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In Time

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“It’s a trap.” Anakin stared at the battered YV-series light freighter. From the bridge of the Vigilance, the freighter seemed small, easily dwarfed by the Star Destroyer. It drifted slowly just ahead of them, its long and narrow hull lazily rotating in the black. “I’ll bet ten credits that it’s a trap.”

“Maybe.” Obi-Wan stroked his beard, deep in thought. “Make it a dinner at Dex’s and I might be tempted.”

“Come on, a secret Republic operative sends an urgent transmission with just a set of coordinates? Coordinates that are in the middle of nowhere, but we just happen to be near of? Obi-Wan, this whole situation has a Separatist plot written all over it.”

“Perhaps.”

“We know nothing about this operative – I doubt they even exist. Who intercepted the message in the first place?”

“It came through a certain senator I am rather inclined to trust,” Obi-Wan said, lips upturning into a small smile.

Padmé? Anakin thought immediately, heart thudding, but knowing better than to ask. Not only because it was prudent not to discuss covert matters in the middle of the bridge, but because he feared his voice would reveal the aching longing he felt. It had been too long since he had held his wife, and the mere thought of her filled him with both deep pleasure and pain. As always, Anakin feared he would be too transparent for his Master’s discerning eyes, so he kept his gaze firmly fixed on the scene outside the viewport. “A politician? In that case, I would think you would be the first the scream trap, Master.”

“Lieutenant?” Obi-Wan asked, turning towards the bridge officer hunched over the sensor array console.

“No signals that indicate the presence of any Separatist ships in the area, nor any other ships but the freighter. There are no signs of life from the freighter. It seems we are alone, General,” the lieutenant answered, not taking his eyes off his instruments.

“No signs of life?” Obi-Wan furrowed his brow. “None at all?”

“None. I double checked it, sir.” The officer sounded slightly indignant, like Obi-Wan had just personally offended him. Anakin resisted the urge to roll his eyes – navy officers – and turned towards Obi-Wan, grinning.

“That is not suspicious. At all.” Trap or not, Anakin knew they would have to go inside the freighter and search it from the aft to the cockpit. In spite of his protests, Anakin was rather looking forward to it. Their efforts to engage the Separatist fleet in the Kalamith sector had so far been a spectacular bust and he was itching for any kind of action.

His Master, knowing what Anakin was thinking, grinned back. Obi-Wan was probably just as eager as Anakin to do something instead of the frustrating search and wait they had been engaged in. Still, thorough as always, Obi-Wan asked, “Scans for explosives? Anything unusual or out of place on that ship?”

“None detected – sir,” the lieutenant huffed, and that was it. No one spoke to Anakin’s Master with that tone of voice, least of all some second-rate subordinate navy officer. But before he could open his mouth to say just that, Obi-Wan clapped Anakin lightly on the shoulder. “Let’s spring this trap then,” he said and headed towards the exit.

Anakin followed, shooting a nasty glare towards the lieutenant. The man paled, most definitely getting the message. “I thought you didn’t think this was a trap?”

“Did I take your bet?” Obi-Wan parried.

“Alright, dinner at Dex’s it is.”

“Deal.”

--

After searching the freighter inside out, confirming that the ship was as empty and devoid of life as the scans had indicated, Obi-Wan still wasn’t quite sure whether he was in for a free meal at Dex’s Diner.

Rather than risking pulling the mysterious freighter inside the Vigilance’s hangar with a tractor beam, they had opted to board the ship with a small squad of clones. On high alert the whole time, Obi-Wan had been somewhat pleasantly surprised when nothing had tried to kill them as they entered the vessel. Nothing nasty waited them in the empty cargo hold either, nor in the cabins or the bridge; it seemed that the ship had been abandoned some time ago – all of which did not in the slightest put Obi-Wan’s mind at ease.

The Force was oddly ambiguous, telling him that something was or had been there, something not necessarily wrong but different. It made Obi-Wan anxious, for in his line of work, different was too often a synonym for dangerous. The feeling confirmed what logic had already deduced: the ship, which was the only thing in the coordinates the operative had sent, was the key to something important.

“Master!” Anakin’s holler broke the silence and made Obi-Wan startle; he snorted at his own jumpiness, glad that his former Padawan hadn’t been there to witness it.

He found Anakin standing in the middle of a small sleeping area, looking satisfied. In his hand, he was holding a cube-shaped object of crystalline material. It was instantly apparent to Obi-Wan that is was a holocron.

“Bingo, Master, bingo.” Anakin grinned wildly, eyes still glued to the cube. “This has to be what the operative left for us to find.”

“Yes,” Obi-Wan agreed, “let’s get it out of here.”

Still on edge, Obi-Wan wanted the holocron safely on board the Vigilance as soon as possible. They left the clones to finish the search and returned to the Star Destroyer. In silent agreement, they headed straight for Obi-Wan’s cabin, where they could talk and examine the holocron freely.

“Do you think this is a Jedi holocron?” Anakin asked, managing to restlessly twist out of his robe, while still firmly grasping the cube.

“Hmm…perhaps.” There were records of different kinds of holocrons, made by both the Jedi and the Sith, but also of other kinds, their makers and purpose lost to the oblivion of time. The cube in Anakin’s hand did not look like any kind of Sith holocron Obi-Wan had seen before, nor did it resonate with the dark malice of the dark side of the Force. That did not mean it was harmless.

“There has to be something really important inside it.” Anakin stared at the holocron intently – and then he was recklessly reaching with the Force and the cube’s sides were clicking and shifting and Obi-Wan shouted, “Anakin, wait! Don’t open –”

But they were engulfed by a blinding white light, and it was already too late.

Chapter Text

Light. Blinding, pulsing, pounding. Like a rough ride inside a white wave. Less than a second, more than an eternity. Nothingness that bursts into colour, sound and movement so intense it must be what being born is like.

--

“Yeah, this is definitely NOT the Vigilance,” Anakin groaned somewhere behind Obi-Wan. The grey steel of the Star Destroyer had changed into lush greens and sparkling blues, the recycled bland air into an exotic blend of sweet and salty. He was laying on something soft and damp that his brain recognized a moment later to be soft green moss. Mindful of the drunken reeling of his insides, Obi-Wan carefully sat up. Yes, they were most definitely not on his ship. In fact, it looked suspiciously like…

“This looks like Naboo,” Anakin marvelled, his long legs appearing on the periphery of Obi-Wan’s sight.

“You just had to open that holocron.” Obi-Wan scrambled to his feet, trying to prevent his nauseous stomach from emptying itself all over the ground. “You just had to. You couldn’t listen to me this once –”

“I think this –” Anakin spread his arms around, gesturing to the mossy clearing surrounded by thick green growth, the water cascading over the rocks to a small pond – “is evidence enough that it was not, in fact, a holocron.”

“That is not the point!” Obi-Wan dry heaved, feeling even more wretched. “That is most definitely not the point, Anakin…at least tell me that you have the holocron?”

“Ah, no…I don’t think it came with us – to wherever we are.”

“Of course, it didn’t.”

“Are you alright, Master?” Anakin’s face suddenly came into focus right in front of Obi-Wan, his former Padawan’s brow wrinkled with concern. “You usually aren’t this panicked over the druk we get into.”

“You think this is something bad then?” Obi-Wan swallowed, trying to get himself under control. He was not panicked, but the whole blinding light-strange wave-whatever they had just experienced-thing had twisted his stomach into more knots than he knew how to untangle.

“Well, it’s us, so…yeah.” Anakin’s hand came to rest on his shoulder. “You’re alright though?”

“Yes, just a little queasy,” he confessed, drawing the Force around himself like a soft blanket, letting it numb the horrible swaying bile wreaking havoc to his insides.

“So…just your normal airsickness then.” Anakin grinned. Obi-Wan did not bother to dignify that with an answer.

--

There was nothing for it, but to start walking around, to try to ascertain not only where they were, but when they were. Obi-Wan had read about ancient Force objects that could transport people to the other side of the galaxy in the blink of an eye and through time itself. Those objects were notoriously fickle and seemed to be the catalyses for the most disastrous incidents imaginable. There was no proof yet that was what had happened to them, but as Anakin had said – it was the two of them. Weird – bad – things always happened to them.

It didn’t take long for them to confirm that they were in fact on Naboo. The planet’s Lake Country to be exact. When they broke the cover of the forest and a view of a beautiful lake surrounded by sloping green mountains opened up before them, Anakin exclaimed in surprise.

“That’s Varykino! Naberrie’s lake retreat.” On the shore of the lake stood a grand villa, its golden stone glittering in the sun, reflecting brilliantly from the smooth surface of the water.

“Oh?” Obi-Wan raised his eyebrows in silent question.

Anakin blushed. “I came here with Padmé, when I was assigned to protect her from those assassins.” As that hardly narrowed things down, he added, “Just before Geonosis.”

“Well, lead the way then. Let’s see if anyone is at home.”

First, it seemed that nobody was home. The lake retreat was old, lavish and silent. There was no one to be seen on the front side of the villa, and wary of going straight inside, they went around to the back, where there was a large veranda overlooking the lake. Three humanoids and two droids were standing next to an ornamental railing, and with a sudden jolt Obi-Wan realized what he was seeing –

R2-D2 and C-3PO – how had the droids got there?

Padmé, who was wearing a white dress that even Obi-Wan, who knew nothing of fashion, could tell was a wedding dress if ever there was one.

Anakin, who still had his Padawan haircut and braid, and was NOT the Anakin, who was now standing next to Obi-Wan and gaping like a fish out of water.

The third humanoid, an older man, was almost an afterthought. He was the only one of the strange gathering Obi-Wan did not recognize, although he could guess –

Some detached part of Obi-Wan, the part that could analyse calmly the most farkled of situations and act accordingly, noted that time travel seemed to be real – or he was hallucinating something fierce.

”So hey,” his Anakin said nervously, “now we know not only where we are, but when we are. That’s a plus.”

“You got married?!”

Anakin’s wince was engulfed by a bright, blinding light. Typical, Obi-Wan thought just before the white wave swallowed him up.

--

Light. Blinding, pulsing, pounding. Like a rough ride inside a white wave. Less than a second, more than an eternity. Nothingness that bursts into colour, sound and movement so intense –

--

It was hot. That was the first thing that came to Anakin’s mind after the vertigo inducing trip through kriffing time ended. The second one was that he was so very dead. The cat was out of the bag, beans had been spilt, dwang had hit the fan et cetera and Anakin was going to be dead the minute Obi-Wan stopped trying to violently dry heave his insides to the outside.

“You married senator Amidala?” Anakin’s former Master muttered disbelievingly next to him, and Anakin couldn’t help but wince again in guilt and shame. He could NOT ever regret marrying Padmé, but all the lies he had had to tell Obi-Wan because of it – those he did regret deeply. But it was not the right time or place for apologies; they were standing on burning sand under merciless suns and Anakin knew this planet –

“Master,” he croaked, throat suddenly so dry he could hardly speak, “we’re on Tatooine.” Why would the blasted holocron bring them to that cursed place? And how could it even do that when the holocron was still in Obi-Wan’s cabin aboard the Vigilance, sith knew how many years into the future? Anakin could not be there, he could not, what if they were to see –

“Anakin.” Obi-Wan’s rough hand cupped his cheek, grounding Anakin. He tried to settle his hammering heart by focusing on his Master’s firm touch, attempted to slow his erratic breathing by watching Obi-Wan’s self-possessed face. “Calm your mind.” The irrational panic dissolved as swiftly as it had come, leaving only the fear which Anakin pushed deep inside himself.

“I hate this place.” The words were torn from him without any conscious thought, like a plaintive plea from a lost child. Anakin grimaced, ashamed of his own weakness.

“I know,” Obi-Wan said, not without sympathy. His hand lingered on Anakin’s cheek for a moment, before he took a step backwards, looking at the vast barren wilderness that surrounded them. “Do you have any idea where on Tatooine we are?”

Almost reluctantly, Anakin took a look around. Before him, he could see sand dunes as far as the eye could see, the desert sea where all wretched were eventually lost. Behind him in the distance were rocky bluffs that rose brown-yellow from the sand, a harsh jagged wasteland. He wanted to say that everything on Tatooine looked the same, but…”We must be on the edge of the Western Dune Sea. That’s Jundland Wastes.” He pointed to the rocky cliffs. “Mos Espa is behind it.”

“How far?”

“Maybe about 120…130 klicks?” In the harsh environment, it would take them days to reach the spaceport. They would have to find shelter and water long before then, preferably soon. Their only hope was the Jundland Wastes, which was not any kind of hope at all.

“This day just keeps getting better…” Obi-Wan sighed, tugging the hood of his robe over his head. Anakin had no such cover for his head and face, having discarded his own robe the moment he had dashed inside Obi-Wan’s cabin what seemed like ages ago.

“Let’s go before I melt,” Anakin ordered, turning towards the distant rocks. He was already hot, sweaty and thirsty – and knew it was going to be so much worse the further they had to travel in the punishing heat.

“Anakin.” Obi-Wan’s solemn voice halted him in his tracks. With some difficulty, he met his Master’s sombre gaze. “After this is over…after we are back on the Vigilance, we are going to talk about the marriage and everything that entails.”

Anakin could only nod miserably and start walking.

--

They were silent as they trudged across the sand dunes with heavy feet and heavier thoughts. If one were to assign any luck to their current situation, it would have been that the karking not-holocron had flung them moderately close to the Jundland Wastes; it took them only two hours to reach the edge of the dune sea. If they had found themselves in the middle of the desert – well, that would not have ended well for them.

It still might not end well, Anakin thought morosely. The suns were only halfway-up the sky and he felt himself wilting with every step. The hated planet dragged everything from him, sucked every vein and bone marrow dry as dust. Anywhere else would have been better – how he wished they had stayed in the green-lush Varykino, Obi-Wan’s disapproval and awkward questions be damned. He would have seen Padmé…

Anakin.” Obi-Wan’s weary voice halted his thoughts. Anakin got the impression it was not the first time the older man had called his name. He turned around; Obi-Wan had stopped against a rocky wall that was shadowed by an overhang. “Let’s rest here,” he said and obediently Anakin shuffled to stand next to him. It was hot even in the shadow; the rock at his back scorched him through the clothes.

Anakin closed his eyes, but could not escape the burn of the twin suns or his mother’s agonized face. When he next opened his eyes, Obi-Wan had taken off his robe and was placing it on Anakin’s shoulders. “But…” he tried to protest, “it’s your robe…”

“And I’m far too hot to keep wearing it.” Obi-Wan let go of the robe, leaving Anakin hastily trying to keep it from falling to the ground. “I say it’s time you carried it for a while.”

“Like I said, it’s your robe,” Anakin protested more out of habit than from any real opposition. He was already pulling the hood over his head, a blessed darkness falling over his face.

“And you can surely do your old Master a favour?” Obi-Wan smiled lightly, but there was a worried look in his eyes that Anakin was intimately acquainted with. He had been the recipient of that measuring look regularly when he had still been a Padawan, and lately, as the war progressed with no end in sight, the look had become more and more frequent again.

Before Anakin could turn his eyes away from Obi-Wan’s gaze, his Master gestured to their left. “Let’s go this way, I have a…feeling about it.”

Anakin looked sceptically in the direction Obi-Wan was pointing. It didn’t look any different from the rest of the rocky terrain. “A good feeling?”

“That still remains to be seen.”

“Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of,” Anakin snorted, but followed his Master’s lead.

