Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and
situations created and owned by Lucasfilm, Ltd. No
money is being made and no infringement is intended.
Suing me really isn't worth it; I am but a poor
starving college student with little to her name. And
all I intend for this story is to toss it out there
where maybe, just maybe, someone will enjoy reading

Author's Note: This is the first fanfic I've written
in an age and a half. I'm out of practice, and I
thought writing this would help me get back into
things. It's not exactly epic, but there are a few
interesting twists for those of you who are fond of
alternate storylines. "Return of the Sith" takes
place in a time when Qui-Gon Jinn survived the battle
with Darth Maul and has been exiled by the Jedi
council, among other things.

"Return of the Sith"
by Christine Anderson
alias Elayne Trakand

It was near to nightfall on the planet Naboo. In the
last moments of hazy sunlight, Amidala Naberrie
walked slowly along the outermost edge of the palace
gardens. From a distance, she could hear the laughter
of children, and the soft rushing of the waterfalls.
The city of Theed seemed as always a place of peace,
of calmness. Though it had not been long since their
peace had been shattered.

Walking beside her in the gardens, leaning ever so
slightly upon her arm, was the Jedi Master Qui-Gon
Jinn. They walked in silence, neither wanting to
speak nor wishing to be alone.

With a sigh, Amidala sat upon an ornately carved
stone bench to the side of the garden path. The Jedi
Master paused and turned to face her, his cloak
dusting the stone pathway he stood upon. His gaze
fell upon the young queen, and lingered there. He
might have spoken, but gasped in sudden pain.

Amidala winced. The wounds he had suffered in the
defense of her world- in defense of her -had healed
as much as they were ever likely to, but he was still
often plagued by pains such as these, pains that came
without warning. The Naboo had done all they could
for the Jedi Master in the years since he'd been
injured, and indeed it was only as a result of their
help that he had recovered as much as he had, but
still Amidala wished they could have done more.

Without another thought, she sprang to her feet and
took his arm, drawing him towards the bench.

"Thank you, Your Highness," the Jedi Master said.

A smile quirked at the corners of Amidala's mouth;
she tried and failed to hide it. "All that you have
done for this world, and yet you still stand upon
ceremony. But I cannot allow an injured man to stand
while I sit. A queen I may be, but I refuse to fall
victim to the thoughtless arrogance so often
associated with royalty."

"Your Highness, if you only knew how often I do *not*
stand upon ceremony..." Qui-Gon smiled somewhat

Amidala returned the smile with the same feeling
behind it, having seen the attitudes of the other
Jedi towards this one of their number when they had
come for what they presumed would be his funeral, not
all that many years ago. She had seen what might have
been regret upon their faces when they learned that
he lived still, feelings they let show because they
thought no eyes were upon them.

And indeed no eyes had been, save hers. She might
have been a queen, but she was a queen who was
accustomed to clinging to the shadows when she chose,
and could remain silent and hidden far better than
many who knew her might ever suspect.

Including the Jedi Master, who had in the years since
the Battle of Naboo become a dear and true friend to
her. As for what she had seen and heard that day, she
was determined that her friend would never know of
it, unless she found it was absolutely necessary to
tell him. The Jedi carried far too much upon his
shoulders already, and she would not add to its
weight unless she had to.

"Please, Master Jinn. My name is Amidala. Your
Highness and the Queen have been left behind in the
throne room, and may they stay there until they are
needed again. Beyond that single room, I wish very
much to be simply Amidala."

He nodded, and the look in his eyes was one of
understanding. "Amidala? Not Padme?"

She laughed softly. "No. Padme is- an alter ego, of
sorts. She is who I once became when I sought an
escape. None outside of my handmaidens and Captain
Panaka knew. Sabe helped me to carry out the ruse."
She paused shortly after speaking the name of the
handmaiden who had been friend as well as near-
identical stand-in, and who had fallen in a senseless
attack not all that long ago. "And yet even in
handmaiden's garb, I still hid who and what I was. I
find that life of fiction... distasteful."

"It is no crime to wish to be yourself, Amidala.
Though for a Queen, I must say it is a bit more

"That it is, sir. That it is. But I am determined to
see it happen one day, nonetheless."

"Then one day it will happen," Qui-Gon replied. "I
know you to be a rather- determined young woman."

"Stubborn might be more accurate, though determined
is more tactful." She paused. "You need not be
tactful, Master Jinn, and in fact I would prefer it
if you were not. There are too many already who would
tell me what they think I wish to hear, rather than
the truth."

*She has such great wisdom for one so young,* he
thought. Aloud, he said, "Then the truth is what you
shall have, Amidala. And, please- only my padawans
must call me Master."

"Very well," she replied, smiling broadly, a sparkle
in her brown eyes like a gemstone amid dark soil. She
extended a slim hand, still smiling. "It is a
pleasure to meet you, Qui-Gon. My name is Amidala."

He smiled, took her hand, and kissed it. "The
pleasure is mine."

"I-" Amidala began, but never went any farther.
Approaching footsteps made her pause, frozen with
shock. Who had dared intrude upon her here, when she
had only moments ago begun to feel truly safe? Who
had dared to defy her command, spoken as the Queen,
to leave her be for this one day alone?

The footsteps drew closer, and a blue-robed figure
came into view. Senator Duncan Palpatine, Naboo's
representative to the Galactic Senate. He smiled at
her, a smile with more tension than warmth behind it.
Something was wrong, that much was clear.

"Your Highness," Palpatine said with a graceful bow.

She nodded in greeting. "Senator."

"You're looking well, Your Highness."

Amidala smiled, though she still had the sense that
there was something wrong. Something in the Senator's
expression... "Spare me the 'Highness's, Duncan, at
least until the Queen returns. Please?"

Palpatine smiled. "Certainly, child." He and the Jedi
exchanged knowing looks. "Oh, I do apologize, old
friend- have you been introduced to this fascinating
young woman? Her name is Amidala..."

Amidala shook her head, stifling a laugh behind hands
that shook. "Between the two of you, I believe the
gods can rest assured that I will never loose my good
humor. Now, then. Duncan-" Then her voice faltered,
and failed her, because she had it. The strange
expression, barely visible at all even to one who
knew him as well as she, was fear. He was afraid, and
she had rarely, if ever, seen him afraid. Even when
the Trade Federation had shattered the peace of Naboo
and threatened their very way of life, even then he
had not seemed the least bit afraid. Oh, he might
have been, but there had been no visible sign of it.

Qui-Gon noticed immediately the change in Amidala,
the shift from smiling young woman to somber queen,
and puzzled over it. *A mere girl one moment, a Queen
the next.* After a moment of consideration he amended
his thoughts. *No, not a mere girl... not at all.
Something about her makes her far more than that.*

"I fear I have grave news, my lady," Duncan Palpatine
said quietly.

A glimmer of Amidala showed through the mask of the
Queen, and was just as quickly gone. "Perhaps you
should see the Queen about that."

He smiled again, a smile that was dazzling and
captivating- a smile which made him seem not even
half his true age, and, with a gallantry that
surprised Amidala, offered her his arm. "I'm
afraid that I *must* see the Queen, my dear. Would
you walk with me, Your Majesty?"

In answer she took his arm, and together they moved
along path that wound its way through the extensive
palace gardens.

"Firstly, I must tell you that I had feared for your
safety when you returned here from Courscant,"
Palpatine said. "Again."

There had been brief stirrings of trouble during her
time on Coruscant, news of minor incidents upon other
worlds. But she, in what she supposed might have been
termed naivety by some, had assumed that such
troubles could never come to Naboo. Not again, at
least. Palpatine had warned her otherwise, but she
had not wanted to listen.

"I know. You thought I was taking a foolish chance
with my life."

"You were." The senator's two words fell like stones
tossed into a once-tranquil pool, sending shockwaves
and ripples spinning out in their wake.

"I- What did you say?"

Palpatine looked at her directly, concern clear as
crystal in the deep blue of his eyes. "You were, and
are still, in grave danger." He paused. "And I cannot
tell you what relief I feel, to see you well and

"What word reached you while I was away, Senator,
that you worried so for my return?"

"I have been told of threats made against you,
threats which concern me greatly. There is evidence
enough to indicate that these should be taken

"I believe I've proven that I can take care of
myself," Amidala replied with a smile. "Things here
are quiet."

Palpatine sighed. "It is but the calm before the
storm. I, and many others, had greatly hoped that the
worst of the troubles were behind us now, but-"

"But they are not, are they?" she asked quietly.

Sadly, the senator shook his head. "If even half of
what I have been told is true, then no, my Queen,
they are not."

She nodded, pursing her lips, looking thoughtful.
"Tell me of the threats, Senator."

Palpatine winced, and when he spoke, it was with
great hesitation. "The death of your handmaiden,

The queen winced sharply, and for an instant the
smooth mask of leadership cracked, providing
Palpatine a brief glimpse of a deep and bitter grief,
grief tinged with a sharp, burning guilt. His heart
wept with sympathy for the girl, for he knew that
look all too well, and had worn it himself more often
than he cared to remember. She was too young, not for
leadership itself, but for the burdens it would place
upon her. Burdens such as that one. *We stole her
childhood,* he thought sadly, *because we needed her,
and there was no other to take her place. What we
needed of you, you gave without second thought. But
oh, my dear, my dearest Amidala, what of the cost?
What of the cost to yourself?*

Even for a Naboo queen, she had been chosen young.
But of the candidates, she had been the best by far,
and even he had seen that, watching from a distance,
for he dared not get too close. In the end it was
clear to all of them that she, and only she, would
do. And so they'd made her Queen. She had been
pleased with the results of the election, as any
would be pleased, but when she found him wandering
the palace gardens after she'd been given the news,
she had turned to him, Duncan Palpatine, Senator of
the Naboo, and whispered, "I almost wish that I had

Duncan had wanted to comfort her like the sad, lost
child she seemed to be then, but already there were
lines between them, between Amidala and the Naboo.
She was no longer simply a precocious youth with a
needle-sharp intelligence and a will of steel. She
was his Queen. It changed nothing, and it changed

He knew he needed go no farther then; she knew. Her
words only confirmed that.

"Sabe...was killed because she played a part, and
played it all too well." Amidala gazed up at the
senator, the quiet wisdom in her eyes reminding him
that she was older than she seemed, in her twenties
now. "Because they thought she was me."

"Yes. I- am deeply sorry, Your Majesty."

"Go on," she said almost sharply. "Go on..."

"Those who killed Sabe, also sought out the rest of
the handmaidens. Once they realized that they had
failed the first time... Somehow they knew that you
had occasionally hidden among their number-" At her
startled look he paused. "My dear, I knew you in the
years before you were Queen. And you have not changed
so very much that I did not recognize you."

"But you said nothing."

"No, I did not. I said nothing to you, nor to anyone
else. I saw what you were doing and I understood it.
I left you in peace there, as much as I could."

"I... Thank you, Senator."

"Your Highness, the handmaidens were sought out
because of what their attackers knew." He paused, a
frown of concentration crossing his face. "There was,
I believe, one survivor."

"Eirtae," Amidala replied. "I have spoken with her at
length, as has Captain Panaka. She remembers nothing
of her attackers, though she is haunted by the
memories of seeing her friends fall."

"Does she know that it was you who saved her, Your

Memory overtook her, the garden fading. Barely
visible through the smoky air left in the wake of
numerous blaster shots, were the still forms in the
brilliant-colored dress of her handmaidens, in sharp
relief against the courtyard's paving stone.

"Your Highness, please," Captain Panaka spoke quietly
from somewhere behind her. He reached out to take her
arm, but she shoved him aside.

"I must do this," she replied just as quietly,
shifting her two-handed grip upon her blaster. "You
trained me well, Captain."

Amidala, on hands and knees, slipped through bushes
and under the shadows of trees, inching her way
towards the nearest of the still figures, who even as
she watched drew a shallow, trembling breath.

