Anakin swept his gaze over the colossal ridge, its shadow made the orange glow emitting from the mouth of the cave stood out. The cave entrance was cut into the side of the ridge, a wide opening almost like a hangar bay. Stalactites framed its mouth like rows of sharp teeth. Overall, it gave the impression that one is walking into the open jaws of a fire-breathing dragon. To Anakin, it was an unwelcomed image.
Better than snow, he thought grimly, wiping the snowflakes off his leather tabards.
The ridge sheltered the cave from the wind, meaning the heavy snowfall did not blow inside, Anakin noted this gratefully. The handful of clones standing guard at the entrance saluted their General and Commander. Inside, the cave was sizeable, more than enough to fit all the troopers. Its ceiling soared high and dark. Numerous sharp stalagmites protruded from the shadows. Small fires were set up here and there to make up for the limited number of torchlights available. The floors of the cave were smooth dark rock, its sides raised onto a platform-like second level, where the clones were tending to their wounded, laying in neat rows. Others were resting, organizing weaponry or setting up equipment. An air of post-battle lethargy hung about the cave.
“You better get some rest, sir. We will inform you and General Kenobi as soon as communications is up.” A trooper handed Anakin a ration bar, a flask of water and a blanket. Anakin thanked him. “Yes. We’ll discuss plans in the morning. You rest too, Cody.” Cody nodded, “Yes, sir.” Cody watched Anakin head deeper into the cave. Like you ever sleep, Skywalker. The clone commander thought to himself.
Anakin scanned the cave. Knowing Obi-Wan, Anakin looked for a secluded fire near the rocky walls and sure enough, there he was. Anakin walked soundlessly, and stood over his former master. Obi-Wan appeared to be sleeping. He was lying on his side, facing the small fire with his back against some rocks. He had used his blanket as a pillow, tucking it between his head and arm. Obi-Wan looked weary even as he slept. Yet, younger, Anakin thought. Always younger, and infinitely more at peace. He seemed to Anakin, more the Obi-Wan he remembered before The Clone Wars started.
Anakin sighed softly, his anger dissipated. He set the flask and ration bar down and unfolded his blanket, throwing it over Obi-Wan. Anakin then sat on the opposite side of the fire. He drank from the flask and ignored the ration bar. Anakin lowered himself to the ground, and folded his arms behind his head, staring at the sharp stalagmites hanging above.
After a while, Anakin closed his eyes. He sought Obi-Wan’s Force signature through their bond. Obi-Wan’s shields were still up but they were not as tight as before, so Anakin sent tendrils of his Force through the gaps to intertwine with whatever of Obi-Wan’s he could reach. Anakin let Obi-Wan’s dreamless sleep imbue its deep calm within his own mind. This was normal. On the battlefield, when Anakin did not have Padme, he had Obi-Wan. This was enough. Anakin’s last thought as he drifted off was a single word, a name; Padme. This was routine.
The word cut through Obi-Wan’s shields like a blade, his eyes flew open. It hurt. He heard scuffing and looked across the dying fire, Anakin was thrashing around on the cave floor. Obi-Wan sat up, holding his head. Anakin, he called through their bond. Anakin’s mind was a tangled mess of emotions and images Obi-Wan could not make sense of. He saw masked men, wrapped in rags, brandishing primitive weapons. Then there was screaming, they were being slaughtered.
Anakin, Obi-Wan projected again, this time more insistent. Anakin did not respond, he kept moaning and writhing.
You killed her
Obi-Wan felt Anakin’s murderous rage. It was too much, too dark.
He slammed his shields up, blocking the images and crawled on his knees to Anakin’s side. Obi-Wan reached to wake Anakin and suddenly Anakin’s hands were upon his wrists. Anakin’s eyes were open yet unseeing, a captive of his own mind.
“You’re dreaming.” Obi-Wan said carefully and Anakin’s grip tightened, Obi-Wan winced. Anakin had stopped writhing, his eyes unfocused. Obi-Wan sensed Anakin’s mind was open and vulnerable. He slowly lifted his shields and channeled his Force signature through their bond, invading Anakin’s mind with his presence. Obi-Wan felt like he walked into the eye of a tornado, his own mind drowned in Anakin’s pain. It almost made him scream.
Find him. Obi-Wan steeled himself and searched for Anakin in the Force. Anakin’s consciousness was a flickering light, cowering at the onslaught of his nightmare. Obi-Wan reached and Anakin’s Force signature grappled with his, desperately seeking purchase. Obi-Wan held onto Anakin’s consciousness, extending his shields inside Anakin’s mind, around them both. Obi-Wan endured and gradually, the nightmare faded.
“I’m here. You’re safe. Go back to sleep.” Obi-Wan backed it with the Force, willing Anakin to bend to his words.
“You’re here…I’m safe…” Anakin repeated, his eyes fluttered and for a moment he seemed to recognize Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan felt his heart clench. “Sleep,” he said and Anakin complied.
Anakin’s flesh hand relaxed as he fell asleep but not his robotic hand. Obi-Wan tried to prise Anakin’s hand open but Anakin twitched, a slight crease formed between his brows, so Obi-Wan stopped. He slowly moved to sit against a rock near Anakin’s head, trying not to jar Anakin too much. Anakin rolled to his side, still clinging to Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan flexed his wrist slightly, Anakin’s grip on it cutting into his flesh. That is going to bruise, he thought and sighed.
