It was becoming increasingly common for Obi-Wan to arrive at his room, these days, to find a despondent Anakin camping outside. They’d recently moved the Padawan from a joint dormitory to the single rooms upon his request, but with this being the result, Obi-Wan was wondering if that had been a good idea after all.
“Anakin,” he called gently, kneeling at a distance across him. He waited until his apprentice looked up, heart aching to find his young face red and blotchy with tears. “Why don’t you come inside with me, and we’ll talk about what’s bothering you?”
A quiet sniffle and a near-imperceptible nod. He hesitantly stood, watching silently as Obi-Wan rose smoothly next to him and keyed in his passcode. Obi-Wan was glad for his forethought in ensuring that he’d have enough space for two in his room – his many off-world missions with Qui-Gon had left him used to narrow bunks aboard their ships, and while he’d never grown out of the habit of taking up less space while sleeping, he appreciated having more should he feel the need to sprawl.
And, apparently, to house his tooka-like apprentice on rough nights like these.
It had become a routine, as Obi-Wan set his satchel aside by the door and ushered him in, even as he bustled off to make them cups of tea. He revisited that last thought when he peered into the contents of his shelf, opting for two mugs of hot chocolate instead. Anakin visibly perked up when he saw the beverage, and Obi-Wan silently thanked his Master for issuing him multiple rounds of overseeing younglings when they were planetside.
They sat in silence, Anakin half-curled into the soft blankets Obi-Wan preferred, while Obi-Wan himself took the meditation cushion across the room. He had learned by now not to push his apprentice into talking, for all that he needed the encouragement. A curious push-pull of Jedi teachings – Obi-Wan was used to younglings being hesitant to come forth with their problems, but that was usually in the context of working through them themselves. A quick reminder that it was alright to seek out help, especially given their inexperience, was enough to convince them to talk.
Anakin needed more wheedling, usually, but Obi-Wan never liked forcing people to talk when they didn’t wish to, so he left the choice open to his Padawan. Whether or not he took it, though, was a different matter entirely.
“I saw the Chancellor today,” Anakin mumbled, steadfastly looking into the mug. A curl of steam from the hot chocolate caught the light. Obi-Wan didn’t reply. He had known, of course – he knew his Padawan’s schedule thoroughly, and even last-minute meetings had Mace comming him to let him know. But Anakin hadn’t expected him to reply.
“I know you don’t like it.”
Obi-Wan sighed. “Padawan, it’s only because I worry. You say he’s been nothing but kind to you, but you refuse to tell me of anything that you both do or speak of. I’m aware that you have your secrets, and you’re free to keep them, but that you won’t divulge anything at all… troubles me.”
An understatement, but he’d been known to make those in the past.
“I want to tell you,” Anakin said abruptly. “Now.”
“I’m all ears,” he replied carefully. “I’ll do my best to not interrupt.”
With a jerky nod, Anakin started to speak. Stuttering a bit, at first, hesitant with some of the details – but when he mentioned visiting a gambler’s den in the lower levels and got no reaction from Obi-Wan, the rest came flooding out. All the while, Obi-Wan kept his cool, the rising anger within him kept carefully behind the sturdiest shields he could manage without Anakin’s detection. It was one thing to teach a boy about the corruption of the State, even if the lesson were unwarranted, but it was another to go behind his guardian and take him to seedy, dangerous places without indication of safety measures.
“– and it’s – it’s so confusing, these days, because he says these things about my power as a Jedi and my capability to protect us in case things go wrong, and he’ll turn around and start talking about how it’s awful that I’m not able to adjust quickly into being a Padawan, when I mention that my lessons are challenging. I don’t get it! And today, the cantina he visited had this trafficking deal going on the entire time he was talking about how slavery was outlawed in the Republic, and though he saw what was going on all he could say was – was–”
“Breathe, Padawan!” Obi-Wan commanded, surging forward after setting down his mug carefully, pushing the same command to his Padawan through the Force. Thankfully, Anakin’s short, quick gasps hitched into louder, uneven, choked, mercifully longer breaths. Obi-Wan wrested the mug from his Padawan’s shaking hands, setting it down on the small table nearby and gently taking Anakin’s wrists into his hands.
