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

Chapter 3: Beyond the Obvious Danger

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 - Published: 2008/10/21 - Updated: 2008/10/21 - 12366 words

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First Half of the Third 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!

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 Three: Beyond the Obvious Danger


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

If you believe certain words, then you believe their hidden arguments. When you believe something is right or wrong, true of false, you believe the assumptions in the words that express those arguments. Such assumptions are often full of holes, but remain most precious to the convinced . . . and most potent in determining the shape of consensus reality. Individual beliefs order the unfolding of daily events. If enough of individuals believe, then a new thing can be made to exist. Belief structures create filters through which chaos is sifted into order and the indeterminate, unimaginably vast universe is parsed into discrete chunks of known information, perceptions of truth, of fact, known as reality. Belief, therefore, shapes our perceptions of the universe, governs our understanding of reality. That is why systems of shared belief, when unexamined, can be so dangerous.
– Jedi Master Yannis Kitsou Dooku of Serenno, from private papers dated prior to the Invasion of Naboo, his break with the Jedi Order, and his assumption of the hereditary title of Count of Serenno



Dormé cannot help but feel a thrill of anticipation, despite the dangerous circumstances and the tragedy they’ve so recently suffered, once the deed is done and it’s been confirmed that the famous golden Team of Kenobi and Skywalker has been assigned to protect Padmé Amidala. It makes her feel extremely selfish and guilty and unworthy and small, but there it is. She would be lying to herself if she didn’t acknowledge how much she wants to see Anakin face to face, after so many years of seeing him by no other means than holocomm, sketches and an occasional honest to Nisaba self-portrait carried back to her by Sabé or Padmé or one of the girls who’s been guarding Sabé for Padmé, and occasional still pictures and actual live footage of him and Master Kenobi, whenever they’ve done something (yet again) to make the news or happen to be present (once more) during events that make the news. And, though Milady is unhappy with the idea of such added protection now, Dormé is fairly certain that her mood will change, once Obi-Wan and Anakin have actually arrived. She knows Milady has missed Obi-Wan horribly since her last visit to Coruscant and has been wanting his counsel on this proposed Military Creation Act, and she knows, too, just how much Padmé suffers, when she is away from Obi-Wan for an overly long period of time.

The young handmaidens who’ve been with Dormé on Coruscant, preparing for Milady’s arrival, are all a-twitter with the news that Obi-Wan Kenobi and his young Padawan are going to be joining them soon, unabashedly hopeful and relieved and, in general, excited at the prospect that the two Jedi may be staying with them for some time, and Dormé finds herself fighting a smile, not entirely able to blame them either for their excitement or for the occasional whispers and sighs she keeps overhearing. Milady, like Sabé, has been hopelessly in love with the young Jedi since the days of the Trade Federation crisis and the invasion and occupation of Naboo. They both fell for Obi-Wan hard during the flight from Naboo, and Dormé, like all of Milady’s handmaids and handmaidens, has watched that dual love quietly grow and blossom into a complex, complicated friendship so deep that it continually amazes her that Bendu Kenobi’s jealous Order doesn’t attempt to call him to task for a forbidden attachment to both extraordinary women (though she assumes, in her more cynical moments, that the Jedi Order has encouraged both parts of the relationship in an attempt to curry favor with Naboo and so, perhaps, win access to more of the supposedly highly Force-sensitive children of Naboo). The handmaidens and handmaids, having observed for years the interactions between the undeniably handsome and charming and charismatic and witty and intelligent and occasionally wickedly funny young Bendu Knight and the way their Lady and her closest friend shine and glimmer and glow under Obi-Wan’s warm attentiveness like twinned uninhabited moons reflecting the light of a bright sun, have largely come to adore and idolize the young man, much as Padmé and Sabé both do.

Many of the young girls (especially when they are still relatively new to their duties) even conceive a sort of infatuation with the young Jedi, believing themselves as in love with Obi-Wan as their Lady and Sabé, but Dormé knows better than to entertain such idle fancies. She is well aware of the fact that Obi-Wan Kenobi has, in his devotion to the Jedi Order, sworn a vow of absolute chastity – one that he has brutally enforced on his body with some twisting of that power the Jedi call the Force ever since he was child – that has kept him from being able to truly return Padmé and Sabé’s love for him. She is also aware of the fact that, in spite of his vow, the three of them have come to an understanding, of sorts, such that Padmé and Sabé have openly sworn to each other that they will invoke the old laws of consortship to share him and each other as wife and husband and bound consort, if (when) he finally comes to his senses regarding the Jedi Order’s dangerously destructive Code and warped rules and skewed priorities and leaves the Order for a life of balanced, lived dedication to the life-giving and life-sustaining power of the /criosanna teinedíait/.

According to the oldest of Nabooian customs, Obi-Wan Kenobi is promised to Padmé and Sabé both, in essence all but legally bound to Dormé’s sworn Lady and to her mentor, and, though Padmé and Sabé both still seem to doubt whether anything will ever truly come of their determinedly brave promise to share each other and the man they both love, Dormé would quite frankly rather die than infringe on something so beautiful and sacred with something so petty as a schoolgirl crush. Instead, she’s taught herself to avoid looking at the handsome Jedi Knight too long and to regard him with the sort of awe generally reserved for an elected avatar of Nisaba Herself, devoting herself to him much as she has to her Lady and her sworn sister and superior among the handmaidens, the one who is like the other half of Milady’s soul, who (despite the distance it placed between her and her beloved) traded her duties as the aónes dævítru eisharti of the divine-elect to essentially become one of the divine-elect herself, serving on the Galactic Senate in Padmé Amidala’s name and at her will. It is far safer that way, easier to avoid any inappropriate thoughts and the trap of bewitchment that inevitably comes from being in Obi-Wan’s presence and gazing at him openly for too long.

Of course, it also helps that she has Anakin Skywalker’s sometimes humorous, sometimes less than flattering, but always quietly, fervently loving and loyal and protective viewpoint on his Master in the Jedi Order, to reaffirm her own quiet devotion for the man.

Anakin. She smiles at the thought of seeing him, despite herself, despite the danger. Anakin is her confidante, her best friend, as close to her as the beloved younger brother she had to leave behind, in order to become a handmaiden, a stalwart and, occasionally, surprisingly wise supporter who has all but taken the place of the family who generally loathed and/or feared her, for the dark memory and foul possibility she represented, to them, loving her and helping her in any and every way possible, given the distance separating them. She could not possibly ask for a better friend or a more loyal brother than he, and is, if truth be told, selfishly glad that the High Council’s request to Milady (that she avoid all meetings and modes of communication with Anakin, to discourage him from forming a dangerous lasting attachment to her) and Padmé and Sabé’s own busyness, after the reclamation of their world and sovereign territories from the Trade Federation and the chaos that surrounded that process, in the Republic’s government, left it up to Dormé to be the one to answer any and all attempts at communication he would try to make, both with the Queen and the other individuals he met and fought with, for Naboo, against the Trade Federation, after Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn took him away from Tatooine and his mother’s care.

