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Obi-quiet

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  1. I thought this site was dead... left... again... well, let's see if people are still around. ^^; xXx It took him a full half hour longer to reach his racing circuit that night, but between his memories of sneaking out from his previous life and the 3D map he'd downloaded onto his data pad earlier that day, he managed to successfully find a new route. Bleersh immediately informed Anakin that it would be a slow night, and the assembled competitors were scheduled to only race twice. After some internal debate, Anakin decided to lose one of the races (despite it grating on him to do so purposefully) so as to draw a little less attention to himself. The first race had more money involved, so he won that one and lost the second. Bleersh, thankfully, didn't say anything to him other than his usual spiel about the cred chip. Anakin left by a different exit and made sure that his route back to the Temple was hidden, difficult to follow and full of small exit points he could use that other, larger beings would find difficult to exploit. Unfortunately that meant he had to resort to crawling through vents again. He muttered dryly to himself as he moved back through the buildings towards the Jedi Temple that he would know the Courscanti ventilation system better than any droid in existence by the time he reached his sixteenth birthday if this kept up. Fortunately, he got a decent amount of sleep that night and went through his classes the next day in a surprisingly good mood. It took him a few hours to realize and analyze his frame of mind. It couldn't be the racing the night before, he concluded; while winning the one circuit had brought on his usual elation, the loss had soured the whole evening. Despite this, he felt...calm and light, as if a weight had been lifted from his soul, and couldn't attribute it to anything other than his supposed 'therapy' session. He wasn't sure what surprised him more, the fact that his session with the mind-healer had actually helped, or the fact that the difference in his life was so significant that he had actually noticed it. If Healer Girth's sessions would do this to him every time, he would have few problems going back to see him. His group of fellow initiates seemed to enjoy his newly brightened mood, although he could tell that they also found it a bit strange. Still, their reaction to this change was to be even more sociable than normal, but, to his surprise, their actions (which would normally have him repeating a mantra in his head about how he had changed and did not use the Dark Side to crush windpipes anymore) hardly bothered him at all. The end of the second day after Girth's confrontation would have normally ended in a session with Master Xio, but he had asked that they reschedule as soon as he'd gotten his message from Dooku. She had complied to his request that they postpone for a day with some hesitation. Still, he'd been able to convince her (with the excuse of homework) and was then able to focus on his upcoming meeting with the former Jedi Master. He couldn't be more glad that his machinations would give him plenty of time to sneak out of the Temple and finalize preparations for the evening. Meeting with Dooku again would be tricky, but he hadn't been a General in a war or a Dark Lord and second in command of a Galactic Empire for nothing. It had been a while since he'd been required (or able) to go anywhere incognito, and sneaking around was never his style, but that didn't mean he couldn't do it. He couldn't draw attention to himself at the moment, no matter how he wanted to just go in swinging his lightsaber. Not to mention that killing or even purposefully hurting anyone (even Palpatine's bounty hunters) at the moment was something he wanted to avoid. Sith tended to go out of their way to kill and torture and as Vader, the practice had been a rather effective, if perverse, way of relieving stress (at least to begin with, it had lost its potency and become a simple habit after a while). He didn't like the idea of falling back into the pattern. It would make any fall back to the Dark Side that much easier. The sun had almost sunk to the horizon when he slipped out of the Jedi Temple and made for his rented storage shed. It didn't take him too long to collect his mechanical limb extensions. He had made sure to clean them previously and so needed little preparation other than to place them gently into the large shoulder-bag he'd had the foresight to bring. He'd also brought his lightsaber just in case, although he knew igniting it when in a disguise he could only barely run in would allow him to do little more than deflect a few shots and cut through inanimate objects, but that was better than nothing. He made a note to try and learn to wield his saber while in disguise. He'd probably only be able to get some basics down, but it would be better than nothing and it would reinforce the story he'd told Dooku. He'd sneaked out the night before to do some reconnaissance, and now he couldn't help but be glad that he'd been paranoid enough to over-prepare. Dooku had given a time in his message and Anakin had been thankful that he hadn't asked to meet during the day. Getting away would have been far more difficult in that case, and he hadn't given the man any sort of alias he was comfortable with posting on the holoweb to affirm or deny that he could make it to the meeting. The first thing he did after picking up his disguise was travel to and check his planned escape route, scanning for and dismantling any cameras at the necessary points. He left the bag and his lightsaber hidden, grabbed a pre-written note on a folded piece of flimsy and set off towards the intended meeting place in civilian clothes. As he did his best to trod along like any other, carefree child in the universe he found, not for the first time, that he felt immensely grateful for the fact that he didn't have a padawan haircut. He would have had to invest in a wig or two in that case. Actually, he may want to do so anyway as it would give him options if he had to do this again in the future (likely). He filed the thought away as something he would consider at a later date. It only took him a few minutes to get to the proper street. First, he glanced around and opened himself to the Force. It would be difficult to locate anyone in the crowded street, but they had to have a few lookouts in place. It took him longer than he cared to admit, but eventually he found three people in the vicinity located at strategic places above and below the walkway who were giving off a cold anticipation. Whether they were all bounty hunters or assassins waiting for him was irrelevant as he would need to avoid them anyway. With a nod he turned and walked with a now purposeful pace, pausing to consider a few restaurants, as if searching for something. When he reached the correct restaurant, he allowed himself to smile in triumph and rushed inside, bypassing the waiting customers with little thought for them. It wasn't a high-class diner, but it was respectable enough and seemed to be doing rather well that night at least. "Excuse me," he said to the young, probably under-paid host behind a podium. The youth looked down at Anakin with an expression of annoyed confusion, but to his credit, he still responded politely. "What can I do for you?" "I'm here to meet a Mr. Dooku," he said confidently. The host eyed him skeptically for a moment before shrugging. "This way," he said and lead Anakin through the maze of full tables towards a more private area in the back. Once they approached, he saw the Count sitting with a calm air of disinterest as he fingered a glass of wine on the table in front of him. It didn't look like the drink had been touched. Anakin refused to allow any expression but excited anxiousness onto his face as he and the host approached the table. After a moment, Dooku glanced up. His eyes brushed over Anakin for just a moment and he frowned in confusion before he turned his attention to the older boy. "Yes?" he asked. "I believe the other member of your party has arrived," the restaurant host replied. Dooku's frown deepened. "There must be a mistake," he started, but Anakin cut in before he could go on. "He said you'd say that." The Count turned narrowed eyes back to Anakin, probably disapproving of his lack of respect. "Who did?" "Mr. Lars. He gave me a lot of credits to give you this," Anakin said with a wide grin as he held up the note. Dooku didn't move to take it for a moment and Anakin took the opportunity to glance at the wine glass and then back at Dooku. "He said you may want to finish your dinner first though." It would draw less attention if the Count stayed to eat and the Bounty Hunters thought 'Luke Lars' was just delayed. The frown didn't completely leave the Count's face, but the disapproval was replaced with a wary curiosity as he finally reached forward and took the flimsy. Both of the boys watched in silence as Dooku read the note. It informed him that he was being followed and then it had a small, printed map at the bottom that would lead him where he needed to go. For the man's peace of mind, the route went through public roads. It would be up to Dooku as to whether he should follow Anakin after he reached the end of the map, but it was about the best Anakin could come up with with his limited assets in two days. After a moment, the Count re-folded the flimsy and stuck it in his breast pocket before looking up and nodding. "Thank you, young man," he said to Anakin and then turned his gaze back to the host. "Please inform my waitress that I will order now." "Of course," the host said with a respectful nod. "Will he be joining you?" Anakin realized the young man must be referring to him, but he didn't speak. "No, that will be all," Dooku said dismissively. "Yes, sir," the host said again before turning to Anakin. "Allow me to show you the way out." "Okay, thanks!" Anakin put in as much exuberance as he could into his words as he followed the youth back through the restaurant. Now he just had to kill an hour or so. He wondered for a moment when he got onto the walkway outside the restaurant where he should go now. He didn't want to head directly back to the meeting place where he would be waiting for Dooku as the bounty hunters had probably already marked him. If they were watching him, they would be expecting a child who had just gotten a good amount of extra credits, and he had to convince them. He noted a street stall selling some candies and figured that would be a good place to start. He'd always enjoyed sweets as a child, but hadn't gotten them much in the Temple. Eventually the lack of sugar had tempered his taste for sweet things, but he could handle a few treats and perhaps some confections. Not three stores down he could see a sign for a bakery. Nodding excitedly, he ran up to the short line in front of the street vendor and made sure he looked impatient as he waited, shifting back and forth from foot to foot. When he reached the front of the line, he bought something cold and sugary that he thought a child might like. Then he sauntered down the street towards the bakery where he got several sweet rolls and a few other desserts. Then he sat down at the small selection of tables in the bakery to eat and figure out where he should go next. What else did children like? Toys? Yes, toys. That would be acceptable. This area of Courscant dealt mostly with food, but he knew of an entrance to a mall not too far away. It wouldn't be difficult to lose any tails he had in there and double back. Nodding to himself, he finished his current roll before hopping down from the chair and rushing out and into the crowd. A little over half an hour later, after giving the almost full bag of sweets to a random child that had looked down on their luck, he dug his pack out from its hiding place under the stairway where he'd hidden it and quickly strapped his disguise on. Then he stretched out with the Force and waited for Dooku to come. xXx Dooku knew that he'd been tagged and followed since he'd landed on Courscant. He was a Count and a former Jedi. It wasn't exactly unheard of for people to watch high-profile parties such as himself. And if Luke was right and Palpatine was the Sith, he would have expected the man to hire people to watch him. It wasn't anything he couldn't put up with and they hadn't approached him, so he had let them be as well. He hadn't known who they were working for after all, and as long as they didn't do anything, he didn't care. Or he hadn't before he'd gotten the note from a certain former Sith. Your tails are bounty hunters sent by him. They attacked me last time and are likely to do so again if I am seen. If you still wish to meet, follow the map below. LL The logical part of him suspected a trap, but his Force senses remained still. The Force wasn't any more clouded than normal, so he kept his lightsaber handy and followed the map. He only had to check it once or twice before putting it in a pocket and leaving it there. He still had his tails, but the note didn't say anything about losing them, so Dooku figured Luke would take care of it. He frowned at that thought. He'd learned the personal name of the being first, not the surname the child had used (if that was his real name) and so continued to think of the being as 'Luke', but it rubbed him wrong. He wasn't familiar with the former Sith and at the moment, he didn't particularly want to be. He made a mental note to start thinking of the being as 'Lars' instead. Even if it wasn't his real name, it felt better, less personal. He wondered why Luke would introduce himself by only a personal name. Dooku scoffed. It was probably because that name was a fake as well. He'd researched anyone by the name of 'Luke' but there had been hundreds of thousands across the galaxy. Of those, there had been thousands of reported child disappearances (because Sith tended to take children as apprentices so he figured that would narrow down the search results) by that name throughout the Republic as well. He hadn't cared for the statistics both because he had no idea where to begin looking among those results and the fact that there had been so many children... Ahead, he saw his destination and brought himself back to the present. He'd never really let his guard down, but if this was a trap, he'd have to have all of his facilities with him to overcome it. Down a side-street of sorts stood a doorway in an otherwise blank, durocreet wall. It had an electronic lock that required an access code, but Lars had provided that information along with the map. He calmly walked up to the door, entered the code and strode inside, closing the door behind him immediately. "This way," a mechanical voice in the dark almost made Dooku jump. Almost. He hadn't sensed anyone, but now he could see Luke Lars standing at the end of the hall in a turbo lift. "That is terribly convenient for an ambush," Dooku pointed out. Lars didn't say anything for just a moment. Then he spoke again, sounding a little frustrated. "You could have walked into an ambush the moment you stepped through the door. They will be here soon. And I will not be caught." "Why not simply dispense of them?" After all, wasn't that usually what Sith did? Of course, this being wasn't a Sith anymore, so perhaps he wanted to avoid it? "Palpatine undoubtedly has some form of mobile recording or transmitting device on one or all of them. I do not wish to give any of my skills away." It was weak, and Dooku knew it, but he also sensed the real reason had far deeper implications, possibly ones Lars himself was still coming to terms with. It was a sense he got through the Force (because he simply didn't know the other being well enough to get that feeling otherwise). "Very well," Dooku said with a nod. It had been a while since he'd taken a real risk anyway. He wondered what was making him feel so...reckless and (dare he think it) trusting of a former Sith. Jogging down the hallway, he rushed into the lift. Lars pushed the 'closed' button and the floor dropped. Dooku turned towards his companion to ask a question when he noticed that Lars had something in his hand and it was pointed in his direction. "Is that a scanner?" "They may have tagged you." Dooku frowned. Just how amateurish did this being think he was? A beeping from the instrument had him blinking down at the device in surprise. "How?" he asked incredulously. Lars seemed grim. "No matter how good you are, someone is better. There are also such things as lucky shots." "I do not believe in the idea of 'luck'. It is the will of the Force." Lars seemed to study him for a minute before he spoke up. "Have you ever considered that perhaps that there are other unseen forces at work besides the Force? That luck is a byproduct of those forces and the Force agreeing? Or at least not disagreeing, perhaps?" Dooku raised an eyebrow as Lars ran the scanner over his body and stopped at the bottom of the half-cape he wore. Dooku examined the hem as he thought over Lars' question. He was annoyed at himself and his stalkers when he did indeed find a small device. After a few moments, Lars held his hand out, silently asking for the bug. "When you say 'other forces', do you mean a God or another omnipotent being?" Dooku finally asked. The being shrugged his shoulders, studying the transmitter Dooku had handed over. He didn't speak for several seconds and Dooku let it go as he didn't want to start a conversation in a lift ride that would probably end soon (although he'd continue it if Lars decided to humor him). He had begun to wonder exactly how far down the former Sith was planning on letting the lift go. "I wouldn't profess to know," Lars finally answered. "But I do not think the Force is all there is, it is only the most obvious transcendent entity." Dooku cocked his head. "Are you suggesting that the Force is indeed sentient?" He'd heard the suggestion before, but few Jedi accepted the theory as truth. It was actually a rather entertaining debate subject for some of the padawan classes. Lars looked up and didn't answer for a moment. Then he held up the little device. "It's just a tracker, not a listening device and it seems to be the only one they were able to get onto you. It could prove to be useful in misleading them." The Count didn't say anything, refusing to acknowledge Lars' lack of answer. Before he could say anything, though, the former Sith pressed the 'stop' button on the lift and hurried out of the doors when the turbolift halted at the next floor. Dooku followed him into the hallway of what looked like a floor full of old offices. The door closed behind them and Dooku noticed Lars wave his hand. Not twenty seconds after they exited the lift, it continued on its descent without them. The floor they had stopped on held many old but secure offices of various kinds. Dooku could see a worn dental sign hanging from a front desk through the large, transparent windows of a darkened waiting room. From what he could tell, many of the other doors lead to similar businesses. "And what, pray tell, would you recommend now?" Dooku heard himself ask dryly. "I would say we have a few minutes at most before they realize what happened." "Would you be averse to climbing stairs at an accelerated pace?" Lars asked, and Dooku could hear a dry but rueful grin in the distorted voice. Before the Count could answer, Lars had turned to hurry down a hallway. They quickly found the old, drab staircase and used Force-aided leaps to jump several steps at a time. In only a few minutes, they had reached an upper-mid-level where Anakin knew they could hail an air taxi. And that is exactly what he wanted their pursuers to think had happened. Instead of rushing outside, though, he ran into the correct hall, entered the code to a portal immediately to their left, and stepped inside the darkened doorway as it opened. Once the Count had followed him, he turned around and locked the door before taking out an electric light source and activating it. Dooku looked around, surprised and a little impressed. "Droid maintenance tunnels?" He could practically feel the other's smirk of amusement. "Yes. Many people forget that these hallways exist. Once inside, there is little to no security and I have scoured this area already for cameras or bugs of any kind. We can safely talk here." "Impressive." "Simply well planned." "And what would have happened had we met one of my followers while ascending the stairs?" "I would have incapacitated him before he could communicate with the others." Dooku shook his head. "It is rarely that easy." Lars nodded. "I know. I am used to...improvising." "I see." "This way, Count," Lars said after a slight pause as he turned and started down the tunnel. "Droid tunnels rarely have access to other levels, but I do not wish to chance that they will somehow find that door and open it." He gestured with his masked head towards the portal they had just entered through. "Still paranoid, I see," Dooku couldn't help but comment wryly. Lars shrugged. "I am alive." Dooku conceded the point and followed the other man deeper through the long, metallic hallway lined with machinery and droid ports, many of which were full of recharging units. Finally they reached what looked like a room to store old droids and spare parts. Skeletons and half assembled robots had been shoved into corners and the whole room looked utterly filthy between the grease and the dust that lined the edges of the box-like room, where no droid or human had recently stirred it up. Still, Dooku found himself a fairly clean crate and took a seat. Lars did the same after dragging one forward. "Now, Count, you wished to speak to me? Have you found any evidence to corroborate my claim?" At this the former Jedi frowned. "No. Nothing definite in any case. The search remains as difficult as ever. I fear I cannot justify or disprove your theory without approaching the man himself." The other being's fists tightened with a creak of metal. "I see." "I believed you implied that acting at this moment would be detrimental and I wanted to hear your reasoning." He didn't have to be Force-sensitive to know Lars had frowned. "If you acted now, what would you do?" Dooku was finding that his patience for Lars' tendency to answer inquiries with a question of his own waring very thin, especially since he'd already answered this one. "As I said before," he said, proud that he couldn't keep only the barest tightness from his voice, "I would take your information to the Council or before the Senate." "You also pointed out that you need proof, and neither you nor I have any." "You could testify." The being scoffed. "Please. It would be my word against his. Who do you think the rest of the Senate would believe?" "Then I would confront him." "No!" Lars said loudly, startling Dooku with his insistence. After a moment, he seemed to calm down as he shook his head and slumped a little. "You don't understand. Confronting him would only be playing into his hands." "Then we spring the trap," the Count responded firmly. For some reason that seemed to cause Lars to pause and study Dooku fervently. "You disagree?" the former Jedi finally said, once again keeping his feelings of irritation and annoyance out of his voice and off of his face by sheer will alone. Lars must have heard it anyway. "Forgive me. You just reminded me of someone for a moment. "Yes, I do disagree. Palpatine is an agent of darkness. He can twist one's mind almost as easily as the Dark Side itself can. He does his research well and he has a dozen contingency plans in place at any given moment. He is also a master of adapting to new situations. We would be hard pressed to come across a more dangerous man. Simply waltzing into a situation contrived by him unprepared is suicide...in more ways than you can know." Oh? And just what kinds of suicide was Lars afraid of? Physical? No. Social? Doubtful. Mental? Probably, although Dooku still couldn't imagine one man, no matter how powerful, being able to do such a thing to him—a former Jedi Master. Besides, unlike Lars, apparently, Dooku did not consider himself a coward, and if he had to die to bring peace to the Galaxy, then so be it. He had given himself to that cause long ago and Jedi or not, he was not about to change that now. "Are you suggesting we sit by and do nothing?" Lars let out a sigh, something that sounded quite strange and raspy through the voice modulator. "I am simply suggesting we continue to try and gather information on him and then wait for the opportune moment to strike." Dooku shook his head. "I have still found no evidence to indicate that Senator Palpatine is Darth Sidious. I am taking you at your word for all of this. How am I to know you aren't simply misleading me?" And that was what it boiled down to. Dooku was willing to wait for just about anything if he had sure, reliable knowledge about something. He didn't exactly have that assurance here. "Do you have any other leads?" Lars asked with only the barest touch of heat to his voice. Dooku frowned. That was apparently all the answer Lars needed because he nodded, and when he spoke again, he did so more quietly. "You are frustrated because you gave up the Jedi Order for this. I understand more than you know. Believe me when I say, I want to take him down just as badly as you do." "Why?" Lars seemed taken aback by Dooku's question. "What?" "Why do you wish to 'take him down' as you so put it?" Dooku asked nonchalantly, hiding his darker suspicions. "I hear murder is the way to advance in the Sith Order." It seemed to take the other being a moment to realize what Dooku had implied, but when he did he responded with venom. "I don't want his position. As far as I am concerned, we should happily and completely dispose of anything to do with the Sith Order; eradicate the stain from our midst. All holocrons, all artifacts and all but the least detailed of records. "Why would I wish to be rid of him? Disregarding the fact that he ruined my life? Or that he kept me mentally chained for decades? Or that he lied, stole, and manipulated his way into power? Or perhaps you are looking for the acknowledgment that under his rule, billions upon billions of sentients will die and whole planets will be destroyed?" "Quite the impassioned speech," Dooku responded. "But it could still be an act." Lars clenched his fists. Actually, he had put Dooku's fears to rest at least temporarily, but he didn't need to know that. It gave the Count a little more control over the situation. "If you cannot trust my information, then what are we doing here?" Dooku suppressed a slight smile. At least he knew he could get to the being if necessary. He leaned forward on the crate and regarded Luke Lars with a calculating expression. "I wanted to ask you why." "Why what?" Lars asked slowly and, by the sounds of it, through gritted teeth. "Supposing your story is true and your information correct, why did you come with this information to me? I am, after all, a friend of the Senator's, and would probably take his side. Or did you hope to gain an inside ally so to speak? Or is there another reason?" Lars didn't speak for several minutes, mulling over the question. He seemed to have relaxed, and Dooku had little doubt that the being would answer him truthfully. "I came to you because I did not think the Jedi would believe me," he finally said. "You broke away from the order because you disagreed with them on a fundamental level, from what I understand, so I hoped that you would at least hear me out." Dooku raised one eyebrow. "What did you think the Jedi would do to you if you went to them?" Lars scoffed and shook his head. "Besides lock me in the lowest bowels of the Jedi Temple? They would probably have me treated for insanity and they would dismiss my claims completely, believing that they, in all their self-righteousness, could never have missed such an obvious person being the Sith Lord." Truthfully, Dooku had to admit to himself that Lars wasn't wholly wrong. "Very well," he said after a moment. "I have one more question, although it could be classified as more of a speculation. The hints and clues I had found previous to your contacting me seemed to be geared specifically towards me. I believe Sidious was targeting me personally. Would you know why that is?" He could practically feel the other sentience's eyes on him, staring at him incredulously. "Have you honestly not figured that out?" Dooku did have some suspicions, but he didn't particularly like to think about them. He'd been hoping Lars could give him another reason, something he'd missed... "He is looking for an apprentice," the Lars finally said. Dooku managed to hide his wince at the other being's words. "Then he is looking in the wrong place," Dooku replied stonily. "I may not be a Jedi anymore, but I will not turn to the Dark Side and I will never be a Sith." If the Sith were supposed to take over the universe as he suspected, then they would have to do so without Dooku's help. Depending on how they were to act, he may not hinder them, but he would not outright side with them. Ever. To his surprise, Lars just laughed mirthlessly. "Do you find my words amusing?" Dooku asked, somewhat incensed. "Only in the fact that I said practically those exact words on multiple occasions," the being said sadly. His tone was not confrontational in the slightest, instead having a sort of sad wistfulness. Dooku couldn't help but deflate. "In the right circumstances, he could probably turn just about anyone," Lars continued with another shake of his head. "If you do end up meeting him as Sidious, well, I hope he doesn't ensnare you as easily as he did me." Dooku wasn't sure whether to feel defensive at the other being's lack of faith in him or worried at the absolute certainty that Palpatine, as Sidious, would succeed in turning Dooku. It was a sobering (and rather worrying) thought. "On another note, I don't think we will be able to meet on a regular basis," Lars said, leaning back on his crate, "but I believe I would like to try and meet fairly often. I have to admit, I do not often get the opportunity for a good debate and you seem to like taking the stance of the devil's advocate." Ah, so Lars knew that half of what Dooku had brought up had been to simply draw out an opinion from the former Sith. Still, the Count saw the invitation for what it really was: A chance to disillusion Dooku to the Dark Side even more than he already was. Lars was worried he would fall. He felt a flame of annoyance at that, but after a moment's debate, decided to push such useless feelings aside and take the offer. If nothing else, it would make his life here on Courscant more interesting. "Very well," he said with a nod and leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees as he spoke. He had every intention of squeezing as much information out of Lars as he possibly could, and this was a golden opportunity. Force, Lars was practically inviting him to ask about his background, but he figured he would start with something a little more straight forward. "Why do you think all evidence of the Sith should be destroyed? After all, any sentient who does not know their own history is doomed to repeat it." They debated about many different subjects for the next hour, at which time Lars informed Dooku that he needed to leave. They set up a holoweb site and a basic code that would allow them to contact the other if necessary. They then set up a restaurant where Dooku would meet whichever messenger Lars would send and parted ways. Dooku found a turbo lift to take him to a higher floor where he could catch an air taxi as he was more than ready to go back to his hotel room and sleep. He didn't see Lars slip back into the maintenance area. If he would have and if he would have followed him, he may have seen him take off his mechanical limbs, stuff them in a bag and enter the ventilation system with an annoyed mutter. END CHAPTER Notes: A/N: Many, MANY people have said that Dooku's first name is 'Yan', but I have yet to be able to substantiate the claim in any book or published canon. As such, Dooku will continue to be simply 'Dooku' or 'Count Dooku'. It will be his whole name, similar to Yoda or (more appropriately) 'Queen Elizabeth' (okay, I'll bet that someone knows her last name, but I sure didn't off the top of my head). Oh, and I got a note from a rather dedicated reader that they were reading this story without knowing that it is indeed a sequel to my other story 'Hindsight is not Perfect'. This tends to make a LOT more sense if you've read that one first. It's only 11 chapters and a short epilogue, so if you haven't read it, you may want to. ^^; I also want to point out that most ventilation systems really AREN'T big enough for people to crawl through. However, on Courscant they have extremely large, exuberant buildings that have been in circulation for decades if not centuries. For people to get the ventilation necessary for even somewhat comfortable living, I can't see the systems having main tubes that Anakin could crawl through at his current size fairly easily. Let me know what you think, good, bad or otherwise! :)
  2. Looks like I lost all my readers. Ah, well. In case anyone else is following this: Chapter 8 I found it strangely funny that as a Jedi, I could only see the good the Order did and the goals they strove to work towards. From the outside, however, I could only see their faults. Thinking back, I know both must exist, but I have to wonder why I can only seem to see one or the other. Slowly, as if hesitant to move at all, the being reached up and pulled the hood down. The man it revealed was only vaguely recognizable as the man he’d once known. In place of a well-trimmed beard grew an unkempt scruff, which only pronounced the scars marring the left side of his face, even though they were otherwise barely visible over the high collar. His eyes, once a sparkling blue-green, now looked gray and dead. The dark circles under his eyes did nothing to help his image and the hollows in his cheeks spoke of weeks—perhaps months—of malnutrition. His skin had a pale, sallow look to it that did him no favors and his longer hair had been pulled back into a half-hazard nerf-tail that in all actuality did little to hold the once healthy hair away from his face. They stood, staring at each other for several minutes before Mace spoke. “I see you escaped,” was all he could say. Obi-wan snorted. “Don’t tell me you believed that drivel too.” Mace knew his frown would be particularly grim, but found little motivation to change it. “We wanted to believe it because it was better than the alternative.” Obi-wan shook his head. “While I appreciate the benefit of the doubt, there are so many problems with that statement that I don’t know where to begin.” Mace’s frown deepened and he folded his arms, not bothering to put his lightsaber away. From the glance Obi-wan shot it, he hadn’t forgotten or dismissed this fact either. “What happened, Obi-wan?” he asked as gently and placatingly as he could, simultaneously forcing his wariness to the back of his mind, but not dismissing it fully. Something was horribly wrong here and his instincts had saved him too many times for him to dismiss them outright. The other man’s smile held no mirth and he slumped ever so slightly. “I became attached.” For all of his training, it took everything inside of the Jedi Master to not cringe at the answer. This was not going anywhere Mace had hoped it would. When the older man didn’t speak, Obi-wan continued, sounding frazzled and defensive but resigned at the same time. “I tried not to. It was a monumental effort, really, but no matter how often I banished my feelings to the Force, they never completely left me.” He brought up one hand to rub the bridge of his nose. It was such an Obi-wan-like gesture that Mace couldn’t help but relax just a little. “To whom?” he asked, wanting to keep Obi-wan talking. Obi-wan shot him a dry glare. “It isn’t obvious?” It was. It had been for quite a while, but Obi-wan had handled it so well that everyone had turned a blind eye, believing the matter to be in hand. Mace’s lips thinned but he didn’t say anything, choosing instead to allow this man to keep what dignity he still had. “That’s not why I said what I did just now, though,” Obi-wan spoke softly, but the weariness had vanished from his voice and countenance, replaced instead by determination and something darker—desperation perhaps? Mace wasn’t sure and he couldn’t get a decent read on the emotions through the Force. The darkness seemed to cloud everything like static over a comm channel. “Then why did you?” he finally responded. Obi-wan frowned at him, looking—even in all of his strange clothing and for all of his youth—like a Master about to scold a padawan. “You shouldn’t treat Anakin like that because it’s driving him away from the Order, and consequently away from the light.” Mace scowled a little. “He needs to learn how to handle criticism.” A flare through the Force as Obi-wan’s eyes narrowed confirmed Mace’s suspicions. He suddenly felt weariness himself, although he did his best to hide it. “So you wish to drive him to the darkness then?” Obi-wan asked, his voice a cold but somehow still burning anger. Mace wanted to sigh—to give a physical outlet for his sudden exhaustion. This was nothing like the calm, controlled knight that they’d considered for the Council. Again, the older Jedi said nothing and remained as stoic as a statue while Obi-wan stood there with his fists clenched. After a moment, the other man closed his eyes and forcibly relaxed his body before speaking again. “The darkness wants him, Mace. If he does not stay rooted in the light, the dark side will claim him. I know you know this.” “How do you know it?” he couldn’t help but ask. He may not be one to unnecessarily state the obvious, but he also was not one to beat around the bush. He had to get a definitive answer on this before he could take it before the Council. “With Anakin’s raw power? How could it not have set its sights on him?” Mace shook his head. “If he is the child of the prophecy then we have nothing to worry about.” “And if he isn’t?” Obi-wan returned. The Council member blinked, surprised. “You don’t think he is?” Obi-wan’s lips thinned. “We cannot know for sure. Yes, he is the most powerful and one of the most talented Jedi to ever come through the Temple, but that does not mean he is The Chosen One. And even if he is, how can we possibly know how the prophecy is meant to play out? Haven’t you always said that we should never take any being’s allegiance for granted?” He brought up a good point, and something about that made Mace extremely uneasy. He made a mental note to explore it during the meditation session later. He hadn’t ever truly come to accept young Skywalker as a Jedi in his own right, but he’d never questioned the boy’s alignment. Perhaps he should be more careful with him in the future? But then he wasn’t sure just how he could be. Yes, the boy was a ticking time-bomb in Mace’s opinion, and it was only a matter of time before he exploded—but Mace (and indeed none of them masters as far as he knew) had ever even entertained the idea that Anakin might turn. It became yet another point for Mace to bring to the Council’s attention. And speaking of, there was something else about that general train of thought that he had to keep probing as well. “We seem to have taken your own alignment for granted,” he said, unwilling to let this go without a definitive answer. Obi-wan couldn’t keep dodging it forever. Obi-wan drew himself up and back, his actions instinctively defensive. Then he deflated and looked away. “Sadly, yes.” And those few words drove a vibroblade through Mace’s heart. He made a mental note to make sure he had released it all to the Force later. He was not looking forward to the meditation session all of this would bring about. He had an awful lot to come to terms with and consider at this point in time. He closed his eyes and found himself turning his head away too, unable to look at the person who had once been a friend and close ally. “Please, Mace,” the other man pleaded. “You have to do everything you can to help Anakin…because I can’t anymore. He needs people he can trust and rely on.” And something about all of this seemed awfully two-faced. Why was Obi-wan working to keep Anakin light if he himself had given into the dark? Mace had met fallen Jedi before, and they always seemed to want people to join them in the darkness. He had always chalked it up to the old adage that misery loves company. So why was Obi-wan different? Then realization struck him, connected the pieces in his mind and painted a picture he almost kicked himself for not seeing before. It simply boiled down to the fact that Obi-wan cared for the boy that much; that the former Jedi’s affection—that which he suspected had dragged the man down, in a strange sort of duplicity, currently transcended the darkness. The very idea seemed so foreign to Mace, but so obvious now that he looked and he had to wonder how they had all missed it. Obi-wan would do anything for Anakin. Even fall to darkness. And also, apparently, fight the darkness off, even if his attempts seemed futile at best. Mace scowled at the thought and began to realize just what the fallen Jedi was asking. “I won’t coddle him. He needs discipline, not some corruptible form of affection.” Because by Obi-wan’s admittance, he wasn’t sure how long that attachment he’d seemingly embraced would remain unclouded. They both knew it was only a matter of time before that too was twisted by the darkness. And then the iciness returned to the other’s eyes. “There is a difference between discipline and resentment.” Mace narrowed his own eyes in warning. “We treat him no differently than any other Jedi and we do not resent the boy.” Instead of the outburst Mace had expected, Obi-wan deflated again and sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose as he hunched beneath an invisible weight. “The sad thing is you actually believe that.” “Obi-wan,” the older man said, his voice low and hard. The former Jedi ignored the tone and continued. “You expect so much from him and give nothing in return. You don’t trust him and he knows it, so why should he live up to your expectations?” “He hasn’t earned our trust!” Mace returned a little more heatedly than he would have liked, although he still had control over his emotions and actions. The look Obi-wan shot him could have sucked Kamino dry. “And just what would it take for him to earn it? Because he will never be the Jedi you want him to be! He has always and will always be his own man, for better or for worse. Why is that so wrong?” Mace had to make a mental effort to not shift under the younger man’s intense but calm and steady gaze. That was another thing that seemed so different about Obi-wan. Most of the other fallen Jedi Mace had studied and come across were so full of rage and hate, each wanting to drag down and drown every spark of light around them. They didn’t think beyond basic plans and let their emotions get in the way of coherent, logical thought processes. So why could Obi-wan return his arguments so firmly and with such a clear head? He hadn’t even been at a master level when he’d left (approaching it, but not quite there yet), which had been the reason they figured Dooku had been so calm most of the time. Still, Mace had always been one to stand by his opinion, and he was not about to back down now. “If he cannot conform to the ways of the Jedi then perhaps it would have been better if we’d found other arrangements for him when he first came to us.” Obi-wan just stared at him coldly. His emotions fluctuated so quickly it was difficult for Mace to keep up with them, and the fact that he had to try with Obi-wan of all people was more than a little disconcerting. “And therein lay the problem. He doesn’t fit the cookie-cutter mold you set up for him and so you refuse to handle him—to think outside the box and accept him for who he is. Because he is a good man, a good warrior and a good Jedi, no matter what you believe.” “This coming from one who has fallen to the darkness?” Mace shot back. Obi-wan’s expression turned troubled but thoughtful. “Perhaps it is something that can only be seen from the outside.” Then his face hardened. “Regardless, if you do not give him something to keep him rooted to the light, then the Sith will claim him. He can either save or destroy you. Those are your choices. If you choose the latter, then the fault will lie with you.” “You should know better than to threaten us,” Mace said, unfolding his arms and bringing his lightsaber to bear, although he had yet to ignite it. “It is no threat,” Obi-wan stated, his features a mask of frosty stone. “The Sith we have all been searching for is sitting on Courscant in the Senate and knows my padawan quite well.” “Your former padawan,” Mace corrected, more as a stalling tactic than anything else. He didn’t know quite what to make of the information. It was something Dooku had stated, insisted upon, actually, but they had chalked that up to him sowing discord. Somehow that seemed below Obi-wan at this point, but Mace had no proof one way or the other, and he couldn’t very well take his former ally’s word for it. Oblivious to Mace’s thoughts, Obi-wan responded. “And yet you refuse to take responsibility for him.” His words sounded simultaneously aggressive and defensive. It took Mace a heartbeat to backtrack his mental train and he managed to pull himself back to the present. This was no time to get lost in thought. “I won’t let you twist this against us,” he shot back. The expression that washed briefly over Obi-wan looked so stung and sad that Mace almost took it back. Almost. But then the cold anger returned. “I am beginning to see why Dooku considered the Jedi to be blind.” “We’re not the blind ones.” “And yet you’ve been complaining about how the dark side has clouded everything.” “That doesn’t make us blind.” “Perhaps not, but it does make you afraid.” And then there was a glint in the other’s eyes that scared Mace more than anything else he’d said the whole conversation. That was when he ignited the lightsaber, although he continued to hold it in defense. Almost as if in a trance, Obi-wan ignored it and took a step forward, never once bringing his own weapon out. “That’s it,” he said, voice somehow lighter and heavier than Mace had ever heard it, and he couldn’t truly pin why he recognized the tone as such. “That’s how he’s doing it.” “What are you talking about?” the Korun master asked as he took in his surroundings once more. There were more than enough exits if he had to retreat, and they had enough room to duel, even if only barely. “It’s how he’s controlling everything so well…he’s using your fear.” “What fear?” Mace returned. “When has the Council or any of the Jedi made a decision out of fear?” “Your fear of Anakin,” Obi-wan went on as if he hadn’t heard. The expression on his face seemed almost exultant, as if he’d suddenly made a connection and figured out some secret to the universe, although there was the dark defensiveness that never left his eyes. “We do not fear the boy,” Mace insisted. “Your fear of the future…” This was getting frustrating. He never had liked being ignored. “Your fear of the Sith—of the dark side in general—” “Fear and avoidance are not the same thing,” the council member defended. Obi-wan took another step forward, his eyes clearing and focusing on Mace. What he saw there made his heart skip a beat. The lifelessness had faded and although his eyes were still the gray-blue, Mace could swear he saw a yellow tint in there. His lips had also gained a sort of elated, almost intoxicated smile. “No, they are not, but one is born of the other.” “Avoiding a situation does not mean we fear it.” And why did he have to try so hard to keep his voice steady? He was speaking the truth, not Obi-wan! “True. But avoidance is most often born of fear—and if it is not, it breeds fear.” He glanced away for a moment and Mace found he could breathe more easily. “How could we have missed this? Have the Jedi grown so complacent that they cannot see their own fear?” And somehow that line seemed to bring the tension that had risen in the room plummeting down to manageable levels again. “You said we,” Mace couldn’t help but point out, lowering his blade ever so slightly. Obi-wan blinked and glanced up at him again. “Pardon?” “Before, you said ‘you’, as if you don’t consider yourself a Jedi anymore, but just barely you said ‘we’ as if you do.” And the sadness returned, smothering the intensely frightening spark in the other’s demeanor. “Old habits die hard, apparently,” he muttered. Then, for the first time in quite a while, Mace decided to take a chance on someone. He debated it, and the logical part of his mind screamed at him to not do what he was considering, but a part of him knew that while logic might help in this instance, a show of faith would do far more than anything else. So he deactivated his lightsaber. Instead of continuing to advance, Obi-wan took a step backwards, looking down at Mace’s weapon and then back up at his face in confusion. Part of that expression plainly told Mace that Obi-wan thought the Council Member had lost his mental facilities. “Obi-wan,” he said slowly, “come back with me. Let us help you.” This time, the expression the other man shot him looked so conflicted Mace didn’t know what to think. He definitely saw longing there, but also sadness and resignation and was that anger? Indignity? Resentment? Whatever the expression, it was so intense it took Mace back. “I can’t, Mace.” The older man frowned. That made about as much sense as the rest of the conversation had—which is to say, almost none. It was obvious at least a part of Obi-wan had wanted to take him up on the offer, so why…? He decided to ask. “Why not?” Obi-wan looked down at his right hand, opening it and closing it slowly, as if he were trying to grasp at something he couldn’t quite reach. “There are things I have to do,” he said. “What things?” To that, Obi-wan shook his head and looked up at Mace again. The lifelessness had returned. The older man wasn’t sure which he preferred, the deadness or the intensity that bordered on insanity. “I can’t sit by and watch him destroy everything, Mace. It’s the only instance that could ever be worse than this.” Mace let out a breath of his own and shook his head. Somehow, he really didn’t want to say what he knew he had to say next. “Obi-wan, I can’t let you go. You know that.” The smirk the other man shot him was nothing but pure Obi-wan, and it reminded him so strongly of the Jedi the man used to be that the Council Member almost chalked the recent conversation up to a bad dream. “You won’t have to. Beware of the Chancellor. He is more than what he seems.” And with that he was gone. Blinking, Mace darted after him, chasing him out into the streets, but Obi-wan had somehow gotten the jump on him and was no where to be seen. Reaching out with the Force, he could not find a trace of the man’s signature at all. He even went so far as to jump to the roof of the building and do a quick search of the surrounding area, but to no avail. Mace sighed. What had the man meant by that? The Chancellor was more than what he seemed? How could that be? He couldn’t be hiding that much from the Jedi…could he? As his mind continued to look into that thought and pick it apart, he turned to finish his patrol and report this encounter to the planetary police. Perhaps they could capture Obi-wan as he tried to get off planet (no he didn't really believe that, but everyone could get lucky). Mace knew that he would also have to catch up to Skywalker. Hopefully the boy hadn’t gotten into more trouble. That thought seemed far less annoying than it had before, probably because of how insignificant Mace’s petty thoughts looked next to everything that had just been dropped into his lap. He couldn’t help but be well aware that he had to bring his recent, unwelcome discoveries before the Council. And only the Council. This was not Senate business now that Obi-wan was no longer a General in the army, so they would not take it before the Chancellor. They couldn’t risk the Sith getting a hold of this, and if there was even the smallest possibility that Obi-wan was right… The Council meeting that would result from this would probably be the only thing more draining than his upcoming personal meditation session. xXx It really wasn’t that difficult to get away from Mace. All he really had to do was find a hiding place and then concentrate on suppressing his Force signature. Obi-wan had no doubt that Master Yoda could have found him, and maybe a handful of other Jedi he could think of off the top of his head, but Mace was still at a level where, as good as he was, he could still be fooled if one knew how to go about it. He waited for several minutes, until the Jedi Master’s own signature had faded, before he crawled out of the small cubby-hole in the side of the old building. It was practically invisible from the outside and while it had its share of unpleasant creatures and decades of build up, it had served its purpose of hiding him rather well. Brushing himself off, he made a mental note to take a shower as soon as possible, and maybe pick up a change of clothing. He was getting tired of just washing these and having nothing else but his old Jedi Robes to put on. He paused and looked around the empty street before turning to go back into the building he’d only just vacated not fifteen minutes previously. Before he left the planet, he had something he needed to address. He came into the room he’d confronted Mace in and paused, folding his arms as he listened to the Force currents. Yes, it was subtle, but he had not been mistaken. His pride suddenly shot up several notches. Anakin had grown. “You can come out now,” he said, unable to hide the amusement in his voice. Although part of him felt indignant that he and Mace had been overheard, most of him still felt that growing bubble of pride. Anakin had been there for who knew how long and Mace hadn’t sensed it at all. If Obi-wan didn’t still have a vague connection to the boy, he wouldn’t have known himself. A ventilation grate near the ceiling suddenly crashed to the ground and Obi-wan watched calmly as Anakin dropped out of it, landing in a ready crouch, even if he looked about as conflicted as Obi-wan had expected. One thing he could see in his padawan’s eyes was betrayal, and suddenly it became extremely hard to breathe. He made sure that he didn’t show it, but he could also feel his cheeks flush ever so slightly with embarrassment and shame. He thought he’d been ready to face Anakin, but at that moment he really just wanted to die and melt into the ground because Anakin shouldn’t ever look at him like that—and hadn’t that been why he couldn’t actually say anything back when he’d woken up on Haadrian? It took what felt like an eternity to get his emotions back in check enough that he could speak clearly. “How much of that did you overhear?” “Enough.” Well, this would be fun. He wondered when he’d started to sound so sarcastic even to himself. He stood a little too rigidly as fear of what his padawan—his son and brother and best friend—would do now keeping him firmly in place. He could feel his fingernails digging into the palm of his hand, even through the gloves he wore. And then the familiarity of fear beginning to melt into that ever oppressing and yet somehow freeing anger. NO! He would not let himself act harshly towards Anakin, because he was more afraid of what he could do—what he would do—to the younger man if he allowed his temper to get away from him. He could have sworn the Force seemed disappointed that he had reigned in his anger, almost nudging at him with that ever tempting allure of power… “I know what you’re thinking,” Obi-wan said neutrally, trying to distract himself from his previous train of thought, although his fists clenched almost as hard at the new one his mind had so suddenly latched onto. “Really?” Anakin asked skeptically, his hand hovering just above his