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Part 1

The angry young Palace guard burst through the door of Minister Calle's office, muttering to himself. He almost bumped into Rabé and Saché as they made their way down the hall.

"Your friend there," he scowled, tilting his head toward Sabé's door. "I don't know why she thinks she's all that great. She's not the only war hero around, and certainly not pretty enough for a man to deal with that attitude. Forget it!" The guard stalked off, shaking his head.

The two handmaidens looked at each other, knowing all too well what had happened. "This time we should talk to her," Saché whispered.

Rabé nodded reluctantly. They peeked around the door frame to see if it was safe to enter. Sabé was seated at her desk, right elbow resting on its surface, head in hand. She was looking out of the window, her face turned away from the door.

Rabé cleared her throat. "Minister, may we come in?"

The Minister of Recruitment and Training reacted with a start. She quickly dabbed at her eyes, then turned to meet the two handmaidens. "Yes, of course, please do. How did the day go? Is the Queen all right?"

"Never better, we're more concerned with you...," Saché started.

Sabé noticed the worried look in their eyes, and was quick to answer. "Oh, of course. You ran into Jaquill. No need to be concerned. He's just not my type." She occupied herself with arranging the files on the holoscreen.

Rabé raised an eyebrow. "He's not bad, and neither were the other two you've turned down in the last few weeks. Why give them the cold shoulder? You're getting a bad reputation, you know. They're starting to call you 'Calle, the Ice Queen'."

For an instant, a hurt look crossed Sabé's face. She lowered her head just a bit so her friends couldn't see the pain she knew would show. "Is that what they say about me?" she asked, in a small soft voice.

Rabé pulled up a chair and sat next to Sabé. "You've never made a habit of running from anything else before in your life; don't start now," she counseled.

"I'm not running. My life has to be devoted to my career, my duty to the Queen, and of course, my daughter. I have no time for other interests, not now," Sabé protested.

Saché sat on Sabé's other side. "You're not doing the Queen or Meira any favors. You can do a better job as Minister, and as a mother, if you meet your needs, too."

There was a long moment of silence.

Then Rabé spoke as gently as possible. "It's been almost two standard years. Honey, I don't think he's coming back."

Sabé released a long, resigned sigh. "I know," she admitted. "But I don't know what to do, how it all works. What if..."

"There is no 'what if.' Just go, have fun, get into circulation," Saché urged. "Come with us this weekend. We won't let you jump into this thing cold. Other than Rabé and Rowan, nobody's really going to be paired off. It will all work out, trust me."

"Who's with the Queen?" Sabé asked, as she checked the schedule.

"Yané, Eirtaé, and Liraé. See, she's covered, and you're always on call; they can get in touch with you whenever they need you. Your mother will take care of the baby. She'll be thrilled to have her for the night. You have no excuses," Saché pointed out.

"You win," Sabé conceded. "When and where do we meet?"

Amidala moved away from the door when Saché launched into the details of the outing. She had overheard enough. While walking back to her quarters, she pulled out the last holo message Anakin had sent.

The boy's image popped up. "... Sometimes I worry about my Master. He is keeping so much inside. I can sense it when he lets his guard down. He thinks I don't know about the pain. He won't talk to anyone about it, not me, or another Jedi, not even to Master Yoda. I guess he feels he's being strong for me and the Council. I hope it doesn't end up...well, I don't want to think about what could happen. I'll keep in touch. Always remember, my heart is with you. Bye for now."

The Queen switched off the holo, and wrinkled her brow in thought.

***

It was early in the morning, and Obi-Wan was already hard at work, just like a proper Jedi Master, going over Anakin's program for the day's activities, and trying to see how he could fit that with the diplomatic meeting he was to attend with the Wookie and Calamarian senators. Without warning, Yoda entered the apartment and tapped his gimer stick on the floor. Obi-Wan looked up in surprise.

"You wish to meet with me, Master Yoda?"

"Obi-Wan, two years it has been since Master Qui-Gon was lost to us. In that time, you have worked very hard with your Padawan learner, and your assignments you have pursued and accomplished...accomplished them well, I should say. An excellent Jedi have you become. But, neglected other areas of your life, you have." The elder Master paced back and forth twice, considering his next words carefully. He looked up at the Knight and tried employing a kinder tone. "The time has come to address that. Giving you leave from your duties here for a month, I am. Go to Naboo, rest and meditate there. You will find what it is you need to do." Yoda turned to leave.

Obi-Wan got up with a start, waving his datapad. "Master Yoda, you know I don't wish to argue with you, but this is a terrible time to leave. I've just gotten Anakin started with a new program; he needs looking after. There are all these meetings on my list. I can't just go like that!"

Yoda stopped, turned around, and sighed. He spoke in the soft and serious tone he used with his most trusted students. "Many times have we talked since Qui-Gon departed. Much you are still holding in. Continue, this cannot. I promise you that young Skywalker will be cared for. For your sake, his, and the sake of others, this is necessary."

All Obi-Wan could do was bow. "Yes Master."

Obi-wan was totally unprepared for the orders. Yoda usually did things by the book and the unconventional meeting that had just taken place was not his style. He turned back to the terminal, checked his schedule once again, and found it had been changed. He was to leave for Naboo that afternoon. After packing, he went to Anakin between the boy's classes to let him know he would be gone.

"We get to go to Naboo," Anakin blurted happily.

Obi-Wan sagged slightly. He really didn't want to disappoint his Padawan. "I'm sorry, Ani. I'm going alone. Master Yoda has made arrangements for your care while you stay here. Perhaps next time, we'll go together. Is there anything I can bring to the Queen for you?"

