CHILDREN OF CIRCUMSTANCE To be elated at success And disappointed at failure

Is to be the child of circumstances.

How can such a one be called

The master of himself?

- - - Ancient Chinese Philosopher

Author's note:  This story takes place entirely within AOTC, beginning after the Battle of Geonosis and ending with Anakin Skywalker's marriage to Padmé Amidala. It fills in the gaps left by the film, and came about because I had a lot of unanswered questions. It follows on from two prior stories:

The Hour of Souls

Step into My Parlor

The usual disclaimers apply. Everything Star Wars belongs to George Lucas and Co. I'm just a storyteller.

Chapter 1. Departures

There is an old expression that describes joy as "the soul taking wings."

When the soul flies, so do the feet.

Anakin Skywalker leaped off the lift at the far end of the serpentine corridor in the Senate office building and sprinted toward his next assignment, which he believed involved another cozy, private journey to a jewel-like planet near the Outer Rim with the woman who was the center of his universe.

The last thing he expected when he arrived at the Naboo Delegation's suite of offices was a crowd of people. The babble of voices flowed all the way down the curving hallway to the bank of lifts. It sounded as though he was hurrying toward the waiting room of the Sector Three Transport Station.

He slowed down in time to avoid getting slammed by one of the heavy double anteroom doors when it was abruptly flung open inches in front of his nose.

"Oof, sorry." A burly figure in the dress uniform of Naboo's security forces shot out of the noisy anteroom and belted down the corridor in the other direction. Anakin cautiously peered inside.

The room was a riot of color and noise. In one corner he recognized Captain Typho, also in uniform, in a huddle with three security guards. A vividly dressed group of humans had gathered in the center of the room, talking animatedly and periodically glancing toward the closed door of the inner office. Six more people lounged on the grand couches in the alcove, surrounded by assorted luggage. Everyone seemed to be talking non-stop.

As soon as Anakin stepped into the room all of the conversations died down.

The Jedi effect. Without conscious shielding the very presence of a Jedi created movement in the Force that even non-Force sensitive people could perceive on some level. It usually caused them to stop talking or to slow down or stop momentarily, so the Jedi were in the habit of shielding themselves whenever they were out in public. Thinking he was going to meet Padmé alone Anakin hadn't even thought to shield himself – even after he heard the voices. What was he thinking?  It was a mistake. He couldn't afford to make mistakes now that he was truly on his own.

The conversations quickly returned to their normal levels.

Captain Typho's attention snapped to the door as soon as Anakin's presence announced itself so dramatically. When he saw the Jedi, he waved him over.

"Skywalker." Typho generally deferred to Jedi Knights, but as far as he was concerned, this one was still a learner and therefore under his own command if his Jedi Master was not there. He treated him accordingly. "Wait over there until I finish this briefing."

Anakin nodded and withdrew to a polite distance. He took up a position with his back to the wall where he could survey the room and waited, picking up snatches of conversation from around the large space.

It seemed that Padmé was not the only one returning to Naboo on this trip. The people with the luggage appeared to be administrative staff on their way home. Typho was outlining security procedures for a Royal Yacht.

Anakin began to wonder what he was doing here. There was no place he would rather be than by Padmé's side, but she had a full security complement already. Why had Chancellor Palpatine insisted that Anakin make this journey?

He turned his attention to the glittering group in the center of the room. A delegation of some kind. Gossiping. Something about an alliance. Then more small talk. They all knew one another well. He couldn't decide where they came from.

His attention swung to the door of the inner office like a compass needle returning to true North. With much greater care than he had used to enter the room he sent his awareness into the office.

Padmé was there. He knew her Force signature as well as he knew Obi-Wan's - no. He stopped the thought cold. He would not think about his Master now. He continued to probe the inner office. He sensed three others in the office with her. The discussion, whatever it was, was intense. He could feel her anxiety flare, and then subside again. He wondered what the conversation was about.

Light, feminine laughter came from the hallway, and the doors opened once again to admit three petite, dark-haired women in glowing silk gowns. Handmaidens. The allure of sirens and armed to the teeth. He'd know them anywhere because they all reminded him wonderfully and temptingly of - wait, what was this?