She moved quickly towards the figure, with pained
glances at the others whom she could not save now.
"Eirtae," she said softly, and was rewarded with a
quick look of recognition before the handmaiden
passed out in her arms. Amidala carried her to
safety, and then she was running, the sound of her
footsteps pounding upon the paving stones, screaming
for her guards, for Panaka and Voyles, the medic...

"Your Highness?"

Amidala blinked. She opened her eyes, unaware she had
closed them, to find Palpatine studying her with
obvious concern. "She knows," the queen whispered.

"Are you well, my queen?"

"The Queen of the Naboo must be well, even if she is
not," Amidala replied softly. "She must lead even
when she is afraid, stand in the defense of her
people even it would be easier to do the opposite."

"That is quite true, Your Highness. But few Queens
have taken such- direct action, at such great
personal risk."

"You disapprove, Senator?"

"No. I fear for you. The Naboo can ill afford to
loose you, Your Highness. You are beloved among them,
more so now because you played such a great part in
the defense of our world. But no Queen has ever
fallen in battle. Had you become the first, our
enemies would have considered it a great victory, no
matter the outcome of the battle."

"I know," Amidala said. "But I could not sit idle
with Naboo in such danger. Nor could I leave my
handmaidens, my friends, to their fate when there was
the chance that I could save even one."

"Of all Naboo's queens, my dear, I believe you to be
the most brave. And it is not only the people who
would so deeply grieve for you upon your death."

"Would you weep for me, Senator? For your Queen?"

"For the Naboo, I would weep for the death of a
Queen. For myself, I would mourn the loss of a dear
and beloved friend."

Deeply moved by his words, by their raw honesty, it
took her several long moments before she was able to
speak. "You honor me, Senator."

"On the contrary. It is I who am honored, my dear."

She smiled softly, but beneath that smile, she felt
her world turned upside-down. She had in the past
sensed that he was not telling her the whole and
entire truth, that there were things he had kept from
her. And she had almost distrusted him for that, but
now she thought she understood his evasions. In the
past he had lied or told her falsely, only to protect
her. *And only,* she realized now, *before I was
Queen.* Lies could, after all, protect the girl and
perhaps not do her that much harm. But to a queen the
truth must be spoken, no matter that it might pain
her to hear it.


Palpatine smiled again, and shook his head. "I do
apologize, my dear. It seems I forget myself, and one
thing you certainly do not need is to be forced to
listen to an old man's sentimental nonsense."

"It is hardly that, my friend." Amidala paused, her
thoughts returning suddenly to the here and now. "Yet
however much I enjoy the pleasure of your company, I
know that your time is precious, and that there is
something more you would speak of to me."

*She possesses such startling insight, for one so
young,* the senator thought, and he chose his words
with care. *So often I think that there are things
she will not grasp, and yet she sees them
immediately. Again I must remind myself that she is
no child, that she is not so young as she seems. And
that, of course, she is wise beyond her years. As was
her mother.*

"You know me well, Your Highness."

*I know you, Senator, but there are pieces of you
hidden from me, sides to you I have not seen. Yet we
all have our secrets, and you certainly are not alone
in that.* "Of course," the Queen said, favoring him
with a genuinely warm yet still somehow regal smile.
"We have long been friends, you and I, have we not?"

"We have indeed, Your Highness. I regret, however,
that it is a serious and urgent matter that brings me
to you now. I know that you wished to be left alone
today, and I would respect your wishes in this matter
if I could." He hesitated, then continued on. "I have
told you that your life is in danger. What I have not
said is that yours is not the only one."

"No, but it wouldn't be, would it?" Amidala asked.
"To truly hurt me, an enemy would also have to hurt
those I care for, those my duty, and my own heart,
demand I protect. The people."

*Oh, child... if only we were not who we were, I
would weep with you at this news,* Palpatine thought.
*But somehow, I think you know that.*

"Yes, Your Majesty. The people."

A sudden fear, nameless but terrible, crossed over
her. Somehow Amidala managed to keep her voice steady
as she replied. "Please, my friend. I must know, I
must know everything that you know. Beginning with
who you believe is behind this- or who will be."

"The Sith, my queen. The Sith rise against us. I have
learned that the Sith killed by the two Jedi was but
the Apprentice. The Master lives still."

The apprentice. They had faced only the apprentice.
And that battle, as she had so clearly seen, had been
a very near thing. She shuddered at the thought of
what might have taken place had they faced the Master

But Palpatine was going on. "The Sith Master, whom my
sources tell me calls himself Darth Sidious, is here,
on Naboo."

"Here?" she gasped, but quickly regained her

"Yes," he replied. "And, my Queen- it *was* the Sith
who ordered the attack upon your handmaidens."

"Are you certain?" Her voice was as he had never
heard it before, cold and strong, like chilled steel.
She had never reminded him so much of her mother.

*Oh yes, my dear... my poor, dear child. Yes, I am
certain. And I would give anything to change that.*
Palpatine nodded gravely. "I am more certain than I
could ever have hoped or wanted to be." The tone of
his voice was terribly sad, as if he alone knew the
secret of some deep tragedy which she could only
guess at.

Almost entirely unaware she was doing it, the young
queen rested a hand upon the senator's shoulder, in a
gesture of silent support. "Then you are certain, my
friend- and I will not ask how it is that you know
this thing." *How could I, seeing clearly how much it
would pain you to explain in detail? You would, if I
asked, but I will not unless I must.* "The Apprentice
alone was nearly more than we were capable of
standing against. Surely the Master is a matter for
the Jedi Council. Have you contacted them?"

"I have tried, Your Highness. But the Jedi are
concerned with many other things- things they no
doubt consider to be far more important than our
trivial problems."

Inwardly, Amidala sighed. *Damn* the Jedi Council,
anyway. The fools were so busy with their own
affairs, whatever those might be, that they failed to
see anything beyond them. This same council, of
course, had said only a few short years ago that
better it might have been had Qui-Gon Jinn died. And
perhaps, better too had the Trade Federation not
failed in their efforts. And Amidala was not sure
that she would have taken it had it been offered.

"If this problem is a trivial one, Senator, I am
loath to see its opposite."

"As am I, Your Majesty."

Amidala nodded. "We can expect no help from that
quarter, then. Very well; so be it. We have done more
with less." She gestured, and the senator and the
queen began moving back towards where they had left
the Jedi Master, with the queen speaking quietly
into the Senator's ear. "Here is what we will do..."

~ ~ ~

They stood before her in the Queen's rooms, the small
and somewhat unlikely band of allies who had over the
course of the past few years become her closest and
dearest friends. She had trusted each with her life
upon numerous occasions, and would not hesitate to do
so again. These were troubled times for the Republic,
and Amidala had found that she could place her faith,
her trust, in only a rare few- in these few. Once,
there had been others, but every last one save these
few was gone now, all of them destroyed and only a
small number of those still living. She missed the
others terribly- Sabe in particular- but was grateful
for those with her still.

First among them was Qui-Gon Jinn, Jedi Master in
exile. Since the Battle of Naboo, he had been
something of a permanent fixture in the Theed Palace.
The Council had made it clear that they did not wish
to see him again in their presence, and the maverick
Jedi Master had made it just as clear that he had no
real desire to return to them. In the years following
the battle, he had become a trusted advisor, and
often served as peacekeeper within the Queen's
Council of Advisors.

Beside Qui-Gon, watching over him as a son might his
ailing father, was the Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi. He
had been Qui-Gon's apprentice when she met him. Obi-
Wan had been more outspoken then, quicker to speak up
and to act without thinking. He'd been almost
reckless then, but now possessed the same quiet sense
of thoughtfulness and calm that his former Master
had. Somewhat more tolerable to the Jedi Council than
Qui-Gon, he came and went as he pleased, but he, too,
spent the bulk of his time on Naboo. Amidala had
quickly come to appreciate his youthful wisdom and
energy both, and in truth the once-brash young Jedi
was very dear to her, perhaps dearer than he knew.

Young Anakin Skywalker stood, shifting slowly from
one foot to the other, beside Obi-Wan. He had changed
a great deal since Amidala had seen him last,
appearing somewhat older now. But she was not as
comfortable around this boy as she had been the child
Qui-Gon had aided on the desert planet called
Tatooine. He had not returned to Naboo in years, and
in fact this was the first time Amidala had seen him
since the days following the Battle of Naboo. And
those years had not been kind to Anakin. Despite
their promises to Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, the Jedi
Council had insisted no one be allowed to train the
boy. Amidala had expected Anakin's training to change
him, but was unprepared for the fact that his *lack*
of training would change him far more. He was brash,
and more reckless than Obi-Wan had ever seemed. For
reasons Amidala could neither entirely understand,
nor discard out of hand, she no longer trusted the
boy. While the Jedi were calm, tranquil, Anakin was
something altogether different. She found that
difference greatly troubling.

Beside the door stood Captain Panaka, the queen's
sworn protector. Even here amongst her allies, he
took no chances with his ruler's safety. He would not
let his guard down, determined not to fail her as he
believed he had failed the handmaidens. Panaka was a
career soldier born on a world of peace, and though
he was a skilled fighter and knew it well, he fought
always with a reluctance rather native to the Naboo.
None of them had ever wanted to fight, but many, like
Panaka, like Amidala, recognized the occasional
necessity of it. Like as not, some things must be

Nearest Panaka, where he could easily protect her,
was Eirtae. Of all the handmaidens, she had been the
one nearest to invisible. Eirtae was shy, painfully
so, and had served Amidala from the shadows as often
as not. Because of this, the Queen had not known her
well, certainly not as well as any of the others,
prior to their deaths. With Eirtae being the last of
them, Amidala found herself turning to the other
young woman as often as she once would have turned to
Sabe. Eirtae still seemed very uncomfortable being in
the thick of things. She was not likely to speak up
much at this meeting, somewhat uncomfortable as she
was in the presence of such august personages as the
Senator and the two Jedi.

At Amidala's shoulder was Senator Duncan Palpatine.
Grave and somber in his robes of deepest blue, the
look in his eyes was one that went beyond pain. It
was clear to Amidala and the others that this was a
great personal tragedy for him. A well-respected
scholar of history and of Jedi lore, Palpatine had
aided the Jedi Council in their search for the Sith.
Or rather, he had tried to. But despite his wisdom,
despite his knowledge of things that even the Council
did not know, they refused to accept his aid,
deciding, in their arrogance and pride, that they did
not require the aid of one who was not sensitive.

He knew the Sith as no one else outside of that
mysterious sect, and yet the Council refused to so
much as consider accepting his offer of help. Instead
they had smiled, and patronized, and thanked him for
his time...and then sent him away, back to the world
of the bureaucrats, where he could do little to
nothing of any real importance. The Senator was not a
man accustomed to being tossed aside in this manner,
particularly when he clearly had more than a working
grasp of the subject at hand. But despite the claims
of the Council, he had never sough to "presume" to
tell the Jedi that he knew their history better than

*Far from it,* Palpatine thought now. *I would
'presume' to tell them they are fools, Masters of the
Force or no. I would tell them, if they would only

Nearest to Senator Palpatine was Amidala. Naboo's
queen was dressed not in the fine garments of silk
and golden threads suitable for the throne room, but
in the battle dress of her handmaidens, simple
clothing of tunic, pants, and long, skirted overcoat,
made of a lightweight, tightly-woven plum-colored
fabric designed to absorb much of the energy from a
blaster bolt. Ingenuitive thought on behalf of the
court's designers had crafted that fabric to look
very much akin to velvet- deceptively weak-seeming
fabric, and certainly fine enough for a queen. In
place of the usual silk slippers she wore tall black
boots, and if truth be told found them a great luxury
which she had often envied the handmaidens for.

Her hair was pulled back into a knot at the nape of
her neck, and the expression upon her face was one of
determination and courage. If any present sensed or
recognized the very real fear beneath that, they kept
such observations to themselves.

