Obi-Wan is forced to make an impossible decision.
The moment came and went.
For most of the universe, the event didn't matter. It was another handful of seconds, compiling another hour of another afternoon. People walked and talked and slept and never considered that, somewhere within the same galaxy, a war had engaged entire worlds, and while they continued with their usual routine, blades clashed and bombs detonated, bright shades of scarlet saturated the sky and laser fire cut quickly, cleanly through the smoke.
In the span of that moment, Obi-Wan Kenobi had been shot.
And, even in the tightly-packed battlefield in which he fell, it was meaningless to most around him. To the mechanical minds of his enemies, the focused minds of the clones, he was a body. A few Jedi felt the unmistakably dark flex in the Force, but couldn't let their guard down as long as it would take to aid the injured Knight, or so much as assess his condition.
When the bolt made its grisly contact, Obi-Wan's eyes barely widened beyond their normal range. A thin layer of airborne grime stung them, and he blinked rapidly as he collapsed.
His back slammed against the ground, knocking the wind from him and eliciting a breathless grunt.
Shoulder. Obi-Wan registered it after the ephemeral haze had lifted from his thought process. He was Jedi, and would not be swept away into the dizzying maelstrom of painful surprise. He looked overhead, through the clouded dust, to the rich, almost pulpy orange sky, and refused to panic.
It had hit his shoulder...above his heart.
He knew the bolt had not plunged into the life-giving organ because he could hear it beating, a hollow thump, like hot, bubbling blood in his ears. He heard it despite the swarm of blaster fire and hoarse battle cries.
He had solid evidence that he was alive-so why couldn't he stand-or move?
Perhaps it was the sheer shock to his system. Or the overwhelming crowd of warriors, everywhere shooting and pushing and kicking up rotten plumes of dirt. He could be tired, for he himself had been a member of the intense fight scant minutes before.
A trickle of sweat slid down his burned forehead into his eyes, a drop of warm rain in the desert, and he turned his head weakly away. It rolled off his cheek to the ground.
It occurred to him that, in all rationality, the wound should have hurt far worse. But the pain had somehow separated from him, unlocking the fiery tendrils from around his form and withdrawing towards the fog.
A choked sigh escaped him. His beard clung to his face, curling and bristling with perspiration; sun-streaked hair was defiled by the stinking chunks of debris and mud. His clothes were soiled and singed-especially at the top of one sleeve, where blood was beginning to soak through. The one thing he had striven to upkeep, his appearance as a Jedi, and as a man, was ruined, victim to the heat and unrelenting violence.
But he was spared the potential agony of his injury, and for that, he whispered a frail thanks to the Force, slowly licking his lips when they cracked.
Maybe if he yelled, he would catch the attention of someone-his weapon-rigged opponents? No, he couldn't risk that. His was a commanding station in the war, and he would not place his life in such precarious balance. He needed to survive. A lucky aim could not shift the responsibilities stacked on his shoulders. One rush of a neon bolt could not crumble the mountains he was still required to climb.
A booted foot smashed down on his side and he gasped, seeing a white armored Clone pass, never acknowledging the crushing blow he dealt the Knight.
Obi-Wan recovered, but left a hand lingering on his already-bruised ribs. A huge, flame-tailed projectile soared through the clamor of heads; the earth rumbled a moment later.
He wondered where his lightsaber had gone. After the fighting had ceased, and the dust was settled, he hoped it would be found for him. It was simple to distinguish from others. Yes, it had the normal azure blade, but the hilt was unique, with its buttons and power cells and the place where a groove had been worn in the same shape as his thumb, a slight flaw that Bant attributed to his all-too-serious frame of mind.
Where was she? Coruscant. He was sure she was on Coruscant, because she had never been a fighter. With her sweet heart, she was destined for healers' work. Maybe she would patch up his shoulder...No, she wasn't here. Coruscant. That was right. He should try to remember that.
He missed Coruscant. Although he was never deeply affected by homesickness, the endless cycle of battles and useless negotiation was wearing him down. If only he could return to his quarters, his real quarters, for a day or two. He could take a long shower, a nice, cool shower, and wash away the thick skin of war, as if it were unsubstantial as the foamy, fragrant soapsuds running down his back. Then he could slip between the crisp sheets of a bed, finally blanketed by linen instead of an ugly, insulated sleeping bag. He could drift off without his muscles helplessly tensed and one eye opened to his suspicious surroundings.