It shames her, that fierce joy (an old urge, one battled since youth and all but conquered in her teens, occasionally rises in the wake of this damnable joy, and she has to fight against the desire to lay down in bed and pull the covers up over her head and not sleep, not invite nightmares through sleeping, but instead just simply lie there, as still and silent as she possibly can, and remain there, not moving from that position, consuming as little air and water and food as is humanly possible, because she’s not at all sure that she deserves to use – to waste – such precious, potentially limited resources), and it shames her to be so breathlessly on edge with impossible to deny anticipation, even as Padmé paces her quarters like a caged beast and snarls angrily about how she doesn’t need any more blasted body guards but instead someone willing and able to get to the bottom of this whole mess and find out whoever’s behind the attempts to kill her and apprehend that being or beings, Dormé hides her eagerness for the coming meeting as best she can and quietly reminds Milady that, with Cordé and Versé and the other girls on the ship dead, Padmé is vulnerable to attack by overwhelming force, since the girls on Coruscant are currently much more well-trained in the handling of a household than the use of weapons and Dormé alone – even with Captain Panaka’s help – isn’t enough to guarantee Milady’s safety. And, when Captain Panaka joins the conversation to urge Padmé to cooperate with the Jedi, she drifts off to the side and just waits, smiling a little, for Obi-Wan and Anakin to arrive.

She can sense their approach before too long – her sensitivity to the currents and flows of the criosanna teinedíait registering what feels, to her, like the approach of a double star, light and warmth magnified and shared between two very close sources washing out over her, lapping up against her awareness as if she were an insect slowly being trapped in the rising wash of hot liquid amber . . . or as if she were standing on the shoreline of a sea close enough to feel the fine wash of spray from the waves of a rhythmic tide rising to caress her skin. She turns, no longer trying to fight her smile, towards the door, and simply waits, knowing that soon enough Milady is going to be smiling, too, and forgetting her displeasure in the inevitable rush of happiness that seeing Obi-Wan again and being in his presence once more will bring.

It isn’t a long wait, and Milady indeed smiles hugely at Obi-Wan, obviously restraining herself from rushing forward and flinging herself headlong into his arms only because of the presence of a second robed form trailing off to the side and somewhat behind him. Dormé is ready with a smile for Anakin, sure he’ll recognize her, and turns to greet him even as Padmé is greeting Obi-Wan –

– only to stop, shocked, stock-still, at a certain distance from him, stunned by the sight not of a gangly, awkward teenager with a round face and oversized nose and no idea how to stand to minimize the length of his suddenly overlong arms and legs, but instead a golden-skinned, blue-eyed, oddly graceful looking, beautiful young man. He obviously hasn’t finished growing into himself yet, but rather than the strangely half finished look most adolescents have, he instead somehow resembles a not quite fully grown great tawny cat, all long lines and grace and wild loveliness, despite overlarge paws and the fact that he’s still growing into his mane. And her heart freezes within her chest, for in that moment she looks upon Anakin not as the younger brother she’s essentially come to consider him to be, to her, but instead a highly desirable young man, easily of an age, by Nabooian standards, to be matched, bedded . . . even wed.

Dormé hears very little of the following conversation between Padmé and Obi-Wan, her brain too occupied with trying to find a way around or through her shock to really process much of anything else. She notices when Anakin speaks up and gathers the gist of his argument in favor of stretching their orders from the High Council, regarding Milady’s protection, but is far more caught up by the play of emotions in his voice and across his face as she speaks than by the actual words, her attention thoroughly snared by the way he deliberately seems to be pushing for a response from his Master and the Senator, as if he’s trying very hard to provoke the first and to impress the second.

She knows, from the way Anakin’s spoken and written about his young Master in their communications over the years, that he both adores the man and is endlessly frustrated with the way the Jedi Order has taught Obi-Wan to avoid both giving and receiving almost all normal signs of affection and approval. Master Kenobi is a man who is highly discomfited by displays of affection, tending to shy away from casual touch and to be sparing with words of open approval, and he insists that his Padawan behave and obey the rules of the Order – including the unspoken rule against open affection for others, given the strict rule against attachments – whenever they’re in public, something that Dormé knows Anakin has a great deal of trouble with, given that he’s naturally so very affectionate and also so in need of the reassurance of open affection from those who truly matter in his life. He almost seems to be deliberately trying to provoke his Master into giving him more attention, even if that attention involves a public scolding instead of a sign of approval, and it’s obvious enough to break through the fog of her shock and make her wonder, uneasily, just how deep Anakin’s feelings and affection for Obi-Wan actually goes, to make him so very desperate for the young Knight’s attention. She soon loses track of that train of thought, though, as his fumbling awkward attempts to win a smile and an approving look from Padmé rouse a strange emotion that unfurls into dark ugly tendrils of anger and envy wrapped around her heart and leaves her pale and sickly and staring with the power of her sudden jealousy.

When she realizes what it is that she’s feeling, Dormé is so stunned that she can’t even feel ashamed. A small venomous voice hisses furiously in the back of her mind, insisting that Anakin should be looking at her/, should be happy and pleased to see /her/, should be concerned with pleasing /her and winning her approval, not trying to impress Padmé and make his Master pay more attention to him (even if it’s only to scold)! After all, Dormé is the one who is his friend, the one who has corresponded with him for the past decade, laughed and joked with him and shared fears and dreams and reassurances over nightmares and missions gone sideways and injuries to loved ones, been a confidante and friend and older sister and all around all purpose beloved companion, not /Padmé/, who hasn’t even spoken of Anakin (much less thought of him as anything other than yet another burdensome duty that ties Obi-Wan to the Order and therefore keeps him from her and Sabé) or to him in years! Her eyes flash, practically green with the tenor of her thoughts, and it isn’t until Anakin abruptly shocks her out of her increasingly dark musings by turning to shoot her a crooked little smile, as she and Padmé are about to withdraw from the room, that it even occurs to her how far she’s let her mind wander . . . or how spiteful and selfish the train of her thoughts has become.

Numb with horror at her own thoughts, Dormé stumbles blindly through the process of helping Padmé ready herself for bed, the routine habits of over a decade of work with Milady carrying her silently through the motions of directing the other girls in the intricate dance of disrobing and unmasking that removes all obvious traces of Amidala and leaves only Padmé behind. One of the girls who’s been with Milady since her last year as Queen – Joané Aldon, a sweet young lady with green and amber flecks in her large dark eyes and skin so fair that it often forces her to wear makeup, to cover the freckles she so often sports on her nose and cheeks (not to mention arms and shoulders, though those, at least, are generally covered by her handmaiden attire) – sends Dormé a worried look, able to tell that something is wrong, but she shies away from making eye contact with the brunette, even more shamed by the show of concern. When Padmé is safely out of most of her senatorial costume, she turns towards Dormé (eyes tired but small smile genuine) and quietly notes, “I know it’s been hard for you, to have a friend like Anakin and not be able to visit him. It’s been a very long and exciting day for both of us. Obi-Wan will likely be coming to see me, as soon as he’s convinced that our security hasn’t changed since the last time he was here and I was in residence, and he’ll prefer to speak to me in private. I’m sure Anakin would appreciate it, if you were to bring him some refreshment.”

