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Kindness Over Anger

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Even before he’d officially taken Anakin as his Padawan, Mace had been aware the child would likely need extensive medical attention.

Anakin’s initial health assessment proved him correct. After discovering the severity of his malnourishment, the Temple healers immediately placed the boy on an emergency supplemental nutrition plan. A meticulous meal and snack schedule was promptly delivered to Mace’s datapad, outlining the extra vitamins and fats necessary to restore Anakin to full health after years of partial starvation. Both Vokara Che and Bant, Anakin’s assigned Healer, sat down with Mace and Anakin to carefully explain why it was important for him to adhere to his meal schedule and requirements. Though the meeting was mostly for Anakin’s benefit, Mace couldn’t help but be comforted as well; with his Padawan’s frail condition a fresh but constant worry in the back of his mind, it was a reassuring reminder that Anakin had the support of the entire Temple in his recovery.

But later, in private, Vokara cautioned Mace that it was unlikely the issue could be resolved so simply after an extended period of mistreatment. Once she’d consulted with other healers and even a few civilian doctors specializing in pediatrics, she advised a series of intraosseous infusions for Anakin to correct the bone deficiencies caused by the lack of nutrients throughout his childhood. The surgeries were invasive, with an extended recovery time where Anakin would be required to rest most of the day and wouldn’t be capable of much more than light activity for weeks afterward.

“It’s not a conclusion I’ve reached lightly,” she’d told Mace, as they conferred in the meditation gardens at the Halls of Healing. “But I believe it’s a critical process for Anakin’s physical development. I’ll confer with the senior Healers to ascertain there’s no alternative, but at present, none of the other medics can locate another treatment that will provide Anakin with the rehabilitation his body requires.”

“I understand,” Mace assured her, even as a heaviness settled in his chest. He looked over at Anakin, who was several meters away, joyously exploring the gardens with Bant.

At the sight of Anakin’s unabated curiosity and wonder, suddenly it were as though a band had tightened around his chest, constricting his lungs. 

With a deep breath, he shook off the feeling and turned back to Vokara with new resolve. 

“Tell me what is required to help,” Mace said, determined to make every effort possible for the Padawan he’d vowed to raise and protect. “And I will see it done.”

The final recommendation for the surgery was relayed to Mace through a message on his datapad, sandwiched between notices of various debriefings from their Sith investigative teams and evaluations from Temple tutors who’d tested Anakin’s education level. As he skimmed the details of the procedure Vokara recommended, Mace couldn’t help but let out a hiss between clenched teeth, anger and outrage for Anakin’s past mistreatment boiling up within him.

Depa turned to him from where she’d been sitting on the floor nearby with Anakin, patiently reviewing his weekly remedial reading exercises with him. The evening sunlight from the one-way transparisteel window nearby dappled plashes of gold over them both. 

“Are you all right?” she asked mildly, arching an eyebrow slightly, the skin surrounding her piercings creasing.

At the question, Anakin’s head swiveled in Mace’s direction as well, blue eyes huge and worried in his face. No doubt he’d sensed his Master’s frustration through their slowly strengthening Force bond.

In an instant, Mace tamped down his ire, releasing the emotion to the Force and letting it be swept from his consciousness. His new Padawan was extremely sensitive to anger in others, no doubt a scar remaining from his near-decade in slavery, entirely at the mercy of an owner’s whims. When Anakin sensed anger in those around him, be it civilians, Senators, or fellow Jedi, he recoiled into himself, saying nothing but watching all, resigned anticipation darkening in his eyes. 

The expression never failed to haunt Mace, and in his determination to help his Padawan, he’d vowed to be more vigilant than ever about allowing anger to seize him. And as much as Anakin’s predicament renewed Mace’s anger and outrage about his Padawan’s past, it didn’t surprise him. An unfortunate reality for sentients on underdeveloped worlds like Tatooine, particularly slaves, was severe nutritional deficiency, and children were the most frequent victim. Weakened slaves made for slower work, perhaps, but they caused less trouble.

