STANDARD DISCLAIMER/CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE: Boy, am I getting sick of writing that the Star Wars characters belong to George Lucas and I'm not making any money off this. I wish I could issue a blanket disclaimer and be done with it. The song "Jealousy" belongs to the Pet Shop Boys.

"Now, Anakin, I expect you to use the four days of our journey in a constructive way," Obi-Wan told the young Padawan as they boarded the Jedi transport bound for Naboo. "I want you to use the ship's library computer to find out all you can about Naboo and the Nubians and give me a full report before we land in Theed." Anakin groaned.

"But Obi-Wan, we already know about Naboo. We were there, remember?" Obi-Wan stopped walking and turned to face his Padawan.

"I am sure you do not know all there is to know about Naboo," Obi-Wan said. "Part of being a Jedi is preparing yourself for missions ahead of time. There will always be surprises, of course, but it is best to eliminate the obvious ones by doing your research first. Do you think Master Jinn and I walked into the situation on Naboo blindly? No. We did our research first. We read the briefs on the situation from Chancellor Valourm's office and Senator Palpatine's staff, and we learned all we could about the planet itself." Anakin frowned.

"Well, if you already know all about Naboo, you don't need a report from me," he pointed out brightly as he followed Obi-Wan into his quarters on the transport.

"The report is not for my benefit, Padawan Skywalker, but for yours. You must learn to do your research before a mission. Now, you'd better get settled in your quarters and get started on that report, don't you think?" Anakin sighed and went to find his quarters. In the six years since the Battle for Naboo, Anakin had spent his time training at the Jedi Temple. He had seen Padmé only sporadically, whenever she managed to get away from Naboo. Each year Anakin and Obi-Wan had been invited back to Theed to take part in the week-long commemoration celebration, and each year Anakin had been left behind; he was not yet advanced enough in his training to leave the Temple. As he continued his training, the Council finally deemed him ready to undertake his first mission: accompany Obi-Wan to Theed for the annual celebration. He had had to bite his lip to keep from screaming aloud with glee right there in the Jedi Council chamber. At last, he would get to go somewhere! And, more importantly, he would see Padmé again.

Four days later, their transport landed. As Anakin followed Obi-Wan down the ramp and into the main street of Theed, he caught sight of the Royal party waiting to greet them. For the first time, he understood the benefit of all the research Obi-Wan had made him do. Now he knew why neither the Supreme Chancellor nor any of the Queen's handmaidens had last names. He knew why the Nubians had an elected rather than hereditary monarchy. He understood why the Nubians distrusted outsiders and did not send their children for training at the Jedi Temple. He would be able to recognize the various foods he would sample at the luncheons, banquets and receptions he would be expected to attend. He understood the long history of mutual misunderstanding between the Nubians and the planet's indigenous intelligent species, the Gungans.

Anakin watched as Obi-Wan bowed first to the Queen, than to Chancellor Palpatine. He listened as Obi-Wan recited the stock Jedi greetings and commended them to the care of the living Force. And then it was his turn. With an audible gulp, he stepped forward and bowed to Padmé.

"It is good to see you again, Your Majesty," he mumbled, feeling ungraceful. Smiling, Padmé spoke to him in the clipped, strangulated accent of the Nubian aristocracy.

"It is with great pleasure we note that you have grown into a brave and strong Padawan, Anakin Skywalker. Gladly we welcome you into our presence once again. We hope all is well with you and that your mother enjoys continued good health. We look forward to sharing a meal with you at the luncheon today."

"Thank you, Your Majesty," Anakin managed to squeak out, overwhelmed to be in her presence once again. As he turned to bow to Palpatine, he frowned, realizing that the Chancellor did not evoke the same feelings of awed ecstasy tinged with the fear of making an ass of himself that he felt when he stood before the Queen. "Chancellor Palpatine," Anakin said, bowing. He only half-listened as the Chancellor made one of his pretty little speeches about how good it was to see Anakin again and how he hoped all went well with him. Soon, Anakin found himself following Obi-Wan, Padmé, her handmaidens, Sio Bibble and the Chancellor onto a ground transport bound for the restaurant where the luncheon welcoming them back to Naboo was to be held. He tried to catch the Queen's eye, but she was absorbed in a discussion with Obi-Wan, and Anakin hesitated to interrupt. He consoled himself with the hope that he would be seated next to her at the luncheon.

