A true Jedi lived in the moment, and never dwelt in the past nor in the future. This lesson had been repeated to Obi-Wan since his early childhood, and he knew it by heart. He had never thought there could be something in his life to make him wonder what it would be like, getting old. But then, there was.
Not, of course, that age really mattered, and he knew very well that no such issues should bother him as long as he was fit enough to fulfill his duty to the Republic, but sometimes, just sometimes, though honestly more often than he would prefer, the thought slipped into his mind of how things would be in, say, ten years - if he lived that long, of course; how bad his almost chronically aching knee would get by that time (would he be lame and have to walk with a stick like Master Yoda?), how grey his hair would be, and, most importantly, what Anakin would think of all that.
Maybe it was all about Anakin and not him, as usual, but the fact that everything in his life had somehow become about Anakin no longer surprised him. What really bothered him was that he was going to be an elderly man while Anakin definitely was not.
Well, nearing his forties, he already was old compared to a youth in his early twenties, wasn’t he? And, deep inside, he still had difficulty making himself believe that he was worth being loved at all, let alone being loved by Anakin. But time would only make things worse. Sooner or later he would become age-worn and boring, and Anakin – Anakin would leave him for someone better. Or, utterly loyal as he was, would stay by his side and hate the existence he would have to endure in his company, bitterly regretting the pledges of love he had once so thoughtlessly made to his one-time Master.
Maybe living in the present was, after all, one of the wisest parts of the Jedi teachings, because even in the middle of war, the anticipation of such a future brought anything but optimism and relief. It wasn’t that he dwelt on such thoughts all the time – on the contrary, most of the time the harshness of reality made concentrating on the moment the only way to survive. But moments of peace, rare as they were, brought a more coherent way of thinking, and he had to admit to himself that the thoughts that ensued were not something he enjoyed.
Staring with a frown through the shuttle’s front view screen, where the green and blue orb of Tiln was now becoming bigger with every second, Obi-Wan didn’t even realize at first that Anakin was speaking to him.
“… somewhere in the crankshaft. Or is it in the left cylinder? I don’t sense in the Force what exactly is wrong there. Can you hear that, too?”
Anakin glanced at him from the co-pilot’s seat, surprised and a little annoyed, and blew away the strand of hair falling over his eye.
“The noise in the left part of the engine. Do you hear that? Must look it up while we’re on planet. They build these new T6s in such a hurry, maybe not all systems are fully adjusted yet. You're not even listening to what I’m saying, Obi-Wan! Pulling together your Negotiator’s skills?”
As Obi-Wan made an indefinite sound, Anakin scowled.
“Why do we waste so much time and effort persuading them that they’d better join the Republic, when it's clear as day that it's the best option for all?”
“Clear for whom?” Obi-Wan muttered. “Diplomacy doesn’t work like that, you know.”
“The Seps don’t care about diplomacy at all. They just come, invade and burn everything down.”
The landing cycle was nearly complete, and bright green plots of land were seen here and there in the near distance, but somehow, instead of peaceful scenery, when combined with Anakin’s words they looked rather more like the reminder of the possible disaster they were there to avert.
“Oh, please,” Obi-Wan wanted to sound mildly annoyed, but instead of it snapped. “You don’t mean that we should act like them, do you?”
Anakin arched an eyebrow.
“You know very well I didn’t mean we should act in violence! I only…”
“Whatever you mean, Anakin,” Obi-Wan interrupted him harshly, “I'd rather you kept your ideas to yourself.”
Anakin turned his head from the controls and shot him an incredulous stare, astonished by the violence of his reaction. Obi-Wan bit his lip, expecting a resentful glare and a fight he regretted before it started, but instead Anakin looked him over inquisitively and shook his head.
“You're having one of your old man moments, aren’t you?” He rose to his feet, giving Obi-Wan a sympathetic clap on the shoulder and headed to the shuttle’s exit. “Don’t worry, Master, I will be quiet as a tomb.”
Obi-Wan winced. Not only did the idea of aging make him uncomfortable in rather an un-Jedi-like way, but it would appear he was already as irritable as an old person and too easily readable for Anakin. He groaned and draped his cloak around the shoulders, following the young man towards the lowered ramp.
