Anakin was used to being called names. He called people names, too—the kinds of names his mother would tell him to never say again if he had any hopes of growing up to become a proper gentleman. But he wasn’t going to be a gentleman, he was going to be a Jedi, and Jedi children called each other names all the time.
But they weren’t the kind he was used to. Sleemo, goo-brain, womp rat—none of those meant anything to the other kids in the crèche, and if he called them any of those things they’d just laugh. No, they called him things he never thought were insults until now.
They called him clanless, they called him a brown-nosing free-rider who was handed a Master by the Council without earning it, and they called him a dim-witted idiot who didn’t know that “Jedis” wasn’t a proper word and who struggled with some of the upper-level initiate texts. Whenever Master Jocasta Nu asked him to read a passage from whatever book she’d assigned that week, he grimly accepted that the next ten minutes of his life were going to be miserable.
None of that had mattered on Tatooine. His friends didn’t care if he knew how to spell the word discipline or sit the correct way on a meditation pad. They cared about the important stuff—who could run the fastest, who could kill a rat with their slingshot, who could cheat at dice the best without anybody knowing. He was good at all of those things, and nobody in the Temple cared about it.
And what made him even madder was that they weren’t allowed to fight. Kids would call him names and he couldn’t flatten their nose to let them know he gave as good as he got. He wasn’t even allowed to call them names back—he was supposed to be tranquil and tolerant and serene and a bunch of other words he didn’t know the meanings of. His heart burned like Tatooine’s suns inside of him, and he couldn’t get any of it out.
He hated crying because it gave him a headache, so instead he punched the floor in his room. The granite made his knuckles bleed, and the blood that cracked out from his skin felt just as hot as the suns in his chest did. But because he was technically a Padawan and not an initiate, even though he still took initiate classes, he had a room to himself, attached to Obi-Wan’s quarters. And Obi-Wan wasn’t around a lot, so Anakin spent most of his time alone, punching his floor.
“Why do you always have scabs on you?” the kids would ask him the next day. They might call him stupid, but he knew what a trick question was. “Do you have a disease?”
Anakin fiddled with the wrappings on his hands. “I’ll bite you if you come near me,” he told the girl, and she backed away from him in fear.
“You’re a coward,” he shot back, proud of himself because he knew what that word meant. It was a very useful word.
Some days nobody would bother him, and he’d eat and read and learn all by himself, alone at his table. It hurt in a different way than the name-calling did, but at least those days were quieter.
And some days they didn’t leave him alone no matter what he said or did—until he punched one of them.
“Baby!” he screamed at the boy on the ground, scrubbing away hot tears that stung his eyes. “I barely touched you! Get up and fight!”
No one listened to him. The stupid kid continued to cry like a baby on the ground, and when Jocasta Nu brought him into her office, she didn’t listen to him, either.
“How many times have I told you?” she asked, and he thought that was probably a trick question, too. “Jedi do not solve their problems with violence!”
She sat him down in the chair opposite her desk, but Master Jocasta remained standing. It was rare to see her frazzled, but Anakin was becoming pretty familiar with her being upset. And as his training continued, it was easier to feel it in the air.
“They wouldn’t leave me alone,” he told her, knowing it wouldn’t make a difference, but he needed to try anyway. “I told them to stop, but—”
“Jedi do not solve their problems with violence,” she repeated. “I cannot impress upon you that lesson enough.”
He looked down at his wrapped hands, at the bandages that had begun to bleed through. She wasn’t listening to him and was never going to. “Yes, Master,” he said instead, mechanical and automatic like a droid. Those two words were very familiar to him—his mother had taught him the correct way to say them no matter how mad or hurt or afraid he was, so he could avoid getting hit. Most of the time, anyway.
Master Jocasta never hit him, but that didn’t mean she never would. People always hit him eventually.
“You are dismissed from the rest of today’s lessons,” she said. “Perhaps meditation will do you some good. Where is your Master?”
Anakin shrugged, not looking up from his lap. His chest burned, his eyes stung, his head hurt—and most of all, his hands throbbed.
“That’s the other problem. Kenobi,” she muttered, almost like she was calling him a name, and then reached for the comm device at her desk. “Wait outside, please, Anakin. I will call your Master. Hopefully he can talk some sense into you.”
Silently, he stood up from his seat and went to the door, keeping his eyes downcast. It opened and then closed behind him with a soft hiss, but he didn’t stop and stand at the wall like usual. Instead he went to his room, clenching his teeth so hard his ears hurt.
If Master Jocasta wasn’t going to listen to him, he wasn’t going to listen to her either.