His answer was automatic, his tone level. “Very well, thank you.”

Composing himself, Mace extended an arm to his Padawan, an unspoken invitation for Anakin to join him on the sofa. Anakin did so in an instant, bouncing up from his spot on the floor to snuggle up against Mace, tucking himself in as close as physically possible. 

Initially, Mace had been taken aback by Anakin’s propensity for physical contact. He could still recall his surprise from the first Council meeting that Anakin had attended alongside him. As always, Anakin had been grasping his hand when they’d walked in, and when Mace settled himself in his Council chair, Anakin had squeezed in right beside him. Laying his head on Mace’s chest, he’d studiously ignored the dense cushion on the floor just to the side of the chair, utterly oblivious to the profound amusement of the venerated Masters surrounding him, as well as his own mentor’s stunned silence.

But now, Mace readily wrapped an arm around Anakin’s thin shoulders, pulling the child to him protectively. For a moment, he silently skimmed his fingers through Anakin’s ash brown hair, longer than regulations typically allowed. A desperate, futile wish simmered within him, longing to not have to break this news to Anakin, but knowing it was unavoidable. 

Sensing his disquiet, Depa wordlessly joined them on the sofa, stationing herself on Anakin’s side, as if by bracketing Anakin between them, they could somehow rescue him from reality. Nonetheless, Mace appreciated her support.

“I wanted to tell you now,” Mace said, carefully maintaining a level tone so as not to frighten his young charge. “The Healers have requested that you come in for a special surgery. It’s very important that you have the procedure completed soon, so I’ll bring you there tomorrow. You might—” he realized his voice was about to catch, and he broke off for a moment to compose himself. “You might need to remain at the Halls for several days.”

“Is the surgery going to make me better?” Anakin asked, pulling back to look up at him. “From being a slave?”

The question caught him off-guard, and for a moment, Mace struggled to respond.

“Having been a slave is not something surgery can fix,” he replied finally. “It’s not something that needs to be fixed.”

“It’s a part of you,” Depa supplied in a serene, even voice. “Just as my Marks of Illumination are a part of me.” She touched her forehead briefly before resting her hand on Anakin’s shoulder. “Or how your Master’s position as Master of the Order is a part of him. It’s not your totality—far from it—but it’s an element of who you are, Anakin. There’s no call to think that you need to erase it.”

“And you aren’t less because of your background,” Mace stated firmly. “It’s . . . different from most other Jedi, but different isn’t wrong. Please—” he wasn’t quite able to prevent an earnest plea from slipping out of his mouth. “Please remember that no matter what, here at the Temple is where you’re meant to be.”

“I’m glad,” Anakin replied earnestly, latching onto Depa’s hand and then Mace’s. “I like being here with you and Depa.”

“And we like having you,” Depa replied, ruffling Anakin’s hair gently.

He smiled, leaning back into her, but his blue eyes were solemn as he dropped his gaze to stare at his hands, his smile slipping away.

“Is it going to hurt a lot?” Anakin asked quietly, still looking down. “The surge-er-ree?”

“I won’t lie to you. There will be pain,” Mace said, keeping a calm tone even as his throat tightened. He would not lie to Anakin. “But Vokara and Bant and all of our other friends will do their best to keep you as comfortable as they’re able.”

“Will you . . . come to see me?” Anakin asked shyly, barely daring to raise his head to glance at Mace before dropping his gaze again.

“Oh, Anakin.” Mace’s voice sounded rough to his own ears; he was half-choking on the emotions rapidly welling within him. “Of course.” 

Anakin whipped his head up to stare at Mace, surprise emanating from him with a sincerity that had Mace’s heart aching anew. Then the little boy launched himself forward to seize his Master in a hug, gripping Mace tightly, grabbing fistfulls of his robes, and burying his face in Mace’s collarbone.

“Then I’ll be okay,” Anakin said, his long hair tickling Mace’s neck as he spoke.

