Title: Circle of Healing
Author: eretria
Email: tiny_eretria@yahoo.com
Fandom: Star Wars (TPM)
Rating: I'm so lousy at rating :o( So, just to make sure I don't offend anyone, I'd say: PG-13? (Well, maybe not for this chapter, but for the chapters to come)
Summary: oof. Can I do that? Obi-Wan loses himself more and more in the grief for the most important person in his life. Will he find his way back? (Now, if that's not lousy . . . :o) )
Setting: shortly after TPM
Spoilers: since everyone has seen TPM, I'm afraid I can't spoiler anyone anymore, so: Nope
Category: Obi/Padme
Disclaimer: StarWars, its characters and premise belong to George Lucas. I do not own them. I'm Just borrowing them to build my own little story line and hope to return them in good shape. (er . . .) I don't intend to make any profit from writing this, so please (as always) don't sue me. All the other persons come straight out of my warped little mind and therefor belong to me.
Archive: Archive
Feedback: I'd hop around joyous if someone would take the time! I need to know if this works for you, too.
Notes: This story is the translation of the Original I have written in my native tongue. If something sounds somehow . . . Hm, edgy, it surely is a translation error. Please don't shoot me right away for it!

I need to give loads of thanks to Willa and Cassia for taking the time to beta this. No me without you, gals. :o) And, of course biggest possible thanks go out to my muse. Without her this story would never come as far as it is. Thank you, luv. :o)

Words in italics imply thoughts

Oh, another thing. This story (sadly) is WIP. (Hey, who's groaning there? :o) ) Students have little time (yes, it still happens somewhere out there), so please don't get nervous if I can't quite catch up translating fast enough. It does take some time to do it properly and it's not like I had bugger all to do :o). Thx!

Oïgame compay! No deje el camino por coger la vereda.(Listen friend! Don´t stray from the path.)

(Ibrahim Ferrer)

The tea he was given shone in a dark gold colour. He felt the heat the drink was exuding, but he didn't actually realise it. Nearly automatically he placed the delicate bowl to his lips and swallowed mechanically, without thinking. There was nothing left to think about. His mind was exhausted.

The healer priestess waited until he had finished drinking and carefully took the bowl out of his hands. "You need to rest, young master."

Rest! What an irony. If I hadn't rested that much in the past, this rest I'm advised to have won't be necessary now.

The woman watched the form of the man thoroughly.

He could have been her son. A young man, barely 25 years old, clad in a sand coloured tunic accompanied by brown breeches. A roughly weaved cloak lay around his shoulder. She didn't know if it just seemed that way to her, but she couldn't shove aside the feeling that the weight of this cloak was going to crush him.

"Rest, young master," she repeated. She was sure that he wouldn't follow her advice. Just like he hadn't followed any of her advice since she had seen him for the very first time.

The priestess shook her head in worry. Things couldn't continue on this way.

She was interrupted in her thoughts when a small hand was placed on her arm. Even though she managed to quell a shocked yelp, she could feel her heart pounding painfully against her ribcage.

The fragile figure of a young woman, clad in a cloak which nearly hid her face completely, pointed towards the young man. "How is he?"

The priestess motioned for the newly arrived to follow her. With a last glance at the figure in the heavy brown cloak she retreated into the shadow of the high vaults. Once arrived, the hither-to unrecognised woman turned back the hood of her cape.

The priestess sank to her knees with a suppressed sound of surprise. "Your Highness, I wasn't informed that you were planning a visit . . ."

"I beg you, get up." The queen's voice was soft." There is no need for you to kneel in front of me." An apologetic smile flashed over her face. "I wanted to look for him alone. There is no need for the whole royal household to accompany me."

Only when she got up the priestess realised that the queen hadn't only come in a simple robe. The make-up, usually her constant companion outside the palace, was missing. Suddenly she looked very young.

"Tell me, Reaja. How is he?"

Sorrow clouded the face of the woman in her best years. "I don't know, your highness. The physical wounds have healed. But as sad as it is, my healing powers don't extend to the soul."

The queen frowned and glanced back to the silver sparkling pond where the tall figure still hadn't moved. "Is there nothing we can do?"

