-2-

Padmé passed a restless night. Her heart ached over what had happened, and what she had felt compelled to do. She loved Anakin, she always had and probably always would; but it had become just too difficult to keep up the ruse. Not only that, the War was changing him. She was seeing a hardened, violent side to him that hadn't been there before, and it scared her. She often felt as though she didn't know him anymore, and it broke her heart that she felt that way. But Padmé felt certain that she was doing the right thing, no matter how much it hurt.

It was a big day for Clovis, and Padmé was determined to support him. She felt terrible for the awful beating he had taken at Anakin's hands, but knew that things needed to move forward. Today Clovis would address the Senate to put forth a motion that he take control of the Banks. Padmé had supported him completely in his investigation and discovery of the corruption in the Banks, and was more than ready to lend him her support in his bid to take control form the Munns. She only wished that her support of him hadn't spelled the end of her marriage. It was simply the catalyst, she reflected as she and Clovis prepared to address the Senate. Our marriage was doomed from the start.

Anakin stood with Mace Windu and Yoda watching as Clovis's pod moved forward to address the assembled senators. He frowned when he saw that Padmé was with him in the pod. Yoda looked at him at once, sensing his anger. Yoda frowned, troubled by Anakin's hatred for Clovis.

As for Anakin, his eyes were fixed on Padmé as Clovis spoke. He sensed that she was not herself, and hoped that perhaps she had changed her mind about the divorce. Perhaps she had spoken in the heat of the moment, and had not thought things through. Now that she had, had she changed her mind?

"A resounding majority in support of the nomination," Mas Amedda announced after the vote had been taken. The assembly erupted in applause.

"I don't like this," Anakin said as he, Windu and Yoda walked through the vast corridors of the Senate.

"The Senate has decided to trust him," Windu said. "There isn't much we can do."

"Watch him closely we must," Yoda said. "A jaded past he has."

"Agreed," Anakin said. "Once a traitor, always a traitor."

Anakin stopped when he reached the Chancellor, deciding to let his mentor know how he felt.
Palpatine looked up at Anakin as he stood beside him, knowing him well enough to know that he wasn't happy. "My boy, I can tell this has been a difficult time," he said. "I've known you too long
not to see something is troubling you."

Anakin sighed, watching Padmé as she stood with Clovis accepting the congratulations of the senators. "Your Excellency, forgive me, but you have made a mistake by trusting Clovis."
"Have I?" Palpatine said. He smiled. "Rest assured, my public endorsement of Clovis is not the same
as my private confidence in him."
"Then what exactly is going on here?" Anakin asked, returning his attention to the Chancellor.
"We will watch him closely," Palpatine assured him. "I don't dispute your distrust of him. I think there is something we haven't unearthed yet, and I would very much like for it to surface."

As Padmé stood with Clovis, she couldn't help but notice Anakin standing nearby. She felt his eyes on her, watching her. She didn't dare look in his direction, for the sight of him would weaken her resolve. Padmé had always been a woman who prided herself on her intelligence, her sound judgement, and her independence. Anakin Skywalker represented her greatest weakness. Marrying him had gone against her better judgement. It had been a moment of passion, of complete capitulation to her emotions. But now she knew that was not enough. And she also knew that in order to get him out of her mind and heart, she needed to keep her distance.

That evening

Anakin looked up as Obi-Wan joined him in the mess hall.

"You look terrible," Obi-Wan observed as he picked up his knife and fork.

Anakin said nothing, and simply continued eating his supper.

"What's eating you?" Obi-Wan. "Or should I even ask?"

"I think you can guess," Anakin said. "Clovis," he spat.

Obi-Wan nodded. "I thought so," he said. "Though I'd hoped I was wrong."

"The Chancellor is making a huge mistake allowing this appointment," Anakin said. "Clovis is a traitor. He can't be trusted."

"The Senate believes that he can be trusted," Obi-Wan said. "And we have to trust the diplomatic process."

"You sound like Padmé….Senator Amidala," Anakin said.

Obi-Wan caught the hint of sadness in his voice and frowned. "Clearly something has happened between you and Padmé," he said.

Anakin said nothing as he ate his supper. "She's…angry with me," he said finally. "She doesn't want to see me anymore."