A little girl with dark glossy hair bounced into the room behind them. She was dressed exactly like the handmaidens and ran to one of them, pulling her sleeve for attention. Handmaiden-in-training? He had never seen a young one among them before. He watched them with interest while adding their numbers to his mental tally of the existing security complement.

He really didn't know why they needed him.

As the woman bent down to the child her hood fell open and Anakin recognized Sabé. They saw each other at the same time, and Sabé gave him a knowing wink. Then she whispered something to the child and the two of them came to greet the young Jedi.

"My, my," grinned Sabé. "A real Jedi. To what do we owe the honor?"

"I'm beginning to wonder that myself," said Anakin. He looked at the child. "Who is this?"

Sabé dropped her voice. "Cordé's niece. Her parents also died recently. Padmé has taken her in."

The little girl continued to stare at Anakin with undisguised interest.

"Balé," Sabé said in exactly the same tone that Obi-Wan had always used when trying to use a social situation to give a lesson in manners, "this is Anakin Skywalker. He is a Jedi…" she glanced at him. He shook his head. Not yet a Knight. His chest tightened. Probably never a Knight, after this.

Sabé finished lamely, "He is a Jedi."

"Hello," Balé said. "What's a Jedi?"

The tightness in Anakin's chest started to rise into his throat. Good question. An even better question was, what kind of a Jedi was he?  Struggling for something to tell the child he finally said, "A kind of soldier, I guess."

She frowned. "Why do you wear ugly clothes?"

Anakin kept a straight face. "They won't let me wear anything else."

The child's eyes widened. Clearly she had never heard of such at thing.

Before they could continue their exploration of Anakin's unhappy state in the world the doors of the inner office finally opened and a wave of people turned toward it as if they had been waiting for this moment.

The room quieted as a man Anakin recognized as the Foreign Minister of the Naboo emerged, followed by a foreign dignitary who was dressed like the chattering group. Behind him came Padmé and a tall, graceful-looking man who seemed stuck to her like glue, holding her elbow protectively. He was dressed to rival the rising sun and was not, Anakin surmised, from Naboo. The chattering group broke into applause as the couple appeared in the doorway.

Anakin felt a very un-Jedi surge of longing and possessiveness as he watched the group exchange formalities. He locked his entire awareness onto Padmé and she looked up to find him. As their eyes met he sensed not only rising anxiety but also panic from her. Definitely not the reaction he had hoped for. He watched her whisper something in the man's ear – he sensed urgency – the man shook his head – resistance – then more urgency from Padmé. Finally the man seemed to agree, but he wasn't happy about it.

Anakin watched steadily as the delegation took its leave. Despite her inner disquiet Padmé managed to look serene. He could sense the effort it was costing her. The tall delegate was the last to leave. He bowed deeply to Padmé and kissed her hand.

Anakin imagined himself knocking the hand-kisser across the room and out the door with a single good Force-enhanced shove.

With the departure of the delegation Captain Typho quickly organized the remaining passengers and security personnel. While he was running security checks on the porters who came to collect the luggage and the handmaidens filed out into the corridor together with the administrative staff, Anakin finally sauntered over to Padmé to make his presence officially known. She broke into a smile and came toward him, hands outstretched to take his own.

"Anakin! I'm so happy to see you again!" Her eyes said a great deal more than that. They were full of longing and distress. To Anakin, just seeing her felt like coming home. He yearned to strike down whatever enemy was making her unhappy.

He felt the tremor when her hands met his and she realized he was wearing gloves. He had taken to wearing them all the time lately. It helped him to forget the awkwardness of his mechanical hand.

"I'm happy to be of service, My Lady," he said, bowing and making sure that she dropped his hands after an appropriate interval. Typho was standing right behind him. For the Captain's benefit he continued, "Although I'm not sure what contribution I can make to your security force. Captain Typho has everything well in hand."

"I just feel better if you're along," Padmé said. There was a spot of pink on each cheek.

He heard Typho make a kind of strangled snorting noise right behind him.

"It's time to go, My Lady," the Captain said, surveying the room. They were the last people in it. "If you will go with the Handmaidens, Skywalker and I will take up the rear."

Padmé hesitated, then nodded and reluctantly turned away from him. It took some effort for Anakin to restrain himself from insisting on going with her. He wondered whether the entire journey would be like this. Two days of being right next to her but unable to speak to her or touch her would probably be as bad as the month he had just spent without seeing her at all.

