He could hear the moans of the men in the field hospital beside him. The pre-fabricated walls were thin and flimsy, so every sound seemed to drift to him as clearly as if he lay in there with them. Some of the men were dying, a slow death that took an eternity. A few hovered in that no-man?s land between life and death, their spirits struggling to stay inside a shell of failing flesh. Some would recover eventually, though the pain they endured now might make death seem preferable.
Anakin closed his eyes, overcome by a sense of hopelessness. This war seemed to go on forever. It was difficult to remember a time when he had not been weary and heartsick, tired of the screams of the dying and the pleas of the wounded. Sometimes he felt he would give anything to rip the sound of their voices out of his head. They fed something ugly inside of him, something desperate and bitter.
Beside him, his Master slept with an enviable aura of tranquility about him. Even here, surrounded by death and pain, Obi-Wan slept the sleep of the righteous. His Master was not unaffected by the misery around him, but he was not haunted by it. He heard no dark voices hissing to him in the night, calling him to join them.
Unable to tolerate the inactivity any longer, Anakin surged to his feet. His restlessness was borne out of more than fear and fatigue. He longed to find solace in the arms of his wife. Only in her embrace, surrounded by her soothing warmth, could he find peace. When he loved her, he could forget that their happiness was a temporary thing and that their moments together were stolen bits of paradise. She kept the shadows at bay.
The sounds of the jungle were a soothing counterpart to the diminishing cries of the men. Some had given up the struggle and simply let go of life, and some were growing too weak to cry out. Anakin let the natural sounds seep into his consciousness, drown out the unnatural cries of the wounded and dying. He breathed in the warm presence of so much life in the Force, letting it push out all the death he had felt. Everywhere, life thrived, went on in spite of what was happening in this small, dark center.
?Anakin?? Obi-Wan asked softly as he walked through the tent flap and into the night air. ?What?s wrong?? As always, his voice was solicitous, but somewhat distant. Nothing broke though that cool exterior, not even war. Anakin was quite sure Obi-Wan would go to his death with that infuriatingly placid air about him. He envied him that ability as much as he hated it.
?Everything,? Anakin answered without thinking. That was not at all the answer he had meant to give. That was a dangerous answer, one that was likely to give rise to questions he could not answer, but the words had slipped from his lips before he could think about them.
Obi-Wan did not speak, merely came to stand at Anakin?s side, his tunics rumpled from sleep and his feet bare, but otherwise every centimeter the Jedi Master. Together, they looked out into the darkness that surrounded them. They heard the snarl of a predator, a feline by the sound of it, and then the screeching cries of whatever it had claimed for its meal. Anakin felt a strange urge to run out into the jungle and hunt, to savor the thrill of the kill, to revel in his dominion over another creature. It was a disquieting notion. Then the sounds of the hunt faded and he pushed the strange longing from him.
?Do you want to talk?? Obi-Wan?s voice was quiet, but it startled Anakin after the complete silence that had fallen over the jungle once the kill was over.
Wrapping his arms around himself, Anakin shrugged and shifted on his feet. ?I don?t even know what I?d say, Master.? More truth had spilled from him. It was a dangerous trend.
?Say what is in your heart.? For Obi-Wan, the answer was simple, as it always was, because nothing dark and dangerous lurked in his heart. There was nothing there to make him ashamed. His Padawan could not make the same claim.
Anakin looked up with a grim smile. ?My heart is dark and full of things I don?t understand, Master.? It was as honest as he had ever been, and a sense of terrifying freedom came over him. Would Obi-Wan sense the vulnerability of his answer? If he did sense it, then what would he do or say? Perhaps his Master would prove to be his salvation after all.
For a moment, Obi-Wan looked taken aback, and then he put his hand on Anakin?s shoulder. ?War is a terrible thing, Anakin,? he commiserated.
I am more terrible than any war! Impatiently, Anakin moved away, putting some distance between them and turning his back on Obi-Wan. ?I?m familiar with terrible things, Obi-Wan,? the young man said in a tight voice. Behind him, he sensed the almost automatic rebuke that sprang to Obi-Wan?s lips to remind him that he should call him ?Master?.? The words remained unspoken, though, and for that, Anakin felt unreasonably grateful.