"Before the healing process of his soul can begin, he has to learn to forgive himself. I'm afraid that he is not ready for that yet. Until then . . ." Reaja sighed heavily, "I can only stop his body from failing."

A second priestess in the traditionally radiant blue robe of the healers appeared out of the vaults. She didn't recognise the queen, who had turned away slightly and quietly but urgently talked to Reaja. With an indicated bow that showed her respect for the older woman she retreated.

"I am being called back to the temple, your highness."

The young woman turned to face the priestess. "Do you think I can stay?"

The queen's voice was so sad that Reaja had to restrain herself not to scoop her into a warm, motherly hug. This woman in front of her wasn't the queen of a whole nation any longer. This was a young woman who worried about a friend, even more than she admitted. Reaja saw the brown eyes darkening, just as if shadows would fly over them, dark premonitions and fear.

She whispered a short spell to save her from harm and then placed two fingers on the perfect parting. The queen was momentarily confused but when she recognised what the priestess was doing she smiled.

"I thank you, Healer," she replied her short appreciation.

Without any further word the priestess turned on her heel and left the queen behind in light rain.

The woman looking at the still figure near the rain-ruffled pond wasn't the queen anymore. This wasn't Amidala, the cool and self-controlled woman who led her people with a strong hand and a calm demeanour. This was Padme, the woman she had been before – the woman she still was.

Sometimes this hide-and-seek confused even her and often she asked herself which of those two lives was better. The queen's or the handmaiden's? No matter how often she thought about it - she never found an answer. And maybe it was good the way it was. Only due to this circumstances she could allow herself those rare minutes in which she - far away from the stiff ritual and the pomp of the palace - could simply be herself. Without make-up, without ornaments for her hair that seemed to weigh a ton and without those gowns that made moving a nearly impossible task.

Now here she was and desperately wished for the authority which this mask brought with it. Perhaps it would've helped the friend. Perhaps the queen's authority would bring him out of this lethargy. Padme dismissed the thought as fast as it had come. Authority would only drive him further over the edge.

But what was she supposed to do now? Helplessness was not a feeling she was used to.

Reluctantly she walked a few steps out of the vaults and up to him. The rain was icy cold and even though she wore a cloak it seemed to go right through to her skin. Nevertheless she didn't dare to go any closer. The young Jedi had erected an aura of dismissal around him, with the intent to send everyone away, no matter how noble his intentions were. No one, not even his Padawan had been able to reach him.

Had all of this really happened just a week ago? To Padme it seemed like an eternity. No one could begin to know how often she had been here since that day. Too often she had sneaked out of her rooms and had left Captain Panaka and the royal household behind in panic.

But that didn't matter. Her worries were only on the young Jedi that was standing out there in the rain. Whose loss was her fault. The rain was falling steadily by now, drenching her cloak. Padme was miserably cold. Her gaze wandered back to him.

Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Did he know that she was standing here, watching him? Did he know how much she suffered with him, how much the pain of the recent loss hurt her, too?

'If I hadn't asked for their help, his master would still be alive right now.'

That sentence had burned into her thoughts and no matter how often she tried to push it away - Obi-Wan's silent grief was there to remind her of it.

'I have those lives on my conscience. Qui-Gon's, the pilot's, the Gungan's . . . How do you live with a load like that? Is that the burden that a queen is requested to carry? Is it demanded?'

Padme's teeth had started to shatter in a steady rhythm, without her realising it. She welcomed the cold like a punishment for her actions.

'What else could I have done?' she asked herself. 'My people would have been killed or enslaved! But was our freedom worth this terrible price?'

Her head started to hurt as the unknown load of her conscience sank onto her shoulders with its full power.

'And Kenobi? What right did I have to make him become this shadow of himself?'

Padme raised her face into the rain to stop the hot tears that threatened to fall. She couldn't cry like a small child. She still was the queen, no matter if Padme or Amidala - both were expected to be in control of their feelings. But why did it hurt so much? Why did she feel like breaking apart under the horrible weight of her guilt?

As if he had sensed her thought, Kenobi turned around to face her. Padme cringed under the gaze. The eyes that had once been a mesmerising, radiant blue had become dull. His face looked sunken and emaciated. How could a single week possibly destroy so much in a man?

