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wicked thing

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The doors shut behind him with a definitive click, and Anakin realises, perhaps slightly belatedly, that he just got himself into serious trouble.

His eyes dart across the vast, dimly lit space of the cargo hold, taking in the half-collapsed ceiling and the loose wires hanging off the walls, firing sparks in erratic bursts. Go capture a Sith Lord, the Council said. Be prepared for anything, the Council said. Which happened to be, incidentally, just about the worst advice he ever got from the Council, and that’s saying something. All of their advice is always either cryptic or completely useless; Anakin imagines that whenever they manage to make it cryptic and useless at the same time, Yoda and Mace Windu high-five each other as soon as he leaves the room.

They could’ve at least given him a clue, anything, so he wouldn’t end up stepping into a trap so obvious he wants to go back in time and smack his past self on the head with the hilt of his lightsaber. He chased the elusive Sith Lord through the crumbling Star Destroyer completely alone, separated from his men after, well, parts of the Star Destroyer sort of crumbled in their way, and now he got himself locked in an empty cargo hold, just waiting for the Sith Lord to attack him.

What a great way to finish the day.

Don’t be so rash, Skywalker, consider your options, he hears Mace Windu’s voice in his head, an echo of words he’d heard so many times they’ve etched themselves into his brain. If somebody woke him up in the middle of the night he’d struggle to remember the Jedi Code, but he’d do an impression of Mace Windu’s disappointed tone without missing a beat or opening his eyes.

Still, of all the advice currently available to him it seems the most reasonable, so he does exactly that; stops and thinks. He knows there’s a trap waiting for him. Considering how the Dark Side is trying to cloud his senses, the Sith Lord must be somewhere nearby, probably crouched in a corner, waiting for—

There’s a hooded figure standing motionless in the middle of the cargo hold, illuminated by one of the few lamps that still work. Anakin’s hand moves to rest on the lightsaber hooked on his belt as he takes several careful steps forward, still at a safe distance. It’s a trap. He knows it’s a trap.

The stranger lifts his hands to his hood and gently pulls it back, revealing his face. So the Council was right: there is yet another Sith, a human. His robes, black and crimson, are somewhat reminiscent of Jedi clothing, but they’re more ostentatious, asymmetrical, the tails of his tunic almost touching the floor. He has a lightsaber, there’s a blaster holster strapped to his leg, too. A high open collar frames his bearded face, the black in stark contrast with his piercing gold eyes and sleek hair the colour of sand.

Anakin hates sand.

“Hello, young one,” the Sith Lord says, tilting his head to the side, and Anakin didn’t expect evil incarnate to have such a smooth, pleasantly low voice, but he does, and Anakin’s brow furrows. “So they sent you to kill me, did they? I expected someone more… experienced. I imagine I’m not important enough for the great Master Yoda himself, but… Well, evidently I’m not important enough for any of them. How very disappointing.” He places a hand over his heart, as if pretending to be hurt.

Anakin is not at all fond of how this entire situation has caught him off-guard. He’d feel much more confident if the man just attacked, as they always do, but no. He’s just standing there. Talking. Staring at Anakin like he expects something from him.

“Capture,” Anakin manages, searching his mind for some semblance of bravery and self-confidence. He’s not a Padawan any more. He’s got this. He clears his throat and tries again. “The Council sent me to capture you. Which I’m going to do, one way or another. So you can either go willingly, or—“

The Sith Lord laughs, a light, almost charming sound, then gives Anakin a condescending smile. “Last time I checked, threatening was… not quite what you’d call the Jedi way.”

“You think you can lecture me on the Jedi way?”

“Seems like I’m doing it right now, young one, so yes, I suppose so.” There’s a hint of almost friendly amusement in his voice, and Anakin takes a step back, his eyes narrowing in suspicion. “Anything in particular you’d like to know about the Jedi Order? I’d love to share some of my knowledge. I bet I could tell you… oh, such interesting things.”

Anakin’s grip on his lightsaber is so tight it’s starting to hurt, which, he decides, is a sign that perhaps he’s spent enough time making small talk with a Sith Lord on board of a ship that might start exploding any second. He pulls the weapon out as he holds the man’s gaze and thrusts his chin forward; a challenge.

“That’s a no, then. Shame,” the Sith Lord sighs.

He drops his cloak onto the floor in a hypnotising, graceful if dramatic manner, rolling his shoulders with the movement and staring at Anakin all the while. Anakin realises he can’t quite look away from the man, barely regains his resolve and concentration when the Sith calls his lightsaber to his hand and ignites it. He quickly swings the crimson blade in front of himself and behind his back, then shifts into a battle stance, saber raised over his shoulder and angled forward, two fingers of his other hand pointing at Anakin, lopsided smile playing on his lips.

Soresu. An odd choice for a Sith Lord.

The man’s golden eyes slowly sweep up and down Anakin’s body, sizing him up as the Jedi gets rid of his own cloak. Anakin has no idea why he’s feeling so absurdly exposed and self-conscious all of a sudden. Surely it has nothing to do with how the Sith Lord’s eyes are boring into him.

The Sith Lord speaks again, his tone even lower, almost purring. “Shame, indeed. I think I rather like you.”

Anakin swallows nervously. All right, so maybe it has a lot to do with the Sith Lord.

It’s Anakin who attacks first, not because it’s the most rational thing to do, but because he needs to focus on something other than the blush he’s pretty sure is creeping up his neck.

Which is, of all the decisions he could’ve made in those circumstances, quite possibly the worst one. His moves are too reckless, his mind too distracted; the Council members would probably have a collective stroke if they saw him.

The Sith Lord meets and blocks his power attack overhead, before it even gains enough momentum to be considered an attack. For a split second they’re very close; Anakin manages to catch a glimpse of the man’s smug expression before his own lightsaber is knocked aside and the Sith Lord swiftly moves behind him, slashing a shallow wound across the back of his thigh and sending him stumbling.

Anakin hisses as he calls the weapon back into his hand; shallow or not, the cut hurts like hell and doesn’t bode well for him at all. He moves away, trying to regain his balance and find in himself the strength to ignore the stinging pain. The crimson blade must’ve cut into the muscle; this fight is going to be significantly harder than he’d thought.

(Well, here’s another thing he ended up being somewhat unprepared for, he thinks and winces. Why didn’t the Council warn him not to underestimate the Sith because they’ll lull him into a false sense of security and then try to cut off his legs when he least expects it? Be prepared for anything, the Council said. Yeah, that’s working out just great so far.

If he survives this, he’s going to punch Yoda straight in his tiny green nose.)

“I can sense your anger, young one,” the Sith Lord calls to him in a singsong tone. “How it gathers around you, hums into your ear.”

“I’m not angry,” Anakin says angrily.

The Sith Lord circles him with a feral smile, watches but doesn’t attack as he swings his lightsaber idly and waits, a wild animal hunting its prey.

Anakin immediately realises the problem this poses for him. The only way he’s going to win this fight, the Sith Lord clearly having an advantage over him, is if he manages to surprise his opponent, counterattacking and turning his own blows against him. If the Sith Lord refuses to attack, though, Anakin doesn’t have a lot of options left.

He moves to strike at the man again and again, hoping for an opportunity to reveal itself, but no matter how much strength he puts into his blows, the Sith Lord seems to dodge and parry them almost effortlessly, nonchalant in his defence but vicious in the few attacks that he does initiate. Anakin’s barely holding his own against the man’s boldness and grace, the sheer speed of his movements enough to thwart any of Anakin’s attempts at counterattacks or his usual wide, powerful blows.

He could just as well be fighting a mountain. A very quick, breathtakingly skilled mountain with defence so intensely focused that there seems to be no way to overcome it.

Despite his wounded leg, Anakin decides to try and risk using Ataru, since Djem So evidently isn’t getting him anywhere. He twirls to the side and backflips away, curses under his breath when he lands on his injured leg. He immediately jumps again, to the side and forward to try and flank the Sith Lord, get an attack from an angle that would surprise the man, but his hurting leg is making this increasingly difficult. His attempt is parried and he has to immediately move away to avoid the jab aiming right for his heart.

There’s a pattern, he realises, to his opponent’s parries, and he immediately focuses on shielding that epiphany from the Sith Lord. The man always moves to the side after deflecting his attacks, almost dances around him, so close and yet impossible to reach.

Well, Anakin thinks, allowing himself a small smirk, let’s see just how impossible to reach he truly is.

He jumps in for the attack, but instead of clashing their lightsabers against one another, Anakin powers down his, ducks under the Sith Lord’s attempted block, throwing him off balance, and ignites the blue blade again. He doesn’t give himself time to think as he swings it, aiming straight for where the man’s neck will be.

The Council is going to have to forgive him for not bringing the Sith Lord to them alive.

Except the man lunges forward, impossibly quick, manages to block the attack and trips Anakin, catching his wrist while he’s stumbling. He wrestles the lightsaber form Anakin’s hand and throws it aside.

Before Anakin has a chance to reassess the situation, he’s lying disarmed with his back flat on the floor, the crackling blade of the Sith Lord’s lightsaber at his neck, and a heavy knee on his chest, pinning him in place.

So, that’s bad.

“Impressive,” the Sith says, his soft voice slightly breathless, “but not quite enough.”

Some of his hair is falling over his forehead now, and Anakin is painfully aware that this really isn’t the best of times to realise that the Sith Lord probably about to kill him is a very handsome man, but Anakin seems to have little control over his own thoughts. Or the blush. He’s definitely blushing now. Oh, hell.

“Try to move, and I’ll have no choice but to kill you,” the man continues, “and I’d rather not do it.”

Anakin laughs at him, bitter and resentful.

“What kind of Sith are you if you don’t want to kill a Jedi?”

Something resembling amusement flashes though the man’s expression. “One you’ll spend a lot of time thinking about, young one,” he murmurs, leaning closer to Anakin’s face, sparkling golden eyes meeting angry blue.

His knee and weapon are still rather successfully discouraging Anakin from moving as he calls Anakin’s lightsaber into his other hand. He activates it and inspects the blue blade with genuine curiosity. Every single thought in Anakin’s brain is screaming for a fight, but he is pinned, the man’s weight heavy on his chest, and the blade of the red lightsaber is really close; one move, and he won’t have a neck to connect his reckless head to the rest of his body.

The Sith Lord steps back in one smooth, graceful motion, leaving Anakin on the floor. He powers down the blue saber, keeping the crimson one pointed at Anakin’s neck, then takes a blaster out of the holster on his belt. “Uncivilised,” he mutters as he throws the weapon to the ground, placing Anakin’s lightsaber in the holster instead.

Anakin just watches him. He can’t remember the last time he’s been this confused about anything.

“So since you’re not… killing me,” Anakin says slowly, and he can’t believe the words are leaving his mouth but apparently that’s what’s happening right now, he might as well just run with it, “can I have my lightsaber back?”

The Sith Lord’s mouth curls into a mischievous smile.

“This weapon is your life,” he drawls in a mocking tone, and Anakin freezes again. “Well, why don’t you ask me again the next time we see each other. If you ask nicely, I might just consider it.”

The tip of his lightsaber is still mere inches from Anakin’s neck as the Jedi slowly climbs to his feet, trying not to think about how the Sith Lord is absolutely certain that they will be meeting again.

“I don’t need to tell you that if you try to follow me now, I will kill you.”

He powers down the lightsaber and walks a few steps backwards, holding Anakin’s gaze. Anakin doesn’t dare move, which wins him another satisfied smirk from the Sith Lord.

“Good boy,” the man says before turning around and heading for the door.

Anakin doesn’t like a single thing about this.

His eyes are drawn to the blaster the man so casually threw away. It’s lying right there on the floor, so close to him. His thoughts are racing. So what if shooting people in the back is not the Jedi way? He can’t just let a powerful Sith Lord go like that; surely even the Council would forgive him such a minor disobedience.

Anakin kneels, grabs the blaster, and fires.

Which, as he realises seconds later, watching the Sith Lord turn on his heel and furiously deflect the shot into a wall, was perhaps not the best idea he’s had today. The Sith reaches out with his fingers splayed as if they were holding—

Anakin’s hands rush to his throat as a phantom force closes around it. He tries to shake free but there’s nothing to grab at; the Force raises him into the air as he’s desperately trying to balance himself on the tips of his toes and fighting for air. The Sith Lord walks to him in long graceful steps until his hand replaces the phantom grip on Anakin’s neck.

His golden eyes are fiery, angry, but disappointed, too.

“Don’t make me do this, young one,” he says, and it’s a threat, yet somehow it sounds just like the Jedi Masters back at the Temple scolding him for trying to use the Force to do his chores. “You’ve much potential within you. Would be a real shame to waste that.”

Anakin doesn’t know what to make of that.

Mostly, because he can’t kriffing breathe.

The Sith lets go of him and he collapses onto the floor, a graceless heap of limbs, gasping for air. It’s a really good thing the Council can’t see him now, he thinks, a poor excuse of a Jedi cowering at the feet of a powerful Sith Lord.

The Sith flicks his wrist, pushing him against the nearest wall with what Anakin thinks is a lot less force than he could, then turns towards the door again.

“You didn’t tell me your name,” Anakin calls after him, his voice coarse.

The man stops, looks over his shoulder, and laughs. “You don’t need to know my name, young one. You haven’t earned the right to know it yet.”

“I thought the Sith weren’t supposed to be cowards.”

“And I thought the Jedi were supposed to have patience.”

Anakin sighs, exasperated. So this is his life now. A Sith Lord is scolding him for not being a good enough Jedi. He just can’t wait to not mention any of this to the Council, ever.

“Now, if I were you, I’d probably consider escaping this place. No way this ship is going to last long,” the Sith Lord says, just as a massive explosion rolls through the entire Star Destroyer. “Ah, exactly. Good luck.”

 


 

“So how did he beat you, Skywalker?” Mace Windu asks, and Anakin is really starting to regret not making up a comprehensive and easy-to-remember list of lies he’s going to use while telling the Council what happened.

Then again, he’s very good at improvising.

“He, uh… surprised me,” Anakin says, painfully aware that the entire Council is listening to his story intently. In his mind, at least, he’s calling it a story instead of a report. Seems more accurate that way. “Separated me from my men, then injured me in a surprise attack, and I just… couldn’t break his defence after that.” Some truths, some half-truths, some pained winces as he pretends to be significantly more hurt than he is; it seems to be working as members of the Council nod at him. “The Force is strong with him, his lightsaber skills are… remarkable, as well.”

“Impressed, you sound.”

Anakin shrugs, trying to stuff all of his nervousness deep into himself, where the Council won’t see it. “I can… appreciate a skilled opponent when I meet one.”

“So how did you escape? He didn’t just let you go, did he?”

Anakin really hopes what he’s feeling isn’t showing on his face. “Uhh, no, of course not. The ship we were on started… falling apart, exploding, I guess he decided that saving himself was more important than killing me. I found my way back into the hangar bay, me and the clones got into a shuttle… that’s pretty much it.”

“Anything else, then?” Mace asks, and Anakin can tell that his story is trying the Jedi Master’s patience, but it’s still a far better option than admitting the truth. “Did you get his name, was there something in particular that stood out?”

“It’s not like we had time for introductions,” Anakin says, wondering how come the lies do not burn his tongue as he speaks them. “That being said… I think he might’ve been a Jedi once.”

He’s not even sure where the idea comes from. It’s just a thought that he finds in his head all of a sudden. Somehow, it makes sense to him.

“Oh?”

“I have no proof, it’s just… a feeling.”

“Mysterious, the ways of the Force are,” Yoda says, and the members of the Council nod sagely.

Anakin wants to congratulate himself on not rolling his eyes.

“Anything more you’d like to tell us, Skywalker?”

Anakin swallows nervously. Sure; that the Sith Lord kicked his ass, took his lightsaber, and let him go. Except there’s no way he’s going to admit that. Throughout his lifetime he’s heard more than enough lectures about this weapon being his life. He doesn’t need another one from the entire Council.

“I would like to request that… you don’t send me on any off-planet missions for a few days,” he manages. “I… underestimated the Sith Lord, and got badly hurt. I’m recovering, but the injuries are slowing my reflexes and I fear in this state I wouldn’t be of much use in the field.”

He can see the growing frustration in Mace Windu’s eyes, but the Jedi Master doesn’t say anything.

“As of now, we’re regrouping, anyway,” the holoprojection of Ki-Adi-Mundi breaks the silence. “Thanks to you, we’ve beaten the Separatist forces in the Rishi system, so they should be… less active for a few days at least, and your clone battalion was going to be joining Plo Koon’s 104th for a mission anyway. Take your time, Skywalker; just not too much.”

Anakin bites the inside of his cheek lightly; he really doesn’t like the fact that the decision to send the 501st away was made without him, but he doesn’t have much of a choice, and he is grateful that the Council is allowing him some rest. He nods and leaves the Council meeting as quickly as he can without actually running.

 


 

As he makes his way through the Temple, he can’t help but curiously peek into some of the rooms, hoping he’ll stumble upon a friendly face or two. Perhaps one of the Padawans; Anakin’s really fond of their energy and endless disregard for any and all rules.

He whistles a friendly greeting at a passing droid and smiles to himself as he finally spots a group of Padawans hiding in one of the training rooms; one of them seems to be keeping another one floating several inches above the ground while the rest, standing in a circle around the two, are encouraging them in excited whispers.

“And what are you doing?” Anakin raises his voice as he tiptoes his way closer to them.

One of the younger Padawans almost yelps in surprise. They all turn with fear in their eyes, but instantly relax once they realise that it’s just him and not someone who would give them a three hour lecture on the misuse of the Force. He grins at the Padwans, recognises most of them; the ones who were apparently providing the main attraction for the others were Ahsoka, studying under Aayla Secura, and Barriss, Luminara Unduli’s apprentice. Ahsoka beams at him as Barriss nods her head in polite greeting, her expression slightly anxious.

“Master Skywalk—“

“Skyguy!” Ahsoka interrupts Barriss, to the apparent horror of her friend. “Master Secura is on a mission in the Outer Rim and she told me to train my focus in the Force while she’s away. I figured out how to make living beings float! Look!”

“Ahsoka, please, don’t—“ Barriss tries, but Ahsoka is already closing her eyes and pointing a hand at her.

The Force buzzes around them, an almost amused note to its intensity, and Barriss sharply draws in a breath as she is raised several inches into the air again. Ahsoka opens her eyes to look at Anakin.

“See?”

“Impressive, Snips,” Anakin laughs, idly wondering what to do with the stupid pride swelling in his chest.

Ahsoka isn’t even his Padawan, nor is her idea of training her focus anything the Jedi would normally approve of. Yet he can’t help but grin in delight at her self-confidence and the sheer excitement she’s radiating. He wonders if the Council would allow him to take her for a few missions with him. He knows Aayla wouldn’t mind.

He fondly shakes his head, assumes his best impression of Mace Windu’s voice, and asks, “But how is that relevant to your training?”

One of the other Padwans snorts, and Anakin winks at him.

“I am learning how to use the Force,” Ahsoka argues, notes of laughter in her voice. “That’s totally relevant!”

“All right, all right, now let Barriss down, I don’t think she’s enjoying this.”

“I’m not,” Barriss says instantly, sounding so much like Luminara Anakin wants to laugh.

“Master Skywalker? Is it true that you’ve fought a Sith Lord?” one of the other Padawans asks as Ahsoka carefully sets Barriss back on the floor. Anakin stiffens at the question.

“How in the hell would you know about that?”

“Everyone knows about that! About Geonosis. Was it hard?”

Oh, that’s what he means. Geonosis. Dooku. Anakin gives himself a mental kick for thinking that somehow the Padawans found out about his most recent scuffle. For a second he’d almost expected them to ask about his missing lightsaber.

