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The door chime startles him out of his thoughts. He looks over and stretches his Force senses out through the fog that Anakin's surrounded them both with at the same time Anakin says, "It's Bant." His words come out slow and a little slurred. Obi-Wan furrows his brow. "I heard her door open and close just now." His senses confirm that Anakin's right.

"Enter!" he calls out and mentally triggers the door to open for his old friend. "Are you falling asleep on me?" he asks Anakin, feeling amused.

"Noooo," Anakin says, dragging the word out.

"Well then, do you want to let go now?"

He feels Anakin pout through their bond. "No. I'm not done hugging you." As if to demonstrate his lack of readiness, Anakin shifts to get even closer to him and adjusts his grip so that it's more snug. Obi-Wan feels almost completely engulfed by him, like he's wearing an overly warm and heavy coat. It's...not unpleasant. And Anakin's contentment and relaxation radiates from him in soothing waves; he's loathe to disrupt that.

Remember when I said I had a couple of ideas about Padmé's pregnancy and your Force vision? He waits to feel Anakin nodding against him and then adds, Bant was one of the ideas. Is it okay if we brief her on the situation? He can hear her making her way sedately through their apartment.

You think she'll be able to help? Anakin asks a little doubtfully.

Yes, I do. And I don't think it'll hurt.

Okay then, Anakin agrees and Obi-Wan releases a breath he hadn't realized he was holding.

"Obi-Wan?" Bant's voice comes from behind them. She sounds amused and Obi-Wan resigns himself to some teasing. "Are you there or did your former Padawan manage to eat you whole?"

"Hello, Bant!" Anakin greets cheekily.

"I'm here, Bant," Obi-Wan adds. "Anakin's me a hug." Can we at least turn around so I can see her? he asks and in response, Anakin starts maneuvering them around in a rocking spin. They end up with Anakin's back against the counter and Obi-Wan leaning back against his chest. It's a more comfortable position than before, when Anakin was resting what felt like most of his weight on Obi-Wan's shoulder and upper back.

Anakin digs his chin into his shoulder. Are you implying that I'm heavy?

"I can see that," Bant says, eyes twinkling.

You and I both know that you are far too tall and muscled.

There's no such thing! Anakin protests.

Yes, there is. There's absolutely no need for you to be that tall.

It's not like I had any control over that.

Yes, I know. You're a child of the Force and the Force apparently wanted you to tower over everyone, Obi-Wan recites, remembering a teenage Anakin's smug tone when he realized he was going to be taller than his Master.

Bant smirks, watching them. "You know, Obi-Wan, usually when a Padawan becomes a Knight, they separate from their former Masters." She brings her hands together and then pulls them apart. "Like so. I hate to be critical, but I think you're doing it wrong. In fact, I think you've both been doing it wrong for years, considering that Anakin never quite moved out of these rooms even when he had his own Padawan."

Obi-Wan groans. "Bant, please." He finally takes in the bacta cast around her right leg. "Shouldn't you be in a bacta tank?" he asks.

"Others needed it more. And I do have some healer training so Master Che trusts me to follow her instructions and heal properly without constant supervision, unlike some of the people in this room," Bant says smartly.

"Just because we're a little impatient to get back on our feet...." Anakin mutters.

Bant widens her eyes. "A ' little impatient'? Is that what you call sneaking out of the Halls of Healing and out of the Temple to go back to the battlefield less than a full day after you're brought out of a tank? Before your bodies have had a chance to recondition? It's a wonder Master Che doesn't keep you restrained to the bed."

"She's actually threatened to do that a couple of times," Obi-Wan admits. "Bant, it is good to see you up and about. I hope your recovery is coming along well? You should sit."

Bant nods in thanks and settles on one of the stools at the counter. She waves a hand negligently. "I'm fine. I'll be back out in no time. Well, in a week or two." She eyes them both contemplatively. "Are you okay? There was quite a spike in the Force the other night and it seemed to originate from both of you."

Obi-Wan winces. "Yes, that was us. We were having some rather intense long-overdue discussions."

"I take it it's been resolved satisfactorily?" Bant asks. "Your aura seems mostly to be its usual chaos, Anakin. And the two of you seem more...united, especially in the Force. It's a bit similar to how you were when Anakin was a Padawan but stronger, somehow. Different."

"Really? We had just rebuilt our former bond but it's likely different now because Anakin's much stronger. I hadn't thought it would be obvious to an observer."

"Is that what this hug is for, then? Bond-building? I know we're taught that proximity helps but I don't think this is what Master Yoda had in mind."