--

The Force did not lead them astray. Just as Obi-Wan’s worrying ratcheted up another notch when Anakin stumbled again in exhaustion and dehydration, they came upon a shelter. It was a typical Tatooine homestead, only smaller and shabbier than most, and it stood atop a rocky cliff overlooking the Dune Sea. No doubt it was a lonely and miserable place to live, but Obi-Wan wasn’t going to judge other people’s living conditions – nor would he look a gift horse in the mouth.

Besides, they didn’t have any choice. Dooku himself could live there and they would have to go knocking. Not that the esteemed count would ever live in a small dirt-poor hovel on Tatooine, but –

“Master?” Anakin’s enquiring voice halted his rambling thoughts and sheepishly Obi-Wan acknowledged that Anakin wasn’t the only one who was being affected by their environment. Force, it was hot. And to make matters worse, the queasy feeling – courtesy of that blasted holocron – still hadn’t faded, but continued to vex him, insistent –

“Obi-Wan?” Now the boy sounded rather worried, so Obi-Wan forced (hah!) himself to focus on the here and now and met Anakin’s tired gaze with reassurance.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” He said as he walked past Anakin to the dwelling’s entrance. “Let’s go meet the locals.” There was a strange tone in the Force, it didn’t feel like warning or disquiet, it just felt…odd. Like something was slightly off-kilter. Nonetheless, Obi-Wan let his hand rest against his lightsaber as he knocked on the door. Anakin was standing a few metres behind Obi-Wan, wary and pensive, ready for whatever they would encounter.

When the echo of the knocks faded, there was no sound but their own harsh breathing. No one came to the door, so they let themselves in to the empty house.

Obi-Wan sighed gratefully as the blessedly cool air of the room enveloped him. He took in their surroundings with interest; there was only one room in the small dwelling, sparsely furnished. The main space had a sleeping alcove, storage chest, a small table and two chairs. A couple of steps led to the kitchen area, where there was a stove, pantry, space heater and a ventilation unit. In the very back was a door to a small bathroom. The walls were whitewashed and there were a few threadbare rugs on the floor. The space felt surprisingly homely.

“What a dreadful place,” Anakin grumbled, poking around in the kitchen. “I bet some batsith crazy hermit lives here.”

“I think this is a rather cosy little house,” Obi-Wan defended the unknown owner of the dwelling. Just because someone had become a little too accustomed to the opulence of the senatorial apartments, it didn’t mean that small and humble equalled horrible. Case in point their own apartment in the Jedi Temple.

You would,” his former Padawan muttered, but came instantly more animated, when he found what he was looking for. “Finally!” Anakin took a long drink straight from the small water container, a blissful look spreading across his face that made Obi-Wan smile.

“Here.” Anakin offered the container to Obi-Wan, who drank from it eagerly. The water was undoubtedly the best drink he had ever had, cool and smooth. After quenching his thirst, he sat gingerly on one of the chairs, not wanting to needlessly disturb anything in someone else’s home. Anakin, on the other hand, had no such compunctions; he threw himself into the sleeping alcove with gusto, sprawling on the bed.

They sank into a long moment of silence and stillness, a hazy rest of non-sleep. Obi-Wan’s mind swam in half-formed thoughts, fragmentary ideas. He felt like he was somewhere else and at the same time he was watching Anakin, who had hidden his face in the bedding. Obi-Wan could just barely hear, when the boy mumbled to himself, “This smells like you.”

“Excuse me?” Obi-Wan jolted awake from his lethargic drowse.

“Sorry.” Anakin sounded embarrassed. “This place is weird. I can’t explain it.”

“Hmm…yes.” Obi-Wan stroked his beard. “I know what you mean. It’s familiar, but not. I expect we’ll know soon enough where – and when – we are.”

“You mean the holocron brought us here on purpose?”

“Our visit to Naboo would rather indicate that we are being transported into places and times that have some significance to at least one of us.”

The mention of Naboo brought an uncomfortable silence between them. Obi-Wan couldn’t even begin to plan how to best handle the whole marriage thing. What would the Council do? Should they even be told right away? Anakin was needed in the war and no amount of scolding and punishments – or Force forbid expulsion from the Order – would change that hard fact. An irrational wave of resentment suddenly came over Obi-Wan; Anakin had put him in an impossible situation.

“I’m sorry I lied to you,” Anakin blurted all at once, “but I love her and I can’t give her up.”

Obi-Wan sighed in resignation, “Perhaps you were never meant to be a Jedi.” The words came from a sense of frustration rather than from any real belief. He regretted them the moment they left his lips; his Padawan’s hurt reverberated through their bond, before Anakin tightened his shields so firmly that not even a trickle of his feelings managed to seep through.

“Anakin, I didn’t mean –” But the rest of his sentence was halted abruptly, when the front door of the dwelling slid open, revealing a hooded figure. Obi-Wan jumped up from the chair, cursing his inattention. How had the stranger managed to catch them unaware?

“Well, this is interesting,” the man said with a cultured coruscanti tone, dry as dust, and for once, Obi-Wan was struck speechless.

Chapter Text

The shock of recognition left Anakin reeling. There was no doubt as to who had entered the house, although the familiar features were hidden under aged skin and white hair. Anakin did not know how he could have missed it before; Obi-Wan’s force-presence was everywhere in the small dwelling. On the surface it was subtly different from the one Anakin had come to know as intimately as his own, but the core of it was still the same, still uniquely his Master.

Hastily, Anakin scrambled to stand up, somehow becoming hopelessly entangled in the bedding. He hit the floor with a thud, legs askew, dragging the bedlinen with him. Mortified, Anakin could only console himself with the thought that his clumsiness had broken the charged atmosphere: both Obi-Wans had turned to look at him with identical raised eyebrows.

“I see you have made yourself at home,” the elderly Obi-Wan remarked sedately, a hint of amusement apparent in the wrinkled lines around his sharp gaze. His eyes had not dimmed at all, they were still clear grey-blue – they were the eyes that had met Anakin’s own for the first time aboard the Nubian royal starship, above the sands of that very same planet.

“Anakin, if you could stop playing around…” Obi-Wan said, none too patiently.

“I was not aiming to be the comic relief,” Anakin muttered, freeing himself at last from the treacherous bedding and getting up – very gracefully, one might add.

“And yet, you somehow manage it quite effortlessly,” Obi-Wan sniped.

“That’s because I’m skilful at everything.” The banter served its purpose; it made Anakin relax slightly, the tightness in his tense muscles easing somewhat. He could face anything – even two Obi-Wans. Which, now that he thought about it, just might be a worse fate than facing the whole Separatist army or the Jedi Council.

The old man cleared his throat pointedly.

Obi-Wan turned towards his counterpart, inclining his head slightly. “Yes, well…apologies for intruding in your home, but the situation was somewhat critical.” It was pure Obi-Wan: under the impeccable manners was a wide sarcastic streak that frustrated and delighted Anakin in equal measure.

“Isn’t it always?” The elder said dryly, taking off his brown robe and folding it across the back of a chair. Anakin couldn’t help but stare at the old man in amazement; he even folded his clothes the same way as Obi-Wan. It was all too surreal – it really was his Master, only much older and greyer.

“I imagine you would want something to eat then, in addition to the water you drank?” Old Obi-Wan glanced meaningfully at the empty water container still on the table, and not waiting for an answer, stepped inside the kitchen area.

Anakin darted to stand beside his Master. “You’re ancient!” He hissed into Obi-Wan’s ear, both gleeful and horrified.

“Hardly,” Obi-Wan whispered, “just well-aged.”

“Why would you live here?” Anakin put into words the question that was starting to bother him the more he thought about it. Was this really supposed to be Obi-Wan’s future? A miserable dwelling in the middle of nowhere, on Tatooine of all places? And if Obi-Wan really lived here, where was he himself? Where was this future’s Anakin?

Obi-Wan, it seemed, had no answers for him. Anakin followed his troubled look, and together they watched as the elder Obi-Wan puttered around in the kitchen, his movements sure but clearly stiff with old age. Anakin felt inexplicably ill at ease. Obi-Wan should never look so old and weary. Alone.

Why am I not with him? There were only two plausible explanations Anakin could think of, both of which disturbed him for different reasons: either he was with Padmé or he was dead. In any case, he had left his Master, his best friend, his brother, his – his Obi-Wan to live alone in this hellhole. And that was simply inexcusable.

--

Dinner was a somewhat awkward affair.

Obi-Wan tried to decline the offered pieces of bread and jerky, still queasy from their unconventional trip through time. Anakin’s frown made him try to eat a little bit, and it was less uncomfortable to be eating something than sitting there watching others eat. Anakin, as usual, had an insatiable appetite that no manner of disaster could easily quench; the boy was wolfing down his portion of the dinner, while the old man was sneaking indulgent looks towards him between his own small bites of food.

Something about the way his counterpart was looking at Anakin made Obi-Wan uneasy.

Anakin broke the silence after swallowing hastily his last piece of bread. “Obi-Wan – er I mean, old Obi-Wan –”

“Perhaps it would be less confusing for all of us, if you would call me Ben.”

“How old are you?” Anakin blurted his question with his customary tact – which was non-existent.

“Not so very old yet, although to you I may appear…ancient,” Ben said wryly, a twinkle in his eye.

Anakin grinned. “At least you haven’t lost your sharp hearing.”

“Or you have just never learned to be inconspicuous.”

“Your not-so-funny-as-you-think wit seems to be intact too.”

Obi-Wan followed the exchange of words silently. It was unsettling to see what he would look like, be like, as an old man. Although Ben’s exterior was calm and collected, Obi-Wan could sense an undercurrent of sorrow, running deep. Also, behind the unruffled veneer, the old man was soaking up Anakin’s every expression and word like they were precious gifts.

“Aren’t you interested to know how we got here?” Anakin asked.

“Extremely,” Ben admitted, “but perhaps…the less we know about our individual circumstances, the better. If you really are from the past…”

“How does not trying to learn more make any sense?” Anakin said earnestly and turned towards Obi-Wan. “Master, you said yourself that we were transported here for a reason, to learn something. How is not exchanging any information going to help us with that?”

Obi-Wan sighed. “I only said that we seem to have been transported into places and times that have some significance to us. As to why that is, we can only speculate. Nothing is yet certain.” He was not sure he even wanted to know how he had come to live by himself on Tatooine, let alone why it seemed he had been there for years.

“So, I take it that this is not the first occasion, when you have ended up somewhere outside of your own time.” Ben stroked his white beard, looking thoughtful. “I don’t remember time traveling anywhere, so the past could already have changed…”

“Or you just don’t remember,” Obi-Wan interrupted. It was not outside the realms of possibility that the holocron would wipe all memory of their trip if – when it brought them back to their own time.

“Or that,” the old man acknowledged. “Either way, there seems to be nothing we can do about the situation at present.”

“Nothing?” Anakin was clearly dismayed. “We have to get back! I’m not staying here – sorry Ben, but there is a war and…and other stuff.”

“I know.” Ben smiled slightly. “No offence meant, I’m sure, and none taken.”

“I’m confident we won’t be here long,” Obi-Wan said, although he wasn’t so certain; their visit to Naboo had lasted significantly less time than they had already spent on Tatooine. The difference in duration indicated that it would be next to impossible to predict when the artefact would transport them back – or to somewhere else.

Obi-Wan’s words seemed to mollify Anakin, and when the young man rose up from his chair, he sounded calmer. “I still think you should at least tell us when we are, despite how hard it will be to your ego to confess your extreme old age.”

“Perhaps,” Ben conceded, but didn’t say anything more.

“I’ll clear the table,” Anakin offered, “but don’t think you’re off the hook yet.” He took the empty plates to the kitchen with a clatter, leaving Obi-Wan and his counterpart to silently mull over their thoughts, which Obi-Wan had aplenty. Why was the old man so reluctant to tell them anything? Was the future simply too terrible to unveil? Or was he reading too much into his older self’s demeanour?

When Anakin stepped back to the main room, Ben rose from his own seat atop the bed to meet him. “Thank you,” the old man said quietly. It was obvious the words were for more than just clearing the table.

Anakin seemed to know it too, for his smile was strained as he answered, “What for? I’ve only made you sad.”

“No…today, you have made an old man very happy.” Ben reached his hand to touch Anakin’s cheek, and suddenly to whole room seemed to hold its breath. Obi-Wan stood frozen, rooted to the spot, watching as everything in Anakin seemed to wound tighter and tighter, until finally his Padawan exhaled, looking as if the only thing that kept him upright was Ben’s hand cupping his cheek. They were staring at each other, and whatever passed between them Obi-Wan wasn’t privy to.

It was an intensely private moment, one that Obi-Wan was slightly embarrassed to witness, but he could not avert his gaze from the pair.

Then Anakin shuddered, and Obi-Wan tensed. Before he could even decide what to do, Anakin had jerked away from the old man and bolted for the door. Obi-Wan let him leave – he had a few words he wanted to say to his counterpart alone. Although he wanted to make sure the boy was alright, he could not pass this opportunity, when Anakin was out of hearing.

“What was that?” He asked sharply.

“I’m a foolish old man…with too many memories.” Ben slumped into a chair, looking tired and beaten. It raised Obi-Wan’s hackles like nothing else – how dare he give up?

As if he had heard the thought, Ben lifted his grim gaze to Obi-Wan. “I have done what I must…but perhaps you don’t have to.”

“What does that mean?” Obi-Wan wanted to know, an unknown urgency prompting him to press on. “What happened to you? Is…is Anakin dead?” Ben did not answer, but his eyes, heavy and pitying, said yes as clearly as if he had voiced the horrible word aloud. “How?” Obi-Wan asked, desperate. “Tell me how!”

Ben hesitated, and then opened his mouth to speak, but the words were drowned under the rush of the white wave, and Obi-Wan thought no and then he was once again no more.

--

Light. Blinding, pulsing, pounding. Like a rough ride inside a white wave. Less than a second, more than an eternity. Nothingness –

--

It took a long time for Anakin to catch his breath.

He stared at the night sky, and it was the surface of a dark water, and he had to break free, reach the surface, breathe again – but there was the old man’s eyes and his mind and his words, dragging Anakin under –

When Ben – no, when Obi-Wan – had touched Anakin’s face, every carefully constructed shield and wall and barrier between them had cracked. He had seen it all in Obi-Wan’s eyes: pain, anger, longing, acceptance, hope. Although it had devastated Anakin, he hadn’t been able to turn away from the old man’s piercing gaze. Between them, he had heard, as if from a great distance, his own scream echo I hate you! I hate you! I hate!

He had flinched violently, but Obi-Wan had not let him go. Hear me, he had asked – pleaded – remember…I have always loved you. Always.

Anakin had wrenched himself away then, and eyes stung with unshed tears, he had stumbled out of the house to the embrace of the gathering dark. He had stood in the middle of the quiet wasteland, mind and heart too full, too heavy. It had been a relief to feel the swirling storm of bright light, knowing it would take him far away from that heart-breaking future.

And now he was laying on sand, and he wanted to scream. He was still on Tatooine.

Chapter Text

When Obi-Wan woke up with a start, face down in sand, he wasn’t exactly surprised. Nothing had so far gone easily with their incredible journey through time, and he didn’t expect it to change anytime soon.

His insides on fire, Obi-Wan struggled to stand, and the ensuing agony was like a hot knife cleaving him in half. This third transition through time had confirmed what he had already suspected: each new move to a different time and place was harder, more painful than the previous. He had a theory about that, one that he really hoped would prove to be untrue. However, he couldn’t concentrate on something he had no power over at the present – it was imperative he ascertain where and when he was instead, and more importantly, if Anakin had been transported to the same place.

