Disclaimer: I do not own nor make any profit off of Star Wars. It belongs to George Lucas, Lucasfilm, etc.

A/N: I have never read the Jedi Apprentice books (though I plan to do so in future), and so past events discussed in this story are not meant to be exact. In a roundabout way, there are spoilers for JA, but not clearly canon ones.

This tends to switch Points of View, but it's usually fairly clear.

Good Men


A heavy silence – strangely deafening – fell over Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker as the complaints of the latter hung awkwardly in the air.

The young knight had been offered a seat on the Jedi High Council, but it had been severely tempered by the news that he would not be made a Jedi Master along with it. Anakin's incensed reaction spoke to the fact that he was simply not ready for it yet, but Obi-Wan knew that would not be a welcome response – if Anakin would even be willing to hear it out to its completion.

Anakin had already turned away unhappily, perhaps believing his former master did not even have the decency to respond.

But Obi-Wan was at a total loss for words. There were responses he was supposed to give, of course. The Jedi Order dictated many emotionless, time-honored, code-bound replies that would satisfy his duties – both as a Council Master and as the one who had trained Anakin to Knighthood.

But as his friend, brother… father?

Something stirred unexpectedly within Obi-Wan at the last title he had tentatively bequeathed to himself.

Uncertainty.

Had he really been all that fatherly towards Anakin over the years? He felt rather that he had been cold and stiff and wholly unresponsive. And by proxy, the complete opposite of what Shmi Skywalker, Qui-Gon Jinn, and Padmé Amidala had all been to the man before him.

Obi-Wan felt suddenly old and useless.

Slouching slowly downward, the Jedi Master considered how many ways he had failed to give Anakin what he needed to truly come to terms with the steel code that forbid attachments. For a child who had required love in order to survive slavery with any modicum of decency or compassion, the Jedi code held nothing but desolation of the spirit. Anakin had been forced into this without so much as a by-your-leave. No matter how much Qui-Gon wanted to help Anakin by giving him this chance, the life of a Jedi had turned Anakin's compassion into an indignant beast roaring against its shackles.

"Qui-Gon was never allowed on the Council," Obi-Wan finally spoke, voice as soft and sentimental as it always was when remembering his old master. The Force itself guided his words in a way it never had before. "And he was considered one of the greatest Jedi in the history of the Order. You have gained something he was never allowed. That is a blessing indeed, my friend. And as proud as I am of you, I know Qui-Gon would be infinitely more so."

Anakin looked shocked, then abruptly sad, but something else brewed in the depths of his eyes that stunned Obi-Wan speechless.

Humility.

Mixed with some petulance, to be sure, but it was humility nonetheless that settled so heavily in the blue pools of Anakin's eyes.

"Why didn't you ever tell me?"

It went without saying that Anakin was not talking about Qui-Gon's doubtless pride in the achievements Anakin had experienced.

He was talking about Obi-Wan's.

"I didn't know how," the master whispered, closing his eyes in pain. Unknowingly, he slumped against the wall, head bowed against the weight of his failure.

Anakin scoffed audibly, though the sound was littered with discomfort.

"You were raised by a loving mother," Obi-Wan added with difficulty, knowing how much the memory of Shmi hurt his former padawan. Yet he ignored the slight hiss of disapproval from Anakin as he went on, "I was raised practically from birth in the ways of the Jedi. I fed, not in the arms of a mother who loved me, but in the arms of a Crèche Master who had dozens of children to look after while remaining aloof in the code."

Without even turning to look, he could feel Anakin stiffen with surprise at this unusual admission.

"I never had the warmth of a mother's love to tide me over in challenging times," Obi-Wan continued with even greater difficulty. Something seemed to be caught in his throat and refused to be dislodged by any amount of swallowing. "I don't even know my mother's name, or what she looked like. We are discouraged from ever finding out such things. Having been raised only in the stiffness of the code, I could never argue this point. It was all I knew, all I had, and I believed it without question."

"You had Qui-Gon," Anakin pointed out somewhat stubbornly. "He had the courage to love. Surely he showed you that."

Obi-Wan found himself snorting rudely at the memories of his old master's version of love. Much as he had loved the man like his own father, Qui-Gon was simply too jaded by his past with Xanatos to ever warm up to the personality he had before the betrayal. The way in which Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had been pushed together hadn't helped anything, either. Nor had the betrayal on Melida/Daan. Nor had dozens of other moments wherein the two headstrong men had battled each other's ideas with equally rational logic to no avail over the years of the apprenticeship.

Anakin, though… Well, in one day, Qui-Gon had warmed up to the boy in a way he never had to Obi-Wan in their twelve years of companionship. To say it hadn't stung would be a complete lie, but Obi-Wan didn't want to tell Anakin such a thing and get the younger man's tunic in a tumble.

"What's funny about this?" Anakin demanded, once again indignant.

"Nothing at all," was Obi-Wan's slightly bitter response.

Force, he thought he had overcome that after all these years. But no, he had just pushed it away because it interfered with his duties to the Order. Always his duties to the Order.

"Then what was the point?" Oh, Anakin was getting impatient now. Time's up, old man, Obi-Wan couldn't help thinking.

"Shall I tell you how I became the padawan of Qui-Gon Jinn, Anakin?"

