Depa floated in bacta, her eyes open and staring past Mace, past Coruscant, even past Haruun Kal. He watched her, noting the scar where the Greater Mark had been, and the ragged remains of her hair. In his mind, he overlaid this with the young girl she once was, shy to smile, with sleek braids framing her face. Love was beyond the Jedi Code, love for one versus the overwhelming love for all could not be permitted. He loved her despite this, as apprentice, daughter, friend, confidante, and the missing fragment of his own soul gone wandering long before either was born.
"I'm sorry," he said, because no one could hear him, not even her. He came to visit her every day he was on Coruscant, if only for a few minutes. He came to the tank, and watched the empty eyes, and even he could sense the echoing darkness inside her.
It would be kinder if she never awoke from her trance, sleeping here for the next five decades, and kindest of all if she died this way.
A Jedi chose kindness when possible, but goodness always. She may awaken, and she would stand trial for her crimes, and Mace himself would testify for the sake of the dead men in the bunker, and the dead in the city from the starfighters. A Jedi spoke for the voiceless, and if a man without a voice had pulled Depa into the darkness, Mace would speak his witness to that, too.
If she woke.
"Kar Vastor was found guilty," he told Depa in her dreamless sleep. "He'll be imprisoned for the rest of his life."
He had nothing else to tell her. She would face the same sentence. Mace had failed to bring her home in time, failed to save her soul.
He placed his hand on the cool plastisteel of the bacta tank, and his heart ached.
Depa's eyes, open and staring, blinked once, and stared back at him, seeing. Mace felt the buildup of power like a sudden surging tide, a wave crashing over a city.
The groundcar pulled up to the Highland Green Washeteria. Mace choked on his own confusion. He sat in the front next to the noncomm driving the car. Behind him, he turned to see Nick, smiling and nervous and uninjured.
Mace's head swam. Had everything been a vision? Had he dreamed the last battle with Kar Vastor, with Depa's betrayal? Was it a warning, his own gift showing the end of this shatterpoint, or his deepest fears made real? This was the day. This was the time.
"Hey," said the noncomm, stopping the car. "I should put you in binders," he muttered.
"Not needed," Mace said, pushing him with his mind. This was the point. Did he stay and see the day through, stopping the starfighters with Geptun's surrender, with Depa's last desperate slash? They would win the world, and he would lose the reason he'd come here.
Around them, the city shook with blasts.
Mace vaulted from the car. He ran faster than he'd ever run, sprinting to the spaceport. Depa was there with Kar Vastor, falling into the darkness that would eat her alive.
"General Windu?" asked the astonished trooper.
"It's me. I don't have time for explanations. Open the blast door now." The troopers hurried to follow his orders, their helmets turning to glance at him.
"Yes, sir. Sir, General Billaba told us you were dead."
His heart fell. "Open the door."
But the men were dead, and her eyes were wild, and Nick wasn't with him this time to prevent her from committing suicide.
Mace hit his knees beside her body, waiting for Kar Vastor to finish his work. He took Depa's hand, and as she died, her eyes locked onto his.
The wave came.
Mace stood inside the mountain, DOKAWs hammering them like giants' fists. Above him, his relief vessel from the Halleck was already facing droid fire. Nick stood beside him, terrified at the screams from the trapped and dying Korunnai. In a cave below them, the dead room, Besh was dying, and Chalk would not be long in joining him, but now they were all alive.
He remembered where Depa had sat on the ledge, watching, her face full of horror. Mace found her and sat beside her, mind filled with all the terrors that lay before them. They would attack to save the landing crew, and Depa would lose herself. "Mace, you shouldn't see me like this."
He took her hand, knowing they were the only hope of the landing party, knowing they were the only hope of this world. If they left, these people would die. But she was the reason he'd come.
"Come with me."
"You can." They would walk into the jungle together, the jungle that ate up everything that lived inside. But Mace was ready to wrangle with pelekotan, and if all he did was bring her out of this alive, he would call it a victory.
His conscience called him a coward. It listed the names of everyone who would die, and the count of those whose names he would never know.
Depa didn't want to stand. He shoved her to her feet anyway. "Hurry," he said, but the DOKAWs were still coming. He'd forgotten they were still coming. He should have been below with Nick now, creating a plan.
Depa stared at him, her eyes meeting his as the blasts ripped through them both. Through the touch of their hands, he felt her mind against his, dying. She said, "This is not the time."
They died, and the wave consumed them.
He could not reach her in the settlement with the children. He could not find her in the city where he landed. He could only hear her in the data crystal's message in Palpatine's office.
But her knew her gaze now, and carried her inside his heart, and he could meet her eyes by closing his.
Four months before he went to Haruun Kal to find her, to retrieve her, Mace woke in his own spare quarters, his body at rest as he knelt in meditation. He knew where he was. He knew when he was. He knew the cast of morning light through the window, and knew the warmth of the ochre painting on the wall which his almost-daughter had given him as a gift upon completion of her trials. It was the only decoration in the room.
Mace stared at the abstract lines, which invited deeper thought, but from another point of view, could be a large figure, a parent perhaps, leaning protectively over their child. He'd never seen that inside the picture before.
Depa met him in the refectory to break their fast together. She picked at her shallow plate of jogan bites soaked in milk, the purple flesh of the fruit in bright contrast to the blue liquid.
"You're nervous," he said.
"Yes. I don't know why. I slept poorly and had odd dreams."
"Tell me about them."
