this is a disclaimer.
can't carry it with you
All things considered, it was a nicer place than he had been expecting. The meadows stretched out around him for miles in every direction, dotted with white and yellow flowers. Here and there darker patches of thistle stood out; the smell of pollen and fresh cut grass was on the air. It was a blustery day, and the wind tugged at his clothes, tousled his hair and occasionally sent little eddies of dust dancing over the track he was standing on, turning his black boots to grey-brown.
It might once have reminded him of Naboo, but being reminded of Naboo meant being reminded of Padmé, and he wasn't sure he could face that just yet.
"It's not much of an afterlife," Anakin Skywalker said out loud, squinting in the sunshine.
"I should probably take offense to that."
Turning was unnecessary. Anakin wasn't even truly surprised.
"I hope you weren't expecting anyone else," Obi-Wan said calmly, stepping up to Anakin's shoulder. "Shall we?"
"Shall we what?"
"Walk, my brother. There is a track. It leads somewhere."
Oh, ye Gods. It was going to be one of those days.
Anakin planted his feet firmly in the dust and turned to look at his former Master and closest friend. Obi-Wan didn't turn to face him, so Anakin was stuck with his profile: Full Jedi regalia. Arms crossed over his chest; thoughtful smile. Eyes narrowed in the sunlight just as Anakin's were. Many of the lines the war had put in his face were smoothed away, and his hair and beard were that reddish-brown Anakin remembered.
He suspected the lines that were left in Obi-Wan's face were the ones Anakin had put there himself.
"I'm not going anywhere until you tell me what's going on," he said, and was startled when amusement jumped in his stomach and pulled at the corners of his mouth.
He'd almost forgotten what it felt like.
Finally, Obi-Wan deigned to look at him.
"We have places to go, and a Force to become one with," he said, and pointed along the track ahead of them. "It's that way."
"That's not an explanation," Anakin snapped.
It was the tone of voice that did it, Anakin thought. That brook-no-nonsense tone of voice that had been used on him so often, first as a child and then as an adolescent.
Anakin fell into step beside Obi-Wan with a sigh, trying to ignore the way the knot in his stomach loosened a little when their shoulders brushed.
"Your will, my Master," he said mockingly.
Obi-Wan shuddered. "Don't say that."
"It makes you sound like him."
"He is me."
"But you're not him."
This conversation was giving Anakin a headache already.
The wind was the best thing about this place, Anakin decided. It was warm and tireless and troublesome, always pushing at him – who did that remind him of? – and it smelled of woodsmoke and chocolate and red wine, of sun-hot skin and lake water and the shampoo she –
It smells, he told himself firmly, of pollen. And grass. Nothing else.
When Obi-Wan broke their comfortable silence, Anakin almost jumped.
"You killed Palpatine."
"I didn't do it because I'd suddenly seen the Light, if that's what you're wondering."
Where had that come from? Hadn't he told Luke just a minute ago...?
Anakin looked back over his shoulder. The grass hadn't gone away; the cloudy sky was still there. What had he been hoping for? Luke was alive; neither he nor his sister had any business here.
"Of course not," Obi-Wan said. It took Anakin a moment to realise that he was referring to the reasons for Anakin's killing of Palpatine.
You'd think the sun would have the decency to move position every now and then, at least give them the illusion of time passing.
Anakin sighed. "Are we there yet?"
"How much longer?"
"As long as you need it to take."
"This is some ridiculous post-mortem Jedi thing, isn't it?"
"It wasn't that long ago that you nearly killed a man for disparaging us," Obi-Wan said mildly.
"I get to do it," Anakin said. "I belong to the damn organisation."
"You tell me, Master," Anakin said with heavy irony. "Didn't Qui-Gon win me off Watto like any other slave?"
Obi-Wan's easy stride finally hitched. "Oh, Ani, no," he said, reaching out to him.
Anakin swallowed. "Felt like it sometimes," he said.
"I suppose I should thank you for looking after my children," Anakin said at last.
Obi-Wan nodded. "You're welcome."
So, the sun never moved, and apparently he and Obi-Wan were the only living (hah!) things in the place.
Anakin spent a few hours – days – months – spent some time wondering why he wasn't more creeped out.
"It was your mother that started it, wasn't it? I'm sorry, Anakin. I should have let you go home to her."
Anakin burst out laughing. "Oh, you think so? Was that it, really? I hadn't noticed that. I hadn't noticed a lot of things, come to think of it, like how judgemental you get, and how dismissive you can be, and let's not even talk about that really sharp tongue. I never noticed that, either."
"Well, you've got a right to it," Obi-Wan said, meaning his anger. "I truly am sorry, Anakin. Don't think I'm not cognizant of my own mistakes, I -"
"We're not having this conversation now," Anakin said flatly.
"The trouble with you is that you're loyal to people over principles," Obi-Wan said.
"And that's a bad thing?" Anakin said. "I mean. Apart from the obvious fact that I'm really terrible at choosing which people to be loyal to."
Obi-Wan looked over at him. "You mean you think you did the right thing?"
"No," Anakin said slowly. "And yes. I won't ever regret trying to save her. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I might regret going to him and not you. But. But there was a chance. And I trusted him."
"The principle of the thing," Obi-Wan said. "I understand."
