Chapter 1: Prologue
Anakin stared at the messy innards of the flight computer. The cramped space under the open control panel, where he had wedged himself, had became a familiar cranny of spilled wires and circuits. Normally hacking a flight computer would have been child’s play for Anakin, but this particular one had so far managed to stubbornly withheld its information despite the many hours Anakin had spent cracking it. Someone had really wanted its secrets to stay secret, for the old freighter’s flight computer had layers upon layers of painstakingly installed safeguards and pitfalls.
Most people would have already given up, considered the hack impossible or not worth the time and effort, but not Anakin Skywalker. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to cover any trace of the freighter’s previous whereabouts, which only made Anakin even more determined to figure it out. The secret operative, who had left the time travel inducing holocron for him and Obi-Wan to find, clearly wanted to stay in the shadows, nameless and faceless. Tough luck then, for Anakin would be on to them soon – as soon as the blasted machine would do what he wanted!
“Ouch!” Anakin quickly snatched his hand back from the offending wire, the shock of sudden surge of electricity a sharp jolt in his body. “Kriffing piece of junk!”
“You’re doing it wrong.” Snips’ confident voice came from somewhere above. Anakin turned his head so he could just see her slender legs at the edge of his vision. He pursed his lips in annoyance.
“I think I know how to do this – having done this a million times.”
“A million, Master?” Ahsoka sounded amused.
“Near enough,” Anakin muttered, hands hovering below a small circuit, undecided. The flow of work had been interrupted – he didn’t quite know what to do next.
“You shouldn’t force it. It will come to you in time,” Ahsoka told him, sounding for a moment far older than her seventeen years. “Master, I think you should take a break. This whole week you have either tinkered with your fighter or tried to hack this ship. The Vigilance will soon arrive in Coruscant and then you’ll have all the resources of the Jedi Temple to help you.”
Anakin shoved himself out from under the control panel, clambering up. Snips was sitting on the communications console, her legs dangling carelessly. She smiled at him impishly and there was a happy glint in her blue eyes. It made Anakin realize he was in a dream.
“You left.” The words were all his brain needed to recognize the impossibility of her presence; the freighter vanished around them, and they were left standing outside the Temple, at the top of the grand stairs, the rays of the setting sun exposing his Padawan’s – former Padawan’s – grave but determined face.
“Yes. And I’m not coming back.”
Her words were as painful to him now as they had been then. He followed the familiar beats of the memory, confessing quietly, “I understand wanting to walk away from the Order.”
“I know.” Instead of Ahsoka, it was Obi-Wan’s voice saying the words. Obi-Wan, who was standing before Anakin, face sombre and disappointed. “I know everything now.” Then his Master turned away, and rooted to his spot, Anakin could only watch as Obi-Wan walked away, getting smaller and smaller with each step, until there was nothing left of him and Anakin truly was alone.
He was alone, until he was not.
“Master Anakin, you should sit down. The dinner will be ready shortly,” C-3PO fussed, herding Anakin to a plush couch. “Oh my, your clothes are very dirty, Mistress Padmé won’t like that at all.” Anakin looked down at his robe: it was drenched in blood. Panicked, he struggled to get out of the garment, and stuffed it behind the couch, out of sight.
“I’m afraid that hardly made any difference,” C-3PO said disapprovingly. Heart hammering, Anakin noticed that his tunic and trousers were also covered in fresh blood. “And Master Anakin, now you have dirtied the couch as well, how am I getting it clean now in time for the party, I’ll never know.”
“I didn’t mean to!” Anakin protested, sullen.
“I don’t know you anymore,” Padmé cried, clutching her stomach. She had come to stand before him, and there was a growing red stain on her white silken nightgown, right where her heart should be. She looked at him like he was a stranger instead of her husband. “Anakin, you are breaking my heart.”
“I didn’t mean to,” he repeated, now anguished. Padmé could not leave him too, he could not bear it – but she had already vanished before the thought had fully formed, leaving Anakin standing in the middle of a sea of burning sand, alone. The desert surrounded him on all sides, stretching as far as his eyes could see and even further; it was endless. He knew it had devoured the whole galaxy, every star and moon, everything he had ever loved.
He stood in the emptiness an eternity, until they finally came.
They rose from the sand swift and silent, one after another, circling Anakin. Soon there was no gap in the circle of Sand People surrounding him, only a solid wall of deformed, mutilated bodies. They stared at Anakin with hollow eyes, their rags of clothes blackened and scorched. The smell of burnt flesh made Anakin gag.
“I’m not sorry,” he rasped, throat scraped raw by dry sand. “I’m not. You took them from me.” Wherever he turned, he was met with a row of empty eyes. The monsters’ black maws opened, swallowed Anakin’s denials and then they spoke as one, with one voice – and it was Obi-Wan’s voice.
The sand was burning; all around him it was a hellish fire, a hot agony searing through him. “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!” Anakin screamed and it was himself he hated most of all.
Old Obi-Wan looked at him sadly, flames licking at his robes. “Remember,” Ben said, hand reaching towards Anakin. “Remember. I have always loved you. Always.”
And then there was no heat, only cold. No fire, only dark. Sand had turned into immovable stone and he was standing in the middle of the Great Hall. The four-story tall chamber was unusually empty, and the echo of Anakin’s footsteps was the only sound in the cavernous hall. Every corridor, every balcony, every chamber was thus: abandoned and devoid of all life. Anakin knew he was utterly alone.
He roamed the Temple a long time, not knowing where else to go. Eventually, he came to the Holocron Vault. The security doors had been left wide open and Anakin stepped inside the closely guarded space with ease. In the middle of the Vault stood a pedestal and on it was a crystalline cube – the holocron he had found hidden inside the mysterious freighter. Obi-Wan was standing beside it, hands on his hips, staring at the cube intently.
“We don’t have enough time,” Obi-Wan muttered to himself.
“Master?” Anakin asked, hesitant.
Obi-Wan turned towards him, piercing Anakin with his heavy gaze. The wealth of emotions on his face made Anakin’s heart ache: such deep sadness, fierce determination, unmasked fear.
“Anakin, this will not happen. This cannot happen.” Obi-Wan reached to touch Anakin’s cheek; the feather-light contact set Anakin aflame, and he woke up gasping for air, heart beating wildly.
For long minutes, Anakin lay on his bunk looking at the ceiling, trying to calm down his erratic breathing, his clamouring thoughts. The tendrils of the strange dream lingered; the strong emotions it had evoked were slow to dissipate. The loneliness still clung to Anakin with a deathly grip, and the thick, sticky fear continued to choke him. He took deep breaths, telling himself it had been just a dream – or more accurately a nightmare. It had been an unsettling mix of memory and the fearful imaginings of Anakin’s own restless mind; it had not been like the visions he had years ago, of his mother in pain, heralding her death. It had been just a dream and dreams passed in time.
Determined to dispel the disturbing images of his nightmare, Anakin got up and strode to his cabin’s tiny refresher. He splashed cold water on his face, and then spat some of it to the sink, the recycled taste bringing bile to his mouth. When he raised his eyes and met his own gaze in the mirror, Anakin startled. He looked a complete mess: skin pale, cheeks sunken, tired eyes encircled by a ring of bruises, face covered with one week’s stubble.
He had looked worse, Anakin decided, but not by much. At the very least, he would have to shave before the ship entered the naval docs on Coruscant, or risk looking like something a cat dragged in. Although, he could always claim he had begun to grow a beard, á la Obi-Wan. The thought made him gleeful for a second, until he exited the refresher and saw the miserable bunk that waited him, empty. Sleep, with the possibility of new dreams, held no appeal to Anakin.
The run-down freighter was sitting on the hangar deck, where it had been pulled to from its slow drift through space, their inspection having deemed it safe enough to bring abroad the Star Destroyer. Its secrets still waited to be revealed; like on so many other nights, Anakin could go there and continue to take the ship’s computer apart. Instead, he found himself opening the secure safe in his cabin, and taking out the cube-shaped object that had pushed his life into a free fall.
It was the first time Anakin held the holocron in his hands since finding it; after their time traveling ordeal had come to an end, Obi-Wan had unceremoniously shoved the cube inside the safe, claiming it was too unpredictable for anyone to handle. Having learned his lesson, Anakin examined the holocron gingerly, taking care not to reach out with the Force. He had no desire to repeat the uncontrollable tumble through time, not when there seemed to be no way to control it.
Which made no sense. For what was the use of a time-traveling machine, if one could not control the where and when? Anakin turned the holocron slowly, fingers feeling for any abnormalities on its smooth surface. If there only could be a way to master the holocron, to set the jump to a right time and place…Anakin could go back in time and prevent Obi-Wan ever finding out about Padmé, about the Tuskens. He could save his mother from torture and death, Qui-Gon too. He could do so much good. Perhaps he could even turn to tide of war against the Separatists.
His thumb found a slight, minuscule rise; pulse quickening, Anakin pressed against it harder. A snick sounded and one of the six sides folded away, revealing a small opening. It was empty, but Anakin could straight away discern with his mechanic’s eyes that it held a purpose; it was a slot, where something was meant to be inserted. Something that would react with the grooved walls of the slot, act with the rest of the cube. Exited, Anakin knew he had solved one of the puzzles of the mystery. The holocron was uncontrollable, because it was not whole – it was missing a vital piece.
And what better place to start looking for it than the freighter’s flight computer? The operative had gotten the holocron from somewhere, so it was more than likely that they also had the missing part, or at least knew where it was. Perhaps they didn’t realize what the piece was, or they wanted to keep it for themselves or sell it; whatever the reason, Anakin was going to find the operative and make them reveal all they knew.
He put the holocron carefully back inside the safe and hurried out of the cabin, filled with new energy, new hope. He would crack the freighter’s secrets and he would find the holocron’s missing piece – and then he could make everything different, better.
Chapter 2: Part I
Thank you for all the comments and kudos! I laughed out loud at the comments as they all were some variation of "Anakin, you idiot!" This next chapter is the so called "exposition chapter", but I'll hope you enjoy it nonetheless.
“So, am I deemed hale and hearty enough to be discharged?” Obi-Wan asked as he tugged his undertunic back into place. The metal examination table radiated cold, and the medical droid whirred most annoyingly as it analysed the litres of blood it had just drawn from Obi-Wan. Why the blasted white rooms in medical wards always had to be so uncomfortable, he could only speculate – and the answers he ended up with certainly weren’t complimentary for the medical profession and their cohorts.
“Well, Master Kenobi.” Healer S’ghan’s dark brown eyes were focused intently on Obi-Wan’s face as he continued to examine his patient through the Force. “Do you feel yourself recovered enough to go back to active service?”
Obi-Wan, who knew that recovered enough was a very different thing from hale and hearty, smiled ruefully. “Absolutely.”
The young Mirialan frowned, no doubt sensing the direction of Obi-Wan’s thoughts. Before he could say anything though, the small med droid rotated its humanoid-like head towards them. “The patient’s blood count and other figures are within the parameters of a human male of his age and physique. The blood pressure is slightly above the norm, but there is no indication General Kenobi would be unfit to perform his duties in a battle. I recommend immediate discharge and a prescription of zetrapine for the high blood pressure –”
“Thank you AZI-2. You can go now,” Knight S´ghan remarked pointedly.
“Yes, Healer S’ghan.” The droid blinked its huge owl-like eyes once, and then floated with the aid of its repulsorlifts out of the examination room, leaving the two Jedi alone.
“Lovely fellow,” Obi-Wan muttered. If one asked him, medical droids were the worst breed of service droids, their surroundings accentuating mercilessly their lack of sentient emotion. Their care was the cold care of a machine.
Knight S´ghan smiled faintly. “AZI-2 can be rather blunt, but he is zealous in his profession. He is right – physically you are sufficiently healthy.”
“But..?” Obi-Wan asked dryly, knowing a coming but a mile away.
“Some things cannot be measured by machines. You may be fit physically, but in the Force…” The young healer’s expression was compassionate; he had been a surprisingly soothing presence during their healing sessions, patiently and gently mending with the Force what the time travel had torn apart, all the while carefully respecting Obi-Wan’s privacy.
“I though the effects of the holocron were healed?” Obi-Wan tried not to show his disappointment; despite his young age, Knight S´ghan had done his very best and had managed to patch up a hurt Obi-Wan had been sceptical anyone could heal.
“Most of it is,” the Mirialan was quick to reassure. “And I suspect the Force will continue to spontaneously heal the rest, even without the aid of a professional healer. Really, I just prompted and guided that process, helped the Force within you to start healing the frayed and torn cells.”
“Then I’m afraid I do not quite understand your hesitation to declare me fit for duty.” Obi-Wan felt fine; the nausea, the stomach gramps, the weakness and all the other irritating symptoms had vanished. He couldn’t rest on his laurels anymore, he needed to get back in the field. The reports from different sector armies showed that the war wasn’t progressing any better than before, and Obi-Wan was realist enough to know that the 212th would not get but a few days furlough on Coruscant before being sent back to the frontlines. When that happened, he intended to be with them.
Knight S´ghan dropped his eyes to the examination table, his complexion turning from light greenish to deeper green. “Master Kenobi, forgive me if I’m intruding in matters that are personal, but it has been impossible not to see…I have felt how…” The flustered healer fell silent and cleared his throat.
Obi-Wan raised his eyebrows. Perhaps the Jedi Knight was even younger than he had first thought, for he obviously lacked the requisite bluntness the older healers possessed in abundance and which seemed to grow in relation to years spent pestering one’s patients.
But soon Knight S´ghan found his courage; he met Obi-Wan’s eyes resolutely, and even though he was still blushing, the healer said with only little visible trepidation, “I can sense that you are not wholly balanced in the Force…there is a…crack, a disturbance, something which continues to bother you and hampers your ability to find peace within the Force. I find that problematic, for a Jedi’s connection to the Force is equally – if not more – important as his physical health.”
Obi-Wan smiled sharply. “You are right, you are intruding into personal matters, matters that certainly have no bearing on my fitness to serve in this war.”
“You misunderstand me General,” the healer remarked quietly. “I’m not deluded enough to imagine that I have any say in this. The Republic needs their best back; whether I agree or disagree that my patient is actually ready for it makes no difference. I can only convey my misgivings and hope to convince you to unburden that which disturbs you.”
A deep, awkward silence filled the room. Obi-Wan breathed steadily, swallowing the acid denials and admonishments that came to his mind. Knight S´ghan did not deserve those particular sharp words, not even had he been wrong. But he wasn’t wrong: Obi-Wan was disturbed, compromised, haunted. There was a void that only one person could help him mend – and it was not the Mirialan healer, however sincere he was.
“I only wish to help,” the young man said, subdued. “I assure you, everything you would tell me, I would treat in the strictest confidence.”
“Thank you. I do appreciate everything you have done for me.” Obi-Wan made sure to let his gratitude show on his face. For he truly was grateful, even if he could never take the healer’s offer. It felt good to know that someone cared, that someone noticed – even if he contradictorily didn’t want anyone to notice – that he wasn’t fine, that Anakin’s confession had made his world tilt on its axis.
“But?” The healer asked, smiling lopsidedly.
“But I have to decline your offer. I am – I will be fine.”
Knight S´ghan sighed, but seemed in no way surprised by Obi-Wan’s answer. “As you wish, Master Kenobi.” He took the datapad from the table and tapped a few keys. “You are officially discharged.”
Obi-Wan inclined his head and left the examination room, determined to find out how quickly he could return to the Jedi Temple. Although on the first few days onboard the Refuge he had been effectively detained in the medical ward, he had familiarized himself with the MedStar-class frigate the moment the overzealous AZI-2 stopped making a scene every time Obi-Wan left his ‘assigned bed’. Therefore, he had a fairly good idea where to find the captain: as was custom at that time of the ship’s cycle, she was in a small officers’ mess, sitting beside the viewport with a datapad and a cup of caf.
Smiling, Republic Navy Captain Elan Esker motioned Obi-Wan to join her. “General, I hear you have been discharged.”
Sitting down on the bench opposite the middle-aged human, Obi-Wan noted wryly, “I see that good news travel fast.” He had come to like the Refuge’s captain; what Obi-Wan had seen of her and her crew, she seemed to be a competent, no-nonsense leader.
“Usually it’s bad news, so this is a welcome exception,” Captain Esker snorted. “You’ll want to get off my ship then?”
“Well, yes – I have nothing against your ship but…”
“You want to get back to your troops.” The captain nodded, and swiped from her eyes the strands of dirty-blond hair that had escaped from her bun. “I know this is not the most excitable ship to be stationed in a war, ferrying medical supplies and patients around, but…”
“Your service is the most important there is, taking care of our troops.”
“Yes, I agree. I just wish that the Admiralty would see it that way too.” She took a big gulp from her mug and grimaced. “Ugh, this is horrible. Don’t know why I even drink this, the seamen on the galley can’t make a decent cup of caf to save their lives.”
Obi-Wan looked out of the viewport, the rippling, blue-shaded corridor enveloping the ship as the light years sped past. It had been a lucky break indeed, that the medical frigate had been so close to the Vigilance’s position; the Refuge had been coming back from the medical station near Ord Cestus, where it had dropped off all of its patients and loaded itself full of new medical supplies. Now it was traveling its patrol area of the Meerian and Kwymar sectors, its mission to ferry supplies back to the many bases and RMSU’s scattered around that region, taking in the critically wounded patients from the more modestly equipped field hospitals.
Captain Esker followed Obi-Wan’s gaze to the view of the hyperspace. “I’m sorry General, as we only have the one escort ship, I cannot relinquish it to you. I’m sure you understand.”
“I do, completely. I’m sure I can hitch a ride at our next stop.” One Pelta-class frigate as an escort was wholly insufficient, but the Navy was losing ships more rapidly than the shipyards could produce new ones. Besides, the Admiralty banked on that the medical frigates would be left alone due to their status as hospital ships – something that in the past had already proven to be wishful thinking on several occasions.
“Well, we are due to arrive in the Praadost system in a couple of days, if we don’t get an urgent call to somewhere else. The 26th Regiment is mired in skirmishes there.”
Obi-Wan nodded. “Thank you. I’ll leave you to enjoy your caf in peace.”
He left the officers’ mess, tallying the days in his mind and not liking the estimate. A couple of days at least on the ship, plus the time it would take him to arrange transportation, and then the journey itself, which could last…All in all, it would probably take one and a half weeks, if not more. It felt too long.
If the Vigilance’s journey had gone according to plan, the Star Destroyer would arrive in Coruscant in a matter of hours, and it was not only his 212th that Obi-Wan was resolute to join. For Obi-Wan knew – despite the great gulf all the hurt and guilt and discord had managed to open up between him and his former apprentice – he somehow knew in his very bones, that he had to be where Anakin was. However irrational the feeling seemed, Obi-Wan had experienced it enough in his life to trust its veracity, its urgency. He did not know why or how – but he did know with absolute certainty that Anakin needed him.
Unbeknownst to Obi-Wan, the Vigilance had actually arrived in Coruscant few hours earlier than predicted, and while the Jedi Master was tallying the days, Anakin was standing in the middle of the High Council Chamber. Of the twelve members of the Jedi Council, only four were present physically and another four as holograms, but that did little to ease Anakin’s nervousness. The Masters’ penetrating gazes seemed to see right through him, uncovering all his secrets. Anakin steeled his mind and fortified his shields. He could not decide if he was glad or disappointed that Obi-Wan was not present even as a hologram.
