Author's note: This tale is set directly after the CW episode "Escape from Kadavo," and will likely make little sense outside that context - unless, of course, you like your dysfunctional Hurt/Comfort straight up, no ice. In which case: carry on...
Anakin Skywalker sought the refuge of darkness, the security of a cramped ship's bunk. They were always too short for him – too short, too narrow, too claustrophobically close to the one above. His flesh hand trailed along the smooth interior bulkhead, feeling the reassuring thrum of the cruiser, its mechanical pulse. The ship was huge, a behemoth. A vast, maternal presence, floating in the cold depths of space, harbor and protector to those within.
He felt .… vulnerable. And tired. Bone tired.
Obi Wan was already asleep on the lower bunk. He had left the higher, slightly more spacious one for Anakin – a tiny, wordless courtesy, so characteristically subtle it might be missed by any other observer. Anakin noticed. He dropped his boots to the floor – wrinkling his nose at the sudden tang in the air - dropped the Zygerrian breastplate and belt, greaves, and tunics atop them. His saber went under the single hard pillow, a place of reverence and sheer practicality. He hauled himself onto the thin palette in one fluid motion and stretched out on his back.
The slaves were free. The Queen was dead. His friends had been rescued. Zygerria and Kadavo were far behind. It was over. Done with.
And things that were done with belonged to the past, which no longer existed. They passed into oblivion, into the Force, into the serenity of wisdom. They did not lodge, like barbed thorns, beneath the skin of present-day life, infernally itching, oozing burning toxin. They did not rear up their heads from a safe and distant extinction and come hideously to life again, intruding upon the present and tangible like a nightmare unleashed from the shadow realms of psyche and set to run rampant over waking reality.
Do not look back. Dreams pass in time. Weep not for the past. Empty platitudes, all of them. Anakin had come as close to slavery again as he ever wished to do….and his friends had come closer still. He guessed – guessed, because he had been told nothing explicitly – that his former master had come closest of all, had been thrust into the bottommost hell alongside the Togruta artisans they had rescued from Kadavo's mining and "education" camp.
But only he, only Anakin, was left scarred by the experience. Brutal degradation apparently slid off his mentor's back like water over glossed steel, leaving no trace, no bruise on memory or emotion. But then, was that surprising? Anakin's teacher was the perfect Jedi: Yoda's darling, the newest member of the Council, a vaunted General, diplomat, warrior, sage, swordsman, scholar, Master. The Master. The one even their enemies asked for, respected, resented, admired and reviled. The one who only ever obeyed because he chose to do so, because he willingly swore his fealty. The one whose own "master" had been nothing short of father. Anakin had seen that, too, and burned with envy. Always, always the master, the beloved one; never a slave.
Unlike the Chosen One. The slave boy. The one who was haunted. The vulnerable one.
He was so tired, so kriffing tired…
The air in the cabin wasn't warm enough; he flicked his hand lazily, and the therm-reg across the small room bleeped as he nudged the setting higher. In the soothing warmth, the soft darkness, the hypnotic thrum of the great ship's drives, he could imagine himself almost carried within a womb, cradled in loving arms. He curled into a fetal ball, closed his eyes.
It was quiet. Safe. His mind uncoiled, his limbs slackened.
There is no emotion, there is –
The Force flared bright with panic, a shocking wave of raw pain washing through his bones and blood, jolting him awake. Adrenaline cascaded hot-cold down his spine, clamped his gut into a tight ball. He uncoiled like a spring, shuddering, his hand already tight around the saber hilt, his mind reaching, searching, hunting for the source of the disturbance.
His feet hit the deck an instant later, the lightest of thumps upon the hard surface. In the pitch dark, he reached for the other man's shoulder, gripped hard, gave a shake. "Hey... Hey," he urged, his voice a rasping whisper in the still air. "C'mon. Wake up."
Hands clamped around his wrists with savage strength. Anakin winced, sucked in a breath. The cabin was abruptly saturated with dizzying relief. He almost reeled with it.
