Shades of Gray
Anakin watched the scene with unbecoming envy. Or jealousy. A little of both, maybe.
It should be him down there. He should be the honored one who was invited to a private sparring competition with Mace Windu; he should be the one who sat on the Council; he should be the one whom everyone doted on and admired and talked about.. He was the Hero. It should be him down there. He should be the one exchanging taunts and mocking jests with Obi Wan. He should be the one almost, but not quite, hitting the Jedi master as he stood invincible in the eye of the storm, his brilliant Soresu defense inviting aggression by the very personal smug aloofness it conveyed. It should be him, and not Mace, who enjoyed the banter and the thrill of clashing 'sabers and the surge of the Force as it played around them and the trust and the…friendship.
He didn't know whether he wanted Mace's friendship, or whether he wished the stern Korun master did not have Obi Wan's. It didn't matter. Either way, he wanted. He ached. And his knee still hurt.
Kriff it. That was Ahsoka's fault, though he would never blame her for it. A master protected his Padawan, end of story. Obi Wan had taken a few for him over the years- he remembered each occasion with an undiminished pang of gratitude and guilt. Even if he had more than evened the score by saving his –former – master a half dozen times since the war began. Ahsoka had gone down in the face of that ambush on Thermia, and he had jumped in to save her. And succeeded. And taken a bolt in the knee for his troubles. So what? He had still scrapped the entire kriffing legion of droids, screaming his rage and agony out into the Force, where it ignited into explosive destruction. Kriffing droids. Pain could be a source of power, of strength.
Back here in the Temple it was different. The healers wanted him off the restored but still tender joint as it regained strength and flexibility. No campaigns, no missions, no sparring. He would have gone insane in two days flat were it not for the prospect of unlimited nights with Padme. He could work around a stiff knee in that regard. A Jedi was resourceful.
It wasn't the injury, or being temporarily grounded, that irked him. It was the sense of things transpiring without him. He and his Padawan had been sent out to Thermia almost immediately after the Naboo debacle, when he had saved the Supreme Chancellor twice in one day, though the Council seemed to think Obi Wan deserved the credit. Last he had seen his mentor, the man had still been incarcerated in Rako Hardeen's ugly visage, a disguise so thorough and convincing that he wondered what obscene method Republic Intelligence had used to create it. Weeks later, when he had arrived back from Pylas Minor and Thermia, victorious but wounded, he had been met at the Temple hangar bay by a grave and worried Obi Wan.
"Where's Master Kenobi?" Anakin had grinned. "You look like that guy I met twelve years ago on Tatooine."
"Yes…well," Obi Wan had muttered, passing a hand over his smooth chin as though seeking the beard which was so conspicuously lacking. His short crop of freshly grown hair sprouted up straight off his head in a comically unruly fashion, strictly contrasting with its owner's disciplined serenity. "The follicles were damaged during the reversal process…..I'm told it should be temporary."
Anakin briefly contemplated growing his own scruff out, just to rub it in Obi Wan's face, no pun intended….but a Jedi shall know not revenge. He settled for an amused smirk.
"Anakin, your leg….the mission report was typically lacking in relevant details."
"I'm fine." He waved away the concern, crutch or no. He also waved away the hover chair one of the apprentice healers was steering forward hopefully. If he had to submit to their care he would at least get there on his own two feet. The Padawan cringed and withdrew respectfully. "Besides, if they can't patch me up, they can always just slap on another prosthesis."
"That's not funny." Obi Wan said. He looked tired.
"What? Are you having nightmares again, master?" The look he got in reply was eloquent, and revealed more than it was meant to. How time had turned the tables…it used to be Anakin who suffered from nightmares. Now he only dreamed of Padme. He needed no restless dreams of terror to visit his nights: as General in the Grand Army, he lived a waking nightmare every day. Most the time, he closed himself off to the world and to memory when he slept. He had too much to forget.
"I am glad to see you in one piece." A hand rested on Anakin's shoulder, lingered.
He wasn't in the mood for sentiment. "Yeah, well, at least you didn't have to attend my funeral."
It was a kick in the gut, and Obi Wan took it meekly. Why did he have to make it so kriffing hard to bear a grudge? Anakin's leg was hurting again – a lot. He shifted uneasily. "Look, master, I gotta go, before the healers wet their pants…" His impudent grin was answered with a tiny smile, one that meant how very shocking, Master Skywalker. Such lack of decorum.
"Well, we mustn't keep them waiting. Better you than me."
