Please be alright. Please be alright. The three words repeated over and over again in Padme's head as her fingers tightened around the cold hilt of her lightsaber. Why wasn't Anakin answering his comm? The signal was getting through just fine so he could hear them if he was still… Stop that! He was okay. He had to be alright. Anakin was the greatest warrior in the Order, if anyone was going to survive this battle it was him. She had nothing to worry about. But if he wasn't hurt or worse why wasn't he answering? His exact orders were to find Dooku and comm him so he could re-join them in the effort to take the fallen Jedi down. The team had done their part and now no one was sure what to do. Padme chewed at her bottom lip as silence rang out after Obi-wan's latest attempt to get through to their leader.
Suddenly, Padme felt a warm hand on her shoulder and turned to find Ahsoka beside her, the young girl's warm eyes were filled with a sad understanding that made her legs begin to tremble. "I'm sure he's alright." The girl tried to smile. "Knowing Anakin he's just… Caught up in something."
Yes. Yes, she was right. Anakin was… Well, Anakin. He was impulsive and had a flair for the dramatic. He was probably causing trouble somewhere, too busy to get back to them for now. But he would. They'd all be together again soon and then everything would be alright. The war would be over. They could… Well, whatever came next would happen. Her thoughts didn't stop her hands from trembling so Padme crossed them over her chest and offered Ahsoka a half-hearted nod in return for her sweet words. She didn't trust herself to speak right now.
"Anakin!" Obi-wan tried again but no answer came.
Padme glanced over at the transport ship droids were currently packing as Dooku waited by the docking bridge. If they didn't act soon, he was going to get away. They had a mission to fulfil even if Anakin wasn't here. He'd understand later, she was sure of it. Nothing was more important than the mission, not when the very Republic was at stake. Steeling herself, the Jedi sucked a breath into her lungs between clenched teeth.
"No more." She said, drawing everyone's attention toward her. "He isn't… He isn't answering, that much is clear so we can't sit around doing nothing when Dooku is so close by." They had to do something. Force only knew when they might have an opportunity like this again! It was their duty as Jedi to capture the enemy and restore peace. She pushed all thoughts of Anakin from her mind in order to find focus once more. He was alright – she could feel it in her bones. They'd find each other later when it was over. Still, she couldn't resist one final whisper to the Force around them… Just to be sure. Please keep him safe…
"Padme is right. We're wasting precious time." Obi-wan nodded.
"But… But the General said we should wait." Dorme's eyes were wide and unsettled showing everything Padme was trying so desperately to hide. "What if he's hurt? Shouldn't we go find him?"
"No." Padme swallowed and hardened herself to the surprised looks her comrades threw at her. No one knew the full extent of her romantic relationship with Anakin. No one knew the commitment they'd made to one another… The vows they'd taken. That was a decision she'd been behind. The news of their marriage might be a distraction from the mission. They could celebrate when everything was over. The surprise in everyone's eyes wasn't making it very easy to concentrate on the mission which was exactly why Padme had sworn Anakin to secrecy on their marriage. It was for the best. "Master Skywalker clearly can't make it back us right now. We have a chance to apprehend Dooku right now! It's our duty to see it through no matter the consequences."
"I agree." Aayla nodded immediately.
"As do I. The General would agree too." Kit said calmly as Ahsoka and Dorme exchanged an unsure glance. No one paid them any attention however as the team huddled closer. "What's the plan?"
"I'll take the lead," Obi-wan said confidently and lifted a hand to stroke through his neatly trimmed beard. "If we charge in together we lose the element of surprise. It's our one advantage so we must be careful. I'll do down first and get him talking. Stay here until it's absolutely vital that you come down – that goes for all of you. Understand?"
It made sense. She didn't like it but it made sense. Obi-wan could distract Dooku until they saw their chance to take him down. It wasn't going to be easy but they could do it. Everyone nodded and as Obi-wan leapt through the framing that'd once held transparisteel for a window and into the dockingbay, Padme worried at her lip again. It was going to be okay.
His lightsaber slashed and tore through bodies without care, without mercy or thought as to who it struck. Anakin was no more. He was gone. At least that was how it felt to the Jedi as he cornered a female Neimoidian he didn't recognise and rose his humming blade to deliver the dreaded fatal blow. These were not the acts of a Jedi – none of this mission was the Jedi way, though in recent days he'd come to believe the Jedi way had been lost a long time ago and no one had noticed.
Nobody had even cared.
Someone screamed and pounded at the locked door for help and the Jedi swivelled his body slowly, gritting his teeth. They were too loud. It could draw attention. Years of training and battle led Anakin's body without any thought, without decision or hesitance. He acted on skill and instinct alone, every movement, every thrust of his wrist, every kill was purely physical. Primal. A hunter slaughtering his prey.
He took no joy in it. None of it.
He was doing his duty one last time.
Anakin's eyes felt heavier as they lifted to the only other being remaining in the room. Nute Gunray. The man screamed and trembled as the cloaked Jedi drew closer and twirled his lightsaber in his wrist almost surprised that it didn't slip out with the blood that stained his palm. Then again, the blood was merely figurative. But it was there even if it couldn't be seen, Anakin could feel it, hot and slick against his skin, seeping beneath the surface and forever marking his soul.
One last day in the Order.
One last duty to face.
One last kill.
As the Jedi's eyes caught sight of his reflection in the blank screen of the monitor mounted on the wall, Anakin didn't recognise himself.
"I was wondering when you would come down, old friend." Count Dooku spoke without turning to face Obi-wan as he landed softly within the dockingbay. Ah, so he was rumbled already. The man deftly unclipped his lightsaber and ignited the vibrating azure blade.
"It's over, Dooku. Surrender yourself."
Obi-wan didn't expect the man to come easily but provided the offer regardless. He'd done his duty as a Jedi by showing the Sith Lord a peaceful way to end this though both men knew the Jedi had wasted his breath. The older man chuckled lowly at a joke Obi-wan hadn't heard and shook his head.
"Qui-gon would have been very proud, Obi-wan. Of you, that is, not the disgrace that is the Order."