It is a dismissal couched in terms of suggestion, and the other girls seem to have things well in hand, so Dormé is forced to smile as if pleased with the fact that she’s quietly been given permission to seek Anakin out and to murmur agreement, though the truth is that she’s far too frightened of what she might say or do, if she were to see Anakin alone, now, to risk hunting him up on purpose. She obediently turns her steps towards the nearest of the apartment’s kitchens, as she withdraws from Padmé’s private quarters, but it is in order to search out a cup of something strong, hot, bracing, and, hopefully, eye-opening and thought-unfogging for herself, instead of to gather an offering of refreshments for Anakin. Her stomach reminds her that she hasn’t eaten anything since the rather early and hurried lunch they’d just managed to squeeze in, between the meeting in the Supreme Chancellor’s private offices and another meeting Milady had arranged afterwards, with Prince Organa and his protégée, Mon Mothma, and it’s foolish to risk slowing her reflexes with hunger-induced dizziness, so she’s just retrieved a small wedge of sharp cheese and a couple of ripe shuura fruits and is running some water to make herself some hot wake-tea when she suddenly becomes aware of the fact that there’s another person in the room with her.

There’s just enough time for a moment of panic and fury at herself (that someone could sneak up on her, that she could be so distracted as to allow someone to get the drop on her like this!) and then, expecting to feel the agony of a weapon’s discharge at any moment, she pushes herself, reaching for power so that she will hopefully be able to move more quickly than the intruder’s eyes will be capable of successfully tracking her, and turns, twists, grabs for the knife she’d set out to carve up the wedge of cheese, whirls about, and –

– finds herself facing Anakin with a serrated blade not much longer than the length of her hand, head tilted slightly to the side as he just stands there and watches her hurl herself towards him, his expression a mixture of slightly bewildered bemusement and barely contained laughter. She just manages to check herself, teetering for a few sickening moments on the edge of balance, poised to plunge the blade into his chest, and finally falls gracelessly back towards the table, her hand dropping, blade clattering to the floor an instant before she stumbles into a chair, shoving it back away, and fetches up against the hard side of the table, hands curling instinctively around its edge, trying and failing to steady herself. Anakin just keeps standing there, looking /at her, faint lines of amusement crinkling around impossibly blue eyes, and her heart is leaping in her chest, drumming far too rapidly, blood hammering and roaring in her ears. Her eyes are riveted to him, vision tunneling on his face, and, as if from very far away, she hears herself gasping, stammering, breathlessly protesting, “That’s not – you shouldn’t – not wise – not /funny – I could’ve – ”

Those lush full lips quirk slightly upwards, and the lines of his surprisingly dark (and not so surprisingly heavy, all things considering) Jedi garb begins a subtle (mesmeric) sliding and shifting as he rolls his shoulders in a small shrug. “I could’ve stopped you.”

“That’s not – that’s not – I – you – !” She can’t catch her breath, can’t gather enough wits to put together more than two words at a go, and her chest is burning and heaving as if she’s been running a marathon, her knees week and her legs rubbery and uncertain beneath her, forcing her to lean back more and more against the flat surface of the table at her back, to keep her balance and remain on her feet, only her hands grasping at the edge and her locked arms keeping her from spilling back down onto that steady horizon. Her shoulders begin to shake, so hard that it pitches her back and forth as if she were wavering on the edge of a hard fall, and her vision blurs so that she nearly misses it, when he finally moves, his steps forward so effortlessly rapid that he’s nothing but a blur as he closes the distance between them.

Dimly, it registers that her face is wet, and then there are hands on her arms, bracketing her (branding her), and she’s shivering and breaking, falling into him, falling apart, nothing solid in all the worlds but his chest under her tear-streaked face and his strong arms sliding around her, cradling her, and Anakin is murmuring soothing words (mostly nonsense) into her hair, but the blood is pounding so loudly in her ears that she can’t catch more than one in every three words or so, just something about a promise and her not being alright, and it takes longer than it should, for her to remember their last private conversation and his insistence that she wasn’t alright, that it wasn’t alright for her to blame herself for what happened, on the landing platform, and that he was going to hug her until she was alright again. She starts sobbing in earnest, then, remembering the explosion and how she wasn’t fast enough, and stops trying to make sense of his words, just slumps into his solidity and lets go, clutching at handfuls of slick bantha leather tabards and layers of handwoven heavy cotton tunics to anchor herself to him.

It feels . . . strange, to have hard planes and sharp angles pressing up against her. She’s utterly unaccustomed to being this close to a man. Milady’s handmaidens and handmaids are all women, roughly ninety percent of their instructors and Healers are women, and it’s been years since she’s been held, embraced, by someone not a member (or at least a prospective member, a trainee) of the handmaiden coterie. The last male to give her a hug – a real hug, a hug involving her entire body – was her baby brother, Ioannes, and that was . . . Lady bless, that was in the wake of seizing Naboo back from the Trade Federation, when he was barely ten and still over a head shorter than her, and Anakin is . . . Anakin is . . . well, he’s tall, much taller than she is, and curving himself in around her like he thinks he needs to protect her, and – and – and – Nisaba take it, she shouldn’t be doing this, shouldn’t be tempting fate this way, shouldn’t be allowing him to hold her like this! And she shouldn’t feel as if she’s finally where she belongs, her soft curves melding, melting, into his hard planes as if she were made to fit against him, to fit with him, like two broken pieces that somehow combine to make a whole object together! This isn’t where she’s supposed to be and she wasn’t made to fit to Anakin and it certainly makes no sense whatsoever to think of them as two puzzle pieces that create a greater whole together, especially when it literally makes no sense to think of them as complementary, as belonging together, when he’s all long straight lines and hard planes and wiry muscles still forming into something harder, more defined, and she’s all softness and curves and – and – and it just doesn’t make /sense/!

That doesn’t keep her from trembling as one long finger slides down along the curve of her jaw, moving to tilt her chin up towards him, and the pads of fingers roughened and hardened by lightsaber use ghost gently down her left cheek, tracing over tear tracks and smoothing them away. Her heart stutters, and she has to tell herself, over and over again, concentrating mightily on that internal chant to keep from shattering, that Anakin is not deliberately trying to break her heart, not trying to break /her/, with those wide eyes like windows onto a deep, bright blue sky, klicks upon klicks of wide open infinite space, fastened intently on her. Dormé is painfully aware of what a bad person she is, with those eyes, that open, concerned, slightly bemused expression, locked on her, so close to her that she can see the mosaic sky blue and nuna-egg’s blue and lake-water blue detail of his irises and the dark motion of his pupils as they dilate (dark thunderclouds spreading threateningly across arching bits of open blue sky, black with storm).

There’s a question lurking in the back of those blue eyes, but Anakin doesn’t ask it. He just holds her – closely, tenderly, carefully – while she cries.