lightsaber. “Yes. You’re thinking ‘he was right’.” That took the boy of guard. “Who?” Anakin asked warily, his defensiveness kicking up a notch but doing nothing to hide his confusion. Oh, he really was too easy to read. “The Chancellor.” At that, the young Jedi’s eyes grew wide. “H-how did you know?” Obi-wan sighed. Sometimes he hated being right. “Because that’s what I would have done in his shoes.” Anakin blinked owlishly at him. “In…his shoes?” The older man watched his former apprentice for several seconds, scrutinizing him. Then he shook his head. “You’re not ready to hear it. You may want to avoid talking to him in the future, though. The Sith Lord can hear everything you say to him.” At least that had the desired result. Anakin paled. “You mean, he has the office bugged?” Obi-wan resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “From a certain point of view,” he said with a shrug. They sat there in a thick silence for several minutes before the former Jedi turned to walk out. This was not going well, and he wasn’t sure how much more pressure and reminders of the past his psyche could take before it snapped. It was a minor miracle that it hadn’t already. “You should return to your duties,” he said softly “M-master!” Anakin stuttered out. “Wait!” And for the life of him, Obi-wan couldn’t stop himself from doing as the boy had asked. “I’m not your master anymore, Anakin,” he said. Then he chuckled mirthlessly as a thought occurred to him. “Now you can look up to real Jedi without me getting in the way.” “Not likely,” Anakin returned, seeming to have gathered his wits. “You said it yourself: they don’t trust me and they fear me.” Obi-wan looked over his shoulder at Anakin. “You are impulsive, reckless and you rely on your heart over your head. You go against everything they have ever been taught to believe and they don’t know how to treat you because of it.” He smiled sadly. “Not to mention you’re just as afraid of them as they are of you.” Predictably, Anakin bristled. “I’m not afraid of them!” “Oh?” Obi-wan inquired, turning to face him and folding his arms derisively. “What do you want more than anything else in the universe, Anakin?” The question seemed to take him off guard again, and that bothered Obi-wan. It suggested a recent change in some status quos… “To be a Jedi, of course,” Anakin finally responded, thankfully with the answer the older man had expected. He still made a mental note to study that out later. “And who has power over that decision?” This time Anakin didn’t answer, obviously not happy about walking into the verbal trap Obi-wan had (rather blatantly in his opinion) set up for him. “You see?” Obi-wan said, waving a hand in invitation. “They hold power over your future, and as you feel you cannot trust them, that scares you.” “I’m not afraid of them,” Anakin said stubbornly. Obi-wan felt his lips thin. “Anakin, it isn’t wrong to be afraid of them, but even if you do not desire to be afraid, the sooner you admit to yourself that you are, the sooner you can overcome it.” “Why should I listen to a man who gave into his fears?” Anakin shot back defensively. Obi-wan visibly recoiled as that shot through his heart. He hadn’t expected Anakin to hurt him that badly, even in anger. Then again, he himself had done some pretty despicable things out of anger alone recently. He felt the darkness well inside of him, encouraging him to fight back, but he held himself in check. This was Anakin. The best thing he could do right now was retreat before he said something he regretted. “Goodbye, Anakin,” he said and turned again. “Master, wait! I’m sorry…I didn’t mean—” “Then maybe you should think before you speak for once in your life!” Well, so much for not regretting what he said. He glanced back again to see Anakin drawing into himself and sighed as he mentally kicked himself. “You have my apologies as well, Anakin,” he finally forced himself to say. He didn’t really feel it, but he couldn’t leave it like that. “It is no excuse, but I am not exactly at my best right now. What patience I used to have has been greatly reduced and I tend to be far more impulsive and I regret far less than I should.” He turned towards his former padawan once again, opening his arms and holding the palms of his hands forward in an open gesture. “Take a good look, Anakin. This is what the dark side does to you. It takes every scrap of goodness you ever had and twists it. Every good memory, every good intention, every drop of love. You may not be able to imagine it now, but it takes everything that is you away—all in exchange for power. “I know power appeals to you. You seem to think that because you are powerful, you deserve more. You deserve better ranks or more leeway. Being a Jedi is not about power, Anakin. It never has been, and as long as you continue to focus on power alone, you will never be the Jedi you could be.” Anakin shuffled his feet nervously. The gesture made him look more like the 9-year-old that had come to the temple all those years ago instead of the man he had become. “You don’t think I can ever be a Jedi anyway.” And this time, Obi-wan couldn’t help but roll his eyes. “No, I said you will be an unconventional Jedi that will never fit the mold as it is right now. I never even implied that you should do otherwise. I still think you can be the best Jedi the universe has ever seen.” Anakin looked up uncertainly at his former Master and Obi-wan suddenly became aware of how easy it would be to tear the boy down right then and there. If Palpatine saw this every time Anakin went into his office…he shoved the thought aside before it could summon any more anger. He would not lose control around Anakin. Not now, not ever. He’d rather die. “You do?” There was a tone in the other’s voice that Obi-wan did not like. “Do you honestly think I could have said that if I didn’t mean it?” Obi-wan asked, his tone casual but eyes studying the boy again. “I guess not.” Sometimes he could swear his padawan took ‘frustration’ to a whole new level. And he really couldn’t deal with that right now. “You really should go, Anakin,” he said and made to leave for the third time. “Master,” he said again. Obi-wan suppressed a sigh. “What is it now, Anakin? And please stop calling me ‘master’.” Anakin looked at his feet. “I…uh…” he glanced at Obi-wan and then looked away again. “Any day, now, Anakin.” The impatience in his voice was all too clear to him, and he was sure Anakin caught it too. Still, the boy didn’t back down. It was something he’d always admired in his padawan…former padawan. “H…have you joined the Sith?” Obi-wan had seen that one coming. Actually, he was surprised that it had taken Anakin this long to ask. “No. I’ll admit I’ve turned from the light, but I will not join that man.” Anakin bit his lip as his brow furrowed. “You sound like you know who he is.” Obi-wan couldn’t help his darkening expression. “I have my suspicions.” “Who?” This time Obi-wan’s smile seemed fond, almost reproving. “I’ve given you all the clues, Anakin. You’ll have to figure that one out on your own.” Again a pregnant pause fell between them as the younger boy thought over that. Then Anakin seemed to gather his courage. “Why won’t you come back?” the boy blurted. “I’ll be there to help you. I’m sure you can come back if we could just—” “No,” Obi-wan said abruptly, suddenly feeling old beyond his years. “I can’t.” Anakin paused, looking confused. “Why not?” he sounded so unlike the Anakin Obi-wan had always known; unsure and wary and disbelieving… Obi-wan looked away again, feeling the shame wash over him, no matter how he tried to keep it back. “Do you honestly think I want to stay like this? If I could return to the light again I would do so in a heartbeat." “Then why—” “I can’t, Anakin. I’ve tried,” Obi-wan cut in. He couldn’t bear hearing that question come from the person he cared most for. “I’ve never stopped trying but only the dark side answers me. The light…wants nothing to do with me anymore.” And suddenly he felt so vulnerable and he hated it. His mind screamed at him to retreat, but he couldn’t seem to make his feet move. “But…” Anakin started before fading off, genuinely confused. Obi-wan knew what he was trying to ask. “You know the teachings, Anakin. Once you start down the dark path, it will forever dominate your destiny. It entraps you and enslaves you and takes away any choice you thought you ever had. There is no going back for me. I chose this, Anakin. It may have been just a moment, and I may have felt that I had no other choice, but I made a conscious decision. This…this is my fate now.” “But, that doesn’t make sense,” Anakin said, still puzzled. “Why doesn’t it make sense?” Obi-wan asked, not liking how tight and weary his voice sounded. “Because,” the padawan said, still seeming to be lost in thought, “when I kil...” he suddenly cut off and his eyes widened as if he just realized what he had been about to say. Obi-wan felt his blood turn to ice and he turned a hardened gaze on the younger man. “When you what?” he asked, more than a little warning in his tone. It was Anakin’s turn to look away in shame. “Nothing, Master.” “Oh, no, you don’t,” Obi-wan shot, unable to keep the ever growing anger from his voice. “Who did you kill?” Anakin rarely acted ashamed, and usually when he did…yes, there was the anger. Obi-wan’s stomach suddenly sank. He was seeing in Anakin what he went through multiple times a day recently. “You didn’t tell me any of this! You just ran off and left everything behind! You didn’t tell me where you went or what happened and I had to find out everything by overhearing you arguing with Mace Windu! You won’t even tell me what happened to turn you and you expect me to tell you anything?!” Anakin growled. Obi-wan wanted to rush over and shake the boy until he saw sense, and he wanted to strangle him until he confessed everything…and he couldn’t help but realize yet again just how different that was from what he used to be. Obi-wan had always been a ‘live and let live’ kind of person. He hated seeing people in pain and always did everything he could to help, but if they refused his offers, he never pushed further. Somehow, though—he suspected it was due to his recent insights into anger and the dark side—he knew that this was not a time to back away. So he forced himself to remain calm and think rationally. Anakin always had learned by example. If he saw someone else do it, he would almost always be able to copy and remember whatever he was learning. Oh, he did not like where this was going. “You have a point,” Obi-wan said finally, having to pour every ounce of self restraint into not saying it through clenched teeth. “Very well, I will tell you what happened and why I chose this if you tell me about what happened on Tatooine.” It wasn’t his usual method of speaking to Anakin—treating him like an adult he didn’t act like didn’t strike Obi-wan as a wise plan, but then his normal methods didn’t often work either. Not anymore. Seeing his former padawan as he did now, he wasn’t sure they ever had. Anakin started defensively at Obi-wan’s words. “How did you know it was on Tatooine?” Obi-wan scoffed disdainfully. “Did you honestly think I wouldn’t notice how you changed after that mission?” “Then why didn’t you ever say anything?” The former Jedi shook his head as the weariness (and bitterness) returned. “I wanted you to come to me. I wanted you to trust me. I wanted you to tell me on your own, and I was naïve enough to think that you actually would.” Anakin had the good grace to look abashed. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, he glanced up at his master uncertainly. “You promise you’ll tell?” Obi-wan wanted to roll his eyes again. There had to be a serious developmental issue somewhere if his padawan had such problems with growing up. “Yes, Anakin. I promise.” Again, Anakin frowned. “You go first.” Obi-wan’s stomach clenched again but he nodded firmly and thought about what he could possibly say. He did not want to go back and relive the experience that had led to his fall. He had spent weeks repressing the memories and he was afraid of how angry they would make him. But he’d promised Anakin, and somehow he knew that this would be a shattering point (for good or bad he could not say) for the younger man just as much as it would be for him. So, finally, he just opened his mouth and began to speak. “I’d had enough,” he said. “She was torturing you, she had already tortured me…and I couldn’t take it anymore.” And here he was showing his weakness to his padawan, and it went against every single instinct he had. Padawans needed to see their teachers as strong people they should look up to…but then, he wasn’t a Jedi anymore, and Anakin needed to know that too. He hadn’t been joking when he’d told Anakin that he needed to find another role-model, one who was actually worthy of his respect. “I had to save us…so I stopped fighting it,” he went on, feeling that well of shame rise inside of him and begin to overflow again. “I wasn’t strong enough.” And what was he supposed to say after that? He thought for a moment, but nothing came to mind, so he continued with the story. “Once I let the darkness in, I was able to free us and took Ventress by surprise. I was able to obtain one of her lightsabers and killed her.” Anakin looked at him skeptically. “Okay, that makes some sense. But there’s no way you could have dueled her in the condition you were in,” he said, folding his arms. “There’s something you’re not telling me.” Obi-wan clenched his jaw. It was getting increasingly more difficult to control his temper. But he had promised…kriff it. And since when did he even think such uncouth thoughts? Perhaps he’d been hanging around riff-raff for too long. Reluctantly, he expounded. “She went to attack you and I managed to take her by surprise. I don’t think she realized my physical limitations didn’t impede my connection to the Force. I…used it to choke her,” he managed to say, although he was sure Anakin heard the suppressed anger and hatred in his voice. “You Force-choked her?” Anakin asked, the expression of surprised disbelief back on his face. “I believe that is what I just said,” Obi-wan growled, unconsciously clenching his fist and then continued. He really just wanted to get this over with. “After that, I enlisted one of the other prisoners to help me carry you to the ship.” Anakin frowned again, although the stunned expression hadn’t quite left his face. “Where did they go?” “They stayed on the planet,” Obi-wan said as he rubbed the bridge of his nose. “You didn’t kill them?” Obi-wan looked at Anakin incredulously. “Of course not, Anakin. I would never kill an innocent in cold blood. Even now I can claim that I have not done so.” “What about the clone trooper you were captured with, the one you told me about when we were in that cell?” The former Jedi blinked at the younger man. He’d completely and utterly forgotten about the arc trooper that had been taken with him. Where was the man now? Still stuck in Ventress’ dungeons somewhere? Dead? The small fountain of overflowing guilt had turned into a veritable waterfall with the last few revelations. It seemed unstoppable and the whole analogy fit so well with how he so often felt as if he were drowning. “I don’t know.” Anakin frowned, but before he could say anything, Obi-wan decided to get his own questions answered. “I told you,” he said tersely, “now tell me, who did you kill?” Not that Anakin hadn’t ever killed anyone before, although it had always been in self defense as far as Obi-wan knew. When Anakin spoke next, his voice was low and slurred. Obi-wan could practically feel the shame through the Force, and it didn’t help his own in the slightest. “When I went after my mom,” he said. “The Sand People had her and I caught up to them. She was still alive.” Obi-wan knew this. He’d managed to get that much out of Anakin at least. Almost everything else Anakin told him was new. “She…she died in my arms. I was right there and I couldn’t do anything…and…” He faded off, not saying anything more. “And?” Obi-wan prompted. Anakin looked up at Obi-wan, his cheeks burning in shame. “And I killed them all,” he said. It was Obi-wan’s turn to blink in shock. “Y-you what?” the former Jedi asked weakly. The expression on Anakin’s face contorted in anger. “I killed them all,” he said, more firm this time. “Down to the very last child.” And that made Obi-wan very sick. “Oh, Anakin…” he said, feeling his own heart sink. If Anakin had already gone that far…what kind of a teacher was he? Maybe Qui-gon’s teachings were corrupt after all if this was the result. Dooku had taught Qui-gon…maybe they were all fated to be corrupted from the very beginning. Perhaps Qui-gon had just been lucky enough to die before he fell… And he instantly felt regret for even thinking that. “I don’t regret it,” Anakin said, still angry as he stood in front of his former master, hands clenched at his sides. Obi-wan could only shake his head. “I’ve taught you well,” he muttered, half to himself, half to Anakin. Anakin’s frown gained just a touch of confusion. “What?” “You lie to yourself very well,” Obi-wan said, leaning back against the door frame. “That wasn’t something you were supposed to learn from me. You have my apologies. ” “I’m not lying to myself!” Anakin insisted, the anger back in full force. Obi-wan didn’t let it visibly faze him, although he couldn’t stop his voice from cooling several degrees. “If you didn’t regret it, you wouldn’t be angry.” “They killed my mother!” the younger man yelled. “Why shouldn’t I be angry?” “Who are you angrier at?” Obi-wan asked, surprised he wasn’t getting more upset himself. He just felt so…tired. Not just his body, but his soul and his mind and it went so deep that it felt as if it had always been a part of him but he had only just realized. He could force himself on through the tiredness. That was something he’d been doing for decades. “Them or yourself?” he went on. “I don’t understand,” Anakin said through clenched teeth. Obi-wan continued to voice his thoughts, blaming his bluntness on his tiredness and Anakin’s influence and the dark side dancing in glee at Anakin’s anger. “You couldn’t save your mother, and you blame yourself. Don’t deny it.” Anakin closed his mouth with a clop. “So who are you more angry at?” Obi-wan just watched as Anakin’s teeth ground for a few moments. “You!” Anakin finally shouted, taking Obi-wan by surprise. A horrible, gut-wrenching feeling began to grow in him. “I told you and you just said that dreams pass! If I’d left when I first had the visions I could have saved her!” Obi-wan felt sick. Anakin blamed him…and there was some validation to his claim. If he’d been a little more understanding…but then, how was he to know? How could he have possibly known? And who was Anakin to blame him? It wasn’t his fault! The former Jedi narrowed his eyes in his former Apprentice’s direction. “Then you are a fool.” He didn’t know why he said it. He didn’t think he would ever say something so hurtful and blunt, but somehow those words pushed themselves to the front of his mind, almost out of his mouth. The confused hurt on his padawan’s face made him rethink the words though. They had been rather cruel. Perhaps he should at least soften the blow. “We all do foolish things,” he said. “But I do think you’re angrier at yourself.” “I’m not!” Anakin insisted, although he seemed rather off balance. Obi-wan shook his head again, feeling the anger dissipate somewhat. “You really are too much like me.” And there Anakin looked even more confused. “What?” “You feel and care so deeply and can only handle so much.” He closed his eyes, wishing with all of his heart that he could touch the light again. That serenity would be so utterly welcome at this point. “I don’t want to see you break…like I did.” Before all of this, Obi-wan would have been relieved to see Anakin think about that. Now he just watched with a weariness that bordered on apathy as the boy pondered these words, his anger still there but seeming to leak away before Obi-wan’s eyes. When Anakin didn’t answer for a few minutes, Obi-wan continued, returning to the matter at hand. “And so you murdered every single man, woman and child in that clan, correct?” The way Anakin looked away from him gave him his answer. “But if you really did not feel badly about it, you would have come to me.” His next words came out very quiet and small. “You still could have.” “I would have been kicked out of the Order,” Anakin protested. “So you are afraid of the Council?” Obi-wan asked, bringing his previous point back into play, but he went on before Anakin could say anything in response. “Anakin, they wouldn’t have expelled you for that if you were truly repentant and vowed never to use the dark side again.” “They wouldn’t?” The boy looked so surprised. Obi-wan shook his head. “Do you think you’re the only Jedi who has ever given into their dark impulses in the heat of the moment? They wouldn’t have gone easy on you, but they wouldn’t have expelled you unless they had suspicions that you would continue to kill without remorse.” The boy’s expression fell to a dry skepticism. “If that’s true why aren’t you going back?” Obi-wan looked down at his hand. “Because I can only use the dark side now.” “But that makes no sense! I had no problem going back!” “Didn’t you?” Obi-wan asked. Anakin looked taken aback and he paused, staring at Obi-wan with wide eyes. It took him a few minutes to answer. “I can still use the Force normally.” Obi-wan chuckled mirthlessly. “You’re The Chosen One.” Anakin frowned. “I thought you didn’t believe that.” Oh, he could definitely feel a headache coming on. “No, Anakin, I was making a point to Mace, nothing more. I wanted to make sure he stopped treating you like you’re a bomb about to go off. I do believe you’re The Chosen One.” The boy’s frown deepened. “Then what’s that got to do with it?” “Of course you would be able to do things normal Jedi can’t,” Obi-wan said in an exasperated voice, but then his tone softened. “You’re stronger than me, Anakin. You can go back…I can’t.” “But Master—” “Do you regret it, Anakin?” Obi-wan cut in, suddenly desperate to know. “Do you regret killing them? I know you said you didn’t, but answer me one more time…please.” Anakin blinked, looking extremely uncomfortable. “They killed my mother…” “That’s not what I asked, Anakin.” “Why should I regret it?” Obi-wan looked at him hard. “Even the children? Even the innocents?” He shuffled uneasily, but then he seemed to steel himself and he looked up at Obi-wan. “No, I don’t.” And suddenly everything Obi-wan had fought for seemed so worthless. All of it had been for naught because even if Anakin hadn’t already fallen, he was so close he may as well have. “Then which one of us is darker?” he asked quietly. He ignored the pained look on his padawan’s face. “You may be able to use the Force like a Jedi, but there are lines I have not crossed that you have.” He seemed to lose himself at that and he stared into space. “The difference is you can still return…” He focused on Anakin again. “You have a precious chance that people like me will never have. Don’t waste it or you will lose everything and everyone you have ever held dear; the Jedi, your freedom…and Padmé.” Anakin winced. “You knew about that too?” he asked. Obi-wan repressed a groan. “No, I suspected. You just confirmed it.” “Oh.” The former Jedi looked away from his padawan in disappointment, but then his resolve hardened. Yes a lot of the fault for everything that had happened lay with him, and a good deal more fell with his padawan, but all of it really stemmed back to Sidious. “I have less time than I thought,” he muttered, half to himself, half to Anakin. “If he’s already gotten to you like that…I can’t wait to figure everything out on my own. I have to find a mentor somehow….” “Wait, what?” Anakin asked. Obi-wan drew himself out of his thoughts and looked at his padawan one last time. “Anakin, never forget what has happened to me and ask yourself if more power is worth Padmé’s life, or the lives of all of the Jedi at the Temple, because that is what it will cost. What you felt after Tatooine…it will be several times worse if you follow in my footsteps. Don’t listen to anything he says.” “Wait, who says?” Anakin almost shouted, his voice shrill. “The Sith.” “But I don’t know who the Sith is,” the other said in exasperation. Obi-wan looked grimly at his former padawan. “Yes, you do.” And with that, he was gone, running out of the door and back to his little cubby hole before Anakin could even reach the door. His plans had changed. He had to find some way to challenge Palpatine—had to take him out before he could do much more damage to Anakin. He couldn’t do that on his own…but he had no idea where he could look for any sort of guidance. He kept his Force signature suppressed as Anakin rushed around the area, looking for him. Obi-wan briefly wondered what the boy thought he would do if he found his former Master, but then turned his thoughts back to the problem that had just come up. So what would he have to do to take out Palpatine? He’d have to infiltrate the Senate and get close to the man, but he knew he couldn’t hide himself from the Sith. Yes he could suppress his Force signature, but not for long. He would slip up eventually, and if he was to go up against Sidious in his chosen arena, he couldn’t afford to be anything but utterly perfect in his acting abilities. He’d also have to be stronger. He couldn’t afford to be wishy-washy anymore. No more dabbling or dallying. He had to learn to use the tools at his command. He’d shied away from his status as a dark-sider up until this point, but doing so for any longer would only help Sidious. So he would stop flinching whenever the cold answered his call, or whenever the wild energy almost carried him away. As he’d told Anakin, that was his life now. He’d have to— And then a vision came to him, intense and real and so blatant it left him gasping. It was a planet. One he’d never visited but one that every Jedi knew to avoid if at all possible. Red and swirling, it gave off a feeling that seemed both foreboding and welcoming. It called to him. Opening his eyes, Obi-wan continued to gasp for air as the cold surrounded him. He knew the planet—he knew where the Force was leading him. “Dathomir,” he whispered.
  3. Chapter 8 Anakin was not looking forward to his mind-healing session with Healer Girth. If it was anything like his session with Master Xio...well, he truly did not want to go back to see her. He hadn't felt that exposed since the Emperor had discovered Luke's existence and he'd be lying if he said that it didn't scare him on some level. He was convinced that she would go on about his dark side training and try to tell him how horrible it was, despite her assurances. He was also convinced that that wasn't all she would do and he had no idea how to handle any actions she might take. Now he was waiting outside the room Girth was using as his own office. Thankfully it wasn't the same one he'd gone to for Master Xio's session. He hadn't been waiting for long before the door opened and a fur-covered, rodent-like head popped out. “Ah, Anakin,” Girth said in his high-pitched, happy voice. “You're here. Come in, come in.” Stiffly, Anakin followed him into a room decorated similarly to Master Xio's, if a bit more elaborately. It didn't help his uneasiness. The room was carpeted with an ornate rug in the center. Two armchairs had been set up opposite of each other with a caff table in the center. The rest of the room had a warm but simple feeling to it. Holo-pictures of beautiful, grassy landscapes and waterfalls decorated the walls. It was a change from the typical Jedi décor and Anakin found he rather liked it despite his uneasiness. Also, on the caff table sat a tray with an assortment of simple confections as well as two mugs. Three different jugs (actual clay jugs—Anakin hadn't seen anything like that since Tatooine) had also been set out next to the tray. One of them had steam rising out of it. “Have a seat. Take whichever one you want,” Girth urged. “I think you'll like some of the drinks I've gotten for you to sample as well, so grab a mug.” Anakin wasn't feeling all that hungry at the moment, but he rarely passed up a chance to eat something these days, and not taking anything would broadcast his nervousness, so he walked up to the table and grabbed a mug before checking each of the jugs. He was rather surprised at the first one he looked into. “Pollie Juice? ” he asked incredulously. Because Pollies grew on Tattooine, they had very little water in their makeup. To get anything juice-like from them, they had to be crushed and combined with water or ice. The result was normally a sort of slush that the children considered a great treat. It was rare enough on Tatooine, and he'd never seen it anywhere else. He glanced up at Girth who nodded, a large smile on his face, which showed almost all of his over-sized, mostly flat teeth. Unsure of what to think, Anakin looked into the next jug, the one with steam. He recognized that one as a sort of sweet tea-like drink, again native to Tatooine, that was popular amongst the younger generations. The third had blue Bantha Milk. “Where did you get these? ” he asked. “I had them imported,” Girth said with a smile. “I know you probably don't get things like that here on Courscant and thought it would be a treat for you. Mind you, I probably won't be able to do so every week, but I wanted our first session to be memorable.” Anakin was impressed despite himself and found he'd already relaxed quite a bit at the other being's open and welcoming manner. It was a very nice gesture and reminded him of something Padmé might do. She'd always gone out of her way to surprise her friends and give them very thoughtful gifts. “Thank you,” he said as he poured some of the milk into his mug and picked up a confection. It wasn't from Tatooine, but it did look delicious. “Alright,” Girth said as he picked up his own mug and poured the milk into it as well. He didn't so much as flinch at the strange blue color, which amused Anakin. He wondered how much conditioning the rodent-like being had had to put himself through to do that. Few people liked or appreciated something like milk having such a strange color. “I know that we went over what you can expect from our combined session last time, but I'd just like to reiterate, if you don't mind.” Anakin shrugged and sipped at his drink. Girth nodded and smiled warmly. “First of all, it's obvious that my views differ from traditional Jedi views. With that in mind, I have to say that my therapy and counseling tends to focus on understanding. If one can understand why they do things, or why someone else does something, that it is the largest step towards true peace. Once one understands something, they can begin to fix it. Does that make sense? ” Anakin nodded truthfully. After all, no one could fix a speeder if they didn't know what was causing the problem to begin with. Still, it wasn't like he could really tell Mr. Girth exactly what was wrong with him, so again, he felt all of this was rather useless. Girth continued. “Good. Now, I'd like to say that we won't ever touch on your Force Powers here...” Anakin raised an eyebrow but said nothing. The Jedi didn't like to think of their Force Sensitivity as 'powers'. That was more of a Sith thing. It was amusing to see what the rest of the universe thought of Jedi abilities though. Girth went on after only a small pause, “But it's such a fundamental part of your life that I can't say it won't come up. Mostly Master Xio will be discussing that with you, but I want you to be prepared for the eventuality. However, I wanted to emphasize that that will not be our focus.” Anakin felt the tension that had appeared when he'd mentioned Master Xio begin to drain away at that. “I don't know much about your life before this, except that you were a slave on Tatooine, correct? ” Anakin nodded in affirmation. “I see,” Girth said as he lapped at his own drink. “I have helped slaves before, but every situation where a former slave has had to readjust to being freed has been different. Many slaves hate that state of being and fight it, some simply accept it and some even find the fact that they don't have to make their own decisions freeing. I want to know what your experiences were. Could you elaborate on that for me? What was a normal day for you like? ” Anakin considered not answering, but his memories of life as a slave didn't hold as much pain or embarrassment as they used to. He didn't see much of a point in keeping silent (he had to at least act like he was trying to keep the Council off of his back), so he shrugged and told the mind-healer how he would wake up at the crack of dawn and head over to Watto's shop where he would spend the day going through junk piles, fixing broken or scavenged machinery, fusing things together, figuring everything out on the go, etc. Then, once Watto closed the store, he'd usually have the last few hours of the day to himself. All in all, it hadn't been too bad. Anakin had seen how most slaves owners treated their slaves and he and his mother had been lucky when Watto had won them. He knew that. He'd known that for a long time, which was why he hadn't ever held more than a residue of resentment for the toydarian. “He wasn't that bad, as slave masters go,” Anakin said thoughtfully and with only the slightest frown. “He didn't beat us or lend us out to other slave owners as payment, although he did limit what we could own and where we could go. He never acknowledged us as actual beings either, and while his punishments were not usually life-threatening, they were...unpleasant.” Anakin sensed the healer's request before the drall even opened his mouth, so Anakin decided to expound. “He would take rations away for weeks at a time, he could be extremely verbally abusive and he would often make me race competitively, on the pod circuits if mom really upset him. He knew doing anything to me almost killed her, but he kept us together. Even before he knew I could be useful to him, he never sold either one of us. I think he acted the way he did to protect his investment—I could fix more than most slaves two and three times my age, and mom kept excellent books—but we still benefited from his mind set, to an extent.” Girth nodded. “I agree that yours is definitely one of the better experiences of slavery that I've ever heard, which, sadly, is not saying much.” Anakin felt a tug at his lips, although he could feel no mirth in the expression. It was a relief to hear his own opinion confirmed. “Well that's a day in your life,” Girth said suddenly and then glanced down at the datapad laying on the small side-table next to his chair. “Why don't you tell me about the people you interacted with. You mentioned other slaves, namely your mother? ” Anakin had seen this coming, and it didn't bother him in the slightest to carry on about how amazing his mother had been and how she would do anything for him and how she had always believed in him. Half way through his spoken words, he realized that he felt far more relaxed and at home than he'd felt since he came back in time—and probably more content than he'd ever been at the Jedi temple before. Right about then, he realized that he'd never actually spoken about his mother like this before, even to Padmé because by that time it had become too painful. The Jedi had discouraged him from speaking of his mother because she was an attachment, but that hadn't stopped him from having feelings for her (as his run-in with the Tuscan Raiders that had kidnapped her had proved). “It sounds like you love her very much,” Girth said once Anakin had begun to wind down. Anakin's smile faded at his words. Even now it felt wrong to say he loved someone. It had always been different with Padmé and she had been the only exception because while the secrecy had been difficult, it had also added a level of excitement to the relationship as well. He still hadn't told her often how much he loved her in so many words...well, he hadn't instigated saying so in any case. It felt even more wrong now because he saw his love as a passion, and passion was the Sith mantra, not the Jedi. He may not believe completely in the Jedi way of life at the moment, but he would prefer to revert to their beliefs than acknowledge anything even closely resembling the Sith. It still rubbed him wrong either way. Since when had he become such a coward? “Anakin? ” He still didn't speak. “What's wrong? ” Oh, right, Girth wouldn't know why he'd suddenly clammed up. “Jedi don't believe in attachment,” he said. The drall's eyebrows furrowed in puzzlement and his whiskers twitched a little faster. “Yes, I know that, but I thought that that particular rule related more to partnerships and romantic relationships.” To his credit, Anakin didn't flinch at that. “No, they mean almost any relationship. It's a weakness that can be exploited.” Girth frowned in outright disapproval at that. “But what about the bond between a master and a Padawan? ” Anakin glanced back at him, confused. The mind-healer must have recognized what his patient didn't understand because he answered the unspoken question. “Master Xio explained that particular aspect to me when I asked her for more information about how Masters and Knights choose Padawans.” Ah, that made sense. Anakin nodded and looked away again. “Padawans and their Masters are encouraged to not form deep emotional bonds. Once a Padawan becomes a Knight, they rarely see their former Master.” Obi-wan and Anakin had been an exception because of the Clone Wars. He knew of several Jedi who hadn't approved of 'The Negotiator' and 'The Hero With No Fear' (ha, what a laugh!) continuing to be sent to the front lines together, but few had raised serious objections because it had been a time of war...and truthfully, the Jedi hadn't known how to really handle it. “And how do you feel about that? ” Anakin scoffed. “I think it's ridiculous to send two people into situations where their lives depend on the other and expect them to not form emotional bonds.” “Hmm. Perhaps you and I feel differently than the Jedi because we were raised differently? ” Girth asked. Ah, so he agreed but didn't want to come out in direct opposition to the Jedi. Smart being. “You mean to say that as someone who grew up outside the Temple that my mind set is inherently different. I agree, to an extent, however I don't think even Jedi are immune to these deeply-rooted bonds.” Girth just stared at the ten-year-old* with an unreadable expression for several minutes. The unusual scrutiny puzzled Anakin until he went back over his words and cringed. That hadn't sounded like a child in the slightest. He'd been too caught up in the conversation and had let his guard down. He really needed to stop doing that. Finally the drall spoke again, his words slow. “So you are suggesting that all the Jedi are in denial? ” Anakin couldn’t help his amused smirk at that. “Some. I've noticed in my créche group that the other younglings don't seem to realize they have emotions unrelated to the Force. If they do notice...well, they are encouraged not to.” Girth frowned again and Anakin felt a spike of displeasure through the Force. Well, it was nice to see someone else agreed with him. “Well, I don't want to say the Temple teachings are wrong. I only know a small sliver of them, after all, but ignoring your feelings or pretending they don't exist will not help you in the long run. No matter your goal, whether it is to 'overcome' such feelings or to achieve a healthy state of mind, acknowledging that you have these feelings is the first step. Pretending such feelings don't exist is...” he paused, probably looking for a nicer word than 'ludicrous' or 'stupid'. “Unwise,” he finally finished. “This is something I will have to bring to Master Xio's attention.” He added that last part on as an after thought and Anakin wasn't sure the mind-healer was speaking to himself or to Anakin. After a moment, though, he looked back up at his patient and went on. “Perhaps Jedi who grow up with the differing world view have other ways of acknowledging and dealing with their feelings,” the mind-healer's tone only thinly hid the fact that he did not believe that in the slightest, but Anakin appreciated that he was trying to look at the situation objectively. “But if they do, I am not convinced that such a method will work with you as you have, as you said, an inherently different mind-set.” Anakin wanted to kick himself for that slip-up. Ah well. He couldn't exactly take it back. “With that in mind, let's go back to my original question: How do you feel about your mother? Please be as accurate as you possibly can. You don't have to be extremely specific, but just tell me in honesty.” He wasn't sure he understood the question. “Everything she did was for me. How am I supposed to feel towards her? ” Girth smiled at that and seemed to relax. Apparently he had been expecting Anakin to say something like that. “That is for you to express. I know it seems difficult, but you need to acknowledge how you feel about her. Use simple, generic terms to begin with and we can move on from there.” He still wasn't sure he was comprehending the other being's meaning, but it would still be several minutes until the session ended and Girth was expecting him to say something. He turned his mind back to his mother, picturing her tanned face only just beginning to show age lines, despite the harsh conditions of the planet she resided on. “She's amazing,” he finally said. He couldn't get more generic or honest than that. Girth's mouth twitched into the drall's equivalent of a knowing smile. “Yes, but how do you feel about her? What do you feel towards her? ” Suddenly it clicked as to what the drall was trying to get Anakin to do. Part of him didn't want to say it for multiple reasons (it would be a huge blow to his pride to even admit it aloud, it would be going against everything he'd ever been taught at the Temple, it was admitting to a passion he still harbored, etc. ) but part of him curled with anticipation. “You're right,” he finally said, referring to Girth's previous observation. “I do love her. Very much. She was everything to me—my whole world. I miss her...and I always will.” The smile on the mind-healer's face shown with a genuine pride that Anakin had seen very rarely from anyone (with the exception of his mother) in his life. “Well done, Anakin. You've taken a very large step forward. I don't think you realize just how large. Now, why don't you tell me how you feel about having to leave her behind when you came to the Temple.” Anakin was sure that the second repetition of any activity was supposed to be easier than the first. He'd examined and expressed his feelings for his mother (and that had been surprisingly difficult to speak aloud), and he'd succeeded. However, trying to think similarly to describe how he felt about leaving Tatooine didn't seem any less difficult. “Um...nervous? ” he realized just how juvenile that had sounded and wondered why he was suddenly able to put his facade forward without meaning to. He'd also said that in all honesty...so did that make it a facade? He frowned at the thought, unsure of how to proceed. “Understandable,” Girth said with a knowing nod. “But I think you can be more specific.” Anakin didn't want to say he'd been scared to death, but the thought occurred to him nonetheless. He realized that he would have to admit that at some point, but wasn't sure he could at the moment, so he focused more on his mother and Tatooine in general. “I hated living on Tatooine,” he finally said. “It's hot and harsh and you can't trust anyone. It's every being for himself, and few who don't believe that survive,” he said bitterly. Then his features softened. “That's why mom was so amazing. She was so different from everyone else. And she never changed, no matter what happened.” She'd been the softness that blunted the sharp edges of life on Tatooine; the refreshing taste of water on an otherwise dry, desolate planet—in more ways than just the physical. “I hated leaving her behind just as much as I hated the idea of staying. And I hate the idea that she's still there.” He did not like using the word 'hate', as he tended to associate such a feeling with the Sith, but Girth had asked him to be as honest as he could be, and even he knew he'd be lying if he used a weaker word. It was depressing that he'd had such tendencies towards the dark side, even at that young age, and still harbored those emotions now. Still, even as he said it, he felt lighter somehow. It was strange and he couldn't help his amazed confusion at the unfamiliar sensation. “Very good, Anakin. You're doing better than I expected. However, let's focus on more positive feelings. Acknowledging the negative is very important, but focusing on the good will help just as much if not more so. “So I'm curious, how did you feel when you learned you were no longer a slave? ” He couldn't help scoffing. “I was being freed.” The drall raised one of his furry eyebrows, whiskers twitching in amusement. “Feelings, Anakin. How did you feel? ” And yet again, he found the idea of expressing such things just as challenging as before. He grit his teeth in frustration. “Excited, I suppose. Relieved. Happy...until I found out mom couldn't come with me.” “How did you feel then? ” He frowned. How had he felt at that point? “Upset, I guess.” “You guess? ” “Well, why could they free me, but not my mom? ” he felt his frustration grow and clenched his fists. “You know why, though, don't you? ” And the resentment faded because Qui-gon really had tried to free his mother, so the enmity he felt there was undue. “Yes. I...felt upset. Angry, even.” And the first time around he had even held a spark of bitterness towards Qui-gon for not being able to free both of them. “But mom told me to be brave and not look back.” “She sounds like an incredible woman.” Anakin nodded, his lips tugging into a small, wistful smile. “Yes. She is.” Oh and how it felt so good to say that in present tense! “How do you feel about those events now? ” The Jedi frowned at that question. How did he feel about what happened? Annoyed? Perhaps a little. Bitter? Not particularly. Angry? No, not that either, not anymore. He was still worried for his mother, still upset that his mother had to stay on Tatooine as a slave, but as for everything else... He shrugged. “It's in the past. I'll never forget that it happened, but I'm not upset about it anymore. At least, I don't think I am.” “Excellent!” Girth clapped his paws together twice, creating a soft thumping sound. Then he continued with a cheerful grin. “Well, the time's up and we're about done with our session. I'm going to take you in to talk to D-40 now, but when you do talk to the droid, please keep in mind that you need to examine how you feel about whatever you're telling it. Use terms like 'happy', 'sad', 'angry', 'upset', 'annoyed', etc. but be as honest as you can be. If you're not sure how to say what you're feeling you can bring it to me and we'll find out together. “A few things you have to know before I let you go, though. The first is that not acknowledging your feelings is not the same as not having them. Pretending you don't have emotions is nothing short of illogical. All sentients have some sort of subconscious internal processing procedure that results in neural chemical reactions, which we translate into feelings. Not realizing and admitting your feelings—even if only in your mind—is the same as lying to yourself. And if you can't be honest with yourself, you will never be able to reach your full potential. “The second is that your feelings do not make you any less of a Jedi, no matter what the Temple teachings might say. Consciously recognizing what you're feeling can help you in so many ways, not the least of which is to overcome what you feel and be able to move on as you did today. Acknowledging the 'hows' and 'whys' is the basis of understanding, and once you understand, you can move on. “Do you understand what I am trying to say? ” the drall asked, large brown eyes boring into Anakin's with sincerity. Anakin nodded. “Yes,” was all he said. The healer didn't look completely convinced, but after a moment, he got up and motioned for Anakin to follow him to the next room where he would spend the next hour with his mechanical therapist. Thankfully, working on mechanics had always helped Anakin think, and Girth had given him a lot to think on. He continued to run the conversation back through his mind long after he'd practically taken D-40 apart and wired it to speak only in Huttese. xXx Jedi Master Tai'k Xio was not pleased. She had been having a rather pleasant and fairly normal day when her fellow mind-healer had just come from a session with their mutual patient and had proceeded to declare everything she believed in wrong. Admittedly, he hadn't said it in so many words, but the intention had been there. And still was. “Master Xio, I do not mean to be disrespectful, but I cannot help but draw the conclusion that you encourage your students and younglings to deny that they have any feelings at all.” “Feelings are a weakness,” she said with as much patience as she could muster. “They bring bias and disharmony to any given situation. As Jedi, we cannot afford that.” He was a logical being. Surely he couldn't dispute the truth to her words. “But any sentient being that ignores that they do, in fact, have emotions will only exist in a state of denial that is not healthy,” Healer Girth countered. “The assumption that 'an emotion unacknowledged is an emotion that isn't there' is wrong, and I can prove it scientifically, historically and psychologically if you would like proof. In most beings, those ignored emotions will simply build until they explode. As Jedi, I doubt you can afford that either.” “Which is why we teach our younglings to release their emotions to the Force. Feelings are to be accepted and then given to that which sustains life to do with as It wills.” “Accepting is not always acknowledging,” the smaller mind-healer replied. “At least not in this case. Having feelings is not a negative thing, Master Xio. It is a part of being sentient. Denying that is not healthy for growth of the body, mind or spirit.” It was taking some great effort for the Jedi master to remain calm. She did not appreciate having her lifestyle questioned. “With all due respect, Healer Girth, our way of life has sustained us for over a thousand years. Who are we to question what works? ” “A sentient,” the drall responded immediately. “Sentients exist to question and change. Just because something worked for centuries or millenia doesn't mean it will always work.” Master Xio shook her head. “I don't believe we will ever agree on this topic,” she said softly. The drall closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I believe you are right, and I am not here to question the Temple or the Jedi teachings. I'm sorry if it came across that way. All I am saying is that because Anakin didn't grow up in the Temple, your normal method of training will not work. He has been taught to feel—to follow his heart. Now you can try to train that out of him, if you like, but I can guarantee you will not like the result. His feelings are his moral compass, and taking that away will not help him or you in the slightest.” Master Xio frowned. She wasn't sure she agreed with that either, but she could see the truth in his words as clearly as she could see the truth in her own. Healer Girth must have interpreted her expression correctly because he spoke again, obviously trying to keep the frustration out of his voice. “Isn't that why you brought me here to begin with? Because you didn't know how to help him; because he has an inherently different mind-set? ” Something about that phrase seemed to calm him down and add just the barest touch of amusement to his tone before it vanished. The Jedi remained silent, mainly because he was correct in that statement. “You know you can't just expect someone to change into whatever you want them to be,” the furry mind-healer said, his voice softer now. “By taking Anakin in, you have acknowledged that you do have to deal with him differently. He will always be unusual and I doubt he will ever be even remotely similar to the other Jedi. As such, you cannot treat him in the same manner.” “Treating him differently could cause dissent among the Jedi,” Master Xio pointed out. Healer Girth shook his head. “With all due respect, Master, you Jedi should have thought of that before you accepted him into your ranks.” They sat there in silence for a few minutes before the drall sighed and shook his head. “Please bring my observations before the Council. And thank you for listening to me, even though you do not agree.” He said the words with a little more than his usual sincerity, and Master Xio couldn't help but nod in ascent. “Have a pleasant day,” the mind-healer said as he left. “May the Force be with you,” the Jedi returned as the door closed. After a few moments of contemplation, she turned and requested an audience with the Jedi Council. She had promised, after all, and whether or not she agreed, he had brought up some valid points. xXx Senator Palpatine leaned back in his chair and contemplated the report he'd just received. Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas was dead after a rather over-powered ambush set up by Sidious himself, leaving the paranoid Jedi Master's link to the fledgling clone army open for manipulation. It was one loose end he was glad to be rid of. Now he could turn his attentions to Dooku's former brat, the Bando Gora Priestess. He'd put it off for a while, hoping he'd have the former Jedi Master on his side by now. Having Dooku cut off and kill his own bonds himself would only strengthen Sidious' hold over him as well as the Count's connection to the dark side. Now, though, he wasn't so sure he could afford to wait that long. Vader's sudden appearance had thrown Sidious' plans into chaos. His positions were not nearly as solid as he had guessed they would be and it frustrated him to no end. It had only been a few months since the Naboo Blockade and he was almost no further along now as he had been then. He was sure he'd win the next election, which would come at the end of the year, but it would have been so much easier if the brat Queen would have done what she should have done. Still, he'd been patient and he could continue to be so, but whether it be Vader, Dooku or someone else, he needed an apprentice by the end of the year. He contemplated the now blank screen again, chin held in his hand and a finger resting over his lips thoughtfully. Komari Vosa had been a Senior Padwan rank when she'd been ousted by the Jedi Order. He knew she was not in her right mind, but that would only make her more pliable and controllable. Plus she had the bonus of already being under the thrall of the dark side of the Force; he wouldn't have to turn her. She wouldn't be a long-term solution, but she was an option, although he wasn't sure she was strong enough mentally to begin Sith Training. Perhaps a test would be in order? He was looking for a good candidate for the clones as well. Hmm. Yes, he could kill two birds with one stone. A bounty, perhaps? A very large bounty that would draw attention of just the right sort of people.... He didn't allow himself to grin. He had more discipline than that. Still, he couldn't help the surge of smug triumph at his possible (probable) solution to this particular problem. He stood and walked towards the door of his office. He would need to get in contact with a few people to set this up, but he was fairly confident it would work (as long as Vader didn't stick his nose into this as well). Once he had this taken care of he could continue to try and figure out how to remove the other thorns in his side and to turn them into seedlings that would benefit him instead. *I went through and figured out that Anakin would actually turn ten about a month after TPM ended, give or take a few weeks. For the purpose of this story, just know that Anakin has had his birthday and turned ten before he made any friends.
