The office door opened, beckoning Anakin forward with its promise of... What exactly did he hope to find in there? A respite from the restrictions that being a Jedi placed on him? Yes, perhaps that was it. Just a brief rest...a moment of peace.
Too many secrets were clamoring for freedom inside of him. Sometimes, he felt he would be crushed from the weight of them all.
"Come in, Anakin." It was the Chancellor's voice, gentle and welcoming as always, and Anakin felt himself relaxing in spite of his own chaotic emotions. He had nothing to fear. This was Palpatine, the great man who had befriended him as a child and had never faltered in his affection. While Obi-Wan handed out admonishments and corrections with a lavish hand, Palpatine was always there to offer approval and support.
Breathing deeply, Anakin moved forward.
"It's so nice to see you again, Anakin," Palpatine said as he stood up and motioned for Anakin to take a seat. Palpatine sat back down, giving Anakin an expectant look. His glance fell to the dark glove that Anakin now wore and an expression of sympathy flickered across his face but he offered no words of pity, for which Anakin was grateful. "How are you feeling?" The question was general enough that Anakin could answer honestly.
"I'm well, thank you, Chancellor," the young Jedi answered quietly. "I was surprised to get your summons."
"I wanted to see you before you left," Palpatine explained with a slight smile. "I know that you and Master Kenobi will be shipping out soon."
Anakin nodded. "We haven't gotten our orders yet, but I expect that you're right," he answered with a grin. "You have better sources than we do."
Palpatine nodded and shrugged his shoulders. "It's merely part of the job, my boy." Then he sighed and sat back, tapping his fingers on his desk. "And I also wanted to thank you for personally escorting Senator Amidala back to our home planet of Naboo."
Trying to maintain a neutral expression, Anakin replied, "It was my honor to do so, sir." That was true enough, a safe answer in any case.
Palpatine's gaze seemed to grow sharper and something else glimmered in his eyes but was gone before Anakin could identify it. "Tell me, Anakin..." Palpatine paused and then leaned forward, catching Anakin's gaze. "Is something..." He paused, frowning slightly, "troubling you?"
Unable to meet Palpatine's eyes, Anakin glanced past the Chancellor to the traffic lanes beyond. "I'm not sure what you mean, sir," he murmured uneasily. "We are at war."
It would be much better to let Palpatine think that the war was the cause for his anxieties. Anakin wondered briefly how Palpatine had picked up on his uneasiness when his own Master had not. He shrugged away that thought, along with the niggling doubts that it evoked.
There was a moment of silence from the Chancellor and then Palpatine cocked his head and smiled. "You can tell me, Anakin," he said softly. "You know you can tell me anything at all. I'll not betray your secrets."
The need to unburden himself rose up in Anakin, almost unbearably urgent. Almost.
"There's nothing to tell, Chancellor." He kept his tone casual, giving away nothing. Or so he hoped.
Disappointment flashed over Palpatine's face. "Very well, Anakin," he murmured. "If you say it is so, I will believe you."
Anakin almost blurted out everything, but something stopped him at the critical moment. He had to protect not only his own secrets now, but theirs. Padmé was depending on him. He had failed a woman he loved once; he would not do so again.
"I wanted to tell you how very sorry I was to hear about your mother," Palpatine said.
The unexpected words hit Anakin in the gut. He felt his hands clench on the arms of the chair, heard the slight creak of the wood as it began to give under the strength of his right hand. The new hand took some getting used to and he deliberately relaxed his grip.
"How did-" Anakin breathed deeply, desperately reaching for the calm center about which Obi-Wan always preached. "Thank you, Chancellor."
"It seems such a great pity that you didn't have more time with her," Palpatine noted almost absently. "After you gave yourself up to the Jedi teachings, I mean." Then embarrassment seeped into the Chancellor's distinguished features. "My apologies. I fear I have spoken out of turn about things that are not my business."
I'm so proud of you, Ani... His mother's eyes had sparked with a last bit of life as she had said the words.
Anakin found himself wanting to talk about her to someone...anyone. Padmé was far away on Naboo and Obi-Wan was too busy, and reluctant to speak about a woman he had never met.
When he spoke, Anakin was surprised to hear how thick and husky his voice was. "At least I saw her before she died." That was the thought he used to try and find comfort in. At least I held her as she took her last breath. At least I saw her one last time. At least she was proud of me. At least....
But what reason did his mother really have to be proud of him? He had failed her when she needed him most.
"I'm sure your mother was very proud of you," Palpatine whispered in a disconcerting echo of Anakin's own thoughts.
Now I am complete.
Anakin, no longer complete at all, felt fractured into a thousand tiny splinters. He had buried part of himself - the best part, an inner voice mocked - in the sands of Tatooine. By his actions, he had given up something of himself that could never be regained.
To his dismay, Anakin felt tears stinging at his eyes. To imagine crying in front of this great man... Taking a deep breath, he tried to force the tears inside, to the place where he held all the grief and anger - but most of all his fear. That secret place that no one else even knew existed, except perhaps his wife.
There was still hope; there was still Padmé, and she loved him.
I killed them all. Not just the men, but the women and the children, too. He had seen the horror in Padmé's eyes as he made that confession, but he had found forgiveness in her arms. She would never let him fall that hard again.
