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Dangers of Foresight (In Progress)

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Sheesh. I leave for a few years and everything changes. O.o Go figure.

 

Well, if people are still around and reading, this is a sequel to my other story, Hindsight is Not Perfect found here: viewtopic.php?f=23&t=44754&p=1164827&hilit=Hindsight+is+perfect#p1164827 . I've been told that this story can stand on it's own, but it tends to make more sense if you read Hindsight. It's only about 12 chapters long.

 

Note: I already have a lot of this fic written and posted online.I don't mind if you want to look it up and read it because it will take a while to post here.

 

Name: Dangers of Foresight

Summary: Anakin's 9 years old again and back at the Temple, bound and determined to change destiny. It's a daunting task as to do so, he has to juggle preventing and dealing with a multitude of problems at once. Between trying to stop Dooku from joining Sidious, freeing his mother, avoiding Palpatine, and training to even a fraction of his previous levels, all while maintaining his cover as a 9-year-old initiate, it can get rather...overwhelming. Too bad keeping up a facade isn't one of his strong points.

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, manipulation, mentions of triggers and general dark side unpleasantness)

Pairings: Mainly canon and Legend's canon.

Characters: Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn, Siri Tachi, Bant Eerin, Yoda, Mace Windu, Sheev Palpatine/Darth Sidious, Count Dooku, Tru Veld, Darra Thal-Thanis, Ferus Olin, Jango Fett, Shmi Skywalker, Luke Skywalker (mentions), Leia Organa (mentions), Padme Amidala (mentions), Ahsoka Tano, other assorted Jedi.

Additional Tags: Time Travel

Critiques: Constructive criticism is welcome. Flames are not.

 

The Dangers of Foresight

 

Prologue

 

32 BBY

 

As far as Anakin Skywalker knew, the Jedi temple had three cafeterias. The largest remained open for all hours to serve Jedi Padawans, Knights and Masters that didn't have time to cook in their own private quarters. The smallest was rarely open, reserved for special occasions, such as visiting senators or the rare Council dinner. Anakin could remember using both during his previous experience as a Jedi. The third area had scheduled hours of operation as it had been built for the initiates and créche children. As such, he had only seen the third cafeteria, but had never actually used it.

 

Until now.

 

And as far as he was concerned, the pleasure could have been indefinitely postponed. He'd decided almost immediately that he didn't care for it. The various robots and créche teachers would watch the children's nutrient intake like a Hut watched their bank accounts. When one child wasn't eating up to standard, he would be strongly encouraged to add something to the plate, or to not take as much.

 

Still, Anakin couldn't quite bring himself to complain about the entire experience...especially the food. After all, anything was better than being force-fed through tubes and wires in a special chamber created specifically for him. Suppressing a mild shudder and pushing those memories to the side, Anakin took another sip of his pleasantly tangy drink and glanced around the large room.

 

It had a typical 'Jedi' feel to it, albeit slightly more colorful. The somewhat brighter decorations came in the form of encouraging wall-hangings and signs that Anakin hadn't ever seen elsewhere in the Temple. However, the base colors of the walls and carpets consisted of neutral creams, browns and grays that most Jedi rooms sported.

 

The children themselves moved in slow, lazy patterns that gave off a sense of peace and confidence no adult could ever truly possess. It was an atmosphere of naivete, and Anakin found he actually enjoyed that one facet of his recently established Jedi lifestyle despite himself, even if the classes were...difficult to endure in just about every other aspect.

 

Learning with children from the créche had been trying for Anakin the first time. Between the condescending teachers, jealous or awe-struck peers and being either incredibly behind or extremely advanced in just about every subject, it was a wonder he'd passed any classes at all. Now, with his superior knowledge in every single subject, the whole situation tended to border on infuriating.

 

And he didn't have Obi-wan to support him this time around. As a matter of fact, Anakin rarely saw the Knight as he was often gone on missions like any normal Jedi. The only person who could give Anakin any backing at all happened to be a little green troll that was far too busy to actually help more than occasionally.

 

Not that he needed that support. After all, they were just a bunch of children that he could best at practically anything with the exception of stupidity. He would not let them intimidate him. He would not!

 

Yet, as he sat during their shared free hour at lunch at the lone table he'd chosen, he couldn't help but think that his life at the Temple was fated to always be miserably boring when it wasn't utterly maddening. He hadn't expected much different, but he'd truly forgotten how cruel and exclusive children could be without even realizing it. For a second time in his life, he'd been completely ostracized. And why not? The other children had long since formed their cliques and groups, and because of their reclusive upbringing, they were not accustomed to letting newcomers in.

 

Actually, the only other high point of his placement was the fact that he didn't seem to have any classes with...a few sentients his own age that he really wasn't ready to deal with yet. He knew he'd have to face Ferus and...the others, but he really wasn't sure how to handle them. Part of him wanted to forget they ever existed, but at the same time, he knew they could be very handy in a hard situation and he knew he needed allies still. It would be his choice as to whether he would allow them into his life this time around, and he appreciated that it was his choice to make, but he'd decided to put it off for now. He had the time to be patient after all and rushing into a decision with so much baggage attached...well, he wanted to know he could handle that decision well, whatever he chose.

 

Absently, he stuck a slice of a random sweet but slightly spicy fruit he didn't know the name of into his mouth and couldn't help a small smile. He would never take the ability to taste anything for granted again.

 

He opened his eyes and resumed his study of his current fellow classmates. No one watched him, no one looked at him, and no one seemed to care that he was there. Oh, that had not been the case for the first few days, but unlike his previous lifetime, it hadn't lasted. Now he seemed to be more invisible than anything.

 

Normally, he hated being invisible and even now it irked him somewhat. But, if he were to be perfectly honest with himself, he would have to admit that he did not feel as unaccepted as he had in his previous life. Whether that was due to his own maturity, his lack of attachment to the 'Sith Killer' (as some of them had called Obi-wan), or the fact that no one seemed to know of his background this time, he couldn't tell. Truthfully, he didn't much care to find out. It was amusing enough at the moment to watch the groups from afar—which wasn’t exactly a new circumstance for him. Anakin had always felt like an outcast of some sort. Besides, with his knowledge of strategy, mechanics and even advanced lightsaber theory, he doubted it would last.

 

He was almost surprised that rumors hadn't already begun to circulate. He didn't trust the Council to keep his supposed dark side training or his title of 'The Chosen One' secret for long. There were always leaks, but it hadn't happened yet, and he found that he could actually enjoy anonymity for a little while. For once, he found he was happy enough to be patient and wait.

 

That thought amused him. Obi-wan...well, his Obi-wan from his timeline, would have probably had a heart attack at Anakin choosing to be patient over something like this. In his previous life, he would have done everything he could to not be invisible. Any attention was better than no attention. As an adult, he realized that that was just how a former slave would think...and that was exactly why he had decided not to do anything openly rash or drastic this time around if he could help it.

 

Despite being mostly content though, his decision annoyed him enough to be a bother. It boiled down to the fact that he just wasn't a man of thought. He was, and always had been, a man of action. Then again, maybe that had been his biggest problem.

 

Finished with his lunch, he gathered his things and put the plates together, heading for the drop off area. A few children noticed him as he passed, either glancing casually without care, or sending him a small smile or a scowl. Strangely enough, the latter were few and far between. He only barely remembered half of the initiates names. Most of them had been killed in the clone wars before he'd turned, so thankfully he didn't have that kind of baggage on his conscience. In return to their cursory glances he would simply nod politely back and move on.

 

As he meandered through the room, he couldn't help but eavesdrop on their conversations. He found them interesting to overhear simply because they all seemed so whimsical. The girls would talk about the different Knights or their idols and their latest exploits as much as the boys did, but the conversations seemed fundamentally different. The boys would get excited and insistent, while the girls would usually use a quieter argument as to who was best. Sometimes he would catch snippets of different class assignments while other times, he would find people quietly discussing homework. Every now and then, he'd even overhear different groups arguing over the recent interactive games and other such things of equal importance. He liked overhearing those the best. It entertained him to think of all the stalwart Jedi he used to know discussing computerized games and holo vids as children. The Chreche children weren't allowed much in the way of media, but they tended to obsess over what they did have.

 

One particular conversation caught his ears as he passed one of the tables closest to the dish drop-off.

 

"I can't believe he actually left," a girl with long, dark hair whispered to a boy with dark blue skin that shimmered in the light. Anakin couldn't place the species, strangely enough. That had happened quite a bit recently. He knew he didn't know all of the species in the universe, but he would have thought he'd have at least a good chunk down-

 

"Why would Master Dooku leave?" the boy whispered back. Anakin froze, eyes widening. The next moment he'd rushed up to the table with the two initiates, his dishes clattering onto the table between their plates.

 

"What did you say?" he asked, uncaring that his voice had turned harsh. Startled, the two jumped. For a moment he wanted to scoff at their lack of training, but the moment passed quickly as he needed to make sure he'd heard correctly.

 

The girl and boy exchanged glances before the boy looked up with blue, slitted eyes."I-it's been all around the Temple. Master Dooku left the order about a week ago. There are rumors that he'll be added to the list of 19."

 

For a moment, all Anakin could do was stare at the two not-yet-Jedi. Then he nodded to them."Thank you," he muttered politely and started walking back towards his previous destination with one thought on his mind: For the first time in his life, he'd waited too long. Well, he'd have to rectify that.

 

He didn't remember the cleaning droid taking his dishes, nor did he really remember those initiates at the table staring after him as he left. He only vaguely recalled sprinting down the hall and up a flight of stairs. Entering the Jedi Library, it wasn't difficult to gain access to one of the computers stationed there, and he sat down quietly. For now, he needed information.

