Disclaimer: Who believes that I own Star Wars? Anyone? No? We have a consensus. By popular vote, I do not own Star Wars.
Author's Note: I was trawling through my files and found that I had many pieces of something that sort of fitted together, with a loose theme – one part has been seen before on another website in a different guise but the rest have never seen the light of day. I don't know if this lives up to the title of "story" but it's a series of moments centred around Palpatine and, to a lesser extent, Anakin. No slash, all possible canon. Basically, for a long time I've been fascinated with Palpatine, prophecy and sleep. So herein lies a mixture of all those things.
Rising & Falling
"Soft, I did but dream… The lights burn blue, is it not dead midnight?" – Richard III, Act V
"They walked in the darkness of that lonely night with shadows all about them, through the empty halls of Dis and his desolate kingdom, as men walk in a wood by the sinister light of the fitful moon, when Jupiter has buried the sky in shade and black night has robbed all things of their colour." Aeneid VI
"Close aides report that Palpatine sometimes works for days without sleeping." –Attack of the Clones Visual Dictionary, p. 11
He moved so very quietly, his soft leather shoes making no noise. The weapon in his hand tingled in anticipation, singing to him silently, accompanied by his breathing, which seemed unnaturally loud, and the breathing of… of the one who would soon stop. The Muun lay on his back, long fingers curled into the bed-sheets. Minutes before, he had already been dead for Sidious, a cut thread, his work living only in his apprentice, merely a chrysalis out of which Sidious had sprung, which was shrivelled and discarded: a husk which had lost its function.
But now Lord Plagueis seemed disturbingly alive, his chest rising and falling, flesh and sinew and, even sleeping, the Master of Sidious' soul. And for the first time the ambitious apprentice questioned his judgement. Is it really necessary? He cannot really mean to replace me? Yet that future had revealed its possibilities to Sidious, and his Master's experiments were too close to success to be continued. How it infuriated Sidious, worse, it insulted his talents. He possessed gifts that had not been seen in generations of Sith: such visions, extraordinary amounts raw power, and (truly his most important quality) a rare and penetrating genius.
But still his Master dreamed of another: a child of the Force – the child of the Force – one who would come to restore balance to the galaxy and restore the Sith Order to its rightful place. The child of the prophecy that Plagueis sought to fulfil; Sidious had never hated anyone more. For he dreamed of another future, its glimpses tantalizingly magnificent: not the destruction of the Jedi (though that must come), but the restoration of the Sith Empire, built up through the foundations of the Republic to a brilliant pinnacle that even the ancients could never have dreamed possible.
He could not, would not forfeit all to the mythical being of Plagueis' dark sorcery. The Master's breathing blended seamlessly into the hum of Sidious' lightsaber, an arc of scarlet into his heart.
Master Sidious liked Naboo. It was an out-of-the-way planet, in a backwater system, not densely populated; its natural resources largely untouched. It was beautiful. Such sunlight, filtered through blossoms which fell to scatter and drift on clear water. He considered it lovely. Not that he would hesitate to destroy that loveliness should it become necessary (there were other planets equally beautiful), but it pleased him to dwell in such a place, pleased his aesthetic.
The people adored colour, perfume and music. And Sidious revelled in that too – a young man alone in all the galaxy – he was content to spend the rest of his youth in the study of history and art, glazing over the cold fury that dwelt within him with the culture of the galaxy, creating himself anew in innocence and beauty.
But the memories of Plagueis' future haunted him. They dusted the edges of his grand designs as ghostly and persistent as the finest of cobwebs. Am I willing to make his creation my own? He thought of his own youthful apprentice, Maul. A fierce creature, no more than that; Maul's bestial nature didn't inspire any preferment. And, unlike Plagueis, Sidious wasn't stupid enough to even hint at such a thing, nor was Maul talented enough to perceive it on his own.
Yet his old jealousy continued to prick him. What powers would such a being possess… what insight into the true nature of the Force? His visions were filled with a tall, masked figure, terrifying and merciless, bringing death and vengeance on the Jedi Order – a dark messiah, a creature of legend. A singed and broken thing calling for him to embrace it, to comfort it, to reform it into something beautiful – the beauty of hard marble and the carved impenetrability of shining ebony and ice… Such were his premonitions.
