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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 13: Thoughts & Emotions During Rogue Outbound Storms.

"The Chosen One Qui-Gon gave to us all, not proven, full of fear and yours to save. And if you do not save him...."

Obi-Wan still dwelt on Yoda's words, said to him long before the mission to find Vergere began, before Anakin had met the Blood Carver known as Ke Daiv. Before all he and Qui-Gon had to worry about was the latest invented droid creating havoc about the Temple, or the next pit race it's designer had chosen to compete in.

Now they had to worry about something else their Padawan was capable of. Something far darker than racing or droids.

The discovery of Ke Daiv's body continued to haunt him, along with the knowledge of what Anakin had done. Such power not only brushed the dark side of the Force, it embraced and accepted it, as shadows seduced light. It did not matter that Anakin had felt unable to control the power, or experienced remorse after the deed was done, the anger he expressed during that time was a cause for concern.

Qui-Gon had been distressed by the report of it, which he heard when Obi-Wan and Anakin returned to the Temple. Only recently recovered from a particularly bad seizure, he was prevented from joining the mission by the Healers. To Obi-Wan, who had witnessed part of the betrayal which Xanatos had dealt upon his Master, it seemed that Qui-Gon feared he had failed again in his teaching of the Chosen One of the Jedi.

Until, much to his surprise, Qui-Gon began to defend Anakin's actions, almost to the point of justification, resulting in the first quarrel between himself and Obi-Wan since the latter's knighthood ceremony three years ago. Obi-Wan did not deny that Anakin regretted the act, or that the deed had been beyond his control, but he could not attempt to clear the boy of all the guilt in committing the act, as Qui-Gon now tried to do, for Anakin had accessed a previous point of contention with the Blood Carver as the focal point for his anger.

His former Master's behaviour had surprised him. Obi-Wan remembered well the effects of Xanatos' betrayal upon Qui-Gon. It left him exposed to all the emotions of recrimination, guilt, anger, grief, distrust, insecurity even incredulity. But not once had he attempted to excuse or justify Xanatos' actions. Not to the Council, not to Obi-Wan.

Yet again, it seemed, Anakin was to be treated differently.

"Ke Daiv did try to murder him," Qui-Gon had said when Obi-Wan finished relaying his report of the mission. "Anakin had a right to defend himself."

"In such a violent fashion?" Obi-Wan queried incredulously.

"The act was out of his control, padawan," Qui-Gon reminded him gently. "He still has much to learn, but he did realise that point, and he did feel guilt afterwards. Surely we should not condemn him?"

"I am not suggesting that, Master," Obi-Wan replied, running a hand through his hair as he tried to summon the wisdom and the strength for this debate. "But nor do I believe that we should just forget that the act even took place. Anakin certainly won't."

"Which is precisely why we should," Qui-Gon argued. "The boy deserves not to have the incident rule the rest of his training. Already there is a level of expectation concerning him about the Council. Knowledge of this deed will only add to it."

"Such an expectation would not have existed if you held your tongue concerning the prophecy when the Council rejected him," Obi-Wan pointed out.

"Anakin has a right to know of the enormous potential inside him," Qui-Gon countered.

"Perhaps," Obi-Wan allowed. "But such knowledge, now rendered commonplace, has and will continue to subject him to an unusual amount of pressure. More pressure than any padawan should face. As his teachers, it is our duty to relieve him of those burdens, to give him the guidance and strength he needs to accept such perception."

"You've just argued more in favour of my point than your own," Qui-Gon said. "I think Anakin has learned from this lesson. He does not need to be reminded of it."

"Master Cho Leem warned us to be careful," Obi-Wan added. "I think we should follow her advice."

"I shall talk with her," Qui-Gon remarked, before leaving the quarters. "Seeing as you put such stock in her diagnosis," he added, leaving Obi-Wan to flinch at the emphasis and the tone behind it.

Master Thracia Cho Leem left the Order last night. Without any explanation. It was presumed she had gone to continue what he and Anakin failed to finish, to find Vergere, her former apprentice. But Obi-Wan wondered if she had seen something in her healing of Anakin, something that made her pause, for when it was over she had pulled him aside and warned him and Qui-Gon to be careful in their tutelage of the boy. She had also apologised for her words to him in Counsel, when they were assigned to the mission, before advising him to seek solace of his own, for his soul could do with it.

Which is what brought him here, to the private com port in the quarters he shared with Anakin and Qui-Gon at the Temple. Silently he tapped out the special coded preset she had given him for precisely such a call, pressed the send key, and waited for a response.

His patience was swiftly rewarded. The blank screen before him coalesced into a beautiful young woman, with dark brown hair loose and cascading down her back, and equally dark eyes that sparkled as they regarded their caller.

"Master Kenobi, what brings this rare pleasure of seeing you to me?" Padmé Amidala Naberrie, Queen of all the Naboo, asked.

Obi-Wan glanced at the chrono and immediately felt contrite. "Forgive me for disturbing your sleep, milady, I had no idea the hour there was so late."

"There is no need for an apology, I have yet to fully retire," Padmé smiled at him, unable to restrain a blush as she caught his fine blue grey eyes appraising the way her nightgown clung to her body. "And you did not answer my question."

He bowed his head, hiding his eyes from her searching gaze. "I needed to see you," he replied simply. "To hear your voice."

Padmé was concerned. "What happened, Obi-Wan? Are you allowed to tell me?"

"A rather harrowing mission," he replied, for the details were now classified. "For both myself and Anakin. Which resulted in a fight with Qui-Gon."

"Oh, my love," she murmured, the words surprising both of them, as her hand reached out to touch the holo of him, wishing she was on Coruscant to offer him proper comfort. He put his fingers upon the screen where hers were placed, his mind wishing the same.

"Tell me something," he asked softly. "Anything. I just need to listen and look."

She obliged, relaying to him the events of her life since their last conversation. Obi-Wan leaned back in the chair before the holo and let the sweetness of her voice wash over him, along with the sparkle in her dark eyes, and the lustre which the light of the stars behind her bestowed upon her figure. His mind took in the words with which she used to describe her days, allowing their blessed normality to soothe and comfort his harried mind, until the wisdom was gained to heal the breach with his former Master once more.

