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Amid the Shadow

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AMID THE SHADOW

Chapter I

 

He could hear her screaming.  Dying.  Her voice reared, like a screeching stallion, in his head—ricocheting off the inside dome of his skull, echoing ceaselessly, driving him insane.  It wouldn’t stop.  Not in sleep.  Not while he was awake.  Always there.  Always.  Stalking him like an obsession—every step, every heartbeat—like a demon, possessing him.  Never letting him rest. 

A high pitched yell. 

A black glove.  A hand made of lifeless durasteel instead of flesh.  A metal finger, trembling as it traced blurred black lines on the blurry screen of a datapad.  ...the Sith were obsessed with the notion of immortality and sought it militantly through unnatural practices and manipulation of the Dark Side of the Force.  However, all their endeavors were futile.

What?!  No!  That’s not right!  Darth Plagueis the Wise did learn how to prevent death!  Maybe not utter immortality, like the Sith desired, but Plagueis could save people who would otherwise have died.  Chancellor Palpatine told Anakin himself. 

He had such a knowledge of the Dark Side, he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying.

He could hear the voice of his trusted advisor and friend even now, more clearly than ever.  Chancellor Palpatine was almost like a grandfather to him.  When Anakin was accepted into the Jedi Order at the age of 9, he was no better than an orphan.  Lightyears away from the only home he knew, taken from his mother, the Jedi Master who saved him from slavery—the man he thought could have been like a father—killed, his new teacher serious and strict and only training him because he promised his master he would.  That first year (maybe longer), the child was terrified Obi-Wan would send him back.  He felt so alone, even when he was by his master’s side.  Yet, the Chancellor was always there for him.  When he arrived on Coruscant, Palpatine offered him—instead of an expression of stone and eyes of silent judgment, like the Jedi—a kindly smile and a gentle, wrinkled hand of friendship.  Palpatine would not have told Anakin of this Sith legend unless he was certain it would not mislead him and convinced it would help him.  Yes, such a power did exist, and there were those in the galaxy who had mastered it: Darth Palgueis, the apprentice who killed him.  This power could be learned.  Just... not from a Jedi. 

Anakin flicked his finger across the screen, moving several articles forward.  Shadow pooled around the edges of the datapad and gathered like black ink on the surface of the table.  There wasn’t much light in this vast hall of the Jedi Archives.  Most of them had gone out.  It occurred to him how quiet it was—like a tomb, empty of all save the corpse.  Silence rang in his ears.  Persistent, piercing, sharp, like nails going into his skull.  He glanced over his shoulder. 

The Archives towered around him—a massive, hallow space like the inside of an abandoned cathedral, once great but now filled only with darkness.  Row upon row of shelves, crammed with dully-glowing blue and white files, rose up on either sides of him, as if he was in the center of a canyon about to cave in.  On top of that, a stone balcony, another level, which supported more shelves, more files; beyond that a final floor where only Jedi Masters were permitted to enter, more files, the files they would not want anyone to see, the files Anakin would need. 

Anakin’s eyes lethargically revolved around the Archives.  An empty hall, empty isles between silent shelves, empty tables, empty chairs.  Beyond the tall cathedral windows at the far end of the hall was a black void.  Every light was extinguished except for the small lamp on the lonely table where Anakin sat and the misty glow from the shelves.  When had all the others disappeared?  He did not even realize they were gone.  What time was it?  He had no idea.  Time did not mean much anymore.  Morning, night, hours, days, they all ran together in a befuddled blur of surreal reality.  Sometimes, he still expected to open his eyes and wake from this nightmare. 

Anakin sighed and turned back to the words in front of him.  He stared down at the screen.  He blinked at the letters, as his mind struggled to interpret them.  A list of all the acknowledged Sith Lords.  He labored his gaze down the screen. 

Darth Bane. 

Darth Zannah.

Darth Cognus.

Darth Millennial....

His eyes burned.  His eyelids felt like they were packed with durasteel.  Every time he blinked, it was more difficult pry his eyes back open.  His head throbbed with pain and dizziness.  His entire body felt weak. 

A male humanoid, whose name remains unknown to the Jedi Order.

That could be Darth Plagueis!

A male Devaronian, whose name remains unknown to the Jedi Order. 

...or that could be Darth Plagueis.... He did not think the Chancellor specified if Plagueis was human, humanoid, Devaronian, or any of over a million other possibilities....

Darth Vectivus.

Darth Gravid.

Someone screamed. 

Anakin’s heart lurched into his throat—then it was thrashing wildly like a terrified creature caged in his chest.  His neck snapped up, as his eyes darted around him.  There was no one.  But knew it was her; he heard her scream!  It sounded like she was right night to him!  

“Anakin, help me!” 

He was suddenly on his feet.  “Padmé!” Anakin cried into the empty Archives.  His own voice ricocheted back off the walls and hit him in the face.  He was already lunging forward to a blind dash through the Archives. 

“Ani, help me!  Help me!  Help—”  She screamed.  Long, shrill, terrified, agonized.  Then she was groaning, grinding her teeth, her voice fading, weakening, moaning as her breath failed her and her life faded. 

“PADMÉ, WHERE ARE YOU!?” Anakin wailed, as he stumbled in drunken circles in a desperate effort to find her.  Terror choked him, tears burned his eyes.  “WHERE ARE YOU!?”  He screamed again.  His voice cracked in terror, breaking like glass. 

A voice answered him, but it was not Padmé’s. 

“Save your energy.”

What?  Anakin spun around, now utterly at loss.  Obi-Wan.

“I can’t,” Padmé managed a tremble whisper.  “I... can’t.”

“Don’t give up, Padmé!”

Oh, my Force...  Anakin’s head swirled in a maelstrom of sudden understanding, confusion, and terror.  He stumbled a few steps backward, as if receiving a fist to the face or a blaster-bolt to the heart.   He bent forward, his hands grabbing at his head, his fingers twisting up and tangling in his long bronze hair, gritting his teeth, closing his eyes, covering his ears—anything in his power to block out the voices!  He staggered back to his chair and collapsed.  He leaned forward on the table, burying his head in his arms.  To no avail. 

“I’m sorry,” Padmé whispered with her final breath.

“No, Padmé!  PADMÉ!” Anakin’s own voice screamed in his skull, horror-stricken and devastated.  “No!  NO!  I DON’T BELIEVE YOU!  SHE’S NOT DEAD!” 

“I’m sorry,” another voice answered.  Dark, cold, cruel—like the icy breath of winter, as if this voice belonged to Death, himself.  Just to hear such a hideous voice, his skin prickled with goosebumps and the hair on the back of his neck stood up. “You’re too late,” the shadow answered pitlessly. “You cannot save her.  You failed her.  You killed her.”

“No,” Anakin denied.  It wasn’t true.  He would not believe it—he could not!  “No!” he screamed, fury erupting in his soul like fire from the mounts of Mustafar.  “NO!”

 “Anakin.”

He looked up abruptly.  Another pair of eyes stared back at him.  Anakin flinched, startled by this sudden presence.  He had not heard anyone approach.  The man seemed to materialize, like a ghost, out from the very shadow.  A moment later, however, alarm melted into relief.  Anakin would have recognized those crystal blue-green eyes anywhere, that red-gold hair, the familiar beard, the invariably serious expression.  Anakin’s tense muscles relaxed slightly.  He sighed. 

“Obi-Wan,” he tried to answer casually.  He surprised himself when his voice came out weak and nervous, shaking like a dried-out leaf whose feeble grip will soon yield to the wind.  He then realized his whole body was shaking.  His insides shivered—as if he soul, itself, was trembling.

Obi-Wan stared at Anakin, his eyebrows furrowed in a deep frown, his eyes brimming with worry.  Anakin looked back at him and met his eyes, trying act like nothing was wrong, waiting for Obi-Wan to say something.  “Are you alright?” the Jedi asked softly after a long silence. 

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Anakin attempted with an unconvincing shrug.  “Why wouldn’t I be?" 

“You look horrible,” Obi-Wan answered in blunt, brutal honesty. 

Judging from appearance alone, Obi-Wan might have thought Anakin a patient in a medical center, hooked up to heart monitors, IVs, oxygen tanks, and life-support, the unfortunate kind of patient the healers are not sure they can heal.  His face was pale and overshadowed by an almost-grey hue, which unnervingly resembled the way color fades from the flesh just before death takes its victim.  Anakin’s skin was blanched of color and lined with illness and exhaustion.  Dismal bags hung beneath his eyes.  His eyes—usually so bright and vibrant, teeming with energy and passion—were dark and dull... as if the fire inside of them finally burned out, the candle seized and smothered by the pitiless tyrant of time, who dictates life.  And death.  In all the years he knew him, trained him, raised him, loved him, Obi-Wan had never seen Anakin quite like this. 

Anakin forced a weary smile, which he struggled to hold on his lips.  “Thanks, Master,” he replied with his best effort to forge sarcasm and lightheartedness.  “Means a lot.”

Obi-Wan did not smile.  His stone expression did not soften in the slightest.  He knew nothing in the galaxy better than he knew Anakin.  He saw through him easier than clear water. “I’m not an idiot, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said frankly.  “I know you better than this.” 

“I’m fine,” Anakin swore again.  “Really.  I’m just...”  He racked his brain for a believable excuse.  “...I’m just tired.” 

Obi-Wan looked at Anakin incredulously, not buying a word.  Anakin held his gaze for a few seconds.  That was as long as he could endure.  His eyes flickered away.  He stared at the tabletop instead of Obi-Wan, because he could not look him in the eye and lie to him.  They both knew the truth.  There was no sense in denying it any longer.  Anakin stared at the glassy table in silence.  Waiting for Obi-Wan to demand the truth. 

Obi-Wan let out a heavy sigh.  “I brought you some soup,” he said quietly.   Anakin looked up.  For the first time, he noticed the food-tray Obi-Wan held in his hands.  On top of it rested a bowl of soup, a silver spoon, a slice of bread, and a tall glass of water.  Obi-Wan stepped closer and set the tray down in front of Anakin.  

Anakin stared at the food.  He looked back at his friend, and a small but sincere smile appeared on his dry lips.  “Thanks, Obi-Wan,” he sighed.  “You didn’t have to do that.”

“When is the last time you ate?” Obi-Wan asked.  He sat down in a chair beside Anakin.   

How long had it been?  Anakin hadn’t even thought about food.  He had not eaten or drank or slept since the first nightmare about Padmé—that horrible vision that tortured him like a demon, possessing him, never leaving him, never letting him rest—and that was, what? three, four, maybe five nights ago...  It was hard to say exactly how long.  It all seemed one long, inexplicable, horrible dream. 

“Not in a while,” Anakin answered uncertainly.

“And when is the last time you slept?”

Anakin forced a weak smile.  “It’s been a few days, Master.”

“I thought so,” said Obi-Wan with a curt nod.  He frowned and gestured to the food on Anakin’s tray.  “Well, go ahead and eat.  And drink some water, for Force’s sake.  You’re going to pass out from either dehydration or exhaustion, or both.”  

Anakin reached for the glass—he had to grasp it with unusual effort in order to get a steady grip—and raised it to his lips.  Not until the cold, clean water touched his cracking, bleeding lips and soothed his sore, parched throat did he realize how truly thirsty he was.  He emptied half the glass in only a few swallows. 

“You should eat,” Obi-Wan said again, as he watched the young Jedi set down the glass.  “It’ll revive your strength.”   

Anakin had no appetite.  His stomach was empty, and yet he still felt perpetually sick, like he would vomit.  The thought of ingesting anything—of adding food on top of the anxiety roiling restlessly in his gut—added to his nausea.  But—for Obi-Wan—he picked up the spoon and started picking at the soup. 

Silence fell over them.  The Archives around them seemed to watch them, listen.  Obi-Wan watched wordlessly, a frown of concern still present on his brow, as Anakin sifted through the soup with his spoon and unenthusiastically forced himself to swallow what he could.  “It’s late,” Obi-Wan commented at length, puncturing the silence. 

“What time is it?” Anakin asked, glancing at Obi-Wan. 

“Past 4:00 in the morning,” Obi-Wan answered dryly.  He rubbed his eyes.  It then occurred to Anakin that Obi-Wan looked fatigued and drained himself.  However, if Anakin looked in a mirror and compared the two of them, he might not have thought so.

“Why are you up so late?” he said with a frown.  It was not like Obi-Wan to stay up all night, unless it was to for a mission or some important Jedi-related work.  But now Obi-Wan did not seem to be working on anything.  He was simply sitting here with Anakin... to spend time with him?  That seemed unlikely. 

“I was looking for you,” the Jedi replied simply.  “I’ve been meaning to talk to you for a while, Anakin, but the Council has kept me busy.  And you have been rather difficult to locate these last few days.”

Anakin managed a faint smile.  “What did you want to talk about, Master?”

Obi-Wan eyes shifted.  An uneasiness was suddenly visible in his eyes; a silent tension arose between them. 

Oh, no, thought Anakin.  What does he know? 

“Finish eating,” Obi-Wan said quietly.  He still was not looking at Anakin.  “We’ll talk when you’re done.”

Anakin stared at Obi-Wan, his heart increasing its pace.  “Why can’t we talk now?”

Obi-Wan glanced up at him.  “I’d rather us be someplace more solitary, where there is no chance of someone overhearing us.” 

Anakin looked away and managed a nod.  He stared at the soup in his bow, nervously stirring it with his spoon.  His stomached churned.  The Achieves were empty.  There was no one here except him and Obi-Wan.  Yet, Obi-Wan would not speak to him here, despite their obvious solitude?  It was possible someone could wander in and overhear them, and there were also the security holograms to think about—two things he was sure Obi-Wan had never cared to avoid before.  Even when he informed Anakin of his mission to spy on Chancellor Palpatine, he had done so in the open, in front of others, where they could have been overheard by any passerby and where they were in clear sight of the holograms....  What could Obi-Wan possibly say to him now that was more important, more secretive than that?  Anakin thought he had an idea....

“You didn’t get this from the open Archives,” Obi-Wan muttered, noticing the file Anakin had been reading. 

“What?”  Anakin looked up, as Obi-Wan pulled the datapad toward him and read the text on the screen. 

“A list of Sith Lords,” Obi-Wan observed.  “You got this from the restricted area, didn’t you?  How?  Only Masters are aloud to go in there.” 

Anakin forced a weary laugh.  “You know me, Master.  I always find a way to get something when I want it.”

Obi-Wan looked up from the datapad.  “Why do you want to read the history of the Sith?”

“You know,” he muttered, dropping his gaze to stare at his soup again.  He took a bite to buy himself a few seconds to think.  “I’m looking for anything that might help us catch this ‘Darth Sidious,’ if there even is a Darth Sidious.”  He took another bite.

“Hm,” Obi-Wan grunted in reply.  From his reaction, it did not seem he was convinced by Anakin’s explanation.  Still, he did not press him.  He waited, mostly in silence, until Anakin had finished eating.  “So...” Anakin began nervously, after he swallowed every crumb of bread and scrapped the last smear of soup from the bottom of his bowl.  He forced down every bite, but as long as he was eating he had an excuse avoid this conversation with Obi-Wan.  He did not think the conversation would be a pleasant one.

He put down his spoon and wiped his mouth on his sleeve.  He released a tense sigh.  He looked up and met Obi-Wan’s eyes.  “What did you want to talk to me about, Master?”  His voice was soft, shy, afraid, as it was so often when he first began as a padawan. 

Obi-Wan rose from his chair.  “Let’s go on the balcony,” he said evenly.  “It’s a nice night.”   

Anakin nodded.  Feeling slightly detached, as if his mind was no longer in control of his body, he rose on unsteady legs and followed his master through the dark, deserted Archives.  Their footsteps echoed off the stone walls and lofty shelves around them.  Anakin could hear nothing else except his own heart as is panicked in his chest and pounded in his temples. 

They stepped out onto the balcony.  The cool, crisp air of a summer night bushed past Anakin’s face, the soft breeze rustling his long hair and caressing his sweat-dampened skin.  Beyond the railing, the lights of Coruscant blinked and winked at him like a sky of colorful stars and planets and celestial beings.  Streaks of color, dashes through the dark sky—comments, asteroids—impatient speeders navigating crisscross traffic lanes.  Anakin blinked back at them, as his vision blurred—his mind swirled with dizziness—and gradually adjusted to the dark lighting.  He inhaled deeply.  The pure, clean taste of the air entered Anakin’s nose and lungs.  It was refreshing, like a cold drink of water.  It seemed to revive him a little, helped clear his head.    

Obi-Wan closed the doors behind them.  He took a deep breath and turned to face Anakin.  Anakin was not looking at him.  He stood at the edge of the balcony, gazing out at the vibrant city.  There was so much movement in Coruscant—the city never seemed to sleep.  Yet, the chaos seemed so far away from the Temple, the noise of zooming speeders, blaring horns, shouting citizens muted.  Peaceful silence, calm, soothed the balcony.  They were alone under the light of four crescent moons. 

Obi-Wan took his place beside Anakin and leaned against the railing.  He watched the city lights paint a neon portrait beneath a deep blue sky of planets and stars.  He and Qui-Gon used to stand on this very balcony, sometimes at night just like this.  Sometimes, they would discuss their missions, or meditate, or seek insight on the Force. Or, sometimes, they would simply sit here to spend time together, to gaze in wonder at the stars.  

He sighed.  “Anakin,” he began slowly.  He tore his eyes away from the stars, his mind away from the past, and turned to the young Jedi beside him.  Anakin nervously met his master’s eyes.  Obi-Wan could feel the knight’s anxiety thrashing around inside his own stomach—their Force-bond, stronger than most, allowed them not only to sense but to feel each other’s emotions.  ...Although, Obi-Wan would have been lying to himself to say he was not anxious as well. 

“Anakin, we need to talk,” Obi-Wan said heavily.  There was no more pretending, not more avoiding this.  The time had come to be honest with each other, to speak the unspoken, to expose secret, to face the truth.  “We trust each other, yes?”

“Of course, we trust each other, Master,” Anakin answered, but, even as he said it, he sounded uncertain.  A seed a doubt was panted in Anakin’s mind long ago, and since then it had grown, like roots, sinking deeper, embedding itself firmer in his braid.  The Council did not trust him, the Council would not make him a master, the Council excluded him in their plans and decisions, the Council did not trust the Senate, the Council did not trust the Chancellor, even Obi-Wan asked Anakin to spy on the Chancellor! to break the Code, to be dishonest, to do the wrong thing....      

“There is no ‘of course,’ anymore, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said with a sigh.  “The Dark Side clouds our perception, and it is becoming more and more difficult to put faith in anything, or anyone.  Even people within the Order—within the Council, in fact—are afraid to trust each other nowadays.”  Obi-Wan looked Anakin in the eye.  “However, I would trust you, Anakin, with my life.  And I hope you can trust me.”

Anakin looked back at Obi-Wan—eyes like green-blue pounds, wherein he saw familiarity, the warmth and friendship he knew since his childhood, protection, security, sincerity, trust.  Yes, Anakin trusted this Jedi, this man, his brother.  “I do trust you, Obi-Wan,” Anakin realized.  His voice was softer, but, this time, it was also stronger.

Obi-Wan let his breath out.  His tense muscles relax ever so slightly.  “Good,” he sighed, as the first barrier between them was conquered and eliminated.  Now the path was cleared, and he was free to proceed... which would be even harder.

“So, um, what...” Anakin started reluctantly, grudgingly, forcing the words out through gritted teeth.  “...What do you want to talk about?”   

Obi-Wan hesitated for only a moment.  “I saw Padmé this morning.”

Anakin’s intestines twisted into a painful knot in his gut.  His vocal chords did the same in his throat.  Padmé mentioned that Obi-Wan had stopped by her apartment that morning—looking for Anakin.  

Oh, Force...  Does he know?

He swallowed with difficulty.  “...Senator Amidala?” he attempted to sound indifferent, as if this comment meant nothing to him. 

“Anakin, please.”  Obi-Wan’s eyes locked with Anakin’s.  “I know you’re the father.”

Chapter Text

AMID THE SHADOW

 

Chapter II

 

Anakin’s heart plummeted straight through his body.  There was nothing left but a deep hole in his chest, a black pit in his gut.  He stared at Obi-Wan, his eyes wide in horror, his face losing what little blood was left to color it.  His jaw dropped open, but his voice was paralyzed.  His mind spun with the velocity of a tornado—frantic circles, but never coming to a conclusion.  He could not hear himself think over the thunder of his own panicking heart or his own frantic breathing.  Force!  KRIFF!  He KNOWS!  What do I say!?  What do I do, what do I do, what do I DO!?   

 “Calm down, Anakin, I’m not here to get you expelled from the Order or anything like that,” Obi-Wan said.  “I just want to talk to you.  I want to help.” 

Anakin closed his lips.  His mouth had gone dry—as dry as the sun-scorched desert of Tatooine.  His tongue was numb and pasty; his lips stuck to his gums.  He struggled to swallow.  “Obi-Wan...” a trembling whisper fell through his trembling lips.  “I...  I don’t...  I don’t know what....”  He trailed off.  What was he going to say?  I don’t know what you’re talking about?  What was the sense?  Obi-Wan knew the truth, and so did Anakin.  There was no use denying it now.  There was nothing left to do but be honest. 

Anakin looked down.  He stared at gloved hands as they gripped the railing, unable to look at his master.  “I’m sorry, Obi-Wan,” he whispered, surprising even himself with this unforeseen apology.  “...I know I’ve disappointed you.”

“You haven’t disappointed me, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said without hesitating.  Anakin glanced up at him, shocked by this response.  What Obi-Wan said next was a shock even greater.  “I understand,” said the Jedi Master, compassion and—empathy?—gleaming in his eyes.  “I know what you’re going through.”

“W-what?”  Anakin stared at his master, bewildered and astonished.  His brow furrowed confusion, as he studied the Jedi carefully.  “What do you mean, Obi-Wan?”  What did Obi-Wan, Master Kenobi, the model and idol for all younglings, all padawans, the perfect Jedi, know about making the “wrong” decision, defying the Code, being torn between the Jedi Order and another—greater—love?

Obi-Wan averted his eyes.  He watched his own fingers tap restlessly against the railing, or nervously trace the ruts and crevasses in the stone.  Anakin watched him astounded.  Suddenly, it was as if their places were reversed.  Anakin was staring at Obi-Wan waiting for an explanation, and Obi-Wan was acting as if he was afraid—he was!  Anakin could feel Obi-Wan’s fear, knotting up his insides and making his heart pound—as if he had something to admit, as if he had something to be ashamed of... as if he had broken the Code. 

Obi-Wan crossed his arms over his chest—an unconscious gesture that betrayed his yearning for security, comfort.  He released a slow breath, struggling to hold down his nerves.  “Do you remember Duchess Satine Kryze, from Mandalore?”

“Satine?” Anakin repeated, surprised.  “Yeah, I remember her.  Of course, I remember.  But, Master....”  Anakin bit his lip.  He knew Obi-Wan had feelings for Satine once.  Obi-Wan admitted it himself.  When he was a padawan, he and Qui-Gon were stationed on Mandalore and charged with protecting the Duchess.  During that time, the handsome young Jedi and the beautiful young woman developed some affection for each other.  But, from what Anakin understood, Obi-Wan promptly left Mandalore when he discovered this, leaving his feelings there as well.  He remained faithful to the Jedi and the Code.  “I know you cared about her, Obi-Wan,” Anakin said with a sigh.  He appreciated his master’s effort, although it wouldn’t help.  “But I think my relation with Padmé is a little bit different from the relationship you had with Duchess Kryze.”

“No, Anakin, I don’t think so,” Obi-Wan said tensely.  He was staring at the city again, the array of lights and stars, which glittered like a cave of colorful gems reflecting light despite the slippery darkness around them.  He couldn’t look at Anakin.  “I... haven’t told anyone about this,” he murmured, “...not even Qui-Gon.”

“What?” Anakin asked obliviously.  He hesitated.  Quietly, gently, he added, “...that you loved her?” 

“No.”  Obi-Wan shook his head.  “Qui-Gon knew that.”

“Then what?” 

Say it, he commanded himself.  It’s only words.  Just say it.  But it was so hard.  Each word clung to his tongue in a desperate, dire attempt to never be uttered.  Each syllable was a needle—a knife—in his stomach, his sides, his heart.  “Satine and I...”  He gritted his teeth.  He braced himself—as if for physical pain, as if to admit it out loud was a lightsaber straight through the chest.  “Satine and I lost a baby.”  

 

...

 

Anakin stared at him.  His jaw half-open, his eyes half-bulging out of their sockets, half expecting any second Obi-Wan would grin and announce his jest.  Although, it wasn’t like Obi-Wan to joke about something like this—at a time like this.  It wasn’t like Obi-Wan to joke much at all these days.  But he had to be joking!  He couldn’t possibly be serious!   ...Could he? 

Anakin’s mouth closed.  Then it opened again.  As if trying to communicate.  Yet, despite his effort, not a sound managed to depart his lips.  Only thick, tense, terrible silence....  

Anakin waiting for Obi-Wan to say something. 

Obi-Wan waiting for Anakin to say something. 

Their response only silence. 

It might have gone on forever, but, at last, Obi-Wan could bare no more, and he glanced up to see Anakin’s reaction.  Anakin’s heart clamped in his chest, as his eyes met his master’s.  Those eyes, which Anakin knew so well, which he thought he knew completely, were consumed by something—something dark and terrible—that Anakin never dreamed he would see in his strong, brave master.  A dark, haunting fear drilled deep inside of him.   An intense, aching, burning anguish, like an old wound that would never cease to throb.  And guilt.  Terrible guilt.  Like a cement slab crushing him, smothering him, slowly pressing the life out of him.  One glance into those eyes, and all question was snuffed out.  Obi-Wan meant every word.

Oh, my FORCE! Anakin’s mind spun in a stupefaction, as shock hit him a second time.  Obi-Wan and Satine had a baby!?  Anakin would have been shocked if Obi-Wan told him he so much as kissed Satine!  But that they had a child together!

OBI-WAN! Anakin nearly shouted just then.  YOU HAVE A KID!?  YOU NEVER TOLD ME THAT YOU HAD A BABY! 

But, wait—  No, that was not what Obi-Wan said.  He did not say, “Satine and I had a baby.”  He said, “Satine and I lost a baby.”

Oh...   

