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

Chapter 7: A Few Surprises

by Polgarawolf 0 Reviews

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

Category: Star Wars - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama,Romance,Sci-fi - Characters: Amidala,Anakin,Obi-Wan - Warnings: [!!] [?] - Published: 2008/10/29 - Updated: 2008/10/30 - 13767 words

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Seventh 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.) Please keep in mind that a lot of the basic background for this story is essentially congruent with the backstory for my SW AU series /You Became to Me/, at least up until the point where Dormé is the one who is sent to Naboo with Anakin. Thus, Nabooian customs are the same here as in /You Became to Me/ (including traditions involving one’s coming of age and the giving of ritual names), Padmé has memories of Obi-Wan Kenobi using the Force to share with her the experience of meditative oneness with the Force, on the ship escaping from Naboo, during the timeline for TPM, Sola Naberrie has had two miscarriages that can in some way be linked to her little sister’s status as a (now former) Queen of Naboo and has a history of strong feelings of jealousy and envy towards Padmé, Dormé’s family has (with the exception of her youngest brother) been neglectful at best and borderline abusive at worst towards her, and etc. If there are references to past events that readers don’t get and are curious about, I invite questions. Some things I can probably explain fairly easily. Others will need to wait on the progression of the actual story.
4.) 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 Seven: A Few Surprises


1,000:05:22-1,000:05:23 After Ruusan Reformations (25,001 After Republic’s Founding), 14-13 days prior to the Battle of Geonosis

The best things that come to one in life are often unexpected . . . if only because, with the unexpected, there is no weight of expectation to get in the way of pure enjoyment.
– Sabé Kandala Dahn, former primary decoy for Queen Padmé Amidala Naberrie of Naboo and former interim and elected Senator for the Chommell Sector, from private papers dated prior to the Battle of Geonosis



It’s not that Padmé doesn’t like or that she doesn’t trust Garen Muln or Siri Tachi: it’s just that they aren’t the person she wants to be here, guarding her, and it bothers her, a little, to consider how and why these two have specifically ended up being assigned to protect her. She knows that Obi-Wan asked them for their help and that they, in turn, promptly volunteered for the assignment, meaning that their presence here has nothing to do with their support of her politics or her stance against the proposed Military Creation Act. She’s seen the way they both look at Obi-Wan, and she knows something about that Tachi woman, from the stories Anakin has told Dormé and Dormé has in turn passed along to her, about Obi-Wan’s childhood in the crèche and his years as Qui-Gon Jinn’s Padawan learner, so she is perfectly aware of the way in which Siri Tachi has been (unsuccessfully, of course) chasing after Obi-Wan, since about the time they all became Padawan apprentices.

Padmé has heard less of Garen Muln, aside from the fact that he’s Anakin’s favorite among his Master’s friends, since Garen is one of the few good mechanics and pilots in the Jedi Order who enjoys flying and tends to tinker with various machines for no other reason than that they are where he can get to them; however, she knows what unrequited love looks like (she’s seen the look often enough on her own face. And Sabé’s face. And Bail Organa’s), and the man is quite clearly thoroughly infatuated with Obi-Wan. She might be tempted to make common cause with him, as she essentially has with Bail, but for the unfortunate fact that he physically reminds her just enough of Obi-Wan to keep her off-balance around him and to prompt her to rather guiltily recall her brief affair with the young man Sola found for her coming of age ritual – the red-haired, blue-eyed teenager who’d reminded her almost painfully of both Obi-Wan and the first beau she and Sabé had shared, Ian Lago (the son of King Veruna’s Prime Counselor of State, Kun Lago, and the first person they had ever considered taking for their third, for whom she had considered refusing to take the nomination for the monarchial elections, given his close ties to King Veruna’s court and the scandal that would have inevitably followed, had she been elected and had they considered to see each other).

Padmé never did get that young man’s name – Nabooian coming of age ceremonies are ancient, and, though nowadays most young people fulfill the part of the ritual that celebrates the passage to adulthood by laying down with their childhood sweethearts, rather than by literally allowing a stranger to take them by the hand at the bonfires of midsummer festivals, there are those who still go to the revels cloaked or masked. In her case, given that she was Queen and that this part of the celebration had been put off and put off and put off again, until finally her sister put her foot down firmly and declared that she would complete the ritual even if Sola had to find a young man for her and push them down together by one of the fires, it is, perhaps, unsurprising that no names were exchanged. She knows that Sola and Captain Panaka arranged things, and she knows that the youth was kind and gentle and attentive and careful of her nerves but passionate when she proved ready for him, and she knows that for that one night she was able to close her eyes and forget herself and let herself be cherished and loved and worshiped by hands, lips, flesh, tongue, wrapped about by warmth until she felt as if she were in the arms of her beloved, where she belonged – but the young man had been almost eerily like Obi-Wan, and her memory of him reminds her of Garen Muln.

Garen is a little taller, his slightly wavy hair closer to russet than to true red, the features of his face a bit more sharply pronounced and obviously different from Obi-Wan’s, but then, he’s also at least a decade older than that young man had been, that night, and so it makes a certain amount of sense for him to be a bit more uniquely himself, despite the resemblance to Obi-Wan. Young men and women of a certain age tend to share a certain amount of similarity just because they are so young, their bodies still settling into themselves, still growing in to their final forms (it’s what made it so easy to find handmaidens, when she was younger, and requires a lot more individual work on the part of her new handmaidens, now, to make them look both more alike and more like her). It’s easy to imagine Garen as her one-time lover, grown older and darker of hair, even easier to imagine him and Obi-Wan as virtual twins, running about the Temple crèche, as younglings, and disturbingly easy to picture them together (as teens, as young men, as they are today), just as Garen must imagine them, in his dreams. And that disconcerts her to no end. She turns towards the sight of a bearded face only to be presented with an oddly familiar stranger, turns to smile at some wry, witty comment, made in a softly lilting voice with a purely Coruscanti accent, only to find herself brought up short by the sight of purely blue eyes, no familiar flecks of grey and green and indigo to be found within their crystalline depths.

Padmé wants to like Garen – Obi-Wan speaks of him in the highest possible terms, and it is entirely possible that Garen is his closest friend and ally, in the Order, aside from Anakin – but she finds herself rattled, unsettled, and skittish in his presence, unbalanced and irritable, though he is nothing but polite, kind, sympathetic . . . very like Obi-Wan might have been, under similar circumstances. It would be easier, Padmé cannot help thinking, if he were not so very like Obi-Wan, or if he had been at all obvious about his feelings for Obi-Wan – if he were bluntly forward (to the point almost of abrasiveness) in his attentiveness, availability, attraction – more like that Tachi woman. (For the life of her, she simply cannot imagine how Obi-Wan tolerates the woman, as brashly obvious as she is! For Asherah’s sake, the only way the woman could possibly be any more blatant would be if she were to burst into a passionate declaration of her love and then grab Obi-Wan and yank him down for a kiss!)

She is beyond relieved, when she and Sabé have finally finished having their first serious discussion with Knights Muln and Tachi – touching on their duties, as guards, given what Sabé expects to be responsible for, with the handmaidens and regular security, regarding her everyday safety, and given what Padmé intends to try to do, in terns of continuing to quietly gather support for her stance against the proposed bill – and the first comment out of Sabé’s mouth is, “Those two Knights seem an odd choice, for protection. One might almost suspect that the High Council is trying to lull us into behaving as though Obi-Wan is still here, for some reason!”

“Lady bless, I know!” she agrees, laughing a little (and only a little raggedly). “Every time I turn about and see Garen, I startle like a child in a crowded market who’s accidentally mistaken a stranger for her mother or father! And that Tachi woman – ”

“I honestly think she doesn’t realize how obvious she is, since Obi-Wan is so very oblivious to his own charms. I’ve heard she is a fine Knight. I suspect it may just be proximity to Obi-Wan and anyone or anything close to him that makes her behave like this. Surely it must just be that, or else the Council Masters would have had to have had words with her, by now.”