"And keep in touch," Master Windu added.

"I will," Obi-Wan replied, before turning round and heading towards the entrance of the Council Chamber. When he reached the threshold however, he paused to face the Korun Master. "Emotion is not the enemy, Master Windu. It is present within all of us, everyday of lives, no matter how much we deny it. Learning to deal with every aspect of it is the true test of any Jedi."

Mace dwelled on his words for a moment, then bowed his head in acknowledgement of the wisdom and insight in the advice. "Perhaps you are right, Obi-Wan." He raised his dark eyes to level with the blue grey ones of his friend's former apprentice. "Clear skies, and may the Force be with you."

Obi-Wan bowed. "And with you, Master." he pressed the release for the door and exited the Council Chambers.

Silently, he made his way to the quarters he shared with Anakin and Qui-Gon, his mind meditating on the best way to inform the latter that he was again to stay at the Temple while their padawan went on another mission. Lately the Council had become more and more protective of Qui-Gon, worried that the illness which wracked his body would hinder him if he participated in some of the more lively field missions. It was a judgement which Qui-Gon railed against, and lately, as his illness waxed and waned, one he attempted to flout. Recently Obi-Wan chose to forget informing his Master about the latest mission, in favour of avoiding the fierce debate that usually arose over the protective nature of the Council and his padawans.

Thus, when the door to the quarters they shared opened to reveal his Master pacing the floor of the living space, Obi-Wan was prepared to see this debate through.

Whatever the cost.

Qui-Gon came to halt as soon as he caught sight of him. "Well, where to this time?"

"Barlok," Obi-Wan replied. "To assist Master C'baoth in his negotiations between the local government and the Corporate Alliance." Assist was a loose term, for Master Windu had actually ordered him to keep an eye on the Jedi Master. But if Obi-Wan couched the assignment within just such a term he might loose Qui-Gon's interest in the matter and thus keep him Temple bound.

"Another one," Qui-Gon mused thoughtfully. "The Republic seems to endure so many such disputes these days."

Obi-Wan nodded, shielding his thoughts as he observed his Master. Qui-Gon had recently come out of a stasis session where his body was put to sleep as a further delay concerning the onset of his illness. As a result he appeared and felt stronger than he usually was when dealing with the effects which the disease visited upon his body. Yet, Obi-Wan also knew that this facade did not last long. Despite the best efforts of the Nubian physicians who suggested this treatment, the affliction continued to pour great strain on Qui-Gon.

"I think I shall stay here," Qui-Gon decided, surprising Obi-Wan for he had expected much more of a fight. "Master C'baoth will not want me interfering in his missions, nor you and Anakin for that matter."

"That is true," Obi-Wan agreed. "But I shall do as the Council instructed me."

"As should we all, young one." Qui-Gon murmured, sinking into the large sofa behind him, causing his companion to regard him with a critical eye.

Obi-Wan caught the hidden strain within his Master's eyes, noticing for the first time since he entered the quarters the extreme effort his body was using to keep him awake. "Master, did something happen with the stasis?"

Qui-Gon shook his head, placing a hand above his pupils, sighing as he let the fingers massage his temple. "The Healers informed me that the more they resort to putting me in stasis, the greater the possibility that I will fail to return from it."

"Does that mean abandoning such treatment?" Obi-Wan asked.

"For a time," Qui-Gon confirmed. "Such is the nature with an unidentifiable illness. Experiment only if there is no risk to the sufferer." He sensed the rising levels of concern and moved a hand from his temple in an effort to quell them. "Fear not, padawan mine, this will pass, though perhaps not as quickly as it should."

"Maybe I should ask Mace to assign someone else," Obi-Wan murmured, as he watched his Master anxiously.

"No, you and Anakin go," Qui-Gon urged. "The sudden quietness of this apartment might restore me."

Obi-Wan mocked frowned. "We don't make that much noise, do we?"

"You, no. Anakin on the other hand, with his constant tinkering...." Qui-Gon smiled as he let the sentence end. "That reminds me, have you found his latest project?"

"Not yet, why do you ask?" Obi-Wan inquired.

"Because I don't think Master Yoda is going to like it. I came across the plans on his datapad. Something to do with a reverse gimmer stick hit device...."

Just find a way aboard," Mace asked him. "However you have to do it."

Obi-Wan nodded, then bowed before exiting the Council Chamber. This was the second time he had greeted Master Windu alone in that room recently, and the second time he was assigned to watch Master C'baoth. Armed with the full up to date details of the Outbound Flight project, he mulled over the information and the Jedi who had requested to go all the way back to the quarters he shared with Qui-Gon and Anakin.

Theoretically, Outbound Flight was a sound project. A noble quest of exploration into the Unknown Regions, a chance to terraform more planets, expand manufacture and food supplies, an opportunity for a second Jedi Temple, where a new code could be written. Obi-Wan could understand why eleven Jedi Knights and six Masters put their names forward when one considered benefits such as these.

But he could also comprehend why the Council were so concerned, for this was not the best time to loose eighteen Jedi from the Order. Not to mention the recent troublesome propaganda about the Order which was spreading through the Republic like wildfire. Accusations concerning their involvement in the Blockade Crisis, the heavy-handed attitude of some Masters and Knights - C'baoth amongst them -when dealing with Republic or non- Republic citizens. The some times healthy suspicion adults held when dealing with their gifted offspring.

He dealt the list of Masters and Knights a cursory glance, his mind searching through his impressions of them. The fact that most were C'baoth's equal when it came to unwholesome reputations conveyed a disturbing message to those in the Senate and elsewhere who regarded the Jedi with suspicion. Some of the names on this list were also those who disagreed with the Council on a regular basis about the way the Order was run. It suggested that the Order was treating this mission as an opportunity to get rid of the most rebellious members. Or that it was sending those they trusted into the Unknown Regions on an insidious invasion plan.