Obi-wan managed a smirk as they began to circle one another, each awaiting the other making the first move to strike. "Qui-gon believed in the Order."
The Sith Lord chuckled then and shook his head. "If you believe that then you didn't know him very well at all."
Despite himself, a small pang of hurt tore through his chest. He'd been closer to Qui-gon than anyone, even Anakin, he had known his nature was more than slightly rebellious against the Jedi Order but he'd believed in it with his entire heart and soul… Hadn't he? Anakin's faith was fading too. Perhaps he'd missed something… Maybe he wasn't the student who'd been closest to the Master after all? No! Obi-wan shook it off and grit his teeth. Dooku was trying to distract him. He had to focus.
"The Jedi Order will fall this day, Obi-wan. You do yourself no favours by staying… I beg of you, join me and we can set this galaxy to rights again!" Dooku's pale face glimmered with a sincerity that was surprising. He'd never known the older man could be such a wonderful actor too. Then again, deception was the way of the Sith. It had probably been Darth Sidious' first lesson when they'd become partners.
"That's where you're wrong, Count. Your master's plans will never reach their fruition. The Council are on their way to find him here now and when they do, this war will be over."
Dooku was quiet for a moment and for the space of a single heartbeat, Obi-wan almost believed he'd surprised the man. But then he began to laugh. "You fool… My master isn't here. The Council have wasted not just their time, but the lives of countless Jedi this day. Their idiocy is the reason the Order will fall. They've been doomed since the beginning."
"You're lying!" Obi-wan cried. "He must be here… They will find him and end this war."
Dooku's response came in the form of the hissing of his lightsaber's ignition and a blood red light burst to life before the Jedi's face. Dooku was stalling, he had to be. But he didn't sense any deception from the older man… It didn't make any sense! What was going on? The Council had been so sure of their plan that the Sith Lord would be here with the others… But if Dooku wasn't lying, it meant they'd been wrong. They'd been fooled. Which meant that almost the entire Jedi Order had been led into a trap.
The Jedi lunged toward the Sith with a battle cry loud enough that his teammates would hear above. Regardless of the truth of their presence here, they had their duty to do. Bring down Dooku. Everything else would follow that. Red and blue clashed with an angry hiss over and over again as the enemies thrust and parried at one another, swinging and dodging and grunting with the effort of it. Dooku, despite his age, was exceptionally skilled in combat having trained under Master Yoda. He'd trained Obi-wan's own Master, Qui-gon, and as sweat began to break out on his brow, the Jedi began to feel the Sith knew his every move before he made it.
"We have to go down there!" Ahsoka whispered. "He needs our help!"
Padme didn't disagree. Obi-wan was a skilled fighter but there was only so much he could do against Dooku alone. "You're right." She reached for her lightsaber and felt her anxiety quell slightly at the cold feeling against her sweating palm. She was safe. Everything was alright. Anakin would be fine. They'd all be together again soon and the war would be over. It was so close.
"I get to be the one to take the traitor bastard down!" Aayla cried and leapt down from the platform with a small thud. Kit followed immediately after with Ahsoka hot on his heels. Padme swallowed and prepared to move after them when Dorme grasped her shoulder with a worried glance.
"Something isn't right, Padme… I don't know what but something's off about this."
"We don't have time to figure out what right now. They need our help."
"You're right…" She forced a thin smile but didn't meet Padme's eyes. "Just be careful down there."
Padme covered her friend's hand on her shoulder with her own for a moment and nodded. "You too, Dorme." The two women shared small, anxious smiles before pulling apart and following their teammates into the fray below. Padme's feet hit the metallic flooring with a dull thud as her eyes focused on the Sith Lord blocking blows from lightsabers at every angle. Greens and blues clashed with red over and over again so quickly that the colours blended into one frantic haze dancing across the Jedi's vision. An erupting hiss sounded the ignition of her own blade and not a moment later she heard Dorme do the same thing.
Dooku scarcely looked Padme in the eye as she blocked a thrust of his blood-red lightsaber from colliding with Obi-wan's shoulder. The older man peered through her as though their presence meant nothing… As if he was bored by this fight. The thought sent an errant flush of indignation through Padme's chest. They were taking him down. Today. Her lightsaber swung harder, her body spun around Dooku's faster as at last the dread that had settled over her mind all day cleared enough to allow her usual focus to sharpen.
Ahsoka fell back with a sharp cry when Dooku's foot slammed into her stomach, sending the girl rolling to the ground with a wince-inducing thud. Her lightsaber bounced and rolled across the dockingbay, perching itself precariously close to the edge of a landing pad and the depths below it. Padme watched her cough and wheeze for a moment before turning back to Dooku. She was alright, just winded. She refocused. Cheap moves like that weren't going to be enough to stop them.
Obi-wan twisted his lightsaber in his wrist, creating a blue circle in the air for a moment before launching himself toward Dooku's legs. Kit kept him distracted with a fierce parry and Padme held her breath. This was it… If Obi-wan could get him down, they could sweep in and make the arrest. The moment he was disarmed, the war was as good as won!
But then Dooku twisted his own lightsaber and stabbed it into the heart of Kit's chest, making the nautolan stumble backwards with a gruesome cry before his legs buckled beneath him at the shock of the wound. Padme was frozen despite Dooku behind her as her friend's body crumpled on the dirty floor with an unmistakable final wheeze. Despite her best efforts, hot angry tears welled into the Jedi's eyes and rolled down her cheeks.
"Kit!" Aayla screamed and ran toward their fallen friend, almost dropping her lightsaber in the process. The twi'lek woman fell to her knees beside Kit and carefully rolled him over, shoulders shaking in grief and repressed sobs. Ahsoka had finally pulled herself to her feet and watched the scene in horror, lifting a hand to cover her mouth. No… No, this couldn't be happening… It couldn't be. Jedi died every day in combat but not them… It was never one of their team… They were – this couldn't be…
She felt her body turning before registering the mental command for it to do so. The Jedi snarled toward the Sith whose face retained that same bored expression as if taking Kit's life had been nothing to him. Maybe it was. "You're going to pay for this!" She cried, "Even if it's the last thing I do!"