"Master," Obi Wan whimpered.
Anakin's heart thumped once. Oh, Force. A terrible abyss of possibility opened in his mind, scattering his certainties.
He found his voice with difficulty. "It's the other way around, remember?"
Silence. Obi Wan's grip loosened, a little. Anakin's throat was dry; his tongue cleaved to the roof of his mouth. He was aware that he had strayed onto sacred, forbidden territory; there was no excuse for the staggering and obscene trespass. It had been an accident, he had never intended –
Mental shields slammed into place with a ferocious precision that left him reeling once more. Anakin straightened, grabbed the edge of the upper bunk to balance himself against the wild shift in the Force.
Totally, instantly, in control of the situation again, Obi Wan slid off the thin cot and stood up beside him. The arm's length between them was a dark chasm; pity, shock, and mortification were ruthlessly thrust over its edge and consigned to oblivion.
"I'm so sorry to wake you." Obi Wan's voice was pitched low and resonant. His execution was flawless. "I'll go check on our progress. Why don't you get some rest, Anakin?"
He retreated gratefully to his high perch, feigned ignorance, indifference, calm. The faint swish of clothing hastily pulled into place, and a fleeting beam of light as the door slid open and closed again. Silence. Anakin rolled back into his ball. The dark and the warmth and the subliminal hum surrounded him, comforting. The Force smoothed into placid relief. But he could not sleep. Not now. Not after…that.
The journey back to the Togruta homeworld was long. The Separatists controlled too many vital hyperlanes in this sector; the Admiral had plotted a circuitous and safe route, unwilling to risk an engagement with so many civilian refugees on board. They slid in and out of hyperspace, crawling along the galaxy's arm. There was too little to do, too much time for reflection.
He watched Obi Wan. From a distance. Warily. He noticed when his master diffidently crumpled his ruined tunics and tabards into a stained and shredded ball and tossed them into the incinerator unit, replacing them with a drab standard-issue Naval uniform shirt. He noticed when the older man omitted any personal detail whatsoever from the Council report, mentioning only the various abuses the Togruta prisoners had been subjected to in the conditioning camp. He noticed when he smiled at Ahsoka, joked with Plo Koon, absent-mindedly, half-heartedly criticized and lectured Anakin on protocol and Jedi reserve.
All systems go. Not a scratch, not a glitch, not a shadow anywhere. Flawless, invulnerable. Detached, emotionless, selfless. Perfect.
A perfect untruth.
He started at the sound of Ahsoka's voice, close by his elbow as he sat brooding in the ship's forward mess hall, watching the clones wolf down bland rations and chatter among themselves, their single identical voice multiplied into the hundreds, a weird monotonic chorus of grunts and jesting remarks and sharp laughter. "Hm."
She took this as sufficient invitation and slid into the seat opposite. "I've been talking to some of the others," she began, hesitantly.
He knew she had spent the majority of their transit in the company of the rescued townspeople – her people. "You would do better to spend your time listening to others," he chided in his best condescending masterly tone.
She didn't rise to the bait. "That's what I mean. The governor thinks it will take a long time for them to recover from their ordeal. And maybe they won't ever – not really. Do you…do you think that's true?"
He looked at her closely. How was he supposed to know? "Maybe," he said, cautiously. This better not be going in the direction he thought it might…
Ahsoka squirmed a little in place. Her enormous eyes were bright with anxiety. "I mean, you got over it master. Being a slave, I mean."
He clamped his jaw shut tight, clamped mental shields in place. His Padawan flinched a little, feeling it, but said nothing. Just continued to stare at him with those ridiculously large blue eyes, wanting the answer he would not give. Nobody gets over being a slave, Ahsoka, Nobody.
He had to say something. Anything. But what? It wasn't supposed to be this way; he was the master, he should have all the answers. He cleared his throat. "I…don't know."
