He'd been glad to see her, but he refused to do more than kiss her and hold her hand. Sabe' brushed away her tears, realizing she most likely would die an old maid, unloved and untouched.
"Obi-Wan...you startled me."
"Why so sad?"
She shook her head. "Not really. It seems Amidala and Anakin are so...right...so perfect together."
And I will never have anyone...especially not you.
"Sabe'...I can't... I'm a Jedi knight. Ani's case is special... always has been. You remember all that's happened."
"I know, I know, but that doesn't change the way I feel, Obi-Wan Kenobi," she muttered, then turned toward the handmaidens' quarters.
"Wait..." he protested, catching up with as she hurried away.
"Why?" she bit out, refusing to slow her pace.
"Because you need to understand why I can't do this. Really understand." He pulled her into one of the small alcove rooms off the main hallway and pressed her into the window seat. Outside, the Naboo moonlight shone silvery over the plain below. Sabe' gazed out at it without seeing the beauty, her vision veiled in the knowledge of the lonely years ahead of her.
His warm hand curled around hers, forcing her back from the bleak landscape. Before she could pull away, Obi-Wan pulled her into his embrace. He held her gently, lovingly, making the hurt even worse with his kindness.
"I must concentrate on finishing Anakin's training. If I allow myself the distraction of your sweet love, I won't be able to give him what he needs...a strong Master who will always be there for him."
"But he has Amidala! What would be so bad about us being together? I know you can't make a commitment to me...I couldn't make one to you, either. I'm a handmaiden, the Queen's decoy...I have to be here for her." She took a shuddering breath, pressing him closer. "Why can't you give me just a little of yourself? Something I can treasure for the rest of my life?"
He buried his face against her neck, not saying a word for a moment. She could have sworn she felt his lips against her skin before he pulled away. An awful emptiness flooded her as he withdrew himself.
"Not now, Sabe', not now. I have to go soon. The Council needs Master Gallia and me to go to Alderaan. There's a threat to the entire Republic that we can't ignore. I can only pray Anakin and the Queen's honeymoon isn't affected."
She could only stand there, mute, in the face of his logic. Her heart ached, but somehow she managed to stem the tears that pressed against her eyes. When he reached for her hand, she allowed him to hold it for a moment and press his lips to her fingers before he left.
"Farewell, my love. Take care," she whispered to his departing back. Then she made her way to her bed, feeling the loss of his presence more acutely than ever.
Three months flew by and soon the Naboo summer peaked with hot, humid days and nights alike. Anakin felt bad for his wife, as he sweltered enough in his robes during the almost daily hearings. He had never appreciated how hard Amidala worked until he spent his days with her. Silently, he made a vow he would spend as much time as possible helping her.
At the end of his last day on vacation, he dismissed the handmaidens and helped Amidala undress from her regalia. First, he removed the heavy headpiece, intertwined with her soft hair. He brushed out the knots and marveled at the crinkled waves, running his fingers through it and bringing it to his face to inhale her unique scent.
"Ani, we'll never get me out of this if you keep that up," she murmured.
He looked up and met her smiling eyes in the mirror. "Sorry, Am... Couldn't help myself."
She reached back to put her hand over his. "I can't object to that, Ani. Just let me up so you can undo the back of my dress."
With a final touch of her hair, he stood back and let her rise. She walked around the low chair, then turned around to face away, lifting her hair to allow him access to the numerous buttons at the back of her dress. Despite all the intimate times they had shared, Ani's fingers trembled as he worked at the tiny openings. He finally finished, feeling clumsy and inept.
"Help me out of it, Ani. I can't hold it up by myself," she said, turning to face him.
He shrugged off his insecurity and grasped the heavy dress. Amidala shrugged off the shoulders, stepped back and then out of her outfit.
"It goes over there, on that stand." She pointed to appropriate place and he took it over to hang it over the wooden contraption. He fussed with it for a bit, certain the handmaidens would think him totally incompetent at such a simple task.
"It's fine, Ani. Come sit beside me while I take off my makeup." She patted the seat she sat on. He watched her spread a thin layer of translucent white compound over her face, and then wipe away the thick coating of white and red paint. "Hand me the washcloth, please," she asked, her eyes closed.
"Let me, Am." Gently, he took the warm, wet cloth and removed the last vestiges of her role as Queen of Naboo.
"Mmmm... That feels wonderful. You have such a nice touch, love."
"Let me give you a massage, Am. After all day in that get up, I'm sure you're all tight."
She opened her eyes and grinned at him. "Why, Anakin Skywalker! If I didn't know better, I'd say you were propositioning me."
