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stars and dust

Chapter Text

The dust had settled by the time they arrived.

The setting sun loomed low overhead, casting its vivid gaze over the dried and cracked earth, darkening the orange dust to a filthy, bloody red. Dirty blood. It only made it harder to find them.

Anakin Skywalker did his best to conceal the limp in his gate, his ankle jarring painfully with every trip on loose and crumbling stone. He grit his teeth to the pain and soldiered forward, spurred on by determination and strength of will alone.

The clone captain by his side cast a weary eye to him at increasingly frequent intervals, masking his concern beneath the visor of his helmet. It didn’t matter, the Jedi could sense his worry. “Rex.”

“Sir?” The captain jogged forward a few paces to meet him face-to-face.

“I’m fine.” Anakin said, straightening to his full, superior height. His ankle twinged in protest. “I’d appreciate it if you turned your full focus to the mission.”

“With all due respect, sir, you-“

“The mission, Rex.” Anakin repeated, firmer. “That is our priority.”

The clone’s reluctance was apparent, but he fell back without further protest. Anakin sagged a little and continued forward, squinting into the lowering sun, sweat beading at his hairline. His tunics- or what tattered remains there were left of them- clung to him like a second skin, his armour providing some most unwelcome insulation.
It wasn’t just the heat, of course. Heat Anakin could handle. It was the stress, and the exertion, and the pain. His heart thundered in his chest, skyrocketing his pulse. It ran him hot, his skin flushing red and radiating warmth.

His vision swam, merging with the sizzle on the horizon. Everything was liquid on the desert plain.

Casting his eyes skyward did him no good, either. A sharp and sudden pang of panic shot through him, glancing up to find nothing. Nothing but tall pillars of smoke swirling up to mingle with the gathering storm clouds above. No crafts crowding the skies; not even the enemy’s ships, circling like vultures, waiting to pick them off. Nothing.

Ahsoka will come back for us, he told himself.

The dragon that lived curled around his heart raised its horned snout, baring it’s teeth to whisper to him, she cannot feel you from here.

They think you’re dead.

Anakin gritted his teeth and closed his eyes to the fear in his heart, shaking his head in the hope of clearing it of those creeping anxieties. They weren't a distraction he needed at that moment.

They pressed forward; him, and Rex, and a handful of surviving troopers. Numbers too few to even be called a squadron; a last, scrabbling, desperate clan of survivors clawing their way across the desolate plains as one.

Anakin stretched out in the Force, reaching from within himself out into the vast emptiness of the otherworldly energy. Searching, searching, feeling nothing. Nothing at all.

Obi-wan, Obi-wan, “Obi-Wan...?” Anakin’s lips parted around the name, letting it out on a shallow and desperate breath. It felt hopeless.

“We should rest, sir,” said Rex from somewhere behind. He sounded far away.

“Yeah...” Anakin opened his eyes. He hadn’t realised he’d closed them. “Yeah, that’d probably be best.”

He didn’t move, though. Not right away. He paid half a mind to Rex as he fell back and ordered the men to halt, led them to some shelter. The rest of him was still lost to the nothingness.

The Force was quiet, settled like the dust. Nothing stirred it.

In front of him, through the dark frame of his lashes, he squinted out at a wide, unending emptiness. Just dust, and rocks, and debris from the battle.
It was like the unforgiving deserts of his home world, but worse somehow. Worse, because it was unknown, unfamiliar. Worse, because he was alone (aside from his men). Worse, because somewhere out there in the empty Obi-wan lay hurting, or dead. Alone completely. Without him. And Anakin didn’t have a clue where to even begin searching for his former master- his best friend.

He blinked. Once, twice. He hadn’t the moisture to spare for tears, though the sting of them flamed behind his eyes, lumping in his throat. Angry tears. Frustration and hopelessness. And- no, he couldn’t.

He shook his head and summoned a deep, aching breath into his lungs.

There was always hope. Always.
He needed to be strong; for his men, for Obi-wan. All was not hopeless, all was not lost. Not yet. Not while he was still standing.

He would find him. They would be found themselves.

He turned, stitching himself back together into some semblance of composure, and made his way over to the makeshift camp his men had set up. They sheltered under the canopy of a downed gunship, it’s overhanging wing providing some shelter from the last of the daylight. It would get cold that night, Anakin knew that much. Very cold. Deserts like this did.

“You can remove your helmets, but not your armour.” He said, sitting down beside Rex.

“Why not?” One of the troopers, a shinie called Knock-Out.

“I know it doesn’t seem it now,” Anakin smiled, swiping at the sweat on his forehead. “But it’ll get pretty cold soon. I don’t want you to let yourselves get exposed to that. It could kill you, or at the very least exert you, and we don’t want that, do we?”

A chorus of “negative, sir”’s. Anakin nodded, and settled back on his hands, letting his head fall and hang between his shoulders with a soft moan. Everything hurt.

“Are you alright, sir?” Rex’s concern was evident in the hesitant tone of his voice. Anakin tried not to take it as a bad sign, very few things worried the hardened captain of the 501st.

“I’m fine, Rex, you can quit worrying,” Anakin lifted his head, curling forwards instead and bringing his knees up to rest his elbows on. “You’re as bad as-“ the words died on his tongue. You’re as bad as Obi-wan.

A pause, the other man seemed to understand.
“We’ll find them, sir.” The captain offered kindly. “We’ll find General Kenobi.”

“Yeah, Rex.” Anakin nodded, and when the words got stuck in his throat, he cleared it. “I know we will.”

A Few Hours Earlier

Blast!” Obi-wan cursed, his voice crackling through the com.

“Everything good down there, master?” Anakin smirked as he sent his ship into a tight spin, ducking down under an enemy cruiser and torpedoing up the other side, swinging his fighter around to face the droids on his tail. He nearly didn’t catch Obi-wan’s answer over the din of blasterfire.

“The situation is looking a little dire down here, I must admit-“ Whatever Obi-wan said next was lost to the deafening explosion of a cruiser Anakin just led a set of particularly nasty torpedos into. There was a slight pause, followed by: “Anakin, was that you?”

Anakin rolled his fighter to the side and sped off, breaking through walls of vulture droids and dodging strings of enemy fire at a blurring pace. “If you mean, am I the one that exploded?, no.” He returned fire at the droid on his tail. “If you mean, am I the one who caused the explosion?, then yes.” He could hear Obi-wan’s exasperated answering sigh.

“Don’t do anything reckless, Anakin. You know-“ The line erupted into a harsh series of crackles and whirrs, something rumbling in the background like rolling thunder. A distorted cry- broken by the glitching connection, but still unmistakably Obi-wan’s- then the connection dropped altogether.

“Obi-wan? Obi-wan!” Anakin called, sparing a glance down at his communications panel. “R2, what happened?”

A beep and a blip, and the little droid’s response scrawled across the screen: the line went dead.

“Well, fix it!”

Another blip: not on our end.

“See if there’s anything you can do.” Fear gripped at Anakin, twisting low in his gut. Breathe, breathe he told himself in a voice that sounded achingly similar to his former master’s. He switched his com over to another channel, “Ahsoka?”

“Right here, master.” She answered immediately, voice crisp and clear over the headset. Anakin figured she must be somewhere close-by. He glanced up, craning his neck under the canopy of his fighter. A little way away, right in the thick of some serious blasterfire, he spotted his padawan’s ship.

“Obi-wan’s in trouble, I’m going down.”

“But- master!” But master, but master- always with the but’s, Anakin thought, distractedly. “You can’t!”

“I have to.” He said firmly, whipping his starfighter around and banking it down, thrusting it into a tight dive.

“Then I’m coming with you.”

“No!” Anakin cried, struggling to keep his temper in check. She meant well, and he knew it, but the frustration of hearing Obi-wan in distress and not being there to help him- it was eating at him more and more every second. He needed Ahsoka here, with the men and the ships. One of them needed to stay behind. “You’re needed here.”

“Then at least take Rex. Take some men. Take a gunship, master! Even you can’t expect to just land a fighter down there.” She had a point. She always did.

With a strangled cry Anakin pulled his ship up, the joystick struggling in his grasp. “I’m heading back to the cruiser. I’ll take a squad down and rescue our damsel. I need you to stay here, keep up the fight, alright?”

More droids, another whole formation of vultures heading right for him. Anakin cursed, thrusting his fighter forward as fast as it would go. He didn’t have time for this. Obi-wan didn’t have time.

To his right, from practically nowhere, a torrent of laser fire broke the ranks of the droids. He flicked his eyes to the side, smiling, knowing full-well who had his back. “Thanks, Snips."

“Sure thing, Skyguy.” Came the response. Anakin had to hand it to her, his padawan’s timing was impeccable. “I’ll handle things here, you just focus on rescuing Master Kenobi.”

Anakin thanked her, streaming his fighter for the cruiser’s hangar. He turned serious then. “Ahsoka, if things get too crazy up here I need to trust that you’ll make the right call.”

“You mean retreat.” He could hear her distaste.

“I mean, think about the lives of the men. Don’t risk staying any longer than you have to. Than you can.”

A huff, distorted by the comlink. “Are you seriously going to lecture me on attachment, master? Now?

“I know, I know.” Anakin drew alongside the star destroyer’s hangar, throwing the fighter into a hurried landing cycle. “Do as I say, Ahsoka.”

“Not as you do, got it.” The line cut off as Anakin set the ship down in the hangar, lunging out of the pilot’s seat and sprinting the moment his feet touched down, comlink on his wrist raised and hailing Rex before he could take his next breath. He raced passed troopers scuttling back and forth between battle stations, leaving R2-D2 whirring behind him, beeping indignantly.

The clone captain met him at a prepped gunship at the far end of the hangar, a team of men armed and ready by his side. Another squad stood beside an adjacent ship, saluting and prepared to take orders. They all clambered aboard and the pilots lifted off, sealing the blastdoors shut. The red lights cast an eery glow in the interior, the clones all standing rigid, hands clasping the railing above their heads to keep them steady as the ship bucked and swooped through enemy fire. Anakin shouted to be heard over the rumble of the gunship’s engine.

“Locating General Kenobi and his team is our top priority. Do not unnecessarily engage with the enemy. This is a rescue mission, nothing more. Keep your heads down, got it?”

An unanimous affirmative. Anakin nodded. It seemed mere seconds before they broke the atmosphere of the planet below. It also seemed an eternity.

Present

A voice, familiar and surly, shattered the serenity of his meditation. Snatched him from the peaceful lull he’d managed to conjure in the chaos. Insanely enough, such a successful meditation was usually beyond Anakin, even on a good day at the temple. Perhaps, then, it hadn’t been a form of rumination at all. Maybe he’d been loosing consciousness. It wasn’t unlikely...
Either way, it had been peaceful, and welcome. And Anakin wasn’t very pleased with having it interrupted.

More than a little vexed, Anakin cracked open one eye to peer from beneath a shroud of lashes at his second-in-command, “what is it, Rex?”

“Sir, it’s daybreak.” The captain gestured out to the rising sun, the first rays stretching long fingers up into the pink morning sky.

“What’s the cycle here on…” Anakin couldn’t summon the planet’s name to save himself. “Here?” He supplied instead, not really caring if Rex caught him out. The captain knew full well by now that Anakin could be quite forgetful when it came to the trivial details. He took it upon himself to memorise them for the both of them. The Jedi could focus on storing away all the weird, oddly specific snatches of trivia he had rattling around up there that somehow always seemed to come in handy.

“About 22 standard hours.”

Oh. So Anakin really had been on the verge of unconsciousness for nearly a full standard night. Maybe he had been meditating, then. Wouldn’t Obi-wan be pleased…

“Why didn’t you wake me sooner?” He opened his eyes fully now, stirring into action as he hauled himself to his feet, forgetting for a moment his injured ankle and regretting it when it pulsed painfully.

“I didn’t want to rouse you unnecessarily, sir.” The clone stood up from his crouch beside the knight and nodded to the men. “Besides, we all needed the rest. I figured we were safe here. No telling when we’d next have the opportunity to regain our strength.”

“Be that as it may,” Anakin said, stumbling forwards and swallowing a yelp as he put his weight on his injured ankle. Through gritted teeth he continued, “the more time we waste here, the longer the others have gone without aid.” They could be dead. He could have died while you just sat here, the dragon hissed.

“You’re hurt.”

“I’m aware.” Anakin snapped. He was overcome by immediate guilt when he felt his arm being slung over armoured shoulders, a gloved hand coming up to grip around his lower back. His resolve crumpled just a little. “Thank-you,” he said, softly.

“You shouldn’t be moving around on it.” Rex told him, something in his voice suggesting that he knew all too well that there was nothing he could say that would stop the boneheaded general from doing just that.

“We have to find Obi-wan.” Anakin responded quietly. “I can’t stop until we do.”

“I know.” The captain told him. He said no more.

Earlier

The gunship careened sideways, sending the passengers in it’s hull jumbling into one another. Anakin gripped hard at the bar above his head, using the Force to help keep his own balance. He flung out an arm as Rex went hurtling passed him to prevent him from toppling into the fray.

The clone trooper shot him a sheepish grin from under his helmet, “thanks.”

“Don’t mention it.” The Jedi turned over his shoulder, shouting to the cockpit. “Pilot! What was that?”

There was no response.

A moment later the craft began a rapid nosedive towards the unforgiving planet surface below, hurtling downwards at a breakneck speed. The men let out a symphony of cries as they lost their footing altogether and fell in a heap against the wall.

“Brace yourselves!” Anakin ordered pointlessly, his stomach lurching as they began to spiral. They were going to crash, that much seemed inevitable. The young knight bit his lip- a risky move- and brought both hands up to clutch at the railing, spreading his stance wide. He forced his body to loosen in preparation for the undoubtedly sudden and jarring impact.

It didn’t seem to do him much good. The engines gave one last wailing scream before the craft pitched violently and slammed to the ground, sliding several hundred paces before flipping up over itself and rolling to a rather unceremonious stop. Anakin was thrown on impact, the handrail snatched from his grip as he collided with the grate flooring. All around him his men were tossed about, slamming into the roof and floor and walls with sickening crunches and cut-off screams. This wasn’t Anakin’s first crash-landing- not by a long shot- but he was getting an increasingly bad feeling it could possibly be his last.

He was sent flying again as the gunship flipped and rolled, tossed like a doll. His foot caught on something while his body kept going, and his ankle gave with a nauseating crack and pop, causing him to let loose a strangled cry of pain. He didn’t have time to suffer, though, as a moment later his skull met the far wall and all went dark.


He was the first to wake. The first of those who survived, that is. He could feel the loss in the Force, a distant sense of vacancy; an awareness of now empty spaces where life was just moments ago.

He blinked, his head throbbing. Blood had trickled into his left eye, matting his lashes together and, for a frightening moment, fooling him into thinking he’d gone blind. He swiped the dried gunk away with a shaky hand and glanced around.

He was on the floor- no, the wall of the gunship, sprawled amongst the bodies of his squad. Aside from his pounding headache and the split on skull, there was, undoubtedly, a lot of bruising beneath his robes. Not to the mention his injured ankle, which made itself known with a painful twinge as he shifted his weight. That, he suspected with no small amount of displeasure, was likely broken.
But he was alive. At least he had that.

“Squad, roll-call!” He croaked, curling his lip at the way his voice cracked in his throat. He dragged himself upright, twisting to sit leant against the floor-wall. He braced himself, and took a couple of deep breaths. His ribs groaned and ached in response. So, broken then. Great.

Feeling rather sorry for himself, Anakin listened as his men called out their names and status. Not many had come-to, yet, and he hoped more would wake soon. Far too few responded.

Rex stirred somewhere to his right, and grumbled something that sounded like “just our luck”. Anakin breathed an inward sigh of relief; at least his right hand man survived the 'premature decent’ as he’d like to call them. 'Crash' sounded too much like a defeat.

“Are you alright, sir?” The trooper crawled over to him, seemingly intact.

Anakin offered him a weak smile, “I’ll live.” And almost immediately let out a grunt of pain as his ankle throbbed. Rex didn’t seem to buy it, but said no more, simply rested a comforting hand on the young man’s shoulder.

They sat for a moment, catching their breaths, waiting for the surviving members of the squad to rouse.

It took some time before they were ready to be mobile, gear in hand and helmets on. Most of the injured men had died in the crash, leaving the remaining members graciously unscathed. They rolled stiff shoulders and rubbed tender bruises, but none were incapable of running, and most were already gunning for a fight, eager to avenge their fallen comrades.

Anakin carved a hole through the hull, Rex kicking the severed metal out with a loud clang. They peered around the molten edges, squinting into the sudden, harsh light. Skywalker could see nothing but scorched earth either side, and only the long stretch of debris in front of them left by their landing. No sign of their second gunship, no sign of Obi-wan, no sign, even, of a battle at all. Nothing. Not even the hint of the planet’s civilisation, or wildlife, or anything. A sick feeling settled in the pit of his stomach.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” Rex muttered beside him. Anakin was inclined to agree.

Chapter Text

Earlier

They marched south, away from where they faced when they crawled from the wreck of their ship, towards where the craft had been headed. Upon cresting a hill they spotted a spread of wreckage in the distance, patches of debris and shot-down ships from either side of the confrontation speckled the outlying regions of the battle’s plain. Smoke wafted in thick clouds from tiny furnaces that flickered like fireflies in the haze of the desert’s sizzling horizon. The battle had drawn to an end recently, that much was clear. They’d have to hurry if they wanted to make it there before enemy scavengers began picking off the remaining survivors, or sparked up a new wave of fighting.

Obi-wan was somewhere down there. Anakin knew it- he could feel it. 

“I’m coming, master.” He uttered under his breath. “Just hang in there.” 

All was deathly quiet as they stumbled to the bottom of the hill. Not a tree in sight with leaves to rustle, or a desert dwelling critter to stir up the dust. Anakin found himself holding his breath, walking with a tension in his shoulders; apprehension, his hand instinctively hovering by the lightsaber on his belt, ready to draw it at any moment. The air seemed still, like the whole place was holding it’s breath with him; wound tight like a trap about to spring.

It’s bait lay a few paces ahead.

A pair of troopers wandered on ahead of the rest, blasters drawn, scouting. Anakin was glancing sceptically off to the side when he heard them shouting; “Over here! Over here! We’ve found one!” He and Rex took off at a sprint, skidding to a halt beside where one of the scouts knelt in the dirt beside a fallen trooper. The wounded soldier bore armour of white and orange- the colours of Kenobi’s battalion, the 212th. At a glance he seemed fine, until Skywalker’s gaze dropped further.

From the gaps in his armour where his black undergarments were visible, sticky, dark blood oozed down to mingle with the dust and the dirt. From the looks of it it wasn’t blasterfire- that would’ve scorched the armour and cauterised the wound. More likely shrapnel; maybe an enemy bomb, or even one of their own. The blood seemed to source from a wound just above his utility belt- below his chest plate and to the side, and at the place where his hip met his waist. It dripped audibly to the crusted ground below, already pooling beneath him. The trooper twitched and gasped, his lungs wheezing around the filth and fumes he’d breathed in in the aftermath of the battle. It wasn’t likely he would make it.

“Trooper,” Anakin knelt beside him, taking his hand where it flailed in the air, fingers clawing for purchase. The dying man gripped his mechanical hand like it was a lifeline. “What is your name?”

“Chains, sir-“ The man gasped, his voice like all the others. He coughed weakly, his free hand coming up to claw uselessly at the edge of his helmet, slipping against the smooth surface with gore-stained fingers. The second scout, the one not already knelt beside the fallen soldier, dropped down to help him remove the mask.

The man took a deep breath, the air cool against his skin. Sweat beaded along his brow, his cheeks, dripping off the curve of his nose. He was pale, the blood loss already draining the colour from him. He looked dead already.

“CC-2239, I’m with the 7th Sky Corps, sir. 212th battalion.” Anakin and his troops all exchanged glances. Obi-wan had been here, then.

“And your commander? Is Cody here?” Rex prompted him, edging closer.

The trooper slid his gaze to him, loosing focus for just a moment. “Yes,” he said on a grunt, his face twisting in pain. “Yes, we were all… here.”

“General Kenobi?” Anakin gripped his hand tighter, giving it a little shake to get the fading soldier’s attention. It pained him, to bother the man in his final moments. To ask him to use the last of his strength to answer their questions. But they needed information- they needed something. And these men were trained for it. It’s what they were bred to do; serve until their dying breath.

“He was... with us.”

Obi-wan had been here. He had been right here.

“What happened?”

The man seemed to brace himself, wetting his lips and drawing in a deep breath. “Everything was going fine. We had… surrounded their forces and… they were giving in. You were up there,” He lifted one finger to the sky where the lights of their cruisers could still be seen. The firefight had ended a little while ago, dowsing the planet in silence. No flashes, no deafening eruptions as ships came hurtling through the atmosphere. Just quiet, and the lights of fleets that mingled with the stars. “Winning. We thought… we thought we’d got it in the bag…” A noise, halfway between and sob and moan. “Then they’d just… erupted. There was fire everywhere, and shrapnel, and blood. So loud. I’ve never… seen anything like it, general. It was like the world was ending.”

“What was it? A weapon? Tell us,” Anakin implored him, his heart thudding in his chest, battering against his ribs like a caged animal.

