"Come now, young Luke," Master Obi-Wan said, crouching down to look him in the eye. "You can sense that I feel this will be a good thing for you, perhaps the best of things. Stretch out with your feelings, and share mine."
Luke forced himself to look up from the floor. He was trying not to cry, and the tears that were pooling in the corners of his eyes made little prisms of the soft wall lights. Usually, it was easy for him to tell what other people were feeling--"He's the strongest empath I have known since Qui-Gon Jinn," Master Obi-Wan had said to many people over the past two years--but right now, his own feelings were too big and awful to let anything else in.
Master Obi-Wan's face grew softer. "What is it, Luke? You've been chosen as a padawan at only nine! That is a great accomplishment."
Luke found his voice, but it was just a shaky whisper. "I thought... well, you've been watching me, and... when I was sick last month, and... "
"Ah. I see." Master Obi-Wan smiled and squeezed the top of Luke's arm. "It would have been a great honor to me to have been your master. But it was an honor I had to decline, because the master who has chosen you will be able to teach you as no one else could."
"You were afraid about taking a padawan," Luke said. "I felt it."
The master's smile faltered, then he nodded. "Yes, Luke. I was. My previous padawan was a very special boy--much like you, in some ways, though quite different in others--and when he left the Order, it hurt me deeply. I did not wish to experience that again." He stood up, and turned Luke toward the hallway. "But that fear would not have stopped me from taking you as a padawan. You will be a great knight someday, Luke, and a great man. You remind me more of my master than my apprentice in some ways."
"Why did he leave?" Luke asked as they turned the corner into a larger corridor. "Your apprentice, I mean. Thany Rie says he turned to the Dark Side."
"Does she?" Master Obi-Wan mused.
"And Meron Otsfo says he tried to kill you."
"That is nonsense." Master Obi-Wan frowned. "I had not realized there were so many rumors among the younglings."
"Everyone wanted to know how come you didn't have a padawan."
"I see. Surely, you realize that rumors are rarely true, and even when there is some truth to them, they are not the whole truth. It troubles me that you have believed these things."
Luke looked away. "I'm sorry. But you never say anything."
"It was not a subject I cared to discuss."
Master Obi-Wan's feelings were more disturbed now; to Luke, they felt like the beginning of a windstorm, cutting through Luke's own disappointment like a knife. He stopped questioning, and let himself be led silently through the Temple until the storm let up a little. He sometimes thought it would be nice if he could just pout on his own for more than a few minutes without noticing that it made other people feel bad. But the sense never stayed away for long, and he could feel the emotions all around him seeping back in.
"We will meet your new master in the Great Hall," Master Obi-Wan said. "And I believe you may find some of your questions answered."
"Do I know him?"
"You met long ago, but it's unlikely that you would remember. You were an infant. But he remembers you, and is eager to see the boy you have become."
They rounded a curve in the corridor and came into the Great Hall. Against the high windows, Luke saw the silouhette of a large man wearing crisp, new robes. The sunlight glinted strangely at his hip, and Luke realized that the hand extending from the sleeve was made of shiny metal. His back was turned, and Luke felt things coming from inside of him that were so strong they were almost scary.
He stopped walking.
The man was angry in some way, and impatient--Luke could almost pick up a thought, which was rare: Nine years, I have waited nine years, and still, there is a delay.But he was embarrassed about both feelings and trying to bury them. And he was happy to be here, but wishing he was someplace else. And around everything, like dark black smoke, he was awfully sad. The sadness ate at all the other feelings, like a pit monster swallowing everything that came near it.
Luke thought he might go crazy if he had to be around all that black smoke all the time, but sure enough, Master Obi-Wan was leading him forward.
The man turned, just as Luke came close enough to see him despite the sun glare. His face was pleasant, with a kind mouth and a high forehead under hair that was as blonde as Luke's own. There were dark smudges under his eyes, like he hadn't slept much, and the eyes themselves--murky blue, like the smoke inside of him was rising in there--were full of pain... but there was an undeniable gentleness in them. And when those eyes fell on Luke, some of the smoke went away, and they seemed to relax somehow. The feelings around him became different as well, to something that had a very definite shape, but one for which Luke had no name.
