The universe stretched and contracted as Obi-Wan breathed out, breathed in. The luminous strands connecting him to Anakin pulled taut and held, as if protesting Obi-Wan’s bid for more space, for privacy. The bond ached in displeasure at the thought of separation, both their minds reluctant to let go of the last vestiges of the unfathomable unity they had shared together.
With every deep exhale and inhale, he slowly withdrew back into himself, gently detaching his mind from Anakin’s. Mindful of the pain of too abrupt and forceful unfastening of tightly bound souls, he took great care to infuse the bond with wordless reassurance. Nonetheless, when Obi-Wan finally opened his eyes, completely only himself again, he ached with a sudden irrational loss, a small hidden part of him regretting the inevitable separation.
For a moment the reality around him felt unreal – like the cramped cabin with its steel grey walls, the hard bunk beneath him, were merely props on a badly painted stage. Everything was flat and dull, no match for the brilliant, all-encompassing glow of their Force bond. But memory was a fickle thing, and the soul guarded itself against that which was too-much; soon the blurred lines between inner and outer reasserted themselves, anchoring Obi-Wan to a familiar time and place.
Stiff and cold, Obi-Wan wondered how much time had passed since they had begun their meditation. Anakin, who had come to sit next to him on the bunk, was now half-laying on it, his head resting awkwardly against Obi-Wan’s side. The young man was fast asleep, having finally succumbed to the exhaustion he had mulishly dodged for so long. Without the insight their bond gave him, Obi-Wan might have been concerned that the deep joint meditation, hardly a common or accepted practice, had depleted Anakin’s last reserves of strength, but as it was, he could feel that his Padawan was only getting much needed rest.
Glad that Anakin was sleeping, his youthful face peaceful and mind seemingly far away from the troubles of war and personal difficulties alike, Obi-Wan didn’t want to disturb him. Slowly, he eased Anakin to lie more comfortably on the bunk, hoisting the boy’s long legs carefully to a lying position. Despite the numbness in his own legs, Obi-Wan let Anakin’s head come to rest on his lap. Instinctually he knew that the closer he was to Anakin, the better his friend would sleep.
As if they had a will of their own, Obi-Wan’s fingers came to gently card through Anakin’s messy hair. He looked at the young man, who had been such an integral part of Obi-Wan’s life for over a decade. In everything, Obi-Wan had always strived for peace, knowledge and serenity, had endeavoured to follow the Jedi Code and to teach his student to do the same. He had not known how badly he had failed in that regard, until the moment he had seen the overwhelming, untamed emotions Anakin carried deep within himself – and felt them echo inside his own soul too.
It seemed that in his hubris, Obi-Wan had thought that after years of struggle, after his tumultuous apprenticeship to Qui-Gon, after the tentative and insecure early years as a teacher to the Chosen One, he had finally mastered his own fears and failings. He had not wanted to acknowledge that it was Anakin, always Anakin, who managed to draw forth the raw feelings Obi-Wan had thought he had controlled and reconciled himself to years ago; Anakin, who did his damnedest to shatter the serenity, break the peace, and bring utter chaos to Obi-Wan’s otherwise orderly life. And still –
And still Obi-Wan wouldn’t have changed their friendship for anything.
It was all worth it. Worth even the churning, contradictory emotions brought about by their deep joining in the Force. Obi-Wan was profoundly relieved by Anakin’s true remorse; he had felt the truth of his Padawan’s shame and regret, his cutting grief and punishing self-loathing. Anakin knew he had done something monstrous and wanted to atone for it, and hopefully his earlier, poor strategy of avoidance – pretending it was all in the past, trying to forget the crime, wanting to believe he had done nothing wrong – was now at an end.
But although Anakin’s remorse gave Obi-Wan tremendous hope, there was also much which awoke great concern and fear. Anakin’s anger was a dangerous thing, his mercurial and passionate nature easily turning into a fiery, uncontrollable temper. There was such light in Obi-Wan’s former apprentice, bright and all-encompassing, but also so much darkness, seeping to poison and twist every good thing. The light and the dark battled for dominance, the pendulum swinging from one extreme to another. One day, the motion had to stop – but at which end?
For a terrible, heart-stopping moment Obi-Wan was gripped by an overpowering fear, a foreboding so strong it blurred his sight with dark and flames. What if he couldn’t help Anakin? What if his friend was destined for darkness? What if the prophecy was wrong – what if they had all been so very wrong – what if he would lose Anakin to a fate worse than death?
Anakin twitched in his sleep, his muscles tightening, mouth drawing into a small frown. Obi-Wan forced himself to relax, loosening his too-tight grip on Anakin’s hair. Resolutely, he pushed the fear and the dark thoughts aside to be properly exorcised at a later date, for he knew he had neither the time nor the will for such an undertaking at the moment. It would have to wait, for now Obi-Wan just wanted to make sure his Padawan got the rest he desperately needed.
Obi-Wan stroked Anakin’s forehead, and with every feather-light touch hoped he could banish any hint of the dark from his friend’s mind, leaving only the easy, peaceful dreams of the one who was loved and protected beyond any measure.