Anakin leaned into the contact, resting his head against Obi-Wan’s shoulder and slowly but deliberately regaining control over his breathing. Once he was settled, Obi-Wan brushed a sense of relief-pride-peace at Anakin, whose normally turbulent presence in the Force settled at the gesture.
“I think what bothered me the most was when he said this one thing,” Anakin said, still into his shoulder, “that it was bad that the Jedi asked me to call them – you – Master given my history.”
From his tone, it was clear that he was quoting. That didn’t stop Obi-Wan from rubbing circles into his Padawan’s wrists in hopes of comfort. He was used to receiving comfort from Force-touches and mental sweeps from his Master, but he could adjust to physical touch for his apprentice.
“I know the difference,” Anakin declared. “I know that calling a Jedi “Master” is not the same as the way we’d talk about slavers on Tatooine. But the way he said it, like you were forcing me rather than following tradition made me scared for a moment, and I didn’t like it. I don’t like being afraid, especially of you.”
“You’re wise to have come to that conclusion, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said carefully, gently tugging at Anakin so that he held him at an arms’ length away. “And before I say anything else, I’m so very grateful that you came to me with this. I understand that it’s not easy, and it’s brave to ask for help when you need it.”
He waited for Anakin’s nod. “As for what the Chancellor said… first and foremost, do you like spending time with him? Does he make you feel obligated, in any way, to do so?”
“I… I did – enjoy it, I mean,” he said quietly. “You were talking about learning from different places, and I valued his perspective. And he didn’t make me uncomfortable. I knew you were worried, and I didn’t understand why, just that you didn’t like when I went to see him.”
At this, Anakin shot him a look, as if to ask him for his reasons.
“It is as I said earlier, Padawan – I disliked how he forced our hand. I’m not sure if you remember, the first time he wanted to speak privately with you, but he practically made it an order. And while the Force gives us Jedi strengths and abilities that might seem inconceivable, we operate through reputation, not power. The Senate, and the Chancellor, have that. What he did was a direct assertion of that power over the Order.”
“So it wasn’t about me?” he asked, confused. Obi-Wan shrugged.
“Of course it was, you’re my Padawan and I care about your wellbeing. But it was about the principle of the matter too – if he could command us to let him see you, despite our reservations, how many other Padawans can he seek out? I’m only a Knight, what happens to the apprentice of a more experienced Jedi, a Master or someone on the Council? Besides, this doesn’t even count what powers the Senators could have in requesting to see Padawans in this manner.”
“When you say it like that, it sounds creepy,” Anakin commented, and Obi-Wan chuckled.
“That was how I felt, whenever you went to see him. Well, that, and the fact that you were nearly always tenser after visiting him.”
Obi-Wan arched a brow, shooting him a pointed look. Anakin flushed. “Oh, right.”
“Now, about what he said – you’re right in that you can learn from him as much as you do from within the Order, that isn’t the problem at all. But you told me he took you to gambling dens and other dangerous, unregulated cantinas and bars in your outings. Those aren’t places you take a child – don’t give me that look, Padawan, as talented and skilled as you are, you’re still twelve. If you’d grown up with the Order, you’d still be an Initiate at your age.”
Anakin frowned. “Yeah. About that… whenever I mention my extra lessons I take in order to catch up to Padawan-level work, he says that I shouldn’t have to feel babied in my own home.”
Obi-Wan hummed. “Do you? Feel babied, I mean. I’ve been watching over your progress to make sure that you proceed at a pace that suits you, but I’d like to know if you need something more challenging.”
“Oh, uh. No, thanks, I’m doing just fine with my current course load,” he said hastily. “It’s just… these conversations. Most Masters don’t find their Padawans crying outside their rooms and having to calm them down for hours.”
“We don’t know what most Masters do at this hour, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said. “For all we know, they could be finding their Padawans at odd hours and locations in need of help. But they have foreknowledge and context that comes with living in the Temple since they were very young, and you don’t. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, just… something we’ve been working on, to bridge that culture gap. Jedi process things differently from untrained Force-users.”
“I know, I know, and I like these conversations, I always feel more… settled, after them. But when Palpatine said it like that, like I was being handled…” he let the sentence trail off. “Do you regret taking me on? I mean me, specifically, and not a Temple initiate.”
