TITLE: One Prick to Bleed
Summary: An AU beginning during AotC, featuring Sabé, Anakin, and Obi-Wan.
Disclaimer: I own nothing, except my muse, and even that is doubtful.
EDIT: 2008 – In Word and the preview, all chapters have symboled page breaks, which strangely disappear on so I'm putting them in again.
A word hanging in the air, filling the shadows looming over the deep chamber like a sentry. An idea warring the shadows against the dappling dance of evening Coruscant traffic, like whirling grains of sand in a dust storm. But the shadows belonged in the chamber, wrapping around the smooth, curved structural pillars; they revealed the chamber's height, its depth, but invited the mind to search for more than where the flickering, moving lights touched. The lights belonged here, too, in their play. Once the sun rose, the shadows would begin their slow, graceful bow to the light, but they would not leave. Shadows belonged in the day as much as light in the night.
They were balanced.
Jedi Master Yoda stood gazing through the curving transparisteel wall of this secreted chamber. He knew many Jedi found the breathtaking, dazzling chaos of Coruscant nightlights distracting to the initial calm needed for meditation. If he so wished, he could seal this view and bathe his chamber in complete, controlled calm.
But Yoda preferred balance.
A tricky thing, balance. Yoda chewed thoughtfully on his gimer stick . He might have chuckled at the chemical jokes he knew were traded among the Jedi, if his thoughts were not so serious. Large, rounded green eyes reflected and absorbed the sunset and traffic, the white beams approaching and then curving wide around the Jedi Temple as reserved, red lights flowed away to be lost in the flicker and blaze of a technological sea at sunset.
White against red. Coming and going. But from another perspective, the lights were reversed. The only absolute . . . they flowed around the Jedi Temple. Its spears pierced through the moving sea of lights, a reaching, towering rock that split the current, disrupted the flow and forced it around. Despite the warm, soothing glow that bathed the Temple at night, a relative darkness ringed the empty space between the constant movement of Coruscant and the home the Jedi.
The Keepers of Balance.
Yoda breathed slowly, clasping his three-clawed hands over his stick. Very few Jedi understood the balance they served to keep. All light, it was not. The Force was not simply split into absolute Light and Dark, nor Good and Evil. Even if it were divided so simply, so complacently, one side of the Force could not exist without the other.
Without darkness there can be no light.
The Force is truth. Undeniable. In everything, of everything . . . Absolute only in itself. It is always light and dark, moving through gray. Flickers of light in the dark. Shadows creeping into the light. The Jedi, the universe, lived in the gray, moved through it; flickers of light trying to penetrate darkness. But the darkness also moved. It could only be displaced, perhaps spread and thinned, but it would always be there.
Unless . . .
Balance, so fragile. One grain of sand . . .
Yoda did not need to turn his head and fully illuminate his chamber to know. Once the light banks were fully powered, the shadows would disappear, and the room would seemingly lose its depth. The mind would not be aware of shadows. Only a round, lighted chamber would it see.
Better to be aware of both the light and the shadow.
A soft, barely audible sigh escaped the diminutive Jedi Master. Balance he understood, the dance of light and dark. Yet most did not, even though balance was a prime concern of the Jedi Order, a concern constantly discussed and whispered in the wake of a prophecy. A prophecy to bring balance to the Force.
Unbalanced, prophecies often were.
Yoda started to nibble on his gimer stick again when he felt the faint presence. The reason he was here tonight. He closed his eyes briefly, gathering himself. Then he turned slowly, absorbing the curving shadows, the waving depths of low illumination into the rounded darkness. For centuries only he had entered this chamber and then opened it to another. No other Jedi in the Temple knew of it, but there were other chambers like it. Other Jedi Masters who entered them and played the dance of light and dark. The Order moved around these chambers like the traffic around the Temple.
Yoda stood in the center of the chamber. With a slight push of the Force, he allowed the apparently seamless wall to give entry. A door slid away, sending a rectangle of faded light to slice through cupped shadow. Yoda's large ears pricked slowly as the silhouette of a robed figure softly probed the new bank of light. It moved gracefully into the room, steady and unperturbed by the door silently closing behind it.
