Categories > Movies > Star Wars > Becoming Love: I, In You: The Rise of the Clone Wars

Chapter 4: When the Reprieve Ends

by Polgarawolf 0 Reviews

SUMMARY: What if Senator Padmé Amidala had refused to go into hiding on Naboo, during the events of AotC and a scheme were instead hatched that involved sending Dormé Tammesin (the Senator's only...

Category: Star Wars - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama,Romance,Sci-fi - Characters: Amidala,Anakin,Obi-Wan - Warnings: [!!] [?] - Published: 2008/10/21 - Updated: 2008/10/21 - 13901 words

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Fourth Chapter of a SW AU work in progress (broken into two posts because of the LJ's troublesome word/character lengths)
Series Title: /Becoming Love: I, In You/
*Story Title: The Rise of the Clone Wars
*Tentative/working title only - subject to change, as I'm not sure I like it!
Pairing: Mainly Dormékin with some background Sobidala (Sabé/Obi-Wan/Padmé Amidala).
*Rating: Uhm, probably a borderline PG-13/R-ish, overall, maybe (?)
*This may be subject to change, in a few very specific later parts.
Disclaimer: I do not own the lovely boys and girls from /Star Wars/, more's the pity! What I do have is an extremely contrary muse that refuses to shut up and leave me alone (or to make up its bloody mind about certain things) . . .

Summary: What if Senator Padmé Amidala had refused to go into hiding on Naboo, during the events of AotC and a scheme were instead hatched that involved sending Dormé Tammesin (the Senator's only surviving handmaiden on Coruscant who'd been trained as a decoy) into hiding as Amidala, with Anakin Skywalker to accompany and protect her, while Obi-Wan Kenobi went searching for the individual(s) responsible for the attempts on the Senator's life and the first of the Senator's decoys (now one of the primary trainers of her new handmaidens), Sabé Dahn, brought her newest students to Coruscant to help Jedi Knights Siri Tachi and Garen Muln in their new assignment to hide and protect Padmé, while she remained on Coruscant to covertly continue the fight against the passing of the Military Creation Act? What, then, might have followed . . . and how would events have turned out differently than in the film saga? Dormékin AU of AotC!

Author’s Warnings: 1.) Please see the Author's Warnings for the preface and prologue and first chapter of this story, as they continue to hold true pretty much throughout the rest of the story!
2.) Again, this story does not have a beta - I've proof-read and checked the grammar, but I won't swear that there aren't any typos! I will be happy to fix any errors that are pointed out to me!
3.) Details about the professions of various members of Padmé Amidala's family are almost entirely drawn from my own imagination.

Author’s Notes: 1.) Please see the Author's Notesfor the preface and prologue and first chapter of this story, as they continue to hold true pretty much throughout the rest of the story!
2.) Please keep in mind that some of the scenes in this work are going to be deliberately modelled after scenes in AotC (specifically the novelization of AotC by R. A. Salvatore), especially near the start of the story!
3.) Again, I have a journal entry with a running list of costumes/images that work as "illustrations" for much of this story, a more complete/updated version of which can now be found at http://polgarawolf. livejournal.com/ 136333.html and, when the story is completely done, I will likely go back and either create specific entries with links for each chapter or include the proper information on costumes and such for each chapter in that chapter post.



Star Wars
Becoming Love: I, In You

The Rise of the Clone Wars


Chapter Four: When the Reprieve Ends


1,000:05:17-1,000:05:18 After Ruusan Reformations (25,001 After Republic’s Founding), 19-18 days prior to the Battle of Geonosis

We are fools to think the battle is ever over. A defeated foe can delude us into letting down our guard . . . to our eternal sorrow.
– Ancient saying of the Minions of Xendor, from the stolen journals of the Dark Father



Padmé droops listlessly, like a flower dying for thirst, on the chair in front of her vanity. She feels wrung out, exhausted, utterly defeated by the brutally honest conversation she’s just had with Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Obi-Wan.

She shudders, curls in upon herself until her knees are drawn up against her chest and she can lock her arms around them tightly, bending down around them to place her flushed forehead tightly against their hardness. No matter what she does, no matter how reasonable she tries to be or what she tells herself, her body and her thoughts inevitably betray her. She wants what she has been promised and what she has in turn sworn for: she wants Sabé back; she wants Obi-Wan to be theirs, as he has always been meant to be; and she wants a family for herself, all her own, and not just her sister’s to be lorded over her and then taken away. She wants/, Lady Asherah help her, she just wants/. And she cannot seem to help herself, to stop herself, no matter how hard she tries.

A low noise catches in the back of her throat, choking her, forcing her to make a strangled sound somewhere in between a keening moan and a sobbing cry. She shivers, curls down closer around herself, and tries desperately to think of something else, something capable of distracting her from the yawning gulf she can feel breaking open vertiginously in the pit of her stomach.

Anakin.

The image of the Padawan learner springs itself upon Padmé, the thought of him coming to her full-blown from she knows not where and for reasons she cannot fathom (nor, in truth, does she particularly care to try, though perhaps, if the hideously awful events of the past few days had not, in fact, happened, she might have deliberately called upon her memory of the earnest young Tatooine slave boy, willfully bringing his image – his sun-bleached golden hair, sun-gilded skin, and bright blue eyes – to mind, in order to draw comfort from her remembrance of him and his painfully unabashed, unquestioning, unwavering faith in her basic goodness and her breath-taking beauty, his firm insistence that she was an angel), but she seizes upon the distraction, nonetheless, feverishly seizing hold of and then running with the memory of him.

/Anakin./

She is painfully aware of the fact that she had not loved him nor even particularly cared for him overly much, when they first met, all those years ago, though Anakin had clearly been fascinated with her from the moment he first clept eyes on her, in Watto’s shop. Padmé had been far too full of worry (and desperate love for another – for two others, if she is being scrupulously honest) to spare him much time or attention, and it had only been when he had won that pod-race and she’d found herself suddenly indebted to him that she had truly taken much notice of him. They had (after a fashion) grown to be friends (of sorts) on the trips from Tatooine to Coruscant and from Coruscant to Naboo, and she eventually even learned to regard him with respect and something approximating the shape and the flavor of love, as a hero of Naboo, given his actions in the effort to retake the planet from the Trade Federation; yet, always, she knows (always! Useless and beyond useless to even attempt to deny it), Anakin has regarded her with far more intensity of purpose and purity of emotion, always he has loved her – adored her, worshiped her – as his unutterably precious angel.

To soothe her sometimes prickling conscience, Padmé has told herself, in the years since their parting, that she returns his love magnanimously, with the kind of wide-open affection that comes only when one stumbles upon someone with whom a connection is felt even before the introductions are made, determinedly thinking of Anakin as a dear old friend she hadn’t even known she’d lost until she suddenly found him again, in that most unlikeliest of places – a junk shop in a desert. Though she is the one who unhesitatingly agreed to sever all personal ties with him and she is the one who suggested that Dormé should be the one to strike up a friendship with Anakin, nonetheless, in their time apart, Padmé has occasionally come to address letters to him in her mind, and (unable to resist the undeniable allure of having a face – a name, a presence, an unwavering image – to entrust her worries to, even if he couldn’t answer her back) even spoken from time to time to his imagined form while preparing for various state events. There is no use in even trying to deny the comfort she has unabashedly taken from his adoration of her: Padmé has striven to be his flawless angel so that she might remember the look of awe in his eyes and not feel as though she weren’t completely worthy of such wholehearted worship. It has been a form of refuge, for her, his love for her, Anakin’s youth so neutralizing any hint of threat from the intensity of his feelings for her that she has, frankly, become accustomed to being able to find solace in the memory of him.

Now, though, in automatically reaching for her (comforting) comfortable memory of that wide-eyed little boy from Tatooine, she abruptly finds herself thwarted, her way to that familiar source of comfort blocked by her new knowledge of his current form. The tall, somewhat lanky young man with Anakin’s brilliant blue eyes and intensely passionate presence is . . . different, somehow, the sheer physicality of him something that she doesn’t know how to navigate around. Something new in the sheer blazing blueness of his eyes, in the flick of his tongue over the word “beautiful,” in the way the memory of him floods her senses now not with the remembrance of heat and sand and grease but rather with something wild and sweet and musky and spicy and undeniably masculine, nothing at all little boy, keeps her from being able to envision him and remember that this is just Anakin, just little Ani, the slave boy whose help fixed their ship and got them on their way to Coruscant and who was freed for his troubles.