Her first words gathered them to her, and by the time
she spoke the last of them, there was no doubt that
she had their full attention.

"Senator Palpatine tells me we face a very grave
threat- and that we cannot expect any aid from the
Jedi Council, though both of us are agreed that, all
things being equal, we should have that aid."

"All things are never equal, Your Highness,"
Palpatine said quietly from behind her.

The queen nodded. "But does that mean that they
should not be?" She shook her head. "No, the Senator
is right. Sit down, all of you; I fear this may take
some time." She waited while they seated themselves,
not wanting to speak again before they had done so.

"What threat?" asked Anakin.

All eyes in the room turned to look upon him with
near to identical expressions of surprise, as if they
had all but forgotten his presence.

"The Sith," Amidala said. "The one of their number
who was killed in the Battle some years ago was but
the Apprentice. The Master remains, and he is...

"Here, on Naboo?" Obi-Wan asked.

Amidala nodded. "Yes. So the Senator's sources tell
him, and I have no reason to doubt him."

"Nor do I," Qui-Gon stated calmly. "And I presume, of
course, Senator, that your offers of aid to the Jedi
Council were politely, if somewhat patronizingly,

"They were indeed," Palpatine told him. "I have long
respected the Jedi for their wisdom, but-"

"The Council members are fools!" Anakin exclaimed.
"And we don't need them. We took the apprentice, we

"Anakin," Obi-Wan said. "If you'll recall, it took
both Master Qui-Gon and myself to defeat the
Apprentice- and we very nearly failed."

"But we're more powerful now than we were then,
aren't we?" the boy asked Obi-Wan. "You're a Knight
now, and I'm- stronger. Amidala can fight, and the
old man-" the boy gestured here to the Senator, who
smiled thinly "-isn't a bad shot, from what I've
seen." He paused to take a breath, then rushed on.
"We can do it, we can-!"

"I fear it is not so easy as that, child," Palpatine
cut him off, speaking quietly and softly, but with
the weight of accustomed authority behind his words,
Anakin made no attempt to interrupt him again. "The
Sith Master, Darth Sidious, is very powerful- perhaps
more powerful than the bulk of your Council put
together. It is their place to deal with this threat,
and they may be the only ones truly capable of it."

"But they've left us to our fate," Eirtae
interjected, hesitantly. She sounded angry, and
Amidala could hardly blame her. Beneath her mask of
royal calm, she was rather angry as well. "They heard
what the Senator told them, but they didn't really
listen. I don't understand that."

"Nor do I," Palpatine replied. "I wonder if anyone
truly understands their motivations these days."

"I think," Obi-Wan spoke up, "that the Council is so
far removed from the galaxy now that they don't see
the things that happen to it in the same light that
we do. It's sometimes very easy to turn a blind eye
to the things that don't shatter the stability of
your own little worlds. And it's easier to ignore
things that you can pretend have no relevance for

"Like the way everybody ignores the slavery on
Tatooine," Anakin said sullenly. "It's not their
problem, and it's so far away..."

"Exactly," Obi-Wan said. "I can't tell you that it is
fair or right- it's not, but it is the way of things
these days."

Eirtae nodded. "But in this case..." She paused, as
if searching for the right words. "If you will
forgive me this, gentlemen-" here she nodded
respectfully to the Jedi "-they are fools not to
care about our plight. They themselves are far more
of a threat to this Sith Master than we are- and even
if they don't care to stop him, *he* won't know that-
or even believe it if he does learn of it."

Palpatine nodded. "Just so, child. If we fail to
destroy the Sith, he will eventually go on to
challenge the Council. Will they care, I wonder, when
the troubles of the galaxy fall upon their own

"Not unless they happen to trip over them," Obi-Wan
said under his breath. The others might have expected
Qui-Gon to make some comment on this blatantly
disrespectful remark, and the fact that he did not
spoke volumes. Perhaps none of the others truly took
notice of this, but the Jedi Master felt Palpatine's
gaze fall across him and linger there a moment, and
knew that the Senator, at least, had grasped the
significance of what hadn't been said.

"So," Amidala said. "We can expect no help from the
Council. We're in agreement that they are fools not
to send that aid, but that's beside the point. We
will have no help from them, nor, I suspect, from
many others, if any."

"Perhaps the Gungans-" Panaka began, but Amidala
shook her head.

"The Gungans would make an amusing distraction for
the Sith, and I think that he would enjoy their
destruction. He would also, I'm sure, make very short
work of them."

"All too easily, Your Highness," Palpatine told her.

Amidala nodded. "The Gungans have done enough- more
than enough. Let them sit this one out."

"They'd at least distract him," Anakin said. "Maybe
we could-"

"I do not want them involved in this." She turned to
Obi-Wan. "Not a word of this to Jar Jar, please. They
will want to help, and they will try, but... they
would be slaughtered."

The young Jedi nodded. "You're right, of course.
We'll deal with it, somehow."

Palpatine nodded, slowly. "At the very least, we will

Amidala turned to face him, a question unspoken in
the depth of her eyes. "Senator- are you saying that
we may fail?"

"Surely that does not surprise you, my lady? We will
try, and yet-"

"Senator," Obi-Wan spoke up almost hesitantly.
"Master Yoda has a saying. 'Do, or do not. There is
no try.'"

Palpatine smiled ruefully. "Yes, I know."

"You know?" the young man asked.

"Yes. You are not the first Jedi to repeat Yoda's
words of wisdom to me, young one."

Obi-Wan seemed to bow in his chair. "Ah, I see."

"And I tell you that we will do our best, but I can
promise you little else," the Senator continued.

"But we *can* do it," Anakin insisted feverently.
"The Sith is just one person, and there are six of
us. We can take him without a lot of trouble."

"Overconfidence is a great weakness, young
Skywalker," Palpatine told him. "One I'm sure our
enemy has many ways to exploit."

Amidala, slightly annoyed with the boy, held her
irritation in check as best she could when she spoke
to him. "At the moment, Anakin, we are trying to
figure out exactly what it is we are dealing with
here, and the best way to fight him, among other
things. Before we can truly know how difficult or
easy it will be to best him, we must study our own
resources and learn something of his. Do you

"Yes, but-"

"But nothing. If you wish to help us, you may stay,
but if all you plan to do is interrupt with childish
fancies, I'm going to ask you to leave. We haven't
time for games, Anakin."

The boy looked to the Jedi as if seeking support, but
if that was what he was looking for, he didn't find
it. Both Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon studied him silently,
their faces expressionless. Anakin turned away from
them, his glance sweeping across a stoic Panaka,
silent Eirtae, and a motionless Senator Palpatine.
None of them spoke or moved an inch, but their lack
of expressions screamed as loudly as anything could
their agreement with Amidala in this matter.

Anakin nodded. "Yes, Your Highness." He settled back
in his seat quietly, eyes meekly downcast, gazing at
his folded hands.

Palpatine raised an eyebrow at Amidala, who shook her
head, some unspoken communication passing between the
two. Amidala returned her attentions to the rest of
the gathering, her eyes seeking out and finding

"Captain," she said. "Send word to the kitchens for
food and drink for all of us to be brought here. We
have a great deal of work to do, and we will not be
able to pause to eat."

Panaka nodded. "Yes, Your Highness."

"Then, fetch the maps from the war room. I believe
our first priority should be to determine where on
Naboo the Sith Master is likely to be. We have the
advantage of knowing our terrain, and by the time we
face him I mean for us to know every inch of it,
every tree and blade of grass."

Before the Trade Federation's invasion, the Theed
Palace had not had a war room. They had not had need
of one for generations. It was a thing they tried not
to dwell on any more than they had to. What was, was.

Panaka bowed, and departed the room. Amidala turned
then to Palpatine. "Senator, if you would be so kind
as to fetch the books from your study- the histories
particularly, and your own notes..."

The Senator nodded. "I think I see what you are
after, Your Highness. Known thine enemy as you know
your terrain." He stood and moved towards the door.

She turned her attentions to Eirtae. "The new maid
you hired..."

"Yes, Your Highness?"

"She bears enough of a resemblance to me that she
should do very well for what I have in mind. Find
her, put her in handmaidens' garb- *not* battle
dress, mind -and spirit her off to the throne room.
Indicate to the servants that the Queen has just
immerged from a very dull and unproductive council
session; tell her to appear pensive, and give her
something to read."

"A decoy, Your Highness?"

"Precisely. I would not put it past the Sith to have
spies in the Palace, in which case I do not mean for
him to know that I am meeting with the true council
now. In fact- when you escort her to the throne room,
you might make a point of mentioning that the Jedi
had departed the planet, and the Senator was nowhere
to be found..."

Eirtae nodded. "Consider it done, Your Highness."
Picking up the cane that aided her these days in
walking, she stepped towards the door. Midway there,
she paused. "Perhaps young Anakin could accompany me?
He could probably use the break before the *real*
meeting starts." She smiled sympathetically at the
boy, who shyly smiled back.

Amidala nodded. "A very good idea, Eirtae. Go on,
both of you."

When the door closed for the last time behind Eirtae
and Anakin, the young queen breathed a sigh of relief
and stood from her chair, stretching her arms above
her head. The two Jedi exchanged knowing looks, and
the queen turned an amused gaze upon them.

"You certainly managed to get rid of them all quickly
enough," Obi-Wan said.

"Nonsense. We truly will need the things I sent them

"The decoy was a wise idea," Qui-Gon told her, "but
I've no doubt you would have also found a suitable
errand to send Anakin off on as well, had he not gone
with your handmaiden."

Obi-Wan nodded in agreement. "So. What's on your
mind, Your Highness, that you can't say in front of

"It's what I don't feel I should say in front of
Anakin, actually... and not anywhere within his
hearing, either."

At that, both Jedi sobered. "Go on," Obi-Wan said.

"He has- changed. And not, I think, entirely for the
better. I know very little of the Force, but..." She
shook her head. "The Senator has an understanding of
it that I lack. He has never offered me an
explanation, nor have I asked for one, but he has
never been wrong in anything he has said to me."

"And he said something to you about Anakin." Qui-Gon
made it a statement rather than a question, and
Amidala's nod confirmed it.

"Yes. He has said, on numerous occasions, that the
boy is dangerous. That with one so young, and so
powerful, there is the potential for him to fall
easily to the darkness."

Both Jedi nodded. "The Senator is correct in that,"
Qui-Gon told her. "Which is part of the reason I
wished to train him. The training of those such as
him must be handled very carefully, least the very
thing you and the Senator fear come to pass. And if
not myself, someone should be seeing t that. But the
Council decreed none would be allowed to see to
Anakin's training, and..."

"I wonder," Amidala said. "I do not like it, but I
wonder...if they are so very unconcerned about the
danger of a Sith Master possibly coming to stand on
their very doorstep, would they notice if the boy
they refused to train began to slip towards the

Their expressions were more than answer enough.

~ ~ ~

Anakin slipped away from the handmaiden with very
little effort. Most of her attention was focused upon
the maid standing before her, and the instructions
she was giving. And since no one had specifically
told Eirtae to keep an eye upon him, he doubted that
she would. By the time she thought enough to miss
him, he would be long gone.

Anakin stifled a laugh as he dashed down a corridor.
boots skidding across marble and tile. Eirtae didn't
know her job nearly as well as Sabe had known hers.
Sabe had been able to read the Queen's wishes as much
in what she was told as in what she wasn't. She'd
have known that Amidala was suspicious of him- and
she was, Anakin could sense that clearly. But he
wouldn't need to worry about the handmaiden until the
Queen had the time to speak to her alone.

He made his way quickly along the palace halls, his
destination a side entrance used primarily by the
servants- none of whom thought twice about the humbly
dressed boy in their midst. He walked with a
purposeful stride that proclaimed he had somewhere to
be and something to do, and none of them thought to
question him as he made for the door.