And then, Dooku's face betrayed some emotion at last. Humour. He laughed darkly to himself making it difficult to keep herself from flying into a rage-filled attack. "I can feel your anger, young one. It's powerful but you let it distract you from your focus. That's a mistake."
She blinked, not understanding the Sith's words until it was too late. Dooku surged toward her before Padme could raise her lightsaber to defend herself and her weapon was knocked from her palm as he lifted his own to her throat, wrapping an arm around her to keep her close. Panic flared through the Jedi. He had her. She'd gotten distracted by grief and now he was going to try to use her life against her heartbroken comrades. No. No! She wouldn't let him! Padme's life was nothing in comparison to ending the war. If she had to die to bring Dooku down, so be it…
Her friends rushed toward the Sith, even Aayla found the strength to leave Kit be for the moment and glared at the older man as his lightsaber hummed inches from her flesh. "It was a valiant fight, my friends," he said, "but it's too late."
"Just take him down!" Padme cried, sinking her nails into the Sith's hand. If he felt the sting, he didn't react and she grit her teeth. "Forget about me!"
"Let her go! Now!" Ahsoka demanded more bravely than Padme was sure she really felt. "Surrender yourself, Dooku. It'll be better that way."
The Sith chuckled again. "Nothing is going to make it any better." Even from the distance they stood apart, Padme could see Obi-wan's eyes narrow as Dooku manipulated the Force to produce a holodisk from the pocket of his tunic. It floated to his hand and from her peripheral vision; she could see a bright white light flashing to signal there was a message stored within waiting to be opened. He did just that, pressing down on the button and a blue hologram of a cloaked figure sprang out into the air above.
"Darth Tyranus…" The figure rasped and with a sickening sense of dread Padme realised it was the dark lord they'd been hunting for. If he was able to send Dooku a message, it meant he hadn't been caught and that could only mean two things. He'd defeated the Jedi Master's who'd gone to find him, or he'd never been here at all. Her legs shook beneath her own weight suddenly. It'd all been a trap… They'd been lured into a trap! They weren't going to end the war… All the deaths… Kit… Anakin, wherever he was… It'd all been for nothing. "Order 66 has executed."
"What the hell is Order 66?" Dorme spat furiously toward Dooku but she received no answer as the hologram shut itself down once more and the Sith dropped it to the ground with a clatter. The heat from his lightsaber was beginning to make Padme sweat. The despair, confusion and warmth was a sickening combination and she felt her mind spin. She didn't understand! None of this made any sense. How could the Council have been fooled? Were there spies? Traitors in the Order?
The heavy sound of marching boots filled the Jedi's ears from the corridor outside the door. A familiar Force signature swept across her mind as the approaching presence of clone troopers made itself clear. Relief poured through her body as she heard them draw closer. Reinforcements! Yes! With the backup of a few clones, they could end this. Despite herself, a powerful hope that perhaps they were being led by Anakin flared to life in her mind. Maybe that's why he'd taken so long. Gathering up a team of troopers to help them see the mission though could take some time. Her heart quickened in her chest. He was alright… If this was true then it meant he was really alright. Thank the Force!
The doors began to peel apart and Padme opened her mouth to speak when a group of twenty or so troopers burst into the room. "I take no joy in this." Dooku beat her to speaking. "Truly, it is a pity. Every drop of Force-sensitive blood spilt is a waste… But the Jedi Order must fall for the galaxy's rebirth."
Suddenly she heard the unmistakable sound of the clone troopers cocking their blasters and snapped her gaze to the left, where the men had entered from and fear began to quake through her body. The clones weren't aiming for Dooku… They were aiming at Dorme, Obi-wan, Aayla and Ahsoka! No, no this wasn't right! There had to be some kind of mistake! Tears anew sprung to Padme's eyes as blaster bolts flew through the air and though her friends attempted to block the plasma with their lightsabers, the terrible inevitable began to happen before her eyes. Obi-wan was hit first, in his shoulder and the shock sent his lightsaber to the ground. There was no time to react, Padme screamed and clawed at Dooku's arm but the older man was stronger and she could only watch as blaster bolt after blaster bolt hit her friend's body.
Dorme screamed as the same happened to her and Padme screwed her eyes shut. She couldn't watch this! Screams and grunts of pain filled her ears, meshing with the rhythmic sound of shots being fired until after what felt like forever, there was silence.
They'd been betrayed. The clones had been turned or controlled or had been made since the beginning to turn on their Jedi Generals… If it had happened here to them, then it was happening everywhere. No Jedi was safe. Everyone was… Everyone was being slaughtered! No one would see it coming, especially not the Jedi who trusted their clone battalions as friends, as true comrades…
Padme's eyes flew open in panic as thoughts of her beloved consumed her. Please be alright. Please be safe! The vision of her friend's bodies on the ground tore a wild, breathless cry from the Jedi and Dooku released her, allowing her shaking legs to give in at last. She fell to her knees and wept, wanting to go to them but at the same time desperate to get as far away as possible. At that moment, Padme saw her own end approaching. Dooku wouldn't just let her get away and if she got up the clones were going to take her down just like the others. She trembled and forced a breath into her unwilling lungs at the startling realisation. She wasn't getting out of this dockingbay…
"I am his."
"I am hers."
"And he is mine."
"And she is mine."
They spoke the vows the holy man recited to one another simultaneously as their fingers laced together by either side of their bodies. It'd all happened so quickly, Padme could scarcely believe they were here in a small lower level church so late in the evening. When Anakin had brought up taking their vows tonight, she'd laughed and scoffed, believing he was joking, but as the seriousness of the question became apparent, Padme realised she didn't want to wait either.
They were married now. Husband and wife. She'd never felt so happy in all her life. Anakin pressed his forehead against hers and closed his eyes and Padme followed suit, savouring the moment. It wasn't the most conventional wedding ceremony, not that she'd been to any before but it was theirs and it was perfect. The holy man was certainly surprised when two Jedi appeared at his door asking for an immediate marriage ceremony but had allowed it regardless. Padme was certain she didn't look very much like a bride in her green Jedi tunic and dark trousers but she didn't own a dress and there was no time – or credits for that matter – to find one.
