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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 16: What Misconceptions May Prevent.

Obi-Wan may have let the words take flight within the Force, but he had doubted that there would be a truth to them. During the years since her term as Senator began, on the rare occasions whenever they were on Coruscant at the same time, their duties allowed them little time together beyond the usual brief acknowledgement in passing as they walked along the corridors of the Senate, or if they passed each other in traffic. He had not accounted for the Chancellor asking that his former sovereign was placed under the protection of the Order, or for Palpatine to suggest that he should be in charge of said protection. Not that he was unhappy with the decision, because it might give him and Padmé the opportunity to talk about things which neither felt comfortable saying over the com.

However, assigning him meant assigning his padawan. A few years ago Qui-Gon would have taken the reins of responsibility concerning the Chosen One from him, but his former Master was no longer able to leave the Temple for field missions. His health was increasingly erratic, the seizures more and more frequent, each one worse than the one before. Just before he and Anakin were sent to Ansion, one took hold of Qui-Gon, grounding him in the healers ward. It had taken a great deal of persuasion to call the padawan from his beside. Even now that they had returned, the boy's emotions were still conflicted, making Obi-Wan doubt that the Council was right to obey the Chancellor in giving them this assignment.

"You seem a little on edge, Anakin," he observed now, glancing at his companion in the turbolift as it rose upward towards the apartment of the Senator from Naboo.

"Not at all," Anakin lied.

"I haven't felt you this tense since we fell into that nest of gundarks," Obi-Wan added, ignoring the lie in his attempt to get the young man to calm.

"You fell into that nightmare, Master, and I rescued you, remember?" Anakin reminded him pointedly.

"Oh yes," Obi-Wan chuckled, causing the Padawan to smile. "You're sweating. Relax. Take a deep breath."

"I haven't seen her in ten years, Master," Anakin said as he admitted the true source of his anxiety at last.

"She's not the Queen anymore, Anakin," Obi-Wan reminded him.

"That's not why I'm nervous," his Padawan murmured.

You're not the only one, Obi-Wan thought, allowing the words to pass no further than the privacy of his own mind. He recalled one of the last times he had talked with her before they left Naboo, the constant desire to behave rationally, to make allowances for her youth, and in the end she had been the one who offered the mature proposal. He wondered if she still felt the same way. His feelings had changed it was true, but only in the sense that they were deeper and better founded.

He remembered holding her on the platform, the remains of the explosion behind her, the way she clung to him as she poured out her grief. She had grown more beautiful in the month since he last saw and spoke to her, if that were possible. He hoped that the death of her decoy and handmaiden did not grieve her too much. Her compassion for others was one of the many things he loved about her, but often compassion could lead to one's undoing, as he recalled her affectionate promise to his padawan all those years ago on her ship. She had no idea of course that Anakin would take the words in the way that he did, but that one moment was bound to cause them trouble in the future.

The turbolift came to a halt and Knight and Padawan stepped out to walk into the reception hall of the apartment, coming face to face with a joyful and overly enthusiastic Gungan, who thanks to his anxiety the night before made no reference in his greeting to the fact that Obi-Wan had been here yesterday. The Jedi was grateful for that discretion, unintentional it may be, for the knowledge of such an event was hardly likely to eliminate Anakin's present internal conflict.

"Obi! Obi! Obi! Mesa sooo smilen to seein yousa. Wahooooo!" Jar Jar cried.

The Gungan's enthusiasm was infectious. Obi-Wan smiled as he shook the large hands that reached out to greet him. "It's good to see you, too, Jar Jar. You remember my apprentice, Anakin Skywalker?"

Jar Jar grew even more excited. "Noooooooo! Ani? Noooooooo! Little bitty Ani? Noooooooo! Yousa so biggen! Yiyiyiyyi! Ani!!"

"Hi, Jar Jar," Anakin replied before his breath was taken away as the Gungan swept him up into a hug.

"Shesa expecting yousa. Ani... Mesa no believen!"

Obi-Wan's gaze moved from his apprentice to take in the rest of the room, a motion which he did not have the time to do so the night before. As with most apartments belonging to the Senators, the rooms seemed to a reminder of home, and every inch of this apartment displayed the beauty of Naboo.

"Mesa here. Lookie... lookie... Senator. Desa Jedi arriven," Jar Jar declared as he led the Jedi towards the Senator.

Padmé broke from her conference with Dormé and Captain Typho to step forward and greet her new protectors.

Obi-Wan bowed before her. "It's a great pleasure to see you again, Milady."

"It has been far too long, Master Kenobi," Padmé uttered as she took his hand. "I'm so glad our paths have crossed again. But I must warn you that I think your presence here is unnecessary."

He smiled at her, his understanding unspoken, yet heard as always. "I'm sure the Jedi Council has their reasons."

She turned to his apprentice, whom she had not seen since their farewell on Naboo, for it was much more difficult for Padawans to leave the temple in search of acquaintances than it was for their Knights and Masters. "Ani? My goodness, you've grown."

Anakin tried for smoothness and as usual forgot the other half of Yoda's most quoted doctrine, thus failing abysmally. "So have you... grown more beautiful, I mean... and much shorter... for a Senator, I mean."

Obi-Wan turned to glare at him for crossing the lines of protocol once more, but Padmé just laughed, letting the meaning behind the sentence disappear. "Oh Ani, you'll always be that little boy I knew on Tatooine."

As his apprentice fell into embarrassed silence, Obi-Wan spoke again. "Our presence will be invisible, Milady, I can assure you."

"I'm very grateful you're here, Master Kenobi," Captain Typho remarked. "The situation is more dangerous than the Senator will admit."

Padmé shook her head as she found a seat, gesturing for the Jedi to do also. "I don't need more security, I need answers. I want to know who is trying to kill me."

"We're here to protect you Senator, not to start an investigation," Obi-Wan declared firmly, too firmly for his apprentice's liking.

Anakin forgot his embarrassment in face of his anxiety over her safety. "We will find out who's trying to kill you Padmé, I promise you."

Obi-Wan turned to him with a telling look. "We will not exceed our mandate, my young Padawan learner!"

"I meant in the interest of protecting her, Master, of course," Anakin rapidly tried to rephrase his assurance.

But as usual Obi-Wan saw through the cover. "We will not go through this exercise again, Anakin. And you will pay attention to my lead."

His words, the dressing down infront of Senator Amidala was too much for the young apprentice to take. "Why?"

"What?" Obi-Wan exclaimed with a calmness that was almost deadly. More and more lately, Anakin was questioning the rule of Council, chafing under their orders. Another reason why his Trials were delayed, though he had yet to realise it.

Anakin ignored the rising temper of his Master and continued to push his point home. "Why else do you think we were assigned to protect her, if not to find the killer? Protection is a job for local security. It's overkill, Master. Investigation is implied in our mandate."

"We will do exactly as the Council has instructed," Obi-Wan replied. "And you will learn your place, young one."

"Perhaps with merely your presence, the mysteries surrounding this threat will be revealed," Padmé diplomatically remarked, ending the disagreement. "Now, if you will excuse me, I will retire."

She rose to her feet and the Jedi followed suit, Obi-Wan adding a bow to the etiquette. But like his apprentice, his eyes continued to observe her as she left their presence in favour of the peaceful atmosphere of her rooms.

"Well, I know I feel a lot better having you here," Captain Typho admitted. "I'll have an officer situated on every floor and I'll be in the control centre downstairs."

"Thank you, Captain," Obi-Wan replied. "I promise you we will make sure this does not interfere with the Senator's duties. I know how important it is that she continues to carry them out during these times."

"Mesa busten wit happiness seein yousa again, Ani," Jar Jar said. "Deesa bad times, bombad times."

"She hardly recognised me, Jar Jar," Anakin uttered forlornly, sounding very much the little boy Padmé remembered. "I've thought about her every day since we parted, and she's forgotten me completely."

Jar Jar shrugged. "Shesa happy. Happier den mesa seein her in longo time."

Obi-Wan turned from Typho to his apprentice, knowing the boy needed activity before his emotive thoughts ruled him once more. "Anakin, you're focusing on the negative again. Be mindful of your thoughts. She was pleased to see us. Now lets check the security here."

"Yes, my master," Anakin replied.