 

He typed "Dooku" into the computer and waited for the results to come up on the holographic screen.

 

xXx

 

Let me know what you think!

Edited by Guest

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Chapter 1

 

Three galactic standard months later

 

Anakin smiled as he stepped onto the air taxi in civilian clothing, positive that his temporary escape from the temple would not be discovered. He took a moment to shake his head sadly at how much easier it was to slip past the robots and other supposedly air-tight security measures than it had been to trick Obi-wan when he'd forgotten to lock the door at night.

 

He couldn't help but feel a little grateful for (and more than a little smug at his circumvention of) the conditions at the Temple now. He needed to do this without interference...and Obi-wan would have definitely interfered. Any other master probably would have as well, for that matter—which was exactly why his not being taken by a master had turned out to be such a positive development. Besides, it gave him more options. He didn't have to sneak out in the middle of the night this time around. If he were lucky, he could get away quite easily in the early evening.

 

The taxi ride was short, and half of a galactic standard hour later, he slipped into a public, intergalactic Comm unit booth. This would be expensive, but hopefully worth it. It irked him to no end that he had to tap into the savings he'd begun for his mother's release, but in the end decided that he'd just have to work harder to make up the difference.

 

The Jedi didn't give an allowance to the children as it encouraged selfishness and greed (Anakin rolled his eyes at that thought; he had his own opinions on such matters). Padawans, Knights and Masters didn't get any money on a regular basis either. Instead, the Jedi had several large accounts set up with different financial circuits across the Republic that someone on a mission could tap into if necessary. The council also encouraged Jedi to take some credits with them before they left the temple so they could be prepared. Those types of transactions tended to be handled by Knights and Masters, so Anakin wouldn't have any access to anything other than what he could acquire outside of the temple's knowledge.

 

Fortunately, it hadn't been difficult to hook up with some of his old racing circuits. After a few demonstrations, he'd been able to get a sponsor and then had begun collecting a nice little nest egg of winnings. He even had a loose budget worked out now and different accounts that he split the money between. The whole idea of being somewhat responsible with the credits he earned was something rather new, but he had to plan it out if he wanted enough money to free his mother and fund his personal crusade. Sneaking out to race on a regular basis wasn't so new...at least, not to him. He'd just started his 'delinquency' a little earlier this time, albeit for completely different reasons.

 

After a few small modifications to the Comm unit, he returned to the holographic interface and put his bank number and other personal information (all false) into the system. After a few seconds, the approval signature came through and Anakin punched in the Comm number.

 

Finding the private frequency had not been easy. Still he was more than a little frustrated that it had taken him as long as it had to obtain it. Without any of his real contacts set up, he'd had to crack several of the Jedi temple's security systems without letting anyone know. And that had been the real trick. Anakin's strengths lay in hardware more than software, especially after years and years of telling the peons to do the grunt work while he had top-level access.

 

Truthfully, he just hoped that he wasn't too late.

 

The droid-like voice that had previously asked him for his information spoke up again."Comm line verified. Would you like to place this call?" A 'yes' and 'no' popped up on the holographic screen in front of him. He reached for the 'yes', but his hand paused over the word. Not for the first time, he questioned whether he should be doing this at all. He hadn't been able to fix anything big enough to change the future yet, and honestly, he wasn't even sure he could. But if he couldn't, there certainly wasn't anyone else who could. So far, he'd only been able to bring about small, positive changes; minuscule events that wouldn't mean anything in the long run. His trying to meddle in more dire affairs had only resulted in something similar to or worse than the previous time-line. Events such as Qui-gon dying and almost getting Padmé killed.

 

If he went through with this, he wasn't sure he could account for even half of the possible, extremely undesirable repercussions. This could let Palpatine know far too much, far too soon...and he needed to avoid that at all costs. His lightsaber skills had come a long way from his previous state of weakness when he'd first come back in time, but he wouldn't put himself up against a senior Padawan yet, let alone a Sith Master. No, he was not ready and wouldn't be for a while.

 

Still, if he could accomplish this one task, it could throw all of Sidious' plans back for months, if not years. That, and he might have another ally. For about the hundredth time, he came to the same conclusion; the possible positive results outweighed the negative ones, if only barely.

 

His finger hit the holographic "yes" and the call began to ring through. He always had been a risk taker anyway.

 

Before the other line could pick up, Anakin did one final thing; he slipped on a mask. It wasn't anything overly dramatic, just a straight, white, blank mask with two eyes cut out and nothing else. He needed to hide his identity if he were to pull this off, for several reasons. First, why would Dooku listen to a Temple initiate? Why should he? Second, Anakin wasn't sure of the Count's current alliance: light, dark or gray. If Dooku had already spoken to and made an alliance with Sidious, then Anakin would have to rely on his skills and knowledge of the underground (as well as the second change of clothes he wore underneath his current attire) to get him back to the temple untraced and alive.

 

"Your call has been accepted," the voice said, just as Anakin finished arranging the hood of the tunic he was wearing.

 

The voice that came over the other line sounded rather amused, and slightly intrigued."Count Dooku of Serenno, speaking."

 

xXx

 

Growing up in the Jedi temple had, unsurprisingly, taught Dooku many things. First and foremost was that nothing was really as it seemed. Only slightly less important to him was the fact that patience got you everywhere, so he'd cultivated his to a point where he could outlast just about anyone on any subject. Or so he'd thought. His current project was trying his supposedly bottomless patience immensely, and he'd only been really searching for a little over a galactic standard month.

 

It had been nothing short of horrendously difficult to continually track down clues to the whereabouts of the Sith Lord that the former Viceroy of the Trade Federation had informed him of. Despite his contacts and diligence, he still had almost nothing to go on. He also had a suspicious feeling that what little he did have was leading him somewhere specifically. He hated being manipulated, but if that was the only way to uncover the truth, than so be it. If the Jedi would not address this problem, then he would.

 

That was, after all, why he had decided to leave the Order.

 

Regaining his planetary title had been only a small matter, as his family, country and world had welcomed him back with open arms. Now he had the power, money, influence and will to do something about this new threat, and he had vowed that he would indeed do what he could. His first goal would be to track the Sith down. Then he would either use his diplomatic or combative skills (probably both knowing his luck) to address the situation.

 

Today, like most days, he had uncovered almost nothing and had yet to hear from his current contacts, and had just begun to go over the information again (for the umpteenth time) when when he received the private call on his personal Comm link. That in and of itself was unusual. Those who knew the number shouldn't appear as 'private' on his Comm unit, and anyone who did have a private number shouldn't know the frequency. Frowning, he opened the comm's holographic screen, reading the message that came with the connection request. Then his eyes widened.

 

I know who the Sith Lord is.

 

Well, wasn't that convenient.

 

Dooku didn't believe in coincidences. So, someone, somewhere had gotten wind of his little search. They would have to be extremely resourceful and either very brave, or very stupid to be digging through a Jedi Master’s (former or not) private business uninvited. Probably a little of both. One didn't cross either royalty or a trained Force-sensitive lightly. Of course, this lucky break could easily be something that had been deliberately placed in his path by the Sith to either lead him directly into a trap, or mislead him completely. That last option sounded the most likely, but either way he would have to tread with caution.

 

A small smile formed on his face. This would be interesting.

 

Setting his datapad down, he reached over and flipped on the switch."Count Dooku of Sorreno speaking." To his surprise, the face that appeared wasn't a face at all. It was a mask; a white, blank, curved surface under a hood and dark slots that didn't reveal any hint to the person's eyes at all. So, this supposed informant did not wish to reveal his identity. Also interesting.

 

"I have secured the signal on my end." The voice came across enhanced and distorted by some mechanical adjustment, but the sheer authority in those words surprised him. He could not tell much just by the shape or size of the head (he couldn't even see where the shoulders ended), and nothing else seemed to have the potential of giving anything about the person behind the fuzzy, holographic image away. He appeared as a bust, with no background or other definable features. This being had thought the encounter out well—professionally even. Could he be a bounty hunter, perhaps?Or a Sith himself?Dooku found himself impressed, if wary, and he stroked his beard thoughtfully, keeping his anticipation firmly in check. It only took him a few seconds to secure his own end of the call.

 

"With whom am I speaking?" he asked cautiously.

 

"You may call me Luke," the voice replied, the superiority still quite evident. So, this person was used to discussing subjects with powerful people and did not let himself be daunted by them. Possibly he dealt with such people on a somewhat regular basis?Or the being thought of himself as Dooku's equal, perhaps. He filed the information away for later.

 

Dooku nodded politely."Very well, Luke. It seems you have some information I have been seeking.”

 

“I do.”

 

“I see. Who is this person I have been searching for?”

 

A slight hesitation. “What will you do with the information?”

 

Blunt, but a good question none the less. “I plan on turning such information over to the proper authorities.”

 

“The 'proper authorities' being whom?”

 

The Count frowned slightly. “That would depend on this person's true identity. I plan on going to the Senate if necessary.”

 

A thoughtful pause met his words. The former Jedi watched for a moment, looking at what little he could of the body language and analyzing the tone of voice that had still came across despite the enhancements. “What would the Senate be able to do about a Sith Master?”

 

Dooku's frown deepened. “They would have the authority to bring the Jedi in on such matters.”And encourage the Jedi to actually do something about it.

 

“Why not simply go to the Jedi?”