“Still! She positively /glowers/, whenever she looks at me! And I swear I heard her growl when you mentioned Obi-Wan’s name, earlier. Does she honestly think – ”

Sabé interrupts her indignant reply with a quiet but indulgent little laugh of her own. “Oh, now, be fair, /cariodal/. It’s /Obi-Wan/. Can you really blame her?”

“If this is how she behaves around him, I certainly can!” Padmé only irritably insists.

Sabé shakes her head, smiling softly. “She’s Obi-Wan’s friend, though, and she certainly doesn’t have to be here, /ansa/. I think we should at least give her a chance. If she’s still growling and snarling at us in another three days, then I’ll have a little chat with her, alright?”

“Like the one you had with those handmaidens about resisting the urge to put certain, ah, additives in Obi-Wan’s food and drink?” Padmé asks, arching an eyebrow.

Sabé laughs unabashedly, clearly remembering how thoroughly embarrassed Obi-Wan had been after that little incident, when the supposed inhibitor-relaxers and aphrodisiacs a certain group of far too helpful handmaidens had liberally laced his meal with had merely given him a fever so high that he’d been quite delirious – unable even to stand up under his own power, much less call on the Force to heal himself, by purging his body more quickly of the drugs – and the two of them had been forced to manhandle him into a tub filled with ice-water before they could even risk trying to get a healer in to see him. In retrospect – from a point of view far removed from the initial unadulterated panic and fear and the shamefaced fury that had followed, when they first understood what it was that had truly happened and why – the memory of that event is farcically funny. (Those poor handmaidens! The girls really did have only the best of intentions, at heart!) “Something like that, yes,” she easily agrees. “If nothing else, if I’m forced to speak with her, I promise I will make it quite clear where we all stand.”

“Oh, very well, then. But you absolutely promise, after three days – ?”

“I swear on the Lady’s name,” Sabé interrupts Padmé’s grousing to solemnly swear. “I”ll take care of it – and her – if need be.”

When Padmé exhales, it’s as if a crushing weight has suddenly been removed from her slender shoulders, and her whole body sags, swaying with relief. “Bless you, Sabé! I should never survive without you.”

A little sharply, Sabé retorts, “You won’t ever have to, if I have anything to say about it.”

With a small smile, Padmé retorts, “You just see that you keep that promise. I worry about you, sometimes, /am’chara/. You and Obi-Wan both. The risks the two of you take – ”

“ – says the woman who’s refused to go into hiding after three separate assassination attempts on her life in the past two weeks. Thank you, but I think I’ll trust my own judgment,” Sabé cuts her off to wryly declare.

There’s not really a whole lot Padmé can say to that, aside from, “You cannot wrap me in cotton swaddling and tuck me away somewhere safe, like a private memento to be kept, brought out only to be admired and exclaimed over, like some kind of trophy, Sabé.”

“But I can see to it that you at least pretend to be careful. And I will.”

“You and Obi-Wan both, evidently,” Padmé sighs, making a sour face.

Scoldingly, Sabé merely notes, “Well, perhaps that should tell you something, when we both agree that you need to be far more careful that you have been, of late.”

“You two agree on far too much as it already is! If it were up to the two of you, I’d be the leader of a formally declared Separatist movement, rather than a Senator of the Republic!”

“And I say again: perhaps it should tell you something, when we both agree!”

“I’m not going to give up on the Republic or the ideals of peaceful democracy and diplomacy just because the Republic has hit a few snags, lately, in its governance!”

“We’re not asking you to give up on them, Padmé! We’re asking you to be realistic enough to know at what point your ideals and this Republic’s government part ways! We both fear that point has already come and gone and would appreciate your input on the subject – your considered, unbiased, well thought out opinion, if you please!” Sabé simply snarls back at her.

“My opinion is that the two of you are both cynical doomsday criers!”

“This, from the woman who says the Jedi Order should have been torn apart and reassembled according to the oldest known ways of the Order, in the wake of Ruusan!”

“No, this from a woman who knows political corruption and meddling in spiritual affairs when she sees it and is unafraid to say so!” Padmé irritably retorts.

“Then why are you so afraid of looking for that same corruption in the Senate?” Sabé explosively demands, throwing her hands up in a gesture of despair.

“One hardly needs to look for that in the Senate to discover it!”

“Then where is it your objection lies? How bad must it get before you draw your line in the sand? The Supreme Chancellor is so because he took blatant advantage of the invasion of his world to gather political weight and allies and sympathy for himself. Must he remain Chancellor indefinitely past the limits of his term because of an outbreak of actual civil war to convince you that this system is broken and needs to be down away with?”

“Democracy is not some knick-knack to be broken, Sabé!”

“They why do I hear you speaking of mending the system so often, when you speak to Bail and his family and others of your friends and allies?”

“That’s different!” Padmé instantly protests. “Just because there are individual aspects of the system that have gone awry and need to be corrected – ”

“Corrected. Mended. Different terms for the same thing,” Sabé insists scoffingly, with a far too casual shrug. “And I seem to recall a very wise woman who once said that when rot has spread so far through a system that it’s more than just a branch or two that have been hollowed out and filled with corruption, the best cure is to either cut or burn all the way down to the root or to tear the whole thing out and replant with entirely new seed.”

“That’s a low blow, quoting Winama!”

“Not if it’s true. How do you think Shelané would – ”

“Sabé! Enough/,” Padmé gasps, pushing herself away from the table they’re sitting at hard enough to rattle the china of their teacups as she stands. Calmer even with just that slight increase in space between them, she continues, declaring, “I dislike where this is going and I do not wish to quarrel with you outright, rather than merely debate a point. I need you to be here with me, not off with the girls making yourself scarce or siding with my Jedi protectors because we are not talking and you fear I may do something foolish. I am determined to see this thing through and I shall, whatever else happens, but I’d prefer to do so with your help. /Please. Let’s not quarrel. I am sick unto death of quarreling!”

Sabé sighs and rises from the table, too, circling around it to place a gentle hand on the nearest of Padmé’s shoulders, the sharp joint under her hand a little bit too determinedly squared off, Padmé’s body all but thrumming with tightly wound tension. “You look tired, /alanna/. Are you sleeping at all?” she asks, touching Padmé’s chin with her fingertips to tilt that beseeching face up a little more towards the light, where she can see her better.

She leans into the touch automatically. “Not as much as I should. There’s so much to do! And – and whenever I sleep, now, I have nightmares about – about the window and – ”

“/Muilaidh/, you know he was perfectly safe. He could have caught himself long before he fell, if necessary. And Anakin went after him so quickly that he could have caught him, if all else had failed. You need to stop dwelling on that,” Sabé quietly but firmly insists.

“That’s easier said than done, I’m afraid. I know it’s irrational, but it truly was awful, seeing him dive through the glass like that. If it had been me, there would have been nothing I could have done to save myself, if I’d been thrown off.”

“You know how strong he is. Remember the way he shared with you, on the ship? Think of that, and I’m sure it will help keep you from worrying so much.”

“But – ”

“Padmé. One of these days we’re going to finally convince you not to think of others in terms of your own abilities, and you’ll be amazed at how much better you sleep, at night. Obi-Wan Kenobi is a Jedi Bendu; you aren’t even particularly strong in the Force. There was much more he could have done, to save himself, than you could have ever tried to do. The Force was with him. He was perfectly safe,” Sabé only insists.

Padmé smiles a little, at that, tiredly but genuinely. “You sound like Dormé.”

Sabé smiles softly back at her, brushing the backs of her fingers gently against Padmé’s right cheek. “I’ll take that as a compliment. How are things going with her? She’s amazing, isn’t she? Thank the Lady she found her way to us when she did! I hate to think of how her spirit might have been crushed or hardened, if she’d been stuck in that household much longer. Damn that family! They had no right, to treat her that way.”

