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Precipice

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“Come on, hurry.” Anakin deflected a last handful of blaster bolts before slamming the High Council chamber doors shut behind the little Togruta initiate--what’s her name, I should know her name.

He’d had six younglings with him three floors ago. Now it was just him and her, a little seven-year-old with lekku and montrals and markings and giant blue eyes like Ahsoka’s and--

And I ran up why did I run up I’m smarter than this!

But it had all happened so fast, and he’d been up here when it started--ever since Master Windu had sent him here to wait, before going to arrest the Chancellor. He’d been thinking, wrestling with himself, trying to decide whether to do what he should be doing, or what he needed to do, and then…

Then the first bomb had gone off, several floors below him, and he’d felt the first wave of deaths. In that moment, it was like waking up from a dream, or a fever. Everything was clear again. He’d looked down and seen himself on the edge of a cliff, poised to dive off, and thought--

What have I done?

Nothing--yet.

He’d forced himself not to think of it, and given himself up to the simplicity of combat instead. Most of that was a blur, of trying to protect who he could, of trying to find cover (there wasn’t much, not here in the Temple, and why should there have been, except that he’d needed it today), of fighting and retreating.

That would probably explain why he and the little girl had ended up here, come to think of it. This was where he’d come from, after all, so when he was forced to retreat, ‘up’ was the only direction left for him to take.

The two of them would probably be safe here, at least for a little while. The doors were solid; it would take the clones a while to cut through. But there was no way out, except through the army below them, or the windows around them, with a very long drop that he wasn’t sure he could make safely, even at his best. The youngling, even if he carried her, wouldn’t stand a chance.

Still, breathing room was breathing room. He’d think of something.

And then his legs went boneless under him, and he sank into his seat on the edge of the circle, feeling the impact of another handful of deaths. Five floors down. Mostly clones, but another Padawan went with them.

“Master Skywalker?” the little girl asked him, eyes bright with worry.

He forced a smile and tried to sit up straighter. “It’s okay, we’re safe up here.” Two more clones down. I should stop counting. Counting isn’t helping.

She nodded. “Okay.”

And we’re not actually safe yet and--two more initiates--there’s no way out. Think, Anakin, come on, how are you getting out of here?

He had to call for help. He could call--no, he couldn’t bring Padme and the baby into this hell, and Obi-Wan was systems and systems away in Utapau, and something must have gone wrong with Master Windu and the others--I was supposed to be the Chosen One, why didn’t I see it, see what the Chancellor was, I should have seen it and there goes another clone--so who did that leave?

Senator Organa. Maybe. Yeah. I guess. He’s probably my best shot--two more Padawans, down in the dining hall--I know Padme trusts him, and he’s on Coruscant.

He smiled again at the little girl, trying to project a calm and confidence he almost felt. Her face was swimming a little in front of him. How many hits did I take on the way up here? Four? And then there was the shrapnel when that one wall got--there goes another initiate, I think that one was less than five years old…

He shook the thought off as best he could, and started digging in his pocket for his comlink. “I’m gonna call for help. We’ll get out of here.”

Her eyes full of trust, she nodded again, then bit her lip.

“Don’t worry,” he tried to assure her. There it is, finally. And there go another half-dozen kids.

He pushed the button to activate the comlink, and it stuck. The whole thing was gummy with blood--mine? It’s probably mine, but I can’t tell, and another clone just died--and had shorted out. He swore under his breath, the comlink dropping from suddenly nerveless fingers, hitting the floor with a faint click and rolling away from him.

“Master Skywalker?” she asked, more subdued this time.

“I’ll figure something out. We’ll figure something out,” he said, as much to convince himself as her. “We’re Jedi, right? We can get out of this.”

He could hear booted footsteps in the hall outside.

“They’re coming,” she whispered.

“Stay low,” he ordered her. “Try to get behind one of the chairs.” He stood up and reactivated his lightsaber, and his head spun for a second.

“Master Skywalker?”

“Get down!”

He heard the shot just as she started to move. He dove for her, but slipped--the floor was slick below him, and he couldn’t tell why--and she fell, her eyes and mouth a trio of surprised circles, a fourth smoldering in her chest.

Another initiate down.

He knew, in that moment, that he’d outrun death as far as he could. He knew he was going to die up here. He would never get the chance to make up for his failures with the Chancellor, never see Obi-Wan again, never see Padme--never meet his child.

For a moment, the loss was almost unbearable. But he was a Jedi, still, and Jedi did not give in to despair.

There is no death, there is the Force.

He was going to die here. There was no way to prevent that now. But he’d be damned if he didn’t take as many of the kriffing clones outside with him as he could.

Look on the bright side--maybe this is enough to change it--to change what I saw. Maybe if I die, she doesn’t have to.

There was no way of knowing that, not for certain; no way of knowing that this wasn’t just the first step down the road to what he’d seen. But he would cling to that hope for as long as he lived. Hope was powerful, after all. It just might buy him a few more seconds of fighting back.

He took a deep breath, centered himself, and waited.

There is no death, there is the Force.

But when the door finally burst all the way open, everything changed. Because he recognized the clone in command.

Rex,” he whispered, the fight abruptly going out of him, replaced by pain, so much pain. “Rex, no--”

The clones lined up across the chamber from him, textbook formation, a half-dozen blasters now staring Anakin in the face.

He backed a few steps away, keeping his lightsaber between them and him. “Rex, come on, Rex, it’s me, you know me. You have to stop this, I know you can stop this. You’re better than this, how much have we been through together? How many times have we fought side by side? You can stop this, Rex, come on. Rex, look at me. Rex--”

Rex didn’t answer.

For a split second, everyone was still, and Anakin thought maybe--just maybe--he’d gotten through to him.

But then Rex moved his hand, silently giving the order to fire.

Two, three, five more hits; Anakin was good, but he kept slipping in what he realized, too late, was blood, his blood; there were too many of them and he was already badly wounded.

“Rex, please!

His back hit the window. There was nowhere else to run. At this point, the only thing keeping him moving was years of training and muscle memory; the only thing keeping him upright was the solid transparisteel behind him.

And then one of the clones placed his shot badly, and the window behind Anakin shattered.

Before he could even process what had happened, he was falling.

Instinct took over.

He scrambled for purchase on the sill, missed; the walls below it were too smooth for even his cybernetic hand to dig in.

Below him, dimly, so dimly, he felt--a friendly mind, a familiar mind, a speeder.

He reached out for the vehicle through the Force, and yanked it into position to catch him just before he lost consciousness completely.

He never even felt the impact.