When the robed figure reached Yoda, it knelt down smoothly, seeming to pool before him.
"Sabé," Yoda spoke quietly.
"Master Yoda," the figure spoke softly, respectfully, raising her hooded head to meet his eye. Yoda observed the dark, strong eyes of the Naboo woman before him. Such stillness rested in her delicate, beautiful face, though he knew under her calm she was curious, anticipating the meaning of this meeting, and though unknowing of the task he was about to set her, she already accepted it.
He had seen so many faces like this. Young but aged. Souls stilled. Lives stopped before they began so that others may live.
Yoda reached out and gently touched the forehead of Sabé Mabriee. Not a Jedi, this one. But choices and paths, all part of the Force, brought her here to the Temple.
A sad heaviness moved in the tiny Jedi as his claws gently brushed the dark, thick hair just under the cowl of her hood. Her eyes widened ever-so-slightly, and Yoda knew she sensed the heaviness around him. He knew she was inquisitive, burning to know why, but she would not ask. She would wait for him to speak. If he did not speak of his sadness, she would not ask, for she knew her place well.
"Dark times are near, young Mabriee," said Yoda. He clasped his claws over his stick again. "Shifting, the galaxy is. Power less spread."
The former handmaiden's eyes hardened, her mouth tightened slightly. Yoda did not need to state a fact his protégé was well aware of, of which power in the galaxy he spoke.
"Heard you have of the prophecy of the Chosen One?"
"Yes, Master." A flicker of curiosity, like flecks of gold in her dark eyes. Yoda smiled inwardly. Stoicism could only hide so much. "Some believe the Chosen One will bring balance to the Force." She paused only a moment, taking Yoda's silent prompt. "Some believe it is Anakin Skywalker."
In her presence he could find no trace of emotion over this statement. Distant. Neutral. Studied distance, perhaps, but distance nonetheless.
"Indeed," said Yoda. He turned and walked a few paces away. Coruscant . . . so alive with life, yet the planet itself was dead. Destroyed by the very life it served.
"Uncertain prophecies are," he said. "The Chosen One Anakin Skywalker may be, but unclear the prophecy is. Delicate, the balance is." If Anakin Skywalker was to bring balance to the Force, then there would first have to be a great disruption, a disturbing tilt to either dark or light. Yoda had studied the prophecy. He was still studying it. The Unifying Force and the Living Force and the prophecy's many interpretations . . . it all pointed to great darkness. Perhaps Skywalker would restore the balance, perhaps he would not. The cost of the prophecy, if it did indeed restore true balance, could be devastating.
Ever since Qui-Gon Jinn had brought the boy into the Council chambers, Yoda had been meditating and observing, moving through the Force. He had spoken his doubts, but Yoda would not bend the will or thinking of the other Council members. He could only guide and reason, and hopefully open more minds to this delicate situation. Some saw the danger, others saw hope in a misconceived notion of balance and prophecies.
But Yoda, in all his study, had finally been given something definitive and clairvoyant. The Unifying Force and the Living Force had screamed it through him.
Anakin Skywalker was being consumed by darkness. Yoda remembered the strange, dark shift of the Force around the time of Skywalker's birth, though he had not known its source or reason at the time. But the heaviness had been clouding and thickening through the years—and now it clenched like a fist, poised to strike.
The attack on Tatooine was miniscule compared to what is to come.
Yoda returned to stand before Sabé. She knelt on one knee, her arms crossed over the other knee, the hood flowed over her head into the cloak in one smooth line to the floor. The small shoulders under the fabric were relaxed and hidden, but she was attentive, poised, waiting for her duty.
"Great darkness I sense in Skywalker," he said softly. "Killed in hate on Tatooine he has."
Tension slid along her jaw, barely perceptible even to Yoda's sharp eye. He could feel her gathering, bracing, through the Force. He told her what he saw, what he felt, knowing each word the young woman was comparing to the small boy she'd known before coming under Yoda's service and the controversial Padawan she'd glimpsed when Yoda's missions sent her into his path. He could sense her disbelief and confusion, and then she reached out, searched her observations and feelings, searched Yoda and what he'd taught her.