Her eyes flashed at him, looking for some kind of joke, but she knew him well enough to know he seldom joked. Depa could say a lot to him with one look, but the most important thing he read there today was sanity, and gratitude filled his soul. Even so, she teased him. "Are you the same master who insisted not a single dream I had meant anything other than I shouldn't pinch snacks in the middle of the night?"
"I didn't say your dreams meant something. I said I was willing to listen."
"I dreamed I was drowning. Over and over, I drowned in a hot green wave. There were drowned faces with me, most of them children. I tried to swim up, tried to carry them with me, and each time, I drowned again."
Mace sat back, staring into his cup of caf, the only thing he could force down this morning, the morning before it all began.
"I had the same premonition," he lied, because lying out of love was simpler than explaining his strange travels through time. "I dreamed you drowned over and over, and I could not swim down to save you."
Depa pushed her plate away. "I see."
"It may mean nothing."
"It means you're lying to me, Mace." Depa stared at him, and he'd met her eyes over and over these last few strange days. "I remember," she said. "I remember everything. I kept dropping back, and nothing changed except we died sooner. Everyone died." Her voice remained quiet. She'd died over and over. In the first loop back, she'd committed the crimes and she'd killed herself in remorse. He would do anything to spare her all those memories.
She started to shake, and he leaned forward, taking her hand. "You're here now. We're both here. We've been given another chance."
"To kill them all again? I did that."
He squeezed her hand hard. "This time, you didn't. This time, you won't. The intel will come in today. We both know the Separatists plan to draw back from the sector as a ruse to lure in the Republic. We won't play into their hands. If we need to send someone to Haruun Kal, I'll go in your place."
Depa pulled her hand back. All her sorrows lived on her face, but she still wore the gems of her mastery there as well. She carried the memories of the murders, and the guilt, even if she accepted that was a path she had not yet walked. They stood at the shatterpoint together. This time they both knew where to put their feet.
She asked, "What if you fall instead? What if that's the price?"
"Then I suppose you're going to have to come save me."
A smile touched her lips. "I suppose I will."
The intel came. The two of them agreed to present their experience as a vision. The other Masters accepted this, although Mace was sure Yoda didn't believe them. He did believe they knew what they were talking about.
"Wants this, the Senate does, but we will wait. Other missions we have."
The journey to his homeworld passed out of Mace's mind like a terrible dream. Depa had not gone to rally the local insurgents. She had not fallen under the sway of a madman. She had not walked into darkness. She met him for meals, and conferred with him for Council matters, and if he knew why the lines on her face were deeper than they might have been, he never spoke of the reason, even to her. Far better that she forget, too.
Mace received the transmission while he was away from the Temple. He ought to be pleased with hearing from Depa. Instead, his mind filled with dread anticipation. She'd left him a recording before running headlong into a situation he was sure would spell out her doom.
"My men and I have been dispatched to Haruun Kal," her recording told him, as though his heart hadn't already known. "Our sources say General Grievous is planning a major attack. My forces are the closest. I can't and won't refuse their cry for help. We both know I'm destined to go to this world. I won't have anyone else stand in my place for me. Not even you."
He couldn't see her face. She had only recorded her voice. If he could see her face, he'd be sure of her. If he could meet her eyes, he wouldn't be afraid as she said, "Have faith, old friend."
Depa floated in bacta, her eyes closed in her coma. Her long hair floated around her like a halo. Mace found his eyes drawn again and again to the gem on her forehead, the Universe. As Without, so Within.
From what he'd heard in the accounts of her few surviving men, and the little Mace had observed when he'd arrived, she had not turned to the Dark Side. The healers said the wounds she'd taken ran deep, and some tore rents across her soul. She'd saved what lives she could. Nick still lived. Chalk lived, although she didn't know Mace's face when he saved her, giving him a flat stare of anger for all the ills she'd suffered that she thought he didn't know. Depa's troops had lost the battle but they had won things no one else knew but the two of them.
Mace placed his hand against the cool plastisteel of the tank. He felt the light within her, floating in her dreamless sleep. When she woke up, she would be scarred but whole. If she woke up.
Destiny had killed her every other time, or left her as good as dead. This time would be different. She'd stepped into the shadows and walked free of them by herself. Pride threatened to overtake him at her accomplishment, but pride was nothing compared to his worry as he watched her day after day, recovering from her deep wounds. She'd saved her friends and saved her own soul, and Mace was glad for that. It was everything he'd wanted.
Now all he wanted was his best friend back.
"Look at me, Depa. Please."
Her eyes didn't move under their lids, and Mace wasted another day's worth of hope as he acknowledged to himself this was not the day she'd waken.
He wanted to be the first thing she saw when she woke. The droids would decant the bacta, and she would clean herself off, and Mace would be there for the final stage of her recovery, neither of them letting on the truth of what had happened. Until then, he would visit her every day he could.
"Open your eyes tomorrow," he told her, as he always did when he left. "I'll be here."
But he wasn't beside her when her eyes opened. One of the Padawans had been injured during training, and Depa woke to see him there in Medical.
"A miracle," Obi-Wan said, and he didn't know the half of it.
"Other plans for you, the Force has," said Yoda, and perhaps he knew more than he let on.
Depa was alive, and she was whole, but she was changed from her ordeal. Time no longer circled back for them both when she met Mace's eyes in silent understanding. He chose to believe this second chance the Force had given them was a better destiny than the one they'd left behind on Haruun Kal.
"Welcome home," he said, and her eyes sparkled with life.