Anakin found Obi-Wan Kenobi in a random corridor in the Theed Palace after a good hour of looking. After all the time spent looking – and avoiding all the celebrations and political debates and search parties and whatever else was happening in the palace – the Jedi was just sitting there, on the polished stone floor.
There was a very fancy looking bench not four feet away, and Obi-Wan was instead on his knees on the floor, in the shadows of a pillar, and Anakin didn't even need to see him all hooded and covered up to figure out what the Jedi was doing.
The boy hesitated for a moment, watching him from the distance.
The Jedi, what little he'd seen of them so far, were different when it came to your basic interactions. Qui-Gon had been warm and stiff and Obi-Wan was demure and stiff. The weird distant rigidity in them was as practiced and ingrained as the casually sensual loitering of the girls in the red light district back at Mos Espa – and as fake, in a way. It was how they kept people apart from themselves, Anakin figured. It had to do with that attachment-detachment stuff that Qui-Gon had told him, to try and get him to forget his mother.
Obi-Wan had, since the beginning, been even worse with it than Qui-Gon. Qui-Gon, Anakin figured, was more of a people person – he'd smiled a lot and talked a lot and just been… a lot. All that time, though, Obi-Wan had usually stood a little to the side – a little behind Qui-Gon, like a servant waiting at his master's elbow. Which he probably kind of was.
Obi-Wan had taken that polite rigid distance and unlike Qui-Gon, he never once dropped it. In that flight from Tatooine to Coruscant, and then from Coruscant to Naboo, Anakin had learned precisely nothing about Obi-Wan that Qui-Gon hadn't explained first – and what he'd explained amounted to two things. Obi-Wan was Qui-Gon's student, and had been for many years.
And Anakin was supposed to become something like him, or… something like that.
All that was done and over with though. Qui-Gon was dead – Anakin had seen the body, when they'd carried him to the morgue to wait in the cool, frigid place for his funeral. He hadn't seen what killed him, and no one had answered him, but everyone said it was the assassin they'd seen back on Tatooine. The Zabrak that had attacked them then had followed them and attacked them again and now Qui-Gon was gone and Anakin would never be his student after all – and Obi-Wan was his student no more.
Not knowing what else to do after that – and feeling a bit like he was getting in everyone's way with all the important stuff happening – Anakin had decided to go to Obi-Wan to ask him…. Ask him what would happen now. Except it had taken him a long while and now that he had, he wasn't sure what to do. Because Obi-Wan…
He was just sitting there, not moving. Qui-Gon's student was still as a statue, not quite huddling down, but not exactly sitting straight up either. He reminded Anakin of…
Of the clinic back in Mos Espa and that one time he'd seen another slave, a sickly old one, being brought in. The doctor had pronounced the slave beyond help and the owner had just left him there to die. The slave had sat in the shadows of the clinic, kept there by the locator chip's new perimeter. He'd died of thirst, still sitting there, a day later. He'd never spoken a word, never asked for help, never did anything and never moved – he just sat there and eventually died.
Anakin steeled himself and stepped forward – stepping heavier this time, so that even though his shoes had soft cloth soles, they still made a sound. Obi-Wan jerked a little, the hood shifting – he looked up, but the light of Naboo's single sun was on the window behind him, and Anakin couldn't see his face, couldn't see his expression.
He didn't need to, though.
Quiet, Anakin stepped in front of Obi-Wan and then, when the Jedi didn't say anything or move further, he sat down in front of him. Obi-Wan's eyes might've been hidden, but Anakin could feel his gaze following him down, staying on him as he crossed his feet in his lap.
Obi-Wan didn't say anything and Anakin didn't either for a long time. The sun set behind the pavilion outside in the garden, and slowly, as the light dimmed, Anakin saw Obi-Wan's face. It was pale, the skin around his eyes red – his eyes were dry, though, so dry that looking him made Anakin's own eyes burn.
The worst thing was how Obi-Wan's eyes looked, though.