Mace could not manage to respond, only hugged Anakin back, gratitude surging through him as Depa joined from Anakin’s other side.

That night, with Anakin tucked safely in bed, Mace read out loud to him from a volume of renowned Alderaanian comedic plays. How much Anakin actually grasped the concepts within, he wasn’t precisely certain, but Anakin had been the one to suggest the subject. 

“There are so many stories kids in my class know but I don’t,” he admitted plaintively to Mace one day when they were enjoying their evening tea together. “Can . . . can you teach me?” he’d asked, tentatively peeking up at Mace.

Mace had responded in a heartbeat. “Of course.”

Now, Anakin was securely nestled between them, ensconced beneath cozy woven blankets as Mace sat on his right and Depa on his left. It didn’t take long for him to drift off to sleep, the varactyl plush toy gifted to him by Cyslin clutched in his arms. Unwilling to disturb him, Mace and Depa both exited shortly afterward. Before he left, Mace took a moment to brush Anakin’s bangs back from his forehead, wondering with a heavy heart how long it would be before his Padawan would sleep so peacefully again.

Without needing to ask, Mace retrieved two glasses and a bottle of Zelvahn ice wine from the conservator, and he and Depa ambled out to the small meditation garden adjoining his quarters. The area was styled as a courtyard, with glowpanels overhead that simulated soft daylight, lush grass beneath their feet, and flower beds lining the perimeter. The walls, where they were visible beneath the climbing plants, were a warm golden-beige clay. In the near corner was a sturdy potting table, while to the far corner was a well-cushioned rattan bench. It was there where Mace and Depa settled themselves.

When Anakin had first arrived, the garden had been bare as a result of years of disuse. Not since before Mace had become Master of the Order he had taken the time to maintain the area. But together with his new Padawan, Mace had managed to restore life to the courtyard. Vivid hydroponic blooms and vines cascaded down from a spiral of floating terrariums, their tendrils swaying gently and their sweet fragrance floating by on a facsimile of a breeze.

Throughout the area, climbing flowers wound their way around metal frames, bursting into explosions of color in the forms of various animals and whimsical shapes, including a small dome that Anakin enjoyed sheltering himself beneath when concentrating on his homework. Along the far wall was a narrow, shallow pool, styled like a freshwater stream complete with pebbles. The pool held various aquatic flora, some floating on the surface in a vibrant contrast to the surrounding blue-green water, and others sprouting from below, their fronds waving lazily in the flow of the stream.

Light from the imitation dusk gleamed on the metal of Depa’s Marks of Illumination as she sat on the carved bench beside Mace. Though she accepted the glass of wine, she paused for a moment to contemplate him over the rim of her glass before taking a sip.

Mace made no move to drink his own, instead holding the glass loosely in his hand, refusing to give into the resentment simmering within him that tempted him to shatter it in his fist.

“I’d offer a credit for your thoughts,” Depa said into the silence. “But they’re worth far more than that.” She fixed him with her warm brown gaze, wisdom and affection mingling together, but not enough to cover the edges of concern crowding in.

Heartbeats passed as Mace collected the disparate emotions and half-formed ideas racing untamed through his mind. He let out a long breath, trying to ease the tension that had settled into his shoulders.

“Sometimes I just ache to hunt down everyone who’s ever hurt him,” he admitted quietly. “Find anyone who’s brought him pain and unleash it back on them tenfold. Or just search for any similar sort of degenerate—the scum who prey on the defenseless, the monsters who deprive other sentients of basic dignities, the predators who keep and trade slaves and destroy lives and families—and make them all pay dearly.” His hands clenched and unclenched, and he was well aware of the desire igniting within him, urging him to give into his instincts. 

Think of the good you could do, a deceptively reasonable voice whispered to him. The good that would come of all of that filth wiped away, cleansed from the galaxy. You could help so many . . .

His breath caught, and he fought to release it slowly, concentrating on gradual inhales and exhales to avoid losing himself to the passion of fury threatening to creep up and ensnare him. 

