Author's Note: We meet Garen Muln, whom I've only encountered through fanfiction, so I apologise if he is out of character. As for the Telosian Amber drink, I borrowed that from someone else, I hope they don't mind. In this you will also receive an explanation of the List, which I borrowed from Deception, the plotline of which, was an inspiration for some of the events in this story, as well as the title.
Part 3: As Their Hearts Were Matched & Mated.
If profit had been the people's concern, Pais would have made an excellent resort, having good weather all orbit round, pleasant cold and warm seasons, an abundance of food and water, with good land for building stable structures. Long, luxurious coastlines, filled with sandy shores made for ideal beaches which, vacation villas could have bordered, earning handsomely for those who chose to rent them out to offworld tourists. But the good native people desired a more nobler profession to make use of their natural resources, hence the pacifist vocation which, Pais now served.
The Jedi knew the planet well, most having visited the place at one time or another throughout their lives, from the earliest days of their padawanship to their trials, knighthood, master and beyond. Pais regularly served as a training ground for those initiates undergoing their promotion to Knight, where two conflicting races would convene in wait for a treaty to be negotiated. They admired the natives for their foresight and their never ending hospitality, catering for all beings, whatever their walks of life.
Word had been sent ahead to the planet that new delegations would be arriving soon, and when the three contingents of ships; Jedi, Republic and Separatist, - their arrivals staggered so that each had time to land and depart the hangers for their accommodation before the rest - docked on the planet, they found everything prepared for their stay.
The hotels were readied for their occupation, the rooms arranged so that each delegation had separate areas of the building, at significant distance from one another to prevent unsupervised disagreements or spending unchaperoned time together outside of the conference rooms. The Jedi were placed in between the two areas delegated to the Republic and the Separatists, on the assumption that their philosophy of morals, pacifist ideals, and senses of justice would be impartial.
It was this group that were the last to arrive, they did not feel a need to come first, for Pais' security arrangements were known throughout the galaxy for being the safest credits could not buy. A large silver carrier set down on the planet, and numerous masters disembarked, all pausing to take in their surroundings before walking on towards the hotel.
"Well, it isn't in ruins as yet," a voice murmured as its owner came to stand by Obi-Wan. "Pais can retain the reputation it chose as its vocation."
His companion refrained from rolling his eyes, as a few members of the Council were in attendance as well, and their talent for detecting expression in the Force as well as audible conversation was notorious. "If that was the case, I think we would have heard something before we dropped out of hyperspace."
"It is a planet of peace," the fellow Jedi reminded him, "one must presume that explosions upon it are peaceful as well."
"Then who is to say that one hasn't occurred then?" Obi-Wan countered.
"You are right," his companion remarked seriously. "We must investigate this matter at once, for the safety of all concerned. Starting in the bar."
Obi-Wan half chuckled. "Remind me again what was suggested as a reason for requiring your presence here, Garen?"
"I would have thought that was obvious," Garen Muln replied. "Comic relief."
"There's certainly something comic somewhere in that statement," Obi-Wan mused, "though it is more ironic than anything else."
Garen shrugged his shoulders. "Tough crowd," he commented.
The two knights continued their promenade disembarkation from the ship towards the main entrance of the lavish hotel chosen to serve as headquarters for the peace talks. Both had known each other since the Temple crèche, a long and close friendship, serviced by joint missions during their Padawan days, either just themselves and their Masters, or with their other friends; Bant, Siri and Reeft.
Garen and Obi-Wan gained a reputation during their youth for being not only the most promising of Jedi from their generation, or because of their characters, but because of their general handsome appearance. In their youth their marked similarity had often caused them to be mistaken for one another, and for the Order to assign one or the other as decoy protection, until both became Knights some years ago and sought to age their appearance as they took on Padawans.
Obi-Wan had kept his reddish blond hair opting to lengthen the once closely cropped locks and grow a beard, while Garen had dyed his hair black, causing his eyes to appear more green than the sea shaded tones of his friend's. He was more out going than Obi-Wan, but had a way of making his agemate relax, and forget for a time that he was Master to the prophesied Chosen One.