These were the suspicions which were spreading through the Republic right now; most of them unfounded, but when viewed in a certain light, hard to deny. Given the amount of unrest and corruption, some mistrust was understandable. But it was the last thing the Republic needed. Just as sending away a quota of the population skilled in engineering and exploration was unwise.

But the reputation Master C'baoth amassed after Barlok, meant anyone and everyone who were not onboard before, were now. And those who still held caution were subjected to the Master's forthright persuasion. Obi-Wan could not help but worry over the outcome of this mission, not just for the Jedi, but for the Republic citizens going along.

His chrono beeped, reminding him of the time on Naboo. When he was inbetween assignments, he usually took the trouble to call Padmé. The thought of hearing her voice at this moment was soothing balm to his troubled mind. Looking up, he got his bearings and set off for his quarters.

The place was deserted when he entered, not unusual, for Anakin had classes and Qui-Gon was teaching some of the Senior Padawans when his strength permitted. Obi-Wan crossed the living room and entered the study, where the com device bordered the three way desk in the centre of the room.

Seating himself in the chair before his workspace, he tapped in the familiar number of digits which she had given him before he left Naboo and leaned back against the nerfhide covering while he waited for the services to connect.

Unhappily, his patience was only rewarded with an answering message. For a moment he savoured her tone as the recording delivered the polite words, then spoke into the com, leaving a note of his own promise to get in touch when he could.

"Settle yourself in, Master Kenobi," Chancellor Palpatine said. "It's likely to be a very long and weary day."

And he was right, Obi-Wan mused as he almost stumbled through the doorway of his quarters, collapsing in a exhausted, inelegant heap upon the sofa. The negotiations with Roxuli's central government and the system's asteroid mining colonies made the trials of C'baoth and Outbound Flight appear to be a breeze; a minor concern in the grand scheme of things. He was fortunate the Chancellor had taken the decision to stay onboard out of his hands, for it was a selfish move to remain with Outbound Flight, when the Republic was struggling so much. The project to explore the Unknown Regions now seemed akin to rats abandoning a sinking ship.

He and Anakin had experienced all the bad parts of the Republic while they were on board; from the mutinous dissent and suspicion of their citizens, to the overbearing attitude of Master C'baoth in regard to anyone questioning his authority. Frankly, Obi-Wan was relieved to get Anakin away from the ship, for his apprentice did not need to be taught that such arrogance delivered results. Nor that mind melding in the Force was a good technique either. In fact, C'baoth seemed to heading down the path which led to the dark side, if he continued to assert his methods and authority against the rising tide of dissent and suspicion from Outbound Flight's crew and passengers. Obi-Wan feared for the outcome of the mission, and he doubted that one lone voice would have steadied the ship.

The Council would need a briefing from him, a summary of all the events before he delivered his report in full tomorrow morning, but Obi-Wan felt such a task was presently beyond him right now, and any attempt would convey an unhealthy display of negative emotion. He needed a hot shower, something soothing to eat and drink, then bed, before any of the normal procedure after an assignment could take place.

Summoning the energy to rise from the sofa, he opened his eyes just in time to greet his apprentice with a glance as Anakin entered their quarters.

"Master, a call came through for you while we were out," he said, handing him the pad which contained the message and number.

Obi-Wan took the device and cast his blue grey eyes over the string of digits. Abruptly his mind found a new siphon of energy and he rose to his full height. "I'll be using the com for the next hour," he announced.

Anakin frowned. "Are you calling her?" he asked.

The terse accent to his voice caused Obi-Wan to pause. Only tiredness prevented him from answering in his usual calm fashion; he responded in a clipped snap. "Yes, I am."

He felt Anakin's resentful stare follow him all the way to the com.

"Your Highness."

Padmé smiled as she turned to greet her visitor who was regarding the elaborate outfit she wore as Queen Amidala with a new sense; the eyes of someone who would be wearing such costumes soon. She remembered her own awe during that moment, silently wondering how she would manage to breathe in them, let alone walk across a room. "In a few days it'll be the other way round."

"It still doesn't seem real," Jamillia mused, her hands unconsciously touching simple folds of her handmaiden gown. "What did you feel when you first took the throne?"

"Strange," Padmé replied. "I'd been working towards it for years and suddenly there it was. Before I had time to adjust the blockade came."

"What do you think you'll do now?"

"Get used to being an ordinary citizen again," Padmé replied. "Take a vacation. Maybe settle down." she caught the interested gaze of her successor. "Why do you ask?"

"I was wondering if you'd consider a seat in the Senate?"

"Is Horace stepping down?" Padmé sought to confirm, for she had heard nothing from Senator Vancil about this.

Jamillia nodded. "Health concerns. I was only informed this morning."

Padmé laughed slightly. "I shall have to get used to not being informed first of everything that goes on in the Republic."

"Seriously, would you consider taking his seat?" Jamillia inquired. "I know you could do much good."

"I could also do much bad," Padmé countered, watching her successor smile in disbelief. Her reputation had only increased since the blockade, few maintained a healthy respect of her impervious nature to failure.

Jamillia shook her head. "I highly doubt that."

"Who suggested my name be put forward?" Padmé asked.

"The Chancellor," Jamillia answered. "He recalled your moment appealing our case before the Senate during the Blockade Crisis, how well you captured the attention of all his colleagues, inspiring them to make a fundamental change. When Senator Vancil called him this morning, he mentioned your name as his successor, and Horace assented without a moment of hesitation."

Padmé frowned. For some reason, the news that Chancellor Palpatine recommended her for the post, troubled her, more than she liked to admit.

"Milady, I'm not asking for an answer straight away," Jamillia added. "There is still time. Take that vacation and think about it."

Padmé nodded, returned the bow the Princess of Theed gave her, then waited for the doors to close before she sought the peaceful solitude of the balcony, away from the glaring beeping sound of technology.

The view was different from the one which she really sought when she stood on such marbled floors nowadays, but she enjoyed the pleasure it brought her all the same. Ever since Obi-Wan showed her the Force the view from balconies seemed inadequate somehow.

