Mon let out a long breath and leaned back in her chair. As soon as she'd realized she'd been slipped something more than a 'gift' from the Jedi at the gala, she'd come to her private room, swept it for bugs and recording devices—three times—and connected the data stick to one of her private holoreaders—one that couldn't connect to the holoweb.
What she'd found went beyond her greatest fears and wildest nightmares. And that was simply at first glance. The more she thought about it, the worse it got. Every couple of seconds, it seemed, something new popped up to strike her, driving home just how big and deep this whole thing went. And if the Jedi were afraid to say anything about it, that alone spoke of immense danger. But they had to be afraid. Why else would they have gotten children at a gala to get this information to her? In public. In front of the very man they were supposed to be hiding this from.
That was the missing piece of the puzzle. What did Palpatine have on the Jedi that made them fear him so? Yes, their reputation wasn't always the shining pillar it used to be (and still was on some planets) but they were Jedi. People listened to them, even if they didn't like the Jedi.
There was something more here… which said a lot. Because apparently Palpatine had been slowly corrupting the Senate for decades now. And just how good was he if he could do that in front of everyone's face and still have so many good people support him?
She rubbed her temples to try and address the tension headache she could feel forming, and took several more breaths. She'd known there was something wrong in the Senate, but this?
She took a deep breath and steeled herself.
Well, she'd just have to deal then. She knew some places she could distribute the information. This had to get out… and it couldn't get traced back to her if it was that bad. If she could make sure it couldn't get traced back to anyone, all the better.
She had some planets in mind, not all of them aligned with Chandrilla. Yes. She could get different packages of information out there, and someone could put it all together later. It would seem like multiple leaks instead of just a couple… because she couldn't be the only one in the Senate they trusted, right?
She prayed she was right, because she didn't want to know. If the others had any brains in them, they wouldn't let on what they knew either, but would do exactly what she was doing: information distribution. Once they had enough support, then they could start addressing it publicly. But they'd have to move fast.
Realizing she wouldn't be getting any sleep that night, she sighed and tiredly opened a new application, ready to go over the information she'd gotten and begin selecting what she should put in each packet.
Anakin spent a lot of time the next day with Girth and Master Xio in another one of their combined sessions. They'd given plenty of reasons why moving the session to the day after the gala would be beneficial, but he suspected they just wanted to be there to support him. He appreciated it more than he could say (though he had tried to find the words, and would continue to, even if he didn't feel he could say it aloud just then).
Though, as much as he appreciated them being there for him, they weren't doing much more than analyzing what had happened and going over Anakin's thoughts and feelings regarding it. To be honest, he had a difficult time because he didn't feel much, and eventually they chalked it up to shock. It felt… pointless. That hadn't happened often in his counseling sessions, and he didn't like it. Was he getting to a point where they weren't helping anymore? Or was this just a hang up? They said he just needed time. Were they right? He'd been through so much because of Palpatine before that he didn't think shock was a valid response. Of course, both Girth and Xio nipped that in the bud quickly when he voiced that thought.
"Anakin," the drall said kindly, "shoulds and shouldn'ts. They…" he faded off with a pointed look and gesture for him to continue the phrase.
Hating how young he felt, the time-traveler sighed and finished it. "They obstruct what you actually feel and encourage unhealthy judgment when in reference to emotions." Though that wasn't the case with everyone or even with him every time, it was a rule of thumb that helped him look past some of the mental blocks he had. Why was he having a problem with even acknowledging that now, then?
"Excellent," Girth said cheerfully.
"So," Master Xio inserted gracefully, "with that in mind, why do you feel you shouldn't be reacting in such a way, when you have reacted to difficult discussions and happenings in a similar manner before?"
He pushed aside his frustration, looking away. "I simply dislike having to work through this reaction over and over again. It has been two years. Should I not be over these by now?" Something told him that wasn't the case, but he couldn't see why. He was so tired of this and having to go through it so often. Couldn't he learn?!
