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The Art of Letting Go

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I.

Very rarely, less than once in a century, Yoda takes an apprentice. There are a several reasons for this. He enjoys teaching the younglings in groups; it appeals to his playful side, and there is no need to be dignified with them. They are in appearance what most of the Jedi, who hail from shorter lived species than he does, are to him anyway: children. There is no dichotomy between inward and outward shape yet.

They grow up, of course, at least outwardly. They grow, and are replaced by other children, like waves in an ocean, ever new, ever old. One does not miss a wave. One enjoys the next one and lets go of the last, in appreciation, as a Jedi should.

But there is a danger there, to him and the few other Jedi who count their years in centuries, and he is aware of it. It is the opposite of the danger attachment provides. Letting go can become too easy, not because of suitable detachment but because of indifference to life. And thus Yoda still does take apprentices, very rarely, but he does. The bond between Master and Padawan is the closest the Jedi permit themselves. Forming it, letting go of it: the hardest lesson, which needs to be relearned throughout one's life.

When Yoda chooses Yan Dooku as his Padawan, he does it as he does most things: carefully, with a streak of mischief interwoven. Dooku is a bright youngster, smart and well attuned to the Force. His main weakness, however, seems to be his awareness of this, and the sense of pride that results of it, which hovers dangerously close to arrogance. Yoda, therefore, aims to teach him humility above all things. It turns out to be a considerable challenge, not because Dooku refuses the more humbling tasks Yoda sets him, but because Yoda cannot sense his pride lessening because of this.

One day, he overhears a conversation between Dooku and another Padawan, and he comes to understand why.

"I know we're supposed to serve," the other says, "but cleaning out the Temple sewers? That's what droids are for! You must have really angered Master Yoda."

"You don't understand," young Dooku replies, sounding almost condescendingly, "because you're not Master Yoda's Padawan."

Dooku, it appears, takes pride in being singled out even in humbling, sees it as a mark of distinction, sees himself as better than the others because Yoda is his Master. This is a serious problem.

One solution would be to let him go immediately, and take another Padawan. It would teach Dooku that he is no more and no less to Yoda than any other Jedi; to regard himself as no more important than any of the others.

Unfortunately, it would also burden Dooku's replacement with considering themselves as just this, a replacement, not chosen for their own sakes.

Yoda ponders, meditates for days, and finally arrives at a conclusion. He takes Dooku to a dangerous mission, allows a sitution to evolve in which he has to choose between Dooku's life and the lives of a crew of not innocents, but squabbling pirates, and still unhesitatingly chooses to save the pirates. Dooku survives on his own, as Yoda knew he would; after all, Yoda trained him.

Afterwards, the glowing pride in Dooku is suitably dimmed. He no longer boasts of being Yoda's Padawan. In due course, he becomes a knight, one of the Order's best, and while Yoda cautions himself not to fall into pride himself because of this, he thinks they have both mastered this particular lesson of forming a bond and letting go very well: master and apprentice.

He thinks so right until Qui-Gon Jinn has died, and Dooku tells him he wants to leave the Jedi Order. No, not wants: intends. He states this not as a desire, but a fact.

"Become one of the Lost, you would?" Yoda says, stunned not just by the intention itself but of the raw, swirling disturbance of emotions he feels around Dooku. In the long, long history of the Jedi Order, long even in terms of Yoda's life time, there have been no more than 19 Jedi who left, and none whom he has taught.

"I will," Dooku says, face set like a granite stone. He had looked quite differently a few days ago, when returning to the Temple after the news from Naboo reached him. Even though it had been years since Qui-Gon Jinn had been Dooku's Padawan, Yoda had been prepared to be understanding, to help guide Dooku to peace over this loss. He hadn't been prepared for Dooku to do this. Even young Obi-Wan, easily the most promising knight of his generation, would have been a more likely candidate for such a mad, impossible gesture than Dooku, who by now was old in human years even if not by Yoda's standards, was very set in his ways, and who had mastered the art of detachment to perfection decades ago.

"Jedi you are, Jedi you always will be," Yoda states, still feeling adrift in a way he has not done these centuries. "Deny this, and dishonor your Padawan and what he died for, you will!"

Dooku scoffs, and there is harshness in the sound that borders on cruelty.

"You have never understood Qui-Gon, Master Yoda. And he died because you were foolish enough not to give him back up after he told you that the Sith have returned."

Yoda stares at him. Dooku is evidently not in a sound state of mind. Perhaps Yoda has underestimated what grief will do to an old human. Their bodies are more fragile, no matter how well attuned to the Force they are, no matter how well practiced their self control; more inclined to create havoc with their emotions. Dooku clearly needs medical help, and is in no fit state to make such a monumentous decision as to become the 20th Jedi in a millennium to leave the Order.

