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Untitled Document
The Calm In The Mirage.

How is it that, being gone, you fill my days,
And all the long nights are made glad by thee?

Amy Lowell; A Dome of Many Colored Glass.

Part 24: Confessions, Promotions.

"Masters," Obi-Wan bowed gracefully before the two Councillors after he entered their meeting room. Yoda was upon his usual chair, while Mace was standing before one of the large plasteel windows, which displayed views of the capital. The Korun Master ushered him to join his stance.

"Where is your apprentice?" he asked.

"Undergoing the first of his physical therapy sessions," Obi-Wan replied. "He's anxious to return to active duty, but I would rather he had some leave in light of his mother's death."

"Granted that will be," Yoda decided. "But not for long. The shroud of the dark side has fallen. Begun, the Clone War has."

Obi-Wan bowed his head. "The information Senator Amidala and I discovered on Kamino serves to darken that war even further."

"We read your report," Mace informed him, turning from the plasteel. "It is troubling that someone has planned our demise. The Order's numbers have been diminishing too much of late, and the battle on Geonosis has only worsened matters."

"Plan for such a future, we must," Yoda proposed. "Small the Order has become, despite Master Qui-Gon's efforts. Too many Jedi we have lost."

"Is Skywalker ready for the Trials?" Mace asked Obi-Wan.

"There is little else that Qui-Gon and I can teach him," he answered carefully, knowing that the Masters had asked him here to ensure he had no objection when the motion was declared before a full Council session. "Anakin believes that he is ready. I see no reason to hold him back from realising his dream, other than what happened on Tatooine."

"Powerful wave of darkness he endured," Yoda murmured. "Regret he does now. Amends he wishes to make. Jedi he will be, too soon or no."

"Many Padawans will realise the Trials sooner than we would wish because of yesterday," Mace remarked, understanding Obi-Wan's doubts.

"Vital to the future Skywalker is," Yoda murmured. "As are you, Master Obi-Wan. Join the Council you will."

Obi-Wan gasped, surprised at the unlooked for offer. "Masters, I am honoured, but are you sure? I know that I haven't been the conventional Jedi..."

"Agreed a long time ago this was," Yoda interrupted. "A great Jedi you will become. Foreseen it I have. Strong runs the Force in your family."

"Speaking of family," Obi-Wan turned to face both of them. "I have asked Senator Amidala to marry me, and she has accepted. I now seek the Council's blessing."

"Granted, Master Obi-Wan," Yoda uttered with a grin, and Mace broke into a rare smile too before adding his consent with a nod. "Only the second Councillor to form an attachment. Make sure you are not the last, we must."

"When do you plan to have the ceremony?" Mace asked him.

"Very soon," Obi-Wan replied. "I hope to escort Padmé back to Naboo, and we will marry then. Of course, if the Order needs me, we will delay."

"Leave you may have," Yoda informed him. "But expect a long one you must not."

"I don't, Master," Obi-Wan assured him. "We are prepared for that eventuality."

"Talk with Senator Amidala we must," Yoda added. "The help of our friends in the Senate we will need regarding Kamino."

"Do not ask her to come to the Temple," Mace said, picking up from where Yoda left off. "We must be discreet in our actions for now." He waited for Obi-Wan to incline his head in acknowledgement before continuing. "When will you break the news to Anakin?"

"I mean to visit him after this meeting," Obi-Wan answered. "It is not a task I relish, but it must be done. Hopefully the news of his Trials will console him."

"Make sure he is fully prepared for them, Obi-Wan," Mace remarked. "Much of his performance within them will have an impact on his future with the Order."

Obi-Wan wondered at Mace's words as he left the Council Chamber, the meaning behind them troubling him, as he took the turbolift to the grand entrance hall before crossing that large expanse in quest of the Healers ward. Located in a relatively isolated spot of the temple, the ward possessed similar rooms to the rest of building, but with a security system which almost rivalled that placed around the crechling centre, in order to protect those patients within, and the Jedi without, from the emotional and sometimes mental and or physical trauma the former endured to bring them to that part of the ancient building.

After stepping through the small Ysalamiri barrier which created a thin Force resistant bubble between the ward and the rest of the Temple, Obi-Wan headed for the physical therapy rooms. Laid out like training salles, they were designed to aid members of the Jedi who lost their limbs in their service to the Republic, to deal with or without the replacement they were given during surgery.

His Padawan was one of the first to be given the new robotic style of replacement limbs, and from what Obi-Wan could sense, Anakin was already learning not only how to use the arm, but to tinker with it as well. He held no doubt that his apprentice's knowledge of machines probably rivalled that of the designers of the arm, but Obi-Wan was concerned as to how Anakin felt about the arm, how it would affect the rest of his life in the Order. As he came upon the salle where Anakin was training, he could see the youth practising Katas, adjusting to the additional weight of the arm both with his body and within the Force.

"Master," he cried, coming to a complete halt the moment he sensed Obi-Wan's arrival, closing his lightsaber down.

Faced with such enthusiasm, Obi-Wan hated to cause distress. But he could not afford to delay the matter any longer, as he and Padmé would leave for Naboo after the Senate declared a recess tomorrow afternoon. "I am pleased to see you coping so well, Anakin. How does the arm feel?"

"It feels good," Anakin replied, his face sobering a little. "A lesson to my impulsiveness. I shall heed to your plan next time."

Obi-Wan nodded, somewhat surprised by this show of maturity. "I have some news for you. The Council has asked me to prepare you for your trials after our leave is up."

Anakin was stunned, but only for a moment, whereupon a grin lit up his face that rivalled the one he displayed during his victory on Boota Eve. "I knew it. I knew I would be one of the youngest knights the Order has produced."

Obi-Wan frowned at the reply, but let it pass in view of what else he had to tell him. "There is more I have to tell you. Master Yoda and Master Windu have conferred a place on the Council upon me."

He was not sure how Anakin would take this piece of news, but his pupil did smile and reply positively. "I glad, Master. There is no one who deserves such an honour more. Is that all you have to tell me?"

"No, there is one more piece of news." Obi-Wan took a deep breath. "Padmé and I are getting married."

In an instant, the gladness was gone, replaced by white hot anger, mixed with a dose of incredulity. So powerful were these feelings apparent in the Force, that Obi-Wan almost stumbled under the strength of their wave.

"What?" was the first verbal response, a word said with such harshness of tone that his Master visibly flinched. "When did this happen?" he finally asked, the struggle evident in his voice. "How long have you kept this from me?"

"We've been discreet," Obi-Wan corrected gently. "The nature of our relationship was apparent, if you chose to look. We both knew how difficult this would be for you."

"I'm sure you did," Anakin scoffed.

"Anakin," Obi-Wan admonished mildly. "You know Padmé and I have been friends for a long time. You were present at the beginning and end of every field mission, where I asked for privacy while I sent a comm to her. I never hid the her identity, nor how I feel about her. We realised this affection between us ten years ago, in Mos Espa. But we held back because of our responsibilities. Now with the Clone War upon us, we realised that we can afford to wait no longer without presuming our future." He took another breath. "I know this will be difficult for you to come to terms with, but you must."

"Must I!?!" Anakin countered. "Who are you to dictate my emotions!?!"

"I am your Master," Obi-Wan replied. "And I hope, your friend. Anakin, we are worried about you. So is the Council. The state of your emotions, your inability to keep them disciplined, this is what holds you back from becoming a great Jedi. What has kept Qui-Gon and myself from declaring that you were ready for your trials earlier. You have to learn to let go of everything you are afraid to loose."

"This, coming from you," Anakin uttered. "You hypocrite. By attaching yourself to her, you're breaking the Code."

"I am not," Obi-Wan said calmly. "Attachment is forbidden, possession is forbidden. But how can you love someone and possess them? Or be attached to them? To truly love someone, is to learn to let them follow their own path, at the expense of your selfish desires. That is the foundation of every union, whoever you choose to be. I love Padmé, but if she chose not to return that affection, I would let her go, just as she would me if the situation were reversed. When she fell from the gunship on Geonosis, I knew she would be alright, I could sense such an outcome in the Force. I also knew that I should continue with doing my duty, as she would have if I had fallen. The Order does not teach us to ignore emotion, or to isolate ourselves from our feelings, but to accept them, then let them go."

