A Death Denied
"I don't know if you want to hear these, but…they belonged to your father."
Luke replayed Mara Jade's words over in his mind as he slowly balanced the recording crystals in the palm of his hand. It had been an almost surreal discovery; as the Emperor's Hand, Mara had been the keeper of many secrets and many things in the Empire.
He didn't know that had extended to his father's journals.
Well, at least some of them anyway. She had come to him with the handful of crystals, explaining that she had kept the Emperor's private archives and they had been given to her with the stipulation that they never be released to anyone. "I'm…not under that obligation any longer." She had said quietly.
So it was that Luke had come here, to be alone with the voice of his father…a man redeemed, certainly but a man who had destroyed much before arriving at that redemption. Hesitantly, he placed the first of the crystals into the player.
"My master is dying…" Luke paused the recording even before the first sentence was finished, not through revulsion or nervousness, but simply to listen a moment with more than his ears. The voice was young; in fact to Luke's ears it sounded younger than he himself was right now. He asked the computer for a timestamp. His mind raced, doing the math. His father had been twenty years old at the time of this recording. Swallowing a little, the last of the Jedi resumed play and waited to hear the rest of the tale Anakin Skywalker was about to tell…
"My master is dying and no one seems to know what to do." Anakin spoke slowly, dejectedly into the little voice coder that was his "diary" of sorts. "And the Council won't let me try to help him!"
He was pacing as he spoke, frustration evident in every step. He knew what Master Obi-Wan would say if he were here; to release his emotions into the Force. But he wasn't here; that was the problem. He was in the infirmary, hanging between life and death by a tenuous thread. "I suppose I should start at the beginning." Anakin muttered into the coder. "It started a couple weeks after Geonosis."
Obi-Wan Kenobi made his way down the hallway, and Anakin Skywalker slowed his pace a little to match the halting steps. His master's arm had healed quite nicely but the wound to his leg suffered at the hands of Count Dooku had been more troublesome. The saber had driven deeply into the muscle, tearing and severing, and it was taking a long time to mend. So it was that Kenobi was still making his way around with a cane, even though the healers said he would eventually make a full recovery.
"You don't have to wait for me, you know." Obi-Wan told him, a bit peevishly. Anakin let the comment slide; he knew that the slow recovery was annoying his master to no end, and that Obi-Wan would be fairly glad to pitch that cane out the nearest window when he no longer needed it. "Well, you don't!"
Now Anakin did speak, but for a change it was without the sharp edge his voice had taken on just before and after Geonosis.
"It's all right, Master. It's no trouble."
"It's trouble enough for me." Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow at his apprentice. "Twice today I had younglings ask me if I was as old as Master Yoda because of this thing." He tapped the cane once disgustedly. Despite his attempts to be understanding and supportive, Anakin was hard pressed not to laugh at that one. A smirk stole across his face and, Obi-Wan was certain, there was likely a smart-aleck comment on the tip of his tongue. Suddenly the apprentice's mirth broke through his master's disgruntled mood and they both laughed, a rare enough occurrence these days. Geonosis had taken much from all the Jedi who had fought there to free them and that weighed heavily on both their minds. Master Obi-Wan, Anakin had observed, had taken the losses to heart. For days afterward he had rarely eaten and slept even less, spending most of his time in meditation once the healers had released him. Today however, except for his impatience to be well, his mood had improved greatly. Anakin hoped to keep it that way. Force knew it had been a hard three weeks.
They walked on in companionable conversation, Anakin explaining in great detail to Obi-Wan the results of a sparring match between a pair of Knights practicing for a coming tournament. For a brief moment the young padawan hesitated, knowing that his master had been set to participate in that tournament before the events of Geonosis, before the deaths of so many… He blinked a little when Obi-Wan motioned him to continue the narrative, suddenly realizing that even though injury prevented the Jedi from participating in the contest, Obi-Wan was intensely interested in the outcome. Something, Anakin supposed, a little more resembling what passed for normal life around here.