She didn't need a dress just like she didn't need a ring. They had each other and their love and that was all that mattered.
There was just one sentence and it would be complete, five more words and it was official. She didn't try to contain her joyous smile, especially as Anakin whispered beneath his breath so that only she could hear him. "You're all mine forever now, Naberrie."
She laughed and leaned up just a little to brush the tip of her nose against his. "And you're mine, Skywalker. No backing out now."
Anakin grinned wide and shook his head. "Never."
The holy man finished the final vows of the ceremony and smiled genuinely when pronouncing them man and wife.
"You were lucky." Dooku's voice drifted from behind her, but Padme couldn't pull her eyes away from her friends as more tears came to her eyes. She wanted to fight, to grab her lightsaber and cut the bastard down until he was nothing but a pile of unrecognisable limbs! He deserved to die for this! He and his Master! She wanted to do it more than anything but she was frozen, trapped in her own body by grief and fear. The moment she stood, Dooku's firing squad would take her down and… And… She wasn't ready to die. She wanted to see Anakin again, even just for a moment, just to know he was alright. He had to survive! She believed in him. He was the Order's greatest warrior. He would be okay… Force, she hoped he was okay. Padme closed her eyes tight again and took another shuddering breath, longing for her husband more than anything in the Galaxy. "You witnessed the first step toward the rise of the Empire."
Empire? She thought for a moment before the sound of a lightsaber igniting filled her ears. "Alas," Dooku continued, "Jedi have no place in the Empire." A sharp, burning pain tore through Padme's body as the Sith plunged his lightsaber into her back, pulling an agonised scream from her unwilling lips. It only lasted a moment before numbness began to take hold of her slackening body. Her vision blurred and then began to dull. Everything was… Fading… It felt like… Like…
Flashes of their wedding burst through her mind again, of Anakin and their love and one last desperate hope for his safety.
"I do now pronounce you to be man and wife. 'Till death do you part."
The command to withdraw immediately chimed through Anakin's comm and he frowned. He stumbled out of the bunker where nothing but silence and death lingered in his wake. The Jedi Master's stomach lurched dangerously with the thought. Their screams echoed in his ears and likely would do forever. Of course, he'd killed before in self-defence and for the sake of the Republic, but never like this… It shouldn't have been like this… Anakin gripped the corner of the wall until his knuckles became white as a wave of nausea and regret surged through him. Force forgive him because he'd never forgive himself. His lips pressed tightly together and his breath came in tight ragged pants that left him feeling lightheaded. Faintly, Anakin recognised the feeling of a tear on his cheek and reached up to slap it away.
A moment passed and the Jedi Master stood tall once more. He had orders to follow. If Masters Yoda and Windu wanted everyone out, it had to mean his team had taken Dooku down. Maybe Yoda and Windu had even managed to capture the Sith Lord they'd been looking for. The thought stopped Anakin in his tracks. If that were true it meant it was over… It was really over… The thought knocked the breath from his lungs all over again. The danger wasn't over yet but a smile came to the Jedi's mouth. If it was really over, he could tell Padme all about his desire for them to get out and live a peaceful life somewhere. It was so close!
Shaking himself out of it, Anakin refocused his mind. They weren't out of the thick of it yet. These thoughts of his were for later, when they'd made it back to the temple and could be alone together. Before that, he had to gather up his team. His head raced. Where had they said Dooku was? Dockingbay, that was right. The Jedi took off running toward the direction he remembered it being from the mission debriefings and building maps.
As he drew closer to the dockingbay, Anakin stumbled onto the bodies of several Knights he knew in passing from missions he'd assisted in and pursed his lips. Blaster bolt markings littered their bodies and he muttered a quiet Huttese prayer above them. Battle droids must have made it inside… That wasn't good. Moving on, Anakin began the descent of the stairway that brought him into the dockingbay and froze in the doorway.
Three clone troopers were huddled together, helmets off and whispering quietly to each other. Their heads were hung low and their shoulders sagged heavily. Something was wrong. Anakin's eyes took a quick scan of the room but couldn't see anything amiss. But there was something, something just beyond the legs of the troopers… If he could just see… Squaring his shoulders, Anakin stepped into the hanger and unclipped his lightsaber.
"What's going on here?" He demanded, drawing the trooper's attention. He recognised one of them as Commander Cody and narrowed his eyes. Cody wasn't supposed to be here – he'd been stationed on the outside with Rex and the others. What was happening?
The three men shared a look before Cody stepped forward, slipping his helmet over his head. "I'm sorry, sir." He said and Anakin's jaw slackened when all three pointed their blasters in his direction. What the hell was going on…? They were traitors? The bodies of the Knights flashed before his eyes and anger began to replace the shock he felt.
His thumb moved quickly and his lightsaber burst to life with a flash of blue plasma. Part of the General understood he should take at least one of them alive to answer for their crimes but the anger clouded his mind faster than logic could keep up with. They'd killed good Jedi today! People who only wanted to end the war! Anakin's teeth grit together in an animalistic snarl as he thrust his blade into the first traitor's chest and then blocked the frantic shower of blaster bolts that came flying his way from the second. When he was close enough one swing was all it took to separate his helmeted head from his shoulders, both pieces of him landing on the floor with a dull thud. Cody was next. Vaguely Anakin heard the man's voice but no part of him was listening. There was a scream as the Jedi Master slashed through the traitor's body and watched him fall expressionlessly.
That's when he saw Kit.
His comrade lay motionlessly on the floor on his back, wide black eyes staring lifelessly at the ceiling. Anakin's own eyes widened. No... No, he couldn't be… A large hole in the man's chest revealed exactly where Dooku had caught him. The frayed edges of his tabard were burned and singed there the Sith's lightsaber had burned through the material. Anakin swallowed down his grief for now and looked around a little more, walking past a large cargo freighter, inwardly hopeful. Just because Kit was… That didn't mean the others were… They were fine. Padme was fine. The order to withdraw had come, that had to mean everything had gone smoothly. Dooku had to be in custody.
