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

Chapter 5: A Slight Change in Plans

by Polgarawolf 0 Reviews

Category: Star Wars - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama,Romance,Sci-fi - Characters: Amidala,Anakin,Obi-Wan - Warnings: [!!] [?] - Published: 2008/10/26 - Updated: 2008/10/27 - 15864 words

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First Half of the Fifth Chapter of a SW AU work in progress
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.) Italics are used in this chapter to set off a dream/nightmare sequence from the rest of the surrounding scene.
4.) A vitula is a SW version of a violin (at least in my mind). Other instruments referenced here are named as such in the GFFA either in materials relating to the saga or the actual EU.
5.) Nabooian sparkbugs are my idea of a GFFA version of fireflys/lightning bugs native to Naboo.
6.) 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 Five: A Slight Change in Plans


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

Fighting against universal forces, though instinctual, is often foolhardy.
– Ancient saying attributed to the Bendu monks



A suffocatingly heavy sense of/ blueness/ has fallen over Padmé like a veil, and, for a long time after Obi-Wan’s precipitous departure (through the /windows/!) and Anakin’s panicked-hasty withdrawal to pursue both his Master and the droid sent after Padmé by the would-be assassin, that blue lingers darkly, chill and alive and like something glinting far back in the pupil-blown darkness of Anakin’s eyes when he’d crouched over her (and how ineffably strange Anakin’s face had seemed in the eerie pale glow of his lightsaber, how odd it had been to know that the weapon was so close to her own neck! Somehow – though in retrospect she suspects that she probably should’ve known better – she had been under the assumption that such frozen-fire laser swords generate actual heat, like the eldritch flicker of white-violet at the center of a blazing hot and hungry flame. Yet, when Anakin was kneeling over her, cutting the possibility of death away with violent precision, she had never been so cold, and there had been no hint of warmth from either the lambent blade or the blue-black eyes staring down at her). With her handmaidens taken care of – either calmed and sent back to their beds or (in the case of a select few) given orders to keep them too busy to stay and fret over her – and the apartment secured, Padmé finds herself infused with blue and shaking like a live wire made to channel too much current. Belatedly, she feels death caress her insides, slick-sweet, singing low and murmurous in the sea-tides of her blood, echoing in the hollow recesses of her bones. The memory of poison-slick claws against her neck surfaces and she flinches, her arms moving automatically as though to combat them.

Fear has myriad different flavors and textures. There’s a sharply acidic silver fear that runs like lightning through one’s limbs, galvanizing the flesh into action, power, motion. There’s heavy, leaden fear that weighs down body and mind and soul like ingots, piling up in the belly during the empty hours between midnight and morning, when everything is dark, every problem grows larger, and every wound and illness grows worse, crushing away all thoughts of relief, of hope, of light, and smothering the heart under heavy darkness and the cold rusty-iron taste of deepening despair. There is coppery fear, drawn tight as the highest of all the strings on a vitula, quavering on a single teeth-gratingly high-pitched note that cannot possibly be sustained for a single second longer . . . but which goes on and/ on /and on, nonetheless, the tension winding ever higher and tighter, in painful solitude (horrible, clutching tension, leaving the coppery flavor of hot blood coating the tongue), before the thunderous crashing of cymbals, the brassy challenge of horns, the threatening rumble of thunder drums. And then there is also fear that quite literally seems to carry with it the cold promise of death, invading the nose and mouth like an advancing front, rolling down the throat, and spreading out into the lungs and chest. It steals the breath and makes the heart labor when it shouldn’t be, and then it expands outwards into the belly and hips, leaving helplessly quivering flesh behind, before heading on (occasionally with a thoroughly embarrassing stop along the way) towards the thighs, the knees, and the feet, stealing the strength from the long leg muscles that one might so desperately wish to use to get as far away from the source of such fear as quickly as possible and seemingly freezing one rigidly in place.

And, too, sometimes those fears come upon one not singly but in waves . . . or storms.

She tries to calm down by reminding herself that death is only a change of state, that energy cannot be created any more than it can truly be destroyed, that the Great Mother of All, the Lady Asherah, gathers all to Her in the criosanna teinedíait after the death of the physical body, and that many souls are granted a chance at rebirth before the ultimate unity of spirit with the Lady at the final turning of the wheel. Padmé is a brave woman and a quiet but firm believer: she fears pain in only the most basic of senses, as all rational living beings should do – pain is the warning sign that something is wrong, a reflex of the body to protect itself from harm, after all – and logic is generally enough to keep such fear at bay; yet, with the shadow of death lurking in the pall of blue cast over her, it is difficult to deny fear a hold (or even several holds) upon her. Fear, like pain, can loosen the lips, can make the flesh turn traitor: it brings reality into sharp focus, much like the lingering chill caress of death itself can. Shaking, unable to calm the fear shrieking beneath her skin, to tear away the smothering remnant of death clinging to her flesh, sinking blue and cold razored claws into her thoughts and her heart, it suddenly seems to her as if much of her life has been lived in a somnolent daze, all blurred and sleep-fogged at the edges, as she has been moving dreamily about, never less than half sleeping, between dancing partners unable to notice it if she were to ever wake sufficiently to scream. /Oh, good day to you, Senator Antilles, Dio, Eekway, Taneel, Breemu, Danu, Bel Ibliss, Organa: how have you been; that’s good to hear; I am doing quite well, thank you. /She feels her own passage from hand to hand to hand, her eyes forever hidden, asleep. Fear, like pain, is something to jolt a body awake, and perhaps that is most unavoidably terrifying thing about it.

Retreating to the ’fresher, Padmé swivels the inlaid mother-of-pearl dial over for water, adjusting for a hard spray, and turns the rose-gold knob to cold as she enters the recessed and cavernous depths of the oversized unit, suddenly desperately longing to wash away the hateful stale stench of the remnants of fearful cold sweat, clinging to skin like a filthy oily film. Swiftly stepping under the driving torrent, she feels the blue chill in her soul blossoming outwards until awareness of her body becomes quicksilver liquid, all but inseparable from the pounding spray of the water, the thought that she might melt into the water to swirl down the drain and disappear oddly unfrightening. Almost without her notice, her limbs fold in on her body; she sinks to the narrow marble ledge with the water coldly caressing her sides. Dark as the wings she’s sure she’s seen beating behind Anakin’s eyes, her hair clings to her body, plastered to her like a second skin. She feels as if she were a myth, washed up on some strange shore and only pretending to be a woman. It isn’t precisely a new feeling, but the fear adds to it a sharply metallic icy taste, like when one goes tripping through leaves covered over and made brittle by frost on the first day of winter. It is as though she might rend and tear at herself until her fingernails broke and the tips of her fingers all bled and still it wouldn’t make a difference as to the cold, hard state of alien body.

The words of the proposed Military Creation Act drip down her throat and clog the air in her lungs, thick black letters in Basic forming an impassible barrier that stops her breath cold, and that is something beyond fear altogether. She can see the droid armies rolling into Theed whenever she wishes, whenever she closes her eyes (and sometimes the visions come whether she wishes them to or not, even now, over a decade later. Nightmares being what they are, they do not particularly care to acknowledge how much time has passed since a source of fear entered into her life, any more than they care whether or not the source of that fear has been dealt with and firmly removed from her life). In truth, it isn’t herself she’s worried for, but rather what pain might make her say, what power she has and what she might still do with it, and why no one else seems to understand that is, perhaps, the most unwelcome sign of her apparent alienness of all.

Feeling defeat bowing her back with an illusory weight of years, Padmé curves to the side until her head comes to rest against the cool hardness of the wall, her dark eyes idly tracing the delicate flower patterns on the inlaid tiles of marble and nacre and semi-precious stones. The cold spray of water falls over her, inexorable as the tumbling fall of water from a cliff, the sound of the torrent like close rain or far thunder, and, with its noise wrapped around her and the light reflecting with opalescent softness off the tiles walls surrounding her and a thick curtain pulled fast between her and the rest of the world, she /almost /feels protected. Perhaps, if the past few days hadn’t unfolded in the way that they had or if a certain other person (or persons) were in the shower with her, anchoring her with the presence of beloved flesh . . . but no, certain events have occurred, certain specific things have become known to her, adding themselves to the litany of hard truths she is forced to shoulder with every breath, and she can no more pretend that they have not happened than she can unlearn the knowledge her own full name. In a moment of pure frustration, her whole body shakes, knocking a small crystal dish out of the recessed side of the ’fresher (where it is shaped so that it might be used as either a stall unit or a tub). Multicolored waxy scented beads of all shapes and sizes tumble out of the overturned dish and into the water, bobbing up and down like flowers caught in a fountain. Padmé quickly moves to replace the dish (luckily unbroken) in its niche, before it can be damaged, but finds herself watching the beads swirl in the foam where the water violently impacts the tessellated tiled floor instead of moving to recapture them, bits of violet, red, pink, blue, green, and pearly white caught in the eddying whirl of the water.