“It’s not right that he’s only nine years old and has suffered to those extremes. Nor that his mother was enslaved for far longer. Nor that so many others remain trapped in that life, and we’re unable to help them.”

Mace didn’t look at Depa as he spoke. He’d raised her as his Padawan, but in the years since she’d been appointed a Council member ( the youngest in the history of the Order, he recalled with the same surge of pride as always), she’d become far more than simply his former student. 

Today, she was easily his closest friend and most trusted confidante. But even then, Mace couldn’t deny the stab of shame that pierced through him during his confession. He’d struggled with his own anger for decades, and yet it still continued to be a weakness.

Even without looking at her, Mace could detect the weight of Depa’s gaze on him.

“So why don’t you?” she asked in a tone without judgment. “Why don’t you leave tomorrow and go straight to Tatooine? Kill Anakin and Shmi’s former owner and continue from there?”

For a moment, Mace wasn't sure how to respond. The automatic response that formed on his tongue, the one well-practiced and wholeheartedly believed, was that revenge was against the Jedi Code. The reason was the sheer selfishness of the act. It was not self-defense, and it was not justice. Rather, revenge was inflicting hurt for the sake of hurt, for the purpose of self-satisfaction. It would not and could remedy existing damage to people or planets. Nothing good could come of it. 

Automatic or not, the selfishness of revenge was still his reason, Mace realized, mildly surprised but minutely amused at the simplicity of the answer. Revenge from him, for Anakin, would not be for Anakin. It would be for himself, to soothe his own anxieties, satisfy his own sense of right and wrong.

Shifting in his seat, Mace turned to face Depa directly, shame receding to nothingness.

"Because I know it wouldn't benefit him in any way," Mace replied evenly, calm certainty washing over him. "If I requisitioned a ship tomorrow and went out into Hutt space, it wouldn't be for Anakin's sake. It would be to help myself, to sate my own anger. And I know the way I can help him the most is by staying here and caring for him through his surgery—just as how Masters are meant to care for their Padawans.” 

The way all Jedi are meant to care for one another.

A flash of guilt rippled through Mace. The Council had come so close to refusing Anakin the help and care he desperately needed, and initially, he’d led that decision. 

“That’s why you're the Master who Anakin needs,” Depa said, leaning against Mace and resting her head on his collarbone, just as she’d done since she was a child. She looked up at him with a sincere gaze, fondness glittering within. 

“You know anger,” Depa spoke quietly but with conviction. “You know what it is to fight through passion for serenity. And in spite of it all, you’re gentle. As much as you might want revenge, you choose to be kind.” 

She reached to grip his hand, her calloused palm holding fast to his own. Instinctively, Mace knew that she, like him, was thinking of the time they’d spent on Haruun Kul—Mace’s homeworld. During a mission, Depa had been lost to the jungle, and in desperation, Mace had gone after her. It had been a hellish journey, and by the time he’d located Depa, both of them had been pushed to confront the darkness that persisted within their souls, forced to choose between their calling as Jedi and the temptation that threatened to consume their very beings.

In spite of it all, in spite of the challenge of confronting their darkest wishes, their most treacherous thoughts, they had strode away from that jungle with new resolve for their life as Jedi. Neither had given in, not even during the deepest agonies of it. Still, Mace sometimes found himself musing on the incident, and he was certain his former Padawan did as well.

Now, Depa clutched his hand tighter. “I’m glad you chose him,” she said earnestly. “I can think of no one else who could do better in providing Anakin the compassion and care he deserves. I’m glad he has you.”

“And I’m glad for both of you,” Mace told her warmly. “And for all of your help and your readiness to do whatever you can for him. I might be the Master he needs, but you give every bit of effort without obligation, only out of generosity. Thank you, Depa. Thank you for being the Master who wants him.”

He brushed his Force presence to hers, letting his love for her flood out between the two of them. In response, she allowed her own unabated affection to pour forth, coalescing with his own, a bridge of devotion stretching between the two of them. 