"Are you going to die?" Anakin asked quietly.
That made Obi-Wan finally blink – though it didn't make the burning hurt look go away. "Why would I die?"
"Last time I saw anyone looking like you, they died," Anakin said, shrugging his shoulders awkwardly. "I don't know much about Jedi, but… I heard there was a bond and stuff. And that it can… hurt. When it breaks."
Obi-Wan stared at him expressionlessly for a long while, until Anakin himself had to look away. After a while, Obi-Wan inhaled slowly – it rattled in his throat horribly. "I don't intend to die," he said finally.
"I don't think that guy I saw did either," Anakin said.
There was another silence, even worse than the one before – and Anakin kind of wanted to tell Obi-Wan to stop looking at him, because it felt a bit like noon on Tatooine, burning and oppressive and heavy. He didn't, though. Obi-Wan looking at him was probably better than Obi-Wan looking at nothing.
"Qui-Gon asked me to train you," the Jedi said finally. "Before he… He told me to…" he trailed away with a frown and the horrible feel of his eyes just felt worse.
Anakin shifted a bit, lifting his knees up and hugging his bent legs. It helped a bit – gave space to the ball of hurt in his chest. "Will you?" he asked.
"Probably not," Obi-Wan said. "I promised but… it won't be up to me anymore."
"Because you're… just a student?" Anakin prodded carefully. "The… the Council people, I don't think they liked me much," he added. "They said I was too afraid and too old, and that fear leads to the Dark Side. If… if you don't have a say and Qui-Gon's not here and…"
Obi-Wan winced physically at that, and Anakin tried really hard not to droop. He had nothing to droop about. He was a free man now, he wasn't a slave. Jedi or not, he was free. He could do anything he wanted, anything he was able to, now. He could become a pilot, probably. He'd be good at it, too.
And it wasn't he who had lost a teacher who'd been teaching him many, many years. He'd only known Qui-Gon for a handful of days. Obi-Wan had known him since he'd been a boy, probably. Whatever hurt or loss Anakin felt, it probably couldn't compare.
Obi-Wan sighed and finally, finally something loosened up in him. He shifted, his shoulders lowering – he didn't quite relax, but it was still so, so much better than the death-stillness from before. "I don't know about that," he said, his voice rough. "But… it won't be up to me, anymore. I'm sorry."
Anakin nodded, resting his chin on his knees and staring at the front of Obi-Wan's robes for a moment, trying not to feel like the future, so hopeful before, had suddenly turned into a yawning monster, about to gobble him up. "If the Council says no…" he started and then stopped. Obi-Wan had already said it wasn't up to him – so he probably couldn't say what would happen to Anakin now.
"I don't know, Anakin," Obi-Wan said and withdrew back into the shadows of his hood. "I don't know anything anymore. But… I'll do what I can. You might wish I didn't, though," he murmured, almost too quiet to hear. "After this, it might hurt more than help."
"Why would it hurt?" Anakin asked, confused.
Obi-Wan sighed and bowed his head and didn't answer. Anakin waited for a while, but the death-stillness had returned and Obi-Wan was looking at nothing again.
"I don't want you to die," Anakin offered after a while. "Please don't die."
He left the Jedi a little after that, leaving him to his… whatever he was doing. Mourning, regretting, being bitter, whatever. Anakin had seen that too many times to butt into it – had seen too many people in that state turn violent. He'd also seen some of what the Jedi were capable of and he had no intention of making Obi-Wan lash out at him. So he left him.
Maybe the time alone in… contemplation, or whatever it was that Jedi did, would help Obi-Wan.
Anakin eventually made himself busy around the palace, doing what little he could to help. There were a lot of droid bits around, and the palace servants were busy with other stuff – like feeding people, a lot of whom had been starving during the occupation. So Anakin picket the bits up, collecting them on the pallets the servants brought for the purpose.