Still. He’d very much like to forget what happened on Geonosis, too.

In the suddenly uncomfortable silence that falls between him and the Padawans he nervously flexes his cybernetic fingers and meets Ahsoka’s eyes for a split second. He sees a flash of understanding in her face before she turns on her heel and snaps at the Padawan.

“That’s none of your business, Whie! With the amount of time you spend on meditating, you’d think the Force would tell you when to shut up.”

The Padawan takes a step back, confused by her outburst. Anakin carefully puts a hand on Ahsoka’s shoulder, impressed by her reaction, how ready she was to fight just because she noticed his distress. Not exactly something a Jedi should do, but he’s not her Master; he doesn’t have to lecture her on the ways of the Jedi, thank the Force. He gives her a small, thankful smile instead, and really hopes that Aayla is as proud of her as he is.

“Snips, hey. As much as I appreciate your willingness to… defend my honour, it’s all right. Oh, and Whie?” Anakin smirks at the nosy Padawan. “Why don’t you ask Master Yoda about duelling Sith Lords. I’m sure he’d love to share his knowledge.”

As Anakin excuses himself and heads towards his rooms, he decides he’s definitely going to take Ahsoka somewhere. Were the circumstances a bit different, he thinks, he would’ve loved to have her as his Padawan.

Chapter Text

According to Anakin, the Jedi Code is a mess.

It states that the Jedi are to use their powers to protect and defend, never to attack; yet so often the very task of protecting one being requires them to fight another. It states that they’re supposed to be guardians, peacemakers; yet here they are, calling themselves generals, fighting a war spanning the entire galaxy.

That a surprisingly high number of Jedi seem… generally disinterested in blindly following the Code is just one of its many issues. And Anakin isn’t judging, he really isn’t; most of the time he’s the leading force in the whole “ignoring the Code” movement, to the Council’s growing exasperation.

The Council probably holds secret meetings discussing the contradictions in the Code. Anakin would bet his lightsaber that Yoda spends sleepless nights worrying about it all.

That is, if he currently possessed a lightsaber to gamble with.

It’s been over two days since he gave his lying report to the Council. He’s been staying at the Temple being pretty much useless, his time split evenly between sleeping, panicking, and avoiding his responsibilities, especially the assignment to help out in the Archives—something to do with organising and cataloguing the holocrons—which sounded unbearably boring.

He’d rather come up with of a plan of action, anything, but none of his ideas are making sense. There’s nobody he can turn to and no way he can make a new saber from scratch while he’s staying on Coruscant.

It’s all looking pretty bad, and the Jedi Code and rules are, as always, of no damn use.

Well, fine, maybe there is one thing.

Not a single line in the entirety of the Code states explicitly that a Jedi can’t go to a fishy Coruscant club and get so drunk he won’t remember his own name, if he desires to do so.

All right, yes, there’s the part saying that the Jedi are supposed to be responsible and not give in to their personal wants, and that other part about self-discipline, too, but Anakin has never been a big fan of the Code, anyway.

He’s mastered sneaking out of the Jedi Temple back when he was very young. Now that he’s a Knight he doesn’t really need to sneak; it almost makes him miss his time as a Padawan. Now, he can leave whenever, claim Jedi business if anyone asks, and go do whatever he wants. So he does exactly that.

He wanders the busy streets of Couruscant for a time, lets his mind roam free, curious where he’s going to end up. He finds himself in front of something called the Outlander Club, a place full of suspicious-looking drinks and even more suspicious-looking beings. Captivated by its atmosphere, loud music and flashing lights, he decides he might as well stay there. He sits at the bar and orders Twi’lek liquor. He remembers (or, to be more accurate, doesn’t remember) that Aayla got him terribly drunk on it once; he figures it’s certainly going to do the job.

He wants to forget; about his missing lightsaber, about everything else, too. The questions, the doubts. The war. Memories of the Battle of Geonosis; the conversation he’s had with the Padawans a few days ago weighs heavy on his mind. He needs to have some rest, and right now drinking himself into unconsciousness seems as close to rest as he can get.

He’s on his third drink, or is it the fourth one already, stars, the stuff sure is potent, when somebody catches his elbow. They probably want to sell him death sticks. Again. Anakin rolls his eyes.

“Well, well. Hello there,” a smooth voice says into his ear. Anakin is pretty sure he knows it from somewhere, he just can’t for the life of him recall from where.

Then again, he’s currently having serious trouble recalling anything. He knows he could use the Force to detoxify himself; it’s just that he doesn’t want to. His mind is just the right amount of dazed and he doesn’t have to care about anything for once.

He keeps sipping his drink, doesn’t even bother to turn around and look at whoever it is that’s standing behind him and still holding onto his elbow. What does it matter, anyway? Whoever it is seems to be friendly enough, and Anakin is really focused on his liquor. That, and… he wants to play hard to get. Maybe. He’s not sure. Damn, what do they put into those drinks?

An arm drapes itself across his shoulders as the strangely familiar stranger leans even closer. Anakin allows himself a smile as he catches a whiff of heavy but pleasant cologne. The man seems terribly insistent to talk to him, but Anakin doesn’t mind at all. Attention’s really nice when it’s not the disappointed attention of the Council.

“So,” the man continues. He’s very warm, Anakin notices idly. “What’s a Jedi like you doing in a place like this?”

Anakin shrugs. Getting completely wasted, hopefully. “Having fun,” he says. It takes his mind a good few seconds before it catches up to what he’s just heard. “Wait. How do you know I’m a Jedi?”

He’s not wearing the Jedi robes, obviously doesn’t have a lightsaber with him, either; up until this very moment he was pretty sure he was blending in rather well. He finally turns around, confused, and gazes right into the golden eyes of a familiar Sith Lord.

What the f—

“Hello,” the man says again, amusement flickering in his eyes. Anakin immediately tenses up; even dulled by the liquor, his instincts are still working and he tries to move away, but the grip the Sith has on his shoulders is stronger and far less friendly than it seemed a moment ago.

“Let go of me,” Anakin hisses.

“Now, now, there’s no need to be making any rash decisions. Neither of us is armed, young one, and there’s no reason for us to begin a fight in the middle of this… pleasant establishment. I have no quarrel with you. In fact, I thought perhaps I could buy you a drink.”

He gives Anakin an innocent smile and tilts his head to the side, waiting.

Anakin blinks at him, once, twice, his thoughts running slow, muddled by the alcohol and distracted by everything else. There’s no way any of this is real, he decides. No way he would accidentally meet a suspiciously friendly Sith Lord in a random Coruscant club of all places. There are things that are unlikely, and then there are things that are downright impossible, and this situation definitely belongs to the second category. The only logical conclusion that his mind can currently provide is that he must be either dreaming or hallucinating. Anakin absently bites his lower lip.

His mind sure has a sense of humour. But, since he’s just established that this isn’t actually happening, what’s the harm in accepting the offer?

“Can’t say no to that,” Anakin mutters with a shrug.

“I knew you were reasonable. Now, what are we drinking?”

“Twi’lek liquor. I think,” Anakin says. As the Sith Lord’s grip relaxes into a casual embrace, it takes all of Anakin’s self-restraint not to lean into the warm touch. It’s almost weird how comfortable he’s feeling about this.

The Sith waves his other hand at the bartender, and Anakin accepts the drink with eager giddiness.

Somewhere deep inside his mind he knows he shouldn’t be drinking so much. But, seeing as this is probably a dream anyway, he doesn’t need to be dealing with any kind of worry or panic right now. He can relax.

“Here, to you,” the Sith Lord says as their glasses clink against each other.

Anakin gives him a lazy smile and takes a sip of the drink. He really must be quite drunk already, he realises as he catches himself thinking about raising his hand and running it through the man’s hair. Illuminated by the flashing lights of the bar, it no longer reminds him of sand. It’s a gentle shade of gold, just like his eyes, and looks very soft.

Strange that his mind would be so specific about remembering the face of a man he’s only met once.

A hand erratically poking at his other elbow snaps him out of the intrigued half-trance. He turns around, annoyed, to face a jittery man with restless eyes.

“Wanna buy some death sticks?” he asks in a low whisper, nervously glancing behind his back as if afraid that somebody else is going to hear him. Anakin rolls his eyes. Not this again.

The Sith Lord sighs and leans over Anakin’s shoulder to wave a hand in front of the man’s face, staring at him intently. “You don’t want to sell us death sticks.”

“I don’t want to sell you death sticks.”

“You want to go home and rethink your life,” Anakin helpfully suggests, repeating the gesture.

“I want to go home and rethink my life,” the man agrees immediately, turns on his heel and heads for the exit, his expression pensive.

“Too easy,” the Sith Lord murmurs, watching Anakin out the corner of his eye. “Oh, how I wish this trick would work on the Jedi as well.”

“Maybe it doesn’t have to,” Anakin says, and he’s not quite sure what he means by that, but the words seem to put a smile on the Sith Lord’s face, and Anakin decides he likes that.

Anakin doesn’t oppose it when the Sith leads him away from the bar to a table in the corner of the club, out of the immediate view. They sit on a sofa, close, probably too close; Anakin is proud of himself for leaning on the table and not on the Sith Lord.

“You didn’t tell me your name,” Anakin says, still somewhat frustrated with the fact.

“Can’t help but notice that you didn’t tell me yours, either.” The Sith raises an eyebrow at him.

“It’s Anakin.”

The man frowns in disbelief, and then a smile creeps onto his face, the kind Anakin hasn’t seen from him yet; one full of confusion, but recognition and familiarity, too.

“Anakin? Anakin Skywalker, Qui-Gon’s apprentice?” The man laughs and shakes his head. “My, you’ve grown. I didn’t recognise you at all.”

“Recognise?” Anakin repeats, frowning. The choice of word is very strange to him, but his drunk mind refuses to wonder why.

“By the Force, last time I saw you, you were still a young boy. It’s been… a long time.” His expression shifts into one of sorrow, and when he puts a hand on Anakin’s shoulder and squeezes it gently the gesture seems almost sympathetic. “I’ve heard about what happened on Geonosis. I am so sorry about your Master, young one. Qui-Gon was… a good man.”

Anakin shakes his head. Seems like the thoughts and memories of Geonosis refuse to leave him alone even when he’s so drunk he can barely remember his own name. It all comes back to him with full intensity; the fight with Count Dooku, how he wasn’t quick enough to help his Master, to save him; how in the end he was rescued by Yoda, but for Qui-Gon it was already too late. He clenches his fists and looks away, reaches for the drink and downs what’s left of it in one go, flinching as it burns his throat.

“I shouldn’t have brought that up, should I,” the Sith Lord sighs, his tone surprisingly gentle.

His hand moves from Anakin’s shoulder to rest on his neck and this time Anakin can’t help but lean into the warm touch. He wants to stop thinking, shut his restless mind down at least for a moment; his thoughts are probably so loud every Force-sensitive being in the area can hear them. The Sith Lord hooks a finger under Anakin’s chin and tugs, forcing him to look the man in the eye. Not that Anakin minds; it’s fascinating to watch him up close, raw power radiating from him in waves, all that grace and deadly swiftness Anakin remembers from their duel locked away, waiting just beneath the surface.

The Sith Lord smirks at him, calculated and smug; a thumb lightly presses down on Anakin’s lips. His mind immediately accepts that as not only normal and acceptable, but also downright welcome, as well as a clear sign that he should take it into his mouth. Which he does, his eyes fluttering shut as his lips close around the finger and his mind drifts, starts to consider options he wouldn’t have thought of seconds ago. When Anakin looks at the Sith again, gold eyes are watching him very intently, a different kind of darkness pooling within them.

“Well, this is getting interesting,” he purrs, moves his hand to the back of Anakin’s neck and slowly drags his tongue over his lips as Anakin watches him, entranced. His face is very close to Anakin’s, golden eyes heavy-lidded, lips slightly parted, glistening in the flickering lights of the club. Anakin leans in.

None of this is really happening, anyway, so why wouldn’t he have a little fun?

When their mouths meet, all tension leaves Anakin’s body and all coherent thought leaves his mind; there’s only the heat and taste of liquor as the Sith Lord grins into the kiss, immediately slipping his tongue into Anakin’s mouth like it’s his divine right, slow but deliberate in every move. He kisses like he wants to devour; his whole body shifts towards Anakin, crowding his personal space as the hand in his hair curls into a fist. Anakin whines when the man breaks away, biting at his lower lip.

The more Anakin thinks about it, the more the Jedi Code seems flawed to him.

It’s intricate but not nearly specific enough, doesn’t account for far too many options, and at times seems horribly outdated.

Also, it doesn’t in any way explicitly forbid a Jedi from sleeping with a Sith Lord.

So, Anakin decides, he’s going to do it.

He leans in for another kiss, eager and shameless, and gasps when the Sith Lord catches him by the short hairs on the back of his neck, pulls his head back and presses his lips to Anakin’s neck instead, just below his jaw.

“I think I’m starting to understand why you want to know my name so much, young one,” the man whispers into his ear, amused, and Anakin swallows, hears his own pulse beating in his ears like a drum, the implications of that seemingly innocent statement not lost on him. There’s heat pooling in his cheeks and low in his stomach, and he lets out a sigh as the Sith Lord slides a hand over his thigh.

Anakin’s hand finally finds its way under the man’s tunic and he hums contentedly, drags his fingernails against the bare skin. His mind is spinning, he wants to climb over the Sith Lord, itching to do something.

“Why, Anakin,” the man purrs, and the way Anakin’s name rolls off his tongue sends shivers down his spine, “what would your Jedi Council say if they saw you?”

“Don’t ruin the mood,” Anakin hisses. The Council is the last thing he wants to be thinking of right now.

“If by mood you mean breaking the Jedi Code, then of course,” the man chuckles, still nipping at Anakin’s neck.

“Like I care about the Jedi Code right now.” Can’t he be free of the damn Code at least in his own dreams? The words earn him a laugh as the Sith lets go of him and rises to his feet.

“How very scandalous,” he says, extending an arm to Anakin with a dangerous gleam in his eyes. “Come. This place is starting to bore me, and the night is still young. I have some ideas on how I’d like to spend it.”

Anakin accepts the man’s hand and allows himself to be pulled to his feet, standing very close to him.

“I wonder if our… plans for the night are going in the same direction,” the Sith Lord continues casually.

Like he doesn’t know that they are.

“We need to… go somewhere,” Anakin says, and if he were a little less drunk he’d be embarrassed at how hard it is for him to make sense. His mind is in downright phenomenal condition, frankly; it’s a wonder he still remembers how to talk at all.

The Sith Lord leans close to his ear with a feral smile.

“Or I could just have you right here, right now,” he purrs, “in a darkened alley, against a wall. I bet you’d like that.”

Anakin blushes to the tips of his ears as a quiet whimper escapes his lips. The words sink into him, sending a rush of warmth through his whole body; he leans down, desperate for another kiss, but the hand in his hair is back, and it holds him in place as the Sith Lord stands on his toes, smirks, his mouth almost touching Anakin’s.

“Oh, you’d love it,” he whispers, his lips brushing against Anakin’s, agonisingly close. “Look at you, so ready, so eager to let go of it all, be at somebody’s mercy, let someone else take control and overwhelm you, make you forget your problems.”

A strange heat sneaks its way into his mind and Anakin sighs, lowers all of his already low defences and welcomes it, lets the thick, warm darkness spill into him. It makes him feel dizzy but good, a whirl of emotions and sensations he never knew he wanted, needed.

“That’s right… let me in,” the Sith Lord hums and Anakin’s eyelids flutter.

They’re still in the club, the last half-conscious part of his mind supplies in a panicked tone, and this won’t do at all.

“I know a place,” Anakin says, breathy and impatient, and perhaps this isn’t the best idea he’s had today, but it’s not like anybody expects him to make good decisions at this point. That, and nobody can be mad at him for being a reckless idiot in his own dreams, especially not when they’re so good and so realistic.

He drags the amused Sith Lord outside and starts walking, a clear plan in his mind.

The Sith throws a hood over his face, flashes Anakin a smile and wraps a possessive arm around his waist, holding him close and angling his head to rest on Anakin’s shoulder. He’s deliberately slowing them down and Anakin wants to be mad, but the man is radiating heat and forbidden promises, caressing his mind in the Force, and Anakin can barely think straight.

He’s focused enough to know exactly where he’s going, though.

Anakin has mastered sneaking out of the Jedi Temple a long time ago. Sneaking back into it was always harder, but over the years he’s managed to figure that out, too. He knows that at night, there are two Knights guarding each of the four main entrances, so they can’t go through there. Some of the secret passages are usually watched, too, but there are more ways into the Temple than most beings know, and even completely drunk Anakin knows his way around.

They creep through the lower levels, Anakin feeling just like an excited Padawan again and the Sith Lord following him, catlike and graceful, with a satisfied smirk on his lips. They pass through the gardens and hide in the shadows, waiting for some Knights out for a late night stroll to leave. The Sith Lord wraps both their Force presences in a blanket so thick it hides them even from the wandering minds of the Jedi, and Anakin has to admit he’s impressed. Plus, the feeling of his mind having access to nothing but the Sith is nearly more intoxicating than all the alcohol he’s drank.

He’s just about out of patience.

“Anakin, come on,” the Sith Lord hisses as Anakin shoves him into one of the empty study rooms and kneels in front of him, licks his lips suggestively.

“My knees are so weak suddenly, I don’t know,” Anakin mutters with a sly grin, looking up at the man. The Sith Lord leans down, grabs the front of Anakin’s tunic and pulls him back onto his feet and into a fierce, biting kiss.

“I thought we were going somewhere,” he says when they part, both gasping; his eyes are dark, hungry, pupils blown so wide the gold is almost gone. “Where’s your damn Jedi patience?”

Anakin bites the inside of his own cheek, then smirks at him.

By the time they reach Anakin’s rooms even the Sith Lord is restless. As Anakin fumbles for the damn key, the Sith stands behind him, close, so close, his hands impatiently roaming Anakin’s body, slipping under his tunic. He’s nipping at Anakin’s ear as his dark but oh-so-warm presence looms over Anakin’s. Unabashed want is radiating from him and Anakin’s heart is pounding, already so overwhelmed he nearly drops the key.

He finally manages to unlock the door and they tumble inside; the Sith Lord grabs him, turns them around and slams Anakin against the closing door. Anakin lets out half a pained gasp before his mouth is claimed in a ferocious kiss. The lock barely even clicks and the Sith Lord’s hands are everywhere at once; on Anakin’s neck, pulling his hair, all over his back, working at the fastenings of his tunic. He has to be using the Force, Anakin realises, and he’d laugh if didn’t feel so right, so hot and focused, like there’s nothing in the whole galaxy but the two of them.

The Sith’s hands move down and Anakin hisses, doesn’t break the kiss as he pushes the man backwards towards the bed. He thinks to shove the Sith Lord onto it, but the man just grins and trips him. Anakin lands on the mattress with an offended huff, brushes his hair away from his face, and looks at the man.

The Sith Lord stands over him, tall and menacing and golden, and Anakin lets out a deep breath, half awe, half desire.

He’s never wanted anything this much.

His mouth opens to speak even though his mind seems empty of all thought; only one word escapes his lips, one that tastes of defiance and submission and fire all at once.

Master.”

The Sith Lord grins at him, a lazy, feral smile spreading on his lips as he kneels over Anakin, kisses him, slow this time, a reward; Anakin tosses his head to the side and the man mouths at his neck, hot and wet as his hands deftly work to rid Anakin of his clothes. He grasps at Anakin’s shoulders, moves against him with a purpose, bites at his earlobe and laughs at his barely-contained moans. His thoughts and emotions seep into Anakin’s mind, wild and free and Anakin lets them, welcomes them all, overwhelmed by the dark presence but long past the point of caring.