“I… don’t know, sir. I’m sorry. I don’t…” A frown, a blink. Anakin could feel him slipping. “I could hear… screaming. My brothers… and the general…”

“Yes, yes,” Anakin shot a hand out, cupping the man’s cheek, fingers slipping on something wet and red by the man’s ear. Blood. It was everywhere. He shook him gently, begging him to hang on just a little longer. Begging him to tell him where Kenobi was. “The general- where is Master Kenobi?”

“He…” A hiss, like a great serpent. His hand slipped from Skywalker’s grasp, dropping unceremoniously to the earth below, a single finger extended. “Ran. The ravine… the ra...v...”

Ravine?

“Where? Where?” Anakin’s voice rose to a desperate shout, but the trooper was already gone. His jaw fell slack in his grasp, his eyes growing glassy and vacant. Dark, the light inside him snuffed out.

The Force sagged for a moment, heavy with loss, and then sprung back as if nothing had ever happened, the man’s soul lost to the hereafter along with his fallen brothers’.

“He was pointing, sir.” Rex said; his voice soft, adopting a somber quietness. “Look.”

Anakin did. The pointer finger the of dead trooper’s extended hand trailed off, gesturing towards the wreckage, and beyond. Anakin squinted- and maybe it was just a trick of the light, but he could've sworn he saw the ground dip a little way off, beyond the perimeter of the battleground. He raised a hand, shielding his eyes. 

Yes, it was surely a drop in the scorched earth. Across the battlefield, a good few klicks away.

“Well, I guess that way’s our best shot.” He sighed, standing to his feet.

Rex stood beside him, following his line of sight. “What do you reckon wiped them out?”

“I dunno.” Anakin shrugged, dropping his shielding hand, wrinkling his nose when he felt sticky residue left behind in it’s wake. The soldier’s blood would mix with his own there. When Anakin washed it off, he wouldn’t be able to tell which is whose. That’s the way it always was. “I just hope that whatever it was, it doesn’t get us as well.”

“Feeling’s mutual.”

 

They squad regrouped and moved forward, traipsing passed the occasional fallen comrade and dismantled battle droid; these littered the outskirts of the field, growing more frequent as they approached the boarders of the debris proper.

“Stay alert.” Anakin order, reaching for his saber. “We don’t know who or what could still be here.”

As if cued by his orders, by the break in the silence, from somewhere up above a loud whining broke through the atmosphere. They all tipped their heads up to watch as the burning orange thrusters of their commanding cruiser blossomed in the sky; brightening with a piercing revving before disappearing in a trail of fast-fading blue light. Gone. 

They'd left them behind.

Ahsoka, what are you doing? Anakin thought, his blood running cold. If the rest of the fleet followed suit they’d be left planet-side alone, with no backup, with not escape. Their communications weren’t reaching, they’d tried that already. They had no way of contacting their men above.

“They’re retreating!” One of the troopers shouted, panic edging his tone.

Anakin swallowed his own fear down. “Strategic, I’m sure. They’ll be back for us.” He lied. He marched forward, not daring to watch the sky to see if the rest of the fleet had abandoned them, too.

He let his mind wander, replaying the events of the past few hours. Hearing Obi-wan’s cry- startled, even pained- it’d been momentarily too much. After all they’d been through, after nearly loosing his master far too many times, he’d thought he’d be used to the way his blood ran cold when he thought Obi-wan was in danger. The way the bottom of his stomach seemed to drop away, the way his heart leapt to his throat, the way his hands shook.

But no, he’d never grown used to it, he didn’t really think he ever would. He didn’t want to. He didn’t want it to get so bad that it happened often enough for him to grow accustomed to the possibility of loosing-

Everything. His everything.

Even now he was on edge; his hands itched to touch his master, to hold him and feel him, and know that he was alive and safe.

Deep down Anakin knew he would be, believed he would be. In all his years of knowing Obi-wan- more than half his lifetime- he’d never truly believed the man could be killed. Harmed, yes, even stolen from him, but never gone for good.

Oh, he worried. Constantly. He feared for the man, but rarely for his life. Not really. Anakin couldn’t imagine a galaxy without Obi-wan Kenobi. He didn’t think such a thing could exist.

Still, the dragon in his heart flicked its tongue at him; no man is immortal, not even he.

He’ll die without you. You cannot save him. Not this time.

Anakin clenched his fist; stop.

They were nearly at the ruins of the ground assault. Nearly, nearly there.

The pain in his ankle was excruciating, breaking through his shields every now and again as if to remind him just how royally screwed they were.

You’re going to die out here in the desert, the dragon purred. It serves you right.

No, Anakin thought, gritting his teeth. He couldn’t let that be the fate of his men; Obi-wan’s fate.

The suns had tried to swallow him before, but he had always burned brighter than they. He wasn’t just carrying the torch for his men, he was the torch. The Hero With No Fear. And so help him Force, he was going to get them home. All of them.

Present

The new day brought with it a heat more intense than the last. Most of the troops removed their helmets before the midday sun even reached it’s peek, too stuffy in the confines of their uniform. Sweat dripped and dragged through the blood on Anakin’s forehead, and occasionally he tasted metal mingled with the salt on his tongue.

He panted, parched, thinking back regrettably to his last meal. He’d stupidly skipped out on rations before the mission commenced, too riled up by the potential of a fight to even consider eating. Boy, did he regret it now.

His stomach churned uncomfortably, twisting around itself and searing with acidity. His throat burned, scratchy and raw. He couldn't even summon enough saliva to swallow. Nothing to ease the burn. He was on fire, a furnace lighting him up from the inside out.

His rage didn’t help. His temper grew shorter and shorter with each passing minute, every step shortening his fuse bit by bit. He was just about ready to explode.

They opted for skirting around the edges of the wreckages, avoiding traipsing through the centre of the battlefield. It lengthened their journey to the far side, but it also lessened their risk of running into adversaries; after the dying troopers recount of the nightmarish battle none of them were keen to experience the mysterious foe that'd wiped them out firsthand.

“Looks like we’re approaching the ravine, sir.” Rex informed him. Anakin blinked, drawing from his thoughts, and squinted ahead of him. It was getting harder to see, his vision shaky and dark at the edges. He had a bad feeling it wasn’t just due to the heat.

“Great, tell the men to put their gear back on and get ready. We’ll most likely need grapples if we’re gonna go down.”

The men adjusted their blasters, the grappling hooks clicking into place, the men replacing their helmets without fuss. They marched in a tight formation, Anakin at the head with Rex to his right, one blaster loaded with his hook and the other pointed out defensively.

Just as the trooper had said- a ravine. The scorched earth dropped off suddenly, falling away and reappearing a few clicks across the other side, carrying on indefinitely. Anakin approached the edge, bracing himself as he peered over the edge, not trusting himself to keep from toppling over. 

The edge carried a long way down, the ground nearly lost to a blanket of greying cloud cover. Tall trees of a dense green foliage rose above the lowest hanging clouds, their peak branches reaching towards the topless sky. Vines laced across the cavern walls, sinking below where the clouds were thickest. Something blue disrupted the mottled green of the ravine floor, which Anakin suspected was a water source of some kind.

Rex let out a low whistle, “I don’t think our lines will be long enough.”

“Who woulda guessed this was hiding out here?” One of the rookies at the back of the group muttered aloud. Anakin flicked his eyebrows up, nodding. It was certainly a change of scenery.

“Find a ledge point, boys. We’re going down.” Anakin said, twisting around and feeling for a sturdy edge to hook his cable to, digging the picks in and unravelling his line. He waited a few moments for his team to assemble before descending into the ravine, feet plastered to the rock face and hands knotted firmly in his cable.

The temperature change was an immediate relief, the cavern providing a cool escape from the unforgiving sun. The sound of water trickled to him the further down he went, and his tongue licked at his lips instinctively at the thought of finally quenching his maddening thirst. He kept his wits about him, stretching out in the Force for any signs of Obi-wan or his men. Things felt different in the ravine. There was certainly life; curled into crevices in the canyon walls, slipping through the streams below, fluttering about the canopies. It finally felt alive down there. Anakin had begun to forget what that felt like in the Force.

“There are caves, sir,” One of the troopers announced. “In the walls.”

He was right. A few seconds later Anakin’s foot sunk into thin air, left dangling without a purchase as he stepped off the mouth of a crevice opening. He loosening his grip on his cable a slid down a way, tightening his grasp when his feet found ground again, his head poking just above the lip of the opening. It was too dark inside to see far, but the possibility of there being many caves like this sunk into the cavern walls- holes large enough to house men- was a welcome thought. Obi-wan could have taken shelter in one of these, hidden away out of sight.

“Switch your torches on, check the caves for any sign of them!” He ordered, his voice carrying in the expanse of the ravine. To his left and right tiny pricks of light sprung to life as his men activated the torches that were built into their helmets or clung to their hips. Anakin had nothing to light the way himself, but he needn’t carry anything. The Force did the searching for him, reaching it’s hand into the dark to feel around the blackness for something, someone. A someone with honey-coloured hair, and pressed robes, and no doubt a very unimpressed look on his face.

“Sir- I think I found something!”

Anakin’s heart stopped for a moment. The next he was beside the trooper, blinking into the darkness to where he kept his headlamp pointed; at a pile of jagged boulders where a bundle of robes lay, dirty and singed in places, but unmistakable to him. As familiar as his own- more so, even. 

“Obi-wan…” he breathed.

The bundle stirred.

Chapter Text

Anakin swung down into the darkness, ignoring the protests of his captain as he landed with a feline-like grace near the mouth of the cave.

“Obi-wan?” He called, ducking to keep from hitting his head on the ceiling of the canyon alcove, hands held to the figure collapsed against the stone.

The figure stirred again, face obscured in the darkness. There was a moment where their eyes locked; Anakin could feel their gaze on him, something familiar, yet…

“General Skywalker?”

Cody?” Anakin couldn’t keep the surprise from his voice. His disappointment, however, he buried deep down inside as he crouched beside the wounded clone commander. Rex entered the cave, bathing the space in the light of his torch. Anakin heard a scuffle, and the rapid clang of armoured boots against rock, then Rex was beside him, strong hands gripping at his brother, pulling him upright from where he’d flopped against the jagged surface of the rocks.

“Rex? That you?” Cody grunted, blinking into the sharp brightness of the captain’s flashlight. Rex turned the beam around, pointing it at a near wall.

“Yeah, brother. It’s me.” Anakin registered the wince on the commander’s face as Rex clapped him on the shoulder.

The Jedi’s eyes traveled downwards, running over the armoured shoulder and breastplates emblazoned with the symbol of the Order, the soft fabric of the pale tunics he’d gripped and smoothed and washed and torn a thousand times before. His master’s tunics. Obi-wan’s.

“Cody…” He said slowly, perplexed. “Why are you wearing General Kenobi’s clothes?”

“Oh, that-“ The commander was cut off suddenly by a flash of light and a deafening blast as a red bolt shot passed their heads. It erupted into the wall behind them, sending a pile of loose boulders precariously balanced there tumbling down on top of them. Rex gave a shout, tugging Cody out of the way- not quite fast enough, a stray rock raining down and colliding with the latter's skull with an audible crack.

Anakin swore, whipping round with his saber drawn and ignited in the space of a heartbeat. Rex lunged up, snatching his blasters from where he’d tossed them to the floor, and raced for the cave entrance. Outside blasterfire lit up the fog like red lightning, shattering the tranquil quiet of the place. Anakin tore out of the cave after Rex, blade whirring with the motion.

Before him, weaving through the canopies and out of the thickset clouds, was a pair of battle droids on STAPs; zipping out of the line of fire and returning with their own, scorching the rock face either side of Anakin. He lifted his lightsaber, the blade humming with life, illuminating the shadowy entrance to the alcove. He parried a pair of blast bolts, returning them to their sender. One bolt struck the very edge of one of the hovercrafts, sending it spiralling out of control, slamming into the ravine wall. The second droid kept at it, firing a steady torrent of deadly bolts with surprising accuracy.

The clones swung on their lines, one trooper nearly falling to his doom as his cable was severed by a stray bolt, caught in time by a nearby comrade.

Anakin whirred his saber through the air, lowering it to his side as he threw a leg back, bending at the knees in preparation to spring. “Hold your fire!” He ordered just before leaping up, snagging the fingers of his mechanical hand on the ledge of the STAP's standing platform. The droid let out a high-pitched cry of surprise, attempting to twist around. Anakin sliced through the blaster it drew from it’s side with ease, the weapon and hand holding it falling through the curtain of thick fog below. The droid made a sound of mechanical anguish, which was quickly cut-off by Anakin taking control of the craft, steering it towards the lip of the cave.

He cut the engine, dropping himself and the incapacitated droid to the floor with a loud series of scrapes and clatters. The droid attempted to stand, but was swiftly tackled to the ground by nearby troops.

“Keep him intact,” Anakin said, standing, brushing the dirt from his tunics. “Maybe he can give us some answers.”

“Never!” The droid hissed, it’s vocaliser muffled by the clone bodies pinning it down.

Anakin sneered, “we’ll see.”

 

Cody was out cold. They wouldn’t be able to examine the extent of his injuries until after he came-to; nor would they be able to ask him any of their burning questions.

Anakin struggled to contain a frustrated sigh, turning his back on the unconscious clone for a moment, forcing steady breaths to calm his adrenaline. He raised his head, the glint of determination in his eyes, and prowled over to where they’d trapped the droid, pinned by a particularly heavy boulder.

The droid didn’t crack easily. It was down one leg and the second hand before Anakin decided to switch tactics, opting to instead break into the machine’s code and reprogram it. It took some time, huddled at first by the mouth of the cave to make use of the natural light, and then further inside by torchlight as isolated showers formed in the ravine, drenching them in darkness. Eventually he got it right.

“Who do you serve?” He asked, propping the machine against the wall and squatting before it.

“Dooku.” The droid said simply.

“Where is your base?” Rex inquired, stood with his arms crossed behind the general.

The droid took a second to process. “Base 113A, thirty klicks south of Drop Point D. The command centre.”

Anakin frowned. Base? Drop point? From the sounds of it the Separatists had a whole operation going on here, and they’d blindly stumbled into it thinking this would be an easy win. It was possible this was another of the enemy’s secret weapons factories; they tended to favour arid climates with plenty of secrets held beneath the surface...

If he was right- and he had a gut feeling he was- then it was likely the mystery weapon that decimated the 212th was a test for a product developed on the planet.

It was also possible that the surviving members of the 212th had been taken prisoner there.

Only one way to find out.

“Power down.” Anakin ordered, and the droid’s ‘eyes’ went dark, it’s head tipping forward. Anakin stood, head ducked, and turned to face Rex and the rest of the troops who’d crowded into the cave. “I suggest you all get some rest, check your mags. Tomorrow we’re gonna follow this guy back home; if I’m right, we could potentially be walking right into a highly fortified Separatist camp, complete with whatever fresh hell they dumped on your brothers out there. So get ready, it’s time to hit back.”

“Yes, sir!” The troops chorussed, breaking up when dismissed and crawling out of the cave to tuck away in holes of their own scattered around the rock face.

“General,” Rex called him in a hushed whisper. “Commander Cody is waking up.” Anakin knelt beside the trooper as he stirred, frown forming as his eyes fluttered open. 

“Cody?” Anakin spoke his name softly, acknowledging him with trepidation, subconsciously nibbling on the inside of his lip.

Cody didn’t speak for a moment, gazing somewhere passed them. He brought a hand up to rub at the tender welt on the back of his head. “Did you get the droid?”

A sigh of relief, inaudible but felt heavily in the two watching him.

“Yes,” Skywalker told him with the subtlest hint of smugness. “I got him to talk. He told us about a base somewhere not too far from here. Did you know anything about that?”

Cody thought for a moment. He didn’t look at Skywalker. “How did you find me here, general?”

Anakin exchanged a look with Rex, “We found one of your men up top. We lost him, but before he died he told us of an explosion. He lead us to the ravine,” Anakin jerked his chin towards the entrance of the cave. “Said Obi-wan ran here.”

“We did.” Cody said, his gaze slipping, lost in himself as if reliving the memory. “Myself and the general, and most of 7th Sky- we retreated here. The explosion took out most of the battalion. Wiped them out almost instantly. It was chaos- fire and smoke, and lasers everywhere. Blood. We just couldn’t hold ground, so we ran. Hoped you would see it and come to the rescue,” Cody offered him the barest hint of a smile, a weak thing. “Guessing that’s why you’re here?”

“Something like that.” Anakin admitted. “But the base, commander? What do you know?"

The ghostly fragments of the commander’s smile slipped away, “I don’t recall a base, sir, but I have no doubt there was one. There must be- we were pursued.” He said darkly, an ugly look crawling across his face, setting in the hard lines there. "Anything they could throw at us just short of Grevious himself. They wouldn’t have deployed so many clankers if they didn’t have some hole to slink back to. They wanted the general- hunted him. It was my idea for him to put my armour on. With my helmet on I thought they wouldn’t be able to pick him out. He even gave me this,” He shifted, pulling something cylindrical from a crevice in the rocks. 

Anakin frowned. Obi-wan’s lightsaber. He took the weapon, the weight and shape of it familiar in his hands. Cold and smooth, and lethal as anything.
“They got him.” He muttered quietly. He wasn’t asking. Deep down inside he didn’t want to know for sure.

“I don’t know.”

The jedi shot his head up, surprised. “What do you mean you don’t know?” He stared, eyes widened, his voice straining to keep even.

“Listen, sir,” Cody looked at him, right at him, with a gaze like steel. Deadly serious. Like he was trying to convey something with his eyes that he couldn’t find the words to describe. “This planet… it’s not what you think. We had no idea what we were up against. The readouts of the planet showed nothing. It’s like this ravine; there’s more to this place than meets the eye.” He sighed, as if the weight of the galaxy was crushing him. "I thought it was all just rock and dust, but there’s so much more going on here than we realised.”

“What do you mean?” Anakin didn’t mean to whisper, but it seemed all he could manage.

The commander only shook his head.

“I think that might be enough for now, sir.” Rex said, something in his voice telling Anakin he wasn’t just suggesting. He took the hint, retreating away from the men, turning his back on them as a whirlwind of thoughts cycled endlessly through his head. He felt dizzier and dizzier the more he tried to chase the answers round.

 

Cody passed out not long after Rex called it quits, huddled in the very back of the cave wrapped in the tatters of Obi-wan’s robes- sans his cloak, which Anakin took.

“You’re bleeding.” Rex had pointed out, nodding to a patch of red blossoming over the commander’s side.

“I’m… not sure it’s mine.” Cody’d replied slowly, pressing a hand to the stain. Anakin had had to try and shrug off the feeling of dread that clouded over him in that moment. It was the last thing the clone said before he fell back unconscious.

Anakin sat at the mouth of the cave, legs dangling off the ledge, Obi-wan’s robe wrapped around his shoulders. He shivered violently, moisture beginning to gather in and drip from his hair. It was even cooler in the ravine, night turning the mist from a welcome relief to an icy chill; the kind that ached to the bone.

In his hands he held Kenobi’s lightsaber, the weapon achingly familiar to him, glinting in the hazy moonlight.

This weapon is your life, he heard Obi-wan say; the voice an echo, a distant memory. Or, perhaps not so distant. Even now, after his knighting, Obi-wan still lectured Anakin, still tore off after him when he ran headlong into a confrontation without any regard for his safety. Anakin knew he was reckless. He knew he teetered just this side of dangerous. He also knew that Obi-wan would always be there to pull him back from that edge. Or, at least that was what he’d come to believe.

It appeared Anakin never learned his lessons- his arm was proof of that; a constant, ugly reminder of his failure.

And here, now, on this planet. It’d been his idea to pursue the enemy to the distant reaches of the Mid Rim, right to the border of the Outer territory. Stupidly thinking they could take the enemy, could capture- even kill- Count Dooku himself. It’d seemed so easy. If he’d had half the sense to stop and examine the situation, he’d have realised too easy.

Now Obi-wan was paying the price for his recklessness.

Ahsoka, his own padawan, somewhere lightyears from here, probably thought he was dead. Probably thought she’d lost them both.

Stupid, stupid.

Anakin grit his teeth, clenching the lightsaber in his fist. He was desperate for daybreak. Desperate to track that droid back to the lions den. Desperate to get Obi-wan back, to see him and hold him, and know unequivocally that he was alright. That he was alive.

“Sir?” All their voices sounded the same, and yet Anakin could pick Rex’s anywhere.

He sniffled, swiping under his nose, and glanced up at the captain, “Yeah?”

The clone sat down, lowering himself with a small grunt to the ground, sliding his legs off the edge in mirror to Anakin’s. They sat in silence for a moment, Rex just looking at him, scrutinising what he could see poking from the hood of the cloak. “We’ll get him back, sir. We’ll get them all back. They’re alive, I know it.”

Anakin swallowed. Something in the captain’s voice was a little too tender for the troubled knight’s liking. “I hope so.”

A pause.

“General Kenobi, he means a lot to you.” The way Rex said it, it wasn’t a question.

“I... guess he does.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Anakin blinked. “What?”

Rex pressed his lips together, pausing for a moment to collect the words he wanted. He ducked his head, fiddling with the helmet he held in his hands. “My brothers and I, we love each other.” He said, finally.

Anakin wasn’t sure how to respond to that. Wasn’t sure exactly what the trooper's point was.

“You Jedi have your codes, I get that,” Rex continued. “But sometimes I have to wonder…” He huffed out a small laugh. “You treat love like it’s a weakness. But you ask any of us and we’ll tell you our family is our greatest strength. We fight for each other, and die for each other, and the bond we have with one another gives us purpose. It gives us what we need to get up and keep going.”