It was a quick walk back to his quarters. Once safely inside, he was allowed to let the suns in his chest finally burst out. He punched the ground near his door as he fell to his knees, vision blurring with the tears he’d been trying to keep at bay. All parts of him hurt, because he was alone and the only person he wanted to come after him was his mother, but she was on Tatooine and he was on Coruscant.
He pummelled the ground, the bones in his arms vibrating with each impact, the fresh bandages Master Vokara Che had applied unwrapping and flying off his hands, until his knuckles were bare and bloody as they beat on the granite.
Eventually even that hurt too much, and he curled up on the ground, sucking on his raw knuckles and regretting all the blood he’d let spill out of them, because now they hurt really bad. He’d have to clean up his floor when he was done crying, but with the way his chest kept heaving, he didn’t know when he’d be able to stop doing that.
Naps after crying always felt soft. He didn’t usually have nightmares then—his mind was empty of anything and everything. But when he woke up he was alone, which meant nobody had come looking for him.
All of him still ached. Especially his hands.
Pushing off the ground with an elbow, he wiped his face on his sleeve and looked down at his hands. The blood had dried in a thick, caked layer across his knuckles, and it cracked when he moved them. They hurt a lot—too much to be able to hold a cloth and clean his floor. The thought made his eyes sting again. He didn’t want Obi-Wan to find out he’d been doing it. He always told his Master he’d cut his hands from fighting, or falling, or being careless, and even if Obi-Wan didn’t buy that explanation, he never pressed him about where they came from. Probably because he never suspected Anakin was punching his floor, and he wanted to keep it that way.
Sniffling, Anakin stood up without using his hands and went to their shared bathroom, pulling out the stool beside the sink with a foot so he could reach the faucet. He turned the water on with the palms of his hands, and then squeezed his eyes shut as the water ran over his bloodied and bruised knuckles.
“That hurts,” he told nobody, because there wasn’t anyone around to listen to him. The porcelain sink splattered brown and red as the water washed away the blood. He knew he had to put soap on them, but that would hurt even more, and he didn’t know if he could take any more hurt right now. He knew his mom would chide him for it if she were here, but then she’d be the one cleaning his hands to begin with.
He was crying again by the time he shut off the faucet, but they weren’t the angry, furious tears from before. These came from a deeper ache inside of him, far down in his belly that made him hug his pillow really hard at night.
While he was searching for a towel in the cupboard, he heard a knock at his door. Anakin froze, holding his breath. He should know who it was, be able to feel them in the Force, but he was too upset for that. Maybe he would always be too upset for that.
“Anakin?” Master Obi-Wan called, and part of him was relieved—at least it wasn’t Master Jocasta. “Anakin, I’m sorry for being so late. I had business with—well, I had other business. May I come in?”
Anakin stood silently. He didn’t want to say yes, but he didn’t want to send him away either. He wanted Obi-Wan to make that decision for him.
“Anakin, I know you’re in there.” His voice was softer now, less busy and resigned than Anakin was used to hearing from him. There was another pause, and then Obi-Wan let out a sigh. “I’m opening your door.”
Anakin had the sudden impulse to hide. He didn’t know why; maybe he wanted Obi-Wan to search for him. Maybe he didn’t. There was too much going on in his head, and he couldn’t make sense of any of it. Master Jocasta would reprimand him for him for having such disorganised thoughts, but he didn’t know how to fix them.
He didn’t know how to do anything but punch the floor.
Obi-Wan entered his room silently, stepping in and looking around. His eyes immediately caught on the blood stain on the ground, and then he looked up, in horror, at Anakin. He was standing in the doorway to the bathroom, hands held out in front of him helplessly, dripping pink water on the floor.
“I don’t know what to do,” he whispered.
Obi-Wan felt his heart break, and quickly pieced it back together before the boy could notice anything was amiss.
Anakin stood there in front of him, a mess of all kinds; his face was splotched and shiny from tears, his robes were in disarray, and his hands were a swollen and bloody mess. Even more distressing was his inky, bitter signature in the Force. It felt like a void, endless and dark and far too hopeless for someone so little.
And it was entirely Obi-Wan’s fault.
He moved quickly to the boy, kneeling in front of him and taking his hands in his own as gently as he could. “Oh, Anakin,” he murmured, looking over the boy’s knuckles in dismay. “What’s happened?”
Anakin’s only response was another wave of tears, and his slight frame shook with the effort to expel them. Reaching past his hands, Obi-Wan scooped the boy into his arms and stood up, stepping over the watery mess on the floor and going to his adjoining door in the bathroom.