The man climbs off him (to the accompaniment of Anakin’s disappointed whine), only to push him further onto the bed and kneel between his legs. The combination of alcohol, phantom fingers working at Anakin’s mind and the sheer sight of the man on his knees with so much lust and promise in his eyes makes Anakin see stars.

It’s all a bit of a blur after that.

Anakin remembers running his hands through the man’s soft hair while he bends down and leaves a trail of biting kisses on Anakin’s inner thigh, purring under Anakin’s touch.

He remembers his own shocked but delighted gasp as the Force wraps itself around his wrists, binds his hands together and pins them above his head. The Sith lifts Anakin’s leg, his mouth finding the very wound his crimson lightsaber left. His hand closes around Anakin just as he bites at the wound and Anakin sharply draws in a breath, the sensation of overlapping pain and pleasure far more arousing that he’s willing to admit.

The Sith Lord’s mouth moves a moment later, and Anakin remembers heat and shameless bliss, golden eyes not leaving his own for a single second while he struggles not to completely lose himself in how the man’s hot mouth feels on him.

He remembers his desperate gasps of pleasure as a finger, two, three enter him, moving inside him with an obscenely slow but deliberate rhythm. Anakin’s eyes flutter shut as he gives in to the feeling, arching his back and straining against the Force keeping his arms pinned. He has no idea whether it takes minutes or days before the Sith Lord finally slips into him with a quiet gasp, drowned out by Anakin’s loud, drawled out moan of Master, please. He remembers the Sith Lord’s low, delighted laugh as he bends down to kiss him again.

He remembers being so full of it all, the Force holding him in place, the Sith Lord inside him and inside his mind, making him feel drowsy and awake at the same time. Anakin’s connection to the Force is blurred, making him all the more focused on all the sensations of his body as the Sith Lord begins an unrelenting pace, almost cruel in his intensity yet exactly what Anakin wants and what he needs.

He’s loud, bites his tongue but can’t help it, moaning and gasping calls the man a lord and a Master, and his low purrs of my apprentice and Anakin’s own name alone would be enough to send Anakin over the edge.

Still, it’s all a blur, and he doesn’t remember when it is that he finally falls asleep.

 


 

When he wakes, he has a hangover the size of a planet. His whole head is pounding, everything hurts, and his workbench in the corner of the room is standing way too damn loud. The only half-coherent thought in his mind is that he’s not drinking Twi’lek liquor ever again. He feels like an entire starfighter has violently wedged itself into his brain and is now attempting to jump into hyperspace.

He’d much prefer death to this.

He has no idea what time of day it is; he’s just hoping that his excuse of being terribly wounded is still holding up and nobody wanted anything from him yet. As bad as his reputation already is, it would do him no good if he was found in such a state, passed out drunk and hurting all over.

Still, now that he’s awake, as much as the idea doesn’t appeal to him at all, he knows he has to move. Lying around will only make him feel worse.

He tries to roll to the side for a careful start, and that’s when he fully realises just how exhausted he feels. His whole body feels weak, and the dull pain is not just of the “drank too much and probably hit his head on a doorframe or several” variety. No, he’s pretty sure there’s pulled muscles in… places… and he feels sore, but almost suspiciously blissful, too.

He searches his mind for memories of last night, confused, and bites his lower lip at what his mind helpfully supplies. Club. Drinks. Sith Lord. Anakin is pretty sure he starts blushing at the thoughts. Now that was all very exciting, but… it was a dream, right? Anakin would never have expected his mind could conjure up such… lifelike images, but apparently it indeed could. It was all a very pleasant, very realistic dream brought about by the Twi’lek liquor. It didn’t… actually…

The moment he opens his eyes, Anakin knows something must’ve went terribly wrong. To say that he has a bad feeling about it wouldn’t even begin to cover it.

He hisses as he pulls himself together and sits on the edge of the bed, rubbing at his eyes. His stomach swirls unpleasantly, and so does his head, but he screws his eyes closed and motionless waits for it to pass. He carefully opens his eyes again; his gaze immediately falls to the workbench.

Among the scattered spare droid parts and tools lies something looking very much like a lightsaber. The air in Anakin’s room feels really cold all of a sudden.

He swallows nervously, then very, very slowly gets up, disgruntledly noticing that he’s naked and his clothes are lying in a heap on the floor. He takes a few steps and winces. Well, now that’s just great.

Somewhere at the back of his mind he already knows what all of this means; now he’s just waiting for the big hit.

There is indeed a lightsaber on top of the workbench, and… it’s his lightsaber. A datapad is lying right next to it, displaying some kind of note, and Anakin doesn’t really want to read it, or look at it, or look at anything else ever again for that matter. He wants to get back to bed and wake up in a world where this isn’t happening, thank you very much.

He drags a hand down his face and takes a deep breath, reaches into the Force to gather from it the strength to face… well, whatever it is that he’s about to face. He picks up the datapad.

I shall remember this very fondly, the note on it says, and Anakin swallows nervously. Until we meet again, your Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Oh.

Oh, no.

Anakin sets the datapad aside as gently as he can, then walks back to the bed and falls face-first onto it.

He drunkenly brought an actual Sith Lord to the very heart of Jedi Temple and then slept with him.

The Council is, quite literally, going to murder him for this.

 


 

After lying in bed wishing for death to take him (which sadly doesn’t happen) for quite some time, he decides that the only right and responsible course of action is to first of all, forget any of this happened, and second of all, never talk about it with anyone, ever. He climbs out of bed with a defeated whine, gets himself presentable and dresses up, trying very hard not to think about the amount of bruises, teeth marks and hickeys he has all over his body.

(They’re everywhere; the ones on his neck are going to be a nightmare to hide.)

He leaves his room the picture of a responsible Jedi, ready to take on whatever the day throws at him.

The long corridors of the Temple are emptier than he’d expect them to be, and he curiously peeks into the Force to see whether anything interesting is going on anywhere. He immediately senses an edge of anxiety around the whole Temple, and the bad feeling is back with double the intensity. He reluctantly follows the trail of worry and uneasiness all the way to the Archives.

For whatever damn reason at least half the Council is there, as is the Chief Librarian and several Knights, all of them looking even more serious than they usually do. Anakin dives between the shelves to hide from their eyes. He’s pretty sure the entire Temple can hear him sweating nervously.

“Skyguy!” he hears an excited voice behind his back and yelps in surprise; his heart probably skips several terrified beats. It’s fine, he tries to calm himself. It’s just Ahsoka. Ahsoka is friendly. Ahsoka isn’t the Council.

“Hey there.” Anakin turns to her, forces himself to smile. At least he hopes that what he’s doing is smiling, hopes the blind panic inside his mind isn’t reflected on his face. He looks over his shoulder, then frowns. “Did I miss something? What’s all the fuss about, did something happen?”

Ahsoka catches his elbow and drags him down to lean into his ear. “Didn’t you hear?” she asks in a confidential whisper, eyes wide. “Somebody broke into the Vault and stole a holocron.”

Anakin blinks, feeling like time has slowed down and his own mind is screaming at him. A holocron. A record of Jedi teachings, experiences, secrets, and everything else that should never, under no circumstances, be allowed to fall into the hands of any outsider.

Somebody broke into the Vault and stole that.

Somebody.

Oh, hell.

Chapter Text

Throughout his life, Anakin Skywalker has made many mistakes.

Like that time he tried to mind trick Qui-Gon to avoid having to meditate. (For whatever reason, his Master decided to pretend that it worked. Anakin concluded that surely the only logical thing to do would be try and mind trick the entire Council next. They didn’t think it was funny.)

Or that time Padmé jokingly bet him he couldn’t impersonate a serious senator for an entire day and he decided to not only take the bet seriously, but also win it. (He didn’t. He did, however, manage to cause a bit of a diplomatic disaster and may or may not have accidentally tried to start a war with half the Outer Rim systems. Padmé refused to talk to him for a solid week. The Jedi Council had to renegotiate the conditions of allowing Jedi into the Senate Building. They didn’t think that was funny, either.)

Or that time he thought he could temporarily install Artoo’s rocket boosters on Threepio and nothing bad would happen. He thought it would be a good idea to test his new design right outside the Senate Building, too. (Threepio, screaming, collided with several senators and sent some Senate Guards flying, then hit a wall at full speed; poor thing was so traumatised Anakin had to erase his memory of the event. Artoo spent two months sulking at everyone. The Jedi Council really just wasn’t amused.)

Or that time he—look, many mistakes.

But this, this… nightmare he just got himself into? This is an entirely new level of bad. It’s a wonder the universe hasn’t started collapsing on itself right in front of his eyes yet.

“…the Council’s been down here for at least an hour,” Ahsoka’s voice slowly brings him out of his terrified trance, “and I think Whie is trying to eavesdrop on them now, but he has no idea what he’s doing. How much trouble do you think he’s going to be in if they catch him?”

“In significantly less trouble than me,” Anakin mutters, only half-aware he’s speaking the words out loud.

He has to leave Coruscant, he thinks. Maybe fake his own death, just to be sure. He could hide on some remote planet, far enough from the Galactic Core for the Council to never find him. Would it be cowardly and unbecoming of a Jedi? Yes. Is it, currently, the best option available to him? Probably.

He drags a hand down his face. There’s no way this can get any worse.

Which is, of course, exactly the moment it does.

“Skywalker!”

Anakin can’t help but wonder if the Force is somehow doing this on purpose. He exchanges a long, pleading look with Ahsoka. She just offers him a friendly shrug as he turns around to face Mace Windu and what he presumes to be his rapidly approaching death.

“Good thing you’re here,” Mace tells him. Anakin really doesn’t share the sentiment. “The Council requests your presence during an emergency meeting, right now.”

“Uh,” Anakin says, having completely forgotten how to not make a complete idiot of himself. “Why would it request my presence, specifically—“

Ahsoka quietly snorts behind his back, and this really isn’t helping.

“Skywalker, this is no time for jokes.” Mace sounds tired and offended, as if even after knowing Anakin for over ten years somehow he still finds anything surprising. Anakin would think he’d be used to it all by now; to the terrible decisions, to… Anakin realises Mace’s attention is concentrating on him with a new, watchful intensity, and it seems like having a bad feeling about everything is quickly becoming the main theme of his day. “What’s that on your neck?” Mace asks, suspicion weaved into his voice.

Oh, no, no. Anakin immediately puts a hand over his neck and takes a step back, nearly treading on Ahsoka’s feet in the process. She hisses at him but he’s not paying attention, focused on trying not to die of embarrassment while thinking up a good answer.

“On my—uhh, a bruise?” is what leaves his mouth, evident proof that he shouldn’t have opened it in the first place. “The Sith Lord—“ no, bad, “—I mean, in the battle,” oh, Force, ”I… tripped and fell, actually! It’s kind of a funny story, too.” He tries to laugh, but his mouth feels like it’s full of sand and he only manages an awkward cough.

They stare at each other in growingly uncomfortable silence, Anakin with his hand covering the damn hickey on his neck, probably blushing, definitely having trouble breathing calmly, and Mace with an expression of utter irritation on his face, looking like he’s seriously considering throwing Anakin out the window of the High Council Tower.

“I’m sure it is,” he says, still eyeing Anakin suspiciously. Anakin knows he’s not even in the general vicinity of being convinced; he just doesn’t want to be dealing with this. “Council meeting. Now.”

He turns on his heel and leaves. Anakin watches him and lets his hand fall to his side, feeling that his life is about to end in the most unpleasant way possible. Now or never, Skywalker, he tells himself. Tatooine sure is beautiful this time of year. He shudders, disgusted at the very thought.

Exile to Tatooine, or explaining himself in front of the Council. What kind of cruel universe—

“Tripped and fell, huh,” Ahsoka says; she hasn’t left even though a somewhat confidential conversation between a Jedi Master and a Knight was happening. Anakin would be proud of her, if it weren’t for the smug smirk on her face that tells him he’s about to start regretting his entire life even more than he already does. Which is a lot. “Fell onto somebody’s m—“

“Not a word, Snips.”

She covers her mouth with a hand, starts giggling.

“Snips—“

“Hey, I’m not judging!” She almost doubles over laughing, props a hand on the shelf to steady herself. She definitely is judging, Anakin is feeling intensely judged. “What do I, a humble Padawan, know about whatever Jedi business the Knights get up to? Don’t worry, Skyguy. I can keep a secret.”

“You’d better. Otherwise I might accidentally mention several incidents to Aayla. Or not accidentally at all. For example, what you pulled… was it two weeks ago? In the Room of a Thousand Fountains—“

“Oh, come on—“

“And don’t even get me started on casual misuse of the Force.”

Ahsoka’s eyes narrow into thin slits, but there’s nothing but good-natured playfulness in them. Anakin gives her a smile. He wonders if she’d ever secretly visit him if he did decide to banish himself to Tatooine.

“So, now that we’ve established that we can blackmail each other into a lot of trouble, as is customary of the Jedi,” Ahsoka says, and Anakin feels his fond smile growing, “don’t you have a Council meeting to attend?”

 


 

“A holocron has been stolen from the Archives,” Mace Windu informs him in the most pained and confidential tone of voice.

Anakin can’t believe he has to pretend to be surprised by this news; literally the entire Temple knows about it. The Knights who were present when the theft was discovered know because they were there, and gossip among the Jedi spreads remarkably quickly. The Masters know because they’re allowed to know; the Padawans know because they’re not. Everyone’s anxious thoughts are reflected in the Force; by this point, probably even the younglings have figured out that something is going on.

“Oh,” Anakin says, trying his best not to let his exasperation show and probably failing miserably. Standing up for extended periods of time is proving rather uncomfortable.

“It was the one containing the information on all the Force-sensitive children in the galaxy.”

Anakin draws in a sharp breath. That’s new, and also very bad.

“The Council tasks you with finding out who took the holocron and bringing them to justice, as well as retrieving the stolen knowledge,” Mace continues, and Anakin decides that he has to speak up now, or his situation will become even worse. He’s not at all curious to see how that would play out.

He’s got to be brave, and tell… well, some parts of the truth.

“I… think I know who it was,” Anakin says, barely manages not to choke on the words.

Mace Windu leans forward in his seat. “Do you, now.”

Anakin immediately starts regretting his decision to come to the Council meeting instead of just arranging a transport to Tatooine and tossing himself out an airlock while still in hyperspace. But he has started speaking, and it’s too late to back down now.

“I had a… vision.” It’s… not entirely a lie, he thinks, as the vision, the memory decides to play out in his head just because it’s quite literally the worst moment for it to do so. Drowsiness and warmth and pleasure, hot breath in his ear, low rumble of delighted laughter. Anakin bites the inside of his cheek to regain at least some semblance of control over his own thoughts.

“A vision, you say, hmm?” Yoda asks. Anakin really hopes the defences he’s keeping around his own mind are strong enough.

“Yes. I think it was the Sith Lord I fought in the Rishi system,” Anakin says. Somehow his voice doesn’t break or tremble, truly a miracle. “His name is Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

His words cause a bigger stir than he expected; the Masters lean into each other’s ears, speaking in agitated whispers. Anakin stares at them in confusion, not quite sure what caused this reaction. Now that he spoke it out loud, the name does sound terribly familiar, but he still can’t quite place it. Mace and Yoda exchange a long look.

“Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi was killed by Count Dooku over six years ago,” Mace says.

A Jedi? So his intuition was right after all. Is this why he recognises the name? He feels like something’s escaping him, a thought somewhere at the back of his mind, just out of reach.

“A presence, I’ve felt,” Yoda begins. It seems like his thoughts are far away from the Council Chamber. “Trying to hide itself it was, but slipped.”

Anakin can’t help but wonder at which exact point of the evening that particular slip might have happened. He has a few guesses, but the Council meeting is really not the best place to be thinking about those.

“Right, young Skywalker might be.”

Mace glances at Yoda, then stares off into the distance over Anakin’s shoulder.

Yoda just keeps staring at Mace.

They both look like they’re contemplating just dying on the spot to avoid having to handle this whole situation. Anakin can relate, for once, but he almost wants to laugh, too.

Yes, a holocron has been stolen by the Sith, which is bad, and they’re at war, which is also bad, and a Jedi previously thought to be dead is in fact a powerful Sith Lord who Anakin personally sneaked into the Temple because he’s a blithering idiot, which is terrible, but he wishes he could somehow record the expressions of the entire Council as they’re looking at him right now. Seeing the great Jedi Masters at a loss for words brings him no small amount of delight. That, and he realises that maybe, just maybe, he might get away with what he’s done.

“Unfortunate times, these are,” Yoda finally says, sounds like speaking is causing him physical pain. “Find the Sith Lord, you must. Retrieve the holocron, you must. The fate of the Jedi, on your shoulders rests.”

Nothing to worry about, then.

“I will begin the investigation right away,” Anakin says, nods, and leaves. He takes a deep, relieved breath once he’s out of the Council Chamber.

The Council doesn’t know that it’s all his fault, but he’s going to have to locate the Sith Lord, look him in the face, fight him, and take the holocron back.

It’s going to be a fun few days, he thinks.

 


 

There’s not much to be found in the Archives; Anakin speaks with several Knights, but nobody saw anything, nobody heard anything, seems like the entire Jedi Temple went collectively deaf and blind for the duration of the night. He should probably be thankful for that; if nobody saw anything, then at least his secret should be safe. Still, he’s having a hard time fighting the urge to bang his forehead against a wall.

“So, how’d the meeting go?”

Anakin winces nervously as he turns to face Ahsoka. “Come on, Snips, you have to stop sneaking up on me.”

“I wasn’t sneaking.”

“You really were,” comes the voice of Barriss, a moment before the Padawan herself peers from between the library shelves and smiles at Ahsoka, who just shoots her friend a betrayed glare and sits down at one of the desks.

“See?” Anakin says, triumphant. “Now, don’t you two have some important Padawan duties to do?”

Ahsoka opens her mouth, closes it, then rolls her eyes. “Skyguy, listen, you have to save me.” She glances back at Barriss and sighs. “Us. We’ve been assigned guard duty. Guard duty! They want us to watch the main entrance for the entire day. That’s so boring, nothing ever happens there!”

“Maybe, had we been there during the night, we could’ve caught the thief,” Barriss says, her tone contemplative. “I still can’t believe an outsider managed to get in here without anyone noticing.”

“Yeah,” Anakin mutters. There’s a lump in his throat; he’s reasonably sure his heart has permanently left his chest, relocated itself and is just staying there now. “It’s really strange.”

“That would’ve been exciting,” Ahsoka says, sighs, then lets her forehead fall to the desk with a thump.

Sure, Anakin thinks, catching him so drunk he could barely stand straight, smuggling a Sith Lord into the Temple. Exciting. He calls something resembling a smile onto his face.

“Well then, off you go to guard the entrance, Snips. I bet all kinds of exciting things are going to happen.”

Ahsoka just groans in response and doesn’t move.

“Maybe we could… help you investigate, Master Skywalker,” Barriss says carefully, and Ahsoka immediately looks up, an excited gleam back in her eyes. Anakin smiles at them both, genuine this time.

“I’m pretty sure neither of you are allowed to go into the Holocron Vault.” Not that he personally cares about this, but the Council really doesn’t need more reasons to be mad at him.

“That’s true. Normally, only the members of the Council can enter it,” Barriss says, “the doors wouldn’t open to anyone else’s Force signature.”

Quiet steps rounding the nearest shelf tell him somebody else is coming. Anakin nervously glances over his shoulder to look at approaching Jocasta Nu, Chief Librarian, who’s wearing an expression of deep sorrow. All three of them greet her.