Anakin's face showed his letdown, but he recovered quickly. "Yes, I have a package I've started putting together. It's got a couple of little things for one of my other friends too. Her name is Sabé. Amidala will know her."

Obi-Wan was puzzled. "I didn't know you knew one of the handmaidens that well."

Anakin tilted his head for a moment, and a puzzled expression passed over his features. That disappeared quickly as he allowed himself a slight smile. "She was kind to me. I've lost touch with her, and I should make up for that."

"I'll deliver the package for you. Take care Ani, and mind your lessons. I'll touch base with you when I settle in," Obi-Wan told him as they parted.

While on the transport enroute, Obi-Wan had time to reflect on what had led him here. Against his will, a scene started playing out in his mind. Once again, he was running down that hall, blocked by the force fields, they opened, he was almost there... so close... the last field, the only obstacle. He was watching the Sith and Qui-Gon....

He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth. Concentrating, he willed the memory away. He would not, could not, think of it-his loss, his weakness, his failure. No one must know, and if he thought of it, everyone would surely see.

There was one who had seen, with her eyes and through a bond, his greatest mistake. He had shut her out, hoping that it would shorten the time it took for the event pass from his everyday thoughts. Yes, he had avoided even remembering her.

But then again, he speculated, what was there to remember? She was just another young woman, another short-lived relationship that served for the moment they were in. It's not like she was special or anything...

...Was she?

Of course not, he justified to himself. Sure, the sex had been great, but that was all there was to it. The last time they were together came to mind. It started as a pleasant recollection, a warm feeling spread over his body. He allowed that to play to the end, glad that others on the transport were asleep and could not see his face. But then he came to the part where she had made one simple request of him, something that even a cur of a man could have followed through and done.

That was another misstep-a promise had been made, but not kept. The shame returned, washing over him like a wave.

Now he had to go back to where these events took place and deal with them. He found this line of thought made him squirm, so he began reading for distraction. An old news magazine had a piece on some disturbances that had taken place on Naboo. Obi-Wan wondered if that's why Yoda was sending him, but dismissed the thought. He would have received a complete report on the problems before he ever left Coruscant, and the assignment would have been given to him in the normal way, by summoning him to the Jedi Council chambers. He shook his head, wondering just what the peaceful world of Naboo was coming to.

***

Upon his arrival to Theed, Obi-Wan noticed a new statue in the square. It was still covered, and a sign was posted to indicate it would be unveiled at the parade to commemorate the second anniversary of Naboo's victory. He stopped, gazed at it curiously, and moved on.

The Jedi then checked into the Royal Palace. Because of his service during the Trade Federation crisis, he was always welcome, and was one of the few people who was allowed immediate access to the Queen, with no questions asked. It was not a privilege that he had taken advantage of until now. After he had his luggage sent to his room, he sought out Amidala. He wanted to meet with her to find out where things stood on local current events

At the checkpoint, he was admitted, as expected. Captain Panaka passed by, enroute to another duty, and gave Obi-Wan a dark look. He moved close enough for only the Jedi to hear, and spoke. "Don't leave anything behind this time," Panaka whispered, before he walked on. Obi-Wan looked after him, confused. They had never become fast friends during the Crisis, but the Jedi had no clue as to what he was talking about.

Official business was done for the day, and he found the Queen out in the garden dressed informally, playing a game with a two of the handmaidens and a small girl, still at the toddler stage. He noted, with some initial relief, that Sabé was not among them. But that seemed unusual,and was perhaps a cause for concern. It was a lovely time of year and they were enjoying the weather and the child's antics. He watched their games for a few minutes. During that time, started feeling an attraction to the girl. She truly was charming, full of joy at just being alive. He caught himself before he acted on an impulse to join in the play. Shaking his head, he wondered if it was some bit of Qui-Gon finally emerging in him.

When Amidala spotted him, she dismissed the group and walked over to the Jedi, a radiant and calm smile on her face.

"Your Highness," he said as he bowed.

"So formal, Obi-Wan?" She extended her hand in welcome. "We're not in court, or attending an official function. Outside of those occasions, I should think we've been through too much together for that."

Obi-Wan accepted the greeting, clasped her hand, and returned her smile with a smaller one. He then released his grasp and returned his hands to their customary resting position within his oversized sleeves.

"So tell me, is Anakin joining us?" she inquired brightly, a curious look in her eyes.

"Not this time, Amidala," he replied, his tone betraying his discomfort.

The Queen's expression became thoughtful, but she posed no more questions. "Walk with me, then," she said, and began making small talk, choosing to wait until he wished to reveal what was really on his mind.

After a short walk around the grounds, talking of nothing in particular, Obi-Wan felt ready. He took a deep breath. "I suppose Sabé's doing well these days. I didn't see her with you in the garden."

Amidala seemed pleased with the change in topic. "She still serves me well, but no longer as a handmaiden. Captain Panaka persuaded her to take a post on his recruitment and training staff. He felt her expertise should be shared with others. It took him quite awhile to convince her to accept. It was a very good promotion. Oh, let's go left here..." She led him down a side hall.

"Why wouldn't she jump at the chance?" Obi-Wan asked. "As I recall, she's very career oriented. Other than your protection, this is the most valuable use of her talent."

"She had to be sure she would be worthy of the job. It is a great responsibility, and once she takes something on, she gives it her full dedication. But I think you know that." Amidala looked straight ahead. She tried to look stoic, but a small grin crossed her features as she ignored the glare Obi-Wan sent her.

Clearing his throat, the Jedi questioned further. "You're still close to her?"