Kenobi didn't avert his eyes. "Your majesty."

Had that been a formal announcement? An indictment? A question? The answer froze in her throat. She felt the urge to run, far, far away to avoid the pain in his eyes. But she was locked in the place, not being able to move a single muscle.

The young Jedi took a halfhearted step towards her. His eyes were still filled with an almost inhuman, barely endurable pain. "The rain is cold, your highness. You shouldn't be here."

Padme swallowed and forced the words around the lump in her throat. "Is the rain any less cold for you, Jedi Kenobi?"

"What difference does it make?"

Unwanted anger arose in Padme. Who did he think he was? Who gave him the right to occupy all of the grief for himself, to drown in it without thinking of the others?

"You're so self-righteous, Jedi Kenobi." The words had left her mouth before she could think about why she wanted to say them.

The young man lifted his tired eyes. He didn't even try to look surprised. The rain started to leave its marks on his handsome features. They looked like tears.

"Am I?" he asked. "Well, if your majesty thinks that way, then I wonder why you are still concerning yourself with me. The palace surely has a warm bath and dry garments ready for you."

The self-loathing that reverberated in those words hit her like a slap in the face. What had made her say that? She had had no right.

Still reluctant she closed the remaining distance between them. "By chance I know that there is enough hot water and dry garments for two."

She tried to smile without letting it become the pained grimace it threatened to become. Just as she had expected the Jedi didn't return the smile but stared at the clear play of the raindrops on the surface of the pond.

This place was beautiful, but Padme doubted that the Jedi realised it.

"Come with me, Jedi Kenobi," she implored.

Under no circumstances would she leave him standing here. Jedi or not, she knew those rains better than he did. She knew how high the chance to catch a nasty flu was. Every Naboo new.

But Kenobi was no Naboo.

Even though thoughts of impropriety worried her, she was unable to stop herself from tugging on the drenched sleeve of his cloak. The brown fabric must have become extremely heavy with all the water it had soaked up.

"I thank you, your majesty but I prefer to stay here."

'Damn Jedi politeness!' she scolded inwardly.

There was nearly no more effective way to chase someone away than this kind of icy politeness. Too bad for him that she was immune to that. Too long she had had to learn to use exactly this kind of tactic to not be able to walk around it.

"Jedi Kenobi, I don't want to make this an order, because I am not here as the queen. I ask you as your friend: Come with me. Qui-Gon surely wouldn't want you to catch your death out here."

Kenobi mumbled something that was too quiet for her to understand, but he nodded. With heavy steps that made all the ease and the litheness of his usual way of carrying himself forgotten, he followed the queen. Both of them left a twinkling trail of droplets of water behind them on the marble floor of the vaults.

Padme had some difficulties trying to calm down an agitated Captain Panaka and a much more agitated handmaiden. Sabé, her personal bodyguard was outraged about the queen's little excursion. Padme didn't need an angry outburst from her to find that out. She saw it in the tense posture and in the reproachful looks Sabé gave her.

"Sabé, bring dry garments for the Jedi and me and prepare a bath." Her teeth were chattering so fast by now that she found it hard to talk at all. Her jaw hurt.

The handmaiden raised a questioning eyebrow, but retreated from the queen's chambers without a further word. Padme knew that it was unseemly to bring a man into those chambers. But as of right now she didn't care about what was seemly and what was not.

Kenobi still stood in the door, a puddle of water around his feet that was slowly growing larger.

On Padme's gesture another handmaiden hurried into the room and first took her cloak off her shoulders, and then removed the Jedi's. She smiled when the young woman gasped, surprised by the weight of the Jedi's cloak. She shot the young man an inquisitive glance before she retreated.

Padme sighed. The mills of gossip had started to turn. In less than one hour the whole palace would know that the queen accommodated a man in her chambers. She shook her head, resigned, and waited for Sabé to return.

"Sit down, Jedi Kenobi." She pointed towards a soft chair.

"That won't be necessary, your highness. I do not intend to stay."

Padme's eyebrows shot up. "You don't?"