Her eyes had fallen to the floor, to his clawed feet. Yoda waited to feel her acceptance and openness, waited for her to be ready for his next words. The heaviness and sadness flowed through him, slow and painful, thick and clotted.
She lifted her eyes, feeling it.
"Stopped, Skywalker must be."
Her mouth opened. Then closed.
"Stopped," she said. Almost a question, but not quite. Her chin lowered slightly as she stared at Yoda, clarifying his meaning, though he knew she understood it instantly.
A silence fell. Leaden. Studied. He let it fill the room, let his pupil collect and absorb.
"Master Yoda," Sabé said quietly, so controlled. "Surely the Shadows—"
"No. Too delicate the situation is. Know a Jedi cannot."
Her gaze fell to the floor briefly. Yoda did not need to elaborate. She knew her purpose, knew why certain secrets were kept from the Jedi. It had been the earliest of her training to understand this. The Jedi Shadows, a special, elite group of Jedi chosen to destroy those who'd turned to the Dark Side, were whispered about among the Order. Their identities were kept secret, but the Council did not deny the existence of them. But the matter of Anakin Skywalker could not be dealt with by a Shadow. The Council could not know, and certainly not the Order.
"To Tatooine you will go," said Yoda. "Engage Skywalker in battle, you will not."
"Yes, Master Yoda."
"Stop him, you must, before he rejoins Master Kenobi."
"Yes, Master Yoda."
Yoda paused, his claws etching into his toughened skin. He gazed at the young woman kneeling before him, accepting this act some would call betrayal. Accepting she may very likely be facing death.
Yoda reached out and cupped her chin in his tiny hand. Served me well, she has, he thought sadly. Only five years. He had not taken on an . . . assistant in a long time Twenty-three years. The Force was giving him no hint whether or not he would soon be waiting for another.
"Meditate, we will," said Yoda. He settled onto the floor as Sabé lowered her hood and folded her legs before her. She met his eye as her hands rested on her knees, palms upward and open. Then she closed her eyes and breathed deeply, opening herself completely to the Force and sinking into it. Yoda closed his eyes as the Force flowed into him, through him, and between them, knowing it could be the last time he communed with his pupil.
Naboo ten years earlier . . .
Quiet had finally settled over Theed Palace as Sabé silently made her way down the east garden corridor. Her feet ached and her eyes itched as they scanned the shadows formed by the arches bordering the gardens. The revelries were finally over, the stragglers had been kindly but firmly escorted out of the ballroom and into the city. Only the night security remained awake as the silver moon began its descent into the dawn.
Well, night security, Captain Panaka, and her.
As she passed under one of the soft yellow orbs illuminating the corridor, Sabé stifled a yawn. She should have just gone to bed once she'd sent the Queen and the others to restful, glorious, exhausted sleep, but she'd taken the responsibility of escorting young Anakin back to his chambers he was temporarily sharing with Obi-Wan Kenobi. The kid could barely walk and seemed rather disoriented and confused when Molnè, one of the palace hostesses, had tried to be his chaperone. And she'd wanted to be sure Anakin would not be left alone. But Jedi Kenobi had been there, apparently sleeping like any sensible person would at that hour. The door to his room had been closed, but through a yawn, Anakin said he could sense him, and so Sabé left once Anakin was fast asleep.
She should have gone to bed then. Everything was secure. But she knew Panaka would still be awake. Grumpy with his usual anxiety over possible danger to the Queen. Sabé could not blame him. The Trade Federation may be planning something other than licking their wounds.
But Captain Panaka had grouchily ordered her to bed. "How would you like to play decoy tomorrow without even an hour's sleep?" he'd demanded when she'd offered to assist him.
"About as much as I'd like our head of security to operate on chemical stimulants in the morning," she'd replied.
Panaka was not one to take jokes in the wee hours.
