The hesitant touch of his apprentice's groggy mind drew Xanatos from a light sleep. It wasn't his first time, nor his last he was certain, to sleep in a chair in the healers' ward. He opened his eyes and met the tired gaze of his padawan watching him.
"So, do you remember anything about the tank?" Xanatos asked, sitting up and stretching out cramped muscles before he leaned forward.
"No." There was a hint of disappointment in Anakin's voice, like he had hoped something more impressive would happen.
"And I see you still have two ears, a nose, a braid, and it didn't seem to melt your eyes out," Xanatos said with amusement.
"Master," Anakin said, rolling his eyes.
"Honestly, Padawan." Xanatos nodded his head to rid himself of his light laughter. "How do you feel?" he asked with more seriousness.
"Better. At least nothing hurts anymore." Anakin seemed to huddle in on himself with uncertainty, allowing a lengthened pause. "This wouldn't have happened if I hadn't sneaked out of the Temple. I won't do it again," he said, hanging his head.
It was an ambitious oath, easy to make under the circumstances. Although Xanatos wondered if his apprentice truly would be able to honor it, he still felt the warmth of pride bubbling within that Anakin was so readily willing to admit the part he played. Sighing deeply, Xanatos knew it would only be fair to acknowledge his own grand mistake.
"I have a confession, Padawan." Xanatos was perplexed by the way Anakin's eyes widened and the accompanying burst of anxiety, but continued with caution. "I was following you and had arranged to have you kidnapped to teach you of the dangers of wandering. Obviously, things did not go as planned because the men I contracted were dead in an alley, and you were missing by the time I finally understood something had gone terribly wrong." He paused as Anakin looked away as though he had expected to hear something else. "This wouldn't have happened if I had not let my guard down. I won't do it again," he said, echoing his padawan's sentiment.
Anakin smiled slightly, but remained guarded. They fell into uncomfortable silence until Xanatos brushed against his mind through their bond, feeling a slight withdrawal from his apprentice. "Padawan, do you want to tell me about what happened." The boy shrugged, and Xanatos decided he was going to have to be more forward in his prodding. "You said that you didn't want to be the Chosen One anymore. Can you explain why?"
"That's what the Sith called me," Anakin said softly, looking away. "He wanted me to be his apprentice to replace the one Obi-Wan killed. He said he wanted to show me the power of the Dark side."
"And he killed the men we found?" Xanatos cringed as soon as the question slipped past his lips. The last thing he wanted was for Anakin to believe his master thought it was him that had killed them. "I mean, obviously he killed them Padawan."
Anakin nodded as he met his mentor's eyes, and Xanatos felt his breath hitch at the horror and grief reflected in shimmering depths "I felt them die, Master. They were so afraid, but he didn't care. The fear just made him stronger. I tried to save one of them from the lightening, but I couldn't."
Xanatos reached out and took Anakin's hand in his; a gentle gesture he hoped would urge him to continue. "You did well in trying."
"There was so much Darkness. I felt like I was drowning because I didn't know if it was in me or just around me. I tried so hard to shield, but he was in my mind and I couldn't get him to go away. And then he used me to hurt you …"
"I know, Padawan," Xanatos soothed, trying to slow the frantic spilling of information. "I wouldn't expect your shields to hold up against a Sith lord."
"But everyone says I'm so strong in the Force."
"You're still an eleven year old boy and have most your training ahead of you. One of these days you will be capable of that level of shielding and then even I won't be able to tell what you're thinking."
"I hope soon." Anakin bit down on a trembling bottom lip, and Xanatos didn't miss the surge of desperation. "I don't ever want someone in my mind like that again. It's like he was reading my thoughts and trying to make me angry."
"I'm sure he was Padawan, but I am proud that you resisted." Xanatos closed his eyes against the mental picture of his apprentice's mind being battered, like a ship lost in a stormy sea, pummeled by waves. "What did he say that made you angry?"
Anakin exhaled forcefully, losing his battle with his quivering lip. "The Sith reminded me about Master Qui-Gon and said that he could sense that … that I was afraid of losing you and Obi-Wan." Warms streams of tears let loose, falling down his cheeks. "And it's true, I am."
He looked up at Xanatos, stormy eyes looking for acceptance as they so often did. Xanatos nodded squeezing the small hand in his while he reached the other up and rested it on the side of Anakin's head.
