What Might Have Been
by Argenteus Draco
The view from the Council chamber, easily the highest point for miles around, was beautiful. Perun stared intently out the window and tried not to think about the blaster bolts being fired outside. His head was reeling from the noise, and from trying to understand what was happening, just like it had been during the Battle of Coruscant. But this time it was closer, much closer, and for the first time in his life Perun Behruz was truly afraid.
There was no warning before the doors slid open and they were greeted by the snap-hiss of an igniting lightsaber. Only two of them inside were armed to defend themselves: Perun, and his friend Whie, who had been sparring with him before they fled to the Council room. Even together, they were no match against the swinging azure blade. Perun dodged for as long as he could (Whie had fallen before, he wasn't sure when) staring back into the fiery gaze of a man he'd never even dared to speak to. Anakin Skywalker, the Hero With No Fear, bore down on him with a terrible expression on his face. The last thing that Perun knew was the thump of his knees hitting the marble floor, the tunneling of his vision as the invisible fist tightened around his neck, and all he could see was blue-white light--
He woke up in a cold sweat, the sheets tangled around him. Slowly, he realized that he was not in the Council chamber, but in the bedroom of the small apartment he shared with his Master. It was the middle of the night, and he watched speeders flash by the window while he tried to separate reality from dreamscape.
The Clone Wars had been over for three months already, and Perun had observed a marked change in Anakin since that time. So why should his sub-conscience show him the Anakin that he had glimpsed briefly on Mustafar? There was no connection, at least, none that he could see any logic in. Maybe he would ask Master Yoda…
No, that was no good. Yoda had a commitment to the Council, and they would only take it as another sign of Anakin's instability, and Perun would be even further away from leaving the Temple to build his new lightsaber.
Now fully awake, he threw the blankets back in frustration and pulled a tunic over his head. He moved from his room to the kitchen unit as silently as he could, not daring to turn on the lights so that he wouldn't wake Master Skywalker. No such luck, though; he had barely poured his juice when the glow lamps suddenly flared to life, revealing Anakin leaning against the doorframe with his finger on the switch. Perun nearly choked, from laughter as much as shock; his Master was currently a bizarre juxtaposition of sleep clothes, rumpled, uncombed hair, and disturbingly alert blue eyes.
"Next lesson, Padawan," he commented idly as he slid into the chair across from Perun, "is in shielding your thoughts."
Perun bit his lip anxiously. "I didn't meant to wake you, Master."
"No harm done," Anakin replied, ignoring Perun's unease. "I'd have been much more concerned to find out later that you'd forgotten whatever dream upset you so badly."
"I don't want to talk about it." The words were out of his mouth before he could think about what a bad idea it was to act defensive. Anakin fixed him with a knowing stare that made Perun feel terribly guilty for withholding even more information from his Master. "It was just a dream," he added lamely. "A nightmare. It doesn't mean anything."
Anakin frowned. "It could have been premonition."
"No. I didn't have a Padawan braid yet."
The frown deepened. Perun tried a new tactic. "It's probably just nerves, the tournament coming up and all."
It wasn't a total lie. Before he'd fallen asleep, Perun had in fact been lying awake thinking about the upcoming competition and how badly he was likely to do in it. While most of his peers had settled on a specific form that fit their individual fighting styles, Perun hadn't studied any of them in depth yet. He still wasn't entirely comfortable handling his lightsaber either. It felt awkward and bulky in his hands, because it had been designed to fit into the much larger grip of Master Obi-Wan Kenobi.
"We'll work more tomorrow, then, Padawan," Anakin finally said, "on Niman and on shielding. But for now, please try to get some sleep."
He finished his juice, and trudged wearily back to his room, knowing that he wouldn't be able to comply even if he'd wanted to.
His first class of the morning was Galactic Politics, and though he was bleary eyed and slumped forward in his desk, Master Heun forgave him because he had memorized the terms of the Cardellian Treaties, which most of the class hadn't even looked over. The discussion was more interesting though; once the other's started talking, breaking up Heun's quiet monotone, Perun found it easier to stay awake. And he knew he'd better be awake by his next class, which was with Battlemaster Drallig.
The Troll greeted them in his usual manner -- assigning twenty pushups -- then put them into pairs to practice forms. In an unwelcome echo of his dream, Perun found himself facing Whie. Although they were the same age, Perun was nearly a head taller than his partner, and still adjusting to this newfound height, which made reacting to Whie's very acrobatic style something of a challenge. He found himself dancing around the salle, mostly on the defensive.
"Don't be afraid to attack, Behruz!" Drallig called out.
