"There is a dragon in the heart of every sun."
A young man lay motionless in the landing bay of a starship, staring blankly out the open hangar door as these strange words drifted one by one into his consciousness from somewhere outside of himself. His dazed blue eyes reflected the plumes of smoke and bright pulses of the alarms ringing somewhere in the depths of the ship.
He was unaware of anything except a distant sense he was injured, the sensation like watching a forest fire from the safety of a ship. Flickers of pain shot through his mind, underscored by a low, seething dread that he couldn't pin to any one particular feeling or sensation.
The trademark robes of his order sprawled around him in pools of brown and black and the starry arm of a galaxy spread out before him, a dizzying swath of light fighting against the vast blackness of space. The sight was beautiful and achingly cold, so sharp it would cut him if he reached for it.
But he was already bleeding. Bruised or broken, his brain wasn't telling him just yet. Something red pooled near his head. That was not a good sign.
There had been a battle. He'd won. Hadn't he?
Once again, the voice slid over him and the pain and the river of light outside, repeating the odd sentence about a dragon and a sun. It was soft, so unlike the cold metal floor he was on and the hard weight of his saber in his limp hand. It sounded like home, warm and comfortable and completely alien in this dark, empty place.
He wanted to listen to it forever.
"That is why all suns are far apart. It's bad luck to have two in one system. Isn't it, Anakin?"
How did this voice know his name? What was it talking about? The young Jedi tried to turn, or sit up, but his body gave a scream of protest at the first tensing of his muscles and the galaxy ahead darkened as he fought off unconsciousness. He let out a faint groan, his mind trying desperately to cling to something that would keep him awake.
Anakin Skywalker, the Chosen One, was tougher than this, he tried to tell himself in the first bit of coherence he'd been able to manage since the battle he barely remembered. I can't give up. He tried to pull the Force to him, like a child on a beach scraping sand toward himself, but the waves of pain washing over him just took it all back out to sea.
Only a few bits remained to anchor him to consciousness. The sharp, distinct scent of burning oil and circuits. A mound of commando droids reduced to messy piles, rough edges still glowing a dull red from saber cuts. Anakin had done that, he was sure of it. That had been the battle, long and painful.
And then one of the last droids had rammed him when he'd cut off its weapon arm, hard enough he slammed his head into the flooring.
He was aware of that now. The world shuddered dark and he fought to keep his eyes open, so much pain and fog inside his mind he instinctively tried to scramble away from them by focusing on something, anything else.
The burning oil trailing across the floor, mixing in with his blood. The stars locked in a frozen spiral outside. And a hand, very gentle, on his shoulder. "Come now, Anakin. I'm not that boring, am I?"
He focused on the steady warmth of that hand, and willed himself to think about the person who knelt behind him. Male and roughly his age, from the voice. Awash in a violent current of the Force. Dangerous.
Unable to properly concentrate, once his mind touched that dark river Anakin almost fell into it. So much anger came from this man, so much hatred and bitterness for the world.
How could his voice be so calm? So soothing?
"No, no. You're hardly in any kind of shape to be pulling that sort of stunt." At these words, the smooth, elegant tones of a Coruscanti native, the river swirled away, drained off into shadows and leaving the impression of a very tall, very thick wall in its place. "It's a good thing I'm here to keep you talking, isn't it? Knocked yourself quite a good one there."
Anakin tried to reach through the haze and confusion lined in pain to understand what the man was saying, eyes drifting to the blood on the floor. He strung together words, carefully picking them from the back of his mind and arranging them with the clumsiness of an Initiate trying to meditate. "Did... I… we... win?"
A chuckle drifted to him in the man's words, teasing and light even as the hand on his shoulder patted him. "Your first question is to ask if we won. Well, yes and no. You and your side won, Anakin. I did not fight in this particular battle."
"What? Who…?" he whispered, voice hoarse, as he heard a door grind open somewhere far down inside the hangar and the harsh crackle of coms barking orders. "Who are you?"
"Someone who must be leaving, it would seem. Don't worry, Anakin. You'll see me again."
The hand on his shoulder slipped away, like the morning rays of sunlight dwindling to nothing in his room back at the Temple, and he felt a strange and curious disappointment even as it meant the other young man's frightening tide of anger was gone as well.
And then his men were there, their near-identical voices asking if he could hear them, calling for medics, and reporting that the Separatist ship had been taken and all aboard arrested.
"Did you see him?" he tried to ask, but only the first word came out before the darkness grew tired of waiting and took him down into a long, deep night.
Anakin was in the forest again, the one draped in the lush autumnal reds of a temperate world, the one with a tiny creek running through the clearing where he stood. The ground lay covered in dying leaves, each one a bright red jewel on the dark earth.
No. Not here. Please. I don't want to see this.
The distinct, wavering hiss of sabers spinning and clashing around him as he lay atop that cold earth, clutching in agony at the searing pain of what would become a scar tracing down his face.
"You will not have him!" His master Qui-Gon's voice, full of rage and grief.
No, please. Why am I remembering this? I want to wake up.
A harsh cry right above him, savage and feral.
Wake up! Please!
Qui-Gon falling dead to the ground, body slipping into the creek. The water too low to carry him away, just enough to stream his robes and long hair out over his face. A leaf catching in his dark hair, the first offering on Qui-Gon's funeral bier.
He woke with a start, the waking world pouring into his mind in a rush of clumsy sensations and colors.
Bed. Bandages. Ship.
Ahsoka. His Padawan.
He let out a rough breath knotted up in his throat and sank back into the pillows, the dream retreating at the sight of Ahsoka leaning over him, a datapad forgotten in her hand.
"It's ok. I'm here, Master." She looked into his eyes, reading the anxiety there, and gently squeezed his shoulder, letting a wisp of the Force wind its way into his mind, helping tether him there with her.
"Thanks, Snips," he said after a long silence, after the memory-dream had been pushed so far back into his mind he'd lost sight of it and calm had returned to the Force bond between them. Somewhere out in the hall clone troopers marched by, a steady drum of boots and clanking armor. "How'd we do?"
"Good," Ahsoka smiled, leaning back into the chair she'd dragged over next to his bed. "Complete victory on our part, but you got beat up pretty good."
He rubbed the back of his neck, feeling the cool sting of a bacta pack there, realizing there were more all over him. "You should see the other guys." He looked puzzled for a moment, Ahsoka noticed, but she didn't push him on it.
"It's ok if you still don't feel right. They want you resting for another few days. So I know just the thing to keep you happy and on the mend," she smiled, holding up the datapad. "My entire textbook for my Galactic Geopolitical Alliance class. Read aloud by yours truly in the most obnoxious Pong Krell impersonation I, your humble Padawan, am capable of."
"Kriff, I'll get up right now," he laughed, waving his hand at her. "One-hundred crunches and then run a klick, I swear. No Galactic Geopolitical Krell reading, please."
"No, no, Master. It's the least I could do after those training drills you assigned me."
He shook his head, his smile mirroring hers, and leaned back into the pillow. "How about some food before you torture me?"
"You got it, Master. Cold caf and mystery rations, coming right up." Ahsoka stood, visibly relieved, and he felt her concern for him shining like a lovely golden halo around her.
Now was not the time to mention the man he'd... seen? Hallucinated? She was worried enough, and Anakin wasn't even sure if the man had been real. "Thanks, Snips," he sighed, sinking back into the blankets, glad for once to be somewhere clean and simple and quiet.