Shock hit Anakin all over again—like a round of bullets.  Fiery blaster-bolts sank deep into him, burning and boiling his flesh as they burned holes in it, causing jagged waves of shock and agony to surge through his whole body.  All astonishment, or excitement, or anger, or confusion, or whatever else was rising up inside if Anakin slipped away, leaving him drained, empty.  There was nothing left inside except a dull, deep aching.  

He stared at Obi-Wan, who was not looking at him.  The master stared into the Coruscanti streets (although he did not really see them), every muscle in his body like wood, his jaw clenched, his arms crossed securely in front of him, his fingers restlessly and subconsciously beating against his side. 

“Obi-Wan...” Anakin breathed.  Obi-Wan glanced at Anakin again.  Visible—obvious—fear glint, almost like tears, in his eyes.  “You...” Anakin began slowly, uncertain of his own conflicted and confused emotions.  “...you lost a baby?” he repeated, placing each word carefully, delicately, as if they were extremely fragile, made of paper-thin glass, and he was afraid, at the slightest firmness, they would shatter. 

Obi-Wan nodded.  “Yes,” he said, averting his eyes.    

Anakin stared at Obi-Wan in disbelief. 

Obi-Wan stared at the stone beneath his boots. 

“I was very young at the time,” he struggled to explain—making his best effort to ignore the discomfort, embarrassment, shame, guilt, regret, remorse, and pain—agonizing pain—that sloshed around and boiled up in his chest, like water or fire.  Drowning him or burning him alive.  “We both were, Satine and I.  We were young and naïve and stupid and...”  A faint, half-bitter, maybe half-happy smile tugged at his mouth.  “...and in love.

“I was terrified when Satine told me.  ...that she was pregnant.  We were both terrified.  We didn’t know what to do.  But we decided to keep it a secret.  We thought we would be able to...  I don’t know what I was thinking, really.”

His voice receded into silence.  The silence that gathered around them like an inky pool of shadow.  Like darkness waiting to absorb them, reach out and drag them down into its depthless depths.   Anakin waited.  Somewhere in the distance, an alarm went off.  Neither Jedi noticed. 

“I was selfish, Anakin.”  Obi-Wan looked up.  He forced himself to look at Anakin.  “I knew I should leave the Order, but I didn’t.  I wanted a family; I wanted to be with them, but I also wanted to be a Jedi.  I wasn’t willing to give up that life, to make that sacrifice when I should have, when any decent father would have.  But I didn’t.  I thought that, if we kept it a secret, I could have both.  A family and the Jedi Order.  But I was wrong.  

“I was in the Chommell Sector,” Obi-Wan continued softly, “on an ambassador mission with Qui-Gon, on Naboo.  We weren’t supposed to be there long, but we had to stay a few nights, and it was—” He swallowed.  “—toward the beginning of her third trimester.  She hadn’t been seeing a doctor or going to the medcenter, like she should have been, because we didn’t want people to know she was with child.  We didn’t want word to get out.  Only medical droids and one of her maidservants, who was a nurse, knew.  They were the only ones helping her and checking on her throughout the pregnancy, and...”  He swallowed again.  His throat was like sand, burning beneath the furnace of Tatooine’s suns.  “...and everything seemed to be going well.  We expected the baby to be born in a few months, but... 

“...but when I was in Naboo...” 

Obi-Wan’s words faded.  Silence spread over them, like a great pair of wings unfurling.  His eyes—murky and unfocused, shinning like glass in the faint glow of moonlight—stared into the night-veiled city, the flickering lights, that reflection of stars....  But all he saw was memories.  The past.  The truth, which no amount of regret or repentance or penitence could undo. 

“...When I was on Naboo with Qui-Gon,” he attempted again.  His voice had become very quiet, a low murmur.  It was also very... empty.  Hallow.  As if all energy, all emotion, all life had been drained out of him.  Cold.  Lifeless.  Dead.  “...she commed me in the middle of the night, crying, and she said that... that she thought something was wrong with the baby.  I told her to go to the medcenter right away, that I would meet her there, and I rushed back to Mandalore.  I got there as fast as a could, but....”     

Anakin could hear Obi-Wan breathing.  Slow, heavy inhales and exhales through his nose, as he fought against a tsunami of emotion—agony—that strove to drown him.  

Obi-Wan swallowed.  His dry tongue grinded against his parched throat, which was so dry and swollen he could barely swallow. 

Anakin waited.  Wordlessly.  Motionlessly.  Holding his breath.  Listening to silence.  Afraid to shift a muscle, afraid to breathe.  As if afraid any slight movement, anything, would add to Obi-Wan’s pain.  

Obi-Wan shook his head.  “...But it was too late.  By the time I got there, it was too late.  The baby was gone.”

Until this point, he had managed to keep his voice mostly even, mostly steady.  Now it cracked.  Like glass, shattering.  He looked down.  A shadow fell over his face, and Anakin could not see it.  He could not see tears in Obi-Wan’s eyes.

“Luke,” a weak voice whispered from within the darkness. 

Anakin stared at the face in the mask of shadow, dumbstruck.  “What?” he asked stupidly.  At last, his vocal cords had regained their ability to function. 

“His name was Luke,” Obi-Wan answered quietly, in that cracked, broken voice.  “It was a little boy.  We said if it was a boy, we were going to name him Luke.” 

“Oh...”   

“He would have been 20 now,” the Jedi whispered.  “Just three years younger than you, Anakin.” 

Obi-Wan was 16 years older than Anakin.  That meant he must have been, what? 19 when this happened?  Force, he was so young, barely an adult himself.  To go through something like that and at such an age...  It was no wonder Obi-Wan turned out the way he was, so solemn, so stern, so stony... unless he was with Anakin.  Anakin brought light back into his life, a smile back onto his face.  Yet, he carried the burden on his heart with him, everywhere, every day, ever since.  

“Obi-Wan...” the young Jedi struggled to find words.  What was he supposed to say?  What can anyone say to a parent who has lost his child?  “I am so sorry,” he whispered.  “I had no idea...”  

Obi-Wan shook his head.  “I never told anyone,” he said again.  “No one knew, except Satine’s nurse.  And the medic at the medcenter must have known, but she didn’t say anything to anyone... as far as I know.  I didn’t care much at the time.”  

Anakin’s eyes flickered away.  He looked out at the city, Coruscant.  The cool breeze brushed through his wavy blonde locks.  Obi-Wan stared at the city as well.  They stood in silence.  Side by side.  Shoulder to shoulder.  Their arms nearly touching.  Watching the fireworks of light.  Veiled in silver moon and grey shadow.  Absorbed in an ashen mist of befuddled thought, as something invisible pressed down on them, making it difficult to breathe.     

“After that, Satine and I stopped seeing each other,” Obi-Wan said, almost out of nowhere.  Anakin turned to look at him.  “I still loved her, of course,” he went on quietly, “more than ever, and I know now that she still loved me, but...”  He shook his head.  “But there was just too much pain, too much pain between us.  Whatever we had... whatever that was... this destroyed it.  There was too much uncertainty, too many questions I couldn’t answer, too much guilt for both of us.”  

“I understand,” Anakin whispered, his voice and heart throbbing with sorrow and compassion.     

Obi-Wan nodded.  He stared at the colorful stream of speeders passing beneath them.  “I always believed it was my fault,” he said after a long pause.  “I thought it was the Force punishing me for breaking the Code, or for not leaving the Order, or...  I don’t know what else.”

“Master—” Anakin started to say, but Obi-Wan continued.   

“Or if it was not the Force, I still believed it was my fault.  I just knew that I could have... changed it, prevented it, if I had only been there.  I should have left the Order, Anakin.”  He turned to his friend.  Their eyes met.  “I should have been with Satine every day after she told me she was pregnant.  I shouldn’t have let her hide our baby; I should have been taking her to the medcenter, getting her proper care; she should have been seeing a medic every month; I should have been there with her.   Maybe, if I had been, it wouldn’t have happened.  Maybe—” 

“Obi-Wan." 

“Maybe, our child wouldn’t have died.”

“Obi-Wan!”  Anakin grasped Obi-Wan by the shoulders.  They had no choice but to look each other in the eye. “This was not your fault,” Anakin declared resolutely, his voice strong, certain.  “Nothing you could have done would have changed anything.”

“Maybe not,” Obi-Wan replied with a faint nod.  “But I’ll never know.  And I’ll never be able to get it out of my head, that maybe I could have prevented this, maybe I could have saved that baby—maybe I could have saved them both—if I had been less selfish.” 

“You aren’t selfish, Master,” Anakin whispered, his voice cracking.  Suddenly, his own eyes were burning against the cool night air, his throat twisted into a painful knot, and he was struggling not to cry.  “You’re the least selfish person I know.”  

Obi-Wan sighed.  He turned away from his friend—Anakin’s hands fell limply by his sides—and leaned against the railing.  “I wish that were true,” he muttered—his lips barely moved—so quietly Anakin almost didn’t hear him.

“It is true,” the knight insisted, but Obi-Wan was not listening. 

“After that, I swore to myself I would never break the Code again,” he resumed his testimony in a low voice.  Suddenly Anakin perceived he was looking a man much older than the master he always knew, as if this very conversation—just recalling the memories, reliving the nightmare—caused Obi-Wan to age several years in one night.  (But it was only the moonlight.  The way the shadow hit his face.  Stress and exhaustion.  And grief.)   “And I did my best.  I didn’t see Satine again, not for years, not until the Death Watch issue arose in Mandalore during the war.”  He glanced at Anakin.  “You know how that ended.” 

Another pang of sorrow hit Anakin’s heart.  Another silence.  Another desire to say something, anything, to help somehow, but having nothing to say.  Nothing to offer.  Not even words.  Nothing can compensate death. 

“I thought by staying away from Satine, I was protecting her,” Obi-Wan explained.  “But, as you know, I was wrong.  Again.  I was foolish to think so.  I should have left the Order.”  Anakin could hear Obi-Wan kicking himself, cursing him, hating himself every time he said it.  “Had I stayed with Satine, I never would have fought Maul, he never would have wanted revenge, and Satine never would have been killed because of me.  I should have stayed with her.  I should have married her.  We could have had more children.  We could have been happy.  I see that now.  But I was too...” —he sought for a word, the truth— “blind, to see it then.”     

He turned to Anakin.  “I have to live with the guilt every day, Anakin.  Every single day.  That’s not something I ever want you to have to endure.  I don’t want you to know what that’s like.”

Anakin stared at Obi-Wan, held prisoner by his intense gaze, unable to look away.  Anakin’s eyes brimmed with unshed tears.  He bit down on the side of his mouth, trying to keep them from falling.    

“I know you probably think I’m a hypocrite,” said Obi-Wan.  “The way I trained you and treated you, how I was always so strict, and you’d be right.  But I didn’t want you to make the same mistakes I made.  I was only trying to protect you.  But it seems, the people we want to protect most are the people we end up hurting.  The people we end up failing.” 

Those words were like nails of ice, hammered straight through Anakin’s heart.  A bitter chill cut through him, and his whole body was covered in goosebumps.  He shuddered.  The people we want to protect most are the people we end up hurting.  The people we end up failing.  Obi-Wan said this, and Anakin could think of only one thing.  Padmé. 

“I’m telling you this, Anakin,” Obi-Wan was saying, “because I care about you.”  He touched his friend’s forearm, which rested limply on the railing between them, and gave it a tender squeeze.  “You’re the only son I’ve ever known, Anakin,” he said, looking deeply, sincerely, lovingly into his padawan’s eyes, “and I love you.”

It was the first time Obi-Wan said this.  In all their years of training, going on missions together, fighting along side each other, Anakin had said it a time or two.  “You’re the closet thing I have to a father, and I love you.”  But Obi-Wan never returned the promise.  At least not aloud.  Anakin knew his master loved him.  Still, Obi-Wan never said it.  Until now.  

Anakin’s heart snapped again.  Too many blows, too many shocks, too many emotions pounding down on him in too little time. 

“I’m sorry that sometimes I didn’t act like it,” Obi-Wan went on gently.  “But, all along, even when I was angry with you”—he risked a small smile—“or punishing you for doing something stupid, I loved you.  You are my brother, Anakin.  You’re the only family I have.  And I am very grateful for that.”

A smile broke the edges of Anakin’s dry mouth, and a faint but warm light returned to his dark, sunken, exhausted eyes.  He wanted to return every heartfelt gesture Obi-Wan had offered him, to tell Obi-Wan he loved him the same, that he was his best friend, his brother, his family, and the best master a padawan could have had; he wanted to apologize for being difficult and arrogant and stubborn and ungrateful; he wanted to thank Obi-Wan for everything he was, everything he had given the Order, everything he had given the galaxy, and everything he had given Anakin; he wanted to tell him how proud he was to tell others, “Master Obi-Wan Kenobi was my master.”  But he couldn’t.  He attempted to speak, and his vocal chords constricted in his throat, and wells of emotion overflowed in his eyes.  He looked away and brushed tears off of his cheeks. 

“Anakin,” Obi-Wan said, once Anakin regained his composure.  Anakin looked at his master.  Any hint of that haunting pain—so naked in Obi-Wan’s eyes a moment before—was gone now.  Obi-Wan forced it down into a concealed corner of his heart, where it continued to throb, hidden from the perception of those around him (just as he did every morning when he woke up, every night when he went to sleep, every day, every second).  It was impossible to forget, and it was impossible to ever, truly, move on.  However, instead of dwelling on his own loss and grief—for which there was no cure—Obi-Wan tried to help, to save, others from having to suffer what he had suffered, what he still suffered everyday: the agony of losing someone you love. 

“Not as a member of the Jedi Council but as your friend,” Obi-Wan said slowly, clearly, his gaze even as he looked into Anakin’s eyes, “and not for the sake of the Code but for the sake of you and your family, I am asking you to leave the Jedi Order.  Padmé needs you most right now, Anakin.”  Obi-Wan put his hand on Anakin’s shoulder.  There was no disappointment or anger or bitterness or resentment or jealousy or sadness or anything else he would have been justified for feeling in Obi-Wan’s eyes.  Only sincerity, happiness even, selfless love for this man who was his brother.  He smiled.  “Go be with her, Anakin.  Go be with your family.” 

Anakin would have loved nothing more than to leave the Jedi Order at this very moment.  In fact, he would have left the Order the day Padmé told him she was pregnant—if it weren’t for the dreams.  The nightmares.  The warnings.  The demon ceaselessly reminding him: She will die, she will die, she will die. 

And also.... (Anakin could barely bring himself to consider it, but he had to.  He could not ignore the ominous whisper looming in the back of his mind.) ...What if Obi-Wan was right?  What if it was the Force punishing him for breaking the Code, or for not leaving the Order?  What if that was why he lost his baby, why he lost his Satine?  What if that was why Anakin would lose his baby and his wife?  If the Force was really all-powerful, like Master Yoda and so many of the others believed, then the Force was in control of everything, every life, every death.  Then it was the Force that took Obi-Wan’s family from him.  And it was the Force that would take Anakin’s family from him. 

“You’re right,” Anakin declared, in need of nothing more to convince him.  “I’m going to leave the Order, just...”  He hesitated.  “Just not yet.” 

“If I were you, I wouldn’t wait, Anakin.  You never know what might happen, even over the course of a single day.”

“I’m going to leave the Order,” Anakin said again.  “I promise.  But I...  First, I have to figure something out.”

Obi-Wan frowned, surprised and intrigued by this remark.  “You have to figure something out?” he echoed.  “What?  Who this ‘Darth Pelagius’ is?  Because, if that’s your answer, I highly doubt it’s truthful.”

Anakin looked away.  He stared at his hands—one of flesh and the other gloved.  Should I tell him?  His heart beat against the interior of his skull.  His head throbbed, and spun.  Should he share this secret with Obi-Wan?  He barely dared.  He was terrified to reveal the horrors of his nightmares with anyone—terrified that uttering a word of it might somehow make the prophesy come true.  And, with the Force so clouded, the Dark Side so strong, the Jedi Order in turmoil, how could he know for certain who he could trust?   There was darkness everywhere—even within the Order.  Lies everywhere, secrets everywhere, deception everywhere.  Even Obi-Wan had been hiding this—lying to everyone, even to his master, Qui-Gon, the Order, the Council, the galaxy, Anakin.  How could he trust a man who would keep the truth for so long? 

Wait.  

He blinked—utterly confused, as if he did not know where he was or what had happened.  It was like waking up from a dream.  The Jedi suddenly perceived that he did not know this voice speaking in his head: this cold, sinister voice whispering these dark, dangerous things, fragmenting his heart with icy splinters of doubt, distrust.  It was as if someone—or something—else was inside of him, tempting him, possessing him, entwining his brain with its grip of steel shadow, insidiously progressing, conquering of his mind, stealing his soul. 

Then, for a fractured second, a fragment of a fracture (it was so fast, perhaps it did not truthfully happen), an image flashed before his eyes.  A shadow.  He saw some dark, terrible deity, whom he might have seen before in a nightmare.  The demon that had the linked itself to this Jedi, the one trying to take him, the one seeking to steal his soul and use his body. The monster that he, himself, might one day become.  Rasping breath, a face—a mask—a suit of durasteel blacker than death.   

How can you trust this man? the shadow hissed—like the tongue of a serpent—in his head.  All of these years, he has been lying to you.  What else is he keeping from you?  What else has he done?

You idiot, WAKE UP!  Anakin Skywalker screamed in his mind, and it felt as if he had slapped himself in the face.  How can you be so blind!?

What the Mustafar was he thinking!?  After everything Obi-Wan told him tonight, how in the name of the Force could Anakin not trust him!?  To doubt Obi-Wan now was absurd!  Anakin trusted his friend and master with his life, especially now after what Obi-Wan confided in him.  Anakin could repeat any of this to the other Jedi and, in the blink of an eye, Obi-Wan would go from being the most respected, honored, idolized of the Jedi to an object of loathsome shame and disgrace.  Anakin could imagine the way Master Windu would look at Obi-Wan—such shock, disappointment, judgment, contempt in his dark, glowering eyes.  And the way Master Yoda would shake his head and grumble, as if only to further add to Obi-Wan’s shame, “The greatest amongst us we mistook you to be.  Such potential you always showed.  But failed the Jedi even you have, Obi-Wan.”  Anger, like white-hot sparks, flared in Anakin’s chest just thinking about the way they would treat his master if they learned the truth.  How heartless, how hypocritical they would be!  As if they had never sinned.  Obi-Wan would be kicked for sure from the Council.  He would probably lose his rank of Master, maybe be expelled from the Jedi Order altogether.  Just a few words, and Anakin could utterly devastate the only family—the only life—Obi-Wan had left.  Still, Obi-Wan was trusting him with this most dangerous secret.  That was solid, tangible proof, testament to how much Obi-Wan trusted Anakin.  How much he loved him.  (Although, Anakin now realized, he already knew.) 

With that, Anakin made up his mind.  “Actually, Obi-Wan,” he murdered—and, to his own astonishment, he was not even afraid, “I have something to tell you.” 

 

Chapter Text

 

AMID THE SHADOW

 

Chapter III

 

 

He started with Naboo, the wedding between him and Padmé.  Anakin glimpsed surprise, happiness, and a twinge of regret—perhaps for not being there when his padawan was married, perhaps for not marrying Satine—in his master’s eyes when he told him this.  He progressed to tell Obi-Wan that they had kept their marriage a secret for three years; just recently, when they returned from the war in the Outer Rim, Padmé told him that she was pregnant; and, finally... the nightmares.  The Force visions.

An iron clamp snapped shut on Obi-Wan’s heart—like the jaws of death—the second Anakin uttered those treacherous words: “I saw Padmé die in childbirth.”  The master’s face was suddenly like stone, but his eyes roiled with emotion: fear he endeavored to hide from Anakin—deep, raw fear.  He stood up a little straighter and stared at Anakin, intensity burning in his eyes.

“What exactly did you see in the vision?” Obi-Wan questioned direly.  “Exactly what you saw.”

“I...”  Anakin swallowed, as those terrible visions resurfaced in his mind.  He could see them as clearly as he saw Obi-Wan now—clearer.  “Padmé is in a medcenter,” he began quietly, forcing the words through reluctant lips.  “She’s lying on her back on the bed, and she’s screaming, crying...  She keeps calling my name, but I can’t answer her.  I can’t get to her....”

Obi-Wan nodded, as Anakin trailed off.  Anakin dropped his gaze and stared at his hands as they grasped the railing.  He couldn’t bring himself to continue.  

“Go on,” Obi-Wan pressed him, urgently but compassionately after a moment had passed.  “What else?”

You are there,” Anakin muttered.  Surprise flashed in Obi-Wan’s eyes.  “You’re standing beside the bed, holding her hand, and telling her not to give up....”  Anakin closed his eyes—as if that would help, as if that would block out these treacherous visions scarred, as if by a white-hot branding iron, in his mind.  As if that would somehow keep it from coming true.  He shook his head and finished quietly, “But she can’t.  She dies then.” 

“What about the baby?” Obi-Wan asked.  “Does the baby survive?”

“I don’t know,” Anakin murmured, shaking his head bitterly.  “I never see the baby.”  

Obi-Wan covered his mouth with one hand and rubbed his palm aggressively over the coarse hair covering his face.  His brow furrowed in deep concentration, and Anakin could practically see each thought passing through his mind.  “Hm,” he muttered to himself.  “Is there anything else you remember?” he asked, glancing at Anakin.  “Any other detail you might have forgotten?  Anything at all?”

Anakin thought for a moment, but there was nothing else.  He remembered everything perfectly.  The visions would not leave if he wanted them to.  He shook his head.  “No, that’s all.” 

Obi-Wan nodded.  His face did not change.  He stared pensively at the city, hand running through his bead.

“Did...” Anakin started uncertainly.  “Did you ever have dreams like that about Satine... or your baby?”

Obi-Wan shook his head.  “No.  Never before it happened.  But you’re stronger with the Force than I am.  You see things other people don’t.  Very few Jedi have visions the way you do, Anakin.”  He looked at the knight, releasing himself from his deep muse, and asked, “In the vision, is Padmé on Coruscant?”

“Yes,” Anakin said with a confident but frightened nod.  “I recognize the medcenter.”  

“That’s unusual.  On other planets, in the Outer Rim for instance, medical technology is far less sophisticated.  But how often does a woman die in childbirth on Coruscant?  It doesn’t make any sense.  There must be something else.  More at play than we can now see.”        

Silence condensed between them like humidity over the desert of Tatooine, as the same thought occurred to each of them and settled in their stomachs like spoiled meat: The Force. 

Suddenly, Anakin's mind was racing, panicking.  If it was the Force that took Obi-Wan’s family from him, the Force could take Anakin’s family from him in the same way.  And what could he do to change that?  What could anyone do against the Force, itself?  Oppose it?  Divide it?  Split the Light and the Dark and send them to war against each other, somehow manage to paralyze the Force...?  It didn’t seem possible.  The Force was too powerful.  No man, no Jedi—not even all of the Jedi together—would be strong enough to restrain the Force.  And who would help him?  The Jedi?  Certainly not.  Palpatine?  What could he do?  Obi-Wan?  Yes, but it wouldn’t be enough.  Even the Team was weak, futile against the will of the Force.  If the Force willed Padmé to die, then she would die.  There was no way to stop that.  And Anakin, no matter what he did, no matter how hard he tried or worked or begged, would be powerless.  He would stand there—helpless—and watch her die.  Just as he did every day, every night in his visions. 

“Anakin,” Obi-Wan said, stepping closer to his friend.  He could read these thoughts in Anakin’s face—and in the Force, the Bond between the two of them—as if he had said them aloud.  “Anakin, listen to me.”  Anakin looked up—his wide eyes were those of a frightened child looking to an older brother, or a father, for help, protection, some kind of answer—and Obi-Wan’s determined eyes met him with an unwavering gaze.  “Padmé is not going to die,” the Jedi said assertively, his voice strong.  “I promise you.  We won’t let that happen.” 

A portion of the gravity pushing down on Anakin with unreasonable brutality, as if to crush him, eased.  The suffocating cords wrapped around his heart loosened just slightly.  Suddenly, did not feel quite as helpless or quite as alone.  He had his master, his brother, his other half by his side, helping him carry the burden.  At this revelation, Anakin could feel Obi-Wan’s presence in the Force move closer to his, the fibers of their Bond intertwining like yarns woven into fabric, the barriers between them crumbling, and a sturdy bridge rising in their place, growing and strengthening, brick by brick, until it was finished, complete, and it connected them in the Force, linking them together, body, mind, spirit, soul.  Until the Bond was unbreakable. 

“Your visions are a gift, Anakin.  The Force would not show you these things only to torment you.  I think it’s showing you this to help you, not to hurt you.  To prevent this from happening,” Obi-Wan said confidently, and, although he might not have been certain of this, for Anakin’s sake, he believed it now.  “The future is always in motion.  That’s what Master Yoda taught us from the time we were younglings.  Nothing is set inevitably.  We will do everything we can to ensure Padmé and your baby are alright.  I promise.”

Anakin nodded, gathering whatever courage he could.  He was terrified, but Obi-Wan was giving him the only shred of comfort and security he felt since his first nightmare. 

“However,” the Jedi went on gravely, “we must take caution.  Dealing with visions of the future can be extremely dangerous.  Fear and recklessness cause people to do things that make any situation worse.  You remember the teachings of the great Jedi prophets?  Actions a Jedi takes in effort to prevent a vision from coming to pass can actually be what—”

“—what causes it to pass,” Anakin finished.  He sighed and murmured, “Yeah, I remember.” 

He hadn’t been able to stop thinking about those solemn teachings—warnings.  Master Yoda seemed to be thinking the same thing when Anakin went to him the morning before and asked for advice.  He admitted having premonitions about “someone close to him” dying, and he let the Master think it was Obi-Wan.  Yoda’s wise counsel was to “let go of what he feared to lose.”  Not a chance in the galaxy, was Anakin’s silent reply.  Maybe Yoda never loved anyone.  Maybe he didn’t even know what love was.  But when you truly love someone, you can’t just let go. 

Obi-Wan nodded solemnly.  “A self-fulfilling prophesy.”  

“But, Obi-Wan,” Anakin immediately protested, his tone sharpening in anger, “what else am I supposed to do?  Nothing?  You think I should just sit back and wait?  Do nothing and let her die!?”  