Obi-Wan took deep breaths and gathered the Force around him like a shield, pushing the pain out of his mind with every exhale. Slowly, but surely, the searing agony morphed into a steady, thrumming ache, and Obi-Wan could focus his senses to the complex nuances in the Force all around him. There were many living beings nearby; he turned around and saw lights in the distance, a sure beacon in a pitch-black night. It was a town. He reached further and got a distinct feel of his surroundings: wilderness, rocks, desert. Nothingness. He was still on Tatooine.

Next, he carefully opened his end of the bond that tied him to Anakin, peeling back the barriers between them layer by layer. Despite everything – all the secrets, conflicts and frustrations – the bond was strong, vibrating with a steady beat. Obi-Wan closed his eyes, just for a moment letting himself draw comfort from the bond’s numerous strands of light, beautiful and vivid. With it, he was never truly alone.

But you will be, the image of old Ben reminded him.

He turned away from the hard truth, discarding it with more difficulty than the physical pain, and followed the bright strands resolutely, searching for the unique presence of his Padawan. There! Anakin was somewhere near, but that was all Obi-Wan could sense. The boy was still shielding so strongly his end of the bond, that it was impossible to locate him with any accuracy. Which was all kinds of foolishness in their current situation, and implied Anakin was still very troubled over whatever had happened with Obi-Wan’s counterpart.

Obi-Wan sighed. He could do nothing about it until Anakin either opened the bond or Obi-Wan managed to find him. He gathered his robe around him more securely and started to walk towards the lights in the distance. The logical thing to do was to go into the town, find out the when and the where, and then take stock of the situation again. It was more than likely that Anakin would be doing the same.

It didn’t take very long to reach the town, which was too big to be an ordinary settlement. Obi-Wan realized that it had to be one of Tatooine’s spaceports. Even in the early hours of the morning there were movement and sounds in the dusty streets, a few ships taking of, people starting to stir from slumber or just staggering off to sleep. The shops and workplaces he passed were closed, but he soon came upon a cantina that was obviously still open; yellow light, with a faint beat of music, spilled out from the windows of the measly looking tavern.

Only the bartender and few of the patrons watched with interest as Obi-Wan strode across the room to the bar. The rest were either too drunk or asleep to notice the new, unfamiliar customer. He settled on a rickety bar stool, drawing an air of inconspicuousness around himself. Nothing to see here, he lightly suggested through the Force, and the rest of the patrons dropped their gazes and turned their attention back to their drinks.

Obi-Wan rummaged through the pockets of his robe, his fingers finally closing around a credit chip that he had half-forgotten about. But the moment he placed it on the bar, the burly human bartender snorted derisively. “We don’t take credits.”

Well then, desperate times and all that. Obi-Wan put the credit chip back into his pocket and leaned forward, eyes on the weather-beaten man. “You will offer me a drink of brandy.”

“I will offer you a drink of brandy,” the bartender agreed slowly and reached to take a blue bottle from the shelf behind him.

“Your best brandy,” Obi-Wan amended. The man stopped in his tracks and then took a much cleaner looking bottle from under the counter. He poured a generous amount of the liquor into a glass and set it in front of Obi-Wan.

“I’m much obliged.” Obi-Wan took a long drink of his brandy, enjoying the pleasant burn of alcohol. “This is the good stuff. Tell me, my dear fellow, in which city your fine establishment is situated?”

“Huh, what?”

“I mean, where are we, right now? Which city?”

The bartender stared at Obi-Wan, gobsmacked. “This is Mos Espa. The desert has really fried your brain or you are way more sloshed than you seem.”

“And the date, the year?”

“Right,” the man huffed, “I can see when someone is pulling my leg.” The bartender moved away from the counter and started to clean the tables, studiously ignoring Obi-Wan.

Obi-Wan took another long drink, trying to untangle his mixed thoughts. Mos Espa. He had never been there before, but the name of the spaceport was etched into his memory. He had waited just outside the city, when Qui-Gon, Padmé and Jar-Jar had gone to the spaceport to find parts for their hyperdrive. Although it had been many years since then, he still recalled how the wait had felt endless, full of uncertainty and a strange darkness in the Force. Eventually, the party had come back with the needed parts and with Anakin Skywalker in tow. And then Darth Maul had revealed himself – it had been the beginning of the end. He just hadn’t known it then.

But he knew it now, and what if – heart bounding, Obi-Wan finished his drink, not daring to really hope – but what if he was there now, in that time, and his old Master was there, making crazy plans about betting their ship on a podrace? What if he could change the course of events by confronting Maul here instead of Naboo?

What if he could save Qui-Gon? What if he could save all of them?

He reached out with all his senses, through streets and alleys and houses and numerous living beings, searching, until finally his eyes, which he hadn’t even known had closed, popped open in wonder. He had hoped, he had expected, but still, the bright presence was a true surprise.

He left the cantina without saying a word, following the luminous thread.

--

Anakin watched the night sky and counted the stars, until the intense sounds, feelings and images he had gotten from Ben faded, becoming just a jumble of disconnected flashes. The devastation dulled into a distant ache, a half-forgotten misery. Sufficiently calmer, he stood up, but was immediately overcome with another shock. Mos Espa was a familiar outline against the dark sky. Anakin stared at the city, feeling like he was in a free fall.

He had to see – he had to –

Trying hard not to think of anything, Anakin trudged into the spaceport and through the sandy-coloured streets, until he reached the small hovels stacked atop each other. The Slave Quarters. He was home.

Unerringly, he went to one of the hovels, pressing his palm against the door. The sun would soon rise; she had to be already up. Gripped by a sudden fear, he could not move from his spot – he could not step back into the shadows, neither could he open the door. What if she was not there? What if she was?

Anakin rested his forehead against the battered door. Calm. Here and now. He already knew the answer to his questions. He could feel his mother’s presence inside the house. She was putting away the dishes from a meagre breakfast, getting ready to begin the chores of the day.

I can save her right now, he thought wildly. I can free her, take her far away from here.

Suddenly he was jostled from his place against the door, and he quickly stepped back, ready to flee, but too late – the door slid open and he was face to face with Shmi Skywalker. His mother’s warm eyes met his, full of light and kindness. Anakin could hardly breathe. He stared at his mother, drinking in her beloved face, which was as beautiful as it always should have been, devoid of agony and death.

“Yes?” She was looking at him inquiringly, no doubt wondering what he was doing there standing dumbly at her doorstep.

“I…” His throat tight, he couldn’t say anything, even if he had known the right words.

“Do I know you?” His mother asked, clearly puzzled, taking in his dishevelled appearance.

“No…forgive me…I think I’m lost…forgive me.” Anakin stumbled and turned away, overwhelmed.

“Wait!” His mother’s voice halted him in his tracks. “Are you alright? Do you need any help?”

“Thank you, I…I’m fine…” He could not turn back to see her; if he did, he wouldn’t be able to leave. “I think I know the way now.” He forced himself to walk away from the house, from her, breaking into a run the moment he was out of her sight. He ran blindly through the streets, not caring where he was going, just that he was going away.

When Anakin couldn’t run anymore, he stopped in an empty, dirty alleyway. It could have been one of the numerous alleys he had been driven to as a child, ready to defend himself with fists and curses against much bigger bullies.

It was not fair.

Nobody was there to see him hit the wall with his bare hand, repeatedly, until exhausted, he collapsed against the wall, breath hitching. Nobody was there to see him wipe his wet cheeks with shaking fingers.

None of it had ever been fair.

Master, where are you?

--

The bright thread led Obi-Wan in front of a junk shop. Even if the building hadn’t been distinctly different from its neighbours by its bell-shaped apex, he would have known immediately it was Toydarian junk dealer Watto’s store. The lopsided sign in Huttese, "No money, no parts, no deal! No credit chips! Cash only." was a dead giveaway.

Suddenly inexplicably nervous, Obi-Wan steeled himself as he pushed the door open and stepped inside the cramped shop.

“Mister, we are not open yet,” piped a clear voice. The small boy was looking at Obi-Wan with curiosity, his tousled-haired blond head not even reaching the top of the counter he was standing against. The boy was clearly younger than nine years, perhaps as young as four. Obi-Wan shoved his disappointment aside and focused on the situation before him. There had to be a reason they had come this far back in time.

“My apologies, I saw the sign at the front and wanted to see what you’ve got here.” All true, from a certain point of view.

Anakin wrinkled his snub nose. “We have everything. This is a junk shop.”

Obi-Wan’s smile widened. “I can see that.”

The intense blue eyes continued to watch him; Anakin was clearly trying to decide if Obi-Wan was making fun of him and if he should be offended. The boy was such a blinding presence in the Force, their junk filled surroundings were easily dwarfed by his small, vibrant frame.

“Is the owner here?” Inwardly, Obi-Wan grimaced. He had meant the shop’s owner, but instantly realized it could also mean Anakin’s owner.

“Watto’s asleep.” Anakin’s tone made it clear he did not want to wake the Toydarian up.

“I wonder, if you could help me then.”

“I guess.” The boy sounded uncertain.

Obi-Wan made a show of looking around. “I’m trying to find something for my friend. A present.”

“From here?” Anakin asked incredulously, evidently unimpressed by Obi-Wan’s gift buying skills.

“Well, he likes to build things. Anything mechanical and he has to tinker with it.”

“Like me!” Anakin exclaimed, suddenly delighted. “I’m going to build the best droid to help mom.”

“I’m sure he’ll be great,” Obi-Wan said dryly.

Anakin darted next to high shelves full of various small machine parts, tangled wiring and assortment of odds and ends. “I know what to get for your friend! Your friend will love it!”

Amused, Obi-Wan watched as the small boy started to clamber up the shelves.

“What’s your name?”

“Anakin, what’s yours?” Came the rapid-fire answer, despite the fact that Anakin was currently teetering precariously on the second highest shelf, rummaging a box.

“You can call me Ben. How old are you Anakin?”

“I’m –” The eager answer was suddenly cut short. “My mom said I’m not supposed to tell.” The boy looked sheepish.

“Quite right.”

Anakin beamed, clutched something in his fist and started to come back down. In his haste, the boy slipped on the next to last shelf, tumbling over and landing bum first on the floor, thankfully missing any of the bigger machine parts left on the floor.

Obi-Wan rushed to him, already assessing the boy through the Force, and quickly ascertained that apart from a few bruises and a smarting backside, Anakin was fine. In relief, he touched the boy’s messy hair, not foreseeing that Anakin would flinch violently backwards, eyes suddenly wary.

Obi-Wan stepped immediately back, heart aching. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

“I’m not afraid!” Anakin claimed hotly.

“Nonetheless, I’m sorry. I just wanted to see if you’re hurt.”

Mollified, the boy pushed himself to his feet. “I’m fine. Once, I fell from up there –” he gestured animatedly to the upper shelves, “– and I didn’t cry one bit!”

Obi-Wan nodded solemnly, trying to look suitably impressed with the feat. Anakin thrust his grubby fist towards him, holding a small steel tool. Obi-Wan took the offered instrument, examining its sharp edge and minuscule inlaid grooves. No doubt, it was a most useful tool for tinkering.

“Thank you, Anakin. You’re right, my friend will love this.”

“I knew it.” The boy gave him a brilliant smile, but it dimmed, when he noticed the credit chip Obi-Wan offered him. “Watto doesn’t take credits.”

“Well…this is all I have. It’s alright, I’ll find something from somewhere else.” Obi-Wan set the tool gently on the counter, but did not put the credit chip away. “However, you have earned this, for being such a great help. Give it to your mother for safekeeping.”

Eyes round, Anakin took the credit chip and clutched it in his hands. Obi-Wan smiled at the stunned boy and turned to go, but was halted by small fingers grasping the sleeve of his robe.

“Wait, you can take it. Watto doesn’t even know we have it.”

“Thank you, I think I shall.” Obi-Wan took the tool and carefully put it in his pocket. “It was a pleasure to meet you Anakin.”

“It was nice to meet you too. Maybe we’ll meet again?”

“I’m sure we will.” With one last glance back to the grinning boy, Obi-Wan stepped outside to the shadowy street. The first of the suns was just climbing over the horizon, bringing the dawn.

It was hard to leave the small boy behind to toil away in the junk shop, slave to another. Only the thought that they would meet again, made it in any way bearable. He was distracted from his dark thoughts however by a veritable flood of emotions that halted him in the middle of the street.

Anakin had finally opened his end of the bond.

Chapter Text

Just as the suns’ searing rays found their way to the dark alley through a gap between buildings, Obi-Wan found Anakin, leaning against a wall. He had not moved from the random spot, where he had come to a halt after his mad dash away from the Slave Quarters and his mother. Even if he had desired to move, there had been no need: Anakin had known from past experience, that once he opened the bond between them, sooner or later his Master would find him. Usually it was sooner, and this time was no exception.

“Anakin, where have you been?” There was rebuke in the words, but Anakin shrugged it off. He tugged his shields more tightly around himself; although the bond remained open, Obi-Wan could not examine Anakin’s feelings the same way he was now inspecting his form with narrowed eyes from head to toe. When he noticed the bloody knuckles of Anakin’s flesh hand, Obi-Wan tutted. “It’s been two hours. What fight could you have possibly found?”

“Here?” Anakin barked bitterly. “Plenty. But don’t worry, nobody got my fist through their face.”

Obi-Wan’s gaze settled on the grimy wall behind Anakin, and although the shadows were still too dark to see through, Anakin knew that Obi-Wan was now aware of just how he had come to bloody his hand. Merely to fend off the lecture that was certainly coming, he asked, “Where you’ve been then?”

“I went for a drink.”

“I’m not surprised. Since, you know, there’s not much to do here besides to drink and gamble and buy slaves – at least if you’re not one yourself.” Anakin heard the acrimony in his own voice, but could not help it. The past he had fought so hard to leave behind, but which continued to stalk him mercilessly, mocking his every accomplishment, had finally cornered him.

“Anakin –”

“Right this moment, the slavers are putting their stock on display at the central market place. My mother has started another long day drudging from morning till night. At any moment, she can be punished or sold or her head blown off if Watto so decides.” He fell silent, wanting again to smash his hand against something, clenching it into a fist instead.

“Not just your mother – but you as well.” Obi-Wan looked as tired as Anakin felt.

Anakin swallowed hard. “Yes.”

“It’s not right,” Obi-Wan said quietly.

“Of course it’s not karking right!” Anakin pushed himself off the wall, advancing towards his Master, not really sure what he was going to do, just that he had to do something. First, for a split second, he thought the sharp burn inside him was the anger, rearing its familiar ugly head, until he felt it tugging

He saw Obi-Wan’s eyes widening; his Master lunged to take hold of him just as time collapsed into itself and dragged them both under.

--

Light. Blinding, pulsing, pounding. Like a rough ride inside a white wave. Less than a second, more -

--

Obi-Wan woke to a warm, gentle sun on his face. Just for a moment, he let himself lay with his eyes closed, unmoving. The unfamiliar sounds and smells filtered into his consciousness, but the thought not home then did not bring any particular alarm with it. Perhaps he was simply too tired to feel dismayed over their continuing ordeal. With practised discipline, he once more locked the tearing pain away from his mind, forcing his muscles into movement.

Anakin was already on his feet, shading his eyes against the sun as he watched the blue horizon. Obi-Wan noted that his Padawan didn’t seem to suffer from the effects of their unconventional traveling method nearly as much as he did.

“Still sand, but at least it’s not Tatooine,” Anakin said, dragging his boots through fine white sand, making a long line. His smile was hollow.

“Yes, but where are we?” Obi-Wan wondered, taking in the clear ocean before him, the small islands visible in the distance. The tropical climate was warm, but unlike hot and dry Tatooine, it had a refreshing breeze that made the palm trees sway slightly. The air smelled faintly of salt.