"He said that he's tried to kill Obi-Wan before – he told about two different times. And then, he said that I couldn't stop him from hurting you. He talked about the funeral on Naboo, and about how you sensed him, and that the only reason you could sense him was because you …"
The cascade of events paused abruptly, leaving Anakin's breathing ragged. Through his grasp on Anakin's hand, Xanatos could feel the racing pulse in the young boy's wrist.
"Because I ...?" Xanatos gently prompted as Anakin nodded frantically while turning his head away. "You don't need to hide what he said Padawan."
"Because you have intimate knowledge of the Dark side," Anakin whispered. "He said it must still call to you."
The air seemed to leave the room and Xanatos found it hard to breath. He felt overly warm and nauseous and was suddenly dizzy. "Say it was a lie Master," he heard Anakin say.
Xanatos had imagined many times telling Anakin of his fall and it seemed his apprentice was older each time he imagined it. First, he had thought to give their relationship a couple of years, and then it was as an older adolescent of sixteen of seventeen. His latest thoughts even had been of after Anakin was knighted, and they were two grown men, friends sitting together over a drink. Never in any of those images, was Anakin an eleven year old boy recovering from a run in with a Sith. Although he wanted more than anything to preserve his apprentice's faith in him, he would not lie.
"I wish I could Padawan," he said softly, without making eye contact. He heard an audible gasp as Anakin pulled his hand free from his grasp and shrugged away. "Anakin, listen to me. This is something I should have told you before, when I told you I left the Order for a time."
Anakin remained quiet, but Xanatos felt a twisting in his gut at the strong emotion he sensed. Fear – it was something Anakin had never felt towards him before, and it stood out like a glaring light in the midst of his apprentice's confusion and shock.
"We have one last mission … and then you will become a Jedi Knight." Xanatos sighed heavily. "That's what my master told me on the way to my home planet of Telos. He thought I was ready, and so did I – we were both so wrong," he murmured.
Events long locked away began to play back through Xanatos' mind and he allowed his eyes to slide shut as they danced through his memory, not wanting to go there, but knowing he had no choice.
"What happened?" Anakin finally asked with hesitancy. Xanatos didn't miss the irony that it was now his apprentice prodding him along.
"I hadn't seen my father in a long time, since Qui-Gon took me to the Temple when I was nine years old. It had been well over ten years and he had grown powerful and even wealthier, ruling as governor of Telos. And of course, he made a point of flaunting that to me, pointing out what I could have shared with him as my birthright. He told me stories of how he had been deceived into sending me to the Jedi, and how he had regretted it every day, and I believed him. I had no reason not to believe. And then, he asked me to come alongside him as his son and help in his plans. There was incredible allure in the offer; the power, having everything I wanted, was so appealing. Master Qui-Gon saw it for what it was, a test, my trials. He stepped back and allowed me to make my own choices without his guidance. What he didn't realize is that I was slipping away, the anger and greed within was growing rapidly."
"You made the wrong choice," Anakin said and Xanatos nodded.
"Master Qui-Gon was to monitor negotiations between Telos and a neighboring planet. I sabotaged the first meeting as my father directed me to do. If we could enrage the public, we could legitimize his plans to take over that world. Qui-Gon did his duty. He revealed our plans to the people of Telos and they rose up against my father."
Xanatos paused and finally looked up. Anakin's wide eyes glared at him skeptically, and he briefly wondered at what point Anakin's fragile acceptance would wane. He decided a warning was in order. "Padawan, I am not going to sugarcoat what happened. You aren't going to like it." After taking a deep breath, he began again. "I was the one that urged my father to fight. Civil war broke out and I personally led his army. The battle made it to my father's residence and he was killed, by my master. I was there and I saw it happen." The imprints of howling rage bit at him, coupled with the echo of Qui-Gon's plea for understanding and desperate charge for him to open his eyes. "It angered me as nothing had before then. The killing blow sliced through my father's fingers and his ring fell and rolled into the fireplace. I picked it up and pressed it to my cheek." He ran his fingers absently over the half circle scar marring his face. "I told my master that this scar would serve as a reminder of what he had taken from me, of his betrayal. Now it serves as a reminder of my own betrayal." Xanatos closed his eyes again, pulling the strength to continue from the Force because he no longer had it on his own. Anakin's anticipation hung thickly in the silence, seeming to pull even more air from the room.