Sometimes I think I don’t deserve you, Mace thought silently. Don’t deserve to have you as my daughter and Anakin as my—

Well. His Padawan. 

With the next day’s events looming before them, Mace could not bring himself to muse any deeper on the matter. For now, he sat with Depa in companionable silence, enjoying the rare moment of repose they could spend together, and trying to reassure himself that if he raised one Padawan successfully, he could raise another.

The recovery room where Anakin was resting was designed for maximum privacy and serenity, with glowpanels set to mimic the fading blush of evening sunlight, their warm pink and golden orange hues just starting to give way to the soft violet of twilight. As a comfort and distraction to youngling patients, each room on their ward was designed to resemble a different Republic world. 

The one Anakin occupied was themed around the planet of Ithor, a lush paradise untouched by development or industry. Instead of a carpet, the room was blanketed in the green grass of Ithor’s rolling hills. Vivid vines and fragrant blooms draped from wooden trellises lining the walls, and an iridescent bafforr tree glinted against the far side, its blue branches stretching upward toward the ceiling, as if trying to reach the glowing map of the planet’s star system that floated above. A small but intricately carved andurite fountain burbled softly in the corner, and faint calls and songs of manollium and vonnuvi birds drifted through the room, as though carried on the breeze. When Mace inhaled, he could detect the damp, fresh scent of a riverbank.

But no matter how serene their surroundings, Mace’s stomach still dropped as his gaze found Anakin’s waifish form resting still on the biobed, precautionary monitors circling him on both sides. But he was somewhat comforted, if surprised, to find Adi Gallia, still clad in the robes she usually wore to the Senate, sitting beside Anakin and displaying a datapad to him. He leaned against her shoulder, blinking blearily but clearly intrigued by her explanation of the miniature Hapan dragon battle ship slowly rotating from her pad’s projection.

“Hapan ships are extremely valuable, because they’re extremely rare,” Adi informed Anakin, turning to look at him fully as she spoke. Though she carefully maintained an amiable expression, she studied him for several seconds—no doubt she was monitoring his condition. “Because the Hapes system is self-sufficient, its inhabitants don’t see the need to travel or trade very often. As a result, the Republic receives very few imports from their system, and what they do receive is exceedingly expensive and difficult to attain.”

“I’d like to go there,” Anakin murmured, his head drooping against Adi’s shoulder even as he spoke. “There are probably so many things to see and discover and explore—” he cut himself off to cover his mouth as he yawned.

Chuckling, Adi patted his shoulder and slid off the bed, taking a moment to adjust his pillows after she stood. The sincerity of the gesture—the display of solicitousness and a nearly sisterly type of familiarity—caught Mace off-guard. He hadn’t realized Adi shared any particular closeness with Anakin.

“Why don’t you rest for a few moments while I speak to your Master?” Adi suggested, and Anakin acquiesced with a weary nod.

With the state he was in, Mace observed heavily, there was little more he could do.

But when his fellow Councilor joined him, he turned his attention to her. Though he’d entered the room carrying a small crate, he set it aside for the moment.

"Adi," Mace said, nodding in greeting. He kept his voice low to avoid bothering Anakin. "I wasn't expecting to find you here."

"I decided to drop in and visit our newest Padawan to the Council," Adi said, casting a sympathetic glance Anakin’s way. "When I heard about his surgery . . .” she trailed off, shaking her head, expression sobering. “I can’t imagine being that young and having to go through such pain. I can’t stop thinking that if only we’d been able to find him sooner, he wouldn’t have suffered as much as he has.”

The same notion plagued Mace various nights, including the last, chasing sleep from his mind as he lay awake, unable to prevent himself from pondering the various ways they could have located Anakin earlier and prevented years of torment. But as he’d told Depa, wishing to change the past would do little good. Now, they needed to focus their attention on Anakin’s future.

