"Remind me why I agreed to this again?"
Obi-Wan's personal assistant handed him a cup of coffee and checked her watch for what could have been the hundredth time in thirty minutes.
He took a brief swig. It was bad. Of course the coffee was bad. The coffee was bad. His client was forty minutes late. One of the stylists had knocked over a light and smashed it into roughly five hundred pieces. He'd spent all night wrestling with his website and when morning had shown its unwelcome face it had still been a mess of broken links and broken code.
His PA shrugged at him. "Because you're desperate for relevancy?"
Somewhere in her mid-twenties, his PA was pale and slim with glasses that obscured almost half of her face. Obi-Wan had never seen her wear something that wasn't black, and she pulled off dark plum lipstick better than most women. Other than that, she always answered her phone when he needed her and had the multitasking skills of an octopus on Ritalin.
Obi-Wan grunted. "I'm a sucker for punishment."
He touched the pocket his cigarettes would have been in if he hadn't thrown them out the week before. Now he was on the gum. Healthier and more irritable than he'd been in ten years.
"Don’t look now," his PA mumbled, nodding behind him.
Obi-Wan turned and found the girl from Prestige Models he'd spoken to the day before making a beeline for him. She looked suitably distressed and he felt himself softening, despite his prior commitment to displaying his extreme displeasure at being stood up for almost an hour through expert passive-aggression.
"I'm so sorry," she burst out as she reached him. "He— The traffic was awful. He's in hair and makeup now."
Obi-Wan could imagine she'd probably had a worse morning than him, trying to wrangle her high-profile charge to their appointment, all the while knowing that any disasters would be pinned firmly on her. "It's no trouble. We practically just arrived."
His PA could barely conceal her snort and earned herself a sharp look from the agency girl. Her eyes turned quickly back to Obi-Wan. "He's thrilled to be working with you, Mr. Kenobi. I'm a fan of your work myself."
"You're too kind," Obi-Wan said, smiling.
He wondered if she was told to say that. His fashion work had been years ago now and fashion had a terminally short memory. It was one of the things he did not miss about the industry. One of the things.
"I'll… ah…" She glanced anxiously over her shoulder. "I'll just go and check on him." She gave a small bow of her head and hurried away, looking like a harried animal.
"You would have been well within your rights to tell these people to fuck off," his PA said as soon as she was gone. She looked up from her phone with raised eyebrows. "You don't need to deal with this shit now. Your work's been in the Tate for God's sake."
Obi-Wan smiled. He could always rely on her to be righteously indignant on his behalf. Whether he was being unfavourably compared to Annie Lebovitz, or having his work wholesale panned by some acid-tongued critic, she was always there to let him know that they were philistines who wouldn't know art if "it slapped them across the face with its great, flaccid cock". Her words, not his. While not especially personable, his PA did occasionally have an interesting way with words.
"And miss my chance to work with the Anakin Skywalker?" Obi-Wan remarked.
His PA tutted in disgust. "You’d think his piss could cure cancer the way they're crawling all over him. It's Cara Delevingne all over again." She scoffed. "Models."
Obi-Wan let the bitterness in her tone wash over him. There would have been a time when he'd been as acrid about the situation as she was, but he'd mellowed with age. He knew she didn't approve of his decision to move back into commercial photography. Especially not fashion. She'd been completely up-front about that. To be perfectly honest he was beginning to wonder whether it was wise himself. He had forgotten about the bad coffee and the malfunctioning equipment and the cancelled appointments and the clients who turned up an hour late, if at all.
And he had forgotten about the potency of the cult of beauty. And how fruitful it had always been to those who worshipped it. He had enough experience with the fashion industry to know that they had decided they had found a golden calf in Anakin Skywalker. Beautiful, tragic and now at the tender, but sexually awakened age of nineteen, he was everything the cult needed in an idol. In fashion you were everything or you were nothing.
From what he had heard, Anakin had once been a rather solemn-faced child tagging along after his late and troubled supermodel mother, who had pushed her son into the space in the fashion world she had vacated and promptly died of a heroin overdose. Obi-Wan supposed the grooming process had begun in earnest after that, as the industry hurried to finish what his mother had started. As soon as it became apparent that her son had inherited his mother's beautiful face and lean, long figure. He supposed they ignored the possibility of his also inheriting her manic depression and love affair with smack.
He touched his pocket absently again. Tutting impatiently at himself, he finally relented and pulled out a stick of the hated gum, putting it unenthusiastically on his tongue and letting the mint coating burn his tastebuds for a few seconds. If he closed his eyes he could almost imagine it was a menthol cigarette.
"I can't believe you ever worked with these people."
Obi-Wan opened his eyes and followed his PA's distasteful gaze to where the agency girl was in urgent conversation with two makeup artists. Obi-Wan overheard one of them say: "he doesn't want to wear concealer over it." The agency girl ran a hand through her hair exasperatedly.
"All of this over one spoiled brat."
