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Bid Time Return by Danielle

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Part 15: Watching Breeds Leanness.
(Richard II, act. 2, sc. 1)

Conducting surveillance was a tedious business, and often proved very tiring, even for a Jedi, who could go for several days without sleep, if it was required of them to do so. And as he had a public mission on Naboo as well as a private one, Obi-Wan found himself obliged to forgo rest, so he could catch up on what he missed when he had to attend the contract negotiations with the spice miners, and observe the present surveillance to see if Councillor Palpatine decided to do something treasonous during the night.

When he was not watching the live stream of the Councillor's activities or catching up on recordings he had missed, Obi-Wan still had the opportunity to see Palpatine, for like the Queen and the rest of her cabinet, the minister attended the meetings with the spice miners. Compared to the usual contract negotiations which Jedi were sometimes requested to intervene on behalf of maintaining the peace, Naboo's dispute was quite mild. A planet of pacifist beings by nature, there was little desire to resort to violence, only a need to see that a fair deal for all was reached.

There were protests, demonstrations and strikes, but nothing that directly attacked the elected monarchy or the ministers, or even the business corporation who employed the miners. If it had not been for the surveillance, Jedi intervention would not be required. Obi-Wan found the civilised manner in which the spice miners and their employers went about settling their disagreement fascinating in comparison to the usual situations in which Jedi attended. He hoped that his mission report would reflect the usefulness these meetings could provide to other worlds, who could benefit by following the peaceful example of the Naboo.

During the meetings, along with any other time in the day when he and the Councillor crossed paths, Obi-Wan took care to keep his watch on Palpatine discreet. The surveillance records had shown that he was a clever and potentially dangerous being, plus he did not wish Palpatine to realise that the Jedi were interested in him. That would destroy all of Padmé's hard work to keep an eye on the man over the past ten years.

In public, Palpatine appeared to be a typical provincial minister, who had spent all his life serving his native planet, rising through the ranks more by steadiness than ambition, finally to elective office, withdrawing from the Senate only after support for him to become Chancellor failed to materialise, reasoning that the withdrawal of allies would also prevent him from making a difference as a senator after the elections. It was that decision to run for Chancellor which invited one to peer behind the veil of provinciality, for it was a puzzling move from a man who until then had displayed little ambition beyond his current position.

Behind that veil, as Obi-Wan was slowly discovering, the councillor was so much more than provincial. Despite his retirement, Palpatine retained connections to his former colleagues within the Senate, holding regular talks with them over the com. His financial investments were spread all over the galaxy and he had discussions with various officials and business beings from those systems as well. During these conversations his manner was entirely different from the mild mannered man that attended cabinet, council and contract meetings. He was in command, from start to finish. Nothing was done without his approval, and the response he received from those who he talked to was almost obsequious, and those who failed to deliver what he ordered appeared to be terrified of him.

Politicians wore masks, Obi-Wan had come to learn over the course of his dealings with the Senate, but he had never encountered one as insidious as Palpatine's facade seemed to be. Only once in his life had he met with someone whose outside veneer of an old, decrepit and feeble being concealed a powerful force to be reckoned with; Master Yoda.

And if Palpatine hid such a might as the Grand Master of the Order, then he would prove to be very dangerous indeed.

But proof was lacking. Nothing in the surveillance conveyed why those whom the councillor dealt with were so frightened of disappointing him. Obi-Wan could only conclude that either Palpatine was aware of the surveillance and took care to conduct his scare tactics in blind spots, or there was a concealed area within his livings that had been missed.

So far, there was no sign recorded in the surveillance to indicate the possibility that Palpatine might be aware of it, so Obi-Wan prepared himself for the eventuality of conducting a search into each of the Councillor's houses. His apartment in town and his palace rooms would be a simple matter to arrange, however the estate in the Lake Country would much more difficult to search, as he would need a legitimate reason to travel into Varykino. It was an unspoilt part of Naboo, an area reserved for nature and rest, hardly the place for a spice miners contract negotiation meeting.