 

His frown vanished almost instantly, replaced with a minute smile. What an incredibly Jedi-like thing to say. Of course, that had been part of the reason why Dooku had left, the idea that Jedi (and thus by default, Sith) were above answering to anyone else, but still. Was this 'Luke' an old ally from the temple? He had to admit, he felt a great deal of relief at the idea of someone else in the Jedi Order realizing what he himself had been trying to say. It seemed he still had some friends besides Sifo-dyas in the Order. Unless this 'Luke' was indeed Sifo (although he doubted it). Whoever it was, they obviously valued their anonymity, not that Dooku blamed them. He made a mental list of Jedi Masters who might be inclined enough to agree with him to go behind the other Jedis' backs to help him.

 

“I have brought my concerns to the Jedi Council. I would need a good deal of proof before they would consider moving against anyone who may be the Sith Master. This proof they require is rather...difficult to come by. Truthfully, I am curious as to whether your own information is credible. How did you come by this knowledge?" He would also like to know how his anonymous friend had found this information when he hadn't been able to even catch a glimpse of it.

 

The pause from the figure was nothing if not pronounced and somewhat reluctant, Dooku noted curiously."I know this, because I used to be his apprentice."

 

Any amusement he'd been displaying vanished immediately, replaced by shock and surprise. Surely this could not be an acquaintance of his!None of the Jedi he'd been considering had any inclination towards dark teachings. Besides, as far as he knew, the Sith only had one apprentice, and that apprentice had died on Naboo, killed by Obi-wan Kenobi, Padawan to Qui-gon Jinn, Dooku's own former apprentice.

 

After several seconds, he managed to speak again, keeping his voice calm."How is it that you live then?"

 

The figure shook its head."Do you honestly believe the Sith Order lives solely by the rule of two? The only real rule they bother following is that Sith ensure their superiority through any means necessary.” He paused, then muttered under his breath, “They are just as blind and corrupt as the Jedi."

 

Dooku couldn't help his surprise at the baited phrase. The Sith were supposed to be corrupt. He'd always taken that as a given...just like every Jedi had. But from the way this mysterious Sith apprentice spoke...was he suggesting that the current Sith path itself had twisted from its original direction? As if the corruption had been corrupted. As if this being before him had been somehow drawn into becoming a Sith and then been disillusioned at how far that path had fallen from the ideal he'd expected. The very thought was...mind-boggling, to say the least.

 

And yet he seemed just as disenchanted by the Jedi teachings. The being obviously knew Dooku had been at odds with the Jedi Council. Dooku could tell simply from the way Luke had stated it—as if he'd not just expected an acquiescence but almost took for granted the fact that the Count would agree with him. And he did. The Jedi had indeed strayed from their original goal. The statement had been the being's way of affirming that they both shared at least a similar point of view in that regard—although this brought up the question of whether Luke had any familiarity with the Jedi beyond the biased teachings of his supposed former master. The problem was, he still had many people he cared for in the Jedi Order and the idea of anyone, even a half-trained Sith, anywhere near the Temple did not sit well with him. He made a show of stroking his beard thoughtfully again, some fears at least temporarily quelled while others flared up higher than ever.

 

Still, he had always believed that discretion was the better part of valor, so he chose to ignore the sentence for now. This was, after all, no time to become involved in a philosophical argument."So you were being trained to replace the other apprentice?Or perhaps along side him?"

 

"Something to that effect."

 

Dooku frowned at the vague answer."Or were you being trained by the one killed on Naboo?"

 

When the sentient spoke again, he could easily hear the barely concealed contempt behind their speech. “That...being did not have the capacity to even begin to train an apprentice."And a touch of rage if Dooku could read the other's tone correctly. Not that he would expect differently from a Sith Apprentice.

 

"I did not mean to offend," Dooku said lightly."It was a reasonable question."

 

"Indeed,” the figure responded grudgingly."Both the Sith on the planet and myself were trained by the same master."

 

"I see," The Count replied, leaning forward."If I may be so bold, you have implied that you are no longer a Sith Apprentice. I was under the assumption that once chosen, one would have that...profession for life.”

 

The being was silent for almost a full minute. “A...good friend never believed I'd fully turned, despite the evidence against such an opinion. He confronted me at the risk of his own life. It made me see the universe a little more clearly. Then I died.”

 

“An excellent solution,” Dooku nodded in approval of the being's answer to the problem. Falsifying one's death would obviously be risky, but a valid resolution none the less. Still, he had his doubts about the being's sincerity. “And what proof can you offer that you speak the truth?”

 

The figure paused for several moments, then seemed to throw all caution to the wind."You are correct. I have no proof that I am not affiliated with Sidious."

 

Dooku raised an eyebrow. That name had been dropped purposefully, offered as proof that the being did at last know of the Sith. Clever. He could still easily be acting under orders, but one way or another, he knew something, and Dooku intended to find out what.

 

"Very well, I will take your words into consideration."

 

The being nodded slightly, acknowledging the statement. “You will not regret it. Now, before we arrange a meeting, I believe it is only fair that I know what your general goals in finding the Sith are.”

 

The Count frowned. He'd already told Luke what he planned on doing with the information, but somehow he felt this question was deeper...more personal. Truthfully, though, Dooku had been trying to figure out his own stance on the Sith. Now, faced with the question, he had to ask himself exactly what his goals were. What if they didn't have the proof for the Senate or the Jedi?He believed this being, but somehow doubted that he would testify before the courts or the Jedi if he valued his anonymity that much, but his testimony would be vital in convincing those people in power to act. If he could not convince Luke to testify, he knew he wouldn't just let it go. The Council never acted, and that had been one of the larger reasons as to why he'd left the Order. It stood to reason that once he found his target, he would probably end up fighting or confronting him in some way. Was he ready for that?He didn't know, and truthfully the Count would rather avoid that. He had figured that he would decide on a course of action once he'd discovered the Sith's identity, perhaps even spoken with him, but now he realized that he would need a stronger plan before he acted.

 

Part of him thought that somehow tracing and bringing down the Sith would be helpful and useful to the Galaxy as a whole. In some small corner of his mind, though, he could not help but think that perhaps the Jedi were doomed to fall beneath the shadow of the Sith. It grew like a cancer, no matter how many times he pushed that thought away. It had taken root after being confronted by the corruption in the Order and even now it reached forth to whisper that perhaps he was fighting on the wrong side.

 

Contemplating these thoughts, he sat back in his chair as he took another look at the blank mask, wondering what exactly Luke knew. He'd already expressed his dislike for both the Sith and the Jedi, which put the two of them on similar ground, but Dooku knew so little about this person...he would have to tread cautiously.

 

“I had not yet decided on a course of action if I cannot find the proof to the Senate's or the Jedi's liking,” he finally said, slowly.

 

The figure seemed to consider that. “You left the Jedi because you considered their teachings corrupt, did you not?” the figure asked quietly.

 

Dooku raised an eyebrow. He hadn't spoken of that to very many people either. The figure was indeed a conundrum. Apparently his silence and minute expression was all Luke needed. “I will admit that I too once had questions about the Jedi teachings, and I agree that they are corrupt to an extent.”

 

“But...” the Count encouraged, curious as to where the discussion was going. The further the conversation continued, the more intrigued Dooku became.

 

“But have you considered that the Sith teachings are just as imperfect and twisted from their original course in their own way?”

 

Dooku felt his brow furrow, not so much from the thought (the idea still seemed so far-fetched and yet plausible to him), but more at the implications. He could never see himself actually changing his opinion to match the Sith ways, no matter what his previous contemplations had concluded. Was this being suggesting...And how could he know?

 

Regaining his composure, he decided to avoid said implications and ask his earlier question. “Aren't Sith teachings supposed to be corrupt?”

 

The being considered that. “Not originally, no.”

 

The former Jedi frowned outright. “Explain.”

 

"I will do so and give you information about the Sith Lord you seek, but only with two conditions."

 

Dooku's frown deepened but he managed to hide most of the frustration he felt. Why couldn't they simply discuss this over the channel?

 

“Very well,” he finally conceded. He didn't have any leverage to keep his contact talking otherwise.

 

“First, I will not explain anything more over a Comm transmission.”

 

The Count frowned again."The channel is secure."

 

The figure shook its head, the smallest movement but a great deal of meaning behind it."I do not believe in a completely secure channel."

 

Dooku's frustration grew."What do you propose then? A physical meeting?"

 

The contact nodded."That would be acceptable."

 

The Count nodded. It was an understandable, if somewhat risky request."I will meet you here, in my home in two weeks time."

 

The figure shook its head again."I cannot."

 

"Surely you don't expect me to come to you?" This could still easily be a trap and both of them knew it.

 

"My current...occupation will not allow my absence." Stuck between a comet and an asteroid then."I propose a compromise. There is a diner on Courscant." Dooku raised an eyebrow. So the being was likely on Courscant and force sensitive if he'd been trained as a Sith. How had the Jedi not noticed him? Could he hide his presence that well?Or had he somehow infiltrated the Jedi? He'd assumed that Luke was a Jedi-turned-Sith, but could it be the other way around? He'd never heard of such a thing...The being continued."I will send you the coordinates. It is a public place, one you may be familiar with yourself."

 

The coordinates flashed across the screen and Dooku's eyes widened again. Didi's Cafe? The one his Padawan had been so fond of? A sudden uneasiness began to uncurl in his gut. Just how much information about him had Luke gathered?This being seemed to know and understand the reasons why Dooku had left the Jedi Order and knew several personal details, but only to a certain extent. It wasn't consistent, almost as if he'd only known or heard everything about one particular portion of Dooku's history and jumped to conclusions. Admittedly they were mostly correct conclusions, but still...

