Sorry this took me so long. I'm hesitant to post chapters until I write an amount equal to the number of pages that I post.


The bloody tunic lands, forgotten, in the corner of the room where Anakin tosses it. He's pulling on a new one almost before the other lands—and it doesn't matter. None of this matters. He can't even smell the blood. Rex's words are still pounding in his head; he's grinding his jaw so hard that the pressure has pushed up under his eye sockets and started beating out a tempo; and all he can see in that blood is Obi-Wan's death.

The blood—it doesn't matter. It's what the blood represents.

"Your hatred sings, Anakin."

The Force barks out a warning at Palpatine's presence, though it hardly matters now: Anakin never heard him enter. That's not particularly surprising. Palpatine, though not as strong as he might have been if his fight with Darth Plagueis had gone differently, is still powerful in the Force... and Anakin is considerably distracted at the moment.

Regardless, there is nothing comforting about the sound of Palpatine's light snort, almost a chuckle, though the sound is full of too much disgust to truly be anything so lighthearted. Anakin hardly spares him even half a glance: anything more would be a victory for Palpatine. Anyway, a glance is enough.

Palpatine is framed in the door, standing with his chin back slightly—projecting superiority in action as, Anakin knows, he always assumes it in thought—and hands tucked behind his back. He has an aura of authority strong enough to make a mockery of the medic who tried the same movement minutes ago in an attempt to bully Anakin into submitting to a physical examination. Against the backdrop of the dark tan of the metal door, he seems brighter, and Anakin would laugh if there were anything to really laugh about, because Palpatine is entirely the opposite of bright.

"You know why I am here, I presume?" Palpatine says after a drawn-out pause, inserted only for the power the wait holds, no doubt.

Anakin steps back from the closet, garments forgotten. Getting out of his bloody clothes was only a distraction anyhow, just something to do while he waited for word on Obi-Wan. Now he's getting that word, and it's terribly backwards that he has to will himself not to react.

"I want him back." The reply comes out as calmly as he can manage, though the hint of a smirk pulling at Palpatine's lips indicates he hasn't entirely succeeded in keeping anger out of his intonation.

Tutting softly, Palpatine saunters forward, the robes of his pompous attire just barely dragging on the floor as he moves. He dresses like a fool—but a rich fool. And he certainly commands attention in his red robes with their slightly puffed sleeves and intricate embroidery.

"I regret to see that I have let this go much too far," he says almost sympathetically—a perfect mockery of it—as he approaches Anakin. He stops in front of him, staring up at him with cold blue eyes. "I had thought that, while abnormal, your attachment to your childhood caretaker was not so great that you would turn a blind eye to his more illegal doings. I never considered that you would fail to turn him over for the punishment he deserves."

Right. Just turn Obi-Wan over to be executed or publically punished or just plain tortured. The frightening thing is, Palpatine is lying. He expected exactly this: he had to have known that Anakin would never simply abandon Obi-Wan. More than likely, he was simply counting on the fact that Anakin would be too controlling to let Obi-Wan do something like this in the first place. In retrospect, he might have had something in that idea—or at least, Anakin has to admit, it would have been better to adhere to this one idea of Palpatine's. Letting Obi-Wan have this much leeway has clearly gotten them both into a very bad situation.

No help for it now, though—now it's just about working them both out of the tight spot Obi-Wan has gotten them into. "He won't participate in something like this again," he replies slowly, meeting Palpatine's cold stare. "I'll be more diligent in the future."

Palpatine's lips thin. "There will be no need. I intend to deal with this situation myself."

As if he will simply accept Palpatine's brand of punishment as acceptable for Obi-Wan? Certainly not. "I'll see to it that he adequately regrets his actions."

It is a challenge, and, Force help him, Anakin can't help but pray Palpatine takes it. Surely it must intrigue him: he will want to see what Anakin will do, whether he would be capable of actually making Obi-Wan regret what he did. And, in all honesty, it is nearly unfathomable that it took so long for such a challenge to be stated. This was always inevitable. Always.