Their natural confidence coupled with their good looks and humoured, gentlemanlike, kind manner, led many a female admirer astray, but rarely was it actively encouraged, at least not on Obi-Wan's side. Garen tended to seemingly cross the line in his flirting, but how far it deepened beyond a dance or conversation was anyone's guess.
The two Jedi entered the reception area of the hotel now, the last of the members of the Order attending to check in at the front desk. While Garen smiled and flirted with the clerk, Obi-Wan entered their details and collected their room keys, before heading to the turbolifts, his quick pace causing his friend to finish the conversation and run in order to retrieve the key to his room. Garen mocked glared at his companion, who merely grinned in the reply, the sequence of movements a oft repeated joke between them.
They parted at the door to their rooms, and Obi-Wan did what he usually did on the rare occasions that his missions caused him to be separated from his Padawan; activate the HoloNet communications and check in with Anakin at the Temple. As was usually the case when such missions occurred, his Padawan could rarely be relied on to be present for such a communication, either having classes or time with his agemates, or some other activity that Obi-Wan hoped did not involve visiting a certain Senator or Supreme Chancellor.
It was a contrast to his own time as a Padawan, when he would make a point of spending his time in quarters so as to be to be present if Qui-Gon ever called. Needless to say, Obi-Wan had discovered many contrasts between himself and the Chosen One since Qui-Gon's passing dictated their future.
Leaving a message, Obi-Wan unpacked what luggage he had brought, then left the room for his next usual port of call; the hotel's bar. Not because he liked or needed a drink, but because it was the best place to ascertain who would be present at the peace talks, or who waited on those present at said peace talks, for the full list of delegates from both the Separatists and the Republic had not been announced upon the HoloNet before the Jedi delegation left Coruscant for Pais.
The bar was the one exception to Pais' tradition of keeping the delegates apart from each other in between official meetings, but what it lacked in separation purposes it made up for in being the most security conscious locale of the lot open to the visitors. Cloaked surveillance covered every inch of wall and furnishing, while the staff were fully trained warriors on the side.
As he entered and took his usual casual survey of the large area, he discovered one part of his fears concerning the whereabouts of his Padawan learner could be laid to rest, for the beautiful figure of Senator Amidala was discerned, sitting at one end of the long, curvaceous table before the drinks cabinet. For a moment he froze, his gaze lingering on her, as he recalled all the times they had encountered each other, the most recent arriving within his mind first. That long gaze across the Senate arena could not have been more eloquent, managing to convey questions and responses that would have been difficult to air in a more audible conversation. Forgiveness for her and his apprentice's recent actions was delivered swiftly.
Obi-Wan wondered if she had managed to detect the brief feeling of envy he felt when what he suspected was equally rapidly confirmed. She was a shrewd assessor of character and in the days before the Jedi arrived on Naboo for the funeral of his former Master, there had been many encounters and long conversations in the gardens of Theed Palace, creating a deep understanding of each other.
For he did envy them, not just because of the nerve they possessed to go through with their impulsive thoughts, but for the choice itself. Given the opportunity, he would have done the same had Cerasi lived. Moreover, she was not the only one whom he would have been sorely tempted to ignore the dictates of the Council for, aside for his brief entanglements with Siri Tachi and Satine, Duchess of Mandalore.
Unfortunately for him, though, his Padawan's actions now rendered his other choice unattainable.
Something caused the woman of his thoughts to look up, making Obi-Wan rapidly school his face into the typical Jedi mask of divine serenity, before risking the notice of the monitoring systems as he joined her at the bar.
"It is a great pleasure to see you again, milady," he remarked as she turned towards him, offering her hand.
"It has been far too long, Master Kenobi," she replied, half chuckling as she did so. "That is, it seems too long since we have had such formalities between us. I would prefer it if we dropped the titles." She paused before adding quietly, "or did our last encounter render such address impossible?"
"On the contrary, milady, if anything, our last encounter restored such intimacy between us. For how could I not forgive such an eloquent gaze, Padmé?" Obi-Wan replied.
She seem to blush alittle at hearing her name uttered in his cultured tones, though perhaps it was a product of his over active hopeful imagination. Certainly her colour brightened and a slender, elegant hand made a slight graceful gesture at the drinks display. "Then permit me to buy you a drink, Obi-Wan."