“Jedi aren’t banned from love.” Anakin said quietly, and even as he did so he could hear the same conversation he’d had many times before. 'Are you allowed to love? I thought that was forbidden for a Jedi’ ‘Attachment is forbidden. Possession, forbidden. Compassion… unconditional love… is central to a Jedi’s life. So you might say we are encouraged to love’. Even as he relived the memories of discussions long passed, of the Code he’d committed to heart and quoted back many a time with easy smiles and a hopeful heart, he could taste the lies that the words were on his tongue.

Forbidden to love altogether, maybe not. But to love as he did- with every fibre of who he was, so consumed he burned with it- certainly not. To love beyond the bonds of friendship, beyond familial ties- and even these were oft prohibited- unthinkable.

Attachment is forbidden.

“I’m not so sure I believe that.” Rex said somewhat sceptically. “But we can all break free of our programming, sir. You tend to break the rules anyway- this may be the one time I think it’s for the best you do.”

That gave Anakin pause. “Attachment... clouds one’s judgement. It prevents one from being impartial. It can weaken a jedi.”

“A jedi, not you.”

Anakin side-eyed him, “Are you saying I’m not a jedi, Rex?”

The captain stiffened. “No, no I’m saying… you’re not only a jedi, sir. And I think that’s why you’re the best of them.” He offered Anakin a gentle smile, clapping a hand on his shoulder.

The jedi raised an eyebrow, “You think I should give in to my attachments?”

“I think you should stop trying to bury the way you feel. You care about General Kenobi- and of course you do. I’m saying let that bond give you hope. If you really didn’t care about him, would you even bother trying to break into that base tomorrow? Would you even bother trying to find him?”

Anakin shook his head, “No.”

“No? Then I think the fact that you’re not a perfect jedi, that you do have attachments, may just be what saves the man’s life. And the lives of my brothers.”

“I… care for Obi-wan.” Anakin whispered, as if with dawning realisation. As if he hadn’t been all too aware of his feelings for Obi-wan all this time.

He pushed the words through numb lips. Said them because it felt as though Rex were about to pull away and he had to. Had to say it to someone, just once. Admit it out loud, if not really in the way he desperately wanted to. If not really to whom he desperately wanted to.

“You do.”

Anakin bit his lower lip, the sensation numbed by the frost. He felt fragile; huddled in the cold and wet under a robe that smelled too much like his missing master. He never cried- ever. Certainly not in front of his men.

But Rex was his friend. And Obi-wan was gone. And Anakin just so badly wanted to scream out everything he held contained inside him; to batter his fists against the walls he'd had to build.

His vision blurred, his mouth tugging down on it’s own accord. “He’s everything to me,” he admitted quietly.

Rex didn’t speak, just shifted infinitesimally closer, enough for Anakin to feel his presence more than just through the Force. It was a comfort that nearly crumbled the last of his reserve.

“I can’t… lose him.” His voice wavered dangerously. “He’s all I have left.”

Rex nodded. “He’s your family.”

“In this life he always has been.”

“I understand.” The captain said, and Anakin felt an arm wrap around his shoulders; holding not too close, but enough to be present, to be comforting. “The 501st is my family. They’re all I’ve ever had.” Rex gave his arm one small pat, coaxing the Jedi to look up at him. “For the record, sir, so are you.”

A fragile smile, just the ghost of a thing. “Thanks, Rex.”

“Anytime, sir.” Rex nodded and made to stand, sending a few pebbles tumbling off the edge into the depths of the ravine as he did so.

Anakin tried to shake off the suffocating feeling of dread that had crept over him with the cold, letting the Force hang light about him. He glanced up, a proper smile chasing away the shadows under his hood. “Oh, and Rex?”

“Yes, sir?” The clone paused partway up.

“You’re a hell of a lot wiser than we give you credit for, y’know that?” Anakin grinned.

“I’ve had to give a lot of pep-talks in my time. That’s why they made me captain!"

Anakin chuckled, his eyes still crinkled at the edges as he watched his second in command, his right hand man- his friend- walk away.

Jedi insight or not, it seemed that more often than not the clones were able to see things the former could never hope to find.

It was because they were human.

Anakin sighed, the weight setting back in in the captain’s absence, letting his gaze fall. His heart ached in him, keened like a wounded thing, bleeding away the minutes he spent soaking in the rain and the loneliness of that desolate planet. Everything was lost to him, forgotten; his ankle- the pain of it barely registering anymore, his hunger, his thirst, his fear. Inside there was nothing but quiet, and the empty space where Obi-wan’s presence should to be. The more he focussed on it, the more the silence of their bond screamed at him: wrong! wrong! this is wrong!

He couldn’t even feel the other man anymore. The desert had swallowed him up.

Laughter, like scraping metal; you will loose him, just as you lost your mother.

The desert will claim them both.

You weren’t strong enough- you aren’t.

A single tear, indiscernible from the rain. Anakin thought-
Maybe the Dragon is right.

Chapter Text

Anakin awoke still huddled under Obi-wan’s cloak; soaked through from the drizzle and the early morning dampness, shivering even before he opened his eyes. Rex and Cody were up, crouched near the rear of the cave, heads pressed together as they discussed something under their breath. Anakin blinked the weariness from his eyes, the waking blur fading from his vision. He yawned and stretched, and attempted to stand.

Only it would seem that sometime during the night his ankle’s condition had worsened. That, or his shields had withered away while he slept. His leg buckled, giving out beneath him, and he collapsed on his hands and knees with a shout.

“Sir?” Rex called, alarmed. Feet appeared in Anakin’s range of vision, stood in front of where he’d failed to pick himself up off the ground. “General, are you alright?”

Anakin opened his mouth, fully intent on saying yes; “No.” 

Kriff.

“It’s your leg, isn’t it?” Rex sounded exasperated, like an extremely weary parent whose misbehaved child had just gone and done the very thing they’d told them not to do, and was now suffering the consequences the parent had predicted they would. Really, if Anakin was at all honest with himself, that was precisely what was going on.

“I’m fine,” Anakin grit out.

“Sure you are.” The captain knelt beside him, tugging gently at his injured limb. Anakin gave in with a muffled sigh, twisting in Rex’s grip so he was sitting with his ankle held in the clone’s lap. It hurt like hell, so bad now with none of his carefully constructed jedi shields to block the pain out that Anakin thought, with a spike of fear that shocked through him like Sith lightning, that he might be sick.

“Can I remove the boot?” Rex glanced at him, fingers hovered by the clasp.

Anakin nodded, clenching his jaw and inhaling deeply, preparing for the inevitable pain.

Rex undid the clasps of Anakin’s boot, gently pulling the fabric of his pants out from underneath it. Then he began working the footwear off. Anakin hissed, involuntarily yanking his foot away.

“Sir, I need to see.”

“I know, I know,” Anakin snapped, replacing his foot in Rex’s lap. Cody watched on from the side with a less-than-impressed expression. He’s spent too much time around Obi-wan, Anakin thought distractedly. And boy, wouldn’t his old master have something to say about this...

Rex pulled the shoe free, dropping it down beside him and sliding Anakin’s sock off.

It wasn’t a pretty sight. His ankle was definitely swollen, almost double it’s normal width. Deep purple bruising dappled the skin around the swelling, vivid against the starkness of Anakin’s skin, which seemed ghostly pale in comparison. 

Rex touched his fingers to the swelling, and Anakin bit back a yelp. Even the involuntary twitch of his leg sent a shockwave of pain zipping up the length of the limb. Kark it, he’d really done it this time.

General Skywalker,” Rex hissed through his teeth, turning angry eyes to Anakin. “All due respect, sir, but what the blazes are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking we need to complete the mission,” Anakin retorted, defensive. “I’m thinking men are lost out here, and it’s my job to find them.”

“By running around on a broken ankle? That was your plan? General, how long did you expect you could keep going like this?” Rex’s emotions were raw before him; anger, disappointment, bafflement- and worry, clear as day. Anakin felt guilt stab at him low in his gut. Getting called out for his stupidity was never fun, but the distress it caused his friends was the worst part, always, every time. He just never learned...

He fell quiet, avoiding Rex’s gaze.

A silence stretched out, punctuated by the calls of wildlife deep in the ravine. “We don’t have anything to strap it with,” the captain spoke finally.

“Just put the boot back on.” Anakin waved a hand, shifting to reach for his sock. The wounded ankle groaned and ground with the movement.

Rex gawked at him. “Sir, you can’t be serious?”

“What do you want me to do, huh?” Anakin didn’t mean to get snippy, he really didn’t, but the tension he’d carried wound like a cord within him was dangerously close to snapping. “What do you expect me to do, just sit here? While Obi-wan is out there, maybe dead, maybe captured and tortured, maybe gone for good?

The captain met his stare with a weight in his eyes Anakin couldn’t place. It looked uncomfortably close to pity. “Sir, can you even walk?”

“I can’t let them die.” Anakin said in reply. “So I guess I’ll have to, forget whether I can or not.” He folded forward, snatching up his boot and pulling it on, embracing the searing pain that tore through his ankle. He fastened the buckles and shifted, planting a hand on the cave wall behind him and using it to help lever himself up. Rex followed his movements with eyes alone, not daring to say the things he undoubtedly had on his mind. He knew Anakin well enough by now to know nothing would stop him.

Cody wasn’t quite as accustomed to the young knight’s methods.

“General Skywalker, you can’t possibly expect to storm a Separatist base with an injury that severe.”

Anakin glared at him. “Didn’t stop me from taking down that droid yesterday while you took a nap, commander.”

Rex swallowed hard, still squatted on the ground at their feet.

Cody’s foot shifted, as if he intended to take a step forward into Anakin’s space, to crowd him, before remembering himself and his place. “That was one droid, sir. We’re talking hundreds, and not just the B1 kind.”

“I can handle it.”

“Can you?” Cody raised an eyebrow, the veins at his temple straining as he worked his jaw, “your master couldn’t.”

Anakin froze, eyes flashing at the clone stood challengingly before him. Out the corner of his eye he saw Rex stand quickly to his feet and place a warning hand on his brother’s chest, “Don’t.”

Anakin couldn’t tear his gaze away from the commander’s cold stare. “What,” he said slowly, “did you just say?”

“I said General Kenobi- the greatest warrior I know, and my commanding officer- couldn’t handle it. I said whatever the enemy has hiding out here, it’s too much for anyone, including you. Especially like this,” he gestured down the length of Anakin’s body, pointedly at his crippled leg. “I said that the general’s probably dead, along with my squad, and along with you, too, if you don’t stop with this insanity.”

“Insanity? Insanity?” Anger blurred the young man’s vision, burned it red. “Is that what it is?”

“Commander, General Skywalker, that’s enough. Let’s just take it easy, aye?” Rex interjected, stepping between them with his hands pressing Cody back.

Anakin shoved passed him, accusatory finger pointed at the steely commander. “You, Commander Cody, are walking a fine line. Perhaps I’m not making myself clear; I will not give up on them. I don’t care what the odds are, Obi-wan and I have faced worse. I will not leave them, you understand me? I will not leave him!”

“You think I want to abandon my brothers?” Cody’s voice rose dangerously. He was teetering on insubordination- hell, he’d crossed the line, and they all knew it. “You Jedi, you have no idea.”

“No idea! Why do you think I’m still here? Still fighting? I can’t leave him. He’d never leave me.”

Cody blinked. “You think so?”

“I-“ Anakin stopped.

Cody saw his hesitance, seized the opportunity, stepped forward so close their noses nearly brushed. “You didn’t see what I saw. You don’t know what we faced. If Kenobi were here in you place, I think he would be wise enough to cut his losses.” The words were cold, stone cold; an icy truth, so frozen they burned. Anakin knew it, felt it sink like a rock to the pit of his stomach.

He pivoted on his good foot, head bowed to the weight of his reality, composure refusing to give out though he shook. 

Even with the frost creeping inside of him, snuffing out the fire of his spirit, he could feel his determination grow. It grit its teeth and clenched it’s fists, refusing to yield to the combined forces of Cody’s wintry dread and the dragon’s heated fear. 

The pain welled up inside him, out of him, all around him. It consumed him, drowned him, drew him out from himself, slammed into him again with all the force of the deadliest of storms. And yet just the thought- the mere memory- of gentle eyes and sunlit hair and tender hands; the song of his name on a silver tongue, and a laughter like the dawn, the very light that drives the darkness away. 

This alone was enough to keep his demons at bay. 

 

Anakin retreated to another crevice, much smaller than the last, dipping into the canyon wall not too far from the one they discovered Cody in. His men pretended they hadn’t heard the outburst, but it was obvious they’d caught at least some of what had been exchanged. They avoided him with care, attempting not to make it too obvious that was what they were doing. Anakin let it slide; so long as they got themselves prepped and ready to move out, he didn’t care how they went about it.

Some of the troopers had explored lower down the ravine, scrounging up some food. Mainly various plant substances they swore were nontoxic. One trooper- the rookie, Knock-Out- brought him water held in the makeshift bowl of a large tree frond. Anakin thanked him, taking steady sips of it every now and then.

His rage had melted away, leaving him once again hollow.

He could’ve handled that whole thing better. Rex had been right, and Cody had meant well. The clone commander was stern; strict, a disciplined rule-follower. An engineered masterpiece of warfare.

And he was scared. He’d watched his brothers be wiped out by- something. Whatever it was, it was big and it was bloody. He didn’t want to see the same thing happen to Anakin’s squad, that was all. The man had seen enough.

The ravine was just as misty as the day before, Anakin couldn’t see more than a few paces ahead. Unidentified creatures of the air called through the canopies, disturbing the occasional branch somewhere in his proximity and making him jump. Above him the sun bore down on the flaking skin of the planet. The fires would’ve burned themselves out by now, the smoke fading away, the bodies would’ve begun to decompose in the heat. If Anakin thought too hard about it, he could smell the fantom stench of rotting flesh and browning blood. He hated that he knew what that smelt like.

Somewhere beyond all that lay a base. A fortress? An aerial structure? Catacombs wormed through the earth like the hive of some great worm? Anakin didn’t know.

They were gravely outnumbered, outgunned, outdone. Still, he would make his march on the adversary. Limping, beat, he would pace through every circle of hell, would battle any number of demons, would burn himself up and whittle himself down to nothing for his friends. For Obi-wan Kenobi.

But the man was not without conscience, and something weighed heavily on him.

“Men!” Anakin called, lifting his chin. 

They stopped what they were doing, gathering obediently around him. He looked at each of them in turn; not one of them had replaced his helmet, still bare-faced to him.

“I’ve asked you to do something,” he said, the guilt weighing heavy on his heart. “Something I should not have.” He sighed, drawing his strength before regarding them all as one. He needed them to know he meant it. “Men, I do not know what we will be facing up there. You all know by now the stories that have come to us from our fallen brother, and from Commander Cody. It doesn’t look good.”

“Are you calling off the mission, sir?” One of the troopers spoke up from the edge of the group; his armour dented from the crash, the visor of the helmet on his hip shattered.

“I will still go.” Anakin told him. A movement went through the group, a shift of surprise. “But I will not ask you to. If you wish to stay behind, I will not stop you. Nor will I think any less of you.”

“All due respect, general,” Rex stepped forward, a sly grin pulling at the corner of his lips, “but you wouldn’t last five minutes out there without us.”

A chorus of agreement from the squad. Anakin felt his heart swell with fondness and pride.

“I think I can speak for the rest of the group, sir, when I say let me at those tinnies!” Another trooper, Duster, raised his blaster to the sky.

“They killed our brothers,” a trooper at the rear of the pack spoke up. “We’re gonna give it back to ‘em.”

“Thank-you, guys.” Anakin said, and he meant it.

“If they’re going,” a voice from the side, the sound of a cable as it slid across the rock, “then I’m going, too.”

Cody.

Anakin met his eyes, nodding once, deeply. Cody returned the gesture, something softening in the way he looked at the young jedi.

Rex turned to Anakin, lifting one blaster and flicking the safety, winking at him. “Let’s go get ‘em!” 

They formed a makeshift splint out of two sturdy twigs and some pliable foliage, wrapping the primitive gauze around Anakin’s ankle and tying it in place tight enough to make him yelp. It wasn’t ideal, but then, nothing about this mission was. Anakin limped ahead of the group, saber never leaving his hand as they marched across the flaked earth above their ravine oasis. Cody and Rex followed closely behind, guiding him with the commander’s vague directions. 

The sun bore down on them; a steady, unrelenting heat that simmered beneath their tunics and armour. Anakin’s hair dripped with sweat, beads of it rolling down from his brow. He couldn’t imagine what it was like for the men, breathing behind their helmets, roasting alive in their uniforms. Still, with the sun as bright and sharp on the eyes as it was, and potential threats drawing nearer and nearer the further they marched, they couldn’t afford to take the helmets off.  

The hours melted away, the sun rising to it’s highest point, and then setting behind them as they trod lead-footed and bone-weary through the endless day. The environment hardly changed. Occasionally they passed a boulder, or a twisted, shrivelled tree, but nothing more than that. No more ravines sunk into the horizon- there was nothing in the horizon at all. They appeared to be marching towards nothing. They appeared to be wandering in circles.

Anakin’s ankle swelled even more in the heat, straining painfully against his splint. He was forced to stop frequently just to let it hover, to take the weight off of the wounded limb. He sucked deep breaths in, and out, and in, and out, shaking occasionally with the effort of it all. His anxiety thrashed wildly within him; beat against his chest and stirred up the doubts in his mind like dust. It made him impatient and short- and shaky, his hands clutching at the hilt of his lightsaber to hide the tremors.

They just couldn’t get there fast enough.

They weren’t getting there at all.

“Halt!” He called when he’d finally had enough; his legs turned to jelly, wobbling and weak. He held up a fist and the men came to a stop, panting.

Rex approached him, the soles of his boots scrapping the dirt, “sir?”

“We should make camp.” Anakin squinted onwards, finding nothing. He wasn’t keen on the idea of settling out in the open, but without any options (they could hardly press forward, and there was no shelter to be seen) they were left with little choice.

He instructed the men to settle flat, press their bodies to the unforgiving ground to make themselves less of a visible target. They did as instructed, removing their helmets and huddling side by side on their backs, keeping their blasters close. 

Anakin lay down a little way from the huddle of men, pushing a pile of dust up in a clump in a sad attempt to fashion a cushion for his pounding head. Giving up, the young man resigned himself to a night out in the frozen open, falling asleep practically before his head hit the ground.

 

The familiarity of the dream alone- and he knew them by now for what they were- was nearly enough to startle him awake. Settling into the scene sent tendrils of fear spreading up his spine, his neck, curling gooey black tentacles down the lengths of his arms to tingle at the tips of his fingers. It felt like sinking, drowning in an impossibly cold, dark mass, the crush of it pressing the air from his lungs.

The moment the vision settled from its swimming mirage he felt the panic rise in him; the need to flee, to turn and run and never, ever stop.

In the dream he had his lightsaber, the hilt of it cool and familiar against the palm of his hand as he reached for it, ready. He crept forward, blade raised, feet hardly making a sound against the sand.

Around him in the burning blush of eve rose ruddy spires of stone, smooth and withered by the sands of time, skeletal in their silhouette. Familiar as the structure of his own bones, they clawed like fingers at the blazing sky. 

The twins suns- and wait, no, there was only one, how strange- sunk into an evening blue, the stars settling in the sky like a distant hoard of firebugs, twinkling over the desert. It was nearly beautiful.

But Anakin knew what demons lurked in the shadows of those stars, what monsters called the nighttime home. His blade glowed in the descending night, blurring him blue, humming away the silence.

He knew the way.

He crept up behind the tent of tanned hide, resigned to the events that would undoubtedly unfold. He carved out an entrance and stepped inside, his heart clutched firmly in the fierce fist of his dragon, it’s claws digging at it, bleeding it nearly dry.

He drew a breath, heard it echo in his mind, and forced himself to look up.

Only, it wasn’t the skeletal figure of his mother he saw collapsed against the frame, hands bound and bleeding. It was another figure, equally as beaten and battered, and just as familiar to him. More so, even.

He’d recognise the summery hair anywhere-even messed as it was now; the calloused hands; the every stretch and pull of overworked and battle-hardened muscle- presented bare to him now save a tatty pair of leggings, notches of spine pressing out at him between the brackets of protruding ribs. He knew this body like he knew his own. Even in dreams, even in distressed state he found it in now, he could recognise the sight and smell and feel of Obi-wan Kenobi anywhere.

“Master!” His voice was distant in the dreamscape, delayed just a little, appearing to originate from somewhere outside of himself. He dashed forward to collapse beside the weakened man, fingers hurrying to pick loose the bonds that tied him to the blood slicked frame. Obi-wan came free in his arms, slumping against him without the support of the ties around his wrists. His breath was scraping and shallow, his frame much lighter than it should be. 

All over him where grazes and bruises, and patches where blood still oozed, pussy and thick, reeking of infection. He’d soiled himself, the stench mingling with the other scents to fall together under the umbrella perfume of Death.

Or Dying, rather, as his chest still heaved around stuttering lungs, his heartbeat erratic where it pressed against Anakin.

Even with the whole of his weight collapsed against the young knight he was light. He felt small, like a child, all sharp angles and hollowed planes. His hands twitched, a single finger coming up to trace along Anakin’s jawline, “An... kin....”

Anakin felt something well up inside him, something horrible, a fresh downpour of tears gathered in his eyes like a coming storm, threatening to spill over.

