DAY 25: ‘HIDE AND SEEK’ - ESCAPE/FLIGHT
Characters: Anakin Skywalker, Sheev Palpatine, Padmé Amidala (mentioned), Bail Organa
Warnings: Manipulation, implied injury
Summary: ROTS AU - Instead of deciding to go to Palpatine’s office after his wait in the Council Chamber, Anakin comms Padmé. She manages to persuade him not to do something reckless, but instead, he gets caught up in the attack on the Temple during Order 66, and Darth Sidious, displeased that his plans have not gone as he has foreseen, has come for his chosen apprentice.
The Jedi Temple on Coruscant was burning, and the thick plumes of smoke rising in tall columns high into the air were enough to conceal from any observer the flash of blue and red lightsabers clashing on the roof. Stumbling backwards from the bind as he was caught in the path of a strong Force push, Anakin Skywalker retreated as far as he could from the man in front of him until he reached the edge of the Temple roof. He had been retreating ever since Chancellor Palpatine—Darth Sidious—had come for him. Retreated through halls scored with blaster fire, retreated as the Sith's saber slipped past his guard and sliced painfully across the muscle of his upper arm. Now, he could retreat no further. He was trapped.
“Come, my boy,” Palpatine said, his yellow eyes glinting in the light of the fire and his blood red lightsaber alike. Sidious, Anakin reminded himself. He was Darth Sidious, the Sith Lord who had orchestrated the Clone War, not the kindly Chancellor Palpatine who had looked after him ever since he had arrived on Coruscant as a wide-eyed boy fresh from the dust and misery of Tatooine. That man had been nothing but a lie, and no matter how much the part of him that was still loyal to that mask wanted to, he must not allow himself to forget that. “Do not be foolish. There is nowhere to run.”
He was right. Anakin hated that he was right. Keeping the Sith Lord firmly in his field of vision, he risked a slight glance over the edge of the roof down to the ground below. It was a high drop—though not one that was insurmountable to a Jedi—but even if he were to land safely, all that would achieve would be to put himself right in the middle of a veritable swarm of troopers. There was no escape.
“It need not be this way, Anakin,” Palpatine continued, in the same gentle voice he had always used with him—the same voice he had used even as he told him that he was a Sith Lord, and that he wanted him as his apprentice. It made it so much harder to remember that this was not the face of his friend, even though that face had twisted and melted into something unrecognisable in the few hours between him leaving the man's office and him coming to the Temple to hunt him down. Even as his arm ached from where the Sith Lord's saber had slashed it, even with the evidence of the terrible thing he had done burning all around them. He sounded so reasonable when he spoke like that, like an adult reminding a child of something they ought to already understand, and for some reason that Anakin could not comprehend, he felt powerless in the face of it. “You will always have a place at my side, as my confidant, my right hand, my apprentice. Join me and—”
“No...” The first protest came out as a whimper, faint and feeble. Then a little stronger, but choked and panicked. “No! Get out of my head, get out—!”
He wished the man would threaten him, snarl and spit at him, or sneer in cool, superior tones like the other Darksiders he had faced before had. Those, he knew what to do with, but this... He hated that there was something in him—something which had always glowed under the praise and acceptance the Chancellor had so readily given him—that still lit up at those words, that pulled upon him to trust him as he had always done, no matter what had happened between them. But he couldn't trust him—he knew that—and besides, those words were a threat, of sorts. He may always have a place at Palpatine's side, but he had carved it out regardless of what Anakin thought on the matter, and expected it to be filled irrespective of any resistance he might put up. A willing apprentice would be more convenient, but something in those cold yellow eyes told the part of himself that didn't already half belong to Palpatine that Darth Sidious was not in the habit of taking no for an answer.
He had to remember that.
“My boy, if only you could see reason,” Palpatine sighed. He sounded worn and sad and disappointed, everything that was designed to make Anakin squirm in discomfort and shame. How could he hurt the man who had taken care of him and kept every one of his secrets and—no, it was a lie, a lie, a LIE— “The Jedi were traitors, and now they are dead traitors. What is to be gained from continuing to count yourself among their number? How will that help your wife and child?”