***

Padmé Amidala sits quietly at the small vanity in her bedchamber, stroking a old-fashioned silver-backed brush with meditative slowness through her thick brown hair, staring into the mirror but not truly seeing the image of herself reflected there. Her thoughts circle again and again around the memory of Anakin Skywalker and the look he had given her. She hears his hasty words again, echoing in the stillness, describing her as having “grown more beautiful,” and, though Padmé is, undeniably, just that, they are, nonetheless, not words that she is used to hearing, so she is not entirely sure how to respond to them or what to think of the fact that the young Padawan learner has so boldly declared such a sentiment.

Padmé has been involved in politics since she was a young girl, her intelligence, capability, determination, and support system (from the best friend who was like sister and love wrapped all in one; from the parents who never failed to support the dreams and ambitions of their children; from the grandmother who had been and was still remembered for being not only handmaiden but best friend and aónes dævítru eisharti to Queen Lataré Madeva Nabishu Najaffa, whose marriage to Adron Najaffa – later King Vísudeva – had likely staved off a civil war, and who had believed that her youngest granddaughter had it in her to one day become the kind of Queen her beloved Madeva had been) such that she’d risen quickly to powerful and influential positions. Most of the men she has come into contact with, throughout the course of her life, have either been more concerned with what she might bring them, in purely practical terms, than with her beauty . . . in fact, with the exception of the one man she has most wanted for herself and been most thoroughly barred from having, most of them have been more concerned with what they might get from her than they’ve been moved by any true personal feelings for her. As Queen of Naboo and now as Senator for the Chommell Sector, Padmé has been and is still well aware that she is attractive to men in ways deeper and more complex than can be explained by any mere physical attraction or even by any purely emotional bond.

Or perhaps not necessarily so much deeper than the latter as simply . . . vastly more complicated, more sophisticated, she abruptly finds herself thinking, unable to deny either the almost unnerving directness with which Anakin Skywalker had looked at her or the intensity in his bright blue eyes as he had met her gaze. And yet . . . and yet . . .

Well, what does it /mean/?

Frowning, she allows her eyes to slip shut, deliberately focusing on the memory of him, calling him up again clearly in her thoughts. Her mental eye roams up and down his lean yet obviously strong frame, over his face, tight with the intensity and determination that she’s always admired in him, and yet with blue eyes sparkling brightly with joy, with mischief, with . . .

With longing?

That possibility completely derails the Senator’s train of thought. Her hairbrush drops from suddenly numb fingers with a clatter noisily onto the vanity’s flat surface, her hands sinking weakly down to her sides, and she sits there, shocked stock-still, remembering Anakin as he had so brashly and fervently promised that he and his Master would find out who was trying to kill her, those bright, electric blue eyes penetrating and full of a passion she knows all too well that a Jedi – /any /Jedi – should never feel . . . no matter how much she might privately long to see just such an emotion reflected in a certain other Jedi Bendu’s oceanic eyes.

Padmé draws in a ragged breath, her right hand slipping unconsciously down along the smoothly beveled end of the catch-all silver tray on the vanity, feeling for the familiar shape and comforting weight of an old comlink (a cherished souvenir of old adventures and wistful dreams that, however foolish, have never quite been fully relinquished), placed there for safekeeping when her handmaidens finished helping her undress from her senatorial finery. She stares at herself in the mirror, dark eyes at once hard and haunted, desperately trying to judge her appearance as Anakin (or as another young Jedi) might.

After a few long moments of silent inspection, though, Padmé shakes her head violently, determinedly, mentally chiding herself, telling herself that the entire thing is just too crazy to believe. Anakin, after all, is a Jedi Padawan now, and well on the way to becoming a full-fledged Jedi Knight. His dedication and his oaths ties him to the Order, in much the same way that his Master is tied to the Order, and that kind of loyalty, that kind of devotion, is, above all else, something that Padmé Amidala deeply admires and will not willfully infringe upon.

How could he even dream to look at her in such a manner?

He couldn’t, of course. He /wouldn’t/. So it must all be in her imagination.

Or to be more honest, it is likely nothing more than a stray thought, prompted by other certain long-running and wholly impossible fantasies.

Sighing, Padmé reaches for her brush again, determinedly banishing the sensory-memory of Obi-Wan’s hands under her own, the strength and the warmth and the gentleness of them, the hardness of his callousness and the breath-stealing sensation of roughness when they caught, for a few heartbeats, against her smooth skin . . .

Laughing bitterly at herself, Padmé shakes her head again and lifts her brush to her hair, determined to return to her earlier activity with a clear mind, but she finds herself pausing before she’s even begun to brush her hair again, caught by the reflection in the mirror. She is wearing a loose white silky nightgown, and there are, after all, security lenses in her room. Those lenses have never really bothered her before, since she’s always looked at them clinically. Security cams, with guards watching her every move, are, after all, a fact of her existence, as a politician, and so she’s learned to go about her daily routines, even the private ones, without a second thought to the intrusive eyes. But now she is startled to realizes that a certain impressionable young Jedi – or even worse, his Master, with those eyes that see everything, that can effortlessly see right through her – might be on the other end of those lenses.

Shivering, she finds herself standing up, reaching for a dressing gown to cover herself, suddenly feeling all but naked before those lenses and the eyes that may be watching them.

The soft knock on the door is a welcome distraction from the strangeness and confusion of her own thoughts, and, if she initially blushes to have Bendu Kenobi in her bedroom with her alone and in nothing but a loose nightgown and dressing robe, their rapport is still such that she quickly forgets any thought of discomfort, and, in any case, she is soon too caught up in their conversation to spare much of anything else any of her attention.

***

Joané Aldon is . . . /concerned/.

Well. In truth, she’s terrified half out of her wits, too, given the increasingly obviously dangerous situation Milady has somehow managed to get herself into, but that is a familiar kind of fear, and it has been pushed down far within her, into a small ball of nothingness in the lowest pit of her stomach, where she can at least mostly ignore the ignominious feeling (it’s amazing, how much fear a person can tolerate, how much pure terror it takes to even be truly noticeable, anymore, once a body has become accustomed to living with a certain amount of it on a daily basis). The frightening look of carefully constructed blankness in Dormé’s eyes, though . . . that is not familiar, that /she is not sure how to deal with, /that makes her skin want to break out in a cold sweat. Athron Dormé is one of the strongest women she knows – the woman Joané strives ever to live up to, in her tireless dedication to the service of Milady Amidala and her devotion to Lady Sabé, the woman who is like the other half of Milady’s soul and to whom Milady trusts tasks that it would seem as if only Milady herself could ever possibly deal with or handle, tasks that Lady Sabé always manage with seemingly infinitely graceful ease – and yet the emptiness in Dormé’s eyes reminds Joané of nothing so much as the darkness she has seen in the eyes of those who have been abused or tortured to the point of breaking. It is . . . unsettling in the extreme.