"Jawa juice," he requested and she relayed the order.
"Actually, he'll have a Telosian Amber, straight up," another voice remarked, causing the Senator to turn round once more.
Obi-Wan refrained from doing so. "Ignore that," he directed the bar tender, waiting until the server was occupied before he added, "I have no desire to repeat our last occasion in a bar, this time in front of several Council Masters, even if I can drink you under the table."
"Please, Obi-Wan, you'll damage my reputation in front of this ravishing lady whom you have yet to introduce," the new addition to their conversation continued.
His friend sighed before performing the necessary introduction. "Senator Padmé Amidala of Naboo, I have the dubious honour of naming Knight Garen Muln."
"Charmed," Garen remarked as he took Padmé's proffered hand and raised it to his lips, a gesture Obi-Wan longed to perform when holding her hand, but always refrained from doing so, either because of his Padawan or their audience. "And you have my thanks, milady," he added when he withdrew his hand and seated himself the other side of her so she was in the middle of the two attractive young knights, "for defying Council orders by going to Geonosis to rescue my friend."
"Well, he jumped through a window and vanquished a Sith for me," Padmé remarked, "so it was the least I could do to return the favour." She gestured at the bar. "What will you have?"
"As my good friend has kindly pointed out the presence of several erstwhile members of our esteemed Council, I'll also go for remaining sober," Garen replied before relaying his order to bartender.
"You'll have to give me details of this bar occasion," Padmé requested during the brief pause before their drinks arrived. "I've rarely seen Obi-Wan anything other than straight- laced."
"Gladly, if in return you'll tell me about this jumping through a window," Garen replied. "It has been far too long since we were on a mission together."
Obi-Wan groaned a little before taking a sip of his drink. "If the two of you intend to regale each other with embarrassing stories about me, then I shall order a Telosian Amber."
"What is embarrassing about jumping through a window?" Padmé asked. "It was the most courageous act I've seen, except for when you vanquished the Sith."
Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow at that. "Unless my memory is failing, you were in another part of the Palace when that incident took place."
"Surveillance recorded the entire thing," Padmé informed him, leaving Obi-Wan to silently wonder at her motives for requesting to see the footage. "Anyway, there really is hardly anything to it. Two Kouhuns were dropped on to my bed by an assassin's probe. After Anakin had disembowelled the creatures, Obi-Wan caught sight of the probe still hovering outside the window and before either of us knew it, he took off and leapt through the transparisteel, capturing it with his bare hands."
Garen considered for a moment before turning to his friend. "She is right you, know. Hardly anything embarrassing in that."
"True," Obi-Wan agreed. "I had thought Anakin would have told you about the chase which, followed."
"No, he hasn't," Padmé revealed. "I guess I shall have to go to him to hear the rest of it. Have I earned the right to hear this bar story then?" She asked.
"You have me at an impasse, milady," Garen replied. "I am torn between complying under the face of your beauty, and refusing in honour to my friend."
Obi-Wan laughed at that. "Since when have you chosen friendship over the charms of a beautiful woman?"
Garen pretended to look insulted before relenting. "You're right, my good friend, and that is why you are my good friend and have been lifelong. Obi-Wan, milady, can become very relaxed after a significant number of shots of the aforementioned drink, and on the last occasion, his naming day, I might add, he surrendered to the whims of his friends by allowing us to take him to a bar, get him stinking drunk, then perform a few songs."
Obi-Wan blushed as Padmé turned a warm, almost eager gaze on him. "You can sing?"
"Not only that, he can do it well," Garen revealed. "Drunk or sober. Though when he's drunk it is a lot more entertaining to witness, due to the quality, or lack thereof, presiding within the chosen lyrics."
"Quality?" Padmé queried.
"Forgive me. A more apt description would be lurid," Garen explained, causing the Senator to laugh.
"Having heard that story though, I think I've forfeited the privilege of witnessing a display of this talent," she murmured, with a half expectant gaze at Obi-Wan.
"Like my good friend, it is rare that I refuse a request from a beautiful woman," Obi-Wan replied, causing Padmé's gaze to linger on him.