If he spent some time taking the broken droids apart, well. No one told him not to. So long as he didn't touch the blasters – which he couldn't anyway, the palace guards collected all those and locked them up first things – no one minded what he did with the droids.
They were really high tech. Tatooine had never had anything near as nice as the Trade Federation's battle droids. They were slender and quick – and regardless, so functional! The balance modulators on them were amazing. They lacked a lot on the actual computing side, they barely had any sort of internal operation system to speak of. Part of the reason why they'd all broken down when the control ship had blown up was because they didn't have the actual brain power by themselves to function.
Whoever had made them should probably fix that for the next model, Anakin mused. It was a pretty damn big design flaw, having an entire army share the exact same weak point.
Eventually, though, all the droids had been collected up and taken away. Some of them would be used as evidence in the ensuing trials. The rest would be repurposed by the Naboo, who recycled pretty much everything – something Anakin very much approved of. The droid army with its weapons, vehicles and everything else would go far in funding the restoration of Theed and repairing the damage the very same army had caused
Still, with that done, there was little else to do. The Naboo and the Gungans were busy in negotiations and even with the droids gone, there was a lot to do. Most of the pilots were busy clearing up the space above Naboo, which was now cluttered with the remains of the battle station. With Padmé and her people busy with the Gungans – and with the Viceroy - Anakin wasn't sure what to do.
They were all now waiting for the Senate's representatives to arrive, to finish fixing the mess of the occupation, to pick up the Viceroy and his people, and to begin the hearings and whatnot. It was all the sort of important stuff that Anakin couldn't help anyone with, the sort of stuff no one invited a former slave to.
So, eventually, he went to find Obi-Wan again.
It took much longer than just an hour this time. It'd been a couple of days and after a while the Jedi had just seemed to disappear – a lot of people though he'd taken ship off Naboo entirely, that he'd gone to fetch the Senate's representatives, or something like that. Anakin knew he hadn't.
The burnhurtgriefanger of Obi-Wan was still around, so the man had to be too.
It was by following it that Anakin eventually found the Jedi. No one else could point him in the man's direction, and Padmé was too busy to be bothered, so Anakin tried to sense it out, like Qui-Gon had told him to. Trust in the Force. It led him, eventually, the right way.
Obi-Wan had almost left the castle – almost, but not quite. He lingered hanging around the fringes of the palace gardens like he wanted to leave, but couldn't. And he probably couldn't either, because of duty or whatever. He was still, probably, assigned as the Queen's bodyguard.
"You look horrible," Anakin commented when saw him.
And he really did too. Sitting now in the grass by the artificial pond, Obi-Wan had sort of… collapsed in on himself. His shoulders, previously so straight and powerful, were hunched, and his face had grown even paler than before. Anakin was also pretty sure the man probably hadn't visited a fresher since he'd last seen him. He definitely hadn't shaved in days.
Obi-Wan looked up at him past the edge of his hood – and the skin around his eyes was still red. How he could look feverish and ice cold at the same time, Anakin wasn't sure, but he managed it. It was not a flattering look. Neither was the hollowness of his eyes in general.
"Have you…" Anakin started and then stopped. "You haven't eaten anything, have you? They have a sort of open buffet in one of the big rooms – a ballroom or something like that they called it, though it's more an oval really. It's really good stuff too – there's even fresh fruit and stuff. And this berry juice – it's really good. You should… get something to eat."
His babbled faded and Obi-Wan didn't answer. For a moment Anakin wasn't sure if the man even saw him. When Obi-Wan finally reacted, it was only to turn away, to stare at the pond again.
It was… so uncomfortable. The feel of Obi-Wan was so much worse up close – there was a strange heat to his presence that had never been there before, and it turned Anakin's stomach. It was obvious that the Jedi was sick – some sort of mind sickness that affected the Jedi, maybe. Something to do with the Force. Whatever it was, it felt horrible. Like a dehydration headache and heatstroke and a stomach bug, all at once.
