Author's notes: Some more introspection, with a hopeful buildup in the end. I apologize for not responding to the reviews left behind on the previous two chapters. I think if people are willing to take the time to leave reviews, I, as the author, should take the time to acknowledge them.
Once again, my thanks to Alice for her beta skills.
To all those who reviewed:
0AnakinSolo0 - I'm glad you like it so far.
MatrixSailorStarKnight – Interesting for now, hopefully you'll like the next chapter.
Nicole – I'm writing as fast as I can. ;-)
Mr. Firenze – Thank you. I'm hoping what you read next will also grab you.
Shorty51 – It would have been nice to see this in the film as well, but Lucas only had two and a half hours to work with. Still, this is what fan fiction is for, isn't it?
Alice – Well, if you're curious, then I must be doing something right. Typo? Where? Yes, writing Palpatine as 'smarmy' was hard. And my thanks on the thoughtful review you left.
Tim Knipsel – Thank you very much. I'm glad you're liking it. I look forward to read what you think of the other chapters.
Philstar22 – Glad you like it. I know where I'm going with this story, it's filling in between here and there that's hard.
BGTom – Oh, yeah. You'd better believe Anakin will try and explain to Windu.
Reviewer – well, they are both Sith Lords, though KOTOR is one of my favorite all-time games I wanted to make some little connection. I do hope you like it?
Trinity Day – AU can be really fun, as long as it makes sense. I also wanted to see more Jedi in the movies, and I don't mean the quick ones we see dying. You'll see some more, but I'm trying to just focus on the ones I've introduced so far.
Worker72 – Thank you for your praise. I can only hope future chapter will live up to that.
LL – Oh, I think this chapter will begin to answer what Palpatine at least has up his sleeve. Trying to really portray a character in any story…that's really hard.
Fell Dragon – (in Yoda voice) Continue this I will! ;-)
"Padme…save your strength…"
"Padme, stay with me…Padme? – Padme!"
Anakin's eyes snapped open.
They darted here and there until he took in the large circular area of the council chambers, his hearing deafened by the roar of his heartbeat. With a shuddering sigh, Anakin sat back in his council seat and brought a trembling hand to his face. He glanced down in dismay to see his mechanical hand gripping the side of his chair so hard he'd punctured holes through the fabric. Anakin felt vaguely thankful that he hadn't gripped his other hand during the vision.
That last one had been the worst of the lot, thought Anakin wearily. The visions had been growing in intensity with the one he'd just experienced clearly leaving him close to a blind panic. He ground his teeth in frustration; were these revelations of what could be, or what will be? His track record for visions had been (distressingly) one for one so far; he still had nightmares of his mother dying in his arms – as well as the slaughter he'd caused to those who kidnapped and tortured her. Could he help it if, with these new visions, he thought he'd have to do something – anything to save his wife as she got closer and closer to childbirth? His desperation was compounded with the fact that the visions always stopped short of the birth itself – he couldn't tell if his child lived or not.
Unable to remain seated, the young Jedi rose and wandered over to the window facing the direction where he could see the Senatorial apartments. Night had fallen fully on this part of Coruscant, and although he couldn't see the apartment he and Padme shared, he could somehow feel that his wife was still awake – perhaps even gazing at the Temple. Had it been, he thought, only a few hours ago when he'd stood here, again on Master Windu's orders, and stared out onto the cityscape and wondering about his wife?
Padme was everything to him – he just couldn't imagine life without her. After his mother's death, he'd gone on an insane rampage through the Tusken camp. Warriors, women, and children alike had all died horribly by his hand that night. Unconsciously, he glanced down at his mechanical hand as he flexed it. How far could his despair go – how far could his fury take him – if he lost his wife and child as well?
It couldn't be said he hadn't tried getting help though normal channels. He'd talked to Master Yoda, surely the most knowledgeable of all the Jedi. But the only 'wisdom' he'd given Anakin was not to despair and that death was a 'natural part of life.' Anakin rolled his eyes in contempt. As if Master Yoda hadn't heard him when he'd said that he wouldn't allow those visions to pass. If that was the best that 900 years of Jedi training could do, then Master Yoda could keep it.
Then, almost out of nowhere, he'd felt the first true sign of hope. Chancellor Palpatine himself had hinted that there were powers in the Force beyond the ken of even the Jedi, powers great enough to save Padme. That new hope, however, came at a startling price: Palpatine had later revealed himself as the Sith Lord everyone had been searching for. He could still see his lightsaber pointed at the back of the Chancellor, who had calmly stood there, not even raising a finger in his defense. And yet, even with fury burning his blood, Anakin's saber had not moved a centimeter. Behind his wrath, he had seen the face of Padme smiling at him and holding their baby in her arms. Along with that feeling was also one of confusion towards the Chancellor: here was a man that, although not quite a father figure, was most certainly a mentor, one who had certainly looked out for him. Anakin had lost count as to the number of times he and Palpatine had talked, with the Chancellor always listening attentively or giving out advice not tied down to Jedi dogma.