Typho fell into step with Anakin as they wended their way through the seemingly endless corridors of the Senate building. The shuttles were waiting on the roof port.

"We've got a total of twenty-eight passengers this time plus security complement," he said, filling the Jedi in on the details of the trip. "The Queen sent her own yacht." He looked speculatively at his young companion as if to say, what are you doing here? I didn't request your assistance. "I think we have security pretty well covered."

Anakin felt a need to establish a position for himself. A bit stiffly he said,  "The request for my presence came from the Chancellor, I believe."

Typho snorted again. "I don't know why he thinks we can't handle it. We're not going through any embattled sectors, and anyway, we're scheduled to pick up a fighter escort. I don't really know what you're needed for. No offense."

"None taken." Anakin thought some more. He had the same questions, of course.

"The think-twice factor," he suggested.

"Come again?" Typho was puzzled.

"You make it known that there is a Jedi presence on the transport and people will think twice before attacking it."

Another snorting noise. Strangled-sounding. Anakin seemed to bring it out in him. "That may work with pirates and in local disputes, but this is war. You know. Long distances? Heavy weapons?  One Jedi more or less won't make much difference. No offense."

Privately, Anakin agreed, although he also thought that under those circumstances the Captain's security team wouldn't make much difference either. "You're in command, Captain," he said. "You decide how I can best be of service."

There was a heavy silence that lasted a few strides.

"You can keep away from the Senator."

Anakin stopped walking. Typho stopped as well and turned to face him.

"You had better explain what you mean, Captain," Anakin said in a very even and carefully modulated voice.

"I don't know what you're playing at, but the last time she was under your so-called 'protection' the pair of you left Naboo and she ended up in the middle of the first battle of the Galactic War. You want to explain that to me?  Because I haven't had it explained to me properly yet."

Anakin suddenly felt very alone. Wistfully he remembered the comfort of being a small Padawan standing by the side of his Master, who always knew just the right thing to do and say. But that was over, probably forever. He wanted to do things his own way, didn't he?  Well, here was his chance. Still, he found himself thinking, what would Obi-Wan do?

Obi-Wan would deal with the man sympathetically and diplomatically.

"You are absolutely right, Captain. In your position I would feel the same. It was a bad situation that got out of hand. The only thing I have to say in my defense is that the Senator will NOT take orders. Certainly not from me. I had the choice of letting her go alone or going with her."

He omitted the rest of the story.

It worked. Typho subsided a bit and even displayed a kind of twist to his mouth that might have been the beginning of a grin. "Now, that I believe." They started walking again.

Then Typho looked slyly at the young man who was striding beside him down the long shadow-lit corridor. Apparently he couldn't resist the opportunity to bait a Jedi. "Looks like this is going to be an easy trip for you. Nothing to do but play games with the Handmaidens."

So much for Obi-Wan's diplomatic approach.

"It's comforting to know that your security arrangements are so effective as to render Jedi assistance completely unnecessary," Anakin retorted.

Captain Typho didn't miss a beat.

"She won't have time for you, you know. She'll be busy with her guests. That delegation from D'lai you saw back in the office?  They are coming with us. They're also providing the fighter escort."

The corridor finally came to an end and they entered the waiting lift. Anakin replayed the scene in the office in his mind and began to get a very bad feeling about it. "Who are they?" he asked, neutrally enough.

"The bridegroom and his entourage. Our job is to baby-sit them back to Naboo where they're going to announce Senator Amidala's marriage to that tall fellow. Wolan, his name is. Noble or something."

Captain Typho noticed with satisfaction that Anakin was silent all the way to the docking platform. That'll teach the boy his place, he thought. The Captain was not generally an unforgiving man, but he took Padmé Amidala's safety personally. This Jedi Padawan-learner -whatever he was – was trouble. Even Master Kenobi had thought so. There was no way he would let the boy endanger the Senator again.

She will not marry him, Anakin vowed silently, striding toward the shuttle with his cloak snapping behind him in the wind that sliced across the top of the building. He still didn't understand the Chancellor's motivations for sending him here, but he no longer cared. Anakin had his own reasons and that was enough for him.