“Yes, Anakin?” Ben asked, pulling himself out of his meditation. He opened his eyes to see the young boy sitting in front of him, engine grease streaking his face and clothing. Shmi was probably already gearing up for another lecture on cleanliness.
“You used to be a Jedi, right?”
Ben stiffened momentarily before his aching joints protested. Anakin didn’t mean anything by the question; his face was simple curiosity. Sighing, Ben said, “Why do you ask?”
“Well, you seem to know all those Jedi that keep showing up,” Anakin said in that vaguely lofty, Of Course I Know This tone that had been replaced with a defensive bitterness sometime during their years at the Temple in Obi-Wan Kenobi’s life. “And you know a lot about their Code and how they work.” He shrugged and looked Ben in the eyes. “And you have a lightsaber.”
Ben couldn’t stop himself from quipping back, “Nothing gets by you, does it, Anakin?” Truthfully, he hadn’t tried to hide his lightsaber from Anakin and Shmi. There hadn’t seemed to be a point. However, he wasn’t above hiding it whenever the Jedi came by. So far only Yoda seemed to know or even suspect that Ben had been a Jedi, and Ben would prefer to keep it that way.
Anakin crossed his arms and pouted.
Letting out another sigh, Ben answered, “Yes, Anakin, I used to be a Jedi. A long time ago.”
Anakin cocked his head to the side and asked, “Why’d you stop?”
Ben smiled. It sounded so easy when Anakin said it, like Obi-Wan Kenobi’s world hadn’t dissolved into blood, fire, and ash. How could he explain it to Anakin without giving any of the horror away?
He cleared his throat. “Some bad things happened, terrible things. I strived to be the perfect Jedi for years—some would say that I accomplished it—but I always felt like a failure. I took on a padawan who was too old when I was too young and grieving for my recently murdered Master. The Council opposed it because they believed the boy was dangerous—”
“Was he?” Anakin interrupted.
Ben gave him a reproaching stare. Anakin looked away guiltily, silently apologizing for his rudeness through the Force.
“All people are dangerous, Anakin,” Ben said slowly. “Whether they can use the Force or not. My padawan was bright and pure when he came to the Temple. All he wanted to do was help people, but . . . the Jedi were not prepared for him. My padawan could not adjust to the constraints of the Code, though he tried, oh, did he try. He was always at odds with the other Jedi. They couldn’t understand him, though it’s more like most of them refused to try. That refusal to understand another being strangled the Light out of him. He began confiding in a man outside of the Jedi. This man validated his feelings, those of bitterness, anger, and isolation, and encouraged them. My padawan and I drifted apart, held together only by the faintest strings. The man turned out to be a Sith lord who had been grooming my padawan to be his apprentice. My padawan was given a choice—either stay in the Light and let all the people that he loved die, or pledge himself to the Dark and have a chance to save them. He chose the Dark. I was forced to-to . . .” His voice drifted off. He couldn’t bring himself to say the words, not to Anakin, not when there was peace in their lives for once.
Anakin was silent. His focused attention was on Ben, and that . . . that was something Ben had to readjust to. Having Anakin’s full attention bordered intense and painful. His Force presence was so bright and penetrating that if he stared at you for too long you felt as if he were trying to flay you apart with a scalpel to get at your hidden spaces.
Ben remembered many days when he couldn’t meet the young boy’s stare, but today he felt brave.
And wish he had taken the coward’s way out.
Anakin understood. Ben didn’t know how much he understood, but the boy knew, and Ben could do nothing to stop it. He became overwhelmed with panic, only decades of diplomatic skills kept his mask in place.
Suddenly, Anakin smiled. Not a carefree grin but a sad, understanding one. “Thank you for telling me. I know your past is hard to talk about.” He stood, dusted the sand off his clothing, and closed the distance between them to pull the still-kneeling Ben into a hug. He nuzzled his overly soft cheek against Ben’s bristly one, murmuring, “I’m really glad you’re here, Ben.” He pulled away but didn’t release the embrace. “Would it be okay if we worked on sitting meditation again? I think I have the moving one down, but I can’t get the hang of sitting still.”
Ben took a slow, deep breath, held it for several seconds, and then released it. He returned Anakin’s embrace, tightly squeezing the boy to him as if it were possible to break open his own chest and hide Anakin’s Light there for eternity.
“Yes, Anakin, I would be happy to help you.” If his voice cracked, then neither of them mentioned it.
With one last squeeze, Ben released Anakin, saying, “Now, go get cleaned up. If Shmi catches you, you’ll be weeding the garden until the suns go down, and we won’t get to meditate.”
“Okay!” Anakin beamed. “Be back in a minute!” he called out, rushing back to the house.
When Ben was sure that he was alone, he collapsed in on himself, sobs wracking his fragile body.
“Anakin! What did I tell you about getting your clothes dirty?” Shmi said sharply.
“Aw, Mom . . .”
“Don’t ‘aw, Mom’, me, Ani. Go get clean and then go straight to the garden.”
“But Ben and I were gonna work on meditation!”
“Well then, you best get to work if you want to have your lessons.”
Ben listened to the familiar bickering. Peace washed over him. Smiling, he let the hot tears streak down his face and watched the suns begin to set.