The easiness of his love for her – the safeness and sheer comfortability of his adoration, the knowledge of which Padmé could, once upon a time, hold safely within her mind, warming herself by its steady glow – is something that she has never thought of as something that could change, something that she has certainly never imagined would change nor wanted to change. And yet, unarguably, given the truth written across Anakin’s face (new to her, despite the fact that she has certainly seen him enough, since they parted, in holos and vids and even sketches and paintings – sent along to her handmaiden, Dormé, by Anakin as gifts of friendship – given that somehow none of those depictions of Anakin Skywalker ever managed to capture the reality of him, of the sheer power and physicality and intensity of him) and Obi-Wan’s rather pointed remarks concerning her need to be careful of his Padawan’s easily bruised feelings – despite her earlier attempts to avoid realizing and even to deny what has happened – that is the very thing that seems to have happened, and she can no longer touch on or even approach the thought of Anakin now, for fear of burning himself with the memory of his passion. It is far too dangerous for her to seek solace in the memory of him when the thought of him brings not the child Ani but rather Anakin, the young man. No, she can no longer afford to take anything from him any longer – not even the memory of his kindness and friendship and fascinated love for her.

And this is absolutely no good, isn’t helping her at all, is, in fact, quite possibly making an already bad situation worse – especially considering the fact that Obi-Wan wants her to help him with Anakin and she (glutton for punishment that she apparently is) has agreed to do so! She is going to have to be able to work with Anakin – is going to have to try her damnedest to keep from adversely affecting his standing among the Order by becoming a distraction and potential (forbidden) attachment, will have to stop automatically encouraging his fascination in and his love for and reliance upon her (whether those feelings comfort and buoy her up or not and whether or not it might be a good idea to continue to cultivate his personal friendship, given his potential strength in the Force), and is most certainly going to have to treat him as an adult, rather than a precocious child – and, to be perfectly fair (as she must be, if she wishes to truly be that good person she sometimes thinks she spends most of her life only pretending to be), the fact that doing so won’t be easy for her most certainly isn’t Anakin’s fault. She most certainly can’t take out her discomfort or her frustration on Anakin: it wouldn’t be at all fair, and Anakin assuredly deserves more, deserves better, than such callous treatment from her, given how much he’s already given, to help her and the peoples of Naboo.

Padmé chokes back a bitter laugh, allows herself a single soft sigh, and makes herself stop digging her forehead painfully against the sharp edges of her knees. She has to get a hold of herself. Anakin will be coming to speak to her, at some point, and probably sooner rather than later, if the bright promise in his eyes earlier (when he followed her with his unwavering regard, even as she was withdrawing to the safety of her private quarters) is to be trusted. She needs to have far better control over herself than this, if she is going to do as she should and as she has promised Obi-Wan she will and avoid causing Anakin distress.

A second, soundless sigh escapes her as she carefully unfolds her desperately tight-curled knees and straightens her back until she’s sitting back up straight in the vanity’s chair. There are some days when Padmé curses ever having met Obi-Wan Kenobi, ever having laid eyes on any Jedi or would-be Jedi whatsoever, ever having chosen to follow both her dreams and her sense of responsibility (and defied her desire to truly be with Sabé) and so ended up in politics (first as Princess of Theed, then as Queen of Naboo, and now as the Nabooian Senator for the Chommell Sector). When she is being scrupulously honest with herself, though, she knows that, if it hadn’t been one thing or the other, it would have been something else altogether. She never could have abandoned her people to the Trade Federation, whether she’d been Queen or not, and she can’t even think of a set of circumstances under which she might not have ended up pursuing a career somehow focusing on the needs of others. With a social worker for a mother, a university teacher and architect for a father, a former handmaiden for a Queen and former chosen companion of a King for one set of grandparents, and a retired therapist and retired xenobiologist veterinarian for the other set of grandparents, she imagines it would have taken an act of the Lady to see Padmé in a profession having nothing to do with caring for the requirements and/or desires of others. (And in any case, as a small mocking voice in the back of her mind is swift to point out, what would she be, without her family’s, Sabé’s, Obi-Wan’s, Anakin’s, necessity’s influence in her life? Nothing and less than nothing!)

This is her lot in life – what she is and what she does. She is Amidala, and she does not break her promises . . . even when they are foolishly given. She has promised to help, with Anakin, and so that is what she will do.

And, as if conjured by her thoughts, the door chimes – its sound somehow at once both more formal and more proprietary than Bendu Kenobi’s earlier knocking on her door – and so she has to compose herself, for she is as certain of who is on the other side of that door as she is of her own name.

Sighing, she passes her hands rapidly across her face (checking to make sure she hasn’t actually cried at any point in her private musings), smooths her expression and plasters a faint smile on her lips, and starts for the door, carefully pulling her robe up tighter around her, once again quite suddenly painfully aware that her silky white nightgown (with its thin, slightly sheer material and wide, loose, drawstring neckline that often tends to slide down off of one shoulder or the other at inconvenient times) is more than a little bit revealing. Only a few hours earlier, her movements would have struck her as more than a little curious, for Padmé is not, by nature, either particularly shy nor prone to fits of shrinking modesty; yet, nonetheless, she knows she cannot risk any misunderstandings, and so now feels self-conscious enough to pull the heavy robe up tight and hold it carefully shut near the base of her throat as she moves to open the door, wholly unsurprised to find Anakin Skywalker standing there before her.

“Hello,” he blurts out after a few moments, something in his manner making it seem as though he can hardly draw enough breath even for this one word alone.

“Is everything all right?” she immediately asks, startled out of her own inner turmoil by his apparent shortness of breath and oddly disarrayed, rumpled looking clothing, fearing, for a moment, that something else may have happened, to bring him to her door in such a state.

Anakin, though, stutters over a response that (eventually) calms her momentary fear. “Oh, yes,” he finally manages to reply. “Yes, my Master’s gone down to the lower levels to check on Captain Typho’s security measures, but everything seems quiet enough.”

One dark eyebrow arches itself questioningly at that, given the odd hint of discontent in the Padawan’s voice. “You sound disappointed.”

Anakin shrugs, looks down, fidgets slightly, and finally gives an embarrassed little laugh, rubbing his right hand self-consciously across the nape of his neck, but he doesn’t try to defend himself or deny her observation.

“You don’t enjoy this,” Padmé finds herself blurting out, startled enough by his response – or really, his lack of response – to forget to check herself before she can say anything that might be . . . less than diplomatically worded.

“There is nowhere else in all the galaxy I’d rather be,” Anakin immediately declares, looking back up at her earnestly, and then it’s Padmé’s turn to give an embarrassed little laugh.

“But this . . . inertia,” she reasons, and Anakin nods as he catches on.

“We should be more aggressive in our search for the assassin,” he insists. “To sit back and wait like this is to invite disaster.”

An eyebrow automatically arches itself at him again. “Master Kenobi does not agree.”

“Master Kenobi is bound by the letter of our orders,” Anakin carefully explains. “He won’t take a chance on doing anything that isn’t explicitly asked of him by the Jedi Council.”

Padmé tilts her head and considers the impetuous young man more carefully. Her first impulse is to protest such a sweeping proclamation – to insist that discipline a primary lesson of the Jedi and that Jedi are bound (and strictly so!) within the structure of the Order and their Code, and that Obi-Wan is only trying to insure that the High Council will have no quarrel with him or his Padawan, due to a failure to adhere to this discipline – but Obi-Wan has implored her to treat Anakin as an adult and to be careful of his feelings, so . . . frowning slightly, she carefully asks, “And I suppose that you are more like Master Jinn, who so prized independence and personal initiative that he often found himself as cross-purposes with the High Council?”

Anakin shrugs again, with studied nonchalance, but the grin he gives her – sudden and blindingly bright, impacting on her senses with all the subtlety of an unexpected explosion – can only be described as mischievous as he loftily notes, “I accept the duties I am given, but demand the leeway I need to see them to a proper conclusion.”

She finds herself smiling back, a little bit breathlessly, in spite of herself, as she wryly asks, “Demand?”

Anakin’s devilish grin unfolds into a genuinely sweet smile as he gives another small (and, this time, wholly genuine) shrug. “Well, I ask, at least.”

“And presume, when you can’t get the answers you desire,” Padmé adds knowingly, with a crooked little grin of her own, though in her heart she is only half teasing, disarmed as she is by his refreshingly open and honest response.

Anakin’s mouth quirks with repressed good humor in response to her little addendum, but, “I do the best I can with every problem I am given,” is the strongest admission he’ll offer.