“No, of course not,” said Obi-Wan, taken slightly aback by Anakin’s outburst.  “I’m not saying that at all.  I just saying we have to be careful.” 

Anakin looked away.  He released a tense sigh, as a pang of guilt hit him in the chest.  His baby died, Anakin reminded himself.  He’s already lost everything.  “I’m sorry,” he murmured, raising a hand to rub his stinging, sleep-deprived eyes.  “I didn’t mean to snap at you.  I’m just... so stressed with all of this.”  He was quiet for a moment before he added in a whisper, “...I’m so scared.”

“I understand, Anakin,” Obi-Wan answered kindly, and he seemed to forget about the outburst altogether.  “We’ll figure something out, I promise.  However, for the time being, I think it is most important that we focus on not making the wrong move.  You said you are not with Padmé in the dreams, correct?”

“Yeah,” Anakin answered a little uncertainly. 

Obi-Wan nodded.  “That alone could make the difference.  That was my mistake—that I wasn’t there when I needed to be.  Make sure you stay with Padmé, Anakin.  Every minute you can, be by her side.  I recommend you leave the Order as soon as possible, tomorrow morning.  Then you don’t have to worry about anything except your family.  The Council won’t try to send you on missions or give you any more tasks, and you can be with Padmé every second.”

“Yes, but, Obi-Wan,” Anakin stammered, as the master sped to conclusions Anakin was not yet ready to put faith in.  What Obi-Wan said made sense, and maybe leaving the Order to be with Padmé was the answer, the only thing he had to do to prevent this.  But what if it wasn’t?   What if Anakin left the Order and it wasn’t enough?  What then?  Anakin would be cut off from the Jedi, the Achieves, the knowledge he needed to save her.  “I’m going to leave the Order,” Anakin vowed for the third time that night, “just not yet.”

Discouragement was obvious on Obi-Wan’s face—despite his effort to hide it—at this reply.  He closed his eyes and exhaled deeply.  “Why not, Anakin?” he questioned, careful to keep his voice calm.  The answer seemed so clear, so obvious to him.  He had already lost everything Anakin was in danger of losing now.  And ever since that night 20 years ago—when he lost his baby, his future, what would have been his whole world—it seemed so evident that everything would have been different if only he had been there.  All he had to do, Obi-Wan told and cursed himself every day, was leave the Order and stay with Satine.  It was so simple.  So easy.  Yet, he had been too ignorant.  Too selfish.  Now, he was not going to stand by and let Anakin make the same mistake. “What are you waiting for?  Wait and it could be too late.”

“Yes, but what if leaving the Order isn’t the answer, Obi-Wan?  What if it’s not enough?”

 “If you leave the Order and the dreams continue, we’ll think of something else.”

Anakin shook his head.  “I’ve already found something, Obi-Wan.  I think I found a way to save her.” 

 

...

 

Obi-Wan’s expression changed.  First surprise, then confusion and curiosity gathered in his eyes.  His brow furrowed, and he stared at Anakin with deep interest.  “You found a way to save her?” he echoed.  “How do you mean?”

“Come back inside; I’ll show you,” Anakin said, heading toward the entrance and waving for Obi-Wan to follow.  “Have you ever of the legend of Darth Plagueis the Wise?” he asked, as the two Jedi reentered the shadowy chambers of the Archives.  Their footsteps echoed through the empty tomb around them, as they walked back toward the table where Anakin had left his datapad. 

Darth Plagueis?  It’s a Sith legend then,” Obi-Wan observed, disapproval already leaking into his eyes.

A knot tightened somewhere in the lower right side of Anakin’s ribcage, as doubt seeped into his heart like black ink bleeding across a white page.  Maybe, it wasn’t the best idea to tell Obi-Wan....

He glanced at his master.  “Yeah, have you heard of it?”

“No, I haven’t,” Obi-Wan answered, his voice unreadable.  “Why?”  

“Well...  Plagueis was so powerful, he could actually manipulate the Force to save people, to keep people from dying.” 

Obi-Wan’s frown deepened.  He looked at Anakin.  “He could save people from dying?  Forever?

“Well, I... I don’t know how long exactly, but he could save people.  Keep them alive when they would have died.”

“I’ve never heard of that,” Obi-Wan muttered doubtfully—almost dismissively. 

A flare of anger sparked inside of Anakin.  The Jedi thought they knew everything, didn’t they?  If they hadn’t heard of something, it was incorrect, it didn’t exist.  Palpatine had one thing right for sure: there was not a more close-minded bunch in the galaxy.  “I’m not surprised,” Anakin shot back, suddenly feeling the need to defend not only himself but the Chancellor too.  “It’s not the kind of legend the Jedi would want you to hear.  They don’t want you to know that the Sith are also capable of doing something good.” 

They reached the table.  Anakin sat abruptly.  He snatched up his datapad and started scrolling through the information.  His eyes blazed, and he glared at the words on the screen, never once glancing at the man beside him.  Obi-Wan did not sit.

“The Sith are not good, Anakin,” he replied flatly.  “Their power comes from the Dark Side.”

So what if their power comes from the Dark Side!?”  Anakin looked up from the datapad to glare at the Jedi.  “If using the Dark Side means I have a chance to save Padmé’s life, that’s a risk I’m willing to take.”  He almost added, “What if you could use the Dark Side to save Satine—or to save your baby!—would you, Obi-Wan!?” but he bit his tongue just in time.  Thank the Force.

Obi-Wan gazed steadily at the knight. “And that, Anakin,” he said slowly, carefully, “is probably a step in the wrong direction.  One of those reckless impulses that I told you to avoid, one that could lead to disaster.”

“You don’t know that,” Anakin snapped in denial.

“I don’t know that, but I can say it quite confidently.”

Anakin tore his eyes away and fixed them on the datapad, letting out a huff of either annoyance or defeat. 

“Where did you hear about this legend anyway?” Obi-Wan questioned, frowning.  “Here in the Archives?” 

“Uh... no,” Anakin murmured—reluctantly. 

“Where then?” 

For some reason, Anakin felt like he was disclosing a secret he had promised to keep—as if he was breaching the trust of a friend—as he clenched his teeth and muttered, “The Chancellor mentioned it to me.” 

“The Chancellor?

Anakin looked at Obi-Wan.  The master stared back at him, his brow creased in surprise and bewilderment.  Yet, at the same time, it was as if a new thought—a new understanding—had occurred to Obi-Wan.  As if the pieces of the puzzle were finally falling into place. 

“Yes..."  Anakin was not sure where this was heading.  But he didn’t like it.  He frowned.  “Why?”

Chancellor Palpatine told you to use the Dark Side to save Padmé?” Obi-Wan repeated, as if still not convinced they were talking about the same chancellor.

“No!” Anakin immediately corrected, shaking his head.  “No, Obi-Wan, not at all.  I didn’t even tell him about my dreams; I didn’t even mention Padmé.  He just told me about the legend, about Darth Plagueis.”

Obi-Wan crossed his arms and absently ran a hand through his beard, a habit and sure sign that he was pondering something deeply and carefully.  Anakin’s reassurance did not seem to rule out whatever speculations Obi-Wan was forming.  “Why did he tell you the legend, Anakin?”

Anakin shook his head and shrugged as if it was a senseless question.  “I don’t know, it just came up.  He just mentioned it.”

“He just happened to mention a Sith legend about how to save people from death?” Obi-Wan repeated incredulously.  “That’s quite a coincidence.”

“Yes, it is a coincidence,” Anakin pointedly replied.  He glared at his master, his eyes dark and disapproval etched across his face.  He still wasn’t certain what Obi-Wan was hinting at, but it was clear that these accusations were against the Chancellor—the Chancellor with whom the Council already had a shaky relationship, the Chancellor whom Obi-Wan had asked Anakin to spy on, the Chancellor whom the Jedi wanted removed from office.  The Chancellor who was one of Anakin’s closest friends.  “It wasn’t like he said this all out of nowhere, Obi-Wan,” Anakin tried again.  “We were talking about the Force and about how the Jedi—”  He stopped himself.  Kriff.  Why did he say that?  He glanced at Obi-Wan.  Kriff.  As he had expected, the master’s interested blue eyes stared expectantly back at him.

“And how the Jedi...?” Obi-Wan prompted, waiting for an explanation.

Anakin’s eyes flickered to look at the screen of his datapad—to look anywhere except at the Jedi.  As much as he hated to insult Obi-Wan—who he knew would take offense—he gritted his teeth and murmured truthfully, “...and how the Jedi have a... narrow view of the Force.  They don’t embrace it to its full power.”

“Is that you talking,” Obi-Wan asked, his tone and expression too cool to read, “or is it the Chancellor?”

“What?” Anakin looked up.  “What do you mean?  Of course, that’s me talking.  The Chancellor and I agree on a lot of things that the Council... doesn’t necessarily share my opinions on.” 

Seeing Obi-Wan’s reaction, Anakin wanted to remind him, Even Qui-Gon didn’t always agree with the Council.  He challenged it all the time!  Disagreeing with the Order isn’t a crime, you know.  It doesn’t make you a Sith just because you don’t have all of the same views as the Jedi.  But he didn’t.  He wouldn’t be so cruel as to bring up Qui-Gon now—just one more person whom Obi-Wan had loved and lost. 

“Even still, that’s an interesting conversation to be having with the Chancellor,” Obi-Wan muttered, his voice suggesting more than he was currently willing to say aloud.  “It almost seems as if he is more fond of the Sith than he is the Jedi.”   

What?" Anakin's glare smoldered.  "What exactly are you saying, Obi-Wan?”

Obi-Wan did not answer right away.  Anakin could see thoughts turning through his mind, sifting behind his eyes as he worked through the details of whatever he was conjuring.  “Think about it, Anakin,” his voice had dropped drastically in volume, as if he was afraid someone might overhear.  “The Council has received more and more evidence that there is a Sith Lord influencing the Senate, that this 'Darth Sidious' is real.” 

Anakin’s stomach curdled like sour milk.  He suddenly felt like he would throw up everything he recently forced down.  “What is that supposed to mean!?” he exclaimed exasperatedly.  “You think Chancellor Palpatine is working with a Sith Lord!?  That’s insane, Obi-Wan!  That’s crazy!  You can’t just accuse him like that!  You have no evidence!  He’s done nothing wrong!

“I’m not saying that Palpatine is working with the Sith,” Obi-Wan quickly explained himself, trying to calm Anakin’s rapidly-rising temper.  “If a Sith has obtained some influence over Palpatine, it is likely the Chancellor is completely oblivious to it.  You know how Jedi mind tricks can influence someone—”

“Mind tricks only work on the weak-minded,” Anakin harshly interrupted.  "The Chancellor is not weak." 

Obi-Wan went on as if he did not hear him, “The Sith have even more powerful ways of controlling, even conquering, people’s minds.  The Darkness can leak in insidiously, without anyone noticing until it’s too late, until they’re already possessed by it.”

“The Chancellor isn’t ‘possessed!’” Anakin scoffed in ridicule, outrage.

“Probably not,” Obi-Wan agreed rationally.  “The Sith probably have nothing to do with it whatsoever.  But it is possible that Palpatine is being influenced and that the Sith are trying to use him to point Jedi toward the Dark Side.”

Anakin rolled his eyes.  

Obi-Wan’s jaw clenched.  He stepped closer to his ex-padawan and challenged, “Anakin, put aside your feelings for a moment and think.  How would Chancellor Palpatine have heard about this Sith Legend?” 

“He read about it, Obi-Wan, he reads.

“And how would he have gotten access to information even the Jedi don’t have?” 

“Maybe the Jedi don’t want us to know that the Sith have this power.  Look.”  He pushed the datapad toward Obi-Wan.  The master sat down beside Anakin and picked up the datapad, carefully observing the text on the screen.  “All the documents I can find say the Sith sought a way to preserve life but never found it.  They don’t even mention Darth Plagueis.  Why?  Because the Jedi don’t want people to know that the Dark Side can do things like this!  They don’t want Jedi to know that the Sith are stronger than them!” 

“Or,” Obi-Wan countered, pressing down the impulse to argue against Anakin’s last statement, “it could be that the information Palpatine has given you is false, and taking his advice would be a vain step toward the Dark Side.  Even if the Jedi did want to keep something from general knowledge, such information would be in the restricted holocrons.  If it isn't, then this legend is either inaccurate or Palpatine knows more about the Sith than the Jedi do.”

“I’m sure there is plenty about it in the holocrons, but only masters are allowed in there,” Anakin reminded Obi-Wan—unable to hide his resentment.  The Holocron Vault was the most restricted area of the Jedi Archives.  Anakin had dared to enter some other masters-only sections, but not the holocrons.  Not yet anyway. 

“Luckily for you, there is a master here,” Obi-Wan said, rising from his chair.  “Come on, let’s go upstairs and see what we can find.”

“Really!?” Anakin said, shooting out of his chair.  Ever since his first dream, he had been dying to get into the holocrons.  He was convinced that hallowed vault held the answers—the secrets he needed to save Padmé.  But he hadn’t been able to figure out a way to get into them.  Only masters and members of the Jedi Council could access the holocrons.  Anakin thought about asking Obi-Wan for help, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to ask that without first revealing everything to Obi-Wan.  Yet, now, his prayers were answers.  Thank the Force!  Anakin’s battered soul—continuously straying further into darkness and despair—finally threw up its arms to rejoice and sing and praise the light. This is it!  This is all I need!  After tonight, I’ll know how to save Padmé.

Anakin was practically stepping on Obi-Wan’s heels as he followed him upstairs to the restricted sections of the Archives, and then to the Holocron Vault.  Obi-Wan laid his hand over the security-lock-pad.  A bright blue light passed beneath his palm, as the machine scanned his handprint, and the text Master Obi-Wan Kenobi appeared on the screen above the lock-pad.  The door unlocked and slid open.  “Technically I’m not supposed to let you come in,” Obi-Wan murmured, glancing at Anakin, “because you aren’t a master.  But I won’t say anything if you won’t.” 

Anakin looked at Obi-Wan surprised—more than surprised, shocked—but, a moment later, his bewilderment melted into a grateful smile.  “That sounds like a great plan, Master.”  He added softly, “Thank you.”

“And if any problem does happen to arise, my excuse is that you are a member of the Council now.”

 Anakin nodded, still grinning at Obi-Wan, and the Jedi entered the tunnel to the Holocron Vault side by side.  It was still new to Anakin, Obi-Wan treating him this way.  As if they were equals, as if their ranks did not matter, as if Obi-Wan was not so much his master as he was his friend.  But, he now realized, Obi-Wan did love him all along.  Just like he always loved Obi-Wan.  Sometimes, though, Anakin forgot that.   

“Darth Plagueis we are looking for?” Obi-Wan asked when they reached the vault.  It was smaller than Anakin expected and yet—somehow—seemed to hold even more holocrons than he imagined.  The chamber was dark, like the night sky, and the walls twinkled with what appeared to be rows and columns of stars.  The holocrons.  Each little blue sparkle a separate holocron.  Force, there were so many of them....

“Yeah...”  Anakin answered, staring in awe at the holocrons.  He swallowed dryly, trying not to let their multitude overwhelm him.  “And anything about using the Force to save people.” 

Obi-Wan nodded.  “I’ll take the left side; you take the right.  We’ll see if we can’t find anything before the night’s over.” 

Anakin nodded, and the Jedi began their search.  Thirty minutes later, Obi-Wan huffed and declared, “Anakin there is nothing here.  We have absolutely no records of this ‘Darth Plagueis.’  Are you sure that’s the right name?”  But Anakin refused to give up so easily.  Thirty minutes turned into an hour, over an hour, hours, and then the sun was rising, and Obi-Wan could sense other beings stirring in the Archives around them. 

“Anakin, we have to go,” the exhausted Jedi told—practically begged—his padawan.  “We’ll both be in trouble if someone sees us in here.  Besides, we’ve already searched the entire vault!  There is nothing here on Darth Plagueis or his so-called power to save people.  Let’s go.

Anakin stumbled backward, defeat caving in on him, burying him, and he felt like it was crushing him.  The room spun—it was getting darker—it was hard to breathe.  “B-but...” he stammered, unwilling to accept it, unwilling to believe it!  How could that be right!?  “There has got to be something, Obi-Wan! We can’t give up!” 

“We aren’t giving up, Anakin.  There’s simply nothing here about a Darth Palgueis.  Or about using the Force to save people from death.”

“There’s got to be something!” Anakin roared.  He tore recklessly—deliriously—through the holocrons.  There had to be something!  There had to be!  He had been so certain!   This Darth Palgueis was the answer!  The holocrons held all of the secrets he needed to know!  Where was it!?  Panic hitched in Anakin’s voice, as he cried, “Keep searching!”

“We’ve already searched, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said with a tired sigh.  He laid a hand on Anakin’s shoulder and grasped it firmly.  “Come on now.  It’s time to go.”    

“But... but Padmé!” Anakin cried.  “What about Padmé!?  What about the baby!?  W-what... what am I going to do, Obi-Wan!?”  Suddenly, his eyes were burning and—before he realized it was going to happen—tears were blinding his vision, rushing down his face.  

“Anakin...” Obi-Wan said from somewhere behind him. 

Anakin’s face crumbled.  The heart in his chest seemed to do the same.  His throat contracted in a painful knot.  When he tried to inhale, to keep himself together, a pathetic gagging sound came from his throat.  He tried to say something—he wasn’t sure what—but the only sound he could produce was a broken whimper. New tears gushed from his eyes.  

“Anakin, look at me.  Look at me.” 

Then Obi-Wan was in front of him, holding his face in his hand and wiping tears off of his cheeks. 

“Anakin, listen,” Obi-Wan said urgently but gently.  “Everything is going to be fine.  Padmé is not going to die and neither is your baby.  I promise you.  We won’t let anything bad happen to them.”

“B-but... how am I going to...” Anakin choked out between sobs. 

“We’ll figure it out, Anakin.  I promise.” 

“But how!?  If we can’t do anything—”

“We will do something.  We just need some time to consider the information we do have, and then we’ll go from there.  And,” Obi-Wan added with conviction, “you need to get some sleep.  You need rest, Anakin; you can’t think clearly when you’re this tired and when you’re this upset.”

Clearly, this was true.  Anakin was standing here, sobbing to Obi-Wan like a little baby.  Lack of sleep was definitely catching up to him. 

He stared at his master through the fog of tears and managed a weak nod.  “O-okay...” a trembling whimper slipped through trembling lips.  Obi-Wan nodded, still looking resolutely into Anakin’s eyes.  Anakin looked away.  He swallowed hard and took a breath—struggling to pull himself together.  He stared at the floor and palmed at his eyes, smearing tears off of his red face. 

“I’m sorry, Master,” he whispered, embarrassment coloring his cheeks and rotting in his stomach.  What kind of Jedi was he?  The galaxy called him the Hero with No Fear.  They called him brave and strong and undefeatable.  Unbreakable.  But it was all a lie, a front, a mask Anakin wore to hide what he really was: small, weak, and terrified.  Already broken.  He hid that truth from Obi-Wan for as long as he could, but he couldn't hide it any longer.  Now Obi-Wan would know the truth.  Now, he would see how weak the Hero with No Fear really was.  A frightened child, trembling and crying, desperate and helpless, clinging to his attachments and looking to his master for any scrap of comfort.  Now Obi-Wan knew, and, surely, he was ashamed.

“Don’t say sorry, Anakin,” Obi-Wan answered gently.  “None of this is your fault.  You haven’t done anything wrong.”

Anakin glanced at his master, and another swarm of tears stung his eyes.  He blinked hard in an effort to force them back, but that only made them roll down his cheeks, and Anakin hastened to wipe them away.  However, Obi-Wan’s face was not ashamed.  It was not even disappointed.  His eyes ached with compassion, understanding, sorrow for his padawan, whose pain throbbed in Obi-Wan’s heart as well.

“You need to sleep,” the master said quietly, after giving Anakin another minute to pull himself together.  “We’ll talk again once you’ve gotten some rest.” 

Then, Obi-Wan was leading Anakin out of the Holocron Vault, out of the Archives, through the halls of the Jedi Temple.  His boots were black blurs teetering over white marble.  “Is he alright?” he vaguely perceived someone ask.  The voice was familiar, but Anakin’s anesthetized mind did not make the effort to identify it.  In his peripheral version, Obi-Wan nodded.  His legs felt weak beneath him, his mind numb—the air burned his eyes—everything around him a surreal haze.  This was a dream—a horrible nightmare, more horrible than he knew his troubled brain could conjure.  This was only a dream.  He would wake up soon.  He would wake up soon.  If it weren’t for Obi-Wan’s hand on his shoulder, steadying him and guiding him, he wouldn’t have made it back to his room.

“Sit down,” Obi-Wan said softly.  

Anakin looked up, blinking.  They were back in his quarters.  Obi-Wan's hands were on his shoulders, making him sit down on the bed.  “I’ll take that for you.”  Then Obi-Wan was helping Anakin take off his cloak, then bending down in front of him to remove his boots, coaxing him to lie down against the soft mattress, pulling a warm blanket up to cover his debilitated body.  Obi-Wan pulled shut the curtains to block out a sharp ray of orange early-morning light.  He turned to look at his padawan—drained of everything, ready to pass out on the bed—and sighed.  "Do you want me to stay with you?  I don't mind.”  

Exhaustion was already caving in on Anakin, sleep or unconsciousness already dragging him under like a drug.  With whatever awareness he still clung to, he shook his head and mumbled, “No, you don’t have to.”

“I’ll be right next door in my room,” he heard Obi-Wan’s undeniably familiar voice say, as his eyelids dragged themselves down and locked shut.  Obi-Wan continued to speak, but his words blurred and clouded together.  Anakin could not make out what he was saying.  Still, just hearing his voice was somehow comforting, soothing.  

Please no nightmares tonight, Anakin begged the silent Force, as Obi-Wan's voice receded into the darkness around him and the darkness enveloped his mind.  Please not tonight.  Please.  Just let me sleep...  Let me sleep...

By the time Obi-Wan left the room and closed the door quietly behind him, Anakin was already asleep.  Whether the Force—or anyone—heard Anakin’s prayer or not, whether this plea was ignored or answered in a manner Anakin did not expect or understand, Anakin Skywalker would dream then.  He would receive another vision, equally haunting, equally horrible, but one he had not yet seen.  Something he had not yet witnessed.    

 

 

Chapter Text

AMID THE SHADOW

 

Chapter IV

 

He was running down a corridor.  The walls, the ceiling, the floor were stark white—like a surgeon’s felicity that has been scrubbed clean, the last stains of blood scraped off of the tiles—but, beyond the stale glow of the overhead lights, darkness hovered.  Shadows curled around every corner, every crevasse.  Like a pack of wolves lurking just beyond the treeline—or Death, itself—just waiting to close in. 

Both sides of the hall were lined with closed, windowless doors, which seemed to stare at him, each like one of Fate’s black, pitiless eyes.  What was beyond the doors, the walls, he could only guess.  Whether there was life or only death he did not know.  As far as he could see, he was the only living creature in this place—this labyrinth of winding corridors that lead to nowhere, this abandoned chamber, this tomb.  

His own footsteps echoed through the corridors.  Their pulse collided with of the solid white walls, flew back at him, and pounded against his eardrums.  His heart hammered in his chest, his skull, his veins.  His lungs burned and rasped—it was hard to say which was louder is heart or his breath.  His chest hurt, his muscles ached, and sweat trickled down his forehead. 

He did not notice.     

One thing alone consumed his mind—his entire being—and it pushed out all else, all perception, thought, reason.  Raw, ravenous, utter fear.  Terror beyond words, beyond thought.  Overwhelming him.  Consuming him.  Eating him alive. 

He turned another corner, and there was the door.  That’s it.  Somehow he knew this was his destination, and he sprinted toward it as fast as his tired legs would carry him—but it barely felt like he was running at all now.  He was no longer aware of his feet against the tile.  He was gliding toward that black dead-end, unable to turn back if he wanted to.

The door opened, as if on its own accord, as if by a ghost he could not see.  He moved through the doorway, anxious, desperate to get inside... but also wishing he could turn around and run in the other direction.  Terrified of what he would find.

A room materialized in front of him—a figure dressed in white looming before him, sliding to the side to let him pass, machines, equipment, a steadily beeping heart monitor—a medical room—an IV drip, a bed, a woman...  She was propped up on a few pillows, dressed in a paper-thin gown the pale pastel blue color of baby socks.  Her skin was sickly, deathly pale, almost grey.  There were dark shadows under her eyes.  Her hair was in knots, poorly pulled back into a falling-out bun.  Her body looked weak, frail—it shook slightly—and in her trembling arms, she clutched a bundle of rags to her chest....

His insides churned—painfully.  It felt like someone was using a metal rod to stir his guts and intestines into a toxic boiling brew.  His heart jumped—in excitement or terror, hope or despair—a muddle of all four bubbled up inside of him. 

He rushed to the bedside.  His lips opened to speak, but no sound came out.  His mouth was too dry, his throat too knotted up, and his vocal cords paralyzed. 

She looked up.  Her eyes—usually so vibrant and full of life—were dark, sunken, filled and overflowing with despair, red and bloodshot, brimming with unrestrained tears that rushed freely down her flushed face. 

His eyes met hers, and his heart cracked in his chest.  Like a piece of glass that falls off the shelf and smacks against the unyielding floor.  No.  No, it can’t be...  But he already knew. 

“Obi...” she whispered his name, and, before he could answer her, before he could begin to conjure up something to say, she showed him what she was holding—the bundle. 

He looked.  Even though he didn’t want to.  Even though he knew, once he looked, he would see this for the rest of his life. 

It was the baby.

Their baby. 

His baby.

It was the most beautiful, the most innocent, the most precious thing his eyes would ever see.  The child was perfect, too perfect—that tiny head smaller than his fist, that tiny nose, smooth and round, smaller than his thumbnail, those tiny hands barely big enough to grasp a single one of his fingers.  That tiny face—the face of an angel—was as soft as silk and as still as stone.  That velveteen skin was whiter than the blankets it was swaddled in.  The baby looked like he—or she—was sleeping.  So still.  So silent.  So perfect.  An angel delivered straight out of heaven.  But the ghostly pallor consuming that precious face... the way he didn’t move, the way he didn’t even breathe... the way the mother wept....

The truth gathered in his stomach like poison.

She held the baby out to him.  He took it from her.  He held his child in his arms—for the first and only time. 

