Phantom Pain

by llamajoy

men in a war
if they've lost a limb
still feel that limb
as they did before

-- "Men in a War," Suzanne Vega

Silence and privacy are mandatory in the surgery theatre, said the med-droid, sounding for all the galaxy like a harried human nurse. Would the Jedi mind to make himself scarce?

Obi-wan, his lips pursed in only the barest show of impatience, wondered just when droids had gotten so cheeky. He seemed to recall that, in his youth, the things had kept a much lower profile, fulfilling their functions and certainly not indulging in sarcasm.

He maintained decorum enough to hold his tongue, and refrain from telling the droid that he didn't need the advice. That was a matter beyond the ken of a machine, at any rate-- there was something in the quiet beyond the medbay door, something in the sense of his apprentice's mind, that all but spoke aloud, asking him to keep his distance.

Naturally. How often did Anakin ask for something that was easy to give?

He closed his eyes, and clearly he could see the flashes of blue, of red, of blood; could hear the sound of a lightsaber meeting flesh, then bone. Everything had happened so quickly. But too well he knew the seductive whisper of "what if," and he would not permit his thoughts to spiral along that path, not again.

Allowing the image to pass across his mind's eye, to flare and then to fade, Obi-wan folded his arms across his chest, and resigned himself to waiting.

Though he would not have said that he was expecting anyone, when the external doors slid open and a wash of air spilled into the sterile waiting room, he was unsurprised.

For her part, Senator Padmé Amidala looked as though she had quite expected to see him, and her smile was rueful. She wore her expression as carefully as the pale stole pinned around her shoulders, her neutrality crystalline as the jewel holding it in place. Somehow she had even found time and resources enough to put up her hair: elegant in dark twists at the nape of her neck.

Obi-wan, had he not seen her bleeding not a day's span ago, might not have said she'd just taken part in a dusty, grueling battle against the Trade Federation's droid armies.

"Master Jedi." Her voice barely disturbed the stillness, as ripples on a deep pool only shimmer at the surface.

"Senator." He bowed deeply, but when the silence stretched a moment longer he cleared his throat. "Padmé. How are you feeling?"

She blinked and her façade shivered, though only slightly. For the first time she met his eyes, and her response did not feel scripted. "Me?"

"Your injuries," he prompted, resting a hand on her shoulder-- as much for his own reassurance as for hers. It was a pleasant feeling, to be able to comfort someone. "I trust that you've been treated?"

She was shaking her head, but smiling. "I'm fine, Obi-wan. Though I've seen enough bacta to last me for a year," she confessed. "The smell of that stuff!"

He caught her glance flicking to the closed doors. "But I'm sure you're not here for yourself, are you."

She moved a step away, and he quietly let his hand fall to his side, supposing that he ought to feel grateful for what little she would let him give. Underneath her polish he realized she was trembling, and trying to disguise it: a woman trying not to seem that she had something to hide. "...How is he?"

Obi-wan replied with honesty. "I don't know. They haven't let me in the medbay at all."

She looked unhappy, but only in her eyes; her expression did not change. "You would know, wouldn't you? If he were in danger."

Obi-wan, sensing the depth of feeling that lay beyond her words, could only feel compassion. Hard it was for him, perhaps, standing outside this door, but harder still for her. He inhaled, listening to the Force: the concern and affection sluicing silently from Padmé like the waterfalls on Naboo; the efficient mechanical presences of the med-droids, like tiny pinpricks; the intense concentration permeating not just this room, but the whole of the building; countless other lives not too far beyond, worried or grieving, sleeping or relieved. And, most of all-- the roiling tempest that was his padawan's mind, quiet at its eye like a strong storm yet unspent. He exhaled. "Yes, I would."

Her eyelashes quivered as she closed her eyes. "Will he-- will you--?" The question that won out was not what he'd expected. "Do you mind, if I stay?"

He inclined his head politely, but it did not obscure his smile. "I would be most grateful for the company."

It was some hours later that the doors slid open, and the med-droid, clipped and precise, made its pronouncement: "Anakin Skywalker."