“I overheard your conversation,” she says softly. “Have you been assigned to investigate the theft?” Anakin nods. “May the Force guide you in this vital task. I just thought I’d mention that over the past few days, we’ve been cataloguing the holocrons, checking whether they all work properly and such. Since the members of the Council lack the time to perform such… mundane tasks, some of the Knights were allowed to enter the Vault as well.”

Anakin frowns. “I know,” he says, somewhat surprised. “I’ve been assigned here as well, I’ve been meaning to… come… help…” He trails off as a terrible realisation begins forming itself on the edges of his mind.

“Could the thief have disguised themselves as one of the Knights, then?” Barriss asks.

“It’s not as easy as you might think, my dear. The Holocron Vault hasn’t been attacked, merely tricked; somebody walked in and out without setting off any of the alarms. The thief must’ve been trained in the ways of the Force, and quite powerful, too; it’s no small feat to imitate somebody else’s Force signature.”

“Would having a Knight’s lightsaber help?” Anakin asks; his voice sounds strained even to him.

“Yes,” Jocasta says, raising an eyebrow at him. “For somebody who hasn’t actually come here to do his job, you’re rather well-informed. Yes, for ease of access to the Vault we’ve established an entry system based on the energy signature of specific lightsabers. But even if this is indeed what happened here, if somebody managed to impersonate a Jedi Knight, having their lightsaber wouldn’t be enough. It would require a great deal of effort and time spent in the company of said Knight to get to know their mind intimately enough to fool the alarm systems.”

Anakin crosses his arms on his chest, mostly to physically restrain himself from igniting his lightsaber and driving it though his own gut.

So the Sith Lord just took his saber, reached into his mind because Anakin welcomed him in, disguised himself as a Jedi, and walked in and out of the Vault like he belonged there.

“Is there any way to check which Knight it was?” Anakin hears his own voice as if it’s not him who’s speaking. He feels disconnected even from himself, his mind curling on itself, snarling like a caged animal. This is bad. This is abysmally bad.

“Unfortunately not,” is Jocasta’s answer, which is somewhat comforting, but nowhere near enough.

Ahsoka asks a question; Anakin sees her say something, but can’t make sense of the words. He needs to get away from here and hide, before his defences can’t hold up any longer and the panic he’s feeling overcomes him completely.

“Thank you for your help, Madame Librarian,” he says, the words leaving his mouth without any conscious effort on his part. “I’ll have to… meditate on this. Snips, Barriss, the main entrance is waiting for you two.”

He leaves the Archives accompanied by Ahsoka’s pained groans that barely even register.

Meditation.

Sure.

 


 

Of course he doesn’t go meditate.

He needs to calm down, he needs to get away, and he has a feeling meditation would only upset him even further. As he sneaks out of the Jedi Temple (it would seem it’s becoming a habit) the thought of having a drink crosses his mind, and he bites back a bitter laugh. Yeah, that would be a great idea. What else could possibly go wrong, right?

Guilt and looming panic follow him every step of the way as he heads for the Senate Apartment Complex, begging the Force that nobody notices him. Not that the Force has been terribly kind to him lately, but he figures there’s no harm in trying. Somehow, he does reach the building without drawing anyone’s attention. The turbolift takes him to the lobby of the penthouse, and he announces himself.

“Come in,” comes a soft, familiar voice, and Anakin enters.

Padmé,” he groans in his most upset tone as he heads straight for the sofa in the middle of the main chamber and slams himself onto it. “You need to help me,” he says, face pressed into the seat.

He’s known Padmé ever since the both of them were children; the fact that he was a slave and she was a queen didn’t stop them from taking a liking to each other. He remembers he didn’t like leaving her on Naboo almost as much as he didn’t like leaving his mother on Tatooine. When he mentioned it to Qui-Gon, his Master just gave him a conspiratorial smile and arranged a diplomatic visit to Naboo.

It went on throughout the years, the two of them travelling to the planet much more often than the Jedi Council asked, all thanks to Qui-Gon’s willingness to indulge his Padawan. Once there, Anakin would spin stories of his Jedi training and his interest in droids and flying; Padmé would tell him of court duties and diplomatic meetings. They’d talk about faraway worlds and adventures they’d like to go on, in those moments both allowed to act like the children they were.

They grew up keeping in touch with each other and became good friends somewhere along the way. Even though now they were no longer as close as they used to be, their respective responsibilities coming first, sometimes Anakin still couldn’t quite believe his luck. Padmé's helped him so many times; it was her who arranged for Anakin's mother to be released from slavery when the Council wouldn't lift a finger. It was her who comforted him after his mother's death a few years back, and after his Master's recently.

“What have you done now, Ani?” Padmé says; Anakin isn’t looking at her but can hear the gentle smile in her voice. She gets up from behind her desk to sit down with him.

He just groans into a pillow. “I can’t really… tell you.”

“Ani,” she says, putting a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “You know I can’t help you if you refuse to tell me what happened.”

Anakin sighs and pulls himself upright to sit on the sofa like a civilised being. He looks at Padmé and can’t help but return her smile. The light shining through the transparisteel window panels illuminates her face, reminding him of how the first time he ever saw her, back on Tatooine, he’d called her an angel. She might as well be one, he thinks, with how patient she is with him every time he sneaks into her apartment or her office to tell her of the trouble he got himself into.

“So, uh,” he begins, wondering how to put the mess into words without revealing too much. Padmé is understanding, but Anakin thinks even she wouldn’t react all too well if he told her the whole story. “I… may have met someone. And made a terrible decision. Or two. Or ten. Also, completely unrelated, something very important to the Jedi has been stolen.”

Padmé just stares at him.

“It wasn’t me!” Anakin supplies immediately. “But it was, kind of, my fault.”

“Shouldn’t you be telling the Jedi Council about this?” Padmé asks, a crease of worry appearing on her forehead. “This sounds… important, serious. I’m sure the Masters would be reasonable.”

Anakin scoffs. “The Masters would cut all of my remaining limbs off and dump me alone and dying on Tatooine if they ever found out.”

“That’s what you said last time, and you still seem pretty alive.”

“Well, yes, but I’m pretty sure Mace Windu was considering doing something. Besides, it’s much worse this time. They can never find out about anything.”

She sighs. “All right. What do you need?”

Anakin takes a deep breath, can’t even put how grateful he is into words, so he just takes her hand and squeezes it gently, smiles at her. What does he need? For all of this to stop happening, he thinks, but there’s no point hoping for that.

“Time,” he says. “And to hide from the Council.”

Padmé just nods and spreads her arms, gesturing to her whole apartment.

“Make yourself at home.”

 


 

He stays in Padmé’s apartment until late afternoon. The time passes almost without him noticing; he spends some of it in silence, thinking, some talking with Padmé about her senator duties. He tries to help her write a speech for the Senate, but she just laughs at all his suggestions, reminds him of every single time his lack of diplomatic skills put them both in trouble; Anakin has a feeling she keeps a list. Threepio comes around carrying a tray of fruits, which he nearly drops in excitement when he sees Anakin.

Surrounded by familiarity and gentle, unconditional understanding, Anakin finally manages to relax. He laughs at Threepio’s complaints, Force-floats the fruits around the room just because he can, smiles at Padmé. He feels like he can think again, and no longer wants to fling himself off the highest building he can find on Coruscant.

Time to go back to being responsible.

Padmé hugs him on his way out, reminds him that her door is always open. He assures her that he’s always ready to help her, too, and they part with amiable smiles on their faces.

He walks back into the Temple with his head held high. There are five Padawans at the main entrance, and Anakin waves at them, grins as soon as he notices Ahsoka.

“I’m investigating, Snips!” he says before she has a chance to ask.

She just rolls her eyes at him and mutters something under her breath.

Anakin heads straight for his rooms; back in Padmé’s apartment he realised that the datapad the Sith Lord left and his own lightsaber might just be the keys to figuring this mess of a situation out.

He picks up the datapad, which is, unfortunately, still displaying the note the Sith Lord left for him.

Until we meet again, your Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Master.

Anakin fights the urge to slam the datapad onto the floor as a blush of embarrassment creeps onto his face. Master. That’s what he called the man, of his own free will, with his own idiotic mouth. Great. Memories of last night are trying to force their way into his thoughts again and he really doesn’t need them there right now, even if they are… rather pleasant—

He takes a deep breath. He can’t help but wonder whether the Sith Lord’s left anything else for him, apart from the note. It’s strange enough that he’s left his full name, Anakin thinks. The lightsaber, too. Almost like a present for him, or a reminder. Or… perhaps a clue?

Anakin moves to sit cross-legged on the edge of his bed. He sets the datapad in his lap, closes his eyes, and tries to clear his mind, focusing on his own breathing until everything is silent and his thoughts start drifting away from him. He carefully guides them, begins to reach out while lowering some of his defences. He senses something around himself, in his room, a trace of a powerful presence, and clenches his hands into fists, retreats into the safety of his own thoughts.

He sighs and shakes his head. Calm. He’s calm. He’s got this.

He opens his mind to the Force again and looks at the datapad, but apart from the memory of the Sith Lord leaving a message, there doesn’t seem to be much there. His lightsaber, however, bears traces of something else. Escape, travel, some distant volcanic planet, a transport to Coruscant—but this is not what he’s looking for, Anakin realises as he lets the Force pull him further.

The Force’s touch on his mind is warm, heavy, familiar, and his heart starts beating faster. A low voice murmurs something into his ear, speaking in a harsh language he doesn’t understand but feels like he doesn’t need to. Darkness starts pooling around him and his head sways; it would be so easy, so pleasant to lose himself in it, to forget everything and just… The presence purrs approvingly and drunken memories pour back into him, drowning out everything else. This isn’t just the Force, he realises, panic waking him from the lull of the dark warmth. This is—

He violently breaks away from it and opens his eyes, raises his defences, breathing heavily. How did this happen? How did the damn Sith Lord manage to reach him?

Anakin puts his head in his shaking hands. The only thing he wants to do is go back to Padmé’s apartment, wait this out, hope that somebody else can find the holocron and that the connection he just experienced was just a dream.

Recently, he’s been hoping for that a whole lot.

“Get a hold of yourself, Anakin Skywalker,” he whispers to the empty room.

His gaze falls to the datapad still in his lap. He’s less than willing to meditate on it now but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be found on it. It’s a device like any other, he realises, and perhaps the secrets it holds are less mystical than he first assumed.

He intends to search the datapad for any encrypted or hidden messages, but as soon as he finally closes the note he was still keeping open, he notices another note saved on the datapad. He blinks. Surely it can’t be that easy? Wary, but still curious, he opens it.

It’s a set of coordinates; one of the Outer Rim systems, it would seem.

It wasn’t even hidden in any way. The Sith Lord wanted him to find this.

It’s late evening when he visits the Archives to check the coordinates against the databanks. He was right, it is the Outer Rim; a planet in the Atravis sector.

As he leaves the library, a plan starts forming in his head. He sneaks into the hangar; since it’s the evening, most Jedi are probably in the refectories, which is terribly convenient. Nobody needs to know about this, least of all the Council. He’ll be back before anybody even notices he was gone.

Well, fine, maybe they will notice he was gone; he’s venturing into the Outer Rim, after all, and even if he follows the established trade routes the journey will take him time. No more than two standard days, he thinks; to get there, get the holocron back, and return.

He’ll go alone, too. There’s no need to drag other Jedi into his own mess; he’ll just take Artoo with him.

“Hey, buddy,” he whispers to the droid when he finds him. Artoo beeps excitedly in response; Anakin shushes him and motions for him to sneak over to one of the unguarded T-6 shuttles. “We’re going on an adventure,” he tells him, and Artoo beeps again, slightly quieter this time, questioning.

They enter the shuttle without anyone noticing or trying to stop them. Anakin tells Artoo to enter the coordinates into the navigational system, then settles in the pilot seat and lifts the shuttle off the ground with a deep sigh. It’s going to be a long day.

He’s going to Mustafar.

 

Chapter Text

As the shuttle finally drops out of hyperspace, Anakin’s first thought is that Mustafar seems a fitting place for a Sith Lord.

Even from afar, the planet almost seems to glow, the scorching lava having a burning shine of its own. It’s dangerous, yet fascinating in the strangest of ways. There’s an eerie kind of beauty to it, terrifying but captivating, bright even despite the darkness swirling around it. Explosions keep erupting all over the surface, blazing bursts of flame threatening to overcome any careless ship that dares come too close.

The Force coils and shimmers around the whole planet, a distant echo of loss and unspeakable grief, like a memory of something that’s never happened.

The closer the shuttle is to the planet’s surface, the more Anakin doubts his decision to come here. Departing from the Jedi Temple, he was sure this was the right thing to do. Now, he almost wants to turn around and run while he still can. Whatever it is that he’ll have to face once he lands, he’s nowhere near ready for it.

He doesn’t know the exact coordinates of the Sith Lord’s hideout, but he has a feeling somehow he knows exactly where he’s going. He heads for one of the landing platforms of something that looks like a small mining facility. The shuttle rotates into the landing configuration and softly sits on the platform. Anakin powers down the engines and sighs deeply, lets his forehead drop against the console for a moment.

Artoo rolls up to his side and beeps inquisitively.

“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. Just… stay with the ship, okay?” Anakin smiles at the droid, then forces himself to get up from the pilot seat. He absentmindedly pats Artoo on the head. The droid just beeps at him again and stomps stubbornly, swaying to the side. “Hey, I know you don’t like it, but I’ll be back soon. Everything’s going to be fine.”

He should tell Artoo to contact the Temple if he doesn’t come back, but… Anakin shakes his head. He is coming back. He’s getting the holocron, beating the Sith Lord if he must, and he’s coming back.

He doesn’t intend to die on Mustafar of all places.

There’s no question that his landing must’ve been noticed; Anakin half-expects a commando of battle droids to jump him as soon as he steps out of the shuttle. Nothing attacks him, though. There’s just a single person standing at the other end of the landing platform, an all-too-familiar figure clad in black.

Anakin balls his cybernetic arm into a fist at his side. That’s that for finding the holocron unguarded.

He thinks he would’ve preferred the droids, too.

“We meet again, young one!” the Sith Lord calls to him, his tone light, almost friendly. “I see you’ve managed to find me. So good of you to finally come.” There’s a smug smile playing on his lips, and Anakin has had enough of this.

“Sith,” he hisses through clenched teeth, pours all of the seething anger building inside him into the word as he reaches for his lightsaber, doesn’t even hesitate before igniting it. “You will answer for your crimes against the Jedi Order and the Republic.”

The Sith Lord clicks his tongue, the look on his face turning into one of disappointment. “I thought we were past this already.”

Past this? You’re a Sith Lord!”

The man just shrugs, his sly grin making a return. “That didn’t seem to bother you last time we met.”

Anakin takes a deep breath. This is all just a clever tactic to throw him off-balance; he’s not going to fall for it again. He swings his lightsaber, the blue shimmer of the crackling blade a stark contrast to the crimson glow of the entire planet. Everything is red here, dark and burning. Anakin has a feeling this place will not act in his favour.

“Where’s the holocron?”

“I have it, of course.”

“Return it and I may let you live,” Anakin says, and hates himself for it, hates that he’d rather avoid this fight, hates that he’s scared of it. He hates how the Sith Lord’s eyebrows arch into an expression of polite surprise, too, how he starts ambling towards Anakin, relaxed and elegant in his movements; only a few steps separate them now.

May let me live?” the man repeats, mocking. Anakin almost shivers under his sharp, focused glare. “My, how very kind of you, Anakin. As if there was ever any other option. Assuming you somehow manage to beat me, which is highly unlikely, you’re… practically obliged to do nothing about it.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, I’ve let you go free… twice now, and the Sith are never generous with their mercy. I didn’t kill anyone in your dear Temple, either, even though I could’ve. Oh, it would’ve been so easy. Slaughter the Jedi in their sleep, a shadow of death over their sacred Temple. But I didn’t do it.” His smile grows darker, vicious. “You owe me all of their lives, Anakin Skywalker, as well as your own thrice over; twice that I’ve spared you, once that you’ve pledged yourself to me.”

“I— No?” Anakin’s voice is shaky. He can’t help but feel as if he’s losing the duel which hasn’t even begun yet. “That’s not how it works. I didn’t pledge—“

“Oh, but you did, my dear apprentice,” the Sith Lord says, and there’s a dangerous edge to his voice, a feral glimmer in his eyes, “called me a Master, invited me into your own mind, practically offered yourself to me. Were I just a bit more cruel, just a tad less sensible, I would take you up on that, I would force you to be mine until you forgot everything that you are.”

The crimson glow of the lava illuminates him, casting sharp shadows on his face as he takes another carefully measured step forward. To Anakin he almost seems made of this intense focus, of pure energy and looming danger, burning bright like the volcanic explosions behind his back yet somehow still contained, almost nonchalant. There’s something otherworldly about him, something irresistibly enticing about the power that is his so casually. He commands the very air around himself, Force perched upon his shoulders like a frenzied vulture, leashed but untamed, wrapping him in a cloak of fluttering feathers and giving him wings.

Anakin feels like he should be kneeling before him, not trying to fight him.

“But that’s not what I want,” the Sith Lord finishes, barely above a whisper, but with the way the words ring in Anakin’s ears, he might as well have screamed them.

“What do you want, then?” Anakin yells, desperately trying to rein in the anger and fear and damn awe threatening to overcome him.

You, a faint echo in his head answers, faint enough for him to tell himself that it’s only an illusion.

“Train you,” the Sith Lord says, strangely genuine in his words. Anakin barks a laugh.

“Forget it, Sith.”

“That’s no way to speak to your Master, young one.”

“You’re not— you’re not my Master, Force, this is insane.” Anakin shakes his head and looks around, almost expecting a holonet reporter to jump out from behind the shuttle and tell him it’s all a big joke.

Master, please,” the Sith Lord says very slowly, his mocking impression of Anakin’s voice disturbingly accurate, and as the words echo in Anakin’s mind, he can’t hold the man’s heavy gaze any more and glances away.

“Yeah— okay, I did say that, but it wasn’t—“

The Sith Lord raises an eyebrow at him.

“It wasn’t like that! It was… I was drunk, people just… do these things sometimes, okay, it doesn’t— it doesn’t count.” The excuse sounds pathetic even to him.

“Doesn’t it, now.”

Anakin lets out a deep breath, trying to calm himself, and weighs his options. He can either continue this conversation and die of embarrassment, or he can attack his opponent. And possibly die of being impaled on a lightsaber, but that’s mostly irrelevant.

The choice is simple enough.

He flips into the air hoping to surprise the Sith Lord, but the man ignites his saber and is ready for the fight by the time Anakin crashes against him with all of his strength.

The Sith knocks his lightsaber aside, but Anakin expects this, sees the man’s next step before it even happens. It’s Anakin who evades him now, jumps back, dives under his lightsaber and immediately follows with another wide swing. The Sith Lord sidesteps his attack, so quick Anakin doesn’t have time to swing back, change direction. Instead, he uses his momentum to do a full spin— foolish and reckless, but his only choice. He turns his back on the Sith Lord for a split second before twirling his weapon back into the man with full force; their lightsabers meet in an explosion of sparks, blue blade against crimson, light against dark, Jedi against Sith. The air smells of lightning and of fire, the lava surrounding the platform they’re on promising a terrible death to whoever loses the duel.

It’s a trial of strength, both of them holding their weapons in two-handed grips as they push against each other, bodies close, muscles tense, Force a low, threatening hum around them.