"Do you?" Anakin murmured. "You know, I thought you didn't love her. Siri. Because you wouldn't kill him. That's how screwed I was. Still am."
Obi-Wan looked away, eyes dark.
"I'm sorry for that," Anakin said.
"Thank you. But... do you understand it?"
Another few meaningless yards of dust and grass passed before Anakin spoke again.
"I've had too much taken away from me to ever be able to put it into practice."
"You know," Obi-Wan said thoughtfully, "I've always thought Master Windu was a bit of a traditionalist, but he was right about one thing."
"I was too old to be trained?" Anakin asked. Even after all this time, there was still a touch of bitterness over that.
"You were too old to be trained in the same manner that I was," Obi-Wan said.
The landscape never seemed to truly change; every now and then a tree would loom in the distance and then fall behind them, but that was all. The sun still shone, the wind was the same. Anakin wasn't sure the clouds had ever moved; they just hung in the sky and looked fluffy and cute and annoying.
There was still a part of him that... disapproved... of fluffy and cute.
It wasn't so much a part as a snake coiled inside him, a beast caged in the darkness like a great cat, pacing in circles with its tail lashing impatiently, waiting for a time to strike.
A second's weakness was all it took, Anakin had learned that the hard way, and then the thing would have its claws in him, and in a way it was like being trapped in the dark himself, swallowed up and pushed all the way down, except that Anakin Skywalker had never been very good at being pushed aside, always rattling at the bars, always screaming at his captors, but no hope there anyway because it was an imprisonment he'd chosen for himself, a cage he'd crafted with his own two hands –
Except not even those were both his, were they?
Anakin cleared his throat. "I had forgotten," he said.
Obi-Wan glanced at him. "Forgotten what?"
"My melodramatic streak," Anakin said wryly, and smiled for the second time since killing Palpatine when Obi-Wan laughed.
"I'm sorry I inflicted that dustball on you," Anakin said.
"So you should be," Obi-Wan said. "Place is hell. And don't get me started on your stepbrother's self-righteous attitude."
Anakin snorted. "He doesn't think we're respectable."
"He's not wrong," Obi-Wan said, and grinned.
"Tell me about Luke," Anakin said.
"Difficult to know where to start. But you may have noticed he's inherited your skills as a pilot."
Anakin winced theatrically. "Low blow, Kenobi."
"I'm sorry I can't tell you about Leia as well."
Anakin sighed. "I'd like to make things right with her," he said wistfully. "I sensed her, you know. I was sure our baby was a girl."
"If Luke can forgive you..."
"She takes after me, and you know it. You can sense it across a room, how angry she gets at – everything. Injustice. Cruelty."
Obi-Wan sighed as well. "Not too much after you, I think," he said quietly, and it was both a hope and a comfort.
In the end, it was the stream that did it.
It was the first time since setting out that they had passed anything remotely resembling a true landmark. It meandered through the meadow with a cheerful gurgle and leap, flowing east across their dust track. Three stepping stones, half submerged, stood in the water, but it was neither deep nor particularly wide.
Anakin squatted down with one foot on the first stepping stone and the other on the second (so long since simple balance had come to him so easily) and dipped his hands in the clear water.
It was only then he realised that his hands were in fact both his: flesh and blood and bone.
He'd never really mourned the loss of his right arm; the prosthetic was almost more useful when it came to things like hanging off ledges, say, and an understanding of mechanics had always come easily to him, which had helped his acceptance of the change. He had understood it, after all. But sometimes, every few months when he could get away from the war and hide from the galaxy by locking a bedroom door, when her silky nightgown slid off her hips and her hands (so small compared to his, she'd always been delicate, the twins had her build, not his, and wasn't that symbolic of something?) had tugged impatiently at the heavy fabric of his robes, searching for warm skin and steady heartbeat...
Then, Anakin had wished for two human hands to hold her.
He didn't realise he was crying until his brother's arms went round him.
"I remember the look on your face the first time you saw Naboo," Obi-Wan said. "All that water!"
Anakin laughed a little brokenly. His hands were still shaking, and his pants were wet from where the two of them had been kneeling in the stream. "It was a beautiful day," he said. "Just like this one."
It was her shampoo on the wind, he decided: that citrusy stuff she liked. They were sitting by the stream. The ground was a bit damp, and the grass was tickling at Anakin's lower back, poking between the hem of his tunic and the waistband of his pants.
The water had washed the dust off his boots, leaving them black and shiny and new.
"It was, for a little while," Obi-Wan agreed.
"Nothing ever lasts," Anakin said. He frowned a little. "Strange the Jedi never saw that."
Obi-Wan looked a bit surprised. "Don't you think so?"
"I think they believed the Order would stand unchanged for another ten thousand years."
Obi-Wan had no answer to that. Anakin smiled at him, rather more slowly than Obi-Wan remembered, as if he was still having trouble remembering how, but it was Ani's smile just the same: wide and bright, lighting up his whole face and making him look no older than twenty.
He hadn't been much older than twenty.
"So shall we press on?" Anakin asked.
Obi-Wan shook his head, and tilted his face away to hide his smile. "I think we should wait, actually."
Anakin groaned, impatient as ever. "Wait for what?"
Footsteps behind him, a shadow on the grass, a hand on his shoulder, her warm weight at his back, breath ghosting over his cheek.
"Not what, Ani," she said. "Whom."