His mother he was used to. It still hurt, still haunted him, more than ever now since the prophecy of the dreams had come to pass. But he’d grown numb to it, expectant of it every night that he found himself wandering beneath the fiery skies of his homeworld.

This was different.

It was never Obi-wan- Anakin hardly dreamed of him at all, let alone like this. Weak, frail, dying...

“I’m here, I’m here,” he hushed, fingers curling around a trembling hand, pulling the frail finger from his jaw. He held Obi-wan’s hand in his, stroking his thumb in soothing circles over the stiff digits.

“An...” Obi-wan wheezed, his eyes fluttering, focussing for a moment on Anakin’s. “Ana...”

“I’m here, master, you’re safe.” Anakin choked on the last word. Because everything was the same. Obi-wan was here, but the rest was all the same. And he knew, he knew what was going to happen.

The desert will claim them both.

“I... thought you weren’t... coming.” Obi-wan panted the words out, his chest jogging up and down with the effort. His breathing was growing thick and haggard.

“As if I would ever leave you.” Anakin tried for a smile, but it shattered quickly just looking at the results of Obi-wan’s broken spirit; the pinched, pained expression carved into the hollows of his face like stone.

“Anakin...” Obi-wan whispered, the familiar inflection in his voice shining through in the way he said his name, “I...” He shuddered, his hand pulling free of Anakin’s to touch his face, just the barest brush of ghostly fingertips, “I...”

“Shh, shh,” Anakin hushed, combing a finger through grimy, matted hair, “don’t speak. Save your energy.”

“I lo...”

Anakin’s heart was in his throat, drumming against his pulse point hard enough for him to feel the skin of his neck pound against the folds of his tunics in beat with it. Don’t say it, not here, not like this.

“I-I... lo...v-” Obi-wan’s eyes turned vacant and glassy, his breath rattling out of him like a serpent coiled in the grass, a low and terrible hissing. He fell limp, his head rolling back over Anakin’s arm, his hand falling to his chest. 

You cannot save them, the dragon sang with a voice like a death rattle.

Anakin felt a swell of emotion, dark and swirling and tumultuous, rise up within him, so powerful it blacked out his vision.

Then he he was snatched from that place, torn free from the deadweight of Obi-wan’s crumpled body, cut from the familiar shadows of the Raiders’ tent. 

He awoke with a scream in his throat, bubbling up inside him, his master’s name on his lips. He blinked furiously, fighting to clear the haze from his vision as he was met with a pink dawn, the ground still blue beneath the rising sun. The skin of his cheeks felt taut and he realised with a jolt that it was tear tracks he could feel itching at his skin.

With another start he realised that he’d been awoken by someone touching him; cupping a hand over his mouth, to be precise.

Anakin wrestled, tearing free from the offender’s grasp and rolling forward, hand on his saber ready to face whomever had awoken him.

But it was only Rex, with his hands up in surrender, a look of deep concern shadowing his eyes, “sir, it’s just me.”

Anakin sagged, setting the lightsaber down, “apologies.”

“No, no, I’m the one who should be sorry,” Rex bit his lip, flicking his gaze to the general sheepishly. “You were... making a bit of a racket and we had to quiet you down, before we drew any... unwanted attention.”

It was Anakin’s turn to flush, ducking his head shamefully. “Oh. Sorry about that...”

The captain shrugged and shuffled forward, his kneecaps scraping in the dirt. “It’s nearly sun up, general. Would you like to keep moving?”

Anakin squinted up at the sky, the last shadows of the night sliding away as the planet turned towards its sun. Already the earth was heating beneath them, warming to the light, enough to chase away the residual chill of the evening.

“Yes,” Anakin said, blinking spots from his vision. “Tell the men to move out.”

Rex nodded and made to leave, turning a quick glance over his shoulder, “are you sure you’re alright, sir?”

Anakin only smiled grimly in reply.

Chapter Text

The shield shimmered slightly in the light; a small sheen of red against the brilliant blue of the sky and the faded hue of the dust. Every now and then the large expanse of deceptively thin air before them tore at the edges, warping around the figures of droids aboard STAPs zipping out of the cover of the shield to hunt them.

 

“Never seen a cloaking device so large,” Rex breathed, and if Anakin didn’t know better, he’d say the captain was a little in awe. It was impressive, he supposed. It was also a major pain in the ass.

“Neither,” Anakin said, pressed down on his chest with his macrobinoculars raised to his eyes, elbows ground into the dirt. “Any guesses how big this thing is, exactly?”

A low whistle followed by a contemplative clucking noise. “Not really. Big?

“Helpful.” Anakin fought down a smirk, shuffling around on his belly. The toes of his boots scraped the ground as he tried to turn around and face his men without having to raise up, Force forbid he be spotted. “Anyone have any ideas on how we’re going to do this?”

The clones subtly avoided meeting his gaze, helmets tipped up or sideways so as not to meet his eyes. It’d be comical in a less dire situation.

Anakin raised an eyebrow.

“Might I make a suggestion, sir?” Cody army crawled closer to the jedi, sliding along on his belly, the threads of Obi-wan’s tattered uniform catching in the rubble. Anakin acknowledged him with a tip of the head, open to any suggestions at this point. “I say we split into groups. Chances are they’ve got a communications tower buried in there somewhere. One lot takes out the shield, the other contacts our fleet, and the third rescues the captives- if there are any. This could be our ticket off-planet.”

Anakin pondered the commander’s suggestion. Splitting up was a risk, especially in such small numbers, but the chance to kill two birds with one stone? Well, it simply couldn’t be missed.

“Alright.” Anakin nodded, swallowing thickly around a jumble of nerves that tried to tangle in his chest. “I agree. You take these guys-“ he pointed to the collection of troopers to Cody’s right. “-and take out that shield. Rex-“ the captain looked up at his name, stiffening to attention, “-you take the rest and locate the communications tower. Get a distress signal to the fleet. I’ll go it solo, see if I can find any captives locked up in there.”

“Alone, sir? Are you sure that’s wise?”

“Probably not,” Anakin shrugged. “But since when has that ever stopped me?”

Rex snorted. “You’ll call for back-up if you need us to come save your skin?”

“Oh, sure, Rex. If that makes you feel better.” Anakin turned to address the rest of the group, “well, no point just sitting around. Let’s get to work.”

 

Breaking through the shield was easy; it was designed to disguise, not deflect. They simply passed through on the far side of the compound, east of where the droids had been appearing, stepping through the barrier was as easy as passing through air. 

The inside of the gigantic cloaked semicircle was a hive of activity. The ‘base’ constituted a collection of dark metal portables fixed semi-permanently to the ground with bolted sides and temporary cables running from building to building. They were large rectangular structures; a good few feet wide and twice as long; solid. The buildings were set in a circle around the source of the shield, each inner corner not quite touching the one beside it, the outer corners protruding to leave V-shaped gaps between the structures, nestled into which a series of dormant droids stood behind standard flickering blue shields. Four landing pads dominated points at the foot, head, and either ’side’ of the base, with smaller strips placed equidistantly between the four major pads.

In the centre of the circle was a tall, violent pillar of red energy that emitted a low, steady hum, unheard beyond the borders of the hidden sanctum. The pillar cast an angry glow across the inner sides of the portables, rising thousands of feet in the air and spilling outwards at the top to form the dome, it’s body wider than a grown man was tall in diameter.

What caught Anakin’s attention was the lines in the crusted earth between the landing pads and the buildings that occasionally shifted apart, revealing dark shafts out of which a standing platform would rise to carry droids from the surface deep into the earth, sealing back over with a groan of rusting mechanics. The hidden shafts suggested that there was more to the base, even beyond it’s veil, than met the eye.

The jedi and his men were crouched in the shadow of an AAT battle tank, huddled tight together with weapons drawn and clutched in battle-steady hands. Anakin turned to his men, keeping his voice at a low whisper, “my guess is the source of the shield is in the centre of those buildings,” he jerked his chin in the direction of the portables.

“Agreed.” Cody pivoted in the balls of his feet to regard his team, “ready?”

They nodded. Anakin clapped a hand to the commander’s shoulder in a gesture of good luck, exchanging a brief smile and a nod of encouragement before the trooper raised to his feet and charged his team across to the portables, pressing flat against the side of one.

Anakin looked to Rex, knelt faithfully at his side. “You won’t be able to do anything until Cody gets that shield down.”

“We’ll hold our ground here and keep you lot covered until then,” Rex replied. "Duster’s mapping the place out as we speak. You better get in there fast, sir. Whole place’ll go to hell the moment that cloak crashes.”

Anakin mustered a smile and took Rex’s hand in his right one, gripping it tight. “May the Force be with you.”

Rex squeezed his hand once in reply. “And you.”

 

Anakin sprinted down the corridor keeping as light on his toes as possible to soften his footfalls. His ankle ground with every step but he pushed the pain from his mind. The lamps that hung high on the ceiling and fit into the walls at intervals either side of him cast a strange light down the hall, throwing him into random splashes of shadow and light. He pressed up against the cool, curved line of the wall as droids passed on patrol, holding his breath and willing his heart to keep from beating to smother even the barest sound.

He stretched out as far as he could into the Force, feeling around for an echo of familiarity. It was difficult to split himself between his present- where he navigated the lower levels of the compound, down one of the hatches he’d ridden into the secret Separatist warren- and the parallel otherworld of the Force. He kept slipping, getting lost in the depth of the energy he seeped through, snapping violently back to himself to keep from wandering unknowingly right into the hands of the enemy.

He’d been searching for some time- far more than he was comfortable dedicating to the search knowing the rest of his men were top-side about to wreck havoc- when something finally, finally called back to him through the Force.

He felt a pull from deep within him, barely there and yet the most he’d sensed in days. More than he'd ever expected to find in the belly of the beast.

 

The feeling was alive, a pulsating drumbeat of living energy tangling with his own signature; twining it’s whisp-like fingers with his and tugging him further into the heart of the compound. A little beacon of light, held like a candle in the dark of the Separatist refuge. Obi-wan.

He crept close to the walls, leaping passed doorways to avoid being caught in front of one when it opened, all the while keeping one hand wrapped firm around the hilt of his lightsaber in preparation for a quick ignition. He turned and twisted through winding corridors and up shafts, following the thread of the Force as it unwound before him, never more than a few paces ahead, beckoning him like a siren song.

The tug within him suddenly grew stronger, a vice-like grip that steered him up and round the bend, urging him forward with metal spurs until he found himself dashing down the hall at a break-neck speed. He could hardly see, racing blindly through the labyrinth of grey walls and dimmed lamps.

With a sudden snap and a wispy retreat like the last tendrils of smoke after a blaze, the Force grew still and silent before a doorway like any other in it’s hall, unassuming and unmarked. Anakin’s heart was in his throat, pounding against the collar of his tunic. He flicked his eyes to either side, surveying for any signs of patrols. There were none.

He ignited his saber, slashing precisely through the lock-pad beside the door, and a second later it shot upwards with a hiss, the dim light of the hallway flooding the pitch-black chambers beyond.

Anakin blinked, stepping trepidatiously into the darkened room, lightsaber raised to cast light further around the cell. On the far wall, just outside the edges of the hall light pooling in, stood a figure. Anakin froze, slowly angling the tip of his blade towards the shadow that stood out within the darkness.

Closer inspection showed that the outline of the figure was not standing but hanging, head dipped limply between shoulders, hands cuffed to the wall, leaving them dangling about a foot off the ground. Anakin bit his lip and inched closer.

A small tap on the shoulder- an armoured shoulder- was all it took to stir the figure, a low groan rumbling from lax lips. Their head lolled to the side, then raised with a discernible degree of struggle, “urgh.... general... Skywalker?”

Anakin blinked. Confusion momentarily overshadowed the sinking disappointment in his heart. “Trooper? What is your identification code?”

“CT.... 2243.” The clone ground out. “They call me Buzzcut.”

Anakin nodded, struggling to catch his breath as he processed what laid before him. This was not who he expected. But they were a clone- a member of the 212th. Here. Alive

And if he were alive, how many more?

Obi-wan?

“Trooper,” Anakin ducked to level with the man, placing an urgent hand on his shoulder. In the darkness his eyes struggled to adjust, to see the man before him, and to gauge the severity of his wounds. “Are there more of you? Other survivors?”

“More were taken.” The clone mumbled, straining to keep upright. “I... I can show you where.”

Questions still swirled inside of Anakin, begging to be spilled from curious lips. Why was this trooper separate from the others? Why had the Force led him here? How was he alive? How, why, how, why

In a flash he had the chains that cuffed the trooper in smouldering ruins, the man’s weight slouched fully against him, the full extent of it weighing painfully on his wounded ankle. He stilled the torrent of questions, pressed them down, and instead simply said to the man: “Show me to them."

They limped down the hall, the Force painfully quiet but for the occasional spike of warning when a droid patrol grew too near. Anakin kept the injured trooper’s arm slung across his shoulders, his own flesh hand gripping him around the waist. He’d be lying to himself if he didn’t admit a part of him didn’t trust the man; however, seeing as he was fresh out of options, he allowed the trooper to direct him through the maze of tunnels without comment to complaint.

“Here,” the trooper said, finally, stopping short in front of another cell door. “They’re in here.”

“Are you sure?

A nod, slight but certain.

Anakin set the clone down gently against the opposite wall and turned to face the cell. It looked much the same as the one he’d found Buzzcut in, only the neighbouring doors were further apart from it, suggesting a larger room lay behind. He ignited his lightsaber and dashed through the control panel, waiting for the quiet sparks to settle before the wiring fried itself and he nudged the door open.

Inside was a cavernous darkness, the bigger room even less affected by the light spilling from the hallway than Buzzcut’s cell. Anakin could hardly see more than a foot or two inside.

He stood in the doorway, saber still ignited and humming beside him, even the flickering blue of it’s blade had little affect on the shadow of the room. It was as though some exterior force were sucking the light out of the space, purposefully drenching it in a thick, suffocating darkness. Light-deprivation, a form of primitive torture.

The part that truly unnerved the young knight was the stillness of the Force. He felt nothing inside the room, as if even that, too, had been drawn out. The Light Side had been completely overshadowed by the Dark.

Dooku, then. Or perhaps even something more sinister.

Anakin cleared his throat and spoke softly, but with authority, “I am General Skywalker. I’m here to rescue you.”

A stirring, not in the currents of the Force, but an audible shift from somewhere in the room. The scrape of armour on steel.

“General Skywalker?” Anakin recognising the voice all his men shared; unmistakable, even scratchy and hoarse as this one was. "No kriffing way.”

Anakin snorted, smirking, and stepped into the room. “Better believe it, trooper. Now, we don’t have much time. The rest of my squad is up top and about to make a lotta noise. I need you all on your feet and out in that corridor, let’s move!”

A rush of noise, feet scuffing the floor as an innumerable amount of men stood to attention. Anakin could hear moans of pain and mutters of assurance as men lifted the wounded from the floor and carried them, feet thudding on the metal grating beneath their boots, towards him.

One by one they emerged from the darkness, most still clad in armour, a few in nothing but their black undergarments. None wore helmets, though some carried them on their hips, nodding in salute as they passed him. 

Anakin let out a steady breath, exhilarated and relieved. A part of him refused to relax, though. The part that was searching every face that emerged from the darkness, hunting for a specific pair of startling blue eyes.

A good number of men pooled out into the hall and gathered around him, about thirty at a glance. The last stragglers slipped by him and moved to join their fellow men. None bore the face he was hunting for.

“Is this… all of you?” Anakin asked, pivoting slowly to face the men, collecting himself as he did so.

A pause, the men glanced around. “Yes, sir,” said one, stood at the front, helmet on his hip. “All that are left.”

“You’re sure?”

The trooper stepped forward, nodding at Buzzcut. “I see you’ve found CT-2243. He was the last of us to be removed, sir. We kept a tally via sound-off of who was left each time they came and collected, but it’s been a while since they came back.”

Anakin frowned, “collected?”

The trooper hesitated, his mouth held ajar for a moment, opening and closing as he formed his words. “Yes, sir. It’s… we should explain later. You said we don’t have much time?"

“General Kenobi,” Anakin ignored him, the words bitter on his tongue, dropped like poison from dry lips. “He’s dead, then.”

The trooper who’d spoken to him furrowed his brow. “No, sir. I... thought you’d freed him already?”

Anakin breathed. In and out. Just once. 

His head was spinning, not one aspect of the conversation making any sense. The adrenaline starting to drip back into his veins was begging him to go, go, Go!, but he was frozen, welded to the spotWhat?

“Is he not with you?” The clone craned his neck to peer passed him, a movement stirring in the group as the troops glanced around for the general.

“I- no...” Anakin’s mouth had gone dry.

“I thought the general was with you.” Buzzcut spoke up from his place on the floor, still leant against the wall with his limbs splayed about him. He squinted at the loudest trooper, the one who’d been speaking for the group.

The man looked baffled, his head shaking minutely side to side. “He was collected after you. They came in and took him, returned a while later and ordered us to remove our helmets, and keep them off.”

“How could you let them take him?” Buzzcut hissed, fury turning the wounded shadows of his eyes to fire. 

“If we’d protested they would’ve only known it was him sooner! It was bad luck, soldier. What would you have us do?”

“What would I have-“ Buzzcut struggled to his feet, his hands gripping at the wall for support. “Are you kidding me?"

“Easy, soldier.” Anakin heard the words slip like loose grains of sand from his lips, but in his head there was only harsh, ringing white-noise. He moved, dreamlike, to stand between the CT-2243 and the other clone. “You'll explain,” he said, turning to face the man, “and you’ll do it fast.”

The clone blinked, looking a little affronted at first, but very quickly regained his senses. “They’ve been taking men- one every so many hours- since we got here. CT-2243 was the last to be collected before they came back and took the general. The only reason he wasn’t snatched immediately upon capture was because Commander Cody had him switch clothes to disguise him.
“They chose at random. It was bad luck they pulled him from the bunch and took him away. Some time passed, we didn’t even know it was him that they took until we did a sound-off and the general didn’t respond. You can’t see anything in there, sir. None of us dared speak.”

Anakin nodded, trying to follow along. Buzzcut ground his teeth, still glaring at his comrade with an ugly snarl on his lips.

“They came back and ordered us to remove our helmets. Guess they were wondering if we had any other jedi hidden among us. They haven’t come back for a while, now, sir.” The clone bowed his head. “I don’t know exactly what happens after collection, but whoever they pick… they never come back.”

“Well, I’m still alive.” Buzzcut growled. “And I was taken before the general.”

The clone glanced at him, “did you see him, then?”

“If I knew where he was he’d be with us, wouldn’t he?” Buzzcut lowered his eyes. “I only knew where you lot were because the blasted tinnies didn’t blindfold me on the way to the cell, so I just retraced our steps. I didn’t see anything more, Nixus.”

The other trooper, Nixus, nodded his head slowly, opening his mouth as if to say something-

He didn’t get the chance.

An impossibly loud rumble sounded overhead, and a moment later the whole compound began to shake.

“That’s our cue to leave!” Anakin quipped, snapping back to himself from the daze he’d fallen into. He spurred to action, drawing his lightsaber and pointing at Nixus. “You! Take Buzzcut and the rest of the men and get the hell out of here!”

“How, sir? We don’t know the way! It’s a maze down here!” The trooper cried, shielding his eyes as a thick cloud of dust fell from the ceiling. Alarms began blaring all around them, the lamps flickering from off-white to a panic red. The hallways darkened either side of them as the main lights switched off.

“Follow the droids, they’ll be heading surface-side.” Anakin instructed, glancing behind him at the sound of metallic footfalls marching down an adjacent corridor.

“How do you know?” Buzzcut called, slinging an arm around a neighbouring brother.

Anakin shrugged, “gut feeling.” He pivoted, ready to sprint, and tossed one last order over his shoulder. “Get going!”

“What about you?”

“I’m going back,” he said, words barely loud enough to be heard over the chaos. He began to lurched forward into an inhumanly fast run. “I’m going back for Obi-wan.”

“That’s suicide!” He heard one of the men cry as he began bolting down the corridor, his back turned to their objections. He felt guilty leaving them to fend for themselves. He felt wrong- and he was, he knew he was.

Is he not with you? He just couldn’t leave- couldn’t leave him. Not without knowing, not without being sure.

And it was selfish, so selfish. The council would be appalled. To value one man’s life above others? That was not the jedi way.

But surely, Anakin thought, dodging through collapsing corridors and over sparking piles of debris, surely neither was leaving a man to die.

 

The Force vacuum of the cell spread throughout the rest of the compound, Anakin wondered why he hadn’t noticed it before.
But Obi-wan- or someone- had reached back to him. He’d felt something. It’d lead him to Buzzcut, and by extension the rest of the men.

So somehow he must be able to shine through the cloud of the Dark Side.

He clung to that hope.

“Obi-wan?” He called, his lungs already filling dangerously with stinging smoke. He coughed, a harsh hacking sound, and held the fabric of his sleeve to his nose. “Master?”

He extended a hand through the Force, once again feeling around for the signature he’d snagged before. The earth trembled and shook, cracks forming in the ceiling, running thick and jagged down the sides of the corridors. He’d long since stopped encountering droids, most of them scurrying to the surface to join the conflict with his men. He hoped with all his heart that they were holding up out there without him.

Come on, Obi-wan.