“Lovely mark you have there on your neck, my sweet apprentice,” the Sith Lord whispers, low and silky. Anakin nearly loses his grip on the lightsaber, has to take a step back and barely stops the Sith from overpowering him. “Suits you.” Their eyes meet over the lethal shimmer of their blades, and Anakin really doesn’t like the curiosity in the man’s gaze.

He gathers his strength and pushes away, swinging his saber in a wide arc to safely gain some distance. The Sith Lord lets him move away, then walks a few steps backwards to give him some space and powers his lightsaber down.

“You surrender, then?” Anakin shouts at him, grasping his own weapon in an almost painful grip.

“I don’t want to fight you, young one.” The Sith Lord throws the lightsaber into the air and catches it, throws it again, his eyes not leaving Anakin’s. “I’ll end up killing you, which would be such a waste for everyone involved. Did you not come here to get the holocron?”

“I did, and I will get it.”

“No, you will not, unless you listen to me.”

Anakin’s mouth curls into an angry snarl. The Sith Lord shakes his head as he takes another step back. Anakin takes two steps forward, pointing his lightsaber at the man. “Stop talking and raise your weapon!”

“There it is again,” the Sith Lord drawls, amused. “I can sense it all, you know. The fear, the anger. You have no control over yourself at all; how come the Jedi Council doesn’t keep you chained in their precious Temple? How come they ever even let you out of their sight when you’re like this? Anakin Skywalker, you are begging the Dark Side to take you.”

The tension in Anakin’s body feels like it’s about to rip him to shreds, his hurting muscles coiled and rigid. “I don’t beg,” he hisses.

A smug grin spills on the Sith Lord’s face. “Well, I distinctly remember—“

Anakin throws himself at the man, their lightsabers crashing against each other in an exchange of blows so swift their blades almost become a blur. The Sith Lord meets each of his attacks without a pause or hesitation, and he could push Anakin back, but instead it’s him who starts backing away. Few steps here, few there, he gives ground while not allowing a single one of Anakin’s attacks to touch him.

They’re headed into the mining facility Anakin saw during his landing, and Anakin isn’t an idiot; he knows damn well he’s being led somewhere. What he doesn’t know is what for. Through the thin connection he allows himself to the Force he can’t sense any danger, apart from the bright presence of the man he’s fighting.

They enter a narrow corridor as their fight grows more vicious. Anakin ducks and the Sith Lord’s lightsaber cuts into a wall where his neck has been a second ago. Anakin tries to drive his lightsaber through the Sith’s knee, but the man uses one of the walls as support to jump over Anakin and land behind him. He kicks Anakin in the back and sends him tumbling into a larger room resembling some kind of control centre. Not that Anakin can look around much as he’s currently lying facedown on the floor and regretting every single one of his life choices all at once.

The realisation that the Sith Lord is playing with him and could probably kill him at any second is not a pleasant one. Anakin can’t quite understand why isn’t he dead yet.

The Sith Lord stops right next to him. “Are you done yet?” he asks in an annoyed tone. “Surely you can see that this isn’t getting you anywhere. If you’d only listen to me—“

Anakin rolls into the man to make him loose his footing, gets up and jumps away. He ignites his weapon again and takes up position across the room from the stumbling Sith.

“Anakin—“ the Sith Lord begins, disappointment seeping through his accented voice, but the hissing sound of an opening door draws his attention. Both his and Anakin’s eyes dart to look at it, at whoever dares disturb their duel.

Anakin recognises the woman who enters almost instantly, the tattoos on her face, the condescending curl of her lips, the lazy confidence in her step, the twin lightsabers hooked on her belt.

It’s Asajj Ventress, and if he thought that he was in trouble before, well, he’s not sure there exists a word to describe what he’s in now.

Hell, probably.

The Sith Lord straightens up, drops the fighting stance almost immediately and grins at her. She looks at him, then at Anakin, then back at him.

“What’s this?” she asks, pointing her chin at Anakin.

“Ah, Ventress dear, allow me to introduce Anakin Sky—“

“I know who he is, unfortunately” she interrupts, amusement in her sharp voice. “The war’s making it harder and harder to avoid the Jedi these days. I’m asking what the hell’s he doing here.” She pauses for a second, glances at Anakin again, then scoffs. “Kenobi, please tell me you didn’t bring him here just to—“

“Of course not, darling, you wound me.”

Ventress shakes her head with what Anakin can only describe as a fond expression, then takes a step towards the Sith Lord and leans against his shoulder, a display that leaves Anakin reeling. That’s a Sith Lord and a Dark Side assassin looking at each other with what looks like genuine smiles, acting all friendly and normal as if they don’t murder people and ruin lives for a living. Anakin doesn’t like this. He doesn’t like this one bit.

They both turn to look at Anakin, and Anakin would really rather they didn’t.

“I’m not scared of you!” he hears himself shout, wishes his grip on his lightsaber was less shaky, wishes his stupid kriffing mouth would just shut itself before it gets him in even bigger trouble, not that it would even be possible at this point. “I can take you both at the same time!”

The Sith Lord just grins slowly. “Hear that?” he purrs, and Ventress rolls her eyes, starts laughing. “He can take us both at the same time.”

Anakin swallows loudly and gives himself a mental kick for his poor choice of words. All right, yes, he slept with a Sith Lord once. Once! It was one time! He doesn’t need to be reminded of it every three seconds, nor does he need to be thinking about sleeping with two of them at once.

“You’re horrible, Kenobi. And look what you’ve done; poor Skywalker’s blushing now.”

Her tone is mocking, like she’s taunting him, but Anakin doesn’t have the strength for the verbal sparring any more. He clenches his teeth and waits, stubbornly holds Ventress’ gaze, refuses to look away, but she doesn’t even seem to care. She just shakes her head and lightly pats the Sith Lord on the back as she moves towards one of the other doors, yawning.

“Have fun, dear. And stop playing with your food,” she calls over her shoulder.

Anakin stares, dumbfounded, until the door slams shut behind her.

She just left. Ventress, the most vicious assassin of the Sith who never hesitates to attack, didn’t try to kill him, didn’t even raise a hand to her lightsaber or bother to threaten him. She just came in like she barely even noticed he was there and didn’t care anyway, and then left.

Anakin’s lost gaze drifts back to the Sith Lord; the man smiles at him.

“So, are we done here, or shall we continue?”

Instead of answering, Anakin jumps in for an attack, distracted and confused and overcome by conflicting emotions; just what the Council ordered.

He hears the Sith Lord’s exasperated sigh before the man deftly disarms him and sends him stumbling into a wall.

Anakin turns to look at him, at his own weapon in the man’s hand. The Sith Lord throws it back to him.

“I could’ve cut your hand off. Again.”

Anakin catches the lightsaber without thinking, muscle memory kicking in as his mind seems to be having a lot of trouble processing the situation.

A Sith Lord just disarmed him, then proceeded to return his weapon to him for no apparent reason; Anakin genuinely just doesn’t know how to react to a situation like this. Still, he’s not dead yet. That’s probably a good sign.

He ignites his lightsaber, stares at the Sith Lord, trying to predict his next move. They circle each other, stepping around the centre of the room, watching each other’s movements, Anakin with a focused frown, the Sith Lord with a feral smile.

Anakin attacks, but this time it’s over even quicker; in a whirl of crimson Anakin’s lightsaber is torn from his hand. For a split second he finds himself standing with his back to the Sith Lord, unarmed and at his mercy, before the man kicks him in the back of the knee. As Anakin hisses and turns away from him, trying to catch his balance, a line of searing pain slashes across his back, from his left hip to his right shoulder, and he lands on his hands and knees, eyes open wide, panting.

“You’ll have to do better than that, my dear apprentice,” the Sith Lord calls, his voice disappointed.

“I’m not your apprentice,” Anakin snarls, wants to get away from the man but can’t will his body to move; pain falls over his mind like a red-tinted shroud, clouding everything else. His lightsaber is thrown back at him and he closes a hand around its hilt, instinct guiding him, but doesn’t have the energy to do anything with it.

“You’re not exactly in the position to be arguing with me right now.” The Sith Lord circles him slowly, black leather boots setting soft steps in the periphery of his vision. “You’re wounded. Could probably use some help, too.”

The man kneels in front of him, but Anakin can’t even bring himself to crane his neck up. He’s looking down at the floor, his back throbbing with pain that seems to scream agony into every single cell of his body.

“Did you tell the Council where you were going?” The low rumble of the Sith Lord’s voice flows through his ears, the sound like a hypnotising beacon for his panicked mind to hold on to. “You didn’t, did you. A foolish move. One that could cost you your life, were the circumstances a bit different.”

Anakin clenches his teeth, desperately trying to keep himself focused. “You don’t want to kill me,” he says between ragged breaths, the realisation settling on the edges of his mind warm, even though unwelcome.

“We’ve established this the very first time we met, young one, you’re not very good at listening. Well, no matter. Let’s get you back on your feet.”

He puts his hand on Anakin’s shoulder and Anakin violently jerks away, finds his last reserve of strength and sits up. “I came here to capture you and retrieve the holocron,” he repeats for what feels like the hundredth time. The Sith Lord shakes his head.

“Well, you can forget capturing me. As for the holocron, though… I have an offer for you.” He stands up, bright and terrifying, his golden eyes boring holes into Anakin’s very soul, and Anakin can’t help but nod. “The way I see it, there are three options this ends. Option one, I choke the life out of you right here, right now. Fun, but a bit anticlimactic, and nobody really gets anything out of it. A poor ending, if you ask me. Option two, you drag your wounded ass back to your shuttle and return to Coruscant, defeated and… possibly missing a lightsaber. A lot of embarrassment for you, nothing for me, nothing for your Council. Option three,” his eyes light up with something Anakin thinks is excitement, “you stay here. On Mustafar, with me, for, say… two standard weeks. The days here are longer than on Coruscant, so it would be ten days, not a second less; ten days for me to train you, ten days for you to… get better, I suppose. If you… behave, I’ll give you the holocron. Just like that.”

Anakin’s instincts are telling him to refuse, to fight the Sith Lord or die trying. But he’s wounded and weak, and… isn’t he supposed to always think before he acts, the Jedi way and all that? So he considers his options carefully. He came here to get the holocron, and it seems like there’s only one way to accomplish that task. And it’s… not a terrible option; potentially full of embarrassment, yes, but he can handle that. He’s been handling it exceptionally well the past few days.

Anakin heaves a deep breath, licks his lips, and looks up at the Sith Lord.

“Fine.” The word tastes like blood, like the volcanic ash he can see behind the windows of the facility they’re in. “Fine. Ten days, and you’ll let me leave.”

The Sith Lord grins at him, slow and looming. “You have my word, young one.”

Anakin starts regretting his decision immediately, but he tries to convince himself that maybe this is what he’s supposed to do. Maybe this is what being reasonable looks like; Anakin wouldn’t really know. He’s not exactly used to being reasonable. For the moment, taking into consideration his rather hopeless situation, he’s willing to accept that this, whatever he’s about to do, is indeed what the Jedi would consider a good call.

The Sith Lord moves closer and extends a hand to him.

“Your communicator, please. Would be a shame if the Jedi were to find out where you’re taking your vacation.”

Anakin stares into the gold eyes, angry and defiant, but the Sith Lord is right. He’s in no position to argue or fight. He can barely sit up straight; trying to attack would probably kill him.

He hands his comm to the Sith Lord; the man drops it and crushes it under his heel.

“Good. Now, your lightsaber.”

He extends a hand again, and Anakin shivers. There’s something terrifyingly calculated in the way his fingers reach towards Anakin. He could’ve just disarmed him again, wrestled the weapon from his fingers, Anakin is too weak to protest now. But no. There’s an intent flicker in his eyes, and Anakin has a feeling he knows what it means. Still, he doesn’t have much of a choice now.

This weapon is your life, he hears in his head as he hands his lightsaber to the Sith Lord.

“Good boy,” the man says, giving him another smile that Anakin doesn’t want. “Come on then, let’s get you patched up before you pass out.”

Anakin wants nothing to do with any of this, his disoriented mind turning to stubborn resistance. He doesn’t need to be patched up, he’s fine, thank you very much, and he can stand on his own. Halfway through his pathetic attempt at standing up his legs buckle under him and he falls into the Sith Lord’s arms.

“Well, you’re a right mess,” the man huffs, holding him up with one hand while his other hand moves to Anakin’s back. “Let me help you.”

“No—“

“Quiet.” The hand at Anakin’s back touches the wound, but instead of the spike of pain that Anakin expects, there’s bliss, the burning agony slowly replaced by the calm feeling of not being hurt so badly he can’t even think straight. Anakin breathes heavily, grasping the man’s shoulders with an almost obsessive intensity.

“What are you doing?”

“What does it feel like I’m doing? Healing you enough for you to be able walk to the medcenter we have set up here, since I feel like you wouldn’t let me carry you.”

“You feel correct,” Anakin mutters, forehead slumped against the Sith Lord’s chest.

He’s seen the Jedi healers at work more than once, but this is different, quicker, how a second ago he was almost losing consciousness, and now he’s… still in a lot of pain, yes, but much better. He’s past disbelief now, though. He’s just going to accept whatever happens to him.

“Let’s try this again, then,” the Sith Lord says with a smile as he manoeuvres them around so that one of Anakin’s arms is swung over his shoulders, to help him walk.

Just two weeks, Anakin tells himself between the spikes of pain in his slashed back. Two weeks. Ten days.

He can do this.

 

Chapter Text

With his arm slung over the Sith Lord’s shoulders, his back killing him, and his mind just generally disinterested in doing any thinking at all, Anakin finds himself wondering how does he even end up in those situations. How does he keep ending up in them. How does he keep thinking that surely there’s no way for it all to get any worse, and then it does.

“The universe likes watching you struggle, young one.” There’s a soft smile in the Sith Lord’s voice as he tilts his head to look at Anakin. “But its curiosity isn’t cruel. Consider yourself lucky.”

“I have— no idea what that means,” Anakin slurs, leaning on the man as his legs threaten to give out.

This is terrible. This is hell. Here he is, defenceless and vulnerable and in pain, about to spend two damn weeks under a Sith Lord’s tutelage. Each step stretching his injured muscles draws a hiss from his mouth and he already can’t quite remember why he agreed to this. Trying to keep himself from falling over, he tightens his grip on the Sith Lord’s shoulder, curls his fingers around it, desperately trying to hold on. Barely controlled anger swirls in his chest as he looks the man in the eye.

“Did you have to nearly slash my back in half if you’d meant for me to, you know, survive and stay here? Did you think it would make me favourably disposed towards you? Is that the Sith way? Act first, reconsider your stupid choices later?”

“Sounds more like your way to me,” the Sith Lord retorts, sharp and quick like the words don’t even reach him. “Calling yourself a Sith already? I’m so proud.”

“Stop talking.”

The Sith Lord chuckles, stopping them in front of one of the many similar-looking doors in the corridor they’ve been walking through. It hisses open as the man waves a hand at it, and Anakin knows the Jedi would call his use of the Force so flashy, so unnecessary, but it suits him. The Force bends to his will without protest.

The medcenter turns out to be just a tiny room with barely enough space for a single cot, some supplies, and a medical droid standing hibernated in the corner.

Anakin groans as the Sith Lord helps him sit down. “You don’t even have a bacta tank here?”

The man walks over to the droid and activates it, then glances at Anakin over his shoulder, notes of irritation in his tone as he speaks. “It’s not like you’re dying, young one. I did heal you, remember?”

“Yeah, I also remember how you’re the one who injured me in the first place!”

“I could’ve done much worse.”

The threat hangs heavy in the air between them as the Sith Lord moves to lean against a wall right in front of Anakin and crosses his arms on his chest.

The room is so small, Anakin could probably touch him if he reached out an arm.

Not that he wants to.

They have a bit of a staring contest as the droid helps Anakin strip out of his ruined tunics and starts working on his back. As the Sith Lord’s gaze slides down his exposed chest, Anakin becomes almost painfully aware of what he looks like, covered in marks left by the very mouth that smirks at him knowingly. Which really isn’t a memory he needs in his head right now as he’s face to face with the man, trying his best not to die of embarrassment.

“Don’t worry,” the Sith Lord says, and Anakin starts worrying almost immediately, “we’ve plenty of spare robes you can wear. I think you’ll look excellent in black.”

Anakin clenches his hands into fists, holding onto the cot’s edge.

“Passion and anger suit you, too, you know,” the man continues, pensive. “Shame that you refuse to see it, that you’re so desperate to hold on to the self-righteous hypocritical Jedi teachings you don’t even fully understand. I could help you, young one. You need only ask.”

“Like hell.”

The Sith Lord smiles, his eyes darting to the side, almost coy. “No need to decide just now. Do think on it, though. I’m sure even the Jedi would want you to, ah, consider your options.”

Anakin looks away too, struggling to remember the rules that have governed half his life, remember the Code, remember anything. He’s supposed to be calm, isn’t he? He doesn’t feel calm. He takes a deep breath and concentrates on the bacta patches being applied to his back, trying to shove his confused emotions away.

Maybe if he thinks of it as being kept prisoner, being forced— but he’s not. He’s agreed to this.

A few moments pass in uncomfortable silence until Anakin dares steal another glance at the Sith Lord. The man is watching him curiously, waiting, his head leaned back against the wall.

“The Jedi Temple,” Anakin says, because he needs to know, because if he’s going to be stuck here for two weeks, he might as well start asking his questions now. “Was that your plan all along?”

He wonders if the Sith Lord hears the faintest note of hurt that he couldn’t keep from his voice. It’s ridiculous that he’s feeling betrayed. Treachery is the way of the Sith; he should’ve known.

“Breaking into the Archives? It was the reason I came to Coruscant. Meeting you, however?” He slowly grins at Anakin. “I don’t want to call it luck, but… certainly a very happy accident.”

“You—“

“Truly an amazing coincidence; almost like the Force itself wanted this to happen. You brought me into the Temple, young one. I didn’t have to do a single thing as you dragged me there, so eager to—“

“Stop. Talking.”

The man smirks. “And, well, I decided to… seize the opportunity, if you will. But… ah. I see. That’s not what you’re asking, is it? You want to know if my plan was to seduce a bright young thing into helping me and then sneak out and carry out my evil scheme, cruel and emotionless. You’re asking if I care for you.”

“That doesn’t concern me,” Anakin says immediately, violently ignoring how his own mind seems to flare up at the words, equal parts curious and upset.

“Oh, but it does, young one.” The Sith Lord takes a long step forward into Anakin’s personal space. Anakin looks up at his face and doesn’t lean away, trying to convince, well, mostly himself that he’s not afraid. “I called you here and you came, I asked you to stay and you did.”

“Not for you.”

“That remains to be seen. But to answer the question you’re so very scared to ask, I want to train you, and I want you as my apprentice. Do with that information what you will.”

The medical droid applies the last of the patches to Anakin’s back, then moves to stand in the corner again. Anakin huffs, experimentally stretches his arms and hisses when the pain hits him again, slightly dulled but still very much there. He wants to drop his head into his hands, but that would probably hurt, too, and the Sith Lord is standing so close Anakin would probably just end up with his forehead resting against the man’s chest.

“I’m going to have a scar,” he mutters to himself. Like he needed more things to be upset about.

“Consider it a souvenir.”

“I’m not going to do that.” He slides off the cot and looks around, his eyes focusing on everything but the Sith Lord’s face. “What now?”

“I suppose you could… probably use some rest. Come, I’ll show you where you’ll be staying.”

Avoiding eye contact or any other kind of contact, Anakin heads for the door and walks out into the corridor. “I can walk, I’m fine.”

“By all means. Let’s see how many steps you manage before you collapse and I have to carry you the rest of the way.”