"Don't fool yourself, Master Yoda," Dooku says, his voice icy. "This is not about my grief. Or even about Qui-Gon Jinn. His death simply removes the last impediment that barred me from a way I knew I had to take for a good long while now. The Order is not for me. I have to let go of it. Haven't you always taught me that this was the most important of lessons?"

He takes a step towards Yoda, kneels down so that their faces are on one level, and his dark voice lowers to a cold whisper.

"Let go of me, Master. I don't see any reason why this should be difficult for you."


 

II.

Obi-Wan is still on Naboo with Anakin when they tell him Yan Dooku has left the Jedi Order, has become Count Dooku of Serrano again, making the Lost Nineteen the Lost Twenty. On top of everything else that happened, it doesn't register as much of a shock as it would in other circumstances.

He doesn't know Dooku, other than as a name. Qui-Gon has occasionally talked of his old Master and sometimes offered to take Obi-Wan with him to meet Dooku, but Obi-Wan had always found an excuse not to come, and Qui-Gon had never pressed the matter. On one level, his hesitancy was founded in Dooku's intimidating reputation; on another, and this is a weakness Obi-Wan was and is aware of, Obi-Wan had been unsure about his standing with Qui-Gon during their early years together, and even after that had changed, he hadn't particularly wanted to share his Master with someone who had earlier claim on his Master's affections.

Well, now it's unlikely he'll ever encounter Dooku. Which means at least Obi-Wan won't have to face his judgment about being unable to save Qui-Gon. Of letting Qui-Gon die, of defeating the Sith only after Qui-Gon was gone.

He's been trying to let go of his searing sense of guilt ever since it happened, in vain, so far.

Meditation doesn't help. Focusing on Anakin does, at least somewhat. He's aware he hardly knows Anakin yet. Under normal circumstances, Obi-Wan Kenobi would have spent years as a Knight before considering taking a Padawan, and then it would have been a somewhat older child who would have grown up, as Obi-Wan himself has done, in the Jedi Temple. Not a child with a sense of raw, unformed power around him like an exposed wire with no shielding, a child with a background so different from any other Jedi that Obi-Wan doesn't have the slightest idea of how to establish common ground yet.

A child who keeps asking questions he can't answer.

"But if a Jedi can't have possessions," Anakin asks when they arrive on Coruscant, "how come you're all living in a palace much bigger than Jabba's or Gardulla's?"

Obi-Wan tries to explain what a Temple is, and that it does not "belong" to the Jedi in the sense that they could sell it; it belongs to the Republic and shelters them.

"It still looks like a Palace to me," Anakin says and shivers, because while Coruscant has a carefully regulated agreeable climate, it's still colder than what he's used to.

"Why is it wrong for me to miss my mother?"'

"It's not wrong," Obi-Wan says. "Of course you miss her. You have been with her your entire life."

"When Master Yoda talked about it, he made it sound wrong."

"He was worried about you, Anakin. There is a reason why Jedi do not grow up with their parents. Not because we disdain the bond between parent and child; because we acknowledge its strength. It is hard to live as a Jedi, always serving the greater good. If your heart is divided because your main concern is for your family, as it is for most sentient beings who grow up in a family context, it is almost impossible."

Anakin thinks about this. Then he asks softly: "Do you miss Master Qui-Gon?"

More than anything, Obi-Wan wants to say that he does. Because it is the truth. He misses Qui-Gon. He wants him back. He wants to apologize for having argued with him so much during those last days, he wants to ask whether Qui-Gon really thought him ready to face the trials or whether that was just an excuse because Qui-Gon needed to be free to teach Anakin. He wants to talk to Qui-Gon about the horrifying experience of hate, of the wish to kill that rose in him as he watched the Sith cut down his Master. He wants Qui-Gon to tell him that Obi-Wan can still be a Jedi despite having felt this.

He wants Qui-Gon back. But Qui-Gon is gone. And his last wish was for Obi-Wan to raise Anakin Skywalker as a Jedi.

"Qui-Gon is gone," Obi-Wan replies, doing his best to fulfill his Master's wish. "To miss him would be to long for the impossible. A Jedi does not do this, Anakin. A Jedi lets go."


 

III.

In the first weeks after Ahsoka has left the Order, Anakin keeps imagining her return. She will change her mind. She will see she is a Jedi, that she can't leave being a Jedi behind. (Can't leave him behind.) Their imagined reunion sometimes takes place on Coruscant and sometimes on an unspecific battle field. Never in the Temple. It is joyful, it is un-Jedi-like, as he hugs her and never lets her go again.