Anakin drew in a breath, then abruptly seemed to calm down. "Can I go and see her? Talk to her about this?"

"Of course, you don't need to ask my permission," Obi-Wan replied. "She's in her apartment, packing for our departure."

His apprentice nodded, then walked past him silently, exiting the training salle without another word, though the state of his feelings within the Force was quite eloquent. Obi-Wan sighed as he stared after him, a mixture of emotions clouding his own mind, none of them worth dwelling upon. Closing his eyes, he sent a message to Padmé, hoping to warn her of her forthcoming visitor, and the mood he was likely to be in. When Anakin disappeared out of his sight, he left the room and went to see another patient in the healer's ward.

"Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon greeted, smiling as his former apprentice entered the room. "I was just about to return to our quarters. How are you?"

"I am well, thank you, Master," Obi-Wan replied, habit and affection keeping him from addressing his former mentor by his name. "It won't be our quarters for much longer, I'm afraid. Padmé and I are getting married."

Qui-Gon's smile grew larger before he briefly embraced his former padawan. "My congratulations, Obi-Wan. It is about time. When is to be the ceremony?"

"Not long after the Senate goes into recess," Obi-Wan replied. "I've just been to tell Anakin, who did not take the news well. Nor did I expect him to."

"Give him time, padawan mine," Qui-Gon advised. "He will come to terms with your relationship eventually."

"I will," Obi-Wan promised. "How are you? Did the healers give you any indication as to when your next stasis will be?"

"In a few months," Qui-Gon shrugged, brushing the concern aside, his usual resolve to protect his protégé, which always caused Obi-Wan to worry even more. "Come. Walk with me and tell me what else I have missed."

Padmé received a general idea of Obi-Wan's message, her sensitivity in the Force no longer heightened by danger or anxiety, but it was enough to understand who was coming, and prepare herself for his arrival. She too, had been about delivering the news of her forthcoming nuptials, first to her sister Sola over the comm, then to her staff, before preparing for her return to Naboo, and writing the general announcement for the HoloNet. Her sister, handmaidens and security officers had taken the news extremely well, the former managing to make her blush as they teased her concerning the signs of affection which they noticed, and her usual dismissive response, out of a care for being discreet.

Now all need for discretion was to be lost, for when the announcement was put on the HoloNet, the Republic would descend into a frenzy, translating the wedding into the romantic story of the age, a media circus she hoped to escape the worse of, while she and Obi-Wan celebrated their wedding in Varykino.

When Dormé gave her notice of Anakin's arrival, she was in the middle of examining the latest news from the Senate, exclaiming at Jar Jar's actions in her absence. She respected Palpatine, both as her former Senator and Chancellor, but she had no desire to grant him executive powers, especially in light of the information she and Obi-Wan discovered on Kamino. But the reports now associated her opinions with her representative, giving the motion an unlooked for and potentially alarming show of support.

"Anakin, how are you?" she asked him, taking care not to glance at his new arm. Curiosity and compassion were equal in her thoughts, along with a slight feeling of guilt that she had not arrived sooner with her reinforcements, perhaps being able to prevent this injury.

"Why didn't you tell me you were in love with him?" He thundered back at her, his volume and tone causing her handmaiden to flinch.

Padmé turned to her friend and attendant. "Dormé, could you go and oversee the packing, please?"

"Of course, milady," Dormé replied before leaving the room. Padmé waited for the doors to her bedroom to close before she turned to reply to Anakin. "Lower your voice, please, Ani. I didn't tell you, because I knew it would provoke this reaction."

He seemed to recoil at her calm response, falling into the sofa across from her. His whole posture appeared suddenly exhausted, as if he were struggling to bear the weight of the universe. "It is true then," he murmured, his hands coming to travel over his face and through his hair. "You will marry him."

"Ani," Padmé uttered gently. "I am so sorry. We knew this news would sadden you. It is why Obi-Wan and I took such pains to be discreet over the years."

He nodded, even while his mind still rebelled. "All that time after Naboo, I dreamt of you. Of living there, married to you, shut off from everything but our love. How did I not notice you and he right under my nose?"

"Your dreams can deceive you," Padmé remarked, even though his question was rhetorical. "I hope someday, you can come to terms with this, Ani. Both Obi-Wan and I will understand however if you do not wish to come to the wedding."

He moved his hands from his face to look at her, appearing somewhat composed. "When will that be?" He smiled. "I must apologise to my Master. I was too busy yelling at him to ask and offer my congratulations."

"I'm sure he understands," Padmé replied. "As for the wedding, it is too be on Naboo, as soon as possible. With the war, the Senate will not be in recess for long, and Obi-Wan will be called to the field, I imagine."

"He might not be," Anakin mused. "But I'll let him tell you that piece of news. As for me, after my leave I will take the Trials."

Padmé was shocked, but she managed to conceal it with her usual poise. "I'm glad, it is what you always wanted. But forgive me, do not Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon need to know what happened on Tatooine?"

Anakin sobered. "I will tell them, but after their leave is up. I have learned my lesson, Padmé, and I do deeply regret my actions after my mother....." he swallowed a sob, "passed away. But I will become a Jedi. I know this as well as I know my own soul."

"I'm sure you will," Padmé replied, resolving to ask her affianced about the matter when he visited her as promised later. "So, what do you intend to do with your leave?"

As the orbital mirrors rotated to allow the skies of Coruscant to gradually darken into night, the Senator from Naboo was still entertaining, her social obligations a necessary course to endure before she could justifiably leave for her home world. Various Senators commed her, with a multitude of messages, most of them invites for the numerous social events and gatherings which had been arranged as part of the political junket to occur while the Senate was in recess. Padmé pleaded her excuses to all of them, gratified that her nuptials would prevent her from attending them, for it was while she was present that her disgust for politicians would evolve on a par to rival Obi-Wan's.

When that Master of the Jedi finally arrived at her apartment, she was talking with Bail Organa, the Senator from Alderaan. Since her inception to the political arena, Bail had become a very close friend and ally, his views and stance in the Republic resembling her own, along with a character she could respect and admire for remaining unsullied by scurrilous corruption or petty self interest.

He broke into a smile as the Jedi entered the room unannounced, talking with a beaming and blushing Dormé, who, like all of her handmaidens and household staff, had fallen under the charm of the man that was soon to be the husband of her mistress. "Obi-Wan, I hear congratulations are in order."

"Thank you, Bail," Obi-Wan returned, shaking the Senator's hand, for along with Padmé and Senators Mon Mothma and Garm Bel Iblis, Bail was one of the few politicians he respected, and considered a friend, both to the Republic and to himself. "I hope you will be able to attend the wedding?"

"As I was about to inform Padmé, it depends if Breha is up to travelling." He smiled, but his face was now etched with concern for his wife's welbeing. "She and I have the fortune to be expecting again."

Obi-Wan regripped Bail's hand in compassion and support. "I hope things go well for you, old friend, this time." He knew the couple had experienced many losses, news kept from the public eye, as the Senator had no desire for sympathy votes, or unnecessary attention focused on himself and his beloved wife.

"We trust in the Force," Bail replied. "I'll let the two of you be alone now." he moved to exit the apartment.

"Bail, when you have the time, there are some friends from the old folks home who wish to speak to you, and others," Obi-Wan remarked.

The Alderaan Senator nodded. "I shall make myself free, have no fear of that. Goodnight both of you."

Padmé rose from her seat after the doors closed, Dormé leaving the couple alone to show Bail out. She made her way to Obi-Wan's side, eagerly accepting his embrace. "I have missed you, my love."

Obi-Wan kissed her hair. "And I you." He ushered her back to the sofa. "Did Anakin come and see you?"

She nodded, leaning into him as they sat down. "He took the news from me slightly better than I gather he took it from you. He also told me that he is to take his Trials."

"Yes." Obi-Wan paused, considering the conversation he had with Qui-Gon on the subject. "He hasn't told either of us what happened on Tatooine, but Master Yoda was clear that he must become a Knight. Even though he felt the wave of darkness Anakin experienced on Tatooine, as did Qui-Gon, during meditation."

