Coruscant has not changed.
Anakin Skywalker tosses back the hood of his robe as he spares a brief glance for an unending horizon, broken into shards by the jutting crags of ancient skyscrapers. As always, the visage leaves him in awe – an awe tempered, at the moment, by the fact that he had not seen this particular view for several years.
It feels almost like he’s seeing the skyline from the roof of the Jedi Temple for the first time.
His name is Anakin Skywalker, and he is Padawan to a Master of the Jedi Order. He and his Master have recently returned from a prolonged mission to the Outer Rim, one that has absorbed the last few years of their lives – he was raised in the crèche, but after such a long separation the Temple is almost as unfamiliar as Coruscant.
After unpacking, he visits the Room of a Thousand Fountains – it’s his favorite place in the entire Temple, and his Master does agree that he needs to practice his meditation. Then again, as the man is quick to point out, he needs to practice a lot of skills.
It’s only when the afternoon shades to evening – as marked by the dimming of artificial lights – that Anakin realizes he has no idea how to get back to their shared quarters.
He ends up asking a passing Knight for directions – much to his quiet embarrassment; it’s a pattern that repeats for his first few days back in the Temple.
His name is Anakin Skywalker, and he wants to be a Jedi Knight more then anything.
There is no passion; there is only serenity.
There is no one to greet him upon his return. Time and distance has scattered the few acquaintances that he has permitted himself to cultivate. He’s distantly sad, but he scolds himself and tries to push the emotion aside – attachment is unbecoming of a Jedi.
His name is Anakin Skywalker, and he is a Jedi. He cannot recall his native planet – it was never relevance. Live in the moment, his Master counsels him, a faint, fond smile drifting over his face as he quotes the words of a man who died years before.
Anakin wishes that his Master would smile like that at him. One day. He’ll make his Master proud – but pride is not for the Jedi, he reminds himself, biting his lip as he struggles to release the errant upswelling of emotion into the Force.
He tries so *hard * to make his Master approve of him. It is important that he recognize the great honor that is done to him as Padawan to one of the members of the Council. No matter what the Grandmaster says, he is trying. He tries. There are too many nights of not enough sleep when he studies concepts and philosophy that long-term missions have denied him the opportunity to learn. He practices ‘saber techniques until his arms shake with weariness,
And this is his greatest shame - he wants to be a Jedi Knight. More then anything.
His name is Anakin Skywalker, and he does not know the Dark Man.
Where are you?
Contrary to the popular saying, Jedi do dream. It would be more accurate to say that they simply do not allow their dreams to rule them – the art of lucid slumber is something that every youngling is taught in the crèche. There are layers to it, just as there are in meditation – a skilled Jedi does not fear the working of their unconscious mind, seeking instead to shape and understand it so as to gain a greater connection to their essential self.
Anakin does not tell his Master about the Dark Man. It is only a dream – and perhaps it is wrong of him, but he is embarrassed of his failure at even this, the simplest, most basic of the Jedi arts.
He cannot banish the Dark Man from his dreams.
Where are you?
Where are you?
The dreams occur sporadically at first, but their frequency increases until, eventually, the Dark Man walks nightly in his dreams.
It is then Anakin tells his Master. It – the dreams make no sense, and he will not admit it, but he is frightened. (He is also tired. So very, very tired – there is no escape from the crisp, accented voice, not even during his waking hours. But Jedi do not allow the demands of the body to rule them, and Anakin will be a Jedi. He will.)
The color flees from his Master’s face as he listens to Anakin’s confession.
He summons the High Council, and Anakin is pulled in front of the twelve Masters who embody the wisdom and compassion of the Order. It’s – he’s confused. Surely a simple dream isn’t cause for this?
“Of your dreams, tell us.” It is Master Yoda who speaks, and Anakin frowns, licking his lips as he sorts his thoughts into proper order.
“It’s always the same dream.” He begins, keeping himself from fidgeting like an errant youngling only through sheer force of will. “I’m somewhere dark. But I can see perfectly well – I’m not straining to look at anything. It’s like I’m standing inside a room that has been painted black, or beneath a night sky that doesn’t have stars or moons.”
“There’s a humanoid there.” The Dark Man is a humanoid figure in a black robe – much like the robes Anakin has seen Jedi Masters wear. “He’s dressed in black. I can’t see his face, but I know that he’s looking at me. And he always asks me the same question – “ Anakin stutters to a stop as he hears the indrawn breath from at least three distinct members of the Council.
“What does he ask you, young Skywalker?” It is his Master who speaks.
(Has his Master ever called him Anakin? He – can’t remember.)
Anakin swallows, glancing around him uncertainly. “’Where are you?’” The young padawan quotes softly. “That’s what he says.”
Anakin, where are you?
He is given sleeping medications, and his Master promises to observe his dreams – and guard against them. Anakin thinks that the sheer reaction to his subconscious’s errant imaginings is – well, out of proportion, but if it means he can get some actually sleep, Anakin will happily let the older Jedi monitor him.
(Not that what he wants comes into it. Not really.)