Later that night, when Anakin had left the apartment to check in with the healers at Temple concerning Qui-Gon, Padmé left her room and joined Obi-Wan on the balcony.

"Milady," he bowed.

She walked forward until she was directly before him, a vision in a simple white shift, which hung loosely around her upper arms, her long dark hair pulled back into a high half ponytail, the dark curled strands cascading down her back. He noticed the chain encircling her neck, and followed the links to the end, whereupon he discovered the gift he gave her in the sands of Mos Espa ten years ago. "I'm surprised to meet again when so little has changed."

"Anakin has grown," Obi-Wan replied, puzzled as to her meaning.

"In some ways," she agreed. "In others he is still that little boy we met on Tatooine." Her hand reached out to where his were folded against his chest. "Just as you are still the knight who jumped from a palace passageway to rescue me."

Now her meaning was unmistakable. Obi-Wan allowed a hopeful smile to grace his face, letting her part his hands to stroke one of the palms with hers. "And you, milady, are still the Queen in disguise."

She understood him, as he had known she would. "Where has Ani gone to?"

"He's checking in with the Healers at the Temple," Obi-Wan replied.

"Qui-Gon's condition is worsening?" Padmé astutely inquired.

"Gradually," Obi-Wan answered. "Paradoxically. Anakin was told recently, which has heightened his emotions lately. We had hoped to keep it from him until he was ready for his trials, but Qui-Gon suffered an attack before we departed for Ansion, bringing the illness and truth out into the open."

"Do you need to continue to train him until his trials?" she asked.

"That depends on Qui-Gon," he replied. "And on Anakin."

Padmé frowned. "It appears our duties will soon part us again," she murmured.

"Perhaps," he allowed. "Neither of us are tied to one planet anymore however."

"And the Force has caused us to spend some time together," she added.

"I'm certainly not one to argue with the Force," he agreed.

"Then why don't we make use of this time it has given us?" she suggested.

"When your life is at risk?" Obi-Wan asked her. "I would not be the Jedi you believe me to be if I surrendered to that temptation."

"Obi-Wan, I have faith in your ability to protect and love me," Padmé assured him. "And if we wait, when you have found those who are after me, you'll be sent on another mission, and we will be parted again."

He looked at her, accepting her point, but still reluctant to risk her life by dividing his attention, though both would be focused on her. "Padmé, I cannot refuse you anything. But even assuming your safety, separation is a necessary part of our lives. I am a Jedi, and you are a Senator. What ever the outcome of this mission, we will have to endure some distance between us, frequently. Are you sure?"

She moved closer, her arms climbing to wrap themselves around his neck, mirroring the movement she had made when they first kissed, that brief affirmation during a separation, on Tatooine, all those years ago. Her lips touched his gently, tentatively, still a little unsure that he would agree. "Yes," she uttered, the word blowing warm breath into his mouth.

Obi-Wan barely allowed the word to finish before he kissed her, wrapping his arms around her waist, pressing one against her back while raising the other in a sensuous journey upwards to entangle in her hair. As she kissed him back he pressed her closer to him, seeking to feel no barrier between them, even air. Their lips touched and parted as they had longed to all those years ago in Mos Espa, but without the restraint of their positions from then, for now he was a Knight and Master to a Padawan, she a Senator, their love was no longer made to wait. The Force broke in chorus around them, a joyful salutation which he remembered hearing that first time, only more eloquent, more devout. He wanted more of her, and he knew from her response that she was equally desirous of him, but the Force had also warned him to the return of a witness, who would not take well to seeing the crush his heart had harboured for ten years shattered so right before his eyes.

He pulled himself gently from her embrace. "Anakin," he murmured, his tone enough to remind her to distance herself from him, and return to her bedchamber, so by the time his Padawan was pressing the door release to the main room, Obi-Wan was alone within, rising from a meditative pose on the sofa.

"How is Qui-Gon?" he asked, calling the wondering gaze of his apprentice to come to rest upon him.

"Recovering," Anakin replied. "He agrees with me that investigation is implied within our mandate."

Obi-Wan frowned. This was another piece of the Padawan's behaviour which alarmed him more and more of late; the constant determination to pit his and Qui-Gon's styles of teaching against one another. His former Master's affection for the boy forced him to become the disciplinarian, a role he did not relish. "At some point we may be called upon to track down the source behind the attacks on Senator Amidala. But for now our role is to protect."

Anakin nodded, his thoughts displayed across his face, clearly now occupied elsewhere. Obi-Wan noted the shadows underneath his eyes, recalling their presence during the mission to Ansion. "You look tired."

"I don't sleep well anymore," Anakin admitted.

"Because of your mother?" Obi-Wan sought to confirm what he and Qui-Gon suspected to be the source of their Padawan's recent anxiety.

Their apprentice sighed. "I don't know why I keep dreaming about her now. I haven't seen her since I was little."

"Dreams pass in time," Obi-Wan reminded him.

"I'd rather dream of Padmé," Anakin revealed. "Just being around her again is intoxicating."

"Be mindful of your thoughts, Anakin, they betray you," Obi-Wan remarked, inwardly aware that he was walking a fine line between his own emotions as well as that of his Padawan. "You've made a commitment to the Jedi Order, a commitment not easily broken. While you are still a Padawan such thoughts are forbidden. And don't forget she's a politician. They're not to be trusted."

"She's not like the others in the Senate, Master," Anakin protested.

"It's been my experience that Senators are only focused on pleasing those who fund their campaigns," Obi-Wan argued in the hope that it would make his apprentice see maturity. "And they are more than willing to forget the niceties of democracy to get those funds."

But as usual it was a vain one in favour of the Padawan's dimming enthusiasm concerning his teaching methods. "Not another lecture, Master. Not on the economics of politics. And besides, you're generalising. The Chancellor doesn't appear to be corrupt."

Obi-Wan held reservations over that. "Palpatine's a politician. I've observed that he is very clever at following the passions and prejudices of the Senators."

"I think he is a good man," Anakin protested. "My instincts are very positive about..." abruptly he broke off, turning towards the bedroom where Padmé was sleeping.

The Knight was already moving towards the source of the disturbance he detected in the Force. "I sense it, too."

Anakin was the faster and reached their destination first, bursting through into the bedroom to find two Kouhuns crawling across the bed towards the sleeping Senator. Rapidly he leapt upon the bed, drawing out his lightsaber to slash the creatures in half, killing them.

Padmé woke and instinctively shied away from the bright laser sword, her gaze almost running from Anakin's harsh one to that of his Master.

Obi-Wan met her eyes only for a moment, before his caught a slight movement outside the large shuttered window. He then broke into a run, crashing through the glass to catch the assasin probe in his arms before it could take flight.

A shocked gasp escaped her at this display of his abilities, and she turned in time to hear Anakin ordering her to stay here before running out of the room to help his Master.

Typho and Dormé entered the room then, the latter sitting upon the bed before her. "Are you all right, Milady?" she asked.

Padmé nodded, her gaze moving back towards the broken window, where Obi-Wan had disappeared. The reality of what had just happened was only now beginning to sink through. She glanced at the remains of the Kouhuns upon her bed, knowing them to be poisonous. Yet she could not help but think that Obi-Wan had taken the greater risk by grabbing the droid who transported them, in the hope that the machine would lead him to the assassin.

"You need to move out of here, Senator," Typho commanded, and Dormé rose from the bed to fetch a dressing gown.

"I wouldn't be able to sleep anyway," Padmé informed them as she stood, letting her handmaiden place the robe about her shoulders. She headed for the living area.

Captain Typho followed her and Dormé. "I'll call maintenance and have them clean the area once the evidence has been examined," he remarked.

"Thank you, Captain," Padmé uttered as she sank down on to one of large sofas where she had been talking with Obi-Wan and Anakin mere hours before. The memory of that discussion was too poignant for her to remain settled and she rose once more to pace near the balcony, knowing Typho and Dormé would not allow her to go out upon it and keep watch for the two men which occupied her thoughts.

Where were they now, she asked herself, almost fearing to imagine the journey Obi-Wan was taking, at the mercy of the probe, dodging and weaving through the airborne traffic until Anakin presumably caught up with him in a transport. The moment he broke into a run and leapt through her window haunted her mind, which unconsciously seemed to have slowed the pace of it down, allowing her to see the skill behind it, the miraculous talent of the Force. She often dreamt of the time he had shown it to her, all those years ago on Tatooine, when their love was somehow innocent, despite the threat to herself and her world. In the decade since then he must have gown in his ability to use the Force, just as Anakin had gown in height and into his own powers, though clearly not in control of his emotions.