It barely weighed anything in his arms—it barely felt like anything.  He was so little, so tiny.  It was hard to believe a person could be this small. 

He stared down at that face—that precious, innocent, beautiful little face.  His baby.  His child.  His angel.  Asleep in his arms.  Never to wake.  Those sweet little eyes closed, never to open.  His child in his arms, against his chest, close to his heart, so close to him, and yet galaxies away.  Gone.  Taken.  Killed before he even had a chance to live.  Murdered by Nature, or Fate, or the Force... or his own father.

A droplet of water fell upon the child’s still face—a tear—and it rolled silently down that marble cheek.  His heart leaped with hope, because he thought the baby was crying.  If he was crying, then he was alive!  A second tear fell—again onto the face of the child—and then another... and then he realized: these tears were his own.  His cheeks were wet, silent streams trickling from his eyes. 

You’re too late, the voice in his head murmured, as darkness wrapped around and swallowed his heart.  You came too late.  Your baby is gone.  He’s dead.  He’s dead.  This is your fault, this is your fault.  You weren’t here.  You should have been here.  If you had been here, this baby wouldn’t have died.  Your child wouldn’t be dead.  You did this.  You killed him.  You killed your own child... and hers. 

That same sheer, overwhelming terror took hold of him.  It ripped his heart clean out of his chest.  He looked up suddenly as if expecting an assault from a ferocious predator, and a pair of shadowed, bloody, weeping eyes stared straight back at him.  “It’s...” she whispered—her voice shivered and shook like ice about to shatter, “...it’s a boy...”  She barely managed to whimper out the words, before sobs doubled her over, like a sword being stabbing her through the gut. 

It was impossible to say who went to who or how they ended up this way, but the next thing he knew his arm was wrapped around her, clutching her head against his chest, the baby was in his other arm, one of her arms was also around the baby, her other arms was wrapped around his back, and she gripped his shirt in her fist.  They clung to each other—their child between them—as if to life, itself.  His face was buried in her hair, his cheek pressed against her head, his lips brushing her ear as he whispered again and again, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.  I love you.  I’m sorry.  I love you, I love you, I’m sorry...” 

An endless chant, prayer, plea for forgiveness that would never be answered.  The Force raged and roiled and reeled around him—like a turbulent sea smashing and shattering against jagged, knife-edged rocks, a thunder-split sky cracking with a bolt of white-hot flame, a tremor shaking and breaking the planet’s surface—straight down to its core, a knife dividing flesh and opening a gory gush of blood, a maelstrom, a hurricane, a tempest, the volcanos of Mustafar.  A storm of emotion, grief—agony—was like boiling wax in his chest.  His heart was being wrung out like a rag—19 years of Jedi teaching vainly endeavoring to wring the feeling from him.  But the pain wouldn’t leave, the pain wouldn’t stop—no teachings, no words, no drug was strong enough to ease the pain.  It became impossible to tell which sobs, which screams, which groans, sheiks, and wails were coming from the Force, the woman in his arms, or his own lips.  His body, her body, and the Force around them convulsed, and blades of agony stabbed them in a hundred places at once, ceaselessly, endlessly.... never to end.

If there was such a place as hell, this was it.  If anyone knew pain, he knew it too.  If there was anything—anything—that could make it stop, take it away, change what he could not change, he would take it.  He would do anything, anything....  Anything to bring his baby back.

 

...

 

His eyes snapped open.  He sat up—panting, gasping for air, his body shaking, seizuring, sweat pouring down his skin, soaking his clothes, turning cold and giving him goosebumps.  He looked around in wild horror—the terror in his eyes so raw and deep he appeared a man haunted by demons. 

“Shh... it’s alright, it’s okay,” a voice was saying from somewhere beside him.  “It was only a dream.  You were only dreaming.  It wasn’t real.  You’re safe.  We’re all safe.” 

Someone took him by the shoulders.

He turned his head, not knowing what to expect, and found himself staring directly at—

He blinked, incomprehensively at the face before him.  As if he did not know or recognize it, or as if he could not understand where he was or how he was here... 

“It’s alright,” the man was saying gently.  “You were only dreaming; it was just a dream.”  He looked at him sympathetically and, after a brief pause, dared to ask, “Was it the baby?” 

His heart plunged into his stomach.  His insides twisted.  He felt sick.  He stared at the man in horror, dumbstruck, his body and tongue paralyzed.  He stared into those calm, comforting eyes, unable to look away.    

He didn’t answer.  He couldn’t. 

The man sighed.  He rubbed a soothing gently up and down his friend’s arm, trying to comfort him.  “It was only a dream.  It wasn’t real.  She’s safe.  The baby is safe.  Everything is going to be alright, Anakin.”

Anakin’s vocal cords were a knot in his throat.  Oh, my Force...  His mind raced, trying to process a thousand thoughts at once.  Kriff.  Kriff.  Force.  That was real.  That was Obi-Wan.  That was when he lost his baby....

“Was it the same dream as always,” Obi-Wan went on, apparently oblivious to what had happened, to what Anakin had seen, “or was it different this time?  Did you notice anything new?”

It wasn’t just a nightmare; it was a Force Vision.  But he never had a Force Vision like that before, never!  Always when he had visions in the past, he was only watching.  He watched his mother die, he watched Padmé die, but he could never get to them, never touch them, it was never as if he was there.  But this time... he was Obi-Wan. 

“Anakin?” Obi-Wan stared at the young knight, new concern leaking into his eyes.  “Anakin, are you alright?  It was only a dream, Anakin, I promise you.”

Anakin swallowed—it was like trying to choke a cannonball down his throat.  He forced a nod.  “Y-yes...” he whispered.  His voice was hoarse and strained.  He ripped his eyes away from Obi-Wan—he couldn’t bare to look at him—and stared at the blanket bunched in his lap.  He raised a trembling hand and press it against his face, wiping away streaks of sweat and tears.  “I’m fine,” Anakin murmured.  “It was... only a dream.” 

But it wasn’t only a dream!  It was real.  That was what Obi-Wan, his best friend, his master, his brother, his father, had suffered, what he still suffered every day.  That pain, agony.  It was more terrible than anything Anakin imagined.  He thought he knew pain, he thought he knew torture....  But nothing could compare to that.  The grief of a parent who loses his child.   

Obi-Wan nodded slowly, his eyes sorrowful and compassionate.  He had no idea.  He had no idea what Anakin had seen.  “Alright,” he said softly.  “We won’t let it happen, Anakin.  I promise you.”

Anakin glanced up and nodded. 

Obi-Wan was silent for a moment, as he watched Anakin stare at the bedsheets and try to calm down, try to catch his breath.  At length, he sighed and went across the room to open the window.  Obi-Wan’s back now turned to him, Anakin dared to look at him. 

Obi-Wan...  Poor Obi-Wan.  He wanted to say something.  He wanted to pull the man into his arms and crush him in a hug, hold him and comfort him and promise him a thousand times that it was not his fault.  But he couldn’t.  Obi-Wan would never allow that.  Besides, he seemed alright at the moment; to bring that up might just make his pain worse....  Obi-Wan threw open the drapes, and warm mid-day sunlight poured into the room.  It rushed past the Jedi, but it snagged in some places as it went by, reflecting off of something wet and glassy on Obi-Wan's brow, on the back of his neck.... a trickle of sweat.  In the light, Anakin now realized that his master’s clothes were damp.  His face—although he had done remarkable well to hide it—was flushed, faint redness still lingering around his cheeks, nose, and eyes....  He had been crying. 

What!?  Obi-Wan!  For a second, Anakin was as confused as he was frightened.  He started to panic—  It hit him.  Suddenly, everything made sense.  The dream, why Anakin had seen from Obi-Wan's perspective, why when Anakin asked him if he ever had visions about Satine or the baby dying Obi-Wan said, “Never before it happened.”  This nightmare that Anakin had seen, it wasn’t his nightmare.  It was Obi-Wan’s.  Their Bond was now stronger than ever, and Anakin had seen into Obi-Wan’s mind, directly into his dreams.  Holy kriffing Force.  But... but how!?   How could Obi-Wan act so calm, so unaffected after he just saw that, after he just relived the worst part of his life?    

A second revelation hit Anakin like a razorblade in the gut.

Obi-Wan had these dreams all of the time.  Maybe even every night.  Every night, Obi-Wan dreamed.  About the baby, or Qui-Gon, or Satine.  Or, sometimes, about Anakin.  Because, sometimes, when he was alone at night, in his room, in the dark, with no one but the shadow and his own haunted memories to keep him company, voices whispered in his head, and they told him, You lost them all.  You couldn’t save them.  You killed them.  You will lose him too—your padawan, your friend, the only child you ever knew.  The one you try to pretend is your son.   

But he was a good Jedi, and, after all of this time, he learned to hide his emotions.  He concealed the wound.  He hid the pain, his fear, his suffering.  Twenty years later, he was almost immune to the agony—not immune but at least he endured it; he survived it.  Even if he was bleeding out on the inside, aching, screaming, burning, dying, he masked it with the apparent composer of the apparent perfect Jedi. 

Anakin stared at his master, who was still unaware of what Anakin had seen.  His heart throbbed like a raw wound in his chest.  If it hurt him this bad, how bad did it hurt Obi-Wan?  “Master...” Anakin whispered, unable to stop himself. 

Obi-Wan looked at him over his shoulder.  He was bending down to get a clean set of robes out of Anakin’s dresser, since the ones his apprentice was wearing hadn’t been changed in days and were now soaked in sweat.  Obi-Wan’s eyes gleamed with sympathy as he gazed at his padawan.  “Yes, Anakin?” 

“Obi-Wan, I’m...” Anakin stammered.  He stared at the man before him—the friend he knew and loved since he was 10-years-old—and it was as if he was seeing him for the first time.  He did not see the perfect Jedi he saw before, so cool and feelingless, the master he thought he knew so well.  Instead, he saw a man—a father—whose heart was plagued and rotting away in his chest.  Slowly.  Bit by bit, day by day.  Decaying instead of healing, decomposing as if it had died with the rest of them.  Yet, Obi-Wan was strong, and somehow he kept going, enduring, living, surviving.  “Obi-Wan, I’m... I’m sorry,” he finally choked out.  “I’m so sorry.

Obi-Wan’s expression fell.  His features cooled and hardened until his face was that smooth, porcelain mask.  He straightened up slowly.  He crossed his arms—Anakin was starting to wonder if this was not only a pose he assumed out of habit but one that revealed his insecurity—and gazed evenly at the young Jedi, his eyes revealing nothing.  He knew.  He must have known....

“Anakin, what...” he began carefully, “...what do you..."  He paused.  "What did you dream about?”

Anakin looked away, sighing heavily.  That was enough to answer Obi-Wan’s question.   

“I’m sorry, Master,” Anakin whispered.  “I didn’t mean to see that, I didn’t...”

Obi-Wan didn’t answer.  He swallowed dryly.  Although he was doing his best to maintain this mask of indifference, Anakin saw fear, pain seeping back into his eyes, maybe... tears along with it.  Kriff, Anakin thought helplessly, as he watched Obi-Wan eyes heat red.  Yet, the Jedi managed to hold back whatever emotion stung his eyes, and he didn’t cry.  Not now.  Not in front of Anakin.

“I’m sorry,” Anakin said again, his voice weak, broken.  “I can’t imagine what it must be like...” 

Obi-Wan answered tensely, softly, “It was a long time ago,” which was the same answer he gave before.

But Anakin knew it meant nothing.  Time meant nothing.  Time couldn’t change anything, time couldn’t fix anything.  Time didn’t make the pain any less real.  

“That doesn’t make it any easier,” Anakin whispered.

Obi-Wan looked away.  His eyes fixed on the floor, he opened his lips to speak.  No words came out.  He couldn’t think of anything to say—nor could he bear to say it.  He managed a quick, weak nod. 

Anakin slid out of bed and approached his master.  Obi-Wan glanced at him but immediately averted his eyes again.  “Obi-Wan...” he said softly, but he didn’t know how to finish.  Then he thought of his mother, and he knew what to say.  "You'll see them again, Obi-Wan.  All of them.  I had to tell myself that all of the time after I lost my mother.  They're in a better place now, a place where there is no pain, no darkness.  They're safe and happy and free.  And we will see them again one day.  I truly believe that." 

Obi-Wan glanced up at him.  Now, Anakin could see without question—Obi-Wan was fighting back tears.  "I believe that too," he managed a shattered whisper.  "Qui-Gon believed it." 

Anakin nodded.  "It is true, Obi-Wan.  I know it.  You don't have to be afraid anymore."

Obi-Wan's eyes flickered away.  He cleared his throat.  "Anyway," he promptly changed the subject, his tone hardening to conceal emotion, "we should get moving."  Anakin sighed.  Obi-Wan handed him a change of robes and headed for the door, to give Anakin the privacy to change and eager to be alone.  If only for a few minutes.  “It’s past midday; we need to report this to the Council.”

“What?” Anakin asked.  He looked at Obi-Wan, his heart dropping suddenly.  “Report what to the Council?”    

Obi-Wan stopped in the doorway and turned to face Anakin, instinctively crossing his arms again.  “That Chancellor Palpatine told you about a ‘Sith legend’ that even the Archives have no record of.”

“Obi-Wan, no!” Anakin cried.  “We can’t!  Please?  The Council is already biased against the Chancellor; they’ll jump to conclusions; they won’t give him a fair chance to explain anything!  They’ll make him look wrong even if he isn’t!  I’d rather it just be you and me.  Can’t just the two of us go talk to him?”

Obi-Wan exhaled tensely.  “That’s not how we’re supposed to handle something like this.  All information we find concerning the Sith we are supposed to report immediately to the Council—before we take any action or discuss it with anyone.” 

“I know what we’re supposed to do, Obi-Wan, but I don’t care.  I’m leaving the Order soon away.  The Council has never liked me, and I’ve never cared much for them or their stupid rules.  And this that we’re talking about now is important.  My friends, my family is in danger.  Not only Padmé and my baby, but this could put Chancellor Palpatine in danger.  He is one of my closest, most loyal friends, Obi-Wan, and I already feel like I've betrayed him when I agreed to spy on him for the Council.  Now you want me to report him to them?  As if he was some kind of criminal?

“I understand why you don’t want to, Anakin.  But this is more dangerous for you and your family than it is for Palpatine.  The Council won’t do anything without proof—”

“You and I both know that’s not true, Obi-Wan.  The Council has already accused Palpatine without proof.  You, yourself!  You looked me in the eye and told me to find out what Palpatine is ‘up to.’  He’s not ‘up to’ anything, Obi-Wan!  He’s an honest man, a good man.  And if he has gotten mixed up in some sick Sith plot—which I’m sure he hasn’t; I’m sure there’s another, simple explanation—the Council will be the first to accuse and condemn him.  Without proof.” 

Obi-Wan considered this, his eyebrows gathered above carefully pondering eyes.  Anakin could tell he was winning him over—or, at least, getting him to see his point—so he eagerly continued, “I know how much you value the Code, Obi-Wan.  And how much the Order and the Council and the Code mean to you.” 

As Anakin said this, he could not help but remember what Obi-Wan told him last night: “After that, I swore to myself I would never break the Code again.”   

“But I’m asking you—for me—that just this one time we don’t report this to the Council?  Please?  At least, can we talk to the Chancellor first?  And if, after we talk to him, you still feel like we have to tell the Council we will.  Can we agree to that?”

Obi-Wan hesitated.  He didn't like this.  Apprehension gathered, like a black shadow, in his stomach, and around his heart.  He had a bad feeling about this.

"Please, Obi-Wan?  Just... trust me."

He let out a tense, frustrated sigh.  “Alright, fine,” Obi-Wan muttered through his teeth.  

Anakin let his breath out.  “Thank you, Master!”

But, if we speak with the Chancellor and there is still any question that there might be something going on, we tell the Council.  No arguing about it.”

Anakin nodded.  “Yes, Master, I understand, I agree.  Good.”

Obi-Wan nodded, far less enthusiastically than Anakin, and turned to leave.  “I’ll get a speeder and wait for you in the hanger.”

“I’ll be there soon,” Anakin promised, and Obi-Wan disappeared, closing the door behind him.  Anakin dressed in a hurry.  It felt good to finally pull clean robes over his body—he hadn’t changed in days—and he would have loved to take a hot shower, even a five-minute one, but he didn’t have five minutes to spare.  He changed hastily and, without so much as glancing at his tangled, pillow-ridden hair, he left his room and rushed through the Temple toward the hanger. 

He passed Master Windu in the hall, who greeted him with a cold, “Skywalker.  I’ve been meaning to speak with you.”

“I can’t talk right now, Master Windu,” Anakin brushed him off, not slowing his pace even slightly, “I have to meet Obi-Wan.  He’s waiting for me,” and, before Windu could respond, he turned his back and keep walking—faster.    

He reached the hanger and (as promised) found Obi-Wan waiting for him in the driver's seat of a speeder already pulled out of its parking-bay and ready to take flight.  Anakin hopped over the low side of the vehicle and settled himself in the seat beside Obi-Wan.  “Do you think we should tell him we’re coming?” he asked, not glancing at his master.   

“No,” Obi-Wan replied evenly.  He pulled the speeder forward, away from the Jedi Temple and into chaotic crisscross lanes of Coruscanti traffic.  “If we tell him we're coming, it will give him time to prepare himself and to hide whatever he doesn’t want us to see.”

“He isn’t 'hiding' anything, Obi-Wan,” Anakin said sternly.  He turned his head to look at the man beside him. 

Obi-Wan kept his eyes fixed on the traffic.  He did not meet Anakin’s gaze.  “All the same,” he murmured.  “I think it’s best our visit goes unannounced.”

Anakin let out a heavy breath, turning away.  "Fine," he grumbled.  Anxioty—fear—had built up inside of him as well.  Why was he so nervous?  They were just going to talk to the Chancellor, his friend, who he spoke with all of the time.  He was sure there was a simple explanation, and he was sure the kindly old man would understand.  He had nothing to worry about.  

So, pushing back and ignoring whatever dread—whatever premonition—was tugging at his heart, warning him that this was a bad idea, urging him to listen to Obi-Wan! he looked into the city ahead of them.  He could see the Republic Executive Building from here—the great white dome that looked almost like a massive spaceship amongst tall, thin skyscrapers that stuck up around it like spikes or knives.  Yet, despite his efforts, dread gathered like spoiled food in his stomach, and the speeder sped toward the building, the Chancellor’s office, and Palpatine, himself. 

 

Chapter Text

 

AMID THE SHADOW

 

Chapter V

 

Not a sound echoed through the halls of the Republic Executive Building save for the muffled footsteps of four cautious feet upon carpet.  The Jedi passed two guards at the entrance, but, once inside, they saw next to no one.  A few droids, vast halls of white marble, columns as tall and thick as trunks of Endor trees, high domed ceilings, windows the size of walls, and a floor hidden beneath a blood-red carpet.  Anakin had never seen the Executive Building so empty—or maybe he had but never paid attention to it before.  Whatever the reason, it seemed as though these two Jedi, Anakin and Obi-Wan, and two silent shadows walking on the wall beside them mirroring their every move were the only beings in the building.  Yet, at the same time, Anakin knew they weren’t alone.

It was like walking through the woods in the middle of the night in the pitch dark, shadows sifting and midnight whispering through the darkness surrounding a crooked, narrow path.  The traveler is by himself, and he has never felt more alone.  Yet, every time he hears a branch bend or a twig snap or the wind brush through the leaves overhead, urging them to chatter conspiringly, he jolts in fright and spins around, expecting some hungry, vicious predator to slink—or pounce—out of the shadow and attack him.  Although he cannot see anything beyond the blinding darkness, either his instincts or his nerves tell him numbers of eyes watch him from within the forest.  Hunters, animals, beasts, ghosts....  Who knows what else lurks amid the shadow?  Watching.  Waiting. 

The shadow clouded Anakin’s perception now.  The Darkness had been growing around the Jedi ever since the war began—long before it began actually.  Like a storm moving closer, or night closing in, smothering the light and swallowing the sun, Darkness had conquered the planet... the entire galaxy.  The were now in the heart of the storm, the blackest hour of the night, the center of this ever-thickening, ever-darkening shadow.  Darkness hummed like a low warning drone in Anakin’s mind.  Somewhere within the static, trying to break through it, he could almost hear the Force whispering to him.  He could feel it tickling at his presence in the Force, urgently, desperately trying to snag his attention, tell himself something, warn him.  Its plea was drowned out by darkness.

Still, even through this shadow—this drug sedating the senses of all of the Jedi—Anakin could sense something moving, changing.  Something hidden, unknown and unseen by the Jedi, was at work.  Perhaps not “at work,” but something was... off.  And Anakin was restless.  Every second, this unsettled sensation in his gut grew deeper.  Every time they passed a door or turned a corner, he found himself glancing over his shoulder, expecting to see a set of eyes fixed on them, a droid spy-camera zipping past, or a dark blur vanishing into another hiding spot. 

Anakin glanced at Obi-Wan.  He was definitely on edge—jaws clenched, muscles ridged, eyes set on the hall in front of them.  Anakin could feel his master’s uneasiness in the Force jittering nervously along their Bond.  He must had sensed it too—this strange, ominous movement in the Force, this unrest in his gut, the same he got when they were walking straight into a trap.  Or maybe he was just stressed with everything that had happened, everything they had both revealed and learned: Obi-Wan’s past with Satine, Anakin’s nightmares about Padmé, the accusations against the Chancellor, and now Obi-Wan’s belief that the Sith were somehow involved.  The fear of losing everything.  A lot had happened and it was a lot to take in—for both of them—in the course of one night.  Maybe Anakin was wrong.  Maybe it was nothing.    

“Do you have your lightsaber?” Obi-Wan asked suddenly, glancing at the knight beside him.

Anakin looked at Obi-Wan, brow frowning and eyes narrowing.  “We won’t need our lightsabers, Obi-Wan,” he said firmly.  “We just going to talk to him, remember?”

“Yes, but you do have it with you, right?”

He answered tensely, “Of course, I have it with me.  I always have it with me.  Why?”

“Good,” said Obi-Wan.  He looked away, fixing his eyes on the crimson carpet beneath their boots. 

Why, Obi-Wan?” Anakin demanded again, raising his voice slightly.

“Just precautionary, Anakin.”

Anakin looked away, a deep frown fixed above darkly smothering eyes.  He didn’t like this.  He didn’t like this at all.  He’d visited the Chancellor in his office dozens of times, but this time something was different.  Obi-Wan didn’t trust the Chancellor—the Chancellor didn’t trust the Jedi—Anakin trusted both of them, and now that they would all three meet face-to-face, he would be torn.  What was he supposed to do?  Choose who to side with, who to defend, who he trusted more?  Palpatine or Obi-Wan....

Anakin glanced up as they turned the corner.  Two metal doors—-the doors of the Chancellor’s office—glint like a dull-bladed sword the end of a blood-painted corridor.  His insides clenched.  He heard Obi-Wan take a breath beside him, and the Jedi went forward, quickening his pace to pass Anakin and approach the doors....

“Obi-Wan, wait!” Anakin stopped him.      

Obi-Wan stopped.  He turned to face Anakin.

“Let me go in first.  He knows me better.” 

Obi-Wan nodded and stepped aside.  Anakin inhaled deeply.  He fixed his eyes nervously on those doors, which he entered a hundred times but now seemed so foreign, so menacing, and approached slowly, cautiously, as if he expected them to open and something to jump out at him....  One more step would activate the motion sensors and the doors would open.  Here goes nothing... and maybe everything.  Anakin exhaled.  He stepped toward.  A sound like a sword being drawn from its sheath, and the doors slid open—opening like the jaws of death.   

Anakin stared, blinking, dazzled by a sudden burst of white light.  His eyes adjusted to the new luminosity, and the familiar room—one he considered home as much as his own quarters in the Jedi Temple or Padmé’s apartment—emerged out of the bright sun-spots drifting out of his eyes.  An elliptical window consumed almost the entire back wall of the room, and brilliant afternoon sunlight rushed inside, flooding the room and burning Anakin’s eyes.  Beyond the blinding glow of sunlight was a magnificent view of Coruscant and the busy city streets, and before it was a welcoming room with the same red carpet, several comfortable, cushioned chairs, a large holoprojector, a desk, and sitting just behind it, a dark silhouette against the window’s light the Chancellor’s chair and, sitting on this throne, the Chancellor, himself. 

Sheev Palpatine looked up from the datapad on his desk.  His eyes fell upon the young Jedi who stood, swaying slightly, in the entrance of his office, and a wide smile spread across his face.  “Anakin!” the Chancellor greeted him good-naturedly.  “Anakin, my dear boy, come in!”

A smile immediately tugged at the corners of Anakin’s mouth, and he bowed his head respectfully to his friend—although, unlike all the times before, his nod was reluctant, his smile nervous.  “Hello, Chancellor,” Anakin returned the greeting.  With surprising unease, he entered the office.  He could feel Obi-Wan just a few steps behind him, watching his back.  Watching the Chancellor every move. 

Palpatine’s eyes shifted.  His smile faltered just slightly, and the sparkle in his eyes darkened as they came to rest on the Jedi beside Anakin.  “...and Master Kenobi.”  He did not seem nearly as pleased to see Obi-Wan as he was to see Anakin.

“Chancellor,” Obi-Wan replied with a curt nod.  He came in without waiting for the invitation and promptly seated himself in a chair before the Chancellor’s desk.  Anakin hurried in after his master and sat down beside him, fear bubbling up inside of him like liquid over a fire, boiling fiercer by the second.  “I apologize for dropping in on you without notice,” Obi-Wan continued coolly, crossing one leg over his knee and leaning back into his seat, his arms limp against the armrests, the same way he sat in his chair in the Jedi Council Chamber—in contrast to Anakin, who at on the edge of his seat, his back stiff, his whole body tense, his hands clasped together in his lap as if trying to strangle each other. “However, there are a few things we would like to discuss with you.”

Palpatine stared at Obi-Wan, his smile fading and his expression hardening.  He glanced at Anakin, who immediately averted his gaze and stared at the rug, sure the emotion rising in his gut was shame.  Shame for his betrayal.  “Of course,” the Chancellor answered slowly, “and what is it you wish to discuss, Master Jedi?”

“We have a question,” Obi-Wan answered, lounging comfortably in his chair, no sign of unease on his face and an almost-sincere smile on his lips, “about Darth Plagueis the Wise.”