His good humor is contagious, and she finds herself laughing a little, in spite of herself, as she notes, “And so just sitting around guarding me isn’t your idea of fun.”

“We could be doing better and more exciting things,” Anakin instantly replies, and there is an odd double edge to his voice – one that, combined with the directness of his gaze, both intrigues Padmé and makes her self-consciously pull her robe up even tighter against the base of her throat. “If we catch this assassin, we might find the root of these attempts on your life,” the Padawan goes on to explain, though, quickly putting the discussion back on a professional level (and, in the process, making Padmé flush with embarrassment, at having apparently read his previous comment awry and overreacted). “Either way, you’ll be safer, and our duties will be made far easier.”

Padmé’s mind whirls as she tries to sort through Anakin’s proposal and his motivations for making it. This impetuous, too-passionately enthusiastic young man – this /Jedi Padawan/, as she finds she must force herself to remember – surprises her with every word, and she’s not at all certain how she should be responding either to him or his idea. There’s no denying the trouble she can plainly see, brewing in those burning blue eyes, simmering with emotions, and yet . . . and yet, what he’s saying certainly makes sense, especially if she wants this situation resolved quickly – her would-be assassin lured out of hiding to be apprehended, so that this whole awful mess can be swiftly put behind her – and Bendu Kenobi wants her to take Anakin seriously, to treat him more like an adult . . . Drawing in a deep breath, she gathers her courage, and carefully asks, “And how would you propose to draw the assassin out, then? I can’t imagine it would be easy to fool a professional.”

Anakin’s smile blazes like a star going nova, leaving her blinking at him dazedly, feeling suddenly oddly dizzy and not at all sure that this is a very good idea after all, and his supremely confident declaration of, “Oh, don’t worry. I have a plan,” does nothing to calm the sudden sense of sick foreboding gathering in the pit of her stomach.

To her surprise, though, she finds herself arching an eyebrow at him questioningly again . . . and listening, as he lays his plan out for her . . . and finding herself agreeing that it could work.

Obi-Wan wants her to treat Anakin more like an equal. The assassin murdered Cordé and Versé and all of those other handmaidens in cold blood. The assassin deserves to be caught, to be punished, and the more quickly, the better. And if she can draw the blackguard out, by playing bait, and so keep whoever it is from hurting any more of her loyal handmaidens, well . . .

“Alright, then. I’ll do it. Just . . . don’t tell Obi-Wan. I doubt very much he would approve of this plan.”

Anakin just grins at her again. “Don’t worry, Padmé. I know how to keep a secret. And I want this plan to work as much as you do. The sooner we get this assassin, the sooner we’ll know for sure that you and your household are safe again.”

He practically blazes with earnestness and the desire to be of service, so much so that she finds herself swallowing back her uncertainty, smiling at him weakly as she nods understanding and agreement, murmuring, “Of course. I’ll just . . . I’ll go and prepare, then.”

“I’ll be waiting. And watching,” Anakin promises, smiling again before giving her a slight bow and turning to let himself out of her rooms.

Skin crawling with a mixture of apprehension and sudden excitement, Padmé forces herself to take a deep breath, and then heads back to her vanity, to reach for a different, very specific comlink, flicking it on and, in response to an interrogatory warble, replying, “Artoo, could you come to my rooms, please? It appears I’m going to have a task for you, my friend . . . ”

***

Dormé is tired, body and mind and soul, so exhausted that the whole of her aches from the effort of remaining alert. Sighing, she pours herself another cup of wake-tea and rolls her neck until it pops, relieving some of the painful pressure building along her spine. She forces herself to drink the entire cup of the faintly over-brewed (and bitter) stimulant, biting back on a grimace, and pours yet another cup before turning her gaze back up to a patiently waiting Joané. The other handmaiden waits quietly while Dormé gathers her thoughts, her green-flecked gaze shadowed by worry but also brimming with trust, and Dormé has to struggle to keep from hiding her face in her hands, suddenly feeling painfully inadequate and wholly out of her depth. The young handmaiden’s obvious trust in her makes Dormé want to shrink in on herself and protest her unworthiness, to protest that it is Sabé who is their proper athron/, the true /enka-uma of the handmaidens, and aónes dævítru eisharti for Amidala, not Dormé, and that they should all be looking towards Sabé for guidance.

The desire is an irrational one, of course – Dormé has been aónes dævítru eisharti ever since Sabé was made Palpatine’s replacement as the Senator for the Chommell Sector, promoted to that lofty position despite her (not inconsiderable) misgivings because there was literally no one else left, in the wake of the Trade Federation’s invasion and occupation of Naboo, who was able to impersonate Amidala as well as she could. Moreover, she has been one of the primary athrons for the handmaidens in training ever since they managed to train up enough of the new handmaidens to have at least two others able to reliably act as Amidala’s decoy, around the time when Sabé was elected Senator in her own right (and not just the interim Senator, finishing out Palpatine’s term in the Senate), and has only taken on more and more responsibilities as trainer and teacher for the handmaidens in the years since, though those responsibilities, at least, have largely shifted back to Sabé since Sabé’s return to Naboo (with the end of Amidala’s reign as Queen and the beginning of her time as Senator), given both Sabé’s greater marital proficiency and her experience at quite literally being Senator for the Chommell Sector – but that does not stop Dormé from rather abruptly wanting to tell this girl (this handmaiden who trained largely under her watchful eyes) that she’s trusting in the wrong person and relying on Dormé will likely only get her and other handmaidens killed.

Her eyes ache and burn with the threat of tears. She’s not sure how long she spent crying into Anakin’s shoulder, but evidently it wasn’t enough to completely purge her of her tearfulness, and she finds herself wishing that the Jedi Padawan were still seated across the table from her instead of Joané. It’s a selfish wish – Anakin has other, more important things to be doing than listening to her whine and letting her cry on his shoulder. She’s already taken up more of his time than she probably should have, given that he’d not only stayed with her and held her until she’d managed to stop crying and compose herself enough to attempt to turn back to her makeshift meal but insisted on making them both a real meal, bustling around the kitchen with surprising ease until he found ingredients enough to make them some omelets and then sitting down with her to eat, wolfing his two down and then nonchalantly snagging the remaining fourth or so of her own single omelet, which she’d been unable to make herself eat, before making his apologies and withdrawing, to finish his rounds of the apartment complex – but she’s feeling far more fragile than normal, and Joané’s expectant, trusting presence isn’t helping matters any.

Taking another sip of the wake-tea, she inhales deeply, mentally counts to ten in Uriashian, and, feeling a little further removed from the ragged edge, quietly declares, “Tell me again, more slowly. And this time be sure to pass along your impressions of the emotions in Milady’s and Bendu Master Kenobi’s voices, when they were discussing Anakin Skywalker. If we as handmaidens are to alter our behavior towards the Padawan, I wish to know precisely what it is that we should be aiming for.”

“Yes, Lady Dormé,” Joané acknowledges, inclining her head respectfully. “Milady was in high temper, focusing on her own anger to deflect attention from the fact that her feelings were hurt, and Master Kenobi was clearly irritated by the necessity of having the conversation . . . ”

Dormé makes herself take another long sip of wake-tea, at once relaxing herself to the influences of the criosanna teinedíait (in case it holds any insights for her) and focusing intently on Joané’s voice, letting her recitation of the overheard conversation and her interpretation of the words spoken wash over her and waiting for inspiration to strike, so she will know how best to react to this new twist of events.

***

Obi-Wan Kenobi steps out of the turbolift tentatively, warily, glancing both left and right and up towards the ceiling. He notes the two posted guards, alert and ready, and silently nods his approval to them. Every corridor throughout the massive apartment complex has been like this, with either two or four guards quietly but conspicuously on duty, and, in this particular area, above, below, and off to either side of Amidala’s private suite, the place is locked down so tight that he feels almost as if he’s risking the integrity of the security measures taken by Milady’s own people just by being present. Despite the losses suffered during the bombing of the Nabooian Royal Cruiser, Captain Typho has several dozen officers of the Royal Naboo Security Force at his disposal in addition to the regular body of Senatorial Guard (an elite offshoot of the Palace Guard, created specifically for Lady Sabé when she became interim Senator, at Padmé Amidala’s bidding) assigned to the Senator, and he has situated them well, overseeing as fine a defensive perimeter as Obi-Wan has ever witnessed. The Jedi Master takes great comfort in that and is, of course, grateful for the fact that Typho is making his job easier; yet, he cannot quite shake the feeling that there is something he is overlooking, somewhere in the defenses, and so Obi-Wan finds that he simply cannot relax.

