Part 5: Enlightening Encounters.
There were several ways to dine on Pais. Numerous restaurants in every hotel or within the surrounding suburbs and local townships, ditto for the bars, both of which, catered for every species in every walk of life, no matter what their budget or favourite delicacy. Lastly there was the more intimate option of dining in one's hotel room, where anything was on the menu, except for your dinner companion, of course.
Pais was known for catering to every guest's needs above and beyond mere nourishment, their chefs trained to the highest pinnacles of excellence. In short, Obi-Wan could at least expect to enjoy his meal with Count Dooku tonight, if not the conversation which, would doubtless be included.
Not one to be afraid, he did not hesitate to knock at the former Jedi Master's door upon his arrival. The imposing barrier slid aside, allowing the subtle smell of burning candles to escape across the threshold.
"Welcome, Master Kenobi," Count Dooku greeted, from his stance near the source of those candles, by the sizeable dining table, which, was appropriately adorned for the meal to come. "Please, come in."
Obi-Wan nodded in response before stepping inside, his grey blue gaze taking a quick and thorough sweep of the room as he did so. As usual Pais had made sure that each hotel room resembled another, with the same decor and facilities, designed to disperse the suspicion that one guest was getting preferential treatment at the expense of another. The adornments around the room and upon the table were minimal but stylish. Discarding his cloak on the stand provided, he slowly strode towards the dining table.
"I hear from some of my friends in the Order that you're being considered for a seat on the Council," Dooku remarked, pulling out a chair and making a slight gesture for him to sit.
"Yes," Obi-Wan replied as he sat down. Master Yoda and Master Windu had informed him of the position before he left the Core. "It is a honour I had not expected."
"Is that so?" Dooku sought to confirm. "Qui-Gon always did. I remember him telling me once that you and Master Windu would be the only allies he had on the Council."
"I think he had more than he realised," Obi-Wan murmured. "Master Yoda usually respected his opinion, even if he didn't agree with it." He paused to take a bite of the first course before speaking again. "I always wondered why Qui-Gon never introduced us."
"He meant to," Dooku revealed. "After your trials. He was always very protective of his Padawans, concerned about letting another master influence the relationship. I respected him for it, though I was curious. He always talked about you, I could see that he was very proud and felt privileged to be training you."
Obi-Wan could not help smiling at that, even though he was suspicious that Dooku's motives for mentioning such a compliment were nothing more than a purposeful attempt to curry favour with him. The memory of the rare occasions when his master praised him washed over his mind, along with other fond recollections of their time together.
Qui-Gon had been a hard task master, making sure his training was demanding, but at the same time they had always been close and protective of each other. Which, was why it hurt all the more when they met Anakin and Qui-Gon abruptly announced his intention to train him, without the slightest warning to his quickly discarded Padawan, suddenly deemed ready for the trials. And when he held his master in his arms, watching him draw his last breath, promising him that he would train the boy.
As the bitter feelings crossed his mind, causing a brief turmoil within his emotional psyche, Obi-Wan kept an eye on and his Force sense trained at his dinner companion, waiting to see if he grabbed hold of the weakness in order to exploit it. To his surprise the old master nodded at him. "I heard about that Council session. I was surprised at his casual disregard of you, after all the two of you had been through together. But Qui-Gon must have thought you were ready for the Trials, he mentioned as much to me when we last saw each other before the Trade Federation began blocking Naboo. And he was a stubborn, impulsive being when it came to defending his pet projects before the Council."
Obi-Wan nodded, accepting the praise, as well as the genuineness behind the sentiment which, he could detect in the Force. Pausing to take another mouthful of his dinner, he decided to air the main reason why he had agreed to this encounter. "When we were on Geonosis, you mentioned about needing Qui-Gon's advice. I wasn't in the best frame of mind to talk about it then, but I'm willing to listen now, if you still feel the same. I know I'm not my master, but I think I know what he might have said."
Dooku set aside his silverware and regarded his guest for a moment, one which, seemed so long, that Obi-Wan became uncertain as to whether this had been such a good idea. As he prepared to backtrack, the Count spoke. "All our actions on Geonosis were quite far from our best. I regret the loss of life expunged upon that sinkhole, especially in light of what I discovered afterwards. Something which, made me doubt the deal I made with Master Sidious," he paused, as Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow at the mention of the Sith Lord, waiting for his companion to finish before he let his mind speculate as to the nature of the deal.
"You may not believe me, Obi-Wan, but my motives for leaving the Jedi were what I explained to the Council. My dissatisfaction with the ties between the Order and the Senate, the system of democracy currently operated by the Republic. I entered into the deal with Sidious purely with the intention to discover what he was planning, not to ably assist him in the destruction of not only the Republic, but the Order as well; a fact I found out during Geonosis."