It would be safe, neither sweltering nor freezing. Familiar, instead of nameless and unknown.
The sky was turning color. He became aware that he had been staring at it for a long while now, molten shades darkening to black. And, very strangely, the combat had ebbed as well, brilliant lasers and explosions swallowed up into pitted black
It felt better, laying in the soundless space. He liked the quiet. In his uproarious life, he could rarely spare the time for silence. But then footsteps echoed in the space and in his head. His eyes had been watering, but were currently, inexplicably, dry and clear.
Before the approaching figure could finish its journey, Obi-Wan was certain of the identity. "Anakin." He called, as loud as his strained throat would allow-which was not very much.
His apprentice didn't reply. He continued walking until he turned toward Obi-Wan and a wave of glinting black ascended, covering the tall figure so that his entire body was hidden.
Obi-Wan struggled to rise. "Anakin?"
His worried voice was lost in the sudden gusting tumult, the rough flourish of wind that carried him through the featureless landscape, then set him down without care before Anakin.
He could discern a murky profile through the shadows. He did not recognize the sinister face, a mask where there should have been the handsome, smiling face of his student.
"I-I don't understand."
A low voice reverberated from the half-stranger in front of him. "This is your gift, Master. You will die."
Obi-Wan, utterly bewildered and shaken, denied the pronouncement, his body steady and still. "N-No. The wound is shallow." He swore in a deliberately slow tone.
"But the coming wound will not be." A strike of red ignited in the darkness, whirring with a chilling hum. In a blur, it had swept across Obi-Wan-through Obi-Wan.
Yet Obi-Wan remained unharmed, his flesh miraculously resistant to the blade. His eyes bore from the weapon to the reflective, fabricated countenance. "There's no mark at all. No wound."
"Until you are gray, there will not be. But then, when you emerge from your sand hole, it will happen. Your blood will be the mark on my hands."
Obi-Wan shook his head with fevered disagreement. "No. Anakin...no..." Through the darkness, he reached for the boy who had been the center of his existence since he watched the original focus of that life burn to ash.
"Yes, unless...Death." A gloved hand gripped his damaged shoulder, and Obi-Wan winced. "You can give a reprieve...with this." Anakin's outer rim accent had vanished, replaced by a smooth, cold inflection. "There is a chance for salvation, Master Obi-Wan."
"For me. For you."
Obi-Wan looked away, his chest heaving as though he had just sprinted the length of a planet. Images assaulted his mind's eye: a ship, a duel, an empty cloak, pooled on the floor. He could not comprehend the meaning of the collage.
Then, his heart clenched up.
"Anakin," he murmured. And this time, he was not speaking to the phantom that stood nearby. His was a despair-laden murmur. A glimpse of a distant tomorrow had been granted to him, and he knew what fate awaited for both he and his beloved prot?g?.
He would die. And the blame would be with Anakin.
But...either way, today or decades later, Obi-Wan would die an unnatural death. If he ushered in oblivion now, it would relieve his Padawan from the greatest sin of his life, for the trigger had been pulled by another.
An aching love swelled in his chest. He also knew that nothing could rob him of that eternal affection. No matter what, his heart belonged with Anakin.
Obi-Wan faced the specter again. Solemnly, he lifted his hand and spread out the fingers. A smear of red stained his skin...absolving the wicked color from Anakin's gloved hand, and transforming the hue of his saber to emerald.
The Knight looked down at the permanent burgundy that invaded the orange of the sky, and realized there was more sweat on his face. The temperature must have spiked, that was the only way to account for the wet sheen on his skin and, specifically, the puddles beneath his eyes.
What would the men think of him now? Letting the tears and the lifeblood be purged from him, when there still was so much to be done?
Would even Bant be able to salvage him, staunch the bitter flow, now?
If she could, he would not abide it.
It had been afternoon when he was felled by the bolt. The prime of day. But night was taking hold much sooner than he had ever expected.
He was right; the wound was rather shallow.
So he waited, and watched the sky once more.
Anakin jumped from his haphazardly parked speeder and moved, at a dead run, toward the throng of exhausted warriors.
His stomach was a jumble of nerves and he could barely process a thought, save one: He needed to find his Master.
An alien Knight was the first he sighted, washing his bloodied face in a bowl of water.
"Master Obi-Wan? Where's Master Obi-Wan?"
A grave expression transformed the exotic features. He laid a willowy hand on Anakin's arm. "I'm sorry, Young One."