Anakin was only a few steps past that door when the
cloaked figure came upon him. The man stood at the
edge of a lengthening shadow, where an instant ago
there had been nothing but fading light.

At length, the figure spoke.

"Young Skywalker."

The boy bowed. "Master."

"Has your absence been noticed?" the cloaked man

"Not yet. The Queen's sent everyone on errands, and I
slipped away from the handmaiden when she wasn't

The other nodded. "Good, good. This way, and quickly,
before they do notice you've gone." Without another
word he spun and began to move quickly away. Anakin
followed without hesitation, as the dark-clad figure
slipped from shadow to shadow, across the courtyard
and out into the cobbled street beyond it.

"They know you're here," Anakin said as he caught up
with the man.

From beneath the hood, he smiled thinly. "Do they,
now. And do they fear yet?"

"They're planning how to defeat you, Master. The
queen sent the old man, the Senator, for some of his

The cloaked man laughed. "The Senator will not find
his answers in books, child. Come along, now."

"I don't know," the boy said doubtfully as he trailed
after him. "He seems to know a lot, more than the
Jedi in some ways. And they trust what he tells

"He does not know enough to be a true threat, not
yet. And he will never learn anything more, trust in
that." The Sith paused, a thoughtful expression
crossing his face. "I presume the Senator is staying
in the Palace, young one?"

"Yes, Master."

"Then here is what you will do. You will find his
rooms for me- follow him when he leaves the meeting,
if you can do so without being seen. Make certain you
can find your way from those rooms to that door-" he
gestured to the place where Anakin had exited the
Palace "-and back again. For tonight you will take me

"You should deal with the Jedi first, Master," Anakin

But the Sith shook his head. "No. The Jedi would seem
to be the more dangerous, true, but they are not. The
Senator knows... the Senator knows far too much, my
young apprentice, and I cannot risk that he will
share what he knows with the Queen and her allies."

"So knowledge can make someone as dangerous as

The Sith smiled. "Just so, my boy. Just so."

Anakin nodded. "Very well, Master." He hesitated,
then went on. "I'd better get back now, before they
wonder where I've gone."

His Master waved a negligent hand. "Go, then. But- do
not fail me."

"I won't, Master," the boy promised. He bowed again,
then turned and ran for the stairs and the door
beyond them.

~ ~ ~

"-and I think in terms of a plan, that is the best we
are going to come up with," Amidala was saying.
"There is much we don't know, too much to plan
anything more tonight."

Around the table there were nods of agreement; the
others were as weary and tired as the Queen,
physically and mentally exhausted and longing to seek
their beds.

"Then if there's nothing else, I will bid you all
goodnight. Sleep well, my friends. We have much to do
on the morrow."

They rose and slowly filed out, each bidding a polite
if slightly tired-sounding goodnight to Amidala. It
wasn't until she began to gather her own things that
she realized she was not, in fact, alone in the room.


She looked up then, giving Palpatine a tired smile.
"Yes, Senator?"

"My dear, there is- something I feel I must tell you.
I thought once that it might be better if you never
knew, but seeing what we now face, this is something
which I think you need to know."

She set her things aside and carefully met his gaze.
"Yes? What is it?"

Palpatine sighed, but forced himself not to turn away
from her. The least he could do was meet her gaze
when he told her the truth. What he had told her was
true; she did need to know. Not only that, but she
deserved to know.

"The Sith Master, Darth Sidious..." He winced, as if
the very words caused him physical pain. Amidala felt
a strong desire to go and comfort him, but somehow
she knew that would be the wrong thing to do. Better
just to stand still and wait, to listen. "The Sith
Lord is my brother, Lady. My twin."

It was done. He closed his eyes, unable to bear the
sight of the compassion, the pity, in her expression.
In a moment she would get past that, what he had said
would hit home, and she would never look at him the
same way again. But to his amazement, instead of the
retreating footsteps and the sound of a slamming door
he'd been expecting, he heard her footsteps come
*nearer*, and then felt velvet softness enfold him as
she embraced him.

"So that's it," she said softly. "That is how you
understand this man so well, how you know so very

"Yes. And I suppose now that you know, you will wish
someone else to represent Naboo in the Senate-"

"Don't be *ridiculous*." She drew back only enough to
look him in the eye, as if daring him to doubt the
honesty of her words. "I would trust no other in your
place, least of all now. And as you well know, times
such as these are not the times to be making such
great changes." She shook her head, reaching out to
gather his books along with her own. "Thank you for
trusting me with this."

Palpatine nodded. "I felt you had a right to know-
and thought that perhaps the knowledge might be of
some use to you. Let me get those, please," he added,
reaching for the books.

Amidala shook her head. "I've got them; don't trouble

"Your Highness-"

"And don't argue, either. I'll walk you back."

~ ~ ~

Anakin crouched in the shadow of a potted plant off
to one side of the corridor, watching as the Senator
and the Queen exited the Queen's rooms. He had
expected them to part here and go their separate
ways, but they did not. Arm-in-arm, Palpatine and
Amidala continued along the thickly-carpeted hall,
the Queen carrying the Senator's books along with her
own. By the low murmur of their voices, Anakin knew
that they were speaking to one another, but he was
not close enough to overhear, and dared not follow at
a lesser distance. And their pace was slow enough-
he assumed because the Senator was as close to
exhausted as he looked -that it was not difficult to
follow them.

As they made their way around a curve in the hall
that would have taken them from his sight, Anakin
followed, creeping from shadow to shadow, dodging out
of the way of servants and others. Even if he were
sighted, they would not think his presence unusual.
If stopped or questioned, he had ready a lie that
would- probably -pass muster. By the time they knew
it for fiction, it would be too late.

With a resigned sigh, he realized that Amidala
intended to walk the Senator all the way back to his
rooms. If the Queen was with Palpatine when his
Master came to dispatch the old man... Anakin shook
his head. If she got in the way, if she tried to
interfere, the Master would deal with it. Anakin was
fairly sure he know *how* the Master would deal with
it, but it was no concern of his.

And perhaps it would be for the best. She noticed far
more than the Jedi Council, and as he had learned
that day, sometimes what a person knew could prove
very dangerous. He truly believed what he'd said to
Amidala and the others earlier that day- that the
Council members *were* fools. They were fools, as was
Naboo's Queen- though she suspected, he thought, and
they probably never would. The great Council would
find out just how foolishly arrogant they'd been one
day, on the day that Anakin's Master came to see
them. He hoped very much to be granted the honor to
witness that.

Perhaps if he proved very, very useful in aiding his
Master's business on Naboo, he'd be allowed to help
destroy the Council...

~ ~ ~

Darth Sidious approached his brother's rooms in the
Theed Palace from another direction. After a bit of
thought, he had decided that he did not trust his
would-be apprentice with such a golden opportunity to
make some mistake, intentionally or through
carelessness, that might cost him this chance to be
rid of his interfering twin. He did mean to test
Skywalker's competence, as well as his loyalty, but
not in such a way that his failure would cost the
Sith Master something this important. No, the boy's
test would be something else, something that did not
require Sidious' personal attentions... something
less critical, that could survive being inexpertly

Aside from which, he knew very well that Skywalker
wanted to kill the Senator himself, perhaps to prove
his worth to Sidious. He was pleased to see the
extent of the boy's ambition, but this was neither
the time nor the place for him to be given free rein
with it. And the pleasure of killing Duncan Palpatine
was one Sidious reserved for himself.

He, far more than the boy, was entitled to that.
Sidious had earned that right, to take his brother's
life. Years of torment, of listening to all those
around him sing the praises of his brother, the
brilliant scholar-Jedi Duncan, who could do no wrong.
Duncan, who had everything his twin had ever wanted
in the palm of his hand, and never seemed to
appreciate it.

Duncan was brilliant, handsome, and independently
wealthy. A self-made man and an idealist, who claimed
his only true wish was to work for the betterment of
the lives of those whose worlds he represented. All
his life women had flocked to him in droves, as had
men. Those who did not seek his favors or his bed
trailed at his coattails, as if hoping some bit of
his charm might chance to rub off on them. Lost amid
the shadows cast by the hangers-on, and by his
brother's own bright lights, was Sidious, born
Stilvin Palpatine. The mostly redundant several-
minutes-younger twin, who from the time Duncan had
demonstrated Jedi potential and Stilvin had not, had
been simply taking up space. His family no longer
needed him- they had Duncan, who was going to make
them all proud. Even his friends shifted their
allegiance almost in the blink of an eye, and it
seemed to those on the outside looking in that they
had been Duncan's friends since birth. Of course,
there did exist those fools who could not tell the
twins apart, but still, it was one of a million ways
Sidious felt he had been slighted because of his

In the face of all of it Duncan pretended humbleness,
humility. He played the reclusive scholar suddenly
tossed into the limelight because he had demonstrated
a rare ability, waving away would-be confidants and
lovers with a negligent hand, saying over and over
that he only wished to be left in peace, that he
might return to his studies.

Stilvin was still uncertain when exactly he had begun
to hate his brother, but he had always been jealous
of him. In childhood the brothers had been very
close, and even as they grew to adulthood, Duncan
adored his brother. But Stilvin saw the rift forming
between them, and made no move to stop it. He had
been cheated, clear and simple, and it angered him to
see his own brother claiming all the glory. His
hatred, once begun, had not taken long to develop
into a deep and complex mix of hate and obsession,
dark-shaded feelings which awakened his own
previously latent abilities.

And then his own teachers came to him- not Duncan's
noble Jedi, but a strange and secretive society
seeming to belong to an entirely different world.
They had tested him in a million strange ways,
throwing him into situations he never expected to
encounter, and studying his reactions. Several moons
of this, and one of them came to him with answers he
had long sought, and an offer. That man had revealed
himself to be of the Sith, and in time became
Stilvin's master.

It had only been a few years ago, shortly after that
disastrous business on Naboo begun, that Stilvin was
finally strong enough to kill his Master, thus
assuming his title. But it was a bittersweet victory,
for he had lost his own newly-chosen Apprentice after
barely having begun his training. And Maul had been
exceptional, the kind of Apprentice Stilvin, now
known only as Darth Sidious, had himself once been,
the exact type that Masters sought long and hard to

And Duncan's fool Jedi had killed him. Rage filled
the Sith Master's thoughts as he stalked along the
corridor seeking his brother; rage directed not at
the Jedi who'd killed the Apprentice, but at that
worthy himself, at that boy who'd shown such great
promise- and then had managed to get himself killed
by a mere Padawan, a severely injured Jedi Master,
and- worst of all, this last- a *girl*, a child with
a toy crown and a pistol. Never had the Sith been so

But they would pay for it. Oh, yes, they would pay
dearly, and very, very soon.

The girl- that child these fools of Naboo called
Queen -was Duncan's protégé, and to the brother who
had once known him so well, it was clear as daylight
on Tatooine how very much Duncan cared for her.
Sidious meant to make use of that, if the opportunity
presented itself. To torment his brother before he
killed him, to repay him for what Sidious himself had
suffered- oh, that would be sweet revenge indeed.

Silent and wraithlike, Sidious crept along the hall,
weaving his way between courtiers and guards,
attracting the notice of neither. Just ahead of him
were the double doors leading to the Senator's suite.
Without hesitation he drew one of the doors open just
enough that he could pass through it. Easing the door
closed behind him, Sidious sought a place to lie in
wait within the many shadows of the darkened room.

He'd barely settled into his chosen shadow when the
sound of footsteps drifted towards him from beyond
the door. After a moment he could also pick out
voices, speaking quietly. Try as he might, Sidious
could not make out what either of the two might be
saying. But as they drew closer, he was able to
identify the first voice, and then the second.

*Soon, then,* Sidious thought, as the footsteps came
still closer, and one of the doors swung inward.
*Very soon.*

Two shadows stepped into the room, their shapes
distinctive. One reached out to key the lights, and
in the last instant of shadow within the room,
Sidious smiled.

