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Adrift and Entangled

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“Anakin, we should talk.”

The young Jedi quickened his stride past a row of guest suites in the halls of the Royal Palace, choosing to ignore the low, gravelly words that echoed in the corridor behind him. He had hoped his former Master, still sporting the hideous face of Rako Hardeen, would turn in for the night after Senator Amidala and Chancellor Palpatine had taken their leave.  But no. The infuriating man had followed him down the hallway, despite Anakin’s best efforts to silently signal he was NOT interested in speaking to him tonight. Or tomorrow. Or ever.

Obi-Wan’s footsteps did not relent, and when Anakin reached the door to his own temporary quarters and fumbled to open it, he felt a warm hand settle hesitantly on his shoulder. He turned sharply and batted it away with a violent swat. Obi-Wan took a small step back. “Anakin…”

Anakin winced at the sound of his name in Hardeen’s deep, gentle voice, closing his eyes and clenching his hands into fists at his sides. “I have nothing to say to you,” he uttered through gritted teeth, fighting to remain calm as a wave of conflicting emotions washed over him. Lingering grief. Renewed resentment. Profound relief. Crushing disappointment. Fury. Pain.

He opened his eyes but didn’t lift his gaze beyond the floor. “I can’t – I can’t even look at – I’m–” he stammered. His mind was overwhelmed, and he found himself unable to string together any coherent words from the chaotic thoughts churning through his head. He took a deep, shaky breath and started over. “I’m. So. Angry.” The punctuated words were spoken barely above a whisper. “Please leave… before I do something I’ll regret.” He risked a glance at the man standing before him. Hardeen’s face had softened, and Anakin could see a flicker of Obi-Wan’s countenance behind his eyes, pained but understanding.

“I’m sorry, Anakin–”

“Please,” Anakin repeated. Every fiber of his being was urging him to slam the man against the wall and scream until his lungs gave out. Or wrap him in his arms and weep until he ran out of tears. He looked down again and forced himself to take another deep breath. Then two more.  “I – I just need time.” A hard, audible swallow. “I don’t have a lot of faith in my self-control right now, and I – I don’t –” He finally looked up to meet the older man’s eyes. “I don’t ever want to hurt you.”

Obi-Wan flinched slightly, almost imperceptibly, at the implied jab, then nodded. “Very well… I’ll… I’ll keep my distance then,” he quietly replied. His gaze dropped to the floor, and he stood there for a moment considering his next words. Finally, he met Anakin’s eyes once more and stated, with unwavering earnestness, “I don’t ever want to hurt you, either, you know.” He turned to leave but hesitated after a few steps. He looked back at Anakin, offered a sad smile, and said, “I’m proud of you.”

He was gone before Anakin had a chance to process the words.

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Obi-Wan proceeded wearily to his room for the evening. He placed his hand against the biometric sensor embedded in the wall, and the door beside it slid open with a soft, metallic whir, revealing a small suite adorned in deep blues, with lush carpet, minimal but comfortable furnishings, and a fully stocked kitchenette detailed in fine black marble and warm polished laroon wood. His current disposition left him unable to appreciate how lovely it all was, however, as thoughts of Anakin and the Rako Hardeen operation stubbornly crowded his head.

He should have been pleased. The mission had ultimately thwarted Dooku’s latest plot, and the Chancellor was safe. Anakin was safe. But as he rummaged through the cupboards in search of some tea, Obi-Wan felt his scant relief rapidly fading, displaced by a growing sense of defeat.

His former padawan’s earlier words echoed in his ears as he prepared an infuser with loose, Corellian-spiced leaves and dispensed steaming water over it.

You lied to me! How many other lies have I been told by the Council?

Obi-Wan brought his cup to a small table and sat for a moment, allowing the tea to steep. He closed his eyes, resting his forehead against his palms, and tried to reach along the bond that remained tenuously threaded between him and his former padawan. Instead of meeting Anakin’s familiar glowing Force signature at the other end, he felt only a dull, unresponsive ember. Anakin was blocking him out completely.

Obi-Wan sighed. Although he would only admit it to the part of himself he kept locked away and buried beneath layers and layers of Jedi stoicism, he’d missed their connection. He’d had to temporarily block their link for the sake of the mission, and he’d hoped—foolishly, in retrospect—that Anakin would embrace their reestablished bond and welcome Obi-Wan back. Back home, he thought, taking a cautious sip of his tea.

He shook his head and tried to let go of the sentiment before he could reflect further on how much he missed the younger man… How warm and intense and comfortable and safe and right Anakin’s Force signature had always felt intertwined with his own…. How incomplete he felt in its absence… How empty my life would be without it…

He inhaled sharply at the last thought. It wreaked of attachment. You must let go of that which you fear to lose, he lectured himself. But the reprimand was half-hearted, at best, and his chest constricted as he contemplated the extent of the damage he might have done. The mission had been a success, but at what cost? Would his former padawan ever trust him again?

He swallowed the lump forming in his throat and closed his eyes, pushing away the wave of dread threatening to wash over him.

This will pass, he assured himself. He just needs time.

His thoughts were interrupted by a knock at his door. 

He set his cup down and made his way to the access panel beside his suite entrance, checking the security screen. A small part of him thought he might see Anakin standing outside, but instead he found Senator Amidala waiting there, lost in thought and worrying at her bottom lip. When the door slid open, she appeared startled.

“Senator,” he greeted her, concerned. “Is everything alright?”

“Forgive me… Master Kenobi,” she responded diplomatically. “I’ve yet to adjust to your disguise. It is… very convincing.”

“Believe me, I’m well aware. I very much look forward to getting my old self back when I return to Coruscant. Please, come in.” He gestured for her to take a seat while he continued to speak. “May I offer you some tea?”

“No... thank you. I...” she trailed off as she sat on the edge of a plush velvet sofa, looking like she wasn’t sure where to begin.

Obi-Wan settled onto a matching chair across from her, clasping his hands together and leaning forward with his elbows on his thighs. “I presume your reason for this visit extends beyond your desire to gawk at this… astonishingly handsome face?” he asked with a small smirk, waving a hand theatrically from his chin to his forehead.

She smiled, a light blush rising to her cheeks, but her tone was serious.  “I… I’m worried about Anakin.”

That would make two of us. “Oh?” was Obi-Wan’s non-committal reply.

She looked down at her hands, which were fidgeting nervously in her lap. “He hasn’t been the same since… your funeral. He… he barely speaks to me. He won’t eat. He doesn’t sleep.” The words tumbled from her mouth before she could more carefully consider their implications. “I mean–”

Obi-Wan caught the brief flicker of panic on the senator’s face and recognized her dilemma. “Padmé,” he said empathetically, using her first name to stress his sincerity, “I assure you, there’s no need to navigate this so delicately with me. I’m not blind. I’ve seen how deeply the two of you care for one another.” He dutifully rebuffed the small pang of envy prodding his traitorous heart.

Padmé was silent for a moment. “Does the Council know?” she asked quietly.

“I can’t be sure, but it’s not something they’ll ever hear from me.”

“But… have you no obligation to report such matters? Matters that violate the Jedi code?”

Obi-Wan sighed heavily. “Perhaps I do… But I would argue that my duty to consider what is best for the greater good outweighs that obligation.”

Padmé gave him a quizzical look.

“Anakin is different from any other Jedi I’ve ever known,” he explained, absently bringing a hand up to stroke at a beard that wasn’t there. “While other younglings are brought to the temple in their infancy, Anakin had nearly a decade to grow accustomed to the comfort of his mother. It’s too much – it’s… it’s cruel, frankly – to expect him to live without some sort of attachment after knowing it for so long. He needs… he needs to love. He needs to feel loved. It keeps him balanced.”

Padmé nodded uncertainly. Obi-Wan met her gaze, and his tone softened.

“Whatever he has with you, Padmé, I’m grateful he has it. He feels so much… He… he is so unbelievably strong in the Force, and every emotion he feels, he feels with an intensity that could, quite literally, move a planet. To carry that burden alone would be a virtual invitation to the dark side. And…” He sighed resignedly before continuing, “…it’s a burden he hasn’t seemed keen to share with me for –” how long had it been since Anakin had confided in him? Cried on his shoulder? “–several years. So I’m… I’m glad he can come to you for… for whatever he needs.”

They sat in silence for a moment, and Obi-Wan chuckled softly. “I apologize, I didn’t mean to derail the conversation. You were saying that Anakin hasn’t been himself since…”

She nodded. “And that would be an understatement.”  

Obi-Wan was uncertain where this was going but felt compelled to offer an explanation. “As my padawan, he once said I was the closest thing he had to a father. Since then, we have fought side-by-side, as brothers, battle after battle, suffering through the darkest defeats and celebrating the most bittersweet victories… together. It’s not unreasonable that my loss would affect him more deeply than others.”

Padmé said nothing, but Obi-Wan sensed she had more on her mind. “What is it, Padmé?”

“He nearly took his own life.” The words came quietly.

Surely Obi-Wan had heard them wrong. He blinked. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Eventually, he managed a choked, “I’m sorry, what?”

“While you were still undercover in prison…” she started to explain.

Obi-Wan’s mind was reeling. Anakin wouldn’t. Would he? What had he been thinking? How did –

“… he commed me one evening… he was sobbing. I – I thought he was finally just allowing himself to grieve, but then… he told me that he was sorry, and… that was all he said before he cut out. I tried to com him back repeatedly, and when I finally got an answer, it was Ahsoka.” Padmé stopped there and took a deep breath. The tattooed face of Rako Hardeen had gone pale. An uneasy silence settled briefly over the room, broken by the delicate but prolonged clinking of Obi-Wan’s teacup as he set it down with clumsy, shaking fingers.

“Does Ahsoka know about you and Anakin?” he asked, trying to distract himself from the unfolding narrative.

“She does now. It was the only way I could convince her to be honest with me about what had happened. Still, she provided little detail. I just know that she found him – probably saved his life.”

Obi-Wan felt his heart fill with a deep, ruthless ache. He had never imagined Anakin – confident to the point of arrogance and resilient to the point of recklessness – capable of turning to self-harm, no matter the depth of his despair. And to think that he wasn’t there for Anakin in a time of such need…

Padmé watched as the man’s expressions became more pained. “Obi-Wan, I’m telling you all this because I know you can help – I need you to help Anakin. He won’t let me help him – he won’t talk to me about any of this. But you… you can reach him.”

He nearly scoffed. “Me? Padmé, I appreciate your faith in me, truly, but I betrayed Anakin. He may never open up to me again. And if he won’t even confide in you…”  

Padmé had pushed herself off her seat as he spoke, stepping close enough to place a hand on Obi-Wan’s shoulder. She crouched down to meet his eyes and said, plainly, “He won’t confide in me because I’m not his deepest attachment, and he doesn’t want me to know it.”

“I’m not sure I follow…” Obi-Wan replied. There were too many thoughts in his head, and he was struggling to grasp what she might mean.

Padmé offered a small smile as she stood up again and made her way to the door. “You may not be blind, but I think you are far-sighted. You are failing to see what is right in front of you – what has been right in front of you for a long time. Anakin will trust you again, I’m certain. Don’t give up on him.”

“I will do what I can, Padmé.”

“I know you will. Thank you, Obi-Wan. Goodnight.”

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The following morning, Obi-Wan boarded a small craft and set its coordinates for Coruscant. The Council had directed Anakin to remain with the Chancellor on protection detail until his on-planet affairs were concluded, then Anakin would accompany him and the senator back to Coruscant.

Padmé had suggested Obi-Wan stay until they could all depart together the following day, but Obi-Wan politely declined, insisting he was anxious to shed his disguise.

When the last wisps of Naboo’s atmosphere were behind him, he set the controls to autopilot and leaned back, pressing the heels of his hands against his closed eyes.

He was exhausted. During the moments he’d managed to drift to sleep that night, he’d been assaulted by recurring visions of Anakin sobbing helplessly to Padmé before taking his life, of Ahsoka holding Anakin’s unresponsive body. In one version, Anakin had stepped of the ledge of a Coruscant skyscraper. In another, he’d choked down several handfuls of various pills and convulsed until his body stilled. A lightsaber through his heart. A blaster to his head. Each vision more gruesome than the next. And in all of them, striking, tearful blue eyes boring into his own, with a whispered “why aren’t you here?”

In some instances, the horror had been enough to wake him, gasping and disoriented, and other times he would simply turn over restlessly with a whimper, fingers curling into the bedsheet and brows furrowed in distress as the next sequence began.

When the nightmares had finally subsided, they were replaced by cruel, licentious dreams – fantasies no doubt spawned by Padmé’s earlier words, which had trickled into his subconscious mind and allowed his most basic human desires to pervert their meaning. Anakin’s soft lips on his bare skin. A warm hand beneath his robes, caressing his most intimate places. A breathy “I love you, Obi-Wan” murmured against his ear. Overwhelming sensations of Anakin filling his mind, filling his body….

He’d awoken then with a jolt, shame flooding his heart as he struggled to catch his breath. His hands had trembled as he changed his sleep clothes, damp with perspiration and sullied with evidence of his unsolicited release. For the rest of the night, he had remained awake, seated on the floor, eyes closed and legs crossed in futile meditation.  

Now, still alone with his thoughts, he tried to shift his focus to the present. Tracking his course. Monitoring other ships in the vicinity. Preparing to jump to hyperspace. Mentally scrolling through his to-do list upon his return to the Temple. Anything to drive away the night’s grisly visions of what might have been and merciless reveries of what he knew could never be.

Once he landed, he reasoned, his first order of business would be to rid himself of this Force-forsaken disguise. He was hoping the Council would wait until Anakin’s return before calling for a full debriefing. He really was in no capacity to speak with them about the mission yet, and he wanted some time to check in with Ahsoka. The young padawan never failed to lift his spirits, and perhaps she would open up to him about what had happened with her master. He was afraid of what he might learn, but he needed to know.   

As he cruised smoothly and silently through hyperspace, the full extent of his fatigue took hold. Sleep beckoned, and he began to doze. Thankfully, the depth of his exhaustion made his slumber dreamless, and he was roused only by the jerk of the shuttle as it lurched out of hyperspace and descended upon Coruscant. As the Jedi Temple came into view, he watched a landing platform gracefully extend from one of the spires. He brought the vessel down smoothly and disembarked, signaling permission to a nearby droid to transfer the ship to the adjacent hangar.

Mace Windu met him at the hangar entrance.

“Welcome back, Obi-Wan. I trust your return voyage was without incident?”

“Thank you –” Obi-Wan began. It was the first time he’d spoken aloud since his conversation with Padmé, and he flinched at the sound of Hardeen’s voice. He never wanted to hear the voice again. He cleared his throat. “Thank you, Master Windu. Nothing out of the ordinary.”

Mace fell into step beside him, and they walked through the air dock and entered a large foyer. They spoke as they made their way to the far wall, which was lined with series of alumabronze elevator doors. The wall was softly illuminated by cylindrical sconces of serene blue light mounted between the doors. Obi-Wan was trying to latch onto the familiarity of the space, to bring a sense of peace to his unsettled mind, when Mace spoke again.

“I have a med droid prepping the transformation chamber as we speak. How soon might you be ready for the procedure?”

“I’m quite ready now, if it can be accommodated.”

“Excellent. I believe we’ll all benefit from having the old Obi-Wan Kenobi back,” Mace replied with brief smile. He pressed a sequence of numbers on a keypad that had risen from the floor on an angled post. “I’ll accompany you, if you don’t mind,” he said, as a set of doors opened, and they stepped inside.

“Not at all,” Obi-Wan agreed, not wanting to give Mace a reason to believe anything was wrong. He wasn’t feeling particularly conversational, however.

Mace seemed to sense as much, thankfully, and said nothing further as he turned a dial and entered a code to send them to the lower levels of the Temple. The interior surface of the elevator was highly reflective, and Obi-Wan’s stomach turned as he caught Rako Hardeen staring back at him. He closed his eyes for the remainder of the descent.

They exited the elevator and walked together in amicable silence through pillared halls, stepping through glimmering shafts of light that filtered diagonally into the Temple as evening approached. Occasionally another Jedi would pass, gaze lingering curiously on the strange man walking with Master Windu. They passed a group of younglings seated in a circle, practicing their meditation under the guidance of an older padawan. Obi-Wan caught at least three of them peeking beneath their eyelids and turning their heads to follow him. Succumbing to his soft spot for little ones, he flashed them a small grin and moved his outside hand in a subtle wave. Mace pretended not to notice and began to speak.     

“The Council and Chancellor Palpatine owe a debt of gratitude to you and Skywalker.”

You have no idea. “We are happy to be of service,” he replied tactfully, “although I regret allowing Dooku yet another escape.”

“Had you not turned back, the outcome could have been far worse. What matters for now is that the Chancellor was saved. We will deal with Dooku at the next opportunity.”

As they neared the transformation chamber, Mace halted his steps and turned to Obi-Wan, looking him in the eye. His voice heavy with concern, he asked, “How has Anakin responded since learning the truth behind the mission?”

Obi-Wan chose his words cautiously. “He is angry, as we should expect.”

“Surely he understands our reasoning?”

“I don’t know. He will not speak to me.”

A look of exasperated disgust flashed across Windu’s face. “He behaves like a child,” he said, his tone harsh.

Obi-Wan bristled at the comment. Although he himself felt no qualms about admonishing his former padawan for inappropriate conduct, he didn’t care to hear such criticism from anyone else. “Sometimes, yes,” was his short reply.

Windu sighed. “I would hate for this…petulance… to interfere with his duties. We are stretched thin enough as it is - we can’t afford to have him sulking about, distracted by emotions he refuses to keep in check.” There was a hard glint in his eye. Obi-Wan said nothing. “Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Skywalker is expected to arrive in the morning. The Council will meet shortly thereafter to discuss your next assignments. I hope you’ll be able to talk some sense into him when we adjourn.”

“I will do my best.”

Mace nodded and opened the chamber door. “Perhaps he will be more receptive toward you once you look a little more like your old self.”

A long corridor stretched before them, threaded through a cluster of exam rooms. The atmosphere was cold and clinical. The rooms were small, and each shared one transparisteel wall with the main hall. Mace directed Obi-Wan into the second room on the left, where he took a seat on the hard, sterile surface of an exam table.

“I’ll send the med droid in momentarily,” Mace said, closing the door and leaving Obi-Wan to himself.

Obi-Wan leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and ran his hands over his foreign face one last time. He closed his eyes to block out Hardeen’s image, again mirrored in the polished surfaces that surrounded him. As if to fill the quiet darkness, Anakin’s words began streaming through his head.

If I’d known what was going on, I could have helped you. Too bad the Council didn’t trust me.

Your decision?

You lied to me! How many other lies have I been told by the Council? And how do you know that you even have the whole truth?

You lied to me.

With every iteration, the truth in Anakin’s angry words cut deeper. Obi-Wan had intentionally deceived his former padawan. And not just any deception – he’d made Anakin believe he’d been killed. He had somehow managed to convince himself that his own death would be received by Anakin no differently than any other casualties to which they’d grown accustomed on the battlefield.

But in contrast to the ascetic acceptance and perseverance implicitly expected of a Jedi, there’d been a suicide attempt.

He put his head in his hands. There had to be more to it than just losing his old master, hadn’t there? But if that were the case, what kind of fool had Obi-Wan been to miss his friend’s suffering? And if not – if Obi-Wan’s death had truly been the sole reason for Anakin’s attempt on his own life – then what kind of fool had Obi-Wan been to miss the depth of his attachment? Obi-Wan groaned audibly. Either way, he’d failed Anakin. Monumentally.

His thoughts were abruptly cut off when a sharp pain in his neck reminded him why he was here. He opened his mouth to chastise the med droid whose arrival he’d failed to notice, but the facial transformation injection began to act before he could speak, sending him into a momentary fit of agony while his muscles, bone, and cartilage returned to their original configuration.

The pain began to subside, but the droid gave him little time to recover. One long metal arm approached his face with a scanner, which hummed and beeped in front of him while a second arm reached up with what appeared to be set of intimidatingly long, curved tweezers. “Please open your mouth,” came the monotone request.

He did as he was told and was immediately assaulted by the instrument, which the droid thrust deep into his throat to retrieve the vocal emulator that had been lodged there throughout the mission. Obi-Wan gave a muffled grunt in protest as it was roughly yanked from him. He gagged, coughed, and ultimately bolted to the counter, gripping its edges as he retched unceremoniously into the metal sink before him. Bile burned the fresh abrasions along the lining of his pharynx, abrasions made by the emulator on its way out. As he caught his breath, he sputtered hoarsely at the med droid without looking up, “I do hope… whoever is responsible…. for your next tune-up… handles you with… comparable delicacy.”

He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, noting a difference in the way his lips felt against his skin. He ran his fingers cautiously over his other features, still sensitive to the touch. His jaw and chin were stubbled, but smooth enough for him to feel the cleft in his chin. His jawline was narrower, his cheeks fuller, his nose more refined. He hesitantly lifted his head to glance at the mirror behind the basin and found a familiar face returning his gaze. It was a tired face, with weary, bloodshot eyes. He watched as he ran a hand over his pale, shaven scalp. It had grown the slightest amount of stubble, enough to match the five o’clock shadow below.

For the first time in weeks, he felt a legitimate sense of relief, and he released a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.

He rinsed out the sink, cupped his hands under the faucet, then lowered his head to submerge his face in the cool water he’d collected. It drained between his fingers, then he used his wet hands to wipe the grime from his face and neck. He heard a knock as he toweled off and looked up to see Mace standing at the door.

“That med droid has the bedside manner of a rabid zillo beast,” Obi-Wan stated wryly.

“Nice hair,” Mace said with a grin. “You should keep it shaven. The look suits you.”

“On the contrary,” Obi-Wan countered, “I’ll be growing it out as fast as humanly possible, lest anyone think I’ve made a deliberate choice to emulate your fashion sense.”

“Good to have you back, Obi-Wan.”

Chapter Text

I swear, Anakin Skywalker, when I do meet my eventual demise, I shall haunt you unremittingly until you learn to clean up after yourself.

Obi-Wan felt a familiar twinge of fondness toward the young man, however, as he stepped carefully over the dozens of droid parts and tools he’d left strewn about their common room.

Obi-Wan was anxious to see Ahsoka, but he’d wanted to change out of Hardeen’s clothes and attempt another meditation session before paying her a visit. As he approached his bedroom, he noted absently that the door was closed. The Jedi master ordinarily left it open, except when he slept or required privacy. Perhaps Anakin had closed it to minimize any reminders of his master in his living quarters, he considered sadly.

He slid the door open, raising a puzzled eyebrow as he scanned the room. It was decidedly not in the state he’d left it before the Hardeen mission. The bed was unmade. Several books had been removed from his shelves – two left in the pile of blankets on his bed, a few more stacked on his nightstand, and one on the floor beside the bed. When he crossed the threshold into the room, he felt a shift in the Force. The air in the room became suddenly cold and thick with sorrow, and Obi-Wan felt as though he’d been punched in the gut. Disconcerted, he made his way unsteadily to his bed and took a seat. The mattress sank beneath his weight. Then it hit him.

“Oh, Anakin…” he whispered sadly under his breath. He brought his pillow close to his chest and inhaled deeply. He didn’t just feel that Anakin had been here – curled up in his bed, paging through his books, weeping silently into his pillow. The sheets smelled of warm Tatooine sand and salty perspiration on sun-baked skin, mingled with traces of hot metal and mech oil – a combination unique to the one person in the galaxy from whom Obi-Wan would tolerate such an uncivilized aroma. A long strand of dark hair that shone gold in the light was caught in the threads of the pillowcase. He plucked it off and let it fall to the floor.

He set the pillow back down and reached for one of the books atop the jumbled blankets: “Healing Flora of the Mid Rim Systems.” He rolled his eyes and nearly chuckled. Really, Anakin? The boy who’d rather chew off his own arm than open a book suddenly develops an interest in medicinal botany after I die? But he knew it wasn’t the subject matter that would have drawn the young Jedi to Obi-Wan’s books. They would have been among the last physical parts of Obi-Wan to which Anakin could cling after his apparent death. The old, loose binding of this particular volume let the pages fall easily open on Obi-Wan’s lap, and he could see subtle smears over the notes he’d taken in the margins long ago. Raised circles dotted the pages where teardrops had landed and dried, wrinkling the paper. His fingers shook as they traced over the uneven texture, over tear-smudged ink, guilt gnawing at his core. His heart faltered, and he quickly closed the book and set it down.

He sat still for a moment to center himself before pulling off his boots, one at a time, and placing them neatly beside the bed. Taking a deep breath, he stood and began to tidy the room. He returned the books to their shelf and made to gather up the sheets for the laundry. He took hold of the corner of the bottom sheet, ready to pull it off, but froze when he caught Anakin’s scent once more. He stood motionless and inhaled slowly, allowing it to fill his nostrils so he could pretend, just for a moment, that the younger man was beside him. He exhaled with a sigh, stretching the sheet neatly and tucking it back into place beneath the mattress. He could endure the offensive odor a little while longer, he decided.

Once his bed was made, blankets spread flat and corners precisely folded into crisp right angles, Obi-Wan moved to the far opposite wall, where a modest set of recessed shelves kept his neatly folded Jedi robes. As he changed from Hardeen’s foul clothing into his familiar leggings and tunic, Obi-Wan glanced to a small box on the bottom ledge, and old memories began to resurface.

He thought back to his initial days in the Temple after Qui Gon had been killed and Obi-Wan had defeated Darth Maul. He remembered how inadequate he’d felt as his padawan braid had been severed. How he didn’t deserve to be knighted because, although he’d defeated a Sith Lord, he hadn’t been good enough to save his Master. How terrified he’d been to shoulder the responsibility of training the supposed Chosen One, when he still felt like a boy himself. He’d always envisioned passing his padawan braid to Qui Gon as a token of pride, love, and gratitude. He remembered staring in anger at the braid in his hand because his Master was no longer there to receive it. He’d stuffed it in a simple box he’d carved from resinwood many years prior, then tucked the box out of sight.

The next time he’d opened it was many years later, the day a newly-knighted Anakin shyly offered his own braid to Obi-Wan. The Jedi Master remembered and felt again the overwhelming affection that had swelled in his chest in that moment. He could feel the warmth of Anakin’s body against him as he recalled their brief embrace, when Obi-Wan had thanked him and told him how honored he was to have served as his Master. When he’d returned to his quarters that afternoon, he’d dug the box out, carefully wound the two braids together, and slid the box back into its corner with a contented smile.

Now dressed, Obi-Wan knelt on the floor beside the box, which had been moved from its place in the corner, and took it into his hands. He knew who had moved it – Anakin’s Force signature lingered on its every surface – and he had a hunch as to what he would find when he opened it.

He wasn’t wrong. The box was empty.

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Ahsoka must have sensed him in the Temple courtyard before she saw him approach. She’d been aggressively running through her lightsaber combat forms, back toward Obi-Wan, when her fluid, laser-focused movements came to a sudden halt. She powered down her saber and hooked the hilt to her belt, slowly turning to face the him. Her expression shifted from uncertainty to relief in an instant, and she ran to him.

“Obi-Wan!” she exclaimed, before unapologetically throwing her arms around him and giving him a formidable squeeze.

Obi-Wan genuinely chuckled and returned the embrace, albeit with less gusto. “It’s good to see you, too, young one.”

She released him and stepped back. Studying his face, she asked skeptically, “So is this new look permanent? You look—”

“Youthful? Dashing? Debonai—”

“Weird.”

“Fair enough. Not permanent, though, I assure you.”

“Good,” she replied absently.

Obi-Wan’s eyebrows rose as he crossed his arms over his chest. “That bad, is it?”

“Er, no… well, yes. I mean—” she gave up and hastily changed the subject. “Where’s Anakin? Has he seen you?”

“Not like this, no. He stayed in Theed for an extra day to accompany the Chancellor. He should be back in the morning.”

“How… how is he doing?” she asked, cautiously. “I mean, after finding out you were still alive…”

“I… He’s angry.” Obi-Wan glanced around at the other Jedi milling about. Most were paired off and busy sparring, but a few had noticed Obi-Wan’s presence and were observing them with curiosity. “May we speak privately?”

“Sure.” They walked until they came upon a bench in a secluded corner of the courtyard. “Will this work?” she asked. He nodded and sat down. Ahsoka took a seat beside him but said nothing further, apparently waiting for Obi-Wan to speak.

Where do I begin? He looked down at his hands as he wrung them together. He didn’t actually know what to ask her. He wasn’t even sure exactly what he was trying to figure out. Ahsoka seemed to sense his apprehension and gently prodded, “What is it, Master?”

“I… Padmé came to me before I left Naboo—” He caught her subtle flinch at Padmé’s name and interrupted himself, “—it’s alright. I know about the two of them. And I know you know—”  

“Wait. How long have you known? Did Padmé tell you?”

A corner of his mouth twitched into a half-smile. “Padmé didn’t need to tell me. I’ve known since the first time I saw them lay eyes on one another.”

Ahsoka smiled, too. “Anakin’s never been very subtle, has he?”

That elicited a small, fond chuckle. “No, I don’t suppose he has.”

“So… what did Padmé have to say?”

“She was worried about him… She said he hadn’t been himself, that he wouldn’t eat and wasn’t sleeping. She said he… that he…” he couldn’t bring himself to say more.

“He thought you’d died.” Ahsoka kept her voice down to avoid drawing attention to themselves, but her words were laced with frustration. “Of course he was going to have trouble eating and sleeping… he was grieving!”

Her change in tone surprised Obi-Wan, and it must have shown.

“I’m sorry, Master. I know you must have thought you were doing the right thing, but faking your death was, seriously, the worst idea the Council has ever had. Who even came up with it? Why weren’t we in the loop?”

“The plot was the Council’s idea. But I…” he trailed off, looking at her helplessly. “It was my decision to keep it from you both. I thought… I thought—” He knew was fighting a losing battle. No explanation would be good enough.

“Your decision?” Her eyes went wide in disbelief.

His heart filled with dread. Oh no. No, no. Not Ahsoka, too. He braced himself for the rejection, expecting the fiery Torgruta to stand and walk away without another word.

Instead, she shook her head slowly in sad bewilderment. “But how… how could you do that to him? It almost… it almost broke him, Obi-Wan.”

“We are Jedi, Ahsoka,” he tried to explain. “I thought he would grieve, then let me go.”

“Wow.” She looked dumbfounded. “You really have no idea what you mean to him.”

“I…” He was lost.

She looked at him, the frustration on her face giving way to pity, and tapped her temple with the pad of her index finger. An invitation. “See for yourself.”

Obi-Wan froze. He had wanted Ahsoka’s insight, hadn’t he? Now he wasn’t so sure. Before he could say anything, though, she closed her eyes and reached out for him in the Force. He felt her pull and closed his eyes with a resigned sigh. He felt around tentatively in the Force, seeking her presence. Her signature was layered with the unshielded memories she wished to share, and Obi-Wan reached for Ahsoka’s hand instinctively as he immersed himself in the first.

The edges of his vision were indistinct, but he was clearly looking through Ahsoka’s eyes. He felt a heavy weight against his thighs, and he looked down to see his own body, sprawled limply over Ahsoka’s lap, his head cradled in her arm. He heard pounding footsteps approach, then a muffled, breathless voice asking, “How is he?”

As Ahsoka looked up, Obi-Wan saw Anakin enter her field of vision. Ahsoka said nothing, but her expression must have spoken volumes, because Anakin had gone pale, his eyes wide with fear. Obi-Wan could not recall a time he’d seen the young man look more frightened. “Obi-Wan?” Anakin called, kneeling at Obi-Wan’s side. “Obi-Wan…” he repeated, grabbing his shoulders and giving him a frantic shake. When Anakin realized Obi-Wan wasn’t going to wake, he cried his name one more time, loudly into the night, his voice cracking in despair.

Obi-Wan felt Ahsoka’s throat tighten, unable to speak or offer comfort. He saw Anakin inch closer to the lifeless body beside him, leaning forward and propping himself up with his mechanical hand while his other brushed a stray lock of hair from Obi-Wan’s forehead. He watched Anakin shake his head in disbelief, mouthing “No… No, no, no…” Saw Anakin’s face contort in grief as he ran trembling fingers along Obi-Wan’s brow, down his cheek, and over his bearded jaw, his thumb absently and delicately tracing his lower lip. “I’m sorry,” Anakin whispered, tears flooding his eyes, spilling over his cheeks, and dropping to leave dark splotches on the beige cloth beneath him. “I’m so sorry.”

Obi-Wan wanted more than anything to reach out, wipe away the tears, and tell him it wasn’t real. To pull him close, tuck his head under his chin, and run his fingers through his hair until his breathing steadied. But through Ahsoka’s eyes he could only look on helplessly, his heart breaking as his former padawan collapsed against a motionless torso, kneading his shaking fingers into fists in the fabric of Obi-Wan’s tunic. The curve of the young Jedi’s back shook violently as he sobbed.

They stayed that way for what seemed an eternity. Then Ahsoka said quietly, “We need to get him to the Temple.”

Anakin didn’t move for several more minutes. Then, he sat up without a word, pulled Obi-Wan’s body against him, and hoisted the limp form over his shoulder as he stood.

Everything went dark for a moment, then Obi-Wan found himself in the Temple’s funeral chamber. Through Ahsoka’s eyes he saw Plo Koon to her left, Padmé to her right. Satine stood next to Padmé, weeping quietly. Before them, a covered body was being lowered into the floor, and beyond that platform stood Anakin. When the floor panels slid into place to seal off the compartment below, a beam of light shot up through the center, illuminating Anakin’s hardened features. There were no tears now, only restrained fury.

The scene faded to briefly to black before shifting to the inside of a dimly lit bar. Anakin, standing beside Ahsoka, ignited his lightsaber threateningly. “Where… is… Rako…. Hardeen,” he demanded, his voice shaking with such vengeance that Obi-Wan was glad he couldn’t see the face that went with it. The bartender pointed them toward a back room, where they found Hardeen’s likeness lying motionless on a makeshift bed against the back wall. The memory came back to Obi-Wan as it unfolded, but it felt foreign through Ahsoka’s eyes.

“Is he dead?” Ahsoka wondered.

“He’s about to be.” Anakin replied, cracking his knuckles. He rolled the body over onto its back. Obi-Wan, as Hardeen, pretended to be disoriented and muttered “…already killed a Jedi…”

“He’s not dead. He’s drunk.” Anakin pulled Hardeen up by the front of his shirt, hissing “Get up, you filth!” He threw him against the wall violently. “If it were up to me, I would kill you right here…” From Ahsoka’s position, he could only see Anakin’s back side. But he remembered now how Anakin’s face had been mere inches from his own as he angrily spat, “but lucky for you, the man you murdered would rather see you rot in jail.” He remembered the small jab of pride he felt that Anakin had, in fact, learned something from his Master. At the time, he hadn’t realized just how much pain was fueling Anakin’s fury.

“Now let’s go, you coward, before I change my mind.”

Obi-Wan pulled away from Ahsoka, needing a moment to collect himself. He didn’t know what to say. In truth, Anakin’s anger hadn’t been particularly surprising. His reaction to finding Obi-Wan dead in Ahsoka’s arms, though…

“Master?” Ahsoka interrupted his thoughts. “There’s… more.”

He knew as much, but he wasn’t sure he was ready for it. “I—I don’t know if I should— if I can…”

“You should,” she responded decisively. “Anakin will kill me for showing you, but I… I think he needs you to see. I don’t know what to make of it.”

He nodded, took a deep breath, and closed his eyes once more.

He felt as though he were seated on a cushion, but he could see nothing. Ahsoka’s eyes must have been closed, perhaps in meditation. Suddenly, he felt a strong pull in the Force and was nearly blinded when Ahsoka’s eyes flew open to reveal her dormitory, bathed in evening sunlight that filtered through her blinds and onto her face. Something wasn’t right. She stood and closed her eyes again, concentrating. He felt the pull again, and Ahsoka grabbed her lightsaber and ran out the door. She sprinted down the white, vast corridors of the Temple’s residential sector at full speed, until she came upon the door to Anakin and Obi-Wan’s shared flat. Ahsoka punched in their entry code and darted stealthily into the common room, saber raised and ready to strike.

The room was empty and silent. She stood motionless and cautiously examined her surroundings. Obi-Wan heard a faint whimper coming from his own bedroom. Ahsoka stepped to the open door to peer inside and inhaled sharply at the sight of Anakin kneeling on the floor. He sat back on his heels, but his head was slumped forward, tangled curls dangling in front of his face. She saw the lightsaber hilt pressed against his chest and his thumb moving toward the—“MASTER, NO!” she cried, using the Force to yank it instantly from his grip. It flew into her hand, and before he’d realized what had happened, she was on the floor by his side.

A buzzing noise came from behind her, and she turned to see a comm unit blinking on Obi-Wan’s night stand. She turned back to Anakin. “What’s going—?”

“You shouldn’t have come, Ahsoka,” he croaked despondently, turning his head to face her. He looked like he hadn’t slept in days. “I’m sorry, I just— I shouldn’t be here. I can’t be here. I’m not the Jedi I’m supposed to be and everything is wrong and no one will survive if I stay but I don’t belong anywhere else and no one here can help me and…and…” The words spilled from his lips almost incoherently, but his watery blue eyes were pleading. “And he’s not here. I thought—I can’t feel him at all. I thought he would still be with me, that I’d somehow sense him in the Force, but it’s empty. There’s nothing and I’m alone and I’m the threat—”

Obi-Wan tried to make sense of what Anakin was saying, but he couldn’t think beyond the wave of self-reproach that had just swallowed him whole. He needed to get out before he drowned. He pulled away from Ahsoka and away from the memory, his heart in shreds. “I cannot watch anymore,” he whispered. He looked to Ahsoka beseechingly. “Do you know—What was he was talking about?”

“I’m not sure. When I was finally able to talk him down, it was almost like he snapped out of some kind of trance or something. He said he’d just been dreaming, that it was all just a nightmare, but he wouldn’t tell me anything about it.”

Obi-Wan nodded. He hesitated for a moment, then quietly asked, “What happened next?”

“I stayed with him the rest of the night. Made him eat. Meditated with him. The next morning he seemed much better. It was awkward, but he thanked me and seemed genuinely grateful that I’d intervened. I kept a really close eye on him after that, but then Hard—er, you—broke out of jail not long after, and it was like he found a new purpose. He was his old, defiant self again, like that night had never happened.” She sighed heavily. “I’m just— what if that dream, whatever it was, comes back?”

“Does anyone on the Council know about this?”