"Next time, let's just make sure we work together. Arrange it with the Council, would you?" And he had left, limping off on his crutch to bravely face the horror of the healer's ward, confident that Obi Wan would arrange it with the Council. They needed to be a team again. He was sick of being left out in the cold. Sick of stomaching the Council's lies. Obi Wan's lies.
The screech of saber blades locked together and spitting blue and purple fire jolted him back to the present moment. The combatants were in a bind, struggling against each other with brute strength and the Force. Obi Wan was no fool; he released first and backflipped out of the stalemate, blade singing high as he spun it in a mad defensive circle, barely blocking Mace's hot attack. They moved across the dojo floor at a wild pace, Mace pushing Obi Wan almost back to the wall, unable to penetrate his defense but now definitely wielding the upper hand.
Come on, master…!
The thought was costly; Obi Wan's eyes flicked in his direction, a mute acknowledgement of his presence and his encouragement. Mace struck home, sliding past the blue saber's guard and slashing hard, knocking it too far down, then sweeping up to land thrumming a centimeter from Obi Wan's neck.
Both men chuckled a little, and the sabers powered down. ObI Wan bowed to the tall Korun Jedi, and ran a hand through his damp hair. "That makes the score stand eleven to five in your favor. I may decline your next invitation," he said.
"I don't think so," Mace replied, in his sonorous baritone. "I know you too well." His white smile flashed for the briefest of moments, and his eyebrows rose. "Besides, if you won't spar with me, I'll be stuck with Master Yoda."
Humor sparkled in the Force. Anakin felt a surge of renewed envy. Or jealousy. Or both. He watched Mace grip the younger man's shoulder briefly as the two of them drifted toward the exit to the showers. There was something vaguely paternal in that gesture- an echo of Master and Padawan, a hint of the affection which did not officially exist. Lies, lies, lies, lies. The Council was steeped in them. Mace was steeped in them. Obi Wan, too – he was up to his neck in lies, and in danger of drowning.
Who knew what deception the pair of them would come up with next?
Master Yoda hunched in his chair, clutching his gimer stick comfortably against his chest, its tip resting on one of his clawed feet, his chin propped upon its blunt handle. His eyes shifted in amusement from left to right, watching the contest of wills play itself out. The remainder of the Council – wise as they were – also tactfully avoided interference, choosing to wait out the storm, and its amusing ramifications.
"Have you another suggestion?" Obi Wan politely inquired, inclining his head toward the Korun Jedi sitting on Yoda's left. "Is anyone else available?"
Mace steepled his fingers, sighed. "No. But I hesitate to send you back out into the field, undercover, so soon after the last mission."
"Why not?" the younger man asked, blandly. "I am still dead, after all. We ought to capitalize on that convenient fact."
Yoda caught the undercurrent of wry resentment, even if nobody else did. He hooded his eyes, let his gaze rest upon the Jedi seated to his right. Obi Wan Kenobi's dark humor had taken an even subtler, darker twist since the beginning of the war. The Jedi master sat at his ease, legs crossed, one hand absently stroking his chin, eyes absolutely glittering with sharp intelligence, with pointed meaning.
"The Council's decision it was not, to continue that deception," he intervened sharply. "Know this, you do, Master Kenobi."
Obi Wan turned to him, eyebrows lifting in surprise at the near-reprimand. He looked startlingly like his much younger Padawan self; for a moment Yoda half-expected to see the tall and dignified figure of Qui Gon Jinn hovering somewhere in the background, smugly amused by the exchange. Indeed, the Force more than half-suggested that this was still, somehow, the case.
A dip of the head, a respectful lowering of the eyes. Rebuke accepted. Yoda huffed and laid the gimer stick across his knees, his ears twitching as he raked the remainder of the Council with an imperious look. They had debated this already; they would not return to a sore and overworked topic.
"If we can find someone else better qualified, and available immediately, I will of course retract my offer quite happily," Obi Wan stated, holding one hand open and palm upward in a conciliatory gesture. He looked expectantly at Mace.
The tall senior Councilor sighed in annoyance and closed his eyes briefly. "You win, Kenobi. I'm sure you've already studied the duty roster thoroughly."
Humor was not often indulged within the sober circle of this chamber. Obi Wan's mouth tightened at the corners. "Like a lonely gundark looking for a mate."
Mace's eyes widened slightly, but he kept his stern composure intact. "I'm sure. Just don't get yourself killed," he growled, a note of sincere concern betraying the hard lines of his visage.