Even when Anakin told Palpatine he was going to turn him in to the council, the Chancellor simply took it in stride. Two powerful forces had pulled at Anakin: his loyalty to the Jedi and his love for his wife. He'd been so torn that he'd barely made it to the temple to report what had happened. Although he'd been told to stay behind, Anakin deliberately disobeyed Mace Windu's orders and had left for Chancellor Palpatine's office. He'd flown over with not the slightest idea of what he'd do once he'd gotten there, but he'd known that if he hadn't tried something, Palpatine would have died – and with him, the knowledge he still needed for Padme.
He'd barely remembered what he'd said to make Master Windu spare the Chancellor, but what Anakin had vividly remembered, to his alarm, was that of his hand firmly gripping his own lightsaber, his thumb just beginning to press the activation switch.
Now, they were all back at the Temple, with Palpatine incarcerated and probably being questioned at this very moment.All I've done, thought Anakin as he walked around the chamber, was buy some time. The question, however, remained: What could he do now? More importantly, what did he want to do? A small part of him felt stung by who Palpatine truly was. But a larger, far more vocal part could see that the Chancellor made sense when he'd discussed such things as the differences between the Jedi and the Sith, his abilities and even the reasoning why the council wouldn't make him a Master.
Anakin's lip curled slightly at that last thought. It was here, in the very center of the council chamber, where he'd felt so humiliated at being allowed a seat on the council…and yet denied the title that went with it.
"They don't trust you, Anakin. They see your future, they know your power will be too strong to control."
Palpatine had said that to him. After everything Anakin had done, after all the battles he faced (and won!), he thought he earned at least some measure of trust from the Jedi Council. But no, the council never did have confidence in him, did they? If they did, it was only because Master Kenobi was always close by, keeping an eye on him.
That was why he'd been denied the rank of Master: they wanted to keep in his place. They even had the nerve to add insult to injury by having Ob-Wan give him the assignment of spying on the Chancellor. All because the Jedi Council had been nervous about the amount of executive power in the man's hands – power needed to win the war. He'd even called it treason and Obi-Wan had replied that it was war. Very well, then…but weren't they all supposed to be on the same side?
A remembered conversation with Master Windu, just after he'd been told about the Chancellor, came unexpectedly to mind, and a single line made Anakin's face red with disgust:
"If what you say is true, you will have gained my trust."
It's one thing to feel like you're not trusted, but quite another to be told so. After Anakin had come to him with the information that the entire Jedi Order had been searching thirteen years for, he'd been given final confirmation on how they all really felt about him.
His mechanical hand tightened until the servomotors began to whine. Anakin snorted in contempt. It all came down to trust: his growing powers were a 'cause for concern', and the Chancellor made the council uneasy simply because he'd been given powers by the Senate itself.
From his point of view, it now looked like he and the Chancellor were on one side and the Jedi were in the other.
Now you are beginning to understand, son.
Anakin's grip opened slightly in surprise. He looked around him, but all he could see was the chamber with the omnipresent traffic outside. "Chancellor?" he asked tentatively
Yes. You have come to a crossroads all on your own, my boy. As I said before – you must choose.
"Why?" Anakin asked, slightly confused. "What's going to happen?"
Eventually, even with the arguments you've given them, the Jedi will still be forced to kill me, Anakin. Everything that I know will be lost. You must choose, my boy: the Jedi or myself.
Anakin walked over and slid back into his chair. "I – I'm not sure what I can do."
Let me make it simpler for you then, Anakin: It is either the Jedi…or Padme.
Anakin's blood ran cold, but he couldn't say anything. The 'presence' abruptly left just as the main doors to the council chamber parted. A cold feeling of dread spread in the pit of Anakin's stomach as Master Mace Windu marched in
The older Jedi strode over and towered above the seated Anakin, who kept his eyes firmly fixed on the ground.
"Anakin," Mace said simply. The young man said nothing. Master Windu put his hands to his hips and sighed. "Anakin," he started again, "I am going to give you one chance to explain yourself. I could've killed Palpatine, but I chose instead to listen to you." At these words, Anakin slowly looked up to face Windu.
"Thank you," he said neutrally.
"Don't thank me, Anakin," Mace said quietly. "The very fact that a Sith Lord exists and is still living is a cause for alarm." Mace crossed his arms over his chest. "What I want to know is why did I spare him?"
Anakin blinked. "Master…you said yourself…it's not the Jedi way – "
"No, Anakin," Master Windu interrupted. "It took me some time to remember what Palpatine said, especially after his last attack on. But now I remember him saying something about, 'having the power to save the one you love.' Who, Anakin? To whom was Palpatine referring?"