"This is nothing new," Obi-Wan pointed out quietly. "One Sith's motives of destruction and power grabbing are much the same as another's."
"Yes, but Sidious's methods are more, insidious," Dooku replied. "Such as the clones, for example."
Obi-Wan's hand froze midway between carrying his glass to his mouth. "What does he intend to do with the clones?" He asked. If Sidious had access to the clone army, it indicated that he was behind their engineering on Kamino ten years ago, and that his position in the Republic was higher than anyone had previously supposed.
"There is an order built into their genetic training," Dooku revealed. "Once activated, they will kill every Jedi they encounter, from Master to crechling."
Obi-Wan stilled as he thought of the younglings at the Temple, his face blanching as the image of them being massacred appeared within his mind. His appetite for the rest of the meal was abruptly quenched. "How do you know of this order?"
Dooku bowed his head, avoiding the piercing gaze of his companion. "I was the one who erased the location of Kamino from the archives. And the one who discovered that someone ordered for them to be engineered into being, on the directive of Sidious."
"And yet that doesn't explain your actions on Geonosis." Obi-Wan remarked, his tone choked with the gravity of what he had just learned.
"I know," Dooku replied. "I can offer you nothing for that, only my regret that I wasn't able to think of a way to salvage the situation without any loss of life. It was not until afterwards that I learned about the dangers in the clone army's genetics. But you have my word that I have no wish to ensure further mass murders."
"What do you wish for, Count?" Obi-Wan asked, reclining against the back of the elegant dining chair.
"Peace, Obi-Wan," Dooku answered. "A few minor changes to the governing of the Republic, as well as the Order's relationship with it, and in the structure of the Order itself."
"Such simple requests," Obi-Wan murmured wryly. "The Council have already proposed the possibility of reforms to the Order, such as allowing for knights and masters to have romantic relationships both in and outside the Order, and the degree of our relationship with those in the Chancellor's office. But the changes to the government of the Republic, will be difficult to accomplish."
"Now that the Chancellor has accepted his executive orders?" Dooku remarked, finishing Obi-Wan's point, much to the Jedi's surprise. "Yes, I can see how that will be difficult to accomplish. Which, is why I think the Order should distance itself from the executive office, as it might give the Council more of a chance to help those who belong to the Republic should the need arise."
"Do you really think it will?" Obi-Wan queried, for he detected a deadly certainty within the Count's tone, indicative of a grim outlook for the future.
"Possibly," Dooku replied, before rising from his chair to begin clearing the table, signalling the end of the meal. "Will the Order be receptive to this?"
Obi-Wan rose from his seat also, glad to be away from the food, for the sight of it was hardly helping since he learned of one of the orders built into the clones. "Do you wish to rejoin the Order?"
"I don't think I would be granted such an honour, do you?" Dooku uttered, surprising Obi-Wan with his frank sincerity and calm acceptance that he might be lost to the Jedi forever. "No, I meant the peace I and the Separatists are offering, along with my information about the clones."
"I will speak with the Council," Obi-Wan promised. "And let you know. What is the name of the command that will unleash this massacre?"
"Order Sixty-six," Dooku replied.
It was closing on the first hour of the next standard day when Obi-Wan entered the bar, finding the place almost devoid of everyone but the night shift staff. His dinner with Dooku had ended not long after the Count told him the title of the command code which, was supposed to unleash a massacre of the Order from the clone army. Retiring to his room, he had contacted the Council with the information, leading to a discussion about how to test this disturbing piece of news, as well as further speculation as to who might be Darth Sidious.
Both debates faded into a general agreement to delay further discussion until the peace conference had progressed, allowing Obi-Wan to sign off. Sleep was not something he felt he could surrender to at present, his mind was still pondering the possibilities roused by his dinner and the subsequent meeting with the Council. Hence his decision to journey into the bar, where, to his surprise, he found one familiar face amongst the scarcity of patrons and staff.
"Good evening, milady," he remarked, bowing a little as he came to stand before the Senator from Naboo. "May I join you?"
"Of course," Padmé said, gesturing to the seat opposite her. "What brings you here so late, Obi-Wan?"
"I just had a meeting with the Council," Obi-Wan explained, sitting down. "Dinner with Count Dooku left my mind in a disquiet mood."
"Why did Dooku want to see you?" Padmé inquired as she gestured for a waiter to come and take her companion's order.
Obi-Wan dealt with the waiter before answering. "He was Qui-Gon's Master. The last time I saw him, on Geonosis, he aired a wish that Qui-Gon was still alive as he felt in need of his advice. My intention in accepting the invitation to dinner, was to see if he was sincere."
"And was he?" she asked.
