Disclaimer: George Lucas owns Star Wars. I am not making any profit from this story, which is purely a work of fan fiction.

Chapter title from "Some Kind of Home," by Thriving Ivory.

Author's notes:

1) Special thanks to angie, who totally left an awesome review on the last chappie. Thanks, hon! Your comments keep me posting! :)

2) If anybody has thoughts of a feedbacky-nature, I would like to hear them. Plots and intrigue are a new venture for me, and the only thing I really know about this story so far is that it Needs More Palpatine. (I'm trying to give him at least a small bit in each chapter, but I can't help feeling that there should be more thoroughgoing Sithly seductions at work.)

3) I hope y'all are enjoying this thing half as much as I am! Comments and suggestions are welcome in this romp. :)

A Parody of Manners

~ CHAPTER TEN ~

what you see when your eyes close

Ryn hit dirt and rolled just as her ears registered the zing of a discharged blaster. "Obi-Wan!"

But Obi-Wan was too busy deflecting blaster fire to answer her, so Ryn drew her own lightsaber and stood up warily, only too well aware that she was really bad at sensing incoming fire before it hit.

It didn't take long to spot the source of the mischief, however. An armored seeker droid equipped with a rotating blaster port was bearing down on them, concentrating rapid bursts of fire on Obi-Wan, as obviously the more dangerous of the two. "Kill or capture?" Ryn yelled at him, scanning the area for more threats.

"Capture, if possible," Obi-Wan returned drily. "You'll notice I have elected not to deflect any of its fire back to the source."

Uh-huh. Holding her lightsaber in one hand, Ryn knelt and pried a rock loose from the ground. It took a couple of tries, but she managed to free it from the meadow's rich dark soil and brush aside the crumbling loam, populated by blind worms. Run, little ones, Ryn thought at them, trying to impose a sense of down that would override their disordered senses and drive them back underground before they were shriveled by Naboo's bright golden sunlight. But they mostly ignored her, and Ryn didn't have to time to save them right now.

It's always something.

She stood up sharply, drawing the seeker droid's sensors to bear on her with the sudden movement, and with a quick twist of her wrist, she let fly the stone.

She'd timed it right; the stone struck between bolts, denting but not destroying the short muzzle. The next shot went wide, knocked off-course by the new alteration in muzzle shape, and Ryn stepped in, bringing her lightsaber up in a tight arc that broke the next shot and sheared off the muzzle completely. "Obi-Wan, I -"

The seeker droid froze in hover mode, emitting a whirring noise. Obi-Wan dove under and tackled her, wrapping his body around hers and rolling hard to the left - well, his left, anyway. There was a high-pitched metallic shriek, a burst of light, and then the all-too-familiar sound of an explosion heralded a hot, stinging rain of shrapnel and slag, falling on their exposed limbs.

Lying stretched on top of her, Obi-Wan braced one hand against the ground by Ryn's ear and pushed himself up to meet her eyes. "Are you all right?"

Ryn swallowed and nodded. "Just ––" She stopped and cleared her throat, tried again. "Just a little singed."

Obi-Wan's fingertips brushed her jawline, unexpectedly affectionate. "You're as bad as Anakin."

"Anakin wouldn't have screwed up the capture."

Obi-Wan gave her his rare, crooked smile –– the real one, not The Negotiator's practiced gleam. "Are we talking about the same Anakin Skywalker?"

Ryn swatted him on the arm –– an awkward maneuver, given their relative positions –– but she could feel the answering grin on her own face. "You sense any more of those things?"

Obi-Wan's eyes went unfocused for a moment as he searched the Force. "No," he decided. "But we had better be going, just the same."

He levered himself off of her with more than Jedi grace, and held a hand out to help her to her feet. "Bail was right about one thing," he said. "We need to confer with Master Yoda as quickly as possible, before things get out of hand."

Ryn glanced back at the still-smoking shattered remains of the seeker droid. "How exactly do you define out of hand?"

Obi-Wan just grinned.

: : :

"Padmé Naberrie," said Palo affectionately. "It's been ... what, twelve years?"

"Thirteen," Padmé answered faintly, trying to recover from the shock. "The last time I saw you was ––"

At the Nabo for the Arts dinner, during your first term as Queen." Palo smiled. "Hard to believe our little Padmé rose so far, so fast –– but I always knew you were meant for great things."

"Ah," said Padmé uncertainly, feeling a hint of sting in the compliment, and then Anakin broke in.

"Aren't you going to introduce us, Senator?" He held out his hand, meeting Palo's eyes with a little too much intensity. "I'm Anakin Skywalker. I take it you're a friend of the family?"