“I feel the same,” Mace said honestly. “But thank you for being a woman of action rather than what-ifs. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you coming to visit him.”

“What’s a family for?” Adi replied, nudging her Force presence against Mace’s affectionately. “It’s up to all of us to help our fellow Jedi. Anakin isn’t alone—and nor are you, Mace.” 

"I’m glad for it.” Mace met her gaze directly. “All the same, you have my gratitude.”

A soft whimper emitted from the bed; Anakin was shifting, likely having aggravated an existing ache or pain. 

Even before Mace could move, Adi was at his side, smoothing a hand over their young charge’s forehead.

“Are you all right, Anakin?” she asked, concern clear in her voice.

“Just sore,” Anakin grated out with an effort.

Adi carefully tucked Anakin back beneath the covers before standing once more. "Thank you for having me," she said with a smile, brushing her Force presence against his, just as she’d done for Mace. "I’ll leave you in peace now, but I had fun during our time together."

"Me, too-oo-oo," Anakin replied, attempting unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn. "Will you come back and visit?" Even with the weariness weighing on his features, the stark hope on his face shone through any strain.

"Of course," Adi vowed, and Mace couldn't hold back a surge of affection for his friend and colleague.

Briefly, before Adi exited, she paused by Mace and drew her arms around him in a hug, gripping tightly. It was more than a sign of support—it was encouragement, heartfelt and freely given. Mace did not hesitate to return the embrace, and as he did, he took a moment to muse on the good fortune of having such strong and reliable friends. 

Once she exited, Mace turned to his Padawan. Anakin lay on the bed, barely able to move, but Mace approached all the same.

“Hello Anakin,” he said gently as he settled himself on the chair at the bedside. “I hope I’m not disturbing you.”

Anakin struggled to sit up, even as he barely could pry his eyes open. “S’okay.” 

The simple two words brought on a flood of exhaustion in the Force, and immediately, Mace moved to assist his Padawan. On impulse, he shot out of the chair to take a seat beside Anakin on the bed, situating himself to lean back against the headboard so Anakin could in turn relax against him. And Anakin did, scooching as close as he could, a warm, slight presence nestled snugly against his side. Just as Mace’s reaction had been instinctive, so was Anakin’s, not requiring even the barest moment to think.

The reflexiveness of his own response startled Mace; he hadn’t realized that it had become his second nature to ensure Anakin was as comfortable as possible. And yet, it had, without much thought needing to cross his mind. Somewhere along the line, it had become natural instinct to care for this child who required so much of his compassion, and yet, it never had the weight of a burden, nor did it inspire any regret. 

He's where he's meant to be . There was no question in Mace’s mind. No matter what pain he's in right now, no matter how long his recovery, he's meant to be in this Temple, where all of us can care for him and give him what he needs.

Pressing a hand to Anakin’s shoulder, he directed a river of soothing calm toward his young Padawan. “Rest for now. The most important matter at hand is your health.” For a moment, he paused, assessing the child, before offering, “Though if you feel up to it, I have a surprise.”

Excitement thrummed through the Force around him, momentarily overpowering Anakin’s pain and exhaustion. 

“Yes, please,” Anakin rasped.

With a flick of his fingers, Mace released the catch of the compartment that he’d carried into the room earlier, calling through the Force to its occupant. The next moment, an enormous, fluffy tooka trotted out, briefly surveyed her surroundings, leapt up on the chair, and then the bed, before settling comfortably atop a mound of fabric where Anakin’s blankets had bunched. 

If anyone observed closely enough, they would notice that she hobbled slightly, not entirely steady on her feet, and one of her eyes was not organic, but a cyberkinetic replacement. But Anakin clearly did not notice or care, instead sucking in a sharp, awed breath. 

It's beautiful," he declared immediately. He pushed himself out of his exhausted slump into a sitting position, arms trembling as he extended his hands to the animal. "What is it?"