"You said you weren't going to die," Anakin said quietly.
Obi-Wan didn't answer, just stared away, eyes hollow and burning in his feverish face.
After a while, Anakin went away – but just for a while. He didn't know what to do, but he had to do something – Qui-Gon would've wanted him to do something, his mother would've done something. So, Anakin went to the ballroom which wasn't a ball, and got himself a tray from one of the tables. Then, after consideration, he took a bit of all the things he thought were extra juicy.
Naboo food wasn't at all like the stuff on Tatooine – a lot of it was wet inside, so wet that if you bit just so, it could run down your chin. There were these berries that, if you bit just right, would burst with juice. They were Anakin's favourites. He didn't know if Obi-Wan would like them, but he took a bunch anyway. In the end, most of the food he picked was basically fresh fruits, though he took some of the boring digestive crackers too, just in case Obi-Wan really did have a stomach bug. A lot of the people in Theed had upset stomachs, because they hadn't gotten enough food during the occupation.
Then, with an enormous jug of water under his arm, Anakin returned to Obi-Wan.
He'd feared that getting the man to eat would be hard – that Obi-Wan would refuse the food. Anakin had seen that too, he'd seen it a lot. There were dozens and dozens of slaves who tried to starve themselves to death rather than live in servitude. Most of them failed - intravenous feeding and gastric tubes were cheaper than new slaves after all. It was never pretty though.
Anakin himself had never tried, he'd been born a slave so he was… sort of better adjusted to it than a lot of other people were. But his mother admitted she had tried it once, in the beginning. She hadn't tried it twice, though.
Obi-Wan didn't refuse the food though. He didn't take it, made no motion to get any of it – but when Anakin in frustration placed a fruit in his hand, Obi-Wan reacted to that, at least. And he didn't even throw the food away, like Anakin had feared he might in his madness. No, Obi-Wan ate – mechanically like a droid running on automatic, perhaps, but he ate. The first fruit, the next, and all the rest after that – he even ate the bland crackers Anakin handed him, one after another. And when he slowed down a bit, after several fruits and a lot of berries, Anakin handed him the water jug instead.
It was such a huge relief, to see the man drink. Obi-Wan didn't just sip it either, he chugged it down without restraint and Anakin sighed. Only people desperately hanging onto life drank like that. It didn't make Obi-Wan look much less feverish, and the water wasn't enough to get rid of the burnhurt. But Obi-Wan would live anyway.
"You need a wash, really badly," Anakin said when Obi-Wan finally lowered the jug. He waited for a moment for the man to answer – which he didn't. Anakin sighed and then, making a decision, he stood up. "Right," he said, collecting the now empty tray and jug, tucking both of them under his arm.
Then he took Obi-Wan's stiff, tense hand into his and collected him too.
And, thankfully, Obi-Wan followed. He stumbled and almost fell flat on his face at first – how long had he been sitting on his knees? – but he followed. Silent, his hand icy cold and hard in Anakin's, he followed the boy inside, to the ballroom where Anakin deposited the tray and the jug and then out again, never noticing the way people stared.
It probably said nothing good about whatever was going on in the man's head, but Anakin didn't care right now. Obi-Wan needed… something. Anakin had managed to get food and water in him. It was a good start and if he'd managed to do that, then he could do more.
He would do more. It was what his mother would do and it was what Qui-Gon would've wanted him to do, he was sure of it. Obi-Wan was sick and needed help and Anakin seemed to be the only one who cared. So he would damn well care.
Getting Obi-Wan out of his by now pretty rank clothes and into the fresher was a task and a half, but Anakin managed it. Getting him to actually use the fresher was much easier, though. All Anakin had to do was to push the unresisting man under the shower and turn it on, and Obi-Wan move in that same horrible mechanical way to wash himself. Anakin left him to it, and instead tended to Obi-Wan's clothing.
