“You don’t know when we’ll have the chance for this again,” Obi-Wan said.
Anakin, hunched over the table in front of him, glanced up; where Obi-Wan would have expected heat, he saw only pensiveness. Anakin’s face was made of softer lines by nature, a young face for a young man that was often warped into unbridled fury that didn’t suit its structure, but somehow the pensiveness—the fear—seemed more like him. Obi-Wan wasn’t sure which he preferred, at the end of things. The fear, the proof that despite all of his recklessness, Anakin still felt such a thing, or the rage, that went hand-in-hand with the indomitable strength that kept him alive. Which to choose, his padawan’s humanity, or his padawan’s power? “I’m not much a fan of drinking,” Anakin said, finally.
“Be that as it may,” Obi-Wan said, taking a sip from his own glass—the homebrewed liquor here burned his throat and tasted like motor oil smelled, but it would get the job done—and settled it back on the table with a faint clink, “we don’t have many opportunities to relax.”
Fuel, was what Obi-Wan was thinking, truthfully. Two months ago they’d shipped out to meet the Separatist advance at Makem Te, interrupting a frontal assault on the Perlemian trade route, no doubt with an intent by Grievous to claim enough worlds adjacent to the Perlemian to launch a full assault on Centares; with so much of the fighting centered in the Galactic South, along the Southern stretch of the Corellian Run, there was no doubt that Grievous had meant to slither his forces unnoticed through the quieter Perlemian, taking advantage of the relative lack of existent Republic forces given the neutrality of the systems surrounding Centares. The Separatist forces had lambasted the communications moons just before the 212th and the 501st made landfall on Makem Te, leaving them cut off from Republic contact for weeks, without ability to call for reinforcements. Makem Te had been an overwhelming loss, followed immediately by losses on Desevro and Lianna through the Tion Cluster, until they were pushed back to Columex with drained forces and drained supplies. They were managing to hold the planet thanks to Columex’s thick, unwieldy jungle and high humidity leveling the playing field, but Centares—mostly open prairie carved through by mountain ranges—would offer no such advantages. If they lost Columex, they would lose Centares. They’d underestimated Grievous’ forces; where their intel had said the battledroids would be in minimal numbers, they’d rolled out in massive numbers, on a scale the Separatist army hadn’t pulled out since the early onset of the war.
The last contact they’d been able to make with the Jedi High Council, they’d been told that another invasion force had launched from Ryloth, and then retaken Christophsis, and officially invaded the Republic by making landfall at Radnor; Grievous had planned a two-pronged attack, clearly, and they’d been baited into splitting the Open Circle Fleet between the two, thinking that the Separatists would have split their own forces to make such an attack. Where the funds and the materials for the masses of battledroids suddenly pouring onto the galactic battlefield had come from, Obi-Wan had no idea; it was his business to slash Separatist supply lines, but they seemed to grow like weeds, and only in the damnedest of places, but over the years he’d thought they’d done enough damage to waste Separatist money—at least in ways that would prevent such cataclysmic numbers of droids. But they’d failed, and there’d be no help for them anytime soon, and there’d be no supplies arriving anytime soon. It wasn’t every day that they won a battle in this campaign, and it wasn’t every day that a grateful city offered what every soldier truly wanted—alcohol. Celebration was in order, some modicum of sustenance was in order, but mostly, Obi-Wan just wanted the stiff line that Anakin’s shoulders had settled into ever since they’d managed their two hours of contact to Coruscant—a relay system Anakin had jerry-rigged himself, manipulating the sophisticated comm frequencies in commando droids to do something highly technical that Obi-Wan could only nod dumbly at—to ease.
“It’s not particularly nutritious, I know,” Obi-Wan said, “but you’ll burn the acetate, instead of body fat. And you do need the latter.”
Desperately, Obi-Wan didn’t say, because Anakin would’ve undoubtedly gotten up and left. His former padawan had always been temperamental even on his best days, a hurricane that Obi-Wan either managed to be in the eye of or caught in the forceful winds of. The war had brought out the worst of it; temperamental had slowly become a nearly constant state of ill-temper, and following Ahsoka’s departure, even his lighter moods were sour more often than not. He’d always been mercurial. But Obi-Wan found himself longing for the days when their repartee didn’t feel so sharp, when Anakin’s smiles didn’t look so full of teeth, when Anakin wasn’t so difficult a man to navigate. When, maybe, their lives as a whole weren’t so difficult to navigate.