"Perhaps that is for the best," Obi-Wan said, not wanting to know why. "I sense that you have strong feelings where she is concerned. Putting some distance between you and her might be good for you."

Anakin's immediate reaction was anger, to challenge what Obi-Wan was saying. But then he thought better of it; he had no intention of letting Obi-Wan know of the extent of his relationship with Padmé. "Maybe," he said. "She's been a good friend for a long time. I will…miss her."

Obi-Wan regarded his friend for a moment as he ate his meal. There was clearly more to Anakin's melancholy than met the eye. "I've never known Padmé to be a vindictive person," he said. "I'm sure in time she'll be able to get past whatever it is you did to anger her."

Anakin shook his head. "I don't think so," he said.

"May I ask what you did?" Obi-Wan asked, his curiosity getting the better of him.

Anakin hesitated before he spoke, unsure if he ought to tell his friend what he had done. "I…I beat up Rush Clovis," he said simply. "She didn't like that."

Obi-Wan frowned. "Why? I know you dislike the man, but what would make you do such a thing?"

"I…I went to see Padmé, at her home, and when I got there Clovis was trying to kiss her. I guess I assumed the worst, and …well, it sort of got out of hand," Anakin said.

"Anakin, there are so many things wrong with this that I don't even know where to start!" Obi-Wan said. "Why would you visit Padmé in her home? Why would a man kissing her set you off? Why would you beat a man to death simply for trying to kiss a woman you have no romantic connection to? Unless you do have a romantic connection to her."

"You know Padmé and I are friends," Anakin replied. "We've been friends for years! The man would have assaulted her if I hadn't stopped him!"

"A kiss is hardly an assault," Obi-Wan replied calmly. "And who are you to say that Padmé didn't want him to kiss her?"

"She didn't! She has no feelings for Clovis!" Anakin replied hotly.

Obi-Wan looked at him, a sinking feeling developing inside of him. "You've had an affair with her, haven't you?" he asked. "You and Senator Amidala have been romantically involved. That is why you hate Clovis, it has nothing to do with the fact that you consider him a traitor and everything to do with Padmé. You see Clovis as a rival for her affections, that's why you hate him. That's why you assaulted him. It all makes sense."

Anakin said nothing in response, which only added weight to Obi-Wan's theory

"I'm right, aren't I?" Obi-Wan prodded.

Anakin frowned. "Yes," he said. "But it's over now, so you don't need to lecture me about the Code."

Obi-Wan said nothing. He had no idea what to say at this point. Anakin knew all about the Code; Obi-Wan himself had sermonized on the topic many times. But Anakin had chosen to ignore the Code.

"If it's over, then that's for the best, Anakin," Obi-Wan said at last. "You can't have a relationship with her, not that manner of relationship. It's forbidden."

Anakin slammed his fork down on the table. "I know," he snapped. "But I told you, it's over, so spare me the speech, okay? In fact, just leave me the hell alone." He stood up and stormed out of the mess hall.

Obi-Wan sat alone, picking at his meal, as he considered what had just happened. He had long suspected that Anakin's feelings for the beautiful senator went far deeper than mere friendship, despite Anakin's insistence to the contrary. So what do I do about this? He reflected with a deepening frown. Do I tell the Council? If I do they will surely expel him from the Order. The Republic needs Anakin too much for him to be expelled…I need him too much. Deciding not to say anything for the time being, Obi-Wan knew that he would need to keep a very close eye on his young friend.

The next day – Scipio

Clovis and Padmé arrived on Scipio on a Republican frigate, escorted by several Republic gunships and clone Commander Thorn. They were greeted at the landing pad by Senator Bec Lawise, the leader of the Separatist Senate.

"Welcome back to Scipio, Rush Clovis," Lawise said. "Our Separatist government has great hopes for you."
"Thank you, Senator," Clovis replied. "Only you and Senator Amidala will be allowed to monitor the exchange proceedings," he said. "No forces on either side will be allowed into the Neutral Zone."
The clones who had accompanied Clovis and Padmé took a step back, none of them happy to be forced to leave Senator Amidala unprotected

"Senator Amidala we will be right here if you should need us," Commander Thorn told her.

"Thank you, Commander."

