Nute Gunray rubbed his hands in anticipation. It was almost too good to be true. The Queen was now in his grasp, two of the Jedi were his prisoners and now the entire debacle was coming to an end with little damage other than a few hundred easily replaced battle droids. Well, not easily replaced, but credits were nothing to him. He was certainly guaranteed a plentiful treasure trove out of the conquest of Naboo.
It was all going according to plan.
But he felt uneasy.
Perhaps it was the fact that, in the middle of what had been the worst moment out of a conflict ripe with situations that could easily be described as worst moments, the fact that everything was going to plan now somewhat concerned him. There was an old proverb that said a fool would work hard to get what he wanted, only to have victory snatched away from him at the last moment.
It was deceptively eerie how much that phrase could be applied here.
Still, he had his scapegoat. With the female Jedi still his captive, her Master would not do anything rash. And the Queen...well, the Queen would serve her purpose well, and then she would die.
He might even bring himself to do the deed personally.
It would certainly be ironic.
Watching as the prisoners were escorted into the room, he noticed that both the Queen and the Jedi held looks of grim determination in his direction, almost as if they had some sort of plan. No matter. It would not succeed. The group was surrounded on all sides by battle droids, all of whom had their blasters trained in their direction.
If they tried anything, the Queen, the Jedi and the others would be corpses by the time they hit the ground.
Affixing an authoritative look onto his face, he turned to look at the Queen. "It would appear that your attempted insurrection is at an end, Your Majesty."
"Is it?" the Queen replied nonchalantly.
The comment stung Gunray, and he choked down the silent curse that he had been prepared to say. It most certainly was over. She was his captive, as were two of the Jedi. The other Jedi, he hoped, would have their lives ended at the hands of the Sith. There was nothing that she could do to salvage the situation.
But he couldn't shake the feeling that his wall of confidence had just lost its vital support, and that it was starting to crumble.
Turing to the Jedi, Gunray attempted to regain his lost confidence. "And as for you, your apprentice put up a brave front. Almost atypical of her, considering how much I thought..." he paused, trying to figure out how to describe the Sith without naming him. A smirk appeared on his lips as he realized what could easily insult her. "How much I thought she couldn't stand the interrogation."
If the Jedi felt any frustration or hostility, she didn't let it show. A pity. He would have enjoyed watching the droids reduce her to a pile of ash. Turning his attention back to the Queen, he continued, "And now, Your Majesty, it is time for you to sign the treaty and put an end to this pointless debate."
He thought he heard footsteps and the unmistakable sound of blaster discharges outside the room, and looked up to find...
"No. No! It wasn't possible!"
"Viceroy!" a female that looked liked the Queen shouted. "Your occupation has ended!" Raising the blaster she held, she fired directly at two of the droids stationed by the door.
Gunray fumed. He could not believe he had been tricked. Well, the Queen would pay for that. Gesturing to the closest droids, he said, "This one is a decoy! Guards, after her!"
Four of the droids took off after the Queen and her entourage as the decoy moved to the throne.
Gunray caught the action immediately. "What are you doing?"
"Sitting down," the decoy spat. "You've denied me everything else. You wouldn't deny me this, would you?"
Gunray was disgusted. Human females were, after all, so repulsive. It was any wonder how they came to be vital to the affairs of the galaxy. If he had his way, he would never allow a female to get into a position in which she could challenge his authority and power.
With a dismissive hand, he allowed the woman to sit, turning to look at the Jedi crumpled on the floor, then back to the blonde. "It is too bad she did not put up more of a struggle. Perhaps her training was inadequate...or perhaps she had a bad teacher."
Gunray spun on his heels, seeing the Queen withdraw a pair of blaster pistols from the armrest of the throne, tossing one of them to one of the uniformed guards.
Tara hadn't been aware of what the Queen had been planning, though the fact that she had allowed herself to be captured signified that she indeed had a plan. All Tara could do was wait to act on it, even if that meant dealing with the scathing insults of that Neimoidian disease.