The walk back to their quarters here in the Jedi Temple was a greater distance than Obi-Wan had originally judged; he had arrived at the Council Chambers with the aid of a hover-chair but had elected to walk on the way back, a decision he was beginning to regret. By the time they reached their level, Anakin noticed that his master was limping heavily and leaning much harder on the cane. But the stubborn Jedi refused to slow his pace any, convinced that he was already slower than a Goraspian snail. The only indication of the Knight's discomfort however was a series of small, tight little grimaces in a mask of carefully controlled concentration.
"Master…" Anakin hesitated to approach him, lest he destroy the rare mood between them. Yet he did not like seeing his master suffer and it was clear that the injured leg was troubling Obi-Wan greatly. "Are you…all right?"
Obi-Wan looked up sharply, and his young charge cringed, no doubt expecting a sharp comment or two. And he realized with a sudden soft sigh that the last month had been filled with too many such comments. He could feel Anakin's concern and care radiating out to him; and as an afterthought almost, a cry to be needed. Obi-Wan allowed the mask to fall away so his apprentice could see and feel his true condition.
"It hurts pretty badly." He confessed, shifting his weight even as he spoke to lean hard on the cane.
"Healer Obuk said you shouldn't press yourself so hard, Master." Was that a chiding tone his padawan was taking with him? Obi-Wan winced inwardly; had he ever been so impudent with Qui-Gon? Yet he had to admit to himself that Anakin was right; he had been pushing himself too hard. His impatience was derailing his recovery.
"Yes." Obi-Wan finally allowed. "That he did."
Emboldened by his master's sudden admission that he was indeed correct, Anakin quickly moved to link his arm with Obi-Wan's, allowing the tiring Jedi to lean on him as well as the cane in the other hand.
"Let me help you, Master."
Obi-Wan bristled for just a moment; he hated feeling like an invalid but as he shifted again to take another step, the shooting pain that coursed clear up to his hip made him clutch at Anakin's arm and to drop his misplaced pride.
"Perhaps," He said with a trace of humility and a tender gasp at the unexpected pain, "That would be a good idea."
Anakin paused, allowing Kenobi to collect himself before taking another step forward. A few difficult paces later, Obi-Wan's breath hitched in his throat and Anakin stopped again, looking up into his master's face and suddenly alarmed by what he saw there. A thin sheen of perspiration glistened on Obi-Wan's forehead and the color had long fled from his face. Pain and exhaustion vied for his expression.
"Master…" Without thinking, Anakin did what came naturally. Reaching out into the Force, he quickly brought his mentor off his feet, cradling him in the Force almost as if he were carrying him with his physical arms, taking the burden off Obi-Wan's badly throbbing leg.
"Anakin!" Kenobi said disapprovingly. "You know what I've said about using the Force for—" His words died in his throat; young Skywalker's concentration was totally into the levitation, undivided by his master's protests. It was a familiar lecture, but apparently in this case a futile one as Anakin directed him down the last few meters to their quarters. A quick Force-wave toward the palm-lock opened the door and it wasn't until they were in Obi-Wan's sleeping area that Anakin carefully lowered him down, settling him onto his sleep couch.
"There." Anakin breathed out, a little drained with the effort. Obi-Wan gave him a wise look, even as his padawan set about fluffing up pillows and placing them behind his back and beneath his leg, elevating it a bit.
"I'm not made of glass, Anakin." He said, his tone only half-heartedly reproving. Anakin smiled at him a bit, unable to resist a little teasing now that they had made it back to their apartments.
"No, but you are made of a few rather quickly aging cells and it's my job to see to it that you don't fall apart before I'm knighted." He made a small face at his master and to his relief Obi-Wan laughed and tugged lightly on Anakin's padawan braid.
