LianneZ4 – I think this might just backfire on Sidious and make Xan and Anakin's connection even stronger than before.
Incognito12 – Friends make all the difference.
Jedi Master Misty Sman-Esay – Anakin has been through a lot in a short amount of time and needs to sort through it.
beauty0102 – Thank you
prydain – They'll get through this
chibi heishi – They are just need some time and a bit of normalcy – of course, good luck with normalcy being Jedi.
Regal, confident, serene …
A variety of descriptors funneled through Ben's mind as he observed Obi-Wan speaking with one of the healers. Although he couldn't hear what they were saying, it appeared they were having a disagreement. But while she seemed somewhat flustered, he could hear his mentor's even, elegant whispers never faltering in composure as he spoke. Ben could very well imagine the knight being a formidable presence in negotiations, not because he was a menacing figure, but simply because he was poised, unflustered, and had an engaging personality.
Ben stifled an amused chuckle. He knew from personal experience it was near impossible to charm a healer. But, his master seemed to have some sort of magic because he soon saw her stubborn gaze melt before she walked away, nodding her head. She paused after a few steps, calling over her shoulder. "I don't know who is worse, you or him."
Obi-Wan turned with a slight swing in his step, hovering briefly in front of the door to one of the rooms before catching sight of his apprentice. He walked over to join him.
"Sorry, Padawan." He paused, sitting down across from him. "I feel as though I have said that too much lately."
"How is Anakin?" Ben asked.
"Sleeping." Obi-Wan glanced back towards the door with concern. "I need to sit with him for a while, but I thought we could make the most of the time."
Obi-Wan picked up a bag sitting beside one of the chairs and dragged a small, nearby table between them. Out of the bag, he pulled what looked like a long slender box. He opened it flat at the hinges and laid it out on the table.
"It sort of looks like Dejarik," Ben suggested as Obi-Wan briefly ran his hands across the smooth, patterned surface of the board.
"It's not as fancy as Dejarik – no holographic aliens to obliterate each other. But, I think you will find it a challenge."
"So it is a game?"
"Shahmat is more than a game." Obi-Wan leaned in closer to Ben. "It is a tradition. This board belonged to Master Yoda. He received it as a gift on his knighting."
It appeared as though it must have represented fine craftsmanship at one time, but small chips and cracks in the inlaid stone betrayed its age. Still, it didn't look as though it was eight hundred years old.
"As I understand it," Obi-Wan continued. "He didn't have a padawan who truly enjoyed the game until Master Dooku, so he passed the set on to him at his knighting. Master Dooku passed it on to Qui-Gon at his knighting." Obi-Wan dropped his gaze, leaning back into his chair. "I suppose it was passed on to me at my knighting as well."
Obi-Wan seemed to shake off the heaviness of moment, pulling the bag up into his lap. He began to pull out intricately carved figures of bright alabaster and gleaming obsidian and set them on the board. When the last piece was placed, he surveyed the board, seemingly content with the arrangement.
"There are more pieces than Dejarik. The padi'sha and hanish are the most important …" Obi-Wan began to show Ben the various pieces, throwing out more strange names, describing their moves and their set-up on the board. As Ben looked down at the two armies of light and dark, facing each other, he began to notice that there were inconsistencies. There were three of the white that were mottled with gray, one of the black that lacked the highly polished luster of its companions. Another of the black pieces appeared actually to be more brown than black, and there was a large chip out of the white padi'sha.
"Why don't some of the pieces match each other?"
From the reminiscent smile that slipped across the knight's face, Ben could tell that each piece must have as much history as the board itself.
"I lost this one," Obi-Wan said, picking up the dull black piece. "I took the set to my friend, Garen's room to show it off and lost it there. It worried me to no end as I was still fairly new as Master Qui-Gon's padawan, and I avoided telling him for days."
"What did he do when you told him?" Ben asked. He could imagine how horrible he would feel in that situation.
