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Shadows in the Light

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            Anakin was… beautiful.   Shaggy locks of golden-brown hair that had the slightest curl to them… clear blue eyes that rivaled the depths of an ocean… full lips hid a smile that could light his face like clouds parting before the sun, though his smiles were rare these days as the war took its toll on us all..   I loved so much more than just his beauty.   He didn’t need a weapon to prove his point; his wit, sharp enough to cut all challengers to the size of Master Yoda, competed with the laser-precision of the light saber at his side.  Wise beyond his years, much due to his life of trauma, there not a circumstance existed he could not overcome.   He grew up a slave boy only to have his rescuer lose his life to the Sith and his mother perish in his arms…  the only woman he ever loved, assassinated by a phantom menace that the Jedi council discovered all too late had belonged to their order; a “retired” Count Dooku turned Sith who now lead the Separatist movement.   Anakin said he didn’t want revenge, as it was not the Jedi way, but upon hearing the name “Dooku”, his eyes burned with a dangerous fire.  Trauma can either cause us to grow or bring us to our knees.  Anakin always stood tall, too powerful to be destroyed.   I admired him as my mentor, respected him as a Jedi, and loved him in a way forbidden by the code we strived so hard to follow.   I kept that part to myself, though I suspected at times that he knew. 

            “Are you going to keep staring at that sunrise, or are we going to train?” Anakin’s wit was less endearing when directed at me.

            “Yes, we are, Master Anakin.”

            “I’ve told you; you don’t have to call me that.”

            “I know.” I smiled.   The corner of his mouth lifted slightly.

            “Let’s go.”

            We headed to a gorge out in the middle of nowhere.   Anakin wanted to train alone today, out of the sight of prying eyes.   For as often as he was eager to show off his skills, he had recently become even more eager to be out of sight, especially during our training sessions.   Some of his ideals were unorthodox and I suppose he didn’t want the Jedi council finding out that he actively passed them on to his padawan.   I too believed that the way of the Jedi could be stifling and counter-productive but, even though Anakin only had a few years on me, I lacked the experience and respect from the council to challenge it.   We entered the mouth of a ravine, tall walls closing in on us.   After walking for some time, Anakin leading, he turned to face me and the walked backward several feet away from me.   

            “I want you to try to kill me.”

            “Excuse me?”

            “I want you to come at me as though you were fighting for your life.”

            “Master, I cannot do this.” I frowned.

            “Then, padawan, you are not ready.” He hooked his lightsaber back onto his belt.

            “Wait.” I drew mine.  His reverse psychology always worked on me.  He nodded and readied his saber once again.

            Anakin came at me the way he did when running into battle.   I had seen this warrior’s charge hundreds of times during the course of the war, a magnificent scene to behold.  Now that I found myself on the receiving end of it, it terrified me.  It caught me off guard and when he swung at me, and I barely had time to block it.   Our sabers clashed loudly.   

            “I sense fear in you.” He towered over me with his lightsaber pressed against mine, forcing me downward.   “Fear is the path to the dark side.”

            I grunted and pushed my saber hard against his, giving us some space, and gracefully landed a backflip, showing my readiness.   He stood up straight and spun his lightsaber in his hand, toying with me.   I gathered myself as he charged at me again.   I rolled to the right at the last moment and tried to cut him from behind, but he blocked me.   In no universe could I best Anakin, but he knew this.   I let go of my fear of hurting him.   I didn’t think he would hurt me, but I didn’t find myself certain of that in this moment as I watched him pace menacingly, like an animal in a cage.   I sensed his power and it frightened me.   I composed myself and let go of that too. 

            Anakin spun his lightsaber again and a wave of anger surged like fire in my veins.  Sweat broke on my forehead and temples, and from the gleam in his eyes, I knew he saw it.  We both knew he had once more goaded me into breaking the Jedi code.   I didn’t care.   I was angry.  Angry that I looked like a fool.   Angry that I couldn’t love freely.   Angry that I could never speak my mind.  Angry that this war consistently taking so many of my friends.   Angry that my family died screaming at the bloodied hands of Separatists.   I yelled and charged at him.   I swung my saber hard in an unbridled way that I’d done so many times in combat, and as many times had been chastised by General Kenobi.   He blocked every hit, but I didn’t care about that either.   I became exhilarated as anger coursed through the fibers of my being and exited my body with every blow that landed on Anakin’s saber.   I spun in the air and landed a boot against his chest, sending him backward.   He landed on his feet, the slightest look of surprise on his face.   I yelled and ran toward him once more.   

            We fought like this for what seemed like an eternity.   I felt so powerful, untethered from my emotions, the Force surging through me to the enchanting tune of our sabers colliding.   I began to grow tired and my combat skills grew equally sloppy.   Anakin sent stars into my eyes as he knocked me in the head with an elbow that I didn’t see coming.   He swept his foot underneath mine and my back hit the ground, knocking the wind out of me.   A dirty trick, but a quick lesson.  Not everyone fights clean.  My vision cleared as I gasped for air, flat on my back.   Anakin stood over me, both beautiful and terrifying, his hair moving slightly in the cool breeze that made its way through the canyon walls.   The softness had returned to his eyes, I could see that even through the shadows of the ravine, but his lightsaber rested a few inches away from my throat.   He didn’t move.   

            “You’re dead, Zara.”

            “I’m sorry master, I failed you.” My words came out raspy as I tried to catch my breath. 

            “No, you did exactly what I wanted you to do.” He retracted his lightsaber. 

            “Die?” I sat up, placing my elbows on my knees and my hands on the back of my neck. 

            “You left yourself behind and fought with emotion, allowing the force to move you.” He still stood, looking down at me. 

            “But that is not the Jedi way.”

            “Exactly.” Anakin sat down next to me, looking off into the distance.  “There are many things about the Jedi way that should change.  Emotion does not lead to the dark side.  There is no reason to pretend like we don’t feel these things when we do.” He clenched his jaw.  “Fear? Of course we feel it.  It’s natural to have fear in a moment of life or death.  It’s natural to fear that a loved one might die.  It’s what we do with that fear that should matter.  We should channel it into strength.  And then there is anger…” Anakin looked at me, a fierceness in his eyes.  “Anger can be the driving force behind victory.”

            “Anger can also be the driving force behind defeat.” I lowered my eyes and stared at the dirt.

“You are wise, my friend.  It’s one of the many things I respect about you.  However,” he paused.  “You didn’t lose because of your anger.” Anakin lifted my chin and turned my face to his so that our eyes met, my heart racing.  “You lost because I am a better swordsman than you.” He lowered his hand from my face and smiled.  We maintained eye contact and I smiled too.   That smile never ceased to be infectious.   I cleared my throat. 

            “Thank you… Master Anakin.” He sighed and rolled his eyes a little.   I won’t pretend that I didn’t enjoy antagonizing him.  The Jedi council still refused to make him a master, but I respected him, and that so I continued to use the title despite his annoyance.   My mentor deserved that much from me.   I could feel that he appreciated it, even if he would never admit it. 

            “We better head back to the base.  I’m sure Obi-Wan is eager to discuss strategy for our next mission.  You can prepare for our departure; I’ll fill you in before we leave.”