Obi-Wan rolls his eyes. "No, this hug is because Anakin finally got a look at my records."

"Oh," Bant says knowingly. Eyes darting over to meet Anakin's, she says, "Melida/Daan?"

Obi-Wan groans. "Bant!"

Anakin growls and tightens his arms around him. "I didn't even get to that yet. How could Qui-Gon have just left you behind on Melida/Daan?! And the Council let him!"

"See what you've done?" Obi-Wan says but Bant ignores him in favor of nodding emphatically.

"Yes, I know!" she says to Anakin. "I was so angry with him when he came back without Obi-Wan!"

"Oh, Force, don't you both start getting into this. I made the decision to stay and it wasn't an easy decision to make but Qui-Gon respected it, even though I could see that he was disappointed."

"Why did you do it?" Anakin asks, sounding genuinely curious.

Obi-Wan thinks back to those weeks at war, the desperation of waking up every morning not knowing if he was going to survive that day, the screams and cries of the injured, the feel of a blaster in his young hands which was so different and inelegant and impersonal compared to a lightsaber, the fires and smoke-filled skies of burning cities, and the blood—everywhere, fresh and old, staining their clothes and clotting in their hair, spilling onto the ground. But in the midst of the horror, there had also been the solidarity of standing side by side with his friends, the certainty of knowing he had done the right thing in staying, the conviction in their cause, and finally helping to rebuild the world after the war ended. It had been both like and unlike the war they're in now.

"It was the right thing to do," he finally says. "Master Yoda had ordered us back to the Temple and Master Tahl had been injured so Qui-Gon needed to get her back for medical care. But I...I couldn't not help Cerasi and Nield. They were the leaders of the Young and they were trying to stop civil war from destroying their planet and they asked for my help. Master Qui-Gon gave me a choice: go back to the Temple with him or leave the Order and stay on Melida/Daan. I knew that I could never forgive myself if I had just turned my back on them and left. So I stayed."

Anakin digs his chin into his shoulder again. "You were only thirteen. He shouldn't have left you there by yourself." Obi-Wan opens his mouth to protest but before he can, Anakin quickly adds, "What would you have done if it was me?"

Obi-Wan glances over at Bant but she's just giving him a pointed look, one eye ridge raised expectantly. He grasps and squeezes Anakin's hands tightly. "I'd have stayed with you, of course."

"Of course," Anakin repeats faintly. Through the bond, he feels numb from shock.

You doubt that I would have? Obi-Wan can't help a small pang at that.

Anakin seems to shake himself out of his surprise. "No," he says out loud. Then, "You make it sound like a foregone conclusion but I hadn't ever thought that you would leave the Jedi."

"Well, when you were thirteen, you needed to be trained and I had promised you I'd train you. So yes, had you ever decided to leave the Order, I would have gone with you, to watch over you and finish your training."

Anakin just shakes his head again, radiating disbelief.

"And now?" Bant asks suddenly.

Obi-Wan's startled. "Now? What about now?"

She nods at them. "Will you stay? This new bond between you and Anakin—it doesn't seem like something the Council would approve of. You know their views on attachment."

Obi-Wan purses his lips. He could probably make a good enough case for the Council to allow them to stay, though with restrictions and sanctions but would it be worth it? He thinks back to his conversation with Mace and what he had been asking of Anakin. "Even if I could convince them to do so," he starts and feels Anakin's intense attention, "I'm not sure that we should stay."

"What?" Anakin asks, sounding startled. "You don't want to stay? Is this about me leaving again?"

"You leaving?" Bant asks. "Have you been thinking of leaving, Anakin?"

"No, it's not just that," Obi-Wan says in response to Anakin. "Well, it's partly that but it's also other things."

"Obi-Wan brought it up but I wasn't going to do it," Anakin answers Bant at the same time.

Bant shakes her head. "Wait. Obi-Wan, you're thinking you should leave the Order. And Anakin's thinking about leaving, but for a different reason? Is this about the war? Something about it...doesn't feel right. I've wondered myself if the Jedi have been doing the right thing by taking part in this."

Obi-Wan can't see it but he can tell that Anakin's gaping at the Mon Calamari.

Bant tilts her head at Anakin. "We weren't meant to wage war, we were meant to stop them. But this is the Republic's war and so it's become our war. But all the death and destruction, it's against everything the Jedi have valued and honored. And why are we doing this? By order of the Senate. Not to protect innocent lives. And not to find peace with the Separatist planets. And the longer the war drags on, the more the Force is becoming murkier. Darkness is spreading in the universe."