"But," the smaller healer said slowly, "just because we've addressed this before doesn't mean you're automatically over it. You have to—"
"Keep addressing it," Anakin interrupted tiredly. "I know." That didn't help his frustration though.
Girth's expression morphed into something sympathetic, matching Master Xio's. "Anakin, when your mind has a thought, it creates shortcuts and paths through your brain. You can liken it to wearing a path through wilderness. If you use a certain path often enough, it becomes easier and easier to walk thdat path, which in turn makes it less desirable and often more difficult for you to walk anywhere else. That is why people get stuck in a mental rut, so to speak; not reverting to those same habits becomes more and more difficult the more you do it and think it.
"Conversely, making new goals is like creating new paths. You have to unlearn the unhealthy habits and relearn new ones to take their place, or your mind returns to those same old paths."
The time-traveler frowned as he looked at the drall. "We've been over this too."
Girth shrugged. "It bares repeating."
Master Xio nodded. "He's not wrong, Anakin. Backsliding and blocks happen in therapy just like they happen in life. We expected as much. It is nothing to be ashamed of. And this is more of a coping mechanism anyway, and not an unhealthy one either when used in moderation."
He appreciated that, he did, but… he snorted softly. "It's just so… frustrating."
"Of course it is," Healer Girth conceded wryly. "Otherwise healing would be far easier… and people would value it far less than they do now."
"That doesn't stop my frustration."
"No, it doesn't," Master Xio said while Girth nodded emphatically. "But you carved some of these 'paths' through your brain for at least four decades. That doesn't just go away."
A sick feeling began to grow in his stomach. "Does that mean it will take four decades to undo?" he asked, hoping he didn't look as horrified as he felt. He didn't know if he could handle that.
"Likely not," the drall assured him, hands up placatingly. "I won't lie to you, Anakin. Even years and decades from now, you'll likely come across something that brings you back to the darker times in your life. That's completely expected. However, most of the 'paths' we're addressing were formed subconsciously. Addressing them consciously brings your attention to them and can help speed up the process of changing them immensely. It's one reason we've been so impressed with your progress. You were open to the change. You put in the work and you want that change. Because of that, you've come a remarkably long way already."
"But something to realize," Master Xio inserted smoothly, "is that even people classified as 'normal' –in any given society—will have mental blind spots and problems. Perfection is not our goal here, as it is rather unreachable, even for Jedi." She winked at him and he managed a wan smile, if only for a few seconds.
"Master Xio is correct," Girth said, nodding in approval. "The goal is to get you to a point where you can address the problems yourself, prevent them from even happening, or recognize when you can't address things. Therapy helps to give you coping mechanisms for those instances as well as someone to go to if necessary. Learning from such therapy is a bit of a skill in and of itself in that way," he chuckled.
"The goal of therapy isn't to fix you, Anakin," Master Xio said with a soft smile.
"That would be us making you what we want," Girth said quickly, "which is a huge problem in and of itself; controlling and manipulative to say the least."
"Indeed," Master Xio went on. "Our goal has always been to help you fix yourself so you can be happier, healthier, and more productive. If therapy doesn't do that, you need a new therapist."
Anakin managed a small laugh at that. "Tooting your own horn there?" Not that he blamed them. They were good. Both of them.
"Oh, no," she said firmly, surprising her patient.
Girth nodded again. "A therapist may not work with a patient for a number of reasons ranging from that therapist reminding the patient of someone unsafe in their past to their styles or personalities clashing. Therapists are people too—sapient and fallible—"
"As you've probably learned in some of our sessions," Master Xio interrupted a little sheepishly.
The drall sent her a fond smile. Huh. It looked like they'd become pretty close friends in the time they'd been working with Anakin. For some reason, that made him smile warmly and relax. And maybe he'd been luckier than he realized to get therapists so compatible with him.
"All we can do is our best. Just like you," Girth finished with a smile.
