Somehow, this room had become so comfortable for him. No, that wasn't quite the right word. Pleasant? Happy? Maybe, but not quite. No...
Yes, that was the right word.
Well, safer than other parts of Coruscant or even the Temple.
It was a silly thought, now that he examined it. This room was merely a meeting place. And yet, the people he met with here reminded him of his mother. Or at least the feeling of security he got around them reminded him of his mother.
His mother whom he'd been able to talk to not even a month ago. Hearing her go on about how proud she was, and her life and how she was happy, despite remaining on Tatooine, and how much she appreciated everything the Jedi did...
It had been a whirlwind of emotion that he'd had to go through with a fine-toothed comb with both Healer Girth and Master Xio. Actually, this would be the first session that he would come to after his call to his mother where they wouldn't focus specifically on that happenstance.
No, in this session they would talk about how Anakin felt towards his new assignment as Palpatine's Jedi Ambassador.
He wasn't looking forward to it – either the meeting or the assignment.
He sat there with a drink in one hand, unable to really stomach the idea of eating a pastry at this point, clutching the cool duraplast cup as if his life depended on it as he stared out the window. In the distance and off to the side, he could see the Senate building looming over the horizon like a great, mechanical boil.
"Anakin," Girth's voice had Anakin slowly turning to look at him. "Can you talk about it yet? Are you ready?"
A year ago, Anakin would have dodged the question. Six months ago, he would have said 'yes' without much thought (and then stumbled through something that wasn't even remotely related, utterly confused as to why he couldn't say what he wanted). Now...
"I'm not sure I'll ever be ready," he said honestly, turning his gaze back to the distant Senate building. "I'm kind of numb right now."
"Numb out of choice, or out of necessity?" Girth asked slowly.
Anakin thought about that for a moment. "I'm... not sure."
"We don't have to speak about it if you don't want to."
For several seconds, they remained silent while Anakin mulled that over. He could feel his emotions riling under the calm numb blanket, which was actually probably a good thing overall. It meant he had a modicum of control for now, but could reach those emotions if he really wanted to.
But he knew he had to. And the sooner the better.
That didn't make the prospect any easier.
"I... think I have to," he said finally, voice low. "If I face him as I am right now..."
And there was a spike of fear piercing the numb. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and released it to the Force as best he could. He still wasn't all that great at it. Even worse than he had been the first time around, if he were honest.
"If you think you can do it right now, I'm here to help," Girth assured him. "If not, Master Xio will still see you in a couple of days."
Anakin swallowed. He liked Master Xio. He really did. She'd become one of the few Jedi he felt he could really respect. But he wanted to speak about this with Girth first. For some reason, he trusted the drall more.
"I think I'm scared," he whispered.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Girth nod. "Understandable."
"No..." Anakin's voice went even softer. "I'm terrified." He still hated admitting that, but knew it was necessary right now if he wanted to begin to untangle the knot of pain and negativity his emotions had become.
"Of what, Anakin?"
The former Sith blinked and turned to look at Girth with a puzzled expression. "I would have thought that was obvious."
Girth shook his head. "You mistake my meaning. Let me rephrase that. Why are you scared Anakin? What about seeing that man again scares you? What are you afraid will happen?"
Oh, he was looking for specifics.
Anakin opened his mouth to respond but nothing came out. His chest felt tight and it was taking conscious effort to keep his breathing even... or going. Sometimes he really did miss the ventilator that would do it for him.
After several seconds, he managed to get something out. "I'm... afraid he'll..." he swallowed. "I'm afraid he'll turn me again."
"Anakin, turning is your choice. It always was, and it always will be. He just lied to you to validate your decision."
"I know that," Anakin responded, his voice raspy and eyes still stuck on that building on the horizon. "I know that and yet..." He finally turned and locked Girth's gaze. "You've never seen what that man can do. How he gets inside you with the smallest word. How he takes your barest thought and makes it a maelstrom you can't ignore. How he tears down every truth you've ever held yourself to and leaves you in tatters, then builds you back up as he needs you without you ever realizing. I'm not stupid by any means... but I am... volatile at times, and I am nowhere near as intelligent as he is, or as experienced – even now."
Girth cocked his head to one side. "So you are afraid that he will take the truths we have built and tear them down?"
Anakin blinked and nodded. "Partly."
"And the other part?"
This time, the 11-year-old swallowed. "I'm not... healthy yet. I can see that now. I'm not sure I'll ever have a freeborn mind set."
"As long as you're aware of it, it's something we can work with, though," Girth said slowly, looking troubled.
Anakin nodded. "Indeed. I... I can acknowledge that I have made strides forward, even if it doesn't feel like it. But it's not enough. He'll be able to take advantage of me as I am. Root out old problems I haven't been able to address yet... and somehow make his words seem so true. He can make things that you don't even know are problems seem like impassable obstacles."