“I didn’t mean to,” Anakin croaked into his shoulder. He couldn’t grab onto Obi-Wan, so his little palms made wet imprints on the back of Obi-Wan’s robes.
He soothed the boy with a soft hush. “It’s alright,” he whispered as he stepped into his own quarters, hoping Anakin believed him, and made his way over to his bed. “I’m going to treat your hands,” he told him, kneeling in front of the bed and setting Anakin down on the edge of the mattress. “There are some medical supplies in the bathroom—”
“Don’t leave!” Anakin cried, trying to keep a hold of him and crying harder when he hurt his hands. “Master—”
“It’s alright,” he repeated, squeezing Anakin’s arm. “I’ll stay here, I won’t go anywhere. It’s alright.”
Once Anakin nodded, Obi-Wan sat back on his heels and appraised the boy, holding his wrists carefully so that he didn’t hurt himself further. “At least let me take off your boots,” he said then, glancing at his feet.
Anakin nodded again, sniffling, and Obi-Wan slipped his shoes off of him, setting them neatly at the foot of the bed. Then he stood up and sat down on the edge of the mattress beside Anakin and pulled him into his lap. He was so small for a nine year-old boy, too slight for someone so sure and strong of heart.
Obi-Wan steadied him as Anakin curled up into a tight little ball and sobbed into his chest, hiccuping out apologies for things that surely were not his fault. He would not panic, he told himself. He would not be so easily swayed by his Padawan’s emotions, even as he felt them as intensely as his own.
As he cradled the boy in his arms, Obi-Wan tried to remember being Anakin’s age, and even as he recalled memories of his own boyish doubts and turmoils, he knew they couldn’t compare. He’d been raised in stable tranquility here in the Temple, in a community of structure and constant support—even if his Masters hadn’t been warm and loving enough for his liking.
Anakin had had none of those things, and now that this was his new reality, he couldn’t possibly know what to do.
Qui-Gon would have known how to handle this. He’d always had little regard for how emotionally detached a Jedi should be, and Obi-Wan floundered as he tried to tap into his Master’s seemingly effortless ability to connect and feel with those around him. It was something he would need to be better at, for Anakin’s sake if nothing else, and vowed to do so.
He supposed this was as good an opportunity to practice as any.
“It’s okay,” he whispered again, not knowing what else to say. He rocked the boy gently, holding him in such a way that he wasn’t putting pressure on his hands. After a moment of hesitation, he pressed his face into Anakin’s hair—he’d seen mothers do it with their children before.
“I’m sorry,” Anakin said in response, his breath a hiccuping mess.
“I dunno.” Anakin shifted a little, pressing deeper into the crook of Obi-Wan’s arm around his shoulders. “I’m sorry I don’t know how to spell con-cen-tra-tion,” he sounded the word out.
Obi-Wan felt his mouth tug up a little. “That’s an easy fix, isn’t it? I can teach you.”
“Master Jocasta already tried to,” Anakin said sullenly. “But I’m too stupid to remember.”
Obi-Wan pulled back at that, enough to look at Anakin. He was so small. “You’re not stupid,” he assured the boy. “Who said you were stupid?”
“The other kids,” Anakin replied. “And I know I’m not supposed to hit people, but they don’t shut up no matter what I say—”
“Yes, Master Jocasta told me.” He’d had a very brief, very curt conversation with her over the phone, equal parts explanation and chastisement. He must do something about his Padawan, she’d counselled him, because he was becoming uncontrollable.
Anakin said nothing. He was looking at his lap, staring at his swollen knuckles. Obi-Wan touched his cheek, urging his eyes upwards. “She must have told you that you don’t solve problems with violence,” he murmured.
“It’s a good lesson, but it’s not the full one.” Obi-Wan sighed then, wondering if he was about to shoot himself in the foot by contradicting Jocasta Nu. Oh well. “A Jedi uses violence only to defend, and only as a last resort.”
“I was defending myself!” Anakin pressed immediately. Obi-Wan gestured for him to wait.
“I know. But I have not taught you any other way to solve your problems, which is why it feels like your only option right now. You’re not in trouble,” he added, seeing Anakin’s face fall. “At least, not from me. The other children, on the other hand….”
“What about them?”
He kept his expression neutral, careful to hide his anger. “They’ve lived their entire lives in comfort here in the Temple,” he explained. “They know nothing of the trials you’ve endured, or of any life beyond these walls, for that matter. And even in spite of that, you keep pace with them. Their lack of compassion is an error in our teaching that must be corrected.”