"It seems so," Obi-Wan paused, inwardly debating on whether to tell her what he had just learned. He found it easy to confide in Padmé, their friendship was such that he trusted her not to betray his confidence, even though he knew that she had married his apprentice against his and the Council's wishes. What he had to relay however, could put her in a difficult, if not dangerous position, and he had no desire for any harm to come to her.
But Padmé merely nodded at his unrevealing response, seemingly content to accept his assurance of Dooku's newly found pacifist sincerity, rather than asking him for further confidences. Obi-Wan didn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed. Despite his dislike and usual distrust for and of politicians in general, there were a few Senators whom he did respect, if not agree with, and the beautiful young woman sitting across from him was one of them. He knew that many of their beliefs regarding democracy were the same from their conversations on Naboo, leading him to regard her with a trust that few people outside the Order had.
At the moment, a part of him was longing to talk with someone outside the Order about the news which, Dooku had told him, even though he knew that such discussion would probably end up like the one he had just concluded with the Council. Overriding that temptation was another, the desire to take a break from the troubles of the galaxy, to just be himself, someone he had not the privilege of indulging since those afternoons spent in conversation on Naboo.
"How have you been?" he asked her eventually, letting the latter take over his other responsibilities for now. He needed to relax and unwind, lest he ended up spending the better part of this new day bad tempered from lack of sleep. Jedi could go without sleep for days if they chose, but he had been resorting to that kind of practice too much of late.
He needed this, he realised, astonished and concerned by the depth of his feelings regarding how much he had missed just being with Padmé like this. He had accepted that he was in love with her a long time ago, but he hadn't realise how much he had been denying himself the ability to feel it until now. Out of a desire to pacify his apprentice and to prevent her from realising, he had done his best to conceal the feeling rather than deal with it in the Jedi way, accepting it within the Force before learning to let go. Even he wanted to, that is, and he had known for a long time that he did not.
"Exhausted," Padmé answered, surprising him, causing his eyebrow to raise in response, inviting an explanation. "Senate politics has become a two edged sabre, not knowing who to trust and how far, and what with the situation between the Republic and the Separatists on the brink of war, my duties haven't become any easier. I feel the need to get away from it all, and I know full well that I can't, even for a moment."
Obi-Wan smiled at her, half pleased and half astonished that she felt the same as he, and what's more, was willing to tell him so. He took a sip of his drink and leaned back in his chair before he replied. "So do I. What I wouldn't give for those afternoons on Naboo, ten years ago."
She frowned, causing him to panic for a moment as he thought over what he said and wondered if it let lose some indication of what he felt for her. Her response almost made him sigh in relief. "I thought you wouldn't want to return there, because of Qui-Gon."
He smiled, touched by her compassion. "No, never that. Besides, a Jedi has to face these things, sometimes, you know." He paused, taking another sip of his drink. "I found your planet quite peaceful and beautiful, once the regime was restored, that is."
Padmé smiled at his praise of her home. "There's this place in Varykino, the Lake Country. I wish I was there right now, its the perfect place to relax. There's nothing but lakes and soft green grass. I have a villa there I'd love to show you." She stopped abruptly at this as she realised that she had shown it to Anakin, not that he would remember much of it due to the fact that they hardly ever moved out of the bedroom.
What troubled her about this reminder was that showing the place to Anakin felt like a betrayal to Obi-Wan. As she had talked of the glorious countryside that was the Lake Country, she had entertained a brief image in her mind of spending time with the Jedi Master there, as they had in the gardens of Theed palace ten years ago. Even more troubling, she felt a greater happiness from just imagining that moment, when compared to her brief honey- moon with Anakin.
What was wrong with her, she asked herself. She and Ani were barely married and she found herself feeling happier away from him than in his company. Leaving Coruscant for Pais was a relief, and not just because of the exhausting situation within the Senate. Anakin was different when they were on the Core, she realised. Restless and agitated, with a constant desire to receive the approval of others and not believing it when he did so. Their secret marriage would do little to ease such feelings, she knew, and yet he had been so determined that they should undertake such measures to formalise their relationship.
On Naboo, she had experienced no doubts about going through with the ceremony, however, now as she reflected back on that moment, she knew that her actions were partly motivated by her argument with Obi-Wan. She was sure that it was never his intention to persuade her into doing something he had argued against so vigorously, her own feelings were responsible for such an action. What bothered her was the fact that motivation alone had caused her to marry Ani, not her feelings for him.
"Milady?" Obi-Wan uttered, causing her to break from her thoughts. She looked up at him and smiled, shaking her head, dismissing the slight expression of concern displayed upon his face. She was thankful for his timely interruption. Unconscious as it may have been, he had made her realise that she was married now, and no amount of introspection could change that. She had to accept her new status, and work to make it successful.
Whether she was quite sure about it or not.
To be continued...