Whatever was left of Palpatine’s smile vanished, and it was replaced with a stone-cold frown.  He looked away from Obi-Wan and fixed a steady gaze on Anakin—disappointment, the pangs of betrayed trust all too clear in his eyes.  Another weight was dropped on Anakin’s battered heart, and, for a moment, he regretted ever telling Obi-Wan.  “What is this about, Anakin?” the Chancellor asked flatly. 

“I just told you,” Obi-Wan interrupted before Anakin could respond, stealing the Chancellor’s attention once more.  Anakin could not help but sigh in relief, as those pained blues eyes released him from their stare and turned to Obi-Wan instead.  “We’d like to know about Darth Plagueis the Wise, and the legend that says he could use the Dark Side to save people.”

“I see,” the Chancellor answered unenthusiastically.  “You are familiar with the legend then, Master Kenobi?”

“No,” Obi-Wan replied, shaking his head.  “It’s the most peculiar thing: neither Anakin nor I have heard of thus legend, and we can’t we find any documentation of it in the Jedi Archives, not even in the restricted holocrons.”

“Well, I don’t see why that’s extremely peculiar,” the Chancellor answered.  He glanced at Anakin, who could barely stand to look his friend in the eye.  Now the Chancellor knew.  He knew that Anakin must have told Obi-Wan everything.  “I don’t suspect the Jedi Order would want its members—or anyone for that matter—to know about any Sith legends.”

“Unfortunately, your speculation is incorrect,” Obi-Wan said crispy, in a tone that stirred something—offence, anger—inside of Anakin, “the Jedi keep detailed records of all information concerning the Sith and their ideology.  In fact, if there are Sith legends circulating this galaxy and are not included in the Archives, I would be highly interested to learn where exactly you heard these stories and how—”

“Obi-Wan!” Anakin suddenly interrupted.  “Obi-Wan, stop!”  Obi-Wan closed his mouth and, only slightly surprised, stifled a sigh.  He looked at the knight beside him, and he was met by Anakin’s flaming glare.  Anakin did not appreciate the way Obi-Wan was handling this.  He was talking to the Chancellor with no respect whatsoever, talking as if to accuse him, treating him like a suspect in a criminal investigation!  This was not what Anakin agreed to.  This was not acceptable.  “Chancellor, I’m sorry,” Anakin quickly apologized, turning pleading, penitent eyes to the old man before them.  “We don’t intend to be rude.”  With a sharp glance at his master he went on, “What Master Kenobi means to say is that we were confused, because so far we haven’t been able to find record of the legend you told me about.  I’m sure we’re just missing something.  Do you think you could tell us where you read about Darth Plagueis?”

“Ah, yes,” Chancellor Palpatine answered.  He conceived a weak smile and nodded to Anakin.  “Well, let me see.  It was many years ago, and, as I remarked at the opera, it is a tragedy, Anakin.  Although some believe there is truth behind it, it may be no more than an old story, which—”  He glanced at Obi-Wan.  The master stared back at him with an expression as friendly as stone.  “—would explain why the Jedi did not bother to include it in their Archives.” 

“Yes,” Anakin said gently, nodding his head to show that he not only understood but fully agreed.  “And, if you don’t mind telling us, Chancellor, where did you hear about this legend? —tragedy?”

“Oh...” Palpatine leaned back in his chair and turned a thoughtful eye out the window as he recalled the memory. “I was on an ambassador meeting on Corulag.  Some of the other senators and I had the privilege of attending several shows and operas in the ancient theatres in Adjesk.  At one, we were allowed to go into the theatre’s storage and read a number of old scores and manuscripts and librettos.  The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis was among them.”

Anakin nodded and was about to say something, but Obi-Wan asked first, “Do you remember the name of the theatre?”

“I’m afraid not, Master Kenobi,” Palpatine said with what appeared to be a regretful shake of the head.  “It was a long time ago, and we visited so many theatres.”   

“Hm.”  Obi-Wan frowned.  His eyes shifted to look at Anakin.  That’s convenient, Anakin read his master’s thoughts and, in the brief second their eyes locked, wordlessly forbade him to say it aloud.  Obi-Wan sighed and held is tongue.  Anakin turned nervously to the Chancellor.  Judging by the expression on the old man’s face, he could guess what Obi-Wan was thinking just as easily.  Kriff.

“That’s unfortunate,” Obi-Wan settled on instead.  “You don’t happen to know how we could see this manuscript ourselves, do you?”

“Ah, well,” Palpatine said with a sigh, “I suppose you could go to Adjesk and search all of the theatres in the city.  But, to be perfectly honest with you, I would not be prepared to promise the same manuscript would still be there all these years later.  I don’t know if the theatre, itself, is still there.  I haven’t been to Corulag in decades.”  Obi-Wan sighed and looked at Anakin, his eyes communicating something that Palpatine did not like.  Palpatine frowned.  “Why do you ask?” 

“Anakin was under the impression this Darth Plagueis was a not simply the antihero of some fictional opera, Chancellor Palpatine,” Obi-Wan explained.  His tone sharped and his frown darkened, as he added, “He and I were up all night and past sunrise searching the Archives for record of him.”

“And you did not find anything?” Palpatine sounded vaguely surprised.  “Well, like I said, it is only a tragedy—what the Jedi would call a myth.  It is likely—” 

“You made Anakin believe is was true,” Obi-Wan cut off the Chancellor of the Republic, as if he had the right, the authority.  His voice was sharp, like the edge of a knife, and his eyes smoldered with anger, accusation, as he glared at the man before him.  “If now you intend to dismiss the whole thing as a silly old wives’ tale, then you owe Anakin an apology.  Then you mislead and deceived him, when he trusted you.” 

Palpatine stared at Obi-Wan, clearly appalled by these accusations—and by the mere fact this Jedi thought he had the right to talk to him in such a manner.  Anakin looked at Obi-Wan, just as shocked as the Chancellor, barely able to believe he heard such words come from the mouth of his calm, respectful master.  Yet (although he would never admit he was glad Obi-Wan had addressed the Chancellor with such disrespect), Anakin could not deny that he agreed with Obi-Wan this time, and a part of him was grateful to Obi-Wan for speaking out.  The way Chancellor Palpatine talked to him at the opera... he made it sound like Darth Plagueis was real, that this power to prevent death was real, and not only did it exist but it could be learned.  Palpatine made him believe that.  Palpatine gave him hope; Palpatine gave him faith.  Now, if he was going to dismiss the entire thing as a fiction—some stupid opera script—Anakin would be... appalled, shocked, furious, betrayed. 

“I beg your pardon, Master Kenobi,” Palpatine answered through his teeth, the first sign of anger sparking in the usually patient old man, “but I haven’t ‘deceived’ anyone.”  

“In that case, I’m sure you won’t care to enlighten us,” Obi-Wan answered calmly, adding a smile perhaps only to encourage the Chancellor’s vexation, “and explain why Anakin was under this impression.”

“As I told Anakin at the opera the other day,” Palpatine began, glancing at Anakin, who was now watching him with as much interest and desire for an answer as Obi-Wan, “the tale of Darth Plagueis the Wise is a tragedy; however, there are some who believe it is more than that, that the opera was inspired by truth.  In fact, the manuscript, itself, claims to be based off of the true history of the Sith.”

“Really?” Obi-Wan skeptically remarked, his eyes like ice as they pierced Palpatine with a cold gaze.  “That is curious indeed, because any manuscript claiming to be part of the ‘true Sith history’ should have been immediately reported and turned over to the Jedi Order.”

“Indeed,” Palpatine murmured.  His eyes locked with Anakin’s.  “You are right, Master Kenobi, the Jedi do claim ownership over everything they deem a ‘threat’ nowadays—which, of course, is any idea that goes against their own narrow theology.”

“We haven’t come here to discuss politics, Chancellor,” Obi-Wan snapped suddenly.  It was clear Palpatine’s comment had offended him—but, at the same time, he was not going to let such trivial disputes distract him from their purpose.  “We are here to learn about Darth Plagueis and this so-called ‘legend’ you read about.  So, for clarification, the manuscript you read did claim to be based on true Sith history?”

“It said so in the manuscript, yes,” Palpatine replied with a nod.  “And the owner of the opera house, who let us see his scores, also said it was true, and that he believed it.”

“Who was the owner?”

Palpatine’s shoulder’s dropped.  “I’m afraid I don’t remember a name, if he mentioned one at all.  He didn’t speak Basic extremely well.”

“But he said the legend was true?”

Palpatine nodded apathetically.  “He said he believed it.” 

Obi-Wan leaned forward in his chair, closer to Palpatine’s desk.  His eyes narrowed thoughtfully, carefully, as he observed the Chancellor.  “And do you believe it, Chancellor Palpatine?”

“Me?” Palpatine looked surprised by the question.  “I think it is very likely Darth Plagueis lived, yes.”

“And that he had the power to save people?” Obi-Wan prompted.  “That he could prevent people from dying?

“I don’t see why not,” Palpatine answered with a shrug, as if it made little difference to him.  “The Force is a powerful thing, as I’m sure you will acknowledge, Master Jedi.  And the Dark Side of the Force—as a Jedi, you may be reluctant to admit this, but, in all truthfulness, you, yourself, must know—can unlock more powers and abilities than the Jedi dare to dabble in.”

Obi-Wan leaned back against his seat, his arms crossing over his chest and one hand going up to rub at his beard.  “You speak unsettlingly highly of the Dark Side, Chancellor Palpatine,” he remarked, “—with all due respect.” 

This earned the master a disapproving glance from his padawan.  However, a faint smile appeared on the Chancellor Palpatine’s lips.  “I’m not a Jedi, Master Kenobi,” he reminded Obi-Wan.  “I’m not bound by the same Code you are bound by, and I have not been raised under that inculcating doctrine.” 

Obi-Wan frowned.  The hand on his chin stilled and came to rest on the arm of his chair.  “What exactly are you saying, Chancellor?”

Palpatine smiled a bit more, something like pity—or mockery—in his eye as he looked at Obi-Wan.  “I meant no disrespect, Master Jedi.  I am simply saying that I, as a politician and not a Jedi, may be a bit more... open-minded to new ideas.  That is all.” 

“More open-minded to the Dark Side, you mean,” Obi-Wan scathingly rephrased the Chancellor’s claim. 

Palpatine shrugged again.  “It’s not as if my opinion is of much value anyway, not to a Jedi at least.  And I’m not saying I think the Dark Side should be blindly embraced.  I merely think the entirety of the Force should be studied.  Knowledge, itself, cannot hurt anyone.  It only makes us stronger.”

Obi-Wan eyes narrowed.  “That’s arguable, Chancellor Palpatine.”  His voice had become softer, huskier.  “It depends on what someone does with that knowledge, and the temptation of power can be almost impossible to resist.  Sometimes, it’s better—safer—not to know.”         

“And that is my point exactly!” the Chancellor suddenly exclaimed, slapping one hand on the surface of his desk, as if this was what he was waiting for all along.  He turned to Anakin, leaned closer to him, and muttered confidentially, as if it was only the two of them present, “See, Anakin?  This is exactly what I was telling you about.  Even if the Jedi knew power such as that of Darth Plagueis was possible, they would deny it.  They would shun the very notion and deny it’s existence.  They don’t want people to know.” 

Anakin’s brow furrowed in concentration.  He listened carefully to the Chancellor and seemed to move a little closer to him as he turned to frown at Obi-Wan.  The master could tell by the thoughtful muse in Anakin’s eye that he agreed with Palpatine. 

“That’s not what I’m saying,” Obi-Wan quickly denied.  He could feel the weight of the scale shifting and not in his favor.  Before, it was the two Jedi against the Chancellor.  Now, it was Palpatine and Anakin against Obi-Wan.  Now, he was alone.   

“Oh, but it is,” Palpatine said, shaking his head and waving a finger at the Jedi.  “That’s exactly what you’re saying.  Anakin and I both heard it.” 

“I’m just telling you why the Jedi don’t believe the Dark Side should be ‘studied.’  That doesn’t mean, if we found some information such as this, we would ‘deny it’s existence.’”

“But I’m afraid the Jedi would,” Palpatine retorted, that pitying smile retuning to his face.  “Ignorance, it seems, is the only means the Jedi Order has of controlling its members, restraining their power.”

“I have to disagree, Chancellor.  The Jedi are disciplined and grounded in their faith.  They can resist Darkness.”

“That is not what you said a moment ago,” Palpatine challenged.  “You said power is ‘impossible to resist;’ you said it’s ‘better not to know’ that a greater power is possible at all!  And, I think that is true especially for the Jedi.  Look at yourself for a moment, Master Kenobi!  You are Master Obi-Wan Kenobi: the pinnacle of the Jedi Order, the flawless Jedi, who has never broken the Code once in his life—perfect, pure light.  But what would you have done 13 years ago, Master Kenobi, if you knew you could call on the Dark Side to prevent the death of your master, Qui-Gon Jinn?  Would you have done it?”

Obi-Wan’s jaws clenched.  His teeth scraped together like flint grinding to make sparks.  His hands, which moments ago rest lax against the arms of his chair, tightened into white-knuckled fists.  He stared at Palpatine, ice eyes smoldering with fire. Suddenly, tension burned around them all like heat over the desert of Tatooine—or the lava of Mustafar.  Anakin felt pangs of loss, regret—and anger—throbbing in the Bond between him and his master.  He glanced uneasily at Obi-Wan and sent him a reassuring pulse through their Bond.  Obi-Wan did not receive it.  A gift brushed off and shipped back to the giver before the box is even opened.

“Well, answer the question,” Palpatine pressed again when Obi-Wan did not reply.  “What would you have done?”

Obi-Wan did not answer.  He was not sure what he would have done, and both answers, it seemed, were equally horrible: to turn to the Dark Side... or to let his master, friend, his father die when he could have saved him.  

“It seems to be a difficult question to answer, Master Kenobi,” Palpatine said thoughtfully.  “Perhaps, the Light and the Dark, right and wrong, good and evil are not as black and white as the Jedi would have you believe.” 

“The Dark Side is evil,” Obi-Wan maintained—although, for the first time in his life, he sounded uncertain.  “My master would not have wanted me to turn to Darkness even if it could save him.”

“So he would be proud that you let him die?” Palpatine said, raising his creased brow in surprise.

“Obi-Wan did not let Master Jinn die, Chancellor,” Anakin quickly intervened.  “There was nothing he could have done—”

“Dying isn’t the end,” Obi-Wan snapped, interrupting and ignoring Anakin.  His voice was strong again... and boiling in anger Anakin scarcely sensed in his master.  “It’s the beginning of a new life—a happier, better, perfect life—for those who follow the Light.  It would be better to die in the Light than to live in Darkness.”

“Oh, my dear Master Kenobi,” the old man said in sympathy, pity.  “If that were a fact, then perhaps what you say would make some sense.  But there is no proof, no evidence whatsoever, that such a life after death exists—”

“That’s what I believe,” Obi-Wan curtly declared.

“That’s what everyone believes when they’ve lost someone they love—er...” He glanced at Anakin as if they shared some unspoken understanding or joke, an almost mocking smile on his lips, and corrected, “care about.  I almost forgot, the Jedi also believe love is evil.” 

Anakin opened his mouth, but before he could speak, Palpatine went on.  

“People believe what they want to believe, Master Kenobi.  When we lose someone we love, we want to believe that they are happy and safe and still alive.  It makes it easier for us who are still alive to bear the pain, sorrow, regret, guilt.”  Palpatine paused.  He looked at Obi-Wan carefully, his eyes knowing and wise as they studied the Jedi before him.  Obi-Wan glared back at him, doing his best to keep his expression neutral, his feelings hidden.  Yet, Palpatine could see it: the pain, sorrow, regret, guilt—and also a deep, haunting fear—raging behind the feeble shields in the Jedi’s eyes.  The Chancellor sighed and gave the young man a calculated smile.  “I’m sorry, Master Kenobi.  I know it must be difficult for you.  When my mentor died, I wanted nothing more than to believe he was alive in some ‘other world.’  But, since then, in the many years of my life, I have learned to abandon such childish fantasies and embrace fact and logic.” 

“‘Logic and fact’ is its own religion, Chancellor,” Obi-Wan answered.  His voice was quiet, a strained whisper.  “You believe what you want to believe, and I’ll believe what I believe.”

“And there is my point exactly.”  Palpatine settled back into his chair as if he had won a hard-fought argument.  “People believe what they want to believe.  There is no truth anymore—there never was!  And this ‘truth’ the Jedi claim is the only way, these opinions they cram into your heads and brainwash you to believe are no more than biased, one-sided politics instilled in you—and the whole galaxy—for the gain of the Jedi Order.  ‘Truth’ is what a society sets to be true; it’s what someone believes it is.  It’s whatever you want it to be.”

“What?”  Obi-Wan frowned in confusion and disagreement.  He shook his head.  “No, there is only one truth, Chancellor.  People can believe whatever they want, and people can have contradictory beliefs, but they cannot all be right.  That’s ridiculous—illogical, since you like logic, Chancellor.  No matter what is it, there is one truth.”  

“But what is truth!?” Palpatine cried.  “With the millions of beliefs and opinions and doctrines in this galaxy—all which have no logical proof—how could we ever know which is the ‘true one?’  ‘Truth’ is merely a word for a concept: a name for what someone thinks is right.”

“The truth is the way of the Light!” Obi-Wan practically shouted.

“According to the Jedi Order.  According to someone else, a balance between Light and Dark may be the ‘way of the truth.’ According to the Sith, the way of the Darkness is the truth!  There is no 'truth!'  And neither is there ‘good’ or ‘evil!’  There is only perspective.”

Obi-Wan’s face contorted into a scowl of contempt.  “So you’re saying the Sith are good!?

Palpatine answered with a calm, sincere nod.  “From a certain point of view, yes.”

Obi-Wan looked as if he had been slapped in the face.  His whole body stiffened.  He sat rigidly in his chair.  He started at Palpatine blank-faced and shocked.  Slowly, his expression darkened.  His brows knitted together, and the cold eyes beneath them assiduously observed the man before him. 

“Do you understand what I am saying, Anakin?” Palpatine asked when Obi-Wan did not reply.  He turned to the young Jedi beside him and smiled at him good-naturedly.

“I...” Anakin answered unsurely.  “I understand...” he muttered at last.

Palpatine smiled contently and offered a proud nod.  “As I expected you would.  You are not so... parochial and insular like the rest of the Jedi.” 

“...But I understand what Obi-Wan is saying too,” Anakin added slowly.  “I think... maybe... you’re both right?  I agree with Obi-Wan that there can only be one truth.  But I also agree with you, Chancellor, that there is no way for us be positive what that truth is....  So it really does depend on your personal beliefs and opinions....”

“Ah, yes, I like the way you think, Anakin,” Palpatine agreed.  “You think for yourself and do not blindly accept what others tell you.  That is just another reason I think the Jedi Order should educate its members and allow them to chose their beliefs for themselves, instead of brainwashing people with these one-sided, narrow-minded opinions!"

The two continued to converse in the background, but their voices were distant and muffled.  Obi-Wan was no longer listening.  Those words Palpatine spoke before this kept replaying in his head.  From a certain point of view, yes.  From a certain point of view, the Sith are good.  The Sith are good.  The Sith are good!

Force...  Suddenly, Obi-Wan’s heart was hammering painfully against his ribcage, in his veins, in his skull.  Suddenly, nothing made sense—or everything made sense!  Palpatine saying the Sith are good, saying there is no truth, there is no good and evil, attacking the Jedi Order, trying to convince Anakin that the Jedi are wrong.  The way he blamed Obi-Wan for Qui-Gon’s death, the way he attacked more vulneralbe wounds, his weaknesses, the way he tried to lead him toward the Dark Side.  The way he first credited Obi-Wan as the ‘perfect Jedi,’ and included the detail that he had never broken the Code once... even as Palpatine said this, Obi-Wan felt as though he said it only to mock him, shame him, because he knew, like all men, Obi-Wan too was flawed.  The tension in the Force, the Darkness clouding their perception, the unbalance, the shadow, the Sith’s interference within the Republic, even Count Dooku’s claim that the Senate was under the control of a Sith Lord...  Force.  How didn’t I see it sooner?

“Chancellor Palpatine,” Obi-Wan said, brazenly interrupting Palpatine and Anakin mid-conversation.  The two stopped and looked at Obi-Wan, their expressions surprised and moderately annoyed. 

“Yes, Master Kenobi,” Palpatine answered as if he was getting tired of the conversation—at least the conversation with this particular person.

Obi-Wan scooted closer to the edge of his chair—and to Palpatine—his eyebrows gathering as if in curiosity.  “Forgive me, but would you mind telling me how your mentor died?”

“What?”  A bewildered frown appeared on Palpatine’s face.  He hadn’t expected this question, which (Anakin thought also) seemed to come out of no where.  “My mentor?” 

Obi-Wan nodded.  “Yes, you mentioned your mentor.  You said you wanted to believe in an afterlife when your mentor died but since then abandoned the idea.”

“Ah.  Yes.”  Palpatine nodded slowly—but his face was harder and colder than Anakin had ever seen it, and his voice mirrored it like a reflection in ice.  “So I did.”

“How did he die?” Obi-Wan asked again. 

Palpatine shook his head.  “He was old,” he answered, although it was clear he did not want to talk about this. 

Anakin dropped his gaze to stare at the floor, shaking his head and thinking, Why, Obi-Wan!?  Why!?  Is this revenge, because he brought up Qui-Gon!?

“He died in his sleep.  It was quick, the healers said.  It may even have been painless.” 

“He died in his sleep,” Obi-Wan repeated.  He nodded as if this was the exact answer he expected.  “Did the healers tell you what caused his death?  Perhaps an illness or an injury?

“No.”  Palpatine stared at Obi-Wan, his expression and voice like frostbitten steel.  “He died simply.  Peacefully.  From old age.”

Obi-Wan leaned back in his chair and frowned.  “Hm.  If I recall correctly, Darth Plagueis died in his sleep as well, according to the legend you told us.  Didn't he, Anakin?"

"Yes," Anakin confirmed, but his face immediately scrunched up in confusion and anger.  "He was murdered by his apprentice in his sleep!  Why?  What's that got to do with anything?" 

"I was only asking," Obi-Wan said calmly.  He turned his attention back to the Chancellor.  "What was your mentor’s name? if I may inquire.” 

“Hego Damask,” Palpatine said as if he grudged—hated—the words as he uttered them. 

Obi-Wan nodded once and reached for the datapad on Palpatine’s desk.  “You don’t mind if I borrow your datapad,” the Jedi remarked in a way that was more a command than a question, and the device was already in his hands when Palpatine nodded stiffly and mumbled his consent.  The Chancellor watched uneasily, Anakin astoundedly, as Obi-Wan’s fingers worked hastily on the screen, tapping buttons and pulling up documents.  “Magister Hego Damask II of the InterGalactic Banking Clan,” the master had found him in a matter of seconds. 

Palpatine’s jaw clamped tighter.  He nodded.  “Yes, that would be him.” 

Obi-Wan scrolled through the information on his screen.  “According to public government records—which are confirmed by the Jedi Order and also kept in our Archives, in case you were wondering—Hego Damask was found dead in 42 BBY, in his penthouse of the Kaldani Spires Residential Apartments.  This says his body was ‘scorched’ and ‘gruesomely disfigured,’ and the burns seemed to be the result of electricity.  The authorities and healers concluded the man was murdered, although it was unclear whether it was a Force-user or an electro-weapon that killed him.”

Obi-Wan looked up from the datapad.  His eyes locked with Palpatine’s.  “That does not sound like a quick, painless, or peaceful death to me, Chancellor.  He was tortured to death.  I doubt he was asleep through the worst of it.  And he certainly did not die of 'old age.'”

Palpatine gripped the arms of his chair so tightly the veins on his aged hands bulged and his knuckles paled.  His face was ashen, and his eyes blurred with a muddle of guilt, pain, and fear.  He glanced at Anakin, who was staring at him in confusion and shock, waiting for an explanation, but he quickly returned to look at Obi-Wan.  “Yes,” he answered at length, slowly, cautiously.  “Hego was murdered.  His death was... very difficult for me.  I was closer to him than I was my own father.  It was hard to accept.  But, please, Master Kenobi, I don’t like to talk about this.”

“The Coruscant Security Force speculates Damask’s assassination was politically motivated,” Obi-Wan went on, studying the datapad and completely ignoring the Chancellor’s request to avoid this topic.  “As I’m sure you’ll remember, Damask was running for Vice-Chancellor, and the election was the following day.”  

Palpatine nodded tensely. 

Anakin looked at Obi-Wan.

“Yes, of course, I remember.” 

The tension around them was thicker and hotter than it had been all day—all evening.  Outside the glass behind the Chancellor’s desk, the sun was setting.  The sky was bleeding, the sun a gaping wound in the scarlet bath around it.  The red ball of flame sank lower on the horizon, sinking behind the buildings and skyscrapers and chaos of Coruscant.  Sinking into night.  Sinking into darkness.  The Force around the Jedi blared in their ears, in their minds, yelling, screaming, screeching, but the Shadow was strong and, although they could hear the Force's cry, they could not understand it. 

“What is even more interesting,” the Jedi master continued, “is on that very night, just hours before Damask was murdered, he was seen at the Galaxies Opera House, the same you and Anakin attended a performance at only days ago...”  Obi-Wan looked directly into the pale blue eyes of the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic and finished, “and he was with you, Chancellor Palpatine.” 

Anakin’s jaw dropped open.

Palpatine’s hand clenched into a fist. 

“Obi-Wan!”  Anakin bolted up from his chair in a burst of outraged fury. 

Palpatine rose to his feet.  “What exactly are you suggesting, Master Kenobi!?” he hissed through his teeth.

Obi-Wan stood as well, matching Palpatine every move.  “I think you know exactly what I’m suggesting, Chancellor Palpatine.”

“Obi-Wan how could you!?” Anakin yelled.  “How dare you!?  How dare you accuse the Chancellor of— of that!

Obi-Wan glanced at Anakin for the spilt-second he dared to take his eyes off of Palpatine.  

“You don’t—  You can’t really—  You can’t possibly believe—!” 

“It’s obvious, Anakin!” Obi-Wan burst, his anger finally getting the better of him and spewing from the Jedi like blood from a fleshly re-opened wound.  “It’s him!  He is the Sith Lord!” 