Warmth. Calm and quiet. Anakin felt weightless, cocooned in the soft silvery strands of light, safe. Memories were insubstantial things, fleeting and transparent. They could not hurt him. The future was just an open space, an unrealized thought, one possibility among many. He did not fear it. Unconcerned, Anakin floated in his lovely cocoon, heedless of anything but that Obi-Wan was somewhere near.
Later – he could not tell when or how – Anakin found himself in the middle of a cold desert. The rough sand felt freezing against his bare feet. There was nothing else but the desert; the valleys and river beds and hills created from sand dunes, stretching as far as his eyes could see, under the immense night sky, full of silvery stars. It struck him suddenly how beautiful it was.
Anakin knew he was not alone. In this place, he never would be.
Eventually, they came. They rose from the sand silent and swift, one after another, circling him. The men and the women, the children. Mutilated and murdered by Anakin’s own hands, by his sacred Jedi weapon. He forced himself to look at their blackened ragged clothes, their hollow accusing eyes, their deformed limbs. He had done that.
“I’m sorry,” Anakin rasped, his voice thick with unshed tears. “Some of you took her from me, and I thought I sought justice. But it was just revenge I wanted.” He watched as a pair of small Tusken children clutched at their mother’s skirts, clearly afraid. She drew them closer.
Silent, the Sand People continued to stare at Anakin with empty eyes, the smell of their burnt flesh making him nauseous. The sight of them was both terrible and sad, scraping something raw inside him. Anakin didn’t know what else to say, how he could possibly fix any of it.
“I’m sorry,” he gasped, tasting the salt from his tears. “There’s – there’s something dark in me, something that wanted to make you hurt, that enjoyed your terror and pain and I don’t…I can’t ever make that right, I know that.”
He could not bring back the dead, just as he hadn’t been able to prevent his mother from dying. And no amount of apologies meant a thing.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered again, defeated.
One of the Tuskens shifted, then another. Slowly they drew aside, broke the circle around Anakin. In doing so, they revealed a figure standing behind them, slim and shadowy. Anakin’s heart skipped a beat.
As Shmi walked to her son, the tortured, mutilated bodies merged back into sand, the many hollow eyes turned into stars. And then it was just the two of them.
“Mom,” Anakin said beseechingly, although he didn’t even know what he was asking from her.
“Anakin.” Shmi looked as she had in his childhood, her eyes warm and smile gentle.
A familiar ache squeezed at his insides; a visceral longing grown deep. “I miss you.”
“I never left. I’m always with you. My brave, wonderful son.” Her smile widened. “I’m so proud of you.”
“But I…I killed them all. They hurt you, they murdered you and I couldn’t…I just... I killed them all for you,” he stammered.
“No, not for me,” Shmi corrected him firmly.
Anakin winced. “You’re right. I did it for me, because something in me needed it.” He paused, the next words difficult to voice. “What if I…I’ll do more terrible things?”
His mother’s eyes were compassionate, understanding. She knew Anakin to his very core and still loved him, believed in him. “The choice is yours to make. You’ll always have a choice Anakin.”
And then he was standing in the middle of the Great Hall, the huge chamber empty and silent. His mother was gone, but the ache from her absence was somehow less than it had been before.
He knew instantly that the many corridors, balconies and numerous rooms both small and large were deserted, the ancient Jedi Temple devoid of its usual pulsing, diverse life. The echo of his footsteps was a lonely sound, ringing in the empty spaces like a persistent memory. And yet, he was not alone.
Unerringly, Anakin headed for the Tower of First Knowledge. He paused at its entrance, which was flanked by two large bronzium statues. The figures’ lightsabers crossed over the entry, but lifted slowly to allow Anakin to pass inside the entrance hall. The high space was guarded by six statues of long dead Jedi. Anakin startled as he realized that he recognized their stony faces: Yoda, Dooku, Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Anakin himself. The only one Anakin could not identify was the sixth statue portraying an earnest faced young man. Unsettled, he passed the mute guardians quickly, stepping onto the bridge that spanned the cavernous centre shaft of the tower and that led into the Holocron Chamber.
The security doors of the closely guarded vault were wide open. Not alarmed in the least, Anakin entered the chamber. In the middle of the room stood a pedestal and on it was a crystalline cube. The holocron. Obi-Wan was standing beside it; he had turned towards Anakin the moment he had stepped inside the chamber.
“Time,” his Master said, lips drawn into a small, sad smile. “We never have enough time.”
“Obi-Wan?” Anakin asked, uncommonly hesitant. He walked to his friend, Obi-Wan’s heavy gaze pulling him irresistibly in. His Master was normally such a controlled and calm man, his true feelings covered by the mask of a Jedi. Yet, there was now a wealth of emotions on his face: naked fear, profound grief, deep longing, reluctant acceptance.
Obi-Wan reached towards him; took Anakin’s hand gently in his own. Anakin’s heart thumped faster.
“This cannot happen,” Obi-Wan murmured, sounding agonized.
“What cannot happen?” Anakin asked, confused. Whatever tormented his friend, Anakin wanted to fix it, to make it better.
Obi-Wan did not answer, he only squeezed Anakin’s hand tightly and then, just before letting go, slipped something inside Anakin’s palm. Something small and solid and warm. “Remember.”
Anakin opened his hand. In his palm was a stone, smooth and black. It pulsed with a familiar beat, vibrated with a well-known song.