He reached the cell he’d freed Buzzcut from, pausing outside the inky blackness of the room. He lowered his makeshift mask for a dangerous moment, not before drawing as big a breath as he could manage into his lungs and holding it there. He mentally and physically stretched out, allowing himself to pour wholly into the current of the Force, to flow into the tumultuous stream of it. 

All sound grew distant and faint. He became acutely aware of every breath, every heartbeat. He closed his eyes, focusing his mind on the task before him.

Obi-wan?

Master, it’s me. It’s Anakin.

We have to go.

I have to find you. You have to tell me where you are.

He grit his teeth, loosing himself to the Force. He felt himself slipping farther from reality.

Master?

He shouted into the Force. Called and called until he was hoarse and his was energy spent, and then called some more.

Master?!

And- what was that?

Obi-wan?

A flicker of light, like a distant torch sparking to life. The barest glimmer of warmth.
A voice, echoing through the shadows, so faint it could almost be imagined.

 

… Anakin?

Chapter Text

Anakin was running blind. His lungs barely dew breath. All around him was chaos and fire. His eyes burned, his chest burned; his throat, his legs, his heart. He pressed forward through the heat of fires that had caught in the underground warrens of the separatist lair, their flames licking at his heals as he ran.

His ankle screamed. He ignored it.

His mind clutched at one thought, one word, one tether that bound him to the mind and soul of another.

His name. Rippling through the currents of the Force.

... Anakin?

Obi-wan.

He followed the winding trail, the connection growing a little stronger with each turn.

There was another cell, more heavily fortified than the others. He saw it, guarded at the end of the corridor by two destroyers, their bulbous shields shimmering blue amidst the smoke. The Force gave one final, affirmative tug.
He’s here.
For sure this time.

Anakin raised his lightsaber.

The droids pivoted to face him as he charged down the hall, drawing himself out of the fog of the Force and fully into himself. He roared, lifting his blade to attack position, and dove over the droids, easily deflecting two pairs of blast bolts that shot his way. His ankle twinged painfully as he landed and he bit down hard on the inside of his lip to keep from crying out.

He cut the power to his blade, the blue retracting to its sheath with a hiss, and rolled forward, through the shield of the nearest destroyer. The startled droid hardly had time to react before he ignited his saber once more and slashed it in two.

He rolled again, this time over his shoulder to the side, and used the Force to push the halved remains of the first droid into the second, forcing it to barrel out of the way to dodge the hurtling body of its peer. As it rolled it’s shield deactivated, and Anakin surged forward to take his opportunity, severing the destroyer into pieces as it tumbled defencelessly towards him.

The guards discarded of, Anakin assessed the door.

It seemed to be a more complex design that the last, the control panel larger and more equipped with scanners and a row of currently disarmed shield generators lining the frame of the door. Anakin quickly decided that severing the control panel might trigger the bonus defence systems. He could re-wire it, but the task’d take too long. 

He resigned himself to a more reckless- albeit more familiar- method, he simply stepped forward and plunged the blade of his lightsaber through the reinforced steel of the door.

The metal gave way to his blade like it was made of nothing more than butter, glowing molten and melting away. He worked the sword, twisting it this way and that to encourage the hole wider.

Finally, he carved a space wide enough to clamber through, the gooey metal quickly cooling and hardening around the edges. He hoisted himself through the gap, landing gingerly on the other side.

It was as dark as the other cells. Darker. So black he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face even standing by the door.

On instinct he felt about the wall beside him, fingers running over a small panel by the entrance. He knocked it with his fist.

Fading lamps flickered to life overheard, casting an eerie glow as smoke began to filter into the room, thickening the air with swirling, not-quite-transparent tendrils that caught in the light.

A figure hung chained to the wall. Like Buzzcut, only chained higher, centred up the wall with their arms spread like a crucifixion.

Their wrists were cuffed, bearing their full weight. They hung limply, head bowed, shoulders hunched.

The head that was bowed to him was bare of helmet or hood, dirty hair the faintest shade of its usual glistening bronze.

Usual. Familiar.

Sunlit hair and clear-sky eyes. A smile like a supernova...

Anakin choked, “Obi-wan?”

The figure didn’t respond. They didn’t have to. Filthy white-and-orange armour and matted hair, head uncharacteristically hung, a muteness in the Force the likes of which Anakin had never felt...

Yet Anakin would know Obi-wan Kenobi. Always. He would know him deaf or blind. On any planet, in any system. Wearing any armour, any face. Anakin would know him. Always know him.

To look upon Obi-wan was to look upon himself, a reflection of his own beating heart. To not know him would be to not recognise his own self. They were binary suns orbiting a single system. Two halves of one whole.

Anakin surged forward, nearly collapsing to weakened knees as he drew up close to the broken and battered body of his former master, his mentor, his friend. His hands shook, fingers splaying over bruised and slashed cheeks, over too-sharp cheekbones and a patchy, oddly shorn beard.

Gently, so very gently, he lifted.

Obi-wan’s face- and it was his, Anakin had already known it was- rose to the light. His eyes were closed, lids lax, slipped lazily over pale blue. He was breathing, Anakin could feel the slightest puffs of air from parted lips. His face was covered in bruises, scars, grazes. Marks Anakin didn’t want to know how he got. Knowing would send him into a spin he wasn’t sure he could stop.

He gingerly let Obi-wan’s head fall back down between his shoulders as he worked at freeing his hands, slashing precisely through the cuffs with his saber, arms readily catching the unconscious man as he crumpled to the floor. Anakin cradled him to his chest, Obi-wan’s face pressed to his shoulder, knelt on armoured knees, hands falling awkwardly beside him.

The young knight needed a moment. Just a moment. To hold Obi-wan, and breathe him in, and let himself know that he was alright. He was safe. I’ve got you. I found you. 

“Oh, Obi-wan-“ Anakin’s voice cracked through tears; his throat already thick with smoke, and now relief. He pressed his forehead to Obi-wan’s, refusing to allow the tears to fall, sobbing in little gasps.

Here’s here, he’s here. He’s alright. He’s safe.

A soft groan, low and crackling, sounding as thought it hurt. Anakin pulled back with a quickly indrawn gasp. Obi-wan’s head rolled, lifting slowly, hooded eyes flickering open to meet his. “Wha-?”

Anakin laughed, a wet, ugly sound, and threw his arms around Obi-wan’s shoulders, pulling the man to him once more and gripping him tight. “Obi-wan. Obi-wan. Don’t you fucking do that to me again.” He pressed his face to the crook of the other man’s neck, armoured shoulders rubbing uncomfortably against his cheek, and breathed in deeply, still trembling all over. “Don’t you ever do that again.”

“An...” Obi-wan groaned, his voice gravelly. “Ana... kin.” He cleared his throat, the sound sickly thick. “Anakin?... How?”

“It doesn’t matter.” Anakin sniffed, pulling away to look Obi-wan in the face, hands still clutching at his shoulders. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll explain everything later, right now we gotta go. Can you walk?”

Obi-wan paused for a moment. “Yes, I think so.”

“Good,” Anakin said, heaving them both to their feet, “because I can't carry you.” Obi-wan clutched at his ribs as he stood, favouring first one foot, then the other. Anakin cast him a skeptical look, “are you sure you can walk?”

“If we... get moving,” Obi-wan spoke through gritted teeth, “I can push through it.”

Anakin nodded and, without thinking, took Obi-wan’s wrist, pulling him to the hole in the door.

They climbed through with admittedly less grace that usual, stepping over the remnants of the destroyers Anakin disassembled. He lead the way down the hall, the smoke impossibly thick. Tearing a piece of cloth off the tattered bottom of his tunic, Anakin passed it to Obi-wan, signalling for him to cover his nose and mouth.

Already fresh tears had begun to prickle in Anakin’s eyes, blurring his vision. Not tears of emotion, but tears born of flame; the fires that filled the hallways sucked the oxygen from the space, the air so hot it sizzled their skin. The smoke and heat built the tears faster than they could fall, a steady stream cascading from his lashes after mere minutes navigating the tunnels. 

“The Force... feels strange... here.” Obi-wan gasped breathlessly beside him, voice muffled by the cloth. 

Anakin nodded. “I know.”

“Do you... know how... to get out?”

“I have a pretty good idea.” Anakin lied.

They kept stumbling forward, Anakin desperately trying to gather enough of the Force to him to heighten his senses and find a way out. He tried to feel for a breeze, for the barest decline in heat or billowing smoke. Every turn seemed to only lead deeper into the furnace, every exit sealed shut, every hope of escape snuffed out as fast as the halls filled with toxic grey clouds.

Obi-wan staggered beside him, jostling up against the walls as the compound shuddered and shook. “Anakin I… I don’t know if…”

“Shh,” Anakin hushed, holding a hand out to stay him. They paused, Anakin glancing to the roof, eyes squinting to find any hint of a passageway like the one he rode down to the underground compound. “We’re nearly there, just hang on.”

He was beginning to feel dizzy, his head light and spinning. His hands didn’t seem to want to cooperate, feeling heavy, filled with lead. He blinked, but it only blurred his vision more.

Just as the hopelessness began to really set in a loud BANG! was heard up above.

“What-“

“Look out!” Anakin dove at Obi-wan, tackling him out of the way just as the roof came collapsing down right where he’d been standing only a split second earlier. 

They slid across the floor, winded, as dust settled and daylight streamed through the now gaping hole in the ceiling. The smoke billowed out in large, dark grey plumes, funnelling through the new space in a rush. The fires roared, burning even brighter as fresh oxygen filled the catacombs, fuelling the raging embers.

“Come on!” Anakin called, pushing himself to his feet and dragging Obi-wan up with him, shielding his eyes from the dust with his forearm. The sunlight was harsh after spending so long in the poorly lit underground warrens, the clean air a blessing to suffocated lungs.

Obi-wan let out a series of congested coughs beside him, chest rumbling and purring like a sleeping beast as his lungs tried to expel some of the fumes. “What the blazes-“ cough “-was that?”

“I think that, my former master, was your right hand man.”

Cody?

Anakin grinned. “You sound surprised, Obi-wan.”

“Surprised? That you’ve managed to corrupt a-“ cough “-perfectly good officer? Not at all.” Obi-wan glanced up at him, a familiar twinkle in his eye, even with one so swollen it was nearly shut. The ghost of a smile hung on his lips.

Anakin just grinned wider and held a hand out to Obi-wan, helping him climb up the chunks of rubble to the surface. 

They emerged to find the base in a state of total chaos.

Blasterfire littered the area, bolts of red and blue firing back and forth from all corners, the air thick with the pitchy pew! of releasing shots. Anakin immediately crouched to a defensive position with Obi-wan following suit beside him, ducking to avoid taking a bolt to the face. “So-“ cough “-what’s the plan?”

“No plan, exactly.” Anakin admitted, his eyes flitting back and forth over the scene before them, surveying the situation. The shield was down, the sky empty and blue above them. It appears that either Rex and his team never made it to the communications tower, or they've done so already and returned to aid Cody in the ensuing skirmish. Anakin desperately hoped for the latter.

Across the field, taking cover behind a series of grounded and inactive gunships on one of the four major landing pads was Rex, backed by a pair of 501st troops. Their white-and-blue armour stood out against the grey of the landings pads and the blaster-blackened sides of the gunships. Rex whipped round the nose of the ship and fired off two bolts before catching Anakin’s eye and signalling for him to join them with an exaggerated jerk of the head.

“Follow me,” he said, moving out from their position of cover, bent nearly double to keep himself below the rain of fire. He felt Obi-wan move behind him, still coughing and gasping air into his lungs. 

They jogged swiftly across the field, skirting around the edges to take cover in the shadows of the portables, narrowly avoiding stepping out right in front of a squadron of droids at one point. Anakin kept his lightsaber deactivated in his hand, hesitant to ignite it and draw attention to themselves.

“Anakin,” Obi-wan said, tugging at his hand as they leapt behind a portable to take cover from an enemy tank that’d just rolled into the fight, chugging down the near side of the battlefield with barrel aimed threateningly at a small group of freed 212th soldiers.

So they got out, then. Anakin breathed an inward sigh of relief. Got out, and got armed by the looks of it; one of the soldiers creeping unnoticed up the side of the tank and rolling beneath it, planting a charge on it’s underside and sprinting back to cover, hands over ears as the detonation sent the tank up in flames behind him. The men cheered.

Anakin.” Obi-wan yanked at his hand again.

Anakin glanced back at him. “What?”

“I don’t… have my lightsaber.”

“Yeah, I know.” Anakin told him, turning back to peer around the side of the building. 

Finding the coast clear he motioned to move forward, but Obi-wan held him back. “I can’t… defend myself. I can’t-“ cough “-help you.”

Anakin frowned and turned to him, riskily exposing his back to the firefight. “Obi-wan, we’ve been disarmed before, its not a problem. We’ll worry about it later, but right now we've got to move.”

A shadow crossed Obi-wan’s face, something flickering in his eyes when he looked at Anakin. He seemed distant, his voice far away. “Why are you here, Anakin?”

Anakin huffed, blinking at Obi-wan with knitted brows. “What kind of a question is that?”

“How did you find me?”

“Not now, Obi-wan,” Anakin said with a roll of the eyes, holding up a hand to silence the man. Explosions rippled the air behind them, the shout of men and electronic whines of droids punctuating the continuous beat of blasterfire. “We have to move.”

Obi-wan clenched his jaw shut and didn’t speak another word.

They raced the final stretch to Rex, Anakin’s ankle screaming with every step, the pain so deep in his bones now he felt it would never leave him.

They skidded to the ground behind the captain, panting, dust clinging to the sweat on their skin. Anakin blinked hard and wiped fragments of debris from his eyes, peering over Rex’s shoulder. “Where’s Cody?”

“On the other side. We’re spread thin all over, but they don’t seem to be getting the upper hand, yet. Looks like we took them by surprise.”

“That gives us an advantage, at least.” Anakin nodded, surveying the fight. “Casualties?”

“None this end, we’ve been keeping pretty low. The bunch you rescued from below came up already armed, said they took out a squad of tinnies as they headed topside.” Rex jerked out sideways, one pistol rapidly firing on three battle droids, hitting his mark with precision on each one. He drew back in, “We got to the tower, sir.”

Anakin leant forward eagerly, ears pricked. “And?”

“It wasn’t too hard to descramble their codes. I’m not sure we reached anyone, though. Couldn’t really stick around for a reply. We sent a signal out on all frequencies and widened the range as far as it would go.”

“You did what you could. All we can do is hope.” Anakin said.

Rex nodded, peering his helmet around the corner to sight his next target, firing again in rapid succession. When he pulled back he glanced down at Anakin’s leg. “How’s the ankle?”

Anakin shifted. “It’s fine.”

Rex scoffed, turning away. “Like hell it is.”

Obi-wan coughed violently behind them, the sound attracting the attention of a nearby group of droids. Anakin caught sight of them out of the corner of his eye, leaping up and igniting his saber. “We’ve got company- be right back.”

“An- wait, Anakin!” Obi-wan called, making at desperate grab for Anakin’s boot, just a millisecond too slow. 

Anakin lunged forward, blade whirring, and hurtled over the gunship to come down on an unsuspecting droid approaching from the other side.

“Jedi!” One of them screamed, too slow to lift their blaster as Anakin easily parted their head form shoulders, leaping to the next, and then the next, blade a blur as he cut the enemy down. He attracted the attention of another tank, also fresh to the battle, rolling in from an adjacent pad. He leapt up, flipping twice through the air, and landed on the body of the tank, driving his blade through the portal cap. The lid popped and he slipped inside, slashing through the two droids controlling the vehicle and sliding into the pilot’s seat, steering them away from his men.

He twisted the barrel around to point at the waves of droids marching out from the portables and underground hatches across from their gunship cover. With a simple twitch of his thumb he sent a series of devastating bolts crashing into the enemy lines, decimating their defences. 

He flicked the tank to autopilot and leapt out, using it’s fire as cover to get back to his men’s sides.

He flung himself back around the gunship, panting heavily, chest heaving. The rush of adrenaline subsided the pain in his ankle, a most welcome distraction. “Too easy,” he grinned.

“Overhead! Look!” A trooper positioned behind the wall of an overturned hovercart shouted behind them, pointing to the sky. They all craned their heads in unison, squinting up through the plumes of smoke and loose fire.

Shadows descended upon them, starting off small and growing larger the closer they drew to the ground. The sound was delayed slightly, reaching them about the same time Anakin realised what the shadows were. 

The bellies of Republic LAAT gunships, their familiar guttural roar music to the ears of the scattered troops. Cheers rang out across the battlefield as the men lifted their eyes to find rescue at last.

“Looks like someone heard you,” Anakin grinned at Rex, clapping him on the back. He could hear relieved laughter from behind the helmet.

A figure clad in filthy cream coloured robes leapt in behind the Separatist gunships beside them.
For the briefest moment Anakin thought it was Obi-wan, before he remembered Cody was the one crusading around in the jedi master’s robes, and that said master was already by his side, the only member of their party who didn’t seem particularly interested in their rescuers.

“General!” The commander cried, his bare face showing a rare glimmer of emotion. He grinned at Obi-wan with the same smile Anakin saw so often on Rex, and reached into the folds of his robes, procuring the hilt of Obi-wan’s lightsaber. He handed the weapon to the general, his grin softening to the small upturn of lips and a shining relief in his eyes. “It’s good to see you again, sir. I thought I would hold onto this for you until Skywalker got you out.”

Obi-wan slowly took the weapon from him, his eyes downturned. He didn’t look at the commander as he said, softly, “Thank-you, Cody.”

If Cody noticed, he didn’t show it. Instead, he simply nodded once, deeply. “You’re welcome, sir.”

“Yeah, sure, thank Cody.” Anakin teased, rolling his eyes as Rex and the two troops beside him sniggered.

“I never doubted you, sir.” Cody continued, pretending as though Anakin hadn’t spoken. The spark of mischief in his eye said he knew otherwise.

Anakin looked affronted. “Ok, well that’s absolute poodoo.” He swore, pulling his mouth into a faux-bitter expression.

It only worried him a little when Obi-wan failed to chastise him for the Huttese swear.

The fire that had been raining down on them suddenly switched targets, red bolts targeting the heavily fortified armoured undersides of the gunships. To no avail, the republic ships sinking to land, some crushing B1 series battledroids under their weight like they were nothing more than scrap metal bugs.

Blast doors slid back and shiny-armoured troops beckoned them forth, hanging out the side of the gunships with hands waving them over. Men rose from their cover all around, dashing for the ships, and their freedom. The droid forces scrambled to regroup and return fire in force, cut down as quickly as they appeared by the overwhelming firepower of the Republic air assault.

“Let’s go!” Anakin called, gripping Obi-wan by the bicep and towing him towards the nearest ship. Rex, Cody, and the neighbouring troopers followed suit, providing cover fire as they did so.

Obi-wan stumbled, legs visibly trembling beneath him, hand heavy in Anakin’s as he allowed himself to be towed the last few desperate feet to safety.

Almost there, almost there-

KA-BOOM!

One moment they were running, the next Anakin was flat on his back, winded, staring dazedly up the sky.

His ears were ringing and blocked as if stuffed full of wool. He pulled himself up and blinked around, dizzy, vision swimming. “Obi-wan?” He heard himself say, his voice simultaneously very loud and very distant. He slowly got his feet under him, pushing to stand, trying to shake free of the delayed quality the world had taken on around him. Everything had happened so suddenly and so fast, and now it was all dragging, like trying to wade through water.

“Generals!” Rex’s voice reached him through the fog; desperate, straining to be heard of the din.

Anakin turned as if in slow motion towards the gunship and was immediately knocked to his knees again by another sucker punch of an explosion. Explosion? Yes, that’s what happened. Anakin remembered, they’d been running and suddenly the air had erupted beside them. No debris, no blast, no fire. Just a ripple through the space, a shockwave enough to fling him to the ground.

“Obi-wan!” He called, his head clearing as his jedi instincts finally kicked. Get him, get in, get going. “Master!”

A sound like a wounded bantha cooed from off to his left. Anakin stumbled to his feet and made his way towards the splayed figure of his former master, still lying with limbs flung about haphazardly in the dirt.

“Obi-wan?” Anakin shook his shoulder. Another blast a few feet directly in front of them shot him backwards, head cracking against the ground with a jarring thud. Anakin yelped and struggled upright, arms heavy, head spinning. “Obi-wan, please."

“Anakin?” Obi-wan groaned. His eyes were not open. “Leave... me. You should leave me.”

“No, no,” Anakin shook his head, digging his hand under Obi-wan’s arms and dragging him up, groaning with effort. “Don’t say that. Don’t you say that. I will not leave you.” He grit his teeth, hissing painfully as he slung Obi-wan’s arm over his shoulders and continued their final leg to the Republic gunships. The mystery blasts held off for a short while, long enough for him to gain ground towards their awaiting men.

Anakin motioned for the pilot to take off, building up his momentum in the last few steps and launching both he, and Obi-wan with him, through the air in a Force-inhanced leap, mechanical hand snagging on the floor of the ship as they dangled above ground, the dusty desert floor falling further and further away by the second.

Obi-wan hung limply off of him, flopping like a rag doll, sliding out of Anakin’s grasp as he struggled to pull them into the holding bay.

The ship tipped slightly to the opposite side, the angle helping Anakin roll over the edge with the aid of two pairs of strong hands. Rex and Cody.

He clung to Obi-wan by nothing but the grip of his flesh hand, now. Judging by the weight of him, and the way his hand lay lax in Anakin’s grasp, he’d slipped back into unconsciousness.

