I hate the sound of my own breathing. It's not even mine, but still my lungs are moving, pumping air with perfect, maddening regularity. It's so hard to speak, but I try anyway, and Obi-Wan won't let me.
"It's all right, Ani," he says from my bedside, his voice never varying from those calm, soothing tones that I'm so used to. It's my only comfort now, and I grab onto it like a drowning man holds onto a log, or a rescuing hand. "Don't speak, it's all right."
Ani. Am I so near death, then, that he uses that name? Again, panic seizes hold of me, and I instinctively try to suck in more air to calm it. But then I can't exhale, and a wordless fear wraps around me, blinding my senses. Mindlessly, I keep trying to take in air, as though I could breathe on my own.
"Anakin, stop!" His hands are on my shoulders, shaking me, forcing me to slow down. Finally, my body is able to relax, and the breathing mechanism takes over again where it left off. I watch Obi-Wan sit back down, my eyes wide and fearful, and I notice that his hands are shaking as they pull away from me.
"How long—will it — be?" I mumble. I can't even finish a sentence in one breath—the breather forces my lungs to move every few seconds. His lips tighten, and he shakes his head.
"I don't know," Obi-Wan says simply. I nod slowly and turn my head; I can't even bear to look at him, the person I love more than anyone else, more than Mom, more than Padme. All I can think of when I look at him is, I will never see him again.
I won't cry, I won't. I promised myself that, at least; but why bother? After today, I'll have no reputation to uphold, no dignity to cling to. I'll have nothing; I'll be nothing. And I'm so tired…too tired, even, to hate. Because I should hate them for what they did to me. My lightsaber had sliced easily through the little iron star he threw at me, and then, because I had to prove I had won, I picked the thing up and playfully tossed it in the air, catching it again, even though Obi-Wan warned me against it.
Force, if I had listened to him…
I didn't tell Obi-Wan that the star had cut my finger. Why should I have?—it was only a scratch, barely even bleeding. Maybe, if I had told him, they could have stopped the poison in time. But I didn't know, neither did my Master, and we found out what it had done to me only when I fainted.
By then, it was too late.
I force the thoughts away from my mind, knowing that if I dwell on the might-have-beens, I will go insane. What has been done is done—the past is in the past—and I cannot change my foolish actions, borne of my damnable arrogance.
Another shudder of pain runs through my arm, jerking me abruptly out of my thoughts—I grit my teeth against it, unwilling to let Obi-Wan see the pain I'm in. And anyway, it's lessened now, thanks to what medicines they had, and the innumerable IV's they have in my arm. But he knows, of course—he always knows.
It comes again, stronger this time, and I know something's happening; it's too soon after the other one, and it hurts so badly that I cry out, the fingers of my good left arm clutching tightly the bed's short iron railing. I can't see her from where I lay, but I hear the healer rush in.
"What's happening?" comes Obi-Wan's urgent voice, strained from long, sleepless hours. It's far louder than it should be, as if he's yelling right in my ear, and a whimper escapes my lips as I squeeze my eyes shut and bury my face in the pillow. But when the healer speaks, her voice fades in and out of my head, so that sometimes I can barely even hear her.
"His last…have gone…nothing we can…attack the system…so sorry…"
Then her voice fades away altogether, and there's Mom standing beside me, and the white, sanitized walls of the room fade into tan.
It was a dream. Of course it was all a dream. I laugh to myself as I swing myself out of bed. Dying—yeah, right.
"Ani, Watto wants you early at the shop today," Mom says as I enter the main room. She is standing over the stove, her hands moving quickly in patterns I don't understand. I nod in understanding, then, as I sit down, a hard realization comes over me.
If it was all a dream, then meeting Qui-Gon, being freed, the Jedi Order, Obi-Wan…were they all a dream, too?
"I'm coming, Mom," I say quickly, doing my best to shake off my sadness. "Don't worry, I'm coming."