So she is concerned. And so she lingers in one of the furthest chambers of Milady’s suite, going about her tasks of helping to unpack and sort through and put away various items that either haven’t yet been properly tucked away, since Milady’s recent arrival, or else have been brought out to be worn or used (or considered for wearing or use) at some point, during the day, at a much slower pace than she normally would, hoping to catch Dormé on one of her passes through the rooms, so that she can ask if there is anything (else) wrong that she and the other handmaidens should know about and maybe (hopefully) help banish the blankness from her eyes.

Instead, after nearly twenty minutes spent sorting and resorting through various hairpins and jeweled barrettes without anyone else coming in to the room-sized (three meters deep by five meters long) walk-in closet, her inability to fidget any longer with the same set of shell combs forces her to give up on her lurking and head back towards Milady’s bedroom for new orders. She is moving quickly (foolishly hoping that if she hurries now that it will somehow make up for all the time she’s wasted and that no one will notice how long she’s absented herself for such a minor task) when the sound of raised voices abruptly filter into the combination private office and library she’s hurrying across, making her break into a panicked, all-out mad dash, in an effort to get to the Senator, fearing the worst –

– only to come to a skidding, desperate stop, arms pinwheeling and legs planted widely, akimbo, momentum making her slide forward into the edge of a writing table, forcing her to grab hold of the corner hard to brace herself and so keep from toppling over it and crashing down in a graceless, overbalanced heap of tangled skirts and uncoordinated limbs on the floor, when the meaning of the words she is hearing and the identities of individuals responsible for the voices saying those words finally slide fully into consciousness.

“A little more consideration for my thoughts and my duty would be appreciated!” Milady snaps, the strident tenor of her voice and the ever so slight waver on the last word revealing that she is not only in high temper but struggling to avoid allowing the fact that her feelings have been wounded to show.

Obi-Wan Kenobi, voice crisply precise with irritation, instantly retorts, “I do not doubt you have reason to suspect Dooku, Milady, but the High Council is not ready to hear such things and, until they are, I fear that there is little my Padawan and I can do for you. You know our position is precarious!”

“As if the Order could afford to ever disown /you/!” Padmé only scoffs, so obviously disgusted with the notion that Joané finds herself smiling a little, reflexively, at the look she can so clearly imagine to be on Milady’s face, from that familiar tone of profound indignation.

Master Kenobi, though, doesn’t seem to agree with her, immediately pointing out, “If the Council believes itself sufficiently threatened – ”

“You and Anakin are the darlings of the galactic media!”

It’s a point Joané would agree with, if anyone bothered to ask – in the years since the battle to take Naboo back from the Trade Federation and its droid armies, when Bendu Kenobi became the known first defeater and slayer of a Sith in a thousand years and Anakin Skywalker earned the right to name himself a hero of Naboo by destroying the control ship that housed the computer ordering the battle droids, Obi-Wan and his Padawan have only continued to make names for themselves, their heroic exploits spattered across the HoloNet and making their faces those of some of the most well-known Jedi in the whole of the Republic – but Master Kenobi apparently disagrees . . . and, after hearing his reasoning, she has to admit that he seems to have a valid point. “All the more reason to be careful! All the more reason to avoid tying your name to ours! We are already constant targets – of curiosity, of suspicion, of fear and anger and desire for revenge – and you have no need of courting more enemies! I should feel safer by far if you either requested another Jedi to investigate the assassin, so that any findings touching on Dooku would be free of the taint of suspicion, or else – ”

Padmé, though, effectively cuts him off by defiantly thundering, “I will not go running back to /Naboo/! I need to be /here/, for the vote!”

Joané winces at Milady’s tone, recognizing, from experience, that it is a dangerous sign that the Senator has seized on something in her mind and will not be swayed from the pursuit of it. Master Kenobi apparently recognizes the tone as well, for his voice is very tired and quiet – even gentle – when he points out, “The vote is going to pass no matter what you do, Padmé.”

Padmé tries to deny his claim, but her voice is too strident for certainty, and Joané can tell that Milady is trying to convince herself as much as she is trying to convince Master Kenobi. “I will not believe that! The free beings of the galaxy cannot be so foolish as to truly believe – ”

And Obi-Wan can apparently divine this uncertainty, too, for her impatiently cuts her off, snapping, “The free beings of the galaxy would be far better off with the means to defend and protect themselves and each other from outside interference and greedy corporations!”

Padmé tries to deny his claim, but there’s an almost pleading quality to her response, almost as if she were trying to reason with him, get him to agree with her, as if having him agree with her would, in some way, make her words true. “The Trade Federation and their ilk would not dare – ”

“We came this close to civil war on Ansion. The known galaxy would have been cleanly cut in half. Don’t try to tell me what the corporations would and would not dare do. You, of all beings, should know better than to underestimate them.”

“They are cowards!” Padmé firmly insists, with the inflexibility of one stating an undeniable universal truth.

Joané can all but see Obi-Wan’s careless shrug as he turns the tide of the debate again, skillfully turning her declaration about by amending it to, “Cowards with a Sith Lord blinding them to the danger of their power-hungry, greedily selfish ways.”

“You don’t /know /– ”

“I know well enough to be certain it was a mistake not to have pursued this Sith further, after Naboo. We of the Order and the sentient beings of the galaxy will suffer for that. I am as sure of it as I am of anything. And I fear we will regret focusing on the symptoms of the increasing unrest in the galaxy rather than searching out the initial source of it.

That, though, only seems to inflame Milady’s temper further, for she indignantly cries out, “I am not going to give up on my attempts to block this bill just because you think it is a lost cause! If I were one to abandon hope for seemingly lost causes, Naboo would still be in the hands of the Trade Federation!”

Flatly, Obi-Wan Kenobi replies, “Then you are more foolish than I ever would have believed. I cannot countenance your path in this.”

Joané flinches at the harshness of the response, but Padmé only angrily replies, “I do not need your /approval/!”

With aching gentleness, Obi-Wan merely asks, “Then why do you ask for it?”

“You are supposed to be my friend!” Milady’s retort is almost petulant, in an odd way, but from the rapidity of the delivery, Joané can tell that the sentiment driving those words is actual anguish, and she flinches again, knowing what’s coming.

Quietly, with a touch of acerbic impatience, Obi-Wan replies (as she has known he will, as she is certain Padmé has also known he must), “I am a Jedi first, or have you forgotten it, as my foolish Padawan seems to have forgotten what he and I both are?”

Bitterly, flatly, Milady replies, “I never forget what you are. Your damned Code won’t let me! How could I forget, when it is because of your precious Order and your damned vows that I cannot even touch you without having you flinch away as though I’d offered you violence?”

It is an old argument, that but that does not make it any less painful, and Joané knows that the young Bendu Knight is wincing from the reminder, for his voice is a study in (long-held, familiar, but nonetheless quite immediate) pain when he tries to respond. “Padmé – ”

“No. No. Don’t you dare pity me, now! I’ve no desire for your /pity/!”

“I am sorry – ”

“No. I am the one who is sorry. Sad, and sorry, indeed,” Milady insists, a small noise escaping from her, a bitter sound trapped somewhere between a laugh and a sob.

