Originally published in Renaissance, 1997

Milk and Cookies

by ZP Florian

The sound of the flutes sang clear and sharp over the trimmed bushes in the garden. Biting cold wind tore at Anakin's shirt as he mounted the mrble steps two at a time, trying to dissolve some of his anger with the physical exertion. It didn't help.

He strode past the gaudily dressed lackeys at the door, straight into the great hall. The sight of some four dozen guests in fashionable shades of purple and maroon forced him to slow down. This was neither the place nor the time to give went to his temper. Curse it to the seventh blue hell, he thought, turning back. From the corner of his eye, he saw that Palpatine noticed him. Curse you, too, he added.

He walked down to the end of the hallway, where the stained glass double doors led to the library. It was dark in there, save from the live fire burning in a bluestone pit at the far end of the cavernous room. He was drawn to it, as always. Live fires were a rare treat to him after the air-conditioned innards of ships and high-tech buildings. He stared at the flames, making them dance. It was a cheap trick for a Jedi, but he wasn't too proud to play.

A servant came in with a tray. "The Senator sends his apologies, your Grace. He's occupied with his guests at the moment, but he wants you to know he'll join you shortly."

"Very well," Anakin said. "Put the tray down and leave."

At least, he thought, I'm not required to mingle and chat with them. As soon as the servant left, he investigated the tray. The food on it was nothing he had ever seen before. Meat, he decided. The last time he had eaten meat with Palpatine without asking what it had been when it was alive, the Senator had tremendous fun to tell him that it was human flesh from some Rimword planet where they consider it a great delicacy. Anakin grinned, remembering how he ruined Palpatine's pleasure by telling him that he had already tried it before with a better sauce. Well, whatever it was this time, he was hungry. He might as well spend the time with eating.

The black anger that boiled inside him wouldn't let him settle down with something as mundane as a tray of food. He began pacing. He resisted the impulse to send angry mental reminders to the Senator, knowing that he'd be ridiculed for his impatience.

Contained inside him, the anger grew to the point of pain. Kraat of all kraats, he cursed, I'm suffering! Can't face him in this state. He stood beside the fire. Rolling up his right sleeve, he held his arm over the flames, searing his flesh. The pain was brutal and simple, enough to counter the seething anger in his soul. The Dark was a splendid weapon, a reliable ally, but a very inadequate friend when one would need a sober mind with a sober opinion.

"That should be quite enough," Palpatine said behind him."We don't want to mar the perfection of that arm, it'd devastate the ladies."

Anakin turned. He almost managed a smile. It was good to see the other man, the only man who could always impress him with his wit and intelligence. "I'm angry," he said.

"I could tell. The Force fairly vibrated with your presence as soon as you landed in the port. What had Kenobi done this time?"

"He decided to kill me."

Palpatine smiled. "At last, at last, he understood who you are. At least, now, he doesn't underestimate you. Now he knows that as long as you're alive, he will fail and I will succeed."

"Put it this way, it sure is a compliment," Anakin said dryly.

"Well, it is. There's no other man, leader, politician, Jedi, who'd be worthy of being considered an unsurmountable danger, an impenetrable rock in the eye of Kenobi - but you. He knows you are the most powerful Force user in the Galaxy, at least he thinks so, not knowing the extent of my abilities. He knows your intelligence, your cunning, your genius in battle and your tireless drive to finish whatever you started. He knows that you can help me destroy the Republic. He probably knows that without you, my chances of success are limited." Palpatine paused, waiting for his words to sink in. He wasn't disappointed; Anakin just stood there, speechless. "Ah, I think I managed to shock you. You thought I don't know? Or did you think I knew and never wanted to admit?"

"I thought you didn't know," Anakin said softly.

"Well, it's a bit better to be thought a simple idiot than a conceited idiot. How long will it take you to understand that there's nothing between us that I don't know, don't see, don't calculate?" Palpatine smiled, a narrow, almost fatherly smile that was quite chilling. "Now sit down. I want you to tell me, why is it so disturbing to know that Kenobi decided to kill you?"

Anakin sat. "This is the "only for defense" Kenobi, you see, I've never expected him to shoot first."

"Something is obscuring your logic. Kenobi does act in defense by shooting first. In defense of his crumbling Republic, that we are about to dismantle, and in defense of his pretty Jedi Knights, who we have to eliminate in order to dismantle the Republic. It is a clear case of defense, saving all he holds dear with one surgical cut. Why can't you see this?"

"I was..."

"It is quite unlike you not being able to speak in complete sentences." Palpatine shook his shaved head. "Are you ill? Have you been drinking? No. Did you have a good night sleep? No. I thought so. Listen now. Listen carefully. You never thought Kenobi would want to kill you, because...? Finish the sentence."