"I think you've put it very eloquently," Obi-Wan says, trying to put his vague misgivings into words as well. "The war has changed us, changed the Jedi. The Order is becoming too politicized. We were meant to serve the Republic, yes, but we were also meant to serve the Force and lately, we've been doing too much of one and not enough of the other. And you're right, the darkness is growing and I think that's affecting us. But no one is doing anything about it. And how can we? The war takes up so much of our time that we barely have time to meditate, let alone try to determine what's happening to the Force."

"Then what are you planning to do?" Bant asks softly.

"For now, nothing. Just try to help bring the war to a swift end. But once it is over," he glances over at Anakin again and thinks again of his commitment to the other man and what the Jedi are asking of him now, what they've asked of him in the past, what they might ask of him in the future. He twists his lips and shakes his head. "I don't know. Some things have gotten clearer recently but many others remain shrouded. If the Jedi continue on as they have....well. I've devoted a lot of years to the Order, Bant, and given up a lot to stay in it but more and more, it's become a different Order than the one we grew up in. And now I have something I'm not willing to give up for it." He can feel Anakin sucking in a breath in surprise and he pats his hands in reassurance. He realizes that he probably should have had this talk with Anakin privately, before speaking of it in front of Bant. But what's done is done. You okay, dear heart? "I haven't yet decided what to do. I'd rather not make a hasty decision about this. It's all just musings about future possibilities."

Yeah, yeah, I am. Just a bit taken aback. Are you sure about this? Anakin's mental voice sounds shaky. I don't want you to leave for me one day and then regret it later.

I wouldn't regret it, Obi-Wan promises. "Although I would, of course, continue studying the Force. I may journey to learn more about how others perceive it."

"Others? You mean like the Potentia?" Bant asks with a frown. At the same time, Anakin thinks, We, you mean, my starbird. I go where you go, remember?

And what of your family? Obi-Wan asks Anakin, and "Among others," he tells Bant.

You're my family, too. Padmé isn't always required on Coruscant and we can raise our child among the stars just as easily as we could on a planet.

Bant nods slowly. "I see." Then she narrows her eyes. "Now, what was this about Anakin thinking about leaving? Was that because of the war, too?"

"Ah, no. That was because, well, Senator Amidala is pregnant," Obi-Wan says.

Bant's eyes widen. "Anakin!" she chides.

"What?" Anakin asks reflexively. Then: "Wait, what makes you think I had anything to do with it? Just because I was thinking of leaving?"

Bant rolls her eyes. "That and because it's Senator Amidala. I didn't just leave the creche yesterday. You've been having an affair with the Senator. It's a little unusual for it to go on for so long but not unheard of. Pregnancy, though? There are very effective forms of birth control, you know."

"Yes, I know. We were using them!" Anakin says defensively. "We know this isn't the best time to be having children! We're not completely irresponsible!"

"Well, she isn't," Bant mutters. "So? How is she doing with it?"

"That's the problem," Obi-Wan says. "She's feeling fine and says that her tests have been coming back okay but Anakin keeps having visions of her possibly dying during childbirth. The child is unarguably Force-sensitive and there's not much information on Force-sensitive pregnancies, so we're worried that there are risks in the delivery that we're not aware of."

Bant hums thoughtfully. "I see."

"She's actually going back to Naboo for another check-up in a couple of days and we were wondering if you'd go with her and provide a Force-trained perspective on how the pregnancy is going," Obi-Wan proposes.

Bant's eyes widen in surprise. "Me? But I'm not a full healer. Why not—"

"—Master Che? Well, she's needed here more—"

"—and she hates us," Anakin says wryly.

"She doesn't hate you," Bant says instantly. "She just...dislikes repeat patients, especially when they're as hard to treat as you two. She just wishes you'd look after yourselves a little better."

"In any case," Obi-Wan breaks in before they can get into more of a disagreement about Master Che's feelings towards them (she does appear to be exasperated to see them more than her other patients, he thinks). "Will you do it, Bant? Just as a favor to us, not as any kind of formal mission from the Council, obviously, since you're still on medical leave."

Bant looks between them both carefully and then sighs. "Very well. I'll do it. Might as well take a trip to Naboo. A change of scenery will be nice."

"Thank you so much, Bant!" Anakin exclaims and Obi-Wan feels like he'd be pumping his fist in the air if he hadn't still been hugging him. He squeezes Obi-Wan tightly instead and their bond hums with his pleasure.