Anakin stops, leaning his arm against the wall. He’s still in pain, and would really rather avoid any further embarrassment; he’s had more than enough for one day. Week. Possibly lifetime. He looks at the Sith Lord, rolls his eyes, then wordlessly raises his other arm. The man steps closer, letting Anakin wrap it around his shoulders again.

The corridor leads them into a spacious sitting room with a high arched ceiling and one wall made out entirely of transparisteel. From the outside, the place looked like a mining facility, but its interior seems more like that of an elegant apartment. It’s dark, illuminated mostly by the red glow of the planet shining in through the window, but there are soft lights fixed into the walls, too, running across them like veins of gold. Cream-coloured sofas at the centre of the room and chairs around a table in the corner create an atmosphere of comfort and warmth. The obsidian floor reminds Anakin of lava, with fire faintly shining through irregular cracks; he wonders if it would be hot to the touch.

They pass through the room and enter another long, dimly lit corridor. The Sith Lord’s hand is warm and reassuring at his side, and Anakin hates this, he hates everything about this until he reminds himself that he’s not allowed to hate, and the exasperation building inside his mind makes him want to scream.

The Jedi logic really isn’t working out for him right now. There’s a Sith Lord calmly walking at his side, touching him softly. Anakin is half naked, angry, and at his damn mercy. If he lets himself hate the man, then the emotions he’s not even supposed to have will overcome him, leading him to the Dark Side. If he stops himself from hate… what else is there? Anger, fear? Passion? All of those are forbidden. Compassion? For a Sith Lord? Probably a bad idea, too.

I want you as my apprentice, he hears the echo of the man’s voice in his head, and shakes his head. He got himself into an incredible mess, that much he’s sure of.

There’s a door almost at the very end of the corridor, and it opens at another lazy wave of the Sith Lord’s fingers. The room they enter has a simple bed with a low table standing in front of it, a closet, a broad window with the lovely view of fiery death outside of course, and another door.

“This is going to be your room,” the Sith Lord tells him as Anakin untangles himself from him and walks in, checks the other door. A refresher.

“My room?” Anakin asks, turning to face the man. This seems suspicious. Too simple. “My own? Not… ours?”

The Sith Lord’s eyes glisten as he leans against the door frame, the dark giving a strange softness to his features, but a new edge of danger, too. “Would you like it to be ours, young one?”

Anakin opens his mouth, then closes it, the low rumble of Kenobi’s accented voice smooth like satin and way too much for him to be dealing with right now. He swallows and looks away. “Uh, no, no. Definitely not,” he manages. His heart is pounding, the stupid thing.

“Well, whatever you—“

“Where is your room, then?” Anakin asks before he can stop himself. What does he care? He doesn’t. Why is he asking this?

“Would you like a tour of the facility?”

“No.” Anakin tentatively sits down on the bed, half-expecting it to swallow him and spit him out into the lava below. Which, shockingly enough, doesn’t happen. There’s a moment of silence as he lets his thoughts drift, then he lets out a small gasp as he remembers something. “I have to get back to the shuttle.”

“No, I really don’t think you do.”

“I have to… get something from it.” Something. Someone. He’s left Artoo alone in there, and he promised he’d be back quickly. The poor droid must be worried sick—

“You’re in no fit state to be getting things from shuttles. What do you need? I’ll bring it to you.”

“There’s… a droid,” Anakin admits reluctantly. “I can’t leave him like that.”

“A droid? Anakin, don’t be ridiculous.”

“He’s a friend!”

“Oh, Force help me.” The Sith Lord rolls his eyes, but Anakin keeps his expression stubborn, and the man sighs. “Fine, I’ll tell your droid you’re staying here. Is that enough?”

Anakin feels like he really shouldn’t be asking an annoyed Sith Lord for more. “I suppose.”

“Don’t go anywhere, then,” the man throws over his shoulder as he leaves, doesn’t even bother to close the door behind him.

A clever message. He’s not locking Anakin away, he’s kindly asking him to stay. Which Anakin will do, of course. He’s hurt, there’s no easy way off the planet, and he hardly has anything better to do, anyway. He lets himself fall back onto the bed, idly noticing how soft and comfortable it is, and stares into the ceiling.

Ten days. Ten days of… whatever this is going to be. He needs to remember that he’s doing it to retrieve the holocron, otherwise he might just lose his mind completely. He thinks about the Council, about how they’re probably going to notice that he’s missing pretty soon. How mad are they going to be this time? He’ll be gone for more than two weeks with no way of contacting anyone, but he’ll return the holocron where it belongs. It’s a fair enough trade, right?

But then there’s the Sith Lord. Kenobi. Anakin can’t tell what the man wants from him; he’s strangely intense in everything, in fighting and in simple conversations both. His very presence is so sharp, so distinct, Anakin can’t quite keep it away even with all his defences tightly locked around his mind.

He has no idea how long he lies like this, doing nothing and just letting his thoughts roll through his mind. Some kind of noise coming from the corridor draws his attention. There’s an annoyed voice—is that the Sith Lord?—and even more annoyed beeping coming his way, and he can’t help but smile at the familiar sound.

He sits up on his bed just as Artoo rolls into the room, offended chirping filling the silence. Kenobi walks in right after him, eyebrows pulled together into an irritated frown.

“Your damn droid’s a feisty one,” he complains, pointedly staring at Anakin like it’s personally his fault. Which it probably is, but Anakin really isn’t sorry. “It refused to stay inside the ship, tried to electrocute me, and then kept screaming its droidspeak nonsense at me until I agreed to show it where you were.”

Anakin laughs and pats Artoo’s head reassuringly; the friendly gesture makes the droid stop beeping for a moment.

“Oh, that’s funny, is it?”

Anakin looks up at Kenobi, at his upset face, at his arms crossed on his chest, at the air of exasperation around him, and feels a tentative smile creep onto his face.

“It’s hilarious,” he says just to see the man’s expression turn even more offended. Which of course it does; he’s practically sulking now.

Artoo turns around to whirr something that would definitely translate to a string of curses and Anakin laughs again, leaning forward to settle his arms on the droid’s head and lightly rests his chin on top of his crossed hands. Artoo beeps softly.

Anakin finds himself staring at Kenobi as Kenobi stares back at him, evidently torn between being mad at the droid and, well, not being mad at Anakin. There’s a strange atmosphere in the room, warm, relaxed, familiar, almost… fond?

“So, uh, what about those spare robes?” Anakin asks just to stop himself from thinking about it too much. “I’d rather not be running around half naked for two weeks.”

“I wouldn’t mind.”

Kenobi.” It’s an attempt at a warning, but an almost playful one, and full of curiosity. Is he allowed to say it? Is he allowed to mouth off? He likes how smoothly the man’s name rolls off his tongue; it sounds good. Bold. Certainly a better option than detachedly calling him a Sith.

Kenobi gives him a slow grin in response. “All right, all right. I could bring them to you, or you could walk with me to get them.”

“Oh, so I wasn’t fine enough to walk to the shuttle, but suddenly I’m allowed to walk around this place, is that it?”

“Pretty much, yes.”

Anakin opens his mouth, ready to say that somehow it doesn’t surprise him and smile at the man, but pauses as he realises just what he’s doing. This is a Sith Lord, he reminds himself as the panicked realisation hits. A Sith Lord, a criminal, a murderer, traitor to the Jedi Order on top of it; everything Anakin is supposed to oppose.

He can’t allow himself to slip into easy, friendly familiarity with the man just because his crimson lightsaber isn’t ignited to remind him just who he’s talking to, just because the gold in his eyes is a little faded and Anakin almost can’t see it.

It’s no excuse. The man remains a Sith Lord, and Anakin can’t afford to be forgetting that.

He leans away and looks away, locks the humour and warmth inside himself, the smile that was playing on his lips just a moment ago dying out.

“I’d appreciate it if you brought me something, then,” he says, keeping his tone carefully cold. Artoo immediately picks up on the mood and chips in with a series of rather offensive beeps.

Kenobi draws in a slow breath. “I see. I’ll leave the clothes on your doorstep later, then. Make sure to get some sleep; we need you healed soon.”

He leaves the room, closing the door behind himself. Anakin absently pats Artoo’s head again.

“Well, I got us into quite a mess, buddy.” The droid beeps at him in confusion. “No, we have to stay. And we can’t contact the Jedi Council. But it’s going to be fine. What do you think of him, then?” Artoo answers with an aggressive series of beeps and sways to the side. “Yeah, I don’t think he likes you, either.” A single beep. Good. Anakin laughs. “It’s just two weeks. We can do this.”

 


 

The bed is far more comfortable than the one in his rooms in the Jedi Temple.

Anakin wills the thought away from his mind as soon as it appears there; he doesn’t need to associate this place with anything positive, but he’s pleasantly warm, and the sheets are soft, and the red glow of the lava outside is… almost calming. He can’t remember the last time he slept so well.

Mustafar days are longer than the ones on Coruscant. Slowly blinking away the drowsiness and sitting up in the bed, Anakin realises he has no idea how much time has passed; he doesn’t even remember falling asleep. Artoo beeps a greeting as he looks around the room in sleepy confusion.

“Oh, now you’re beeping at me? I told you not to let me fall asleep!” The droid chirps back, sounding downright insulted. “Well, yes, maybe I needed rest, but—“ Another series of exasperated chirps. “Yes, but—“ Artoo spins his head around and beeps even louder, dangerously close to screaming. Anakin raises his arms in defence. “All right, all right, I needed rest, you kept watch, nothing bad happened. Fine. You’re right. Thank you.”

Artoo shakes from side to side and beeps triumphantly as Anakin drags himself out of bed with a groan.

He tries to keep to his Temple morning routine; the less is changed, the better for him and his sanity. He stretches, mumbling curses at his injured back, dresses in the clothes the Sith Lord left for him, and sceptically examines himself in the ‘fresher mirror. Apart from the unfamiliar black tunics, he looks normal. Just another day in the life of a Jedi, he thinks to himself dryly.

As he walks through the corridor leading to the main siting room, he can’t help but wonder what’s expected of him. Should he seek out the Sith Lord? Wait until the man comes to him? He’s only out of his room because he’s hungry, he tells himself, and because he needs to carefully assess the situation, the Jedi way and all that. Curiosity has absolutely nothing to do with it.

Anakin steps out into the sitting room and feels all of his self-confidence drain out of him.

Kenobi and Ventress are seated at the table in the corner, lounging in their chairs, eating something, and… laughing? Anakin immediately tries to turn on his heel and flee into the relative safety of his room before they notice him. He was barely ready to face Kenobi again; he’s definitely not ready for any of this, whatever this might be.

The Sith Lord chooses that exact moment to turn around and wave a hand at him.

“Ah, Anakin, you’re up! Come, join us. We were just having breakfast.”

That’s almost suspiciously normal and Anakin, being reasonably distrustful of offers made to him by Sith Lords, as he always is, doesn’t move. That, and Ventress staring him down over Kenobi’s shoulder looks like she’s going to rip out his throat with her bare hands if he so much as makes a single step towards the table.

“I think I’ll pass,” he says, keeping his tone carefully neutral.

“Now, now, Anakin. Don’t make me force you.”

Force me?” Anakin can’t fight the stupid grin that finds its way onto his face all of a sudden. “Was that a pun?”

His words draw a light chuckle from both Kenobi and Ventress; Anakin really doesn’t know how to react to that. Kenobi beckons him to the table again and Anakin hesitates but starts walking, his eyes still fixed on Ventress.

“You do realise I’m not going to eat you, Skywalker, right?” she says. She’s watching him almost as carefully as he’s watching her, but for whatever reason she sounds amused. “As long as you’re not a threat or an obstacle, which you really aren’t, especially not here, I couldn’t care less about you and your presence… pretty much anywhere.”

Anakin can’t decide whether he’s relieved or offended. He settles for not thinking about it.

There’s an empty plate in front of one of the empty chairs. Could that be meant for him?

“Well sit down already, Skywalker. It’s just breakfast, for Force’s sake. You don’t need to be so dramatic about everything, you know,” Ventress teases. Anakin stares at her, then turns his head to look at Kenobi.

“Is it poisoned?” he asks the man, and Ventress nearly chokes on her drink.

“Poisoned? Anakin, why would it be poisoned?”

“Because you’re a Sith Lord, and Sith Lords—“

“Don’t eat breakfasts?” Ventress cuts in, smirking even as she glares at Anakin. “Don’t let their guests eat unless to poison them? Don’t sleep or laugh or talk and spend all of their time murdering small children and destroying planets? Skywalker, you are a mess.”

“Well, she has a point,” Kenobi admits. He looks like he’s trying not to smile, but losing the battle.

Confused and angry and everything else all at once, Anakin keeps looking between the two of them, a Sith Lord and an assassin trying to establish themselves as his own personalised duo of nightmares apparently. Anakin shakes his head, grabbing the empty plate off the table. He helps himself to some food that doesn’t look like it’s going to come alive and try to kill him as soon as he swallows it, then makes a show of walking across the room to sit on the sofas.

Like hell he’s going to sit together with his enemies and pretend he’s fine with it. He’s not fine with it. He’s really, from the bottom of his heart, not even in the general vicinity of being fine with it.

“Really?” Kenobi calls after him, exasperated, as Anakin sits down with his back to the table.

“I can’t believe you’ve brought him here,” Ventress says.

“Could you maybe not talk about me like I’m not in the room with you?” Anakin calls, doesn’t even turn around to grace her with a look.

“You’re not at the table, Skywalker, so I’m ignoring you. Anyway,” Ventress continues, her voice amused, “I can’t believe you’ve brought him here.”

Anakin turns to stare at her in disbelief; the smirk she gives him is a challenge, her face pulled into an expression of spiteful mischief. She’s trying to piss him off on purpose, but he’s better than this. If she can ignore him, then he can ignore her, too.

“Does she live here?” he asks Kenobi, pointing his fork at Ventress.

“Do you intend to keep him?” Ventress asks, mimicking Anakin’s tone and raising an eyebrow at him.

Kenobi shakes his head. “Or you two could just talk to each other.” He keeps fondly glancing between them; seems like at least one person is having fun.

“Or we could just not,” Anakin says immediately. Ventress nods in agreement. Kenobi rolls his eyes and exchanges a pointed look with Ventress.

The two of them leave Anakin alone and start talking about something he doesn’t care about. He watches them for a while before he realises what he’s doing and immediately turns away.

He not quite sure why his mind chooses that particular moment to finally remember Kenobi, where he knows him from. The thought isn’t as shocking as he thought it would be; it’s almost funny that he didn’t realise this earlier. He’s even met the man before, for Force’s sake.

Before Anakin became Qui-Gon’s apprentice, his Master had another Padawan; Obi-Wan Kenobi. Anakin vaguely recalls the man being knighted on Naboo after saving Qui-Gon from being killed by Darth Maul, after duelling a Sith and coming out unscathed. Sithkiller, people whispered behind his back in awe. It’s just that it was over ten years ago, and Anakin tended to forget people he didn’t care for quickly.

He has a strange feeling that forgetting the man now would be a much more complicated feat.

He glances over his back again, at Kenobi and Ventress locked in a heated discussion of whether their cooking droid needs to be recalibrated or not.

He never thought one person could feel this much confusion at once.

 


 

Anakin is pretty sure he’s dreaming.

There’s teeth nipping at his earlobe, a cruel, wicked smile nestled into the crook of his neck like it belongs there, a finger running down the scar on his back, sending shivers down his spine.

Look how far you’ve come; Force, I’m so proud of you already. Anakin closes his eyes, listens to the soft praise, to the murmured promises of gratitude and indulgence. Whatever you desire, my sweet apprentice. I will gift you the entire galaxy if you allow me.

Hot breath in his ear and a voice, warm and heavy and alluring, humming in his mind. You are mine, it sings, words echoing through him. Anakin nods. Of course he is; he whispers back a simple yes, and the voice purrs.

Let me look at you, it says, and Anakin blinks, looks into honey-coloured eyes of a Sith Lord, but—it’s his own face, his eyes. He’s looking at himself but the sight isn’t an unsettling one. He smiles, and his reflection smiles back at him. Somebody’s running his hands up and down Anakin’s sides, kissing his neck, beard scratching his skin and messy hair brushing against his shoulder.

When Anakin reaches for his lightsaber, it ignites in crimson, deadly and gorgeous as he swings it in his hand then lets it fall away, finally turning to face the man behind his back. The Sith Lord. Kenobi. Master.

Anakin claims his mouth in a kiss, pushes him back onto the soft pillows and sighs contentedly when the man’s arms wrap around his back and pull him closer. With their bodies pressed together and their mouths finding each other slow and lazy and sloppy, with the darkness wrapped around them so deep and intense—

There’s a distant sound of beeping, and Anakin opens his eyes.

He’s alone in the darkness, feeling very warm, his heart beating way too quickly as he tries to calm himself down. It was a dream, at least that much he’s sure of. The confidence is a significant improvement, compared to the last time he thought he was dreaming. Still, what kind of ridiculous fantasy—

An alarmed chirp makes him realise what woke him up.

“No, I’m fine,” he assures Artoo standing at the side of the bed, but the droid just keeps beeping. “A nightmare? No, that’s… that’s not what I’d call it.” Anakin laughs nervously. “Thank you for waking me up, though.”

Artoo chirps at him amiably, then rolls back into the corner of the room which he seems to have claimed as his space. Anakin hopes the droid isn’t getting too bored. He dragged the poor thing here, after all, and isn’t providing him with much to do. Do droids even feel boredom? He’ll have to ask Artoo at some point.

For now, though, he feels like he really needs a long walk. There’s no way he’s going back to sleep after a dream like this, anyway. He throws a long hooded cloak over his shoulders; courtesy of Kenobi, of course, and Anakin wishes he didn’t need it for anything, but it’s very comfortable. He opens the door and heads for the sitting room, hoping that nobody’s there at whatever late hour it might be.

The room is indeed empty, illuminated only by the lava burning outside, and Anakin takes a deep breath as he steps into it. The floor is pleasantly warm below his bare feet; he allows himself a small smile at the sensation. He slowly walks towards the transparisteel wall and stops just in front of it, then sighs and moves to sit cross-legged on the floor.

It’s a surprising realisation that he’s… almost glad he’s here, in the middle of nowhere on Mustafar, instead of the Jedi Temple. He feels strangely safe in the facility, even though it’s barely been three days and it’s just about the last place he should be feeling safe in. It’s warm, though, always warm, but not unpleasantly so; it reminds him of Tatooine on those rare days when the weather was actually decent, days without sandstorms, days without worry.

But it’s not just the planet’s fiery climate. Anakin is pretty sure Kenobi’s presence is connected to that feeling of warmth, too, and… He slaps that train of thought out of his mind before it has a chance to go somewhere he doesn’t want it to; he really doesn’t need to be thinking about Kenobi and warmth after that damn dream he just had.

What was that, anyway? Does his mind think this passes for a joke now? Or is this the Force’s idea of being funny? The man is a Sith Lord. A Sith. Lord. An almost unbearably attractive Sith Lord, yes, but that’s beside the damn point. The Jedi aren’t supposed to have such thoughts, aren’t supposed to… Oh, Force. He should just stop thinking altogether if this is what it gets him, overwhelming dreams and embarrassing thoughts.

He sighs, exhaustion falling over his mind in heavy waves. Maybe meditation would help. He’s never been a fan of it, but perhaps it would manage to calm him down at least the slightest bit, help him put his thoughts in order. He breathes in, methodically starts throwing all scattered thoughts out of his mind, one by one. He focuses on warmth and the red glow that somehow manages to seep into his consciousness even through his closed eyes.