“They’ll regret their cruelty to her and their distance sooner or later. If not in this lifetime, then afterwards,” Padmé replies, shrugging a little.

“I’d prefer it if it were in this lifetime, /alanna/,” Sabé grumbles, scowling.

“You can’t make her idiotic family love her, /am’chara/. That’s not the way it works.”

Sabé’s frown deepens, her eyes darkening with frustration. “Unfortunately.”

“Yes, well, more’s the pity, but I fear there’s little the likes of we two can do about such things. We can’t save everyone all the time.”

“Hrumph. Now you sound like Obi-Wan!”

“And you sound like Anakin. Pout a little when you scowling, and I’ll have to take a picture, so that Dormé can see your face like this,” Padmé only laughs in return.

“Oh, that’s nice, compare me to that little – ”

“He’s not so very little anymore, Sabé. He’s . . . I think he may be taller than Obi-Wan, a little, now.”

The look Sabé gives her is composed in equal parts of baffled confusion and alarm. “Is that consideration I hear in your voice? Are you plotting something for the formerly smallest hero of Naboo?”

Padmé’s gaze immediately darts away from Sabé’s, and a slight hint of blush rises in her cheeks, the rush of color highlighting the fact that she is even paler than usual. “Who, me? Why would you think I’d be plotting something for Anakin?”

“Possibly because I think this is the first time I’ve heard you refer to him as Anakin, rather than Ani, since you decided not to fight the High Council about keeping in contact with him, personally. And, then, too, there’s also the fact that you’re starting to turn red,” Sabé rather dryly replies, her forehead creasing a little in concern as she reaches to pour Padmé another cup of soothing hot herbal tea.

“/Sabé!/ I just – he just – he’s changed a lot, over the years, that’s all. I hadn’t quite expected him to be as grown up as he is,” Padmé awkwardly tries to explain, flushing even darker in the process, apparently self-conscious of her own uncharacteristic embarrassment.

Sabé makes a considering little sound in the back of her throat. “Are those changes great enough that we need to sit here and discuss them and their possible implications on Obi-Wan’s life, or can we go ahead with our plans and confirm your meeting with Senator Lexi Dio this afternoon in the Temple gardens?”

Padmé’s face is flaming, but her voice is firm and level when she replies, “No, Sabé. Uyster practically leads the coalition of agriworlds. I need to talk with Lexi about the proposed bill. She shouldn’t support the notion of militarization, and that makes her a potential ally.”

Sabé raises an eyebrow at Padmé’s red face, but otherwise she lets it pass. “Alright, then. I’ll comm and make certain that the meeting is on. Do you know what you’re wearing?” she asks, pausing on her way to the nearest holocomm unit to throw a glance over her shoulder at Padmé, in her well-worn (in fact, somewhat ragged) and rather plain white linen gown and beaded pink and mauve silk and velvet jacket, her hair haphazardly pulled back from her face and allowed to tumble down her back in a riot of loose curls.

“Something nice but relatively unremarkable, so as to avoid attracting any undue notice. We’ll be meeting in a part of the gardens normally not open to visitors, so hopefully no one will near enough to see us anyway, but on the off chance that someone does manage to wander over to where we’ll be walking, I took the precaution of ordering a long satin coat fashioned after the manner of the one Lexi fancies so much – and which she’s agreed to wear to the meeting, by the way – only in shades of green and brown and creamy gold to her bright blue and brown and light gold. We’ve agreed that, if approached by a stranger, we’ll pretend that we’re sisters attached to Sheltay Retrac’s retinue. I’m not entirely sure that story will hold up, if you come, unless – ”

“Oh, I have a set of heavy black robes somewhere cut in a similar if perhaps slightly more ornate fashion that I believe I can wear. I may not match you two perfectly, but I think I’ll be able to pass myself off as the dour, responsible older cousin, if necessary,” Sabé cuts in with a wry smile. “The two of you can always claim that I’m the one who actually got you the job with Sheltay, in Senator Organa’s household, if someone asks.”

This time Padmé is the one who raises an eyebrow at Sabé, her small half frown seeming to silently ask if these more ornate robes might not be less appropriate for such a secret meeting than Sabé seems to think.

Sabé, though, rather firmly declares, “I am going with you, one way or another. Would you prefer me to wear what I am now?”

“That dress is rather, ah, noticeable, /am’chara/,” Padmé notes with careful diplomacy.

“Orange is a nice bright cheerful color. I rather thought the place could use a bit of cheer.” Sabé shrugs breezily, flashing her a smile. “And it’s been a while since I’ve worn it.”

“I remember,” Padmé quietly replies, looking down at her hands. “You were . . . very upset with me, that day.”

Sabé just scowls at her darkly. “You shouldn’t go swimming in the rain, /ansa/, no matter how long it’s been since you’ve seen the Lake Country. It’s not safe to swim in a thunderstorm. You’re lucky I was able to yell at you. You could have drowned, easily.”

Resisting the urge to either sign in frustration or roll her eyes, Padmé patiently tells her, “I was practically born swimming, Sabé. I think Dormé is the only non-aquatic person I know who’s a better, stronger swimmer than I am, with the possible exception of Obi-Wan.”

“/Muilaidh/, arguing with me about that now isn’t going to make me change my mind and invite you to go swimming in the middle of the name rainstorm. It’s just going to delay finalizing the meeting with Senator Dio,” is Sabé’s quiet response, the closed-off look on her face making it quite clear that she has no intention of budging on the subject.

Padmé’s sigh is long-suffering, but her smile and her eyes are suspiciously bright as she ducks her head, murmuring (with only a slight touch of bitterness), “Of course. Because you’ll always take care of me, whether I want you to or not.”

“Precisely. So shall I comm Lexi?”

“Please. I’ll go lay out my clothes and call for some of the handmaidens.”

“As you wish, Milady.”

If Padmé winces as she turns towards the bedroom, Sabé studiously does not notice.

***

She surfaces slowly, rising through layers of consciousness like a deep sea diver making her way in gradual stages towards the open air, occasional words and noises filtering in to her as if from a great distance, the meanings of the words largely failing to register across the distance separating her from full consciousness.

“ . . . no, I know, Artoo, it’s silly, isn’t it? I should’ve seen this before. I can’t believe I missed it. It was always /her/, and I might’ve never even known how wrong I was, thinking it was Padmé, if the High Council hadn’t pushed too hard and made her dig in her heels.”

A high-pitched but fairly soft questioning warble fills the following silence.

“Yeah, I know, I /know/, I’ve already been ridiculously lucky, but it’s not enough, not yet. She has to understand, too, and I’m not sure how I can convince her. I’m not . . . Artoo, I’m not sure I really have the right to try, after all these years of – ”

Another warble, pitched closer to a squeal, halts the flow of words.

“Okay, okay, so wallowing in my own past stupidity’s not going to help. I know that. No, really, I know it! Don’t start making those rude noises at me, alright? You don’t have to remind me that I can be a real idiot sometimes. It’s just – well, it means so much to her, serving . . . I’m not sure I have a right to try to take that away.”

Another series of tootling warbles breaks the silence, ending in a low, round, extremely rude sound, somehow reminiscent of a little boy pretending to make flatulent noises.

“Alright, enough with the insults, okay? I’m really not that dumb. Fierfek! Look, it helps if your enemies underestimate your strengths, especially if you’re dealing with a bunch of paranoid kung like the High Council Masters. Obi-Wan always says – ”

This time the flow of words is cut off by a series of low rude noises, all jaggedly sharp and run together, like a rude little boy blowing wetly through his lips.