Padmé and Clovis followed Lawise into the main vault chamber, where a judge was issuing sentence on the former rulers of the Bank, the Core Five, who had been found guilty of embezzlement thanks to Clovis and Padmé's investigation.
"It is with great disappointment that I implement the following verdict," the judge pronounced. "By decree of the Muun people, the five representatives standing before me are found guilty of embezzlement. They shall be imprisoned forthwith, and control of the banks shall transfer immediately to Rush Clovis under the guidance of the Muun government. We are grateful to you, Clovis, for everything you have done for the Muun people. To have lost the banks would have been an historic disaster."
Clovis nodded, and stepped forward. "I would like you to know I have no interest in controlling the banks," he said earnestly. "I am simply here to re-establish order."

"Do you think our friend is up to the task?" Lawise asked Padmé quietly.
Padmé turned to him. "There are few men I have met in my career who are more dedicated to a cause than Clovis," she told him. "Once he decides what he is fighting for, little will stop him from achieving it."

Lawise considered her words with a nod of his head. "Let us hope you are right, for all our sakes."

Later

After enjoying a sumptuous dinner, Padmé had retired to the quarters that had been assigned to her. She'd kept busy over the past few days, not allowing herself any time to think about Anakin. But now that she was alone, now that the business of the day had been put aside, she couldn't help but think of him. She knew how upset he was, how angry. But Padmé had not wavered in her resolution. She knew that she had made the right decision, the only decision possible. But that didn't mean she didn't feel heartbroken over it. If I feel this way, imagine how Anakin must feel…I've broken his heart.

Pushing the image of his face from her mind, Padmé got ready for bed, hoping against hope that she wouldn't dream about him again. It was not to be.

"I could get used to this you know," Anakin tells me as we enjoy a sumptuous dinner.

I smile. "Yes, so could I," I reply, pushing the food around on my plate. "Only ten days, and they you'll be taken away from me again, back to the war. I'm beginning to wonder if this war will ever end."

"Yes, I know what you mean," he replies. "The separatists are very deeply entrenched, though; they will not give up easily. "

"I wonder if there's more to it than that," I wonder aloud.

"What do you mean?" he asks.

I shrug, not wanting to say what is on my mind. "I don't know, but it seems to me that the chancellor is not doing everything he can to put an end to this war. It's been nearly three years now, Anakin, and there have been no negotiations, no attempts made to call a cease fire. Doesn't that strike you as strange?"

"I'm a soldier, Padmé," he tells me. "I don't pay much attention to the politics of war; I'm just trying to do my job without getting killed."

"I know, Anakin, but think of it; have you heard of any peace talks? Any attempts to put an end to the fighting? So many Jedi have died already, I'm just afraid that if this war goes on much longer…"

"Stop it Padmé. We agreed we wouldn't talk about the war, remember? This is our second honeymoon; I don't want you to worry about anything while we're here, okay? Please, angel?"

"Alright, Ani, I won't bring it up again. I promise."

"Come on," he says, standing up. "Let's go have a walk. It's a beautiful night, and I want to kiss you under the stars."

Together we walk out onto the terrace to enjoy the glorious night sky. We stand in the very spot where we had shared our first kiss, what seems like so long ago.

"Do you remember the first time we kissed, Ani? Right here?"

He nods with a smile. "Yes, of course," he replies, putting his arms around me. "I was so confused, I didn't know up from down."

"Yes, poor Ani," I say, stroking his cheek softly. "I'm afraid I was rather confused myself."

He takes the great folds of his cloak and enfolds me in them, next to him, for the night is chilly. "Well, we both were," he tells her. "Feelings so intense are not easy to master. I know that what I feel for you is more powerful than anything I ever dreamed myself capable of feeling. I can't imagine living without you, Padmé. I know I say it all the time, but it's true; the thought of not having you in my life literally takes my breath away."

Padmé awoke at this point, the memories of that beautiful moment shaking her. I can't imagine living without you, Padmé. Anakin had told her that many times; but now he would have to live without her. She only hoped that it would not destroy him.

The next day

Padmé and Senator Lawise stood in the Great Vault once again, to be present for Clovis's first day as leader of the Banks. Padmé was proud of her friend, and looked up at his large projected image with a smile. However, his first decision soon took the smile from her face.

"By the new order of the Traxus Division and in an attempt to stabilize the banks, it is essential that interest rates on loans to the Republic be raised immediately," Clovis announced. Padmé was stunned.