Anakin scowled at him, and then lifted the bottle sat on the table between them and sloshed a bit into his glass, and then knocked it back all at once. “There,” he growled. “Satisfied?”
Obi-Wan dipped his head. “Somewhat.”
And, then, curiously—he found himself at a loss for something to say. The prospect of basking in their meager victory for a night was one Obi-Wan had gotten swept up in; despite the hopelessness that clotted the Force around him, emanating from himself, from Anakin, from their soldiers and even the citizens of Columex, Obi-Wan had found some kind of solace buried here in the Galactic North. Cut off from a large portion of the Open Circle, Obi-Wan’s tasks as commander were effectively cut down to a third of what they had been, and for the first time in a long time—despite the shadow of death, the beast with the long shadow slouching ever closer—Obi-Wan had time to breathe for a moment. Just one moment, and here it was, and Obi-Wan had no words, no conversation for a man he’d shared the last fourteen years with, the man he was closer to than anyone else in the galaxy, half of his soul and then some given flesh. Nothing to say.
“What’s your level of confidence that the relay system you put together will work again?” Obi-Wan asked. He’d wanted to say something—personal. He’d fished for something, for anything, that would make him feel like he wasn’t a commanding officer speaking to a general beneath him in the chain of command. But always there was the war.
Anakin shrugged. “Not high. They’ll know we made contact with the Council. They won’t bother trying to crack the encryption on the communication, and it wouldn’t matter if they did, not when we’re at their mercy anyway. But they’ll know we used their private signals and towers to do it. They’ll probably change some of the programming to deactivate the auth keys the droids come standard with, when they take the keys attached to the battalions deployed offline.”
Obi-Wan nodded. “Ah. Sounds like something they would do.”
The corner of Anakin’s mouth quirked up. “You have no idea what I just said, do you.”
Obi-Wan felt his own smile broaden in response. “I most certainly do, padawan mine. Don’t underestimate my technical skills.”
“Oh, really,” Anakin said, grinning, now, though a bit wolfishly, like a predator that caught a whiff of blood on the wind. “What’s an auth key?”
“Well, it’s a key,” Obi-Wan said, stroking his beard. “I’m assuming a small one, kept on the droid’s person. They put it into a computer. And it, well, it—auths, I suppose.”
“You used me as a crutch, so you’d never have to learn anything technical in your life,” Anakin said, haughtily.
“Neither Master Qui-Gon or myself were ever mechanically gifted,” Obi-Wan said. “The holotable in our old quarters, do you remember it? The one that took you three weeks to fix because it was such a nightmare?”
Anakin grimaced. “I wish I didn’t. It was a fire hazard. How it didn’t spontaneously explode and set that whole stretch of the Temple on fire, I don’t know.”
“That was a product of Qui-Gon believing that between he and myself, we could certainly figure out how to repair a holotable,” Obi-Wan said. “Needless to say, we used Master Tholme’s holotable more often than not.”
Anakin’s eyes blazed with a delight. “Then the two of you are guilty of the worst electrical work I’ve ever seen in my life. I was nine, and I thought it was complete garbage. Didn’t you move quarters when you were Knighted, anyway? Why would you haul that thing with you?”
Obi-Wan’s smile faded, and he lifted his glass, and took a long drink. The alcohol gave him a light hum of warmth. “Would you like the truth,” Obi-Wan found himself saying, before he could even recognize the words were bubbling up his throat, “or would you like a convenient lie.”
Anakin’s gaze turned sharp, hot, like a shard of obsidian rock—calculating, in the unerringly vicious way Anakin was calculating. “I want both,” he said.
“The lie is that I didn’t want to have to have someone else reconfigure another one,” Obi-Wan said. “The truth is that I spent a lot of time failing Qui-Gon. Our attempt to build that holotable was one of the rare times where we were failing together. It—reminded me, of better days.”