One Anakin could return. Okay, maybe that session hadn't been quite so pointless after all. That realization also helped the knot in his stomach loosen. And, after his encounter with Palpatine, he… he'd really needed that.
"And with that, I think we're done for this session," the drall finished. "I do hope you are feeling better, Anakin."
"I am," he said truthfully. "Thank you for the new perspective."
He didn't leave with a smile on his face, but he was beginning to feel again, and that was definitely a win.
"I want to commend you all for your work the other day," Mace Windu said the next day, standing in front of Anakin's Ambassador class near the end of their period. "You did very well."
Next to Anakin, Darra raised her hand.
"Yes, Initiate Thal-Thanis," the Jedi Master said sternly.
To her credit, the red-head didn't back down. "Will we be graded on how we did?"
Mace shook his head. "This wasn't done for a grade. It was done for a purpose. And we can't tell what the outcome will be yet."
Several of the children seemed uneasy about that, which had Anakin shaking his head fondly. They'd better get used to it. Learning that consequences of their actions could come years later was a hard lesson, but a necessary one.
Mace nodded and went on, addressing the class again. "In any case, I just wished to tell you that. You will be going back to your normal schedule next time."
Anakin felt some relief in the classroom, some disappointment, and a lot of relaxation. Hmm. Maybe that was something he should bring up with the teacher? Or maybe it wasn't his place to say…
"In any case, you are dismissed. Thank you," Mace said, drawing Anakin out of his musings.
For a moment, he reveled in the lighter, calmer atmosphere. But then he remembered it would only be a matter of time before everything hit the proverbial fan. He needed to take advantage of this calm before the storm to get a leg up on Palpatine. And now that he didn't have the gala looming over him, he remembered he needed to speak with the Jedi Master. Again.
"Hey, I'll be along later," he told Tru and Darra. "I gotta go talk with Master Windu first, though."
The two of them eyed him suspiciously, but didn't say anything. Instead, they both nodded, then turned and began to meander out with the rest of the kids. A couple had stayed behind, looking at Master Windu with varying degrees of fear and awe, but none had approached him. Which definitely relieved Anakin. He was more nervous about addressing the man about the subject he needed to than he'd like to admit.
"Master Windu, may I have a word in private?" he asked as calmly as he could.
The Jedi Master frowned, his forehead buckling the slightest bit, but he nodded and led Anakin out as the remaining students looked on. Anakin hoped they weren't jealous or something. In his opinion, talking to Mace Windu was not something to be jealous of, even now. The man was nothing if not intimidating.
"Is there something wrong?" Mace asked, the moment the door shut. With his worried expression, he was obviously referring to the situation with Palpatine.
The time-traveler shook his head. "Nothing immediate," he assured, then decided to add on after a moment, "at least when it comes to the Chancellor."
The slight frown returned to the older man's face. "What is it, then?"
Straight to the point, as usual. Anakin took a deep breath, hoping this would be better received than he feared. (Fear to anger to hate… he'd make sure it never got to the anger stage.)
"I was told recently that I need to master—or at least begin to master—the ability to use both the light and dark sides of the Force together. Or at least simultaneously."
Mace's eyes narrowed. "Told? By whom, if I may ask."
Anakin sighed. This would take a while to explain. "The Father."
The bald man's expression didn't change.
Anakin took the hint and began to explain. "In… my past life, about a decade or so from now, Obi-wan, Ahs… my padawan, and I were sent on a mission after the Temple received some coordinates in a suspicious manner. It was during the war, so it had to be investigated. It came at just the right time for us to be sent, despite us being a needed team in the war itself. But we were available and so we were sent.
"We came across a sort of dimensional pocket—at least that is the only explanation that makes sense to me—in which were living three beings that more or less embodied the Force: The Father, The Son, and the Daughter. The Daughter embodied the light. The Son embodied the dark. The Father… was both. He kept balance between his two children, and had for millennia."
"They were… are immortal?" Mace asked slowly.