"Oh –– yes!" Padmé recalled her manners with a start. "How foolish of me! Palo, this is Jedi Anakin Skywalker ... Senator Taa, my friend, Palo Suporne."

Anakin bowed politely, but his gaze held a challenge that undercut Taa's polite greeting.

Not good, not good...

Padmé took Palo by the arm. "Have you met Breha Organa yet?" Bail's wife is a great supporter of the arts."

But although Breha correctly read the look of entreaty Padmé sent her, and tried gamely to involve Palo in a discussion of arts funding programs, Padmé's troubles were far from over. She could hardly abandon Palo amidst strangers, merely to go peel Sola's ears for her, and yet she was all too keenly aware of Anakin's fiercely possessive gaze, following her about the room. His jealousy was as dangerous as it was thrilling: already their feelings for each other were far too exposed in such close quarters. If Anakin made a scene ...

And Palo was Not Helping, either. He had no way to know, of course, that he was poaching on another man's territory, but the frank appraisal in his eyes must surely have offended any woman with a sense of self. He too plainly considered her his for the taking.

And I wonder whom I have to thank for that? Padmé thought bitterly. That Sola had acted entirely alone was unlikely; in the past, she had always managed to stay one step ahead of their parents' matchmaking designs for Padmé, but the youngest Naberrie had no doubt that she was now witnessing the beginning of a program of collusion.

It was almost too much to bear. Just because she had refused to leave public life and become a baby factory did not mean her life was empty! She had Anakin ... not that she could tell anyone about him ... and he loved her –– for her passion for justice rather than merely in spite of it! She was making a difference in the galaxy! Not everyone wanted to hide from the realities of ––

"... Padmé?"

Padmé blinked herself out of her reverie to see Breha smiling at her benignly, but with a quizzical tilt at the corners of her eyes that suggested she'd had to bid for Padmé's attention more than once. "I'm sorry, Breha; I'm afraid I was meadow-picking. Say that again?" Some co-hostess I've turned out to be.

"I was just telling Master Suporne," said Breha gently, "that if he is interested in showing war in art, then he has at least three very eligible subjects right here in this house."

"Three subjects," Padmé repeated blankly.

"The two Jedi, of course, and Commander Orun." Breha half-turned to include Palo in her smile. "All noted war heroes, as I'm sure you are aware. If you like sentient subjects, you would be hard-pressed to find any that represent the face of the GAR more iconically."

Palo inclined his head. "And capturing Skywalker's aura of power - the sheer intensity of the man! - would be quite the challenge. Did you say who the other Jedi was?"

"General Kenobi," said Breha. "The Negotiator."

Palo whistled softly. "Two of the Republic's brightest heroes. Either the Jedi hold you in great esteem, Padmé, or they must think you're a Separatist in disguise –– sending that team after you." He grinned at her, all charm, but Padmé could muster no more than a wan smile in response. "What about Orun? Does she live up to her fame?"

"Her fame?" Padmé murmured politely.

Palo laughed. "You know. Beautiful, mysterious, deadly ... the stereotype of a dangerous woman." He lowered his voice melodramatically at the end, earning a soft chuckle from Breha.

"She's certainly attractive," Padmé said diplomatically, and did not grind her teeth. "But you'll have to draw your own conclusions."

"I doubt if she can keep up her shine in present company." Palo accompanied this piece of gallantry (rather tortured, in Padmé's opinion) with a lingering perusal of her own physical attributes. "Will I meet her at luncheon?"

But Palo did not meet Ryn at luncheon, nor in the garden afterward, and as the day drew on, Padmé began to grow concerned –– but all Anakin would say, when she snatched him for a quick aside, was that he could feel both Ryn and Obi-Wan and that they were both tired and frustrated but in no immediate danger.

"Are you sure?" Padmé asked him insistently, leaning briefly around the corner to make sure they weren't overhead. "They've been gone for hours."

No, have they? said the look on Anakin's face; she could practically see him bite his tongue. But he closed his eyes and exhaled slowly, his features settling into a mask of concentration. "Ryn is hunting," he reported dutifully after a moment. "She feels discouraged; I don't think she expects to find anything. She's also irritated, but I don't - oh." He opened his eyes. "She says to stop worrying, and she'll be here soon."

Padmé felt her eyes widen in spite of herself, in spite of all the silent promises she'd made never to stand in awe of Anakin's Force ability. "I had no idea that Jedi telepathy was so explicit."

"It's not, usually."

"Oh." She wasn't sure what to do with that. "Are you so much closer to Ryn than to Obi-Wan, or ..." She didn't know how to finish that sentence.

