There was something off about his new lightsaber.
Sitting cross-legged on the grass in the Room of a Thousand Fountains, Anakin tried to focus as the artificial breeze ruffled through the trees overhead. The equally alien sound of trickling water sneaked into Anakin's ears no matter how hard he tried to ignore it, pulling his concentration away from the task at hand. He might have been away from Tatooine longer than he had lived on that planet of sand and heat and hard living, but some part of him still had a baseline memory of the boom and rattle of a sandstorm, the murmur and sharp shouts of the market, the smell of hot sand pervading everything.
Huffing out a sharp breath, Anakin disassembled his lightsaber for the third time that day, looking over each component. The ruins of his old one, warped and twisted and glittering with the fragments of shattered kyber crystal that had prompted his recent trip to Ilum, lay quietly to one side on the soft grass.
Power grid, crystal chamber, focusing device. Casing, switch, emitter matrix. All the other parts that made up his new lightsaber, all exactly as he'd planned. It was a powerful blade, fitted to his hand, and there was nothing wrong with the mechanics of it.
There was still something wrong with his lightsaber.
"Is there something wrong, Knight Skywalker?"
Anakin absolutely did not jump like a startled tooka as the parts of his lightsaber clattered to the ground. "Master Huyang? Sorry, I, uh, didn't hear you coming," he admitted sheepishly. In the Temple, among the blaring Force presences of the other Jedi, the ancient architect droid was one of the few who could boast the distinction of being quiet enough in the Force to surprise him.
"I am not surprised," Huyang said calmly. "However, you did not answer my question. Is something wrong?"
The utter lack of judgment in the droid's tone made Anakin's shoulders relax as his war-forged threat response recognized the absence of danger. "I guess you could say so. My saber, it just - it doesn't feel right. It's exactly how I wanted it, and it's not right."
"Ah," Huyang said in complete understanding. "I think that if we work together, we can fix this. Would you care to come to my workshop?"
Anakin perked up. Go to Huyang's workshop, with its centuries of lightsaber parts and fascinating bits of tech? "I would be honored, Master."
* * *
"And there you have it," said Huyang in satisfaction. "Remember, what you want something to become is not always what it needs to be."
"Of course, Master," Anakin said absently, more focused on his rebuilt lightsaber than on the droid's pontificating. Even before he held it in his hand, he could tell that it was right. The whole thing sang sweetly in the Force, like a well-tuned engine.
The blade lit blue and steady, and he tried a few exploratory swings. The balance was good, a little different from his last one, but it suited his style.
Something caught his attention, and he deactivated the blade as his memory helpfully replayed what his ears had just heard. "What do you mean, what am I going to do with the old crystal? It's broken, useless."
Huyang cocked his head to one side in puzzlement. Anakin expected something along the lines of Obi-Wan's usual lectures, kyber is never useless, my dear padawan, but what came out of Huyang's speakers was nothing like that. "Have you not been to the Room of the Singing Crystals?"
"No?" Anakin hazarded. "At least, I don't think so? Obi-Wan took me to a lot of places in the Temple when I was younger, but they've all blurred together."
"Ah. Perhaps I will be able to refresh your memory, then. Would you like to see what most Jedi do with old or shattered crystals?"
"I thought that they just kept the old bits in a box somewhere," Anakin said, now completely lost.
If Huyang could have smiled, he would have. "Not at all. Come with me, Knight Skywalker."
* * *
"Oh," Anakin said softly, looking up at the high, glittering walls and hearing the soft echo of his own voice as it came back to him. How could he possibly have missed a room this enormous? This beautiful? This full of the Force?
"The Room of Singing Crystals is partially Force-shielded," Huyang explained, as if he'd heard Anakin's thoughts. "Both against influences from outside, and to prevent what is within from affecting the rest of the Temple."
"Kyber crystals," Anakin said, feeling as dazed as if Rex had punched him in the back of his head.
"Kyber crystals," Huyang agreed. "Also Adegan crystals, Ankarres sapphires, krayt pearls . . . if it has been used in a lightsaber and shattered, then it is very likely in this room."