"Don't worry—I'm—coming," Anakin promises innocently, gasping for breath between words. I turn quickly to the healer. "Why is he doing that?" I demand angrily, as though it's her fault. She checks the pulse of his good arm, the one that's not paralyzed and the color of a bruise from the elbow down, notes something down on her chart, and answers me.
"He's hallucinating," she says softly. "I guess he thinks he sees his mother."
Maybe he can. Oh, Force, if that's true, that can only mean one thing.
I had hoped with everything in me that I would somehow be spared this moment; that an antidote would be discovered seconds before it was too late; even that I would be able to walk away from his bed without caring so much that my heart broke under the weight of a million scars, without caring at all.
I suppose that's the curse of loving someone so much that their every breath is life and death to you: if you're ever without them, you don't know how to go on living. And life without Anakin…it could barely be called life. It would be only a semblance of it, as though you were acting a part in a play, going through the motions without any real motive. And what motive, what reason, do I have for life without Anakin?
I can feel the poison slipping through my body, like quicksilver, sliding through my veins. It burns as it moves, a cold burning, and in a strange way I almost enjoy the pain.
My eyes are still closed, but I can sense Obi-Wan sitting beside me, and the healer standing at the foot of the bed. They're waiting for me to do something else, I think, but I feel so tired again that I don't know if I could ever move again, even if I was given the chance. A gentle fog hangs over my mind, making all my thoughts so much simpler. What's it like to not be? I wonder, a sweet feeling of sleepiness washing over me. Will I even realize that it's coming, or will I just cease to exist in a single instant?
A prickling touch on my stomach—the healer? But there's another one, and another, moving up toward my chest. More, and more, tiny legs crawling up my skin, making it crawl. More, and more, they're moving toward my face, trying to smother me. I'm afraid, so very afraid…
"Get it—off…" I whisper, unable to summon the energy to speak louder. It's all I can do to wave a hand uselessly in front of my face in a vague attempt to push them away before they take me. A frantic panic squeezes my chest, trying to kill me and it's working, I can't breathe, can't breathe, breathe—
A hand grabs mine, holds it firmly in its grasp. "Breathe," a voice orders. A deep, gasping, shuddering breath passes through my lungs. Then another. Then another. The things are gone, and I feel as though I'm about to fall into some black unknown, and all that's holding me back is the hand that holds mine.
My eyes open, but instead of seeing Obi-Wan, a painful light shines into my eyes. Whether it's death or Heaven or the light hanging in the room, I don't know. But it's over, Force, it's over. I can feel myself beginning to fade, and I'm suddenly aware of how fragile my body is, how breakable. With everything I am, I hold onto the hand that I know is Obi-Wan's, though I can't see him, as though I can keep myself here with him.
"I don't want…" My chest is deflating, I can barely breathe. They've taken away the breathing mechanism, when it can no longer do anything but prolong the inevitable. Tears sting my eyes, and there's no point in holding back now. My head slow and dizzy, I can only keep one thought in mind. "Master, please…" My vocal chords can barely take the pressure that speaking places on them, and my words come out as a whisper, a gasp, a whimper. "I can't be without you…please, Master…" A hysterical sob erupts from my throat. From above me I think I can hear the sound of someone crying. His hand clutches mine even tighter. I try to speak again through my sobs; I'm crying so hard now, the tears running down the sides of my face. "I love you—Obi-Wan, I love you…" I can only repeat this over and over; it's the only truth now, the last part of my existence.
He answers me, but I can just barely make out the words, and I can't hold on any longer. I've become light, more weightless than the air itself. Floating above the room, yet somehow remaining anchored, in the smallest sense, to my feeble body down in the med ward. There's no light, no silver bridge, nothing that I've heard you see when leaving life. Just a soft, virgin blue, the color of dreams before you wake, the color that you see just before you fall asleep.
So this is what it is, I think quietly. This is what it is to be "not"…this is what it is to…to die…