He has heard about the attack on the Senator’s convoy in great detail – from Typho, from Padmé, even from various of Amidala’s handmaidens quietly going about their day-to-day duties – and, considering the many precautions that were taken to protect both the ship and the Senator (everything from broadcasting false entry lanes to the appointed landing pad and changing their planned landing coordinates at the last moment to the many shielding fighters, including the three accompanying the ship directly and the several other such vessels, both Nabooian and Republic, that had been covering every other conceivable attack lane), he knows that it most would likely be fatally unwise to underestimate the determination and skill of the assassin targeting Amidala. This hired killer – or perhaps even killers, plural. There really is no way of knowing yet precisely how many are targeting the Senator – is both good and well connected, to be sure. And, likely, also quite stubborn, given that assassins who fail to take out their targets are seldom paid, rarely hired, and so unlikely to make a living in such a profession. Given that this assassin is so clearly a professional, odds are that he or she (or it or they, as might be the case) is both stubborn and adaptable enough to be highly proficient in the art of killing.

To get at Senator Amidala through the halls of this building, though, would take an army.

Obi-Wan should be able to relax, at least somewhat. This truly is a safe place, almost an unlikely a target for another attempt on Padmé’s life as the Jedi Temple would be. He should be satisfied with the situation, not prowling about with uneasy restlessness, searching intently for a nonexistent whole in the security because the back of his neck is prickling with the all too familiar warning, I have a bad feeling about this.

Obi-Wan bites back a sigh, nods to the guards as he heads out to add a complete a circuit of this lower floor to the mental list he is keeping of all other such circuits, and then heads back to the turbolift, allowing himself to frown, confusion and worry plainly showing itself in the deep furrows of his brow, only once he is safely out of the line of sight of Milady’s watchful guards.

***

Padmé takes a deep breath, her thoughts lost in the last images of Anakin as he’d departed her bedroom. Memories and impressions of her sister Sola flit about in the back of her mind, distracting her, and she twitches a little, haunted by the phantom impression of her sister’s sly laughter, mocking her mercilessly for her hesitance and teasing her gently for her recklessness.

With an effort, she determinedly shakes all of these thoughts (of Sola and particularly of Anakin, whose sole purpose in her life now seems to be to bedevil her) away and motions to R2-D2, the little astromech droid standing impassively against the wall beside the door. “Implement the shutdown,” she firmly instructs.

R2-D2 hesitates before responding with a fearful, fretful, questioning, “Ooo-o-oo.”

“Go ahead, Artoo,” she soothingly replies. “It’s all right. We have protection here.”

The droid gives another worried little warble, but obediently unfolds and extends a probe to the security panel on the wall beside him.

Padmé looks back to the door, recalling again the last images of Anakin, her tall and lean and O so very earnest young Jedi protector. She can see his shining blue eyes just as clearly as if he were, in fact, still standing before her, all excitement and intensity and fire and extremely unJedi-like independence, watching over her with those blazing holocaust eyes more carefully than the watching lenses of any security cam ever could.

She again shivers, convulsively, clutches her dressing gown close to her, and desperately hopes that she is doing the right thing . . . and that Obi-Wan won’t be too terribly upset with her for agreeing to take part in this potentially quite dangerous scheme of Anakin’s to flush the assassin out of hiding.

***

Anakin stands unmoving in the living room of Padmé’s apartment complex, absorbing the silence around him, using the lack of physical noise to bolster his mental connection to the more subtle realm of the Force, sensing and automatically tracking the various bright sparks of life (and the towering blaze of power that is his Master) moving through the rooms around him through the Force as easily and as precisely as if his actual physical senses were simply tracking presences and movements within range of his sight/hearing/smell. Though his eyes are closed, he can feel the area about him clearly enough to sense any approaching disturbance in the Force, his awareness such that the Force warns him of Obi-Wan’s approach long before his physical senses could have ever picked up on the fact.

And at that Anakin’s eyes open, his gaze reflexively circling around the room, to reorient him physically in the here and now, before the door behind which he has sensed movement can slide open. No more than two heartbeats later, that door opens and his Master prowls soundlessly into the room, his stride long and gliding, graceful as a hunting cat, his gaze sliding around to room to settle unerringly on Anakin, even though he is standing deep in the shadowy recesses of the room.

“Captain Typho has more than enough men downstairs,” he quietly announces, his tone calm (though his eyes are oddly bright, flickering suspiciously, searchingly, around the room before returning to Anakin). “No assassin not looking to be killed in the line of duty will try that way. Any activity up here?”

Anakin shakes his head, softly replies, “It’s quiet as a tomb,” and gives a small shrug. “I don’t like just waiting here for something to happen, though. It . . . feels wrong, somehow.”

Obi-Wan gives a tiny shake of his head, those overly bright eyes slipping momentarily shut – the familiar small movements revealing his resignation concerning Anakin’s predictable restlessness and impatience with waiting – and takes a view scanner from his belt, glancing down to check the screen. His expression, shifting rapidly from mildly curious to confused to deeply concerned, speaks volumes to Anakin, and he knows that Obi-Wan can see only part of Padmé’s bedchamber – the door area and R2-D2 waiting silently by the wall – instead of the entire room. The Jedi Knight’s expression asks the question before he can even begin to speak the words.

“Padmé – Senator Amidala, she covered the cam,” the Padawan quickly improvises, knowing he has to say something that can explain the limited security cam coverage but that Obi-Wan will put a stop to the plan if he tells the full truth. “I don’t think she liked me watching her.”

Obi-Wan’s face tenses and, surprisingly enough, a deep growl rumbles in the back of his throat. “What is she thinking . . . ? Her security is paramount, and it’s compromised like this – ”

“She programmed Artoo to warn us if there’s an intruder,” Anakin explains, his voice pitched to hopefully convey his own security with the situation, trying to calm Obi-Wan before his concern can gain any real momentum (and, perhaps, prompt him to an action that will ruin the plan to lure the assassin out of hiding).

“It’s not an intruder I’m worried about,” Obi-Wan instantly and quite irritably counters. “Or not merely an intruder,” he allows after a beat of silence. Ominously, he then adds, “There are many ways to kill a Senator.”

“I know, but we also want to catch this assassin,” Anakin replies, his voice hardening with determined stubbornness. “Don’t we, Master?”

“You’re using her, what, as /bait/?” Obi-Wan demands, his voice rising with incredulity, his eyes wide with unabashed shock and horrified disbelief.

“It was her idea,” Anakin immediately protests, though his sharp tone clearly reveals that he agrees with the plan. “Don’t worry. No harm will come to her,” he earnestly promises. “I can sense everything going on in that room. Trust me.”

“It’s far too risky!” Obi-Wan insists. “Besides, your senses aren’t that attuned, my young apprentice,” he scoldingly adds.

For once, Anakin parses his words and his tone carefully, trying very hard to sound not defensive, but rather suggestive, raising a half questioning and half challenging eyebrow to reinforce that impression of suggestiveness. “And yours are?”

At that, an undeniably look of intrigued consideration crosses Obi-Wan’s face. Those bright eyes flicker in thought and break away from Anakin’s penetrating gaze to drift towards the door leading to Padmé’s private suite of rooms, as though gauging something. “Possibly,” he finally allows after several long heartbeats of silence.

Anakin smiles and nods, knowing he’s won this particular round of the debate, and closes his eyes again, falling with surprising effortlessness (considering how near what he is doing is to certain kinds of meditation and how much he usually struggles with that particular Jedi art) back into the sensations of the Force, following the bright flows of the Force’s power out to Padmé . . . who seems to be sleeping soundly. He wishes, idly, that he could see her, that he might watch the quiet rise and fall of her belly, hear the rhythmic susurrus of her soft breathing, smell the pleasing freshness of her hair, feel the silky smoothness of her soft skin, lean down to kiss her and taste the blissful honeyed sweetness of her lips . . .

A crease folds itself into the center of his forehead as the shape of Padmé’s lips alters, in his mind’s eye, her lovely heart-shaped face thinning, lengthening, becoming a familiar fragile and yet strong oval, Dormé looking up at him, dark eyes shining behind a veil of unshed tears.

He has to fight to push the memory-vision away. He is supposed to be guarding Padmé/, keeping watch over /Padmé in her bedroom, not daydreaming about a moment spent with one of her handmaidens, and, as much as he may care for Dormé (and as much as he may still be worried about her, given how set she seems on blaming herself for the explosion of the Royal Cruiser), he also knows she would be the first person to scold him for his wandering thoughts and tell him to focus, to keep his thoughts in the here and now, and so keep Milady safe.

