Despite Yoda's foreboding predictions, Obi-Wan felt compelled to appeal to Anakin's good side. He found his former Padawan... how that hurt... at his wife's side. Sabe' met Obi-Wan's gaze, a moment of understanding passing between them before Obi-Wan greeted the couple.
"Queen Amidala, Anakin... Good to see you again," he told them with a smile.
Amidala rose and met him with hands extended to clasp his. "Obi-Wan! Indeed, how good to see you again. How are Masters Yoda and Windu?"
Obi-Wan looked down before he continued, trying to compose himself. "Last I heard, Master Windu had left Coruscant to come to the aid of another Jedi contingent under attack. I fear I have no idea how his endeavor has fared. Yoda remains well." He squeezed Amidala's hands before releasing them and joining Anakin. "I must speak to you, Anakin. It's of vital importance."
"What is it, Obi-Wan? Surely it doesn't concern us," Anakin told him, not even acknowledging Obi-Wan as his Master any longer.
"The Emperor has denied all non-human systems membership in the Imperial Senate. He has appointed Sector Governors to oversee all government functions and told the Senators they must act as representatives for the non-human worlds in their sectors."
Anakin frowned and Obi-Wan could almost see the wheels turning. He didn't push any further, merely allowed the startling information sink in for a few moments before continuing. "The Jedi need you, Anakin. I need you. So many have died... More since the Wars ended."
Amidala rejoined them, laying a hand on Anakin's arm. "Ani, please... Go with Obi-Wan. I'll be fine here. There are larger concerns now. If the Jedi disappear, the galaxy will be a poorer place."
"I won't leave you again, Am. Anywhere I go, you go with me." He gave Obi-Wan a challenging glare, then placed his hand over Amidala's as he answered. "Very well. I'll come with you to Coruscant. I have something I must address with Master Yoda anyway."
Obi-Wan held back his grimace at Anakin's grudging return, but at this point, he felt he had staved off the worst. He'd have to speak to Amidala alone some time in the future, so Anakin's insistence on her accompanying them actually worked to his benefit. He gave Amidala a bow and retired with Sabe' to his usual assigned quarters.
As they walked toward the room, Sabe' gave a quick glance around, then slipped her hand into his. "I missed you terribly, Obi-Wan."
"And I you, Sabe'," he admitted.
They had reached his door. He hesitated, debating the wisdom of renewing their relationship. She took the decision from him as she opened the door and pulled him inside. As he turned to face her, she shut the door and leaned against it, looking at him as if he were her savior.
She didn't reply, merely threw herself into his arms, holding him so tightly he felt certain his ribs creaked. He didn't fight her, just wrapped his arms around her, sensing her anguish.
"What's wrong, Sabe'? You seem... upset."
"Oh, Obi-Wan," she sobbed into his shoulder.
He found himself stroking her hair, then moving with her to sit on the window seat. She'd not been this distressed since Naboo's fall. Moments passed as she wept in his arms, then she took a shuddering breath and raised a tear soaked face.
"It's been dreadful, Obi-Wan. After we came here, Amidala drove herself to exhaustion. I tried to keep her from hurting herself... Then, the Dafier influenza epidemic began. Ani helped find a vaccine, but Amidala says the last woman she visited before she fell ill herself told her the Mandalorians had used some sort of biological weapon. She... she also said the woman told her Jedi died saving them." She reached up to caress his face. "I'm so afraid, Obi-Wan. Afraid for not only myself, but everything we've known. Afraid that I'll lose you completely."
"I know I have no hold on you, but at least I've known you are Jedi... A force to be reckoned with and a man who can survive a great deal. Now... Everything seems so dangerous... so unsettled. People who seemed they would live forever have died. Nothing's the same."
"Hush, love. I'll be around for a long time." He brushed his lips against hers for a moment. "Will you come with Amidala to Coruscant?"
"If it means we can be together, Obi-Wan. Even for a just a little... I need you. You're my rock in this stormy sea."
Though he knew it unwise, Obi-Wan couldn't refuse her. She turned in his arms, her sorrow melting into a passionate reunion as they both realized how precious and fleeting every moment could prove.
Bail Organa had seemed to age in the years since the Clone Wars had begun. Obi-Wan spoke to him of the most recent news on Coruscant and found he had a staunch supporter in the Alderaanian.
"I mislike this latest edict, though we'll keep our presence in the Senate as long as Palpatine allows. Whatever I can do for the Jedi, I will, Obi-Wan. You've proven a good friend. As for Alderaan..." The ruler grimaced. "We can no longer afford a reputation as a producer of weapons and warships. Since the Wars, we've suffered our own losses. From now on, I've declared a ban on weapons and neutrality in any further conflicts. All current stockpiles are being destroyed as we speak. We must rebuild and regroup."
"I understand, Prince Organa, and appreciate your gracious offer of assistance. I only hope the Jedi need never take you up on it." He moved on to the next pressing issue. "It seems Amidala will join her husband once again. She's traveling with us to Coruscant. Anakin's going to speak to Master Yoda and he doesn't wish to leave her, no matter how safe Alderaan may be."
