Part IX: Exile
By the time I let go of his mind, my own mind is reeling in shock from what I've witnessed. I open my eyes to see him curled in the fetal position, his face wet with tears, and something breaks in me. I wrap my arms around him, feeling a desperate need to keep him safe.
He takes a deep, shuddering breath. For an instant it feels like the old Atton is with me again, at a rare moment when his defenses are shattered and waves of anger and hurt roll off him. I bury my face in his neck and let our tears mingle. I know I'm making myself vulnerable by doing this, but I'm not afraid.
Which is why I don't react when I feel a knife settle against my neck.
"Get up," Jaq growls.
I obey, taking care to rise in tandem with him and his knife. Once we're on our feet, he keeps the knife at my neck, breathing hard. His icy eyes rove all over me as if he's imagining the things he could do to me. I stare at him, still unafraid.
With a flick of his wrist, he nicks my skin. The sting of pain sends a jolt through me. As the warm blood creeps down toward my collarbone, he angles the knife to catch it.
He studies it. A battle rages in his eyes. Hate . . . lust . . . doubt . . . fear . . .
. . . revulsion.
He removes the knife and walks away.
I let myself breathe again.
He stops a few paces from me, his back turned. The silence thickens between us. I feel like he just stepped across a gulf as wide as a Malachor canyon. Maybe he was on the other side to begin with.
"You cared for him."
He says it so abruptly that I blink. I follow his gaze and see that he's looking at Mical's body. Sorrow washes over me. "Yes."
But not like I cared for you.
He doesn't answer. I watch him, waiting. His gaze remains locked on Mical's body.
"You Jedi are all the same," he says finally. "Always keepin' your little secrets. Well, secrets can kill, you know. And I don't just mean the one who keeps them."
It takes me a moment to realize he isn't referring to Mical but to himself.
My heart aches. I step toward him, but he throws up a hand to stop me.
"Don't, Jedi. Just get out of here."
What? "I'm not going to walk away from you."
" He turns on me with fire in his eyes. "You've saved yourself. Now do what you came here for!"
I can't believe it. Anger shoots through my veins. "Is that all you think it was? Me trying to save myself?"
He stares at me. The fire in his eyes cools, and suddenly he seems to give out. His shoulders sag, and he looks down at the ground. "No. Of course it wasn't," he mumbles. "Or maybe it was. I don't know. I don't know what's true anymore."
I stare at him, at a loss for how to respond. He turns away without looking at me, the knife lax in his hand. His posture is that of a man who has been utterly broken.
I realize then that I won't save him. Not truly.
This man has lost everything. His home and his family long ago, and now his identity, his soul, his will to go on. I may have saved him from the dark side, but I was too late to save his life.
To him, it is already gone.
A numbing grief settles over me. Wordlessly, I approach Jaq and touch his arm. He looks up at me, and I see that his expression is haunted and empty, his eyes every bit as cold as they were before, only in a different way.
Blinking back tears, I embrace him.
At first he remains frozen; I'm embracing ice. Then ice melts into flesh, and his arms move to embrace me. We stay that way, communicating things too deep for words, for I don't know how long. I only know that by the time Jaq pulls away from me, it hasn't been long enough.
"You have to go."
I know. She's waiting for me, and she won't wait forever. I linger a few more moments to study his face and remember it as it used to be. Smooth skin. Brown hair. Hazel eyes.
When my gaze reaches his cracked lips, I lean in to give him the kiss I should've given him long ago. I'm sorry.
Then I turn and walk to the door that leads to the heart of the Academy.
It takes all of my strength to not look back.
The Trayus Core is a majestic place, built to be the focal point of Force power in the Academy. From the moment I step into the chamber, however, I only have eyes for the black-robed figure standing alone on the central platform.
She pulls back her hood as I approach, revealing dead, black eyes set in a face of stone. The darkness in this chamber is strong, so strong that it feels like a million claws grasping at my clothes and face and hair. But, even then, it's not as strong as the current of emotion running between me and my former master.
I stop a short distance away, lightsaber in hand. I stare at her. She stares back. Neither of us speaks until, finally, I ask the question that weighs most heavily on my mind.
"Why did you do it?"
She knows my meaning. Her expression remains as stony as ever.
"To break you," she says coldly.