Nothing endures but change.
---HeraclitusChapter 1. The Braid
The hallways, training rooms and dining halls of the Jedi Temple were abuzz with gossip. Appalled Masters worked very hard to instill in their Padawans a high-minded sense of discretion and respect for personal privacy and a great many extra meditation sessions were assigned. But the rumors about Anakin Skywalker were just too good to leave alone. Everyone got involved at one level or another, but the Padawans, particularly the ones whom he had systematically trounced in almost every training match or competition, had a field day.
The Chosen One had returned to the Temple in disgrace. He had done Something Very Wrong. It was not certain exactly what, but the rumors were both imaginative and wide-ranging.
He had been badly injured in the process and was confined to the healing center without visitors.
There had been emergency meetings about him in the Council. Master Kenobi, who had also been injured, had attended all of them.
Most shocking of all, Whatever He Had Done had cost him his abilities to use the Force. Imagine! Skywalker without his Force abilities!
Some people even reported, in whispers, that there had been A Forbidden Attachment. Really!
No Master in the Temple could be coaxed to answer a single question about him. It was all very exotic, very exciting subject matter. Anakin had always had a slightly "otherworldly" mystique in the Temple; now he was rapidly becoming a mysterious, dark and glamorous figure to the impressionable and romantically inclined.
The Jedi Masters saw him in a very different light. There was great debate among them as to whether he should even have been allowed to return to the Temple.
Skywalker had broken all the rules. He had severed his training bond with his Master and openly formed a forbidden attachment to a highly placed politician, a Senator.
During a hostage siege involving the Senator he had killed one of the attackers purely out of anger.
That was without any doubt enough to expel him from the Order. But it got worse.
The Sith had become aware of Skywalker and were searching for him. While he was in hiding and in dereliction of duty his Master had been severely injured in an attack that had been intended for him – an attack that bore all the hallmarks of the Sith.
If Skywalker were expelled and turned rogue the problems would compound. But it got even worse.
Then…then…for reasons that were still not clearly understood in the Temple… Skywalker had performed a Life Force Transference on the Senator from Naboo – an action that had permanently augmented her Force abilities with his own. Such an act had only been performed three times before in Jedi history, and in each case had claimed the life of the giver.
Skywalker had lived. He was badly damaged and had lost his abilities to use the Force, but he lived.
And therein lay the problem. Only the Chosen One could have accomplished this.
But the Chosen One was reckless, disobedient, and not to be trusted.
So here he was back in the Temple, already causing disturbances among impressionable Padawans by his very presence. The Force only knew what trouble he would bring if he healed.
No, the Jedi Masters were not, by and large, pleased to have him back. But for the moment there was nothing else they could do.
* * * * *
Completely oblivious to the debate and gossip that his return had aroused in the Temple, the object of speculation was lying on his back watching a sliver of sunlight move across the ceiling of his room in the healing center at the heart of the Jedi Temple. He couldn't actually discern its movement, but over time it very, very gradually changed its location and shape.
It was astonishing, Anakin thought, how some changes in life seem to happen so quickly, while others seem to take forever.
One day he had been a slave boy on Tatooine; a few days later he was a war hero and a Jedi Padawan.
The sliver of sunlight appeared to be stationary. He waited patiently for it to move.
Less than two months ago his mother had died.
The patch of light was in a slightly different location how. He just hadn't detected the tiny movement.
Galactic war had begun.
He thought maybe the sliver's shape had changed a bit, but he couldn't be sure.
Less than three weeks ago he had cut his deep bond with his Master and gone to Naboo with Padmé.
He looked away from the sliver of light in case it went faster if he wasn't looking.
Ten days ago he had given up his life. But then he had lived after all. As it turned out, what he had largely given up was his ability to use the Force. It was so difficult to get used to seeing and experiencing the world with only a few senses to rely on. He wondered how people managed like this for a lifetime.
Maybe he would have to.
He looked back up at the ceiling. He thought the sliver of light might have shifted just a bit. He kept watching.
Six days ago he had gotten secretly married.
He tried closing his eyes. It seemed to him that he still saw the sliver of light behind his eyelids. But he couldn't feel anything from the world around him. How could he learn to rely only on eyesight to distinguish among things? Eyes could deceive.
Now he was back in the Jedi Temple he had left only…he counted backwards…seventeen days ago. Two and a half weeks. It seemed like a lifetime.
It was a lifetime. A lifetime's worth of change.
He looked at the ceiling again. The thin piece of sunlight was still there.
The room was so still. The whole healing center was perfectly quiet. He hadn't seen or heard any of the attendants for a long time. If he closed his eyes he could imagine that he was the only living being in the Universe and that everything else had just been a dream. Without the constant dialogue with the Force telling him where he was and what was going on it was hard to feel connected to anything at all.