Gently but insistently, Obi-Wan again tries to reassure her, fervently declaring, “I do not mean to hurt you. I would never willingly hurt you. You must know that. I just want you to be safe and happy.”

Tiredly, with a note of sad finality in her voice, Padmé merely replies (in such a way that Joané can vividly see the familiar small shake of her head), “I will not go home. No matter what you or Sabé say. My place is here.”

“Fighting against the Council and the Senate both will only disappoint you, and, I fear, place you in even more danger than you already are.”

Her voice a strange mix of bitterness and sly flippancy, Milady merely notes, “I shouldn’t know what to do with myself, if I were not in danger.”

And /that/, apparently, is enough to raise Obi-Wan’s ire again (a response with which Joané is whole-heartedly sympathetic), for he instantly and quite stridently protests, “This isn’t a laughing matter!”

Voice oddly strangled – as if she were desperately choking back laughter, or tears – Padmé demands, “Do you see me laughing?”

“I see you being as willful as a child, warned not to touch a hot stove and yet insisting on burning her hands, despite all warnings!”

“I did not invite you or your warnings!” Padmé all but shouts, temper flaring wildly.

Obi-Wan, though, merely responds to that reflexive snarl by pointing out, with blistering honestly, “No. Your former Senator did the first and my foolish Padawan has necessitated the second, since you encouraged his defiance of our mandate.”

“I did not encourage his foolishness!”

“By your very presence, I fear you did. Be careful of him, Milady. His feelings are easily bruised, and he has not been himself, of late. The demands of the Council and Code weigh on him heavily, and he has not allowed me to try to help him overly much of late.” The tiredness is back in Obi-Wan’s voice again, and, were he any other person, Joané would be tempted to imagine him rubbing a hand tiredly across his brow, futilely attempting to massage away the ache of a building headache.

Caustically – as though trying to cloak a long-standing envy by seeming to take umbrage at the implication she might ever cause harm to Anakin Skywalker – Milady instantly and quite dismissively retorts, “Oh, for the Lady’s sake! I’m not going to hurt your precious Padawan!”

Joané can practically hear Obi-Wan rearing backwards, at that, such is the mixture of incredulous hurt and indignation on his Padawan’s behalf in his reply. “You hurt him by treating him like a child! Would you have appreciated it, if I’d treated you as a child, when we first met? He is over half a decade older now than you were then, Padmé!”

“It – it is difficult not to see him as the child he was.”

Harshly, Obi-Wan merely demands, “/Make an effort./ You owe him that much. If his part in freeing Naboo was not enough to win your respect and erase the stigma of slavery from your eyes, then I shudder to imagine what would be necessary to do so!”

“I do respect him! He is a friend and a hero of Naboo and your Padawan!”

“Then stop treating him like a bothersome child, if you will!”

“Stop treating me like a petulant child and perhaps I will find it easier not to snap at others who are acting childish!” Padmé instantly snaps back, a slight wobble in her voice once again revealing that her feelings have been hurt and making her otherwise quite petulant seeming response instead painfully, honestly emotional. “He was acting like a rebellious teenager!”

Quietly but firmly, Obi-Wan declares, “He wants your approval. Your opinion is still important to him. And he wants you to be safe, just as I do.”

“I am sorry if I offered offense, but I still am not going home to hide!”

“Then you are going to have to resign yourself to cooperating with our protection.”

A beat, and then Padmé points out, voice quiet but fervent, “I have no need to resign myself to your presence here.”

“Padmé – ”

Barreling onwards – as if by making the admission as quickly as possible, it might in some way disguise the painful obviousness of her longing – she declares, “I’ve missed you, /cariodal/. Sabé’s missed you. She wanted to come with me, but the handmaiden program was in desperate need of her attention and she thought I would be safe enough with Dormé and the others, if we could manage to avoid trumpeting when and where I would be landing. None of us thought it was going to be this bad. We even thought, after that last attempt on Naboo and the near-riot amongst the spice miners, that it might actually be safer here than there.”

There follows another beat of silence, in which Joané has time to become painfully aware of the fact that she is, in essence (however inadvertently) eavesdropping on a conversation meant to be private (and that, unfortunately, there is no way for her to easily avoid overhearing the rest of it, short of retreating to the back of suite and hiding until such a time as she might be able to eventually creep past Milady, in the bedroom, on her way out of the suite, since there is no point of egress from the back rooms where she is currently essentially trapped), and then Obi-Wan is promising, with scorching intensity, “We will keep you safe. You have my word on that.”

“I know you will. I’m more worried for you and the Council’s displeasure,” Milady admits, a bit of levity and something almost teasing entering her voice at that before she sobers again. Earnestly, she then tells him, “I honestly don’t wish to make things harder for you with your Order. I know how much you worry.”

Slyly, Obi-Wan merely points out, “But you don’t think I should worry so.”

Joané can sense the off-handed shrug in Milady’s tone of voice, just as she could all but hear the quirked eyebrow in Master Kenobi’s earlier words. “No. The Order needs you and Anakin too much. It should fall apart, if the two of you were to leave . . . which might not be such a bad thing. Your Order is too rigid, /am’chara/. Being forced to rebuild, under new rules, would be good for it and its members.”

Flatly, the Jedi Bendu retorts, “But not for the Force or the galaxy. You must admit that the Republic needs us, in these darkening times. If not for the Jedi, who would protect the people from such things as the greed of the corporations?”

“A standing military is /not /the answer! We should be pursuing more diplomatic solutions, not trying to intimidate those who already think we are bullies and want out of the Republic to get away from our bullying and bureaucracy!” Padmé only insists.

Irritably, Obi-Wan flares back at her, “Neither is encouraging the undermining of the Republic’s one unwavering defense an answer!”

“There are not enough of you to fight a war for us. Don’t you /dare /let the Council guilt you into believing otherwise!” Padmé hisses furiously. “If it comes down to it, the various settled worlds and moons of the Galactic Republic will all have to raise their own defenses and militias, or we will have to simply learn how to get along with a new galactic power as our neighbor, after the Separatists have seceded.”

Again flatly determined, Obi-Wan declares, “If we must, we will fight for the Republic.”

“Jedi are peace-keepers, not soldiers! Haven’t you told me that time and time again? Just because the Supreme Chancellor – ”

“The Supreme Chancellor whose appointment you made possible?” Obi-Wan interrupts, voice a mixture of surprisingly harshly bitterness and wryly sarcastic acidity.

Snarling again, Padmé spits back, “The Senate would not act! Our people were /dying/!”

His voice hard, Obi-Wan instantly counters, “The Senate acted even less in the furor following your accusations! No aide would have been sent, even if your gamble had failed and the Trade Federation had retained its hold over Naboo, unless it became clear that the plasma mined from Naboo was going towards the outfitting of a Separatist navy!”