The young padawan cringed, guilt spreading over her face. “I… didn’t tell anyone but Padmé. I know I should have gone to Master Yoda or someone, but I just, I couldn’t. I was afraid of what they’d do to Anakin...” Suddenly, Ahsoka looked panicked. “Are you going to tell them?”

Obi-Wan shook his head. “No one else will hear of it, Ahsoka, I promise you.”

“Will you talk to Anakin?”

“I don’t expect him open up to me about anything for some time, but when he is ready, yes, I will talk to him.”

They sat in silence for some time, both lost in thought. Finally, Obi-Wan spoke.

“Ahsoka?”

“Yes, Master?”

“Thank you. Thank you for being there for Anakin when…when I wasn’t. For looking after him. I… I am immeasurably grateful.”

Chapter Text

Anakin’s robes billowed gracefully behind him as he approached the High Council chamber with swift, purposeful steps. After Dooku’s escape from the Palace in Theed, Anakin had obediently carried out his short but agonizingly dull stint playing bodyguard to the Chancellor, and now, after a long, awkward voyage back with Palpatine and Padmé, the young Jedi was eager for action. With any luck, the Council had managed to trace Dooku’s location while Anakin was tied up with the Chancellor’s security detail.

The chamber’s imposing double doors parted, and Anakin entered briskly, determination etched on his face. His stride wavered, however, when his eyes locked on a familiar face across the holotable in the center of the room.

Obi-Wan.

It didn’t matter that the man’s ridiculously well-groomed hair and beard were missing. Anakin would know that face in an instant in any context. Force, those eyes. Those remarkable, gray, obnoxiously kind eyes.

His stupid heart leapt in his stupid chest. His Master was really here.

Anakin continued toward the table as smoothly as possible, still holding Obi-Wan’s gaze. A vision of Obi-Wan falling to his death suddenly flashed through his mind, and his eyes narrowed.

Of course Obi-Wan was here. He’d completed his undercover mission to save the Chancellor, the betrayal of his best friend a mere afterthought, and now he was no longer undercover and could move onto the next assignment and pretend like everything was okay because good Jedi don’t have feelings.

Anakin pried his eyes away indignantly, acknowledging the others standing around the table. There were just two – Mace Windu and Master Yoda. Without thinking, he turned back to Obi-Wan, whose eyes remained firmly fixed on him. The man looked so tired. His face was calm, but his eyes were filled with unmistakable sadness. Anakin kept his own shields firmly in place, but he could sense Obi-Wan’s Force signature unshielded and vulnerable, offering Anakin access should he want it. He most certainly did not want it. Definitely not. Or, maybe he did. But only a little.

Anakin desperately tried to hold on to his anger, but the longer he studied his old Master’s face, the quicker the anger seeped from his heart. He swallowed thickly, his mind scrambling for a convincing reason to look away.

“Good morning, Anakin. Glad you could join us.”

For once, he was grateful to hear Master Windu’s irritated voice. As he turned toward the stone-faced man, he considered defending his tardiness—the Chancellor had kept him longer than anticipated at the Senate Building—but he only nodded. Mace immediately turned back to Yoda and Obi-Wan, pointing at the holograms projected above the table.

“…As I was saying… the new army appears to number in the thousands currently, but more are being unloaded as we speak.” As Mace spoke, Anakin carefully scrutinized the battle droid projections, which were superimposed against an illuminated map, along with an image of a dilapidated mining base. “We believe it’s another attempt to seize the planet for its critical location along the Corellian Run, and –”

Anakin interjected, “Are we talking about the base on Christophsis?”

“Yes,” Mace continued, without so much as a glance in Anakin’s direction. “The battle droid factory is currently defunct, but we fear the Separatists, likely under the direction of Admiral Trench, intend to rebuild so they can manufacture the droids on-site. The 212th has already been deployed under the command of CC-2224. They are stationed just outside the system but will await General Kenobi’s arrival before engaging.”

“And the 501st?”

“They are on standby on the opposite side of the system, prepared to intercept incoming shipments. You and Obi-Wan will rendezvous with the 212th to assess the need for additional troops at the base. If warranted, we’ll send in the 501st. Otherwise, Obi-Wan will remain with his fleet while you continue beyond Christophsis to resume command of your unit.”

Well, this was action, but not exactly what Anakin had expected. He shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot, suppressing his urge to speak up. Yoda must have sensed his discontentment with the assignment. “A problem, is there, young Skywalker?”

“I – No, Master Yoda. It’s just…” he responded clumsily. “I’m just wondering why we aren’t pursuing Count Dooku. I mean, after his attempt to kidnap the Chancellor…”

Mace answered. “Chancellor Palpatine is back on Coruscant, where he is more securely protected than anywhere else in the galaxy. The developments on Christophsis have become a more pressing matter.”

“But Dooku is a Sith Lord.” he blurted, heatedly. “He’s a threat to the Republic! Surely we can’t just let him roam around the galaxy unchecked? Who knows what he’s plotting!”

With a deep, patient breath, Mace replied, “The Council appreciates and understands your concern. But our resources are strained, and we must prioritize.” Mace chose his next words carefully, sparing a quick glance at Anakin’s right arm. Anakin self-consciously ran his flesh fingers over the gloved durasteel of his other hand. “We also recognize that… your desire for action against Dooku may be driven, at least in part, by a… lingering personal vendetta.”

Anakin’s interpretation was more blunt. “You don’t trust me to follow the Jedi code when dealing with Dooku because he cut off my hand,” he scoffed. He could feel his pulse quicken as he glared unflinchingly back at the man.

Mace was silent, one eyebrow subtly raised. As if to say if the shoe fits…

Yoda turned toward Anakin. “A matter of trust, it is not—” he began.

“Oh, but it is,” Anakin interrupted bitterly. “Anakin Skywalker has emotions, so he’s clearly incapable of doing the right thing, even though he’s proven himself over and over and over again. I mean, he can’t even be trusted enough to know his own Master’s death was just an act, right?” Oh boy. Had he just said that aloud?

“You are out of line, Sky—” Mace growled.

“NO! The Council is out of line!” Anakin shot back before he could reconsider. Mace glowered menacingly at him. Anakin looked to Yoda, who appeared to have closed his eyes… in disappointment? Frustration? Exhaustion?

“Young Skywalker,” Mace continued, his voice deep and threatening. Anakin looked him in the eye, bracing himself for the imminent reprimand. “Despite my high esteem toward your former Master, it appears to me he has failed to teach you your pl–”

A rush of protective defiance surged through the young Jedi, whose voice shook as he cut Mace off. “My Master taught me more than any other Jedi possibly could have! He NEVER failed me…” His voice broke. “Until… until –” The chamber went silent as his outburst fizzled.

“He’s right,” murmured a quiet voice from across the holotable.

Three heads turned toward the voice. Obi-Wan’s eyes were closed, a crease between his brows. It was the first time Obi-Wan had spoken since Anakin entered the chamber.

“What?” Mace hissed sharply.

Obi-Wan swallowed visibly. “Anakin is right.” He opened his eyes and looked to the other Jedi Masters. “Keeping him in the dark about me was a mistake.” Anakin’s stomach fluttered at the sound of his voice. To hear that soft, clipped accent after thinking he’d never hear it again… It was hoarse – he presumed a temporary effect of the transformation process – but undeniably Obi-Wan. Its comforting tone resonated through his body, settling his mind and warming his soul.

Mace let out an exasperated sigh. “The mission’s success hinged on the perceived credibility of the news that you’d had been killed. And that credibility depended on his reaction to your death. You said it yourself, Obi-Wan – his pain had to be genuine.”

Oh. Anakin’s heart, which had nearly floated away mere seconds before, dropped like a brick.

“And I was wrong.” Obi-Wan briefly met Anakin’s eyes as he spoke the words, heavy with regret, then he turned back to Mace. “We should have found another way.”

“We did what needed to be done for the greater good, Obi-Wan. We are Jedi, in case you’d forgotten. Your former padawan’s inability to accept what transpired—to let his anger go—is… worrisome.”

Obi-Wan’s voice remained quiet and measured. “You disparage him for his anger, but what other reaction could we possibly have expected? We deceived him with the cruelest of fabrications, and now –”

“The fabrication would not have been cruel if not for his infantile attachment to you!” Mace snapped agitatedly.

Obi-Wan looked blind-sided, his lips parted as if to respond, but no words came. Anakin was also caught off guard. Neither could refute his words, so they said nothing.

Mace took a deep breath and said, more calmly, “I understand your desire to maintain this… this deep connection that has grown from your old training bond, but I fear it is becoming problematic. You would be wise to consider severing—”

“Absolutely not.” Obi-Wan cut him off, without hesitation, before he could finish the thought.

Anakin struggled to grasp what had just happened. Had Windu just advised Obi-Wan to break their bond? And did Obi-Wan just shut him down?

“Obi-Wan—” Mace tried again, but Obi-Wan wasn’t having any of it. Anakin’s heart pounded anxiously in his chest as his Master interjected once again.

“With respect, Master Windu, that deep connection to which you refer is responsible for the success of more missions than I care to count. We are better as a team, and you damn well know it.” Anakin had never heard Obi-Wan take such a tone with anyone except, well, Anakin. He’d certainly never known Obi-Wan to curse at a member of the Council.

Mace pressed his lips tightly together into a thin line, his nostrils flaring as he took another calming breath. “Teamwork is one thing, attachment is another. It’s long past time to cut him loose, Obi-Wan, and we all know it.”

Obi-Wan looked Mace square in the eye, speaking quietly but firmly. “I would sooner leave the Order.”

Anakin’s own eyes went wide. He had to have heard him wrong. Obi-Wan would never say… He looked to the others. Mace gaped at Obi-Wan in disbelief. Yoda had finally opened his eyes, and one of his ears was twitching. Had he been meditating this whole time? And was that… was he grinning now? Force, Yoda was so weird.

Anakin tried to clear his head by giving it a quick shake, then looked back to his former Master.

Obi-Wan shifted his gaze from Mace to Anakin, then to the holograms still hovering above the holotable, before breaking the stunned silence that had settled over the chamber. “Well, then,” he stated, as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened. As if he hadn’t just threatened to leave the Jedi Order should the Council ever come between him and Anakin. “If I’m not mistaken, I believe our services are required in the Outer Rim. Does our assignment stand?”

Mace looked to Yoda.

“Enlightening, this dialogue has been,” the Grandmaster said, his expression unreadable. “But a matter to address at a later time, it is. Focused, we should be, on the developments on Christophsis.”

“Very well. If there is nothing further to discuss here, we shall take our leave and prepare for departure. We’ll be in contact when we reach the 212th. May the Force be with you both.” And with that, he stepped away from the table, signaling Anakin with a brief tilt of his head to exit the chamber with him.

When the double doors closed behind them, they walked side-by-side in silence. More than once, Anakin caught himself glancing sideways at Obi-Wan, trying to observe him discretely out of the corner of his eye. The man’s arms hung loosely at his sides, but Anakin caught the subtle motion of his fingers, which peeked out below the wide sleeves of his robe and rubbed tremulously against one another and the hem of the brown fabric. The movement would have been imperceptible to anyone else. Obi-wan was nervous.    

Anakin’s head was a mess. His anger had all but faded – for the time being, anyway – but now guilt was beginning to gnaw at his insides. Sure, Obi-Wan had made one mistake – a really terrible, hurtful mistake – but it was a mistake he’d clearly come to regret. He’d withheld critical information from Anakin, but how many things had Anakin withheld from Obi-Wan? How would Ob-Wan react if he knew what Anakin had done in that Tusken village on Tatooine? His secret affair with Padmé? Would Obi-Wan forgive him if he knew all the things Anakin failed to tell him? He chewed his bottom lip as threads of shame snaked into his chest and knotted around his heart.

They approached a large pillared intersection of corridors with a high vaulted ceiling, and Obi-Wan slowed his steps.

“You go on. I’d like to visit the Archives to conduct some preparative research before we leave,” he said. “I’ll meet you back at our quarters in an hour or so?”

Under normal circumstances, Anakin would have provided a clever retort about Obi-Wan’s incessant need to research every possible thing in the galaxy at every opportunity. But he was still lost in thought, so when he turned toward the older Jedi, he managed only a dazed “Yeah, okay.”

Obi-Wan nodded, his eyes lingering on Anakin as if inwardly debating whether he should say something more. He said nothing, but Anakin felt the lightest brush of warmth graze his shields before Obi-Wan walked away.

----------

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As Obi-Wan approached the door to their common room, he heard a muffled “Kriff!” from the other side, followed immediately by the clank of what sounded like a tool dropping to the floor.  

He knocked lightly and called, “Everything alright in there? May I come in?” Then, imagining with amusement the eyeroll he hoped it would elicit, he added wryly “Are you decent?”

“Oh, for the love of— Yes, Obi-Wan! It’s fine. Come in.”

The door opened to a common room that remained as untidy as it had been the previous day. Anakin was seated at a table with his mechno-arm ungloved and resting, palm-side up, on the table’s surface. He held a small set of needle-nosed pliers in his other hand, the tips buried between the jumbled lengths of metal and wire in his artificial forearm. Obi-Wan watched as he wiggled the pliers about, brows furrowing and tongue poking out in concentration. Anakin spared Obi-Wan a brief glance, then resumed his work, shaking his head and muttering “…am I decent…” under his breath.

“Just being polite. One never knows…” Obi-Wan replied, mockingly defensive.

“Done reading up on the flora and fauna of Christophsis? Memorized the histories of every sentient civilization having lived in any system within a hundred parsecs of the planet over the last dozen millennia?”

“I’m flattered by your faith in my cognitive proficiency, but no. I simply wanted to re-familiarize myself with the planet’s geological features and urban terrain. And that of the planets in surrounding systems while I was at it.”

“Of course you did,” the younger man answered, distractedly.

As Obi-Wan neared the table, he watched Anakin pick up a small welding torch in his left hand, use it to heat a component of his artificial limb, then swap the torch for the pliers as fast as he could to make some kind of adjustment to the part he’d just heated. He gave up and set the pliers down with a deep, frustrated sigh. He then tried to take the torch in his metal hand, bending the wrist joint as he tried to get the flame to reach the part of interest, presumably to make the adjustment directly while the heat was being applied. But the flame wouldn’t reach. Anakin grunted and tried it the other way, torch in the left hand, pliers in the right. But it looked like he couldn’t maneuver the pliers at the optimal angle.

Anakin gave an exasperated huff that should not in any way have been endearing to Obi-Wan but was absolutely, in every way, endearing to Obi-Wan.

He had no idea what Anakin was trying to do, but the young man was obviously struggling. Taking a seat across from him, Obi-Wan asked, “Need a hand?” He recognized the bad joke in his offer before the words left his mouth, but he let it go with a smirk.

Anakin paused for a moment, then he looked up cantankerously from his hunched position. “Very funny.”

The smirk widened. “I rather thought so.”

There was the eyeroll.

“What is it exactly that you’re trying to do?” Obi-Wan prodded.

“Got a couple forks lodged in it during our run-in with Dooku, and now it doesn’t feel quite right. Hoping if I just tweak this wire a bit—” his words trailed off as he tried again, to no avail.

“Have you considered allowing the Force to assist you?”

“I shouldn’t have to use the Force for simple mechanical procedures like this,” he grumbled stubbornly through gritted teeth, stretching the artificial wrist as far as it would go with the welding torch clasped in his durasteel fingers.

“Yet it’s acceptable to float a pastry directly from the kitchen to your mouth to satisfy your impossibly large appetite when you’re too busy loafing about on the sofa to be bothered?”

“Never said you had to accept it…”

“Give that here,” Obi-Wan demanded with a huff, reaching for the torch.

“No offense, Master, but you’ve never been the most mechanically inclined…are you sure I can trust you to wield that thing without burning down the whole Temple?”  

Obi-Wan rubbed his chin stubble in mock consideration. “No.”

Anakin lost it at that, snorting into a chuckle. Obi-Wan smiled back.

Anakin sat the pliers down and took a deep breath, the lingering grin on his face suddenly fading.

Obi-Wan’s own smile sank into a concerned frown. “What is it?” he asked, immediately regretting the question. I don’t know, Obi-Wan, he chided himself sarcastically, might he still be upset about that time he thought his best friend had been killed? Or the time he felt so hopeless and alone that he tried to skewer himself on his own lightsaber? How about when he learned his best friend was actually very much alive but hadn’t thought it worthwhile to let him in on the secret? You utter fool.

“Nothing,” Anakin replied, almost sheepishly. “I just… I just missed this.”

Oh.

Obi-Wan knew exactly what he meant. Their banter – often sardonic but always underlain with unspoken affection – had always been a reliable source of joy for Obi-Wan, particularly since becoming mired in the misery of war. “I’ve missed it, too,” he admitted sincerely.

Of course, their banter also served as a defense mechanism for both men whenever there was a giant emotional elephant in the room. They sat in silence for a moment, but it looked as if Anakin wanted to say more. Obi-Wan gave him space to speak, but Anakin’s eyes just dropped to the table. After another pause, they both started to speak at the same time.

“Ana—”

“Mast—”

Anakin raised his eyes as Obi-Wan, with the slightest hint of a smile, gently insisted, “You first.”

“Did… did you really mean everything you said earlier… in the Council chamber?”

“Every word.”

Anakin opened his mouth to respond, but he seemed unable to speak. He gave a quick, reflexive nod, but his bottom lip quivered, and Obi-Wan could see moisture gathering in his eyes, threatening to collect and spill over his lashes. Anakin directed his gaze upward to prevent the tears from falling. Obi-Wan’s chest tightened as he watched those astonishing blue irises shimmer, darting back and forth across the ceiling.

“Anakin…?” At the sound of his name, Anakin squeezed his eyes shut, sending a glistening stream down each cheek. He remained silent, and Obi-Wan tentatively reached through their bond, meeting shields still resolutely cemented in place. Obi-Wan’s heart sank. “Anakin, I… I neither expect nor deserve your forgiveness, but please… please believe me when I say that I’m… I am so sorry I hurt y—.”

“You have it,” Anakin cut in. “My forgiveness, I mean,” he added awkwardly as he wiped his eyes with the back of his flesh hand. “You already have it. You… you’ll always have it.”

Oh dear, thought Obi-Wan, as he felt the prickle of uninvited moisture collecting in his own eyes. He reached across the table to rest his hand over Anakin’s tear-streaked hand, giving it a promising squeeze. “I won’t fail you again,” he pledged, his voice rough with emotion.  

Obi-Wan blinked back the moisture before it could accumulate further, then he cleared his throat. “That is,” he continued, in an attempt to add some levity to the moment, “unless I melt off your prosthetic limb with this newfangled fire machine.” He held the torch upside-down and tapped it on the table, looking sideways at it to feign incompetence.

That won him another eyeroll, followed by a deep sniffle and a half smile. Satisfied, Obi-Wan ignited the torch, looking to Anakin to show him where to aim it. “Come on then. Let’s fix this thing and be on our way, shall we?”

Chapter Text

Within the hour, Anakin and Obi-Wan were in the flight deck of an outbound shuttle, securely strapped into the captain and first officer seats, Coruscant rapidly shrinking behind them.

Anakin locked in their coordinates, plotted their course, and triple-checked the ship’s hyperdrive settings. He unbuckled himself and stood to stretch. As he extended his arms, he looked to his gloved hand while he tested its range of motion, opening and closing his fingers and rotating the hand about his wrist. With a satisfied grin, he turned to Obi-Wan.

“You know, Master, you were surprisingly adept with that welding torch.”

“Happy to help,” the older Jedi replied distractedly as he studied the array of navigation screens on the flight console before him.

Anakin stepped toward him, leaning down mischievously to add, “The question now is whether I can trust you to pilot this thing without me while I fix us some grub.”

“No less than I can trust you to cook an edible meal, I’d guess,” Obi-Wan quipped, flipping a switch and turning a few knobs to adjust their thrust vector.

“We’re in good shape, then, because I’m about to blow your mind with my in-flight culinary skills.”

“I don’t doubt it. Surely in some universe protein paste and Ready Rations are considered a delicacy.”

“Just be sure to warn me if I’m not back before we jump to hyperspace,” Anakin called back to Obi-Wan as he made his way through the hull to the ship’s small galley.

Anakin smiled to himself as he unzipped the bag he’d stowed below the refrigeration unit when they first boarded, pulling out a jar of raw barq, a bottle of groundnut oil, and a sack of vegetables. He felt lighter. No longer trapped beneath a mountain of sorrow, free from the viscous anger that had so recently choked his veins and hijacked his heart. His shields were still up—behind them looming the past transgressions he intended to confess but wasn’t yet prepared to disclose—but in this moment and in this place, he felt like he was home. The Negotiator and the Hero With No Fear were on a mission. Together.

He powered on one of the burners, retrieved a pot and a pouch of ionized water from an overhead cupboard, and poured a portion of the water into the pot to boil. He pulled out a handful of coneweres, a tuber, and a large dabaroo, and while he peeled them, his mind began to wander. It didn’t take long for his thoughts to circle back to the conversation that had transpired earlier in their flat, and he felt heat rise to his cheeks as he recalled his emotional reaction to Obi-Wan’s words.

It certainly wasn’t the first time he’d wept in front of the man. Force knows as a padawan he’d done it a hundred times—a child missing his mother, a lonely adolescent doubting his worth as a Jedi, a hot-headed young man learning to cope with the loss of an appendage. Obi-Wan had always provided a shoulder to cry on, holding him silently and patiently as Anakin left a mess of hot tears and snot on his immaculate robes.

But it wasn’t a sense of loss or self-loathing that had overwhelmed Anakin this time. He had felt something else—something wholly new—and the emotions it had stirred in his chest were, frankly, embarrassing.

Every word.

Obi-Wan’s declaration had confirmed what Anakin had only dared to hope, and for the first time in his life as a Jedi he’d felt… wanted. Unequivocally. Unconditionally. Wanted. And to feel wanted by the person he cared for more than anyone else in the galaxy… And then to hear his own name spoken with such concern in that familiar, beloved voice after such a revelation… it had been too much. His Master was here and was genuinely on his side.

And so, here he was, doing his best to show his appreciation with what limited means he had: a small on-board kitchenette, knowledge of Obi-Wan’s favorite dish, and time to kill. He sliced the vegetables, and when the water came to a boil, he added the barq, put a lid on the pot, and turned off the burner. In a separate pan, he poured a generous quantity of groundnut oil, adding the shaved dabaroo and stirring until the natural phosphorus in the dabaroo skin illuminated the mixture in a brilliant cobalt blue. After a few minutes, the glow faded to a deeper royal hue. He added the remaining vegetables and reduced the heat.

This wasn’t a particularly complicated meal to prepare, but it was uncommon to see it served in the core worlds, because a few of the ingredients were expensive and difficult to acquire. Anakin remembered fondly Obi-Wan’s reaction the first time they’d tried it, on one of their earliest diplomatic missions to the Outer Rim together. Upon his first taste, Obi-Wan’s eyes went wide before fluttering shut, his brows lifting in surprise then knitting together as he shifted the food around in his mouth, savoring the flavor. Anakin had committed this positively sinful series of facial expressions to memory, and occasionally it would resurface in his teenage dreams in an entirely different—and entirely inappropriate—context.

The next time Anakin had found himself on Qiilura, he’d snatched up a pound of barq and stashed it away for later use. Thankfully the grain had an incredibly long shelf life, and he’d been able to keep it in a sealed jar under his bed at the Temple, waiting for the right time to surprise his Master with his own rendition of the tasty meal. But it was an idea ultimately forgotten as he became distracted by his new responsibilities as a Jedi Knight and his increasing interest in a certain senator from Naboo.  

Padmé.

The thought made him wince. The journey back from Naboo had mostly been silent, but the atmosphere had been thick with the implicit and mutual understanding that their relationship had eroded beyond repair. When they finally spoke, as they stared out the viewport on their descent to Coruscant, the conversation had been brief. “I care for you, Ani…so much… but I can’t do this anymore,” she had said, simply. Sadly. “I know,” he’d whispered back. After a long pause, he’d added, “I’m sorry.” “I know,” was all she replied, before kissing him sweetly on his cheek and turning away.

He had known in his heart for some time—and it seemed as though she did, too—that what they had had before was unsustainable. Although their initial attraction to one another had spawned a genuine friendship, they’d begun to outgrow their infatuations, and they were learning that what remained was no longer able to provide what either required. Anakin’s life as a Jedi was destined to disappoint her time and again. She deserved more. Someone who could be physically present for her at any given time. Someone to grow old with her. A family. As for Anakin, he didn’t know exactly what he needed. Something deeper. Someone who knew him. Someone who could understand him. Understand the Force. He loved Padmé, truly, but it wasn’t enough. He sighed. He’d never meant to make such a mess of things with her.

The sizzling of the frying vegetables grew louder, snapping him back the present. He checked on the barq, which had expanded to form tender, white puffs. When all the water had been cooked off, he divided it into two metal bowls and topped each serving with the vegetable cream sauce, which still carried a faint blue glow. He sprinkled firebud powder over both bowls and poked a sprig of celto into each for a final garnish. He set the bowls on a small electromagnetic table situated against the far wall just as Obi-Wan called, “We’re about to jump to hyperspace, Anakin!”

“I’ll be right there!” he called back, temporarily sealing the bowls and activating the magnetic field to keep them in place on the table. He bounced back to the flight deck with a toothy grin on his face.

“Honestly, Anakin,” Obi-Wan muttered as the younger man took a seat and buckled himself in. “Did you get lost back there? How long could it possibly take to retrieve a few nutrition bars?”

Anakin merely widened his smile in response. He couldn’t wait to see the look on his Master’s face upon seeing his glowblue barq surprise, and he was almost giddy with anticipation.

They shot into hyperspace with a heave, and once the ship stabilized, Anakin decoupled his harness straps and turned to Obi-Wan. “Food’s ready.”

Obi-Wan squinted at Anakin’s empty hands, then met his eyes with one skeptical eyebrow quirked. “No ration bars, then… Dare I ask what you’ve been up to?”

Anakin circumvented the question and asked his own. “Would you rather eat here or at the table?”

Obi-Wan unbuckled himself and stood, still casting a doubtful glance toward the younger Jedi. But a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth as he replied, “I suppose, if given the option, I’d prefer we dine like civilized men while we can.”

“I thought you might say that,” Anakin said as he hopped out of his seat and led the way through the shuttle’s hull.

He beat Obi-Wan to the galley, grabbed two forks stowed in a drawer beneath the table, then took a seat on one of the floor-mounted, backless titanium benches alongside it, watching his Master approach.

Obi-Wan stopped in his tracks, looking as though he’d picked up the scent of something he couldn’t quite place. He glanced around the galley as if searching for clues, then his gaze suddenly darted back to Anakin. His expression was one of suspicion, as if he’d figured out what he was smelling but suspected some kind of prank. His eyes didn’t leave Anakin’s as he sat across from the young man and began to peel back the opaque lid of his bowl.

Anakin watched as Obi-Wan looked down and stared, in stunned silence, at its glowing contents.

Then, Obi-Wan smiled. The kind of smile that reached his eyes and crinkled the skin near their corners. The kind of smile Anakin hadn’t seen in… years? The older Jedi quickly, probably subconsciously, ran a hand over his mouth to cover it, but not before Anakin caught a flash of white teeth revealed beneath stretched lips, and, without the beard for cover, a glimpse of the dimpled creases that curved like elegant parentheses around each side of his mouth. Obi-Wan’s multiple laugh lines were a rare sight, indeed.

Something stirred in Anakin’s chest.

Obi-Wan looked up at Anakin, irises twinkling blue green below his lashes. “You seem to be enjoying this,” he noted, eyeing the dopey grin still plastered on his former padawan’s face.

Anakin nodded. “Yep.”

“You made glowblue barq.” Obi-Wan stated.

“Yep.”

“In the abominably inadequate kitchen of an Eta-class shuttle.”

“Yep.”

“How did—” Obi-Wan started, grappling for words. He looked down and shook his head with a chuckle. “Anakin.” He looked back up to Anakin before saying anything further. The triumphant young Jedi raised his eyebrows in an unspoken “yes?”

“You… are…” he paused and gave his head another slow, confounded shake.

Here we go. For the simple sake of amusement, Anakin’s brain tried to guess the rest. …ridiculous… unbelievable… preposterous…

“…more than I’ve ever deserved.”

Oh. Well, that took a sentimental turn. Anakin tried to keep things light. “Might want to hold off on the compliments, Master. You haven’t even tasted it yet.”

“I don’t need to. That it would even occur to you to…” Obi-Wan’s words dropped off as he met Anakin’s eyes. “I mean, what ever prompted this?”

Anakin suddenly felt vulnerable. “I don’t know, I just—” He cut himself off with a sigh, then shyly mumbled, “You stood up for me. I guess I just wanted to thank you.”

“Of course I stood up for you, Anakin. You were right. They—we—were wrong.”

“Maybe. I don’t know… I just never thought, or expected…” he paused, clearly struggling to put complicated feelings into meaningful words. “You… you made me feel wanted, that’s all.” Anakin could feel his cheeks flush. He needed to change the subject. “You should probably stop staring at it and eat while it’s still warm, don’t you think?”

“Excellent idea,” Obi-Wan answered, picking up his fork. He pointed it toward Anakin, knowingly, as he added, “but don’t you go thinking you can change the subject so easily.”

Anakin nodded absently and watched the older Jedi deftly dig into his dish, bring the fork to his mouth, deposit the glowing barq on his tongue, and… Oh there it was. That lovely thing Obi-Wan did with his face. Eyelids fluttering closed, ginger lashes soft against his cheeks. The slight tilt of his head and furrowing of his brows in apparent bliss as he slowly began to chew. A quiet, throaty moan muffled by closed lips. Anakin’s heart skipped a beat, and he began to regret this whole situation as an uncomfortable warmth crept low in his gut.

Sith hells, Obi-Wan. How was this so attractive? For the briefest of moments, he caught himself wondering what other things he could do for his Master to provoke such an exquisite reaction. When he realized where his mind was taking him, he cursed himself and tucked into his own meal for a distraction. What was wrong with him? This was his Master, for Force’s sake. The man who raised him. The brother who fought beside him. The friend who trusted him. Obi-Wan Kenobi, the perfect—and perfectly unattainable—Master Jedi.

“This tastes as incredible as I remember,” Obi-Wan said, calling Anakin out of his headspace. “Thank you.”

“Mmglad you like it,” Anakin replied, his words garbled by a mouth overstuffed with barq puffs.

Obi-Wan rolled his eyes and retorted with a smirk, “Apparently you missed the bit where I said I’d prefer we dine like civilized men.”

Anakin shrugged. “I’m hungry.”

“When aren’t you?”

Anakin conceded his point with a nod and another shrug. Obi-Wan flashed him a small smile, and they both continued eating. When they’d nearly finished, Obi-Wan spoke again.

“Anakin?” His voice was soft, almost apprehensive.

“Hm?”

“You said I made you feet wanted… when I came to your defense...” Obi-Wan hesitated before continuing. “Do you normally feel… unwanted?”

Anakin opened his mouth to reply, but his voice failed. Constantly feeling like a thorn in everyone’s side was bad enough, but having to admit it aloud to his Master? He wasn’t sure he could do it. The question had been so earnest, though, and he wanted to be truthful with Obi-Wan. So he settled for a nod, looking down at his bowl to avoid eye contact. When he finally looked back up to find Obi-Wan’s concerned eyes upon him, he tried to explain. “Qui-Gon was the only reason I was accepted in the Order, right? The Council certainly didn’t want me there—I’ve never been good enough for them—and they only put up with me now because of some idiotic prophecy. And you… I’ve always been an obligation—”

“Anakin—” Obi-Wan tried to break in, presumably in denial. His stern voice didn’t match the sorrow in his eyes.

“No. It’s alright. I mean, I know you’ve grown to care for me in your own way, but… I just…it can be hard to shake the feeling that your actions toward me are only… guided by your sense of duty to the Order. To Qui-Gon. You… you were such a hero to me growing up—not that I ever would have admitted it at the time—actually, I can’t even believe I’m admitting it now—” his cheeks were warming again, damn them to every single Corellian hell. “I mean, I always wanted to impress you, to be as good as you… make you proud, you know? But instead, I just… I was…” Anakin’s throat tightened as the familiar emotions of inadequacy and isolation swept over him. He looked down, ashamed, and said barely above a whisper, “I’ve always felt like such a burden to you.” 

“Anakin Skywalker. You listen to me. The only burden you have ever placed on me is having to live with your copious and ever-present population of floor-dwelling, sharp-edged droid parts. And even that… Well, frankly it’s a burden I would carry for a hundred lifetimes if it meant having you by my side for just one.”

Damnit, Obi-Wan. If you make me cry in front of you again, so help me…

But Anakin wanted to permanently commit to memory those words, that voice, those eyes in this moment. He wanted to say something witty and self-deprecating in response, but his brain was toast.

Obi-Wan allowed him some peace for a few minutes while they finished their meal, then asked, seemingly out of the blue, “What about Padmé?”

“What do you mean?”

“Does she not make you feel wanted?”

“I… I— Why would she?” Anakin stammered, suddenly panicking. He’d intended to come clean about this eventually, but he was reluctant to spoil this perfect memory with the frustrated disappointment his Master would no doubt bare upon learning the truth.

“Anakin, I’m not sure how you think I don’t know about you two, but I do. It’s alright.” Obi-Wan’s gentle smile was sincere, his eyes kind.

Anakin’s eyes widened in surprise. “How did— How long—?” he started, wanting to get a feel for what Obi-Wan knew, exactly. But he ultimately decided it didn’t matter. What mattered was that Anakin had never told him. Guilt was tugging at the back of his mind. “I’m… I’m sorry I never talked to you about it,” he said, making a concerted effort to meet his eyes, if only for an instant, to make sure he knew how much he meant it. “I wanted to…eventually…I just…"

Obi-Wan lifted a hand to stop him there. “That you didn’t feel you could confide in me was a failure on my part, not yours.”

Anakin shook his head, feeling compelled to offer his own explanation. “I was so afraid… The thought of disappointing you…” He swallowed heavily. “I thought you would hate me. That you’d report me to the Council, and that they’d expel me from the Order. That I’d never see you again. I…I convinced myself that telling you would mean losing everything I had with you…” And there it was. A solid, verbal acknowledgment of another attachment he wasn’t supposed to have. He looked down at it hands as they fidgeted nervously with his fork. His feelings of inadequacy would always be legitimate. He would never be the Jedi he was supposed to be. His shame was swallowing him whole, and he couldn’t bring himself to look up.

He heard Obi-Wan stand and step to his side of the table. “Scoot,” the older man directed, firmly. Without looking up, Anakin shifted to his left, leaving enough space for Obi-Wan to sit beside him, back toward the table and legs on the opposite side of the bench from Anakin’s. Anakin closed his eyes as he felt his Master’s warm, reassuring hand on his shoulder. “I’ve not told a soul, Anakin. I’m not disappointed. And I could never hate you.”

Fingers brushed lightly against his upper arm as Obi-Wan timidly withdrew his hand. He seemed almost reluctant to lose contact. Anakin pivoted slightly to his right, and Obi-Wan did the same, so they were nearly facing one another. Anakin asked, “If you’ve known this whole time, why didn’t you ever report it?”

Obi-Wan sighed. “As difficult as this apparently is for you to believe, I…” There was a long pause while he considered his next words. “I…” Another pause. “You are…very dear to me. And while I could rattle off a list of creative—yet perfectly valid—reasons why it seemed better for the greater good for me to let it be, the reality is that… you were my friend. I wanted you to be happy.” He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “And… perhaps, a small, selfish part of me was also afraid of what action the Council might take.” He looked down at his hands clasped in his lap, as if he were struggling with his own sense of shame. “I didn’t want to lose you, either.”

“Oh,” Anakin replied awkwardly as he processed what his Master was saying. Before he could contemplate it further, Obi-Wan spoke again.

“I am curious, though… Would leaving the Order and parting ways with me have been such a terrible thing if it meant having a life with Padmé?”

Yes,” Anakin replied, perhaps more emphatically than he’d intended. While it had certainly crossed his mind, Anakin had never actually given this prospect any serious consideration. Probably because he always knew that their relationship alone wasn’t enough. He tried to explain. “I mean, I care for Padmé, but what we had… it wasn’t…” He sighed. “It was a welcome break from war… a nice distraction from the…the tedious discipline of Jedi life, but I don’t think I could be content to make a life of it. I would always be… restless.” He noticed Obi-Wan’s puzzled expression and added lightly, “Don’t look so surprised, Master. Contrary to what everyone else may think, I do care about the fate of the galaxy. I do want to be a Jedi. Maybe even a good Jedi. And…”

Obi-Wan’s eyes rolled up in mild exasperation. “That’s not the surprise, Anakin,” he said. “You said had. What the two of you had. Past tense.”

“Oh. Um, we actually broke things off officially on our return from Naboo. She… said she couldn’t do it anymore.”

“Oh,” Obi-Wan frowned. “I’m sorry, I didn’t—”

“It’s okay. It was mutual, really. We—It was never going to last.” An empathetic curiosity spread over Obi-Wan’s features, prompting Anakin to elaborate. “I guess we just… we couldn’t give each other what we needed, you know?”

Obi-Wan nodded in comprehension. His eyes, now devastatingly blue in the cool light of the shuttle’s overhead lamps, looked deeply into Anakin’s. “And what do you need?”

You. Anakin winced at his own instinctual reaction but was immensely grateful for not having blurted it aloud—and equally grateful his shields were still in place. It was absurd. Childish. He thought for a moment, trying to conjure an honest response that wouldn’t reveal too much. “To be understood.”

“Do you think no one understands you?”

“I think you understand me.” The words were out of Anakin’s mouth before he could stop himself. Self-conscious, he dropped his gaze.

“I tr—”

Obi-Wan’s response was cut short when both of them were suddenly flung from the bench. Anakin pitched forward against the table, the soft abdominal flesh just below the left side of his rib cage slamming into its edge, his thighs catching beneath it. The force of the impact folded him, propelling his top half forward and knocking the side of his forehead against the table’s surface. Disoriented, he tried to raise his head to look for Obi-Wan, but the motion made him dizzy, and within seconds everything went black.

Chapter Text

Obi-Wan vaguely sensed a sort of pressure pushing rhythmically against his cheek. As soon as he tried to give it more attention, it was gone. There was a muffled voice that sounded miles away. A kaleidoscope of shapes in dull hues swirled slowly before him, becoming more vivid and flashing violently in reds and oranges as the back of his head began to throb. It slowly dawned on him that his eyes were closed, but he couldn’t convince himself to open them. Surely it would be too bright on the other side of his eyelids.