It doesn’t work.
He tells his Master as much when he wakes up. The outer layers of his mind – the first level of dreaming – they were empty of the Dark Man. But when Anakin slid deeper into sleep, the Other was there – the same posture, the same pose the same Sith-forsaken question.
His Master frowns, and it is a frightening thing.
A Jedi does not feel fear. Does not feel frustration. Does not feel the unceasing urge to get some sleep already. Insomnia has become Anakin’s constant companion, and he has become intimately familiar with the various brands of caff his Master likes.
But the Dark Man is still there. Still asking him – quietly, beseechingly – where are you? Where are you? Anakin, where are you?
Until one day he isn’t.
Anakin would almost feel oddly disappointed if he wasn’t so very relieved to get some actual sleep for once.
His Master is called to the Council – Anakin follows dutifully at his heels. He has practiced this – the proper degree of subservience, the exact amount of distance between his Master’s flapping cloak at his own steps – his composure is one of the few things he isn’t struggling with.
The door to the Council Chamber swings open, and they step inside.
It is the quiet that hits Anakin first – not the quiet of an absence of sound, the lack of the presence that accompanies a gathering of some of the most Force-capable individuals in the galaxy. There is always an undercurrent of powder, a subliminal hum that echoes beneath every spoken word –
That isn’t here, and it feels wrong.
The second thing Anakin sees is a figure in a dark robe, standing motionless between two empty Council chairs.
He only has a glimpse of him before his Master is suddenly moving, lightsaber ignited in one swift moment as he flows towards the man standing calmly in front of the spacious windows. The Jedi is shouting at him – Skywalker, run! - but his voice dies in a burst of electricity as he hurled backwards, slamming hard into wall of the Council chamber. Anakin can hear the crack of snapping bone – the man falls, sprawling limply across the ornately tiled floor.
Lightning. Anakin’s thoughts are numb as he stares. The other man hurled a lightning bolt at his Master, and – what kind of Jedi can command lightning? That’s not a Jedi ability, that’s –
The darkly-robed man takes a single step forward, and Anakin abruptly recognizes him.
It’s the Dark Man. Stepped from his dreams and into the waking world, and what is happening?
“Anakin.” The Dark Man says softly. And - why does he sound so relieved? “Anakin – “
“Who – who are you?” His voice is shaking, and why is he not running away?
The Dark Man stops - a hand rises suddenly, yanking back the hood of his robes in a quick, utterly ungraceful moment, revealing an open face, a sharp nose, and a fringe of medium-length bleached copper hair above – eyes. There is something wrong with his eyes, and Anakin is backing away from the Dark Man without conscious thought, throat tight as he gazes at two venom-yellow eyes. They are fixed on his own, and there is – it could almost be wonder on the other’s face as he stares back.
“You don’t know me.” It isn’t a question, and Anakin slowly shakes his head in an unspoken acknowledgement. Then – he pauses, because that isn’t quite right, is it? “I’ve seen you in my dreams.”
The dark man takes a deep breath, holding it for a long moment before releasing it in a deliberately noiseless exhalation. “Yes. I’ve been looking for you, Anakin. For – a long time. More then a standard year.”
“Why?” The question bursts from the younger man’s lips – it’s more then one question, wrapped around each other like the strands in a braid.
The redhead gazes levelly at him. “What’s your planet of origin?”
Anakin blinks. “What?”
“Every youngling is required to know their planet of origin in case of medical need or to prevent inadvertently encountering family members.” The dark man informs him. Anakin blinks. Yes, that’s standard practice, but why – “What’s your home planet, Anakin?”
Anakin opens his mouth. And then closes it.
He’s – never really thought about his home planet before. About his parents – because he must have parents, a family, somewhere. Everyone does. And – the information is part of his basic medical packet, he’s memorized his nutritional needs and basic allergies, past immunizations and –
Anakin doesn’t know what his planet of origin is. He can’t – remember.
Why can’t he remember?
“What’s your galactic identification number? Even Jedi have those.” And Anakin stares at the strangely intent features of the dark man in numb, helpless dread – there’s something coiling in his chest, something oddly like fear, because he doesn’t know. He can’t remember.
It can’t be fear. A Jedi doesn’t fear. He has to remember that.
“You can’t remember because that information can only be assigned by duly designated governmental employees of the High Chancellor and the Senate.” The stranger informs him. “The Jedi have a large amount of influence, but it doesn’t extend to the Galactic Registry. They can access it, but they can’t alter it. Not yet.” He adds, mainly to himself.
“What.” It’s not even a question.
Something almost like sympathy but far fiercer glimmers in the dark man’s face. “Anakin. In the event that an individual is suspected of being subject to mental influence, what are the key steps to breaking it?”
He knows this, of course. It was actually a question on an exam he took three months ago – “You asked the victim questions.” Anakin answers, bewildered by the sudden change in topic. “You don’t break it yourself, you make them break it. You ask questions, you want to make them realize the inconsistencies in their answers – “ And then his mouth snaps shut as he understands what the red-haired man is saying.