 

"Meet me there in two weeks time,” Luke continued. “And come alone. You may specify the time, but send it directly, do not speak it." Dooku nodded, eying the figure again. He seemed terribly paranoid. Not that the Count would expect differently from a former Sith apprentice. After considering his options, he sent his specified hour and received a confirmation from the other.

 

“And the other condition?”

 

“Do not speak with anyone on or from Courscant until you come, and when you come speak only to me. Also, do not accept any Comm signal you are not familiar with. I am not the only one who knows of your search.”

 

“What would you have me tell anyone who calls me?” Dooku asked slowly. Sypho Dias still spoke to him on a regular basis, as did many of his former acquaintances from the Senate. Besides, if he received another unknown number, then it could very well be someone more (or less, as the case may be) informative and/or trustworthy than whomever Luke wanted him to avoid.

 

“Have someone tell them you are unreachable; a personal journey to reassess your current beliefs or something along those lines. It would be reasonable considering your recent...change of occupation. If that is not acceptable, I am sure you can excuse yourself as the situation dictates.”The figure paused. “I will know if you contact anyone here. If you do, this will be our last conversation.”

 

It only took the Count a few seconds to come to a conclusion."Very well, I accept your terms, and I look forward to meeting you in person, Luke," Dooku said.

 

"Indeed, Count," the figure replied and disappeared, ending the conversation. Dooku stared at the place where the figure had been for several seconds. Just who was this 'Luke', and what exactly did he want?

 

The coming conversation promised to be most informative, and 'interesting' didn't begin to cover it.

 

xXx

 

Anakin slipped out of the end of the maintenance tunnel that he usually used to escape. Normally utilized by droids, such tunnels weren't commonly protected by more than a few cameras and a force field, both of which were easily manipulated from the inside of the temple. It was getting back inside that usually caused a problem, but a quick reprogramming of a few of the maintenance droids took care of that issue as well. They would let only him in, and no one would be the wiser. It had been one of his favorite escape routes as a Padawan until he'd outgrown the tunnel sizes. As a ten-year-old, he had absolutely no problem whatsoever.

 

Checking to make sure that the security measures were back in place, Anakin gave a satisfied nod and began to walk down the hallway, glancing at the time as he went. His free two hours would be over soon, and he was due for lightsaber practice. He had no serious problem missing most of his other classes as they were simply rehashing his current education, but he absolutely refused to even consider missing lightsaber practice. He needed it too badly. Besides, learning the basics from someone other than Obi-wan was giving him a rather fresh view on the skill. Obi-wan would always insist that Anakin go back to the basics, but this was the first time he'd actually appreciated doing so.

 

He'd also begun to practice and study with some of his peers. After all, the extra practice couldn't hurt either him or them, even if they were woefully easy to predict. Actually, he'd been more than a little surprised when they'd come up and asked if he wanted to join them. He couldn't remember if that had happened before or not. If it had, he'd rejected them. Perhaps the seclusion hadn't entirely been his classmates' fault?

 

The group consisted of five other initiates. The two he'd practically interrogated about Dooku just after arriving at the temple were among them. Hik'te, the blue-skinned boy from before, belonged to a race called 'Kark'oildee' that occupied a planet in the outer mid-rim area. An unusual chemical phenomenon turned most of the plants on the planet to various shades of blue and his species had adapted to blend in. Maelee, the dark-haired human who'd been discussing Dooku at the table as well, didn't even know where she came from and didn't care.

 

Coira, the other female in the group, was a human from Courscant who liked to keep her hair short and planned on dying it several different colors when she became a Padawan, although her natural hue was a dull blond.

 

The oldest boy in the group, a Bothan with light-tan fur named Thoran, seemed to be an information gatherer (no surprise there), and the final boy, Hale, was a large, quiet human who hadn't disclosed his background to Anakin yet.

 

All in all, it was a motley crew of children who wouldn't have even looked at each other if they hadn't been raised in the temple. Still, their different strengths seemed to make up for the various weaknesses for the most part, and being Jedi, they learned quickly—well, compared to clones and normal soldiers in any case.

 

Anakin wasn't sure what he found more frustrating; having to work with the children to begin with, or being reduced to their physical level. Still, it was his first step to gaining allies; allies that he would undoubtedly need in the future.

 

He turned down the hall leading to the lightsaber practice room. He'd be a good 40 minutes early, but would welcome the extra warm-up time.

 

No sooner had the thought crossed his mind, then a twinge resonated through the Force. A very familiar twinge. Anakin stopped and concentrated on it for just a moment before his eyes widened ever so slightly.

 

It was Obi-wan. He'd just come back to Courscant and was landing at the Temple...and he was hurt. Badly. For several minutes, Anakin stood there in the hall, completely oblivious to his surroundings and anyone who happened to pass by. He couldn't stop the debate raging in his head. Part of him wanted to rush to the medical wing like he had every time Obi-wan had come back hurt in their previous life. The other half of him wanted to ignore Obi-wan even existed. He'd been avoiding the Knight since their return. While they hadn't parted on bad terms (quite the opposite actually), it became uncomfortable for Anakin to be around him for extended periods of time. This Obi-wan was just so...different from his old master. Younger, even more idealistic (if that were possible), just a tad more reckless, and an eeopie load of other, tiny things that just tended to scream out to Anakin. It all reminded him rather blatantly that this was not his master, and yet there were so many things that were his Obi-wan that it was difficult to separate the two.

 

It was a confusing and sometimes painful conundrum.

 

And on top of all of that, he still hadn't gotten over the habit of thinking of ways to kill that particular Jedi. Not that he would ever use anything he came up with anymore, but that had been one of Vader's favorite pass times. It was an uncomfortable habit that Anakin was working on eradicating.

 

Still, didn't he owe Obi-wan at least that much? Just drop by and say 'hi, hope you're not hurt too badly. ' Who else would, after all? Obi-wan had a good many friends in the future, but how many did he have now? Anakin couldn't remember.

 

Finally his concern for his former master won out. With a sigh and a longing look back at the practice room, he turned and began to hastily walk to the medic's wing.

 

xXx

 

"I swear..." Obi-wan winced as yet another strip of his make-shift bandage got torn off."You are the most reckless," yank, "pathetic," tear, "accident prone," tug, "excuse for a Jedi this temple has ever seen!"

 

Obi-wan bit his lip as the rest of the bandage completely (and rather painfully) separated from his skin. Then he schooled his expression and looked up at the irritated Mon Calamari who now held a bacta patch that she would be using to scrub the rest of the dried blood away. He wanted to back away, but he knew the look on Bant's face. Better to just get it over with. She must have had a bad day.

 

"It's just a scratch," he muttered, mostly to himself, half hoping she didn't hear him.

 

He wasn't that lucky."Just a scratch?" she literally screeched at him."You almost lost your arm, Obi-wan! Just in case you didn't notice that piece of...whatever the Force it was went through you! It didn't just cut, it skewered!"She'd already begun to clean and with every word, she scrubbed at the wound just hard enough to be painful, but soft enough to not seriously aggravate it more.

 

"I know, I was there," Obi-wan said with a hiss.

 

"Your body was," Bant returned."I have no idea where your mind was!"

 

Obi-wan sighed, debating whether he should retort or not. He had indeed been thinking at the time, and that the ambassador he'd been protecting would have been killed if Obi-wan hadn't knocked him out of the way of the falling rubble. Now he'd tried to get out of the way too, but his arm had been caught by some of it. Things like that tended to happen on high-profile missions. He'd stuffed it full of bacta, wrapped it up with strips from his robe, and that had been that. He'd even finished the assignment. He didn't know why Bant was so upset when it could have been so much worse, and was about to say so when they heard someone clear their throat at the door.

 

Looking up, they saw a human Padawan standing just outside the room; a healer's Padawan judging from his attire.

 

Yes?" Bant asked, her voice holding just the slightest edge to it.

 

The boy swallowed, but when he spoke, he did so firmly and without a trace of fear. Obi-wan would have been impressed if he hadn't been in pain. Bant hadn't stopped cleaning the wound to talk (she never did), and Obi-wan knew from experience that she wouldn't even consider ending his torture until she was satisfied. He wasn't sure if that would be when she figured she had put Obi-wan through enough pain to learn his lesson, or when the wound was actually clean. He also wasn't about to ask. Best not to give her ideas.

 

"An initiate came in, asking after Knight Kenobi," he said.

 

Obi-wan blinked and looked up, surprised. He only really knew one initiate…

 

"And?" Bant asked.

 

The boy looked a little unsure."He wishes to see him."

 

"He can wait," Bant started, but Obi-wan nodded his head at the Padawan, belying his friend's words.

 

"Show him in."

 

"Obi-wan," Bant hissed."You want to show a child this?" She gestured to his fairly mutilated arm.

 

Obi-wan looked down."He's seen worse." Anakin hadn't said so himself, but Obi-wan had little doubt that his words were true.

 

"I don't care," she retorted."It isn't appropriate."

 

"He wouldn't be here if he didn't need to see for himself that I'll be alright." Truthfully, Obi-wan didn't know how he knew that. He suspected it had something to do with the Force and his strange connection to Anakin.

 

Bant didn't say anything, but the strawberry-blond knew she wasn't happy. Still, she'd relented, and that was all he really could ask for at the moment.

 

"Anakin Skywalker, Knight, Healer," the Padawan said as he came back in, bowing respectfully. Behind him stood Anakin, stalwart as ever. He simply looked up at Obi-wan, watching with an expressionless face as the Padawan left the room.

