For a moment, Anakin thought his master's heart might just stop working.
He stared, eyes wide, face so pale—
So much emotion expressed there—
And then Anakin found himself distracted by a warm voice.
“Anakin. It's been a long time.”
Anakin felt Obi-Wan's shields snap up, and as Qui-Gon Jinn continued speaking, Obi-Wan Kenobi stepped out of the room.
It didn't seem Qui-Gon even noticed.
Something is wrong here.
Anakin gave the strange Force apparition a smile and excused himself using a method Obi-Wan had long ago taught him worked with politicians.
He found Obi-Wan on the balcony, sitting near the edge, staring out at Coruscant's bustling night life. Anakin folded himself to sit beside him, wondering what exactly was up.
“I'm surprised he let you go,” Obi-Wan murmured.
Anakin shrugged. “Yoda and the others certainly had things they wanted to say. I just deferred to my elders.”
There was a flash of amused pride swift replaced by a yearning ache.
“It's an old story. Not worth telling.”
Anakin studied the part of his face that was visible. “What if I think it's worth hearing?”
“To tell it now would be petty, unkind, and pointless. What is, is , and there is no point in badgering the individuals involved for something that happened so long ago.”
“You're hurting,” Anakin realized. “Who hurt you?”
“No one, Anakin. I was overly sensitive at the time. Unreasonable. It's no one's fault but my own—”
Anakin's eyes widened. “Qui-Gon hurt you. What did he do? You always spoke so highly of him, I thought for sure the two of you had a perfect relationship—”
That startled Obi-Wan into looking at him, eyes wide. “Perfect?”
“Yeah. I was always trying to recreate that. Make sure you and I had what you and he had.”
That statement cracked Obi-Wan's shields just a little, allowing mild alarm to slip into the Force. The older man's gaze fell away from his former apprentice and found the endless lines of traffic again.
Anakin's voice was quiet and as gentle as he could make it as he asked another question. “Why does that make me think you hope to hell we
have what you and he had?”
“He was always kind,” Obi-Wan chided. “I will not sit out here and slander him. He was the only one to give me a chance, and I will never stoop to being ungrateful.”
“Sounds familiar so far.” Anakin heard the almost admission of adoration in his own voice, and hoped Obi-Wan could feel it too.
His master glanced back up at him again. The expression of pain on his face softened, and he reached out to grip Anakin's shoulder. “I am proud of the man you've become.”
“Don't change the subject,” Anakin scoffed while his heart glowed.
His master never gave out praise unless he really meant it.
Unless it counted.
Obi-Wan had the gall to look betrayed and innocent all in one.
A warning was in order.
“If you don't tell me yourself, I will find a way to twist Qui-Gon's arm into telling me.”
At that, a smirk crossed Obi-Wan's face. “Well, then. You'll never know. Because he never noticed.”
“He hurt you that badly and he didn't notice ?” Anakin frowned. “But he's so strong with the Living Force, how is that possible— ?”
“I didn't complain then, and I'm not going to complain now,” Obi-Wan growled. “Perhaps it's better if you leave.”
“I don't think so. You're hurting, Obi-Wan. You should let me help. ”
“There is nothing you can do to help.”
There was just the tiniest hint of something in the word you.
Almost not enough to catch.
“Am I involved in this somehow?”
“He wants to spend time with you. Enjoy it. Go, please, Anakin. He's picky about who he wants to be around. Take advantage of it and learn everything you always wanted to know about him—”
“Why doesn't he want you ?”
Anakin was unprepared for the catch of breath that sounded like a sob. And then Obi-Wan had his face turned away, as far away as possible.
“Hey.” Anakin reached out for him, then thought better of it. “Is that what this is about? He comes back from the dead and he doesn't say hello?”
“I told you it was pathetic,” Obi-Wan said, his voice thick even as he tried to mock and laugh at himself. “Leave your old master to his whiny glooming. I think I need to be three years old again for a while.”