The voice was getting closer, a bit louder, and he focused all his attention on the garbled words. He was distracted, though, by the warm, damp sensation spreading over the back of his head. He tried to remember where he was. Why he was on his back when he usually slept on his side. Why the voice was so familiar. The syllables slowly became discernible as a shadow projected on the back of his eyelids came into limited focus.

“…up, Obi-Wan. Come on, old man, wake up…”

Ah. That would be Anakin. Had he been slapping his cheek? Were they late for a Council meeting? His curiosity, paired with his desire to see his former padawan’s face, outweighed his reluctance to awaken. Cautiously, he pried one upper eyelid away from its lower counterpart.

He caught Anakin’s look of concern just briefly before it changed to one of relief.

“Hello there,” Obi-Wan croaked gruffly as he opened his other eye and blinked several times to bring things into sharper focus. His voice was thick and slow.

“Welcome back. Can you sit up?”

“Probably. But I rather like the idea of remaining horizontal. My head is—”

“Bleeding.”

“Is it?” Obi-Wan raised his arm to reach for the back of his head.

“Wait—”

Before Anakin could stop him, his knuckles had swept through a puddle of warmth on the smooth floor, and the pads of his fingers were brushing over split, seeping skin behind his right ear. He retracted his hand to inspect the damage. Confused by the amount of blood on his fingers, he looked to the younger Jedi. It was only then that he noticed the red, bruising welt near Anakin’s hairline.  

What had he missed? With great effort, he tried to think back to his most recent memory. He’d been discussing relationships with Anakin at the galley table. He recalled his acute awareness of their physical proximity. Remembered tenaciously ignoring his desire to touch the young man’s reddening cheeks. Then, he’d been ripped backward from the bench they’d been sitting on. He hazily recalled his lower back crashing brutally against the corner of the table and the back of his head striking something rigid. His legs had been thrown up and over his top half, somersaulting him into a blur of motion before he collided with the floor and skidded to a stop on the cool tiles. He’d blacked out before he could lift his head to look for Anakin.

Now, he rolled gingerly toward his side and placed both palms on the floor to push himself up, grunting as the damage to his lower back made itself known. Blood from his hand smeared over the floor beside the puddle that had collected beneath his head. Unacceptable, he decided, his thoughts still muddled.

“I seem to have made a mess of things,” he heard himself say. “I’ll need… I’ll need a towel. Maybe some antibacterial spray…Could you…?”

Anakin shook his head as he slid one arm behind Obi-Wan to help him to an upright position. “Honestly, Master,” he teased, “leave it to you to worry about the floor’s cleanliness while blood is pouring from the back of your head.” He chuckled softly. “Maybe consider your own well-being, first, huh?”

Obi-Wan didn’t understand what was so funny. He moved to get to his feet, thinking he would fetch the cleaning supplies himself, but his foggy head grew foggier, and he teetered backward against Anakin’s arm.

“Easy, there. I’ll clean this up, I promise. But let’s clean you up, first.” He felt Anakin’s other arm wrap around him, pulling him away from the mess and positioning him in front of the younger man, where his wound would be more easily accessible. As soon as he’d registered Anakin’s warmth against him, it was gone, and a cool, damp cloth was being pressed against the laceration.

“Blood is not pouring from my head, my melodramatic young friend,” Obi-Wan belatedly grumbled. “And, I’ll have you know,” he continued stubbornly, “the degree of my own well-being is robustly correlated with the cleanliness of my surroundings.”

Anakin laughed. “I’m happy to hear that,” he replied, grinning widely and lifting Obi-Wan to his feet, presumably to lead him back to the table.

“What do you mean?” Obi-Wan responded as he was guided to the bench, where he took a seat with a restrained groan and looked up at the other man.

Anakin raised his brows incredulously, then huffed in his most exaggerated imitation of Obi-Wan’s voice, “‘…the degree of my own well-being is robustly correlated with the cleanliness of my surroundings….’ was seriously the Obi-Wan-iest thing you could have said in this situation. Which means your head couldn’t have sustained too much damage.”

“Precisely. I’m fine.” A pause, as Obi-Wan ruminated further over what he’d just heard. “And your Coruscanti accent is atrocious.” At this point, he looked closer at his former padawan and remembered that Anakin must have been thrown about as well. Suddenly, his head cleared significantly. “Are you alright?” he asked.

“A couple of bruises, but I’m good.” Anakin grabbed a few antiseptic wipes he’d set out on the table alongside a few other medical supplies. As he tore open their packaging, he noted, “I think the ship took more damage than we did.”

“Care to enlighten me? I’ve apparently been too…” He waved his hand around, searching for the word. “…unconscious… to gather what happened.”

“I’m not sure exactly. Something yanked us out of hyperspace. The ship is stable, but I can’t get the hyperdrive generator back up, so it’s going to be slow going from here on out. Navigation is shot, too, probably from our sudden deceleration.”

“And the – ah! – communication system?” The sudden sting of the disinfectant had caught Obi-Wan off guard.

“Sorry about that. The comm unit is fried. I’m going to have a closer look once we’re done here to see if I can get something up and running, though. If we’re close enough to the Vigilance, maybe we can at least get an S.O.S. out to the 212th… Hold still.”

Obi-Wan hissed as he felt an increasing pressure against the wound. “Do take care, Anakin! I’m not one of your droids.”

“You can say that again. They’re not nearly this irritable when it comes to their own maintenance.” Obi-Wan watched as a gloved hand reached around him for a tube of topical anesthetic gel. “Sorry, Master. I don’t think pressure and bacta alone are going to cut it,” the younger Jedi explained as he began spreading the gel over the gash. “On the bright side, your bald head will be much more convenient for stitches.”

“I suppose that’s one advantage to this haircut,” Obi-Wan mused aloud.

“What, you don’t like the shave?”

No. It’s a constant reminder of what I did to you. “Not particularly. My head is always cold, and I look much too young.”

“Only you would complain about looking younger.”

“I prefer my beard and a full head of hair, that’s all.”

“Uh huh.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Obi-Wan asked, slightly distracted by the dull indication of Anakin threading stiches through his skin. Thankfully, the numbing gel had made the process tolerable enough for them to continue their banter unimpeded.

“I think you like the beard because it gives you an air of authority,” Anakin stated, matter-of-factly. Obi-Wan couldn’t see his face, but the smirk in his voice rang loud and clear.

“Does it now?” Obi-Wan quipped, a smile pulling at the corner of his mouth. “One certainly wouldn’t know it by the impertinence you show me.”

“You love my impertinence.”

Well. Yes. “Are we quite finished here?” Obi-Wan asked, in partially feigned annoyance. He grabbed one of the disinfectant wipes from the table and began cleaning the blood off his right hand.

“Almost done…” Anakin assured him, giving one last pull to seal the abrasion. Obi-Wan felt the cool, immediate tingle of bacta being applied over the length of the wound, and the throb in his head waned. Then, he felt something else.

His breath hitched, and his hands stilled. Two warm, exploratory fingertips were slowly trailing down the nape of his neck, sending shivers down his spine. A soothing tingle radiated upward from the base of his skull. When the fingers reached the collar of his tunic, they dipped between the fabric and his skin and… Oh heavens. The rhythm of his irrational heart faltered for a moment before quickening.

As Anakin eased the fabric away, Obi-Wan felt it tug gently at the soft hairs along his neckline, as if it had been coated with a mild adhesive. Then came the abrupt cold of another antiseptic wipe—along with the soft leather of Anakin’s glove—against his neck and upper back. The realization that Anakin was merely giving himself access to clean off the blood that had caked to his skin left him simultaneously relieved and disappointed. He closed his eyes at his own foolishness.

“I suspect you’re going to want to change this – there’s blood all over the collar,” Anakin noted. After a pause, he added, “Actually, if you want to hop in the sonic while I work on the comms, I don’t mind.”

“That’s… not a bad idea. Let me get the floor—”

Anakin rolled his eyes. “I’ll clean up the floor, Obi-Wan. You go take care of yourself.”

----------

----------

 

The metal of the flight deck floor felt cold against Anakin’s back as he popped the thin alusteel panel of the transmission console aggressively back into place above him, tightening the screws with a few quick flicks of his mechanical wrist. He wriggled out from underneath the unit, rolled over with a grunt, and brought himself to his knees. He keyed in a string of commands on the small touch-screen monitor in front of him, then took a deep breath and flipped the transmitter relay.

A second monitor was flashing an error message: “Hardware failure detected. Check external receiver.” Damnit. Anakin brought up command prompt and ran several scripts, hoping to identify and possibly circumvent the malfunction. Without the receiver or the ability to process any incoming signals, they would have no way to know whether their S.O.S. had been picked up and acknowledged by either of their fleets near Christophsis.

Even so, after being bombarded with error message after error message, Anakin resignedly abandoned the effort and turned his attention to the main navigation console, which had finished rebooting for the third time.

Without a receiver, each attempt to bring up any real-time estimate of their current location was causing the system to freeze up. This time, Anakin would take a different approach. Static maps and planetary data were stored in the shuttle’s main hard drive… If he could classify enough of his surroundings by sight—  

His thoughts were momentarily sidetracked when he felt a subtle ripple of dark energy creeping through the Force. It was gone as quickly as it had come, but when he looked behind him, down the ship’s hull, he saw Obi-Wan exiting the ‘fresher on trembling legs, clutching his chest. He was wearing the same trousers as earlier, but he hadn’t yet pulled on a new tunic. Against the dimly lit background, he looked startlingly pale as a single shaft of bluish light escaped the sonic chamber and grazed his bare skin.

“Obi-Wan?” Anakin hurried toward him, wondering what was wrong.

“Did you feel that?” Obi-Wan asked, looking to him with a rare trace of fear in his eyes.

“I felt something, but it was really faint. Are you okay? What… what was it?”

“I’m alright,” Obi-Wan tried to assure him, but there was an unsteady lilt in his voice. He crinkled his brow and closed his eyes as he tried to explain. “I felt…pain…death. And… a sense of something inexplicably… familiar…but I can’t place it.” When he’d caught his breath, he added earnestly, “Anakin, something isn’t right. I… we need to be on our guard.”

Anakin nodded, but he couldn’t help but think of the reckless move he’d just made minutes ago. His cringe did not go unnoticed.

“What is it?”

“Uh, well… good news and bad news.”

“Always. Go on.”

Anakin thought it might be best to start light. “So, the good news—probably the best news—is that the floor is clean.”

“I’m feeling better already,” Obi-Wan retorted, a touch of sarcasm in his tone but a smirk on his lips. “And?”

“The other good news is that I got the transmitter partially functioning and sent out an S.O.S.”

The older man raised his eyebrows and nodded approvingly. Before he could say anything, Anakin continued.

“The bad news is… the nav computer is still wonky, and we don’t have a reliable direct channel to the Vigilance, so…it had to be a universal transmission.”

Obi-Wan crossed his arms in front of him as he interpreted what this meant. “In other words, we’ve just let everyone else within signal range know that we’re here—wherever ‘here’ is—and vulnerable.”

“Yeah. That about sums it up.” Anakin shot his former Master an apologetic look. “The other bad news is that I can’t get the receiver up. The processor might be salvageable with more tinkering, but the external equipment was damaged with our sudden drop to realspace. So, there’s no way to know if anyone even gets our distress call.”

Obi-Wan lifted a hand to rub his chin, appearing thoughtful. After a moment, he declared blithely, “Well, it’s certainly not the worst predicament we’ve encountered.” With a playful smile, he added, “The important thing, I think, is that the floor is clean.” He shivered as a gust of recycled cabin air from an overhead vent swept over his bare back. “Right," he said, clearing his throat and looking mildly uncomfortable. "If you’ll excuse me for a moment, I should like to finish dressing myself.”

Anakin watched absently as Obi-Wan stepped away to retrieve a clean tunic from a set of lockers on the opposite side of the cabin. Before he could stop his eyes from wandering, he found them meandering over lightly freckled shoulders, between muscled shoulder blades, across scars faded and fresh. Then his mind was wandering… wondering whether those muscles would tense beneath roaming fingerswhat those scars would feel like against sensitive lips… whether the man’s breath would hitch at the contact, the way it had while Anakin tended to him earlier…

As his gaze continued downward, he was startled by vast, dark bruising on the right side of Obi-Wan’s lower back. The visions of his wayward imagination were immediately quashed as he was snapped back to the present.

“Your back…” he started to say as Obi-Wan finally—thankfully—pulled his fresh tunic over his head.

“Yes?” Obi-Wan responded, wincing as he fastened his belt and reached down for a boot.

“I guess the edge of the table got you, too… Is it…Can I get you some bacta for it?”

Obi-Wan pulled the boot on, then the other. “No…thank you…” Obi-Wan’s voice trailed off, as if he were suddenly preoccupied with another thought. The fear Anakin had seen just minutes before returned to his eyes for a fraction of a second. “I… I think we should be on the flight deck.”

Anakin nodded, and they both made their way to the front of the shuttle, where they craned their necks looking in every observable direction through the spherical, transparisteel viewport. There was nothing to see aside from distant stars.

Anakin looked to Obi-Wan, concerned. He didn’t understand how Obi-Wan could sense something so strongly that barely registered for him. “Do you feel it again?”  

“It never really left… it was just weaker until….” His voice trailed off again, then another thought occurred to him. “Anakin, do you think it was a ship malfunction that pulled us out of hyperspace?”

“I really don’t think so. Our current hyperdrive generator problems were caused by the shift, not the other way around. Anything else in the shuttle that might have been a culprit is operating just fine.”

Obi-Wan rubbed his fingers down his lightly-stubbled jawline, thinking aloud. “…and along such a major trade route, I can’t imagine we would have been thrown off by any natural objects large enough to create a mass shadow …Could anything else have done it?”

“Nothing obvious. I mean, an artificially created gravity well could do it, but it would take so much power… and even then, I don’t know of any technologies that could bypass the sensors on modern hyperdrives. Old school interdiction fields would’ve easily been picked up on our system’s sensors.”

Obi-Wan nodded as Anakin spoke, his chin wedged in the crook between his thumb and forefinger.

“Are you thinking we’ve been deliberately targeted?” Anakin asked.

“I really don’t know…” the older Jedi replied, still looking uneasy. “Do we have any idea at all about our location?”

“Not yet. But I have a plan.”

“Ah yes. Those usually go smoothly,” Obi-Wan replied, his sarcasm softened by the upturned corner of his mouth and amused sparkle in his eye. Anakin grinned and hopped into the copilot’s chair, motioning for Obi-Wan to come closer.

“So, the damaged receiver won’t let the nav system retrieve any information about the physical properties and relative positions of nearby objects, which it would normally use to figure out our own position…” he explained, throwing an inquiring look over his shoulder to confirm Obi-Wan was following. It was met with an eyeroll.

“Yes, I’m still with you.”

Anakin continued. “But…we do have our eyes. And we have a massive on-board database that basically maps out the entire galaxy…”

As Anakin paused, Obi-Wan broke in, his voice deadpan. “So your plan is to rummage through star charts until we find that one configuration that aligns with the arrangement we see out the viewport.” Anakin could sense a hint of amusement behind his old Master’s unimpressed façade as he continued. “The galaxy is rather large, you know. Perhaps I should have packed more tea? Something to last, I don’t know… several lifetimes…?”

“Have a little faith, Master.” Anakin pointed to the brightest point of light in the vast starfield that lay before them. “The database also includes detailed information about individual star systems… We’re already in a system—its sun is behind us— and I’m pretty sure that’s a planet ahead. If we can confirm that and at least classify what type it is… maybe identify any moons…”

“…Then we query the database to match the criteria, narrowing down the field of viable candidates…” Obi-Wan concluded.

“Now you’ve got it.”

Obi-Wan flashed him a small smile, and as Anakin turned back to check one of the monitors on the control panel, he heard his former Master step closer. The seat nudged forward under the man’s weight as he placed a hand by the headrest and leaned forward. He was close enough that, even on his freshly cleaned skin, Anakin could detect the distinctly Obi-Wan aroma of warm spice and fresh cedar. “Never doubt my faith in you, Anakin,” came a surprisingly authoritative voice, followed by a mischievous whisper, so close to his ear he could feel a puff of breath against his skin: “I had it from the start. I just like giving you a hard time.”

“Don’t I know it,” Anakin attempted to joke, but the unexpected warmth that had just brushed over his ear and the intoxicating scent that had just invaded his nostrils had made his stomach flip, and his words came out sounding strained. Hopefully Obi-Wan hadn’t noticed.

“Any other ideas?” the older man asked.

Anakin shrugged as he studied the constellations in front of them. “I mean, the alternative would just be to find the closest place to land, track down any inhabitants, and, you know, ask them where we are… but that’s probably not our safest option, especially if we want to conserve fuel and stay close to where we were when I sent the S.O.S.” He turned back to Obi-Wan and met his eyes. “And honestly, if what you’re sensing is as ominous as it seems, I’d rather not get too close to an unknown planet or give away our new location with another distress call.”

“Yes, that could prove unwise,” his former Master conceded.

“Once we figure out where we are, if it’s a hospitable planet with known, non-threatening sentient populations, I’d feel better about fuel consumption and additional distress calls. Until then, I say we approach with caution.”

They both looked out the viewport at the bright point straight ahead.

“Onward, then,” Obi-Wan affirmed, taking a seat in the captain’s chair.

Anakin toggled several switches on the console, and they felt the ship accelerate as the thrusters fired up. “As soon as we can make some initial observations, we’ll let up and see what we can glean from the database.”

Obi-Wan nodded.

After several silent minutes and little change in scenery, Anakin sighed heavily and echoed his Master’s earlier sentiment. “This will take some time.”

“Bored already?”

“Maybe.”

“We can take shifts on the flight deck. You could meditate while I take the first.”

“Good one, Master.”

“Just a suggestion.”

They sat in amicable silence as their shuttle slowly made its way toward the unknown object ahead. Occasionally, Anakin would turn to look at his companion, who appeared increasingly lost in thought with every glance.

He’s literally staring off into space, Anakin mused. He nearly laughed aloud at his own wit. Clearly his fatigue was catching up with him. Had it really been less than a standard day since he’d arrived on Coruscant? He hadn’t slept particularly soundly for weeks, and he hadn’t slept at all on the journey from Naboo.

He was just starting to doze in his seat when a soft, hesitant voice tugged him back to consciousness.  

“Anakin?”

He looked to Obi-Wan, suddenly alert. “Yeah?”

Obi-Wan was silent. He was still facing straight ahead, but Anakin could tell from the subtle movements in his jaw, the way he pinched his lips together between his teeth and slowly released them, the way his eyes blinked, that he was evaluating the wisdom of saying more.

“What is it?” Anakin asked, growing concerned.

The older man turned to him, his greenish gray eyes searching Anakin’s face with trepidation. When he finally spoke, his voice was very quiet. “What made you want to end your life?”

Oh. Anakin sighed, very much wanting to avoid this discussion. “Padmé got to you, did she?”

Obi-Wan nodded. “She did.” He was still speaking barely above a whisper.

Thankfully, Padmé hadn’t known all the details. Anakin wasn’t sure he was ready for his former Master to know the details, either. Obi-Wan already looked so… heartbroken. If he told him everything…

Anakin’s throat seized up. He couldn’t. Not yet. He tried to brush it off.

“I’d… had a rough day. Wasn’t sleeping much. It was nothing, really…”

“The hell it was nothing, Anakin,” Obi-Wan refuted, a knowing glint in his eye, his voice stern.   

“Language, Master.”

Obi-Wan quirked an eyebrow. “That’s rich, coming from you,” he retorted. Then his voice softened. He looked pleadingly into Anakin’s eyes. “I’m serious, Anakin. I… I spoke with Ahsoka, too. She let me see… I saw your face. You… you were in so much pain. Please.”

It took a moment for his meaning to sink in. “Wait. Ahsoka showed you?” He felt a searing stab of betrayal burn through his chest. “It’s none of her—or your—damn business!”

How could she? How much had he seen? His heart thudded faster against his rib cage, and the dormant anger in the back of his mind began to flare. He really couldn’t trust anyone, could he? In his head he pulled together a string of venomous words to hurl at his former Master, but they died on his tongue as the man lifted a shaky, defensive hand in surrender. As if he’d recognized he’d pushed too far.

“I’m sorry,” Obi-Wan breathed, defeated. “Now is clearly not the right time. I…” He swallowed thickly before resuming. “When you’re ready, I am here. Please… don’t be afraid to talk to me. There is nothing you could say that would make me care less for you. Nothing."

Anakin wasn’t used to seeing the man give up so easily. He’d expected Obi-Wan’s typical, quick-witted verbal retaliation, not this meek retreat. He knew the words were supposed to be comforting, but they pierced his guilt-ridden heart because they were wrong. He could think of at least two things he could tell Obi-Wan that would indisputably worsen his regard for his former padawan, if not destroy it completely. The young Jedi closed his eyes tightly as his shame sent a profound ache from the ventricles of his heart all the way to his fingertips. 

He took a deep breath, and without opening his eyes, he murmured feebly, “There are things I need to tell you. I’m just… I’m not ready yet. But… I want to tell you. I need you to know that. I’ve wanted to tell you. I hope you can be patient.”

“Of course, Anakin.”

“You will think less of me,” Anakin warned as he opened his eyes and turned his head to Obi-Wan.

“Have a little faith, Anakin,” he replied with a small smile and that stupid, beautiful twinkle in his eye. “In the meantime, you look exhausted. I’ll man the controls, you get some rest.”

Chapter Text

Several uneventful hours passed as Obi-Wan sat alone in the cockpit, diligently keeping their target centered in the viewport, periodically adjusting their course, and waiting for any of the object’s identifying features to emerge.

His sense of foreboding still lingered, but the intensity—and the almost tangible familiarity—of the ominous disturbance he’d felt earlier had faded. Whatever it was, it had hurt. He could still feel its long tendrils snaking their way into his mind and into his chest, stripping the light away and robbing the air from his lungs. He’d raised his strongest shields against it, but they were no more effective than paper against a flame.

As he stared at the starfield before him, his mind circled back to Anakin. Thank the stars the younger Jedi hadn’t been so affected by this strange, dark intrusion in the Force. The poor man had enough on his mind already, it seemed. Obi-Wan sighed with regret as he considered their earlier conversation.

How foolish he’d been. Of course the young knight wasn’t going to open up to him. How could Anakin be expected to confide in the one person whose disappointment he feared most? Obi-Wan had dedicated his entire adult life to playing the part of the model Jedi—to convincing his peers, his padawan, and, above all, himself that he could be as detached and composed as any of the staunchest Jedi that had come before him. He had feigned an impassive heart, and it had been so convincing that he’d effectively driven away the only person in his universe whose emotional presence he might actually desire.

A sudden twinge in his lower back interrupted his thoughts, reminding him of just how long he’d been sitting there. He checked their current trajectory and set the controls to autopilot before rising from his seat with a groan. A smirk tickled his lips at the inevitable joke Anakin would have cracked about his old age, had he been awake and within earshot.

Stretching his legs, he ambled down the short length of the hull—over the loading ramp, between two rows of additional seating, through the galley, beyond the ‘fresher and lockers—until he found himself in the shuttle’s sleeping quarters.

All but one of the bunks remained folded up against the cabin walls. The bottom bunk on the far right had been drawn down, a foot from the floor, and in it lay his lanky former padawan—hair disheveled, long dark lashes settled on the golden skin of his cheeks, full lips lazily parted in slumber. Obi-Wan’s throat went dry as he took in the sight. Force, Anakin was beautiful.

He froze at the thought. The admission. He lowered his eyes immediately to the tiles between the bunk and his own feet. How could he permit himself to think of his friend in such a way? He knew better, but the urge to look upon the young man was proving difficult to resist, and his gaze soon ventured back to Anakin’s face.

Don’t do this, Obi-Wan pleaded with himself—ineffectually—as a disquieting hunger stirred within him, making him wonder what that enticing mouth would feel like against his own. What he would feel, what he would taste, if those lips parted further to welcome a shy but reverent tongue…

Enough! He shook his head frustratedly to dispel the reverie before his body betrayed him. He’d seen this man sleeping a million times, and never had he allowed himself the freedom to imagine such things. Now was certainly no time to start.

Why had he come here? Right. Yes. He had been stretching his legs. Just stretching his legs. He could head back to the flight deck now. He should head back to the flight deck now.

Except that he couldn’t. His eyes were transfixed by the slow rise and fall of Anakin’s chest. The delicate bob of his Adam’s apple as he swallowed. His ears noted the subtle sound of each breath escaping his lips, and the nearly imperceptible rustle of hair against linen as he turned his head in his sleep. Trivial, ordinary movements reminding him that, for all the younger Jedi’s narrow escapes, for all his devastating talent with a lightsaber, for all the laurels that accompanied his designations as “The Chosen One” and “The Hero with No Fear,” Anakin was still just… a human being. Obi-Wan let a wave of gratitude momentarily wash away his other emotions. His best friend was here with him. Living, breathing, sleeping soundl—

Anakin’s brow wrinkled and his head turned suddenly toward the wall, as if in distress.  

Instinctually Obi-Wan stepped closer and waited. He felt for Anakin through their bond, but the younger man’s shielding hadn’t budged. Anakin abruptly snapped his head back toward Obi-Wan with a whimper, and Obi-Wan crouched down to his level, debating whether he should wake him. Sweat was beginning to bead on Anakin’s forehead and above his lip, and his eyes were clenched tightly shut. His breathing was becoming labored, and his flesh hand curled into a trembling first as he uttered a strangled “No…

Eyes darting in alarm over his former padawan, Obi-Wan dropped to his knees and placed his own hand over Anakin’s, gently working the fist open and rubbing his thumb in circles over a clammy palm. Anakin gasped for air and held his breath. When he finally exhaled, his body shook as he let out a broken, doleful groan. He inhaled sharply again, held his breath, then wailed once more. The pitiful sound echoed in Obi-Wan’s ears and wrenched his heart into a tight knot. Hoping to ease the man out of his nightmare, Obi-Wan brought his other hand to Anakin’s forehead, wiping away locks of sweat-dampened hair before resting his palm against the warm skin above his brow. Slowly, the young Jedi’s tortured cries were reduced to feeble sobs.

“Anakin,” Obi-Wan whispered as he watched shining tears leak from beneath closed, twitching eyelids. His heart clenched further, a lump rising in his throat at the thought of his friend’s suffering.

Abruptly, Anakin’s eyes shot open, and he bolted upright, chest heaving. Unaware of his surroundings, he swung his legs inelegantly over the side of the bed, as if to get up, but stopped when he realized something—or rather, someone—was in the way. He looked to his former Master, eyes wide in terror. Obi-Wan took his head lightly in his hands and looked him square in his eyes. Anakin blinked several times before a trace of recognition flashed across his face. “Obi-Wan?”

Obi-Wan nodded, leaning back on his heals while he sought Anakin’s hands with his own. One hand over leather, the other over flesh, Obi-Wan murmured reassuringly, “I’m here.”

Anakin started to nod in acknowledgement, opening his mouth as if to speak. Instead, he gagged and lurched forward to empty the contents of his stomach over the edge of the bunk, between his legs and onto Obi-Wan’s lap. The sudden ejection surprised Obi-Wan, but he didn’t move from his spot, even as he felt the uncomfortable warmth of vomit dropping onto his thigh, seeping slowly through the fabric of his tunic and trousers. As unpleasant as this was for him, his former padawan was faring far worse. Steadfastly, he kept one hand tight around Anakin’s flesh hand, and with the other he held Anakin’s hair off his forehead, waiting for Anakin to finish.

Anakin went quiet shortly thereafter. Obi-Wan waited.

Several minutes later, Anakin spoke without raising his head. “I’m sorry.” His voice was hoarse.

“If you’re apologizing for the mess, it’s nothing.”

“But… your pants… I—"

“My concern lies with you, not my garments.”

Anakin nodded faintly, bending forward further to rest the top of his head against Obi-Wan’s chest. Obi-Wan welcomed the gesture, draping an arm loosely around him, and awkwardly but tenderly weaving his fingers into the man’s disorderly curls.

“It’s the Chancellor.”

This confused Obi-Wan, but he assumed Anakin would have more to say on the matter. “What’s the Chancellor?” he gently prodded.   

“The Sith Lord. Palpatine is the Sith Lord.”

What? Obi-Wan blinked and furrowed his brow. He had to be careful with his words. He desperately needed Anakin to talk, and he couldn’t afford for the young Jedi to think he wasn’t being taken seriously.

“How do you know this?”

“I saw it.”

“In your dream?”

Anakin nodded against Obi-Wan’s chest, then pulled away to look at him. His eyes were swollen from weeping.

“But how can you know it was real?”

Anakin immediately looked away, biting down hard on his bottom lip.

Obi-Wan, not wanting to push him away further, waited patiently for a response.

“When I dreamed of my mother, years ago, the dreams felt the same as this one. I don’t think I can explain it. I knew those were real, too. And… it turned out I was right. This dream… it’s not an ordinary dream. It’s him. He’s…He’s…” Anakin swallowed what he was about to say and looked back to Obi-Wan. “I understand if you don’t believe me.”

“I believe you.”

Anakin dropped his head back to Obi-Wan’s chest and took a shuddering breath.

“Can you tell me what you saw?” Obi-Wan asked, doing his best to tread lightly.

There was a long pause before Anakin spoke. When he did, he sounded congested, his voice raw. “He wants to make me his apprentice. He… He destroys the Jedi, Obi-Wan, and I… I…” He was starting to sob. Obi-Wan’s heart couldn’t take much more of this. He rubbed Anakin’s back through its tremors. “…and I help him.”

Obi-Wan’s hand froze. Slowly, he brought it to the other man’s chin, lifting his head to look him in the eye. He wanted to raise his voice, shout that this was impossible. That, even if this were a true Force vision, Anakin was in charge of his own fate, and that he would never…

But for now, he gave Anakin the benefit of the doubt. “How do you help him?” he asked calmly.

Anakin squeezed his eyes shut. “I storm the temple. I cut down every Jedi in my path. I kill…” he gulped between sobs. “I kill…younglings. All of them.”  Without warning he yanked Obi-Wan’s hand away so he could drop his head once more to retch. His heaving sounded futile and painful, his stomach having already been emptied.

When his breathing steadied and his body stilled, Anakin raised his head and looked helplessly at his former Master.

“Come here,” Obi-Wan said as he pulled Anakin toward him, rising up on his knees so Anakin could more easily rest the crown of his head against his chest again. Anakin complied. “Is this what you dreamed of that night Ahsoka found you?”

Anakin nodded. “Some. The visions of the Chancellor are new.”

The young man’s attempt on his own life was beginning to make more sense. Of course Anakin would try to sacrifice himself if he were convinced such horrific events were otherwise inevitable—logic be damned. Obi-Wan sighed inwardly as he stroked Anakin’s hair in silence. He thought of the lightsaber hilt still fastened to Anakin’s belt and wondered, with a pang of simultaneous worry and relief, what Anakin might have done had Obi-Wan still been sitting at the shuttle’s helm.

Finally, he spoke. “Anakin, I’d like to change out of these soiled clothes so that I can… provide more adequate comfort for you. If I step away for a moment, will you promise not to do anything rash?”

“You… you need to step away because you’re disgusted with me, and you don’t know how to respond,” Anakin mumbled obstinately in self-pity as he started to pull away.

Obi-Wan rolled his eyes at the completely Anakin response and pulled him firmly back. He bowed his head, brushing his cheek against Anakin’s hair and bringing his mouth close to Anakin’s ear. “My preferred response, my stubborn young friend, would be to hold you closer, but at present I cannot do so without smearing partially digested barq on you.”

When Anakin offered no reply, the older man sighed, resigned. Temporarily confiscating the knight’s saber was not an option, as it would undoubtedly be seen as an act of mistrust. What else could he do? “Alright. Forget my initial suggestion,” he said. Then he reached down to remove his own belt as he muttered, more to himself than to Anakin, “If you insist on believing I’ve no desire to remain here with you, I’ll do what I must to convince you otherwise.”

Anakin sat upright, eyeing his former Master skeptically. Obi-Wan met his eyes with a stern gaze, determinedly pulling off his tunic without looking away. Keeping his eyes glued to Anakin’s, he deftly folded the clean portion of fabric around the soiled bits, set it aside on the floor, and stood. He lifted a leg, crossing it in front of the other to yank off a boot, then did the same with the other. His poise wavered, but his gaze held steady even as he hopped on one foot to regain his balance. He unapologetically stepped out of his trousers, leaving behind only his snug undergarment to protect his modesty. Eyes still fixed on the other man, he crouched down and used the leggings to wipe the remaining mess off the floor, then folded them up to conceal it and set them atop the soiled tunic.

Before rising again, he lifted one shameless eyebrow at Anakin and stretched his arm out, reaching toward the front of the shuttle, fingers spread taut and purposeful. The metallic clank of a locker door swinging open rang through the hull, and in an instant Obi-Wan had a fresh set of clothing in his grip. He dexterously pulled on the new tunic and pants while he continued to stare down his wide-eyed former padawan, hoping to have made his point.

“That was a blatant misuse of the Force, Master,” Anakin remarked.

“You left me little choice,” Obi-Wan countered, taking a seat on the bunk. “Now, come closer and explain to me how you could even think yourself capable of killing children.”

His tone had been almost lighthearted, an attempt to bring Anakin out of his self-loathing funk, to convey that Anakin’s standing in Obi-Wan’s eyes hadn’t been diminished in the slightest. But when he saw the tormented look on Anakin’s face, he realized his mistake. There was one very obvious explanation that Obi-Wan had failed to consider—not in small part because it was too dark to even register as viable—and his heart dropped through the floor as it dawned on him that it was the only explanation that made any sense.

Anakin was tearful again. He closed his eyes as he spoke the words that confirmed Obi-Wan’s fear. “Because I’ve done it before.”

Oh Anakin. His Anakin. The dark side had already touched his brilliant, beautiful, inherently good Anakin. Obi-Wan reached for his hand and held it tightly. “Tell me.”

Anakin drew his knees up to his chest and dropped his head between them. “You will hate me,” he whispered.

Obi-Wan squeezed his hand. “I will never hate you.”

Many minutes passed in silence, then, after a deep, tremulous breath, Anakin spoke. “Before the Battle of Geonosis, when I was sent to protect Padmé on Naboo… I saw my mother in one of those dreams. She was suffering, Obi-Wan, and I could see her so clearly. I couldn’t…I couldn’t ignore it any more… I had to get to her. But I was too late. When I found her on Tatooine, she was dying. She… she was in so much pain. The Tuskens… they’d taken her. Tortured her. She died in my arms. I was too late.” He took another quivering breath.

Obi-Wan could guess where this was going, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. True to his promise, he was not angry with Anakin. He didn’t hate him or think less of him. He wasn’t disappointed in him. He was disappointed in himself. Disappointed in the Force. How could Anakin have been asked to bear such a burden? How could Obi-Wan have been so completely unaware of such a pivotal and tragic moment in his own padawan’s life? His failure as a Master had been even greater than he’d realized.

Anakin turned his head to Obi-Wan as he continued, blue irises awash with more tears. How has he any left? Obi-Wan wondered.

“I was so angry. I…” He swallowed hard. “The whole village, Obi-Wan. I started with a guard, and it wasn’t enough. They… were like animals to me. I slaughtered… I slaughtered all of them…the women, the children…” Anakin pulled his hand out from under Obi-Wan’s, turned away from him, and curled in on himself.

Obi-Wan was quiet for some time. When he finally spoke, he reached over to rest a hand on Anakin’s back. “I’m so sorry,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion. He wasn’t sure what else to say. He needed Anakin to know that he was here for him now. To be assured that he wasn’t alone and that, should he ever feel such darkness again, he could confide in his old Master without fear of judgement. He shuffled through old memories searching for something to offer, and he closed his eyes in pain as the darkest emotions of his past leapt to the forefront of his mind. “I have wanted to kill,” he confessed quietly.

Anakin slowly shifted on the bunk, turning back toward him and attempting, unsuccessfully, to meet his eyes. “But you would never act on it,” he replied.

“I did act on it.” Obi-Wan said, eyes still closed. When he opened them, he trained his gaze on the opposite wall. “When Darth Maul killed Qui-Gon, I… I was filled with such…such fierce hatred.” He paused for a moment as a dull ache crept slowly out from the recesses of his memory, settling heavily in his gut and turning his stomach. “I was no longer fighting Maul in self-defense. He’d killed my Master, and I wanted retribution. I wanted to run him through. In fact…” Obi-Wan hesitated. “I would be lying to say I’ve never wondered if…. if it wasn’t that hate—hate I was never supposed to be feeling—that gave me the extra strength I needed to defeat him.”

This time, it was Anakin’s hand seeking Obi-Wan’s.

“What’s more…” Obi-Wan continued. “In that state of mind … I… I cannot say with confidence I wouldn’t have been capable of razing an entire village had I thought its inhabitants complicit in Qui-Gon’s death.”

Anakin’s hand tightened around his.

Obi-Wan looked to the younger man, trying to explain his train of thought. “I’m not saying I condone your actions, Anakin. I’m just… I’m trying to tell you that I think I understand them. And that—”

Before he could finish, Anakin was pressed against his side, and a gloved hand had reached across his chest in an awkward embrace. Obi-Wan leaned back against the wall and shifted his right shoulder, sliding his arm behind the younger man and allowing him to lean closer still, bowing his forehead to rest in the crook of Obi-Wan’s neck.

Feeling Anakin’s damp skin against his own, catching the salty scent of the mussed, damp hair brushing against his jaw… It was more soothing than he cared to admit. Unlike the young Jedi beside him, Obi-Wan was not a man who actively sought physical comfort in times of emotional distress. But it was hard to ignore the immediate solace that settled over him at the nearness of his friend. Without thinking, he turned his head and pressed his lips softly into Anakin’s hair.

“Neither of us is perfect, Anakin, and we cannot change our past. As for your dream, we will sort it out. Together. I…I hope by now you know I would rather suffer with you than watch you suffer alone. Don’t ever forget that.”

They stayed like this for a long time. Obi-Wan’s nose buried in Anakin’s tangled mane, contentedly inhaling the musky but inoffensive scent of human hair left unwashed. Impossibly soft leather from Anakin’s glove skating lightly over sensitive skin, as durasteel fingers loosened and contracted absently just above the neckline of Obi-Wan’s tunic.

Just as Obi-Wan thought he might drift to sleep, Anakin pulled away and sheepishly uttered, “Thank you.”

Obi-Wan offered a nod and a small, affectionate smile.