Kenobi shook his head. "This is not the proper place for me and you will be in trouble."

"Trouble?" The queen gave a silvery laugh, a sound echoing softly in the high chamber. "Trouble, Jedi Kenobi? Did you forget who's the queen here? This is the place where I can do what I please."

A slight gleam in his eyes showed that he was amused. Not more. His face stayed expressionless. "Nevertheless this is not the right place for me."

Padme rose and tried to get her chattering teeth under control to give her words a little bit of the much needed dignity. "Where is the right place for you then, Jedi? With the deceased?"

That must have struck a nerve. He flinched visibly but didn't answer.

Without paying any further attention to him she turned towards the returning Sabé who signaled her to come behind a parawan in a corner of the huge room.

With swift and efficient movements she undid the queens garments and handed her a silk robe. She had found out quite some time ago that the queen didn't approve being attended too much, so Sabé only did the bare necessities.

"Your bath is ready, your highness. So is the Jedi's."

Padme whispered something to Sabé who nodded. While the queen left the room to walk the short distance to the bathing area, Sabé shifted her attention towards the soaked Jedi.

"The queen told me to attend you," she informed him when she undid the belt of his tunic without inhibition. Sabé was used to this kind of work, so it surprised her even more when the young man caught her hands and stepped back from her.

"I don't think that I will need your help." He released her hands.

The handmaiden smiled softly after she recovered from the initial shock. "I realise that you don't need it. But don't you think that it would be nice to have someone take care for you instead of you always taking care for others?"

Obi-Wan Kenobi felt the earnestness behind the young woman's words, but he raised his hand in a dismissive way. "I am grateful for your offer. But it's not the way of a Jedi to have someone to attend him."

Sabé shrugged. "As you wish. I'm going to put your fresh robe over here and wait for you outside to show you the way to the bathing area." With those words she retreated and left Kenobi on his own.

He shook his head and asked himself, not for the first time, why he had taken the queen's offer. This was not a place for him. The splendour nearly suffocated him - every inch of his soul yearned for the quiet serenity and the simplicity of the rooms in the Jedi-temple. But she had been right. A little longer out there in the rain and the cold and he would have caught a dangerous pneumonia.

'What would have been so bad about that?'

He dismissed the thought with some difficulty and took off his wet garments. Even though his awareness was still numbed by the excruciating pain of his loss, he realised that he was freezing. Quickly he slipped into the robe Sabé had given him and was surprised to feel the cool sliding of silk against his skin. A luxury like this was not common to a Jedi, and he felt bad about it.

Even though his mind wanted to deny him the pleasure of a hot bath, he couldn't fight his body this time. Without much thought his legs started to move and followed the waiting Sabé.

The water was pleasantly hot and he sank into the most agreeable, fragrant warmth with a sigh.

Instantly his consciousness stung. What right did he have to enjoy this luxury? He didn't deserve it. He had been more than rude to the queen and there was nothing about his behaviour that could be excused.

Furthermore there still was the pain - the icy cloak around his heart seemingly melting in the warmth. Tears stung in his eyes.

'Not here. No weakness. No anger. No weakness.'

He had repeated those words so often after Qui-Gon's death that he didn't even willingly think them anymore. They were there as soon as his carefully placed mask of strength started to slip. Obi-Wan tried to centre himself to escape those thoughts at least for a little while.

He was tired beyond measure. Sleep was unthinkable, too much was he sunken into the grief and the fear of what he had done. Sleep seemed inappropriate to him, thinking of what he had done it even seemed to him that he would fail Qui-Gon in some way, if he slept.

Part of him knew that this was nonsense.

But that knowledge didn't help at all.

Days ago his body had started sending him warning signals, which he ignored vehemently. Here, in the warmth of the water and the obviously very close steam bath where the queen was, he realised just how much he had overtaxed himself. As a Jedi he was trained to cope with a few days without sleep, but a more than a week without sleep was too much even for a Jedi.

His gaze wandered over the luxurious, though not pompous, furnishings of the bathroom. It was one huge room, parted with different paper-like partition-walls. Soft light seemed to emanate from everywhere without him being able to find its source. Next to him, only two partition walls away, he could hear Sabé talk softly to the queen. Had he wanted to, he could have understood every single word they were saying. But what would that have accomplished?