Anakin absorbed that for a moment. “So you’re saying they’re wrong and I’m right?” he finally asked. “And that I’m better than them?”
“Ah, well.” Obi-Wan twisted his mouth, trying to figure out how to word it so that that wasn’t the only conclusion Anakin would draw—even if it was the right one. “Attacking them was still wrong,” he finally said. “But it was something that could have been avoided through better instruction. The error lies with me, and the other Masters. We must fix it.”
He would have a word with Master Jocasta and the other instructors about the children’s cruelty, a trait that was unacceptable for any Jedi. It was something he could do now as a Knight, he thought; he could ‘have a word’ with the other Masters. And what better way to throw the weight of his new title around than defending his Padawan?
Anakin nodded at his words, though he still looked confused. “Okay,” he breathed, sounding relieved. “Can you also tell Master Jocasta not to be mad at me anymore?”
Obi-Wan smiled at him, and thought his heart would break again. “Of course,” he whispered, and Anakin smiled back at him.
“Wizard,” the boy said in satisfaction, and Obi-Wan suppressed the urge to laugh.
“Now, may I go to the bathroom and grab bandages?”
Anakin nodded again, and Obi-Wan deposited him on the bed, still marvelling at how slight he was, and made haste for the bathroom.
Obi-Wan was gentler than Vokara Che when it came to cleaning and dressing his wounds, and Anakin made sure to tell him that. It made his Master look sad, but he wasn’t sure why.
“Starting next week,” Obi-Wan began after he was finished, stuffing the medical supplies back in their little bag. “I will be back at the Temple regularly, and I will take over your training.”
Obi-Wan glanced up at him. He still looked sad. “Yes,” he murmured. “I thought time spent in the Temple would help get you up to speed, and time away from me would… well, would help you.”
“Because.” Obi-Wan sat back on his heels, and Anakin watched his throat bob. “I’ve been finding it difficult to control my grief. It is not something you need to bear.”
“Grief,” Anakin repeated, testing the word out. It made intuitive sense to him—it sounded like the emotion it was meant to express. “You mean about Master Qui-Gon dying?”
“Yes,” Obi-Wan whispered. Then he blinked and gave him a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “But I see my error now. I’m sorry for leaving you alone.”
Anakin was taken aback at that. Adults never apologised to him, even when they were wrong. Especially when they were wrong. “It’s okay,” he said immediately, knowing how crummy it felt to say sorry. “I forgive you.”
“You’re an easy pleaser,” Obi-Wan said with a laugh, and stood up. “Come now.”
“Easy pleaser,” Anakin echoed, liking the way that sounded. “Ea-sy pleas-er, ea-sy pleas-er, ea-sy pleas-er—”
“We’re going to the Archives now,” Obi-Wan interrupted, helping Anakin down from the bed and then guiding him to put his boots back on. He couldn’t take his hand, so Obi-Wan pressed a guiding palm to Anakin’s back instead.
“I know of some texts that will help you to read better,” he told him. “They helped me when I was your age.”
“You had trouble with words too?” Anakin looked up at him as they went to the front door, amazed. “But you know so many!”
“For a time, yes,” Obi-Wan said, though he explained nothing more. “Oh dear,” he murmured then, frowning at the floor. “I forgot about this mess.”
Anakin followed his eyes and saw the blood on the granite. Shame bloomed in his chest, sharp enough to make him wonder if he was going to cry again. “I’m sorry, I—”
“If you are angry, for whatever reason, you must come to me,” Obi-Wan told him, making him look up again. “Even if who you are angry with is me.”
Anakin frowned. “Why would I be angry at you?”
Obi-Wan smiled knowingly. “All Padawans are angered by their Masters at some point in their life. But you must not hurt yourself when you’re angry, do you understand? I will show you how to control it, and how to work it off properly.”
“Okay. I don’t like punching the floor anyway,” Anakin added, looking back down at the stain on the floor. “It hurts a lot.”
“I’ll clean that up later,” Obi-Wan promised. “Now come.”
“I’m not going back to class, am I?”
“No,” Obi-Wan assured him. “You won’t be in classes anymore. I will teach you.”
“Wizard,” Anakin whispered again, and Obi-Wan laughed at that for some reason.
For the first time since coming to the Temple, Anakin sat at a table in the library with somebody other than himself.
Obi-Wan was making him copy the words out from the text on the book’s page into his notebook, but Obi-Wan was doing it too, so really he was copying Obi-Wan. His handwriting was a lot neater than Anakin’s, but Anakin was a lot more familiar with reading Aurebesh than he was writing it.