"I want you to observe everyone very carefully, Anakin," Obi-Wan murmured as they followed Padmé and the others into the restaurant. "When we are settled in our quarters in the Palace, I will want a full report on this luncheon." Anakin sighed. Obi-Wan and his observations and his stupid reports. Anakin could not wait until he was made a Knight and given his own Padawan to torture.

"As you can see," Padmé was saying as they reached the table, "this is not a big, formal event. It is just us today." Chancellor Palpatine gallantly pulled a chair out for the Queen to sit, and then took a seat next to her. Anakin moved to sit on her other side, but Obi-Wan was already holding that seat out for Sabé.

"Come sit next to me, Padawan Skywalker," Palpatine said, smiling warmly. Knowing it would be incredibly rude to refuse, Anakin took the offered seat. Obi-Wan sat down next to Sabé and began a conversation with her. The handmaidens whispered among themselves. Sio Bibble stared at his menu as though he didn't quite know what to make of it. Anakin tried to get the Queen's attention, but she and the Chancellor were holding a quiet conversation in Nubian, their heads bent close together as they studied their menus and pointed out selections to one another. Sighing, Anakin turned his attention to his own menu. As he tried to figure out what he was going to order for lunch, he stole furtive glances at the Queen and the Chancellor. I bet there's something going on with those two, Anakin thought, fighting down a wave of jealousy. Look at him, he's the Supreme Chancellor and a member of the Nubian aristocracy, and I'm just a 15 year-old former slave Padawan. Gee, I wonder who she'd rather be with. That is when it hit him: he was in love with Queen Amidala. He looked over at Sabé and was surprised to see that she too was watching the Queen and the Chancellor, an unreadable expression on her face. Feeling his eyes upon her, Sabé glanced over at Anakin and gave him a slight, rather unconvincing smile. Frowning, Anakin looked down at his menu. There is something going on here that I haven't figured out yet, Anakin thought. I wonder if Obi-Wan notices it.

"What did you observe today at the luncheon, Anakin?" Obi-Wan asked. Anakin paced the guestroom Obi-Wan had been given, thinking carefully before answering.

"There is something going on between the Queen and the Supreme Chancellor. Lady Sabé doesn't like it." Obi-Wan nodded, smiling.

"Very good, Anakin. What do you think is going on between them?" Anakin frowned.

"I don't know, something romantic maybe?" Anakin replied, getting a sick feeling just thinking about it.

"Did they strike you as a couple who are madly in love with one another?" Obi-Wan asked. Anakin fought down another bitter wave of envy and gave the question serious consideration.

"No," he finally said, shaking his head. "No I don't think so." With a flash of insight, he continued. "But I think Lady Sabé THINKS they're involved in a romance, and she is upset because…" He shrugged, unable to think of a reason.

"Perhaps Lady Sabé has an interest in the Chancellor herself?" Obi-Wan asked.

"Sure, could be," Anakin replied. "I don't know. I don't know that much about women," he admitted. Obi-Wan smiled.

"Understanding that you are ignorant is the first step towards knowledge, my Padawan. Now, perhaps you would like to go to your own quarters and rest. I would like to meditate some and rest a bit myself. I will see you in your quarters in an hour, and we will review proper etiquette for the banquet tonight."

"OK, Obi-Wan."

Instead of retreating to his own guestroom in the Palace, Anakin decided to take a stroll in the Palace gardens. He wandered down the cobblestone path, through the lush foliage of the trees and flowers that were planted in a seemingly random fashion, giving the illusion of a wild, untamed garden. He heard the quiet murmur of voices up ahead. Following a hunch, he ducked behind a tree. From his vantage point in the shrubbery, he saw the Queen and the Chancellor walking arm in arm up the path, talking quietly in Nubian. Anakin was surprised on two counts; surprised that Palpatine was at the Palace, and surprised to see them both dressed in casual clothing. Padmé wore no make-up, a simple maroon blouse and black velvet leggings, while Palpatine wore a blue tunic and black trousers. Ironically, they stopped almost directly in front of Anakin's hiding place. Unable to understand their words, he observed their body language and listened to the inflection of their voices. It seemed to Anakin that they were discussing something very private that affected both of them deeply. Damn, why can't those two ever speak Standard? Anakin thought. Padmé looked up at Palpatine, her eyes filling with tears. He reached out towards her, and then let his arm fall. She said something to him, and he looked at the ground, shaking his head slowly. Wiping tears from her eyes, she pushed past him and hurried back up the path towards the Palace. Palpatine watched her go, his blue eyes filled with sadness. Anakin was now certain that something was going on between the Queen and the Chancellor. So deep was his jealousy that Anakin could have cheerfully throttled the man. Realizing that such violent thoughts were unbefitting a Jedi, he tried to fight down his anger and envy. He watched Palpatine walk slowly up the garden path away from the Palace. When the Chancellor was out of sight, Anakin hurried up the path in the direction Padmé had gone. He found her sitting on a stone bench, her gaze directed at her hands folded loosely in her lap. She looked up at Anakin as he approached, made a sniffling sound, and smiled at him.