Sometimes he just loathed himself.
Obi-Wan was in the middle of describing for the third time the new opportunities and increased degrees of safety the Republic membership was undoubtedly going to bring to Tiln, when the Queen’s servants appeared carrying refreshments and ornate plates of strawberries that they placed in front of everyone with a deep ceremonious bow. Obi-Wan had had rather enough of ceremoniousness, but could do nothing except bow in response. In the corner of his eye he noticed Anakin grinning cheerfully at his plate like a bored child suddenly given a new toy.
“And might I remind you that all travel and cargo transportation to and from Tiln by the Republic routes will be tax-free once you become part of the Republic,” said Obi-Wan, a little more gloomily that he should, as he noticed Anakin take a strawberry in his fingers and sniff it with a delighted expression on his face. Force, but he had wasted thirteen years of his life to try and teach this boy elegant manners.
“We have been using routes of our own for centuries, Master Jedi”, remarked the Queen. “Although some of your Republican shortcuts might be of some use.”
Obi-Wan nodded, trying to avoid looking at Anakin (who was now heartily chewing a mouthful of berries that he had shoved into his mouth like a starving man). The Minister of Transport, seated next to him, glanced sideways, took a berry with his fork and carefully sliced it into halves.
“Indeed,” Obi-Wan said sternly. He should have definitely insisted that, as ambassadors of the Republic, he and Anakin be seated side by side. That would have made it so easy, now, to step hard on Anakin’s foot and make him stop this ridiculous behavior.
Anakin swallowed and shot him an innocent glance. Some bright red juice was smeared on his lips, and there was a tiny drop of it in the corner of his mouth that he slowly licked off. The image of how he could have done that himself invaded Obi-Wan’s mind against his will, and he suddenly felt very hot and averted his gaze.
“Our intelligence insists that the Separatist Alliance will soon show interest in this sector”, he said, lowering his voice in a confidential manner and trying to focus on the Queen’s bluish wrinkled face while chasing inappropriate images from his mind. “And the Republic will take care of your safety.”
Worried by the warning in his tone, the Queen exchanged some words in a local dialect with her Prime Minister, and Obi-Wan stared at them with determination. He was called the Negotiator for a reason. and he was going to persuade them to make the right choice, if not by talking about the obvious social and economic advantages, then by revealing bits of the scary truth. And of course no annoying young man would be able to distract him from his task.
“This is the Outer Rim, not the Core World, Master Kenobi,” said the Queen with an undertone of mistrust in her voice. “This part of the galaxy is of no interest to their Alliance, and we will not accept being frightened into joining your Republic by guesswork.”
Obi-Wan hid his frustration and sighed inwardly, wondering how such an ordinary thing as eating strawberries could be turned into something as messy as what was happening at the far side of the table.
He decided to try again from another angle. “Still, our agreement could be mutually beneficial,” he said, respectfully, seeming not in the least affected by her mistrust. “Your prosperous planet is remarkably rich in vegetation while the Republic possesses resources of numerous kinds of fuel which, to the best of my knowledge, you have a certain lack of. If you choose to join us, you will have free access to our supplies of…”
There was a pause as he swallowed. Risking another glance at Anakin was an obvious mistake, but he realized it all too late. The young man had just finished the last strawberry and stared thoughtfully at his stained forefinger, then licked it with a tip of his tongue and sucked it into his mouth with a hint of a smirk, eyes downcast. Obi-Wan felt heat rising to his cheeks and squeezed his eyes shut for a moment.
“… to our supplies of strawberries,” he finished firmly.
The Queen and her Ministers exchanged looks in the silence that followed. Obi-Wan realized what he had just said and blushed in exasperation.
“Sorry, your Majesty,” he cleared his throat. “Supplies of fuel, of course.”
The Queen briefly glanced at Anakin, her expression changing from formal to friendly and curious for a split second, before she offered Obi-Wan a regal smile.
“I see your point, Master Jedi. I suggest that we go for a break, to get some rest, and continue in a few minutes. And please, do help yourself.” She nodded at his untouched plate and rose, followed by her people.
“Supplies of strawberries, huh?” Anakin winked as soon as they were left alone. He approached Obi-Wan with an amused laugh. “How very brilliant of you, Master.”