“Do you know what those words say?” Obi-Wan asked, setting down his pencil as Anakin finished the fifth line.
“They’re the five precepts,” Anakin told him, eager to show off how much he knew. “The first one says there is no emotion, there is peace.”
“Are these the books you wanted me to read from?” he asked. “Because I’ve read them already.”
“No, I wanted to cover the basics with you, but you seem to be up to speed on those.” Obi-Wan combed a hand through his hair as Anakin silently glowed at the praise. “There are many texts in the Archive. I’m most familiar with the First and Third Hall—they hold the philosophy and history texts, as well as politics and geography. Does any of that interest you?”
Anakin made a face as he considered his options. “Do the history books have battles and stuff in them?”
Obi-Wan smiled. “Some do, yes.”
“Can we read those? I promise I’ll learn all the words in them.”
“You don’t have to promise me,” Obi-Wan corrected him. “Promise yourself.”
“Okay. I promise me I’ll learn all the words in the history books about battles.”
Obi-Wan left briefly to collect some books. When he was out of sight, Anakin grabbed his paper and set it beside his own notebook, comparing their handwriting and frowning at how messy his was. Then he began to copy down the words again, this time trying to write like Obi-Wan did.
He was almost finished the third precept when Obi-Wan returned, but Anakin was so absorbed with his writing that he didn’t realise it until he heard the books thump down on the table. He flinched up and found Obi-Wan watching him with amusement.
“I’m flattered,” his Master said as he sat down again. “But you will develop your own handwriting style in time.”
“But mine is so ugly,” he replied, sliding Obi-Wan’s paper back over to him. “I like yours.”
“Your penmanship is fine for your age. Now,” he continued, presenting Anakin with three options. “These are a good start, I think.”
Anakin knelt up on his chair seat so he could lean over them and read the covers. The first read The Force Wars: A Review of Mandibuian Analysis on Historical Force Use.
Boring. He read the next one. Sith and Siegefare: Who Defines Opposition?
He didn’t even know what that meant. The final one read Dragons of Life and Legend: Symbolic Representations of Early Manderon Battles.
“Okay,” Anakin said skeptically. “Which is the best one?”
“Which do you want to read?” Obi-Wan countered.
“This one has dragons in it,” he reasoned, pointing to the third.
“Ah. A metaphor, I’m afraid. This is a book about art that depicts war. Although there may be pictures of dragons in it….” He trailed off, picking up the volume to flick through it. “It’s been a while since I’ve read it.”
“What does metaphor mean?”
“Something that stands for something else,” Obi-Wan murmured. “Alright. There are quite a few pictures of dragons in this one, but they are symbols—metaphors,” he added, smiling at Anakin. “This book discusses what the dragons could represent in various art pieces. They didn’t actually appear in any of the battles, though.”
“Is it any good?”
Obi-Wan shrugged. “Quist is a decent writer. But there will be a lot of words in here you don’t yet know, which is why I chose it. It’s good to read things you can’t fully understand—they help you learn new words by studying the words around them that you do know.”
“Can you read it with me?” Anakin asked, still leaning over the table, swivelling his chair behind him.
Obi-Wan looked sad again. He looked sad a lot—maybe Anakin could help cheer him up, like Obi-Wan had helped him. “Of course I will,” his Master said, and then cleared his throat. “But you must sit on your chair properly.”
“Oh.” Anakin scuffled his feet back to the ground, then rolled his chair over next to Obi-Wan’s, bringing his notebook and pencil with him. “I’m gonna write down all the words I don’t know, and you can tell me what they mean,” he explained.
“That’s a good idea,” Obi-Wan said, making Anakin preen again, and then Obi-Wan opened the first page.
“Now — ”
Obi-Wan looked up, frowning at the immediate interruption but nonetheless patient. “Yes?”
“I like sitting in the library with you,” he told him. “I usually sit here alone. It’s a lot nicer with someone else.”
Obi-Wan looked away from him for a moment, but he wasn’t focused on anything. “I like sitting here with you, too, Anakin,” he whispered, his voice strangled.
Anakin leaned back into his chair. “And I promise not to misbehave if you’re not sad. I think that’s a good deal.”
Obi-Wan glanced back at him then. His eyes shone, even as he smiled. “That is a good deal, yes.”
“Cool.” Anakin smoothed his notebook flat on the table and poised his pencil above a fresh page. “Okay,” he said. “I’m ready.”
“Cool,” Obi-Wan said back dryly, but it sounded weird and awkward in his accent. That was okay. Anakin said weird words, too, and he promised himself never to make fun of Obi-Wan for it. “Now, about dragons….”