"Hello, Anakin," she said quietly, motioning for him to sit beside her, which he gladly did.

"Hi Padmé," he said. She gave him a somewhat watery smile. "I've missed you," he said, unable to stop himself. Damn, he thought. What a moron you are. But Padmé only smiled again.

"I've missed you too, Ani," she said warmly. He broke into a big smile; no one called him "Ani" any longer. He would not tolerate it after one of the other Padawans had mocked him, saying that that 'Annie' is a girl's name. But from her, he would tolerate anything, even that stupid childhood nickname; heck, he would welcome it.

"So... uh…" He wanted desperately to ask her what was wrong, but he didn't want her to know he'd been spying on her. Skulking around in the bushes like some kind of stalking weirdo is more like it, he thought. Thank the gods she didn't see me. Wiping the last traces of the tears from her eyes, she gave him a concerned look.

"Ani, what is it?" she asked, frowning. He smiled. How typical of her. Something is troubling her and yet she thinks only of others. No wonder I… ah gods, no wonder I love her. "Ani?" she asked again, bringing him out of his reverie.

"I'm in love," he blurted out, his face turning crimson. Padmé's eyebrows went up.

"Oh?" she asked in an odd tone of voice.

"Yeah," he said, unable to look at her.

"Tell me about her," Padmé said, her voice carefully neutral.

"She's beautiful," Anakin told her. "More beautiful than anyone I've ever seen. And she'd good and kind and brave. And she makes me feel… wonderful, like I could climb mountains or swim oceans if she asked me to." He stole a glance at her and continued. "But she doesn't know I'm alive. I think she's in love with someone else. Someone older. Someone respectable."

"Oh Anakin," she said, taking his hand. "What are you talking about? You are perfectly respectable." He shrugged.

"I used to be a slave, Padmé. This guy I think she loves… he's… so much BETTER than I am."

"No Anakin! You mustn't think that way!" she said vehemently, her brown eyes flashing. "Being a slave was neither your doing nor your fault. You are every bit as good as anyone… ANYONE! You have nothing to be ashamed of! You are handsome, you are intelligent and you are brave. You played a major role in saving this planet, and I will never forget that, nor will I sit here and allow you to run yourself down. Whoever this girl is, she would be LUCKY to have you!" He gave her a bitter smile.

"I doubt she would think so, if she knew how I feel about her. She has no idea that I…" He sighed.

"You should tell her," Padmé advised. He shook his head.

"No," he replied. "She's older and she's… well, she'd probably just think it's stupid." Padmé shook her head slowly.

"Ah Anakin," she said softly. "I am not the one to advise you on this matter, though I too know what it is to love where I should not…" She's talking about the Chancellor, Anakin thought. I knew it. Damn. I wonder if he rejected her and that's why she was sitting here crying. If he did, he's a fool.

"So," he said, thinking he should at least attempt to console her. "Who's this guy you're not supposed to love?" She smiled sadly.

"He is…" she began, then shook her head. "I don't know how to describe him, Anakin. He is sweet and gentle. He has the most beautiful blue eyes… eyes the color of the sky on a warm spring day. When I look into his eyes, I feel like I'm floating in a dream." Anakin cringed. Ugh, I'm not sure I can sit here and listen to this, he thought. "I am sure we are meant to be together, but…"

"But what?" he forced himself to ask, trying his damnedest to sound concerned and supportive. She shrugged.