“/Hey!/ Don’t talk that way about Master! He’s doing the best he can. If he’d stop worrying about me long enough to tell me more about what’s going on – ”

Another warble interrupts, followed by a low, round, rude noise, and it is somewhere around here, as this noise is reaching her consciousness, that Dormé finally begins to become aware of the fact that someone very near to her is talking.

“Okay, alright, so he should’ve been worrying less and telling more. But that’s not his fault! Everybody always expects him to be able to do anything and everything all on his own, so it’s not like he’s exactly used to be able to lean on anyone else for support. E chu ta! Damned /koochu /Council Masters! If they’d just take their own frelling advice once and awhile about not being so frakkin’ afraid of everything and everybody – ”

“Anakin is that you?” Dormé asks muzzily, pushing herself up on her elbows on the narrow and rather overly hard mattress and squinting into the darkness. “Are you talking to somebody?” she asks, frowning a little in confusion and yawning sleepily.

“Oh, erhm, yeah, sorry. I was just talking to Artoo. I didn’t mean to wake you up,” he sheepishly replies after a few moments of silence. “I’m sorry. It’s nothing very important.”

A distinctly aggravated and challenging blatting noise follows, and Dormé finds herself smiling, in spite of her sleepiness, and chuckling as she swings her legs across the bed so she can stand up, noting, “Artoo doesn’t seem to agree with you. Are you sure – ”

“Artoo,” Anakin quickly declares, a soft glowing filling the room at nothing more than a gesture from him – the lights of the room gradually turning on, but somehow rising to a level of illumination no more than that of only about a sixteenth of that of their normal glaring brightness – so that she can see for herself that nothing is wrong, “quite possibly worries even more than I do. And that’s saying a lot, considering I was actually only worrying myself, some more. Really. It honestly isn’t anything worth getting up for. I just woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep – too used to Coruscanti sleep cycles, still, I guess – so I thought I should try to work through a few more possibilities in my head, before I laid back down again.”

“You’re sure you’re alright?” she asks, pushing the thick waves of her hair back absently from her face so she can see him more clearly, where he’s curled up cross-legged at the end of his bed, sleeping pants and shirt creased and mussed, bare feet tucked away mostly under his knees.

“I’m fine, /sakiana/. Go back to sleep,” Anakin replies, smiling at her softly.

“Okay.” She smiles back at him and then slides underneath the covers again, her slippery silken scarlet and ivory nightgown catching only slightly on the rough material – far less than the fanciful lace and ribbon edging on the uppermost layer of her other nightdress (the satin beige and brown and black nightgown she’d worn the first two nights) would have done – allowing her to slide back in with a certain amount of smoothness, so that she doesn’t have to stop and wriggle about to untangle herself from the bedclothes. “We’re almost there, you know. One more day – less than one more day, really – and we’ll be there.”

“I look forward to it.”

“Hmm. You’ll sleep better on Naboo. It’s easier to adjust, when you have an actual sun to adjust to,” she half mumbles and half yawns as she lays back down.

The lights are fading away to black and Dormé is already most of the way back to sleep by the time Anakin replies, and so the words, “I’ll be fine, as long as I’m with you,” don’t really have a chance to register before she slides back under into sleep’s dark embrace.

***

“You seem pleased. I take it your discussion with Senator Dio went well.”

“Oh, quite well. Extremely well, even. Lexi was relieved to discover that I hadn’t been driven away. She was afraid that she and her allies were going to have to take a stand against this bill on their own and they weren’t sure that they had a large enough power base to draw on to do so, even with Bail’s help. If we all work together, though, I think there will be enough of us to defeat the vote,” Padmé explains as she shucks off her long coat, with its pattern of stylized vines and water blossoms, and sinks down on the nearest chair in her private sitting room. After a few moments of hesitation, she then quietly adds, “You know, you could have joined us, instead of just standing guard with Knight Muln. I doubt Lexi would have minded.”

“I am only a former Senator, /am’chara/, and I never was much more than an interim one, at that,” Sabé replies, carefully keeping her voice gentle but firm. “There’s no need to muddy the issue or confuse anyone about whether or not I actually have any say in this upcoming vote.”

“You were a good Senator, Sabé Kandala – one of the best that the Chommell Sector has had, in recent memory – and you still have allies, in the Senate. I wish you wouldn’t dismiss your own importance like this,” Padmé sighs tiredly as she eases her way out of her walking boots, wriggling her toes absently against the pile of the carpet, as though her feet are tired from having been cooped up in heavy leather for so many hours.

“You are Senator now, though, /alanna/, and you cannot be the kind of Senator that I know you’re capable of becoming if the other Senators believe you’re relying too much on my former base of power, rather than establishing your own. Most of my former allies are, by now, also your allies. The others aren’t worth sacrificing the reputation you’re building to get to, through me.”

“Wise woman. Perhaps you should have been Queen, not I.”

Concerned, Sabé frowns down at her from the doorway, where she’s propped herself on the threshold. “/Ansa/, is something wrong? You seem . . . less happy than I would have expected. This is good news, about Senator Dio and her allies, is it not?”

Padmé sighs again, propping an elbow on the table so that she can lean against her hand, her head falling forward as if its weight is just too much for her neck to hold upright any longer, and then quite randomly declares, “You’re reminding me of Dormé again, you know – always fretting about whether or not I’m happy, whether or not everything is alright. I could almost swear that she’s channeling your spirit, some days. I wonder how she’s doing, with Anakin.”

“I’m sure they’re fine. The ship seemed safe enough and they know where they’re going and why. I expect they’ll keep one another on the right path. But ma’chara – ”

“You really have done wonders with Dormé, Sabé. Her family would likely have a hard time recognizing her, anymore. She reminds me more and more each day of you.”

“And she reminds me increasingly of /you/. But – ”

“Sometimes I think she’s stronger than both of us. And sometimes I wonder if that kind of self-sufficiency is really strength, or if it’s just another kind of weakness. She could stand to learn how to lean on someone else, without expecting to be dropped at any moment, I think.”

“Yes, well, I could probably say the same thing about you, though, just as you likely could for me. What’s really bothering you, /ansa/?” Sabé carefully asks, pushing away from the doorway to cross the room and take the chair across from Padmé. “I’m sure Dormé is fine. And if you’re worried about her potential being wasted, well, we can always try to find a better way to harness her talents, when this is all over with. It’s a pity the people of Naboo are so determined to elect only the untried young for almost all offices – she’d make a magnificent Queen, otherwise – but that’s not to say that there isn’t something else she could be doing, besides serving you.”

Padmé’s eyes are slightly reproachful, though her voice is calm enough as she notes, “/I/ always said the same of /you/, you know. You should have agreed to run, when my second term as Queen was ending, /ma’chara/. Then the people would be growing more accustomed to the idea of electing adults with tried and true experience again.”

“You needed me to be with you, though. And where would you be, now, if I were stuck in Theed, ruling?” Sabé merely shrugs, chuckling gently and carefully avoiding pointing out that this particular situation would have likely never arisen, if she had been Queen and therefore able to keep Padmé from fighting so hard against this proposed bill.

Padmé, though, quietly admits, “I might not be in this situation, if you were Queen.”

“Well. Perhaps not. But I thought that Ayesha Jamillia deserved her chance in office. And I wanted to be able to stay with you. Bad things tend to happen, when we’re too long apart. In any case, can you imagine how difficult it would have been, to find and train sufficient handmaidens for us both, if you were Senator and I were Queen? We should have been forced to recruit for an army, before all was said and done!” she laughs.

“Perhaps that would have been for the best, all things considered.”

Clearly startled by the notion, Sabé backpedals quickly, laughing again (a little bit too loudly) as she waves a hand in brusque dismissal and exclaims, “Oh, come now! You must be tired, to say such a thing. An actual army, on Naboo? The Republic would have to be truly ending, for such a thing to occur!”