Dazed, as if hypnotized by the movement of the water and the brightly colored bobbing beads, Padmé eventually slowly reaches out and plucks a ruby-red translucent heart from the spray, holding it loosely between her thumb and forefinger. The light shines through it, throwing a small crimson-stained shadow down on her pale dainty hand. Looking down at the red bead, she can’t help but remembered that this sharply symmetrical form isn’t the true shape of a human heart./ That/ looks more like a tear diverging, or a bird with it’s wings closing tightly on a down beat. Darkness rises behind her eyes, her heart thundering in her chest like a terrified caged bird battering itself to pieces against the bars, and, gripped by a sudden inexplicable fury, she closes both of her hands tightly over the bead, knotting her thin fingers together to press it between her palms and squeezing down until the smell of bursting ripe sweet summer fruit floods her nose. Parting her small hands, she sees the scarlet dye spreading over them like blood, and a shudder wracks her body so hard that her head bounces off the tiled wall with enough force to make her sight swim with amorphous blobs of swarming darkness, like the frenetically moving shadows of flailing panicked wings.

Dizzied, feeling oddly as though she has both been abandoned and abandoned something or someone important in turn, Padmé slowly slides forward, slipping underneath the pounding spray of icy water and staying there for several long moments, holding her breath in a hard ball buried deep in the pit of her belly. Eventually forced to surface or suffocate, she steps out of the artificial basin, shakily running her fingers through her sopping mass of her curls. In the mirrored walls, she sees herself reflected – reflection upon reflection upon reflection, a dizzyingly infinite number of times – and the mad desire to somehow leave her body through her fingertips and curl down tight into a bright ball of energy makes her all too solid flesh prickle and crawl and tremble with the useless urge to either be gone or to at the very least be /doing /something. The muffled chime of an old-fashioned chronometer slips under the door, into her awareness, announcing that it is in fact very early now instead of very late, and Padmé sighs, letting her hands fall limply to her sides. Slipping her eyes shut, she turns her face tiredly away from the maze of reflections, and allows her feet to carry her forward, methodically and sightlessly carrying out the remainder of her toilette, her body on autopilot.

Some time later, having woven her hair her only barely damp hair into a tight plait in an effort to tame her natural curls, Padmé lies in bed, drawing her legs up close enough to let her feel her heartbeat against her knees. The lights of the unsleeping city spill through the blinds – already, through some minor miracle of organization and grim necessity, replaced, the jagged hole in the panes temporary covered over by carefully fit sheets of plexiplast – and shatter on the floor. Determinedly, she holds her eyes shut and listens to Artoo’s soft whir playing a counter melody to her breathing. When she first slides into sleep, she doesn’t notice (it’s too much like being awake, all waiting and prickling fearful energy and concentrating on the rhythmic sounds of her breath) until after she’s slipped into a nightmare that eventually segues into a troubling dream about Anakin Skywalker.

(In her nightmare, she cannot sleep, and rises from the bed to seek out a decanter of well-aged Nabooian sweet wine. She drinks until she her body finally stops thrumming with residual fear and her eyes fall heavily shut and she stumbles gracelessly and falls to the floor, swooning, in a drunken daze. She eventually comes back to herself, freezing cold, with something moving in her chest. There’s a hole in her chest and she can feel something moving around inside her. She’s lying on her back and is too terrified to look down, but she knows that there is a gaping hole, an open wound, and her heart is pumping exposed in the thin, cold air. She can /feel it. She can feel a breeze on her heart, through her insides, and she can feel something moving around in there. She’s lying on the floor. It’s hard and seems to be made of dirt and rock. The ceiling above her is dimly lit, filthy gray rock, with old-fashioned lights strung here and there, on rusty chains. Her hands are bare, palms flat in the dirt – she can feel it against her fingertips – but for some reason she can’t clench her hands into fists. She breathes hard, stares at the tip of her nose, and thinks about lifting just one finger off the ground. All her muscles are slack. She feels like she hasn’t moved in years, like she hasn’t /slept in years. She can feel the tension in that one slender finger. One finger. It shakes. Her entire arm shakes, the bones of her elbow clatter together like a baby’s rattle, and she can hear them echoing inside her skull. She can’t wiggle her toes. She can’t look down. She can’t lift her head. She can’t lift her finger.

She knows, somehow, that if someone else would come and move her, just a bit, just get her started, lift her finger up for her, that everything would flow from that, and she would be fine again. She could clench her fists and bend her arms and stand up. She could move and deal with whatever it is that’s threatening her, whatever it is that’s moving inside her, and be safe again. The panic would subside. She just needs someone to start the process for her, like a figure in a music box moving round and around when the lid is lifted up. In the corner of her vision, where vision is uncertain and half imagination, she sees the shadow of a movement, as big as a man. If she could shout, that person would come over and help her get moving. She must look asleep like this, supine on the floor, in the dark, and still as the grave. But the muscles in her throat are like the muscles in her arm, and when she tries to shout she just rattles her breath a little bit in her chest, not even making as much noise as a whisper. The shadow in the corner moves away and the thing in her chest slithers up onto her skin. She can feel it moving around the edges of the hole, probing along the broken skin and tissues, fingering the wet mess under the spread-open surface of her wounded chest. Disgust curls like a spring in her guts, and she tries to actually fall asleep, to keep herself from feeling this. She closes her eyes and doesn’t want to feel the thing in her chest sliding out again and crawling up towards her collarbones. She opens her eyes and can see its outline darkly, moving up slow and animal-like, deliberate, alien. She thinks she can smell it: the sickly hot smell of adrenaline and sweat, a damp cloth left out for days.

She can’t move, her bones rattle hollowly in their sockets. She’s a coward: she can’t look down and the only sound she makes is a whimper because she can see it even without trying to look and she can feel it moving stickily up across her skin. A hand, familiar, with grit under the fingernails. A wrist, an arm through the hole in her chest. Slick with her blood and her body, sliding skin across her skin, smothering her heart where it fights to keep pumping, and reaching. Reaching up to her throat and wrapping long fingers snugly tight around her neck. She thinks,
O Asherah!/ She thinks, I did this. She thinks, There’s something in my chest and I can’t breathe. She can’t move. She can’t move her finger. There’s no presence in the corner of the room now. She can, unexpectedly, see the hairs on the back of the hand, fine and sun-bleached to paleness. The tendons and veins of the hand stand up slightly, just enough to make tracing their pathways that much easier. She thinks, No one will come for me. She closes her eyes, and she’s drunk, on the floor. It’s hard and cold. Her limbs feel slack. She can breathe. She can move, a little. Her head resounds with pain. Her elbows hurt where they impacted the hard parquet. She can’t see very well. Her breathing is harsh, her throat is sore, her feet are bare, her hair is straggling down in unkempt curls from its braid, her nightgown is rumpled and badly askew, she can’t remember what she was doing when she fell, and she’s holding something hard and small in one hand. And there is something in her chest, something alien and terrifying, and she closes her eyes again, tight, /tight, trying to banish the fear, the pain, the nightmare, trying to wake up –

– and she dreams that she does, and, in her dream, Anakin is, for some unknown reason, the one who comes to report to her, while his Master is once again insuring that the security in her apartment complex remains unbroken, and so she, noticing his earnest awkwardness and the lingering hollowness in the pit of her stomach, somehow ends up taking a meal with Anakin in an almost completely dark kitchen on one of the lower levels of her apartment complex generally used by her handmaidens, clad only in the same almost sheer silky white nightgown she has worn to bed, still just as unfortunately prone to sliding down off one shoulder or the other as ever, if she shifts positions too quickly. Their shining silverware clinks and chimes against each other and the delicate china plates, an off-kilter, impromptu symphony to accompany their repast. Padmé’s eyes rest on the ever-present lights of the city, visible through the windows over Anakin’s shoulder, her gaze blurring out of focus until each bright point looks small enough to hold cupped in her hand like a Nabooian sparkbug, rather than a blaze signifying an entire towering skytower conapt or superskytower resiplex or semi-autonomous cloudcutter monad.

In her dream, Anakin eventually breaks the silence to ask, with stumbling urgency, “Can I tell you something?” and, once again, Padmé sees that intensity that all but frightens her, now that he is no longer a child. Within the folds of her nightgown, her fingers close over into tight fists, lest she reach out and touch him, in an effort to feel that intensity, torn between fear and longing. He’s waiting for her to say something, to give him some sign to either proceed or desist, leaning forward in his chair eagerly, all but vibrating with the need to keep speaking, but she doesn’t trust her voice to say the things that she should, and so finally she simply mutely nods her permission. “Even though I had Dormé to talk to, I used to write letters to you, too, all the time, in my head.” Anakin ducks his head, his voice flowing towards her without that painfully, intensely blue gaze. “I’d be arguing with Obi-Wan or have botched something on a mission or failed some kind of test or been clumsy and broken something or lost yet another blasted lightsaber and I’d just mentally start talking to you, just to help me sort of gather my thoughts and calm myself down again.”