Finally, Obi-Wan lifted his head to meet the sandy-haired knight's gaze head-on. Curiosity and a healthy dose of suspicion warred on his young yet rugged face, but it was plain which would win out over the other. Anakin was like a cat – only with nine hundred lives, if his damnable curiosity was any indication.

"You never seemed all that keen to tell me anything before," Anakin obstinately objected.

Always unwilling to give in too easily, that boy. Obi-Wan had to tamp down a sad smile at the thought. Because Anakin was certainly not a boy anymore.

"I wasn't." Obi-Wan left it at that, deciding that simple honesty was the only way he would get through to Anakin Skywalker anymore. If that didn't work, he truly had failed as a master.

"Fine," Anakin frowned mildly, unhappy with this truth, but far too curious to let it impede here. "Let's hear it."

"My rooms, please?" Obi-Wan objected with some amount of forcefulness. "I would prefer this not to become common hall gossip when that group of Initiates passes by."

Glancing in the direction his former master indicated, Anakin indeed saw the group of young initiates heading their way. A gaggling group of girls, no less, Obi-Wan noted ironically.

Sighing in annoyance, Anakin nodded sharply at Obi-Wan, who quickly led the way to his quarters. Incidentally, the same quarters he had once shared with Qui-Gon. He never had the heart to move out after he'd settled in so long, and Anakin had been chomping at the bit to have a space of his own once he became a knight. Obi-Wan had decided long ago to let Anakin believe he didn't understand the real reason – a certain senator who knew a bit more about the Jedi Order than Obi-Wan thought normal whenever they chanced to meet and talk.

After realizing belatedly that Anakin needed some sort of emotional center, like Padmé, Obi-Wan dissuaded himself from reporting what he suspected to the Council. It reeked of betrayal, but between betrayal of his once-padawan and near-brother, and betrayal of the other masters, Obi-Wan knew where his loyalties ultimately lay. And he knew very well that Anakin's reaction would be fury enough to send him over the precarious edge of emotion he had been traveling since Shmi Skywalker's death a number of years prior.

Stepping into the apartment with his former padawan on his heels brought back a certain nostalgia to the rooms that Obi-Wan would have preferred to do without. Particularly when he was already on that path for several different reasons.

"Please, sit," he gestured at the chair nearest the door, which was far more recent than anything else in the room. The old chair, from Anakin's early padawan days, had been one surprising thing the new knight had taken to his new quarters on the opposite side of the residential floor. Remembering the pleasanter times he had spent talking with Anakin from that same chair, Obi-Wan felt bolstered by the idea that perhaps he had done something right a few times, if Anakin was so willing to take a memento.

Also eyeing the chair, Anakin seemed to hesitate, but rapidly sealed his own choice by swooping down into the newer chair.

"I'm going to need strong tea for this," Obi-Wan freely confessed, once more surprising his former padawan by his blunt honesty. "Would you like some?"

"I don't really favor tea," Anakin answered, and his eyes seemed to say you should know this already.

"Sorry," Obi-Wan sighed vaguely. "I don't have anything else at the moment. Water, of course, but…"

"I'm fine," Anakin shook his head, leaning back into the chair to concede his understanding that Obi-Wan had not forgotten his preferences. He simply had little else to offer a guest in his rooms.

Obi-Wan nodded once and moved into the kitchen to start the water boiling. While he waited, he tried valiantly to think of what precisely he should tell Anakin. Any number of things shot through his mind, all of them vaguely unpleasant at best. Some were downright sickening to the point of nausea, as far as Obi-Wan was concerned. It wasn't going to be easy, no matter what part he told, or how much of it, but some things were better left unsaid. Tahl's death and Qui-Gon's reaction, for instance…

Flinching violently at the disturbing memory of Qui-Gon nearly turning to the dark side in his rage, Obi-Wan gladly turned as the kettle whistled.

Yet as he stirred his mug of the strongest tea he had on hand, Obi-Wan wondered if perhaps he should reveal Qui-Gon's behavior after Tahl had died. Maybe Anakin needed to see that even though Jedi had loved before, it could turn on them in the most dreadful of ways. On the other hand, Obi-Wan had no wish to see what that reminder might make Anakin do in order to ensure Padmé did not face the same fate as Tahl.

Shivering at the vision of Anakin turning in rage as Qui-Gon had done, Obi-Wan shoved the thought away and forced himself to head back into the living space.

"You're very troubled, Master," Anakin bluntly pointed out, yet his voice was somehow soft. The use of the title 'master' warmed Obi-Wan enough to offer a dim smile to the concerned young man.

"I am indeed, Anakin," he sighed deeply, settling down on the chair opposite the younger man's own and holding the warm mug between his hands as thought he were freezing without it. "These are things I have never told anyone. Well, at least not the majority. I had honestly hoped never to find it necessary. Most of them are entirely unpleasant on the whole."

"Why are you telling me, then?" Anakin wondered, the indignant ring missing from his tone. There was only curiosity. That certainly surprised the Council Master.

"Because I know I have been as cold and aloof as my masters before me," Obi-Wan bluntly admitted in spite of his surprise. "Only now am I seeing just how much it has affected us both. I thought it was the only way, as I told you… Gods, I should have listened to Qui-Gon more!"