"You see, as I felt my father's life slip away, I allowed the anger I had toyed with to finally consume me. As though a dam broke within, I felt the Dark side flood into me in its fullness. Instead of resisting it, I welcomed it and embraced it. I … I drew my saber against Qui-Gon."
"Master!" Anakin said, struggling to sit all the way up. "No …"
"We fought," Xanatos interrupted, taking Anakin's hands in his again to still him, not sure if he would be able to continue if he stopped. "Qui-Gon knocked my weapon from my hand. That was fortunate, because I am convinced that as corrupted as I was I would have killed him had I won. Master spared me and I laughed at his weakness. I fled as I sensed my army closing in and Qui-Gon was forced to depart Telos, leaving me alone and in control of a planet. I had all the power I had ever dreamed of and people soon cowered at my feet."
The room settled into silence and Xanatos was almost certain Anakin could hear his heart as it hammered in his chest. Blinking back the sting of tears, he loosened his grip on Anakin's hands, realizing he was practically cutting off his apprentice's circulation. Anakin looked up at him, his gaze etched with disbelief and denial.
"What happened to make you come back?" he finally asked.
Xanatos resisted the urge to look away at the disappointment woven into the simple question. His hope was that Anakin could see the regret and sorrow in his eyes if he met his gaze directly.
"I was very confused because I knew I was wrong. What I was doing went against everything Qui-Gon had ever taught me. It all seemed to become clear one morning. I woke up and realized who I had become and didn't like the monster I saw in the mirror. Out of desperation, I reached for the Force thinking I wouldn't be able to feel the Light. I was so far away. But, it had not abandoned me; it was right where I had left it. I chose to investigate my father's records and finally saw that what Qui-Gon had tried to tell me was the truth. I contacted Master Yoda because I didn't know what else to do."
"You called Master Yoda?"
"Yes. Jedi came to negotiate the peace and help build a new government. I abdicated my title and gave myself over to the Telosian authorities. They imprisoned me while they decided what to do with me. I wasn't really sure what would happen. Under my father's rule and those standing laws, treason was an offense punishable by execution. I was tried and the new Telosian government decided they did not want to mar their fledgling administration by their first act being an execution. There had already been much bloodshed. Instead I was exiled into Jedi custody. Fortunately, I have no desire to return so it suits me well."
These memories too were difficult to recall. He had several times thought he would lose his mind as his future hung in uncertainty, wondering if he would be put to death, or possibly released from Telos only to end up in a prison on Coruscant or one of the fabled cells in the lower depths of the Temple.
"I returned to the Temple in shame and was required to meet with several of the masters on the Council as well as with a mind healer. Master Yoda and I grew close as he and Healer Nuran seemed to be my only advocates for a time. Eventually the Council was satisfied with my progress and I was knighted in a private ceremony. I found out later that my master was sitting in the back of the Council chambers, but he left before I knew he was there. It took some time before we spoke again. He forgave me, but our relationship was never the same. It improved when he took Obi-Wan as his padawan. I was quite honestly shocked when he charged me to watch over and train you. I didn't think I had earned that level of trust again."
Anakin shifted hesitantly, curiosity burning brightly in his eyes. "Does the Darkness still call to you … like the Sith said?" He pulled his hands away from Xanatos, obviously fearful of the answer he would receive.
"I wouldn't say it calls to me, though I am more sensitive to its nuances. The Dark side is not an ally like the Light side, Anakin. It uses and consumes and always requires more … and it never leaves. I have gained back a tremendous amount of control over my emotions, though I will always feel strongly and will never have the peace that a Jedi master ought to have. But, I haven't touched the Dark side in nearly twenty years and I have no intention of falling again, Padawan."
Xanatos could see doubt and a multitude of questions trapped behind eyes clouded with exhaustion and confusion. "Will you tell me what you are thinking?" he asked, not demanding, not threatening.
"Can I have some time alone?" Anakin chewed nervously on the bottom of his lip. "It's a lot to think about."
"Of course, Padawan." Xanatos assured him, concerned at how tightly he had locked himself away during the course of the confession. "Take as much time as you need and try to rest also. I'll be here when you are ready."
He reached out and ruffled Anakin's hair, relieved the boy did not flinch from his touch, before leaving the room. Feeling his feet grow heavy with each step, he set a destination in mind, hoping he didn't cross too many paths on the way there. His composure was frail and he didn't have time or strength for casual exchanges of pleasantries.