“Why in the Force would you think that?” Obi-Wan asked, aghast at the jump in subject. “I know I was apprehensive about your admittance into the Order at first, but I told you about my reasons for that. Anakin, regardless of whom I were to train, I would have to accommodate for the things that come with that person. You find these conversations helpful; I find them direct and easy to share knowledge with you of things Temple-raised Jedi take for granted. That isn’t to say that taking on an Initiate won’t give me certain challenges – they’d simply be different ones.”
“Yeah, but… I keep getting the sense that not all Jedi are as emotional as me.”
Ah, Obi-Wan thought, so it was time for this discussion after all.
“It’s not about being emotional, Anakin,” he said calmly, gently. “Plenty of Jedi experience emotions strongly – more deeply than you too, sometimes. We just learn how to process them from when we’re children: we are taught as younglings that every emotion leaves an imprint in the Force, and therefore we learn to mitigate that feedback and not overwhelm those around us. You and I are no more or less emotional than the rest of the Order – it is simply the way we make of those feelings where our differences lie.
“Nonetheless, I am very proud of you for recognising the source of your upset in the Force today and seeking me out. I know you prefer not to talk, but I am grateful that you did.”
Anakin frowned, clearly thinking that over, but nodded. “It’s… for all that Palpatine talks about the ‘young minds in the Order’, he’s never mentioned an interest in any other Padawans before. He keeps saying that he’s taken a shine to me because I saved his planet, and he keeps ignoring me when I say that you, Master Qui-Gon, the Naboo and the Gungans did it too.”
Obi-Wan felt a warmth settle over him at the words. Here his very young apprentice was, speaking with a humility most Jedi strove to achieve, and it was in the context of having that insight brushed away by someone who ought to have recognised it.
Politicians, he thought sardonically. Faffing about and pretending to know the Jedi due to their proximity to the Temple.
Anakin was watching him curiously, and it was then that he realised he must have projected at least some of what he was thinking into the Force. “Do all Jedi not like politicians, or is it just you?”
The sudden non-sequitur made him burst out laughing. “Many of us dislike them,” he said, “but I have a particular disregard for the career that comes with experience and exposure. But we’re changing the subject. What you said about Palpatine only taking an interest in you is concerning, to say the least. With your permission, I can take it to the Council – we can make arrangements to ensure that someone watches you, if you still want to see him?”
“I – do I have to? It’s just… today,” Anakin said slowly, “it was like something Mom used to tell me – there were these organisations that used to send representatives to Tatooine, anti-slavery ones, and they’d always come door-to-door and ask to talk to us. Sometimes we did, sometimes we didn’t respond. It just wasn’t safe. And at some point, we learned to tell the difference between those who really wanted to help, and those who didn’t. Who just wanted to be a part of it, but not for us. They didn’t care about freeing people, just earning a name.”
Obi-Wan had heard of such organisations before. Some of them, the ones that were genuine in their motive, had ambition but no real power in deconstructing the systems supporting slavery in the Outer Rim. The Hutts, as Master Plo had once explained to an irate Anakin, were simply too powerful for any singular community of people to handle themselves, and they had what was essentially a choke-hold over most of the area.
Others, as Anakin observed, simply cared about themselves. Those were usually run by the richest of the lot, for commendations and recognition but no real action. An upsetting, if unsurprising dichotomy.
“Guess Palpatine’s like one of those people. I thought he was like my mom, at first – he was kind and knew stuff. But he’s… not.”
“It’s never nice to learn that the people you respect aren’t as worthy of that respect as you think they are,” Obi-Wan said, rubbing a hand through Anakin’s hair sympathetically.
Anakin leaned against him once more. “I won’t have to see the Chancellor again, will I?”
“I’m not sure, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said ruefully. “I’ll do my best with the Council, no doubt they’ll understand, but refusing the Chancellor is… difficult, to say the least. We’ll make something work. At the very least, we can make sure you’re supervised constantly, if you’re alright with that.”
A single, firm nod against his shoulder. “Thanks, Master.”
“It is the least I can do, Padawan. Thank you for coming to me.”
“This is concerning news,” Mace Windu murmured, exchanging a look with Plo Koon. “You’ve already tried to dissuade him from meeting Anakin personally, but he’s resisted at every turn.”