“Safe the holocron is?” Master Yoda went straight to the point, not bothering with idle pleasantries. No one had the time for those anymore in the middle of a war.
“Yes, Master.” Anakin took the cube from the inside pocket of his robe and held it in the palm of his hand. All the eyes in the room were drawn to the holocron; sitting in their customary seats, a few of the Masters leaned imperceptibly towards it.
“Secured in the Holocron Vault it must be – Master Allie will take it there.”
Anakin stared at the time traveling device in his hand, suddenly reluctant to entrust it to another. What if someone would seek to steal it? After all, not even the Holocron Vault was impenetrable – the bounty hunter Cad Bane had proven that.
“Skywalker?” Mace Windu’s deep voice was more of a command than a query. His severe expression didn’t lose any of its impact even though it was conveyed through the flickering bluish image of a hologram.
“Of course,” Anakin said, tightly masking his reluctance as he handed the holocron to the Tholothian Master. He watched as Stass Allie took carefully hold of the cube. “The holocron is missing a piece – that’s the reason it flung us about through time so unpredictably. The missing piece must be a means to control that thing.”
“You know where this piece could be?” Master Rancisis asked, his long white beard quivering with each word. Seeing the small statured Jedi Master, Anakin remembered how the beard and hair covering most of the Master’s face had fascinated him as a small boy. Because of that, Anakin had always – perhaps somewhat illogically – liked Master Rancisis.
“No, but I bet the secret operative who led us to the holocron knows something about it. Do you know their identity?” Obi-Wan had said that the operative’s message had come through a trustworthy senator, but there had been no time for Anakin to inquire about it further. First there had been the whole sudden time-travel-thing and then after…well, after they had not really been talking to each other.
A brief silence. Then Master Windu answered, “Bail Organa relayed the message to us. He got it from a trusted source of his, who in turn got it from their source. Organa’s source refused to reveal the identity of the secret operative.”
“And who is Organa’s source?”
“Unwilling to tell us his source’s name Organa is,” Master Yoda said placidly.
“That’s just great!” Anakin exclaimed, frustrated. Of course, karking Bail Organa had to be involved. He would need Padmé or Obi-Wan to persuade Organa to spill the identity of his source, who in turn would have to be coaxed into revealing their source. “He has to tell us. This could be the deciding factor in winning the war.” At least there still was the freighter – Anakin was so close to hacking its flight computer.
“Trust of our allies cannot we lose.” Master Yoda sounded suddenly weary and old, as if all of his eight hundred plus years were weighing heavily on his drooping shoulders. “Too few there are those we can trust – Senator Organa one is. Force him to tell us we cannot.”
“Yes Master,” Anakin acquiesced, but in his mind, he was already thinking how quickly Padmé could meet with Organa. Perhaps even that very night, after he and Padmé had first had their own private reunion. Anakin’s restlessness grew with thoughts of his wife; the very moment the meeting was over, he would hop on a speeder and fly to Padmé.
“And it has not yet been decided, what – if anything – is to be done with the holocron,” Mace Windu pointed out.
“Interfering with the natural order – with the flow of time – is surely too dangerous, not to mention highly dubious,” Saesee Tiin objected, clearly aghast.
“One day, it might be our only chance to bring peace to the galaxy,” Anakin argued, despite knowing he held little sway over the Council’s decisions. “At least we should learn everything there is to know about the holocron; how it works, who found it and left it for us to find and why. Ignorance is the weakest defence.”
“Right, Skywalker is,” Master Yoda said, surprising Anakin. “Knowledge we must seek. The Council will decide how to proceed.” The last sentence was a clear dismissal.
“Yes, Master.” Anakin inclined his head. Before he left though, he had to know… “Any news of Obi-Wan?”
“Difficult it is, to establish communications with the medical frigate in that part of space…hmm…but last time in contact we were, Knight S´ghan told that well Obi-Wan´s recovery progressing is.”
“Thank you, Master.” The news made him feel relieved; it lightened one worry. He turned to go, eager to get to Padmé, so he could just forget all the difficult, painful things in her sweet embrace, just for one night.
“Skywalker.” Master Windu’s voice halted Anakin. “The holocron must be kept a secret. For now, only the Council and a few other Jedi can know about it.”
Anakin whirled around, meeting Windu’s composed visage. “But surely the Chancellor must be informed?”
“The operative’s message was meant for the Jedi; it is likely that the holocron also has ties to the Order. Therefore, it is an internal matter,” Mace Windu explained.
“I disagree,” Anakin said hotly. “Even if this were an internal matter – which I don’t think it is – as long as the Jedi are acting as a military, we are obligated to report to the Chancellor.”
“Necessary this is,” Master Yoda remarked quietly. “Too many times has sensitive information been exposed.”
“You are not suggesting –” Anakin could hardly believe his ears. Was the Council truly implying that Chancellor Palpatine was leaking Republic’s secrets?
“We suggest nothing,” Windu interjected harshly. “Only that we exercise prudence in this matter. The Chancellor himself might be above reproach, but the members of his office and those closest to him might not be.”
Only slightly mollified, Anakin nodded sharply and strode out of the Council Chamber. He hated keeping Chancellor Palpatine in the dark, for it felt too much like lying to an old friend. And no – the irony of that thought didn’t escape Anakin.
His angel was waiting for him on the open veranda. Anakin docked his airspeeder with haste; an instant later Padmé was in his arms, her fingers clutching tightly at his tunic. Anakin breathed deep, taking in his wife´s familiar, lovely scent. At last, they were together again – in that joyous, much longed for moment, something in Anakin uncoiled. Everything would be alright.
“Force, I’ve missed you,” Anakin muttered into Padmé’s soft hair, all his senses reaching for her, greedily drinking in the feel of her, the shape of her, the touch of her.
“Oh Ani, I’ve missed you too.” Her voice held a hint of tears, and reluctantly Anakin eased his hold of her so he could see her better. Padmé’s beautiful brown eyes glistened with feeling, but there were no tears on her face. She was smiling and her small hand cupped his cheek, feeling the contours of his expression. “I’m so glad you are home.”
“I´m just glad to be finally here with you.” He gently took her hand in his and reverently kissed it. Soon, he would be kissing every part of her, worshipping her slender body from the top of her head to her little toes, as was only her due.
“You look tired,” Padmé noted, her eyebrows crinkling with worry.
“And you look divine – as usual.” Anakin cast an appreciative look at his wife. Padmé’s long curls were held back from her face by small, emerald green hair combs. The brown hair tumbled freely down her back and framed her lightly made-up face. She was wearing white silk culottes and a green long-sleeved tunic with golden embroidery. She looked radiant.
“You need rest. I hope they’ll not send you out anytime soon.” Something dark flickered in her eyes for a second; then it vanished and Padmé smiled ruefully. “Although that’s probably just a fool’s hope.”
Anakin, not wanting to even think of parting from her anytime soon, grinned roguishly. “I only need you.” He bowed his head and captured her lips with the ease of the thousands of kisses that had come before. Padmé kissed him back with all the fervour of her mighty spirit. With each deep kiss they banished the bitter separation they had had to endure; with each warm, joined breath they dispelled the cold of loneliness; with each hungry swipe of tongue they stoked the simmering passion back into full flame.
He began to steer them towards the rest of the apartment, not letting go of her, only allowing their mouths to separate to draw in air. Padmé was moaning quietly, shivering under his roaming hands. Force, he had waited, dreamed of her touch for so long. Sometimes, in the endless nights on the battlefield, it had seemed like the only thing sustaining him.
“Anakin…” Padmé moved her head to the side, letting Anakin’s lips fall on her cheek. “Anakin, wait a little…”
“I want you,” Anakin confessed, voice gravelly. “I´ve waited for so long. Padmé…” He kissed her neck, her chin, her lips again. He could never get enough of her.
“I know,” she sighed, kissing him once, twice and then suddenly twisting away from Anakin’s arms. “My love, I´m so sorry, but we have to wait just a little longer – I have to go.”
It took Anakin a moment to understand what she was saying. “What? Now?” He asked, incredulous.
Padmé looked apologetic, but still resolute. Anakin had always hated that expression, those few times it had been aimed at him. “I have a meeting that I absolutely have to attend. And it cannot be rescheduled. I thought I would see you much later.”
“We arrived early,” Anakin said dully. It had always been that the sooner he could see his wife, the better – or so he had thought. How could Padmé leave him, when he had just gotten there? When they had barely begun to acquaint themselves with each other´s bodies and minds again?
“We’ll have the whole evening to ourselves when I get back, I promise.” Padmé was looking at him solemnly, willing him to understand.
“Just who are you meeting?” Anakin’s voice came out hard; she was not dressed for a policy or business meeting, but for an informal get-together.
“Some fellow senators and allies.”
“If that’s all –” Anakin scoffed.
“Anakin, please. I’m already late.” Padmé turned away from him, towards the small docking area, where her own personal speeder was neatly parked beside Anakin’s.
“Then be late!” He took hold of Padmé’s arm, halting her.
Her eyes met his, flashing with ire. “Anakin, this is important.”
“More important than me?”
Padmé pursed her lips and said quietly, “That’s not fair. This is my job – my duty.”
“Your duty is to me!” Anakin roared without thinking. Nothing was going the way he had imagined. An appalled silence filled the space between them, the space that seemed to grow wider with every charged second.
“I don´t want to fight. Not now, Anakin.” The please remained unspoken, but was visible in her eyes. For the first time Anakin noticed that behind the façade of fine clothes and artfully arranged hair, Padmé seemed tired. The same kind of bone-deep tired Anakin felt, that burrowed into his very soul.
“Alright,” Anakin said tightly, letting go of her arm. He knew he could not stop his wife from leaving; he never could stop Padmé from doing anything she had set her mind to. He had lost this particular battle even before it had begun.
“I will come back as soon as I can,” Padmé promised gently. “In the meantime, eat something and try to rest.”
“Whatever you command,” he said, and this time the familiar words were not said teasingly but with a hint of acid. Padmé didn’t deign to answer; she gracefully entered her speeder and switched on its engine. Anakin wanted to turn his back to her, disliking to having to watch her drive away – but as always, he was helpless when it came to her. He looked as she swooped among the traffic; looked until she was long gone.
The empty apartment was just a mocking reminder of their botched reunion, and Anakin knew he couldn’t stand the guileless fussing of C-3PO. And as he couldn’t bear to stay, there was only one place he could go; only one person who could make him feel better. After all, even knowing all of Anakin’s secrets, the Chancellor welcomed him with open arms and an understanding smile. This time would be no different, Anakin was sure of it.
“Anakin! My dear boy, I heard you were back in Coruscant, but I didn’t dare to hope I would see you so soon.” The Supreme Chancellor sounded delighted, rising from behind his large desk to greet Anakin.
“I’m sorry if I’m interrupting –” Anakin started to say, suddenly acutely aware that the most powerful man in the Republic might have something else to do than to listen to his troubles.
“No, of course not. I have always time for you.” The grandfatherly man touched Anakin’s arm and smiled. “I must admit I am flattered that you came to see an old man, when surely there are someone much more…lovelier for you to spend your time with.”
“Well…I…” Anakin stammered, not knowing what to say. Although the Chancellor knew of his secret marriage to Padmé, they rarely spoke about it. Imagining telling the kindly man of his spat with his wife made Anakin inwardly cringe; suddenly his fight with Padmé seemed petty and mean-spirited.
“I see I have embarrassed you!” Chancellor Palpatine´s eyes twinkled with mischief. “Come, sit down. Do you like some refreshments? You must have come straight from the briefing with the Jedi Council.” The Chancellor ushered Anakin to a chrome-coloured couch and pointed to a side table that held a collection of expensive looking bottles.
“Thank you, but I don’t need anything.” Anakin sat down on the couch, the mere mention of the Jedi Council making him instantly uncomfortable and irritated. The Council was wrong to withhold information from the Supreme Chancellor. The deceit made him angry, although Anakin could recognize the logic behind it. The holocron was simply too important to risk falling into the wrong hands, and although Chancellor Palpatine was absolutely trustworthy, his staff might be a different matter. So, for the moment, Anakin resigned himself to the fact that the Chancellor couldn’t know about the holocron – not yet.
“Are you feeling well?” Chancellor Palpatine asked, settling himself next to Anakin. The wrinkles around his blue eyes seemed to deepen with worry. “I trust you were not injured?”
“No, I’m fine,” Anakin hastened to reassure his old friend and confidant. The Chancellor’s obvious concern made Anakin feel humble and grateful. That such an important man worried about him, cared about him, always lightened his soul.
“That’s a relief,” Chancellor Palpatine sighed. “Although your talents are extraordinary, I do worry…”
“Thank you, Chancellor.” To his alarm, Anakin suddenly felt a lump in his throat. “Your concern means a lot to me.” He swallowed, trying furiously to banish the onset of tears.
Chancellor Palpatine’s hand came to rest upon Anakin’s shoulder, and his eyes were kind and knowing as he examined Anakin’s face. Anakin had a feeling that the observant man could see right through him. “My boy, you are obviously troubled…Are you worried about Master Kenobi? I heard he had to stay behind on a medical frigate due to some injuries.”
“Obi-Wan is already on the mend. Nothing can keep him down for long,” Anakin answered, forcing a light-hearted smile on his lips.
“So it seems,” the Chancellor rasped. “However did he manage to injure himself this time? I can guess that once again he owes his life to you.”
“He…” Anakin bit his lip, hating the lie. “He fell ill. And I was not much help.”
“I’m sure that’s nonsense!” Chancellor Palpatine exclaimed. “I’m certain you were a great help to Master Kenobi – he is fortunate to have a friend like you.”
“He…he might not think so, not anymore,” Anakin confessed, feeling wretched. The thought, that the rift between him and his Master might be beyond repair, sent a fresh wave of despair through Anakin. The painful thought had plagued him persistently the whole week, had continued to fester inside of him wherever he was and whatever he did.
“What has happened?” The Chancellor seemed bewildered. “I though you two were such great friends…”
Anakin clasped his hands tightly together, as if that way he could contain all the confusion and pain inside him. “I…I don’t know if I should…” He wanted to tell the Chancellor about Obi-Wan, wanted to share the awful burden of their discord, but something in him protested. Anakin knew that Chancellor Palpatine would take his side, would perhaps criticize Obi-Wan – and for the first time in their long acquaintance that felt somehow…unfair.
“Oh, my dear boy,” the Chancellor sighed. “You know you can tell me anything. I have always kept your secrets and will continue to do so. And here with me, you have never needed to pretend to be something you are not, like you have to do with the Jedi. I know you, Anakin.”
Anakin shivered. He looked into Chancellor Palpatine’s eyes and saw only concern, friendship and a wish to help. The old man was probably Anakin’s only friend at that moment: Ahsoka had left, Padmé had better things to do than be with him, and Obi-Wan…Obi-Wan couldn’t bear the sight of him.
“I told him…I told him about the Tuskens, what I did.”
The Chancellor looked stunned. “Oh Anakin…Why did you do that?”
“I – I had to,” Anakin said feebly. The why was the part he couldn’t explain, so he forged ahead. “He knows about Padmé too. Obi-Wan was shocked – obviously – but I thought – I hoped he would understand, but he was so horrified about the…about me killing –” It was hard to continue, so Anakin fell silent.
“Has he told the Jedi Council?” Chancellor Palpatine asked sharply.
Anakin shook his head. “No…not yet.”
“I was afraid of this…I was always certain that Master Kenobi knowing would be a great mistake, as I said to you Anakin.” The old man sounded sorrowful, and he was pursing his thin lips in dismay. “Kenobi cannot understand you Anakin…He is too mired in the rigid Jedi code, too unfeeling to truly see what you were going through…”
Miserable, Anakin couldn’t protest; it all seemed true.
“Now, do you know what he is going to do about this?” Chancellor Palpatine’s eyes held a sharp glint and Anakin was reminded that behind the exterior of the grandfatherly figure was a successful politician. The Chancellor would help him – hadn’t Anakin secretly counted upon it?
“I don’t know. Obi-Wan promised that we would talk first, before he did anything.” What would his Master do? Would he see Anakin expelled from the Order? And would expulsion be enough, or would the Jedi defer the matter with the Tuskens to the Judicial Department? What would happen to Anakin then? And to Padmé – if it all came public knowledge, Padmé’s reputation would be ripped to shreds by the hungry press and all her numerous enemies in the Senate.
As if he had read Anakin’s mind, Chancellor Palpatine said reassuringly, “Don’t you worry, my boy. You are a hero of the Republic – no one will fault you for killing those filthy beasts who murdered your mother. If the Jedi in their folly expel you from their stagnated Order, you will still have a great place by my side – I promise that you will continue to defend and protect the Republic.”
“Thank you…” Anakin muttered, relieved but at the same time ashamed. It didn’t feel quite right that his possible punishment was nullified even before any charges had been raised.
“Now, Anakin, keep your chin up!” The Chancellor smiled and patted Anakin on the shoulder. “Everything will sort itself out. Remember, nothing is ever certain and anything can happen. Perhaps Master Kenobi will think better of it and keep your secrets to himself after all.”
“Maybe…” Anakin muttered, sceptical. Obi-Wan was nothing if not a man of honour, of right and wrong. His Master may have turned a blind eye to Anakin’s nightly wanderings around Coruscant, when Anakin had been a Padawan, but he would not excuse a secret marriage or the killing of the Tuskens. No, the best Anakin could hope for was Obi-Wan’s forgiveness – but did he truly deserve that?
“It’s a pity if Master Kenobi cannot be a better friend to you – that to him, the Jedi code will always come first,” Chancellor Palpatine murmured softly. “I promise that I will always be here for you Anakin. I will never judge you.”
“Thank you…” Anakin said hollowly, the momentarily relief he had felt at the Chancellor’s steady words melting away like snow in a desert. Suddenly he thought what Obi-Wan would think of him, if he could see Anakin sitting there beside the Supreme Chancellor, begging for reassurance, for absolution.
Anakin jumped up from the couch. “Thank you again, Your Excellency. I have to go, and I think I have already taken too much of your time.”
“Nonsense,” the Chancellor protested with a slight smile, standing up. “You are always most welcome.”
“Thank you,” Anakin repeated again, feeling like a malfunctioning droid. He bowed reverently and left the Supreme Chancellor to continue his tireless work for the Republic. As Anakin hastened out of the Chancellor’s office and back towards the Senate Apartment Complex, he somehow felt both better and worse than before.
So...how much do you hate Anakin now? :D
The sound turned into static and the blue image flickered, disappearing for a long second, until finally the connection stabilized enough that Obi-Wan could see and hear Master Yoda relatively well. The Refuge had dropped momentarily from hyperspace and Obi-Wan had taken the opportunity to try to establish a connection to the Jedi Temple. Despite it being in the middle of the night on Coruscant, he had quickly managed to get hold of Master Yoda. Anakin, on the other hand, had been unavailable.