"He added that you had some news too," Padmé continued. "Does it concern our wedding?"

"No, though both Mace and Yoda readily gave their blessing," he replied, dealing another kiss, this time to her lips. "They offered me a seat on the Council."

Padmé looked up at him with an overjoyed smile. "That is excellent news. I am so happy for you. Will this alter your leave?"

"I'm uncertain," he replied. "Yoda did warn me that it would not be long. But Qui-Gon told me once not be mindful of the future at the expense of the present. We must learn to savour the moment, Padmé, before the Republic enters the battlefield."

"Savour the moment?" Padmé mused with a small teasing smile. Abruptly she rose up from her seat beside him to cross the room.

"Where are you going?" Obi-Wan asked.

"To dismiss Dormé and others for the night," Padmé replied, standing before the entrance to her bedroom. "We have some moments to savour."

Obi-Wan smiled and followed her in.

Part 25: Domestic Affairs.

Padmé had not expected to arrive on Naboo aboard her private cruiser, nor with Obi-Wan. Before she persuaded the members of the Jedi Council to alter the assignments, she would have been showing Anakin around the Palace, awakening the nostalgia from his memories as a child, trying to ignore the emergence of his feelings towards her, while at the same time attempting not to disappoint him with outright rejection.

Now however she was returning home not disguised as a refugee in fear of her life, but as a member of the Senate who supported the creation of the clone army, whose representative also granted the Chancellor emergency powers. The transferral of so much authority to one person worried her.

Palpatine had earned her respect a long time ago, but over the years that regard became tempered with caution, as the Trade Federation continued to escape justice and the wheels of corruption continued to turn. And she was not alone in her concern. Members of the Jedi Council agreed with her, as did some of her closest allies in the Senate, which had led to a very interesting meeting in Cantham House before she and Obi-Wan left Coruscant.

They had not been alone on the ship, Jar Jar, her handmaidens and Captain Typho accompanied them, kindly bestowing privacy, yet allowing the couple to begin what would be a gradual adjustment to the nature of their future lives. With the Senate in recess and so many of its members taking the chance to enjoy a break from politics while they could, there was no need to leave a Nubian presence on Coruscant to oversee things in her absence. Most of her household would attend her wedding, then spend time with their families, granting her and Obi-Wan a chance of privacy in Varykino before their duties recalled them to the Core.

Master Kenobi now took control of the cruiser, guiding the craft to a smooth landing in the hanger of the Palace. Padmé remembered well the last time she had been with him in the bay, stealing through the secret passages to take the droid army by surprise, ordering the pilots to their ships, trying not to worry for his or Qui-Gon's safety when the Sith revealed itself, forcing her group to take a more public route to the throne room.

Though their attack was a success, there was a part of her now that could not help but wonder if the blockade had been another cog in the dark scheme, along with the ordering of the clone army and the Separatists. She felt that so far they were only seeing pieces of the puzzle, the overall design remaining a mystery to all but the author, whoever that may be.

Disembarking from the ship with R2D2 in tow, they left Dormé, Jar Jar, Typho and the rest behind, crossing the hanger to the corridor which led to the cloistered courtyard between bay and the main rooms of the palace. Sunshine poured across the formal gardens displayed within, causing an instant smile to both their faces, banishing the dark thoughts from their minds as they embraced the quiet serenity of Theed.

Padmé led the way, Obi-Wan keeping an even pace with her, allowing both of them to take in how the sunlight made their dark brown and reddish blond hair glisten, the latter's newly trimmed and styled, a more befitting appearance for a member of the Jedi Council, though officially he would not assume his position until Anakin passed his Trials, which would take place after they were recalled back to the Core. They made an attractive couple and it was that which drew the eye of those court attendants who happened to catch sight of them as they crossed the circular cloister, not their reputations as Senator and Jedi Master.

"I had forgotten how beautiful Theed is," Obi-Wan remarked as they mounted the steps which led to the main part of the Palace.

"The way it shimmers in the sunlight - the way the air always smells of flowers and the soft sound of the distant waterfalls is almost magical," Padmé agreed. "The first time I saw the Capital, I was very young. I'd never seen a waterfall before. I thought they were so beautiful. I never dreamed one day I'd live in the palace."

Obi-Wan smiled at her, before teasingly asking, "Well, tell me, did you dream of power and politics when you were a little girl?"

Padmé laughed. "No! That was the last thing I thought of. My dream was to follow my father by working in the Refugee Relief Movement. I never thought of running for elected office. But the more history I studied, the more I realized how much good politicians could do. So when I was eight I joined the Apprentice Legislators, which is like making a formal announcement that you're entering public service here on Naboo. From there I went on to become a Senatorial Advisor where I attacked my duties with such a passion that before I knew it, I was elected Queen.

"For the most part it was because of my conviction that reform was possible. The people of Naboo embraced that dream wholeheartedly, so much so that my age was hardly an issue in the campaign. I wasn't the youngest Queen ever elected, but now that I think back on it, I'm not sure I was old enough. I'm not sure I was ready."

"I'm sure your subjects would disagree with you there," Obi-Wan said. "I remember hearing that they tried to amend the Constitution so you could stay in office."

"Truthfully, I was relieved when my two terms were up," Padmé admitted. "So were my parents. They worried about me during the blockade and couldn't wait for it all to be over. For a while I tried to please them by staying out of public service, but I could only ignore my desire to help the Republic for so long. When the Queen asked me to serve as Senator, I couldn't refuse her."

"I'm glad you didn't," Obi-Wan replied. "I doubt we would have had this reunion otherwise. We spent so much of the decade past snatching conversation between my missions with Qui-Gon and Anakin. The Order seemed to delight in sending the three of us to the outermost regions of the galaxy."

"Because they knew you could handle it," Padmé responded. "There's never been a time when we haven't needed peacemakers in the Republic."

"Negotiators is more like it," Obi-Wan judged. "Attending towards the aggressive methods rather than the pacifist."

Padmé nodded, remembering one communication between them which took place shortly after a mission requiring aggressive negotiations, Obi-Wan having to take both sides to the point of battle before they would agree to talk. "There are times when I wish for peace to reign over the galaxy forever. But I know that the ability to overcome discord and difference is a part of every life, no matter the species."

"My only hope is that our children will endure less dark times than we. But then I believe that is the wish of every parent," Obi-Wan said, catching his companion's gaze in time to see her eyes widen, for until now she had forgotten her desire for children. To have her intended speak of them so naturally was surprising, breaking a silence of ten years studied avoidance in referring to such future plans, ones they dreamed of, but never expected to be realised so soon.

An image rose in her mind of three younglings, a boy and a girl with their father's features, and another dark haired girl, the image of their mother. She saw them playing in the fields of Varykino, watched over from her position of leisure in Obi-Wan's arms. The scene filled her with a peace she'd rarely known, quieting her into a comfortable silence as they covered the remaining distance to the throne room.

In unison they bowed to Queen Jamilla, who rose from her chair to take her predecessor's hand in a firm grip of relief. "We've been so worried about you. Both of you," she added with a look to the Jedi Master. "From the reports of the attacks on Coruscant, to the account of the battle on Geonosis. To know that two of our world's heroes are safe in the midst of war is gratifying."

Padmé saw a blush grace her beloved's features, as he came to terms with the level of high regard in which he was held by all of Naboo for his actions during the blockade. As always his humility in receiving such praise did him credit. She wished there were others who accepted such compliments as he.

"Thank you, Your Highness. I only wish I could have served you better by remaining on Coruscant for the vote. Though I am not sure my voice would have made a difference, considering what Master Kenobi and I discovered on Kamino. War is always something I have hoped the Republic would avoid," she said now to her sovereign. "It is troubling to discover that someone has worked so insidiously behind the scenes to make sure all the efforts to negotiate with the Separatists were in vain."

"How many systems have joined Count Dooku and the Separatists?" Jamilla asked.

"Thousands," Padmé answered. "And more will leave the Republic now that war with them has been officially declared. No doubt systems will leave the Separatists as well, having no desire to lose lives in what they believe is a political battle."

