Count Dooku found himself in a place he never thought he would be—indecision. It wasn't that he was mentally incapable of making a decision, per se, but the fact that he just couldn't seem to bring himself to actually choose. He knew who the Sith Lord was, so he had two options: he could go to the Jedi and turn Sidious in, or he could sit on the information.
The fact that he'd even considered the second option made him reevaluate himself. He knew what a Sith could do. Even before he'd spoken with Lars, he knew what the Jedi taught, and honestly it had merely been a very watered-down version of what Lars spoke of. He knew the darkness brought misery and anguish... but he'd also known of nothing else that could keep the light in check. He knew light and darkness had to both exist at some point, because without darkness how could one know or choose light?
And yet, the other Jedi couldn't see that. They seemed completely content to believe that balance meant light only and that they could happily eradicate darkness without consequences. Or did they seem to think that darkness wouldn't find a way to build itself up again? Or strike back? Or both? The Sith had been 'dead' for centuries, and so the Order hadn't believed Qui-gon when he'd spoken of a possible Sith. They hadn't wanted to believe. It had been easier to deny the dark existences and Qui-gon had paid for their lack of insight.
That had been the last straw. It had been why he'd chosen to leave the stagnating Order that would, in time (if they continued as they were), become as evil as that which it claimed it fought against or die out altogether.
The Jedi didn't want to see it.
And he couldn't be a part of that.
So he'd dedicated himself to doing what the Jedi couldn't seem to bring themselves to do and find the Sith. He'd initially wanted to eradicate them (and now, even if he didn't want to admit it, he could see some motivation of vengeance in his actions too) and then he figured he could go about setting up his own Order, or just continue to act from the shadows if necessary, or even puzzle out a way to get the Jedi to see reason.
Then he'd found Lars, and after that Palpatine (well, Sidious). The man had admitted he was a Sith and then had spoken to him, given him an offer... and while it didn't fulfill his first goal, it most certainly helped to fulfill the second. What better way to get the Jedi to see what they otherwise refused to see than to show them what their neglect could do? Show them the consequences of their actions (or lack thereof) and then they would be forced to acknowledge what he'd been saying all along! They'd be forced to accept and adapt and then, hopefully, change.
The fact that Palpatine's offer promised knowledge from an entirely new area he'd never studied may have had something to do with it all as well. Quite the nice, added bonus.
All he had to do was accept Sidious... and it would go against everything he'd ever learned, thought, or worked for. It would definitely go against everything Lars had opened his eyes to. In more ways than one.
He couldn't decide whether it was worth it or not.
Yes, he did want the Order to change, and he wanted them to change for the better—to change to prevent what he saw happening to them if they didn't. But would he keep that goal if he accepted Palpatine and learned the ways of the dark side? Three months ago, he would have said that he most definitely could... but that was before he'd spoken with Luke Lars—former Sith Lord. That was before he'd gotten insight to one of the biggest mysteries to a Jedi—before he'd known just what the dark side did and how it worked in detail. The watered-down version just didn't do it justice.
Three months ago, he'd been so sure of himself. Now, though... Because if he did join Palpatine and did show the Order it's flaws like that, would he always want the Order to change for the better? Because he very much doubted that Palpatine wanted that. Oh, he'd hinted at it, sympathized and lent a friendly ear (very much unlike any Sith Dooku had ever heard of), but Dooku wasn't stupid. He knew Palpatine wanted something more. Power, probably, although he didn't know exactly how the Chancellor of the Republic could possibly gain more power unless they got more systems under the Republic's control. Or maybe he wanted to change the laws so that he had more control?
If it brought peace, Dooku didn't really care. Both of them could gain what they wanted if he played his cards right... or that's what Palpatine had built the situation up to look like. Before Lars, Dooku would have thought Palpatine was a man jumping at an advantageous situation. Now, though, he knew to look deeper.
And therein lay the source of his indecision.
What Palpatine said made sense and potentially offered Dooku a great deal of what he desired, but when he got down to the heart of the matter, what he ultimately wanted was for the Light to become lighter. For the Jedi to become better, like those they had stories of in the past. He wanted them to be able to do more good and not get caught up in terrible situations like those that had been littered throughout his career. He wanted the Jedi to be Peacekeepers again. He wanted to be able to take pride in his Jedi training, not shame...
