Author's Note:Thank you for your reviews, I am very grateful to receive such lovely feedback. I'm still struggling with the epilogue for this, but I hope to finish it soon, and then maybe postings will increase. I say maybe, because I still have a lot of other stuff to do. Including sorting out my new laptop, which arrived today. Big shout out to Sony, who kindly configured it for me and delivered earlier than I expected. Now I need to understand Windows 8!
In this part I torture Anakin, not physically, but mentally, which is perhaps worse. For him that is, not for me. Naturally Palpatine's words from the last part captured his paranoia, and he is attempting to convince himself that it can't be true. Which its not, yet. Meanwhile, Nineve Jade's role in this deepens, as well as somebody else's. I'm not naming names, as it will destroy the mystery I worked so hard to put in this part. There is a lot that needs to be read into that, particularly the word 'trouble' and some of its old-fashioned meanings. Enjoy.
Part 19: The Fallacy of an Epiphany.
It can't be true, Anakin murmured to himself as he stared at the com device, waiting for the machine to play the briefing from Pais again. He had been repeating those four words silently to himself ever since he left the Supreme Chancellor's residence, followed by another nine he felt sure would convince him, providing they were repeated often enough, that is. He had to mean someone else, some other briefing.
Yet every time he watched the holo, his doubts grew, reducing the voice that uttered those thirteen words to a plaintive whisper. He had a healthy ego, something he was well aware of, though perhaps not as much as his mentors would prefer, one usually stubborn and constant in the belief of her love. However his fears were equally powerful, captured within the hold of that Krayt dragon caged inside his core, fears which were locked in a duel with the voice.
At the moment, those fears were winning.
Innocent gestures that when he first saw them escaped his notice, now held an adulterous significance. Glances away from the camera he now knew were directed at each other. Hands hidden under the large expanse of Alderaanian Kiirn that he now knew were secretly clasped together, or perhaps even caressing their neighbour's thigh. Each repeat of the briefing only served to damn them further in his horrified gaze.
His memory wasn't helping their case either, for it seemed to be deliberately recalling every piece of their past and interpreting it in another, far darker way. Her argument about why they shouldn't have a relationship. Their age difference, which never bothered him until now, was also abruptly rendered as another motive. Admitting her feelings, just before they entered the Geonosian arena, now seemed a deliberate ploy, her certainty that they were going to die there no certainty at all. Both of them were pre-prepared to fight their way out, he now recalled.
The decision of the Council for her to be escorted home by him when he knew that Yoda and Obi-Wan had to be aware of what he felt for her. Neither of them had been discreet after the duel with Dooku and the return to the Temple on Coruscant. And finally her insistence upon a secret ceremony on the balcony of her villa in Varykino, now appeared to be a disguising detail with the aim to placate his insistent pursuit of her.
Their alleged wedding night, in the afterglow of their love making, the look in her eyes he had caught, gone so fast he'd believed it was a product of his imagination, now the key to a truth; one of disappointment. He hadn't satisfied her. But she hadn't helped him to do so either. Which was deliberate, he could see that now. She had wanted the whole business over and done with as quickly as possible so she could get back to Coruscant.
And see him. As the briefing began playing from the beginning once more, Anakin turned his focus for the first time on to his mentor. He recalled all those meetings with the Queen his master had before they left Naboo ten years ago. The mocking conversation they had in the turbolift on their way up to the Nubian residence. His slight turn of the head when Anakin had embarrassed him by trying to give her a compliment. Her put down reply, reminding him of his youth and naiveté. His loss of temper every time Anakin so much as mentioned her name, or affected to care about her.
Everything that had puzzled him before made more sense now he knew the reason behind it all. They were humouring him, using him as a shield for their secret relationship. Distracting those who would disapprove of their love by pretending it was he at fault. Waiting until the reforms in the Order took place, whereupon they would reveal the truth, having no more need to hide their feelings.
Leaving him alone once more. All his life, people had left him. They promised him love, but that love was always false, or it never lasted, someone or something took them away from him. First there was his father, whoever he was, man or the Force, depending on whether he believed Watto, his mother or the Council. Anakin knew that there was nothing which could determine definitively all the way, he never saw his mother with anyone who could have been a possibility. Then Qui-Gon, who swept into his life, bargained away his hardships and showed him off to a larger world. Only to be taken away from him, first by the Council, then by the Sith on Naboo.
His mother, guiding him, protecting him, loving him, until she let him go to achieve his dream, believing he was safely in the hands of a Jedi Master. Anakin knew she had few choices, little to offer him if he stayed with her on Tatooine, but he also had the future she never foresaw, and wondered lately if she had, whether she would have been so eager to let him go. Or whether he would have been so eager to try to become a Jedi if he had known her fate ten years ago.