Obi-Wan summons one of his empty holopads from the bookcase. Holding that out to Bant, he says, "While you're there, could you take notes for me? See if Padmé will consent to you getting a copy of her test results. And perhaps interview the medic who's been treating her. Write down anything notable related to the pregnancy. We don't know what will end up being significant."

Bant groans. "Really, Obi-Wan? I should have asked if you were writing this up first. You remember that the last time I helped you out with one of your research projects, we ended up blowing up an automixer and had to wear bacta patches for second-degree burns for a week, right?"

He can feel Anakin eyeing him curiously but he just shakes his head. "We were young, then. And you're not going to be actively doing anything this time. Just recording data."

"I'm quite sure you've said this before," she says but sighs and accepts the holopad, pocketing it. "Well, now that I've ascertained that you're both alive and been roped into one of your research projects, I think I'm going to get back to recuperating from my injury. Please do try to keep the noise and the Force disturbances down."

"Did you forget who you were talking to?" Obi-Wan asks with a small smile.

Bant rolls her eyes. "Don't even, Obi-Wan. One of you was bad enough but somehow you've managed to find a Padawan and a partner who was just as reckless. And the two of you together have some kind of synergistic effect that just spells trouble for everyone in the vicinity, friend or foe."

"We're not that bad!" Obi-Wan protests while Anakin cackles. Stop that, you're not helping, he chides.

It's true though!

Bant eyes them knowingly but says only "So, I'll see you in two or three days?" to Anakin.

"Yeah. I'll comm you when we set an itinerary."

Bant bows her head slightly and takes her leave of them.

"Want some lunch?" Anakin asks cheerfully.

"Are you ready to let go so we can get food and eat?"

"Nope. Already thought of a way around that," Anakin says cheekily. "I'm going to send Artoo to the commissary to pick up trays for us and bring them back." At his name Artoo wakes and lets out a series of inquisitive beeps. Anakin laughs. "Yeah, we're all done with the organic emotional output."

Artoo rolls over and flashes some lights at them, chirping a different series of beeps.

"He's wondering why we're attached to each other like this," Anakin explains.

"It's because Anakin's like those mishalopes on Firrerre," Obi-Wan tells Artoo. The droid's dome spins for a second and then he beeps something that makes Anakin bark out a laugh. "What?"

"He asked if that makes you a tree, then," Anakin says, radiating amusement.

Obi-Wan huffs and rolls his eyes. "You and your droid have a shockingly similar sense of humor."

"That's why we're friends." Artoo beeps something that sounds like agreement. "Hey, buddy, can you go get us some lunch? Obi-Wan and I want to stay in today."

Artoo flashes his lights again and spins around. He lets out a series of short high-pitched beeps as he's rolling out the door and Obi-Wan swears the droid is laughing at them.



"Absolutely not," Obi-Wan declares firmly, determinedly not letting his fond amusement at the situation seep into the bond.

Anakin must still feel it somehow, because he just presses a smile against the skin of his shoulder. "Why not? You did it perfectly with the tea earlier."

"I feel that I must draw some kind of line, however thin and permeable it may be. Or else you'd run even more over me."

"Mm, you're such a disciplinarian. " Anakin imbues the word with so much innuendo that Obi-Wan flushes.

"Are you going to eat or what?" Obi-Wan asks, a little high-pitched.

Anakin chuckles in his ear, sending shivers down his spine. "Very well," he concedes and unwraps his right arm from around Obi-Wan's middle. The two of them had managed to shuffle over to the sofa with Anakin still stubbornly wrapped around Obi-Wan by the time Artoo had returned with two trays of food. Then Anakin had pulled him down onto his lap and hooked his chin over his shoulder and if he's being completely honest, Obi-Wan's starting to get accustomed to this hugging activity and is a bit reluctant to put an end to it just yet. Thus their current predicament.

Obi-Wan doesn't say it out loud but he misses having both of Anakin's arms around him.



"You should go," Obi-Wan says. "You've been needing to go for awhile now."

"I'm fine," Anakin says stubbornly.

"Really. So if I start thinking about that mission on Firrerre, with all those waterfalls..." Obi-Wan says, trailing off as he brings up memories of said mission to the surface of his thoughts.

Anakin huffs but lets go of him to hurry into their 'fresher.

Obi-Wan chuckles.

"You're evil!" Anakin calls out, muffled.

