He had failed her for the last time, and now she was gone for good.
Some horrific maelstrom of gravity swirled inside of him, heavy and thick and threatening to drown him as Anakin Skywalker clutched at the crystalline beads in his hands and stared out into the Coruscanti skyline, knowing full well that she was far beyond his vision and his help.
It wasn’t death, but it damn well might have been for all the good he’d ever be able to do her from this point, and he squeezed tighter, digging the hard edges into his still-human hand until the skin broke.
He didn’t have to worry about hiding these things through the bond that connected them, because Ahsoka Tano had closed that off so effectively that the only thing he could tell was simply that she was alive at the other end of it. Some small grace.
She needs time to grieve too, you know the logical voice in his head, the one that usually sounded like Obi-Wan, said.
Anakin dug the edge of the bead into his hand until he felt blood well up.
The night cycle of Coruscant was beginning. He needed to go back inside. The war wouldn’t stop for his grief. It never did. Padmé was on a diplomatic mission. There would be no going to her.
Maybe he would just stand here forever, until he turned into a statue himself and never had to face the world again, until the Force consumed him with all the emotions that he was never supposed to feel, until the Council realized that she was ten times the Jedi he’d ever be, until, until--
A hand on his back.
For once, Obi-Wan Kenobi did not try to calm Anakin down, and somehow, that made it worse. Anakin rubbed at his eyes angrily, hating--everything. The war. The council. Tarkin. Barriss. Himself. Everything.
Obi-Wan had always been a source of peace for him, his Force signature less like the storm of Anakin’s own and more like the gentle warmth of a sunrise after a long night, and Anakin reached through the bond for that small scrap of comfort--
Obi-Wan was mad too.
Anakin jerked a little, looking over at his old master. Ahsoka might not have been Obi-Wan’s padawan, but there was no denying that Obi-Wan hadn’t stepped in to help him any time Anakin asked. Ahsoka had clearly been just as fond as Obi-Wan as Anakin was of his old master. He just had that way with everyone. No wonder they called him the negotiator.
But today, there was a certain hardness to his edges, a haggard tiredness that Anakin knew he usually tried to conceal from the world, and Obi-Wan might have sat on that council and Anakin might have wanted to blame him for that, but there wasn’t a single star system that Obi-Wan wouldn’t have gone to if it meant saving either him or Ahsoka.
“What now, Master?” Anakin said, hating how weak his voice sounded, hating how helpless he still was even now, even after everything.
“We rest,” Obi-Wan said quietly, turning Anakin around and steering him back to the temple.
At nine years old, Anakin Skywalker was definitely well aware that, weird hair braid or not, he was an outsider at the Jedi Temple and was definitely not yet “one” of the other kids.
He missed his friends on Tatooine--even when they were mean, at least there was a certain camaraderie that came from all of them being enslaved together. Here, where all the Jedi had lived from the time they were infants, everyone knew each other...and they didn’t know Anakin.
He had hoped that he’d blend in a little more once he became an official padawan. A nice older Jedi had handed him a bundle of tunics that looked like the ones that Master Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan wore. There had been some sort of ceremony thing where Obi-Wan had officially taken him on as his padawan and had gently braided the longest strings of Anakin’s hair into a braid that had looked like the one that the council had just cut off of Obi-Wan himself. Anakin wanted to ask how they did the braid for beings that didn’t have hair, but Obi-Wan had looked pretty terrible after Master Qui-Gon’s death, and Anakin was still kind of afraid to ask questions.
Most of the younglings had lived together in the creche in the years before they were selected by a knight to become padawans, and Anakin knew some of them were mad that he’d never even had to wait to be picked. Instead, he and Obi-Wan had moved into a little apartment area together. It didn’t feel like home, but maybe it was because they were both new.
Obi-Wan had set up a schedule for the two of them to follow that kept most of their days pretty busy. Anakin figured that was probably because he probably missed a lot of lessons that he should have had as a kid, and was determined to memorize the schedule in order so that he wouldn’t disappoint Obi-Wan. One morning early on, he’d shown up with his lightsaber instead of the little pillow that Obi-Wan had given him to kneel on for meditation, and after that, Obi-Wan had added time to teach Anakin to read better as part of their training.
It was kind of embarrassing. He tried explaining to Obi-Wan that his mom had taught him his letters, but it wasn’t like there were a ton of books around and--
“You’re fine, Anakin,” Obi-Wan had said. Anakin didn’t always feel him in the Force the same way that he had with Master Qui-Gon--most of the time, it seemed like Obi-Wan was hiding in the Force. Anakin was too afraid to ask him how he did it for fear that he’d end up asking why. In that moment, though, there was a little opening, like a crack in a wall or a hole in the ceiling, and it was like the suns shining on him all over again.
But even after a month of being there, things still felt wrong with Obi-Wan, and Anakin was slowly starting to wonder if maybe he wasn’t the problem.
