By the time the doors to the Jedi Council Chamber finally swung open, Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight, was already angry.
If asked, he would have denied it, and would have thought he was telling the truth...but they had left him out here for so long, with nothing to do but stare through the soot-smudged curve of the High Council Tower's window ring at the scarred skyline of Galactic City--damaged in a battle he had won, by the way, personally. Almost single-handedly--and with nothing to think about except why it was taking them so long to reach such a simple decision...
Angry? Not at all. He was sure he wasn't angry. He kept telling himself he wasn't angry, and he made himself believe it.
Anakin walked into the Council Chamber, head lowered in a show of humility and respect. But down inside him, down around the nuclear shielding that banked his heart, he was hiding.
It wasn't anger he was hiding. His anger was only camouflage.
Behind his anger hid the dragon.
He remembered too well the first time he had entered this Chamber, the first time he had stood within a ring of Jedi Masters gathered to sit in judgment upon his fate. He remembered how Yoda's green stare had seen into his heart, had seen the cold worn of dread eating away at him, no matter how hard he'd tried to deny it: the awful fear he'd felt that he might never see his mother, Shmi Skywalker, again.
He couldn't let them see what the worm had grown into.
He moved slowly into the center of the circle and brown-toned carpet, and turned toward the Senior Members.
Yoda was unreadable as always, his rumpled features composed in a mask of serene contemplation.
Mace Windu could have been carved from stone.
Ghost-images of Ki-Adi-Mundi and Plo Koon hovered a centimeter above their Council seats, maintained by the seats' internal holoprojectors. Agen Kolar sat alone, between the empty chairs belonging to Shaak Ti and Stass Allie.
Obi-Wan Kenobi sat in the chair that once had belonged to Oppo Rancisis, looking pensive. Even worried.
"Anakin Skywalker," Master Windu's tone was so severe that the dragon inside Anakin coiled instinctively. "The Council has decided to comply with Chancellor Palpatine's directive, and with the instructions of the Senate that give him the unprecedented authority to command this Council. You are hereby granted a seat at the High Council of the Jedi, as the Chancellor's personal representative."
Anakin stood very still for a long moment, until he could be absolutely sure he had heard what he thought he'd heard.
Palpatine had been right. He seemed to be right about a lot of things, these days. In fact--now that Anakin came to think of it--he couldn't remember a single instance when the Supreme Chancellor had been wrong.
Finally, as it began to sink in upon him, as he gradually allowed himself to understand that the Council had finally decided to grant him his heart's desire, that they finally had recognized his accomplishments, his dedication, his power, he took a slow, deep breath.
"Thank you, Masters. You have my pledge that I will uphold the highest principles of the Jedi Order."
"Allow this appointment lightly, the Council does not." Yoda's ears curled forward at Anakin like accusing fingers. "Disturbing is this move by Chancellor Palpatine. On many levels."
They have become more concerned with avoiding the oversight of the Senate than they are with winning this war...
Anakin inclined his head. "I understand."
"I'm not sure you do." Mace Windu leaned forward, staring into Anakin's eyes with a measuring squint.
Anakin was barely paying attention; in his mind, he was already leaving the Council Chamber, riding the turbolift to the archives, demanding access to the restricted vault by authority of his new rank--
"You will attend the meetings of this Council," the Korun Master said, "but you will not be granted the rank and privileges of a Jedi Master."
It was a small word, a simple word, an instinctive recoil from words that felt like punches, like stun blasts exploding inside his brain that left his head ringing and the room spinning around him--but even to his own ears, the voice that came from his lips didn't sound like his own. It was deeper, darker, clipped and oiled, resonating from the depths of his heart.
It didn't sound like him at all, and it smoked with fury.
"How dare you? How dare you?"
Anakin stood welded to the floor, motionless. He wasn't even truly aware of speaking. It was as if someone else were using his mouth--and now, finally, he recognized the voice.
It sounded like Count Dooku. But it was not Dooku's voice.
It was the voice of Dooku's destroyer.
"No Jedi in this room can match my power--no Jedi in the galaxy! You think you can deny Mastery to me?"
"The Chancellor's representative you are," Yoda said. "And it is as his representative you shall attend the Council. Sit in this chamber you will, but no vote will you have. The Chancellor's views you shall present. His wishes. His ideas and directives. Not your own."
Up from the depths of his furnace heart came an answer so far transcending fury that it sounded cold as interstellar space. "This is an insult to me, and to the Chancellor. Do not imagine that it will be tolerated."
Mace Windu's eyes were as cold as the voice from Anakin's mouth. "Take your seat, young Skywalker."
Anakin matched his stare. Perhaps I'll take yours. His own voice, inside his head, had a hot black fire that smoked from the depths of his furnace heart. You think you can stop me from saving my love? You think you can make me watch her die? Go ahaead and Vaapad this, you--
"Anakin," Obi-Wan said softly. He gestured to an empty seat beside him. "Please."
And something in Obi-Wan's gentle voice, in his simple, straightforward request, sent his anger slinking off ashamed, and Anakin found himself alone on the carpet in the middle of the Jedi Council, blinking.
He suddenly felt very young, and very foolish.
"Forgive me, Masters." His bow of contrition couldn't hide the blaze of embarrassment that climbed his cheeks.
"It's over, Anakin! I have the high ground!" Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Master, shouted.
Darth Vader, Sith Lord, glared at the Jedi on the top of the embankment.
"You underestimate my power!" Vader shouted.
"Don't try it!" Obi-Wan said, concerned.
Darth Vader then jumped to the top of the embankment, intent on continuing the battle. But Obi-Wan cut off Vader's legs and his left arm. Vader dropped his lightsaber and tumbled down the embankment, rolling to a stop at the edge of the lava.
Obi-Wan turned off his lightsaber and looked at the dark creature that had been his friend.
"You were the Chosen One!" Obi-Wan cried. "It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them! Bring balance to the Force, not leave it in darkness!" Obi-Wan then picked up Vader's lightsaber, then stopped to look at Vader.
"I HATE YOU!" Vader screamed, his eyes yellow.
"You were my brother, Anakin," Obi-Wan said. "I loved you!"
Vader, now too close to the lava river, caught on fire. Obi-Wan left him to die.