He'd never realized how much of an idealist he was. Or how selfish.
The problem he found, was how that realization didn't seem to bother him quite so much as it should. He knew how both idealism and selfishness could affect people, even him. It blinded them. But he didn't think he was blind.
Then again, he'd thought that before and made bad decisions. Like Galidraan and the Mandalorians. Like with his most recent Padawan (although that had been less willful blindness and more hope that she'd just grow out of it). Like with Qui-gon on more than one occasion...
He still wanted to show the Jedi their shortcomings but he didn't want them destroyed (and somehow, he thought that might be in Palpatine's plans, no matter what he said otherwise). The Jedi may be corrupt, but they still did a lot of good, and they had the potential to do so much. He'd originally thought that if the darkness overtook the light, that eventually the light would be stronger for it. He still thought that, to an extent, but did that mean that the darkness really was the only way of controlling the light? Couldn't they attempt to realign the light without completely destroying what it had built (because the darkness would)?
He wasn't sure.
Was he willing to sacrifice himself if it meant that the Light would return better than it had before? Yes. But only if he could guarantee that he could keep that goal—only if he didn't somehow push them further into the rut they'd found themselves in. There was no such guarantee if he turned. And yet...
He glanced at the datapad he'd been using to keep notes and make plans. It seemed he had reached an impasse. He'd have to make his decision soon... but he needed to speak with someone first. Two someone's, actually.
Nodding his head in determination, he walked over to where he kept his personal comm and picked it up, scrolling through his contacts on the holo-projector until he found the one he was looking for. Then he dialed the number.
A woman picked up on the other line. "Hello, this is Chancellor Palpatine's office. How may I help you?"
Anakin slept deeply that night, mainly out of pure exhaustion. Maybe that was why he dreamed so differently. Or perhaps it could have been the new lightness he felt, or that he'd made steps to learn to trust again, or the aligning of the stars for all he knew. It could have been any one, or all choices, or none of them and something else completely. Either way, he went to sleep in his initiate bed at the Temple. The next he knew, he was on Tatooine of all places.
He made a face at the two suns overhead and then at the wasteland around him. Behind him, he could hear the distant rumbles of a city, probably Mos Espa. Why was he here?
"Because while you may not like Tatooine and its deserts, you know them. You know how to handle what comes with the climate, and thus it's comfortable to you," a new voice said.
Anakin raised an eyebrow and turned to the newcomer.
"You know it's been years since I visited this wasteland," Anakin muttered as he looked out at the horizon again. The suns would set soon. It was his favorite time of day (if he could have such a positive outlook on any aspect of Tatooine).
"And yet, here we are instead of Naboo, or Coruscant, or even Mustafar."
Anakin scowled at that and his glare sharpened in warning. "I have never been comfortable on Mustafar. That was the point." It was why Vader had built his own headquarters there (well, one of them). Palpatine had only encouraged him.
The older-looking man raised his hands in concession. Anakin scowled, but he'd seen the Jedi's meaning. There were worse places to end up than Tatooine. But still...
They sat in silence for a length of time Anakin couldn't define before Qui-gon spoke. "I'm very proud of you, Anakin."
"For telling Master Yoda and Master Xio about your past."
Anakin looked down at his older, flesh hands, frowning. "I didn't have much of a choice."
Qui-gon shook his head. "Oh, you did. You could have found a way around it and they would have accepted it, even if they hadn't believed it. You know that."
The former Sith looked to the side away from Qui-gon. "I was just too stupid to contemplate that solution at the time." Or in too much of a panic.
But again, Qui-gon shook his head. "No. You have planned your way through far worse situations than that, with much higher stakes. Anakin, if you'd really not wanted to, you could have found a way out of it. You chose to share that information, and I am proud of you for it."
Somehow acknowledging the truth of his words felt wrong. Anakin frowned. His brain told him it was fine, but... well, he never got praised—not by those who mattered most (except Palpatine as a boy, but only now did he realize how that had been poisoned). As much as he'd always craved praise, he now found it difficult to really take in.
