Right now, I'm giving this story a T-rating, although later on, it may be changed to M, depending on how things go. {t6d}


CHAPTER ONE

The events of this section transpire only a few short days after the return of Ahsoka Tano from her imprisonment on Wasskah.

(The Clone Wars, Episode 3.22:Wookiee Hunt)

The halls of the Jedi Temple were silent. Occasionally, a thin murmur would be heard as two Jedi spoke together. But the halls were so vast that even a shout would seem but a whisper to anyone who chanced upon hearing it. News of the war often passed through these halls, for the Clone Wars were in full force in the outer reaches of the galaxy. But, despite these tidings which shook the very roots of the Jedi Order, the Temple did not change. The halls were always silent and steadfast, and no sort of calamity would ever mar it's peacefulness and calm.

Down one of these halls there now ran Ahsoka Tano, the sixteen-year-old Padawan Learner of Anakin Skywalker, newly returned from imprisonment on Wasskah, and urgency was in her stride. She was of the species of Shili, the Togruta, and three blue and white tentacles, lengthening over time, fell over her shoulders and her back. She was clad in her usual burgundy and gray attire, but now wore a dark brown cloak which flowed back behind her as she ran. The hood had been cast back, and those who looked into her eyes as she ran past them saw a fiery light in them, either of fear or determination, none could tell, for the Padawan hid her emotions well, having had long years of training in that art.

Yet, despite the murmur of surprise at Ahsoka Tano's passing, and the news she most surely carried, the halls remained silent, and were there a fly caught in the highest joists of that hall, he would have known nothing.

On, then, Ahsoka passed, until, nearing the end of the hall, she turned and slowed, and so entered a dim room. It was a small amphitheater of sorts, with stairs that led down from the doorway at which she stood, to a circular floor below, and all about the floor there rose tiers of seating, enough to hold at least a hundred Jedi. And in the center of the floor was a large holo-transmitter, circular also, and about three feet high. On it was being relayed a large-scale hologram of Felucia, the planet now at the center of the war, that had only recently been secured as a Republic outpost.

Several Jedi were standing about the holo-transmitter, speaking together in low voices, and none seemed to notice Ahsoka, yet all did, for her presence was known in the Force. She lingered at the doorway a moment longer, then, having located the one to whom her message was directed, she descended to the main floor.

The man to which Ahsoka came was tall, towering several inches above most Jedi, save a small handful who equaled him in height. He was very strong, and though he was a Jedi who could easily hurl things against walls with the Force, he often did such things using only his physical strength, which astonished many. He was light of hair, though it had darkened considerably through the years from the light blond it had been when he was a boy. And his eyes were a piercing blue, so powerful that every woman who gazed into them was smitten and would never recover. All, that is, save the women of the Jedi Order and, especially, Ahsoka Tano, who found the common reaction to be completely ridiculous, and unmistakably silly.

Yet this man, despite his good looks and the charm with which he held all things in balance, was hard and cold in his heart. For, although Jedi are not meant to remember those whom they have lost, he does, and always does he regret his inability to save them. There is anger in him, and arrogance, and he is self-centered and reckless, and rarely does he follow orders. But the Jedi Council cannot deny him, for his methods are controversial and dangerous, yet they are effective when they work, and they always work. So they are silent and grim, and punish him when punishment is due, and when it is not, so they sit and they say nothing. But inside they are proud of him, though they fear him, and the Dark Side surrounds him. And they call him the Chosen One.

"Master Skywalker," acknowledges Ahsoka, and the tall Jedi turns from where he is speaking with Master Kenobi, and smiles when he sees her. For though she is safe from her torment on Wasskah, he will never recover from their parting, nor the helplessness he felt, unable to save her.

Master Kenobi turned then to Ahsoka, and when he had inclined his head toward her, and she had mirrored the gesture, he returned his attention briefly to the tall Jedi Knight who had one point been to him as Ahsoka was now.

"Think about what I've said, Anakin," were the only words he spoke, then he subtly raised an eyebrow toward Ahsoka and turned away to join Master Yoda and Mace Windu. Ahsoka, taking the hint from his raised eyebrow, knew that she had just witnessed the end of a conversation long in the running, most certainly on the issue of Skywalker's emotions, which often, it seemed, got the better of him. And she knew, also, that she must tread carefully around any topic that might strike a nerve in her young Master.