Obi-Wan cared for him he believed, though now he wondered if that were true, in light of what he had seen in this briefing. He had warm memories of his early Padawan years under Obi-Wan's care, but they were now tainted by the times he disagreed with his mentor, or when Obi-Wan declared that he was disappointed in him. Soured too, by the condemnation, the inability within his master to let him be with the woman he loved.
And now Padmé, who denied she cared for him, then contradicted that vocal denial by showering him with affection from the moment they met. He still remembered her words on the ship on the way to Coruscant when she covered him with a blanket because she saw he was cold. Many things will change when we reach Coruscant, Ani. My caring for you will not be one of them. She lied to him even then, uttering those words while she pretended to be a handmaiden when she was the Queen. Deceived him into thinking they were equals. That everything he dreamed involving them was possible.
For ten years he had kept his word, honoured his vow that they would marry one day. She blushed as she met him in her residence, kissed him on Naboo at her villa, on Geonosis in the arena, at their wedding in Varykino. Yet always her words contradicted those displays of affection, except for that one time. I truly deeply love you. Could he still believe that quiet whisper, when she had denied the truth of those words more often than she said them?
Questions began to form in his mind, as he attempted to deny it to himself once more, wondering how it possible that his mentor, the most code bound Jedi of them all, favourite of Yoda and the Council could do this. It required a deception he had not thought Obi-Wan capable of. Padmé too, though he knew her well enough to realise that she was always concealing something from him. Usually it was to do with her work as Senator, not the affair he now suspected her of having.
He tried to doubt it, he wanted to believe what he now saw was false so desperately, but such determination only continued to convince him that it was so. That they had been having a relationship since Naboo, deliberately deceiving him by pretending to return his feelings, to keep him from realising the truth that the Supreme Chancellor had seen.
What kept him questioning however, was the vague way in which Palpatine had told him the news. Directness was always a penchant of the Chancellor's and Anakin admired the man for it, such a refreshing contrast to the cryptic mannerisms of the Council and his Master. Yet for this matter he had been vague, when Anakin expected him to apologise for noticing the relationship and then tell him about it. He had been direct when he congratulated him about his marriage to Padmé after all. Why had he been vague, unless Anakin was mistaken about which press conference he meant?
It can't be true. He had to mean someone else, some other briefing. Perhaps those thirteen words still had a power over him after all.
But still he continued to watch the briefing, staring into the holo of the three figures until his vision began to blur with threatened exhaustion.
Waiting for a victor within the internal duel between his Krayt dragon and those thirteen words his inner voice was still shouting.
Nineve Jade exited the private residence of her master via the same method that every secret agent or contact of his used; an old abandoned waste disposal tunnel. Situated several metres below ground, the other entry and exit point took her into the heart of the district of Coruscant known as The Works. Inside a disused warehouse, where her ship sat waiting.
Outwardly her stance was professional; the cold hardened, almost military demeanour of a highly trained assassin. Her red gold hair was slicked into a long plait, falling rigidly down upon her back. Her soft skin was encased in a dark emerald jumpsuit, which showed off all her curves whilst simultaneously rendering them unattainable. She walked with a swift, assured pace, her eyes fixed on her destination; the cockpit of her sleek and efficient, heavily equipped fighter, yet always alert, like the rest of her senses, should anyone be waiting in the shadows to confront her.
Inwardly she was fuming.
She thought her master had better respect for her than this.
True, she merited punishment for the failure of her Pais sabotage, but he had no right to force her to endure the indignity of this particular mission. After all, she had never failed him before, there was no reason for him to demote her not just in his eyes but in the eyes of everyone who had heard of her and the power she wielded for her master. Delegating this kind of mission to her was an insult to her intelligence and to her training, forcing her to make use of the disgusting occupation most suspected her of working for on the rare occasions the Sith lord that was her master invited her to some public function.
Not to mention having to sit through his patronising lecture on where she had gone wrong, followed by an equally humiliating talk concerning the details of her next assignment, how he had managed to arrange her indoctrination, as it were, into something which, not only had she learned about years ago, but was an active member of, unbeknownst to her master.
Nor did she plan on telling him any time soon either. He may give her a job, provide her with the means to live, to heal her when she was injured - the last of which had happened to be at his hands, which she had just recovered from - but he did not, nor ever would, own her. She would keep herself independent from his schemes for as long as she could. It would be, perhaps, the only way she might survive them. His opinion on the group he had secured her indoctrination to was laughable, especially when she heard what he wanted her do once she had established herself as a member.