“He has, Master,” Obi-Wan said. “So far, Anakin expressed that he was safe the entire time, but now that he was more forthcoming with details of their meetings, I’m… worried, about the hold that the Chancellor has in this regard. He cannot… directly order us to let him see Anakin, can he?”
“No, he cannot,” Master Plo rumbled, clawed fingertips clicking against one another as he steepled them under his masked chin. “But it does not bode well for us that he got this far. The safety of the Padawans is tantamount, as always.”
“I trust you and Shaak Ti will investigate this, then?” Mace asked, clearly sensing their assent before the actual response came forth. “Very well. Knight Kenobi, there’s not much we can do at such short notice – as it so happens, Palpatine has asked to see Anakin next week. I suppose it’s high time he took a trip with you to Ilum – he can’t fight with a training saber forever, after all.”
Obi-Wan could only blink, stupefied for a second, before his mind caught up with the events as they proceeded. “Thank you, Masters. I imagine he’ll be ecstatic to hear the news.”
A few of the Masters chuckled, having already met his excitable Padawan before.
“He was nearly climbing off the walls the other day,” Depa Billaba said. “For his own good, go to Ilum. We’ll handle this, and comm you if we need anything.”
“Go with you, I will, Obi-Wan,” Master Yoda piped up. “Sense young Skywalker has a few lessons to learn, on Ilum, I do.”
That particular tone didn’t bode well, Obi-Wan thought, but simply bowed to them all and accepted their dismissal. Anakin jumped up even before the doors slid shut behind him.
“Master, what did they say?”
“The Chancellor requested another meeting with you sometime next week, unfortunately they can’t do much to decline that.” Before he could do much more than look mildly worried at the statement, though, Obi-Wan pushed on; “However, the Council and I agreed that it’s high time you got your own lightsaber. And I believe we have time to go to Ilum next week.”
The few seconds it took for the gears to turn in Anakin’s head were visible. Obi-Wan held back his amusement. Ah, younglings.
“Really?” he burst out at last. “You mean it? I get my own kyber and saber?”
“You do, Padawan,” he replied, fondly ruffling Anakin’s hair. “Master Yoda said he’d join us, and we can make a proper trip of it.”
A split-second later, his ribs were getting crushed by Anakin’s enthusiastic hug. “Thank you, thank you, thank you! This is so wizard, I’m getting a lightsaber like a real Jedi!”
“You already have the braid and status, Padawan,” Obi-Wan wheezed, coaxing Anakin to let go of him. “It isn’t our lightsabers that make us Jedi, you know this.”
“I know,” he drawled, “but. It’s wizard.”
He couldn’t help the chuckle that escaped at the words – most people at Anakin’s age were more excited about lightsabers than any other aspect of Jedi training. Now wasn’t the time to crush his spirit with a lesson. “I agree, it is pretty wizard.”
The next week, he found, flew by faster than expected. Before he realised it, he was being half-dragged to the hangar bay by a still-excitable Anakin alongside an amused Yoda.
“Peace, young one,” he tried to reason, “we still have a day’s flight through hyperspace to get to the right system.”
“Doesn’t matter, I’m excited now and I’ll be excited then,” Anakin said promptly, racing onto their assigned shuttle. Obi-Wan sighed and looked down at Master Yoda, who was chuckling quietly.
“Fascinating, the energy of a youngling is,” he said blithely.
“Would you like me to lift you on my shoulder, Master? I sense Anakin is fit to explode with his, ah, energy if we don’t hurry.”
“Hmm. Patience, he will learn. His lesson starts now.”
If Anakin had thought that Coruscant had been chilly, and that hyperspace was cold, Ilum was freezing. Even with the cold-weather gear Obi-Wan had commissioned for him, the air stung his face and he had to use the Force technique he’d been taught to at least deflect it away so that it wouldn’t immediately freeze his nose off. Judging by the look his Master shot him, the Force use had been noticed.
“Is – are we there yet?” he called, and Obi-Wan shook his head.
“Nearly – I believe we have, actually. Master Yoda?”
“Been a long time since you were last here, it has,” Master Yoda said. “Here, we are.”