So he kept to himself whenever they weren’t training, and tried not to ask many questions, and made really good friends with a few of the droids and asked them for reading help when he couldn’t understand his assignments, and watched a lot of training videos in the library when Obi-Wan was busy.
But he didn’t have the same kinds of friends that everyone else had, not yet, and his mom wasn’t there to help him, and Master Qui-Gon had never explained what Jedis were supposed to do when they just felt lonely.
It was well into the night cycle and Anakin was still awake, thinking about that. Would Master Qui-Gon have felt so distant too? Was it part of the Jedi Code, the thing about no attachments? Was that why Obi-Wan would barely talk to him? No, that didn’t make sense. Anakin had watched Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon interact, and they had talked way more than this.
On Tatooine, he had been able to look outside his windows and see the stars. In this little room, though, there was no window, and no stars, and nine didn’t feel as old as it felt in the daytime when everything was okay, and Anakin pressed his hands to his eyes really hard to keep from crying.
It wasn’t like he was scared of the dark that was in his room. He was just tired of it, but he was supposed to be asleep and he didn’t want to break any more rules since even being here was apparently breaking so many Jedi rules.
Obi-Wan would be asleep right now. Surely he wouldn’t notice if Anakin reached for his light in the Force. His walls were always up, but maybe if he was asleep, he wouldn’t be blocking Anakin out--
So Anakin kept his eyes and fists clenched closed and took a shaky breath, reaching out in the Force for the gentle sunrise that was Obi-Wan--
Only to find a swirling darkness and panic far worse than his own, and Anakin Skywalker was on his feet in an instant, crossing the shared living area in a few steps and flinging Obi-Wan’s door open, heart racing in terror--
Obi-Wan looked like he had just jumped up himself and was sitting up, his hair messy. He’d been letting it get longer since he’d become a Jedi Knight, but it was in that weird in between stage where it always looked a little crazy, especially when he first woke up, and Anakin stopped in the doorway.
“It’s awfully late, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said, his voice hoarse. Was he sick? Was that why Anakin had felt that panic? He reached out with the Force again and was greeted with a barely-there wall trying to hide that storm he had felt. It was like throwing a sheet over a chair--it might make it hard to see the chair, but it definitely didn’t hide it.
“Master, I--” Anakin hesitated. How was he going to explain this? “I was up meditating.”
“Anakin, forgive me, but I highly doubt that,” Obi-Wan said with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. Anakin took a hesitant step closer, the door automatically closing behind him. Obi-Wan patted the bed beside him, and Anakin hopped up beside him, wondering when his feet would be long enough to reach the floor without dangling. “What’s going on?”
“It’s nothing,” Anakin lied, avoiding looking at him. His mom had always known he was lying by his eyes, and he rubbed at them again.
“You can tell me the truth, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said, resting his hand on Anakin’s shoulder. “You don’t have to hide things from me. What’s going on?”
“I miss my mom,” he whispered, and suddenly it was like turning an engine on, all the gears and motors running and sputtering at once. “I don’t have any friends here. What if I’m not any good at this? I’m the only one my age who has trouble reading. What if the Council makes me leave if I’m not good enough?”
“The Council isn’t sending you anywhere,” Obi-Wan said fiercely, and Anakin stared up at him. “And you’ve barely been here a few months, Anakin. I probably should have scheduled some training sessions with some of the other padawans. I didn’t even think about that,” he rubbed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose, and Anakin felt that sadness through the Force but pretended not to. “That’s my fault--”
“No, that’s not what I meant,” he shook his head. “I just…”
The real question hung unasked in the air.
What if you don’t want to be my Master anymore? What if I fail you?
And even though Anakin swore he wouldn’t ask it out loud, he knew that he’d somehow just asked it through the Force, because the look on Obi-Wan’s face completely changed.
“You will never, ever let me down, Anakin Skywalker,” Obi-Wan said firmly, putting both his hands on Anakin’s shoulders and turning him to look at him directly. “No matter what happens, I will never ever give up on you, you understand?”
“Yes, master,” he murmured, then hesitated. “Obi-Wan?”
“Why were you awake?” Anakin asked, his voice barely more than a whisper. He knew it was too much to ask, too personal, and yet--
Maybe Obi-Wan felt as alone as he did.
“It’s nothing,” Obi-Wan said, and Anakin couldn’t stop from snickering. “What?”
“You just told me not to lie!” He rolled his eyes, and Obi-Wan at least looked sheepish at that.
“Fair enough,” Obi-Wan said, then took a deep breath. “I...miss my master. And I’m worried that I won’t be a good enough replacement to train you the way that he could have.”