Anakin met the yellow eyes with his own blue gaze. He looked like a man about to walk into fire. "Because I thought he liked me."

"Ah, here we are. Child! He liked you! Perhaps he did, as much as he can like anybody. But damn your infantile soul, you are not likeable! And if you'd take the trouble of being honest with yourself, you'd say you thought he loved you. Nobody likes you, Skywalker. Some women lust for you or fall in love with you, some men respect you, and the rest of the Galaxy fears you and hates you with a passion. You don't care about them. Kenobi is one of the few you've ever respected, though I really don't know why. He's a conceited, narrow-minded fanatic who only loves his devoted disciples and you are not one of them! If his love is so important for you, go back to him, beg his forgiveness and swear loyalty to him. He'll love you then. You'll be his prodigal son. And he" - Palpatine grinned, - " he will be your surrogate father. Damn your infantile emotions. Inside you, there is a little boy...I know him. He's six years old, dressed in frothy lace and velvet like a pretty doll, terrified of the military school he's being sent to. Such a sweet child. He had done nothing wrong. Why, he only killed two of his teachers in a fit of anger over having his backside tanned for some missed homework. The first Force-tantrum was forgiven by his lordly father, the second...well, the second was considered a...trend?"

Anakin grabbed the side of his chair to still the shivers running through his body. "I didn't know."

"Of course you didn't know. Your gracious father used the most blatant Force-manipulation on you to make you forget. You know he was quite adept as a Jedi. He thought the military school will do wonders for your self-discipline. And it did. Damn, but it's all on the surface."

"This is why he forbade me to become a Jedi?"

"I'd say it was his last desperate attempt to strangle your Force-abilities." Palpatine stepped closer, almost close enough to touch. "Fortunate for me that you've defied him. Ah, were you my son, I'd have been proud of you killing a dozen teachers, killing anyone who dared to hit you. Damn your father and damn Kenobi. Get rid of them! Forget the teary-eyed little poppet in lace and velvet. Remember the small prince who wouldn't tolerate caning from a commoner. That's who you are. Love! That child didn't need love, he needed respect. So, Kenobi wants to kill you. That's a sign of respect, isn't it now?"

"How do you know about things I myself forgotten?"

"Don't you have a mother? and more brothers I care to count? I've read them all. I know everything about you. I've read your roommates at school, your commanders. Your fellow apprentices at the Jedi enclave." Another pause for effect. "And your wife."

Anakin was very calm now. "Thank you. I needed this."

"Eat now."

Anakin didn't move.

"What else is there?"

"I've seen the future. I can't defeat Kenobi."

"The future is worthless. It changes even as we speak. You're young, strong and agressive. Your skill with the saber is exceptional. Your agility is unparalelled. Of course, you can't defeat Kenobi while trying to make him like you. Fighting him in this state of mind is but a thinly disguised suicide attempt." Palpatine hissed."Suit yourself. You're but twenty and four. Why should I expect maturity from you? But know this. I will not let you die. No matter the outcome of the duel, you will live."

"Now why doesn't this sound reassuring?"

"It shouldn't. I said it in anger and bitter jealousy." Palpatine said with an impatient wave of his hand. "Enough of this. Eat." He went to the cabinet and put a bottle of chilled wine on the table. "Drink this. Take a bath, go to bed. I'll send some wench to you. And heal that burn on your arm. You're being childish. I'll pamper you accordingly, but considering your age, it's meat, not cookies, wine, not milk, and a woman, not a stuffed nerf. I expect this is the last time you'll need this sort of indulgence."

"Perhaps not," Anakin smiled a little. "I like being pampered." He turned his seat to the table. "Just in case. What kind of meat is this?"

Palpatine fought against the impulse of saying "fried Kenobi". I must be more upset than I know, he thought. "Calamarian sea-boar. You'll like it."

"With hot ravi." Anakin smiled wider. "Excellent." He poured wine in his cup and tasted it. "And this, what? Corelli greenberries? That wouldn't be this sweet."

"Relyan root-apples. Stolen from the cellar of the Despot himself. Sweet indeed." Palpatine seethed inside. Anakin's delight in his meal warmed the aura of the room and the Senator hated the pleasure it gave him. Nobody likes you, Anakin, he thought, knowing that he did. All too much. I must constantly remind myself that the boy is not a whimsical toy or a titillating artpiece. Damn, he's about as likeable as a curved dagger. Milk and cookies, indeed. He should be drinking blood. Next time, Palpatine smiled. There will be a next time. I won't allow him to die.