“And what if it is? What if I’m wrong and this can’t be stopped, can’t be mended? What if the Republic stops simply unravelling a little at the edges and rips entirely in two? Sabé, if those so-called Separatists succeed in provoking a war and the Republic refuses to back down – ”

Sabé jerks away from Padmé reflexively, too shocked to even try to continue to hide her surprise any longer. Feeling as if she’s suddenly found herself floundering in deep water when she’d thought she was standing on dry ground, she snaps, “That’s defeatist talk, Padmé Naberrie! I expect better from you. Aren’t you the one who’s always insisting that as long as we have hope, we have a light to show us the way through even the darkest of times?”

Padmé’s whole body slumps with exhaustion, her face crumpling tiredly, and her voice is little more than a low whisper as she fearfully admits, “After speaking to Lexi and hearing about how several aides and representatives who’ve either been asking why the Republic doesn’t just let Separatist-minded systems secede or else questioned the increasing amount of bureaucracy cluttering up the Republic’s government have all either recently vanished or else suffered from unexpected fatal illnesses or accidents, I fear that the light may be flickering. What if the fools on both sides of this conflict succeed in putting it out? What if it’s already too late to stop them?”

“Obi-Wan always says that hope and compassion are the two strongest emotions in the whole of creation. I would add love to that list, myself, though I admit that hope can, at times, be even more powerful than mere love. But love is much more than a light, Padmé. Love can make even the stars seem dim and cold and pale, in comparison. You of all people should know that,” Sabé quickly and quite firmly attempts to insist.

But, “I’m tired, Sabé,” Padmé only sighs in reply. “I’m tired of fighting my heart and my family both. I’m tired of warming myself with hope and the pale embers of my own love alone.”

“You’re not alone, Padmé! I’m here, with you. And Obi-Wan – ”

“ – is chasing after a planet someone erased from the Temple Archives,” Padmé interrupts to listlessly note, exhaustion weighing her voice down and flattening it, like lead. “And he will keep chasing after such phantoms and wild gundarks until either time itself ends or the Jedi Order stops giving him active missions, whichever comes first. He’ll never truly be ours. I am resigned to that, now.”

Bewildered and more than a little frightened by this unexpected turn in their conversation – and becoming more than a little incensed, by Padmé’s apparent despondency – Sabé plants her fisted hands on her hips and furiously thunders, “Then you are a fool! Only the thinnest of ties bind him to the Order, and Anakin is the main part of that tether. When Anakin is Knighted, that bond may very well break – if it hasn’t already broken, before that can ever happen! Where, then, do you think Obi-Wan will go? You know he loves us and he hates to hurt us, with his distance. If he were no longer in the Order, there would be no need of that distance! He’s admitted as much before – which you’d know, if you listened a little more and argued with him a little less – and you know Obi-Wan is an honorable man. He would not turn his back on us or fail to come to us, if he left the Order – ”

“I do not want him out of pity or some misguided notion of honor!” Padmé flares back. “I do not want him to feel he must make a choice between his life, his calling, in the Order, and some obligation he feels he owes us!” she insists, spitting out the word ‘obligation’ as if it were the very worst of all possible curses.

Flatly, Sabé merely declares, “If you think it’s only obligation that binds him to us, then you must be delirious from lack of sleep. That, or you’ve been listening to that damned harridan of a sister of yours, again!”

Padmé glares at Sabé, at that, her lips turned down petulantly, like a sulking child, and starts to declare, “Sola only wants what’s best for me – ”

“Oh, untrue/! She wants you to stop outshining her, the same as she always has! Mother of All, Padmé! Do you even hear what you’re saying? This is Sola/ we’re talking about – the same person who monopolized and manipulated Darred Janren simply because she thought he was being too friendly with us and felt that it was a slight to her! She wants you to so envy her that so-called family of hers that you’ll settle for the first person who comes along and makes an offer for you! She wants you to be as unhappy as she is!”

“She just wants me to be able to have a life and a family of my own, Sabé!”

Sabé jerks as though burnt, hands doubling over into fists. “And what, this is not life enough for you? The handmaidens and I and Obi-Wan and all of your friends are not the family of your heart?” she demands.

“It’s not the /same/, Sabé!” Padmé querulously protests. “It’s not – it’s not – ”

Sabé is so angry and affronted that she cannot quite keep herself from shaking. “You gave up the promise of an easy life and family of your own when you chose to pursue the throne. You insisted then that the value of what you’d gain and what you’d be able to give to others would more than make up for what you were sacrificing. You insisted this for years/, Padmé, and, though I was uncertain at first, I came to see that you were right. And now you suddenly want to change your mind? What rubbish has that /saidhín been feeding you?”

Padmé’s face crumples like that of a heartbroken youngling. “She just – it’s just that – I – I – I’m just so /tired/, Sabé!”

Sabé, almost entirely at a loss, hesitantly offers, “Well. There’s an easy enough cure for that, /cariodal/. Come along. Let’s get you to bed. Any more planning can wait until tomorrow.”

“But – but – the proposal – there’s so much to /do/, still – !” Padmé all but wails in protest.

“The girls and I can put out feelers and speak to Bail and the others about arranging a few meetings for /tomorrow/,” Sabé only insists, quickly cutting her off. “You’re in no shape to try to speak to anyone today, /alanna/, not with your thoughts and emotions so clearly wandering all over the map on you. Come. To bed! A good long sleep, and you’ll be clear-minded and ready to tackle this problem again,” she promises, guiding Padmé away from the table and the sitting room and back towards the bedroom, where she can get her safely undressed and make absolutely sure that she goes to bed. “Let’s get you out of those clothes and into a nightdress . . . no, not that one, sweetling, there’s no Bendu here to admire your lovely skin – ”

“/You’re/ here,” Padmé murmurs as Sabé maneuvers between helping her to undress and selecting a comfortable nightgown for her to wear, her voice so soft that it takes a few moments for the words to actually register on Sabé.

Sabé jolts to an abrupt halt in the middle of turning back towards the wardrobe to fetch the coordinating gold-stitched bright blue robe that goes with the creamy silken nightgown that Padmé seems determined to wear (despite the thin material and relatively low neckline), shocked into graceless fumbling. “I – I – /ma’chara/, I thought we had an agreement about – ”

“I miss you. I’ve been without you for over a decade, now, and I’m still not used to the emptiness at my side, when I wake,” Padmé plaintively replies. “Sabé, I’m so tired of fighting – ”

Stiffly, Sabé interrupts, hastily attempting to point out, “We’re not fighting, /alanna/. Not really. Not anymore. Surely you know – ”

Padmé interrupts with a pained laugh that sounds disturbingly like a sob. “I know that I miss you so badly and I want so much for what I cannot have that I feel hollowed out with desire and pain. I know that I love you and Obi-Wan so much that it is as much a part of me as the air I breathe, but I’m also so starved for touch that for at least a moment I more than half imagined myself not only flattered by Anakin’s attention and eagerness to prove himself, in my eyes, but honestly considering encouraging him. Lady, what’s wrong with me? I’m so tired – Sabé, I can’t think/! Just please – please, don’t go. Lay down with me for a little while. Just until I fall asleep. /Please. I’m not – I can’t be alone, right now. /Please/, just this once. Just – just stay. /Please?/”

Sabé cannot quite help checking and double-checking Padmé, to make sure that someone has not somehow taken Padmé’s place at some point between when they first came back to her private rooms and began to talk and this precise moment, so stunned is she by what the former Queen of Naboo is saying. It is not like Padmé to behave like this, not at all like her to sit about and pout and whine about how tired she is or how lonely she is and how dark the galaxy seems to have become. Padmé is one of the kind of person who, when she sees that something is wrong, instantly begins plotting the best possible way to go about fixing the problem and making things better, not at all the kind of person who sits languishing at a table with her head precariously propped up on an open hand like a wilting flower and wails and bemoans her somewhat isolated and slightly harder than normal lot in life or the apparent absence of hope in the galaxy. The fact that it clearly is Padmé – no longer sitting slumped over listlessly in her chair, perhaps, but not moving from where Sabé has pulled her along to, either, just standing there slumped over and trembling (like some damsel in distress about to swoon dramatically into the floor) and all but sobbing at how tired and lonely she is – makes Sabé’s skin want to crawl off her of body. Badly. There’s so little of the indomitable soul she knows and grew up with in the weak-willed sniveling creature in front of her that, if she were not able to feel the all but palpable anguish pouring off of the woman, Sabé would assume that Padmé is simply trying to play some kind of trick on her.