So in the end, he said nothing and allowed the uncomfortable silence to drag on. He wondered if it would have been just as difficult to take Obi-wan's praise, but somehow didn't think so. Then again, he so rarely got actual praise from Obi-wan that he could remember... was that what really happened, just his fallible human brain unable to remember anything good or did the dark side twist those memories so badly that he couldn't recall the truth even now? It was a sobering thought.
Eventually, Qui-gon spoke again.
"I wonder what it would have been like had I a similar perspective while living to what I have now."
Anakin frowned at the change of topic. He also wondered what had happened to Qui-gon's usual 'here and now' attitude. He guessed that may have changed with his current perspective. He wasn't sure if death really changed how one looked at life, but he supposed it did. He couldn't really remember much that had happened after his own demise, if he had ever truly glimpsed it. He didn't know how long he'd been 'dead'. It could have been an eternity or a few moments. Still, he wondered if that, too, had somehow been affecting his perspective. He supposed it was plausible. Still...
"Isn't it useless to think of 'might-have-beens'?" he asked softly. He wasn't sure he really believed that (or maybe he just couldn't give up the might-have-beens himself), but it sounded like something Obi-wan would have said... all those years ago, when he'd still tried to steer his wayward Padawan in the right direction and Anakin had been so unwilling to listen.
The former Sith sighed. He really was a fool.
"Normally, I would agree to keeping to the here and now," Qui-gon said. "But you got another chance. Perhaps the practice of studying the past and the future isn't so useless as I once thought. As long as it doesn't take over your entire life or weigh you down."
The former Sith snorted. "How can the past not weigh me down? I have far too many regrets."
"And yet, you haven't given up. You haven't given in, either."
Anakin turned to stare at him incredulously. "You obviously have not been observing my actions, then. I have given into my base desires a minimum of three times since I returned."
"And you've come back each time," Qui-gon countered. "Wouldn't it have been easier to stay dark than it was to return to the light?"
For several seconds, Anakin just stared at the Jedi, unable to refute his words but unable to truly accept them either. "If I were who I should be—someone worthy of Luke and Padmé and Obi-wan—then I wouldn't have fallen to begin with."
"And yet look at what you've done. You're making steps to save billions—trillions—of lives and stop corruption from destroying so much good. A gram of prevention is worth a kilogram of cure. By paying your kilogram of cure right now, it has become prevention for the rest of us and is more than making up for all the cure in the universe."
It didn't feel like he was preventing anything. He still wasn't a hundred percent sure that the Jedi Order didn't need to fall or that the Empire needed to be prevented. People needed to see what the consequences of their actions were—to feel them and understand them and the pain such actions (or inaction as the case may be) caused both them and those around them. The Republic and the Galaxy at large needed that before they could truly regret.
Like him. He would give anything to erase his past entirely (from his own memories too)... but then the future would turn out the same and he'd fall and become Darth Vader all over again. He hated it, but he could live with his past actions if it meant he could stop himself from destroying everything—everyone he ever held dear and more (because he really couldn't seem to stop anything else at this point in time—his payments of 'prevention' must be falling short).
But how could he tell Qui-gon that? If he didn't already know.
So he decided to take the conversation back to the original topic Qui-gon had brought up. "Very well, I will ask: why do you wish a different perspective upon your younger self."
"Because then I wouldn't have been so short sighted. I feel I set you and Obi-wan up for failure. For that I am truly sorry."
Anakin appreciated the thought. He really did. But...
"My choices were my own, as were Obi-wan's."
"As were mine. I was not the... best Master for Obi-wan. Or anyone, really. I did not realize how utterly unhealthy my own outlook and actions towards others were—almost toxic at times. I accused the Council of being arrogant and shortsighted, not realizing that I had become just the same in my own way. There were so many times that if I had either made myself clearer, followed the rules better or had at least given a good reason as to why I bent and broke them, Obi-wan may have been able to follow a better example when raising you. It may have made the difference. I think I may have hidden my inadequacies from the Order by hiding them from myself because I never deserved to have that boy as my Padawan.
"I realize it cannot be changed now, but I have been wanting to apologize to both of you for some time."
Anakin sighed again. The older man may have a point, but...
"Did you do the best you could?"
