The battle droids blew apart in a shower of sparks, their body parts scattering across the hallway. And Willow, who was holding with both of her hands the blaster that was responsible for their destruction, look at the scene she was causing with disgust.
She wasn't a warrior. She wasn't much of anything. Although she often appeared to know what she was doing, much of her knowledge lay in books. She had always depended on Tara when it came to defending herself from others. Mostly, of course, because she rarely went with her on any mission that Tara considered "too dangerous", and even when she did go, she was always kept out of the way whenever possible. Willow suspected that the reason that Tara thought so many missions were "too dangerous" was because of Tara's overprotective nature that, while well meaning, was sometimes too smothering. Willow could certainly understand why she did it, and Tara's training methods more than made up for it, but it was still a shake up for her to actually be fighting.
And especially with a blaster. She normally wouldn't hesitate to use whatever tools were necessary in order to accomplish a task, but she had to draw the line somewhere. And that line had been drawn six months ago when, during a mission with Master Halcyon, she had suffered a serious blaster wound, an incident made even more horrifying for Willow when she found out that it was an errant bolt, fired at random by some small time slicer who had hoped to make a name for himself by offing some underworld kingpin at a local cantina on Taris.
Willow could recall the day easily. She had been meditating in the apartment that Master Halcyon had rented for the three of them, once again kept away from the danger. She had done this for an hour and a half when Master Halcyon sent her a message, telling her to meet him at the local medicenter.
It was there that she saw a nightmare: Tara was floating in a bacta tank, her eyes close, her hair free flowing and her breathing ragged. Above her left breast was a blaster wound that, even with the healing properties of bacta, looked rather serious. If Master Halcyon hadn't been there to tell her that she would make a full recovery with intensive treatment, Willow would have sworn that her Master had died.
That image would haunt her dreams for many months afterward. She couldn't eat. She couldn't sleep. She couldn't concentrate enough to meditate. Tara's treatments had ended two days later, but she would need to be confined to a hoverchair for another three weeks and take regular bacta injections. She had also made a daily ritual of reassuring Willow that she was alright. But no matter how much she was cajoled and reassured, the images persisted.
That sort of thing, though a frightening experience, made Willow feel more attracted to her Master. For her to remain serene and calm in the face of such pain was a trait that she could apply to herself. Especially now, given the current state of affairs.
Sneaking down the corridor, she held the blaster close to her chest, hoping that she wouldn't have to use it again.
Nute Gunray was a bundle of nerves, walking faster than he could have believed possible. Rune Haako followed behind him, though was more cautious in his steps. Gunray neither knew nor cared whether Haako would make it to the Lapiz Cutter. If he made it to the ship first, he would not hesitate to give the take off order and leave Haako behind. What he knew of the plot against the Republic would not be enough to bring the wrath of Lord Sidious down upon him. And besides, he could always find someone else to replace him.
And even if, through some miraculous means, Lord Sidious were indeed to find out what had happened this day...well, it was a big galaxy. There were planets far enough out of the way and enough credits in his personal accounts to ensure that he could live out the rest of his life in relative peace. Peace of body, at least. One way or the other, he would no longer be in peace when it came to his mind.
"Hurry up," he hissed to Haako. "The Queen could be here any moment."
Willow's back was pressed against the wall, shocked at what she had seen further down the corridor. As she was walking down the hallway, she saw two figures moving at a rapid pace in the opposite direction were the two Neimoidians to whom she had been presented when she had been captured.
And they were running! She had to do something. This was her chance. She could strike them both down for what they did to her. To Tara. To this planet. And it would be right.
Or would it? The question made Willow waver. It was not a question as to the fact that the Neimoidians needed to pay for what they had done. Even if they hadn't harmed her, even if they hadn't harmed Tara, they had certainly caused enough grief for the Naboo, and all for the ridiculous notion of a tax break.
And even if she could bring herself to do it, how would it affect her? She had never killed anyone before. True, she had taken a life, but that was in self defense against people who had been out to kill her. The two Neimoidians, though having a massive droid army at their disposal, were hardly worthy of the honorific of "cold blooded aggressors."
Willow suddenly realized that she didn't have any real choice. She couldn't just walk out of the palace, not with a battle going on in the streets. And she couldn't stay inside the palace, either. There were droids here, as well. Not to mention that horned and tattooed Sith.
And that was something she had to let Tara know about. She would know how to handle it.