Girth was quiet for several seconds.
"How sad," he finally muttered.
The human boy blinked. "Excuse me?"
Girth followed Anakin's previous gaze, even though the Senate building wasn't visible from where he sat. "He could use that for so much good."
Anakin's first thought was to snort. His second thought was a realization at just how right Girth was. It kind of hurt to realize just how much good Palpatine could do with his skill set. Hadn't he proved that by even just putting on the mask of a kind, caring senator?
"Perhaps," he agreed quietly. "But unless there is something in it for him, he never will."
Girth sighed. "Anakin your fears are not completely unfounded. It's okay to feel it, and I'm proud of you for acknowledging it. It shows how far you've truly come. But even with the contingency plans we have in place, we'll have to be extremely careful until we get the proof necessary to make a case against him."
Proof that they were still sorely lacking. Blast Palpatine and his kriffing ability to cover his tracks.
"That's one reason why I can't back out of this. I might be able to get the proof we need."
Suddenly Girth was standing in front of him, holding the arms of Anakin's chair so as not to touch him but still managing to ground him. Always the professional. And yet he still made these sessions so personal too.
"Anakin, you can back out of this. We can find another way. Have a master take you as a padawan, even if just for show, or even just tell him you got sick. With one person, it won't be that difficult to convince him. He might be suspicious, but he can't get in here. You are safe from him here, even if just for now.
"The only person who thinks this is necessary right now is you, Anakin. I reiterate, we can find another way."
"What other way?" Anakin asked back, a little heatedly. "Some other, random initiate goes in there and gets themselves emotionally destroyed in my place?"
"We'll set up mind-healing sessions for them too. I would personally oversee it."
"And what about the proof?"
Girth let out another sigh. "Again, there are ways, Anakin, and Master Yoda says he is open to them. He is going along with this only because you insisted. None of us like this, Anakin. None of us! We would all rather see you safe."
Anakin frowned, feeling his heart sink. "Yeah, so the universe doesn't have to worry about Darth Vader again."
The drall frowned. "Anakin, look at me."
Reluctantly, the boy did so, seeing the fuzzy face with the different shades of brown all mixing into a soft chocolate and those round eyes that still managed to focus on him, despite being close to the sides of his head. The face of a race descended from prey. And yet, Girth seemed so strong – so steadfast – in Anakin's eyes.
"Do you honestly think that is the reason I'm doing this? Preventative measures purely to save my own skin? That I don't care for you at all?"
A year ago, Anakin would have said yes – regardless of what he actually thought, too hurt and cynical to really be able to say anything else. He couldn't do so now. Part of him felt relieved while another part of him felt broken and raw. Stupid pride.
Girth smiled. It didn't show his teeth and felt soft, tender almost, especially with that twitching nose.
"Good. Anakin, People care for you, and you need to know that. I am one of them. Even if you had no power or sway over the future of the universe at all whatsoever, I would still want to see you happy. Can you believe me?"
Anakin contemplated that before he looked away and nodded. Why did he feel so young right now? Mentally he was older than the drall! Well, about the same age, but still.
Thankfully, Girth decided to go back to their previous line of discussion. "Now let me reiterate, there are other ways to get what we need. We can plan, we can implement, we can hire whoever we need to hire, but we will find a way without you doing this – without you having to confront him. I don't want you feeling trapped or backed into this plan of yours. Please, promise me that you are not doing this because you are sacrificing yourself."
The blond stared at the rodent-like person in front of him for several seconds. Then he looked down as his mind went over that. It took him a few minutes to realize that Girth – as usual – was right. At least partially. Anakin was very much doing this because he saw himself as a viable sacrifice.
"I... can't promise you that," he said slowly.
"Then I'm calling it off," Girth said firmly and he turned to walk over to where his comm sat on the little side table.
"NO!" Anakin yelped, sitting forward and holding out a hand, "You can't!"
"Anakin, I can't let you go into this if you are determined to sacrifice yourself."
"Fine, I won't!"
Girth paused and studied him for several seconds. Then he shook his head. "I can't let you do this. Not in good conscience."
"I have to!"
Again, the drall hesitated as he picked up his comm and turned back to his patient. "Have to what?"
Anakin opened his mouth, then closed it and swallowed, before opening it again. "I have to... face him. I'm terrified and... I hate it. But I want to overcome that. I have to, because fear leads to anger and anger to hate and hate to the dark side. I... I can't keep running and hiding from him."
Girth's frown deepened. "That doesn't mean you're ready now, and that's okay, you know, right?"
Anakin blinked and focused on breathing for a moment before nodding.