"Yes, we see each other still," Amidala said warmly. "Almost every day, as a matter of fact. I'd call her my best friend."

They neared the end of the hall that Amidala had been leading them down. A group emerged from the doorway, a class of young cadets, wearing the uniform of the elite, trainees for the Queen's guard. They all passed Obi-Wan and Amidala, unaware that the young woman standing there was the one that they pledged their lives to protect.

"Is she with anyone?" Obi-Wan felt his pulse quicken with that question. *Control,* he reminded himself.

At that moment, a young woman dressed in a plain off-white jumpsuit was the last to exit the room. Her hair was pulled up into a functional ponytail. She stopped in place when she sensed the two people present in the hallway. As she looked up, Sabé's eyes met Obi-Wan's and she inhaled sharply. She then quickly glanced over and bowed to the Queen.

"With anyone..." Amidala moved to the other side of Sabé and peered behind her into the room. "It would seem that she's not. Now if you two will excuse me, I have a droid to clean." She winked at the Minister and departed quickly.

Obi-Wan and Sabé looked each other for a long moment. He tried to reach her with the Force, but what had seemed so easy before was ineffective now. He was surprised to find that she was able to put up a powerful barrier.

Sabé winced at his attempt to contact her through their latent bond. "Please, Jedi Kenobi... I don't mean to be rude, but...."

"You're not being rude. I overstepped my bounds. I apologize," he said softly. "I hope you'll feel comfortable calling me Obi-Wan again."

"Yes." She hesitated, seemingly lost in thought, then spoke again. "Yes, I will." She glanced around, seeking the least conspicuous exit. Deciding there was no graceful way out, she made a motion to indicate the way back to the main hall. "Shall we?"

He nodded, and they started to walk. The place was crowded with staff leaving for the day. Many nodded at Sabé and she returned the courtesy. A few let their glances linger on the pair, trying to see who it was that accompanied her.

"We don't have much privacy here, do we?" Obi-Wan asked. The waves of curiousity from the people around him made the Jedi feel very vulnerable.

"No," Sabé said curtly. "If you want that, we'll have to go somewhere else."

Obi-Wan went into his diplomatic mode. "You've just finished work, and I'm sure you'll want a chance to rest and refresh yourself. I didn't exactly give you advance notice. How about dinner tonight?"

Sabé turned the idea over in her mind before she answered. "It's possible, but I'll have to make arrangements. Meet me in front of the Palace in two and a half standard hours."

"I'll be there," he said.

***

It was twilight, and the sky's blue and gold light added a mystical quality to the stone and statues of the square. Obi-Wan showed up at the appointed hour and scanned the area for Sabé. He didn't see her at first. When he did spot her, he was impressed. She was dressed in a simple gown, an off the shoulder sheath of deep brown silk, that flattered her figure. Her hair was arranged in a classic upswept style that called attention to her brown eyes and the fire in them.

"Welcome, Obi-Wan," Sabé smiled. "Shall I be your guide tonight?"

He flashed a smile. "I'd be honored." He held out his arm, and she gracefully placed her hand in the crook of his elbow.

As they walked, she pointed out the various statues and explained their meanings to the Jedi. They came to the one still covered. It was as tall as all the others, towering over all the people in the square.

"What's the new one?" Obi-Wan asked. "Another classic figure?"

Sabé avoided meeting the Jedi's eyes. There was a slightly uncomfortable look about her. "I can't discuss it before it's unveiled. Let's just say it's one of our more recent heroes."

Obi-Wan was curious about her avoidance of the subject, but he decided not to press it. "So, where are we going, Minister?"

Sabé perked up. "It's my favorite place, Theed Columns. It's small, caters to Palace heirarchy, staff and guests. It'll be really pretty at this time of the evening."

Obi-Wan found out that she was right. When they arrived, the lights had been dimmed, and the tables illuminated with candles in votives to give the room a warm and intimate atmosphere. Several booths could be holo-curtained off for private meetings. Sabé nodded to the young man at the stand, who hastened to assist her.

"How may we be of assistance to you tonight, Minister?" the thin dark-haired maitre d' asked. An elegant grin curved his lips and his eyes lit up as he spoke to her.

She returned his welcome with a warm smile. "We need one of the private booths. My guest and I are discussing matters of security training. Can you be a dear and set us up? We didn't make reservations, but there wasn't time. I'm sorry, Maglus."

"No problem, Minister Calle," Maglus said, before he waved them in. "Please, come right this way."

Sabé gave him with a nod. "Thank you. I know I can always count on you."

The menus were brought to them. After a moment's glance, Sabé advised Obi-Wan with an expert's assurance. "I suggest the pasta with the Ochee. If you think you'd like that, I'll have Maglus choose a wine. He knows what's best in that department," Her tones were cool and professional, her gaze never wavered from her study of the Jedi's face.

Knowing this game as well as he did, Obi-Wan chose to play it right back at her. "Thank you, Minister. I trust your judgment. The pasta it is."

The order was taken, drinks were brought and the opaque soundproof curtain raised.

Obi-Wan began the conversation. "How is the situation on Naboo? I came across a bit of old news about a small faction of dissidents."

"All is well, thank you," she answered. "We stopped that before it got out of hand. If that's why you've come, you're too late. It's over."

Obi-Wan averted his gaze and began circling his finger around his glass. "That's not the reason I'm here, Minister." He then shifted to look her in the eyes. "I thought you got off of work three hours ago."

She relaxed only slightly. "Occupational hazard. I'm rarely completely away from one duty or another."

"That's a pity," Obi-Wan commented, carefully maintaining a neutral tone.