Every Padawan in the room knew to jump at the sound of their name, and Perun reacted no differently. He lunged forward, missed, and tried to pull back, but overcompensated and nearly tripped himself. Whie's green blade was at his throat before he'd regained his balance.
"You had me for a minute there, you know?" the shorter boy said, extinguishing his lightsaber. "See you in the final four?"
It took Perun a moment to catch Whie's reference to the tournament, but his snarky and self-deprecating reply was lost under Drallig's command to line up. He saluted Whie before running to his place. Then he bowed to Master Drallig with the rest of the class, repeated the ceremonial "Force be with you," and went to get his bag from the place he'd thrown it against the wall. Only they weren't there.
"Perun?" His head snapped around; Master Drallig was watching him, holding his bag. "I'd like a word, if you don't mind."
They waited until the rest of the class had gone before Drallig motioned for Perun to join him in the center of the floor again. He put the datapads down gently, and wordlessly extended his hand. There was a pause while Perun struggled to understand his intent, and then he hastily unclipped his lightsaber from his belt again and handed it to Drallig for inspection.
"This is big for your hands," he said, and Perun could only nod in agreement. "You've started a design for your own hilt?"
"Yes. Master Skywalker and I are supposed to go to the Crystal Caves in a few weeks. We're just waiting for the Council to approve the mission."
"I see." He turned the 'saber slowly over in his hand. "And what do you plan to do with this once you've built a second one?"
Perun started, surprised. "I… hadn't really thought about it."
"Then I suggest you start to. And," he handed the lightsaber back to Perun, a twinkle in his blue eyes, "if I might make a suggestion, I think you might be particularly suited to Jar'Kai."
That night, he remembered more of the dream when he woke up.
He was standing in the center of the room, his feet seemingly frozen to the center of the starburst design. His lightsaber was shaking in his hands, and he tightened his grip until the ridges of the hilt cut into his palm.
This wasn't at all like what his lessons had prepared him for.
Anakin came at him with all the fury that he must have shown to whole battalions of battle droids. Perun felt the force of his blows resonate up his arms, and only his death-grip on his weapon kept the hilt from flying out of his hands. He retreated with his guard up as solidly as he could keep it, hoping against hope that Masters Yoda or Windu would arrive.
But nobody did, and so Perun simply called to mind every lightsaber lesson he'd ever had.
The blade felt as awkward in his hand as it had on the day he'd first handled one.
And the worst part, oddly enough, wasn't that he knew he was going to die. It was that the lightsaber he was holding was green, and he knew, somewhere in the back of his mind, that his lightsaber was the same shade of azure as the blade arcing toward his unguarded neck.
This time, he woke up to find that the glow lamps were lit, and Anakin was sitting at the foot of his bed.
"You were projecting again," he said simply, not looking at Perun. "Nothing specific, just fear. And pain."
"At least I didn't scream for anybody. Whie used to wake up screaming…" he trailed off when he saw that Anakin was still avoiding eye contact.
"Perun, I know it's difficult, but I need you to talk to me. It's important." He paused, then finished quietly, "Trust me, Perun. I know a thing or two about nightmares."
Perun pushed the blankets back, and shifted so that he was sitting on the edge beside Anakin. "It wasn't premonitions, just--"
"I used to dream about my mother even after she died." Anakin's words were sharp enough to shock Perun into silence again. "And others, men I fought with, Master Qui-Gon, my… my first Padawan, Ahsoka. And Obi-Wan."
Perun looked at the floor. "I dreamed about you." He knew Anakin was looking at him now, but he steadfastly avoided his Master's gaze. "But it wasn't you dying. You killed me."
As soon as he'd said it, Perun knew he'd chosen poor words. The two of them sat in awkward silence until Perun asked, "Are you… did I upset you, Master?"
"I'd be lying if I said no." Anakin stood up, once again avoiding looking at Perun. "I think we should talk to Master Yoda, both of us, about this. But for now, go back to-- try to go back to sleep, Padawan."
Perun crawled back under his covers feeling small and rather helpless. He closed his eyes, slowed his breathing, pretended to be asleep; he heard Anakin's footsteps cross the room again, felt his Master's hand gently brush his hairline…
Before he knew to fight it, Anakin's Force suggestion put him to sleep.
Their intended meeting with Master Yoda never happened. Perun slept well into the afternoon, and woke up to find both that Anakin had left and that he had only ten minutes before he was supposed to meet with Master Drallig. He dressed in a hurry, bypassing unnecessary items like his tabards and somehow still managing to buckle his belt too loosely; it nearly fell off halfway to the classroom, and he skidded into the room fastening it with one hand and holding his lightsaber in the other. He'd barely crossed the threshold before Drallig threw him a second lightsaber, a practice blade with a slim, smooth hilt.
