A/N: This takes place a year after the Battle of Naboo. Padme is struggling with the events of that day. I would like to give a special shout-out to a friend, who so graciously allowed me to borrow his original character, Usaki, for this universe. If any of you are familiar with the Usaki stories (like Rule of Two or Compassion), this will be a very different Usaki from that one. But if you aren't familiar with Usaki...go read those stories! They're awesome!

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The stillness of the night thundered through Padme's head as she gazed up at the stars over Naboo. Standing next to her window, she appeared to be relaxed and slightly contemplative, perhaps allowing herself to think about the things most normal girls her age would. The casual observer would miss all the subtle hints that something was very much amiss with the young Queen of Naboo.

They would miss the bleakness in her dark eyes, the slight thinning of her face. They would think nothing of the fact that, while most of her body was still as a statue, her right hand tugged and toyed with the end of the long braid she had pulled over her shoulder. The fact that she was biting the inside of her lower lip would go completely unnoticed by anyone who didn't know her.

Unknown to Padme, the room just down the hall from her own was currently full of people who were anything but casual observers. Distracted almost beyond the point of sanity, Sabe had contrived to meet with Captain Panaka and the other handmaidens about their queen. As Padme's decoy, Sabe had also become the queen's closest friend.

She had watched over the last month as Padme had begun to lose weight at a rather alarming rate. Something Sabe was certain Padme couldn't spare. She knew Padme wasn't sleeping. The makeup for the queen hid that from everyone else, but Sabe had seen the deep, dark circles under Padme's eyes. Genuinely concerned for her friend's physical and emotional health, Sabe had finally convinced the head of palace security to meet with herself and the other handmaidens in the hopes that they could find some way to help their queen without Padme actually realizing they were trying to help.

Their efforts were not progressing well.

But Padme was blissfully unaware of all this discussion at the moment. And so she continued to stare at the night sky, playing events over and over in her mind. Obsessing over names and faces that she had committed to memory a year ago. Could she have done anything differently? If she hadn't become queen, would they have been spared?

She lowered her head slightly, her gaze coming to rest on the memorial statue that had been placed in the gardens only a month ago. Carved from grey marble, it was very simple as statues went. A young man dressed in the uniform of a Noobian pilot stood side by side with a Gungan warrior atop the pedestal. From this far away, Padme couldn't read what the plaque on the base of the statue said. But she didn't have to. Almost in a whisper, she began to recite the words that she had memorized the day she commissioned the statue.

"Our lives are built upon a framework. The framework of privilege and freedom purchased through the blood, sweat and tears of our warriors, these brave Gungans and Noobians. Their hearts have known courage, for they've placed liberty before their own life…" her voice caught, but, just as she had every night for the past month, Padme forced herself to go on. "And in solemn decision committed to preserving the rights due to their peoples. Leaving the comfort and safety of loved ones, entrusted with a high and noble purpose. For their honor did not end with their death. Honor has become their eternal legacy. An inheritance left to all of Naboo's generations of the blessings of freedom and peace."

As the last bit of the memorial issued from Padme's mouth and drifted through the empty room, she emitted a strangled sort of laugh. When Sabe had finally finished writing it, Padme had been thrilled with what her friend had contributed. She had felt it was a fitting memorial for those they had lost. The words had filled her with sorrow, but also pride in the people who had made the ultimate sacrifice.

Now, however, when she remembered the names of those who had given their lives that day, she was only filled with remorse and regret. Her mind reeled with all the details of their lives, which she had taken upon herself to learn in the weeks after the battle. One of the pilots had been just a few years older than herself, the only son of his parents. Another had left behind her husband and their two year old daughter.

'Get to your ships!'

Padme winced as the memory of her order that day echoed through her head. Had she really understood at that moment what she was telling them to do? Had she really understood anything about what she was asking of everyone?

'This is practically a suicide mission. I hope you realize that.'