Anakin looked around him. There was a lot of snow, an a large cliff-face of ice in a vague pattern he couldn’t see, but no Temple. “It’s a dead end! You sure we’re in the right place?”
Yoda harrumphed. “Many trips to the Temple on Ilum, I have made. Escorted younglings for centuries for their Gatherings, I have. Sure, I am, that this is the right place.”
Obi-Wan took mercy on him. “Reach out into the Force, Padawan. Outstretch your hands and focus it before you. We can only enter the Temple together.”
Anakin frowned, but mirrored his Master even as he and Master Yoda reached out to the outcropping before them. He let the currents of the Force swirling around him coalesce into a single thread, holding them together before him and prodding at the Masters’ minds gently to ask what to do next. Obi-Wan guided him through the next steps, and soon enough, Anakin could hear loud rumbles and cracks of ice, as well as a harsh scraping sound, like the massive blocks were sliding against one another.
When Obi-Wan prodded back at him, he opened his eyes, and gaped.
For the blocks had given way to one of the most beautifully sculpted entrance to any building he’d seen. The Temple looked more like one of the holos of castles he’d seen than, well, a temple.
“Swiftly, Padawan,” Obi-Wan murmured, coaxing him into the doorway. “The sun has already risen, and we must get going.”
He skipped inside, barely stopping himself from pausing at every few feet and staring at the gorgeous engravings and sculptures around him. Down the path that Obi-Wan led him, he spotted a large archway made of those same blocks of ice, arranged to be a solid curtain. What was on the other side?
Finally, a few paces away from that entrance, his Master stopped him. Master Yoda stepped forward, and Anakin’s attention instantly snapped to him, the Force demanding that he listen.
“The Force made physical, a Jedi is,” he began. “More literal, it is, with you, than with most younglings I speak to.”
“Comes great responsibility with that, it does,” the old Master was already saying. “Protect others, how does a Jedi, hmm?”
He lifted a hand before him, allowing his lightsaber to unclip itself from his belt and float before him, igniting the green blade with Force-touch alone. “Build your own lightsaber, you shall. But first, harvest your crystal, you must.”
The blade was extinguished. “The heart of the lightsaber, the crystal is. Focuses the Force from the Jedi, it does.”
Master Yoda glanced up at a hidden skylight, sliding it open with the Force. Beams of sunlight shot through the opening, and with a quick turn of a chandelier-like formation on the ceiling, the light focused itself into the perfect angle to hit the archway and melt the ice that covered it. The stalactites gushed down into the planned divots he’d noticed in the flooring, channels along which the water could flow.
“If Jedi you are to become, enter the crystal cave, you must. Trust yourself, trust in the Force, and succeed, you will.”
Anakin nodded, and, as though in a trance, moved to climb up the stairs that led to the cave. But his Master’s voice stopped him, bade him look back.
“Anakin. Once you find your crystal, do not spend more time than you have to in getting back. As daylight ends, the door will freeze over again, and you will be trapped.”
Despite the gentle soothing of the Force, he couldn’t help a spike of apprehension. “For how long?”
“A rotation,” Obi-Wan said. “Anything else, Padawan?”
“Uh. How will we know which crystal to pick?”
“Remember Master Yoda’s words,” he reminded him gently. “Only you will know which one is yours. And, believe me, you will know. Another thing: if the Force tells you that none of the crystals in the cave are yours, do not fight it. There is no disnohour in returning empty-handed, than if you were to wrest unwilling kyber from the cave.”
“May the Force be with you, my Padawan.”
And with that, Anakin turned on his heel, determination coursing through him, and marched into the cave.
It was silent, his footsteps echoing strangely across the crystalline walls. There were sparkles whenever the light caught the surface, and Anakin could hear a faint song in the air. He supposed it was worth a try – could he ask for directions? Did people live in these caves? He supposed that there were species who could, and it wouldn’t be that implausible.
But it was getting awfully lonely. It struck him, then, that this was the longest he’d spend without Obi-Wan or another Jedi with him, since he’d left Tatooine.
He picked up his pace, letting the faint melody flow over him and guide his path.
“Always on the move,” echoed around the cave, and he skidded to a halt.
“Obi-Wan?” he called hesitantly.
But it was only his voice that resonated back.