“I don’t know, I’ve never been to a place like this.” Anakin walked to the edge of the water, bending to touch the ocean. He let his fingers rest in the water, although the sea salt must have stung his torn knuckles. “This is kind of nice – like one of those rich holiday resorts.”

“Yes, it appears quite idyllic.”

“But since the holocron brought us here, some serious druk has either happened or is going to happen here.”

“Probably,” Obi-Wan acknowledged. “Come, let’s see if there’s any clues around.”

As it turned out, there was not. They walked the shoreline until they came back to the starting point, confirming their initial assumption that they were on a small island. There was nothing much to see but the ocean, beach and a patch of green jungle between. They had been effectively marooned.

Obi-Wan sat down under a palm tree that cast a nice shadow. There really was nothing to do until the reason why they had been transported to that particular place revealed itself. Although Obi-Wan still wasn’t sure what exactly determined the places they were brought to, it seemed he and Anakin had some connection to the places – at least that was true with Naboo and Tatooine. This tropical paradise appeared to be an exception to the rule.

He watched as Anakin paced the shoreline restlessly, like a caged animal, until finally the boy settled into a cross-legged position few meters from him. Obi-Wan thought about Mos Espa, and what had happened there, feeling wholly unqualified to raise the painful topic of slavery. Anakin’s past haunted the boy still, made him unbalanced. That was not news to Obi-Wan; he had always known that, had tried to address it, but Anakin’s stubborn refusal to speak about it had invariably shut the topic down. Obi-Wan knew he had yielded too easily, perhaps because he himself had never really known how to handle it.

Seeing Anakin as a little boy, flinching from Obi-Wan’s hand, had made Anakin’s past real in a way Obi-Wan hadn’t really comprehended before. It was different to witness than to be told. Obi-Wan’s lips curled in bitter realization. He still didn’t know how to help his Padawan.

“I’ve been thinking.” Anakin’s contemplative voice pulled Obi-Wan from his self-accusations. “About how the holocron works. It didn’t move with us through time, so it must still be where we left it, in your cabin. But how is it transporting us through these different places and times, if it’s there and we’re here?”

Obi-Wan listened with interest, easily following Anakin’s thoughts, as the boy continued, “There must be a certain amount of, let’s say jumps, programmed into the device; just like the preprogrammed jumps that the flight computer has to execute, when going into lightspeed.”

“So, the holocron has been preset to make a particular set of jumps – but does these jumps also determine the length of our stay in different places?”

Anakin shook his head. “For all we know, it has malfunctioned and is flinging us about randomly. But if I’m right about the jumps, then we’ll have to just suffer through them until the sequence is finished – and hope that in the end it’ll take us back to our own time.”

“That seems plausible,” Obi-Wan admitted. He drew the small, sharp tool carefully from his pocket and handed it to a bemused Anakin.

“What’s this?”

“A present – the best present, I was told.” He watched closely as Anakin examined the tool with a frown on his face.

“Wait, I remember this! It’s weird, I didn’t really remember it before, but when I was little, a strange man came into Watto’s store looking for a present for his friend…and he gave me a credit chip to keep. No-one else ever did that.” Anakin looked at Obi-Wan, astonished. “That was you?”

“Evidently. Which seems to prove that the past can indeed be changed.”

Anakin’s face paled, and Obi-Wan was glad he was clutching the tool with his mechanical hand, for he was squeezing it so hard it surely would have cut flesh. His Padawan stared mutely out to sea, and Obi-Wan let the silence reign. Anakin would talk, when he was ready.

--

“I went to see mom,” Anakin began his confession, still watching intently the ride of blue waves in the distance. He could not look at Obi-Wan, could not bear to see any pity in his gaze. Hell, he didn’t want to talk at all, but the topic was simply too important to be left unsaid. “She didn’t know me, so I figured I had to be pretty far in the past.”

There was no sound from Obi-Wan, but Anakin could feel his Master’s attention settle heavily over him. He forced himself to continue. “I wanted to warn her about what was going to happen, but she would have thought I was just a crazy person – kark, I sure looked and acted like one! More than that, I wanted to take her away from there right then and free her.”

Anakin shuddered. He could have done all that, he could have changed his mother’s cruel fate. But he hadn’t done it, he had lost his chance, and what if it had been his only chance? “But I didn’t do it, I…I thought…” He had been wrecked with doubt and indecision – and fear. “I could sense myself there, still living in that house and…and I thought, what if I change everything?”

By freeing his mother, Anakin would have inevitably changed his own past. What if he wouldn’t have been there anymore, when Qui-Gon and Padmé came to Watto’s shop? What if he would have never met them? Would he have become a Jedi at all? By changing the past, Anakin could have lost both Padmé and Obi-Wan by simply never even meeting them.

Anakin felt wretched; he had condemned his mother to a terrible death because he couldn’t take a risk – he, who usually took nothing but risks!

“You had more self-control than I did.” The surprising statement got Anakin to turn his gaze finally towards Obi-Wan. His Master was looking at him solemnly, no pity evident in his eyes, just sadness. “When I thought that we could be in that time, when everything happened…when you won that podrace –”

“The Boonta Eve Classic.”

“Yes, that,” Obi-Wan said dryly. He paused for a heavy moment, and then continued, “And when Maul first appeared – I thought that perhaps I could change the outcome. I was ready to act…and then I met you as a small child and it became apparent that I was not in the right time.”

“It must have been disappointing.”

“For a minute, but meeting the mini-you certainly made up for it.” Obi-Wan smiled slightly, but then his expression shifted and he looked grim. “It’s fortunate that I didn’t get the chance to change anything.”

“What do you mean?” Anakin asked, confused. He had listened to Obi-Wan’s confession with bated breath, for it was so rare his Master opened up to him. But the admission hadn’t ended like Anakin had thought it would.

“You were right…we could have changed everything – and not all the changes might have been for the better.”

“Are you saying we shouldn’t try to change anything? Not even all the wrongs, not even if we are right there as they happen?” Anakin felt frustrated; for once, his Master had admitted that Anakin was right, but in this, he really hadn’t been. He felt it in his core: given the opportunity to right a wrong, but doing nothing instead, would be an injustice.

“We can’t control the jumps…we can’t control how long we’ll be in one time and place…we have no way of knowing how we’ll affect the past…What if we change things for the worse?” Obi-Wan sounded pained, but Anakin had no sympathy for him. He was so pissed off, he was gritting his teeth.

“I’m pretty sure that we can’t change my mom’s or Qui-Gon’s fate into anything worse than it already is!”

“Death is hardly the worst thing that can happen,” Obi-Wan remarked, looking maddeningly unruffled.

Anakin couldn’t sit still anymore; he jumped to his feet. “But you did change something! You gave me that credit chip, you took that tool – that was not doing nothing.”

His accusation did not sway Obi-Wan. “I took a calculated risk. I had to test if we could really change the past or not. I judged that the consequences of that would be minimal.”

Furious, Anakin turned on his heel and stalked along the beach. It was all so wrong, so unfair! He turned around and strode back to Obi-Wan. “If I get another chance to save mom, I will. I have to. What if you could save Qui-Gon? Would you really just let him die?”

Obi-Wan didn’t answer; his eyes were shuttered, his face carefully blank.

“And what about the future? It’s set in stone too? We’ll let it happen, because it has to happen?” Anakin continued, desperate. “You know what Ben showed me? In the future, we hurt each other so badly. In the future, you are going to be a sad, old hermit on a godforsaken hellhole! In the future, I hate you – and you know what – I kind of understand now why!”

Appalled, Anakin fell silent, not wanting to believe what had just tumbled out of his mouth. That certainly hadn’t been the way he had meant to tell Obi-Wan of what old Ben had shown him. The fragmented images were unclear like a blurred mirror, but one thing in them had been crystal clear; in the future, he and Obi-Wan would have a terrible falling out, one that had felt desperate, heart-rending and final. Anakin could not imagine a time, any time, where that would be possible – despite what he had just said, he could never hate Obi-Wan like that. Not ever.

Obi-Wan’s stony-faced expression made Anakin ache. His Master didn’t say anything, and Anakin knew he himself had to. But there was a lump in his throat; he struggled to speak. “I…I don’t know why I said that.” But of course, he knew – just for a moment, he had wanted to hurt Obi-Wan. “I was angry. Master, I –”

“Anakin –” Obi-Wan said, getting up, but Anakin ploughed on, determined, “I’m sorry, I don’t hate you, I could never hate you –”

“Anakin!” His Master’s sharp voice silenced him like nothing else ever did. Obi-Wan pointed to the horizon. “There, those flashes.”

Anakin turned to look and saw what Obi-Wan was watching so intently; far on the horizon, so far as to be barely visible and almost obscured by the sun’s glare, streaked red and green flashes, intermitted by brighter orange flares. They both knew instantly what it meant.

It was a battle.

Chapter Text

The oddly beautiful flashes of red and green, and the sudden bloom of orange-yellow, told the tale of a battle being fought high up in the air, in the black space just beyond the planet’s atmosphere. There was no sound but the gentle breeze and the murmur of the sea, but Obi-Wan could imagine the roar of the fighters, the explosions slicing deep into the steely innards of ships. The heat and the cold. The rush and the quiet. He had experienced it too many times.

Who was fighting up there? What was the cause they laid down their lives for? Were Republic troops battling against the Separatists? Or were they some altogether different forces in some other time? For the past was filled with wars and conflict, and the future would be also – that he had no doubt.

“Who do you think it is?” Anakin asked quietly, never turning his eyes away from the streaks of fire that split the sky.

Obi-Wan shook his head. “I don’t know.”

“I hope…” Anakin did not finish the sentence, but he didn’t really have to; Obi-Wan knew what he meant and hoped himself the same – that it would not be their forces up there in the middle of a heated battle, that no one they knew were fighting for their lives. It was hard enough to stand there on the beach, with no chance to help or to do anything else but watch.

They continued to follow the spectacle in silence, trying to interpret from the direction and frequency of the flashes the story of the engagement. But it was hopeless – battle was chaos, and as they were too far away to even see who was fighting whom, it was impossible to tell what was happening apart from the fact that the fighting seemed to be intensifying.

Inevitably, despite the ongoing battle, Obi-Wan’s thoughts turned back to his counterpart in the Tatooine wilderness. Whatever Ben had shown Anakin, it had made the young man believe that they would have an unrecoverable falling out. Deeply disturbed, Obi-Wan felt his resentment for his counterpart grow. What had the old fool been after to disclose something like that? And if it was true, what horrible thing could he have possibly done to make Anakin hate him?

Obi-Wan debated with himself for a moment, but then decided that Anakin had a right to know what he had gotten out of Ben, and most importantly, that the future they had seen could be deciphered in different ways.

“I got the impression…that in Ben’s future you are dead. And he was wrecked with guilt and regret because of that.” Deliberately, Obi-Wan did not say in their future, for he did not believe that the future was set in stone. Constantly, the future was in motion, shaped by their every action, all that happened around them, the small ripples and the big waves. He had to believe that, or else there would be no point to anything.

“No…” Anakin gave a hollow laugh. “I think that he just wishes I was.”

“That’s not true.” Ben was him, or at least some kind of version of Obi-Wan, therefore the old man could not have ever wished such a thing. That was one thing Obi-Wan was certain of.

Anakin turned his eyes away from the sky, looking beseechingly at Obi-Wan. “Whatever happened to Ben…to them both, whatever broke them…we are not going to let that happen to us. We are not, right?”

“No. We are not,” Obi-Wan said with all the conviction he felt. Anakin bestowed on him a small, but true smile; he returned it with his own. They would be alright.

A slight dimming of the light made Obi-Wan return his gaze to the horizon. He blinked in surprise. There was a shadow of a full moon on the clear sky. For a moment, Obi-Wan struggled to comprehend what he was seeing. It was perfectly round, it seemed to be moving, and although to him its size was no bigger than his fist, in reality it had to be enormous…

“Obi-Wan…” Anakin sounded apprehensive, “is that…?”

Filled with terrible foreboding, Obi-Wan could not answer, nor could he take his eyes off the monstrous thing. A deep green flash raced down from the sky, hitting a target out of their sight. He could feel the ground shift; he could hear the planet groan. Obi-Wan shuddered and watched with dread as a bright fireball grew on the horizon, unstoppable. It was like a vivid sunset, but instead of receding it came closer and closer, blotting out the blue sky. A rolling, rushing, gathering wave rode before it, rising, rising –

“Master,” Anakin said, and took hold of Obi-Wan’s arm, squeezing tight.

Take us away, Obi-Wan thought desperately, now!

The horizon blew up with the brightness of death, and at the last moment he turned to watch Anakin’s shocked face, until the white wave drowned them and everything else.

--

Light. Blinding, pulsing, pounding. Like a rough ride inside a white wave. Less than -

--

Heart hammering wildly, gasping for breath, Anakin startled awake. For an awful moment, there was nothing but the bright, unbearable light, rushing over him, until his eyes registered his new surroundings. It was a dim space of some kind with a hard floor. Cramped, smelling of oil and damp and sweat. He fought his nausea down and pushed himself up until he was on his knees.

Obi-Wan was laying on his side, within arm’s reach. Anakin touched his shoulder, but his Master did not stir. Frowning, Anakin shook him harder, to no effect. Although their bond already told Anakin what he would find, he had to make sure: he shuffled closer to the motionless body, mind working overtime to control the panic that was clamouring to take hold of him. Obi-Wan’s brow was clammy, his face pale, but to Anakin’s utter relief, he was breathing. He hoped that his Master had just simply been knocked unconscious by their less than smooth journey from the beach to wherever they had ended up, but he feared the worst. Things were never so simple with Obi-Wan.

Anakin took a deep breath. Whatever had destroyed so much of that idyllic planet, had not managed to kill them; however, he had no idea where they had ended up, what kind of danger they were now in. Establishing their surroundings should be his first priority. Anakin closed his eyes and reached all around him, and obediently, the Force showed him everything he needed to know. There were numerous living beings clustered tightly around him, packed inside metal and wires, encompassed by nothingness without an end. They were on a vessel that was traveling through space. Anakin could feel the slight vibrations of the engines, could hear the hum of the ship.

“Obi-Wan!” He shook the man’s shoulder again. “Master, come on, this is no time to take a nap.” Anakin knew Obi-Wan would not thank him for waking him up, but he wanted his Master conscious. He wanted to be certain that Obi-Wan was alright.

Finally, Obi-Wan moaned pitifully and retched a foul-smelling trickle of vomit on the floor. He rolled over on to his back, eyes blinking in the dimness and finally settling on Anakin’s anxious face hovering over him.

“Good news: we are not dead,” Anakin reported lightly, trying to grin, but judging from Obi-Wan’s tightening expression, not really succeeding.

“Yes, I can feel it,” his Master muttered, wincing from pain. “Where are we?”

“On a ship, a big one. I think we are either in a very crappy cabin or a storage room.” Anakin’s worry intensified, when Obi-Wan continued to lay on the floor – usually he would have been trying to get up instantly, no matter if he could actually stand or not.

“We have to get back – the weapon that was fired…” Obi-Wan groaned, voicing the same thought that was troubling Anakin. The weapon’s destructive power had been terrible; it could very well wipe out huge areas – whole cities. If it was a Separatist weapon, it could turn the tide of war, destroy the Republic.

“I know.” The urgency to act, to somehow trace and face this new threat, was pressing and strong, but as his Master liked to say – repeatedly – they had to focus on the here and now. They could do nothing about the weapon in their current situation, least of all Obi-Wan, who still looked alarmingly like death warmed over. His chest heaved with shallow, halting breaths, and in the dark room his face was unnaturally white, bleached of all colour. Anakin was done ignoring the bantha in the room.