?Yes, I know you are,? Obi-Wan replied at length. Anakin could almost imagine that Obi-Wan?s thoughts were back on Tatooine, where his Padawan had been a slave. He could not know that it was where his Padawan had lost his way as well. Fallen so very far? Even now it seemed unreal, a nightmare that he could recall with only the greatest effort, but which still haunted his every step.
He had done too much now to turn back, Anakin mused. After that first exhilarating sip of the Dark Side, he found it was a vast wellspring of power that tempted him with its quenching fire. It had been sweet, that taste, sweet and utterly intoxicating. How quickly might he end this destructive conflict if he but opened himself up to that glorious darkness just once more? Just once would be all it took, just one time and then he would put it behind him forever. Something inside of him laughed at his naivet?, but he refused to heed that voice. He was sure he could use it judiciously and then put it away from him. He was stronger than the dark. Wasn?t he?
?This war will be over one day, Padawan,? Obi-Wan murmured.
?And then?? Anakin asked bitterly. Obi-Wan could not know that life after the war would hold only more chaos and pain. When ? if ? the war ended, he still had to find a way to claim his place with Padm?. It seemed a foolish and unreachable dream when he waded through a battlefield.
A puzzled expression came over Obi-Wan?s face, just barely visible in the moonlight. ?Then we will go back to being Jedi,? he answered, but his voice was unsure. What would the Jedi be after fighting this war? The war had changed everyone; the Jedi were no exception. Anakin could see the realization had finally hit Obi-Wan, the fact that this galactic conflict had transformed them all into something different.
Unable to help himself, Anakin snorted softly. ?And what are the Jedi now? What will we be when this all ends?? he asked. ?Are we warriors or peacekeepers, knights or warlords??
?We are what we choose to be,? Obi-Wan answered with confidence. ?We serve the Force.?
He realized then that he was drawn to Obi-Wan?s serenity. That calm, soothing spirit was a balm to his own troubled heart, and it quieted the clamoring darkness inside of him, even as it annoyed him. He envied his Master that ability, the way he could stay anchored to his ideals, to the light, in the midst of so much darkness. Obi-Wan would never fall; he would never stumble on the path of the Light.
Anakin had fallen so many times he could not count them anymore. Each time he fell it got easier and easier to let himself plunge into those depths, but the climb back up toward the light grew longer and more arduous. He had to scrabble and fight and will himself back up that slippery slope. Or maybe he just grew more and more reluctant to make the journey. That was the real danger, wasn?t it? One day he might fall and never fight his way back up again. That was his greatest fear; it was the voice that kept him awake in the night.
?Yes?what we choose,? Anakin said softly, his tone distracted.
Obi-Wan had moved directly behind him. Once again, that strong hand rested lightly on Anakin?s shoulder. ?You can talk to me, Anakin.?
I?ve killed in anger, Obi-Wan. I used the darkness to commit murder. Anakin turned and gave his Master a slight smile. ?I know,? he answered.
Frowning, Obi-Wan studied his apprentice with sharp eyes, and Anakin drew up his shields as tight and close as a lover?s embrace. ?Are you all right?? Obi-Wan asked in concern. ?I sense?? he trailed off and then sighed. ?I sense that all is not well.?
Repressing his bitter laughter at the inadequacy of that thought, Anakin bit his lip. If only his Master knew how ?not well? things were! He was torn between the urge to throw himself at Obi-Wan?s mercy and confess everything and the need to guard his secrets. Anakin withdrew into himself, taking his darkness with him. Obi-Wan would not be able to help him, and he could not bear to see the look in his Master?s eyes when he realized what a terrible disappointment the Chosen One had proven to be.
I?ve fallen in love and I married her, Master. I love her more than I love the Order. ?I?m fine, Master,? Anakin lied. What was one more lie when there had been so many?
Obi-Wan studied him for a moment longer, his eyes seeking something in his apprentice?s gaze. Then he gave a short nod of his head. ?Then I shall go back to sleep,? he said quietly, disappointment threading through his voice. ?It will be a long day tomorrow.?
I?ve touched the Dark Side and I worry that one day it will claim me. Help me! Anakin nodded to his Master and watched him go back into the tent they shared. The young man stayed where he was, and let the night fall in around him, looking at the darkness around him, contemplating the shadows within.
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