"I fear I did not."
"But you didn't try to actively undermine Obi-wan."
"No. That doesn't excuse some of what I did though."
"Perhaps not, but apology accepted nonetheless, Master Qui-gon."
The older man nodded his head. It didn't make anything he'd done wrong right, but it did seem to clear the air between them a bit. Anakin knew he'd done his best, and even if that wasn't 'good enough' per se, it was all the older man could give. It still wasn't 'okay', but now they could move past it and hopefully be better for it. That was supposed to be how this whole 'healing' thing worked, right?
"I'm also sorry about Siri."
Anakin blinked at that one.
"Having you worry about another unstable Force sensitive with everything else going on in your life... well, I just wish the timing had been better. Unfortunately, that was the strongest she'd been in quite a while, and she couldn't keep it up. I had no guarantee she wouldn't fade away if we didn't act then. Still, it only added to your plate, and so I apologize for that."
This time Anakin shook his head. "No, that wasn't your fault at all. There is nothing to apologize for there. Besides, I've needed Siri, more than you... well, I really, could ever have known at the time."
"It still made things more difficult for you."
Anakin resisted snorting. "Somehow I believe I've become used to life throwing difficult situations in my direction. I suppose it comes with the territory of being the Chosen One, a Jedi who refuses to follow the Code and a recovering Sith Lord."
Qui-gon smiled slightly, not looking at Anakin. It was amazing how real this felt. Like it wasn't a dream at all. It had been a while since he'd had a vision or dream of this caliber.
"Can you tell Obi-wan I'm sorry?" Qui-gon asked softly. "It seems all I do is shunt my problems onto others, but I cannot speak with him in this situation. Believe me, I've tried." Anakin did believe it. Still...
"I don't know... if I can," he responded slowly. "Not only is our current relationship... different, but he probably wouldn't take it well right now."
The Qui-gon Anakin remembered would have probably accepted that with a disapproving frown and then moved on. This one, though, simply nodded sadly.
"Thank you for your honesty, and for trusting me with it."
It took a moment for Anakin to realize that he had let his guard down slightly and trusted Qui-gon a bit more than his past would have suggested. That mind-healing session must have gotten to him more than he realized... which said quite a lot.
"Thank you for recognizing it," he responded, hoping he didn't sound too awkward. If he did, Qui-gon didn't acknowledge it, for which Anakin was grateful. This whole sharing things was going to take some getting used to. He didn't think he'd ever be comfortable about it, even with those he felt safe around.
Although it was nice to feel even a modicum of safety again. He ignored the dark voice in the back of his head that kept whispering that it was a lie. That was his inner Sith – that blasted dragon – talking again and he was getting pretty good at ignoring it (thankfully). He could agree that he didn't deserve it, but he still wanted it. If he had peace, then maybe he could help others that did deserve it find it.
He turned his attention back to the desolate landscape, noting that the sand had shifted around them as they spoke, changing the shape of the landscape while never really changing anything at all. If this was his mind, Anakin wondered what that said about him.
"Well," Qui-gon said, standing... or had he always been standing? Maybe things hadn't been so clear as Anakin had thought. "Perhaps it is time to get going. Young initiates need their rest."
Anakin was torn between scowling and rolling his eyes. He wasn't that young.
"But your body is."
"My brain too," he muttered almost bitterly. Definitely leaning towards annoyance here. He'd most certainly noticed that his thought process, while similar to his older self because of experience, still didn't have the same capacity that his adult brain had had. His actions, while still remaining inside somewhat predictable parameters, hadn't been completely what an adult recovering Sith and slave would have been like. He couldn't decide if that was a positive development or not.
Qui-gon chuckled quietly. "I'll take my leave for tonight."
Anakin studied the tall figure. He still looked so steady and wise, and yet just seconds ago he'd seemed so fragile. Perhaps Anakin hadn't been the only one stepping out on a limb here.
"Thank you for speaking with me, Master Qui-gon."
"You as well, Master Skywalker."
The younger man's smile vanished. "I don't deserve that title."
"Perhaps not yet, but you will," Qui-gon returned, that twinkle in his eye never disappearing, even as he faded from view.