The ship rose and rose, the enemy fire reached a climax, all firepower directed straight at them. Obi-wan slipped further and further from his grasp.

“No, no, no-“ the words ran together in a panicked string, pulled from Anakin’s lips on a struggling cry as he flung his right hand out to grasp at Obi-wan’s wrist, feet scrabbling for purchase as he tried to manoeuvre the unresponsive man into the ship. “Tip the ship port side! I can’t pull him in at this angle!”

Rex, who’d been hovering at Anakin’s side, leapt up and made his way towards the cockpit, swinging off the handlebars to keep from sliding.

“C’mon, c’mon, Obi-wan!” Anakin slid to his stomach, inching dangerously further off the lip of the floor with both hands clinging to Obi-wan. Over the edge he saw the droids swarming the ground of the base, reorganising themselves around a series of foreign looking cannons, the likes of which Anakin had never seen.

One swivelled slowly, menacingly, it’s great black body giving way to a head and funnel that glowed with a bright green charge. It turned, turned, locked in place; it’s sights on Anakin and his gunship.

His eyes widened with realisation- just a moment too late.

“Evasive manoeuv-!” A pulse of air, great warping ringlets of pure energy, erupted from the barrel of the tank and shot towards them at an impossible speed.

The ship rocked further starboard, careening to the side with the sheer force of impact. No heat, no explosion, just strength enough to send the gunship spiralling off it’s course.

The men sheltering in the ship’s hull were sent crashing into one another, piled up against the far side, the door blessedly shut.

And Anakin-

Anakin had been flung back, but when he opened his eyes he was suspended, hovering in the centre of the hull, the back of his tunic and armoured breastplate hooked by Rex’s fingers, the captain’s other hand tethered to one of the overhead rails.

And Obi-wan...

Obi-wan!

Anakin jerked, the fog clearing from his mind as fear seized him, throwing everything into a sharp and jarring clarity. He threw his hands up, using the force to summon a handrail to him, and pulled himself free of Rex’s grasp. The ship abruptly righted itself, the men falling to the floor with a clatter. 

Anakin dropped down and ran, ran for the edge, for the open side of the gunship where he’d been hanging just moments ago.

Obi-wan was falling.

Tumbling downwards. Limp, eyes closed, hands still reaching towards the ship. Plummeting right back into the arms of the enemy, back to the jaws of death. Swallowed in a moment by the knitted clouds of smoke and fire. Disappeared from sight. Gone.

Gone.

“Obi-wan!” Anakin screamed, tipping out of the gunship, craning to catch a glimpse of him as he sunk beneath the rain of fire. His heart seized in his chest. His blood ran cold. Through the creeping darkness that filled his vision he saw Rex appear beside him, a hand on his shoulder drawing him back into the safety of their ship. Back to the cruisers that awaited them above. Back to Coruscant, and the temple. Back home.

“Sir, he’s gone! You have to let him go!”

No, I can’t. I can’t leave, not without him.

It is the will of the Force, the dragon in his heart hissed, flicking tongue tickling his ear. It’s voice was a cold familiarity that chilled Anakin to the bone. He is to die here. 

And no, no, this couldn’t be happening. They hadn’t come all this way, he hadn’t gotten so far, to let Obi-wan slip through his fingers at the last second.

He would not fail again. He’d promised.

Rex’s plea was desperate, the grip on his shoulder so tight it hurt. “I’m sorry, general, you can’t help him!”

You cannot save him.

“No,” Anakin said. He gazed down at the blackened swirls of clouds below. He’d never felt surer about anything in his life. “But I can die with him.”

The sound of the canon-fire filled the silence.

For a moment the dragon recoiled. Rex’s hand slipped from his shoulder.

And Anakin jumped.

Chapter Text

This is falling:

It’s not weightlessness. Weightlessness is the feeling of being suspended in space; of floating, untouched, free from the shackles of gravity.

To fall is to be bound by them.

Anakin had done this many times before, more than he could count. Leapt over the sides of speeders, off travelling ships, jumped from buildings and rock walls and all manner of other high vantage points. He’d felt his arms spread against the forces of gravity, the wind whistling through his fingers and raking through his hair. He’d felt the tingling sensation that grew from the pit of his lurching stomach, raising the hairs at the back of his neck and bringing the sharp taste of blood and fear to his mouth, the Force rippling as he plummeted, too fast for it to centre around him.

Anakin brought his hands to his sides and clamped his feet together, angling his body into a streamline towards where Obi-wan had fallen.

Now, outside the suffocating walls of the underground warren, his bond with Obi-wan bloomed brighter, their connection tugging at him with a renewed strength.

Anakin followed that pull, twisting through the air like the streamlined projectile of a primitive slug thrower, tucking himself in tight to prevent drag. He shot through the air, the wind whistling in his ears, the cacophony of battle growing louder the closer he drew to the ground.

Emerging from the underside of a thick blanket of smoke Anakin opened his eyes, keeping them trained like a hawk on the figure of Obi-wan, some distance ahead, hurtling towards the unforgiving planet surface below. Able to get a visual on him now, Anakin reached out and concentrated, focussing all his attention on the mental image of a hand. A giant hand that seemed formed of the air itself, reaching to snatch Obi-wan up before he made fatal impact with the ground beneath. The Force, an extension of Anakin’s own arm. He felt currents of energy flowing through him, felt a sensation on his fingertips as if it was his own hand that wrapped around Obi-wan and halted him in his free-fall; watched as Obi-wan simply stopped, hung loosely a mere few feet from the ground like a puppet on string.

Anakin felt himself let go of a breath he wasn’t aware he’d been holding. He kept his hand outstretched, leaving one part of his mind still focussed on the task of holding Obi-wan up, the rest of him preparing to make his own landing. About a metre off the ground he sent a surge of power down, pushing himself up and in doing so pausing his own rapid descent, hovering for a second before dropping gingerly to the ground, careful to land on his good ankle. He limped to Obi-wan, having come down a little distance from him, and carefully let his grip in the Force slip open. Obi-wan floated to his arms, the full weight of him sinking Anakin to his knees.

The young knight panted, knelt in the dust, Obi-wan’s head hung over his forearm with his torso laid across his lap. “I got you, I got you,” Anakin repeated, settling a trembling hand on the unconscious man’s chest.

But it wasn’t over yet.

“Jedi!” The electronic voice was so easily recognisable, with it’s pitchy vocaliser and generic way of announcing itself. The Separatists have no flare, Anakin had thought many times before, as he cut down droid after droid. They could have at least put some effort into these things.

Now, he found the presence of a battle droid to be anything but a joke.

“Don’t just stand there!” Another droid approached the first, it’s blaster waving about. A group of them followed close behind. “Shoot him!”

Anakin raised his eyes as they trained their firearms on him in sync; too stupid to form any kind of strategy, too stupid to surround him, to fire immediately and without warning. Slowly, he set Obi-wan down and reached for his lightsaber, a storm brewing dark and fierce within him. Frustration. Anger. Hatred.

Obi-wan lay broken at his feet. Anakin could feel him flickering in the Force, his light struggling against a gale of pain and suffering and torment. They had done this. They had taken him, tormented him.

He would make them pay.

Anakin closed his eyes, hand fisting around the hilt of his lightsaber. No, this is not the way.

They tortured him, Anakin, his dragon whispered, it’s claws digging into the tender flesh of his heart. They would have killed him. You know what you have to do.

I’m a jedi, I know I’m better than this.

Are you? A flash of memory, grains of sand falling through fingers: “I promise, I won’t fail again”.

The scraping of a dagger-like nail, cutting deep into old scars not quite healed.
His heart bled and kept bleeding.

I won’t fail again

No, you won’t.

“Fire!"

The saber ignited, and he let go. 

He let it in, let it out, set it loose. Everything he kept pent up inside, barred behind the Code, locked deep within him in the dark untouchable places he never let see the light of day. From within the wells of his soul he brought the beast forth, and set it’s rage loose upon the enemy.

A rage like nothing he’d felt since huts scattered under a dusky sky; the rotten smell of festering flesh, the sand stirring beneath his feet.

He cut and slashed his way through the crowds of droids that began to swarm around him, a blur of motion. It was more than lava in his veins, more than fire in his heart. It was the Force, pure and uncomplicated, flowing through him; unencumbered, effortless, ceaseless- and dark. Dark like the night. Like blackened storm clouds to contrast his lightning. Like the end of the galaxy, where all the stars had gone out. The droids died screaming with the braying voices of Sand People.

His lungs burned, everything in him burned.

He leapt and dodged and parried. He was untouchable. A deadly force whipping like a tornado through the lines of helpless battledroids, leaving only destruction in his wake. The pain in his ankle was beyond bearable, yet he couldn’t stop. Even if he wanted to, he could not. Not until he was done.

The bodies piled higher and higher as more droids crowded to him. He never once slowed down.

With his flesh hand he thrust out, reaching through the Force for a discarded tank rolled on it’s side. Normally such a feat would require much more concentration, but he lifted the machinery with a simple flick of his wrist. It raised, hovered menacingly over it’s prey, and was brought down with a crushing force, rolling over the rear lines of droids and grinding them into the dust.

Droidekas could not touch him, nor the more sophisticated blasters if super battle droids. The tanks were too slow to catch him, always firing at where he had been, never where he was. The canons on the outskirts of the battle, with their glimmering green barrels and blasts that manipulated the very air itself into a destructive force, were nothing against him. Every wave that struck him only slid him further back on his heels, never knocked him off his feet.

He couldn’t breathe, yet he’d never felt more alive.
His throat grew raw with screaming.

Finally, after what seemed an age, after the enemy had been cut down- every last one of them, he stopped. He couldn’t see or breathe or think. A weight settled over him, reality crashing back with brute force. 

There was the terrible sensation of suffocating. Darkness welled around him, pressed in on him, blinded his eyes and clogged his throat. He tried to cry out but found the sound silenced within him, never even the hope of giving it voice. He was overwhelmed, consumed.
He’d never known a presence like this.

He tried to move, to take a step. He staggered. He fell. The world went dark.

 

Consciousness came to him in waves, beating relentlessly against him and knocking him out of the lull of sleep. Scenes appeared in flashes before him; the world tipped and swayed, smoke billowed up from the ground, a great silence swallowed him each time he was drawn into the waking world.

The fire that had raged in him had simmered down to a shallow flame. He felt hollow, as though one small tap would shattered him like glass. Exhaustion weighed his limbs down. He hadn’t the strength to grasp at consciousness each time he resurfaced before slumber would pull him back under. He hadn’t any fight left in him.

When Anakin finally awoke for good he found the ground solid beneath him. When he opened his eyes the sky was not spinning, but instead steadily rotating on it’s axis, far too slow for him to trace the movement. Aside from feeling hot and shaky, he was unharmed. His throat was raw, though, and it hurt to swallow.

“You’re still alive, then.” A low, calm voice drifted to him from off to the side, the words softly spoken in the clipped Coruscanti accent he’d come to know so well.

Anakin sat up slowly, careful not to let the rush of blood black him back out. 

As he blinked the bleariness from his eyes he gazed around to find Obi-wan sat in the dirt with his back lent up against one of the durasteel portables. 

He held the appearance of the living dead. Pale, even more so than usual, and thin. Very thin. The lines of his cheekbones cut much deeper than before, the angle of his nose more profound. His eyes were sunken and red, one so swollen it was barely open a slit. The beard that usually framed his jaw had been shorn away, regrowing in rough little patches but mostly gone. His hair was a little longer, too; matted and grimy, hanging limply off his head in a way that was so uncharacteristic of the usually pristine Jedi Master.

“You look terrible.” Anakin said, wincing as his voice grated against the angry lining of his throat.

“I could say the same about you.”

Anakin would’ve smirked had he the energy. He sat up further, tipping forward to press shaking hands to the dirt, struggling to hoist himself to his feet. His ankle throbbed sharply when he got it underneath him and he let out a yelp of pain, collapsing hard to the ground with both hands clutching at the wounded limb, futilely hoping the pressure would alleviate some of the pain.

Obi-wan blinked at him. “You’re hurt.”

“Yeah, no shit.” Anakin bit back, gritting his teeth. Even held aloft his ankle radiated agony, the swollen flesh struggling against the confines of his boot. Anakin flopped back to the ground with a frustrated sigh, the dust stirring around him. “We’re in trouble.”

“With you, always.” Obi-wan was still just sitting there, watching him. In his hands he held his lightsaber, the weapon absently rolling between fingers.

Anakin closed his eyes and scrunched up his face in thought. It took a lot of concentration to clear the fog in his memory, and even then there was still a patch of time that was shrouded in mist. He’d been falling, Obi-wan’d been falling, they’d landed and-

He shook his head. It didn’t matter, he’d ask Obi-wan once they’d found somewhere safe to lie low and plot their next move. He lifted his head a little to peer down his nose at his former master. “Obi-wan, can you walk?”

“Not too far, if you’re thinking of making a run for it.”

“On foot? No way. Think you could scrounge around for a hovercraft of some kind?”

Obi-wan tipped his head, dragging himself up the wall to his feet. A hot breeze wafted through the now exposed base, ruffling the flyaway strands of hair atop his head. “That I can probably manage.”

 

Obi-wan returned a short while later, limping beside a dusty brown hoverbike with a pack strapped to the back.

Anakin sat up, trying again to get his legs under him without placing pressure on his injured ankle. Obi-wan drew the bike up beside him and Anakin used it’s lowered seat to leverage himself up. 

“Will this do?” Obi-wan asked, in a manner that suggested he knew full well the bike would serve adequate purpose.

Anakin hid a grin, “what took you so long?”

“Oh, you know,” Obi-wan said, raising his voice in a mockery of Anakin’s own with a grating, rather terrible attempt at his accent. “Couldn’t find a bike that I liked, with the right speed capabilities and all.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Anakin rolled his eyes. He slung his leg over the bike, settling down on the saddle and carefully sliding the sole of his left foot up to rest on the pegs. His injured ankle he held out, laid up on the bodywork around and beside the handlebars. 

Obi-wan paused for a moment before settling in behind him, arms carefully wrapping around his waist. Anakin ignited the engine, the hoverbike coming to life with a low, steady hum. He raised a fist, giving Obi-wan a thumbs up to check he was ready. The last thing he needed was Obi-wan toppling off the back of the bike.

One of the hands clasped round his middle lifted it’s thumb, giving him the all-clear. With a pop and a whine, Anakin released the brakes and shot the bike forward, dust clouding thick and red in their wake as they skimmed across the planet surface leaving only the carnage of the base in their wake.

He didn’t know exactly why they were leaving, or where they were going, or really what was happening at all. It seemed crazy to flee the base. And what had happened exactly? Anakin couldn’t remember, but the droids were in pieces and they were alive. The gunships, then? But why would they leave them on the ground? Where were they now?

Questions, questions- and another voice overpowering them all, some primal instinct in him that was screaming for him to Run!

Obi-wan wasn’t protesting, so he figured it was the right decision.

They were tearing up the never-ending expanse of desert for some time before Anakin realised where his gut was leading him.

Up ahead, barely visible in the distance, lay the gorge they found Cody in.

“Hold tight!” He called over his shoulder as they approached the cliff edge, wincing as Obi-wan gripped tighter around his waist, pain blooming over his battered rib cage. Better that than Obi-wan falling— again.

They began their descent, slowing dropping over the lip of the gorge. The bike wasn’t meant for air travel and the engines, with the added weight of two fully grown adults, struggled to keep from cutting out as they drifted over empty space. They dropped slowly, down past the caves nestled into the rock face. 

They settled to the canyon floor with a soft thud, the engines dying in fading whir.

Hidden up in the canopies above the birdsong echoed throughout the canyon. The floor of the ravine was mossy and soft, and damp- worlds apart from the dehydrated earth on the surface above. The trickling sound of running water chimed through the trees.

“Where are we?” Obi-wan swung one leg up, dismounting the bike. “I- have we been here before?”

Anakin fiddled with the bike, disconnecting the battery so it wouldn’t power up on its own and drain itself, or activate any kind of tracking beacon, Force forbid that happened. “I think you and Cody hid up in the— Obi-wan, are you ok?”

Obi-wan was staggering, his eyes floating unfocussed about the canopy of trees above them. One foot caught on the other and he tumbled to the ground with a surprised yelp, landing in a heap amongst the foliage of low-lying bush.

Anakin was by his side in a second, balancing precariously on one knee as he rolled the wounded master over.

Obi-wan groaned as he turned over his shoulder, his face scrunched up in pain. “Anakin, I’m- I’m tired. I’m so tired.” And he suddenly looked it, too. Like he hadn’t slept in years.

“I know, I know.” Anakin slid one hand under Obi-wan’s shoulders, the other hooked under his knees. Ankle be damned, he hadn’t got them this far just for his bone-headed master to keel over and die now. “Just hold on. You can rest once we find shelter.”

“Shelter...” Obi-wan echoed, his head lolling. Anakin stood slowly, legs shaking under the added weight of the man in his arms. He grit his teeth and rose up to full height, Obi-wan gasping little pained breaths. “Hurts...”

“It’s ok, master. It’ll be alright.” Anakin told him, limping from the clearing and making slowly for the foot of the cliff face. If there were caves imbedded high up in the rock Anakin bet there’d be more lower down. He hoped, anyway.

Obi-wan’s voice was barely a whisper. “Please don’t leave… please don’t leave…”

“Why would I leave you? After all the trouble we went through to get you? Com on, master, you’re wiser than that.” Anakin joked. It fell on deaf ears.

Fear gripped hard at him, twisted and turned his gut. Cold, he felt cold dread seep to his bones, felt a shiver run through him. I’m not loosing him.

Obi-wan went very still and quiet in his arms, his chest lifting around shallow, staggered breaths. Sweat beaded on his forehead and slid low beneath the armoured chestplate of Cody’s uniform.

Anakin could hardly see by the time he reached the base of the gorge’s towering wall, his vision swimming and tinting at the edges.

“Ok, ok, just a little further.” He panted, readjusting his grip on Obi-wan and cradling the man tighter to him. “Just a little further, Obi-wan.”

They collapsed at the mouth of a particularly wide cave, the opening concealed by large low-lying fronds and long-haired grass. Anakin crawled forward dragging Obi-wan behind him, clawing through the darkness, exhaustion beginning to drag him down.

He huddled them near the rear of the cave, the hollowed out body of it proving to be more wide than deep, and clutched Obi-wan closer to him, back to chest. Their legs tangled together where they splayed out before them. Anakin deciding he was too tired to adjust his somewhat uncomfortable position. Obi-wan’s full weight lay against him, his chest rising around rasping but steadying breaths, face pressed to the armour that covered Anakin’s tunics.

Though his eyes remained closed Obi-wan let out a small whimpered, shivering, teeth clacking in his sleep-slackened jaw. A jumbled of words, none of which Anakin could make out. He thought he heard his name.

“Shh, shh,” he hushed, running soothing fingers through the knots in Obi-wan’s hair. “Shh, Obi-wan. You’re safe. I’ve got you. I won’t leave you.” The words became a mantra. 

Obi-wan settled, his taught shoulders relaxing once more as he exhaled deeply with an almost-sigh and slipped further into the welcome embrace of a healing sleep.

Under the cover of darkness, sprawled tired and hurt in the belly of the cave, Anakin Skywalker pressed one lingering kiss to his former master’s forehead and silently thanked the stars they were both safe.

Chapter Text

Sunlight filtered through in thin strips of light, casting sporadic beams of warm yellow across the jagged grey rock walls. Beyond the confines of their haven the native bird life awoke to the new day, their chorus breaking the soft silence of the night.

Anakin dragged his eyes open with no small amount of effort.
As he came to his senses he became aware of a weight against his chest; and through the Force, the warmth of a living being. He blinked his eyes open fully and glanced down to find Obi-wan settled against him, the hard armour of his chest plate rising and falling with each sleep-steady breath. His hair had fallen into his eyes, which remained blissfully shut, relaxed in a way only sleep could make him. The moment he awoke the stress lines would return.

Frowning ever so slightly, Anakin carefully shuffled out from underneath his slumbering master and rose up, joints creaking and groaning. He stretched, and was instantly gratified by a few loosening clicks from stiff joints.

His head felt heavy, his inner vision bleary. A throbbing behind his eyes alluded to a headache. I must’ve hit my head, he thought, though he couldn’t remember when. In fact, the more he dwelled on it, the more he came to realise he couldn’t remember much of the last twelve hours at all. It’ll come, he told himself, and bent to stretch the kinks from his spine.

Limbered up and restless as always, he made for the front of the cave, stepping out into warm sunlight and a pleasant, gentle breeze. He shut his eyes and inhaled deeply, the ravine heavy with the smell of earth and plant growth and clear, clean water. It smelled nice. Nothing like the harsh deserts of Tatooine, of the surface high above them.

The further they were from desert, the better.

Anakin heaved a heavy sigh and ventured into the forest.

 

An hour later found him sat cross-legged in the dirt, his injured ankle laid slightly in front of him, set in a makeshift brace of woven twigs and thick, hard-set mud. It wasn’t a perfect cast, but Anakin would be lying if he didn’t admit he was a little proud of it.

His eyes were closed, squeezed to the point of aching, brilliant colours bursting like fireworks behind the hood of his lids.

Calm eluded him, meditation danced merrily just out of reach. Each time he outstretched his hand into the Force to seek that serene place it ducked from his grasp.

