong for a long time. She had caught a sense of this when she left Naboo to appeal before the Senate ten years ago, which had led her to accept her successor's request that she take up the post of Senator.

Upon her return to that chamber of governance, the sense had only intensified, along with her inability to procure a solution which could resolve the darkness, or perhaps shine a light through it. She was well aware that she could not fix everything, at best only lend a hand to those who wished to do so. But she also knew now that it was not just within the Senate where the darkness lay, but within other structures in the governance of the Republic as well. Even the Jedi were not immune, as the actions of Anakin had showed. But was he the only source of darkness within the Order, if indeed he was a source at all?

Padmé sighed and shook her head. Her contemplation was not giving her any answers, nor did she believe that she was closer to forming them. What had happened between her and Anakin clouded her judgement, not to mention having an impact on him which she could not have anticipated, even though she felt responsible for it. Such past experience should have taught her to be wary of getting involved with another Jedi, but Obi-Wan was utterly different compared to his former Padawan.

When she considered him, she knew that there was never a moment when she had felt afraid of his power within the Force, his ability to wield it for the good of the Republic. Instead her fears had been directed at what could happen to him, what impact such an eventuality would have on Anakin, on the Order, on the Republic, on her. Since she had realised her feelings, these fears had not changed, but they were laced with an understanding of him, and through him the Force, the Jedi and the Republic. They had not clouded her judgement of him, or the universe around them.

One example sprang easily to her mind, when she and Anakin had been on Tatooine, after receiving and relaying his message to the Temple concerning what happening on Geonosis. She remembered how the message had petered out in wake of an attack from a droideka, and how she felt when Master Windu ordered them to remain where they were. Caught up in the aftermath of what he had done to avenge the death of his mother, Anakin had stubbornly clung to Master Windu's orders. It was she who had rebelled, pointing out that Geonosis was only a parsec away, taking the decision out of his hands by implementing the flight path into the ship and readying it for departure. At the time, she believed her desire to rescue Obi-Wan came from her concern for Anakin, the reminder of what his actions had done when away from the influence of his master. She had not given a thought to how her actions might be judged by those within the Senate, how her position as a member of that body cast an added weight on her movements.

For a Senator to rescue a Jedi from the Confederacy was an act of war, and those actions had led them into war. But she knew that if faced with such a decision again, she would do the same. Not because of what she felt for Obi-Wan, but because she understood now where her desire to rescue him had come from. She may not have the ability to wield it with the same skill that Anakin and Obi-Wan were trained in, but from her relationship with them she knew that the Force existed in everything, and that the fate of everything rested within it. Even before she had considered what difficulties the rescue would involve, Padmé had known that she would do it. There was no doubt within her mind, in comparison to when Anakin was involved, only the decision and all the thought which went into forming it.

Yet all the same it bore a similarity to when she confessed her feelings to Anakin in the tumbrel, before they entered the arena to reveal themselves and by their appearance, their rescue attempt, to Obi-Wan. Padmé felt herself frown as she shifted her position, leaning forward in her chair, resting her chin on the palm of her hand. Was her confession a product of the Force? Almost as soon as she posed that question, she could hear the answer come to her, causing her to raise her head in order to shake it in firm agreement with that conviction.

As she did so however, she realised that the question and the answer had brought her a sort of clarity in regards to where that confession had come from. Not from the Force, but possibly by someone who could wield and manipulate that energy. The conclusions which came from that thought were frightening, for it was unsettling to realise that she had been under the influence of that darkness for a time, without knowing it.

As had Anakin, although that was not a surprise, for it was something which she had always been aware of, ever since he told her what he did to avenge his mother. She had called him human then, even though she had known that such an action was extreme, whatever species you happened to be. The fact that he was still under the influence of that darkness was inescapable, and Padmé wondered how much he was aware of that. But what caused her the most concern, was whether he fought against the darkness, or allowed himself to be ruled by it. Even worse, if he had learned to wield it himself.