Obi-wan caught his eye first, or more accurately, his arm did. It lay limp and lifeless on the ground, turned up the way so that his slightly clenched palm faced the high ceiling. His eyes were closed but even from where he stood Anakin knew his friend was dead. Aayla lay next to him on her front, blaster bolt holes marring her entire back. Shaking, Anakin forced himself to move closer. He had to know. Ahsoka was curled up just to the left of Aayla and Anakin had to choke back a cry at the sight. She was so young…Beside her lay Dorme whose shoulder and stomach had the same circular holes burned into them as the others… Blaster bolts. Had Cody and the others really done this too? Were they working with Dooku?
He turned, terrified of what he may find next but too numb to not continue on. Further to the left, between the generous space between two transports, lay Padme. Anakin's stomach dropped and his frozen body jolted to action. He ran as fast as his legs could carry him. No, no, no… Force no! She wasn't. She couldn't be! He would have known, he would have felt it if…
She lay on her front and Anakin didn't have to move her to see what had happened. She had the same lightsaber marking on her back as Kit had in his chest. She'd been… She was… Anakin's knees gave in suddenly as he came to her side. He fell to the ground and carefully eased her body onto her back. He stared down at his lover, his wife's blank eyes and felt a primal roar of anguish tear its way out of his lips.
His trembling hands carefully pulled Padme into his arms as twin tears fell from the corners of his eyes. He'd heard her voice over the comm earlier… She'd been fine… He expected to meet back up with her after the mission and explain why he'd done what he did. Now she'd never know. Anakin pulled her closer and pressed his lips to her cheek, feeling the cooling, soft skin beneath his own. His fingers sifted through her curly hair and felt his throat tighten.
If he'd just let the Separatists go… Force help him, it was his fault. He'd followed Yoda and Windu's orders and now they were all gone. He should have been here! If he couldn't save them at least he would have gotten to die with her. All Anakin wanted to do was scream and cry and tear every piece of this dockingbay apart until there was nothing but scraps left over but he couldn't. Dooku was still out there and he had to find him. He had to make him pay for this.
Anakin's blue eyes stared down into Padme's brown ones and shook his head, letting the tears fall silently. He wanted to beg her to come back to him, plead with the Force to bring her back for any price at all but it was too late. They were supposed to have the rest of their lives together… He'd wanted them to get out of this life! Live somewhere peaceful and be happy. It was all gone. Those dreams were ashes around him and Anakin didn't know what to do.
"I…" He tried to steady his voice. "Padme, I…" What could he say? How sorry he was? How he wished he could turn back time and make a different choice? He'd give his own life without hesitation to bring her back. "I can't mourn for you the way I want to right now. Dooku's still around here somewhere… I'm going to find him so this… So your death means something. I promise you." Anakin couldn't push words past the lump in his throat for a moment and simply pressed his forehead against Padme's, running his hand through her hair. "I'm going to avenge you. All of you. And then… If everything they teach us as younglings is right and there's an afterlife, I'll meet you there someday."
Footsteps drew the Jedi's attention ahead where Dooku emerged from behind the cargo freighter slowly. His cold dark eyes looked at Anakin without emotion, without regret. "You did this!" He hissed, rising to his feet. The Sith Lord nodded once and took a step back as Anakin reached for his lightsaber again. Screw taking him alive. He was going to cut him limb from limb! The General saw red. A darkness deep inside him screamed to take his revenge and avenge his team's deaths. It wanted Anakin to strangle the old man with his bare hands. He wanted that too.
"The Jedi Order has fallen, Skywalker," Dooku spoke evenly even as Anakin stormed toward him, reaching for the switch of his lightsaber. "And though it would have been an honour to lose to you, that's now how today ends." The Sith quickly produced a purple tablet and placed it in his mouth, pale throat bobbing as he swallowed. Within moments, the man's eyes rolled back into his head and he collapsed to the floor. Anakin moved faster, dropping his lightsaber on the ground in his haste.
When he reached the Sith, he fisted the dark tunic he wore and shook him. "What did you do? What the fuck did you do?!" The Jedi shouted and smacked the older man across the face. It had no effect. He placed two fingers on Dooku's pulse and felt it beating strongly beneath his skin. So he hadn't poisoned himself… So what did he do? "You son of a bitch!" Anakin hissed and let his knuckles collide hard with Dooku's face. "Wake up!"
"Anakin…" A weak female voice caught his attention enough to spare the unconscious Sith's face another blow. Was that…? For one hopeful moment, he considered that the voice belonged to Padme until from the corner of his eye, the Jedi saw Ahsoka's arm move from where she lay. He dropped Dooku to the floor and raced toward the young girl. She was alive? She was alive! Carefully, Anakin helped the girl to sit up, wincing when she cried out at the pain of it. "Anakin," she said again, stronger this time but still quiet. "It hurts…"
"I know, Snips." He felt a violent tremble of relief in his whole body. "You're alright. Okay? I'm going to make sure you're alright."
"Where… Where is everyone?" She whimpered and the Jedi pulled back to look at the girl. Hurt and regret battled for dominance in his chest. How could he tell her? He hadn't accepted the truth himself yet.
"Just keep your eyes closed, Snips, it's gonna be okay."
He needed to get her out of here and to the nearest medic. If her wounds went untreated it wouldn't be good. Anakin began to ease himself to his feet when a small grunt broke the tense silence and the Jedi froze for a moment. It happened again and it definitely wasn't Ahsoka. His head snapped down to see Dorme sitting up with a pained grunt. Her hand covered her shoulder where she'd been hit while the other hovered over the second wound on her stomach, both of them were shaking. She coughed and then turned her head as blood trickled out of her mouth.
"I – I…" The woman started but trailed off with a whimper.