And to Lord Sidious it seemed as if the very Force was calling to him to raise the Sith up from the ruins of Korriban to the height of imperial dominion. He dreamt of death and the curl of his Master's lips, the gift in his hands, the blood that dripped from his long ivory fingers…
…To resurrect a dying thing, forming it into the perfection it had always sought.
Waking from the cruel tunnels of sleep, limbs clammy and shuddering, Sidious blinked at the anticipation of sunlight that turned the dark night to the gentle indigo of dawn. Almost sleepwalking, he left his chambers, wrapped in a loose black robe, his feet treading through wet grass, down to the edge of the lake, like glass, untouched in the semi-darkness, but for the fluting call of the occasional bird.
Sidious let the robe slip from his shoulders, leaving his body naked, its paleness turned to luminous blue by the edge of the morning. The water was dark and deep and it seemed to mirror his soul, so still, so vast, so certain. With effortless grace, he dove into the water, which swallowed him up almost noiselessly; a loose conflagration of expanding ripples the only evidence of his existence.
He did not seem to flow through the water at all, but through memory, space and time. His outstretched arms spanned the galaxy, his movements those of a god; the lake no measure of the volume of his power as it swam through the Force, bisecting, connecting, searching…
In that instant he saw it… a woman, her dark hair loose as she looked out at the setting of twin suns, the baby in her arms, the Jedi, the man, twin suns melting into a boy and a girl, the passing of great ships and time, the great dark pyramid of his ambition, the pulsing anger and the shining, arching lightning that consumed everything… beads of connection, of creation, of the infinitesimal spark of life that was the cause, the inception and the end.
Surfacing, gasping, water trailing down his face, he realised, belatedly, that the lake was freezing. The sky was clearing and birds were calling to one another in the dense canopy of the surrounding forest. One flew overhead. Lord Sidious shivered as he climbed ashore, wrapping himself gratefully in his robe, though it offered but meagre warmth.
I have wrought an irrevocable destiny… for a moment – perhaps the only time in his long existence – he was afraid of his own power. It had seemed unnatural before: among Plagueis' lore-filled holocrons, an insult, a perversion, and now… Ancient Masters, give me guidance… a breeze stirred, brushing the lake and his wet skin, and he shivered again, as the first rays of light touched the surface of the water.
Anakin sighed, moving his head on the pillow, reaching a hand up to rub his eyes. He kept them closed for a second, imagining himself still in his cramped room back on Tatooine, surrounded by what his mother termed "Ani's space junk." He shifted his weight under the covers. Jar Jar Binks was snoring loudly across from him – long snorting wheezes. Anakin sat up and opened his eyes, pushing the blankets to the bottom of the bed. Everything here felt unnaturally soft: maybe the carpet would be more comfy?
They were staying in the apartments of a Senator, whose name Anakin couldn't scrounge up. It was a strange place – so high up! – All the colours were so intense, not at all like the sandy colours of home. Like on the Queen's ship, everything gleamed with polish (there must so many droids to keep everything so clean). But this place was different. Things glittered in odd ways, the glint off some metal sculpture, the sheen on the glassy doors and the dark frames of the stylised furniture. Everything was red, and though this hadn't disturbed Anakin earlier, somehow night changed things. It was weird. Anakin couldn't decide whether it was good weird or bad weird. He swung his legs round and got up, straightening his old night tunic, careful not to wake the Gungun. Thoughts of Shimi Skywalker filled him, wish you were here… Without really realising it, the boy made his way into the lounge area, as he fought with the awful homesickness that was rising in his stomach.
Not seeing a light-tab, Anakin's fear grew as he walked through the darkened rooms. Curved humanoid statues cast tall shadows into the red stillness and made the rooms seem alive to him, populated by silent, menacing silhouettes.
One of them moved. Robed blackness, its features concealed within a deep hood. And for a second, unknowingly, Anakin Skywalker saw true – the shape personified that nameless fear of every youngling, millennia old, of the evil things that come preying on innocents with the dark edges of sleep. Anakin backed away.
The lights turned on.