  4. Thanks, Skye. And they won't stop any time soon...at least I hope that this doesn't get predictable. ^^; xXx From what I understand, most of those who fall to the dark side do so because of anger or fear. And why not? They are, After all, powerful, overwhelming emotions that can easily lead to hate. I’m sure an unhealthy lust taken to extremes could also conceivably become a path, and maybe there are others as well, but few realize that guilt can be just as smothering—just as empowering in its own right—as any of these. And unlike anger or fear, guilt allows me to keep a comparatively cool head. It is still difficult to direct my thought processes away from the suffocating traps of thought my mind has created for itself, but I am still able to follow a conclusion to its logical end—something that anger renders incredibly difficult. Even at my lowest points I could set up intricate plans and easily understand how each person involved would react for the most part. I wouldn’t admit then that I found a certain freedom (although the guilt for it predictably and always came later) in not caring about each piece on the board beyond how they could play into my plans. So the Sith wanted more war and had planned for it? Well, two could play at that game. Things had continued to go incredibly well. So well, in fact, that Obi-wan wondered when the next shoe would drop, so to speak. The Republic and Separatists were both entertaining talks of peace, and while it still remained a very controversial subject, so many more people seemed open to the idea of reconciling their differences than before. Of course, that had been Obi-wan’s goal. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, so they would have to work together to fight the Sith. Unfortunately, the Separatists didn’t trust a body that may very well be in the thrall of said Sith and the Republic seemed to be at a loss as to what to do regarding the subject. The Jedi, unsurprisingly, hadn’t acted and so the war came to a stand-still—an unspoken truce as neither side really wanted to give into or trust the other just yet. It was beyond frustrating, and yet, Obi-wan figured he should take what he could get. It was still one of the better results of this scenario. Meanwhile, his progress with the dark side had become about as stagnant as the war. He’d figured out a few small details, mainly that the darkness was like an ocean—vast, encompassing, dangerous and full of ebbs and flows that, if one could sync up to it, could nicely mask the user’s presence. At least he hoped so as he didn’t exactly have anyone else there he could use to test his theory. It still felt wild and untameable, but he’d found a sort of middle ground where he could submerge himself and not get carried away by the emotions that doing so provoked. Actually, he suspected that while his ‘middle ground’ had given him a sort of respite, it was also the reason why he couldn’t progress anymore. He really didn’t want to move deeper into the darkness, and finding any sort of peace with himself was so rare now that he didn’t wish to chance losing what little he’d found. It was frustrating at best, but as he couldn’t do anything about it at the moment, it became a sort of routine for him to curse his circumstances (along with multiple insults about Ventress thrown in for good measure) on a fairly regular basis before he would shove it all to the side and try to work on his plans for the future. He knew he was living in the past, holding onto grudges and other things that he really shouldn’t, but he couldn’t seem to help himself—and he had tried. The biggest problem was that after Serenno, he didn’t really have a specific goal in mind. He had to defend Anakin and part of him also wished to help the Jedi as well, but as the war had come to that unspoken truce, few if any of the Jedi were in danger at the moment. He’d traveled to a few planets that still had problems and had been able to help a few times, but he still felt like he wasn’t doing anything significant enough. So his next idea was to find and stop the monster that had attacked and killed several Jedi already—Grievous, from what the reports had said. His biggest problem there was that he had no idea where to even begin looking for the thing. He hated not doing anything, and so he continued to work on getting his body better, despite the fact that he felt almost as good physically as he had before he’d been sent to Jabiim. After a several weeks of doing little more than riding from planet to planet, trying to set up a network of spies, helping the Jedi he’d come across when he could and taking a card out of Anakin’s data pad, aka gaining more money with the illegal racing circuits (hey, he may not like flying or racing, that didn’t mean he couldn’t do it), he decided that enough was enough. There were several planets that the Republic should have won over with the help of the population and their resources, but either due to misdirection or poor planning on the part of the Senate, such planets had been lost. Jabiim itself was a prime example. If he could infiltrate some of the Separatist strongholds… He realized that what he was thinking of doing would make him little more than an assassin, and he hated that idea, but he also found the thought of getting back at the Separatists quite appealing. It would also continue to make dents in the Sith Lord’s plans… But was he willing to go that far? If it could help to end the war, then yes. Because ending the war was one of his ultimate goals (the first being to find and kill the Sith Lord). It would help to protect Anakin. But then again, he needed to make sure that doing so didn’t disrupt the peace treaties…of course, he could take the blame as the ‘Sith Apprentice’, but that would only work a few times. Anyone he killed would be on the Separatist side, more or less, and people would begin to notice. That could work to his advantage somewhat, but he still found it too unpredictable with the peace talks that were going on. Once the war started back up though, (because he had no doubt that it would, the Sith in the Senate wouldn’t allow for anything else) it was a real possibility. He filed the thought away for later contemplation and continued to consider his next options. Inspiration came then in the form of a news report. He’d been sitting on his ship as he tried again to meditate (with more progress, but still nothing he felt could be of any real use) and had turned on a local station to keep up with the events in the war. It was a Republic station this time as that was the nearest at hand, but he also wished to sneak onto a planet under Separatist rule and see what their news stations said as well. “In further news, we have received confirmation that the peace talks between the Republic and the Separatists will occur, much to the surprise of many in the core of the Republic. The world chosen to host the talks, Mandalore, has declared itself neutral ground and welcomes both the Republic and the Separatists as the Duchess Satine Kryze of the planet has been vocally pushing for peace since the beginning of the war. Then a very familiar voice came over the wave, pulling at Obi-wan’s heart strings rather painfully. “This is a great opportunity we cannot let slip. We have a chance to rise above the fighting and the aggression that has torn our galaxy in two and Mandalore will support this whole-heartedly.” The news anchor came back on and Obi-wan wasn’t sure whether he was grateful or annoyed. The Chancellor himself has confirmed that he will attend these meetings, despite the fact that the Separatists have not yet announced a representative. As protection and to help aid the process of these peace talks, he is taking a veritable entourage of Jedi, including the Master Mace Windu and our own Hero-With-No-Fear, young Anakin Skywalker. The peace talks will be held a galactic standard week from now, and we here on Martiol wish them luck. Obi-wan was up in a moment and had switched the news station off, already preparing a flight plan. Within the next hour, he’d gotten clearance and was already on his way to Mandalore. He could not see any conceivable way that this would not explode in everyone’s face, and so he would be there to protect his own. xXx Getting to the planet wasn’t difficult. Getting onto the planet was. The security had skyrocketed, and Obi-wan couldn’t help but be very relieved. It would mean less of a possibility of anything untoward happening to throw everything into chaos. Still, it would also mean that getting his own ship down wouldn’t be easy. Then again, he hadn’t been raised as a Jedi for nothing. It would take just the right timing and the right size of a convoy, but he was willing to wait. He may not be as patient as he used to be, but he’d always believed that anyone could be patient with the right motivation. It took him two days of floating powered down near the entry points for hyperspace before he found his opening. Not exactly the safest thing to do as ships could easily crash into him with little warning as they came out of hyperspace, but he was confident that the Force would warn him if something like that were to happen. It did. Twice. The third time, though, he managed to fall in at the tail end of a larger convoy of trading ships, and once entering the atmosphere, it was simply a matter of landing in just the right spot. It took him several hours to find and pay off the dock worker, as well as mind trick him into forgetting he’d met with Obi-wan but not that he’d accepted the bribe. It was easy enough that he had begun to have his doubts about the security after all. After that, he simply went about his usual routine of trying to set up contacts and scouting out the local areas. He’d been to Mandalore in his past, many years before, when he and Qui-gon had first come to meet and protect the Dutchess Satine. It had been a war-torn, rubble-strewn planet then. It had transformed into a rather lovely little jewel of peace since. He was surprised at just how much had changed. There were still areas that were under construction or had been more or less abandoned to whatever decided to inhabit them, though. It had only been a few decades, after all. They couldn’t fix the entire world in that time, no matter how much support Satine had. Those were the areas that Obi-wan focused on. By the time the Chancellor arrived, Obi-wan had already found and taken out three cells of varying strength and organization that had planned to stop the talks. That did little for his confidence in all of this. He knew the moment the Jedi arrived in the system. The ripples in the dark side swirled madly, like displaced water with a vindictive sentience. There was also something else—something off that he couldn’t quite place. Was it the Sith? Just who had come with the Chancellor…? And then, as it often does, inspiration struck seemingly out of the blue and at random. “Palpatine,” he whispered aloud, because somehow his brain put all the clues that Dooku had given him together—and in a strange, sick kind of way, it all made sense. He knew Anakin quite well, he was a part of (in the upper echelons of) the Senate and had been sitting there under the Jedi's nose for decades. Palpatine was Sidious. He'd jumped to the conclusion...but the Force confirmed it, ringing with a sort of dark pleasure at his horror. “Oh, Force,” he muttered, grateful for the shock that seemed to block any overwhelming emotions. Oh, they would come later…and stang! Palpatine would be able to feel him! He couldn’t stay for long then…but he couldn't leave Anakin near that man either! And the Jedi wouldn’t believe him if he tried to tell them, and neither would Anakin. He had to try, though. He had to, but… The numb dam of shock broke and the sheer enormity of what he had taken on himself washed over him, almost overwhelming him. He fell to his knees in the alley he’d been walking through, ignoring the grit and rubble that tore at the palms of his hands and knees. Dooku had been right. He really hadn’t known what he was doing! No! He wouldn’t—couldn’t—think like that! Forcing his mind away from that train of thought, he reminded himself that he just had one goal right now: protect Anakin, and by proxy the peace talks. If he focused on that, he could do this. Yes. One step at a time. The Chancellor may be a powerful man and a Sith, but he was still just a man in the long run, and men could be dealt with. It took him a few minutes, but finally he forced himself to his feet and continued on his way. He had plans to hammer out, after all. xXx Anakin stood staring out of the view port of the ship, his arms crossed in front of him. He loved the view of the stars. It had always proved to be calming to him in a way that Jedi techniques could never really touch. He could always seem to just think things through when he stared out into space. Obi-wan had once commented that it was Anakin’s own type of meditation, but that it was a pale reflection of true meditation. Before Jabiim that would have brought him nothing but frustration and anger towards his master. Now the frustration was still there, but it was backed by a sort of sorrowful loss and confusion. Without his master’s presence he only felt a hole had grown in his soul—one that he doubted he could ever fill (very similar to the one his mother had left). It all boiled down to the fact that he really just wanted his master back. Despite what he’d told the Council, he’d gone over and over the note his master had left for him in his mind. Why would Obi-wan leave and then apologize? Was he apologizing for leaving or for something else? What was going on? Where was he and why did he feel he had to go? The sound of a door opening behind him drew his attention, but he didn’t turn from the calming gaze of the stars. “Ah, there is our hero with no fear,” a familiar, jovial voice called from behind him. Anakin wanted to sigh. The news stations had heard of some of his exploits and had decided to give him the moniker. In truth, he liked it, but any accomplishments felt hollow without Obi-wan here to see them. He wanted to keep looking into the stars, somehow believing, despite the illogicality of it all, that they held all the answers. However, he knew it would be rude to not at least acknowledge his visitor. “Chancellor,” he said as he turned, nodding his head respectfully. The older man paused and looked at Anakin worriedly. “You have bags under your eyes, my boy. Have you been sleeping well?” No, he hadn’t. Not since before Jabiim. Still, he didn’t want to worry the Chancellor. After all, the kind, old man had more than enough on his plate. “It’s nothing,” he said, forcing a smile. The man frowned in disapproval. “You should take better care of yourself.” Then he paused and the worry increased ever so slightly. “Do you have something on your mind?” Anakin was determined to not unload his concerns on the Chancellor. He did that far too often as it was. There was just something about the man that made Anakin feel he could trust him. He never could figure out exactly what. “It’s nothing,” Anakin insisted. “And I promise that I will be able to stay focused enough to protect you.” The Chancellor raised one eyebrow. “Of that I have no doubt, my young friend. The Jedi aren’t pushing you too much, are they?” Well, he did feel that they liked to push him, but that wasn’t the big problem here. “No,” he said, trying to appease the Chancellor. “It’s just…” and he faded off because he still did not want to go off when the head of the Republic really should be focusing on the upcoming treaties and not anything else. And then the man’s expression changed to one of enlightenment. “Ah, it’s about your master, isn’t it.” He didn’t say it as a question. Anakin sighed. Was he really that transparent? He turned back to the window without responding. “So, it is.” He saw the Chancellor nod out of the corner of his eye. Well, there wasn’t much of a point in holding back. There wasn’t anyone else in the viewing room either. “It’s just…why did he leave? I don’t understand. Even if it was to try and speak to Dooku, I can’t see why he didn’t take backup with him. It makes no sense.” Anakin had been so sure that Obi-wan would never abandon him—would never leave him to fend for himself. The man’s steady presence had always been there and now… Somehow he knew that this was all Ventress’ fault. Anakin almost wished Obi-wan hadn’t killed her so he could go after the woman himself. “I won’t profess to understand the mind of a Jedi, but your master never struck me as particularly unwise. A little demanding, perhaps, but then no one is perfect. I’m sure he had his reasons.” Anakin frowned. Everyone close to him kept telling him that Obi-wan had his reasons. What few friends he still had at the Temple, Padmé, the Chancellor… But no matter what they said, Anakin still couldn’t come up with a conceivably good excuse. “I can’t help but wonder,” Palpatine said almost as if to himself. Anakin didn’t like the tone in his voice. “What?” he asked warily. The Chancellor blinked in surprise up at his young friend. “Oh, it’s nothing. I’m sure I don’t have the experience to really speculate on such things.” “Please, tell me,” Anakin said, more as a demand than a request. The older man suddenly seemed uneasy. “Well, it’s just…the apprentice that has been all over the news...” Anakin tensed at the mention of the figure that had claimed to recapture his master. If he ever found that being, Ventress’ fate would look kind in comparison, especially if he found his master in a similar condition as he had when Ventress had captured him. “Could it be Obi-wan?” It took several seconds for Anakin to wrap his head around what the Chancellor had just said. At first his mind only registered shock that someone—anyone—would even suggest that Obi-wan of all people would… And then the anger came. He didn’t care that he rarely if ever got angry at the Chancellor. He didn’t care that the possibility was there. At that moment, he only saw the older man as he saw the Jedi Council, all talk and no action. Always judging and deciding without knowing or taking into account the whole truth. Always condemning Obi-wan… He only felt the stab of betrayal and rush of anger at the mere suggestion against his master. “Obi-wan would never do such a thing! No one believed in him last time and look at what happened! I will never stop looking for him!” Somewhere in his mind he recognized that he was going too far, that yelling at the Chancellor was not a good idea. He wanted to say more—to scream, and yell and rant and force everyone to listen to themselves! Make them listen to him! Then he realized that he would regret anything else he said and despite everything, the Chancellor was his friend. So he clenched his fists, snapped his mouth closed, turned and walked deliberately out of the room. “Anakin, wait! I didn’t mean to—” But Anakin didn’t hear the end of the sentence as the door closed behind him and he stalked off in a huff. If anyone would have been in the room with the Chancellor, they might have seen the satisfied—almost hungry—smile that stole across his face. xXx Mace Windu had not allowed himself to indulge in petty complaints and whining for decades. Even in his own mind he tried to think more about how he could fix something undesirable than to dwell on the undesirable fact to begin with. Anakin Skywalker managed to get him to break his record of self control in less than half a day. The boy was nothing that Mace envisioned a Jedi should be and didn’t seem to have any desire to change. He justified and rationalized when he should own up and change. He charged in without looking when it would be far more prudent to stop and think. He was emotional, reckless and prone to attachments, and quite frankly, if it weren’t for his friendship with Anakin’s (former?) Master, he wouldn’t have put himself through the agony that came in the form of their supposed Chosen One. And that had all been before they’d landed on the planet. None of this was helped by the fact that Mace had had a vaguely ‘off’ feeling about the entire trip. He couldn’t place it or define it or even really assign anything but ‘different’ to the feeling, but it was there and it bothered him. Mandalore itself looked rather nice at first glance, but a closer look would prove just how controversial the planet’s current stance on the war was to the Mandalorian people. Then take into account how the system had fixed its supposed problems by banishing anyone who really disagreed—no matter how justified—to a nearby moon in exile…and that just didn’t sit right with the Council Head. He felt the Duchess was somehow both simultaneously jaded and an idealist who had experience with conflict but no actual understanding of the war itself (and despite this considered herself an expert of sorts because of her background and the desirable outcome of said conflict) and he couldn’t understand why he seemed to be the only person who noticed all of this. He didn’t understand why the Chancellor had decided to take such a risk of coming here himself, why he had insisted on specific Jedi and why he seemed to be so optimistic about a situation that really had more chances of going seriously wrong than they had of turning out even somewhat neutral. He also couldn’t understand why Yoda had insisted that he be the one to look after the speeder-wreck that was Obi-wan’s padawan. Probably because he was the only one who had a chance at holding the boy back from his destructive tendencies. Mace especially disliked that he and the other Jedi who had come to Mandalore had all been reduced to little more than a Security Force with no real freedom to act should anything happen. Instead, their job resembled something more akin to glorified guard and errand duty than anything a Jedi should be called upon for. So why were the Jedi sent out on patrols on a waste of time and energy when they should be guarding the Chancellor? Why did the head of the Republic insist that the Jedi could help with the mundane when they had other things they had to do? The entire situation was trying his not inconsiderable patience rather thoroughly. So all in all, he disapproved of the whole mess and everything it was built on. The Jedi should be trying to ferret out the Sith in the Senate and his new apprentice, not sitting here on a neutral planet doing nothing. He knew he wasn’t in the best of moods and that no matter how often he released his frustration to the Force it seemed to come back time and time again. The fact that he could not escape Skywalker for more than a few hours at best did not help. That was how he found himself tromping through the underground of Mandalore on a useless patrol for security with a certain padawan (who seemed to be in an even more foul mood than Mace) in tow. The worst part about the whole thing was that he actually agreed with Skywalker…for once. Not that he’d ever let the boy know. That would swell his already oversized head to an even greater size and would somehow (although he could not imagine how) become even more insufferable. “—And I don’t get why we’re even here! The security on the planet is fine! We could be doing other things!” Like continue to look for a knight that Mace was sure wouldn’t be coming back. There had been such a finality about the note Obi-wan had left. It hurt. It also bothered him that the boy couldn’t seem to stop focusing on the situation and that he was lying to himself. However, Mace also remembered feeling certain that Obi-wan had died when he’d disappeared on Jabiim and as such couldn’t really bring himself to dissuade the only person who had believed in the Knight’s survival. At least not yet. If Anakin kept pushing him, though… “We’re here because the Chancellor requested for us to be. These talks may very well end the war.” Anakin scoffed. “No one really believes that, including you. The Separatists won’t do anything as long as we have a supposed Sith in the Senate.” Which brought them back to the problem that every Jedi had been contemplating for the last month. Some of them had even considered leaving the Order and the Republic because of it. Even Yoda couldn’t see what the outcome of this conflict would be, and that weighed as heavily on every Council Member’s shoulders as a neutron star. “That won’t be the case for much longer,” Mace said shortly. He was about to add on a scolding for good measure when a ripple ran through the Force and he stopped, trying to concentrate on it. Anakin didn’t notice. “It will be if we’re stuck out here doing nothing!” The ripple vanished, slipping out of Mace’s grasp and leaving only the smallest residue thanks to his current charge’s distraction. At that moment, Mace would have done anything to just get away from the boy’s incessant prattle. He’d hoped to find some kind of clarity on this mission, not…this. Anakin’s general attitude always grated on Mace’s nerves and at this point he’d had enough. Days and days of this would cause anyone to snap, at least that was what he told himself later. “Besides, it doesn’t matter what everyone else does or doesn’t believe because this is a chance at peace and it must be taken, no matter how small the probability of a positive outcome. Or would you rather we simply let this stalemate continue until the Sith and his apprentice find someone else to run their war and start killing more people?” “Of course not,” Anakin returned heatedly. “But we should be looking for the Sith and the apprentice! Our being here does nothing!” “Our being here shows our support of the Republic and its ideals,” Mace said, somehow maintaining his calm exterior. He thanked years of practice and habit. “I thought we were here to serve the people, not the Republic,” Anakin sniped. The comment surprised Mace. Usually Anakin was firmly on the side of the Republic, to a point where he almost put his loyalty to his friends and acquaintances in the Senate over the Jedi. Still, he’d had enough of Anakin’s constant questioning of the Council’s decisions. Didn’t he know they had the Jedi’s best interests at heart? “That’s enough!” he said firmly. “No matter what we would prefer, we are here now. We should do our jobs thoroughly and without complaint.” “But—” Anakin started in, but Mace cut him off. “I’m going to go and scout through that building over there. You continue with the patrol. I will catch up.” And before the boy could say anything else, Mace turned and stalked quickly through the door following what he could still feel of that. The building had obviously once been a large structure of some importance, but half of it had collapsed and it had apparently been abandoned since before the civil war on the planet. Mace assumed that the government hadn’t gotten around to either reconstructing it or dismantling it yet, but it was also some place that seemed a prime candidate for unsavory deeds to take place. Out of the way, abandoned and spacious enough to hold several people in those rooms still intact. Once inside, he quickly scanned the area with the Force and frowned when he found nothing. He’d been almost positive that he would find something. He wasn’t sure what. The Force had nudged him in this direction. Admittedly he’d taken the opportunity to get away from Skywalker as much as to follow a prompting. He’d had to before he lost his temper—which would not have been desirable at all. Mace knew he wasn’t perfect, but he figured he should at least practice what he preached. He was determined to not lose his temper in front of Anakin, ever…although he wasn’t sure if that was his pride talking or a genuine concern for the boy. Mace may not approve of Skywalker, but that didn’t mean he didn’t want to help him. The rash 20-year-old just couldn’t see how much the Council just wanted to— “You shouldn’t treat him like that,” a cold voice suddenly sounded and Mace jumped. The vague ‘off’ feeling he’d had the entire trip intensified as he whirled around, lightsaber in hand. In his shock at what he saw before him his instinctual reaction to ignite it was stopped in its tracks. He knew the man who stood before him, even if he couldn’t place a name. On a recent skirmish on one planet that hadn’t wanted to hold to the stalemate, Mace had been lured away and ambushed. Surrounded by droids and Separatist Loyalists, he’d tried to fight his way out, and would have succeeded if it hadn’t been for a few sniper droids they’d set up. He’d known the shot was coming, and knew that he would be unable to defend against it and the shots from the rabble, and he’d moved so that it wouldn’t hit something vital, but it would have taken his chances of getting out of the situation alive down immensely. To his surprise, the shot had never landed. Almost at the last second, a figure holding a blue lightsaber had launched himself into the fray, deflecting the bolt. Mace had been shocked to say the least but hadn’t been able to focus on the figure for the few seconds he’d been on the ground. Then the being had launched himself up with the Force, jumped off of the buildings like some sort of adrenalin driven gizkel and had taken out the sniper droids before vanishing. Mace had been unable to find even a trace of him, and he couldn’t tell what the being’s alignment had been (although he highly doubted said alignment was to the light). It had caused nothing but confusion because why would anyone dark help or save a Jedi? Looking at the being face to face (even if he couldn’t see under that hood) didn’t help. Now that Mace could focus on him, the Jedi noticed that he didn’t look like much more than an old-fashioned bounty hunter, with a loose tunic, several leather straps criss-crossing over his torso, arms and legs all hiding who knew what, snug pants that would be easy to move in and sturdy boots. He also had what appeared to be a med-kit of some sort strapped to his thigh and a wrist-computer on a brace on his forearm, but other than that, the man didn’t have anything technological about him. He also wore a sort of mini-cape that draped off of his shoulders only a few inches before abruptly cutting off. The strange (and yet practical, Mace noted grudgingly) piece of clothing also sported the hood that fell over his face, obscuring it in shadows, and a tall collar that stood stiffly, obscuring what little the hood exposed. The outfit looked worn and while it wasn’t exactly dirty, it didn’t look clean either. All in all, he looked like a man used to making his own way—someone who lived in obscurity and who was content to do so. “Do I know you?” Mace asked tersely, watching the body language closely as it was all he could really use to judge the man’s intentions. In response to his question, the being sagged, suddenly taking on an agedness that somehow seemed to contradict the man’s very presence. His rather muted presence… “Have I changed so much?” the being asked, his voice contrastingly soft. Mace’s brow furrowed as he considered the question. Should he know this man? And then it clicked. When he spoke, he found himself unable to keep all of the shock from his voice. “Obi-wan?”
  5. Sorry, had computer issues and phone issues and work issues...meh. Anyway, I appreciate your support! <3 Thanks guys! xXx Chapter 7 It had been four days since Qui-gon had contacted him and he hadn't so much as glimpsed the man in the Force. He'd tried to contact the spirit for an update, but to no avail. He would say he found himself frustrated, but he had far too many other things to worry about and focus on. Like his upcoming first session with Girth, or the fact that he still had to find a new way to his racing circuit (he'd have to work on that tonight as there would be a race), or the fact that Dooku hadn't contacted him, or the fact that Darth Sidious still knew that 'Vader' was out there and Anakin had no doubt he was searching hard for the supposed Sith. Knowing Sidious, it was only a matter of time before he came up with a conclusion that would be too close to the truth for comfort. Still, time travel? Anakin was sure he had some time before his former master connected the dots, but he still had to calm his urge to rush to complete the plans he'd made. Also, something of a bother was the fact that the children in his 'group' had taken to practically stalking him. At first he'd found it annoying when they would pop up at the strangest times (and he even had a rather strong suspicion that they were taking turns skipping class). Now he...wasn't sure exactly what he found it. Their rudimentary attempts at trying to socialize with him and keep his spirits up were amusing, almost endearing, if he were someone inclined to feel such emotions. Children, especially human children, grew the most socially around the age of eleven to thirteen, from what he could remember (not that he was an expert on child psychology). The fact that his much younger 'friends' were worried about him at all was in and of itself a testament to their maturity and determination. He wondered what would happen if he gave them pointers on their 'spying' technique. It wasn't usually too difficult to give them the slip, and so when he needed a moment, he would just get away. They apparently hadn't figured out that he was sneaking out at night either (thank goodness because he wasn't sure he could explain that). Still, he mostly put up with them and found, to his surprise, that it wasn't that difficult. “Anakin, please hurry or we are very likely to be late!” Maelee said from a few feet ahead. She was the stickler of the group, always having to be on time, always putting rules ahead of everything else (she hadn't once shown up during a class period, unlike the others, although she seemed happy to take her fair share of 'Anakin watch' during the rest of the day). Hik'te and Coira trailed behind her like puppies following their mother, probably because they just didn't want to set her off. The girl could lecture almost as well as Obi-wan. The four of them were supposed to meet up with Hale and Thoran before class for a few minutes. Anakin didn't see much of a point to meeting the other boys for nothing more than an awkward exchange of 'hellos' that could just as easily be saved for after class, so he didn't see much of a reason to hurry. “Go on ahead,” he responded. “I'll be there.” The three children exchanged glances and didn't hurry ahead. Anakin let out a mildly exasperated sigh, but he also felt a tug at his lips. It was strange to think that these children cared so much for him when they hardly knew him. A twinge in the Force sang through him and he paused. Obi-wan was near. Ahead of them, if Anakin wasn't mistaken. Surely enough, the ginger-haired Knight strode around the corner not ten seconds later, avoiding Maelee and her group with a smile. Then his eyes fell on Anakin and he paused. “Anakin,” he greeted. “Knight Kenobi,” Anakin returned with a shallow bow. “How are you? ” “I am well,” Anakin said, then his eyes dropped to Obi-wan's arm. “How is your injury? ” “Actually, I was just cleared for duty,” Obi-wan said, moving his arm to prove his point. “I will be leaving the Temple for a mission tomorrow, if I'm lucky.” Something in Obi-wan's tone rubbed Anakin the wrong way. “If you're lucky? ” The Knight shifted ever so slightly. “I haven't particularly enjoyed my...vacation.” “Oh? ” Anakin asked nonchalantly. “Why not? ” “I don't like just sitting around when I could be doing something,” Obi-wan explained. “I hate having nothing to do.” Anakin frowned. That wasn't like the Obi-wan he remembered. “You're lying,” he said. A pang of defensiveness hit Anakin across their bond and Obi-wan frowned. For a moment, he was a Padawan again, waiting to be chastised by his master. Then he realized where he was and what he'd said and that no initiate would ever say that. Fortunately, he could take a page out of his fellow Padawans' books and hide it behind childish honesty. “Why do you say that? ” Obi-wan asked calmly. Anakin decided to backtrack a bit. “No, not lying...but you're not telling the truth either.” The expression that crossed Obi-wan's face seemed to be a mixture of that same defensiveness, curiosity and...was that fear? “What truth would that be? ” Anakin cocked his head. “You miss him, and you don't want to think about it. You don't want time to think about it.” And there he felt a stab of pain released to the Force. Right on the credits, although it seemed that Obi-wan had yet to admit the truth even to himself. Well, that wasn't good. He knew his former master well enough to know that when Obi-wan was hurting, he threw himself into work. Anakin could think of several instances off the top of his head when he'd done exactly that and Anakin had had to bail him out. Except now he wouldn't be there to lend a hand and he was surprised to find that that scared him—not out of some twisted loyalty to his Obi-wan (although that was there too), but because he genuinely didn't want this younger, more vulnerable Obi-wan to die like that. Funny, now that he thought about it. Obi-wan probably needed Anakin's 'mind healing' sessions far more than Anakin did. Well, Obi-wan might be able to actually get something out of them in any case. Something he'd always appreciated about his former Master was the way he would consider what people said to him if he found such words unexpected. After a few, pained moments, he seemed to come to a conclusion. “Perhaps you are right, young one,” he said softly and slowly, as if it hurt to say the words. “I feel the hole he left in my life in everything I do here.” And that was different too, wasn't it? He certainly remembered a pained, grieving Obi-wan from his first few years, but it hadn't been like this. Why not? He'd gone away on solo missions until Anakin had been allowed to find his first saber crystal on Ilum (and thus been allowed on missions), but he'd always been certain Obi-wan would come back. For some reason, he wasn't now. Something inside Obi-wan felt...desperate, almost reckless. Was that usual for a newly-minted Knight? It certainly didn't fit the Jedi Master or even the Jedi Knight Anakin had come to know. He didn't know how to help, and that hurt. And what was worse, even if he did figure it out, it wasn't his place to do anything. Obi-wan wasn't his master anymore...and there was still too much relief tied to that fact for him to try and change it. But at the same time, he knew the man—knew that Obi-wan lived for other people and would gladly trade his life for theirs. He'd never lived for himself. Not once. Anakin had hated his first year at the Temple in the original timeline. He'd never felt so alone and unwanted. But unwanted or not, it suddenly struck him as to how much Obi-wan had clung to him. Anakin had depended on Obi-wan for everything from a home to a future. Without him, he would have been sent into the Jedi Service Corps as a best-case scenario. Knowing that someone's very life was tied so desperately to his own had grounded him in a way nothing else could. Obi-wan hadn't wanted Anakin, but he had lived for Anakin because that's how Obi-wan was—everyone else came first. And this Obi-wan didn't have that. Anakin knew that life wasn't fair (oh how he knew), but he seemed to realize rather abruptly how much his and Obi-wan's entire situation had been set-up to fail, not necessarily by the Council or even Palpatine, but by life in general. Obi-wan hadn't been ready to take on Anakin, but he'd needed to take on Anakin to survive. It had poisoned their relationship, but had strengthened it at the same time. And...even knowing how it had all turned out, he missed it. He missed Obi-wan's constant presence. He still hadn't found it in his heart to forgive the man, but they had been close and part of him wanted that back. Anakin would be lying to himself if he said otherwise. He didn't think that was healthy and it almost physically hurt to think about, even now. No wonder his feelings towards Obi-wan were nothing but one massive, convoluted mess. That didn't mean he wanted the man to die. That was a strange revelation that he almost balked at. He truly and honestly did not want Obi-wan to die anymore. Was he, perhaps, coming to accept (not forgive) what had happened between them somehow? Obi-wan hadn't said anything while Anakin had been lost in thought, probably wandering through is own personal revelations. Finally, and with no small amount of will, Anakin decided that, this once, he would have to push his pride aside, no matter how much it grated at him. “There are...many people here who would find your death as difficult as you are finding your Master's.” Obi-wan just stared at him, blinking in a sort of numb shock. After a few minutes, Anakin figured he'd said what he needed to and nodded to the Knight before moving on towards his allies, who had stopped to watch the interaction from several meters away. Thankfully they were intuitive enough to not say anything as they fell into step beside him and made their way to class. xXx Throughout the rest of the day, Anakin couldn't seem to shake the unsettling feeling his confrontation with Obi-wan had given him. This Obi-wan seemed so different from his Obi-wan, and he'd only been in the past a little over half of a galactic standard year. It wasn't huge or glaringly obvious, but it was there and that both gave Anakin hope and made him more wary at once. What else had his actions actually changed that he had no actual knowledge of? And would it be like the changes he'd seen in Obi-wan? Not necessarily for the good, but not necessarily for the bad either—he liked how this universe's Obi-wan seemed less up-tight and more accepting, but he didn't like the recklessness he sensed either. And how could he deal with all of the changes? It didn't take him long to come to the conclusion that he'd just have to take them one at a time and deal as best he could. It took him just a little longer to realize that that was exactly what he'd been doing all along. It didn't exactly reinforce any hope he had for the future. Eventually he just pushed the thought from his mind. There wasn't anything he could really do about Obi-wan...and he found it disconcerting that he actually wanted to do something to begin with, no matter how much he told himself that it wasn't his place and he shouldn't feel obligated. Still in the same contemplative mood, he made his way to his last class of the day...the one that would precede his upcoming session with Girth. That knowledge wasn't doing his nerves any favors. Fortunately the class was one he had no chance of failing; Force Theory. Especially at his current initiate level, the class couldn't even remotely be considered to be a challenge for him. In later years, it would go into how societies could affect the timbre of the Force in the area—taint it dark or keep it pure, how one could go about beginning to purify a dark Force area, how to construct simple inanimate objects that maintained a Force signature, etc. All of those subjects were fascinating no matter how many times Anakin had studied them, but the current class level mainly dealt with describing techniques that one could use to access the Force under duress (that they would later practice in their Force Techniques class), how one's physical condition can affect one's ability to access the Force, and other similarly mind-numbing basics. Because the class dealt with theory Anakin had long-since memorized, he was easily at the head of the class. The best the class could do for him at the moment was give him a guideline as to what level of Force Awareness should be appropriate for a child his age. Today the Teacher, one Master Kleon, would return an essay where Anakin had proven he could write in his sleep as he had practically done so. It had been due the day after his confrontation with the Bounty Hunters, and right after his run-in with Tru Veld. He still had little to no doubt he'd get full marks. Actually, what worry he had stemmed from the knowledge that he may have been too tired to dumb it down as much as he usually did. Gah! Forget Sidious, it would be the combination of innumerable little things like this building on each other that would tear his life down! “Hey, you okay? ” a voice broke through his thoughts and he glanced up to see Coira, Hik'te, Thoran and Hale all looking at him warily. Maelee had gone into their actual classroom, but Anakin could see her staring worriedly towards their little group at the door. “Yes,” Anakin replied, reprimanding himself for getting too lost in his thoughts. “I am just a little tired today.” Coira bit her lip and looked at the boys nervously. “Maelee said you've been acting strange all day...” she faded off and Anakin could hear the 'again' that everyone knew should be tagged onto the end of that sentence. “Yeah, ever since you talked to that Knight earlier,” Hik'te said in his usual, exuberant voice that belied his troubled expression. “Wait, he spoke to a Knight? ” Thoran asked, his large, brown eyes wide with surprise. “Yeah,” Hik'te said, the excitement in his voice suddenly seeming far more genuine. He'd be a good under-cover agent if someone would take him on and help him learn to control his seemingly endless energy. Anakin hadn't realized he'd been forcing the tone until he'd heard genuine excitement. “And I think it was Knight Kenobi!” “The Sith Killer? !” Thoran asked in surprised, his large nostrils flaring as he blinked down at Anakin. Anakin inwardly winced at the title. It had been a while since he'd heard Obi-wan called that. “What if he's thinking about taking you on as an apprentice? ” Coira asked, catching onto Hik'te's excitement. Then she seemed to calm down. “But then why aren't you happy? ” Anakin frowned. “He's not going to take me on as an apprentice,” he said, unable to hide the bitterness in his voice. He may be on better terms with this Obi-wan, but that didn't mean that he didn't still have problems with the man. “He was one of the Jedi who brought me back to the Temple,” he clarified. “Oh,” Coira deflated with a sigh. “Sorry.” The former Sith shrugged it off but didn't say anything. “So what's wrong? ” Hik'te asked more insistently. Anakin didn't really know how to answer that. He doubted they'd take a 'nothing' or another excuse about him not sleeping well again, but he wasn't about to even hint at all of his problems. That wouldn't be fair to them and it was monumentally stupid to trust in immature, sheltered initiates anyway, even if he had begun to grow rather fond of them (and that had started to worry him too). “Leave him alone,” Hale said suddenly, his voice quiet but firm. “He'll tell us when he's ready.” “But—” Coira started, but Hale cut her off with a shake of his head before he turned and made his way into the classroom and sat down next to Maelee. She whispered something to him, but he simply shook his head again and took out his datapads. Relief and amused interest had begun to push aside Anakin's previous preoccupation. Hale was easily the most mellow ten-year-old Anakin had ever met, and right now he felt a touch of gratefulness towards the boy's perception. Hik'te let out a sigh and turned to the classroom again. “C'mon, guys,” he muttered, shooting one last wary look at Anakin. Quietly (and with a touch of frustration obvious in most of their actions) the group of Padawans filed into the room. Just a few minutes later, Master Kleon started the class. As a Gran, he tended to be a bit intimidating to the initiates, not as much as say a Wookie might be, but anything that had three eye-stalks that could move in opposing directions (and could hone in on as many focal points at any given moment) didn't miss much. He was a strict teacher that knew his subject well. He also taught their Force Techniques class, and while Anakin felt the Knight knew theory better than practice, he taught that subject almost as well. Which was probably why he tended to focus on Anakin—an initiate who knew the theory like the back of his hand but couldn't seem to put anything into practice for the life of him. He began the time-block by informing them to check their datapads for their essays. Anakin immediately opened the file and checked it over. As expected, he'd received full marks, but the note at the end asking him to please see Master Kleon after class gave him a rather uneasy feeling on top of his the wariness that had come from his run-in with Obi-wan. The class passed by in agonizingly slow minutes that seemed to tick away at a slower pace just to bother Anakin. He berated himself for allowing his impatience to exert itself, but he couldn't seem to do much about it. He even tuned out the teacher and began to release his anxiety to the Force. Finally Master Kleon dismissed the class and Anakin informed his little group of initiates that he would meet them later as he had been asked to discuss his assignment (at least that was what he assumed this little meeting would be about). “I will wait, then,” Thoran said with a smile (and those always seemed more intimidating on a bothan, although it didn't startle Anakin in the slightest). “I too have the next time-block free.” Anakin wanted to roll his eyes, but instead he nodded and made his way to the front of the class. “Ah, Initiate Skywalker,” Master Kleon said with a reassuring smile that in all actuality did nothing to reassure Anakin at all. “Master Kleon,” he said, bowing respectfully before straightening. “You wished to see me? ” “Indeed I did,” Master Kleon nodded and pulled out a datapad. “I was curious as to something you said in your assignment and was wondering if you could clarify for me.” Anakin frowned. If he'd wanted clarification, why hadn't he said so in his notes? And why had Anakin gotten such a good score if he'd been too vague or outright wrong in the Knight's eyes? “Of course, Master,” he said with a perfectly straight face. The Jedi scanned through the document on the screen before stopping, two of his eyes fixed on the datapad while the other one seemed to scrutinize Anakin. It was...disconcerting. Then again, Anakin had always found Gran to be slightly unsettling. “Ah, here it is,” he said and set the datapad in front of Anakin for him to read through. Anakin did so and then tried not to blanch as Master Kleon continued to explain. “Your description of the dark side and how it feels...well, it just goes over and above what the text said and I would like to know where you got your information.” The assignment had been on how to recognize the dark side's influence and Anakin knew what the textbook said. Most Jedi described the dark side vaguely; 'cold', 'wrong', or 'tainted', maybe 'dark' if they were being particularly inarticulate. The text didn't go into much more detail, using words like 'turbulent' and 'deceptive' at its most accurate. Anakin had skimmed over the reading assignment in class when the project had been assigned and he hadn't been impressed but he also hadn't been surprised. How would anyone who hadn't touched the dark side before know how it feels? Anakin reread what he'd written with a growing sense of dread. It had been right after he'd described how normal societies tended to act around and/or avoid areas tainted with the dark side. Then he'd gone on to describe it (in far too adult terms, as he'd feared) and its lure. Because of its nature, the dark side of the Force can be surprisingly difficult to detect when a user wishes to conceal their use of it. When a user is not trying to suppress their connection, one can detect its usage from the sensation of a burning but cold, twisted taint on the light. Despite the usual initial reaction of shying away from something so unnatural, it can still be considered attractive to anyone seeking power and tends to easily seduce those susceptible to its call. Such people tend to be power-hungry, bloodthirsty, desperate, conceited, angry, bitter, easily annoyed, and usually convinced of their own superiority no matter the truth of their circumstances. The more advanced users can often hide these emotions from people they interact with daily and draw even more power from the frustration such a deception brings. He was never writing anything about the dark side while tired again. It hadn't even occurred to him that something like this might draw attention. “Did you somehow get ahold of a holocron? ” Master Kleon asked when he didn't answer. “Before you came to the Temple perhaps? ” He didn't see much of a way out of this. Just because of the tone of the paragraph he knew that the Jedi Master wouldn't need the Force to see Anakin would be lying if he said he'd simply read the information somewhere. He was right, it was just too personal. But if he said something about a holocron, the Jedi would want to know where to find the supposed artifact. “No,” he said finally, his voice quiet. “Before I came to the Temple I had training. My...teacher had many enemies.” Master Kleon studied Anakin for a few seconds before shaking his head and raising his eyebrows in incredulity as he looked at the paragraph again. “He must have been a strict teacher for you to have learned so much.” Anakin didn't answer, but instead nodded. “I'm guessing some of these words were his exactly? ” Another nod. “Well, that makes more sense. Still, this is far more advanced than anything I've seen from you so far,” he frowned and looked reproachfully at his young student. “Have you been holding yourself back, Anakin? ” Anakin wasn't sure he much cared for the way the master used his first name, but he dismissed it and thought about how to answer the question. His lie would be too obvious if he said 'no' with the proof right in front of them. He could probably pass it off as a single subject he'd been forced to study in great depth by his previous teacher, but he'd been trying to be more honest, and the Knight had come right out and asked. After a moment of hesitation he nodded yet again. “Why? ” The former Sith shrugged. “Because it's what everyone would expect,” he said quietly. “I don't like drawing attention.” Anymore. He really had changed since his original childhood. He wasn't sure if it was for the better. The master shook his head. “Anakin, I don't want you to hold back anymore. I will expect everything in the future to be up to this caliber of writing. Is that understood? ” Uncomfortably, Anakin continued to nod his answers, refusing to meet the Master's eye. It wasn't out of shame, as the Jedi undoubtedly thought, but out of anger that he tried to suppress. Anger at himself for making such a stupid mistake. “Yes, Master,” he finally said when the Jedi didn't stop staring expectantly at him. “Good,” the Gran said and gestured towards the door. “You may leave now. May the Force be with you.” “And you, Master,” Anakin said with a bow before turning and walking out of the room only to almost run into Thoran. For a moment they both stood there and stared at each other before Anakin broke the silence. “How much of that did you hear? ” “I'm a bothan,” Thoran responded as if that answered Anakin's question...and truthfully, it kind of did. Bothans were practically bred to gather information, and the trait wasn't discouraged in Jedi bothans. They tended to have exceptionally good hearing, excellent sight and sharp minds. Anakin responded by letting his blank mask fall over his face before turning and striding off down the hall. “I guessed you had previous training,” the tall youngling said, easily keeping up with Anakin. “Your point? ” “You used to be a slave too? ” Anakin grit his teeth. He wasn't even going to bother wondering where Thoran had learned that one. Bothans never revealed their sources. He also kept his mouth shut, which was, apparently, answer enough. “So how could you get training? ” He answered this time for two reasons: To solidify his cover and to appease the other being so he would (if Anakin was lucky) chatter less. “There was an old man on my home planet. He used to be a Jedi and he taught me everything I know.” Well, everything about the light side, and he hadn't exactly been old when he'd taught Anakin. After the Death Star's destruction, Vader had been searching for more information on where Obi-wan had hid for so long. It hadn't been difficult to follow the trail back to Tatooine as that had been where the smuggler's ship blasted from before it had been caught near what was left of Alderaan. He'd ordered his subordinates to find out all they could about Obi-wan, or 'Ben Kenobi' (and Vader had kicked himself for skimming over the search on Tatooine for Jedi before). There had been enough evidence to conclude that Obi-wan had been living there, and at the time, he had almost seen it as a fitting punishment for hiding his son from him...almost. Thoran hummed half-heartedly. “You're either really smart, or you have a secret,” the bothan commented thoughtfully after a few seconds of quiet. “Everyone has secrets,” Anakin responded tersely. “Yeah, but you learn too fast.” Was Anakin wrong, or did he sense a touch of jealousy. Unbecoming of a Jedi, but understandable from a just-turned eleven-year-old. He also sensed no malice behind it. He found it strange as he'd never thought anyone could feel anything akin to jealousy without some form of malice to accompany it. “It's like you knew it all before or something.” At that Anakin slowed and then stopped in the hall. He felt Thoran stop too as Anakin turned to stare at him. He fought to keep the incredulity off of his face, but he had to take a look at this other being. The other initiates had to be conspiring together. There just wasn't any other way they could keep blindsiding him with the truth. Of course, if initiates could come up with guesses that tended to be a little too close for comfort, maybe that meant Palpatine wasn't as great as he'd made himself out to be. Then again no one could be as great as what that man had boasted of. After a few moments, he just shook his head and turned to continue on his way. “You're not going to tell me your secret, are you,” Thoran finally concluded. “No.” “It's okay. I'll figure it out some day.” Anakin, torn between exasperation and frustration, was about to respond when a buzzing from his pocket let him know he had a message waiting for him. Frowning, he glanced back up at the bothan who was still following him. “Hey, I have an appointment soon and...it's been a long day. While I appreciate your company, I would like to be alone as I walk to prepare for the session.” Thoran cocked his head in a strangely animal-like manner before nodding. “See you around, then.” “Yeah,” Anakin responded as the other boy hurried down the halls. After a moment, he took the comm out and checked it. Then his eyes widened, although he wasn't sure as to whether that was from concern or triumph. Count Dooku, it seemed, had posted something on the proper holoweb site, and wanted to meet again in two days.