She was worse off than Ahsoka, there wasn't time for talking. They needed medical attention now. Anakin stood up and hauled Dorme over his shoulder, wincing as she cried out and pulled Ahsoka up with his spare him, holding her to his waist. It wasn't going to comfortable but it was faster than two trips. He was not going to risk losing them too. It was a miracle they were still here in the first place. The Jedi looked back over his shoulder to where Padme lay and hesitated. The thought of leaving her here disgusted him… But what other choice did he have? It was just for a little while; he'd be back for her and Obi-wan, Aayla and Kit the second he saw that Ahsoka and Dorme were being treated by medics. So long as Dooku stayed in his sleep, he'd gather everyone up with a little help and they could get off this damned planet.
He wanted to be alone with Padme. There were things he needed to… Damnit! His eyes prickled with tears again but the Jedi blinked them away. He had to focus. Dorme and Ahsoka needed his help. Quickly as he could, Anakin made his way out of the base and toward the first military transport he saw. Bodies and pieces of battle droids were scattered everywhere and he stepped as carefully as he could to avoid running over anyone.
"Master Skywalker!" One of the medics inside the ship cried when he burst into the medical bay but quickly jumped to attention when he breathlessly explained Ahsoka and Dorme's conditions. Three others carefully eased the women out of his grasp and onto the medical benches that hovered in the air. Anakin lingered in the doorway, unwilling to leave them alone but forced himself out. The medics would take good care of them.
A small group of Jedi were huddled together in the corner of the bridge, shaken and bleeding but Anakin's presence made them stand straight. "Go to the dockingbay of the base, there are four…" His voice grew thick as a lump gathered tightly in his throat. "Four bodies… They need to be brought onboard before we leave."
"Sir!" The Knights nodded and rushed off. The pilot's seat called to Anakin for a moment and he wanted nothing more than to collapse into it and let his emotions run free. But he couldn't. Not yet. Not until they pulled Dooku out of whatever cowardly sleep he'd put himself into… Rat bastard. With the Sith in mind, the Jedi Master turned on his heel toward the dockingbay after the Knights. Someone had to drag the coward on-board; it may as well be him.
Anakin was still missing much of the information about exactly what had happened by the time they reached Coruscant again, but he'd gathered the gist of it. The clone troopers had turned on the Jedi. The combined attacks of battle droids and clones were too much for most of the Jedi who'd suffered the attack. The numbers weren't known quite yet, but the Order had lost too many to recover from this day.
There were private shuttles awaiting their return to transport them back to the temple but Anakin opted to walk. He needed to clear his head before he saw her again. They'd had so little time together. He'd known her two years altogether now and they're romantic relationship had taken up just one of those years. It wasn't enough. It would never be enough. He was afraid of returning to his quarters… Their quarters. The hurt was too raw, too fresh to see Padme's things mixed with his own.
The walk took an hour but it was the fastest hour of Anakin's life. All too soon he saw the high towers of the temple looming above as he approached the gate. The Jedi bit down on his lip and forced himself to keep walking. He didn't want to go but what other choice was there? He wanted to see Padme again and say a proper goodbye. He wanted to be alone with her and begin to mourn. Mourn for her and the life they'd been so close to sharing. His fingers carefully traced the naked finger where technically a ring should sit. He'd wanted to get her a ring, truly, and wished with a dull ache in his heart that he'd been able to.
It wasn't just Padme either. Obi-wan… He was gone. His friend, his brother… How was he supposed to go on without their bickering? Without his sage advice? He was going to put Obi-wan forward for Mastery! They were never going to share a laugh about idiotic battle droids again, he'd never make the old man queasy with his fast flying or plan pranks on him with Ahsoka. Kit and Aayla too… His team. His friends. They were just gone. It was unfair. How could they be gone while Anakin was still here? After what he'd done… Where was the justice in that?
A figure lingered by the gate, a man in civilian clothes Anakin didn't recognise. If it was one of those holo-net news journalists who'd caught a whiff of a story, the Jedi couldn't be responsible for his actions… As he came closer, the man's face seemed to brighten and he stood straighter. "Oh! Um, hello, son. Well, General. Jedi Master… I'm sorry; I'm not sure exactly what you people like to be called."
Anakin's eyes narrowed as he typed the key code into the gate to avoid calling for the gatekeeper. The less people he had to see, the better. "What do you want?"
"Well, you are Anakin Skywalker, right?" The man asked. He was older with greying dark hair and a slightly rounded stomach but his eyes were warm and his smile might have been contagious if times had been different. He didn't sense any ill will from the man so lingered a moment despite the gate opening to allow him to escape from the conversation.
"Yes…" He nodded and the man's smile grew wider still.
"Wonderful! I recognised your face from the holo-net news! I heard you'd returned from some mission today and thought this would be our best chance." He held out his hand for Anakin to shake. "I'm Ruwee Naberrie. Padme's father. You see, she and our family have been conversing through letters lately and being on your team she's kept so busy that we thought we'd fly to Coruscant to meet her here. I was wondering if you would perhaps send her down?"
What little colour the Jedi had retained in his face drained. Padme's father was here? Her family? She'd mentioned writing to them more than once, and he'd known she wanted to meet them. He'd never imagined they would have come here. Especially now. His teeth sunk down hard into his lip to keep it from trembling. Somehow, he found the strength to shake the man's – his father in law, he supposed – hand. He hadn't had any time to think about what happened, to process it himself… How was he supposed to break to Ruwee?
"Mr Naberrie, I think you should come inside with me."
By the time the distraught Naberrie patriarch left the Jedi temple with tears staining his pale cheeks, Anakin was exhausted. Everything was too raw and it was hitting him from all sides. He hadn't had a moment to just… His body ached and it was a struggle to keep his legs moving. People gave the Jedi General sympathetic looks as he passed them and it took everything Anakin had not to glare back. Why were they pitying him? He was still fucking here!
Finally, the Jedi made it to his quarters and slammed down upon the receiver to ensure the door was locked. He couldn't think of anything worse than visitors right now. The moment they sealed themselves shut, he leaned heavily upon the cold durasteel and clenched his eyes shut. Suddenly everything felt like it'd happened years ago not hours. Everything felt distant and blurred, like a nightmare he was going to wake up from any moment.
Force, please wake him up.