"No," said Anakin, with wearing patience. "Jedi are trained to use the Force to quiet their minds. So most of the time there's not much to sense. Ryn's feelings - like most beings' - are easier to catch."

"Oh." She seemed to be saying that a lot this afternoon; she struggled to digest Anakin's information, instead of just wondering exactly what kind of feelings Ryn was sending him on a daily basis –– not that it was much of a mystery. There were addicts in Coruscant's underbelly –– Padmé had worked with the unfortunate of various worlds enough to know –– who looked at their drug with less patent longing. "Is it ... distracting, to feel what other beings are thinking all the time?"

Anakin frowned at her. "Is it distracting to hear things?"

"Yes?" Padmé looked at him expectantly.

"No, I'm asking you." Anakin gestured with one hand. "Right now, there's music playing in the background, a bird signing outside, and eight people talking in the next room. Are you distracted?"

"Well, no," Padmé began, and then stopped. "Oh. I see."

"Empathy –– and it's not telepathy, by the way –– is just a sense, like any other," Anakin explained, his voice taking on a slightly lecturing tone that (Padmé recognized with a gleam of amusement) sounded remarkably like Obi-Wan. "For a Jedi, it is all part of living within the Force. For a genetic empath, like Ryn, it doesn't even require training." He tipped his head to one side. "I don't know if this will help you to think of it, but she told me once that it was more like smell than sight."

No, that didn't help at all, but that wasn't even half the most interesting thing in that speech. "Lorethans are empathic? But I thought human populations rated too low in ESP to produce ––"

Her secret husband frowned at her, probably much the same way he'd look at a Youngling holding her lightsaber wrong. "You have to stop thinking of it as extra-sensory perception," he told her sternly. "I just told you it was sensory." He gazed at her pointedly until she nodded, and then went on, apparently satisfied. "Anyway, not all Lorethans are born empaths. It's a genetic variation with them, like eye color." Padmé opened her mouth to question him further, but Anakin forestalled her. "If you want to know more, you'll have to ask Ryn."

Padmé had been in politics too long not to notice that he wasn't saying he didn't know more, and wonder what sort of secrets he was keeping.

Oh, my love. Don't you know you can trust me?

It didn't take long to see that Anakin's trust in her was being stretched in more ways than one. His jealousy of Palo, as flattering as it had been at first blush, was fast becoming a source of exasperation. The way Anakin glared at him, he might as well have been snorting and tossing his horns like an angry he-shaak. It was about the farthest thing from subtle Padmé could imagine, but there was no way she could call him on it without drawing even more attention, and for the first time she found herself wishing that Obi-Wan were around to keep an eye on his behavior, with his entirely-too-keen powers of observation and his way of chastening Anakin with a mere lift of his eyebrow.

In the end, however, it was Palpatine who rose to the occasion, diffusing the situation without ever giving the slightest sign that he had noticed anything amiss. He drew Anakin aside for a walk in the gardens, ostensibly to consult with him about a new report that had just come in –– but really, Padmé suspected, to give them all a break from his needless posturing.

Padmé didn't wait for Anakin to start again. She sprang up almost as soon as he reappeared, a respectful half-step behind the Chancellor, and clapped her hands. "Well!" she exclaimed brightly. "If w are to be ready for entertainments this evening, we will need to recruit our strength, won't we? I expect we could all use a refreshing nap!"

Sola, who knew full well that Padmé had never voluntarily taken a nap in her life, looked rather startled; but under the force of her sister's determined stare, she yielded (somewhat guiltily; proof, if any was needed, that she was by no means innocent in the business of Palo's inconvenient presence) and lent her voice to the strength of this proposal, with the result that the various guests were borne off, milling like cattle toward their rooms.

And then, because Anakin was no more sleepy than she was –– and far more skilled in sneaking around hallways unobserved –– Padmé got a chance to demonstrate a few of the ways she preferred him to Palo.

: : :

Alone in his suite in the lakehouse, Darth Sidious replayed the last few seconds of the seeker droid's transmission, watching attentively as Kenobi sprang to Orun's rescue –– a dashing, urbane hero of principle.

"My dear," he told Orun's silent image thoughtfully, "you certainly do get around. But I am afraid all your suitors except the one you want are most painfully inconvenient."

He might have said more, but found himself overcome by a very welcome distraction as the rush of Anakin's completion, a few floors above his head, took him –– and most probably the two lovebirds, as well –– quite by surprise.

Palpatine savored the mingled awareness of his unwitting protégé's satisfaction and Amidala's disappointment appreciatively for a moment before reaching out to flick off the frozen image of Orun, wrapped in Kenobi's arms, and delete the file, finding himself confronted with a delectable dilemma: which path to disaster would prove the most exquisite?