“Discharged you are already, hmm…”
“Yes, Master Yoda.” Obi-Wan tried to control the urge to fidget like a guilty youngling; after all, he had nothing to feel guilty about – at least not on that score – for he was fine. There was no reason to keep him inactive. “I’m leaving for Coruscant as soon as I can arrange for transport.”
“Why in such a hurry?” Yoda asked, and even through the wavering hologram, his eyes were discerning, seeing into Obi-Wan. “Rest you should, before war calls again…hmmm…unless something wrong here you think is?”
“No, Master, it’s just a…a feeling,” Obi-Wan said, knowing full well how vague and evasive he was being. But he could hardly say, actually I’m worried about my former Padawan who confessed to me that he slaughtered innocents and secretly married an important Senator, now could he?
“A feeling, hmm…or a warning?”
“Just a feeling of unease, Master,” Obi-Wan sighed. “Nothing definite.”
“Safe the holocron in the Vault is. Few there are who know about its existence.” Master Yoda’s face seemed to tighten in apprehension; the image flickered again and Obi-Wan almost thought he had merely imagined it.
“Has the Council decided what is to be done with it?” Obi-Wan asked, anxiety pooling in his gut. In the wrong hands – no, even in the right hands, the holocron could be a terrible weapon.
“Nothing yet decided is,” Yoda said, mouth suddenly turning into an impish smile. “Time there is for that. Your input want we to hear first. Member of the Council are you not?”
“Yes, Master.” He inclined his head, suppressing a wince. What a loyal and upstanding Council member he was, omitting information, evading questions, pretending that everything was fine.
“And missing the holocron a piece is, young Skywalker discovered.” At Anakin’s name, Obi-Wan’s insides clenched painfully. Yoda’s eyes narrowed. “Important it is, that found the piece is.”
Obi-Wan breathed deep. Please don’t send Anakin to find it, not on his own. He couldn’t explain the terror that thought raised in him, so he pushed it aside as best he could. “I can investigate it,” Obi-Wan offered, hoping his voice sounded suitably calm.
“Discuss we – not bef – arrived on –” The sound was breaking up, the blue image of the Jedi Master flickering madly.
“Master Yoda, the connection is failing, I can hardly hear you –”
The solemn image of Master Yoda quivered and then suddenly vanished, leaving Obi-Wan alone in the communications chamber. For a long moment, Obi-Wan stood there, lost in thought, until the communications technician hesitantly made his way in, obviously not wanting to disturb the Jedi. Obi-Wan gave the technician a brief nod, and then he trudged back to the small cabin he had been given.
With a narrow bunk and a simple trunk, the cabin was only a little bigger than a maintenance closet, but Obi-Wan appreciated the gesture nonetheless. Discharged from the medical ward, he didn’t belong among the twenty or so patients, but neither did the ship have any free berths readily available on such short notice. Obi-Wan wondered which officer had drawn the short straw and had had to vacate their cabin just so General Kenobi could have a private place to sleep in – or as the case was, not to sleep in.
Obi-Wan settled on the hard floor, between the bunk and the grey-steel wall, arranging himself into a meditation pose. Closing his eyes, he did the simple breathing exercises all younglings in the Temple were taught at an early age. Breathing in, breathing out, in out in out, mind emptying of all thought. Again and again he stilled his mind with every breath, until Obi-Wan had retreated into a trance, into that place deep inside of him that knew no physical pain or sensation.
The Force surrounded him, filled him, enveloped him with vitality and strength. Obi-Wan let himself bask in its light for a moment, and then he carefully turned his attention to the bond he shared with Anakin. The bond’s strands looked frayed, their brilliant glimmer muted and still. Hesitantly, Obi-Wan touched the strands and everything in him ached in response. Anakin was too far away to be contacted that way – even if he were closer, Obi-Wan suddenly doubted that he could have reached his former apprentice. Anakin had retreated from their bond so completely – no, they both had. Fearful of more hurt, they had taken shelter behind strong shields, letting the bond wilt with neglect and misgivings.
And Obi-Wan was hurt, there was no denying that, not within his own mind. He was hurt by Anakin’s actions, by his lies, and that was problematic. To judge Anakin fairly, Obi-Wan would have to examine Anakin’s deeds objectively, he would have to separate his own deep feelings of betrayal from the general disappointment any teacher would feel for a failed student. Any decision Obi-Wan came to, would have to be based on facts, not on his feelings.
So then, how would he act, if the subject was any other than Anakin? If some other Jedi had done that horrible crime? There was no question – he would report them to the Jedi Council. But nothing happened in a vacuum; Obi-Wan was pragmatic enough that he could also acknowledge the hard facts, the current circumstances. The war effort needed Anakin, his exceptional skills on the battlefield, his tactical mind, his boldness. But was that truly reason enough to stay silent? Equally troubling was the thought that perhaps no one save the Jedi would care about what Anakin had done. The general public had begun to distrust the Jedi, and Anakin was still the poster boy, the Chancellor’s favorite. It was more than possible that if the Jedi Council wouldn’t keep quiet about Anakin’s transgressions for the good of the Order, Palpatine would certainly find a way to make most of the situation.
On the other hand, to do nothing, could certainly be equally – if not more – disastrous. It would validate Anakin’s crimes and he would learn the worst possible lesson: that there were no consequences for any of his actions. The lesson he should learn instead was that there were always consequences – and that lesson Obi-Wan was honor-bound to give, for a Master’s role didn’t end when a Padawan was knighted. Every Jedi was a teacher, and every Jedi was a student. And more than that, Obi-Wan feared what Anakin would become, if the boy continued on the path of lies – would he be tempted towards more dark deeds? There had to be some accountability – but what and when?
Obi-Wan did not know. The answer, the right action to take, continued to elude him. It seemed that whatever he decided, it would somehow hurt Anakin, change irrevocably the relationship between them. Frustrated with himself, Obi-Wan felt the trance dissolving, until he could feel the hard floor once more under his aching legs. Acknowledging the futility of trying to continue the meditation, he clambered to his feet, stiff limbs protesting.
His body wasn’t much happier in the bunk than on the floor, but Obi-Wan dutifully lay down on the thin mattress. He would get some sleep. In the morning, the Refuge would be that much closer to the Praadost system and Obi-Wan could prepare to leave for Coruscant. Force, he just hoped that Anakin didn’t do anything stupid before he could get there.
Waking up with a startle, Anakin reached for his lightsaber, his eyes trying to find familiar shapes in the dark. Just for a moment, he didn’t know where he was and the room was as unfamiliar to him as any strange space. The distinct hum of a starship was absent, and the stale air of his cabin was missing. Beneath him was not a hard bunk but a luxuriously soft bed. Padmé’s bed – their bed.
With the realization of familiarity Anakin’s heart settled into a slower pace. A grin sneaked onto his face as Anakin remembered their frenzied tumble into bed. When Padmé had finally come back from her meeting, no unnecessary words had been exchanged; instead, they had fallen upon each other like starving beasts. After a couple of bouts of passionate lovemaking, sleep had come easily, but according to the chrono on the bedside table, Anakin had only managed to sleep for a few hours.
He reached towards Padmé’s side of the big bed, but his hand met only cool, crumbled sheets. Dispelling the last vestiges of lingering sleep, Anakin focused and extended his senses: he was alone in the room, and Padmé…Padmé was on the veranda. A whisper of concern slithered among his good mood, and Anakin rose swiftly, pulling on his trousers and putting on his undertunic. Not bothering with his boots, Anakin stepped out of the bedroom with bare feet.
Padmé was standing near the edge of the open veranda, at the base of one of the statues of Shiraya, looking at the city that never slept. The large silhouettes of buildings rose from the dark like forgotten behemoths, millions of small lights dotting their feet like fallen stars. Dressed in a flowing nightgown, long hair loose, Padmé looked like a twin of the moon goddess. For a fleeting moment, she seemed as untouchable, as distant as the bronzium statues that flanked her.
“Can´t sleep?” Anakin asked, his voice making Padmé flinch. She hadn´t heard him come in. “I thought I managed to tire you out pretty thoroughly.”
Padmé half-turned towards Anakin, her face covered by shadows. “You did…but I have much on my mind.” It bothered Anakin that he couldn’t see her eyes, so he strode closer, until his gaze met hers. She looked composed and a little melancholy.
“I know you have a lot on your plate…important duties and responsibilities. I’m sorry about how I acted earlier…I just felt disappointed – I had waited so long to be with you.” They had argued about Padmé’s work many times before, and would probably do so again, but Anakin knew he had been in the wrong earlier that evening.
“Are you sorry? Truly?” Padmé asked, gazing intently at Anakin’s face.
Anakin frowned. “Of course.”
Padmé’s eyes shifted back to the view of the city, dismissing the topic. “Alright. Then that’s over and done with.”
Silence fell over them. Anakin looked at his wife’s profile, and for the first time since their initial awkward meeting as adults, he didn’t know what to say to her. It made his insides tighten painfully. It was the bloody war, he was sure of it; it tried its hardest to make them into strangers. Anakin thought about all the things he didn’t know about Padmé’s life in Coruscant and all the things she didn’t know about his life in the front lines. There should be no secrets between them.
“I have something to tell you…It could change everything,” Anakin began, and when Padmé had turned towards him fully, he proceeded to give her a full account of what he and Obi-Wan had gone through with the holocron. He saw Padmé’s eyes widen with wonder at the depiction of time-travel, watched as her lips pursed when she heard how Obi-Wan had learned of their marriage, and how her face softened when Anakin described the meeting with Shmi. He relived the horror of Zigoola with her, the agony of watching Obi-Wan succumb deeper into illness with each jump. It was almost easy to tell the rest of it too: the failed attempt at joint meditation and the resulting confession. At the mention of the Tuskens Padmé winced, but she listened quietly until Anakin had come to the tale’s end.
“Traveling through time…that’s – Anakin, that’s incredible. And terrifying it seems,” Padmé said, looking still amazed. “I´m so glad you both managed to get back.”
“Yes, but everything is a mess now because of it. I don’t know what to do with Obi-Wan,” Anakin admitted, hoping she would have some insight, some advice he could follow.
“Well, have you apologized to him?”
“I…” Anakin paused, suddenly uncertain. He had said to Obi-Wan that he was sorry, hadn’t he?
“Oh Anakin,” Padmé sighed, sounding sad and remorseful. “Obi-Wan must be so hurt – we both lied to him so many times.”
Anakin couldn’t help the sharp, bitter laugh. “Hurt? More likely deeply disappointed, regretting having raised such a lousy Jedi as me.”
Padmé shook her head, and in her voice was a hint of reprimand. “It has always baffled me how you have lived over ten years with him, and still know him so little.”
“I don’t want to talk about Obi-Wan!” Anakin snapped, suddenly incensed. He knew Obi-Wan – knew him certainly better than Padmé did or ever would. But as fast as the anger had risen, it depleted, leaving Anakin empty and aching. Of course he had hurt Obi-Wan, he could admit that to himself, even if it was difficult to acknowledge it aloud.
“He can’t stand to be in the same room with me,” Anakin muttered. Padmé said nothing, so he continued, “He´s probably going to tell the Council everything I did.”
“What we did,” Padmé corrected him quietly. “These lies and wrongdoings are not only yours, Anakin. I’m equally complicit. I have lied to so many people. I lie about our marriage every day, every hour, with my every breath. And the Tuskens…” Padmé’s face hardened; she sounded pained. “I brushed it aside. I was so in love that I was willing to let it go, that I actively wished it into nothingness…and that was not only wrong, but an impossibility. I think however hard I tried, it has always been at the back of my mind, this guilt and unease and fear.”
“But you understand – you know why I had to do it,” Anakin protested, Padmé’s words threatening to shake the foundations of justification and validity he had built around the act.
“I know why you did it – I was there, I saw your grief and I can´t blame you for any of it.” Padmé tugged at her hair restlessly, face a mask of anguish. “But I am sickened by my own inaction, my compliancy, my cowardice. How could I let love change who I am? What I hold most important?”
“Just what are you saying?” Anakin’s throat was suddenly so dry it was hard to swallow. His heart hammered against his rib cage, every painful thud heralding doom. This is not happening, he thought, desperate.
“I don´t know!” Padme cried. “I just know that I can´t live like this anymore. I won’t.”
“This again? I thought we resolved this – that it was just poison fed by that traitor Clovis.” The mere thought of the hated man made Anakin clench his hands into fists – that snake had nearly ruined everything. Anakin remembered the words Padmé had spoken in distress after the altercation with Clovis, they rang as clearly as if they had been said only seconds ago: Other people who are married have everything that we don’t, everything we won’t. We live in secret…our relationship is built on lies and deception. No relationship can survive that…Anakin could see her standing before him as she had been then, mercilessly frank, every emotion raw on her face as she had looked at him and said, I don’t know who’s in there sometimes. I just know that I’m not happy anymore. I don’t feel safe. She had broken his heart, until later, after the whole business with Clovis had come to its tragic end, she had put his heart back together again. They had not spoken about it, and Anakin had hoped that they had moved past the incident entirely.
“Clovis was just the effect, not the cause. What happened with him only raised to the surface the feelings that I already had – that I still have.” Padmé’s eyes looked black in the dim lighting, like a pool of dark, unfathomable water. She took a deep breath and confessed, “I still feel unhappy.”
“So you don´t love me anymore, that´s it?”
“I wish it was that simple,” Padmé murmured. “Anakin, you know I love you, that hasn´t changed. But there are some things that are bigger – perhaps even more important – than my love for you. Who I am as a person, living my life faithfully and happily and true to all the convictions I hold dear. Without that, my love for you has no basis, it is just a…just a pile of sand that will crumble eventually.”
“I will go to the Council right now, I will tell them of our marriage and leave the Order. You won´t have to lie then, everyone can know, I don´t care,” Anakin proclaimed heatedly.
“Would you?” Padmé asked, a little wistfully. Then her eyes sharpened. “But what would you be then? Without the Jedi? Have you truly thought about the future?”
“I would be with you,” Anakin said defiantly. He would give up everything for her, prove his love undeniably –
“But that´s just it. You can´t define yourself solely through me, Anakin. Just as I can´t solely define myself through you. Do you understand? I won´t bear that burden. You have to be you for yourself –”
“So you don´t want to lie, but you don´t want me to leave the Order either. It seems you just don´t want to be with me,” Anakin exclaimed bitterly.
Padmé shook her head, looking crushed. “It seems so,” she finally admitted quietly.
“I don´t understand,” Anakin said helplessly, feeling a dark pit of despair opening up inside of him, starting to swallow him whole.
“I know you don´t.” Padmé raised her hand, as if to reach for him, but then let it slowly come to a rest at her side. Anakin was already longing for her touch, missing her with a fierce ache – like they had already parted and the long days and months stretched before him lonely and endless.
“Is this the end?” Anakin made himself ask.
“I don´t know.” One tear was finding its way across Padmé´s cheekbone. “Just…think about what I have said. Think about what kind of future you want – what you want to be, if you weren´t with me. Let´s just…think about this…”
“You can think all you want, I have a war to win,” Anakin said, hopped into his speeder and drove away with reckless speed. Padmé didn’t call out after him.
The Clovis incident that Anakin alludes to is told in Clone Wars episodes 605-607. The words Anakin remembers Padmé saying are from the episode 606, The Rise of Clovis.
Chapter 5: Part IV
Anakin did not wish to think; he wanted to act.
Not caring one jot about the looks he was getting, Anakin strode inside one of the maintenance hangars of the Jedi Temple without his cloak, overtunic and boots. As it was the middle of the night, the hangar was mostly empty, but some workers were still hard at work repairing the Order’s ships. At the rear of the huge space stood the old and battered freighter, whose secrets had frustratingly continued to elude Anakin – but no more. He would finally crack the code and uncover the places the ship had been to, and then he would be that much closer to a real answer to all of his problems.
Anakin entered the freighter’s cockpit and crawled under the control panel, thoughts carefully blank. There was nothing or no one that he needed to think about – his world was the wires and the connections and the code. The language of the machine came easily to him: it was logical, understandable and clear. There were no contradictions, confusion or nonsense.
Time ceased to exist; place disappeared. There was only the machine and Anakin and the connection between them. The answer was in front of him; Anakin could see the path now. Without any conscious thought, his fingers made the right movements, chose the correct sequences. As the flight computer peeped and data started to flash on its screen, Anakin was absent-mindedly satisfied of his success. He was already scanning the information, looking the last place the ship had been to, before they had found it drifting in space, in the middle of nowhere.
There – Ord Radama.
Obi-Wan’s eyes blinked open, taking in the dim cabin with one glance, the customary small light above the door revealing the outlines of the tiny room. Obi-Wan was instantly awake, moving from deep sleep into reality with the familiar routine of a soldier. With instincts honed on hundreds of battlefields, with the awareness of the Force, he knew immediately that something was wrong.
Getting up from the narrow bunk, Obi-Wan instinctively checked that his lightsaber was still secured to his belt. Glad that he hadn’t bothered to undress as he had gone to sleep, not even to take off his boots, Obi-Wan was ready to investigate the alarm that rang in the Force, enveloping the silent ship with tremors of disquiet.
He had just opened the cabin door, when the floor under him shuddered and the walls groaned loudly; Obi-Wan managed to keep his balance by gripping the doorframe with both hands. The lights flickered madly and then went out, plunging the whole ship into darkness. In the quiet dark, Obi-Wan breathed deep, sharpened his mind and gathered the Force around him.
UUUU-I-UUUU-I-UUUU-I-UUUU-I – the ship’s general alarm burst into an ear-splitting wail, and the emergency lights came on, casting a reddish tint over every surface, painting the space with a nightmarish hue. Obi-Wan hauled himself out of the cabin and into the still slightly shaking corridor, thoughts grim. The ship had taken a hit from an ion canon – they were being attacked.
Obi-Wan started to head towards the bridge running; he needed to assess the situation, to know what they were up against so he could formulate a plan. He was anxiously aware that he wasn’t on a Star Destroyer but on a medical ship. The Refuge was lightly armed, having only one turbolaser battery and two point-defence laser canon batteries. He hoped that the more heavily armed escort ship would manage to put up a good fight and repel the attackers. The medical ship would not be able to assist in the fight – all its efforts would go into defending itself from more hits.
He passed by hurrying crewmen, who were dashing to their designated positions, looking grave but moderately calm. Obi-Wan knew better than to try stopping any of them to get answers – that would only hinder them in their duty and more than likely, they would not know anything more than he did. He had to get to the bridge. The ship shook again, this time with a long vibrating motion that seemed to bounce from wall to wall; the ship’s shields had absorbed most of the explosion.
Relieved that at least the Refuge’s shields were still functioning, Obi-Wan came to an abrupt stop in front of a porthole. He glanced quickly outside, hoping to see some sign of their attackers. The black space seemed eerily still and empty, its tranquillity a stark contrast to the hectic scene inside the ship, to the running personnel, the still blaring alarm and the red emergency lighting. Then a swarm of black shadows streaked past the porthole and Obi-Wan had the answer he had expected and dreaded. Vulture droids. They were under attack by the Separatists.
