It’s the tone of voice more than the word itself that makes Anakin look up from the project he’s working on–the tone somewhere between ‘I’m absolutely exhausted’ and ‘Something terrible has happened but I don’t want to show it’, which is never a good sign when it comes to Obi-Wan.
“Obi-Wan?” Anakin asks. “Did you get called back to the front? I thought they promised they’d actually give you leave this time.”
“Did they?” Obi-Wan says. “Never mind. I’m not being recalled to the front right now, in any case. I need to talk to you, Anakin.”
Anakin starts to get a sinking feeling in his stomach. In all of his years of being a Jedi, ‘I need to talk to you’ has never led to a good conversation. Anakin looks up at Obi-Wan to try and deflect, try and delay whatever horrible conversation Obi-Wan wants until some later time so it’s not today’s problem, but his words die in his throat when he actually sees Obi-Wan’s expression.
He looks absolutely wrecked. He looks like he’s had his soul ripped out, he looks like he hasn’t slept in a month and he’s barely keeping it together–absolutely nothing like what he looked like a day ago. Somehow, between then and now, someone hurt Obi-Wan bad, and Anakin hadn’t known.
“Obi-Wan?” Anakin says, putting his hydrospanner down on the dining table and standing up. “Holy shit, Obi-Wan, what happened? Who did this to you?”
Obi-Wan laughs under his breath and it doesn’t sound like much of a laugh at all. “Don’t mind me,” he says. “I just need to talk to you. It’s important.”
“Is it about the war?” Anakin asks.
“I suppose it is, from a certain point of view,” Obi-Wan says, because he’s allergic to giving a straightforward answer. “And also something much greater in scope.” His eyes seem to slip from focus for a moment, staring out into the middle distance, then move back to meet Anakin’s gaze directly. For some reason, Obi-Wan’s eyes look so much older now. “Anakin. I’m going to ask you a very important question, and I need you to answer me honestly.”
“Of course,” Anakin says, because anything would be better than seeing Obi-Wan like this.
“Thank you, Anakin,” Obi-Wan says. He closes his eyes for a moment, then says, “If you were to have…knowledge of the future, that someone would do something terrible. Slaughter thousands of innocents. Destroy your entire family. What would you do?”
Anakin blinks slowly. “Obi-Wan, did you…see something? You had some kind of vision from the Force? That’s why you look so terrible?”
“Answer the question,” Obi-Wan says. “What would you do?”
“Well, I’d stop them, of course.”
“How would you stop them?”
Anakin thinks to his mother, to the dreams he had and should have done something about. If he’d acted sooner, if he’d found those Sand People before they could hurt her, she’d still be alive now. He’s never going to make that mistake again. He’s never going to let anyone he loves get hurt like that. Not anymore.
“I’d find them,” Anakin says, “and I’d kill them.”
Obi-Wan’s expression goes completely wooden, and Anakin knows in that moment that that wasn’t the answer Obi-Wan had wanted. Of course it isn’t–Obi-Wan’s too much of a perfect Jedi, too much about forgiveness and being nice to the wrong people. He’s never cared about someone enough to have it tear him apart if they died. He wouldn’t understand.
“I see,” Obi-Wan says, his voice completely flat. “So you would punish someone for a crime they had not yet committed.”
“If they’re going to kill tons of people including my family, then yeah, I have to stop them so they don’t do that!” Anakin says. “Do you really think someone who’d do something that awful is worth saving? This isn’t just some philosophical argument, there are lives at stake, Obi-Wan. Innocent lives!”
Obi-Wan takes a deep breath. “Yes,” he says. “I understand.”
There’s a flash of movement, and between one breath and the next, Obi-Wan’s lightsaber is at Anakin’s throat. Even without touching the blade, Anakin can feel the oppressive heat against his skin. If Obi-Wan twitches, he’s dead.
He stares, wide-eyed. “Obi-Wan?“
Obi-Wan looks him straight in the eyes, and there’s horrible pain there that Anakin can’t understand. “By your own judgement, I should kill you right now,” he says softly.
“M-Me?” Anakin says. “Obi-Wan, what are you talking about? This isn’t funny!”