 

Almost instantly, Bant changed her demeanor completely."Anakin? Welcome to the medical ward. My name is Bant." She stuck her webbed hand out, bending down so she was more on his level. Obi-wan didn't know who he should be embarrassed for. Here he was, practically helpless on a table while his friend decided to 'care' for him, but said friend was treating a former dark side trained initiate like…well, a child. Of course said child would be more than a little uncomfortable at the entire situation, although he hid it well.

 

The Knight watched with interest as Anakin took the offered, comparatively strange hand without so much as a flinch. Apparently Bant was pleasantly surprised herself. Mon Calamari tended to be a little intimidating at a first meeting.

 

"It is a pleasure to meet you, Healer Bant," he said respectfully. Obi-wan raised an eyebrow at the barely perceptible pause before 'meet'. Did he know Bant from somewhere? She wasn't exactly high-profile, although she had been on her share of missions with her respective masters.

 

"And you as well," she said, standing up."Do you mind if I call you Anakin, or would you prefer Initiate Skywalker?"

 

If he'd been uncomfortable before, he looked practically panicked now, but again, he hid it well. Obi-wan wouldn't have known if it hadn't been for that barely perceptible connection that gave him just a hint of the boy's feelings.

 

"Whichever you like," he replied carefully. She regarded him for a moment, and must have somehow sensed his unease.

 

"Initiate Skywalker it is," she said with a smile, blinking her overly large eyes."But I want you to know that one of these days I want you to know you well enough to call you 'Anakin'."

 

He nodded, but didn't say anything. Was that a touch of guilt he was feeling? Obi-wan couldn't quite tell. Besides, why would the boy feel guilty about that?

 

"Meanwhile," Bant continued, "I'm assuming you're here for this clumsy nerf."

 

Anakin hid a smile as Bant walked back to where Obi-wan sat, bacta swab still in hand. She'd cleaned the wound, Obi-wan knew she had, but she still went back to scrubbing it. He bit back a sigh and a wince at the same time.

 

"You're hurt," Anakin stated.

 

Obi-wan forced a smile."Obviously."

 

Anakin scowled."Apparently you are fine," he said after shooting Obi-wan a dark look. Then he turned on his heel.

 

Both Obi-wan and Bant blinked at his back.

 

"Anakin," Obi-wan said. He didn't have to have a connection to feel the boy's annoyance, but he also felt just a touch of something else he couldn't quite place, and he didn't want him to leave it like that.

 

At the door, Anakin stopped and turned to face him.

 

"Thank you for coming. I will be fine, but I appreciate your concern." Nothing on his face really changed, but he did seem just a little more relaxed, and Obi-wan didn't feel the disappointment anymore. Not that that meant anything, but still.

 

"You are welcome, M—" he cut off suddenly, eyes widening. Then, the disappointment and annoyance was back, but this time directed towards himself."Knight Kenobi," he muttered, and then he was gone, taking long, steady steps with his hands firmly behind his back.

 

"What was that?" Bant asked.

 

Obi-wan shook his head."I'm not sure," he replied."He was a slave. Apparently he's still used to calling authority figures 'master'."

 

Bant didn't say anything, but by the way she set her jaw, Obi-wan could tell that even the mention of the boy's past pushed her toward anger. A thankfully well-controlled anger. If Obi-wan knew anyone he didn't want to turn dark side, it was Bant. The very thought sent shivers up and down his spine. Fortunately, he was also more than sure that she was in no danger, despite her frustration.

 

"You're staying in here for the rest of the night," she informed him, turning her attention back to her patient, who held in a groan."And don't even try to get out of it."

 

"Yes ma'am," he murmured.

 

"Don't you use that tone of voice with me," she growled, taking out some rather nasty looking tools."I'm going to try and undo some damage, but it's more than likely that you'll have a scar, and I want to watch it overnight."

 

Obi-wan looked down."You don't have to worry about me, Bant," he said softly. She stopped what she was doing and looked back at him.

 

"If I don't, who will?" she asked, her voice equally as soft.

 

"That's the point of becoming a Knight," he replied, unable to look at her. Then he took a deep breath."Qui-gon's gone. I've come to terms with that."

 

Even though he couldn't see her, he could still tell she'd shook her head."That's not something you ever come to terms with." Obi-wan didn't say anything. If anyone knew, she did."Besides, I'd do this whether you had a master or not. Or have you forgotten?"

 

"It's far too painful to forget," he retorted, smiling. She hit his good arm and got a complaint for her trouble. Still, he felt his heart had eased just a little.

 

xXx

 

Well, that had been completely and utterly useless. Anakin shook his head as he headed towards the healer's wing exit. At least it hadn't taken as long as he'd expected. He still had fifteen minutes to get to class. Maybe he could even begin that warm up he'd wanted before.

 

He'd just reached the entrance to the medical wing when it hit him. It felt as if the Force had suddenly doused him in an icy ocean. Stopping, he gasped, clutching his chest. It almost felt like he couldn't breathe. This was how he'd felt before when he'd needed a respirator...

 

It was a bond, he realized. One he hadn't known was there this time, and he almost kicked himself. He should have known. If he still had one with Obi-wan, then this one would be there too.

 

A passing medic had come over to him, asking something Anakin couldn't make out rather frantically. He couldn't answer as he was too focused on breathing at the moment. Something horrible had begun; something that would cause someone a slow, agonizing death.

 

Torture. Sith Torture.

 

Still gasping, he could only utter one word as he fought the blackness creeping around the edge of his vision. “Sidious.”

 

xXx

 

Darth Sidious closed the door with a quiet ease that belied the large object's weight before turning to the only occupant in the room. She didn't seem to realize that he was there, but he didn't mind. That wouldn't be a problem for him. Quite the contrary, actually. He allowed an anticipatory smile onto his features. It would be most pleasant to hear her mentally screaming in agony, unable to do so aloud. Right now, she would not utter a sound. He would ensure that she would be physically unable to do so later.

 

Unfortunately for her, he wasn't in a good mood. It had taken him far too long to arrange to be on his home planet so he could personally interrogate her so soon after his previous visit. He'd had to have the perfect alibi after all. Still, the wait had been worth while. Now he could gain the information he needed and no one would be the wiser.

 

Stepping forward, the only sound she could utter was a soft gasp before her mental screams began to siphon to him, and he reveled in them.

 

With a smile, he began to tear through her head and memories. He'd forgotten just how blissful inflicting torture could be.

 

It only took minutes. He didn't have time to draw it out more than that, but he got what he could and then exited, leaving the former assassin on the floor, still screaming silently. It would take her hours to finally stop breathing, but her death was assured, and she still would not be able to be anything other than absolutely silent.

 

He left in a far better mood than when he'd arrived, and had a mental picture of this new Sith. He also had a name.

 

Perhaps this wouldn't be so difficult after all.

 

xXx

 

AN: Because I figured posting a full chapter might not be a bad idea.

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Chapter 2

 

He'd missed his lightsaber practice. Anakin scowled at the wall opposite of the bed the healer from the hall had placed him in. Why did such a trivial thing bother him so much? Someone had just been tortured and if they hadn't died already, they would be dead shortly. He knew that should bother him far more than missing his lightsaber practice, but it didn't. That fact did.

 

Perhaps some habits were never unlearned. He found the revelation about himself to be quite disturbing.

 

At the moment, he wanted nothing more than to be away from the hospital wing and his unnerving thoughts. He hated just sitting around when he could be doing something productive. They'd examined him and pronounced him to be physically sound. So why couldn't they just let him leave? He'd asked (demanded) and been told that they had to wait for test results as a general policy before they could release him. He'd forgotten about that particularly hated policy.

 

Sighing, he went back to staring at the wall. He may not be in the same room as his former master, but he found it ironic that they would end up in the healer's wing at the same time, albeit for completely different reasons.

 

He tried to relax himself, but found the techniques he used to be only marginally effective. Then his eyes turned to the door as the healer from earlier, one Knight Tokpoffi, finally came walking back into the room. He smiled warmly at Anakin.

 

“Well, it seems all of the tests have come back, and you're in perfect health.”

 

Anakin resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Of course he was in perfect health.

 

The man frowned thoughtfully. “We don't know why you had an attack like that, but we'll definitely keep an eye on it.”

 

“Thank you,” Anakin said as politely as he could. “May I go now?”

 

“Of course,” the Knight said. “But please come back if it happens again.”

 

“Yes, sir,” Anakin replied, trying not to rip the sheets off of him as he climbed out of bed.

 

“Have a good day,” Knight Tokpoffi called after him as he walked briskly down the hall, keeping a lookout for Obi-wan. There was a real possibility they could run into each other here after all, and Anakin had had enough for now. It wasn't that he disliked being around Obi-wan, he just...didn't know how to act around him anymore. Anakin shouldn't (couldn't) treat him like his master, nor did he want to treat him as an enemy, but there was too much between them, even if only from Anakin's side, to interact with him as an acquaintance. He honestly didn't know what to do and so thus wanted to simply avoid—

 

A twinge in the Force had him stopping and backing up almost without him realizing. Someone familiar occupied a room he'd just passed. Peeking in, he realized he couldn't see them from the door because the bed was situated so that a passer by couldn't just look in and glimpse anything more than that this room was occupied. So he walked in carefully, eying the bed as it came into view.

 

Then his breath caught in his throat. On the twin-sized mattress lay a woman with blond hair spread around her like a halo. She had various contraptions locked onto her mouth and nose, but that didn't stop Anakin from recognizing her immediately.

 

“Siri Tachi,” he whispered.

 

xXx

 

Obi-wan cared deeply for Bant. She had always been the closest thing he'd had to a sister and she'd gotten him out of (and into) more than one scrape. That did not in any way change how he felt about the healer's wing. Knight or not, he wanted out. Now.