Padmé sighed and closed her eyes as the mere thought of him served to comfort her. Communication between them had been sparse lately due to the increasing number of missions the Order assigned to him and his apprentice. In the early days they could spend hours chatting across comways, now, they barely had time for general inquiry into each other's welbeing before he or sometimes she was called away. After the abrupt end of each message she found herself longing for the days when there were no titles between them except Jedi; in other words when her reign as sovereign of Naboo came to an end.

And now that it was about to, she had another title beckoning her. Senator. Not a role with which, if she was honest with herself, she hadn't contemplated running for, at some point in her life. But that had been before she met Obi-Wan. While it was true that she never expected to give up her career when she settled down with the love of her life, she hadn't meant it to be a high profile one by that time either. While the office would give her ample excuse to spend time on Coruscant, it would draw just as much, if not more attention upon her and any relationship she had.

Yet she could not deny the appeal of the position. The amount of good work she could do, not just for the Republic, but for Naboo as well. From the moment she became an apprentice legislator, she had dreamt of rising to such a position, never expecting her appeal for reform of the elective monarchy to grant her sovereignty. Aside from the news that Chancellor Palpatine recommended her for the post, there was no real objection in her heart or her mind for accepting it.

Padmé took one last look at the splendour of Theed, which the Palace balcony conveyed in all it's glory. She listened to the voice inside her, the one she always trusted to guide her future. It was telling her to take this post.

A smile creased her lips before she turned to go inside.

Padmé almost stumbled into her office in the Senate, exhausted from the welcoming ceremony. If she had known there were some many procedures for a Senator's first day in office, perhaps she would not have been quite so eager to take the post.

She blinked as she took in her desk, a piece of furniture which she thought she had left spotless that morning. Now piles of gifts cluttered the fine Alderaanian Kiirn, leaving not one particle of the dark wood unblemished by fancy flimsi or ribbon.

After the exhausting day in the Senate, the task of opening each present was beyond her right now. Padmé sank down in her chair, the calm eye in the storm of these gifts, her eyes casting only a cursory glance over them, noting for any which might make her smile.

One did, much to her surprise. Wrapped very simply, with a single, elaborately knotted ribbon around a white piece of writing flimsi, the gift lay in the centre of her writing plane, with a note from her handmaiden, Dormé, saying that this was sure to bring her comfort.

Intrigued, Padmé retrieved the scissors which her attendant had also thoughtfully laid nearby, and snipped the ribbon in order to preserve the elaborate knot. Turning the box over, she carefully prized apart the folds, the strength of the writing flimsi such as to prevent tearing without a great deal of force.

When the flimsi lay flat upon the writing plane, it revealed an intricately carved box, made of fine Alderaanian Kiirn, surrounding Nubian semiprecious gemstones. A gold clasp was placed in the middle of the top, designed to be pressed for release.

Padmé obliged, and the surface parted, lowering to either side, as in the centre, a glass dome rose from a small dais. The sight within caused her to gasp, taking in a shallow breathless air of joy and pleasure.

Her favourite Nubian flower lay posed beautifully within, in that perfect stage between bud and full bloom. Below, the green stem was suspended on a rotating dais, allowing one to see the flower from every angle.

As it circled round to display the back, Padmé noticed another small piece of white writing flimsi, lying within the lid of the box. She reached for it, cautiously prizing the seal from the edge and straightened the folds.

Congratulations, Senator Amidala
I have no doubt you will perform miracles
within your new position. All my love,

Padmé let her fingers trace the elegant handwriting, as her mind tried to imagine his clipped Coruscanti accent speaking the words. She was touched beyond measure that he found the time to prepare and send this to her.

Part14: Absence of the Heart.

"Padmé, there's a call for you."

The former sovereign of the Naboo rose from the bench swing in the rear gardens of her family home where she had been watching her nieces play, and darted inside, brushing past the smiling form of her sister Sola with graceful haste. The large comlink screen was located in the study, a flashing icon waiting for her to acknowledge the incoming message. She could do naught but smile at the figure of the sender.

"Good day, Milady," he greeted her as soon as she answered.

"Hello, Obi-Wan," Padmé replied. "How are you?"

"I am well," he assured her, moving to seat himself in the chair behind him. The holocamera adjusted for the change in focus, revealing the Jedi Knight's location; the sleek hi-tech interior of a Delta Twelve Skysprite. "And you?"

"Enjoying a welcome break," she replied. "Unlike you, I see. And Anakin?"

"His dreams trouble him still," Obi-Wan confided soberly. "As to the other, it is why I called. To apologise for my absence if you return to the Core before I do."

"Obi-Wan, there's no need," Padmé said, "I know the commitments of the Order are vast, your responsibilities many, often all-consuming. And I never expect you to visit everytime I am on Coruscant."

"I know," he replied with a smile, "which is why I do."

She blushed at the unspoken charm which his expression conveyed. His hair grown into shoulder length, a beard cresting his chin from a desire to appear less youthful so his authority was not corrupted by age. But while these features did convey that impression of experience, they also conveyed a warmth and a charm which disarmed many who were fortunate to meet with the Knight. The years had been kind to him. Her Padawan was no longer a young man but every inch a Knight. "Where do you go this time?"

"Ansion," he replied, "a minor border dispute. Jedis Luminara and Barriss were sent ahead of us. Although from what I hear from Bail, it has implications for the Republic."

"You think they will secede to the Confederacy?" Padmé asked. Since the failure to raise the Financial Reform Act to a vote in the Senate, many planets had left the Republic to join this Confederacy of Independent Systems.

"We intend to make sure they don't," Obi-Wan informed her. "If Ansion goes, the Confederacy will have gained an extremely strategic planet, and countless others could follow in their wake."

"That might happen anyway if this Military Creation Act goes to the floor," Padmé admitted sadly. Only since joining the Senate soon after her two terms as Queen came to an end, had she become aware of how fragile the Republic seemed to be. Despite everything corruption still existed in the Senate, making the appeal of the Confederacy all the more tempting to some. "I was just with Queen Jamillia today. More details came to light."