Senate Chamber

"This is an outrage!"
"We warned you this would happen!"
"And what of the Separatists?"
Palpatine, though secretly pleased, faced the irate assembly stoically. "From the little information Senator Amidala has been able to establish, there will be no raise on their current loan."

High above the outraged mass of senators, Anakin stood with Yoda and Mace Windu, following the proceedings.

"I knew from the beginning that Clovis would do this," Anakin said with a shake of his head.
Yoda nodded. "Hmm, correct you might have been about Clovis."

"It's incredibly foolish for him to make a move like this so early," commented Windu. "He will turn the whole Republic against him."

"Something else is at play here," Anakin said with a frown. "This doesn't make any sense."

"Unclear, his motives are," Yoda commented, watching as the chancellor attempted to calm the irate senators.

Anakin nodded, and folded his arms. I told you not to trust him, Padmé….I told you he was a traitor.

"Go to the Chancellor, Anakin," Windu ordered. "See if there is something we can do."

"Yes, Master Windu."

Anakin headed immediately to the office of the Chancellor and waited for Palpatine to appear.

"I'm glad you're here, my boy," Palpatine said as he and Anakin walked into the office. "We need to contact Senator Amidala and find out what is going on."

"Nothing good, by the sound of it," Anakin remarked.

Palpatine sat down and immediately contacted Padmé. Her holographic image appeared at once, and Anakin could tell by the expression on her face that something was very wrong.

"Our garrison has been attacked by the Separatists, and it appears they are staging an invasion of Scipio," Padmé reported.
"An invasion? What do they hope to achieve?" Palpatine asked, appearing confused.
"With this news, the Senate will vote immediately to attack Scipio," Anakin commented.
"It appears war has already come to Scipio," Padmé said.
Anakin frowned.

"I want you off that planet immediately," Palpatine said.
"I can't."

"Surely you can get to a ship," Anakin said.
"General Skywalker, I'm afraid I'm trapped."

Republican destroyer – en route to Scipio

Anakin stood with arms folded, staring out the large view screen. He'd felt anxious about what he would find upon reaching Scipio. It seemed far too coincidental to Anakin that the Separatists had decided to invade Scipio just as Clovis had taken over the Banks. Anakin had felt that something was out of place from the start, and he knew that it was more than simply his hatred for Rush Clovis. And Padmé is involved in this mess, despite my misgivings, despite me begging her not to get involved…and now she could be dead because she's too damn stubborn to listen…

"General Skywalker, we're about to drop out of hyperspace," Captain Rex informed Anakin.

"Have you gotten a fix on Senator Amidala's position?" Anakin asked.
"We'll have a better lock once we get near the city," Rex informed him, "but initial scans suggest
she's still alive, sir."
Relief filled Anakin. "Good," he said. He activated his comlink. "Hawk, we're gonna need air support once we're on the ground."
"You'll have it, General," was the reply. "Me and the boys are ready to fly."

"Very well," Anakin said. "Have your men ready as soon as we land," he said to Rex.

"We'll be ready, sir."

As soon as the ship touched down, Anakin and his troops were met with Separatist forces who engaged them immediately.

"You handle the droids, I'm going after the Senator," Anakin shouted to Rex as he slashed his way through the droids on the landing platform.

"We've got this, sir."

Anakin ran through the corridors, sensing Padmé's fear, using it as a beacon. He reached a large office, and burst into the room, immediately taking out the droids that were within.

"Don't come any closer," Clovis said, grabbing Padmé and holding a blaster to her head.

Anakin was sorely tempted to Force choke Clovis, but knew that would endanger Padmé. "It's over, Clovis," he said. "Let her go."
"Stay away from me!" Clovis shouted, growing desperate. "I didn't do anything wrong! You have to believe me!"
"You don't want to do this," Padmé told him, trying to stay calm.
"You don't understand!" Clovis cried. "You've all been deceived!"
"Yeah, by you," Anakin retorted.
"No! By Dooku!" Clovis insisted. "I'm not the villain here. Tell him, Padmé!"
"Let me go, Clovis," Padmé implored.

