The only time Anakin can ever remember being quite this nervous while waiting outside of the Chancellor’s office was early on in their relationship when he was barely more than a boy, still a Padawan who was only just beginning to understand what that meant and in awe that the most powerful man in the galaxy wanted to talk to him. He still can’t quite believe it and now he’s a man grown, a Jedi Knight, and arguably one of the Order’s greatest heroes at this point of the war. Palpatine was, of course, still the most powerful man in the galaxy, but Anakin was now coming to understand he held even more power than most people could possibly suspect.
Palpatine was the Sith Lord, if what Leia and Luke had told him was true.
Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe it wasn’t this Palpatine, maybe the Sith Lord had taken his name when he’d taken control of...everything. Maybe everything he’d believed about the man who’d been a mentor to him for the past decade and more wasn’t a lie.
Forcibly, Anakin pushed such thoughts from his mind. They wouldn’t be helpful here and now. He couldn’t let Palpatine sense the conflict within him. Couldn’t let him see any hint of Luke or Leia’s connection to him, or the future they had revealed. Resolute in this, and perhaps bolstered by the same lessons he’d been giving Leia on shielding, Anakin locked down on the turmoil twisting inside of him, on his suspicion of the Chancellor’s motives, on his bond with the twins, on half-remembered flashes of a black mask backlit in crimson light. Letting out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding, Anakin looked up as the door to Palpatine’s office opened and he was ushered in.
Palpatine smiled in greeting as Anakin entered and try as he might, he couldn’t see anything other than genuine pleasure at the sight of an old friend in Palpatine’s expression. Could he really be that good of an actor? Then again, he’d have to be if he were going to convince everyone that he was nothing more than the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic and subject to the whims of the Senate. And if people like Bail Organa, who Anakin respected despite his being a politician, and even Padme, who Anakin worshipped, hadn’t suspected anything more sinister than a man who might or might not have been willing to give up the emergency powers granted him by the Senate, well...they worked with him day in and day out; they were sensible, rational people. Wouldn’t they have seen something?
Wouldn’t he? Shouldn’t he?
“Anakin,” Palpatine spoke, shaking him out of his circular thoughts, “it’s good to see you, my boy. It’s been quite some time, I do hope the Council hasn’t been sending you on too many...errands.”
He shook his head ruefully, “I think it’s more like they haven’t been sending me on enough.” Which was true but why was it so easy to express his dissatisfaction to this man?
“Oh, Anakin,” the Chancellor responded, a certain amount of disappointed regret in his voice, “you should have come to me. I’d have been happy to help.”
That tone likely had its intended effect as Anakin felt obscurely guilty about disappointing his friend...or the man who was supposed to be his friend. “I’m sorry...I just thought you might be a little busy...looking after things here.”
Palpatine pressed a hand to Anakin’s arm with a fatherly smile, “I am never too busy to help a friend. And I think now we might be able to help each other…”
It wasn’t that Anakin considered it escaping from the Chancellor’s office when he finally left but. Well...it was a little like escaping.
There had been nothing, nothing to suggest that the man was anything more than what he seemed to be. That he wanted anything more than to do his duty as Chancellor and preserve the Republic against the Separatists. Then again, how could he have his future Empire if he allowed the Republic to be splintered by the war?
The war. If Count Dooku really was his apprentice, then obviously they must have some plan for how it would end. And the Jedi have become mired in it. But they’d been given no choice. To refuse to fight would have made them out to be traitors but now they were dying on the front line, spread thin across the galaxy…
Dimly, Anakin started to see a hint of the shape of the Sith Lord’s plan. Not that it mattered, not right now. They were still in the middle of a war they couldn’t win and people were still dying.
And the Chancellor had asked him, personally, to deal with an imminent Separatist attack on Ringo Vinda.
“But why bring this to me? Shouldn’t this go to the Council?” he’d asked.
Palpatine had let out a soft sigh, “Anakin, you know I could have nothing but respect for your Masters but I suspect they would not appreciate feeling tasked by my office nor would they trust my intelligence personnel. Valuable time might be wasted. But if you came to them, surely they might see reason.”
It made sense. The Council had been growing steadily more disapproving of the office of the Chancellor meddling in what they saw as Jedi affairs. Except wasn’t this more of a Republic affair? If the Chancellor had been anyone other than Palpatine, would they have reacted similarly?
And that, right there, was the problem. Everything he said made sense. It all sounded right.
Shaking his head, Anakin strode back into the Temple. In a way, it didn’t matter...at least not for now. There was still a planet in trouble and a battle to be fought and Anakin had a mission to do.
Assuming the Council agreed.