Anakin reached out with the Force again, and there it was, again, that storm of despair inside of Obi-Wan, but underneath it all, that light that Anakin had been searching for, and he didn’t really understand what he was going, but he reached for that light, trying to send Obi-Wan all the warmth of two suns blazing down after a freezing cold night with not enough blankets, trying to let him feel the stars out the window and the understanding that they would see them all--together--that it would somehow all be okay in the end, and when he met Obi-Wan’s eyes, he knew that Obi-Wan felt it, that he had done something right.
“May I?” Obi-Wan asked tentatively, reaching for Anakin, and he was so glad his friends weren’t there to see him because really, even though he never would have said it to anyone, he really, really missed hugs, and he launched himself at his master and friend, both of them clinging on to the other physically and through the strands of light flowing through the Force between them, Obi-Wan’s sunrise and Anakin’s blazing suns and starlight.
They fell asleep like that, sitting up and leaning against each other for support, master and apprentice, and even though Anakin’s arm was totally asleep when he woke up, he felt like he’d slept better than he had since arriving on Coruscant.
Gone. Gone. Gone.
Obi-Wan didn’t lead Anakin back to the apartment that was now one occupant less than it had been earlier that week, and Anakin tried not to think about all the things that were still there of hers--extra clothes, her toolkit, snacks that she liked to eat, every item a reminder of his failures--
He waited for Obi-Wan to try and tell him there was nothing he could do, because he had an entire rebuttal at the ready, but Obi-Wan didn’t push it, and instead lead him to his own apartment.
Obi-Wan’s keypad had been replaced after a short-circuit, so the password had changed since Anakin had lived here as a padawan, but Obi-Wan had told him what it was the day they’d installed the new doorknob. 1115. The day that Obi-Wan had braided Anakin’s hair and had officially became his Jedi master. Obi-Wan pressed it in and the door whssked open for them and Obi-Wan steered Anakin inside.
It honestly hadn’t changed much inside since he had lived here, but that wasn’t a surprise. Anakin and Ahsoka--gone, gone, gone--had come to visit frequently enough, and Ahsoka had gotten a huge kick out of all the drawings that Anakin had done as a child that Obi-Wan had kept magneted to the fridge, and her absence haunted him more than a ghost ever could have.
If she died, it would be his fault.
“Anakin,” Obi-Wan said sternly, and Anakin tried to breathe out, but his hands were still shaking, his blood coating the crystal braid that was his last real piece of his padawan. Obi-Wan reached out and unclenched Anakin’s fingers from around it, gently laying it aside as he inspected the tiny cut in Anakin’s hand. Obi-Wan was no healer--many childhood wounds and battlefield mishaps had made that abundantly clear to Anakin--but he still took a tissue and at least wiped away the blood. It had mostly clotted, leaving a scratch that wouldn’t turn into a physical scar to match the one on his heart.
“What do I do, Obi-Wan?” Anakin asked, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees, his face in his hands. Obi-Wan sat down on the couch beside him and rested an arm around his shoulders like he had done so many times when Anakin was a kid. “How could I have messed this up so much?”
“We can’t control everything, Anakin,” Obi-Wan sighed.
“Then what’s the point?” Anakin yelled, a few of the items on the table rattling with the Force, and Obi-Wan wrapped his arms around Anakin in a tight hug and let that sunrise warmth surround them as Anakin’s anger faded into tears. He hated feeling helpless, hated it--
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” Obi-Wan said against his hair, and Anakin buried his face in Obi-Wan’s shoulder. Teacher. Brother. Father. Friend. Everything was so mixed up and confused and he wasn’t even sure what they were supposed to be anymore now that Anakin wasn’t a padawan and didn’t have a padawan, but Obi-Wan was an anchor as always, a safe harbor in a storm, and like he was nine all over again, the two clung to each other, brothers in grief in the midst of attacks on all sides, and it wasn’t just Ahsoka, but Satine and his mother and Master Qui-Gon and the clones they’d lost, the battles that ended in retreat, so many of their friends.
They’d weather this storm together, like they always did, and so they both stayed that way until the hurricane subsided, and Obi-Wan let go as Anakin pulled away from him.
“I probably should go,” Anakin mumbled, but made no motion to follow through with it.
“You don’t have to,” Obi-Wan said, leaning back against the couch and closing his eyes, and Anakin mirrored his posture, propping his feet up on the little table, something Obi-Wan had always chastised him for when he was younger. Obi-Wan gave him an obvious side-eye, but then propped up his feet beside Anakin’s.
Somewhere, Anakin could feel Ahsoka, and he reached out through that bond hesitantly, feeling Obi-Wan on one side and Ahsoka at the far end. She didn’t let him in, but there was the tiniest of responses. Obi-Wan arched an eyebrow, and Anakin gave him a tiny nod, unsure of exactly what he was affirming but knowing that Obi-Wan would understand.
Obi-Wan stretched his arms out across the back of the couch, and Anakin barely hesitated before resting his head against his former master’s shoulder, Obi-Wan resting his head against his, and everything might have changed, but somehow, nothing had.