She could not believe that her feelings for him, whatever they were, had determined the influence of the darkness. They had not determined Obi-Wan's actions, although she knew that his feelings for her differed from Anakin's. No, the influence lay elsewhere, it came from another source, that same source which had transformed him from youngling she had first met into the man whom she knew now. And someone within his life wielded that influence, manipulated it for their own purposes. Whom she did not know. Possibly the same being who was responsible for the state of affairs within the Republic at this moment, perhaps they were behind the murders which Obi-Wan was investigating, though Padmé doubted that they actually the person who was carrying them out. Such evil rarely chose to dirty their hands by committing the crimes which would achieve their schemes. And it had to be someone with authority, a being of prominence within the Republic, for Coruscant had a way of keeping itself separate from the rest of the worlds which belonged to that alliance.

She recalled her own ignorance of Senate politics being realised while she was a Queen waiting for their permission to speak on behalf of her planet, inspite of her diligence in keeping abreast of current affairs, not just on Coruscant, but on every planet within the Republic, unconsciously planning ahead for her future career within that governing body. As a Senator one had access to everything, not to mention a certain authority which few could supersede. But a Senator could not have the ability to wield the darkness, unless that is they had an ability within the Force as well. However that did not mean that they could be or would have been a Jedi, for the names of those who had left the Order were well known, being so few, rising to prominence through the position which Count Dooku had only recently enjoyed.

A former Jedi entering the Senate would have caused as much consternation as that which occurred when the magnate of Serenno had become the leader of the Separatists. Which meant whatever training they had, it was knowledge they had gained from outside the Order, possibly from someone else who was adept in the dark arts. She recalled with a shiver the being whom Obi-Wan had fought on Naboo, wondering if he had been the one who cultivated the darkness which surrounded the Republic now. Who had passed on his knowledge to a successor. Padmé frowned once more, for though she had reached an answer, it was one which she did not like, and what's more, she was not entirely sure that the Sith was the answer.

Her comstation uttered a short series of beeps, signalling an end to her contemplation. Reluctantly she pushed her thoughts aside before reaching forward to attend to what ever it was. By the time the lines of encrypted com had finished scrolling across the screen her mind was clear and ready to focus on her work. Gradually the machine worked upon the decrypt until it began to coalesce into an image which bore a more familiar resemblance. Padmé rapidly schooled her features as soon as the caller came into being.

"Senator Amidala," Chancellor Palpatine remarked, his tone and style of address indicating that despite the appearance of the screen, he was not alone in his office, hence the formal nature, as could not address her as he usually chose to do. "I am gratified to find you in your Senatorial chamber. Your prudence for punctuality does you credit."

"Thank you Chancellor," Padmé remarked, her tone one of calm openness, while inwardly her mind was in a high state of alert, wondering what his motive was for calling her across encrypted com, and who else was with him. "But I am sure you did not call me merely to show your appreciation. How may I help you?"

"How perceptive you are," Palpatine murmured, his head slightly inclined by way of a silent compliment. "A rumour has reached me that the Repeal for Executive Powers is to be tried in the Senate again, possibly as an Amendment to another statute which has to be passed. I hoped you might be able to confirm or deny the rumour."

Inwardly her mind was reeling, frantically trying to figure out how he had come to learn such news, but Padmé let none of this consternation show. "I am afraid I have not heard any rumours pertaining to such an amendment, Chancellor," she answered. "Be assured I will let you know if I do in the future."

"Thank you Senator," the Chancellor replied. "Now, I am sure I must be interrupting you from your work, so I shall disturb you no further."

"No interruption, I assure you, Chancellor," Padmé responded courteously, before signing off.