The Refuge shook and shuddered, and Obi-Wan almost lost his footing. He made towards the bridge with a steely determination, adjusting his balance as the ship continued to shake and vibrate. The shields had just absorbed several hits in quick succession, making the people inside the ship reel around like drunks. The general alarm suddenly ceased, leaving Obi-Wan’s ears ringing. No doubt it had been switched off as its wail had changed from a necessary warning to a hindrance. Grateful that he could hear his own thoughts again, Obi-Wan started to discern the familiar heavy thuds from the general clamour of a ship under attack – the Refuge’s canon batteries were hard at work.
Ducking inside a lift, Obi-Wan knew he was taking a risk. Getting stuck in a lift during an attack was a likely possibility, but he didn’t have time to clamber up the emergency ladder that led to the bridge ten decks above his current position. Just as the doors of the lift were sliding close, a clone officer – a 2nd lieutenant by the markings on his uniform – lunged inside.
They looked at each other, acknowledging that they were both breaking the rule of a safe use of lifts during an emergency, and in a fraction of a second, Obi-Wan saw a flash of a rueful grin on the lieutenant’s face, until it smoothed into a sombre expression. As the lift started to rise, the clone inclined his head respectfully.
“Lieutenant,” Obi-Wan said. “What’s the sitrep?”
“We’re under attack by at least one Separatist frigate; it has launched Vulture droids.” The soldier grimaced and continued, “Don’t know anything more, sir. I’m just headed for my station.”
Abruptly, the lift trembled violently, and Obi-Wan and the lieutenant slammed hard against the walls. But luck was on their side as the lift continued its ascent, although it screeched most alarmingly. Then it shuddered to a stop and the doors slid open to the command deck. Obi-Wan stepped quickly forward, eyes already taking in the scene; the crew on the bridge were urgently doing their jobs, but no one showed any signs of panic. Captain Esker was standing next to a command station, giving curt orders.
“Target the frigate on the left – the Vigil can’t reach it with its turbolasers,” Captain Esker ordered the gunners, and then turned towards the pilot’s station. “Manoeuvre us out of the cross-fire, now.” She looked bleak and Obi-Wan understood instantly why, when he looked outside the large viewport.
The Refuge was facing two Munificent-class star frigates and four Recusant-class destroyers, with at least a hundred Vulture droids swarming around them. Against a single MedStar frigate and its Pelta-class escort, the size of the Separatist fleet was a complete overkill.
Obi-Wan went to stand beside the Captain. He had no intention of taking command – that would have been not only improper but also unnecessary. Captain Esker knew her ship and her crew better than anyone; Obi-Wan’s task was to help her in any way he could, so that as many people as possible could survive the sudden, overpowering Separatist attack.
“General Kenobi,” the Captain said, voice gritty. She didn’t take her eyes off the viewport. “They were waiting for us, when we dropped out of hyperspace.”
One of the enemy frigates shot a volley of fire from its portside turbolaser battery straight at the Refuge’s bridge; despite the shields, the Medical ship shuddered deeply and the computer screens flickered. “Concentrate power on the forward shields,” Captain Esker commanded firmly.
“Hyperdrive?” Obi-Wan asked, not liking their odds against the Separatist fleet one bit. Their escort frigate was furiously trying to move itself into a better position, all the while firing at the destroyers that were battering it with continuous firepower. Obi-Wan gave the Vigil’s brave crew a brief, thankful thought. The escort was up against an overwhelming adversary and was still managing to fight back.
Captain Esker shook her head, clearly frustrated. “Damaged. Even if we managed to manoeuvre ourselves out of this snare, we cannot jump safely into hyperspace.”
There went that hope. Obi-Wan pursed his lips, thinking – and immediately dismissing – various different strategies. They would have to act soon; they were rapidly running out of options.
In the deadly, black vacuum of space, one of the destroyers started to slowly list; Obi-Wan watched with some satisfaction as explosions rocked the enemy ship, making the other Separatist ships scramble to clear enough space between them and the perishing destroyer.
“Kriffing yeah,” someone exclaimed darkly, but otherwise the bridge stayed silent. For only a few seconds, a small smile graced the Captain’s face, until her lips pulled into a thin line again. She, with everyone else on the bridge, knew that one successful hit would not be nearly enough to win the fight.
“Where do you want me?” Obi-Wan asked quietly.
For the first time, Captain Esker turned fully towards Obi-Wan, her gaze intense. “General, I need you to help evacuate the patients into escape pods, and when the time comes, I need you to immediately evacuate yourself.”
Obi-Wan was already shaking his head. He would not abandon the ship and its crew, not if there was even a slightest chance that he could help save some of them.
“General,” the Captain hissed, eyes dark with anger and fear. “I will not be the one that gets Obi-Wan Kenobi killed. The Republic’s hero will not die on my ship.”
A horrified gasp made them focus their attention back to the ongoing battle; the Vigil had taken a critical hit and was now breaking apart, its stern engulfed in a huge blaze. Everyone on the command deck looked silently as the dying ship made one last desperate sharp movement, ramming itself into the side of one of the enemy destroyers. Both ships exploded with enough force to shake the Refuge’s bridge.
“That’s it then,” Captain Esker said tonelessly. She turned back towards Obi-Wan. “Please, General.”
Obi-Wan gave her a sharp nod; he knew that arguing back would be futile, not to mention disrespectful. At his acquiescence, something hard left the Captain’s expression and her eyes softened with relief. “Thank you,” she said, heartfelt. “Good luck.”
“May the Force be with you,” Obi-Wan answered, knowing they would never meet again.
“Yes – with you also.” Captain Esker smiled sadly and then turned back to direct the hopeless defence.
Obi-Wan wasted no time getting on the deck holding the main medical ward. The Refuge was shaking more violently with each hit, and more than once Obi-Wan was thrown against a wall or a floor. The medical frigate’s shields were obviously failing, and he had a deep suspicion that the Separatists weren’t interested in boarding the ship. For some reason, they seemed to seek the total destruction of the Refuge.
The medical ward was under a controlled chaos; droids and personnel were busy helping the patients, some of whom needed to be carried, towards the life pods, while the continuous enemy fire shaking the ship made them stumble and falter. The floors were strewn with medical instruments and supplies that had been thrown from shelves and tables, their antigrav fastenings having failed.
Most of the once occupied beds were already empty, and Obi-Wan spared a brief thought to be thankful that the medical ward hadn’t been anywhere near full. If it had been, the catastrophe would have been complete, but now they had a chance to get every patient into the escape pods.
Directing the evacuation was Knight S´ghan, who was lifting a seriously injured clone trooper gently with the Force. Seeing Obi-Wan, the Jedi Knight nodded, and as their eyes met, an understanding passed between them in an instant: they were probably going to die or at least be taken captive, but as Jedi, they would do their utmost to better the odds, so others could have even the tiniest chance to live.
Obi-Wan took hold of a soldier, whose right arm had been amputated; no replacement limb had yet been attached and the sleeve of his long-sleeved hospital garb hung empty. An image of Anakin, after Dooku had severed his arm, flashed through Obi-Wan’s mind, fast and painful. He pushed it aside, focusing on the clone, whose head was also swathed in bandages.
“Trooper, let’s get you off this tin can,” Obi-Wan said lightly, steering the clone towards the exit. The ship’s designers had thoughtfully placed an escape pod station next to the medical ward, no doubt in case of just the type of situation they now found themselves in.
“I can wait sir,” the trooper demurred, having trouble staying on his shaking feet.
“It’s an order.” Obi-Wan adjusted his hold and supported the clone’s weight more fully against him, resolutely guiding them into the corridor.
Suddenly, the ship shook so violently that Obi-Wan’s teeth rattled and he struggled to keep hold of the patient. The medical frigate made a horrifying noise of screeching metal and tearing steel; someone shouted in pain. Obi-Wan knew instantly that the ship’s shields had finally failed.
“Oh no, that’s not good,” the clone trooper muttered. “Just my luck to die on a medical ship without even my boots on.” The evacuation alarm started its loud, penetrating cry, a sign for everyone to abandon ship.
“Nobody is dying just yet.” Obi-Wan grimaced, fighting to propel them forwards despite the corridor starting to tilt alarmingly sideways. “I have been in situations far worse than this –”
“Well, you’re a Jedi,” the clone said, grinning sharply. “Sir, you should just leave me here and go –”
“That is not going to happen, trooper, so I suggest you help me haul ass –” A monstrous wave of heat and force hit Obi-Wan, picking him up into a vortex of immense pressure, throwing him around – over – under – against – making him hurt. Sound and sight disappeared, leaving him in total darkness. Then he knew no more.
Light years away, Anakin Skywalker came to a sudden halt in the middle of a corridor. Those few residents of the Jedi Temple that happened to see it, stopped to watch him either in curiosity or concern. The Chosen One stood petrified, rooted to the spot, his face white as a sheet and eyes oddly unseeing.
The whole galaxy seemed to hold its breath – and then Anakin Skywalker blinked and shuddered violently, as if he had just woken from a horrifying nightmare, gasping, “Obi-Wan!”
Chapter 6: Part V
Someone hummed in the dark.
Stars swirled; first lazily, with slow graceful curves, and then with ever increasing speed, until they were hurtling through blackness with their tails blazing, setting the whole universe alight in their wake. Obi-Wan stared at the worlds burning and ached. Anakin’s voice sounded from somewhere very far away, but he couldn’t make out any of the words; they were drowned out by a continuous heavy thud, which beat again and again like a war drum. It took some time for Obi-Wan to realize that it was the sound of his own heart.
With that thought he returned to reality, back to his own body that throbbed all over. Obi-Wan grimaced, his head pounding with vicious headache, a bile in his throat. However, the worst hurt was in his left arm; a nausea-inducing, stabbing pain was shooting up from the wrist towards the shoulder. It felt like his whole arm was on fire.
Someone hummed, and Obi-Wan frowned. Where was he? Who was with him? He struggled to open his eyes, alarm taking hold of him. Memory was frustratingly slow to return, but flash by flash Obi-Wan put together what had happened. The Refuge – the attack – the patients – the explosion!
Forcing his eyes open, the first thing Obi-Wan saw was a pair of big bright orbs. He blinked and the round eyes staring back at him blinked too.
“You are awake,” AZI-2 stated. “I am now going to assess the level of your head injury. Stay still.” The medical droid started whirring as its data processors analysed its patient’s condition.
Obi-Wan dragged himself awkwardly into a sitting position, shoving aside the thermal blanket he had been covered with. He couldn’t help but grunt in pain as his left arm shook, unable to hold any of his weight. “What? Where are we? What happened?” It was hard to concentrate, when it felt like his head would split open at any moment and his arm was being stabbed with hundreds of sharp, hot blades.
“General, you must stay still. Now, how many fingers am I holding up?” The droid asked, sounding a touch irritated as it held up two of its mechanical fingers.
Obi-Wan squinted at the outstretched fingers and sighed, debating with himself if cooperation would give him the answers he needed quicker than a refusal to follow the little droid’s bossy commands. “Two,” he muttered reluctantly. “Now, what happened?”
AZI-2 blinked, managing to somehow look concerned. “Memory loss is serious, but not altogether unexpected symptom of a head injury. Do you remember your name?”
“Yes, I remember my kriffing name!” Obi-Wan snapped, and then took a deep breath. He had to concentrate. He had to calm down. He had to push the pain and the confusion aside, and draw strength and clarity from the Force. Almost sheepishly Obi-Wan proceeded to do just that, ashamed that he had so totally lost his head. It didn’t matter if he was injured and didn’t know what had happened – he knew better, he had been trained better.
With a few deep breaths he managed to centre himself in the Force to clear his head enough to at least notice where he was, even if the why stayed still a mystery. He was inside a cold, unlit escape pod, which was empty except for him and the medical droid. The pod was slowly rotating in space, its simple piloting station dark, the flight control systems obviously either switched off or broken.
“The Refuge – what happened to it?” Obi-Wan murmured, hauling himself on his knees nearer to the pod’s circular viewport. He already knew what he would see, but he had to be sure –
“General Kenobi, I strongly advise against moving –”
“No.” Miraculously the droid fell silent as Obi-Wan took in the view outside, gasping with pain and sorrow. The space was littered with pieces of debris and twisted metal, from small fragments to huge chunks that were still clearly identifiable as parts of a ship. It was a depressingly common sight for Obi-Wan; the aftermath of a space battle, a graveyard of destroyed vessels and dead soldiers. He watched the drifting debris, discerning easily a part of the medical frigate’s bridge and the mangled stern of a Separatist destroyer.
Obi-Wan could not see any other escape pods in the vicinity, but there had to be others – even if only one sixth of all of the Refuge’s life pods had managed to launch, that would still have been about thirty pods. Each escape pod could sustain up to six people, and even if none of them were full, there still had to be some other survivors beside himself –
“The Refuge was completely destroyed 54 seconds after Healer S’ghan launched our escape pod.” AZI-2 came to hover next to Obi-Wan, gazing also at the nightmarish scene outside.
“Knight S’ghan?” Obi-Wan asked dully.
“He took you to the escape pod and ordered me to take care of you,” the droid told him matter-of-factly. “He then went to help the other patients. I don’t think he survived.”
Obi-Wan swallowed painfully. No, the young Mirialan healer had not survived – the Force reverberated with his death with a faint, melancholy echo. “What about – the trooper that was with me?”
“He was dead instantly. The explosion threw you both very hard against the wall and part of the corridor collapsed on top of you.”
A bitter, desperate sorrow shook Obi-Wan. Such senseless slaughter and for what? How much longer would the mad war last? How many more lives would be lost to its endlessly ravenous maw? How many times would Obi-Wan have to watch comrades, fellow Jedi – people he cared about – die?
With more ease than he was comfortable with, born of far too much practice, Obi-Wan pushed the grief aside and focused on his present predicament. He took hold of the piloting console with his right hand and slowly dragged himself onto his feet. “How much time has passed? Has anyone tried to contact us? Are the pod’s sensors working?”
“General, I advise against standing. You have a serious concussion that requires that you rest. Furthermore, you seem to favour your right arm, which indicates that there is something wrong with your left. I must perform full diagnostics and examine –”
“Later,” Obi-Wan grunted, fighting to stay upright on his shaking feet. “Do you want to help me?”
“Yes. It is in my programming to help you as best I can,” AZI-2 answered, guileless.
“Good. Then you are going to answer my questions and help me get this pod fully functional. We have got to get the sensors up and running, see if there are any other life pods or ships or planets nearby.” Obi-Wan looked at the simple console, knowing he should have had no trouble operating the escape pod’s straightforward systems – but the switches and buttons suddenly seemed unfamiliar, their shapes and colours hazy and out-of-focus.
“Oh, I don’t think that is a very good idea,” the med droid said, wringing its hands.
Obi-Wan stopped, just as he was going to flick on a switch that would have hopefully restored the pod to full power. Slowly, he turned to look at the anxious droid. “Care to tell me why?”
“Because of the Separatist Droch-class boarding ships. I switched off all but the most essential life support systems so they would not find us. I could not switch off everything, because you humans need air, but –”
“Pod-hunters,” Obi-Wan said flatly. Of course, why the frak not? He slumped into the seat next to the console, a stabbing pain blackening his vision for a moment. He blinked furiously, until AZI-2’s enormous eyes came into focus right next to him.
“General, I have to examine –”
“No. I order you to tell me everything that has happened since this pod was launched.” Obi-Wan fought to centre himself in the Force again, knowing he could not focus on his own injuries, not yet. His life depended on knowing the full scope of the situation, the enemy’s position, the possible advantages – if any – he had at his disposal.
AZI-2 blinked its owlish eyes, somehow managing to look offended. Obi-Wan had a sudden though that Anakin would have known how to handle the droid – he always did have a strange affinity with droids and machines. Obi-Wan just tended to get annoyed with them.
“General, you were unconscious for 10.34 minutes. It has been 9.40 minutes since the Refuge was destroyed. I performed an initial diagnostic on you, which was interrupted by several transmissions on the emergency channel. Other survivors informed that they were under attack by the Separatist boarding ships. The transmissions were cut short and I surmised that the other life pods had been destroyed. I calculated that the best odds for survival would be to switch off everything but the life support systems and wait until you had regained consciousness.” AZI-2 gave its report tonelessly, hovering next to Obi-Wan.
“Well…that was…good thinking,” Obi-Wan admitted reluctantly. The droid had probably saved his life. “Do you know where we are? Did you get a read on the sensors before shutting them down?”
AZI-2 looked pleased with itself. “Yes. We are in the Kushibah system, quite close to the planet Kushibah and its sun and two moons.”
“Kushibah…” Obi-Wan tried to remember if he had ever heard or read anything related to the system or the planet. It sounded vaguely familiar, but he just could not remember. Blast! “Did you get any readings on the planet’s and moons’ atmosphere and radiation?”
“Oh…no.” The droid looked crestfallen.
“Never mind,” Obi-Wan muttered. “We’ll just have to drift here among the debris and play dead. When the Separatist tire of combing through the rubbish, we can switch the flight control systems and the sensors back on.”
“That is a sound plan,” AZI-2 said approvingly. It went to the back of the pod and started to rummage through the contents of one of the big supply boxes, humming.
Obi-Wan gazed out of the viewport. As their pod slowly turned, more chunks of metal and steel came into view. He recognized the remains of another life pod; its viewport was shattered and its hull was horribly mangled, but the symbol of the Galactic Republic was still clearly visible on its flank. A trooper, wearing thin hospital garbs, drifted next to the wreckage, frozen and still. The sight of the soldier’s bare feet made Obi-Wan’s throat tighten.
“I will examine your arm now.” Obi-Wan startled; AZI-2 had appeared at his side, holding a medpac. With faint concern, Obi-Wan realized he had not noticed the droid moving next to him. Perhaps it would be prudent to let AZI-2 fix Obi-Wan up as much as it could – there certainly wasn’t anything else they could do beside wait.
“Go at it,” Obi-Wan said and lifted his left arm, wincing as the mere movement increased the hurt tenfold. He bit his lip stoically and let AZI-2 prod and poke and scan to its heart’s content. The little med droid hummed and tutted as it worked, finally declaring that the arm was broken in two places, at the forearm and the wrist.
“There is a bone-knitter in the medpac that can be used to set the radius bone and the scaphoid bone, but it would be better if the bones could be mended in a professional medical ward with proper equipment.” AZI-2 held the electronic device in its hand, looking at it somewhat dubiously.
“As I highly doubt that I’m going to visit any medical wards anytime soon, just use whatever we have in here,” Obi-Wan snorted.
“If you are sure,” AZI-2 said and proceeded to inflict the most horrendous prickling and tingling sensation all over Obi-Wan’s arm with the device. He gritted his teeth and silently repeated a litany of the more colourful curses he had learnt from Anakin.
After it had used the bone-knitter/torture device enough, the med droid wrapped Obi-Wan’s wrist and forearm into a thin but durable cast. “There. The bones are not fully mended, but they are set properly,” AZI-2 sounded satisfied. “There is some medication in the medpac that would alleviate the pain considerably.”
Obi-Wan thought for a moment. “You can give me something for the pain, but nothing that will make me unconscious or dulls my senses.”