"It's a condition that you, as a Jedi, should find familiar. What does bring you here? Are you planning to participate in Naboo's anniversary celebration?"

"That's not why I'm here, but I will join in the festivities if the Queen requests that I do so. I'm on leave. One of my goals while here is making amends. I know I failed to follow through on a promise. I hope you'll forgive me. When I depart this time, I want to leave knowing that you're a friend."

Something--Obi-Wan was not sure what--seemed to flicker behind the mask she was presenting. She was pondering this statement, and he could see her trying to put together a correct diplomatic reply.

"So...you do remember," was all she could say, her voice wavered between hope and apprehension.

"You have to ask? You remember it all, don't you?"

"Oh yes, you left me quite enough to remember you by." The coy smile she displayed hinted at some double meaning he couldn't sort out.

He gathered his courage. This was hard to admit, but he had to go through with it. " I've tried to forget. Not because of you, but because of Qui-Gon. Please understand, my behavior was no reflection of my regard for you."

"I'll need to work on accepting that. Don't expect me to be able to do it in one day." She looked away, but her eyes revealed her apprehension. Obi-Wan had expected that, but didn't anticipate how it made him feel. A part of him wanted to reach out to her, but he settled for remaining silent while she worked on sorting her emotions.

At that point, a chime sounded to let them know that dinner had arrived. They were served, and the curtain closed again.

They enjoyed the food, savory, but not too spicy. It was a warm dish, comforting, in its way. The conversation during the rest of the meal consisted of remarks on travel and current events. It was the safest way of passing the time.

As they were finishing up dessert, Obi-Wan remembered that he had brought Anakin's gifts with him. "Here, I've got something for you," he offered, presenting the two small boxes. "They're from Ani, actually."

She gave him a look that seemed to say, "Ani got me presents, and you didn't?" Obi-Wan remained cool on the outside, but reprimanded himself internally. What she did say was, "How sweet of the boy think of me. Let me see." In the candlelight she appeared to glow with delight as she opened them. Obi-Wan realized he found that very attractive.

One box contained a copy of a novel that Ani had enjoyed. The other was a small album of images in and around the Jedi Temple. She browsed the holos. "You'll have to tell me about these sometime."

Releasing a small sigh of relief Obi-Wan silently thanked the Force. It seemed she wasn't going to hold a grudge against him. Maybe he'd get a chance to turn this into a comfortable friendship after all. He was more than pleased to have an opportunity to be rid of the guilt.

Another chime. It was time to settle the bill. "I'll take care of it," the Jedi offered.

Sabé reached for it. "No, I insist. You are a guest of Naboo, and as one its officials, I am your hostess."

The waiter flashed a generous smile. "No, Minister. I just need you to sign. The Queen is treating you both. She said to consider it an anniversary gift."

Recovering from the surprise quickly, Sabé signed. "There's no rush," the waiter said. "Would you like another beverage?"

"No, thank you. We'll be leaving in just a moment. We need to finish our conversation," she replied.

"Very good. Take your time," the waiter said, bowing and raised the curtain.

Right after that, Sabé shielded her mind so strongly that Obi-Wan felt her defenses as they were raised. He worried for a second, thinking he might have done something to offend her. He didn't want to lose the progress they had just made.

Sabé noticed his concern after a moment of deep concentration. She smiled to reassure him. "Obi-Wan, do you have another engagement tonight? I would like to have you over to my apartment for a while. We have a lot to catch up on." Her voice was serious, but Obi-Wan detected undertones of amusement there as well.

He was more than a bit taken aback. He had not expected an invitation this soon. Just a short time ago, she had still seemed uncertain about her feelings. However, he was too pleased to question it. "It would be my pleasure to remain with you as long as you wish," he said, with a confident smile. It was the smile that always got him out of trouble with women.

She opened her mouth to say something, thought better of it, and just nodded.

On the way out, Sabé stopped. "One moment, Obi-Wan. I have to speak to Maglus."

The Jedi waited at the door as Sabé went over the the maitre d' and slipped him an envelope. The glow in his eyes became subdued for a moment, then returned as he glanced at Obi-Wan. He said something to Sabé. She smiled at him, nodded and rejoined Obi-Wan.

They left the restaurant, and briskly walked to her apartment. The chatting between them was just as short and quick. She seemed eager to get home. Obi-Wan couldn't have imagined that he would do this well.

Sabé keyed the lock and entered. "Saché, how is everything?" she called out.

Obi-Wan first reaction was mild surprise. He came to the quick conclusion that she had a roommate.

The handmaiden answered from another room, "We're doing fine-just finished the bath and I've got her in her sleeper. You're home earlier than I expected."

Saché entered the living room with a small child in her arms. The girl, with light auburn wavy hair and bright blue-green eyes, was clad in fresh pajamas. Obi-Wan recognized her as the child on the palace grounds that afternoon. He started to get a strange sinking feeling.

When Saché caught sight of him, her jaw dropped, but seconds later, a sly grin took its place. "Well, I guess I should be going. You three have a nice time." She handed the baby to Sabé.

"Thanks for coming over on such short notice, Saché. Your drinks are on me this weekend," Sabé giggled nervously.

"Bring plenty of credits, I'm holding you to that," Saché stated. She turned and inclined her head toward the Jedi on her way out. Obi-Wan's keen senses told him she was laughing as soon as she got on the other side of the door.

In the meantime, the girl had not taken her eyes off of Obi-Wan. She stared, pointed, then faced Sabé. "Maaa....Jeddi," she said, amazed.

"Yes, Darling, he's a Jedi, just like Mommy reads about."