"Oh, Anakin," Palpatine said in a low voice. "It hurts me to see you like this...so wounded by your mother's death." He got up from his chair and crossed over to Anakin, putting his hands on the young Jedi's shoulders. "But I sense there is something else bothering you, my boy, something more than your mother's horrible death."
I killed them all.
"No sir, nothing else," Anakin muttered.
Palpatine leaned down and put his mouth close to Anakin's ear. "Are you sure?" he asked softly and his voice sounded odd in Anakin's head, almost as if the Force had brushed against his most secret thoughts. Shaking away that odd image, Anakin shook his head.
"No - I mean...yes, I'm sure," Anakin stammered. "Nothing else."
From the corner of his eye, Anakin saw Palpatine's lips stretch slightly, as if he wanted to smile but then thought better of it. "Very well," the Chancellor said and returned to his chair. Putting one hand up, Palpatine thoughtfully tapped at his jaw. "I must say that I admire your restraint, my boy."
"What do you mean?" Anakin asked in surprise. If there was ever a word not usually associated with Anakin Skywalker, it was restraint.
Palpatine shrugged and one long finger brushed against his lips. "If someone I loved had been slaughtered in such a fashion, I'm afraid my own anger would have taken hold and I could not be held responsible for my own actions." He flashed an apologetic smile. "But then, I am not a Jedi."
"Anger?" Anakin asked, strangely intrigued by the sound of the word. It called to him, resonating with an odd sense of command. There was a clean edge to rage that none of the Jedi platitudes possessed, and having felt it, Anakin knew its allure, its power.
"Oh I realize that the Jedi have a very different view of anger," Palpatine continued. "But I've found that righteous anger can be the sword of justice."
"I...I..." Anakin felt a wild trembling go through him. Palpatine's words reverberated in the Force, echoing endlessly in his mind. They felt right somehow. "I was angry," he confessed at last, feeling the hot rush of shame that washed over him.
A Jedi was not supposed to feel anger; he was supposed to acknowledge it and then release it to the Force. He was quite sure that his own method of releasing his rage would not meet with the Council's approval. They could never understand; they would not even try.
"Well, of course you were," Palpatine replied, surprising Anakin with his matter-of-fact acceptance. "They killed your mother." His voice was a mere whisper now, but Anakin heard it quite clearly.
"They killed her," Anakin echoed, trying desperately to hold onto that truth.
"It's only natural that you were angry with them," Palpatine soothed, a beacon in the darkness.
"They had to pay," Anakin whispered before he realized what he had said. His eyes flew up to Palpatine's. Expecting horror and disgust, he was surprised to find only understanding strangely laced with satisfaction.
"Of course they did, Anakin," Palpatine replied. "It's only natural."
It was natural, Anakin thought fiercely. He had not been a monster, merely a grieving son. It was their fault, not his. They had killed his mother and so he had killed them. Only natural. He repeated the words to himself as if they were sacred.
What was not natural was to expect him to turn off every emotion simply because he was a Jedi. A Jedi bled and died like any other else in the galaxy but, most of the time, they acted more like droids than living beings. Why could they not allow themselves to feel?
"There is nothing to be ashamed of Anakin, if...in your anger..." Here Palpatine paused and bestowed upon Anakin a look of understanding. "You struck out at those who harmed your mother."
"I..." Anakin swallowed hard. He sensed it would be liberating to speak the words, to confess this one secret at least. "I...I killed them," he finally said and felt something unknot inside of him.
He expected - wanted - to feel remorse for what he had done. Instead of grief or regret, however, he felt a faint echo of that power that had surged through him. Once again, that terrible, beautiful anger uncoiled within.
And it was freeing.
The anger was so much easier to experience than the hurt and so he let it envelop him for a moment. Just a moment...nothing more. More would be dangerous. More would be... too tempting.
Palpatine gave an approving nod. "I'm proud of you, Anakin."
"Proud?" The young man felt the wrongness in the moment but was helpless against it. Palpatine was much older and wiser than he was, and if his mentor could see no wrong in it...
"There are times, Anakin, when mercy is a weakness. If you allowed them to go free, who knows how many others might have suffered as your mother did?" He smiled at Anakin, giving his blessing in some strange way. "You saved those other potential victims, Anakin. You saved those who might have died if you had been merciful." Palpatine spat out the word as if it was a curse.
"You're right," the young Jedi whispered. "Who knows how many lives I might have saved?" He felt some of the darkness bleed out of him. Surely for every drop of Dark that he bled, a bit of Light would flow back in. The Light still wanted him, still cherished him.
He was not lost. Not completely. Not...yet.
Not just the men, but the women and the children, too.
Anakin put that memory away. It no longer mattered. He would not fall again. It had been a lesson, a warning that he would remember.
I know I'm better than this.
Quietly, he locked that away in the secret portion of his heart. He would be better. The anger...well that could be used and then tucked away. The power would make him strong, not weak. The Jedi were wrong about that, but he knew the truth.
He looked up and met Palpatine's calm gaze. It's only natural.
"Thank you, sir," Anakin said with a nod of his head. "Thank you for this little talk."
"You're most welcome, my boy," Palpatine replied smoothly. "Most welcome indeed."
The Chancellor smiled.
Original cover by Gina. HTML formatting copyright 2007 TheForce.Net LLC.