After a shot of pain reliever, Obi-Wan breathed deep. Perhaps he was imagining it, but the ache in his head and arm already seemed a little less than it had been – at least his brains didn’t seem to be on the verge of a spectacular explosion anymore.
“What now?” AZI-2 asked. Its head swivelled around, as if looking for something to do.
“Now, I’m going to switch you off.”
“What? Why?” The med droid sounded quite alarmed.
“Well, it just occurred to me that not all of the pod’s electronics have been shut down,” Obi-Wan said, grimacing. It was something he should have realized much sooner.
“Oh,” AZI-2 exclaimed gloomily, “I didn’t think of that.”
“Yes, well…neither did I.” Obi-Wan gestured at the droid to come closer. AZI-2 followed the order hesitantly, turning so the off-switch at the nape of its neck was visible.
“General Kenobi,” the medical droid said quickly. “Please turn me on the moment it is safe to do so. I am responsible for your health and I promised to Healer S’ghan I would take care of you.”
Obi-Wan did not answer. He turned the switch and AZI-2 powered down, its bright eyes draining of light and plunging the pod into a more pervasive darkness. The silence was deafening. And Obi-Wan was alone, in a dark and cold tomb, drifting among the dead.
“I’m sorry General Skywalker, we are unable at this time to establish communications with the Refuge. They must be out of range,” a nasally sounding naval officer said wearily, no doubt cursing his bad luck to be the one on duty when a frantic Anakin Skywalker decided to call in the middle of the night.
“I know that!” Anakin hissed with deep frustration. “I want to know where they are!” He had dreaded – no, he had known – that something serious, something bad had happened to Obi-Wan, and therefore the news that the medical frigate could not be reached came as no surprise to him. It only confirmed Anakin’s worst fears.
After the harrowing vision of fire and pain and Obi-Wan in the middle of it all, Anakin had rushed to his quarters, a plan already forming in his mind despite the icy panic that tried to drown all rational thought. After immediately contacting R2, he had then called the Republic Naval Command Centre, all the while throwing things he needed into a small bag and hunting his spare boots and cloak from their hiding place under the narrow bed.
“Sir, I cannot tell you where they are now –” The officer started to squeak; Anakin quickly interrupted him.
“I know that too! Just sent me the last coordinates where you know they were.”
“Yes sir –” The officer’s voice was abruptly cut off as Anakin ended the transmission. He stared at the comlink in his hand, plagued by terrible indecision. He should tell Padmé that he was leaving, that Obi-Wan was in trouble. He should tell her that he loved –
No. Anakin could not call Padmé; he couldn’t bear to hear her voice, not now. His heart was curled up tightly, painfully on itself with fear; his thoughts were heavy and dark with worry. If he heard her gentle voice, his barely held together composure would surely crack and Anakin would shatter completely, every nightmarish thought dragging him down. He needed to keep himself coldly focused, he needed to stay unerringly on his task – Obi-Wan’s life could depend on it.
Determined, Anakin checked that his utility belt had all the necessary equipment. He threw on his cloak just as his datapad pinged with an oncoming message – the coordinates. Grimly, he stared at the set of numbers that translated into too many light years, a place too far away – all the way on the Outer Rim. It would take days to reach the coordinates and there would be no guarantee that the Refuge would even be there.
But there was nothing else to do – Anakin had to find Obi-Wan.
He hurried out of his quarters, knowing he would be in a world of trouble with the Council, but not caring one bit. Anakin didn’t have the time to wake them, to wait as they assembled and interrogated him and questioned the veracity of his vision. The clock was ticking ominously – every second not spent on getting towards Obi-Wan was a second wasted. Anakin did not need the Council’s permission to go seek out his Master, for it was his duty and right. When Anakin was on his way, speeding through space, he would contact both the Council and the Navy, and they could muster any help they possibly could spare. But he was going – and nothing and no one would stop him.
Except, it seemed, Master Yoda; the old Jedi was standing in front of the main hangar doors, small and unassuming, but radiating great power. Anakin came to a quick halt, cursing profusely in his mind.
“Master Yoda,” Anakin panted, “I don’t have the time to explain, but I have to go.”
“Obi-Wan, you are going to seek,” Yoda said. It was not a question.
“Yes. I saw – I know something has happened, he’s in danger.” Anakin looked inside the open hangar doors; R2 would have already gotten the ship ready – Anakin just had to enter the coordinates into the flight computer and they would be on their way to Obi-Wan.
“Yes,” Yoda admitted. “Dark it is where Obi-Wan is. Dark and cold.”
Anakin gulped. “Master – have you seen something? Do you know where Obi-Wan is?”
Master Yoda’s big ears drooped. “Nothing definite is. Only a flash, only a feeling. Ever changing the future is.”
“I’m going to the last place the Refuge is known to have been, and I’m going to search from there.” Anakin changed his stance restlessly; he itched to get moving. He was wasting time!
“Troops we have in a nearby sector; quicker they can the coordinates reach. Find Obi-Wan they can.”
“That’s good – but I’m going too,” Anakin said, determined.
“Here, needed you may be.” Yoda sounded slightly reproachful.
Anakin met the old Master’s piercing gaze unflinchingly. “Obi-Wan needs me now.”
“Hmp, perhaps,” Master Yoda parried. “Or perhaps Anakin Skywalker it is, who needs Obi-Wan.”
Anakin pursed his lips and said testily, “I’m going.”
“Yes, go you will.” Yoda nodded and finally stepped aside. Anakin rushed past him without another word – for there was nothing more to be said.
Chapter 7: Part VI
Anakin checked the flight computer for the umpteenth time, making sure that the coordinates were correct and that the ETA-class shuttle was hurtling through space into the right destination. He would have felt more at ease in the Twilight, but Obi-Wan had somehow managed to get Anakin’s trusty old freighter blown up in Mandalore. Anakin hadn’t had the heart to give his Master much flack about that, because of what had happened to Satine Kryze…
Resolutely, Anakin turned his thoughts away from Mandalore and its dead Duchess, and returned his focus back to the ship. ETA-class shuttles were good ships, and Anakin had flown them many times before, but he had upgraded the Twilight himself, and the freighter would have been faster and just more dependable. Anakin had known that ship like the back of his own hand.
He reached again towards the flight console, to verify that everything was in order, but was halted by a series of indignant peeps. R2 was standing next to the pilot’s seat, domed head swivelling.
Anakin smiled feebly. “I know you do a great job, I just thought to check.” R2’s head turned around more slowly, and the droid gave two mournful peeps.
“I do trust you, buddy,” Anakin assured R2, who was without doubt one of his rare true friends. “I just…I just need something to do.” The small astromech droid burst into a series of encouraging peeps, which made Anakin smile more earnestly. He appreciated R2’s attempt at reassurance, its claim that Obi-Wan was simply too wily and obstinate to not survive and that surely they would find him.
“Thanks,” Anakin said, for a moment feeling as perhaps everything would be alright. R2 peeped once and surprisingly tactfully retreated back into the cargo hold. Anakin stared at the streaks of starlight through the transparisteel viewport, trying to hold on to the comfort and faith of a happy ending. But the feeling evaporated like smoke in an open air, leaving him restlessly trying to evade the darkest paths of his mind.
For a while Anakin thought about the moment, when he had first set foot inside the sleek Naboo Royal Starship, wide-eyed and determined, vowing to be the first one to visit all the planets in the galaxy. He chuckled darkly at the childish naivete of his younger self, and before his thoughts had time to turn to the reason of that first trip through the stars – to the person he had left behind – Anakin started to list all the planets he had been to. There were a lot. Many of them had not offered a particularly pleasant visit for the Jedi. But almost always, Obi-Wan had been there by Anakin’s side. He was hard pressed to find a memory of a place, where his Master wasn’t present. Varykino came to mind, but with it came also the image of Padmé, taking his hand at their wedding.
They had vowed to love one another always. They had sworn to respect and support each other, whether the days be happy or full with adversity. Anakin had promised to have faith in her and in their marriage, and Padmé had promised the same. They had pledged themselves to one another heart, body and soul. And yet – somehow – it had not been enough.
I just know that I can´t live like this anymore. I won’t.
Padmé’s voice rang in his ears, every word drawing forth fresh pain, like they were pressing against an open, bleeding wound.
I still feel unhappy.
Her confession of unhappiness made Anakin distressed. Had he let her down so badly that Padmé couldn’t feel happy with him anymore? Or was it just the circumstances – the endless brutal war and all the pressures it laid upon their marriage – that had caused her to feel discontent and unease?
There are some things that are bigger – perhaps even more important – than my love for you.
Anakin shook his head, as if to dispel the damning words that he couldn’t really understand. For what could be bigger, more important than love – their love for each other? When they had married, they had done so defying all the expectations, demands and duties set upon them both. Together, they had stood up against the whole galaxy that was trying to keep them apart. They had decided that love was worth all the secrecy and opposition, that love was a necessity, something as essential as food and air.
And now, it seemed, Padmé had inexplicably changed her mind.
A sharp signal sounded from the ship’s communication console, informing of an incoming transmission. For a wild, heart-stopping moment – perhaps conjured by his despondent thoughts – Anakin believed that the caller must be Padmé. She must have learnt of his departure and wanted to rectify everything that had gone wrong between them at their last meeting.
However, when Anakin accepted the holotransmitter’s call, it was not Padmé’s graceful form that sprang to life in front of him, but a small, holographic image of the Supreme Chancellor.
“Chancellor Palpatine!” Anakin was surprised – and somewhat disappointed.
“Anakin,” the Chancellor rasped, his bluish image flickering. “I was alarmed, when I heard you left Coruscant without notifying anyone. Where are you now?”
Anakin frowned. He hoped that Palpatine wasn’t going to demand that he return back to Coruscant or that he was needed somewhere else – even the Supreme Chancellor’s command wouldn’t make Anakin stop his mission to save Obi-Wan. “I’m en route to the last known coordinates of the medical frigate Refuge.”
“Then it is as I feared,” the Chancellor said gravely. “I have been notified that all contact has been lost with the Refuge, and that it is likely that the frigate has been destroyed. Anakin, I understand that you want to find Master Kenobi, but the odds of him being alive…”
“I have to go there – I have to help Obi-Wan!” Anakin exclaimed hotly, Chancellor Palpatine’s calm tone doing little to soothe his anxiety.
“My dear boy,” Chancellor Palpatine said, pity in his voice. “I know you feel like you have to – that once again you have to save your former Master. However, this time…I’m afraid it will all be for naught.” There was an awkward pause, during which Anakin didn’t have anything to say. Then the Chancellor continued cautiously, “Of course, if…have you seen something that indicates that Master Kenobi is still alive? Have you…felt him with that bond you Jedi have?”
Anakin’s heart sank. “No…I haven’t,” he reluctantly admitted, “but I just know Obi-Wan is still out there, needing help!”
It was hard to discern the nuances of someone’s expression through a flickering holographic image, but Anakin still got the distinct impression that the Supreme Chancellor was not pleased with his reply. The old man pursed his lips and then said gently, “Anakin…I’m sorry to say this, but as…useful as Master Kenobi has been to the war effort, in the end, he is just one man. And I fear you are unnecessarily placing your life in danger by going after him. The Republic needs you Anakin – we need you now in Coruscant, the public needs to see you, and soon enough, I have no doubt, you will be needed in the front lines.”
Duty first – wasn’t that what Obi-Wan always preached? What would his Master say, when he heard that Chancellor Palpatine held the same opinion as Obi-Wan? Anakin almost grinned with dark humour.
“Do you command me to return?” Anakin asked harshly, not bothering to even argue that the Jedi Council – or at least Master Yoda – had consented to his rescue mission, and because it could be considered to be purely an internal Jedi matter, the Chancellor couldn’t order Anakin to halt the mission – not if there weren’t any superseding orders from the Republic High Command.
Chancellor Palpatine was silent for a moment, and Anakin held his breath. He didn’t want to go against the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic, not to mention one of his oldest friends, but he would, if he had to. Palpatine seemed to know it too, for the man frowned and then said, “Oh Anakin…I would not dream of standing in your way on a matter that is obviously so important to you…I just fear it will end in tragedy. For the moment, there is nothing critical that demands your presence – until there is, you can continue this mission.”
“Thank you, Chancellor,” Anakin said, relieved.
“I wish you all the luck,” Chancellor Palpatine bid quietly. Before Anakin could answer, the transmission ended and the holographic image vanished, leaving Anakin once more alone in the flight deck. He immediately reached inward and let the streaking stars in his field of vision blur into the white and silvery strands of the bond he shared with Obi-Wan.
The Force pulsed around the dormant connection, and although the bond was inactive, quiet and cold, Anakin nevertheless felt enormous relief. Surely, if Obi-Wan had died, the bond would have been ripped apart – that was not something one could miss. Immediately however, the relief changed into apprehension and frustration; Obi-Wan was alive, but for how long? Anakin couldn’t tell where his Master was, or in what condition – the bond stayed stubbornly silent, no matter how loud Anakin tried to call, no matter how hard he tugged at the strands of light, demanding attention. Obi-Wan did not answer, could not hear Anakin. The distance between them was too great. They were each of them alone.
Eyes prickling with unshed tears, Anakin’s consciousness returned fully back to the cockpit. He resolved to try to contact Obi-Wan again later, when he was a little bit closer to the set coordinates. Anakin would try as many times as he had to – until his Master would answer. And so, for the moment, there was nothing to do, but to stare at the stars and try to avoid the dark recesses of his own thoughts. Anakin knew what Obi-Wan would have recommended he do – meditation. But that hardly ever brought any tranquillity to Anakin, and he couldn’t bear to immerse himself in the Force…not when the thought of a momentarily peace was almost offensive and as unwelcome as the harrowing visions.
Knowing he could not sleep, and therefore not even bothering to try, Anakin shifted in the pilot’s seat, searching for a more comfortable position. To his surprise, something hard poked at his side, and Anakin realized that there was something in the pocket of his outer robe. His throat tightened, when he drew a small, smooth stone from his pocket.
Anakin stared at the black river stone resting on his palm, wanting to both laugh and cry. Obi-Wan had given the stone to him at Anakin’s thirteenth birthday. Obi-Wan himself had gotten it from Qui-Gon, also as a thirteenth-birthday present. For a long time, Anakin had considered the river stone to be his most precious possession, and he had carried it with him in the pocket of his tunic, always. Anakin could not remember, when – or why – that had changed. Somewhere along the way, the stone had been forgotten, and it had been left on the pocket of his spare robes, laying under his dusty bed at the Temple.
He closed the Force-sensitive stone inside his palm, feeling its reassuring, comforting warmth. As a child, he had appreciated the stone because it was something that had been passed along from Qui-Gon himself; the man that had freed Anakin and promised he would become a Jedi; the man that had been the ideal Jedi for the small slave boy. However, the stone also held a deeper meaning, one that a thirteen-year-old Anakin hadn’t fully understood. It was a promise from his Master – a sign of his confidence and regard towards Anakin. Despite all the difficulties of Anakin’s early apprenticeship, the hardships that were to come, Obi-Wan had been fully committed to training, raising and protecting Anakin. Nothing could have told it clearer than Obi-Wan giving Anakin his most prized possession, relinquishing the gift Qui-Gon had once bestowed upon him and giving it to his own Padawan in turn.
For the first time, Anakin realized something about the stone that he had always sensed, but hadn’t been able to put into words. The river stone did not only pulse with the warmth of the living Force; it also radiated with Obi-Wan’s promise, with his Master’s trust and faith in Anakin.
During the following hours, during the relentlessly bleak march of time, Anakin kept the river stone securely enclosed in his hand, letting it warm his aching heart with hope.
Obi-Wan drew the thermal blanket more tightly around himself, his breath misting up in the frigid air. His whole body shivered with cold; he had given up trying to control the tremors some time ago. How much time – that he did not know. To his annoyance, Obi-Wan had dozed off a few times quite in spite of himself, and he had lost his sense of time. His best guess was that he had spent about three hours in the dark, drifting escape pod, but really, it could have been more or less time than that.
The life pod continued to slowly spun through the wreckage, occasionally pumping into various pieces of debris, making the whole pod shudder and groan. The uncontrollable journey through the graveyard of destroyed ships was nerve-racking, not least because Obi-Wan could do nothing but watch, as it was yet too dangerous to turn on the escape pod’s flight control and other systems. The Separatists were still tenaciously searching through the extensive wreckage for survivors; as the pod had once again turned, Obi-Wan had seen one of the destroyers stationed outside the debris field, a blue-green planet behind it. A pod-hunter had also flown past, passing Obi-Wan’s escape pod only with hundred meters between them.
The Separatists were being uncharacteristically thorough. Usually they didn’t bother with the survivors, not if it wasn’t imperative that no one should survive their attack. It bothered Obi-Wan greatly that they still continued to comb through the debris, when they hardly could be sure that Republic fleet wouldn’t drop in on them at any moment. Or could they be certain that no one was yet coming? And why would survivors from a mere medical frigate matter to the Separatists so much? Instead of any insightful answers however, all that the speculation did was to make his head throb more severely.
Obi-Wan tried to keep his focus firmly on the view outside, but often he found his thoughts wandering far away, into moments long past. Startled, he became aware more than once, that time had once again got away from him as Obi-Wan had been immersed in memories of long-ago missions, of long-lost friends. Frustrated with himself, Obi-Wan banished Qui-Gon’s eyes, with their crow’s-feet, from his mind; he resolutely pushed Satine’s deathly pale face from his thoughts; Anakin’s impish smile evaded capture the longest, but finally Obi-Wan took hold of it and determinedly locked it inside his heart.
Focus. He had to focus. Survival depended on it.
The pod shook as a large piece of twisted metal suddenly scraped against its side; Obi-Wan gritted his teeth. Squinting, he could just discern the Separatist destroyer in the distance, it was just a small dot behind the countless warped fragments and molten chunks of destroyed ships. The escape pod was nearing the end of the debris field, and as the amount of wreckage decreased, the pod became more noticeable. Soon, hiding would not be an option.
Obi-Wan glanced to the back of the pod, where the shut down AZI-2 lay against the bulkhead. He debated with himself if he should turn the droid on right then, to get an extra pair of hands to help with the pod when the inevitable happened and the Separatists discovered them. Or should he wait as long as he possibly could, until they had reached the very edge of the debris field?
Relying on his instinct, Obi-Wan got up stiffly and rubbed his hands together to get a little warmth to them. His injured left arm felt like a heavy block of ice, numb and unwieldy. He looked at the piloting console, running through his mind the different tasks he had to do, when the pod’s power would be turned fully on. Luckily escape pods were highly automated; once operational, the pod would automatically calculate the flight trajectory to the nearest habitable planet and start to send the distress signal.
Waiting only a few minutes more, Obi-Wan finally hunkered carefully down next to AZI-2. The little droid had an unerring talent to get on Obi-Wan’s nerves, but he couldn’t deny that AZI-2 had managed to do fairly well in a situation where there hadn’t been any clear guidelines. Not delaying the unavoidable any longer, Obi-Wan switched the medical droid back on. Instantly, its large round eyes started to fill with light.
“General Kenobi,” AZI-2 intoned flatly, “I am fully functional in 7.3 seconds – 3.2 seconds...”
