Palpatine returned to his quarters with mixed emotions. How unfortunate that Kenobi had forced his hand and that young Skywalker had come to his defense... Somewhat surprising, considering the animosity he had sensed between the two. Still, he supposed their years together had given the former Padawan some misplaced loyalty to the Jedi. Perhaps it would prove wiser to allow the youngster to return to their ranks until more of them had fallen under Mandalorian fire. A disgusted sound escaped him. Things had been looking so promising. Ah well, at least young Skywalker had gotten his annoying Queen with child and once she whelped...
His mood lightened at the prospect of ridding himself of Amidala for good. He contacted his 'allies' to give them further instructions, then went to soothe any ruffled feathers the unfortunate incident might have caused. Amidala, as he expected, he found pacing in the quarters he had assigned to her and her husband.
"My dear, you seem distraught. What seems to be the problem?" he asked her as he took her hand.
She shrunk away from him for a moment, then met his gaze with a steely look. Had Kenobi told her? "Why have you declared yourself, Emperor? This move seems exceptionally... excessive."
He shook his head. The girl had grit, he had to give her that. "You misunderstand me, Your Majesty. I felt it imperative to take this action. The Senate is in shambles. No one can agree on anything. Meanwhile, the Mandalorian threat grows. We must present a united front. Only in this way can we defeat them and return order to the galaxy. Surely you understand the need for this."
Without answering, she turned away and he felt her fear. Good, she should be afraid of him. He continued with his kindly persona, realizing he mustn't frighten her too badly or he would have Anakin defending her.
"Now my Queen, you should rest. Perhaps it would be best if you and your husband returned to Alderaan. Affairs here may become rather... stressful, and we don't want anything to endanger you or your child," he comforted her, sending out a beam of reassurance. He met remarkable resistance to his subtle suggestion that things would turn out fine. Once again, he wondered if Kenobi had gotten to her.
"Very well, Senator. I will go with Anakin... if he wishes to leave your side. It appears his allegiance has shifted." She paused. "For myself, I will take up your offer to go to Alderaan again. I dislike the atmosphere here on Coruscant. It has become too...stifling."
Palpatine suppressed a grin at her subtle put-down. She was good, very good. They could bandy words all day, if he allowed it, but he had work to do. He bowed and murmured his agreement. Then, he went to find his young apprentice. No protocol droid this time. He needed to set Anakin at ease after that last confrontation. He chuckled. It pleased him that the 'chosen one' was indeed quite a powerful Force user and an excellent fighter. What a Sith apprentice he would make once he shed those silly notions of honor and righteousness.
Anakin had fled to the last place Obi-Wan would have expected him to go... the Jedi Temple garden. In the past, Jedi filled its pathways and glens in search of meditation and relaxation. Now only a very few young Padawans sought its solace as all Jedi old enough to join the war effort had left Coruscant. He found his own personal place, a cliff overlooking the small manmade lake in the garden's center. Beside him, a waterfall shushed, throwing up a delicate mist that cooled his hot face and body.
How could it be? How could Palpatine be the Sith Master? That would make everything he'd told Anakin a lie... The need to bring order to the galaxy for the good of all. The need to right wrongs and injustices and halt such vile things as the clones. Tears stung his eyes as he recalled Obi-Wan's words. No matter how much he disagreed with Obi-Wan at times, he had always considered him a friend... almost an older brother. Though his feelings weren't as deferential as they would have been if Qui-Gon had taken him as his Padawan, he did have to give Obi-Wan some respect for his experience and discipline in the Jedi ways.
Intense, conflicting emotions roiled through him. He wanted to fight, to scream, to cry... and he felt very alone. Somehow he felt he couldn't even talk to Amidala about what had happened, for he remembered her warnings about the Emperor. A small part of him also remembered his own uneasiness at times. He had pushed aside those doubts, allowing Palpatine to calm his fears. A cold knot formed in his stomach as he remembered talk among the Jedi of how seductive the Dark Side could prove. Had that been what Palpatine had been doing to him?
He buried his face in his hands, a shudder passing through him. His mind ran back to the fight in the Senate Chambers... to Obi-Wan writhing under the electrical bolts that shot from the Sith's hands. Palpatine?
Someone called his name... He scrubbed his sleeved arm across his eyes and peered through the mist to the trail below. As if his thoughts had conjured him up, the Emperor strode toward him, a concerned look on his face. Never before had Palpatine sought him out in person. What he had to discuss must be important. Anakin stood, warily awaiting him.
"There you are, young Skywalker. I feared I might not find you."
"How *did* you?" Anakin asked, his eyes narrowed. He had told no one of this place and only Obi-Wan had accidentally discovered it.