She pushed against Sabé. "Down," she ordered. Her mother lowered her to the floor. She toddled off to a box in a corner and began looking through it.

Obi-Wan was overwhelmed by this development. He swallowed. Hard. He felt his throat drying out. "May I sit for a bit, please?"



As Obi-Wan sipped from the glass of water that Sabé had brought, he looked up at her, gathering his thoughts, and deciding which question he should ask first.

"Why didn't you tell me?" His voice was wavering, attempting to project calm and control. Instead, it betrayed his growing anger and confusion.

Sabé crossed her arms and took a deep breath. There was regret and pain in her tones as she answered. "You stopped talking to me, remember? And what would have been different? We weren't together, and we weren't planning to be."

"How can you ask me that?" Obi-Wan's tone grew increasingly impatient. "First of all, you don't know what I was planning. Remember how I said I had to talk to Qui-Gon and see if there was a way to avoid a permanent good-bye? I didn't get that chance!" He had to stop himself from balling his fist and slamming it into the arm of the chair. "In any case, I would have done my duty and brought her to the Temple to be tested, perhaps trained. She might have been able to fulfill her destiny as a Jedi. You've denied this child her birthright. Now, it's too late," He glanced at the girl still playing in her toybox. He knew had been cheated and he resented it. He was sure things would have been better his way.

Sabé countered him, growing irritated and defensive. "How do you know her destiny is not fulfilled here? Naboo is her heritage as well. It's possible that if Amidala mentors her, she could be Queen one day. How can you think of denying her that?" She was astounded at his arrogance.

The tension between the two of them increased. They looked long and hard at one another, their anger like a presence in the room.

The toddler walked back from the toybox and stopped at a point centered between Obi-Wan and Sabé. She held aloft a cloth doll, dressed in a brown cloak.

"Big Jeddi say no!" Having made this pronouncement, she toddled over to Obi-Wan.

Sabé's eyes grew wide as she broke the staring match.. Taking a deep breath, she did her best to heed the admonition.

Now calmer, Sabé continued, "She was tested. She qualified for the Temple. I chose not to send her. No one's taking my baby where she will be lost to me forever. Not even you, Obi-Wan." Ice was veiling her usual fire.

The Jedi noticed that the chill changed into maternal warmth as she shifted her gaze to the girl. She indicated the child's position with a nod. Obi-Wan looked down. The girl was holding up the brown mass of cloth to him. Gently, Sabé remarked, "She wants to play with you. Her name is Meira."

"Jeddi," she said again, offering the toy.

Absentmindedly, he took it, and looked again at Sabé. He sighed, throwing his hands up in the air. "At least find someone that can stay and be a father to her."

Sabé's face turned red. She struggled to maintain control in her voice. "Your daughter is happy, healthy and loved. We're doing just fine as we are. You assume too much." She lowered her head as she turned away from Obi-Wan.

Obi-Wan looked down at the doll in his hand. It did appear to be a ragdoll of a Jedi. He pushed the hood back and saw its face. It had a beard and graying long hair, some of which was tied in the back.

It was Qui-Gon.

Stifling the rush of emotion running through him at that moment, Obi-Wan began searching for a reason to leave.

Perhaps Sabé sensed that. Still with her back to him, she said, "It's getting late, I have to work tomorrow." She suddenly seemed very tired. "If you want to visit her, you can anytime, please just let me know in advance. I'll put your name on the list at Day Care."

"Thank you," he responded quickly. "I do have to be going. I'll see if I can take you up on that." He put the doll down and rose, walking toward the door. "I'll let myself out. Goodnight."

When the door closed there was a silence in the air. Sabé felt tears begin to run down her face.

Meira went to her mother and tugged on her dress. "Maa? Uppy."

Sabé bent down to pick up the girl. She wiped her eyes with one hand and held the child in her other arm. Meira laid her head down on her mother's shoulder.

"That's my sweet girl," Sabé cooed, more to soothe herself than Meira.

As Obi-Wan made his way back to the Palace, he was working on control of his emotions and considering his next move. He decided to get out of the city for a while. Just because he had been sent to Naboo, it didn't mean he had to stay in Theed. He would ask someone at the Palace where get some camping supplies and go to the forest for his rest and meditation.

There was a message waiting for him in the guest room when he arrived. He activated the holo.

An image of Amidala in full court dress appeared, indicating that this was to be considered an official communication. "Jedi Kenobi, We are honored by your visit to Naboo during this time of rememberance and celebration. We invite you to be Our guest at the parade, ceremony and ball that will take place in two days. Anticipating your acceptance, We are providing a set of traditional Naboo ceremonial garb for the ball. A final fitting can be done tomorrow. A schedule of events that We are attending is attached to this message, and We hope that you may accompany us during this time. We ask that you convey your response to the Palace Majordomo as soon as possible. We look forward to your participation and your company." The image faded.

Obi-Wan flung himself on the bed in frustration. Now he had to stay, at least through the ball.

***

"Rabé!"

The handmaiden spun around in suprise. It was uncommon to hear such an urgent call in the quiet Palace halls.

"Rabé, wait. I have to talk to you," Sabé cried out. She was unconcerned with the stares she was getting as she ran to meet her friend, her distress clear.

As Sabé came closer, Rabé held her hand up. It was a subtle gesture, but Sabé understood. She assumed a calmer demeanor, took a place by Rabé's side, and spoke quietly in dismayed tones.

"Gods, Rabé! I made a mistake, I'm so stupid and naive. I can't believe I handled things so badly..."

"Wait, slow down. Are you talking about last night with Obi-Wan?"