And, in her dream, Padmé’s lungs flutter, desperately trying to become wings. “I did the same thing.”

His blazing smile easily puts the twin suns of his homeworld to shame. “Really?”

“Yes,” she replies, and hates that this has come out at all. Why should she admit it, when his sudden reappearance in her life has taken all of the safety and comfort of her easy fondness for him? Suddenly, she is in a towering fury with him for growing up at all, desiring nothing more than to strike out, to hurt him, for having taken one of her props, one of her safe havens, away from her. In a clumsy attempt to defuse both the bright web he is spinning between them and the ball of fury flaring within her, Padmé noncommittally adds, “It would have been nice if we could have grown up together. We could have been good friends, then.”

“Yeah,” Anakin only wistfully agrees. "But I’m glad to be here now.”

“Ani – ”

He quickly cuts her off awkward attempt to reply, though, earnestly pleading, “Please, don’t call me that.”

She blinks, startled. “What?”

“Ani. Please, don’t call me ‘Ani,’ Padmé.”

“But I’ve always called you that. It is your name, isn’t it?”

“My name is Anakin,” the young Jedi calmly declares, his jaw firm, his gaze direct and unwavering. “When you say ‘Ani,’ it’s like I’m still a little boy. And I’m not. I’m not!” he insists, hurt shadowing his voice.

Padmé pauses, her gaze traveling over him, in spite of herself, despite recognizing that they are treading on dangerous ground, nodding as she takes the sight of him in completely.“I’m sorry, Anakin. I wasn’t calling you that to hurt you. It’s impossible to deny you’ve . . . that you’ve grown up,” she hesitantly explains.

Anakin takes a deep breath, then exhales quietly, his tense jaw and squared shoulders visibly relaxing. “I know,” he quietly acknowledges, pain still lingering at the back of his voice and his too-blue eyes.

He seems so pitiable then, not pitiful, but just like a lost little soul, so like the young boy he once was, that Padmé can’t resist. “Anakin,” she breathes, her voice lingering over the syllables, as though tasting the sound of them, of
him, of his name. Their eyes lock, that far too direct and passionate gaze bearing down on her as though, if he only looks hard enough and close enough, he might make out the very shape of her heart and soul. It’s a fleeting moment, made so by a combination of her unease and determination not to do anything to encourage the wrong idea, and she breaks both the gaze and the building tension between them by flashing him a small smile and looking down at her plate as she sincerely but lightheartedly requests, “Don’t try to grow up too fast.”

“I
am grown up,” Anakin only insists. “You said it yourself.” There is something wildly suggestive in the reply, and she shivers a little under the intensity of his gaze.

“Please, don’t look at me like that,” she quietly requests, resisting the urge to squirm by turning slightly away from him in her chair

“Why not?”

“Because I can see what you’re thinking.”

Anakin breaks the tension – or tries to, anyway – with a laugh that’s a little bit too bright. “Oh, so now you have Jedi powers, too?”

Padmé shivers a little, but she makes herself looks squarely at Anakin again as she replies, with no room for debate, “It makes me feel uncomfortable.”

Anakin relents and looks down. “Sorry, Milady. I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable. It’s just that I . . . well, I’ve
missed you. And I – ” He stops suddenly, and Padmé finds herself automatically tilting her head invitingly, waiting for him to continue. “No.” Anakin shakes his head suddenly and motions with his hand. “Turn your head just a little that way. And tilt it forward, to the side. This way.”

Feeling all of a sudden rather like she imagines a small creature having caught the gaze of a large predator might, she carefully holds herself perfectly still and cautiously asks, “Why?”

“I’m trying to figure out what color your eyes are,” is his surprisingly serious response.

She laughs before she can stop herself. “Well, most people agree that they’re brown.”

“No,” he insists stubbornly, shaking his head and gesturing for her to please turn her head for him again. “Brown is a dark, drab, common color, nothing at all like your eyes. Those people, they’re not right at all. Have you ever heard of the color bistre? Obi-Wan says that poets and artists use it to describe a natural dark color with hints of light in it, and I think that may be the right name for the color of your eyes.”

“Oh, really?” Sadness is creeping into her veins, prompted by the sheer volume of bright naivety contained in Anakin’s so obviously heartfelt sentiment, and Padmé finds herself pressing her lips tightly together, abruptly feeling very removed from both him and her surroundings. And only now that the world’s edges have all blurred out of focus does she finally notice that she’s escaped her long dream waltz. With the realization, the burden settles back upon her shoulders, and she feels very far away indeed.

And, in her dream, Anakin stands up and comes over to sit at her feet, gently lifting her right hand from its place at her side. He holds it in his own right hand as carefully as though he were cradling a baby bird, all fragile bones and frightfully breakable hollowness, carefully moving her limp fingers so that they fall down between his own. “Why do you always seem like you’re not even attached to your body?” he asks, frowning down at their joined hands, his whisper like a gray morning creeping through a window. “It didn’t used to be like this.”

“It’s always been like this, Anakin,” Padmé quietly, calmly claims, though a part of her – a very small part of her – flinches away from the lie in those words.

“But I
want/ you to be in your body!” Anakin fiercely insists. “When we came to see you . . . Padmé, will you /please look at me? Otherwise, even if I hold your hand, it’s like you’re not even here.” He cups her palm against his own, using his free hand to gently trace the contours.

“Stop that.” Padmé bites her lip hard enough to draw blood to give her enough impetus to retrieve her hand. It curls of its own accord up against her breast, burrowing against her like an animal seeking shelter. Sighing, she leans back against the cushions of the chair, feeling her misery filter onto her face. Anakin shifts, then leans forward to rest his head solidly against her knee. To her horror, her hands come up to tangle in his short hair, threading his Padawan braid through her fingers. She thinks she hears him make a happy sound, and her teeth set themselves firmly against the words trying to launch themselves from off of the tip of her tongue. “Why couldn’t you have just stayed a little boy?” she instead finds herself mournfully asking.

Anakin – despite his earlier protestations of maturity – seems to understand what she means, and turns until his cheek is laid flat against the palm of her hand. “I would have, if I’d’ve only known it would make you happy.” They rest there, exchanging something wordless where they touch, and Padmé closes her eyes, drawing from him all that she might while promising herself that she will not ever touch him again. His Padawan braid rests in her fisted left hand, and it seems as though there is something rough and disproving in its tightly entwined strands. Darkness descends behind her eyes, and she knows that Anakin has turned off what few lights were on. His lips turn to her hand, kissing each finger with almost painful attention, murmuring words into her fingertips that, to her drifting mind, sound like nothing so much as the susurrus and plash of falling rain.

There is a sound, off in the distance, like cold air dashing itself violently against a building, and they both jump, opening their eyes to a moment suffused with white.

Tenedealán,” Padmé murmurs, startled into Nabooian. A heartbeat later and a little more loudly, she clarifies her instinctive observation by adding, “Lightning.” Her laugh is both too loud and too brittle, but it’s either laugh or start shaking, and she fears that if she begins to shake, she may break down and cry. And if that happens . . . “That’s the thing about Coruscant.” Her hands remove themselves from Anakin entirely. “There’s thunder and lightening sometimes; yet, because we tamper with the weather, it never really rains. Not up here, above the inversion level, anyway.” They both stand, Anakin seemingly taking his cue from her, his movements all coming a few beats behind (like the pause between the sound of thunder and the flash of lightning), and Padmé takes several steps backwards, feeling as if she’s had to run a kilometer for each thread in the carpet she manages to cross.

“I wish it
would rain,” Anakin sighs, his voice making it clear that he’s talking about something else entirely, and she cannot quite keep from shivering, though she manages to fight off the impulse to shrink away from that intensity, curling in upon herself. Silently, they gather up their plates and utensils and glasses to carry to the sink, moving slowly in the darkness.

“It’s late,” Padmé merely quietly notes. “We should both be getting to bed.” Saying nothing, Anakin follows her like a shadow, remaining in the threshold as she passes on towards her bed. Somehow, she knows that he’s reached out for her hand and missed. Settling under the covers, Padmé coughs softly. Artoo beeps, low and concerned, his dome swiveling back and forth as though confusedly eyeing the two of them. “Good night, Anakin.”

His form wavers, shadowy, in the doorway. “Good night, my lady,” he replies, obviously stretching the honorific out into two words and quite deliberately stressing the ‘my.’

And in her dream, neither one of them says anything about having good dreams.

Lying perfectly still, Padmé’s hand reaches under the pillows, finding and holding tightly to a small, carved charm hanging from a thin long leather thong, sensing the soft spread folded respectfully at the end of her bed and desperately wanting to have its warmth about her shivering shoulders but not quite daring to reach for it or to risk inviting Anakin in by asking that he hand it up across her supine form. Slowly, slowly, in an effort to conserve heat, she curls in tight upon herself, legs drawn up against her chest.