“In six months time, you swear your loyalty to a Sith Lord and command your troops to destroy the Temple,” Obi-Wan says. “You slaughter the Jedi who you grew up beside, the younglings who trusted you to protect them. You go on to murder hundreds of thousands of people across the galaxy. Millions more die at your command over the following years. Killing you won’t save all of them. But it will save the younglings, and it will save many more.”
Anakin can hardly believe what he’s hearing. “I would–Obi-Wan, you have to be mistaken or something, I’d never join the Sith! I’d never hurt innocent people!”
“No? Not even to save Padme?”
Despite the heat of Obi-Wan’s blade, Anakin feels completely cold. “Is that what this is about? My marriage? Look, I’m sorry. I knew the Jedi wouldn’t be happy about me getting married, but this is completely overboard!”
“Your marriage is not the problem,” Obi-Wan says, still keeping his blade uncomfortably close to Anakin’s neck. “Your willingness to commit genocide is. If you believe that Padme will die, and the Sith offer you the ability to save her at the small cost of all the lives of all the Jedi, you would accept, and I know this to be true because I have seen it happen once before.”
Anakin tries to say something, but finds his mouth completely dry. He can’t refute it out of hand, not to Obi-Wan, not when he seems to see straight into the heart of everything Anakin’s kept locked away. Padme is the most important thing to him, and if he had to choose to do something horrible or to let her go…
Well, he’d never do something as bad as murdering younglings. But he’d be willing to do some pretty bad stuff.
“Obi-Wan,” Anakin pleads. “Obi-Wan, listen to me. I don’t know what you saw, but it’s not going to happen. I’m not going to let it happen, okay? Let’s talk this over before you do something rash.”
“Oh, I see,” Obi-Wan says. “Because it’s your life at stake, you believe we should discuss it. Even though you would murder someone based on visions of the future alone, before they had committed any crimes, you deserve a chance to defend yourself. Anakin, why do you believe you should be held to a different standard than the so-called criminals you would execute?”
“Because I’m not like them!” Anakin says. “I’m not evil! I don’t murder innocent kids and families to get what I want!“
“No. You would only murder them out of revenge,” Obi-Wan replies.
Anakin’s eyes, if possible, get even wider. There’s no way Obi-Wan knows about that. He can’t know about it. If he knew about it, then everything…everything is over.
“I…don’t know what you’re talking about,” Anakin says, desperately trying to salvage this.
“Now is not the time to lie to my face,” Obi-Wan says. “Before Geonosis, you slaughtered an entire tribe of Tuskens, down to the women and children. They were innocent people, and you cut them down. They tell stories about you–a heartless, violent demon who brings nothing but senseless death. You’ve taken innocent lives already, so many of them that I can’t even imagine how you sleep at night, knowing what you’ve done. By many metrics, you are worse than most of the people we try to apprehend.”
Obi-Wan says it so matter-of-factly that Anakin wants to scream. He’s got it wrong. He doesn’t understand. This is why Anakin never told Obi-Wan about it in the first place.
“Who told you about that?” Anakin demands. “Was it Padme? She promised she’d never tell anyone!”
Obi-Wan’s face twists into something even more hurt. “Padme knew you committed this atrocity? And never told anyone?”
Anakin presses his mouth shut. At least Padme hadn’t betrayed him–not like Obi-Wan. “You’re really going to get all righteous when you have me at saberpoint?”
“You’ll have to forgive my lack of composure. Today I am learning many extremely unpleasant things about people I care about,” Obi-Wan says, and it sounds like his voice is moments away from breaking. “I wonder if I ever knew any of you at all.” He exhales deeply. “Please, Anakin. Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you. Give me a reason to spare your life.”
In this moment, Anakin realizes Obi-Wan is entirely serious. There is a very solid possibility that Anakin will not leave this room alive.
“It’s not the Jedi way,” Anakin says.
“No, it’s not,” Obi-Wan agrees. “But you certainly don’t care for the Jedi way, and I have not been a very good Jedi for a great many years. Try again.”
“I’m not going to bow to the Sith. All that stuff you saw, it’s not going to happen,” Anakin says, more desperately.