She nodded, once, subdued – and a trifle disappointed. She wanted an answer. She wanted him to be the master, not the confused slave boy. She wanted him to be like Obi Wan – to fake it, to lie, to put on the perfect Jedi mask.
He smiled then, faking it, his heart dead as ash. "Your people will be fine," he declared, in his best heroic General tone. "After all, they're like you, Snips."
Ahsoka's smile was always a bit scary. She had pointed canine teeth, long and sharp. Her Force presence flared hot with relief and determination, then smoothed again. "That's right," she agreed. "They just need to get back to their normal lives. They'll be fine, forget all about it in time."
He nodded, not believing a word of it.
One of the clones called her name, some trifling jest or another, and she excused herself with a short bow.
"Master." Maybe what they needed, Anakin decided, was a return to normalcy. It was worth a try. "There's an empty hangar on the starboard side."
There was still that hint of stiffness, the echo of a hunch in his mentor's posture. Anakin didn't like it. It was a crack in the smooth façade of the deception.. He waited for a response but received none. The older man continued studying the holo-projection idly floating above the ship's main comm. hub. He looked jarringly unlike himself, clad in dark grey trousers and the shirt borrowed from the Admiral. His lightsaber hung by his side, true – but without tabards and Jedi tunic, he seemed somehow shadowed. Shuttered. Certainly he had not let down his guard even one iota since their terse conversation last night.
"Artoo just finished polishing the decks," Anakin cajoled.
Obi Wan didn't turn around. But he couldn't resist the temptation. "Your astromech unit is not designed for housekeeping tasks, Anakin. You're going to confuse the poor thing – and you know it has a loose wire already."
Better. Anakin smiled a little even as he rolled his eyes. He hated those stupid loose wire jokes. "You know Artoo," he replied lightly. "He gets kind of glitchy if he's not up to something. I've gotta keep him busy all the time…and you know, I think the shipboard computer dumped him 'cause he's short. He needed a distraction."
"You have a loose wire somewhere," Obi Wan muttered, shutting down the holo-map with an audible sigh.
Harmless personal abuse. Better yet. "So. Let's go," he said. "Time for some sparring."
Obi Wan finally turned around, arms folded across his chest, weight leaning casually against the rim of the projector table. His eyebrows rose in disdain, in eagerness. "Sparring? Whatever for?"
Anakin offered his most impudent grin. "Oh, I just thought maybe I wouldn't have to rescue you so often if we just improved your saber skills a bit."
"I see humility is something you have yet to learn. Well….I suppose I can spare an hour or so for the sake of educating you in such an important virtue." Obi Wan declared magnanimously.
Ten minutes later they were inside the empty hangar. Artoo saw them coming and hightailed it through the magfield barrier into the central runway, whistling in undisguised terror.
Anakin unclipped his saber and flipped it over once in his hand before igniting the blade and swinging it in an experimental flourish. He adjusted the power to lowest setting and took up an open stance. What he wanted, more than anything else right now, was to beat the living chizzsk out of his anxiety, to lose himself in battle. This was going to be good.
Obi Wan thoughtfully fiddled with his own weapon and then swept into a high and aggressive Soresu stance, blade thrumming and Force signature abruptly, gloriously ablaze with heat and light. Channeled frustration, aching resentment, bitter memory went up in ethereal flame and transformed to an explosion of deadly energy.
Really, really good. Anakin yelled – a bark of challenging laughter, a cry of abandon – as he launched into an attack. They collided in a joyful conflagration of blue light, of screaming sound, of furious perfect motion.
Linked invisibly in the Force, bound in sublime opposition, the distinction between self and other blurred, shimmered into a haze, until blinding flashes of memory, of thought, leapt and danced as fast and fleeting as the whirling saber blades, the dazzling pattern of blue on blue.