He sank deeper into the comfortable warmth and felt his hurting muscles starting to relax. Fatigue came over him like a heavy black blanket. There was no more sagacity in trying to escape this. Obi-Wan had known, or at least expected that this would want its tribute sooner or later.

'I'm sorry for not being stronger, Master,' he thought before the dark blanket of fatigue swathed him completely.

He didn't feel anything anymore when he sank under the water.

The queen sat up at the young Jedi's bed. It was the least she could do.

She wasn't quite sure whether it really had been an accident or if Kenobi had tried to follow his Master - fact was that that Sabé had found him in one of the pools; unconscious and under water. Her scream had alarmed Padme who was drying her long hair behind a thin wall right next to that pool, and so it was the queen who was there to help Sabé and not a guardian. Luckily, he hadn't been underwater for very long, and they were able to resuscitate him.

Padme's heart had stopped beating for some endless seconds when she had heard Sabé's cry for help. She had been afraid to have lost him, too.

'Hadn't you already lost him before?'

Unwillingly she shook her head against that thought and turned back towards the sleeping Jedi. The healer priestess Reaja had given him a potion that would make him sleep quietly until his body had recovered some of his strength. He looked peaceful, Padme thought. The resigned look on his face had disappeared, but the grief had embedded itself, leaving deep furrows in the smooth, boyish face.

For a moment her petite hand lingered in the air just above his face, then she brushed past one of those stern lines.

"How much I would like to undo all of this, Jedi Kenobi," she whispered.

She was sitting in one of the seldomly used rooms belonging to her private chambers. A bed for the Jedi had been put up here. Sabé and Reaja had tried to convince her to get some rest, but Padme had categorically refused. Just as long Captain Panaka had tried to make her move the Jedi into the guest rooms. With that he had nearly crossed the line. Sabé knew that Panaka didn't like the Jedi. But to turn against the queen because of such a minority? To start a discussion like that with the queen was not very wise, and it was not his place to give orders to the mistress. In the very last second she had managed to expel him out of the room with an icy friendliness. Sabé didn't want to be in Panaka's skin when he would meet the queen next time.

Finally the handmaiden and closest confidante of the queen had brought a tray with fruit and a slightly watered down wine and had retreated.

Now Padme watched over the young Jedi's sleep.

Later on she couldn't tell when exactly she had fallen asleep in the big armchair. The only thing that was sure was that the sleep wasn't the least bit refreshing. Over and over last weeks events rushed past her, stood there menacing and didn't seem to let her have any rest at all.

Suddenly the dream changed.

She was standing on a high catwalk that led over a bottomless abyss. The deep and threatening hum of lightsabers became audible.

Sparks emitted before she saw the persons. Her adrenaline level shot up immensely as she ran up to the static noise. Right in front of her a red force field closed, stopping her from running any further. Her hand painfully locked around the handle of her own lightsaber while she tried to control her erratic breathing. From where she stood she was damned to watch idly as . . .

Padme woke abruptly from the dream. Cold sweat had formed on her upper lip and her mouth was dry. It took her a few moments to find her way back into the real world. She was still shaking all over her body, the adrenaline was pumping through her veins in much too high doses. Her heart was racing.

What kind of a dream had that been? She didn't even know the places she had seen in it, had never held a lightsaber in her hands. But nevertheless it was just like she had never been anybody else than this person in front of the force field that was so vastly helpless despite its strength, its knowledge and its training.

Padme rubbed her eyes and got up to get herself a glass of water. Her throat was dry and hurt.

Instinctively she asked herself how the Jedi, who had been standing in the rain much longer than her, would feel like. Carrying this thought with her she turned to Kenobi.

Had she ever realised how pale he was? Or was that just another sign of grief? Reaja had told her that he had been sent to the temple of the healers because he neither slept nor ate.

Padme felt another wave of guilt starting to suffocate her.

She wondered whether she should call for Sabé. But the handmaiden already slept for a few hours and Padme didn't want to wake her for nothing.