Stunned and sickened and not knowing what else to do, Sabé turns away, back to the wardrobe, determinedly hunting for that robe and closing her eyes tightly, as though, if she only manages to shut them tightly enough, everything will somehow magically be made right again, when she finally allows them to open. To give Padmé time enough to slip into the nightgown she is clinging to, she mechanically gathers up the cast-off garments, tucking them down the hamper that hides the laundry chute, and then stipes out of her own clothing, pulling on a shapeless white short-sleeved nightdress of her own and an embroidered long-sleeved robe that, depending on the light, flickers between a greenish-grey (like the undersides of new tree leaves in the spring) and a tan-brown shade, pulling the robe tight for warmth as she bundles her own dirty clothing away. After that, thinking that enough time will have surely passed for Padmé to make herself decent, Sabé turns to help her into her own robe, but Padmé is still just standing there, in the middle of the room, wan and exhausted and tearful, head and shoulders bowed with defeat, hands tightly tangled around the material of the nightdress she’d automatically clasped when Sabé first turned towards her with a handful of them on hangers – Padmé having apparently grabbed the closest one, after which she would not let go of it again – but otherwise not even attempting to cover herself or even to put a brave face on.

It’s both heartbreaking and terrifying, to see someone as strong as Padmé so reduced, and this time (unable to simply close her eyes to what’s happening and pretend that she’s just seeing things) Sabé’s first thought is that this cannot possibly be natural, that there must be something else – some other dark force in play, somehow sapping her beloved’s strength and will and clarity of vision – at work, here, to account for such an utterly uncharacteristic and inexplicable attitude of complete hopelessness. Recalling something that Obi-Wan said to her, once, about the ways in which a Sith Lord can confuse and weaken the will and thoughts and beliefs of an opponent – sometimes even feeding off of another’s strength and vitality, like a vampiric parasite draining away the life-force of its victims – she reaches out carefully, delicately, along the bonds she has long since established with Padmé, probing at the edges of the natural barriers that Padmé’s strength and charisma and intelligence and sheer force of will have woven around her mind and heart and spirit, shielding her from tampering from an outside source. There is a strand of oily darkness wrapped choking-tight around Padmé’s soul, like a thorn-vine gradually eating its way within, numbing acids dripping from its deadly hooked thorns to keep its prey from struggling to get away. Sabé has to jam her fist against her mouth, to hold back her cry of fury and revulsion, and her hands are shaking as she reaches out to take the nightgown from Padmé’s blind grip and gently settle it over her.

“Someone has been at you, /ma’chara/. Your shields are in tatters. That’s the only reason you’re so tired – the only reason you’re confused enough to want to break our old agreement, by asking me to stay. This isn’t you talking. It’s the darkness that someone – either the mysterious second Sith Lord or some minion of that evil monster – has infected you with. I don’t know how I could’ve possibly missed seeing it, before. You must have been in fine form, earlier, to keep Obi-Wan from noticing. But it is there. Now that I’ve looked for it, I cannot help but see it. We need to get this out of you. Do you trust me enough to let me try to burn it out? Obi-Wan showed me how one might deal with such a thing, back when it first occurred to me that we might need to watch out for handmaidens who’d been caught and tampered with, in much the same way, by an angry Sith seeking revenge for the wreckage of whatever plans it was you kept from coming to fruition, on Naboo, when you won our world back from the Trade Federation. But I imagine that Knights Muln and Tachi probably know more than I do about these things.”

“I’m too tired to think about this kind of thing properly. If I trust you with my life and my heart, why shouldn’t I trust you with my soul, as well?” Padmé only tiredly asks in return, too listless even to properly question or argue against Sabé’s pronouncement. “If you think it will help, then go ahead and try it. Just – don’t leave me alone.”

Sabé wants to argue the point – there is something very wrong, about such a lack of basic interest and caring from Padmé on such a vitally important subject – but she can tell that it will do no good. And she’s not particularly keen on allowing either Siri Tachi or Garen Muln to see Padmé like this. So, with a sigh, she does as Obi-Wan once instructed her – gathers her strength and focus and belief in the goodness and power of Light (which he deems the Force and she just as firmly regards as the living blessing of the Lady Asherah, the /criosanna teinedíait/, Her mantle of light, binding all of Her glorious creations together), and then reaches out to Padmé, making of herself a living conduit for that power, that Light, directing it to Padmé and the ugly darkness infecting and infesting her, mentally weaving a bolt of living energy to strike at the burn out that affliction, as an evil being might be struck down and burned away by a bolt of actual lightning. Padmé gives a low hoarse cry of shock, her hands flying to her temples and her body swaying sharply, knees buckling as if she might crumple to the floor. Sabé automatically reaches to catch her by her slumping shoulders, afraid that she might fall, and is caught off-guard when Padmé straightens to fling herself forward, flying at Sabé to catch her up in a desperately tight embrace, her slender form violently shaken by a storm of sobs as the dark taint burns away, leaving her shields and spirit abraded raw but whole and untouched by any other power or influence. Sabé’s startled flinch backwards swiftly transmutes to a cradling embrace, and she has to fight to keep from shedding a few tears of her own, so outraged is she by the amount of pain that’s clearly been inflicted on Padmé. Instead, Sabé makes soothing noises, trying to reassure Padmé that it’s alright now and that she’s well again, and silently vows the destruction of the one or ones responsible for her beloved’s pain (hopefully soon enough to keep such pain from being inflicted on any other being).

It takes Padmé several long minutes to cry out the worst of her shock, and, even then, it is a delicate and difficult dance, maneuvering them across the room and to the bed, so that Sabé can eventually induce Padmé to lie down and sleep. And, when she does finally manage to get them there, Padmé clings so tightly that she carries Sabé down to the mattress with her. When Sabé has recovered her breath and her equilibrium enough to try to untangle herself from what has somehow morphed into a full body embrace, Padmé quickly murmurs, “No!” and clings to her all the tighter.

“/Alanna/ – ” she tries to protest.

“/No./ This is me /talking. And I /want you to stay. /Please/, Sabé. Just – just hold me, for awhile, until I feel safe again and sure of myself. Please?”

Padmé turns her tear-streaked face up towards her pleadingly as she asks, and Sabé finds herself stroking a wispy curl away from her wet cheek and automatically holding her closer. “How could I ever say no, to such eyes?” she finally concedes with a small sigh, smiling softly.

Padmé returns the smile tremulously, and the two settle back on the bed, Sabé carefully shifting them around until she can pull the covers up around them. Her last thought, as she drifts into an exhausted slumber, is of how much she’s missed this, just lying together, hearing the lullaby of her beloved’s heartbeat resounding rhythmically against her chest . . .

***

The great port city of Theed is, in many ways, akin to Coruscant, with freighters and shuttles regularly coming down from the skies at all hours of the day and night in precisely calculated lines. Unlike Coruscant, though, the Nabooian city is soft in appearance, with very few towering, imposing skyscrapers of hard metal and shining transparisteel. The buildings here are of stone and wood and other such more natural materials, with rounded rooflines and delicate colors that seem to enhance rather than to block out the surrounding natural world. Flowers and vines of all sorts are everywhere, planted in boxes below windows and crawling up the sides of the buildings to drape along the lintels, adding vibrancy and softly perfumed scents to the warm breeze, adding a sense of wholesomeness and comfort to the city that is entirely lacking from the busy thoroughfares of Coruscant.