Palpatine shrugged, a tiny, rueful smile tugging at his lips. "Perhaps I too have secret places such as this to gather my thoughts and seek relief from the pressures of my office." He found a large rock and sat carefully on the damp stone. "Come, my boy. You seem troubled. Tell me what offers you such distress."
Anakin wanted to blurt out his suspicions... what Obi-Wan had told him... but he managed to hold it in and turned to other concerns. "I don't know what to do. The Jedi need everyone to combat the Mandalorians. I... I should be with them... should be fighting them, instead of here... safe."
"Ah, you feel guilty at leaving them and taking the position I offered you," Palpatine said gently. "Don't worry, my boy. The position won't go away. If you feel you must return to them during this time, I won't take offense. Do what you must. Take Amidala back to Alderaan and her handmaidens. She needs something to distract her from her worries and she'll be safe there. When this whole mess is resolved, you may return to me if that is your wish."
"Master..." Dare he speak of what had happened in the Senate Chambers?
"No, no... Not yet. Perhaps later. But for now, I am merely your friend. When we're in public, of course you should address me as Emperor. Privately, you may call me merely Palpatine." He looked amused. "Indeed, your wife resists the idea of my elevation to Emperor and I fear she will not have much good to say of me. Poor thing... she seems so... delicate at this moment. Perhaps it is indeed best for you both if you rejoin the war effort. Return to me once the war has ended and we will continue your training."
Palpatine rose and offered his hand to Anakin. The younger man rose and took it, noting the smooth coolness of the flesh against his own heated hand. He blushed, wondering how he could have even entertained such fearful suspicions of Palpatine. Indeed, it seemed the older man only had his best interests at heart.
"Thank you, sir. I will. Now, I should go talk to my wife."
"Indeed... And make your peace with Knight Kenobi as well. In war time, such alliances don't need strife in working relationships."
Anakin bowed and hurried off to find Obi-Wan, then speak to Amidala.
He met Obi-Wan as he left the Council chambers. His old Master's face looked grim and Anakin's heart sank. This wasn't going to prove easy.
"Master..." he began.
Obi-Wan looked surprised to see him. "Anakin. I thought you had decided to stay with Palpatine."
"The Emperor has released me. He believes I would be of more use to the Jedi against the Mandalorians."
"What about what happened earlier? What I told you?"
Anakin's anger and exasperation rose, but he squelched it and tried to sound reasonable. "You must have been mistaken, Master. If he were the Sith, why would he allow me to return to the Jedi?"
Obi-Wan sighed, a sad expression crossing his face before he dipped his head. "Very well. We won't discuss this any further... for now. What of Amidala?"
Anakin searched Obi-Wan's face and surface thoughts, sensing nothing more than genuine concern for him and his wife. "We'll go to Alderaan. She needs something to keep her busy and her friends... her handmaidens... they're all there." He took a deep breath. "Obi-Wan... I can't just work in the factories... on the sidelines. I need to fight them. I want to fly again, to face them directly."
"Very well, Anakin. I will speak to Bail Organa. Perhaps you can go back to your old squadron."
Though he didn't voice it, Anakin yelled "Yippee!" in his mind and Obi-Wan grinned at him. The tenuous bond strengthened once more as they turned toward Anakin's quarters to tell Amidala of the change in plans.
In the Jedi Council chamber, Yoda and Mace exchanged looks. Obi-Wan had told them of his encounter with the newly declared Emperor and his revelation as the Sith Master. As thinly stretched as the Jedi had become, neither felt an open confrontation with Palpatine would either be wise or fruitful.
"Toward the Dark Side young Skywalker moves," Yoda muttered. "Though he returns to us at this time, lost him I fear we have."
"That may be true, Yoda, but we cannot afford to reject him at this point. Perhaps working with Obi-Wan again will prevent him from joining the Sith," Windu replied.
Yoda didn't respond to Windu's hopeful prediction, merely closed his eyes and mumbled, "Hmm...." Fiery images flashed beneath his eyelids, filled with anger, hatred, and pain. Somehow he didn't hold out much confidence that things would come to such a positive end. Still, he had to agree with Mace. Better to stave off that outcome for a bit. He had warned Obi-Wan to keep a close eye on his Padawan. The tragedy of Qui-Gon's untimely death beat at him.
Master Jinn, that you would have been more prudent in that duel so long ago. Perhaps Anakin's path might not have wavered at this time if he had your guidance.
He could still sense Qui-Gon's presence within the Force, but he also sensed the sorrow in that signature at Anakin's impatience and frustration. In Yoda's opinion, Obi-Wan still had his own issues to deal with. Despite the fact Yoda had continued to work with the young Knight, he felt Obi-Wan continued to display an inordinate pride and unwary arrogance in his own Force abilities. Combined with Anakin's stubborn nature, the combination could spell disaster... and most likely would. Already the young Padawan had tread the Dark path and Yoda remained unconvinced they could prevent him from completely turning.