Anakin's senses drew his attention to the window, alarmed by the sight that met his eyes. "Look out!" he shouted as a disabled vulture droid crashed through the window. The structural integrity of the room was compromised, and the floor suddenly tipped precariously downward. At once, Clovis and Padmé lost their footing and slid downwards. Anakin slid too, in time to grab a hand from each of them.

"I can't hold you both!" Anakin cried as he held their hands tightly as they dangled over the edge.
"Try and climb!" he implored Padmé.

But Padmé was holding on for dear life, and was too afraid to attempt it.

"Let me go, Skywalker," Clovis said. "You can't save us both."

"No Anakin! Don't do it!" Padmé cried.

It bothered Anakin that she cared so much what happened to Clovis, but didn't have time to consider it when Clovis let go of his hand and fell to his death far below.

"Clovis!" Padmé cried as Anakin pulled her up. She cried, nearly hysterical over what she had just witnessed.

"It's over, Padmé," Anakin said. "You're safe. It's all over now."

Padmé was given a cabin on board the destroyer as they returned to the Capital. It was eating away at her that she had given her trust to Clovis when he had been in league with Dooku. Anakin was right…he was right all along. He had kept his distance from Padmé during the trip back to Coruscant. This didn't surprise Padmé, given what had happened between them. But still, she felt as though she needed to apologize to him.

The door chime sounded, and Padmé started at the sound of it. "Come in," she called, hoping it was Anakin. But it was a clone who appeared as the door slid open.

"General Skywalker wanted to let you know we're about to drop out of hyperspace," the clone informed her.

"Thank you, trooper," she replied.

Padmé saw no sign of Anakin as she disembarked from the shuttle that had brought her to the Senate building. Anxiety filled her as she thought of having to face the senate given what had happened. She had endorsed Clovis so whole-heartedly, had defended him so vehemently; and now it was proven without a doubt that he had been in league with Dooku all along. Perhaps as a pawn, she would never know now; but he'd been less than truthful with her, and that bothered her tremendously.

Anakin had avoided Padmé during the flight back to the capital. He wasn't sure how she felt about what had happened, and suspected that she believed he hadn't tried to save Clovis at all. She had not accused him of such, but given how much he hated Clovis, it was a distinct possibility.

Because of what had happened on Scipio, the Senate had called an emergency session. Now that Clovis was dead, the Republic would need to move quickly to ensure that the Separatists didn't take advantage of the situation. Anakin as well as Obi-Wan and Mace Windu decided to view the proceedings from the vantage point high in the rafters of the great rotunda. It didn't take long for Palpatine to appear. The Banking Clan, however, spoke first.

"It is clear to the Banking Clan it was Rush Clovis who was behind the corruption that almost caused our collapse," the Munn representative began. "In hope of a better tomorrow, we cede control of the banks to the office of the Chancellor of the Galactic Republic."

There was a mixed reaction to this announcement, but Palpatine stepped forward to silence the assembly and accept the nomination.

"It is with great humility that I take on this immense responsibility," Palpatine began. "Rest assured,
when the Clone Wars end, I shall reinstate the banks as we once knew them, but during these treacherous times, we cannot in good conscience allow our money to fall under the manipulations
of a madman like Count Dooku or Separatist control again. May there be prosperity and stability in all our Republic lands. May our people be free and safe."

Palpatine's words roused a strong sense of patriotism among the senators, and soon a chant of "Long Live the Banks!" resounded throughout the great assembly hall.

Mace Windu shook his head and looked at his companions. "How about that?"

Obi-Wan frowned. "Indeed," he said. "Quite…convenient that it turned out this way, don't you think?"

"What do you mean?" Anakin asked. "You don't think the chancellor planned to take control of the banks, do you?"

"You said yourself that something felt wrong," Mace reminded him. "Perhaps there is more to our chancellor than we know."

Anakin frowned, not wanting to consider that the man he'd considered a friend and mentor was capable of duplicity. And yet, there was a strange feel to the whole thing. He looked to where Padmé stood in her pod, sensing how uneasy and frustrated she was. She turned and saw him watching her, and for a moment their eyes met. Padmé looked away, and prepared to leave.

Obi-Wan noticed how Anakin was watching Padmé, and frowned. Could you be any more obvious, Anakin? he thought with a shake of his head.

"Come along, Anakin," Obi-Wan said. "Time to check in."