So what was there left to do? Uneasily she walked up and down the big chamber. It was strange how, in such a state of mind, even the biggest room could cause claustrophobic feelings.

With swift steps she walked up to one of the big windows and opened it wide. Cold night air found its way in and instantly filled the room with the silvery light of the moon and the smells of the hundreds of different flowers outside the Theed palace. Silence lay over the big vaults.

A silence she had always enjoyed, a silence that . . .

. . . was sharply broken by a muffled cry.

The queen flinched fiercely and closed the window in one move. She only realised that the cry had come from her own chambers when it repeated itself.

Behind her Kenobi had started to toss and turn and mumble incomprehensible words. "No! You cannot leave!"

Padme worriedly sank to her knees next to the Jedi and watched him closely. The nightmare he was captured in didn't seem to end, his face turning more and more into a mask of hatred, loneliness and vindictiveness that scared Padme more than everything else. She knew that sleepers shouldn't be woken before their time, especially not when they were dreaming. But this sleeper scared her. With great care she put her slim hand on the Jedi' shoulder and shook him gently.

"Wake up, Jedi Kenobi."

She vaguely remembered Reaja's potion and the fact that she probably wouldn't succeed in trying to wake him - but she had to try.

Again she shook him. The answer was an irritable grumbling.

Now Padme didn't only shiver because of the cool night air that had flooded the room. Jedi were known to be peaceful, they had left feelings like anger far behind them. But all she could find on Kenobi's sleeping face was darkness.

"Kenobi!" Her voice had gotten sharper than she had intended, but it seemed to have worked.

The Jedi slowly freed himself of the nightmare's claws and woke up. When his eyes opened and fastened on the queen, they had the colour of a storm-darkened sky. The worry and the not completely ebbed fear that emanated from her were audible like screams for Obi-Wan. Something had happened while he had slept. Something . . .elusive.

'This terrible darkness . . . Is he alright?'

Kenobi stared at the queen with an expression of mild confusion. She hadn't moved her lips, yet he had heard her as if she had spoken clearly.

More words reached his mind this way, the woman opposing him not moving a single muscle of her mouth as he heard them. A boundless dark wave of guilt washed over him, so sudden that it left him gasping for air.

Padme felt the Jedi's utter confusion even before she saw it. It ran deep and brought forward questions she couldn't answer. But despite the confusion she felt more. In addition to the confusion, she felt other emotions – anger, grief, despair hopelessness – all those emotions that lay hidden behind the Jedi's stoic facade dragged her down into an increasingly violent whirl that threatened to drown her.

Can a man hope to last
Not knowing his past?
If he chooses to stay
Will the world fade away?
(Steve McDonald)

It was nearly too late when Obi-Wan realised what had happened.

"You need to let go, your highness."

The queen didn't seem to be able to hear him. Her eyes were wide open and she had started to gasp for air in irregular intervals.

As fast as his still half sedated body allowed, Kenobi straightened and took hold of the queen's face. One hand at each side of the beautiful face he forced her to hold eye contact. Far behind he saw Padme fighting against the swirl of emotions. He also saw how weak she had become already.

"You have to follow me, your highness. You need to let go!"

Stormy blue-green eyes pierced into the opposing brown ones. Obi-Wan had difficulty in trying to force back the seething panic that threatened to close in on him. For some reason he could not see the queen had set up a connection to his mind, and the force was functioning as a perfect conductor.

He knew of the dangers of connections like this - the council had its reason for prohibiting them as far as possible.

Kenobi didn't realise that his hands, still lying on the queen's cheeks, were already starting to leave marks on the tender face. With an incredible amount of willpower he broke the connection of their minds.

Nearly instantly they both sank back, exhausted and shaken to the bones.

"I am sorry, your highness . . ."

"I didn't know . . ."

Obi-Wan Kenobi closed his eyes and tried to calm down his racing heart. He needed to be strong now.

When he opened his eyes again, he nearly didn't recognise the queen anymore. Her eyes had grown large and tears hung on the long, almost childlike lashes. Her cheeks were flushed by the marks his hands had imprinted, her hair had fallen out of the usual strict hairstyle and lay in stray strands in her face.

She looked at him with a steadfast gaze.