 

Unfortunately he'd come to the conclusion once he'd become a senior Padawan that he could no longer give into such childish impulses. Now that he was a Knight, that wasn't about to change. If anything, he felt he had to be even more strict with himself.

 

The biggest problem was knowing that Qui-gon wasn't going to walk in that door at any minute to scold him for being reckless and tell him that he'd gotten what he deserved. Just after Bant had left him alone to tend to her other duties it hadn't been so hard, but as the minutes wore on, the room began to feel even more claustrophobic than usual.

 

Finally, after two standard hours, being unable to sleep or even meditate, he'd had enough. He'd promised to stay in the healer's wing overnight. Surely that didn't mean he had to stay in his room. A short, calming walk wouldn't hurt him or anyone else.

 

Besides, this happened to be the first time he'd really had enough time between assignments to do much more than prepare for upcoming missions. He'd actually been rather lucky. Despite the difficult assignments that normally came with Knighthood, he hadn't been admitted to the healers wing before. He felt that fact attested more to Qui-gon's training than it did to his own personal skill.

 

Truthfully there was someone he'd been meaning to visit. Now he actually had the time and happened to be in the same area, albeit with less than desirable circumstances than he would have preferred, but still.... Surely Bant wouldn't be too upset with him if he went for a visit now.

 

Still, sneaking around the healers would probably be prudent. The less she knew, the less she could get angry about, after all.

 

He would never admit out loud that Bant sometimes scared him more than Master Windu did.

 

Which is how he found himself suppressing his force presence as he sneaked around the different healers and other Jedi that had come to the wing. He actually found that he rather enjoyed the self-given mission, ignoring the immaturity of it altogether. Of course, he would have an interesting time explaining himself if he were caught by...well, anyone, but he found that that didn't bother him in the slightest.

 

He was rather proud of himself for finding her room without being seen once. That all vanished in surprise when he walked into her room only to see a small figure watching her with what looked like utter shock.

 

Curious. Why should Anakin, who couldn't have possibly met Siri before, be surprised to see a random person in the healer's wing?

 

“Anakin?” he asked softly. The boy jumped and whirled around as if he'd been caught doing something wrong.

 

“Master,” he said out of reflex. Obi-wan frowned. Almost immediately, the former slave caught himself. “I mean Obi-wan,” he amended, looking as if he were mentally kicking himself. “I mean, Knight Kenobi.”

 

The red-head smiled. “Don't worry, you'll get used to it in time; being your own master.”Anakin snorted and looked away, causing Obi-wan to frown again. “I know it may not seem like it now, but time heals all wounds.”

 

“I don't think I can agree with that,” the boy muttered bitterly.

 

Somehow, Obi-wan knew he wouldn't be able to change the boy's mind, and decided against protesting. Some things one had to find out for themselves. They stood there in an awkward silence for several seconds before the Knight cleared his throat.

 

“So, may I ask why you're in here? If I didn't know any better I'd say you'd just seen a ghost.”It was a pathetic attempt to lighten the mood. As such, it had the opposite effect.

 

“She just...looks like someone I knew,” the boy answered quietly. Immediately Obi-wan could tell Anakin was keeping something back.

 

“Oh? Who?” he asked cautiously.

 

The blond boy glanced back at Siri uncomfortably. “Someone my former master used to know.”

 

Ah, that explained a lot. “I see,” Obi-wan said quietly. “Someone you had a difficult time with?”

 

Anakin bit his lip. “Something like that.”

 

The Knight brought a hand up to his chin thoughtfully. It wasn't something that they normally had to deal with, but he wondered if he should get Anakin to see a mind healer about abuse. It may not be his place, he wasn't the boy's master after all, but he would suggest it to Master Yoda the next time their paths crossed. Perhaps it was even more necessary to get him into a mind healer because he didn't have a master yet.

 

He filed the thought away for later.

 

“Well,” he spoke up as he walked over to take a seat, gesturing for Anakin to do so as well. The boy looked uncomfortable, but sat down anyway after a slight pause. “Let me introduce you.”

 

“She's in a coma.”

 

Obi-wan raised an eyebrow, eyes sparkling. “Yes, I can see.”

 

The dry expression Anakin shot him almost made his stoic facade crack into a hearty laugh. Almost. Instead, he simply grinned. The boy seemed to realize he was being teased and scowled, which only made Obi-wan want to laugh harder.

 

“This is Siri Tachi, an old friend of mine,” he said to Anakin. Then he turned to the prone figure on the bed, smile dimming slightly. It hurt to see her like this. She should be running and laughing and teasing and being a general pain in the backside, not lying so deathly still. “Siri, this is a new initiate. His name is Anakin Skywalker.”

 

“She can't hear you,” Anakin muttered.

 

Obi-wan wanted to sigh. “I sincerely hope you're wrong, Anakin.”

 

They fell into a lapse of words that was thankfully far more comfortable than the previous silence. That didn't mean it wasn't somewhat tense, although Obi-wan couldn't for the life of him figure out why.

 

“Why is she here?” Anakin asked finally, breaking the silence.

 

The Knight shook his head. “We don't know.”

 

Anakin frowned. “Do you even know what happened?”

 

Obi-wan shook his head. “Only that she collapsed about a standard week before Qui-gon and I...” he paused for a moment, but then set his jaw and plowed on. “Before Qui-gon and I left on the mission where we found you.”

 

xXx

 

It took a few seconds for Anakin to really process Obi-wan's words and make all the connections, but when he did, the former slave sincerely hoped he didn't look like he'd blanched too much because he had certainly felt the blood drain from his face. He'd come back in time to about that point, unknowingly bringing the spirit of his Siri Tachi with him. That couldn't be a coincidence. He'd have to try and talk to the Siri from his original time line as soon as possible...not that he was looking forward to doing so. At one point, he and Siri had been fairly good friends, and he held far fewer negative feelings towards her than most of the other Jedi he'd come across in this time period because she'd died before he had turned.

 

Now it felt as if they'd never gotten along. He felt he should be used to it as he hadn't really mixed well with most Jedi, but having Siri so openly hostile towards him hurt, a lot more than he thought it should. She'd been one of the few Jedi he'd been able to more or less tolerate—count as a friend, even. He really needed to fix that. He'd have to at least try to remedy his general mindset that seemed to make him want to distance himself from his fellow order members, although he wasn't sure how effective his efforts would be. Truthfully, he wasn't sure he could ever truly 'get along' with anyone who wasn't Padmé...and maybe Obi-wan (on a good day). Sith weren't exactly encouraged to work on their social skills, so what few abilities he'd acquired before he'd fallen were rusty at best, non-existent at worst.

 

To make matters worse, he only had his teachers and fellow initiates to interact with in an attempt to regain those skills, and he doubted treating other Knights and masters like fellow children would end well. He also didn't think his pride could handle treating everyone else as he should a teacher.

 

“And she's been like this ever since?” Anakin asked, ignoring the shakiness in his voice.

 

Obi-wan sighed and sat back in his chair, smile completely gone. “Yes.”

 

“It must be hard,” Anakin said slowly, “seeing a friend like this.”

 

The Knight glanced over at the initiate, but Anakin couldn't read the expression in those blue-gray irises. “It is.”

 

The way Obi-wan said it reminded the former Sith of his previous discussion with Siri in his dream state. Did they have feelings for each other now, or had that come later? Or had they always been there? With as wistful as Obi-wan sounded, Anakin found he could certainly see the latter, but he couldn't quite believe it. The idea of his former master having such feelings towards another Jedi still seemed like a foreign concept to him.

 

“Um...I need to get back to my classes,” Anakin said awkwardly, suddenly wanting to leave the two alone.

 

Obi-wan blinked and glanced over at him. “Oh, of course. I didn't mean to keep you.”

 

“It's fine,” the boy replied, climbing down off of his chair.

 

“Oh, and Anakin...”The initiate stopped and turned to glance at his former mentor. “I wanted to thank you again for coming to see me today. You didn't have to and I do appreciate it.”

 

Anakin nodded, feeling a small smile come to his lips. Then he turned and strode quickly out of the room, and then out of the wing as he forced his mind to turn to his physical inadequacies and exactly what he had to do to regain the skills his trip back in time had cost him.

 

xXx

 

Anakin hated being bored. He always had.

 

Unfortunately, listening to a condescending Jedi teacher lecture about history for the second time most definitely qualified as boring. Several times over. As Vader, he'd been required to attend board meetings, political parties, general social events, and Senate meetings that he may possibly be able to classify as more tedious, but most of those had either been somewhat relevant with previously unknown information being brought to the table or week-long celebrations that would fulfill his 'attendee requirements' (given to him by the Emperor—he insisted on keeping up public appearances) for the year. The idea of having to go through such a tedious block of time—such as a class he'd already passed—every single day for an entire year almost made Anakin wish for the social parties again. Almost.

 

So as he sat in his desk, staring blankly up at the Jedi lecturing at the head of the class, allowing his mind to wander as he leaned his chin on the palm of his hand. After all, he really did know all of this and so he'd decided that he should focus on more upcoming and important events. He was, after all, far more concerned with the future than that past.

 

He found his thoughts wandering to his upcoming meeting with Dooku and frowned. He'd planned that encounter for months, knowing full well that he would end up having to meet the man in person. That had presented a rather large flaw in his whole scheme: He couldn't afford to reveal himself to the man yet. Although Anakin doubted it, Dooku could easily have already contacted Sidious and made the alliance that would eventually drive the Count to turn. If that were the case, then Anakin would be lucky to get out alive. But more concerning to him was the problem that if he arrived at the meeting as a short being with a mask, it would be all too easy to put two and two together. He could just imagine both old men tweaking some aspect of their scheme for the hundredth time over some Woviain Tea (said to be one of the most expensive teas in the universe) as the subject came up. “Oh, and who was the small child who has just arrived at the Temple? Oh, yes, didn't he have previous dark side training?”