"He showed me this." He picked up the cracked padi'sha. "Master Yoda cracked this one by knocking it off of a balcony." Next, he touched the brown piece. "Master Dooku lost this piece when he was a padawan. He and Master Yoda tried to have it replaced, but couldn't find a suitable black stone on that planet, so had to settle for this." A slight smile slipped across his features as he brushed his fingers over the three with gray speckles. "Xanatos is responsible for these, but he won't tell anyone the story behind them." He looked up at Ben. "So, when you lose or break a piece … and you will … it just means you are part of the family."
"Master Qui-Gon didn't break a piece."
The laugh that escaped Obi-Wan's lips was startling. "Where do you think the crack in the board came from?" He ran a finger along a significant, jagged fracture in one corner of the board. "Shall we play?"
The minutes slipped away as they worked through the game and Ben, to his dismay, found his pieces removed from the board more quickly than he had hoped. Other Jedi had entered the waiting room, some passing by, some stopping to linger over the opponents. But, everyone seemed to give them room, respecting their quiet concentration. Ben moved another one of the members of his decimated army, and Obi-Wan leaned forward, blue gray eyes darting up and down the board.
"Shahmat," he called quietly, signifying Ben's defeat.
"What? Where?" Ben protested, groaning as he realized he had left his padi'sha open to a diagonal attack.
"It was an admirable first effort, Padawan," Obi-Wan said. "I assure you, my first game was a lot shorter. I didn't have the same amount of patience you have shown. Do you want to try it again?"
Ben nodded, determined he could do better, and began quickly helping his mentor set up the board again. He tried harder to pay attention to his moves, but an hour later found himself looking at another hopeless situation. Surveying the surroundings of each piece, he quickly realized that any he moved would be lost. He glanced across at Obi-Wan, hoping to glean something useful from his master's expression.
The knight had his elbows propped on his knees, his chin resting comfortably on folded hands. His stare was blank and uncompromising, and Ben sensed nothing along their bond, as though Obi-Wan were going out of his way to not betray anything. Ben fingered a piece. Sensing neither approval nor disapproval on the move, he hesitated, nibbling on his bottom lip as they sat in silence.
A piercing, terror-laden cry broke the moment, and Obi-Wan was on his feet and away in an instant.
Like smoke seeping into a room, the Darkness was pressing in on him in thick, black plumes filling all available space, leaving him gasping for air and unable to call out. Stumbling backwards, he tried to flee, but there was no where he could hide. The Darkness pursued him. He held onto the last strand of the fleeting Light, feeling it slip from his fingers as he collapsed to the ground with shadowy waves crashing in on him from all sides.
The solemn echo of footsteps drew his attention and he looked up to see an ominous cloaked figure, rallying the Darkness around it as it approached. Tracing a path up the lines of the billowing shroud with his eyes, he could see only a chin and pale lips pulled into a sneer. He charged, tackling his adversary to the floor and the hood fell back. Sleek ebony locks spilled to the floor, and Anakin found himself looking into very familiar midnight blue eyes.
"Anakin … Anakin."
He flailed against strong arms holding him steady.
"Anakin … wake up."
There was something in the calm, commanding tone that made him obey, perhaps it was that he was just too tired of fighting and resigned to his fate, whatever that might be. His head was resting against a body, and he could hear the steady rhythm of a beating heart and feel the even rise and fall of the chest beneath his cheek. The arms holding him were different, the embrace more rigid and stilted than his master's, but he didn't have to look further than the bright, warm Light to know who it was. He pressed his face more firmly into the coarse tunics.
"Obi-Wan," he whispered.
Obi-Wan had always been there – a constant presence that had taken care of him and bridged the gap between Qui-Gon and Xanatos. If Xanatos was like a father, Obi-Wan was like an older brother. And most importantly now, he radiated an unwavering Light that Anakin knew could keep the Darkness away.
"Where's my master?" he asked, surprised not to sense him close.
"He's getting some much needed sleep." A hand stroked down his hair and he was aware he was still shaking. "I believe you told him you wanted to be alone."
Anakin let up on the shields he had clutched tightly around his mind slightly, sensing his fear must have awakened Xanatos. The Jedi master was already offering hesitant waves of comfort through the now open bond.