Anakin was just contemplating whether events always had to be accepted as they came or whether one could bend the shape of the world with a mighty effort of will when a faint, irregular sound caught his attention. Good. Something else to think about. The sliver of sunlight was ignoring his efforts to make it move faster and going its own inexorable way. He listened carefully as the sound came closer. A shuffle followed by a thump that echoed slightly on the polished stone floor of the hallway. Another shuffle and another thump. Slowly, inevitably, it was coming his way.
Suddenly Anakin forced himself to sit up on his pallet and straightened his shirt. He no longer had the ability to reach out into the hallway with the Force to see what was coming, but every soul in the Temple could divine what that sound was.
Master Yoda was coming to see him.
Anakin instinctively sat up straight as the ancient Jedi Master made his way slowly into the room and contemplated him at his leisure. He waited. He would never dream of speaking first.
"How feel you?" Master Yoda finally said.
A treacherous path opened in front of Anakin. There was no such thing as a simple straightforward conversation with Master Yoda. Ten years before he had been asked the same question and judged to be lacking. No matter what he said, it wouldn't be the right thing.
Anakin gave up and told the truth.
"Lost," he said. "I feel lost."
Master Yoda nodded, satisfied. The truth was always a good place to begin.
"Lost you are," he affirmed. There was a long pause. "Found, you want to be?"
Anakin reflected that he would feel safer standing off against ten heavily armed enemies than in one of these conversations with Master Yoda.
"I…I would like to find myself," he finally said, a bit hesitantly.
The ancient Master looked at him penetratingly.
"Why are you here?"
Anakin could have given a number of sound reasons, beginning with the fact that two very annoyed and resolute Jedi Knights had threatened him and Padmé with the combined power of the Jedi Order if he didn't return.
But this was Master Yoda. He cared only for the essentials.
"I made a promise," Anakin said. For the first time he said it out loud. "I promised Master Jinn." Even though he had made that promise in a time and place beyond this one to a Jedi Master who had technically died more than ten years before it was more real and clear to him that the room he sat in now.
"Told you to return to the Temple, did Master Jinn?"
Anakin swallowed and nodded, remembering in too much detail. "He made me come back. He made me promise."
Master Yoda was silent for a long time.
"And keep this promise, you must?" He finally asked with interest, exploring the boundaries of what the boy held sacred.
"Yes, "Anakin said simply. There was no question in his mind.
Yoda nodded, sorting out his impressions. The bond with Obi-Wan had not been held sacred; nor had his commitment to the rules of the Order or the directives of the Council. But Master Jinn's word was law to the boy.
"What did Master Jinn want you to do?" He finally enquired.
"To learn the ways of the Living Force," Anakin responded." He said it would show me my path."
"Hmph." The wizened Master scowled. "Strong you must be with the Force, to learn the ways of the living Force."
Anakin hung his head. It hadn't really occurred to him that, having lost his ability to use the Force, he might not be able to keep his pledge.
"Do you…do you think it will come back?" He finally ventured to ask. If anyone had the answer to the question that had been troubling him so much, Master Yoda would.
"Hard to see," Master Yoda finally responded after long and serious thought. "Depends much on you, it does. But certain, it is not."
Anakin felt a rush of desperation. What would become of him now?
Yoda perceived it, as he perceived so many things about the boy. He looked at him intently and pointed his stick for emphasis.
"Remain here, you will. Train you will. Patience you will have."
Anakin nodded mutely.
"Seek out Master Obi-Wan, you must. Argued long and hard for you, he has."
It was the first inkling Anakin had of the battles that had been fought over him in the Council. It would not be the last.
"Thank you, Master Yoda," Anakin said with humility.
Yoda shook his head and turned away to make his way slowly back out into the hallway.
"Thank me you will not, I think."
Without further comment he left Anakin to the silence and to his efforts to find things to think about that were not painful. If he allowed himself to begin wishing or longing he was lost. And now it seemed that whatever came next would happen as slowly as the movement of that last sliver of sunshine across the ceiling.
Shifting awkwardly, Anakin reached into a tiny pouch he kept in his belt and pulled out a deep blue star stone jewel on a thin chain. He put it around his neck, tucked it under his shirt, and wrapped his arms around himself as though to hold it closer to his heart. And then he settled down to wait for what he would have to endure next.
* * * * *
In the end Anakin did not have to seek out Obi-Wan. His Master came to him. Obi-Wan looked stronger and relatively well, for which Anakin was grateful. He sank down into a cross-legged posture close to Anakin's pallet. Anakin lounged on his side, propped up on his elbow. Their faces were almost level.
"The healers are done with you, Anakin. Any progress you make after this is up to you."
Anakin was taken aback. He was still terribly weak, in constant pain, and could only make it up and down the hallway a few times by himself before collapsing from exhaustion. The chills were unrelenting, and there was no one here who would chase them a way.