Concentrating, he shifts the direction of his thoughts and his focus, in the Force, back to Padmé, still sleeping in her bedchamber. The desire to be there with her, to be able to be sure of her and not have to rely on his ability to keep his focus held solely on her and her surroundings, rises again, and he impatiently shoves the distracting thought away. He knows that he cannot be in there with her – even if she were to allow such an invasion of her privacy, the plan forbids any overt sign of protection in the room with the Senator – and he mentally scolds himself into being content with this, with observing (and unashamedly basking in) her life energy in the Force.

It is a place of warmth, of comfort, of givingness and loving-kindness.

Surely, that should be enough, even for him!

Redoubling his efforts, he settles in to keep watch, for as long as it may be necessary.

***

In an odd fashion, Padmé is thinking of Anakin, even as he is concentrating on her. He is there, beside her, watching over her, in her dreams.

She sees the fighting that she knows will inevitably ensue in the Senate, at some point in the near future, over the proposed bill for the creation of a standing army/navy for the Republic, and watches helplessly, unable to do anything to put a stop to it, as the ranks of Senators erupt in a cacophony of screaming and fist waving, threats and loud objections and even louder pronunciations of doom all jumbling together. It drains her badly, just trying to sort through all of the various howls of outrage and argumentative declarations. Her shoulders bowing under the weight of her inability to do anything to halt that increasingly chaotic and violent ruckus, she turns her head, thinking to search out Dormé and invite her opinion on what she should do.

Anakin is there, in the place where her loyal handmaiden should be standing.

She is still reeling in shock from that when her dream abruptly shifts, becoming an out and out nightmare, the Senate melting away to some anonymous location, an unseen assassin (or perhaps even a group of assassins, judging by the sheer volume of weapons discharge coming her way) chasing her through a crowd of blurry faces, blaster bolts whipping past her to every side, dangerously close, bodies falling left and right and occasionally even directly in her pathway, her feet skidding as she scrambles away and away and away, chest heaving with panic and grief.

But then Anakin comes rushing past, his blazing blue lightsaber ignited and waving, effortlessly batting the blaster bolts aside, deflecting them from her and the crowd alike, energy bolts flying back in the direction they’ve come from and slamming into the ground and the walls of nearby buildings and alleyway walls.

Padmé shifts a bit in her sleep and gives a little groan, on many levels as uncomfortable with the identity of her rescuer as she is with the presence of the assassin(s) and the rain of bodies around her in her nightmare. She doesn’t truly awaken, though – just thrashes a bit and raises her head slightly, opening eyes blurry and blind with sleep briefly before turning to bury her face back down in her pillows again – and so she doesn’t spot the small round droid hovering behind the blinds outside the bank of windows along the one outer-facing wall of the chamber. She doesn’t notice the various, somehow menacing appendages that unfold from various slots in it, attaching to the window, or the sparks that arc out around those spindly arms as the droid shuts down the security system. She doesn’t see the larger arm that eventually deploys from the center of the spheroid, cutting a hole in the reinforced glass, nor does she hear the slight, faint sound as that glass is removed.

Over by the door in Padmé’s room, R2-D2’s lights abruptly flash on. The little astromech droid’s domed head swivels about, scanning the room, and he gives voice to a soft, slightly worried, slightly interrogatory, /“Wooo,” /sound. Eventually, though, unable to detect anything amiss with the limits that have been placed on his sensors, the little droid shuts back down.

Outside, a small tube eventually comes forth from the probe droid, maneuvering to the recently cut hole in the window, and, moments later, a pair of kouhuns come crawling through it, into Padmé’s room, wriggling obscenely, looking like nothing so much as bloated white maggots with lines of black legs along their sides and nasty pinchering mandibles. Dangerous as those mandibles might seem, though, the true danger of the kouhuns lay at the other end, in the tail stinger with its dripping venom – deadly poisonous to many beings in the galaxy, including humans and near-humans.

Undetected, the two vicious kouhuns crawl in through the blinds and immediately start worming their way towards the bed and the young woman sleeping within it.

***

“You look tired,” Obi-Wan tells Anakin, the meditative tone of his voice belied by the abruptness of his observation.

The Padawan, still standing at attention in his self-imposed watch, startles out of his meditative trace, eyes snapping reflexively open. It takes him a few moments to fully register the words, his thoughts fuzzed and sluggish from his lengthy (for him) immersion in the bright glow of the Force. Eventually, though, he gives a little shrug, not exactly disagreeing, as he notes, “I don’t sleep well anymore,” in response.

This is hardly news to Obi-Wan, and yet he still asks, “Because of your mother?”

Anakin frowns, confused by the sudden broaching of that topic. “I honestly don’t know why I keep dreaming about her,” he eventually admits, frustration (and burgeoning exhaustion) coming through loud and clear in his voice. “I haven’t seen her since I was a little boy.”

“Your love for her was, and remains, deep,” Obi-Wan notes with a surprising amount of nonchalance. “That is hardly reason for despair.”

“But these are more than . . .” Anakin automatically begins to protest, but then he remembers where he is and why, and he stops himself, sighing and shaking his head. “It would be helpful if I knew for sure if they were only dreams or if they’re actual visions – and, if they’re visions, if they’re images of what has been or if they tell of something that’s yet to be – but the Force remains silent on the subject. You/ know/ that. We’ve talked about it, before.”

“Of course.” A gentle smile shows through Obi-Wan’s red-gold beard. “And not every dream is a premonition, some vision or some mystical connection. Some dreams are just . . . dreams, and even Jedi have dreams, my young Padawan. It simply occurs to me that if these are not merely dreams, they may have some bearing on the outcome of our mission.”

Anakin’s shock is such that his eyebrows go rocketing up towards his hairline. “How could my mom have anything to do with the safety of Pa – of Senator Amidala?”

“Their fates have been linked before, Anakin. It is not inconceivable that they might, in some way, become entangled again.”

Anakin doesn’t seem very satisfied with this proposition, frowning deeply and shaking his head again, a bit more vehemently.

“Of course, if you are merely having recurrent dreams, then we need not worry,” Obi-Wan blithely adds. “And if they are dreams, well . . . all dreams pass in time, my Padawan.”

“There are other things I’d rather be dreaming of, if that’s the case,” Anakin grumpily replies, crossing his arms sulkily across his chest.

“Oh?” Obi-Wan asks, raising a questioning eyebrow.

Anakin smiles slyly, thoughts of soft skin and sweet lips rising in his mind again. “Very much so,” he replies, with so much vehemence that Obi-Wan frowns abruptly.

“Mind your thoughts, Anakin,” he snaps, scolding Anakin in no uncertain terms. “They betray you. You’ve made a commitment to the Jedi Order, a commitment not easily broken, and the Jedi stance on such relationships is uncompromising. Attachment is forbidden to Jedi. We’ve discussed this before. You know that,” he insists, deliberately echoing Anakin’s earlier sentiment to stress his impatience with and unwillingness to rehash this oft argued over subject. With a derisive little snort, Obi-Wan then starts to add, “Aside from the fact that a politician is hardly the most trustworthy choice for – ”

“Master! She’s not like the others in the Senate!” Anakin immediately interrupts, protesting the implication strongly.

Obi-Wan eyes narrow, and he regards Anakin carefully for several nerve-wracking moments before he finally declares, “It’s been my experience that Senators focus only on pleasing those who fund their campaigns, and they are more than willing to forget the niceties of democracy to get those funds.”

“Oh, not another lecture, Master!” Anakin groans, heaving a prodigiously deep sigh. He has gotten to hear this particular diatribe repeatedly, in his years with Obi-Wan, and (though he has to admit that some of the argument’s points are valid) he is, for the most part, as unimpressed with it now as he was the first few times he heard it. “At least not on the economics of politics.”

Obi-Wan, though, is no fan of the politics of the Republic, and so he starts speaking again – or at least he tries to, until Anakin abruptly interrupts him again.

“/Please/, Master,” Anakin emphatically interjects. “Besides, you’re generalizing. You and I both know that Padmé – ”

“Senator Amidala,” Obi-Wan automatically sternly corrects.

“ – isn’t like that,” Anakin finishes with a slight frown, just resisting rolling his eyes at his Master’s techiness. “You certainly don’t believe that Bail Organa is like that, either. And the Supreme Chancellor doesn’t seem to be corrupt.”