"What are you doing awake?" the shape asked, pulling down its hood to reveal the face of the Senator: Tired, concerned: paternal. Kind blue eyes nestled under heavy lids, fanned by wrinkles, soft face pinching into an impressive beak of a nose, thin mouth relaxed and indulgent. Ginger hair streaked with silver, especially at the temples. "Well?" It was a deep aristocratic voice, with a hint of throatiness – warm.
Anakin took a deep breath, "I… um… I wasn't doing anything, I promise!"
The Senator chuckled. "No need to sound defensive, child. I'm quite sure you meant no harm." He said it with such certainty that Anakin almost believed he'd been watched the entire time. The Senator glided closer, his feet invisible under the trailing cloak. "What is your name?" he asked, like Qui-Gon he didn't say it in the patronising tone most adults used, but as if they were equals – as if he were really interested in Anakin. Settling himself onto a couch, the Senator motioned for Anakin to also sit. He hesitated for a moment, nervous, but then decided it was silly to be afraid – not that he was afraid, just a little nervous.
"Anakin Skywalker," he answered, taking a seat opposite, "but my friends call me Ani. You can too, if you like…"
The Senator shook his head, slowly, his blue eyes grave in the lamplight. "No, thank you – much as I appreciate the offer – I prefer to call things by their proper names, Anakin."
"That's okay. You know, you kinda remind me of Qui-Gon Jinn."
"Is that so?" the Senator (Anakin wished he could remember his name!) raised his eyebrows. "That's interesting – and very perceptive. Does Master Jinn wish for you to be trained?"
"Yeah," Anakin nodded, "that's why I'm sort of tagging along with the Queen."
"Her Majesty is a kind-hearted girl. I am certain she is most welcoming. The Jedi Temple is perhaps not the most fitting place for you just yet."
It took Anakin several seconds to digest this. Calling Queen Amidala a girl seemed strange to him, as if the Queen the Senator knew was different one from the beautiful, regal woman Anakin had met. But then… the Jedi Temple…
"You think you might not be accepted?" the Senator murmured, voicing aloud Anakin's fear.
"It's not just that. Part of me isn't sure I want to be a Jedi – the part that wants to be back home with… with…" his voice died away, the words sticking in his throat, refusing to come out.
"I understand, Anakin. A long time ago, I was forced to make a choice between fulfilling my dreams and someone… a parent."
"What did you choose?"
A corner of the Senator's thin mouth twitched: "I chose to pursue my ambitions."
"Did you ever regret it?" Anakin whispered.
"No," said the Senator simply.
"And… and they came true?"
An indulgent smile; the man gave something between a yawn and a sigh. "Hmm? Oh… oh yes. Yes I think so, Anakin Skywalker. Goodnight."
"Wait!" Anakin cried as the Senator stood up. He looked at Anakin expectantly. "Thanks," the boy gushed, "for listening, I mean. And I don't know your name…"
The Senator inclined his head, "Palpatine – Senator of the Sovereign System of Naboo." He seemed faintly amused by his title as he bent down slightly and placed a hand under Anakin's chin, tilting the boy's face upward. "It was my pleasure Anakin… sometimes a talk with someone impartial grants us greater perspective."
"Thanks," Anakin repeated, throwing his arms around Senator Palpatine's waist as he would with his mother. The child possessed an easy affection, remarkable considering the cruel desert he'd been raised on. The politician, unused to close physical affection, was a little shocked by this display, but returned the gesture by ruffling Anakin's hair. The boy felt safe in the embrace, enclosed under the soft, voluminous sleeves of the Senator's robes.
Finally, Palpatine pulled away, "You should go back to bed. Tomorrow will be a trying day for us all, I fear."
"Alright… but I won't be able to sleep…"
"You will," the Senator said patiently as he shepherded the boy back into the makeshift bedroom his staff had created out of his second sitting area. Anakin obediently got into his bed. Palpatine deftly tucked the sheets in and once again lifted a soft hand to gently touch the boy's face. Anakin stared up at him, studying the Senator's features. Man and boy regarded each other carefully.
