The last chapter in this story because I really need to rewatch the prequels these days to get more ideas. It's been some time. Fear not, the next story in the series is uploaded soon.
Enter Stage Left: One Mostly Dead Jedi Master
Anakin swung his lightsaber through the holocron. The sparks and fizzes he gained from it were oddly gratifying.
He was only experimenting, really. He was just curious if he could damage anything around here. It did give a satisfying hiss of broken circuitry. He sighed. For some reason the holocron was playing sequentially through his padawan years, but faithfully focusing on his interaction with Palpatine, skimming through the other parts quickly. He tried to hold back his annoyance—he did, honest—but after a while the repeated playback of the Sith lord's concerned and caring grandfatherly guise only gave him the urge to throttle something. (It didn't help that he was sure could even smell the distinctive old wood scent and leather of the Chancellor office and it got on his nerves). He had had to channel his anger to the Force repeatedly and hoped the holocron could choose a different scene to work with—anywhere, he thought, even Mustafar!—but it was no use.
Thus in a fit of inspired desperation, he tried a novel approach to problem-solving. The still-steaming holocron was proof of that.
Yeah, that annoying younger voice inside his head muttered, keep telling yourself that. Maybe you'd even believe you weren't epically sulking.
He wasn't. He was just bored. Of course, he was also ignoring the disbelief he could feel from his inner whiner—and when did he get a pain-in-the-neck sort of conscience, anyway? Wasn't consciences supposed to be nice and well-balanced? Kindly advising instead of passive-aggressive?
"Whatever did the poor machine do to you, Anakin?"
"Master!" Anakin shouted. He caught Obi-Wan in a bear hug as the other Jedi laughed and patted his back. If his voice was a little strained at the end because of Anakin's strength, he said nothing.
Anakin would've been embarrassed if he'd noticed how easily he fell into his old habit instead of just calling his old master by name, something he had said was fine after he became a knight of his own. Thankfully for Anakin, he was too carried away to notice.
"How did you get here?" He finally asked.
"I was directed here," Obi-Wan replied, as if it explained everything. He stared at his old master in disbelief but only received an amused look for his troubles.
Anakin's furrowed his brows for a moment, before he realised that he wasn't going to get any answer that Obi-Wan hadn't been planning to part with. He certainly wasn't going to stampede Obi-Wan for answers with the delicacy of a nerf herd. Surely he was beyond those years now. His master was giving pointed glances at the holocron he had cut through, and his former padawan. Anakin cringed, hoping he didn't have to explain it. Once he pulled his lightsaber out, the damage seems to have undone itself smoothly, with time itself casually flowing backwards. If he wasn't so focused on Obi-Wan, he would've stared.
"No harm done, Master," Anakin said coolly, managing the fine art of looking as if everything had gone exactly as planned. It always helped him looked blasé when the reporters caught him after whatever mess he had just managed to extricate them from; whether it was explosions or crash landings didn't matter. It was probably what earned him the title of Hero-with-No-Fear.
Unfortunately for him, Obi-Wan was well-versed with all his game faces. Must be an unfortunate side effect of actually raising him through the terrible teens.
"Of course Anakin. Whatever you say." His old master was still smiling, all ears and kind understanding. It was sort-of unnerving, to be honest.
"The holocron was glitchy," he pointed out. Obi-Wan was still amiable.
"Of course it was."
"It wouldn't change scenes at all."
Obi-Wan nodded sagely. "It certainly needed to be fixed, if that's the case."
He nodded, feeling strangely relieved at that, "Well, I did try to do something."
"And that something happened to be a live saber to the system."
Obi-Wan raised an inquiring eyebrow. Anakin caught himself a little too late, and shut his mouth immediately in silent mortification. He couldn't believe he still fell for that! After all these years! Obi-Wan was still watching him with that annoying serenity particular to the ginger-haired man, but he managed to hang on for barely another second.
Then he laughed himself off his backside. Anakin rolled his eyes, slipping his hands into the sleeves of his knight robes.
"Sure, laugh it off, Master. That was real mature of you, O great Negotiator."
Obi-Wan was still chuckling when he replied. "Hey, you can't deny that it was funny."
"I thought Jedi Masters are supposed to be collected and dignified?"
"When you're old enough to know what's important in life, you'll realise that dignity can go take a hike for all you cared." Obi-Wan said, more relaxed than Anakin had ever seen him. When he was alive that is. He shut down that line of thought before he went too far. Fortunately, Obi-Wan didn't seem to notice at all.
"It's much better to have not stuck to pride and still have one's companions, than it is to cling unnecessarily to it and stand alone. You were always family, Anakin. I wished I'd said that sooner." Obi-Wan finished.
