Of Chance Cubes and Friendships
(An extension of a scene from the comic Anakin and Obi-Wan #3)
"Perhaps… a chance cube?"
Anakin only looks at me as we step out of Club Kasakar, all the guilt of his Jedi training hanging heavy over his bright blue eyes. He says nothing, and so I offer a gentle smile and a supportive hand to his shoulder, turning him down the wide, smoky pedestrian street.
The passageway, the entire sub-surface level 2685, crawls with scores of broken-eyed and desperate sentients, a motley collection of self-interest and greed easily found this far down on Coruscant, but I sense in Anakin a desperate need to justify himself, to explain his actions. With just a hint of pressure on his shoulder, I guide him toward a less traveled walkway, a smaller alleyway that will still eventually return us to the public transport terminal.
How easy it is already to turn him aside.
I feel more than see Anakin glance at me in curiosity, but it is my turn to say nothing. I've always been very good at saying nothing, contrary to whatever one might believe about politicians. My ability to listen empathetically has provided me with countless opportunities to exploit those who so gladly let their secrets drip into my ears.
I am a confessor, of sorts. It amuses and intrigues me that so many seek me out.
His innocent presence in the Force is simultaneously an assault and balm upon my senses. He stinks of the Light, and yet he breathes in the darkness with righteous indignation.
I think, how deliciously ironic that the boy is introduced to darkness through a fight against corruption. Through a desire to do good. The Jedi would twist themselves in knots if they stopped long enough to listen to him, to realize that he is silently floundering.
Victims don't scream when they finally begin to drown, you know. They simply... slip away like shadows. For how can they scream when their lungs are already overflowing?
Anakin is drowning here on Coruscant, and the Jedi remain blissfully ignorant. His drowning will take years yet and a careful arrangement of... opportunities. But I will be here with him every step of the way until he lies still and ready for the maw of his destiny to close over him. I am guardian and guide over his life and death, over his passage into a far deeper reality. His rebirth as a creature of shadow and blazing flame.
The eyes of a Sith burn with knowledge, but knowledge is never free.
I believe he may already begin to understand. This little diversion with the Senator from Suntilla proved more successful than even I anticipated. His eyes have always been opened to the nuances of life more than his fellow Jedi, but he is still hopelessly naive in some ways. For a short time, I was not certain he was ready, and I am usually not so thankful to be proven wrong.
Taking in the surroundings of the small alleyway first, scanning for danger - already such a skilled little Jedi aspirant even after only three years as their slave - Anakin pulls to a stop in the center of the path and turns to me. "What I did back there, sir, with the cube, was wrong. I think."
I stop as well and focus my soft watery blue eyes on his bright ones. My eyes are some of my greatest weapons, for they transform to my emotions with perfect clarity, and right now I feel only gentle confusion. Acting? More like shape shifting. Like wearing a second skin.
My voice, deep and perplexed. "Wrong, Anakin?"
Anakin nods. "I'm sorry," he insists.
Ah, the dogmatic nature of the Jedi is truly a gift. They have attempted to destroy his instincts, and now he is hopelessly muddled. They have done themselves in with their arrogance, and it is... delicious.
However, I merely hum noncommittedly and brush past with him with a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. "In what way, Anakin?"
He could choose not to tell me, if he wishes, but of course he does not hesitate, falling into step at my side.
"I interfered in something that was not Jedi business."
"What is Jedi business?"
Anakin pauses, uncertain, mouth working for an appropriate answer, a textbook answer. "To know the Force..."
"And?" I prompt like a gentle friend.
"And... protect the Republic from harm."
Fools, all of them, for defending such an inherently flawed system. But I can use it. "Indeed. Protect. From what I could see, that's exactly what you did in there. You protected the Republic from itself."
He stares at me forlornly, unconvinced, and I quirk a resigned smile in response. "Would you say Senator Colandrus is beneficial for the Republic?"
"No," Anakin shakes his closely shorn head, Jedi braid swinging, and kicks at the erosion cracks in the duracrete under his boots. "Not at all. He's disgusting and corrupt and…"
I raise one slender hand before he can distract us both with the power of his untamed emotions, the raw indignation in the Force. "I understand, Anakin. I feel much the same when I think about what he has gotten away with. But what you did today was not wrong. Colandrus must be stopped, and now… now perhaps we have a chance, thanks to you."
Anakin ducks his head. "The Jedi masters would disagree, sir."
Smiling, I adopt Yoda's peculiar cadence. "A right, two wrongs do not make."
Anakin glances at me.
"I've heard several variations from the impeccable Master Yoda myself, more times than I care to recall." Allowing the humor to dissipate against the walls of the small alley, I lower my voice and pull him in with my quiet desperation. "But a wrong left untreated festers, Anakin. It festers, until it spreads its filthy disease through the entire system. Until it's too late. Colandrus is a diseased cell in the body of the Republic. Do you understand?"
Faltering, half-nodding, Anakin resorts to his last argument. "My master says that we shouldn't use power like that, even if it makes things easier for us or others. He says it is a slippery slope into the Dark Side."
Perfect. Allowing some of my own frustration to leak past my tight shields, I bark a laugh that startles him and draws his eyes to my face. "What is the point of having such power if you cannot use it to make things right?"
He stares at me. I pull myself up short, as though embarrassed by my emotional outburst. "Oh, but listen to me, what can I know of such things? You speak of the Dark Side, the Force, these grand ideas that most of us can never hope to comprehend. The Jedi operate on such a different scale." I chuckle sadly and look down, a foolish, idealistic older man with no real hope.