Obi-Wan eyed him furiously. He was too exhausted by the negotiations to initiate a lecture or a reprimand which, he could already see from Anakin’s playful mood, would lead nowhere.
“I hope you're having a good time,” he said darkly, “making fun of me instead of being of any help, and adding to my headache. Some things, you know, are not funny after the age of, say, five.”
At the mention of a headache, Anakin’s hand flew instinctively to Obi-Wan’s temple, but the other man stepped back before he could touch him.
Anakin shrugged with a sigh.
“You're being unfair, Obi-Wan,” he said mildly and pouted. “I'm a desert slave boy not used to treats and exquisite food. That's why I take the chance to savor them, see?”
“Damn strawberries, I don’t want to hear a word about them.”
“By the way, they are delicious. But alright then,” Anakin raised his hands in a gesture of apology. “Since I'm useless here and do nothing but annoy you, I’d better go and check the engine. Good luck with your negotiations, Master Kenobi.”
He took a few steps towards the doors, then returned to the table and snatched Obi-Wan’s plate.
“I’ll take this with me, if you don’t mind.”
Obi-Wan growled a sulky of course, but Anakin already couldn’t hear him, running with light footsteps down the palace stairs into the warm bright-colored part of the garden that led to the landing platform where they had left their shuttle.
“I was starting to think you'd decided to stay there for the night,” said the young man, looking up. “How was it?”
Obi-Wan folded his cloak and put it on the rear seat, after removing an oil-greased hydrospanner that had been carelessly tossed there.
“I guess I must thank you for taking your boots off,” he said giving a pointed look to the feet that occupied his place. Anakin straightened up and lowered his feet to the floor, and Obi-Wan sat down tiredly. “Have you ever doubted my skills? The agreement is signed and I had to apologize for your absence.”
“Well, congratulations and thank you, Obi-Wan, I guess you explained to them that I'm your personal mechanic, and that you didn't forget to thank the Queen for strawberries on my behalf. I didn't waste my time here either. It seems I’ve fixed it”, Anakin started the engine. “But I want to make sure everything is alright; I suggest we go for a trial flight before heading into deep space.”
They took off and flew into the light gauze of dusk that was just starting to fall, over the fields that extended from this side of the capital up to the far-away shoreline.
“These are strawberry fields, you know,” said Anakin. “So I guess your generous offer of supplies was a little out of place. And by the way,” he nodded at the plate, still unexpectedly full, fastened to the control panel. “I kept them for you in case you changed your mind.”
Obi-Wan said nothing, and Anakin suddenly activated the landing gear and put down the shuttle at random in the middle of a field.
“Stop sulking, Obi-Wan, will you?”
“I'm not sulking.”
The engine stopped, and subdued whistles of local evening birds were the only sound that faintly broke into the silence. Anakin threw back the strand of hair that kept falling over his brow, then reached out for a strawberry and put it into his mouth.
“Don’t you think you should get a hair cut?” Obi-Wan remarked dryly.
“Nope,” Anakin offered him a mischievous smile, licking his lips. “You know, maybe I want to grow my hair long, like Master Qui…”
Suddenly Obi-Wan had enough of that – enough of teasing, enough of his own exasperation, enough of the awkwardness they had been having between them for the whole day. And certainly enough of this particular way of eating strawberries. He leaned in and grabbed handfuls of the hair he had just suggested be cut off, yanked Anakin’s head forward and pressed his mouth against Anakin’s, taking in all at once, the sweet taste, the slight smell of engine oil and the familiar sensation of soft full lips moving along with his. Obi-Wan trembled when Anakin instantly started to kiss him back with abandon. No matter how many kisses they had already shared, it seemed to him every time that it was too good to be true and that he would never ever get used to that overwhelming and perfect bliss that spread across his chest.
A few moments later Anakin broke away and smirked:
“I take it your headache is now better?”
“Shut up,” Obi-Wan whispered, giddy, urging him closer. “You little tease.”
Anakin slid from his seat and onto Obi-Wan’s lap and grabbed his shoulders in a possessive embrace.