She had felt the conflict from him and she was borderline Force sensitive. Obi-Wan had confided in her during their conversations over coms about his doubts concerning the boy, his uncertainty in his teaching style, how Qui-Gon's methods often forced him into being sterner than he would have liked. She saw that earlier this evening, as Anakin questioned the meaning behind Council's mandate concerning her. Clearly the boy lacked control of his emotions, the discipline which Obi-Wan had seemed more secure in when he was a Padawan.

Padmé wondered if he had been like that when he was Anakin's age, for when she first saw him he was five years older, yet even as she contemplated the thought, she could not make it reality. She recalled her conversations with Ani a decade ago, contrasting the man whom she had seen now, and not liking the result. He had wanted to become a Jedi so much. Yet now the apprenticeship seemed to be hanging over him like a shadow, becoming a burden he was unprepared for. Obi-Wan had questioned ten years ago if it was right to take him into the Temple, and she now feared that he had been right to do so.

Part 17: Persuasions.

It was dawn before either of them returned, as the light from the artificial orbital mirrors which magnified and reflected the heat and light from the sun that Coruscant encircled slowly cast itself over the vast metropolis. Padmé felt herself relax as Obi-Wan and Obi-Wan alone entered the apartment, his unharmed appearance and expression of Jedi composure assuring her that nothing untoward had occurred.

"I left Anakin to make the report to the Council," he explained after he came to halt before her, bowing slightly. "I thought you would want to know what happened too."

Padmé was pleased that he had understood her so well. "Thank you, I do." she turned to usher him to the sofas, her pleasure increasing as he chose to sat down beside her. Dormé was overseeing the cleanup in her bedroom, while Typho was monitoring security in the control room downstairs, leaving them alone in each other's company.

Obi-Wan told her all that occurred to him and Anakin the night before, his report concise yet detailed, allowing her to imagine the tense journey he took at the control of the droid, the wild ride in the transport with Anakin, the trap sprung on the assassin before she died at the hands of the bounty hunter who hired her.

"What do you do now?" she asked him.

"I imagine the Council will order us to track down the bounty hunter," Obi-Wan replied. "While you are escorted home to Naboo."

Padmé frowned immediately. "I will not run away, not while the vote for the Military Creation Act is being decided. My absence will give those who sent the assassins after me exactly what they want."

He almost winced at her response, the sense of it logical and reasonable. "I will try and convey that to the Council, though I doubt they will comply with your wishes, milady. As their actions showed last night, these assassins can attack you anywhere while you are here. They may even feel desperate enough to attempt something while you are in the Senate."

"And would it not follow that they might try something while I hide away on my homeworld?" Padmé countered.

Obi-Wan smiled. "Of course, you are right, milady. Well they might."

"So I can stay here then," Padmé decided. "Although there are too many high rise buildings for you to jump out of. I fear for your safety as much as mine."

"There's no need," he assured her with a warm smile. "I have the Force watching over me. As I watch over you." He leaned forward, intending to kiss her. The door chime sounded suddenly, causing him to rise. "Anakin," he uttered, glancing at the chrono across from them. "I did not realise so much time had passed."

Padmé followed him to the door. "You will see me soon, have no doubt of that, Master Jedi."

He smiled at her. "May the Force be with you until then, milady."

She pressed the release and the door slid back to reveal Anakin, who seemed surprised to see Obi-Wan with her. Master and Padawan acknowledged each other with no more than a glance before the former exited the apartment.

"The Council has ordered for me to escort you home, Padmé," Anakin announced grandly, causing her to frown.

"Just you?" she queried.

"Obi-Wan will track down the bounty hunter," Anakin explained.

"I do not like this idea of hiding," Padmé replied, turning away from him and walking towards her room.

Dormé looked up from her packing as soon as they entered. "Chancellor Palpatine left a message, milady, which I took the liberty of reading. He asks you to comply with the advice given by the Jedi Council."

"Thank you, Dormé," she replied. "Could you find Jar Jar for me? I will need to impress upon him what he needs to do in my absence."

Her handmaiden nodded and left them alone.

Anakin smiled. "Don't worry, now that the Council has ordered an investigation, it won't take Master Obi-Wan long to find this bounty hunter."

Padmé turned a hard look on him, annoyed at his casual overrule of her wishes. "I haven't worked for a year to defeat the Military Creation Act not to be here when its fate is decided!"

"Sometimes we have to let go of our pride and do what is requested of us," Anakin observed.

The words and tone seemed to her very patronising, provoking her to respond in kind. "Pride?!? Ani, you're young, and you don't have a very firm grip on politics. I suggest you reserve your opinions for some other time."

"Please don't call me that," Anakin said.

"What?" she asked.

"When you say Ani it's like I'm still a little boy, and I'm not."

Padmé breathed deeply, aware she was taking her frustrations out on the wrong person. "I'm sorry, Anakin. It's impossible to deny that you've grown up."

"Master Obi-Wan manages not to see it," Anakin replied, turning away from her, moving to the area by the window, outside which a droid was still repairing. "What was he doing here just now anyway?"

She knew this was a touchy subject, but she had to say something in his defence. "Mentors have a way of seeing more of our faults than we would like. It's the only way we grow. As for your question, he thought I would want to know what had happened last night. And I did."

"Don't get me wrong," Anakin added, "Obi-Wan is a great mentor, as wise as Master Yoda and as powerful as Master Windu. I am truly thankful to be his apprentice. But in some ways, I'm ahead of him. I'm ready for the trials. I know I am! He knows it too. But he feels I'm too unpredictable. He's holding me back."

She watched him as he used the Force to float one of the ornamental balls from a nearby dish. Was the motion unconscious, or another desire to show off to her? For the moment she gave him the benefit of the doubt. "That must be frustrating."

"It's worse," Anakin replied petulantly. "He's overly critical! He never listens! He just doesn't understand. It's not fair!"

Padmé laughed at his tone. "I'm sorry, you sounded exactly like that little boy I once knew, when he didn't get his way."

"I'm not whining! I'm not." Anakin protested.

"Anakin, I didn't say it to hurt you," she remarked, disconcerted by the underlying anger in his tone. "Just don't try to grow up too fast."

"I am grown up," he said, looking at her intensely. "You said it yourself."

She had to turn away, the dark gaze was too intense not to feel intimidated by. "Please don't look at me like that."

"Why not?" he asked her.

"Because it makes me feel uncomfortable," she replied.

"Sorry, Milady," Anakin apologised but his tone belied the truth of his words. "I'll go and alert Captain Typho of your forthcoming departure."

Padmé only let her shiver of fear show itself when the source who had caused it exited her bedchamber. Her gaze moved from the entrance to the newly repaired view of Coruscant's airborne traffic ways, attempting to allow the sight to wash over her, in the hope that it might quell her growing uneasiness. The hope however, was in vain. Ever since she had fully took him in as he clumsily tried to give her a compliment, she had been struggling to accept how much he had changed from the sweet little boy she once knew.

There was an edge to the sweetness now, his heart tempered by experience in the galaxy where he was called on more often than not to fight rather than debate peacefully. As for the temper itself, she did not believe it had matured with the rest of him. Quick to challenge, to take offence, to return the insult, to rebel; none of these she had seen in the boy, but all she saw in the man who left her room just now. His inability to control his anger troubled her, along with the clear evidence of how he felt about her.

Ten years ago she had humoured his affection, knowing he missed his mother, knowing that his belief in her beauty would most likely lessen as he encountered the wisdom in Jedi teaching. But time appeared to have only worsened his attraction to her. He seemed to idolise her, to the point of obsession. His apology for making her feel uncomfortable was not in the least sincere, as though he believed that she was lying, or that she would learn to appreciate this feeling in time, under his persuasion.

Frankly, he almost frightened her.

This thought made her decision for her. Turning to her wardrobe, she gazed at her remaining clothes, considering, while her hand pressed the private comlink clutched within her palm. By the time the door to her chamber swished open she had selected the most convincing garment for her plan of action, placing it around herself with a deft flick of the wrists as she turned to face her handmaiden.