Strike. Swear fealty to me, and your friends will go free. Parry. We are nothing. You have all the power. Counterstrike. We have never had a Jedi here before. .Block. It is not you who will suffer, but others, if you do not submit. Strike. You were once a slave…I see it in your eyes, in your determination. Bind. Beg. Beg for mercy, or watch this man die. Lunge, sweep, dodge, strike. You were right, Skywalker…we are all nothing but slaves.
Block, block, strike, parry, strike, strike, leap, strike, spin, strike, block, strike. Bind. Struggle, blades shrieking. On your knees, Jedi.
And again. Harder. Faster. Until memory and thought are blurred into the motion itself, into the plenum, into oblivion. There is no emotion, there is battle. There is speed. There is light and sound and the burn of the sabers, and the rhythm of breath and heartbeat and the rush of blood and the Force, which has no true master and is without limit or beginning or end.
The match ended in sudden defeat.
Anakin was so startled by his victory, so taken aback by the cessation of blazing, rushing Light, of flawless, effortless speed and grace, that he dropped his saber. "Master!"
He had barely scratched his opponent – the barest brush of his weapon's edge across Obi Wan's chest as the latter twisted away from a strike and reversed into a slantwise parry – nothing that would even count as a hit according to their customary rules of scrimmage; and yet, his master was on the deck, on one knee, teeth gritted, body tensed into a single rigid line of pain.
He was crouched beside the other man in a heartbeat. "Sorry – I didn't think I hit you – I thought it was a graze…"
Obi Wan shook his head, waved a dismissive hand. "Nothing," he grunted.
Instinctively, Anakin reached for the singed cloth of the naval uniform shirt, the place where the damp fibers were darkened by the saber's merest brush. Obi Wan caught his wrist and held it.
"It's fine, Anakin….I'll be fine."
Suspicion flared like a summer bonfire. He wrenched his hand free. "Let me see it, master." Snapping past his friend's guard he seized the shirt's collar and pulled. "You need bacta or –"
"Anakin!" Irate, Obi Wan pulled back sharply, freeing himself from inspection.
Too late. "Boshuda," Anakin hissed in Huttese. Anger leapt up in the wake of suspicion. Rage rekindled his anxiety, his smoldering desire for revenge. "Kriff, master. What in the hells did they …those slagging slaver sons of vetches, I'll –"
They glared at each other, panting. Anakin forced his mechno-fist to uncurl. Fear- raw undiluted, mixed with protective fury, boiled in his gut. He was going to overflow with it- and the sparring match had left him wrung out, too tired to resist. He had seen the vibrant fretting of welts and burns left by an electrowhip – the deep-scored marks of slavery, of cruel punishment, the raw unhealed tapestry of pain which his grazing blow had set afire. His blood boiled.
"How dare they!" he fumed, inarticulately. "I'll kill them all!"
"They're already dead," Obi Wan growled, pushing to his feet.
Anakin followed, trembling. Why would Obi Wan submit to such abuse? He was a peerless warrior, a Jedi master. "What in the hells, Obi Wan! You should have made them pay for that!"
The older man nearly snarled at him. "A Jedi does not feel anger, Anakin!" He turned his back, shoulders tautening into an uncommunicative line.
"Okay." Anakin knew he had gone too far, seen too much, touched a nerve. Again. He offered apology in their customary manner – an abrupt shift of tactics. "Look. Either you let me do it or I rat you out to the healers. That needs to be treated."
Obi Wan replaced his saber on his belt. A long breath. Apology accepted. "Very well," he muttered, reverting to low-simmer irritation. "You may add insult to injury. It seems to be your specialty."
Ouch.. Maybe the apology wasn't completely accepted after all. Or maybe it was a warning – one more slip into the unchartered and officially non-existent realm of his friend and mentor's personal feelings, and he would incur the rare but formidable wrath of General Kenobi. Got it. Warning duly noted and ignored.
Anakin jerked his head in the general direction of the magfield barrier and led the way out.
Obi Wan knelt in the center of the tiny cabin's deck and pulled the naval uniform shirt over his head.