Ah, Obi-Wan. She had informed him that she knew exactly what it was. But it was horribly clear to her now that she had no idea. She had been willing to sacrifice her own life to free her people. At the time, the thought that others might lose their lives had seemed impossible to her. In spite of the fact that she was well-educated and far less naïve than other girls her age, she had still been sheltered in a way. All those days during the blockade had rudely shoved her into the reality that life could be unfair and, at times, even cruel.

Ever since she had attended the remembrance ceremony near the main square on the first anniversary of the Battle of Naboo, Padme had been consumed with thoughts of the Noobians and Gungans who had died on that day. The nightmares, which had been infrequent over the last year and easily dismissed the next day, became terrifyingly vivid. She saw her pilots exploding in the skies over Naboo. Gungans shot through with laser bolts from droid blasters. Screams echoed in her mind and she always woke up with tears streaming down her cheeks.

Sleep had become her enemy. She put it off for as long as she could before finally drifting off fitfully and awakening only two or three hours later. But being awake wasn't much easier. IN the quiet hours after the rest of the palace was asleep and before they awakened, Padme was alone with her thoughts. Self-recrimination and guilt ravaged her mind until she was certain she was going absolutely insane.

Padme had wanted so badly to be at one of the informal remembrance ceremonies, to hear how her people remembered that day without infringing upon them as a queen. Now there were times when she wished she had never snuck out of the palace. That night had begun her descent into a dark place that she didn't understand and didn't know how to escape from.

Unless….unless she just left altogether. Not before her term was up, of course. To do that would be abandoning her people altogether. Padme was not so far gone as to consider such a possibility. But if she were to refuse to run for a second term. If she could only have a little time to herself and rest. Perhaps she could go to the Lake Country for a little while. It certainly made sense to her. And she felt an incredible urge to confide in someone about her decision.

Padme pressed her lips together, searching for someone of her acquaintance that she trusted enough with something like this. Sabe was the first person that came to mind. But as she rolled the thought over in her head, Padme found she didn't care to confide in Sabe about this particular idea. It was an unpleasant sensation. She couldn't ever remember not wanting Sabe to know about an idea she was mulling over. Sighing mentally, she moved on to her sister. But the idea of talking to Sola about it was no more palatable than the thought of talking to Sabe.

She paced the floor of her room, systematically weeding out everyone she knew and trusted. Her mother, Eirtae, Sache, her father, Yane, Captain Panaka… All of them considered and summarily rejected. Utterly discouraged, Padme flopped on her bed. For some reason, she truly felt that she should tell someone about her decision. But whom would she tell?

When her eyes fell upon the holopad resting by her pillow, Padme suddenly felt better than she had in days. Obi-Wan. She had been writing to him earlier. A message that contained news of how she had instituted the anniversary of the battle as a remembrance day instead of merely a celebration. Some of it was fairly breezy, detailing how she, along with Sabe and Eirtae, had managed to sneak out of the palace for a few hours that day to take part in the very modest local festivities. It was the last time Padme remembered being even slightly happy.

Grabbing the holopad, she instantly began to write. Things she hadn't planned on saying were suddenly leaping onto the screen in front of her. And by the time she had finished, Padme realized that it wasn't a confidant she needed. It was an advisor. Determined to see all of this through, she quickly tapped the button that sent her message to her friend. It wouldn't be until the next night that she would regret her hasty action. But by then, luckily for her, it would be far too late.

******************************Coruscant - Jedi Temple

"I'm going for a walk."

As the door closed behind Siri, Obi-Wan found himself wondering once more how his beloved managed to slam the doors in the Jedi Temple. He took refuge in trying to figure out the logistics of just how one could slam a door that was manufactured in a way which supposedly made it "impossible" to slam. With his mind thus occupied, he was able to take more time to cool down from their argument. It enabled him to arrive at a solution much more quickly.

Except he didn't think he would ever be able to find a solution to this particular problem. It was the same story. The only thing that the two of them every truly argued about. Oh, they would debate the merits of different forms of lightsaber combat, discuss how different missions should have been handled, and even disagree on where they wanted to go when they were able to escape the Temple for a rare outing.

