Anakin wasn't sure how long he'd been standing at the top of the Temple steps, staring out over the city. It could have been minutes since Ahsoka had walked away from the Jedi, from him, or it could have been hours. He wasn't sure which, and he didn't particularly care. It didn't seem like anything that had just happened could actually be real - it was some sort of terrible, terrible joke, maybe, and Ahsoka was going to pop back up at any minute with a "Gotcha, Master" and he'd have to put her on cleaning duty for days as a punishment, or else maybe the past few days had been just some sort of twisted nightmare and he'd wake up soon in his bed. Maybe if he just stood here and refused to accept that it had happened, the Force would give him a break and make it so that it hadn't.
None of those things happened, and the sky over Coruscant darkened as he stood motionless in the cool evening breeze, hands clenched at his sides. So lost within his own thoughts was he that he didn't even notice the presence which came up behind him until it spoke: "Anakin."
He jumped slightly in surprise, then relaxed as he recognized the quiet, familiar voice. "This was wrong," he said. "Master, all of this was just so wrong. It never should have happened." Even to himself, his voice sounded flat, lifeless..
"I know," said Obi-Wan, moving forward to stand at his side. "It never should have gone this far, and I'm so sorry that it did. But Ahsoka made her choice, for better or for worse, and she's not going to come back just because you stand out here all night.''
Anakin nodded, but didn't move. "I'm not sure I can stand going back into the Temple just yet," he admitted. "Not after what the Council did to her." It was getting cold out, though, he noted with a shiver.
To his slight surprise, Obi-Wan didn't push the issue. Instead, he nodded in acceptance, if not understanding, and sat down on the top step. After a moment, Anakin did the same. It was the younger Jedi who broke the quiet some minutes later - though he could manage to get lost into his own brooding introspection for hours if left in solitude, he couldn't stand silence for too long when there was someone nearby to talk to. "I just—how could they do that?" he burst. "How could they kick her out of the Order? And then they were just going to let her be executed! Obi-Wan, that's not the Jedi way. It wasn't just, and it wasn't fair."
"I personally agree," said Obi-Wan carefully. "I knew Ahsoka well enough to believe in her innocence, and I have never been in favor of capital punishment for anyone, let alone a minor." He shifted slightly to face Anakin. "But you must keep in mind that the rest of the Council simply hasn't had as much chance to get to know Ahsoka personally, so they didn't have a good reason not to believe what seemed like incontrovertible evidence. And once they had taken away her status as a Jedi, they had no control over what punishment was decided by the courts."
Anakin shook his head, then twisted until he and Obi-Wan were face-to-face. "So they shouldn't have taken away her status as a Jedi, then."
"Anakin," Obi-Wan said slowly, "I just said that from the Council's perspective, there was no reason to believe her innocent of the killing. Between the video evidence, the fact that she ran, the nano-droids she was found with, the fact that the only defense she had was character references from you and I...they didn't have much of a choice but to find her guilty."
"So?" Anakin asked.
Obi-Wan stared at him. "What do you mean, so? You think they should have just taken our words for it?"
"No," Anakin said. "I think it doesn't matter. So what if she had killed that woman? She was just a Padawan, she was allowed to make mistakes. She should have been given a second chance, not kicked out and left to be executed."
Obi-Wan's eyebrows lifted. "Make mistakes? There's rather a large difference between, say, disobeying an order or accidentally offending a diplomat, and murdering someone who didn't attack you first. One reflects errors in judgment and lack of experience, the other shows an inability to follow one of our Code's most basic tenets and a dangerous tendency toward the dark side. The Council wouldn't have excommunicated her for a mere mistake, Anakin!"
Anakin twitched. "I see," he said quietly. "A dangerous tendency toward the dark side..." He trailed off and looked away, not meeting Obi-Wan's eyes. After a few moments, his head snapped back around. "And what if it had been me, Master?" he asked, eyes flashing with something Obi-Wan couldn't quite read.
Obi-Wan wasn't entirely sure where this was going. "What if it had been you what?"
"Me who had done what Ahsoka was accused of." Anakin spoke quickly, his words almost tripping over each other. "What if, what if when I was a padawan, I had gotten really angry because someone had hurt me or people I cared about, and killed them in revenge. Would you have wanted me kicked out of the Order, or just stood by while the Council found me guilty and sent me off to a trial, or what? What would you have done?"
"Er," said Obi-Wan. The terrible thing was, that situation was just a little too possible to imagine. Anakin had always had both a temper and a very strong thirst for justice, and he'd had far less control over his emotions as an apprentice than he did now. There had been a number of times when Anakin was a padawan that his rash, angry words and actions had resulted in bruised feelings or flesh. Still, he'd never to Obi-Wan's knowledge lashed out angrily enough to cause serious injury to someone who was unarmed.
