Disclaimer: Nothing belongs to me.
Thanks is due, as always, to the wonderful people who encourage me to write things I am afraid to attempt. In this case, dianethx, VadersMistress and Kynstar. This is part one in what should be a three to four part short story.
Those who are overlooked can be underestimated. A ROTS AU.
IIIIIOIIIIII'm very flattered that you would consider me a master, but really-"
"Not a master. The master." Mace had said.
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, by Matthew Stover
He thought he had known what hell was. Before, when he was so much younger than he was in this moment, he thought hell was a generator core, in the silvery bowels of a power station. The death of Light came in the sealing of eyes, eyes that had been his compass, the eyes of his teacher.
But he knew better now. That wasn't hell.
In the course of countless missions to an unnumbered list of systems, he had heard what other cultures and species considered hell to be. It was a diverse composition, but more often than not, it was described as a world of unending agony, flames licking and dancing to the depraved rhythm of tears and screams. A figurative and literal scorching of the soul.
He had always dismissed this molten image, for it seemed too broad, and didn't match his own perceptions, or those of the Jedi.
How foolish he felt now, standing on the heat-blasted hearth, surrounded by bursts of wild conflagration, completely aware that he would never live beyond this day.
Maybe, He thought, as he turned his cheek slightly from the sizzling spray spitting up from the volcanic river, Anakin will kill me.
But no—not Anakin. There was no Anakin Skywalker. One holo recording and a thousand corpses had decreed that. Anakin was among those dead, but he had not achieved peace. His body, once strong and graceful, was only a conduit, with an unnatural evil driving through it. This evil was Darth Vader, who stared out at Obi-Wan Kenobi through eyes mirroring the fire.
This evil, which had closed the eyes of Qui-Gon Jinn, and corrupted the gaze of Anakin Skywalker.
Obi-Wan's Master. His Padawan.
He had lost them both. They were gone beneath the crushing weight of a monster. And now this monster was looking at him, from the cage of Anakin's familiar figure.
Hell was this second, and it suspended, to hover around him and close him in.
This creature was Darth Vader…but he had Anakin's face, spoke with Anakin's voice. So Obi-Wan would call him Anakin, and if it was to save himself a sliver of the enormous anguish, to pretend his beloved friend was restored to him, he failed miserably. To say the name was to feel everything all over again, from the shock of the first revelation to the last clash of their blades, as they fought a winding, fatal path through the Mustafar volcanoes.
"It's over, Anakin!" He shouted, the intensity of his declaration leaving streaks of ache down his throat. He thrust his arms outward, "I have the high ground!"
The eyes, burning terribly bright and rimmed with greasy soot, glared at him from across the smoke and coals. "You underestimate my power," The words ground out slowly, rumbling from deep within the heaving chest. He stood on the platform, which had been carried along like a raft on water, bearing the weight of the desperate duelists. Anakin-Vader-was alone on it now, and soon it would be caught in the uproarious red sweep, to be taken away into the fume-choked distance.
Obi-Wan saw the deadly intent strobe in eyes stained with murder. He fully believed that the other man would vault towards him, powered by bloodlust, sense and vision smeared by his obsession. The Jedi's heart, so sore and exhausted, full and emptied out, clenched. "Don't try it", he nearly begged, trying to implore not the wicked visage of Vader, but the child that had once been there. Surely that child was as stubborn as he had always been, and was fighting his way through the murk? He warned that child, in the tone he had once used when things were simpler, and the most dangerous ledge Anakin had balanced on was that of a railing within the Temple.
He searched the eyes, cores of sweaty orange and scarlet, for the buried hints of blue. If there was even a chance, he had to grasp onto it.
Gods, for all his conviction, he was already denying the truth. He was damned to the perspective of someone who loved this man, who had never stopped loving him, even after all he had seen.So love has blinded you?
He couldn't recognize the voice, didn't really register the words.
Because suddenly, and at the same time, very slowly, the dark-draped figure was twisting through the steam. And so for Obi-Wan, many thoughts came in a whirlwind, and churned gradually.
He thought of the gritty duty bestowed on him by Master Yoda. He thought of Master Yoda himself, who had overseen so much of his training, when he was little more than a baby. He thought of Padme's baby, trapped within her injured body. He thought of all the bodies, strewn across the ground, as though an inexplicable slumber had overtaken them all. He thought of his Master's body, crumpled on a cold, flat, unforgiving floor. He thought of promises and secrets. He thought of the promise made to his Master, and the secret he had kept from his Padawan.