"Kriffing boshudissima…" Anakin amended his previous judgment to an obscene superlative upon getting a good look at his friend's back. No emotion, no emotion. He kept his voice level and reasonable, just like Obi Wan always did, no matter the provocation. "Maybe we should leave this to the healers. I mean…"
"I would really rather it be you, Anakin," Obi Wan said, eyes closed, expression severely contained.
"All right." To argue with the Negotiator was pointless. "If you insist." He knelt down, armed with bacta and gauze bandaging.
"I've endured much worse, really," Obi Wan detachedly observed, as Anakin set to work. "This doesn't …doesn't count."
"It's off the record," Anakin agreed absent-mindedly. Whatever. Besides, who was his former master trying to convince? It was true: Obi Wan had endured worse: much, much worse.
But not as a slave. Enemies – they were one thing. They recognized you as a person. To be hated is to be recognized, granted the liberty to be defiant, to oppose another's will, to embrace death with a smile of free choice upon one's face. An enemy was a privilege, a blessing. Slaves didn't have that. They were un-beings, non-persons, gutted and emptied ciphers where once free will had been. An enemy might torture one's body but leave the spirit unbroken. The slaver's whip struck at a more precious core – at the heart and will. Even a Jedi's life was predicated on free choice, on willing sacrifice. If there could be found a way to twist that will, corner it and suffocate it into submission, into compliance, into an agony of frustration…..
The resultant marks might not be battle scars, badges of honor, so much as marks of shame, brands, deep bruises on the soul, the frailty and weakness of life made tangible through the desecration of living flesh.
Anakin slathered the bacta over long, searing slashes, raised welts, curling trails of burnt skin. He felt the delicate tremor beneath his hand. He enjoyed it. Do you understand now, master? This is how much slavery hurts. It can't be described. It cuts deeper than you can imagine. It never leaves you, not fully, not really. It hurts- Force, it hurts. There is no possibility of ever accepting this humiliation, this pain, this blasphemous extinction of personhood. There is no releasing it, no moving past it, no selfless Jedi solution to this.
The fragile bacta container exploded beneath his crushing grip, and the sticky goop spattered like gore over his knees and the deck. Anakin stopped, aware of the pulse drumming loud in his ears, aware that he was practically clawing his fingers across his friend's injuries, aware of the vibrant echoes of pain in the Force, an invisible howl almost as loud as his thunderous heartbeat, his rasping breath.
Obi Wan made the tiniest noise of distress. He was just sitting there, eyes closed, hands open and upturned on his knees, head bowed…..accepting it. Denying it.
"I'm…sorry. Sorry," Anakin muttered. He was hurting his own brother, for Force's sake, because he was angry, because he bore the same scars, inside where nobody could see them, because his mother's body had been marred and flayed in the same way, when she died in his impotent arms, because…
"It's all right."
"No!" Anakin exploded. He surged to his feet, towered over the other man. "It's not all right! It's not all right that they did this! It's not okay that you pretend not to care!"
"Mind your feelings, Anakin."
To the hells with that. Obi Wan wasn't his master anymore, he wasn't going to yank his leash like that, issue curt orders, choke off Anakin's emotion the way he choked off his own. "No, Obi Wan, you mind your feelings! You're not fooling me! You know what? You really are a collection of half-truths and hypocrisy! You're a kriffing liar!"
Somehow, without a moment's time elapsing, Obi Wan was on his feet, facing Anakin, eyes glittering with something unfamiliar and completely out of place, unexpected, terrifying. The Force gathered about him, threatening, a colossal thunderstorm circling its dark center.
Poodoo. Why did he always have to overdo it? Anakin swallowed with difficulty, glimpsing what it might mean to have this man, his best friend, as an enemy. Beneath the horror there lurked a thin thread of pleasure, though. Obi Wan was frightening…and frightened. Anakin felt the seductive twinge of it: he had managed to really hurt the invulnerable Jedi, cut through decades of armor to the tender quick, to the place where emotions seethed and clamored for release, where the truth lay bare beneath the flail of his words.