"And none of them pleasant reading," Obi-Wan remarked, to which she nodded. Despite the fact that the creation of an army for the defence of the Republic would help the Jedi Order tremendously, there were no Knights or Masters who would truly welcome it, and he was one of them. If the act was voted in, relations between the Republic and the Confederacy could only worsen, along with those worlds involved in either side.

Inside the Delta Twelve there sounded a loud beep, announcing that the craft was soon to drop out of hyperspace. Obi-Wan acknowledged the call with a glance and a hand on controls, before speaking to her again. "I'll see you when we get back," he promised.

"I look forward to it," Padmé said softly. "May the Force be with you, Obi-Wan."

"And with you, milady," he replied before the message came to an end.

Sola was with her daughters when Padmé returned to the bench swing outside, a curious expression displayed across her face. "So that was the legendary Obi-Wan Kenobi," she remarked, needing no confirmation, for the Knight had introduced himself when she answered the call.

Padmé nodded anyway, her gaze moving from her sister to her nieces as they chased each other round the garden. "Yes, he called to tell me that he'd been ordered to Ansion," she informed her sister, her voice distant, as though it was still with him, like her thoughts.

"I see why you like him," Sola added. "Tell me, was he always so charmingly handsome?"

That brought her sharply back to her surroundings. "Sola!"

"Don't worry, baby sister, I'm a married woman, remember?" Sola reminded her with a laugh. "Besides, vows do not preclude one from looking. And you never answered my query."

"I'm a Senator," Padmé uttered firmly. "Senators do not allow such shallow impressions to influence their opinions."

"You're also a woman," Sola countered. "And he's a man. A man whom you have kept a holo correspondence with for ten years."

"We're friends," Padmé protested, but only half-heartedly. Though she had never admitted it to her family, her feelings for Obi-Wan had never changed.

Sola sighed. "Padmé, you have given so many years of your life to the Republic. When are you going to make one for yourself?"

"You speak as if I've wasted those years as Queen and Senator," Padmé remarked, evaluating her sister's appraising glance.

"I don't deny that you've done a great deal of good," Sola corrected. "For Naboo and for the Republic. But even though I'm no politician, I see where the approaching storm on the horizon is heading. It's no longer a question of if there will be war, but when."

Padmé shook her head. "Not if I can help it," she replied.

"And when will you realise that you need to make a life for yourself before it's too late?" Sola asked. "I see the sparkle in your eyes when you watch my children. I know how much you love them. Don't you want a family of your own?"

"I...." Padmé paused as her gaze settled on Ryoo and Pooja, unable to deny the affection she felt for them. Though she had joined public service on Naboo, a family of her own had always been something she wanted. "I'm working right now for something I deeply believe in. For something that's important."

"And after this is settled, after the Military Creation Act is far behind you, you'll find something else that's really important. Something that concerns the Republic and the government more than it really concerns you," Sola predicted.

"How can you say that?" Padmé asked her.

"Because it's true and you know it's true," Sola replied. "When are you going to do something just for yourself?"

"Is everyone to be defined by their children?" Padmé asked incredulously.

"Of course not," Sola answered. "But at the same time, you cannot spend all your life seeking and spending all your energy in the service of ideals and of others. Yes, life is full of sacrifice, but to ignore something which will give you even more energy to fight for better Republic will only result in alienating you from the very people you want to help."

Padmé sighed, the breath acknowledging that some of her sister's points were reasonable. "But if the Military Creation Act becomes law, Sola, war will inevitably follow. Do really wish me to put any child through that?"

Her sister was unable to answer and a silence settled over the siblings which neither of them wished for. Padmé had intended to win the debate, though a part of her half hoped that Sola would have something to say in response. It was a hollow victory however, for she was denying to herself a want which needed to be surrendered to soon, if the Military Creation Act became law. But her doubts remained, and not just because of herself, but of the man whom she would choose to have that family with if she could.

They both had responsibilities, he more than her, not to mention that the public perception of their relationship had not been changed by her choice to enter the Senate. Even assuming he wanted children, for it was something they had not discussed. Despite a correspondence of coms over the ten years since their first encounter, where they had exchanged views, beliefs, ideals, preferences, past times and confidences, their feelings was something which they had never aired, not even as far as to say the reasons why. Numerous though these were, some perfectly reasonable and logical in times such as this, the distance had incurred a natural doubt as to whether their attachment was still present to the level it had been when they first confessed it on Tatooine.

Whatever her fears, it was something she would have to summon the courage to air with him when they next met.

Weeks passed, and few things changed. Padmé returned to her offices in the Palace plaza, immersing herself in the holonet communications which came daily, even hourly to her link station, as the polls monitored the probable outcome of the vote for the Military Creation Act. The date for her return to Coruscant had been set, which meant careful and detailed preparation on what she wanted to say to her fellow Senators, and the necessary security that would accompany her; Handmaidens and Nubian guards. Unlike her predecessor she still found the worth in a decoy and due to the differences between herself and Queen Jamillia a few of the handmaidens who had served her during the second sovereign term volunteered to serve when she became Senator.

Her holo was on at the moment, displaying the numbers, with a soldier on one side and a flag of truce on the other to indicate for or against. It sickened her to see the names of her colleagues, knowing that most them would be determining their position not with a care for the needs of their world or the Republic or peace, but out of personal gain, for business contracts, manufacturing deals, division of forces implementing the law on their own planets, even payoffs for just saying aye or nay. The depth of corruption often caused her to wonder if Sola was right and she was wasting her life in the pursuit of something which at the moment looked wholly impossible to realise.

A rumpus outside drew her attention from the depressing sight to the large window at one end of her office, and she glanced through the panes to see a cadre of men fighting upon the paved courtyard floor. Nubian security forces appeared and began to deal with them.

The portal to her room was slid aside then, after a brief abrupt knock of forewarning, making her turn from the window to see Captain Panaka striding in.

"Just checking, Senator," he informed her, still incredibly formal, but Padmé felt comforted by the mere sight of him. The years had been kind to him too, at twice her age he still had the physique and the health for his post, along with the affection for the sovereign he once served, and the one he did now.