“We should probably check in on the status of our mystery planet, huh,” Anakin noted with a hint of reluctance.

“I doubt it’s gone anywhere. I’m sure we can spare a few more minutes if… if you need it.”

“It’s alright. I should get up.” Anakin pushed himself off the bunk and held his hand out to Obi-Wan, who was still leaning back against the wall.

Obi-Wan humored him and accepted the assistance, allowing himself to be pulled to his feet. He gave Anakin’s shoulder a lingering, reassuring squeeze before leading the way to the front of the ship. Anakin hung back at the galley to grab a bottle of water and rinse his mouth while Obi-Wan continued toward the cockpit.

“Obi-Wan?” The older man turned back to find Anakin still leaning against the counter, his expression apprehensive. “Once we’re done on the flight deck… would… will you meditate with me?”

Obi-Wan felt his heart swell with affection at the request—a highly unusual request coming from this particular Jedi. An involuntary but sincere smile plucked at his lips as he debated whether it was too soon to tease. He decided it wasn’t and asked with a grin, “Who are you, and what have you done with Anakin Skywalker?”

Now making his own way to the flight deck, Anakin smirked. “Actually,” he countered, as Obi-Wan took a seat in front of the expansive viewport, “I was wondering the same thing about Obi-Wan Kenobi… you know, the stuffy old Jedi who would never use the Force inappropriately… let alone condescend to disrobe in front of another human being…”

Obi-Wan considered this for a moment, then begrudgingly accepted his point. “Yes, well. Sorry you had to witness that,” he uttered as he scanned the monitors on the console before him.

Anakin actually laughed. “Don’t be. I’m not.”

Obi-Wan turned to the younger man, whose cheeks were suddenly pink. He knew Anakin hadn’t meant it how it sounded, but Obi-Wan couldn’t resist. He quirked an eyebrow suggestively. “Oh really?”

“That’s not what I meant! I mean—” Anakin’s cheeks were now a deep red as he floundered to explain himself.

Obi-Wan was positively charmed by his embarrassment. Nevertheless, he took pity on the young Jedi and looked forward, changing the subject. “It’s still fairly far off, but I think we can safely call it a planet at this point. Would you agree?”

Anakin took his seat with an exasperated huff and stared dead ahead, studying their target. “Yeah, I think so. I don’t see any moons yet, but they could be obscured by its brightness. It looks to have a pretty high albedo.”

“Maybe an ice planet?”

“Possibly. I think we need to get closer before I’d feel confident making that call.”

“Our trajectory is still on track for now. No need to fire thrusters.” Obi-Wan paused for a moment, reconsidering. “That is, unless you want to increase our velocity? Our fuel reserves are holding steady… do you think it worth sacrificing a portion to get us closer a bit faster?”

Anakin ran his finger across one of the monitors to swipe through several menus, checking the fuel levels for himself. He pulled out a keyboard and typed in a few input parameters, then watched intently as the system modeled their options. He stuck his tongue out in concentration as he studied the outputs for each scenario. Finally, he looked to Obi-Wan, undecided. “Sure?” he answered with a shrug.

“That doesn’t inspire the greatest confidence, you know.”

“Well, the quicker we can figure out where we are, the quicker we can get out of this mess, right?”

Obi-Wan placed a hand dramatically over his heart and shot the other man a mock frown. “Growing tired of my company already, then. You’re sure you want to meditate with me?”

“If it gets you to stop talking…” Anakin mumbled, cracking a smile. Then his tone became more serious, and he looked down, rubbing his flesh hand shyly over the back of his neck as he added, “But yeah, if you’re still willing…”

“Always,” the older man replied as he turned and met Anakin’s eyes.

Anakin pushed a rapid sequence of keys and flipped a switch to fire the main thrusters, then pulled back two control levers to adjust the fuel feed. He watched the fuel system gauges carefully as the shuttle accelerated with a steady vibration, and after a minute or so, he looked to his former Master inquiringly. When Obi-Wan felt they’d reached a reasonable speed, he nodded, and Anakin eased up on the control levers and cut off the thrusters.

Obi-Wan checked their course and reengaged the ship’s autopilot system, then he stood and motioned for Anakin to follow. “Come.”

Chapter Text

Stepping off the flight deck, Obi-Wan scanned the small cabin interior in search of a space that would suitably accommodate a meditation session for two. He thought the large, flat surface of the closed loading ramp might be adequate, and he stopped as they walked over it, turning in a circle and raking his eyes over its perimeter as he rubbed his stubbled chin. He nodded to himself. “This will do,” he said decisively, turning to Anakin. “I’ll be right back.”

He retrieved two thin pillows from a storage bin in the shuttle’s sleeping quarters and made his way back with them tucked under his arm. His former padawan was already sitting cross-legged on the floor’s metal slats. Tossing one pillow to him and letting the other drop to the floor, Obi-Wan asked, “Would you like me to actively guide you in this, or…” He paused and shot Anakin a quick smirk. “…taking your earlier comment into account, should I be keeping my mouth shut?”

Anakin leaned to one side, then the other, as he worked his cushion beneath him. Once he was settled, he quietly replied, “I think… I could use your help.”

A peculiar combination of empathy and pride crept into the older man’s chest as he nodded, settling onto his own cushion directly across from Anakin. “Of course,” he said softly. He gave Anakin a moment to finish situating himself. “Take your time… and once you’re comfortable, close your eyes.”

Anakin took a deep breath and complied, but Obi-Wan could see his eyelids twitching as the eyes beneath them darted around restlessly.

“Are you comfortable?” he asked.

“I—Yeah.”

One skeptical eyebrow crept up Obi-Wan’s forehead. “You’re a terrible liar. What is it?”

“Could—” Anakin started, then cut himself off. He opened his eyes to meet Obi-Wan’s but immediately looked away, embarrassed. “Could you come closer?”

The older man inched forward without a word or hesitation, until his knees touched Anakin’s. Mindful of the young Jedi’s proclivity for physical contact, Obi-Wan reached for his hands and gently took them in his own, resting them over their joined knees. Anakin’s eyes drifted shut.

“Better?”

A nod.

But Obi-wan could still feel his former padawan’s subtle fidgeting. “Allow your body to become still,” he said, as soothingly as he could, before closing his own eyes. “You don’t need to be thinking of anything. Just… feel. Feel the Force as it flows through everything around you. As it flows within you.” He paused as he focused on his own breath. “I want you to stay with my voice, Anakin. Just stay with me.”

Obi-Wan guided him through the initial portion of their session using basic mindfulness cues that focused on breathing and releasing physical tension. When he finally felt Anakin’s hands still, Obi-Wan guided him through a sequence designed to help him release his negative emotions. He kept his voice low and soft, leaving lengthy pauses between each directive.

“…Let go of your pain…”

“…your fear…”

“…your guilt…”

“You needn’t carry these things…”

“Allow the Force to carry them for you…”

But it was obvious the young man was still struggling. His fingers were twitching again, and his flesh hand was becoming clammy with perspiration. Obi-Wan peeked beneath one eyelid to find his former padawan’s eyes tightly scrunched shut, brow crinkled as he chewed earnestly at his bottom lip. The gesture was painfully reminiscent of their early days as Master and padawan, when Anakin would resist such guided meditations with unparalleled fortitude. Guilt pricked at the edges of his mind as he recalled how unsympathetic he’d been toward the boy, lecturing him at every turn about the Jedi Code’s core principles. How one could never expect to fully master themselves or the Force without being able to achieve inner peace. Never bothering to consider why his young apprentice struggled. Assuming he was just being obstinate.

“Anakin, you’re not allowing yourself to relax.” The words were spoken gently, but Obi-Wan cringed as soon as they left his mouth. He’d meant them to be a concerned observation, but they sounded more like an admonishment. He rubbed his thumbs over Anakin’s fingers, hoping his intention would be clear.

Anakin’s eyes opened, bright blue and vulnerable. “I’m trying, Master,” he whispered, defeatedly. “Everything is just…so loud… I can’t turn it off.”

Heart aching at the sincerity of the other man’s efforts, Obi-Wan whispered back, “I know.”  After a long pause, he asked, “May I try something different?”

The younger man nodded.

Obi-Wan closed his eyes again, inhaling deeply and easily slipping into a semi-meditative state. Senses heightened, he felt his connection to the Force grow stronger. He could feel Anakin’s shielded presence dangling dimly from the end of their weakly threaded bond, and he projected a wave of reassurance along that delicate strand, allowing it to brush lightly against the young man’s guarded core.

Tentatively, Obi-Wan began to expand his own Force signature. It swelled into the void until it enveloped Anakin’s presence entirely. Not attempting to break through his shielding, but simply wrapping around it. Unintrusive but present. Obi-Wan let his own consciousness settle snugly around Anakin’s mind like a warm, weighted blanket, hoping it might quiet the noise in his head.

When he sensed Anakin becoming calmer, he took his approach one step further. Through a delicate manipulation of the Force around them, he created small ripples that danced upon the thin, ethereal fabric that separated their signatures. Applying a sort of undulating pressure to Anakin’s consciousness, like a skillful masseuse tending to overtaxed, knotted muscle.

Obi-Wan opened one eye to check on the younger man. Lips slackened, shoulders dropping, hands heavy and motionless in his own. His breathing had become slow and shallow, the rise and fall of his chest nearly imperceptible. Obi-Wan closed his eye again and continued his intangible—but evidently effective—ministrations.

They carried on in this manner for some time. Then, as they dropped into an even deeper meditative state, something in the Force suddenly shifted. Obi-Wan felt a portion of the wall between them begin to give way, and before he could sort out what was happening, it was crumbling. Surrounding sections followed suit—layers of shielding falling away from Anakin’s signature like ice calving from a glacier and disappearing into a dark sea. Vaporous, shimmering cords sprouted from behind Anakin’s collapsing defenses, loosely weaving themselves around the Jedis’ frayed bond, from Anakin to Obi-Wan and back again, like silken gold ribbons.

All at once, the cords tightened, solidifying and reinforcing the bond with one swift pull. A channel between the two Jedi was forced wide open, and Anakin’s presence burst forth like a supernova, burning brighter than all the stars in the galaxy combined. The abruptness of it all overwhelmed the older man, sending a penetrating shockwave through his mind and down his spine. He involuntarily clenched his former padawan’s hands, emitting a sharp, unintentional grunt of pleasure as their energies flowed and mingled unimpeded along the re-established bond. It was brilliant and warm and familiar and Oh sweet merciful Force… it was Anakin..

Tendrils of warmth streamed through their connection and eagerly wrapped around Obi-Wan’s own presence. He put up no resistance as they slipped into his consciousness. He wanted to feel Anakin…wanted Anakin to feel all of him…

In his current state of euphoria, it only belatedly occurred to Obi-Wan that all of him would include every dream, every lecherous thought, every unacceptable longing…

Immediately, Obi-Wan threw up a haphazard shield around these feelings and buried them in the deepest recesses of his mind, where he hoped they would be out of Anakin’s reach. Obi-Wan sensed a trace of the younger man’s embarrassment upon realizing his enthusiastic dive into his former Master’s mind may have been too invasive. Despite Obi-Wan’s silent assurance that he didn’t mind, Anakin withdrew.

The older Jedi was not left feeling empty, however. Their restored connection teemed with energy, the woven strands between them scintillating under the brilliant light of Anakin’s Force signature. Everything felt right.

Obi-Wan felt… whole.

Sensing their session had reached its end, both Jedi opened their eyes. They stared at each other in a sort of stunned awe. Obi-Wan released a shaky breath. How long had he been holding that?

Anakin spoke first.

“That was…” he shook his head slowly in disbelief and met Obi-Wan’s eyes. “How did you….”

One side of Obi-Wan’s mouth quirked upward. “Feel better?”

“Much.”

“Good.”

After a thoughtful pause, Anakin added, “I’m hungry.”

“Of course you are.”

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Anakin stared out at the vastness beyond the viewport as he munched on a mouthful of flavored warra nuts. The planet ahead was marginally larger than it had been the last time they’d checked on it, but it was still too far away to confidently conclude anything about the planet’s surface or potential moons. Out of curiosity, though, he opened a command prompt on the screen before him and queried the shuttle’s database for ice planets having a single sun and no moons. The list it returned was extensive.

…Abregado-taki. Agamar. Agoliba-Ena. Algara VI. Altrax. Alzoc III. Ando Prime. Arbran VI…

And that wasn’t even all the A’s…

The young Jedi heaved an audible sigh, grabbed another handful of nuts from the large, crinkly silver bag he’d propped up between two thrust levers on the control panel, and leaned back in the captain’s seat. Obi-Wan was right, he thought as he chewed. We should have packed more tea. More snacks, too.

On a whim, he sat up again and modified his code in the command prompt, filtering his results to include only those within 50 parsecs of the Corellian Run. Although a sudden plunge from hyperspeed could land a ship literally anywhere in the galaxy—regardless of its original hyperspace route—it didn’t seem unreasonable to look at the closer planets first. He started with the Algara system, bringing up the star charts corresponding to Algara VI. He studied the star field stretched across the viewport, looking for any distinctive constellations he could compare against the charts. The most promising was a particularly bright cluster of stars arranged in a nearly equilateral triangle, one vertex of which pointed downward toward a dimmer star that fell right along a bisecting line, about half as far from the vertex as the distances between the other stars.

Anakin scanned through Algara VI’s constellation charts for half an hour, but he couldn’t identify any viable matches. He tossed the last remaining handful of nuts in his mouth and moved on to the next planet on the list.

As he brought up the first chart, he nearly spat the nuts back out. There, in the upper corner of the first quadrant, he immediately spotted the unique, four-star configuration he’d already identified through the shuttle’s viewport. His pulse quickened. It’s too easy. But he double and triple checked other identifying features of the chart against what he saw ahead, and everything appeared to match up as well.

They were headed for Ando Prime. 

This seemed like important enough news to share with his former Master.

He stood and stretched, but before stepping away from the flight deck, the last vestiges of the warra nuts called to him. He grabbed the all but empty bag from the console and, mouth agape, tipped his head back to pour the remaining crumbs down his throat. Nothing came out as he shook the bag, so he angled it further and gave it a few taps. The last tap proved too forceful, shaking things loose but compromising his aim, and the crumbs missed their target, cascading over his chin and onto his dark tunics. He awkwardly glanced around the otherwise unoccupied cockpit as he brushed them off, thankful his pedantic traveling companion hadn’t been there to witness the blunder. Obi-Wan, who had declined the salty snack in favor of a more responsible nutrition bar, had finished his modest refreshment and departed for the sleeping quarters over an hour ago.

Anakin deposited the bag in a sealed trash bin as he approached the back of the shuttle. Crossing the threshold into the cabin sleeping quarters, he saw that Obi-Wan had pulled down a second bunk, on the opposite wall from where Anakin had attempted to sleep earlier. Anakin stepped closer, intending to reach down and shake him awake, but the sight of his old Master sleeping so peacefully made him reconsider.

He lay on his left side, one arm folded beneath his head, the other folded against his chest. In slumber, the older Jedi usually sported a frown, or a crease between his eyebrows, or some other indication that something was weighing on his mind. Not that Anakin ever watched him sleeping, of course, because that would be weird. Except maybe that one time or two. Or ten.

But now… Now Obi-Wan’s breathing was shallow and slow, and his face looked remarkably serene. Perhaps their meditation session had been just as helpful for him as it had been for Anakin.

An upsurge of fondness spread through Anakin’s chest, and he found himself wrestling with a strong urge to climb onto the bunk and spoon the man for the remainder of his nap. He chuckled to himself as he pictured Obi-Wan’s horrified expression upon waking to discover his former padawan in bed with him.

In the end, he decided that additional rest would benefit the man than more than the immediate knowledge of their newly identified destination. So he let the man sleep, studying his face for several more minutes before yanking his eyes away and heading back to the flight deck.

By the time he got to his seat, Anakin had made an executive decision to max out the ship’s speed. As long as he saved enough fuel to keep the lights and heat on—and, of course, to fire the reverse thrusters and slow the shuttle down upon their approach—he figured they’d be set. He wasn’t particularly familiar with the planet, but he recognized it for the periodic, widely-broadcasted podracing events it hosted. There had to be some means of off-planet communication there, he figured, and maybe he’d even be able to find some supplies to repair the shuttle.

He fired the thrusters but went easy on their acceleration to save fuel—and perhaps to avoid the earful he’d get from his former Master should he jolt him awake. Based on the planet’s known size compared against what he was seeing out the viewport, along with other physical data he’d fetched from the database, Anakin guessed they were around 60 million kilometers from the planet. He made a few more rough calculations and estimated they could afford to travel at just under one percent of lightspeed over such a distance. It wasn’t hyperspeed, but it was a far cry faster than the pace at which they’d been cautiously plodding along. From this point, he figured it should be no more than five hours before they’d be close enough to evaluate Ando Prime’s geography and determine their best options for landing.

Once he got the ship up to speed, Anakin locked the system into autopilot and took a deep breath as he leaned back into his seat, clasping his hands behind his head and closing his eyes.

Sparing a moment to let his mind wander, he found his thoughts drifting back to Obi-Wan. Apparently, this was his new default when he had nothing more pressing to think about. He shook his head in mild annoyance, but it didn’t make a difference.

He thought of the older man’s look of concern, the worry in his sharp, gray eyes when Anakin woke from his nightmare. The gentle hands resting lightly against his jawline as he waited for Anakin to recognize him.

He thought of Obi-Wan’s unexpected reaction to Anakin’s confession. No recoil. No reprimand. No lecture. Just comfort.

He thought of Obi-Wan’s own confession, and his stomach fluttered as he considered how rare it was for the man to display such emotional vulnerability. For him to admit that, perhaps, they were more alike than either might like to think…

He thought of… Force… He thought of Obi-Wan being so determined to stay by Anakin’s side that he’d undressed right in front of him. Obi-Wan…a man who so dearly valued his privacy… despite having nothing to be ashamed of…

Thank the Force he hadn’t stripped completely…

Anakin’s imagination unhelpfully offered to fill in some things he hadn’t seen, sending his train of thought tumbling off the rails.

Kriff. He had to think about something else.

Not the way he’d stared at Anakin the entire time…

Not the stern gaze that said I shouldn’t be doing this, but I’m doing it for you…

Anakin shook his head again.

He briefly considered trying to meditate. Then he laughed at himself. Nope.

Instead, he revisited their earlier meditation session.

It was like nothing he’d ever experienced. Obi-Wan’s Force signature surrounding his own, rolling rhythmically against it… He had no idea what Obi-Wan had done or how he’d done it, but whatever it was, it had filled him with a tranquility he’d never known. Was that the inner peace the Code was so obnoxiously adamant that every Jedi achieve? Was that what other Jedi felt every time they meditated? How could he possibly learn to do it on his own? Actually, forget that. He didn’t want to do it on his own. He wanted Obi-Wan to do it. Over and over. Again and again.

Anakin recalled the moment his own defenses had fallen away. When everything was still and quiet. When the anger, pain, and fear that held his walls together dissolved into the void, and all he could feel was gratitude. He remembered the way Obi-Wan had suddenly gripped his hands, searching for purchase, as their bond regenerated. Remembered catching a trace of Obi-Wan’s pleasure and exuberantly assailing his consciousness to feel more…

He hadn’t meant to go so far. He’d just missed their connection so much… and to know Obi-Wan felt the same elation upon having it back…

A sudden twinge of unease nipped at the edge of Anakin’s mind as he recalled the instant just before he’d pulled back. He had retreated as soon as he realized he’d gone too far, but not before he sensed Obi-Wan erecting a barrier—

Anakin’s thoughts were abruptly scattered by the low, rumbling sound of drawers opening and closing in the galley.

“Is that you, Master?” he called.

“No, Anakin,” Obi-Wan called back. “A lost wampa climbed aboard when neither of us was looking and fancied a spot of tea.”

Anakin rolled his eyes at the man’s terrible sense of humor. “Whatever. When you’re done, come over here.”

He heard Obi-Wan’s footsteps minutes later, but they stopped before the man had made it to the co-pilot’s chair. Anakin turned around to find him holding a steaming beverage and looking curiously around the cockpit, as if searching for something.

“So, you polished off the entire bag, then?” the older man said, taking a sip from his cup.

“Told you I was hungry.”

“Didn’t think to save any for me?”

“Figured you were too good for warra nuts.”

That won Anakin a smirk and a set of raised eyebrows. “Oh, I am,” Obi-Wan assured him, an amused glint in his eye. “Nevertheless... have you considered that we might need to ration our food for the rest of our journey?”

“Actually…” Anakin started, but he was distracted by the exasperated expression spreading over Obi-Wan’s face as he stepped onto the flight deck and felt the crunch of warra nut crumbs beneath his boots.

“You know,” Obi-Wan stated drily, “I would be perpetually famished, too, if half of everything I tried to eat failed to reach my mouth.” Obi-Wan crunched through more of the mess as he stepped to his seat. Upon sitting, he lifted his feet, one at a time, to wipe off the bits stuck to the bottom of his boots. “I mean, good grief Anakin, did you have a sparring match with them?”

Anakin shrugged. “The crumbs got a little wily.” He turned to Obi-Wan and grinned cheekily. “Forgive me if I was a little too preoccupied trying to save our asses to worry about the mess…”

“Were you now. And were your efforts fruitful?”

Anakin grinned. “I know where we are.”

A proud smile pulled at Obi-Wan’s lips. “Do tell.”

Anakin pointed to the constellation above and to the right of their target. “See that bright triangle? Pretty distinctive, especially with that dim little tail there, right?” Obi-Wan nodded. “The system on the left is Tatoo, with its binary suns. The right is Ea, from the Geonosis system, and below that is Tyrius.”

Obi-Wan looked impressed as he studied the stars.

“And that—” Anakin continued, pointing to the planet directly ahead, “is Ando Prime. Your ice planet hunch was spot on.”

Obi-Wan nodded again. “I take it you have a plan?”

“Well, I maxed out our speed, and I think we’ve got four or five hours to kill before we can see the surface well enough to compare with our maps and adjust our trajectory for landing, wherever we decide that will be. We’ll still need to review the database to get more information about its inhabitants and geography, but… it can’t be all bad…” He flashed the other man a toothy smile before continuing. “I’ve seen podrace broadcasts from Ando Prime, you know… they’ve got, like, a dozen circuits.”

“Oh, what luck...” Obi-Wan deadpanned.

“I know, right?” Anakin replied happily, deliberately ignoring his former Master’s sarcasm. “And that means there should be at least one city with off-planet communication capabilities. And maybe… if we have time…”

“Anakin,” Obi-Wan cut in, clearly picking up what the younger man was about to suggest. “We’re not on holiday. There will be no podracing.”

“You’re no fun.”

“I’m a Jedi. I don’t think we’re allowed to be fun.” Obi-Wan managed to keep a straight face for only an instant before meeting Anakin’s eyes and cracking a smile.

Anakin laughed. “Sure, Master. Blame the Code,” he replied playfully as he grabbed a datapad from a set of slots affixed to the underside of the console. He plugged it into one of the ports in front of him and began downloading everything the onboard database had on Ando Prime. When the download finished, he detached the datapad and tossed it to Obi-Wan. “Some light reading to pass the time,” he explained. He repeated the process with a second pad as Obi-Wan began to peruse the output, then he propped his feet up on the console and he leaned back into his seat, scanning his own screen.

Several minutes passed in silence.

“We’re going to need some cold weather gear,” Obi-Wan noted as he read through the report, sipping at his tea.

“Yep,” Anakin agreed, skimming through the same information on his own datapad.

Several more minutes passed before Obi-Wan spoke again. “This place is more sparsely populated than I expected. Just one large city and a handful of remote villages scattered between vast swaths of frozen tundra.”

“Yeah. Looks like the capital is really our only option.”

When he heard no reply, Anakin looked over to Obi-Wan. The man was deeply engrossed in the data, one hand holding the pad while the other rubbed his chin. Poor guy needs his beard back, Anakin thought, absently.

The young Jedi was growing tired again and getting more easily distracted. He looked back down to his own datapad. The words on the screen were starting to blur together, and he was struggling to make any sense of the maps. He sighed resignedly.

“I think I’m going to need a little more rest if you want a coherent pilot at the helm when we have to switch to manual.”

Obi-Wan looked up, blue green eyes studying Anakin’s face intently and at length before replying. “Good idea. I’ll wake you when the time comes.”

Anakin nodded and stood. As he stepped away, he heard Obi-Wan rise from his seat behind him. “Anakin?”

The younger man turned back. “Yeah?”

“Would you like me to… stay close…in case… in case—”

Anakin’s heart fluttered at the man’s concern. He responded with a quick, subtle nod, embarrassed to admit aloud how much better he felt with Obi-Wan nearby.

They made their way to the sleeping quarters, where Anakin flopped heavily onto his bunk. He watched out of the corner of his eye as Obi-Wan lowered himself onto the other mattress with infinitely more grace, leaning back against the wall, crossing one booted ankle over the knee of his other leg, and resting his datapad against his calf.

Anakin closed his eyes, trying to clear his head. He was so tired, but there was a prickling sensation at the back of his mind that was making it difficult for him to relax. At first, he couldn’t put his figure on what exactly was bothering him. But as he lay there, the unsettling memory of Obi-Wan’s hastily raised shielding began to emerge. The idea that his former Master could be hiding something from him again sent a familiar ache through his core. It’s nothing, he told himself.  But the tiniest seed of fear was sown, and his chest tightened with dread.

He reached through their bond, unsure exactly what he was hoping to find. Obi-Wan sent back a ripple of tender assurance. I’m here.

Anakin could feel the overwhelming, indisputable sincerity of the sentiment, and in that drowsy moment—as he teetered unsteadily on the brink of slumber—it was enough to nudge him over the edge.

----------

----------

 

“You’re hiding something from me.”

It was the first thing out of Anakin’s mouth when he opened his eyes, his head still hazy with sleep. He was on his stomach, one arm dangling off the side of his bunk and the other tucked beneath his torso. His head was turned to the side, facing his former Master on the opposite bunk.

“I beg your pardon?” Obi-Wan replied, looking up from his datapad. He was still in the same position he’d settled into when he first sat down.

Anakin glanced to a clock mounted above the threshold to the main cabin. He briefly returned his gaze to the man sitting across from him, then snapped his eyes back to the clock in a double take when the time finally sank in. He’d just slept, uninterrupted, for over three hours.

His exhaustion had clearly caught up with him. In fact, he’d slept so soundly, he almost wondered if Obi-Wan hadn’t used his weird brand of Jedi magic again to make it happen. He was about to ask, but then he remembered the first thought that had floated through his consciousness upon waking.

He let me in, but there was something he wouldn’t let me see….

He tried to suppress the paranoid voice in his head, but it wouldn’t budge. “You’re hiding something from me,” Anakin repeated, pushing against the bed to sit upright. He stared the older man down as he waited for an explanation.

“I—” Obi-Wan stuttered, eyes flickering in subtle alarm. “What do you mean?”

“When our connection came back, you… you gave me access… but then I felt— One second there was nothing and the next there was a wall.”

Obi-Wan started to shake his head slowly in denial but froze when he caught Anakin’s knowing glare. His face became expressionless, and he calmly replied, “It was nothing.”

If it was nothing, there would have been no need for a shield. He’s lying to you. Again. Anakin closed his eyes, trying to fend off the irrational fear, but it was too strong. And, Force, it hurt. “Batha. Shit.” His words were sharply punctuated, forced through stiff jaws clenched in mounting anger.

Obi-Wan stared at him for a moment and opened his mouth to speak. Then he seemed to change his mind, and he stood to leave.

This confused Anakin, and a swirling brew of rejection and abandonment settled into his lungs, making it hard to breath. What happened to the two of them being able to open up to one another? Had this new understanding that they could tell each other anything without fear really been that short-lived? Was it not mutual? “Don’t you walk away from me!” he barked, hoping his anger might curb the pain.

“I’m just going to clean up your mess,” the older man replied, his voice quiet and measured. It was an easy tell. Obi-Wan often turned to menial busywork when he was anxious and unable to meditate. If Anakin weren’t so frustrated with the man, he might have found his actions endearing.

Anakin followed him through the hull, determined. “Why are you being like this?” He called to him. “After— After everything…” Oh. After everything… Maybe Obi-Wan’s reaction to Anakin’s confession hadn’t been as accepting as he’d let on… Maybe it had taken some time to sink in, and now…

Obi-Wan offered no reply as he grabbed a broom and dustpan from a closet by the galley and continued to the flight deck. Anakin followed.

As he approached the cockpit, he couldn’t help but notice Ando Prime looming large through the viewport. They were closer than he thought they’d be at this point; they would need to slow their approach soon. He set the thought aside for the time being and looked back to the older man, watching as he doggedly swept crumbs from the tiled floor.

He hadn’t meant to turn this into such a big deal, but his paranoia was gaining momentum as Obi-Wan continued to shut him out. “Talk to me, Obi-Wan.”

The older man didn’t look up from the floor. “I just… I need a moment.”

“For what? So you can make up another lie?” Anakin cringed at the accusation the instant it left his mouth. 

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to say!” Obi-Wan snapped, ceasing his sweeping and looking at him helplessly. “What I put behind that wall…it’s of no consequence. Why must you assume something nefarious? Have you not considered that maybe I’m just trying to spare you a little discomfort? Or, I don’t know, maybe, maybe I’m embarrassed—”

“Embarrassed?!” Anakin exclaimed, incredulously. “Obi-Wan, I bared my soul to you… I threw up in your lap… I—The… the things I confessed…” He swallowed hard. The pain was bleeding through the anger, and his eyes burned with unshed tears. “What could possibly be so bad that you—” He cut himself off, closing his eyes and letting the tears stream down his face as he considered the possibility of another betrayal. “Please don’t lie to me again,” he whispered. The words crackled roughly in his dry throat.

Anakin’s fear must have registered with the older man, as his voice went suddenly soft. “Oh Anakin… That’s not… Please,” Obi-Wan begged, his voice unsteady. “It’s not… It’s noth—”

Anakin didn’t let him finish. “If it’s nothing, why did you shield it?” He opened his eyes to find Obi-Wan staring back at him, green irises shifting uneasily beneath a glistening layer of collecting moisture.

“Because… Because… The last thing you needed… the last thing you need now… is to be burdened with… with your old Master’s…” It was almost surreal to hear Obi-Wan struggle so much to find his words. His voice grew quieter, watery eyes darting nervously over Anakin’s face as he tried to continue. “… inexcusably inappropriate thoughts…”

Anakin furrowed his brow, puzzled by the vague disclosure and Obi-Wan’s emotional distress. “Thoughts about what?”

The older man cast his eyes upward in defeat, then he placed one hand over the other atop the broom handle and lowered his forehead to rest on them, eyes tightly closed.  “About you.”

“I don’t think I understand.”

Obi-Wan winced against his hand, clearly reluctant to explain himself. “The attachment we share… it….” He paused, lifting his head to meet Anakin’s eyes. “It is…” He paused again, “beyond platonic for me. I—” He took a deep, unsteady breath. “There is a… a physical component… an attraction…” Anakin’s eyes widened as he finally realized what his former Master was trying to say. Obi-Wan must have caught the expression, as he shook his head and hastily added, “I promise, Anakin, I would never act on it…”

Anakin’s head was spinning. He had to be dreaming. This was Obi-Wan Kenobi. He would never want…

Anakin stepped closer to the other man, eyes still fixed on him as he gently removed the broom from his grasp and leaned it against the captain’s chair. “That’s…” He swallowed thickly as his former Master’s admission sank in further. “That’s not nothing, Obi-Wan,” he said. He timidly placed his flesh hand on Obi-Wan’s chest and was rewarded with a heartbeat that thudded hard and fast against his palm.

“It should be nothing. But I cannot seem to let it go,” Obi-Wan whispered, eyes dropping to the floor.

Anakin’s own pulse accelerated to match that of the older man, and in a moment of poor decision making he bowed his head, bringing his lips within an inch of Obi-Wan’s mouth. He paused there, holding his breath, as he gauged the man’s reaction. When he didn’t pull away, Anakin closed the distance between them.

Obi-Wan inhaled sharply at the contact, and Anakin’s senses became hyperaware. Obi-Wan’s lips were soft and pliant, with a trace of moisture that made them cling to his own as he moved against them. He felt the sharp delineation of texture where rough stubble ended and smooth skin began. He could hear the hitch in Obi-Wan’s breath, could feel each puff of warmth against the skin above his lip as Obi-Wan exhaled tremulously through his nose.  

Obi-Wan didn’t reciprocate, but he didn’t pull back or push Anakin away. He simply allowed it. Anakin kept the kiss chaste but lingered for a long moment on Obi-Wan’s bottom lip, pulling gently at it before drawing back to look at the man.

Anakin’s heart was still hammering against his rib cage, but its rhythm faltered when he saw the profound sadness reflected in those blue green eyes. He was about to apologize, but Obi-Wan spoke first.

“Please don’t… Don’t ever do that again.” It was a plea, not a reprimand.

Anakin closed his eyes and bit down on his bottom lip in regret. What had he done? How did he always manage to screw things up so badly? He could feel his cheeks flush red in shame. “I didn’t mean… it felt like you wanted... I’m sorry—”

“I did— I do want it,” the other man replied. He closed his eyes, a crease forming between his brows as he slowly shook his head. “You… you have no idea. But I… We can’t—”

Anakin felt a sudden ripple in the Force. Obi-Wan grabbed his chest in pain and dropped to the floor on his knees and one hand.

“Obi-Wan?”

The older man glanced around in confusion before clutching his chest harder and crying out.

“Obi-Wan!” Anakin knelt beside him, placing a hand on his back.

Before he could offer anything further, both men tumbled backward as an explosion from above rocked the shuttle. It pitched headlong into a dizzying forward spin, and all Anakin could guess as he struggled to hang on was that the ship’s central fin had been hit from behind. He reached for one of the floor-mounted seats with one arm and held on tightly to Obi-Wan with the other as he closed his eyes, conjuring the Force to stop the shuttle from its incessant somersaulting.

Another explosion to their right sent the ship rolling sideways before Anakin could completely steady it from the first hit. This time, it felt as if one of sidewings had been struck from the bottom, presumably as they rolled forward. Angular momentum kept the shuttle rotating along more than one axis, tossing them around as if they were trapped in giant gyroscope. Anakin lost his grip on Obi-Wan and was thrown forcibly against the control panel, the side of his head contacting one of the thrust levers with a solid thud. He tried to reach for the Force again, but everything was spinning and he needed to find Obi-Wan and consciousness was becoming elusive and…

“Anakin!” was the last thing he heard.

Chapter Text

Obi-Wan clung to the mounted post beneath the first officer’s seat, his bottom half flopping around the flight deck with an uncharacteristic lack of grace as he fought against his own inertia. The first blast had apparently compromised the ship’s gravity generator, which was now oscillating erratically between zero and multiple g-forces, and, really, the whole situation was just… dreadfully disorienting. Only seconds ago, Anakin had been holding him securely in place while summoning the Force to stabilize the ship, but a second blast had yanked him away, leaving Obi-Wan flailing awkwardly to grab onto something stationary. In his periphery, he caught sight of Anakin being flung toward the viewport.

To make matters worse, the dark disturbance in the Force that had first brought Obi-Wan to his knees continued to hold him firmly in its grasp. His lungs were locked in a powerful vice, and his limbs burned as if acid were being forced through his veins. Inside his head, thorny dark vines burrowed deep, snagging on every surface, siphoning the light from every new tear and replacing it with a dense, malevolent shadow.

His mind too impaired by the intrusion to immediately access the Force, he gathered what physical strength he could muster and stretched one leg up as far as it would reach, kicking at one of the switches on the far side of the control panel. The third kick managed to toggle the switch, disabling the gravity generator altogether.

Although the ship continued to roll, the forces acting on his body were now predictable, and he could anticipate when and in which direction he would be pulled. He steadied himself with great effort and looked toward the lanky body sprawled and sliding across the flight deck floor. He watched as Anakin lifted his head from the tiles to scan the cabin, eyes glazed over and confused. Obi-Wan’s concern shot through their bond when he noticed a cluster of curls matted in blood above the younger man’s ear. Anakin?

“Anakin!” he called, as his former padawan’s head slumped back to the floor, eyes rolling backward.

No no no… Come on Anakin, not now. I need you conscious!

Obi-Wan wrapped an arm around Anakin’s torso as the young Jedi slid past, uttering between gritted teeth, “You of all people should know better than to leave your aerobatically inept old Master to pilot us out of this mess on his own…”

He gave Anakin a shake, but the knight was out cold.

Well, this was getting worrisome.

Steeling himself, Obi-Wan drew in a slow, steady breath against the pain still coursing through his body. As he exhaled, he pushed against the unwelcome intruder that had nestled into his mind. He couldn’t expel it completely, but he found marginal success clearing a space where he could at least work with his own thoughts. He reached out to the Force, drawing energy from beyond their physical realm and wrapping it around the gyratory shuttle to slow its rotation.

As the shuttle finally stabilized, both men slowly lifted from the floor. Obi-Wan used this zero-gravity state to his advantage and pulled his former padawan to the co-pilot’s seat. He spared a glance over his shoulder as he fastened Anakin’s harness. Ando Prime was looming perilously close. If they maintained their current speed for much longer, they’d be destined for a catastrophic collision.

Doing his best to focus on the task at hand—not the excruciating compression of his ribcage or the impalpable flames still blistering through his nervous system—Obi-Wan swiftly made his way into the other seat and secured himself. He immediately fired the reverse thrusters to slow their approach, hoping to give them more time before reaching the boundary of the planet’s gravitational influence.

The shuttle’s rapid deceleration pushed Obi-Wan forward firmly into his harness, and the reassuring pressure against his chest was a welcome distraction from the far less pleasant sensations writhing within it. Obi-Wan closed his eyes and took several focused breaths to keep himself detached from the pain and figure out what was happening.

He scrolled through all the display options on the tracking monitor to see if any nearby vessels had been detected, but he was quickly reminded that, without a functioning receiver, the shuttle was essentially flying blind. On the off chance something could be identified visually, Obi-Wan studied the feeds from the two external cameras that still appeared to be functioning—one at the ship’s rear and the other mounted on the edge of the remaining sidewing—but he saw nothing. He was contemplating the utility of getting up to check the secondary viewports scattered throughout the shuttle when a third blast suddenly rocked them from behind.

“What in blazes—”

The ship lurched forward, and he heard the deafening screech of metal ripping apart as he watched a warning signal flash across one of the control panel screens. It was accompanied by a diagram that showed a massive breach at the back of the shuttle.