Despite his eyes being closed, Anakin felt them begin to burn beneath the lids as unwanted tears began to build up. He wasn't going to wake up. It was all real. The Jedi quickly shoved his long cloak off his shoulders and let it fall to the ground without a thought. Opening his eyes and looking around the room filled him with dread. Everywhere he looked held a reminder of Padme. Her own spare cloak was slung over one of his chairs, the ties she used to hold back her hair on the bedside table along with a holo-image of the team that'd been taken by a reporter from the holo-net news that she'd decided to keep. Anakin felt compelled to step toward it now and lifted the small frame with a trembling hand.
Everyone was smiling in a way that probably seemed unprofessional, enjoying the moment, standing close with Anakin in the forefront. Obi-wan was to his left and Aayla to his right. Ahsoka stood a little in front to avoid being hidden because of her lack of height with Dorme and Padme just behind. He ran his thumb across her angelic face, so light and happy despite the war and the times they lived in. If he remembered correctly, this had been taken just days before he'd kissed her while scouting the potential Separatist base.
His lip trembled. His eyes burned and his vision blurred.
How could they just be gone? Anakin had seen so many people die in his life but had only ever really felt the loss of his mother before now. They were his friends… His real family. And Dooku had taken them from him! Suddenly the drowning agony of sadness was dried up and replaced with a hot fiery wave of sheer rage. It was unfair! He was the murderer. He was the one who'd taken lives and yet it was his friends, his wife who lost their own.
He couldn't take it. The anger was a familiar presence he hadn't felt in years but it was so easy to let it take over all over again and Anakin didn't fight it. He didn't want to. Without thought, the Jedi threw the holo-image across the room and heard it shatter against the wall. His power swelled beneath his veins and he felt the room tremble slightly as the rage took control. He kicked and threw and flipped furniture in protest against the injustice of their deaths, in Padme's death. How was it fair for the damned galaxy to let him know her, let him love her and know she loved him too if it planned to just rip her away?
He hated everything. The Order, the Senate, the Separatists, Anakin hated them all equally suddenly. It was their fault there was a damn war to be fought in the beginning! If they could just solve their petty squabbles without violence she'd still be here! They could be free!
The Jedi roared in grief and then collapsed to the floor with a sob.
Vaguely, he heard the sound of transparisteel shattering and understood it had to be his window but couldn't find the desire or strength to look up and see. The first sob brought forth another and then another until Anakin found himself weeping on the floor surrounded by the chaos of his own making.
Master Skywalker stood at the transparisteel windows glaring out at the sunset as Master's Yoda and Windu talked quietly about the failures of the mission. Ahsoka didn't listen to anything they said, though she knew she should. Her mind was too focused on Anakin. He wasn't listening either. Or at least, he didn't look like he was. No one could blame him for that – no one who knew anyway. That sure wasn't a lot of people. The young Jedi's heart ached at the sight of her older friend and she grit her teeth. She could still hear Obi-wan chastising them for being too rash in training, hear Aayla's laughter, see Kit's smug grin and Padme… The girl closed her eyes tightly, willing herself not to cry. Her friends… Their team… There was only Ahsoka and Dorme now. And Anakin. She wasn't sure where things went from here. Both she and Dorme were still on medical leave a few weeks after the mission and there was no set date for their return. The Jedi Master still had deep and dark circles beneath his eyes that spoke of how little he'd been sleeping. Ahsoka couldn't blame him for that either. She'd barely slept a wink since waking up in the medbay of the temple. Every time she closed her eyes, all she could see was the clones aiming their blasters and preparing to fire.
There'd been a mass funeral for the fallen but it'd been impersonal and hollow. Everyone had known it.
Ahsoka still wondered every now and again exactly what Anakin had told Padme's father after Dorme told her what happened. She hadn't had the heart to ask him how it went, imagining it must have been painful.
"So now what?" Anakin asked suddenly and the other two Master's stopped talking. He turned away from the window to meet their eyes blankly and Ahsoka tensed. "My team are dead, Sidious and Grievous are still out there, the Order can barely muster up enough Jedi for a single battalion anymore and the war isn't any closer to ending. So what happens now?"
He wasn't wrong, Ahsoka had wondered about this herself. The failure of the mission had given Chancellor Palpatine all he needed to turn much of the Senate against the Jedi. They weren't revered as warriors and peacekeepers anymore but wastes of resources. She didn't see how they could keep fighting the war like this. The absolute barrenness of Anakin's face fell away when a small, distant smile stretched across Mace Windu's lips. Ahsoka almost fell backwards at the sight. She'd never seen the man smile in all her years as a Jedi; she hadn't really thought he was capable. But now he was smiling. Not a full smile, albeit, but a smile nonetheless. Why? Why now? She didn't see what there was to smile about and it seemed Anakin felt the same.
"What the hell are you smiling about?"
Anakin's voice dragged Master Windu from his apparently pleasant thoughts with a start. The older man shook his head and glanced toward the windows beyond Anakin where the Senate Rotunda basked in the dying sunlight. "We've suffered great losses in the battle of Geonosis. But with the Separatist Generals we've captured thus far and Count Dooku in our custody, it seems, at least to me, that the Jedi Order has taken a step toward the truth of Darth Sidious and truly ending this war."
Ahsoka frowned and tried not to balk. Dooku was locked deep inside a self-inflicted coma and so far not even the Jedi's best medics had been able to force him awake. Whatever he'd taken was something they'd never seen before. No one was sure if he'd ever wake up. There was a chance he never could. And the Separatist Generals they'd captured were nothing but lackeys. They knew nothing about Darth Sidious. He was too smart for that. But, if Mace Windu of all people had hope… Then maybe he was right… Maybe they were on the right path at last. Despite her misgivings, an unwilling spark of just that, of hope came to life within the young Jedi. The war wasn't over yet, but the Republic would prevail in spite of all the losses they'd endured, she believed that.
"Just one step?" Anakin grumbled angrily, "Everything we've done and everyone we lost amounts to one step?" He stole a shaking breath and turned back to the window again. Ahsoka could feel the anger radiating off his Force signature in waves. No doubt the others could too. "If we keep going at this pace, we'll run out of Jedi before we get anywhere close to ending the war."