The first shadow was clearly his brother. And the
other... the other was the girl.

~ ~ ~

Amidala extracted her arm from Palpatine's and guided
him to a chair, kicking the door closed behind them
as she did so. Having already keyed the lights, she
tossed the books with a quick but careful flick of
her wrist to land upon a small table near the
Senator's chair.

"We'll meet again in the morning, all of us," she
said. "Anything else that needs consideration or
planning, we'll deal with then. Meantime, I need you
well-rested, Duncan."

He smiled softly. "Is that a royal decree?"

"It can be." She paused, then stepped forward
impulsively, enfolding him in a brief but tight
embrace. "Thank you- for all you've done today. For
your honesty and your loyalty..."

"I give you no less than your due, my dear." *And
thank you, my Queen, for your kindness, for your
understanding, for your faith. Thank you for being
all that you are.*

Before she could even begin to contemplate an answer,
a figure, cloaked in shadow, rose up from the room's
darkest corner with a whisper of cloth, and the snap-
hiss of a lightsaber's igniting.

From his place in the chair, Duncan Palpatine watched
the scene unfold with a sick sense of surreality. The
cloaked figure moving towards them, the 'saber in its
hand- and he did not even have to look, with senses
physical or otherwise, to know that figure's
identity. But even as he thought himself frozen with
shock, reflexes reacted for him. His arms tightened
around Amidala a heartbeat before he propelled her,
with greater strength then most would believe he
possessed, away from him, pushing her back and to the
right, towards the door.

*Run,* Duncan silently urged her, his eyes never once
straying from his brother now, for he knew that if he
looked away even for an instant, in that instant
Stilvin would be upon him, and he would die. He, and
Amidala Naberrie with him. *Run, child!* But he knew
that she would not. The battles they had fought in
recent years had taught Naboo's queen something of
courage, and so Amidala would not run, although what
she thought of as courage could perhaps have been
foolishness, as well.

She hit the thick carpet on her shoulder and rolled,
the room spinning over and around her until she came
to rest, her head slamming against the door with a
shock of pain. Amidala lay there a moment, dazed,
watching as Duncan stood quickly and tossed aside his
outer robe. He moved now with the instinctive grace
of a much younger man, and though he was unarmed, she
knew from his stance that he was nonetheless a very
dangerous fighter.

"I needn't waste time telling you why I've come," the
cloaked figure spoke up at last, and Amidala bit her
lip to hold back a gasp of shock. She might have
suspected, of course, given the Senator's recent
revelation, but the voice marked it as a certainty.
It was familiar and yet not, harsh, twisted, and
cruel. There was none of Duncan's kindness in those
tones, however similar they might be.

"No, of course not," Duncan said, as calmly as if he
were ordering a cup of tea. "I've been expecting you
for years."

"And have you no warm welcome for your brother?" the
Sith asked.

"When my brother has come to kill me?" The senator
shook his head. "No. I'm afraid you are mistaken. I
have no brother."

Her heart pounding, trying to keep as still as
possible, Amidala reached for her pistol...and knew
with a sudden sinking certainty that she did not have
it. She could see it clearly in her mind's eye; the
silver glint of that weapon atop the dressing table
in her chambers. So very far away, and so absolutely
out of reach...

"And in time, nor shall I have a brother." The Sith
Master lunged, his 'saber arm swinging in a great
arc, the force behind it enough to sever limbs from
body. Duncan dodged to the side and hit the carpet to
avoid the strike, snatching the table nearest the
chair a mere scattering of seconds later. He hurled
the table, books and all, towards the Sith...who
simply laughed and shook his head, deflected the
books with one arm and sliced cleanly through the
table itself.

*Damn,* Duncan thought, keeping one eye on the Sith
and searching about with the other, seeking anything
else that might be used as a weapon...or some sign of
Amidala. *It seems there are drawbacks to the life of
a scholar, after all. And unforeseen complications.
This lack of weaponry, for example, is proving quite
a problem...*

Even as he watched, the Sith moved quickly forward,
in what Duncan assumed to be another attack upon him.
But Sidious overshot him by several feet, and it was
only as the Sith neared his goal that Duncan realized
his fatal error. He had a tendency to forget that for
the Sith it was often the most complex and twisted
ways of doing things that best served their ends- and
that enhanced the dark-tinged emotions that they fed
upon for power.

But by the time he'd realized the Sith's true goal,
and started to react, it was far too late. Sidious
knelt beside Amidala, his 'saber hovering over her.
Duncan felt icy blades of shock and pain stabbing his
every sense, twisting in his heart with an exquisite,
terrible agony.

"Damn you," he whispered in a voice pained and
broken. Anger and despair started to overwhelm him...
and just as quickly it was fading, and then gone, to
be replaced by a crystal clarity like flowing water,
and a calm strength of standing stone. Something
changed in his eyes, and the Sith may have winced,
ever so slightly.

"I sense in you great anger, my brother..." The Sith
faltered suddenly, as that anger gave way to a calm
and thoughtful manner that spoke of a great and
rather unexpected change. Duncan should have been
both furious and terrified by this point in time,
pleading for the girl's life and striking out at
Sidious, but he simply *stood there*, infuriatingly
thoughtful, silent, calm... *Jedi,* Sidious thought
with scorn. *All this, and he is still one of them at

"I should very much like to see you beg for her
life," Sidious said conversationally.

Amidala blinked then as if just having returned to
the land of the living. She ignored Sidious in a way
that was regal and imperious, as if simply by
refusing to acknowledge his presence, he ceased to
exist. The young queen looked to Duncan, an ageless
wisdom in her eyes. "Say *nothing*. And do nothing."

He made no move to speak a reply, but she read his
answer in his eyes.

Amidala was uncertain what action she might have
expected him to take, but she could not have been
more surprised by what he *did* do. Duncan Palpatine
extended an arm and held out his hand- and his
brother's lightsaber slid neatly from the Sith Lord's
grasp, evading his efforts to retrieve it, and
dropped neatly into Duncan's hand.

The senator held the 'saber as if he had been born
with it, wielded it as if it were crafted for his
hand alone. Step by step he advanced upon his
brother, forcing him back at 'saber point until he
stood between the Sith and the Queen.

The Sith Lord smiled as he stepped back, hands
raised- but in an instant there was a second
lightsaber in his hand. Sidious retraced his steps
towards his brother, thrusting forward with the saber

Duncan seemed to sigh as he parried the Sith Lord's
strike. "I see you still carry a spare."

"You should have remembered that, brother," Sidious
replied, feinting left, then striking right. "I'm

"Are you." Duncan spun to block his brother's attack,
doing his best to ignore the sudden sharp stab of
pain that told him he'd twisted his ankle. "And *I*
am disappointed in you, my brother. I never wanted
this, Stil-"

"Of course not," the Sith snapped, delivering a
brutal snap-kick aimed at his brother's knee. "I know
very well what you wanted, *brother*. You wanted
everything, and you got it, didn't you? The fame, the
power, the recognition. Which of us is stronger now,
I wonder?"

"Time will tell," was Duncan's reply as he let
Sidious' kick send him to the floor. As he fell, he
caught his brother's foot, dragging the Sith down
with him. They struck the carpet together, the impact
jolting the 'saber from the Sith Lord's hand. A
gesture from Duncan, and it rolled harmlessly away.

"Highness," he snapped out, no time for kindness now,
as he held the Sith down with one arm, his other hand
holding the 'saber at his brother's throat.

Amidala sprang for the 'saber as it rolled to a stop
at her feet, snatched it up and ignited one end. She
held it cautiously, well aware of the damage it could

"Easy, child," the Senator said softly. "It's very
like one of your fencing foils. Instinct and your
training will guide you, if you'll trust them. Here,
now, to me."

Amidala had taken barely a step towards the senator
when the door flew open behind her and Anakin stepped
through it, blaster in hand. "Drop the lightsaber,

The Queen met Duncan's eyes; he nodded fractionally,
and she clicked off the blade and dropped the 'saber
handle to the floor.

"Let him up, or the Queen dies," Anakin said, clearly
speaking to Palpatine. Amidala squared her shoulders
and stood tall and silent, but as she gazed upon the
senator, her lips moved. "Kill him," she whispered,
so faintly that Duncan Palpatine had to read her lips
to understand what she had said.

He gazed down upon the hood that shaded his brother's
face- his own face, cruelly twisted, the hand that
held the 'saber moving the slightest bit closer- and
he shook his head. "Forgive me, Highness, but I
cannot." The 'saber fell to the floor, and Duncan
stood, hands raised.

~ ~ ~

Eirtae paused with her hand raised to knock upon the
Jedi Master's door, wondering if she ought to trouble
him or not. They had only recently retired for the
night, and she knew that tomorrow was likely to be a
very long day for all of them. But she couldn't shake
the sense that something had gone wrong.

The Queen's handmaiden hadn't seen her since she
departed to walk Senator Palpatine back to his rooms.
Under normal circumstances Eirtae would not have
worried if Amidala was a little late getting back-
she and the Senator had a habit of becoming very
involved in their conversations, and loosing track of
time. But in light of recent events, the handmaiden
thought they were better safe than sorry.

She knocked softly upon the Jedi Master's door.
"Master Qui-Gon?"

The door swung inward several inches. "Yes? Who's

"Eirtae, sir. The Queen's handmaiden." She paused,
considering her next words. "I'm afraid something's
happened to her..."

The door opened the rest of the way, and Qui-Gon Jinn
stepped out into the hall, pulling a dark brown cloak
over his nightclothes. "She and the Senator departed
our council together, did they not?"

"They did. She's probably gone to walk him back to
his rooms, and it's possible they just haven't
noticed how late it's getting..." The handmaiden
trailed off.

"Somehow, I think not." The Jedi Master drew a
lightsaber from within the folds of his cloak. He did
not ignite it, but held it at the ready. "I'll fetch
Obi-Wan. If you'd be so kind as to call Captain

Eirtae was already reaching to key the comlink at her
wrist when Qui-Gon turned and started off down the

~ ~ ~

Obi-Wan stumbled towards his door in response to the
insistent pounding. "Do you have any *idea* what
time-?" he started, opening the door. One look at
Qui-Gon's expression stopped him cold. "What is it?"
he asked quietly.

"Get dressed, quickly, and come with me."

"What's going on, Master?" Obi-Wan asked, snatching
up lightsaber and cloak.

"I don't know," Qui-Gon replied, "but I believe the
Queen may be in danger."

"Where?" the younger Jedi asked, his heart suddenly

Before Qui-Gon could answer, they were met by Eirtae,
who ran along the hall towards them with her skirts
held up in one hand, and a blaster clutched tightly
in the other.

"Panaka?" Qui-Gon asked as the three hurried along
the hall, he and the injured handmaiden leaning upon
Obi-Wan for support.

"He's on his way," Eirtae replied. "But-"

"-we can't afford to wait," Obi-Wan finished for her.

~ ~ ~

Sidious collected the lightsabers Amidala and Duncan
had dropped, and, she noticed, he also relieved
Anakin of the blaster he held.

"What kept you?" Sidious asked the boy crossly.

"I had to deal with a few security types," Anakin
replied defensively, and Amidala did not have time to
feel the entirety of the shock and anger inspired by
what his words implied, for Sidious stepped forward,
stopping within inches of her. But his attention was
obviously elsewhere; he gazed upon young Anakin
Skywalker with a terrible, single-minded rage.

The Sith Lord's strike, when it came, was quick and
hard. He backhanded Anakin, and the blow sent the boy
flying, skidding across carpet to land at Duncan's
feet. The Senator made no move to help the boy up.

"How many?" Sidious asked, speaking quiet calmly now.