“Oh for crying out—” he muttered under his breath. He reflexively mashed a sequence of buttons that triggered an emergency partition to descend between the ship’s main cabin and sleeping quarters, sealing the breached section off from the rest of the hull before too much of their recycled air could be sucked out and lost to the vacuum of space.

Oddly, almost as suddenly as it had arrived, the dark presence in Obi-Wan’s head retreated. A fog began to lift as the intrusion’s shadowy tendrils finally shrank away from his consciousness. He could still feel it in the Force around him, but its attention seemed to have been diverted elsewhere. The relentless waves of pain slamming against his insides abruptly abated.

Obi-Wan blinked in confusion, but there was no time to appreciate the reprieve or dwell on its curious timing. The explosion had propelled the ship forward with alarming force, and Ando Prime now filled the entire viewport. Obi-Wan tried to fire the reverse thrusters again, but they were unresponsive.

Oh dear.

His pulse quickened.

Easy, Kenobi, he cautioned himself, suppressing the small wisp of panic creeping up his spine.

Inhaling slowly, he closed his eyes and reached beyond the corporeal distractions wrought by the severely damaged shuttle. Beyond the flashing lights. Beyond the incessant, overlapping beeping of a dozen alarm systems triggered in chorus. Beyond his physical senses and out to the Force. He stretched his arms forward, palms toward the viewport and fingers splayed wide, and drove a wave of energy as hard as he could against the space beyond the shuttle.

Obi-Wan released his breath, bit by shaky bit, as he concentrated all his efforts on pushing against their path. Perspiration beaded on his forehead, and his muscles quaked under the strain.

But it was no good.

The ship was slowing, but it wouldn’t be nearly enough. All he could see through the viewport was the stark white of ice-covered terrain rapidly rising to meet them. He pulled back on the steering yoke, hoping to reduce their angle of entry as the shuttle began to shake against the planet’s atmosphere, but their trajectory was unaffected. The rudders must have been damaged in the last blast, and with only one sidewing, and no central fin to speak of, there was little hope of manually maneuvering the ship out of their current path.

With few options left, Obi-Wan cast his gaze to the conspicuously bright red panel on the control console between the two seats. It contained no monitors, buttons, or switches. Just a single ring in the middle of the panel, attached to a pin inserted securely into a deep socket. It was the actuator for the ship’s emergency ejection system. Not giving himself the time to second-guess his decision, Obi-Wan yanked the pin and braced himself.

Nothing happened.

Obi-Wan rolled his eyes up in frustration. The cockpit should have been jettisoned, the canopy detached, and their seats catapulted away from the doomed shuttle.

“You had one job…” he grumbled in annoyance, casting a disapproving gaze down at the pin as if it were a disobedient padawan. Had the explosions jammed all the controls?

The planet’s surface was drawing ever nearer, and Obi-Wan was running out of ideas. He guessed he might have thirty seconds to work with. Maybe. Perhaps if he could open the loading ramp, he could grab a chute or two and…

He flipped the manual override switch for the loading ramp, but a loud, electric buzz was its only response. The ramp was apparently jammed as well.

Blast.

“Flying. Is. For. DROIDS!” He shouted at the controls, beyond exasperated.

He took a deep breath to calm himself after the minor outburst, and as he exhaled, he cracked a bittersweet smile. And Anakin, he conceded, a familiar fondness tugging at his heart. Flying is for Anakin.

He glanced sideways at the limp form in the seat beside him. You would have gotten us out of this.

In a last-ditch effort to reduce their speed, Obi-Wan summoned the Force once more, but his ability to harness its power was lacking after the immense exertion he’d devoted to his previous effort. His struggle was futile.

A leaden weight settled deep in Obi-Wan’s chest as the grim reality of their situation sank in. They weren’t walking away from this one. Although they had slowed considerably, they were still coming in too steep and too fast, and nothing he could do with the controls or the Force was going to be enough to change that in these last waning moments. No last-second, heroic wizardry was going to save them. He wasn’t strong enough. And there was no time left to be clever enough.

He had failed.

Again, he derided himself. His heart clenched in a rare moment of self-pity. When it matters most, I fail.

His hands dropped heavily off the control panel in resignation, despondently landing in his lap as he closed his eyes.

Seconds before impact, he opened them again to look at his friend, still unconscious beside him, as a string of memories and regrets flashed through his head.

A padawan tormented by dreams of torture and death, and a Master too disconnected to take them seriously.

The shattered, disbelieving blue eyes of a young knight betrayed by his best friend.

A botched confession… followed by… Force… a gentle hand and reverent lips more tender than he’d ever imagined. An opportunity squandered by a cold response, and the crushing realization—as they hurtled toward the snow-covered field below—that he would get no second chance.

He felt Anakin’s weakened signature through their bond and wrapped himself around it.

I’m so sorry.

He reached for Anakin’s hand and held it in his own as the last second expired.

Chapter Text

The first thing he noticed was the burning sensation creeping up his legs. Consciousness had only begun to tickle the back of his mind, but he could feel the flames moving quickly, engulfing his thighs with a powerful rush before surging up over his abdomen. His legs were stiff and unresponsive when he tried to lift his feet away from the fire.

He wasn’t thinking clearly enough to open his eyes and see for himself, but it must have been a strange conflagration. He heard no crackles. No sizzling. He couldn’t smell smoke or melted metal or singed hair or blistering flesh. Instead, there was a steady static. A deep gurgling. A crisp scent. If not for the agonizing blaze currently consuming his lower half, he might have thought he was emerging from a deep meditation by a tranquil stream. His muddled brain clung to this imagery, and he decided to keep his eyes closed indefinitely to sustain the illusion. It was better than watching himself burn to death. He was mildly annoyed that the impact hadn’t killed him straight away.

That last thought confused him. What impact? He was missing something. He sifted through his recent memories, trying to gather some context.

As the flames licked higher, the cloud in his head began to lift, and something clicked.

Water.

His skin was wet.

It wasn’t burning. It was freezing.

Obi-Wan gasped as the shock of frigid cold crested over his chest and met his lungs, eyes shooting open to find his surroundings nearly as dark as the back of his eyelids. One emergency light fixture flickered overhead, and, as his eyes adjusted, he saw that he was submerged up to his neck in ice cold water. In front of him, the transparisteel of the flight deck’s once-spherical viewport was partially separated from its frame and mangled like discarded paper. Through it, he could see only a black abyss behind a torrent of bubbles weaving their way up through the crinkles and around the cockpit. Water was pouring in through the opening.

Obi-Wan’s head was still foggy, but more pieces of the puzzle were snapping into place. It hadn’t been a snow-covered field. It was a body of water. An immense lake, frozen over. The impact must have been enough to knock him out, but the layer of ice and the water beneath must have dampened the impact enough to make the ship’s deceleration survivable.

He looked to his right, expecting to see Anakin’s head bobbing above the water, but there was nothing. Something was off. The surface of the water wasn’t at the right angle.  The ship’s hull was skewed to one side and…

Anakin!

He hurriedly decoupled his harness with fumbling fingers stiffened by the cold, took a deep, fast breath, and dove beneath the surface. The icy water stung his eyes as he looked upon his former padawan, still fastened securely in the co-pilot’s seat. Refracted beams of light from the emergency lamp above danced over Anakin’s unusually serene face.  His dark curls undulated mesmerizingly with the water flowing around his head, gleaming a warm gold when they caught the light just so.

Uncertain how long the younger man had been underwater, Obi-Wan alternated his gaze frantically between Anakin’s face and his own uncooperative hands as he wrestled with the harness. He cursed his muscles for their obscene sluggishness, given the urgency of the situation. Finally, the clasps detached, and Obi-Wan hastily wrapped his arm around Anakin and pulled him out of the seat.

He resurfaced, panting as he held the other man against him. Anakin’s head rested limply on Obi-Wan’s shoulder, but water was coming in faster now, and space was scarce between its surface and the cockpit ceiling. Obi-Wan turned Anakin to face outward, leaning back so both of their faces could be above water. Within seconds, their noses were pressed against the ceiling. Obi-Wan took one calming breath to center himself and settle the panic stirring in his gut. On the next breath, he filled his lungs nearly beyond capacity. He dropped back beneath the surface, pulling Anakin with him as he wriggled against the current, through the narrow gap where the viewport’s transparisteel had come away from its mounting.

He had never felt so cold. His numb limbs moved lethargically, and even his brain felt like it was operating in slow motion. His connection to the Force was sporadic and only marginally helpful as he swam for the surface, kicking with all his strength. More than once, he nearly lost his grip on Anakin. The water above them was getting brighter, but he couldn’t tell how much farther he had to go.

Obi-Wan exhaled a small fraction of his breath to appease his burning lungs. As he did so, he took a moment to close his prickling eyes, rest his legs, and deepen his concentration, hoping to establish a stronger connection with the Force. The two Jedi sank several meters during the pause, but Obi-Wan was rewarded with a surge of energy that propelled them swiftly upward.

Until they hit a ceiling of ice.

The collision knocked the rest of the air from Obi-Wan’s lungs and nearly knocked Anakin from his grasp. Fighting a desperate urge to inhale, he dug deep into his senses, looking to the Force for guidance. He felt a tug along one path and followed it, straining to ignore the unrelenting demands of his lungs as he pulled Anakin along beside him.

Obi-Wan was beginning to see dark spots at the corners of his eyes—spots that grew steadily as the back of his head became warm with wooziness. He was on the verge of blacking out when the ice above him abruptly ended and he was met with the muted rays of Ando Prime’s distant sun.

He gasped urgently for air when he broke the surface, his wheezes startlingly loud amid an eerily silent landscape. Everything was still and white except for the dark blue water revealed by the gaping hole the shuttle had punched through the thick ice.

More black spots were collecting at the edge of Obi-Wan’s vision, and he shook his head vigorously to scatter them. Losing consciousness was not an option. He kicked his way back to the edge of the hole and tapped the Force to help push Anakin’s body up onto the ice. He pulled himself up next, water sloshing onto the ice and puddling beneath him as he crawled toward the younger man. A brutal wind blew against him, and he could feel the water on his face solidifying into frosty crystals that clung to his stubble. He shivered once, which set off a cacophony of involuntary muscle spasms throughout his body as it tried in vain to raise his internal temperature.  

The shivering Jedi Master knelt as quickly as he could beside his motionless former padawan. He ran his stiff, unsteady fingers below the young man’s jawline until they found his carotid artery. Anakin wasn’t breathing, but he had a pulse.

Obi-Wan’s teeth knocked together uncontrollably as he slid one shaking hand beneath Anakin’s neck. He placed the other lightly on his forehead, tilting the man’s head back and holding his nose closed. Awkwardly, he moved the first hand to Anakin’s chin, pulling down with his thumb to open the young man’s mouth.

Taking a deep breath to steady himself and temporarily subdue his chattering teeth, Obi-Wan bowed his head and sealed his quivering lips around Anakin’s. He delivered two full breaths, glancing sideways to ensure Anakin’s chest was rising. Then he pulled away, hastily interlacing his fingers, one hand over the other, and pressing the heel of the bottom hand against Anakin’s sternum. Elbows locked, he began a series of rhythmic compressions on the man’s chest, counting to thirty before pausing to give him two more deep breaths.

He continued this cycle for what seemed like an eternity. Everything was so cold. His throat and nasal passages were raw from the frigid air. His limbs fought him with every movement. His skin burned every time it brushed against the frosty, rough fabric of his stiffened clothing. But his discomfort was trivial, and he set it aside. His only thought, his only goal—the only thing that mattered—was getting Anakin to breathe again.

Precious minutes passed as he alternated between compressions and breaths, and it wasn’t long before a new ache began to spread through Obi-Wan’s chest. Its intensity rivaled the intrusive pain he’d felt earlier, onboard the shuttle, but its source came from within—born from his own growing dread. Dread that, at some point, he would have to make the gut-wrenching decision to cease his efforts. Had his face not been so chilled, he might have wept in disbelief.

Not like this, Anakin, he thought, desperately. This can’t be how I lose you.

Anakin was the Chosen One, was he not? Surely if the Force saw fit to take him, it would be via some harebrained, galaxy-saving act of self-sacrifice, wouldn’t it? Not by way of drowning simply because his inadequate co-pilot couldn’t properly land a damn ship…

After several more rounds, he was close to admitting defeat. Unshed tears began to well in his eyes, despite the cold. He assured himself it was just the brisk wind whipping against his corneas. His bottom lip trembled. He pretended it was only his frozen jaws struggling to chatter his teeth.

He never belonged to you, he lectured himself. He is not yours to lose. Should he return to the Force, you will let him go. You will grieve, but you’ll carry on.

The ascetic words in his head carried little weight, however. In fact, the temptation to surrender—to just lie down, rest his head upon his friend’s chest, and let the cold swallow them into oblivion together—was becoming harder and harder to resist.

But something flickered through their bond just then, as Obi-Wan gave him one more breath. Anakin suddenly emitted a weak, gasping noise against Obi-Wan’s lips. It was followed by a rough sputter, and Obi-Wan pulled away just as water gurgled out from Anakin’s mouth. Eyes wide, Obi-Wan rolled the young man to his side, and Anakin emptied the water from his lungs onto the snow-covered ice.

Oh Force thank you.

As Obi-Wan gently returned him onto his back, Anakin opened a pair of dazed eyes that flitted around in search of something familiar. When they landed on Obi-Wan’s face, Anakin’s blue-tinted lips stretched slothfully into a toothy smile, and his eyelids fluttered closed, satisfied. “Hey there...” he slurred.

The older man’s heart nearly burst.

Anakin’s eyes remained closed, but his lips moved again. After a few attempts, he managed to stutter through a cheeky grin “…sa really… l-lame w-way to… t-to k-kiss me back...”

The frozen muscles in Obi-Wan’s face hurt from the wide smile the ridiculous words incited. He huffed out a confounded laugh, uncertain whether it was out of joy or disbelief. He supposed it was both. Really, he should have expected as much. That Anakin might claw his way back from the brink of death, even if only for a moment, just for the sake of teasing his former Master, would surprise absolutely no one. Obi-Wan’s heart swelled with affection, and warm relief bubbled up through his chest. Force, how he loved this man.

Well.

That is to say…

As he attempted to walk back that last thought—to craft some excuse in his head about the brain-numbing cold and his consequentially impaired cognition to explain it away—he saw Anakin’s smile dissolve. He ran his fingers over the young man’s brow and pulled an eyelid up with his thumb. The eye beneath it was vacant. Obi-Wan’s fingers brushed lower and lightly patted his cheek. “Anakin? Come back… please…”

He closed his eyes and shook his head. One crisis at a time. At least Anakin was breathing. Now they needed to address their plummeting body temperatures. They were undoubtedly hypothermic, the wind was picking up, and their wet, freezing clothing was certainly not helping the situation. He needed to think, but he was struggling to concentrate as an overwhelming drowsiness swept through him, settling thickly into his bones and disorganizing his thoughts. He fought it off and looked around at his bleak surroundings. His options were severely limited. He glanced up at the dim sun in the sky…

Could he…? Probably not.

But he had to try something.

Obi-Wan gathered his wits and focused every lucid part of his mind on the sun’s radiation as he pulled Anakin up into his arms. He envisioned the sun’s energy at an atomic level—trillions of trillions of trillions of photons cascading through Ando Prime’s atmosphere to reach the surface of their bodies. He broadened this mental image to include rays reaching the terrain immediately surrounding them, and with one swift heave in the Force, he drew them closer.

When he felt the slight warmth brush against his skin—a surprising indication that his idea might actually be working—he strained to expand his reach, pulling beams toward them from an even wider radius.

Obi-Wan squinted against the wind in awe at what the Force was allowing him to do. Their surroundings were now in shadow as far as his eyes could see, but their huddled bodies were illuminated in a brilliant light as the condensed energy he’d channeled swirled around them. A sweet, heavenly heat permeated their skin, beginning to thaw their insides.

This would not be sustainable, however. Obi-Wan’s mental fortitude was nearly spent already, and he still needed to figure out how to get them out of the harsh wind and prepare for a potentially lengthy stay.

He released his hold on the sun’s emissions, and the light scattered back over the barren landscape around them.

Limbs and trunk temporarily warmed, Obi-Wan felt as if his physical strength had been partially replenished. He took the opportunity to stand, awkwardly lifting the taller man with him and stepping over the snow-dusted ice toward what he suspected was deeper snow.  

His suspicion was confirmed as his boots left deeper and deeper footprints behind him. His legs began burning again as he trudged through thicker drifts, until the powdery snow was consistently above his knees and obnoxiously working its way into his boots. At this point, arms still full of his gangling former padawan, he began kicking at the snow and stomping it down to create an Anakin-sized depression. Once he was satisfied, he carefully placed the young Jedi on his back in the hollow. A cold bed, to be sure, but at least now he was better protected from the bitter wind.

Obi-Wan then widened the indentation to make room for two. Kneeling, he used his bare hands to dig out the snow and pile it up along the edge of the pit, packing it as best as he could to make a taller barrier against the wind. The work was… unpleasant. His hands were red and painful, and the snow was sneaking its way up his sleeves, between his skin and the icy, hardened fabric of his tunic.

It didn’t take long for him to become thoroughly chilled again. The warmth he’d generated mere minutes ago was enough to melt the frost from their clothes, but not enough to dry them. The soaked fabric clung to him, and he began to shiver. He looked to the sky again, wondering how long they might have until dusk. He needed to find a way to preserve their body heat or they would never survive an entire night here.

But what supplies did he have? The wet clothes on his back. Endless kilometers of ice and snow. A sunken spacecraft—

A sunken spacecraft.

The contents of which had been inundated with frigid water.

But maybe…Obi-Wan closed his eyes, visualizing the interior of their shuttle. As he mentally scanned the vessel’s storage compartments, he paused on one of the larger lockers near the shuttle’s sleeping quarters, recalling a sealed provisions bin stowed within. He didn’t know exactly what was in the bin, but he felt a reassuring ripple in the Force as he envisioned it.

With nothing else to go on, he slowed his breathing and began to meditate. He detached himself from his overwrought physical senses and focused all of his energy on the on that locker and what was inside. There was a tug in the Force, like the jerk of a fishing line when its hook catches, and with immense effort he guided the bin out of the locker, through the hull, and through the breach in the cockpit. He held his concentration on the delicate tension between his consciousness and the container as he pulled, and after several arduous minutes, the resistance suddenly gave way.

A loud splash resonated from the opening in the ice, startling Obi-Wan out of his meditation. His senses were abruptly reawakened, and the cold swept over him like a tidal wave. An icy tremor ran down his spine, triggering another bout of teeth chattering and shivering that racked his body. He looked to Anakin, who lay motionless on the ice beside him save for the shallow rise and fall of his chest. A renewed determination surging through his chest, Obi-Wan prodded his muscles to cooperate and slogged hurriedly toward the sound.

As soon as he saw the translucent, duraplast container bobbing up and down in the water, he directed it up and into his arms with a boost from the Force. He hastily carried it back to their makeshift burrow, set it down with shaking hands, and dropped to his knees beside it. Breathless and quaking, he unfastened the clasps that held down the sealed lid and riffled through its contents. There were several bottles of water, a flare, a survival knife, a medpac, a glowrod, grappling hooks, coiled high-tension wire, and a box of Ready Rations. Beneath them appeared to be a thermal blanket. A cautious spark of hope flickered in his chest.

He eagerly yanked the blanket out and discovered that it was, in fact, two versatex sleeping bags. Thinking as quickly as his frost-addled brain would allow, he zipped the sleeping bags together to make one large bedroll.

He looked down at his friend, then closed his eyes and heaved a reluctant sigh as he grappled with the implications of what he was about to do.

The Force had an abysmal sense of humor, he decided.

Gently but swiftly, Obi-Wan pulled off Anakin’s sopping boots and socks. Then, after a split-second hesitation—I do hope you’ll forgive me for this—he reached beneath Anakin’s tunic and grasped the waistbands of the young man’s waterlogged trousers and undergarment, averting his gaze as he peeled them down his legs. He slid the joined sleeping bags up and over Anakin’s bottom half, then detached Anakin’s lightsaber from his belt and set it aside. He removed the belt and carefully worked Anakin’s clingy tunic up over his head and arms, revealing a chiseled torso marked by mottled, harness-shaped bruising. With a frown, Obi-Wan also noted the massive bruise just below the left side of Anakin’s ribcage—presumably from their collision with the galley table upon being wrenched from hyperspace. It looked far worse than the young man had let on. Probably matches the one on my back, he thought, the tiniest smirk forming on his lips as he considered that his back, most likely, looked worse than he’d let on.

Obi-Wan awkwardly shimmied the sleeping bags up over Anakin’s abdomen, rocking the man carefully side to side as he worked the bottom portion up beneath him. As he continued to maneuver it up toward Anakin’s shoulders, Obi-Wan noticed a thin leather cord around the young Jedi’s neck. He paused his work with the bedroll and reached beneath Anakin to feel for anything that might be attached. Tucked under crisp locks of frozen hair he found a small, black leather pouch fastened to the cord. He pulled it around and let it rest below Anakin’s collar bone. Obi-Wan’s interest was piqued—he couldn’t recall ever seeing Anakin wear anything around his neck—but he set his curiosity aside and wrangled the bedroll the rest of the way up, until Anakin was nestled deep within its waterproof, insulated fabric.

Sitting atop his half of the joined sleeping bags, Obi-Wan proceeded to remove his own clothing, his clumsy fingers fighting against him all the while. By the time he’d finished, his joints were nearly immobile. He had to summon the Force to move their wet garments off the ice and drape them across the storage bin because he was unable to grip them with his own hands. He shifted off the bedroll and held it open as he Force-pulled their lightsabers and the other equipment into it. Finally, he eased himself inside, inching down until its opening was well above his head.

He took a moment to catch his breath and appreciate the calm, dark, dry space as he waited for his shivering to subside. Anakin’s body had already generated a subtle but welcome warmth between the versatex layers, and Obi-Wan could feel it, ever so slowly, permeating his own skin. He hesitantly reached across the darkness until he felt Anakin’s arm, then he trailed his hand up over his chest, letting it rest there, rising and falling with the man’s shallow breathing. Anakin’s skin couldn’t be that warm yet, but against Obi-Wan’s frostnipped fingers, it was positively burning.

Obi-Wan’s shivering had not completely subsided, and he knew he and Anakin would need to be closer to effectively share their body heat. He propped himself up on one elbow and gently rolled Anakin onto his side, facing away, then scrunched up some of the bottom fabric to make a crude pillow beneath his head.

He rolled his eyes up at the absurdity of their predicament as he inched closer to his former padawan.

Honestly, was it too much to ask that they crash, at perhaps a more reasonable speed, into a Separatist stronghold? Or be hijacked by pirates? Or wake up in a pit filled with hungry rancors? Or really anything that didn’t require curling up with another human being in a state of complete undress to stave off death by hypothermia? If Anakin woke up to any of this…

… my gratitude would vastly outweigh my embarrassment, he affirmed, interrupting his own train of thought and quashing any notion that his discomfort with the situation was anything more than trivial.

With that thought—but not without some trepidation—he pressed himself against the younger man’s back. The brush of soft chest hair against Anakin’s bare skin sent a pleasant prickle of electricity though his follicles, around his ribcage, and all the way down his spine. Obi-Wan closed his eyes in shame. That he might derive any sort of pleasure from their physical contact under the current circumstances seemed a blatant exploitation of his friend’s incapacitated state. He took a deep breath, attempting to center himself before proceeding. Gingerly, he wrapped an arm around Anakin’s bare torso.

Force help me.

He leaned his forehead against the crook of Anakin’s neck, inching lower to keep some separation between their more…intimate…areas, and cautiously curled his legs up, until the fronts of his thighs were tucked against the backs of Anakin’s. Obi-Wan’s skin tingled warmly at the contact, and he reflexively bit his bottom lip and turned his head to press his cheek against the young man’s shoulder blade, brow furrowed. Given the rather dire nature of the situation, Obi-Wan trusted his body to refrain from any lewd reaction to their proximity, but the insufferable fluttering of his heart at the touch filled him with guilt just the same.

He shivered and shifted his arm to tighten the embrace. When he felt Anakin’s heart thump against his wrist, he went completely still, letting the reassuring sensation of his friend’s pulse echo through his own veins.

Obi-Wan was exhausted. As his body slowly warmed, a heavy lethargy crept into his bones, and the tension finally began to seep from his muscles. His arm dropped, and his hand landed on the small pouch he’d found tied around Anakin’s neck earlier. He felt something warm surround him in the Force as he ran his thumb over its soft, damp leather. At the same time, he also felt a terrible, familiar sadness emanating from within it. It was the same feeling he’d had when he first stepped into his bedroom upon his return to Coruscant. Pinching the leather firmly between his thumb and thawing fingers, he could feel a raised but compressible coil of something... like… like…

Like two intertwined padawan braids.

Obi-Wan’s chest tightened at the realization, and he instinctively pulled Anakin even more snuggly against him.

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Obi-Wan wasn’t sure how long he’d slept, but he was reasonably certain he wasn’t yet ready to be awake.

He was absolutely certain he wasn’t ready to exit the relative warmth of their joined sleeping bags. The length of his body was still folded comfortably around his former padawan to maintain their body heat, and he could feel a subtle but recurring pressure against his chest as the young Jedi’s back expanded and contracted in respiration. To break away from this would be to leave behind the certainty that Anakin was still breathing.

But something felt different outside, and it was making the hairs on the back of Obi-Wan’s neck stand on end. The dead silence of their desolate surroundings had been replaced by a distant hum, and a growing sense of unease was quietly rumbling in the Force.

With great reluctance, Obi-Wan inched his way up to the top of the bedroll and peaked between the two versatex layers. He could still see daylight, but the white of the dugout’s snowy walls now reflected a warmer hue. Dusk would be arriving soon.

He wouldn’t be able to see much more without exiting their modest refuge, but doing so while entirely unclad didn’t strike him as the most diplomatic course of action—he should probably put on something to greet whatever might be out there. With a sigh, he reached his hand out from beneath the top layer and drew the plasticast bin toward it. He cringed at the abrasive sound it made as it scraped against the ice.

Without opening the gap further, Obi-Wan stretched his arm and blindly fumbled for his pants among the clothes he’d draped over the bin earlier. Despite subzero temperatures, it seemed the exceptionally dry ambient air and persistent sunlight had allowed most of the frost on the exposed garments to sublime. His pants were frigid, but mostly dry. The clothes beneath them, though, were still stiff with ice.

He yanked his trousers into the bedroll, hoping to give them a chance to warm before pulling them on. But there was no time. The distant hum had grown louder, and the disquieting rumble in the Force had escalated to a threatening quake. He inhaled sharply at the touch of the cold fabric as he inelegantly wriggled it up over his legs within the confines of the sleeping bag.

Once he’d finished with his pants, he grabbed his lightsaber and wormed his way out of the bedroll. The light was blinding at first, but as his eyes adjusted and he looked toward the sound, he could make out the distinct silhouette of an approaching shuttle.

He had a bad feeling about this.

As he stuffed his tender, sockless feet into his frigid, unyielding boots, he fleetingly acknowledged that the ship could be part of a search and rescue effort. But his feelings in the Force suggested something far less promising.

Obi-Wan felt the thick layer of ice beneath him shudder as the unmarked ship touched down about 50 meters away. He stood and made his way through the snow to distance himself from their hollow, not wanting to risk drawing attention to his unconscious friend should there be a hostile confrontation.

The Jedi Master stopped in his tracks, lightsaber at the ready, as the hydraulics of the vessel’s loading ramp released with an earsplitting hiss and the access door was lowered. Obi-Wan squinted against the wind, trying to discern the details in the humanoid body that descended the ramp.

Before anything else, he saw two robotic legs, sturdy but nimble, ending in vicious metallic talons. They tread heavily over the metal planks of the loading ramp, a jarring clank with each step in an otherwise silent setting. The lithe legs pivoted around the artificial hip joints of a large, mechanical pelvis, out of which rose a torso of red flesh covered with elaborate black tattoos. The red and black patterns extended over muscular arms and disappeared beneath dull gray gauntlets, one of which clutched what appeared to be a lightsaber hilt. The tattooed designs extended up and over a bald head that flaunted a ring of short horns around its crown. A spark of familiarity flashed through the Force, and Obi-Wan’s eyes went wide with recognition.

It can’t be…

But as the Dathomirian Zabrak stepped closer and ignited his lightsaber, red and fierce, Obi-Wan caught the gold gleam in his eyes and knew that it was.

He looked on in dismay as a satisfied, menacing smile stretch across Maul’s face.

Chapter Text

Everything was black and disconnected. Where were his legs? Why couldn’t he move his arms?

Why did his lungs weigh ten thousand kilos?

Somehow, he’d been swallowed by a deep, thick shadow, and now he was trapped in a pit of infinitely viscous… something.

Had he been drugged? He could barely grasp a thought long enough to finish—

It had to be carbonite. He was frozen in carbonite. That would explain why he couldn’t move. What mission were they on? Was he at the Citadel? No. That had already happened.

Kriff. Why was he so confused? Why couldn’t he see anything? Why couldn’t he feel any—

No. He could feel something. A hammer was slamming against his chest. It was going to splinter his ribs. But then… No.  Not a hammer. Too fleshy. He was caught beneath a parade of giant centipedes. Each leg punching into him, one after the other, in a frantic stampede. Was that weird? That seemed weird.

Then he remembered he had lips. He tried to make them talk, to call for help, but something was over his mouth. Something trembling and soft, pressing down and filling him with warmth. Was it a kiss? A sudden vision from outside of his own body flashed through his mind. A figure in tan breathing life into a corpse clad in dark umber. Was that Ob—?

Force. What was in his chest? It was heavy and holding him down and he needed to get it out. He tried to inhale to cough, but there was no room for air. Then suddenly his lungs were contracting and there was fluid in his mouth and the fluid in his ears shifted and then shifted back and—

Kriffing HELL it was freezing here. Wherever here was. Panic stirred within him as a brutal cold penetrated the skin on his back. He searched through the muscles in his face until he found his eyes and worked them open. Everything was white. He blinked at the brightness, and his panic escalated as he searched his blank field of vision.

His eyes roamed until they landed on a familiar face. Its features were blurry, but the mercurial blue green gray of its eyes was unmistakable. He felt his own lips trying to smile. Obi-Wan was here. Everything would be okay. Obi-Wan had brought him back. He could relax again. He closed his eyes. Obi-Wan would take care of him. His lips finally stretched completely into their smile at the thought, and he heard himself mumble a garbled greeting.

He was starting to drift again. It was so calm here in the dark, and his Master had him…

But then... Obi-Wan had looked so concerned...

He needed to make Obi-Wan smile, too. Or at least roll his eyes. He should tell him what a terrible excuse for a kiss that was.

Kark. Everything was so muddled. Why were his jaws being so stubborn? Where were his eyelid muscles? He’d lost them again. He wanted to see Obi-Wan’s face one more time, but everything was going away. Some words chattered out of his mouth, but he couldn’t be sure… Did he say it aloud? He hoped it worked. He wished he could see Obi-Wan smi—.

A vivid image of the older Jedi smiling widely, laugh lines and all, over a bowl of glowblue barq flickered briefly on the back of his eyelids before black silence enveloped him once more.

His senses were all but disabled thereafter.

Occasionally, there were dreams. Some were delightful, others terrifying. All were short and non-sensical.

Once, he thought he might be sliding down the esophagus of a space slug. When he dropped into the pit of its stomach, giant leaves clingy with gastric acid sloshed toward him and adhered to his skin.

He imagined it was Obi-Wan curling against him, then he contentedly slipped back into nothingness.

The next time the emptiness fleetingly receded, he felt a jolt of unease spike through his heart. A deeply unsettling feeling swirled through his head until it morphed into abrupt flashes of red and black and gold. Then, beige and blue. There was a familiar voice, but he could only hear it through a muffled cry. Then a broken whimper.

He reminded himself it was just a dream.

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“Jedi.”

The two syllables, laced with hatred, were forced slowly and threateningly through Maul’s clenched teeth as he approached.

Obi-Wan stood stock still and squinted his eyes against the wind until the Zabrak’s hideous, tattooed face came into sharp focus.

The face of a Sith lord he’d sliced in two and left for dead on Naboo more than a decade prior.

The face of Qui-Gon’s killer.

A chill ran down Obi-Wan’s spine, and bile churned in his gut as long dormant grief and anger, lurking in darkest depths of his consciousness, threatened to rise.

Carefully maintaining his composure, Obi-Wan considered his options. Maul appeared to be alone. His shuttle—in markedly better condition than the vessel in which the two Jedi had arrived—was a promising ticket off the planet. But Obi-Wan knew the odds were against them. He didn’t have the physical strength or mental resilience at the moment to take Maul down on his own.

With that in mind, Obi-Wan decided it best to bide his time—if only for the sake of amusing himself before meeting his own grim demise—by raising the Sith’s hackles. Perhaps if he could provoke Maul to the point of carelessness, Obi-Wan might gain a temporary advantage.

“Hello there!” he called, amicably. He squinted and tilted his head, feigning curiosity, as he observed Maul. Then he clipped his lightsaber hilt to the waistband of his trousers, as if he’d decided his visitor—despite the lethal weapon he brandished—posed no danger. He took a step forward and politely asked, “Can I help you?”

Maul cocked his head skeptically. His eyes narrowed.

Obi-Wan continued, unfazed. “I hope you’ll excuse my… incomplete state of dress,” he appealed, in mock embarrassment, briefly glancing down at his own bare torso. “I wasn’t exactly expecting guests. Of course, that’s not to say I’m not delighted to have some compan—” He interrupted his own rambling and shook his head, as if just realizing he’d forgotten his manners. “Forgive me. Are you lost?”

A flicker of confusion flashed briefly over the Zabrak’s face.

“I’m terribly sorry about your luck, if so,” the Jedi said, overly sympathetic. “It’s really a dreadful place for a holiday, I’ve found. Water’s a bit chilly for my taste, personally. But I think if you follow the…” He waved his arm at the barren landscape beyond the transport shuttle, as if searching for the best word. “…ice… If you follow the ice about…oh, I’d say… ten or twenty thousand kilometers that way, give or take—”

“Kenobi…” Maul cut him off, his impatience growing as he stepped closer. His breath was visible as he spoke, moisture condensing into swirling puffs of fog instantly upon meeting the air.

“I’m sorry. Do I know you?”

Maul emitted an angry, frustrated growl.

Obi-Wan almost smirked. Too easy.

The Sith took several more steps toward Obi-Wan. “I am surprised you could have forgotten me so easily.”  He sneered in morbid glee as he added, “I gutted your Master, Qui-Gon Jinn… while you stood helpless and watched.”

The words stung, but Obi-Wan let them flow through him and back out to the Force. He continued his charade, rubbing his chin in thought, elbow supported by his other hand, then raising his eyebrows as if he’d just made the connection. “Ah, yes… That Sith lord… Goodness, my apologies—”

“You may have forgotten me,” Maul cut in with a low, dangerous hiss. He was positively seething now. “…But I will never forget you.”

So dramatic.

In stark contrast, Obi-Wan’s voice remained light and jovial. “Well now, let’s be fair. It’s hardly unreasonable that I’d fail to recognize you, what with your fancy new legs. I mean, I’ve only had a haircut, but you...” Now a smirk was tugging, ever so slightly, at the side of the Jedi’s mouth. “You’re a mere fraction of your former self.”

He was rather proud of that one.

Maul snarled, lunging at Obi-Wan with an aggressive swipe of his lightsaber. Obi-wan ducked beneath the red streak as Maul passed him, igniting his own in the same motion and swinging it back up toward Maul as he turned to face him. The blue and crimson blades clashed once, then Obi-Wan quickly stepped back to regroup.

The two circled each other slowly, eyes fiercely locked.

Maul spoke as they turned, his voice menacing. “That was quite the parlor trick you performed earlier with the sunlight, you know… Led me right to you and your…” He paused, his eyes momentarily flitting away from Obi-Wan’s to scan the terrain over the Jedi’s shoulder. “Hmmm… but where is your… companion?” he asked, his gaze pointedly shifting back to Obi-Wan on the last word. There was a knowing glint in his yellow eyes. Too knowing.

Maul glanced behind Obi-Wan again, and his lips curled into a malicious smile as his eyes settled on something in the distance. He must have caught a glimpse of the dark versatex bedroll beyond the drifts.

Ice cold dread shot through Obi-Wan’s veins. He gripped his lightsaber so hard he thought his frozen fingers might shatter. All pretense of his lighthearted taunting fizzled. His voice went low as he met Maul’s eyes. “Touch him, and I will end you.”

Maul quirked a doubtful eyebrow. “Strong words… for such a weak man.” His eyes drilled into Obi-Wan’s, and another smirk spread slowly over his lips as the Jedi Master dropped to his knees in the snow.

A crippling pain had assailed Obi-Wan’s lungs, yet again, and a familiar disturbance brushed against his weakened shields forebodingly. Still gripping his lightsaber, he fell helplessly forward onto his hands as the pain intensified. He looked up, preparing to defend himself, but Maul hadn’t moved any closer. Instead, the vengeful Dathomirian appeared to be concentrating. His free hand was raised in front of him, fingers outstretched, and Obi-Wan felt his own chest constricting tighter and tighter as Maul slowly pulled the fingers into a fist.

With a cruel sneer, Maul abruptly clenched the fist, and a pained grunt escaped Obi-Wan’s lips as he felt several ribs crack under the pressure beneath his skin.

The Sith released his grip, scoffing derisively as Obi-Wan gasped to catch his breath. “And they call you Master…” He stepped closer—although still beyond a lightsaber’s reach— and crouched down on his artificial haunches to meet Obi-Wan’s eyes. “How I would love to call your bluff…” He drawled. “To make your sickeningly empathetic eyes watch as I eviscerate a man to whom you are so clearly… and so… pathetically attached…”

Obi-Wan was struggling to inhale. If he could just keep Maul talking… if he could just catch him off guard…

Maul continued. “…But, regrettably, I’m under strict orders to leave your sidekick unharmed.” He sighed in exaggerated disappointment. “So… I will leave him here… unharmed.” Then he smiled sinisterly. “Of course, whether or not he freezes to death is not technically within my purview…”

There was a calculated pause, as if Maul wanted to ensure the words sank in. Then he continued.

“With you, on the other hand… I’m free to do as I please.”

Obi-Wan, still on his hands and knees, dropped his head and began to focus earnestly on his breathing.

“Get up,” Maul demanded.