His reply is sweeter than I might have guessed. He is horrified by my gloomy reaction, that he has spoken to the Supreme Chancellor so bluntly. Perhaps he is attempting to placate me, but I sense he believes what he is saying when he blurts, "But you do know, Sir, maybe not like the Jedi...but. In a sense. I've lived outside the Temple, too, like you. It's not all Force stuff that matters..."
I raise my eyes from the ground in intrigue when he pauses and swallows.
"Sometimes... The Temple can be... I don't know," he shakes his head, worried by the heresy I can see filtering into his eyes. "But you are very powerful as Chancellor, and you use that power to make things right. You get things done."
Unlike the Jedi, his slumped shoulders whisper. Could he be thinking of his own mother, still trapped hopelessly in slavery, forgotten by all but her helpless son?
I frown as I look away from him, and my tone stays faintly melancholy. "I do try, anyway... All of us in government are bound by the unending procedures and regulations we have passed, unfortunately. Our shady friend back there has the law on his side."
"Then the laws should change, Your Excellency," Anakin exclaims with all the innocence and wide-eyed idealism of his clueless upbringing.
"That thought has certainly crossed my mind," I murmur. Reaching out, I take his shoulder and gently turn him down the alleyway. We walk together, side by side, hands tucked in our sleeves, peering out from under our hoods. To any prying eyes, we might appear as a father and son, or a master and apprentice.
For the moment, I am content to hold my peace.
This is as it should be.
As it will be, someday.
Only a few other sentients file past us, their pitiful minds fixed on their insignificant problems as we make our way through the cluttered sub-level. No one pays attention to us down here. Of course, everyone here has learned to mind their own business or pay the price for unwanted nosiness. Coruscant is a harsh world under all the trappings of finery and gallant idealism, where the rich and privileged dare not to tread. It feeds the dark hunger in me.
"Sir?" Anakin's voice is tentative as he breaks the companionable silence of our walking. "Are you sure you're all right?"
"Yes, Anakin." It would be touching, his concern, if I cared.
"He grabbed you pretty hard..." Anakin looks over at me doubtfully, his young face barely peeking out of the deep hood. "That was a big guy…"
Offering a gentle smile from the depths of my own hood, tilting my chin up so he can see it, I shrug and produce my famous self-deprecating humor. "Only my dignity suffered tonight, brave young Jedi. I've not been grabbed like that in... Goodness, a long time."
Cosinga. Plagueis. Missions when I was younger and foolish enough to get caught. Only temporarily, of course.
Anakin misses the faint narrowing of my gaze. "I was so worried for you. I thought he was going to really hurt you, and, and I didn't want him to. You've been very kind and nice and..." He realizes that he is rambling and falls quiet.
I restrain a mocking smile effortlessly. The boy is a terrible judge of character. Then again, apparently the whole galaxy is. How unfortunate for them all in the future, because unlike Anakin, they are useless to me. Anakin, unlike them, has limitless potential.
Taking a deep breath, I look at him more fully. "I don't wish my kindness to be seen as an obligation to you, Anakin. I am kind to you because I wish to be, that is all. Friendship should not be a competition."
At least, that is what they say. Personally, I would not know. I have never known such foolishness.
Anakin's eyes widen. "You want to be friends? With me?"
Pausing a moment to watch a small reptile crawl across our path in its endless pursuit of sustenance, I sigh contentedly. "We have spent a decent amount of time together on Coruscant since you arrived, my boy, have we not?"
Anakin nods enthusiastically. "You've already taught me so much, sir."
"I've come to discover that you are, pardon me, exceptional. If you would permit it, I would be honored to be your friend, Anakin." I watch the awe stumble across his face, followed by tentative excitement. He is trying to appear grown up, a measured and reserved Jedi.
Anakin is not measured, and so of course he fails. "That would make me very happy, Chancellor!"
"It's settled then." My voice is a dry rumble of amusement at his enthusiasm, and there is a new spring in Anakin's step as we move forward again down the alley. He will be exuberant by the time we return to my office, his conscience soothed and his woes melted away.
He has tasted real, effective power, and like a death stick addict, he will want more. It is only a matter of time.
In a few seconds, I am proven right. He turns, half-worried and half hopeful that I will grant his wish. "Will we come here again, sir?"
"Is that what you want, Anakin?"
An offer made, the decision already determined but couched in terms of choice. Choice: a precious commodity to a Jedi like him.
His eyes widen. "What I…?" He swallows. "Yes, sir. I mean – Earlier you said I had much to learn, and I think there are still things I can learn in places like that, if you are willing."
I pause, affecting a light tone of voice to mask the eagerness in the Dark Side. "This far down, Anakin, there are always things to learn." And the further down you go, the more you will see. I guarantee you that.
He nods, confident once again.
Yes, this was a very successful mission.
So this one-shot is an extension of a flashback from the Anakin and Obi-Wan new-canon comic strip (#3 of 5), in which Palpatine and Anakin visit a low-level Coruscant nightclub and seriously ruin the day for a Senator (SPOILERS: Anakin uses the Force to upset the chance cubes and the corrupt Senator's exorbitant gambling is ruined).
The comic has small flashbacks of Sith and Jedi bonding time, and showcases Palpatine's usual masterful level of manipulation and long-term scheming. The series really doesn't spend enough time exploring this unique relationship at all, but it's a fun read nonetheless.
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