Anakin and Dormé lug their bags across a familiar colorful square – a place where they once saw battle, a little over a decade before, against the droids of the Trade Federation – while R2-D2 trundles along behind them, rolling along easily, whistling a happy song, as if he were an extension of the comfortable aura of Theed.

Dormé keeps shooting covert glances at Anakin, her own expression lightening and brightening in response to the calmness gathering on his face, the widening relaxed grin.

“If I grew up here, I don’t think I’d ever leave,” Anakin eventually expansively declares.

Dormé laughs, shaking her head a little. “I doubt that.”

“No, really. When I started my training, I was extremely homesick and very lonely. This city and my mom were some of the only pleasant things I had to think about,” he immediately insists. She looks at him questioningly, more than a little curious, and he elaborates, explaining, “The problem was, the more I thought about my mom and Tatooine, the worse I felt about having left her behind. But if I thought about Naboo, I’d remember how beautiful this place is, and I’d be able to imagine her here, someday, and then I would feel better. It really is gorgeous here – like something out of a dream – the way the Palace shimmers in the sunlight, the way the air always smells of flowers.”

“And the soft sound of the distant waterfalls,” Dormé adds, touched by the sincerity in Anakin’s voice and in his words, nodding in understanding of his vision of Naboo. “The first time I saw the capital, I was very young. I’d never seen a real waterfall before. I thought they were incredibly beautiful. I never thought that I’d live in the Palace one day.”

“Well, tell me, did you dream of power and politics when you were a little girl?”

Again Dormé has to laugh aloud. “No, that was the last thing I thought of, /kalal/. Not even Milady was planning on a career in politics, as a child, you know – her dream was to work in the Refugee Relief Movement, and perhaps to eventually convince others to found a more galactic-wide version of that organization.” Anakin gives her a questioning look, clearly curious, and she explains, telling him, “The way I understand it, Milady never even thought of running for elected office until she began taking more history courses aside from just the basics at the university and started to realize how much good politicians willing to truly work for the people could do. She joined the Apprentice Legislators – which is essentially like making a formal announcement that you’re entering public service, here on Naboo – when she was eight, and, from there, went on to become a Senatorial Adviser, attacking her duties with such a passion that the people practically elected her Queen before she even knew what was happening. She always says that her election was mostly due to chance and circumstance, partially because the people were so tired of King Veruna ignoring their wishes and the more traditional customs and partly because she scored so high on her education certificate that she managed to beat out a Cashillé for the office of Princess of Theed, which gave her an extremely high public profile. For the most part, I’ve always thought that Milady’s rapid ascent was due to her unwavering conviction that reform was truly possible. The people of Naboo embraced that dream wholeheartedly, so much so that her age was hardly an issue in the campaign. Milady wasn’t nearly the youngest monarch ever to be elected, though she’s often claimed that, when she thinks back on it, she’s not sure she was old enough to truly be ready for such a responsibility. I’ve always thought that she’s done the very best she can for the greatest amount of beings and the largest common good – far better than most others could have, in her place, all things considered.” She can feel wistfulness trying to creep into her, the memories of those long-ago days before what little had remained of her innocence was irrevocably shattered by war and the constant deceptions and conniving of politics.

“The people she served certainly thought she did a good job,” Anakin easily agrees, flashing her a grin. “I heard they tried to amend the constitution so that she could stay in office, after her second term as Queen was up.”

“True enough. She never would have let them do it, though. Popular rule isn’t democracy, after all. It gives the people what they want, not what they need. And truthfully, I think Milady was relieved when her two terms were up. Her parents most certainly were, to be sure! They worried about her terribly during the blockade and couldn’t wait for it all to be over,” Dormé replies, smiling and pushing away the sense of confusion and loss that always accompanies the thought of families who care what happens to all of their children. “They’re actually somewhat disappointed that she didn’t completely retire from politics, after her second term ended – they wanted her to be able to start a family of her own, by now – but when the new Queen asked her to serve as Senator, Milady couldn’t refuse her. And of course, she won’t be starting any family of her own until she can have both Lady Sabé and Master Kenobi.”

“I’m glad she agreed to serve as Senator – I think the Republic is going to need her. I feel things are going to happen in our generation that will change the galaxy in profound ways.”

“Is that a Jedi premonition?” Dormé asks, chuckling but only actually half kidding as she looks over at his surprisingly serious face.

Anakin smiles and shrugs. “Just a feeling – a really strong feeling,” he explains, or at least tries to explain, given that it’s quite obvious that he’s not quite sure what he’s trying to say. “It just seems to me as if it’s all grown stale, as if something is going to have to happen, one way or another . . . ”

“I know what you mean. And I think I’d agree, even if I didn’t know half what I do, about the problems plaguing the Republic,” Dormé admits. “I think sometimes that this must be what a rubber band feels like, stretched almost to the point of breaking and bound to snap under the stress, sooner or later.”

“I just wish I knew if I should be hoping if it’s sooner or later,” Anakin wryly notes, grinning at her lopsidely and running a hand over his hair in a nervous fidget that reminds her of Master Kenobi, running a hand along his bearded jaw, and makes her want to snicker, despite the seriousness of the subject at hand.

“At this point, I think I’ll take just being ready for it, whenever it finally happens,” Dormé smiles at him, prompting a sheepish sideways glance (his head bowed low, a hand rubbing at his neck) and a little laugh.

“Yeah, that’d probably be good,” he allows.

They arrive at the great doors of the Theed Palace then, and let the conversation go so that they can stop for a moment to take in the beautiful scene. Unlike most of Coruscant’s towering buildings, which seem to have been designed with utter efficiency in mind, this structure is more akin to the Jedi Temple: for its builders, an understanding of aesthetics had obviously been at least as important as functionality, with beauteous form placed cheek by jowl with purpose. As one of Padmé’s head handmaidens, Dormé obviously knows her way about the place, and she is also well known by almost all of the people within, so that their little party is passed along easily to the throne room, where they’re announced at once.

Smiling faces greet them. Sio Bibble, Padmé’s old friend and trusted adviser when she was Queen, stands by the throne, flanking Queen Jamillia, just as he had so often flanked Padmé. He hasn’t aged all that much in the ten plus years since the Trade Federation’s invasion and occupation, his curly white hair and beard still distinguished and perfectly coiffed, his eyes still full of intensity and fire, and Dormé smiles and nods in his direction, silently conveying Milady’s well-wishes. Beside him, Ayesha Jamillia Zyanya looks every bit the part of Queen in her flower-like, elaborate black and white headdress and flowing embroidered robes, her traditional white paint and brilliant red Scar of Remembrance and twin cheek-spots of deepest crimson (the same hue as the Scar of Remembrance, the carefully positioned dots representing ancient ideals of “Balance” and “Symmetry”) and intricately detailed costume almost eerily like the type of outfit that Padmé wore for so many years, as Queen. Objectively, Dormé has to allow that Jamillia looks at least as regal in them as Milady ever had; yet, it does not keep her from feeling a certain wistful sadness, given that the features framed by the nacreous fanning petals of that headdress do not form the familiar face of her sworn Lady. Handmaidens (familiar from their days at Varykino, where they underwent their preliminary training) in orange cowled gowns and heavy burgundy overcloaks, advisers in rich garb (in acknowledgment of their power and prestige), and members of the Royal Naboo Security Forces in the familiar dark livery of the Palace Guard are all scattered around the all but cavernous chamber, and Dormé is once again reminded that one of the less pleasant side effects of being Queen is that one is never really allowed to be alone again.