His breathing evens out a bit and his thoughts wander, as they always do. His mind stumbles upon Ventress and Kenobi almost immediately, but while Ventress is keeping herself hidden, contained, Kenobi is— everywhere. Anakin watches it curiously, the way everything in the facility seems to be saturated with his presence, and him, a bright point in the middle of it all, as captivating as ever. He’s asleep, if the serene lull of his Force signature is anything to go by.

Anakin doesn’t know why he doesn’t just jerk away and escape. Instead, he lets his thoughts drift even closer to the man, opens himself up and tentatively brushes against Kenobi’s mind. He tells himself it’s to try and sense the location of the holocron, but he knows that’s not the real reason. He wants to understand the man, doesn’t know whether he should want that but he does. He wants to know why Kenobi insists on keeping him here, why he’s treating him the way he is, why any of it is happening; any explanation would be better than this uncertainty.

There are no answers in the Force, though, just the strange familiarity of Kenobi’s mind that pulls Anakin closer even though he’s perfectly aware that it’s a terrible idea. When he withdraws into himself and puts his defences back up, it’s almost with a sigh of regret.

He’s not any closer to understanding anything.

 


 

It’s frightening how quickly he becomes used to living on Mustafar, under the control of a Sith Lord. At least here he doesn’t have to listen to the Council’s drivel and the fate of the galaxy isn’t resting on his shoulders for once. Well, there’s the matter of the holocron, but the way he’s dealing with that is passive enough that he doesn’t have to think about it much.

He probably really shouldn’t be feeling like he’s on vacation, but as he lounges on his favourite sofa in the sitting room and lets his thoughts wander, he really can’t be bothered to care. Force help him, it’s been, what, a few days, and he already has a favourite sofa; it definitely says something about him, but it’s the kind of something that he’d rather not be thinking about.

“Do you miss him sometimes?” Kenobi’s voice brings him out of his lazy afternoon haze and Anakin blinks up at him, confused.

“Hmm?”

“Qui-Gon.” Kenobi passes him a mug that he reluctantly accepts, then sits on the sofa across from him, drapes himself over it as Anakin reflexively takes a sip of the drink. Tea. Huh. “Do you miss him? He was your Master, after all.”

Anakin looks away, the dormant pain of loss enveloping his heart. He remembers Yoda and Mace Windu reminding him of the Jedi Code. They told him that Qui-Gon has become one with the Force, that he shouldn’t give in to his emotions or grieve just because his Master is— dead. There is no death, there is only the Force. “Of course I miss him,” Anakin admits quietly, eyes fixed on his tea.

“He was my Master, too, you know, before he took you on.”

“I… remember. The moment I saw your name on— on the datapad in my room I knew it sounded familiar, I just couldn’t figure out why. But I remember now.”

“Fair enough, I suppose.” The Sith Lord gives him a smile. “You were, what, thirteen, fourteen when I disappeared? You were but a young boy, probably far more interested in lightsaber combat and flying starfighters than the lives of older Knights you barely even met. Still, I’m somewhat offended I didn’t leave a more lasting impression on you back then.”

Anakin bites the inside of his cheek before a smile has a chance to appear on his face. A lasting impression. Well, he’s certainly leaving a lasting impression now, damn him to all Sith hells; Anakin can barely keep the man out of his thoughts most of the time. He forcibly drags his attention back to his old Master, just to perhaps stop thinking about Kenobi for three seconds. “You know, Qui-Gon didn’t speak of you often, but when he did, it was always fondly. He must’ve been devastated when you… disappeared.” Died. The Council thought he was dead, killed by Count Dooku. That’s probably what Qui-Gon believed, too.

“Unlikely. We’ve grown apart after he rushed me into Knighthood to take you as his new apprentice.” There’s a sharp edge to his voice and a strange, angry flicker in his eyes, but it dies out as soon as he glances back at Anakin. “We’ve had our disagreements even as Master and Padawan, and then it only became worse.”

“I remember he was very sad for a time,” Anakin says, “back then I just didn’t know why.”

Kenobi gives him a bitter smile. “He would’ve been sadder if he found out that I fell.”

“Fell? Interesting choice of words for a Sith Lord. Do you regret the decision? Is the Dark Side not what you’d expected it would be?”

Kenobi stretches on the sofa and grins lazily. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

The silence that falls between them feels almost friendly. Anakin sips his tea, trying not to let his emotions show. It’s the first time he seems to be allowed to talk about the memory of Qui-Gon, and on top of that an occasion to… possibly understand Kenobi better.

Why would he do that, though? Why does he want to do that so desperately? Kenobi is a Sith Lord. The only thing Anakin should be doing with Sith Lords is fighting them. Which is a thoroughly hilarious thought, all things considered; he’s sitting in a Sith Lord’s apartment, drinking tea with him in companionable silence, and spending his nights fantasising about the man and hating himself for it.

His life definitely took a wrong turn at some point. An abysmally wrong turn. He knows he should be panicking, but it’s like the atmosphere of the place is dulling his survival instincts. That, or he’s simply ran out of panic at some point, and all he has left now is what seems to be acceptance. He can’t decide whether he’s more worried about the mess he’s in or the fact that he’s… not actually worried about it.

Force, Skywalker, think about anything else.

“Do you miss him?” Anakin asks carefully.

“Of course I do. Even despite it all… I regret I didn’t have a chance to talk to him, just once, before… I regret I wasn’t there during the Battle of Geonosis.”

Anakin tenses up at the mention of Geonosis, images that he doesn’t want to remember flooding his mind. The memory of not being quick enough, of watching his Master collapse after Dooku’s mortal blow, of cradling his Master close to his chest, of Anakin’s tears falling down onto his Master’s face. It’s too late for me, my dear Padawan, Qui-Gon told him with a sad smile, weakly raising a hand to touch his cheek. But I’m so very proud to have called you an apprentice.

“Dooku killed him,” Anakin says through clenched teeth and looks away.

“I know, young one, I know. I sensed something has happened even before the Count returned from Geonosis. The Force felt… different, like it lost something precious.” He sighs, like remembering it causes him pain, too. His regret over Qui-Gon’s death is genuine, and Anakin latches onto it with a desperate, disbelieving hope; this is the first time he’s seeing anyone truly mourn his old Master. “When Dooku told me what happened, that he fought Qui-Gon and his Padawan and ended up killing my old Master, I didn’t take it too well. I was angry, we argued, I even threatened I would leave his side.”

“But you didn’t.” Anakin can’t be bothered to keep the accusing notes out of his tone. Kenobi nods.

“Indeed. I was never a rash person and the Count managed to, ah, reason with me. Did you know Qui-Gon was Dooku’s Padawan once?” Anakin’s head snaps up towards him in disbelief. “Yes. Back when the Count was still a Jedi. Seems like Qui-Gon is the point that binds all three of our lives together; Dooku’s, mine, and yours. And, well, after his death… it’s only fair that we would accept you as one of our own.”

“I want nothing to do with Dooku,” Anakin hisses. “And I’m not a Sith.”

Kenobi gives him a slow smile, the one Anakin considers to be specifically designed to embarrass him and make him blush. “You seemed to enjoy being seduced by the Dark Side just fine, young one.”

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that,” Anakin says and takes a deep breath. He really doesn’t need this. Out the corner of his eye he can see Kenobi grinning and decides that he needs to change the topic before the man’s smile alone kills him. “So how come I almost never saw you around the Temple, back when…”

You were always at Qui-Gon’s side, and I was actively trying to avoid him, bitter and jealous.”

“Jealous?”

“Of course. Of how eager he was to train you, and how quick to leave me behind. Of how he gave to you what he never even considered giving to me: his trust.” Kenobi leans forward, red-rimmed golden eyes fixed on Anakin’s face with an angry intensity, and Anakin feels like he should stop breathing just in case. “I hated you, the child who stole my Master from me, and I hated him, the Master who pushed me away. You’re lucky I ended up turning to emotions other than jealousy and resentment.”

Anakin isn’t sure if the words were meant as a threat or not, but he definitely feels threatened. The way Kenobi looks at him is the predatory glare he remembers from their duels, and— are they fighting now? Should he be scared for his life?

When Kenobi speaks again, his voice is gentle, and his expression softens, too. “I told you that you needn’t be scared of me, young one.”

“I’m not scared,” Anakin mumbles. “But you did just tell me you hate me.”

Something dark flashes across Kenobi’s face. “Why, you almost sound surprised, Anakin. It shouldn’t be shocking to you, should it? You are a Jedi Knight, I am a Sith Lord; we stand on the opposite sides of a conflict older than either of us.” His tone grows sharp, disdainful, his eyes refusing to leave Anakin’s face. “Darkness against light, good against evil, if you’re inclined to believe the tales. We’re supposed to hate each other, remember? It’s what’s expected of us. Why are you upset by the realisation of something that should be obvious?”

Anakin catches his lower lip between his teeth, looks away. “I just… I thought… Nevermind.“ He cuts himself short before he can embarrass his own confused ass to death. What kind of pathetic reaction is that, anyway? Of course the Sith Lord hates him, of course Anakin hates him back, there’s nothing ambiguous here to be confused about. The Dark Side is built on hate; what was he expecting—

He nearly yelps when a warm arm wraps around his shoulders; he instinctively reaches to his belt for a lightsaber but the weapon isn’t there. He gave it away after all, like the idiot that he is. And now he’s going to be—

“Hey,” an amused voice whispers into his ear. Kenobi has apparently moved to sit right next to him while he was staring off into the distance, and is now holding him still; immobilising others with the Force seems like a damn handy trick, indeed.

Anakin would rather literally evaporate than be dealing with this right now.

“You do realise I was just curious how you’d react, right? My sweet apprentice, I couldn’t hate you even if I tried. The moment I first saw you in the Rishi system I knew I wanted you to be mine. And the Jedi and Sith aren’t quite as different as the Council would have you think, anyway.”

“First of all, I’m not your apprentice, second of a— oh, hell,” Anakin’s voice trembles and his eyes flutter shut as a familiar warmth settles over his mind, a gentle touch of comfort and so much more ghosting over him, and he can’t help but open up a bit, letting more of it slip through. How in the— he’s been keeping his defences locked around himself, how—

“You think I’d be able to slip into your mind like this if we weren’t connected in any way? If both of us didn’t want this?” Kenobi murmurs into his ear, his hand moving to rub circles into Anakin’s shoulder now that Anakin wants to do anything but move away. Oh, it feels even better when he’s not drunk, and Anakin leans into the touch with a long sigh, nuzzles his face into Kenobi’s neck.

Force, there’s no way he should be doing any of that.

“Get the hell out of my head,” he whispers half-heartedly, and he really isn’t sure if that’s what he wants, but that’s probably what he’s supposed to say when a Sith Lord is playing around in his mind.

Kenobi presses a kiss to the side of his head, and then he’s— gone. He still sitting next to Anakin, but his presence withdraws, returning to the quiet hum of distant power that Anakin has come to recognise as his. Anakin opens his eyes, blinks once, twice, then scrambles away to the other end of the sofa, glaring at the man. Confused no longer adequately describes how he’s feeling. Not even close.

“Of course, young one.” Kenobi gets up and gives him a smile. “I shall… leave you to your thoughts, then. Do remember about the training session in the evening.”

“The— the what now?” Anakin asks, even though he’s just made a decision that he’s not speaking to the man again, ever. “I can’t remember something I didn’t know about.”

“Training session. I did say I was going to train you, didn’t I? Your back seems to be recovered enough for you to be able to move without any restrictions. So, an evening training session it is.”

Anakin really doesn’t trust the playful flicker in the man’s eyes. He watches Kenobi disappear behind the doors leading to the bedrooms, then lets himself fall face first onto the sofa.

This is fine.

 


 

Anakin isn’t entirely sure what passes for an evening on a planet that is at all times on fire, but something tells him that he should seek Kenobi out and make an appearance at his training session, whatever that might be. He half expects to be just completely cut in half this time. Isn’t that what Kenobi did to that Sith Lord all those years ago on Naboo? Yeah. Anakin has a bad feeling about this.

The main sitting room is empty and Anakin sighs as he stops in the middle of it.

He doesn’t fancy getting lost in the facility, so he closes his eyes and carefully glances into the Force, trying to locate either Kenobi or Ventress; they seem to be the only people living here, anyway. He senses Kenobi almost instantly, a bright, burning presence. Anakin follows his Force signature to a large, mostly empty room with one wall transparent, just like in the sitting room. Several simple containers stand in the corner, but there’s more than enough space to fight.

Kenobi has his back to him, but as soon as Anakin enters, he turns to face him with a smile.

“Hello, Anakin. Let us begin right away; I’ve a few ideas on how we could spent this evening.” He pauses pointedly, as if the suggestive implications weren’t obvious enough. Anakin takes a deep breath. “I suppose I should give you the right to choose, though.”

Anakin crosses his arms on his chest. “Is not being here an option?”

Kenobi just gives him a lopsided grin. “We could work on your lightsaber technique, which is far from perfect, and not nearly enough to satisfy your needs. We could work on your focus in the Force, on the way you reach for it and use it. Or we could work on your balance and agility, maybe try some hand-to-hand sparring.”

Anakin considers his options; all of them are bad, and telling the Sith Lord no doesn’t even count as a valid choice. Normally, Anakin would choose the lightsaber training without hesitation, but he hasn’t quite forgotten about the injury across his back, and he really doesn’t need to be humiliated any further, nor would he like to suffer any more snide comments about his technique. Far from perfect? Anakin huffs, stubbornly avoiding eye contact.

“And which of those options won’t get me killed or horribly embarrassed?”

“None of them will get you killed, which you know already. As for embarrassments, though… I suppose that depends entirely on you.”

“You’re not really helping me here.”

“Are you asking what I want to do, young one?”

Anakin is pretty sure he knows the answer to that, and also that he doesn’t want to hear that particular answer out loud, at all. “No, I just—“

“You just don’t want to choose, I see. All right. Start stretching then, like you would before your usual training session in the Temple; I believe I don’t have to oversee that.”

Anakin makes a face, but it seems Kenobi is serious, and so he rolls his eyes and strips out of his outer tunic. He has to fight himself for it but he folds it neatly and sets it aside instead of throwing it to the floor in a childish expression of defiance. He’s not a child, after all. He’s an adult, a responsible one at that, a Jedi Knight on an important solo mission to recover a holocron. He feels like he has to remind himself of that every so often, just in case he forgets exactly why he’s agreeing to being trained by a Sith Lord.

He begins his standard workout with a sigh. His back still stings a bit when he does some of the more complex exercises, but the familiarity of the movements, the regular breaths and graceful motions bring him comfort. He’s almost relaxed, if a bit sore, by the time he’s done.

Kenobi, hunched over one of the containers stacked in the corner of the room, throws something in his direction as soon as he notices he’s done. Anakin catches the spherical object and inspects it curiously, turning it over in his hands. It’s a greyish orb about the size of his palm, covered in switches and holes and rough to the touch. It looks like some kind of remote, a training droid, similar to the ones he remembers from early lightsaber training lessons at the Temple. His eyes flick back to Kenobi’s face. “So what’s this for?”

Kenobi walks up to him and takes the orb out of his hands. He presses several buttons on its side and nonchalantly throws it into the air. It whirrs into life, tiny red and blue lights flashing, and starts slowly orbiting his head. Anakin watches it warily.

“Really? You want me to do the most basic lightsaber practice? Younglings at the Temple do this effortlessly! You think I’m that— ow!”

Without a warning, the orb floats up to him and shoots a tiny blast of electricity straight into his arm, then flees his reach and hides behind Kenobi’s back. Anakin’s hand darts to rub the stinging spot on his arm as he gives Kenobi a look of disbelief.

“Evidently you could use some practice, young one,” Kenobi tells him, turning away to stand closer to a wall, giving Anakin more room. “So practice.”

“Give me my lightsaber, then.”

Kenobi laughs, shutting his eyes and throwing his head back, either thoroughly amused or just really intent on making Anakin feel terrible. “A lightsaber? Such lazy thinking. No, we’re going to do something… slightly different.”

One of the containers in the corner starts shaking, then another training remote rises from it, and another one, and another. The container is packed full of them, and all of them are taking to the air, one by one. Anakin can’t even keep track of them; are there twenty? Thirty? More? He thinks there’s more, but they all keep moving, making it difficult to count them. They make jittery jumps through the air, left and right, up and down. Why would anyone even need this many? What for? Kenobi waves his hand and all of them start slowly circling Anakin.

Anakin has a bad feeling about this.

“Uh, Kenobi, how do you expect me to—“

“Good luck,” Kenobi tells him with a grin, and the remotes start shooting.

It’s just small charges of electricity, nothing that would cause any lasting damage; just momentary pinpricks of pain, but they hurt like hell. Anakin hisses as one bolt hits him in the back of his leg and two more find his side; he dodges a remote headed straight for his face and jumps away, only to be hit by several more bolts.

There’s— there’s no way to avoid them all without a lightsaber.

“My, my, if only you knew how to use the Force,” Kenobi muses, leaning against a wall and watching Anakin with his eyes half closed, a lazy, almost disinterested expression on his face.

“I do know how to use it!”

“Do you really?” Kenobi taunts, the orbs circling Anakin quickly picking up the pace. “If you can’t even avoid being shot by harmless training remotes, what kind of mastery of the Force can you claim?”

Anakin jumps across the floor, dodges and rolls, opens his mind to his surroundings as best he can, as much as he trusts himself to with Kenobi and his fiery presence in the room with him. He nearly loses himself in the Force but it’s still not enough; he can evade most of the attacks but not all of them, he’s still getting hit with tiny charges of electricity, and it’s becoming really annoying really fast. “If you gave me my damn lightsaber—“

“Oh, please, child’s play. You need a challenge, Anakin, and that’s what I’m giving you.”

Anakin mutters a string of curses in Huttese as three consecutive bolts hit the back of his neck. Force, jumping out the window is starting to look like a decent option. He’s twirling across the room, but somehow the bolts keep finding him. There’s simply too many of them, and just about no way to avoid them all. Has Kenobi gone mad?

“You call yourself a Jedi Knight?” There’s boredom in Kenobi’s tone; he’s not even looking at Anakin any more as he leans his head back against the wall. “I expected more of you, young one. It’s like you’re doing this on purpose.”

The words sting more than all the bolts of electricity combined, and Anakin freezes in the middle of the room, staring at Kenobi who isn’t even looking. Anakin clenches his jaw, feels the unmistakable heat of anger creeping up his spine, like flames licking at his back. The remotes keep shooting at him, but he almost doesn’t feel their attacks.

He closes his eyes and clenches his fists, following the hum of his emotions instead of his reason, because out here, who’s going to stop him from doing so? He gathers the Force around himself, and sends it out in an explosive wave of power.

All of the orbs stop.

Anakin breathes in and out and opens his eyes, feeling every single one of the remotes wriggling in his grasp, feeling Kenobi’s gentle hold on them and keeping his own stronger. He holds the orbs in place as all of them turn idly but can no longer shoot at him because he doesn’t allow them to. Their flashing lights are sending flickers of red and blue across the walls of the darkened room. When did it get this dark, exactly?

Kenobi’s attention is on him now, all of it, focused and curious and proud, and Anakin doesn’t look away, holds his gaze with a stubbornness of his own. Kenobi walks up to him slowly, ducks under the floating orbs and stands before Anakin, gives him a smug smile.

“Very good.” His voice is dark, silky, as is the air around them, and— is he manipulating the Force somehow? Anakin can tell Kenobi isn’t in his head; it’s a rather particular and distinctive feeling. Something feels off, though. The Force around them seems… different, crackling, like it’s on the verge of something. “And what if I did this?”

Anakin feels one of the remotes tear itself from his grasp and shoot an overloaded bolt of electricity at—

At Kenobi.

