Disclaimer: Star Wars and all associated content and characters belong now to Disney. (This is still weird for me to think about.) The title to this ficlet is taken from the song You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive; there are a bunch of different versions, but the one I happened to be listening to today is by the Ruby Friedman Orchestra.
Synopsis: Five conversations span Obi-Wan Kenobi's life and death.
Dedication: for pronker, for reasons of general awesomeness.
"Family matters, Master."
Obi-Wan's pulse kicks higher with frustration, anxiety; all the half-unnamed sensations of a parent with a difficult, if gifted (maybe the two go hand-in-hand) child. As a Jedi, Obi-Wan acknowledges all of them, even the ones he cannot define –– and lets them go, drifting into the Force to become just so much more of the energy that fuels the universe.
When he can speak without imbuing his words with that anxiety, he says: "Why, Anakin?"
Anakin prefers the use of his own name to Padawan; it's a small thing, Obi-Wan thinks, and then again sometimes it isn't.
"Family protects each other," Anakin says. His words ring with righteousness and worry: a combination that is intrinsically, and disturbingly, Anakin.
Obi-Wan is uncertain about the grammar of Anakin's utterance, but in the end grammar is only a clumsy means to the end of communication, after all. Not the point right now. "Is that better, Anakin?" It never hurts to emphasize naming, identity, personhood, with Anakin –– and that, too, is not of the Jedi. "Is it better to defend those we know well than those we do not know at all? Should we privilege a blood relationship over all other considerations?"
Anakin hesitates. Obi-Wan values this, Anakin's willingness to take on the difficult questions and give them due consideration, rather than snapping back an automatic answer; it is a hard-won skill, and not one Anakin always manages to live up to, but he is trying. It's progress, of a modest but important sort.
"Of course not, Master," he says, some fifteen seconds later. "But we have to start somewhere, don't we?"
Obi-Wan smiles at the horizon, and resists the urge to ruffle his Padawan's hair. "We do indeed, my young Padawan. But as Jedi, we start with the quest for justice –– not with pre-existing allegiances."
And it's a start.
It's rare, these days, that Obi-Wan gets to steal away for a "private" moment like this –– mediating, on his own, or (sweet blessed relief) engaging in a "moving" meditation with an old, personal friend, like Taria Damsin. He is not ashamed of anything they do together –– never that –– but he knows somehow, instinctively, that Anakin would not understand.
There are some things that Anakin, raised not in the Temple but with a mother who had to fear the more powerful beings around her, who knew the Twi'Lek dancers in Gardulla's palace by name and face and the small quiet habits of their off-hours, will never really be able to accept. The delicate balance between mutual enjoyment and callous using of another being's physical form, the difference between closeness and attachment –– these are things he will never understand.
He can be a good Jedi, someday; maybe even (what is rarer) a great man. But because of his upbringing, Anakin must eschew things a Jedi born in the Temple would take for granted.
Like this moment, right here, right now, Taria trailing delicate fingertips (in appearance and texture, not in actual strength) down his still-heaving chest.
"You're preoccupied, Obi-Wan."
He doesn't quite jump, but it's a near thing. "I'm sorry," he says, managing to smile as her face tips up. "Was I neglecting you?"
Taria's laugh is as wicked with delight as when they were both teens. "Oh, I wouldn't say I feel neglected." She swings herself up and over, straddling him in one easy movement –– so graceful, always. Between the two of them, she was always the athlete. "Speak up, Master Kenobi." The corner of her mouth tilts up as she begins working her thumbs into all the little sore places he hadn't known he had, seeking out pressure points and relieving them. "What's on your mind?"
That Anakin is with Palpatine right now. That his own brief moments of relative freedom are bought with the worry that his Padawan's relationship with the Chancellor is growing beyond a mere respectful mentoring. That he should be doing something about it, and he doesn't know what.
"Nothing I want to talk about now," Obi-Wan says, and pulls her down on top of him, chest-to-chest.
Taria laughs and settles her hips against his. "Well, if you're not going to talk …"
"She's not right for you."
Anakin's jaw sets. It should look intimidating; Obi-Wan is peripherally aware that it would look intimidating, to someone who has not seen this exact expression on his little-boy face. "You mean nobody is right for me. It's not the Jedi way."
"No –– well, yes. It is not the Jedi way." He pauses. There are some things that need to be said, even if in the moment they don't seem to matter. "But she is also not right for you."
"Senator Amidala," Anakin says, his voice delivering the words with clear scorn for their formality, "is a principled being. A diplomat. A leader who leads by example."
"Yes, yes, Anakin; I know all that." Obi-Wan strokes his beard, the old familiar gesture born of the beard's initial unfamiliarity. "No one is suggesting that Senator Amidala –– Padmé –– is not a good person. But she is not right for you."
Anakin's eyes narrow. "And how would you know that, Master?"
The answer isn't going to satisfy Anakin; but then, what answer would? "I trust my instincts, Padawan."
"Master? I'm sorry, Master. I failed." Obi-Wan is a Jedi; he releases his feelings into the force, he does not sob. "I failed you."
"Hush, Padawan." Qui-Gon's disembodied voice is a reverberation Obi-Wan can feel in his bones, in the air, in the Force that penetrates him and everything other living thing. "What was the first lesson I taught you about failure?"
In the dry, sand-scented heat of his hermit's cave, Obi-Wan smiles again –– the first time in what feels like an eternity. "'Failure is merely a success that has not happened yet,'" he quotes. The image of Qui-Gon's own smile is engraved on the inside of his eyelids.
He can feel his Master's presence now, more reassuring even than his voice.
"Then we must begin," Qui-Gon answers, resonant with calm energy. "Before not yet can become soon, we have a great deal of work to do."
"I'm sorry, Luke." He seems to apologize a lot lately. Maybe that's fair.
"Why did you do it?" Luke's question, like his presence in the Force, is … faintly accusing, definitely disappointed, and more than a little resigned. He's passed over that point when he might have gone down his father's path –– the Dark Side is always a temptation to any Jedi, but there are critical moments, shatterpoints as Mace Windu would say, and Luke has faced that crucial, formative battle and won. He has achieved an equilibrium that always eluded Anakin: the calm of has-happened over constant catalyst, barely held in check. "Why did you lie to me?"
Obi-Wan opens his mouth –– well, his visual manifestation's mouth; it's not as if he has any corporeal presence to possess a mouth –– and closes it again. He'd had reasons, and they had seemed good at the time –– or had he only had prejudices, preconceived notions of what a Jedi could or ought to be?
In the end, he says simply: "I was afraid."
Fear is the path to the Dark Side.
Luke could say it, but he doesn't. He sighs, a sound eerily reminiscent of Qui-Gon in its gentle patience that is in no way acquiescence, and sits down, crosslegged, in the cave.
Together they sit, the ghosts of youth and passion sharing forgiveness in a twilight that is only the dark of night, worlds spinning in their ancient cycle as the universe whirls on.