  6. The concept of holding a grudge was not new to me. It felt new though. I hadn’t held a grudge since my days as a padawan. Perhaps even an initiate. It was…strange, and childish, and I knew I shouldn’t harbor such emotions at all and so felt even more guilty because of it…which in turn just fed the darkness. It was a rather nasty spiral and, in true ironic fashion, I could only truly appreciate the trap of the dark side for what it was once I found myself caught in it. Really, Ventress should have played on my guilt to begin with. It would have allowed us to get over with the whole ordeal much faster. “Then yes,” Obi-wan whispered. “I accept.” He hoped he’d made himself look nervous and contemplative enough. He made sure to keep his head down, eyes on the floor, hands folded so tightly in front of him the whites of the knuckles showed. He played his part perfectly, despite how much he really hated doing this. “Marvelous,” Dooku said, eyes glittering greedily. “I will be your master, Darth Tyrannus, and you—,” he went to step forward but cut off as his knee gave out on him, though, and he had to catch himself on one of the side tables. Obi-wan made sure his expression seemed grim and confused. “Is there something you’re not telling me?” he asked, eyes narrowing in suspicion. Dooku frowned as he regained his footing. “I seem to have contracted an illness of some sort. I’m sure it is nothing to worry about.” Obi-wan still looked skeptical, playing the part of confused outsider perfectly. “Jedi rarely become sick,” he said, letting that trail off. “And it is little different for Sith,” Dooku responded. “But rarely does not mean—” A loud crash that shook the entire estate knocked Dooku off of his feet. Obi-wan merely stumbled into a table to his left, opposite of where the shock had come from. The silence that followed was deafening. Then the crunching of more, smaller crashes sounded throughout the house. “What was that?” Obi-wan asked warily. “The sound someone makes when they are about to die,” Dooku said angrily and he took out his pocket com. “Report,” he said tersely as he once again struggled to regain his feet. The device made no sound. Dooku tried again. “Mister Forlay, I suggest you respond.” Again, nothing. At that point, the Sith walked past Obi-wan as he studied the device in his hand. Obi-wan noticed the signs of forced casualness and couldn’t help the smirk. Everything had come right on time. “Is your com broken?” Obi-wan asked innocently. Actually, that was a result of the EMP pulse that the speeder involved in the crash was supposed to set off before it plunged into the area of the estate that housed the main power systems. Oh, Obi-wan was sure that some com somewhere had been turned off and may therefore work, but it would take time to find it. Besides, a jammer should have been activated as soon as the crash had happened. No one in the household should be able to communicate with anyone outside of the estate, and if they were lucky, inside as well. “It would appear so,” Dooku muttered as he walked out of the room, gesturing for Obi-wan to follow. He did so. They had gone through about two rooms when they ran into someone, obviously a servant by the looks of the girl. “Count Dooku, Sir!” the girl said in a calm voice, although Obi-wan could see her shaking. “We’re so glad you’re alright.” “What happened?” Dooku asked, his voice sporting a no-nonsense tone. “It seems an out-of-control speeder crashed into the estate.” Dooku paused and narrowed his eyes in the girl’s direction. She fidgeted under the stare. “How did one get past the shields?” She glanced away nervously for just a moment before straightening her back, causing the modest uniform-dress she wore to look even more severe. “We’re not sure, sir.” Obi-wan made a mental note to send his accomplices a large tip. “You are not sure?” the Sith asked, his voice neutral but his stance threatening. Obi-wan could feel the waves of growing anger through the Force and frowned. The last thing he needed was for Dooku to become more powerful. Still, he didn’t wish to draw attention to himself at this point, or Dooku might put it all together, so he kept quiet. “Well, I suggest you find out then,” the Count said, his words still threatening but dismissive. “Yes, sir!” the girl squeaked and scurried away. After a moment, Dooku followed her and Obi-wan fell into step behind him again. He was glad the Count had decided not to kill the girl in his anger. Obi-wan the Jedi would have stopped him from hurting her, but Obi-wan as he was now couldn’t take the risk of turning Dooku’s wrath against him…not just yet. It was one less casualty as far as the former Jedi was concerned. They reached the main hall to see two or three people huddled by the enormous doors. “Report!” Dooku barked as they approached. All three of the servants, men dressed in similar clothing to the girl, snapped to attention. “Sir!” one of the men said, stepping forward. “A speeder has—” “Yes, I know,” Dooku responded with a wave of his hand. “Why were the shields down?” “Sir,” another man stepped forward. “Head Groundskeeper Jobak,” Dooku said with a stiff nod. “We have coordinated the gardeners and other servants into an organized party to search the grounds for any device that would have disrupted the shields.” The man kept his back ram-rod straight and looked rather constipated in Obi-wan’s opinion. “Disrupted the shields?” Dooku asked, his voice so dangerously low that Obi-wan had a hard time hearing it. The first man spoke again, this time looking rather nervous. “Sir, it is possible for a device to cause enough local disruption in a shield. If it is strong enough, a vehicle going fast enough could conceivably break through.” Dooku looked at the three for a few moments, contemplating their words. “So you—” and he choked in mid sentence, falling to one knee rather suddenly. Obi-wan couldn’t have asked for a better reaction. “Sir!” all three of the men rushed forward. “He said he wasn’t feeling well,” Obi-wan said as he caught the older man’s arm. “And just who are you?” One of the men asked suspiciously. Obi-wan reached up to rub the bridge of his nose. “I came to try and negotiate for peace.” To his side, he felt Dooku stiffen. So, he was still aware at this point? Quite the accomplishment. “What?” one of the men exclaimed. Obi-wan ignored the man, explaining that he'd come from the Republic to see what they could do to end the war. He did not speak of supposedly accepting the Sith Lord's offer to join him, only saying they'd just gotten into the conversation when the crash had happened. The men seemed a bit at a loss and turned to their leader. “Sir, is this true?” Dooku didn’t answer as he was breathing hard and clutching at his chest and throat. The choking sensation should pass soon enough and he had to get him away from the servants before then. “You can check the surveillance,” Obi-wan stated dryly, knowing very well that there had to have been some in the room but counting on the fact that they wouldn’t be able to access it for a while. “We could if the crash hadn’t taken out the power, Republic scum.” Okay, they were getting a little too protective, and Obi-wan needed them to leave. He really didn’t want to have to kill them. That would leave a trail and too many clues leading to him…not that that was too much of a problem… Still, this would all be done far more quickly if he could just get in and get out. Besides, he needed witnesses. That was the point of this whole shenanigan. “Instead of arguing, perhaps we should get him to his room,” he said with a casual wave of his hand, twisting the Force as subtly as he could into their thoughts. It wasn't that subtle, but it worked. “Right,” one of the men said. “We’ll deal with you later. Let’s get him to his room!” With that, he threw his employer’s arm over his shoulder. Obi-wan did the same with the other arm and the three of them made for the rather enormous staircase. “Perhaps you should help with the search,” Obi-wan said to the other two over his shoulder, waving his hand towards the door. “Yes, we should help with the search,” the one that hadn’t yet spoken said uneasily. They both looked a little torn, but the Force suggestion had been rather strong and apparently Dooku didn’t have a problem employing people who weren’t resistant to mind tricks. Actually, knowing the Count, that made sense. The other servant agreed with a nod and together, they rushed out the door. Obi-wan continued to help the first man carry Dooku up the stairs. “Has he had any problems before this?” Obi-wan asked once they’d reached the second floor and started down it. “No,” the man said tersely. They continued down the hall (that really belonged more in a palace than an estate) and stopped at yet another door, this one tastefully decorated with elegant but minimal carvings around the edges and down the center. Identical tables with ornate vases placed in the center stood on either side of the doorway, the only decoration in the hall besides the classic artwork from a multitude of planets hanging at measured intervals on the walls. “I can’t open it,” the man said with a glare in Obi-wan’s direction. “Only someone like you can.” Obi-wan blinked at him. “Someone like me?” “There’s some sort of mechanism that only you freaky Force users can open.” So he must have figured out just who Obi-wan was. The former Jedi glanced between the men at his side and the door for a moment before realization came to him. “Oh.” With that, he closed his eyes and reached for the Force. The darkness came to him almost immediately and he suppressed a shudder as he grasped at it. Then he went for the door, probing it. He couldn’t find anything. He continued to feel around, but again, nothing came to him. “Any time now,” the servant said impatiently. Obi-wan shot him an angry glare. His own frustration was building and he was having a very difficult time controlling his emotions (again). Of course, as the frustration built, more of the dark power came to him and he pushed it towards the door, angrily searching for that mechanism that— Wait, there! He felt just the tiniest nudge and examined it more closely. Yes, he was sure that the nudge was the key to opening the door. If he just inspected it a little…yes, there! He had to control it, thread it through in just the right way, but he could do it. It might be harder with the dark side, but he could still… A mechanism clicked and the doors swung inward, showing a large sitting room and an even larger bed chamber beyond it. “Took you long enough,” the man muttered. “Why are you even here?” Obi-wan shot him a dry look. “I believe I already explained that.” And if there was just the slightest threat in that, hopefully the man wouldn’t notice or pay it much heed. Fortunately, the servant just rolled his eyes. “Why are you helping him back here at all?” “Where else would I go?” The man shrugged (a rather difficult task with Dooku’s arm still draped over his shoulder, but he managed it). “I don’t really know and I don’t particularly care.” Obi-wan would have expected that such an apathetic comment would bother him in his new status, but to his surprise, he found it didn’t. It showed an extremist way of thinking that would make the man’s mind easier to manipulate directly. He still frowned at the man for show, though. He had a part to play after all. “This can’t be a coincidence,” the former Jedi said, as if to return to his own thoughts, speaking quietly but just loud enough that the other man could hear. “What?” the servant asked. Obi-wan shot him another dry expression as they approached the large, four-poster bed. Honestly, the opulence in this place was enough to make any Jedi (or former Jedi) sick. “There’s an attack on the estate just after I come here to negotiate? Very few knew of this but I don’t believe in coincidences.” From the man’s thinning lips, he didn’t either, so Obi-wan continued. “But no one who would do this knew of my mission to come and…” he faded off and then stopped walking, causing the other man to stop as well, shooting the Jedi a dirty look. They were only a few steps away from their goal. “It can’t be…” Obi-wan whispered, widening his eyes and tensing his muscles. “It…he can’t…” The servant caught on. “What? What is it?” “I have to leave, now!” the former Jedi hissed to the man. “But—” “Hurry!” Obi-wan took another step forward and hefted Dooku onto the bed. “What’s going on?!” the servant demanded. Obi-wan reached out with the Force as he turned to the man, who was struggling to get his master onto the velvet coverings. “He’s coming,” Obi-wan said over his shoulder as he rushed towards the door. “If I don’t get out now I—” He cut off abruptly and his eyes widened in shock as he looked at the window behind the man. The servant whirled around just as Obi-wan nudged at his mind. “Sleep,” he whispered, and the man fell to the ground in a dead faint. He’d be out for a while. Good. That would give Obi-wan the time he needed. Taking his lightsaber out, Obi-wan then reached for the window and pulled. It groaned and twisted as the force of the former Jedi’s pull tore it from its hangings, just enough that someone could get into the room. An alarm went off somewhere, but Obi-wan had little concern. Undoubtedly the door could be opened upon emergency from the servants, but he still bet it would take them a while to arrive and open it. Then Obi-wan fell into a kata, allowing his body to follow the familiar movements and not caring what his lightsaber slashed. The more evidence he left of a lightsaber battle, the better. How kind of Dooku to give him his weapon back so he didn't have to go looking for it again. After a few minutes, he glanced in satisfaction around the room. One or two more objects knocked over here and there, and he had some nicely staged battle aftermath. “So,” a voice from the bed, “you came to kill me.” “I see your paralysis has worn off,” Obi-wan said, unable to help the smug tone in his voice as he walked over to the side where Dooku lay, watching him with dull eyes. “Stintonata Peragito parasite,” came the slurred reply. “I’m impressed,” the younger man responded casually. “You inoculated yourself against it,” Dooku said, his voice wheezy and tired. “It was an inoculation they gave me at the healing facility, so this won’t look suspicious.” The older man gasped, his hands clenching into the material under him. “Oh, yes. You should be reaching quite a painful stage right now,” Obi-wan commented, then he thought back and decided a little gloating wouldn’t hurt too much. “You know, I would have given you the antidote myself if you would have agreed to my terms.” He smiled triumphantly as he withdrew a small breathing apparatus that he’d claimed was for his healing. The detention center had tested the substance inside, which was indeed a breathing stimulant, but they wouldn’t have been looking for the small variant that would kill the parasite he’d brought to the planet. Stintonata Peragito was a parasite that was somehow attracted to Force Sensitives. It secreted fast-acting, poisonous substances and while they couldn't survive well in the body (although they did better in Force sensitives), the toxins still managed to do a lot of damage in a very short amount of time. It had been eradicated on almost every planet in the inner core (and most of the Republic) for centuries, so the inoculations weren’t given except when a Jedi was sent to certain planets within the few pockets of space that were known to have sheltered the species. The inoculation wore off after a few years, and Obi-wan had bet that Dooku hadn’t gotten one before he’d left. Apparently, he’d been correct. Not that he didn’t have a contingency plan in place had that happened. Or three. The parasite wouldn’t kill him. It would only incapacitate him for a while, which was all Obi-wan needed. “You never suspected because you’re right in the fact that I still think too much like a Jedi,” he continued, watching the writhing figure with a strange sort of fascination. He wouldn’t go so far as to call it pleasure, but he did find that he didn’t want to look away. “That, at least, wasn’t an act. I do still think like an Order member in a great many ways, but in other ways…well, the darkness has taught me to be ruthless. I’ll simply have to deal with your master directly now.” Dooku finally relaxed, wheezing and coughing. After a moment, he glanced over at Obi-wan. “Despite that…I believe…you make a better Sith…than you do a Jedi. Well done.” Obi-wan’s anger flared and he took out his lightsaber as his eyes narrowed. Outside he could sense people coming, gathering outside of the door. He had to kill Dooku and leave…this was the right thing to do—it was for Anakin, after all… And yet he hesitated. If it was the right thing to do, then why did it feel so wrong? Strangely enough, Obi-wan could only see grim acceptance in his enemy’s eyes. “If you…do this…you can....never…go back.” “I already can’t go back,” Obi-wan said bitterly. This wasn’t the first time he’d killed. It was the first time he’d done so in cold blood, when the other opponent hadn’t been armed. Well, Dooku did have his lightsaber clipped to he waist…Obi-wan would have to remember to take that. It would help to complete the image he was going for. And still, he didn’t slice down. Dooku must have sensed the hesitation, or perhaps he saw it in the younger man’s eyes. “Do…what you…came to…do…my…apprentice.” And, despite knowing very well that Dooku had meant for it to spur him on, he allowed the anger to drive him forward and he sliced down into the man’s throat. It cut so easily. Why had it been so hard for him before? “I will never be a Sith,” he said spitefully as he deactivated the saber. He looked down at the body of the Count, of his master’s master, and wasn’t sure what he felt. Part of him reveled in the fact that he had orchestrated the downfall of and successfully eliminated an enemy. The other half of him was nothing short of disgusted. Finally, after a few moments, he pushed the conflict from his head for now. What was done was done, and he didn’t regret it. It didn’t take him long to find a few spare blankets and wrap them up in the robe he’d worn. Then he threw it over his shoulder in the assimilation of a body. It wouldn’t be difficult to project the image of a different man into the minds of anyone who didn’t look too closely as he escaped. The dark-colored tunic he’d worn had a hood attached, and that would have to do for now. He yanked the material up and over his head. Then, just as the doors burst open, he called Dooku’s saber to his hand and rushed out of the window. Shouts of surprise and dismay followed him as he slowed his momentum with the Force and then bounded across the lawn. He activated Dooku’s lightsaber to deflect any bolts sent his way and it wasn’t too difficult to make it to the wall that encircled Dooku’s family’s land. An old, fairly dilapidated speeder awaited him in the woods not a click from where he’d leapt over the wall. He had indeed been lucky to find people sympathetic to the Republic (or at least who wanted the war to end) on Serenno. Then again, with his contacts it had only really been a matter of time. Being a Jedi that traveled the universe had it’s perks. Still, as he set the roll of blankets across the back of the speeder, he couldn’t help but marvel at just how well everything had gone. Yes, he’d had to improvise a bit, but after living through raising Anakin, it really hadn’t been difficult at all. Everything else had gone swimmingly for the most part…which made him wonder what he’d forgotten. In his experience, something always went wrong, and when everything went right, something had been overlooked. He hoped that that something wouldn’t pop up soon. Unexpected instances could ruin the best laid plans. Still, he could not for the life of him think of anything he’d missed. Speeding at full-throttle through the trees that made up the forest around Dooku’s estate was not a serious challenge and soon enough, he found himself approaching the city the Sith had found him in. A small, one-man fighter, one he’d bought from this planet several days before specifically for this purpose, waited in a hangar just inside the gates. He had to duck a patrol or two (it seemed security was already on the lookout for him, but he had expected as much) but he made it to the hangar without serious incident. Not questioning his good luck, he gratefully he shoved the cumbersome roll of bedding into the back of the cockpit and then waited for clearance to leave. It wouldn’t be coming for a while. Undoubtedly there would be a planetary lock down of some sort. He wasn’t worried. He could mind trick most of the people he would run into and he doubted many people would recognize him as Obi-wan Kenobi without his beard. Still, a change of clothing would probably not be amiss. He had time, after all. He also had to visit the ship he’d come in. It would be a shame to have to leave it here, but it would complete the scenario he’d created. Making his mind up, he locked the fighter up again after checking to make sure everything still worked and headed out, keeping to the shadows as he did. It might even help if a few cameras caught glimpses of him—a dark, mysterious figure they would be hard-pressed to place—as he went along… xXx Later that night, he managed to get into an interstellar com booth. He had a new cloak bought specifically for this purpose draped over his head and a pre-set, simple coding that shouldn’t be too difficult for any slicer worth his salt to crack. This really was so underhanded, but it was for Anakin and the Jedi and the Republic. It might even help to bring the two sides together. Finally he pushed the transmit button to a dummy comm he’d set up earlier that week specifically for this purpose when he’d visited a few core worlds. After a moment, he bowed to the com transmitter and began his message. He’d really like to see the Sith Lord’s reaction to this… xXx Ma-karolin DeJoon hated her job. Alright, that wasn’t completely true. She hated the hours her job had her work. She actually rather liked her job, but she was lucky to get a few hours of sleep a day. She knew she was the newbie on the team and that she just had to wait this out a little longer—just until she decoded her big break—but it was still difficult. Of course, she was one of dozens of people who had been hired by LCWN, the largest news station on Lettow. Still, she was good at her job, so it really was only a matter of time. Actually, she was working on a message she’d intercepted just recently. It had been coded, but after taking a close look at it, she’d realized that it was something she could work with, and she felt positive she could decode it. She’d been working on it for almost her entire shift now, and she was so close. She just needed to— And then the pad she’d set up the input to lit up with a cloaked figure. “My master,” it said respectfully. “To become your apprentice, I have fulfilled my mission. Count Dooku, your former apprentice Darth Tyrannus, is dead by my hand. As a bonus, I found the Jedi General his people lost with him, trying to convince him to reconsider peace.” The figure paused and sighed, then grinned. “I was able to recapture him and he is now in my custody. “I was not able to secure all information and thus do not know if you are implicated in anything he owned, my Master. My apologies for my failure. As a Sith, I will accept any punishment you see fit. “This is my report. I look forward to seeing you upon my arrival to Courscant. I received your request to meet you beneath the Senate building after your meeting. I will be there, Master.” And then the disk’s light faded and Ma-karolin stared at it with an open mouth, stunned. Then she remembered that she’d been hoping for something like this. If this wasn’t a big break, she didn’t know what was. xXx The news had spread all over the inner core worlds within a galactic standard hour. To say the Republic was shocked would be an understatement. The Jedi in particular couldn’t help but cower in fear—just about the only good thing to come from this entire debacle. Darth Sidious seethed in his private chambers. He had ensured that they were shielded from the Jedi, he needed places to retreat where the fools couldn’t detect him, after all, but even now he felt that he could very well break through the barrier through sheer anger. 32 seconds. That was all it took to tear down everything he’d built for decades. It wasn’t a completely lost cause yet, but when he considered what damage had been done… Firstly, Dooku was dead. That in and of itself put the largest dent in Palpatine’s plans. He’d needed his apprentice (former apprentice now) to head the Separatists and keep the conflict going. To make matters worse, the Separatists were communicating with the Republic. Apparently, the story of what few witnesses there were corroborated the supposedly intercepted message. Add onto that the fact that the Sith had been revealed in a very negative light to the entire galaxy (not just the Jedi, which would have been undesirable but manageable) and the fact that the supposed ‘apprentice’ had also implicated someone in the upper echelon of the Senate… 32 seconds. As he calmed and considered the situation, turning the raging fire into a burning ice so he could logically consider all of the options, he began to realize just how well planned out it had been. To his knowledge, there were only two people that had a somewhat complete picture of the entire situation: himself and one Obi-wan Kenobi. That was who this new ‘apprentice’ had to be. Because he had no new apprentice (Anakin would be his eventually, but the boy was too stubborn and resistant at the moment), he highly doubted there was another Force user there (a darksider he didn’t know about was unthinkable, even if he had felt some rather strange disturbances lately), which left Kenobi as the perpetrator. He could see Kenobi infiltrating and trying to kill Dooku, probably on orders from the Useless Council, but he hadn’t even guessed that in the unlikely scenario that the Jedi would win. Tyrannus had been strong, but indeed, he had seen the smuggled autopsy reports and he’d felt the death through the Force as well. He had little doubt that his apprentice was, in fact, dead, and he would venture that it was by Kenobi’s hand. And yet, those reports also stated that Dooku had been incapacitated by a parasite and then killed in cold blood. No Jedi would do that. It would take them too far from their precious light…which brought up only one real conclusion: Kenobi had fallen. Palpatine stared straight ahead and into the darkness of his chambers, face blank as he processed that. It felt right. The darkness he had always clung to whispered an affirmative as it whirled around him in a wild magnificence he’d always been so attracted to With the disturbances…yes, it made sense…but Kenobi? He had been the epitome of the idealistic, light Jedi. Even Sidious had a hard time imagining the man in any other way. Yes, the figure in the hologram had been Kenobi. He’d been the one to undermine everything. That felt right too… And then he smiled. From the tone in Kenobi’s voice and how he’d gone about exposing the Sith, he obviously had no intentions of joining Sidious, but the Chancellor could be very persuasive. If he could just get a hold of the man…it would prove difficult because just as he had reasoned out Dooku’s murderer’s identity, he had little doubt that Kenobi would eventually find ‘The Sith Lords’ if he hadn’t already. It really depended on what Dooku had told the man, but Sidious always erred on the side of caution—when he erred at all. Still, Kenobi already made an excellent general, plus his emotional ties to The Chosen One could be extremely beneficial in the future. Not to mention that Kenobi seemed to possess an intelligence that neither Dooku or Maul had ever showed potential for. In one, fell swoop, he had practically undone decades of work. Not only that, but he had done all of this in a little over a month by his reckoning. Sidious contemplated that. The man was a threat. A rather large one at that, and he would have to be either eliminated or brought to his side. Still, if he was a fallen Jedi, then he was already halfway in Sidioius’ pocket, whether he knew it or not. Yes, this could work out in his favor if he played his cards right. And he was an excellent card player. He turned his thoughts to damage control and ways that would ensure Kenobi’s allegiance. xXx Yup, Kenobi's dark, not a Sith, and doesn't plan on letting that change any time soon.
  7. Thanks Skye. I always appreciate feedback. Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I had computer problems and had to get a new one...then I got sick...3 times...in a month and a half...with a cold, and then another cold, and then Shingles (although admittedly the first two colds could have been one cold...that lasted 3 weeks...). Yeah, I thought shingles was for 'old people' too. Meh. Apparently not. Just people who have had chicken pox before. *shakes fist* Anyway, still hoping y'all are reading this. Chapter 6 Anakin loved finishing a race. He especially enjoyed longer courses, but win or lose, he loved completing a circuit. Admittedly, he liked it better when he won, but just crossing a finish line gave him a unique sense of wholeness that he simply couldn't achieve any other way. That, and his problems never seemed quite so daunting when he returned to his life after forgetting everything in the adrenaline-pumping focus a race required. In his youth, he'd always been able to lose himself in the moment. If he'd come across a situation he'd felt needed and deserved his attention (a fight, a good race, an investigation, etc. ), he could 'let go', for all intents and purposes and just get away—even if only mentally—for a while. That had become much harder as he'd gotten older, and especially since he'd turned to the dark side. He couldn't help but be immensely grateful that the tendency had made a come back since his return to the Light. Pushing himself and his machinery to the limit, he could pretend for a moment that his confrontation with Tru Veld hadn't rattled him. He could pretend that he didn't have the fate of the entire universe riding on his shoulders far more heavily than it ever had before. He could pretend that he wasn't scared or upset or angry or in pain...everything a Jedi wasn't—everything a Sith was. He could pretend that he wasn't a horrible failure at everything and that his inner struggle between dark and light didn't exist. It was a welcome escape. Now, as he rounded yet another corner in the underground course, he couldn't help the exhilarated grin that spread across his face. He didn't smile often, and when he did it would usually be a slight up-turn of the corners of his mouth. It felt strange but very, very good to let his delight show so openly again. He blew across the finish line amidst cheers (and boos) of the small group of onlookers and reveled in the familiar rush and sense of accomplishment. Behind him, the other racers finished the course and began to slow down as well. He gradually brought the old, worn vehicle he'd been racing to a stop, just sitting there with his eyes closed for several seconds as he treasured in the stillness that came after a good race and committed the experience to memory. He'd won, again. He didn't always, but he'd gained quite the reputation according to his manager. In his first life, he would have absolutely loved the attention and recognition that brought him. To some extent, he still did, in all honesty, but any sort of positive attention was something he'd had to get used to all over again. When he'd first begun to race in this timeline, he'd been reluctant to acknowledge his wins publicly or even to the somewhat contained crowds that frequented these types of events. It was a small risk, but he didn't like taking the chance that news of his external activities might reach the Council, or worse yet, Palpatine, especially recently. The possibility that Sidious would be more observant of him had skyrocketed, even if (for some reason that Anakin still could not figure out) he hadn't so much as even glanced in 'Initiate Skywalker's' direction since Naboo. The problem was, he couldn't stop, despite the fact that the earnings from his racing had really begun to build up, as had the cache of good memories he'd started to consciously store away. He wanted several that had nothing negative attached to them as he'd found it easier to chase the anger and hatred away if he had something positive to focus on. Racing definitely qualified. It had been the one thing his turn to the dark side had been unable to taint. No, he couldn't stop, because it wasn't enough. He still needed more money to free the slaves he'd promised, let alone ensure that he could put his other plans into action. “And ya come through again, kid,” the harsh voice of his manager broke through his thoughts. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes and stared up at the slug-like creature known only as 'Bleersh' that had become his sponsor/manager/handler. At first Anakin had been rather wary of this strange creature. Between his beady, yellow eyes and his gray skin that shone (and stank) with bodily excretions, the being didn't exactly come off as trustworthy. However, he'd been honest and hard-working whenever Anakin was involved (strange when one realized he worked in the black-market racing circuit), so the young Jedi put up with him and even found recently that he'd begun to enjoy the other's company when he wasn't in smelling distance. “Of course,” Anakin replied, popping his helmet off, but leaving the hood that obscured the bottom half of his face and his hair from any prying eyes or incriminating cameras. “Findin' you was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Bleersh continued as Anakin climbed out of the seat and dropped to the ground. “Hmm,” he grunted with a nod to his manager, acknowledging the compliment. “Quiet too,” the slug-like being muttered as he handed a card to Anakin. “Usual drill. Get the money out ASAP and don't deposit the full amount anywhere.” “Hmm,” Anakin nodded again, taking the card happily and putting it in one of his pockets before zipping it in securely. “Not goin' to stick around, I see,” Bleersh commented, raising the skin over his eye that should have otherwise had an eyebrow. Anakin shrugged. “I must return before my guardian notices I'm gone. All the paperwork is done, so...” The alien nodded, but then his expression sobered somewhat. “Need an escort home? ” Shoving his hands in his jacket's pockets, the former Sith glanced up at his manager with a frown. That was strange. He'd never offered to have someone escort Anakin before. He also seemed a bit nervous. Was he expecting some trouble? Well, even if he was, Anakin doubted it was anything he couldn't handle so he finally shook his head. Bleersh frowned and glanced around the shop that served as 'home base' for this circuit—at the other racers, their mechanics, managers and the various creatures that gravitated towards events like this. He looked for a moment as if he wanted to say something, but thought better of it at Anakin's dark expression. “Right. Follow me.”Bleersh led Anakin through the maze of discarded parts and broken-down vehicles all blanketed by layers of grease, grime and dust. They didn't have 'offices' in places like this, but each manager had laid claim to different areas in 'The Shop', which was more or less a large, abandoned warehouse of sorts with a few larger areas and storage rooms mashed unceremoniously together. Most of the managers left each other alone and while it wasn't unheard of for racers to be targeted, most of the beings that attended this particular circuit usually minded their own business as well. Still, it would be nothing short of galactically stupid to actually trust anyone down here more than was strictly necessary. As such, each area had their own set of entrances and exits that no one else knew about (supposedly—Anakin seriously doubted 'information' hadn't leaked at some point). Bleersh stopped in front of Anakin's usual exit—an old door hidden well behind a pile of rubble that no one had bothered to clear out—and turned, pivoting on legs that by all laws of physics the initiate knew shouldn't work at all, let alone support the being's weight. “You be careful, you hear? Don't want you ending up face down in a low-level run-off, now do we? ”In other words, he wanted his star driver to stick around and continue to make him money. It was also probably a subtle warning. Perhaps he'd heard rumors that someone wanted to take his star pupil out but hadn't substantiated it. “I'll be fine,” Anakin assured him in a monotone voice as he slipped out of the gouge in the wall and began to climb up the ladder on the other side. “I'll hold you to that,” Bleersh said after him. He reached the platform at the top of the ladder and glanced across the gap between the building and the platform on the other edge that would allow him to continue his trek up to the Temple. It wouldn't be the first time he'd made the jump, but as missing would probably kill him (seeing as the gap went all the way down to the planet's surface), he tended to pay a little attention—that and the fact that his leg, while having scabbed over from the blaster bolt he'd received when he'd jumped off of the bridge, still tended to throb painfully if he moved it too much or in the wrong way. And he couldn't exactly get it treated by the Temple healers as they would wonder exactly how he'd gotten shot. The worst part about the whole thing had been the fact that he'd been so tired when he'd returned to his quarters that night that he'd forgotten to treat the wound then. It had become somewhat infected by the time he'd had a chance to look at it the next evening and while he was sure he was in no major danger, it was taking all that much longer to heal now. Sighing, Anakin brought himself back to the present and readied to jump over the gap. No human, let alone a child, without the Force could have made the leap. Fortunately, for someone with his knowledge and skill, it wasn't a challenging jump. He'd actually accomplished many far more difficult tasks in his experiences. Thankfully, with age his 'act now, think later' approach had definitely mellowed. Unless he got into a sticky situation, as his encounter with Palpatine's bounty hunters had proven, he tended to be more cautious. Calling on the Force, he ignored the pang that shot through his leg as he leapt across the gap and landed easily on the other side. Minutes later he had climbed to a walk way that would lead him to a working lift. It had only taken him a few short jumps and climbs, something he could normally do in his sleep. Still, before he could lever himself up and onto the walk, a nudge in the Force made him pause. Something was wrong. At first he was worried that Sidious' bounty hunters had found him somehow and he had to force down a sudden surge of panic. Then he looked down and realized that the warning came from several unfamiliar beings who were trying to copy (rather clumsily) his ascent. He was being followed. Great. Still he seemed to be far enough ahead of the people (not humans, he saw, judging from the strange proportions and super-human abilities) that it shouldn't be a problem. So why had he gotten a warning? Closing his eyes, he reached for the Force and felt around him. After a moment, he felt several more beings clustered near the elevator on the walk above him. They weren't friendly. He frowned at the annoyance. It wasn't as if he couldn't handle them, but the fact that they knew his route home.... They had to know he was a Jedi if they'd followed him before. Or at least they strongly suspected. He'd have to find a new way into and out of the Temple. That wouldn't be too much of a problem (he had many he could choose from) but it bothered him that he'd given away a potential weakness into the Jedi temple, especially to characters like these. Still, he doubted he'd have to worry about it too much as he tended to be extremely paranoid in making sure no one else could enter through the paths he chose, but he made a mental note to double check everything when he got back. Also, he didn't really want to have a confrontation here, and he didn't want to confirm that he was a Jedi. It would be one of his worst-case scenarios realized and it would jeopardize his entire operation. If they knew he was a Jedi, they just had to send in evidence of his nightly escapades to force him to stop. Even if it were from a source of ill repute the Council would investigate it and Anakin did not want them to find out about his somewhat illicit funds. Plus the underground circuits might not let a proven Force User race. His guess was they were there to force him into using his abilities so they could get the evidence necessary to kick him out of the races. He felt anger rise in his chest and quickly repressed it. They were lucky he'd denounced his dark side habits. Even now he could imagine several ways of showing them how 'misguided' they were to sick their noses into his business. Unfortunately, they would never know just how lucky they were. So, what could he do now? He searched around him for an option and spotted it not four meters away and less than half a meter below him. It was a window. A large, closed window, but he could fix that. Closing his eyes again, he reached for the Force and felt for the latches on the panel. In seconds, it was open and waiting for him. He reached down to the standard grappling wire on his belt as he glanced down at the beings following him. They had maybe two more jumps before they got to his ladder, and they were either gloating or simply herding him along as they seemed to be taking their time. All the better for him. He managed to lodge his grappling hook around a pipe not too far away and took a deep breath. Then he jumped. Using the Force as a guide, he managed to swing directly through the window and hit the release. He landed in the relative darkness of the room on the other side. It was a large room, probably another abandoned warehouse (those seemed to be rather plentiful in this area), but he couldn't see anything. He couldn't really feel anything either so it was undoubtedly safer than his previous options. He'd managed to land on a stack of duroplast crates that didn't seem to be in any danger of falling. After a moment of scrutinizing his new surroundings, he reached out with the Force and closed the window again. From what he could see, the warehouse was by no means abandoned, which probably meant he'd tripped an alarm or something. It would be prudent to leave immediately, but if he was lucky, his pursuers wouldn't have any idea as to where he'd gone. Thankful that he still had on the mask covering his nose, mouth and hair, he began to search the darkened area for an exit. Traversing the crates without light was no real problem (he'd been trained to fight in the dark after all) and thankfully, he ran into little else as he slipped out of the warehouse through a side entrance. Half an hour later, he was sneaking back into the Temple. After double checking that everything was in place and just as strong as ever, he went back up to his room, wondering how his apparent new notoriety in the underground racing world would affect his plans. xXx Anakin sat awkwardly in the simple, padded chair across from Master Xio. He'd been shown in not minutes before and had since been sitting silently, waiting for the Master to stop studying him and say something. His uneasiness wasn't helping his already strained patience either and he'd started to sort through his recent racing memories to keep himself calm. Finally she smiled at him. “Well, Anakin, why don't we start with the classes you're taking here at the Temple. Tell me about them.” It was a safe conversation and they both knew it. He knew the theory behind the words too. It was a common tactic for interrogation, actually; get the subject talking about something mundane and it would be easier to let something of importance slip. Make them comfortable; throw them off their guard. Apparently the tactic was useful in counseling as well. Anakin had come into this knowing he'd have to be careful. He was walking a fine line and could easily slip if he didn't weigh his words carefully. And he did not want to slip. The idea of explaining everything—to anyone—seemed...well, 'overwhelming' didn't really encompass the magnitude of what he would have to admit to. In such an event, how could he start? Where would he start? The beginning? Oh, he could easily see how that would work out—trying to describe exactly how a life the Jedi would never understand eventually led him to fall the dark side. Yet again, it struck him as to just how useless this entire farce was. Still, he would make the best of the circumstances. If Palpatine had taught him anything useful, it would have to be that he needed to face situations head on and not sulk or stew on it as he would have done in his original youth. Yes escaping the world every now and then could be useful, but one should avoid making a habit of it. Running and hiding from problems only made them worse in the long run. “Of course, Master,” he said with a stiff nod. He may not be comfortable, but this was something he could talk about. “My first class of the week is the advanced mathematics class I was placed in....”* He continued in that vein for several minutes, explaining most of his classes in detail until he reached those he'd 'graduated' from. “I've tested out of all the history courses and many of the more politically based classes. I'm not sure why they didn't let me before.” He paused, allowing a slight frown onto his face as his comment caught up with him and mentally kicked himself for letting his guard down. He knew better than that! Then he glanced warily at his counselor, wondering exactly what Master Xio would make of that comment. “People, even Jedi, rarely think to do anything dealing with circumstances they don't expect,” the older Jedi responded, not unkindly. At least she was treating him like an adult. “It is a fallacy that I believe only experience can cure. As I doubt we will have a case similar to yours any time soon, and we haven't dealt with anything even remotely similar to it in decades if not centuries, I would ask that you forgive us for that oversight.” She said it with such a soft, earnest smile that Anakin couldn't help but see it from her point of view. Eventually he nodded, surprised to find that he really could let that one, small detail go. It was strange as he'd never really had an easy time forgiving anyone for even the smallest slights in his previous life. “Now, why don't we talk about the classes you're having a harder time with?” Anakin couldn't help but shrink back just slightly at that. He didn't want to talk about his Force Techniques class. At all. Ever. “I'd rather talk about my other classes,” he said as firmly as he could manage. Master Xio simply looked at him and raised a skeptical eyebrow, although she never lost her smile. He couldn't help but think that she was just calling him on his rather poor evasion although it held no malice at all whatsoever. He wanted her expression to be sardonic, like Obi-wan's had been. Then he'd feel justified in being resentful of it. “I know,” she said after a few moments. “And I won't force the subject, but can I make my own guesses? You don't have to confirm or deny them if you don't wish to.” No, he didn't want her to guess. She'd undoubtedly be wrong and have a completely incorrect idea about him. Then he remembered that he didn't particularly care and forced himself to shrug nonchalantly. If Master Xio noticed his stiffness, she didn't comment on it. “I think you're having a problem because of your previous training. Probably the darker training,” she said, her voice calm and soft. Anakin still stiffened and felt his jaw clench. “They told you? ” he asked, his voice low but dangerous. He'd figured that his secret wouldn't last long with the stupid Council keeping it, but he still couldn't help the stab of betrayal and anger he felt. Every now and then he hated being right. Master Xio blinked at him for a moment before shaking her head slowly. “No one told me anything, Anakin,” she said. “It's obvious that you had previous training to be this far ahead in your classes, especially considering your background.” Anakin couldn't help a slight wince. Was it really that obvious? But he couldn't start holding back even more now as it would raise more questions than before. He couldn't really afford to hold back anymore either, especially in his saber classes. He needed to get stronger in them. Still... “Then how did you know about the dark side training? ” he asked defiantly. She pursed her lips thoughtfully. “I didn't. As I told you, it was a guess. Your general attitude towards Jedi is one of trepidation and wariness. If you've had training before you came to the Temple, it couldn't have been from a Jedi or it would stand to reason that you would trust us more initially. So I guessed that your teacher must have not cared for the Jedi, and if that is the case they could have easily been a dark side user. I came to a simple, logical conclusion.” Anakin was torn between attempting to throw her off and trying to hide how much her rather accurate guesses had thrown him off. It reminded him a little too much of Sidious. He didn't know what to say or how to act, so he just sat there in a sort of frozen, horrified stiffness that he couldn't seem to break free from. He was contemplating just getting up and leaving when the old woman sighed. “I hadn't expected it to be completely true, or at least I hadn't expected you to know your training had been dark.” It took more effort than he wanted to admit to open his mouth, but he wanted her to know that he wasn't just a Sith spy (because that would go over so well with the Council). “I...had two...Masters who trained me. One of them was a Jedi. The other...wasn't.” Master Xio watched him with a blank face for several seconds before shaking her head, seeming overwhelmed. “Your strength, Anakin, is astounding.” That finally jolted Anakin from his trance. Why did everyone keep saying that? ! This timeline's Obi-wan had said it, This timeline's Yoda had said it, and now this woman who barely knew him.... He wasn't about to correct her though. Instead he said nothing. “You don't believe me, do you.” She hadn't asked a question so Anakin didn't respond. He just sat there, staring at her hands resting peacefully on the arm rests of the comfortable chairs she'd had in her 'office' or whatever this space was. He was sure it wasn't her quarters. Another sigh from her direction. “That's something we'll work on. For now I want you to know that I won't judge you for your past actions. I can't if I'm to help you, and I want to help you.” Of course she wanted to help him. It was her mission from the Council. “In other words, I will not condemn you for your past. I don't care what you've done, that I can promise,” she went on, her voice firm but warm. He had to admit, she was good. “Or more accurately, I care, but only so far as to how those actions are still affecting you. Whether you believe me on that account or not, it's true. You could have the worst possible past and I don't care because you're here now and you're trying to fix it. I'd like to help if you'll let me.” Yeah right. Like he was going to trust her. He hardly knew her. Besides, she was a Jedi. She belonged to and believed in this corrupt order...no. No, he couldn't bring himself to trust her, or anyone else. So he sat there, staring at nothing and refusing to meet her eyes or even acknowledge her. “How about we stop for today? Unless you wish to stay...” He most certainly did not. Standing up, he bowed respectfully to her and retreated as quickly as he dared. “Anakin,” her voice sounded reprimanding. He froze. “You still need to talk to the droid” He felt his lips thin but he still didn't say anything. “I'll have D-40 come in and you can use the new memory chip on the table.” He didn't want to. He really didn't want to. But then again, it would give him a chance to take a look at the droid unsupervised.... Maybe it wouldn't be so bad? xXx It wasn't difficult to shut the droid off. A Force nudge in the right area and voila. It surprised him how far some advancements had come in the equivalent of the next 30 years while other things almost seemed to digress. He knew several designs off the top of his head for a more efficient motivator and power source , but the actual wiring for the robotic interface was genius. It would be a crime to not explore this, and so he went to work. Anakin couldn't decide which he found more amusing: the fact that they'd asked him not to play with or take apart the droid that would be used in his 'therapy' sessions, or the fact that they realized he had every intention of doing so. He'd never answered when they asked for his word. The sessions wouldn't be recorded by anything but the droid and, as promised, Anakin would take the 'memory chips' (not computer 'memory', but the actual recordings—the chips were basically miniature hard drives) with him when he left the session. Anything he felt he couldn't tell the mind-healers or the other Jedi he would supposedly tell the droid because apparently just 'getting it out' was a form of therapy, according to Girth. Of course, mechanics and robotics were a bit of a relaxing hobby for him that tended to calm him down. Best of all, he figured they would eventually guess that he was indeed 'messing' with the droid, but was confident they wouldn't call him on it. Not for a while at least. It would be their attempt at garnering trust; an 'if I trust him, perhaps he'll trust me' sort of venture that would ultimately fail, but he could use it until they figured out that he was on to their methods. Besides, he had decades of future technology almost rote embedded inside his brain. Even with some of the less effective designs that had become the norm in the future he was confident that he could wire the droid far more effectively and efficiently. He would take it as a personal challenge to find more ways to do so. As he'd thought, when he left after his two time-block session, he was positive Master Xio did not miss the grease on his hands or the burn marks on his sleeves, but she didn't comment. xXx “How was that? ” Hik'te asked through his heavy breathing. He'd just completed a kata he'd learned and Anakin had encouraged him to finish. He'd even helped the blue-skinned boy and given him hints and pointers. But Anakin of all people knew that that type of help could only go so far. “Better,” Anakin said with a nod. “Although your stance on the last one is throwing off your balance. You need to move your heel towards you more but your leg needs to come out further.”It felt incredibly strange to have the children he counted as allies look up to him so. He'd taught 'apprentices' as a Jedi and as a Sith. Ahsoka hadn't really worked out (he quickly steered his thoughts away from those particular memories), and none of the Sith apprentices he'd taken had lasted long (with maybe the exception of Starkiller, but he couldn't really count that as a success either). When the other children had started to ask him questions about why he was advancing so quickly in his saber arts when they weren't, he'd almost panicked. Why would they ask him questions? ! Anyone he'd ever tried to teach...well, it just hadn't gone well. It had taken him a moment to calm down. Then he'd calmly and truthfully answered their questions and gone back to his practicing. After a while, he'd gotten comfortable enough with their inquiries to point out the small mistakes he could see. He didn't go out of his way, but he knew that if he wanted to keep their allegiance, he would have to interact with them. So he did. He also wanted them to survive the upcoming years, so he pushed them when he was around to do so. He encouraged their practicing, drawing from the little experience he could remember from his mother. It had been a strange thought that had come to him one day in meditation. Why had he been so obedient with her and not with Obi-wan? Surely it couldn't be all Sidious. Then he'd remembered how Obi-wan had treated him, not without understanding, no, his guidance had been gentle and firm, but it had also had little encouragement or congratulations. His mother, on the other hand, would often celebrate what he did when she knew he'd done the best he could. She would guide him and push him when she felt he could do better. Hik'te could definitely do better, but he had indeed improved. Anakin was not the boy's teacher, but he could give an honest opinion and he could help them along the way. He'd never realized cultivating allies could be so difficult. Obi-wan had always made it look so easy... Hik'te groaned. “I'm never going to get it right,” he muttered. “Especially if you give up,” Anakin found himself saying. “What? ” Hik'te asked, shooting a confused look at the other boy. Anakin mentally kicked himself. He hadn't wanted to butt in and give advice like this. That was a 'master's' job, not a contemporary's. But, he'd opened his mouth, he would have to follow through. “Life is a series of failures,” he said simply, shutting his own lightsaber off as he watched Hik'te. “It always has been and always will be. People who succeed are people who keep trying and failing until they find a way to succeed.” Alright, life wasn't as simple as that, but that had been one thing he'd learned from Obi-wan that had stuck with him, even through his time as a Sith. He'd just gotten to a point where he had been too impatient to wait for success, whether it was himself or his subordinates. What Anakin had also noticed, although he didn't add the thought onto the end for Hik'te, was that the people who seemed to have the most success were the people who could either learn quickly from their mistakes or the people who could learn from others' mistakes. Still, there was something to be said about persistence. Hik'te cocked his head and studied Anakin silently. Finally he seemed to gather his wits and asked a question. “How old are you, really? ” Anakin's brow furrowed, half in consternation, half in confusion. “What do you mean? ” “You don't act like a kid. None of us think so.” The rest of their little group had opted to go down to the room of a thousand fountains about a half hour before, but Anakin and Hik'te had remained behind to finish working on their respective katas. Anakin added a frown to his expression. “You discuss me when I am not there? ” Alright, it wasn't the best thing he could say to reassert his cover as a child, but it was a valid question. Hik'te seemed to blush at that, his blue cheeks darkening sightly. “Well, only because no one has the guts to ask you to your face.” “Except you.” “Well someone had to,” Hik'te said a little sheepishly. Anakin almost had to hide a smile. Almost. Hik'te reminded Anakin a lot of himself. He was young, brash, head-strong and while he was a lot happier and calmer than Anakin had ever been, he also tended to act without really thinking through the consequences. He had a sad, sneaking suspicion that Hik'te hadn't been taken as a Padawan because no one wanted to deal with trying to tame that if they didn't have to. Finally Anakin shook his head. “Even if I were older than I look, age does not always bring wisdom.” Hik'te shrugged. “Maybe not, but I don't know anyone who's as wise as you are.” At that, Anakin rolled his eyes. “Have you met Master Yoda? Old, green, about this tall,” he held his hand out around his mid-section...which, at his current height, would make his imaginary Yoda about half a meter tall, if that. The blue-skinned Padawan snickered and covered his mouth when he recognized Anakin's exaggeration. “He doesn't count,” he finally managed to say. “Master Windu? ” Hik'te frowned good-naturedly. “Him neither.” “Master Yaddle? ” “Stop naming Council Members! That isn't fair!” Anakin shook his head again, this time allowing a small smile. “I'm just pointing out that there are many people wiser than I am here at the Temple. I'd say most people are, really.” Hik'te suddenly seemed to sober at Anakin's words. “You shouldn't say things about yourself like that.” “I shouldn't speak the truth? ” Anakin asked sardonically. Hik'te shook his head. “It's not the truth. It's because you talk like that that Hale thinks you need a master.” Anakin blinked. That made no sense at all whatsoever. “What? ” “You know,” Hik'te shrugged, “someone to watch out for you and tell you how awesome you are. Someone to protect you.” At that, the former Sith found himself frowning in disapproval. “I can protect myself.” Hik'te shrugged again. “Maybe, with the way you move with a lightsaber in your hand. But...I don't know,” he seemed to be struggling to put his thoughts into words. “No one else is as mean to you as you are.” Anakin had to blink at that. Was insight catching among young souls or something? “Are you implying that the person I need protection from the most is myself? ” he asked slowly, and more than a little uneasily. Hik'te frowned and looked up at the ceiling, thinking hard. Finally he seemed to come to a conclusion and nodded. “Yeah. That's what I mean.” “You may be more right than you realize,” Anakin muttered. “What? ” Hik'te asked. “I said you need to do it again,” Anakin said, then turned back to his kata. He felt the other initiate's eyes on his back for a moment before a second snap-hiss sounded as the training blade sprang to life and Hik'te went back to his own kata. Twenty minutes later they were kicked out so another class could be held, and they made their way down to meet their fellow initiates in silence. Anakin wasn't sure whether it was tense or companionable. Perhaps he had been a little too perceptive when choosing his allies this time around. xXx *Author's note: The classes that Anakin has tested out of are basically classes he feels someone of 'genius' caliber with spotty, if specialized training (which is his cover story) could test out of—IE: General Galactic History, Basic Political Science, Basic Sociology, Mechanics, Geography, Piloting, etc. The classes he still has to take as an initiate are some Mathematics courses (he has tested out of a few of these, but for purposes of this story, the Temple requires a certain amount of years in Mathematics anyway, no matter what level he'd reached), Basic Core-World Cultures (which he is mostly familiar with, but as he knows more of how they worked under a different rule, he needs a bit of a brush-up), Business (he knows how to run an Empire, not a business in a democracy, and due to missions and what not, he would need to know business basics and laws), Lightsaber Training (self explanatory), Force Theory (which he could probably teach better than the teacher, but they refused to allow him to test out of it, although they did allow him to 'catch up' to his age group—note: he hasn't yet because, again, he's trying to keep a low profile), Combat Training, Tactics (he needs the first for muscle memory but could—again—probably teach the second), Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy, Beginner's Healing, 'Basic' (as in the language) Writing, Grammar and Writing Composition,Psychology (of one's own race) and (of course) Force Techniques. Yes, I know that's a lot for a young child, but realize that most initiates will easily fulfill the requirements by the time they reach the age of 12, and can then focus on finding a master. Anakin is taking on a bit more than a normal initiate as he can A. handle it intellectually, and B. he needs to 'catch up' in many of those classes, at least in the eyes of the Temple. With how the Jedi have to live, I can see that initiates would be expected to be well into the equivalent of an Earth-based college education by their 13th birthday. Also, the Jedi don't strike me as an order that would encourage anyone to have a great deal of extra time on their hands. In my story, they study 3-5 subjects a day (switching every other day—an A/B schedule, if you're familiar with that—with one day off per week) on a regular basis and still have to fit in meditation and homework. There's a reason Anakin is thankful for a few extra free periods. Additionally, for the purposes of this fic, initiates would be required to study independently for advanced classes in some areas. For instance, they would be required to choose a different culture or society and only to study and then report on the psychology, religions and biology of their chosen culture. They would have 3 months to work on their report and that would carry into their Padawan years as well. Actually, let me list the classes that would continue into their Padawan years (note: most of these will have different levels available to different age groups/skill sets): Mathmatics, Lightsaber Training, Force Theory, Combat Training (brush ups and side classes with tactics would go in this as they got older as it would be a matter of putting tactics into practice), the Psychology of common races and Force Techniques. Also, if a Padawan chose, they could continue (and it is highly encouraged that they do) in a more focused skill set, such as piloting, politics, history, healing or even music and art, if they can convince the Council and their Master that they are dedicated enough and have a good reason that will benefit the Jedi Order or a Mission.