Anakin nodded, his eyes darting from gem to gem. Some slivers were arranged in shapes or patterns, others seemingly pressed into the wall at random. Some were grouped together, others had parts scattered across the room. The rounded fragments of a deep blue krayt pearl stood out against its angular siblings, nestled between other crystals and entirely at home there.
"Do you hear them singing?" Huyang asked, his voice a whisper that fell smoothly into the peace of the room.
"Singing?" Anakin scrunched his forehead. "Do you mean the echo?"
"Ah," Huyang said, the inflection identical to when he'd assured Anakin that his lightsaber could be fixed. "You must have very strong shields, to not hear how the crystals resonate in the Force."
"Usually, hearing the Force isn't the problem," Anakin grumbled, more than half his attention on the sparkling crystals. "Everything's so loud, it's getting it to be quiet that's difficult."
"And when it shouts so loud, you do not need to listen so closely," Huyang mused. "It is safe to lower your shields in here, if you wish. It is only you and the crystals."
Tentatively, Anakin eased down his shields. They'd been in place so long, it almost hurt to unweave them. They felt like the tapestries of the slave-people laid over familiar white pour-stone walls, rough but beautiful fabric covering the cracks and keeping out the sandstorms which constantly raged around him in the Temple proper.
The tapestries were oddly ragged, and he unravelled them as gently as he could. The cracks behind them were barely visible, thin lines that couldn't possibly have let through enough of the scouring sands to damage the tapestries this thoroughly. Well, perhaps the war had worn on them from the inside.
Part of him rebelled at touching the white pour-stone of his heavier defenses, and he left them alone. Taking his shields down this far should be enough, if he listened.
Hanging at his hip, his new saber hummed gently as it resonated to him, a noise so familiar he hardly heard it any more. The crystal chips in his pocket sang back to the intact crystal, their voices tiny and high and pure, broken but not in pain.
Slowly, other tiny notes began to chime in. The nearest cluster, tucked into a tight circle, hesitantly sang back to the fragments in his pocket. Others joined the harmony, the steady thrum of the adegan and the bass of the krayt pearls combining to support the high, clear soprano of the kyber and other crystals. It was nothing like the sound of the desert wind chimes that the slaves of Tatooine had made from scrap metal and melted sand-glass, and yet it was exactly like that. It was home.
Slowly, the remains of his old crystal lifted into the air in a smooth spiral, twisting though the air to the spot on the wall that was calling out for it. Anakin couldn't tell if he was doing it or if somehow the song itself had called them, but it felt as certain as his new lightsaber after Huyang had helped him complete it. Sunlight shimmered through the formation, casting specks of blue against the pale walls and flashing off the crystals which were embedded there.
The spiral reached the wall, and Anakin pushed them firmly into place.
They wouldn't go in.
He tried again, harder, and the formation trembled as if the crystals were about to fall. Anakin backed off, simply holding them in the pattern that the fragments had chosen, and - oh.
The wall absorbed them, for a moment acting more like soft earth than whatever this room was made of.
There were no voices other than the song of the kyber all around him, but the meaning settled into his head anyway. Let things happen. You do not need strength for this.
Anakin shoved the thought away. Of course he needed strength, how could he protect those he loved without strength?
The kyber sang on, and Anakin knew that it would have continued no matter how he had reacted. He let himself get lost in it, touching piece after piece with the Force and receiving impressions of past Jedi that lasted no more than a breath. These were crystals that had loved their Jedi, and they were glad to share their memories.
And then he touched a soft white ember that screamed.
Anakin fell out of his trance with a mental thump, opening eyes he hadn't realized were closed as he rubbed at his forehead. He could sense a lightning storm of a headache rolling over the horizon, and it was coming fast. "Ow."
"Is your meditation finished?" Huyang asked, his head tilting to the side.