Padmé. Oh Padmé. Padmé and the baby. The mere thought of the awful vision that had been plaguing both his sleeping and his waking hours was almost enough to send him crashing to his knees before the only hope of salvation he had right there and then. Familiar panic—panic that had been eating away at him like duracrete worms at the abandoned ruins in the Works, ever since he had had that first dream—started to rise up within him, but another memory stayed his hand. After—Force, he didn't even know how long it was—of pacing up and down throughout the Council Chamber after he had reported back to Master Windu, waiting for something to happen and not knowing whether he should try and stop it or help it along or just let it be, he hadn't been able to take it any longer. He had needed to hear her voice, to know she was alright, and so, without really thinking about what he was doing, he had commed her. What he had intended to say, he still didn't know, but the moment he had heard her soft, enquiring "Ani?" crackling through the commlink, he had broken down in tears, the fear and exhaustion of the past week finally catching up on him as he shattered into a thousand jagged shards. He had confessed everything to her, from the dreams that kept coming until he could neither eat nor sleep for terror of them, to the story about Darth Plagueis the Wise that Palpatine had told him at the Mon Calamari ballet, to what he had said to him just that day—that he was the Sith Lord they had been looking for and the only one who knew how to save her and that in return for teaching him that power, he wanted Anakin to become the latest in his long line of apprentices—
"Anakin, oh Anakin, please, you can't," Padmé had cut across his frantic tirade, her voice full of a fear as keen and as desperate as his own. "You mustn't! Don't sell your soul for me. I couldn't bear it. I wouldn't survive it. I would die, it would kill me to know you had lost yourself for my sake."
Her words, so raw and pleading and terrified, had stopped his wild panic in its track in a way that no lecture on the dangers of attachment or useless advice about letting go ever could. The fear he had sensed in her—for despite the distance between them, with him in the Temple and her far away across the horizon in her apartment, he had felt her bright presence as if it had been standing right next to him, the light of the child she was carrying mingling with her own to transform them both into a glimmering beacon amidst the noise and chaos of Coruscant—alone might have been enough to give him pause, but there was something else that had ground the storm of his mind to an abrupt halt. She had meant it metaphorically, of course, but there was a prickle in the back of his mind that made him wonder if it might be true in the literal sense as well. The dreams of his mother had been a warning to act before it was too late, and so he had presumed that the ones about Padmé were the same, but what if these dreams were a different warning entirely? What if the path towards Palpatine and the Dark Side would inevitably end with her death, somehow, and that was what the Force was trying to tell him? He hadn't—still didn't know either way, but if there was the slightest chance that such actions could bring about the awful fate he had seen for her, he could never go down that road.
After that, Padmé had had a confession of her own for him. She had told him of the Delegation of the 2000, and the secret meetings she had been having with senators whom she did not dare name over a comm channel. Of their concerns about Palpatine's actions and their fears of what was turning the Republic into. They had all sworn not to tell anybody, she had said, not even their families, but she saw now that such secrecy was only making the situation worse. Now that they knew Palpatine was Sidious, the only way they could possibly defeat him was by pulling their weight together, because divided, he would have already won.
"I'm afraid, Ani," she had whispered, choked with tears. She had been afraid. He had felt it—her fear for the Republic, for their baby, for him. "I'm so afraid. Please come to me. I can't do this alone. I need you with me, my love."
He had not been able to deny her. She had told him, her Force presence sparking with sudden relief, that she needed to speak with someone—another senator that she had been meeting with, someone that she trusted—about this new information, but that she would be waiting for him when he arrived. And so, his gut squirming uncomfortably at the not quite rational feeling that he was betraying a confidence by sharing the terrible truth the Chancellor had told him, he had rushed towards the hangar, ready to fly off to the Senatorial Apartments as quickly as he could.
Then, before he had known what was happening, he had felt Masters Windu, Fisto, Tiin and Kolar pass violently into the Force, and his own troopers had marched on the Temple, heavily-armed and mowing down any and all Jedi in their path.