“I put my entire faith in you once, Anakin. I always believed that no matter how often you stumbled, no matter how you struggled, you would have returned to the Light because at the core, you were good,” Obi-Wan says. “I still believe that there is good in you, and that there always will be, but you’ve proved over and over again that you are willing to ignore your sense of right and wrong, that you will step over that good to get what you want. It doesn’t matter if you don’t bow to the Sith now. Down the line, there will be more struggles and these root problems will not go away. One day, Padme will die and you will not let her go, and I will not have your death toll on my conscience. Try again.”
“You don’t want to do this,” Anakin pleads. “You’re like a father to me, we’ve been through so much together. We can work through this. It doesn’t have to end like this.”
Obi-Wan takes a deep breath and swallows. He looks absolutely devastated, and even now, Anakin doesn’t want to see that expression on his face.
“You are my brother,” Obi-Wan says after an interminable silence. “You are one of the most important people in my life, if not the most important person. I love you, and I always have. Killing you would be like killing myself. I’m sorry I didn’t teach you well enough to prevent these atrocities. I’m sorry I couldn’t arrive early enough to prevent them from occurring in the first place.”
Anakin feels like he’s choking. He’s always wanted to hear Obi-Wan say out loud that he cared, but…not like this.
There’s a low hiss, and the heat of Obi-Wan’s blade disappears as he disengages it. Anakin lets out a sigh of relief, tension draining out of his body.
“In the end, I am a Jedi,” Obi-Wan says, still grim. “And it’s not the Jedi way to punish people for things they haven’t yet done. All the younglings you may one day slaughter still live, as are the worlds you may destroy and the families you may tear apart.”
Anakin’s never been so relieved that Obi-Wan is so committed to Jedi principles.
“However,” Obi-Wan continues, “the fact remains that you have committed an unforgivable crime. The Tuskens are dead and you have slaughtered innocents you vowed to protect. I cannot allow this to go unanswered.”
“What?” Anakin says faintly.
“There is no jurisdiction within the Republic that can prosecute you for the mass murder you committed on Tatooine,” Obi-Wan says. “But your actions will have consequences within the Order. At minimum, we will have to confiscate your saber until you prove you can be trusted with it. Likely, you will be stripped of your rank until further notice.”
“What? You can’t–that’s not fair!” Anakin protests.
“No? When you were Knighted, you swore vows to become the bulwark of the weak, a protector to the innocent and those who need your help the most. You swore to maintain neutrality in your judgement and to place your duty above all other matters, so that you would never sacrifice the many for the few. These are the conditions upon which your Knighthood rests,” Obi-Wan says. “And you have broken every one of them. Why should you keep your rank?”
Anakin bristles. “I’m one of the best Knights the Order’s ever had! We’d never win this war without me!”
“We were never going to win this war,” Obi-Wan says. “It was built on false pretenses from the day it started. And while I will easily admit you are one of the strongest Jedi I have ever known, that does not make you ‘the best’. I cannot force you to accept these charges, but if you wish to be a Jedi Knight, and perhaps one day a Jedi Master, then you must answer to justice for your crimes and change the processes that led you to commit them.”
“You’re going to take everything from me,” Anakin says. “I made one bad move, and you’ll never forgive me for it.”
“That you can call the genocide of an entire tribe of Tuskens ‘one bad move’ is telling.” Obi-Wan slides his hands into his sleeves and levels a look at Anakin that’s so horribly disappointed that Anakin can practically feel himself shrinking under it. “And my forgiveness has nothing to do with it. I cannot forgive you because I am not the one who was wronged–the only people with the power to forgive what you’ve done are no longer able to do so. You’ve ensured that.”
Anakin finds himself at a loss for words. He feels like his world’s been flipped upside-down. He always knew Obi-Wan would let him down eventually, but this is…this is so much worse than he ever imagined.
“So you lied, then,” Anakin says. “You never loved me at all. You’d never do this to me if you did.”
Obi-Wan sighs. “Anakin. You don’t understand,” he says. “My love for you is unconditional. My lenience is not. I can save you from the consequences of your actions no longer.”