"It is a sad day for the Republic," Governor Bibble despaired. "There hasn't been a war since the formation."

"Do you see any way through negotiations to bring the Separatists back into the Republic?" Jamilla appealed to her Senator.

"Not if they feel threatened," Padmé replied. "Already, with the help of the Trade Federation and the Commerce Guild, they have amassed an army which cost many lives of the Jedi Order. We were fortunate that someone ordered the clones from Kamino, otherwise we would not be talking now."

"The armies of commerce," Jamilla mused. "Why has nothing been done in the Senate to restrain them?"

"I am afraid that despite the Chancellor's best efforts, there are still many bureaucrats, judges and Senators on the payroll of the guilds," Padmé revealed.

"It is outrageous that after all those hearings and four trials in the Supreme Court, Nute Gunray is still Viceroy of the Trade Federation," Governor Bibble cried. "Do those money makers control everything?"

"Remember, Counsellor, the courts were able to reduce the Trade Federation's armies," Jamilla reminded them. "Which is a step in the right direction."

"However," Padmé added, "now that we are at war with the Separatists, the size of those armies will increase once more."

"The Jedi have not been allowed to investigate and bring forth proof of their illegal activities," Obi-Wan informed them. "We were told that it would prove dangerous to the economy."

"We must keep our faith in the Republic," Jamilla remarked. "The day we stop believing democracy can work is the day we lose it."

"Let's pray that day never comes," Padmé agreed.

"And now, I believe congratulations are in order," Jamilla continued. "I had an audience with your father yesterday. Your parents are eager to meet your betrothed."

"They shall have that opportunity today," Padmé replied. "We plan to go there as soon as my duties are finished here."

"In that case let us make sure such duties are finished as soon as possible," Jamilla proposed with a smile.

Despite Jamilla's declaration it was not until the afternoon that the couple were able to leave the court for the residential district of Theed. The Naberrie house was located in a side street, the stonework of the house flourished with native wild flowers in concealed trellises, conveying the impression that the building had grown out of the earth it was erected upon, its appearance the product of a fairytale of knights and damsels in distress.

Padmé had barely reached the staircase which ascended to the door before two little girls of six and four came running down the stairs, taking care not to ruin their dresses. Brunette and blond, the nieces were little miniatures of their Aunt who Obi-Wan came to a halt to observe as she cried aloud their names and bent down to hug them when they reached the last step. He could not help but smile at the reunion, his mind imagining another in the future, only with their own offspring.

"Ryoo, Pooja, meet Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi," Padmé said after she released the two younglings, whose brown eyed gazes settled on the desert robe cloaked man that now came to stand beside their Aunt.

She watched as Obi-Wan knelt down to meet them, taking their tiny hands gently in his own large ones, his Coruscanti accent soft and warm, a smile gracing his features even as his mouth moved. Within moments the girls were charmed into easiness, chattering to their Uncle until he suggested they went to wake up Artoo, who had accompanied them, whereupon they laughed and left the Jedi to rise up so he could join their Aunt in ascending the stairs.

They entered to find the occupants gathered in the dining room, Padmé's sister emerging from the kitchen to cross the passage before them, her hands holding a large bowl of food.

"They're eating over at Jev Narran's later, Mom," Sola said over her shoulder in the direction of the room she had just left. "They just had a snack. They'll be fine." She smiled at her sister, and set the bowl down on the table before turning to greet her. "Padmé, you're late. Mom was worried."

"The Queen wanted a briefing of the current situation," Padmé explained. "Obi-Wan, this is my sister, Sola."

"Hello, Jedi Kenobi," Sola said, holding out her hand, which he took after he had inclined his head in greeting. "It's nice to finally meet you in person, instead of across comways."

"And you," Obi-Wan replied. "Please, call me Obi-Wan."

Sola nodded before leading the way into the dining room, where two other men rose from the chairs to welcome the visitor. "Obi-Wan, these are my husband Darred Janren, and my father Ruwee."

"Honoured to meet you both," Obi-Wan remarked, shaking their hands in turn.

"Mom's making dinner," Sola explained. "As usual your timing's perfect. Though I doubt you've been starving all the way from Coruscant."

Padmé smiled knowingly. "Enough to feed the whole town?"

"You know Mom," Sola remarked. "I don't know if my baby sister has told you, Obi-Wan, but no one has ever left this house hungry."

"Well one person did once," Padmé added, "but Mom chased him down and dragged him back in."

"To feed him or to cook him?" Obi-Wan queried wryly, causing everyone to chuckle.

"And this is my mother, Jobal," Padmé added as Jobal came in also bearing a large serving bowl, whose appearance resulted in the laughter increasing, until Jobal's imposing stare quieted everyone.

"You're just in time for dinner," Jobal remarked by way of greeting. "I hope you're hungry, Obi-Wan."

"A little," he replied.

"He's being polite, Mom," Padmé said smiling at him. "We're starving."

"Then you came to the right place at the right time," Ruwee remarked, gesturing for all of them to sit at the table.

"Honey, it's so good to see you safe," Jobal uttered as they began passing the serving bowls around. "We were so worried."

"Dear..." Ruwee began with a sigh.

She brushed him off. "I know, I know, but I had to say it. Now it's done."

"I was perfectly safe, Mom," Padmé assured her. "I had my Jedi protector to watch over me," she added with a smile directed at Obi-Wan, who readily returned the gesture.

Ruwee glanced at his prospective son-in-law. "Was she in danger?"

"She was," Obi-Wan replied honestly. "Her position in the Senate brings her many enemies, as you know. But she will not come to be harmed by them while she is my care, I promise you."

"Thank you," Ruwee said. "Now, when did this engagement come about? I thought the Jedi were forbidden attachment."

"It is true, we once were," Obi-Wan confirmed. "But some years ago the Master who trained me debated with the Council to extend the exception made to Corellian Jedi and Master Ki-Adi-Mundi concerning attachment. He was successful, but the majority of the Order still cling to that rule. It is something which will need to be encouraged to occur more often, with what happened on Geonosis."

"Obi-Wan and I decided ten years ago that we wanted a relationship, but it wasn't until after Geonosis that he asked me," Padmé added, blushing as she remembered how he did venture the question. "We were thinking of having the ceremony in the house at Varykino, during our stay here."

"That soon?" Jobal echoed, surprised. "It does not leave us long to prepare the ceremony, honey."

"Neither of us want a large service," Padmé explained. "Simple and quiet, with only close friends and family. The war will call Obi-Wan back to the Core soon, and myself when the Senate ends its recess. This is the only time which will suit."

"Then after this meal, we shall begin making the preparations," Jobal added with a smile.

"Sometimes I wish I'd traveled more," Ruwee confessed to Obi-Wan as they walked about the gardens after dinner, "but I must say, I'm happy here."

"Padmé tells me you teach at the university?" Obi-Wan inquired. "That must be very rewarding."

Ruwee nodded. "Yes, and before that, I was a builder. I also worked for the Refugee Relief Movement when I was very young."

"Are all Naboo interested in public service?"

"Naboo is generous," Ruwee replied. "The planet, I mean. We all have what we want. All that we could want. Food is plentiful, the climate is comfortable, the surroundings are beautiful. We are a very fortunate people and we know it. That good fortune should not be taken for granted, so we try to share and try to help. It is our way of saying that we welcome the friendship of those less fortunate, that we do not think ourselves to that which we have, but rather, that we feel blessed beyond what we deserve.

"And so we share and so we work, and in doing so, we become something larger than ourselves, and more fulfilled than one can become from idly enjoying good fortune." He turned to regard his companion with a careful gaze. "From what I hear, the Jedi are even less inured to privilege, yet they exercise the same service."

"Privilege is a relative term," Obi-Wan remarked. "Though we sacrifice our birth family and homeworld when we enter the Order, we are not denied food, shelter, money, comfort, or technology. It is because of the tendency to keep most of the traditions within our Order private, almost to the point of secrecy, that few outside the Jedi perceive the luxuries and privileges we possess. The Force has provided us with a rare gift, which we train hard to make the most of, which in turn helps the galaxy we strive to serve and protect."