Privately, Obi-Wan agreed. He would never have dreamt of acting like this during his brief stint as a model. Though admittedly he was so desperate to be accepted into the inner circle of high fashion, he would have done just about anything to please them. And in the end even all of his slavish obedience hadn't been enough.
"You were lucky you got out when you did—"
"That's enough," Obi-Wan said, unable to keep the bite from his voice. "We're here to do a job."
His PA fell silent, clearly surprised by his tone. Obi-Wan sighed inwardly. Perhaps being back in that atmosphere was getting to him.
"Mr. Kenobi?" the agency girl appeared again, cheeks slightly flushed, but looking decidedly relieved. He could guess why. She was here to pass off her charge onto him. Now the little golden calf was his problem. "We're ready."
Obi-Wan looked past her and felt a sensation like he had missed a step going down stairs. He choked soundlessly on his own tongue and almost spluttered when he replied: "A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Skywalker."
Later, when he looked back on that day, Obi-Wan would realise that from that moment onwards his life had not been one, continuous string. An endless track like the Orient Express. There was before Anakin and there was after Anakin. And it became more difficult year by year to remember the before. It was like trying to picture the world before mountains had formed. It seemed unreal.
"Please, call me Anakin." His voice was a drawl and a smirk. Not an unpleasant smirk, and not an unpleasant drawl. It was honey ebbing off a spoon and a drop of blood falling into water. "And you're Obi-Wan?"
Obi-Wan's brain somehow creaked into action, working overtime for the rest of his body, which seemed to have immobilized like a deer in the headlights. "Yes, it's a pleasure to meet you." He swallowed thickly. "I already said that."
The smirk that seemed to sit permanently in the corners of Anakin's mouth flickered very quickly into focus and then was almost immediately gone. The agency girl cleared her throat. Neither of them looked at her.
"I'll leave you to it then," she said awkwardly.
Obi-Wan forced himself out of the trance he seemed to have fallen into and looked at her with a smile. "Thanks. We'll get to it." He turned to Anakin. "Stand over there, if you don't mind."
Anakin smiled crookedly at him and obeyed, taking his place in front of the backdrop. Obi-Wan looked at him and then held his camera up to look at him through the lens. Through it, his eyes traced the scar over his right eye. It was a neat, rosy seam over the arch of his eyebrow.
The sharp line of it, along with his intense, almost insistently penetrating eyes, altered the would-be boyishness of his face and collar-length shag of dirty blond hair into something… else. He had an almost obscene amount of natural beauty. Some of it sharp, some of it soft. If that face wasn't art, then Obi-Wan didn't know what was. He could imagine the look on his PA's face if he had uttered that bit of blasphemy aloud.
Obi-Wan licked his lips, lowering the camera. Anakin's eyes were still on him, not glancing away, not shy, not questioning. He could tell that those eyes could be a caress or a diamond blade, and he was capable of using both. There was a slight awkwardness and stiffness about his stance, though only perceivable by someone looking closely. He was hiding whatever nervousness he might be feeling well. The look he was giving him was almost challenging.
And his mouth was quite fascinating.
Obi-Wan swallowed again, his face feeling hot as he stared over the top of his camera.
Maybe it was the effects of nicotine withdrawal and the fact he'd gotten two hours sleep the night before, but he felt almost dizzy when he looked at him. Something felt like it was coiling in his stomach, not just in, but around it, contracting it. Contracting his chest. He wondered if he was going to have a heart attack before the shoot was over.
He forced a smile onto his face. "Okay, head up a little bit for me, Anakin."
The first drag was always the best. And Obi-Wan was gagging for that first drag that evening. Sheltering on the studio steps to avoid the steady fall of rain that had started almost the minute he'd walked outside, he clasped the cigarette between his hands like it was a starving man's first meal and breathed deep.
He'd scavenged three off one of the hair stylists. He really didn't want to buy his own. He wasn't giving up on giving up; he just needed it tonight. To shake off the strange sensations he'd been battling with all day, to take the edge off the tension and the doubts that had begun as a whisper and were a full-blown rage by the time he'd finished shooting Anakin.
Shooting Anakin. What an ordeal. An hour behind schedule already, the shoot had been further stymied by Anakin's obvious inexperience. He had needed a lot of instruction, and he was far from a natural. In fact, his movements bordered on wooden. His expressions were often severe, almost brooding.
But there was a dark loveliness to his features that had captured Obi-Wan's imagination completely. The combination of his raw prettiness and the hard edge leant to him by the scar and his uncompromising eyes was intoxicating. He wondered if everyone had experienced what he had when first meeting Anakin. His PA had certainly not changed her opinion that he was a dandified fuckboy when it was all over and he'd spoken to her briefly before she had to flit off to "an industry thing".
Obi-Wan had thought that fashion would never be able to feed that gnawing ache for artistry like it once had, but here he was barely able to sate himself. Looking. Needing to look. Looking like if he stopped, he wouldn't be able to breathe. It had become more and more difficult to put the camera down, every time Anakin had to change outfits, have his hair and makeup fussed with, have the wardrobe people straighten his clothes and adjust them on his slim figure. And, yes, Obi-Wan had had ample time to linger on every edge, curve, line of that body—
"Got another one I could have?"