Obi-Wan didn’t budge. He needed a moment to collect his wits and push aside his physical pain so he could invoke help of the Force with what limited energy he had left—at best, to surprise his attacker, at worst, to temporarily fend him off. He didn’t have the muscle or agility to play offense. Maul would need to come to him.

“Get. Up.”

“No, I think I’ll stay right here, thank you.”

Obi-Wan could sense Maul’s anger building, and he knew he’d have to act before the Dathomirian’s phantom grip could seize him again. The Jedi Master inhaled slowly, then looked up and sent a wave of telekinentic energy toward Maul, hoping to knock him backward with enough force to buy himself more time. But the Sith didn’t move an inch. A corner of his mouth turned up smugly at Obi-Wan’s effort.

Obi-Wan could feel a foul presence breaking into his consciousness just as he was questioning, with an unwelcome sense of hopelessness and frustration, how Maul had become so powerful. How had he managed to survive a complete bisection? How was he still alive after all these years?

Maul’s grin widened as he followed the Jedi’s train of thought. “Oh…My will to live has been stronger than you could possibly imagine…” he uttered, voice teeming with vitroil. “…Fueled solely by my singular hatred… for you.”

“Are you always this melodramatic?”

A flash of fury surged through the Force, and in the instant his opponent’s focus lapsed, Obi-Wan seized the opportunity to attempt another Force-push. Maul, caught by surprise, was thrown several meters, landing on his back and skidding over the snow-covered ice. The air between them shimmered as a torrent of powdery flakes, made airborne as the Sith plowed unceremoniously into a snow drift, caught the sunlight and cascaded back to the ground.

Panting, his lungs caged in flames and his own foggy breath clouding his vision, Obi-Wan brought himself to his feet. His legs were unsteady, and his arms felt stiff and clumsy. The frigid air was clearly doing him no favors. Nevertheless, he swung his right arm up, bending at the elbow as he drew his lightsaber back, so its blade was trained forward and parallel with his forearm. In the same movement, he stepped back and inhaled deeply, planting his dominant foot firmly behind him. He thought of Anakin, feeling the young man’s dim signature still glowing faintly but tenaciously at the other end of their bond. It was all the motivation he needed. Obi-Wan raised his other arm as he exhaled, releasing his disorderly emotions—fear, self-doubt, frustration—into the Force. When he met Maul’s eyes, the Jedi Master turned his outstretched hand and pointed two fingers directly at the Sith. A challenge.

Maul stood, slowly and theatrically brushing the snow from his shoulders, yellow eyes still fixed on his foe. Abruptly, he leapt from the drift with the help of his powerful cybernetic legs. He flew high into the air and farther than the laws of physics should have allowed, landing squarely in front of Obi-Wan and bringing his weapon down in a viscous overhead slash. It was met with a blue blade, prompting Maul to release a frenzy of subsequent attacks against the Jedi. His movements were wide open and savage. Passionate, direct, and relentless.

Obi-Wan, for his part, deflected each strike with economical, compact movements. Subtle dodges. Tight parries. His preferred combat form—the defensive and efficient Soresu—should have been well-suited for such a confrontation. Obi-Wan wanted to prolong the fight until Maul, with his much more aggressive form, became fatigued. But it was a risky tactic—even accounting for his own pragmatic energy conservation, Obi-Wan was more likely than not to succumb first to exhaustion.

As their blades crossed again and again, Obi-Wan was losing ground, progressively driven back toward the burrow where Anakin lay. He attempted to rally, dropping into a sort of moving meditation, connecting as best he could with the Force to help him sense Maul’s movements and select the most effective maneuvers to evade or counter his advances. He worked his way around his opponent, hoping at the very least to lead the Sith away from Anakin again.

But fatigue was creeping in. His deflections were becoming sloppy, his advances non-existent. Frankly, he was surprised to have held up this long against the sheer ferocity of Maul’s combat style. He supposed he owed such a feat to the thousands of hours he had devoted over the years to sparring with Anakin. His chest constricted in a surprising spasm of sorrow at the thought.

Maul took advantage of that briefest moment of distraction, feigning an overhead strike while kicking Obi-Wan directly below his ribcage. The potent blow sent the Jedi soaring, and he landed with a solid thud on the loading ramp of Maul’s transport. The force of the impact jarred the lightsaber from his grasp, and it immediately flew to Maul’s free hand.

In two swift, Force-assisted strides, Maul was on him. Obi-Wan cried out as ice cold, mechanical claws pinned him to the metal slats, pressing down on his already battered rib cage. A defeated groan was wrenched from his throat as Maul pushed harder, talons twisting as they dug into his flesh.

The Sith frowned. “I am disappointed. I was hoping for a more… formidable opponent…”

Obi-Wan’s respiration was ragged, but he concentrated on his breath, nevertheless. He released his pain to the Force, quelling his body’s reflexive urge to scream in agony or twist his face in anguish as the powerful robotic leg bore down on him. He wouldn’t give Maul the satisfaction of seeing him suffer. Instead, he summoned the nerve to roll his eyes at the Zabrak. “Well, maybe sending our ship careening into a frozen wasteland and nearly drowning me wasn’t the brightest idea, then, was it?” he stubbornly sputtered. If not for the gravity of the situation, he might have chuckled at himself—the words could have come straight from Anakin’s mouth. He smirked defiantly and added, “But then, you don’t exactly strike me as the brightest st—”

Rage flooded the Force, and before the Jedi could finish his insult, Maul bent forward and delivered a violent blow to Obi-Wan’s temple.

The crimson, black, and yellow of the Sith’s face swirled before his eyes, mixing with the sky’s darkening blue and clouding over before fading to black.

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“…plan was to disable the ship and tow it aboard, not shoot it down! Your blunder nearly cost me my revenge…and it almost cost you your life, dear brother…”

Obi-Wan heard the acerbic voice rise out of the silence, grating harshly against his eardrums, as he slowly came to. His skin prickled as his once-frozen limbs adapted to long-forgotten warmth. Wary of making his consciousness known, he kept his eyes closed. He must not have been out for long, he figured. He could still recall who the voice belonged to and what had transpired just before he blacked out. And he could guess, with reasonable confidence, where he was.

Not yet willing to reach out to the Force, lest Maul sense his stirring, he turned to his physical senses to evaluate his situation as best he could. He was seated on a hard, level surface—presumably the floor of Maul’s transport—with his legs sprawled in front of him and his hands cuffed behind him, binding his arms around some sort of support beam. A dull ache shrouded his lungs, and a searing pain shot through his chest as he attempted to take a deep breath, promptly reminding him of his fractured ribs and triggering his recollection of the Sith’s attack.

Obi-Wan had not been at his best for the confrontation, and he wasn’t particularly surprised to have been so soundly outfought. What had surprised him was the Zabrak’s promise to leave Anakin untouched. A nauseating panic swirled in his gut at the thought. Had Maul kept his promise? Obi-Wan’s heart sank. Even if he had… that his former padawan had ultimately been left to die alone, after everything he and Obi-Wan had just been through, made the older Jedi’s stomach knot in despair. How long would Anakin survive on his own, tucked unconscious inside those thermal blankets?

And if Maul hadn’t kept his word…

Obi-Wan couldn’t bear to give further consideration to either possibility, so he turned his attention back to the voices he’d just heard, hoping to gather more information. There were two, and he estimated they were coming from three or four meters to his right. Maul’s speech was fairly clear, while the other voice crackled with static. Most likely, Maul was in the cockpit, speaking over the ship’s comm unit.

“…and what of the other Jedi?” came the voice over the comm.

 “Alive. Barely. No thanks to you and your eager trigger finger.”

“I don’t understand why it matters. He’s a Jedi—”

“A useful Jedi, you fool! Our eyes and ears within the Order.…”  

Obi-Wan’s mind shot back to Anakin’s distraught revelation about Palpatine.

“…I do not look forward to informing my Master of your…miscalculation,” Maul continued.

“If the Jedi freezes—?” There was a trace of fear in the question.

“You will pay a dear price. But fret not, brother. I trust Lord Sidious will see to it he is found before it is too late.”

Then there was silence.

Obi-Wan’s mind was urgently piecing things together, but his thoughts were abruptly cut off when Maul spoke again.

“Welcome back, Kenobi.”

The Sith’s mockingly polite words did little to mask the contempt in his voice. Apparently, despite Obi-Wan’s best efforts, Maul had sensed his return to consciousness.

His cover blown—and his earlier concern about accessing the Force consequently irrelevant—Obi-Wan immediately reached out for Anakin’s signature. On the other side of their bond, his presence glowed, dim but warm, confirming Maul’s assertion that the young Jedi was still alive. With a shallow sigh of relief, Obi-Wan opened his eyes.

He was sitting just beyond the flight deck of Maul’s shuttle, and he turned his head to find the Zabrak at the control panel, facing the viewport. Beyond the transparisteel window he could see a Munificent-class star frigate looming large. It bore markings that looked particularly familiar. An access door to the hangar bay near the center of the ship was sliding open.

An ethereal whisper from the Force brushed against Obi-Wan’s mind, as if to confirm his hunch about the vessel’s identity.

Obi-Wan decided he was in the mood for more conversation.

“Might I enquire as to why we are headed for Count Dooku’s flagship?”

Busy working the controls in preparation for entry, the Sith did not bother to turn his head as he spoke. “My brother and I…requisitioned it,” he answered slowly, his voice dripping with vindictive pride.

“To what end, exactly?”

“I needed a gravity well projector and a cloaking device.”

“Ah. Of course. You pulled us from hyperspace, then?”

“I did.”

“And how exactly did you know where we’d be?”

“Oh, I have friends in high places, Kenobi.”

“Yes, I’ve gathered that. I don’t suppose Dooku is one of those friends?”

“Not anymore.” Obi-Wan couldn’t see his face, but he could hear a wicked grin in Maul’s voice. “He didn’t appreciate me commandeering his ship.”

“So… you captured him?”

“You ask a lot of questions.”

“You answer a lot of questions.”

Maul turned his head slowly to look back at Obi-Wan, a self-satisfied smile stretching between his hollow cheeks. “I killed him.”

Huh. Obi-Wan wasn’t sure what to think of this, but he feigned indifference. “Impressive. And your… Master… Sidious, was it? He approved?”

“Dooku was a Sith pretender and his death mere collateral damage. General Grievous will be delighted to take his place, I’m sure…”

“And you?”

“I have… bigger plans.”

“Oh, no doubt,” Obi-Wan replied dryly. “Capturing a man who roundly defeated you in another life and—I can only presume—torturing him indefinitely to exact your revenge like a sulking child who can’t stand to lose… Big plans, indeed.”

Maul’s eyes narrowed, but he offered no response.

Obi-Wan continued, his voice lowering to a more serious tone as he met the Sith’s stare. “You’re a pawn, same as Dooku. If you cannot see how your Master is using you, you are a fool.”

Maul’s face twisted into an angry snarl, then he turned his focus back to the control panel without another word as they entered the hangar. Upon landing, he freed Obi-Wan from the support beam and roughly ushered him out of the shuttle, wrists bound in stun cuffs behind his back.

At the foot of the ramp stood another Zabrak. He was larger in stature than Maul, his markings deep gray and a sickly yellow green. Grasped firmly in his hand was the long hilt of a double-bladed lightsaber.

Maul walked directly beside Obi-Wan with one hand firmly clutching the Jedi’s upper arm as they descended the ramp. “Kenobi. Meet my brother, Savage Opress. He’ll be escorting you to your…accommodations.”

Obi-Wan studied Savage’s face as they came to a stop in front of him. Then he leaned sideways toward Maul and quipped, “Quite the family resemblance. He’s nearly as ugly as you.”

He straightened up and glanced sideways, catching the Sith’s upper lip twitch in irritation. Maul replied in a low, throaty growl. “Were you anyone else, that insolent mouth would already have earned you a swift execution… a dozen times over. But for you…” He turned his head toward the Jedi and leaned toward him until their faces were just inches apart, his rancid breath warm against Obi-Wan’s ear. “For you,” he continued in a low hiss, “that would be too kind. I intend to make sure you stay alive long enough to suffer… as I have suffered.” He grabbed Obi-Wan’s chin tightly, jerking his head up and sideways, forcing their eyes to meet. “And when I am satisfied, your death will be beyond excruciating.” He released Obi-Wan’s chin with a disdainful shove.

Obi-Wan turned his head to meet Savage’s gaze and said, in a mock whisper as he rolled his eyes toward Maul, “Dramatic fellow, isn’t he?”

The last thing he saw was the quick, silver flash of Savage’s saberstaff handle just before it collided with the side of his head.

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“Come on, Skyguy. Do it again. I know you’re in there.”

Wait. What?

What was Ahsoka doing here? Her voice was so far away, but somehow he knew she was beside him.

Just like the last dozen times, though, he couldn’t find his muscles, and he was trapped in the dark.

Damnit.

“Open your eyes.”

I can’t! He wanted to scream. He tried to scream.

“That’s it, Master. Your lips are moving. Now try your eyes again.”

But where were his eyes? He was distracted by a warmth spreading over his hand. Was he bleeding? Or was it just warm sunlight? There was movement against his skin. Bugs?

No.

“Try to talk again.”

Ahsoka was holding his hand.

But where was Obi-Wan?

Rako Hardeen had killed him.

His chest was caving in. Why should he open his eyes if he could never see his Master again? Why should he speak if Obi-Wan would never hear him? Why wake up if his Master was gone?

Hang on. That wasn’t right. It must have been a bad dream. He and Obi-Wan were okay. They’d just been together in a shuttle. And there was barq. And there were...

The shuttle was a spark that sent a blaze of recent memories ripping through his mind, setting his brain on fire.

…There were smiles and stitches and vomit and tears and fingers in his hair and knees against his knees and star charts and crumbs on the floor and yielding lips…

…and the saddest, blue green irises...

Anakin’s eyes opened.

It was so bright. He couldn’t see anything, and he reflexively closed his eyelids tightly against the light.

The strange void around him had been flooded with an almost tangible—but entirely incongruous—joy. It must have been Ahsoka’s joy. He certainly wasn’t joyful. He’d hurt his Master. And then… then…

“Skyguy?” her voice was much closer now. He wished she would stop interrupting him.

an explosion…

Everything was spinning and he was holding on to Obi-Wan and there was another explosion…

Where is Obi-Wan?

Anakin’s eyes opened again. It didn’t seem so bright this time. He blinked as he felt something squeeze his hand.

“Ahsoka?” Was that his voice? It felt foreign in his throat. His neck was uncooperative, but he seemed to be able to wiggle his eyeballs. He looked as far to his left as he could, toward the direction of the voice, and a blurry young Torgruta slowly entered his field of vision.

“Master!” she cried excitedly. Anakin blinked until she came into sharper focus. He tried to turn his head toward her again and managed to shift it a centimeter or two.

“Where’s Obi-Wan?” Anakin croaked, barely above a whisper. His jaws were stiff, his vocal cords reluctant to contract.

He watched his padawan roll her eyes as she teased, “It’s good to see you too…” It was said in jest, but something was off. She was upset.

He tried to apologize. “Sorry… I just—” But he had to cut the thought short, swallowing thickly and trying to get his tongue to stop sticking to the roof of his mouth.

“It’s alright,” Ahsoka replied, sympathetically. Then she went quiet, averting her gaze. Anakin could sense she had something to tell him.

He swallowed again. He’d only spoken half a dozen words, but already his facial muscles were fatigued. With great effort, he rasped, “What is it?”

She closed her eyes and crinkled her brow. A wave of sorrow swept through the Force. He hadn’t sensed sadness like this from his padawan since…

Anakin felt his heart fill with dread, and he began to hear beeping coming from his right as his pulse quickened. He pushed the reluctant muscles in his throat to move so he could continue to speak, and after a few attempts, he managed to work out a firm but fragmented plea. “Ahsoka. Where is he?” His voice was rough, its tone desperate.

She opened her eyes and held his hand tighter. “We don’t—” she shook her head helplessly. “We don’t know.”

“What?” he breathed, hoarsely. That didn’t make any sense. How could they not know? Obi-Wan had been with Anakin just before… He could feel his blood pumping in earnest as his muscles reflexively tried to tense. “Who’s leading the search?” This time, the words came more easily. He needed answers.

“No one. Not anymore.”

Confusion and anger and frustration and panic swirled in his chest. “What does that mean? Why the hell not?”

Ahsoka winced. “Anakin. We did search. We never found him.”

Anakin closed his eyes for a moment, his head throbbing as he struggled to process this information. “How long… I don’t understand… Why isn’t anyone still looking?” When he opened them again, he saw his young padawan’s eyes fill with pity.

“Master, it’s been nearly four standard months since the search was called off.”

Chapter Text

Anakin stared at Ahsoka, wide-eyed. Speechless.

Four standard months. How did—?

He couldn’t think. His head wouldn’t stop throbbing, and he had to close his eyes again. His senses were overloaded with the shrill beeping of the machine beside him, the glaring light from the lamp above, and, now, the prickling sensations of rediscovered nerves woven through his flesh. When he tried to move his left arm to escape the sting of Ahsoka’s hand around his own, he felt something pulling at the skin just above his wrist. He shifted his head a few more centimeters and cracked one eye open to discover an intravenous drip line snaking over his forearm, taped securely in place where it fed into a sizable needle inserted beneath his skin.

In his periphery, he could see other cords attached to him. Wires connecting to pads placed methodically around his bicep and over the muscles of his bare torso. But they scarcely registered. His brain couldn’t accommodate any curiosity about what had happened to his own body when it was too busy trying to make sense of the nightmare revelation that had just dropped from Ahsoka’s mouth.

Obi-Wan had been missing for four months.

Four. Kriffing. Months.

And nobody was looking for him.

Anakin’s mind desperately pleaded with his body to sit up. I need to get to a ship. To get out of this karking bed and… and…

But his muscles wouldn’t cooperate. He squeezed both eyes shut again, rage rippling through his veins as he imagined the stoic, detached faces of the Council making their decision to end the search. The decision to give up on his Master.

He wanted to spit in every one of their faces. He wanted to scour the ancient Jedi texts and set aflame every passage that denounced attachment. He wanted to punch something, but he couldn’t even clench his fingers into fists. His mind screamed in frustration, and only when a cautionary “Master…” found its way to his ears did he open his eyes to find all the room’s furnishings quaking. The monitors beside him rattled, and the stand for his IV drip clanged against the side of his bed.

Easy, Skywalker. Obi-Wan wouldn’t want you to react like this, whispered a small voice at the back of his head.

His stomach knotted in shame. Had he learned nothing? As he struggled against his growing fury, he closed his eyes and tried to think of something soothing. His brain immediately conjured his former Master’s voice. Gentle. Understanding.

I want you to stay with my voice, Anakin. Just stay with me.

Anakin sensed the objects in the room coming to rest as he imagined Obi-Wan’s soft accent reassuringly guiding him to a calmer state of mind.

He felt Ahsoka give his hand an encouraging squeeze.

Although his head was marginally clearer, Anakin was still straining to make sense of the situation. Even if he could begrudgingly accept that attachment would never have compelled the Council to continue looking for the missing Jedi Master, he couldn’t understand why Obi-Wan’s utility to the war effort hadn’t been enough. Would the Council really cease their attempts to track down one of their best generals—one of their best Jedi—just because their resources were limited?

Surely they could have spared someone to keep looking… Even if they thought…

Panic gripped Anakin’s heart as he was suddenly struck by the notion that it might already be too late. That it would no longer be a search and rescue mission, but a search and recovery mission. The thud of his quickening pulse rang in his ears and reached all the way to his fingertips, and he had to settle himself down all over again.

When his mind was sufficiently quiet, he tapped into the Force, feeling along the deep, resilient bond he shared with the older Jedi. The shimmering strands connecting their signatures stretched farther than he could reach, but he could sense a vague indication of life emanating from a presence beyond his grasp. A cautious swell of relief eased the tightness between his ribs.

At last, he opened his eyes and pulled his gaze up to his padawan’s face.

“What happened?” he rasped, hoping he’d calmed himself enough to be able to listen without his emotions getting the better of him.

Ahsoka looked lost for a moment, as if she had so much to tell that she wasn’t sure where to begin. “Well, obviously you and Obi-Wan never made it to Christophsis…”

“Figured that one out on my own, believe it or not…” Anakin muttered gruffly. He was trying to tease, but he couldn’t get his cheeks to pull his lips into the grin he’d meant to flash at her.

Thankfully Ahsoka understood his intention, rolling her eyes up in mild amusement before continuing. “Cody contacted the Council after the Vigilance picked up a distress signal from somewhere in the Ando system. He said they’d already sent Fives and Kix on a scouting mission to investigate, and he requested direction on how to proceed with the base on the surface. The Council sent Masters Windu and Fisto to take temporary command of your fleets, and Master Koon was assigned to help track you guys down. He—Master Koon—relayed everything to me and asked me to join him…”

Anakin listened intently as he began working through his muscles one by one, trying to flex each independently.

“On our way,” she continued, “we got a message from Fives saying that they’d found you on Ando Prime, but—”

“How…?” Anakin broke in before he could stop himself. How had they tracked them to Ando Prime so quickly? His only S.O.S. had been transmitted from within the system, but not from anywhere near the planet… and even if they’d guessed the planet, it should have taken days, even weeks, to pinpoint their location at the surface without any assistance from their incapacitated ship…

Ahsoka seemed to sense his incredulity. “Apparently, they just got lucky…?” There was a hint of skepticism in her voice as well.  “Ando Prime happened to be the first planet they checked. They detected some debris from what looked like a republic shuttle just beyond its atmosphere, and they scanned the surface until a large fissure in the ice over a lake caught their eye…”

“We… we crashed into a lake…” Anakin slowly realized, unintentionally speaking aloud.

She nodded.

He would have dropped his head into his hands if he could have, imaging the plight of his poor former Master plummeting toward a planet with an unconscious pilot by his side. Or maybe he’d been unconscious, too. So many questions were streaming into his mind, but before he could sort them out and transfer something to his tongue, Ahsoka continued.

“When they got closer, they spotted a big hole in the ice and, eventually, a dark speck against the surface. Turned out to be a couple of thermal sleeping bags zipped together. They found you inside…”

“But n—?” he started, but he cut himself off when he noticed that Ahsoka had cast her eyes sideways, almost sheepishly, a subtle blush rising to her cheeks. “What?” he asked.

“Nothing. Just… Your clothes had been removed. They were in a pile with Obi-Wan’s tunic—Kix figured you guys had been trying to conserve heat—but Obi-Wan was gone.”

“I don’t remember any…” Anakin’s words trailed off as he tried to dig through his memory. None of this was familiar to him. The last thing he could recall was being suddenly flung around the shuttle. Obi-Wan had shouted his name…

“You were in pretty rough shape. Kix wanted to get you back to the Vigilance as soon as possible, so he could have better supplies to treat you. They gave us the coordinates so we could take over the search for Obi-Wan.”

She sighed heavily before continuing.

“By the time we got there, there’d been a windstorm or snowstorm or something. I got a vague sense there’d been a struggle, but there was no physical evidence of anything other than the hole in the ice. No tracks, no transport footprints, nothing. Master Koon dove to search the lake while I combed the surface. He found your shuttle, but no Obi-Wan. We had no leads off-planet either—our systems weren’t picking up any ships at all within signal radius. We searched for days, but we couldn’t feel him anywhere nearby. Master Koon sensed a dark presence had been there, but we had nothing else to go on…”

“Dooku. What about Dooku?”

“I wondered the same thing, but we couldn’t figure out why he’d take Obi-Wan but leave you there. And then… Well, the Council instructed us to return to Coruscant to regroup, and by the time we got here, rumors were spreading that Dooku’s flagship had been destroyed…”

“Wait. What?” Rumors? How could something so significant have happened without the Order’s knowledge? Unless the Republic wasn’t responsible…

Ahsoka nodded. “Then official reports started coming out, confirming that remnants of his ship had crashed onto Falleen. Dooku’s body—what little was left of it—was identified in the wreckage.”

“Anyone else?”

“Only droids.”

“And Republic forces had nothing to do with it?”

The young padawan shook her head.

Who else would have had the means to take down a ship that powerful? Why would anyone else want…?

Anakin supposed Dooku’s death should be good news. But the circumstances were so bizarre… It didn’t sit right with him at all. His brain kept hurling more questions at him as he struggled to process what any of this might mean. But speaking was strenuous, and he was becoming rather groggy.

“So… Dooku’s dead?” was all he could manage.

Ahsoka nodded.

“And the war…?”

“Muddled, but still raging. Grievous stepped up as the Separatists’ Head of State and started a pretty ruthless retaliation campaign, convinced it was a Republic fleet that took Dooku out. He sent his best admirals to seize dozens of systems, spread all over the Mid Rim. And… the Jedi were spread so thin…”

She paused, averting her eyes guiltily. She surely knew no excuse in defense of the Council’s decision would be good enough for her Master. But that didn’t stop her from trying.

“The Council—” she started. Then she shook her head sadly. “Anakin, no one could feel him. And they…” she paused, looking as if she were bracing herself for a harsh reaction. “They couldn’t justify continuing to put resources toward a galaxy-wide manhunt for just one person, when they—” The words seemed to catch in her throat. “…when they couldn’t even confirm he was still alive…”

Anakin closed his eyes, and they were both quiet for several minutes. “He IS alive,” he finally stated, breaking the silence. “I can feel him. It’s faint, Snips, but he’s there.”

“I believe you.”

A lump rose in Anakin’s throat. “I need to find him,” he choked out quietly, his eyes still closed. He didn’t want to see his young padawan’s inevitable expression of pity in response to his weakness.

“Master…” the young Torgruta began, her voice compassionate but stern. There was a brief hesitation before she continued. “What you need is to recover.”

He tried his best to hold back the moisture collecting beneath his eyelids, but the idea of having to wait helplessly in the Halls of Healing while Obi-Wan was out there on his own—facing Force knows what—was… unbearable. He tried to turn his head away from Ahsoka as a few hot tears escaped, catching on his lashes before slipping down his cheeks.

A sudden twinge of anger tried to work its way into his head, wanting him to resent Ahsoka for standing idly by at the Temple while someone so dear to him—to both of them—was lost. But he knew better. She was only a padawan doing as she was told, after all. A pang of guilt stabbed his chest as he acknowledged the part of his heart that wished she would be as just as angry as he was.

Clearly, she was already a better Jedi than Anakin when it came to letting things go.

Her voice broke the painful silence that had settled over the room. “You’re probably wondering why I’m not ignoring the Council’s decision and setting off on my own to track him down.”

She was certainly perceptive. Or maybe Anakin was just that obvious. Probably both. A wave of searing shame washed over him. “I… maybe.”

“I’ve been on back-to-back—to-back—missions. Most of the older padawans have been asked to do the same. We return to Coruscant for a few days between assignments to regroup and train, but then we’re called right back out again. I’m… I’m actually leaving tomorrow… to join Master Koon and his fleet on Mahranee. I don’t know for how long…”

Anakin’s heart dropped.

Ahsoka must have sensed it. “I’m sorry, Master. They need me. They… they need everyone.”

“I get it,” he replied, finally opening his eyes. He didn’t have the energy to say more, but he did mean it. His head understood. His heart just didn’t want to.

The Torgruta heaved a heavy sigh. “For what it’s worth… I’m told Master Yoda was reluctant to call off the search. But he said he trusted that if Obi-Wan were still alive, he’d be more than capable of holding his own until we could devote more resources to finding him.” She met Anakin’s eyes and said earnestly, “I’m inclined to agree. If he’s survived this long, he can make it a little longer. He’ll wait for you. He’ll… He’ll live for you. I know it.”

Anakin tried to nod.

Ahsoka stood slowly and gave Anakin’s hand one more squeeze before releasing it. “I should go get Madame Che. She’ll be wanting to check on you. I’ll contact Master Yoda, too. He’ll be happy to know you’re back.”

Anakin blinked in acknowledgement. He was so tired.

When she got to the door, she turned back toward him. “Promise me, Skyguy… Promise me you won’t try to escape this place and rush off to find him before your body is ready.

Anakin offered an awkward half smile. “You know me better than that, Snips.”

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Obi-Wan grimaced as the beetle’s exoskeleton cracked between his teeth, spilling a bitter, strangely nutty flavor over his tongue. He’d pulled off the insect’s head and encased wings, but still its legs seemed to fight against the roof of his mouth as he crunched into it. He paused momentarily, closing his eyes and forcing a deep breath to subdue his gag reflex.

Well, that was hardly worth it, he concluded, chewing reluctantly before choking down the unlucky arthropod. It had not been an easy catch. The thing had scurried like mad after Obi-Wan swatted it down, and the Jedi’s two broken legs protested, crying in agony, as he inelegantly pulled himself over the uneven ground in pursuit.

In retrospect, he shouldn’t have been so ambitious, of course. But, frankly, he’d grown so bored with his predicament—and so very weary of his diet of grubs—that he was willing to risk an uptick in pain for the possibility that he might discover something tastier.

He decided, not without a twinge of fondness, that the blame for this uncharacteristic recklessness lay squarely on his former padawan’s errant influence. His swollen thighs still throbbing from the foolhardy endeavor, he resolved to stick with the beetle in its larval stage. He’d had the opportunity to sample several varieties of local insecta and arachnid, and the larvae had the friendliest texture and were easily the most palatable choice among them. They also required the least effort to catch, given their abundance, their slow pace, and Obi-Wan’s hindered mobility.

As if his fractured femurs weren’t limiting enough, his wrists were still bound in stun cuffs, and his neck was locked in a thick iron collar that was fastened to a disagreeably scant length of chain. The chain—looped around a beam that appeared to be the sole support of the precariously assembled ceiling above—gave him about two meters to work with. The collar, it seemed, was some type of crude Force inhibiter. Obi-Wan’s connection to the Force, although not completed blocked, was disorientingly muted, and he had no telekinetic abilities whatsoever. It was an unsettling feeling, to say the least, but one he’d grown accustomed to during his time here.

Here.

Trapped in the skeletal hull of a rotting, ancient starship. Buried beneath mountains of rubbish on a junkyard planet. Lying on his stomach, propped up by his elbows, on a reeking floor of dirt and densely compacted waste. Unenthusiastically working his tongue around the inside of his mouth to wipe away residual bits of beetle tarsus.

How long had he been here? He couldn’t be sure. In the bowels of this immense trash heap, there were no days or nights to help him track the time. His only light source came from the unwieldy incinerator droids that continually made their way through adjoining tunnels, casting a flickering, rust-colored glow against the walls of his make-shift prison cell. Judging by the length of his beard, though, he reasoned he had been here about four months.

Most of this time, much to his surprise, he had spent alone. Rooting for insects. Lapping acidic water from narrow streams that periodically trickled down the wall and puddled in shallow depressions within his chain’s radius.

Obi-Wan wasn’t sure exactly what he’d been expecting when Maul had captured him, but it wasn’t… this.

There had been no torture on Dooku’s frigate. In fact, he’d hardly spent any time there at all. Not long after Obi-Wan had regained consciousness in his cell, the larger Zabrak had hauled him to another transport shuttle and held him down while Maul injected him with some sort of sedative. He’d blacked out before they’d even left the hangar.

He’d woken here in this fetid cavern of garbage—chained to this column and almost completely Force blind—as Maul looked on from several meters away, a vengeful hunger gleaming in his yellow eyes. Obi-Wan had felt a sickening pressure building in his thighs just before the Sith, with a quick flick of his wrists, snapped the Jedi’s femurs like twigs. The angled edges of displaced bone perforated the surrounding muscle, and the excruciating pain was enough to make Obi-Wan temporarily forget his resolve. He’d cried out in anguish as Maul savored his torment.

Then, Maul had just…left. Left him panting in silent agony. Alone.

The Zabrak had returned to the planet only a handful of times since. In each instance, he’d stayed only long enough to disparage Obi-Wan and ensure his legs remained incapacitated. He would deride him with taunts about how he’d failed Qui-Gon. How he’d failed Anakin. He’d gloat that the Republic was losing the war, and that there was nothing Obi-Wan could do about it. That Obi-Wan would spend the rest of his life imprisoned in this dumping ground.

That he would never see another Jedi again.

Presently, as his stomach growled for more sustenance, Obi-Wan wondered whether anyone might still be looking for him. But even Obi-Wan didn’t know exactly where he was. And, unless something had changed since his capture, the Order had no way to know that Maul was even alive. Maybe Anakin would have sensed… But then, he hadn’t felt Anakin’s presence since the short stint from Ando Prime to Dooku’s flagship. A deep, raw longing returned to his chest as he wondered now—as he often did in his solitude—whether his friend had indeed been found.

His thoughts were interrupted when he felt the faintest shadow flit across his dulled senses. A second later, he heard Maul approaching.

Obi-Wan gingerly pulled himself up and turned over to lean his back against the support beam. “Welcome back, my angry, horned friend,” Obi-Wan uttered when he met the Sith’s gaze.

“Kenobi,” Maul acknowledged with a nod. Their false pleasantries had already become routine. When he reached Obi-Wan, he stepped directly onto the man’s battered thighs, a set of talons wrapping around each. Sweat beaded on Obi-Wan’s brow, and his breathing grew labored as suppressed the wail clawing its way up his windpipe.  

The Jedi bowed his head and inhaled through the pain, forcing his voice to remain unperturbed. “So,” he began, his tone impressively conversational. He dragged his eyes from Maul’s talons all the way up to his unpleasant face. “How’s your revenge coming along?”

The Zabrak’s upper lip pulled into a snarl, and his powerful grip tightened further. The robotic claws drew blood as they pierced the fabric of Obi-Wan’s threadbare pants.

Obi-Wan grunted and clenched his eyes shut, jerking his head down as white-hot pain surged through him. He’ll keep you alive until he’s satisfied, he told himself. Don’t give him what he wants. “You still seem… very bitter,” the Jedi sputtered loudly, his respiration strained. He looked up and met Maul’s eyes defiantly. Giving his head a quick flick to reposition an irksome lock of hair that had fallen forward to tickle his brow, Obi-Wan rebelliously quirked an eyebrow, flashing the Sith a bold half-smirk. “Is my suffering not bringing you the gratification you’d hoped for?”

Maul smiled slowly as he replied, his voice low and dripping with mock pity, “Oh, Kenobi…Your suffering has barely begun.”

“I’m… nnnnghh… not sure what you’ve been waiting for.” Obi-Wan stubbornly panted as the claws dug deeper still.

“You are not my only commitment—”

Obi-Wan cut him off, huffing mockingly between gasps, “Ah yes… Big plans and so forth.”

Maul ignored him. “But I’m in no hurry. More than a decade alone in this vile hell taught me nothing if not great patience—”

The Jedi interjected with an incredulous snort. “The evidence I’ve seen would suggest otherwise…”

Maul immediately lit his lightsaber, bringing it threateningly to Obi-Wan’s throat as he stepped back and crouched to Obi-Wan’s level.

Obi-Wan rolled his eyes. “Case in point.”

“I waited years… years… to watch you suffer,” Maul hissed. “I intend to draw this out as long as—”

His wrist comm beeped.

The Zabrak growled in frustration, glaring at Obi-Wan for another moment before retracting his lightsaber and stepping away into one of the lair’s tunnels.

Obi-Wan could hear the Sith’s voice, but it was too quiet to discern what he was saying. Several minutes passed before Maul emerged.

“It seems I’ll need to cut this visit short,” he said, clearly irritated.

“A shame,” Obi-Wan replied. “I’ve really come to enjoy your company.”

Maul’s eyes narrowed. “You know, if I thought you’d be strong enough to live through it, I’d slice you in half—slowly—and leave you here to rot.”

“Terrible idea. I wouldn’t last a minute. Not enough comically vindictive hatred to keep me going, I’m afraid.”

Obi-Wan was instantly lifted off the ground, as if a large hand had grasped him around his torso. His legs danged painfully beneath him, and his rib cage, which had healed reasonably well, was once again subjected to the pressure of the Sith’s phantom grip. The air trembled in fury around them. But then Obi-Wan felt… something else. A subtle luminosity flickering at the back of his mind.

Somehow, somewhere deep in his consciousness, as he was held aloft with the Force flowing thick and heavy all around him, he had caught a glimpse of something... A dim light, shed over a bond long hidden among the shadows cast by his Force inhibitor… And across that bond, he’d sensed the slightest trace of a revived cognizance.

A cautious hope filled the Jedi’s heart just before Maul released him. Obi-Wan fell to the floor, the impact jarring his fragmented segments of thigh bone further out of place. But this time, there was no cry to stifle.

The pain couldn’t reach him through the profound relief surging through his body, enveloping every nerve.

Anakin was still alive. And conscious.

A curious expression crossed Maul’s features, and he met Obi-Wan’s eyes with a penetrating stare. After a long pause, he snarled, “You’ll be seeing me again.” He stepped back, and before turning to depart, he added, “Soon.”

As he left, Obi-Wan called after him. “Can’t wait.”

The Sith stopped in his tracks and looked back, flaming eyes boring into Obi-Wan’s. “You will break,” he promised sinisterly before disappearing into a tunnel.

The Jedi’s chapped lips twitched, almost cracking a smile.

As long as he knew Anakin was alive, Obi-Wan would never break.

 

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Anakin had just started to nod off when there was a knock at the door. Before he could locate his voice and offer a cantankerous request to be left alone, a stern looking Twi’lek marched in with a datapad held against her chest. It was Vokara Che, the Chief Healer of the Temple’s Halls of Healing.

The young knight quickly closed his eyes, hoping she hadn’t seen him awake.

“Anakin Skywalker,” she said sharply. “You will not fool me. You have a long road to recovery, and you would be wise to give me your full cooperation if you want to make the process as expeditious as possible.”

He opened his eyes resignedly.

The Twi’lek nodded. “That’s better. How do you feel?”

“Um. Kind of like I’ve been in a coma for four months.”

She was unimpressed, her expression deadpan. “Does it hurt to speak?”

“No. But it’s… tiring.”

She nodded again, making notes on her datapad. Then she spent several minutes introducing Anakin to his surroundings, explaining to him what kind of condition he’d been in upon his arrival and what kind of treatment he’d received since.

He was currently in the neurology ward, where healers had initially performed imaging scans to identify potential damage to his brain tissue—thankfully there had been none—and periodic electroencephalograms to monitor changes in his brain’s electrical activity. Madame Che noted that, despite being unresponsive to outside stimuli, Anakin’s brain function had been surprisingly robust throughout his stay in the ward.

She tested his motor skills, asking him to squeeze her hand, turn his head, and wiggle his feet. He wasn’t particularly coordinated, and his range of motion was limited, but he seemed to be able to get some kind of signal to each body part in question. She appeared pleased to already be seeing this level of neuromuscular function from him, but Anakin was annoyed with himself for being unable to do better, and he emitted a frustrated grumble after each request. Madame Che encouraged him to be patient.