“Palpatine’s a politician,” Obi-Wan only immediately retorts, all but spitting out the words, such is his obvious distaste for the man he’s discussing. “I’ve observed that he is very clever at retaining his power by following the passions and prejudices of the Senators.”

“Well, I think he is a good man,” Anakin flatly counters. “My instincts are very positive about – ”

A sudden sense of wrongness /and /danger in the Force, from the direction of Padmé’s bedroom, makes him stop speaking so suddenly that he nearly clips the tip of his tongue with his teeth as his mouth slams shut, his expression shifting rapidly from obstinate determination to sheer shock, wide eyes shifting questioningly from the direction of the bedroom to Obi-Wan.

“I sense it, too,” Obi-Wan quickly declares, answering Anakin’s unspoken question with breathless haste, and, as one, the two Jedi explode into motion.

***

Inside the Senator’s bedroom, the kouhuns crawl slowly and deliberately towards the sleeping Padmé’s exposed neck and face, their mandibles clicking excitedly.

“Wee oooo!” R2-D2 shrieks, finally catching on to the threat. The little droid tootles and whistles a series of high-pitched alarms and focuses a brilliant light on the bed, highlighting the two small but nonetheless potentially quite deadly invaders perfectly just as Obi-Wan and Anakin come bursting into the room, Anakin’s slightly longer legs sending him skidding across the floor just in front of his Master.

Padmé wakes abruptly, her eyes going wide, shocked by the sudden noise and light and motion, looking up to see Anakin and Obi-Wan rushing at her, Anakin positioned in such a way that it almost looks as if he is both charging at her, in attack, and shielding his Master from her – as though she might be able to offer any kind of threat to /Obi-Wan/! – and then flinching away, sitting up rapidly and pushing herself back on the bed, scrambling madly away, to her left, only to find herself freezing in horrified shock, sucking in her breath in terror, as the wicked little creatures actually seeking to attack her suddenly rear up and hiss at her furiously, pulling her attention away from the Jedi, waving those painful looking mandibles at her threateningly before abruptly rushing at her.

They would have surely gotten her, then, tangled as she is in her loose nightgown and the sheets, except that Anakin is suddenly just /there/, his blue lightsaber blade slashing down across the bed, so precisely controlled that the arcing descent of its humming blade comes to a halt right above the mass of bedcovers and sheets (miraculously not even scorching the fabric), once and again, slicing both of the creatures in half.

“Droid!” Obi-Wan cries out, and Anakin and Padmé both startle at the warning shout, heads snapping around just in time to see Obi-Wan rushing headlong for the windows. There, still hovering outside the blinds, is the spherical remote assassin, its many appendages quickly retracting so that it can flee the scene.

Padmé is opening her mouth to scream a denial – lunging swiftly, desperately forward, back down and across the bed, as if she actually has any kind of real chance to interpose herself between the charging Jedi Knight and his target – when Obi-Wan leaps bodily into the blinds, taking them with him right through the window, his momentum such that he easily shatters the already compromised glass (reinforced though it is, to make it more durable and less brittle, less likely to break), and the scream catches in her throat, gagging her.

Anakin has enough time to catch Padmé as she thrusts past him and shove her back out of the way, clear of both Obi-Wan’s forward trajectory and the broken shards exploding outwards from the blinds and shattered windowpane – but not nearly enough time to try to catch up with or to catch (and so stop) his Master. And, from Anakin’s point of view, Obi-Wan seems to hang there for what seems an endless, agonizing moment, before he can sense his Master reaching out into the Force, using it to extend his jump, to send him far through the air, in a surprisingly graceful arc of motion, so that he can catch hold of the rapidly retreating droid assassin securely. The floating droid bobs awkwardly, sinking down considerably under Obi-Wan’s added (and apparently quite unexpected) weight, but it soon compensates for the drag and pull of the Jedi’s body, stabilizing quickly . . . leaving Obi-Wan hanging on to it hundreds of storeys up from the nearest flat surface of Coruscant’s many artificial levels.

And then the droid quickly darts off, flying rapidly away, taking Obi-Wan with it.

“Anakin?” Padmé manages to choke out, turning helplessly towards him, struggling back up on the bed to face him. When she sees him return the look – the sudden flicker of blazing intensity in his blue eyes all but branding her with the sudden awareness of her state of undress – she automatically flinches back, pulling her nightgown up higher about her shoulders and neck.

“Stay here!” Anakin only commands. He holds her gaze a few heartbeats longer, not bothering to turn aside as he snarls, “Watch her, Artoo!” Then he’s rushing with reckless haste for the door, skidding to a brief stop abruptly to avoid barreling into Captain Typho and a pair of guards as they, with Dormé at their heels, come charging in to the room, altered to the trouble by the racket of Artoo’s alarmed wailing and beeping.

“Anakin, what – ?” Dormé breathlessly starts to demand.

But Anakin only shakes his head, already scrambling around them. “Out of the way! No time! See to her!” is all that he explains as he hurtles past them, pushing Dormé towards Padmé (and the bed) and shoving Typho bodily out of his path, so he can run full out for the turbolift.

***

Dormé and Padmé stare at each other, utterly stunned both by the rapidity of the attack and the response of the Senator’s Jedi bodyguards as well as by the violence of that response. Dormé’s mouth hangs open a little where she’s huddled up against the edge of the bed, where, only moments before, an impatient and snarling Anakin thrust her aside with a terse, “Out of the way! No time! See to her!” in response to her attempt to question what was going on, and Padmé is absently cradling her right arm, where Anakin rudely hauled her back out of Obi-Wan’s path and away from the shattering window his Master dove out of in pursuit of the fleeing assassin droid, flinging her roughly back along the bed, almost hard enough to make her bounce entirely off of the mattress and into the floor. Padmé looks as if she might burst into hysterical tears at any moment, and Dormé, knowing that Milady’s upset is entirely due to the cause of her broken window and Anakin’s haste to get out of the room and after his Master and not at all due to the actual attempt on her life, is eventually prodded back into motion by worry, sliding across the mattress until she can reach out and place a reassuring hand on Milady’s trembling left shoulder.

“It will be alright. Anakin will track the droid by following his sense of Obi-Wan in the Force and they’ll either capture the droid or follow it back to the one responsible for launching it against you, and then this will all be over with. You’ll be safe, again.”

“He went out the window. He dove out the window. We’re – Lady Asherah bless and protect us, we’re thousands of meters up from anything resembling ground, hundreds of storeys up from the closest level, and /he dove out the window!/” she merely shakily notes in response, her manner still half dazed shock and a mixture of terrified worry and rising anger.

Typho left the room at a run, chasing after Anakin, but the two guards who followed him to the room are still standing awkwardly near the door, evidently not sure if they should continue to remain or go after their Captain. Dormé shoots them a narrow-eyed glare and jerks her head towards the door, letting them know, in no uncertain manner, that they should go and join the other handmaidens, whose presence she can sense (waiting nervously but faithfully), down the hall in the next set of rooms. When she and Milady are alone in the room (but for Artoo, who she trusts enough to not repeat sensitive information or gossip about how terribly worried Milady is for Master Kenobi), she tightens her hand on Padmé’s shoulder, earnestly telling her, “He takes his duties seriously, Milady. He was only trying to capture the droid. And we know he succeeded in that enough to be carried off by it. It’ll be alright. Anakin will – ”

“Stupid, wretched, idiotic man! If he gets thrown off – if he’s hurt – if – if – if – ” Padmé’s furious spate shivers into a choked silence, her slender body convulsed with agonized fear and grief. “I’ll die,” she finally tearfully whispers. “If he – Dormé, I can’t – !”

“Oh, no, Milady, don’t even say it! Don’t trouble yourself so! Hush, hush, now! All will be well. He won’t be hurt at all, love, Anakin will catch him up and they will be fine, just like they always are! Neither one of them will allow any harm to come to the other. You’ll see. They’ll be back with the droid’s owner and all will be well!”

“But he – we’re so far up – ”

Seeing the tears welling in Padmé’s eyes, Dormé gently but firmly cuts her off, before she can work herself up any more. “Do you remember Lady Sabé told us a story once about Prince Organa’s first meetings with Obi-Wan, back when he was still just a young Padawan? Master Jinn told Prince Organa about a time when they were on Anaxes and the engines of a Corellian corvette stalled halfway through takeoff. Obi-Wan reached out and caught the ship, as if it were no more than a feather, and set it safely back down in its berth. He acted out of instinct, before it could occur to him that he should be doomed, and, according to Master Jinn, behaved no more exhausted by what he’d done than if he truly had been moving about a feather with the Force. When he can do something like that as a young Padawan, do you really think a little thing like height will be able to defeat him, /now/, if it should come to that?” she asks, half scolding, half chiding, hoping to chivy Padmé out of her certainty that something awful would surely happen, given the rather dramatic nature of Obi-Wan’s exit from the room.

