The shock whip rippled through the air and landed on his back. Agony - hot and dazzling - flashed through his body like wildfire, setting him aflame. It was unforgiving in its innate intimacy, slithering through to his core and seizing it in a viscous embrace. He had been flayed bare by his masters, his back a bloody canvass for them to paint on. Again came the lash, again and again and again, till it became all he had ever known, drilling into his soul that a slave was all he ever was or would be.
It was the realest thing he had ever known.
And then Obi-Wan woke up.
The daily routine of the Temple was a balm for the weary Jedi returning from the battlefront in the Outer Rim. The Force was still and calm, the halls of the Temple steeped in the soothing waves only accompanied by the presence of countless fellow Jedi. With the imposing spires of the Temple exuding serenity amid the bustling of a million Coruscanti lifeforms, it was easy to forget the Republic was not at the height of its power. That the Jedi were weakened and worn thin in a never ending war. Here, it seemed preposterous to imagine that the Order should not stand for another ten millennia, or the Republic could ever be split or broken beyond repair. Self-gratifying delusions perhaps but comforting nonetheless.
But both comfort and serenity eluded Obi-Wan as he slowly walked through the Temple halls, returning from debriefing the Council on their most recent campaign. He had kept the report as succinct as possible, glossing over several details - to Anakin's obvious surprise but thankfully he hadn't corrected him - and then excusing himself before they could rope him into any war meetings. Ahsoka had left before the Council report along with Master Plo. Anakin too had gone off directly after, presumably to visit a certain Senator, for which Obi-Wan was immensely grateful; he had no wish to speak of the mission and he had an inkling Anakin felt the same way. All he wanted to do now was retire to his quarters, find that vintage Corellian wine he had stashed away in his cupboard, and blank his mind for the rest of the night. Company was the last thing he desired - the thought of being blissfully alone, drinking to escape from his demons, was incredibly appealing.
Zygerria. Unwelcome, it floated persistently back into his mind, try as he would to ignore it. That planet would never again be mentioned by him without an accompanying mental shudder, and he imagined the same to be true for both Ahsoka and Anakin for reasons of their own. He had dreamt of Zygerria on the flight back to Coruscant, which was a rare occurrence. The lash was now only a memory, but the remnants of the dream clung to him, forcing him to relive anew the pain, fear and humiliation. He did not understand why he was so affected by this - pain was nothing new to him, a constant companion in this war, one who was unkind but dependable. It struck him that the best person to turn to for advice in this situation was not Master Yoda but, ironically enough, his own former apprentice. However, he refused to entertain the notion of actually doing so - he and Anakin simply didn't do the whole sharing thing. And perhaps it was egoism, but on no account would he display his weakness to the young Knight.
He entered his quarters, first removing his boots and hanging up his cloak at the entrance, then heading straight for the fresher. An hour later, he emerged clad only in a pair of comfortable, loose trousers, wet hair dripping onto his bare chest from his luxurious, and in his personal opinion, well deserved shower. He would never admit it to his old Padawan, who could not abide wasting water, but taking a long shower after an especially draining mission was one of his few guilty pleasures. He grabbed the bottle of wine from his stash, not bothering with a glass, turned on a random holofilm on the Holonet, and settled on the couch to enjoy a night of solitary, mind-numbing oblivion.
He had made it through a quarter of the bottle, and was now lightly dozing against the arm of the upholstered furniture as a result of his alcohol-induced drowsiness. The sound of the door sliding open jerked him out his semi-conscious state; he blearily opened his eyes to see Anakin standing at the entrance to the living space, an expression of perplexed surprise on his face.
It occurred to Obi-Wan then what a state of disarray he must present - draped over on the couch, shirtless, the open bottle held languidly in his open palm, hair sticking up from where his head had been leaning against the chair's arm.
'Ah, Anakin...what're you doing here at this time?'
'I don't think I've ever seen you look so discomposed,' he said laughingly, ignoring the question.
'I wasn't expecting anyone.'
'I live here too, remember?'
'You do?' But you're never here.
