Chapter 29

"We've lost our way, Depa."

Mace rubbed his eyes and sighed deeply from his position by Depa's bedside. He could feel the weight of their decisions pushing heavily onto his shoulders. His hand in Depa's grounded him, the warmth from her skin comforted him when he felt like he didn't deserve it, but he needed it all the same. Her dark hair fell around her head in a halo, unbound by its usual braids. She was a picture of serenity, of peace… He'd sent so many unanswered calls into the Force to help her awaken, yet still she slept. Mace needed her to wake, and at his lowest found himself wanting to sink into oblivion with her. Whether or not he'd meet her wherever her mind was lost was mute. He'd find her there, either way.

"I wish you had been in that Council meeting," he said, "I can't say if you would have agreed with me or argued, but maybe…" Mace paused. "Maybe if you disagreed you could have talked me out of it. Talked us all out of it. Maybe you would have been the voice of reason that we desperately needed then. The voice that swayed us into asking Skywalker for his help, rather than just pushing our faith onto a desperate gambit; because Master Dooku was right, that's exactly what it was."

His thumb brushed over the skin on the back of her hand. "I miss your counsel. I…"

Come back to me, Depa. Fight through this darkness and come back to me. I miss you…

"We need you to wake up. I need you to wake up. The Jedi are about to go through a change that hasn't been attempted in a thousand years. We've become outdated, irrelevant… We're trying to change. If anything has come out of this war, it's been to show us just how far we've strayed from our path. And we didn't even notice. We didn't notice the creeping darkness, the insidiousness of the Sith, the ways in which they changed themselves to adapt while we remained stagnant and complacent in our numbers. Even with so many Jedi, only two Sith were enough to almost take complete control over the galaxy."

With Palpatine controlling the Senate and the Jedi spread so thin commanding legions of Clone Troopers… And those Clones… who were ultimately under Palpatine's command… Who knows what could have happened. Mace felt uneasy every time he thought about it.

"And now… we're trying to get it right. I don't know how Skywalker's going to react. I haven't felt trepidation like this in a long time. I try releasing it to the Force but it's been harder recently. I don't know what this means." He squeezed her hand.

Mace bowed his head over their joined hands.

"Things were easier with you by my side."

Anakin stared at his hand, curling it into a fist and then straightening out his fingers. He knew what it felt like to hold the Force in his hand. On Bandomeer he'd been becoming more and more proficient with telekinesis. It almost felt like an extension of his body. Sometimes he wondered if it should have scared him, how naturally he took to the Force.

He'd learned how to create rudimentary shields within hours of Obi-Wan first starting to teach him. He'd picked up quickly whatever Obi-Wan could teach him about the Force, he never had to search hard for the ability - it just came to him, and with practice felt as normal as walking did.

But he'd never used it unconsciously before… It had never happened without him thinking about it, willing it, not…

Anakin knew it hadn't been his fault, that it had been the Force flowing through him, but his hand had been the outlet, it had been the -

Anakin turned his hand and squeezed. The coughing and spluttering that came from Dejiak made his blood sing. He felt the anger viscerally course through his veins and forge a pathway through every fibre of his being.

He watched coldly as Dejiak clawed at his throat, his face turning an unnatural shade of red. Oh, how Anakin wanted this, how he just wanted to kill. His hand tightened. The Force thrummed around him, darkly.

He shook his head roughly, trying hard to clear the images from his mind and to swallow down the bile that clawed at the back of his throat. The rising nausea choked him as he tried to breathe his way through it. He didn't, he couldn't…

I can't believe I almost… But he was alive when I left… That woman…she…killed him…

He took a deep steadying breath and willed his heart to slow. He didn't kill Dejiak. He didn't kill him. But it was bad enough that he almost had. That he had wanted to. He couldn't stop the conflicted thoughts that raged through his mind. He was glad, in a way that it hadn't been him, but at the same time he wished that it had been.

Is it wrong to be glad he's dead?

The thought rolled across his mind, and no matter which way he turned it, it was true. He was glad Dejiak was gone. He felt guilt and relief in equal measure and didn't know what to make of it. Was it wrong to be happy someone was dead? Dejiak was a person, but he was twisted and sick. He'd hurt Anakin so many times with a smile on his face and blood on his hands.

Obi-Wan… I need to talk to you so badly. Anakin let out a huff of air and stared at the ceiling, blinking hard against the burning in his eyes. If anyone could help him sort out the tangle of emotions that he felt, it would be Obi-Wan. Whenever he was around Anakin's head felt clearer. It was like the world suddenly made sense and that everything was going to be okay. All he had to do was look into stormy blue eyes, and watch that soft smile spread across his lips, and Anakin would know everything was all right. Obi-Wan was a gentle, calming presence in the ever-chaotic mess that was his soul. He grounded Anakin, gave him focus and strength, courage when he needed it; but most importantly… Obi-Wan gave him hope.