"Such as those whom we love?" Ruwee ventured, a searching question from a devoted father.

Obi-Wan nodded. "I know I am probably the last man you would expect your daughter to marry, sir, but I love her. I always have, from the moment we first came to know each other on Tatooine. I am humbled, gratified and honoured that she returns my affections, and understands the hardships our married life will endure."

"Actually, you are exactly the man I expected my daughter to choose," Ruwee remarked. "Padmé has always been someone destined to help others. She has found her place in the world, earlier than most do, and despite all the dangers such a position incurs, I know she would be saddened to leave it. I also know that she could never truly fall in love with someone unless they possessed the same selfless desire to help as she. I will be honoured to gain such a son in law as you."

Obi-Wan could only incline his head in silent gratitude, his emotions too full for anything else.

"Is this you?" Obi-Wan asked, as his curious eyes caught sight of the holoframes which spanned some of one wall of Padmé's bedroom.

Night had settled over Theed a few short hours ago, the skies around the Naberrie home darkening gradually, warmed by the soft glow of the wall lamps of each room. After dinner, the family had retired to the living room, where conversation was filled with wedding plans until Sola and Darred took their family home, giving the engaged couple an excuse to retire themselves for privacy.

Padmé moved from her wardrobe and nodded. "That was when I went with the relief group to Shadda-Bi-Boran. Their sun was imploding, and the planet was dying. I was helping to relocate the children. See that little one I'm holding? His name was N'a-kee-tula, which means sweetheart." she sighed regretfully. "He was so full of life. All those kids were. They were never able to adapt to life off their native planet."

Obi-Wan sobered, turning to another holoframe. "And this one?"

"My first day as an Apprentice Legislator," Padmé replied. "Notice the difference?"

He turned, catching sight of her nightgown for the first time. Unlike the simple white shift she had worn at her apartment on Coruscant, this was made of Nubian silk, white with delicate embroidered flourishes and thin sleeve straps. As before, the material completely covered her modesty, yet the look in her dark brown eyes as she gazed into his own conveyed a sight which was equally just as alluring. Around her neck the necklace he gave her in Mos Espa hung, the purple contrasting with white.

That moment on Coruscant was disturbed by Anakin's return, who knows where that kiss might have led if they were alone. But now there would be no such interruptions. Without another word he took her into his arms, the touch of his lips to hers ending all further conversation for the rest of the night.

Part 26: The Storm Upon The Outskirts.

When Obi-Wan woke the next morning it took only the sight of the woman in his arms to bring everything about himself into clarity. For a moment he just stared at her, not thinking of anything, then he tore his gaze away to settle on the window, where through the mesh curtains he could see the Nubian sun slowly emerging above the horizon.

It had been several days since he had taken a moment to pause and reflect on everything that happened recently. Geonosis and the consequences for the Republic aside, his life was about to change forever. Yesterday he experienced something he had never known; family life. To ascribe the same word to the Order was to assign a difference to the concept. Jedi were mostly monastic, their only companion, only attachment, was the Force. They were raised from a young age to respect their comrades, justice, morals, truth, and the Force, but they were not taught to regard such things as constant, as he witnessed most families doing so.

Everything fades in time, he had said as much to Anakin only days ago. Yet, he realised now that he had been wrong, for there was one thing about his life which had never faded, his love for Padmé. From the moment he realised his feelings for her, the emotion was set deep inside himself, never to degrade. He was aware of what the code taught him about emotions, but this love somehow went beyond such connotations. The closest thing he could ascribe it to was the Force, for once he was aware of it, the being had never left him.

Like the woman he held in his arms, the Force would change, as he would change, adapting to new skills, to new events, warning him of the approaching storm he would soon be swept up in, but it would remain, always within him. To love Padmé was the same as saying he was a Jedi; the feeling defined him as surely as the Order once had. He knew what could happen to her, the dangers she was in, not only as leader of the opposition, but also as a senator, and as a woman. To deny that he would not fear these outcomes was to deny that love, yet he also knew that he was not all powerful, that there were things he could not fix. Loosing her was something he could not prevent, for she was not his to loose. She was her own person, who chose to love him, and for that he would always be grateful.

He had not realised until recently, that Qui-Gon taught him a valuable lesson aboard the Trade Federation ship ten years ago. He was mindful of the future, but not at the expense of the present. To really love someone was to savour every moment spent with them, good or bad. Fearing what the future would do to them would destroy that love, which would never die, even if the person did.

Padmé shifted minutely in her sleep, causing his gaze to switch from the sunrise back to her. The knowledge that she returned his affection still possessed the ability to astound him, even now. She could have anyone, yet she had chosen to share her life with him, fully understanding the hardships they would endure, the separation rendered by their duties in the Republic. The perception with which everyone who did not know them would view and judge their union through.

Marriage within the Jedi on Coruscant was rarely acknowledged. Master Ki-Adi-Mundi had four wives due to the customs of his endangered race, but neither they or his children ever visited the Core. A union of Jedi and Senator would be a very public sight, however discreet he and Padmé endeavoured to be. But perhaps it would challenge the current perception of the Republic, the distant regard with which Jedi and Senators were held. Or those within the Order who still regarded marriage as an incompatible concept would come to see that the benefits far outweighed the change to one's previously solitary existence. Whatever happened, they would accept it, never letting the judgement and opinions affect them, for they were who they were, nothing could change that.

For him, love had never been as alien as perhaps it was to the rest of the Order. Qui-Gon was an unconventional Master, outwardly stern and distant, a hard taskmaster, but in their private moments, he was the closest person to being a father that Obi-Wan had ever known. Their beginning may have been rocky, uncertain in the wake of Bandomeer, and when they endured a bad time after the events of Melida/Daan, but the regard had never faded.

Qui-Gon taught him the value of love after that crisis when he returned to the Order, a conversation which ultimately set him apart from every other Jedi, which made him unconventional, but still highly respected in an Order slow to change. While he acknowledged it, he never took it for granted, nor let affect who he was, for such arrogance was never in his nature. Love gave him Qui-Gon and Padmé, he knew their worth, and he would be forever grateful for it. The relationship he had with his master he had tried to pass on when he trained Anakin, but for some reason or another, it never quite truly worked. Anakin was a brother, a comrade, not a son.

Now there was a very real possibility that he would become a father as well as a husband. During their talks over the comm, he had come to learn of Padmé's desire to have a family, a notion as inherent to her as her service to Naboo and the Republic. It was something which he had never expected, nor loath or desired, simply because until Padmé came into his life, the possibility had never occurred to him. He was familiar with children, it was hard not to be in the Order, for the Jedi encouraged everyone to establish a healthy rapport with every living creature within the universe, making sure each Jedi volunteered in every part of Temple and field life, from crèche to grave. Still, he could not deny that a part of him was unsure how he would deal with his own.

The difficult moments in his relationship with Anakin, notably his failure to teach him to realise his full potential weighed upon his mind, even as Yoda declared the boy ready to take the Trials. He recalled how Qui-Gon had taken the news of Anakin's actions on Tatooine after the death of his mother. Apparently the wave of dark emotions had been felt by him and Master Yoda. Yet, while they agreed it was something to be concerned about, the act was not a barrier to Anakin's knighthood, after the Order had lost so many on Geonosis. Obi-Wan wished he could ask Anakin about the matter, but unless the boy admitted it, he would be invading his privacy, and the query would undoubtedly damage their relationship.

He was still unsure that Anakin was ready for the Trials, the boy could still be an enigma at times, unable to conceal his emotion, to discipline himself, to lose his recklessness. But then he had been like that during the last year of his padawnship, and he had never lost someone as close to him as Anakin had, so he could not judge the boy unready because of a such a dark act. Ultimately it was something he would have to monitor, from his position on the Council.

The Council. It was an honour which he had never looked for, an ambition which he had never possessed. When he thought of all the Masters within the Order, all those upon the Council, he did not imagine himself to be on par with their wisdom or their skill. At his core he was simple knight, a servant of the Republic, a man, nothing more. Yet, just as Qui-Gon had asked him to train Anakin and he pledged to do so, the Council asked, and he would obey, taking the office they presented before him. As he would serve in the war which the Republic was plunged into now.

