Note: It was brought to my attention that I ought to explain just how AU this story is. So, for the purposes of this story, Anakin was never a Jedi, but was found by Palpatine at a young age and raised as a Sith. He was never in the suit. He met Padmé for the first time when she became his slave. The Galactic Empire began not long after the battle of Naboo. Dooku never turned, and is in fact still a very respected Jedi Master. I think that covers all the bases...
Note on the title: I put this in the first chapter, but for some reason it didn't show up... Anyway, Anabasis is an ancient Greek word meaning "going up," metaphorically in the sense of a return from the Underworld.
And now, without further ado, Chapter I...
Chapter I: The Compassion of Strangers
There were voices outside his cell.
That surprised him. Padmé was not due to come for an hour yet, if they allowed her to come at all. She was his only visitor, and her visits were always all too short. His captors allowed her only two hours a day with him, and sometimes not even that. He had heard her pleading with them several times, heard her quiet tears, but they would not relent.
Almost he could hate them for those tears, but she would not want him to. And in any case he found it difficult to hate anyone these days, except perhaps himself.
And there was Palpatine. There was always Palpatine.
"I'm sorry, Master," the Jedi guarding his door was saying, "but I can't let you in. The Council does not wish anyone to see him, and certainly not alone."
"I assure you, Master Kenobi," said a deep, cultured voice he had never heard before, "I am in no danger. I am not sure what the Council hopes to accomplish by keeping him isolated, but I am sure I shan't damage their plans by speaking with him for a few moments."
"With all due respect, Master," he heard Kenobi say, sounding more irritated by the minute, "he is a Sith. And one capable of defeating one of the most dangerous Sith Masters in the history of their order."
He imagined that the other was smiling slightly as he replied, "Oh, I have every confidence in his ability to defeat me easily, even in his current condition. I simply know that he will not."
There was a snort from Kenobi. "Master…"
"No, no," the other cut him off wearily. "He will not defeat me because he will not fight me. It is as simple as that. There is no darkness in him now." There was a profound sigh. "But the Council is so blinded by tradition that they fail to see what is before their eyes. He has turned, Obi-Wan. He has come back to the Light. And I intend to speak with him."
"He is not a curiosity, Master," Kenobi said, rather stiffly. "And you know as well as I, if not better, that it is impossible for anyone to turn from the Dark Side."
"Not at all," said the other, quite cheerfully, the prisoner thought. "It has simply never happened before. That hardly makes it impossible."
"Master, the Order teaches…"
"And furthermore," the other cut in smoothly, "I am quite aware that he is not a curiosity. On the contrary, he is a man who has been caged in a rather small room for a number of months now, and who is only allowed short visits from his wife when the entire Jedi Council is present. I imagine he must be going quite mad, and I would venture to say that he could probably use some company. Now please, Master Kenobi, unlock that door."
There was a pause, and then some whispered words that he could not quite catch, and then, to his surprise, the door whisked open and an older man stepped in. He was tall, with a highly cultured look to him, and he carried himself with quiet dignity. The prisoner found himself thinking, rather absently, that this man looked far more suited to play the Emperor than Palpatine ever had.
"Good afternoon," the man said pleasantly. He seemed to genuinely mean it. "I am Yan Dooku."
"Anakin Skywalker," the prisoner replied, so startled by the other's mode of address that he responded without really thinking about it. He was pleased to realize that he didn't have to remind himself of his own name any more. He wondered just how long he had been thinking of himself as Anakin. It was probably since Padmé and he had decided to marry… He found that he was smiling just thinking of her.
"I am pleased to finally meet you, Anakin," the man—Dooku—said. Anakin was almost certain he was a Jedi Master, but his manner of introduction was surprising, to say the least. He couldn't imagine any of the members of the Jedi Council introducing themselves by simply their names.
"Will they let Padmé come today?" he blurted out. He was vaguely aware that such a question was probably considered rude after Dooku's polite statement, but he didn't care. He needed to know.
Dooku didn't seem to mind his impropriety. "Yes," he said, and actually smiled. "She should arrive in approximately one hour. When she does… I will see what I can do."
Anakin gaped at him as the weight of the other's words sank in. "You mean you'd leave her alone with me?" he asked in shock. In all the seven long months he had been a prisoner of the Jedi, that had certainly never happened before.
When Dooku actually nodded, Anakin allowed his lips to twist into a bitter smile. "I thought you'd want to protect her from me."
The Jedi Master fixed him with an unwavering gaze, but he did not look away. That was one thing, at least, that Palpatine had taught him.
"Senator Amidala insists that you very nearly died simply to save her life," Dooku said mildly. Anakin was beginning to wonder if anything ever ruffled the man. "I seriously doubt that you would then attempt to kill her."
"Your Council seems to think that's exactly what I'll do," Anakin muttered, but with considerably less bravado. He sat back on the bed, fiddling with his sleeves, and stared at the wall. The clothes they had given him were extremely uncomfortable.