The situation seemed hopeless, but as his master often said, a solution will present itself. How, when and what form that solution might take was left unspoken, only time would provide the answers to those questions. Until then, he should wait patiently, keeping his watch over the councillor, attending the negotiations. If he had a padawan things would be different, he or she could have been left to supervise the surveillance while he went to Varykino without any suspicion being aroused. He had briefly considered contacting Master Windu to ask for backup, but he had coped admirably on his own with assignments for several years now, there was no need yet to rely on others to do his mission for him. Not to mention that it might prove dangerous to the Jedi in question. Palpatine could have placed traps or alarms in Convergence, alerting him to intruders.

For now, he pushed the matter of investigating the lake country estate aside and focused on the other duties required of him, such as attending the continuing negotiations between the spice miners and the Naboo Council. These meetings and the surveillance would have to satisfy his observation of Palpatine until an contractual agreement between the spice miners and their employers had been reached, allowing for him to make a public departure, before slipping over the Lake Country to investigate further.

He would need to let the Queen know his intentions, which would be easy to arrange. He had dinner with the Court almost every night, escorted to the dining room either by one of the security officers or one of Amidala's handmaidens. Occasionally it was Padmé, who handed over her sovereign duties to Sabé for a brief time when she wished to talk with him without being observed by her councillors and entourage. Sometimes there were the private dinners in her royal apartments, where they could talk more freely, when she had her fill of councillors and duties for the day and little desire to sit with them in an elaborate gown for a lengthy banquet. Though they had known each other a long time, in public Padmé was careful to keep their acquaintance within the bounds of proper protocol and Obi-Wan respected her for it, as the formality ensured that no undue speculation or curiosity was aroused by his stay.

There was also perhaps another reason for her distance, one which might be a product of his own making. For some time now he had come to care for her, an affection that went far deeper than friendship. He was in love with her, a love that he knew was unlikely to be returned, but impossible to deny all the same. It was said that love was a light which could ignite the stars and while the Order did not create a storm and fury over it, they respected its power and allowed those knights and masters who held such feelings the freedom to express them. Obi-Wan knew that if Padmé returned his affection, the Order would not forbid a relationship, as long as it took place after her third term as Queen of Naboo came to an end. A Jedi and a ruling monarch of a system would attract too much political symbolism and give rise to the wrong type of speculation about the motives behind their relationship.

But he did not think that she did love him. Oh, she cared for him, that much was clear, but not to same degree as he did for her. It was that imbalance of feelings he believed which caused a part of her sadness whenever she was in his company, borne out of a wish not to give him any pain, however unintentionally meant on her part. He did not desire to cause her any pain either and was careful to keep his affection from overstepping the bounds of friendship. It would be enough to see her happy.

Another matter that occupied a part of his mind concerned an officer whom he had only met once. Lieutenant Skywalker. Since his escort to the state dining room under Queen Amidala's panicked eyes, Obi-Wan had seen him only in passing, yet even those moments had been enough to determine what was different about him in comparison to the other members of the Queen's security. Skywalker was Force sensitive and powerfully so at that.

Why Padmé was so concerned over keeping the of them apart was confusing though. At nineteen Skywalker was too old for training, and not the sort of youngling Obi-Wan would be willing to take on as his first padawan anyway. Qui-Gon would have taken the risk, reckless as it would appear, but his master was an experienced teacher and confident of his abilities in being able to mould the young man into a Jedi. He saw the Force as a gift which should never be wasted or ignored, instead explored to its full potential.

Obi-Wan was more cautious however, and there was danger in making a being at that age aware of their power and teaching them how to use it. More often than not, such attempts resulted in a Sith rather than a Jedi. The temptation for power proved too much when pitted against the demand placed on self-discipline and patience. Added to this was the struggle of growing up on a harsh, unforgiving planet such as Tatooine, and as a slave, the boy would find it difficult returning to a life of servitude, which was what the Force demanded, from a certain point of view. Only in serving did a Jedi come to understand the strength and ability which the Force gave them, and wisdom to use such assets.

Skywalker's strength within the Force was not the only reason for her concern he believed, however. Whenever the lieutenant was in the Queen's company, Obi-Wan could sense a strong set of feelings for him within Amidala. A mixture of deep affection, worry and fear. She cared for the boy, Obi-Wan would go so far as to suspect that she loved him, but something held her back from openly declaring that love, and it was not just her worry and fear regarding him, although why she felt such fear was puzzling. One could not fear and love the same person, for the former would always destroy the latter.