  8. Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I had computer problems and had to get a new one...then I got sick...3 times...in a month and a half...with a cold, and then another cold, and then Shingles (although admittedly the first two colds could have been one cold...that lasted 3 weeks...). Yeah, I thought shingles was for 'old people' too. Meh. Apparently not. Just people who have had chicken pox before. *shakes fist* Anyway, still hoping y'all are reading this. Chapter 5 The true danger of the dark side does not lie in the fact that it changes one’s actions, but that it changes the user’s desires. That is how it so thoroughly corrupts. It doesn’t just change one’s thought process, but the very reasons behind the goals one works towards. Once you give in, the world around you becomes twisted and it gets harder and harder to see any good in what anyone does. After all, how can one continue to work towards good when they have nothing but hate and resentment and guilt in their heart? And hate is like a virus, if it goes uncontrolled. At first, you just hate that which has caused you pain or will cause you pain or threatens to cause you pain. After a while, though, you start to hate everything… Dooku smiled genially at his guest.“I must admit, Obi-wan, that I rather like your change in appearance. Clean-shaven is quite a good look for you.” Obi-wan frowned as his host lead him up to the doors of the modest (to him, in any case) estate that happened to be one of Dooku’s many holdings here on Serenno. “Ah, that. I would have liked to regrow the beard, but the scars cause it to grow unevenly.” Dooku nodded, having no doubt that such a deformity would prove to be dreadful. He hadn't been lying when he said it was a good look for Obi-wan, but it would also very likely prove a hindrance in the future as the former Jedi looked rather young. Few would take him seriously immediately, but then, that could prove useful too. Still, that brought up another point he wanted to know about. “Ah yes, the scars. If I may inquire, where did they come from?” The young man had absolutely no control over his emotions! And what an array Dooku felt leaking off of him. However, much to his approval and amusement, Obi-wan simply shrugged nonchalantly the very picture of calm. With a mask like that he truly had earned the title of Jedi Master. “I was caught and tortured. Honestly, I had figured you were behind it,” he accused. Dooku almost wished Ventress still lived so he could take his vengeance on her. How dare she presume like that? Still, he let none of this show on his face. Or through the Force. “I assure you that I had no knowledge of your continued existence,” Dooku replied almost flippantly, but with an underlying tone of sincerity the other man should catch. “I see,” Obi-wan said, looking away as if in thought. “And I assume you want me to take your word on that?” Dooku paused before the rather large doors of his estate and looked at Obi-wan dryly. “I don’t see how your belief in my word matters. It won’t change the fact that you need me.” Obi-wan’s expression darkened. He really wasn't happy with this turn of events...which only excited Dooku more. “Indeed,” the younger man replied. The Count opened the double doors and stepped over the threshold into a lavish entry way. Everything from the tiles to the tables to the well-cared-for plants in the corners and along the walls screamed expense. The money for energy outputs to keep some of those decorations in a sort of orbit around the chandelier alone could probably feed a small planet. He smiled inwardly as his grand-padawan took it all in. Yes, he thought to himself, this is what you can have and more. When the Count had initially taken his family mansion as one of his homes, it had been nothing short of gaudy, with an over-abundance of over-priced, useless items everywhere. Dooku had immediately cut the décor back to simplistic but tasteful. He had no problem showing off his wealth, but he would do so in a way that showed refinement and culture, not simply for that show of status. “Now that we are here, I will give this back to you, as a token of my good will,” Dooku said as he turned and handed Obi-wan his lightsaber. Apparently the man hadn't been expecting that because he did little to hide his surprise as he glanced between the lightsaber and Dooku's face. Then, cautiously, he took it. “Thank you,” he said. Without turning it on, he hung it on his belt. Still cautious. Good. Dooku had a great many security measures in place if he'd tried anything. It had been a bit of a test, and Obi-wan had passed with flying colors. Naturally. “This way,” Dooku said as he turned to walk through the entry way, boots clicking on the immaculate floor. The former Jedi followed the Sith without comment, but he couldn’t seem to stop his eyes from narrowing ever so slightly. Dooku wondered why briefly, but mostly just found his actions and reactions amusing. The Count led his guest through a multitude of turns, hallways and rooms before they stopped at a simple but extremely rich sitting room where some tea had been placed on a table. Dooku waited for his guest to sit down before he did so himself. Obi-wan chose a soft-looking, blue chair that would conform to the contour of his body the moment he touched it. Dooku smiled and sat across from him, on a cream colored duvet with wood lining, and reached forward to serve the tea. “Sugar?” “No, thank you,” Obi-wan said. “Cream? It comes from Alderaan. They are known for their multitude of flavors.” The younger man’s lips thinned. “Very well.” Dooku raised an eyebrow, holding one of the small containers of cream above a cup of still steaming tea. “I assume you said that because you don’t plan on drinking it anyway.” Obi-wan didn’t answer. Dooku sighed and set both dishes back on the tray. “If you wish to learn anything from me, you will have to lower your guard to some extent eventually.” “You mistake my intentions,” Obi-wan said, voice as neutral as ever. “I did not come here to train.” The older man frowned. He remembered how he'd felt just after turning, how grateful he was for a mentor of any sort, let alone a willing one. “Then why did you come here?” “As I said before, I came to negotiate.” Dooku felt his eyes narrow ever so slightly (that would most definitely not do), but he gestured for Obi-wan to continue. “I must say that my new…position has shed some light on some of the questions the Jedi have been asking recently.” He paused for a moment, obviously remembering something painful (good). “They have so little idea when it comes to the Sith's motivation because there are so many options: you started the war because you needed a distraction, or perhaps the whole thing is a power grab going wrong, or a power grab going right; or it was started because you simply like to sew chaos wherever you go…that is, after all, the nature of the dark side. I am beginning to understand that now.” Dooku smiled at the rather ironic comment. Obi-wan simply shook his head dryly. After a moment and another sip of his tea, the Count put his cup back on the saucer in front of him. “And if you had to venture a guess at my motivations?” Obi-wan raised an eyebrow in surprise, probably at the bluntness of Dooku's question. Oh, how he enjoyed playing with others' minds like that. “Before, I would have leaned towards the latter.” Dooku let out the softest of snorts, but that didn’t decrease the derision in it. Then he looked intently at Obi-wan. “And now? Obi-wan didn't answer for a few moments and Dooku wondered if he was seriously contemplating lying to him. With how his emotions leaked all over in the Force, did he really think he could lie to a Sith Master (or as close to a Sith Master as either one of them could get at the moment – it was really just a matter of timing at this point). “I would have to say it is a power grab, most likely one going right.” He knew the smile on his lips would tell Obi-wan that he’d guessed correctly. “Interesting,” Dooku responded before taking another sip. “I also believe that your master is in the upper government of the Republic.” That surprised him, but he only allowed his eyebrows to raise to show it. “Oh? And why do you say that?” Obi-wan scoffed. “Please. I’ve been on the front lines of the war. I’ve seen first hand what kinds of resources you have. They are indeed substantial, and you can keep this war going for quite a while, but eventually you will run out of materials to make droids with, or you will be forced to use less desirable alloys. Admittedly the same can be said about the clones, but it is clear to me that you did not start this battle with the intent to hold out until you win, just as the Republic cannot intend for the clone armies to last for more than a couple of years—a decade at the most. “So why would you do that? If your master were a part of the separatists, then it would stand to reason that you would be taking more preparations for the ‘long run’ as it were. I don’t currently see either the Separatists or the Republic being able to last that long even if they started being conservative. So the war in and of itself is a distraction so fewer people examine the general power accumulation too closely or they ignore it.” This was why Dooku had chosen Obi-wan. This calm logic in the face of everything else, especially his own raging emotions, was just one of many things that intrigued the Sith Lord. He couldn't help that he felt a smug sort of pride in his grand-padawan—his legacy. When the younger man stopped speaking, Dooku nodded his head in acknowledgment. “That is, of course, all your own speculation and you have no real proof.” Obi-wan raised one eyebrow. “You yourself told me that hundreds of Senators are under the influence of the Dark Lord of the Sith.” “Which is hardly proof,” Dooku pointed out. The younger man's expression could conceivably be drier, he supposed. What an amusing sense of humor shining through the darkness. Oh, this would be fun. “Indeed,” Obi-wan replied. His tone implied that he knew something was going on, but not precisely what. He knew he'd missed something, but couldn't seem to make the connection he needed to. Dooku wanted to sigh (although he didn't). His grand-padawan may very well be one of the most intelligent beings in the universe, but he was still blinded by his upbringing. Still, he wanted to see just how far Obi-wan's deductive skills could take him. “You sound so sure. What makes you think that this supposed ‘power grab’ of yours is the correct conclusion?” It was a token question, and they both knew it. Dooku just wanted to hear his reasoning. He smiled slightly when the man sitting across from him took his inquiry seriously. Then he seemed to deflate and looked down at his hand sadly. “Because only someone who cared for power above all else would choose to embrace this.” Dooku couldn't help the disappointment that rose in him. He knew the younger man had not truly 'embraced' the darkness yet, even if he had fallen—chosen to fall, apparently—but with that attitude, there wouldn't be any major breakthroughs any time soon. “Said like a true Jedi,” the Sith said, making sure he still had utter control of his voice. His discipline and control seemed to impress Obi-wan, and why not? From the viewpoint of a Jedi, Dooku’s current control wouldn’t have seemed much different than his reputation suggested—both as a Jedi Master and as a Count. However, with his new perspective, it was obvious the younger man couldn't find the control he so longed for. He saw something in Dooku that he wanted, and that, at least, the Count could use. He almost expected Obi-wan to shake it off and try to provoke him somehow to hide his deficiencies or even just out of habit, but he must have known he was outmatched at this point because he didn't say a word. If anything he seemed even more humble than any time Dooku had encountered him previously. Still an easily salvageable situation, even if not the most ideal. “You still think too much like them,” Dooku went on finally. “And you will never become a master of the dark side like that. Your pathetic attempt at meditation only proves that. You think that the dark side is the Force except colder, more powerful, perhaps wilder. You couldn’t be more wrong. If you are to learn to control the darkness, you must forget everything you have learned because it will not help you.” From the slightly furrowed brows and the sudden stiffness only just perceptible, the younger man knew Dooku was speaking truthfully. He could obviously still touch the Force, direct it, use it—for the most part—but the Sith Lord knew from experience that everything else about the darkness would feel almost foreign at this point. Undoubtedly he'd already learned that Jedi techniques would only be able to take him so far. Dooku relaxed, going from tense and angry to calm and understanding. That was what would get through to the younger man now, even if instead of putting Obi-wan at ease, it seemed make him want to bolt for the door. Still, he stayed put and Dooku spoke with ease and softness. “But then again, it is understandable. I was little different when in your shoes. It did not occur to me that meditation could even be conducted in another way.” He knew what kind of trap he'd laid and the obvious bait, and judging from his wary expression, Obi-wan knew it too. He was still contemplating taking it nonetheless. He wanted to ask, as he practically radiated a sort of desperation that only came from someone who had dealt with frustration for far too long. Dooku just smiled and took a sip of his tea. Then he decided that one more little nugget wouldn't hurt. “I'll give you a hint—it deals with a focal point.” He could see the longing there, but the younger man's stubborn nature came out yet again. “I do not want to know.” Really, he sounded more like a petulant child right then than the Jedi Master he had been. Dooku scoffed. “You must also cease fearing the dark side. If you do not consider yourself its master, it will never allow you to control it fully.” “I thought fear would be a tool you use every day,” Obi-wan defended. Dooku noted the younger man's surprise when he calmed even more, unable to hide a satisfied smirk. “Much better. Fear, even your own fear, can be a powerful tool indeed, but only if it does not have power over you. That is what you must learn—power over your emotions.” He could see the gears turning in the other's head as he struggled (unsuccessfully) to keep the confusion off of his face. “The Jedi teach the same thing.” Dooku conceded the point with a slight shrug. “They teach Jedi to control and then release them, not use them, but our emotions bring us power. If you can use them to draw you closer to the Force—to boost your power—then they are just that: a tool.” He was still struggling against the idea and Dooku nudged the darkness towards him, knowing it would do whatever it needed to bring the former Jedi to the true fold. For a moment, it seemed to be working as the Count could feel his guest's emotions struggling and growing. He waited with baited breath to see if they would push him to the breaking point, but then Obi-wan took a deep breath. He couldn't release anything to the Force anymore, but the repetitive motions seemed to calm him. “A pity,” Dooku said. “But you will learn, with time.” Obi-wan shot him a glare. A very promising, hateful glare at that, but then he looked away. Really, he was so close to the point where he would accept Dooku's offers. “Perhaps,” the younger man said quietly before falling silent again. They stayed in that silence for a few seconds before Obi-wan decided to get down to business. “Count Dooku,” he said formally. “I will say that I do not wish to become your student. While I will admit that your control and skill have impressed me, and I have no doubt you can best me in a physical and probably verbal battle at the moment, I will admit that I simply do not wish to join you or your cause.” “Really?” Dooku asked, masking his surprise, disappointment and confusion. “To take power, your Master needs to ensure that the Jedi are no obstacle. That means he plans on somehow destroying either the Order itself, its reputation or both. I want him to sign a contract stating that if he succeeds he will send the younglings under the age of eight back to their parents and that he won’t touch Anakin. If he signs and holds to the contract, I will not get involved in the war. Both of you will be left alone to do as you will with that exception.” There were some interesting connotations to that. Firstly, he had finally begun to understand that yes, the Sith could do some damage to the Jedi as a whole. Rule of two or not, that didn't stop the darkness completely. That had been true before, but now the former Jedi knew it. Secondly, Obi-wan was willing to let that happen, which already said a great deal about how far he'd fallen. By Sith standards, he was still very gray, clinging onto the light as he slowly sunk into the darkness, but if he had come this far already, Dooku sensed that Obi-wan could fall further—and thus become stronger—than any Sith in recent history. His mouth almost watered at the thought of the mere potential. Thirdly, he still clung to that brat that Qui-gon had brought home. That would have to change...but then, now he knew exactly who to send Obi-wan after for the initiation murder when he finally realized that joining Dooku was his only real choice. Unfortunately, he wasn't at that point yet as he was still willing to give up everything for said brat... Still, he couldn't help his unimpressed expression. Did Obi-wan seriously think Sidious would sign something like that? For something so measly in return? “And what makes you think that my master will sign this little agreement of yours?” the Count asked. Obi-wan shrugged. “If he does, then I won’t hunt him down and destroy him.” For a moment Dooku simply stared at Obi-wan. Then he couldn't help but burst into laughter. The little Jedi was still drunk on his own new-found power after his initial fall. Oh, how terribly entertaining. The younger man blinked in surprise as Dooku managed to bring his amusement under control again. “You actually believe you can, too,” Dooku said, unable to keep the large grin off of his face. “You do not even know his identity. He has been hiding in front of the Jedi for years. What makes you think you have any chance against him as you are now?” Obi-wan shrugged again. “I don’t believe I have any chance against him as of right now. That is where you come in.” “Oh?” Dooku set his saucer and cup down on the table, unconcerned that his expression still retained amusement, much to Obi-wan’s obvious annoyance. Oh, he would very much need to practice if he wanted to show any sort of calm or controlled facade again. “You are the leader of the Separatists, therefore you have the power to at least make sure that Anakin survives,” Obi-wan insisted. The other man tipped his head to the side, partially still amused, partially annoyed. “Surely you must realize that I cannot agree to that. Even my master believes he is the Chosen One. We cannot let him live.” Dooku's amusement had all but vanished. He'd missed something, he could tell. Obi-wan didn't seem angry or upset, like the Count would have guessed. Why not? Had he been expecting that? Then why bring it up in the first place? Did he really feel that deeply for the brat? “Why do you care for him so?” Dooku asked, frown of disapproval back on his face. “As you are now he is merely a weakness—a liability at best.” Again, instead of anger or defense, Obi-wan just seemed determined. Maybe their bond ran deeper than Dooku had initially imagined. A mild discomfort spread through his gut very suddenly. He didn't frown or even acknowledge it. He could do that later. He wanted to remove his half-cloak as the room was far too warm. Well, he would have to speak with the servants about being more vigilant on the temperature controls of the room. “I’m surprised you haven’t tried to capture or turn him if he’s so powerful and such a threat,” Obi-wan said dryly, glaring in Dooku’s direction. He seemed surprised when the Count scoffed. “I believe my master has already tried. Several times, in fact.” There was absolutely no possible way to hide the utter terror that stole over the younger man's face. It spiked in the Force and Dooku couldn't help but marvel at the sheer magnitude of it. Oh, yes, he had chosen his future apprentice well. Who would have thought that Obi-wan Kenobi – paragon of light and the utter definition of a Jedi – could feel this deeply. “What?” Obi-wan asked stiffly. Dooku wanted to roll his eyes, ignoring his stomach throbbing again. He must have eaten something that disagreed with him. The wine, perhaps? He still showed no signs of outward discomfort. This was too important. “Please,” he said dismissively, “I told you he has been hiding under the nose of the Jedi for years. Your padawan knows him rather well. Truthfully, that is another reason as to why I cannot agree to your request. Anakin Skywalker represents a threat to me personally.” The feeling wasn't going away. He paused and cleared his throat before continuing. “I have no doubt that my master will succeed in turning him eventually.” The fear somehow (impossibly) rose even further. Perhaps keeping the brat around would be useful to Dooku after all, if this was Obi-wan's reaction to him. Just how far would he go to keep the brat out of danger? “Oh, Force,” Obi-wan muttered, seeming to suddenly realize just how terrible his situation was. The fear then, suddenly, seemed doused, not in strength or power, but in the sheer guilt Dooku felt emanating from the other man. It almost took his breath away. That...he supposed, made sense. Dooku opened his mouth to speak but had to clear his throat again in an attempt to maintain his composure. The noise seemed to bring Obi-wan back to the present. “So,” Dooku said softly, “that was your reason for turning.” He still wasn't pleased by any means. He'd never heard of anyone falling through guilt before. Then again, Obi-wan had never really been normal. The younger man looked away in shame. “Yes.” The Count considered that for a moment before deciding to roll with it. It wouldn't be that much of a change to his plan anyway. The further he pushed Obi-wan—played on that guilt and shame—the closer the man got to joining him. So he said, “How disappointing.” At that, Obi-wan managed a soft snort. “You would rather I do as you did—turn for my own selfish reasons?” The Count felt a surge of anger at the insult and stored it away for later. “My reasons are my own, and they are no more selfish than yours.” After all, how could this boy before him possibly presume to know what went on in Dooku's mind? Obi-wan simply raised an eyebrow, keeping a cool outer facade, although he still couldn't seem to do anything about the emotions rolling off of him. Still, Dooku could sense the defensiveness beneath the guilt. Then, somehow, for some reason he could only begin to guess at, the guilt increased. How utterly fascinating. He had to clear his throat again. His stomach only seemed to be getting worse, and he could sense a tightness in his chest now too. Was he coming down with something? He'd heard of quickly contracted diseases. They hadn't been eradicated everywhere, after all. What unfortunate timing. He glanced up to see Obi-wan watching him with a raised eyebrow. Dooku recovered quickly. “Forgive me. It is simply amusing to see that even the great Obi-wan Kenobi is so adept at lying to himself.” Obi-wan’s hands clenched. And there was the anger. The Sith had to hide his smile again “Why do you still fight it?” the Count asked, making sure to keep his tone completely even. “Embrace it.” “Perhaps it is time to end this,” Obi-wan responded and stood. It was a defensive move. The former Jedi knew he would give in eventually. He knew it and still fought it. Dooku sighed. “It seems I have my work cut out for me.” “I told you,” Obi-wan's voice came out tense and stiff. “I am not becoming your apprentice.” “Why ever not?” The younger man's eyes narrowed. “Because I hate you,” he said. “I despise you and everything the Sith stand for. I will not become one of you.” Dooku outright smirked at him. “Well, it’s a start. A good start, actually.” He shook his head, “Do you honestly think anyone who joins the Sith doesn’t hate them as well? Your hate merely feeds your power.” Obi-wan clenched his jaw before turning and walking towards the door. “We’re through here.” “I don’t think so,” Dooku said as he stood. The room around him spun at the sudden movement and he couldn't help but stumble. After a moment he glanced up to see his guest watching him dryly from the doorway. “Yes, I can see the effects of your training even now,” he said, then turned away again only to have the door slam in his face. Dooku would have none of that. “We are not finished,” the Sith said, allowing the anger to creep into his expression. Obi-wan narrowed his eyes. “I am not like that power you crave so much. I will not give in simply because you demand I do so.” “Then you are a fool,” the older man shot back. “I offer you the chance to gain unlimited power and you reject it.” “My condition is Anakin’s life,” Obi-wan returned, “And you have rejected that.” Dooku paused, scrutinizing the man before him. “That is your only condition?” “And the children,” Obi-wan added hastily. “But you would remain if I agreed,” Dooku didn't say it as a question. The younger man frowned. “You already said Anakin is a threat to you.” Yes...yes, this could work. Better than he'd initially thought even. “Only as long as Sidious lives.” Obi-wan paused for a moment, contemplating that. “Explain,” he said, almost threateningly. Dooku raised his hands in mock surrender. “I do not wish harm on the boy.” “Despite the fact that he is The Chosen One?” The Sith raised a finger. “I said that my master believes your…former apprentice is The Chosen One. I never said that I do.” Obi-wan didn't look impressed. “And do you?” Dooku thought that over for a moment and decided that honesty would serve him best right now. “I’m not sure. I would be unsurprised either way as both outcomes are possible. However, my main concern is that Anakin poses a threat to me personally simply because my master is attracted to power.” He wanted to snort (as undignified as that was) because he'd just voiced the largest understatement in the history of understatements. When he continued to speak, he made sure his voice was calm and even again. “He wants your apprentice as his. I, on the other hand, have little interest in the boy. If my master were no longer a threat, then the boy would be in little danger of falling. From what I can see, neither of us wants that.” Obi-wan eyed Dooku suspiciously. “So, you would agree to leave Anakin be, no matter what, if I joined you.” “Only if we can eliminate Sidious’ threat.” “So that you can take over,” Obi-wan asked, his voice returning to the dryness it seemed to gravitate towards when speaking with Dooku (who still found it terribly amusing). “And restore peace,” the Count added on. Obi-wan was tempted. It was written all over his face and the Force. He didn't want to join Dooku, but he could see the benefits of doing so. There were, of course, loopholes. Dooku could easily have Skywalker killed before they managed to confront Sidious and he would not have breached their agreement. Or if the brat fell, he would be ripe for the picking and Dooku would stop at nothing to murder the boy. But would Obi-wan see that? He decided to sweeten the deal. “The Jedi don’t have to die either and we could end this war. That would be a fitting tribute to Qui-gon, don’t you think?” Because if the man was this attached to Skywalker, then he undoubtedly still held some attachment towards his former master, just as Dooku had suspected before. Obi-wan looked as if Dooku had struck him and turned his head away. An anticipatory silence fell over the room. “It would,” Obi-wan finally agreed softly. Dooku couldn't help but smirk in triumph. He had him. “So, then you agree?” Obi-wan paused and stared at the older man hard. “Anakin lives.” “Of course.” “And the children…” “I have no intention of tearing down the Jedi, so there is no need to return them to their parents.” Obi-wan still looked conflicted, but Dooku wouldn't have expected otherwise. Finally, the younger man deflated. “Then yes,” he whispered. “I accept.” xXx
  9. Funny, on Ff.net this story is by far my most viewed and popular one while the dark!Obi-wan story is kind of under the radar. I wonder what that says about this site...LOL xXx Chapter 5 As Anakin leapt over the railing and soared past the edge of the walkway, he realized that he hadn't dodged quite as well as he'd hoped when he felt a searing bolt from a blaster enter his leg from behind. He grit his teeth against the pain. Right now, in the midst of an adrenalin rush it wouldn't be too difficult to ignore it, but he knew he would pay for it later. He wouldn't have gotten hit at all if it weren't for those infernal stilts. More blaster fire came at him as he sped down and passed the sniper set up from below. He was able to avoid the blaster fire by pushing with the Force off of the sides of the buildings surrounding him. It wouldn't be too long until he was out of range...he just hoped that he wouldn't hit the ground before he could find a way out of this ambush. With one mighty push at just the right angle, he shot in a southeast direction, causing his descent to fall into a blind spot for most of the bounty hunters and immediately put his hands and feet out to slow his descent. He was coming up on a traffic lane below...perfect. Aiming for a transport, he pushed off of a building and angled his body in a precise trajectory, then reached out with the Force. Slowing himself as much as he could, he stretched out his arm and snagged the top of a passing airbus, wincing when, even with the give he'd factored into the extensions, it jerked his arm painfully enough to almost pop it out of joint. It was a nod to his prowess in mechanics and robotics that the mechanical hand didn't fall apart immediately. His body jerked forward and slapped against the back of the transport, probably alarming several people inside, but he paid the cries of distress no heed. Reaching out with the Force again, he felt for followers. No one. They hadn't expected him to do that and so didn't have a speeder ready to follow. He thanked the Force for that. They wouldn't be too far behind, so he had to get off soon. Of course, that left a bit of a problem as he didn't have anywhere to jump to, really. The bus was slowing down, though. Of course, the driver would wonder what the heck had happened when something as heavy as a body landed on top of it. It headed towards a walkway, obviously making an emergency stop. As it went in for a landing, he used the Force to augment his leap and jumped onto the walkway, wincing when he landed on his bad leg, but he rolled into it, managed to clumsily stumble to his feet and took off down the walkway. He hit the button for the bottom floor on a turbolift at the end and slumped against the wall as the door slid closed and it plummeted. The bounty hunters wouldn't give up that quickly, not if they were employed by Palpatine. At the moment, it would be far too easy to track him, but he could lose them on the bottom levels where there were few cameras and far too many places to hide. He knew too much about bounty hunters to even begin to contemplate the idea that they wouldn't be able to find him again if he wasn't careful. He refused to allow himself to be distracted, but he made several mental notes as he waited for the lift to stop. How had the bounty hunter's found him in the first place? Were they tracking Dooku? Probably. Anakin doubted they'd be able to retrace his movements before the cafe as he'd been particularly careful just in case something like this happened. Still, he was far too paranoid to use the same routes again and he would have to find new ones. As the turbolift began to slow, he threw his mind into focusing on getting away...preferably without any more confrontations. As soon as the lift stopped and the door swung open, Anakin sprinted out and into the streets, hoping that he'd been fast enough that the bounty hunters hadn't caught up with him yet. Fortunately, even in a more industrial area such as this, little clusters of bars and brothels could be found shoved in old warehouses and basements, most of which were probably temporary and most definitely illegal. He didn't pause as he glanced around. He needed somewhere he could take off the mechanical limbs without the possibility of any camera recording him. A stagnant cluster of beings caught his eye and he realized with a shudder that he knew of one place where such recordings would be unlikely. Slowing to a more manageable pace, he gulped down an unfamiliar sick feeling in his stomach and approached the group of females dressed far too scantily in his opinion. Of course, that was the point, but still. He noted the different species in the group: a couple of humans, a few twi-leks, some species he couldn't identify, a Rodian and even an insect-like verpine. They, of course, noticed him approaching and honed in faster than a pack of gundarks on the hunt. “What can we do for you? ” one of the Twi-leks asked in a sultry tone that really only made him want to vomit. To make matters worse, her question seemed to open the flood gates and all of the others began their propositioning. Anakin backed up a step unwittingly and scanned them all again. This was a bad idea, he noted, and was about to turn and find another place on his own when noted one girl off to the side. She looked completely miserable with the exceptions of some angry glances he saw her shoot at a one or two men down the street, which was a surprise seeing as she was a Zeltron. Humanoid, with pink skin and red hair, he had known of the species, but he'd never seen one with a similar expression on their face. Zeltrons, being slightly telepathic, tended to cling to positive emotions. Actually, their entire culture revolved around shunning negative emotions. Seeing one so unhappy and with more than her fair share of bruises.... It reminded him all too vividly of too many slaves he'd known. “You,” he said, pointing to her. She looked up and saw him. For a moment an expression of disgust crossed her face, but it was gone almost as quickly as it had appeared. After a second, she sighed and nodded, moving to stand. Then she turned and walked through the doorway of the building behind her. “You don't want her, do you? ” one of the Twi-leks said in his ear. He ignored her, shook off the others' arms and followed the Zeltron into the building. It was old, dirty and smelled of rot. The remains of broken furniture and vermin nests littered what he could see of the hallways and rooms inside, a sad reminder of ages past. She lead him down a few turns and into one of the rooms. An old mattress had been shoved into one corner, the only intact piece of furniture in the room. A dim lamp hung from the ceiling, the only light source in the room. They hadn't even bothered to clean the floor, he noted with disgust. He stretched out with the Force, but couldn't find any trace of a camera...not that that was any concrete confirmation. The Force dealt mainly with the living, after all. “The price—” she started but he cut her off. “Are there recording devices of any means in this room? ” She blinked. “No,” she finally said, sounding almost annoyed. Then she paused and regarded him. “You're...not here for me, are you. You're running from someone...” He answered by throwing a stack of credits at her. She caught the bundle, surprised. “What's this? ” “For your time,” Anakin responded. Then, before she could react, he stepped forward and put a hand on her head. “Sleep. And know that you can do better than this. If you have the ability to take back your life, do it. Stop at nothing.” He couldn't help adding that last part on and wondered when he'd become so sentimental. A Force-laced suggestion like that wasn't anything sure, but he could implant the general idea in her mind, similar to a mind trick. Usually it only helped reinforce previous thoughts and ideas that a person had already had. The Zeltron slumped onto the mattress and Anakin immediately tore the armor and suit he was wearing off. It only took a few moments to get both the mechanical, foot-like stilts and hand extensions off. Grabbing one of the dirty blankets (ignoring the possibilities of the disgusting substances that were probably on it), he tied everything up in a little bundle, shoving the mask in at last minute. An old ventilation shaft served as an exit point. He had no doubt that his pursuers would be able to track him this far, but he wished them luck tracking him further. If they could find him after this, they deserved to catch him. For the next hour, he crawled through the unused vents, the Force nudging him down one or another. He was surprised he never came to a point where the old, tunnel-like structures would collapse under him. Surprised, but grateful. A few times he had to use the Force to take down a grate blocking his pathway further, but for the most part, he managed to make it through to another room in the building a fair enough distance away that he felt safe (well, safer) exiting. Slipping out into another unused room a few floors up and on the opposite end of the building from where he'd entered, he ran to a window and slipped outside, the blanket holding his disguise tied neatly around his shoulders. xXx Anakin hadn't felt so grateful for a shower in months. After his escape from the temporary brothel, he'd had to meander through the bowels of Courscant, avoiding just about everyone else (a child wondering alone through the under levels of the capitol planet at night was practically inviting trouble) and it had taken him far too long to get back to the Temple. He'd be lucky to get three or four hours of sleep now. His nightly activities had worn him out far more than he'd realized until he'd stepped into the shower, and he slumped against the refresher wall as the warm water soothed away his aching muscles. At least he'd managed to stop by the storage shed he used as a base outside of the Temple to drop off his armor and mechanical limbs. Still, despite his aching body, he considered the night to be successful. His endeavor to reach out to Dooku was one of two positive aspects of the night that he would cling to, the other being that he'd been able to escape Sidious' pawns. Of course that lead back to the idea that Sidious knew about him. That fact, in and of itself, made him weak in the knees and drove his body to a point far beyond sickness. It made no sense as to why the man hadn't tried to contact him here at the Temple, though. Anakin could not for the life of him figure it out. Why? If Sidious knew who he was, why hadn't he even so much as dropped a hint? It was so unlike the man...unless he still didn't know. But that made no sense at all? No matter how much he thought about it, he could not come to a conclusion. His tired mind kept racing in circles and finally he had to just push it all away. Maybe a few hours of sleep could clear his mind enough to help him figure it out. He wiped a towel through his hair, brushed his teeth, threw on a pair of pajama pants and finally collapsed into bed. He was out almost before his head hit the pillow. xXx “Hello, Anakin,” a calm, deep voice caused Anakin to jump and spin around. No one was there. Actually, nothing was there, and he felt...taller. Wait, was he in a dream again? His surroundings seemed peaceful, and he couldn't really assign any particular feature to them, be it color or shape. It certainly felt like a dream. “Who...? ” he asked, but faded off as he realized the answer to his question. He knew that presence. “Qui-gon? ” A chuckle reverberated around him and then the man appeared before him, looking him up and down thoughtfully. “So, this is the real you? ” Anakin looked down and saw an adult body, but not one familiar to him in the slightest. His hands and feet weren't mechanical and he had no problems breathing. The constant pain from his scars and the joining of metallic material to flesh was also strangely absent. After a moment, he shook his head sadly. “No. I never had a complete body after the age of 19. As much as I would like to claim it, this isn't me.” Qui-gon shook his own head, mimicking Anakin's gesture. “Then think of it as what could be, for the body you see does indeed belong to you.” Anakin didn't say anything, not agreeing but not wanting to argue. Qui-gon seemed to sense this as he sighed. “Anakin, you need to stop thinking you're not worthy of your own desire and dreams.” The former Sith snorted. “Yes, because that took me so far in my previous life.” Qui-gon shook his head again. “If you were truly undeserving of anything, then why did Obi-wan send you back? ” Anakin looked away. “Probably because he felt sorry for me.” “No,” Qui-gon said firmly. “He did so because he loved you; because he believed in you.” “Then he is...was a fool.” Besides, Anakin didn't believe that for a second. He'd lost any kinship he'd had with his Obi-wan on Mustafar. “He did love you, you know,” Qui-gon said softly. “And when you were his apprentice, he was immensely proud of you.” This time Anakin rolled his eyes. “Yes, his constant comments of disappointment were proof enough of that.” And there was the strange sarcasm again. “I know my Padawan,” the older man insisted. “From what I could see, he did love you, he just didn't know how to express it.” Anakin scowled. “Part of that was because he wasn't supposed to feel anything.” Suddenly the other Jedi seemed so weary. “I have never agreed with that philosophy,” he said. “And Obi-wan could never live up to it. He rarely acknowledged you because if he had done so, he would have had to acknowledge something that he had been taught was shameful. Something he'd never been able to deal with himself. He became a Knight at a fairly average age for Jedi, but I fear I left him too early and violently in both timelines.” Those words caused something to click in Anakin's mind and he suddenly realized that he was talking with this universe's Qui-gon...who shouldn't know anything like that. “Wait,” he heard himself say, “you know? ” Qui-gon smiled. It was strange because Anakin felt it more than he saw it. “I've met up with and have been speaking to the most interesting person.” “Siri!” Anakin said, somehow knowing instinctively who Qui-gon had refered to. He felt a relieved smile coming to his lips. “I've been trying to get in contact with her. Something about her being here in the timeline has caused this Siri to fall into a coma, I think.” Qui-gon nodded. “Indeed. We came to the conclusion that when she came back with you, she couldn't merge with her body (whether this is because the technique that sent you back was meant for only you or because of her current condition I cannot say), and two of the same soul cannot exist in the same timeline. I fear that if she would have had a stronger presence, both the younger and older Siri would have eliminated each other.” Anakin didn't say anything. This was a bit of a surprise for his already taxed mind. “What can we do, then? ” He certainly didn't want this timeline's Siri to die so young. He still had very fond memories of the woman. “And where is she? ” Qui-gon looked grim. “She has been severely weakened, Anakin.” “Why? ” The older man hesitated before he spoke. “On Naboo, when Padmé was shot, and you were having problems dealing with that, Siri put all of her strength into reaching our young Nubian Queen, knowing she was the only person who would be able to reach you. Because Padmé was not Force sensitive, Siri pushed a little too far and a little too hard. She's lucky her consciousness hasn't joined the Force. As of right now, she is recovering, but I fear she will never regain even the strength she had before.” In other words, the Siri from his own reality was fading away and that was his fault too. He closed his eyes, even though, being in a dream state, it did nothing to block the images and sensations from his brain. Sensing his state of mind, Qui-gon continued. “But I believe there is something you can do.” Anakin's head snapped up. “Yes? ” “Once she does regain more strength, I will help her contact you, and you can merge her souls.” Anakin just sat there, staring at Qui-gon for several seconds before he spoke. “How? ” Qui-gon smiled. “I believe that simply bringing her souls together in the same body will cause them to merge. However, you will need physical contact to do so, which is why I cannot accomplish this task myself.” “I see,” Anakin said, his voice level, although he knew he couldn't really hide his nervous emotions from Qui-gon. Not in this state. And just how long had it been since he had been nervous? Had he lost all the confidence and command he'd gained in his previous life when he gave up the dark side? Qui-gon's next words were gentle but firm. “I know you've lost your faith in yourself, Anakin. You think you deserve every horrible thing that happened to you when you fell to the dark side.” Great, now he was getting counseling from ghosts too. Still, he couldn't deny the truth of Qui-gon's words. “Tell me how I do not deserve the life of a Sith,” he said, voice emotionless. “Do you know of any state of being that could be more miserable? ” “Most Sith draw strength from their misery, and as they tend to seek power and strength, they seek to keep themselves in a state of endless pain.” Anakin wondered why Qui-gon was telling him something he obviously knew so well. “I would go so far as to say they seek even greater depths of pain and misery,” he commented, unable to keep the bitterness out of his tone. Qui-gon nodded thoughtfully. “Consider that perhaps you also may have thought that putting yourself through as much pain as possible could somehow make up for your decisions and actions? ” Anakin blinked at that, his brow furrowed in a disbelieving confusion. “You suggest that I was punishing myself? ” He snorted when Qui-gon didn't answer. “Perhaps, but such actions were useless endeavor. Remaining in that state of being only caused me to accumulate more debt.” “To whom were you in debt to? ” Qui-gon asked. Anakin shrugged (a gesture he had picked back up recently, it seemed as he had never done so as Vader). “Padmé. My children. The Jedi I killed. The races I obliterated...everyone.” They remained quiet for what seemed like hours before the older Jedi spoke again. “Don't you think you've put yourself through enough pain? ” He didn't hesitate in his answer. “No. For what I've done, there is no redemption. No amount of pain can bring back the lives I took. My only thought is to try and prevent the pain and anguish my decisions brought to the rest of the galaxy this time.” More silence reigned and Anakin really didn't like where this was going, so he changed the subject. “How will you contact me when Siri Tachi is strong enough? I have been...having problems with meditation.” Actually, he was rather lucky he could speak with Qui-gon now. He suspected that this meeting was possible because he really had been just that tired. Qui-gon shook his head yet again, this time seeming exasperated. “Anakin, a trance will occur if you simply enfold yourself in the Force. That is something you can still do. Reach out and immerse your soul, and you will be able to contact me.” Hesitantly, Anakin nodded. Qui-gon noticed his reserved answer and sighed. “Anakin, have you gone so far as to lose your faith in the Force as well? ” He didn't see much of a point in lying. “I don't know,” he said slowly. If it hadn't been for his connection to the Force, he may never have been freed from his slavery, but at the same time, that same connection had led to so many awful circumstances and choices in his life. He would most certainly never trust the dark side again (only a fool would trust in it to begin with in his opinion), and the dark side was part of the Force, right? But he wanted to trust in the peace and light the Force brought to him as well. He wanted to have his old connection back, but feared that that had been lost forever. “Even now, fear is your greatest weakness,” Qui-gon pointed out, his voice kind. “It always has been and it is what bars your progress.” Anakin looked down, ashamed. “How can I trust in something that has led to so much pain? ” Qui-gon watched him for a long while before he spoke. “I cannot answer that, Anakin. It is an answer you will have to find on your own. But,” he reached out and put an ethereal hand on Anakin's shoulder. He could almost imagine he really felt it there, warm and comforting. “Just as Obi-wan believed in you, so do I. You will find your answers only if you continue to search. The moment you give up is the moment you will fail.” That sounded like something Obi-wan would say. Anakin nodded. “I do appreciate your endeavors,” he whispered. “I will always be here for you, young one,” Qui-gon replied, ignoring the fact that the Anakin standing before him stood several inches taller than him and was most definitely an adult. “Now, I believe it is time for us to part, but please remember that I will never truly leave you, just as I will never truly leave Obi-wan.” Another nod and Anakin's surroundings finally faded into a restful darkness. xXx Anakin slumped sluggishly through the hall, not really seeing where he was going and grateful that his connection to the Force stopped him from running into anything or anyone. The stress from the previous night had really taken its toll and it had been quite a while since he'd been this exhausted. He couldn't help but feel immensely glad that he'd been able to test out of most of the Temple classes (not all of them, he couldn't draw too much attention to himself) because now he had a fair deal of free time on his hands. Oh, he was supposed to do an independent study in some of his more advanced subjects, but he could skip that for once. It was funny, but when he'd been a Padawan the first time, he could have easily talked himself out of going to class if he felt he needed (or really wanted) to. He couldn't do anything remotely irresponsible as the Emperor's second-in-command and it seemed that that habit had stuck with him. He would never follow the Council's instructions blindly, but when he received a direct order or even just a request, his first instinct (usually based on self preservation) was to follow said order. He hated it. And it said quite a bit for the state of his mind when he didn't correct himself. After all, Jedi didn't hate. Sith did. He was trying to break away from his Sith-like tendencies, and so would usually push any feeling 'hate' into 'extreme dislike'. It had helped but right now, he just couldn't bring himself to care. At the moment, he was heading to the library where he could find a nice corner away from Master Nu (and it said quite a bit that even now she intimidated him) and take a nap. He technically could go back to his room, but initiates' quarters were subject to random searching, and if he were caught slacking...well, it just wasn't worth the risk. He could sleep just as well in the library so why take the chance? That was another thing that had changed. He wasn't exactly fond of unnecessary risks anymore. Not like he used to be. Mustafar had cured him of that tendency rather thoroughly. He shook the thought from his head. He could be stranded and dying with no energy to even move a pinky and he would still find the energy to banish that thought from his head. “Hey? ” a voice broke through his thoughts, bringing him out of them. “You okay? ” Anakin blinked as he turned to look at the new voice and felt a hitch in his chest when he saw who it was. Tall and lanky with dark hair, silvery skin and flexible limbs that could twist in just about any direction (and which had been the bane of Anakin's previous spars often enough), the being that stood before him was dressed as an initiate and was watching Anakin with a tentatively concerned expression. At first Anakin couldn't move. He hadn't thought about Tru Veld for years. He'd revisited their last actual meeting—that was more than polite acknowledgment—as a Sith often enough to begin with, had drawn on the betrayal and pain that he'd associated with that memory. Now, without that, he found he didn't know how to react. Tru Veld had been his best friend...and then Korriban and Darra and.... He didn't want to think about it. The memory brought up a mess of feelings; guilt, anger, pain...Even now he couldn't really figure out who had been to blame for Darra's death. The dark side had clouded so much on that mission and he'd been so susceptible. The worst thing the Jedi Council could have done at that time was exactly what they had done. How could they have sent Anakin on a mission to the Sith home world full of such recent resentment and anger? He could see now how Palpatine had worked the situation; how he'd set everything up so neatly. That had been exactly what he'd wanted, to draw an unsteady, young and powerful Padawan to a planet ruled by the dark side and taint what little good judgment he had even more. It had been decades since he'd felt guilt over Darra's death, but now, looking at Tru and knowing what would come—no, what could come. It might not happen if he managed to take out Omega early on. Hmm, he'd have to think on how to accomplish that. And that thought was able to snap him back to reality. Tru had been growing more and more concerned as Anakin's silence drew out. “Yes,” he said formally, making sure to add in a polite nod. “I'm fine. I just had some trouble sleeping last night.” “Oh,” Tru said uncertainly. “If you're sure, I guess.” Anakin almost cursed himself aloud. Tru always had been good at reading other people. He'd be able to spot Anakin's half-truth a mile away. “Thank you for your concern,” Anakin said with another polite nod. “I need to get to the library now.” “Of course,” the other initiate said, although again Anakin found no actual conviction in the other's voice. He turned to leave when Tru's voice called out. “Wait.” Anakin paused. He didn't want to wait. He didn't want to be around these shadows of the past. He didn't want to get to like and know Tru again, not after things had ended. Still, not stopping would be rude, so he turned and looked at the other initiate over his shoulder. “My name's Tru Veld, from the Squall clan,” he held his hand out in greeting. Anakin looked at it for a moment, hesitating. Then he turned and warily reached out to shake the other's hand. “Anakin Skywalker. Thranta clan.” Tru's face lit up. Anakin wanted to groan. His former friend's sharp mind had always made him a perfect candidate for keeping up with the Temple gossip. “You're the new initiate that just came in, right? ” “Yes,” Anakin said slowly as he withdrew his hand. “What planet did you grow up on? ” Anakin frowned but didn't see a reason to not answer. “Tatooine.” Tru frowned thoughtfully. “Never heard of it.” Anakin couldn't help but snort. “I'm not surprised. It is little more than a dust ball and has little to offer the known universe.” The thoughtful look on Tru's face deepened. “You don't sound like an initiate.” The former Sith looked away, mentally kicking himself. Hadn't he just resolved not to let his guard down around Tru? “It was a harsh planet,” he said softly. “Children grow up fast.” The silver being's head bobbed in acknowledgment. “I see. Well, you're here now. Why don't we eat lunch together sometime? I know our clans will have some crossover time in the next few months.” Anakin wanted to sigh and shake his fist (well, he wanted to do much more than a simple fist shake, but he wouldn't entertain such thoughts) at the universe in general. Initiate clans usually held only two or three age groups. Once enough younglings came of age, they would be placed in one of three clans available for their age group. The older students were encouraged to befriend and help the younger students in their clan until they were either chosen as a Padawan or sent to work in the Service Corps. To help diversify and encourage social skills, the different clans were often mixed when it came to free time and even a few classes. When one age group graduated from a class, they would then be placed inanother class and their free time would coincide with another clan's. There were anywhere from eleven to fourteen clans in the Jedi temple at any given time, depending on how many children they had in the créche, and so when an age group in a clan graduated, chances were they would be put with a clan that they hadn't coincided with in many years if ever. Of course it was just his luck that his and Tru's clans would be put together now. And if he recalled, Darra had been in Tru's group as well. Oh, yes, this would be fun. Funny how quickly bitterness and resentment turn into anger. Anakin put a hand to the bridge of his nose and massaged it. He really needed that nap. Especially if he was going to go racing tonight. “Well you don't have to if you don't want to,” Tru said defensively, misreading Anakin's reaction. “No, it isn't...” Anakin started, but then stopped. The other initiate continued to study Anakin, his silver eyes curious and not offended. Right, this was a young Tru who would happily forgive just about anything. This wasn't the older Tru who held a grudge almost better than Anakin had. This wasn't the Padawan whose trust Anakin had lost. “Look,” he said finally, unable to hide the weariness decades of regret and pain and anguish tended to bring. “It isn't what you think. My friendship will only bring you pain. Pain and regret. That is all.” This time Tru looked genuinely confused. “Why do you say that? ” Anakin shook his head. “Please, just trust me on that one. Have a good day and...” he paused at the next words, realizing with surprise just how much he wanted to say them. It would be his goodbye to a friend he'd never really had any closure with, and it would be a warning to this younger version—the boy who could forgive almost anything—that Anakin was someone who didn't deserve his company, his friendship, or his trust. “And may the Force be with you, Initiate Veld,” he finally finished and strode off down the hall before Tru could say anything else. xXx Darth Sidious did not second guess himself often. He had far too much confidence in his abilities and no small amount of well-deserved arrogance. When he did find himself doing so, however, it rattled him. Going over everything he'd learned about this Vader again and again had given him little more insight than he'd already had. Whoever he was (as he was most definitely male) had felt powerful, overbearing and unchallenged. He'd also commanded a control over the Force that, while nothing compared to Sidious', was commendable. He struck Sidious as someone who would prefer to work on their own. Logically, that would mean, of course, that his bounty hunters had met up with Vader after Dooku's little meeting. That, however, made no sense at all whatsoever because that being had run. It wouldn't have been difficult for a Sith to take out the small strike force of Non-Force-Sensitive hunters, no matter how skilled they were. Not unless they had special training, which Sidious knew they didn't. And yet the being had fled. Of course, he had also claimed to not be 'Vader', which in and of itself proved that the Sith was now showing a presence in the universe, but he doubted that Vader had taken an apprentice, and the being on the walkway hadn't shown the slightest trace of using the dark side (although he was undoubtedly Force Sensitive). So had Vader simply hired a rogue Jedi? Someone else who had been trained in the Force? Perhaps someone from the planet where Vader himself had come from? It just made no sense, no matter how he looked at it and that...that frustrated him to no end. He prided himself on his ability to clearly see motives and consequences to other's actions (as well as his own), but nothing he knew fit this particular case. Which meant he was missing something. Oh, this would put him in a foul mood for the rest of the month, he knew. Still, being the methodical Sith he was, he went back to the beginning and went over the information again. He would figure this out. No matter how long it took.