"I'm not that old." Kenobi protested. "At least, not yet." From his position on the sleep couch he could just barely catch his reflection in the looking glass across the way. His face hadn't changed that much, he told himself. The hair was a bit longer now, having lost the spiky cut he'd favored as an apprentice, brushed back against his temples. The beard had been something of a surprise to some; he'd favored it over the clean-shaven look for the dual purpose of looking his age and for the simple reason that somehow it made him feel more like a mentor, a teacher; more like his own master had been, really. Had it truly been ten years?
"Would you like anything, Master Obi-Wan?" Anakin was speaking again and it shook him out of his self-examination. "I'll get you some tea. Master Gallia brought by some of that…ootorung stuff you like."
Obi-Wan didn't protest; it actually sounded good and to be brutally honest he didn't think he could stand up at all on his own at the moment. The leg was long past needing rest and he was sure he would hear about it from Obuk when next he was examined. He nodded mutely, and with that approval Anakin disappeared to prepare the refreshment.
Tea was something else he had adopted from his former Master, in particular the odd ootorung leaves that rarely appealed to anyone under twenty with their rather pungent scent and strong taste. Master Qui-Gon had taken his black as night, savoring the exotic blend every night before meditations. Drinking the stuff made Obi-Wan feel somehow closer to his mentor, now long joined with the Force. The only addition for Obi-Wan was a drop or two of Alavi honey; even now after having become accustomed to the tea's peculiar flavor he still could not drink it black. 'Forgive me, Master.' He thought to amusedly to himself at the "sacrilege" he performed on Qui-Gon's customary routine each night.
Obi-Wan could hear Anakin moving about in the kitchen and thought he caught a snatch of some tune being whistled. Normally he might have been annoyed but it was such a welcome change from the padawan's usually brooding nature that he simply leaned his head back into his pillows and listened. It was a simple melody, something Anakin had often hummed or whistled from his youngest days at the Temple; something that Obi-Wan had long since realized must have been a song from home, from Tatooine. He closed his eyes and reached out into the Force, brushing up against a mind strongly shielded save for that gentle peace that the melody seemed to bring to his padawan's heart.
For his own part, Anakin set about preparing the tea and a light supper for them both in case his master was hungry; it was a not-so-subtle hint that Obi-Wan still wasn't eating much and it worried him. Already in the few weeks since Geonosis the Jedi Knight had lost a noticeable amount of weight, enough so that even Master Windu had commented to Anakin in private about it.
He was still getting used to the prosthetic arm that had replaced his natural one after Geonosis, but when he bothered to slow down and take some time, he found that he was coordinated enough for most things. Even saber practice, which had taken him somewhat by surprise. Harder were smaller, more complex motions that natural fingers simply did a better job at. But he was mastering the new sensations a bit at a time, and they were becoming more second-nature to him as he went on.
Carefully pouring the tea into a small ceramic and placing it along with the food on a tray, he bore the meal into his master's room with exaggerated care…
…only to find Master Obi-Wan deeply asleep in the bed, the gentle rise and fall of his chest and relaxed features displaying the peacefulness of his slumber and Anakin could not help but smile. Sleep had been something else his master had shortchanged himself on lately, and it was good to see him truly at rest, not disturbed by nightmares or the pain both mental and physical left over from Geonosis. Those first few nights in the infirmary had been rough for them both, taking turns reaching out to one another in their pain, struggling to steady themselves between grief and understanding, both of them feeling horribly guilty for the deaths of those who had come to their rescue.
"Your fault it is not." Yoda's reminder from that time in the healers' wing stung his memory and Anakin unconsciously nodded, lest his memories somehow trigger a disruption of his master's rest through the bond. The Dark Side was rising, that much was clear and it was the fault of that bantha Dooku that so many Jedi had lost their lives that dark day.
As quietly as he could, Anakin set the tray down on a nearby night table on the chance that Obi-Wan might want something to eat when he wakened. Pulling a nearby blanket from a shelf, he shook it out and draped it over his master.
"Rest well, my Master." He murmured softly and then silently slipped from the room.