Author's Note: Well, it's a lot longer than I thought it would be since this story was updated, but, as you can see by below, I am still working on it. My apologies for keeping you all waiting so long; I'll try not to leave it so long between chapters next time. But, as always, it depends on the Muse.
Barriss wasn't surprised when, barely five minutes after leaving Obi-Wan, she and Anakin exited the conduits and service corridors where they - he - could stand comfortably, and found herself pulled into his arms again. His lips touched hers in a kiss that was both welcome and reunion and for a brief, ever so brief moment, she forgot why it was a bad idea to be kissing Anakin Skywalker on the decks of the Malevolence.
She forgot that there were decks and decks of battle droids who would want nothing more than to see her dead. She forgot that the Chancellor was in trouble; that Dooku and Grievous wanted her as leverage and Anakin's cooperation for something sinister.
She forgot the secret she carried so close to her heart.
Anakin's Force essence mingled with hers, touching, embracing, merging for a brief moment before sanity reasserted itself and reality came crashing back.
Pulling away from him, her breathing ragged, Barriss stared up into his face and watched as a soft smile crossed his lips.
"I've been wanting to do that since I saw your holo in the speeder while we were approaching the Senate Building."
"I know," her lips twisted into an echoing smile. "I felt the suggestion and more."
"Oh good," his grin turned roguish. "For a moment there I thought I was losing my touch."
He sighed. "I know that tone." Taking a step back he released her, his fingers lifting to trail along the line of her jaw. "I've missed you Barriss."
"You can show me how much when we get back to Coruscant after we've had a chance to catch up," she promised. "Focus. Obi-Wan was right; this isn't going to be easy."
An almost comical grimace crossed his face. "Well if we hadn't killed the mood before, the mention of my old Master sure did."
"I know, I know." He sighed, refocused and got back on the mission. "How do you want to do this?"
"It's a trap; how else would we handle it?"
"Master Obi-Wan would say spring the trap; are you up for it?"
"Is that wise?"
"Perhaps not," Anakin agreed, "but by knowing in advance it's a trap, there are ways to prepare for the unexpected. And we'll be a trap of our own; they'd hardly expect you to come with me knowing what you know, right?"
"I feigned being out pretty good," Barriss admitted. "I don't think they know how much I heard."
"All the more reason to be sure," he was determined, serious. "We catch them by surprise."
"How so? The Count will sense our presence long before we arrive."
"Not unless we time it to Grievous' arrival," Anakin's eyes sparkled. "He shouldn't have reached the spire yet, unless they're aware of your escape?"
"The droids may have radioed it in," she conceded. "I did, however, eliminate several of them before joining you and Obi-Wan."
"Hmm," Anakin considered the implication for a moment and then shrugged. "Either way, we have to hit that spire. Grievous would have given us an element of surprise that is otherwise lacking, but I think we can use that anyway. Do you remember that shielding technique we were discussing last time we saw each other?"
Her lips curved. "The one where one of us is felt in the Force and not the other? How could I forget when you made your point so... deliberately?"
He chuckled, bending in to kiss her briefly before straightening. Now that she was within arm's reach, she could tell he was finding it difficult to keep his hands to himself even as he appeared more focused. "If we employ it now, we might be able to surprise them. They could be fooled into thinking that only you were approaching if we start now."
"Phase you out?"
Barriss offered her hand, knowing it would be easier with touch. "Think you can stand holding my hand for the next thirty minutes?"
"Think you can stand being a conduit for me to act through to get us there in half that?"
"Are you challenging me, Anakin?"
"Is there a time I don't?" he sounded shocked as he pulled off his glove and took her hand, skin to skin, in his, visibly bracing himself for the impact touching her always had on his system. True to type, this time was no different and the nearly physical electric shock he felt made his hand clench around hers. "Sorry," he murmured, drawing her close with a tightening of his arm muscles. "I can't help myself."