He felt strange, off-centre. All around him the Force swirled like mist; thin, unpredictable, clouded.
His memories, upon reflection, proved to be just as foggy.

Obi-wan found him folded on the forest floor trying desperately to sink into the first layer of meditation.

“I’ve never seen a successful meditation performed with a face like that.”

Anakin cracked one eye open, “shh, I’m concentrating.”

“Oh yes, I can see that.” Anakin watched through the curtain of his lashes as Obi-wan shuffled forward and sat down in front of him. He inhaled, deeply, and upon exhale let every muscle in his face relax until he was the picture of serenity.

“Stop it,” Anakin groaned, rolling his eyes and uncrossing his legs. “No fair, you make it look too easy.”

Obi-wan couldn’t quite hide a smile. “There is still much I have to teach you, young one.” 

“Too late now. I am no longer your padawan, remember? And I’m not young one, I’m Master Skywalker.”

“Last I checked you’ve yet to achieve the rank of master.”

Anakin frowned and kicked at the ground with his good foot. The Force swirled around the movement. Obi-wan sighed and drew himself out of his brief meditation. When he looked at Anakin it was with an expectant sharpness in his eyes.

“Well?”

“What?”

They stared at each other; Obi-wan with that steady gaze of his, and Anakin bordering on glaring. 

Obi-wan shifted, plucking a small twig off the forest floor and turning it over in his hands, idly stripping it of its bark. “Anakin,” he said. “Are you just going to keep pretending like nothing happened?”

What had happened? Anakin fought to clear the cloud in his mind, sifted through what he knew: the desert, the blood, the stench of death. Caves and cold and Cody. Fire, and fear, and...

Anakin watched Obi-wan’s deft fingers pick and peel the twig, watched his hands shake ever so subtly in his lap. “I don’t know what you mean,” he said.

A sigh, heavy and rattling. “I’ll start, then, shall I?” Obi-wan raised his eyebrows pointedly. Anakin glanced away. “How did you find me?”

Why are you here, Anakin?

How did you find me?

Anakin blinked at the memory. Obi-wan’s voice, but when? Where? He really must’ve hit his head hard...

“What does it matter?” The young knight bit back impetuously.

Obi-wan fixed him with a hard look. “It matters.”

Anakin inwardly rebelled against the idea of telling Obi-wan that he was experiencing some sort of amnesia. He’d only launch into a lecture on Anakin’s habit of getting hit in the head more than the average competent jedi.

He decided instead to just tell him what he knew.

“We crashed.” Anakin said, holding Obi-wan’s gaze and speaking as though they were discussing the weather or the flavourlessness of meal rations. “We lost men. We walked. We found the site of battle and were informed that you’d moved on. Found this place,” he gestured around them with the arcing wave of a hand. “Cody was here, he told us what happened. We found the base and we got inside. I rescued your men. I... rescued you. That’s it.”

I think I did, at least, Anakin thought, fighting to keep the nervous twitch in his temple at bay. I must’ve, you’re here. We’re here.

“But there’s more.” Obi-wan’s gaze didn’t waver. “There must be.”

“You were there, don’t you remember?”

Anakin,” and there it was, his name, drawn out on an exasperated sigh, a collection of syllables synonymous with disaster. “I remember very little.”

That piqued his interest. Anakin dropped his indignant front for a moment, tilting his head and peering at Obi-wan now not with frustration but curiosity. You too? “What do you mean?”

Obi-wan fiddled with the twig in his lap. The shaking in his hands grew violent. He dropped the twig and clasped his fingers together instead to mask the trembling. He thinks I don’t notice. Even after all this time he thinks I don’t know when something’s wrong, Anakin thought, fighting not to point it out to him. 

“I remember snatches.” Obi-wan said. He stared at his lap, at his hands, and for once stubbornly refused to meet Anakin’s gaze. “I remember being in that room, or at least I remember leaving it. I remember fire, and smoke, and you limping us across a battlefield. I think I saw tanks? Next I remember falling. That’s all. That’s it until... until yesterday, when you were just lying there and I thought-“ he cut himself off.

“Thought what?” Anakin spoke softly, bending forward to catch Obi-wan’s gaze.

Obi-wan sniffed and looked off to the side for a moment. When he looked back at him it was with regained composure, his Jedi masked firmly fixed in place. “It doesn’t matter. What matters is that it happened at all. Anakin, how could you be so foolish?”

“I- hang on!” Anakin reeled back, blinking, immediately on the defensive. “What do you mean foolish?

“Did you not abandon your men in orbit to come down here? Risk troops to rescue us?”

Anakin blinked. “Obi-wan, you were in danger.” 

Obi-wan threw his hands up, tossing his twig aside. Standing, he began furiously pacing around their clearing, arms folded, one hand running quaking fingers over the rough patches of bare skin where his beard used to be. “Anakin, when are you going to learn that this is war? We have responsibilities! You have a duty to uphold. You can’t keep ditching your men mid-fight to come to my rescue!”

Anakin stood now, too, wincing as he juggled his weight off of his broken ankle. “The hell I can’t! What do you expect me to do? Leave you? Let you die?

Obi-wan paused in his pacing, turned to him and froze him with a cold look. “If it means winning the war, yes.”

“This isn’t the war, it’s one battle. And it’s my fault we were even here in the first place! Ahsoka can handle-“

“You left Ahsoka?” Obi-wan’s eyes widened. “Alone?

Anakin ducked his head, sheepish. “You were in trouble, Obi-wan. She understood.”

“That’s not the point, Anakin,” Obi-wan shook his head. “Your attachment to me is becoming too problematic. If you don’t learn to control it-”

Anakin growled and turned his back on him, shoulders so tense they ached. Would a quiet, peaceful morning be too much to ask for? “I’m sorry for caring.”

The clearing grew suddenly suffocatingly quiet. A moment later Anakin felt a warm hand touch his shoulder. “I know you care, Anakin, and I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for you saving my life.” Obi-wan spoke softly. “I just... worry.”

Anakin waged a war inside of himself. Fought the urge to turn around and pull Obi-wan to him, to never let go. Fought against the desire to tell him everything. Tell him how confused he was. Tell him that he didn’t care, because he was there, safe, and that’s all that mattered. Tell him just how much he meant. Tell him why he had to save him.

But how could he? He could hardly admit those things to himself.

“I know.” He said instead, and broke free of Obi-wan’s hold.

 

Evening found them nestled in the mouth of their cave, sat facing each other across a small fire still pink and coughing smoke into the steadily cooling night air. Anakin’d caught some fish earlier that afternoon, putting his nervous energy to good use; sharpening the ends of thin, sturdy branches to a fine point and stabbing the tips through the plump bellies of any fish curious enough to get too close. 

They’d quietly gathered firewood together as the sun began to sink over the edge of the ravine and built up a small furnace to roast their meal, the smell sending their empty bellies into rumbling fits.

Now, sated and drowsy, they sat statue still in the dusky eve and stared unblinkingly at the lapping tongues of fire licking up the oncoming darkness.

Obi-wan shifted, barely masking a grunt of pain as he did so, too late to escape Anakin’s notice. “Master, are you alright?”

“I-“ Obi-wan winced again, this time not bothering to clasp his teeth against the pain, and reached a hand over his shoulder to run featherlight fingers over his back. The lightest of touches was enough to trigger spasms of pain across his back. “No. Actually, I don’t think I am.”

Anakin was up in an instant. “What is it? What do you need?” 

Obi-wan pressed his fingers to a place between his shoulder blades and immediately let out a yelp of pain, flinching so violently he shifted his whole body forwards, dangerously close to the flames.

“Careful!” Anakin cried, taking a step forward to pull his friend back from the fire.

Obi-wan waved him away. “It’s alright. I’ll- I’ll be fine.”

“The hell you will.” Anakin rolled his eyes and knelt beside Obi-wan, clasping his chin in one tender hand and forcing Obi-wan to face him. His eyes scanned over the man’s weathered features; over the dappled bruises and still-oozing cuts. He forced his breath out slow. “I’ve been an idiot.”

“When are you not?” Obi-wan quipped, but he didn’t smile. He stared up at Anakin through bloodshot eyes, the swollen socket of his right eye still puffy and red.

“Obi-wan, for once will you just be quiet?” Anakin didn’t mean to snap. He was angry, and frustrated, and confused. Disorientated. Throughout the day he’d found his focus slipping, his mind wandering about the canopies above, up in the clouds. He’d felt… foggy. His mind hazy and unfocussed. Like he was forgetting something.

Memories of the day before, and the days before that, were blurring and smudging in his mind, only coming to sharp focus when all his attention was drawn to them.

The Force feels strange here.

He recalled more during a barely successful meditation before dinner. He caught snatches of the base, the fire fight, leaping from the gunship. Of Obi-wan crumpled wounded in his arms. The memories helped him orient himself, but the anger that boiled his blood and steamed his face red and eyes raw kept him from going to Obi-wan, from checking on him, making sure he was ok. From tending to the wounds he knew he had.

Anger directed at Obi-wan. He didn’t know where it came from, couldn’t push it away. It’d stayed his hand all evening until now, finally faced with the reality of Obi-wan’s situation, he managed to snap himself out of it.

Guilt tore at him.

Despite it all, despite his desperate trek across the desert. Despite the men he’d lost, the test of his integrity, the pain he’d endured, and the fear. Despite it all, now that he finally had Obi-wan back he’d hardly given him a moments thought throughout the day. Since their argument that morning.

And that scared him. Because of all the things he’d faced already on this strange, mysterious planet, that was the most unnatural.

“You grabbed a medbag yesterday, do you remember that?”

Obi-wan squinted slightly. “When I went to find a hoverbike.”

“Yes,” Anakin nodded. “I found it this afternoon when I stashed the bike. I’m going to go get it and then we’re going to tend to some of these wounds, ok?” He spoke like he was talking to a irritable youngling who refused to sit still for the healers, in a tender yet stern tone with simple words. If Obi-wan noticed, he didn’t say anything.

“Ok.”

Anakin fetched the medbag from where he’d tucked it safe inside their cave and returned to Obi-wan’s side. He hadn’t moved, just sat obediently still and watched Anakin approach him.

“Alright, so tell me where it hurts most.” Anakin instructed, unclasping the bag and laying it’s contents out on the ground beside them. He didn’t have much to work with, he knew that already. A few gauzes, some syringes and basic vials of remedies, general ointment and tools. He sighed and plucked a tin of ointment out of the selection, twisting off the lid. “Hang on, let me just get these first,” he said, referring to the slashes on Obi-wan’s face. How had this not been the first thing on his mind when he awoke that morning? What was wrong with him?

Obi-wan sat very still and played the role of the Cooperative Patient while Anakin smeared a generous helping of ointment over the slits of angry red on Obi-wan’s cheeks and forehead. The worst cut was on his chin, and upon closer examination Anakin feared it might scar if they didn’t get to a healer in time.

He tried not to think about that. Thoughts dwelling on the recent past were difficult enough, thoughts of their immediate future… he dared not delve down that wormhole when Obi-wan was in such dire need of care.

He capped the ointment and sat back, admiring his work. Satisfied that he’d got to the worst of the abrasions, Anakin tapped a finger to Obi-wan’s chest plate and said, “this’ll need to come off.”

“The armour?” Obi-wan asked, already moving to unclasp his gauntlets.

Anakin nodded and set about helping Obi-wan unbuckle the body armour. The large white-and-orange chest and backplates, the slabs protecting his stomach. He let Obi-wan deal with the latter half and knelt back with his arms folded, watching the way Obi-wan favoured his back.

“You’ll need to take the shirt off, too.” Anakin said, pointing to Obi-wan's standard solid black undergarment, the kind all troops wore beneath their armour. 

Obi-wan paused and shot him an uncertain look, “I’m not sure I can.”

Anakin opened his mouth to reply, closed it, opened it again, “oh.”

“No, no,“ Obi-wan rolled his eyes. “Honestly Anakin, surely we’re far past modesty by now. What I meant is I’m not sure I can remove my shirt myself. I’m afraid my back hurts rather a lot and I don’t think I can get my hands-“

“Alright, yeah.” Anakin cut him off, awkwardly shuffling forward on his knees and tugging at the hem of Obi-wan's undershirt. He lifted slowly, practically peeling the material off his master’s back, wincing when it caught and snagged in places, pulling away with the distinct sensation of dried and drenching blood.

Obi-wan’s breath caught when he raised his arms so Anakin could tug the the shirt over his head, his whole body going tense- and how could Anakin have not noticed this? What was wrong with him?

Dark mottled flesh stood out in the pale light of the fire. Bruises layered on top of bruises; some yellowed with age, others fresh green and purple. They splotched across Obi-wan's chest and over his stomach, down his arms and back. Everywhere. Paint splashed across a canvas.

But it wasn’t the bruises that caught Anakin’s eye, it was the scars.

Some of them were old. Older than he was. From Obi-wan’s days under Qui-gon Jinn’s tutelage.

Some he could remember Obi-wan receiving. Some were even his fault. He’d seen these ones, a hundred times after missions when they were both battered and weary, and sat unwillingly in the belly of some medcentre or another receiving treatment for the battlescars of their most recent venture.

One stood out on Obi-wan’s bicep; a pale strip burned into the flesh by a blood-red blade. Healed too late to fade completely. A battle scar where Anakin'd lost an arm.

He’d never played comparison. Never looked at Obi-wan’s wound and wished their roles reversed. He’d never wish a maiming on anyone, especially Obi-wan. Never him.

There were other scars, too. Ones he didn’t know. Fresh and raw, some still scabs not yet healed to freshly peeled and pink skin. Some still bled. They were deep, bone deep on his back; pus and a rotten, ripe stench. These were the worst.

Anakin forced himself not to gag.

With shaky fingers he reached for the disinfectant ointment and a general injection, driving the needle first through the flesh of Obi-wan’s neck, then twisting the cap off the cream. It suddenly felt a rush. Like every second counted.

He’s not dying, though. Not dying.

Obi-wan hissed as two fingers dragged the cool ointment over his aching, burning wounds. Anakin clenched his jaw tighter at every little utterance of pain that fell from Obi-wan’s lips, trying to be as feather-light as possible with his touch.

The scars weren’t from a saber. Not a blade, either. They were too thick and tearing, catching on the flesh and peeling it from his master’s back in long, twisted tendrils. Bits still clung loosely off of the freshest wounds.

This was the work of a whip.

Anakin had seen such primitive torture used before. On missions sometimes, though rarely. Mostly the memories were of home. Of the vile gangster scum that inhabited the filth-ridden streets of Tattooine. Of their penchant for the cruel and inhumane tactics of ancient past. Their favouritism for foul and outdated implements of torture made them a thing to be feared by all.

Modern whips were violent, yes, and the charge that some emitted was a torture on it’s own. But their tails were thicker and their touch less bleeding; they bruised and battered, but they didn’t tear. Not like this. Obi-wan’s back was torn to ribbons. It was red, red, and then it was bruises. There was no pale skin. No freckles. Nothing human, only pain.

And then they redressed him and left him to writhe. Denied his wounds the chance to breathe. Left him to hang.

Anakin’s vision burned with hot, angry tears. Unthinkingly, he sent a fist slamming into the cave wall; his mechanical fist, hard enough to shattered rock. Obi-wan flinched.

Immediately Anakin was riddled with guilt, for frightening him, for putting him through even an ounce more distress.

“Oh, Obi-wan, I’m sorry-“ he reached out, fingers brushing a statue-still shoulder, and nearly sobbed when Obi-wan ducked away from him. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I just- I-“

“It’s fine.” Obi-wan said, voice strained. “I think it best you leave me be now, Anakin.”

There was no room to argue, though he wanted to. The way Obi-wan’s body went rigid, the way he couldn’t bring himself to look at Anakin, it was an inward plea for him to leave. So he did.

Anakin retreated into the belly of the cave and huddled against the far wall, angry with himself, frustrated, even a little scared. The haze in his mind hung over him and choked his senses like smoke. He was nearly asleep by the time Obi-wan crawled in beside him, medbag dumped between them. He curled with his back to Anakin and soon filled the silence with soft snores and the wheeze of air drawn to his exhausted lungs.

 

The next day they went hunting. In morning they were once again greeted by the melodic tunes of bird life high in the trees; tunes that alluded to the existence of fauna in the forest of the the ravine floor. Birds, fish, and perhaps something more.

They walked for some time in silence, Anakin at a slow pace to keep his makeshift cast from causing a ruckus on the canyon floor. Obi-wan jogged ahead of him on the balls of his feet, knees bent and pace springy; stealthy, like a feline on the prowl. They each wielded two of Anakin’s sharpened spears, the weight of them a welcome feeling in their palms. 

“There, do you see?” Anakin whispered, pointing high up in the deep green canopies. Obi-wan stilled and followed the line of his finger.

Buried in the branches, barely visible through the tight-knit foliage, a flash of yellow and red feathers flittered into their line of sight.

Obi-wan nodded, his eyes trained on the unsuspecting bird, and hefted one of his spears above his shoulder, fingers gripping it tight and angling it high. He aimed, took a step back, lunged forward and launched his spear through the air with inhuman speed, the gift of the Force flowing through his movements, leaving a near-visible trail in the fluid motion of his tossing arm and the way the branch hurled so precisely through the air.

There was a squawk, followed by a clatter and a crash as the spear found home, impaling their prey and sending it toppling in a flurry of vivid colour from the treetops.

The illusion of his movements was shattered, however, when Obi-wan stumbled forward with a grunt and a wince, a hand going automatically to the fabric on his back.

“Are you alright?” Anakin limped forward, concern lacing his tone.

“I’m fine.” Obi-wan grit his teeth and forced his hand down and his shoulders to relax. “It’s fine.”

“No, it’s not.” Anakin shook his head at his former master, at his hardheaded stubbornness.

Obi-wan waved him away and strolled forward towards where the bird had fallen. Anakin bit back complaint and followed him, glowering at the back of his head.

The bird was plump, it’s bulging belly covered with brilliant yellow feathers. Small feathers, sleek and shiny, like scales over the belly and neck of the fowl. It stared glassy-eyed at them as they approached, no more life left in its impressive, blood-red wings.

It almost seemed a shame to have killed such a creature.

Obi-wan yanked his spear from its stomach, the tip of it tearing away entrails as it came, blood pooling from the hole burrowed in the creature’s belly. Anakin had to look away, suddenly inexplicably queasy.

“This’ll do us I should think.” Obi-wan spoke quietly, conversationally, kneeling to heave the corpse over his shoulder. The weight of it made him gasp and he nearly dropped the bird.

“Obi-wan, please, let me take it.” Anakin stretched out his hand. It took a moment of deliberation for Obi-wan to handed the bird to him. He wrapped his mechanical hand around the scaly feet of the creature and hefted it across his shoulders, gripping its neck with his other hand. It was of a considerable size and weight, living luxuriously and free on the insect life and fish of the ravine, unchallenged by hunters or rivals. Until now.

Obi-wan wobbled a little as he stood, his face growing ashen.

“Let’s have another look at those wounds when we get back, huh?” Anakin suggested, hoping beyond all hope that Obi-wan would dissolve his insufferable stubbornness and let himself be taken care of just once.

By some miracle, his prayers were answered.

Obi-wan glanced at him and offered a weak, closed-mouth smile. “Alright.”

Satisfied, if not more than a little concerned, Anakin bounced the bird carcass higher up on his shoulders and began the short trek back to the cave.

 

Obi-wan stripped slowly, every movement twitching one muscle or another on his forcefully blank face, betraying the pain he was feeling beneath the tightly sealed shields he’d built around himself.

He lay on his stomach, bare from head to torso, resting his chin on his hands and stubbornly refusing to look at Anakin.

The knight sighed and dragged the medkit out next to him. “Y’know, this’d be a lot less painful for both of us if you’d just accept when you need help.”

“Rich, coming from you.” Obi-wan mumbled, still staring resolutely forward.

Anakin smirked and uncapped the healing ointment. It was a struggle to keep his emotions at bay, knowing full well how easily his thoughts could betray him when allowed to broadcast themselves through their unusually strong training bond; a bond they’d yet to fully sever, even after his knighting. In the clear light of day the wounds on Obi-wan’d back only looked worse.

He gingerly spread ointment over the worst of the scars, attempting a transfer some of his energy through to Obi-wan as he worked to alleviate some of the pain. He’d never been one for healing, it just wasn’t a gift he had a natural penchant for. Truth be told, Anakin’d always been far better at inflicting pain than taking it away.

He’d give anything, trade all his talents in an instant, to in this moment have just an ounce of the power the temple healers wielded.

They fell asleep soon after dinner, huddled at the rear of their cave with a fresh little fire crackling at their feet. The night had taken a particularly cold turn, dipping far below what was comfortable for a Tatooine native like Anakin.

He shuddered, hands wedged beneath armpits, forearms crossed tight over his chest, and drew his knees closer to him. 

Beside him Obi-Wan stirred, “Anakin, come here.”

Anakin glanced sideways at him, fighting back another violent shiver. “I’m alright.”  His teeth clacked noisily together as he spoke. 

“You’re freezing. Basic survival strategy: when in a subzero environment it is wise to huddle close to conserve body heat.” Obi-Wan mumbled monotonously, not bothering to turn around. He could probably feel Anakin’s tremors in the Force.

“It’s hardly subzero.”

“Could’ve fooled me.” Now Obi-Wan looked at him over his shoulder, a distinct twinkle in his eye. “Anakin, for as long as I’ve known you you’ve never been one to handle the cold. Quit being so stubborn. Nothing’s ever stopped you before.”