In her dreams, she counts the heartbeats echoing dully against her knees, concentrates on the slow but steady sounds of her breathing, and waits, trying to sense whether or not she is truly alone in the room again, but for Artoo.)


Full awareness returns when she feels silk sliding up across her shoulders and velvety softness tucking itself closely around her body. She absently moves to tuck her hands into that plushly thick warmth and is startled to find that there’s nothing actually there, though in her mind’s eye she can see as clearly as day a sumptuous downy comforter of white silk velvet settled tenderly around her, brocaded with the bright silvery-gold threads of innocence and embroidered here and there both with vermilion flashes of desire and the refreshingly cool oceanic blues and heavenly indigos and lushly verdant greens of love and affection and respect and loyal faithfulness. The image both is and is not her own – an odd mental composite of elements from both her mind and another’s – and it is somehow so comforting and so familiar, despite its strangeness, that her lips have parted around a small breathy sigh that is almost a coo of contentment and her body has relaxed itself utterly before it fully registers on her just what that image embodies: another person’s feelings for her. Her eyes open swiftly, then, and gaze off into the corridor that is as dark as her bedroom.

“I’m awake, you know,” she notes, the sound seeming to ring in the empty air, despite her quiet tone, and the sensation of being blanketed in warm softness dissipates in a wave of what, to her only lightly sensitive mind, seems like surprise and nervousness.

“Ah. Forgive me, Milady.” Obi-Wan’s cultured tones break the silence, sending a frisson of sudden almost painful awareness of his proximity racing up her spine. “I had thought you were sleeping and was merely trying to make sure that you were alright.”

“I’m fine, Bendu,” she murmurs, cheek still pressed tightly into the pillow, a soft smile blossoming on her face. “I take it my plan worked?”

“After a fashion,” he eventually notes after several heartbeats of silence, his tone oddly seeming somehow both close to and yet removed from anger. A few more moments, and she hears him sigh. “You shouldn’t have allowed Anakin to use you as bait, like that. It was dangerous, Padmé. Needlessly so.”

“I can take care of myself, Obi-Wan!” she snaps back rather crossly.

He holds the silence that follows that ringing pronouncement just long enough for her to recall precisely how little care she actually managed to provide for herself and to realize the all too probable outcome of the attack, had two Jedi not been watching over her, making her flush with embarrassment, before finally, with another, almost soundless sigh, stepping forward to cross the threshold fully into her bedchamber. “I know that you can,” he gently acknowledges. “All the same, though, that was a little too close for my taste.”

Propping herself up against her elbow, Padmé brushes a stray curl of loose hair away from her eyes with her free hand and, in an attempt to shift the conversation to slightly less tension-fraught territory, quietly asks, “What were those things, anyway? Some kind of worms?”

“Something like that. I believe they’re known as kouhuns. The venom in their stingers is quite deadly, if I’m remembering correctly.”

“Poison.” She frowns slightly, thoughtfully, trying very hard not to think of the nightmare about something alien in her chest. “A quick death, then. Not necessarily a bad way to go.”

“Not any way to go, for /you/,” is Obi-Wan’s pointedly sharp retort. He sucks in a quick breath, afterwards, as though startled by the intensity of the emotion he’s betrayed. “I am sworn to protect you, Milady. I don’t intend to allow anyone or anything to harm you.” In the dim light from the glow seeping through the windows, Obi-Wan looks uncharacteristically flustered, and she wonders, for a moment, if she really is awake, or if this is going to end up transforming into yet another strange dream involving Anakin.

“Of course, Bendu. What I meant to say, though,” Padmé eventually opines, carefully stepping around both his words and his strangely flustered demeanor, “was that it sounds like a professional attempt rather than a more personally motivated strike against me. Such a methodology doesn’t particularly strike me as being meant to be brutal.”

“We did catch the individual responsible,” he admits, moving a little bit closer, until he is standing at the foot of the bed. “A changeling. She began to tell us that it was a bounty hunter who hired her, but unfortunately another person – presumably her hirer – silenced her first.”

“I’m not sure whether to be comforted by that or not,” she rather dryly notes in response. Sitting up fully, she reaches her hand towards the bedside lamp, only to hear it click on before her fingers actually have a chance to get near it. Startled, she flinches back slightly before turning to look up at him, but this is Obi-Wan Kenobi, not Anakin Skywalker, and he merely returns her slightly accusing gaze placidly, a slight smile curving his lips, knowing full well that she had been about to turn on the light anyway. Shaking her head ruefully, she scoots up slightly on the bed, trying to make it plain that he is welcome to sit without actually speaking the words, so he will not have to decline if he is not comfortable with quite that much closeness.

He takes a seat on the edge of her bed, turning towards her enough that it’s clear he’s in no danger of sliding off, making her smile deepen until a laugh tickles at the back of her throat. They study each other at that intimate distance for a few moments before, with obvious concern, he asks, “You’re quite certain that you didn’t take any harm during the attack, aren’t you?”

Her instinct prompts her to cover her heart and to touch her neck, to be sure that there is nothing coming up out of her chest and that her throat is in fact still intact, but she is terrified of what might happen, should he insist on inspecting her neck for damage, himself, so instead she makes herself turn up towards him so that their gazes are locked and then she smiles at him reassuringly, promising him, “I’m quite certain. I was only a little startled. Thank you.” For a moment, then, she almost thinks that she can sense the blanket forming between them again, and her smile, in response, is so bright that she all but can feel the heat of it, billowing between them like a live thing. Energy crackles between the, stealing her breath away, and for a few pulse-pounding moments she forgets herself completely and dares to hope that this time, /this time/, he won’t stop to think first but will just reach out to her –

– and then his hands twitch, as if trying to double over into fists in an effort to keep them from stretching out to touch, take, hold, have, and he drops his eyes, relaxed posture suddenly painfully still and upright, and the urge to cry for their lost chance is all but overwhelming, clogging her throat and making her eyes burn and prickle painfully. She knows what he is going to say even before his lips part to allow the words, “It was my duty,” to slip stiffly through.

“Yes, well, your duty,” she coldly replies, “is going to require a bit more effort yet on your part to follow through on, I believe. I do not like this idea of hiding, and I do not believe I shall go along with this scheme of the High Council Masters. You’re going to have to come up with another plan, if you wish to keep protecting me. I have absolutely no intention of leaving Coruscant until after the vote on the proposed Military Creation Act.”

“Milady – ”

“/No./ I do not like this plan. I will not argue with you about it. I will not go.”

“Padmé, /please/. The High Council and the Supreme Chancellor both agree that this is for the best. We’ve already begun to make arrangements with Lady Sabé – ”

“Then you’ll just have to comm her and tell her that there’s been a change in plans, now won’t you? And then you’ll have to comm your High Council and tell the Masters to tell the Supreme Chancellor that we are going to pursue alternative arrangements.” Padmé crosses her arms defensively to keep from putting them on her hips, arches a challenging eyebrow at him, and waits . . . and waits . . . and waits, until finally, with a heavy sigh, Obi-Wan turns away and regains his feet, silently waiting for her to fetch the comm.

***

Master Kenobi actually returns to Milady’s apartments without his Padawan learner in tow, and so all Dormé has to do, to see to it that her orders are carried out, is to let him in to see Padmé and then wait for Anakin to show up and keep him from interrupting the conversation that Milady and the Bendu Knight might still be having. Depending on how long it takes Anakin to follow his Master in, she can either distract him with the promise of another meal and a strong hint that Milady is sleeping and his Master has already secured the premises again or else pull him aside for a discussion regarding the change in plans that Milady will have already proceeded to impress most deeply upon Master Kenobi and the High Council Masters.

Which is precisely how Dormé ends up back in one of the kitchens with Anakin a little over an hour after Obi-Wan Kenobi has headed off to Milady’s private quarters, clad in an ever so slightly darker version of the gown she’d worn to meet Milady on her arrival on Coruscant, sipping a cup of wake-tea and picking at a couple of breakfast scones while Anakin methodically devours a plate full of food and awkwardly tries to apologize for his brusqueness earlier. “You’re sure your arm is alright? I honestly didn’t mean to push you as hard as I did. I just needed to get past you and I wanted to make sure someone was going to see to Padmé and there was really no time to talk. It gave me an awful fright, seeing Obi-Wan go through the window like that, and all I could think of was that I had to get out there, so I could find him and catch him, if the droid shook him loose and he started to fall,” Anakin explains with a surprisingly nonsheepish tone of voice, his manner more matter of fact than truly embarrassed, if clearly also regretful of any harm he might’ve accidentally caused her.

Dormé just sighs and takes another drink of her soothingly hot tea. “I’m fine, Anakin, truly. You could have been a bit more careful with Milady – she nearly tumbled across the bed and into the floor – but we both know you were only trying to get us both somewhere safely out of the way so you could go after Master Kenobi and the source of the danger. You were only in a hurry to help him.”