Barriss closed her eyes and felt Anakin take the impact of her Force presence as it resonated through him like a lightning bolt. She drew on his essence, using his pure conduit-like ability to connect to the Force to access it herself, her hand clenching as her fingers threaded through his. Concentrating on shielding his presence, she could feel Anakin diminished his own, burying it within hers until they were both intermeshed so tightly together no one, not even Obi-Wan, would ever be able to tell there were two of them.
The connection was visceral, intimate, almost as close as a physical joining but in some ways oh so much more.
Barriss, however, for all she was intertwining Anakin's Force signature into her own, held something back. There were things about her that he didn't yet need to know; things that had no place in the now before Grievous was apprehended; things that could shift the tide of the coming battle against them if he were to discover her secrets now.
"You're hiding something from me, Barriss."
"I am," she agreed. "We'll talk about it later. I can't keep this up forever, Ani."
"I know," she teased. "Don't call you that."
"Then let's do this and go home," he told her with a strained smile. "You and I need to have a proper reunion."
She laughed huskily. "That and more," she agreed. "Which way?"
Anakin motioned ad they were off, making their way through crew corridors and into the bowels of the ship's service area; areas that battle droids would have little use for. Areas most droids would have little use for. They moved swiftly, always in contact, mostly palm to palm, Barriss feeling Anakin's anxiety all the while attempting to mitigate it with a sense of peace.
It worked to a degree and they both tried to focus on the here and now; on the task at hand and channeled their energy into the projection of a Force signature that was individual but muted, attempting to make to feel as if they were both trying to hide. But also making it feel like they were a single being; just Barriss.
Taking the service lift to the spire, they arrived to find no welcoming committee, simply the Chancellor tied to a chair on a dais near the viewports at the back of the room and neither Dooku nor Grievous in evidence.
Motioning the Chancellor to silence with a finger to his lips, Anakin carefully released his grip on Barriss before stepping back around the door. Barriss could feel him concentrating to maintain his Force blindness; the empty feeling of not being there masked by her own signature as she took the steps into the room and headed for the Chancellor.
Dual, separated stair cases led down from the main doorway by where Anakin was standing and she carefully but swiftly, navigated them to reach the man in the back of the room. Masking Anakin presence as she was, she couldn't stretch her senses out to search for threats and relied on sight and sound to gain her cues. Looking left and right, she spotted no guards, no security, no nothing of any kind other than the Chancellor - the bait - and the feel of the trap increased.
Anakin had been right.
Stepping close to the dais, she stopped on the bottom step. "Chancellor," she bowed gracefully. "Are you in need of rescue again?"
"So it would seem, Master Offee," he agreed, playing along. "Our- my - captors however appear to be..." pausing, his gaze went beyond her, "Count Dooku."
Dooku emerged from a second door she hadn't seen almost directly below Anakin with two magna guards, one on either side.
"Master Offee," Dooku's lips curled. "How good of you to join us."
"Count," she inclined her head, her lips tightening.
She hadn't forgotten that this was the man who'd killed her master; would never forget - but neither would she seek revenge. Much as it hurt, it had been Luminara's choice to sacrifice herself to this traitor to ensure so many others had lived. Barriss refused, no matter how much she wished things could be otherwise, to dishonor her Master's memory by seeking something as petty as revenge.
"I had thought the good General would shackle you," Dooku frowned. "Or perhaps he has deemed you not to be that great of a threat."
"Perhaps," Barriss agreed, "I would have you ask him yourself, but I'm afraid I appear to have lost him as my escort."
The Count pulled his lightsaber from his belt as the guards activated their staves, twirling them menacingly. "Well, perhaps we should ensure you are dealt with appropriately then. One would hate to think our hospitality was wanting. Even for one such as you."
"Careful, count," she came back blithely, with more bravado than she knew she possessed, "your prejudices are showing."
"Come now, my dear, they're hardly on display," he lunged with the last word, his lightsabre igniting with a snap-hiss, the blade intent on a killing blow.
Barriss held her ground, trusting Anakin to protect her.