Naboo sonic washers were amazing though, so that wasn't hard. It didn't hurt that Obi-Wan's clothes weren't that different from his own, as far as the material went. It was a bit weird to think that the Jedi wore robes of that same rough synthwool that was favoured by the slaves of Tatooine, but on the other hand, maybe it made sense. It was that humility no possessions no attachment thing that Jedi seemed to be all about. Plus, it was pretty hardy stuff.
After cleaning the man's clothes and even chucking his boots in the sonic cleaner just in case, Anakin peeked in on the fresher. Obi-Wan had finished and he looked… better. Not good, but a little less dead.
"You have any sense of modesty?" Obi-Wan asked roughly, running a hand over his short wet hair.
"Slave," Anakin shrugged. "They sell us naked, you know. You should shave."
Obi-Wan blinked at that and then turned to the mirror, to look at himself. He almost recoiled and then made a strange jerking motion, winding his arm back like he wanted to smash the mirror.
Anakin hissed a bit, sort of a verbal wince. "Please don't punch the mirror, it's built into the wall and you'll probably just break your knuckles," he said. "Also, it's… I promised not to break anything when they gave me the room."
"Tch," Obi-Wan answered, his shoulder shaking as he let his arm drop. He looked down and frowned. "My clothes?"
"In the other room – I cleaned them. I'll get 'em," Anakin said and popped back into the bedroom to fetch the clothes from the sonic cleaner. When he returned, Obi-Wan was running a hand over his chin, considering the couple days' worth of beard growth.
"Shave," he muttered, not looking anywhere near the mirror.
"If you're not gonna do it, I can do it for you," Anakin offered. "Watto rented me to a barber shop once. They chased me out after I shaved this one karking sleemo bald, but I know how to use a razor."
Obi-Wan glanced at him and then sighed. "Yes, alright," he said and then just knelt down on the floor in front of Anakin – still naked but the boy wasn't about to say anything about that. It was cold in the fresher – freezing in Anakin's opinion. It was probably doing a lot of good to the burnhurt in Obi-Wan, to cool down a bit.
So, setting the folded pile of Obi-Wan's clothing aside, Anakin reached for the cupboard to fetch the laser razor and activated it. He took a moment to admire it – it was much nicer than one at the barber shop had been. It worked much smoother too, gliding over Obi-Wan's skin easily and smoothly. It even had a bit of a vacuum function, and actually sucked the hair away.
"Much better," Anakin pronounced the man, once he was done. Obi-Wan still looked like he was really, really sick, but he looked a little less like a homeless abandoned person who was sick, so that was saying something.
He was also staring at Anakin and, for the first time, there was actually something in his eyes that wasn't emptiness. "What are you doing?" the man asked, confused.
Anakin could've misinterpreted that, but decided not to. As much as he wanted to make a joke just because a bit of humour would make things better, it… probably wouldn't make things better for Obi-Wan. "Taking care of you," he said instead.
"Why?" Obi-Wan asked, narrowing his eyes and frowning. It was… an oddly harsh look, and it made the burnhurt look so much worse.
Anakin shrugged and looked away – to the pile of Obi-Wan's clothes. "Because I want to," he said and reached for the pile. He dropped it on the man's folded legs. "Put on some clothes. You're naked you know."
Obi-Wan scowled, looking down. He rested a hand on the pile of rough synthwool and bowed his head. "Anakin," he said after a moment, not looking up. "Doing this won't help you. I… can't help you, no matter what you do."
"Yeah, I sort of figured that out a while ago," Anakin snorted and shrugged again. "Which is why I am helping you."
The Jedi frowned and looked up at him. Anakin looked back and after a moment folded his arms, the exact same way his mother did whenever she wanted Anakin to do something Anakin himself resolutely did not want to do. He wasn't sure what he wanted Obi-Wan to do right now, though. Straighten up a bit, maybe. Stop looking like death warmed over – literally warmed over, over heated even. Something like that.
"Put your clothes on," Anakin ordered.
And Obi-Wan did.