But Obi-Wan's friendship with Padawan Usaki had been a sore point for quite some time. Try as he might, Obi-Wan could not understand Siri's argument. And it was the one thing he would not compromise on. He had been friends with Usaki since she had begun her padawan training with Master Windu twelve years ago. He had watched her grow in the Force and, in partnership with Qui-Gon, had even helped Mace with her combat training. She was one of his closest friends and he would not shove her to one side simply because Siri was unreasonably jealous.

Reflecting on that last point, he concluded that her jealousy wasn't exactly unreasonable. Everyone knew where Usaki came from and what she had been intended for on her home world. The planet of Shosuro was notorious for genetic engineering and restructuring. Their main export was people, usually as some form of slave. Usaki had been restructured at birth, intended for marriage into the ruling family of Shosuro. Anything less than perfection was unthinkable and Usaki, now all of twenty standard years old, was stunningly beautiful.

He would have to be blind not to see how exquisite she was. He would have to be dead not to feel the pull of both her physical and mental presence. Usaki was a force to be reckoned with in many areas. And he freely admitted that his resistance was sometimes tested to the limit whenever they sparred in one of the many Temple training rooms.

But he loved Siri. And aside from that most important reason, there were other factors that always helped him keep his body from betraying him. One was that Usaki herself was deeply conscious of the fact that she, through no fault of her own, had been made into an extremely alluring woman physically. Because of her awareness, she practically threw herself into achieving the exact opposite. She was rarely seen in a basic Jedi tunic, choosing instead to cover herself almost all the time in loose, ill-fitting robes in an attempt to hide her figure. Usaki had become an expert at blending into the background, making herself as inconspicuous as possible.

She was also very aware of the strain her friendship with him placed on his relationship with Siri. At one point, Usaki had even offered to end their friendship herself. Obi-Wan would not consider it. He compromised with Siri on many things, just as she did for him, but he maintained that she would not dictate who his friends were going to be.

Obi-Wan was also of the opinion that Usaki was already spoken for, although she had said nothing to him. He had his suspicions as to who the person was, but out of respect for both parties, he said nothing to either one of them. It wasn't his concern unless Usaki decided to tell him.

It hurt on some level, he thought as he retrieved his holopad from his room and returned to the main living quarters. Even though Siri said she didn't trust Usaki, it felt like she didn't trust him. Furthermore, he could remember a time not so long ago when Siri had adored Usaki.

Shaking his head, he decided to set the problem aside for the moment and concentrate on the task at hand. Flipping through the few messages he'd received while he and Siri had been out, he barely skimmed the contents. Until one caught his eye and he felt a small surge of joy as he opened it up. He smiled slightly as he read of Padme's 'escape' from the palace with Sabe and Eirtae. It was easy to forget how young she actually was until she described the way they had plotted to outwit Panaka. Shaking his head, Obi-Wan reflected that he certainly didn't envy that man his job.

Halfway through the message, however, the almost light-hearted tone changed abruptly and Obi-Wan's amusement quickly faded.

At mid-afternoon we attended a relatively small remembrance ceremony in the public gardens adjacent to the main square, which was my main purpose in leaving the palace in the first place. Obi-Wan, the organizers of the ceremony were a man and a Gungan who had both lost their sons during the battle. I felt almost ashamed as I stood there and listened to them talk about how proud they were of their boys. Although they said nothing against me…indeed, they actually ended with words of loyalty to me…I am still struggling with the thought that their boys would still be with them if I could've only found a peaceful solution to the Blockade Crisis.

We returned to the palace not long after that and I presided over a more formal remembrance service that evening. But I'm afraid I wasn't truly aware of what was going on. In my head, I kept hearing all that had been said at the garden ceremony. I barely touched dinner afterwards and I didn't sleep at all. Instead, I found myself wandering the halls of the palace. Panaka saw me and I steeled myself for an argument about whether or not I should be in bed. But he only bowed slightly in acknowledgment before going about his business. Perhaps he knew I was wrestling with something in my mind.