Only now, as she entered the cockpit of her sleek and efficient, heavily equipped fighter, did she begin to fully comprehend how dangerous his plan was. If she obeyed his orders and succeeded in accomplishing what his evil insidiously scheming mind instructed her to achieve, the consequences for the Republic would be devastating. Worse than the violent end that the Clone Wars he previously tried to ensure had in mind. The psychological effects alone held the potential to damage every citizens' morale permanently. His scheme was vicious, subtle, and scandalously gruesome. It contained a malicious streak few of his other plans possessed. Which was why it terrified her when none of his schemes ever had before.
She couldn't help but think that it stood more than a fair chance of actually proceeding as he had foreseen.
If she obeyed his orders. Nineve grimaced as she contemplated that temptation once more. Never before had the possibility of outrightly disobeying him occurred to her. She had seen the punishment he delved to those who rebelled against him. The pain and suffering seared across their mind and body as they attempted to endure it. Hers, earned by the failure of the Pais sabotage had been mild in comparison to some. Few escaped the vicious grip of his sithly power. Even thinking of the word mutiny was liable to penetrate his perceptive and paranoid mind, with dangerous consequences for those concerned. To actually forgo all caution and self-preservation by acting on such thoughts was quite another matter.
But Nineve knew that she had been contemplating such a mutiny from the moment she entered the old disused sewer tunnel. As soon as she felt she was out of the region of her master's questing, sithly mind, free to think of her own thoughts without the possibility of interference or retribution from him. Her chosen destination was an act of rebellion in itself, for her assignment should have prevented her from leaving Coruscant for a long time.
She also knew that this mutiny had been simmering in her brain almost from the beginning of her servitude to the Sith lord. Another by-product perhaps of her determination to survive his schemes and not perish as all his other agents and contacts had before, during and after her. Usually at the wrong end of a lightsaber or his Sith lightning anger. Sometimes with her, or another witnessing, for he liked to have spectators at these events, as their every reaction, whether conscious or unconscious, gave him a sense of pleasurable power.
Imperial assassins, she knew, were only as good as their last kill. Discretion, swiftness, and caution were valued, as well as intelligence and oddly enough, beauty. In a female good looks were deadly, for too often for those who they were sent to kill trusted that their disarming appearance meant that they would never do them wrong. Beauty overwhelmed suspicion, especially when coupled with a haunting vulnerability that spoke of a hard past. An expression which she never needed to fake, for it was acquired naturally by the lifestyle she led. Alone, no friends, many long term lovers with no strings, one master, and a surplus of kills, either by her own hand, or stood witnessed to, in the form of her master's ruthlessly gruesome disposal.
Long term lovers. She chuckled mirthlessly as that phrase echoed in her mind. It was one way of looking at the members of the List she supposed. She was pretty sure that it was how most of the members viewed Coruscant's most notoriously worse kept secret society. A form of relaxation, a break from their complex, career driven lives. Certainly it was the view she first employed when she joined, until one encounter led to something quite unexpected.
She fell in love. She, Nineve Jade, the Sith Lord's Hand, fell in love. Something she never believed was possible. Something she attempted to ensure would never come to pass. Assassins were encouraged to live in isolation. No family, no ties, nothing that allowed them to be traced by anyone who may come after them, especially their employers. The drawback was that such isolation gave you a feeling of loneliness which was so intense, that when you found something which breached the isolation, the intervention was almost as bad as the addiction. Such feelings immersed themselves around you, drowning you, utterly and completely. Once you dived in, there was no way out.
Nineve had tried to resist. Stubbornness had been a character trait of hers for as long as she could remember, withstanding all obstacles, until now. Now that previously hardened will of duracrete withered under the slightest touch or softly spoken word. The feelings within her were even more powerful than the Force. That swirling mass of energy, born of everyone and everything, that bound the universe together, crumbled under one four letter word. Within the power of that word, she was bound, helpless, imprisoned. Something she hated being from the earliest awareness of her existence and swore when her master allowed her to breach the walls to become his Hand, never to endure in her life ever again.
But he was imprisoned just as much as her, and in that lay a certain strength. One she had never known before, and which, she now knew so intimately, that she wondered how she had coped being without such a trait for so long. And that strength grew with each and every encounter, endured each and every moment which they spent apart, giving her the courage to commit acts she had never imagined herself committing. Such as rebelling against the man who practically raised her. The Sith lord who delegated tasks to her that he, in his lofty position could not run the risk of doing himself. Not without being revealed for who he really was, in all his evil, sithly incarnate glory.