Queen Jamillia, holding herself perfectly upright so that her heavy headdress will not be in danger of toppling, rises from the oversized elaborate chair that is the throne and walks over to take Dormé’s slender hands in her much darker (unpainted, surprisingly enough) hands. “We’ve been worried about you and your Lady. I’m so glad you’re here, Lady Dormé,” she declares, her voice rich with a southeastern accent that makes her enunciate all of her consonants powerfully.

“Thank you, Your Highness. I am here because Senator Amidala believed it would serve you better if she remained on Coruscant for the vote.”

“Supreme Chancellor Palpatine has explained it all,” Sio Bibble interjects, waving his right hand in dismissal. “Given the circumstances, sending you here, as her decoy, was the only real choice the Senator could have made, short of returning home, herself.”

Dormé gives him a grateful nod, glad that she won’t be forced to explain her presence, in lieu of Milady’s.

“How many systems have joined Count Dooku and the so-called Separatists?” Queen Jamillia asks bluntly, making Dormé’s lips twitch slightly before she can repress her smile. (Ayesha never has been one for small talk – at least becoming Queen hasn’t managed to change that, whatever else it may have done to her!)

The reply she must give effectively kills her desire to smile. “Thousands,” she sighs, resisting the urge to rub at her temples. “And more are leaving the Republic every day. Milady is certain that, if the Senate votes to create an army, it’s going to push us into civil war.”

Sio Bibble punches a fist against the open palm of his left hand. “It’s unthinkable!” he explodes, all but gnashing his teeth with affronted fury at every word. “There hasn’t been a full-scale war since the formation of the modern-day Republic, after the Seventh Battle of Ruusan ended the New Sith Wars!”

“Do you know if Senator Amidala sees any way, through negotiations, to bring these Separatists back into the fold of the Republic?” Jamillia asks, remaining calm despite Sio Bibble’s obvious agitation.

“Not if they feel threatened,” Dormé has to admit. “These Separatists don’t have an army of their own, /per se/, but they will move to defend themselves, if they are provoked. Milady is sure of that, and I agree with her reading of the situation. With no time or money to build their own army, they will likely turn to the Commerce Guild or the Trade Federation for help, and that means droids are likely to comprise the bulk of their defenses.”

“The armies of commerce!” Queen Jamillia echoes with obvious anger and distaste. All of Naboo is intimately aware of the problems associated with such free-ranging groups. The Trade Federation nearly brought Naboo to its knees, with its droid armies, and likely would have managed it, if not for the heroics of Amidala and her handmaidens, a pair of self-sacrificing Jedi, a young Anakin Skywalker, and the brave flying of many dedicated Nabooian pilots. Even that would not have been enough, had not Queen Amidala forged an unexpected alliance with the heroic Gungans. “Why has nothing been done in the Senate to restrain these Separtists?”

“I’m afraid that, despite the Chancellor’s best efforts, there are still many bureaucrats, judges, and even Senators who remain on the payrolls of the corporate guilds,” Dormé replies, carefully avoiding mentioning her own doubts about just how hard Supreme Chancellor Palpatine is actually working on rooting out such instances of corruption in the Senate.

“Then it is true that the corporate guilds have moved closer to the Separatists, as we suspected,” Queen Jamillia reasons.

Sio Bibble strikes his open palm again, the meaty thud of flesh hitting flesh immediately drawing their attention. “It’s outrageous!” he instantly declares. “It’s outrageous that after all those hearings and four trials in the Supreme Court, Nute Gunray is still the viceroy of the Trade Federation! Do those money-mongers control everything?”

“Remember, Counselor, the courts were able to reduce the Trade Federation’s armies,” Jamillia quietly reminds him, again retaining her calm and controlled voice. “That’s a move in the right direction.”

Dormé winces, knowing that she has to report honestly, no matter how badly the news is likely to be received. “There are rumors, Your Highness, that the Federation’s armies were not reduced as they were ordered.”

And, in a move that reminds her once again just why she is friends with him, Anakin Skywalker clears his throat, drawing attention to himself as he steps forward. “The Jedi have not been allowed to investigate,” he explains. With a twisted little half scowl that makes it patently clear just how little he agrees with the reported reasoning of the Senate, he then adds, “It would be too dangerous for the economy, we were told.”

Queen Jamillia looks to him for a few moments, clearly considering both the information and his opinion about the Senate’s reasoning, before nodding and looking back to Dormé, at which point she squares her shoulders and firms her jawline, drawing herself even more rigidly upright, until she looks so regal in her ornate raiments, so very much the planetary ruler obedient to the Republic, that almost Dormé is persuaded to take her response at face value. “We must keep our faith in the Republic,” she firmly declares. “The day we stop believing democracy can work is the day that we lose it.”

Dormé quirks an eyebrow at her, wishing that they were alone in the room so that she could ask just what scheme Ayesha is fomenting behind the mask of Jamillia, and instead merely quietly (if fervently) replying, “Let us pray that day never comes, then.”

“In the meantime, we must consider your own safety,” the Queen merely notes, skillfully changing the subject. She looks back to Sio Bibble, who nods and motions to the attendants.

The entire crowd – advisers, attendants, and handmaidens – all bow to the Queen and quickly depart the room. Sio Bibble moves closer to Anakin while they are filing out, waiting for them to be gone, before speaking. “What is your suggestion, Master Jedi?”

Anakin’s lips quirk, and he colors ever so slightly as he politely replies, “I’m still only a Padawan learner, Counselor Bibble. My Master instructed me to protect Lady Dormé and keep her safe, and that is what I intend to do, whatever it may require.”

Resisting the urge to flush, Dormé quickly notes, “We have discussed staying in the Lake Country. Varykino is quite isolated and we know that it’s safe.”

“A good choice,” Sio Bibble nods, taking Anakin’s arm. “The Lake Country is one of the most remote parts of Naboo. There’s not many people up there and the villa commands a clear view of the surrounding terrain. It would be an excellent choice, a place where you would have a much easier time protecting Lady Dormé and she will have a much easier time of pretending to be Senator Amidala.”

“Perfect!” Queen Jamillia quickly agrees. “It’s settled then.” She hardly waits for Anakin to nod agreement before turning back to Dormé, telling her, “I had an audience with Senator Amidala’s father yesterday. I told him what was happening. He hopes that you will visit the Naberrie home before you leave. Her family is quite concerned about her safety, and they would worry less if they could speak to you about her plans.”

“Of course, Your Highness. Milady has sent word with me for them,” Dormé promptly acknowledges, though her stomach twists unpleasantly in anticipation of that meeting, given that she is on Naboo with Anakin while Milady and Lady Sabé and the other handmaidens are all on Corusant, still working on a way to thwart the proposed Military Creation Act. The inevitable concern and upset of the Naberrie family is yet another reminder of just why family and public service doesn’t usually mix. Padmé Amidala made a conscious and definitive choice, when she agreed to become first Queen of Naboo and then Senator for the Chommell Sector – public service or family – and, in choosing to serve her, Dormé has, essentially, made that exact same choice. Some on Naboo manage to juggle the two, but Dormé has always known that such a dual role as wife or consort (and perhaps even mother) and handmaiden would not be in the cards for her. Milady may very well be able to one day juggle being both a Senator and the beloved wife and handfasted companion of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Sabé Kandala Dahn, but a handmaiden’s life is one of absolute service and devotion, and to adulterate that service with the love of a partner outside the bounds of the handmaiden coterie is to break faith with the object of that devotion, to negate the terms of that service. Dormé hasn’t been worried about her own safety at all through these trials, willing to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to secure Milady’s continued safety and well-being. But now, suddenly, she is painfully reminded of the fact that personal choices and positions can also affect others on a very personal level.

Dormé wears no smile as she walks with Anakin, Sio Bibble, and Queen Jamillia out of the throne room and down the stairs, back towards the oversized doors of the main entryway.

***
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