It was all Tara could do to restrain herself from calling out with the Force and retrieving her lightsaber, now clutched in the hand of one of the remaining battle droids as the group had approached the throne room. As she reached out with the Force to touch her Padawan, she was delighted to discover that she was merely unconscious, having suffered a blow to the back of the head.
Tara vowed that, should she ever get the chance, she would make certain that the two Neomoidians would never harm anyone again.
And with the Queen's retrieval of two blaster pistols from the armrest of the throne, she had been given that opportunity.
Reaching out with the Force, she called her weapon into her hand, igniting it as it traveled into her palm. As it landed in her hand, several of the droids turned her way and several shots. She brought her weapon down on the droids, easily destroying them just as the others were handled by the Queen.
The Viceroy reacted instantly, shoving aside the other Neimoidian and rushing to pick up one of the droid's fallen blasters. Reacting immediately, Tara rushed to him, lightsaber raised. And as the Viceroy turned, blaster in hand and pointed directly at her, she brought her lightsaber down to strike the weapon in half.
Instead of the weapon, however, her blade impacted against the Neimoidian's hand, separating both weapon and flesh from his body. The Viceroy howled in pain, collapsing to his knees and holding the cauterized stump of his arm.
Acting on instinct and adrenaline, Tara stood over his body, lightsaber dangerously close to his throat. Her instincts cried out at her and told her that what she was doing was wrong. But in this situation, common sense overrode all logical decisions. The Viceroy had led an invasion of a peaceful planet, ordered the deaths of countless innocents and had taken Willow captive.
The first two were bad enough, and despite her feelings, she knew that the Senate would do what they could to punish the Viceroy for that. But her feelings for Willow, combined with her desire to seek justice for her capture and harm, meant that there was nobody in this universe, Jedi or otherwise, that could adequately bring him to justice for his actions.
That task was hers alone.
Tara turned at the sound of her own name, lightsaber still near the Viceroy's throat, and saw Willow getting to her feet.
"Tara? Is that you?"
She turned back to Willow, looked at the lightsaber in her hand and finally, at the person to whom its blade had been pointed. Back to Willow. Back to the weapon. A icy chill ran through her as she realized what she had done. Disarming the Viceroy, in both senses of the word, had been bad enough in her view. But he had been going for a weapon, and could justify her actions. But killing him outright in cold blood was not the Jedi way.
It was not her way.
"By the Force! What am I doing?"
Tara thumbed the deactivation switch of her lightsaber, returned the weapon to her belt. She felt a great sense of relief at the action. Not only at that, but at knowing that Willow was all right. She rushed over to help her Padawan get to her feet.
"Tara? What happened? I got...so lost."
Tara swallowed with some great difficulty. Willow always considered her a model Jedi, the epitome of what she could always aspire to be. And here she was, nearly letting her emotions get the better of her and making Willow's image of the perfect Jedi be tainted.
It shamed her how close she came to the path of darkness. And all in the name of love.
She promised herself she would never do it again.
"I found you, Willow. By the Force, I will always find you."
It was almost too easy. The elder Jedi was dead, and now his young apprentice would join him. Even now, he hung suspended over the bottomless pit before him, desperately trying to keep his grip on a small protrusion.
Swinging his lightsaber at the floor, Maul watched with pleasure as the sparks caused by his action caused the Jedi to nearly loosen his grip and send him to the abyss below. It had been too easy. The Jedi had allowed his emotions to overpower him, much like he had done with the female. And, like the female, it had been easy to mold that anger into a weapon that would bring about his destruction.
Maul became aware of the fact that the Jedi was staring at him. He returned the stare for a moment, wondering what trick he was attempting to pull.
Suddenly, he felt a disturbance in the Force. Its presence was unmistakable, subtle though it was. Tightening his grip on the weapon in front of him, he prepared himself, watching as the Jedi sailed above his head.