But Anakin shook his head. "No. No."
He sped through the small encampment, rushing past the empty fields until he was at the site of the day's huge battle. Numerous bodies littered the ground, limbs splayed out and skin bleached.
It was nothing but a graveyard now.
So how was there a glimmer of life shining through the dark devastation?
"Master!" Anakin shouted, hastening in a blur to a well-known form, crumpled in the dust.
He gathered the lax body in his arms, wiping away dirt and sweat, huffing.
Obi-Wan's eyes opened. He had strongly shielded himself from his fellow Jedi, and regulated his breathing patterns so that they would not notice the occasional, small movements of his chest. He was left among the dead...
He had not anticipated his Padawan, his unbelievable, powerful Padawan, would somehow sense, through the erected walls, the danger his Master was in, and come hurtling toward his location.
"Master." Anakin smoothed the hair out of his face. "Master, talk to me. Say something."
Obi-Wan leaned in, to rest his head on the warm chest. Apparently rebelling against the stagnant heat, his temperature had dipped to a shivering degree. He reveled in the softness of his apprentice, the goodness untouched by evil. To savor that, he would forego his countless duties to the Order and the Republic. When he stripped the trappings of the world away, it was not the Council or Chancellor that stood in his spirit.
"Master, say something!"
"I want to...I want you to promise me something." He almost laughed inside. Familiar words, once uttered by another. He had never dreamed he would repeat them, so recently after they had been said.
"Anything, Master. Just stay with me. Okay?"
He didn't answer the plea. "Promise me you'll stay with the light. No matter what...h-happens, you won't stray, my Padawan." He gasped from a pang that went up his shoulder.
Anakin brought him closer, blocking him from the desert's harsh evening wind. "Of course I won't." The boy's eyes were rife with frightened confusion. "But Master, you know that. You know.because you're with me. You teach me and-"
Horrible knowledge dawned in his gaze. He shook his head. "Master, no. No."
Obi-Wan swallowed with a thick click-but it didn't prevent the snake of blood from slipping out the corner of his mouth. "It's-It's for the best."
"No! How could it be for-Master, you're not leaving me!" The cry was that of both a powerful Jedi and a terrified child. "I won't let you leave me!"
Obi-Wan reached up with a palsy-ridden hand, to pull down Anakin's head, and press a trembling kiss to his forehead. "Forever, you are my purpose."
But Anakin was not sated by his words. Countless times before, he had pulled his Master back from the brink. He could do it again. No matter how severe the damage, he would do whatever it took.
He wasn't able to save his mother, enter her mind and the body the way he could his Master's. He would not give up his father.
It was not an option.
Anakin closed his eyes and shoved through the impeding darkness of his Master's fading soul, forcing healing energy in...
And then, was stopped. Halted in his efforts by the very man who had taught him the healing techniques that were meant to restore life.
Obi-Wan was at the edge of death, but he was still, always, a Jedi Master. His skills at the moment outweighed his gifted pupil's.
The energy needed to counteract the amazingly strong force was considerable.
In a terribly ironic twist, his Padawan's labor to save him had actually aided in speeding his death.
When he lifted his eyelids, Anakin's face was devoid of comprehension-full of throbbing dejection and tearful pain. "Master, the healers can help. Please stay with me."
For a moment, it was tempting.
For a short measure of time, Obi-Wan thought that maybe he could change destiny, and redirect the fatal path of his Padawan's life.
But a moment only lasts so long.
He was certain, beneath everything, that he could not go on with the knowledge he had gleaned.
It was better to die in his Padawan's arms-than under his blade.
Better that the fault lay at his feet. As a Master, that was how it should be.
He gazed up at Anakin. Anakin, who had been so innocent, so inquisitive and bright, so funny and comforting when Obi-Wan felt threatened by his own demons.
It was far better to remember him that way.
And to be remembered, by his Padawan, as a father-than as a foe that needed to be extinguished.
"I love you, Anakin."
He was gone before Anakin released a shattering scream of rage, before the Padawan squeezed tight the lifeless form in his arms, and bundled it in his own robe.
There was a wordless lullaby that Obi-Wan's Master used to hum, only a few, precious times, when Obi-Wan was sick or injured. A gentle harmony more beautiful than any hymn, more numbing than any balm.
He heard it now, a ribbon of silver in the void...
A moment later, while the universe thrived below him and all manner of beings retreated to their beds, Obi-Wan was singing along with that voice.
And that moment lasted into eternity.