"Five," Anakin replied. "I thought the troops would
take care of them all." He paused. "Master, we should
finish this and leave, before-"

"No. For this I have waited-" Sidious might have gone
on, but he was never given the chance. Amidala was
upon him the instant his gaze focused entirely on
Anakin, and with a few quick blows, she brought him
to the ground, facedown. Twisting one of the Sith
Lord's arms behind his back, with her free hand she
relieved him of a 'saber and sent it spinning towards
the Senator.

"Duncan!" she called out, and he turned towards the
sound, catching the 'saber in midair. The instant his
hand grasped it, its blade was ignited, and Anakin
was forced to freeze least he walk straight into it.

"Nicely done, my dear," Palpatine said, never taking
his eyes from Anakin.

"Thank you. Now the only question is- what do we do
with them?"

Instantly she cursed herself for having let her guard
down even for that brief moment, as Sidious caught
hold of her shoulders and tossed her aside. She fell
against the Senator, who caught her, but the damage
was more than already done.

"I grow tired of these games, girl," Sidious said. "I
meant to see you dead only because to do so would
bring my brother pain, but now- now you shall die for
your insolence, as well."

"Master-" Anakin gasped, reaching blindly for
something, he didn't know what- and then his hand
grasped the doorknob, and he turned it, pushed it

Palpatine took hold of his Queen's hand as Anakin
gave them both a hard shove towards the door. "Go!"
the boy screamed.

"Anakin-" the Queen started, but Palpatine's grip was
like iron, and she couldn't turn back. In an instant
they were through the door and racing along the
corridor, at a pace she knew he could not keep up
much longer.

"Highness!" came Eirtae's voice from somewhere ahead
of them.

Then Obi-Wan's shout, "Amidala!"

And finally, Qui-Gon's warning, "Look out!"

Senator and Queen collided with Jedi Master, Knight,
and handmaiden, each of them struggling to catch all
of the others, then all of them trying to get to
their feet at once.

"Quickly," Palpatine said, helping Eirtae to her feet
with one hand, lending Qui-Gon his other arm. "He'll
be right behind us, I'm sure."

"Who?" the handmaiden asked, turning back to pull her
Queen to her feet.

"Sith," Amidala replied briskly, shrugging off
Eirtae's attempts at help. "I'm afraid we haven't the
time to explain. We must move quickly."

"Head for the throne room," Obi-Wan added quickly as
he sprang to his feet. "Captain Panaka and his
Security Force will meet us there."

"One hopes, at any rate," Amidala said quietly,
thinking of Anakin's words back in the Senator's
rooms. But there was no time for further thought, for
she glimpsed the boy coming towards them, his Master
trailing not far behind. "Quickly, everyone!"

They were off and running then, heedless of any
obstacles standing in their way, their only thought
to reach the Security Force before the Sith Lord
caught up with them. At a place where two halls met,
they stopped short, Palpatine, in the lead, taking
hold of Amidala's arm, his grip again like steel,
stopping her advance. "Hold," he snapped out at the
others, a command they instantly obeyed, though none
could have said why.

"Anakin mentioned-" Amidala began, and Palpatine

"Troops. Yes, I know."

And then they saw them, two dozen troops in armor
white as bone, marching along the hall toward the
place where Captain Panaka and his men stood guard.
Amidala withdrew a small glowrod and signaled Panaka,
who nodded ever so slightly before calling out
something to his men.

The Naboo Security Force laid down covering fire as
the Queen's party raced for the safety of the throne
room. Heads down, weapons at the ready, they ran, the
injured and the aging propelled by the younger and
the stronger. Amidala, supporting Palpatine, and Obi-
Wan, aiding Qui-Gon, were the last to run the
gauntlet. Just ahead of them Eirtae stumbled as she
ran, and Qui-Gon reached back a hand to pull her to

As she took the last step towards the throne room's
door, Amidala glanced over her shoulder, and saw
Panaka stumble and fall back, a charred circle burned
through his uniform and the skin beneath.

"NO!" she cried out, and turned again, as if to go to
his aid. "Captain..."

"Amidala, there is nothing you can do for him now,"
Obi-Wan said quietly. "Come now, quickly."

But she simply stood and gazed upon the body of the
man who had been both friend and protector to her.
"Leave me be, Obi-Wan."

Palpatine, barely past the threshold, turned back
upon hearing her words. "My dear, please..." He moved
forward to take her arm and draw her into the
relative safety of the throne room, where even now
Eirtae and Qui-Gon were availing themselves of the
Queen's hidden cache of blasters. As he stepped into
the doorway, a stray blaster bolt struck him, and the
Senator gasped in pain, falling back, but drawing
Amidala with him.

"Duncan!" the queen cried out, and there were tears
streaming down her face now. "Please, no, old friend,
not you, too..."

"Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon called out to his former
apprentice, and the Jedi Knight stepped between the
Queen and the still open door, keeping that door open
only until the last of the Security officers passed
through it. Once they were inside, Obi-Wan drew the
door closed and activated its complex locking

"That won't hold them for long," he advised his

"It'll hold them long enough," was Qui-Gon's reply.
"At the very least it will buy us some time."

"Time for what?" Eirtae asked.

"Time to regroup," Obi-Wan told her. "That Sith Lord
out there isn't going to go away, and neither are his

"You'll have to fight them, then," the handmaiden
said, and Obi-Wan nodded. "What about us? The Queen-
the Senator..."

Qui-Gon approached them then, a wry smile upon his
face. "This won't be the first time I have served as
the Queen's protector, young handmaiden. Obi-Wan goes
where I cannot, any longer." He turned to face the
young Knight. "May the Force be with you, Obi-Wan."

"Thank you, Master." Obi-Wan sighed. "I have a
feeling I am going to need it."

Qui-Gon shook his head, smiling a bit. "You and your
feelings... Go on and see the Queen, before you

Obi-Wan found Amidala near the large window inset in
one of the throne room's walls, kneeling beside the
injured Senator, speaking quietly to him in a voice
as gentle and soft as velvet. Not for the first time,
he was struck by the depth of her kindness. She was
truly selfless, caring more for others than she did
for herself. Her grief at the death of her friend was
obvious, but there she sat, whispering words of
comfort to another.

Amidala glanced up as Obi-Wan approached. She had
already applied a bacta patch to the Senator's wound,
and there was little more she could do now but wait,
and hope.

"Obi-Wan," she said quietly in greeting, as he
dropped to his knees beside her.

"How is he?" Obi-Wan asked, looking upon Palpatine
with concern.

"I don't know," the queen replied honestly. "I have
done what I can, but-" She shook her head, trembling
more than slightly. "My dear old friend... I cannot
bear to lose you, as well... please, I beg of you..."

"My dear," Duncan said softly, "mine is not a minor
injury, and I know this well. But nor, I think, is it
fatal. Time will tell the tale, of course, but...
Fear not for me, my lady."

"Shh," Amidala said softly, brushing back a lock of
hair from his forehead. "Just lie still, Duncan."

"I..." Obi-Wan began, but trailed off, uncertain how
to begin, uncertain if he should say anything at all.

"You're going back out there, aren't you?" she asked,
calm, serene. She was, he had discovered, hardly ever
otherwise. Except when she was angry, and the few
times he had seen her angry, hers had been the fury
of some warrior goddess filled with righteous anger.

"You know I have to. Those soldiers, for one thing,
need to be taken care of before they harm anyone
else- and I'd like to ask the Security Force to help
me deal with them, with your permission."

"I doubt that you could stop them from going with
you," Amidala replied.

Obi-Wan nodded. "I thought as much. And, soldiers
aside, there is still the Sith to deal with..."

"Stilvin," Duncan murmured, a tear making its way
slowly down his cheek.

"Sir," Obi-Wan said respectfully, with as much of a
bow as it was possible to make from his kneeling
position, "If it could be any other way- But he
cannot be reasoned with. He will kill us all if we
allow him to."

Palpatine smiled sadly. "I know, young Jedi. In my
heart I have known it for years. I needed only to
realize it, but..."

The Jedi nodded slowly. "I have a brother," was all
he said, but the Senator's expression spoke clearly
for his understanding.

He turned to Amidala again. "I wanted to take a
moment to say goodbye before my departure. In case-
well. Just in case."

"You'll be back," she said softly, reaching out to
take his hand.

"So sure of that, are you?"

"Yes," she said.

"There's one thing more, Highness, that I would say
before I go."

"Yes? Go on."

Obi-Wan Kenobi drew Amidala Naberrie's hand to his
lips and kissed it gently. "I love you."

"I know," was the Queen's only verbal answer, but she
reached out and drew him into her arms, and when
their lips touched it was clear no other words were

When Obi-Wan had taken his leave, Amidala settled
back on her heels beside Duncan, her expression both
thoughtful and sad. "These days, old friend, are so
bittersweet. I had hoped we would never see another
day like this..."

"I fear we have seen only the first of them," he
replied. Then: "Amidala."


"If you can stand to hear it, there is one more thing
I would tell you."

She nodded without hesitation. "Tell me."

"It is a story, but rest assured it is a true one."
He settled back as best he could against the wall,
one hand clasping the bacta patch as if to hold it in
place. Despite the bacta, there was something in his
eyes that told Amidala he believed it was possible he
might yet die of his injuries- a possibility she
refused to consider, having lost far too much

"Years before your birth, when I was a young man,
just finishing my years of study at the university, I
met a woman in Theed."

Amidala smiled then, a bit. "I believe I have heard
this story.

"No one still among the living has heard this story,
my dear. If I may continue?"

"Please do."

"I met her in the university's library, and I may
have loved her at first glance. We spoke of
everything that day, of life, and politics, hopes and
dreams. By sunset she knew the deepest secrets of my
heart, things I had never dared speak aloud, and
several I'd never known I felt at all.

"She was brilliant and beautiful, enchanting, kind,
and strong. I loved her more than I have ever loved
anyone, before or since. I loved her though she was
noble and I was common as a grassland breeze- and had
she been anything less than what she was, I might
have walked away because of that."

Amidala sat perfectly still now, her eyes fixed upon
him, gaze never wavering. Despite what he had said to
her when she'd interrupted, his words had the sense
of the familiar about them. In a way she could not
explain, she knew this tale, knew it in her heart if
not her mind.

He spoke of love, and her thoughts turned to Obi-Wan.
She wondered if she would see him again, or if he,
like Panaka, would die protecting her. As if sensing
the train of her thoughts, Palpatine drew a deep
breath and picked up the thread of his tale again.

"Her parents loathed the idea of she and I, and mine
feared what would come of it. To her family I was
nothing, a simple low born merchant's son, and,
perhaps worse still, a Jedi. And my own friends and
family, even after all I had done, all I had
achieved, thought that I reached too high, too far
above my station. None of them ever understood how
little those things mattered to her, to me, to either
of us.

"We wanted more than anything to be wed, but it was
simply impossible, and gradually we grew to accept
that. Times are different now, and laws changed- the
latter, if I may say, partially a result of my own
efforts. But though I said the same things in those
days as I did later on, in the beginning my words
fell on deaf ears.

"We did not need formal ceremony to share our lives,
however, and so we lived without it, which many would
even now tell you is quite improper. Of our union
there was but one bit of evidence that would prove
able to survive the test of time. Our child. Oh, she
was beautiful, our daughter. From the moment I laid
eyes upon her, I loved her. I loved her, and her
mother loved her, and those first few months were
sweet as well as sad.

"Sad because I knew then that my love was dying,
dying of a rare illness for which there was no cure.
She was dying, and it was forbidden to those of my
order- for I was a Jedi then, what seems now to have
been long ago- to raise a child alone. I suppose they
thought it would prove too much of a distraction, or
that in light of our occupation, might be rather
unfair to the child in question, but as always I can
only wonder at the wisdom of the Council- if wisdom
is indeed what it is.