"Saché told you?"

"She mentioned that you returned home with him. What happened?"

Sabé groaned. "It was a disaster. I should have prepared him better. I thought once he saw Meira and how beautiful she is, everything would be all right. Now, he's run away, I'm sure he thinks I want to trap him. Everything I didn't want to happen is going to happen anyway."

"First of all, stop beating yourself up. It doesn't suit you. Now is the time to plan damage control. I know Amidala is keeping him in town for the ceremonies and the ball. He's already asked the Majordomo about camping in the forest, so I think that's where he's planning to go afterward."

"Oh no, it's that bad! He's going to leave town?" Sabé choked with despair.

Rabé continued with her calm counsel. "Honey, he'd leave the planet if he could. It wouldn't have mattered how you broke the news to him, whether you wined and dined him or held a blaster to his head. It's a normal response, he's just been hit with unexpected and life changing news, he needs to gather himself before he deals with it. He's a good man and a Jedi. Now that he knows, he'll do the right thing. What you have to take care of is what he comes back to. You have the advantage here, you know him and his tactics much better than he knows you and yours. So think, Warrior; what are you going to do?"

"This isn't a war, what do you mean?" Sabé asked.

"In a way it is; the two of you are at are at opposing positions right now. What is the first rule of engagement that your father taught you?" Rabé prompted.

"Don't attack unless there is no alternative," Sabé stated in a dry factual tone.

Rabé nodded in approval. "Exactly. Keep that in mind, and you'll do fine. Now, come join us in the Queen's chamber, have some tea and calm your nerves for the day."

After Obi-Wan notified the Majordomo of his acceptance, he went to the fitting. The costume was a traditional sort of Naboo style, one that he, as a Jedi, found much too elaborate and fussy. He rolled his eyes at this nonsense when no one was looking.

Since he would not be needed for any events until later, Obi-Wan started exploring the surrounding grounds. He found a facility that seemed to be a gym. Deciding to see if he could make good use of the place for his own training, he entered. He was recognized, made to feel welcome by the staff, and given a temporary membership.

As he wandered to see what he could use, he passed by a large practice arena. He was on the second floor and found an observation deck overlooking the class area. As he walked through, he heard a familiar voice and glanced down. Sabé's was addressing a group, and it caused him to do a double take. Stepping back so she would not have him in her line of sight, he listened for a moment. She was very much in control and professional in her presentation. He was surprised that she was so effective for someone so young. Reminding himself that just because she wasn't a Jedi didn't mean she couldn't be good at this kind of job, he moved on to the next area.

Sabé hesitated during her speech, shifted her gaze upward for a moment, and smiled.

"Did you see that? Ice Queen Calle actually smiled," one young student whispered to another.

"Drop recruit, and give me twenty push ups immediately," Sabé ordered the commentator. She retained the hint of the expression for the remainder of the class.

When night came, Obi-Wan retreated to the quiet of his guest room. He left instructions that he was not to be disturbed, the only exception being an emergency message from the Temple.

He began his meditation. It was difficult to let go at first. As time went on, and he progressed, he felt himself moving toward what he needed. It held warmth, safety and acceptance. It promised the peace he had been seeking since his Master's passing. And Qui-Gon was present in the Force somewhere, expecting him, urging him on, but ever patient, waiting for him to be ready. Obi-Wan could almost touch it... nearly there.... Then it was gone. He cried out in exasperation.

***

The next morning was Naboo's busiest day of the year. It was the Anniversary, and he was to follow Amidala around and be presented with awards. He abhorred this kind of thing as it was unseemly and vain to his Jedi sensibility. Despite that, it was a duty he bore well, grateful to be permitted his Jedi robes for these functions.

Sabé was nearby for much of the day, but any interaction with her was next to impossible. Her hands were full with the many details of the Queen's protection. Obi-Wan did steal the occasional glance at her, and he still wondered how she could choose the path for the child that she had.

The Grand Parade took place in the afternoon. It was almost a reenactment of the Victory Parade two years ago. This time Sabé was in a different place of honor on the marble platform. She was holding Meira and was accompanied by an older couple. Obi-Wan presumed they were her parents. He would look sideways once in a while, very discreetly, he was sure. But once, the woman at Sabé's side returned his glimpse with a thoughtful and appraising gaze. He kept his eyes on the parade after that.

Sabé and Meira were enjoying the parade, waving at the Gungans marching by. At last, the VIGs (Very Important Gungans)arrived,and Meira squealed with delight to see her friend, General Jar-Jar, dismount his Kaadu and march up the steps.

"Ja-Ja," she called out. The Gungan blew her a kiss, and stuck out his tongue. This earned a bout of laughter from most of the crowd and applause from Meira.

General Binks gave a wink to Jeré, who kept her eyes straight ahead, and ignored the advance. Boss Nass shot the General a toothy grin, and shook his head ever so slightly. Taking the hint, Jar-Jar took a place in line and behaved himself.

When all the honored guests had assembled, Amidala announced that the time had come to reveal the new statue.

"Jedi Kenobi, will you honor Us by unveiling Our new work?"

Obi-Wan nodded, and pulled on the rope that was shown to him. The covering fell away, and there was Qui-Gon. It was a stylized depiction, but still clearly his master. The figure was standing with arms in the typical Jedi resting pose. The huge statue seemed to radiate serenity.

Obi-Wan was stunned.

A cheer rose from the crowd.

Meira threw her hands up in the air and shouted, "Yay, Big Jeddi!" The older woman next to her said, "Yes Dear, that's a very big Jedi." Sabé turned toward the woman and nodded, the corners of her mouth upturned just slightly.