Anakin flashes her a grateful little smile. “It wasn’t a very bright thing to do. He couldn’t possibly have known he’d be able to hold on long enough for me to catch up with him. It was more like something I might have done, a few years ago, when I went through my ‘damn foolish stunts and heroics’ phase, as he called it. I thought my heart would leap out of my chest!” he then complains, smile transmuting to a sharp grimace, clearly still unnerved by the entire experience.

“He takes his protective duties seriously. And he knew you’d follow him and be there before anything bad could happen,” Dormé soothingly counters, essentially repeating what she’s already said to calm Padmé down, if with a slightly different spin. “He trusts you Anakin.”

“Then why did he have a fit when I dove out of the skimmer after the bounty hunter? It’s not like her skimmer was far enough away for me to miss!” he only irritably points out in return.

Her heart turns over painfully at the admission that the pursuit of this bounty hunter involved leaping out of moving skimmers, but she schools her face to a blankness tinged ever so slightly with amusement, rather than allow her horror to show. “Why do you want to scold him for going out the window after the droid? Same reason: it was startling as all get out and it made your heart skip at least a couple of beats, just like it likely did for him to see you jump out of the skimmer,” she points out with a small shrug.

Anakin makes a low grumbling noise but (wisely) doesn’t argue the point, aside from acerbically pointing out, “At least /I /knew he was right there where he could get to me easily, if anything went wrong.”

She refrains from rolling her eyes (just!) by changing the subject, asking, “I wonder how the other bounty hunter kept his presence masked. Neither of you sensed him, did you?”

Anakin shrugs casually. “Too much ambient noise with nasty overtones. Nearly everyone at that level has thoughts and goals in mind that are less than repeatable in polite company. And whoever or whatever else it was, it was a professional. He or she or it probably was focused on aiming, rather than the act of shooting and killing. Even when you’re listening for trouble, it can be next to impossible to sift anything out that’s really useful in time to do anything besides react, in a crush like that, if the being in question is focused on some specific process rather than on mayhem or murder in general,” he explains. “If the bounty hunter hadn’t had that jet pack, we still could have gotten him. Or her. Or whatever it was. Master thinks it was a man, but then, he thought the changeling was a man, too, at first, and she definitely turned out to be a she, so Force alone only knows what the second one is. With all that armor, it really wasn’t possible to tell for sure, though I agree the armor definitely suggests a Mando.”

“I thought the Mandalorians were all wiped out on Galidraan a few decades ago.”

“True Mandalorians only, and there were actually a couple of survivors, though I hear that didn’t keep Master Dooku from throwing an absolute fit about the mission – not that I can really blame him. I would’ve been pissed off, too, if I’d been tricked into being the cause of a massacre of virtual innocents, when it was the politicians and his Death Watch hirelings who’d done all the wrong. Besides, there’s always some Mando around. All you have to do is agree to live by their code, to become one. They’re like Jedi, that way. It makes them next to impossible to ever really completely wipe out,” he replies with another loose shrug.

“Oh.” Dormé frowns, feeling as if they’re somehow both missing something obvious. “Wait a moment, Master Dooku? Count Yannis Dooku of Serenno?”

“Uhm, yeah. Why?”

“He’s the one who’s been fighting Milady’s efforts to kill the proposed Military Creation Act! They think he may’ve had something to do with the first attack against her, on Naboo!”

“But Dooku was Qui-Gon’s Master. He left the Order because of his ideals, not because he wanted to – to – I don’t know, make the Republic go to war against itself!” Anakin protests, looking genuinely shocked by the notion that the former Jedi Master might have anything to do with the attacks on Senator Amidala.

“Says who? Your Council? Like the Council Masters pay any attention to anything outside of their ivory towers!”

Anakin puts down his fork with far more force than in necessary. “Hey! That’s Qui-Gon’s Master you’re accusing!”

She just scowls at him irritably, refusing to back down. “Well, forgive me for pointing out the obvious, but what if it’s him? What if he thinks the only way to change anything of the Republic’s ideals is to tear down the actual Republic and start over again?”

Anakin frowns darkly. “Then maybe he’s right and Padmé is on the wrong side.”

“Anakin!” she gasps, scandalized at the very thought.

“Well, sorry/, but what if she is? You’re the one who told me Master argues with her about this kind of thing all the time! What if Obi-Wan and Dooku are right and that’s the only way to really fix/ anything and Padmé’s supporting the wrong blasted side in this?”

“That doesn’t give him the right to physically attack her, for Nisaba’s sake!”

“And what if it’s not him? Or not him directly? Dooku’s a powerful, charismatic man, from what I’ve heard. It could be one of his followers or admirers or workers can see that Padmé is on the wrong side and is capable of keeping what needs to happen from actually happening and just assumed that the bast way to serve the interests both of Dooku and the greater good was to get rid of her, you know.”

“That’s – that’s – ”

“ – something that would seem very reasonable, for a fanatic?” Anakin breaks in, raising an eyebrow at her challengingly.

Dormé just stares at him, unable to think of a way to refute his words but too horrified with the sheer plausibility of what he’s proposing to be able to really accept the argument either. “That’s monstrous,” she finally whispers, utterly aghast. “Surely Milady – ”

Anakin just tilts his head and narrows his eyes. “Have you ever really stopped to think what it is that she’s protecting versus what it is that she believes she’s protecting? Has anyone besides Obi-Wan ever tried to talk to her about the gap between the two things? My Master’s a good person and he’s extremely intelligent, but his arguments . . . sometimes he just comes off /wrong/, you know? The kind of wrong where a body wants to argue against him just because he makes so much sense that it’s kind of scary and you’re afraid that he just might be right.”

“I don’t – I’m not – Anakin, now you’re the one who’s giving/ me/ a headache!”

“Sorry. It’s just, if Obi-Wan’s working his way up to a decision, I want it to be the right one. And I want all of you to make that decision with us,” is Anakin’s entirely too fervent reply.

Dormé shakes her head sharply, turning away from that pleading, serious, passionate gaze and refusing to make eye contact. “It would be up to Milady and Queen Jamillia – ”

“You shouldn’t let them make up your mind for you, Dormé. Especially not if you can see where they might be wrong. Isn’t Sabé always saying – ”

“Lady Sabé agrees with Master Kenobi. She tried to talk Milady out of her stance against the Military Creation Act. She thinks if it ends up coming down to a fight, the so-called Republic will start conscripting soldiers from the Expansionary Regions on outwards and make the Jedi their generals and their shock troops. Milady says it will never happen – she refuses to believe the democratic spirit of the Republic has fallen so far that it could happen, just as she refuses to believe the Republic would have done nothing to help Naboo, if matters hadn’t fallen out as they did – but I fear Sabé may be right. Did you know Chandrila and Alderaan have been stockpiling weapons and ships and medicinals, ever since the Trade Federation’s occupation of Naboo? Even the Crown Prince of Alderaan agrees something awful is coming, and Bail’s usually so optimistic that he makes Milady look cynical! He and his sister have been talking with Queen Jamillia about the growing refugee problem, from troubles spreading inward from the Outer Rim Territories, and I think they’ve nearly convinced her that just creating another, more galactic-wide organization for disaster relief isn’t going to be enough. But Anakin, the Separatists – the people supporting Dooku – it’s mostly corporations like the Trade Federation, not the residents of worlds being harmed by the Republic’s growing corruption!”

“Sometimes the right thing gets done for the wrong reason,” Anakin only shrugs cynically in reply. “That doesn’t make the result of the action wrong. It just makes it . . . less agreeable.”

“I don’t think I like where you’re going with this. The Trade Federation was working with at least one Sith Lord that we know of, during the invasion of Naboo, and – ”

“Or maybe they were duped into invading by a Sith’s machinations and had no idea who they were working with or doing a favor for or why seizing Naboo might help to advance a Sith’s plans!” he quickly counters.

“And maybe they’re being duped into helping the other Sith Lord still!”

“Or maybe the Sith is using them to give the idea of needing to change the way the Republic does things a bad rap, to keep people from noticing how bad things are really getting! Maybe the idea is to make them a kind of scapegoat – ”

“And maybe the Sith is someone in power who benefitted from Naboo’s invasion and would benefit from a civil war! Ever think of that?” Dormé interrupts to waspishly demand.

With disarming earnestness, Anakin replies, “Constantly. Obi-Wan’s always thought we should have gone looking for the second Sith, after Naboo, instead of just letting the matter drop. He’s made inquiries about it himself and tried to figure out who it could be, but the thing is, there were a lot of beings who could have benefitted, if the conflict had dragged on longer than it did.”

Scowling, she starts to point out, “You know, your friend, the Chancellor – ”

With the kind of huffy irritability of one who’s gotten so used to defending a disreputable friend that further complaints about said friend are no longer really listened to, Anakin irately snaps, “I thinks someone would notice if the Supreme Chancellor were a Sith Lord, Dormé!”