"Yes, Milady?" Dormé asked.

"I need to go out for a while," Padmé replied. "Keep everyone here until I have returned, understood?"

Dormé nodded, inwardly concerned, but half comforted by her mistress' choice of disguise. She knew where the Senator would be, if the alarm were raised during her absence.

In the Jedi Temple, one Master of a Padawan and one of the Council walked along the corridors which bordered the atrium, the third and most wise and revered of all the Masters riding in a small repulsor chair beside them.

"I am concerned for my Padawan," Obi-Wan remarked. "He is not ready to be given this assignment on his own yet."

"The Council is confident in this decision, Obi-Wan," Master Yoda replied.

"The boy has exceptional skills," added Master Windu.

"But he still has much to learn, Master," Obi-Wan argued. "His abilities have made him... well, arrogant."

Master Yoda nodded. "Yes, yes. It's a flaw more and more common among Jedi. Too sure of themselves they are. Even the older, more experienced ones."

"Remember, Obi-Wan," Windu continued, "if the prophecy is true, your apprentice is the only one who can bring the Force back into balance."

"If he follows the right path," Obi-Wan allowed. "But there are too many influences on him at present which determine his actions. His feelings are too conflicted, his temper unpredictable and often dangerous."

"I fear Master Kenobi is right, your graces," a voice remarked at this moment, causing the three Jedi to blink at the unexpected sight of a seemingly hooded Master standing suddenly before them.

Padmé lowered her cowl, revealing her identity. "I apologise for deceiving your Padawan, Master Kenobi, but I felt such action was necessary. To speak with you of my doubts about him in his presence would only worsen his internal conflicts."

"Discuss this rebellion against our protection later we will, Senator," Yoda said. "Concern you, Anakin Skywalker does?"

"Yes," Padmé replied. "I do not think I can trust his protection. This is no criticism on your teaching, Master Kenobi, or on Master Jinn's. Anakin has changed from the sweet little boy I knew, with regards both to his temper and his ability to trust. I feel his...." she struggled here, uncertain if she should use the word, but decided that they must know the full depth of her concern, before it became too late, "affection for me could turn into an dangerous obsession, and influence his judgement negatively."

"You do not injure, me, Milady," Obi-Wan uttered, "it is a concern of mine as well. Coupled with the nightmares he has been experiencing lately, I do agree and urge that Anakin should be given another assignment."

"Such as?" Master Windu asked.

"Leave from the Temple," Obi-Wan answered. "Allow him to see his mother on Tatooine. Time with her will not only dissipate his fears, but provide distraction from the heavy burden of expectation concerning the prophecy we perceive him proving. I know we forbid Padawans from attachment, but with Anakin it is unavoidable. He had too long a time with his mother. To give her up now is preying on his development as a Jedi."

"Agree with you, I do," Yoda decided. "To Tatooine young Skywalker will go."

"What about the protection for Senator Amidala?" Mace Windu asked.

"To the Padawan's Master, that will fall," Yoda replied. "Discover who is behind the attempts on your life, Obi-Wan will." He turned to the Padmé. "Remain here you will, Senator, until finished with his task Obi-Wan is. Then leave for Naboo with him you will."

"Yes, Master Yoda," Padmé replied.

The two Council members left her with Obi-Wan, who turned, gesturing for her to accompany him. "I am glad no one else was witness to that," he remarked.

"Why?" she asked him.

"Because if it got about the Republic that the most revered of the Order are susceptible to the wishes of a Nubian Senator, it would spell instant chaos," he replied, making her laugh.

"Are you not glad I sought this audience?" Padmé asked him.

"Yes," he admitted, smiling at her. "I was not happy that the Council chose this assignment for Anakin's first solo mission."

"When you told me that he still cared for me, I always imagined it was still a crush," Padmé remarked. "I had no idea it was this apparent and deep. There are times when he almost frightens me."

Obi-Wan glanced at her with concern. "That is worrying. I hope this leave to visit Shmi will calm him when others have failed to."

"Have you kept her informed of his progress?" Padmé asked, and he nodded as they stepped into the turbolift.

"I have sent what reports I can," he replied. "With Tatooine being on the Outer Rim however, it has been some time since I have received a reply. Not that such delay is a reason to be concerned, considering where she lives now."

Padmé nodded. "I remember. I wonder how aware Anakin is that you and Qui-Gon frequently break the Code for him."

"Not as aware as I would like," Obi-Wan replied. "Qui-Gon has a way of describing such rebels as minor inconveniences, not something that if the Council knew would have him and I reprimanded." He paused, considering. "I thought that by doing this for him, he would learn to control his emotions, to respect the Code while he is a Padawan. But if anything it seems only to have made him worse."

The turbolift came to a halt and they exited the container, Padmé slowing her pace so she would not loose her companion as he led her through the Temple.

"I suppose I should ask where I will be staying?" She remarked, turning to glance at him. "Does the Temple have such things as guest rooms?"

"You'll be staying in the quarters I share with Anakin and Qui-Gon," Obi-Wan informed her. "Qui-Gon's still in the healer's ward at the moment, and with Anakin going to Tatooine, there are two spare rooms."

"Thank you," she said. "Am I allowed to return to my apartment and collect some things?"

"I'll do that," Obi-Wan replied. "As you arrived here without detection, it is wise not to risk such again. I will tell Dormé for you, and I will need to inform Anakin of the change in the Council's decision."

"What about the Chancellor?" Padmé asked. "I should inform him that I am still available for the vote."

"That's if its held before I finish my investigations here," Obi-Wan reminded her. "And as I do not have much to do, you might be on your way to Naboo before it takes place. We shall receive word if the Act is about to put to the floor. Until then I see no reason to inform the Chancellor for now."

Padmé nodded, hoping inwardly that she would not leave before the vote. She was about to ask Obi-Wan what he had left to do here, but he came to a halt and turned, waving the door before them open with the Force. He then stood back to let her enter first.

Surprise was her initial impression. From the rumours she had heard of the Jedi Temple, as outsiders were rarely granted the privilege of a tour, she half expected the quarters to be monastic; devoid of ornament or decoration. Comfortable furniture however formed the main living area, which was styled with sculptures and paintings that were a pleasant and peaceful contrast to the views of the hustling city coming from the window. Five doors occupied one wall, the first of which was partially open to reveal the refresher, and the second a small private kitchen.

"It's beautiful," she murmured as Obi-Wan met her gaze.

He smiled. "I'm glad you like it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll go to your apartment and arrange things."

Part 18: Courtship Amid Investigations

Obi-Wan breathed a small sigh of relief as he exited Master Yoda's quarters. He had not expected the news of his confession to go down well, love was still a rare thing within the Order, viewed as alien and dangerous by the more conservative Jedi, despite all Qui-Gon had done to have it encouraged over the years. Until now, he had kept silent over the matter, knowing how he felt about Padmé, but aware that they had agreed to wait in order to do their duty to the Republic. However he believed the head of the Order was well aware of his feelings, due to a cryptic comment he had made when he was last asked to his quarters. Yoda had a way of finding out everything concerning the Jedi.

Now with the change to this mission, he felt that a full confession of his intentions was only right. He expected a urge for caution, a warning, perhaps even a reprimand for possessing virtually the same feelings as his Padawan for the same woman, using them as a reason to change the Council's decision regarding Anakin's assignment, but all Yoda had said in reply was 'aware of it, I am. Ten years have passed, Jedi you are still. Need my approval you do not. Only that of the Force.'

Now this meeting was over, he could continue on to Padmé's apartment in Five Hundred Republica, where a more difficult meeting would most likely take place. He had not been there when the Council gave Anakin the assignment, but judging on what he had heard from Qui-Gon, who had, their apprentice gave little objection to the orders other than stating that it would be hard to make the Senator leave the capital, which had won him an audience with the Chancellor in order for him to make his former sovereign obey.

Since the Naboo Crisis Palpatine had taken an unusual amount of interest in the once small boy who did so much to save his home world from the Trade Federation. In Anakin's eyes the Chancellor was another mentor, and one whom, unfortunately for Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, he tended to obey more than the Jedi. It was a friendship Obi-Wan worried about, though Qui-Gon believed that it had kept the Chosen One under a certain amount of discipline and taught him the value of patience.