"Anakin," Master Obi-Wan said to him, "may I present Luke Naberrie?"
The man knelt before him as Master Obi-Wan had, to look him in the eye. "I'm very pleased to meet you, Luke Naberrie."
Master Obi-Wan's hand squeezed Luke's shoulder. "Luke, this is my former padawan, Anakin Skywalker. The one about whom your classmates were so curious."
Luke glanced sharply up at Master Obi-Wan, then more curiously back at the man in front of him. If the curiosity bothered him, he didn't let on, even in his feelings. "I thought you left."
The man--Master Anakin Skywalker, Luke reminded himself--swallowed tightly. "I did leave. But circumstances changed, and now I've come back. Master Obi-Wan and Master Yoda have given me permission to train you. I hope... I hope you will not continue to be disappointed."
Luke's face went hot. "I'm not... I mean... "
"It's all right," Master Anakin said. "You don't know me, and after expecting Master Obi-Wan, I must seem a poor second choice indeed. But I will not let you down."
Master Obi-Wan ran a hand through Luke's hair. "I'll go now, young Luke, and give you and your... your new master... time to become acquainted."
"Master, I... " Luke looked quickly at Master Anakin, then tried to think of a way to ask the question he needed to ask of Obi-Wan before he was left alone here. "Master, you said Meron was wrong. Was Thany?"
"In my estimation," Master Obi-Wan said carefully, "she was wrong. But my padawan disagrees with me, and I will leave it to him to answer in his own way." With that, he swept out of the Great Hall and was gone.
When Luke turned back, Master Anakin was still looking at him gently, not seeming to notice or care that he'd been questioned. "Come," he said. "There is a bench behind the statue as I recall. We can sit and talk."
Luke nodded and followed him to the bench.
They sat in awkward silence for a long moment, then Master Anakin smiled in a distant way and said, "So, who is Thany, and in what way might she have been wrong?"
Luke gulped. "Thany Rie... she's... we spar sometimes in Master Yoda's classes." He looked down. "Everyone wanted to know about why Master Obi-Wan didn't have a padawan. She said it was because his old padawan... turned to the Dark Side." Luke winced.
But the feelings around the man didn't get red and stormy. The black smoke just drifted through them, and he took a deep breath. "I made mistakes. And I certainly experienced the Dark Side. It was on Tatooine. I--" He shuddered. "You are not old enough to know yet. Master Obi-Wan believes that I conquered it in myself. I know only that I surrendered to it once. We interpret it differently."
"Oh. Is that why you left?"
Luke waited, but nothing seemed to suggest that Master Anakin was about to answer on his own, so he said, "Then why didyou?"
"I'm afraid the reason will seem quite mundane after the things I'm sure youngling gossip has concocted. I fell in love. I chose to marry and have a family rather than remaining in the Order. It wasn't an easy choice, but it is not one that I regret." He blinked rapidly. "I lost my son when he was just an infant. My wife's name was Padme. My daughter's name was Leia. I will speak of them frequently."
The smoky sadness rushed through him, now not merely consuming but attacking all other things. It reached out greedily for Luke, and he could feel the cold edge of it wrapping around his throat.
Then it was gone.
"I am sorry," Master Anakin said. "You should not have felt that." He looked away. "When Master Yoda told me that you were developing into an empath, I had assumed you would have been trained to control that talent. It is a great gift, but the galaxy is full of pain--I will try to teach you to shield yourself when you need to. You should learn to feel your own feelings as well as those around you. In the interim, I will... I will take care around you. I apologize."
Luke stretched out his feelings, and found only a blank wall coming from his new master. It was awful. Sad was better than nothing.
Another long and awkward silence spun out.
Luke had heard a lot of weird ideas about what had happened to Master Obi-Wan's padawan--Thany's Dark Side story was the most popular, but others said that Master Obi-Wan had killed him, and the Mon Cal boy Kashi (claiming a dream vision, like he always did when he wanted to spin some story) had gone on for a whole meal about how he was off on a secret mission to find the apprentice to the Sith Lord, Palpatine. The Mon Cal also said that he mysterious padawan had been the one to kill Palpatine himself, in the duel that had left the Senate dome scorched and smelly for ten years. Duaro Eid said he was crazy, that Master Obi-Wan's padawan was kicked out of the Temple for stealing.