So, Sabé left Panaka to torture night security, but she knew it would take her a bit longer to wind down. The long way back to the Queen's Royal Chambers, a stroll through the east gardens . . . So peacefully silver in the moonlight, and the romula roses would be blooming . . .
Sabé entered the lavish, sloping garden under a vine arch flourishing with white petals. The soft, sweet fragrance cooled her face. The mossy path cushioned her slippered feet. She paused to remove the ballroom slippers and sighed deliriously as the dewy ground healed her aching feet. Then she followed the winding path, letting her mind empty to the soothing distant roar of the Solleu waterfall and trickling play of the garden's own pools and falls. A calm breeze brushed the leaves, adding to the whispers of the night. Around her Theed glowed warmly, softly, without masking the breathtaking night sky above her.
The young handmaiden smiled as she gazed into the stars absent of blockade ships. She'd missed the Naboo sky. Tatooine, though clear and beautiful at night, had felt hostile and treacherous. Coruscant . . . she shuddered. How anyone could live on such a planet!
She paused at the romula roses and reached out to touch a silky petal. This particular plant was four hundred years old. It wound around the seppa tree's trunk, then burst out below its branches, curving all the way back to the ground. The roses, encased in thick, dark green pods in the daylight, stretched toward the moonlight like graceful, spread hands. Sabé loved the icy blue, silken petals. They reminded her of the sparkling falls she heard wherever she went in Theed.
As she continued down the path, now marked by stones from caves all over Naboo, Sabé sensed another in the garden up ahead. Although it was not uncommon to find someone viewing the beautiful nature at night, Sabé's hand moved instinctively to the blaster concealed under her gown. Her fingers slipped through the slit within the skirt's folds and clasped around the hilt.
Perhaps it was merely a couple who'd failed to notice the celebration ball's end or somehow slipped security's sweep. It might even be one of the nightwatch searching for romantic stragglers . . .
But somehow she didn't think so. Moving silently, her hem barely brushing the grass, Sabé crept around the next bend. It would open into a pond with secluded gazing alcoves, perfect for anyone wanting to sit and reflect. She'd been here many times, knew every alcove. Her training told her to draw her weapon before coming into the clearing, but Sabé paused, her senses prickling, tingling. Not urgently, as in battle. Subtle.
The faint tingling she'd come to associate with Jedi.
Was Jedi Kenobi still awake? Had Anakin been mistaken?
Sabé, senses alert, stepped into the pond clearing. At first she saw no one. Then her eyes fastened on a tiny figure sitting on a rock at the pond's edge. She recognized the long, pointed ears and frosty, wispy curls of the one introduced as Jedi Master Yoda.
She stopped, studying the still creature. He could have been a statue. Or one of the swamp creatures the Gungans kept as pets. Only the simple brown robes assured her the leafy pads floating over the dark water were not his natural home. Or, perhaps, he would feel perfectly at home there. Sabé could almost see the peace emanating from the Jedi. Perhaps it was he and not the breeze that made the garden sing tonight.
Just as she thought to fade silently back into the garden and leave him at peace, the Jedi Master spoke in a soft, gravelly voice. Somehow she didn't jump, somehow he did not disrupt the peaceful quiet.
"Young Mabriee, it is."
She almost gasped in surprise. After a moment, she found her voice. "Yes, Master Yoda," she said just as quietly. Timidly. "I did not mean to disturb you."
"Disturbed me, you have not. Join me."
Her heart fluttered a little at the invitation. Even now, after all she'd been through since the invasion, she couldn't suppress some of her awe. Although Naboo was on the outskirts of the Republic and removed from its affairs, the legends and mysticism surrounding the Jedi had not escaped the curiosity of her people. She'd learned a little about the Jedi Order in school, but it had taken a more personal study to learn more than diplomatic facts from a textbook. Naboo, loyal to preserving and improving their own culture, often studied others they perceived to be worthy of scholarly attention. Her meditation master had been naturally inclined to study what was known of Jedi philosophy and meditation techniques.
But secondhand information was nothing compared to experiencing the Jedi. To having them drop out of the sky, seemingly from the blockade ship itself. Or seeing them make quick scrap metal of battledroids, and then calmly take the situation at hand, as if no danger had just threatened them all. She'd seen Jedi acts fitting of the legends, and she'd seen them very real and one very broken.