Obi-Wan shrugs, even though he knows Anakin can't see it, and goes to stand near the door. As soon as it slides open and Anakin steps out, arms already extended to return to their hug, Obi-Wan darts inside. He hits the button to shut the door on Anakin's surprised look. "I've had to relieve myself since before we had eaten!" he calls out through the door. "I was just waiting you out!"

Anakin squawks indignantly and Obi-Wan finds himself laughing, feeling lighter in his heart than he has in a long time.

When he exits, it's to Anakin standing with his hands on his hips, one brow raised expectantly. Obi-Wan smiles at him, not bothering to hide his amusement at his antics. "Let's go to bed. You can continue your hug there."

A gleam lights up Anakin's eyes. "Is that all you want to do there?"

"That depends entirely on you. You're the one who wanted to give me an 'epic hug'," Obi-Wan says, fingers curving in the air to mime quotes.

"Well, I suppose we can define what's involved in an epic hug...." Anakin says lowly.

Obi-Wan smirks. "Now you're speaking like a negotiator."



They're woken up the next morning by beeping from both of their comlinks. Anakin groans and buries his head under his pillow but Obi-Wan apparently manages to grab his and activate it. Mace's voice intones, "Obi-Wan, you and Anakin have been asked to attend a meeting between Chancellor Palpatine and a group of Senators. I'll transmit the details to you shortly."

"It must be that meeting that Padmé had told us about," Obi-Wan says, sounding far too awake and alert. Anakin just grunts in response. "Do you want me to check your messages?" Anakin grunts again and seconds later, the same message from Mace plays, this time addressed to Anakin.

Then, after a beep, the Chancellor's voice comes on and he says: "Anakin, my boy, a group of Senators have asked to meet with me this morning about a matter of some importance. I'm a bit concerned about their motives and I would feel more comfortable if you could join us and provide me with your enlightened perspective on the situation. I do hope that you'll be able to attend. You are the only one I can trust to see things with an unbiased view."

Anakin frowns, a little unsettled. The Chancellor's voice sounds the same and even the way he speaks sounds the same but for some reason, it feels like there's something off about it.

"Is he referring to Padmé’s group?" Obi-Wan asks and Anakin can hear the consternation in his voice. "He can't possibly think that she and her colleagues have any ulterior motive to their proposal. She's always been one of the Chancellor's biggest supporters. And a champion for the Republic ideals."

Anakin sets aside his questions about the Chancellor's manner of speaking. Surely when he sees him in person later, he'll be able to get a better sense of what's happening. But this possible strife between the Chancellor and Padmé is concerning too. What are they doing? He trusts them both but when it comes to politics, he doesn't always understand why they do what they do.

"I'm sure he's not. Maybe it's someone else in her group."

"Bail? Mon Mothma?" Obi-Wan asks, sounding just as incredulous. "They're all conscientious Senators. They're some of the ones that I actually think have genuinely good intentions of helping people."

Anakin shrugs his shoulders against the bed. He doesn't know them as well but from what he does know, he'd agree. "I guess we'll just have to go to this meeting and see what's going on." He regretfully pulls his pillow off of his head and sits up. He would have loved, more than anything, to have stayed in bed for a bit longer with Obi-Wan. But—he rubs the sleep from his eyes and focuses on Obi-Wan, who's sitting up straight with a light in his eyes and his mind clearly trying to process everything already and determine what the possible outcomes are. He'd be ready to lead a metaphorical charge into the Senate building if his soft sleep robes aren't sliding off one shoulder and open in a large vee down his chest and his hair isn't still mussed by sleep. Anakin can't help himself—he leans over and cups the back of his head gently and kisses him.

"Mrgh, morning breath," Obi-Wan protests against his lips but he kisses back anyway and clasps Anakin's bare shoulder with one hand.

Anakin pulls back just enough to smile and murmur, "Good morning, starbird." He tilts his forehead down against Obi-Wan's and meets his gray-blue eyes which are still alight but with a softer glow now.

"Good morning, my heart," Obi-Wan says and Anakin could listen to that Coruscanti-accented voice all day.

He sighs regretfully. "We should probably head over soon."

"Quite right. It won't do to be late," Obi-Wan agrees but he doesn't make a move to leave the bed either. They stare at each other and their bond hums in the background of their minds. Finally, Obi-Wan chuckles and pushes the bedsheets off of his lap. "Okay, okay. We really do have to go. Do you want to shower first while I drink my morning tea?"

"Sure," Anakin says easily. "Make me a cup?"

"Of course."