“And I think someone would notice if we were being set up to support the wrong blasted side in a potential civil war! So I guess that means we’re back to square one!” she snaps back, not bothering to hide an iota of her frustration with him.

“If you’re Padmé and I’m Obi-Wan, I guess we are!” Anakin half shouts and half pouts at her, in response.

She glares at him for several moments before the absurdity of the situation and the aptness of the comparison really sinks in, and then reluctantly finds herself grinning at him. “We do sound rather like them, don’t we? Only not nearly so calm.”

A small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, Anakin posits, “Maybe we should leave the arguing to them, then.”

“Maybe. Come on. Let’s go see how things are going with your Master, shall we? He may have news for us regarding the next step Milady wishes to take,” she offers, seeing that he’s basically cleaned his plate and hoping that the news Master Kenobi will most likely have to share will keep Anakin too occupied to pick another fight with her.

Anakin grins, nods easy agreement, and pushes himself to his feet, following her lead.

Less than five minutes later, she’s already bitterly regretting her decision to seek out the Bendu Knight, for he’s still in Milady’s private quarters, and Milady is in the process of having an almost vicious fight with Lady Sabé regarding her decision to defy the schemes of the High Council Masters and remain on Coruscant for the vote, the arguing so fraught with tension and with emotion that Anakin automatically abandons Dormé to moves swiftly over to Obi-Wan’s side, where both of the Jedi look increasingly painfully out of place and discomforted with the situation, shrinking in upon themselves as though trying to make themselves too small to be noticed by anyone.

“I will not/! I /refuse to allow my life, my actions, to be dictated by such /cowards/! I will not run away and cower in hiding every time some greedy corporation or disgruntled political rival thinks to hire some bully boys to try to frighten me into a new course of action!” Padmé thunders at the active holocomm receiver/transmitter, oddly beautiful in her affront, shining in her pale nightgown like a force of nature or a living manifestation of the Lady Nisaba Herself.

If Padmé is like an avatar of the Great Lady, then Sabé is her twin, equally ferocious in her frustrated protectiveness and equally breathtaking, despite being present only via hologram and in a pale nightdress and embroidered dressing gown, dark hair pulled back haphazardly from her face, disheveled dark curls tumbling over her shoulders. “These are professional assassins and bounty hunters, Padmé, not some random hooligans from the streets! You have a duty to – ”

“I have a duty to see this bill through to the vote, Sabé! I cannot just pack up and go home because of what’s being seen as a few minor incidents! What will the other Senators think, but that I have admitted defeat or that I am too frightened to stand up for my beliefs, if I were to do so? I refuse to do any such thing! I will not pander to the flawed assumption that sufficient might and force is the answer! You cannot ask me to go so contrary to my nature, in this!”

“I ask you to do the responsible thing and return home, where you can be more sure of your safety without requiring extra guards, so that the Jedi will be able to focus all of their considerable energies on quickly getting the job done and finding the culprits ultimately responsible for these attacks, so that you may then safely return here in time for the vote!” /Sabé very nearly shouts in return, clearly infuriated by Padmé’s stubbornness. /“And I would have expected better from you, of all people! An explosion that claims the lives of two of your best decoys and another twenty-six of your handmaidens is certainly no mere ‘minor’ incident!”

Padmé flushes a painfully embarrassed shade of vivid red and then goes stark white, a shade so bloodlessly pale that Dormé knows there is about to be real trouble. “I take the loss of /any /life as no mere minor incident, as you should well know, which is precisely why I refuse to be intimidated into abandoning my duties here! Cordé, Versé, and the others all gave their lives so that I could return to Coruscant to be present for the voting on this proposed bill. I will not dishonor their sacrifices in order to turn about and flee back to Naboo like a whipped cur with my tail between my legs mere days before the issue is bound to come to a vote! And I am amazed that you, a former Queen’s First, could ever support such a thing!”

Sabé looks as though she is torn between screaming in sheer frustration or else bursting into tears. “Padmé, for Asherah’s sake – !”

“/No./ You must make other arrangements. Uproot the training school and come here yourself, if you must, but here I am and here I shall surely remain, until this issue has been decided by the Senate!”

When Padmé has whirled about and stalked out of the room and the Jedi have exchanged wide-eyed glances and departed as well at something more closely resembling a quick trot than their usual temperate and graceful glide, Sabé utters a string of curses in Nabooian and Uriashian so vile that Dormé feels as if her cheeks might blister from the heat of her blushes. Hesitantly, she draws attention to herself by starting to ask, “Lady Sabé, if you wish, I could ask Master Kenobi to try to – ”

“Don’t bother. When she is like this, nothing short of force can sway her. It appears as though you’re going to be called on to act as decoy for Milady one more time after all, Dormé. They’re going to have to at least appear to send a Padmé Amidala away from Coruscant under Jedi guard, for her own safety, if that little fool expects to live long enough to see that damned vote, and, since she refuses to be the one to go, I fear that leaves only you. I’m sorry, /m’éadáil oileanach/. I know you thought you were done with this part of the job, but none of the girls with you now are practiced enough to carry a deception of this nature off and unfortunately we simply cannot be there quickly enough to make a switch or else I would volunteer myself. They shall have to either split up the Team or else find someone else to send back with you. Either way, I expect another Master-Padawan pair will likely be assigned to Milady, at least until we can get there. You’ll likely end up coming back here with Anakin, while Obi-Wan hunts down this second bounty hunter. I trust this will not be a problem for you?”

“No, Lady Sabé. Anakin and I get along quite well. We . . . understand each other.”

“Good girl.” A ghost of a smile flickers across Sabé’s flower-like face. “I always said you were the most flexible of us all. Thank you for once again proving me correct. I am going to comm Obi-Wan and see about comming the Council Masters, to see about apologizing for this mess. I would avoid speaking to Padmé for at least an hour or so, if I were you. Attend to the wardrobe instead – see if there is ought in her cases that will fit you, until you reach Naboo.”

“Of course, Lady Sabé. Honor to serve.”

She sighs, quirks her lips in a wry little smile, and then nods, acknowledging, “Heart and soul to serve, /m’éadáil oileanach/. Until we meet again.”

The blue-tinged hologram flickers off and Dormé allows herself the luxury of a groan as she sinks down in the nearest chair, rubbing soothing circles around her temples in an attempt to stave off the massive headache she can feel coming on. Given what she recalls of the contents of Milady’s wardrobe, she’s soon groaning again, even more loudly, after which she sighs loudly, in resignation. She is not only taller than Padmé but also ever so slightly longer through the torso, meaning that it is not all that likely that any of those ornate senatorial costumes are going to fit her all that terribly well. Yet, needs must, and, though she may well be in some sort of disguise during her actual departure from Coruscant for Naboo, she is likely still going to have to present herself to Queen Jamillia as if she were Padmé Amidala. And sitting and groaning over the prospect of trying to find properly fitting garb isn’t going to help resolve matters any, so . . . with another deep sigh, she pushes herself back to her feet.

A brief flicker of a smile ghosts across Dormé’s lips as it occurs to her that this, at least, is a task that will doubtlessly keep her far too busy to attempt to speak to Milady any time soon, within the next several hours, and then she turns, with an air of resignation, towards the room in Milady’s suite where most of her clothing is being stored, grimly determined to do what she can and to call in the seamstress Padmé keeps on retainer, while in residence on Coruscant, to make some hasty alterations to a few dresses, if necessary. A departure gown, most likely at least three to five days travel time to Naboo, a formal gown for visiting the Queen, to keep her properly in the loop, clothing for what will likely (unfortunately) be an unavoidable (and most probably uncomfortable) trip to the Naberrie household, travel clothes for Varykino . . . Lady bless, this may actually take all day! Shaking her head, she reaches for her private comlink and signals for the other girls to come and attend her, so that things may perhaps go more swiftly (or at least more smoothly, with more hands present to help), hunting out the second of her private comlinks (for the world beyond the apartment complex and Milady’s staff) as she goes, so that she can go ahead and call in Mistress Elseida, for those alterations . . .

***

Elseida Navrielle is a protégée of Fé Gélètánine, the primary dressmaker in charge of the wardrobes of both Padmé Amidala and her handmaidens ever since the earliest days of Queen Amidala’s first term. A woman of exceptional taste, skill, courage, and loyalty (stories are still told on Naboo of the daring Fé and her apprentice, Gilliarc Nócrydden, who dressed themselves as handmaidens during the invasion in order to provide a distraction while the Princess of Theed and her handmaiden coterie attempted to flee the Palace, and how Gilliarc became so good at impersonating a woman that even former handmaidens Essé Seltrin and Rosé Ganesa mistook him for one of the Queen’s handmaidens in training), Fé, along with her various apprentices, has largely been responsible for clothing all of Milady Amidala’s household for so long and she and her students have all been so unflinchingly loyal that her latest protégée, Elseida, is one of the few individuals outside of the Jedi High Council and Milady’s own household who can be safely trusted with the information that, while it may appear to be Padmé Amidala who will soon be returning to Naboo, it will in fact be Dormé Tammesin who will be departing while the Senator herself remains on Coruscant. Though Elseida somehow manages to be both blunter and less diplomatic and yet also somewhat flightier than Fé, she is a genius of a designer with a talent for creating both overwhelmingly rich, gorgeous costumes for the likes of a Queen or a Senator and unremarkable yet all but shockingly protective and functional uniforms for handmaidens.