The reunion he paints in his mind takes darker colors the longer she is gone. Sometimes he accuses her of being a deserter. They're still in a war, after all. What have her fellow soldiers, who trusted her, who need her, have done to her for her to leave them, letting them fight their battles alone?

Sometimes she accuses him of deserting her. Says he should have never allowed them to imprison her. Should have gone on the run with her, should have left with her after that, instead of being a liar who wants to have it both ways, be a Jedi and break all their rules.

When he stops being Anakin Skywalker, he stops imagining her return. Darth Vader isn't grateful that Ahsoka Tano is no longer a Jedi and thus cannot be a target of Order 66. Darth Vader does not want her to be on his side again, either. This would imply he was still prone to Anakin Skywalker's weaknesses. No, Darth Vader is very aware that if Ahsoka Tano is still alive, she cannot be other than a Jedi, abhorring what he has become. If they ever meet again, he will destroy her, as he has destroyed everything else that made Skywalker weak. He will do it himself, because the thought of Skywalker's Padawan falling to some bounty hunter, being ensnared by inferior Inquisitors or being brought before the Emperor is unbearable. Skywalker made her a promise once, which like all his promises save one he could not keep. He'd sworn he'd never let anyone hurt her.

Skywalker should have known this meant: not anyone else. Vader knows this.

He doesn't imagine it, though, not like he - not like Anakin Skywalker used to imagine their reunion. He simply buries the knowledge in his mind and focuses on what truly matters: returning the galaxy to order. His focus is complete; he has finally mastered the art of detachment, as Anakin Skywalker never could.

Then she does return, and it is everything and nothing like any part of him ever imagined it to be. She burns in the Force more brightly than any Jedi ever did, including Obi-Wan. He almost laughs when she says "I'm no Jedi", because it is so like her, so true and wrong at the same time. But the part of him that could laugh is gone; his machine regulated breathing and vocoder won't allow it, even if he hadn't been entirely occupied with their fight.

And oh, what a fight it is. Skywalker has practiced often with her, sparred countless times, but he only fought her in earnest once, on Mortis, and then he had been holding back for fear of hurting her.

Vader doesn't hold back at all, and neither does she. She's become everything Anakin Skywalker once hoped she would be, and more. He's so proud of her he could burst, and he needs her to die more than ever. While she might deny it out loud, clearly in her heart she has already figured out the truth, has understood just how he has destroyed Anakin Skywalker.

He can't bear for her to look at him and to know. It shouldn't matter; that it does only proves he hasn't purged himself of Skywalker as thoroughly as he had assumed, and how urgently he needs to accomplish this last feat .

But he can't bear it. For her, of all the people, to look at him, to see what he has become.

One of her lightsabers gets through, and cracks open his mask. None of the others he's hunted down has done this. He hadn't thought it was possible without destroying his breathing apparatus or simply taking his head. But she does it. For the first time in more than fifteen years, he sees through one of his own eyes outside the carefully controlled environment his meditation chamber provides, and what he sees is her.

"Ahsoka," he says, before he's able to stop himself. The vocoder still works, but it's not all he hears; it's the other voice that says her name, that voice silenced for years, that pathetic voice full of longing, and the rage in him that it is still there almost makes it impossible to breathe for a moment.

When she turns, when she sees, he's unable to move.

"I won't leave you," she says, Ahsoka Tano, Padawan, Snips, and the certainty in her is not that of a girl blinded by memories but of a woman facing the truth. "Not again."

He hasn't had visions in a long time. The future remains hidden from him now, has been for years, and he has been grateful. What glimpses of the future have been given to him have always been singularly useless. But when Ahsoka speaks, he can see again, though not the future. Instead, he sees the past. Not her past, not their past. His. He sees Anakin Skywalker kneeling before Palpatine.

Save Padmé, and I will do as you ask.

Ahsoka wants to save him, he can read it in her eyes, in her face, in her determined stance. She sees but she doesn't see. She sees someone who is no longer there. She'll stay for him. She'll tell herself there is someone retrievable there, but he knows better. He'll make her fall as well, because that is the only way in which she can stay. She'll stop being Ahsoka just as he has stopped being Anakin Skywalker. She'll lose all that makes her Ahsoka, and in the end, they will turn on each other; she'll try to kill him, not to save her friends or avenge her Master, as she did earlier, but to take his place.

He'd killed Padmé not forty-eight hours after becoming a Sith to save her, and at that point, Padmé had not recognized him anymore.

"Then you will die," he says, and ignites his saber again. He can't let Ahsoka do this.

Obi-Wan has told him once that Yoda's original reason for giving Anakin Skywalker a Padawan was to teach him to let her go. She'd left, but he had never been able to do so. Until now. Maybe he will kill her, maybe she will kill him, but she won't become him. She will be free.

She's Ahsoka Tano, and she will not fall.