“Gladly,” he murmured. “If I find something else to occupy my mouth with. And if these are not straw…”
Obi-Wan gave him no time to continue, catching his lips in another, deep and almost desperate kiss, losing himself in the fragrance of strawberries and Anakin on his tongue, in the heat between their bodies pressed so close they could feel each other’s heartbeats. The Force around them sang with joy and vibrated with longing.
He unclipped Anakin’s lightsaber so that it wouldn’t get in the way, while Anakin did the same with his, and they synchronously laid the weapons aside without looking; then hastily undid Anakin’s belt and slid his hands under the layers of tunics. Anakin gasped at the feel of the welcome touch caressing his back and tightened his grip even more.
Having to hide their relationship from almost everyone, they often had to restrain themselves and keep quiet, but now, in the middle of nowhere, there was no way to be overheard. Obi-Wan wasn’t sure who was the first one to lose control, but soon, as he moaned Anakin’s name over and over again, control became something he could hardly care less about.
“Hey. Are you alright?”
“Yeah,” Anakin opened an eye and closed it again. “Just trying to recover. You are way too, uh, active for an old man, do you know that?”
Obi-Wan smiled, stroking blindly a scar on Anakin’s shoulder blade. With a half-naked and happily exhausted Anakin in his arms focusing on the present was the easiest task there could ever be.
“Although,” Anakin added, “I admit this T6 is better than a single-seated fighter. Having extra space is something I won’t complain about. But my back hurts, gonna have a bruise”.
Obi-Wan came to the realization that during all this time Anakin’s back had been either pressed hard or outright slammed against the panel, and he brought his palm to the sore place with guilty panic.
“Sorry,” he murmured. “I didn’t mean to…”
“It’s all right.” Anakin shifted and moved to the other seat, bringing Obi-Wan with him and never breaking their embrace. “I kind of like it when you go wild. And I bet you can’t feel your legs, I am heavy, huh?”
Obi-Wan chuckled and nuzzled his temple, and they basked in the warmth-filled Force and the comfortable silence that settled between them.
“So tell me,” asked Anakin after a while, placing a kiss on Obi-Wan’s bare shoulder. “How did you manage to make them agree?”
“The Queen turned out to be a reasonable woman, after all. She decided that the advantages offered were worth it. And, most importantly, that their traditions would not be put in danger. Somehow it became easier to assure her of that after your little, um, display of respect for their traditional food. She said you were such a sweet and ingenuous young man.”
“Okay,” Anakin grinned, jubilant. “Sweet and ingenuous. So basically this means that I won the day for you. Again.”
“I’d rather say the Queen was too delicate in her choice of words, Anakin. Frankly, I would call your behavior uncivilized and obnoxious.”
He expected a protest, but Anakin only sighed instead. “You are right, Master. I am obnoxious. Also, too young and foolish for a man like you.”
Moved by Anakin's sudden meekness, it was Obi-Wan who found himself fervently protesting. “No, of course not. You are not too young and foolish, not at all.”
Anakin’s blue eyes shone with determination. “And you are not too old.”
He looked Obi-Wan intensely in the eye, open, sincere and utterly serious.
“You know, Obi-Wan, some time ago I couldn't imagine myself not at war. But now, with you, I can. Don’t tell me, I know, it's not the Jedi way to think of the future, but sometimes the only thing that keeps me sane, when the present of this damn war gets too hard to bear, is imagining the future with you.”
Overwhelmed by the meaning of this confession, by the candor and the depth of emotion he could sense behind it, Obi-Wan couldn't find words to speak. Suddenly the future he was so afraid of became welcome, with no war and no hiding, with Anakin safe and happy by his side, and the home, the real home, he knew they would eventually have. Not knowing how to express his tenderness in words, he gently stroked Anakin’s cheek.
“I’ll always be there for you.”
“Good,” said Anakin switching back to a playful mood. “How about we finish these strawberries and fly this thing back to Coruscant? Or rather, first see if the rear seat is more comfortable than the front seat and after that fly back?”
Obi-Wan nodded his agreement with a smirk, leaving no doubt who he had learned it from, then reached for a handful of strawberries. They instantly stained his palm in a most uncivilized way, but it didn’t matter at all as long as he could share them with Anakin.
The strawberries were delicious, indeed. In fact, he couldn’t remember them ever tasting so good.