Obi-Wan jerked around in surprise. He almost choked on his cigarette when he found himself face to face with the eyes he had been feverishly committing to memory as he stood there. Anakin gave him that now familiar, self-assured quirk of his lips and nodded to Obi-Wan's hand.
Obi-Wan stared at him and then something clicked in his suddenly exceptionally sluggish mind. "Oh! Right. I… do. Just a—" He rummaged in his pocket for a second one. He held it out to him.
Anakin took it with a softer, brighter smile and pressed it between his lips. Obi-Wan watched it. "Thanks," he said through it. "I've been dying for one all day. I'm supposed to be quitting." He lit it with a silver lighter from his jeans pocket. "My health and everything." He took a drag and looked up, smile still on his face. "But I figure cigarettes keep you thin, don't they?"
Without the makeup on, his skin was tanner, Obi-Wan noted. There were some dark shadows under his eyes that had been artfully hidden by the makeup artists, and the scar over his eye looked slightly more severe. And he had clearly run his hands through his hair, because it was distinctly more tousled now.
"I really don't think you need to worry about that," Obi-Wan said, his own cigarette hanging forgotten by his side.
The teasing edge returned to Anakin's smile. "Been looking, have you?"
Obi-Wan rolled his eyes with a good-natured scoff. "I had to watch you change your clothes at least ten times today, Mr. Skywalker."
Anakin stepped around to look at him, blue eyes suddenly earnest. "I told you to call me Anakin. I don't want everyone to start being all formal with me, because…" He faltered, seeming embarrassed. "Well, you know."
"Because you're going to be the next It Boy?" Obi-Wan supplied drily.
Anakin shrugged, taking another drag of the cigarette. Obi-Wan watched the smoke curl almost sensually up from his lips in a slow steam. "I've heard you’re an amazing photographer." Obi-Wan couldn't tell if he was changing the subject or elaborating. "I looked at some of your stuff before I came." He looked at him. "You make art."
Obi-Wan was surprised and a little taken aback by his sincere tone. And perhaps he was a little bit flattered. Just a little bit. Even as he admitted it to himself, he wanted to scoff at himself. Here he was, a man of thirty, well-removed from (most of) the passions and desperations of youth, feeling all warm inside because a pretty, young thing said he liked his work. Pathetic.
"Why would you want to come back to shooting models?" Anakin's eyes were unrelenting. He seemed to always be searching, penetrating. "It seems like an odd thing to do."
Obi-Wan gave a half-shrug and flicked his cigarette butt away where it landed in a puddle at the base of the stairs. "Not really. Art and fashion both have their pretensions and delusions of grandeur, but if you can stomach one, you can generally stomach the other. They're not so different." He paused. "Fashion is crueller."
Anakin gave a surprised laugh. "Stomach? I thought people went into creative stuff because they loved it, couldn't live without it. That sort of thing."
Obi-Wan's heart gave a twinge. He had to give himself a mental shake again. What was wrong with him today? He forced a laugh. "That's a very romantic idea."
Anakin's cheeks flushed just slightly red. He looked away. "Sorry. I don't mean to be bothering you with all this bullshit." He finished his cigarette too and dropped it onto the steps, grinding it under the heel of his shoe.
"I don't mind, though I would have thought you'd be off to some rooftop party rather than hanging around in this pissing rain," Obi-Wan said facetiously, though he was genuinely curious as to why the young man hadn't immediately sped off in his BMW to meet his other almost-famous model friends.
Anakin looked him, that same serious, solemn look coming over his eyes that again made Obi-Wan's breath catch in his throat. "I'm sorry. I'm bothering you. You probably just want to go home. And after I kept you waiting for so long—"
"Don't be ridiculous," Obi-Wan said quickly. Too quickly. "It was no trouble. I've had models turn up hung-over, vomiting everywhere, with tattoos they decided to get while blind pissed, with hair that needed industrial-sized hedge trimmers to get the knots out of. It comes with the territory of working with high-maintenance—"
He broke off, realising that his ramble might have gotten out of control. Anakin didn't seem to be offended though. He looked away and back at Obi-Wan, cocking his head slightly in a way that Obi-Wan suddenly wished he could photograph, with the setting sun behind him framing him almost religiously.
"Do you want to get a coffee?" Anakin almost blurted out.
Obi-Wan stared at him. His mind had gone helpfully blank. "Well, I…" need to get home, have lots of important things to do, am late for a doctor's appointment, have to fix my website because I managed to break all forty links on it last night. "Of course." He smiled at him. "That'd be lovely."
Why was he even trying to think of an excuse anyway? As though what Anakin had suggested was something illicit or sordid? It was just a coffee. He ignored the nagging voice in his mind that told him it was a bad idea to get involved with models outside of work. It's just a coffee, he repeated firmly to the voice. It's harmless.
Obi-Wan thought Anakin's smile was a bit relieved. "Great. I know this place just around the corner."