"Meditation? I - huh. I guess I was. Yeah, I'm done. Just need to put my shields back up." Anakin cautiously shook his head to clear it, and rewove the tapestries for the inside of his mind. Stronger, thicker, brighter. He should probably check them now and again, but with the war on, when did he really have time? "How long was I out?"
"My internal chronometer counted seven hours, thirty-two minutes and nineteen seconds of standing meditation," Huyang said, as if this was perfectly normal.
"I what?" Anakin yelped as the droid opened the door. "I haven't meditated that long since - that doesn't matter. I'm going to find something to eat. Ow. And maybe some painkillers."
"Then may the Force be with you, Knight Skywalker," Huyang said with a smooth bow. "I hope I will have the chance to speak to you again. There are few Jedi with your level of understanding of the proper construction of a lightsaber."
"Yeah, sure," Anakin agreed, warmth unfurling in his chest at the droid's recognition of his competence. "May the Force be with you, Master Huyang."
* * *
At first, Anakin dismissed the lingering effects as a particularly persistent aural memory. A hint of ringing chimes overlaid the soft string quartet music that Padmé had put on as background music, and he watched as she moved with it, across the room to the couch and sinking naturally into his arms.
"What do you want to do, when the war ends?" he asked, idly playing with the loose hair that hung around her shoulders.
Padmé buried her head in his shoulder as the music shifted to something sad, then met his eyes again. "I don't know. But whatever I do, I want it to be with you."
"That's what I want too," Anakin murmured, and the sound swelled as she kissed him. After that, he had far better things to do than consider her music choices.
Later, as he pulled his clothes back on, he thought of it again. "By the way, what's the music you're playing right now? It's nice, but . . . sad."
Padmé frowned. "Ani, I didn't put any music on. Maybe it's coming from outside?"
Anakin froze for a moment, then forced a smile. "Yeah, that's probably it." He returned to their bed to give his wife a goodbye kiss, cupping her face in his hand and brushing his thumb over her cheek. "One day, we'll be able to wake up together and stay," he promised. "I'll make sure of it."
The string quartet followed him all the way back to his speeder.
* * *
The music would not go away.
By the time Anakin had returned to the 501st and gone out to fight another battle in the name of the Republic, he'd resigned himself to having a soundtrack for his life. Granted, sometimes it helped - the change from airy woodwind to a blare of brass had alerted him that the peaceful mountainside that he and his troops were traversing was about to become a combat zone, and he'd managed to decapitate several droids that would have otherwise been shooting at his men. Right now, though the dramatic horn section was a distraction he could -
The Force and the music warned him simultaneously, and Anakin ducked.
Okay. Maybe it was useful.
It was fascinating how some of the soldiers had their own tunes. Huffy and Crazy and Dib all had the same theme, something he'd tentatively dubbed the 'trooper theme', but Jesse had a variation and Rex practically had his own soundtrack. And it kept playing, striking a triumphant note as the Separatist tank exploded, rolling like a wave under the sharpness of blaster fire, and fading slowly as the droids retreated and the shooting stopped. Low strings and high woodwind emerged from the brass of battle, singing mourning to the troopers who had fallen.
"I think it's over," Anakin called to Rex, who was scanning the horizon with both blasters lifted.
Rex gave him the head-tilt that meant, 'I think you're crazy, but you're my general and I have to listen'. "Yes, sir. But if you don't mind, I'm going to assign a few scout squads to make sure that the clankers have packed up and left."
"Sure." Anakin knelt by the nearest trooper, checking for a pulse that he knew he wouldn't find. It was definitely over, right? If there was going to be another fight, the music would have gone quiet and then come back, not switched into harmonic grief.
The clankers did not come back.
* * *
"Anakin, my boy! How are you? I heard that you ran into quite the situation on Eriadu." Palpatine beamed from behind his desk, rising to his feet in welcome.
Anakin smiled at the Chancellor. "Nothing we couldn't handle," he assured the older man. Chancellor Palpatine was always so kind, so willing to listen to anything Anakin said and not judge . . .
. . . and the string section broke in with eerie discords and imperfect cadences, a warning even Anakin couldn't miss. Was something wrong? Was something about to happen to the Chancellor?