For a moment she did nothing connected to the matter. To do so would have signalled the depth of her deception just now. For in truth she did know about the Amendment Repeal, for it was something which she, not to mention the members of a certain committee, had conceived as a way of getting the Chancellor to relinquish the executive powers which he had been gathering since Geonosis first thrust them upon him. Powers which she was convinced that he was not using for the good of the Republic. The peace treaty with the Separatists gave them the basis they needed for him to relinquish these powers, and if he was the good man which she had believed in since accession to the throne of Naboo, he would have willingly given them up. But he had not, and that troubled her, along with other members of the committee. It signalled to them that the Chancellor was no longer the man that they had believed him to be. Possibly it was a sign that he had never been the man they believed in.

Padmé focused on working through the senatorial business which had called her into the office that afternoon, pushing aside her concerns about the amendment until all that lay before her was the finely polished surface of Nubian Kiirn which formed her desk. Then she rose from her chair and exited her office, pausing before Sovi on her way. From his post by the wall, Captain Typho emerged to escort her to the committee meeting, which had been scheduled a long time ago, and would thus raise no alarm within the executive offices, despite the fact that it was the committee with whom she had conceived the Repeal in the first place.

Beside her Artoo trundled as a piece of further protection. They made an odd trio as they progressed through the maze of corridors within the Senate building, then out into the natural air of Coruscant before climbing aboard her personal speeder enroute to Cantham House, but no one turned a curious gaze upon them, far too concerned with their own concerns than what the Senator from Naboo might be doing.

Minala Lodilyn, Bail Organa's personal assistant, greeted the trio as she ushered them inside the Alderaanian's Senatorial residence. Within the main living space Bail rose from his chair where he and a few of the other early arrivals were gathered, welcoming her. With all the decades of experience as a member of the Senate, he surveyed her seemingly unrevealing expression and astutely interpreted its unspoken eloquence. "I take it that you do not bring good news."

She shook her head, following him as he turned and shepherded her to one of the sofas. "I am afraid that rumours of our Amendment have reached the Executive office," she informed them before sitting down. "Chancellor Palpatine talked to me just after I returned to the Senate."

"Has he alluded to who might be behind them?" Mon Mothma asked.

"No," Padmé replied. "But the fact that he knows about the rumours is troubling enough. I thought we knew who our friends were within the Senate."

"Evidently, our friends do not," Bail murmured, before another chime signalled the arrival of further members of the committee.

When all of the beings who had conceived the Amendment Repeal, along with countless of other statutes designed to convince Palpatine to relinquish the powers which he had been subtly gathering ever since Geonosis, arrived, a long discussion ensued as they cogitated at length on what should their next moves be, now that the rumours had reached the office of the Supreme Chancellor. The last time they had introduced this Repeal, there had been enough votes to enter a motion of no confidence, a motion which had once ushered the former Senator from Naboo into the executive office.

A manoeuvre which Padmé keenly regretted bringing to the Senate floor all those years ago. She knew that she could not have predicted what would happen, but her mind could not rid herself of the feeling of guilt all the same. Now, just as then, they would have difficulty in predicting who outside of this committee would support the Repeal, now that the Chancellor knew of it. Yet they had no choice but to bring it to the Senate floor, lest they wished to see the Republic that they once knew continue to be slowly destroyed before their eyes.

She recalled what she and Obi-Wan had talked of last night, how the murders of members of the List could be the basis of a plot to destroy the Republic with a scandal. Like the war with the Separatists had threatened to do, and now Palpatine seemed to desire to do so as well on a political front. Obi-Wan had shared his concerns with her, the concerns of a Jedi Master whom was a well-respected member of that Order, not to mention its ruling Council. They had a representation within the Senate, one which was granted the authority to vote, in a wave of amendments which were passed, recognising the Confederacy as a form of government, who had also been recently granted that same privilege. Perhaps there was another way to accomplish this, one which the Chancellor would not expect.

"What if we confided our concerns to the Jedi Council?" she posed, aware that her suggestion would be a surprise to most of her colleagues present.