"Try that for your off hand. You should be able to hold them both one handed."
"I tried last night with mine," Perun replied, coming forward to the center and settling into a guard stance. "I thought it was easier, actually."
"Because with only one hand on the hilt you can spin your wrist. I've noticed it's a habit of yours," Drallig commented idly, adjusting Perun's right arm. "Now, we'll start with posture one. Left foot out, right arm high guard, left arm low. Good."
Despite the initial praise, by the time they made it to posture three, Perun had burned both his knees, and Drallig, apparently not satisfied with his grip on the second weapon, had given him seven others to try, one after the other. Some Perun found more comfortable than others, but Master Drallig seemed to be looking for something that wasn't readily apparent to Perun.
"There's a reason we all build unique lightsabers," he was saying, while Perun balanced somewhat awkwardly on one foot while Drallig checked his transition from posture two to three. "Sure, we'll be influenced by the ones we see every day, and we'll always take our Master's advice, which will be biased toward the designs they favor, but no two hilts will ever be identical. No two blades, and no two Jedi for that matter, will perform the same way. We should be able to get an idea of what's going to be right for you, though… try this." He gave Perun a short hilt with grooves for his fingers. After that he tried a curved hilt, a blade that was a blinding, almost yellow green, and one that Perun felt sure had been built for a Wookie. Oddly enough, the more frustrated he got with the growing number of lightsaber designs apparently not suited to him, the more excited and animated Drallig became.
Finally, he handed Perun a simple hilt, older than the others but obviously well cared for.
"Give the form a go with that in your left hand," he said, and stepped back to watch Perun move through postures one through seven. He had a satisfied smile on his face when Perun finished. "Yes, that's going to work for you, I think."
"It felt good," Perun agreed, saluting with a flourish. "Can I use this in the tournament?"
"Keep it until you build your own. Just promise you'll give it some consideration in your plans. I'm rather partial to this design, you understand. I'd love to see it adapted. Show me four and five again."
His arms rose into defensive positions of their own accord, and he shifted his weight into his left foot in preparation for a strike. "I'll work on it. My design's mostly finished, but I was thinking about Niman at the time, not having to wield it one-handed. I just want to build it though," Perun replied quietly, angling the blade in his right hand so that it better protected his torso. "I'm getting tired of having to borrow other people's."
"They've given you a great honor," Drallig adjusted the height of Perun's left hand. "They trust you with their weapon, and a weapon like a lightsaber--"
"Is my life," Perun finished. "And I don't think it can be trust if I didn't even know Master Kenobi, and Master Skywalker didn't remember giving it to me."
"True." Drallig stepped behind him and pushed his shoulders a little bit further around. "But you know me."
It took approximately twenty seconds for Perun to understand what he'd heard, and when he did, his head snapped around so quickly that he nearly burned his cheek against the green blade that Drallig had just raised. The white haired Master just shook his head and smiled at him.
"Be aware, Padawan. Always be aware of where you are. Now, let me show you Jar'Kai's first kata."
The apartment was empty when Perun came back that evening. He waited in the sitting room, studying from a medical journal that he'd borrowed from Master Bant during his last visit to the med-ward. It was disgusting, but he feigned interest because the terminology was a challenge to memorize. He'd only gotten through a paragraph by the time Anakin returned an hour later, and he promptly recited it by way of greeting.
"Nice to see you too. Honestly, Perun, where do you find these things?" Anakin took the datapad and scanned the text, making a face. "What does hydrocephalus even mean?"
"No idea, but I hope I never get it."
Anakin chuckled briefly, but then his expression became serious again. He sat next to Perun, folded his arms a few times, and said, "I spoke to Master Yoda. I'm sorry. I should have waited for you."
"Oh," Perun replied, sensing something dramatic. "What did he say?"
"He agrees with you that it wasn't premonition. He thinks you might have dreamed a possible past."
"That's… odd." Perun puzzled over this for a moment, then asked, "Did he say anything else?"
"That I worry too much." Perun stared; this deadpan tone was not the reaction he'd expected. "That I'm projecting my own fears onto you. That Jedi don't dwell in dreams, we focus on the here and now."
"I don't understand."
"Neither does Master Yoda!" Perhaps embarrassed by his outburst, Anakin dropped his head into his hands, and continued much more quietly, "The point isn't that you had a dream about a past that didn't happen, it's a past that might have happened. I… I could have…"
He stood up suddenly, started heading for the door. "I'm sorry, Perun, I need to think about this. I just… wanted to tell you first."
"Where's your Master, Perun?"
"Council business, probably."