'You're really out of it, aren't you, Master?' He said, shaking his head in amused wonder, then glanced at the bottle in his hand. 'Not even slurring yet? Typical. Remind me not to go drinking with you again.' Obi-Wan chuckled lowly.
'You can never keep up anyway.' He held the wine bottle out towards Anakin, who accepted it gratefully, sitting down next to him and taking a long draught. Obi-Wan's eyes unconsciously followed the long arch of his throat as he drank, his mouth where his own had just been.
'So...,' said Anakin, wiping his mouth with his sleeve. He resisted the impulse to correct his bad manners. 'You want to talk about it?'
Obi-Wan knew there was no point denying that something was wrong - it wasn't everyday that Anakin found him this way.
Anakin shrugged. 'Figured, but had to ask, didn't I?'
Obi-Wan didn't respond, and instead snatched the bottle back, taking a large sip. He really did not want to talk about Zygerria - He was afraid what might spill out if he started.
Anakin stretched out on the couch to get more comfortable, head pillowed on his arms and legs sprawling over Obi-Wan's lap. He shot him a disgruntled look over the rim of his bottle.
'By all means, use me as your foot rest,' he grumbled.
'Thanks, Master,' he drawled insolently. He gestured at the Holonet. 'What crap are you watching anyway?'
'Its a, um..,' Obi-Wan blinked. 'I have absolutely no idea.' There was a dashing pilot flying around on the Holonet, crazily manoeuvring his starship as he dodged several enemy starfighters shooting at him. 'Something about a damsel in distress, improbable piloting scenes, and uh,' - he squinted at the hologram which now featured the main characters kissing passionately, chase forgotten - 'lots of making out, apparently.'
'The usual trashy holofilm then. Sounds good. Drink?' Anakin asked, looking over at him expectantly; Obi-Wan regretfully parted with his drink once more. A comfortable silence reigned as they watched the film and passed the bottle around, interjected with the occasional exclamation (Anakin) or disbelieving scoff (Obi-Wan).
As the film dragged on, his interest in it waned and his attention began to drift away. Out of the corner of his eye, Obi-Wan watched his best friend who was engrossed in the film, brow slightly furrowed in concentration, and his thoughts naturally turned towards him. He was a man of many acquaintances and friends, a direct consequence of his job, and - unlike Anakin - was mostly on good terms with all of them, thanks to his humble and diplomatic nature. But there was no other person of his acquaintance that he was so at home with, around whom he could relax enough to let down his natural well-mannered reserve. In the very beginning of Anakin's apprenticeship, he would have recoiled in consternation at the image of himself lolling shirtless on a couch with his Padawan, the very opposite of the dignified Jedi Master he had strived endlessly to be. But years of friendship with Anakin, more equal now that the other was a Knight, had taught him how to loosen up. By virtue of his own unorthodox personality, he had tempered Obi-Wan's insistence on correctness and, according to him, was the reason why he was not as much of a 'insufferable, pretentious snob' (those were his very words) as he might have otherwise been.
He in turn had softened the young Knight's rough edges and was the one of the few people capable of controlling him (as much as you could ever control Anakin). Not that he would pretend that Anakin always listened to him, but he was aware of the fact that he exerted some influence over the impulsive Jedi. Obi-Wan was the only Master on the Council whom he implicitly trusted, and would obey without question. A fact the Council had taken advantage of on more than one occasion.
The ending credits were rolling now - he had missed the end of the film, caught up in his musings. Anakin's eyes were downcast, looking down into his drink; he had shifted sometime during the film and was now sitting on the floor, head leaning back against Obi-Wan's knees, the warmth of his back seeping through the thin material of his trousers. He must've felt Obi-Wan's eyes on him, for he tilted his head back to look up at him.
'Y'know, thinking too deeply is a shit idea when you're hammered,' he advised rather drunkenly. 'Makes the hangover even worse.'
'Really, Anakin, I don't know what you mean,' he said, shrugging. 'I've barely even touched the wine.'