“It’s a tooka that one of our Knights found in the lower levels during a training exercise,” Mace explained. “She was severely wounded, but with the care of our Wildlife Connection classes, she’s been able to make a full recovery.” Gently, carefully, Mace coaxed the animal closer and then helped the little boy wrap his arms around the fluffy tooka. Once finished, he automatically put his own arm around his Padawan’s frail shoulders, drawing Anakin in again to lean against his side. Anakin did so with a contented sigh.

"She's so soft and so nice," Anakin murmured, nuzzling the tooka close. "I just want to hold her forever. Is that okay?"

"Maybe not forever," Mace cautioned, smiling. "But I'm sure she would enjoy being held. And connecting with the Living Force when we're injured not only can aid in our own recovery, but also help others around us when they need it.” He gave an amiable scratch to the tooka’s ears. “Even to those who might typically be overlooked.”

And they can also provide some much-needed comfort, he added silently, but did not feel the need to speak the addendum out loud. Instead, he simply smiled and watched his young apprentice smooth his palms down the tooka's gleaming coat over and over, as though disbelieving that a creature of this kind could exist. 

Going to assist the little boy, Mace helped him settle the sturdy tooka into his lap. There, she revolved in a circle several times, before then curling up in a swath of blankets, evidently the combination of warmth from Anakin's body and the soft fabric offering her a satisfying level of comfort.

“You see?" Mace asked quietly. "Just because the tooka was injured doesn't mean there's anything wrong with her. She's been helped in the way that she needs, and now she can help others. Just like you," he added, reaching for Anakin’s small hand with his much larger, battle-scarred one. “You might be recovering right now, but soon you’ll be back to training, ready to help anyone who needs it.” He grasped Anakin’s hand and gave it the briefest of squeezes, taking care not to cause the little boy any pain. “This tooka isn’t any less for being injured. She still deserves our attention and compassion, to be fed and sheltered. To have a nice pile of blankets to nap on. Just like you, she’s not any less for needing help.”

“She’s not,” Anakin echoed, sleepy but determined all the same. “And when I get better, I can make her toys and a repulsor bed and a hover skiff, and—” he broke off to catch his breath.

“I’m sure you’ll take excellent care of her,” Mace assured his Padawan, moving to rub soothing circles on his back. With his other hand, he reached into a pocket of his robe and pulled out the volume of Alderaanian comedies. “I brought another play for you, if you’d prefer me to read. Would you and our tooka friend like to listen? Or would you rather rest?”

“Umm. . . the play, please,” Anakin requested hesitantly, bashfulness showing through even the weary strain in his voice. 

Still clutching the tooka, he tucked himself closer against Mace, snuggling against his side until Mace could feel his frail shoulder jutting into his own ribcage. But Mace didn’t mind—he never would have. The trust demonstrated by his Padawan’s gesture was a blessing and a gift; the little boy had been through constant horrors in his short life, and in spite of it all, he was still willing to trust his new guardian and accept his care and concern.

I’ll always be worthy , Mace vowed silently, tightening his arm around Anakin’s thin shoulders. I’ll always strive to be worthy of your trust, my Padawan.

Rifling through the book to reach the proper page, he began to regale Anakin with the latest classic. But within minutes, Anakin’s head had dropped onto Mace’s chest, eyes closed and breathing softly and steadily. Similar inhales and exhales whistled from the snoozing tooka’s nose. 

Setting aside the book, Mace closed his eyes, holding Anakin close, concentrating on the contentment and peace within himself. It was his dearest wish to encapsulate this moment, capture the serenity at the core of his being, somehow bottle it and preserve it forever so that he would always be able to cling to it as a shining beacon, even in his darkest hour. 

But there was no preserving this moment except in memory and the knowledge of what Anakin was. Not some saving grace, not a light in his darkness, but a child in need of help. A child who reminded Mace precisely of why he chose kindness over anger, why compassion was essential for the Jedi.

A day ago, Mace had questioned if he’d be able to raise Anakin as he’d raised Depa. 

Today, Mace was confident that he would.