“You haven’t been hurt before.” Anakin pointed out, eyes falling to the shiny bloodstains on the back of Obi-Wan’s shirt, glinting in the firelight like obsidian.

“You won’t hurt me, Anakin. Besides, I do believe I have a fever. I’m warm enough for the both of us, might as well make use of it.”

Anakin frowned. “Master... that’s not good. A fever suggests infection.”

“Not much we can do about it now.” To Anakin’s surprise Obi-Wan reached behind him and grabbed at his wrist, pulling him across the small gap between them. “Now, stop complaining. I can’t sleep with all your teeth chattering.”

Anakin bit back a retort and slid further down until his head rested on a slightly less rocky piece of ground, cushioned by his gloved flesh hand. They’d slept tough before many, many times- didn’t mean he enjoyed it. He shuffled around a little trying to get comfortable, inching as close to Obi-Wan as possible without touching his back. It wasn’t as easy as it looked.

He finally gave in and closed his eyes when he heard Obi-Wan’s boots scrape on the cave floor and suddenly there was a hand resting on his shoulder and warm breath on the back of his neck and oh, this is new.

His eyes shot open and his body went momentarily rigid in surprise.

“Relax,” Obi-Wan mumbled, the sound rumbling low in his chest. He was so close Anakin could feel him speak. “Now you’re in no danger of accidentally brushing my back. Happy?”

“Uh.” Anakin said stupidly.

“Warm?”

Now that Anakin thought about it, yes. Very. “Yeah. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” Obi-Wan whispered, the words tickling across the curls behind Anakin’s ear. 

He nearly shivered for an entirely different reason, slowly allowing himself to relax as the feverish heat of Obi-Wan’s skin began to defrost his freezing joints. It took only mere moments of being wrapped safe in Obi-wan’s arms, finally warm with the fire crackling softly at their feet, for him to fall into a deep, deep sleep.

 

Anakin woke with a jolt. It’d been a noise, he was sure, but then he couldn’t be sure of much. For a moment he’d been certain he was aboard the Resolute; but the Resolute doesn’t have fires, and the Resolute sure as hell doesn’t have a rumpled-looking Obi-wan thrashing around beside him. Not usually, anyway.

Anakin blinked groggily and sat up, his half-awake limbs giving a delayed response. “Hey, hey, it’s ok,” he muttered, touching Obi-wan on the shoulder. At his touch the other man gave a startled cry and lunged forward, rolling over his knees to face Anakin with eyes wide and rolling, the whites of them glowing in the dimly lit cave.

“Woah, woah, take it easy!” Anakin held his hands out to Obi-wan, palms up in surrender. “Take it easy, master.”

Obi-wan stared at him. “Anakin?” His voice was small, fragile, unlike anything Anakin was used to hearing.

“Yeah, it’s me, Obi-wan. It’s me.” Anakin told him gently, creeping forwards. Obi-wan just stared and stared.

Anakin got close enough to touch him again, moving slowly, exaggeratedly, and keeping his hands visible so Obi-wan could see exactly what he was doing. It was like taming a wild creature, a trick Anakin’d learnt from Obi-wan himself, actually. His master’d always had a way with beasts.

“I had the most terrible dream.” Obi-wan said. Now Anakin was closer it became apparent Obi-wan was no longer looking at him, but rather past him, gaze fixed on something in the middle distance with a glassy-eyed stare.

“You did, huh?” Anakin kept his tone light, resting on hand on Obi-wan’s knee, the other on his shoulder. 

Obi-wan swallowed. “I dreamt-“ he swivelled his gaze to Anakin, something akin to fear reflecting in the foreign sheen it’d adopted. Tears, Anakin knew, though he’d rarely seen such things in Obi-wan’s eyes. He whispered, voice low and wavering, “I dreamt you were dead.”

Oh.

Dreams Anakin knew, and knew well. Not so long ago it’d been dreams that had tormented him with visions of his mother’s death. Then again, they hadn’t really been dreams, rather visions in nightmarish form. Another reminder of the curse that was his connection to the Force.

‘Dreams pass in time,’ Obi-wan’d told him. Still, some nights Anakin woke in a cold sweat, trembling from head to toe with his mother’s name on his lips. The dreams were memories now, their fiction and horror a reality that returned every so often to feed the slumbering dragon in his heart.

Some nights he could find no comfort no matter how many datapads he buried himself under, no matter how many times he whirled his training saber through form after form, no matter how hard he tried to lock those memories in the deepest vaults of his mind during the most intense meditations. There was always the scatter of claws on bone, a sound from deep within him; these ghosts will forever haunt you, boy.

Obi-wan’d lied to him then, he knew that now. Dreams pass in time- perhaps that’s what his master told himself when he wrestled free of his own night terrors involving blood-red skin and Qui-gon Jinn.

Anakin tried a smile. “Well, it was just a dream, see? I’m alright.”

Obi-Wan lifted a finger, trailed it from the corner of Anakin’s mouth to his chin, “it felt real.”

He was so incredibly close.

“Dreams often do.” Anakin told him, afraid to even blink for fear he’d miss something. The moment felt fragile.

“It felt like a memory.” Now Obi-wan frowned, his gaze dropping to the floor. He looked to be in deep thought. “It was a memory.”

It was Anakin’s turn to frown. “No, master. I think it’s safe to say I’m still alive.”

“Yes...” Obi-wan peered at him, a familiar sharpness returning to his eye. “Yes, you are.” A hand briefly cupped Anakin’s cheek, the gesture so tender, if only for a moment. “I’m glad.”

Then Obi-wan pulled away. Moved back to the dying embers of their fire and stoked them back to life. Then curled with his back to Anakin once more and fell asleep.

Chapter Text

“You stink.” Obi-wan told Anakin as he emerged from the mouth of the cave the following morning, blinking away the sunspots in his eyes and fighting a sudden intense dizzy spell.

“You’re not exactly a basket of roses yourself.” Anakin retorted, though he couldn’t argue with Obi-wan. He did smell, he could feel the grime layering his body like a second skin. It was indeed rather unpleasant. “There’s a river not far from here that looks clean enough. Fancy a bath?”

Obi-wan glanced skeptically over his shoulder at him. “And you hadn’t thought to wash yourself before now because...?”

Anakin simply shrugged in reply and set off down the path of broken bracken and trodden grass to the river, picking his way down the trail he’d made earlier when exploring their surroundings. He heard Obi-wan sigh softly behind him, and the muted thud-thud-thud of his boots on the spongy earth beneath them.

In the branches above them one of the brightly coloured birds began to trill through a whole array of melodies, it’s sweet voice echoing off the cavern wall and reverberating back through the forest.

“A good wash’ll do those wounds of yours good, too.” Anakin told Obi-wan, swatting a low lying branch out of his way. “I’ll redress them when we get back.”

“Alright.” Obi-wan said, and was quiet for some time, then: “Anakin, how long do you suppose it’s been since you last bathed?”

“You mean in general, or...?” Anakin frowned. “Because I went through the fresher before... before...”

There was that fogginess again, that heaviness in his head that left him feeling woozy with dark edges framing his field of vision. Up ahead another bird began to harmonise with the first.

Anakin blinked, drawing short on the bank of the river. “Here we are.”

Obi-wan ignored his sudden lapse in thought and came to stand beside him, peering at the crystal-clear waters cutting a wide path through the lines of trees. “Looks safe enough.”

Anakin hummed and set about unclasping what was left of his armour.

On Tatooine moisture was harvested from the air itself. It never flowed- not naturally, anyway- from any sources on the ground. If you were unfortunate enough to find yourself stranded out amongst the towering sand dunes, it was likely that thirst would kill you long before any of the desert’s beasts caught your scent. The planet’s surface was as harsh and unforgiving as the beings that inhabited it.

It wasn’t until Anakin had found himself on Naboo, nine years old and suddenly all alone in the galaxy, that he saw his first waterfall.

He could recall sitting at the edge of a palace balcony, little legs poking through the decorative banisters and dangling over thin air, staring transfixed at the endless rush of water that poured over the cliff face beside him and disappeared in a cloud of spray several hundred metres below.

It had been the most wonderful thing he’d ever seen.

Anakin blinked, drawing himself from the well of the past. Stripped to the waist, he set about bathing himself, drenching a piece of torn cloth in the river and wiping himself down, scrubbing away the dirt, soot and sweat that’d caked on his skin.

After a quick glance around at Obi-wan, more for his companion’s sake than his own modesty, he removed his pants and set them carefully on the bank of the stream, sliding fully into the water.

It was cool, but not cold, and startlingly clear, with broad-leafed flowers floating across the surface. Anakin exhaled a low, quiet moan of pleasure and sunk beneath the plant fronds and shimmering ripples, the water rushing in his ears, drowning out the call of birds throughout the forest. It felt so good to be clean.

He closed his eyes and let himself drift closer to the centre of the river, where the floor sunk deeper and his toes lost grip of the pebbled bottom. There he let himself float freely.

It used to scare him as a child, learning to swim for the first time. To be cut off from sight and sound- even touch. To be deprived of such valuable senses. Obi-wan’d told him to release himself into the Force. To accept his loss of sight and hearing, and to allow himself to rely on the Force to guide him.

It had taken a lot to trust him.

The only time Anakin’d ever come close to drowning before then was when caught out in sandstorms on his home planet; choking on dust, blinded by it, swallowing scratchy grit down his throat.
He didn’t fear it so much anymore.

Anakin twisted in the water, resurfaced briefly to fill his lungs with air, and sunk back beneath the surface.

He could hear nothing but his own heartbeat in his ears. Felt nothing but rippling water, and slight pulses that disrupted the flow of the currents and suggested life moving amongst the lilies. He stretched out in the Force, feeling it pour into him. With no distractions the full majesty of it was almost unbearable; the brightness, the power.

All at once colour burst through the murky blackness behind his eyes, images weaving themselves out of the darkness. Stars and gunfire. A desert sea. Pain nipped at his nerve endings; echoes of agony ghosting over his skin.

No, but I can die with him.

Anakin jerked in the water, the sound of bubbling in his ears and the scrape of stones on his heel temporarily breaking through the onslaught of vivid memories and grounding him back in reality. He felt himself torn from that temporal plain, dragged back to real-time in a flurry of stirred up muck and tangled roots.

He burst out of the water, arms and legs flaying about, and rushed for the shore. Adrenaline and panic shot him like a torpedo from the serene waters, his naked body unencumbered by the pull of the water with no soggy robes to weigh him down.

He scrambled up the slight incline of land that led to the river and stood, panting, staring with widened eyes at Obi-wan who  was sat on a small boulder, slowly working his boots of off blistered feet.

Obi-wan turned to looked over his shoulder at Anakin, a blink that was slightly longer than usual the only sign that he was in any way surprised by what he saw: Anakin, stood naked and soaking wet, trembling, wearing an urgent expression that was bordering on panicked. Just another day at the office for Master Obi-wan Kenobi.

“Anakin,” Obi-wan said at length, eyes carefully glued to Anakin’s face. “What is it now?”

“Master, I-“ Anakin swallowed“You need to see this.”

Obi-wan sighed, placing his hand on his knees and heaving himself upright, not appearing to be in any particular rush. “This had better be important, Anakin, I am really in no mood-“

“It’s important.” Anakin took him by the wrist and towed him to the river’s edge. “Obi-wan, you know how we’ve been feeling... you know how...” Anakin struggled to articulate his thoughts, running trembling fingers through dripping hair. “How did we get here, Obi-wan, do you remember?”

“I...”

“What about the mission. Do you recall the mission? Being trapped in the Separatist base, do you remember that?” Anakin took his by the shoulders, giving his friend a gentle shake. “Obi-wan, we’ve been saying the Force felt strange here the whole time.” He pointed to the water. “I think... I think I know why.”

Obi-wan looked first from Anakin, to his pointing finger, to the water, and back again, his expression growing increasingly skeptical. “Anakin, are you feeling quite alright?”

“No, I’m not,” Anakin waved his hand at the water. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you!”

Obi-wan raised an eyebrow, “Well, you’re going to have to explain yourself better, because right now I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about.”

“Ok, ok,” Anakin took a deep breath, sinking down onto the bank of the river. He watched as a pair of the plump forest fowl fluttered down to rest on the river, paddling idly against the faint current. “While I was bathing I decided to do a little meditating, like you taught me. Release myself into the Force and all that. So I did and I-“ He shook his head. “When I closed my eyes and shut off from all sound I got... visions.”

“Visions?” Obi-wan crouched beside him.

“Memories.” Anakin murmured, staring into space as echoes of what he saw flashed through his mind. “And I think... I think whatever’s making us lose them is here.”

“In the water?” Obi-wan said, slowly.

Anakin glared at him. “Not the water, obviously. It was the water that awoke my memories!”

“Right.” Obi-wan nodded. The birds struck up a song, floating dreamily around the bend and out of sight. He watched them go. “You’re sure you weren’t just dreaming?”

Obi-wan,” Anakin ground out, frustrated. “You were sitting right there! Did I look like I was taking a nap to you?”

“What made you think something’s wrong in the first place? Anakin, I think you’re just tired, you’re hurt. You’re looking for an explanation? Here’s one: human error.”

“Human error...” Anakin looked up at him, startled. “You think this is all because I’m tired?

Obi-wan shrugged. “You’re wounded. Your shields are down. You didn’t sleep well last night.”

“We’ve lost whole days here, Obi-wan!” Anakin stood, his shouts disturbing nearby wildlife, leaves fluttering as they stirred in their nests and burrows. “Don’t you get it? Ever since we came back to this canyon I’ve felt uneasy.”

“It’s the planet playing tricks on you!”

“Yes!” Anakin waved his hands through the air. “It was, but when I was in the water it was like the spell was broken. I could see with clarity. The Force felt right again!”

Obi-wan was looking at him with a strange expression, arms folded tightly over his chest in a way that was surely pulling painfully on the wounds on his back. “Anakin...”

“Last night,” Anakin moved forward, placing a tentative hand on Obi-wan’s arm, silently pleading with him to listen. “You had a dream that I died. Was that at the base? After the rescue, do you remember that?”

Obi-wan stared at him. “It was just a dream, Anakin.”

“After you fell from the gunship. I caught you and I- I don’t remember much after that. I think I passed out and...” Anakin ducked his head, brow pinched in concentration. “You must’ve thought I was dead.”

Then Obi-wan did something wholly unexpected. He shoved Anakin. Hard. He stumbled back, slipping over the slimy rocks at the river’s edge and tumbling into the waters with a splash.

Anakin gaped up at Obi-wan, not bothering to conceal his shock. “What the hell was that for?”

Obi-wan was fuming, his teeth ground together, hands fisted at his side. “How did you know that?” He demanded, face red with anger.

“Know what?”

“My dream. Did you put those images there? Is this just another of your sick-“ Obi-wan cut himself off, closing his eyes and looking away. His expression was one of immense pain.

“Obi-wan,” Anakin said gently, still sat in the water, the cool current running over his bare arms and legs. “I know because it wasn’t a dream. It was a memory. That really happened, but I didn’t die. I woke up, remember? I brought us here on the hoverbike. The gunships left, I don’t know why they haven’t come back. Maybe they don’t know where to look. It’s not like we’ve been trying to get found.” He held a hand out, inviting Obi-wan to come closer. “That’s what I’m trying to say to you. We haven’t been acting right since coming here. There’s something in this ravine that’s messing with us, or the Force, maybe both. Let me show you, please.”

Obi-wan seemed to struggle with that for a moment before he let out a long, shaky breath and opened his eyes, stepping first one barefoot and then the other into the water. He slid his tunic off, bare from head to waist, and sunk cautiously into the river with a hiss as the water washed over his back. Anakin shifted, taking Obi-wan’s reluctant hand and towing him into deeper waters.

“Alright, don’t panic, ok?” He told him, refusing to let go of his hand. “Trust me.”

“I do.” Obi-wan said quietly, and sunk beneath the surface with Anakin.

Fully submerged, Anakin widened their connection, reaching through their bond to probe gently at Obi-wan’s mind, who responded by letting him in, the connection flowing steadily both ways.

You alright? Anakin asked.

Yes, Obi-wan let go on his hand, paddling upwards to keep himself underwater. What now?

Now, relax. Open yourself to the Force. Close yourself to all sight and sound and touch. He felt Obi-wan do as instructed, felt his presence in the Force brighten as he opened himself fully to it, becoming a conductor of pure energy, the Force flowing through him as easily as the water through his fingers.

Then there was a jolt, the water swishing about them as Obi-wan physically jerked. Anakin dared open his eyes, not particularly fond of doing so underwater, and through the blur saw the outline of Obi-wan shuddered and gasp, bubbles escaping from his lips.

Anakin! A shout, ringing through his mind. He reacted on instinct, diving foreword to hook his hands under Obi-wan’s shoulders and pull him up.

They broke the surface of the serene river with wet, rasping gasps and flailing limbs, Obi-wan’s whole figure trembling in Anakin’s grasp.

“You’re alright, it’s alright.” Anakin soothed with spoken words. It felt strange to use his voice after communing so effortlessly with his mind.

Obi-wan struggled for air, swallowing thickly, lips parting around uneven gulps of air. He babbled incoherently, his voice nothing but breathless gasps. Then he began to thrash, fists hammering weakly against Anakin’s chest, twisting in his grasp.

“Obi-wan, Obi-wan,” Anakin tried to calm him, wrapping his fingers around his bony wrists to stop his feeble assault. “It’s alright. Look at me, it’s alright. It’s me. It’s Anakin.”

“Is it really you?” Obi-wan stared up at him, lip quivering, suddenly looking for all the world like a frightened child. “Is this even- even real?”

“It’s real.” Anakin told him. “Look, Obi-wan, I don’t know what they did to you in that cell. I don’t know what you remember. But I’ll tell you what I do know,” He let go of Obi-wan’s wrists. In the distance he could hear the birds call to each other. “I know I was in a space fight when we lost contact with you.” Obi-wan’s eyes widened, a familiarness returning to his expression. “I gathered a squad and went planet-side with a couple of gunships, but we were shot down almost instantly. The survivors, Rex and I found the battle site but you weren’t there. A dying troop told us you’d moved on. We came across this ravine and...” He blinked, a fogginess slowly creeping over him. The bird calls grew louder. “And...”

“Anakin,” Obi-wan whispered, “the birds.

Then it clicked.

They glanced at each other and as one ducked beneath the surface, the water rushing about them, drowning out the sounds of the forest above.

You think it’s sound, then? Anakin blinked, the water stinging in his eyes.

It makes sense. The spell, as you say, was broken when you were no longer able to hear the birdsong.

And while you were dreaming you weren’t listening to them, so some of the memories came back. Anakin nodded. But what about when I was here with my men?

You were on the ravine floor?

No, in caves high up in the cavern walls.

Perhaps high enough that you weren’t affected.

Anakin paddled, digging his toes into the muck to anchor himself. Perhaps. What do we do now?

We’ll have to find a way to block our ears. It’s a good thing you bathed when you did, Obi-wan glanced at him, and even through the blur Anakin could see him smile, or we might’ve lost our minds- either from the birdsong or your rather pungent aroma.

Anakin scoffed, nearly choking on the water, forgetting for a moment where they were. Like I said, you didn’t exactly smell like a bouquet yourself.

Upon resurfacing they set about gathering leathery weeds from the river bank, soft enough that their edges wouldn’t slice them, and began to wind the knotted lengths of flexible plant around their heads, careful to completely cover their ears. They sealed the gaps with sap, which seeped into the edges around their ears and dried them airtight.

Anakin felt somewhat claustrophobic with the makeshift earmuffs squeezing his skull. He tested them by clicking his fingers, watching the motion but hearing only the faintest snap. Huh, works pretty well.

Hopefully well enough to keep those blasted birds out of our heads. Obi-wan slid his tunic on, letting it gently fall against his back. I hope we’re right about them.

Yeah, or we’ll not only be amnesiac, but we’ll look pretty stupid, too. Anakin didn’t think it was possible to hear a snort over a bond, yet there it was, echoing around his skull as real as if he’d heard it with his own ears. He smiled, feeling free for the first time in what he now, with a stab of horror, realised had been days. Days of drifting through the fog in his mind. How foolish he had been...

It’s not your fault, Anakin. Obi-wan appeared beside him, a gentle hand on his shoulder. This planet is full of surprises. Let’s just focus on getting off it now, shall we?

Anakin tried for a smile and nodded. Obi-wan handed him his own robes and he slipped them on, his pants already protecting his modesty.

The memories were beginning to settle in place, fitting like puzzle pieces into the vacant spots in his mind. He felt complete again with them there, some of his most pressing questions finally given an answer.

But not all of them.

Obi-wan’s sudden change in demeanour was welcome, but also jarring. Anakin glanced at him as he sat down to pull on his boots, his former master busying himself with tugging his own tattered uniform in place. Cody’s clothes did not fit him so well. They’d have to fix that later.

His friend's presence in the Force was once again familiar and, though he'd be hesitant to admit it aloud, inexpressibly comforting. Yet his reaction when they emerged from the water had frightened Anakin. Thrown him. There were still so many questions, so many answers they had yet to find, so many problems to fix.

For now what he had uncovered in the river would have to do.

As he slid his boot carefully over his black-and-blue, horrendously swollen ankle, Anakin swore to himself that if he ever saw another one of those kriffing birds again he’d roast the damn thing on the spot.