Somehow, Anakin's words draw a choked laugh out of Palpatine. Turning slightly, he gazes up at Anakin in much the same manner that one might regard the mess on the bottom of a shoe. Even when he shakes his head, his gaze remains steady, contemptuously fixed on his son. "Oh? And when have you ever been capable of that? For all that he listens to you, you might as well call him 'master'."

Palpatine thinks so, does he? The suggestion alone—the impudence of stating an insult like that—fosters the beginning of real anger. In another life—one where the Jedi hadn't fallen—Palpatine might have been very right. Anakin dreams about a life like that sometimes—a life where Obi-Wan was his Jedi master, but when he awakes, he can never quite remember the details. It is only a foggy notion, something that feels like it could have been but wasn't. And it isn't. And for Palpatine to suggest otherwise is a character slight worthy of serious retribution. Or it would be if Palpatine weren't the Emperor.

Someday, it still might be.

"He has no authority over me."

"He has as much as your mother gave him… and giving him any authority was giving him too much."

"Mom did what she had to in light of the restrictions you placed on her. Don't pretend it was anything else."

Oddly, Palpatine seems almost satisfied with that: there is an ember of gloating in his gaze, though the coldness of his irises seems to freeze and deepen. "We could have just as easily hired someone. You know as well as I do that this was your mother's misguided attempt to ensure you received the sort of training of which she approved. A Jedi slave," he sighs, sneering. "I should have struck down the very notion."

Oh, and he'd probably considered it. But the idea of his son being personally in control of a Jedi was, when Palpatine had thoroughly mulled over the notion, likely too delicious a prospect for him to pass up, cruel bastard that he is. He had, as far as Anakin can tell, wanted to see Obi-Wan humiliated for no greater reason than the Order he'd been a part of—and he'd expected a nine-year-old boy to develop a propensity for the suffering of others, so great that he would be the one to exert that cruelty. It never happened, though. Not like Palpatine wanted.

"I obey your orders," Anakin replies snappishly. "Don't pretend otherwise. I go where you tell me to go, attack where you tell me to attack. I further the goals of the Empire."

Palpatine at least inclines his head in concession. It will, no doubt, be only a minor concession, but, still, it is at least something. "For how long? Until Kenobi," wrinkling his nose, he raises an eyebrow, "tells you otherwise?"

"He often tells me otherwise. I don't listen."

This is an utterly pointless conversation. An entire waste of time: Anakin crosses his arms, bored at the sheer inanity of it, and angry at where it is going. It's going to go where it always go. They've had versions of this before. Never has Palpatine gone so far as to suggest that Anakin turn Obi-Wan over for criminal punishment, but he has long been after Anakin to dismiss him and send him to work with the other Jedi.

No, this conversation needs an end. Anakin… has other things to which he must attend. Mainly finding Obi-Wan. And that is the only thing he needs from Palpatine at the moment. "I will deal with this Jedi rebellion as you see fit," for the time being, "but you gave me charge of Obi-Wan years ago. That hasn't changed, and it won't. He is mine to do with as I see fit."

Palpatine will not be making decisions concerning Obi-Wan. Not ever. Because if he did, it might be kinder for Anakin to take a knife to Obi-Wan himself.

Instead of conceding, Palpatine draws his shoulders back and inhales, pulling himself to full height—a height fuller than is natural. When he relaxes even a fraction of an inch, the effect will be lessened, and he will again be just an old man, powerful, but obviously aging.

He does not relax.

"And if I were tell you that, this time, I am prepared to deal with him myself as I see fit?"

Oh? The lightsaber on Anakin's belt suddenly feels a little bit heavier. "Then I would tell you I am equally as prepared to ensure that I get him back."