The Council's initial rejection of Anakin perhaps prevented him from giving them any respect for their rule and desire for unquestioning obedience from Padawans. But the boy's fast rise to the threshold of the Trials had not helped either. Qui-Gon believed Anakin was ready, but Obi-Wan was reluctant to join him in that judgement.

In ten years the presumed Chosen One had succeeded everyone's expectations, even manage to dispel a lot of the doubts held by the Council, but there were moments when Anakin also proved himself to be reckless, arrogant and stubborn, more concerned with the survival of his mentors or those close to him than the mission. He was compassionate and loyal, two things required by the Order, but not ready to sacrifice the latter when the moment demanded it.

What Padmé had said of him rang true, the young boy whom they met on Tatooine had been replaced by one aware of his abilities and his status as a Jedi of prophecy, which made him believe he knew best when his mentors presented him with something he did not agree with. Anakin was constantly on edge, anxious to advance his training, to prove himself, but Obi-Wan was worried that his motives were not to serve the Republic, but to realise his dreams. Resentment over the rejection and other's impressions and expectations, haunted his being, causing the struggle with his emotions which held him back from the Trials.

And then there was Padmé. His childhood crush was bordering on obsession, the idealised view of her beauty and intelligence remained unchanged from his youth. Obi-Wan felt hypocritical for judging Anakin when he also loved her, but the boy's behaviour in her apartments earlier only seemed to justify his concerns, along with the willingness to escort her back to Naboo, alone. His motives were almost selfish, desiring to prove to the young woman that he had grown up, and that he would marry her, in defiance of the Code as he said he would a decade ago, little caring for the state of her affections.

"Where is she?" he could hear his pupil ask now as he entered the rooms. Obi-Wan settled his gaze on Anakin as the doors closed behind him, before moving on to Dormé and Captain Typho, who looked surprised at the Padawan's quick temper.

"Senator Amidala is at the Temple," he replied to Anakin now. "She has requested that her departure for Naboo is delayed a few days in hope that the Military Creation Act will be put to the Senate by those behind the plot to assassinate her, thinking she is absent and therefore unable to cast her vote. In view of the importance of the vote, the Council have overruled their previous decisions and decided that her protection will be my assignment."

"What?" Anakin queried in a low, almost dangerous tone. Behind him the handmaiden flinched alittle before wisely choosing to continue packing her mistress' belongings. Captain Typho remained in the room, listening.

Obi-Wan ignored the negative emotion behind the tone, it was after all what he expected to receive in reply. "Yes, Padawan?" he asked, hoping the term of address would remind the boy of his place.

"What about me?" Anakin elaborated. "I was supposed to take her to Naboo."

"In light of the dreams you have been having recently, the Council decided to give you some leave," Obi-Wan replied. "You can go to Tatooine and visit your mother."

Anakin looked shocked. "They agreed to that? I thought Padawans were not allowed contact with their family."

"Usually a Jedi is given to the Order before they can even remember their family," Obi-Wan pointed out. "You are an unique case, Anakin, which is Mace and Yoda agreed to my suggestion."

His apprentice had started to smile, but by the end of the sentence, a frown came over him. "This was your idea?"

"Yes," Obi-Wan replied. "Why does that matter?"

Anakin shook his head, but the frown remained. "It doesn't. Shall I go and inform the Chancellor of the change in plans?"

"I see no need to," Obi-Wan answered. "My investigations here may finish before the vote is put to the Senate. No, you go back to the Temple and depart for Tatooine."

"Thank you, Master," Anakin acknowledged before leaving the apartment.

Obi-Wan turned to watch him go, trying to get a sense of the boy's emotions through the Force, but the Padawan was shielding, a common habit of late. Respecting his privacy, he walked away toward Captain Typho, who smiled at him.

"Personally, Master Kenobi, I am glad the Council changed their minds," he admitted. "I do not think she would have obeyed your apprentice. She's not one to follow orders."

"Yes, I remember," Obi-Wan returned the smile. "The Council however, are only just learning this."

Dormé re-entered the room. "Milady's belongings, Master Kenobi."

"Thank you," Obi-Wan replied, deftly taking the case from her hand before she could object. "I'll let you know when we leave for Naboo."

He returned to his quarters in the Temple to find Padmé on the balcony, admiring the view of Coruscant it gave. With the artificial reflections directed from the system's sun, he also found a view to admire, that of her. Never had he the time before to just gaze at her unobserved, to note the changes from Queen to Senator, the growing of her beauty. Ten years ago he had been careful to keep himself from overstepping the boundaries, even mental ones, but as the years passed and her final term as sovereign ended, he became more and more aware of his desire for her. And now they had agreed to explore the connection between them. Last night he had held her in his arms, kissed her, caressed her, touched her. The moment he had sensed Anakin's return was almost agony, and yet somehow he knew they would receive the time to enjoy such an embrace in the future, without any intrusions.

Now was not the moment however, for he had an investigation to finish. So he stepped forward to join her resting place before the ledge. "Did Anakin see you before he left?"

Padmé turned, bestowing a beautiful smile upon him. "No. Infact I did not realise he had returned to the Temple."

"Master Yoda allocated one of the ships for him to use," he explained. "And I told him you were here."

"How did he take the news?" Padmé asked.

"Better than I expected," he admitted. "With something almost approaching maturity. Perhaps he is ready for the trials."

"You were more mature than he is when I met you," Padmé remarked. "And you were still a Padawan. Allowances should not be made just because he might be the Chosen One."

Obi-Wan stilled, realising she was right. He was so used to everyone giving Anakin consideration because he was presumed to be the Chosen One that he had slipped into doing such himself. Perhaps that was why Anakin was being difficult lately. He needed to be treated as a normal Padawan, to learn humility, even maturity.

"So," he began, changing the subject, "I'm afraid I cannot be a tour guide or fulfil any duties of a proper host while you are here, milady. I need to continue my investigations. Would you prefer to stay here, or accompany me? I can arrange for us to be alerted if the Military Creation Act is put to the Senate."

"To accompany you," Padmé decided. "And don't you think we're beyond titles now?"

"Probably," he smiled at her. "It is a habit however, so you'll forgive me if I lapse from time to time?"

"Of course, Master Jedi," Padmé returned the smile. "So, where to first?"

"The analysis cubicles," he informed her. "To see if this can be identified and sourced." He held up the toxic dart which he retrieved from the murdered assassin last night.

Padmé turned her gaze on the lethal weapon, remembering the Kouhuns who were set on by the victim of this small speck, surprised that something so tiny could cause death.

Obi-Wan put the dart back in his belt and together they walked through his quarters into the corridor, heading for the turbolift.

As they entered the main lobby, Padmé was struck by the size of it once more, as she had been when she first arrived, cowled in quest of him and Master Yoda, too preoccupied about the uncomfortableness inside her caused by Anakin to appreciate the sight before her. Now she had the freedom to admire for Obi-Wan took his time in the passage through the vast hall, which seemed to her far larger than the walls which held it from the outside she always saw from the Senate.

The decoration was understated which made it all the more impressive. Though she was only borderline Force sensitive, she could feel the strength of that entity here, savour the peacefulness it awoke inside her. When she had first stepped into the political arena over ten years ago as an apprentice legislator, she remembered feeling that same peace, a sense of belonging, of home. And with the man she loved by her side, that emotion was all the more apparent.

The room where the analysis cubicles lay was bustling with Jedi and Padawans alike, all too focused on their studies to look up and notice the Senator from Naboo walk in with Master Kenobi. Obi-Wan led her to an empty slot, pulling out the chair for her to sit down before retrieving the dart from his belt and placing it in the tray.

"It's a toxic dart," he explained to the SP-4 droid waiting. "I need to know where it came from and who made it."

"One moment please," the droid replied. The screen before her began scrolling through information, specs and diagrams on various weapons, the speed causing Padmé to blink and look away. She turned to her companion, observing him as he watched the screen, his blue eyes darkened into a deep azure. This was the Jedi Knight before her now, not the man who had kissed her so passionately in her apartment last night. Her heart pounded just at the memory of it, his touch vivid, the moment imprinted on her mind. She knew that she should be thinking about her duty to the Republic and who were behind the threats against her life, but just as a decade before, her mind seemed fixed on the distraction that was Obi-Wan Kenobi.

