Darkness still lingered in the early morning hours, and there was only one small window to let in the sun's muted rays. Obi-Wan studied Padmé's face as she slumbered. Taking in every soft curve, every curl falling across her cheeks, every eyelash and eyebrow hair. He had done it so many times before, but now it was imperative that he remind himself that she was there and safe and the same. His beautiful Padmé, she must be the same.
She moved slightly, her body against his, and sighed airily. He tightened his arms around her, making sure she stayed as close as he could keep her. Gently, he stroked the curls away from her neck and face, brushing one from her lips with extra care and attention.
He was so relieved to have her back that when he thought about how he'd have to go away soon, his whole body tensed and his heart beat faster with nervousness. How could he leave her, delicate and fragile? She was strong in mind and spirit, but her body now seemed so weak. How could he live if something happened to her, and he hadn't been there to protect her? There was no question in his mind that she would fight for all she was worth against any obstacles in her way, but it was obvious that the palace staff hadn't done their jobs in protecting their queen. Allowing a kidnapper to slip past security! Failing to use all their resources – namely, him – to find her! How could he leave her in the hands of slow and unable guards? This woman that he loved…
"Good morning," she whispered, mouth curving up. Her dark eyes opened and the dull look of yesterday was gone. She was still here, his Padmé.
"I love you," he said instantly. She smiled even wider.
"And I love you." She pressed her face in to his neck and put an arm around his waist. He squeezed her tightly for a second, then relaxed his grip.
"Are you sure you're alright?" he asked.
"Probably just a little stiff." She smiled up at him, looking so full of joy that he felt like weeping. She saw the change in his eyes and became concerned. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. Nothing's wrong. I'm just so glad to have you back." She put a hand to his cheek, stroking him gently, and pulled him down for a sweet kiss. When they parted, she nestled her head beneath his chin, and he took in the sweet fragrance of her hair. It was flowers and rich perfume, muted by sweat and dirt, but still powerful.
"We should probably leave soon," he whispered, unwilling to break this moment.
"I want to stay here, like this, with you."
"We can't, we've got to get back to Theed. It's safer there." Well, sort of. At least it was fortified, unlike this tiny hut, away from everything and everybody…
"I trust you with my life," she said simply, fitting her arm more snugly around his waist.
"Even I have limits. If we were attacked by several enemies, it would be difficult for me to keep you safe. The Theed palace will be more secure. With enough guards, it could be impenetrable."
"But it was supposed to be that way already. Don't you see?" She sighed, tiredly, the little spark out of her voice. She sounded like she would fall back to sleep at any moment. "There were already guards everywhere. There has to be a traitor. Someone inside allowed this to happen. There's no other way that I can think of."
"Don't' say that Padmé. It couldn't be true. Your staff is incompetent, but how could anyone do that? After the way you handled the Trade Federation and brought your people out of occupation…" Who on this planet could possibly betray their beautiful, intelligent, successful queen?
"Maybe it's someone who thought they would get something out of a Trade Federation occupation. But…maybe you're right." She sighed and kissed his neck lazily. "I just feel so much safer with you." She went quiet, but he knew she couldn't be sleeping because of the way she kept readjusting in his arms. Obi-Wan drew her back and gently placed a kiss on each of her closed eyelids. "See, that? That makes me feel safe. Like nothing in the world could possibly ruin this." She smiled and he couldn't help but return it.
"Why can't I think straight when I'm around you?" He stroked her hair and let the ringlets twist about his fingers. "We should be in that speeder, and I should be driving you to your home, but instead we're laying in bed and I'm completely wrapped up in you."
"Is it really that bad?" she asked, a hint of teasing in her voice.
"Yes," he said determinedly. "As much as I love this, we have to get going. Staying here for much longer is not an option."
"Fine," she sighed, pulling back and sitting up. "You're right. You're always right."