“Do you see these wires?” she asked, gesturing at his arm and bare chest.

Anakin nodded.

“There are more on your legs and feet. On your back as well. Perhaps you’ve felt it already. Since your arrival, we’ve been using neuromuscular electrical stimulation, twice daily, with each major group of muscles. It alleviates atrophy from muscle disuse. Electrical impulses are sent to your nerves, which cause the targeted muscles to contract. This stimulates muscle protein synthesis, increasing your strength and range of motion. You feel weak now, but as we continue the process, now in conjunction with a rigorous physical therapy regimen, I expect to see great improvement.”

“How long—”

The Twi’lek knew the question before he finished and interjected firmly, “As long as it takes.”

Anakin’s throat constricted. He knew better than to ask for more specifics. He shifted his eyes slowly, from the lumps his feet made beneath the sheet that covered his bottom half, over his legs, and up to the leads running over his abdomen, each one splitting into two wires, red and black, which attached to corresponding electrodes embedded in the pads adhered to his skin. With some effort, he tucked his chin down so his gaze could trace the wires farther up his chest.

A weak furrow crossed his brow. Something was missing.

Madame Che sensed his concern. “Is something wrong?”

“I…” He was embarrassed. A possession shouldn’t mean so much—shouldn’t mean anything—to a Jedi. “There was a pouch… on a string around my—”

She stepped to the table beside his bed, opening a drawer and pulling out the worn leather bag by its cord. “This?”

He nodded, relieved.

“It’s safe. We removed it for the scans.” She made to put it back in the drawer.

Anakin tried to shake his head. “No—”

She turned her head, raising a curious eyebrow at him.

“I mean… If I could—” After a self-conscious pause, he looked away and said, barely above a whisper, “I’d like to wear it.”

Without saying a word, the Chief Healer stepped to him and helped him lift his head enough to slip the cord behind, working it down around his neck and placing the leather satchel on his chest. Her face was hardened, but there was a knowing empathy lingering in her eyes when Anakin brought his gaze—surprised but thankful—back to her.

“It is pointless to heal the body if we do not also tend to the heart,” she said, simply.

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In the following days, Anakin had few visitors—mostly other healers in the ward checking in on him, helping him reposition himself, and administering the electrical stimulation therapy. The impulses from the device felt strange, like an internal buzzing, but the treatment wasn’t painful.

The healers also worked with him to introduce liquids and solids—until now, he’d been receiving all his nutrients through his IV drip. He was particularly excited about the prospect of eating, but he soon discovered that swallowing something more than his own saliva was more challenging than he expected.

By the third morning, he could sit up in bed, dangling his feet off the side. He tried to stand, when no one was around, but he had to use the Force to keep himself supported. His legs couldn’t quite remember what to do, and they were still very weak.

On the fourth day, his catheter was removed, on Madame Che’s condition that he call on a healer’s assistance when attempting to hobble to the fresher. It was humiliating, but at the same time, he’d never been happier to piss into a toilet.

The next few days he earnestly devoted to improving his mobility. He completed each physical therapy session with fierce determination, and then, alone in his room, he would repeat every exercise until exhaustion overtook him. Or, until he sensed a healer approaching. (He was explicitly advised to not overdo it, and he knew he was, without question, overdoing it.) As soon as he could, he would go through them again. And again.

After a week, he was walking—albeit unsteadily, and with the aid of a walking stick—up and down the main hall of the neurology ward. In the afternoons, the corridor was stunningly bathed in warm sunlight that filtered down through high, majestic windows. Anakin didn’t have time to appreciate the beauty and serenity of the space, however. With every venture outside of his room, he remained single-mindedly focused on the stone pillars that soared to the ceiling at the end of the hall as he doggedly made his way toward them. Then back again.

When he wasn’t sleeping or exercising or being otherwise hassled by ward staff, Anakin spent his time reconnecting with the Force, reengaging his telekinetic skills with whatever objects were on hand. He even found himself meditating from time to time.

One evening, while trying to settle into meditation after he’d returned from one of his walks, there was a knock at his door. The healers typically knocked once, but this time he heard three raps.

There was an uneasiness in the Force as Chancellor Palpatine entered.

“Anakin, my dear boy…”

That voice… he’d heard that voice in another universe…

Suddenly, with an invisible punch to his chest, Anakin remembered. For a moment, he forgot how to breathe.

Terrifying visions from newly recalled nightmares flooded the knight’s head, but he kept his mind shielded. His pulse in check. It was too important to let his emotions get the better of him here. “Chancellor,” he acknowledged, trying to smile. He hoped any hesitation would simply be construed as an artifact of his condition.

A sickeningly sweet smile spread over the man’s face. “It’s so good to see you. I would have come sooner, when I first heard you’d awoken, but your healers would not allow it. Even now, your Chief Healer was incredibly reluctant to grant my visitation. She’s only given me a few minutes.”

“It’s good to see you, too,” Anakin replied, wanting to vomit.

Palpatine’s eyes became almost misty as he took a seat beside the young Jedi. “We’ve all been so very worried, you know.” He paused, his expression thoughtful. “How incredibly fortuitous you were found alive… To have survived such an ordeal, and then to come back after months of being catatonic…” He took Anakin’s hand and said, with an uncomfortable intensity burning in his eyes, “You truly are a favored son of the Force.”

“I… uh, thanks?” Anakin replied, awkwardly. To be fair, even if he hadn’t known he was speaking to a powerful Sith Lord bent on recruiting him to take down the Jedi, he still wouldn’t have been able to formulate an articulate response.

“It’s too bad the Council doesn’t seem to recognize that in you…” the older man continued.

His intentions to turn Anakin against the Council were painfully obvious in light of Anakin’s revelations about the man. Anakin wasn’t sure what to say, but before he could respond, the Chancellor changed the subject.

“I’m terribly sorry about Master Kenobi… has there been any news?” Anakin’s chest tightened. The way he’d said it… the way his voice dripped with false sympathy…Could he know…? Was he involved in Obi-Wan’s disappearance?

“No. They’re not even trying to find him.”

“Do you think he’s alive?”

“I…” Anakin began. He had to be cautious. “…don’t know.”

Palpatine offered an empathetic nod. “Well, I’m sure—”

Their conversation was cut short as a quick knock came at the door and Madame Che stepped in. Anakin had never been more grateful for the healer’s strict disposition.

“Forgive me, Chancellor, it’s time. Anakin needs his rest.”

“Of course, of course,” the old man replied amicably as he stood. He turned back to Anakin to finish his thought. “As I was saying… I am sure the Force will guide you. Now that you’re back, perhaps some… meditation would be fruitful…” There was a strangely calculating tone in his suggestion. “I will leave you to your recovery. I do hope you will pay me a visit when you are well enough to leave the Temple. Should you need anything in the meantime, please don’t hesitate to contact me.”

“Thank you,” Anakin replied.

“I assure you, Chancellor, we will provide Anakin with everything he needs until he is fully recovered,” Madame Che said, her voice surprisingly harsh as she showed him out the door.

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The days that followed passed with maddening sluggishness, but by the end of the third standard week, Anakin was eating and walking without assistance. Against her better judgement, Madame Che agreed to discharge him from the healing ward to continue his recovery in his own quarters, on the condition that he return twice daily for therapy.

The Temple felt utterly deserted as he left the Halls of Healing, its corridors virtually empty aside from an occasional guard or a group of younglings accompanied by their assigned caretaker. The walk from the infirmary to the residential wing was longer than he remembered, and he had to stop and sit down several times. By the time he got to his flat, he was begrudgingly relieved that the Chief Healer had insisted he keep a walking stick with him.

He flopped down on his bed, exhausted.

Everything was so quiet. But his head was so loud.

Obi-Wan was missing.

Palpatine was a Sith Lord—the Sith Lord—but he had no proof.

And Anakin… Anakin was trapped in a body that couldn’t fight.

He was going to lose his mind.

Seeking peace, he closed his eyes to meditate. He turned his attention to his breathing and tried to imagine Obi-Wan’s voice guiding him to a quieter place.

But instead of calming, eloquent words wrapped in that familiar, velvet accent, he heard only stifled cries of pain.

He flinched and reached out into the Force, hoping it would settle his anxious imagination.

Instead, he was immediately assaulted with visions of his Master, bearded, bruised, and bloody, lying in a mangled heap. The space was dark, save for reflections of fire dancing on walls made of… garbage? A chain clinked, and dull silver streaks flashed copper in the dim, warm light as metal legs kicked the limp body again and again. He thought the assailant might be a droid, but then he saw a face—red and black and topped with a crown of horns. Its eyes were yellow and vengeful.

Anakin’s eyes shot open.

No. No no no…

Please Force not Obi-Wan too.

His gut churned as his mind resurrected familiar dreams of his mother’s torture. Memories of the woman dying in his arms because he’d arrived too late to save her. He felt his heart shattering as his imagination offered unbidden visions of his Master suffering a similar fate.

He shook his head to dispel the thoughts. In their place, a reckless but tenacious resolve took hold.

He wouldn’t be too late again.

He grabbed his walking stick and lumbered as quickly as his pathetic legs would carry him down to the Archives, praying the Force would provide him with some direction.

Within the hour, Anakin was in the cockpit of an outbound shuttle, clumsily setting its coordinates to Lotho Minor.

Chapter Text

Obi-Wan’s bicep twitched at the itchy sensation produced by the trickle of blood making its way from his wrist down to his shoulder. Soon, that trickle would join the bloody rivulets emerging from fresh lacerations that crisscrossed his back. His arms had been raised—the few chain links between his stun cuffs suspended over a short peg jutting upward from the beam to which he was shackled—so he was forced to choose between supporting himself on broken limbs or allowing his wrists to bear the brunt of his weight.

He suppressed a grunt as another lash struck his back. He pressed his forehead against the beam as he dangled there, reluctant to burden his wrecked thighs. The metal was cool and moist, covered in a slimy layer of filth or fungus, or something equally unpleasant. It stunk of rust and mildew and decay.

But the stench didn’t linger in Obi-Wan’s nostrils.

He was sitting across from his former padawan, knee to knee, in a grassy field, and all he could smell was dirt and sun and warm Tatooine sand and mech oil…  

The cuffs cut deeper into his flesh as the skin beneath them yielded, splitting under his weight.

Yet he only felt the soft pressure of the younger man’s hands wrapped around his wrists, tugging lightly to coax him forward…

His eyes were closed, and the hot, flickering glow of roaming incinerator droids danced against the black beneath his eyelids.

But all he could see were two brilliant blue eyes, crinkled at the corners by a smile that could illuminate the galaxy...

Another lash…

His back was on fire.

But gentle arms wrapped around him, and he felt only the soothing touch of soft leather and warm finger pads skating over his skin, sending ripples of comfort down the length of his spine…

Obi-Wan sustained his silent resistance in this manner—locking himself inside his reveries to block out the pain—as Maul unleashed a frenzy of angry strikes upon his back. The Sith was clearly frustrated by Obi-Wan’s enduring stoicism.

Finally, Maul let up and stepped back, still panting from his exertion.

The Jedi didn’t miss a beat. “I think you missed a spot,” he quipped sarcastically, forcing the words out between ragged breaths.

Maul roared an aggravated, unintelligible curse before Force-lifting Obi-Wan’s stun cuffs up and over the peg, then letting the man crumple to the floor.

Obi-Wan inhaled sharply with the impact and held his breath for several seconds to extinguish the scream in his throat—all the while repeating in his head the single thought that had held him together since Maul’s brutal assault began.

Anakin is coming.

He’d felt it not long before the Sith’s arrival. A tug at the edge of his mind. As if a loose string connecting him to something beyond his reach had suddenly been pulled taught and plucked. The connection had been powerful enough to breach his Force inhibitor, and it was growing steadily stronger. Its persistent reverberation echoed through him, feeding his will to survive.

Anakin would find him alive.

He clung to his thoughts, bracing himself for another violent onslaught as the Zabrak stepped closer.

The chirp of a commlink broke the heavy silence, and Obi-Wan thought he might be temporarily spared. Maul emitted a small, angry huff and gave the Jedi an irritated kick that flung him away from the beam. Obi-Wan’s head jerked to a halt as the chain reached its limit, but momentum carried the rest of him farther before he hit the ground with a thud. The Sith stepped away, seeking the privacy of the lair’s tunnels. Obi-Wan detected a muffled “Yes, Master” before he was out of earshot.

As he lay there, Obi-Wan contemplated the curious timing of the comm. What did Sidious want? Did he know Anakin was on his way? It surely couldn’t be a warning… If Sidious was in fact Palpatine—and Obi-Wan had no reason to believe otherwise—and if his end game was to take Anakin as an apprentice, he certainly wouldn’t want Maul killing the young Jedi… In fact… Sidious would likely prefer the opposite, considering that the rule of two would ultimately require Sidious to divest himself of Maul anyway…

But then, if Palpatine had orchestrated a confrontation, how could he be so confident Anakin would prevail…?

A dread as dense as osmium settled into his chest as one possibility dawned on him.

Nothing would spur Anakin’s ferocity as assuredly as the torture and slaying of someone he held dear…

And what’s more, with the young knight’s former Master out of the way, all that would remain after Maul’s demise would be an embittered, malleable Anakin Skywalker, with no pesky Obi-Wan Kenobi to pull him back to the light…

The Zabrak’s fanatical desire for prolonged vengeance—Obi-Wan’s only current leverage—would serve no further purpose for Sidious.

The Jedi closed his eyes at the realization.

If Maul were truly loyal to his Master, Obi-Wan’s time was up.

The sound of metal treading heavily over compacted refuse called the Jedi away from his thoughts as Maul emerged from the tunnel entrance.

Obi-Wan crawled his way back to the support beam to which he was chained, deliberately crossing over the chain’s slack so it formed an inconspicuous loop as he moved. He leaned sideways against the beam, so his back wouldn’t touch the metal column, and left his injured legs sprawled in front of him, cuffed hands resting in his lap. He watched Maul approach, hoping somehow his reasoning was flawed and his grim conclusion false.

“I’ve been ordered to finish you,” Maul stated.

Obi-Wan sighed. He’d never been less thrilled to be right.

But no matter. He had a plan. A plan of admittedly questionable merit—even Anakin might raise his eyebrows at its audaciousness—but a plan, nonetheless.

“You’d better get on with it, then. Wouldn’t want to defy your Master.” Obi-Wan rasped.

Maul just glared at him, unmoving.

Obi-Wan returned his stare, narrowing his eyes and scrutinizing the Sith’s features. “Aah,” he said. “I detect a trace of reluctance. Perhaps even… distress?” With a wry smile, he added, “My, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were beginning to like me.”

“You haven’t suffered nearly enough…”

“Well that’s hardly my fault, is it?”

“I lost my mind down here!” Maul hissed, ignoring the Jedi’s retort. The rage was still there, but now there was also a hint of desperation in his voice. “Years… and years… and years in the bowels of this squalid, black hellhole…”

“Right. Yes. This again.”  Obi-Wan cast his eyes up impatiently. “So what will it be, then?”

The Zabrak stepped closer and ignited his lightsaber.

Closer…

Maul took another step... that’s it… before crouching to Obi-Wan’s level. He raised his crimson blade to the Jedi’s neck, just above his iron collar.

Obi-Wan dropped his gaze to the blade, then to the ground. Along the way, he furtively eyed Maul’s metal waist. Obi-Wan’s lightsaber hilt was still arrogantly clipped to it, an empty trophy.

“Slitting your throat would be too merciful,” the Sith purred, his voice low and dangerous.

Obi-Wan brought his eyes back to the blade. “Yes. Definitely.”

Maul smiled sinisterly as he trailed the tip of his blade down Obi-Wan’s chest, searing a long, shallow incision into his skin. “Tell me…” The blade stopped just to the right of the man’s naval. “How do you feel about disembowelment?” He pushed the blade in slightly, hungrily gauging the Jedi’s reaction.

Obi-Wan’s upper lip twitched and his pulse quickened at the penetrating burn, but he bit his lips together and remained silent. His eyes traced the blade’s path downward, gaze briefly flitting over his own bound hands before lifting to meet the Sith’s eyes. Now or never, he thought, praying his cuffs weren’t forged from Mandalorian iron. “Seems awfully messy, if I’m honest.”

On the last word, Obi-Wan moved like lightening, hoisting both arms up to the blade, a hand on each side. In the same motion, before he could even confirm the cuffs had be separated, he ducked sideways, rolled over the chain to Maul’s left, and yanked the chain with all his might. The large loop of slack, which Maul had unwittingly stepped into, tightened around his talons before he realized what was happening. The chain twisted him around and pulled his mechanical ankles together, throwing him off balance and sending him tumbling backward onto Obi-Wan.

Obi-Wan wasted no time, wrapping one arm around Maul’s neck to hold him down firmly against his own chest. Maul, who had been caught completely off guard with Obi-Wan’s swift maneuver, was beginning to fight back, but he wasn’t quick enough. Obi-Wan grunted and tightened his grip around the Sith’s neck while he reached around the Zabrak’s torso with his other arm. He grabbed the familiar hilt dangling from Maul’s metal hip, pressed it against the side of his ribcage, and ignited it.

Maul sputtered as Obi-Wan’s blade pierced him, and his writhing body stiffened. Beneath him, Obi-Wan lay still, panting in shock. The entire scuffle couldn’t have lasted more than a few chaotic seconds. He stared, disbelieving, at the blue shaft of light that had emerged from the other side of Maul’s trunk. Had he really just…?

The Sith’s body slackened, the crimson lightsaber deactivating and falling from his hand. Obi-Wan retracted his own weapon and wriggled out from beneath the Zabrak’s limp form. He propped himself up on one elbow, saber hilt at the ready in his opposite hand, to take a closer look. A sliver of life still lingered in Maul’s bewildered eyes, and Obi-Wan felt an unexpected pang of pity in the pit of his stomach as Maul’s chest heaved sporadically in distress.

Obi-Wan leaned forward, positioning and re-igniting his lightsaber so its blue blade lit up beneath Maul’s neck. He brought his lips close to Maul’s ear and said earnestly, “I am sorry for your suffering. I’ll not make the same mistake twice.” With one abrupt, clean swipe upward, he severed the Sith’s head.

Exhaustion overtook him almost immediately. He collapsed onto his back, only to cry out from the pain of his forgotten wounds and promptly roll back onto his side, resting his head on his outstretched arm.

As he caught his breath and the adrenaline drained from his mind and body, the reality of his injuries set in. The excruciating throb of his legs and the raw burn of his back were familiar enough—but now a new ache sprung from his middle. Shifting his head on his arm, he looked down inquiringly at his abdomen for the source of the pain.

Oh.

Apparently, Obi-Wan’s maneuvering, while expeditious, wasn’t as evasive as he’d hoped. An alarmingly deep gash ran horizontally outward from his naval, and with every breath, every miniscule movement, a jolt of electric agony assailed his insides.

He was beginning to feel queasy, the edges of his vision growing dark and the back of his head turning to mush.

Don’t you dare, Kenobi.

He gave his head a shake, fending off unconsciousness as he brought his lightsaber up and over his shoulder, so that it ran parallel to his spine. He bent his head forward, allowing himself access to his collar’s clasp at the back of his neck, and carefully sliced through the link that secured it. The manacle hinge was stubborn, and it took two tugs to open the collar. When it finally released, Obi-Wan wondered if he might expire right then from the overwhelming impact of the Force suddenly flowing through him, flooding his mind and engulfing his senses.

He lay there and allowed himself to adapt to the intense sensations, as one might adjust to a bright sun when stepping out of darkness. But as the sparks in the Force slowly settled around him, one light refused to dim.

Anakin was close.

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Lotho Minor loomed, shrouded in a rust-colored haze, dead ahead in his viewport.

His hyperspace route down the Corellian Run and onto the Koda Spur hadn’t taken long, and now Anakin was cruising toward the junkyard planet, wondering whether the Force would be as generous with its guidance here as it had been in the Archives.

The first thing he’d done upon entering the vast library was—with some reluctance—sit in a quiet corner and revisit his most recent vision. With uncharacteristic patience, Anakin had scanned the background of the dreamscape, over and over again. Doing his best to look beyond his Master’s suffering. Waiting for something helpful to reveal itself. Eventually, a strange machine slowly lumbering about in the blurry depths of a distant tunnel caught his eye. It was collecting loose trash and burning it. With nothing else to go on, he’d searched the Archive’s records for all documented makes and models of incinerator droids and the locations associated with their use. He’d found several potential matches, brought up an astrographic holomap of their primary locations, and begged the Force to point him in the right direction. Anakin’s attention had been inexplicably pulled to this remote, terrestrial dump in Wazta Sector of the Outer Rim. Absent any other leads, he went with his gut.

Early in his journey, Anakin had found himself doubting his instincts, but as he sped through hyperspace, he could feel his connection to Obi-Wan growing ever slightly stronger, and he knew he was on the right track.

He had just dropped to realspace and was impatiently tapping the controls, wondering exactly where he should aim to land, when he suddenly felt Obi-Wan’s faint signature in the Force burst forth like a supernova. It sent a shockwave through their bond that might have physically knocked Anakin over had he not been snuggly strapped into his seat.

The strong presence seemed to call him, and he followed it to a wide valley on the surface, nestled between towering mountains of decay. He spotted a parked ship and landed his own beside it. Strangely, Anakin sensed no immediate danger as he disembarked. No foreboding ripples in the Force. No ominous warnings tugging at the back of his mind. Everything was quiet and still, save for the connection pulsating between the knight and his former Master.

Like a beacon in the dark, Obi-Wan’s Force presence glowed unwaveringly, guiding Anakin through winding, sloped tunnels that descended through layer after layer of waste. Anakin could barely breathe, the air was so caustic. He’d brought his walking stick, but his adrenaline seemed to be enough to hold him up for now.

Eventually, the tunnel spat him out into a sickeningly familiar setting. But now, as Anakin stepped cautiously into the open, he saw the two figures from his vision lying motionless on the ground. The Zabrak had been beheaded, and Obi-Wan, clutching his abdomen, appeared to be fighting a losing battle against unconsciousness. He was out by the time Anakin knelt beside him.

Anakin allowed himself no time to pause and be heartsick over Obi-Wan’s wounds, or to ponder how the older Jedi had managed to take down the Zabrak in such a state. With some help from the Force, he gently lifted Obi-Wan’s limp body up and over his shoulder, called his walking stick to his opposite hand, and trudged back to the shuttle.

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“Darth Maul… still alive after all these years… Absolutely dreadful…”

Chancellor Palpatine’s pensive words rolled off his tongue, smooth as silk, as he gazed out through his office’s panoramic window at Coruscant’s vast cityscape.

Anakin had just told him about Obi-Wan’s return. Although he wasn’t particularly keen on disclosing the news, he needed to maintain his friendship with the Chancellor for the time being—as if he still knew nothing of the man’s true identity. Hearing the update from anyone other than Anakin would surely have raised suspicion.

The older man turned to Anakin, who had remained seated in one of the four padded chairs that faced the Chancellor’s desk, walking stick leaning against the chair’s arm.

“I’m so… relieved… you were able to find Master Kenobi,” the Chancellor continued. “What would he ever do without you?”

Force, had he always been this creepy? How had Anakin never noticed? “He defeated Maul on his own… I was just his ride home. I’m sure he could have found his way back without me.”

“So modest…” The man oozed affection. It took every ounce of strength Anakin had to resist punching him in his crusty old face. He averted his eyes, feigning sheepishness, as Palpatine continued. “How is he doing now? Have you spoken with him?”

“Not yet. He’s been in surgery all morning, then I imagine he’ll be spending the rest of the day in a bacta tank.”

Palpatine turned back to the window and stood in silent thought for a moment. “You care deeply for him,” he said finally. Bluntly.

Anakin tread carefully. “He was my Master. He’s my friend.”

“I understand. It’s not my intent to judge. Frankly, Anakin, in my view, attachment is…” he turned back to Anakin. “…a perfectly natural—dare I say healthy—thing. I only wish the Council felt the same. I’m sure you realize if the matter had been left up to them, Master Kenobi may never have been found…”

Creepy and transparent.

“Maybe,” Anakin replied. “But the Council is dealing with a war. They’re trying to be pragmatic.”

“Of course, of course. I meant nothing by it. I’m just glad you were there for your friend.”

“I know. Thanks,” Anakin said, keeping his voice calm and polite. He had to get out of this place. If he had to listen to one more line of false gratitude from this imposter, he was going to scream. He rubbed the back of his neck and, acting reluctant, muttered “I should be going—Madame Che is already displeased with me…” Then he forced a lighthearted chuckle. “I’d hate to face her wrath if I miss another therapy session.”  

“No no, we wouldn’t want that. Go on and take care of yourself. We’ll talk again another time.”

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Anakin peaked through the small, transparisteel window beside the door to Obi-Wan’s room in the orthopedic trauma ward of the Halls of Healing. The privacy curtain was pulled back, and he could see Obi-Wan nearly sitting upright, the head of his adjustable bed at its maximum inclination. The Jedi Master’s eyes were closed—whether in sleep or mediation Anakin couldn’t tell. His hair was clean and parted, all soft and honey and copper as it caught the warm light in the narrow ray of sun that snuck through the room’s single slit window. His beard was kempt, but still longer than Anakin suspected he’d prefer.

Anakin’s eyes travelled downward, and he winced as he saw the bruising that covered his friend’s chest. The mark that ran down from his collar bone and dipped beneath the bedsheet at his abdomen.  He’s safe now, the young Jedi reminded himself. Obi-Wan was safe, and Anakin was here for him. He would take care of him.

Anakin entered cautiously, careful not to disturb the older man. He turned around for a moment to ensure the door closed quietly behind him, and when he turned back, he found Obi-Wan’s eyes upon him.

The young knight’s heart could have burst.

“Hey,” Anakin said, unable to stop a giant smile from spreading over his face. Before he could give his greeting any reasonable consideration, he asked, “How are you doing?” He recoiled almost immediately at his own stupidity, a sarcastic rebuke resounding in his head. Nice one, genius. The man’s been a Sith Lord’s prisoner for five months… No big deal. He’s probably doing just great. “I mean—” Anakin stammered, clumsily attempting to rephrase the question. “Are you—”

“I’m alright,” Obi-Wan quietly assured him, offering a belated smile. It was small on his lips but clear in his watery, blue-gray eyes.

Force. FORCE. Those eyes. If there were a more beautiful thing in the universe, Anakin couldn’t name it. He didn’t want to pull his gaze from the man’s face, but he didn’t know what to say, and he was beginning to feel awkward just standing there, gawking at his bedridden former Master.

Then he remembered the walking stick still in his hand and the bag slung over his shoulder. Only partially thankful for an excuse to look away, Anakin stepped to the table across from Obi-Wan’s bed to set his things down. He could feel Obi-Wan’s eyes on his back, and as he leaned the walking stick against the wall, part of him wished Obi-Wan would crack a joke about it. But the older man said nothing.

Anakin let the bag slide down his arm and onto the table, unzipped the main compartment, and pulled out a tall metal thermos.

“What sort of contraband have you got there?” Obi-Wan asked, doing his best to inject some amusement into his rough voice.

“I thought…” Anakin replied, distracted as he pulled a cup from the bag and unscrewed the canister lid. “I thought you might like some tea… and…” He paused as he began pouring. “I mean, I know the healers have their own standard blend for patients… but it’s terrible… or at least—I don’t know. It seemed like you would think it was terrible, and… I just—” He was rambling. Why was he rambling? Force, his hands were shaking. Why was he so nervous? “I just… figured you’d prefer your own.” Anakin turned his head to flash Obi-Wan a quick smile as he continued. “So I…”

His smile dissolved instantly, words fizzling on his tongue, when he saw the expression on Obi-Wan’s face. The man’s troubled eyes looked Anakin up and down, and his jaw trembled. He started to say something, but his lips made no sound as they moved. Just as Anakin opened his own mouth to speak, Obi-Wan tried again.

“Obi-W—”

“I need you closer,” Obi-Wan choked. His voice broke on the last word, and Anakin felt a dam rupture in the Force as a wave of emotions, tangled and inseparable, surged through their bond. Relief, regret, joy, sorrow. Apprehension.

Anakin immediately put the cup down and stepped toward the bed. As he approached, he could discern two wet tracks glistening down his friend’s face as the evening sun skimmed over them.

Stars. Obi-Wan was weeping. Silently but openly weeping.

Anakin stood at his side, unsure of what to say or do. He’d never seen—or felt—Obi-Wan so vulnerable. What he wanted was to wrap his arms around his Master and never let go. But, of course, the man was in no condition to be held.

Obi-Wan seemed to sense his former padawan’s dilemma. Pressing his fists into the mattress, he lifted himself slightly so he could shift to the right. A large bacta pad that he’d been resting against fell away from him as he moved, revealing copious seepage from the wounds on his back.

Anakin’s chest knotted. He shifted the pad and allowed Obi-Wan to lie back against it. Then he took a seat directly on the bed beside him, careful to avoid his injured legs.

Obi-Wan’s eyes darted over Anakin’s features in a sort of silent awe, intermittent tears sneaking over wet lashes and trailing over pale skin into damp, ginger facial hair. With unsteady fingers he reached up and touched Anakin’s forehead, running his fingertips along Anakin’s hairline as if he half expected them to pass right through the young man. As if he needed physical confirmation that Anakin was actually there. Never before had Anakin witnessed such raw emotion break through the man’s impassive façade, and his heart ached at the sight.

A dry, weathered thumb brushed over Anakin’s cheek, and Anakin closed his eyes and leaned into the touch, lifting his flesh hand to rest over Obi-Wan’s fingers as they settled against his jawline. Without thinking, he turned his head and pressed his lips against the center of Obi-Wan’s palm. It was warm and smelled of soap and spice and home…

Anakin’s eyes shot open the instant he realized what he’d done, looking to the older Jedi in silent panic. Unable to find his voice, he broadcast his apology through their bond.

Obi-Wan shook his head. His eyes said It’s alright. Then a timid, whispered plea broke through the quiet: “Do it again.”

Anakin’s heart skipped a beat. Several beats. Did he hear that right? He kept his eyes locked on Obi-Wan’s as he slowly turned his head back, waiting for the inevitable signal that he was mistaken—that this was absolutely not what his former Master had meant. But no signal came. Anakin swallowed nervously before brushing his lips against the man’s palm once more, watching in wonder as his Master closed his eyes in… relief? Comfort? …Pleasure?

Fresh tears slipped beneath Obi-Wan’s twitching lashes.

Again and again and again, from palm to fingertip and back down to wrist, Anakin placed slow, tender kisses upon that hand as he held it in his own—never pulling his gaze from Obi-Wan’s face. When Anakin let up, Obi-Wan opened his eyes and raised his free hand to the other side of Anakin’s jaw, gently pulling their faces toward one another. For the briefest of moments, Anakin thought he caught Obi-Wan’s gaze dart down over his lips. But he had to have imagined it.

Don’t ever do that again.

The sad words from a lifetime ago resurfaced in his memory and echoed in his ears. He couldn’t repress his vivid recollection of the moment that had prompted them… Soft lips… Racing heart… Hitched breath…

Anakin dutifully pushed aside his longing as their foreheads met.

The two Jedi stayed this way for some time, each quietly taking in the other’s presence, finding solace in the familiar. Individual Force signatures frayed with emotion but resilient as they overlapped.

Obi-Wan finally broke the silence with a sharp sniffle and a quiet chuckle. “Forgive me. I’m a mess.”

Anakin opened his eyes and smiled as he gave Obi-Wan’s hand an affectionate squeeze. “I won’t tell anyone.” After a long pause—during which Anakin debated whether he should tease the man and ultimately decided no, not just yet—he asked, “Would you like that tea now?”

“Very much.”

As Anakin stood from the bed to retrieve the cup he’d poured earlier, he added, “I made Trammistan chocolate cookies, too.”

Obi-Wan looked impressed. “And they managed to survive the entire trek from our flat to the Halls of Healing in your custody?”

“Well, not all of them,” Anakin answered as he pulled another cylindrical container from his bag. He shot Obi-Wan a smirk as he popped the lid. “It’s a long walk. A guy gets hungry.”

“He does, indeed,” Obi-Wan replied, a fond half smile pulling at his lips.

Anakin passed the tea to the older man and set the cookies on the bed beside him. As Obi-Wan drank, the younger man pulled over the chair from the corner of the room—as close to the bed as he could get it—and took a seat. Obi-Wan took a cookie, looking it over briefly before taking a bite. “I hope they’re okay,” Anakin said, almost apologetically. “I wanted to make your favorite again, but all my barq is apparently at the bottom of a giant lake on Ando Prime.”

“Anything is an improvement over insect larvae,” Obi-Wan assured him. He looked to Anakin and grinned. “I’d even accept warra nuts.”

Guilt tore through Anakin’s chest as he imagined his Master, broken and alone, scavenging for bugs for sustenance. He looked down and bit his lip hard.

The older man’s concern shot through their bond. “Anak—?”

“I’m so sorry.”

Obi-Wan looked confused. “You’ve nothing to apologize for.”

“I wasn’t... I wasn’t there for you… you were alone for so long…”

Obi-Wan had the nerve to roll his eyes. “Perhaps it’s slipped your mind, my young, intrepid friend, but my understanding is that you were in a coma. I think you get a pass.”

“But—”

“I’ll hear no more of it. You retrieved me. I’m here. You’re here.” Obi-Wan took a breath. “You’re here,” he quietly repeated on the exhale, as if he still couldn’t believe it. “I—” he paused to swallow, then met the younger man’s eyes. “Anakin… I’ve never known a deeper joy than what I felt when I saw you at that door.”

Anakin couldn’t find adequate words for a response, so he nodded, trying to convey through their bond that the feeling was mutual.

Several minutes passed in an amicable silence interrupted only by Obi-Wan’s muffled munching. When the first cookie was done, he eagerly reached for another.

Anakin smiled. “Glad you like them.”

Obi-Wan nodded, not wanting to speak with his mouth full (this was Obi-Wan, after all). After swallowing, he said cheekily, “Glad you made them.”

“Watch the crumbs, though. If they drop into that ridiculous beard, we’ll never see them again.”

“Ridiculous, is it?”

“A bit.”

A corner of Obi-Wan’s mouth quirked up. “Does my… ‘air of authority’ not correlate with its length, then?”

“Nope.”

“Good. The itchy, bedraggled thing’s been driving me mad for weeks, to tell the truth.”

Anakin’s smile grew wider. “You know, I kind of suspected as much,” he said, getting up from his chair to retrieve something else from his bag. Obi-Wan raised a curious eyebrow, and a beautiful, genuine laugh escaped his lips when he saw what Anakin held in his hand upon his return. It was Obi-Wan’s beard trimmer.

“You’ve burgled my fresher.” Obi-Wan’s eyes sparkled with amusement.

“For a good cause,” Anakin replied, exaggeratedly defensive. “I thought—” He stopped, suddenly feeling very silly, and he looked down, embarrassed. He tried to explain. “I was trying to think of something I could do for you right away to make you feel a little better. I wasn’t sure how well food would go over, but… it seemed like you might appreciate…”

“A little grooming?” Obi-Wan finished the sentence for him, still smiling. “I would. Greatly. Have you got a mirror? I’m in no condition to stand at a fresher sink…”

“No. But I have eyes. And a steady hand.”

Obi-Wan squinted at him skeptically.

“I can trim a damn beard, Master,” Anakin assured him with an eye roll.

“Very well. If you’re serious, I’ll let you have a go as soon as I’m through with the cookies.”

While Obi-Wan finished his snack, Anakin rummaged through a set of recessed cabinets in the wall for a towel, or something equally adequate, to catch the trimmings. He settled for a pillowcase. He felt Obi-Wan’s body tense as he placed the linen over his chest and around his neck.

“Relax.”

“Easy for you to say. If you’re as delicate with that thing as you are with your lightsaber, I’m the one coming out the other end of this looking like… some sort of disgruntled Ewok.”

Anakin chuckled as he sat down on the bed beside him. “Fair point. I don’t suppose that would do much for your authority.” Then, unable to help himself, he smirked mirthfully and added “But it would be kind of cute.”

The older man responded with a deadpan stare, which Anakin happily ignored as he flipped the switch and began. He trimmed with his gloved hand, and with the other he held Obi-Wan’s face gently by his chin.

Kriff. Somehow, this was far more intimate than Anakin had expected. To be so close. To have an excuse to touch and observe, at length, the miniscule details of Obi-Wan’s features. And when he’d gotten the beard down to the length he was used to, after he’d adjusted the trimmer to clean up the edges… When he tilted Obi-Wan’s head back to expose his neck… running his thumb gently along stretched tendons beneath his jaw to coax his chin further upward… Watched as an elusive Adam’s apple emerged and wavered nervously… enticingly…

His steady hand no longer so steady, Anakin trimmed the neckline as quickly as possible. When he finished, he hastily set the trimmers down and cleared his throat.

“Feel better?” he asked, averting his eyes as he gathered up the pillowcase and shook the trimmings out into a trash bin.

“Remarkably,” Obi-Wan replied, running his fingers over his freshly cut whiskers. “Do I look better?”

Anakin looked up as he folded the linen and set it on the table. Sith hells. “You look—” Perfect. “…good. Really good,” he stammered awkwardly.

Obi-Wan blinked. “I… Thank you…” Obi-Wan said, just as awkwardly.

Anakin needed to think about something else before the stupid heat rising to his stupid face colored it bright red. He tried to busy himself by putting away the tea and cookie containers.

Obi-Wan spoke again, sounding eager to change the subject. “I imagine you might be curious about the events surrounding our crash on Ando Prime?”

Anakin was, in fact, very curious. But he hadn’t brought it up because he didn’t want to be pushy. Trying to keep things lighthearted, he replied, “I don’t know, Master. Ahsoka said I was found naked in a sleeping bag…” He flashed a playfully suggestive smirk in Obi-Wan’s direction. “Do I want to know the details?”

To Anakin’s delight, Obi-Wan rolled his eyes. “I can keep it brief,” he said. “You were knocked unconscious after the second hit. There was a third strike that breached the back of the shuttle. I…” His voice faltered. “…couldn’t fly it. We crashed into a lake. You nearly drowned, and I performed CPR on you until you were breathing again. I retrieved a supply bin from the sunken ship. We were slowly freezing to death, and our garments were wet, so…” Obi-Wan cleared his throat. “I removed them and made a bedroll for us to… huddle in. To keep us dry and conserve our body heat.”

