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In Time

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Light. Blinding, pulsing, pounding. Like a rough ride inside a white –

--

White wave. Drowning him, dragging him, ripping him apart. Spitting him out into darkness, to an utter blackness so complete, he cannot see, hear or feel anything. He is suspended between life and death, in a vacuum, outside of space and time.

Nothingness

until –

he is hurtled through the barrier, thrown into not-emptiness, discarded back into space and time. With first breath, it all comes back; sight, hearing, sensation.

Obi-Wan Kenobi screams.

--

Breathing harshly, his heart hammering erratically, Anakin knew immediately that something was wrong. Or more accurately, the space he had been transported to was so very wrong. Empty. Twisted. He wanted to curl up, wanted to hide himself away from the malice and cruelty mercilessly circling him.

Someone was whispering.

Anakin pushed himself to his feet, feeling sick and unbalanced, tainted. He tried to focus his eyes through a red sheen; blinked and blinked until he saw his surroundings. A plateau of scrubby brown grass, sickly pale sun, a rocky ravine to his left. Something dark and looming ahead. His head was hurting, splitting apart.

Someone was whispering.

Inside him, the Force was swirling madly, howling and scratching like a wounded beast. Anakin took a step and reeled like a drunk, falling hard onto his knees. His fingers scraped the cracked earth, pulling out weeds. There was nothing to hold onto. He was alone.

Someone was whispering. Die, Jedi. Die, Jedi. Die.

A wicked will, bent on destruction and death. A steep dread took hold of him, hollowed out his heart. A misery too great to contain – it oozed out of him like poison, stinging and mocking. Die, Jedi. Die, Jedi. Die. There was nothing but fear and death and loss. Nothing but him alone, for all eternity. Better to die. Best to die. Die.

No! Anakin bit his lip until he tasted blood. He was not alone – had not been alone. Where was Obi-Wan? He struggled against the dark menace, fought hard to stand and keep on standing. The whispers grew into a loud voice, chanting die die die die die with the beat of his heart. He swayed and cursed; bit his lip again violently. The physical pain was a welcome relief.

Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan. Where was his Master? Anakin tried to take hold of the bond connecting them, tried to follow the threads to Obi-Wan, but the smallest touch made him recoil in anguish. It was like touching scalding water, a live fire. A hurt so deep it was sacrilege.

Die, Jedi. Die, Jedi. Die.

Shut up! He would not submit, he would not surrender. Not ever. He had to get to his Master, he had to find Obi-Wan. The malevolent voice could go kark itself. Anakin gathered all his will, battled to gain focus, to shut out the punishing dark. It was impossible of course – it was inside him, had always been inside him.

Stop it, stop it, stop it, he commanded himself, desperate.

He took a deep, hurting breath and looked into the distance. Oblong and windowless, the black Temple rose tall and powerful above the barren landscape, pulsing hate and spite. A Sith Temple. Anakin realized at last where he was, remembering Obi-Wan’s tight-lipped answers, Padmé’s halting tale. Zigoola. The Sith planet that had almost taken Obi-Wan’s and Bail Organa’s lives, their sanity.

How many times had Anakin wished that he could have been on Zigoola with his Master, to help him, to share that horrendous ordeal that had wrought so much pain? And how many times had he been guiltily glad that he had not been there, but had instead been sent to thwart Grievous’ plans to invade Bothawui? For in the secret recesses of his mind he had feared that Zigoola could utterly, terribly unmake him. What bitter irony to face it now, alone.

He swallowed the taste of blood, started walking with trembling feet towards the unholy structure. It repulsed him; it beckoned him. The black stone had a crimson sheen, like it had been drenched in blood. Rivers of blood had run down its smooth surface, baptizing it into darkness. Blood of innocents, blood of foes. His mother’s blood. Tuskens’ blood.

Step by aching step Anakin became closer to the horrid abomination, its lurid chant revolting, stirring him. He was walking towards his doom, but where else could he go? There was nothing else, only him alone. Alone in the darkness.

His mother was dying in his arms, leaving him. Qui-Gon was cut down, leaving him. Obi-Wan vanished under the mud and rain of Jabiim, leaving him. Padmé’s face was twisted in pain, her life ebbing away, leaving him.

Die, Jedi. Die, Jedi. Die and rise anew in the Dark.

He stumbled, almost fell.

The Sand People cried as he plunged his lightsaber into their hearts, slashed their faces, severed their hands and feet. The mothers screamed as their children were ripped from their arms and slaughtered. The desert was ice cold, it froze his heart. And still he was burning up, swallowed by a vengeful fire. He stabbed, he cut, he killed, he wept, he laughed. The Dark laughed with him.

Anakin!

There was no sand beneath him, only dry earth. The sky was not dark, but pallid. He was drenched in sweat, not blood. He was clenching his lightsaber so tightly in his hand it hurt; the blue brilliance of the weapon was a deadly beacon. The earth around him was singed and burned, mutilated. It had been just a gruesome hallucination, nothing more. Just a dark dream, familiar and terrible. With great effort, he made himself shut down his lightsaber, fastening it back to his belt.

How had his Master endured days on the cursed planet? Besieged by tormenting visions, attacked by malignant voices, completely alone except for the Force-blind Organa, who couldn’t have even begun to understand what the Jedi Master was facing.

Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan.

Where was his Master? Had he been left behind on the Monument? Was he somewhere on Zigoola, reliving his horrible ordeal on the planet? Or had he been transported to somewhere else? Had he been ripped apart in the transition, scattered into nothingness, gone, leaving Anakin?