“Master, you’re not fine,” Anakin stated sternly, fighting a tightening feeling in his throat. He absolutely hated it, when Obi-Wan was sick or injured.

“I don’t think time travel agrees with me.” Obi-Wan grimaced and with Anakin’s help, pushed himself laboriously into a sitting position.

Anakin frowned. “It’s not mere airsickness, is it?” He kept his hand reassuringly between his Master’s shoulder blades, afraid Obi-Wan would topple over if he let go.

“No, it’s not,” Obi-Wan admitted begrudgingly. “I don’t think the transition through time and space can be made very easily – at least human constitution does not seem to be equipped for it.”

“But – I’m fine. I mean, it’s no picnic, but…”

“Yes, the transition must be easier the more midi-chlorians one has,” Obi-Wan mused, stroking his beard almost absent-mindedly. “It’s entirely possible that without a sufficient connection to the Force, one might be torn apart moving between the folds of time and space.”

Anakin shuddered, thinking that if Padmé had gotten caught up in their current mess, the blasted holocron would have in all likelihood killed her. The situation was close to disastrous as it was, since Anakin could fill in the blanks of what Obi-Wan had left unsaid. “And each transition is harder, each kriffing move continues to tear you to pieces.”

“Well, not to be so dramatic about it, but essentially…yes.”

“That’s just great!” Anakin grouched, incensed anew by their circumstances. They never could catch a karking break. “We have to do something about it, we have to –”

“There is nothing we can do about it,” Obi-Wan said heavily. “As you said yourself, we have to go through the preset jumps. There is no sense troubling ourselves over this – I’ll just have to endure it.” There was a familiar stubborn gleam in his Master’s eyes that comforted Anakin slightly, but the rest of him was still worried, angry and afraid.

“You can rest – I’ll go investigate, and you will stay here,” Anakin decided, gently guiding Obi-Wan to lean against a spot on the wall that was not covered in questionable cables and wires.

“Surely I can –”

“You cannot,” Anakin snapped, pre-emptively countering all of Obi-Wan’s mulish objections. Anakin could be pig-headed too – yeah, could he ever – and he would not let his Master traipse all over the unfamiliar ship in his injured state.

Obi-Wan’s eyes narrowed from irritation, but eventually he sighed and yielded. Apparently, wonders never ceased. “Fine, but Anakin, try to exercise caution. Who knows where and when we are.”

Anakin gave Obi-Wan a roguish grin. “Don’t worry Master, I’ll use nothing but extreme discretion and carefulness.”

“Oh, please,” Obi-Wan barked, making a show of clutching his stomach. “Don’t make me laugh.”

“I’ll only do as you have taught me, my very wise Master,” Anakin smirked.

“I bet,” Obi-Wan snorted and swatted at Anakin’s arm. “Go on, imp.”

Anakin clambered to his feet, feeling suddenly much lighter. On his way out, he spotted a small bundle in a corner. Anakin grabbed the dubious looking rag and discreetly mopped the sick from the floor. The smell he could do nothing about, but at least Obi-Wan wouldn’t have to stare at the evidence of his own perceived weakness.

“Anakin.” Obi-Wan’s low voice halted him. “Be careful. I want both of us to get back home.”

“I will,” he promised solemnly, making another silent vow: Obi-Wan would be alright, and they would find their way back home, together. He would make sure of it.

Chapter Text

The ship’s interior was old and ugly, its corridors dirty and foul-smelling. It was clearly a big freighter in disrepair; wires and pressure hoses spilled out from open repair ports, revealing the state of indifference and carelessness of the crew. Most likely it was en route to some back end of nowhere, transporting the poor and the lowly.

Anakin walked along the seedy corridors, keeping a tight hold on the Force. It took tremendous amount of concentration to focus on three things simultaneously: himself, the ship and Obi-Wan. He made himself near invisible by gathering the Force around him, letting it suggest to all he passed that Anakin was nothing to look at, nothing to take notice in, nothing at all. At the same time, he was inspecting his surroundings, collecting information about his whereabouts, seeking the when and the where – and the why. And all the while he was also aware of Obi-Wan, a familiar warmth at the back of his mind. Usually there was no need to concentrate on his Master’s presence, but Anakin wanted to monitor his condition closely, to know instantly if something changed. For now, it seemed Obi-Wan at least was no worse than before; Anakin could feel that his Master had immersed himself in deep meditation.

A harried-looking man hurried past Anakin, the logo on his jumpsuit revealing him to be one of the ship’s crew. Anakin had already ascertained that the crowded vessel seemed to be occupied by mainly three species: Hutts, Whiphids and Arconans, with humans in minority. He turned around and followed the crew member closely, slipping easily into the man’s flustered mind. Then it was just the matter of making sense of another’s jumbled thoughts.

trouble fighting trouble – the ship’s passengers were causing trouble – kriffing miners – they were transporting miners and mining equipment – glad soon arrival – they were en route to – Bandomeer – Bandomeer was on the Outer Rim Territories – keep away from the karking Hutts – the ship had been sequestered into two sections, one for the Hutts and the Whiphids, the other for the rest of the passengers – rusted bucket of bolts – the ship was – the Monument – and the man was afraid because – trouble Jedi

Surprised, Anakin stopped suddenly in the middle of the corridor, thoughts in overdrive. There were Jedi on the ship? Who? Why? Did he know them? Anakin himself had never been on that particular ship before, he was certain, but could it be –

He took a deep calming breath, coiling the Force around him like a rope, seeking a better focus. He seemed to be doing that a lot lately, Anakin thought wryly. It was not his strongest talent, but there was nothing for it – he had a feeling the problems he and Obi-Wan faced here, outside of their own time, would not be solved with lightsabers. Which was a pity, but contrary to popular belief, Anakin did know when to rely on other abilities than fighting.

Hesitating only a moment, Anakin let everything go: his questions, the ship and its many occupants, even Obi-Wan. There was only the Force and he demanded nothing from it. The Force reverberated through all, enveloped him, was the bulkhead and the wire and the bone – Anakin did not need to chase it or take it or shape it. There was peace.

And then the Force whispered here and go and Anakin followed. He let it guide him through another set of similar corridors, let it pull him first right and then left and then right again. There was purpose, there was trust – wherever he was led was where he was meant to go.

stop

Anakin stopped and blinked. The world rushed in with the clanking of the ship, with the smell of sweat and dirt, with the thud of steps. An Arconan and a human boy came around the corner, both of them looking dishevelled and tired. Despite his shock, Anakin managed to convey nothing to see here before either the boy or the Arconan thought to take much interest in him. He strode nonchalantly past them, making sure his lightsaber was out of sight.

When the pair had rounded another corner, Anakin turned back around. Then, as inconspicuously as he could, he started to follow young Obi-Wan Kenobi.

--

Obi-Wan was rational enough to admit – at least to himself – when he could be of no help due to injuries or sickness; however, that knowledge did not made it smart any less, when Anakin left their charming little hidey-hole, leaving Obi-Wan to lean uselessly against the bulkhead. The pain had hardly abated a fraction, and he was starting to be seriously fed up with the constant urge to vomit his already abused insides into the floor.

He knew he could do nothing else but to endure, like he had said to Anakin, but that seemed to be an insurmountable task. Not only he had to withstand the physical pain and discomfort, but he also had to bear everything else: the possibility of a heart-breaking future, the still hurting past, the disquieting present. The war. The politics. The Order. Anakin.

Once again, he felt wholly, helplessly inadequate.

Obi-Wan huffed, annoyed at himself. Self-pity would not achieve anything, self-recriminations helped no-one. He was a Jedi – he would have to start acting like one. There was one thing he could do, something he should have done already at the first opportune moment. Something that should have been the first thing in his mind, instinctual like breathing.

However, even meditation felt like something to endure. It was arduous, even difficult to sink into meditation, to let go of everything around him: the unpleasant smell of the ship and his own sick; the thrum of engines; the awareness of numerous beings all around him, tired or anxious or angry or afraid or brutal; the presence of Anakin, determined and worried and stubborn; the persistent questions needing immediate answers; his own pain piercing through everything, making him weak.

But he had the discipline. He had the practice. He had will and means and the Force. With every deep breath, slowly, he sank under the stars; he rose with the water; he swayed in the trees.

He unspooled the disjointed thoughts and the disturbed emotions, untangled the knots in them, let them drift away. He examined his ignorance, accepted it, released it. He dropped the mystery of his surroundings, left it behind. He embraced the pain, took it into himself, swallowed it into nothingness. He allowed the uncertainty, dissolving it. He acknowledged the frustration, undressed it into bare bones. He faced the fear with eyes open, taking in its features and finding an old friend. He knew himself; he knew the reason, the fault, the lie. He let go.

With every step he dropped a weight he didn’t know he had been carrying. With every stroke he became lighter, insubstantial, until he was nothing but air and water and tree and star. There was no past, no present, no future.

He let go.

--

Anakin followed young Obi-Wan and his companion through numerous corridors and with every step his questions multiplied. What was Obi-Wan doing on that sorry excuse of a ship? The boy had no Padawan braid, so he still had to be an initiate – and as such not even thirteen years old. Anakin could sense deep weariness and sadness from him, and it was also apparent that someone had given the boy a rough handling. Who was minding him and why had they done such a piss-poor job? For surely, Obi-Wan could not be there by himself.

Some of his questions were answered, when they came to a dimly lit lounge area. The lounge seemed to be catered to the Arconans; soft flute music filled the air and the few Arconans there were peacefully asleep. But it was not only Arconans in the room, there was also a young human woman – and Qui-Gon Jinn. They were standing at the bar, sipping blue drinks. Anakin slipped into the darkest corner of the lounge, nudging the Force to keep him unnoticed.

“At least you’re still in one piece this time.” Qui-Gon’s cold words startled Anakin. “Well, did you discover anything?”

“No,” young Obi-Wan admitted softly. “Si Treemba was captured before we could find the thermocoms.”

“Obi-Wan rescued us,” the Arconan was quick to point out. “We were shackled to the floor, and he stood up to Grelb the Hutt himself –”

“A man who puts himself in the path of danger deserves to face it alone,” Qui-Gon interrupted, quieting the Arconan effectively. He was looking sternly at Obi-Wan. “You deliberately disobeyed my order.”

“With respect, I am not under your charge, Qui-Gon Jinn,” Obi-Wan said quietly, meeting the older Jedi’s impassive gaze head-on. “As you keep reminding me.”

A strained quiet fell over the lounge. Anakin held his breath. It was almost surreal to witness this tense exchange of words between Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon; neither of them being anything he had expected or imagined. It was hard to reconcile the image he had of the wise maverick Jedi Master with this callously acting man. It was equally hard to think that this battered – physically and emotionally – boy would one day become his distinguished Master. But the hardest thing was to know that these two would be a team, a Master and a Padawan. There seemed to be an insurmountable gulf between the boy and the man.

What happened to you both? Anakin thought, distressed. Why hasn’t he taken you as his Padawan yet? It was nothing like he had imagined his Master’s apprenticeship to be. Frustrated and angry with his own difficulties with his teachers and peers alike, Anakin had often in his youth pictured how everything had been easier, better for Obi-Wan.

Qui-Gon was still looking at Obi-Wan, as if measuring the boy to his very core and finding him lacking. “Your meddling has only made things worse.” Anakin bristled, sure that if those words had been aimed at him by his own Master – by anyone really – he would already have argued back, furious.

Obi-Wan, instead of objecting, only asked bemusedly, “I made matters worse? What do you mean?”

“Yes, you have,” Qui-Gon told him with a neutral tone of voice. But there was deep irritation and frustration just behind the Jedi’s emotionless veneer. Obi-Wan’s feelings however, were all too easy to read from his expressive face. It was shocking to see how much the boy gave away compared to the tightly controlled man he would become: sadness, resignation, shame, even anger. Relentless, Qui-Gon continued, “You sneaked into Offworld territory, invaded their privacy, got caught, and had to fight your way out again. They will surely retaliate.”

“But it was worth the risk,” Obi-Wan tried to say, “if we had found the thermocoms –”

“The thermocoms were found on hour ago, hidden in a barrel of lubricant. Whoever dropped them in there didn’t expect them to be found,” the woman said, joining the conversation. Obi-Wan’s shoulders seemed to slump, and the boy’s eyes slid to the floor dejectedly.

“Can’t you see that this isn’t about the thermocoms?” Qui-Gon pressed on, a hint of irritation now apparent in his voice. “A Jedi must look at the larger picture. The reason for my order was because I wanted tensions to cool. I wanted to engender trust. How can the Offworlders trust the Jedi, if they find you sneaking around their territory? How can –”

But Obi-Wan – and Anakin – never heard the end of Qui-Gon’s tirade, for at that moment the lounge suddenly shook violently. The glasses slid to the floor, shattering on impact, and the ship’s warning sirens went off, the loud pitch almost deafening.

“What hit us?” The woman shouted. Faintly, Anakin could hear the ship’s guns firing. Qui-Gon had strode to the window and was peering out. Anakin was in no way surprised, when the Jedi grimly announced, “Pirates.”

It always was the karking pirates.

Qui-Gon dashed out of the lounge, followed closely by Obi-Wan, Si Treemba and the young woman. The Arconans had jolted awake and were now huddled against each other, clearly not intending to fight. Anakin gripped his lightsaber, rapidly assessing the situation. The Arconans were not fighters and would be no match to pirates, the Hutts and Whiphids could take care of themselves, and there were two fully fit Jedi aboard – four if both Obi-Wans could be taken into account. And Anakin knew from experience, that whatever his Master’s condition, it was foolish to not take him into account. He suspected Obi-Wan’s age made no difference. The boy would be fighting fiercely.

Anakin was already heading to the ship’s bridge, figuring he could best help there, when he made himself stop in his tracks, throat tight with frustration. He could not help. He could not reveal himself.

Logic warred against his deeply rooted desire to help. It went against everything he was, to let others fight, possibly die, and do nothing. But what if what Obi-Wan had said was true? What if he accidentally changed the past for the worse? Anakin knew with absolute certainty that if he did nothing, young Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon would survive the attack. That had to be enough. The only logical thing to do then, was to go back to his Master and make sure he was alright.

As if by summoned by that last thought, Anakin felt the now familiar yank deep in his very bones – the holocron! No, not yet – he had to get back to Obi-Wan first, they could not be separated, what if his Master couldn’t make the jump, what if they ended in different places – no, stop!

For a small moment, no more than a second, he could feel himself pushing against the white wave, could halt it for just a small eternity, before it rushed over him with the strength of a tsunami, ripping him apart.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

The universe split apart.

He was flung through spaces and times, from one nightmare to next. Firebeetles burrowed under his skin, ate his flesh, devoured him. A man burned, nailed to a stake. A black-red Zabrak bared his teeth and killed. Red blade swung in high arch, severed an arm. He screamed.

Obi-Wan could not move. Eyes stinging, he could do nothing but smell the burning flesh. Beneath him –

wasteland – grass – catwalk – rock

– again. Round and round.

The flat ground beneath his running feet and the wind on his face, then the earth crumbling and he was falling, falling, falling – fear – the man screamed as his bones broke, his eyes were gouged out, his tongue cut – death – the last whisper of a dying man, last exhale of life, a promise – loss – the maimed body of a boy, the brightly burning guilt –

He screamed. They all screamed.

Again. The firebeetles crawled all over him. The man was tortured to death. Qui-Gon died. Anakin lost his arm. And Obi-Wan failed – again and again and again. An endless circle of fear and death and loss.

Darkness. He was being buried, eaten alive.

The smell of burning flesh. He vomited on the grass.

Last breath. He was kneeling on a catwalk, trying to hold on.

Light.