'Ha Ha,' he deadpanned. 'Funny, Master. I suppose the drink just magically emptied itself.'
'Sarcasm is an unattractive quality, Anakin,' he said disapprovingly. Anakin looked at him disbelievingly.
'Did you just - I can't even - Oh, forget it,' he said, rolling his eyes exasperatedly. As Obi-Wan made to reach for the bottle, however, he exclaimed:
'Oh no you don't,' and grabbed it quickly before he could. He got to his feet and dangled it high above his reach.
'No more until you admit you're the one who drank most of this,' he said childishly, grinning. Obi-Wan gave him his best Jedi Master glare, which usually made most Padawans, and even some Knights, shake in their boots. But Anakin only stuck his tongue out rudely.
'Can't reach, Obi-Wan?' He goaded.
Instead of reaching for the bottle as Anakin expected, he lunged at him, taking him by surprise and making him drop the drink. They both landed hard on the ground, Obi-Wan using the Force to catch the bottle before it could crash, and safely depositing it on the side table.
Anakin was lying under under him, looking both annoyed and impressed. 'Ow, that hurt,' he complained, rubbing his head. 'What the hell's wrong with you?'
'Just taking a leaf out of your book, my friend.' He said, smirking, then made to get up, having made his point. He was prevented from doing so by a strong grip on his arm. He looked inquiringly at Anakin, whose face was now serious.
'Obi-Wan,' he said, very quietly. There was a brief pause as he hesitated.
'I - I miss this. Just you and me, being together just for the sake of it, not for Jedi business. Not worrying or thinking about this blasted war for once.'
'I know. I can't remember the last time I saw you that wasn't on a mission.'
'And whenever we're on Coruscant, you're always too busy with your Council du-' he began accusingly. Obi-Wan interrupted him.
'And you're always too busy with a certain Senator -'
He stopped, falling silent; he had overstepped one of their unspoken rules. Anakin looked slightly panicked, his eyes wide, opening his mouth to protest.
'It doesn't matter,' Obi-Wan put in hastily. 'We will do our duty by the Republic, whatever the personal cost - and this war will end. It must.'
'I'm not so sure of that. I'm not so sure of anything anymore,' he whispered, a haunted look on his face. Obi-Wan knew he was remembering Zygerria. They had each fought their own battles in that accursed place.
'Be sure of me, Anakin, if nothing else,' he said, impulsively pressing his wrist. 'You can always trust that I will be here by your side, protecting and guiding you.'
'Thought I wasn't your Padawan anymore?' He joked, but his eyes were grateful, appreciating what Obi-Wan had said. The look gladdened him, making him wonder why he always hesitated to say such things. Anakin reached up to touch his face affectionately.
'You never did tell me what happened to you back there,' he said very quietly, cerulean gaze intense. Obi-Wan looked away, troubled.
'Where?' he asked, deliberately obtuse, reluctant to delve into it.
'You know...at the Zygerrian reprocessing centre. I noticed you kind of skipped over it at the Council briefing.' The warm lightness in the Force seemed to grow colder at the unpleasant reminder.
'Ah, yes.' There was an awkward silence as Obi-Wan did not elaborate.
'You could always just ask Rex. It wasn't terribly interesting,' he said with forced lightness, when it looked like Anakin was determined to get a response.
'I'm asking you,' he replied, unfazed by the rebuttal.
Obi-Wan pushed himself off the younger man - why was he still lying on him anyways? - and walked over to the window overlooking the Coruscanti cityscape. It was raining outside, tear-like trails of water staining the glass panes. Mentioning that place had brought the memory lurching to the forefront of his mind, unwanted feelings bubbling up within him - feelings he had been struggling to suppress. He heard Anakin approach from behind.
Obi-Wan turned on him, his whole body taut with repressed emotion. 'If you really must know,' he said tersely, 'the first thing they did was kill a few innocent Togrutans for my crime of being a Jedi. They put a collar on my neck and made me a slave, and then forced me to watch as they punished the others for their mere association with me - their way of beating me into submission...Every time I tried to help anyone, or even spoke to them, they were beaten, tortured...all because of me. I tried to tell them not to give up, that there was hope, but...I'd never felt so hopeless myself.' His voice cracked at the last sentence.