"Yes, I know. And maybe I'm not completely ready, but as I said, I don't think I ever will be. If... if I back out of this now, I will always wonder, especially if it works out poorly. I... Perhaps I am being selfish, but I have to do this. I don't think I've ever dreaded anything like I do this, but I don't want that to chase me away from this. Please... don't call it off."
A pregnant silence fell over the room, broken only by the steady sound of air coming through a vent.
Then, finally, Girth sighed and put the comm down.
"I'm doing this because I believe in you, Anakin. But I will only agree to allowing you to do this now if you promise me you will do everything in your power to not make yourself a sacrifice – not your life, not your morals, and not your soul. Are we understood?"
He could think of several instances where he would gladly be the sacrifice. He still didn't want to kill anymore, too afraid that if he did, he would fall back into old habits. And he wouldn't let anyone else go down that path either. If he had to sacrifice himself to stop someone from making the same mistakes he did, then so be it. But... he could go into this with a different mind set. He was the spy, the wild-card, the deep-cover agent... not the lamb (or in this case monster) being led to the slaughter.
He could do that.
"That," he finally said with a small smile, "I can promise." He really hoped he wasn't lying.
Girth returned the smile, although it did look a little shaky. Somehow, Anakin didn't think that either one of them was fooling the other... or themselves.
"Very well." He sighed and left the comm on the table as he returned to his seat and took a sip of tea himself.
Then he took a deep breath. "Where were we? Ah, yes, we were going over your fear of Palpatine, despite your determination to see the confrontation through. So, we've spoken of why you are afraid, but I'd like to go a little further into that."
The former Sith frowned. He didn't like admitting his fear, even now. He'd already said he was terrified. That had been hard enough to say, no matter how justified.
"What do you mean?" he asked hesitantly.
"If you can, tell me how you fear him."
Anakin frowned. "How... I fear?"
Girth smiled. "One way to try and overcome fear is to identify it, not only it's cause but how it affects you. There are many types of fear: physical fear, mental fear, emotional fear, fear we know and understand, fear in ourselves that we don't realize we have and don't understand, ingrained fear, fear that overwhelms and drags down, fear that keeps you alive. Most negative emotions are fueled by fear. IE: One gets angry only because they are hurt or scared. One is arrogant because acting otherwise would irretrievably give away control and possibly acknowledge terrifying ideals that are difficult to face. Does that make sense?"
Anakin thought about it and nodded. This was more familiar territory – another identifying exercise. Girth liked those.
"What would you classify your fear of Palpatine as?"
The former Sith swallowed but thought about it. "Emotional," he paused, "mental, ingrained, but... a fear I understand."
"Are there any of those that you wish to discuss further or give an example of?"
More silence, and then. "No... not today." Despite not having been there long, he felt strung out and tired, like he'd been stretched too thin.
"That's fine, but, now that you've classified your fear, is it as overwhelming as it used to be?"
Now that he mentioned it... "No, I guess not."
Oh, it was still there, a monster waiting to rise up, seize him and drag him under. But he felt more in control of it now, and so it wasn't as debilitating as it had been just minutes before.
Girth smiled again. "Excellent. Do you feel better prepared to face that man?"
Anakin thought about it. He was still scared... very scared. And yet...
"Yes," he said. "I do."
"Wonderful. Now, let's discuss what we will do after you come back from each time block you spend with him."
Somehow, Anakin didn't think that his sessions with D-40 would continue on for much longer. As helpful as the droid had been, now that his mind healers actually knew and understood his situation, it just didn't make sense to keep using the droid. And yet, Anakin still dutifully walked into the small side-room to meet with her.
"Good afternoon, young master."
"D-40," Anakin acknowledged with a nod of his head as he took a seat across from the droid.
She regarded him for a few moments. "You seem to be in some distress regarding the topic you were speaking of with Healer Girth," D-40 said in her matter-of-fact tone, apparently noting Anakin's pale face and the firm stance he tended to take when feeling weak, no doubt. "Perhaps we should speak of something else?"
Anakin nodded tightly. "That would be... preferred."
D-40 returned the nod before cocking her head in a very mechanical imitation of a human. "I believe I know a topic you have not discussed with me yet and I am curious. You have mentioned your time with your former Jedi Master, Obi-wan Kenobi. Perhaps we could speak about him?"
And there went any calm he'd managed to grasp after that session. Anakin scowled and rolled his eyes. Well, so much for calmer. Although it was something that had little to do with a certain Sith Lord and it had been something on his mind recently.
"Fine," he said, too tired to really argue. D-40 could be surprisingly stubborn. On that note, he decided to just jump in. "I first met Obi-wan when..."