"I don't know. There is an age difference…" No kidding, Anakin thought bitterly. "And," she continued, "I am not sure that beginning a relationship with him would be… appropriate. I am not sure what my subjects would think,"

"Who cares what other people think?" Anakin asked. What am I saying? Do I really want her to get involved with the Chancellor?? How selfish I am! If I truly loved her, I would want her to be happy even if that meant she's with someone else. Even – oh yuck! – that old stiff Palpatine. It shouldn't matter as long as she's happy. Ah, I don't deserve her. What a schmuck I am.

"I have to care about what others think, Anakin – or at least, what my subjects think. Though I will rule for life, I am still an elected monarch. If my subjects become dissatisfied, they can call for an election and vote me out of office. I can afford no scandal." Anakin looked at his watch. Shit, Obi-Wan will be looking for me. He stood.

"I think you should do what your heart tells you," he told her sincerely. She nodded.

"Thank you, Anakin." She reached up and took his hand. "Your friendship means so much to me." Friendship! The kiss of death. She thinks of me as a friend only! Ah, gods…

"I have to go, Padmé," he said, turning so she would not see the tears that had sprung to his eyes. As he hurried away, he did not see the tears in Padmé's eyes, nor did he hear her whispered comment.

"But the one I love loves another…"

"What's wrong, Anakin?" Obi-Wan asked as Anakin unenthusiastically dressed for the banquet.

"I don't really feel like going to this dinner tonight," he replied, tugging on a boot. Obi-Wan frowned.

"Why not? Are you ill?" he inquired solicitously. Anakin shook his head.

"No, nothing like that. I just don't feel like going."

"Well, there are many things that we may not feel like doing, Anakin. But a Jedi does not have the luxury of bowing out of engagements simply because he does not 'feel like' attending." Anakin sighed.

"Yes, Obi-Wan," he agreed, wondering how he was going to get through the evening without tossing Palpatine out a window or making an ass of himself in front of Padmé.

Anakin found himself sandwiched between Obi-Wan and Sabé at the long formal banquet table. Obi-Wan spent most of the evening absorbed in conversation with Captain Panaka, who was seated on his other side. Sabé rebuffed Anakin's two attempts at conversation, managing to make him feel like a silly, immature child. He passed the banquet in sullen silence, watching as Padmé, sitting at the head of the long banquet table, chatted and laughed with the Chancellor, who was seated on her right. Neither of them gave any sign of the intense conversation that they had shared in the garden earlier that day; if Anakin hadn't know better, he would have sworn that the obviously emotionally charged discussion had never occurred. Wow, they're really good at keeping up appearances, he thought. Of course they have to be, they're both public figures. I wonder if I'll ever learn how not to wear my heart on my sleeve. He sighed. Servants began to clear away the dessert plates, and the Queen stood, signaling that the banquet portion of the evening's festivities was over. Anakin felt eyes upon him and turned to see Sabé watching him, an enigmatic smile on her face.

"Well, Padawan Skywalker," she said quietly. "Shall we follow the others to the ballroom?"

"Yeah, sure," he said absently. He saw that Obi-Wan was frowning darkly at him. Belatedly, he offered Sabé his arm. She laughed.

"Ah, we will make a gentleman of your Padawan yet, Sir Knight," she said teasingly to Obi-Wan, who gave her a smile. Perhaps, Anakin thought, watching the Queen take the Chancellor's arm. But I will never be gentleman enough to compete…

Anakin stood on the perimeter of the ballroom, watching the other celebrants whirl and spin on the dance floor. Suddenly, he heard Padmé's voice, very close by. He moved closer, trying to hear what she said.

"No, Sabé, I have not yet told him how I feel about him. He told me that he loves another. I made him that blue cloak, and now I don't know if I should give it to him."

"I hope…" Sabé's voice was momentarily lost in the crowd. "…should give it to him anyway."

"Yes," Padmé replied. "Perhaps I shall." Anakin watched as the Chancellor approached Padmé. He spoke to her, his voice so soft that Anakin could not hear his words. She smiled up at him, the sound of the crowd swallowing most of her reply to him.

"…love to," she told him, taking his arm. He nodded at Sabé and led Padmé to the dance floor, completely missing the stricken expression on Sabé's face. Anakin could certainly sympathize. He walked over to her.

"Would you like to dance, Milady?" he asked, bowing gallantly. She laughed, a bitter sound.