"Aw, Am...I just want to do something nice for you," he protested.
Amidala leaned forward to kiss him, then whispered in his ear. "I know, dear. Don't be silly. I'd love a good massage." She rose and held her hand out to him. "Let's go to bed. It's late and we can sleep in tomorrow."
He followed her into the bedroom. As he undressed and donned his night robe, she shed her own and lay face down on the bed. Anakin went to the dresser, picked her favorite oil, and then knelt beside her on mattress. He poured a small amount in his palm and rubbed it between his hands to warm it.
Her skin felt soft and smooth beneath his touch and she responded to his ministrations with little sounds that nearly drove him mad. How could he bear to leave her? Yet he knew Obi-Wan and Adi Gallia would get back from Alderaan tomorrow. And he had promised to return to the Temple. The Republic would need every Jedi...Master, Knight and Padawan alike...to fight the new threat.
Reluctantly, he ended his massage, running his fingers down Amidala's spine to bracket her hips. He discarded his robe and lay beside her. She opened heavy eyes and studied him with a smoldering look.
"Will you follow up on that promise?"
"What promise?" he asked, not certain what she spoke of.
"To come back..."
"Am, I don't want to leave. But you know the Temple needs everyone."
"You don't have to tell me about obligations, Ani. I have enough of my own to understand." She grimaced, then continued. "I just want you to remember that I'm here. That you don't just belong to the Temple...you belong to me now...and I belong to you."
He pulled her close, holding her tenderly as if she were a precious treasure. "How could you think otherwise, love? I'll never forget you. You're my angel...always will be."
"Just be careful, Ani. And don't forget to keep in touch if you can."
I will...we'll always have this, Am...always.
He caressed her face, tilting her lips to meet his and molding his body to hers. She met him eagerly, almost desperately, as if she too remembered this would be their last night together for some time. As if they could hold off the morning with their lovemaking. All around them, the palace slept, unaware and silent in the face of their impending separation.
In the still night, they curled together, hands and minds linked.
Rest and remember...
Anakin's heart sank at the grim expressions on Obi-Wan and Master Gallia's faces. The news must be bad for them to look so...so...tense, for lack of a better word. They had greeted the Queen and him with appropriate gladness, then asked to speak to Anakin alone. Once they were certain of privacy, Master Gallia told him of their findings.
"I am sorry to tell you, Padawan Skywalker, but you must come back to Coruscant with us. Three Core Worlds have fallen to the Mandalorians since we last stood here." The beautiful Jedi master took a deep breath, a look of profound sorrow in her dark eyes. "Make your farewells to your wife for we must leave immediately."
"Master Gallia is correct, Anakin. Things have progressed to a point of outright war. Several systems have agreed to form their armies against the Mandalorians. Bail Organa of Alderaan leads one and has asked for you and I to work with them." Obi-Wan gave Anakin a rueful half-smile. "Not the way I would have wished to end your honeymoon, but there is little time left if we are to successfully defeat these predators."
"How long?" Anakin managed, a cold pit forming in his chest. All the promises he'd made to Amidala might come to nothing in the face of this situation.
"We depart this evening. Chancellor Palpatine expects our report in person within three days. Even on scrambled lines, there is evidence of a leak. No longer can we send messages regarding our plans or troop movements," Adi Gallia told him. "This, sadly, means any communication with others must be in some other code if sent subspace."
"We leave at twenty-one hundred hours tonight, Anakin," Obi-Wan continued. "Master Gallia and I will get something to eat and a few hours of rest. Meet us at the shuttle in the hangar."
Anakin dipped his head in acknowledgment, then hurried toward the handmaidens' receiving room, where Amidala waited for him. He found the young women surrounding her, discussing speculations of what the Jedi delegation had come to report. For a moment he stood in the doorway, his hands clenched at his sides as he watched them, like butterflies lighting on the sweet flower that was his wife.
"Your Majesty...a moment, please," he broke in.
The room grew silent. Amidala took in the look on his face and shooed the others away. She stood and joined him, linking her arm through his and moving toward their quarters.
"What is it, Ani? From your face, it must be bad."
"The Mandalorians have moved against three other worlds and continue toward Coruscant. Obi Wan and Master Gallia have come to take me back to the Temple. Then my Master and I will return to Alderaan. We're fighting beside Bail Organa."
Amidala drew in a sharp breath. "So it is war, then."
"Yes, Am. I don't know how long I'll be gone."
Or if I'll come back...despite my promises.
They continued on in silence and once they reached their room, she shut the door behind them. He sensed her pain and fear and wished he could give her soothing words, but none came, his own feelings echoing hers.
"When must you leave?"