"Shouldn't you be seeing to the security of Queen Jamillia?" she asked him but without any real rebuke.

"She is well protected, I assure you," Panaka replied.

"From?" Padmé asked. Her absence from the capital to spend time with her family had precluded her usual care for Nubian disputes, which were usually few and far between.

"Spice miners," Panaka answered. "Contract issues. Nothing to concern you, Senator. Actually, I was on my way here to speak with you, about the security for your return trip to Coruscant."

Padmé frowned. "That is weeks away."

"Which gives us more time to properly prepare," Panaka replied.

There was another knock at the door and Captain Typho, Panaka's nephew and Padmé's chief of security since her appointment as Senator, walked in. "I have some bad news. The Trade Federation have decided to cast their lot with the Confederacy."

Such news troubled Padmé into silence only for a moment. "We've suspected all along that Count Dooku and his separatists would court the Trade Federation and the various commerce guilds. Viceroy Gunray is an financial opportunist. It was only a matter of time before he decided to see the profit in this."

"I'm much more concerned with the implications to you, Senator," Panaka said. "The separatists have shown themselves not to be above violence. There have been assassination attempts across the Republic."

Padmé could not ignore the truth in that, for Obi-Wan had been involved in the rescue of one of those Senators over the Financial Reform Act, an article of law which she still believed might have prevented so many systems leaving the Republic if it had been put to vote.

"But wouldn't the separatists consider Senator Amidala an ally at this time?" Typho asked. "I know you are no friend towards secedence from the Republic, but concerning the Military Creation Act, you have always stated publicly that you prefer negotiation over force. Would not the separatists agree with your vote?"

"With the alliance of the Trade Federation, I am not so sure of that as I once was," Padmé revealed.

"That alliance demands we tighten security around Senator Amidala," Panaka decided.

"Please do not speak of me as if I am not here," Padmé protested.

"In matters of personal security, Senator, you are not here," Panaka insisted. "At least your voice is not. My nephew reports to me, and his responsibilities on this matter cannot be undermined. You must take all precautions."

"Even cancelling my return?" Padmé asked.

"If events demand it, yes," Panaka answered. "But we know this vote is important, Senator. Rest assured we will do all we can to make sure you are safe to attend."

Part15: Once More Under Scythe's Shadow.

A month since the communiqué and Obi-Wan Kenobi was back on Coruscant, albeit in a less calmer frame of mind than he had been when he left, and for once it had nothing to do with his Padawan's flight technique. The border dispute on Ansion turned out to be worse than the description suggested, matters escalating into battle lines being drawn, which he only managed to prevent disintegrating into war via negotiation with his words and his lightsaber. Peace reigned across the planet once more, and Ansion's membership with the Republic was likewise secured, along with the safety of fellow Knight Luminara and Padawan Barriss. Four Jedi to deal with what the Council had termed a 'minor border dispute' in an Order whose numbers were already pressed, despite all attempts to increase them. It was almost as if the Republic was clamouring for the creation of the army which their Senators continued to debate into a stalemate.

Not that Obi-Wan agreed with the Act, nor indeed did most of the Order. The Jedi were founded on tolerance and a desire for peace arm in arm with justice. Creating an army, even commanding or serving in one, was in direct diametric to those beliefs. Yet, however they strove to prevent the need for such a force, the more the galaxy seemed to flounder under the lack for one. He had just returned in time to learn that the Trade Federation had thrown it's lot in with the Confederacy, and their vast resources in machines and droids only moved the Republic one step closer to creating an army of their own. As much as he believed in a peaceful future, maybe war was just matter of time.

Which led him to contemplate what the Jedi Order would do when such an event occurred. The easiest answer was to cut themselves off from the matter entirely, but their ties to the safety of the Republic were impossible to ignore. None of them could excuse themselves from participation, not even the senior Padawans, among whom was Anakin. In the ten years since he and Qui-Gon had first discovered him, the young boy had advanced further and faster in his training than any other initiates his age.

Few disputed now that he was the Chosen One, and in spite of all his efforts, it was a title which Anakin himself was all too aware of. Already he held himself to a high standard, protesting under his and Qui-Gon's desire for restraint, for patience, always pushing himself ahead with an insatiable curiosity and a confidence bordering on arrogance. But his emotions were not fully disciplined, something which concerned Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon far more than the Council, who seemed content to forget their previous misgivings. Maturity in his Force ability was the one thing which caused them to delay his trials, a notion which naturally irritated the Padawan. He chafed under the restraint, ignoring that he was the youngest initiate to be so close to the trials, ignoring that he had two Masters of considerable repute not just in the Order, but the Republic.

Obi-Wan disputed such a fact as far as he himself was concerned, though he could not deny that there were more Jedi and citizens who knew his name now than ten years ago. Since his knighthood he had paid diligent attention to continuing his training, as more and more missions in the field called for his skills with the lightsaber to advance. A Soresu Master, it was widely held belief in the Order that he equalled Master Yoda and Master Windu in terms of his ability. But it was his talent for negotiation which garnered tantamount respect, something he was proud to have learned from his Master.

Qui-Gon was still suffering under his illness. It was rare that he emerged from the Temple for active field duty now. His resources in the Force were by no means depleted, nor did the stasis which he underwent four times a year hinder his physical or mental strength. But there was a noticeable frailty about him, which appeared to be slowly increasing. Obi-Wan still searched for a cure, but he was aware more now than ever that time was running out. Just like the inevitability of the Republic being drawn into civil war, so was the shadow of death drawing upon Qui-Gon Jinn.

A swift breeze broke his gloomy thoughts just then, and he returned to his stargazing. Not that one could see stars any more in the Coruscant skyline, numerous traffic lanes and rising levels of pollution deprived all observers of that hope. Fortunately there was something else to draw his attention. Just as the rise and fall of a wave within the ocean supported and foretold the board of a surfer, so did the currents of the wind support and foretell the arrival of pilot and his craft.