Anakin stared, not quite sure what to say, even as he caught himself opening his mouth and then closing it again at least twice. What happened to Mr. Perfect Jedi, I-have-no-attachments Obi-Wan? The mood had started as a jaunt in Casual Lane taken a turn to Awkward Alley and ran screaming into Minefield of Personal Issues. Obi-Wan seemed to be in a similarly shell-shocked state as Anakin because he had an apologetic look on his face.
"Anakin, I'm sorry—" he started, but the taller Jedi was having none of it.
"No, no, no. I'm sorry. I… I don't know where to begin—and what are you even apologising for? I don't see you turning into a krethin' Sith Lord." Anakin's tone had started out somewhere around contrite and ended up in high near incredulous.
Obi-Wan let out a dry laugh. "We're quite a sorry pair, aren't we?"
"Not as sorry as when we accidentally got wasted after stumbling upon that open bar night on—"
"That night does not exist." Obi-Wan said firmly. Anakin chuckled. He was always glad his skin wasn't as light as his former Master's—Obi-Wan might've had better control than he did over emotions, but once something got through, it got through.
Anakin grinned. "Ah, yes. The good old days—"
"Which only lasted as long as you didn't blow anything up. Or vomited over an ambassador. Or ran away from getting ticketed again, with the end result of either burning up another speeder or—"
"Fine. I know you miss me, Master. Otherwise you wouldn't have remembered all of that after all these years." And with such embarrassing detail, Anakin didn't add out loud. His master would've taken that as a compliment. Obi-Wan did smile at that, fondly and with so much warmth that Anakin had to look away. It was still hard for him to accept the affection he could feel through their training bond. The man couldn't possibly still love him after Anakin successfully killed him, did he? Patricide or fratricide was definitely not a good expression of filial piety.
The silence was only marginally more comfortable than the one before.
"I shouldn't have left you on Mustafar." Obi-Wan said. Anakin winced. It seems like his old master was keen on beating that particular dead bantha for now.
"I went full Dark Side," Anakin said flatly. He cursed himself when heard the slight, very slight resentment he still felt over it in his voice (spending more than half his life with a breathing aparatus is not his idea of fun). With the way his luck had always gone, of course Obi-Wan had to still be able to pick up on that as his expression turned into one of grim determination.
"At the very least I shouldn't have let you suffer needlessly and… ended things." Obi-Wan said.
Well, Anakin couldn't very well argue with that. His memories of being Vader could still turn his thoughts darker and inward and it dragged him down even now. His early death would also have aided the galaxy right there and then, depriving Palpatine of his right-hand man. He didn't want Obi-Wan to dwell on unnecessary guilt about it, though. So… distractions…
"I owe you a larger apology for killing you," Anakin blurted out. "So. Uh. Sorry."
"And I shouldn't have killed everyone else," he said quickly, still not looking at Obi-Wan. Skywalker, that's still not a krethin' apology, he snapped at himself. When trying to atone for a massacre, you shouldn't sound like you're making an excuse after being caught escaping from the Temple for the twentieth time and was trying to avoid 'fresher cleaning duties.
He sighed. He hated it when he was right. "I'm sorry. I just… sorry."
Was he cringing right now? If he wasn't, he was certain that he should. Force, he was so bad at this it was embarassing. It should be recorded for posterity to be gawked at by young Initiates. This, younglings, is the perfect example of How to Not Apologise, brought to you by the tactless Hero with No Fear. Anakin could even imagine the most unyielding teachers at the Temple saying that. Darth Vader had never had to apologise for anything—he only needed to glare and take what he wanted. Sometimes he only needed to breathe slowly and he'd be given what he wanted. He took a deep breath.
"I know my words would never be enough, and they'd never undo what I've done. But for what it's worth, I am sorry—"
"I'm sorry I couldn't see through Palpatine's manipulations. I'm sorry I couldn't stop myself in time. I'm sorry I didn't realise everything until it's almost too late and—"
"Anakin!" Obi-Wan shook his former apprentice hard, snapping him out of his self-flagellation. Obi-Wan was shaking his head.
"It's okay. It's not completely your fault either. You were but a padawan when Palpatine offered you his friendship while I'm your Master. I'm the one with more experience. If anybody should've seen through something, it should be me, not you. You can't shoulder the blame completely for that."
"I still shouldn't have gone Sith and thought that you and Padmé would betray me," he said.
"Now I admit that that is your responsibility," Obi-Wan said glibly. "Whatever did we do to earn that?"
"Can I throw that one back to Palpatine?" Anakin said, only in half-jest.
Obi-Wan managed a small smile at that. "I suppose he has to bear his partial share too. Still, never mind that. I still have all eternity to hear you grovel. Now, though, I'm sure we have other issues that are more prudent to pay attention to."