"The Jedi do not tend to involve themselves in matters of governing," Mon Mothma reminded her.

"But they do have a voice," Padmé countered, "not to mention a vote. As do members of the Confederacy. Remember, most of those former Senators who joined the Separatist movement did so because of their disagreements with Palpatine, not because of their belief in the Republic." She rose from seat to walk about the room as she continued to put forth her point. "And I know that there are those on the Jedi Council who disagree with many of the Chancellor's policies." Her journey took her to the large pane of transparisteel which covered one wall of Cantham House. As she surveyed the view, she continued. "Such a move would prove a surprise to the Chancellor, for he would not expect us to consider consulting with such bodies, even after the peace conference on Pais."

Silence greeted her statement, but she knew that the sudden need for peace within the room was not a form of outright objection. They were considering the possibility that her idea was not without merit. Patiently she waited for them to reach consensus, or the confidence to voice their support to her proposal.

Finally Bail spoke. "How we would go about this without raising his suspicion?"

"Request one of their members to visit us," Padmé suggested. "For the Jedi it could be a security or diplomatic concern within their purview. For the Confederacy a chance to catch up with an old friend."

"We'll do these meetings separately," Mon Mothma decided. "You have had the most recent security concerns, Padmé. It is you who should meet with the Jedi." She turned to survey the rest of the Senators gathered. "Who will meet with an old friend from the Confederacy?"

One of the members volunteered a name, which was agreed to after some deliberation. Padmé took care to steady herself as she declared whom she would meet with. It gave her an excellent excuse for seeing him again, but she had no desire to reveal her feelings at present, even to those in this room who she trusted absolutely. Meeting with a Jedi who was a friend was one thing, making known that she was having a romantic relationship with them was entirely another.

Shortly afterwards the meeting broke up, and one by one the Senators made their departures from Cantham House either for their offices or their own residences within the Core of the Republic. As usual she was one of the last to leave, exchanging a fond farewell with Bail, whom asked her to pass on his regards to the Jedi she was to meet. Since Zigoola the friendship which had begun on Pais had deepened between the Alderaanian Senator and the Jedi Master into an understanding which traversed freely over the old prejudices that the Senate once held - and some times still did - of the Order.

On her way back to her own residence Padmé stopped by her office to check in with Sovi and posted a call through the proper channels to the Jedi Council. Master Windu was the one who met her request, and despite her initial concern, he readily agreed, promising to inform his colleague, who would drop by her residence this evening.

Evening came, and with it a return to her apartment, where she found herself nervously fussing about the furnishings, worrying over the meal that Dormé assured her would be perfect, along with the gown she had changed into rather than her usual Senatorial garb. For some reason tonight she felt like a young woman rather than a politician, and briefly wished for those comforting surroundings of the Naberrie homestead which she had known when she was. Her life of public service had aged her far more rapidly than perhaps it should, but these were times which one lived in.

It was in the midst of forming this conclusion when the chime rang out, signalling that she had a visitor. From her position in the living area, Padmé heard the voice of Dormé welcoming Obi-Wan into the apartment, and rapidly called on all of her training, including that which she had learned from him, in the gardens of Theed Palace all those years ago, to calm herself.

He entered the room in his Jedi robes, an expression upon his face which she was half surprised to see match her own. "Hello."
"Hello," she greeted in the same tone.

For a moment they stood silently, uncertain as to who should begin and with what. Last night it had seemed so much easier, surrendering to the desire which existed between them, discovering that the attraction went further than that, reaffirming their friendship in the aftermath of a love newly realised, which was blessed by a feeling that though discretion was needed, it was right for them to feel as they did, for the Force rejoiced in the union.

"Master Windu led me to understand that you wished to speak to me about a security concern," Obi-Wan recollected at last.

"Yes," Padmé began, "well, from a certain point of view, that is. I have a meal prepared, do you want to talk about it over dinner?"