Not bothering to reply, Obi-Wan hurried back to the piloting console, eyes scanning the debris field around the pod. He couldn’t see any pod-hunters yet.
“I’m going to switch on the pod’s systems,” he informed grimly. “I need your help. I’m going to focus on the flight systems and getting us in one piece on the nearest habitable planet – let’s hope there is one – and you are going to monitor the communication frequencies. If the Republic answers our distress signal, be ready to rely all the relevant information about our situation.”
“What about the Separatist Droch-class boarding ships?” AZI-2 asked as it hovered next to Obi-Wan.
“They are still there.” Obi-Wan grinned joylessly. “So, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
“Oh, that’s not good.” The little droid sounded anxious as it peered outside the viewport.
Obi-Wan barked with laughter. “Not good is just a normal day for me. AZI-2, I have faced much worse odds…” – although, usually Anakin has been with me, his treasonous mind whispered – “…and this is just another kriffing day on the job.” It was possible that Obi-Wan was still a little concussed, if the droid’s surprisingly human-looking expression of alarm was anything to go by.
“Ready?” Obi-Wan’s fingers rested against the main switch.
“Yes sir,” AZI-2 squeaked.
Obi-Wan flicked the switch. All the systems started to power up as red, green and yellow lights blinked to life on the flight console. The pod buzzed, and then warm air started to flow into the cabin and the lighting came on.
And then, naturally, all hell broke loose.
Chapter 8: Part VII
The Refuge’s escape pod number 56 hurtled through space towards a small planet with breakneck speed, spinning and whirling madly, seemingly totally out of control. Inside, Obi-Wan was pressed tightly against his seat, having fastened his restraint harness just in time. AZI-2 had not been so lucky; the small droid had slammed into the bulkhead with an ominous crash, despite its repulsorlifts.
The lights on the pilot’s console blinked wildly, but Obi-Wan could do nothing but clasp the armrests, knuckles white, and try to hold in the strong urge to vomit. The pod seemed to drop faster with every second, the change in speed keenly felt by Obi-Wan’s churning stomach. The life pod shuddered and groaned with the strain, but at least the small vessel was still intact – no thanks to the Separatists, as the enemy destroyer continued to furiously fire through the debris field, aiming at the unstably flying pod. Soon the vulture droids would join in on the fray, and Obi-Wan could only hope the pod would drop even faster and reach the planet’s surface before that happened.
Obi-Wan opened the eyes he had squeezed shut by reflex, and forced himself to peer outside, trying to discern how close they were to the planet the escape pod’s diagnostics had deemed habitable enough to try to land on. As the pod spun fiercely around, the view alternated between black – flash – bluegreen – flash – black with sickening speed. He gulped, tasting bile; the bluegreen was definitely looking bigger, coming closer. Hopefully the pod’s autopilot would soon reduce speed and land them safely, or it wouldn’t matter if the Separatists were hot on their heels as Obi-Wan, along with everything else on the pod, would be pulverized crashing to the ground.
Anakin would know how to disengage the autopilot, Obi-Wan thought suddenly. He would crash-land the pod, but with his miraculous flying skills, we would come out of it alright. Obi-Wan pressed his eyes again tightly shut, not wishing to see the fast approaching planet. Sharp regret and aching longing made his breath hitch, and he was suddenly feeling as if something was pressing against his chest, making it hard to breathe.
Obi-Wan had crossed paths with death many times, had faced the very real possibility of his own death more times he could count, and he had been ready to meet it with acceptance and stoicism. Obi-Wan didn’t fear death, and yet, he found himself to be unwilling to accept the current situation he was in. Suddenly he couldn’t bear the thought that he would die without ever repairing his friendship with Anakin, without mending all that had been broken between them. Some of his last words to Anakin could not be the petty, angry ones he had thoughtlessly said as they had parted ways. He could not die and leave Anakin to believe that Obi-Wan despised him, that he was not forgiven.
Because Anakin was forgiven, Obi-Wan realized with little surprise. Too stubborn to initially admit it, he had forgiven Anakin days ago. Of course he had. But Anakin did not know, Anakin thought –
Desperately, Obi-Wan reached for the gossamer silvery strands that linked him to Anakin, tried to close everything else from his mind – the horribly whirling escape pod, the Separatists in mad pursuit, the unknown planet coming ever closer – and focus on the connection he had with his former Padawan. He knew that the Force joined them together with an unbreakable bond, no matter how vast the space between them, how foolishly stubborn their own minds. He could reach Anakin – he would reach Anakin.
With determination that had toppled kingdoms, Obi-Wan reached with all his will, all his might, with every hope and wish he had ever had; he reached across the universe and time towards the one that held a part of his soul.
Anakin woke, and the bedroom was dim, full of dark indefinable shadows. Feeling unsettled, as if he had perhaps forgotten something important, Anakin rose from the bed, the sheets pooling around his bare legs like cool, dark water. The floor was cold underneath his feet. He walked through the empty apartment, the shadows following in his wake, until he came to the open veranda.
Looking over at the night-time city was the moon goddess, long hair cascading down her back, slender form veiled with a shimmering gown. The stone beauty arrested Anakin’s attention completely, made his heart throb with desperate longing. Then the moon goddess moved, and marble morphed into flesh; Padmé turned to watch Anakin with empty eyes.
He wanted to say, I love you. He wanted to take her into his arms and never let her go. He wanted to merge their hearts together so there would be no separating them, not by anyone or anything, not ever. But instead, he stood rooted to his spot, mute. His wife continued to stare at him with a hollow look.
Say something! Anakin thought, but no sound emerged from his lips. Don’t look at me like that.
Padmé’s lips curled slightly, as if she had heard his silent pleadings and found them beneath her. “This is my job – my duty.” Her voice rang clearly, amplified just like in the Galactic Senate Chamber. She was the Senator, regal and untouchable, worlds away from him.
Be my wife. He mouthed the words, but there was only silence. Love me.
Padmé shook her head, dark curls coiling like snakes around her throat. “I can´t live like this anymore. I won’t.”
With great effort, Anakin whispered, “I don’t understand.” His feeble voice barely reached her.
Padmé’s gaze turned pitying. “I know you don’t.” The shadows grew darker, swallowing the edges of the veranda with inky blackness, creeping closer to her. “I don’t know who’s in there sometimes. I just know that I’m not happy anymore. I don’t feel safe.”
“I will keep you safe,” Anakin whispered, watching with dismay as the dark tendrils twined themselves around Padmé’s legs, sidling upward, finally covering her waist with a lover’s greedy embrace.
“No.” The shadows enveloped her in darkness, until finally only her face was visible. Padmé smiled at Anakin, saying calmly, “This is not the end.” The void in her gaze had vanished at last, and in her eyes burned the embers of some kind of fierce, secret joy. Anakin watched as her lovely face turned to stone, and then there was no Padmé at all, only the shadow shaped like her, and he couldn’t breathe, he was nothing, nothing, nothing –
And then voices. Voices in the dark, whispering to him.
Many voices, hissing, spitting, croaking. Die, Jedi. Die, Jedi. Die and rise anew in the Dark.
Hear me – familiar weary words drifted from somewhere far away – remember…I have always loved you. Always. But their fleeting comfort was immediately drowned out by a terrible screech of I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!
His mother’s quiet wisdom came next, You can't stop change any more than you can stop the suns from setting. Anakin turned frantically around, tried to see her, touch her, but there was nothing but the dark, not even her voice anymore only –
I know you, Anakin. Palpatine.
Then Qui-Gon. Look deeper. You will find another way. Remember your training Anakin; trust your instincts.
There was a strange glow at the edge of the darkness, yellow-orange. A hint of smoke and ash. Anakin shivered, knowing he did not want to see whatever was there.
I will do such terrible things. It was his own voice, but he had not spoken.
Yes. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The choice is still yours to make. The future by its nature can be changed.
The fiery glow blazed brighter, and he could feel immense heat on his skin, burning him to the core.
You were my brother, Anakin!
His heart beat wildly, painfully; he didn’t wish to hear anymore. Someone rasped right behind his ear, I can feel your anger. It gives you focus, makes you stronger. Another whispered, I'll never turn to the dark side. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.
Stop it, stop it, stop it! Anakin yelled, covering his ears with his hands, closing his eyes against the red-hot blaze.
Anakin. Obi-Wan’s voice, faint but intense. Anakin.
Obi-Wan! He opened his eyes, wishing to see his Master, but there was only the enormous Great Hall. Cold and empty, it seemed strangely neglected, like no one had been there in years. Anakin’s footsteps echoed around the grand hall, made him startle. It soon became clear that the rest of the Jedi Temple was the same; chilly and devoid of all signs of life.
Anakin. Obi-Wan’s voice again, insistent.
I’m coming Master, I’m coming! Anakin hurried down the stairs, raced through the corridors, until finally he came upon a familiar entrance. The security doors were open; Anakin stepped inside the Holocron Vault without further thought. Obi-Wan stood in the middle of the large room, beside an empty pedestal. In his hands, he held the crystalline cube.
“We don’t have enough time,” Obi-Wan said, looking at the holocron, which was not a cube anymore, but a small, black stone.
“Master?” Anakin asked hesitantly.
Obi-Wan turned towards him, seeing right into Anakin’s soul. His eyes were heavy with such wealth of emotions, nothing left hidden. “Anakin, this will not happen. This cannot happen.” His Master reached towards Anakin, fingers touching Anakin’s cheek lightly. They both trembled.
And suddenly Anakin was falling, he was dropping through the blackness with sickening speed, spinning, whirling, heart beating wildly, through the dark – flash – bluegreen – flash – dark – flash – he squeezed his seat hard – death was coming closer – Anakin – pressure heat – Anakin – regret – love – dark –
– and Anakin jolted awake in the pilot’s seat, his mechanical hand gripping the armrest violently, his other hand still holding on to the river stone. The dream drifted away from him almost instantly, leaving just the echo of Obi-Wan’s voice, saying his name. The stone was scalding hot against his hand.
“General Kenobi.” Something hard poked at his shoulder, repeatedly. “General Kenobi, you must regain consciousness as soon as possible – preferably now.” The voice sounded anxious, and continued to harass him, although Obi-Wan had already groaned feebly in assent. He tried to open his heavy eyes, but the task was uncommonly difficult to carry out.
“My apologies General, but this is for your own good,” the voice muttered and then – ZAP! Obi-Wan’s body jerked with the small electric shock, his eyes flying open. He stared at the droid for a few seconds, uncomprehending, and then the indignity of it hit: “You electrocuted me!”
“Only a little,” AZI-2 said morosely. “I judged the amount to be sufficient – and quite safe – to rouse you from the unconsciousness that resulted from the shock of the impact we were subjected to.”
“Come again?” Obi-Wan could not quite comprehend what the med droid had just claimed; his head hurt like he had drank several bottles of Corellian brandy and been stampeded upon by a herd of wild Banthas.
AZI-2 blinked, somehow managing to look mildly exasperated. “We hit the ground – hard. The escape pod’s autopilot managed to slow our descent, but the landing was far from the optimal performance it was designed to execute in an emergency. We should file a complaint.”
“Right,” Obi-Wan said, wondering if he was still unconscious and dreaming up the ridiculousness. “And just why did you deem it necessary to electrocute me?”
“Because we must hurry,” the droid answered, once again sounding worried. “The Separatists were firing upon us, and although it might be possible that they think we have perished in the crash, I fear we –”
“– are not that lucky,” Obi-Wan said grimly, recalling in a sudden rush of memories the whole frakled situation. They would most certainly not be so lucky as to be thought dead; if the Seppies had been tenacious enough to comb through the debris for hours, they would inspect the site the escape pod had crashed and make sure there were no survivors. They really had to hurry.
But first things first: Obi-Wan took some precious time to try to get the emergency homing beacon to transmit their emergency code and location to any Republic troops nearby, but he had to quickly abandon the effort as useless. The pod smelled acrid; something had burned inside the pilot’s console, making it inoperative. The pod’s systems were obviously dead.
Obi-Wan fumbled his harness open and wrenched himself up from the seat, pushing the pain aside resolutely. As long as he could move and fight, he was alright. “Let’s gather some supplies, and then make ourselves scarce before the clankers get here.”
As if it had been just waiting for the command, AZI-2 sped to the storage chests that doubled as benches and started to rifle through them, tossing various things around. With Obi-Wan’s guidance, it had soon filled a rucksack with the most essential things: rations, medkit, glowrods, tool set and the thermal blanket. There was also a small, portable charger that Obi-Wan was glad to take with them; he didn’t know how long AZI-2 could operate before it had to charge itself, but at least it now had some means to do so.
Apprehensive, Obi-Wan looked through the cracked and dirty viewport, seeing light, but little else. There was no telling where they were, or if the terrain outside really was as habitable as the pod’s diagnostics had claimed earlier. Still, there was nothing for it but to step outside and survey the situation with his own senses.
The hatch slid open with a slight stutter, and Obi-Wan was momentarily blinded by the bright light after the blackness of space and the dimness of the pod. AZI-2 pushed itself ahead of Obi-Wan, moving to hover just outside the pod, its head swivelling around multiple times in quick succession.
“The atmosphere is breathable and harmless for humans,” the droid decided after apparently doing some tests with its own diagnostics tools. “General, it is safe for you to exit the craft.”
“Thank you, I hadn’t noticed,” Obi-Wan said dryly, fully aware that if the atmosphere hadn’t agreed with him, he would have already been either withering on the ground from the lack of oxygen or foaming at the mouth because of the toxins.
After crashing down, the escape pod had ploughed the grassy earth several dozens of meters, until it had finally come to a stop on a gentle slope, at the base of a large mountain. Before them a brilliant green field spread out, flanked with forests on all but one side. A sun was high on the sky; two pale orbs – probably moons – were just visible at the edge of the horizon.
“We must be on Kushibah then,” Obi-Wan reasoned. He still couldn’t recall anything about the system or the planet they found themselves marooned in. He turned towards AZI-2 hopefully. “What do you know about the planet?”
The small droid met his eyes with a blank look. “I am a medical, not a navigation, droid. My programming does not feature information on every planet and system of the galaxy.”
“Of course,” Obi-Wan muttered. “Well, it is unlikely that the planet is a member of the Republic or aligns itself with the Separatists – that I would remember. We’ll just have to take our chance with the natives.” He examined their surroundings critically; the field was far too visible, offering little cover. That left either the mountain or the forest, and Obi-Wan didn’t really feel like climbing with a broken arm and battered…everything.
“What are the chances of the native population being advanced enough to have the equipment we need to contact help?” AZI-2’s mechanical voice was laced with nervousness. “And what are the chances of the native population being sympathetic to our blight? And what kind of dangerous creatures could possibly be here that we might encounter –”
“AZI-2,” Obi-Wan interrupted the droid calmly, “stop panicking.”
“I do not panic,” the small medical droid claimed, clearly appalled.
“Good, because this is just the beginning.” Obi-Wan started to head towards the forest, senses alert for possible danger. The Force felt sedate; the nature teeming with life around them peaceful. However, he knew it was only a matter of time before that tranquillity would be broken – if Kushibah truly was a peaceful planet, soon it would not be, for Obi-Wan had unwittingly brought war and death with him. Remorse clawed at him, but there was nothing he could do about it. Soon, the Separatist war machine would land on the planet, intent on hunting him down, mowing down everyone that got on its way.
“A beginning of what?” AZI-2 asked, following Obi-Wan and carrying the rucksack.
“The beginning of the fight for survival.” If there was no way to leave the planet, then the only other option was to wait for rescue – wait for Anakin. Because Anakin would come, Obi-Wan was certain of that. He would just have to survive until then.
Chapter 9: Part VIII
The shuttle shook slightly as it exited hyperspace, but Anakin didn’t take any notice of the familiar sensation. He was already scanning the surrounding space, both with the ship’s instruments and with the Force. The Mannova system consisted of a cluster of small stars, each of them cold and dead, devoid of any sentient life. The space around them was equally empty; there were no signs that anything had ever happened there.
There was nothing at all – just as there had been nothing in the six other star systems Anakin had already checked out. The Force stayed silent. There was no trace of Obi-Wan, no hint of his Master’s presence. Again, Anakin had drawn a blank, had come up empty, had failed.
“Kriff!” He slammed his fist – the real one – hard against the flight console, frustration rising fast like a dark hurricane. Blood rushed through him with an incandescent rush, the beat of it strong, battle-ready. He wanted to smash everything around him to pieces, he wanted to force someone to tell him where Obi-Wan was, wanted to rip the stars to shreds until he found his Master – but he could do nothing, nothing –
A series of high-pitched, alarmed beeps halted his tortured thoughts. Anakin blinked and his hazy vision sharpened to normal, and only then he noticed that the shuttle around him was vibrating violently like it was caught in a strong gravitational pull. Anakin took a deep breath and concentrated; as his impotent fury waned, the vessel’s shaking ceased.
R2 expressed its indignation with a profanity-laced tirade, purposefully ramming against the pilot’s seat and Anakin’s leg. “Hey! Sorry buddy,” Anakin said sheepishly. He couldn’t believe he had lost control like a scared youngling.
The astromech droid bumped against the seat once again, this time more gently. The domed head turned around slowly as R2 beeped its worry.
“I’m alright,” Anakin assured his friend. “I…I will be alright. I can’t sleep – not yet.” Anytime Anakin had succumbed to fitful sleep, he had been plagued by troubled, fearful dreams. Although beyond tired, he was not keen on repeating the unsettling experience. Moreover, he didn’t have time to rest. It had been over a week since contact with the Refuge had been lost, since his Master had vanished into the chasm of immense, unending space. The galaxy had never felt so enormous, so impenetrable.
Anakin sighed. His pity-party wasn’t helping anyone, least of all Obi-Wan, who surely was waiting for him. It was time to focus, to get back to work. “There’s nothing here, R2. What’s the next target on the grid? Prep the hyperdrive.”
As R2 entered the next coordinates on their search grid to the flight computer, Anakin contacted the 26th Regiment. The regiment had been nearest to the Refuge’s last known location, and some of its platoons had already been looking for the medical frigate, when Anakin had caught up with them and joined the search.
Clone Commander CC-3443, or Commander Shiv as he was known, answered Anakin’s call promptly. “General Skywalker, any news?”
“Afraid not Commander. The Mannova system is a bust. I was hoping you had better success.”
“The search parties have found nothing, sir.” Although firmly professional as always, there was a hint of regret in Commander Shiv’s voice. The pause that followed was miniscule, but it made Anakin brace for more bad news. He was proven right, when the Clone Commander continued, “General…we have been ordered to end the search. The Separatists have intensified their offensive on Praadost, and we need all our troops there to repel them.”
How could the GAR value Obi-Wan so little, that they would not even bother to search for him more than a mere week? How could they afford to write off one of their most brilliant generals for some backwater skirmish? Kark those frigging Hutt-spawns.
“Sir?” The Commander’s enquiry drew Anakin back from his bitter thoughts.
“Yes. I understand.” The truth was that the Republic troops were hard-pressed on any front, and although a strong asset for the military, in the end Obi-Wan was just one man. But not to me. Never to me.