It turns out that the meeting is between the Chancellor and Padmé’s cohort—the Delegation of 2000—after all. If they really do have two thousand systems in their group, that's a pretty sizable amount. Certainly large enough to warrant a private audience for their proposal. When he and Anakin arrive at the Chancellor's office, the representatives of the delegation—Padmé, Bail, and Mon Mothma—are still waiting in the anteroom.

Almost as if the Chancellor had just been waiting for their arrival, the double doors to his office swing open as soon as Obi-Wan and Anakin greet his aides.

"Ah, Senators. Welcome!" Palpatine greets jovially. "And Anakin! I'm glad you could make it on such short notice." Then he pauses, looking flummoxed for a fraction of a second. "And Master Kenobi. So good of you to join us. Did the Jedi send you? I'm sure you need not waste your precious time with Senatorial matters such as this." His words, as usual, drip with an overly sweet quality that makes Obi-Wan's hackles rise. He dislikes spending time around politicians and Palpatine is not an exception to that, no matter how much he may have done for the Republic during the war and how much of a friend he is to Anakin.

Obi-Wan exchanges a look with Anakin, whose brows are furrowed.

"We requested the presence of Master Kenobi and Knight Skywalker," Padmé speaks up, voice firm. "And if you have no objections, we would like for both of them to stay for the meeting. We feel that the petition we're here to present to you would bring about a significant shift in the Republic and as the Jedi are the peacekeepers of the Republic, it's something that they should be aware of."

"Oh," Palpatine says, face blank. "Well, of course it's perfectly fine for them to join us. Come in, come in, all of you."

They file into the office and Obi-Wan's taken aback at how dim it feels. It's lit well enough from the sunlight coming in through the windows and the wall sconces but the room lacks brightness and warmth somehow. Anakin looks over at him curiously, sensing his idle thoughts. Obi-Wan shakes his head minutely at him—now isn't the time to wax philosophical about politicians and their cold and calculating ways. He takes up a spot to the side, equally spaced between the Chancellor's desk and the seats the Senators have taken. When Anakin nearly passes him, he touches him on the elbow. What are you doing?

Anakin stops. He usually asks me to stand by his desk.

Usually? He requests your presence at these types of meetings often?

Not really, I'm hardly ever on planet for them. But when I am, he prefers that I stand closer to him. He says that he feels better having someone he trusts near him.

Obi-Wan's lips tighten.

What's wrong?

"Is something the matter, sir Jedi?" the Chancellor's voice echoes.

"No, nothing at all, Chancellor. Please proceed," Obi-Wan answers. In a moment. First, though, we're a neutral party in this discussion, so we should take a neutral stance. Here, where we can observe and be seen but not be considered a fully active participant. We can interject if we feel that the situation is getting out of hand, without inadvertently declaring loyalty for either side. This is especially important for meetings such as this, where the two parties are really members of the same party and are allies and colleagues rather than hostiles. You did that with the negotiation on Mon Cala, did you not?

I don't think I fully considered the ramifications of this bond, if I'm now going to be lectured in my head as well as out loud, Anakin grumbles, but his thought is laced with fond amusement. He shifts to stand next to Obi-Wan and they assume the traditional serene expressions of the Jedi as they face the room. But yes, I suppose that we did. Padmé picked out where we would sit and directed me to it. I didn't ask why, but she must have been thinking along the same lines.

I wouldn't be surprised. She is a seasoned negotiator. Obi-Wan keeps half of his attention on the group of Senators—Mon Mothma is explaining the formation of the Delegation and what their collective goal is while the Chancellor appears to listen keenly, hands clasped on top of his desk—and the rest on Anakin. I don't mean to lecture.

I know. It's okay. I don't mind. I used to. When I was a padawan, it frustrated me to no end.

Yes, I did get that impression.

But later, I realized that you do that with everyone and that it wasn't about me or my shortcomings. You're just a natural teacher. So it's okay. I like it now. It's kind of comforting, like a routine that'll never change. Something I can always count on. No matter how bad a situation is, you'll be there with a lecture while you simultaneously think of a way to get us out of it.

Obi-Wan feels his cheeks heat up slightly and is thankful that no one is watching them.

"So as you can see, Chancellor," Padmé’s saying, "there is significant support for the transitioning of power back to the Senate from the office of the Chancellor now that the war is near its end."

Obi-Wan focuses his attention on the Chancellor, whose expression is placidly thoughtful but whose eyes are a shade too sharp.

"Well, I certainly do appreciate the lengths you've gone to to uphold the democratic spirit of the Republic, Senators, and I will keep the petition in mind. However, the war isn't quite over yet. General Grievous remains at large and we have yet to hear what's happened with the Confederate Systems. So I fear that it is still too early to shift the emergency powers back. We would risk destabilizing the Republic and leaving ourselves vulnerable to attack."