“I never had the chance to see you at three. What if I want to stay and be three too? Force, the trouble we would have gotten into...”
A choked laugh answered him. “We would never have been friends, Anakin.”
“ Why ?”
“It took me longer to learn things than others. We wouldn't have been in any of the same classes— you in the advanced ones, I in remedial. I wasn't skilled enough to have ever been pitted against you in saber training, and I was shy, so I never would have sought you out.”
“You? Shy?” Anakin tried to envision a tiny Obi-Wan with large blue eyes. “But you're so good with people.”
A pained expression crossed his master's face. “I thought that's what my master wanted.”
So you learned how to talk. Anakin could understand that desire to please. “So what if you were a knight and I a youngling in the Temple? Would you have picked me out of a line of prospects?”
“No,” Obi-Wan whispered, everything about him seeming to deflate. “I would have seen a boy who deserved much more than I had to offer. Someone with so much power— to be raised by a man with very little of his own, how could I be anything but a detriment? I wouldn't have wisdom to give, and no matter how hard I tried to keep up, I would end up holding him back. I wouldn't be what he needed.”
“What? No— ”
,” Obi-Wan chided with a grieved smile sent his way. “Surely you haven't forgotten the things you said to me all through your apprenticeship. I'm telling you that you were right.”
“I was a teenager, Obi-Wan. I would have resented anybody who was in charge. Force, I would have claimed Qui-Gon was holding me back, if he'd been the one to teach me. It's just part of what teenagers do. Besides. Qui-Gon thought you were worthy to train me.”
The smile vanished.
The head turned away.
No, don't do that. “What is it? What's wrong?”
Obi-Wan shook his head.
“Tell me, please. I want to know.”
It took Obi-Wan a long time before he spoke, and when he did, his voice was just a bit tremulous. “He didn't ask me to train you because he thought I'd do a good job, or even because he thought I wouldn't harm you. He thought I was the only option at the time. Either I trained you, or you didn't end up trained. That is why. If he had lived, he would have trained you himself. He didn't believe I was the man for the job, and he was right. He knew I wasn't the best.”
“I didn't want the best. I'm glad I had you.”
His affection warmed Obi-Wan, but not anywhere near enough to satisfy the younger Jedi.
So he tried something more. “If I were a knight and you the youngling, I would have chosen you.”
Grim amusement flared all through Obi-Wan's signature like pain. “Says the man who was afraid Ahsoka would slow him down. Imagine a child clumsy on his feet, one who required more time to learn than anyone else. A boy you had to explain directions to more than once. You would have picked a quick padawan, not someone with the nickname Oafy-Wan. ”
“ What ?” Anakin's jaw dropped.
Obi-Wan cringed, clearly sorry he'd said the hated name aloud. “It's sweet of you to say, but you wouldn't have wanted me. And I would never have expected you to.”
“Clearly Qui-Gon saw something in you,” Anakin protested.
Obi-Wan brought his hand up to smooth his beard, a gesture that hid his mouth. “Everywhere he went, he collected the small, the unwanted, the weak. Whoever was most pathetic, he adopted.” His gaze fell. “Except for me. Out of a universe of untouchables, I was the only one he turned away. He said I was too old. Too impetuous. Had too much anger, too much fear. He didn't want me.”
“I don't understand.” Anakin scratched his durasteel fingers through his curls. “What happened?”
“I was twelve years old, and I tried to die for him.”
Anakin felt his blood run cold. You didn't.
But of course he had.
This was Obi-Wan they were talking about.
You may have been clumsy and shy, but you had a heart of gold.
“He asked me to be his padawan, and I accepted. I— I wanted him, Anakin. No one else. I thought he wanted me, since he'd asked. But then he left me. Without a struggle, without fighting for me. He left a child in a war waged by other children. He'd taught me to follow my conscience above all else, and I thought this is what my conscience required. He drew a line in the sand.” Tears flooded Obi-Wan's voice, though none escaped his eyes. “I couldn't violate my conscience. He said I'd made my choice, and left me there. With the bombs and the guns and the death everywhere. And he had no intention of returning.”