Anakin nodded. "More or less. They have life spans, but exponentially longer than even Master Yoda. Their life-spans were the problem, in this case, though. The Father… had some complication with his health, as I recall," it had been a while ago, and before he'd fallen, so some details were likely off, but he went on anyway. "I believe it had something to do with the chaos in the Force. In any case, he knew he would die soon, and wanted me to take over for him as the balance." He sighed. "Chosen one and all."
Mace's eyebrows climbed on his head, but he remained quiet otherwise.
"As you can imagine, I didn't want to give up my life to mediate between two squabbling children thousands of years older than me. I couldn't get away fast enough. We all just wanted to escape."
"I'm guessing that didn't happen," Mace said sardonically.
"Not immeiately." Anakin nodded. "Things happened, our ship was damaged, storms and night and darkness and The Son wanted to get off of the planet… or whatever it was. It got messier, people got possessed, The Son killed The Daughter, showed me something I have no memory of—I'm convinced he showed me my future…" he paused, thinking back on everything sadly. If he'd had everything dumped on him just then, he would have broken. He hadn't had the ability to cope, not well, especially not with Palpatine breathing in his ear for so long.
"You don't remember it?" the Jedi Master asked.
Anakin nodded. "The Father took those memories from me. For that reason alone, I'm very sure I didn't handle the revelation well." He snorted softly. "Go figure."
After a moment of silence, he cleared his throat and continued. "In the end, all three of them died and the whole… whatever they lived on, it wasn't quite a planet—was a facsimile at best—disappeared. It just… vanished in the Force. Ob… my team and I were supposed to rendezvous with our clone troops. Both groups had contact and said we'd arrived at the coordinates, but couldn't find each other before my team ended up on Mortis—the dimension."
Anakin took a deep breath. "I can't describe how in tune with the Force these people were, and I can't emphasize enough as to how powerful they were. No, how powerful they are.
"In this timeline, The Father contacted me in a vision. He told me that if I do not master the technique to use both sides of the Force at once, Palpatine will win. Or… at least, I will lose."
And if Mace looked troubled at that, well, good. He should be. "Does The Father want you to take over this time too?" the older man asked, surprising the time-traveler. Shouldn't he be more focused on Palpatine not being defeated?
Anakin blinked, but answered anyway. "Yes. Although he said that my actions have… helped to prolong his life due to the continuing balance of the Force." Mace raised one eyebrow in questioning skepticism, but Anakin shook his head and held up his hands. He had very little idea as to how that worked himself.
"In any case, he does want me to come, but later, when I'm ready… though I am not sure I will ever be."
Mace opened his mouth, but seemed to think better of it, and closed it for a second. After a couple of moments, he spoke more carefully. "Alright, ignoring some very important points in all of that, is he saying you'll be the one to arrest or… kill Palpatine?" He looked like he'd tasted something sour for a moment, and honestly, Anakin appreciated that. He appreciated that Mace didn't want him to be involved, especially not like that. But at this point, Anakin wasn't sure anyone could stop him from being involved, even if he'd wanted that.
He thought carefully about his answer before speaking. "Two years ago I would have said yes. Now… I'm just sure I have to be a part of it. Probably a large part of it if The Father took time and energy to warn me."
The Council member put a hand to his forehead, massaging it slowly. "The Council won't like that. I don't like that."
Anakin snorted and folded his arms. "You think I do?"
The look Mace shot him couldn't have been more deadpan. "Yes."
That made Anakin snicker. "Okay," he admitted, "you're not entirely wrong, but, if he disappeared and someone I trusted could guarantee he was truly gone, I'd be happy to sit back and watch." He felt the smile on his face begin to fade as he went on. "I want to be involved because I have to see him dead—not just feel him vanish, not just get a report, not just sense him gone. He's too good at hiding. If I don't see his body myself, I won't believe it. I can't."
The two of them sat in silence for several seconds before Mace sighed and deflated tiredly. "You understand why you're making this difficult, right?"
Feeling just as tired himself, Anakin nodded, looking down. "Yes."