Hope that he could change and become something more than what the brothel had made him. Hope that he could have a life far away from all of that, and that he could overcome his past and embrace a future of his choosing.

Hope that he could still be loved.

All he wanted was to fall into Obi-Wan's arms, warm and safe, and stay there forever. That's what home meant to him. It was never a place - it was always a person. When he was a child, home had never meant the shared hovel; going home always meant running into his mother's embrace. The feeling of her arms wrapped tight around him, the way she smelled like warm cotton and sunshine.

Anakin took a deep calming breath through his nose and let it out through his mouth, blinking back tears he steadied himself. He was ready to go home.

Looking around the hall, he tried to catch sight of Bant, but instead caught sight of a familiar figure making his way towards him.

"Skywalker." The Jedi nodded at him in greeting. "We were never formally introduced. I'm Jedi Master Mace Windu."

Anakin blinked and straightened. He knew that name. He vaguely remembered Obi-Wan talking about him. He was also the Jedi that the Sith had been about to kill.

"I remember you." His eyes darted down to briefly rest on the fingertips of metal just visible beneath the hemline of Windu's sleeve. The Jedi had already had his right arm fitted with a prosthetic. An uneasy feeling welled up inside his chest and he had to shake himself to come out of it. He didn't know why, but it felt ominous to look at.

"I owe you my life," said Windu. "And the Jedi owe you more than that. We, and the galaxy, are in your debt. More than you know."

"I just-" Anakin shrugged. He had no idea what to say to that. "I barely remember it. It was like watching someone else move my body."

"The Force called to you, and whether you meant to or not – you answered. It helped lead your instincts, guided you, and gave you a choice. You chose the Light."

"Whatever that means."

"Walk with me." Windu inclined his head and slowly turned to leave.

Anakin furrowed his brow but hurried to follow. He slipped on the robe at the end of his bed and the slippers. He hastily tucked the holo of his mother into his pocket and jogged to catch up. His curiosity was getting the better of him. He hadn't seen anything of the Temple outside the Healers' Ward and if Windu wanted to take him sight-seeing he'd take it. Obi-Wan had grown up here, and Anakin would be lying if he said he wasn't curious to see some of it. To see what Obi-Wan had come to miss.

The halls were massive. Anakin balked at the scale as they continued their journey, he looked up at the stone columns and watched them climb hundreds of feet in the air. The ceilings were so high…

And the statues… He assumed they were of Jedi from the past. But the sheer size of them…

"I've never seen anything this big."

"The Temple as it is today, has stood for over one thousand years," said Mace, "but it's origins date back more than four millennia during its founding by the Four Masters. It's been the primary Temple of the Jedi Order for just as long. There are smaller temples throughout the galaxy, but this is the centre."

Anakin followed Mace into an elevator and they started to descend.

"Where are we going? You're not just showing me around the place."

"No, I have a destination in mind," said Windu. "There's something I need to discuss with you. The Healers' Ward isn't the place for it."

Anakin's brow burrowed at that and he tilted his head to the side in confusion. Whatever Windu wanted to talk to him about, he didn't feel any malice or deceit… He barely felt anything at all now that he tried to look. It was almost like being near Yoda again, but not as perturbing. Windu's shields felt impenetrable (not that he was trying to get in), like a wall built high and unreachable.

"Here it is."

Their walk from the elevator was short as Windu paused briefly before a large double door before pushing it open and waiting for Anakin to enter, he followed behind shortly thereafter.

water that fell from the sky; it was like the entire ocean was falling down from above…

Anakin remembered what it felt like the first time he stood in the rain with Obi-Wan. He remembered his shock and awe and the amount of water falling from the sky, the wetness of it. He remembered the first time he saw the ocean, so vast and endless, water as far as his eyes could see… and now this…

"What is this place?" Anakin gasped quietly, eyes wide.

"The Room of A Thousand Fountains."

Anakin walked further in the room and turned as he looked around. Water and plant-life were everywhere, as far as his eyes could see. Large reflecting pools, rippling gently as the many fountains poured in and out of them, waterfalls cascading and flowing into man-made rivers; flora and fauna that he had never seen before mixing with multitudes of colour from flowers bursting into bloom. They gave the air a gentle fragrance that wanted to lull him into a peaceful serenity.

"Many Jedi come here for meditation."

Anakin glanced at Windu. "I can see why. It's beautiful here."

They walked further into the gardens, and Anakin was led to a series of benches next to a large pool. A statue of a Jedi held a dish in one hand that acted as a fountain, water pouring down from it and into the water below, in her other hand she held a double-bladed lightsaber.

"We're not here to meditate, are we?" asked Anakin, "because I still fall asleep sometimes."

"No, though it would be a lot easier," said Windu. "I brought you here to debrief you on what happened."