This was no comfort to Ahsoka Tano, for the news she bore from the com-office would strike directly at the heart of her Master's problems. So as Master Kenobi stepped away with Yoda and Windu, so did Ahsoka's confidence lag, and momentarily did she consider ignoring the topic. But then her foresight caught her, and she realized that, were she to say nothing, he would still find out soon enough, then he might question her as to why she hadn't told him herself.

"What is the status on the front?" she inquired then, turning her eyes away from Obi-Wan and back to Anakin. "Is the outpost on Felucia still in Republic keeping?"

"For now," answered Anakin, leaning back on the holo-transmitter. "Grievous has disengaged and fallen back into Separatist space, probably to regroup. He'll be back, that's for sure. But by then, we'll hopefully have more troops on Felucia to hold the outpost. And if we can grab the rest of the planets in the system, we'll have a better shot of holding it longer."

"And Dooku?" asked Ahsoka warily, knowing the tension Anakin felt at the mention of the Sith Lord. He had not easily overcome his defeat on Geonosis over two years earlier.

"Missing," was his only answer.

"Missing?" demanded Ahsoka, her eyebrows narrowing. "Where?"

"If I knew that, I'd be long gone after him," said Anakin, pushing himself off of the table, and walked toward the stairs. Ahsoka stood in stunned silence for a moment, then following, hurrying to catch up to his long strides.

"What are you going to do?" asked Ahsoka when they'd reached the vast hallway.

"Me?" asked Anakin, raising an eyebrow at her. "I thought it was we. What are we going to do? Or am I missing something?" Then his eyebrow narrowed as he sensed Ahsoka tense up and become uneasy. "Ahsoka?"

"No, I don't…" started Ahsoka slowly, then took a deep breath and turned to look at him. His gaze was bearing down on her. She was used to that stare. Strangely enough, it made her feel more comfortable when she was trying to tell him bad news. So she set her mouth determinably and spoke without an ounce of hesitation. "I don't think it's going to be us on this one, Master. I'd go if you'd let me, but you won't. I know you too well. And for once I'd be glad to stay."

"Ahsoka," came the hard reply, edged with suspicion, and she knew he suspected something. So she set her face and decided to waste no more time. He needed to hear, whether he was ready or not, and she was the only one brave enough to tell him, because no one else knew the impact this news would have.

"Dooku is missing," observed Ahsoka slowly, folding her arms in front of her and glancing toward the floor in contemplation. "That's peculiar enough. But why?" She wasn't expecting an answer, and none came voluntarily from Anakin. "We wouldn't know. Or would we?" Then she glanced at him and her eyes narrowed. Then she stood up tall, as if her last bit of dialogue had given her some new strength, and she spoke, clear and hard.

"Senator Amidala almost died today," she said. "An assassination attempt was made on her life within the confines of the Senate Complex. It was well organized, but no part of it could have been carried out without risking the life of the assassin. And no assassin was found. Not even finger prints, let alone a body. It was clear that the assassin fled before it was carried out in full."

"Did you inspect the area?" asked Anakin, and his voice was strangely calm. He had said nothing while Ahsoka spoke, but she knew her master well enough not to be deceived. He was rigid, as if ready to spring, and anger boiled in the Force which surrounded him. The news had hit him harder than Ahsoka thought possible. But he was hiding it well.

"I ran through it with the investigators," she answered. "The clone bomb squad got there just as I left. They could tell you more, but I'm fairly certain there was no assassin on site when it happened. I could feel nothing in the Force but a very weak presence of someone foreign who had been there a while before. I suspect it was Dooku."

"Or one of his minions," agreed Anakin, then his anxiety got the best of him and he could hide it no longer. "What about Padme?" He stopped himself a moment too late, and Ahsoka raised an eyebrow as he corrected himself. "I mean… Senator Amidala. Is she alright? Was she hurt?"