Padmé fell asleep again on the road to Theed, and so the picture they made walking in to the palace was quite the alarming one. Leaving the land speeder, Obi-Wan had picked Padmé up and between her soiled clothes and frizzled hair and his sweaty, grimy face and tunic, they looked nothing at all like a Queen and her Protector Knight. As soon as they entered the palace people swarmed upon them, praising gods that Padmé was safe, calling upon medic and guards, officials and politicians. Padmé was whisked out of his arms before Obi-Wan could protest, and he was quickly brought up to his room where everything was fresh and clean and a bath was already running. What he really wanted was to talk to Captain Panaka, find out what the Nubians had discovered, and tell him of Padmé's concerns about a traitor in the palace. And, of course, to suggest what could be improved in terms of security. Then again, he was smelly and dirty and sweaty and really could use a bath.
He spent as little time in the water as possible and dialed Captain Panaka's comm. Extension as soon as he got out.
"This is Obi-Wan Kenobi. I wanted to—"
"You're lucky that she's not harmed, Knight Kenobi." Panaka's voice was steely and unforgiving.
"If there had been anything more than the bruises and fatigue that the queen is currently suffering from, you would have been charged with interfering in a royal guard investigation."
"I found her, Captain. I offered you my help and you didn't want it, so I did what you should have done – used my Force abilities. It would have taken you days to search that forest, if you even got that far." He couldn't believe this. This was exasperating!
"Jedi, you don't seem to understand. There are rules in place for a reason. With your swashbuckling, you probably ruined all chances for finding evidence."
"I can lead you right to the bunker, Captain, if you can't follow the simple directions I recorded."
"We already found what is left of the bunker. According to our aerial patrols, several rounds of explosives were set off right where you said the bunker would be. The ground is scorched for hundreds of meters. Whoever did it was probably alerted by your antics."
Obi-Wan felt himself simmering with anger. "I don't know what your problem is, but I got Padmé back in one piece. That's the most important thing, isn't it? I'm sorry I ruined your evidence, but she's safe. What else am I supposed to do?"
There was a click, and Obi-Wan realized that Panaka had hung up on him.
"Sio, can we do this later? I'd really like to rest." Padmé stifled a yawn as her closest advisor sat with her in her private rooms.
"I wish I could let you sleep, Your Majesty, but there are things that must be attended to. You must issue an official statement, telling the public that you are safe and well and committed to continuing as Queen despite any attempts on your life. We must organize your first public appearance. We must decide which politicians you will tell what."
"I trust you to organize it. Oh, but make sure that we honor Obi-Wan Kenobi for his service to the crown. We should make him an honorary Nubian lord." Bibble made a pained face.
"That's another thing we must discuss, your majesty. The Jedi must leave."
"What? No! Of course he won't! What are you talking about?" Padmé looked at the older man with astonishment.
"Yes, Your Majesty, he must. Everyone in the palace knows of your affair. It's only a matter of time before a political rival or worse enemy finds out. You could be blackmailed. And when the public finds out? And they will find out, Your Highness."
"Don't be silly, Sio. You're exaggerating. I'm sure not that many people know," she said uneasily.
"The way you two carry on? You act as if you haven't a care in the world! Everyone knows. I have had several lengthy discussions about it with Captain Panaka, and I can assure you he agrees wholeheartedly with me that it must stop before you ruin your reputation. Imagine the outrage! Several political opponents have already expressed concern at having a Jedi in the palace. They feel it ties us too closely to Coruscant, the same Coruscant that sat back and watched as our people were taken hostage by the Trade Federation. And it would be devastating if any of those opponents learned you had broken your vow of chastity with him."
"I haven't! Truly, I haven't!" How could everyone know? How could this be happening?
"Even if that's true," Bibble replied dryly, "you'll have a hard time convincing anyone."
"But he'll be ruined! He'll be thrown out of the Jedi order. We haven't done anything wrong at all. And he saved my life! Is this the thanks he gets?"
"Amidala, you must see reason. Remaining in a relationship with this man will have terrible repercussions, and keeping him here will be too great a temptation. You must send him away."
"No," she said firmly. "I love him, we have done nothing wrong, and we will not be torn apart. You are dismissed for the evening, Governor." She waved her hand. "I should be recovering from this abduction ordeal, rather than distressing myself over public opinion of my one love."