It took every ounce of Anakin’s will to stifle his laugh. What he wouldn’t give to have seen Obi-Wan’s face…

He couldn’t resist.

“So… just to be clear…” Anakin started, raising a dubious eyebrow. “You gave me mouth-to-mouth.”

Obi-Wan heaved a weary sigh. “Yes.”

“And you… spooned me?”

“Er… Yes.”

“While we were naked.”

Another sigh. “Yes.”

Anakin grinned mischievously. “Huh. Bummer I was unconscious for all of that. Missed out on all the fun.”

The older Jedi cast his eyes upward in exasperation, a subtle blush rising to his cheeks. Suddenly he chuckled, his brief embarrassment apparently giving way to amusement. “Well, actually,” he said, “you did come around for a moment… but only to mock my resuscitation efforts.”

That time, Anakin did laugh. “What do you mean? What did I say?”

“I believe you referred my ministrations as… how did you put it… A really lame way to kiss you back.”

Anakin tilted his head as if giving the comment serious consideration. “Well, I wasn’t exactly wrong—” he tried to counter, but Obi-Wan wasn’t done.

“And before you ridicule me further, let me remind you that my really lame way to kiss you back saved your life.”

“Wouldn’t have had to save my life if you wouldn’t have crashed the ship,” Anakin retorted with a grin.

He was anticipating a witty reply, but, instead, Obi-Wan looked as though he’d be slapped. Anakin’s heart sank as the older man blinked and looked away. “I’m aware,” he said quietly.

Kriff. Anakin cursed his impulsive mouth. “I didn’t mean— Please… It was only a joke, Obi-Wan.”

“I know.” He offered Anakin a sad smile in acknowledgement but said nothing further.

Anakin couldn’t leave it at that. He leaned forward and said, starting off in a false whisper, “You were supposed to say, ‘I wouldn’t have crashed the ship if my lazy-ass co-pilot had stayed awake to help me.'” He broke out his best Obi-Wan impression, hoping the combination of his purportedly atrocious Coruscanti accent and his less-than-wholesome word choice would make Obi-Wan laugh.

It did.

They settled into another stretch of amicable silence, both of them growing drowsy as the waning sliver of light from the slotted window disappeared altogether. The sunset triggered a dim ambient lamp to flicker on, casting a soothing warm light upward from a single sconce on the far wall.

Anakin watched as Obi-Wan’s eyes fluttered shut. Then he leaned back in his chair and closed his own eyes.

“Anakin?”

The voice surprised him. He had thought Obi-Wan was already drifting off. “Yeah?” he answered.

There was a long pause before Obi-Wan spoke again. “How much do you remember?” Anakin peaked beneath an eyelid to find Obi-Wan looking his way. “Before you blacked out...”

Anakin closed the eye again. He remembered all of it. Letting a paranoid voice inside his head convince him that Obi-Wan had something to hide. Backing his friend into a corner. Forcing the poor man to admit... “I remember being an idiot,” he replied bluntly. “Making you tell me something I had no right to know.”

Another long pause. Then, in that gentle, forgiving, beautifully understanding voice, “You were scared.”

Anakin scoffed at himself. “I was terrified,” he replied. “But… that shouldn’t have mattered.”

When he heard no response, Anakin sat up and opened his eyes. The older man just sat there, staring sadly at a spot on the wall.

Anakin was so sleepy, but he didn’t want the conversation to end there. “I… I’ve been meditating more. To try to get better about… handling my emotions.”

Obi-Wan turned his head back to Anakin and smiled. There was a glint of pride in his eyes. “Has it helped?”

Anakin smiled back. “I spent three weeks in the Halls of Healing not knowing where you were, knowing everyone else had stopped looking for you, and unable to go look for you myself. And the Temple is still standing. You tell me.”

The older man chuckled as he leaned back and closed his eyes again. “I’ve missed you, Anakin.”

The words filled Anakin with a soul-soothing warmth. “I’ve missed you, too,” he whispered.

He watched Obi-Wan’s chest rise and fall, the rhythmic motion beginning to lull him to sleep. There was still so much more they needed to talk about. Palpatine. Maul. The war. Their next moves…

But they were both so tired…

It could wait until morning.

“Anakin?”

Again, the voice surprised him. A sense of unease trickled through their bond. “Yeah?”

“Would you…” Obi-Wan sounded reluctant to finish his request.

At that point, it occurred to Anakin that his former Master might want some time to himself to rest, but that he might be hesitant to ask for fear of hurting Anakin’s feelings.  “Do you want me to leave you alone? So y—”

Obi-Wan’s eyes were still closed, but he cut Anakin off with a sharp, almost desperate “No.” His voice softened as he turned his head and looked helplessly at the younger man. “That is, unless you’d like to leave…”

Anakin stared earnestly into those eyes, deep slate gray in the low light, and shook his head.

 

Chapter Text

Obi-Wan hadn’t really intended to fall asleep so quickly.

He’d wanted more time to enjoy his friend’s company. More time for the two of them to fall inevitably into their old, familiar banter. Time to tease and be teased. He’d wanted more time to hear the younger man laugh. To relish that wide, warm smile. To watch him worry nervously at his lip and stumble endearingly over his words.

He’d wanted more time to convince himself that this was real.

Moreover—and more importantly, he had to sternly remind himself—there was still so much to discuss about what lay ahead. Turbulent thoughts rolled through his mind in a disordered jumble. He needed to tell Anakin about Maul and Sidious. They’d need to figure out what to report to the Council. He needed an update on the war—intel on Dooku and Grievous. The status of the Order. Their troops in the 501st and the 212th. He needed to know what Palpatine had been up to and whether Anakin had spoken to the man since waking from his coma. He needed to know more about Anakin’s condition and recovery. About how Anakin was found. He needed a plan. He needed…

Force. He needed to rest.

And try as he might to remain awake, sleep had beckoned with relentless persistence. The room’s peaceful, muted lighting certainly hadn’t helped. Nor had his bed, with its unbelievably soft mattress and clean sheets. His stomach was full, no longer churning with the foul meat of trash-dwelling grubs but sated with tea and hearty cookies. And then, perhaps most comforting of all, there was the protective, affectionate, charmingly impetuous man beside him… shaking his head so solemnly at the notion of leaving his old Master’s side…

All these things had been too much. Obi-Wan couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt this level of contentment, and with Anakin’s assurance that he would not be left alone, he’d finally succumbed, letting his heavy eyelids drop as his whole being sank into a blissful, gratified slumber.

Blissful, but brief.

Something was nudging his leg. Probably some well-meaning but overly vigilant healer, he figured, coming by to poke and prod at his sore, reconstituted thighs.

Mildly perturbed to have been pulled from his sleep so soon after dozing, Obi-Wan groggily opened his eyes to investigate. While he blinked his surroundings into focus, the mattress beneath him squeaked and shifted under an unidentified weight.

The Jedi Master’s eyes widened as their attention converged on the tall figure climbing onto his bed. The dim glow from the wall sconce revealed sun-kissed skin and tousled hair that most decidedly did not belong to a healer.

What in blazes…?

His former padawan was carefully straddling his lap.

Obi-Wan blinked several more times, confused.

Anakin eyed him silently with a shy but hungry expression—an expression altogether new to Obi-Wan (but one he would not soon forget). The man planted his flesh hand on the mattress beside Obi-Wan’s shoulder and reached with his other for the bed’s controls on the far bedrail, effectively trapping the older man beneath him. Obi-Wan was slowly reclining, and Anakin was inching forward, his hips rolling precariously close to…

Obi-Wan’s mind was racing. This was too bold. Surely Anakin knew better than to…

The reclining ceased and the young Jedi sat up, allowing his weight to settle shamelessly against Obi-Wan’s groin. Obi-Wan emitted an embarrassing whimper, but before he could properly protest, Anakin reached for his hand. Without a word, Anakin brought it to his mouth, staring Obi-Wan down as his lips grazed over its palm and fingertips…

The gesture was familiar—a virtual repeat of Anakin’s response to Obi-Wan’s earlier moment of… weakness—but this time Anakin didn’t stop at his wrist. Obi-Wan remained frozen, in a sort of speechless, befuddled shock, as the chaste kisses continued delicately over lingering stun cuff wounds, up the length of his arm and over his shoulder, to the sensitive juncture where his shoulder met his neck. There, an inquisitive tongue emerged between parted lips…

Obi-Wan’s abdominal muscles tightened reflexively, and—

They didn’t hurt.

Puzzled, he flexed his thighs.

No pain.

He was dreaming.

Oh thank the Force.

Not that the sensations wrought by the younger man’s attentions were entirely disagreeable. (In fact, Obi-Wan found the warm rush of tingles surging from his neck to his middle to be quite pleasant.) But it didn’t feel… right. This wasn’t how he would want…

It’s only a dream, he reminded himself. And you’re so tired…

And, just this once, rather than willing himself to wake in a humiliated sweat, he decided… maybe… maybe… it might be okay if he just… let it be.

To that end, as Anakin began to grind slowly against him, Obi-Wan raised no objection. Instead, he let his head drop back against the bed and closed his eyes. He welcomed the rapid pounding in his chest as his heartrate climbed. Accepted the stutter in his breath as his lungs tightened with every touch. He allowed himself to be completely undone by Anakin’s warm, wet mouth on his neck, and he forgave his own arousal as Anakin’s deliberate, rhythmic movements brought him to hardness.

As the younger man sucked a lazy trail from Obi-Wan’s earlobe down toward his shoulder, a gloved hand loosely wrapped around the other side of his neck, thumb brushing gently over his bearded jaw. Obi-Wan was trying to figure out where his own hands were so he could return the contact, when he felt something dark seep into the Force around him.  

It was only then that he realized it was no longer soft leather or tender lips against his skin. It was cold, unyielding metal. The delicious, gentle weight rocking demonstratively against his erection shifted lower, pushing into his thighs. By the time he felt his hands, they were bound together in his lap. A rancid smell crept into his nostrils, and his eyes flung open.

Two golden eyes were staring back at him.

No.

Oh please, no no no…

“Nice dream?” Maul hummed derisively from his crouched position, perched atop Obi-Wan’s legs. His gaze drifted downward, over Obi-Wan’s tented trousers, then back up to Obi-Wan’s face. His lips curled into a knowing smirk. “Hm. Must have been.”

No no no…

The Sith turned his head, looking over his shoulder as if to check on something, and then he turned back to Obi-Wan, frowning in mock pity. “I do hope it wasn’t about… him…” he taunted sarcastically as he stood, stepping aside to reveal a motionless, bisected body sprawled on the ground behind him. He flashed Obi-Wan a cruel sneer.

Obi-Wan’s heart lodged itself in his throat as he looked upon his lifeless former padawan, cut in two and left lying on the compacted trash floor like discarded meat. The air left his lungs as he beheld Anakin’s pale face, eyes wide and blue and vacant and staring right through him. Obi-Wan’s insides shriveled into ash. Had he been standing, he would have collapsed into a boneless heap. It can’t beIt can’t

“Oh dear,” the Zabrak drawled as he watched Obi-Wan’s heart shatter, in silent slow motion, before his eyes. “It was about him. How dreadful for you.” His disingenuous words barely registered.

But I killed you…

Anakin was coming, and I…

You…

It was real…

Wasn’t it?

And the Halls of Healing…

Panic coiled like a snake around Obi-Wan’s throat and constricted at the realization that none of it had been real. That he’d been here this whole time…

He couldn’t breathe.

He supposed that didn’t matter—if he stopped breathing for long enough, he would simply join the Force and be released from this hell. He didn’t want to sit up any longer. He let himself topple sideways, away from the beam he’d been leaning against, and buried his head in the crooks of his arms.

Maul stepped closer.

Please…

The snap-hiss of an igniting lightsaber echoed through the corrosive air.

Please end it…

A flash of bright crimson, then…

Obi-Wan woke with a start.

He gasped for air, chest heaving as he gradually, incredulously took in the familiar surroundings of a quiet recovery room in the Temple’s infirmary. The sterile smell of bacta rose sharply from the bedding beneath his back. A taupe, velvet privacy curtain that stretched from the ceiling to floor had been drawn across a section of the far wall, next to the door. It was night, and a dimmed lamp on the same wall cast a soothing, warm glow over the room.

Obi-Wan’s hands quivered as he raised them to confirm they were unbound.

He gave his head a firm shake to dispel his nightmare’s haunting imagery, then he inhaled deeply as he reached out to the Force. He expelled his lingering panic with the breath that flowed from his lungs, steady and controlled. He was safe. Maul was dead. Anakin had brought him back to the Temple.

Anakin.

He scanned the room, and a brief spark of concern flickered at the back of his mind when he didn’t see his friend. Thankfully, another nudge at his leg prompted him to look down, and he found his exhausted former padawan folded forward in the chair, arms tucked between his lap and stomach, with his head upon the bed, nuzzled firmly against Obi-Wan’s thigh. Obi-Wan smiled fondly. Anakin had never been particularly good at sleeping upright. The young man’s face was turned awkwardly toward the head of the bed, and although the contorted position didn’t look all that restful, Anakin’s contented face belied any discomfort. His cheek was mashed against the mattress in a way that left one side of his face languidly skewed, with his upper lip scrunched so that his mouth hung open and a subtle trail of drool escaped at the corner.

Obi-Wan felt his heart flutter. He immediately crinkled his brow and shook his head, not completely sure whether he was amused or annoyed with himself for being so charmed. Honestly, Kenobi. What an absurd reaction to such a… ridiculous spectacle. But the fond smile clung to his lips, nevertheless. Even comically distorted in heavy slumber, Anakin’s face was… the most wonderful thing he’d ever seen.

Oh dear. Obi-Wan’s throat tightened as a disconcertingly strong wave of gratitude washed over him, flooding his eyes with fresh, unshed tears. He slowly reached down and ran his fingers through the young man’s disheveled curls, dark against the white sheet that covered Obi-Wan from toe to naval. It seemed too good to be true. That after everything they’d been through, they were both back at the Temple, dry and clean and warm and fed and intact and alive

Obi-Wan’s pulse jumped as he was seized by a sudden, nauseating fear: maybe it was too good to be true. Maybe this was the dream. Maybe Maul had just knocked him unconscious, and Obi-Wan was only hiding in this unspoiled dreamscape to flee his torment…

He tensed his legs, and a jarring bolt of pain radiated outward through the damaged tissue around his repaired femurs. No. This had to be real. His brain hadn’t been able to conjure up that level of pain moments ago, even in the grips of Maul’s powerful talons. He closed his eyes, relieved.

But his muddled head wouldn’t leave him alone.

What about before that? When Anakin was in your bed…

When he sat astride you… and you let yourself come apart beneath him…

A dream, he assured himself. His mind might have been a jumbled mess, but he knew full well that couldn’t have happened. Anakin couldn’t possibly want…  

And even if he did…

Obi-Wan quickly extinguished the guarded hope that sparked in his chest. It didn’t matter. There’d been no pain. It wasn’t real.

What about earlier? When you held his face in your hands and wept like a child?

When he planted his lips in your palm and you crumbled before him and asked for more?

Or when you held your breath as he tended to your overgrown whiskers, praying he wouldn’t notice the desire in your eyes… behind your pitiful shields… while his fingers touched your neck and held your face so still?

Obi-Wan ran his free hand uneasily over his chin. Over his neatly cropped beard.

That had been real.

Force. That had all been real.

Obi-Wan pinched the bridge of his nose as an incongruous combination of relief and shame fought over the space in his heart.

He hadn’t been able to keep it together in front of his former padawan. What must Anakin think of him now? A Master Jedi reduced to a needy, sniveling mess because of his attachment.

Before he could tumble deeper into this well of self-reproach, a quiet but defiant little voice sounded from back of his mind with a gentle reminder: Your attachment was the only thing that got you out of Maul’s lair alive.

It was a voice that made itself known from time to time, but one he usually buried before ever giving a chance to speak. It had no place in the mind of a Jedi. But now… now he didn’t have the energy—nor the desire, frankly—to push it away. It spoke again.

Your attachment was the only thing that kept your mind intact while you were held in his chains.

And again.

If not for your attachment, you wouldn’t have given those last, despairing breaths when Anakin’s lungs were flooded on Ando Prime. The Chosen One would be dead.

The dissenting train of thought was disrupted when Anakin’s head shifted beneath Obi-Wan’s hand, which still lay absently against the young man’s temple, fingers buried in his hair. Obi-Wan carefully extricated his digits from the curls, just as Anakin turned his head and pressed his forehead into the mattress. A muffled but distressed moan emanated from the space between his face and the bedsheet. He untucked his arms and brought them up high enough to lace his fingers together tightly behind his head. His hands were straining, flesh knuckles stark white against durasteel joints clad in black, as if he were trying to hold his skull together while a storm raged within it.

Obi-Wan wanted to wake him, but he hesitated. If Anakin was having a new vision, it could be in their best interest—from a practical perspective—to let him see as much as possible. On the other hand, if it were a repeat of a previous vision, Obi-Wan didn’t think he could bear to see his friend suffer through it again.

Anakin shuddered, emitting another pitiful sound, and Obi-Wan’s resolve fell apart. He was about to place a hand on Anakin’s back to ease him out of his dream, when the young Jedi suddenly sat up. A crease between his brows, Anakin wiped his saliva-soaked cheek on his sleeve and looked to Obi-Wan. The two exchanged knowing glances.

“He can turn the clones,” Anakin said, his voice rough and his eyes still foggy with sleep.

Obi-Wan blinked. “Palpatine?” he gently prodded.

Anakin nodded as he bent forward again, resting his elbows on his thighs and hanging his head. “I saw—” He swallowed audibly and started over. “It’s how he takes down the Order when I… while I…” He looked back up to Obi-Wan, through long lashes and wayward locks, as his voice wavered. Moisture welled in his eyes, begging permission to omit the previously established portions of his visions.

Obi-Wan offered a subtle, empathetic nod of comprehension.

“There’s something—” Anakin glanced down at his hands, which were absently fidgeting with the edge of the bedsheet. He seemed to still be sorting out exactly what he’d seen, and his speech was littered with false starts. “I think they have— I think they’re programmed somehow… There’s an order he can give… to make them think the Jedi are…” Trailing off, he took a deep breath and forebodingly met Obi-Wan’s eyes. “In the middle of everything, Obi-Wan. They stop what they’re doing, like a switch has been flipped… every one of them… every fleet… everywhere… during combat… on the ground… in flight… while everyone sleeps… it doesn’t matter. They suddenly think the Jedi are the enemy, and they slaughter them on the spot.”

Obi-Wan was quiet as he processed what Anakin was saying. He did his best to keep his expression impassive, lest he instill any undue fear in his already emotionally frayed former padawan, but the implications of such a prospect—that Palpatine might be capable of executing such an order at a moment’s notice—chilled him to the bone.

“Obi-Wan?” Anakin’s troubled, cerulean eyes searched the older man’s face in a silent plea. Say something. Tell me it will be okay.

“It’s… an alarming revelation, to say the least…” Obi-Wan started, carefully.

Anakin visibly deflated.

Realizing belatedly that his friend could have mistaken his caution for skepticism, Obi-Wan hastily reached for his hand. “I believe you, Anakin,” he assured him, his tone firm. “I’m just… I’m not sure what to make of everything just yet. I haven’t even had a chance to tell you all the things I need to tell you—and there are so many things I want to know—and I’m so tired I’m not even sure where to begin.”

“I’m sorry,” Anakin murmured, dropping his gaze. Seeming to sense Obi-Wan’s puzzled concern, he elaborated. “Sorry I woke you up, I mean. You should rest. We can talk in the morning.”

“Anakin, you needn’t ever apologize for waking me,” Obi-Wan replied, gently but without hesitation. He gave Anakin’s hand a squeeze and held it tightly. When Anakin looked up again, Obi-Wan pointedly raised his eyebrows. “Ever.”

A cheeky grin slowly cracked the younger Jedi’s somber countenance. “Careful, Master, someday those words will come back to bite you.”

Obi-Wan returned a wry smile. “Oh, I’ve no doubt,” he conceded. “But I stand by them, all the same.” After a thoughtful pause, he added, “Besides, your apology is irrelevant in this instance. I was already awake, and—while I fully subscribe to your opinion that I ought to rest—I’m fairly certain I won’t be nodding off any time soon.”

Anakin sighed. “Me either.”

An unsettled hush fell over the small room. Obi-Wan decided he should probably stop staring at the younger man and reluctantly shifted his gaze to a spot on the far wall.

It didn’t take long for Anakin’s voice to break the silence, offering a hesitant suggestion. “If you feel up to it now—talking about things, I mean—maybe… maybe we could just start where we left off…?”

“And where was that, exactly?” Obi-Wan genuinely couldn’t recall. He rolled his head back toward Anakin, just in time to catch the younger Jedi’s mouth stretching into a smirk.

“Obi-Wan Kenobi heroically snuggling naked with another man in the desolate, frozen tundra of—”

“More heroic than you might think, my friend,” Obi-Wan quipped.

“I believe it. Probably the scariest thing you’ve ever done.”

Obi-Wan couldn’t suppress the hearty chuckle that sprung from his diaphragm. Anakin knew him too well. “A little out of my comfort zone, to be sure,” he acknowledged.

“Your comfort zone is a cup of tea and a book about plants. Everything is out of your comfort zone.”

“If you’re quite through teasing me, perhaps I’ll recount the tale of my capture…”

Anakin’s smile faded as he nodded. Obi-Wan squeezed his hand again.

“I was sleeping when Maul landed—”

“How was he even alive?” Anakin abruptly interjected, as if he’d been sitting on the question for ages and only just now realized he could ask it. “I mean, you kriffing sliced the guy in half…”

Obi-Wan fought the urge to roll his eyes. He hadn’t even managed a complete sentence. At this rate, it would take hours to tell the man everything. But then, he supposed they had hours to spare, sitting here together, restless in the quiet dark. “I wondered the same thing when I recognized him,” he replied. “Apparently, his hatred for me was enough to keep him going, or some such melodrama. His top half was dumped on Lotho Minor with a load of rubbish, and there he stayed… building a new bottom half, dreaming of revenge, and slowly driving himself mad… until his brother found him a decade later.”

“Yikes.”

This time, Obi-Wan didn’t fight the eye roll. “Yes. Yikes.”

Anakin’s mischievous grin returned. “Please tell me you fought him naked.”

“I did no such thing.”

“It would have been an effective distraction, you know.”

“Right now, you’re an effective distraction, you know.”

“Hm. And I’m not even naked…”

“May I continue?”

“Sure.” Anakin’s grin was still plastered on his face. Obi-Wan should have been annoyed, but, for all the stars, he couldn’t bring himself to feel anything but affection when this ridiculous man smiled.

He resumed his narrative. “Maul was alone, and I thought if I could defeat him, we could use his shuttle to get off the planet. But…” He closed his eyes and shook his head at the memory. “I wasn’t strong enough—he snapped my ribs with a Force grip like they were twigs. But I fought… I was so afraid for you, Anakin… unconscious and unable to defend yourself… I fought like hell…” The younger man flinched at Obi-Wan’s uncharacteristic word choice. “And when it wasn’t enough… when I woke aboard his ship… without you…” He went quiet, unable to finish the thought without his throat closing completely.

It was Anakin’s turn to squeeze Obi-Wan’s hand.

Obi-Wan hadn’t meant to digress, and he needed to backtrack to get to his point. “Anakin, I was frozen and weak. Maul could see right through me. He knew how much he could hurt me by torturing or killing you.” He averted his eyes at the admission, but before he spoke again, he met Anakin’s gaze with a penetrating stare. He needed Anakin to understand the importance of his next words. His speech was slow and measured, his tone grave. “But he did neither, because he was the apprentice of a Sith Lord who had specifically ordered him to leave Anakin Skywalker unharmed. His Master goes by the name Sidious, and you are apparently his eyes and ears inside the Order…”

Anakin had made the connection before Obi-Wan finished. “Palpatine is Sidious.”

Obi-Wan nodded. “Maul was able to pull us from hyperspace because Sidious helped arrange it. He had intel on our whereabouts, probably directly from the Council, and he also had intel on Count Dooku’s location—”

“What’s Dooku got to do with any of this?”

“Sidious allowed Maul to hijack Dooku’s flagship—apparently it had the gravity well projector they needed to create the interdiction field that caught us. It also had a cloaking device. Maul’s plan was to disable our ship and then tow it aboard.”

“And Maul was dumb enough to tell you all this?”

“Only some of it. I overheard him talking with his brother over the shuttle’s comm as he took me to Dooku’s frigate.”

“But why did they shoot us down if they were just supposed to disable us? If Sidious didn’t want me harmed?”

“Maul’s brother was the one who fired on us, and apparently he was a little trigger-happy. Maul was livid. They’d almost killed Sidious’s unwitting—but highly valued—agent. And if I’d been killed, too—”

“He’d never get his revenge…”

Obi-Wan nodded.

“Obi-Wan,” Anakin said hesitantly, his voice just above a whisper. “What did he do to you?”

Obi-Wan hadn’t really planned to get into the details of his time spent in Maul’s captivity. At least, not yet. But the concern in his friend’s eyes tugged painfully at the older man’s heart. He took a moment to collect his thoughts before answering. “He… inflicted a great deal of physical pain.” He smiled at Anakin, hoping to ease his worry. “Nothing I couldn’t handle, I assure you.”

“But—”

Obi-Wan should have known Anakin wouldn’t leave it at that. He would demand specifics. Obi-Wan tried again, hoping it would be enough. “He broke my legs, kept me shackled to a post with some kind of Force inhibitor, and left me in solitude for the majority of my imprisonment. That was all.”

“That wasn’t all,” Anakin argued. “You were a bloody mess when I found you…  I saw…” Obi-Wan could feel the frustrated anger seeping through their bond. It was raw and protective and white hot. “I saw him wailing on you… with… with those horrible metal legs… And your back…”

“He became more violent as time wore on,” Obi-Wan acknowledged. “He’d suffered so long because of what I did to him, and he was frustrated because I wouldn’t let him see me suffer the same.”

Anakin’s brow furrowed. “Wait. Are you seriously making excuses for him? Do you feel sorry for him?” His tone was incredulous.

“Anakin,” the older Jedi replied calmly. “I hated him once. And I don’t blame myself for his suffering. But… what he endured… I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. He… was just as damaged as the rest of us. He— He was raised in darkness, for Force’s sake, and not by choice. And for all the torture he threatened, he couldn’t seem to think beyond his own pain. There were so many things he could have done to me—things that would have broken me—but in the end, I think all he really wanted was someone to suffer with him. To share some parallel experience and come to know and acknowledge his pain. He doesn’t get a pass for all he did, but, yes, I do feel pity for him.”

Anakin said nothing, but his beautiful blue irises appeared to quiver beneath shimmering pools of moisture that clung to his eyes, and a misplaced thought echoed faintly through their bond. You’re too good for me.

Obi-Wan’s heart clenched. He fixed his former padawan with a stern stare as he projected his adamant disagreement: Manifestly untrue, and you know it. Then, circling back to their verbal exchange, he tried to offer the younger man further reassurance. “At any rate, it’s done. I’m okay.”

Anakin nodded halfheartedly as a tear slipped down his cheek. Obi-Wan briefly imagined pulling the man onto the bed and holding him close. But he ultimately brushed the thought aside, accepting the reality of his physical limitations. For now, words would have to suffice for comfort.

“Do you know how I managed to get through it with my mind in one piece?”

Anakin slowly shook his head.

“I felt… you. When you regained consciousness.” Obi-Wan smiled encouragingly at him, and he huffed a wistful half-chuckle as he added, “Your signature was so bright it breached the damn Force inhibitor.”

Anakin smiled back and sniffled quietly.

“I held onto that. And later, when Maul resorted to the lash? I could feel you getting closer, and… I…” Obi-Wan swallowed. “As long as I felt you, I swear Anakin, the pain was nothing to me.”

Anakin wiped his eyes. Obi-Wan desperately wished it were his own fingers brushing against those smooth cheeks. The tendons in his hands twitched impatiently, aching to reach out, but Obi-Wan compelled them to be still. He couldn’t afford to distract himself from the matter at hand. Anakin needed to know more.

“Anakin.” He paused to make sure he had the man’s full attention. “Maul would have kept me alive for… for years… if that was what it took to break me. But Sidious had no intention of allowing my torture to drag on indefinitely. Not long after I sensed your approach, he ordered Maul to kill me. I… think he knew you were coming. I think… that he meant for you to come for me. That he never intended to keep Maul as an apprentice, but to use him… He was just a means to an end… to kill me and lure you closer to darkness…”  Eyes still resolutely fixed on his former padawan, Obi-Wan took a deep breath. “Please listen to me. You’re going to need to be very careful. Palpatine will likely be trying to recruit you soon.”

Anakin huffed in agreement. “The creepy old sack of bones is already trying,” he muttered. “I talked to him when we got back… while you were in surgery.”

Obi-Wan raised his eyebrows in curious surprise.

“I didn’t… I didn’t want to… it made me sick… but I don’t want him to suspect anything.”

Obi-Wan could scarcely imagine how hard it must have been for Anakin to voluntarily approach the Chancellor, after everything the young knight had seen, and pretend nothing had changed. “That must have been incredibly difficult for you,” he said, hoping the pride in his chest could be felt through their bond.

“He was so… obvious. And when he asked about you… there was something in his voice… Force, Obi-Wan, I wanted to kill him right then...”

“I appreciate your restraint… The Senate would have had no reason not to view that as treason.” Obi-Wan’s lower back was beginning to protest from his immobility, and he winced as he shifted in the bed, trying find a more comfortable position. The bacta pad beneath him crinkled irritatingly.

“Do you need some help?” Anakin asked. “I can go track down a fresh pad for you—”

“No, I’m fine. I’m…” He trailed off, wanting to return to their conversation. “Anakin, have you talked to anyone about… about your visions? About any of this?”

The young knight bit his bottom lip, his expression anxious, as if he didn’t want to say the wrong thing for fear of disappointing Obi-Wan. “I… no. I mean, there was nothing to say was there? I had no proof. And I wanted… to wait. Until I could talk to you. I don’t think anyone else would have taken me seriously.”

“I think Master Yoda would have.”

“I… maybe. But he wasn’t here. Hardly anyone’s been here.”

“You couldn’t comm him?”

“I could have, but I… I don’t know. Something didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel safe telling anyone, Obi-Wan.” He paused for a moment. “Actually, now that I know more… I’m glad I didn’t tell anyone.” Obi-Wan could almost see the gears turning in his head as he spoke. “I don’t mean to sound paranoid, Master, but…”

Obi-Wan shook his head, trusting there was more to Anakin’s apprehension than mere paranoia.

“I couldn’t come up with a good explanation before… for how we were yanked out of hyperspace. But if what you say is true—if Maul used Dooku’s frigate… its gravity well projector should have set off all kinds of sensors in our ship. Yet we had no warning. The sensors had to have been disabled. And if they were disabled, it would have been by someone with access to the shuttle… with access to the Temple…”

Obi-Wan nodded his understanding.

“And whoever did that… if they also had access to the Temple’s communication systems…”

Obi-Wan nodded again, more gravely, as he mulled over Anakin’s unspoken inference. After a lengthy pause, he asked, “When you left the Temple to come find me, did you tell anyone?”

Anakin looked down, sheepishly. “Once I figured out where I was headed, I commed Ahsoka from the Archives and left her a message, but that was it. No one else knew.”

Obi-Wan rubbed his beard in contemplation. “You said hardly anyone’s been here… at the Temple.” He knew he wouldn’t like the answer, but he asked anyway. “Where are they?”

The younger man fixed him with a grim gaze. “At war,” he replied. “Dooku’s ship crashed on Falleen, not long after we went missing… The Republic had nothing to do with it, but the Separatists don’t believe that. Grievous leads them now—Dooku’s body was apparently found in the rubble—and they’ve retaliated on a massive scale…”

Obi-Wan considered this. Perhaps Sidious had ordered Maul to destroy the ship when they departed for Lotho Minor, while Obi-Wan was unconscious. Who else would have had the means? If the Republic truly had nothing to do with the ship’s destruction, he could think of no other explanation. And if Sidious was looking to gain power under his guise as the Chancellor, secretly controlling both sides of the war would certainly be one way to go about it…

“They’ve seized hundreds of neutral systems,” Anakin continued, “and they’re gaining traction. The Jedi are spread so thin… They’re all out fighting with…”

The words died on his tongue, and he closed his eyes tightly. Even in the dim light, Obi-Wan could see the color drain from Anakin’s face. Dread flooded their bond.

“Obi-Wan… the trap is already set.”

The older Jedi nodded, having come to the same conclusion. Nevertheless, he maintained his composure and kept his voice calm. “I don’t think Palpatine would play that card just yet. Remember, he wants you as his apprentice. Badly enough that he was willing to lose both Maul and Dooku to draw you closer. Surely he knows that opportunity is lost if he tries to wipe out the rest of the Order before he can turn you.”

“But if he finds out we’re onto him, and he realizes he has no chance to turn me anyway? You don’t think he’d pull the trigger then?”

“I wouldn’t underestimate a Sith Lord’s ability to manipulate,” Obi-Wan replied carefully. “Nor his confidence in that ability.” He absently ran his fingers over Anakin’s hand. “That said, I agree that we should proceed with great caution. Perhaps we can afford to maintain the status quo until we can speak to Master Yoda in person. From the outside, nothing has changed. Those who know of our lengthy ordeal have no reason to believe it was anything more than an old foe seeking revenge. And no reason to believe we see it as anything more. When Yoda returns, we’ll work out our next steps.”

“That could be another couple of weeks. What do we do in the meantime?”

Obi-Wan leaned back and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. “I suppose we heal. We rest. We meditate. We train.”  He turned his head toward Anakin and cracked one eye. “We rest.”

“You said ‘rest’ twice.”

Did he? Probably. He was terribly drowsy. “Well, presently, my desire to rest is twice as strong as my desire to do those other things.” He shifted awkwardly in the bed, struggling once again to get comfortable. His tail bone was sore, his wounded back was chafing against a crumpled bacta pad, and his head was becoming increasingly intolerant of its vertical orientation. No. This wouldn’t do at all.

His young companion must have sensed his irritation. “Do you need help?” he asked.

“I just want to lie flat. Maybe turn to my side if I can manage.”

Anakin reached for the controls on the bedrail, and the room went quiet, save for the low hum of the bed’s internal machinery, as the mattress slowly reclined. When it leveled out, the hum stopped and Obi-Wan gingerly tried to roll to his side.

“I can help, you know,” Anakin stated dryly. As if he were familiar enough with Obi-Wan’s stubborn streak to know the offer was pointless.

“I’ve got it,” Obi-Wan replied, wanting to see what he could do on his own. He managed to turn his top half toward Anakin, propping himself up on his elbow, but his legs were less cooperative. He winced as he tried, unsuccessfully, to pull one up over the other.

Obi-Wan could feel Anakin’s eyes on him.

“How the hell did you do it?” the younger man asked. The nebulous question seemed to spring from nothing.

“I’m sorry?” Obi-Wan paused his efforts, looking to Anakin for clarification. Despite what Obi-Wan considered to be a very clear assertion that no assistance was needed, the young knight was obstinately rising from his chair to help, shaking his head in baffled amusement.

“How did you kill him?” Anakin elaborated, leaning over the bed. “Chained. With two broken legs. And no access to the Force…”

Obi-Wan flinched as two gentle hands unapologetically settled against him—one on his bare flank and the other over his linen-covered thigh. Deft fingers delicately tucked themselves, with the fabric, beneath his leg, and he grimaced against the pain as Anakin carefully turned him the rest of the way onto his side. “What. You don’t think I could take a Sith down with my bare hands?” he asked, feigning indignation.

Anakin quirked an eyebrow.

“Alright. If you must know, I seduced him with my… unparalleled charm and… majestic beard. Turned on him just as he was leaning in for a kiss.”

Anakin’s features dropped into a deadpan stare.

Obi-Wan had hoped for a laugh, but this was nearly as good. “No?”

The younger man’s expression didn’t budge. Obi-Wan tried again.

“Fine. I lulled him to sleep mid-lashing by reciting my favorite excerpts from The Secret Life of Kashyyykian Tree Moss. Then I pilfered his weapon.”

Anakin’s lip twitched, resisting a smile.

“Or perhaps I just annoyed him until he could take it no longer, at which point he fell to his knees, begging me to run him through?”

A grin finally cracked Anakin’s face. “Certainly the most plausible account...”

Obi-Wan smiled, satisfied, then he sighed heavily as he shifted off of his elbow, tucking his arm beneath him and settling his cheek against his pillow. “I was very lucky,” he said quietly, staring at the empty chair beside the bed as he tried to keep his eyes open. “I caught him by surprise. Waited until he was close enough to do this—” He gestured toward the red, scabbed line running down his chest. “—then used his blade on my cuffs, brought him down with the chain, and… hoped for the best….”

“That sounds like a terrible plan,” Anakin remarked as he pulled up the crumpled bacta pad, smoothed it out, and spread it carefully over Obi-Wan’s lacerated back. Enough bacta remained on the pad to send a soothing wave of relief over his skin, permeating its layers and reaching deep into the soft muscle tissue beneath.

“It was your kind of plan,” Obi-Wan said with a lazy smirk as Anakin sat back down.

“Only because it worked,” Anakin countered.

“Good thing it did. It’s not like you were in any condition to save the day.”

“Sure I was.”

Obi-Wan rolled his eyes before fixing them on his maddeningly reckless young friend. “And what were you planning to do, exactly, if you’d found Maul alive? Beat him to death with your walking stick?”

“It’s a very sturdy walking stick, Master,” Anakin replied, shifting his chair toward the top half of the bed.

Obi-Wan was on the verge of a clever retort, but then Anakin wordlessly folded himself forward to rest his head against the mattress, and his sudden proximity whisked away any chance Obi-Wan might have had of forming a coherent sentence.

The Jedi Master awkwardly lifted his arm to make space as his former padawan made himself comfortable. Anakin’s head shifted closer, and Obi-Wan inhaled sharply as the young man’s hair grazed his chest. He held his breath, heart floundering helplessly within his ribcage, as he processed the feeling of the soft, silken curls against his bare skin. When Anakin was settled, Obi-Wan lowered a trembling hand to rest on his back. He thanked the stars his body was too exhausted to react further.

“Is this okay?” he heard the younger man ask. The knight's voice was uncharacteristically timid, shaky with apprehension.

Obi-Wan closed his eyes, breathing in the musky, warm scent of Anakin’s locks and letting the fog of slumber settle like a blanket over his restless mind. “It’s perfect,” he whispered.