Obi-Wan nodded. "That would be wonderful. I must confess that I've been so busy today that I haven't had the chance to grab a bite to eat."

Padmé laughed a little, her nervousness fading somewhat. She gestured for him to follow her over to the table, where a meal was laid waiting. "In the house of Naberrie no one is allowed to leave hungry. And if someone does, we go out and fetch them back."

He chuckled at that, before pulling the chair out for her, his smile remaining as she flushed in appreciation of his manners. He saw to the wine being poured into their glasses, then took his seat opposite her. "A certain point of view," he mused after they had taken a drink. "I can only conclude, for you to mean that the security risk is directed at not just you, but at others also."

"Yes. I know that the Council have a right to attend Senate briefings, that usually some one of your Order sits in," as she finished speaking, Padmé looked to him in the hope that what she had observed only occasionally was right.

"We do," Obi-Wan confirmed. "Although we try not to exercise our voting privileges unless we have to."

"I'm afraid that is what I am asking of you," Padmé confessed. "No doubt the Council have made you aware of what happened before Master Yoda went to Kamino to summon the clone army to rescue us from Geonosis?"

"They have," Obi-Wan replied. "I understand that there was an emergency meeting of the Senate, and a representative requested for the Chancellor to assume executive powers."

"I rather wish Jar Jar had not put forth that particular motion," Padmé remarked. "If I had been there, I would not have done so. Forgive me, but from a political standpoint, it was a Jedi affair, and the Senate had no right to interfere."

"You are absolutely right," Obi-Wan agreed. "As I understand Master Yoda announced his intentions to get the army while in counsel with the Chancellor, Senator Organa, Master Windu and Jar Jar. Whatever others may have felt, it was not for them to interfere."

"Until I became a hostage," Padmé mused. "I feel responsible for dragging the Republic into a war which I was against from the beginning. I should have thought of my position as a Senator instead of my friendship to you."

Obi-Wan reached across the table and took hold of her hand. "Padmé, I do not hold you responsible for the war. You saw an opportunity to rescue me, and I am grateful for the attempt. Who knows what might have happened if you and Anakin had not been there. Perhaps the delay made all the difference. But if you had remained on Tatooine, and left the Jedi and the clone army to rescue me, I doubt it would have prevented the war with the Separatists. They were massing together an army, and few prepare for war unless they intend to start one."

"Thank you," Padmé uttered, returning his grip in kind before they relinquished the contact in favour of finishing their meal. "So, we are rescued from Geonosis, and the Republic prepares for a war with the Separatists. Suddenly the Confederacy calls for a peace conference. We go to Pais and conceive a treaty, which on our return is ratified by the Senate. Now is the time for the Chancellor to relinquish his executive powers. Except he has avoided every opportunity to do so."

"No matter how many times members in the Senate put forth their requests for him to do so," Obi-Wan finished. "I recall the last time such a measure was put the floor, there were enough members to force a vote of confidence."

"Yes," Padmé nodded. "But there is a reluctance to voice such a motion. It is how he rose to power in the first place after all, and there are a growing number of us who feel that the Chancellor will not quietly surrender his post."

"Are you asking for the Council to make him do so?" Obi-Wan queried.

Padmé shook her head. "We hope that if a powerful majority can push forth an amendment to repeal his powers that he will not have a choice but to surrender them, or else show his real agenda."

"And you think that a show of solidarity from the Order will convince others that this is the right move?" Obi-Wan sought to prove.

"Not just the Order, but the Separatists as well. Some members left the Republic because of his political stance," Padmé revealed.

Obi-Wan nodded. "I will voice your request to the rest of the Jedi Council. But I cannot assure you that they will agree to exercise their voting privileges. However, I do not think they will refuse without strong reason. You know of our current relationship with the executive office.

"Yes I do," Padmé affirmed. "And that's all I ask of you to do."

Parts Thirty-Seven-Forty-five.

© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 2021. All rights reserved.