A trust that was well founded.
On the heels of Dooku's snap-hiss came a second blade, igniting so quickly it sounded like an echo of the red saber. As that blood red blade arced towards her, a blur flashed between them, green meeting red as Anakin's blade clashed to intercept the strike and threw the older man off balance. Barriss backed away, having no weapon with which to aid Anakin, and took up a defensive stance beside the Chancellor's chair. With little more to do but watch, she set about deactivating the binders.
While Barriss worked to free the Chancellor, Anakin fought the Count.
Crimson and emerald crossed, clashing time and time again as Anakin held his ground in the initial assault before pushing Dooku away from the dais. Following with a series of lightning fast attacks that forced Dooku to retreat as he was unable to counterattack, Anakin drove the Sith up the nearby staircase.
Utterly focused and centered, Anakin paid little heed to the Count's bodyguards as he pushed the man away from Barriss. Her presence, still enmeshed with his, bolstered his abilities and focused him in ways nothing else ever had. For all she was still holding a part of herself back, it was such a small part that he didn't notice it as he concentrated on driving Dooku away from her.
The Count's hatred for non-humans was something of a wild card, one Anakin couldn't afford to have in play as he pressed his attack. He had to keep the Count focused on the fight and not on the young woman without a weapon behind him. Immersed as he was, with Barriss' Force essence feeding him information and focus, he pushed the older man over the last of the stairs and onto the top level of the catwalk. Back they moved, sabres flying left and right, sparking and sizzling as both sought to gain the upper hand.
Until the Count found it.
He felt her sharp call the same moment he heard it, his lightsaber sliding upwards to block, striking and turning it aside as he spun, stepping to the Count's body. His free hand snapped forward with a blinding move to catch the Count's wrist even as his hand shot out to the side, the lightsaber locked on, the blade whirring through the air with speed and precision to cleave through three of four Super Battle Droids that had advanced on Barriss.
Stepping a half step closer, Anakin dug his fingers into the flesh of the other man's wrist, turning his momentum into power as he bent and lifted, taking Dooku off his feet and driving him forcefully up and over the catwalk rail. Even as he was letting go of the Count's wrist, Anakin was following, his hand outstretched towards where his lightsaber had flown, calling it to him even as he somersaulted and spun, landing in a crouch on the lower level.
The Force gathered about him like a storm as his lightsaber slid back into his outstretched fingers, his whole body bending with an almost unnatural grace to brush his chest against the deck as the Count's strike failed to decapitate him. He was up as fast as he'd fallen, his emerald blade whipping in to catch the counter attack as he found his footing.
They traded blows, Anakin daring to flip over the Count's head as they moved out from under the stairs back towards the dais and Barriss, blocking a quick dual upward stroke before landing to lock blades with the man once again. Except this time, it was the base of the blades; as much raw power as it was Force ability, and Anakin leaned into the challenge almost eagerly.
A little too eagerly, for the Count caught on to it. "You've grown, boy."
"My powers have doubled since we last met, Count," Anakin told him with a feral smile, pushing back on the blade and forcing the Count to give a half step. "You'll not walk away this time."
"Such arrogance; such anger! How powerful would you be if you but used them?"
"Let's say," Anakin broke the sabre lock, flinging the red blade out wide as he came in from the other side, "we don't find out!"
Impossibly, the Count ducked away, spinning, the crimson arc of death countering the attack with one of its own. A flurry of blows was traded as the Count ducked and weaved, showcasing just why he'd lasted as long as he had through various wars.
For all the Count's experience, for all his power within the Force and through it, Anakin could feel him weakening. Power sang through his own veins as he kicked out, knocking Dooku to the side and away from Barriss. Gripping the hilt in both hands, Anakin pressed his advantage, seeing the other man's movements as if in slow motion.
Dooku blocked Anakin's next swing, spinning in what should have been a dizzying move, trying to get room. Anakin countered the attack, staying with the Count until the older man was incapable of escape. Then, and only then, did Anakin step in as the Count was parrying his blade, one hand leaving the hilt of the emerald shaft to close about the Count's hands around his own hilt.