He could not help but display a grimace at the thought of it. Aggressive negotiations were the last resort in the Order, despite all the preparation undertaken in learning lightsaber skills. Too lately combat had become the norm in carrying out justice for the Republic, the first solution instead of the last. Now he knew that someone had planned for this ten years ago, and the deception chilled him. The timing was all too convenient, the prime suspect all too obvious to be key in this complex web. Strands were missing, evidence they badly need to prove to a blinded Republic the truth. Evidence which would have to be gathered, which would take time, and he doubted that there would be enough.

A stirring in the Force caused him to realise that Padmé was close to waking. For the first time a doubt concerning their actions occurred to him. Was it really wise to marry while the Republic was sliding into the war, while the darkness beckoned towards them from the horizon? Logic told him to protect her by delaying this union once more, yet he could not find the will within himself to do so. If now was too late, then so was a decade ago, when they had just begun to love each other. To delay would be to misunderstand Qui-Gon's advice aboard the Trade Federation ship. Together they would be mindful of the dark future that was to come, but not at the expense of the moment.

"You're thinking," she murmured, her brown eyes blinking as they adjusted to the light of the dawn streaming into the room.

The oddity of her greeting made him smile. "A dreadful habit of mine. Something you'll have to remind me not to do, milady."

Now it was her turn to smile. "I thought we were beyond titles, Master Jedi."

"Milady is one title you will never loose," he answered, looking at her steadily. "There's always been something about you which demands that term to spring forth, no matter what disguise you wear."

Padmé laughed. "But there's never been a disguise when I'm with you, Obi-Wan. Easiness, comfort, safety, above all love, but never masks. I remember thinking after I first saw you glance at me in the grounds of the Palace all those years ago. That one look laid open my soul, and there was no going back." She turned, causing him to still, reminding himself to breathe as she adjusted her pose in his arms. "Now, I worry that you have begun to doubt that we should do this."

He bowed his head, accepting the truth in her memory and her words. But he would not lie, he never could, to her. "I did doubt that we should be doing this. But what we found out on Kamino has made me realise it is too late for doubts."

She nodded. "It was always too late." Her hand brushed his chin, returning his pupils to her own. "But I don't want to spend another decade of just snatched conversations, never knowing when, or if, we can see each other again. I want the memory of this," she kissed him, the depth and power in such a brief touch surprising him, "to sustain those absences, to sustain the certainty that whatever happens you will always return."

"I can't promise that, my love," he reminded her gently. "I'm not all powerful. No one in this universe is, not even the Force. Everything fades, even the stars burn out."

To hear him repeat the words she said to Anakin back in the cells on Geonosis convinced her that she had made the right choice, not that there had ever such an option for her heart in the first place. "I know, yet I cannot shake that certainty from myself. In some shape or form, you have always been there."

Obi-Wan's reply was just as sincere. "As have you."

"How can you be so calm?" Sola asked as she carefully shook the folds from the veil before placing the garment upon her sister's head.

Padmé let her hand caress the material, another smile gracing her face. "I just am. Weren't you when you married Darred?"

Sola shook her head. "No, and well you know it. I was a nervous wreck."

Her sibling smiled as she recalled that occasion. "I thought that was because you were worried the journalists would discover my presence there and blast the ceremony across the HoloNet."

"That scenario never even crossed my mind," Sola replied, to which her sister just smiled again, infuriating her all the more. "Please, tell me. Is it him? Has he used a Jedi mind trick on you?"

"No, that only works on the weak minded," Padmé explained. "But yes, it is him. I knew this day would come, from the moment we first came to know each other. I may not have imagined the ceremony or the length of time, but I knew our lives would unite like this." She sighed as Sola frowned. "I'm probably not making myself clear. His love calms me. It is as simple as that."

"Well, at least there is one calm in your life," Sola remarked as she secured the final pin and stepped away. "There, finished."

Padmé rose from her seat to survey the dress and veil in a full length mirror. This gown was part of Naberrie heritage, worn by every bride within the family. Some day it would be Ryoo who stood here, and Pooja, and her own children, in the dressing room of the house in the Lake Country, not far from the balcony where her knight was waiting for her. Recalling the words he uttered to her only this morning, the last time she was able to speak with him freely before they were swept away into a whirlwind of traditions for this short, yet life changing ritual, she knew that her wish for her children, even for her nieces to wear this gown was just that in the face of the approaching darkness.

Learning Jedi philosophy however was easier than living by it, something else he had once said to her, when he was only a little older than she was now, attempting to comfort her after she heard the forged transmission concerning the fate of her invaded homeworld, sent in an effort to trace her. Yet, she could not help feeling the truth in her reply to him, for she did feel the certainty of their survival with him, that their love would remain, even when the stars burned out. Her hand went to the piece of jewellery around her neck, the gift from Obi-Wan while they wandered through Mos Espa. The gemstones complimented the gown beautifully, almost as if the necklace was intended to be worn with it.

"It is time," her father said and she turned to face him, walking away from the mirrors to stand beside him. She saw the tears in his eyes, the myriad of emotions he felt in giving her away, without needing him to say a word.

Keeping her own silence, she squeezed the hand which reached out for hers, the look she returned him just as eloquent as his own, before they exited the room, to walk the short distance to balcony, where she would face her light in the darkness.

Obi-Wan felt her brief pause upon the threshold, and he turned, meeting her gaze. He did not need confirmation from the Force that this was right, that everything in his life had prepared him for this moment, he knew it already. Behind and before him, the holy man, friends and family invited to attend, faded from his vision, even from his ability to sense them through the Force, leaving only her, vivid in the detail. Yet he could find nothing with which to describe her appearance, even beautiful was an inadequate word. He felt certain that in years to come he would recall the way the lace clung to her skin, the way the veil crowned her hair, the simplicity and the purity which her whole form always seemed to convey. And he would call her beautiful, say that he loves her, but these words would never hope to convey all of his feelings, none ever could.

She joined him within moments, her father placing the slender smooth hand he held in his callused one, hardened by frequent lightsaber use. Her bowed head gazed upon that union, then rose to meet his blue eyes with her brown ones, as they waited patiently for the holy man before them to solemnise another joining, the ritual confirmation of what their instincts told them a long time ago.

Their ears heard the words of the priest, their minds understood the symbolic meaning behind them, yet somehow, their souls were not there to register them. Instead they were upon the stone floor within the memory of that balcony, as she recalled it ten years ago when he first described to her the nature of the Force. Where everything from themselves to the flowers which crested the trellises, to the stone panelling upon the ground, to the clouds within the sky, glowed in a halo of light. When he had taken her in his arms, and with a voice soft by her ear uttered, "See that storm upon the outskirts?"

Padmé turned, not towards the sky, but to the empty chairs signifying the guests present at their union. Yet they were not empty. Masters Windu, Jinn and Yoda were in three, not far from where they stood. And further back was Anakin, solemn and grave, trying to be happy for the woman he claimed to love, but failing abysmally, for across his face there was displayed a mixture of emotions, none of them good.

Even further back stood another figure, his features cowled from her vision, yet her mind told her that she knew him, whispering a name she refused to accept, for now. A dark cloud surrounded his form, blue lightning crackled across his figure, the sound unbearably loud, breaking the comfortable peace between them.

"So this is how liberty dies," she heard herself say, "with thunderous applause."

"Padmé," Obi-Wan uttered, and she turned to face him. "Everything fades. Even the stars burn out. The dark is generous and it is patient and it always wins, but in the heart of its strength lies its weakness: one lone candle is enough to hold it back. And love is more than a candle. Love can ignite the stars."

Behind them the lightning crackled, breaking into shards of bright, blinding light.

Part 27: Oasis.

The storm began as evening fell on Varykino, the natural conclusion to an unusually warm day in such a temperament climate as this. Clear droplets cascading down from a still blue sky, pouring down the windows, producing a vibrating hum as they bounced upon the ground. Increasing as to intensity and density, it turned flowers into fountains, stone floor balconies into stream basins, and the Senator of Naboo into a young girl who laughed as she eagerly held her hands out to welcome the drops on her skin, as it soaked her back-less pastel gown and her long dark hair. The material clung to her figure, outlining every curve, crowned by the dark gentle curled tresses, both of which glistened in the light from the villa.