Obi-Wan was having a difficult time with the realization that his master had been made into a cultural icon. He stared at the Queen, channeling his disapproval into that gaze. Amidala smiled back, unconcerned with his opinion on the matter.

As soon as the ceremony was over, the Majordomo sidled up to the Jedi and let him know he had some free time before the ball. Obi-Wan was relieved to have a break, but dreaded the event that was to come. He took off into the crowd as quickly as he could. He knew it was better that he not comment on the statue right now.

He began to browse among the vendors in the square. It occurred to him that it might be a good idea to get small gifts for Sabé and Meira before he left the city. He was examining a red silk scarf when he felt a ripple in the Force. He dropped the scarf and focused to find what was causing the disturbance.

It was Sabé. She was preparing to fight.

Quickly, Obi-Wan honed in, found the path to locate her, and took off across the square.

***

Obi-Wan made his way through the crowd and arrived at an entrance to an alleyway that was just off the main square. He peered from behind a wall to survey the scene before taking action.

Sabé was dressed in a formal gown of garnet satin. She and a security guard faced one another. The guard's posture was unsteady and he radiated an aggressive attitude that hit Obi-Wan's senses in waves. Two other men were watching from a connecting passage.

"Jaquill, go home. You've had a bit too much to drink," Sabé told the guard. Her arms were crossed, and she projected authority.

"No, I won't," the guard spat, his speech slurred. "I've had enough of you, enough of a Queen, and I'm sick of women telling me what to do." He glanced to see if the other two men were still watching, then he grabbed Sabé's wrist.

Obi-Wan began to enter the scene, but felt a hand on his shoulder. He spun around and faced the tall older man, with graying temples, who had been at Sabé's side during the parade. Now wearing civilian formal dress, he carried Meira, who grinned at Obi-Wan. She patted the man's chest and said, "Poppie."

"Hold, Jedi," he smiled kindly. "You mean well, but she has to handle this."

"But...," Obi-Wan waved at the situation.

"Young man, you've completely forgotten who she is, haven't you? Just watch," the man said.

Sabé clasped her hands and easily broke Jaquill's hold as she stepped back.

"No you don't," the guard bellowed. "You're going to have to do better than that, little girl!" He grasped her arm and pulled her to him.

With flashes of movement that even the Jedi had trouble following, Sabé disabled Jaquill, and pulled a blaster on the two witnesses.

Pulling out a comlink, Sabé called, "Captain?"

"Panaka here, they're on the way, Minister. We're keeping it quiet, as per your request."

"Good. Thank you, Captain. By the way, one of them will need medical attention." There was a hint of satisfaction in her tone.

"That's my girl," Panaka chuckled before he ended the communication.

The man with Meira entered the alley. Pulling his blaster, he assisted Sabé with covering the two men. "I see I'll have to remind the good Captain that you're my girl, not his." His pride in his daughter was evident in his voice.

Obi-Wan followed him into the alley. Sabé acknowledged him with a nod. "Lieutenant Hasin Uzza, may I present Jedi Kenobi. As you know, he assisted with our escape from the Trade Federation. Jedi Kenobi, Lieutenant Uzza is my father, as well as my first and best teacher."

"The Jedi and I met while you were taking care of business," Uzza replied.

Sabé bent down to examine Jaquill. He was hissing in pain from a broken arm and leg, and muttering curses at her, but knew better than to resist. She unzipped his jacket and found a red scarf where it had been tucked out of sight. She pulled it out and gasped.

"Sithspawn! They've gotten too close." She shot a withering glance at the the men covered by Uzza's blaster.

Obi-Wan was puzzled. It looked just like the scarf he had seen a few moments before in the marketplace. "There's another few just like that in a stall across the way. What does it mean?" he asked.

At his statement, both Sabé's and her father's eyes widened. "Obi," Sabé started to say, then hesitated. "Jedi Kenobi, as soon as Panaka's men get here, you must show my father where it is."

She called Panaka again. "Is the Queen indoors?"

"Yes, what's wrong?" Panaka heard Sabé's urgency and reponded with alarm.

"The Faction may be in the Square. Alert the Handmaidens, watch for trouble. Calle out."

Obi-Wan made a mental note of the difference in the last names of Sabé and her father, but knew better than to question it. He didn't want to appear a fool if it was the custom to pass on the mother's surname, not the father's.

Once the other guards had arrived, Obi-Wan and Uzza headed toward the suspicious stall. On the way, Uzza briefed the Jedi. He was still holding Meira and trying to appear enthralled with the festivities. Along the way, he arranged to have his wife, Raisa, pick up the baby from him.

In low tones, the Lieutenant brought Obi-Wan up to speed. "The Faction is an underground group that wants to depose the Queen. They are not above using terrorist tactics to do so. One of the handmaidens stumbled across them in a lucky break not long after my granddaughter was born. We thought we had tracked them back to their leader and stopped the movement. It seems we were wrong."

Matching his delivery, Obi-Wan asked, "Why do they want to get rid of the Queen?"

"We're not sure. At first we thought it was planned by those interests that had King Veruna in their pocket, and saw that they couldn't corrupt Amidala. Now that they've gotten this far inside our organization, it's hard to say." Uzza shook his head. "I hope for Jaquill's sake, he was brainwashed or coerced. It will be hard enough for him as it is. I thought he was a steady dependable fellow."

Raisa Uzza emerged from the crowd to retrieve Meira. The couple spoke to each other for a moment, then the woman took the baby home.

Hasin watched them as they left. "Jedi, it seems our great time of peace is at an end. I feel dread when I think of the kind of world my granddaughter is going to grow up in."