Anakin stared at him in stunned disbelief, and found he couldn't say a word.
“Anakin, there were children dying and he wanted me to walk away from them.” Now a tear formed on his lower eyelashes, sparkling like blood in the lights of the city. “Eventually I realized I needed help. We needed help. I was a child myself, and I was in so far over my head. You know what war is like, Anakin. I'd had no experience. No training for it. I survived and others died. Even friends. I asked for help. Yoda answered. He was always there for me. Always.”
Yoda? Anakin wondered, bewildered. I thought Yoda was the villain and Qui-Gon the hero—
But Obi-Wan was talking about his past, and that was rare enough that Anakin was unwilling to speak up and break the spell. Afraid to remind him he was still sitting here, listening.
“Eventually it was over, and I was home. But Qui-Gon— he said I'd betrayed him. He stood against them accepting me back. And when he was overruled, he refused to have anything to do with me. He started spending time with my best friend, who had yet to be chosen.” The tear fell, staining the pale cheek. “For a time I hated myself because whenever I looked at her— I knew I should be happy for her, but it felt so wrong, it made spending time with her— and I was so ashamed I could be so self-focused—”
He threw him away, then pursued his best friend? Were there no other padawans available? Hadn't Obi-Wan lost enough, without moving to destroy his friendship?
“He decided to give me another chance. I promised myself I would never give him cause to abandon me again. He would never turn away from me, because I would become someone he wanted to spend time with, I would make him proud, I would be the padawan he wanted. And I thought— for a time— that he did want me.”
Obi-Wan drew in a shaking breath and closed his eyes against the pain. “And then I was the cause of his love's death. I wasn't fast enough, strong enough. I slowed him down. I was wounded, and he refused to leave me— and we didn't get there in time. I'm the reason he lost Tahl, just like I'm the reason you lost your mother.”
The older man curled in on himself, and tears fell to mar the stone of the balcony. He rocked, his body almost unable to contain the force of his silent agony.
The weight of it stole Anakin's breath even as his throat closed over.
“You thought that was your fault?” he asked, voice unsteady.
Obi-Wan choked a laugh. “Of course it was. I assumed your nightmares were like mine. And Qui-Gon always told me mine were irrelevant; they were meaningless, just something to endure— that give it time, and they pass—”
“Your nightmares?” Anakin whispered.
Obi-Wan sent him a tortured look. “There was never specifics. Just darkness coming and so much death. Qui-Gon told me that the only way to escape them was to refuse to give them power, to ignore them, he told me again and again to live in the moment— and I— I didn't seize the moment with you. I should have known your dreams were different—”
What? No, it was the future you were neglecting. Not the present. You obeyed Qui-Gon.
“I'm sorry, Anakin.”
Anakin wrapped him in a hug, horrified by how frail the older Jedi felt beneath his arms. Tears of his own wet Obi-Wan's shoulder. “You wanted to help me,” Anakin rasped, giving as firm a nod as he could. “You were only trying to help me.”
“I held you back. Slowed you down.” Obi-Wan pulled away. “Qui-Gon tried to absolve me of Tahl's death as well. After a time. He struggled, so terribly, before. At the time I could only guess what such a loss would be like.”
And now you know what it is to lose the love of your life. Anakin grit his teeth against Obi-Wan's pain, echoing so mournfully through the Force.
“Fine,” Anakin said, knowing Obi-Wan would not listen to his forgiveness. “But if you get to claim Mom, I get to claim Satine. Because I gave you the Twilight, and I knew you shouldn't go alone, but I didn't insist I come.”