With that cursed proclamation out in the open, Obi-Wan dropped his head depressingly against the back of his chair with an awkward thump. Silence reigned for a full minute before Anakin's voice entered his former master's ears.

"I don't want you to tell me if it will only hurt you," the young man said with startling compassion. "As much as I would like to understand you, I don't believe that hurting yourself is the way to go about it."

Smiling wryly, Obi-Wan replied, "I appreciate your sentiments, Anakin, but I'm afraid they only hurt so much because I was unwilling to face them for so long. Rather like the way I handled Qui-Gon's death, I fear."

"I can understand that," Anakin added quietly, eyes keen on Obi-Wan, who shifted uncomfortably beneath the unseen weight. "Are you sure you need to do this?"

"I know it seems completely the opposite right now," Obi-Wan half laughed, the sound self-deprecating even to his own ears. "But I really do feel a need to do this, Anakin."

"Then I'll listen," the young man promised sincerely.

"Thank you," Obi-Wan murmured gratefully, finally lifting his head from the chair back and righting his posture, tea in hand. "I suppose I should start by informing you that I was not the first padawan that Qui-Gon taught. He had two others."

"Three padawans?" Anakin concluded in shock. "And he was planning to take me on as well, after you were knighted?"

"It's not that bad," Obi-Wan shrugged. "I've read accounts in the archives of masters who took on three padawans, all who went on to become successful knights. As for taking on a fourth, Qui-Gon really had to take you on in that situation, if he really wanted you to be taught the ways of the Jedi. No one else had his faith in the prophecy… nor, indeed, in a nine-year-old boy with no prior training. Many still don't, as you well know."

Anakin seemed a little peeved by that, but merely nodded.

"At any rate," Obi-Wan pressed forward, "Qui-Gon's first padawan went on to be a successful knight with a padawan of their own. His next apprentice… was named Xanatos."

From the change in Obi-Wan's voice alone – not to mention his posture, expression, and emotions – it was easy to tell this was where the shift in the tale began. Anakin leaned forward mindlessly, engrossed in the room's tense, moody atmosphere.

"He was a man of charisma," Obi-Wan recalled. "Handsome, witty, clever, and extremely talented, and ready to follow his own path… Qui-Gon cherished his second apprentice very much."

Obi-Wan tried very hard not to let his bitterness on that point show through to Anakin, but they had not become the best team in the galaxy for no reason. Anakin said nothing, but a frown crossed his face.

"And now we come to me," Obi-Wan continued, plowing ahead blindly and ignoring the fact that he so blandly referred to himself as though he were unimportant. Anakin did not ignore it, and frowned again. "In the typical life of a child raised in the temple, there comes a time when they must be chosen by a master. If they are not chosen, they are sent to Bandomeer, where they essentially become farmers with force sensitivity to guide their planting. Every child in the temple works hard to impress during the preceding years, but there are always some who do not get chosen."

"Why not?" Anakin asked indignantly. "They trained just as hard. They deserve a chance."

"The Force guides Masters and Padawans together, Anakin," Obi-Wan pointed out. "Some are just not meant to be Jedi Knights, as the Force dictates."

"How old do the children have to be before they're carted off like wasted produce?" Anakin spat out. The young knight could hardly know how much his remark stung, but Obi-Wan said nothing of it.

"Thirteen," he answered instead, unable to look at his former padawan as he thought of that moment when he watched his own sought-after future disappear entirely. "The age when everything you hoped for comes to fruition… or slips from your grasp like the air you breathe. Up until that age, you spend your days honing 'saber skills, eating the healthiest foods, studying as often as possible… I even went out of my way to bow to every master I saw coming in the hallway, hoping to show my great respect and humility…"

The Council Master could not withhold a dejected snort. "Fat lot of good it did me."

Anakin jumped at this reaction, confusion clear in his features.

"You didn't really think your master was given the life of a Jedi on a silver platter, did you?" the master bitterly inquired, not requiring an answer. Obi-Wan had known of Anakin's constant jealousy of his well-respected presence in the temple. And of Anakin's frustration that everything seemed to come so easy to his master.

"What are you talking about?" Anakin asked, obviously discomfited in the extreme.

"I was nearly thirteen years old when I realized where my dreams were headed," Obi-Wan murmured, mind light-years in the past and his eyes distant. "The only master left to take on a padawan was the one master who didn't want another one. He looked at me like a piece of dirt beneath his boot when I tried to impress him in the initiate duels. Of course Bruck Chun had to step on my toes, get my hackles up…"

"Who's Bruck Chun?" Anakin wondered, beginning to get a bad feeling about these memories. He also wondered who this condescending master was that looked down on Obi-Wan. If the master was still living, Anakin was definitely going to give him a piece of his mind.

Obi-Wan startled at the question, seeming to blink away the distance in his eyes and refocus on the present. "Bruck Chun was an initiate around my age who hated the very breath I inhaled."

Blinking in astonishment, Anakin shook his head as if to clear it. Surely he had not just heard Obi-Wan Kenobi say that someone hated him? Condescension was one thing, but hate?