Sabé tried to conceal her awe as she came alongside the tiny Jedi on the rock. Yoda's presence was vastly different than the serene, graceful air of the late Qui-Gon Jinn and the tightly coiled, closed energy of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Yoda was pure calm and peace. Perhaps she was imagining that power could be so still and yet so moving, perhaps she was delirious with exhaustion and her mind was really trying to coax her with the power of sleep . . .
"How did you know it was me?" she whispered, hoping to clear her obviously foggy mind.
The tiny, folded Jedi turned his head ever so slightly. The tips of his ear twitched and she sensed his amusement. "Spoke of you, Decoy, Kenobi has."
Sabé felt her cheeks begin to flush, but she forced the blood of shame not to rush up. Her decoy had not been perfect. She'd hoped her anxieties had bred paranoia, made her imagine the Jedi Knight's suspicion. Rabè and Eirtaè had tried to reassure her that the Jedi had dropped no hints, but Sabé had felt it better to believe her paranoia than the other handmaidens. Perhaps he had not actually hinted at his suspicion, but it didn't matter in the end—he'd figured it out and commended her after Amidala had unveiled the ruse before Boss Noss.
"Or," Eirtaè had pointed out as she inspected a blaster scorch on her battle skirt, "he could have just said that. Maybe he's trying to make you feel bad because you pulled the hood over his eye."
Sabé doubted it. He'd looked far too pleased with himself. Especially for someone about to go into battle.
"Ashamed of your duty, you should not be," said Yoda.
"No, Master Yoda," said Sabé. She stared at the Jedi Master. Obi-Wan had admitted Jedi were not psychic as commonly believed, but now she wondered if she shouldn't have believed him. "I'm not ashamed of my duty. Only that I failed it."
"Failed your duty, how have you, hmm?"
Although the Jedi continued to gaze out at the reflected moon over the far edge of the pond, Sabé felt as if he were staring straight at her.
She opened her mouth to answer, but closed it. Her duty was to protect the Queen. Amidala was alive and well. Exhausted, yes, but sleeping soundly back in her chambers. Sabé had protected her. She was not the singular reason Amidala or Naboo were safe, but she had done her part to the best of her abilities.
"I suppose I have not failed," she admitted after a moment. Just have a little wounded pride.
The wrinkles on Yoda's face moved, and Sabé thought she could see the traces of a smile on the sleepy-looking face.
"Hmm, duty," he murmured. "Hard it often is. Demands sacrifice. Perform great duty, you have, but rewarded for it, you are not."
Sabé frowned slightly at that. "We are not in service for reward, Jedi Master. Our honor is kept within ourselves." In seeing our Queen alive, our planet safe.
"Hmm." The Jedi Master went silent for a moment, and then he said, "Understand duty, you do. Like the Jedi, yes." He paused, and although he wasn't facing her, Sabé could've sworn he was giving her a shrewd look. "Helped young Kenobi escape duty tonight, you did."
"I—" Sabé swore she heard a chuckle escape the Jedi Master. She tried not to stutter or fluster, and she came out sounding defiant. "With all due respect, Master Yoda, I only gave Jedi Kenobi my gratitude by giving him leave of an obviously trying and uncomfortable evening."
She thought about adding she'd seen cornered animals that looked more thrilled, but a chuckle had definitely escaped the Jedi Master. He finally turned to face her, amusement shining in those green, heavily-lidded eyes.
"Grateful, I am certain Kenobi is," he said.
Sabé felt a smile slip out of her control. She didn't mind being teased by this Yoda. He seemed to understand and forgive the blatant lie she'd told the Jedi Masters to let Obi-Wan escape the crowded, celebrating ballroom.
"It was the least Naboo could do." But it doesn't come close to Master Jinn's death.Or even equal what both of them gave us.
Yoda gazed up at her for a moment, then turned back to the pond. Sabé noticed he seemed to chew on his gnarly cane, reminding her of a teething toddler. She hoped instantly he really couldn't read her mind.