Failure. He was writhing on a cavern floor, in pain.

Blinding, pulsing,

The bank of a molten hellish river. Eyes of a stranger. His soul splitting apart.

pounding.

--

“No!” Anakin gasped, his fingers grasping only at air. “No, take me back!” He could still see in his mind’s eye Obi-Wan’s confused, painfilled gaze, but his Master had vanished along with the Sith-cursed planet, and Anakin was left alone elsewhere.

Sight still blurring with tears, stomach heaving, Anakin felt the anger spreading through his blood, setting every nerve ablaze. He had been given no time to help the past Obi-Wan, and no time to find the present one. He had only failed them both. What was the kriffing point of it all? To show him how absolutely Sith-awful place Zigoola was? Well, mission freaking accomplished!

“Kark it all to hell!”

Metal screeched and warped; Anakin blinked and watched as the torn pieces slammed into the opposite wall with so much force the walkway shuddered. He exhaled slowly, once, twice and with the third breath let the twisted scraps of metal fall to the ground. He had no idea where he had torn them from.

Alright. Alright. He was a Jedi. Time to act like one.

It was getting more difficult to shut the raging fire from his mind, to smother the righteous, wrathful anger. It roared, displeased, but Anakin shoved it deep down to its cage with the sheer force of his will. Anger would not help him now – not yet.

Anakin took stock of the situation, surveying his surroundings. He was in a narrow, dingy walkway, more like an alley really, surrounded by a scrappy row of buildings on both sides. Despite the dim lighting, he could see well enough to distinguish the heaps of trash on the ground, the shapes of broken and abandoned machines. He was alone, although he could feel life everywhere, innumerable, infinite. About twenty yards away, neon lights spilled to the alley from an intersecting walkway. Anakin could make out a mix of sounds – a beat of music, an anxious shout, a shrill laugh, a swoosh of a speeder.

He reached out with all of his senses.

And startled so badly, his knees almost buckled. The bond! Faint, but still unmistakably there, it pulsed with familiar warmth. Obi-Wan – Obi-Wan was somewhere close – and almost too afraid to hope, Anakin cradled the bond in his mind carefully, touched its strands with gentle hesitance, relieved when there was no raging fire, no dark menace that turned the connection into searing pain. He could feel Obi-Wan, muted and numb, but there nonetheless, alive.

Following the thread that connected them – that would always connect them – Anakin strode forward until he emerged into a street lit by garish neon signs advertising nightclubs, bars, gambling dens, entertainment centres, every vice imaginable. It became instantly apparent where the holocron had transported him; Anakin was on the seedy lower levels of Coruscant’s Entertainment District. The street wasn’t one of the main hubs, but there were enough people there it made him pause and draw an air of invisibility around him. It was best to take no chances until he knew just what time he had ended up in.

The bond tugged at him, pointed him to the left. Anxious, Anakin started to jog, dodging drunken revellers, swerving speeder bikes and death stick dealers. Hurry, hurry, something in him whispered, and heart bounding, Anakin picked up speed until he came to a sudden halt at the next intersection. There was the mouth of a similar alleyway that Anakin had emerged from just minutes before, but this one was not empty – there was a motley crowd of people gathered around something, all of them full of greed, disregard and malice.

“Is he dead?” A Sullustan male in a pilot’s jumpsuit asked. One of his companions, a big Aqualish, seemed to prod something on the ground with his boot. As Anakin came closer, everything seemed to just stop, when he saw his Master laying on the dirty ground. Suddenly, it was difficult to breathe. Something was roaring in his ears.

“He’s sloshed,” one of the men laughed, his eyes roaming speculatively over Obi-Wan’s crumbled body, no doubt thinking Anakin’s Master was an easy target to rob or take advantage of.

Anakin squeezed his lightsaber, feeling the reassuring press of the weapon. He wanted to ignite it. He wanted to see the fear on these thugs’ faces. Wanted to – wanted to cut them down. How dare they – how dare they –

Stop. Just stop. Fingers shaking, he forced himself to let go of his saber. He was not on Zigoola anymore, the Sith Temple’s blood-dark power had no hold over him. The black stone’s shadow, its lewd chant could not touch him. He was a Jedi.

He reached out with his mind and yanked, not bothering to be particularly gentle as he forced the crowd’s mind under his own will.

Leave him alone.”

Anakin had never tried the mind trick simultaneously on so many beings; now he found that it was laughably easy. It didn’t feel like the other mind tricks he had done before, not exactly. It was more like instead of a suggestion, he demanded. His iron will squeezed those weak minds until they could do nothing else but obey him.

Leave this place and forget this ever happened.”

The crowd dispersed, staggering in different directions, their minds tangled and muddled. Anakin didn’t spare them another thought; he rushed to Obi-Wan. Apart from the absence of any visible wounds or blood, Obi-Wan looked alarmingly like his counterpart had on Zigoola. Deathly pale, deeply exhausted, dangerously ill.

“You know, I’m getting sick of finding you unconscious.” Anakin touched his Master’s cold forehead. “It’s becoming a really annoying habit.” Closing his eyes, he focused on their bond, feeling the Force flowing through them, around them, connecting them. Obi-Wan seemed depleted somehow, his usually so bright light dimmer, smudged. His Master needed badly rest, food and fluids, and most of all, the attention of a proper healer.

Unfortunately, Anakin’s healing talents were abysmally poor, but desperation made him try to crudely share his own strength and energy with Obi-Wan. He sent the Force along the bond, willing it to heal, to restore, to soothe. But it was just a hasty first aid – Anakin had to find them shelter, a safe place to rest, then sustenance. Even Jedi couldn’t go forever without sleep or food, especially if they constantly used the Force, for eventually they would burn empty, hollowed from the inside out.

Anakin didn’t have to half-drag, half-carry Obi-Wan far; he deemed the first seedy motel they came across suitable enough for their needs. Although the purple neon sign “Shooting Star Hotel” was askew, and the cramped lobby was just as dusky, dirty and foul smelling as could be expected from a place that charged by the hour, Anakin doubted there was anything better in the area. He mind-tricked the bored looking woman behind the counter and after getting the key, hauled his still unconscious Master to the most hideous room he had ever seen.

“Sorry,” Anakin muttered and wrinkled his nose as he deposited Obi-Wan on the bed. “Perhaps it’s best you cannot see just where we are. But don’t worry, I’m sure you have ample time to enjoy this lovely room later.” There was a garish-red neon light in the shape of a heart in a wall above the bed, someone’s misguided attempt to make the room a little more miserable looking. In its dim light the brown coverlet’s suspicious stains were just visible enough to make Anakin almost regret his choice of shelter. “We’ve been in worse places – I think.”

He sat down on the bed and touched his Master’s forehead. It still felt far too cold. “Alright, let’s try this again,” he murmured. The Force moved sluggishly between them, no matter how hard Anakin pushed it along their bond to Obi-Wan, willing its healing currents to mend everything that was broken. After what felt like an eternity, but probably was just a few minutes, Anakin ceased from trying. It was hard to tell, but Obi-Wan looked a little better; at least he looked less like he was on death’s door.

Black spots swam across his vision; Anakin shook his head to dispel them. “Okay, next item on the list.” He took a deep breath and rose. “I’ll be right back – don’t go anywhere.” Obi-Wan, still in deep unconsciousness, didn’t deign to answer.

As Anakin wasn’t sure he could have summoned enough strength for another mind trick, he was relieved when there was no sign of the receptionist and the lobby was blessedly empty. The only sounds came from a HoloNet display above the counter. He went straight to the old food and drink dispenser tucked away in a corner. His lack of credits hardly slowed him down; the machine was easily hacked by crossing a few wires. Soon a dozen of quick-meal packs and snacks with an array of small bottles tumbled to the floor.

Just as Anakin was gathering up his loot, the excited voices from the HoloNet display arrested his attention. The transmission was slightly garbled, but the HoloNet broadcast’s breaking news was clear: Queen Amidala had called for a Vote of No Confidence, which had succeeded, resulting in Chancellor Valorum being removed from office. Transfixed, Anakin stared at Padmé’s painted face, listened to her resolute voice as the news played back her passionate speech before the Galactic Senate. He was achingly proud of her, missed her so terribly it was a sudden sharp pain in his heart.

He would get back to her. He had to. There was simply no other option.

Anakin trudged back to their room and dropped the various packages and bottles on to the small, scuffed table. Obi-Wan was still out like a light. Without really tasting what he was eating, Anakin gobbled up two of the quick-meal packs, washing it all down with some rum. None of the bottles contained water, but at least they had their pick of different alcoholic beverages.

“You should wake up Master, you’re missing out on a truly delicious meal.”

Without bothering to clean himself up or clear the trash from the table, Anakin plopped down on the bed, turning and twisting until he was laying on his back next to Obi-Wan, their arms brushing.

Right at that moment, Padmé was planning on returning to the invaded Naboo with Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon and Anakin. Anakin, who was just a boy, with no comprehension of his own power. Obi-Wan, who was still a Padawan. But not for long – soon both their lives would be changed irreversibly.

Anakin stared at the dark ceiling. If he left right then, perhaps there would be enough time to save Qui-Gon. He could find the Jedi and warn him. Qui-Gon could live.

But he was so very tired. And he couldn’t possibly leave Obi-Wan alone.

The matter surprisingly easily settled, Anakin was asleep before his next breath.

--

Little by little, he emerged from the haze of forgotten dreams, eyes slowly blinking open, still half under the mantle of sleep. The silent dark that had enveloped him in a tight embrace lingered, made his limbs heavy, unwieldy. He was on a bed, in a room, but that was all Obi-Wan knew of where he was. When he was, was even more of a mystery. And yet – he was not worried.

Anakin was fast asleep next to him, nestled securely against Obi-Wan’s side. His Padawan’s warm breaths against Obi-Wan’s neck tickled reassuringly. Wherever, whenever they were, they were both there, more or less fine. Obi-Wan couldn’t muster up enough energy to care about anything else.

Something scratched at the surface of his thoughts, vying for attention. Flashes of remembered horror, a sense of past darkness. He turned away from it decisively. There was time later to focus on what had happened to him, but for now, Obi-Wan was simply far too heavy, weighted down with fatigue and emotion, to deal with it. There was a curious red glow on the opposite wall, almost like a heart. He fixated on it instead, puzzling out what it could possibly be. The answer made him chuckle. Really, Anakin?

“Tacky,” Anakin muttered in his sleep, wrinkling his nose. Obi-Wan smiled, silently agreeing. Anakin continued to mumble something inarticulate, his hold on his Master’s arm tightening. Then softly, “Padmé.

Obi-Wan swallowed painfully, throat dry. “Sleep,” he whispered and followed his own suggestion just a moment later, letting himself drift away, back into the silent dark.

Chapter Text

The way out of the silent dark was sudden; one moment Obi-Wan knew nothing – he was nothing – and then he found himself in a small room, Anakin staring at him with an intensity that burrowed deep under Obi-Wan’s skin.

“Oh, you’re awake,” Anakin needlessly stated, a faint blush spreading on his cheeks. “Finally.” It was not the first time Obi-Wan had been woken up by being on the receiving end of Anakin’s unwavering focus, although the last time had been several years ago. When impatient and concerned, his Padawan had had a bad habit of willing his Master awake. That this practice had now made a comeback, was slightly disquieting.

“So I seem to be.” Obi-Wan rubbed at his eyes, feeling still somewhat lethargic. Slowly, he eased himself to a sitting position on the lumpy bed, eyes taking on the truly spectacularly horrendous room. There was hardly any furniture: just the bed and the one chair Anakin was currently sitting on next to a small rickety table. The walls had been painted with a bland beige paint, but the many darkish stains almost fooled an eye into believing there was a designed pattern on the peeling wall. The rest of the room followed the brown-beige colour scheme, although there were some unfortunate splashes of red in the midst of it, like a heart-shaped light above the bed, and a flattened pillow and a doormat, both also in the shape of a heart – Obi-Wan was sensing a theme.

“How are you feeling?” Anakin asked, clearly apprehensive, but trying to smile lightly.

“I feel…” Obi-Wan took stock of himself, surprised when the sharp nausea and tearing pain were only muted echoes. “I feel rather well.” He could sense that something wasn’t quite right in him, that there were hurts that should be healed rather sooner than later, but the terrible ache had eased up. No doubt the result of Anakin’s foolhardy, impromptu healing efforts.

“You should eat something.” Anakin gestured at the collection of quick-meal packs on the table, the empty wrappers and packages among them revealing that Anakin himself had already had at least some food.

“Where are we?”

“Coruscant. The Entertainment District. This lovely place is called the Shooting Star Hotel. A real five-star experience.”

“When?”

Anakin took a swig from a small bottle, not meeting Obi-Wan’s eyes. “We’re about twelve years in the past.”

“Care to be more specific?” As well as Obi-Wan knew Anakin, sometimes his former Padawan managed to be frustratingly unreadable, but this was not one of those times. Obi-Wan could tell that Anakin knew the exact time period they had been transported to, and for some reason was hesitant to tell him.

Anakin sighed. “Chancellor Valorum has just been voted out of office. We are probably already on our way to Naboo with Padmé.”

Ah, Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan felt the familiar sting of old, well-worn grief and regret. How long would his old Master still be alive? Would Obi-Wan feel his passing again?

“So, what would you like? The rubber-tasting meatballs or the sewage-smelling stew?” Anakin was clearly trying to sound nonchalant. He dangled a couple of meal packs towards Obi-Wan with a grin that was only a pale imitation of his usual blinding smile.

“How long was I asleep?”

“The whole time we’ve been here, so I reckon…about thirteen hours,” Anakin said, his eyes again skirting around Obi-Wan, looking everywhere else. “But after the drek of Zigoola, I can hardly blame you.”

“Zigoola?” The lingering sense of terror started to take shape – the rotten touch of the Sith made itself known.

“Don’t you remember?” Anakin asked anxiously.

“I must have been unconscious while on Zigoola.” At least, from a certain point of view, for Obi-Wan certainly had not been aware of being on the Sith planet. But he had most definitely been aware of the visions that had once again assaulted him in that cursed place. It mattered not that instead of Tanaab, Antar 4, Naboo and Geonosis, he had really been on Zigoola instead; those planets and their familiar cavalcade of horror and failure were intimately familiar, as real as if he had relived them a thousand times. But Anakin didn’t need not know that.

“You never told me just how…awful that place was…what it did to you.” Anakin was seemingly focused on twisting the hem of his tunic, tighter and tighter until the fabric was in danger of tearing. There was a weariness around him, a sense of bone-deep hurt that alarmed Obi-Wan. Just what horrors had Anakin encountered on Zigoola?

“What happened?” Obi-Wan tried to keep his voice even, although his pulse was picking up speed. “Anakin?”

Anakin shook his head. “Nothing. There was the Temple. And I found you – I mean, the other you. I couldn’t really do anything to help.” The ripping sound made Anakin finally relinquish his hold on the tunic. “The other you was pretty out of it, and just when I thought you recognised me, the blasted holocron took me away.”

You are not alone. I’m right here with you. An echo. A memory that Obi-Wan only then knew for the first time. Please come back. Tears. A beloved face.

“You did help.” Obi-Wan remembered the realization he had come to in the aftermath of Zigoola, seemingly a lifetime ago. That although it was true that attachment could weaken a Jedi’s resolve, it could also strengthen it. In that brutal nightmare, battered by the darkness and the relentless malice of the Sith, with no Force to guide him, he had been strengthened by thoughts of Qui-Gon and Anakin, by his love for them. It had saved him.

“I did?” Anakin asked, hesitant and hopeful.

“Yes.” But Obi-Wan could confess nothing else.