"Foolish Jedi," he thought, as he raised his weapon to strike. "You've left yourself defenseless."
As Maul moved to strike the Jedi down, he became aware of several other things. The Jedi was no longer disarmed, having called the weapon of his Master into his outstretched hand. His thumb ignited the green blade, which he sent into an classic sai tok maneuver.
The blow caught Maul square in the waist, instantly bisecting him. Maul noted, with some satisfaction, that the move was not as painful as he had hoped. It was, instead, quite the opposite.
Maul's final thought, as his body plummeted into the abyss below, was that the Jedi had learned the art of manipulating hatred well. And that he was glad to have passed on that knowledge.
Obi-Wan knelt beside the body of his Master. The Sith had been defeated, his body plummeting down the shaft in the center of the room. Obi-Wan took no pleasure in the killing of the enemy. The cost to himself was too great to allow it.
"It's...it's too late...Obi-Wan..."
Obi-Wan shook his head defiantly. "No!"
"Promise you what? Master, I'll promise you anything."
"Promise me...that...you will train...the boy."
Obi-Wan took this news with a bit of trepidation. After all, he was among those who questioned his Master's decision to allow the boy to be trained in the first place. But he certainly couldn't refuse the dying request of his Master, even if it was rather unorthodox.
"Yes, Master. I promise you. Anakin will become a Jedi. I'll make sure of it."
Qui-Gon faintly smiled at that. "Good...Obi-Wan. He is...the Chosen One. He...will bring...balance...Train him well. And...speak with Master Maclay. Tell her that...she and Padawan...Rosenberg...have a bright future...ahead of them..."
And with a final, shuddering breath, Qui-Gon Jinn slipped away.
Obi-Wan held onto the body of his Master, refusing to allow emotion to overtake him.
And a single tear traveled down his cheek.
The remainder of the day had become a time of great rejoicing. The Trade Federation had been defeated, Viceroy Gunray and his party were to be sent back to Coruscant to stand trial, and the newly appointed Supreme Chancellor of the Republic, Naboo's very own Palpatine, had arrived and given his personal blessing to Obi-Wan and Anakin.
As she stood looking out at the landscape of Theed, Tara couldn't help but feel uncomfortable about the situation. Indeed, they had succeeded, but at what price? Qui-Gon Jinn, one of the Order's most experienced and revered Jedi, was dead. And Tara knew that it could have been prevented if she had spoken up and told him about her vision.
At the same time, and rather guiltily, she took some comfort in the fact that the secret of her love for Willow had died with him. He was the only one to realize how close she had gotten to Willow, and with him dead, she no longer felt honor bound to report to the Council about it. That was a thought that gave her comfort, yet made her wonder if she was being foolish. The wound she still felt about not telling Qui-Gon about her vision still hung over her like a dark cloud, its lightning striking directly into her heart. She had also made a promise, and the last thing she was known for was going against her word. With a firm conviction, she decided that she would inform the Council about her feelings when she was adequately prepared to handle the repercussions. To do so now would only deepen her already overworked sense of guilt.
A quiet knock came from the door, which opened as Willow entered.
Tara smiled faintly. "It is rather customary to wait for permission before entering someone else's room, Padawan."
"I know," Willow smiled back. "I just...wanted to see how you're feeling."
Tara turned around and walked over to the bed. "I'm fine, Willow. It's just that...I can't believe how much has changed in the last few days."
Willow moved to sit beside Tara. "I know. And we were at the center of it all."
Putting her arm around Willow, Tara sighed. "It's not going to be easy, Willow. Us being together. We're Jedi. We're not normally allowed to do this. You know that, right?"
Resting her head on Tara's shoulder, Willow nodded. "I know. But if there was one thing that you taught me, Master, is that nothing worth doing is easy. We can make this work."
Tara couldn't help herself. She had to ask, otherwise she wouldn't feel right. "Can we? The galaxy is a dangerous place. And we won't always be together. I won't be able to protect you..."