"There was something I'd like to ask you about, though," Anakin added, and the discordant harmonics swelled louder.
Palpatine . . . frowned, and the music blurred. Of course he was safe with the Chancellor, nothing was going to happen. "What is it, my boy? I hope you know that you can tell me anything."
Anakin smiled, but the part of him that kept watch on battlefields was awake now. "I was wondering where the information about Eriadu came from? The droids seemed almost as surprised as we were when we found them."
"I doubt that the Separatist leadership tells their droids much," Palpatine said, chuckling a little. "All they need to know is how to fight and where to go. Which reminds me! You may tell your men that they can have shore leave - it will be at least a week until the 501st is required on the front lines again."
Joy almost obliterated Anakin's worries. A whole week with Padmé? "Thank you, Chancellor, I'm sure they'll appreciate that."
"And I hope that you are appreciated for your strong leadership of them," Palpatine said warmly. "Sometimes I wonder if the Jedi notice that you are one of our best generals."
Anakin paused for a heartbeat, then shoved everything Palpatine had said to the back of his mind for later consideration. "If you'll forgive me, I need to get back to my men. They'll want to hear about this as soon as possible."
Again, that faint hint of annoyance, swept away so skillfully that Anakin doubted his own perception. "Of course, of course. Do come see me again before you go, my boy."
"Of course, Chancellor," Anakin found himself promising.
* * *
Padmé had sent a regretful message saying that she was caught up in a committee meeting, but Anakin should make himself at home if he preferred to wait in her apartment. He fired back his agreement without thinking twice - Padmé's apartment had a gorgeous view of the sky, and it was much less cluttered with noisy Force signatures than the Temple was. He needed the space to think about his meeting with Palpatine earlier that day.
Settling into the meditation pose that Obi-Wan had managed to teach him over years of trying, Anakin reached inside his memory and looked at the scene from outside. It was . . . it was . . . why couldn't he think about it? All he had was the impression that the Chancellor had been kind and had answered all his - no, what about . . . about the question he couldn't remember. There had been one. What had he asked?
It wasn't important.
The strings struck up again, the same dissonant melody he'd heard in the Chancellor's office, but clearer and sharper. A warning.
He couldn't tell Padmé, and Obi-Wan would never listen to . . .
A cheerful, optimistic tune popped up, quick and confident.
Maybe Obi-Wan would listen?
Encouraging strings sang high, and Anakin sucked in a bracing breath as he reached for his communicator. "Master? I need to talk to you."
* * *
Anakin's lightsaber hummed encouragingly at his side, radiating a reassuring warmth as he settled into a meditation pose. All around him, the Room of Singing Crystals echoed welcome to him and to Obi-Wan.
His former Master seated himself opposite Anakin, folding into his preferred meditation pose as easily as breathing. Obi-Wan's blue eyes were warm, comforting, and Anakin briefly wanted to lean forward and sink into the kind of hug Obi-Wan had bestowed when Anakin had been a homesick new Padawan. When had he stopped asking for those hugs? He couldn't remember.
"How do we do this?" Anakin asked, feeling nearly as young as the child who'd been cuddled out of tears and nightmares.
Instead of lecturing him on remembering his lessons, as he'd feared, Obi-Wan's voice dropped into teaching mode. "To begin, you will need to lower your shields. I will watch as you do so. Then you will guide me through your memory, and I will keep an eye out for whatever might be affecting your recollection of events." Obi-Wan held out his hands in invitation, palm up.
Anakin took a deep breath, laying his own hands over Obi-Wan's. "Okay. I can do that."
Obi-Wan politely ignored the tremble in Anakin's voice.
As before, Anakin reached for the tapestries. Despite the power he had poured into their construction, they were shredded worse than his old ones had been. Behind, the cracks in the pour-stone were still as microscopically fine as before.
"And the rest, Anakin," Obi-Wan murmured.
Reluctantly, Anakin began to dissolve the pour-stone. These shields were rock solid, they'd take a while to . . .