It wasn't lying, Perun thought, as Whie resumed his stretching. Although the observation platforms erected around the salle were full of Jedi knights, those looking for prospective apprentices and those who already had one and were watching them compete, Anakin was not among them, and it was true that he might have gone straight to a meeting. But it seemed more likely to Perun that Master Skywalker was wandering the streets of Coruscant; Perun knew he did that from time to time.
Still, it bothered him a little that Anakin wasn't there.
Not that he needed Anakin's support. In fact, he might perform better knowing that his Master wasn't analyzing his every move.
They were divided into pairs for the first round, although these were liable to change at any moment once the fighting started and the lines broke up. Perun held Drallig's old lightsaber in a double handed grip while he waited for the signal to begin; Master Kenobi's was still clipped to his belt, hidden from view. After only a day studying Jar'Kai, he hadn't felt ready to open with it. He bounced once or twice, testing the balance of his weight between his two feet. His partner, a Nautolan with a mischievous twinkle in her dark eyes, was in the opening stance of Ataru, all her weight in her left foot.
She was quicker off the line when Drallig gave the command to start, but her sudden weight shift left her unprepared when, instead of retreating with her, Perun lunged forward to meet her strike with his own. Their lightsabers came together with the kind of clash that Perun always expected to throw up sparks. She twisted out of the lock, sliding fluidly to one side, but Perun spun just as quickly to face her, parried, feinted, and then scored a hit to her shoulder.
She didn't stop to wince. Before Perun even registered the hit, she shoved him hard in the side, and he stumbled backward into the middle of Whie's fight with an older Padawan, a Zabrak with short cropped, dark hair, a fiercely annoyed expression, and a pair of shoto blades that she spun so easily it looked like they were attached to her wrists. Perun jumped back to his feet, drawing his second lightsaber in his left hand, and stopped both girl's attacks scant inches from his body. Their surprise at his new tactic gave him just enough time to retreat--
--and find himself backed against the wall.
The Nautolan was now dancing around the Zabrak, exchanging as many words as they did 'saber strikes, which left Perun to face Whie. He advanced with both blades raised, circled the other boy in a slow, deliberate fashion--
Anakin advanced on him as he slid along the wall of the Council chamber, holding his gaze with that awful, fiery stare.
--Perun just barely avoided Whie's attack by spinning to the side and dropping his right hand into a low block. He blinked rapidly, shook his head, and elbowed Whie in the jaw to give himself an extra moment. The younger boy stumbled back a few steps--
The blue and green flashes of their lightsaber blades were becoming the only light in the room as full night settled over Coruscant. Outside of this sphere of light, everything remained an indistinct shadow. A few clumsy blocks, and then Perun went flying. It took him a moment to realize that he hadn't been pushed, he'd merely tripped over something… Whie, lying there in the middle of the floor with his neck twisted unnaturally to the side.
--This time, he was too distracted to parry. He swung and hit Whie's leg at the same time that the younger boy caught him in the side. He doubled over, the wind knocked from his lungs, and when he looked up, Whie had the tip of his blade at Perun's throat. They stared at each other for a moment, then Whie broke out into a broad grin, swung his blade away, and offered Perun a hand up.
"You weren't practicing Jar'Kai two days ago."
"No. And don't worry, you'll see it again. Good luck, Whie. Force be with you."
He left the floor as Whie raced off to find a new opponent in the melee, trying to organize his thoughts. He'd done well, considering that he'd only begun seriously practicing a form the day before. But he would have liked to do better. At least Master Skywalker hadn't seen--
A gloved hand gripped his shoulder just hard enough for Perun to recognize the mechanical fingers inside the leather. Feeling rather small again, he let Anakin guide him silently through the halls without any clear direction.
"You did very well out there, Padawan."
"Thank you, Master." He already didn't like Anakin's tone, and tried to steer the conversation toward his adoption of Jar'Kai, but Anakin just continued over him.
"You were distracted toward the end, though. Were you still thinking about that dream?"
Maybe he answered too quickly, because Anakin stopped suddenly and fixed Perun with a knowing stare that made him chew his lip and change his answer to "Yes."
"Padawan…" Anakin lifted his hand and hesitated with it over Perun's shoulder. Neither of them seemed to know what to say.
Then Anakin turned to the windows and leaned on the sill. Perun followed him hesitantly. "It's not you. It's here. It's this place. It gave me nightmares too. We've been here too long."
"Does this mean we're going to find a crystal?"
"Tonight." Perun grinned, and didn't even complain when Anakin ruffled his hair. "Go pack."
They couldn't go to Ilum without the Council's clearance. Instead, they traveled to the fourth moon of the gas giant Yavin, where chemicals and atmospheric conditions combined to cause crystal storms.
He only ever had the dream once more, their last night on Yavin.
He didn't remember it when he woke up.