The two Jedi sat on the bench, the holocron in front of them going through various scenes and impressions from Anakin's childhood after he was accepted by the Order. This time, the focus wasn't completely on Palpatine. There was a good deal of Obi-Wan there, as well as everyone else in the Jedi Temple. To Anakin's surprise, it was Obi-Wan who groaned first. The trigger was a scene that Anakin would've thought completely mundane. It was just the younger Anakin desperately trying to study and catch up with everyone else, all while bearing the burden of being the possible Chosen One and the almost-complete isolation he felt from other Initiates near his age.
It was no surprise that Anakin was bewildered.
"What?" he asked.
"I wasn't paying attention." Obi-Wan said.
Anakin didn't understand how that was supposed to be an answer as he glanced several times at the holocron, into the pouting face of a young Anakin. "Really? I thought I wasn't paying attention. I failed at meditation so hard back then. Though it's not as if I could be proud of my meditation skills right now either."
Obi-Wan finally took his gaze away from the screen and clarified.
"I remembered this time. I was barely at the Temple at all for three weeks a month. I had been chaining too many missions that I didn't pay attention to your progress. You had been struggling in your classes—I would've noticed it if I actually paid better attention to you, but I didn't. If I had, we might be able to diffuse the situation before you blew up at lightsaber sparring."
Both Jedi winced when the aforementioned events was brought up by the holocron. The fallout to that one had been messy as Obi-Wan was forced to apologise to the padawan Anakin had harmed as well as the padawan's master—he had to resign himself to being lectured at for half an hour. A young Anakin had been prickly because he felt alone and unsupported, while Obi-Wan was overwhelmed from how a few teachers as well as other Jedi were putting him on the spot for being Anakin's minder. Added on top of that was how he was still reeling from the loss of Qui-Gon. That had been a bad time for both of them; not that either realised how similar their situations were then. It was ironic because it would certainly be easier for both if they knew that at the very least they could rely on each other.
"I've failed you even then," Obi-Wan murmured, almost too soft to catch. "I'm rather certain that there are other examples like this spread throughout your years as a padawan."
Anakin casually punched Obi-Wan's shoulder.
"You didn't fail anyone," Anakin defended. "Life just chews people up and spits them out sometimes. It doesn't matter if they're ordinary people or Jedi. It just happens."
Obi-Wan stared at him carefully. "I'll take that to heart if you promise to listen to your own advice."
"Life happens. You turned into a Sith Lord and gone on a rampage across the galaxy. Fine. But you've also gotten back out from it and ended the creature at the head of the galaxy-wide rampage," Obi-Wan said.
"It doesn't negate my mistakes and all the people who died because of that," Anakin retorted. It was nice to know that Obi-Wan still had his back after all this time, really, but could his old master just realise that Anakin was a monster and come to terms with that? He couldn't believe he'd be of the same opinion as his rival, but Ferrus Olin was right—Obi-Wan was blinded by his care for Anakin.
Not that he'd ever admit it out loud to Ferrus. Not alive and not even dead.
"I didn't say it did," Obi-Wan said, used to his former padawan's stubbornness. "But you could stop fixating on your blame and focus on what you can learn from it. It would help you move on to how you could fix your mistakes."
"If I don't remember my mistakes, I would be too prone to repeat them," Anakin said.
Obi-Wan took a deep breath and slowly closed his eyes. If he was younger, he would've been staring heavenward with an unmistakable tension in his jaw.
"I think what I'm trying to say is this: don't let yourself be chained to the past and keep your sights on the future," Obi-Wan started. It was almost guaranteed to be the beginning of another long lecture that Anakin could feel his eyes starting to glaze a little.
Obi-Wan shook his head, an all-too-knowing look in his eyes.
"Less brooding and more learning, Anakin."
For all his complaints about Obi-Wan's interference and too bright perspective of him, Anakin had never realised until now how calming the presence of someone who believed in you could be. As Obi-Wan enlightened him on his perspective on how some of the events went. Anakin was humbled by the amount of effort the older Jedi actually put in taking care of him, his reserve and efforts to ensure visible non-attachment notwithstanding. When he pointed out that he never knew how hard Obi-Wan actually worked at being the perfect Jedi. Obi-Wan countered that he really wasn't that proud of his early days as a somewhat stiff and stuck-up young Knight.
Anakin didn't understand how Obi-Wan had lived with his bratty self, but from the way his old master's smile was coloured with the glow of nostalgia, it seemed that he didn't even consider it as a problem.
"I still don't know how you put up with me," Anakin said, after a long lull in the conversation.
That earned him a chuckle from Obi-Wan. "You'd understand when you have kids."
There was a slight pain from the thought of his kids, but it wasn't as bad as when he was Vader anymore. They were both still half caught up with watching what was his tenth escape from the Temple, one where Anakin had a rather nasty racing accident. It wasn't a surprise that Obi-Wan was a bit distracted, as he hadn't really known how often his padawan had slipped out and how bad his adventures could get.
He wished, not for the first time, if there was any way for him to meet Luke and Leia again, and make up for all that had happened.