Padmé shudders once more, convulsively, and then, gradually, through a sheer effort of will, pulls herself back together, pressing the palms of her shaking hands flat to her face and forcing herself to take deep, calming breath until she’s stopped shivering and hovering near the point of tears. “Of course not. Of course not! No. You’re right. Of course you’re right!” she finally half laughs (and, if her laugh is bitter and brittle and ragged, Dormé makes a point of not noticing, only smiling at her encouragingly). “He’ll be fine. They’ll be fine. They always are. Lady let it be so that they always will be. He’ll hold on until Anakin can catch him up and they can figure out a way to deal with the droid.”

“Of course he will! He’ll find an open skimmer to ‘borrow’ and try to add this to his list of times he’s saved his Master’s life, and they’ll bicker about it a little, like they always do, and Obi-Wan will avoid mentioning all fo the hundreds of times he’s had to save Anakin’s skin, to help build up Anakin’s confidence in himself and his ability to use the Force like a proper Jedi, and they’ll come back with a good solid lead from the culprit in tow and be surprised to find you here pacing the floor, worrying about why they’re taking so long,” Dormé soothingly replies, smiling in rich amusement at the likelihood of what she’s describing and coaxing a small nod of agreement from Milady. Gently, she then repeats, “You’ll see. It’ll be alright.”

Padmé turns to give her a grateful (if slightly tremulous) smile. “Of course. And we will, of course, pace the floor, since they’ve left us naught else to do. Come. Help me fetch my dressing gown. We can at least have hot caf and cold juice and a light meal waiting for them, when they return.”

Dormé’s smile is genuine (if relieved), at that, and she inclines her head, agreeing with a murmured, “Of course, Milady,” offering a steadying hand and arm so that Padmé will be able to slide out of the bed without getting snarled in the already badly tangled bedding.

***

Only scant hours after his Master’s precipitous dive through a window several thousands of meters up from anything resembling ground in pursuit of an assassin droid set upon Senator Amidala, Anakin stands quietly in the High Council Chamber of the Jedi Temple, encircled by the Masters of the Order, trying very hard to keep his face relaxed and his feelings blanked out in the Force, so that no one will be able to tell just how perturbed he is with the latest (and quite unsatisfying!) turn of events. Even though he had, of course, been able to safely catch up with his Master (who was, by then, falling rather than being towed along by the fleeing droid, given that the assassin had spotted him and literally shot the droid to pieces from within his hands to keep it from carrying Obi-Wan the rest of the way to her) and they had managed to follow and even to finally corner the assassin, a second, mysterious assassin had shot the first one with some kind of toxic dart before they could get anything useful out of her, killing her and blasting off in a jet pack they’d been unequipped to follow, leaving them with nothing but the body of a dead female Clawdite changeling and an oddly shaped and marked, poison-coated dart. It had, all in all, been an ignominious end to what had been shaping up to be a truly exhilarating evening, and Anakin is more than a little annoyed and frustrated with this hugely unhelpful turn of events, especially given the order to return to the Temple immediately – without even first returning to Padmé’s apartments to check on her, despite the fact that they were supposed to be guarding her – when they had checked in, to inform the High Council of the failed attempt on the Senator’s life.

Obi-Wan, his Master – but technically not yet one of these Masters, as Obi-Wan (like the majority of the thousands of full Jedi in existence) is still only a Knight, whereas these select few sitting around the edges of this room are Masters, the highest-ranking members of the Jedi Order – stands quietly beside him, effortlessly projecting his own inner serenity and a soothing sense of blanketing tranquility. Anakin, though, has never been comfortable in this esteemed company, and, despite his Master’s reassuringly steadying sense of calm, it takes all of his power to keep from fidgeting restlessly. Anakin is well aware of the fact that more than half of the venerable Jedi Masters present in the room had expressed grave doubts about allowing him into the Order at the advanced age of almost ten, and he also knows that, even after Yoda and Mace later swayed the vote to allow him to begin studying under Obi-Wan, a few had continued to hold to those doubts, expressing them at seemingly every opportunity during the course of his training.

“Track down this bounty hunter, you must, Obi-Wan,” Master Yoda eventually declares while the other Masters carefully pass the strange toxic dart amongst themselves.

“Most importantly, find out who he’s working for,” Mace Windu quietly but firmly adds.

“And what of Senator Amidala?” Obi-Wan politely (and as serenely as if whatever response he might receive from the Council Masters could not possibly touch him) inquires. “With another bounty hunter turned assassin out there, she will doubtlessly still need protecting.”

Anakin, anticipating what might be coming, straightens (but determinedly does not look up, so as to avoid betraying the excitement he can feel burbling away in him, which much surely be shining in his eyes) as Yoda turns his gaze solemnly towards the Padawan.

“Handle that, your Padawan will.”

Anakin can feel his heart soaring at Yoda’s declaration, both because of the confidence that is so obviously (/finally!/) being shown in him and because this is one assignment that he absolutely knows, without a doubt, he will truly enjoy.

“Anakin, escort the Senator back to her home planet of Naboo,” Mace adds, clarifying his orders. “She’ll be safer there. And don’t use registered transport. Travel as refugees.”

Anakin nods his understanding as the assignment is explained, but he immediately knows that there will be at least a few obstacles to such a course. “As the leader of the opposition to the Military Creation Act, it will be very difficult to get Senator Amidala to leave the capital,” he respectfully offers into the silence.

“Until caught this killer is, our judgment she must respect,” Yoda rather grumpily replies.

Anakin nods again (though a part of him is taken aback by the Grand Master’s tone and another part of him cannot help but think that Padmé would have several things – most likely none of which would be all that flattering – to say about this particular assumption). “Yes, well, but I know how deeply she cares about this upcoming vote, Master,” he carefully notes. “She is far more concerned with defeating the proposed Military Creation Act than with – ”

“Anakin,” Mace interrupts, his voice both loud enough and firm enough to cut him off effectively mid-protest (almost making him recoil in surprise from the Korun Master’s strident tone), “go to the Senate and ask Chancellor Palpatine to speak with her.” The tone of his voice makes it absolutely clear that the Masters believe they have already spent more than enough time on these issues and will not look favorably on any other attempts to protest.

Abruptly – given that the Jedi Knight and his Padawan both have their assignments, whether or not either of them agree with said assignments – Yoda nods, dismissing them..

Anakin starts to say something further, frustrated by the Council’s apparent lack of understanding as to the seriousness of his reservations, regarding this plan to get Padmé off of Coruscant and back on Naboo, but Obi-Wan has him by the arm almost immediately, guiding him gently but firmly out of the circular room.

“I was only going to explain Padmé’s passion about this vote,” Anakin protests when he and Obi-Wan are safely out in the hall.

“You made Senator Amidala’s feelings quite clear,” is Obi-Wan’s slightly wry response. “That is why Master Windu bade you to have the Supreme Chancellor intervene.” The two begin walking down the corridor, and, because Anakin understands that his Master is (as always) simply trying to keep him from getting in trouble with the Council, he determinedly bites back every sarcastic responses that comes to him. After a few minutes of walking, Obi-Wan quietly adds, “The Jedi Council does understand the point, Anakin.”

“Yes, Master.”

“You must trust in the Council Masters, Anakin. They know what they’re doing.”

“Yes, Master.” This time, Anakin’s assenting response is automatic. In the privacy of his own thoughts, he’s already well past the point of simply trusting (or not trusting) in the wisdom of the Council Masters. He knows that Padmé won’t be easily convinced to leave Coruscant before the vote, though, to be perfectly honest, it hardly matters to him. For Anakin, the truly important thing is that, whatever else may happen, he will be the one with Padmé, guarding her. With Obi-Wan off chasing down the second bounty hunter cum assassin, Padmé will be his sole responsibility, and, for Anakin, that is no small thing.

To be with Padmé, to be responsible for her, is, for him, no small thing at all.

For this honor, Anakin will suffer however many protests Padmé might make, and gladly.