Palpatine smiled to himself at the sheer waste of training this boy as a Jedi. Such a deep cavity of longing would prevent him from ever reaching the higher echelons of the Jedi hierarchy. To think what I could do with this child…
Memories of a cold river and rapt ignition rose to chill him. Palpatine let out a strangled gasp and collapsed -
From now on you shall be Darth… any offspring… The Chosen One… My dear boy… Do what must be done… I hate… you said… Ani…Tell me what you want…Anything… How can… I love… No… I won't… consider to be unnatural… Rise… Father, Please!
Palpatine blinked. His head throbbed painfully, resting in the silken comfort of expensive pillows. "Are you ok?" Anakin asked, from the side of Palpatine's bed – a strange twist of reversal – and on the other side the Senator looked up to see the long, concerned face of Sate Pestage.
"Sir… should I get a medical droid?" The aide asked quietly, eyes intent. Pestage was aware that his Master dwelt on a higher plane than himself and had witnessed this kind of seizure once before, on Naboo. They frightened him, who had affixed himself so firmly to the star of the currently supine Senator.
Opening his mouth, Palpatine found himself to be incapable of speech. He shook his head and worked to find his voice… "No… I'm p-perfectly fine…" beads of light the colour of bruises flickered around his peripheral vision.
"What about the boy?"
"Let him stay…" There was ample space between the one-syllable breaths.
The aide withdrew, bowing deeply to Palpatine and nodding to Anakin.
"That was really scary," said Anakin, sitting on the edge of the bed, "You just collapsed. I thought you were having a heart attack or something."
"No… since I was your age I have occasionally been subject to… episodes. The only danger they pose to me is if I hit my head as I fall, which hasn't happened so far… still, you notice the soft carpet?" It seemed astonishing that here was his creation, just sitting, chatting, a blond, charming child with no inkling as to his purpose – no conception of the future that had been set in motion, currently eddying inside the mind of a Dark Lord of the Sith.
The boy smiled. "We knew a lady like you. She said the gods were speaking to her."
Palpatine returned the smile. "Perhaps she was right…"
"You sure you're okay?" Tatooine had given the young Anakin a full appreciation of mortality.
"Perfectly, Anakin, perfectly… just a little dizzy… goodnight."
Anakin left the Senator to the ministrations of his aide. Definitely good weird, he thought dreamily, as he made his way back to his room, but weird all the same…
Palpatine leant against the railing of the small balcony, the Coruscant skyline glimmering with lights. He had slept for perhaps four hours before his ever-increasing insomnia had pulled him awake. Skywalker had triggered off his Sight. He hadn't known such a thing for many years: what had once been a debilitatingly common occurrence during his apprenticeship had become a rarity as he matured; something to be summoned at will, never otherwise. A cool wind made him shiver slightly and a cold smile graced his thin lips. The child of prophecy… my child… He stood looking out at the bustling Coruscant night.
The fire bathed the solemn faces of the onlookers, it luminous reflections dancing across the visages of those honoured few who stood close to the pyre, casting those further back into deeper shadow: half-faces and darkened eyes; the flames obscured them. Incense drifted into the night sky on plumes of smoke.
Low whispers caught over the cracking and spitting of the pyre and the eyes of one of the figures drifted toward the sound without turning his head. To the Jedi, the brightness of Master Jinn's funeral pyre and the emotion surrounding it were clouded by the acrid fumes of the Dark Side. But the figure saw past the flames and into the patterns that intertwined among the circle of mourners.
Anakin Skywalker, his eyes drooping, stood close to his new Master. Destiny tied them close, ever so close, moving together almost perfectly… almost. Images flickered faster than the fire, knotting tight those around the circle in spinning futures.
"… The Master or the Apprentice…?"
The knots travelled full circle all leading back to the figure, who didn't allow himself to smile at the words he'd caught on the wind. The idea that a Sith Master could be taken down by one padawan: ludicrous. How arrogant of the Jedi. He had gauged Kenobi's calibre and the thought of being defeated by such a creature was laughable. His new apprentice on the other hand… The boy's heart was an open wound, bleeding for his mother and for the new-found friend suddenly lost. Kenobi glanced down at his charge and the figure felt his anxiety.