A quick dip of his lightsaber and time resumed, the Count letting out a cry as both hands were severed from the wrist, the limbs bouncing along the floor as the Count fell to his knees. Anakin reached out to the left, pulling the red bladed weapon into his hands and placing them, crossed at the Count's neck.
"Good, Anakin, good!" the Chancellor's encouragement was delighted, his laughter completely at odds with his next words. "Kill him."
"Kill him now."
"Chancellor - don't do it, Anakin!" Barriss looked straight at him; he knew because his head had snapped around to look at them both incredulously, Barris' admonition to the politician, and to him, sharp and snapping with authority. "Don't even think about doing it."
"And why not?" The Chancellor's response was nonplussed. "I'm the Chancellor; I say he's too dangerous to be taken alive."
"Jedi do not kill unarmed prisoners." there was no room for argument in Barriss' tone. "Anakin, arrest him."
"Kill him!" snapped the Chancellor, "before he can work that Sith magic on us again!"
"Respectfully, Chancellor, we're Jedi; we can handle this Sith."
Barriss stepped in, putting one hand on Anakin's and meeting his gaze; a relief if he'd ever known one. Her touch brought about a calm he'd been struggling to maintain in the aftermath of the battle. Part of him had almost followed the Chancellor's order without thought, agreeing that Dooku was too dangerous to take alive. Except for the fact that he was a Jedi, like Barriss, and he'd hesitated. She was right; it wasn't the Jedi way.
Deactivating the lightsabers, Anakin handed one to Barriss and she took control of the Count.
Going back to the irritated looking Chancellor, Anakin deactivated the restraints holding him in place as the older man huffed and voiced his displeasure. "I said I wanted him dead, not taken alive, Anakin."
"My apologies, Chancellor, but Knight Offee is correct. It would not be the Jedi way to kill an unarmed prisoner."
"The Council will hear of this, Anakin. I gave you an order; I'm very disappointed in you."
Barriss must have felt it through the link they shared for she broke in as she was securing the Count's arms behind him. "If Anakin or I had killed the Count, Chancellor, it would only have made him a martyr and added fuel to the Separatist's grievances. He must be made to stand trial, to answer publicly for his crimes and be discredited before his execution. With their leader in our custody, they will have to come to the bargaining table and bring the war to a swifter end."
"You'll forgive me, Knight Offee, if I don't believe that the Jedi Council will offer transparency in a trial that they will undoubtedly dub an internal affair. Count Dooku, as I am led to understand, is a rogue member of your order."
"He is also a political prisoner, Chancellor; the Jedi will guard him, but as the leader of the Separatist government, the Jedi could not hope to hold him without displeasing the Senate."
"I certainly hope you are right, Knight Offee, for all our sakes, or all of this will have been for naught."
The chirping of Anakin's comlink cut Barriss off and he lifted it to his lips. "Skywalker."
"Anakin, I have Senator Naberrie, but I am afraid that the good General appears to have given us the slip."
"It would appear that he was one step ahead of us. The Chancellor and the Senator were simply bait to lure us in so he could get away."
"And sacrifice his leader, Count Dooku, in the process?" Anakin frowned, glancing at the Chancellor and Barriss as he spoke, ignoring the sharply inhaled breath of the Count. "That doesn't make sense, Obi-Wan."
"Does it not? General Grievous stands to gain control of the Separatist army if Dooku should fall. By abandoning him here, I suspect the good General expects us to do his dirty work for him."
"Then it's a good thing the Count is in our custody," Anakin came back, immeasurably relieved he'd not followed the Chancellor's orders. "We'll meet you in the hangar bay with the Chancellor and Dooku."
"Be careful, Anakin; it may very well still be a trap."
"Heed your own words, Gramps," Anakin shot back with a grin. "I'm the one with Barriss remember? Watch your back."