Clearly recognizing that for the direct challenge that it is, Palpatine shakes his head, finally relaxing: he turns away, strolling casually to one of the large windows, taller than a man, that eats up the wall. He stands there, staring out it, arms once again tucked behind his back as he heaves out a put-upon sigh. "You do not recognize the danger of this situation? You are far too attached to this slave. He is nothing, Anakin. A distraction. A caretaker in childhood, but you have need of him no longer. Now, he is nothing but an impediment to your destiny."

It's no struggle to remain where he is. At this point, Anakin doesn't much dare to turn his back on Palpatine: he wouldn't put it past him to drive a lightsaber into someplace where it won't be fatal, just to stop Anakin from interfering.

"Let me make this clear, Father," he begins, voice eerily calm, even to his own ears, "if he is harmed, you will not appreciate the consequences."

Palpatine spins around to face him. In the movement, his face has drawn up tight, and his eyes have narrowed, almost hawkishly. It's disgusting—the sagging fat of his cheeks and chin ruins the angles of the look, even if those things don't manage to make him appear less predatory. He's dangerous. Aged or not, with a deteriorating visage or not, he is still a menace.

"Are you threatening me?" he asks, voice low, all pretense of civility drying up.

Anakin tips his chin back, looking down his nose at Palpatine. "Yes."

That seems to rile the man in a way nothing else has been able to: he snaps away from the window, taking small, quick steps toward Anakin. "You must be aware that your position is dependent on me. Or have you forgotten that?"

A counter threat. Delightful. "Don't try it." He cocks his head to the side, smiling nastily and meaning it. "I'm your legacy. I may be dependent on you for a position, but you are dependent on me for an heir."

Palpatine's face twists, ugly—more than before—and his disgusting lips bunch like a fat grub, wiggling furiously across his face. "Chance alone has made you so fortunate."

"My mother made me so fortunate."

"Yes," Palpatine sneers, and this—it will be messy. Anakin sees it in his expression, in the way it promises emotional carnage of the sort that resulted, years ago now, in physical slaughter. "Your mother. Weak, foolish woman. Met her end for love of a son that shamed her with his deeds. She was ashamed of what you were becoming—you know it to be true. By the end her mind was twisted, and somehow, her love," He sneers over the word, contemptuous as always, but it bothers Anakin more today, more now, than it has in a long time, "convinced her that to save you, she could not have an heir."

Yes. Yes, he'd cost his mother her life. No need to remind him. He sees it every day, every time he closes his eyes. But it wasn't him. It was this man, with his twisted desires, his need for an heir, his want of someone other than Anakin, and so what if Anakin's wellbeing was what prompted it? It was Palpatine's designs that were the cause of Shmi's actions. For love of Anakin, because of what Palpatine would do to him if he got the heir he truly wanted—one of his own blood—she'd done the only thing she felt she could do.

And someday, Anakin will kill Palpatine for it. Already, he can feel the promise burning in his limbs, spreading outward from his heart like a poison, the promise thumping with every beat, every pulse, every breath. He will kill this man. Somehow. Someday.

"Maybe she just knew she was carrying a monster inside of her," he snarls, leaning down toward Palpatine. He would rip him apart now, if he could—if he wouldn't lose everything, any chance to make his mother's sacrifice worth something.

Palpatine's eyes glisten with malice. "I suspect she would have known the feeling, having experienced it before."

This—it perfectly defines why Obi-Wan is more of a father than Palpatine could ever be. Legality means nothing.

"You know nothing," he whispers, dipping his head and staring up at Palpatine from under lowered lashes.

As expected, Palpatine doesn't move. "If only you could use that sort of force with your slave," he says instead, nearly spitting out the words. "If I thought you capable of it, I might have allowed him the mercy of having you be the one to deal him his death."

Yes, mercy, because at least Anakin would be quick. Palpatine would drag it out, and Anakin knows it, has seen it in the hate he holds in his gaze when he looks at Obi-Wan. That, though—it's inevitable. Someone so dark as Palpatine couldn't help but hate someone as light as Obi-Wan.