The look on Anakin’s face had become too intense, and almost, in a sense, too hungry—so much like that predator that caught a whiff of blood on the wind, but now that selfsame creature stalked the bleeding carcass, taking in the sight of dead suffering rapturously. Obi-Wan looked away.
But, then, when Anakin spoke, his voice was feather-soft, and utterly unbearable. “You’re not alone. I spend a lot of time failing you,” he said.
“That is nonsense,” Obi-Wan snapped, harshly. “Who gave you that idea? That is patently nonsensical. And you believed that?”
When Obi-Wan looked up, Anakin had looked away, his throat bobbing. In his silence, in his lack of an answer, Obi-Wan found one; he means you, he thought to himself, and then he thought he could taste his heart on the back of his tongue and it tasted like ash.
“And you believed that,” Obi-Wan murmured, softly. He scrubbed a hand over his face. “Truly?”
“I have good reasons to,” Anakin snarled. “Too much in almost every direction. I worked too hard. I worked too much. I get too angry, I hate too much, I care too much. A black smear on your perfect Jedi Master record. Too much, except when it comes to being good enough. Why wouldn’t I believe that? It’s right, anyway. I used to think you just didn’t feel the same way I did, about anyone—you were just more closed-off, and that’s why—that’s why it was always a pat on the shoulder and a good call, padawan, and it was never anything different, it was never anything more. And you sit here and tell me that you loved your Master enough to haul broken fucking equipment around because it reminded you of the good times, because you do have a heart, then, after all. I just didn’t rate high enough to see it, fine. But then you tell me I’m stupid for believing that. What am I supposed to do? What does it take, to make you happy, Master?”
Obi-Wan leaned back in his chair. His head spun. Nothing, he thought, because I don’t think I’m meant to be very happy at all. “You,” he said, finally, because it was truer than what he was thinking.
“You heard me,” Obi-Wan said, gruffly.
Anakin’s brows furrowed. “I don’t think I did.”
Obi-Wan took another pull of his drink—strong, it was stronger than he’d anticipated, but his tolerance was nothing to sniff at. “Then perhaps you should have the good medic check your ears, because I answered your question in full.”
Obi-Wan watched Anakin’s brow carefully—his eyes, and his brow, those were the places Obi-Wan read Anakin from, and still it took him by surprise when Anakin slammed his gauntleted fist on the table. “I’ve wanted this for fourteen years, and you want to give me a one-word answer,” Anakin snarled.
“How would you feel if I asked you such personal questions,” Obi-Wan said, acidly. He knocked back the rest of his drink, and then refilled it, and knocked back another sip. He didn’t care for how closely Anakin watched the motion. But Anakin had been watching him like a scavenger circling its cadaver the entire time.
Obi-Wan wasn’t certain if it was the alcohol—but there was something hot, and sharp, where his heart normally was. He wanted to stand and march out and never speak of this again, walk away and leave all of Anakin’s intensity—ten pounds of crazy in a five pound bag, Siri Tachi had once described him, and at the time Obi-Wan had resented it, but now he saw it written in front of him—behind, return to something like serenity, to something like order. Concepts Anakin knew nothing of. He knew Anakin better than anyone else in the galaxy, and he had never seen Anakin at peace, and he was starting to think he never would; Obi-Wan very nearly stood, and took his leave. But his legs wouldn’t move.
“I’d answer them, because I’m not a complete bastard.”
Obi-Wan arched a brow. “I beg to differ. I know you.”
Anakin spread his hands. “I’m an open book. Do your worst.”
Obi-Wan ran his finger along the ring of his cup. He knew what his worst was. “You’re involved with Senator Amidala, aren’t you?”
“We’re married,” Anakin said.
Obi-Wan waved a hand. “Enough with the jokes.”
“Who was joking,” Anakin answered, flatly. “And I lied about the reason the relay won’t work again. The relay won’t work again because I corrupted the channel, because I programmed a line to comm her on a burner line. One last time, in case I died here.”
Obi-Wan leaned back in his chair. Apprehension boiled in his gut. “You—you’re not kidding.”