Before either of them could give voice to the question they shared, the Jedi himself walked out to them: shirtless and steady on his feet, his right arm wrapped in thermal bandages nearly to the shoulder.

Obi-wan felt as though he had been holding his breath for the past day, suddenly allowed to breathe-- for there was Anakin again, the Anakin he knew, unshielded.

And if his apprentice's glance went first to the Senator at his side, color coming to his face and light into his eyes, the words he spoke were for the both of them, answering the unspoken. "I'm all right," he said, and then there was that same, self-assured smile. "See?" He lifted his arm, and wiggled his bandaged fingers.

Though she held her relief in check, her smile carefully mild, Padmé's hands moved of their own accord. Reaching out for him, her fingertips found his elbow, and her eyes went wide. "Anakin!" she breathed, almost a question.

A shadow moved across his brow, dark then light again, but his voice stayed gentle. "I said I was all right."

Obi-wan felt it, then, the slight alteration in sense, the unfamiliar pulse and tension coiled from shoulder to wrist. As the white cloth slid down with Anakin's movements, there beneath the wrappings was the glint of... metal. He found himself at a loss for words. "Padawan, your arm."

Anakin used his left hand to peel away the synthcotton, not meeting their eyes, with a curious mix of bashfulness and pride. Exposed, his right hand was a golden, glittering mechanical thing, intricate gears and artificial nerves reacting naturally as he held it out to them. "Did a great job, didn't they?"

Padmé did not look away, her small hands hovering just shy of touching him. Obi-wan frowned. "Anakin, could they not save--"

"Master," Anakin cut him off, shortly. "They... found something. This was my choice."

"Found something?" Padmé felt his arm, again, tentative but unflinching. The polished surface responded to the sensation; minute sparks moved visibly along the delicate wires.

Without preamble, Obi-wan simply knew. What the droids had found, nestled between the tendons and the slender bones, once deadly, now dormant.

Padmé, gifted with intuition of her own, caught her breath. "Oh! It was the transmitter, wasn't it."

His lips tightened, his left hand cradling his new, mechanical elbow. "It's gone, now."

Seemingly against her will, Padmé's fingers had moved to the line between skin and metal, the striking contrast between flesh and durasteel. Obi-wan, the memory of the incident still scalding in his imagination, did not think to wonder that Anakin allowed the touch. Padmé closed her eyes. "How painful it must have been."

Her simple compassion humbled Obi-wan; in his shock he had allowed himself to forget the hours of concern and restless worry. Now that he knew what choice had faced his apprentice, what sacrifice and what victory, he began to understand why Anakin had shut him out. He sighed. "It's good to see that you're all right," he said.

Anakin flashed a smile, still sheepish, but now teasing. "Does it look so bad, Master?"

That surprised a chuckle out of him. "You seem to know you wear it well."

"Don't flatter him, Master Kenobi." There was so much relief in Padmé's voice that Obi-wan could scarcely recognize the tense, tightly-controlled woman who had stood silently at his side. "It will go right to his head."

"I'm afraid there's no help for that," he confessed, with difficulty keeping a straight face, as though Anakin weren't standing right between them, looking from one to the other in mock affront. "And worse, now he has a new mech to tune--"

"You mean to play with." At his glance, Padmé seemed to realize abruptly that she hadn't yet let go Anakin's arm, and she withdrew her hand just a little too quickly. On another woman, of less poise, the motion might have looked self-conscious.

Anakin, unlike his master, didn't notice. "Master, you know I'm completely serious--"

"I know, Anakin." And he did, at that moment, know quite a few things, some of which he had not known before. But he did not speak of them. "I am sure that this has been, and will continue to be, a trial for you. But for the moment I am just glad to see you looking more like yourself."

"And I'm glad to see you." Anakin impulsively reached out to them, squeezing Obi-wan's shoulder with his human hand, catching up Padmé's wondering fingers with his shining robotic ones. "Both of you."

Obi-wan allowed himself not to think on it too closely; for the moment, it was enough. The wounds, discovering precisely what had been lost and what had taken its place, had not yet begun to ache.


b i s h o n e n i n k