 

Chapter Text

AMID THE SHADOW

Chapter VI

The Force whirled, like dizziness or drunkenness, around him.  His head whirled; the room whirled.  The floor beneath his feet rocked like a boat on the ocean.  An invisible wave slammed into his chest, knocking the wind out of him and almost knocking him over.  He swayed—his legs felt weak—and stared, stunned, pale-faced, and horrified at Obi-Wan Kenobi, those treacherous words an unending chant in his head, He is the Sith Lord, he is the Sith Lord, he is the Sith Lord!   

An eclectic crack—a sound almost like lightning, the all-too-familiar sound of a lightsaber—snapped Anakin out of this astounded stupefaction.  An icy blue blade sprung up from Obi-Wan’s hand, humming dangerously like the warning-growl of a beast.  He pointed his weapon at Chancellor Palpatine and said through his teeth, “You are under arrest, Chancellor.  I suggest you come quietly.” 

“Obi-Wan!” Anakin exclaimed.  Palpatine’s mouth hung open in mute disbelief.  Anakin threw himself between the Chancellor and Obi-Wan, pushing the old man behind him and holding out his arms to protect him with him body. 

“Get out of the way, Anakin,” Obi-Wan urgently ordered.  He held his ground.  His hand remained clamped tightly around the hilt of his saber, the muscles in his arm flexed and rigid.  The blue glow of his blade reflected off of Anakin’s face and Palpatine’s smoldering eyes.  “Move, Anakin!  He’s dangerous!”  

“Obi-Wan, you’re crazy!” Anakin erupted, both horrified and furious.  “Put it away!  Now!”

“Anakin, he’s the Sith Lord!” Obi-Wan yelled.  “He was the apprentice!  His ‘mentor’ was his master!  Hego Damask was Darth Plagueis!  And you...” Obi-Wan turned a wrathful, loathing, glare on the Chancellor and snarled, “you are Darth Sidious.” 

“How dare you?” Palpatine hissed from behind Anakin.  “You have no evidence whatsoever!”

“I have more than enough evidence!” 

“Obi-Wan, you’re wrong!” Anakin cried in something between rage, terror, and desperation.  What was wrong with him!?  Had Obi-Wan lost his mind!?  Or was he no different from the other Jedi and looking for any excuse he could to discredit the Chancellor and remove him from power...?  Who was this man!?  Who were all of the Jedi!?  Anakin didn’t know anymore. At this point, he was not convinced he truly knew Obi-Wan at all....

What evidence!?” Palpatine challenged.  “That I heard of a legend you haven’t!?  That I have a higher education than you do!?  That I don’t share your political beliefs!?” 

“You will be taken into custody, and if the Council finds you innocent, you will be released.”  

“The Council!” Palpatine cried with a burst of outraged laughter.  “Of course, the Jedi Council will find me guilty!  I haven’t done anything wrong—you have no evidence at all—and you’ve already found me guilty!”

“The Chancellor is right,” Anakin growled, glaring at Obi-Wan in sudden disgust.  “You have no right to accuse him like this.  Now put the lightsaber away!”  He gritted his teeth and added—almost as if threatening Obi-Wan, “...before someone gets hurt.”

Obi-Wan’s icy eyes remained locked on the Chancellor.  His stone-cold expression did not change, and his lightsaber did not move.  The blade remained carefully aimed at Palpatine... and at Anakin.  “Very well,” he answered coldly.  Anakin blinked at him in shock and solace.  He was starting to sigh in relief, when Obi-Wan reached into his cloak and finished, “I’ll notify the Jedi Council.”  A comlink appeared in Obi-Wan’s hand.  “They can decide if we have enough ‘evidence’ to prove his crimes.” 

“Obi-Wan, no!

“What crimes!?” Palpatine burst exasperated.  “What ‘crime’ have I committed!?  Even if I admitted to being part of the Sith Order, which I have not, is a philosophical difference a ‘crime’ in this Republic!?  Is disagreeing with the Jedi enough to have someone arrested!?  Condemned!?  Killed!?  The only ‘crime’ I’m guilty of is having a different opinion than you!”

Obi-Wan’s glare cut Palpatine like razor blades.  “Your crimes include treason and murder,” he growled as if every word tasted like acid in his mouth. 

“Obi-Wan, stop!” Anakin cried.  “You promised we wouldn’t tell the Council!”

“That is very like a Jedi,” Palpatine breathed in Anakin’s ear, “lying, gaining your trust with false promises, using you, and, in the end, betraying you.”

Obi-Wan paid him no heed.  “I’m sorry, Anakin,” he said without glancing at his friend.  He took his eyes off of Palpatine to look at the comlink in his hand.  He punched in the code to contact Mace Windu.  “The Sith have already taken too many innocent lives in this galaxy.  I’m not going to stand by and let him destroy anything else.”  He moved his thumb to press the button—

The Force slammed into him like a ship moving at lightspeed.  His legs gave out; his stomach dropped—  His back hit the wall, jolting his body, bruising his ribs, ripping the air from his lungs.  The comlink was knocked from his hand and fell uselessly to the floor... as did his lightsaber.  He tried to move.  The Force held him still, paralyzed him.  It pressed down on him like a thousand pounds on invisible energy—like the depth of the abyss, pinning a man to the bottom of the ocean, drowning and crushing him.  He wasn’t strong enough to fight it.  Obi-Wan had never felt anything like this—a presence in the Force this strong, this dark...  His eyes bolted up in confusion and anger.  He found himself staring straight into the familiar eyes of his apprentice, Anakin Skywalker.  The Chosen One.   

“Anakin!” Obi-Wan cried, the most annoyed he had been at Anakin since he was a padawan—but also afraid.  Afraid because he had no idea there was so much darkness in his best friend.  “Enough of this!”

The expression on Anakin’s face changed from surprise to confusion to fear.  He turned around, stepping slightly to the side, and Obi-Wan could see the Chancellor.  His face was calm, his manner composed as it had been most of the evening.  But he held his hand out in front of him, his palm outstretched and aimed at Obi-Wan, as if effortlessly holding him still.  The Force surged and swirled around him like black eels sliding through murky water.  Anakin’s mouth dropped open.  The blood drained from his shocked, horrified face, and he staggered backward, as if a brick had been smashed over his head.  “You... you’re...” he stammered, barely able to form words on his lips.  “YOU ARE THE SITH LORD!”

...

Palpatine looked at Anakin out of the corner of his eyes.  His face turned a shade greyer—the creases and wrinkles becoming more visible—and the first sign of worry gleamed in the old man’s eyes.  “Anakin, listen to me...” he began very carefully. 

Another crack from another lightsaber.  Anakin’s arm trembled as he pointed an unsteady blade at the Chancellor—the Sith Lord before him....  His mentor, his friend, his own family!  A man he knew and trusted and loved since he was a child—the only person he was sure he could still trust!  A man he had given his full confidence, loyalty, and love.  Now, after all of these year, all the times Anakin defended him and supported him, all the faith Anakin put him, the truth was revealed.  And the truth was: everything Palpatine ever told him was a lie. 

“Let him go!” Anakin ordered, but his voice shook and so did his weapon. 

Palpatine ignored this request as if it had not been uttered. 

Obi-Wan flexed every muscle in his body and strained against the Dark Force nailing him to the wall.  It immediately became evident to him no physical strength would be enough to conquer a Darkness this deep.  He closed his eyes.  He let out a slow breath, trying to calm himself—despite his raging and horrified heart hammering against his breastbone—he gathered the Force encircling him.  He imagined the Light swooping in over the black cloud around him, chasing it away, melting the Darkness as the sun melts the ice....  But the Darkness didn’t yield.  It was too dense, too strong....

“I couldn’t tell you the truth, Anakin,” Palpatine said urgently, as if reading every thought that staggered through Anakin’s disarranged and reeling mind.  “I had to keep it a secret.  Had the Jedi learned that I was a Sith, they would have had me arrested—executed!  And what have I done wrong?  Everything I have done has been for the sake of the Republic, for my people.  And for you, Anakin.  My son.” 

Anakin shook his head. “Y-you...” he stammered.  “You aren’t a father to me.  All this time you’ve been lying to me!  I don’t even know who you are....”

“I’m the same friend you always knew, Anakin.”  The Chancellor conceived a gentle smile, the same he always smiled at Anakin, the same that always reassured and comforted him, gave him hope when he could see none himself.  “I know how you must feel, my boy,” he continued gently, “but can’t you try to understand.  Had I told you before, you would have turned your back on me without a second thought.  Now, after so many years, you know who I am.  Now we trust each other.  Now I am sure you will be able to see that, all along, I’ve been trying to help you, to allow you to make up your own mind, to follow your own heart, to discover the power you truly are capable of!  I want to help you, Anakin.” 

Anakin’s saber wavered, as the old man smiled and placed a kind hand on his shoulder.  The weapon was one slice away from Palpatine’s throat—from taking his life—and the Chancellor appeared as calm and trusting as ever.  He wasn’t even afraid!  It was as if he didn’t care if Anakin killed him.  Or maybe he knew he wouldn’t.  He knew he couldn’t. 

“I want to help you, because I love you.  You are the only son I’ve ever known, Anakin.  I would never do anything to hurt you.” 

“He’s using you, Anakin!” Obi-Wan erupted from across the room, still struggling against a power too strong to beat.  Anakin and Palpatine both could feel Obi-Wan’s wrath burning against this Sith, this snake, who would take his apprentice from him.  This man who would take his son from him.  “You’ve deceived him into trusting you!” he shouted at Palpatine.  “You’ve manipulated him, lied to him!  You want his power!  You can’t help him, and you don’t love him!”  His rage got the better of him and he added, “You don’t even know what love is!

Palpatine sighed, his eyes shifting from Obi-Wan to Anakin. 

“Let him go now!” Anakin demanded with more conviction this time, his voice stronger and angrier. 

“See reason, Anakin,” the Chancellor said sadly.  “If we let him go, he’ll com the Council, and I will be arrested.  No granted rights, no fair trial.”

“That’s what you deserve!” Anakin cried.  The blue glow of his saber blinked and flickered, as his arm—his whole body—trembled.  His teeth chattered and his pale lips faltered as they struggled to form words.  His wide blue eyes—the eyes of the Hero with No Fear—were consumed by a terror like Palpatine had never seen in this brave Jedi.  “You deserve to rot in prison!”  

“Prison?”  He released a bitter laugh and shook his head.  “You and I both know prison is not where the Jedi will send me.  I will be executed.  The moment they learn I am Sith they will kill me.”  He glanced at Obi-Wan added, “Just as your master would have done if you hadn’t stopped him, just as he will do the moment I release him.  Unless, of course, you stop him, Anakin.”

“Stop him!?” Anakin repeated, appalled.  “You expect me to defend you!?”  He jabbed his lightsaber threateningly at the Sith—(although he made sure the blade did not touch him).  “You’ve been lying to me my whole life!  Why should I help you!?” 

“Because...” Palpatine answered gravely.  “I can save her, Anakin.  I can save Padmé.”

...

Anakin Skywalker was going to faint.  An invisible wave crashed over him.  He felt it slam him down, smash him against the beach, grind him into the sand, burry him under a roiling, raging ocean of confusion, despair, and terror.  His head spun.  His chest tightened.  His breath thinned.  Black blurs bleed into his eyes, blinding him.  He couldn’t see.  He couldn’t breathe!  He stared at the man before him, his face draining to the grotesque grey color of a corpse.  He swayed.  His legs were weak.  His shoulders sagged.  His arms went limp.  His lightsaber almost slipped from his sweat-slickened hand.  “Y-you...” a weak, desperate—maybe hopeful—whisper fell through his lips.  “You can... save her?”

Palpatine smiled widely, and he nodded.  “Darth Plagueis was my master, Anakin.  He taught me everything he knew.  He taught me that power—the power to sustain life, create it, and save it.  I can save her, Anakin.  Take your place as my apprentice, and we will save her.”   

Anakin felt his soul ripping like a sheet of fabric, the threads and fibers torn apart and undone, the cloth dividing slowly....  On one side was Obi-Wan pulling him toward the Light, and on the other side was Palpatine—Darth Sidious—dragging him toward the Darkness... and toward Padmé.  Toward his baby.  Toward safely, freedom, for them all.  Padmé...  He can save Padmé.  Force...  He can save Padmé...  Anakin’s lightsaber wilted, until it was pointed more at the floor than Palpatine.

“Anakin, he’s lying to you!” Obi-Wan screamed, his voice cracking in desperation. 

His headed foggy, trapped in some kind of daze, Anakin turned to look at his master, surprised by his voice.  He almost forgot Obi-Wan was there.

“He can’t save her!  There is no such power!  He’s trying to trick you into joining him and the Dark Side!”     

“You think I’m lying, Master Kenobi?” Palpatine questioned, but rather than worried or angry or even irritated at this accusation, his voice was merely disappointed, sad.  “I will show you this power so you can see it for yourself.  If you don’t com the other Jedi, who will murder me the moment they learn of my affiliation with the Sith, I can teach you—both of you—everything I know.”

“Become your apprentices!?” Obi-Wan scoffed in disgust.  “Join the Sith!?  We will never join you!”

“Obi-Wan...” Anakin interrupted.  His voice shook.  “We can’t tell the Council.  They’ll kill him, and he’s the only one who can save Padmé.  I need him!”   

“He can’t save Padmé, Anakin!  He’s lying!

“But what if he isn’t!?”

“He knew about your nightmares, when even I didn’t!  He’s probably the one making you have them, to make you desperate, to make you think you need him!”

“I can save her too, you know.” 

Anakin looked at Palpatine, but he was not looking at the knight.  His eyes were fixed carefully on Obi-Wan. 

Obi-Wan’s glare met those cold, blue eyes of the Sith.  He frowned angrily, as if confused, and his mouth opened to speak—

“You know of whom I speak,” Palpatine answered softly, solemnly, before Obi-Wan could ask the question.  “Your duchess.  The late-ruler of Mandalore.  Your Satine.”

...

For the first time in his life, Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Negotiator, the master of words and wit, could form not a single syllable on his numb lips.  His expression fell limp—his whole body fell limp; he stopped struggling against the dark Force pressing him to the wall.  His face drained of blood, as if a blade was stabbed through the chest.  He stared at Palpatine.  Unable to speak.  Unable to think.  “You...  You... How did you...” he stuttered, unable to form a coherent sentence or thought.  He KNOWS!?  How does he know!?  At last, he managed instead, “...What?

“Oh, yes,” the Chancellor answers with a compassionate nod.  “I know you loved her.”  A pause, as if Palpatine was unsure if he should add, “I also know about the baby.”

If possible, Obi-Wan’s face turned even whiter—grey, the face of the dead. 

HOW THE MUSTAFAR DOES HE KNOW!?  Did he know THE WHOLE TIME!?  The very thought turned his flesh to ice.  His soul, itself, shuddered.  Did he hear Obi-Wan talking to Anakin last night!?  Was he watching them!?  Or, if he knew about Anakin’s nightmares...  was he INSIDE ANAKIN’S HEAD!?    

“I can save them, Obi-Wan,” Palpatine whispered.  “I can bring them back.” 

Obi-Wan only stared at him in reply, trapped in a trance, his jaw slightly open, thin breaths the only sound passing through pale parted lips....  He shook his head, slowly, dazedly....  “Nothing can bring them back,” he whispered.  His words were weak, broken, shattered under the weight of pain too terrible to bear.   

“Is that what the Jedi told you?” the Sith answered, his brow creased in sympathy.  “They don’t want you to know the truth.  They don’t want you to know of this greater power, this power to cheat death.  But I can help you, Obi-Wan.” 

He approached slowly as he spoke.  Anakin mirrored him every step, not letting him an inch further from his side, half out of distrust and hatred for the Sith and half because he needed him with him, because he did not want to miss a single word that Darth Sidious uttered.  Because part of him still trusted the Chancellor.  Because what if it was true!? 

Then Palpatine was standing right in front of Obi-Wan, close enough to touch him, or embrace him... or kill him.  He smiled gently, sorrowfully, and put his hand on Obi-Wan shoulder.  His touch was warm, comforting.  When Palpatine touched him, Obi-Wan did not sense Darkness or malice.  Comfort, reassurance, something like a promise of safety wrapped around him, and his soul sighed in relief. 

“I can save her,” the old man promised again, looking Obi-Wan directly in the eye.  The Sith’s eyes never wavered.  “I can save them both.”

Obi-Wan couldn’t tear his eyes away from those raw, deep blue ones.  He looked into the Chancellor’s eyes like a pair of clear-water wells, but wells in which he could not see the bottom.  However, what he could see was sorrow, compassion, kindness, sincerity....  Was it a mask?  It had to be.  The Sith were the masters of lies, the master deceivers....  But he looked—it felt—as if he was telling the truth....

Obi-Wan shook his head again—weakly, uncertainly.  “I don’t believe you.”  His voice was barely a whisper. 

“You don’t have to believe me,” Palpatine answered with a sigh.  “Come with me, and I will show you.  I will prove it to you.  I can heal you, Obi-Wan.  I can fix it—all of it.  All of this pain and and grief and guilt you’ve carried with you since you were 19-years-old...”  He shook his head sorrowfully.  “I can take it away.  All you have to do is let me.”

His heart hammered.  He could feel it softening like candle wax, weakening like dam standing against the power of an entire ocean, about to crack and break and give way to that overpowering current....

His vision blurred.  He was staring directly at him, only feet away from him, but he could barely see him through the fog.

“Let me help you,” the voice whispered—the voice of promise, redemption, salvation... everything he ever wanted.  His mind told him it was all a lie, but his heart screamed what if it’s true!?  What if he can save them both!?  What if he can fix everything you’ve broken!?  Imagine what it would be like—the pain, grief, guilt, torture gone!?  Everything you’ve ever wanted.  Everything you’ve needed for so long.  Everything no one else can give you.... 

Palpatine smiled.  At last, after 38 years, after the dozens, maybe hundreds, of times people had tried to seduce him to the Dark Side, even after Dooku—Qui-Gon Jinn’s master! a man Obi-Wan once admired and respected—could not touch him, even after they enslaved him, beat him, tortured him, and failed to conquer the perfect Jedi, Darth Sidious had done it in a matter of minutes.  He could see that bright burning candle, that pure white flame, flickering as it flapped and fell to the cold wind around it.  He could see the Darkness snuffing it out.  Obi-Wan Kenobi was finally broken. 

“Don’t be afraid,” the shadow hissed—aloud or in Obi-Wan’s head.  Everything looked dark—he couldn’t see clearly....  “You’re safe now.  You’re all safe.  I’m here to help you, son.”    

Son.  There was only one other person he could remember calling him son ever.  Qui-Gon.  His master.  His father.  His true master.  His true father.  The father who was murdered by Darth Maul. 

Under the orders of Darth Sidious. 

Obi-Wan felt like he had been slapped—punched—in the face.  It knocked the wind out of him, along with the murky shadow dulling his senses and certainty like a drug.  The fog blurring his vision, clouding his mind vanished.  The Darkness hungrily closing its fingers like a cage around his soul dissolved into a sudden burst of white Light.  His jaws snapped shut.  His teeth grazed the sides of his tongue, and a sharp metallic taste bled into his mouth.  Qui-Gon was dead because of this man, this murder, this monster in front of him!  The Sith did not give life; they took it.  The Darkness was not salvation; it was condemnation.  And the way of the Sith was manipulation, deception, and betrayal.  Palpatine was clever, and, for a moment, even Obi-Wan Kenobi was tempted and stumbling toward his trap—the siren of the Dark.  

Every doubt tugging at Obi-Wan mind, stabbing lethal pins into his heart was snuffed out like fire by water and replaced by strength, conviction, and fury.  And a deep, haunting terror, as he realized what he had almost done....

“YOU’RE LYING!” Obi-Wan screamed.  Palpatine’s hand vanished from his shoulder, and the Light inside Obi-Wan sang in relief.  “You’re a liar and a murder, and I will never join you!  Arrest him, Anakin!  Kill him if you have to!”

“W-what!?”  Anakin looked at Obi-Wan in horror, his heart dropping and his face turning grey.  “Obi-Wan!  How... How could you!?  Have you lost your mind!?”  What was wrong with Obi-Wan!?  Those words he just spoke were some Anakin never dreamed he would hear come from his master’s mouth.  To murder an unarmed, innocent man!?  The Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic!?  Who was this man!?  It was as if this was not Obi-Wan at all! 

“He’s a Sith Lord!” Obi-Wan yelled.  “He’s lying!” 

“What if he isn’t lying!?  What if it’s true!?  What if he can save Padmé and my baby and your family too!?

“He can’t!  He’s tricking us to go to the Dark Side!”

“How do you know he can’t!?  What if he can!?  Isn’t it worth that chance, Obi-Wan!?  Maybe you wouldn’t, but I would give anything even for a chance to save my family.” 

Palpatine nodded, a satisfied smile spreading across his face.  “As I knew you would, Anakin.  Believe me, you won’t regret it.  We will save your wife and child together.” 

Anakin glanced at the man beside him.  He hesitated—two conflicting Forces, the Light and the Dark, the Chancellor and Obi-Wan, slamming together in his eyes like two massive waves colliding and shattering like glass into a vapor of a billion tiny droplets.... 

He looked at the Chancellor: a man he loved and trusted since his youth, a councilor, a grandfather....  Palpatine smiled tenderly back at him, kindly, lovingly.  He extended his hand—the same lined and gentle hand Anakin held when he was 9-years-old—to the Jedi, offering him everything he could possibly dream of, promising him a solution, salvation, the answer... an answer Obi-Wan was unable to provideObi-Wan had tried to save his baby, he tried to save Satine... and he lost them both.  What if Anakin followed Obi-Wan now only to blunder foolishly down the same cursed road Obi-Wan followed 20 years ago, only to lose his family.  The same way Obi-Wan did.    

He looked at Obi-Wan: his master, his friend, his brother, his father.  Obi-Wan gritted his teeth, straining against the Dark Force as it pushed down on him, pressing the air out of his lungs—the pressure was so intense, it felt like his bones would crack.... 

The strain on Anakin’s soul had become too much to bear.  Obi-Wan pulling him toward the Light, Palpatine pulling him toward the Darkness.  He could feel his soul stretching, weakening, ripping, bleeding, screaming—tearing in half.  Blood spurted and splatter everywhere, a wound opening like a hole inside of him.  It was like losing his limbs, half of his body, half of his entire being....  And he knew he had to chose.  Palpatine or Obi-Wan.

Anakin’s lightsaber sighed and, with a low moan, vanished into its hilt.

An icy stake slit Obi-Wan’s heart wide open.  “Anakin, no!” he yelled.  “Don’t do this!” 

“Obi-Wan, I’m sorry,” Anakin whispered.  His head hung and, unable to look Obi-Wan in the eye, he took his place at Chancellor Palpatine’s—at Darth Sidious’s—side.  “I’m not going to let my family die.  I don’t care how much it costs, I will save them.”

“You will, but not like this,” Obi-Wan pleaded, begged.  His eyes brimmed with desperation and terror, as he stared at Anakin.  He shook his head.  “This isn’t the way, this won’t help her, or any of you!  Please, Anakin....  Listen to me!  Trust me!”

Tears burned his eyes and blurred his vision as he glanced at his friend and master, this man he thought he knew.  He shook his head, choking on the knot in his throat as he whispered, “I’m sorry, Obi-Wan....  I can’t.”

Obi-Wan felt his heart be ripped straight out of his chest, flesh tearing, veins and arteries snapping, blood jetting out and soaking him to the skin.  “No, Anakin, please...” a despairing whisper fell through trembling lips.  Tears swarmed his eyes without warning.  “Don’t do this, please don’t do this,” he begged.  “I can’t lose you!  I need you, I love you!” 

But it was too late.  Anakin had already decided.  “I love you too, Obi-Wan,” Anakin whispered.  His own voice broke as he fought off tears.  “But I have to do this.  I have to save my family.”

Through a watery haze, Obi-Wan helplessly watched everything he had left, his only family, his friend, his padawan, his son slip away from him.  He failed Qui-Gon, he failed his child, he failed Satine, and now he had failed Anakin too.  He lost Anakin, like the rest of them.  He lost him to the Dark Side.   

Anakin turned to the Sith Lord beside him.  His face darkened and hardened, until it was like a mask of black durasteel.  The last glow of sunlight was vanishing on the bloody horizon, and jagged-edge shadows befell the Chosen One’s face.

Palpatine grasped Anakin’s shoulder firmly in his wrinkled hand, the way a father would when he is overwhelmingly proud of his son—for joining the military or receiving a medal of honor—and for a moment allowed himself to smile.  Anakin did not smile back.  His face was like rock, and tears glint in his eyes as he gazed steadily back at the Sith. 

 “What do I have to do?” Anakin asked the Chancellor, the Sith... his new master.

Sidious’s smile faded.  His expression became grave.  “Well, firstly...” he began grimly.  His eyes left Anakin and found Obi-Wan, who still imprisoned by the Dark Force.  (Although Palpatine’s hand was no longer raised to hold him still, his power crushing Obi-Wan did not wane.)  “...we’ll have to do something about him.”     

Anakin’s eyes darted to Obi-Wan.  He stared at the Jedi, sudden fear—terror—bubbling up in his gut, making him feel sick.  “What do you mean?”

“Well, we can’t let him leave here,” Sidious said as if it was obvious.  “He knows too much.  If we let him go, he’ll tell the Council and both of us will be arrested or killed.”

The world was spinning again, the floor swaying beneath his feet.  Anakin stared wide-eyed at the Sith Lord, his insides twisting into a knot so tight, so painful he was sure he would throw up, or pass out, or both....  “What are you saying!?” he demanded, his tone commanding but also horrified.  “We can’t... we can’t hurt him!

“We won’t hurt him,” Sidious said, waving a hand to dismiss Anakin’s puerile fears.  He looked at Obi-Wan again, and their eyes locked.  This Jedi’s face darkened into a cold glare that burned with anger—hatred—as it bore into the Sith.  Sidious tilted his head and carefully inspected Obi-Wan, his eyes trailing over his body, taking in every inch of him, the way a pathologist might observe a body before he begins the autopsy.  “We’ll simply... alter his memory.”  