“That isn't your fault—”
“Only if Mom isn't yours. ”
Obi-Wan merely stared at him and shook his head. Instead of arguing, he dropped his gaze to his hands, twisting pointlessly in his lap.
Anakin hated that the gesture made his master look helpless.
“What happened after Tahl?” he asked, as gently as he could.
A wan smile touched Obi-Wan's lips. “It took time, but he recovered. There was a wonderful month where I thought we'd finally made it. We'd broken free, it wasn't too late for us. And then we were sent to Naboo.”
And just a few days later he died. Anakin kept his sigh internal, not wanting to add to Obi-Wan's weight.
“Qui-Gon found another one. Another creature to help. It was normal. Right until the point he stood in front of the Council— and fought for him.” The fidgeting stilled. “The child— so old, so impetuous, so much anger, so much fear—”
Anakin recognized the words and their order from before.
Horror gripped his soul.
“All the things he had rejected me for— the only difference between us—”
Oh, Force, no. Please no.
“He wasn't clumsy. His mind was quick. And he had so much power. There was no way in hell he could become anything less than one of the Order's greatest masters. I would always be a nameless knight. It never occurred to me that Qui-Gon fighting for the boy meant— that he would—”
Obi-Wan drew in a steadying breath, but it failed to strengthen his voice. “He took the boy. He claimed him. He hadn't even— he didn't even look at me—he claimed the boy as his apprentice. He named him his padawan. Called him that. Right there. And when they asked about me, he announced he was through with me. Before the entire Council, before his new padawan. He said that I couldn't learn any more. That I'd hit my glass ceiling. That there was so much I didn't know, hadn't mastered, but that I was capable. That's the word he used. Capable. I tried to act like we'd discussed this. That he'd been preparing me for the trials, like he'd— recommended me because I'd earned it, and not because he needed to be free of me, but they saw through it. They saw through me. They knew. ”
The agony in his voice....
Tears slipped down Anakin's cheeks.
“We returned to Naboo, but all he could think about was the boy. There was distance between us, and my braid hadn't even been cut. Once there I tried to— I needed to know if he'd been planning on knighting me before he found the boy — but I wimped out. I didn't ask. Instead I thanked him for recommending me to the Council.”
But he didn't. He only did that after the Council reminded him Obi-Wan still existed. He claimed me first.
“He said kind words to me,” Obi-Wan said, pulling himself together. “Words that helped me survive the next few years.”
A memory drifted across Anakin's mind. His smaller self, listening in. Always listening in. He couldn't remember it all, but some of it had stuck. “You have become a much wiser man than I. I foresee that you will become a great Jedi knight.”
They were beautiful words.
But did he even believe in foresight?
“He meant them,” Obi-Wan snarled.
Anakin jumped and stared at him, wide eyed.
“Don't take that from me. He meant them .”
“Of course,” Anakin assured, heart breaking. “No, you're right.”
The lie felt easy, too easy.
It had become too comfortable to lie to this man.
Obi-Wan sniffed hard, raising his head and refusing to brush the now-drying tears away as he stared at the lines of traffic. “He didn't wait for me. He didn't let me help him. So he fell to Maul's blade. I was deemed worthy of knighthood because I'd killed a Sith. Only that was a lie. My knighthood is a lie. As long as Maul lives, I'm a farce. I didn't earn it. I didn't earn my recommendation, and I didn't earn my knighting.”
The level of shame and self-loathing was tremendous.
Anakin thought of how proud he'd been over his own knighting. The fact that Obi-Wan had spoken to the Council on his behalf. That despite Obi-Wan's constant corrections and chastisements, Obi-Wan had thought him ready.
Anakin had fought for his place, and he could hold his head up knowing no one carried him. It was his by right of struggle, even if three-quarters of that struggle was meditation.
His severed padawan braid was a triumph. One he knew to his deepest soul he'd earned.
“I held Qui-Gon in my arms. I'd been too slow again. And his final words to me were about the boy.”