This time though, she was determined not to let their duties separate them. Her sister was right; she had to find the balance between her duty and her life, before it was too late. And something told her that moment was fast approaching, the same elusive feeling which told her to remember the Knight standing beside her ten years ago when he rescued her.

"As you can see on your screen, subject weapon does not exist in any known culture," SP-4 explained, the analysis finished. "Markings cannot be identified. Probably self-made by a warrior not associated with any known culture."

Obi-Wan frowned as he lifted the dart out of the tray. "You may not be able to figure this out, but I think I know someone who might," he murmured. Placing a hand on her shoulder, he turned to add, "Padmé, will you wait at my quarters while I go and talk to my contact? I should not be too long."

Padmé frowned at the words, even as she savoured the sound of her name enunciated by his rich Coruscanti accent. "I thought I said that I would prefer to accompany you, Obi-Wan?"

"I'm going into Coco Town," Obi-Wan elaborated, "hardly a suitable place for a Senator, or a lady."

"Neither was Tatooine for a Queen," she reminded him. "And I am coming with you."

He gazed into her brown eyes, noting their brilliancy, the intelligence within them, the beauty around them, and realised that he had not the will to refuse her. "You, milady, are a deadly foil to a Jedi's will."

"Only one, I hope," she murmured smiling at him.

"Considering how you managed to persuade Yoda and Mace to agree with you, I'm not so sure," he returned, the same gesture appearing across his face. "Well, if you're coming with me, you need another disguise."

"I know just the thing," Padmé replied.

He was not surprised to discover that she had a suitable disguise, nor how well it suited her; the gold lace framing her face in a half halo, falling to folds of a cowl around her, cresting the slightly darker cloak below which hid her dress. Unable to resist, he kissed her before they left the Temple, summoning his Jedi restraint to keep himself from unveiling the rest of her hidden beauty.

Obi-Wan hailed an airtaxi which drove them to the business district in Coco Town, one of the less affluent areas of the capital, signified by crowded, small streets, buildings built so close to one another to appear almost merged, the degree of pollution dirtying the permacrete and plasteel, even the ground which was practically the mantel of the heavily industrialised planet.

Padmé took in her new surroundings with a careful eye, one evolved from many years of being someone whose' life was always in some degree of danger due to her position, her career, her level of commitment to Naboo and the Republic. She knew Obi-Wan of old, that the conventional Jedi who followed the Code so strictly was just one facet of his character, that his friends and contacts outside the Order were just the opposite, a legacy from his apprenticeship to that most unconventional of Jedi Masters; Qui-Gon Jinn.

Even so, she had not expected him to meet with a contact in a diner such as this. It reminded her of an old holofilm location, faded and antique, yet infinitely a classic. Even the furnishings recalled to mind the old style of filming, monotone grey with a bold red accent.

A droid came towards them as Obi-Wan halted just inside the diner, regarding the Jedi with a suspicious gaze, if that were possible for a droid. "Can I help ya?"

"I'm looking for Dex," Obi-Wan replied.

There was a noisy clanging of pots and pans colliding with one another, and the droid turned to shout into the kitchen behind her. "Someone to see ya, honey. Jedi by the looks of him."

Padmé blinked despite herself at the huge being who popped his head out through the hatch in response, presumably the eponymous owner of the diner. His teeth, small and close together, were fearsome, until altered by the huge smile on his face as his large eyes focused on her protector.

"Obi-Wan!" he half bellowed in a warm accent which spoke of a nomadic existence.

"Hey, Dex," Obi-Wan returned with a grin.

"Take a seat, old buddy, I'll be right with ya!" Dex replied.

Her knight nodded and showed her to one of the empty booths by the windows which viewed the street outside. She slid down across the seat first, then he followed, their thighs brushing against each other as the furnishing cushioned under their weight.

"You want a cup of Jawa Juice?" the droid asked them.

Obi-Wan glanced at her, and receiving a nod, turned back to the droid. "Yes, please."

The droid disappeared into the kitchen, leaving them alone only for a minute, for Dex was the next to emerge from that almost hidden room. Obi-Wan rose from his seat to greet him, and as the two comrades embraced each other Padmé could not help but smile at the ease of the friendship she saw before her.

"So, my friend, who is this beautiful woman beside you?" Dex asked as he sat down, taking Padmé's hand gently in his and raising it to his lips.

"This is Padmé Amidala," Obi-Wan replied, lowering his voice so the name was indistinguishable above the noise of conversation from other customers within the diner. "A friend of mine from the Naboo Crisis. Padmé, this Dexster Jettster, an old friend of mine from my days as a Padawan."

"Please to meet you, Dex," Padmé remarked, bestowing upon him a smile reserved for friends, a far cry from the one reserved for the political arena.

Dex beamed at her. "Honoured, milady," he returned, kissing her hand once more letting go of it, his expression widening as her hand was secured in one of Obi-Wan's. "So, my friend, what can I do for ya?"

"You can tell me what this is," Obi-Wan replied, retrieving the dart from his belt once more with his free hand and giving it carefully to Dex.

The old space pirate examined it with some sort of awe, a healthy respect for the mortal power it yielded, as well as a disgust that such a thing was in existence. "Well, waddya know, I ain't seen one of these since I was prospecting on Subterrel beyond the Outer Rim."

"Do you know where it came from?" Obi-Wan asked.

"This baby belongs to them cloners. What you have got here is a Kamino saberdart."

Finally, a name, or rather a planet could be put to the source of the threats against her life. Padmé knew she should feel some relief, but instead all she could feel was tension and suspicion, that her life was merely a tool, a distraction from the grander scheme buried underneath all this.

"I wonder why it didn't show up in our analysis archives," Obi-Wan murmured.

"It's these funny little cuts on the side which give it away," Dex explained. "Those analysis droids you've got over there only focus on symbols, you know. I should think you Jedi have more respect for the difference between knowledge and wisdom."

"Well, Dex, if all droids could think, there'd be none of us here, would there?" Obi-Wan countered with a laugh. He took the dart back, and sobered at the feel of the small but deadly weapon in his hands once more. "Kamino doesn't sound familiar. Is it part of the Republic?"

"No, it's beyond the Outer Rim," Dex replied. "I'd say about twelve parsecs south of the Rishi Maze. It should be easy to find, even for those droids in your archives. Those Kaminoans keep to themselves mostly. They're cloners and good ones too."

"Are they friendly?" Obi-Wan asked him.

"It depends," Dex replied.

"On what?" Obi-Wan queried.

"On how good your manners are," Dex replied, the word manners implying something other than its' usual, mild meaning. "How big your pocketbook is."

Obi-Wan gazed at the dart thoughtfully, his mind travelling those parsecs, calculating how long it would take him to get there, the complications he could face in hyperspace, and most importantly, how he was going to persuade Padmé to stay in the Temple while he was there. Certainly not with a date here, although it might be a good start. "Say, Dex, I don't suppose we could have a couple of menus?"

Dex caught the unspoken meaning behind his friend's expression and words. "Sure, my friend. Lunch is on the house."

Part 19: Darkness upon the Horizon.

Padmé was not a suspicious woman by nature, but she knew what thoughts were passing through her Knight's mind as he walked with her back to the Temple. After Dex had left them to enjoy a free meal, Obi-Wan had moved to sit opposite her, and they indulged in one luxury which she had never expected to have, a date. There they were in the diner, not a Senator and a Jedi forming a political alliance, but Padmé and Obi-Wan, two beings very much in love, building on the foundations of a relationship ten years old, laying the ground work which would secure it for the future.

For once they had forgotten about politics, about the danger her life was in, as was his, just as much if not even more so. Instead they had talked about all the things which the comms between them over the years rarely included; their ideals, hopes, and dreams. Though it was not spoken, both of them knew already how things would stand between them after this mission was over. It was no longer a question of if, just a matter of when.

Nevertheless, she knew when Obi-Wan was plotting to protect her, and as she walked with him towards the Temple, their arms companionably linked with one another, she pinched the material of the brown cloak which hugged his compact toned form. "If you think I will sit idly by in your quarters at the Temple while you travel to Kamino, think again."

He did not even halt in surprise. "The Military Creation Act could be put to the Senate while you are absent," he pointed out calmly.

That caused her to pause, but only for a moment. "You fight, dirty, Master Jedi. However, so can I. This trip to Kamino may provide some insight as to what the Separatists are planning. If perhaps they plan something more than slowly persuading planet after planet to leave the Republic. As a member of the Senate and the Loyalist committee, I have a right to listen and witness those plans."