“Alter his memory?” Anakin repeated, his voice thick with disapproval.  “But—”

“It’s the only way, Anakin,” Sidious interrupted.  He moved closer to his specimen.  Obi-Wan stiffened, every muscle tensing.  Sweat trickled down his face and neck as he strained—futilely—to get away.  Sidious raised his hands in front of him like a surgeon preparing to operate.  Obi-Wan’s heart pounded painfully in his chest, probably bruising his ribs, and thundered in his skull.  His breath hastened.  His insides squirmed and flipped and thrashed wildly in his gut, like trapped animals desperate to escape.  “Shh...” Sidious whispered, as if to calm and comfort him.  “You have nothing to be afraid of, Obi-Wan.”  He moved his hands toward Obi-Wan’s skull.  “This will only hurt for a few minutes.  And when it’s over, you won’t remember a thing....” 

Cold hands closed around Obi-Wan’s head, one against each temple.  Obi-Wan’s lungs panted out short, rapid breaths they could all hear rushing through his nose.  He stared at Sidious, who stared calmly back at him, and tried to conceal his fear.  For half a second, Obi-Wan’s eyes flickered away, and he looked at Anakin.  Terrified eyes stared back at him, a face overwhelmed with distress, confusion, shame—

“Wait!” Anakin cried.  “How much are you going to make him forget?”

“Only as much as I have to,” said Sidious.  “The conversations we had today.  That’s all.”

Anakin nodded reluctantly. 

“Try to relax, son,” Sidious said to Obi-Wan, who gritted his teeth in disgust.  “It’ll hurt less if you don’t try to resist.”

A burst of fire— AGONY!  A surge of white-hot electricity sliced through his head, through his skull, through his brain. Burning, blackening, boiling soft tissue and precious neurons.  It convulsed his whole body—nerves firing at random, his body twitching, thrashing, seizuring—it set his head ablaze. His brain was on fire!  Scorching, searing, sizzling.  White blooms of light popped in his eyes; it consumed them—he was staring into the sun—his eyes burned—he couldn’t see, he couldn’t breathe!  He was drowning—but instead of in water, he was in fire, lava.  Burning alive, trapped in flame, torture, unending, unable to escape, no respite, no relief.  Hell itself. 

He gasped for air—  His chest screamed as a desperate gulp of oxygen rushed into his starving lungs.  His head fell back against the wall behind him—his brain sloshed around like liquid inside his skull.  His skull pounded like a heartbeat, each pulse sending waves of pain through his entire body.  He blinked.  The room was a blur of dark shapes and colors around him; bright green and red spots blotted out patches of his vision.  His body trembled, pain surging though every muscle, every joint, every bone.  Sweat soaked him.  Something hot and wet trickled down the side of his face. 

Stop it!  STOP!” a horrorstruck voice screamed.  “You’re hurting him!  YOU SWORE YOU WOULDN’T HURT HIM!”  

“This is for his own good,” a calm, cold voice replied.  “For the good of all of us.  The entire galaxy.”

Obi-Wan dragged a deep, trembling inhale into his lungs.  Force.  Kriff.  He tried to concentrate on the Force—the Light—around him, but his head hammered.  The dark office blurred around him.  Although he was completely immobile, pinned against the wall, he felt his body rocking.  The pain became so intense a cry of agony jabbed at his throat and almost broke free.

He closed his eyes.      

He imaged a halo of pure Light around him: the Force, always with him, always guiding him, always protecting him—even when he could not feel its presence.  He envisioned the Light wrapping his mind in a warm, protecting embrace, like a blanket to comfort him, like a shield to guard him.  When the Darkness came again, the Light would stay strong around his mind, around his memories, and the Darkness would not be able to penetrate it.  The Darkness would not take them....  he hoped.    

“But you’re hurting him!  You’re TORTURING HIM!

“This won’t take much longer.  The pain is only temporary, and, once it’s passed, he won’t even remember it.”

“But—”

Another blast of agony. 

Lightning tore through his brain like an orange-glowing blade that has just been drawn from the coals of a furnace.  The Darkness slice through the Light like a knife through the softest, purest, most innocent flesh, opening a flaming red canyon in snow-white skin. 

He was submerged in it once more—pain too intense, too deep, too terrible to comprehend.  He was choking on it, gagging on it.  Bile was coming up his throat—he was choking on that too.  He could not think, or see, or breathe.  He couldn’t even scream.

He couldn’t remember. 

He did not know what was happening, where he was, who he was.  He did not know he was a Jedi.  He did not know this was a Sith.  He did not know his name.  He knew nothing save this one overwhelming, overpowering, excruciating pain, drowning, crushing, smothering him.  He could think of nothing except the agony and the maddening desire to make it stop!  

It stopped.  At least, the current of lightning through his brain stopped.  The pain lessened, but it did not go away.  A crimson carpet floated out of an inky darkness that was his vision.  His chest was tight, his lungs in a knot, his airways contracted, collapsed.  The lightning had stopped, and he still couldn’t breathe.  His head pulsed and spun, as blackness bled into his eyes again.  He was going to pass out—

You have to remember! a weak voice broke through the fog in his pulsating head.  He reached out desperately with him mind, like a blind man through the darkness, and tried to find any memory, anything to latch onto, anything at all....

“The Force...”

That was Qui-Gon Jinn’s voice.

“The Force is always with you, Obi-Wan.  The Force will always protect you.  Never let go of it, and it will never let go of you.”

Darth Sidious released a third blast of lightning into the Jedi’s skull.  His arms vibrated and jeered in demonic delight and sadistic pleasure as Dark energy passed from his hands and into the mind of Obi-Wan Kenobi.  He could feel it ripping the Jedi’s mind apart, searing his brain, scorching his memories until they were naught but shriveled black husks of ash.  The Sith Lord gleefully watched the young Jedi’s pale face drain of what little blood was left in it.  His skin turned grey, his eyelids slid shut, and his body fell limp.  Whatever resistance Obi-Wan attempted against the Darkness was slaughtered, as consciousness slipped from his grasp and his mind entered an oblivion like death.  Sidious did not stop the electricity for several, 7, 8, 9, 10—“Enough!” Anakin screamed—seconds after Obi-Wan passed out.  Just to be safe.  To make absolutely certain he would not remember.

The Sith Lord let out a labored sigh as if exhausted from his efforts and, at last, decided it was enough.  The electricity halted.  He let his arms fall limply to his sides, and he backed away from the bloodless, motionless, lifeless body he left hanging on the wall before him.  He released the Jedi from the Force.  Obi-Wan’s body fell forward.

“Obi-Wan!” a shrill cry pierced the tense silence that now consumed the chamber.  He bolted past the Sith Lord and threw himself to his knees, just in time to catch Obi-Wan and prevent him from smacking face-first into the floor.  “M-master?”

Anakin stared in horror at this corpse in his arms.  The reek of burned hair and charred human flesh poisoned the air and stung his sinuses.  Was Obi-Wan even alive!?  His body felt warm still, but he wasn’t moving.  Was he breathing!? 

He rolled Obi-Wan over onto his back and lied him down on the floor.  There was a smear of vomit on his mouth; two dark crimson streaks—like thick, red teardrops—ran down the sides of his face, one from each temple.  Anakin’s hand shot to Obi-Wan chest, and the other shot to his neck; he pressed one hand firmly against his chest, he pressed two fingers firmly against his throat; he could feel his lungs still rising and falling, he could feel a pulse still laboring onward.  Anakin let his breath out (he hadn’t realized he was holding it).  Thank the Force!  Obi-Wan was alive.  Thank the Force, thank the Force....

“He’s alive,” Anakin whispered, his voice trembling and tears rushing into his eyes.

“Of course, he’s alive,” Sidious answered from somewhere beside him.  “I told you we wouldn’t hurt him.”

Anakin’s red, wet eyes darted up to pierce Sidious with a wrathful glare.  “You did hurt him!  You could have killed him!” he spat in accusation.  “Look, he’s bleeding!”  Anakin quickly gathered the sleeve of his robes and scrubbed at the red streaks on Obi-Wan’s skin, smearing blood off his face, trying to rub it out of his hair....  Force.  Kriff.  There were obvious burns on both sides of Obi-Wan’s head, crudely hidden under his hair....  “You shouldn’t have done this,” he growled through his teeth, “I shouldn’t have let you!

“It’s for the best, Anakin,” Sidious answered with a pained sigh.  “Everything will be alright now.  Your friend Master Kenobi will get some rest and be just fine, and you and I will be free to save your family.  We will save Padmé and your baby.” 

Anakin barely nodded, curtly, coldly.  Forgetting Sidious, he fixed his full attention on Obi-Wan again, gently wiping sweat off his face, blood out of his hair, and vomit out of his beard.  “Obi-Wan...” he whimpered again.  “Master?  Please...”  He sent a timid pulse of Light energy through their Bond, carefully probing at Obi-Wan’s mind....  “Please wake up, Obi-Wan... Please be alright....”

Obi-Wan’s face contorted into a grimace.  His eyes pinched shut; his teeth clenched together; a weak, pained moan droned in the back of his throat. 

“Obi-Wan!”  Anakin’s heart leaped in hope—and terror.

The Jedi’s bleary eyes—unfocused, fogged-over, red, and wet—fluttered and weakly opened. 

“Oh, Master, thank the Force!”  Tears sprang up in Anakin’s eyes, and it took everything he had to resist the impulse to throw himself at the Jedi and pull him into a bone-crushing hug. 

Obi-Wan blinked.  He stared at the blurry images moving over him, the face staring down at him.  He winced slightly and let out another soft groan of pain. 

“Are you okay, Obi-Wan?” Anakin urgently questioned.  Anakin’s hand—his real hand—touched Obi-Wan face, his thumb gently rubbing across his cheekbone in effort to sooth him.  “Are... are you feeling okay?”

Obi-Wan’s expression was blank, his eyes unreadable.  He stared incomprehensively at Anakin a few seconds longer.  Then he looked around him, taking in his surroundings, the room, the ceiling, the fact that he was lying flat on his black on the floor....  Anakin saw the first sign of comprehension spark in Obi-Wan’s empty eyes, as he recognized Chancellor Palpatine’s office.  However, it was quickly replaced with a look of utter confusion.  His brow knitted in a troubled frown.  “...Anakin?” he muttered at last.  Anakin could have sung in joy just to hear him speak that one word, just to hear him say his name.  “What... How did... Why are we...?”

“You passed out,” another voice spoke before Anakin could. 

Obi-Wan’s eyes shifted.  He was staring at the familiar figure of Chancellor Palpatine.  The old man was not far behind Anakin—but just beyond Obi-Wan’s reach—looking over the knight’s shoulder to worriedly observe the two Jedi.  Something small and silver rested on the floor not far from the Chancellor’s foot... a comlink?  And, only feet away from that, a lightsaber....   

“You are not well, Master Kenobi.  Perhaps, I should com for a team to take you to the medcenter.” 

This bit of information only seemed to confuse Obi-Wan even more.  His lips parted, as if to speak, but before he said anything, Anakin asked quietly, “Does your head hurt, Obi-Wan?  Are you in a lot of pain?”

Obi-Wan labored his eyes to focus on Anakin again.  He was silent for several seconds, as he processed the question and considered his answer.  “I... a little bit,” he muttered at length.  He lifted his head off of the floor—  His eyes snapped shut; his jaws clamped down.  He let his head fall back against the ground, his face twisting into a grimace as he waited for the wave of pain to pass.  “...a lot.” 

“Kriff.”  Anakin pressed his hand to the Jedi’s forehead.  Obi-Wan’s vision swam.  “Kriff, he’s hot,” he whimpered.  He glanced at Palpatine—something dark and bitter in his eyes—before he went on, “He’s burning up, he needs a healer!”

“Yes, perhaps a medic would be wise,” the Chancellor agreed, nodding in concern and sympathy.  “Have you been feeling ill today, Master Kenobi?  What is the last thing you remember?”

“I...” Obi-Wan’s eyes flashed in deeper bewilderment, and then fear, as he tried to remember.  He looked at Anakin.  Their eyes met.  “I remember talking to you in the Archives...” he managed at last, his voice a strained whisper.  “What... how... how did we get here?

“Shh, Obi-Wan, it’s okay,” Anakin said gently.  Tears stung his eyes and twisted his throat into a knot, but he fought it.  He fought off the overwhelming desire to break, to sob, to let go now and forget all of this, to tell Obi-Wan the truth, to abandon the Chancellor and the plan, to just let go!   But he couldn’t.  He couldn’t do that without also letting go of all hope, of the last chance to save Padmé....

“You’re... you’re sick, Obi-Wan,” Anakin gritted his teeth and forced himself to lie.  “You’ll be alright.  Let's just...”  He glanced at Palpatine.  “Let’s get you back to your room, and I’ll get you some medicine.  You can sleep for a while, and you’ll feel better when you wake up...”

Obi-Wan hesitated, confused and clearly rather concerned, but, dismissing his unease and acting rationally, he nodded. 

Anakin sighed.

“Do you think you can stand?” he asked softly.  “Here, I’ll help you up...  Hold onto me...”

Anakin wrapped his arm around Obi-Wan’s back and carefully eased him into a sitting position.  Obi-Wan’s head whirled.  The room around him whirled in streaks of darkness.  He sat there for a moment blinking spots out of his eyes.  “Are you okay?” Anakin whispered. 

Obi-Wan nodded weakly—even that slight movement amplified the pain by a thousand watts.  “Yes...”

“Alright...”  Anakin waited several seconds longer before they continued.  “Wrap your arm around my neck.  I’ll help you stand...”  Obi-Wan obeyed.  “There you go, slowly...”  Anakin helped Obi-Wan rise gradually to his feet, Obi-Wan’s arm around his shoulders, Anakin maintaining a firm grip on his friend’s body.  Obi-Wan leaned against him, Anakin supporting his weight and holding him steady.  He wouldn’t let him fall.  “Alright, let’s walk now, slowly.  Our speeder is parked out front, Obi-Wan, let’s just... get you to the speeder, and I’ll take you back to the Temple.  You’ll be alright.” 

“My head hurts,” Obi-Wan murmured weakly.  He raised one hand to lightly brush his fingers against his temple—  Ow!  He hissed in pain, immediately retracting his hand as if it had been burned.  He stared numbly at his hand, and a faint red smear on his fingers.  Anakin and Palpatine glanced at each other—for a brief moment, their eyes met.  “...I’m bleeding...” the Jedi muttered at last. 

“You hit your head when you fell,” Palpatine answered without hesitating.  “I can get you some ice—”

“No, I’ll get it for him later,” Anakin interrupted as if he didn’t trust the Chancellor to perform this act of charity.  “Once we’re back at the Temple, I will take care of him.”

Palpatine nodded.  “And, to make things easier for you both, so he can stay in his own room instead of a medcenter, I’ll call for my personal medteam” —Anakin’s eyes locked with Palpatine’s— “to pay him a visit at the Jedi Temple.” 

“You’ll be fine, Obi-Wan,” Anakin muttered without glancing at the Jedi, his eyes still burning into the Chancellor.  At length, he shifted them to Obi-Wan and finished, “Everything will be okay.” 

Obi-Wan hesitated for a second, but then he nodded.  There was still a vacantness in his eyes, a hole where a chunk of his memory had been torn out.  He seemed confused, disoriented...  Yet, when he looked into his eyes, Anakin could see him thinking....  Maybe for a moment, he could—or thought he could—remember something....  But, that quickly, it was gone again.  Obi-Wan swayed, his knees weakening, his limbs shaking as if they were about to give out....

Anakin huffed and shot a cold glare at Palpatine.  He tightened his grip on Obi-Wan, doing his best to support him.  “Help me!” he commanded, speaking in an irritated, even harsh, tone Obi-Wan have never heard him use with the Chancellor before. 

Palpatine nodded and shuffled forward.  Anakin shifted his position and his hold on Obi-Wan, as Palpatine took his place on Obi-Wan’s other side.  He dutifully wrapped his arm around Obi-Wan’s back.  Obi-Wan raised one arm to wrap it around the Chancellor’s shoulders—

Something flashed—zipping through the air toward them—

A snap, a hiss—the undeniable sound of a lightsaber.  Obi-Wan’s weapon was in his hand.  The blue blade flashed in front of them all.  In one swift motion, Obi-Wan lunged forward, twisting away from Anakin, away from Palpatine, turning to face them both.  He slashed his lightsaber at Darth Sidious. 

 

Chapter Text

AMID THE SHADOW

Chapter VII

a flash of blue

a jagged streak of red— 

Two lightsabers collided: one like frosted steel and the other the blistering color of blood. 

Obi-Wan’s eyes—cold and calm but burning with a silent passion, determination, anger—locked with Sidious’s as their sabers locked between them.  The Light clashed with the Dark.  A glowing white signature wrested with one that bled blackness.  Obi-Wan leaned into his blade.  He strained his muscles, gritted his teeth, ignored the pain, pushed forward with all his strength, all the Force, all the Light.

Sidious did the same, channeling the Darkness which rose like a great black wave before Obi-Wan, who resisted, held it back with the Force....  The Jedi was stronger than Sidious presumed.  Kenobi had managed to resist his Dark power and cling to his memories—evidently.  The Light was stronger than he thought.  Yet, so much the better.  Kenobi was already exhausted, injured, weakened.  Perhaps he would put up a fight, but he would not last long against the mighty Darth Sidious.  Now, instead of merely losing his memory, Kenobi would lose his life. 

Sidious yelled in rage and glee twisted into one dark emotion.  He slammed into his lightsaber.  The Darkness hit Obi-Wan like an inky black tsunami.  It smashed his ribcage with enough force to fracture bones, costing him the air in his lungs and his already-shaky balance.  He stumbled backward, the room whirling in a maelstrom of darkness.  For a fraction of a second, he could not see Sidious.  The Sith cried out again and thrust the burning red blade at the Jedi’s chest— 

Obi-Wan blindly jerked backward and twisted to the left—not knowing where Sidious’s saber would land but trusting the Force alone and its urgent order to get out of the way!  The red saber sizzled as it sliced the air in front of Obi-Wan, barely missing his chest, singeing the white fabric of his tunic.

Sidious launched another round of attacks, swinging wildly at the Jedi, never giving him a shred of a second to recover from the last assault or prepare himself from the next.  Their weapons clashed and groaned and hissed in a rapid series of strikes—Obi-Wan always on defense, Sidious always on attack, Obi-Wan backing up, Sidious pushing him toward the wall—

Anakin’s lightsaber was suddenly humming in his hand.  His heart thundered in his chest; his senses sharpened to their height; his mind seized by the impulse to act! 

...But his body was paralyzed. 

His feet were rooted to the ground, his muscles immobile.  He stood as if bound to that spot, watching the Sith and the Jedi battle, not knowing who to defend and who to attack.  The Force screamed in his ears—conflicting orders—and he didn’t know which to follow.  Every time their lightsabers collided, he could feel the Light and the Dark clash—inside the Force and inside of him.  Violent, painful tremors vibrating his soul, shaking and dividing it like a planet-quake.  It hurt so badly.  The Light and the Dark grappling inside of him, tearing him apart, making him bleed internally.  If this torment, this torture was to stop (lest it should go on until it killed him), one of them, the Light or the Dark, would have to destroy the other.

Do something! screamed the voice in Anakin’s head.

But who’s side did he take?  What do I do, what do I DO!? 

Obi-Wan attacked the Chancellor.  Palpatine is your master now.  If he kills Palpatine, he kills Padmé too!

But Sidious tortured Obi-Wan!  Obi-Wan is your real master, your friend, your father!  Sidious is trying to kill Obi-Wan!   

A pained cry broke through the snarling of lightsabers.

Sidious’s blade sliced through Obi-Wan’s shoulder. 

Sudden, searing pain—the sizzle of skin—the reek of boiling blood and burning flesh.  Obi-Wan staggered, pain momentarily overwhelming him before he could push it into the Force.  It isn’t deep, he promised himself, not daring to look.  —It isn’t bad—  His knees went weak, the floor dipped beneath him, everything darkened.  —you’re fine, you’re fine—

Sidious gripped his lightsaber with both hands.  He swung it like an ax to chop a twig-thin tree trunk utterly in half.  The Force shrieked in Obi-Wan’s ears.  His head spun, pain blinded him, he couldn’t see!  He trusted the Force.  He brought up his lightsaber to defend himself—maybe just in time, maybe a second too late....

The blades collided again.  Sparks shattered off both sabers—spits of red, shards of blue.  Obi-Wan deflected the assault at the last second, but the power of it threw him backward.  He barely managed to stay on his feet.  Darth Sidious clenched his teeth in a hideous semblance of a smile and seized the opportunity.  Obi-Wan looked up, but all he saw was a burst of dark blue—almost black—light, as it burst from the Sith’s finger tips.

He barely had time to gasp.  Blistering streaks of Dark energy—wrath, hatred, evil strong enough to kill—struck Obi-Wan directly in the chest.  The pain was so intense, so sudden he couldn’t even scream.  His body hit the floor, his head cracked on the wall.  He did not notice either collision beneath such excruciating agony.  It was like acid or fire running through his bloodstream, burning up veins and arteries as it passed through them, searing tissue, frying fibers and neurons, cooking flesh and organs like meat. 

Sidious howled in wrath and delight as he watched the great Obi-Wan Kenobi writhe like a worm at his feet.  He drew on the Darkness that swirled around him like planets—an entire galaxy—in orbit around a single black star.  He used it to intensify the heat, the power of the lightning.  Make it stronger, stronger!  Amplify to its highest power.  Enough to deform, enough to destroy!   

Unlimited power!

Another figure was at Sidious’s side.  Both the Sith and the Jedi, even through the seizuring torture, sensed him approach.  Obi-Wan’s heart jumped in desperate hope.  A satisfied sensation like victory bleed into Sidious’s heart.  He was not worried.  Not even at all.  He trusted his new apprentice completely.  

“Ana—” Obi-Wan tried to speak, but he couldn’t.  Electricity, pain—or maybe Death—wraps its icy hands hand his throat and choked him.  He couldn’t speak, he couldn’t breathe!  Anakin! he cried through their Bond—or what was left of it.  He could feel the link between them, which this morning had been stronger than ever, searing and shriveling as the lightning—no, the Darkness—set it aflame.  Anakin, HELP ME! the Jedi cried, and he prayed his brother could still hear him. 

“YOU ARE A TRAITOR AND A MURDER, OBI-WAN KENOBI!” Darth Sidious shrieked over the scream of electricity.  His usually calm blue eyes burned the bloody gold of the Sith, and they bore into the Jedi with piercing, lethal hatred.  “YOU HAVE ATTEMPTED TO ASSASSINATE THE CHANCELLOR OF THE GALACTIC REPUBLIC!  THERE IS ONLY ONE PUNISHMENT FOR SUCH A CRIME—DEATH!” 

...

Anakin Skywalker could feel every flare of electricity, every jab of pain that hit Obi-Wan.  It was not like the physical convulsing, searing, destroying the Jedi’s body.  It was worse.  It was pain in their Force-signatures, pain in his soul.  Their Bond was on fire, burning up, curling and curdling, shrinking into black ash, as Sidious’s dark power tore it apart.  Even though Anakin was screaming at himself in his head, DO SOMETHING! invisible chains held him back.  Maybe his own terror paralyzed him—maybe the Darkness had a grip on him now and refused to let him act.  Yet, at Sidious’s last words, “There is only one punishment for such a crime—death,” Anakin felt as if he had been punched. 

His heart plummeted clean out of his chest.  His guts curled like the legs of dead spiders. 

NO!” the Jedi—the part of him that was stronger than the Darkness—cried out in horror.  Without thinking or hesitating another second, he threw himself between Obi-Wan and Sidious—headfirst into the lethal current of electricity. 

Agony in the Force suddenly became agony in his flesh.  A white-hot light exploded before his eyes.  He couldn’t see, he couldn’t breathe.  His body was thrown backward, thrashing in violent convulsions— 

For less than a second.

Sidious’s eyes widened in alarm as he realized what his new apprentice had done.  At once, he cut off the current of electricity. 

Anakin staggered on weak legs.  His lightsaber was still in his hand but no longer activated.  His free hand flew to clutch his chest as he gasped for breath, painfully dragging death-polluted air into his lungs.  The room rotated around him.  Green and red lights popped in front of his eyes.  Blobs of darkness swam in his vision.  He looked around frantically for Obi-Wan. 

The Jedi lay face-down on the floor behind him.  His body twitched; jagged flares of electricity visibly sparking through him.  He groaned weakly and raised his head off the floor, limbs trembling, head pounding, shoulder blazing, entire body screaming in protest...  But alive.      

Anakin sighed thinly.  Obi-Wan was far from well, but at least he was alive.  Thank the Force for that.  Slowly straightening up and rising to his full height, the Chosen One turned to face the Lord of the Sith.  A pair of eyes glowing like embers of a recently-extinguished fire—or a flame that is only about to erupt—watched him from within the shadow that had become the Chancellor’s office.  Anakin stared directly back at him, chest heaving, heart pounding, Force screaming around him. 

“Get out of the way, Anakin,” Darth Sidious hissed. 

“You swore you wouldn’t hurt him,” Anakin murmured in a low, dangerous growl.    

“Don’t you see this is the only way!?” Sidious exclaimed, anger searing in his voice like the lightning that burned Obi-Wan, or the lightning brewing in the clouds beyond the window.  “He cannot be kept alive; he’s too dangerous!  He’s a threat to the entire Republic—most of all you and Padmé!”

“You intended to kill him from the beginning,” Anakin whispered.  The realization was a like a stake of ice nailed through his heart.  Was everything this man ever told him a lie?  All those years of counseling and friendship... was all of it part of the plot to deceive him!? 

Now the answer seemed so obvious.  But... but how!? 

Anakin could not comprehend “how.”  He had trusted the Chancellor, respected him, loved him too much... and it had blinded him.  Yet now—although he would not try to understand how—he could see that this man, this monster, was not his friend.  This was not kind, gentle, loving friend he used to know.  If this man really cared for him, he would not be trying to kill his best friend and master.  The only father he had ever known. 

“I did not,” the Sith immediately denied.  “I tried to erase him memory, but it wasn’t enough.  You saw this yourself.  Now move!  This must be done.”