"I was heartbroken at her death. I had already lost
my love, and would soon loose my daughter as well.
One day the solution came to me; imperfect, yes, but
a solution that would not take from me completely my
child. It was arranged, then, that she would be
raised by a dear friend of mine, who would until her
thirteenth year raise the child as his own. But the
year she was thirteen an accident claimed her
adoptive father's life, and she was once again my
ward- because there was no one else, no other
relative willing, though many members of both my
family and her mother's lived still."

Amidala did not even dare to breathe. She knew,
instantly, instinctively, how this tale would end. In
that moment she knew, and her lips parted as she
prepared to speak, though she had no idea what she
might say, but Duncan Palpatine was going on, and she
would not have dreamed of interrupting, not then.

"Though I raised her from that point on, the truth
was never known. I felt it would destroy too much of
the life she had built, the life she knew, if I were
to tell her the truth. But in her own ways this
child, my daughter, taught me of the importance of
truth. And so finally the day came when I was able to
tell her the story of her own life, the story that is
true- to tell her that the woman I loved, her mother,
was Theadora Naberrie, and that she named her
daughter, our daughter, Amidala."

~ ~ ~

With the members of the Naboo Security Force
following close behind him, Obi-Wan stepped from the
throne room, lightsaber in hand. He did not
particularly want to do this. No, he wanted to turn
around and step back through that door to see to his
friends, to make sure that Amidala was safe, she and
Qui-Gon and Eirtae, and to help take care of the
Senator. But going back through that door would not
be the best thing he could do to help those he cared
for, not really. He would do them the most good by
going to deal with the Sith Lord and the oddly-
armored soldiers he'd brought with him. And so,
because that was what they needed him to do, it was
what he, Obi-Wan, would do.

Even if his thoughts kept trying to dwell upon the
pained look he'd last seen on the face of Naboo's
beautiful queen, or the sadness in the eyes of
Palpatine as he spoke to the young woman...

"You and yours," Obi-Wan said to the highest-ranked
survivor of the Naboo Security officers, "take care
of those troopers. I'll deal with the Sith."

"Alone?" the man asked. He sounded a bit skeptical,
and Obi-Wan couldn't exactly blame him. This Sith's
*student* had nearly been the death of he and Qui-
Gon, and despite the necessity of it, he was hardly
anxious to discover how much better the Master was
than the Apprentice.

"There is no one else to help me. I have my duties,
and you have yours. The Queen needs your help. Go,
man, go!" The Naboo officer went, taking his men with

With them gone, Obi-Wan went in search of the Sith
Lord. He did not have to search long.

"I have been waiting for you," the Sith said rather
calmly as he ignited his lightsaber and brought it to
bear against Obi-Wan's. "I'm surprised it took you
this long."

Obi-Wan refused to rise to the bait. "You nearly
killed your own brother. I do not understand-"

"Fool Jedi!" exclaimed the other, launching a vicious
swing attack. "You have never understood anything."

From then on they fought in silence, and to Obi-Wan's
surprise they seemed almost evenly matched. The Sith
might have had perhaps a bit more of an edge, but he
had been fighting longer than Obi-Wan today, and he
was beginning to tire. Obi-Wan wasn't counting on
that to give him any sort of large-scale advantage,
but anything, no matter how small, would help him
immensely now.

As they fought, Obi-Wan struggled to keep a grip on
his whirlwind emotions. He was angry, angry at this
man for what he had done today, for causing the
deaths of friends, for harming others- and, certainly
not least, for threatening Amidala, the harmless-
looking old man who was her mentor, and *his*, Obi-
Wan's, mentor, Qui-Gon.

He was angry and he was afraid, afraid of what would
become of the others if he failed to neutralize the
threat of the Sith. But he was also a Jedi, a Knight
now and no longer an apprentice, stronger than when
he had faced the Sith Darth Maul, and more sure now
of what he must do.

And so it was that when it came time for the killing
blow, he did not hesitate to give it- and a good
thing it was that he did not, for he was within an
inch of losing his own life. Even as Sidious' body
fell, his saber moved still towards Obi-Wan.

The Jedi leapt to the side and down, shoulder
slamming into the carpeting as he rolled away. He
snatched up his saber, which he had dropped at some
point during his fall, and without even pausing to
catch his breath, he ran towards the sound of shouts
and blaster fire which marked the site where the
remaining battle was taking place.

The same Naboo officer he'd spoken to before was
directing the remaining men when Obi-Wan reached
them, and it appeared that they did not so urgently
need his help as he'd thought. The officer spared a
nod for Obi-Wan, shouted a few more orders, and then
turned his full attention to Obi-Wan.

"You're a bit late, son. I think we have things under
control here."

And they certainly did seem to. There were only two
of the strangely-armored warriors left, facing
approximately a half-dozen remaining Naboo. Those two
fell to the Naboo's weapons even as the Jedi watched.

"So I see. Any further casualties?" Obi-Wan asked.

"Thank the Force, no."

"The Queen will be glad to hear that."

The other nodded. "It won't ease her mind any about
losing Panaka, but..."

Obi-Wan nodded, his thoughts suddenly elsewhere. A
vision of Panaka, falling dead where he had stood
defending the Queen, flashed before his eyes. Panaka,
dead in an attempt to protect the Queen. The Senator,
injured in same...

"Palpatine!" Obi-Wan exclaimed, horridly turning away
from the Naboo officer.

"The Senator? He's not-?"

"No. But he's hurt. Send for the medics. Enough to
see to your men, too. I've got to..." Helplessly, he
shrugged, glanced in the direction of the throne

The Naboo nodded. "Go on. Tell them it's over."

"I will."

And then he was off and running down the corridor,
feet flying over carpet, sliding quickly across
marble and tile.

~ ~ ~

The throne room, when Obi-Wan stepped past its doors,
was deathly silent. The atmosphere there was thick
and dense, with an air of life suspended, of
expectation; weariness, waiting, and all within the
room were still.

Amidala was approximately where Obi-Wan had left her,
kneeling near the window, supporting most of
Palpatine's weight, his head cradled in her hands.
Occasionally she reached up to wipe the sweat from
his brow with a cloth. Her expression was the closed,
private look of the Queen, but her eyes were worried,
and tears stained her expressionless face.

Silently Obi-Wan kneeled before her. "Amidala?" he
whispered, not wanting to shatter the silence that
had gathered in this place.

She looked up at him and her lips parted in the
beginning of a smile, but in her arms Palpatine
trembled, a soft moan escaping his lips, and the
smile vanished as if it had never been. "Shh," she
whispered. "It's alright, Father. Soon..."

Obi-Wan's eyes widened in shock, but deep down he had
to admit that he was not entirely surprised. There
had always been a kinship between the two of them, an
understanding which he had known to exist only
amongst the closest of family.

"You will outlive me...daughter," he whispered.
Wheezed, really, Obi-Wan thought with a wince.

But he scared up a smile for father and daughter
both. "Likely he will. The medics should be here any

"Stil?" he asked, and Obi-Wan knew that it was his
brother whom he asked after.

He simply shook his head, and the old man nodded. "So
be it, then."

Obi-Wan exchanged a worried look with Amidala, but
before either could speak the doors to the throne
room burst open. She reached for her blaster, and he
for his lightsaber, but the intruders wore the livery
of Naboo medical personnel, and they were proceeding
quickly towards the trio of Senator, Queen, and Jedi.

A stern-faced woman Obi-Wan recalled as Dr. Eilin
Voyles, who had tended to Qui-Gon after the Battle of
Naboo, gently lifted the Senator from Amidala's arms.
Amidala seemed not to want to let him go, but Voyles
gave her a look which soothed her somewhat.

"Now don't you worry your pretty little head over
this one, Highness, hear me? I'll take good care of
him, and he'll be cursing the infirmary food in a
week along with everyone else." As she spoke, Voyles
placed Palpatine's limp form upon a grav stretcher.
"Let's go!" she snapped at the assistants trailing
her, brisk and businesslike.

"I am coming with you," Amidala told Voyles.

"And I'm going with her," Obi-Wan said immediately

Voyles shook her head, muttering under her breath.
"Certainly not. You're clearly exhausted, every last
one of you. Rest now, and you can see him later." She
raised her voice. "Bed rest for every last one of
you, hear me? Especially you." She leveled her gaze
at Qui-Gon. "Spent enough time putting *you* back
together last time around that I'm not about to let
you..." Still muttering, she headed off with
Palpatine's grav stretcher in tow, and whatever she
wasn't about to let Qui-Gon do was unintelligible as
she exited the throne room and kicked the door closed
behind her.

"Alright, you heard her," Obi-Wan said. "Let's go,
Highness." Before she had a chance to protest- and
she *would* protest, he knew, given the chance -he
lifted her into his arms and started for the door

"Eirtae?" he called over his shoulder.

"I'll take care of the others," the handmaiden

~ ~ ~

Bare feet sliding silently across the carpet, Amidala
stole quietly from her bed to the door. Her hand
grasped the handle, and she eased it open, peering
out into the corridor beyond.

Behind her, in the chair beside her bed, Eirtae
stirred. "Highness? The doctor's orders..."

"I am fine," Amidala interrupted her, resuming her
careful reconnaissance of the hall beyond her rooms.
It certainly seemed deserted enough, but appearances
could very well be deceiving.

"But, Your Highness, really..."

"There is *nothing* wrong with me," Amidala
protested, not for the first time that day. "I am
going to see my father and the others now."

Eirtae sighed. "Alright. But don't say I didn't-"

Amidala was already out into the corridor by that
point. "-warn you," the handmaiden finished.

The Queen moved out into the hall, went to take
another step- and stopped in her tracks, instead.

There, leaning up against the marble facing of the
near wall, arms crossed, was Obi-Wan. He stood there
as if he'd been waiting for her, and from the
disapproving look upon his face, she knew well what
he thought of her being out of bed so soon, against
Dr. Voyles' orders.

Amidala thought it a bit ridiculous. She, herself,
had hardly fought at all. Obi-Wan, on the other hand,
looked to be at about the point of exhaustion, but of
course he refused to rest until he was certain that
*she* would also.

"Out for a stroll, Your Highness?" Obi-Wan asked with
a wry smile.

"I," she said, "am going to see my father."

"You, Highness, are going back to bed," was the
Jedi's reply.

She simply looked at him, one elegant eyebrow raised.
"You will escort me to my father at once." And then
she stood there, waiting, her expression clearly
expectant. There were, after all, advantages to being

Obi-Wan sighed. There was just no reasoning with her
when she was like this. He slipped off his cloak and
wrapped it about her shoulders. "Here. I'll not have
you freezing to death." She looked at him again,
saying nothing, but stuffed her arms through the
cloak's sleeves, which were a bit long for her. Her
appearance was hardly comic, but still Obi-Wan felt
the urge to laugh. He'd made a gallant gesture, and
she had simply taken it at face value. She *must* be
truly exhausted, to have let him get away with that
sort of thing. Not that she was about to admit it, of
course. If he was still standing, *she'd* still be
standing, even if it was on a single foot, or even a
single toe.

"Very well, Highness," he said as he took offered her
his arm, and she took it. "This way."

Amidala shifted her hand upon his arm. "How are you?"
she asked.

"Exhausted. And you?"

"As Qui-Gon seems so fond of saying, I'll live."
Amidala sighed. "I think that I am still trying to
come to terms with all of this. That has been hardest
to recover from. Not injuries or exhaustion, but... a
loss, of what once was. A few short years ago, Naboo
was a peaceful planet, and I thought that it would
always remain so. I never dreamed of the ways the
troubles of the galaxy would find to intrude upon our
peace here."

Obi-Wan nodded. "These are troubled times, even for
the most peaceful of societies."

"Yes. And the Republic... the Republic is not helping
matters. Or what remains of the Republic, anyway."
Naboo's queen shook her head. "But I cannot single-
handedly save the Republic. I don't know that anyone
can. Naboo is what concerns me, what I must focus

Obi-Wan was saved from having to reply by their
timely arrival at the doors to the infirmary, where
the Naboo officer Obi-Wan had fought beside stood
guard. The Jedi shrugged helplessly. "She insisted."