"Padmé, this trip will most likely bring me into direct contact with the bounty hunter hired to try and kill you," Obi-Wan replied, dropping all formality and political duelling. "I would be failing in my duty as a Jedi and as a man who loves you if I let you come with me."

She did come to a halt now, her grip on his arm pulling him, turning him to face her. "As you know, I am more than capable of defending myself. I am prepared to follow your orders once we arrive there, but I will be using every persuasion possible towards Master Yoda and Master Windu to come with you."

He gazed back her, equally resolute. "And if Yoda refuses, you will be staying here, make no mistake."

"If he refuses, I will," Padmé promised.

Obi-Wan sensed her sincerity in the Force, and raised her hands to his lips, bestowing a devout, discreet kiss before he continued to escort her towards the Temple.

"Where to this time?" she asked him as they entered the vast lobby once more.

"The hall of the Archives," he replied, letting go of her hands to fall into a formal pace beside her, as the mantle of their roles within the Republic became necessary to assume once more. She glanced at the Jedi who passed them, noting no surprise, and admiring them for the strength, the discipline they kept on their focus. If they had been walking down one of the corridors of the Senate, her colleagues would not be able to keep such composure. A part of her could not help feeling slightly disgusted by that revelation.

The negative emotion was entirely done away with by the time they entered the hall of the Archives. She had thought the entrance lobby vast, but this was far larger, with long columns of shelves seemingly stretching towards the heavens, embossed by pedestals on which were dark grey busts. To her surprise, she recognised the one Obi-Wan came to halt before, that of Count Dooku.

"What is he doing here?" she asked him softly.

"There is one for every member of the Lost Twenty," Obi-Wan explained. "A note of respect for the wisdom, for the Jedi, the Order has lost. He was Qui-Gon's master, you know, and Yoda's Padawan. No greater honour is accorded for a Jedi, to be trained through all their apprenticeship by the Grand Master of the Order. When Yoda declares an interest in a pupil, you know they must be special." he paused, considering, thoughtful. "I still wonder why he left. Despite his relationship with Qui-Gon he is something of a mystery to me. From his reputation he was one of the Old, a traditional duellist, yet a profound diplomat and pacifist. His loyalty used to be unquestionable."

"Do you know his reasons for leaving?" Padmé asked, intrigued by his description despite herself, and her suspicions about him being responsible for the threats against her.

"He said to Master Yoda that he disagreed the Jedi's position within the Republic. How deep our loyalty is to the Senate, and whether we could trust that said loyalty went both ways. I know it is a sentiment many have come to share, including myself at times."

Padmé nodded, silently agreeing. "Come on, lets research Kamino," she proposed, anxious now to reach the end of this disagreeable business.

"I think you could spend days in here," Obi-Wan mused, sensing her almost childlike eagerness and awe at the vast amount of information the Jedi archived.

"You know me so well," she replied as he led her to a nearby console table, pulling out the chair for her. She entered the name of the planet on to the screen, and they waited for the mechanical mind to pull up the appropriate information.

They were both surprised however, when the computer announced that according to it's records, Kamino did not exist.

Obi-Wan's next stop, after consulting with the venerable mistress of the archives and receiving the same result as the search on the computer, took Padmé by surprise. Of all the places within the Temple, a classroom full of younglings was not one she had expected to visit. The sight of small children in miniature desert robes caused her to smile, an expression which was almost stolen by the helmets they wore and the small lightsabers they wielded. She had no idea combat training started this young. Even on Naboo, with its emphasis that children were just a capable as adults, the youth apprenticing to a career from an early age, this dedication would seem disturbing.

Yet Obi-Wan was smiling, a genuine smile, full of fond remembrance as they walked towards the Master who presided over this lesson. Padmé felt herself relax as she realised that this must have been how he learned, and he was the humblest, gentlest Jedi she believed the Order had ever produced.

"Don't think.... feel," the Master was saying, his distinctive voice easily recognisable. "Be as one with the Force. Help you, it will."

Yoda turned round as Obi-Wan came to a halt before him. "Younglings enough, visitors we have. Master Kenobi and Senator Amidala."

In unison the younglings closed down their lightsabers and raised the visors of their helmets. "Welcome, Master Kenobi. Welcome Senator Amidala."

"Hello, younglings," Obi-Wan returned, his voice warm and deep, causing them all to smile and relax. "I'm sorry to disturb you, Master, but I have need of your assistance."

"What help to you can I be?" Yoda asked.

"I'm looking for a planet described to me by an old friend," Obi-Wan replied. "I trust him and the information he provided, but the system doesn't show up on the archive maps."

"An interesting puzzle," Yoda mused. "Lost a planet, Master Obi-Wan has. How embarrassing, how embarrassing."

The younglings chuckled, as he intended. "Gather younglings, around the map reader. Clear your minds, and find Obi-Wan's wayward planet, we will."

Obi-Wan placed the hologlobe he had been carrying from the Archives on to the small stand of the map reader, and the device activated it, displaying the known universe around the room, the small specks of light which represented systems and stars clustering all around them.

He paused, smiling as the youngsters worked through their excitement at the sight of the display, as Padmé visibly restrained herself from reaching out to touch the speck which represented Naboo. Then he walked further into the display, towards the cluster which symbolised the Rishi Maze.

"This is where it ought to be," he remarked, gesturing at the space twelve parsecs away with his fingers. "Gravity is pulling all the stars in this area inward to this spot. There should be a star there, but there isn't."

"Most interesting," Yoda mused. "Gravity's silhouette remains, but the star and all its planets have disappeared. How can this be? An answer? A thought? Anyone?"

Obi-Wan was not surprised that the venerable old Master had addressed such inquiries towards the younglings. It was an old truism of the Order that you never stopped learning as a Jedi, that youth had as much to teach as age and experience did. Masters learned as much from their apprentices as the Padawans did from them.

A hand went up from one of the youngsters. "Because someone erased it from the archive memory, Master," the boy answered. With his blond cropped hair and wide eyes, the boy almost reminded Obi-Wan of Anakin, as he once encountered him on Tatooine all those years ago.

Yoda grinned. "Truly wonderful the mind of a child is. Uncluttered. The data must have been erased."

With the use of the Force Obi-Wan deactivated the map reader, calling the hologlobe back to his hand. The stars disappeared, leaving the room cloaked in darkness, a suitable atmosphere for the rest of their discussion.

"To the centre of gravity's pull go, and find your planet you will," Yoda decided.

"But, Master Yoda, who could have erase information from the archives?" Obi-Wan asked. "That's impossible, isn't it?"

"Dangerous and disturbing this puzzle is," Yoda replied. "Only a Jedi could have erased those files. But who, and why, harder to answer. Meditate on this, I will. May the Force be with both of you."

Obi-Wan raised his eyes at the slight change to the customary farewell. "You're not going to even try and persuade her to stay here?"

"No try there is, Master Obi-Wan," Yoda reminded him. "Only do or do not. Sense in the Force I do that Senator Amidala you will need. Important, you both are."

"Thank you, Master Yoda," Padmé replied.

Obi-Wan bowed before the grand Jedi, then exited the room.

"I'm having doubts that leaving Jar Jar in charge of my Senate duties was such a good idea," Padmé confessed as they came out of hyperspace.

"I did think you would rely on a decoy," Obi-Wan admitted from his seat in front of her in the cockpit of the Delta Twelve Skysprite.

"After what happened to Cordé I didn't want to risk losing another," Padmé replied. "They have become my closest friends since I was elected."

He did not know what to say to that which had not already been said, so he settled for changing the subject. "There it is, right where it should be. Our missing planet, Kamino."

Padmé looked at it through the view of the triangular plasteel which covered the cockpit, while between them R2D2 beeped curiously, a translation appearing on their computer screens.

"I have no idea who might have altered the files," Obi-Wan replied to the droid. "Maybe we will find some answers down there. Disengage the hyperspace ring."

R2 complied, and Obi-Wan flew the ship into the atmosphere of Kamino, revealing a planet with no natural landscape. Ocean covered the surface mantle entire, while clouds dominated the skyline. A transmission penetrated their communications, asking for identification, and he activated the signal beacon, sending the appropriate files which were required in rely. Minutes later another transmission was sent to them, directing them to landing coordinates in Tipoca City.