The way his gaze strays back over to Anakin, raking down his body coldly, like he's fitting him for a coffin—it's enough to push Anakin forward, closer to Palpatine, and he draws himself up more, threatening in a way words cannot.

"You have no concept of mercy."

"No? Then perhaps, when I am finished, I will decline to show the mercy of even allowing you the body to bury."

There would hardly be a body left to bury. Anakin has seen people when Palpatine is done with them, and he won't let that happen to Obi-Wan. It's not a merciful offer anyway, but only an excuse for Palpatine to display what he's capable of. He wants Anakin to see what's left—what he is willing to do.

And Force help him, if he can't find where Palpatine is holding Obi-Wan, that's exactly what will happen.

There should be no conceivable way for this situation to worsen. And, yet, there always is. Anakin should know that by now—he truly should. With Palpatine, the situation can always be worse.

The door to the room whips open: if there were two people he doesn't want in the room at the moment, it would be Satine and his new wife. His wife—she has no idea what Palpatine can do, what he and Anakin destroy when fighting. Their crossfire is not a pleasant place to be. And Satine—he could not want anyone here less: he might as well have just handed Palpatine a way to twist this situation beyond anything that could have previously been imagined.

The threat is clear in the way Palpatine's lip curls, his eyes lighting on Satine predatorily. Satine pauses, stiffens, and looks away—not because she's afraid, but because insubordination will do nothing to help anyone at the moment, least of all Obi-Wan. Anakin knows her—if she has to play at obedience and subservience to help her husband, she will.

His wife pauses also, just behind Satine, but unlike Satine, she doesn't know the intricacies of the situation. She doesn't have a husband who could very well die if this situation goes wrong. Oh, she despises Palpatine, Anakin is certain, but she doesn't know him, doesn't know how vile and cruel he really can be. And this isn't the Senate, where the consequences of decisions happen somewhere far away, out of the direct vision of the senators. If she makes a mistake here, she will see the effects.

"How fortuitous," Palpatine says after a short pause, his face spreading wide in smarmy smile as he views Satine. "We were just discussing your impending widowhood."

Satine does not flinch. Rather, her shoulders remain back, presence drawn up coolly, worn about her like a shawl. She should have been a queen, or at least some sort of royalty—she commands power like someone of that station. Anakin has always admired her for it, and Obi-Wan—it's a large part of the reason Obi-Wan loves her, Anakin's sure.

Anakin steps forward, beckoning to Satine, indicating that she should go to the couch beyond him. He will simply feel better if he's between her and Palpatine. Padme follows her as well, but unlike Satine, her gaze does not remain firmly fixed on the floor or opposite wall: she looks Palpatine in the face.

Foolish, stupid woman. She's not helping Anakin's cause any. He's already got enough of a problem with Obi-Wan—he doesn't need to have to defend her life as well.

And, yet, he's impressed. Whatever her faults—and in his mind, she's got a lot of them—she's no coward, and he can appreciate that.

What he cannot appreciate is how the situation has been further complicated: she already had Palpatine's attention, but now she has his focus as well.

As Anakin watches, Palpatine tactfully slips in front of her once Satine passes, stopping her journey toward the couch. She makes no movement to get around him, but the quick tightening in the muscles of her back speaks of just how little she wants to be in the position in which she's found herself. "So you are my new daughter-in-law," he begins slowly, assessing. "I regret that I was unable to attend your joining ceremony."

Padme merely nods, dark curls bouncing. Her hair is down today, spilling over her shoulders and down her back. "I understand that you are a busy man, My Lord."

Yes, busy. Busy killing and manipulating. Anakin has seen what busy means for Palpatine.

Though, he does have to concede that Palpatine can be charming when he wishes to—and, like now, when he makes the effort, it is nauseating. Yet, Padme bears his emotion calmly, expression remaining unchanged when presented with Palpatine's smile.