"She's fine," cut in Ahsoka, knowing that her master was close to loosing it. She could feel something stronger than anger within him. Something she could not name. It was a ravaging feeling quite similar to the one she'd felt when she'd been with Lux Bonteri, long ago, before Wasskah. And then she realized that it had always surrounded Anakin, though her senses were not as keen as they were now, and therefore had failed to notice it. And her eyes narrowed further, because she knew it was a feeling he should not be having. A feeling that was forbidden in the Jedi Order.

But now Anakin's own eyes were narrowing, for he was not convinced in Ahsoka's answer to his question.

"She's fine," repeated Ahsoka, brushing aside her own suspicions for the time being. "She was badly injured, but nothing that can't be fixed. The last I heard, she was being transported under heavy guard back to her apartments." Then, into Ahsoka's mind there came a vision of Lux, and it sent tingles up her spine. Desperately, she brushed them aside and focused back on her Master.

"Captain Typho requests further Jedi intervention. I mentioned to him that Dooku might have been behind the assassination attempt. I suppose he thinks only Jedi would be able to tell for certain. He needs to know… for certain."

Anakin nodded, obviously deep in thought, his eyes flashing dangerously as he stood in deep consideration for a moment longer than usual. It was only a moment, though, for he was quick in his response.

"Has the Council approved Typho's request?" he asked, a strange glint in the depth of his eyes that would have been lost on Ahsoka if she hadn't known him as well as she did.

"They have," she nodded, then continued before Anakin had a chance to ask the question foremost in his mind. "I was there when Master Yoda gave his approval. I asked him if you and I might take on the mission, and he refused." The cold steel in Anakin's gaze was not lost on his Padawan, and she quickly made to dissuade his fears. "Master Obi-Wan and Master Plo Koon have been given that assignment, but you and I have been given another. We have been ordered to escort Senator Amidala away from Coruscant. And since the Council suspects Dooku of knowing too much for his own good, they advise us not to take her home to Naboo. We're under orders to protect her at all costs, and to take her someplace no one would think to look for her." She paused, and Anakin's tilt of his eyebrow spoke what she wouldn't say. She sighed. "Any great ideas, Master?"

"None," he answered.

Silence permeated for a moment, but with Anakin, a moment was just that; a moment.

"I suspect you'll want to do this on your own," said Ahsoka slowly, crossing her arms in front of her and staring away down the hall, so as to avoid her Master's burning eyes. "After all, they tell me you did it once before, and no disaster came of it on your end. If the Senator hadn't insisted on taking a day trip to Geonosis, there would be no disaster whatsoever."

"And no Obi-Wan," pointed out Anakin.

"True," acknowledged Ahsoka. "But, all I'm saying is, if you don't want me to go, I won't. And, to be honest, I'd prefer not to. I'd much rather face threats here, where I can fight them as a Jedi, then hide Force-only-knows-where and not be able to do a blamed thing about anything. And then I'd not want to be there when you loose your sanity from sitting around doing nothing all day. I don't want to force you into involuntary meditation again."

Anakin gave her a look. A rather blood-curdling look for a Jedi, but Ahsoka did not move. She'd sworn once before that she'd never let Anakin forget that experience, and he know it too.

"Have you forgotten, Snips? Jedi don't lie, and you just did. Of course you want to go with me. You're just afraid I'd start pacing like a caged beast and you'd loose your mind. Don't worry." He put a hand on her shoulder. "Senator Amidala can't stand it either. At least you'll have company, and who knows, it might just be possible for a Senator and a Jedi to take down the Chosen One. But only just. I still doubt you can." He gave her a smug look.

Besides, he said behind the Force shields around his mind. If Ahsoka comes, it won't look as suspicious to the Council. I'd give anything for a chance to be away with Padme, all by ourselves. But Obi-Wan's already suspicious. I shouldn't draw any more attention.

"Very well, Master," answered Ahsoka. "If you want me to come, I'll come. Then I won't have to lie to the Council about how you disappeared in the middle of the night without telling me. And how you claimed it was for my own safety when we both know how believable that excuse is. Especially after Wasskah."

"Yes, Snips. Especially after Wasskah."

Ahsoka rolled her eyes and bit back a smile.

"Oh brother."