And now it is Padmé’s turn to speak with a voice flattened by absolute certainty and determination, as she declares, “I cannot believe that. I will not believe something so poor of the Republic! Naboo is a free and sovereign world within the Republic proper – ”

“ – in the Mid Rim, of small importance, little known outside of its quadrant and the government offices responsible for buying its plasma for the fitting of Republic ships,” Obi-Wan merely points out, his words all the more powerful for the quietness with which they are delivered and the sense of pained exhaustion underlying them.

Padmé gasps audibly. “/Obi-Wan!/ Do you truly believe the Republic has fallen so far it would fail to protect one of its member worlds against invasion?”

“I have as little confidence in the Republic and its bureaucracy as you seem to have for the Jedi Order’s High Council.”

Padmé’s voice wavers uncertainly as she breathes a ragged, horrified, “Mother of All! Do you truly believe it is that bad?”

“You asked me for my opinion. I have given it. The Republic is crumbling beneath the weight of its own corruption. And the sentient beings of the galaxy are more at risk and in need of the Order’s protection now than ever.”

“That protection does not extend to soldiering! You are a /diplomat/!”

“And I am also a highly trained fighter who could command and win a large scale battle, if necessary,” the Jedi Bendu mildly points out.

“Obi-Wan! Don’t you dare – !”

“I will do what I must. You know that.”

Voice wavering with fear, Padmé immediately declares, “I will not be frightened into withdrawing my support of the bill against the creation of a standing military, for fear that you will become a soldier, if that’s what – ”

“I am stating facts, Padmé. I am not trying to frighten you – only to make you aware that there are some larger issues at stake, here, than you seem to want to realize.”

“I am perfectly aware – ”

“Milady. Consider what it could mean, if Dooku should become the leader of a Separatist movement. Consider it soundly and long, in light of the fact that the remaining Sith is likely allied with or in some way working through organizations like the Trade Federation, which barely bother to conceal Separatist leanings anymore.”

“But Dooku left the Order because Qui-Gon – oh. Oh. Oh, Mother of All! If the Sith has deceived even Dooku – ”

“Or worse, if the Sith has made alliance with Dooku, then how many others might be under that same manipulative sway, and not even know it? With the Sith, there are always three constants: lust for power; lust for revenge against the Jedi for supposed past injustices and slights and the thwarting of various plans for seizing further power; and an utter lack of real functioning conscience. If the surviving Sith is actively working for the Republic’s destruction – ”

Tearfully, Padmé insists, “I still don’t think a standing army and navy is the answer!”

“You’d rather watch the Republic dissolve around you?” Obi-Wan immediately demands with brutal honesty.

“I’d rather we learn how to resole our differences peacefully!”

“And that is an admirable wish, to be sure, but unfortunately it is also not terribly likely to be granted,” Obi-Wan gently replies.

“Because of the Sith?”

“And other reasons.”

With a ragged, painfully brittle little laugh, Milady demands, “When did you become such a cynic?”

“/Alanna/, I’ve always been a /realist/. I just took greater pains to hide it, before.”

Joané can hear the shuddering deep breath that Milady takes, in an attempt to fight back her tears, and winces sympathetically, feeling more than a little bit tearful herself, after what she’s heard. “I know you tend to distrust politicians and especially bureaucrats, but – ”

Flatly, Obi-Wan tells her, “The first time the Council tried to order me to leave Anakin behind to die.”

“Oh.” Milady’s voice is very small, and there follows another ragged, overly loud draw of breath before she continues, hesitantly offering, “Obi-Wan, I’m sorry your High Council is so short-sighted and cruel – ”

“So am I. Nor do I wish to give them any excuses to act against us.”

“I won’t add to your difficulties with the Council Masters,” Padmé immediately promises. Then, after a beat of silence in which Obi-Wan is probably raising an eyebrow at her, she softly adds, “Not if I can help it, anyway.”

After a few moments in silence that drag past so painfully slowly that Joané has more than enough time to become aware of the fact that she is holding her breath, waiting on the Jedi Bendu’s reply, Obi-Wan finally says, “Teach Anakin to regard you as just another mission, then. The Council fears his attachments, and he has long harbored a need to erase the stigma of slavery from your eyes, when you look at him.”

“I don’t just see him as a former slave!” Padmé protests.

“Convince him of that,” Obi-Wan only firmly insists. “He is so eager to impress that it makes him reckless.”

“Even more reckless than he already is, you mean,” Padmé irritably grumbles, half under her breath but not quite quietly enough to keep from being heard.

With surprising good humor, Obi-Wan merely allows that she is correct. “True enough. He is not yet even twenty-one, after all.”

“You were never so reckless, I wager.”

Wryly, the Jedi Bendu quietly notes, “Padmé, you did not know me as a youngling or new Padawan. There are times when I think the Order raises us to recklessness, when it comes to proving our worth to prospective and to new Masters.”

“He’s been with you since he was ten, for pity’s sake!” Milady irritably (acidity and that harsh undertone of enviousness creeping back into her voice) snaps, her temper flaring again.

“And he’s been in danger of being taken from me the entire time.”

Bitterly, Padmé quietly observes, “The Council Masters are fools.”

Tiredly, Obi-Wan corrects, “They are frightened. Fear is a path to the Dark Side.”

“Even worse. How do you know your missing Sith Lord isn’t influencing /them/?”

“I don’t. Why do you think I regret not having been sent to track the monster down?”

With a startling amount of awkwardness, Padmé tries to offer her beloved some comfort by pointing out, “Dooku may lead you to the Sith, with any luck at all.”

“Dooku was my Master’s Master. If I can save him, I will,” is Obi-Wan’s grimly determined response, his tone of voice making the addendum, No matter what is required of me to accomplish this task, obvious enough for further spoken words to be redundant.

Quietly, Padmé promises, “I will help you in whatever way I can.”

“I know you will, /alanna/. But I’d prefer it if you would help me with Anakin, for now.”

“Then I’ll talk with him later, if you want.”

“I would appreciate that.”

“I’ll ask Dormé to talk to him, too, if it seems as if it might help,” Padmé immediately eagerly offers, making it very easy to imagine that Obi-Wan is smiling at her fondly (and that she has no desire to make him stop smiling at her). “She’s grown quite fond of him, over the years, and, from what I’ve heard, always seems to know what to say to him to calm him down.”

“I will be in her debt, then. Dormé is Sabé’s protégée, isn’t she?” Obi-Wan politely asks (even though he most assuredly knows the answer.)

Voice rich with fondness and amusement, Padmé replies, “My most loyal and fiercest protector, after you and Sabé.”

“Then I am already in her debt,” is Obi-Wan’s quietly solemn response, his voice taking on an odd sense of receding, as if he and Padmé were moving away from Joané.

Joané might have thought that her ears were playing tricks on her, but Milady’s painfully earnest and raw reply of, “I have missed you, /ma’chara/,” has that same quality of receding, as if they were moving away from her, as does Obi-Wan’s response.

“It is . . . very good to see you again.”