Because I truly was. And I have been doing so ever since, for the last month. Sabe recently expressed concern for my health, which made me realize that I was losing weight because I would eat only a few bites before my mind would begin racing again. Sleep is another thing I've been losing. Even as I compose this message, the sun has not yet risen on Naboo. And it will have set long before I manage to get any sleep again. My lack of sleep might also explain the absolute mess I've made in composing this missive.

I've come to a decision, Obi-Wan. And I know it will not go over well with anyone.

I've decided not to try for a second term as queen. Looking at the political landscape, I know I would have to do all sorts of damage in order to lose an election and the view is not likely to change anytime soon. If I run again, I am sure to win a second term. And I am simply not up to the task.

The feelings that plagued me so much on the day of the battle have only increased with time. Everyone keeps saying that I am one of the most popular rulers in the history of Naboo, just as you predicted I would be. Most of the time, I feel perfectly fine. I feel as though I'm accomplishing something. When I have any moment to myself, though…especially at night…everything hits at once. The names of those who lost their lives race through my head and sometimes….Obi-Wan, sometimes I think I can hear their voices.

Am I losing my mind? The anniversary of the battle has just made the feelings that much more acute. I don't feel that I'm worthy to make these kinds of decisions for everyone. I keep thinking that a smarter person deserves this office much more than I do. Sometimes, it feels like the walls of the palace are closing in around me and I can't breathe. I can't move. I can barely think. It seems as though every time I manage to do something good for Naboo and its people, the feelings of guilt and fear just come back on me even stronger.

I can't be an effective leader in this state of mind and I never wanted my role as queen to be the last political role I filled for Naboo. If I serve a second term, who knows what would happen? I'm already hearing voices now. Would I eventually start talking back to them? Then I'm the crazy queen of Naboo, my political career will be over and I won't be able to help Naboo or its people anymore.

That's not what I want. While I never planned on another role as public as the one I find myself in now, I still wanted to continue to serve the people. Who would trust me if they knew what I had just told you? No one. Quite honestly, I will be shocked if you still trust me at this point.

My only choice is to withdraw from the political arena after my term is over and perhaps travel to the Lake Country for a while. It's so quiet and peaceful on my family's estate. I think I might be able to gain perspective while I'm there. Then, perhaps, I could be of some use to whoever takes the office of queen.

You know, I've been wondering as I write to you just exactly why I've told you all of this. There are people who love me…and whom I also love…that surround me every day. Why can I not confide in them instead of burdening you? And I've only just arrived at a conclusion.

It's because I trust you more than anyone else. That might sound strange, since we met only a little over a year ago. But I know that you will tell me what you think is the right thing to do, even if you think I don't want to hear it. And I believe what I'm really doing is asking for your advice.

Please help me, Obi-Wan. I don't know who else I can turn to.

Your friend,
Padme

Obi-Wan frowned at the holopad, his thoughts now focused solely on his young friend. He had hoped she was starting to put the decisions she made that day behind her. Their past correspondence had held hints of the guilt that she still harbored over the deaths of Gungans and Noobians alike. Never before, though, had it been so starkly revealed to him.

Now she needed his advice. He felt woefully inadequate for the job. He was a Jedi, not a politician. While he had understanding of politics, he truly didn't feel qualified to give advice to the queen of a planet. Not advice like this, at any rate.

'She is your friend and she has asked for your help. What right have you to refuse it to her?'

Obi-Wan grimaced. Perfect. Now he was hearing voices. And this one sounded annoyingly like Shaak Ti. He hated when his inner voice sounded like Shaak Ti. Her softly spoken admonishments always made him feel worse than any lecture from Qui-Gon ever had.

Taking a deep breath, he set aside the holopad and sought sanctuary in his meditation room. Idly, he reminded himself he would eventually need to find another area in his quarters to meditate. This room would eventually belong to his padawan, when he decided to take one on, and it wouldn't be fair to encroach on the privacy of his apprentice.

For now, though, he simply settled himself against a wall, facing towards a window that looked out on the night sky of Coruscant. Closing his eyes, he reached out into the Force and began to seek guidance.