Anakin looked back down at the intricate pattern on the council floor. This was the one question he'd been dreading for so long. He chewed his lip but still could not bring himself to speak. Mace's lips pressed as he regarded the reticent man before him.
"Anakin…if it's so important that even someone such as Palpatine can distract you with it, then perhaps there's something we can help you with?"
For an insane moment, Anakin found that line so funny and yet so ironic that he almost wanted to laugh. Now you offer me help, Master Windu? He felt so weary from the entire charade that he and Padme had kept up these past few years. At worst, his confession would mean expulsion from the Order and at best…well, there really was no 'at best', not in his situation.
Keeping his eyes still on the floor, Anakin took a deep breath…and spoke.
Master Windu really would never have guessed what had distressed the young Jedi before him. It was never in his character to make guesses, only to gather as much of the facts as possible. Nevertheless, as the facts of Skywalker's tale finally came to light, even he couldn't suppress a feeling of growing astonishment as he listened.
Mace's eyes widened as he listened to how Skywalker had, three years ago, received a vision of his mother's pain and how he'd disobeyed council orders to try and save her on Tatooine. His brow furrowed crossly as he heard of the secret marriage that had taken place between Anakin and Senator Amidala just as the Clones Wars exploded across the galaxy. He then sat heavily in a nearby seat, his hand to his brow as he then listened of the growing child that Amidala now carried. Mace's head then snapped up when he'd heard of Anakin's new visions and how Palpatine had promised power to even stave off death.
When Anakin finished, when he finally unburdened himself of all that he'd kept secret for so many years…he was loathed to admit it, but he actually felt better about getting it off his chest.
Mace Windu, however, could only close his eyes and shake his head. With everything he now had to contend with…this had to be dropped on to his lap with the weight of a dead bantha.
Situations such as this called almost certainly called for expulsion from the Order, and at any other time, Mace would have demanded Skywalker's lightsaber right then and there. But these weren't ordinary situations – they were at war (albeit in its final vestiges), and factors such as public opinion were too powerful to ignore. Anakin Skywalker had become the unofficial poster boy for the Jedi Order, much to the chagrin of many of its members. Whenever a task or battle might have proven impossible, Skywalker and Kenobi were sent to get the job done. And while someone as humble as Obi-Wan shied away from the spotlight, Anakin took it all in, almost as if it was his due.
Mace almost pitied the young Jedi. Obviously, The Chancellor had tried to confuse the young man, tried to distract him. There was still something that nagged at Mace's mind: what had Palpatine hoped to accomplish? Was the Sith Lord trying to stop the Chosen One from fulfilling the prophecy? If so, in one respect he'd succeeded since Mace had allowed Anakin to show mercy at the most inopportune moment. Something still didn't feel right, though. Mace would have to pay the Chancellor one more visit and find out just what was his interest in Anakin. His thoughts were cut short when he realized Skywalker was trying to talk to him.
"I said," repeated Anakin, "now do you understand why I need Palpatine alive?"
Mace's initially pity of the man took a sharp downward turn towards exasperation. Although noble, the man's sentiments were clearly misguided.
"Anakin," Mace said quietly, yet firmly. "You have to understand that with all the promises and all the guarantees that Palpatine may have made to you, there's still one fact that overshadows all of that: he's still a Sith Lord. If history is any judge, then he uses people to his own whims." Windu looked deep into Anakin's eyes. "No one…no one…has the power to deny death. The very idea is an affront to everything we know and understand about the Force."
Anakin shook his head. "I…I can't believe that," he said with stubborn conviction.
"If such a power existed, then at what cost could it be used?" Mace replied with some heat. "Nothing in the universe can be gotten for free, Anakin. Look at the man who claims to have such an ability: this entire war has been about the revenge of the Sith! Who knows what Palpatine hoped to transform the Republic into if he had his way?"
"Well, then maybe it needs to be transformed," Anakin muttered through clenched teeth. At Master Windu's look of surprise, he said, "Master, you've been a Jedi longer than I – you've seen more than I have. Can you deny the corruption, the sheer inefficiency inherent in the Senate? Palpatine has done more for the Republic than the Senate could ever hope to accomplish."
"We are Jedi, Anakin," Mace said, a hint of steel in his voice. "As defenders of the peace, it is our duty to protect the Senate and the Republic from any menace. It is not, however, the mandate of our Order to set policy."
"I noticed that didn't stop you from almost assassinating the Chancellor," Anakin replied quietly.
"That was different."
"From your perspective, perhaps."
Mace sighed heavily and just shook his head at the young man. It was apparent to the Jedi Master that Skywalker was, at the moment, incapable of listening to reason. They've all been through a lot, so perhaps Anakin just needed more time to reflect. Mace, on the other hand, had several things to attend to. Without another word, he rose and walked towards the exit.