"Come at a price, these things do," Yoda spoke gravely.
"It may not feel like it now, Anakin," it was Windu's turn again, "but one day we will destroy Darth Sidious and we will end this war."
"For nothing," Yoda nodded to himself, "the sacrifices were not."
Despite being warned not to by several members of the Council after their meeting, Anakin found himself stalking inside the guarded medical chamber where Dooku rested, trapped in his coma. No one was around so he stared at the Sith Lord without blinking, barely daring to breathe in case it roused the fury bubbling beneath the surface of his skin. A few moments afterwards, Anakin heard the door open and quiet footsteps enter the room. He sensed Dorme's Force signature and didn't bother to turn and greet her.
Without thinking, the Jedi Master darted forward and grabbed the black cloth of the older man's shirt, fisting it tightly and tugging, forcing his unconscious body off the bench and closer to his snarling face. "You'll come out of this one day." He hissed. "And when you do, you'd better hope I'm not around anymore…" As quickly as Anakin had grabbed the Count, he released him again, letting his body flop back onto the medical bench with an ungraceful thud.
His shoulders tensed when he felt Dorme's hand gently touch his shoulder. When he looked at her, the woman shook her head with a watery smile, speaking before Anakin had the chance. "I know… Don't touch me."
Any other time, he might have said just that. He had said it countless times before but now… Her presence was soothing. Dorme had become a constant in a galaxy full of risk and changes. The General was surprised at the comfort he found in her small touch. He didn't dare voice this, however, and looked back down to the Sith Lord.
"I don't mind actually."
"What's in the bag?" Dorme asked quietly and Anakin followed her eyes to where they'd settled on the small luggage carrier he'd set aside. Just looking at it sent a dull ache through his heart. He'd hoped she wouldn't notice it.
"Some of… All of Padme's things."
She blinked twice. "Why are they packed up?"
Anakin sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose before answering. This wasn't something he wanted to talk about right now, but there was no getting out of it. "Her family are still on-planet. Since they couldn't attend the funeral, they asked for some of Padme's things. There wasn't much, obviously, so I just packed it all." He cut himself off, choking down the hurt and regret the words brought on. He'd followed his orders and done the right thing, Anakin could see that now, but he'd never forgive himself for it either.
"What? Anakin, no!" Dorme cried. "They may be her family, but only biologically! They didn't know her. She was your wife! You don't have to give them anything."
"They don't know that." He muttered despondently. "She's not here anymore so there's no point in telling them now."
"I think you're making a mistake," Dorme whispered.
"I've made plenty already. One more can't hurt much worse."
Both Jedi were quiet for a while, each lost to their own thoughts and feelings as they grieved for all they'd lost. Eventually, it was Dorme who broke the silence between them, rubbing Anakin's shoulder softly in a way he guessed was supposed to be comforting. "What are you thinking about?"
His eyes didn't leave Dooku's peaceful face. "What do you think I'm thinking about, Dorme?"
"I think you're thinking of all the ways you can kill Dooku when he wakes up." She wasn't wrong and he gave an approving grunt. "Or maybe you're thinking about just killing him now and getting it over with."
At that, the Jedi laughed mirthlessly. "If I did that, I'd be signing my own arrest warrant."
"Who cares?" Dorme argued. "If you'd let me get my hands on him…" She trailed off with a shudder, "I'd make sure every single moment was painful – even with the unconsciousness." He sensed her grief and anger mixing with a hatred the Order schooled against. If Master Yoda were here, he'd lecture them both on the path to the dark side.
"You're taking this too personally, Dorme." He said instead though the warning tasted bitter in his mouth.
Anakin felt her stiffen beside him and closed his eyes for a moment.
"Too personally?" She repeated disbelievingly. "I'm taking this too personally? And you aren't?! Dooku made this personal, General! He killed our friends and comrades and has been doing it for years. With every Jedi that's fallen in this war, he made it personal."
Anakin didn't disagree with her words, not even slightly. He'd do anything to slice the Sith up with his lightsaber, preferably after he'd woken up and was fully aware of what was happening. But they were Jedi. Soldiers. The war was still on and so was their mission. That's what they had to focus on now. That's what Anakin had to force himself to focus on now… If he gave into his grief… He'd be lost. It would consume him whole and sink his soul into a blackness it'd never escape from. Padme wouldn't want that. No one in his team wouldn't have wanted that.
At last, Dorme spoke again. "Fine. Well, whatever you decide to do, I'm by your side. Always." Her fingers slipped into Anakin's and the action sent a sharp throb of hurt through his chest. Her hand wasn't Padme's. He'd never feel Padme's hand in his again. But she was trying to be comforting and despite the pain, Anakin appreciated the gesture.
"What if Master Yoda doesn't support my decisions?" He asked quietly.
Dorme paused for a moment, thinking. "Especially if Yoda doesn't agree."
"Maybe it's wrong… But I blame him. He ordered you to go off on your own… If he hadn't, then maybe –"
"I know that, believe me." He snapped and felt her stiffen again. "You know Yoda thinks before giving an order. If he'd known…" Anakin trailed off, throat tightening as the faces of his fallen team flashed before his eyes.
Dorme sniffled though he sensed her upset wasn't from his words. "It's just not fair! How can he be here sleeping peacefully as if nothing has happened when they're… When Padme is…" She wiped at her eyes with her free hand and cleared her throat. "I'm sorry, Anakin. I didn't mean to upset you."
"It's not your fault." He gave her hand a small squeeze. "Just don't talk about the what ifs… Believe me; I know when all well enough."
"Of course." She nodded. "Just remember that no matter what happens, Ahsoka and I are on your side." Dorme released his hand and stepped away then and Anakin heard her exit the room just as quietly as she'd entered. Maybe she was right… Maybe he should give into his anger and punish the Sith. That's what the Chancellor had encouraged during their last meeting. His cold blue eyes looked down at the man who'd destroyed his happiness, who'd burned his world to ashes and grit his teeth.
"I'll be here when you wake up, Dooku." He said again. "That's a promise."