Chapter VI: Making Amends
The conference room was already filled with Jedi when Chancellor Bail Organa arrived. He entered silently, with no ceremony, but his eyes scanned the faces of those gathered, and he found that he knew almost none of them. These were the best and brightest of the Jedi, yet they were a pale comparison to those who had been before the Purges. But they were all that remained of the Order.
And he was here to meet with the man who had caused all that.
But he trusted Padmé, and he had never seen her more certain of anything. And that was enough.
The Jedi had been chattering amongst themselves since he entered, but the soft murmurs of conversation died away completely several moments before the large double doors opened. Each of them seemed to tense, some in expectation, maybe even fear, and others, older and wiser, in simple readiness. Bail had spent enough time around Jedi that he did not need to ask why.
The large doors were drawn back a few moments later, and the members of the Jedi Council entered the room with a restrained grace, their eyes ever watchful. In their midst, surrounded on all sides, came the prisoner. He was dressed not in the clothing the Jedi had provided him, but in the dark pall of the Sith, shadowy, elusive. He stood among the Jedi like a black hole encircled by stars. Bail found the image vaguely disconcerting.
He thought that, just perhaps, some of the Jedi seemed rather afraid of being swallowed up.
The Sith was led to a seat at the main conference table, and the Jedi took up their places around him, fingers resting lightly on the hilts of their lightsabers, ever vigilant. When all was ready, Bail took a seat across from the prisoner and, in an effort to delay just a bit longer, busied himself with spreading his datapads on the table and arranging his notes.
The Sith was silent, and the Jedi waited.
Bail Organa was not by nature a nervous man. In fact, his wife often accused him of being far too reckless. But now he found himself unnerved, even to the point of unconsciously fidgeting with the datapads on the table before him.
The last time he had encountered Darth Vader, he had been the prisoner, and their meeting had been anything but pleasant. Sometimes, he still woke screaming from dreams of needles, of searing pain and blood on pristine white floors…
He shook his head to clear it and forced himself to meet the gaze of the man sitting across from him. The man who had been his torturer.
He swallowed thickly. The Sith was watching him with a strange sort of light in his blue eyes. With anyone else, it might have been regret, but here, perhaps, it was something deeper. Not for the first time, he found himself wishing that the Jedi Council had allowed Padmé to accompany him.
"Chancellor," the prisoner greeted quietly, bowing his head in genuine respect, and genuine remorse.
Bail took a deep, cleansing breath, willing away the needles and the blood. "Anakin," he replied, slow and deliberate, his voice just as quiet. He noted the look of startled gratitude in the other's eyes at hearing the name Padmé used.
It could not change the past, but perhaps it was a start.
The word was spoken in a whisper, and it cut through Bail's own words, and even his thoughts, like a singing-sharp vibroblade. He looked up from his datapads and regarded the other with some surprise. "What?"
"I'll do it," said Anakin, regarding him levelly. There was something very old in his eyes.
"You understand that I can't promise anything," Bail began, though he already had a suspicion the other would not particularly care. There was an air of almost desperate despair about the former Sith, and Bail found that somehow more frightening than any anger or defiance could have been. Perhaps Padmé was right…
"I know," Anakin said, waving away the suggestion. "I didn't really expect you could. It wouldn't be right." His eyes traveled pointedly to Bail's wrists, where thin white scars were just visible at the edges of his sleeves. The memory of pain hovered in the air between them, but neither spoke of it.
"Then why would you do it?" Bail asked bluntly. He sensed that Anakin preferred a straight question.
Anakin gave a snort that came out more of a choked gasp than the laugh it was intended to be. "I have to start somewhere, don't I?" he asked bitterly. Bail's eyes narrowed at this, and Anakin sighed and looked away, feeling suddenly exposed. "I suppose," he said at length, and with none of the harsh bravado of his earlier comment, "that I need to do something. I know I can't change the past. But their voices haunt me, and… I see their faces… and I…" He paused and swallowed thickly, his eyes boring into the datapad before him with such intensity that Bail feared it might explode. "Some of their families are in those camps, Chancellor. I know that much, even if I don't know the locations. And if I can find them—I owe that much, at least, to the dead." He looked up at last, and his eyes seemed almost beseeching.