"Oh, yes, Anakin, you heard me properly," Obi-Wan assured him in a grimly satisfied tone. He had not missed the expression on the younger man's face. "Bruck Chun hated me. My naïve little brain could not comprehend that someone in the Jedi temple would ever show me hatred. But after living most of my first thirteen years with Bruck's taunting, I learned very differently. Bruck was a unique creature who pointed out every flaw in my life with great relish. From the fact that I was too small for my age, down to the fact that no master wanted me as their apprentice by the time I reached that oh-so-essential age."

Anakin sat still and silent as one of the temple's most beloved and adored Jedi spat out the truth of his unhappy beginnings in the Order. He simply could not find any words to speak, even if the elder of the two had given him a chance.

"The moment that initiate duel ended, I knew I was washed up," Obi-Wan kept speaking, eyes now riveted to the carpet beneath his feet. "Bruck knew it, too, and he gloated like the magistrate on high, sending the accused to the abyss for life… The moment I walked onto that ship to Bandomeer, some part of me began to die. Because I let my old aggressor take advantage of my nerves and fears, let him goad me into anger, I lost my chance. I knew I had lost everything I worked for. It ate away at me every second on that ship."

Anakin swallowed with great difficulty at the pain in his former master's voice. There was no denying his words were the truth. The set of his mouth, the chill in his eyes, his severe brows, and the clench of his jaw spoke to his honesty. Anakin had just never considered that the seemingly perfect Obi-Wan Kenobi had such a troubled youth.

And he had nearly ended up farming, for Force's sake! Respected general in the Republic's vast army, brilliant strategist, spectacular 'saber fighter, revered Jedi who had destroyed a Sith while still a padawan learner, Jedi Master, member of the Jedi High Council, and the man who had trained the fabled Chosen One to the rank of Jedi Knight and also member of the Council. And that same man, that glorified Jedi who so inspired the masses, had nearly ended up dusting crops like some slave boy. It was like imagining Padmé as a kitchen servant or Qui-Gon as a street beggar. The image was impossible to fathom. His dignified master, so respectable and honorable and… good… did not deserve to ever be left for waste on some Force-forsaken planet. The thought hurt Anakin to an extreme degree he had never felt before.

"How did you ever become a Jedi?" Anakin quietly asked, afraid to upset the man further, but gripped with the need to find out what happened to his neglected master.

"Qui-Gon Jinn was on his way to Bandomeer, too." Obi-Wan laughed, and some sense of incredulity entered his voice. "It had to be the Force, egging us on together. How else could the man who refused me as his apprentice suddenly be pushed into a situation where he saw what I might be capable of?"

Horrified at the realization of who the condescending master had been, Anakin slumped back into his chair. That was not what he expected to hear.

"Qui-Gon and I had to work together after our ship was attacked," Obi-Wan explained rapidly, wanting to get through this as fast as he could. The emotions involved were just killing him. "He saw some of my potential and we were able to continue to Bandomeer. But while there, we found something that… clearly devastated him."

At Anakin's blank look, Obi-Wan finally returned to the one person that had destroyed Qui-Gon's real warmth for years afterward. "Xanatos was there, on Bandomeer. And he had turned to the dark side of the force."

A sharp inhale was Anakin's first reaction, followed swiftly by a vehement exclamation, "He cherished that traitor?"

"Not his dark incarnation, no," Obi-Wan admitted rather dryly. "But he had cherished Xanatos before the shadowed young man left to follow his biological father into a greedy den of villainy."

"He knew his real father?" Anakin raised a brow.

"It was unusual, I grant you," Obi-Wan added. "But Xanatos always thought he deserved more than what he had. And when he realized who his father was and what he had to offer… For Xanatos, it was not a hard choice."

"So he turned on Qui-Gon instead? How sweet," Anakin remarked sarcastically.

Obi-Wan snorted at that. "Yes, well… As it happened, I helped Qui-Gon to win that battle, although Xanatos escaped. And after that mission, I became the padawan of the infamous Master Jinn."

"He boots you like yesterday's trash and then asks you for help?" Anakin couldn't help saying, although he regretted making Obi-Wan flinch. "Sorry, Master, but it's just frustrating to hear you kicked around by someone I thought I could respect."

"I think you'll find I was the one kicking him around after my next tale," Obi-Wan quietly countered. "For on Melida/Daan, I chose to abandon my master and my life as a Jedi, in order to help a group called the Young in their efforts to restore peace between the Melida and the Daan."

"You left!" Anakin half-shouted, gaping. "After all that, and probably other missions afterwards, you just… just gave it up? Why?"

"I thought Qui-Gon was being too hard-handed about them." Obi-Wan sighed dejectedly. "And I thought he was stopping me from helping where help was needed. We parted on very tense, bitter terms. To make things worse, when the Young finally succeeded in creating a truce, they began fighting amongst themselves. My dear friend, Cerasi, was killed by stray blaster fire during that fighting."

This pain still held onto Obi-Wan with a death grip, for he had never been able to forget Cerasi's loss completely. "I hated myself for it. And I knew I had to get help if the fighting was to stop."

"You contacted Qui-Gon," Anakin predicted, knowing that he would have done the same in such a situation, no matter how it rankled his pride.