“The search parties are already on their way back to Praadost,” Commander Shiv said. “Sir…I got the impression that the High Command will also contact you soon.” The clone didn’t say anything more, but Anakin could hear the unstated words as if they had been said aloud: And order you to cease the search too.
“Thank you, Commander. I appreciate everything you and your troops have done. Good luck on Praadost.” The 26th Regiment was one of those that didn’t have a Jedi to lead them; there simply weren't enough capable Jedi left for every regiment. They would have to make do without a Force-user.
“Thank you, General Skywalker.”
The call finished, Anakin cut the connection. He smiled humourlessly at R2 as the droid loudly informed him what it thought about the situation.
“I know R2. It’s just us from now on.” Did the withdrawal of the 26th complicate things? Did the threat of new orders from the High Command deter him from the search? Hell no. More manpower and machines than him, his droid and one ETA-class shuttle would have been nice, but Anakin had never trusted anyone else than himself to find Obi-Wan. This was just going back to basics.
“Such a shame that the shuttle’s transmitter is malfunctioning. It will be quite impossible for us to receive any long-range transmissions.” Anakin flicked off a couple of dials on the communication’s console. R2’s answering beeps sounded like a gleeful cackle.
“Alright then, let’s go to…” Anakin glanced at the flight computer, “Kushibah.”
Sunlight slanted through the foliage, casting spidery shadows across the small, mossy clearing. The wide array of creatures that lived in Kushibah’s forests were silent and out of sight. All was quiet and still – all but the droid nervously hovering in the clearing.
AZI-2 flitted about, seemingly trying to build a campsite, a bundle of sticks ready for a campfire. The medical droid muttered to itself; “don’t like this” and “not programmed to” stood out from the mostly indefinable mumble. Its head swivelled around constantly, adding to the tense atmosphere. The surrounding woods were too silent, too motionless – as if the whole forest was holding its breath.
Suddenly the foliage parted with a crash, and the large bulky form of a super battle droid thrust through the branches. Weaponized arm raised, ready to fire, it advanced towards AZI-2. The medical droid dropped the sticks to the ground, quickly raising its hands in surrender. “Please don’t shoot me!”
A group of B1 battle droids followed their deadlier cousin, blaster rifles aimed at AZI-2. “Don’t move, Republic scum!”
“I’m not moving,” AZI-2 vowed, voice quivering.
“Where’s the Jedi?” One of the battle droids asked, shoving its weapon against the medical droid’s torso. “Tell us or you will be ripped to parts.”
“I don’t know!” AZI-2 sounded as close to tears as a droid could. “He left me here alone.”
“Ha-ha, you are now our prisoner.”
“I think not,” Obi-Wan drawled and jumped from the shelter of a large tree, dropping gracefully to the ground. He scrapped two battle droids before the rest of them could react, his blue lightsaber whirling and slashing in a familiar deadly dance.
“Hey, stop the Je –” The battle droid was cut apart, its companion losing its head a second later. The super battle droid started to fire repeatedly at Obi-Wan, who ducked and weaved away from its reach, letting the devastating blaster canon mow down the rest of the B1 battle droids. The tree trunks circling the clearing burst open, a shower of sharp wood splinters raining down on Obi-Wan.
With the aid of the Force, he leapt high, right over the killing machine; the droid was too slow to turn and Obi-Wan drove his lightsaber savagely into its back, the plasma blade sinking easily into the duranium frame. The super battle droid split apart, and the clearing was silent and still once more.
Obi-Wan kept his lightsaber ready, listening intently, reaching with his senses. Nothing lurked in the woods; nothing stirred in the Force. Slowly, his body relaxed from its battle stance, and he shut down the weapon that had once again kept him alive.
“Is it over?” AZI-2’s humanoid-like head poked out of a nearby bush.
“I would say so,” Obi-Wan said tiredly. Although the Separatist hunting party had been destroyed in its entirety, others would soon follow – they always did.
The medical droid glided gingerly into the clearing, its large round eyes taking in the scene of carnage: the torn droid parts, the shattered trees, Obi-Wan’s dirty and dishevelled appearance. “General, I’m not certain this strategy of avoidance and ambush is the optimal option for us.”
“But you play your part so well, AZI-2.” Obi-Wan grinned sharply. He knew very well that the medical droid didn’t like at all being the bait in Obi-Wan’s trap; it protested its role every time, complaining it was not programmed for it.
“I am not –”
“Yes, I know, but this is the only viable plan we have.”
Eyes looking downward, AZI-2 hovered closer to the ground. The motion gave an appearance of hunched shoulders, of dejection. “It is my duty to keep you healthy and uninjured. Helping you to engage enemy troops seems contradictory to that aim.”
“How about keeping me alive? Isn’t that your most important duty? You have to trust that in this situation, I know what I am doing.” Obi-Wan could hardly believe that he was debating his course of action with a droid, but that was what his life had become in the days since they had become stuck on the planet, hounded and hunted by the Separatists.
“Yes, you have had extensive training in the field of warfare and survival. You have a very high success rate in the Grand Army of the Republic,” AZI-2 conceded, but still continued hopefully, “but perhaps a change in strategy would benefit us at this stage…we could head back to the village and ask for assistance.”
“No.” Obi-Wan had steered the Separatists away from the Kushibans, and he would continue to do so. He had found the village on their second day on the planet, and after only a quick surveillance, he had known they would benefit from the Kushibans very little – and the villagers even less from them.
Observing the four-limbed lagomorphs, Obi-Wan had finally recalled why Kushibah had sounded familiar to him. Although Obi-Wan had never seen him in person, he had heard of the small, big eared, fur-covered Kushiban Jedi Master Ikrit. What little Obi-Wan knew of the planet had come back to him, confirmed by what he was seeing: Kushibah had no cities and had only very limited technology. Kushibans lived peacefully in small villages, farming and weaving. They were no match for battle droids, and would surely only be massacred if the Separatists even suspected them of helping Obi-Wan.
“But we cannot do this indefinitely; the chances of surviving –”
“Oh Force, spare me from the odds,” Obi-Wan groaned.
“It is one of my functions to offer probability calculations to aid in any situation…”
But Obi-Wan was not listening to AZI-2; something had shifted. It felt like a light had come on in a darkened room, or like stars had lit up in the night sky. Something that had been empty and alone was now full and alive, and its presence made him realize how very much he had missed it.
Obi-Wan could feel his former Padawan; the bond connecting them was active and there, the silvery strands, unbroken, linking them together in the Force. Anakin was somewhere near – once again, he had done the impossible and had somehow managed to find Obi-Wan from across the endless galaxy.
“…and I have also calculated the amount of sleep you should have to function optimally –”
“AZI-2,” Obi-Wan interrupted the rambling droid, smiling widely. “You’ll be glad to know that our chances of survival have just improved significantly.”
The shuttle’s shrilly proximity alarms went off the moment they entered the Kushibah system; only Anakin’s piloting skills, their foundation unconscious and innate, but honed to perfection by hard experience, saved them from a spectacular collision. They had unwittingly ended up in the middle of a large debris field.
“This is it!” Anakin shouted to R2, heart beating faster with excitement. He steered the shuttle over a mangled piece of steel, zigzagging through the remnants of a Pelta-class frigate. If the debris hadn’t been a dead giveaway, there was also the fact that Anakin could feel Obi-Wan. His Master was close!
R2, monitoring the ship’s diagnostics, beeped in alarm. Anakin grimaced. “I know – I can see the destroyer. Did the Seps notice us yet?”
The droid whistled a negative; R2 had already done everything possible to keep the enemy from noticing the shuttle with their many sensors.
“Good, I’ll find us some cover.” Anakin flew the ship through another impossibly tight gap in the debris, swooping too fast down and then straight back up. Knowing he didn’t have much time before the Separatists would notice their presence, he settled his sight on a huge piece of junk. The former stern of a destroyer was badly mangled but still largely intact; Anakin could land the shuttle on its surface and hide there.
Steeling himself, Anakin directed the shuttle towards the slowly rotating relic. He wanted so badly to seek Obi-Wan through their bond, but couldn’t – first he had to make the ship as invisible as he could. He would be no help to Obi-Wan, if he charged recklessly through the debris field to wherever his Master was.
Luck seemed to finally be on their side, and Anakin landed the shuttle without incident, managing to find a smooth enough surface for them to attach to. He powered down all nonessential systems, plunging the ship into near darkness. Slowly, they drifted with the dead – but Anakin could only think of his Master, who had survived, who was against all odds alive.
With more eagerness than trepidation, he reached for Obi-Wan. It was easy as breathing, following the silvery threads that formed the familiar path to where their minds met. It was like coming home after a long absence; the well-known touch comfortable and simple, easing the knot of homesickness, the ache of longing. Master. Obi-Wan. Master.
Anakin. He was met with relief, joy, concern.
Where are you? Even as he thought the question, Anakin could see the green-blue planet, the place where the escape pod had landed, the woods where Obi-Wan had taken shelter. Are you alright?
A wry shrug. You know me.
How bad is it? Anxiety started to pool in his gut, but he was quickly soothed by his Master’s sincere reassurance. I am fine. The glint of laughter in blue-grey eyes. I have my own med droid.
I am coming for you. Anakin suffused the bond with his resolution, determination, belief. I am coming for you Master.
I know. Obi-Wan’s honest faith, his trust in Anakin felt like the warmth of his small river stone. I know you are.
Chapter 10: Part IX
In the end, they settled on a straightforward plan: Anakin would land on a suitable place, pick Obi-Wan up, and they would be on their way, all without drawing the attention of the Separatists. Simple, right? No doubt, knowing their luck, sooner rather than later the scheme would go to druk and they would be farkled, but if – when – that happened, they would just do what they did best – improvise. There really was no point in waiting for a better plan or a better opportunity; every moment increased the risk of being discovered.
At least there was a decent place for Anakin to try to land in secret. Obi-Wan had spotted the area few days ago, noting its strategic value. The spot was a sheltered clearing, large enough for an ETA-class shuttle to land on safely, but small enough to not be so easily detected from above. It was far from any Kushibans’ settlements, and – Obi-Wan hoped fervently – from any Separatist troops hunting him. Without anything delaying him, it would take Obi-Wan the better part of the day to get to. It meant he would reach the rendezvous point just after dark, which suited their plan perfectly. Anakin would time his landing to coincide with Obi-Wan’s arrival; it would be safer for him to wait hidden in the debris field than to attempt to land in daylight and wait for Obi-Wan in the clearing.
AZI-2 following immediately after him, Obi-Wan moved swiftly but cautiously towards the meeting place. The med droid was exited about their upcoming rescue, and Obi-Wan had had to sternly command it to cease its nervous chattering more than once. Silence was essential for success, but more than that, AZI-2’s anxiousness served to remind Obi-Wan of his own lurking apprehension. It was not only the bare-bones plan that bothered him, but the fact that he still didn’t know what to do with Anakin and his devastating secrets.
For well over a week, Obi-Wan had wanted to see Anakin again with a desperation that was most unbecoming, had wished nothing more than to mend the rift that had opened between them and banish their last painful parting from haunting them both. The relief he had felt at sensing and hearing Anakin through their bond, and knowing he was near and – at least for the time being – alright, had been profound. Nothing would keep him from his Padawan, the entire Separatist army included, but still the anxiety and uncertainty of the coming encounter gnawed at his mind.
He had had more than enough time to ponder Anakin’s revealed secrets, their implications and consequences, and the difficulties Anakin and others affected faced because of them. However, death’s many near-miss opportunities to claim Obi-Wan since the attack on the Refuge had offered him a different perspective to the dilemma. Simply put: nothing was worse than a final parting with things left unresolved, unsaid, broken. Whatever he decided to do with the knowledge of Anakin’s marriage, with the horrible crime towards the Sand People, the most urgent, important thing for Obi-Wan was to fix his relationship with Anakin. His Padawan had to know that Obi-Wan had forgiven him, and that Obi-Wan still believed in him, wanted to help him.
Although resolute in his will to support Anakin, Obi-Wan knew very well it would not be so easy to put into practise. He had never been an overly open person, and talking with Anakin of anything that held emotional weight had always been difficult. That was surely one of the main reasons why Anakin had confined in him only under duress. Suppressing his regret over his own lack of action that had facilitated Anakin’s secretive behaviour, Obi-Wan vowed to do better – be better – in the future.
Whatever happened, whatever Anakin had done and would do, Obi-Wan would never abandon him, nor lose faith in their friendship.
The distant planet gleamed like a green-blue jewel among the darkness, framed by the slowly drifting debris of mangled steel and crushed weaponry. For the moment, the usually insignificant planet had become Anakin’s guiding star, the fixed point he hardly dared take his eyes off. The frenzied, half-mad search had finally ended, but still Anakin could not breathe freely. Not until Obi-Wan was back in the shuttle with him, and Anakin could see his Master with his own eyes, reach out and touch him.
And yet, even that would hardly be enough: not if Obi-Wan wasn’t truly back with him, but still stuck behind the formidable wall of cold judgement and unwillingness to understand. Behind the barrier that had been erected between them after Anakin’s ill-advised confession. What if their stilted and sour last meeting was the new norm, indicative of how things would from then on forever be?
Anakin had been so focused on finding Obi-Wan, of rescuing him from whatever danger had befallen him, that there had been hardly any time to think of something else but the search. The painful state of his relationships with both Padmé and Obi-Wan, whatever was left of their once so solid and strong foundations, had simply been too hurtful to contemplate beyond a few uncontrollable stray thoughts. Any deeper inspection, and Anakin would have been lost, unable to function as efficiently and tirelessly as he had to in order to find Obi-Wan.
And now the search was over and there was nothing to do but think.
It would be hours yet, before Obi-Wan reached their meeting place, and Anakin could do nothing but stare at the small planet and wait. A proper Jedi would have used the time sensibly for their own advantage; for meditation, for the restoration of both body and spirit. Even a non-Jedi would have rested and checked that everything was in order with the ship. Anakin did neither. He sat in the dark cockpit, looking at Kushibah, impatiently waiting for the time to pass. Somewhere deep inside himself, in that small place that was hidden and afraid, he harboured an irrational fear that should he look away, the planet would disappear and he would wake up in the blackness of empty space, no closer to finding his Master than he had been yesterday.
It was uncommonly hard to banish that mad thought, although Anakin knew it was untrue: he could still feel Obi-Wan’s presence. Their bond, previously so cold and inactive, was there; a warm hum of contentment at the back of his mind. At any time, Anakin could reach out and Obi-Wan would answer. He could seek out his Master and find him with a mere thought, and see what Obi-Wan saw, feel what Obi-Wan felt. The desire to do just that was almost overwhelming, but Anakin resisted it. He could not distract his Master, could not let his need for reassurance be another hindrance for Obi-Wan.
Anakin could only wait – wait and hope that when they finally saw each other again, their meeting would not repeat the beats of their cutting parting. He knew things would never go back to the way they had been, not without unwinding time itself, but perhaps there could be understanding between him and his Master. With understanding would come acceptance, and with acceptance Anakin could perhaps recover Obi-Wan’s regard and faith in him. He felt greedy for even wanting that much; anything more would surely be as unattainable as always. Still, he wanted.
The planet firmly in his sight, the centre of his unwavering attention, Anakin promised himself that he would do whatever it took to regain what he had so carelessly lost.
Obi-Wan stood at the edge of the clearing, readying himself for whatever came next: flight or fight. Only the small moons illuminated his surroundings with pale light, feebly permeating the inky blackness. All was silent, even AZI-2, who hovered behind him. The closer they had come to the appointed time and place, the quieter the med droid had become.
Some time ago Anakin had signalled through their bond that he had begun approaching the planet; so far everything had miraculously seemed to go according to their plan. Obi-Wan could feel Anakin’s ironclad concentration as he expertly avoided detection and started the descent. Although he couldn’t focus on his Padawan’s progress, having to keep his attention firmly on his own surroundings, still Obi-Wan couldn’t help but check on Anakin at steady intervals.
He had known that the hardest part of the whole plan would be the last anxious, grinding moments waiting for Anakin to arrive. Obi-Wan didn’t fear that he himself would be discovered; he had managed to both evade and fight the troops hunting him, and he was confident he could continue to do so as long as necessary. However, if Anakin’s shuttle was spotted, his Padawan would have to engage or flee alone whatever remained of the Separatist fleet around Kushibah’s orbit. Knowing Anakin, he would refuse to leave the system if Obi-Wan was still down on the planet – and top pilot in the galaxy or not, even Anakin Skywalker could be bested. The rescue attempt could be over before the shuttle even reached the clearing.
Please, if we are to be discovered, let it be when I’m with him. Any fate had always been easier to face, when they had faced it together.
As if conjured by that thought, a tug at their bond grabbed Obi-Wan’s attention. Get ready Master – I’m almost there.
He peered up at the dark sky but could see nothing. Soon however, the tell-tale sign of increasing airflow revealed the oncoming ship. The trees started to move, swaying and shaking in the rising wind. The earth shuddered as the completely dark shuttle was deftly settled on the makeshift landing zone with a hard thud. The howling sound of the engines sounded unbearably loud in the previously so silent night.
Obi-Wan was already leaving the cover of the trees and moving towards the ship, knowing that the quicker he got on board, the sooner they could leave. Trusting that AZI-2 would follow, he dashed into the open, heading for the lowering ramp. As the entrance into the shuttle opened, reddish light spilled into the clearing.
At the top of the boarding ramp he was met with R2; the small astromech droid peeped excitedly as Obi-Wan entered the ship, and he found himself smiling widely at Anakin’s odd almost-sentient friend. “Good to see you too, R2.”
“Oh, thank the Maker,” AZI-2 said, almost colliding into Obi-Wan in its haste to get into the ship. Its mechanical voice chords managed to convey deep relief. “Safe at last.”
Not yet, Obi-Wan thought as he hit the ramp controls and the ramp closed agonizingly slowly. Let’s go. Anakin was already ahead of him on that score; the shuttle was rising before the boarding ramp had even shut completely. Then they were accelerating upwards in such a steep angle that Obi-Wan had to grab hold of the netting on the wall to stay upright. When the ascent had somewhat levelled out, he made for the cockpit, leaving the droids to chatter among themselves. The ship was only lit by faint emergency lighting; clearly Anakin had wanted to make them as invisible as he could.
The circular cockpit was as dark as the rest of the ship, illuminated only by the lights on the piloting console. Still, Anakin’s bright smile was easily visible, stretching across his handsome face. Something in Obi-Wan eased; a heavy weight around his chest he hadn’t even realized he had been carrying.
“You need a ride?” Anakin asked, the teasing lilt of his speech matching his grin. He had turned away from the controls and was looking at Obi-Wan like they hadn’t seen each other in years.
“What took you so long?” Obi-Wan asked cheerfully, settling himself on the co-pilot’s seat and strapping himself in.
“I’ll tell you later,” Anakin said, turning his focus back to the business of flying, much to Obi-Wan’s relief. “Let’s haul ass before the Seps notice –”
Too late. The abrupt alarm in the Force was all the warning they got; the ship shuddered as Anakin suddenly banked them violently to the right, the energy torpedo streaking past them, just narrowly missing their portside wing.
“I think they have noticed us!” Obi-Wan examined his side of the console, looking for the ship’s weapon controls.