"It's not going to be easy for you," Obi-Wan went on. "I want you to understand exactly what you can expect."
Anakin had a sudden, deep sense of foreboding.
"The Council has set certain conditions under which you may remain here at the Temple and try to rehabilitate yourself." He looked at Anakin with sudden emotion. "Because you severed your bond with me in the way that you did, you are no longer my Padawan."
There was a stunned silence while Anakin came face to face with the consequences of his actions. "Who will take me on?" He finally wondered out loud, sincerely hoping it would not be Master Andros.
Obi-Wan hesitated. "No one. You are no longer a Padawan learner and you no longer have a Master."
His former Master shook his head firmly.
"No. You will not be made a Knight. Certainly not in the state you are in. Surely you understand that whether you ever become one will depend completely on your actions from this point forward."
"Then what am I?" Anakin asked hoarsely.
"Your status in uncertain. You are to be given your own quarters. For now you have only one purpose, and that is to determine the extent to which it is possible to restore your strength and your skills. You have been assigned to a Master who will supervise your training.
Anakin suddenly heard Master Yoda's words again. Argued long and hard for you, he has.
"It's you, isn't it?" Anakin asked, subdued.
"After everything I put you through you are still willing to train me."
Obi-Wan shrugged. "I've invested a lot of time in you. I hate to see it go to waste."
Anakin looked down at the floor.
"I'm sorry." He was, too. He was sorry for having let down his Master and for having caused him so much trouble. He was sorry that he had not lived up to his own ideals. He was sorry for himself too: the rising star of the Temple; the undefeated Padawan; the Chosen One, reduced to an uncertain place and to receiving charity from a compassionate Knight. He was quite sure that no one else in the Temple was willing to work with him now.
He just wasn't sorry about what he had done. He was trying to find a way to lock the part of his life that didn't belong to the Order safely away so that he could get on with the task at hand when another blow rained down on him.
"Your braid," Obi-Wan was saying. "I'm sorry, Anakin. You can't keep your Padawan braid any more."
So. His failing was to be made visible to all.
The Padawan's braid was the mark and badge of his status. It represented everything he was, everything he had achieved. Normally it was ceremonially cut when a Padawan had passed the Trials, as a first, deeply symbolic step to the rank of Knighthood. The Padawan's Master always cut it.
Anakin's eyes were much darker when he looked up at Obi-Wan again. "Tell me, Master," he asked, not knowing what else to call the Knight. "Who cut yours?"
Obi-Wan's voice was soft with sympathy and pain when he said, "Master Yoda cut it. There was no one else."
"You didn't stand the Trials, did you?" It was the first time they had spoken about these matters. The very first.
"No. My Knighthood was conferred upon me in the field."
"You earned it," said Anakin briefly. "You should never think you didn't. You are a great Knight."
Obi-Wan was so moved that he needed to remain silent for a while. It was the last thing he would have expected from Anakin.
"I want you to be the one to cut it," Anakin said after a while.
"Don't worry," Obi-Wan said, quickly. "I wouldn't let anyone else."
Anakin bobbed his head awkwardly in thanks. "Might as well do it now." He sat up and turned sideways so Obi-Wan could reach the strand.
Obi-Wan stood up gracefully and came close to Anakin, putting his hand on his shoulder. "We don't seem to do these things the normal way, do we?" He asked gently. Anakin knew he was remembering the evening on Naboo ten years before when Obi-Wan had shorn his hair, formed the rudimentary beginnings of a braid by supplementing Anakin's short hair with some strands pulled out of his own recently cut Padawan braid, and given him his first Jedi robes. It was just before Gui-Gon's funeral.
Anakin shook his head slightly because he did not want to risk speaking. He had a painful lump in his throat.
Obi-Wan took a small blade out of his belt and laid it against the base of the braid. He was grateful that Anakin had refrained from making any grandiose promises about his commitment to the task ahead. Trust had to be rebuilt through actions, not words.
"Here goes," he said. In no time at all he held the long golden strand in his hand.
Anakin took a deep breath. Obi-Wan patted him on the shoulder and then removed his hand.
"Do you want to keep it?" He asked.
Anakin held out his hand. "I might as well." He looked down at it. It looked surprisingly small and thin.
"I have arranged your accommodation," Obi-Wan said, changing the subject to give them both some space. "I didn't think you would be up to it."
"You are still taking care of me," Anakin observed as he slowly unfolded his legs and pushed himself carefully to his feet.
"Old habits die hard."
Anakin followed his former Master out into the hallway and toward the next part of his life. Yet another overwhelming change had taken place in the time it took to cut a few strands of hair with a sharp blade. Still, he had the sinking feeling that other things would take a much, much longer time.