"What about Padme?" Anakin called out as he stood up from his seat, his eyes boring into the Jedi Master's back.
Mace paused at the entrance, his back to the young man. A moment passed before he looked over his shoulder and said, "The future is always in motion, Anakin. Having visions doesn't always mean they will happen. They either don't occur at all, or they have a nasty habit of being self-fulfilling. I honestly do not know what else to say. And before you ask – no, you are not to speak to Palpatine under any circumstances." Mace's face softened just a little as he caught the look of defeat in the other's eyes. He opened his mouth to say something, closed it and simply said, "I'm sorry."
With that, the Jedi Master turned and left the council chambers, the door closing behind him.
Anakin stared at the spot where Master Windu stood moments before. For some time, he didn't say a word, his face betraying nothing of the thoughts flashing through his mind. The massive statues outside the entrance to the Temple had more humanity than the young Jedi.
Finally, Anakin felt something akin to a fatherly hand on his shoulder. Eyes narrowing, he tilted his head as if listening to something far off in the distance. Several minutes passed before finally nodding once. He turned and regarded the Jedi Council chamber one last time, his eyes lingering on the seat where Obi-Wan sat.
Then, with all traces of indecision wiped from his face, Anakin resolutely walked out of the chamber, not once looking back.
Mace Windu stood beside Cin Drallig as the two of them watched a Jedi communications officer try yet again to make contact with Yoda on Kashyyyk. The young woman finally shook her head in disgust and took off her headset.
"I'm sorry, Masters. I just can't seem to get a signal through to Master Yoda or to his clone troops."
"Are you sure it's not the Separatists?" Master Drallig asked.
The woman shook her head. "Clone intelligence was able to obtain the latest Separatist encryption codes. Even if jamming was occurring, I should at least be getting an acknowledgement from the main comm satellite that has a secure link to the Holonet."
"The Separatist fleet did a lot of damage on their way here," Mace said. "Is it possible they took out the satellite?"
"No, master," the woman said with authority. "The satellite has three redundant backups." The comm. officer frowned. "If I didn't know better, it's almost as if the satellite network was rejecting our authorization codes."
Mace frowned at this. He almost asked the officer to try another, less secure network when his eyes wandered outside the main window overlooking that bustling world-city that was Coruscant. His frown deepened at what he saw out there…or, more to the point, what he didn't see.
Cin Drallig caught the look in his fellow master's eye. "Mace?"
Master Windu didn't answer but walked out of the communications room to a terrace overlooking the main building that was the Temple. Coruscant was a world that never slept. Even when the sun set, endless lanes of repulsorcraft looked like bioluminescent insects as they traveled here and there across almost every part of the world-girding city. There was no place, especially near the main capital city, where you couldn't look out and not see the ubiquitous craft flying.
Mace looked out from the center spire of the Temple and beheld a night completely devoid of any traffic. Master Drallig walked out as well and gasped at the unearthly site. For miles in every direction no traffic flowed across or over the complex. The longhaired sword master was about to ask Mace what was going on when the very foundation of the Temple began to shake. The comm. officer, still at her station, went pale in the face when she caught something on one of her screens.
The shaking grew in intensity until both masters had to grip on to the railing with both hands lest they slip and fall to the ground. When the rumbling got so powerful, Mace, gritting his teeth, looked up and did a double take as something wedge-shaped and massive started to pass right over the main spire of the temple. A huge ventral docking bay could be seen filled with Republic assault craft. On a signal, dozens of Republic assault gunships, accompanied by protective screens ARC-170 fighters flew out and started to orbit the airspace around the temple.
When the ships left, the massive Republic Star Destroyer finally passed over and past the ancient, hallowed grounds of the Jedi Order, it's mammoth sublight engines bringing a false dawn to the area. Mace and Drallig both squinted. When his eyes readjusted to the glare, Windu caught sight of even more craft disembarking. Several squadrons broke away and landed at equidistant points several kilometers from the Temple. Dropships landed and left behind their lumbering cargo of armored walkers. Even more ships landed nearby dropping off hundreds – no, thousands, thought Mace – of clone troops. Squads and battalions everywhere set up positions around the Jedi Temple, with even more reinforcements still enroute.
The business end of every single weapon, from turbolaser to projectile cannon to missile…was now pointed at this refuge of the Jedi.
Off in the horizon, the sun finally cracked through towards first light to reveal more fighters diverting traffic some distance away, creating a corridor that none could fly either in or out.
Mace glanced at Drallig, who looked grimly back at t him.
Windu hated to say it and would never have openly admitted it, but he slowly began to get a sudden, uncomfortable, distressing and overwhelmingly bad feeling about this….