"Padmé," Obi-Wan called out from the threshold of the room which led to the balcony, "you'll catch your death!"

She turned to him and laughed. "No, I won't. Come out, the view is glorious!"

To her surprise, instead of continuing to urge caution, he joined her outside, his arms coming to rest loosely around her waist as she twirled before him.

"Yes, it is," he murmured, but his blue grey eyes were only looking at her.

Padmé gazed up at him as the rain fell on his newly trimmed reddish blond hair, down his face into his beard, and then she forgot the rain pouring down her clothes and his, her hair and his, for the sound was lost in the midst of her pounding heart and his, as they kissed. It began as gently as the ones before, until their lips parted to taste, whereupon they began drinking each other in as if discovering an oasis in the midst of a desert world.

Their clothes were soaked but they made an adequate blanket. He laid her down gently upon them, his lips never leaving hers. Despite the weather they slowed the pace, knowing the mutual need to savour each facet of a moment which would never come again. To capture within their memories the way the rain drops briefly rested on her skin and his, the touches which caused each bite of pleasure, how soft her skin felt under the caresses of his callused hands, how smooth his felt under hers, the combination of tenderness and passion in which he took her, the look in her eyes and his as they became one.

Afterwards they hurried inside, Padmé watching him as he used the Force to fetch his cloak and towels, plucking the former out of the air to wrap around her, his hands lingering at the edges which rested below her face. He returned her gaze, a silent vow never verbalised before abruptly breaking away to hand her a towel and take one himself.

She watched him as she dried her hair, awed by the amount of passion hidden under his Jedi facade. She had seen him fight with such deadly precision, now she had received such devout love and here he stood calmly drying his hair. Padmé cast her eyes over him, noting his toned strength gained from years of combat training, the tight reign he was keeping on his desires, which she blushed to see the evidence of. They had been married mere hours ago, known each other for ten years, yet everything about him seemed new and wondrous to her, just as she realised from his burning gaze that it was the same of her to him.

He turned to her, catching her look, and his movements slowed. The towel fell to the floor as he came towards her, and with a swift elegant movement swept her into his embrace. Her towel and then his cloak dropped to the floor in rapid succession.

They left the jumbled mess in the wake of their journey to the bed where he lay her down with infinite care and grace, and she pulled him on top of her with an understated rush. Skin met skin in an effort to sate desires both knew would never tire, despite the inability to restrain the urgency they felt in uniting them. Shyness and hesitancy due to this new depth of intimacy between them had long since given way to boldness, though the initiator always carried out an eloquent search within their gaze for consent before going following through. Always the inquiry would prove needless for refusal was never given, but manners were too much a part of their natures to rescind even when they were alone.

Afterwards he would gather her into his arms, a brief pause to savour what had passed between them, to relish in the knowledge that many more such intimate unions would now be a frequent part of their lives together.

"Did you have any suitors after I was gone?" he asked her, suddenly curious.

She shook her head, the motion tickling his chest with her dark brown tresses. "Not after you were gone. Before, when I was in the last years of the Apprentice Legislature. His name was Palo. He had dark curly hair, dreamy eyes..."

"I get the picture," he remarked, his hand brushing the curves of her breasts, almost as if to remind her of his presence. "What happened?"

"He went on to become an artist, and I was elected Princess of Theed." She turned her head slightly to look at him. "What about you? Was there anyone while you waited for me?"

"No one after you," he replied, "but two before you. When I was thirteen, Qui-Gon and I were sent to mediate with the elders and youth of Melida/Daan."

"I remember hearing about the rebellion," Padmé said. "What happened?"

"The youth cause became important to me," he answered. "Before I realised it, I started questioning everything I had worked so hard to achieve. Then I met Cerasi. She was beautiful, passionately concerned for her people, eloquent, intelligent. I told Qui-Gon that I loved her and wanted to leave the Order for her, for there was no way a Jedi could marry then, let alone a Padawan, especially one so young as I. For I was young, too young to understand what I wanted. Or what I felt. She died in my arms during the battle."

Padmé brushed the back of his hands with her own, silently offering condolences. "And the other?" she asked.

"Qui-Gon and Yoda allowed me to rejoin the Order. A few years later I was reunited with a friend, Siri Tachi. We'd always felt a brief attraction, and when Qui-Gon was haranguing the Council over extending the Corellian experiment, we entertained the possibility of having a closer relationship. But the attraction I felt faded the moment I laid eyes on you." He smiled, remembering the moment. "When I wanted to kiss your neck after I fastened that necklace on you, I knew you were in my heart, even though it was hardly proper for me to feel such emotions for a girl eleven years my junior back then."

She smiled at having her suspicions about that moment in their past confirmed. "Age was never a pause for thought for either of us. Our hearts were in too deep before we learned to practise caution. Is she still in the Order?"

"Yes, she and her Padawan are on a field mission, which is why she did not come with Bant, Reeft and Garen to the ceremony."

"That reminds me, something odd occurred then," and she went on to describe the vision she saw in her mind whilst they stood before the holy man.

Obi-Wan stilled as he came to understand the symbolism contained within. "Let's pray it was a warning," he murmured. "And the end means that the light will triumph over the storm which is coming."

Then he kissed her, driving the vision and every other thought out of her mind.

"I'd like to bring our children here," Padmé remarked, "if we can."

Obi-Wan turned his gaze upon her, unable to do naught but admire the contented picture she presented to him as she lay in his lap within the fields near the waterfalls of Varykino. Sunlight caressed everything from the droplets within the fountains and pools to the dew drying blades of grass they and the remains of their picnic rested upon. As it caressed her tanned arms and pale yellow flower embroidered dress, the same one she had worn when she presented him with a proposal ten years ago in the palace at Theed, along with the parts of her brown hair not sheltered by his face or arms, or the clasped weaved nets.

"How many do you want?" He asked her.

"Three," she answered promptly. "That was how many I imagined when you first mentioned them. Two girls and a boy running about these fields while you and I watched them as we are now."

Strands of her recollection drifted into his mind, making him smile. "We shall, whenever our leaves permit."

"Can you raise and teach your own children?" Padmé inquired.

"The Corellian Jedi do, so I see no reason why not," Obi-Wan replied. "Though it might be wise for them to know the ways of the Temple, the war could insure our absence frequently."

She didn't need to query his assumption concerning the length of the war, they had been delaying the conflict so long, years of battles seemed inevitable. Not for the first time she wondered what impact their absences would have on their children. "How do you feel about that?" she asked him.

"I cannot ignore that it will have an effect on them," he replied. "But I hope it will not be too long. It will never change my feelings for them, though, or for you."

Padmé knew it would not, even before he spoke such assurance. "Sometimes I feel selfish for taking this time now."

Obi-Wan nodded in agreement. "I don't know if there is much else we can do. There's only the fledging of a case, and all too soon the war will call us back." he paused, relishing the quietness and peacefulness which seemed to surround them, as if Varykino would be a haven to them from all the sorrows of the Republic's twilight. "It may seem trite, but the Force tells me to take this while we can, or we may never have another chance."

That advice from the Force never left their minds throughout their stay in the Lake Country. While it did nothing to sour the time they spent in the house, fields and the waterfalls, the words and the meaning behind them remained within their minds, serving to make the time profound and deep, a sacred series of moments they would carry within them always.

Time passed slowly, the Force was on their side, as they learned to live with each other day after day, to deepen the intimacy between them which had existed since they first met. Waking up together was still a novelty, despite their lives spent each with a sizeable household, there had still been times when they knew solitude, and now such time would only happen when they were apart, doing their duty. Knowledge of each other's habits, past, and opinions was another, for their natural reserve and distrust concerning security over the comways created a barrier over their more private personas.

It took time for them to realise that they had no need to test the waters between them, that they could express a dislike for aspects of each other's vocations, without one or the other being hurt by the feeling or opinion. Respect for the differences between them had long been one of the foundations of their relationship, something distance never destroyed. Days soon became filled with debates, another method of foreplay in expressing their love. Valuable insight was even gained due to the airing of some topics, as bit by bit they came to know how the other spent their life when they were apart.