"Perhaps," the Jedi replied. He was serene, Anakin thought. There was no better word to describe him. The man could probably walk through a firestorm without so much as singeing a hair. "But the Council and I have often…disagreed in the past. This will certainly not be the first time, and likely not the last."
"Are you saying you'd actually trust me?"
"I see no reason not to," said Dooku simply. "I sense no darkness in you."
Anakin wasn't certain how to respond to that. The only other person who had ever shown such complete trust in him was Padmé. He knew he didn't really deserve that trust, especially from a man he had just met, and it made him rather uncomfortable.
So he changed the subject. "You may as well sit down," he said in an attempt at hospitality, gesturing toward the room's only chair, an old rickety affair that looked as though it had been rescued from the remote corners of someone's deep storage. But it was more comfortable than the bed on which he sat.
"Thank you," Dooku said, and moved gracefully to sit. Anakin actually had to stifle a laugh at the other man's grimace upon sitting.
He couldn't remember the last time he had really laughed.
"Sorry about the chair," he said, making small talk. "I take it you Jedi don't believe in physical comforts."
Dooku snorted. "Then I am afraid that is another issue on which I must disagree with them," he said. There was a subtle twinkle in his black eyes.
"Do you disagree with your Council often?" Anakin asked, still making small talk, but now much more interested in the other's answers. He had heard a great deal about Yan Dooku during his time as Vader. His Master had always held a healthy respect for the man—Dooku had been one of his chief targets during the Jedi Purges—and had considered him to be potentially the greatest threat to his newly formed Empire. Anakin found it darkly amusing that he seemed never to have thought that Vader himself might be that greatest threat.
"Oh, I make a point of it," said Dooku lightly. There was a definite sparkle to his eyes now. "Someone must keep the Council on its toes." He sobered, and added in regretful tones, "And I find that more and more they leave that role solely to me. Once, perhaps…" He trailed off, but, perhaps to his surprise, Anakin seemed to understand.
"Jinn was your padawan, wasn't he?" the prisoner asked gently. "I am sorry."
"It was not your doing," Dooku said graciously. "But thank you."
Anakin nodded briefly, but could think of nothing else to say. It had been a long time since he had simply talked with someone—well, someone besides Padmé, anyway. He had never been much good at small talk, and now his reserves had completely dried up.
They sat for a time in increasingly uncomfortable silence—at least it seemed so to Anakin. Dooku did not seem to mind at all. Serene, Anakin thought. It was really rather ridiculous.
Finally, he had had enough. He had learned long ago that the best approach was often the direct one. "So," he began, allowing a hint of sarcasm in his voice, "what does a respected, if somewhat unorthodox, Jedi Master want with a captive Sith Lord? I don't imagine you came here simply for my excellent company."
Dooku remained, as always, completely unflustered. He actually had the nerve to smile. "Really now," he said, "must I have an ulterior motive?"
Anakin snorted. "I hardly think you're here simply to argue for my being allowed to see Padmé alone."
"And why not?" asked the other, suddenly serious. "I may be a Jedi, Anakin, but that does not mean I am completely without experience of human love."
Anakin was taken aback by the other's tone. He wasn't quite sure how to interpret it. He was finding that Yan Dooku was a very difficult man to read, indeed. Perhaps that was why Palpatine had always feared him so.
"I thought the Jedi had a code against that sort of thing," he said lamely.
"Indeed," Dooku responded, as though he were talking about the weather. "And I was under the impression that the Sith had one, as well."
"They did," Anakin admitted, not quite able to hide his smirk. "Probably because it tends to lead to Sith apprentices murdering their masters and throwing away the empire they've worked decades to build, all on a moment's whim."
"Ah." Dooku nodded sagely. "I see how that might pose difficulties."
"Quite," said Anakin dryly.
The Jedi Master sighed. Gracefully. Anakin tried not to roll his eyes. The man was the picture of aristocratic refinement.
"I suppose, Anakin, that I am here because I understand you," Dooku began, and held up a finger when Anakin tried to respond too quickly. "We are much alike, though you may not believe it." He sighed, and Anakin caught a glimpse of something old and troubled in his eyes. "You see, the Jedi Code teaches that it is impossible to turn from the Dark Side. As my old master used to say, 'Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny…'"
"But you don't believe that," Anakin whispered. He hadn't intended to speak, and was startled by the sound of his own voice.
"No," Dooku continued, his own voice hushed. "I find that I cannot. I do believe I would be lost if I did."
Startled, Anakin truly looked at the other for the first time, looked with the eyes of his spirit as well as those of his body. What he found was not at all what he had expected.
Dooku's aura was one of light, as were those of all the Jedi, to varying degrees. But whereas all the other Jedi he had met had manifest themselves in the Force as auras of pale drab, Dooku's presence shone like hard, grey steel. There was the possibility of darkness there, far more pronounced than he had seen in other Jedi. But it was diverted, channeled, used to strengthen the light rather than to destroy it.
He felt, suddenly, that there was much he could learn from this man.