  10. The most difficult thing for me was learning to think through the emotions. All of my life, I had learned to accept my emotions and then to give them up before I made a decision. When that no longer became an option, I very suddenly found myself having to learn from scratch to think despite my emotions. It may be the one area of my personality that actually improved after I fell. The Clone War, as all wars throughout history, had created far more than its fair share of victims. Unlike other wars in recent times, the Jedi did not escape this. If anything, it was just the opposite. The centuries old Jedi Order, which had helped to bring about the peace that was now being systematically destroyed, would of course be at the forefront of every battle, fighting for harmony again…at least, that's what the news channels stated. After all, one of the many reasons why the Jedi were allowed the privileges they were was because of their neutral defense of peace. As protectors of the galaxy, they were expected to fight for that peace as well. Most Jedi agreed to this propaganda to some extent, but they also didn't see how keeping peace meant fighting and destroying. The Jedi Order had indoctrinated a certain level of pacifism into its Jedi for longer than any current member had lived, and that was a hard thing to let go of. Truthfully, destroying droids wasn't so bad. Slicing into Force-dead machinery and electronics would never be anything that really hung on any Jedi's conscious or make them question who their enemy was off the battlefield. The real problem was that Jedi were also losing comrades and civilians and the clones that supported them (who were alive in and of themselves—and thus to be cherished and protected). Hence, almost from the beginning, the war had felt extremely one-sided to the Republic and many in the Order itself. The enemy leaders never had to relent or worry about the cost of lives as more than production numbers, whereas the Jedi had to deal with a near crippling level of loss not felt in generations. This caused them to find themselves, even if only in the deepest part of their hearts, truly caring for the Jedi and the people underneath them lost to battle, coupled with a growing reluctance to lose anyone else. It seemed there wasn't a week that went by without at least five new casualties among the Jedi Knights or padawans. The Order may not have been encouraged to form attachments, but none could deny that that the holes those Jedi left at home were aching, gaping sores that many found difficult to deal with. Who would be the next person on the list of dead or missing? Or worse, as some of them whispered. A few Jedi that came home, driven to pain or cowardice by a loss that they had been unable to bear, had been forever changed—and not in any way positive. Far too many veterans disappeared into meditation chambers—refusing to surface—or had to be placed under heavy sedation with the Healers for their own good. Such situations were becoming far too common, and each Jedi's loss would only force another into the field, possibly never to be seen again. And yet, not fighting seemed just as wrong to their mindset, because the Jedi were meant to protect—to help and support and keep other beings alive. If they pulled out of the war, no matter how much healing they needed, what then? Who would they be protecting? What right would they have to face the spirits of the people cut down by the droids in the afterlife because they weren't there as they had promised to be? The only answer seemed to be nothing other than 'end the war'. So that is what they strove for. They would carry on, despite the stabs of pain and sadness that the entire temple seemed to feel every time one of their own fell. They would mourn for their losses, release their emotions to the Force as best they could and move on to the next battle. And yet, some wounds seemed as if they would never truly heal. One such sore inflicted was when General Obi-wan Kenobi—the man who seemed to be able to talk or maneuver his way out of anything and the renowned Sith Killer—had gone missing, presumed dead. It had become even worse when his padawan, the hope of the Order's future, the fabled 'Chosen One' who could practically bulldoze his way through any situation his Master couldn't talk them out of, also vanished in a similar manner. Their losses had been enormous blows both to the war effort and to almost every Knight, padawan and Master personally. The news had been demoralizing to the Jedi that saw the two leaders as pillars of strength, figures standing tall that broke the war around them rather than letting the war break them. Losing them had felt—yes felt, even if none would admit it aloud—like losing what little faith they had that the Order would be able to come through this war still mostly intact. Which was why when a message with Padawan Skywalker's personal code came to the Temple, most of the Jedi who heard could only stare in disbelief at the holo-projector displaying the visage of the supposedly lost boy. His return from the dead brought a desperate relief from the nigh overwhelming losses that they had suffered under, and rekindled a hope that had vanished from the steadily declining moral of the Jedi. Then the news he brought back of Knight Kenobi's survival spread, causing even more surprise and all masters turned blind eyes to the quiet displays of joy, hope and renewed vigor that sprung up among the younger ranks. His announcement also cemented his position as the 'Chosen One' in the minds of several of the more skeptical residents of the Temple, for Anakin had had faith in one of their brightest brothers when all others had lost it. He had held hope and trust in his heart and his steady dedication had been rewarded. The fact that Obi-wan was in seclusion and recovering was of little consequence. The fact that Padawan Skywalker refused to reveal his Master's location, while worrying to the truly jaded that felt he might have lost his mind rather than found his Master, was something others found as an example of dedication, understanding and acceptance. After all, the older man needed time to heal and Anakin seemed determined to see that he received it. The story the boy related regarding the pair's whereabouts was nothing short of amazing, and half of the Jedi felt that what he remembered had to be influenced by either drugs or pain (or both). Either that, or he was purposefully embellishing. Still, despite the fact that only two months earlier no one had believed Obi-wan Kenobi lived—no matter what Anakin had said at the time—few disbelieved him now. His desperate determination from before had melted into a calm certainty that few could deny, and as such, they looked forward to celebrating a favorite general's return home, to help assuage that much more of the loss. People only started to become wary when, about a month after Padawan Skywalker's return, the boy revealed that he couldn't reach his Master. After a week or so of this, Anakin informed the Council that he would return to the planet his Master was supposed to be recovering on. The wariness turned to anxiousness within the Order when Anakin returned with the information that the Knight had, once again, vanished, practically cleaning out the funds in the account he had been using up until that point. What was their general doing? Did he find a new house of healing? Or did he abandon them? Would he leave them to suffer losses that he could have prevented because of their lack of faith in him? Only those with the highest clearance became seriously concerned for the man as padawan Skywalker had not only returned with news, he had also brought home a note left for him in place of the funds in the depleted account. Dear Padawan, There is so much to say that I cannot really begin to put it all into words. As such, I will only say this and hope that you come to understand one day. Anakin…I'm sorry. -Obi-wan Unlike the Council, padawan Skywalker refused to guess at the reason for the words, stating that he would ask his Master when he came home. Then, as if deliberately to counter the maturity that he had recently displayed, the boy then showed his age and lack of experience by throwing almost every extra moment into locating his master again instead of focusing more on the war. Really, it only confirmed to the Council that he was not ready to move up to the station of a Knight, and though his esteem in their eyes had grown, no one there argued otherwise, and thus he remained a padawan. xXx Coming up with basic plans for his general goals weren't that difficult, especially for someone of Obi-wan's mental caliber. Finding the right people to manipulate into helping him with his plan and contacting them was also surprisingly easy but extremely time-consuming. Designing contingencies for his plan took more thought and time due to his refusal to leave more to chance than he had to. Still, he had always known that the true difficulty would lay in the execution. He could plan for centuries and never come up with everything that could happen, and the thought of the unknown, something he couldn't design an option for, was something he knew he couldn't truly plan for. Plans rarely survived first contact, after all, whether the plan was a war strategy or a carefully laid, step-by-step progression towards a goal. Before, that would have bothered him. Now, it angered him…and he hated that. So he hashed and rehashed every single plot he designed, no matter how frustrated it made him or how he just wanted to throw everything to the wind and pull an Anakin—charge in with his lightsaber blazing and simply make everyone see sense. Eventually, he reached a point where he was satisfied enough with what he had to stop losing sleep. Ironically enough, that was when he really began to make progress in his physical therapy. At the center of all his plans stood Count Dooku. Really, who else could possibly have the answers Obi-wan needed: why the Sith had really started this war, what their end goal was (besides destruction of the Republic and the Order), how they planned on accomplishing this, etc. A lot of those questions weren’t that difficult to really come up with an answer to, especially now. Still, Obi-wan had been able to sense that something deeper and darker was going on since before Geonosis. Many Jedi had felt the same. Now that he was more or less a Dark Jedi, that feeling had only increased, which didn’t exactly lay Obi-wan’s suspicions to rest. His plots and plans for the whole month he had spent on Haadrian after Anakin left were hatched and refined in a small recovery facility that catered to richer clients. They had the individual attention that Obi-wan had needed and it made all the difference. His rehabilitation had progressed in leaps and bounds, and they had been far more lenient on who Obi-wan could and couldn’t contact than the hospital would have been, which made his ability to scheme far easier. That month had also been instrumental in Obi-wan coming to a rather tenuous truce with himself. The heart of the matter lay in the fact that he still wanted to be a Jedi. If he could find the will to turn from the dark side and all of its enticing power and wild energy, he would jump at the chance in a heartbeat. The problem was that he still could not seem to do so…and he couldn’t help but wonder if that meant some subconscious part of him truly wanting the power the dark side gave him. The thought bothered him, and so he avoided touching the Force as he could almost feel the new energy twisting and corrupting him. Already he wasn’t even sure if he really was still Obi-wan Kenobi at all, which gave him a new perspective on why Sith chose to take new names. Once he had his course of action more or less solidified, he knew he would have to broach the subject of what Dooku’s responses to his actions would be. It hadn’t been something he’d been looking forward to figuring out as the fact of the matter was Obi-wan was positive he could not hide his new status from the man, and really, he did not want to put up with the smug superiority that the older ex-Jedi would undoubtedly exude. However, that line of thinking led him back to their meeting on Geonosis, when Dooku had asked Obi-wan to join him. It had been far more subtle than that, but once all of the pleasantries and supposedly casual observations were stripped away, that had essentially been what he’d asked. Obi-wan had little doubt that the other man would ask him again if they met face-to-face. If he went into the situation without having decided before hand what his response would be, he knew he could easily be swept up in Dooku’s offers. The man had charisma, control, class…and all of them would be far more appealing to Obi-wan now. Especially considering that the man essentially had the power to stop the war if he so chose plus his knowledge and experience using both sides of the Force. Obi-wan had never sought power, but he had always held a weakness for knowledge—especially when it could possibly help him to feel less adrift than he currently did. Still, he was stubborn too, and Obi-wan refused to simply ‘go along’ with anything. He wouldn’t be able to protect Anakin like that, so he seriously asked himself if he could ever see himself joining the Sith—a question he was not happy to ask, but one he knew he honestly had to consider. The answer had been a surprisingly firm ‘no’. The cold, hard truth really came down to the fact that the Sith had put Anakin’s life in danger, and Obi-wan couldn’t forgive them for that. They had also—either directly or indirectly—threatened the lives of every other person who meant anything to Obi-wan and he couldn’t see that stopping any time soon. From what he could recall from his lessons as a youngling, to join the Sith Order, one had to murder someone close to them in cold blood, and that was simply something Obi-wan was unwilling to do. He didn’t feel the same towards anyone who had meant something to him now, but he did still harbor emotions towards them and the memory of what he had once felt for them was something that seemed to be able to keep him on some semblance of a moral path. He had no delusions that he could always rely on that—eventually, the darkness would corrupt that too—but for now, he did have it and he would cling to it. So he had come to the conclusion that, dark or not, a Jedi he would remain after all. It was funny, but after he’d taken the leap into the darkness he’d expected to be…well, different. It surprised him that he still seemed to be only slowly descending into the miasma—inevitably and constantly as he could not turn and go back, no matter how he tried, but somehow he felt that when most dark-siders fell, they would do so very quickly. He figured that this difference in him lay in his path to the dark side—the ever encompassing, crushing guilt that he had more or less learned to accept as a constant in his life now. It was funny in a rather grim sort of way that that which had led him to the darkness now also kept him somehow connected to the light. He felt guilty for turning his back on everything he had ever known, which connected him to the darkness but also encouraged him to look back. He felt guilty for manipulating and practically abandoning his padawan, which made him want to keep tabs on him and ensure the boy’s future instead of destroying or eradicating it. He felt guilty for having been so weak as to have been captured by a Sith Acolyte, which had given him the power to kill her but had also rid her evil from the Galaxy and thus gave him a small sense of accomplishment and peace that lay buried beneath the lust for more and the steadily growing anger that he had never before equated with himself. The double-edged result of his actions tended to give him a headache whenever he thought about it, so he tried to avoid doing so. Still, Obi-wan had never considered himself a coward, and so he refused to back away from the realizations permanently, and thus he had eventually forced himself to examine the situation from that view point. One thing the dark side seemed to encourage that the normal Force didn’t was the sheer possibility and potential that lay at the very core of the nigh-untameable (and yet surprisingly pliable at the same time) energy. The darkness did not lend itself to healing or peace, but the very ideas of what Obi-wan could do with it if he so chose was something that both intrigued him and made him extremely wary. He had no doubt that more than one person had lost themselves to that very idea. Just because he could do something didn’t mean he should, although that thought seemed so…obsolete now. The techniques he could discover could change the universe! So why should it matter who got in his way and who he had to destroy or torture to discover them? And then he would remember Anakin and the sheer worry on the boy’s face, or he would think back to those two women who meant so much to him even now, or Mace Windu who he’d thought of as a mentor and friend, or Master Yoda who had always been the most powerful being that Obi-wan had ever known, and he’d done so with the warmth and light, not the darkness. It always managed to put everything into perspective. He concluded that he could experiment as long as those he had cared for would not be hurt—which meant he could learn control and techniques only through what he already knew and what he could conceivably do by/to himself, because he had little doubt that they would all find out what he had done eventually and he wanted to minimize the pain and betrayal they would undoubtedly feel. If he’d hurt anyone else at that point, they would never forgive him, and he couldn’t live with that. He had already adapted most of what he knew of his lighter techniques to the darkness and had been practicing control—which was another beast in and of itself. Control of the light had meant a mastery of oneself. Obi-wan had only recently realized with an insight that he doubted he could have achieved any other way just how internalized the normal Force was. The dark side, however, was external. It required a complete knowledge of one’s will and superiority over it to control. Of the Force, one asked. Of the dark side, one demanded. The light lent itself to commonalities and working together. The dark lent itself to hierarchies and levels, which was why, Obi-wan realized after several weeks of contemplation, the Sith strove to always be the best. When one controlled others, in their mind, it meant that no one had control over them. When no one had control over them, supposedly freedom had been obtained. It was a ridiculous notion to the Former Jedi because by gaining that supposed freedom from others, they had enslaved themselves to the dark side; become a tool only useful to the darkness and at that point, they had no real will of their own. If he ever fell that far, he hoped that someone would have the will and ability to end his existence. Sadly, he feared it was only a matter of time. He knew he could not put off enacting his plans for long. Not only did he not trust himself in the long run, but he also wanted to end the war as quickly as possible, which was why he found himself approaching the Separatist planet of Serenno not two months after he and Anakin had escaped from Ventress, and a month and a half after he had woken in the facility at Haadrian. The long-term care facility had not been pleased when he had informed them that he would be checking out early. They had insisted that he needed rehabilitation for at least another month, even with the rapid healing rate he’d been advancing at (which had actually surprised him, but wasn’t something he would question at the moment). At that point, he had simply told them that he would continue with his exercises, thanked them for their services, paid them a rather hefty tip and left. They really couldn’t stop him, and he wouldn’t have tolerated them trying. By the time he’d found and bought a small ship that would serve his purposes, his plan had almost been complete and he’d only needed to oversee a few matters personally. Now everything he needed for implementation had been put in place and he himself would be the catalyst. He kept a steady course as he waited for the security to contact him. He got surprisingly close to the planet before they did. “Unidentified shuttle, this is Serenno Planet Security. Transmit your identification documents now or you will be shot. Over.” “Acknowledged, Planet Security,” he replied calmly and sent the documents for the craft over. He wasn’t really trying to hide anything and knew they would know the name and other personal identifications would be false. Right on time, they responded. “The name of the owner of the shuttle has been proven to be false. You must provide your personal documentation immediately! This is your last warning!” Obi-wan couldn’t tell if the voice was male or female or simply a droid. It sounded metallic and harsh over the static of the com. Somehow, that annoyed him. “Planet Security, I read you. Those documents will be sent through momentarily. Please keep in mind that I request an audience with Count Dooku.” “Lord Dooku is not on planet at the moment,” came the almost immediate reply. Obi-wan rolled his eyes. He knew that was a lie. “I can wait,” he responded. “Documentation transmitting.” He transferred his real identification documents as his entire plan revolved around blatantly pronouncing his presence to Dooku. He had debated long and hard between going in quietly and going in Anakin-style. Eventually he’d chosen the latter simply because it would be unexpected, and anything he could do to keep Dooku off balance would benefit him. “Shuttle Mikoromin, do not deviate from your current course or you will be shot. All passengers will be taken into custody upon arrival. Over.” “Understood,” Obi-wan replied. “You will not find any resistance. Over.” For a moment he amused himself with imagining the looks on the faces of the beings manning the station before he stood and made his final preparations. Yes, he had everything in place for a quick escape if necessary and he checked over his plans for the umpteenth time that hour before completely erasing them from the data pad he’d poured over for the last several days, removing the hard drive and crushing it in his hand to completely eradicate any trace. Then he slowly and calmly piloted the shuttle down between the escort ships that had surrounded him long before they’d begun to enter into the atmosphere. Upon landing, he grabbed his bag, stepped to the door and opened it calmly. Then, slowly, he strode forward, keeping his hands in sight. He wasn’t disappointed. About three dozen droids met his gaze and he could see several security squads behind them, all with their blasters pointed towards him. “Well,” he commented, “this is quite the welcome.” It was nice to see that he hadn’t lost all of his humor. Actually he was grateful that it had begun to make a sort of comeback, even if his tastes had become darker and more morbid. “General Obi-wan Kenobi, Jedi Knight and enemy to the Confederacy of Independent Systems, you are under arrest,” one of the men with many decorations on his chest said calmly as he stepped through the robots towards the shuttle’s ramp. “I expected as much, commander,” Obi-wan said with a forced smile. “After all, I did come here to turn myself in.” He’d been expecting that declaration to be met with shock and skepticism. Yet again, he wasn’t disappointed. xXx He hadn’t been in the holding cell for more than twenty minutes before the man he’d come to meet arrived. Obi-wan had been trying (yet again) to meditate with little success. The dark side didn’t exactly promote calm meditation. Obi-wan didn’t really know what else to do, though, so he simply sat there and tried to reach out to the light only to grab hold the darkness yet again. Sometimes he didn’t know why he still tried, really. “Well, well, well,” a smooth voice came to him. He didn’t open his eyes. “If it isn’t Master Kenobi.” “Count Dooku,” Obi-wan said in a falsely pleasant voice. He had worked very hard in the recent weeks to build a façade that seemed similar to his old self. “I see your reception hasn’t changed much.” He finally opened his eyes and indicated the cell around him. “But you have,” Dooku said, brushing his beard thoughtfully. Obi-wan’s wry expression disappeared and he allowed his eyes to fall a little. “So I have.” “I assume that is why you came to me. If you had truly been taken by force, I doubt I would have found this cell occupied.” At that, Obi-wan frowned and then smiled. “It is not the entire reason.” “Oh?” “I came to negotiate,” he said, closing his eyes again. “You did?” Dooku sounded entirely too pleased. “Then perhaps you should abandon that pathetic attempt at meditation and follow me back to my residence where I can at least show you true manners.” Obi-wan allowed himself to slump a little before rising smoothly to his feet. “Very well,” he said, striding over to the red-tinged ray shield. “But sir,” one of the usually silent guards standing nearby spoke. Dooku rounded on him. “Do not speak if you wish to continue to live,” he warned. The man must have been particularly intelligent because he nodded and backed away. Dooku didn’t bother to walk over to the controls, instead choosing to manipulate them with the Force. It was strictly for show, Obi-wan realized. He’d found that using the dark side in subtle ways was rather difficult. The fact that Dooku could do so was a testament to his training and skill. Despite himself, Obi-wan was impressed. “This way, Master Kenobi,” Dooku said and began to walk away. “Don’t call me that,” Obi-wan said, his voice quiet but firm. Dooku peered over his shoulder, one eyebrow raised in question. “I’m not even a knight anymore, and I am no one’s master.” Okay, perhaps that had sounded a bit too bitter. “As you wish. What would you like for me to call you, then?” “Just Obi-wan is fine,” he responded, making sure to put a depressed note into his voice. It wasn’t difficult. The Count turned forward again, but Obi-wan still caught the small but triumphant smile on the man’s face. “Very well, Obi-wan.” Okay, perhaps he should have come up with something else, because hearing Dooku say his name like that grated on his nerves, which did little for his already thinning patience. “Allow me to show you around my home planet, Obi-wan,” Count Dooku said as he pushed open the double doors to the dull, gray building that had held Obi-wan’s containment cell. The planet outside could not have been more different from the facility. The system’s star shone down brightly, warming the stone and durocrete beneath them. A pleasant breeze wafted through the buildings, bringing a fresh wave of crisp air to the city. In the distance, Obi-wan could see several mountains and the breeze held just the hint of the smell of foliage in it, suggesting that the forests the planet was known for weren’t too far away. Dooku raised his hand and called over what must be his personal speeder. It had a removable cover on it and looked to be at least three or four times as long as the normal speeder on the market these days. Yes, the Sith was definitely showing off. The Count gestured for Obi-wan to enter first, which he did, finding himself in a large, luxurious seating area. He made sure to keep any reaction strictly under his control and chose a spot that would allow for him to see all exits and windows in the vehicle. A few moments later, Dooku climbed into the area as well and seated himself across from Obi-wan, pulling a bottle of what looked like some sort of high-class alcoholic beverage over with the Force. Obi-wan had a hard time holding back a cringe at his blatant use of the dark side. Here was someone who had embraced the darkness fully and was more than comfortable with it. Just being in his presence and realizing that suddenly made Obi-wan feel both self-conscious and awkward. “Now, I know you probably already know, but how about a brief history of my planet?” “If you wish,” Obi-wan said with a graceful nod of his head. Truthfully, he would prefer silence, but doubted the other man would acquiesce. “Would you like something to drink? This is Caamian wine. Very rare these days.” And undoubtedly very pricy. It irked Obi-wan that the man seemed to take every opportunity to flaunt his status and wealth, but then Obi-wan had never expected any different. With an inward sigh, the younger man began to realize just how long this trip would be and mentally prepared himself for it. “Thank you, no. I’m afraid that I am still recovering from a medical condition and the alcohol would only aggravate it.” “I see,” the older man said with a sagely nod of his head. At that point he pulled out a pitcher of filtered water so clear Obi-wan almost couldn’t see it and poured it into a glass before handing it over. Obi-wan took it but did not drink. Dooku didn’t seem to mind. “So let us start with this city. It isn’t the capitol city, but it takes most of the off-world traffic as it allows the skies over the capitol to remain far clearer…” A very long ride indeed. xXx Next chapter's from Dooku's pov.