The words sound reasonable and yet as usual there's something off about the Chancellor's response, like there's an underlying edge that's just to the left of his apparent meaning. Close but not entirely congruent. It's one of the reasons why Obi-Wan has never fully trusted the man but he's not the only politician who speaks like this; it seems to be a common characteristic in those who hold public offices. Obi-Wan glances over at Anakin but he just lifts one shoulder in a shrug, seemingly unconcerned. Nothing glaringly out of character, then.

"Of course, Chancellor," Bail responds smoothly but Obi-Wan can sense some disquiet in him. "We understand that the Republic's safety must be prioritized. We only wished to present the petition to you in advance so that preparations can begin to be made for the transition."

The Chancellor nods. "Perfectly reasonable. Now, if that's all, I must ask you to excuse me as I have other matters to attend to."

"Of course. Thank you for your time," Mon Mothma murmurs as the group of them stand and make their way to the door.

Padme shoots him and Anakin a questioning look but before the two of them can join the group, the Chancellor says, "Anakin, a moment please, if you don't mind."

"Sure, Chancellor," Anakin says.

"You need not stay, Master Kenobi. I wouldn't want to keep you from your other obligations."

"Not to worry," Obi-Wan says, keeping his voice mild. "My morning's been cleared for this meeting." Something tells him he needs to be here, that what's going to happen in the next couple of minutes will be important. It's been a long time since he's gotten any clear sense that a divergence in future paths is imminent.

The Chancellor eyes him speculatively. "As you wish," he finally says. "So, Anakin, tell me. What did you think of the meeting? I'll admit I'm a bit disconcerted. I didn't expect Senator Amidala to be conspiring with others to weaken the Republic."

What? Obi-Wan's taken aback. Conspiring? Weaken?

"I'm sorry?" Anakin asks, looking equally nonplussed. "What do you mean? Senator Amidala has always been one of your biggest supporters."

"Exactly. But in doing this, she and her colleagues are placing the Republic at great risk of fragmentation. Perhaps she isn't doing it intentionally—I can't imagine that she would consciously want anything bad to happen to the Republic. Perhaps she's just being misled."

"If done correctly and peacefully, a transition of power doesn't destabilize a system," Obi-Wan points out. He doesn't know why the Chancellor is so worried about this—there have been multiple instances of government change being successfully completed without bloodshed. The Chancellor himself had taken his office without weakening the Republic thirteen years ago.

"Yes, and I'm certain that Senator Amidala and the others would do everything they can to ensure a smooth transition," Anakin adds quickly.

"I'm surprised that you're so eager to return to the old system. We've had so many discussions about how that system was inefficient and how there was too much bureaucracy preventing the Jedi from helping people who need it, such as slaves," Palpatine says, watching Anakin intently. "As it is, even when the power was more consolidated, it's taken far longer than it should to bring this war to an end. The Senate is simply becoming a burdensome, ineffectual body. Would it not be setting the Republic back by returning to that system? We should be thinking instead of a new system, one in which decisions can be made more quickly, with only the highest level of leadership involved, those who best understand the potential consequences of making a decision. Don't you think so, Anakin?"

"I—I don't—" Anakin's eyes flicker over to Obi-Wan's quickly, and then back to the Chancellor's. He's starting to look a little cornered and his thoughts are circling wildly in his head, spilling over into their bond—agreement with the Chancellor's sentiment, frustration with the government's inaction, fear over losing Obi-Wan's regard because of his beliefs, and anger at the thought that Obi-Wan might reprimand him for his thoughts. Obi-Wan nearly flinches at the unexpected emotional onslaught. He doesn't share Anakin's opinions about the Republic but he's dismayed that Anakin could think he would turn from him because of that. And worried about the intensity of his anger at something that hasn't even happened yet and might not (will not) come to pass.

Obi-Wan reaches out and places his hand lightly at the small of Anakin's tense back, pushing lovepeacecalmacceptance at him through their bond. Almost instantly, the other man relaxes. "It sounds to me, Chancellor, like you're suggesting the Republic move away from a democracy and towards an autocracy," he says evenly.

Palpatine's hands clench each other tightly enough that Obi-Wan can see the knuckles whiten but his face remains bland. "Not at all, Master Jedi. I value democracy. I just believe that too large of a system is unwieldy. The highest levels of leadership should still be elected by the people, of course, and represent the people's needs."