Just when he thought he would not be able to take the questioning glance any longer, she said: "Why didn't you tell anyone about it, Jedi Kenobi?"

The protective wall he had learned to erect around his feelings and his thoughts came up so fast that he got the feeling the queen must've seen it. Whatever he did - this reaction was one of the first Qui-Gon had taught him. Since that time Obi-Wan Kenobi had become a master in masking his feelings.

A disappointed look appeared on the queen's exhausted face. Obi-Wan knew that he wasn't being fair to her, that what had just happened needed an explanation, but he couldn't give it.

Not now.

He needed time to think.

Padme felt fatigue creep into her limbs like lead. Under half-closed lids she watched the Jedi standing on the same window she had closed shortly before. His profile stood out sharply against the bright moonlight. Again and again her eyes closed, and over and over again she forced herself to open them again.

Kenobi hadn't answered her yet.

With a tremendous effort of will she opened her eyes fully and rose. Now that she was up her legs seemed too weak to hold her, just as her eyes seemed too weak to see.

This is not going to help him, she thought grimly.

Even though she had never actually felt any of it, she knew about the things a Jedi was capable of.

"Even if you convince me of my exhaustion now, I will continue my search for answers, Jedi Kenobi." Even in her ears the words sounded strange.

Kenobi didn't avert his eyes from the silver hued garden in front of the window.

The lake twinkled.

A night bird called somewhere.

"Did you hear me, Jedi?"

"This I did, your majesty."

Padme waited a few moments. When she didn't get an answer again, she pulled together all the strength that was left in her tired body and walked over to the Jedi to confront him directly.

"Will you answer me?"

Obi-Wan was surprised to see her standing in front of him so calm. Her eyes showed no sign of the justified anger that had been so vibrant in her voice.

Something odd was hidden there. Just moments ago those eyes had looked into the deepest abysses of his soul, but now they seemed dull. Within a split second he had caught the other disturbing signals coming from the queen. She held onto the window with one hand - a random gesture for the uninvolved bystander - a plain sign of weakness for the trained eyes of the Jedi.

"Your highness?"

Her hand on the window had started to tremble so heavily that the pure effort of controlling that trembling made her knuckles turn white. Padme indignantly shook her head against an upcoming dizziness. "You will not succeed in doing this, Jedi."

The repetition of this phrase confused Obi-Wan completely. Succeed in doing what?

"You owe me an explanation."

The ground below Padme started to shake menacingly as her legs started to give way. Reality and the illusions her dizziness plagued brain produced reunited like two long parted friends. The only thing that held her upright was her hand on the window.

"Answer me, Jedi . . ."

Obi-Wan's Jedi-reflexes allowed him to catch the queen before she came into the immediate danger of falling. The body in his arms didn't seem to have any weight anymore and was surprisingly cool.

"Sabé!" His voice cut sharply through the velvet-like darkness that lay before him. Faster than Obi-Wan had expected it, the drowsy figure of the handmaiden entered the queen's chamber.

"Yes, master?"

She stifled a yawn behind her hand and was obviously indignant about the disturbance in the middle of the night. One glance at the sunken body of the queen in the arms of the Jedi chased all signs of fatigue out of her. She took the stance of a panther ready to pounce.

"What happened here, master?" Sabé had changed. From one second to the other the attentive handmaiden had become an alarmed bodyguard who glanced warningly in the direction of the Jedi.

"Send a messenger to the healer's temple. The queen is ill."

Still mistrusting Sabé came closer with a catlike grace and looked closely at the queen.

"What happened, master?" she asked again and this time all traces of kindness were gone.

"Send the messenger, handmaiden." Obi-Wan took up the quick duel of authorities. "The queen is in an urgent need of help. Help I cannot offer."

He couldn't tell what exactly made Sabé trust him - the true concern in his voice or the total absence of signs of a fight - but the handmaiden rose.

"Let me get you a stretcher."

All of a sudden Kenobi felt perfectly clear how troubled the force was swirling around the queen. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong.

"No time."

With a quick movement he took the queen on his arms and ran up to the huge columned hall with lengthy steps.

The way to the healer's temple was endless.