  11. As a general rule, Sith don't tend to take frustration well. Sidious had always been different in that particular respect. He prided himself on his accomplishments as a Sith while not allowing the dark side to control him. In his opinion, too many Sith had fallen into that trap, and he would not allow himself to become nothing more than a mere puppet. However, current circumstances were trying his resolve. Intensely. At the moment, he wanted nothing more than to unleash his full anger on the galaxy. Anyone with less discipline (which consisted of most of the universe) would have done so already. It had all started with the initiation of his and his master's plan—the Trade Federation blockade on Naboo. Everything had gone so well, until the little wench of a Queen hadn't given into their plans. He'd gone ahead and removed Plageus from the equation, and he refused to second guess himself on that account, but he had to admit that everything had gone wrong since that moment. He'd lost his own apprentice (no great loss, but still a large inconvenience) to a Jedi Padawan of all people, and then all of his plans had come to a stand still. He hadn't been elected Chancellor (and Valorem had undoubtedly found out about his maneuvering because he seemed particularly wary of Palpatine now), he hadn't managed to get the Brat-queen killed, and although his standing in the Senate had indeed been strengthened, nothing had come of it. To make matters worse, he could not seem to get hold of Dooku. If he didn't know any better, he'd think the man was avoiding him...which made absolutely no sense at all. He'd dropped a few hints here and there, but it almost seemed that the man had given up his search for the Sith. The idea of the former Jedi simply giving up after he'd gone so far as to leave the Jedi Order went against everything Sidious knew about the man's personality. As he sat and contemplated his situation in his senatorial office, he couldn't help but clench his fists in an attempt to keep his anger and frustration at the entire situation under control. He couldn't afford to give up his discipline now. Not with his proximity to the Jedi. And it seemed that Dooku had come to Courscant as well. No, he couldn't afford to even come close to giving away any clues as to his real identity. But why had Dooku come back? None of his spies had reported him coming even close to the Jedi temple. No, he'd simply gone to a high-class hotel and hadn't so much as called anyone, let alone left his accommodations for any reason. A new thought suddenly entered his mind, causing him to frown. Had Dooku come into contact with Sidious' other project...with Darth Vader? The Sith he had some sort of unexplainable connection to? The Sith he could not seem to find? As if to tease him, the dark power had shown himself and then vanished. Now he could find absolutely no trace of the man who fit the images he'd torn from the assassin's head. Every possible lead he'd had on the presence had come to naught. Had Dooku somehow found a lead and thought the being was the person he'd been searching for? The implications caused both an iceberg of dread and a fire of anticipation to form in Sidious' stomach. While he may very well lose Dooku to the new power if that were so, it could also completely throw just about everyone off of his trail (not that anyone had found anything that could possibly tie him to the ambiguous Sith Lord they now knew existed, but still...). He hated the idea of hiding again, but loved the idea of blindsiding his enemies in the future. If the Jedi found Vader and pinned everything Sidious and Plageus had initiated on him.... If Dooku had not stumbled across the new Sith, Palpatine would do just about everything in his power to get him to do so. Everything could only work out in Sidious' favor in that case. If he couldn't turn Dooku, it could drive Vader to Sidious and he would have his apprentice. If Vader could turn Dooku, Sidious would have all that more insulation between his enemies and himself. And then, if Dooku somehow managed to kill Vader, he would be ripe for the picking. Perhaps the situation would work itself out, then. Sidious frowned and examined that thought again. No, he was missing something. No situation ever completely worked itself out. Not in his (rather considerable) experience. Still, he'd been patient up until this point. His ability to wait and act at just the right moment hadn't failed him yet. He would keep an eye on developments. Until then, he had some new plans to work out. If Vader was on Courscant, it was only a matter of time until their paths crossed, after all. xXx Luke came right on time, and Dooku couldn't help but be a little surprised when he saw the rest of the masked figure's body. The being was lanky and had a loping gait that belied great speed, although it seemed somewhat clumsy. He could, however, already feel a power through the Force coming from the being that hinted at amazing potential coupled with incredible control. Yes, he could see this sentient as a Sith apprentice. The being saw him sitting in one of the more private booths towards the back of the cafe and headed directly towards him. Dooku had no doubt that Luke had scoped the entire area previously and suspected that the former Sith's nonchalance was nothing more than a mask as false as the one he wore over his face. The Count didn't get up to greet him, instead giving him a nod and then watching silently as Luke slid into the seat across from him and waited patiently. “So we finally meet,” Luke said, his voice sounding sardonic through the vocal distortion. “We do,” Dooku agreed as he studied the being before him intensely. “You have mechanical limbs,” he pointed out after a minute. Luke shifted awkwardly. “I do.” The count raised his eyebrow when the being didn't continue. After a few more minutes of uncomfortable silence, Luke seemed to decide he could tell Dooku more. “My right arm was severed when I fought a Sith...another apprentice of Sidious.”Luke paused and Dooku couldn't tell if the weight he felt behind that silence was significant or not. . This being had very good shields. “That was before I...turned. After I fell and took a Sith name, a Jedi fought me and severed my other arm and my legs when I made an error in judgment.” Dooku wasn't impressed. The creature that killed Qui-gon had been a master of the saber arts. This former Sith must not have been very good at his craft if he'd lost all four of his limbs like that. No wonder he'd run. The Sith from the planet would have undoubtedly destroyed him otherwise. He felt a derisive pang of disgust towards the cowardly being before him. Why should he trust such a being or believe that anything he said was true? “I see,” he said finally. Luke must have sensed his annoyance. “No, I don't think you do,” he said, his voice suddenly cold. The being hesitated for a few moments, probably gathering himself, before speaking up. “Have you ever brushed the dark side? Touched it at all, willingly or not?” “No,” Dooku said. Not to his memory in any case. The former Sith leaned back against the seat. “The power rush is...intoxicating,” Luke said with a strange tone in his voice. Dooku could hear both love and disgust as well as hints of both longing and revulsion. It surprised and troubled the former Jedi because he'd heard that tone before. During his time as a Jedi, Dooku had run across a myriad of people. In the fallacy of his youth, he'd wanted to label them all; simply place them in a category and be done with it. He'd had little patience for others and, if he were truthful with himself, it was still something he worked on curbing as he had that tendency to this day. As a Padawan, those sentients that had disgusted him the most had been the drug addicts. Spice, Death Sticks...even the mere idea of any substance that caused severe dependence almost sickened him. Of them, Death Stick addiction tended to be the hardest one to overcome because as a general rule, the addiction was immediate and the cravings for them never lessened in intensity. As a Padawan, Dooku tended to avoid or look down on anyone who'd had an addiction in their life. He'd changed his opinion after meeting a young, single mother while on a mission with Yoda. She'd given them some information on a local crime lord who they'd suspected had been involved with several recent assassination attempts on a man in the local government who had asked the Jedi for help. When they'd asked how she knew this information, she'd reluctantly admitted that she was a recovering addict who used to buy from the crime lord's syndicate. To this day, he'd remembered how shocked he'd felt when Yoda had told the woman how strong she was without a hint of deception. At the time, it had boggled his mind. How could such a weak-willed person—one who would get attached to such substances for a few hours of escape—earn his master's respect? When he'd confronted Yoda, the little alien had admonished him for judging too harshly. 'Many kinds of strength, are there, young Padawan,' he'd said. 'Resist their own desires every day as she does, most Jedi could not. To be honored and acknowledged that strength should be. ' He'd quickly dismissed the subject after that and hadn't offered any more thought on it, but after some thought and meditation, Dooku had come to see his point. Luke spoke of the dark side like that woman had spoken of her drugs. It was thought provoking to say the least and he felt his disapproval of the former Sith begin to vanish. After several seconds of silent reflection, the being continued. “Anyone using the dark side can still think as they could before, but the thought process is heavily influenced.” He shook his head regretfully. “You don't even realize you're being influenced. You're imbued by the sudden power you're experiencing and the control you feel you have and regardless of the truth, you believe with your whole soul that no one can stand up to you. It is only after I returned to the light that I realized that the control I had experienced was a lie because for so long, the dark side had controlled me, not the other way around.” He paused for a moment before shaking his head again and redirecting his gaze to Dooku as if he suddenly realized where he was. Dooku noted his lack of focus for a trained Force user, but dismissed it for the moment as he listened to the other person's experience. “My opponent was a gifted fighter, patient and determined even in the face of my onslaught. We fought and he managed to maneuver himself into gaining the higher ground. However, in my deluded state, I continued the battle. He cut off my remaining arm and leg.” The Count nodded, but frowned. “Why tell me this?” Luke shrugged. “You wanted to know and I see no reason to keep it from you.” “It is obviously a painful subject.” Another shrug. “Most of my memories as a Sith are.” “Hmm,” Dooku said thoughtfully. He was curious and wanted to press for more information, but he also wanted to address his original questions, so he changed the subject. “Who is S—” he cut off as Luke raised his hand in a fast, cut-off motion. “Do not speak that name here. You and I both know who we are speaking of.” Dooku didn't see the harm in mentioning a name but the people who could be found at the Cafe weren't exactly always trustworthy. Dooku knew he wasn't in any danger here, but slinging around even the name of a Sith in general conversation wasn't exactly the wisest idea, so he conceded the point. He wasn't worried about the information getting out, per se, and apparently Luke wouldn't be too upset if their general conversation was overheard or he would have recommended somewhere else. That didn't mean they shouldn't be at least somewhat cautious. “Before I answer that question, perhaps I should answer your other one, regarding the Sith Order?” Oh, so he could say that aloud but not Sidious' name? Dooku's frown deepened. He wanted an answer to his question, and the constant diversions were quickly building on his last nerve. Still, he'd gotten a fair amount of information from the former Sith, and the Count would be lying if he said he didn't find it fascinating, so he decided to continue to humor Luke and allowed the diversion by stating his own point. “Very well. I do not understand how an order that was corrupt from the beginning can be corrupted.” Luke sighed. “You're not wholly wrong. Do you know how the Order was founded?” Dooku frowned. “A little.” Very little, actually. There wasn't a whole lot about it on the holocrons in the temple. The few Sith holocrons they'd managed to come across apparently had very little information as well, although Dooku had never taken a look for himself. The other being regarded him for a moment before speaking. “The Sith Order was created by a band of exiled Jedi who used the dark side. They found a humanoid race called 'The Sith' whose worship centered around the dark side. They subdued the race and made themselves lords over them for all intents and purposes. They then merged their own beliefs with the planet's culture, adopting many of the race's customs while working their own teachings into the Sith's religion. That is where a good deal of the actual philosophy comes from.” Fascinating. Dooku didn't interrupt, silently encouraging Luke to continue, which he did. “The Dark Jedi who would later become the Sith Overlords, made their code in direct opposition to Jedi. Anything that works in opposition to something simply to be opposing will never be correct. Do you happen to know the Sith Code?” Yes. He'd heard it once or twice, although he'd never actively studied it. But the way Luke leaned forward stopped him from repeating what he could remember of it. “It seems you will enlighten me either way.” The sentient shrugged. “'Peace is a Lie, there is only passion,'is the first line. Does that not sound familiar?” Dooku scowled and raised an unimpressed eyebrow. Luke took the hint and went on. “'Peace is a lie, there is only passion. Through passion, I gain strength. Through strength, I gain power. Through power, I gain victory. Through victory, my chains are broken. The Force shall free me. '” “I have heard it before.” The being shrugged. “Perhaps. But few people realize that there is a great deal of truth in those statements mixed in with the lies. He used to say that a believable lie depends on one's skill to make it just true enough to twist reality. “Why do I believe the Sith Order is corrupt? Because Peace is not a lie. I will also say that when I was in service to the dark side, I was continually bound down by the figurative chains of the consequences of my decisions.” He opened his hand and gazed at the palm of it, although Dooku doubted he actually saw it. After a few moments he seemed to come back to himself because his fingers closed into a fist and he glanced rather suddenly back at his current companion. “The rest of it is true, more or less, but those two lines I can't agree with, at least not in the context.” “You've been implying that the Sith Order has changed over time, corrupting itself from its original focus. If the Sith are still preaching this same mantra as it has from the beginning, how can it then be corrupt?" Luke shook his head slowly as if to say 'you're not getting it'. Dooku frowned, arms tightening across his chest in agitation the slightest bit. “Just because something started corrupt doesn't mean there isn't any truth to it. The problem I came across in my own studies is this: If the Sith set themselves up as opposing the Jedi, but they have truth in their original beliefs, does that not suggest that the Jedi themselves believe at least some lies? “For instance, the original Jedi code acknowledges far more than than the current translation—Emotion, yet peace. Ignorance, yet knowledge. Passion, yet serenity. Chaos, yet harmony. Death, yet the Force. Somewhere in history, the Jedi changed their goals of balance to those of comfort and apathy. The Sith may not have started out with the purest beliefs, but their original ultimate goal was freedom; an ideal that most sentient beings strive for even today. Both orders have changed, and not for the better, I fear. For the Sith Order, what few changes have been made don't seem to help with the ultimate goal of setting one free, so yes, I do believe they are just as corrupt as the Jedi in their own way.” Dooku raised an eyebrow again. “Are you suggesting that they simply lost sight of their goals?” Luke snorted under his mask. Well, at least he seemed he had a nose. “Yes, although, as I said, they didn't have a particularly clear sight to begin with. They were angry, upset, and on the run. And remember, the dark side doesn't just cloud one's thoughts, it twists them to a point where the user doesn't even realize their thoughts are twisted. Their rather illogical logic suddenly makes perfect sense. All that the Dark Jedi had on their minds at the time was their anger and hatred towards the Jedi who had rejected them. So while they could still think logically about actions and events and what physical consequences could come of them, and while they still had their own core beliefs to spur them on, they couldn't see the price they were paying. When they started their order, they were focused on rebelling against their former beliefs and most of them had been driven power mad. “That's what makes himso dangerous. He's the most level-headed Sith in the entire history of them.” Dooku noted that he'd said 'them', not 'us'. He really didn't consider himself a darksider any more. How utterly bizarre and quite impressive. “Either that or the most utterly mad of all of them. I can't decide which,” Luke admitted bitterly. Dooku watched the being for a few moments in contemplation. Apparently, at least at one time, there had been more than a master/apprentice relationship between this (former) Sith and his master, at least on Luke's side. His actions seemed more reminiscent of one who had accepted some perceived betrayal of trust than one who had simply seen the error of his ways. Or, Dooku admitted to himself, he could be reading a little too much into it. He noted this, but either way, he didn't particularly care. It was high time they got the conversation back on track anyway. “And speaking of 'him'...” the Count said as he leaned forward with a pointed expression. Luke turned his attention to studying Dooku for a few moments. “Before I tell you what you wish to know, I want your word that you will not confront him as of yet. Gather whatever evidence you feel is necessary, but do not approach the man.”Dooku frowned ever so slightly, but he could see the wisdom in the other's words, even if he only saw it as another exasperating stall. “Very well,” he said with a nod. “You have my word.” The former Sith seemed to watch him for just a few moments longer before he nodded, albeit somewhat reluctantly. “The Dark Lord of the Sith is none other than the Senator Palpatine.” Dooku stared in shock. “What?!” he asked. “Keep your voice down,” the sentient before him growled. “That cannot be true!” “Why not?”Luke asked, sitting back and folding his arms across the small chest. “The Jedi would know! I have met with the man himself!I would even consider him a friend!” Dooku replied heatedly, although he did make a conscious effort to keep his voice down. No one should be able to hear him outside of the room-like booth they'd been seated at, but there was no point in being reckless. Luke snorted derisively. “Then you are almost as great a fool as I,” he muttered. “It cannot be. You are deliberately misleading me!” Dooku insisted. “Tell me who he is!” Luke regarded him for a moment before he seemed to deflate. “The Sith are masters of deception. He has spent a good deal of his life focusing on hiding his Force presence for this very goal of deceiving the Jedi and the Senate.” “And how do I know you are not deceiving me?” Dooku challenged, still unable to comprehend that Senator Palpatine could possibly be anything other than a man—a very cunning and ambitious man, but simply a man none the less. A good man, from what Dooku could see. Although there always had been something about him... He shook the thought from his head. It simply could not be. “I am not,” Luke stated simply in answer to his question. “I have no proof to offer you at this time, but I will give you a warning: If you choose to continue to investigate this, I am sure you will uncover things you are not meant to find. If you are discovered, you will likely not survive long enough to share what you have learned. This is a powerful man in every sense of the word. He does not traverse the darkness, he is the darkness. Death walks in his shadow.” Luke paused again and Dooku found himself too conflicted to speak. “I will take my leave now, seeing as we have nothing more to discuss until you can either trust my advice or you find a way to confirm it.” He moved to stand, but The Count stopped him. “Wait!I am sure I will have more questions at some point. How do I contact you?” Luke looked down at Dooku for a second before nodding and taking a scrap of flimsy and a writing utensil from his pocket, although when he spoke, his voice was tight. “Here is another cafe. When you wish to meet, post a time under this name on Didi's Cafe's Holo-net page. Put the day you wish to meet on after the name. Do so no more than two days in advance but give at least one day's notice.” He pushed the flimsy over to Dooku. “Burn that as soon as you memorize it.” The count looked down at the note. It had the name of a cafe on it (one he was unfamiliar with) followed by 'Tyra'. A woman's name? Just how cautious could a person be?Of course, if the thought he was going up against one of the most powerful man in the Galaxy, perhaps even Luke's excessive caution wasn't unwarranted. He looked up again just in time to see the being walk out the door and sat back, crumbling the flimsy in his hand. He'd keep his promise to burn it when it wouldn't cause a disturbance. A few moments later, the robotic waitress came by and Dooku instructed it to bring him his meal. He spent the rest of the evening contemplating his own security and deciding to invest in some upgrades. He still wasn't sure he could trust Luke, but he couldn't afford not to at least look into this, and if he did so, he might not be as safe as he'd originally thought. xXx That had gone about as well as he could have expected, Anakin realized as he walked to the nearest air transport station that would take him back to the Temple. He gone to the meeting in hopes that he could sway Dooku to his side, but realistically realized that at this point, it just wouldn't be possible. Truthfully, he would be happy to settle for stopping Dooku from turning and joining Sidious. It would be nice to have someone outside the Temple he could rely on, but he knew he could never really trust the man, not after everything that had happened between them the first time. Now he would just have to wait and see what Dooku did. He did not relish the thought. He hated waiting. Still, there was nothing for it. That actually brought a new realization to mind. He'd finally gotten enough money to hire someone to start freeing slaves. He had someone in mind...a certain Bounty Hunter, if he could get hold of him. He was a bit worried as he didn't have the unlimited funds to ensure his loyalty, but then Anakin doubted he'd really need it at this point. It would just be a job, not even that high-profile. Besides, he knew the man in question had served his own time as a slave. It shouldn't be too difficult to— Anakin didn't stop in his tracks, but he did pause for the barest moment. He was being followed. Dooku? No, he doubted it. It didn't hold with his current ethics and beliefs. His heart suddenly froze. Sidious. It had to be. He would be watching Dooku at this point, so even if they hadn't heard anything that had happened in the diner (which he highly doubted as he'd had the place completely swept before Dooku had arrived and no one had even approached their booth), of course they would be curious about the person the former Jedi had come to Courscant to meet. Ahead of him, he saw his air transport station come into view. As he approached, he gave it no heed and finally bypassed it completely. If Sidious' spies were following him he couldn't afford to go back towards the Temple. No, he'd have to lose his tail first. It shouldn't be that difficult...unless his follower decided to confront him. Considering he'd bypassed just about every other point of transport he could have used, it was a possibility. That was one reason why Didi had set his cafe up where he had: it was situated very closely to both upper and lower level access ways as well as transport stations of all kinds. Of course. Anakin swept the area for an exit point he could use. There weren't a lot of people around as it was an industrial area after hours, which made disappearing into a crowd far more difficult. This was looking less and less appealing. He had just spotted a lift tube and was starting towards it when he heard a voice behind him. “Hold it, pal. I know you know I'm here.” Anakin froze and looked around. Anyone else who had been in the vicinity was hurrying away and there wasn't anyone else around him. He couldn't fight with his mechanical limbs. He could make walking look natural enough (if clumsy), but there was simply no way he could really fight if the opponent were good. Besides, he knew Sidious. If someone were confronting him now, there would be others to witness the altercation. He couldn't take them all out before one of them got away. That meant he had to avoid using the Force if at all possible. Putting his hands up in a show of acknowledgment, he slowly turned around to face the person who had addressed him. He couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman, or even what species as it seemed very large and was covered from head to foot in a strange conglomeration of armor and clothing. A bounty hunter then. “You're not a thief,” Anakin said pointedly, his voice dry. “So this isn't a mugging.” The being cocked its head. “I'm a collector of sorts,” they said. “Mainly information.” Anakin shrugged his shoulders. “Then I don't have anything I can give you.” “Can't or won't?” “I don't have anything to give,” Anakin growled. “I highly doubt that.” His frustration and fear rose again, and he tried desperately to reign them in before they turned to anger. The bounty hunter had to have some sort of leverage if he were this confident. Either that or Anakin had walked into an ambush. Tentatively he stretched out with his senses, looking for other beings in the Force. He could sense focus and intensity, which would probably mean any such beings were focused on him.... There, on a neighboring building, and another on a walk way a quarter of a league away. One below him as well. Anakin had to admit that they were good as they had covered most angles. “You see,” the bounty hunter said, “I think you were meeting someone...and we want information on everyone that person meets.” “Why?” Anakin asked, although he already knew. The being may as well jump up and down and scream 'I work for Sidious', although Anakin doubted they knew who was paying their checks at the moment. The bounty hunter scoffed. “Do you really expect me to answer that?” Anakin shrugged again. “It was worth a try.” “Who are you?” This time Anakin smirked. “You don't know?” “Whether we do or don't isn't something you need to concern yourself about. Answer the question,” the bounty hunter said, raising the blaster in its hand higher. “Or what?” Anakin challenged, his voice still dry and unimpressed. “Or my sniper friend takes you out and we find out in a more...personable environment.” They planned on kidnapping him if they had to, then. Probably would whether he answered them or not, but at least he could buy a few seconds. He had no doubt a sniper had their sights trained on him. He also doubted anyone would interfere in what looked like a confrontation between bounty hunters. No, he was on his own. “Luke Lars,” he said finally. The being snorted. “Please. Your real name.” “How do you know that isn't my real name?” “What kind of an information gatherer do you take me for?” “Who do you think I am, then?” Anakin asked, intrigued despite himself. The being shifted its weight cockily. “Does the name 'Vader' mean anything to you?” Anakin felt the entirety of his body turn to carbonite. He couldn't help the shock and horror that rushed through him. Funny how quickly shock can be turned into anger. “How do you know that name?” he asked, his voice low and dangerous. How could they possibly know that?! If they knew that then Palpatine knew that! But HOW?! There wasn't any conceivable way...wait... The assassin on Naboo. Well, it seemed he knew who Sidious had tortured. But then, why wasn't Sidious after Anakin Skywalker? Why had he had his people confront 'Luke Lars' instead? “I'll take that as a 'yes',” the bounty hunter said smugly. “No,” Anakin growled, his mechanical hands now in fists at his side. “I am not Vader.” “But you know who he is.” He felt the dark side whispering to him that he had the power to protect himself at his fingertips. All he had to do was reach out and take it. He could take them all so easily. After all, it didn't matter if he showed his Force Powers now. Palpatine already knew. He could break the neck of the man in front of him and then he could go after— NO! He yelled silently at himself and took several deep breaths to try and bring calm. It didn't help much. Yet again he felt like a cornered animal. He couldn't answer any more questions. They'd be able to see right through him and in his current state of mind there was no possible way that he could even begin to deceive them. So he did the only thing he could at the moment. He ran. Awkward or not, he could at least do that, especially with the Force at his call. With a sniper (or several) in the equation he couldn't afford not to just get out of the situation at this point. Blaster fire shot after him and he reached out to the Force, deepening his connection and dodging and jumping where it told him to until he reached the edge of the walkway. Without so much as a hesitation, he dove over the railing (thankful that this bridge wasn't shielded like those higher up tended to be) and into a free fall towards Courscant's surface more than a league below. xXx AN:
  12. Chapter 3 The very nature of the dark side is hate. Every Jedi is taught this, but I don’t think anyone who has never touched the darkness can even begin to comprehend the concept for the simple reason that their mind-set—their very way of thinking—is completely in opposition to the dark side and everything it stands for. Let me explain. Beings in general tend to seek that which makes their lives better, whether that is love, joy, comfort, peace of mind, peace in general, freedom, etc., most beings instinctively try to obtain that which will improve their situation. Even those who seek power and money tend to want a sense of control that will lead to their peace of mind or comfort. When someone truly embraces the dark side, though, they must have at least some (usually much more) hate in their hearts. No matter what led them to make the choice to turn, they cannot consciously do so without that spark of intense resentment as there is no other way to tap into the power the dark side represents. The more hatred one has, the more of the darkness one can use. So, in conclusion, to gain more of a connection to the darkness, one must learn to seek after that which makes their lives worse. It is a conundrum because one must learn to at least tolerate—if not outright embrace—the pain and misery that hate brings to gain that positive element they were originally seeking after—in this case, power and control. The whole idea is mind-blowing and not at all logical, and so it makes no sense to one who has never turned to the darkness. Therefore, no one who has ever not been there—no true light Jedi or non-Force Sensitive—can ever truly understand. When Obi-wan awoke, the first thing he noticed was that he couldn’t physically feel anything. Instead, his limbs seemed numb and he felt withdrawn from his surroundings. For a moment, that worried him and he reached out to the Force only to recoil from it when he found it dark and cold. Still, he could at least feel that and he could use it and that was a relief in and of itself. The next thing he noticed, when he managed to actually pry his eyes open, was white; nothing around him had color to it and looked so white it hurt to view. He flinched away from the brightness too, closing his eyes so quickly he could almost hear the snap. So he was in a med bay of some sort (not the Temple medbay as that tended to have calmer colors). That made sense, he supposed. The third thing he noticed was that while his ability to feel seemed to be coming back slowly, he could hear just fine. This he could tell because of a beeping that his mind only just seemed to really notice and a door somewhere that whooshed open. Somehow he didn’t think anyone would happen come by when he'd just woken, so they must have had some sensor that would inform them when he regained consciousness. That did not sit well with him. The idea of being monitored, even in a med bay, had his nerves yelling at him to get out. He tried to move, but all he could really seem to do was turn his head to watch a figure approaching. Forcing his fight-or-flight reflex away (why couldn't he release it to the Force?), he tried again to sit up—tried being the operative word. He wasn’t quite able to push himself into a sitting position and didn't have the strength to do anything but flop back onto the pallet below him, so he could only watch as the being stopped near his bed. At first, all he could tell was that the person wore a white robe and looked humanoid. After a few seconds, his eyes finally focused enough to allow him to see the details on the figure. It was a woman in her mid-40’s by Obi-wan’s guess. She had short, graying hair pulled back into a messy bun and sparkling eyes. She also looked altogether too happy. He'd never been annoyed at something like that before. “Hello,” the woman said, her voice deep and calming. “I’m Healer Kittar and you’re in the Hopeful View Hospital on Haadrian.” Right, he’d set the coordinates for a small, out-of-the-way system that most likely wouldn’t be involved in the war. He’d half expected to die on the way here and wasn’t sure whether he should be glad that he’d made it. That reminded him. “There was someone else with me,” he said in an all too raspy voice. “Ah, yes, your young friend,” she said with no small amount of sympathy in her voice. Obi-wan felt a stab of fear. “Is he alright?” he asked, feeling that fear melt into anger. If these people hadn’t done their job and saved Anakin’s legs…. It never even occurred to him that Anakin might have lost his life. It just wasn't comprehensible to him at that point. “Oh yes. He’ll be fine. I can’t really tell you much without breaching patient confidentiality, but we expect he’ll make a full recovery eventually.” “What do you mean, eventually?” Obi-wan asked, struggling to keep his voice calm. The healer shook her head. “I can’t tell you any specifics unless you’re his guardian—” “I am,” Obi-wan verified. She raised an eyebrow at him, now looking both amused and a little annoyed. “Then I’ll need your full name and RIDN*. We can verify your identity, contact whoever you need us to contact—” “No,” the former Jedi cut in. The idea of the Temple knowing anything about him at the moment…if they knew what he’d done… He couldn’t stop the shame and guilt from rising within him and it took all of his self discipline to push it aside for now (still not working when he tried to release it to the Force...kriffing dark side). “Then it will be up to him to give details,” she said with a nonchalant shrug. And knowing Anakin, he’d leave the worst parts out. That wouldn’t do at all. So Obi-wan smiled as nicely as he could and waved a hand. “I am paying for this, and I am his guardian, so you can tell me.” She resisted for a moment, seeming to second guess the suggestion before looking down at the chart in front of her. “Well, you are paying for this, so I can tell you,” she said. Obi-wan smirked. “His broken legs were difficult to treat. Compound fractures, bone fragments everywhere…” she shuddered and Obi-wan felt his stomach clench in fear but forced himself to remain quiet as the healer continued. “We had to fuse some of the bone fragments together and then had to extract the rest or burn them away with lasers, but he should make a solid recovery. He may have some minor pain for a period of time ranging from a few months to decades in the area where we had to mend the bones, but it won’t be anything debilitating. You, on the other hand…” she paused and shook her head. Obi-wan didn’t like the pitying expression he could see in her eyes. He was, however, impressed with how quickly she’d thrown off the mind trick and changed the subject. Maybe it was a trait of the dark side. He thought he’d heard somewhere that the effects tended to be more temporary when using it to influence another person. But that didn't seem right... “Your friend won’t tell me what happened to you two, but I can guess,” she went on. “He was brought in first and with all of those burns and bruises on top of those intentionally broken legs, well we thought it might be abuse. Then you came in. I don’t think you realize how miraculous it is that you’re alive right now.” Obi-wan couldn't help his scoff. “That would depend on your definition of ‘miraculous’.” The healer’s smile faded and she looked at Obi-wan worriedly for a few moments before going on. “Indeed. Well as bad as your friend was, you were in far worse shape. We’ve had to keep you under while we allowed you to heal. We’ve had to reconstruct the muscles on your shoulders and back and you’ll need therapy if you want to use them properly again. You have had a total of three dips in a bacta tank and are scheduled for at least four more. We’ve been able to minimize the permanent damage and treat the infections in all of the lacerations as well as the burns, but I’m afraid you will still have some scarring in several places. “However, on the bright side, you are definitely out of the woods and if you follow your therapy, you can make a full recovery as well. Be warned that you will need to be patient and consistent, and that it will take a while, but it is definitely possible. We actually have three facilities for you to choose from once you finish your next bacta treatment. Whichever facility you choose will be starting you on solid foods.” Obi-wan clenched his teeth. He hated stays in the healer’s wing, but he also knew that listening to the healer usually meant a faster or at least more complete recovery. That didn’t mean he had to like it. And he really didn’t like it. “Well, that’s a summary of everything. Do you have any questions?” the healer asked, drawing Obi-wan’s focus back to her. Normally he would have enjoyed her relaxed, personable attitude, but right now it just frustrated him. “When can I see Anakin?” he asked. The woman smiled again, causing the few lines at the corners of her eyes to crinkle. “He’s actually been asking after you since he woke up. He’s been in to see you several times, as a matter of fact, and he’s due to come in after he eats, if his constant requests are anything to go by. That should be about a galactic standard hour or so.” “How long have we been here?” The woman’s smile faded ever so slightly again. “About two and a half galactic standard weeks.” “Thirteen days***?” Obi-wan probed, wanting exact numbers. “Fourteen.” That more than anything drove home just what shape his body had been in. He clenched his hands in anger as memories of what the witch had done to him rose to the forefront of his mind. He forced them back, though, taking deep breaths and refusing to give into the emotions. Putting on a blank face, he turned to the woman again. Her smile had vanished completely and she looked rather wary. “Are you a Jedi?” she asked. He frowned. “Why do you ask?” She glanced around the room. “Things started shaking just a second ago and I could swear I’ve seen things move on their own around your friend.” Obi-wan followed her glance and studied the room himself but saw nothing out of place. Still, he had no doubt that she’d spoken the truth and if that were the case then he would have to work on his control. If he were still a Jedi, this wouldn’t be a problem. It seemed, though, that the dark side was far different than even he had imagined. His control exercises did not seem to work nearly as well. Then again, he really shouldn’t have expected any different. He’d also have to talk to Anakin about casual use of the Force again, it seemed. “No,” he finally said. “I have some talent with using the Force, but I’m no Jedi.” She studied him carefully for a few moments before nodding. “I see. Well, that explains the high medichlorian count.” So they’d taken and analyzed his blood after all. But then, why did she have to ask if he was a Jedi? If they’d tried to match his blood with the galactic data base…but then again, many planets had declared neutrality or had broken off to join the Separatists. Most of those planets had been denied access to the Republic’s databases. They could still petition for something if they wished, but the process was long and arduous without someone in the Senate to speak for their cause. “Yes,” he finally replied, his voice neutral. Then he decided to continue with the question he’d wanted to ask earlier, before she’d brought up his status as a Force user. “How long will our recovery take?” She looked down at the data pad in her hand. “Your friend, Anakin, can leave at any time. As long as he keeps the leg braces on for the next four weeks or so, he shouldn’t have a problem. Between your muscle therapy, malnutrition and other healing, I would say you’ll be at the care facility for the next two galactic standard months. Probably closer to three.” Not likely. Jedi tended to heal faster than normal beings. Then again, he wasn’t a Jedi anymore. Would that make a difference? He suspected so. Still, he found little use in dwelling on what he could only guess at right now. “Will the account number I instructed our droid to give you have sufficient funds?” The woman raised an eyebrow, smirking ever so slightly. “ Surprisingly, yes, at least according to the statements from the bank holding your account. Normally I don’t discuss anything financial with my patients, but due to your lack of insurance we had to ask if the account would cover the funds. From what they said, I don’t think you’ll have a problem paying for anything you need for quite some time, which is extremely good because long-term care can get rather expensive without insurance. Sadly, we run into the problem quite a lot. Most people don’t realize that most insurances don’t cover that kind of care.** Especially off-planet insurances.” She paused and shook her head with a smile, as if to apologize. “I’m sorry for getting side tracked. If you want more information I can have our account manager speak with you.” “If you could,” he answered, noting how cold and dead his tone sounded with a curious disapproval. Still, it was better than angry or dangerous. Perhaps he had more control than he realized. Or perhaps it was just a different kind of control? Or perhaps his new source of power was what was really different; darker and colder and inherently so unlike the calm warmth he was so used to. Of course it wasn’t responding exactly like the normal Force. It was similar enough that he had no doubt he could adapt, but it was also just different enough to give him problems. He hated it, but it had been worth Anakin’s life. Anakin was safe now and Obi-wan was safe now…and that’s what really mattered, wasn’t it? It was getting hard to think again, so he pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind for later contemplation. He’d been doing that a lot lately. “You’re undoubtedly still tired,” Healer Kittar said with a soft smile back in place. “Why don’t you rest. I’ll inform Anakin that you’re awake and we can work everything out from there.” For some reason, it bothered him that she expected him to follow her suggestion, but he forced the strange sensation down with a curt nod and allowed his body to relax. He’d never admit how good it felt to be able to do that without fear of pain tomorrow. He remembered hearing the door open again as the healer left, but he didn’t remember much after that. xXx When he woke up again, it was to the steady beating of a heart monitor…and he couldn’t help but blink at the use of the ancient (if effective) technology he had only read about in history holos. He'd noticed it before, but hadn't really identified it. Then again, he could barely remember his conversation with the healer, just the important details, and he had to strain for even those. Anakin sat by his bed side reading a data pad. It had been easier for Obi-wan to open his eyes this time, but he couldn’t focus on that, or how much better he felt now, or anything else really, except the relief that his padawan—his son—was safe, and he could see that with his own eyes. Involuntarily, he relaxed, feeling the tension leak out of him with the breath he released. Anakin must have noticed because he glanced over at Obi-wan, and then he was at his master’s side. “Master?” he asked softly but warily, as if he didn’t expect Obi-wan to answer him back. “Anakin,” he responded, or tried to. His voice came out a little slurred but thankfully still recognizable and he could already feel his control over the muscles returning to him. “So glad you’re safe.” “Thanks to you,” the younger man said with a smile. “If you keep this up, you might actually catch up with me.” Obi-wan scoffed. “I would think this puts me ahead, actually.” Anakin rolled his eyes, shaking his head good-naturedly and Obi-wan marveled at how normal he felt at the moment. It was a good feeling—something that seemed so foreign after his recent months—and he suddenly wanted nothing more than for this second to last. He took a few breaths to commit everything he felt right then to memory so he could revisit this scene again in the future. That turned out to be an intelligent course of action because Anakin had always been one to speak his mind and tended to bring the conversation around to the proverbial hutt in the room rather quickly. “I don’t know if you know, so I’ll tell you, we’re on a small planet called Haadrian,” Anakin said in the bored tone he used for debriefing. “It’s actually a base for the mining that goes on in the system and has several colonies on it, even though it isn’t a naturally habitable planet.” Obi-wan knew that. He’d known a little about the system and had read a quick summary on it before putting the coordinates into the nav computer. It had little more than mining facilities and healing facilities, and for some reason the healing facilities were known to be extremely good for the type of budget they had. Why they had been set up here or how the strange relationship between the healers and the miners had come into being Obi-wan did not know. He hadn’t exactly had time to read up on the planet’s history before passing out. “It is a neutral system,” Anakin continued, “and not connected to Coruscant’s holonet, which is probably a good thing, seeing as I would have tried to contact the Temple before I found out about the orders you gave the droid to give to me. Between those and their declaration as neutral, well, they didn’t want to let me near a com station even before they found out you didn’t want to contact the Temple.” Then he turned and eyed his master warily. “Why, Master? Why don’t you want me to let the Temple know that we’re alive? And why don’t you want these people to know who we are?” Obi-wan didn’t answer for several seconds. On one hand, he was pleasantly surprised that Anakin had figured out his motivation. On the other hand, how was he supposed to tell Anakin that he wasn’t going back to the Temple? How could he explain that he couldn’t face them—his friends and compatriots—again? The guilt and shame would utterly destroy him...more so than it already had. Since when was he such a coward? He knew he couldn’t run forever, but then, he still had things he had to do before he could go before the Jedi Council and confess—and he was surprised that he actually had every intention of doing so. They wouldn’t let him out of their sight once he went to them—and maybe they could even help him, except that all the teachings stated that once he started down the dark path, he couldn’t come back. Even now he still couldn’t seem to reach out to the warm light; it wouldn’t answer his call. He couldn’t dismiss the thought from his head that the Force deemed him unworthy now and that he would never be able to have that comforting peace again. He could hope that the Jedi could help him return, but at the very least he would be withdrawn from the war, and he couldn’t allow that. He had to protect Anakin; had to keep his charge safe. To accomplish that goal, he would have to destroy the separatist leaders, which meant he would have to go after the Sith. That was the only thing that would guarantee Anakin at least had the chance to live his life. And he would. Obi-wan would see to that. But how could he tell all of that to Anakin? Just when he thought the shame couldn’t get any worse… He realized Anakin was staring at him in a strange sort of disbelief. “You feel different, Master,” he said quietly, almost as if he didn’t believe what he’d said. Obi-wan looked away. What could he say? If he told Anakin what he’d done, Anakin would demand to know why, and then he’d blame himself. Could Obi-wan do that to his padawan? Put him through similar pain he himself was going through? The pain he would now have to live with for the rest of his life? But then could he lie to Anakin? Openly and blatantly and with every intention of never telling him the truth? Anakin leaned back and stretched casually, as if he’d sat in place for too long. “Oh, please, Master. I don’t know what happened, but it can’t be that bad,” Anakin said with just a little too much nonchalance. Obi-wan read the underlying message. It couldn’t possibly be worse than what we’ve just been through together. If only he knew…and yet Obi-wan couldn’t see himself explaining that to Anakin. He didn’t want to explain or even acknowledge it himself. So he did what he usually did when he couldn’t rationalize something away, he kept silent. Usually when he got into this kind of a mood, Anakin left him alone until he could sort out his thoughts. This time, though, his padawan must have sensed the subtle difference between their current circumstances and anything that had happened before because he didn’t seem to have any intention of backing down. “Master, please, tell me what happened.” Although he did sound less flippant and more worried now. Obi-wan felt his gut clench. Anakin used that soft, pleading voice so rarely these days, but he still could not seem to muster the motivation or courage to explain. “Fine,” Anakin said after a moment, his voice thick with annoyance and stubborn determination. “I’ll just go contact the Council after all.” With that, he stood and turned to stride to the door, the braces on his legs allowing him to walk almost normally. Obi-wan felt a flash of fear race through his heart. If Anakin commed the Jedi Temple, then they would send someone out to look them over and retrieve them. No, he couldn’t let that happen! “Don’t,” he said, his voice slightly dangerous and with more than a little warning to it. Anakin either didn’t recognize the tone or ignored it as he turned his mulish frown on his master. “Why not?” “I have my reasons.” “And they are?” Obi-wan glared at his apprentice for a few minutes before folding his hands calmly on his lap, his outward serenity belying the desperation that coursed through him in a sort of throb of power. It would take him a while to get used to all of this terrible, damaging emotion connecting him to the Force and consequently giving him more confidence; something relatively positive from something so negative. It was all a horrible, twisted duplicity that he was having a difficult time truly comprehending. No wonder Sith were so depraved. “Don’t you trust me, Anakin?” he whispered and tried not to feel even more guilt at the stung look on his padawan’s face. “Of course I do, Master.” “Then why are you questioning me? Can you just follow my wishes this once?” At first Anakin stood there looking like he had just after he’d come to the Jedi Temple, small, lost and floundering. Back then, Obi-wan would have reached out to lend support. Now, though, that wouldn’t work to his favor, so he simply kept his head down, as if looking away from his apprentice in disappointment, positive that Anakin wouldn’t notice Obi-wan studying him out of the corner of his eyes. Then, the younger Jedi’s countenance changed, and he straightened his back, folding his arms in front of his chest and frowning. “I’m questioning you because you’re not acting like normal,” he said bluntly. Typical Anakin. In any other case, Obi-wan would have snorted derisively. This time, though, the turned his head and looked Anakin directly in the eyes. “After my experiences, would you not expect that I would change.” “Which is why I’m worried!” Anakin said in exasperation, throwing his hands in the air. “You’re so different! It’s like...like you’re not you at all! Except you are…but…” he trailed off, face turning red with frustration at his inability to put his thoughts into words. Despite himself, Obi-wan felt touched. “Anakin, you don’t need to worry about me. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? The apprentice shouldn’t have to worry about the master.” Anakin actually pouted at that. Obi-wan wondered for about the millionth time when his young charge would grow up. And yet, he also found the boy’s actions endearing and amusing. “That might be easier if you didn’t get yourself into situations that you need to be rescued from,” Anakin muttered. This time, Obi-wan couldn’t help the slight sigh or the smile that escaped him. They sat there in silence for a few moments, each entertaining their own thoughts before Anakin’s expression melted back to marginally worried. “You really don’t want me to contact the Temple?” Obi-wan’s own smile disappeared. “No.” “Fine, but you still owe me an explanation.” And the worst part about that was the fact that he really did. Obi-wan wondered if he would get used to the awful guilt and shame that seemed to increase every time he opened his mouth. “Later, Anakin.” The boy sighed, but must have realized that he wouldn’t get anything else out of his master, because he plopped back into the chair and reached for the data pad again. “Can you at least tell me how we escaped?” Obi-wan tensed, despite himself. Of course, Anakin would ask a question like that. He’d see it as changing the subject, but all it really did was touch on what Obi-wan didn’t want to talk about. He couldn’t seem to make himself answer, and Anakin’s frown deepened. “How did you get past Ventress?” he pressed. Why was he being so pushy today? Then again, it was Anakin, but couldn’t he just drop it for once? Maybe if he just told Anakin the truth he would be able to shut the boy up. Then he realized just how mean and thoughtless that idea was and his gut clenched. No, he couldn’t lie to Anakin. To anyone else, maybe, but if he were in Anakin’s shoes, he would want to know the truth too. He just wasn’t sure when he could actually say it all aloud or what would happen if he did… “She’s dead,” he finally said, hoping that would just let the whole matter be over and done with. He should have known better. He blamed his still recovering body because he suddenly felt so tired… “What?! How?” Anakin asked, sitting straighter. Obi-wan looked down at his hands, remembering the feel of the power that had enveloped him as he squeezed the life out of her; how good and simultaneously sickening it had been and how part of him—if he really were honest with himself—had actually enjoyed the feeling. Just what kind of a person had he become? He had perverted what his master had done his best to teach and…oh, and how could he ever hope to honor Qui-gon’s memory now? The man who had been so good and light and two of his three apprentices now had fallen to the darkness. The results couldn’t possibly reflect what Qui-gon had taught. He hated the idea of him having anything in common with Xanatos and yet, if his master had been alive, Obi-wan would have hurt him just as badly (if not worse) than his previous padawan had. Had Xanatos felt the way he did now? How about Dooku? Is that what Obi-wan had to look forward to? A complete and utter subversion of anything he’d ever been and everything he stood for? Would he start seeking out people simply to kill them? To get that rush of power and control and… I killed her, Obi-wan suddenly thought. For some reason, it hadn’t seemed to really sink in, but now, sitting there with Anakin watching him, it struck him. Oh, Force, I killed her, in cold blood! I need to leave! Anakin needs to leave! I can’t let him see me like this! I’ll never be able to change back to what I was before, nothing will ever be the same, everything is ruined forever and I chose this! Oh, Force… He couldn’t seem to get enough air and the monitor’s beeping had sped up. “Master?” Anakin asked, almost sounding on the verge of panic, but Obi-wan couldn’t face him, couldn’t look at him when all he could think about was how he’d failed everyone around him and how he had, on some level, liked it. “Oh, Force,” he breathed, putting his hands over his eyes. “Master?!” Anakin said again, this time sounding even more worried somehow. Obi-wan was vaguely aware of the whoosh of the door opening and hurried footsteps. “What happened?” an unfamiliar but obviously masculine voice asked. “I don’t know!” Anakin almost wailed. “We were just talking and then…this! What’s wrong with him?” “I don’t know,” the voice replied. Then solid footsteps towards him. No! He did not want anyone remotely close to him! He almost flung the other being back with the Force, but somehow managed to clamp down on that urge, recognizing that that would only make the whole situation worse. Instead he shied back, physically moving away from the dull presence that was approaching even as it continued to speak. “It could be a panic attack, he could be reliving a flashback, he could be having a physical reaction to something—although that is unlikely.” The unfamiliar voice seemed to be listing things off more to himself than to Anakin, the rational part of Obi-wan somehow registered vaguely in the back of his mind. “A what?!” “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” “NO!” Anakin’s indignation and anger was not helping Obi-wan at the moment, not that there was any way for the boy to know that. “Please, sir, I have to—” “Not happening.” The words brushed by Obi-wan’s senses barely noticed. He could only feel the frustration and panic behind the voices and it only served to feed his own similar feelings. He could swear the world was closing in on him, around him…and where was his peace? His serenity? It wasn't there! And he could never have it again! Would he be left feeling like this forever? Like he had been set adrift on Kamino’s seas without any sort of control? He didn’t have the calm anymore, so what did he have left? Nothing but darkness and anger and hate and guilt...always the guilt. The soul-crushing, ever increasing shame— No! he told himself firmly, clamping down on his steadily rising panic with all of his will. The calm didn’t come naturally to him now, but that didn’t mean he would lose his head. He may not be a Jedi anymore, but he was still Obi-wan Kenobi and he would not simply lie down and let the darkness consume him. He would have to fight for his state of calm, so fight he would—even if his opponent was himself. He forced himself to pause in his breathing and let the air in his lungs out until he began to see spots creep in on the edges of his vision before he allowed himself to take another lung full of air. He felt his muscles begin to relax and focused on taking long, even breaths. Force, this would take some adjustment. He kept realizing that over and over again as the little differences began to stand out. “I’m fine,” he finally managed to say (quite calmly too, if he did say so himself), interrupting the continuing argument between his padawan and the nurse-healer who had come in. Anakin had, to his credit, negotiated to stay in the room while the healer did what he had to do to help the former Jedi Knight. Obi-wan glanced over at them to see they had both shut their mouths and were staring at him. Anakin looked like he wanted to break the temporary—if deafening—silence, but the healer beat him to it. “You’ll excuse me if I don’t take your word for that,” he said dryly, either ignoring or not seeing the dirty look Anakin shot him. Before Obi-wan could protest, the nurse—a bothan of all beings (not that he had anything against the information-gathering species, but he’d never heard of one going into a medical field off of their own planet)—walked back over to the bed and began to take his vitals. For the second time in five minutes, it took every ounce of self control Obi-wan possessed to not either flinch away or attack the being for his sudden approach, but if he could control the panic, then he could control his reactions too. He wasn’t really surprised at how difficult that control was; disheartened but not surprised. After forcing himself to remain still for a few seconds, he allowed himself to glance over at Anakin. What he saw puzzled him. Normally, Obi-wan could read Anakin’s emotions like an open book. He could tell when the boy hid things, when he was tired, cranky, annoyed, upset, excited, happy and any one of a hundred other emotions or combinations thereof. Obi-wan knew Anakin had always believed his Master couldn’t see the thoughts he wore so openly (for some unfathomable reason) and had simply let Anakin continue to believe he’d hidden that facet of his emotions because Obi-wan had wanted Anakin to trust him; to come to him when necessary, so he had never forced the issue. That had changed after Geonosis. Something had transformed somehow within Anakin, and Obi-wan didn’t know what. He’d tried to confront his padawan, with less than spectacular results. So Obi-wan had been forced to change tactics because he’d finally realized that Anakin would never really talk to him…and that had hurt both in the fact that his padawan didn’t trust him, and the fact that his method of encouraging their master/padawan relationship had basically backfired. Obi-wan could always tell what Anakin was feeling, but he rarely knew the motivation. Except, right now, he couldn’t read Anakin’s expression, and in a strange, poetic sort of exchange, he knew why. Obi-wan had never panicked before, at least not in front of Anakin. It was unusual for him (to say the least), and he had little doubt that Anakin had caught it, no matter what the healer said. The boy had never been focused on solving or planning or figuring things out, but that did not mean that he was, by any means, stupid. When he put his brain to use, he could give Obi-wan a run for his credits in that area. “Well, your vitals have basically returned to normal,” the nurse said, interrupting Obi-wan’s thoughts and sounding almost annoyed—which, in turn, annoyed Obi-wan. What in the Galaxy could the being possibly be annoyed about? “I’d still like to contact healer Kittar and discuss possible treatments if instances like these continue.” “Trust me,” Obi-wan said in a frosty tone. “They won’t.” He couldn’t let them… “Nevertheless,” the bothan said as he straightened, “it is my job to report this.” “Yeah, thanks,” Anakin said suddenly with a half-hearted smile at the healer. Obi-wan blinked. Had Anakin actually just stepped in as a mediator? It had been awkward and blunt (typical Anakin), but Obi-wan found it more than a little strange that their roles had, even if only temporarily, switched. “Let us know what she thinks,” Obi-wan said with forced politeness. A few of the other Jedi had begun to call him ‘The Negotiator’ before he’d been captured by Ventress. While he’d felt the title had been a bit ridiculous, he was not about to give his niche up because his source of power had changed. If he couldn’t control that source now, then he would learn, because he refused to lose any more of himself—he’d lost far too much as it was. The bothan eyed both of the Jedi for a moment before he seemed to simply accept that he probably wouldn’t understand anyway and just nodded at his patients before turning and walking out of the room. “What was that?” Anakin asked after the door had closed. His voice was dry but tinged with more than a little concern; concern that Obi-wan really didn’t deserve. He had chosen this, after all. Once again, he tried to reach for the light and warmth of the normal Force, but again only the wild iciness met his efforts. Was this why Jedi who fell tended to stay fallen? Not because they chose to continue on their path, but because they couldn’t reach the light again? That certainly made sense, but Obi-wan had had brushes with the dark side before. Why could he return to the light then but not now? Because it had been more of an instinct before whereas this time it had been a conscious choice? Did the darkness corrupt that utterly? And right then, Obi-wan realized that Anakin had to leave him. He could not continue to corrupt his padawan…at least not until Obi-wan had more control over the darkness. Besides, seeing the look on the younger man's face made the former Jedi realize that he was the center of Anakin’s concern, and it was only worrying the boy more, which in turn was making Obi-wan more upset which only aggravated his condition and that was at least part of the reason why his control was shot to the netherworld. Anakin had to get away from here—away from him and away from the darkness that Obi-wan now represented. The thought reasserted itself over and over in his mind. He couldn’t allow the darkness to taint Anakin. “I…don’t know,” Obi-wan heard himself answer, and didn’t even blink at the lie. He had a part to play, and if there was anything he had skill concerning, it was acting. If he had a second skill, it was planning, and a close third would have to be manipulation when it was called for. This situation definitely called for it. He hadn't thought he could lie to Anakin. Well, now he had to. “Master, this isn’t normal,” Anakin started, but Obi-wan cut him off. “Just what about this entire situation is normal?” the older man asked, his voice wry and just a tad angry. Anakin closed his mouth, but he didn’t lose that stubborn glint in his eye. So Obi-wan forced himself to relax and deflate. “Do you wanted to know why I don’t want to go back to the Temple? It is because it will only remind me of who I used to be—who I was before she managed to get a hold of me. I think I just need some time to recover before I go back, Anakin. I don’t want to have another one of those…episodes I just had in front of the Council.” And there was more than a little truth to his statement. Anakin must have sensed that because he deflated too. “Then we’ll stay here until you’re ready to go,” he said in a surprisingly understanding tone. Obi-wan closed his eyes in supposed defeat and looked away. “What is it, Master?” Anakin asked, just as Obi-wan had known he would. “I can’t stay here, no matter how much I want to. The rest of the galaxy shouldn’t have to wait for us to come back because I was stupid enough to get captured.” A ripple through the Force let Obi-wan know that Anakin hadn’t taken that well. The manipulation was blatant and obvious, at least to Obi-wan (he didn't have the patience for anything else at the moment), but fortunately Anakin had never had much of an eye for spotting such things. “That could have happened to anyone! Besides, you’re not going back! You won’t be able to help anyone if you collapse or suddenly panic in the middle of a fight! You need to stay here and rest! Recover and then you and I can go save the universe.” “But there are so many worlds that need us, Anakin,” Obi-wan said, his voice quiet and pained. It wasn’t difficult for him to inject that tone into his words, even if the reasoning would be different from what Anakin would assume. Anakin shook his head vehemently. “No, Master! You said so yourself. You just need to stay here and rest.” “That isn’t a luxury I have,” Obi-wan sighed. “No, it’s necessary!” Anakin insisted. Then he paused and ran a hand through his hair. “If it really bothers you that much, then I’ll go. I’ll let the Temple know that you’re alive and healing. When you’re ready you can come back.” Obi-wan turned his head quickly to fix his gaze on his padawan. “No, Anakin, you need to rest just as much as I do—” “No, I don’t,” Anakin cut in with a roll of his eyes. “I need these braces, and that’s it. I’ve been itching to get out of here anyway. They won’t let me tinker with any of their droids and I am so booored!” And wasn’t that just like Anakin too? Obi-wan made a show of contemplating Anakin’s words before he finally shook his head with a sigh. “As much as I want to disagree with you, you’re right. Take the ship and then come back for me in a few days.” Anakin frowned. “The healer said it would take months.” “Anakin,” Obi-wan started. “No, Master,” the younger man said shortly. “You’re going to stay here and heal, and that’s that.” “One month,” Obi-wan said. “Three,” Anakin replied. Obi-wan frowned. “One and a half.” “Two, final offer.” The former Jedi raised an eyebrow. “Or what?” “Or I bring the Jedi here directly and you go back to the Temple where I know they can keep you down.” Obi-wan didn’t have to fake looking scandalized. “You wouldn’t.” Anakin smirked. “Oh, really?” Finally Obi-wan let out another sigh. “Fine, I agree.” The smirk turned into a full-blown smile. “Good. I’ll go check over the ship and see if anything needs replacing or rewiring—” “Anakin,” Obi-wan cut in, “don’t ruin it.” It was Anakin’s turn to look scandalized. “Since when have I ever ruined a ship?” Obi-wan rubbed at the bridge of his nose. “Please, be careful.” Looking put out, Anakin shooed his Master’s concern away with a wave of his hand. “Fine, fine. I’ll be back later today with an update on the status of the ship.” Obi-wan nodded with a fond smile as his padawan left with a final wave of his hand. As soon as the door closed, the smile vanished and the former Jedi found himself staring at the door with a blank expression. Who would have known how hard it would be to act like his former self—like the man he had been just weeks ago. He came to the conclusion that Dooku deserved a medal for his own acting abilities. He’d always seemed so collected and was only different from his reputation as a Jedi Master when one looked at the consequences of his actions or pushed the man. That brought Obi-wan’s train of thought back to the task at hand. He had a lot of planning to do before Anakin returned that evening and it would all have to be executed in a month or less…well, he definitely had his work cut out for him. He was so caught up in his thoughts, he only vaguely acknowledged the fact that he had blatantly manipulated his padawan into doing his bidding. After all, the guilt was a constant now and adding more to the already vast ocean of shame hardly required his attention. Besides, he realized grimly, ignoring it was somehow easier. xXx So, now we're getting more into stride as dark!Obi-wan, not newly fallen Obi-wan, or at least setting up for dark!Obi-wan. Let me know what you think! *RIDN – A term I made up. If people here in the US have Social Security numbers, then I would be very surprised if people in the Republic didn’t have something similar. RIDN basically stands for ‘Republic Identification Number’. **This is actually true today. Older people don’t realize that their Medicare plans don’t cover long-term care and younger people don’t realize that few company health plans cover it as well so that’s where I got this from. I’ve recently gotten out of the insurance business and I couldn’t help but realize just what a NIGHTMARE dealing with insurance from another PLANET (a planet that isn’t technically in the Republic, none the less) must be! *shudder* ***Galactic standard weeks are 5 days long, with 4 working days and 1 weekend day. Months tend to have about 5 standard weeks in them. Therefore, two weeks = 10 days, half a week = 2-3 days.