"Why sleep do you not?"
Sabé sighed and lowered herself to the soft ground beside the rock. Reeds with tiny pink buds swayed slowly, serenely near her feet. The water rippled gently around the living poles. "Too much excitement, I suppose," she said hesitantly. "I'm exhausted, but I could not . . . I felt the need to come out here. The garden's peaceful. Perhaps I need it after all of this—this stress."
She bit her lip, wondering if she sounded sulky or whiny. Many people had lost their lives in the battle for Naboo, and here she was, perfectly alive and healthy minus a scratch on her forearm. Her stress was nothing compared to what others must be suffering. Like Obi-Wan.
Yoda seemed to hum under his breath. Sabé blinked slowly and stared down at her bare toes. Had she just lost whatever respect Yoda might have had for her? Did he see her as an immature girl unable to cope with her position, her responsibilities? Should she excuse herself and return to the chambers?
She didn't think his humming had grown louder, but the soothing, gravelly sound penetrated her embarrassed, sleep-deprived thoughts. Sabé's eyes drifted closed and her shoulders relaxed. Her mind became smooth, still fog over a glassy winter lake. Opaque, but light and silent. Quiet. Nature's blanket. It was like meditating, but she had not prepared herself for it, had skipped all the steps. Dipping . . .
"Feel the Force flow in you, I do," Yoda's voice drifted to her.
Sabé opened her eyes, but she did not fully surface from this wonderful floating sensation. The reeds were before her, but they were only part of this intangible liquid around her. "Yes, Master Yoda," she said, her voice thick and light all at once. It floated from her lips, seemed to bob over the tops of the reeds. "Just a little, I think. But the Naboo value family. My parents never asked for Jedi to come."
She felt no regret over this. As a child, strange incidents of keen intuition and senses, along with surviving some rough and tumble incidents with barely a scratch, had put her under suspicion by her instructors. But it could have also been merely sharp instincts and incredible luck. Her parents decided against Jedi inspection, despite the crèche mother's urging. It was her meditation instructor, Master Ranuna, who told Sabé there might be more to it. But there was no point—everyone knows that Jedi take only babies, Sabé doubted she would have been taken, anyway. So, she only spoke of it once with her parents, and then developed a bit more interest in the mysterious Jedi Order. When Captain Panaka chose her as a handmaiden, and then began weapons training her, Sabé started to believe maybe there was something to her instincts.
But she told no one . . . She'd probably never see a Jedi, anyway . . .
"Not all the Force chooses are meant to become Jedi," said Yoda, his words seeming to move through this meditative current.
Sabé nodded slowly, her head swimming. She often meditated; it was a common Naboo practice valued by the artisans and philosophers. A practice learned in school and one Panaka ordered his handmaidens to do. But she'd never felt anything like this before. She could reach something close to this, but only in a very deep state. Now she felt she was barely dipping into this current, and if she only opened her mind a little more, sank just a little deeper, she would be swept up in something so overwhelming and powerful she would drown . . .
Yet she knew it wouldn't suffocate her.
The current stilled, the fog disappeared, and Sabé felt the early morning as she had before coming upon Master Yoda. It felt like coming into sharp focus only to have all the edges become slightly fuzzy, a little vague. The moon's silvery light was fading into gray. She didn't quite feel empty or that something was missing, but she wondered if she should.
She tilted her head up slightly to stare at Yoda. Sitting on the grass beside his perch on the rock, he only had a couple inches to look down at her. He smiled dreamily at her. Sabé vaguely pondered asking how he'd known, but it didn't seem important. Obi-Wan had sensed it; perhaps he'd told Yoda, or perhaps Yoda had discovered it himself. It didn't matter.
"Sleep well, youngling," he said, touching her forehead. "You must not walk wearily upon your path."
Sabé nodded slowly, feeling her body's need filling her mind. "Good night, Jedi Master," she whispered. "It was an honor to meet you. And thank you."
She couldn't remember standing up or making her way back to the Royal Chambers, but she woke with the sun, feeling refreshed.