“Really, whatever gave you that idea? Kriff!” Anakin swore, dodging another torpedo. “Karking vulture droids!”
“Look! Straight ahead!” Obi-Wan watched in alarm as the Separatist destroyer appeared on their viewport, spewing more droid starfighters from its open maw.
“I see it,” Anakin grunted, “the vulture droids are trying to drive us towards it.”
“Well, let’s not go that way then,” Obi-Wan said dryly, suddenly feeling like laughing. They could never – ever – catch a break.
“No? And here I thought you would like to go greet them!”
“Oh, I’ll greet them,” Obi-Wan remarked caustically, firing the starboard laser cannon at the vulture droid that had swooped towards them from their right, trying to take them by surprise. The droid starfighter exploded with a brilliant flash of bright yellow sparks.
“So uncivilized,” Anakin quipped appreciatively, his grin sharp. He piloted the shuttle through a series of hair-raising, nausea-inducing rolls and loops, making Obi-Wan completely lose aim of his next target. “R2, we need more juice!”
From somewhere behind them, the astromech answered with his customary string of peeps and hoots. Obi-Wan could hardly understand R2 at the best of times, but he figured the news were good, for Anakin only hollered, “Right!” in reply.
Anakin executed another one of his this-certainly-should-be-impossible manoeuvres. “Get ready, we are going to ditch this party.”
“Yes, let’s do that, before it’s your flying that kills us and not the droids.” Obi-Wan fired another volley of laser cannon fire, hoping to thin the swarm of vulture droids from the incoming destroyer speeding straight towards them.
“I – have – everything – in – control!” Anakin claimed, hard at work with the numerous controls of the ship. The shuttle shuddered as a blaster cannon shot from behind found its mark. At least some of the fighters they had managed to lose with the mad manoeuvres were back on their tail.
“Any time now Anakin!”
“Have a little patience Master,” Anakin bantered, but he was already reaching for the hyperdrive controls. Just as Obi-Wan caught a glimpse of a flare of yellow, signalling an incoming energy torpedo, the shuttle jumped into hyperspace with a hard rattle and a loud whine. The Separatist ships, whatever remained of the Refuge, and the whole Kushibah system was left behind as they shot through space, among the blue streaks of stars.
Obi-Wan exhaled deeply, amazed that they had once again managed to beat the odds. He turned to look at his best friend, Anakin’s wide grin drawing forth his own. “Another successful escape.”
It felt good to be finally on his way towards home – but no, that was not completely accurate, Obi-Wan thought as he met Anakin’s gaze, the familiar blue of his eyes like dark pools of water in the cockpit’s dim lighting. The emotion in them was well-known, echoed by Obi-Wan: relief, happiness, hope.
It felt good to be home.
Chapter 11: Part X
They reverted to realspace somewhere along the Pinooran Spur, after only a short jump through the hyperspace. The small hyperspace route was mapped enough that upon exiting it, the risk of collision into any stars or other matter was minimal. As it was, the space around them was empty, apart from a red giant in the distance. The star glowed ember-red, a lone fixpoint in the darkness. Anakin eased the shuttle into idle, letting them drift slowly in the empty space. It was a good place to take stock of the situation, their ship and themselves.
For a small moment, the cockpit was as silent as the grave.
Then Anakin sighed, a long exhale of air that sounded impossibly loud to Obi-Wan. His former Padawan flicked a few switches, flooding the ship with light, and rambled, “I’ll have to check the shuttle, run the diagnostics to make sure none of the hits we took damaged anything important. We’re still too close for comfort to Kushibah, the Separatists might intercept any transmissions, so I don’t think we should try to contact anyone until we have put more distance between us and those kriffing sleemos. But first I want to make sure that you –”
“Anakin,” Obi-Wan interrupted his friend firmly, “I’m fine.”
Anakin turned towards Obi-Wan, incredulous. “Master, you look terrible!”
“So do you.” Obi-Wan frowned; the harsh lighting had revealed the deep, dark smudges under Anakin’s eyes, his tangled and greasy hair, the hollow cheeks. “I crash-landed and was hunted for days – what’s your excuse?” Obi-Wan regretted his caustic words the moment they left his lips and Anakin looked away, clearly embarrassed. Obi-Wan was intimately familiar with the way the boy could worry; if those Anakin cared deeply about were in danger, the mission to save them could easily consume him, make him neglect his own needs. Force knew Obi-Wan had had to witness that enough times, so he recognized the signs.
He tried again, more gently. “Anakin, I promise that I’m not hurt.” That was even the truth – all the injuries he had sustained in the explosion on the Refuge and in the subsequent events had healed almost completely. The Force had been a great help, but Obi-Wan couldn’t deny that AZI-2’s diligent care had also played a part.
“Please.” There was a hint of genuine pleading, helplessness in Anakin’s tone that was rare and all the more shocking for it. Obi-Wan ached hearing it. “Just…could you just humour me in this…please?”
Carefully, Obi-Wan sought Anakin through their bond, and was flooded with a mix of anxious fear and jittery anticipation, all of it coloured by deep exhaustion, only barely held in check. He nodded, deciding that yielding to an unnecessary medical examination would be the lesser of two evils. “Alright.”
They left the cockpit and entered the small passenger area in silence. Anakin fastened one of the narrow fold-out bunks to a horizontal position, pointedly gesturing Obi-Wan to sit on it. Obi-Wan sighed and did as he was told, while Anakin started to rummage through the storage cabinets, presumably in search of the ship’s portable medical scanner.
“Really, there is no need –” Obi-Wan tried, but was cut short by the arrival of AZI-2. The droid blinked its huge round eyes, taking in the scene. Obi-Wan could instantly see where the situation was disastrously heading, but could do nothing to avert it.
“Might I be of service? If it is medical aid you need, then I am fully qualified and certified by the Republic Medical Corps.”
Surprised by the presence of an unfamiliar droid, Anakin asked sharply, “Who are you?”
“I am AZI-29998757791377778456, although most call me AZI-2 because that is considerably shorter than my real serial number. I was stationed aboard the medical frigate Refuge and tasked to take care of General Kenobi by Knight S’ghan.”
Anakin grinned wolfishly, looking straight at Obi-Wan as he said, “I want a full and truthful account of Obi-Wan’s condition.”
But AZI-2 was already rattling off Obi-Wan’s complete medical history starting from the moment he had stepped aboard the Refuge. When the droid described in detail the concussion and broken bones Obi-Wan had sustained, Anakin’s expression darkened, but luckily AZI-2 ploughed on, until finally, the droid came to the same conclusion as Obi-Wan had earlier, pronouncing General Kenobi as ‘reasonably healthy, although lacking in proper nutrients and rest’.
Anakin, looking somewhat overwhelmed, tapped the med droid on the head, the same way he often did to R2. “I think I like you, AZI-2.” He sounded pleased, like he had just gained an unexpected ally.
Obi-Wan groaned. “Don’t get any ideas.”
“Me?” Anakin asked innocently, somewhat less anxious now that he had been assured of Obi-Wan’s health.
“I know that look.”
“I just thought it would be beneficial – purely from an operational standpoint you understand – if you had your own medical droid always following you around.”
“That is never going to happen,” Obi-Wan proclaimed, the mere notion of it making him shudder from horror.
“Oh, don’t be so sure.” Anakin smiled, a glint of infectious mischief in his eyes. “I think the Council might side with me on this one.”
“And I think AZI-2 should check you next.” There was only little – alright, perhaps more than a little – retribution in the suggestion. Mainly Obi-Wan was worried about Anakin’s wan complexion, the fatigued air that hung around him like persistent Coruscant smog, permeating Anakin’s smiles, his flippant words.
“I’m fine,” Anakin said immediately, pursing his lips in irritation. “Don’t turn this on me. I’m not the one who narrowly escaped from an exploding frigate, crash-landed while being shot at and avoided Separatists troops – all while injured. That whole time, I did nothing but sat in this karking ship. Why would I need medical attention?”
But Anakin did not want to listen to anything Obi-Wan had to say, so in true Anakin-fashion, he tried to deflect attention by claiming that other, more important things needed him urgently. “I have to run the diagnostics, make sure this ship can get us home. We need to get back to Coruscant.”
Before Obi-Wan could protest, Anakin strode back to the cockpit, leaving Obi-Wan alone with a perplexed med droid. Too tired to chase after his wayward Padawan, Obi-Wan decided to let Anakin be. The young man wasn’t wrong about their need to assess the condition of their ship; if it was critically damaged, they needed to make quick decisions on what to do next. Obi-Wan could prod Anakin’s health later, and then perhaps they could talk…
In the meantime, Obi-Wan would gladly take the opportunity to scrub the disgusting amount of filth he had accumulated off his skin in the shuttle’s cramped refresher.
When Anakin finally hauled himself out of the engine compartment, feeling – and no doubt looking – even more dishevelled and grimy than he had before, he was met with an irritatingly tidy Obi-Wan Kenobi. His old Master had somehow managed to magic himself to closely resemble the neat and immaculate Jedi Master he always was in the Temple; face clean, beard trimmed, not a hair out of place. Paradoxically, it both reassured and annoyed Anakin. Only the stains and creases in Obi-Wan’s clothes undermined his otherwise clean-cut appearance, exposing what the Jedi had gone through.
Not wanting to give Obi-Wan any chance to start on the topics Anakin wasn’t yet ready to engage in, he quickly launched into ship-talk. “We got some bumps and scrapes to our shields and stabilizer foils, but they’re not the problem.”
“What is?” Obi-Wan asked, sounding concerned.
“Two of the engines have sustained considerable damage.” The shuttle had four Mk VIII Shrike Major ion engines, so even the loss of two wasn’t a complete catastrophe. “I repaired what I could, but we lack most of the needed parts. We’ll fly, but not to Coruscant.” Disappointment shrouded his thoughts, made his voice gravelly. Anakin had to see Padmé, convince her that they belonged together, make everything between them as it had once been. Instinctually he knew that time was against him: the more days passed, the further away his wife got from him, the gulf thrust between them by Padmé’s words ever widening.
“The ship can manage one short hyperspace jump, then we’ll have to either repair it for real or find another ship.”
“That is…unfortunate.” Obi-Wan stroked his beard, the motion so familiar to Anakin, that despite all the problems and hardships still waiting them, it reminded him that something – and not just something, but the most important thing – had gone right: Obi-Wan was alive, and they were together.
They moved to the cockpit and bent their heads over the nav computer, examining their current location and the Galactic Coordinates near them. The good news was that they had a straight route to the Hydian Way, which would take them all the way to the Core. Bad news was that they were in the middle of Separatist controlled space, although there were some Republic troops attempting to engage the Separatist forces in several locations along the Hydian Way, stretching from Praadost to almost to the border to the Mid Rim.
“The 26th is on Praadost,” Anakin pointed out. “They are probably our nearest troops.”
“What about Ord Cestus?”
“I don’t think we’ll get that far,” Anakin admitted. He looked at the different coordinates, but they all seemed distant and unsafe. One of the coordinates that he had already dismissed caught his eye again and a mad thought began to form… “What about Ord Radama? That’s closer than Praadost.”
Obi-Wan turned his gaze to Anakin, frowning. “That’s a Separatist stronghold – why would we risk going there?”
“Well…I cracked the freighter’s flight computer – it had been in Ord Radama right before someone dumped it for us to find.” The mystery of the holocron grabbed Anakin’s attention again with a strange, almost visceral feeling of urgency that clashed with his intense wish to head straight for Coruscant. He knew that the missing piece of the time-traveling device was important and that they had to find it.
“Anakin…” Obi-Wan looked troubled. “That is a hairbrained idea, even for you. Even if we had some kind of plan and knew what to expect there – which we don’t – the Council has not sanctioned such an action. Our best option is to go to Praadost and make contact with the Temple.”
“Of course,” Anakin said sullenly, not really knowing if he should be mad or glad. Either way, he recognized that Obi-Wan was right. He started to prep the flight computer, readying the ship for the jump to Praadost.
“What’s the hurry?” Obi-Wan asked deceptively airily. “We could use some rest before we jump into another precarious situation. We’re hardly in any danger here now, are we?”
“Not particularly,” Anakin conceded reluctantly. It was highly doubtful that the Separatists could track them through hyperspace, the best the Seps could do was to calculate where they would enter realspace – and as they currently were in the middle of nowhere, the odds of the enemy finding them were low. More than likely, the Separatists were waiting for them to go either directly to the Core, or barring that, head for the nearest Republic friendly planet.
“Well then,” Obi-Wan said, rising to his feet, “let’s take a breather. I trust you haven’t managed to eat all of the ship’s provisions.”
Suddenly inexplicably anxious, Anakin followed his Master to the passenger area. He watched as Obi-Wan dug out a ration pack, divided its contents into two portions, and settled on the fold-out bunk with his meal. Wordlessly, Anakin sat down on the opposite side of the cabin with his own share, the hard seat digging uncomfortably into his backside. He ate mechanically, Obi-Wan’s observant gaze upon him like a smothering, itchy blanket.
When they had both finished eating in silence, Anakin braced himself for the dreaded confrontation. He knew Obi-Wan wanted to talk; through their bond, he could feel his Master’s uneasy determination to bring up all of Anakin’s wrongdoings. He forced himself to stay put to hear the lecture, the judgement. It wasn’t that Anakin didn’t want to resolve the things that had gone sour between them – he was just afraid of the possibility that there really was no way of fixing any of them.
“Anakin,” Obi-Wan began cautiously. “You know there are some things we need to address, and I don’t think some of them can wait any longer.” He looked ill at ease; Anakin’s Master had always been uncomfortable expressing deeper feelings and discussing sensitive un-Jedi issues. Still, Obi-Wan had never let that deter him if he had determined that tackling the matter head on was the best course of action.
“Yeah,” Anakin managed to croak.
“First, I want to apologise to you for those words I said, when we parted on the Vigilance.” Obi-Wan sounded uncommonly contrite. “They were unkind and more than that, they were untrue.”
“You don’t mean that,” Anakin said reflexively. His heart had started to hammer wildly; how dare Obi-Wan apologise to him, it was – it was – it was intolerable!
“I do.” Obi-Wan’s eyes narrowed. “I hope you can trust me on this. I was hurt when I said those words and in spite of all that had happened, you didn’t deserve that.”
Anakin couldn’t say anything. He could barely look at Obi-Wan.
His Master looked weary, but somehow hopeful, which was worse, as he continued with a gentler tone, “And before we go into it any further, I want you to know that I forgive –”
“Don’t!” Anakin exclaimed, unaccountably panicked all of a sudden.
Deep silence, only Anakin’s heart beating loudly in the soundless void of space. Then, Obi-Wan’s firm voice: “Anakin – I forgive you.”
“Don’t! You don’t mean it! You can’t mean it!”
“Why not?” Obi-Wan asked, seemingly calm, although Anakin could feel he was unsettled by his Padawan’s volatile, irrational reaction. “Why don’t you believe me?”
“I don’t know. I just…I just can’t.” Anakin couldn’t explain it. It was what he had wanted, all that he had hoped for, but it brought him no joy. He had done nothing to deserve it, had made no amends or apologies. Obi-Wan could not truly mean it. It made no sense.
Anakin looked away, avoiding his Master’s searching gaze. He could feel Obi-Wan probing him carefully through their bond, puzzled and concerned. Instinctively, Anakin withdrew deeper into himself, fortifying his shields. He didn’t know why he couldn’t just accept Obi-Wan’s words – why he couldn’t believe his dearest friend.
“Anakin.” Obi-Wan’s I-am-your-Master tone of voice drew Anakin’s attention automatically back to him. Despite the stern tone, Obi-Wan seemed almost hesitant, although his eyes held a decisive look. “It seems we are at an impasse.”
Anakin nodded miserably.
“Therefore, I suggest – if you consent – that we try the deep joint meditation.” The surprising request was stiff and too formal, but Anakin could hear the sincerity, the honest willingness behind it. “That way there won’t be any doubt – no secrets between us.”
There was only one right response to the proposal. Only one correct answer to the hidden question, don’t you trust me?
“Alright. Let’s do it.”
If the effort to reach the core of their bond, seek together the deep unity in the Force, is difficult or easy, they know not. It is irrelevant; all their focus is on the fusion of their selves. The danger of delving too deep and too long is acknowledged, but cast aside. This time, there is no other way but the way inward.
Time extends before them, infinite. Time spreads behind them, the unending days they have been apart. They have been parted before, longer and farther, but somehow these particular days have felt more – like they have been apart months instead of a couple of weeks. The discord between them have stretched time toward endlessness. They both feel like they are meeting each other again after years of silence. Perhaps they are. They started to slowly drift apart a long time ago.
Coming together is painful and soothing. Stunning and familiar. It is devastating, yet not. It is reassuring, perhaps. Whatever it is, it is beyond words.
In the core of them they are nestled so tightly together that there is nothing between them. They are as close as two beings can possibly be – closer still. Each of them purely what they are, what they have always meant to be. No boundaries, no masks, no lies exist between them.
There is only truth – acceptance – trust.
It is a space/feeling/state they can easily lose themselves in, never to separate. But there is a purpose. Questions that need to be asked.
Individual feelings, images, memories start to shine through the light, differentiate from the general oneness. They hurt.
Petty thoughts. Never enough for him. Rigid, unfeeling. Can’t understand. Always holding me back.
Marriage vows on a sunny veranda. Thrill, secret. Something for my own. My love.
A black-red-hot rage. Killing, enjoying, dying. Lost.
A deep shame. Worthless. Weak. Better to have stayed a slave.
Will you show me?
Only a slight hesitation, then the dark dream, true and terrible. The cold desert. His mother’s anguished face, her final halting words. I love…I love – Pain. Fury. Hate. The monsters scream as he plunges his saber into their hearts, slashes their faces, severs their limbs. Blue fire, cold retribution. The children cry as he rips them from their mothers’ arms and slaughters, kills. A mad, manic fire, burning him from the inside. Stabbing, cutting, killing to the beat of the Dark. Emptiness.
I understand. Sadness, regret, compassion. I understand.
Red barrier. Waiting, helpless. The grotesque leer of the monster, yellow hateful eyes. The clash of blades, no – wait for me! The end, Qui-Gon’s crumbling form. Haze of anger colouring everything red, the blood rushing, beating in his ears, death death death. Every blow, every slash of blade arising from fierce hatred, the wrath of the avenger. Enemy defeated, and still no satisfaction. Qui-Gon’s last words. Promise. Emptiness.
I forgive you. Will you forgive me?
The floodgates open. A rush of feelings so intense, so intertwined – shame, hope, remorse, grief, trust, regret, faith and so much more. Finally, the truth. The heart.
I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Master. I’m sorry I lied to you. I’m sorry I didn’t trust you enough to tell you. I’m sorry I broke your trust. I’m sorry I’m such a burden to you.
I’m sorry about the Tuskens. I – I feel such anger towards them, but I know I did wrong. I did…terrible things. Dark things.
I’m sorry I’m not the Jedi I should be. I’m sorry that there is such a darkness in me. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. Please help me.
No hesitation, they both know the answer already.
I will help you. I will.
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.
This part of the story is now at an end. However, this series will continue in the next story :)