"Tonight. I'm to meet them in the hangar bay at twenty-one hundred hours. We have to be back on Coruscant by the end of the week to report the Council and Chancellor Palpatine."
He didn't mention the communication problem, not wanting to worry her further. He needn't have worried, for she flung herself into his arms, holding him as though she would never release him.
"Then we don't have much time, love," she said, tears in her voice. "Give me another memory to hold close before you go."
"Am, no matter what, I'll be close." He shut his eyes, reaching out for her with his mind.
I'll always be with you, this way. It doesn't matter how far away I am, we'll have this.
She nestled against him, her voice so low he had to strain to make out the words. "I know, but that doesn't make this any easier."
Without another word, he tightened his embrace for a moment, then scooped her into his arms and carried her toward their bed. Once there, he proceeded to give what she asked for and what he needed as well...memories to carry them through their separation.
Later, they lay quiescent in each other's arms, enjoying the closeness after lovemaking. Reluctant to break the mood, Anakin ran his thumb over her arm absently, his thoughts filled with the coming conflict. He shielded those worries from her, knowing them disturbing and feeling them an unnecessary worry.
"You should eat before you go, Ani. Force knows when you'll have another decent meal."
"Mmm...in a bit. Right now, you're the only food I need, Am." He nuzzled her neck, and then began kissing her again.
His lips muffled her replies, but she didn't object, just turned to him with renewed fire... Taking him completely within her, body and soul, their thoughts and sensations merged, all the more poignant for the pressure of time on them.
They must have fallen asleep, for an insistent knocking on the door aroused Amidala. She sat up at once and looked around the room. The sky outside the window had begun to color with sunset.
"Ani, wake up! It's late," she said, then shook his arm when he didn't move.
He stretched with a wide yawn and gave her a sleepy smile. "Plenty of time, but you're right."
She rose and drew on her robe to answer the door. Sabe' waited there, a tray of food in her hands. She grinned at Amidala, taking in her disheveled state and a still-reclining Anakin in the rumpled bed.
"Thought you might want a bite before it gets any later," she commented, holding out the food to Amidala. "It's about seven. Obi-Wan said he wanted to remind you, Lord Skywalker, that the shuttle departs in two hours."
"Tell him I'll be there, Sabe'," Anakin replied with a grin in return.
Amidala closed the door after her friend left, then placed the tray on the table. "Come, let's eat. I'm starving."
He laughed as he joined her. "Must be all the exercise you got lately."
"Brute! And just who put me through all that *exercise* I might ask?" she asked in mock indignation.
Anakin held his hands up. "Hey, you asked for it."
She relented with a smile. "Indeed, I did." Then she sobered. "Thank you, Ani. Those are precious memories for me... These last three months have been incredible."
"For me, too, Am," he replied, taking her hand. They studied each other as if fearing they would never meet again. Amidala, ever the practical one, broke the contact first.
"We need to eat or this will be cold and unpalatable," she managed, her voice tight.
Anakin sighed, nodded in agreement and began shoveling food onto the plates. They ate without further words, each taking pleasure in the presence of the other in companionable silence. Once they finished, they bathed, barely able to keep from returning to the bed.
"I can't, Am. I've got to go. There's only about twenty minutes before we leave."
"I know, Ani, I know. Just hold me again," she whispered against his chest.
He struggled to constrain his aching body and enfolded her in his arms, knowing she needed the reassurance of his physical presence until the last moment. She stood on tiptoe to press a kiss to his neck, and then pushed away. Her gaze moved over him, drinking in his appearance in its entirety. Forcing himself to stand still, he could almost feel that gaze and realized she was indeed memorizing him as he had done to her earlier.
"Let's get you ready to go, love. Obi-Wan will be waiting," she managed. She began to don her simplest dress.
Anakin closed his eyes, willing his body to behave, then pulled on his own clothes. He could only pray that this war wouldn't last too long. It didn't seem fair that he must leave her so soon. But then, any time would seem too soon, he admitted.
He held out his arm to her and together they walked to the hangar to meet Obi-Wan and Adi Gallia. Amidala promised she would keep him updated on Naboo affairs. After all, he was her consort now and a part of its doings. In return, he promised he would tell her all he could about the situation he found himself in, though he warned her that he couldn't give her details because of security.
"I understand. One can't be too cautious in these circumstances," she agreed without probing for more information.
Master Gallia stood beside the shuttle. Of Obi-Wan, there was no trace.
"Padawan Skywalker, would you care to pilot the shuttle back to Coruscant?" she asked.
"Wizard!" he blurted, then looked acutely embarrassed. "I mean, yes...thank you, Master Gallia."