It was not a deception, it was simply a truth never spoken. He didn't tell Anakin he loved him because he didn't think it needed to be said. He thought Anakin already knew.
But, as with so much else, he had been wrong.
Obi-Wan watched as his potential killer sliced through the billowing dark. The young voice was corroded to an inhuman snarl, brimming and swelling with hatred. He watched this machine of genocide…and thought, finally, of every moment they had shared, before the shroud.
The images were dark, and painfully luminescent, rich with laughter, soft with whispers. They were the illustration of Master and Padawan, but surpassing even that, they were a detailed portrait of the closest of friendships. It was impossible to decipher one from another; they came to him in a deluge.
They were his heart.
Anakin was rushing down towards him, and Obi-Wan shot out of his line at the slender, final second before contact. He rolled into a crouch, while Anakin landed hard on his booted feet, igniting a filthy cloud around him.
Obi-Wan panted, wiping the stinging sweat from his eyes.
"You look afraid, my old Master," Anakin taunted, stalking a few paces forward, saber clutched in his hand, "Has the Force betrayed you?"
"No," Obi-Wan replied, "It has not followed your path, Anakin."
"A path YOU carved out for me!" Anakin bellowed. "You were the one who betrayed me!You, and all the other Jedi!"
Obi-Wan looked away briefly. There was no point in arguing with him about the Order's supposed agenda. Palpatine had proved to be the ultimate hypnotist.
The Force swept around and within him, infusing his veins with strength, lending clarity to his watering eyes. He returned his gaze to Anakin, who prowled the black stone with obvious hunger.
Obi-Wan swallowed—then dropped the weapon from his fingers. It rolled down the hill, and away from him.
Anakin blinked, but the surprise lasted the width of a millisecond. "I thought the Jedi were against suicide." He drawled.
"Who said anything about suicide?" Obi-Wan pondered quietly. "I was told to come here…and destroy you. But I've hesitated too long," His next words sputtered out in a gasp, "And I can't do it." He grappled for reserve, for the composure to do what needed to be done. "So I should want only to die as so many of my brethren have. As the defenseless younglings have.
"Or perhaps I should try to reason with you some more. Should I plead with you, as Padme did? Then I can suffer as she did, for incurring the mighty wrath of the Dark Side. If Darth Vader is powerful enough to harm a woman with child, surely he can kill an unarmed man who will not put up a fight. If you, Lord Vader, are so strong that you can mow down innocent children like weeds beneath your heels, than you should have no trouble finishing me."
"They were not innocent. They…" And there was an excruciating pause, "They were Jedi."
"They were BABIES, Anakin. Like the one your wife carries now!"
Anakin blinked furiously. "They were poisoned by the Jedi!"
"You have been poisoned, Anakin! Damn it, how can you not see what he's done to you!"
"Not to me, Obi-Wan. For me." There was a strange luster amid the orange and shadow, "For Padme. So I can save her."
Obi-Wan felt as though his entire chest, and everything inside, had sunk. "And what a fine job you've done." He observed sadly.
Anakin glared at him with sharpened ire. "This is YOUR fault! You've been keeping things from me all along!"
"What have I kept from you, Anakin? What have I failed to disclose to you that would lead you to this…rampage? Please Anakin, tell me!"
"You didn't tell me the powers I could have, if I just looked beyond the dogmatic view of the Jedi!" He screamed, "You didn't tell me I could stop people from dying! I could've saved my mother…I…I could have…"
Obi-Wan shook his head. "Anakin, that is Palpatine talking!" Hair slashed through his vision as the wind drew more tears, "If Palpatine knew how to save people from death, he could've saved the apprentice I killed on Naboo! And if I knew how to save anyone, don't you think I would have saved my own Master? No one can outsmart the will of the Force!"
"I can." Anakin said, with eerie confidence. The scar trailing down the side of his face was brilliantly lit by the smoldering lava surges, "I'm the Chosen One, remember?" He stepped closer, peering into his former teacher's battered countenance, "Or did you ever believe that? You must think I don't remember those days so long ago, Master. I know what you thought of me. What you still think of me. The resentment. The jealousy. Because I was better, even when I just a dirty slave. I was the Chosen One, and Qui-Gon knew it before anyone. He believed in me. If he would've been my Master, I…"
Obi-Wan rubbed at his face, slipping finally into shock, legs going numb and rigid. "What?"