Bail considered him for some time, but, strangely, he could find no reason to doubt the other's sincerity. His eyes were raw wounds, no less painful for being partially self-inflicted.
"Very well," he said at last, somehow managing what he hoped passed for an encouraging smile. "I will make the arrangements with the Jedi Council." He nodded, and stood, adding quietly, "Thank you, Anakin. I pray that you will be successful."
They both knew that he spoke with reference to more than simply the decryptions.
Anakin stood and bowed in return, a slow, deep bow—the bow of a penitent to his confessor.
And then the Jedi surrounded him once more, and without another word he was led back to his cell. But Bail remained standing a long time in the place where he had been, contemplating the meaning of that bow.
"Supervised, he must be," Master Yoda was saying, his gimer stick tapping emphatically in time with his words.
It was a logical and expected precaution, and not even Master Dooku contested it. Instead, he looked about him at each of the Jedi in turn, searching for something, perhaps, but whether he found it or not was impossible to tell.
"I volunteer, masters," he said at last, his voice restrained. He spoke as one who fully expected rejection, but felt that he had at least to make the effort. "I have had some dealings with the prisoner, and I understand him. It would seem advisable, in a matter as delicate as this, to assign someone he knows, someone who may seem less threatening."
"Hmm…" Master Yoda seemed troubled by this request, the staccato of his stick upon the floor turning to a more agitated beat. "Too close to this case, I sense you are, Master Dooku. I hope that formed not, have you, an attachment with this Sith Lord, hmm?"
The other Jedi present looked at one another in surprise and alarm. Could such a thing be possible? The Sith was dangerous, of course, and, if he was anything like his master, well-practiced in the arts of deceit and manipulation. The master had fooled the Jedi for years. Was it possible that his apprentice could even now deceive them from within?
Dooku's answer was a dignified snort. "If compassion is now considered a forbidden attachment, Master," he said smoothly, "then I confess that I am guilty."
He spoke to Yoda, but his gaze was trained solely on Obi-Wan Kenobi's face. He heard the surprise and, in some cases, the horror of the other Jedi at this revelation, but he paid them no heed, for there was conflict in Obi-Wan's eyes. And the Code would not help him here. For both Yoda and Dooku spoke from the Code.
Yan almost pitied him.
He wished, now, that he might have been more of a presence in the boy's life. That he might have been there, in the days and years following Qui-Gon's death, to guide him, to help him see the things that Qui-Gon had never had the chance to teach.
But he had not.
He had, perhaps, one more chance now to make up for that failure. He only hoped Anakin would forgive him.
Sabé Elinai had never been one to sit quietly and wait for events to take their turn. And she was certainly not about to let her mistress sit and fret while decisions which were out of her hands were determined. So she had quickly enlisted Dormé's aid, and together they set to work on Operation Distract Padmé.
It had thus far been a resounding success. The three of them had spent nearly all day painting the apartment, and had finally worked their way to the master bedroom, just in time to catch the last rays of a spectacular sunset. They were pleasantly exhausted and each liberally spattered with paint of various hues from the fight Sabé had instigated in the kitchen, and they sat now in the center of the empty room, sipping tea from mismatched mugs.
"You know," said Dormé shyly, "when I interviewed for the position of Senator's handmaiden, I never thought I would spend my days decorating and getting into paint wars."
Padmé laughed out loud, which gave Sabé a private sense of triumph. "Well, I do apologize," she said, still smiling. "I hope you don't think it's always like this!"
"Oh, it is," Sabé grinned, looking at Dormé and refusing to notice their lady's pretended indignation. "Don't let her fool you."
"Sabé!" Padmé began. "Really! I—" But she was interrupted by the sudden, shrill chime of the door code. "Now who could that be?" she muttered with some annoyance, rising to answer the door. Her handmaidens followed her soundlessly, all joking left behind and eyes alert for any potential danger.
When they were certain that no threat waited, Padmé palmed the access code, and the door slid aside to reveal the very last person she had expected to see. She gaped at him for a long moment, before finally finding her voice.
Next chapter: What is Palo doing there? And who is assigned to supervise Anakin?