She held up the blaster and checked its power pack. It was still charged, but not fully. She also noted that it held no stun setting. No matter. If push came to shove, two shots would be enough to end the problem once and for all.
As for the lack of a stun setting...well, that would merely mean that the pain would be quick.
Gunray approached one of the large double doors that would lead out of the palace, a smile on his lips. No doubt the bulk of the Naboo force was now drawing the droids away from the area, which meant that both he and Haako would have a clear path to the Lapiz Cutter, which must have arrived by now.
As he reached to push the door release, he heard the unmistakable sound of a blaster shot coming from behind him, followed by the equally unmistakable howl from his Lieutenant. Turning, he was surprised to find Haako cowering on the floor, his hands upraised in a gesture of surrender. And further down the corridor...
Gunray felt his face pale as he watched the Jedi captive point her blaster directly at his chest.
Gunray froze on the spot, raising his own hands. "You...you're Jedi. You...you can't think..."
Gunray was pleased to find that the Jedi's face softened somewhat, though she still kept her death grip on the weapon. "You're right. I am a Jedi. And even though you've hurt me, and especially since you've hurt Ta...my Master, I don't want to hurt you. But that doesn't mean that I'm going to let you get away with what you're doing."
A spark of insight flashed through Gunray's mind. It was clear that this child had no idea about the breadth of the situation. If he could find someway of shifting the blame for the entire situation over to someone else, he could perhaps escape from the situation with his life after all.
But how to do so without bringing the wrath of Lord Sidious down upon him?
The Jedi pointed the blaster at the prone form of Haako. "Get up!"
Muttering silent curses, Haako did as he was instructed, adjusting his miter and turning to Gunray, who merely stared back into his Lieutenant's eyes.
The Jedi, meanwhile, gestured with the blaster in her hands. "Let's move."
Hiding in the shadows was something that Tara was used to. She had gone undercover in the underworld of Coruscant. She had performed dangerous assignments on Nar Shaddaa, considered by many to be just as perilous, if not more, than Coruscant. She had traveled from one end of the civilized galaxy to the other, taking part in more dangerous situations than this. What made it different?
Even before the question finished registering in her brain, she knew the answer. Willow.
Tara was surprised to find that her initial depression about the situation had mutated. No longer was she stifled by her insecurities. She was focused on a single goal: to find Willow, rescue her, and make sure that she would be well protected.
And yet...Tara could not help but feel somewhat stifled. Going to rescue Willow meant leaving both Master Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan alone to face that demon. And she did not feel comfortable about that at all. Her dream had been rather prophetic in nature, signifying that either Willow or Qui-Gon would fall at the hands of that creature.
Hopefully Tara could rescue Willow and return to the hanger before anything happened.
Peering around the corridor, she spotted a pair of droids running down the corridor, along with the hum of nearby blaster fire. Keeping her back to the wall, Tara began to silently walk down the corridor, doing her best to keep quiet.
Stretching out with the Force, she tried to pick out Willow's presence. She cringed as the onslaught of emotions hit her. Fear. Rage. Despair. The negative emotions crested into her mind and threatened to drown it in a sea of relentless torment.
"Enough," she thought, breaking the connection. "Willow is counting on you."
Slipping around the corner, she was surprised to find a pair of battle droids on the floor near the wall. Approaching them, she reached out with her foot and gently tapped it.
"Definitely deactivated," she thought. "But how...?"
She turned and looked into the room that the droids had obviously been guarding. Looking inside, she saw four pairs of binders on the floor, all of which were affixed to the floor.
"Willow," Tara whispered. Rushing forward, she took each of the binders in her hand, running her finger across the metal. As she did, she felt a residual feeling of pain. A shiver ran up her spine as she turned to find two misshapen pieces of metal lying near the door. Walking over to them, she reached down to pick them up.
Tara immediately recognized what they were. "Oh, Willow."
The tears that she had been trying to keep buried began to rise again. Tara shut her eyes in a futile attempt to stop them from flowing. Even so, a single drop ran down her cheek.
And when Tara opened her eyes once more, the indecisiveness, depression and fear that had followed her for the past several days vanished with it. In its place was the Tara she had once been: confident in her abilities as a warrior, knowing exactly what to do and driven by a purpose that was beyond her control.
This Tara would find Willow. This Tara would save Willow.
And this Tara would be accepting to Willow's love, which she could, and would, no longer deny.