It took him two hours to tell the droid about his former master, and even then he left a lot out. He just didn't have the time, so he summed up their relationship as best he could. He must have done a decent job, because the droid was silent for a few moments.
"It sounds like you have a complicated past," D-40 said softly, well as softly as a droid could.
Anakin snorted. "I believe that would be classified as an understatement."
"But despite this, you seem... upset that he did not ask you to be his padawan this time."
For several seconds Anakin didn't answer as he thought over the whole convoluted mess that was his former Jedi Master. "I... guess I am," he grudgingly admitted. "I don't want to be, though. This is better for both of us."
The droid cocked her head again. "Why do you say that?"
Anakin sighed, slumping in his chair. "Story of my life," he muttered, staring at the beige-colored walls and the single window in the room, not really seeing it or any of Coruscant outside. "He's happier without me – better off, even. Just like everyone else." He thought of Tru Veld, the patient, hopeful padawan who had turned into a cynic after he'd been friends with Anakin. He thought of Darra Thel-Thanis, dead because of his pride. He thought of his children, both raised by other people and both happier because of it. Had he raised them, they would have undoubtedly ended up as angry Sith acolytes if not apprentices themselves. He thought of the Jedi Order in general and the Temple in flames, all within dead or dying – most by his blade. That still haunted him as he strode through the now completely whole halls sometimes, especially when he saw someone he had killed walking by as if nothing was wrong. He thought of Padmé...
"I do not believe that is an accurate statement."
The former Sith blinked, brought out of his spiraling thoughts to look at the shiny droid in front of him. "What?"
"You say everyone in your life is better off without you. What of your mother?"
Well, she had been freed and lived happily with her husband after he'd left, but she'd also been kidnapped and tortured without him there. And she was always so happy to just see him.
He couldn't help a small, if watery, smile. "Very well, perhaps not everyone."
For the first time he wondered – really wondered – what his life would have been like if he'd stayed on Tatooine. Would he have even been able to free himself? Would he have become a moisture farmer? Would he have done something about the rampant slavery on the world? He wasn't sure about his first life,but in this life he most definitely would have. Then again, he was already fighting slavery... and weren't the people he'd helped Jango Fett free better off now too? He sincerely hoped so.
Alright, so maybe he was useful to a couple of people. That did manage to lift his spirits ever so slightly.
"And what about you? Are you truly better off without him in your life?"
Anakin stared at the droid for several seconds as he thought on that. The memories of him and Obi-wan fighting in the wars came to mind. It had been harsh and brutal, but Obi-wan... he'd always been there. Perhaps not always in the capacity that Anakin had wanted or needed, but the man had done the best he could. If only Anakin had been able to see it at the time.
"I... don't know," he said truthfully. "It would certainly be less complicated, but... he called me his brother, there at the end. We'd saved each other so many times... and as much as I would have hated to admit it under Palpatine, I don't... want to give that up."
Perhaps he'd taken this whole 'honesty' thing a little far recently... This was getting really difficult.
"I do not understand."
Anakin's brow furrowed in question. D-40 recognized the silent inquiry because she continued.
"Why do you have to give it up?"
"He's not my Master now."
"But he was, according to you."
"He doesn't know that," Anakin replied, shaking his head.
"So tell him. You obviously trust him." That brought Anakin up short. He... trusted Obi-wan? Even after everything? After the man had left him to die on Mustafar...? It took him a few minutes to realize that the droid was right. He did still trust Obi-wan.
Somehow it felt like that revelation socked him in the gut.
He trusted Obi-wan. No, the man hadn't been perfect (no matter what Anakin had thought when he was younger) but the older Jedi had always done his absolute best. He'd been a hard worker, always rising to challenges that would have broken other men. Always getting back up to try again when he came across challenges that did break him.
And maybe, if he'd realized that a month ago, he would have agreed. But now...
"I... I don't know if I can tell him," he said quietly. "If I tried, it could come between him and his current padawan. I couldn't do that to him – to them." Because Obi-wan was finally getting over his pain at losing Qui-gon. He was finally moving on – really moving on. He was finally happy, or at least getting to a point where he could find happiness.
"I would like you to think about it," the droid said, matter-of-fact voice breaking the moment and Anakin's concentration at once. He wanted to sigh.
"It is well past your evening meal time. You should leave."
Anakin chuckled and shook his head. As terse as always.
"Good night, D-40."
"Good night, Master Anakin."
AN: I DO have plans for some action later on, I promise... but this really needed to be done. The idea of leaving Anakin to Palpatine without any preparation would go against just about everything I've built my psychologists up to be. So you all get another psychology chapter. I'd apologize, but... I'm really not sorry. lol
Let me know what you think!
Thanks again to Khalthar and Carradee for beta reading!