Which brought him back to the matter at hand. This would be easier if he knew what Anakin really wanted. Was he looking for Obi-Wan to validate his opinion that the Council's actions had been wrong? Obi-Wan couldn't quite bring himself to do that - he still had to believe that the Council knew what they were doing. Or perhaps Anakin just wanted reassurance that Obi-Wan cared about him? It seemed an odd way of asking for it, if that were the case. He decided to stall, to see if he could get a better read on Anakin's motive for asking so he could answer accordingly. "I suppose it would have depended," he said eventually.
Anakin was clearly frustrated by that answer, his fists clutching and releasing his robes and his leg jiggling up and down. "Depended on what?"
"Most importantly, on if you had come to me and confessed what you had done," Obi-Wan replied. "In Ahsoka's case, she ran from custody and then continually denied having committed the crime; had she been guilty this would have shown a lack of repentance, and I imagine that the Council took that into account when they decided to strip her of her position."
There, that had been good. He hadn't condemned the Council's decision, but he hadn't stated a willingness to hypothetically abandon Anakin either.
Except that Anakin wasn't looking happy with that answer either. "So if I hadn't told you immediately what I'd done, you'd think I didn't deserve to be a Jedi."
Seriously, where in the nine Corellian Hells was this coming from? "I hardly think I would be so harsh in my judgment. As long as you'd understood what you'd done was wrong and come to me for help once you'd gotten your anger under control, I most likely would have forgiven you. Even if your confession wasn't absolutely immediate."
Anakin frowned at the ground. "Hmm," he said, and nothing more.
Perhaps he was overcomplicating this. Maybe Anakin really had simply placed himself in Ahsoka's situation, and, being aware of how much more volatile his still-intense temper had been at that age, begun to wonder if he might have made a different choice in her place. "For what it's worth, Anakin, I don't think you ought to worry about it. You may have had difficulties overcoming your anger, but I don't believe that you were—or are—capable of cold-blooded murder," he said, trying to inject as much reassurance into his voice as he could.
At that, Anakin actually flinched and looked away. Obi-Wan suddenly had a very bad feeling about this conversation. Surely it wasn't actually possible that Anakin had killed someone, he told himself. After all, that was rather a large secret to keep, and Anakin was so terrible at hiding his emotions. If he was hiding something that big, he would have been acting as completely off-balance as he'd been after Geonosis when he was trying to pretend there was nothing going on between him and Padme Amidala. Yes, Obi-Wan knew exactly what it looked like when Anakin was keeping a secret, and he couldn't think of a single time during his apprenticeship when he might have been trying to get away with a murder
Besides, it wasn't though Anakin didn't have good reason to be acting oddly right now. He was clearly unstable from Ahsoka's departure, and Obi-Wan ought to be helping him work through the emotions which were causing him to ask such questions, not jumping to ridiculous conclusions. "Listen to me," he said. "I know you're upset about what happened, and you have every right to be. But please don't start doubting the Council's intentions - any more than you already do, that is. And if you must, then at the very least do not start doubting my regard for you. Of course I don't believe you would murder someone."
"Uh, thanks," said Anakin, his voice sounding slightly strained. "Glad to hear it."
In hindsight, realized Obi-Wan, it really hadn't been exactly the highest of compliments. Ah well. "Are you ready to go back in?" he asked.
Anakin nodded, looking somewhat relieved that the conversation was over. "Sure," he said. "You were right, Master. Sitting out here isn't going to bring her back."
"Bring her back?" Obi-Wan asked as he stood up. "You make it sound as though she's dead."
Anakin stood as well. "She might not be dead, but she is gone. She was forced into choosing to leave the Order, even though she could've been a great Jedi. We did that, Obi-Wan."
"I'm not so sure," Obi-Wan replied, placing his hand on Anakin shoulder. "Oh, I agree she could have been a great Jedi. But for all we know, the Force guided her away from the Order for a reason. Perhaps her destiny simply lay elsewhere."
Anakin looked skeptical. "What kind of reason?"
"How should I know?" Obi-Wan asked, eyes sparkling. "I'm just a humble Jedi Master; I'm not completely omniscient."
"Not completely omniscient?" Anakin asked in mock horror. "You better not let anybody else hear you say that, they might start thinking you're an actual fallible, mortal human being like the rest of us."
"Oh, well, we can't have that," said Obi-Wan. "I suppose you'll just have to keep it quiet." He turned around and began walking. "Come along then."
"Don't worry," said Anakin, a small smile on his face for the first time in days. "Your secret's safe with me, Master." And with that, he followed Obi-Wan back into the warmth of the Temple.