 

Thankfully he'd been able to play down said 'dark side training' to the council and consequently the rest of the Jedi. He wouldn't be surprised if Yoda suspected that his 'brief training period' was more than what Anakin had let on, but he doubted any other Jedi would suspect such from a ten-year-old. It was ironically amusing that they had a full-blown Sith in their midst and they didn't even suspect—more ironic than Palpatine's deception, even. Still, Sidious was intelligent and, especially at this point in time, he tended to think out of the box and could guess quite accurately at the smallest of details only to use those correct assumptions to further his own plans. It wouldn't be that much of a stretch for the two men to realize exactly who he was. Not only would that put him in danger, but it would potentially put the Temple (not to mention the entire future) in danger also.

 

Well, more danger.

 

As much as he may despise the Jedi method of teaching and living, he would prefer to keep them alive this time around. Well, he would prefer to at least not be the cause of their demise. Even as Vader the faces of those children had haunted him....

 

Funny how quickly guilt can be turned into anger.

 

Focusing back on the task at hand, he thought about his solution. He'd bought electrical equipment to make himself mechanical legs and arms that he'd be able to control with his movements. The very idea was not a comfortable one, but was the only solution he could come up with. If he sent a droid, that would not only offend Dooku, but instantly make him suspicious. They both knew Anakin had steered the conversation towards their meeting, so why would he suggest something and then not follow through?

 

He couldn't go as himself. True, there were many small races throughout the galaxy, but it would still be too easy to guess his identity—even through a disguise—at his normal height. So a disguise that discouraged both Sidious and Dooku from associating Anakin Skywalker with the former 'Sith Apprentice' was the solution. Hence the mechanical arm and leg extensions. Admittedly the proportion of the joints would be off, but that wasn't something he could easily fix. His torso would also be too small to completely pass himself off as a human adult, so he'd come up with a list of other races that had similar proportions and had fashioned several different pairs of hands for the ends of the mechanical limbs. It was all a matter of which he wanted to choose. The problem he ran into here was that all races had their pros and cons, and he'd been studying up on the different social and physical tics of each race to try and decide.

 

Then there was the hardware problem. With Anakin's knowledge it wasn't that difficult to build the mechanical limbs, and with enough time he could make any of them indistinguishable from real-life, but in truth, he didn't have that time. Even with his skill he knew someone as experienced as Dooku could potentially identify the limbs as unnatural, so he needed to prepare for that potential discussion topic. Additionally, many of the major components were...difficult to acquire and it would be awkward if his mechanical limbs were discovered by the Jedi as that could also lead to the Council discovering his frequent escapades from the Temple. He would have to find another place to store them once he finished the project. He'd already almost completed them, but his construction and practice with the artificial limbs (he had to look somewhat natural in them to pull this off after all) had begun to cut into his racing time, and he needed those profits to continue building them. Catch 22.

 

“Anakin!” A harsh hiss drew him out of his thoughts, and he glanced over to the seat next to him. Coira nodded towards the front of the class, where the teacher had stopped talking only to stare directly at him.

 

“I apologize,” he said, not bothering to keep the boredom from his voice. “Could you repeat the question?”

 

“Initiate Skywalker, it would be appreciated if you could listen to the lesson.”

 

Anakin blinked at the instructor. “I do know it rather well already, but I apologize for letting my mind wander. Could you please repeat the question?”

 

The instructor frowned. “I asked what events lead up to the creation of the Republic.”

 

Anakin nodded and proceeded to launch into a five-minute lecture about the events leading up to the formation of the current Republic. He did his best to stick to facts that would be in the Jedi readings as the Empire and the Sith both had their own version of the events.

 

When he finished, the instructor regarded him with a thoughtful expression. “Initiate Skywalker, if you know this already, why have you not informed us before? I will speak to the Council about moving you to a different class. Would that be acceptable?”

 

Anakin blinked again, this time out of surprise. “I appreciate the thought, Master.”

 

The teacher (and Anakin could not for the life of him remember the man's name) smiled and nodded in satisfaction before continuing with his lesson, leaving Anakin to collect himself. He'd never had such an offer presented to him before, no matter how advanced he'd been in the subjects. Why now?

 

Although he dwelt on the question for the rest of the class period, he could not seem to come up with an adequate answer.

 

xXx

 

Later that night...

 

Anakin had learned the art of meditation as a Jedi, but had only come to appreciate it as a Sith. The irony was not lost on him. Sith had their own form of meditation but the basic fundamentals couldn't be more different than the Jedi.

 

The Jedi believe in a sort of apathetic peace while the Sith believe in burning, negative passion. Jedi meditation tended to deal with clearing your mind and asking for a connection with the Force. Sith meditation could never be instigated without some sort of focal point, usually an extremely strong emotion such as pain, anger or hatred that demanded a connection. One would focus on that emotion and then try to link other emotions to it. The goal was to encompass all of your being into that focal point emotion so as to have an endless connection with the dark side. The best Sith could focus on any given emotion and attain that connection. Anakin, as Vader, had only ever achieved such a connection through anger, fear or pain.

 

Truthfully, looking back, he was a little surprised he'd been able to attain it at all as his lack of focus tended to be a rather prominent part of his personality. The problem he'd run into, though, was the fact that he'd had to sit for hours on end while being fed and having waste extracted from his body. He'd had little else to do, and meditation was better than sitting around doing nothing. The circumstance had quite literally forced him to learn (in a twisted, dark way) what Obi-wan had been trying to teach him for years: Meditation is a valuable tool.

 

Now as he sat in his room and tried to clear his mind, he couldn't help the frustration building inside of him. For years he'd hated the Jedi technique, and the Sith method he'd honed for decades. Even though he refused to even attempt to meditate in any fashion close to the Sith techniques, he kept finding his mind drifting, wanting to grab hold of an emotion.

 

Now he could banish feelings to the Force, a basic skill every single youngling was taught with typical Jedi devotion. Unfortunately, that was also the most fundamental form of light meditation. To go deeper than that, one had to truly clear their mind. Often this was done by banishing feelings to the Force.

 

He kept trying to do so now, but some part of him did not seem to want to let go, and as such, he could not truly gain a meditative state. Currently, at best he could attain a light trance, and that had been nothing short of rare and difficult at best these last few months. His 'Force Techniques' class was the only one he was still behind in (ironically, even more so than when he had taken that class before). Between his frustration and the somewhat unsettling conversation he'd had with his former master about Padawan Tachi (it was strange to think of her as anything but a Knight), anything more at the moment just wasn't possible, but he needed to talk to his Siri and had no idea how to contact her except through meditation. In all actuality, he was hoping that just trying to get into the right mind set would at least call her to his dreams again, but neither his conscious or his subconscious mind wanted to cooperate.

 

Finally, after far too much effort and wasted time, he shoved all of his frustration as best he could into the Force and crawled into bed. He couldn't help but feel glad that tonight was his night to stay in the Temple because it surprised him as to how tired he was. Thankfully, it did not take him long to fall asleep. However, he did not dream that night.

 

xXx

 

A few days later...

 

Anakin paced restlessly outside of Master Yoda's meditation room wondering why he'd been summoned. Had they discovered his extra curricular activities? His bank accounts or night time trips to the lower sectors? He doubted it. They would have summoned him more formally in that particular case, he felt sure. He could only really race twice a week or so. One night a week he would sneak out and work on the mechanical limbs which he would need to interact with Dooku. He'd gone for simple designs and had come up with several successful products, but as they didn't actually connect to his nerves, he found them far more difficult to use than he felt someone who had lived with mechanical limbs for years should.

 

Usually he would spend once a week visiting the dumps and lower-level scrap heaps or shops to find parts and tools he needed for said arms or the droids he liked to build. The remaining nights, he actually slept. If he wanted to get his body into shape as quickly as he could, he needed his sleep and so he made sure to have several hours of rest a night, even on his racing, building, practicing and scavenging nights.

 

He was keeping up with (actually exceeding, even with him trying to hold back) most of his classes and he knew he'd begun to get much better with his lightsaber skills, although that was no particular surprise. In his first life he'd picked up on that one particularly fast (not as quickly as Luke had, he thought back with a combination of jealousy and pride). That had been before he'd had the knowledge of the necessary basics and his favored forms. Really at this point, it was a matter of muscle memory, and that was something he worked on when he was sure no one else was around. In class, he had to stick to the forms he'd been taught at the temple, but he could usually sneak in a few hours of solitary lightsaber training in one of the practice rooms that he knew wasn't being monitored or recorded. He just didn't dare let on as to how much he really knew.

 

That was another thing that bothered him, though. He was pleased with how quickly he'd picked up his saber training, but his favored form, V (and he'd easily mastered both Shien and Djem So in his previous life) was not something that really suited his current body. He was just too short. As such, he'd taken a page out of Yoda's book and had decided to try and work some Ataru into his personal style. As Vader he'd modified his knowledge of the forms and had worked in some rather dark-based slashes and finishes over the years. Now he worked to replace those with the form IV acrobatics. It had slowed down his progress, but he didn't feel completely inadequate anymore. He desperately wished he had someone he could fight against and test his limits, but didn't dare ask anyone. The initiates didn't even begin to have the skill to challenge him and his unrestrained knowledge would bring up too many unanswerable questions from anyone else—not just in lightsaber practice.