A sort of warmth sparked in his gut somewhere. It didn't spread, but it didn't fade quickly either. Anakin looked down at his adult hands again. No, he still didn't quite believe that he would ever be deserving of that title... but he wanted to be. Even if he never obtained it, to be worthy of such an honorific... well, it was an unobtainable but laudable goal. One he decided he would do his best to pursue. That, he supposed, was a start.
Tai'k had a hard time getting up the next morning. And why not? The previous day had been exhausting to say the least, emotionally, mentally and physically. Still, she had things she had to do, appointments to make, responsibilities to fulfill, so she managed to drag herself from her bed and get ready for the day.
One of those pesky responsibilities revolved around setting up a new appointment schedule for one Siri Tachi, to be looked over by both the girl and her Master. At that, she frowned. Did Adi-Gallia know about all of this? She highly doubted it. Tai'k had never liked keeping secrets from a Padawan's Master, but she'd have to discuss what she could and couldn't tell Master Gallia with the Grandmaster and Siri herself (and probably Anakin as well, if only to keep him in the loop).
Once this was all under control, she wondered if she should make a holocron on treating patients (especially Jedi) who had traveled through time. Then she wondered what her own Master would think of all of this. The look of utter disbelief on Master Crallig's wizened face... well, that would have been an amusing discussion. After indulging in that thought process for a few seconds, she brushed it from her thoughts and focused on the here and now. She had another session with an older Jedi who had lost his Padawan in a few hours and a Master/Padawan team that had been having problems with some of their recent missions after that. She didn't have time to get lost in thought.
Oh, and something else she needed to get started on today was an entirely new plan of attack for Anakin's therapy sessions. Based on what she now knew... well... The new outline would require a lot of study and research from her, and she even made a note to petition the Council for study on the dark side and what kind of effects it had on people. It wouldn't be easy to convince them, and when she did, it wouldn't be an easy subject either. She may even have to get into the Sith holocrons directly... although she didn't much care for that idea. However, if that was what it took to understand Anakin enough to treat him... well, she may want to make her own holocron on that as well.
She really, really hoped she was up to the challenge Anakin Skywalker presented, because if she wasn't, she had a feeling she wouldn't be the only one who would suffer the consequences.
Anakin still felt light when he woke, which pleasantly surprised him. He also felt more refreshed than he had in a while. He'd skipped racing last night, but he hoped Bleersh would understand. Eh, who was he kidding? Bleersh would scowl at him and happily lecture him the next time they met. He'd taken to doing that recently, although it mostly took the form of, 'It's none of my business, and I don't know anything about being a Jedi, but not showing up without even letting me know is bad for business.' If Anakin didn't know any better, he'd suspect the illegal manager actually cared. Maybe the initiate would find a way to get an untraceable call to him, or stop by tonight instead.
No matter what he did that night, though, he'd have to get through the day first. A day where three more people knew about him and his past. Suddenly the bright, new morning didn't seem quite so welcoming. He wondered how many people would know about him and his little secret by the time he actually got around to killing Palpatine.
Mentally he scolded himself. Honestly, he had no reason to believe anything would be worse this time... although it might be different. And here he'd worked so hard to gain his allies. Maintaining these bonds was harder than he remembered. Not that there was much he could do about it now, short of a memory wipe that could very well kill them. That didn't stop the whole situation from making him uneasy.
Seriously, this child's brain of his!
Sighing he logged into his computer mail account as he did every morning and found something there that both relieved and worried him. It was a request to meet from Count Dooku.
AN: So, the reason I didn't update this earlier is because I got an original story idea that actually let me write it. I've been spending months on it and I'm actually almost done with it. 80,000 words and 2 revamps into it. It isn't anywhere nearly as deep as this is, seeing as it's geared towards teenagers, but keep an eye out for it. I'm not sure if I'll go with traditional publishing, online publishing or self publishing. If anyone is interested in a beta read, let me know. :)
Also, good news, the next two chapters are almost done! Woo hoo! But one of my beta readers has some nasty health problems right now, the second one had life and a job get in the way, so issues on the beta reader front, but those will hopefully be fixed soon.
Anyway, thanks again to Khalthar and Carradee for their help! You guys are amazing! 3