Yoda's regard slid back to his right. Obi Wan couldn't resist the temptation. "I'll try," he promised gravely. "…An encore performance would be rather tedious."
Anakin opened the door to his private quarters, aware already of his visitor's identity. "Come in," he said, although the summons was unnecessary. Obi Wan slid the door shut behind him with a wave of the hand.
"You know," Anakin complained, "You spent all those years lecturing me about frivolous use of the Force, and I don't think I've ever once seen you actually touch a door release."
"I see injury has not dulled your wit," Oib Wan observed, sliding the room's single unoccupied meditation cushion toward himself with another wave of the hand. "And I am flattered that you remember anything I ever told you."
"Ha." Anakin tossed the datapad he had been perusing across the room, with a distinctly not Force-enhanced and very much irritated flick of the wrist. It landed with a harsh clatter on the cluttered workbench built into the far wall. He stretched his aching leg out on the narrow sleep couch and shifted so he could have a better view of his friend, perched cross-legged on the round cushion. Late afternoon light filtered through the narrow slatted window, cast thin stripes on the hard floor. Sunset approached; and at sunset, he would leave the Temple.
Obi Wan 's eyes narrowed. "You aren't still sneaking out to Underlevel scrap piles at night, are you, Anakin?" he asked sharply.
Poodoo. Anakin tightened his mental shields. Obi Wan was just too kriffing perceptive for his own good. "You know me," he quipped. "Boredom makes me dangerous. At least you don't have to come chase me down anymore. That lowlife scene doesn't suit you, master."
Obi Wan ran a pensive hand over his chin. "Yes," he sighed, "Unfortunately, I'm about to get my fill of it."
"What?" Anakin stiffened, sitting upright and staring at the older man. "You're going on assignment again." His fist clenched. He hadn't been summoned to a Council meeting, so that meant… "Without me."
"We aren't attached at the hip, you know, Anakin."
"You said you would arrange it so –"
"I said no such thing," Obi Wan hissed at him. A muscle leapt along his jaw. Without the beard he was a lot, lot easier to read. Maybe that's why he wore it. "My position on the Council is not a tool to be used for the promotion of-"
"Don't lecture me about the Council, " Anakin warned. The Council could go to the hells. They left him out of everything, and Obi Wan couldn't be bothered to stick up for him, to include him, to trust him. It was clear where his loyalties lay…now. It used to be different between them, before the war. Before Obi Wan's unexpected elevation in rank. Before…Hardeen. "So where are you going?" he snarled.
Obi Wan's expression was veiled, now. Anakin thought he caught a glimmer of hurt in those mocking eyes, but he couldn't be sure. Obi Wan didn't really have feelings, anyway, so it didn't matter.
"Let me guess – it's another solo undercover mission, and you can't tell me!" he shouted.
"I came here to tell you," the Jedi master said quietly, in his infuriatingly calm Negotiator voice.
"Well, you just did, so shove off. Go spar with Mace or rub noses with Yoda. Kriff off," Anakin growled, his knee aching twice as badly as before, a tightness clawing in his chest, a twisting knot that only Padme could unwind.
"Anakin, I –"
"I said go away," he muttered, clamping down on the raging envy. Or jealousy. Or both. "Go away. Please." Before I lose it, before I turn on you, Before… "Please."
As he rose and made a formal bow, striding toward the door with the dignity of a …well, of a Jedi, Obi Wan suddenly looked a lot like his much younger self again. Anakin hadn't seen that expression on his face since the night the Council had told Qui Gon Jinn that the boy he had discovered on Tatooine would not be trained; the night when Qui Gon had been his champion and father figure, declaring that he would train Anakin although he already had a Padawan learner; the night Qui Gon had effectively dismissed his current apprentice with a few brief words of lukewarm praise.
It felt good to see Obi Wan stunned and betrayed. Go cry on Mace's shoulder, Anakin thought at his mentor's retreating back. Obi Wan waved the door open with the Force and disappeared into the hushed corridor beyond, dark cloak sweeping the floor behind him. Anakin waited a moment and then slammed the door shut with a Force push so unrestrained and powerful that it shorted out the pressure system and showered down a curtain of sparks.
Poodoo. Now he would have to call the maintenance droids in to fix the star-forsaken thing. He punched a small dent in the wall with his mechno-hand, just for good measure, and then rose. The sun was setting.
And he welcomed the growing darkness.