"You-you killed—" he protested falteringly, his throat tightening as the truth of what Palpatine had done screamed and howled at him in the Force with the awful weight of Jedi upon Jedi dying, not just in the Temple, but across the Galaxy. Cut down without discrimination, regardless of rank or-or age or anything save for the fact that Darth Sidious had decided he wanted them dead. That was true. That was real. He had felt it, seen it, as his men mercilessly slaughtered every Jedi they came across—his friends who felt so wrong in the Force, like they were a collective mind rather than the individuals he knew they were. That was not a lie, and however much it pained him, he had to hold onto that.
Obi-Wan could well be dead, he thought with a barely repressed sob. Ahsoka too. If they were...if they were, it would be this man who had killed them.
"I killed traitors," Palpatine corrected him, and as he said the word for a third time, Anakin heard something of the horrible croak that had crept into his voice when he had ordered him to kill Dooku, and when he had praised his anger in his office earlier that day. It set his teeth on edge, setting off all the instincts in his mind that warned of danger from a deadly predator. And that was what Sidious was. A predator who had pursued his quarry relentlessly to this very point and had no intention of letting go. "Enemies of the Republic."
Then, his expression softened, and Anakin once again found himself in danger of being subsumed by that part of him that wanted so badly to trust. It shouldn't be this easy. It was wrong. He knew it was wrong, but—
"I don't want to hurt you, son," Palpatine said, and this time, his voice had turned gentle, coaxing. "Put down the saber and come inside, and we can talk about this sensibly."
"No." Anakin shook his head. "You—"
But he couldn't say anything more. He could barely breathe from the maelstrom of different emotions roiling within him, let alone speak. He had to get away. If he was away, then this man—this Sith Lord who had pretended to be his friend—could not get under his chin, couldn't mess with his head. Couldn't do whatever else he planned to do to him should he continue to refuse to oblige him. But it seemed he had not managed to hide his thoughts as well as he would have liked, for Palpatine's expression suddenly darkened, and he felt something immense and powerful and so cold it was almost slimy in the Force wrap around him, ready to grab hold of him the moment he tried to run.
"Come inside," he hissed, a hard, dangerous note to his voice that told him his patience had finally run out, "my apprentice."
No, no, I'm not your apprentice!, Anakin thought in panic. He had to get away, had to— Something flared in the Force, some warning or nudge of anticipation like a small spark amid the cacophony of death and suffering that it had become. A small light down below, moving fast in his direction. A speeder. Oh Force, a speeder. If he could break away and get down to it, he could either get the driver to help him get away from the Temple, or if they were not friendly, simply steal it and—
Anakin acted before even he truly know what he was doing, and in hindsight, he suspected that had been the only thing that had allowed him to break free of Sidious' grip. Gathering all of his own power to him, he shoved the man backwards with a mighty Force push, feeling the threatening grasp retreat as he was catapulted away with a yell of shock and anger. Then, without allowing him even a second to recover, he turned and leapt over the edge of the roof as fast as he could.
He both heard and felt the scream of fury that Sidious let out above him, but it was soon drowned out by the roaring of the wind in his ears. He could see the speeder now, plummeting down to it as it zipped below him. Reaching out to the Force, he slowed his descent to pad out his landing, but the combination of the horror it was overflowing with and the exhaustion that he had been suffering under for so many days made him a little clumsier than usual. He landed just a little too hard, feeling a quick spark of startlement followed by a wave of relief from a Force presence that was vaguely familiar but he couldn't quite—
Steadying himself on the back of the speeder, he looked up through a curtain of hair to see—with no small amount of surprise—Senator Bail Organa staring back at him. For all that he looked severely dishevelled compared to his usual immaculate appearance, the first flash of shock Anakin had felt from him had faded away to reveal a calm acceptance that might well have suggested that he considered having a Jedi Knight drop down on top of him from the sky to be an event barely worth even the effort of a raised eyebrow.
"Master Skywalker," he greeted, offering him a grim smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "Your wife informed me you needed a ride?”