"And he came," Obi-Wan nodded slowly. "Peace was achieved and we returned to the temple… But I was no longer his padawan learner. And in the midst of that – as if it were not enough – Xanatos returned. He attempted to kill Master Yoda and destroy the temple. We saved the day... Qui-Gon eventually faced Xanatos, who fell into an acid pool and died there. And I… I killed Bruck Chun in order to defend Bant Eerin."

Anakin froze. "Bruck turned, too?"

"Near enough," Obi-Wan uttered thickly, helpless to stop the tears that dripped from his eyes. "I didn't mean to kill him, but he turned in such a way when I jabbed my 'saber… And then he was dead."

At any other time, Anakin might have felt satisfaction that the bully was dead and not the victim, but the emotions quivering around Obi-Wan were anything but satisfied. He had not wanted the other boy to die. And especially not at his own hand. Obi-Wan's regard for all life, no matter its dirtiness, was something Anakin at once admired and struggled with.

"After that, Qui-Gon took me back as his padawan," Obi-Wan finished with a quavering voice, pushing his head into his hands. "And it remained that way until he…"

The elder of the two men could not continue. Something pained him still, Anakin could tell. Yet something more was at work than Obi-Wan's dislike of killing Bruck Chun. There was a deeper issue that sent Anakin's former master to bury his face in his hands. The younger man had a rather shrewd, unhappy guess as to what it was…

Qui-Gon had cherished Xanatos while the light still held sway in him, and Anakin had always known he was cherished by the tall Jedi who freed him from slavery. The affection had been blindingly obvious. And Obi-Wan?

"Qui-Gon never… cherished you, did he?" Anakin stated in a soft voice.

Obi-Wan's only answer was to bow his head lower.

Anakin had greatly respected Qui-Gon Jinn, well unto his adulthood. Idolized him, even. Put him on pedestal no one else could ever reach, let alone match or outgrow. Most days, he had wished Obi-Wan were more like him. Warm, friendly, wise, generous, a maverick… a truly good man. He had thought Obi-Wan less of a man, and less of a Jedi, than Qui-Gon because he lacked that warmth and vitality.

But now?

It seemed like warmth and friendliness were things Qui-Gon Jinn had selectively employed with certain people, Anakin being one of them.

Obi-Wan had not been so lucky.

Did truly wise, warm, and generous men leave one boy out to dry in order to cherish another in his stead? Did a truly good man leave a boy he had practically raised, in order to take up another boy with more urgency than the first boy had ever been given? Anakin couldn't even spare a second to doubt his answer.

No.

The definition of a truly good man now became something entirely different for Anakin. His entire world shifted on its axis to make way for a better description, an even more honest and faithful adaptation of the fairytale ideals his mother instilled in him as a small child.

A truly good man took what he was given and never complained, because he thought of others first. A truly good man took a child in without question or bitterness, because of a promise made as another man lay dying. A good man cried over the death of someone who had hated him. And a good man offered to tell painful tales to his former apprentice in order to help him understand something he had never taken the time to know.

A sincerely good man – wishing to help but not knowing how, wishing to be loved but not knowing why – had been sitting right in front of Anakin Skywalker all along.

He may as well have been blind all these years.

"Obi-Wan," Anakin pressed calmly, but sadly, rising only to lower himself onto his knees beside his bedraggled, unloved master. A man who had no idea what love truly felt like because no one had ever really given it to him.

Obi-Wan reluctantly and slowly lifted his head to meet Anakin's steady blue gaze with his own changeable cerulean. For once in his life, Anakin felt like the adult in one of his relationships, the mature one. The only reason being that he knew love, where Obi-Wan could barely comprehend the emotion on a tangible level.

Seeing he had the other man's teary gaze, Anakin started to say what was on his mind with a strange sense of rightness he could not fully explain. Yet he suspected the Force was at work.

"The code has a purpose, and I understand that now. But you and I have a bond that neither of us can undo. Not just as a master and padawan, but as friends, as brothers. Even as father and son. I don't know how you've become a man with such a willing heart, but given your sterile background, it's an amazing feat that I admire, now that I know the truth. I wish Qui-Gon had realized what he had sitting, walking, talking, breathing, working with him all those years. He would have been amazed by the wonderful person that loved him so much, even when he didn't offer that love in return. I'm proud you have been my master, Obi-Wan. I love my brother… no matter how anal-retentive he can be about dust and dirt."

Startled by the strange end of that speech, Obi-Wan soon found himself laughing in spite of his tears. Anakin suddenly grinned like the little boy he had once been; that friendly, generous boy who had offered up his own safety and well-being to help strangers. He had never offered a thought to a reward when he raced his pod against Sebulba. The boy had simply given of himself.

"Anakin," Obi-Wan finally responded hoarsely, choked up by the generosity that still led this young man. But he could find no more words, slightly embarrassed to find more tears coursing down his cheeks than before. "Sorry… sorry…"

"Don't be," Anakin reassured him kindly, reaching up with both arms to grip the older man's shoulders tightly. "Just stop thinking like a droid and reach out to someone, okay?"

Strangely, the young man recalled the most wonderful words he could say just then, and they came from someone who had loved with all of their heart. His mother.

"That's what love is," he whispered tearfully, swallowing against the grief and guilt that threatened to consume him. "It's when someone reaches out… and someone else takes their hand without thought of selfish gain."