They glared at each other. The Force snapped, like a sizzling electrowhip. Anakin braced for the counterstrike.
"What would you have me do, Anakin?" Obi Wan murmured, one eyebrow arching upward with exquisite damning irony. "Cry for my mother?"
The Force screamed with it. They stood motionless, mutually stunned, burning and impaled on each other's words. The cabin disappeared in a river of molten pain, a magmaic flow of regret.
Obi Wan looked away first. "Forgive me. Anakin, I –"
"No." Anakin was fumbling backwards for the door release, stumbling into the corridor beyond. "No." His unsteady steps quickly broke into a flat out run.
There was no forgiveness. Not for either of them.
The journey was too slow, too idle. There was absolutely nothing to do, and far, far too much time for reflection. Anakin avoided Obi Wan. Doggedly. Even when they were obliged to be together, on the bridge or in a lift. Minds triple ray-shielded, fortified against siege, frozen behind icy barriers, they did not even occupy the same place in the Force.
At least there were lots of long, empty corridors. Anakin stalked, endlessly. Zygerria was behind. But it wasn't. Kadavo was destroyed. But it wasn't. The mission was over. But it wasn't. He walked, and walked some more. Walking was a meditation. Pacing the blank hallways of the supercruiser was to move without going anywhere. To escape slavery was to move without going anywhere. Perhaps to live was to move without going anywhere.
Plo Koon's mellow, sonorous voice was instantly recognizable. Anakin paused, turned around. He had been fairly caught, cornered. It would be unbecoming to ignore his fellow Jedi. "Master Plo."
The Kel Dor was a special advocate of Anakin's Padawan…and had likely been conversing with her. Had she said something to him concerning Anakin's unease, his lack of poise and serenity in the aftermath of this cursed mission?
Plo fell into stride with him, his expression impossible to read behind the obscuring breath mask. "I felt a disturbance," he offered, faint accusation tinging his deep, melodious tones.
Oh. Right. Ahsoka might have missed it - or was too smart to risk mentioning it – but someone as deep in the Force as Plo Koon could not fail but notice it. Anakin's confrontation with his former master must have felt like the shock wave off an exploding star, a breathtaking disturbance in the Force. He slowed, glanced sideways at the tall Kel Dor, released a small humorless chuckle.
Plo passed a hand over his breather, the corners of his eyes crinkling around the hard edges of the protective goggles. "Is Master Kenobi well?" he inquired, with genuine concern.
He saw too much. "We had a disagreement," Anakin answered, curtly. It was nobody's business. It didn't matter. There is no emotion.
"A Jedi, of course, always seeks peace," Plo observed, casually, folding his hands into opposite sleeves. "As you know, young Skywalker."
Anakin stopped , and bowed. "Thank you, Master Plo."
The Kel Dor returned the solemn gesture. "The Admiral informs me we are within a half parsec of our destination. With your permission, I shall take Ahsoka and help direct the return of her people to their homes."
He nodded. "Of course, master." Understood. Plo would distract Ahsoka. Anakin would….seek peace.
He watched Plo's broad-shouldered form disappear down the adjacent passage, into the cargo bay level's entrance. Fine. He would seek peace. But would he be able to find it?
He found Obi Wan on the outskirts of the settlement, watching the villagers awkwardly insert themselves back into the remnants of their mangled lives. The graceful township was not entirely destroyed; here and there blaster burns and score marks carved across walkways and plazas. One building had been completely decimated, destroyed by explosives in order to gain the Jedi's attention. The arched window of the tallest tower was a gouged-out eye socket, where Obi Wan had thrown a tactical droid clear through the transparisteel and out into the blue. Fear and despair hung in the air, a clinging miasma.