The idea that he'd left the Order to marry someone had never even come up. Luke had sure never thought about it.
"Will I meet your wife?" he asked, not sure how to act if he did.
The wall surrounding Master Anakin's feelings trembled, and Luke felt something huge trying to get through. "No," he said. "My wife and daughter... " His hands covered his face, one real, one metal. Luke could see thorough the metal one that his eyes were squeezed tightly shut.
"You don't have to say," Luke said. "I can feel... you don't have to... "
Master Anakin's metal hand reached out abruptly and wrapped around Luke's hand. It was a strangely comforting gesture. "No. You do need to know. It isn't fair for you to wonder." He took a long, shaky breath. "Padme worked with refugees on Naboo. I adopted her work after I left the Order, and piloted them from their worlds to their new homes. I had taken a transport to a world called Respoda." Another shaky breath. "When I returned, Naboo had been quarantined. We were not allowed to land. One of the incoming ships had brought a virus from its homeworld. There was plague. Did you hear about the Naboo plague last month?"
Luke nodded. "I was in the infirmary. The healers were watching it on Holonet."
Master Anakin's eyes snapped up to Luke's face. "The infirmary? What was wrong with you?"
"They didn't know. I was sick for a week, then I had a bad dream, then I was better."
"I see." Master Anakin studied him, the metalic hand squeezed his. "Yes, I suppose... " He looked away again. "Padme was helping the people on board the ship that brought the virus. Leia had begun to go along with her when she did that. They both were lost to the plague."
An image came clearly into Luke's mind--a beautiful woman, with eyes he almost knew, who was laughing in the tall grass of a meadow he had never seen. Beside her was a small girl with reddish brown hair. It was wound up in braids, but little bits of it kept getting away. She was laughing, too. Some aching place opened up inside Luke, and he wanted to run to them and laugh with them. Then the wind came and blew them away.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"As am I," Master Anakin said.
"Why did you come back to the Temple?"
"I had lost the life I had left it for. My only family is here now. And I wanted to train you."
"That is a question for another day, Luke. I hope you will not find its answer a disappointment."
Luke was startled. He'd forgotten completely about being disappointed. He'd forgotten he was becoming a padawan. It couldn't have been more than fifteen minutes since he'd first seen Anakin Skywalker standing in front of the window, but it seemed like they'd been together a long time, too long for doubts to still be there.
Which was kind of weird, when he thought about it.
Master Anakin sighed and stood up. "It will take time for us to know one another, Luke. If you would prefer to wait for a different Master--I am certain that many other knights would be honored to train you--I will not take offense."
Luke started to reach out for Master Anakin's feelings, but the wall went up suddenly. He looked up.
"Do not consult my feelings on the matter," Master Anakin said. "I have been honest about them. Consult your own feelings. Make the choice that is right for you to make. Don't let me push you."
Luke closed his eyes, and looked into himself the way he looked into other people. He'd never tried that before. Which was alsokind of weird, when he thought about it.
He didn't find any disappointment anymore. He hadn't been rejected by Master Obi-Wan; he'd been requested by Master Anakin. And there was something about Master Anakin, something that made him feel...
Like he had something--no, like he wassomething--that couldn't be found anywhere else.
It was a good feeling, even if it was wrapped up in Master Anakin's sadness.
It felt like home.
He stood up and bowed. "I'd like to be your padawan," he said.
Master Anakin's face changed as he smiled, lighting up by degrees. His eyes were still wounded, but the smoke cleared, and remained cleared. "I'm glad. I... " He put his natural hand on Luke's shoulder. "I don't know about you," he said, "but I'm starving. Shall we head down to the kitchens? Or maybe go to Dex's place?"
"You know Dex's?"
"Obi-Wan took me there frequently."
"Dex's, if it's okay, then."
"It's most definitely okay." The hand moved across to Luke's other shoulder, and Anakin gave him a quick hug-like squeeze. Luke was surprised, but it felt natural and good, and like something he'd been wishing for without even knowing he was wishing. "After that, we'll begin."