That courage was within her now, deep inside of her, encompassing her every step, from the moment her master - that wasn't right, for he wasn't her master, not anymore - dismissed her so casually from his sight, even before. The strength of that four letter word ran deep within her veins, as deep as the forceful energy her former employer taught her to recognise, to harness and use. Now she was using something else, something far more powerful than the forceful energy, yet so startlingly similar in so many ways. One she had never known was within her, that she previously thought herself capable of feeling, even expressing. Until someone else had taught her to realise, to recognise, to harness and to use.
She was on her way to see that someone now. In outright mutiny against her former master, risking certain death when he found out, for he would, he always found out. She should care about that discovery, fear it, having witnessed the deadly mortal retribution it bought many, many times, yet neither cares could touch her. Love had given her that strength, that immunity, that protection. It had given her power, in the way that nothing else, not even the Force, ever could.
For a moment she dwelled on that revelation, her fingers touching controls, firing up her sleek, heavily equipped fighter, her eyes gazing through the view screen, not over the district of The Works, but further, far away, towards the sculptured towers of the Jedi Temple. Did they know, she wondered. Were they even aware of the power which lay in that four letter word they denied themselves through the rigid regulations known as the Code. Like her they had been taught and trained to ignore the strength which could be found in the emotion of that word. For fear that it would damn them, as it once damned their ancestors a millennia ago. A power which had since been forbidden to be recognised, harnessed and used, by both sides, light and dark.
Maybe that was the reason.
He was surprised to receive the coded signal, though his face betrayed nothing beyond his usual reaction to calls of this nature. Unlike most coms from this unique device, it was a violation, for it allowed identification of the caller, in a group where anonymity was a prized commodity. Effortlessly he resumed his previous occupation, waiting for the right moment when he could make his excuses without inviting comment for his doing so. When such a time came, he rose from his chair, and made his way out of the bar, towards the turbolifts.
His journey up to the room was solitary, undisturbed by nothing except his ruminations as to why he was receiving this coded signal now, in light of all that had passed between them during their last encounter.
Coming to a halt outside the door to the room, he tapped the encrypted sequence of symbols which would grant him entry upon the small remote which was encased within the veneer. Once accepted the barrier slid aside, allowing him to enter, closing after he crossed the threshold.
Inside there was no light, save for that which was provided by the surrounding buildings, giving the furniture within a somewhat eerie quality. Silently he let his vision adjust to the muted system, until his eyes could distinguish the silhouette of her curved and slender figure, outlined against the transparisteel.
"I thought you weren't coming back," he ventured carefully, catching her almost desolate expression reflected by the transparent surface before her.
"So did I," she answered, her tone resigned, the words so softly spoken he had to strain his senses to hear them.
For a moment he evaluated her seemingly casual pose, the unusual vulnerability which she was revealing to him. When he finished, he could only reach one, inescapable conclusion. "You're in trouble."
A brief smile, humourless, devoid of joy, but nonetheless beautiful, breached her pained features as she replied. "So are you."
He caught the innuendo in her tone just as she had in his judgement of her. "Why?" He asked, advancing forward from his stance by the door.
There were many ways she could have confided in him, but, as usual, she made him work for the confession, just as she had for every facet of their relationship. "I've left my job."
He knew that could not be the only explanation for her return and her expression, she was too much of a fascinating complexity for that. "There are other jobs."
She shook her head at his seeming incomprehension. "You don't understand."
"Then explain it to me," he softly requested, taking another pace towards her.
For the first time since he had known her, she appeared to be at a loss for words. When she did speak, her response chilled him to his very bones. "My ...boss... if he finds me he will kill me."
Not if he had anything to say about it, he silently vowed to himself. However he knew such a display of commitment would not comfort her. "Everyone dies."
"And anyone with me," she added as if he had not spoken.
Several more paces forward, until he reached the middle of the room. "I'm serious," he replied, his tone warm as he acknowledged her concern for his existence.
"So am I," she returned, her voice firm and unyielding.
Another couple of paces forward as he took note of her response. "Consider me warned," he uttered, his tone deceptively mild.
Whether she caught the meaning beneath his reply was unclear, her next words could have been just as a much a warning to herself as well as to him. "It will be dangerous."
At last he conquered the distance between them, his hands slipping themselves around her waist, bending his head to nose aside her curly scarlet tresses until his mouth could close upon her ear. "Remember who you're talking to."
"How could I forget?" She countered before her eyes closed and a soft moan of pleasure escaped her lips in response to his decision to feast on her skin. "I still have the bruises."
"You wanted that spar, I seem to recall," he reminded her as his assault upon her skin continued. "Its not my fault that you laid yourself open."
Swiftly she turned round in his arms, her gaze meeting his, causing him to cease his previous caresses.
"Seriously, Garen, I don't want to lose you."
"You won't," he solemnly assured her. "Nineve, you're stuck with me."
To be continued...