He was not rebuffed, so he stayed, watching alongside the older man. Vibrant headtails wobbled here and there. Supplies were unloaded, people ran laughing and crying through the streets. The Governor consulted with his aides and advisors, and clones efficiently buzzed about among the streets and arcades, lending assistance where needed. And yet, the people and the town would never be the same. Shadows loomed over them, the shroud of the Dark side, drawing ever nearer, more stifling. There was no accepting this, no release.
"Do you think…..we only make it worse?" Obi Wan asked.
We? Make what worse? Anakin liked complicated: he excelled at complicated machines, at intricate piloting maneuvers, at the contorted balancing act of his secret, forbidden passions and his public, sacred duty. But Obi Wan was way, way too complicated for his tastes. He didn't even attempt an answer.
A hand reached out and rested on his arm. "Anakin. I wish to apologize for my behavior. My words to you – they were inappropriate, and reprehensible."
"Forget it," he muttered. "I…it was my fault. I just…" His prosthetic hand clenched. There was no way to explain. How could he communicate it? The weight of his past that never, never lifted off his shoulders? The need to have that pain acknowledged….validated. By the one who had always told him to release it, to accept it, to forgive. He felt the hand on his arm tighten, a trifle. A faint nudge across their bond, across the Force.
Reluctantly, he lowered his shields. Slowly. Just a bit. They continued to watch the villagers, their gazes fixed on a distant point. Anakin let some of it leak through: he wanted Obi Wan to be hurt by the slavers, to feel what he felt, to know anger and despair and helplessness and bottomless hatred for evil. Really know it. Understand it. Stop lecturing, stop holding up the impossible ideal. To be broken and imperfect and admit that there was no peace, there was emotion.
Beside him, Obi Wan only drew in a long breath. He said nothing.
They watched the villagers.
"Anakin….I think I have never before understood what you suffered as a young boy. I can hardly imagine, even now. I wish to apologize for my lack of compassion…in the past."
He didn't know what to say.
"It is terrible…I see that now, better than I did.."
"Master….I don't know what to.."
And then, to his astonishment, Obi Wan returned the gesture. He let down his defenses. With a sudden plummeting sensation, Anakin felt his friend's impenetrable mental walls yield to his curiosity. Just a bit. A flash – a glimpse, an echoing reflection in rippling water, nothing more. But enough. Below the surface of raw memory, there were depths, and in the depths there was….fear. Instinctual, animal fear, and pain. And terrible sorrow, and anger. And more pain, lots of it. And shuddering childish desire, for rescue, for relief. And the seeds of vengeance and dark, dark thoughts, violent and bloody thoughts, lust for glorious destruction, for hot explosive retribution.
Anakin sucked in a sharp breath. Obi Wan!
But there was also the Force. It suffused the vision, saturated the fear and pain with something else, something impossible: pure cool currents, flowing freely through it all, washing it away, dissolving it, smoothing it into wisdom, wearing it deep into the soul, soothing, healing, comforting. Slowly. But surely, surely. Eventually, it would all be gone, transformed. Accepted. Released.
Anakin stifled a groan and pulled away, shaking. Ahsoka and Plo were heading toward them now, walking along the river's edge, toward the falls.
"Anakin," Obi Wan whispered, an almost mute plea. Hear me.
"I can't….I can't do that," Anakin whispered. Not even for you.
Plo and Ahsoka drew nearer…almost within earshot. Obi Wan's hand gave a last firm pressure.
"You can, my friend. I know it. You must."
But he couldn't… could he? Obi Wan's clear, affectionate, warm confidence made the question a mandate, a desperate need. Now he had to…and yet he still couldn't.
Ahsoka and Plo were suddenly with them, exchanging greetings. "Rex says the gunships are ready to head back to the cruiser, master."
He nodded. "Let's go, Snips."
Master Plo regarded him curiously, exchanged a look with Obi Wan, waved a hand toward the distant shape of the waiting transports, led Ahsoka thither.
He looked at Obi Wan one last time. I can't let go.
The hand on his shoulder guided him forward, gently. Compellingly. And that was good, because he couldn't see anything for the stinging tears. I …can't.