Anakin nodded and miraculously didn’t pry for more. He rose from the chair and scooped the packages from the table only to drop them on Obi-Wan’s lap. “You need to eat.”

Obi-Wan picked one of the small, unopened bottles. His eyebrows rose as he read the label. “Brandy?”

“There weren’t any water bottles, and you know the tap water here sucks.”

“Just how many have you had?” Obi-Wan asked, only half-seriously.

“Believe me, not nearly enough,” Anakin gave a hollow laugh. “I’m going to take a shower, while I still have the chance. You eat.” The last sentence was a clear command and obediently Obi-Wan chose one of the quick-meal packs at random as Anakin vanished inside the refresher. Suddenly he was feeling quite ravenous.

While he wolfed down the food, Obi-Wan cast his mind backwards, skipping over the dark visions, all the way back to the ship, where he had meditated. There was something there – something important. He had sunk into a deep meditation, had let everything go, and then what? The transition had to have happened then. Yes – he remembered. But it had not been the same kind of transition as the others before it. There had been a blankness, a nothingness in the middle of the jump, after the ship, but before Zigoola, a non-place in non-time. As if he had been suspended between times and places, and in that moment, he had not been torn apart.

Could the answer really be that simple – and at the same time so complicated in execution?

Obi-Wan was still mulling over the solution to their problem, when Anakin appeared, face clean and hair slightly damp. He looked appraisingly at the empty packages on the bed, clearly pleased that Obi-Wan had managed to eat all the remaining food. Anakin sat on the edge of the bed, crossing his legs at the ankles.

“I was half-afraid the next jump would happen in the middle of my shower – and I would end up somewhere really embarrassing without any clothes.”

“I’m glad we avoided that tragedy.”

“We could be transported any moment though…” Anakin turned towards Obi-Wan, eyes steely with determination. “Master, I’ve been thinking…We should go to the Temple. Explain everything, get you to the healers. We might not get another chance at it again.”

Obi-Wan was already shaking his head before Anakin had even finished speaking. “No, we cannot reveal ourselves, we cannot change the past.”

“But maybe they can help us get back to our own time – and maybe they can help you.”

“I doubt it – not with the limited time we have here. Soon enough, we will be transported to somewhere else.”

Deflated, Anakin turned his gaze to the floor. His face had turned ashen. “Then, you’re going to die.”

“Anakin…”

“Don’t try to deny it. You cannot take the jumps anymore. You’re too weak.” Anakin spat the word out like a curse, making Obi-Wan flinch. But it was the harsh truth. Obi-Wan was too weak to withstand the holocron’s tearing power. Almost anyone would be, alone.

“I have an idea,” Obi-Wan said. He would have liked to think the plan over more thoroughly before giving Anakin uncertain hope, but time truly was not on their side. They had already spent half a day on Coruscant, and so it stood to reason that soon they would be transported to somewhere else.

Slowly, almost reluctantly, Anakin raised his gaze, and all his myriad feelings were evident in his eyes. He looked suddenly so young; fearful of the hurt ahead, pleading for his Master to make it better.

Obi-Wan forced himself to sound calm and certain, even when his own plan filled him with trepidation. “I was in the middle of a meditation when we made the jump to Zigoola. And it felt different – for a moment I was in this in-between-place. I think the meditation somehow halted the transition, perhaps for just a second, but it also halted the pain. Which is logical, if you think about it: the more one is immersed within the Force, the easier the transition from one time and place to another will be.”

“So what, you just have to meditate during the jumps?” Anakin frowned.

“I’m afraid it’s not that easy,” Obi-Wan admitted. Nothing ever was with them. “For starters, it’s impossible to know when the next jump is starting, and I can’t spend all the time waiting for it in mediation – particularly if we are in dodgy places.”

“I can watch your back,” Anakin said, as if that was self-evident. Which it was.

Obi-Wan smiled. “I know. But I will need your help with something else.”

“Anything.”

“Wait till you hear what it is,” Obi-Wan teased, but quickly grew solemn again. It was not an easy thing he was going to request from Anakin – it would be hard for both of them. “I was in a very deep mediation on the ship, one of the deepest I have ever been. And it still was not enough – the transition and the pain stopped for just a moment, and I could not control it in any way. But perhaps, together…”

“You think that, if we meditate together, we could control the jump?” Anakin looked pensive.

“Maybe, at least it would probably help me with the transition. But Anakin, a regular joint meditation will not be enough…we would have to go much deeper. Within the bond, you would have to share the Force in you – your very essence – with me.” Within the Force, they could not help but also share their thoughts, their memories, all that they were, become one. It was not something to be done lightly, if at all. Few could do it, and even fewer wanted to. “I know that I’m asking for something that I have no right to ask of you. And you have no obligation – none – to say yes. I will understand.”

“When do we start?”

--

Anakin was not one for self-reflection and stillness. To him, true meditation was being absorbed with machines, tinkering and fixing them while letting all thoughts of himself and his surroundings fade away. But he had never really minded meditation with Obi-Wan, not when they immersed themselves in the Force together, the bond between them pulsing with peaceful calm. Those times were the closest Anakin had ever been to another person, apart from being with Padmé.

Therefore, he sank into the Force eagerly, sitting cross-legged on the hard floor opposite his Master. He was hopeful – no, he was certain once more that he could help Obi-Wan, save him. Perhaps he could even steer them home. It was no hardship to let the soothing presence of his dearest friend envelop him, wrap him in warm regard. The bond between them opened wide, spilling brilliant light. The Force hummed in satisfaction.

Briefly, Anakin felt anxious that the jump would happen before they were ready – but as soon as the thought formed, it dissolved. The Force was timeless. Within it, they had an eternity. An eternity to admire the bright strands of light, gossamer-thin and ironclad, woven between them by years of working, living, breathing together. Anakin felt a fierce pride. Look at what we have accomplished. Look at what we are. Together, they could truly do anything.

Content and curious, Anakin followed Obi-Wan easily deeper into the meditation; watched with fascination and thrill as the bond between them opened even wider. Slowly, all the doors were vanishing, the walls collapsing, the boundaries becoming meaningless. Anakin would soon get his most secret wish fulfilled: to know Obi-Wan fully. There would be no secrets left between them. He would know all of Obi-Wan, just as his Master would know all of Anakin.

All of him – ice cold desert vengeful fire slashing cutting –

No! Anakin’s instinctive denial struck like a lightning from clear skies, sudden and swift and shocking. Anakin was already retreating before he even knew he had done so; a sickly panic taking him over. Obi-Wan’s alarm and confusion were just distant murmurs, drowning under the clamour of Anakin’s immense fear.

There was one secret that Obi-Wan could never, ever know. His Master would not understand, could not – only ruin and pain and damnation would come from the reveal of it. Anakin could not let Obi-Wan know.

No – no – no –

Light. Blinding, pulsing.

Chapter Text

No. What had he done? Obi-Wan!

Before Anakin could even start to think through his frantic panic, the Force echoed a loud warning – automatically, without any conscious thought, Anakin rolled and jumped, lightsaber already ignited. A Geonosian’s charge towards him ended abruptly as it was cleaved savagely in half; its companion shrieked ear-splittingly in rage. Anakin dashed and slashed at the second Geonosian’s wings until it was writhing on the ground. With familiar ease, he finished the creature off.

He breathed deep, every sense alert for a new danger. Although the Force still echoed in muted alarm, Anakin sensed no more enemies anywhere nearby. He was in a rust-red rocky cave, the air breathable but arid. Even without the Geonosian welcoming party, Anakin would have recognized his new surroundings immediately: Geonosis, one of his least favourite desert planets, second only to Tatooine. A quick look around confirmed that Obi-Wan had been transported with him; Anakin ran to his Master, fear contracting his insides into a painful knot.

Thank the Force – albeit again unconscious and deathly pale, Obi-Wan was alive. Anakin squeezed his eyes shut against the onset of stinging tears. It was his fault – if he hadn’t panicked and retreated from their shared meditation…but then Obi-Wan would have found out everything he had done…

“I’m sorry, Master, I’m so sorry,” Anakin whispered, his hands hovering uselessly over Obi-Wan’s motionless body. Again, he felt utterly helpless, unable to fix that which was most important to him. He tried to propel the healing Force into Obi-Wan, but it moved frustratingly sluggishly, struggling to get along their bond. The doors, that just a moment ago had been wide open between them, were now almost completely shut, only a small gap left in their strong fortifications.

With hitching breath, Anakin hit the hard rock floor with his flesh hand, swearing that once they got back to their own time, he was going to smash the kriffing holocron into million, billion pieces; meanwhile, every ugly bug that would dare to attack them, he would cut down and rip to shreds. Everything and everyone trying to take Anakin’s Master away from him would get to know his full fury and wrath, just like the Tuskens had! He would make them regret – he would –

Anakin looked at the ashen face of his dear friend and brother, and the heady anger left him in a sudden rush, abandoning him to the mercy of crushing fear and guilt. He knew what he had to do. When all was said and done, his Master might despise or hate him, but at least Obi-Wan would still be alive. Anakin laid his hand gently against Obi-Wan’s chest so that he could feel its laborious rise and fall. He stayed that way through the long, endless minutes, hoping and dreading the moment Obi-Wan would wake up.

He was not particularly surprised, when he felt the abrupt arrival of numerous Jedi on the planet; Anakin had already surmised that they had been transported to the middle of the event that had marked the beginning of the Clone Wars. If Anakin concentrated enough, he could hear the roar of fighting somewhere down below.

Obi-Wan stirred, drawing Anakin’s whole focus back to him. As if his eyelids were far too heavy, it took his Master several tries to get his eyes fully open.

“Anakin,” Obi-Wan croaked, sounding painfully parched. Anakin had no water to give him.

“I’m here.” Try as he might, his lips refused to form into a reassuring smile. There was no point in asking if Obi-Wan was alright – the answer to that would have been obvious even to a blind man.

“The battle…” Obi-Wan murmured. No doubt, he too could feel the hundreds of Jedi all around them, fighting and dying.

“Yeah.” Anakin swallowed, tasting dust. “At least they’ll be hard-pressed to notice us among all the drek that is happening.” The forced levity sounded wrong, but Anakin could not put into words how he felt thinking of the Jedi that were breathing the cutting dry air as their last breath, their blood mixing with the red sand of the arena.

“Dooku…” Obi-Wan muttered, eyes roaming the cave wildly, glazed with pain. Finally, his Master’s gaze settled on Anakin, voice full of agony. “Anakin, your hand…”

Kark my hand!” Anakin snapped. That was what Obi-Wan was worried about? He knew that his Master still felt guilty – irrationally and unnecessary – about the arm Dooku had cut off, but at the moment it only frustrated and enraged Anakin.

Frowning, Obi-Wan moved with difficulty, fingers searching until they came to rest upon Anakin’s flesh hand. Only then Anakin realized that his hand was bleeding, scraped raw. The cuts he had acquired on Tatooine had opened up and were joined with newer, deeper ones.

“It’s nothing.” The sting of wounds was a welcome pain, an anchor amongst the furore of conflict inside him. He drew his hand away from Obi-Wan, pressing it tightly against the solidness of the rough rock. Anakin forced his eyes to meet his Master’s. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to withdraw from the meditation – let’s try it again.”

Obi-Wan shook his head. His auburn hair was streaked with reddish dust; Anakin wanted badly to brush the dirt away. “It’s alright. I know it can be too much, too invasive. Anyway…it was always a long shot.”

“No, it’s not that. I don’t mind it, I don’t. But –” The rest of the words got stuck, refused to come out. Only in his nightmares had he ever imagined this moment; no rehearsals could have prepared him for it.

“What is it?” Obi-Wan asked quietly, the corners of his eyes crinkled with worry.

“There is something – something I have to tell you, but I don’t know how.” He felt faint and sick. There was no way to explain it so his Master would understand. Padmé had understood, but Obi-Wan, the perfect Jedi, would not.

“Anakin, you can tell me anything.” Obi-Wan’s increasing alarm rang clearly through his voice, reverberating in the Force.

“You won’t understand.”

Obi-Wan’s gaze narrowed. “Perhaps you should let me be the judge of that.”

Anakin nodded; he could feel the minute tremors traveling through his body and pressed his shaking hand harder against the cave floor, drawing fresh blood. It was time to tell. After guarding the secret so long, keeping it away even from his own thoughts, it was finally, truly, the time to tell. Anakin couldn’t remember ever being so terrified.

“When…when mom…” He squeezed his eyes shut but could not hide from his mother’s dying gaze. “When I found her in the Tuskens’ camp, she was still alive. They had…they had tortured her and she was…I could not…I could not help her, I was too late and she was she was she was dying.”

Once more, Anakin was there, kneeling on the cold sand, his mother’s slight, broken frame in his arms. Life was ebbing away, leaving her empty, and he could not contain it, could not will it back into her. The Force slipped from him, resisted him – he was too weak to save her.

“She said…before she died she said…” But he could not repeat the words her mother had said, for they had been meant only for his heart. Eyes still tightly closed, Anakin felt Obi-Wan’s hand come on top of his, a warm weight of reassurance and sympathy. If only his tale had ended there; he shivered and struggled to continue.

“I – I could not let them get away with it – they, they tortured her, murdered her, took her away from me!” Every word he spat out was like poison drawn from a festering wound, a terrible relief mixed with aching hurt. “I killed them. I killed them. Obi-Wan, I killed them all, the men, the women, the…the children. I had to – I had to - they were savages, monsters, they deserved it.” Voice hoarse, Anakin stopped to gulp for air. It was done. He had done it.

Obi-Wan’s grip on his hand loosened, until it withdrew completely. Anakin opened his eyes; the first thing he saw was the single tear that slowly ran across his Master’s face.

“I’m not sorry. I’m not,” Anakin admitted harshly, daring Obi-Wan to disagree, to do something to shake the look of utter devastation off his face. But his Master said nothing.

“But I’m sorry that you had to find out about it this way.” Anakin gestured at their barren surroundings, meaning the whole impossible situation they had gotten into. “I know you’ll want to talk about it – I guess we have to – but later. We don’t have much time – we should start to immerse ourselves in the meditation. This time it will work, I know it will. There isn’t anymore…there isn’t anything I’m trying to hide now.”

“No.”

“What?”

“No,” Obi-Wan repeated evenly, “I’ll meditate alone.”

Suddenly there was not enough air in the arid cave. The dust was everywhere, covering and suffocating everything; it was in Anakin’s mouth and in his ears and eyes, in his heart. He tried to protest, “But…you can’t…it’s not enough. We have to be one in the Force, we have to do it together!”

“I can’t…not now.” Obi-Wan closed his eyes and that was that. Anakin recognized the unmovable stubbornness in Obi-Wan’s voice, the mulish lines around his stern mouth. There would be nothing he could say or do to change his Master’s mind. He could only wait for the blinding white wave and wonder if this was the source of old Ben’s pain, the thing that had driven the future Anakin and Obi-Wan so irrecoverably apart.

---

Obi-Wan closed his eyes against the sight of his Padawan’s distress. He could not bear to look at Anakin’s fearful eyes, and he could not bear to let Anakin see everything Obi-Wan was no doubt revealing through his own gaze. He felt unmoored, unravelled, insubstantial.

He knew Anakin would refuse to admit it, but a joint meditation – not to mention the deep joining of spirits they had been attempting to do before – would have been a certain catastrophe. Obi-Wan’s conflicting, raw feelings would have been on full display for Anakin to dissect and misunderstand. His Padawan expected an ordered view, a solid position either for or against him.