For the first time since his mother's death, Anakin felt as though he could truly let her go. Her words spoke to him from beyond death, telling him that he had to remain true to that knowledge if he was ever to become the Jedi he needed to be.

Now the young Knight realized how much he still had to learn. Obi-Wan was quite correct on that starship.

Anakin was not ready to be a Jedi Master yet. The Force knew this and so did the Council. So did Obi-Wan, although he had been trying to dance around that fact in favor of appeasing his friend and former padawan. Ashamedly, Anakin recognized that his anger would indeed have been fierce before this moment. It was different now. He thanked the Force for that.

"Thank you," Obi-Wan whispered in return, bringing Anakin's thoughts back to the present.

Taking a great leap of faith in his renewed compassion and his master's newfound courage, Anakin reached forward to pull his old master into a tight embrace. Obi-Wan stiffened, so unused to affection of almost any sort, but Anakin only held him a little tighter and reopened their old training bond so he could pass as much of his love, trust, and affection to the other man as possible. This was his friend, brother, and father. And he needed to be shown love by someone who could remember what it felt like.

With a sudden sob at the influx of emotion, Obi-Wan set his untouched tea aside and slid down onto the floor beside his former padawan, gripping the younger man around the middle with bruising force. Anakin took it in stride, had even expected something like that to happen, and allowed his own tears to join those of his brother.

It took a long time to ease the shock of the emotions rolling through them both, but at long last Obi-Wan pulled carefully away, swiping his face and beard of tears ruefully. "There goes my old façade swooping out the window."

"Let it fly," Anakin remarked boldly, smiling warmly as he sat back on his heels. "Not that the old you wasn't spectacular in his own right, but I like the new you better."

Obi-Wan smirked wryly. "Glad to know you approve. Shall I start singing love ballads in the hallways, as well?"

"Maybe I like the old you, after all," Anakin mocked a grimace. "At least he didn't decide to torture unsuspecting hallway denizens with his vocal chords."

"Excuse me?" Obi-Wan retorted indignantly. "As I recall, it was you who deluded himself into believing he was a songbird at four in the morning on a mission in a kriffing swamp!"

Anakin really did grimace at that, in fact he downright shuddered at the memory. "I thought that remained off-the-record?"

"I'm not a reporter," Obi-Wan countered with a quick grin. "I'm the emotionally-stunted father and brother mixture, remember?"

"Don't call yourself that," Anakin argued firmly of a sudden. "You just need a helping hand to understand for a little while. And if I know you as well as I think I do, you'll suddenly have it down-pat and perfect when I least expect it."

Obi-Wan shrugged nonchalantly, sending Anakin's eyes rolling.

"Humble to the last," he sighed resignedly at his former master.

Something came to mind quite out of the blue then; something he had never thought he could talk to his master about. The Force was practically shoving him in that direction now, though. Perhaps it was time he admitted a great disservice he had done Obi-Wan.

"Master," Anakin sighed a second time, accepting the inevitable upset he was going to cause. "I need to be honest with you, now."

"Anakin," Obi-Wan interrupted with a somewhat wry, understanding expression which completely confused the younger man. "If this is about you and Padmé…"

Anakin froze. Oh, but why under the stars hadn't he realized? Obi-Wan Kenobi had been his master for quite some time and surely he had met with Padmé before. The two had become friends since the Naboo crisis, after all. Putting two and two together would not really be difficult if one was knowledgeable of both Anakin and Padmé like Obi-Wan was sure to be.

Wincing at his many deceptions and foolish assumptions, Anakin responded, "I should have known you better than that… I'm sorry, Obi-Wan. I shouldn't have lied to you so long."

"I can understand why you did, however," the elder of the two sighed. "Until this moment, you thought I was not proud of you and never truly cared about you. Not a trust-building aspect, is it?"

"I still shouldn't have been deceiving you like that," Anakin stubbornly refuted. "And unfortunately I have another deception to admit to."

"Another?" Obi-Wan raised both eyebrows in surprise. "I admit, I was not aware of another deception, outside of your having a relationship with Padmé."

"Ah… okay," Anakin cringed more strongly. So the precise progression of their relationship had not been entirely clear to Obi-Wan… Stars above, this was hard. "I guess this means there are two deceptions more."

Obi-Wan stared at him blankly, plainly begging for an explanation.

"Shortly after Geonosis," Anakin went on, taking a deep breath to steel himself, "…Padmé and I were married on Naboo."

Obi-Wan barely started at this information. It was not as surprising as it could have been, considering he had actually rather hoped they fulfilled their relationship in a purer form, if they had to fulfill it at all. "I can handle that. What's the other one?"

Swallowing with great difficulty past the lump in his throat, Anakin quietly answered, "Padmé is pregnant."

At that, Obi-Wan gasped out loud, jaw hanging a little. Anakin had not at all underestimated the reaction to this news.

"What… when… How are you going to hide that from the Council?" Obi-Wan finally settled on, incredulity in his expression and his tone.

Anakin raised a brow with equal incredulity. "Are you encouraging this?"