A thin, pale girl of slightly greater than average height with perpetually frazzled dark curly hair, mild blue eyes, and a mostly unremarkable roundish oval face, aside from a slightly overlarge nose, who (as she has been known to say many times) would have been quite ravishing instead of rather plain if only her eyes had been more widely spaced apart and her mouth were approximately half again the size that it is, Elseida arrives promptly at five o’clock (despite the short notice and the extremely early hour) with what looks to be at least a fifth of the contents of her store in raw materials piled high on some portable repulsorlifts, passes a cursory glance over the contents of Milady’s extensive wardrobe, tells Joané Aldon to make herself useful and fetch her a cup and a carafe of hot caf, orders the other girls to help her set up what amounts to another room within the larger chamber, consisting of a circle of tall, linked mirrors, and then cheerfully orders Dormé to step within the mirrors and strip so she can confirm her measurements, so that she’ll know precisely what it is that she’s going to be working with. Though it has been some time since Dormé has subjected herself to the critical gaze of anyone other than either one of her teachers or her personal healer, she allows herself to be herded inside the mirrored cage and strips down, allowing Elseida to measure here and there with an impersonal touch and drape bolts of various cloth over her shoulders so as to study the lie of it.

“If you were going to be taller than normal, then you could’ve stood to be taller still,” Elseida grumbles irritably at one point. “Such height would make for a better line. But you are in excellent shape and proportioned well. And Milady is, after all, somewhat petite. Alright, then. Put your clothes back on, and I’ll tell you what I think.”

“I’m not sure if there’ll be enough time for you to create anything new between now and whenever I have to leave, but any help you can give will be greatly appreciated, given how much taller I am now than Milady,” Dormé politely notes, allowing Joané and a few of the other girls to help her redress so that no time will be wasted.

“You’re lucky, though. Everything is made to order to be adjustable for her decoys, none of whom currently have her exact measurements, and she generally favors gowns that lack set waists, which means that the differences in the lines of your torso and the size of your breasts should be fairly negligible, and most if not all of the difference in height from your longer legs can be camouflaged either by choosing gowns that either have trains or skirts meant to pool on the floor at least a little or else by letting some hems down and adding some ruffled trims to the skirts of whichever other gowns you might wish to borrow.”

“And she will have most of two days in which to work – all of the rest of this day and no less than half of tomorrow, since I will not allow them to rush into sending you back to Naboo. Since these costumes will not have to stand up to the scrutiny of the Senate, she can forgo many of the elaborations she would add by hand, which will save quite a bit on time and effort.”

Dormé startles, despite herself, not expecting Milady to have recovered sufficiently from her passionate argument with Lady Sabé to yet take an interest in the necessity of putting together a wardrobe capable of allowing Dormé to pass as Amidala. “Milady.” She curtsies automatically, slightly flustered, not entirely sure what to say and not exactly sure that Padmé’s apparent calm will hold, if pushed too far, especially given the presence of a certain active holocomm unit in the room, projecting the blue-tinged image of a quiet Lady Sabé (called on to participate in the consult, given her extensive experience as Amidala’s decoy).

“I should have expected you would already be organizing the necessary details.” Padmé’s smile is perhaps a little strained around the edges, but the warmth in it is genuine enough. “You always have had a gift for organization.” Turning slightly towards the waiting dressmaker, she firmly notes, “Mistress Elseida, I wish you to spare no expense in the creation of this wardrobe for my loyal handmaiden. I understand that your work is going to be rushed, but I insist that you bring in further assistants if necessary. Dormé deserves no less than the very best.”

“A day and a half and all of my assistants to work, and I wager even you will be startled to see what can be accomplished, Milady,” Elseida declares, her mouth quirking in a small half smile as she drops Padmé an informal nod. “I approve of your headpiece, by the way. If you’re going to be trying to lay low while you’re still here, pretending to be one of your handmaidens, you should consider breaking out the gowns that have coordinating veils or matching wimples. And I’d advise the same for your Sabé, if she’s going to be joining you here.”

“I appreciate the suggestion, Mistress. I’ll see to it that the suggestion is passed along.” Padmé tilts her head at Joané, who takes the cue to withdraw and see to it that the suggestion is indeed passed along. “If there are any gowns here that you need to have access to, to modify for Dormé, please, feel free to take them with you. I would only ask that you avoid taking any of the gowns that have coordinating or matching veils or wimples, as I intend to take your advice.”

“As you will,” Elseida shrugs, making a careless gesture, and the nods in easy agreement. “I doubt I’ll need any of them, anyway: there are enough gowns here with trains and with hems low enough and elaborate enough that the addition of another ruffle or some lace won’t hurt anything, and Dormé shouldn’t be close enough to anyone who’d be able to tell it isn’t really you and wouldn’t already know why it’s not you to need veiling anyway.”

“Good. Concentrate on the gowns most suitable for a Senator. If possible, try to aim for enough costumes for at least a month. We have no way of knowing yet how long we will have to keep this deception in play or whether or not Dormé may be called upon to participate in various holocomm communications while pretending to be me, and she can, after all, always borrow less formal gowns from among my things at home or at Varykino, once she is on Naboo,” Padmé quietly but firmly orders.

“As you wish. That should be doable. Just make sure you make proper arrangements to pack and ship everything, when you’re making travel arrangements. These won’t precisely be the kinds of things one can just cram into a single carry-on valise,” Elseida warns.

Padmé inclines her head graciously. “Of course. Proper arrangements will be made, never you fear. That is part of the reason why Dormé and Anakin will not be leaving until no earlier than tomorrow afternoon.”

“If I may,” /Sabé quietly interjects, her voice calm but also oddly flat and toneless, as if she were repressing all of her emotions in order to avoid exploding into another furious tirade of arguing, /“allow me to suggest that Dormé travel as a young matron of the Thousand Moons system. You do still have those disguises with you, Milady, don’t you?”

“Four of them, yes,” is Padmé’s coolly stiff response. “The gold and deep yellow and burgundy with orichalc costume; the bright salmon-red and dark burgundy with electrum; the green and black with kelsh metal; and the pale pink and salmon rose with gold. She’ll likely have to wear at least one of them twice. It generally takes a full week, if not more than five days, for commercial transportation that is not individually chartered to travel the hyperspace route from Coruscant to Naboo, and we will not be chartering personal transportation, since we are trying to convince anyone watching that I am being secretly sent back to Naboo for my own safety.”

Sabé makes a point of shrugging and casually continuing to paint her toenails. “Our transportation to Coruscant has already been arranged. The girls are packing now. It should take about two and a half or three days for us to get to you. You will wait for us to arrive before you attempt anything, won’t you?” she asks, arching an eyebrow pointedly.

“I doubt Obi-Wan will leave until after you have arrived,” Padmé nonchalantly replies, the edges of her mouth curving slightly, as if amused by the Jedi Bendu’s protectiveness.

“Then we’ll all be able to wish him luck on his search for the second bounty hunter.”

Padmé inclines her head ever so slightly, the slight curve to her mouth deepening infinitesimally. “Indeed.”

“Yes, yes, I’m sure that’s all quite lovely. But I’m afraid, ladies, that I need to be getting some of these things back to my shop. So if some of you lovely handmaidens can help me gather things up. . . ?” Elseida breaks in after several long moments in which Padmé and Sabé simply gaze silently at each other, identical small smiles blossoming slowly across their faces in almost eerie synchronicity.

Dormé and Joané automatically jump to help Elseida and a small gesture from Dormé quickly brings the other handmaidens forward so that soon all of them are rapidly and efficiently moving around the room, gathering and packing items away at Elseida’s direction. Dormé, torn between nodding in gleeful approval (she /does /favor vivid shades of red, though unfortunately she isn’t able to wear such bold hues all that often) and protesting that Milady doesn’t frequently wear such bright, attention-grabbing shades of red, outside of the Nabooian royal court, keeps her mouth determinedly shut, for fear of seeming to doubt Elseida’s either taste or her knowledge of Milady’s usual wardrobe and causing the woman to lose her surprisingly agreeable demeanor. With all of them working together, it takes surprisingly little time to pack everything Elseida has brought with her and all of the garments she wishes to take with her onto the repulsorlifts she’s brought along. With another slight gesture, Dormé allows Elseida to guide the heavily laden repulsorlifts out of the room and carefully herds all of the handmaidens out afterwards, closing the door behind them softly.