"Ah, why not?" she asked rhetorically, taking his arm. Taking the opportunity to display his recently acquired dance skills, he spun her out onto the dance floor. She laughed as she wound her arms around his neck, moving her body in time to the music.

I never knew time passed so slow.

I wish I'd never met you,

Or that I could bear to let you go.

From dead of night to break of day,

Endless thoughts and questions keep me awake -

It's much too late.

Anakin couldn't help himself; he looked over at Padmé dancing with the Chancellor. Her cheek rested against his chest, her eyes were closed, and she wore a slight smile on her face. He quickly looked away, sighing.

Where've you been, who've you seen?

You didn't phone when you said you would.

Do you lie? Do you try

To keep in touch, you know you could.

I've tried to see your point of view,

Could not hear or see for jealously.

I never knew 'til I met you.

"I'm sorry, Milady," Anakin whispered, pulling away from Sabé. She watched as Anakin walked slowly off the dance floor, his head down and his shoulders slumped in defeat. That poor child, she thought. Shaking her head, she walked across the dance floor in search of Padmé.

"What do you think you're doing?" Obi-Wan asked, hurrying to catch up with Anakin as he pushed through the crowd and strode out of the ballroom.

"I have had as much celebrating as I can take for one evening, Obi-Wan," he said shortly. "I am going to bed."

"But you – " Obi-Wan began.

"Good night," Anakin replied with finality. He took the stairs two at a time, continuing at a more sedate pace once he reached the corridor that housed the guestrooms.

"Anakin!" Padmé cried. He turned at the sound of her voice, surprised to see her rushing up the hallway to catch him up. She held the skirts of her gown in both hands so as not to trip. Her face was flushed and her hair was coming down. He thought she looked lovely.

"Yes?" he asked, wondering what she wanted.

"Do you have to rush off to bed?" she asked. He shrugged. "I have spoken with Sabé, and… well, if you can spare me a moment, there is something I would like to show you." He nodded.

"OK," he mumbled, jamming his hands into the deep pockets of his Jedi robes and following her up the hall. She led him to another wing of the Palace, the wing that housed the Queen's private chambers. She stopped before a door and punched in a code to unlock it.

"Lights," she said as they stepped into the darkened room. The lights came on, illuminating the Queen's sitting room. "Let me show you what I've been working on," she said, walking over to a sewing table. She held up a cloak made from blue silk, cut in the Nubian style. "I've been making a cloak for the one I love."

"That's great, Padmé," Anakin said, nearly choking on the words. Why must she taunt me so? "It's really nice. I'm sure the Chancellor will love it." She frowned.

"The Chancellor?" she asked in disbelief.

"Well, yeah," he replied, looking at the floor and shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot. "You love him."

"What?" she asked, sounding astonished. "Who told you that?"

"No one. I figured it out on my own. Don't worry, your secret is safe with me." She gazed at him for a moment, then began to giggle.

"Oh Anakin," she said, laughing. "The Chancellor and I… oh it's too funny even to imagine!"

"You love him, I can tell!" he said accusingly. "Don't insult me by denying the obvious!" To his surprise, Padmé only laughed harder.

"Of course I love him, Anakin. He has been a dear friend to me ever since the Battle for Naboo."

"Friend," he repeated stupidly. She smiled.

"Yes, Anakin. Friend."

"Well, what were you two talking about in the garden earlier?" he asked. Her mouth fell open.

"How did you know about that?" He hung his head, ashamed.

"I was… well, sort of hiding in the bushes." She frowned.

"Sort of eavesdropping, you mean," she said accusingly.

"Yeah," he agreed, nodding sheepishly. It was a long moment before she spoke.

"It was nothing that concerns you," she finally said. "You must understand, Anakin, that in the days before the Battle for Naboo, many of us lost whole families during the Trade Federation's occupation, and that the commemoration of the battle is also the commemoration of that loss. We Naboo are very private people, and I will say no more about it."

"OK, I'll consider the subject closed," he promised. She nodded.

"Thank you, Anakin." Suddenly, her tone changed. "Well, do you like it?" she asked, giving the cloak a shake to smooth out the wrinkles.

"Uh, yeah, I guess so," he said, walking over to her. She held it up to him, checking the length. "So if it's not for the Chancellor, who's it for?" he asked, not daring to hope. She smiled up at him, her eyes shining.

"You, Anakin. I made it for you."