  13. Chapter 3 “Hey, are you alright?” Anakin looked up from the datapad he was supposed to be studying for class (on mechanics, he seriously doubted he'd have a problem with anything they could throw at him) and saw, to his surprise, Hale's fairly large, round face gazing thoughtfully down at him. He blinked. The boy hardly said more than a few sentences in class (or at any other time) and tended to blend into the background. He was by no means particularly memorable and Anakin rarely spoke to him, but when he did he usually had to instigate the conversation. It took him a few seconds to get over his mild surprise at the boy's sudden question. “Yes,” he finally said with a nod of his head. “What would make you think otherwise?” The boy shrugged and moved to sit by Anakin. He and his group of initiate acquaintances had come to the room of a thousand fountains to study and had spread out over a particular clearing surrounded by trees and large piles of rocks that made the landscape look very natural. It had always been one of Anakin's favorite places to come before, and the other initiates seemed to enjoy it as well. Once Hale had made himself comfortable on a nearby rock he looked at Anakin with a surprisingly intense expression. “You're usually sad,” he said finally. “Today you seem...anxious.” Anakin blinked at the boy and had to reassess him. He'd seen the other boy studying their fellow initiates in class with a focus he'd almost been jealous of. It had been one of the things that had drawn Anakin to take a closer look at the otherwise plain, average boy. He hadn't realized just how much Hale actually noticed though, apparently. “What makes you say that?” Hale raised one eyebrow slightly. “You act older when you're distracted.” That caused Anakin to stiffen a bit. Were his actions that obvious? Even to a child? Or was Hale just particularly insightful? He didn't think Hale had ever been taken as a Padawan in his previous life, but if he were this observant, Anakin couldn't help but wonder why not. “I act older?” he asked quietly, turning his gaze back to the datapad. “Yeah,” the other boy affirmed. “You know so much more than the rest of us, but you usually try to blend in. You're helping us and you push us, but you don't have to. It's usually not so obvious, but when you're worried, you stop talking to us. It's already hard enough to get you to smile, but when you're like this it's almost as if you'll never smile again. So something's wrong.” It was probably the most Anakin had ever heard the boy say, and he found himself torn between being impressed, worried and a little shocked. Sometimes it amazed him as to just how intelligent the children around him were. He shook his head at the thought, then looked back up at Hale. He had a couple of options here. He could dismiss the boy's observations as nothing, although he doubted the other boy would appreciate that, he could be vague and cryptic with his answers, or he could be outright truthful. He finally decided on the latter because it would help the others trust him more, and he saw little reason to lie at this point. “Because I came to the Temple later than everyone else, and because of my background, the Council has decided that I need to see a mind-healer.” Hale's eyebrows furrowed. “Why?” Anakin shook his head and scowled. “They think I need help, apparently.” The other boy cocked his head. “What's wrong with that?” Anakin's scowl deepened. “I don't.” “But...you're never happy. Won't the mind-healers help with that?” This time Anakin couldn't help but be a little wistful at the boy's naivete. Such a simple outlook. It was both painful and refreshing. At times he wished he could still have that view of life. Then he remembered where a similar view had gotten him at that age and dismissed the thought ruthlessly. “Some people don't deserve to be happy,” he heard himself answer, a little surprised at the words and more surprised that he meant them. It was Hale's turn to frown. “Why not?” Anakin smiled sadly. “Because of what they've done.” Like destroy everyone around me and corrupt everything I touch. “But as Jedi we can't be upset at those people. We're supposed to let those kinds of feelings go to the Force.” “I wish it were that simple,” the former Sith muttered. “I don't understand,” the other boy said after a few minutes. “You want us to be happy, but how can you help other people be happy if you can't help yourself?” These amazingly insightful questions were getting progressively more difficult to answer, mainly because Anakin normally tended to avoid these lines of thinking. He was contemplating a response to this, and had been for a few minutes (Hale was surprisingly patient for a child his age) when distraction came in the form of Maelee running up to them. “There you two are! It's almost time for class. Let's go!” Anakin checked his chrono and found, rather surprisingly, that the time had indeed gotten away from him. He couldn't be more grateful for the interruption though. He did notice that Hale still seemed concerned and even a bit protective for the rest of the day. He found the gesture endearing to a small extent, even if the motion was rather pointless. xXx Anakin forced himself to sit quietly, hands gripping each other tightly and unable to banish the nervousness from his face completely. He was about to attend his first therapy session and he would be meeting with both of his mind-healers. He ground his teeth at the recent revelation. He'd found out that morning that the Council, in all its paranoid glory, had decided to assign him two mind-healers. Two! Plus the droid! Just how crazy did the Jedi think he was?! They had to believe that the dark side drove a person completely and utterly insane. They were right, of course (well, to an extent), but it still grated on his nerves. He was, more or less, fine now. He'd gotten over almost all of his problems with his childhood slavery years ago! And it wasn't like they—or anyone really—could help him with his more current and pressing psychological problems. Still, he had to put up with this (rather extreme) turn of events to continue with the Jedi, no matter how uncomfortable and useless he found it. This was, after all, still the best place for him to make the greatest difference. The first mind-healer would come from the Temple. She was a master named Tai'k Xio and Anakin had looked her up in the archives as soon as he'd heard her name. She was an older human who seemed to like to wear her silver hair tied back in a neat woven braid to keep the long strands out of her light gray eyes. Both features contrasted greatly with her somewhat darker toned skin. She had her share of wrinkles, but for the most part age had treated her well and she seemed like she had a good many years left to her. Despite her appearance, Anakin wasn't sure about her life expectancy. He didn't remember her at all, so he somehow doubted she made it to the war. The second mind-healer was a drall, and Anakin didn't know his name yet. He wasn't Force sensitive in the slightest and would come to the Temple from his office once a week. He had degrees in the psychology of sixteen different species, specializing in child psychology for most of those species, and tended to take on clients with particularly difficult backgrounds. Anakin was surprised (and a little annoyed) they hadn't gotten another human to help with his supposed psychological problems. He'd come across drall before as both Anakin and Vader. Most people liked to describe the species as 'cute'. Anakin had described them as furry pains. The drall descended from burrowing mammals, lived on a planet in the Corellian system, and were highly intelligent. Those that Anakin had met tended to use their diminutive size and appearance to their advantage because many other species underestimated them. The former Sith knew better. They were cunning and planned their situations out carefully and they could be just as ruthless as any other species if they had to be. They also took their duties very seriously and he had no doubt this drall would be a good mind-healer...for anyone else. He still just didn't know why a second healer was needed in this case. Or a first, for that matter. Annoyed at the entire situation, he took a deep breath and let it out, imagining all of his anger and frustration being released into the Force. The only thing about his current circumstance that seemed to help calm him down at this point was the fact that the Council only knew that he'd grown up as an indentured servant and had lived most of his recent life as one. They also knew he had some dark side training (but they had informed him that it would be his duty to tell his mind-healers of that as they seemed to take their oath to not reveal that seriously...for once). Of course that also created a bit of a sore point as now he had to act like they would expect him to—like a 10-year old, recently-freed slave with some basic Force training. Then, of course, there was the puzzling question of why the Council had insisted on this to begin with. Why hadn't they gotten him the help he needed the first time around, when it may have actually done some good? Why now? He suspected it had something to do with the fact that he didn't have a master this time. Also, they hadn't exactly been the most supportive of him even being a Jedi in his previous life. Of course it wouldn't have actually occurred to them that he might need some sort of support besides a broken, grieving master. He almost snorted aloud. His former master, who had only taken Anakin on out of some misplaced sense of honor to carry on Qui-gon's legacy. Stupid Council Members sitting around with sticks shoved so far up their backside that they'd have to be surgically removed. Anakin paused at the thought, almost mentally leaping at the distraction. That strange sense of sarcasm had begun to show its head again. Some remnant from his time with Obi-wan, perhaps?Whether it was or not, Anakin thought he was beginning to finally understand his former master's sense of humor. He'd already suspected that Obi-wan's sarcasm was his coping mechanism. Add a sense of humor into the situation and it made everything that much easier to handle. Now he'd begun to realize just how much Obi-wan had clung to that mechanism just to get through a day, if Anakin's own experience was anything to go by. He'd also begun to suspect that Obi-wan hadn't ever been altogether 'whole' even years after Qui-gon's loss. He shook his head and glanced at the door he was waiting beside. He'd been to this part of the Temple a few times before, but he was no where nearly as familiar with it as he was with most of the rest of the structure. He'd just never had much reason to come to this area, as it was part of the healer's wing and he'd avoided staying there as much as he possibly could. Like most of the rest of the Temple, it was simple but elegant with the stone-like pattern in earth tones across the floor and similar, lighter tones for the walls. It felt very professional, but homey and welcoming. Anakin found he liked it very much—well, at least more than the buildings he'd been used to before his time traveling back. When he'd been the Emperor's second in command, he'd had more than his share of (mostly unused) estates. He'd frequented the halls of the Imperial palace as well. Almost all of the structures he'd visited had a harsh, simple decor in shades of gray ranging from fairly light to midnight black. Then his own life-support chamber, or Qabbrat, had been a harsh white inside and he'd liked the contrast to the darkness that seemed to make up the rest of his life. It had still been a rather dramatic difference that did not encourage calm, but he hadn't cared for relaxation or peace at the time. A whooshing sound drew him from his thoughts, causing him to look up at the door just in time to see Master Xio exit the room and smile down at him. “Sorry to keep you waiting out here, Anakin,” she said in a warm, soft voice. “We're ready to start now.” Anakin nodded, feeling that there was an undertone he'd missed but deciding that it didn't really matter at the moment. As confidently as he could, he straightened his shoulders and followed her back into the room. It was rather plain, he noticed, with cream-colored walls and a lightly tanned carpet. Nothing hung from the walls and the little sitting area had a couch and two or three arm chairs, all in shades of brown. Two small side-tables sat next to two of the arm chairs, one of which held the drall. The mouse-like creature smiled over at them, nose and whiskers twitching, as they entered, but didn't speak. Master Xio took a seat in the other chair near a table and picked up a datapad that had been lying on top of it. She then gestured for Anakin to sit down after noting that he hadn't done so. He glanced at the couch and then at the chair and chose that one. He sat stiffly, making sure his feet were still touching the ground as he eyed the other two sentients warily. “Alright, Anakin, you probably know who we are, but we want to introduce ourselves anyway,” the drall said slowly, eyes darting over to look at Master Xio for just a moment before returning to Anakin. “My name is Girth and you're more than welcome to call me by that name.” The former Sith didn't so much as allow a muscle on his face to twitch. “Do you have a clan name?” he asked. Girth looked a little surprised that Anakin knew enough about his culture to realize that dralls still tended to identify with one of many clans and the name could (and often would) change whenever one drall family moved to another area. * “I don't relate to a clan currently, no,” he responded honestly. “Dr. Girth, then,” Anakin said with an acknowledging nod. The fur-covered being snickered in a high, squeaking tone that held no malice whatsoever. “Just 'Girth' is fine.” “And I am Master Tai'k Xio,” the Jedi said, introducing herself with that same, warm smile she'd greeted Anakin with. She looked genuine and he felt true interest and concern through the Force, although there seemed to be a touch of tension towards Girth. Judging from their reactions, they were coping with the strange situation as best they could, but disagreed on some point. It didn't seem to be anything truly major and they also seemed to have come to some sort of middle ground concerning the issue. Neither one of them gave off anything that didn't feel genuine. “Master Xio,” Anakin said with a stiff but respectful nod in her direction. “We would like to let you know what we plan on doing and why you will be meeting with both of us,” Master Xio said, obviously sensing Anakin's anxiety and deciding to cut to the chase. “I was asked by the Council to help you adjust to life in the Temple, but I felt I wasn't quite sufficient for the job. You see, I was raised in the Temple, and most if not all of the Jedi I help were raised in the Temple as well. As you weren't, I didn't feel that I could adequately meet all of your needs, so I asked that we bring on another mind-healer, someone who would know better how you grew up and how to work with you on that front.” At this point she nodded over to Girth who nodded back with a smile and took up the narration. “I'll admit I was rather surprised when the Jedi contacted me, but once I heard about your case I was more than happy to come and lend a hand.” Anakin kept his emotional mask in place and nodded. He didn't doubt the rodent-like being was curious, and the chance to work with Jedi like this did not come often, so of course the drall would have jumped at the opportunity. Anakin, rather cynically, wondered how much helping a Jedi—even a young one—would boost Girth's reputation in the field of psychology. He also bet that the Temple was paying out a pretty credit for this and figured it had something to do with the drall's enthusiasm. “As such,” Girth continued, “I am here to help with anything related to your past and your relationships with the people you used to know.” Anakin immediately came to the conclusion that this entire farce would be completely and utterly useless. He would not tell some stranger about his relationships. Those were far too precious to him to just broadcast. Besides, how was he supposed to tell the man about his wife and adult-aged son (and the daughter he'd never met**)? Or about Palpatine's machinations? Or about his complicated feelings towards Obi-wan? At that point, Master Xio cut in graciously. “And I will be here to answer any questions about the Temple, Jedi in particular, the Force, what will be expected of you and what you expect from the Jedi. Once every other month, all three of us will meet to try and find common ground between your previous life and your future life here at the Temple. “Does this make sense?” Anakin looked back and forth between the two for a moment before nodding. “I understand.” “Excellent. Do you have any questions?” “What if I can't tell you everything?” he asked slowly, hating that he had to be so blunt. Already that question felt too open, but it seemed like something a traumatized ten-year-old would say...right? Besides, he'd already decided to try and be more honest. If he admitted he was holding something back, the Council and other Jedi might trust him a little more. Girth and Master Xio exchanged glances. “We will be asking you hard questions,” Master Xio said slowly. “Many of them may not be pleasant to answer, but in the long run they will help.” “We will also be giving you exercises that should help you adjust,” Girth said, his tone soft and pleasant, although Anakin caught a slight frown from Master Xio, but it was gone almost as soon as it had appeared. “And we will assign you homework that you will be required to fulfill.” Anakin was liking the sound of this less and less. “What kind of homework?” he asked. “Mainly assignments that will help you connect to other people and be more comfortable when you interact with them,” the drall clarified. “Also we will be assigning you topics to discuss with the droid. You are free to discuss whatever you wish with the droid, of course, but the topics we suggest are those we believe will be most beneficial to your mental health.” “Know that we will never outright force you, Anakin,” Master Xio said soothingly. “We would like you to trust us, but if you feel you can't talk to us, then we would like you to talk to the droid. It will be able to interact with you and has been programmed to respond as a mind-healer might, but please keep in mind that it is only a droid and to treat what you tell it as such. It will not have feelings to hurt.” He nodded in understanding. Basically she meant that the droid wasn't a person and wouldn't be able to react as one. He actually rather liked that idea. “Also we want to reiterate that your sessions with us may be recorded if you allow it, but your sessions with the droid will not be by anyone or anything other than the droid,” Master Xio continued. “We will give you a memory chip at the beginning of every session. You can do what you will with those chips, but we do encourage you to keep them.” Anakin doubted there would be much on those 'chips' to keep. This was ridiculous. He wondered what kinds of specs the droid had and was looking forward to his sessions with the thing just so he could tinker with it. That would undoubtedly be the best and most productive thing to come from this entire arrangement. Still, he wasn't about to tell them that. “Yes Master,Sir,” he nodded to each of them respectively. “Thank you.” “We won't require a session from you today,” Girth spoke up, seeming all too happy, especially with another frown from Master Xio. It seemed she wanted to get started straight away, but the drall had somehow talked her out of it. His respect for Girth went up several notches. If he could hold his own against a Jedi Master then he deserved it. Still didn't mean Anakin would trust him with anything, but he could appreciate the being's obviously steadfast nature. “We would, however, like to introduce the droid to you,” Master Xio said. She waited for Anakin's nod before calling out. “D-40, could you please come here?” A door near the back of the room opened and a protocol droid walked out. Anakin just blinked at it as it shuffled over towards them. “It's a protocol droid,” he said dryly, unable to keep his face clear of the unimpressed expression. “Master Anakin,” it said in a low, obviously female voice as it walked up to them. “I would like to inform you that I am indeed not just a protocol droid. I am PXRD-40, and my programming is far more extensive than any normal protocol droid. Instead of communication, etiquette or protocol, my functions mainly revolve around understanding human psychology as best a droid of my caliber can. I have the most recent upgrades and will fulfill these functions to the best of my abilities.” Anakin regarded it for several seconds before he had to suppress a smirk. Messing with this droid was going to be easier than he'd expected. He wondered what he should tinker with first. D-40 may not act like a protocol droid at the moment, it was far too rude (he could almost hear his own old protocol droid complaining about D-40's lack of manners), but he could most definitely change that. He wondered how the droid would cope with only being able to speak in Sullestian until their next meeting. Perhaps he could make a list of creative languages? “D-40,” he acknowledged, proud of himself for keeping his face completely straight. He really was still far too used to hiding behind that blasted mask. “Well, seeing as we've all been introduced,” Girth said, “we're basically done for the day. Unless Master Xio has anything to add, we'll dismiss you early today.” Master Xio smiled at Anakin and nodded. “Your first session with me will be next week on the third day at this time, alright?” No, no it wasn't alright. This was a waste of time at best. But he spoke up none the less. “Yes, Master,” he said as he got to his feet and bowed. “And you Girth, sir. I shall take my leave now.” With that, he calmly walked out of the room and turned to head for the lightsaber training areas. He really needed to take his frustration at the whole situation out on something. xXx Girth of the drall watched his newest project walk out the door, refusing to let his smile drop until the door had quite firmly closed behind the boy. He and the Jedi Master sat in silence for several seconds before he spoke up. “You said he was mature for his age. I think that's a bit of an understatement.” The Jedi Master acknowledged that with a sardonic chuckle. “He's also hiding something from us.” Master Xio sighed. “I agree. He even said as much, but I know little more than you. The Council refuses to give us any more information, on his request,” she nodded towards the door. “And he doesn't seem to see this arrangement as anything productive,” Girth continued with a frown and looked over at his fellow mind-healer for the first time. “We can't help him if he doesn't want to be helped.” Master Xio frowned. “Yes, I know. I believe that will be the first barrier we need to address. We will need to help him see how necessary this is.” “He does seem fairly well adjusted already,” the drall pointed out. “The Council doesn't agree,” Master Xio said. “And neither do I. There's just...something there.” She sighed. “I don't think I can explain it.” The drall nodded. “I'm guessing that's just something I'll have to get used to,” he remarked with a grin, his whiskers twitching in amusement. Then he looked back at the door and frowned. “I haven't changed my mind. I think the best way to approach this is to help him accept his background and learn to let it go.” Master Xio frowned again. “We teach every initiate to 'let go' and I still believe you will be wasting your time.” “Releasing one's feelings to the Force as you explained it to me is all well and good,” the drall conceded, “but it doesn't root out the problem. It doesn't address the source of the emotions.” “And I believe that it does. This is something you will simply be unable to understand.” Girth shrugged. “Perhaps so, but I will remain adamant until proven otherwise.” “As you wish,” Master Xio said nonchalantly. Girth could tell that she was annoyed but would humor him and appreciated the gesture. He found it interesting that a Jedi of her caliber would take such offense to his suggested method of treatment. She seemed to think that by teaching Anakin how to acknowledge and deal with his feelings as a normal human would, he was saying that their methods were somehow inadequate. He hadn't realized that the Jedi were so ingrained in their traditions. It made sense, though, when he thought about it. Still it brought a note of worry to his mind. Following traditions for the sake of following traditions rarely left room for healthy growth and change. He could see the sense of following ideals that had upheld the Jedi Order for centuries, but it still seemed like a recipe for even more problems than those he and master Xio had already discussed. Shaking the thought from his head, he looked directly at the Jedi Master and cocked his head. “Our goals are to help him adjust to the temple's lifestyle and to help heal any damage that may have been done by his slavery. I will warn you that, depending on the slave's master, healing that damage can be anything from difficult to nigh-impossible. Some of what those slaves are forced to do....” he faded off with a shudder that shook his whole frame and caused his whiskers to twitch again. “Yes,” Master Xio said neutrally. “I have been unfortunate enough to witness many such despicable acts with my own eyes. And I suspect that some have been forced into even worse than that.” The drall nodded and sighed. “Yes. I agree. I just want to make sure that the Council knows this. I suspect that if he is as damaged as you suspect that this will be a rather...long-term project.” The woman suddenly shot her comrade a glare. “He is not simply 'a project'. He is a little boy who needs help.” Girth sighed again. “I find it easier to be objective when I distance myself from the people I help treat. I do not mean to offend, and I gave my word that I will do what is in Anakin's best interest. I will not go back on that promise.” Master Xio regarded him for a few moments before nodding. “I asked for your help in this not just because of your success rate, but because I felt that I needed someone with a different view to give him the optimal amount of support and healing. I don't expect to agree with you on everything, but I do not necessarily see that as negative.” The drall felt a smile come to his lips. “Master Xio, I could not agree more. I am looking forward to your point of view on this. I've never really been able to study anything from the viewpoint of a Jedi before. I fully expect to find many areas where we do not agree, and I do not find that distasteful in the slightest.” The Jedi returned his smile. “Indeed.” xXx Anakin did not like the fact that his escapades from the temple still felt like escapes. He would always enjoy the thrill of pulling something off that shouldn't be possible, even small things like getting out of and back into the temple unnoticed, but that was the only thing he found enjoyable about his general mind set at the moment. He'd always felt the Jedi held him back, and had despised them for it. Now, after he had lead an entire fleet of star ships and a veritable army, he understood more. He'd been so selfish and focused on himself and his own growth as a teenager and young adult. Part of that he chalked up to Palpatine and his manipulations, but he hadn't had to manipulate much, really. He could see now that the Jedi had simply wanted him to grow in other ways and had tried to reign in the impulses that tended to be more destructive. Even knowing all of that, he still felt that leaving the Temple brought a freedom that he reveled in. Out here, walking around on glorified stilts and with his arms long and dragging, he felt like a completely different being—like there was nothing in the world holding him down. No prophecy, no Jedi, no Sith, and especially no false, child-like identity that he had to try and maintain. He knew it wasn't real, and that the weight of the galaxy rested on his shoulders now more than ever if anything, but for a few moments, he could imagine that he was just a normal, average, every-day sentient just trying to make his way in the universe, and he loved it. More and more the idea of being a non-entity seemed appealing lately. He desperately wished he could be someone who could leave all of this behind, go off and marry Padmé, raise his children and just live his life...but realistically he knew that he wouldn't like such a boring lifestyle either, no matter how attractive it seemed. He doubted he'd be able to live without getting involved in galactic events somehow. With a sigh, Anakin pulled himself back to the task at hand and looked at the diner at the end of the walkway. Right now he didn't have time or room for such indulgent thoughts. He had a Count to convince and a rather painful discussion to have. He'd already decided that the best manner to approach this would be to give the man the truth. If he knew exactly what he was getting in to, Anakin doubted he'd turn. At least, he hoped not. After all, if he'd known... Pushing his thoughts and daydreams to the back of his mind, he moved forward, double-checking his extended, mechanical limbs for the last time. He was confident enough with them that he felt positive that he could pull this off. He had to. Steeling himself, he opened the door and walked inside Didi's Cafe. *** xXx *I have no idea if this is canon, I really just made it up. There wasn't much about dralls on the wiki. **Most fan-fics I come across all have Vader knowing about Leia being his daughter. Canon, however, only states that he realized that Luke had a twin sister, not who she was. I don't think he really had time to figure it out before he died. He never once referred to Luke's sister by her true name or title in RotJ, so yes, I'm putting in here that he didn't know he'd ever met her. Now I will say that if he sat down and thought about it, he'd probably be able to realize just who she was, but he never has—and that's part of his problem, he doesn't work out his issues, which is the whole point of the therapy to begin with. ***Dex's Diner before it became Dex's Diner. It was owned by a man named Didi at this time. Author's Note: Someone commented that in canon there is no 'Light Side' of the Force. There is only 'The Force' and 'The dark side'. However, when I looked it up on Wookiepedia, it described two sides to the Force: The Bogan aka the dark side and the Ashla. Now we could argue that the Ashla is simply the 'Force' they spoke of, but it said it was in opposition to the Bogan and that they were both part of a whole. As such, I will continue to differentiate between the 'light side' and the 'dark side'. However, you have given me an idea... So thanks. Note 2: Another one of my awesome readers suggested that I should give Dooku a first name. I would like to, but I want this to be as close to canon as possible, so until I can get a canon name, I'm going to continue to call him by his title of “Count Dooku”, even in internal monologue.
  14. You make a good point about his interaction with others, although the reasoning I have for it is not just the falling to the darkside (although it is a major contributing factor). I actually have him acting so callous because of PTSD. A common symptom of trauma is to shove everything into a compartment in your mind to deal with later when the mind encounters something it can't really face. Between his failing body, his severe torture (physically, mentally and through the Force/emotionally) and Anakin, well, he probably would have been able to handle it all if it hadn't been for his new state of mind (which he didn't want and is already feeling guilty about--and no, he isn't addressing that yet either). It all comes crashing down in the next chapter and we see a lot more Obi-wan. He really isn't that dark yet...but I warn you, it gets worse (btw, I totally agree that his fall would be slow, which is what happens in the story). I will see about reviewing his interactions, maybe see if I can't get them to seem a little more like Obi-wan. Thanks for the feedback.
  15. Thanks, Amidala! I was afraid after coming back that all the old crew would have left. It's awesome to see you here. <3 And I hope you like the story. It...gets worse before it gets better. FYI. (Actually, I'm still not a hundred percent sure it will bet better...) xXx Chapter 2 “Evil wins when good people do nothing to stop it.” I have witnessed the truth of this statement. I have also witnessed the truth of the statement that, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” I believe my padawan has always had problems finding a happy medium between these two truths. I myself have had problems with them. After all, if one acts with the intent to stop evil but ends up dooming themselves and thus everyone they were trying to save, then one is living both statements, if unwittingly. The solution is to act when you need to and to do so with a clear head and a larger picture in mind. It can be difficult to do, but that was the conclusion I came to. I learned that lesson through witnessing the results of my rash actions far too many times in my life. I have never come across a situation where that general rule of acting with patience and wisdom does not apply. When I became a Knight, I vowed to never act rashly again and I have tried to live up to that to this day. Some lessons, it seems, are never really learned. It wasn’t long (and yet it seemed like forever now that he could move again) before he heard Ventress’ voice outside the door. “Open it. Quickly!” Obi-wan tensed, ignoring the shooting pains in his protesting, abused muscles. It took all too long for the door to swing open, and he found himself torn between a sort of giddy anticipation that was very much not like him and a solemn, grim determination that was. Finally Ventress rushed in, not even sparing a look for the corner he crouched in, her eyes fixed solidly on Anakin's limp form. It would have been the perfect opportunity to attack if he didn't know she would have back up in the form of Adius, a cruel, spiteful man who liked causing pain almost more than she did. If Obi-wan wanted to fight Ventress on even footing then her muscled backup would have to be taken out first. The man, a stocky, heavy-set humanoid with thin, dark hair sprouting out of his head in a greasy mess, stepped in only moments after his mistress and Obi-wan struck. He whipped his hand out and the chain wrapped firmly around the thick neck. He used every ounce of strength to yank the other man towards himself, putting some Force-enhancement behind the pull while simultaneously pushing the large body away from him with the Force, fully intending to break his neck. The loud crack that rang throughout the room was far too satisfying. Ventress' surprised shout as Obi-wan pushed the now dead man into her with the Force, even more so. However, the two simultaneous moves strained him more than he cared to admit and he knew he would have to be careful for the next few minutes if he wanted to survive. Taking advantage of her momentary distraction, he reached out and pulled one of Ventress' lightsabers toward him. He tried for both but couldn't find the control he needed in his current state. He would have to end this quickly because he just didn’t have the stamina to use his normal, patient and defensive Soresu. Ventress and Adius stumbled into Anakin, eliciting a pained groan from him. Obi-wan refused to allow himself to wince at the noise, hoping he hadn’t woken and choosing instead to focus on freeing his own wrist from the shackles before the woman managed to regain her balance. He succeeded, 'though just barely because Ventress wasn’t off guard for long. With an angry cry and a flexibility that Obi-wan couldn’t help but envy just a little, she flipped out of the way before she and Adius’s body hit the wall. With a scream of rage, she came hurtling towards Obi-wan, who sidestepped her onslaught, knowing he couldn’t meet it outright in the state his body was in. She whipped around before he could strike at the opening she’d given, bringing her saber up before she’d even managed to face him and parrying the blow he’d aimed at her back. Then she faced him and returned the blow. He managed to fend her off and they broke a part, each watching the other warily and Obi-wan making sure he was between her and Anakin. After a few moments, she calmed down enough to realize what had happened, taking in the sight in with new eyes. She blinked and glanced at her dead underling laying sprawled on the floor. “Striking from behind? I’m impressed, Obi-wan. How utterly low of you.” Obi-wan refused to move a muscle in answer. After a moment of studying him, Ventress threw her head back and laughed, although she never lowered her guard and Obi-wan didn’t dare attack anyway. After a few moments, during which time Obi-wan could only really tighten his grip around the lightsaber hilt, she stopped and grinned cruelly back at him. “So, the great Jedi Obi-wan Kenobi has a breaking point after all,” she said with no small amount of triumph. “How does it feel? Empowering, isn’t it? Intoxicating and wonderful.” Obi-wan grit his teeth, desperately not wanting to acknowledge her and hating the truth in her words; despising the idea that anything about her would be something he could relate to. He still didn’t speak, and that seemed to get to her because her smile dimmed quite a bit. “Still too good to answer me?” she asked, her tone warning. Obi-wan refused to move, even as she took a testing step forward. “You’ll regret that!” she growled as she lunged forward, thrusting her saber out. Obi-wan parried, misdirecting her strikes as best he could, upset to see she was driving him back towards Anakin. He managed to lead her off to the side, ducking and dodging most of the time, but meeting blows where he could. “How do I know you’ll regret looking down on me?” she hissed as he met her blade and mentally begged his weakened muscles to not give in, throwing as much power behind the strokes as he possibly could. “Because I will take it out of your padawan.” Before he could react, she’d disengaged and blew past him, directly towards Anakin with her saber held high. Obi-wan felt a rush of panicked desperation. “NO!” he yelled, thrusting out his hand and calling the Force to him. He had to stop her! Had to save Anakin! She flew past the boy with a surprised yell and hit the wall of the chamber with a sickening thud that would have bothered him just the day before. It didn’t now, and he hated that that mere thought should still get to him. He hated that she’d driven him to this point; that she would do this to him! And he loathed that she would drag Anakin into this just to get to him. His temper wasn't a fiery heat like Anakin's, but a burning cold instead, one that refused to be sated. He'd never felt anything like it before. He didn’t release his hold on the Sith acolyte, face twisted into a snarl as he advanced towards her, hand still outstretched. She would recover quickly enough, but while she was stronger in body, he was stronger in the Force. Yes, she’d been able to block him earlier, but she would have never had the opportunity if it had been any other situation. He would have to be out for the count before she could do that to him again, and he wasn’t about to faint any time soon—if only out of sheer determination. She could still retaliate with the Force, though, so he would have to end it now. He switched his hold from her torso to her neck almost without thought. Then he turned her around, he wanted to see her eyes as she died. He wanted—needed—to know this nightmare was over and that she wouldn’t be a threat to him or Anakin ever again. There was no way around it. She had to die. Her hands automatically went to her throat and Obi-wan squeezed tighter. Then her eyes met his. “I…still…win,” she managed to gasp out. Obi-wan refused to listen to this…this thing any longer. He closed his fist and felt the snap through the Force. The intoxicating rush of power and the relief and pride in knowing that he’d managed to defeat her, even in this state, left him gasping for breath even harder than he otherwise would have. For a moment he continued his hold on her, strangely unwilling to let go of that power. After a moment, though, he allowed her body to slump to the floor and stood over her, still glaring in hate. “And I will survive,” he said. It took a few minutes for it to sink in. It was over. He was free to walk out of this nightmare with his padawan…except he couldn’t carry him and Anakin couldn’t walk on his own with two broken legs. He’d have to find a solution to that…but now he was free to do so. He hadn't realized how unfamiliar it would feel. He simply stood there in a daze as his mind couldn’t seem to process the thought that he wasn’t being held captive anymore. He’d killed his captor—his tormentor…Anakin’s torturer. He looked down at the two bodies lying on the dirty floor and blinked. “I can never go back,” he said to the mostly empty room with sudden realization. “I thought I could use it…just once…how could I have been such a fool?” He could feel the darkness saturating his soul. It was there…and it was all he had now. He stood there for only a few seconds longer, forcing himself to come to terms with the consequences of the choice he’d made. He’d fallen to the dark side, but he’d had his reasons…and surprisingly, he could live with that. Some part of him, he suspected, was recoiling in horror and despair at these turn of events, but the rest of him—an ingrained portion of his personality—recognized that his life had changed, that there was little he could do about it and that he still had things he had to do. This was his life now, the consequence of his choice. It was more complicated than that, he knew, but for now he refocused on the situation and on what he had to do. He had to escape and that trumped everything else at the moment. Face blank of emotion, he finally left—simply turned and walked out of the cell, leaving three bodies, only one of them living, in his wake. xXx He wasn’t by any means steady on his feet, but he maneuvered along the dark halls with a purposeful expression. With his goal in mind, he cautiously reached out with the Force, not sure how to direct this new power. To his left a sort of pulse caused him to pause. He needed to go in that direction. There was something there, in the cell just ahead, he couldn’t quite tell… Igniting the lightsaber in his hands (what a disdainful weapon, the crystal was not at all compatible with him and he only used it because he had no other option at the moment) he slashed at the durosteel door and pushed it open with the Force as it would be far too heavy for his weakened body to budge. The beings inside scurried to the back of the cell, straining to get away from the door with a haste born of obvious experience. Obi-wan scrutinized them with a calculating eye. So that tug—those disturbances—had been people. How strange. They felt so different than he was used to. How interesting. Of the prisoners, none looked to be what he needed at the moment. “W-who are you?” one of the beings, a human by the looks of him, found the courage to ask. “Ventress is dead,” was all Obi-wan could deign to say. It was the first time he’d said it aloud, and he couldn’t help but take a deep, satisfied breath. Then he turned from the room and continued to the next cell. “W…what should we do?” another voice from behind him asked. Obi-wan paused and managed to turn enough to look at a second being, a torgruta, that had exited the cell on unsteady legs. He couldn’t identify the gender of the being through the filth covering it. “Whatever you wish,” Obi-wan said as if it were obvious (which, really, it should have been). “So long as you do not obstruct me.” With that said, he moved on to the next cell and slashed the door open, hoping to find someone he could make use of. Fortunately, one of the beings in here seemed far larger and healthier than the others. They probably hadn’t been there long, and if he were correct, it was a besalisk. “You,” he said to the being. “Follow me.” Not waiting for a reply, he turned to leave the cell. “You’re not the warden and you’re not the witch in charge, so why should I listen to you?” the contemptuous voice from behind him stopped him in his tracks. He turned slowly, allowing his glare to settle on the being as he quickly processed the options at his disposal that would allow him deal with the being while still rendering him useful. “Indeed, I am not,” he said simply. “However, I am the man who killed them.” The being scoffed and he felt an impatience he hadn’t had a problem with since he’d been an initiate rise inside of him. He did not have time for these trivial annoyances. That thought, in its own way, settled his inner dispute and decided his course of action. He raised his hand and the besalisk smashed into the wall behind him. “And you will join them if you do not do as I say,” he continued coldly, stating the words as if they were a simple fact and nothing more. He should be horrified to know that he really meant what he said...but he wasn't. He seemed to have gone far beyond caring at this point. The being managed to nod and Obi-wan dropped him. “Good.” Turning again, he maneuvered out of the door as firmly as he could manage. Fortunately the besalisk wasn’t stupid enough to try and attack Obi-wan from behind and the former Jedi led the larger being down the hall. The sentients from the previous cell were nowhere to be seen. He only noted that with a passing thought, grateful that no one would impede him. Obi-wan had the strange idea that he should be feeling more than desperation, a residual anger and satisfaction (and the guilt, always the guilt), but nothing else seemed to want to come to him. He wasn’t sure if the negative emotions were burying everything else or if, by just touching the dark side, he no longer had any capacity for feeling anything good or positive—other than the tainted satisfaction. Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. He wanted to think on it more, but had to focus on the here and now. The thought was something he would have to examine in detail later, once he got away from this repulsive planet. They made it back to Obi-wan’s former cell and he felt the disgust and anger at what had happened there surge through him. With a growl he wasn’t even aware he’d voiced, he shoved his hand out. The door flew off of its hinges and hit the wall inside the cell. He made sure it never touched Anakin. “Didn’t realize you Jedi could be so vio—” the besalisk cut off as Obi-wan raised an arm, not even bothering to try and look back. Two of the being’s hands shot to his throat while the others flailed about in a panic. “Do not voice your inane thoughts,” he said, then added as if in an after thought. “And I am no Jedi.” Not anymore. And he would examine exactly how he felt about that at a later date as well. Right now he had to get himself and Anakin out of here. He managed to seem steady, somehow as he walked through the destroyed doorway and froze at the sight of Anakin. How could he have forgotten that mask?! Angrily, he rushed forward and practically tore the thing from the boy’s head. Then he turned on that awful lightsaber and slashed the torture device in two. “Mas’er?” Anakin asked, his voice a blur of pain. Obi-wan felt himself soften at the word. “It’s me, Anakin. We’re getting out of here.” And to his surprise, a small smile flitted across the younger Jedi’s face. “’Bout time.” For the first time in what seemed like forever, Obi-wan felt a flash of his old self; felt a twinge of the amused, wise, senior Knight with a somewhat average Jedi background. It surprised him as to how much even just that fleeting moment of familiar camaraderie helped him relax and caused the darkness to draw away ever so slightly. “You have my apologies for taking so long.” Anakin snorted. “Knew you’d get us outta here ‘ventually.” His padawan’s faith in him touched him, causing a genuine smile to brush across his own lips. It felt foreign but welcome. And then it was over. The darkness rushed back in as Obi-wan turned to the besalisk. “I will cut him down. You will catch him, gently. Every injury he receives because of your carelessness I will repay twofold.” He didn’t see the frown on Anakin’s face as he was too focused on his reluctant helper. “Fine, whatever,” the reptilian creature muttered and walked forward, carefully stepping in the least dirty places on the floor. It was an exercise in futility that Obi-wan found he had little patience for. “Today would be nice,” he commented in a tone that most would call neutral, but anyone who knew him would note the undertone of a steel warning. “Wa’s wrong, mas’er?” Anakin slurred. Obi-wan immediately turned to his padawan, his face softening. “What do you mean, Anakin?” The boy frowned. “You soun’ different. You…feel different.” Obi-wan wasn’t sure what to classify the stab of emotion he felt at that. It had had a rather large amount of guilt, but very little (if any) remorse. If any fear had found its way into the mix, it would be at the idea of Anakin somehow rejecting him, not at the idea that he had changed (which he would have expected). He felt other emotions in that stab as well, but couldn’t afford to waste time on analyzing it at the moment as the besalisk had reached Anakin and taken him slowly into his rather large arms. Anakin hissed in pain at the movement, and Obi-wan had to restrain himself from taking off the creature’s head. He still needed the being to carry Anakin, and from the worried looks he kept shooting Obi-wan, the besalisk was trying to follow orders. Forcing himself to be calm, the older human flipped the lightsaber on and cut off his padawan’s shackles. For a moment all he wanted to do was sag in relief. They were free, both of them, and they were leaving. The moment lasted for only a second, and then he steeled himself to walk out the door and away from his nightmarish prison for the last time, the besalisk carrying Anakin hurrying behind him. xXx Just wandering around the compound and following the hints and tugs through the Force allowed him to find his own lightsaber and about a dozen others as well. They also found a cloak for Obi-wan, something clean that covered his back and gave him some protection from the cool air, but he didn’t dare to stop for anything else. He just wanted off the planet, and if continuing on in his nakedness would do so faster, then so be it. Somewhere along the way, they also came across a statue of a man Obi-wan suspected had meant a lot to Ventress. If he had been in better shape, he would have left the thing as rubble. As it was, he just pushed it down with the Force and left it broken and toppled. The darkness opened him to sensing other’s feelings more deeply—well, the negative ones in any case—and he felt the besalisk’s fear of him rise as he moved from the room. Good. It would just mean the being would follow his orders more exactly and be that much more careful with Anakin, who had thankfully passed out again. By the time they found a ship, Obi-wan was having a hard time hiding his exhaustion, standing through sheer will and the Force alone. His body ached in ways he didn’t think were possible and all he really just wanted was to lie down and sleep for the next standard month. Despite his best efforts, his tired mind wondered if he could sleep lying down at this point. He was so used to resting upright and hanging. Even now it hurt to even drop his hands to his sides because they had been shackled above his head for who knew how long and…when had he closed his eyes? No, focus! He had to get Anakin out of here! Growling low in his throat, he angrily berated himself and managed to get onto the ramp of the ship the Force had led him to. The door to the bay on the far side of the large room wasn’t open, but he found that taking care of that with the Force was nothing if not a simple matter. Fortunately, as far as he could tell, there was no force field to keep them in, just the standard, one-way deflectors that kept unwanted guests and objects out. He nodded in satisfaction and turned to the ship again. It wasn’t anything that would stick in anyone’s mind, a fairly small vehicle with nothing discernible on it at first glance. To just about anyone, it would simply look like a small freighter. They couldn’t know that it was stocked with illegal guns and maneuvering capabilities that bordered on deadly, at least at Obi-wan’s best guess. It wasn’t Ventress’ usual ship, but he doubted the woman would have had anything that wasn’t top-of-the-line when it came to attack and maneuverability in her fleet. He forced himself to walk up the ramp towards the top where the besalisk, holding a still unconscious Anakin, watched with a sort of fascinated wariness. He was undoubtedly impressed with Obi-wan’s manipulation of the door to the bay, but the former Jedi found he really didn’t care. “In a ship that size, there should be at least one room,” Obi-wan said almost conversationally. Really he only wanted to remind the being that he had duties to attend to if he wanted to stay alive. The fact that he had stopped and stared instead of taking Anakin somewhere to rest caused another shot of annoyance to flare through the bearded man but he, again, forced himself to ignore it. “Find it and place Anakin on the bed.” “Y-yeah, sure. Whatever you say,” the being stuttered. It was a refreshing change from the defiant, misguided superiority he’d displayed before. “Oh, and once you finish, I suggest you leave the ship,” the former Jedi spoke up again, this time in a harsher tone. “If I find you on it at any point hereafter, you will wish you had listened.” The large being gulped and nodded hurriedly before turning and disappearing inside the vehicle. Obi-wan nodded in satisfaction. Even when the besalisk wasn’t there to see, though, the former Jedi refused to allow himself to relax. If he did so now, he doubted he’d be able to put on a front again and he dared not show any weakness until he left this cursed place once and for all. Instead, he closed his eyes and searched through the room with the Force. He felt nothing out-of-the-ordinary. This was undoubtedly a private dock because no maintenance workers had been here recently as far as Obi-wan could tell. It was all run by droids. Speaking of… “You,” Obi-wan said to a still droid against the wall. It was humanoid, with a durosteel frame and many accessories as well as several appendages ending in various tools. The droid in question came out of low-power mode almost immediately and looked at Obi-wan. “Me, sir?” it asked, sounding rather cranky. “Yes,” Obi-wan said. “Programming.” “I am L9-292, programmed for maintenance, upkeep and determining flight capability of the ships that dock here.” “Can you pilot a ship?” If a droid could look offended, this one did. “Yes, sir.” “Very good. Follow me.” “Excuse me, sir, but you are not my mistress.” Obi-wan had whirled around before he realized it and had the droid in a Force grip. The droid squirmed in a simulation of panic. “No, I am not,” Obi-wan said with a cold calmness he did not feel. “You won’t have to worry about her, though, seeing as I killed her. Now you have two choices: One, you come with me and you do as I say. Two, I tear you a part and move on to the next droid. It is up to you.” Really, when had he become so violent? Perhaps Anakin had rubbed off on him? The droid stopped squirming and stared with lighted eyes at Obi-wan. “If my masters or mistresses die, I am programmed to follow the person in charge. Seeing as you killed her, I will defer to you.” Obi-wan smiled a fake, empty smile. “Excellent choice.” He turned around just in time to see the besalisk hurry off the ship and high-tail it out of the bay. Obi-wan briefly considered killing the being, but ultimately decided that it didn’t matter if he survived or not and that ignoring him would be faster. Decision made, he led the droid onto the ship and closed the ramp. It didn’t take long to reach the cockpit, and the controls were familiar enough that Obi-wan had little trouble piloting the freighter away from planet, which was fortuitous as he was having trouble remaining alert. Curse his abused body! Curse Ventress to the deepest depths of pain and torment for the rest of eternity for what she did to him! With the droid’s help, he managed to set the ship on a course to a neutral system that would have the resources to help them before he stumbled into the back and passed out before he could even reach the sleeping area opposite of where Anakin lay. xXx Question: Obi-wan is HARD to write dark. REALLY hard. So, question: does this work for him? Or does he seem too much like Anakin? I tend to be a little better at writing Anakin (and I'm ignoring what that says about me), so it can be difficult for me to see what does and doesn't sound like Obi-wan when he's dark. Do you think it works? Yes or no, please let me know.
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