"Do you want to talk about the Darkness?"
Startled, he returned his attention to Obi-Wan. "How did you know?"
"You aren't the only one who has confronted a Sith face to face."
The lone figure sat in the waiting room of the healers' ward. He had moved to the floor and lanky arms were folded on the top of the short table in from of him, his chin was resting on top as he stared at the pattern of white and black before him with intent concentration. Xanatos pulled a nearby chair over, straddling it backwards so he could rest his arms on the back.
"I was wondering where this set had gone to," he mused.
His eyes automatically went to the three gray-flecked pieces with a twinge of guilt. Although careless with his master's things, he had so loved the time spent with this game. Heritage was a concept Xanatos was very familiar with, his father having drilled it into him from a young age. Although he had scowled at the battered board the first time Qui-Gon had dragged it out, judging it as a worn hand-me-down, he had quickly learned to love what it stood for – the line it represented. As much contempt as he had for Master Yoda in his youth, he had felt a sense of pride at being part of his line, at being linked to the most powerful and wise of the Jedi. It had passed to the dignified, refined Master Dooku. How many hours had Xanatos spent playing this game with Qui-Gon? It had not taken him long to realize the applications to strategy and quick-thinking that had enabled him to be several steps ahead of any opponent time and time again. And when he had been waiting in prison on Telos, Yoda had visited him and he had played several futile games against the wizened master, deciding quickly that he was glad they were on the same side again.
"If you're white, it looks like you're in a bit of a bind."
"I don't know where to move," Ben responded, not moving his eyes from the board. "I lose a piece anywhere I go."
"Sometimes, losing a piece is not bad as long as you lose the right piece."
"I know, but I don't think any of these are the right pieces," Ben replied.
"You will learn and develop a feel for strategy over time, but one of the best advantages is knowing your opponent."
"What do you mean?"
"Do you want to know some of Obi-Wan's weaknesses?"
"I don't want to be scared anymore." Anakin pulled away from Obi-Wan, looking up to meet his gaze. "I wish things could be like they were before."
"I know what that feels like, more than you know," Obi-Wan said, giving his shoulder a light squeeze. "And I also know you can't go back. You have to move forward."
"What if … I don't want my master to become like that thing … and I don't either… and I'm not … we're not like you are."
"Anakin, any of us could fall if we are not vigilant about the Light." Obi-Wan knew with certainty that even as the events of Naboo grew distant, he would always remember how powerful of a temptation the Darkside was. "When I killed the Sith on Naboo, I lashed out in anger first. I wanted it to die. I wanted it to pay for wounding Qui-Gon. Until I spoke with Xanatos later and meditated on it, I had no idea how close I had come."
"See ..." Anakin scrunched up his face in frustration. "All I hear is how easy that path is, so what do I do?"
"Trust your master and listen to his guidance," Obi-Wan said firmly, with absolute conviction in his voice. "I know he would do anything, including give his life, to make sure you don't have to live through his mistakes."
They sat in silence for a moment, Obi-Wan watching Anakin's expressions as he contemplated everything he had been told. He was suddenly aware of Xanatos' hand on his shoulder, and assumed that Anakin had invited him through their training bond. He stood, smiling with a silent nod to not break the moment as he left master and apprentice alone, closing the door behind him.
Ben looked up as he approached. "Is everything okay, Master?"
Obi-Wan glanced back to the door. "I think it will be with time."
"Do you want to finish the game?" Ben asked.
"That … or we could get away from the Temple for a while. There are probably parts of Coruscant … nice parts … that you haven't seen."
The pair began to pick up the board and pieces, placing them back in the bag. One of the black figures slipped from Ben's hand and he fumbled to catch it as it fell to the hard tile below and rolled away. Obi-Wan watched as he picked it up, having already seen the sliver that broke away. Ben turned with a downcast gaze holding the now-marred piece.
Obi-Wan walked towards him, holding the bag open. "It looks like we have another story now," he said, laughing as Ben returned the piece to the bag.
"I guess we do," Ben said as Obi-Wan placed a hand on his shoulder and directed him towards the exit of the healers' ward.