He shivered, but continued his long and solitary walk. He really wanted out of here soon, but he wasn’t leaving before he got his crystal.
“And if you’re not meant to get one?”
The voice was definitely Obi-Wan’s, but it was distorted. Odd. And cold.
“I’m meant to,” he answered, not sure if that were even a good idea at all. Should he have been calling attention to himself? “I know it. I’m supposed to be a Jedi, and part of it means getting to make my lightsaber.”
“Oh, if you’re certain. That changes things,” was the sarcastic response. It sounded uncannily like Obi-Wan, but with an edge that was absent in his Master. “Except, you’re not really answering my question. Set aside what you know, will you be able to accept that you might not get a crystal out of this venture?”
“But I know I’m supposed to!”
“That is irrelevant. The Force’s will is nebulous. We can gain some clarity, but never enough to satisfy us, unless we train ourselves into it. Can you manage that?”
“I’m – I don’t –”
“Some people aren’t meant to be Jedi. But can you live with that, if it comes to it?”
“I’m meant to be one,” he repeated, shouting it into the wind. “I know it! It feels right!”
“And what about the rest of the variables in your life, your mother, for example? She’s still on Tatooine, it’s not an easy life to live, as you know. Anything could happen.”
“I’ll become strong enough to stop anything from hurting her!”
“That defeats the point. A Jedi does not seek power, but even as they gain it, turn it outward for the good of the galaxy.”
“Saving innocents is for the good of the galaxy!”
“Is it? If you’re forced to choose between your mother and a planet facing a cataclysmic danger only you can stop, what then? You cannot let attachment –”
“I – I don’t know,” he whispered, horrified. “She’s my mother. I can’t lose her like that. But the galaxy…”
A Jedi’s duty was to be a shield for the weak, to sacrifice so that others would not have to. Obi-Wan had spent many afternoons explaining the nuances of what it meant to be a Jedi, before Anakin had made a decision about joining the Order as a ward or a Padawan. He was aware of the stakes, and was willing to face the challenges he’d have to, in order to become a Jedi.
“I’d try to save them both,” he said at last. “The Force will be with me.”
“That’s a non-answer, and you know it. Be warned, Anakin Skywalker, when the time comes… you must learn to let go.”
“I will save her!”
“I killed them all!”
The last voice, he knew with a certain dizzying clarity, was his own, unrecognisable in its deepness as it was.
“You have to learn to face your fears,” Not-Obi-Wan said again. “Otherwise, this is the fate set in your future.”
“No,” he murmured. “I wouldn’t just kill people like that. I won’t!”
“That is not up to me.” The voice thinned, fading back into the wind, which picked up into a howl alongside the melody of his crystal. He spotted a brighter glow among the rest of the ice, and nearly ran forward before the Force pulsed out a warning. Anakin skidded to a stop, still shaken by the vision he’d had.
Had it been a vision? He wasn’t sure if the term applied, but it felt like one.
Water rushed past his feet, massive chunks of ice floating through the current. Anakin couldn’t hope to swim across, not without being pulled along or getting a nasty case of hypothermia, so he did the next best thing and called his crystal to him with the Force –
– to no avail.
He blinked. Trust in the Force, he thought, and, for once, sat down to meditate.
There is no emotion, there is peace.
The crystal cave was cold around him. Rigid, unyielding, devoid of other sentients. Empty, like a vessel. Obi-Wan and Master Yoda were outside, and they would probably fish him out of the caves if it came to it, no matter what the significance of the ritual was. He let his fear go, sinking into the deeper connection he had to the Force.
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
What did he know? Pushing aside the warnings of his vision, he tried to remember what he’d been told about the caves. It had to do about some sort of trial of character, as was most things with the Jedi. But a trial was not an assessment, and this one would have a personal meaning to him. What could he learn from this?
There is no passion, there is serenity.
He let the currents of the Force, like the water flowing past him, coalesce into something calmer once more. Something to give him clarity. The Jedi were the crystal of the Force, like Obi-Wan had said, and he allowed it to give him focus.
There is no chaos, there is harmony.
There was a crystal of kyber stuck to the wall, his crystal, with a river between them both. There was the song of the Force between them, and the ice in the river that looked big enough to – to hop along.
Anakin stood, letting the Force guide his actions, and leaped.