Organa sighed, looking weary. "I deeply regret her illness and the loss of their child. Although I've extended my condolences to Lord Skywalker, he seems... aloof, almost untouchable. Not at all the personable young man I first knew. I fear the Wars affected us all in more ways than one."
Obi-Wan could only nod, concurring with the Prince's assessment, but unwilling to divulge any of his own fears. As he went back to his quarters to prepare for the trip to Coruscant, he wondered how Yoda had fared with Owen. Ever practical Owen. Why in the seven hells his brother had decided to take up moisture farming on Tattooine, he would never know. The place had always seemed a desolate backwater, unfit for human habitation. Still, its very remoteness did provide a certain anonymity. Owen also had been very vocal in his disdain of everything Jedi, calling the Force and those who could tap into it 'magic' and 'wizards.' Since he barely knew of his parents, Obi-Wan could only speculate that Owen still resented their constant praise of the Jedi son, while seeming to ignore the other child. It pained him greatly, this bitterness from his only living relative. The younger man seemed so... alone and angry.
The Jedi Knight shook off his melancholy mood and set his mind on the upcoming meeting with Yoda. He anticipated the Master's disapproval of bringing Anakin back to Coruscant, but he wasn't willing to give up on the young man yet. There had to be a way to stop the dark future the Master had predicted. After all, didn't Yoda himself say the future was always in motion? Just giving up wasn't Obi-Wan's way.
"A Knight you say? What makes you think ready you are for Knighthood, Padawan?" Yoda demanded.
"I have proven myself, Master Yoda. Not only as a Jedi, but as a warrior in the Clone Wars," Anakin retorted. "With so few Jedi at this time, you need me."
"Hmpf! Need your anger, the Jedi do not. Need your stubbornness, the Jedi do not. Small our numbers are indeed, but better that than one who cannot control his rage and hatred."
Anakin ground his teeth, feeling the hot emotions boiling up, ready to explode. He shoved them back down, replacing them with an icy calm. "Indeed, Master Yoda. Then why did Knight Kenobi beg me to return to the Jedi?"
Yoda peered over at Obi-Wan, who met his gaze with his own brand of defiance. Anakin remembered the same look from Qui-Gon when he'd stood up for a young boy from Tattooine being trained as a Jedi and saying he would take him as his Padawan learner. At that time, Qui-Gon had turned his back on Obi-Wan and said Kenobi stood ready for his trials. Now his old Master seemed discomfited and yet willing to stand up for him also.
"Well, Obi-Wan? What have you to say? Told you I did of what the future holds, yet defy me you have," Yoda accused.
Anakin frowned, wondering what darkness the old troll had foreseen. He held a grudging respect for Yoda, aware of how powerful the visions the old Master had and how often they proved true. Obi-Wan moved to stand beside Anakin.
"Master Yoda, I will not abandon Anakin. He may no longer wish to be my Padawan, but he is powerful in the Force and can help us rebuild the Jedi Order," Obi-Wan protested.
Yoda merely made a disgusted sound and closed his eyes. Silence reigned in the nearly deserted Council chamber. Mace Windu had not returned and Anakin could only speculate that some ill had befallen the powerful Master. He opened his mouth to ask Yoda if they were dismissed when the Master's eyes flew open to glare at him.
"Go you must to Naboo. There you will find your destiny, Anakin Skywalker. Survivors there are of the Wars. Deal with those issues you must before any sort of promotion will I consider."
Anakin and Obi-Wan bowed and left without further words. Neither spoke as they walked toward their quarters, a great deal still unresolved between them.
Amidala paled. Return to Naboo... Could she bear to see the devastation again? Yet could she stand to be apart from Ani yet again? Especially at this time, for she could sense how fragile he was... Once more she must be strong, hold herself together for others. And indeed, if Naboo held survivors she must go to them. Only Esme', Sabe' and Yane's younger sister, Beru had come with her this time. The rest of her surviving handmaidens had opted to remain on Alderaan. Three had found young Alderaanian men to marry and she could hardly begrudge them their happiness. She pulled her composure around her like a cloak and gave her most brilliant smile to Anakin.
"Of course I'll come with you, Ani. Not only do I want to be with you, but I need to be there if there are truly survivors," she leaned forward to kiss him.
That special spark ignited with the brief touch and he pressed forward, forgetting the others' presence. Amidala sank against him for a moment, then gently pulled away with a rueful smile and a mental vow to carry out that promise later.
"Now, we must get ready. We'll need medical supplies and food in case there are casualties among them. I can't imagine them to be in very good condition," she said briskly, trying to ignore her aching heart and body. One came from the misery of Naboo's sorry state, the other from the enforced celibacy she agreed to after... She pushed away the grief and busied herself with the necessary preparations.