Four as it turned out; as one large cruiser under the escort of three smaller starfighters hoved into view. Obi-Wan savoured the appearance of each one, his fascination for such vehicles not entirely destroyed by the crazy antics of his Padawan. He noted the lack of weaponry on the large cruiser, a sleek silver craft with the wings of an avian and the grace to match. Effortlessly they surfed the skyline, avoiding traffic lanes in their approach vector to one of the numerous hovering dockyards buried around Five Hundred Republica.

It did not take him long to join the dots, recognising the ship and the landing coordinates, realising who was most likely aboard. He turned from the balcony towards the entrance to the Temple, knowing he would have to move fast if he wanted to arrive before the Senator and guards left for their apartments.

He heard the explosion in the turbolift, the sound of the shock waves echoing through the shaft, followed by the echo through the Force, the forewarning of death. Barely a second later the klaxons rang along with other alarms and the turbolift began to slow down as the security override went into place. Obi-Wan reached out with the Force towards the control panel, reverting the cylinder back to its original speed. Inside him his heart pounded and frustration threatened to overwhelm his composure, before he let loose his Jedi training, reminding himself that even with the Force, he would be there too late.

Pieces littered the docking platform, blackened and charred almost beyond recognition. Most of the Nubian Royal Cruiser had survived the blast, but it was clear even from the perimeter that the ship was a write off. Around it's burning hulk stood the smaller escort crafts, which fared far better. These however were not the figures Obi-Wan focused on as he stepped out from the turbolift. Instead his gaze was drawn to one of the seven bodies which lay on the permacrete, decorated in a swathes of black and white, topped with the remains of a crumpled black head dress. He knew those Senatorial clothes well, almost too well, having seen them at their best on Amidala during the last session. With difficulty he dragged his eyes from the scorched material to the darkly clad figure crouching over the wearer, the long dark hair which cascaded down one shoulder the only thing to distinguish her from the other pilots of the escort.

"Cordé!" he heard her cry as the pilot gathered the woman to her chest.

"Milady, you are still in danger," her security captain cried, the urgency in his voice clear even to the Knight who still stood some distance away, seemingly unable to move closer, as though his proximity made the difference between illusion and reality.

Padmé slowly restored her decoy to the permacrete and rose to her feet. When she spoke the desolation was foremost in her tone. "I shouldn't have come back," she uttered and for a moment nothing mattered but the death of her friend, which she could have prevented by staying on Naboo.

"This vote is very important," Typho said beside her. "You did your duty, Senator, and Cordé did hers. Would you diminish her death by standing here and risking your safety? What good would her sacrifice be?"

"Enough, Captain," Padmé turned away and began to walk towards the turbolift for the transport. Only then did her eyes find Obi-Wan waiting for her. Without another thought she almost flew into his warm embrace and let loose her grief.

Obi-Wan tangled a hand in her hair and wrapped the other round her slim waist as his eyes moved from the wreckage to the solemn face of Captain Typho, who acknowledged him with a nod before raising a comlink to his lips. Measures had to be put in place before those responsible realised their mistake and tried again. For now, it must look to the Republic that the Senator from Naboo had been assassinated.

He murmured intelligible words of comfort, his mouth close against her ear, his fingers caressing her hair, his quiet strength restoring her. It seemed an age since he had last held her like this, when they were young and out in the far flung reaches of the galaxy. Since Tatooine and Naboo their encounters were brief conversations in between missions and Senate meetings, or held across the holonet comms, none of which were ideal places to drop the formality required of a Jedi and a Senator.

Underneath the words however their exchange somehow always managed to contain the warmth which existed between them, the feeling she could put any number of words to yet still found herself unable to define. Memories of their meetings were enough to sustain her when they were apart, making the reality even more enduring. Her sister's words came back to her, the constant question as to when she was going to seize a life of her own. She knew it would be with the man who held her now, she just hoped he still felt the same.

Padmé felt the equanimity return to her. The tears ceased and she was able to draw back to look up at his face. Obi-Wan was all compassion and understanding, his silence conveying to her what words could not. She knew they needed to part, he to the Temple, she to the Senate, yet she did not want his comforting presence to leave her side right now. "Obi-Wan, I need to get to my apartment and change, then to the Senate. Can you come?"

"If you wish," he replied, though he would have followed her anyway. He knew of the threats against her, it was something he always kept an eye open for, a difficult counter balance to his duties as a Jedi. There were those in the Order who viewed such care as dangerous attachment, but he saw it as one of his greatest strengths. Somehow in the ten years they had come to know each other, he mastered the ability to care for her, and let go of that devotion when duty called for him to do so. He had realised the complexity behind the lines of a doctrine which he had taught almost from birth; attachment is forbidden, possession is forbidden, for to combine the two spells disaster.

But love is permitted, once this rule is understood. To attach is to cling to someone who is only transitory, who grows as the years go by, who dies, as all things do, even stars. To possess them is to deny them that right to grow, to die. To love however, is to accept both of these truths, and then realise the freedom which lies within that acceptance. That love never fades, but grows, until it passes into the Force. And the Force becomes the better for it.

They parted from each other to fall into line beside each other, and with Captain Typho following, they reached the turbolift to take the short journey to her apartment. Unlike the arrival to the planet, her entrance to the suite of rooms occurred without incident, not even joyful relief, for Jar Jar and Dormé had already been briefed of the truth and the need for concealment. The handmaiden ushered her mistress into the bedroom to change out of the flight suit into robes more suited for addressing the Senate. While Padmé no longer hid her face for this role, she still realised the need for presentation and intimidation, and the black gown of mourning with gold under shift was a perfect example.

Only minutes had passed since they left the docking platform, ensuring that by the time they arrived at the Senate, news of the explosion and her supposed death had just finished being relayed via the Chancellor to her colleagues. Palpatine was at his most charming; conveying the words with a tone full of sadness yet underlined with a strength that still insisted he was for negotiation with the Separatists, that he refused to answer the clamouring of his more vocal Senators; the cries for an army, for war. Somehow, they still listened to him, still trusted his wisdom and ideals, which was possibly why he was still Chancellor though he had long outstayed his legal term limit.