The entire cave was quiet. Obi-Wan reasoned it must have still been nighttime. He used the Force with his free hand to throw a pile of twigs into the dying fire. He watched the fire crackle, the flames licked the twigs, consuming it, reducing it to ash. It was hypnotic, it dispelled Obi-Wan’s dark thoughts of what he saw in Anakin’s dream.
Obi-Wan closed his eyes and wrapped Anakin’s Force signature more closely with his own. You’re safe with me, was Obi-Wan’s last thought as his breaths slowed and he too began to slumber.
Anakin woke up feeling cold. He opened his eyes and found himself holding, crushing, Obi-Wan’s wrist. Anakin instantly let go, realizing how tight his grip was. He pushed himself on his elbows, thinking, what happened?
Anakin turned his head to look at Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan was still asleep, his left arm resting on his bent knee, his right leg stretched out in front of him. His head was bowed, his hair had grown a little long, falling over his face. Anakin could still feel Obi-Wan’s warm presence in his mind, the shields he erected still intact. You did this…for me, Anakin thought as he watched Obi-Wan’s frame rise and fall with his even breaths.
Anakin knew all too well the nature of his night terrors but Obi-Wan had never gone to such lengths before. This was new. The simple love of Obi-Wan’s act kindled a deep longing in Anakin.
Anakin sat up. He took Obi-Wan’s hand and deftly removed the plastoid armour covering the back of the hand and forearm, then gently pulled off the black glove, revealing a blue-black bruise around the wrist. A dark look crossed Anakin’s face. It seemed to him he always found a way to unintentionally hurt people close to him.
Drawing on the Force, Anakin started healing the bruise. Obi-Wan’s fingers twitched. Anakin watched him stir. Obi-Wan lifted his head, blinking slowly, his eyes met Anakin’s, frowning and said, “That hurts.”
Anakin chuckled, “Master, please, you’ve survived worse.”
“Oh, yes. I’ve survived you.” Obi-Wan huffed, tilted his head back against the rock and closed his eyes. He has no idea, Obi-Wan thought to himself.
Obi-Wan cracked an eye open. Anakin’s lips met hard. He said nothing. You’ve done it again, Kenobi.
“Done what?” Anakin asked as he checked Obi-Wan’s wrist.
Obi-Wan forgot that Anakin was inside his shields, with him. Naturally, Obi-Wan began to withdraw, ripping himself away from Anakin’s mind. Anakin squeezed Obi-Wan’s wrist, his fingers dug into the newly healed flesh.
“Don’t.” Anakin said softly, barely a whisper. His eyes staring at where their hands met.
Obi-Wan paused but did not stop. He merely withdrew more slowly, caressing Anakin’s Force signature with his own as he pulled away, trying to reassure. He leaned forward and placed his other hand on Anakin’s shoulder.
This was routine too. A customary gesture in Obi-Wan’s part. The familiar pressure on his shoulder however, did not alleviate the blow. He was tired of Obi-Wan’s abrupt rejections of their closeness. Sometimes Obi-Wan seemed to want to be close. Anakin remember the odd flashes of what could only be described as hunger in Obi-Wan’s eyes. But then, Obi-Wan also always does this. He projected all of this. He wanted Obi-Wan to know.
Anakin lifted his chin. His eyes bored into Obi-Wan’s, they smoldered with thinly veiled anger. Obi-Wan’s was all steely, blue and unreadable.
Obi-Wan held Anakin’s gaze only for a moment before lowering his own. He removed his left hand from Anakin’s shoulder, tugging his right slightly. Anakin held fast.
Damn him, both Obi-Wan and Anakin thought savagely. Each secluded in their own anguish at the other.
“It’s not…healthy.” Obi-Wan offered, still not meeting Anakin’s gaze.
“Well, what you’re doing isn’t either.” Anakin’s voice was cold.
“Hardly.” Was Obi-Wan’s tight reply.
Anakin looked at Obi-Wan’s hand again. He grazed his thumb over the knuckles, down the fingers. Obi-Wan’s hands were fine-boned, his fingers tapering and thin. This was the hand that had raised Anakin, the hand that cared for and protected him till this very day. This hand had saved lives, delivered death. Anakin wondered how many had examined Obi-Wan’s hand like he was now. He turned Obi-Wan’s hand, resting his thumb in Obi-Wan’s palm. This is home, he thought.
Obi-Wan did not look, he stared at the floor. He resisted the urge to pull his hand away. Obi-Wan’s acquiesce did not escape Anakin. Obi-Wan was allowing him. It was enough.
Anakin started putting the black glove back on, drawing the skin tight material to the elbow, tucking in the tunic sleeve neatly. Anakin was gentle. He replaced the plastoid armour around Obi-Wan’s forearm and finally the hand guard. He lightly grasped Obi-Wan’s wrist, not letting go. They had lapsed into comfortable silence.
“Thank you.” Obi-Wan’s eyes had gone soft.
“Yeah.” Anakin said, his usual lopsided grin in place.
“I believe the appropriate reply is you’re welcome.”
“What you said.” Anakin said as he stood up.
They were sitting in the shadows of the rock, sunlight was streaming into the cave. A ray caught Anakin in its soft light. Dust particles were visible about his head, making him looked rather angelic. Obi-Wan committed the image to memory. Moments where Anakin seemed even remotely carefree had grown too rare.
Anakin offered his hand to Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan grasped Anakin’s forearm, and Anakin pulled him up. “Let’s ask Master Yoda if we can leave already. I’m sick of snow.”
“I’m with you on that.” Obi-Wan replied, his eyes adjusting to the bright. Anakin headed towards the cave entrance, Obi-Wan followed.
I’m with you always.