"The Queen is the Queen, Jedi Kenobi," the man

"Even to an offworlder," Obi-Wan agreed as the guard
drew back one of the doors.

Beyond that door, they found Dr. Voyles, looking
anything but pleased. "Jedi, the Queen-"

"-was bound and determined to see your patient, and I
certainly can't say no to her."

"Won't, is more like," Voyles muttered, but she stood

"How is he?" Amidala asked.

"Sore. And for all that it could have been much
worse, he's certainly complaining enough about it.
He'll be alright soon enough, provided he rests.
You'll have to see that he does, Highness, because
the Force knows he won't take sound medical advice."

Amidala suppressed a smile and shook her head. "He
does not listen all that well to me either, Doctor.
If he will not follow your orders, he may not take
mine, either. But I will do what I can."

"When you get to be his age," Voyles said, "you are
supposed to know better, but, no, not that one. In
some ways I think these older ones, your father and
the Jedi Master, make for the worst patients."

Voyles, like many others who had long served the
Queen, seemed to have taken the news of Amidala's
parentage with simple acceptance and a good dose of
the sensible attitudes so commonplace amongst her
people. Amidala's foster father had been a good and
honorable man, but so too was Naboo's Senator to the
Galactic Republic, and the Queen could ask for no
better. He was Naboo and he served his homeworld and
his queen well. For Voyles, as well as for a great
number of those who knew, it was enough. More than

"I see that this news does not trouble you, Doctor,"
Amidala said as if sensing the train of Voyles'

"And why should it? He has been a father to you for
years. Anyone can see that he loves you, and you

"Once again my people show themselves to be more
understanding than I could ever have hoped them to

Voyles nodded as if it were no more than she had
expected of Amidala. The girl did not seem so much a
queen to her then, though of course she was, and
Voyles was as loyal a servant of the Queen as could
be found anywhere in Theed- she did not seem so much
a queen, but more perhaps the handmaiden she at times
pretended to be, just another young woman seeking the
doctor's kind listening ear. Whoever and whatever
they were elsewhere, within the confines of her
domain, Voyles' only concern for her patients was
their health and well-being. She would cure and heal
even those who protested and complained every step of
the way, for it was what she did. If they called her
stubborn, along with a few other things not so
polite, it was only because she had to be so. Because
it was her duty to care for them, whatever their
feelings on the subject might be. Because Eilin
Voyles was a healer, and a healer would she be,

Amidala stepped past Voyles and into the small
chamber where the doctor and her team of medics were
treating Duncan Palpatine. He looked much improved
since last she'd seen him, and certainly he seemed
less likely to loose consciousness any time soon. Her
father sat up with the support of several large
pillows, his hands, one bearing the marks of numerous
injections, grasping a hardbound book taken from the
Palace library. As she watched, he slowly turned a

At the sound of the door's opening, Duncan looked up,
smiled, and set the book aside. "Amidala."

"Hello, Father," she said, stepping forward, if a
touch hesitantly, to hug him.

He smiled at her as she drew back. "Are you alone, or
has the Jedi come with you? I see you've appropriated
his cloak."

"It's on loan, actually," she replied lightly,
calling over her shoulder to Obi-Wan. The young Jedi
appeared at her side, and with all seriousness bowed
to Amidala's father.

"I was afraid for a moment Voyles wouldn't let me
in," the Jedi told them with a somewhat sheepish
look. "She seemed to think one visitor more than

"One visitor is about all I've space for," was the
Senator's reply. He gestured to their surroundings,
and Amidala immediately took his meaning. The room
was not exactly small, but nor was it large, and
certainly his own rooms would provide more space- as
well as a more pleasant setting in which to recover.

"If she ever forgives me for disobeying my own
instructions, I will speak to Dr. Voyles about the
possibility of your returning to your apartments,"
Amidala said. "You'll not be headed back to Coruscant
anytime soon, but at least it would be a change in
scenery- and a change for the better, at that."

"Thank you, my dear," he replied. "To be home would
do wonders for my health."

"How are you, Father?" Amidala asked, and he smiled
to hear her address him so yet again.

"I'm told I will be sore for quite some time, and
restricted to light movement for a bit longer than
that, but I will live. The good doctor tells me I am
rather lucky, but one does tend to wonder at that,
left to her tender ministrations."

Obi-Wan chuckled despite himself. "She was the same
with Qui-Gon, as I remember. I'll ask him to stop by
later, and the two of you can compare notes."

Palpatine nodded. "Thank you, Obi-Wan. I would like
that." He paused, looking between the two of them.
"And you two, are you well?"

"Yes, sir," Obi-Wan replied. "As well as can be
expected," he added after a moment's thought.

"And the others?"

"A bit shaken up by recent events," Amidala told him.
"Not that I can blame them at all for that. I, too,
did not expect things such as this to reach our

"Naboo issues were central in the beginning of those
first trouble spots, if you'll recall, and I fear
that has doomed us to many long years of being
central to conflicts and episodes we would rather
steer well clear of." A hint of sadness touched his
eyes as he spoke of that, and his two visitors knew
his feelings on that subject clearly as if they'd
been spoken aloud.

"I fear you are right about that," Amidala said
quietly. "But we are Naboo. We are brave. We'll

She exchanged a smile with Obi-Wan. "We are brave,
Your Highness," the Jedi said.

"I trust everyone is well, physically?" Palpatine
asked them, a raised eyebrow his only commentary on
their rather odd exchange.

Seeming grateful for the change to somewhat less
troubling ground, Obi-Wan recited what he knew.
"Eirtae's leg is a little sore from the running she
did the other day, and I suspect Qui-Gon's old injury
is bothering him, though he hasn't said so. The Naboo
Security folks' injuries seem to be minor even at
their worst." He paused. "There's been no sign of

"I would be very interested to one day find out which
side young Skywalker believes himself to be on,"
Palpatine mused. Amidala raised an eyebrow at that-
she'd had the same thought, but had not chosen to
voice it aloud.

"I, too," she replied softly now.

He nodded, looking again from Obi-Wan to Amidala.
"You seem to be missing a garment, Jedi Kenobi, which
Amidala seems to have somehow acquired."

A rather un-Queenly blush crept up Amidala's cheeks
as she adjusted the cloak. She did not, Palpatine
noticed, make any move to give it up even under his
scrutiny of the item. "It's a loan," she said again,
not without humor, but not without a seriousness to
her voice, either.

"Mmm. Yes. Which brings about another question, my
darling Amidala." He reached back a hand to adjust
the pillows, the movement clearly more of a strain
than it might have been under other circumstances-
and before his arm had moved very far at all, the two
of them were simply *there*, at his side, moving the
pillows until he was more comfortable.

"Yes?" prompted Obi-Wan, who rather suspected he knew
what was on the older man's mind.

"I've been curious these past few days- lying here as
I have been, with precious little to occupy my mind-
I've been curious... What exactly are your intentions
towards my daughter, Obi-Wan Kenobi?"

In all seriousness, he replied, "My intentions are
entirely honorable, sir. I love her, and when the
time is right for it, I would ask for her hand in

Duncan Palpatine nodded, slowly. His sapphire gaze
flicked to Amidala, who stood the picture of serene
calmness, observing this exchange. Even through that
calm, however, that her feelings mirrored the Jedi's,
was not hard to see at all. And besides which, there
had been that rather convincing display in the throne
room several days prior.

To his daughter he gave the barest nod, and then
motioned Obi-Wan Kenobi towards him. "Closer,
closer..." And, in a louder voice, to Amidala, "Back
a few steps if you would, my dear- thank you."

He beckoned Obi-Wan still closer, and the Jedi inched
forward, until at last he stood leaning over
Palpatine. Injured the Senator might have been, but
even lying there, his appearance was anything but
frail. Sharp, intelligent, and somewhat calculating
blue eyes stared into Obi-Wan's own.

"If you injure my daughter in any way whatsoever, be
it physically, mentally, or emotionally, if ever you
put her in danger or harm's way without cause or her
consent- and if you ever, ever, in any way, shape, or
form, betray her, the galaxy itself will not be large
enough for you to hide from me."

Obi-Wan nodded solemnly. "I understand, sir. And I

Duncan nodded, as if to confirm to himself what he
had long suspected. "Good lad. I thought as much."

~ ~ ~

Anonymous beneath the cowl of a dusty brown cloak
that cast his face into shadow, Anakin Skywalker
walked the streets of Theed. His mood alternated
between anger and sadness. He had betrayed his
Master, and because of that, he was probably dead.
But at the same time, he had not been able to bring
himself to betray Amidala, or the kindly old man
who'd stood to defend her.

That one was obviously far more than he'd seemed, and
far more than even Lord Sidious had hinted at. Part
of Anakin wondered if he might perhaps be able to
approach Palpatine to seek his aid. But no. It would
not be possible. He had saved them, in a way, but he
had more clearly betrayed them, and they would not
trust him again- nor should they, he thought.

And in any case, the old man was a Jedi. Or had been,
which was much the same thing. He was a Jedi, and
Anakin was a Sith. It was the path he'd chosen, the
path he'd wanted- the path he still wanted, really.

"I suppose," he said softly to himself, "I am the
Master now."

"I think not, young Skywalker."

Startled, he turned to seek out the source of the
voice. Sidious- or at least he thought it was
Sidious- stood directly in front of him now, the hood
of his cloak pulled low over his face. Even with so
many distinguishing features hidden, Anakin had no
doubts. It was him. Somehow, it was.

"Master? I thought-?"

"That the pathetic child who was the death of Maul
was also the death of me? Hardly."

"Is the Jedi dead, then?"

"No. The Jedi lived because I allowed it. My brother,
however, is dead."

"You killed him, Master?"

"From a certain point of view, child. You might say
that the winds of fate were the death of my brother-
and that the winds moved at my command."


"Some things are not yet yours to know, Apprentice,"
Sidious said. "I will answer no more of your
questions now."

Anakin nodded quickly. "Yes, Master. What- if I can
ask- what now?"

"For now, my apprentice, we shall wait."

"Wait?" the boy asked, unable to stop himself.

"Until the time is right."

Without another word, Sidious turned and walked
slowly away. Slowly, and with a limp that spoke of
some recent injury. Anakin watched him depart, until
he rounded a corner and was out of sight.

Only then did Anakin realize that there had been
something different about his Master. He had
Sidious' voice, and Sidious' face, and yet...

He reached the corner at a run, shoving his way
through the crowd amid shouts of protest. "My lord!"
he called, adding his own voice to the chorus of

But there was no answer. And though he had been only
an instant or two behind the Sith lord, Sidious was
gone, having vanished into the crowd as if he had
never existed.

~ ~ ~

As the sun set oncemore over the city of Theed,
Duncan Palpatine stood at a window overlooking the
palace gardens. A dark blue cloak was draped over his
shoulders to ward against the cold, and he rested one
hand against the glass, bracing himself. The pain was
greater than he would admit, and if he were following
Voyles' instructions as strictly as she expected him
to, he would still be in bed.

In the gardens below, he glimpsed a cloaked figure
walking, tall and alone. At first he took the figure
for his daughter, but it was not Amidala. Of that he
was certain. The figure turned its head, face cast
into deep shadow, but he felt the weight of a
piercing gaze, seeming to look directly into his
darkened window- into the window, and right through
him. The figure raised a hand, pale as moonlight,
weather in a gesture of greeting or of warding, he
could not say.

Though the evening had not grown that much cooler
yet, he shivered, closing his eyes. When he opened
them oncemore, the figure was gone.

Palpatine shook his head, certain at first that
evening shadows were playing tricks upon aging eyes.
But in his heart, he knew the truth as he had always
known it. Alone then, wrapped in his cloak and the
darkness of his rooms, a sigh rose from somewhere
deep within him, and he let it make its way to the
surface unimpeded.