"As the child is already on its way, I see no chance of discouraging it," Obi-Wan remarked sarcastically. "This is not going to be simple or easy. Rumors are going to fly about Padmé, you know. In the Senate, on Naboo, and just about anywhere her name is well known. Even here, in the temple, she will become an item of gossip. And you will just have to grin and bear it, Anakin, no matter what they say about her. Otherwise, everyone is going to realize who the father is. And believe me, the moment the Council got word of this, you would be ejected from the Order for the most flagrant disrespect of the code that has ever been heard of."

Anakin grew steadily more dejected and somber the more he heard. He had been incredibly stupid. So careless and thoughtless, both he and Padmé. Yet there was nothing to be done now, was there? Either he was revealed or he wasn't.

"I pray that doesn't happen," Obi-Wan added more softly, brows furrowed. "We have to be extremely careful how we react… And you need to keep that kriffing temper in line!"

The last line was barked out roughly, leaving Anakin gulping slightly. His temper was one problem he would need lots of help on, that was for certain, but something else now gnawed at his mind frantically.

His dreams… Oh, no, his dreams! If Padmé died, who cared what happened with the Order! He could not handle losing her as he had lost his mother. It was too terrible to imagine.

"Anakin?" Obi-Wan inquired worriedly, hesitantly reaching out to place a hand on the younger man's shoulder. "What is it? What's wrong?"

Seeing Obi-Wan with new eyes did not immediately cure Anakin of the need for secrecy. He tried to argue himself out of explaining his dreams, what with how his master had always waved them off before… But Obi-Wan had changed, something which Anakin could instinctively feel. He had to tell him, he decided. Who better to tell than his brother? His father? Chancellor Palpatine was only a friend, not family. Family came first.

"I… I know you say that dreams and visions are subjective and liable to change," he began to say, biting his lip anxiously. "But lately… I've been having visions of… Padmé dying in childbirth. They're always the same. Like it's so set in stone that it can't be fixed."

"No matter how strong or consistent, a dream is still just that," Obi-Wan cautiously replied, thinking very carefully about his word choice. "But I have a question, Anakin… What do you know about childbirth? Personally, I mean?"

"I… um…" Anakin tried to think of anything he knew, but he was coming up blank. Admittedly, he was completely uninformed.

"Yes, I rather thought you didn't know much about it," Obi-Wan chuckled a bit grimly. "But let me tell you this… If a woman dies in childbirth these days, it's not because of the birth itself. Some outside force influences that death. Not much, save extreme emotional trauma, could make a death happen in childbirth. It's a proven medical fact. Can you think of anything that has caused Padmé extreme emotional trauma lately? Or might?"

Anakin wracked his brain for anything, but came up with only the war and Chancellor Palpatine's emergency powers. But none of that made sense. Padmé had been worried about it all, but never to the level of trauma.

"I just can't think of anything," he murmured, still pushing himself to find anything that might cause his wife such distress as to lead to her death. Granted, Padmé had been quite disturbed by his visions… Surprised by this nudge from the Force, Anakin told his old master, "My visions. She isn't exactly traumatized by them, but they bother her more than anything she's dealt with lately. And she seems to become more disturbed by them every time they happen. Well… not the visions themselves, now that I think about it. More my reaction to the visions."

Acknowledging this fact with shock, Anakin landed a bit ungracefully on his backside. "She doesn't believe in the visions at all. Just that I'm reacting too strongly to them."

"That is rather telling," Obi-Wan nodded thoughtfully, eyes narrowed. "Anakin, I hate to say this… but I don't think they're actual visions you're having. Someone knew about you and Padmé, knew about the child. And I think that someone has been pushing false dreams on you."

More stunned than ever, Anakin snapped his head up to face the Jedi Master. "Only a Jedi could do that!"

"Or a Sith," Obi-Wan gravely countered, and the younger Jedi took a sharp breath. "Remember, Anakin, we never found out whether Darth Maul was the master or the apprentice."

"But Dooku!" Anakin argued in bewilderment. "Chancellor Palpatine said Dooku was the master."

"How would the chancellor know that?" Obi-Wan pulled back, startled.

"It must have been obvious," Anakin tried to explain, but found himself falling short. "He probably could just tell… He just knew."

"Only the Sith themselves would know who was master and apprentice," Obi-Wan shook his head. "I think Chancellor Palpatine was confused after his kidnapping and misconstrued the situation based on his fear that the Sith master would still come after him. Perhaps that's why he keeps holding onto his emergency powers, actually… he may be afraid that any less power and he'll be attacked. Why did I never think of that before?"

While Obi-Wan went on to describe his new idea in better detail, Anakin's brain slowly and steadily churned out an entirely different scenario. Obi-Wan's statements floated around in the younger man's mind, piece by random piece, mixing with memories that nearly made Anakin ill.

Chancellor Palpatine was holding onto his powers… he was afraid to have less power… Power.

"I love her so much, but I feel terrible. I'm not even supposed to feel this way, not supposed to have an attachment. The code—"

"My dear boy, you shouldn't let archaic rules stop love from flourishing! Love is powerful. Emotions are powerful. Power is not wrong when it is used to make the world a better place, Anakin. You must remember that."

How would the chancellor know… he just knew…

"Chancellor, I'm sorry to bother you like this, but I needed to tell someone the good news. Padmé and I were married on Naboo…"

Someone knew about him and Padmé… knew about the child…

"When we returned to Coruscant, Padmé gave me some unexpected news. I knew you'd be disappointed if I didn't tell you… We're going to have baby."