Amidala exchanged amused looks with Adi Gallia. Yes, indeed, there was still a lot of that young boy Amidala had first met on Tattooine in her husband.
Anakin looked around. "Where's Obi-Wan?"
"He'll be here shortly, Anakin," Master Gallia told him. "Why don't we board and do the preflight check before he gets here? I'll get things ready. Come onboard once you've said your last farewells."
"Sure," Anakin replied, his mind occupied with a myriad of concerns.
"Take care, Ani," Amidala told him.
"I will, Am," he promised. "Remember, I have you to come back to after all."
They embraced for a few moments. He took her face between his hands and placed a tender kiss on her forehead. With a wave, he went up the shuttle's ramp, sensing Amidala's gaze on his back as he left.
In the quarters assigned to Obi-Wan, two people scrambled to straighten their clothing and pull themselves into some semblance of order. Sab?ad waylaid Obi-Wan, trapping him in his room after she had delivered the food to Amidala and Anakin. The sensuality emanating from the Queen's bedroom had driven her to seek out her own love.
She didn't care that he'd told her he couldn't get involved. Who knew what would happen in this war? He might be killed or terribly injured. And she didn't want to take the chance she would never see him again without experiencing his touch. Because of this, she took the initiative and forced the issue.
Obi-Wan had opened the door and she had flung herself into his arms, pressing kisses on him. He stood still for a few moments until she feared he would throw her out. Then, his arms enclosed her and he began returning her caresses.
"Sabe', this isn't wise..." he began.
"I know, Obi-Wan, but are you always wise?"
He groaned and with a quick look around the corridor, ducked back in and shut the door. She relished the feel of his soft lips and beard against her skin and though they had little time, she pressured him to hurry.
"I don't want to hurt you, Sabe'," he protested.
"You won't, Obi-Wan...you won't," she assured him as she pulled him closer.
He reinforced his shields, not wanting any Force sensitives to pick up his feelings as he made love to Sabe'. While he could have wished for better circumstances, he set aside his objections and gave her what they both truly wanted. Careful not to let anything leak through, he pulled on the Force a bit to ease his entry and nearly cried out the intense feeling of her enveloping him.
Close to losing his control, he made himself concentrate on bringing her pleasure before he allowed his own release. Despite the short time they had, he held her close once they finished, murmuring love words. Then, reluctantly, he released her.
"I have to go, Sabe'."
"Yes," she replied, refusing to meet his eyes.
"Love, look at me," he commanded, raising her face to his. He saw shame and sorrow in her eyes and he castigated himself for giving in. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have... We shouldn't have..."
"Never say it, Obi-Wan. I'm only sad because I know this is all I'll ever have." She straightened her shoulders and her look took on a steely quality. "Don't apologize. At least now I know what it would be like to have your love."
She held up her hand. "I don't expect any promises. I knew this was only temporary. Just...just think of me kindly sometimes."
He pulled her back into his arms, murmuring, "Always, Sabe'. Your gift of yourself means more to me than I can ever say. I just wish...things were different. That I could take you as my wife..."
"Hush... You know that's not possible. You and I have obligations to others that keep us from such relationships." She sighed, snuggling closer for a moment, then pushed him away. "Now, you have to leave tonight. We'd best get you ready."
They helped each other get presentable, then hurried toward the hangar bay. Amidala stood alone, her gaze fixed on shuttle. Obi-Wan bowed to the Queen, gave Sabe' a private 'I'll remember' look, then headed up the ramp.
"You went to him, didn't you, Sabe'?" Amidala asked without taking her gaze from the shuttle.
"I... Yes, Your Majesty," Sab?dmitted, uncertain if she had angered Amidala.
"There's something about these Jedi, I must agree. How can I fault you, my friend, when I've fallen under their spell as well? Now, come, they're about to leave."
The shuttle's engines began to whine and glow in preparation of departure. Sabe' and Amidala retreated to a safe distance to view the ship as it rose and moved out of the hangar bay. They watched until the shuttle's engines become nothing more than twin specks of light in the sky, then disappeared among the stars.
"It won't be the same around here," Amidala muttered.
"How true, Your Majesty, how true," Sabe' replied, hugging herself and feeling empty and alone.
"I feel the same, Sabe'. As if a hole has opened in my soul...a part of me is gone." Amidala shook herself free of the melancholy. "Come now. Let's return to our quarters and see if we can get any rest. Tomorrow will be very busy."
Wrapped in their individual memories, the two Naboo women walked back to their respective rooms. Both knew their lives had forever changed because of their relationships with two Jedi men. They had forged yet another link to each other that no other shared.