In the jubilant days after the liberation of Naboo, people were found out on the streets of Theed at all hours, some drunk, everyone still reeling from the whole experience: the invasion, imprisonment, and miraculous rescue too much to bear. And in the midst of all this, the elevation of one of their number to Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic seemed small indeed – just another part of the magical quality that suffused the whole affair.
Chancellor Palpatine, now wearing the ceremonial cummerbund of his high office, found the time to walk in the Royal Gardens, his peace ensured by the blue figures spread about him in their crested helmets and sweeping cloaks. When the Chancellor returned to Coruscant there would be work aplenty, but for now he too could afford to rest, just for a day or two, on his laurels.
Anakin Skywalker found himself cast adrift in the celebrations, a fêted hero, while Obi-Wan Kenobi delivered his extensive reports to the Jedi Council, gathered in an audience chamber of the palace. Queen Padmé Amidala, naturally, had much to occupy her in those few days. So it came that Anakin too was wandering in those gardens, still marvelling at the paradise he encountered everywhere when his progress was halted by a blue-robed guard. "I'm sorry, boy, but…"
"Anakin Skywalker!" Palpatine exclaimed, like someone who has just received a quite unexpected gift. The guard gave way with one wave of the Chancellor's imperious hand. "How unexpected, I don't suppose you'd do me the honour of joining me for a walk…"
Even to Anakin, it was obvious that Palpatine's new office suited him. His blue eyes were bright, slightly feverish, and his new robes of office granted him a dignified elegance, while Anakin, now wearing the uniform and braid of a padawan-learner, radiated his own glow of new-found prosperity.
They walked together under shady trees and the Chancellor promised to seek Anakin out on Coruscant, offering his interest and guidance seemingly without cost, as he bent down to sniff the perfume of a fine Naboo rose, surrounded by lavish colour. He would be content to watch as the boy ran ahead of him, watch with all the proud instincts of a parent. He laughed.
"I dream about her," the boy's voice was rough, the raw quality of an adolescent. "But they don't understand… they won't let me go to her… she'll die."
The Chancellor shifted a little closer in his seat, his face sympathetic but his blue eyes greedy. The thought that the boy might be gifted as he himself was… "These dreams: they come every night?"
"I am no expert in the ways of the Force, but on Naboo we believe that dreams are… consequential."
His sheets called him to rest, meditation had so far sufficed but his head was beginning to throb, his eyes to ache even as he blinked… yet he could not… could not…
Falling, falling never to rise and the walls were coated with blood, his own blood and his fingernails slipped – hard against the metal.
"Ah – yes – I can… send someone to check on her if you like; the Jedi need not know anything about it."
"Thank you, Excellency, I don't know what I'd do without you."
Hands stroke slowly along the metal of the chair's great arms, pale soft hands, warming the metal. There is no more today, the sun has long set; the curved transparasteel window behind the chair looks out onto the carnival of multicoloured light and darkness of the greatest city in the galaxy. It must be very late… he thinks, checking his chronometer – long since midnight. He stands slowly, closing his eyes and stretching, hands flat on the smooth, cold desk, face cast downward. The lamps are glowing and his eyes hurt to look and them; he closes them, then blinking rapidly he thinks: I should meditate… and just as slowly as he rose, he sinks back down into the embrace of the chair, alone in the darkness behind his eyelids. The lamps flicker off.
As always, he begins with himself then, once centred, sends his consciousness along the paths of those known to him, tied to him by weaving as intricate as the spool of an arachnid and spreading outward to the lines between systems, flicking from soul to soul until it begins to spark and then –
A sunset, lines are drawn – a circle, sinking, dipping below the black horizon; the curve of a womb, twin lines, the sun in the darkness, driven in twain: lightning, fire, rain and blood – pulsing, bubbling into a pyramid, solidifying into a varnished mirror reflecting yellow rays…
Sate Pestage's footsteps were muted by the red carpet under his polished boots. Like his master, he wore plain but well-tailored robes, except more practical, with less detailing. Tall, with dark eyes, dark hair and pale skin, Pestage would have perhaps been handsome, were it not for sheer topography of his face, all sunken hollows and sharp peaks: there was nothing kind in such features.