“I saw him again on Mortis. It had been so long. It was like seeing a parent after— and I needed him to tell me that I wasn't a farce. That I deserved my title. I wanted to know I'd done well— that I hadn't failed him—”
Force, please, let Qui-Gon have been kind—
“But he had nothing to say to me about me. He was simply there to ask about the boy. And when his questions about the boy's current well being had been satisfied, he left me again. Alone in the dark.”
No. No. When he came to me...
He wanted to talk about me.
He hadn't mentioned Obi-Wan once.
And just now, inside...
No wonder Obi-Wan had slipped away.
“Why don't you hate me?” Anakin whispered. “I would hate me.”
“My master's dying wish. The only thing he wanted from me. There was no way in hell I would deny him. But I promised I would be your master. That means being your champion, your counselor, as much of a parent and friend as the padawan will allow. It means setting aside your own desires to see your padawan succeed and find happiness and balance. To give of yourself. I couldn't be your master and surround you with jealousy. That would be a betrayal of you, of the deepest sort. So I worked through it. I watched you sleep. I listened to your prattle. It didn't take me long to realize I couldn't hate you. You were so innocent, so kind, so compassionate. You loved so freely and asked for so little in return. I claimed you because I wanted to prove to Qui-Gon that no matter how unimportant I was to him, he was my master. And everything that meant to me. But I kept you because you—”
Obi-Wan took another deep breath and shook his head. “Because you were my padawan. I never imagined what that term would mean — that having one would be— you know. You have Ahsoka. There aren't words. You healed me, Anakin. In so many ways. I needed you in those early days. And instead of seeing me as second-best, you looked up to me. You thought everything I did was amazing, in spite of all of your power. You believed in me. You never once looked at me and thought Qui-Gon's death was my fault. You made me feel wanted. I hadn't felt that since my days in the nursery, with Yoda watching over me.”
Anakin was astounded at the damage one unconscious adult could wreck in the life of a child.
Certain things made sense now.
The way Obi-Wan would look at him with such reproach when he dismissed working with younglings as boring and pointless.
The way Obi-Wan would take care to speak with children on their level, even when busy.
How, when they came across children in their war zones, he always tried to speak their native tongue if possible, how he made sure they knew he saw them. Heard them. Valued them.
The 212 th had all kinds of stories from Ryloth, about their General carrying and holding children who had lost everything.
Qui-Gon left such deep scars, but Obi-Wan used them to create a tenderness that never tires.
Yes, Obi-Wan was wounded, but he ensured that pain kept him aware of his impact on others.
On me, and every other child he ever comes in contact with.
And he couldn't sense a hint of resentment in his master. Not for Anakin, not for Qui-Gon.
The Code wasn't a set of meaningless words for Obi-Wan.
He believed in forgiveness. He believed in allowing loved ones to find their own path instead of trying to force them to stay .
He believed in placing others' needs before his own.
How can I claim the Code is worthless when it has created such a beautiful person?
It's not the Code's fault that I can't hold it.
“What are you thinking?” Obi-Wan's voice held a hint of fear.
“I think you're amazing.”
Disgust spilled through Obi-Wan's face and he struggled to his feet.
“No, wait ,” Anakin pleaded, springing up to stay him with a hand on his elbow. “I'm not mocking you, I swear. ”
“I know just about every sentient has parental problems. At least I had a master. I could have had a parent who treated me terribly. I have nothing to complain about, and I'm weak for admitting any of this aloud—”
“That's not true. And people who say things like that are unhappy people who are unwilling to expend compassion on people other than themselves.”
“Anakin.” Obi-Wan couldn't meet his gaze. “Don't breathe a word of this to Qui-Gon.”
“But master— ”
“Not a word. ” His face twisted. “I have very little left when it comes to my master. I'd like to keep my dignity.”
“But he has a right to know what he did to you.”
“No. He doesn't.”
And with that, Obi-Wan walked out.