Padmé held misgivings over this, along with many other events which had occurred upon the floor during her terms as Queen and Senator. But she did not disagree with the words which her former Senator uttered now.

"Peace is our objective here, not war."

"You say this while your friend lies dead, assassinated by those same people with whom you wish to negotiate?" The Senator from Malastare countered. "Did you not just name Amidala as your friend?"

The arena erupted into chaos at that moment as voices clamoured over one another for the right to speak. Such a sight filled Padmé and the Obi-Wan with disgust. They stood in the Senatorial pod now, along with Captain Typho, Jar Jar and Dormé. Padmé turned to her handmaiden and murmured, "this is exactly why Count Dooku was able to convince so many systems to secede."

"There are many who believe the Republic has become too large and disjointed," Dormé observed. "Not just those who have joined the Separatists."

Obi-Wan stayed silent and kept to the shadows. It was not the place of the Jedi to interfere or make with politics, it was only to serve those who did. A task he and many others of his Order had found increasingly difficult of late, especially when confronted with the chaos that was the present Senate. It was why Count Dooku had left the Order, refusing to work with a Republic which no longer functioned. His departure had affected many of the Jedi, but Qui-Gon the most deeply, for his former Master was Dooku's Padawan.

Now his leadership of the Separatists hung over the Republic like the shadow of the remaining Sith which clouded the ability of the Jedi. He had killed the apprentice on Naboo ten years ago, leaving the Master hiding somewhere in the galaxy, waiting for the moment to strike again. The Council believed that if they discovered that Master, they would be able to restore peace back to the Republic. But they also knew that the only way to find him was to protect and serve while it endured this chaos. Even if that servitude came with a price, as sacrifices often do.

"My most noble colleagues," Padmé began, her tone at its most Senatorial, rising over the general clamour to echo throughout the arena. "I concur with the Supreme Chancellor. At all costs we do not want war!"

At the sound of her voice the floor fell silent, before a rapturous cheer broke out and the Senators pressed their hands together in applause at the sight and sound of her.

"It is with great surprise and joy that the chair recognises the Senator from Naboo, Padmé Amidala," Palpatine announced.

"Less than an hour ago, an assassination attempt was made upon my life," Padmé began after the cheering and applause had faded away. "One of my bodyguards and six others were ruthlessly and senselessly murdered. I was the target, but more importantly, I believe this security measure before you was the target. I have led the opposition to building an army, but there is someone who will stop at nothing to secure its passage."

Obi-Wan cloaked his presence as he listened to her, admiring the strength and determination in her tone, the belief in her convictions. It was because of her and the other members of the Loyalist committee, which also included good Senators such as Mon Mothma, Garm Bel Iblis and Bail Organa, that the Order felt their choice to continue to protect and serve the Republic was justified. They were the ones who commanded the respect and hope of the people who elected them, and ironically, the ones whose lives were frequently at risk for precisely such reasons, as proved by the mixture of rancorous and rapturous cheers from those present within the vast arena.

"I warn you, if you vote to create this army, war will follow." Padmé continued. "I have experienced the misery of war first hand; I do not wish to do so again."

Her voice and the words she uttered were begnning to turn the tide, steering the future away from the rancour towards the rapture. But the future was not immutable and one dissenter raised their voice in objection.

"This is insanity!" Senator Orn Tee Taa cried. "I move that we defer this vote immediately!"

Padmé turned her gaze towards the Twi'lek as she continued to speak. "Wake up, Senators, you must wake up! If we offer the Separatists violence they can only show us violence in return! Many will loose their lives, and all will loose their freedom! This decision could well destroy the very foundation of our great Republic! I pray you do not let fear push you into a disastrous decision. Vote down this security measure which is nothing less than a declaration of war! Does anyone want that here? I cannot believe that they do!"

Obi-Wan inwardly cheered at her words, but his gaze had moved from her to the three main dissenters within the arena; Senators Orn Tee Taa, Ask Aak and Darsana. Even before the former spoke, he knew what they were going to argue, and he feared that as usual, the Senate would gladly adhere to the delay rather than commit themselves to a vote whose outcome was likely to change the Republic forever, whether the result was aye or nay.

"By precedence of order, my motion to defer the vote must be dealt with first," Orn Tee Taa said. "That is the rule of law!"

Supreme Chancellor Palpatine turned an expression full of sympathy upon his former sovereign. "In view of the lateness of the hour and the seriousness of this motion, we will take up these matters tomorrow. Until then, the Senate stands adjourned."

The master controls of the Senatorial pods were activated, and the devices slowly reversed back to the section of the wall which was assigned to them. Padmé waited for the artificial lighting to darken before she turned to her silent Jedi, whose solemn face conveyed sympathy and understanding. As much as Obi-Wan hated politics and politicians, she knew that unlike many who possessed such emotions, he at least understood and accepted the value of their democracy.

"It is at moments like this that I wish the Chancellor would just abandon loopholes and call for the vote to take place," she remarked. "At least then we would know for sure, one way or another. As it stands, I fear it is only a matter of time before our floundering forces the Separatists into violent action regardless."

Obi-Wan nodded. "It is a fine line which the Chancellor walks," he observed. "But you are right, delay can only work for so long."

Padmé sighed as her chrono beeped, quietly proclaiming the hour. "I have a meeting with the Loyalist Committee early tomorrow morning, and tonight I must talk to the relatives of those lost in the explosion." She ceased speaking then to gaze into his blue grey eyes, her silence conveying perfectly the words she left unsaid, which were received by him almost as if they were heard through the Force.

"And I have to report to the Council concerning the events of Ansion," Obi-Wan informed her, his apology over his prior commitments equally unsaid yet still heard by her. He bowed gracefully over her outstretched hand, taking it in his own. "Good evening, milady," he uttered in farewell, before touching the smooth skin he held with his lips.

"Good evening, Master Jedi," Padmé returned, the title reminding them both of a time a decade past, causing them both to see a smile form upon each other's face before they left each other's sight.

Just as before the words I'll see you later were left unsaid, yet heard.

Volume Two.

© Danielle Harwood-Atkinson 2021. All rights reserved.