More silence until Mace shook his head. "I get it, Skywalker. More than you realize, I think. More than I would have gotten two years ago myself." He smiled, a little self deprecatingly while Anakin raised his eyebrows, shocked. He hadn't expected to hear that from Mace Windu himself.
Perhaps the Father was right about the changes coming into play here.
"From your point of view, everything you just said regarding Palpatine is entirely reasonable." He paused. "That doesn't mean I have to like it."
Anakin felt his smile come back, albeit wanly, but it was there. "Join the club."
Mace snorted softly, elegantly. Is that where Obi-wan got his ability to do that from? Jedi.
"So," the older man said, sitting forward and putting his elbows on his knees, letting his fingers meet each other in the middle. "I'm guessing you want my technique for channeling darker emotions without falling."
The time-traveler almost melted in relief. "Please."
Mace's eyebrows drew together again as he thought about that. "I'm going to be honest, I don't know if it will—if it can—work for you."
Anakin felt his hope begin to drain out, replaced by desperation, but he held it in check. "I have no other ideass where to go or how to start," he said quietly. Then his voice dropped even more. "And I would do anything to destroy his evil."
For several seconds, Mace studied the younger boy, eyes unreadable and Force presence muted to a point where even Anakin couldn't begin to guess his thoughts. Finally he seemed to come to a conclusion. Anakin held his breath.
"Fine," Mace said, and like the almost-twelve-year-old he was, Anakin felt his face brighten. Stupid preteen body. "But first," the Master said before the younger could say anything, holding up a finger, "you have to master an exercise I give you. I am only giving you this exercise because I know you will be able to handle it due to your history, but I have to warn you.
"Have you learned partitioning yet?"
Anakin frowned. "Like, shielding?"
"More shielding parts of yourself from other parts. It's the basis for several high-level shield techniques."
The time-traveler thought about that. "I've… dabbled," he said slowly. "But I was only a knight before…" he faded off, looking down, ashamed.
"Was your 'dabbling' light or dark side based?" Mace asked pointedly.
Anakin sighed. "Dark."
To his surprise, the Jedi Master just nodded. "Then I can't say how different our techniques will be.
"So, the point is to partition off different parts of your psyche from the rest of your being, essentially hiding one part of yourself, but not another. It is not an easy feat for many, and several Masters spend years just getting this part down… though I have a suspicion you'll catch on much faster."
Anakin hoped he was right. He swallowed and nodded, but didn't say anything. The Master had more to say he could tell.
"The thing is," Mace went on, "this can be badly misused. Some Jedi have used it to compartmentalize to an extent that they don't recognize they even feel emotion anymore. Especially when you experience negativity, it can be tempting to just cut yourself off from that and forget it ever happened. Those Jedi in the past that did this were thought to be some of the best and most intellectual leaders of the last thousand years." Which explained so much. If that sort of mentality had even subconsciously been passed on… Anakin thought back to what the Father said about the Jedi, …many [of the Jedi] have interpreted [the code] to a point where it is easier to simply not feel emotions than it is to exercise self control.
"And they were amazing, intellectual pillars…" the Master continued. "At least until they reached a point where they could no longer uphold that shielding."
Anakin winced, already knowing the consequences to something like that himself. Maybe not to that extent, but… he was very sure he didn't want to know how that felt.
Seeing his nod, the older Jedi returned the gesture. "Exactly. Shielding with the Force takes energy and concentration, even for the most experienced. Whether due to age, sickness, or other stresses, even those who only needed to allocate a small amount of energy and concentration to this technique eventually reached a point where they couldn't keep it up. They all had mental breakdowns, if they lived long enough to." Mace took a deep breath and locked gazes with Anakin, trying to convey the seriousness. "There is danger to this technique. A very subtle, but damaging danger.
"I have to stress that if you learn this, you must not do that. It will likely fail on you at the worst moment, when you need the most concentration. I need your word, Initiate, that you will not do that."