An old, rusted pain was dredged up, and there was no Darth at all in that moment. Only Anakin. "I would've been happier. And my mother would still be here."
The devastation coursed down his skin, hot and unnoticed. The fear he had carried in the deepest corridors of his heart had been exposed, and all of himself lay open and seared by the words. So their years together had been nothing, just dust swallowed in the shadows of Qui-Gon Jinn and Shmi Skywalker.
The purity of the Force sought to bathe him in healing energy at that moment, and remind him that he was a part of the current, as everything was, as he would always be, even after this nightmare had passed into memory. There was no emotion. There was no Anakin, or Obi-Wan Kenobi.
There was only the purpose that united the Universe.
"You can lament the wrongs of your life all you want, but the fact is, they're dead. They won't be here to tell you what you've done is alright. They cannot sate your conscience. What do you think they would think of you, Anakin? What would your mother think, now that your hands are covered in innocent blood?"
Anakin was not looking at him, but over his shoulder, towards the fire-laden distance. "She would have understood. She always understood." His gaze shifted, to imbed in Obi-Wan's the flame of accusation, "You never did."
It stung, but he had no time to reel from it. "Blaming me will not absolve you, Anakin. It may ease your mind, but it won't clean your hands. In the end, you make your own choices. I don't make them. Even Palpatine, with his glorious, false promises, doesn't make them." He blew out a weary breath, "YOU decided to do everything that you've done. Every life that was cut down at your hand…it was your choice."
Anakin looked as though he were about to burst from his very skin, as though the tumultuous rage would be unleashed in fighting, physical form. "I HAD NO CHOICE!" The shriek seemed to lacerate the very heavens. "I had to save her!"
Obi-Wan was possessed, once more, with disbelief. "Anakin, how can you justify slaughter? You haven't saved her. You've lost her." His mouth began to quiver, and his voice was in utter ruins, "You've lost yourself."
There was a fleeting look in Anakin, gone too quickly to decipher. "Or maybe I've finally found myself. I knew I was supposed to have more," His fists tensed, "And now I do."
"More?" Obi-Wan questioned, "What does that mean to you?"
"I have respect. I have power, beyond what I even thought possible. And I don't have to prove myself to you anymore."
Vulnerability. Obi-Wan heard it, a weak little glimmer, surviving amid the fog. "You never had to prove yourself to me, Anakin." He negated gently, "I never stopped believing in you.
"Until today. Your greed…it has taken away your Light, Anakin. You've lost sight of what you are."
"I am a Sith Lord." Anakin told him, "And I can see everything for what it truly is."
Obi-Wan's temple fell against his fingers. Too much. It was too much. His apprentice, the loving friend, the devoted Jedi, was declaring himself to be a Master of Darkness. What was the purpose of surviving? What was there, now that the brand had been pressed into the skin? "So you are, Anakin. Will you teach that to your child, the ways of the Sith?"
Anakin inhaled, and the reply came shuddering out, "They are better than your ways."
"Oh yes. They must be. The Jedi are dead, after all. You have Palpatine—Darth Sidious. How fortunate for you. He is, as you told me, a great man. I don't doubt that. It would take a powerful person to turn the brightest Jedi into a cold-blooded killer."
"He's given me more than you ever did!"
"Indeed. You have power now, don't you? Power to kill trusting children, and the people you grew up with. Power to strangle your pregnant wife while she is trying desperately to save you from yourself. And, in doing so, strangle your unborn child. Is this the power you've longed for, Anakin? Because I could never give that to you. I care about you too much."
"You're lying!" Anakin shrieked.
"You're refusing to see the truth. What can the Sith provide you, Anakin? A way to rescue Padme from phantoms? Do you not remember the threats made to her life, on Naboo, on Coruscant, on Geonosis? There were Sith Lords behind every attempt! So why the Sith? Why didn't you search other avenues?" And at last, he asked the most haunting question, the one that terrorized him endlessly, "Why didn't you come to me?"
"Because," The fallen Jedi huffed, "You would have told the Council about me and Padme."