Willow got up and placed a finger of Tara's lips. "Don't. Tara, the time to shelter me from the galaxy is over. I know that you had the best of intentions, but if I'm to come into my own as a Jedi, I need to...get out from under your wing. I can't depend on you forever."
Tara's eyes began to water. Just when she thought she couldn't love Willow anymore than she already did. "I love you, Willow."
Returning her head to Tara's shoulder, the redhead returned the sentiment.
"I love you, Tara."
Later that night, the two joined the other members of the Jedi Council, along with the Queen, Boss Nass, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, and several important Naboo citizens as they paid their final respects to Qui-Gon. The funeral pyre had been lit in the ritual fashion, and the entire entourage watched as the body was cremated.
Though the minds of all were on the procession, four carried thoughts on parallel tracks.
The first belong to a newly appointed Jedi Knight, who was telling his new apprentice that, one day, he would become a Jedi.
The second was a singular wavelength carried between two Jedi. Master and apprentice, their love for each other had been tested under fire, and now was poised to affect their lives. For good? For ill? It mattered not. What did matter was that they had, at long last, admitted to themselves what each had held true for the longest time.
The third was a poignant discussion between the leaders of the Jedi Council, debating the reemergence of the Sith threat to the galaxy. Always two there were. A Master and an apprentice. No more, no less.
But which had been killed? The Master? Or the apprentice?
The fourth belonged to the newly anointed leader of the galaxy. And, unknown to all present, the latest in the long line of the Sith, chosen by destiny to continue the work started by Darth Bane a thousand years ago following the climatic battle of Russan.
His plan had come to fruition. He was now leader of the galaxy. But...there had been complications.
Darth Maul was dead. It was an unexpected circumstance. But it was not irreparable. He would find another to carry the mantle of Sith Apprentice. One that could continue the work he and Maul had started here today.
Until the day that his Chosen One was ready. And on that day, the galaxy would finally fall to the Sith.
Everything was proceeding as he foreseen.
The victory parade traveled down the streets of Theed, Gungan's pounding away on drums and Naboo fighters flying overhead. Children on both sides of the road threw confetti on the procession, which marched down to the steps of Theed.
Tara and Willow stood at attention alongside Obi-Wan and Anakin, whose hair had been cut and braided in the traditional manner of a Padawan learner. Willow had joked how much the nine year old had looked like her when she was younger, to which Tara laughed the first real laugh she had experienced since the whole situation began.
Tara took a look at Willow, who had changed so much during the past several days. And yet, despite it all, she remained the kind hearted individual Tara always knew she was. She no longer had a lightsaber, and that had pained Tara more than she thought it would. It had been a symbol. She had given Willow something precious to her that had been destroyed in an act of unmitigated aggression.
Willow would construct a new one. Tara knew she would. But it would not be the same. The special bond she had given Willow through her lightsaber was gone forever.
A lot of things were gone. But a lot had begun here. And Tara would try her hardest to make sure that they did not disappear forever as well.
Tara watched as the three Gungans who had played a critical role in the recent events step up. Boss Nass walked to Queen Amidala, who presented the Gungan a shining globe. Tara knew what the act meant. In much the same way that she had given something precious to Willow as an act of peace, so too did the Queen give a gift to the Gungans.
That would solidify their newfound bond. And would be the beginning of a new era for both the Naboo and the Gungans.
At the proclamation by Boss Nass, the entire crowd erupted into a frenzy. Both Willow and Tara, despite themselves, got caught up in the revelries and began clap alongside them. The cheering grew in intensity and power, not showing any signs of stopping.
And despite all that had happened, and despite what could happen in the future, in the here and now, Jedi Master Tara Maclay and Jedi Padawan Willow Rosenberg were together.
Fate had done this. And as the cheering continued, both knew that there was no power in the galaxy that could break them apart.