Please, Master. I need your strength now.

The immense darkness of the stone drew his gaze back to its warped glory. It was close now, so close, its tall, engulfing shadow almost reaching him. Such awful, vast power. Such tremendous thirst. It wanted him: Anakin could feel its call in the very deepest part of him. Calling him home.

He closed his eyes. Never had he felt so lost and so found at the same time.

Please.

He opened his eyes and his gaze fell on a small figure near the base of the Temple. Laying on the ground, unmoving. Anakin’s heart missed a beat. He dashed forward, stumbling and shivering. It seemed to take forever to reach the body, to confirm who it was, although Anakin already knew who it was –

Panting, he dropped to his knees beside his Master, his shaking fingers and stinging eyes searching for signs of life. When he felt Obi-Wan’s weak breaths, saw the small, shallow rise of his chest, Anakin’s relief felt almost like fresh pain. It pierced him and left him gasping for air. And although his Master was alive – still, impossibly – oh Force, it was bad.

Obi-Wan lay on his back, looking worse than Anakin could have imagined even in his most hellish nightmares. His face was deathly pale, the skin split above the right eye, tracks of crusted blood smudging his skin. His tunic was dirty and bloodstained, leggings ripped and soaked in fresh blood. He looked thin and fragile, like he had been tortured for days.

That was because he had been there for days – it was the Obi-Wan of the past, the one who was still trapped on Zigoola, trying to battle against the murderous will of the Sith Temple and the evil artefacts within. Where was Organa? Anakin chanced a quick glance at the Temple; its huge double doors were open. Had the foolish Alderaanian gone inside? No matter, the man would obviously survive to politic another day. He turned his focus back to Obi-Wan.

His Master’s eyes were horribly empty, staring at the sky. A dreadful fear gripped Anakin, insidious indecision. What should he do? What could he do? Shouldn’t he try to find the present-day Obi-Wan? But how could he leave his Master like this? How could he leave any Obi-Wan to suffer alone?

You cannot help him, the Dark whispered. You cannot help anyone. You are alone.

“Master,” Anakin rasped, hands hovering over him. He was afraid to touch Obi-Wan; it seemed the man was hurt everywhere. What on earth had happened? Kriffing hell, how could his Master had gotten so horribly injured on a planet that was empty of any other living creature save him and Organa? When Anakin had finally gotten back to Coruscant from his many times extended mission, there had been a hint of weariness, of thinness clinging to Obi-Wan, but otherwise, he had been fine. Anakin had never known how truly bad it had been. His Master’s survival had been a miracle.

A miracle that had to be repeated. Anakin tried to take comfort from the knowledge that Obi-Wan would survive this – he had survived it before. He had returned alive from Zigoola, back to Anakin’s side.

He won’t. You know he won’t. He will leave you.

“Shut the kark up!”

Ignoring the dark whispers was easier said than done, but Anakin tried to think nothing else but his grievously hurt Master, who needed him. Nothing else mattered. With the utmost care, Anakin placed the palm of his flesh hand on Obi-Wan’s cold cheek. Obi-Wan’s lips were moving, but no sound came out.

“Master, hold on,” he pleaded, wondering what nightmares Obi-Wan was seeing behind those vacant eyes. “Just hold on, you are going to be fine.” His other hand took hold of the end of his Master’s sleeve, like he had sometimes done as a little boy, overwhelmed or afraid.

Cautiously, he brushed against their bond; it erupted into a hot flame, seeking to burn him. Circling them, the Dark crowded with savage pleasure. Determined, Anakin pushed through the blaze, feeling like a molten lava was invading his veins, his bones, every cell in his body. For a moment the brightness of pain took his sanity away – he had to retreat from the inferno before it could burn him to a cinder. His crushing defeat tasted like ash.

He could not reach Obi-Wan through their bond – could not soothe or heal him with the Force – could not feel his Master – could not hear him in his mind – could not –

The Dark roared between them, turned that what was most precious into a source of pain. Took and twisted the very lifeline that had saved them so many times and corrupted it against them. Stole the solace, the warmth, the certainty. Left each of them alone, empty.

And yet, Anakin had to try. In any possible and impossible way, he would always try.

“Obi-Wan, listen to me.” He infused his voice with his stubborn will, his determined belief, his absolute faith in the things he was saying. “You will survive this. More than that, you will triumph over this vaping planet. No butt ugly Sith Temple nor their old junk is going to defeat you. You are a Jedi.”

He bent down over Obi-Wan, so close their faces were only a few inches apart. Unseeing eyes met his, a total lack of recognition. “You are strong – the strongest man I know. And the most pig-headed, mulish son of a barve. You never give up. Never. No matter how hard, how painful it is. You never give up on me, no matter what I –”

Anakin’s voice faltered, his eyes burned with unshed tears. He took a deep breath, tried again. “Master, you are not alone. I’m here. I’m right here with you. And the other me, the other me out there is also with you, worried for you, waiting to hear from you, wanting to see you, needing for you to come back.”

He kissed Obi-Wan’s forehead, heedless of the grime and blood. “Please come back.”

Please. I will give anything.

“A…na…kin…,” Obi-Wan murmured, almost too quiet to be heard. His Master’s eyes met his, full of confusion and pain and anxiety. But he was seeing Anakin, he was there, he was repeating Anakin’s name haltingly, with wonder and longing.

“Yes, it’s me,” Anakin said and wept.