Obi-Wan's eyes dropped, along with his voice, scraping along the black stone. "So that's what you think of me."
"Come on, Master. You know you live to please the Council. You'd jump off this hill right now if they told you to."
"If that were so, you would never have been trained." Obi-Wan told him, gaze drifting upwards, "And it seems that would have been for the best." He shook his head, "Did you think I was oblivious to what you were doing? The secret meetings, the slip-ups during conversation. I knew. The Council did not."
"I—I don't believe that."
"Naturally, you don't. Because I have proven myself disloyal somehow."
"You're one of them, Obi-Wan."
"And a few days ago, so were you." He pointed out, then, with audible strain, "We were a team, Anakin."
"Don't pretend to be my friend now, after the things you've done!"
"What have I done, Anakin, except love you? I forfeited my time as a Knight, so that I could be your teacher. All I wanted was to see you succeed, to thrive in this life as you were meant to."
Anakin laughed, limp, sweaty hair caught in the fire-breeze. "Love? What would you know about love? Your life is your lightsaber, you said it yourself."
"And you said I was the closest thing you had to a father."
"I was young and foolish."
Obi-Wan smiled mirthlessly. "You still are, Anakin. I'm sorry that I couldn't be everything you needed me to be. But I did what I thought was best. I now know that it wasn't best for you. I was wrong. And all…all that has happened, the Temple holocaust, the Sith, Padme….it's because of me. If that's what you need to think, Anakin, then please do so.
"And if you need to kill me to settle this, then you may, and I won't dispute it. Just promise me, Anakin…promise me that it ends here, today. Go to your wife, and take her to a medical facility. Love your child. Remember what you were. Remember the little boy who ran to me at the sound of thunder, the Padawan who rescued me, the Knight that crouched beside me in a hundred bunkers. There was something beautiful in you, Anakin, that Qui-Gon saw, that I saw. Padme saw it, and she kindles it now, in the precious child you created." His voice was abruptly husky, and thick with unnamed emotion, "Palpatine only exploits it—to further his own agenda."
"His agenda doesn't matter!" Anakin howled, "I can be rid of him, once I get what I want. Once…once she is safe, I'll overthrow him."
Obi-Wan grasped onto his shoulders, knowing just how much he risked in doing so. "No, you won't. Because he will offer you more and more." He looked hard into the raging eyes, "Padme is only the beginning. Soon, he will hold your whole life for ransom—including your child. There will be no escaping him." His fingers tightened on the leather-covered shoulder, "I'm offering you what you want, Anakin. I'm telling you to take Padme and get away from this mess. Take her to a doctor."
"The only threat I sense for her is the one that you still pose to her. You," The bitterness dripped into his tone, "And your new Master."
"I'm trying to SAVE her! I can't live without her!"
"Then save yourself! Or she'll be lost along with you!" Obi-Wan screamed.
Anakin's gaze suddenly broiled, and he struck his arm out, fingers clamping around the other man's neck. "I DON'T NEED TO BE SAVED!"
Obi-Wan's breath was squeezed out of him with a feeble gasp. He clawed at the hand, desperately blinking as his vision clouded to gray haze. He looked at the blurry face hovering over him…and felt the distinct splash of a tear against his skin. "Ana…Anakin…"
The young man was gritting his teeth, and as the rasping voice trembled, his grip tightened.
Obi-Wan was vaguely aware that he was no longer standing; he kicked weakly, still holding on to the hand that was slowly crushing the life out of him. He saw the well-known face that had so dominated his life, the face that had drawn him back from the edge of death, the face that coaxed him from his own, long shadows, the face of his brother, his son, his best friend. It was then that he fully comprehended that he fully comprehended that he would never see that face again. And there was nothing else, at that moment, that he could have said. "I…l-love…you…"
And the Universe dwindled to a void…
But only for a moment.
There was a brief blink of oblivion, and then he was dropping to the hot, black rock. He sucked the blistering air into his deprived lungs, sputtering and coughing. Something pulled him off the coals—and he was staring up, once again, into Anakin's face.
The flame of the Sith was bleeding out of the eyes that were focused on him, revealing streaks of azure. "Master?"