There was a dark look growing on Anakin's face as he spoke. His eyes narrowed dangerously as he hissed in a low, menacing voice:
'And you didn't think to tell me any of this earlier, Obi-Wan? I would've made sure to personally kill the scum.'
'Seeking revenge is not the Jedi way, Anakin. Have I taught you nothing?'
'Don't feed me your Jedi platitudes now, for fuck's sake!' said Anakin heatedly. 'After what they did to you - how can you not -' he broke off, running a hand frustratedly through his hair. 'Don't you want to punish them, make them suffer the same way you did, for making you feel so helpless? For hurting all those people? Even you aren't so forgiving as to have moved on from it already.'
'Not yet perhaps,' he admitted honestly. 'But I need to be able to let it go, I have to - and usually I can, but this time, its so much harder; for some reason, I - just - can't.'
Anakin's voice resounded with passionate fervour when he spoke. 'Don't you see, Master, you don't have to let it go! The Jedi are wrong when it comes to them - these slavers they're not even human. They don't even deserve to live, they deserve to be wiped out - every single last one of them.' There was unrecognisable feral expression on his face.
'Anakin! You don't mean that.' Obi-Wan remonstrated, taken aback by his vehemence. He had always known about Anakin's attitude towards slavery and, considering his own time as a slave, thought it understandably justifiable. But to hear it put like that..the implications of his statement, and what it suggested about him, were worrying to say the least.
'You know it's true, Master,' Anakin said unashamedly. 'After having experienced it yourself, can you really disagree?'
Obi-Wan fell silent; he could not immediately refute what Anakin had said, because it was true, he had been through it - and it had been horrific, for however short a period it may have lasted. Although he had known Anakin would come for him, in his darkest moments, it had hit him that he might be enslaved here forever. And the thought of that had been terrifying beyond measure. As for the slave-owners..they seemed to view their slaves as something less than human, as sub-humans who did not have the right to free-will - the most basic right of a civilised being - yet what was, in their eyes, a privilege. Obi-Wan had seen much evil in the Galaxy over the course of the years, but slavers stooped to a greater low than the rest of the lowlifes, by that one humiliating act of turning free beings into commodity.
'I cannot deny that I find them distasteful,' Obi-Wan answered, at length. 'Nor I cannot forgive or forget what I endured on Kadavo. But revenge and justice are not the same thing. And all living beings, however despicable, are worthy of compassion.'
'Killing all the slavers would not be revenge,' he said fiercely. 'It would be justice. Justice for all those they have wronged. And maybe you weren't a slave long enough to realise that feeling of utter helplessness, of having no control over your destiny! Maybe you should ask someone who has been enslaved since he was born if he thinks slavers deserve his mercy!'
'Oh, Anakin, I didn't mean -'
'Don't waste your breath,' he spat. 'I'm over it.' His jaw was tightly clenched. Obi-Wan stood there uselessly, hating himself for causing his friend anguish. He finally gathered up the courage to place a tentative hand on his shoulder, hoping it wouldn't be thrown off.
'I'm sorry,' he said gently. 'I didn't think. But we never talk about it, do we?' The fight seemed to drain out of Anakin at his words, and now he merely looked tired - tired and extremely young, too young to have seen and experienced the horrors that he had in his twenty-two years. Obi-Wan wondered if he had even slept since their return.
'No,' he sighed. 'We don't.'
'And no one expects you to ever be over it, Anakin,' continued Obi-Wan. 'But the only way to move past it is to let it go. To release these emotions into the Force.'
'I wish I could. You have no idea how much.' There was a mixture of self-loathing and resignation on Anakin's face. 'But I'm not the Jedi I should be. You're a better Jedi - a better man than me, Obi-Wan. If it had been me in your place...I would've killed them. I would've killed them all.'
The truth of his words resonated within the Force.