"Bant had me write up a statement about it. What else could I tell you?"

"Nothing. This is about what we need to tell you." Windu's stare seemed to look right through him, sending a chill up his spine.

"Our galaxy has been at war for years now. The entire conflict was orchestrated by the Sith, users of the Dark side of the Force. There are always two – a Master and an apprentice. The Master was killed, but the apprentice remained at large. With Asajj Ventress alive, the war could not end. She's the one you helped us stop."

Anakin nodded. He remembered the way her presence in the Force made him feel. How completely dark and bottomless she'd felt.

Windu continued. "For the longest time, we couldn't find her. And then…we made a decision. We decided to use the Sith's Rule of Two against her. And as a result the Jedi Council…lost its soul. The Dark Side clouded the Force, the war clouded our judgement, and we felt the desperation to end a war that has killed countless billions. We convinced ourselves that we were putting the good of the many over the good of the few. It wasn't ideal, it was reckless, dangerous, and should have been dealt with differently. We owe you an apology, Anakin. And we owe one to Obi-Wan as well…"

As Windu continued to speak, to explain, Anakin's jaw clenched tighter and tighter as his shoulders shook and white noise filled his ears. His eyes burned with unshed anger and his breath started to come rapidly.

"We were responsible…"

"…needed you here alone…"

"Your strength in the Force would draw her…"

"We should have spoken with you first. It was a mistake to…"

"Stop," Anakin hissed. "Just stop. Whatever you assholes did to me – fuck it, but what you did to Obi-Wan…to him, he didn't have anything to do with this other than the fact that he was near me. You…you infected him. You made him sick…do have any idea what he looked like? How bad it was? I don't care that there was a cure, you deliberately- "

Anakin didn't notice it until he watched Windu wince. He didn't remember standing, he hadn't even felt the blood pounding in his head, the swift heat rushing through his veins, didn't even realize his reaching into the Force. It was blazing around him, the trees and plants around him swirling and shaking in the chaos he was creating.

Anakin breathed. He…he couldn't lose control. Not here, not… he breathed deeply again, forcing air in and out of his lungs as he tried to focus. The Jedi had used him, betrayed him and Obi-Wan both, uncaring for their lives as long as it meant ending their war.

The Jedi could have lost him to Ventress - that had been one of the calculated risks. And they just might have… the rage and anger that had fueled his initial attack on Dejiak had been born of hatred and fear. He wasn't…he wasn't like that. He wasn't a monster.

The Force calmed. He and Windu stared at each other.

"We are sorry, Skywalker."

Anakin snorted, and then feeling it bubble up from deep in his stomach he didn't both fighting it when he started to laugh. It wasn't a pleasant laugh to listen, it was listless and hollow, a mockery of what it should have been, and his smile was brittle.

"You know what's funny?" he said. "This still isn't the worst thing that's been done to me. Your Council feeding me to a Sith still probably doesn't even crack my top ten." He sighed harshly and ran a hand over his face.

"I've been a thing my whole life; an object, an outlet, a decoration. I am sick of being used. The only person in my entire adult life to not treat me like a thing was Obi-Wan. I don't know if I can ever forgive you people for what you did to him. He didn't deserve that. I'm fucking used to it, but to treat him like he's less than nothing…when he is everything, I just…I can't."

"I know."

"No. I don't think you do," said Anakin. "I love him. I'd do anything for him. If finding your Sith meant keeping him safe, I probably would have done it. But like you said – you didn't ask. So we'll never know if this could have gone differently."

Anakin strode past Windu. It probably wasn't a good idea to storm off, he was likely going to end up lost in the Temple, but at this point he didn't care. Someone would likely point him in the right direction anyway. As soon as he found the Healers' Ward he was getting dressed properly, and then he was leaving. He'd been away from Obi-Wan for far too long, and he needed to make sure he was okay; that no lasting damage had been done by his deliberately staged illness. Did Obi-Wan even know what the Jedi had done to them?

"Wait," said Windu, calling him back.

Anakin stopped but didn't turn around.

"For what?"

"There's one last thing." Windu stepped up beside Anakin and held out a data-holo.

Anakin snorted. "I don't want it, whatever it is."

"One of our Order was on assignment when he met a woman, he then made her a promise that he'd keep an eye out for any information regarding her son. This is all the information we have, including location and contact for Shmi Skywalker."

Anakin's head whipped to the side to stare at Windu, eyes wide. "What?"

"We found your mother. It's the least we owe you."

Anakin took the data-holo, trying to stop the trembling in his hands. Swiping his thumb across it, he blinked hard when not only did his mother's picture appear, but information.

"We don't expect your forgiveness or understanding. And it is going to take a long time to make this right. The Jedi need to be better, and this is the start."

"You could start by wiping out slavery in the Outer Rim."

Windu nodded. "It would be a worthy place to start."