The faint lines in his shields shuddered. Cracked. Gaped open wide to reveal a space as hollow as a slave-master's heart, the outer shell pocked with dents and breaks and missing chunks. The inner shell, what he'd thought had been a solid wall, collapsed into sand.
"How did - I thought I - how could?" Anakin managed, terror threatening his focus.
"Steady," Obi wan told him, gripping Anakin's hands tighter. Anakin clutched back. "I'm not sure how this happened, but I know you can handle this. Once we've had a look at that memory of yours, you can build them back up again."
Anakin's nod was nearly a shudder as he wrapped that reassurance around himself. He didn't know why he'd taken so long to ask for Obi-Wan's help.
Closing his eyes again, Anakin brought the memory back to the forefront of his mind. It was the last part that sprang to mind first, the clearest moments that he could remember.
He called me a General. Which was true, but - shouldn't he be a Jedi first? Obi-Wan had told him over and over that Jedi were peacekeepers, not soldiers. Well, perhaps Palpatine was just focusing on Anakin's most recent achievements.
Another cacophonous surge of strings, and Anakin discarded that idea.
With his shields reduced to dust and sand, Anakin could no more miss Obi-Wan's startlement and curiosity in the Force than he could a crashing spaceship. He sent back amused resignation, and Obi-Wan acknowledged the response before wrapping himself tighter in his own shields. It helped - Anakin couldn't block out their old training bond like this, but it helped that Obi-Wan was being careful about what he emitted.
For a man who needs us to lead his armies, he casts a lot of doubt about 'the Jedi'.
In fact . . . he'd seen that tactic before, on Tatooine. Some of the slave masters would separate a slave from family, friends, anyone who would care for them, and drip that kind of poison in their ears. Sooner or later, the slave was devoted to their only 'friend', the so-called kind master who had saved them. His personal invisible orchestra provided a backing of sad music.
Which means . . . he's trying to lure me away from the Jedi? Why? When he's always been . . . so . . . kind . . . to me.
Rage flared, and the crystals protested as the music switched to a march in a minor key. Obi-Wan fed calm down their bond, sharing what Anakin needed as he smothered the rage in calm and locked it away. The march shifted to meditative woodwinds, a single stringed instrument giving voice to a drift of worry from Obi-Wan.
Anakin ignored Obi-Wan's concern and his Master's murmur of his name. Right now, he needed to focus on the memory.
He didn't answer my question about Eriadu. How many other questions had the Chancellor sidestepped?
"Anakin," Obi-Wan said, urgency lending intensity. "I've found something. If you can, please tell me. Where have you been that you might have encountered a Sith?"
He meant to answer, but the memory of how the music had dulled flashed into Anakin's thoughts.
The orchestra was silent.
"Oh dear," Obi-Wan said, remarkably composed at the revelation that the Chancellor of the Republic was probably a Sith Lord.
Anakin snorted, then leaned forward for that hug he'd wanted for years.
Obi-Wan let go of Anakin's hands, wrapping him up in a familiar embrace. "I've got you," Obi-Wan breathed. "And when you're ready, we're going to get that Dark influence out of your head. Then you can rebuild your shields."
"And then we're going after Palpatine. Right, Master?" The words were muffled in Obi-Wan's robe, but their training bond was still wide open.
"And then we'll deal with Palpatine. Together," Obi-Wan confirmed. "After that, I'm going to make sure you understand the proper way to deal with negative emotions. I'm sure you I taught you better than that."
Anakin hiccupped wetly into Obi-Wan's shoulder. "Honestly, Master, I don't remember," he confessed.
"We'll blame that on Palpatine too, shall we?"
It was a shaky laugh that made its way out of Anakin's chest, but it was a laugh nonetheless. There was more that Anakin needed to tell Obi-Wan - about Padmé, and his mother's death, and all the ways he'd slipped on the Jedi path - but right now, his Master was there for him, holding him safe.
And the song of the Force had never sounded brighter or more triumphant.