But Obi-Wan could not even begin to fathom, to parse, to comprehend and handle his Padawan’s confession – let alone all its ramifications and meanings. He was a tangled mess of contradictory feelings and howling questions and deep hurt. Such an agony, tearing at his heart, that it eclipsed even the horrid physical pain of the latest jump.

Oh Anakin. Why?

But he knew why. Hadn’t there always been a small part of him that had dreaded his Padawan’s awful anger and the depth of his fear? Hadn’t he been certain that the mastery of those feelings would be Anakin’s greatest trial, worried that they would be his undoing?

Obi-Wan had let himself believe that Anakin had passed that trial, had thought that the young man had finally attained control over his volatile feelings – the anger, the passion, the fear. Obi-Wan had been a fool to believe the lie, to let his own wishes and hopes to convince him that Anakin’s emotional maturity was something stronger than a mere frail façade, a flimsy pretence. Force, Anakin had slaughtered living beings, children, and had somehow managed to justify it to himself. He had married Padmé and kept it a secret, thinking it was his right. He had deceived the whole Jedi Order, all his friends and even Obi-Wan.

Despite Anakin’s flaws, Obi-Wan had always been sure, that no matter what, his friend was a decent, compassionate, good man. That belief was now shaken, the darkness of the horrendous crime cutting painfully deep into everything Obi-Wan had ever held true.

How utterly blind they had all been – or perhaps just wilfully blind. Maybe Anakin’s usefulness to the Jedi Order had been deemed more important than the risk he posed; his importance to Obi-Wan certainly had always outweighed any grief Anakin had managed to cause him.

But what about now? Is our bond worth this sorrow?

The startling thought felt like another betrayal; Obi-Wan bit his lip hard to dispel it.

However one looked at it, the responsibility for the awful deed, for the lies, did not rest solely upon Anakin’s shoulders. Some might argue that because of his childhood, his rampant attachments, Anakin’s betrayal of his Jedi teachings had always been inevitable. But that would absolve the Jedi, and most of all Obi-Wan, wholly undeservingly. For surely Anakin’s actions couldn’t be anything other than the result of Obi-Wan’s utter failure as a teacher and a friend?

He had failed Anakin just as much as Anakin had failed him.

Light.

Only one thought remained. Anakin. Anakin I’m so sor

Nothingness that bursts into colour, sound and movement so intense it must be what being born is like. Less than a second, more than an eternity. Like a rough ride inside a white wave. Blinding, pulsing, pounding.

Light.

---

Obi-Wan woke up on a hard floor, Anakin laying almost opposite to him. It was immediately apparent to him that they were in his cabin, on board the Vigilance. The holocron was between them, but instead of pulsing blinding white light, it sat unopened and inactive. It looked harmless; an inanimate object, a curiosity. Next to it, Anakin’s discarded robe lay carelessly.

They had finally been transported back to the beginning: the space and time of their own reality. Obi-Wan could hardly muster any relief. Nothing was the same as it had been – too many truths had come to light. And he had no idea how to handle any of them.

“Master?” Anakin sounded disbelieving, hesitant. It seemed unbelievable that they had found their way back home, together and alive.

Together and alive. Perhaps that is all we can hope for.

“Master? How are you feeling?” Anakin’s anxious question made Obi-Wan’s lips twist into something that resembled a wry smile. He felt like he had been dragged through hell, like his insides were on fire, like his soul had been shredded apart. In other words, he was fine.

“I’m fine,” Obi-Wan said curtly. He would have to find out the whereabouts of the nearest medical frigate with a Jedi healer; he doubted that the Star Destroyer’s own medical personnel could aid him. But first he would have to check the status of the current campaign and his troops, then he would have to contact the Jedi Council and give them a report of everything that had transpired.

“What happens now?” Anakin asked quietly, seeking reassurance that Obi-Wan could not give, forgiveness that he wasn’t sure he could ever bestow.

Obi-Wan closed his eyes briefly. “I don’t know.” Then he made himself get up from the floor, not even remotely ready for the difficult tasks ahead.

Chapter Text

Obi-Wan watched as the Vigilance jumped into hyperspace. It only took a heartbeat, and then the space was still, empty and dark, Anakin and their troops already lightyears away.

“General Kenobi,” the medical droid lectured behind him, “standing is detrimental to your health. An optimal position would be a slightly elevated lying position on your assigned bed.”

Obi-Wan sighed. He was already regretting his decision to hop abroad the medical frigate, and not only because of the fussy med droid. Why was it that he could barely be in the same room as Anakin, and still, being apart from him made Obi-Wan feel even worse? Why did it seem like he had just nudged them closer to a certain disaster?

Anakin had been vehemently opposed to leaving Obi-Wan behind but had not been able to fire off his usual barrage of passionate protests. They had all agreed that getting the holocron back to the Jedi Temple as soon as possible was paramount – a task only to be trusted to a Jedi. But even at top speed, it would still take at least a week for the Star Destroyer to reach Coruscant, and although Obi-Wan had been loath to admit it, a week was probably too much time for him to be without the aid of a Jedi healer.

The Council and Anakin, no doubt spurred on by the never-before-to-be-heard confession from Obi-Wan that he needed medical help, had quickly agreed. And therefore, that only left Anakin to deliver the holocron, even if his Padawan’s quiet displeasure about it had been crystal clear to everyone. Anakin had wanted to stay with Obi-Wan and Obi-Wan…

He had been relieved to get some space, some time away from Anakin’s brooding mind and the heavy silence between them. But now, as the Vigilance had vanished from view, Obi-Wan could not help but second-guess himself.

General Kenobi,” the droid huffed, somehow managing to make his robotic voice sound disapproving, “you are exhibiting behaviour that does not aid in your recovery. My diagnostic tools indicate that there is an 82.532 percent chance of you falling down and causing damage to your extremities. Please return back to your assigned bed immediately.”

Bestowing one more glance to the empty spot in space where his ship had been, Obi-Wan turned away from the viewport. He was a keeper of peace after all and judged that it would be better to avoid an unfortunate altercation with the overbearing droid – for the time being. His acquiescence certainly had nothing to do with how his legs were like jelly, how his stomach churned like he was in the co-pilot’s seat in the middle of Anakin’s more hare-brained flying stunts.

Luckily for everyone involved, the medical droid left the ward as soon as Obi-Wan had settled on his bed. A blessed quiet descended. Obi-Wan knew he should meditate: Knight S’ghan would soon start the first healing session and before that, Obi-Wan had to get his conflicting thoughts in order, his shields ready. Although no healer would ever unearth that which their patient had given no permission to seek, it was only prudent to make sure that certain things were buried so deep behind his shields none could glimpse them. After all, Obi-Wan thought derisively, I am a keeper of secrets now.

Obi-Wan had stood before the Jedi Council, had looked straight at the hologram of Master Yoda, and he had given them a report about the holocron, about the places and times they had been transported to. It had been brief and clinical, a sufficient summary of the events but still a wholly inadequate telling of all he and Anakin had gone through. He had not told them about Anakin’s wedding to Padmé Amidala, nor about his frantic confession of slaughtering the Sand People.

At the time, the omission had seemed only sensible. It had not been the right time to tell, not to mention, it was not his responsibility to tell – it was Anakin’s. Even if that was clearly something Anakin had no desire, no wish to do, so it in all likelihood would fall on Obi-Wan regardless, but shouldn’t he at least give his Padawan the chance? Besides, the telling of it all could wait until they were both back in Coruscant, for no lives depended on the secrets. What was done, was done. There was nothing Obi-Wan or anybody else could do about it now. Padmé and Anakin were married. The Sand People were dead. A few days or weeks would not change that. So, the omission had only been sensible.

At least, that was how Obi-Wan had reasoned it, when Anakin had stood so tense beside him, facing the Council afraid but hardened, ready for his secrets to come out, and Obi-Wan had found himself saying nothing.

And now the almost unbearable weight of Anakin’s secrets – which had also become Obi-Wan’s secrets – pressed against his thoughts, colouring them with dark shade. Eight hours had passed since Anakin’s horrible, heart shattering confession in a Geonosian cave, and still Obi-Wan could hardly believe it, let alone understand it. Perhaps he never would.

He needed to think and sort it all out into something rational, something steady, for he was just a tangled mess of raw emotions, his judgement very much in question. Therefore, although Obi-Wan disliked medical wards of any kind with their prodding and probing healers with an almost zealous passion, he had voluntarily placed himself in one, just to get some time alone to think.

Obi-Wan closed his eyes against the bright fluorescent lights of the ward. There was an insistent throbbing in his head, a sharp ache that had never really gone away after Zigoola. He needed to meditate, to immerse himself in the Force. And yet his thoughts stubbornly turned to Anakin, to their last conversation – to the tense, awkward goodbye that Obi-Wan knew would prey on his mind, until everything could be finally resolved between them.

--

“You did not tell them.” Anakin sounded surprised, hopeful. “Does that mean…?”

“It only means that I judged the time and place to be unsuitable for that conversation,” Obi-Wan said, shame sharpening his voice. He had lied to Master Yoda, for a lie of omission was still a lie. Something Obi-Wan had certainly done plenty before, but never to Master Yoda and never with such big – astronomical – scales.

“Are you…when are you going to tell them?”

“It should not be my task to tell them,” Obi-Wan remarked pointedly.

Anakin said nothing, resolutely watching the nearing medical frigate. Obi-Wan sighed, deciding they had no time – and he had no desire – for a conversation they clearly had to have.

Still watching through the viewport, Anakin broke the tense silence: “I should stay with you.”

“That would hardly accomplish anything. Delivering the holocron safely –”

“Is highly important, I know, I heard the Council, same as you.” There was a familiar petulant note in Anakin’s voice that somehow rankled Obi-Wan more than ever before.

“Do you really hear them at all? Sometimes I wonder.”

“I hear them, I just a have a mind of my own too,” Anakin sniped, the entirely too-old, too-familiar argument raising Obi-Wan’s hackles suddenly so much that he retaliated blindly. For that was the only explanation for what he said next.

“Yes, a mind to deceive and commit mass murder.”

Anakin winced. Obi-Wan swallowed painfully. How had they come to this?

“I’m sorry,” he said, meaning it. “That was cruelly put.” But it was the truth nonetheless.

“I know you despise me now. I know you can never understand.” Anakin sounded miserable, but yet at his very core he was still defiant. Obi-Wan did not think his former Padawan quite realized the magnitude of his actions, of what he had done – or at least Anakin did not let himself understand it. It was not a way of thinking that could be changed in a moment, and that was all Obi-Wan had. Just a moment, soon not even that.

“I have to go.” Obi-Wan looked at Anakin, at his bleak and sad face, and despite everything, Obi-Wan hurt for him. He wanted to make everything better for Anakin, as always. Wanted to grip his friend’s shoulder and tell him that everything would be fine. Wanted to stay with him, not let him brood in these dark thoughts and actions any longer. But Obi-Wan could not. And so the only thing he did was to tell him goodbye.

“Anakin…travel safe.”

Anakin turned to look at him and said quietly, “You too.”

“I’ll see you back in Coruscant, we’ll talk then,” Obi-Wan promised, trying to keep the small smile he had mustered up on his face from wavering. “And I think I owe you a dinner at Dex’s.”

As Obi-Wan left, he did not look back, not until he was abroad the medical ship and there was the vacuum of black space between them.

--

His Master’s words (deceiver, murderer) still echoing in his ears, Anakin finally turned away from the viewport, where he had watched as the Star Destroyer had entered into hyperspace, leaving the medical frigate behind.

Obi-Wan’s regard and good opinion of him was lost – perhaps forever. He had made clear of what he thought of Anakin; even before the damning words, he had looked at Anakin like...like Anakin was a stranger to him. Like he couldn’t fathom that it was his former Padawan, who had married Padmé and avenged Shmi’s murder and lied about it all.

Anakin had known that Obi-Wan would not understand, and now everything was rapidly going down the drain. The Council would soon find out and then…it would be a karking sithstorm, he knew that much. Perhaps he would be ordered to give up Padmé – which he would never, ever do. In all likelihood they would kick him out of the Jedi Order; Anakin had a sudden sharp desire to not give them that pleasure and leave the Order himself, in his own terms. But how would he help in the war then? What was he, if he was not a Jedi?

Force, how he wished that they never would have found the stupid holocron. That the things he had so long kept secret would still be safely hidden in the dark, concealed by lies and omissions and Anakin’s utter belief that everything would be ruined if they were revealed – if Obi-Wan found out. And yet some small, childish part of him was relieved, glad, that Obi-Wan now knew everything; that Anakin didn’t have to lie to him anymore. However, that little bit of relief came with an enormous cost, with a grief that eclipsed it completely: it was frighteningly possible that he had lost Obi-Wan for good.

His Master despised him now. What if he never looked at Anakin with warmth and acceptance again? Obi-Wan was too honourable, too Jedi, to come to terms with Anakin’s transgressions, to brush them to side. He would not understand why Anakin had done what he had, could not see it anything but a betrayal of the Jedi teachings. How could he? To Obi-Wan, to love and care about someone passionately, unconditionally, was the greatest sin, an affront to the rigid Jedi way.

And the kicker was, although it would have been painful to stay behind by his Master’s side, the terrible heavy silence between them eating at Anakin’s soul bit by bit, it would have still been better than being alone, en route to an uncertain future. It felt wrong to leave Obi-Wan behind, still suffering gravely from the effects of the holocron. At their parting, Anakin had noticed how gingerly Obi-Wan had moved; how white his face still was. It had been a welcome lucky break that the old medical frigate had been so close to their location and had a Jedi healer on board. And if his Master wouldn’t have uncharacteristically wanted to go there, Anakin would have hog-tied and transported Obi-Wan to the ship himself.

Frustrated, Anakin strode towards the hangar. He did not want to think – not about the future, the Council or Obi-Wan. Unfortunately for him, there was a whole week of traveling ahead, of nothing much else to do but think, sink deep into dark thoughts. There was only one activity that might stem the flow of agonized what-ifs, years’ worth of old fears.

Anakin’s fighter was in prime condition, but there was still sure to be something he could do to enhance its performance. The trusted machine sat on the hangar deck, waiting for action. Anakin had a sudden wild want to take it out, to just fly off and vanish into dark space. Instead, he picked up a toolbox from the maintenance area and crawled under the belly of the fighter. No one would bother him there. R2 was nowhere to be found, and Anakin didn’t know whether to be disappointed or grateful about that. At the present, he could not stand company, but the little droid’s comforting presence might have helped ease the building tension in him.

For a moment, Anakin just lay under his ship, unmoving and staring at the undercarriage. The familiar cacophony of sounds faded into the background, until all Anakin could hear was his own ragged breathing, like he had run for miles. He wanted to stretch his mind out into the black – knew that he could still reach Obi-Wan. Their connection had always been strong, able to withstand great distances. He ached with the wish to just touch Obi-Wan’s mind, to feel his Master’s reassuring presence.

But at the last moment Anakin drew back into himself, afraid that at the other end of the bond, there would be nothing but the words

deceiver murderer

He didn’t want to – couldn’t – hear them again. Not from Obi-Wan, who was one of the few people Anakin trusted above all else, looked up to. He was a man of integrity and honour and goodness. Anakin had always known that his old Master would not understand the rightness of Anakin’s union with Padmé, the righteous wrath of justice he had meted out to his mother’s killers, but what if –

Anakin’s whole universe seemed to falter again, a terrible doubt taking root in his mind.

What if Obi-Wan was right? What if Anakin really was –

No. Obi-Wan simply did not understand. But he would, for Anakin would make him understand. He would not lose his Master without a fight. And fighting, if nothing else, was something Anakin was very good at. He would do anything at all, fight with everything he had, as long as he had to. There was no other option.

He could not lose Obi-Wan.