“No.” Is that – is that his voice? “You’re lying. I don’t – “
“What was the name of the instructor who taught you your ‘saber style?” The other man interrupts him. “I don’t mean the one who taught you the basics – I know your Master - ” there’s an odd twist to his lips at the word “ – never taught it to you, so who did? You haven’t been at the Temple for years, so why do you have a ‘perfect attendance’ bead in your braid? Why are all of the teachers who taught as a youngling either unavailable or dead due to failed missions?”
Anakin doesn’t answer. Just stares at him – he can feel his hands shaking slightly.
“They’re lying to you, Anakin. They have been since the beginning.” The dark man sneers, face twisting with anger. “They couldn’t have a ‘Chosen One’ who not only wasn’t a Jedi but was - well. So they took you – very much against your will, and I have been looking for you ever since you were kidnapped.”
“Why?” Anakin asks softly. “Why would you do that?”
Rage throbs in the air, but – it is not directed at him. It is rage for him, and Anakin sucks in a sudden breath and the realization, air skimming painfully across chapped lips. He doesn’t – he doesn’t understand…
“Because I made you a promise once, to teach you strength so that no-one would ever again enslave you.” Brimstone-yellow eyes regard him levelly; their owner sighed, one hand rising as he ticked off points on his fingers. “Emotions are a strength, Anakin. Passion you had already – I just taught you to harness it. Passion gives one strength, strength is power, power is not essential to but helps with victory – “
“ - through victory my chains are broken” Anakin finds himself whispering, throat clogged with – something. He blinks. His eyes are dry, and his voice comes from a place very far away, heavy with grit and the weight of unrealized memories. “The Force will free me.”
Cloth rustles against stone – the sound of his Master stirring, and Anakin wonders at his detachment. He physically can’t tear his eyes away from the figure in front of him, the Dark Man who has been walking in his dreams as long as he can remember – and they were dreams, he realizes now. They were never nightmares, despite what his Master -
His Master. His depur.
He cannot remember what the word means, but it carries a soul-deep bitterness and sheer, unmollified anger that leaves him shivering with cold. He breathes; his breath is white, as if he has stepped into a snowstorm.
“Anakin, Shmi bashka, Kitster ab Obi-Wan bashla, du Skywalker, du Tatooine.” Anakin’s head jerks up so fast he’s momentarily afraid that he’s given himself whiplash – but he couldn’t help it, physical injury never crosses his mind for a moment as he sways, entire body focusing on the Dark Man – who is staring at him patiently, who is looking at him if he is the only person in the entire Universe.
Like he would do anything for a confused Jedi padawan who barely manages the simplest things. (Is he even that?)
But – those words, those sounds, they’re his name, they’re him, they’re the sum and totality of what he is. And - how does he know this how does he know this how does he know him he knows him oh gods and Ar-amu he knows him Anakin knows him –
“Are you ready to come home?”
Anakin believes him now. They made him mediocre. He feels the truth of it in the Force. They enslaved him. They wrapped chains around his soul and tried to remake him to their specifics. They cut away the parts of him they didn’t like and cauterized the wounds - they violated him on ever level imaginable save the physical, and that is such a joke that Anakin doesn’t even bother to find it the least bit amusing.
He lifts a foot. It’s the easiest thing he’s ever done, and the hardest – he jolts, swaying drunkenly as he staggers forward, letting himself fall into the Dark Man’s outstretched, welcoming arms.
And he holds on, he holds, fingers clenched tightly in the stranger’s/not stranger’s cloak (a memory; of a different cloak, a different time – he had been so small, and he’d never felt so safe before, so very protected), shaking as the storm in his mind builds and builds and builds –
There are fingertips on his forehead, cool and welcoming, and then –
Fire. There is fire, and Anakin screams as something unendurably familiar clicks into place. Part of his soul, the part that has been howling without words for as long as he can remember is suddenly, abruptly whole – but there is fire raging through his thoughts, his mind, his very being. He is vaguely aware of his body writhing uncontrollably as that flame focuses, and burns through the Master-Padawan link his depur had forced upon him – and then through the subtle net of bonds he didn’t even know existed, each thin as spiderweb and strong as durasteel wire. The High Council, some part of him dimly realizes –
But the fire is there, and it roars defiance and unlimited protectiveness as it chars each of his chains to oblivion. As it rampages through his mind, destroying traps Anakin never even suspected existed, obliterating the mental scaffolding that forced him to think this way, to abandon this idea – and, most of all, to obey.
It doesn’t hurt anymore. The fire. Anakin barely even registers it as it curls around and within his being even as the arms holding him upright draw him into a careful embrace. I know you, he thinks blurrily at the presence seething through his mind. Brother.
My brother. Echoes at him in response. My student. My son. The hug tightens, and Anakin turns into the sure touch with a wordless moan. His fingers tug weakly on the other’s robe. Obi-wan? (He doesn’t remember how he knows the name. He can’t recall not knowing it.) Can we go home now?
Yes, little one. Let’s go home.