There was a moment there when they glanced at each other and stilled, as their hearts were matched and mated, the natural end to a friendship forged from the deep understanding and meeting of hearts and minds during long conversations amongst the gardens of the Palace at Theed. But only a moment, gone too quickly for them to even realise what had occurred. Only when a beeping com device caused the lady to excuse herself from their company, did the third witness turn to his friend with a evaluating gaze.
Obi-Wan caught sight of the study and ordered another slightly less sobering drink from the bar this time, though not one as strong as that belonging to Telos. "What ever it is you are imagining, wipe the image from your mind, it is never going to come to pass."
"And why not?" Garen asked, only to receive silence in reply. "Ah, the beautiful Senator is spoken for, is she?" His companion nodded carefully, causing him to add, "since when is that a problem in such times as these?"
"Nubian divorces are notoriously long," Obi-Wan replied. "And if it got out, the other party would not only have my head, but the safety of the galaxy and the Jedi Order would be at stake."
Despite his seemingly carefree attitude, privately Garen was known to be as serious and as intelligent as his friend when the occasion called for it. So it did not take him too long to comprehend who his agemate was speaking of. "You're certain?"
"She all but admitted it to me during our last conversation before he escorted her home," Obi-Wan revealed. "And he has never been particularly adept in concealing some- thing from me, let alone the rest of the universe and the Force into the bargain."
"Granted," Garen agreed. "So your preferred course of action is do sit back and see how things play out?"
"I have no other choice," Obi-Wan replied.
His friend sighed and placed a consoling arm across his shoulders. "I am so sorry, Obi-Wan."
A moment of silent mourning passed between them then, broken only by the sound of another com device beeping, which, when Garen retrieved the little machine from his pocket, registered an unusual amount of curiosity from his friend, as well as a rather furtive glance around the bar to see if the rest of the occupants had caught sight of the device's disparate appearance to the traditional Jedi comlink.
"Where are you?" Garen remarked into the device after it had uttered a certain phrase into his ear. "I think we ought to meet in the room. Elsewhere might be too inconspicuous." He paused, his eyebrows raised and his eyes glowing in expectation of a pleasurable evening. "I'll see you soon then."
Obi-Wan relaxed a little as the device was hidden once more. "Isn't that a bit risky considering who we're dealing with on this planet?"
Now it was Garen who raised an eyebrow. "I had no idea you knew about it."
"It is one of the worse kept secrets of the Core," Obi-Wan replied. "And you didn't answer my question."
"Because I won't know until the morning," Garen remarked. "You ought to try it, you know. Do you good."
"Here's hardly the place," Obi-Wan replied.
Garen shrugged. "Its the perfect test. Limited clientele, all vetted to within a parsec of their lives. Trust me, once you're past the awkward recognition stage, its a hell of a way to spend the night." He slapped his friend's shoulder as he rose from his chair. "See you at the peace talks. And may the Force be with you, regarding the other matter, my friend."
"Same to you," Obi-Wan replied as he watched him leave the bar. A moment later he noticed another being, a woman from the Republican delegation also rise from her secluded seat and leave the room. His thoughts followed her for a time, as he dwelt on the character of his life long friend and their membership in the club that was paradoxically the worst and best kept secret of the Core.
The List. An elite clique, formed for the design of allowing highly busy members to meet up for an intimate night, without strings, names, or the promise of future commitment. Anonymity was guaranteed by the promise made by the members and the mechanised disembodied voice built within the com device each member carried. Meetings were usually arranged in one of the many hotels in Coruscant's entertainment district, whose staff could be counted on for being discreet.
He neither approved nor disapproved of the concept behind the List, nor did he envy those of the Order who took full advantage of the virtually open membership for Jedi to escape the chastity constrictions that were now soon to be relaxed. It was just not something he would join, for he had been offered once, some time ago, during his last years as a Padawan.
To have a relationship of that nature with a woman, his commitment to her would need to be as deep as his commitment to the Force. So far, aside from brief entanglements that ended in separation or tragedy, he had only met one woman to whom he would offer such devotion. Until now, he had not been free to declare himself to her.
And now that he was, she was no longer.