Obi-Wan wheezed. The gray retreated, replaced by the wet fog of sweat and tears. His neck ached where the fingers had gouged, but his touch never went to the damaged column; his hand, wracked with inexplicable palsy, drifted to the face above him.
Cold, metallic fingers wrapped around his, and the Jedi wondered if this was his dream before dying, a sliver of unattainable fantasy, a bittersweet gift to have as his eyes closed, finally, against this existence.
"M-Master? Are you alright?" The deep voice, once razored with disdain, was breathy and uneven, "P-Please, Master."
The barely contained sob left silent tears sliding from Obi-Wan's eyes. The word, which he had both cherished and cursed, fell from numb lips. "Anakin…?"
It was like those few days, of Utapau and Sidious and the Temple siege, had been stretched out and worn into years, and now, as he lay cradled in his former apprentice's arms, he was being reunited with a long-lost loved one.
Yet, this was not the apprentice he remembered, for Anakin's eyes were drained, nearly hollow, and when he pressed his cheek against Obi-Wan's forehead, the Master could hear the wild gasps of hysteria. "Master…Master…what I've done…Master…what h-have I done?"
Obi-Wan felt himself being pulled, as though his wrists and ankles were bound to his love for his apprentice, and the dark whirlwind of Anakin's emotion was inescapable. He was caught up in the tumult of unequalled guilt and self-abhorrence, lungs and mind full with the venomous tendrils. There were a thousand dead eyes, the eyes of the children, the Knights, Mace, even the eyes of the despicable Separatist leaders, and they were all staring at Anakin with grinding accusation.
There was no refuge from sin so massive. It was swallowing them both.
"I…I…killed them. So many, Master. H-How did I…oh, Master…it couldn't have been me…I couldn't have done that…"
Obi-Wan struggled to sit upright. He captured Anakin's shaking shoulders, and spoke with absolute placidity—something that he certainly didn't feel. "Anakin." The urgency of the summons was stolen by the wrath of the wind, and sheer volume of the other man's denial, "Anakin, stop this and look at me!
Anakin blinked, tears flowing from what had to be an endless reserve. He did look at Obi-Wan, but his focus quickly spiraled from the steady eyes to the purpling fingerprints splotched on the neck. His eyes narrowed with freshened anguish. "Master…I-I'm sorry…I…I did this to you…"
Obi-Wan braced the flushed, miserable face with his hands. "We have done this to each other." He paused, waiting for his breath to come, "But together, we can make it right."
Anakin shook his head. "N-No, this can never be right. What I've done…it can't be fixed. I can't…bring them back."
"No, you can't," Obi-Wan acknowledged, ignoring the burn of his wrenched out heart, "But you can bring yourself back. You can banish the pledge you made to the Sith, and carry through the one you made to the Jedi."
Still, Anakin could only shake his head with feverish passion. "NO…I've murdered the Jedi. I-I can't…"
"I can't live like this!" Anakin moaned, "I can't…go on…with all of this…inside me…"
Obi-Wan again forced him to meet his gaze. "You CAN."
"No," Anakin swiped his forearm across his eyes, weeping softly now, "Master, please…make it stop…please just…kill me."
Obi-Wan grabbed him in a fierce, tight embrace, pressing their bodies painfully close, and bringing his mouth near the opening of an ear. "A-Anakin, don't ask me to do that." He whispered, "I'll do anything for you, but I can't…you are my brother and I won't…"
Anakin whimpered, burying his face in the soft shadow Obi-Wan provided. "Master…Master…you have to make it go away…l-like you always do…please."
Hands of metal and flesh grappled to hold onto him, and Obi-Wan abruptly thought of what those hands had done within the course of the last, dooming hours. He was supposed to hate the person who had done that; if it had been anyone else, anyone, he would have. The killing blow would have been dealt, several times over, the corpse left to rot and seep into the black Mustafar hearth.
But he did not hate the murderer of the Order, the slayer of innocence, the heir of the Sith.
He loved this person huddled against him; that love was boundless, and his capacity for that love was far, far greater than his capacity to hate. Darth Vader was a brief veil, and now here was Anakin again, his apprentice, crumpled and used up.
Obi-Wan began to cry.
And the plentiful rivers of fire, brimming over the cracked lips of the volcanoes and coursing down long streams, seemed to be but a single, trembling drop of flame, beside the welling infinity of pain that lived in the men bowed together in the rock.