"Of course," Obi-Wan agrees absently, looking between the Chancellor's hands and his eyes. Something about what he's said or done has upset the other man.

Palpatine follows his line of sight and his lips thin slightly before his hands relax and he looks back up at them with a mildly cheerful look. He stands and walks around his desk, coming over to clasp Anakin's shoulder. "Well, that meeting wasn't the only reason I had asked you to come, Anakin. I have some news for you. And a request of a somewhat personal nature."

Obi-Wan frowns while Anakin looks at the Chancellor questioningly. He keeps his hand on Anakin's back, unwilling for some reason to let go while Palpatine is touching him.

"Yesterday afternoon," Palpatine starts with a heavy sigh, "the Senate voted for me to directly oversee the operations of the Jedi Order."

"What?" Anakin asks, sounding shocked. Obi-Wan is too stunned to even react. The Chancellor now has oversight of the Jedi? He feels dread curl in his stomach. Why hadn't Mace warned them? He feels off kilter at the news, like the change in authority is already having a ripple effect in the universe.

"Yes. It was a shock to me as well," Palpatine says in a conciliatory tone, like he's sorry to be breaking this news to them. "However, there is a positive aspect to this development. I've been able to request that the High Council admit you as a member. I know that you've chafed at their censure in the past."

"I—what?" Anakin's gaze darts to Obi-Wan, eyes wide and a little panicked. I didn't I mean, I have you know I don't agree with but I didn't -

Anakin, Obi-Wan interrupts. Calm down. Breathe. I know.

He nods jerkily. I've...vented my frustrations to him, when I was upset. And of course, I've wanted to be on the Council - who hasn't - but I never asked him to do anything.

I know. Obi-Wan soothes. He can feel Anakin's panic start to recede. "Chancellor, while it is admirable that you've spoken on behalf of Anakin, I'm afraid that the final decision lies with the Council as do all internal matters regardless of whose authority the Order acts under."

Palpatine arches a brow at him. "Master Kenobi, are you not a member of that Council?"

Obi-Wan refrains from gritting his teeth. "I am. What are you suggesting?"

"Nothing at all. I'm merely observing that you've been Anakin's teacher and mentor for all these years and yet you're part of the body that's holding him back from achieving his full potential. It must be a difficult position to be in."

Anakin's looking between the two of them as they trade thinly-veiled repartees and this is why Obi-Wan dislikes politicians. They see this kind of discourse as a sport, try to twist everything to their own agenda for the sake of argument. But what is Palpatine's agenda here? Obi-Wan can feel a headache forming at the base of his neck. "On the contrary, Chancellor, Anakin has progressed at an average pace. Given his late start, he's actually advanced very rapidly and has been well on track. He's not been held back."

Palpatine frowns. "I'm afraid I have to disagree."

Obi-Wan can feel his headache worsen. Force, how long is this discussion going to continue?

"Regardless. I do hope that the Council will respect my wishes and accept you as a full member, Anakin. I've asked that you sit in as my representative."

"Pardon?" Obi-Wan asks over the sudden thundering in his ears. Anakin shifts slightly and then his fingers rub gently over Obi-Wan's hand, hiding the movement in the voluminous sleeves of their robes.

"What do you mean, Chancellor?" Anakin asks.

"Simply that I would feel more confident in the Order's actions if I knew that someone on the Council was representing my—and the Senate's—interests. and would be honest and transparent when reporting to me."

"No," Obi-Wan says. His own voice sounds distant to him. He can barely hear it over the sound of the Force screaming at him. He feels chilled to the bone, suddenly.

"What do you mean?" Palpatine asks, and his voice takes on an interested, sharp edge. "Surely you're not disagreeing with allowing your own former Padawan onto the High Council?"

Obi-Wan shakes his head sharply and narrows his eyes at the Chancellor. Instead of answering his question, he says, "You're asking him to divide his loyalties. I won't allow him to be treated like a pawn in a game of dejarik. I believe we've taken up enough of your time, Chancellor. Have a good day." He bows his head stiffly and twists his hand to close his fingers around Anakin's, giving them a slight tug. He can feel Anakin's confusion but to his relief, Anakin follows his lead. He bows and murmurs a farewell to the Chancellor as well and walks side by side with Obi-Wan towards the door.

Obi-Wan feels like the Chancellor's gaze is boring into his back although he doesn't turn to look. Out of the corner of his eyes, he sees Anakin glancing at him askance.

What's going on, Obi-Wan?

We're leaving. And he means more than just this meeting.