What surprised Padmé the most was Obi-Wan's willingness to teach her anything she wanted to know about the Jedi, including lightsaber combat. It was a long held opinion of the Republic in general that the Order was mysterious by nature, rarely showing their gifts to outsiders. Keepers of the peace they may be, but few earned the privilege of seeing those gifts put into action. The Masters and Knights who weren't charmingly dismissive of their abilities or the curiosity shown by others, were arrogant to the point of intellectual snobbery. Obi-Wan however, as she had learned a long time ago, was an unconventional Jedi and held no doubt that his wife would be just able at handling a saber as well as she handled a blaster.

"If you're in trouble and I can't get to you, I'll be slightly calmer knowing you can use anything in range," he explained when she asked him why. The possibility that she might be facing someone else with a lightsaber remained unspoken.

She soon discovered that the Force was no impediment to handling a lightsaber, once the user adjusted to the weight of the hilt, combat with the weapon resembled the higher complex styles of fencing. Fighting with a sword was another of the self-defence methods Captain Panaka had taught her and her handmaidens when she elected Princess of Theed; so it did not take long before her husband came to realise that she was a quick study, the level of her ability in the Force the only barrier to reaching his level of swordsmanship which, while he never believed others who referred to him as one of the most formidable warriors within the Order, he accepted that he was just as competent as any Master Jedi.

Padmé strongly sided with the former, an opinion founded on the security recordings of the encounter with the Sith at the Palace, and fortified by the moments when she would wake to find that she had slept in, and he was practising Katas outside. Free of tunic, the thin short sleeve shirt and trousers he wore to protect himself from the elements of the dawn served only to remind her of his physical attractiveness, which, as she had come to learn during their new intimacy, had aged as well as his face. Her mind sometimes drifted as she observed him, mainly to pause and reflect on what she had learned about him. In many ways he was still an enigma, some parts of his character as yet undiscovered by her inquisitive nature. That was half the attraction, the knowledge that she would never quite learn everything about him, even though he was more open and vulnerable with her than he ever was with anyone else.

His generous nature astounded her, even now. In the company of others, for there was a discreet kitchen staff at the lake house who left the supplies of foodstuffs that would sustain them while they were here, he was charm itself, but there was always a certain distance which the charmed never discovered until afterwards, when they had time to pause and reflect, and realised that the Jedi had purposefully revealed nothing of substance.

But when they were alone, amongst the lush greenery of the fields, the warm water in the lakes which his eyes reminded her of, or inside the house when the staff departed, that charm adapted to reveal his intelligence, his passionate side, his vulnerability, the emotions Jedi claimed to let go of, when really they were carefully controlled behind a disciplined mind.

She recalled back to the moments they spent on Tatooine, and realised that he had never hidden from her, she'd become a confidant from the earliest moments of their acquaintance. A result of her insistent curiosity or of the Force? Probably a little of both she decided. Though he had needed someone to confide in back then, they both did, swept into a crisis neither had any idea was likely just the first stage in a insidious plan to destroy the very thing they worked so hard to serve. Confidences between them was another foundation of their relationship, the comfort in knowing that neither would judge the other on the beliefs they confessed to hold, or the worries they harboured deep within. Something they would need for the future, she was sure of that.

Obi-Wan activated his lightsaber to continue the Katas, and for a moment Padmé's thoughts were broken by the steady hum, a sudden disturbance to the peace of this Nubian dawn. She marvelled at how the blue blade was an extension of his body, never coming close to harming him. A stray memory then slipped into the forefront of her mind, the moment when she had requested the surveillance tapes of the duel in the melting shaft from Captain Panaka.

Her chief of security had been confused by the inquiry, perhaps less so than when she abandoned negotiations with the Neimoidians in order to verify the truth of what she first saw in that vast room; a grieving apprentice couched over a dying mentor, but puzzled nonetheless. It took her a long time before she could actually bring herself to watch the tapes, knowing they would be hard viewing even with the knowledge that Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon had survived against the odds.

When the courage finally rose within her to follow through with her initial curiosity, there was surprise as to why she hadn't given in sooner. Caution over what was to come gave way to fascination as she observed the opening moves of the Jedi and the Sith, the techniques they used in combat, the noise from the constant hum of the lightsaber blades, punctuated by sharper decibels each time red clashed with blue and green.

By the time Obi-Wan fell from the catwalk Padmé found herself utterly wrapped up in the events with no thought as to the end result. Her emotions were just as conflicted as his was when he cried out through the laser shields as the Sith impaled his Master. And her heart stilled as she forgot to breathe when he fell over the edge into the melting shaft. She flinched as the Sith slashed the edge of the circular hole, the lightsaber causing sparks to fly from the cables which enclosed the perimeter.

Then everything within her jumped as Obi-Wan suddenly leapt from the depth of the pit and one swift movement snatched Qui-Gon's lightsaber from where it fell to disembowel the Sith. Tears fell from her eyes when he deactivated the blade to drop to the floor and gather his Master into his arms. How he managed to enforce a healing trance Padmé did not know, and she was surprised when Obi-Wan confessed to her that, still to this day, he didn't either.

Memory of this was brought on by his lightsaber teachings. Padmé had been surprised to be given his saber to use while Obi-Wan duelled with Qui-Gon's old one. She thought it would be returned to the Jedi Master after the fight with the Sith. However, as her husband had explained, both he and Qui-Gon constructed new ones upon their return to Coruscant, the Master bestowing his old saber as a gift to the Padawan when he passed his formal trials. She had found it odd that an Order who claimed to forbid possession would let sabers become the exception to that rule.

Padmé allowed a smile to grace her features as she recalled asking if she could construct her own. Obi-Wan replied that it would be unwise for a Senator to show such knowledge of the Force to have a saber attuned to their body in times as these. Then followed their first fencing bout, the end result turning into a tussle on the floor which was a precursor to foreplay of a more sensual kind.

As if he had sensed the direction of her thoughts- it was very likely -Obi-Wan powered down his weapon and opened his eyes to meet hers with a charming smile. Clipping the saber to his belt, he straightened his posture before making his way over to her.

"You slept late this morning," he observed, dropping gracefully to his knees before her as she lounged on the bed.

Padmé shrugged. "You say this like it's an unusual event."

Concern crested his features. "It didn't used to be." Closing his eyes, he tentatively touched the fragile tendrils of the Force which resided inside her mind, seeking for a change in the currents. Sensing nothing apparent on the surface he delved deeper, sifting through the layers as any archaeologist would when confronted with a dig site. The difference, when he did find it, was slight, but even at this stage noticeable. Concern gave way to peace, one which he had never known before, nor expected to encounter.

By the time he opened his eyes, his wife was considerably worried. "Obi-Wan, just tell me what's wrong?"

"Nothing, my love," he replied, rising from his knees to take his place beside her upon the bed. "Quite the contrary in fact."

She watched him with varying mixture of emotions, all of them displayed upon her face, free of the politician's mask since their first moment of intimacy like this on Geonosis. His smile grew as his mind contemplated the obvious conclusions, it was about right, after all, caution was the last thing on their minds at that moment. But he kept his silence, waiting for her to speak. Equality and honesty, two of the foundations of their union, along with intelligence and strength. It made for a compelling combination.

A smile eventually came to caress her mouth once more, one full of promise and mystery, the ever alluring temptation before which he would always willingly surrender. "How long do you think?"

"I am uncertain. Since Geonosis, perhaps?" He raised a eyebrow to accompany the inquiry. "You would know more about this than I, my love."

Padmé nodded distractedly as her own mind contemplated the math. "I wonder if we'll be lucky enough to be together when the time comes?"

He frowned at her, the full impact of the expression belied by the utter joy displayed across his azure pupils. Softly he quoted part of the Code. "'There is no luck, there is the Force.'" Then with an extra degree of gentleness, he took her into his arms and surrendered to that temptation.

End of Episode II.

Episode I: Azure & Gold

Episode III: The Sapphire Shaft.

Episode IV: Before The Altar.

© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 2021. All rights reserved.