Anakin grimaced. “Well, maybe I’m done trying to make you happy. It’s clearly not possible, because you’d never admit to it. So I’m married. Have been since the war started. And I’m glad I corrupted the channel, because if I hadn’t gotten to talk to Padmé, she wouldn’t have gotten the chance to tell me that she’s pregnant. Would’ve been bad, to find that out later.”
“Dammit, Anakin, I said you make me happy,” Obi-Wan said, and then his brain caught on to what it was Anakin had followed that with, and he breathed, “Stars above, padawan.”
“If I made you happy, it wouldn’t be like pulling teeth to make you say it,” Anakin growled.
The sharp thing in Obi-Wan’s chest stabbed at his sternum, and it was Obi-Wan’s turn to slam his hand on the table, and say, roughly, “Every single time I have confessed that to someone, I have lost them. It was an apprenticeship to you. It was a lifeline to me. If I hadn’t trained you—if it hadn’t been love—then I don’t know what I would be. Not nearly so lucky. Excuse me, then, if I didn’t want to say it out loud. Perhaps it’s selfish. Maybe it’s decidedly selfish. But if there’s one thing I can’t lose, it’s you.”
Anakin looked thunderstruck, and then he slumped back into his chair, widened eyes fixed on Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan sucked in a breath. “Pregnant?” he hissed.
“You’re not going to lose me,” Anakin said, softly. “I swear it.”
“The good Duchess once said the same,” Obi-Wan said. He shifted. “It’s neither here nor there, now. Pregnant? In the middle of a galactic civil war? This will ruin the both of you, how stupid have the two of you been?”
Anakin picked at one of the buckles on his gauntlet. “I’m starting to think,” he said, slowly, “that no matter which way I go, it’s going to be a ruin. I think I’m good at leaving warzones behind me, and maybe not much else. Why not be stupid. Why not go down loving someone, living for something, instead of no one and nothing at all. I can walk out on the battlefield and die tomorrow. Would it have been a good life? Probably not. But if there was one thing that was good, it wasn’t a waste.”
“Who taught you to be such a pessimist,” Obi-Wan said, gruffly. He means you, Obi-Wan thought, when Anakin answered him with a tight smile. Anakin’s words settled heavy in his chest, and Obi-Wan swallowed, thickly.
“I told you that I spent a lot of time failing you,” Anakin said.
Obi-Wan shook his head. “Failing the Jedi Code, maybe. Maybe. But if—if what you say is true, then—Anakin, I want nothing more in this galaxy than for it to have been a good life when you die. I want you to be at peace. I would hate to lose you, but I’d hate it more to watch you fail.”
Anakin made a long, high noise in the back of his throat, and then buried his face into his hands. Obi-Wan was not adept at sensing emotions—his skill in negotiations, he came by honestly—but he could feel the air around him heat up with the intensity of it, the echo in the Force of the strength of Anakin’s feeling.
“That said, I draw the line at one new Skywalker. One, singular. A child. Don’t go having another one in the future. Three of you is where I reach my limit.”
“Noted,” Anakin said, raspy. He pulled his hands away from his face, swiping at his eyes, which were bloodshot and red-rimmed.
“Force above, a father,” Obi-Wan said. “Stars here and all around, padawan.”
“I guess that makes you an uncle,” Anakin said, sniffing. “Maybe. I don’t know what you are.”
Obi-Wan’s heart flipped. “An uncle? Somehow I sound old. Is there anything else?”
“I don’t think grandfather sounds younger.”
Obi-Wan nearly choked. “Sithspit, Anakin, we’re just going to stick with uncle, then.”
Ten pounds of crazy in a five pound bag, Obi-Wan thought. Perhaps not so inaccurate, but if such a state was genetic, Obi-Wan supposed the next lifetime was going to be painful, and frustrating; but when he pictured it, a little boy with blond hair and blue eyes, achingly earnest the way Anakin had been, he found he didn’t mind the image quite so much. He was certain, later, he was going to be irate, but now with the alcohol burning through him, Obi-Wan thought that, maybe, such a little boy would be a new hope, for both of them.