 

He knew he had too many inconsistencies in his life right now, and he really had no way of addressing them without spilling the truth. A truth no one would believe. Even if they did believe it, he still did not want to expose the true extent of his past actions. The council and most of the Jedi hadn't trusted him before, and they probably trusted him even less now. The last thing he needed to do was confirm their suspicions. Still, he didn't know what he would say to whatever inconsistency they'd decided to confront him over. And he really had no way of knowing until they let him in and spoke with him and what the kriff was taking them so long anyway?! It wasn't like a council meeting or anything.

 

Just when he thought he might start pulling his hair out in frustration, a shimmer in the Force caused the door to open. Half relieved, half nervous, Anakin walked slowly in and bowed to the two figures sitting inside. Master Yoda, of course, and surprisingly, Master Adi Gallia. She had a reputation for being no-nonsense, but fair. She also tended to be a tad bit more open minded than the rest of the council (although that didn't say much in Anakin's opinon).

 

Still, he was surprised to see her there as he had no personal connection to her at all.

 

“Masters?” he said cautiously.

 

“Initiate Skywalker,” Adi Gallia said, her voice soft but firm.

 

Yoda also spoke up, “Young Skywalker.”He really wished people would stop calling him that. “Brought to our attention a certain matter was.”

 

Anakin checked to make sure his mental and emotional shields were firmly in place before he allowed himself to reply. He needed that racing money! And he needed to be able to contact Dooku. What would he do if they tried to make him stop? Because he wouldn't. Of course, if it came down to a matter of his life at the temple vs. a chance to stop Palpatine he knew what he'd choose. Still, he did his best to remain calm. Unlike his former self, he would not jump to conclusions, no matter how worried he was.

 

“And what would that be, Master?” he asked as calmly as he could and almost winced when it came out a bit colder than he'd wanted. It would have been how Vader would have addressed Sidious had the Sith Master brought up unpleasant business.

 

If either one noticed, they didn't show it.

 

“Please understand,” Adi Gallia said, her voice even softer, “that we here in the temple tend to grow up rather differently than you.”Anakin wanted to snort. That was the understatement of the century. “Our entire society and way of thinking is fundamentally contrastive.”

 

“A bad thing, it is not,” Yoda cut in to clarify, puzzling Anakin. It wasn't a bad thing he grew up as a slave? That didn't sound like the Yoda he knew. He was missing something. “A simple fact it is.”

 

“You grew up in an environment that wasn't conducive to many of our ways of life, and so as such, we owe you an apology.” Well that floored Anakin.

 

“W-what?” he asked, unable to keep his mask from slipping.

 

“We've been treating you as we would any other initiate,” the woman said with a small, slightly sad smile. “We know that your mother is very dear to you and she did her best to raise you—”

 

“A fine job she did, hmm?” Yoda commented with a chuckle.

 

He could have sworn Master Gallia rolled her eyes there for a moment, in a fond way. Okay, too many mind-blowing events in a row. He couldn't seem to process it all.

 

“But you still grew up in an extremely undesirable position. Between your slavery and your Force training it's truly a wonder we found you at all.”

 

“Worried, we are, that mistreated you were,” Yoda said, all traces of amusement gone.

 

Wait, mistreated? As in abused?

 

He had to stomp on a flash of anger. “My mother did not beat me!”

 

“We don't believe she did,” Master Gallia said soothingly. “But as a slave, you were subject to beatings, were you not?”

 

Anakin closed his mouth, unable to refute that. Watto had been a decent master all things considered, but he'd still occasionally beaten them. It was the norm for a slave master. Encouraged even. He'd long since buried the memories in the back of his mind and it was something he avoided thinking about to this day, although he'd occasionally revisited them as a Sith to gain power from his anger at the harsh treatment (even now he was struggling to keep his anger in check) but truthfully he'd been submitted to so much worse. Palpatine's Force-lightning, for instance. Never enough to overload his circuits, but always enough to hurt immensely. Or getting his limbs chopped off. Or living in a state of constant pain as he walked around in a life-support suit. Really what still angered him about those old beatings was the fact that his mother was still subject to them at this point.

 

He did not want to revisit any memories like that in front of the Jedi. He knew himself and he knew his tendencies, and because one thought led to another, he wasn't sure he could conceal his anger...or his fear.

 

When he didn't answer the question, Master Gallia continued. “Or worse, we suspect. As such, we want you to see a mind healer.”

 

It was getting extremely hard to ignore the anger. “I'm not crazy,” he said, his voice practically ice now. He was proud of the fact that he hadn't said it through gritted teeth as he would have undoubtedly done in his original youth.

 

“Say that, did we?” Yoda asked, sounding genuinely curious and frustratingly placating. That was probably why Adi Gallia and Yoda had been chosen to relay this message to him as they tended to be the most tranquil and steadfast of masters in the face of everything from galactic war to upset children.

 

“We don't think you are crazy,” Master Gallia stated firmly, face fixed in a disapproving expression. “It's a matter of learning to deal with your emotions.”

 

Typical Jedi. Their idea of 'dealing' with emotions was throwing them away and ignoring the fact that they exist. He'd tried, he really had, but he suspected that the fact that their 'solution' to the 'emotions problem' still irked him had probably been a large factor in his inability to meditate. He did not like the sound of this one bit. His memories were in the past (and another future that would not happen) and should remain there. Besides, how was he supposed to 'open up' and give his entire life story to any Jedi? It wasn't just a matter of trust (which they still did not have), it was a matter of staying out of some sort of institution and a matter of not letting Palpatine know what's going on.

 

“I am not comfortable with that,”Anakin allowed himself to say after a few tense seconds, a note of finality in his voice that he hadn't heard for a while.

 

A sigh from the direction of the Masters. “You're not supposed to be.”

 

“Know we do that hard it is for you to trust us,” Yoda said. Anakin blinked in surprise, a little of his anger vanishing.

 

“Y...you do?”

 

“You've been trained somewhat in our ways, but you've been trained in the dark side as well,” Master Gallia pointed out. “If you have been trained in the ways of the dark, you have undoubtedly been trained to not trust anyone, especially Jedi.”

 

Anakin stared at them for a few seconds, his anger continuing to dissipate. Then it was replaced by a sort of grim amusement. Her statement held some truth to it. Palpatine had always encouraged him to never trust the Jedi. It hadn't been shoved down his throat like a lot of the dark side philosophy he'd been fed after he'd turned, but subtly and long before his fall, he had indeed been taught to mistrust not just the Jedi, but everyone.

 

“A solution we have,” Yoda said.

 

Master Gallia nodded. “There was a program created for people with high-stress careers requiring them to keep confidential information. As their jobs would not allow for them to reveal any details, it made therapy moot. The solution was a combination therapy program. The agents would be required to visit with a mind healer for what they could reveal, but they would also be required to speak to a specially programmed droid for anything highly confidential. The droid's memory would then be completely erased.”

 

She paused for a moment, her hard expression softening ever so slightly while Anakin balked. He could never just spill all of his secrets to a droid. Still, he listened as she continued. “We want you to trust us, Initiate Skywalker, but we know that is a tall order for now. Until you can trust us, we will be implementing something similar to that program.”

 

“For your peace of mind, this is,” Yoda said with a nod. “Intrude upon your past we will not.”

 

“As part of your initiate training, since you are surprisingly ahead in most of your classes, you are now required to attend a two time-block session twice a week with some mind-healers and a droid we've commissioned especially for this. The hard drive for the robot's memory will be entrusted to you to do with as you please. Wipe it clean or keep it, but bring it back to every session. We would hope that you could eventually trust us with your past,” Master Gallia said, her firm voice and expression returning to its normal tranquility, “and any information of your former Dark Master you may have. It could help our cause immensely, but we will not pry.”

 

Anakin almost let out a snort. Almost. They really had no idea. Still, they'd definitely gone out of their way to do this for him. Unwanted as their actions may be, he still felt oddly touched. Still, revisiting his anger was not something he felt he could do. He seriously doubted he could avoid the dark side if he prodded that locked chest too often and lost control again, and this time neither Padmé or Luke would be there to stop him.

 

“I feel this is not a good idea,” he said uncomfortably. They really had no idea what they would be getting him (or themselves) into.

 

“Unanimous, the Council is,” Yoda stated firmly.

 

“If you wish to continue on as an initiate, you will be required to do this,” Adi Gallia confirmed.

 

Oh, this was such a bad idea. But what choice did he have? At least they hadn't brought up his extra-curricular activities. Thank the Force.

 

“Do you understand?” Her voice had hardened and brokered no argument.

 

He really did not want to do this. But they weren't kidding about kicking him out of the Order. He'd been expecting something like this, actually. It had been a long-time coming, and was for a far different reason than what he'd supposed, but he'd still been expecting it. It was a bit of a confirmation, and while he was a little disappointed, he felt more grateful that they'd come out and just told him. He knew where he stood with the Council for the most part now, and that helped to ground him in its own way.

 

He still stalled in answering for as long as he dared. “Yes,” he muttered finally and found himself desperately hoping that they wouldn’t all come to regret it.

 

xXx

 

AN: Feel free to point out any mistakes! Thanks! Enjoy!

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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.

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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:

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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.

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Loving this story Obi-Quiet.. can't wait for your next update. I love where you've taken this... the angst, the struggle for what's right and wrong, not wanting to repeat past mistakes. Great stuff.

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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.

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Im still enjoying it. Thank you for posting, its inspiring for my own continued writing. KEEP IT UP

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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.

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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.

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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! :)

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