"Congratulations, my boy! You'll make an excellent father, I know it. Just keep an eye out for Padmé, she isn't exactly at full health right now. What with the stress of the war, and you being such a well-know protector of the Republic, and the secrecy of your relationship… Well, just keep an eye on her health, as I've said."

Only the Sith would know… Only the Sith would know… No, no, no! It couldn't be! It was impossible!

The Chancellor was his friend, his ally. He had entrusted so much to him… Anakin tried desperately to argue with his own common sense as the idea filled his thoughts, but he knew the trust he had formed was the reason it was so painful to believe.

All those years – all those long, long years – he had been pouring his every joy, every pain, every thought, every dream, every complaint… to a Sith Lord!

"Anakin!"

Jumping at the sudden shout, the young Jedi Knight turned to face the one person he had been convinced was holding him back in his Jedi career. Convinced because of Chancellor Palpatine. Grew to mistrust this man… because of Palpatine. Because of a Sith, he had let his ambition and selfishness turn him almost completely against his own master; a good man who would sooner cut off his own arm than turn against his brother and friend.

"Anakin, come on!" Obi-Wan shook him worriedly, eyes tense with his deep concern. "What's wrong now? You're pale as a ghost!"

"Palpatine," he murmured, shivering suddenly.

"At least you know what I've been talking about," Obi-Wan commented dryly, though worry still blistered his tone. It was unlike Anakin to not respectfully use Palpatine's title. "I'll inform the Council of the Chancellor's situation and that we should dispense with the spying venture. I thought you'd like to talk with the chancellor, since you're friends, and explain that he needn't continued with his powers out of fear. We will be giving him adequate protection against the Sith. The Council will undoubtedly agree."

Anakin snorted suddenly, loudly, disbelief coloring his face and voice. "Protection? Protect Palpatine from the Sith?"

"Yes, of course, Anakin," Obi-Wan leaned back from his former padawan's upset. Something wasn't right. "I thought you'd be pleased? He is your friend, after all."

"He is not my friend!" Anakin growled, fists clenched. "He is the Sith Lord!"

Silence stretched out endlessly between the two Jedi as the statement hung in the air. Obi-Wan gaped at the younger man, stunned.

"He knew about my love for Padmé," Anakin went on to explain. He had not laid any proof out yet. "He knew I married her, I told him about our child, I told him about how much stress Padmé was under as a Senator, as my wife, as a soon-to-be mother… Gods, I told him everything, Obi-Wan! He heard every wayward sliver of hatred I felt after my mother's death. And I told him how much I felt held back. How I wished you were more like… like Qui-Gon."

Obi-Wan flinched violently at this admission, stung that Anakin had truly felt that way.

"I don't wish that anymore!" Anakin gruffly told him, gripping the older Jedi's shoulders for emphasis. "I don't want a master who picks and chooses who deserves his love. I'm proud that I've had a fair, honest master who didn't take out his own troubles on me. Even when I probably deserved it."

"Anakin, you can't be serious about Palpatine," was all that would escape Obi-Wan's lips. Denial was obviously trying to work its way through him, too.

Shaking his head, Anakin shuddered furiously over his own stupidity. "It is him. I know it. He's been slowly trying to turn me against the Jedi, against you, against everything I've been fighting for. He… he even convinced me to kill Dooku."

"What!" Obi-Wan yelped. "But he was fighting you, you had to defend yourself…"

But Anakin was already shaking his head again, dread on his rugged features. "I had him at bay. And Palpatine said I should kill him. For losing my hand, I should take vengeance… And I did."

The last was whispered torturously, tears filling the young Jedi's eyes as he recalled his inner struggle over the life of a man he had already subdued. Obi-Wan would never have killed Dooku in that situation. Just like he had despaired over Bruck Chun's death, even years later, Obi-Wan would have despaired of death. He would have killed only to protect innocents from further suffering under Dooku's hands. Not from vengeance.

To the Knight's utter surprise, he found himself drawn into an embrace not dissimilar to what he had given earlier. Obi-Wan spoke firmly into his ear, "You must let it go, Anakin. Feel it, understand it, accept it, and let it go. We must always move forward. The past is done and over. Now we must work to fix our mistakes. We will both go before the rest of the Council and explain Palpatine's true allegiance. And we will remain silent about Padmé and the baby. If Palpatine tries to tell the rest of the Council about them, I will explain his manipulative tendencies. No one is going to trust a Sith over us. Now come. I have feeling we should hurry. Palpatine may already have felt the shift in the Force."

Anakin nodded numbly against his true mentor's shoulder, rising in synchrony with him and walking side-by-side in the halls to the Council chambers.

Stopping just short of the closed doors of the chamber, the younger Jedi turned to face his confused mentor with purpose.

"Before the world as we know it changes drastically," Anakin said quietly, "I want you to know that I trust you. You're a good man, Obi-Wan. I hope we can share more years together once this war is ended. Because I don't think I could handle it without my best friend."

Obi-Wan swallowed thickly, his response only a grateful hand on Anakin's shoulder before they stepped into the Council chambers, and into the beginning of a new era.


-The End-