"I appreciate your understanding, my dear. I look forward to becoming better acquainted with you." Oh, no doubt. Amidala is a very beautiful woman. "And, please, I would ask that you not judge your surroundings entirely in accordance with this… undesirable business concerning your husband's slave. I am afraid this is something that should have been taken care of long before you came to join us. It truly is a pity that this must be your first impression."

Again, Padme nods, even going to far as to give Palpatine a small bow. "I take no offense, my lord."

Yeah? Well Anakin does, and just what is his wife playing at by doing this? A quick glance at Satine, who is now seated on the couch, reveals equal confusion: it's only visible in the small narrowing of her eyes, the way her hand is just the slightest bit unsteady where is rests on her knee, but it is there. She doesn't know what Amidala is doing any more than Anakin does.

"However," Padme continues after a short pause, "I would request that you reconsider your decision regarding my husband's slave."

The collective shock of everyone in the room is very tangible in the Force.

This… will not be pretty. What is she thinking-?

"Excuse me—" Anakin tries to say, but is effectively cut off by a wave from Palpatine. The man is intrigued. Of course he is. And does Amidala know that's about as safe as intriguing a gundark? She must. So why doesn't she care?

"I believe your wife can speak for herself." Palpatine says coldly, sparing him hardly a glance before turning back to Amidala. "I'm quite certain of it, actually."

Padme darts a look at Anakin, and she—she looks almost satisfied. How—what? Anakin would—he would love to let her know exactly what he thinks about that. She thinks she's winning this? Oh? She has no idea what she's gotten herself into.

"I'm curious to hear your point of view," Palpatine says, eyes searching Amidala's face. It's a gaze so manipulative that Padme can't, Anakin is sure—or he hopes he is—help but understand that at least.

Of course, it's possible she just doesn't care.

"Why would you ask me to spare a slave who took part in a Jedi rebellion?"

Padme gives him a smile so sweet it would be almost unbearably saccharine if not for the steel behind it. Even Palpatine seems to give credit to the underlying strength—his gazes sharpens with interest, and he leans in a few inches closer to her, waiting expectantly. "I have found him to be a great help since coming here."

"Oh?"

She'll have to do better than that. This isn't the Senate anymore. Here, it's just as easy to negotiate with lightsabers and executions, and she'd better be careful, or she'll find that she's set to make her husband a widower at an unnaturally fast pace. Strangely enough, Anakin is… not entirely inclined to want that.

"Yes. He has done much to make me feel at home."

Palpatine chuckles, and the sagging fat hanging on his face wiggles with the motion. Someday, one day those globs of fat will just slip right off the bone—Anakin is sure. He's been waiting since childhood for that to happen. "My dear, while Kenobi can be very charming, I am afraid that charm simply isn't worth the damage that he's caused."

"With all due respect, My Lord, I disagree." And she does—she's daring to disagree, and even if her posture is non-threatening, there's strength in the way she holds herself as the focal point of Palpatine's gaze. "Loyal help—and I don't think you can question Kenobi's loyalty to your son—is difficult to obtain. I find that most people are only loyal when you control something that sufficiently motivates them." She pauses then, shaking her head in seeming regret. "A messy business, but so often necessary, I'm sure you'll agree." At his nod—given slowly, indulgently, as though he offers it only out of curiosity for how she will proceed—she smiles thinly. "Oh, power is always an incentive when others depend on you for their power, but that only goes so far. When the price for gaining power in that manner is outweighed by something else—say the threat of a loved one—that power may not be a sufficient motive. I've seen it often—more often than I would like to admit. How many people have been convinced to betray their leaders for love of a partner or family member? Loyalty—and the power promised with it—will only motivate to a point."

She… said that. She did. Just like that, to Palpatine's face. That's bravery.

Or sheer stupidity.