Anakin swallowed, but nodded and took a deep breath. "If I've learned anything since I've come back, it's that problems need to be addressed, not ignored." He'd be a hopeless cause if he hadn't learned that by this point, he thought sardonically.
His answer seemed to satisfy Mace though, as the man nodded and held his hand out. Anakin blinked and looked down at it, before raising an eyebrow at the Jedi master in question.
Mace looked mildly amused in return. "It's the easiest way for me to show you," he said nonchalantly. "I could do it without physical touch, but this makes it easier. It would be easier with a bond…"
Anakin felt his own expression dry out. "I haven't made up my mind yet. This isn't me accepting padawanship."
Mace just nodded. "Very well." He still held his hand out.
Trying not to be suspicious, Anakin took it. He felt the older man's aura reach out for his and sank into the Force. Following Mace's surprisingly gentle guidance, he watched as the man opened a part of himself to Anakin, showed him the barrier between the two parts of himself—different concepts and emotions—and then carefully split them apart as he showed Anakin how to set up a barrier. It wasn't as clear as it could have been, but it was enough for Anakin to get the basics.
Then, after the shield had stabilized, Mace took the first partition down and Anakin's eyebrows rose on his forehead in surprise.
He'd never personally witnessed the workings behind Master Windu's mind. He'd seen Obi-wan's inner mind (a bunker in a beautiful, calm field), and Obi-wan had seen his (an asteroid field he liked to navigate), as had Ahsoka (whose inner mind had been her version of the Jedi Temple), but he hadn't been close enough to any other Force Sensitive. It was a personal thing and saying that he and Mace had never been that close before was a bit of an understatement. What he found now was a veritable cube of moving boxes, opening and closing, switching and sliding, combining and separating.
And that was all conscious?! Because he could sense conscious use of the Force. Okay, Anakin was impressed.
After a moment, he felt Mace pull back and did so himself, still processing what he'd sensed as he opened his eyes again.
"You'll need to come up with your own imagery," Mace said, drawing Anakin's attention again. "Something that is easily closed and water or space proof tends to work the best. Some people use bubbles, or tanks for water, or prison cells… whatever it is, it needs to work for you. My mind is very organized, but there have to be areas for messiness in that case. If you prefer something messier, you need some areas that are organized. That is where you will set this particular exercise up initially.
"The point of this is that if I were a foreign entity who comes knocking on your mind, you need to be able to make me work for every piece of information I take. If it takes me two minutes to get through your barriers, and then I'm faced with another one, and another one… it can get daunting. But if it takes ten minutes to get through a barrier, it can be impossible to find what I need.
"At least, that is the basic concept."
Anakin found himself nodding thoughtfully.
"It takes practice to set up quickly, but the faster you do, the better you'll be able to control it. However, I just need to make sure you can do it before we can move on."
The time-traveler met the Jedi Master's eyes. "I… should be able to adapt some techniques, or figure it out otherwise," he finally said, fairly confident in his words.
Mace nodded. "Good. Succeed in that, and I'll show you the next step."
After one final moment of thought, Anakin nodded firmly. "Very well."
Mace just smirked. "Good luck, Initiate."
AN: Okay, so A. No, this isn't abandoned. I just had a bit of burnout. Sucks, but it happens. Right now I have two other chapters in first draft and back from one of my betas. I just need to send it to my other beta. However, I'm going to go back to posting once a month so I can hopefully avoid it again.
I hope you enjoyed this. :)
Thank you to Hidden50, Khalthar and Quathis for their help on this. :D Some of you hear almost nothing from me for 7 months and all of you are still happy to jump back in and help an author out. :D Thank you.
Last but not least, I entered a contest! The formatting got screwed up though. TT . TT If you're ok with some off-screen suicidal themes, and you have a reedsy account, here is one of my original short stories. :D
blog. reedsy (dotcom) short-story/zm7i8k/ (no spaces, change '(dotcom)' to what it says :) )
Discord: discord. gg/xDDz3gqWfy (no spaces)