Aside from her fear, Obi-Wan suspected that she had at least two other reasons for holding back from declaring her affection. The first was Councillor Palpatine. If he was what Obi-Wan suspected, then she was wise to refrain from revealing her feelings for the Force strong security officer. Her second reason was likely to be the perception that would develop if she had relationship while she was still sovereign of Naboo. She had agreed to a third term because her people wanted it, and if she married before that term was finished, speculation would rise about her turning the elective title into an inherited one.

Her people would be supportive, for there was deep love for their Queen, but Obi-Wan believed that to continue to serve in such a role was not something Padmé desired. Most Naboo who began their careers when they were young retired early from public service to have a family, and he believed that had it not been for her concerns over Councillor Palpatine, Padmé would have stepped down from the throne to do so as well.

Obi-Wan sighed. He wanted to see her happy, even if it was at the cost of his own. He had managed to be content with her friendship for over a decade, he would be able to cope for longer if it was required of him. The life of a Jedi was fraught with cares, and though he knew she was strong enough, he had no desire to give her more after she had endured so many years of them on the throne serving her people.

He told Padmé about his ideas concerning the continuation of the unofficial mission an evening when they were fortunate enough to have a meal together in her apartments. It was several days after he had formed his plans, during which nothing rose from the continuing surveillance to cause them to alter, and the meetings with the spice miners had continued to proceed smoothly until both sides expressed the view that an agreement was in sight. She was pleased that he would be staying after the mission came to an end and relieved that he had found an possible explanation as to why she had not found enough evidence to reveal the true character of Palpatine to the Jedi.

"You believe him to be a Sith, don't you?" He asked her softly.

She nodded in reply. "I can't tell you why, but I know that he is the one who trained that apprentice you defeated on Tatooine. The master that your council has been searching for since then."

Obi-Wan paused to take a sip of his drink as he considered her reply. Since he faced and defeated that Sith on Tatooine, the Council had held many discussions about it. The main one was whether the Sith had been the master or the apprentice. Because he had been charged with helping and protecting her during their time on Tatooine, there was the possibility that she was the target of the warrior's attack, so the Council had kept them informed of their discussions and conclusions, resulting in many a conversation between the two of them about what they had learned over the com. But she had never mentioned to him that she had been conducting her own investigation into one of her councillors, or who she believed was the apprentice and the master.

Until now.

Why she had kept silent probably had a lot to do with Palpatine and her young security officer Lieutenant Skywalker, he guessed. She wanted to be sure of her suspicions before she confided in anybody else and she wanted to protect the man she loved from the Order and the man who might tempt him into learning about the darkside.

"If you discover that he has a secret room or something similar, what you do plan to do next?" she asked him.

"There's only one way I can see of provoking him to lift the masquerade he has in place," Obi-Wan replied. "Offering him an apprentice."

She stilled and he sensed a sudden spark of fear coursing through her. "Who did you have in mind?" she asked.

"Myself," he replied, catching her by surprise.

"But he knows you, he knows you to be a Jedi knight," she objected. "He'll see through you instantly."

"I'll disguise myself," he countered. "Present myself to him as a protégé of his former apprentice who has been searching for him." He paused, reaching across the table to take her hand in his, softly stroking her racing pulse with his fingers until he felt it slowly calm into a steadiness beneath her skin. "Its the only way. Don't worry, I will be careful."

"I can't help it," she confessed. "I don't want to lose you, Obi-Wan."

"You won't," he assured her.

"Don't make promises you can't keep," she uttered softly. "The future is uncertain and forever changeable, a cruel god that plays havoc with our hearts."

There was a bitterness to her words, and he wondered if what she had just said was a part of the key to her private sadness. Letting go of her pulse, he clasped her hand, his eyes never leaving hers. "That may be true, but let me assure you that there are two constants within my promise and within my power; the Force and my caring for you. Together they have the strength to ignite the stars."

"Obi-Wan," she murmured, and he could sense that she was stunned, touched and unsure how to respond to his somewhat passionate yet earnest declaration.

"There's no need to say anything," he added. "I neither expect it or desire you to do so. I just wish for you to accept my meaning and take comfort in it."

"I will try," she answered haltingly.

He smiled at her as he gently corrected her reply. "Do or not. There is no try."
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