Perhaps at least a few Naboo and Gungans had indeed escaped, but she remembered the search Ani and the Alderaanian forces had done. How could they have missed anything? Though she held hope close, she feared other forces at work. Palpatine's visit loomed in her mind, the odd sense of invasion when he held her hand for a few moments. That touch had left her feeling unclean, yet deep inside she'd felt the last vestiges of her illness and miscarriage fade, replaced with an increased sense of urgency to go to Ani.
Gods, how could she feel this way? What had that spider done to her? She should concentrate on the rescue effort, not be thinking of heated moments with her husband. Still, she couldn't shake off the terrible drive to mate with him. More than her normal desire to be with him, this seemed obsessive and she forced herself to push it away. That time would come soon enough. Now she must turn all her energies to supporting him and Obi-Wan on their journey. As what remained of her entourage scurried around, packing things away, she pressed a trembling hand to her flat abdomen. Her legs felt weak and she ached... there. With a frown, she resolutely joined the other women, frantically throwing herself into the activity to distract herself.
Naboo hung like a blue and green jewel in the black, star-studded sky. Here and there dark splashes marred the surface, but overall the planet still held beauty. Amidala gazed out the window with mixed emotions. She managed to avoid Anakin's bed during the flight, though she knew it pained him greatly. With an effort, she pled she still needed more time before they made love, yet it seemed everything within her screamed she lied. All she could hope for was that the task ahead of them would divert them both from wanting to give in to their physical needs.
They entered the atmosphere and skimmed the surface, searching for any signs of life. In the two years since its fall, Naboo had barely begun to recover. A few animals fled before the ship, a few of the trees struggled to put forth new growth. Then Theed appeared, the wreckage more apparent as they approached from the plains. Amidala bit back a cry at the site of the once beautiful city's wounds. The palace remained nearly intact, though one side where the handmaidens' quarters had been still showed the effects of the Mandalorian ion cannon.
Thankfully, they moved away from the painful sight and landed on the plains, near the shattered jungle, to make camp. Amidala and the other women began setting up a makeshift field hospital while Obi-Wan and Anakin took separate speeders to go over every inch of ground in the surrounding area. That night, they returned late, exhausted and subdued with their lack of success.
"Don't worry, Ani. There's many places survivors could have holed up. I'm just happy some of the animals survived," she reassured him. He seemed so depressed and withdrawn. With a sigh, she leaned against him, pulling his arm around her waist.
"Don't shut me out, Ani. I need you," she whispered, snuggling against his warmth as they huddled around the fire.
"I'm not, Am. It's just... I thought we'd find somebody today. There were... signs. I felt some sort of presence, but when I followed it, all I found was an abandoned campsite. Couldn't even tell if it was Naboo or Gungan." He dropped his chin on her head with a deep sigh.
"We've only just arrived, Ani. Give it time. Besides, I'm sure those who lived through the Wars probably are terrified of anyone who flies over. Maybe tomorrow I can come with you. I have an idea where we might look."
"Okay. Certainly doesn't seem to be anything dangerous around here anymore. I couldn't even sense any of the deep-water predators today. Either they're in hiding, too or the Mandalorians ruined more than just the surface." He pulled away, giving her a tentative smile. "How are you? You've been busy all day from what I can see."
She blushed, picking up the need he didn't bother to shield, then lowered her gaze. "I... I'm fine. Not really tired, just on edge."
"I know a way to take that edge off, Am," he murmured, placing a finger under her chin to make her meet his eyes. "It's been long enough. Please, Am... I want you and you want me. Don't turn me away."
Her breath caught at the naked desire in his eyes. All the frustrations of the past weeks came flooding back. The sorrow at the lost child, the worry that Anakin had become something terrible, then that he would leave her. The tightly leashed passion he'd displayed and turned into tender care and patience. A patience she felt ashamed to have thought he didn't possess. She pushed aside the niggling worry that Palpatine had once again manipulated her. There had been no need for that, for she dearly loved Anakin, physically, mentally and emotionally.
Tonight he needed her more than any time in the past and she had to acknowledge she returned that need. Tomorrow would take care of itself. For this starlight Naboo night, she belonged to him. No worries of being the Queen of a devastated world, nor the wife of Jedi who tread perilously close to the Dark Side, merely the beloved of a wonderful, caring young man who saw her as his angel, his shining creature of light. For him she would put aside those burdens and give of herself without thought of the future.
She flowed into his arms, meeting him kiss for kiss. Around them, the sounds of the sleeping camp and planet faded. Anakin picked her up and carried her to their tent. He laid her on the mat, then settled beside her.
"I love you, Am. Never doubt it," he whispered. "No matter what. I'm yours."
"I know, Ani. I--"
He quieted any further discussion with a kiss. Then, only the sounds of love echoed through the campsite. In Obi-Wan's tent, Sabe' had joined him, providing with the same solace as Amidala gave to Anakin.
From behind a fallen tree, a pair of yellow eyes took in the ship and tents. The eyestalks swiveled around, then the eyes closed and the creature sighed.
"Meesa tink da bombad Jedi have come back to Naboo. Gotta tell da Boss 'bout dis." The Gungan scurried off into what remained of the jungle.