With any luck at all, Padmé and Sabé will take advantage of the privacy to at least begin to make up again, after their vicious argument, and she and the other handmaidens will be able to stop worrying about Padmé taking it in to her head to do something insanely dangerous, just to prove a point to everyone who’d rather send her back to Naboo to hide instead of just a decoy. And if not, well . . . at least this time any argument they might have will remain private, this time. In the meantime, Dormé can always continue to make herself useful by seeing to it that proper preparations to house Lady Sabé and all of the handmaidens in training and former handmaidens who continue to serve not by actively guarding Milady but by training up her newest handmaidens and/or the handmaidens serving both the new Queen of Naboo and the Princess of Theed are, at the very least, begun. And, of course, if Anakin is about, then perhaps she can see about having that conversation about Milady Padmé and Lady Sabé and Master Kenobi, like she’s been meaning to do ever since she Joané told her about the conversation she overheard between Padmé and Obi-Wan, so she can do her part in seeing to it that he’s put straight about a few certain things . . .

***


The look Anakin gives her is priceless: if she had actually been trying to make him do a spit-take, when she set out to track him down and explain how things truly are between Milady Padmé and Lady Sabé and Master Kenobi, then she would have felt utterly vindicated. As it is, though, Dormé merely sighs and waits calmly for him to stop sputtering and choking on his drink and indicate that he knows she’s serious about what she’s just told him. It takes several moments, but finally he manages to stop coughing over the juice he’s clearly quite painfully inhaled in his surprise over her words enough to demand, “Are you /serious/?!”

“Completely. They grew up together, you know. Their families used to regularly expect to hear news that they’d found a third and were planning a formal pledging of three. You know that Nabooian law recognizes a citizen’s right to contract with both a wedded partner, by handfasting or marriage, and a consort, so long as the consort agrees to contract with both partners. Such an arrangement isn’t that unusual: I’m told there were even some preliminary arrangements made, regarding where the ceremony would take place and the type of vows that would be exchanged, when it finally happened. Padmé and Sabé quarreled, though, when Padmé became Queen and Sabé insisted not only on starting up the handmaiden program again but on being her primary decoy, too, since she was a least have responsible for the creation of Amidala to begin with. No one who knew them from before Padmé was elected Queen really expected it to last. It probably wouldn’t have lasted, either, if not for the fact that they not only found and lost the only third they truly desired and would have been willing to put aside or give up anything to have but that necessity also demanded their parting, with Sabé on Coruscant acting as interim and then elected Senator and Padmé on Naboo, ruling as Queen. They still love each other, though, and it is a foolish being who thinks to break that bond or otherwise interfere with it. In any case, I doubt you’d be very happy as a substitute for your own Master, even if Milady might be willing to distract herself by having a fling with you. Don’t be too disappointed about the way things are turning out, with Milady staying here. It’s probably for the best. She might care for you, Anakin, but I can assure you that she would never truly be in love with you.”

Anakin looks stricken. “I hadn’t – I didn’t – I never knew! Padmé and Sabé and – and – ”

“Master Kenobi, if only his vows to the Jedi Order would permit him to truly return their affections,” she completes his stuttering sentence, coolly matter of fact. “Since they will not, they are both determined never to settle for having anyone else, either. He is their shared fíor grá-mór and /cariad o’nhgariad /and it is widely assumed among Milady’s household that, when Master Kenobi is finally forced to make his decision to leave the Order, he will lawfully become the third binding them together.”

Anakin – who had been pouring over the monitors for the security cams when she found him – curls in upon himself, slouching down in his chair as if he’d like to be able to curl down small enough to vanish entirely. “How much of a fool have I made of myself?” he asks, sounding remarkably like a chastened and terrified child.

Dormé gives him a small, reassuring smile. “Only a little, /kalal/. Master Kenobi frets because he knows you so well, and I certainly know you well enough that I thought I should speak with you about this. But Milady hasn’t even realized and likely wouldn’t’ve, if Obi-Wan hadn’t said something unmistakable about it to her, until you finally got around to essentially propositioning her.”

“I would never – !”

She cuts him off before he can finish framing the protest, though, her voice gentle but firm. “Anakin. A great deal of your sense of self-worth is tied up in the way others view you, because you were once owned property. That isn’t your fault, precisely, but it is a potential danger. If Milady had actually agreed to go into hiding on Naboo, you might very well have done so, if you thought it was the best or the only way to get her to truly acknowledge you, as an individual person and not just the former child slave who helped her on Tatooine, received his freedom for that help, and so helped her again, on Naboo, out of thanks for that boon. I know you, /kalal/. Your pride would have driven you to try to do it, if nothing else.”

“I’m not – I don’t – I’m – I’m sorry. You must think I’m an awful person!”

“No, /kalal/, not awful at all. Just hurt by the way you’ve been treated and a little confused, that’s all. You’re a good person, Anakin. That’s why I wanted to warn you, before you could say or do anything . . . rash.”

His voice is so small that it hurts her to hear him. “You don’t hate me?”

Warmly, she immediately insists, “No,/ ma’chara/. I could never hate you.”

“Obi-Wan – Master isn’t . . . he’s not angry?”

“Maybe a little, with Milady, for being careless of your feelings.”

“Is she angry with me, do you know?”

“More angry at herself, I think. She hates to disappoint Bendu Kenobi.”

“She really loves him?/ And/ Sabé?”

“Very much so, to Master Kenobi’s continual regret and dismay. He hates to hurt them, you see, because he does, honestly, care about them both, but he cannot yet be what they want, to them, and also remain what he is. I suspect he’s avoided speaking of these things to you because he doesn’t want you to think that his obligation to you is what keeps him from them.”

His laugh is bitter, ragged, painfully jagged as a handful of shattered glass. “It isn’t? Are you sure of that?”

“Oh, Anakin! Of course not! You know your Master adores you and you know how much it means to him, to be a Jedi. He loves what he is and what he does, and he loves you. The Order would either have to completely reorganize itself and begin advocating that its members marry and raise families of their own, before he would ever consider taking them up on their standing offer, or else things would have to get so bad that it would no longer be a question of trying to determine whether or not it were the will of the Force directing him or just his own desire to stop hurting Milady Padmé and Lady Sabé, for him to revoke the vows tying him to the Order and keeping him from them. You know he’s also vowed to a life of complete chastity and has used the Force upon himself to enforce that vow, don’t you? I’m told he made the decision as a child in the Temple crèche.”

“I – I hadn’t know,” Anakin stammers, clearly flabbergasted by the notion. “He never said. I didn’t even know you could do that, with the Force!”

“Well, I,” Dormé hesitates, more than a little startled by Anakin’s admission, for a few moments not sure what she should say to him. “I’m sure he has his reasons for not talking about it. It’s probably not considered proper to discuss, in the Order. They might believe it encourages arrogance, or some such nonsense.”

Grimly, Anakin agrees, “That sounds like something the High Council would claim.”

“Well, then, there you go. You know how much he worries about the Council’s dislike of you. He’d never want to give them an excuse to try to take you away from him.”

Anakin’s gaze slides past her, his expression suddenly remote, his eyes distant. “Force, I’m a fool, aren’t I?” he breathes, shaking his head a little.

Gently, Dormé points out, “No more than any of the rest of us, dearest. We’re all shaped by our individual upbringing and the forces surrounding us, whether we necessarily want to be or not. I wouldn’t feel too embarrassed or upset about it,/ kalal/.”

Anakin’s shoulders sag, and he looks down at his feet, flushing as he mumbles, “As long as you’re sure you don’t hate me, /sakiana/.”

His pain and uncertainty hurt her so much that she’s reached out to him before she even knows that the thought has crossed her mind to move, impulsively fitting her right hand around the curve of his cheek, sliding her fingertips down around his jaw to tilt his head up, so that he has to look at her. “I could never hate you, Anakin Skywalker. /Never/.”

Anakin’s smile is as sudden and as blazingly bright as the sun, reappearing after a long storm, and she once again finds herself blinking, as if to chase away the dazzle of sun specks from her eyes. “Then I promise I will never doubt you again, Dormé.”

She makes herself smile back playfully, adopting a teasing tone. “I should hope not! Silly man. Come on, /kalal/. It’s getting fairly late in the day. Let’s get some lunch, before your stomach starts rumbling at you again.”

Anakin grins at her, a mixture of sheepishness and gratefulness and restored good humor and just plain happiness, and slides out of the chair to accompany her up to the kitchen. Dormé smiles in return, lets him take her hand and fold her left arm around the crook of his right arm, and allows herself to revel for a few quiet moments in the warm glow of satisfaction, unutterably glad that she’s finally gotten this particularly conversation out of the way and that it’s gone as well as it has. With any luck at all, things will continue to go well, and the second assassin will be found quickly and she and Anakin will be able to return to Coruscant after no more than a day or so on Naboo, and the question proposed Military Creation Act will be settled and no longer weigh so heavily on Milady’s mind . . .

***
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