The last few words are all but inaudible, and there follows the quiet/ click/ of a door being manually shut, letting her know, without doubt, that the two have departed Milady’s bedroom – and finally giving her a chance to escape without it being obvious that she has, in fact, overheard much of their conversation.

Gathering up her skirts so that she’ll (hopefully) be able to move more quickly, Joané waits a dozen or so heartbeats, to make absolutely sure that the two are no longer in Milady’s bedroom, and then darts rapidly out towards freedom, fleeing past the securely shut door to the dressing room that serves as the Senator’s inner sanctum, just off of the bedchamber (where she is quite certain Milady and Master Kenobi have withdrawn, to continue their conversation), and scrambling out through the anteroom that doubles as a sitting room to dash through the rest of the suite and make her way safely undiscovered into the rest of the apartment complex.

Master Kenobi is worried about his Padawan, and Milady has promised to try to help keep Anakin from behaving in a way that might bring the High Council’s notice – and disfavor – down on him and his Master. For Joané, this makes things very simple, for to her, a promise made by Padmé Amidala is a promise made by her household . . . and a promise that will be adhered to by her handmaidens.

Dormé is their nominal first, their/ aónes dævítru eisharti/, with Sabé on Naboo, acting as the athron for the handmaidens of the Queen and the handmaidens in training for the Senator.

Dormé will know what they should do.

Joané just has to find her, first – and let her know about their new duty – so that Dormé will be able to issue orders, is all.

***

The Jedi Temple of Coruscant, sitting in splendor on its vast plain, is the greatest nexus of Force energy in the Republic, its more than a kilometer high ziggurat design focuses the Force the way a lightsaber’s gemstones focus its energy stream. And, unlike so many of Coruscant’s buildings – monuments of efficiency and spare design – the building itself is a work of art, with many ornate columns and soft, rounded lines that draw in the eye and hold it. Bas-reliefs and statues show in many areas, with lights set at varying angles to distort the shadows into designs of mystery, and inside the Temple it is no different (save, perhaps, in magnitude of elaborate decoration).

Generations upon generations of Jedi Knights and Masters dedicated to protecting and serving the Galactic Republic had already accumulated an enormous abundance of material wonders from both the known and unknown galaxy by the time the decision had been made to build the Coruscanti Temple and the Order had actually commissioned the intricate designs of the greatest craftsmen and builders available. The result of those commissions is a faërie realm in physical form, a single enormous ziggurat structure made up of what amounts to gracefully linked and segued separate, nestled/nestling buildings, some of which are graced with soaring balconies, some of which are graced with intricate gables, some of which are graced with rooftop gardens, and some of which are graced with jeweled spires that stretch up towards the stars.

The enormous city-sized home and heart of the Jedi Order is so fabulous that visitors come from all across the galaxy as much to simply see the wonders of the Temple as to actually partake of the wisdom and expertise of the Jedi who reside within its confines. The Temple is a place of contemplation, and so it is only natural that the design of it invites the mind to reach, to explore, to imagine, to explain, to expand through the process of seeking, its infinitely graceful and sometimes fanciful or mysterious lines just begging for interpretation. Culture is as much a part of what it means to be a Jedi Knight as is warrior training, and so naturally beauty and art are warmly fostered within the Temple. Art has long been and is still considered by many Jedi to be a tangible connection to the mysteries of the Force, and so the many beautiful items that line the Temple halls and fill its many rooms are much more than just pretty objects to gaze upon. They are artistic interpretations of the enormous wisdom of the Jedi they represent, saying through form and placement alone what the Jedi who created or received or commissioned or simply purchased them might have spoken in words on the infinitely vast and complex subject of the Force itself.

On the evening after Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker have been assigned protective duties for Senator Amidala – late enough in the day that they have surely taken their posts at the Senator’s side – Mace Windu and Yoda walk slowly down one polished and intricately decorated corridor, the lights low around them but with a brightly illuminated room beckoning in the distance before them.

“Why couldn’t we see this attack on the Senator?” Mace quietly ponders, shaking his head in confusion. “This should have been no surprise to the wary, and easy for us to predict.”

“Masking the future is this disturbance in the Force,” Yoda replies, the diminutive Jedi leaning heavily on his gimer stick, his reliance on its support betraying his growing tiredness.

Mace understands well the source of that increasing weariness. “The prophecy is coming true. The Dark Side is growing.”

“And only those who to the Dark Side have turned can sense the possibilities of the future,” Yoda acknowledges. “Only by probing the Dark Side can we see.”

Mace allows himself several long moments to fully digest that remark, for what Yoda is referring to is, by no means, a small thing. (No, not at all.) Journeys to the edges of the Dark Side are never to be taken lightly, not even by the strongest of Jedi Masters. Even more dire, the fact that Master Yoda apparently believes that the disturbance the Jedi have all sensed growing in the Force is thoroughly entrenched in the Dark Side is truly foreboding. “It’s been over ten years and the Sith still have not shown themselves,” Mace finally remarks, daring to say it aloud. The Jedi don’t like to even think of the Sith, much less make mention of these, their direst of enemies. Many times in the past, the Jedi have dared hope that the Sith have been wholly eradicated, their foul stench cleansed from the galaxy, and so they would all like to be able to deny the existence of the mysterious Dark Force-users. But they cannot. There can be no doubt and no denying that the being who slew Qui-Gon Jinn and was in turn defeated and cut down by Obi-Wan Kenobi some ten years before on Naboo had been a Sith Lord. “Do you think the Sith are behind this present disturbance?” Mace eventually dares to ask, when Yoda continues to keep his silence.

“Out there, they are,” Yoda replies with quiet resignation. “A certainty that is.”

Yoda is referring, of course, to the ancient prophecies, which foretell that the Dark Side will rise and that one will be born who will bring balance to the Force and to the galaxy. Such a potential Chosen One is now known among them – though there have, of course, been other potential candidates, over the years, and there are many who are not yet certain that this new one is, in fact, the prophesied one . . . including Mace Windu himself, if truth be told – and that, too, has brought more than a little trepidation to these hallowed halls.

“Do you think Obi-Wan’s Padawan learner will be able to bring balance to the Force?” Mace tentatively asks after several long moments of silence, though he is not entirely sure that he wishes to know the answer.

Yoda stops walking and slowly turns to regard the other Master, at that, his expression showing a range of emotions that reminds Mace that they don’t actually know what bringing balance to the Force might truly mean. “Only if to follow their destiny, he and his Master both choose,” Yoda eventually (mysteriously) replies, and, as with Mace’s question, the answer hangs in the air between them, a spoken belief that can only lead to more uncertainty.

Both Yoda and Mace Windu understand the places that some of the Jedi, at least, might have to travel to find the true answers to these questions, and that those places, emotional stops and not physical, could well test all of them to the very limits of their abilities and sensibilities.

After a time, they resume their walk, the only sound their quiet steps and the rhythmic clatter of Master Yoda’s gimer stick against the polished stone floor. Yet, in their ears, Mace and Yoda can both still hear the ominous echo of the diminutive Jedi Master’s dire words.

“Only by probing the Dark Side can we see.”

***
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