Obi-Wan's gaze followed where Uzza was looking. He watched Meira wave at the two of them as she was carried away. Suddenly, he didn't feel quite as detached from Naboo and this family as he had before.

They reached the stall that Obi-Wan had seen the scarves in. The items were gone and there was no attendant. After examining the stall and collecting what evidence he could, Uzza shook his head. "There'll be another day. At least we have a lead with the men we got." Then he smiled. "Jedi, you'll be joining us at the ball, of course. You'd better go get changed. It's going to be a grand night."

Obi-Wan sensed that Uzza wanted to avoid having the Jedi involved in this. Since it was an internal matter, he understood and didn't protest. "Of course, Lieutenant. I look forward to the evening. And my compliments to you on the training of your daughter. She handled the situation well."

"Thank you, Jedi. I'm very proud of all that's she's done. She's quite a young woman, not only because of her role in taking back the Palace, but also in how well she's coped with becoming a widow during our attack on that Trade Federation ship, and raising a child alone," Uzza said. He hesitated, narrowing his eyes and studying Obi-Wan's reaction.

Obi-Wan's face betrayed his surprise at this information for only a moment, but it was long enough for the sharp-eyed officer to catch.

"Anyway, I won't bore you with family details. I'm sure you have much to do. Be seeing you." Uzza nodded, and left.

Obi-Wan returned to his room and got out the robe he was to wear. He cast a disdainful glance on the outfit as he laid out the pieces of the ensemble. The tunic and pants were made of a spruce green velvet, trimmed in black, and decorated with elaborate tone on tone embroidery. The cloak's velvet matched the green, but its embroidery was gold thread done in a leaf pattern. Highly polished black boots were provided to complete the set. He realized that for the Naboo, this was understated, so he would don what he saw as ostentatious clothing, and play along. After all, it was only one night.

Obi-Wan arrived at the Ballroom of the Palace too early to blend in with the other celebrants and avoid being announced. All eyes were on him as he was brought in, honored once again and presented before the Queen. She nodded, and flashed him a hint of a smile.

He bowed gracefully, and scanned the area of the court. He had hoped Sabé would have finished her business with Jaquill by this time. It would be nice to have a familiar presence to get him situated and introduce him to some of these people. But she was not there, or at least had not entered the ballroom yet. In the meantime, he was getting rather a lot of attention from many of the young single women, who were wondering how best to approach him. None of them was as interested as Handmaiden Liraé, still on duty, quietly watching from beside the Queen.

Some time later, Sabé rushed into the back entrance to the Ballroom. There was an area where the Queen, handmaidens, and staff could prepare or refresh themselves, and she wanted to make sure she looked right before she appeared in public. It had been a rough night with what had happened earlier. Filing the report on Jaquill and his accomplices had taken longer than she expected, then she had to go back home to change from the clothing she tore during the brief fight into a fresh gown, emerald velvet this time, and fix her hair. All that activity had roused Meira, so it took time to get her settled back down, even with a babysitter that the child liked watching her for the night. Finally, she had made it, and though she had missed some of the presentations and dancing, she was still determined to enjoy the occasion.

The Handmaidens were allowed to take turns leaving their duties for short periods of time to participate in the festivities. Amidala was just releasing Liraé when Sabé emerged from behind the curtains. The Minister spoke quietly to the Queen, relating the news of the fight as Liraé stepped down, and slinked to Obi-Wan.

Sabé scanned the room and instantly spotted the Jedi, even with his back to her and wearing the unfamilar costume. She waited for him to turn so she could catch his eye and see if he wanted to dance. As she watched, Liraé smoothly approached Obi-Wan and set her snare. She had been concealed in the burgundy cloak that the Handmaidens wore that night, but on the way to her target, she threw the hood back to reveal waves of red hair spilling out. She undid the front clasp to show her gown, low cut at the top, and a slit running to mid thigh. The men she passed stared, but she paid them no mind.

As she reached Obi-Wan's side, she turned and looked back for just a moment. Her eyes met Sabé's. She smiled at the Minister, reached over and very deliberatly patted the Jedi's rear. Obi-Wan jumped in surprise.

Sabé assumed her coolest demeanor. The other Handmaidens looked at her with wide eyes, wondering what her next move would be. She remained calm, letting no hint of her thoughts show on her face.

Liraé batted her eyes. "Jedi, would you like to dance?" she asked.

Obi-Wan looked at her, still startled. Clearing his throat, he spoke. "I could spare one dance, perhaps." He looked over Liraé, seeking Sabé once again. Their eyes met for a second. Sabé inclined her head in acknowledgment, but gave no sign of her emotion.

Obi-Wan took Liraé in his arms and began the waltz. He focused his attention on the Handmaiden and her emanations. Although her physical charms would have been quite distracting, were he not a Jedi, there was something else about her that made him uncomfortable. He was looking for what it could be, but he was not able to pinpoint it yet.

"I'm sure a man such as you must have been through some terrible fights. You are so brave the way you helped us and our world," Liraé cooed.

Obi-Wan nodded, and answered all her fawning with noncommittal phrases. He wanted nothing more than to fulfill his social obligation and move past this woman.

Sabé was gazing around the ballroom with a look of boredom on her face. She moved closer to Saché. "Handmaiden, didn't you say something to me just the other day about getting into circulation?"

"Indeed I did, Minister," Saché replied in the same detached tone. However, her eyes were betraying her amusement. She could hardly wait to see what Sabé had in store.

"It involved getting out and having fun, if I remember correctly."

--> Part 2