***

“I am concerned for my Padawan,” Obi-Wan Kenobi quietly admits to Yoda and Mace Windu as the three walk together along the corridors of the Jedi Temple, less than half an hour after Obi-Wan and Anakin have been dismissed from the High Council Chamber and some twenty minutes after Anakin has obediently left to speak with the Chancellor. “He is not ready to be given this assignment on his own.”

“Confident in this decision, the Council is, Obi-Wan,” is Yoda’s firm (if not particularly enlightening) response.

“The boy has exceptional skills,” Mace merely placidly agrees.

Such quiet confidence in his Padawan – in Anakin, the holy terror of the Temple, about whom the Council Masters complain so often that Obi-Wan has been forced to make placating the High Council into something of an art form – is both surprising and disquieting. Carefully, so as to hopefully avoid seeming argumentative, Obi-Wan explains, “But he still has much to learn, Master. He is extremely gifted by the Force, yes, but I fear that his abilities have made him . . . well, arrogant.”

“Yes, yes,” Yoda agrees with surprising quickness, nodding firmly. “A flaw more and more common among Jedi, this is. Too sure of themselves, they are. Even the older, more experienced Jedi.”

Obi-Wan considers the words for a moment, examining them for various possible shades of meaning (and ignoring what may very well be meant as a sly dig at himself, for daring to press forward with his own doubts when the Masters have already made their certainty quite plain), before giving a silent nod of agreement. The Grand Master’s words certainly ring true, and the current conditions among the Jedi in this time of mounting tension are more than a little bit unsettling, with many off on their own far from Coruscant . . . and, too, had not arrogance played a major role in Count Dooku’s decision to depart the Jedi Order, and the Republic?

“Remember, Obi-Wan,” Mace gravely reminds him, “if the prophecies of the Chosen One are true, your apprentice is the only one who can bring the Force into balance.”

It is a fact Obi-Wan is well aware of – painfully so, in fact, given that his own Master had been the first to see it, the first to predict that Anakin would be the one to fulfill the prophecies. What Qui-Gon (or anyone else for that matter) had failed to explain, though, was exactly what bringing balance to the Force might mean, and it is this fact that makes Obi-Wan’s brow furrow deeply with thought. “If he follows the right path,” he eventually allows, and is unsurprised (if a little disappointed, given what it reveals about just how shallowly the apparent newfound trust of the High Council in Anakin actually is) when neither of the Jedi Masters correct him.

“Attend to your own duties, you must,” Yoda remarks after several long beats of silence, drawing Obi-Wan out of his distracting contemplation as surely as if he were reading the Jedi Knight’s mind. “When solved is this mystery of the assassin, other riddles might be answered.”

“Yes, Master,” Obi-Wan automatically agrees, inclining his head deeply in assent, before thoughtfully lifting the strange little dart he had taken from the dead Clawdite up before his eyes.

***

Compared to his all but irresistible need to fidget, in the High Council’s presence, Anakin is not at all nervous in the offices of Chancellor Palpatine. Certainly, he understands the man’s power, and certainly he respects the office itself; nonetheless, though, the young Padawan feels very comfortable here – perfectly at home, even – as if he were merely passing some time with a very close, very old friend. Anakin actually hasn’t spent much time with Palpatine, all things considered, and yet, on those few occasions when he has spoken with the man privately, he has always felt as if the Supreme Chancellor has taken an honest interest in him. Thus, in some ways, Anakin feels almost as if Palpatine were an additional mentor – not as directly as Obi-Wan, of course, but offering solid and important advice, and certainly more approachable than any of the intimidating Masters of the High Council, not to mention more trustworthy than the Council Masters (no matter what Obi-Wan or Dormé may think or say about him)!

More than that, though, Anakin always feels as if he is welcome here, in the Supreme Chancellor’s presence – which is a distinct advantage over the often chilly reception he receives at the Jedi Temple, outside of his Master and his Master’s closest friends and allies.

“If you believe it will help, then I will, of course, talk to her,” Palpatine readily agrees, upon hearing Anakin’s request that he speak with Padmé about leaving Coruscant for the relative safety of Naboo. “Senator Amidala will surely see reason – and, if all else fails, I cannot imagine that she would refuse an executive order. I believe I know her well enough to assure you of that.”

“Thank you, Your Excellency.”

“And so, my young Padawan friend, they have finally given you an assignment,” the Chancellor notes with a wide and warm smile, in much the same way a father might talk to a beloved son. “Your patience has paid off.”

“Your guidance more than my patience,” Anakin replies, giving the warm-hearted old man a slightly crooked smile. “I doubt my patience would have held out long enough, had it not been for your assurances that the Jedi Masters were watching me and that they would trust me with some important duties before too long.”

Palpatine nods and smiles at the compliment, though he kindly insists, “You don’t need guidance, Anakin. In time you will learn to trust your feelings completely . . . and then you will be invincible. I have said so many times before, my young friend, and I am still convinced that you are the most gifted Jedi I have ever met.”

“Thank you, Your Excellency.” Anakin’s response is coolly given, but in truth he has to consciously force himself to hold utterly still, to keep himself from trembling. Hearing such a compliment from one who does not truly understand his struggles (like his mother) is much different from hearing such a thing from Palpatine, the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic. This is an accomplished man – more accomplished, perhaps, than anyone else in the whole of the galaxy – and someone who is most certainly not an underling of Yoda or of Mace Windu. Anakin understands that a man like Palpatine – a man as powerful and influential as the Supreme Chancellor – would not throw out such compliments if he did not believe them.

“I see you becoming the greatest of all the Jedi, one day, Anakin,” Palpatine blithely continues, apparently entirely unaware of the powerful effect his words are having on Anakin. “Even more powerful than Master Yoda.”

Anakin grimly holds fast to the final few shreds of his rapidly fraying control and desperately hopes that his legs won’t simply buckle beneath him. He can hardly believe the words he is hearing, and yet he can recognize the sound of honesty in Palpatine’s tone, and a part of him actually does believe that the man is right. There is a strength within Anakin, a power beyond the limits the Jedi seem to place on him . . . and on themselves, as well. Anakin senses that clearly. He knows that Obi-Wan doesn’t understand – or at least that Obi-Wan will not admit to understanding, for fear of how the Masters of the High Council might react, if word of such agreement were to ever reach their ears – and it is one of his greatest frustrations with his Master. To Anakin’s way of thinking, Obi-Wan’s leash is far too short, though logically he knows (he /knows/, blast it all!) that his Master is only trying to protect him, as he always does . . . whether Anakin entirely wants that protection or not.

He has no idea whatsoever of how he might answer Palpatine’s continuing compliments, though, and so Anakin just stands in the center of the room and smiles for a bit longer, while the Chancellor stands by the window, looking out at the endless streams of Coruscanti traffic.

After several long moments have passed, thus, Anakin works up the courage to move around the desk and join him, following the Supreme Chancellor’s gaze up at the traffic lanes.

***


“They want me to /what/?!”

Dormé flinches, knowing from long experience that it is never a good thing when Padmé takes such a tone of voice. Pitching her voice in a low, gentle, calming murmur, she placatingly tries to explain, “The High Council believes that for your own safety it would be best if – ”

“I /will not /cooperate with such cowardly tactics!” Padmé snarls, cutting her off unceremoniously.

“Milady – ”

“No! And no! A thousand times, no!” she thunders, cutting Dormé off once again. “/I will not cooperate./ I should think /you/, of all people, would understand!”

“Milady – ”

“The High Council Masters,” Padmé haughtily interjects with icy disdain, drawing herself up proudly, every inch the affronted yet untouchable Senator, “shall simply have to rethink their plans. I have absolutely no intention of turning tail and running home to Naboo, to hide, and they are going to have to learn to /deal with it/.”

Helplessly, she tries once more. “Milady – ”

“Attend me, /searbhânuasal/. You will distract Anakin Skywalker and take him aside, as soon as the Jedi return here, and send Obi-Wan Kenobi to me. I wish to speak to the Jedi Bendu in private. Do you understand?”

“/Héam/, Milady. I hear and obey. /Onóir acus eanach searbheáil/!”

“Good. See that you remember that. Do not disappoint me.”

Unable to do anything else, Dormé drops her gaze and gives a deep curtsey, lowering her head in helpless acquiescence, refraining from attempting to argue the point further, knowing that she will get absolutely nowhere (except deep in the Senator’s ire) if she tries to protest any further than she already has. “Milady,” she murmurs quietly, noncommittally, privately praying with all of her not inconsiderable might that Obi-Wan (with Lady Sabé’s aid) will somehow be able to make Milady see reason, in this, and agree to go safely into hiding, on Naboo . . .

***
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