Happy New Year everyone. Now that it's 2016, I suppose it's time to post this story here, too. After much coaxing by ginchy and JadeLotus here I am. I wrote half of this story two years ago and only posted it to FFN and Ao3. Since I've made a few additions in the form of two more chapters, I decided I was ready to post it here as well. If you've read it elsewhere, welcome back. I hope you enjoy these new additions. If you're reading it for the first time, I hope you enjoy it all. If you've read some of my other work here and elsewhere, you will find allusions and inferences to A Handmaid's Tale, Holiday Heritage, and The Best First Night. The former two stories do not belong to the same "Alternate Universe." The latter, however, does. (And yes, I know that when you read this and "Best First Night" together there's about 40 years of timeline missing. Yes, I'm working on it. ) Instead of posting each of the four chapters in one fell swoop, I'm going to divide some of them in half because they're quite long. I'm also going to post the chapters in different orders than you may have read them elsewhere for the sake of experimentation. And now I'll shut up and let you start reading. Enjoy. Title: Life Among the Ashes Author: taramidala Rating: PG-13 Time Frame: Immediately post "Revenge of the Sith." Inter-trilogy AU. Acknowledgements: Thanks to ginchy, JadeLotus, and serendipityaey for the beta reading. Disclaimer: All belongs to Lucasfilm and the Disney Corporation, except for two original characters briefly mentioned. Part 1: Obi-Wan. Chapter 1 (part 1). He finds her. In the shadows of the Theed streets at Padmé's funeral. Despite Organa's and Master Yoda's insistence that it is not safe for him – for any of them – to linger on Naboo any longer than necessary, he will not leave just yet. His personal code of honor demands it, to pay tribute to this young woman who risked everything for the love of his Padawan. Foolish, stubborn children. Both of them. Her deep brown eyes widen in fear and recognition. Even she knows that she is no longer safe in her own home. That the Senator's death was not right. He wonders how much she knew. How much any of them knew. In hushed tones he draws her further into the shadows, once the funeral cortège has passed. He promises her safety, such as it is. He will return, in two months' time. Can she settle her affairs by then? Give her one, she says. Two is too many. He turns to go, to slip invisibly into the streets and back to the spaceport, to where the others await him. Then he feels her elegant hand on his arm, pulling him into an embrace. He allows her this, this one moment of grief and release, before he tries to remove himself once more. She holds firm, taking his face between her hands; as she presses her forehead against his, he hears her whisper, "Thank you," before she, too, drifts off into the night. * * * * * When he sneaks back to Naboo, one month later as promised, Theed is in chaos. The new queen, dead. Fugitive Jedi, dead. The city overrun with troops. The new queen a puppet to Palpatine. Where is she? Is she safe? Is she alive? He skulks around the city, trying every place he can think of. A memory comes to him, unbidden, of the first war here. That seminal battle that started the galaxy on this path of destruction, when he thinks about it. The Sacred Place. That Gungan haven in the forest that sheltered the Naboo's tiny resistance. Think. Take care of everything here, then find her. He books their passage, departing in two days' time. He hopes it will be enough. He hopes he is not too late. And there she is. Bedraggled and wet, hiding out in a makeshift shelter a few clicks into the trees. She's terrified, believed he wasn't coming. She'd only just settled her affairs when the troops came. To all who knew her, she'd resigned and left already. Roo'na, her own sister, doesn't know where she has gone. They stay the night in her shelter; he uses the Force to keep them warm, but her fearful shivering only stops when he takes her in his arms. * * * * * They take their time, as the refugee ship meanders along the Outer Rim picking up and dropping off those who need a place to hide. Always looking over their shoulders. She cuts her hair; he dyes his beard. Between them they take a decade off their age. Before she left Naboo, Sabé found some old clothing of her parents' and tattered them up as best she could; in them, they look passably disheveled. At one of the last ports in the...Empire...they exchange the currency for hard trinkets, so they have something to barter with when they reach their destination. Neither knows how long it will take once they arrive on Tatooine, how long her stay will be before Senator Organa sends word that Alderaan is safe for her. She will be protected with the senator and his queen, and her skills will be of use to them. For most of the journey, she passes off an air of calm about their situation. Yet at each port they hear word of Palpatine's minions exerting violent control over every world, and her mask begins to crack. In the moments when she breaks he lets her see his own fear, and it's all he can do to comfort her. They will make it, he insists. Just a few more days. * * * * * At last, they are back on Tatooine. As they disembark and the wave of intensely hot air blows their hair back, they share a look of remembrance, of an earlier, more innocent time. How young they were then, back when this all began. He breathes out a sigh of relief, that they've made it. For now at least, they are safe, on this hideous, lawless world. She turns to him with a grin that sets his mind spinning, and she hands him a supply list. "See if 'The Negotiator' can still handle a few purchases, eh?" she teases. With her handling the food and cooking half of the list, they should be set for a few months at least. Now for the bartering. She tells him not to be above a mindtrick or two, and he can hear Qui-Gon's voice in his head chuckling softly. A transport, check. A used but functional speeder will get them there. Multitools, blankets, a basic communicator, and a vaporator for water, check. A home, check. A dilapidated hovel, in the middle of the Jundland Wastes but close enough to where he needs to be, will suffice. Later, Sabé will assure him that together they will make it their own. Simple but comfortable. A good place to hide in plain sight. He even manages to procure a map. Anchorhead and Bestine Township are close enough to their new home to ensure that they will not need to return to the city, hopefully, until it's time to send Sabé on her way. * * * * * In those late nights, when there is little else to do but look at the stars, the bond that formed over ten years ago begins to re-emerge, back when she was a pretend queen and he an impatient padawan. She's the same as she was then: wry, witty, full of life. She radiates warmth and compassion. He finds himself the same, as well: timid and tongue-tied in her presence. He's uncharacteristically flustered when she smiles, like the schoolboy he never was. Yet he's as drawn to her as ever, and when the burden of their secrets and their grief – over all they have lost – overcomes them, he finds comfort in her arms and she in his. Physical comfort is nothing new for him, but this is different. This is more. Sabé makes him feel. She is here, real, and alive. And though she does not say it, she loves him. She shows it in every look, every touch, every comforting word. In so many ways, she is what he could not desire before. In moments alone, he shudders in fear. Is this what love – real, alive, romantic love – feels like? Is this what Anakin had wanted – what he had twisted in his sick mind? And do the old rules still apply? There's no one left but him. He is no longer what he once was. So when they fall together in passion, they are neither Jedi nor Handmaiden, but man and woman communicating on the basest of levels, living and breathing for only the present and for each other. It is a small comfort, but a comfort nonetheless. For the moment, he relishes it.