The closer Obi-Wan flew towards the water, the rougher the ride got, unconsciously resulting in a display of his flying skills. His apprentice was a natural pilot, but the Master was by no means incompetent, indeed he was far from it, navigating the stormy planet with ease and confidence of talent combined with training. Performing a flyby of the artificially constructed cityscape the Senator and Jedi surveyed the world which might hold the answer as to who was behind the attempted assassination of her, possibly more, if the implication of such a planet being deleted from the Jedi archives was taken into consideration.

Landing the craft of the designated pad, Obi-Wan powered down the ship before lifting his cloak over his head, noting the rain which continuously fell to the ground outside. Padmé followed suit, a white cowl to match her skin tight combat suit, something which the Jedi Knight employed tremendous restraint not to stare at, or touch ever since he saw her in it when she emerged from his room in the quarters at the Temple after changing for this mission.

Disembarking from the Delta Twelve, they darted across the permacrete towards the plasteel door which slid back to let them inside the building.

"Master Jedi, Senator, so good to see you," said voice from the white light brilliancy of the entrance lobby.

Obi-Wan and Padmé lowered their cowls which turned out to be useless protection from the elements, causing them to wipe the water from their faces before they could properly focus on the extraordinary being who greeted them so kindly.

"I am Taun We," she continued. "The Prime Minister expects you."

Obi-Wan frowned before partly echoing her words in response. "We're expected?"

Taun We inclined her head. "Of course. Lama Su is anxious to see you. After all these years we were beginning to think you weren't coming. Now please, this way."

With one of her long thin arms she gestured toward the corridor ahead of them. Keeping their questions to themselves, Obi-Wan and Padmé followed her, their keen eyes taking in everything which their sense were confronted with.

Reaching a large door, Taun We motioned the barrier to slide back, revealing a large white room, in which the Prime Minister was revealed, rising from a large oval shaped chair that appeared to be attached to the ceiling. "May I present Lama Su, Prime Minister of Kamino. And these are Master Jedi..."

Obi-Wan caught the question before it could be aired and bowed, smoothing away the unintentional offence. Though they were expected, clearly their names were still a mystery, just as this entire planet and its secrets were a mystery to him and Padmé. "Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Senator Padmé Amidala."

"I trust that you are going to enjoy your stay," Lama Su remarked after indicating for them to take a seat, to which they acquiesced. "We are most happy that you have arrived at the best part of the season."

"You make us feel most welcome," Obi-Wan returned, and Padmé held back her smile, having come to know his diplomatic tone well over the years of their acquaintance. She loved the rainstorms on Naboo, she would spend hours out in them at Varykino, savouring the feel of their temperate moisture on her skin, but the storms on Kamino would make everyone seek a dryer climate. She glanced at her protector, noting the way the moisture caused his hair to sleek back over his head, longing to run her fingers through it.

"And now to business," Lama Su added. "You will be delighted to hear that we are on schedule. Two hundred thousand units are ready with another million well on the way."

Deducing what the word unit meant was all too easy, thanks to what information Dex had given them. What troubled Obi-Wan more was the implication that someone had ordered them in their name. "That is good news."

"We thought you would be pleased," Lama Su remarked.

"Of course," Obi-Wan returned.

"Please tell your Master Sifo-Dyas that we have every confidence his order will be met, on time and in full," Lama Su continued. "He is well, I hope."

Master Sifo-Dyas was far from well, in fact he was dead, but Obi-Wan could hardly reveal such information. "He is well, Prime Minister, but busy. Knowing we were in the area, he asked us to visit and check in with you."

"You may tell him that he should be proud of the army of clones we have build for him and the Republic," Lama Su remarked.

This almost brought the both of them to exclaiming 'the Republic!' but discipline and diplomacy restrained them from voicing such incredulity out loud. The implications were astounding. An entire army of clones ordered ten years ago, the first units conveniently finished in time for the debate over the Military Creation Act in the Senate? Whoever placed the order, and Obi-Wan did not believe for a moment that it was Master Sifo-Dyas, must have created a plan insidious and detailed, calculated for everything to unfold precisely. But for what purpose? To lead the Republic into a civil war? He did not understand what rewards such chaos would achieve, not for the Sith, not for anyone.

"You must be anxious to inspect the units," Lama Su remarked.

"That's why we're here," Obi-Wan replied.

Lama Su rose from her chair, causing Obi-Wan and Padmé to follow suit. "Allow me to take you on a tour."

Padmé matched her pace with her protector, choosing the right moment to lean into him and ask the question which had bothered her ever since the name was first mentioned. "What happened to Master Sifo-Dyas?"

With his gaze fixed on their host, Obi-Wan chose the right moment to reply. "He was killed over ten years ago. Who it ever was who ordered this army, it was not a Jedi Council Master, or Yoda would have warned me before we left."

Padmé acknowledged that piece of information with a nod. Inside her mind was screaming. The pockets of frustration at the constant stalemates in the Senate were finally overflowing into anger, pure in the extreme. Self-contained however, for the small part of her which thrived on rationale had no desire to let the emotion consume her entirely, nor did she wish for Obi-Wan to feel it, though with his strength in the Force, he was probably no stranger to it, in fact she suspected that he was experiencing such emotions himself as he gazed at the clones Lama Su was proudly showing them.

All for nothing. Ten years spent keeping the Republic at peace and it was all for nothing. While she and the few remaining uncorrupted Senators fought for peace and unity, someone had been quietly working to send the Republic into civil war. Her efforts were useless, noble at best, but a waste of time. If she had known when she was Queen what she knew now, she might have stood a chance to stop this, but even as her mind contemplated that possibility, her rationale realised it was an idealistic hope, born out of guilt that her actions contributed to the future the Republic was facing now. Too late. Everything was being discovered too late to prevent it from occurring. She was fighting a certain defeat and as she realised that, her actions no longer seemed noble.

"Would it be possible to have access to the schematics of the methods you have used to design these clones?" She asked Lama Su, aware that her voice was quavering from the turmoil within her mind, hoping their guides would not detect it. "I would like to see what behavioural makeup you have given them, among other things."

"I would be happy to provide such information for you," Taun We answered.

"Thank you," She remarked, before falling into silent contemplation, wondering what more disturbing revelations she might learn from studying such information.

Obi-Wan clasped her hand, the simple gesture sending waves of comfort to her from within the Force. Padmé marvelled at his optimism even as she realised he was feeling the same conflict as herself. Ironically that empathy gave her and himself the strength to see this through. The clone army was not the only thing they had come to Kamino to investigate after all; it still remained to be seen if her assassin was hiding on the planet too. If he was connected to this decade old scheme, he or whoever hired him could prove to be the weak link in this intricate chain.

Conversation eventually led to that. After she and Obi-Wan had asked the usual questions expected of their inspection and received disturbingly impressive answers, the Jedi asked about the original.

"A bounty hunter named Jango Fett," Lama Su answered. "We felt a Jedi would be the perfect choice, but Sifo-Dyas hand picked Jango himself."

The notion of an army of Jedi clones floored Obi-Wan so much that Padmé felt the shock pass through his physical connection to her.

"Where is this bounty hunter now?" He asked.

"He lives here," Lama Su replied. "But he's free to come and go as he pleases. Apart from his pay, which is considerable, Fett demanded only one thing, an unaltered clone for himself."

"We would very much like to meet this Jango Fett," Obi-Wan remarked, a thought as well as a request.

"I would be most happy to arrange it for you," Taun We assured them.

By this time they had reached the end of the parade style corridor, which opened into a wide viewing platform. When they reached the edge, they discovered the sight below; row upon row of clones, clad in white armour plating, faceless, anonymous. The perfect army for any mode of attack.

Or invasion. For as Obi-Wan and Padmé forced their gaze upon the disturbing parade, seeing every clone march in perfect step with each other, they were not just seeing these finished units. They were seeing the droid army that invaded Naboo; marching across docking bays and green lush fields. A vision of the future swam before their eyes; the clones parading in the streets of Coruscant, overseen by members of the Senate, approaching their spaceships whilst above the sky slowly surrendered to the darkness.

Senator and Jedi were powerless to prevent it.

Volume three

© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 2021. All rights reserved.