Either way—whatever it is—Anakin's chest feels impossibly tight. She can't have said that. She can't have. And, yet, she has, and he's impressed, more than he thought he could be by her. She's laid down a gauntlet… Force, two days here, and she's already challenging the Emperor. It's crazy, foolish, absolutely stupid… and Anakin is unbelievably intrigued by her willingness to do it.

Interesting. And helpful.

Maybe Obi-Wan was right.

The small smirk on his face, the narrowing of his eyes—Palpatine is impressed as well, though that's dangerous. What intrigues him, he tortures, pushes to find how much it will challenge him. Intriguing equates a possible threat: and Padme has now registered on his radar.

"I sense a deeper meaning to your arguments, my lady," he answers, folding his hands in front of him as he gauges her response. He is calm, even in manner, right down to his breathing, but in the Force he is tightly shielded… and tight shields mean he is shielding something. Probably anger.

Her mock surprise is clever—sharp enough to seem authentic, but Anakin is really quite tempted to laugh at it. No one would think it was real; and no one would call her on the fact that it's not. "Oh, no, merely an observation, My Lord… though, I'm sure a man as wise as yourself could find a meaning in it."

When Obi-Wan wakes up, he and Amidala are going to get along fantastically. Anakin has never met someone who has a natural-born talent for negotiation quite like Obi-Wan's, but this woman—she's proving that she comes close, maybe even matches him.

Palpatine, for his part, laughs, low and caustic, but interested: behind the genteel face that could belong to a doting grandfather, his mind is obviously churning, evaluating Amidala, considering what she has done here. That at least—the fact that he's thinking—it's enough to give Anakin some measure of confidence that Obi-Wan will, for the time being, be left alone. It's not a reprieve—quite the opposite actually, and while that will have to be explained to Amidala later, in the meantime, Palpatine will let her have her way, giving him the opportunity to consider her further.

And Anakin? He will be given time to plan.

"If he has truly been so helpful to you, my dear," Palpatine continues finally, tucking his hands in front of him again, clasping his fingers together, "I will permit leniency and spare his life… though, I am afraid that he does have information which we will need to obtain. And I must admit, I do worry that my son will… overlook," he pauses, glancing icily at Anakin, "this particular indiscretion."

Overlook? Oh, no, Obi-Wan is going to regret every second of this. But, still, Anakin would very much like to kick something: Palpatine, whether or not he's indulging Amidala, still wants his pound of flesh, and, by the Force, he is good at getting it. "Yes, My Lord," she answers stiffly, because what else can she say? She's gotten the basis of what she wants, and the balance she has reached—it is far too delicate to risk pressing further.

"I am glad that we are in agreement," he replies with a well-mannered nod. No one will ever fault his manners, or the perfect way he bows—he is the consummate politician in manner. But he's evil. Down to the core. And when negotiation fails or he tires of it, he has other means to get what he wants.

And that is why Anakin feels sweat beading on his palms, forming also at the back of his neck. His heart is beating too quickly, tap dancing against his chest, and he doesn't care to stop its accelerated rhythm, because he needs the energy it's allowing him.

Obi-Wan will not tell Palpatine what he wants to know… and that means those other methods will be utilized.

Though Anakin doesn't doubt Palpatine can sense his worry—sheer fear, really—he doesn't acknowledge it, instead turning away from Amidala with a quick sidestep, pivoting with a flare of robes. Someday, Anakin is going to step on those robes and laugh when they tear straight down the back. Not even Palpatine will look dignified in torn robes… or with his head lying on the ground. Anakin's fingers itch at the thought and he hurriedly crosses his arms, lest they somehow develop a life of their own and try to accomplish that goal a little too early. Not yet. Not today. For now, let Palpatine march out of the room, head back, smiling, because he thinks he won—and has, for now. Someday, it's not going to be like that.

"Oh, and, Anakin?"

He doesn't reply. A stare is enough.

"You're deploying. The details will be sent to you shortly."

The door shuts behind him. So does Anakin's mouth, because what can he say to that?

Nothing. And so he will begin packing.