Anakin’s lightsaber cracked like thunder.  Thunder rumbled outside; darkness sett in over the planet and clouds like an ocean of smoke—or an army of ghosts—advanced and smothered the sky.  A cobalt blade sprang back to life, thrumming dangerously in his hand.  He shook his head, eyes burning with anger and tears as he stared at the Chancellor—the Sith Lord.  He had to let go of him.  The truth stabbed at his stubborn brain and sliced razorblades through his heart.  The Sith was a liar, a traitor.  The Darkness was evil.  He had to let go of him—of everything.  That friendship, that trust, that love, that family.... 

At what price?  

Padmé?  The baby?  Everything?

Sidious’s face darkened.  The gold of his eyes bled fiercer, redder. “I am your only hope,” the shadow breathed.  “If you betray me now, you will never save Padmé.  Your wife and your child will die, and you will lose everything.  Just as your master did.”

“Steady, Anakin,” a weak voice panted from behind him.  Anakin glanced over his shoulder.  Obi-Wan was on his feet now.  There was a large hole, the edges singed and blackened, across his right collarbone where Sidious’s lightsaber burned through his white—now stained—tunic.  The flesh visible beneath it was boiling red, burned and blistering.  He was bleeding but not heavily, the saber having cauterized the wound as it was inflicted.  His face was pale, his eyes slightly clouded (not clear and cool as they usually were), smears of blood in his hair and on his face, visible weakness in his body, tangible pain in the Force.   

He shouldn’t fight, an urgent warning jabbed at the back of Anakin’s mind.  But what choice did he have?  Anakin could not fight this Sith Lord alone.  So he gritted his teeth and forced down the premonition. 

It was like swallowing vomit. 

“We’ll take him together,” Obi-Wan continued quietly.  He took his place at Anakin’s side.  They stood together before the Sith Lord, shoulder to shoulder, just as they always had.  The Team.  Master and padawan.  Father and son.  Obi-Wan igniting his lightsaber.  “Just like we took Dooku.”

Anakin glanced at the man beside him.  Eyes like a crystal green sea—eyes he knew better than his own—gazed evenly back at him.  Anakin nodded, and Obi-Wan returned the gesture.  He sent a pulse of reassurance through their damaged Bond.  It hurt them both—chiefly Obi-Wan, whose head was reeling and who, at the moment, did not entirely trust his own legs to support his weight—but the pain was quickly followed by relief, healing.   Like an injection of bacta, the sting of the needle followed by a rush of alleviation.  The Light caressed and soothed the injuries in their Bond, and it began to reform, like a torn muscle that builds back stronger. 

Darth Sidious glared at the Jedi as he watched 14 years of patience, planning, plotting, and careful caring out of his schemes go to waste.  His Chosen One, his own creation, the life he and Darth Plagueis formed to bring the balance of the Force—that is, the renewal of the Dark Side—and the revenge of the Sith.  Anakin Skywalker, the child of Darkness, had chosen to follow the Light. 

Sidious bared his teeth.  So be it.  He would embrace this loss.  Any semblance of regret he forged into wrath, hatred for both of them—Skywalker and Kenobi, the Jedi who stole his apprentice from him—and he channeled it into a mighty, dark power. 

Another loud snap.  A blood-red blade simmered in his hand again.  “It’s treason then.”

Anakin received another brush in the Force from Obi-Wan, telling him to keep his head, stay calm, concentrate, wait until the moment is right— 

Sidious dove at the Jedi. 

An inhuman scream, a whirl of darkness.  Darth Sidious was upon them—right in front of them.  Obi-Wan jerked backward, throwing himself into a sudden, sloppy backflip.  The sizzling lightsaber swooped past him—millimeters in front of his face, close enough to make his cheek blister.  

He landed with a joltPain popped in his knees and sliced down his spine as his boots met the floor a second before he expected them to.  Blast!   He brought up his lightsaber, immediately falling into a defense position as Sidious came at him again, slashing at his leg, his arm, his side, his neck—  Anakin twisted into the space between them, a furious ring of blue light thrumming around him as he wielded his lightsaber in a fervent series of defense and attack.  He contained Sidious long enough for Obi-Wan to regroup himself, will the fog out of his head, release his physical pain into the Force.  Then Obi-Wan came at Sidious from the right as Anakin attacked from the left, momentarily forcing the Sith to fall into defense, the scarlet blade whirling to block their strikes. 

They fought well together, the entire galaxy already knew that much.  Kenobi was a master of Soresu, the third and most defensive of lightsaber forms.  The “peaceful” form, as the Jedi liked to think of it, as if any killing tactic could be peaceful.  Kenobi’s patients and level head as well as his physical skill and endurance allowed him to combat an opponent for an extensive period of time, waiting for his enemy to tire and make a mistake the Jedi would then take advantage of.  He fought defensively, wielding his weapon in tight, precise motions to provide maximum protection not only to himself but to his apprentice as well.  Skywalker, on the other hand, preferred to attack than defend.  He did not have the composure to wait for his opponent to blunder.  He created his own openings.  He was a Form V Djem So fighter, which focused on attack, followed by defense, and immediate counterattack, a fast-pace fighting style meant to keep the opponent on his heals. 

Sidious could not deny that the two Jedi did compliant each other well.  One was the other’s balance.  One’s weakness was the other’s strength.  Where Kenobi was defensive, Skywalker was aggressive.  Where Kenobi hesitated, Skywalker attacked.  Where Skywalker was reckless, Kenobi was calculated.  Where Kenobi was light, Skywalker had darkness in him.  Yes.  They were the perfect balance.  Even the Force seemed to agree.  Two signatures loomed side by side, Kenobi’s like water, Skywalker’s like fire.  There was little wonder they were known as “The Team” throughout the galaxy, why at times they appeared unbeatable. 

But they weren’t. 

The Team defeated Dooku through deception.  Darth Sidious had the opportunity to sit peacefully in an arm chair—his farce prison—and observe the entire battle.  He saw Skywalker pretend to be a Shien fighter only to reveal his Djem So when Dooku least expected it.  He watched Kenobi feign Ataro and, in the same manner, tactfully switch to Soresu.  Once they revealed their true combat forms and attacked as one unit, two halves of the same whole, the battle was all but over.  Surprise and deception defeated Dooku—along with Skywalker’s burning anger, hatred, his desire for revenge.  However, they could use no such trickery on Darth Sidious.

Sidious knew these Jedi.  He had sent years observing them.  He had seen them fight, seen them succeed, and seen them fail.  He knew their every flaw, every weakness, and he knew where to target them.  Furthermore, Kenobi was currently far from the Soresu master he was known to be.  His mind seared by electricity, his body disjointed by the same devastating bolts, his shoulder skimmed by a lightsaber.  Kenobi was an utter mess.  Beside the swift and sturdy Skywalker, he looked drunk.  He fought like he was in a daze, swaying slightly, blocking clumsily, teetering as if he would collapse at any moment.  He could not make full use of his right arm, the lightsaber wound stiffening his muscles and parlaying his shoulder.  As for Skywalker, he was not fighting with his usual ferocity either.  Whenever he lunged at Sidious, he went for a leg, or an arm, or his hands like he sliced off Dooku’s.  Obi-Wan glanced at Anakin and realized almost at the same time as the Sith Lord: Anakin was not trying to kill Sidious.  He wanted him defeated, of course, taken into custody where he could not hurt anyone else, cause any more damage.  But he wanted him alive.  Because a part of him still loved the Chancellor, because he needed Sidious to help him save Padmé. 

Sidious smiled.  This would be too easy.  Kenobi barely able to stay upright, Skywalker unwilling to kill him.  The Jedi were defeated before the fight begun.  First, he would kill Kenobi.  Then he would deal with Skywalker.

Sidious shot into the air, like a bat spreading twisted leather wings, and flipped over Obi-Wan’s head.  He thrust out his saber as he came down, so the blade would bisect Kenobi’s back in two.  Obi-Wan spun around and twisted to avoid the assault—but not fast enough.  The saber would have sliced him wide open from his shoulder blades to the small of his back, but Anakin dove in front of him at the precise moment, knocking Sidious’s saber to the side.  Without pause, Anakin jabbed at the Sith’s shoulder, aiming to take off his arm.  Sidious anticipated it.  He dropped to one knee—a blue light sizzled harmlessly through the air above him, Anakin stepped past him, having been a little too reckless with this attack—and swept his lightsaber at Anakin’s legs to sever them at the knees.  And, as if out of nowhere, Obi-Wan was there, deflecting Sidious’s attack and defending Anakin before the blade could touch him.

Even now in this half-conscious state, even when he could barely defend himself, somehow Obi-Wan was there every time Sidious attacked Anakin.  Likewise, Anakin would not allow the flaming red bar to touch Obi-Wan.  They surprised the Sith with their ability to protect each other, to always be in the precise spot at the precise moment.  It was as if they were two bodies of one being, one spirit, one mind.  Every second, they knew what the other was thinking, which move the other would make next.  They fought as a until, one person, two halves of the same whole. 

Sidious was impressed.  And surprised.  He could not honestly say he expected these Jedi to put up even a semblance of a fight.  However, he was not concerned.  He knew how to unbalance this seemingly flawless Team.

“This Jedi cannot help you, Anakin!” Sidious cried, as the Sith and two Jedi leaped and spun and twisted around each other in a lethal dance, lightsabers crackling, hissing, snapping, snarling, spitting like a roaring, ravenous flame.  “He cannot save you or your wife or your child!” 

Anakin thrust his weapon at Sidious.  In one swift motion, the Sith swooped out of the way, disappeared, and reappeared in time for red and blue lightning to clash and freeze between them.  Sidious’s eyes met Anakin’s, Anakin leaning on his weapon, Sidious doing the same.

“Everyone he loves dies.”

The cool water that was Obi-Wan in the Force, smooth and flowing, rushing yet somehow calm, moving with grace as if it knew its destination, faltered in its path.  Like a swift stream hitting rocks that have fallen into its path, shattering to whitecaps, splitting, and continuing shakily on its way.

Obi-Wan lunged at Sidious—so uncharacteristic of a Soresu master.  As if expecting such an attack, Sidious stepped smoothly to the side, and Obi-Wan stumbled past him.  His saber sliced through nothing; his back was momentarily exposed to Sidious.  He turned just in time to see a red flash and jump back.  Anakin intercepted the attack.  Lightsabers met with a hiss.  Anakin twisted left.  Sidious’s blade sizzled past him.  Anakin brought his saber down to divide the Sith’s arm—as Sidious raised his weapon, and their lightsaber’s met once more.      

“He can do nothing but fail, Anakin,” the Sith hissed.  “He failed to save his Master.  He failed to save his lover.  He couldn’t save his own child.  He will fail you just as he failed them.  Everything and everyone you love will die!  You need me!”           

“Don’t listen to him, Anakin,” Obi-Wan hissed through his teeth.  He threw himself at the Sith—recklessly. 

Sidious saw his opportunity, and he took it. 

He swooped out of the way, steering his lightsaber at Kenobi’s legs.  Fire met flesh.  The hiss, sizzle of the saber sinking through skin, into muscle—the smell, the stench that suddenly poisoned the air—  Obi-Wan cried out at the sudden, searing pain.  He stumbled a step past Sidious, his leg gave out, and he collapsed—his chest hit the floor.  Sidious turned and Anakin was there, coming at him to keep him away from Obi-Wan—just as Sidious expected. 

Anakin raised his lightsaber.  Sidious raised his hand.  The hand slammed into a fist.  The air, itself, closed around Anakin’s throat.  Knives of pain jabbed his neck.  Anakin’s free hand shot to grab frantically at his throat.  He gagged, gasped for air but none came.  He couldn’t breathe! 

Kriff! Anakin barely had time to think, his mind racing and panicking.  Sidious clenched his fist tighter, fingers curling into his palm until his nails dug into his skin and drew blood.  Anakin sputtered; a strained, strangled noise emitted from somewhere within his throat.  Sidious raised his arm, and Anakin was lifted into the air.  Dangling by his throat, feet kicking above the floor, as if he was hanging by a noose. 

Red and green lights popped in front of Anakin’s eyes; then black blobs were bleeding into his vision....  Everything was spinning, darkening—he was going to pass out.  Force, no!  Anakin tried to fight it, tried to resist, fought against the dark Force holding him, but it was useless.  Sidious watched him struggle and languish, his face turn pale, his lips turn blue....  Anakin’s legs went limp.  He stopped fighting to get away.  His eyes rolled back in his head, and Sidious watched unconsciousness pull him under.  Sidious swung his arm wildly, and, for a moment, Anakin’s limp form hurled across the room—before he slammed into the wall and collapsed into a heap on the floor.

Obi-Wan lifted is head, and he saw Anakin hit the ground.  Breathing heavily and covered in sweat—both from exhaustion and agonizing pain—he pushed himself up.  He got slowly, unsteadily to his feet.  The room spun, the floor felt uneven.  He could barely put any pressure on his left leg.  His eyes flickered down, and he glimpsed a gruesomely blistering gash above his knee.  His whole leg pulsated, as did his right shoulder.  His entire body ached, throbbed.  He gritted his teeth and gripped his lightsaber.  He limped toward the center of the room—one slow step followed by a quick, short step, swaying, tottering, every second like he might collapse—and stood between where Anakin lay unconscious on the floor and Darth Sidious.

The Sith beheld Obi-Wan with gold eyes smoldering like embers in the furnace of hell.  The room was dark now.  Rain pelted the glass of the panoramic window.  Clouds churned like smoke.  Thunder growled and lightning flared in the restless sky. 

“Surrender now,” Sidious ordered in a cold, dark voice.  “Look at you.  You’re half dead already.  Do you really think you stand a chance?” 

Obi-Wan glanced over his shoulder at Anakin.  His head rest on the floor, his face turned toward Obi-Wan.  Bad bruising was already coming up on his neck and around his eye and cheek bone from the collision with the wall, and a thin trickle of blood glint beneath his nose.  Yet, the color was returning to his face, and his lips looked a little less blue.  Obi-Wan sent a gentle pulse through their Bond, trying to nudge Anakin back into consciousness.  He called on the Force just to keep himself steady, to keep himself conscious a little longer.  He only had to fight until Anakin woke up, he told himself.  Just a little longer. 

He looked at Sidious, lungs heaving, and shook his head.  “Stay away from my apprentice.” 

“Soon,” Sidious replied icily, “he will be my apprentice.  And you will be dead.” 

“You have to kill me first,” Obi-Wan answered calmly.  Maybe he was too worn and drained and wounded to care.  He extended one arm in front of him and pointed toward Sidious with two fingers, his other arm drawing back his lightsaber in the common Soresu stance.  “Why don’t you try?”

“I’ll make short work of it.”  Sidious bared his lightsaber and sprang at Obi-Wan. 

Obi-Wan raised his blue-burning blade and met Sidious head to head, giving ground, always on defense, matching Sidious strike for strike.  Red and blue light streaked and whirled and blurred around the Sith and the Jedi, vrooming, sizzling, snapping, sparking like white-hot spits from a flame.  Obi-Wan managed to hold him off but just barely.  Each time the red saber passed him it seemed to get closer; he could feel the heat rush by him, singeing his robes, burning his skin. 

Obi-Wan kept backing up, stumbling, staggering, losing his footing and latching onto the Force to keep him upright.  Sidious was backing him into the wall.  Time for a trick.  Obi-Wan’s eyes flickered past Sidious and landed on a lamp on the Chancellor’s desk.  It was small but it would have to do. 

When the scarlet saber swooshed toward him again, instead of blocking it, Obi-Wan ducked low out of the way and twisted to the right.  At the same second, he raised one hand and snagged the lamp with the Force.  Sidious sensed the approaching peril and dodged it a millisecond before glass would have shattered on his skull.  In the shred-of-a-moment Sidious was distracted, Obi-Wan drew in the Force.  He felt it rush to him and enter him, like oxygen flooding his lungs, like a god inhaling all the air in the universe— He opened his palm as wide as his fingers could spread and thrust his hand toward Sidious— All the power of the bottled-up Force burst forth, like a mighty wave roaring as it broke on top of the Sith. 

Sidious was caught in the current and swept off his feet, tumbling backward as if washing up on a beach by the tide, and rolled across the floor.  Obi-Wan gathered his strength—anything and everything he had left—and leapt at the Sith.  He twisted in the air, moved to the left, came down at an angle; he bent one leg, his knee hit the floor, and he slid toward Sidious, lightsaber aimed to impale the Sith through the heart.

Sidious bolted upright and brought up his saber.  It struck the underside of Obi-Wan’s blade and deflected his strike.  Their weapons crossed and froze in an X between them.  Sidious sitting on the floor, Obi-Wan on his knees beside him.  “Clever, Kenobi,” Sidious hiss through his teeth.  He grunted and pushed forward on his blade.  His physical strength was more than Obi-Wan’s at the moment, and it was enough to send the Jedi toppling onto his backside.  The Sith roared and swiped at Obi-Wan’s stomach.  He flinched and called on the Force to throw himself into an urgent backflip, narrowly avoid the assault that left a black burn mark across his white robes.  At the same time, Sidious yelled in rage and shot toward the Jedi.  Lightsabers met in three rapid parries, Obi-Wan once again giving ground.  He stepped backward, faltered slightly as he was forced to put pressure of his bad leg—Sidious ducked low to avoid any lightsaber attack Obi-Wan might try and kicked high.  Obi-Wan jerked right to avoid it, but, still in pain and off-balance, it wasn’t enough.  The Sith’s boot slammed into Obi-Wan’s left leg—directly over the lightsaber wound. 

The air in Obi-Wan’s lungs shot into his throat, where it choked him.  His knee buckled and his leg gave out, blinding light flashing in his eyes, blinding pain shooting through his leg and paralyzing his body.  The next thing he knew, his shoulder blades hit the floor—another burst of pain as his shoulder made contact—and he was sprawled out on his back.  The Sith Lord loomed over him like the Fallen-Angel of Death, cloaked in darkness, come to claim another soul.  Crimson lightsaber burning like blood in his pale hand.

“But not clever enough,” Sidious sneered. 

Obi-Wan drew in a sharp breath and rolled painfully backward.  He scrambled to his feet, hissing through his teeth when he put weight on his leg, and stumbled into the wall.  He stood there a moment, one hand pressed against the wall to steady himself, panting, sweating, bleeding, his head spinning, the room around him swirling in and out of focus.  Sidious smiled as he watched the Jedi suffer.  Obi-Wan turned blurry, unfocused eyes on Sidious and weakly lifted his lightsaber in a ready stance.  

“Had you been a little smarter,” the Sith continued cruelly, “perhaps you wouldn’t have had sex with Satine.”

Obi-Wan felt like he had been slapped.  Heat rushed to his face.  He started at Sidious, shocked and mortified. 

“Perhaps you wouldn’t have used her,” the Sith hissed, “again and again, for your own desires, for your own pleasure.  Perhaps you wouldn’t have reduced a Duchess, who had nothing to do with you, or the Jedi Order, or any of the madness you got her tangled up with, into your own personal whore.” 

“How dare you?” Obi-Wan said in a low, dangerous whisper.  Any embarrassment or regret was suddenly replaced by fury.  It sprang up inside of him like a wildfire, roaring and spreading, devouring everything in its path.  “How dare you talk about her like that!?” Obi-Wan snarled.  He lunged at Sidious, launching his lightsaber in a furious and wild attack. “How dare you speak her name!?”  

Sidious tried not too look too pleased as he fended off Obi-Wan’s reckless attempts.  “How dare I speak the truth!?” he countered, as lightsabers swooped and smashed between them.  “How dare I remind you of how you used her, hurt her, made her fall in love with you, only to abandon her, leave once you were done with her?” 

Obi-Wan threw himself at Sidious, swinging recklessly, almost randomly with his saber.  He hardly seemed to be using any form at all now.  The Sith’s words were like nails in his brain, shards of glass in his heart.  They split open old wounds so they were raw and aching anew, burning, bleeding, screaming for relief.  Suddenly, Obi-Wan was possessed by wrath and grief and guilt and the overwhelming desire to do whatever he had to do to silence that horrible voice.  He didn’t want to hear these things, he didn’t want to relive this.  The pain was terrible enough.  He just wanted to make it stop. 

“You ruined her,” the Shadow hissed.  “You took her innocence.  How old was she the first time you took her?  16?  17?   She was a child, and you manipulated her.  You made her believe that you loved her.  You made her think that you would stay forever, that you would marry her and have a family with her....  But that was never your intention, was it?”  He slid easily out of the way of another headlong attack, a desperate attempt to silence him.  “You impregnated her, and still you didn’t stay!  She lost her child because of you, because you weren’t there when she needed you.  And when she was at her weakest, when she was still grieving the loss of her son, when you had already taken everything from her, you left her.  You left her.  You seduced her, took what you wanted, and you left her with nothing.”

“That’s not what happened!” Obi-Wan practically screamed, shaking his head in furious—frantic—denial.  He lashed out at Sidious again, eager to end this. 

“Is it not?” Sidious inquired, raising a cynical eyebrow.  “Even though she loved you and you knew it, and you knew she would never love anyone else and she would never get married and she would never have children or a family or a life, because you had taken all of that from her?  Even though you knew all of this and, yet, you still left her?”

“I left because I didn’t have a choice!” Obi-Wan burst, as if he had to justify his actions to this Sith Lord... or to himself.  “I had to leave to protect her!  It was the only way!”

“Oh, so you were protecting her!” Sidious jibed.  “I see.  If that was really your intention, then I am afraid you failed rather miserably.  You failed her.  Satine is dead, because of you.  She is dead, because you weren’t there to protect her.  Just like you weren’t there to protect your baby.  You were never there, Obi-Wan.  You never loved anyone like you love the Jedi Order, and Republic, and the Code.  You never cared about Satine or the... fetus she wanted so badly—”

Obi-Wan scoffed in disgust and swiped his saber at Sidious’s throat.  The Sith ducked and dealt his own strike at Obi-Wan’s gut, which the Jedi barely managed to avoid.  “It wasn’t just a ‘fetus,’” Obi-Wan growled under his breath.  He tried again—unsuccessfully—to outmaneuver Sidious with his lightsaber.  “He was our baby, he was our son!”  

“And you couldn’t save him,” Sidious finished in mock sympathy.  “You never cared about anyone—and you don’t care about your apprentice—like you care about the Jedi Order, Obi-Wan... and like you care about yourself.  And, because of that, you will never be able to save anyone.  For the rest of your life, everyone you love will die.”

Obi-Wan’s fury peaked.  It erupted inside of him like the mounts of Mustafar.  Water-blue eyes burned like fire as the Jedi glowered at the Sith: an ominous black figure in front of the thunderstorm and the window.  He screamed in wrath and threw himself at Sidious, not listening to his head, not listening to the Force, barely taking note of where Sidious’s saber would land next, and he swung his lightsaber in enraged, insane slashes—starving for blood, for a kill.  He didn’t care if Sidious impaled him and took him down too.  As long as the Sith was dead, Obi-Wan would died peacefully. 

But Sidious knew this plan.  He could see straight through the Jedi, as he could see through his fury.  He could predict his every move, see each strike before it came.  Unlike a Sith, unlike the Chosen One, Obi-Wan’s anger did not sharpen his senses and heighten his focus.  It unbalanced him.  It clouded his mind, and it blurred his judgment.  It made defeating him simple.  It made it too easy, like killing a Youngling.

“Obi-Wan, DON’T!” Anakin screamed from somewhere on the other side of the room, but it was too late.   

In one smooth motion, Sidious slithered out of the way of Obi-Wan’s foolish attack.  For a slit-second, the Jedi’s back was exposed, and Sidious’s simmering lightsaber dove deep into his flesh.  Obi-Wan heard his own voice.  It hit his ears in a pained, broken cry.  Jagged streaks of light blinded his eyes.  His limbs gave out and his body felt weak, dead, as it flew limply forward, and his back felt like it was on fire.  He smashed face-first into the glass window.  A moment later, he drew in a sharp breath.  Reality came spinning back into focus, and, biting down the agony, he spun around to face Sidious—

But he couldn’t move.  Something—the Dark Side—was pinning him to the wall again.  His pulsating body paralyzed, his face pressed against the glass.  A thousand pounds of invisible weight pressed upon him.  He couldn’t breathe, his wounds screaming, his bones cracking under unbearable pressure....

Blast!  Damn it!  Kriff!  Obi-Wan fought against the force, struggling to counter it, straining to get away.  But, just as it was before, it was useless. 

 “So much anger...” a low, cold voice hissed from behind him.  Obi-Wan could feel the Sith moving closer to him, like night closing in, like an icy chill creeping over his heart.  Or like death seeping into the limbs of one about to die.  “So much hatred...”   

Anakin—still dragging his mind back into the realm of consciousness—forced his dizzy body up off the floor.  Everything swayed.  His head spun, his legs tangled beneath him.  He stumbled into the wall.

“It’s ironic,” Sidious continued quietly.  “You were the perfect Jedi.

Shaking off the dizziness, ignoring the throbbing in his skull, Anakin charged toward Sidious and Obi-Wan, lightsaber in hand.    

“And, yet, perhaps you would not have made a bad Sith after all...”

“Get away from him!” Anakin screamed. 

Sidious ripped one hand through the Force, and the window shattered.  A thousand shards of glass—massive dagger-like splitters, sharper than razorblades, gleaming ominously in the flash of the lightning—swarmed like an army of wasps around Obi-Wan’s still-immobilized body. 

“NO!” Anakin yelled.  He could see what was about to happen.  It was a gift from the Force.  He saw it a second before it came to pass, and he leapt at Sidious, flipping in the air to gain more ground, swinging his lightsaber with every particle of strength in his body, aiming for the Sith Lord’s throat. 

The glass shot forward, like a round of bullets or flying knives, and they went straight into Obi-Wan. 

Deep into his body, his chest, his abdomen. 

He gasped.  A short burst of pain, a rush of adrenaline, the burn, the shock.... 

Sidious screamed in triumph and pleasure and yanked back on the reins he had lassoed around the Force, and the glass sunk deeper into Obi-Wan. 

Severing soft skin and tissue, ripping muscle, slicing through internal organs.... 

Obi-Wan gasped again, but he couldn’t breathe.  His legs gave out from under him, and Sidious must have released him from the Force, because his knees hit the floor.

A millisecond later, a blue lightsaber connected with Darth Sidious’s throat.  Anakin ripped his arms back, gripping his saber with both hands, and the blade cut straight through the Sith’s neck.  A spray of hot blood hit Anakin in the face, and Chancellor Palpatine’s head hit the floor with a dull thud, just as Anakin’s boots touched the carpet.