Yet as Pestage turned to the chair and its occupant, something approaching kindness washed over that face, unseen in the darkness. A hand reached to touch the shoulder and the eyes of the seated man flickered. "Sate?" he mumbled.
"Excellency…" Though the eyes of the Chancellor were closed, Sate Pestage still gave a little bow. "You should sleep."
A shake of the head.
"Please, your Excellency… you need rest." To fear something so simple, so necessary, appalled and worried Pestage. And it wasn't just the nightmares that troubled his master, though terrible, but the act itself, as if to sleep were some horrific sin, unnatural, perverted.
All the meditation and all the drugs in the galaxy could not substitute for this simple requirement. Though the Chancellor tried, hadn't rested for perhaps two weeks and now it had come to this. It always came to this eventually. Because whatever technique Palpatine used to sham sleep, it could never replace true slumber. Pestage sighed and crossed the red distance to the doorway and whispered instructions into the ear of a red-robed guard.
The guard nodded and handed his weapon to another, following Pestage back inside. He lifted the Chancellor into his arms, who muttered something inaudible – mind clearly elsewhere. The guard carried his charge into a small set of rooms, not quite an apartment, but a small private area with a bathroom and a bedroom. The guard gently set Palpatine down on the bed. Pestage had ordered it: state-of-the-art design, exquisitely soft mattress, yet it was never willingly slept in – let alone the finely appointed bedroom in the 500 Republica.
He thanked the guard, who bowed and left, the door hissing shut behind him. And Pestage opened a cavity in the wall and removed a small box, out of which he drew a glistening syringe. He then bent down and drew back a heavy ceremonial sleeve to reveal a blue-veined arm, thinly dusted with fine, almost translucent, ginger hair. Pestage turned the arm to reveal a row of small bruises, easily seen on the fair skin. Finding a clear spot, Pestage buried the syringe up to the hilt.
Sitting there with his master, whose breathing had become regular, his body still, Pestage reached up to stroke silver-white hair. He knew what Palpatine was, what tremendous power lay there unmoving, yet… yet…
Wasn't he lonely? Pestage knew that his master hardly touched another being and he had never pursued any sort of relationship in all the long years Pestage had served him. Did he not feel as others did, as Pestage…?
"Excellency…" It was all he could say to the man he had just made sure could not hear him. The only word which could come close to conveying the care, the admiration, the love…
The serum was dosed for a creature at least four times the Chancellor's weight, but that was necessary to make sure one such as he wouldn't wake up; that he remain trapped in sleep.
A gentle boy, gifted with such visions – of pain, of darkness:
He lay on the floor, blood flowing from his mouth, the elongated form of the Muun standing over him. Visions sparked everywhere in bursts, he could see the forest which lay under the hard floor, so many years ago, tomorrow and the next day and the next day written across his eyes in agony; his muscles spasm and blood-shot eyes roll upward…
A Sith Apprentice with the falling sickness: unacceptable. So he was trained to have absolute control over his seizures, to bend them back with bars of steel… what obstacles he had to overcome in order to simply wield a lightsaber; again and again, he would be punished for falling, falling again and again…
As the sleeping man's face contorted in agony, Pestage gathered him up in his arms, holding him close. The eyes opened, the irises brilliant saffron, unseeing. And Pestage's heart began to race, waiting for the screaming to begin…
But now Lord Plagueis seemed disturbingly alive, his chest rising and falling, flesh and sinew and, even sleeping, the Master of Sidious' soul…
Except that now it was his sleeping form, his body wound into the sheets and the shadowy figure drawing near and he couldn't wake up, wake up, wake up! A red glow ignited in the darkness and he remained powerless to stop the arc of the beam drawing closer…hooded death swung downward…
"Padmé!" Anakin woke, eyes wide on a tide of adrenalin, his mechanical arm ripping the sheet. The blinds were still down and all was shades of blue.
"Anakin…?" the warm body next to him queried as he lay back down, wrapping his arms tightly around her, under her breasts, pulling her toward him in violent need. Brown eyes startled, "Another nightmare? I'm here, I'm here; there's nothing to be afraid of… go back to sleep."
And staring into the promise of those soft eyes with their power, for the moment, to vanish the darkness, Anakin believed her.