Why would he shoot at himself—

It’s like time itself slows down as Anakin reaches out towards the bolt with his left hand and his mind both. He focuses on it and understands it, Force singing into his ear, and when he commands it to stop, it simply does; just like that, it freezes in mid-air. Anakin lets all the remotes shut down and fall to the floor. The shimmering white and blue bolt of electricity remains the only bright point in the entire room.

Kenobi turns his head to look at it, at the radiant, crackling point of light and energy suspended just inches away from his face. The electric flicker reflected in his eyes is beautiful as he watches it with an expression of—Anakin isn’t quite sure what it is, but it’s delightful to look at.

“Very good indeed,” Kenobi says quietly, a purr. In the light, his eyes almost seem blue.

There’s a curious itch at the back of Anakin’s mind, and he feels like he needs to try something. He focuses and pulls the bolt towards his extended hand, until he’s holding it in his palm, pure energy kept under his control.

“Would you look at that… It’s not an easy trick to master, my dear apprentice, but it came to you like breathing, like second nature; you needed but a gentle nudge.” Kenobi takes another step towards Anakin, and Anakin still isn’t looking at him, transfixed by the electricity he’s holding between his fingers. “Just think how much more you could do.”

Anakin finally looks into Kenobi’s eyes, then slowly closes his fingers around the light, feeling the energy flow into his body, electrifying but somehow not painful, until his hand is balled into a fist and the light is gone.

They’re standing very close, now lit only in shades of red from the outside, and Anakin feels something strange, something thrilling thrumming through his veins.

“So what now?” he asks quietly, tilting his head.

Kenobi’s golden eyes flash in the darkness. “Now, Anakin, you meditate, and I leave you to it.”

Anakin opens his mouth but doesn’t know what he wants to say. He ends up looking away, out the window, anything so he doesn’t have to watch Kenobi’s smug smile as the man walks out of the room. He’s probably headed for the sitting room, or maybe for the bedrooms (don’t think about the bedrooms, Skywalker) but doesn’t want Anakin to follow.

Which is—

A good thing. He’s a Sith Lord for Force’s sake, the reasonable part of Anakin’s mind reminds him none too gently. Anakin curses under his breath. He really needs to work on his own self-control and, well, thinking before he acts. Why would he want to follow a Sith Lord anywhere? He doesn’t want to follow a Sith Lord. He doesn’t.

He sighs, hides his face in his hands for a moment, then sits down. All things considered, meditation seems like an excellent option all of a sudden.

Chapter Text

The days quickly fall into a pattern.

Mornings are lazy and calm; sometimes he stays in his room with Artoo and simply rests, sometimes he spends half the day sprawled on one of the sofas in the sitting room, bickering with Kenobi or Ventress or both. He’s trying not to compare it to his life at the Jedi Temple, but can’t help it, and he really doesn’t like the conclusions he’s coming to.

Afternoons and evenings are busy; usually reserved for various kinds of training. Kenobi is merciless, and Anakin had no idea he could be sore in so many strange places at once. And it’s not even the fun kind of being sore.

Of course it’s not fun. He’s training under a Sith Lord; there’s nothing fun about his situation. He’s there because he has to be, and he’s looking forward to leaving the place, like any sane Jedi would. At the very least it’ll help him put some distance between himself and his damn confusion.

His mind is truly a mess; he’s beginning to consider his stay on Mustafar an exercise in not thinking. He doesn’t think about how Kenobi’s quick wit effortlessly matches his own, how he has to stop himself from smiling at the man’s humour and nodding at his words. He doesn’t think about Kenobi’s lingering touches, about the soft, golden glow of his hypnotising eyes, about the way his smug smiles make Anakin doubt everything he’s ever been taught. He doesn’t think about the long conversations him and Kenobi have, huddled opposite each other on the sofas in the sitting room, mugs of tea in their hands, discussing the Jedi and the Sith, exchanging memories of Qui-Gon, talking about the Force. He doesn’t think about any of that.

The training sessions are the worst. When Kenobi’s measured, elegant attacks are focused on Anakin, against Anakin, he doesn’t stand a chance. To his growing exasperation, he’s simply not skilled enough to beat Kenobi’s power and grace in an one on one match, and he can’t even concentrate properly half the time, worried about control and the Jedi way and, well, distracted by Kenobi.

Which ends up with him having his back against the wall and a training lightsaber at his throat way too often, and— Kenobi’s face close to his, heavy breaths and even heavier looks shared between them as the air around them buzzes, but Kenobi doesn’t do anything. He just stares, his eyes flicking down to Anakin’s mouth, then steps back, giving Anakin a sly grin.

Kenobi knows.

But Anakin doesn’t intend to give him the satisfaction.

Besides, the physical attraction is the least of his troubles. There’s something else, an odd, persistent pull he feels towards Kenobi. It’s taking effort now to keep himself carefully guarded, not to let himself slip past his own defences, but he’s managing. The welcoming warmth of Kenobi’s mind has to be a trick, one Anakin won’t be falling for that easily.

Still, it’s becoming exhausting, and every small touch and accidental (is it accidental? Anakin trusts neither Kenobi nor himself) brush of hands sends electricity through his body, reminding him of dreams and memories both.

The fact that he keeps reaching into the Force when trying to calm himself doesn’t help, either. He can always sense Kenobi there, and is it Kenobi who’s brimming with the Force or the Force that’s brimming with Kenobi? It feels sharp, yet somehow is still the most serene presence Anakin’s ever felt. Whenever he can’t sleep or just can’t quiet his restless mind, he tells himself that he knows what he’s doing and that he’s still in control as he tunes himself to the man’s breaths, listens to his heartbeat through the Force until he’s calm again. It almost becomes a habit, a way to compose himself. And isn’t he supposed to be calm?

He tries not to think about how well trying to explain that to the Council would go. He can just imagine himself trying to tell the Masters that a Sith Lord makes him feel calm. Yeah, probably a bad idea. He’s going to have to think of some really creative lies to tell them.

He’s not looking forward to that.

 


 

There’s somebody knocking on the door of his room very insistently. Anakin would roll his eyes, but that would require opening them, and he’s not ready for that kind of effort. The knocking refuses to stop, though, only becomes even more forceful, and he groans as he crawls out of bed. He walks over to the door with Artoo trailing right behind him.

He raises a hand to his mouth, yawning lazily, and presses the control button. This better be important, he thinks to himself, blinking at—

Ventress. It’s Ventress who’s standing at the other side of the door, looking tired and impatient.

“Well finally,” she mutters.

This isn’t— Anakin was expecting Kenobi. Why would Ventress be visiting him so early in the morning that it still counts as the middle of the night? Anakin takes two steps back and nearly tumbles backwards over Artoo, who starts beeping threateningly as soon as he notices just who their guest is.

“The hell are you doing here?” Anakin manages, holding on to the droid to regain his balance.

Ventress stares at him, unimpressed. “I live here, Skywalker.”

“But—“

She rolls her eyes, stepping into his room. “You might want to reconsider that sentence before you start it.”

Artoo chooses that moment to roll from behind Anakin with a war cry consisting of beeps, apparently less than willing to let an enemy into what he considers his space. Anakin agrees with him on that, he does, it’s just that he doesn’t think trying to pick a fight right now would be a good idea. Before he manages to stop Artoo, though, Ventress gracefully jumps on top of the closet and crouches there, raising an eyebrow at the droid.

“That’s enough, Artoo” Anakin says immediately, seeing the droid prepare his rocket boosters and beep angrily. Artoo turns his head to send Anakin a look, as much as an astromech droid can send someone a look. “I don’t think she’s here to kill me for once.”

His eyes drift back to Ventress’ face, who gives him a mocking half smile. “Well, you’re learning quickly, aren’t you.”

“I still don’t trust you,” Anakin informs her as he tentatively sits back on his bed, craning his head to look up at her.

“The feeling’s mutual, Skywalker.”

“Why are you here?”

“I live here, I already told you.”

“Hilarious. Why are you in my room?”

Something flashes across her face; if it weren’t Ventress that he was looking at, he’d say it was embarrassment. “I… might need a favour.”

So it is embarrassment after all. Anakin feels his mouth curl into a mischievous grin. “Well, that’s unfortunate, isn’t it.” He stretches his arms over his head lazily.

“You know what else would be unfortunate, Skywalker? If you accidentally fell into the burning lava outside and died,” Ventress retorts in a bored tone without even batting an eye.

The quiet that follows her words is unsettling, and Anakin clears his throat after a moment.

“So what do you want from me?”

She leans forward. “I need you to recalibrate the cooking droid, and I need you to do it now.”

Anakin stares at her in silence for a few seconds, sincerely speechless, then bursts out laughing.

“Skywalker—“

“What, you’re serious? The— the cooking droid? Asajj Ventress, the great assassin, wants me to recalibrate a cooking droid?” The whole situation is so utterly ridiculous to him he can barely catch his breath, but Ventress doesn’t react in any way, just keeps looking at him. “Wait, you’re actually serious.”

Yes, I’m serious, Skywalker. Wasn’t aware you were deaf as well as stupid. Now get up already.” She jumps off the closet, silently landing on the floor, and waves an impatient hand at him as she walks out of his room. “You’re awake, after all, and it’s not like you’ve got anything better to do right now. Move.”

There’s a hint of threat in her voice, and Anakin shrugs. She does have a point, and besides, she may or may not have her lightsabers with her, and he’s really not willing to risk being cut in half for such a ridiculous reason. That, and she sounded pretty serious about throwing him into the lava.

Anakin turns to look at Artoo. “Come on then, I guess we’re going on an adventure.”

Artoo beeps at him, suggesting that perhaps he should reconsider his idea of what an adventure is, just as Ventress yells his name from the corridor.

“I’m going, I’m going,” he mutters, hurriedly pulling a shirt over his head and grabbing his glove, and runs out of his room.

Ventress leads him into a small kitchen, where she jumps onto one of the counters and settles there, cross-legged. Anakin tries not to smile at it. She makes herself seem so much smaller when she sits like that, not any less threatening but small, curling up in places that aren’t usually meant for sitting. He’d call it endearing if it wasn’t Ventress doing it.

“There,” she says, gesturing to the droid standing behind a table. The droid makes a unpleasant, harsh sound at that, metallic, like it’s attempting to speak, but cannot. “Oh, their vocabulator is broken, too, if you’re feeling generous.”

Anakin walks up to the droid, carefully examines its clunky body and multiple arms. Cooking droids aren’t exactly the pinnacle of droid design, and this one seems to be an especially old, outdated model. It’s rusty and creaking on top of that, and two of its arms don’t even move; evidently it hasn’t seen a technical inspection in a long time. Its head follows Anakin around with a detached kind of interest; cooking droids don’t usually have rich personalities. Anakin gives it a friendly pat on one of its many shoulders out of habit.

He glances at Ventress, who’s still sitting on the counter, staring at him.

“Are you going to stay there the whole time?”

“Yes.”

Anakin rolls his eyes, then turns to Artoo. “Okay, buddy, let’s see what we can do with your friend over here.” Artoo beeps at him, appalled. “No, it’s… it’s a figure of speech, they don’t actually have to be your—“ Another string of high-pitched offended beeps. “All right, all right, you don’t fraternise with droids serving the Dark Side, fine, I get it. Now please stop yelling at me and pass me an arc wrench.”

Artoo whirrs aggressively and throws the tool at Anakin.

“You can’t even keep your droid in check, that’s hilarious.” Ventress sniggers. “And when I say hilarious, I mean kind of pathetic, actually.”

“Yes, thank you for the insightful commentary, I have no idea how I’d manage without it.”

Anakin settles on the floor in front of the cooking droid, shuts it down, then starts working. He feels Ventress’ eyes boring into the back of his head, but almost doesn’t mind; the familiar excitement of knowing how to fix something washes over him, calming his restless thoughts.

He amiably talks to Artoo as he works on the other droid, gets so invested in his work he doesn’t even think about the fact that an enemy is sitting behind his back. He genuinely doesn’t care about Ventress for now; it seems like for the moment she doesn’t want to murder him, anyway.

He always loses track of time when tinkering, and this time isn’t any different; he has no idea how much time it takes him to clean and fix up what he can. He climbs to his feet with a huff when he’s done and looks over his shoulder to see Ventress lazily levitating a knife the size of his forearm in front of herself. Anakin swallows loudly.

As soon as she notices that he’s looking at her, she snorts and lets the knife fall. “You should’ve seen your face, Skywalker.”

“Anyway,” Anakin says, feeling really stupid but also vaguely threatened, ”I think I’m done.” The droid powers up again, beeping in confusion, then in excitement, finally chirping a simple thank you at him. “I can’t fix their vocabulator without more complex tools, but at least they should be able to speak in binary now. That, and all of their arms and systems should be working fine. So, you’re welcome.” He tries grinning at Ventress, but her infinitely bored expression makes his smile die out.

“We shall see during breakfast. High time for it, too.” She jumps off the counter and tilts her head to the side, as if listening to something. “I think Kenobi’s up.”

Anakin realises he can sense it, too, effortlessly so, and he feels his stomach twist. When exactly did he get so attuned to the man’s presence that he can tell the difference between what it feels like when he’s sleeping and when he’s not? Force, this is really beginning to get out of hand.

He glances over his shoulder at the cooking droid already getting to work; they’re humming quietly. Anakin smiles, then follows Ventress out of the kitchen and back into the sitting room. She flicks the lights on, then sits in her chair at the table. Anakin stays in the doorway; they both stare off into the walls, intent on doing anything but looking each other in the eye.

The sound of a door opening saves them from the painfully awkward silence.

Kenobi emerges from the bedrooms, yawning. He stops in the middle of the room, taking in the situation, then beams, glancing between Anakin and Ventress.

“Oh, my. Good morning. Both of you here, and nobody’s been murdered yet?”

“If you don’t count Skywalker’s dignity.”

“Hey!”

Ventress raises an eyebrow at him and grins, and Anakin shakes his head, caught off guard. He wants to say something, but the cooking droid shows up just behind him, beeps, then gently pushes him out of the doorway and starts setting plates and cutlery on the table. As they roll back into the kitchen, Anakin moves to lean against the wall, arms crossed on his chest, not thinking about anything at all.

Kenobi walks towards the table and settles his forearms against the back of his chair. He looks soft, a sleepy tenderness in his features, messy strands of his hair falling over his forehead and into his eyes. As he brushes the hair away from his face and glances at Anakin, a genuine, strangely tame smile flickering in his eyes, Anakin’s heart tugs.

What it would feel like, to wake up to a sight like this—

He frantically shoves the thought out of his mind and looks up into the ceiling, breathing deeply. Force help you, Skywalker, he tells himself, because not much else probably can at this point.

The cooking droid comes back with food and sets it on the table. Ventress shoots Anakin a look as she snatches something off one of the plates and carefully puts it in her mouth.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, Skywalker, but it seems you’re not completely useless after all,” she says, blinking up at him. Anakin can’t help the proud grin.

“What? What’s he done now?” Kenobi asks, sitting down across from her and pouring himself tea.

“We’ve recalibrated the damn cooking droid, Kenobi,” Ventress answers. Anakin pointedly clears his throat, staring at her. “Fine, Skywalker recalibrated it.”

“While you were threatening me. With a knife.”

“I wasn’t!”

“Yes, you were.” Anakin laughs at her expression of mock offense, then without thinking grabs a chair and sits down at the table, the smell of fresh food drawing him in.

“But what was wrong with the droid?” Kenobi demands.

“And since when do you care about droids?”

“I don’t, but that’s not the point—“

“Kenobi, we’ve talked about this. We’ve literally talked about this all the time, during every single meal, for at least a week now, and you kept saying you’d do something about it but didn’t, and so I decided to take action—“

“But what was wrong—“

Anakin snorts, snatching a plate away from Ventress as she glares at him. “What wasn’t.”

Talking about droids is easy, is familiar, and so he talks, tells Kenobi and Ventress exactly what he’s done, even though they probably don’t care much. The conversation rolls by itself after that; they talk of everything and nothing at once, uncomplicated and natural. Artoo chimes in with sarcastic commentary; Anakin translates some of it, very much doesn’t translate the rest.

It feels… fine. Bickering with Ventress, saving Kenobi’s smiles to his memory, very focused on not thinking. He doesn’t think about how at the end of the day, they’re still his enemies, how soon, he’ll be leaving Mustafar, how the next time he meets them, it’ll be on the opposite sides of the battlefield again. He doesn’t think about how he feels more at ease here than among his memories of the Jedi Temple, how the thought of leaving this place… almost makes him sad. He doesn’t think about any of that.

He looks at Ventress, grins at Kenobi. They’re enemies, yes; but it rings hollow when they pass a tray of fruits around, when Kenobi Force-floats Anakin’s food over to his own plate and Ventress rolls her eyes at them, only to levitate Kenobi’s tea out of his hand while he’s not paying attention. They’re enemies, yes, but not at this very second.

Anakin almost wishes this could last.

 

 


 

They’re halfway through an afternoon training, Anakin panting and sore and angry, but finally, slowly but surely getting one of the parries Kenobi is showing him, when Kenobi freezes, stares off into the distance, lowering the training lightsaber.

Anakin stops the exercise as soon as he senses a vague feeling of unease in the man’s Force signature. He doesn’t like this; Kenobi’s always in control, always knows what he’s doing. He’s not supposed to be worried.

“What is it?”

Kenobi takes a deep breath, his eyes still unfocused. “The Count is here.”

The words feel like a kick to the stomach, an insult to everything Anakin stands for.

“Dooku?” he asks, even though he already knows, and anger swirls in him and around him, quick, uncontrollable and effortless. That Dooku would dare show his face here—

And where is here, exactly? A Sith stronghold? It’s not Anakin’s place to be insulted at Dooku having the audacity to visit. It’s Anakin who’s the offender, who shouldn’t be here. The awareness does nothing to still his anger, though.

“Anakin,” Kenobi says, a sharp tension in his features as he finally meets Anakin’s eyes. “I’m going to need you to not try to kill my Master. Can you do that?”

Anakin balls his hands into fists, the Force buzzing around him. He hasn’t seen Dooku since Geonosis, since… “He killed my Master and he is going to pay—“

Kenobi rolls his eyes in quick exasperation, then raises a hand in an almost dismissive gesture. The buzz of the Force around Anakin turns against him and loops around his neck, squeezing it lightly as he gasps for breath. A warning.

“We’re all going to be in enough trouble as it is,” Kenobi says, and it’s almost a growl, his tone threatening, his eyes wild. “I don’t need you making it all even worse. Don’t make me lock you away in your room like a petulant child, Anakin.”

Anakin stares at him, hands scrambling around his own neck, not even sure why he’s trying to fight a force that cannot be physically grasped. He pulls his mouth into a thin line and stares back at Kenobi, angry, defiant.

“Anakin, you can’t even beat me in a fair match yet. What makes you think you could beat Dooku? Be reasonable, for Force’s sake. Wouldn’t the Council want you to be reasonable?”

“Oh, now you’re telling me to listen to the Council,” Anakin snarls.

Kenobi walks up to him, still holding the Force around his throat. His free hand finds the back of Anakin’s neck and clenches into a fist in his hair. Anakin hisses, more anger than pain. “I’m telling you that if we don’t play this clever, young one, you’ll die. And we can’t have that. Now promise me you won’t attack my Master.”

Anakin bites the inside of his cheek and looks away, and Kenobi’s grasp on his hair becomes even more forceful, almost desperate in its intensity.

Promise me, Anakin.”

“Sure, whatever,” Anakin spits; it’s not like a promise like this matters, anyway. Kenobi sighs and lets him go.

“We really don’t have time for anything better,” he mutters, throwing the training lightsaber aside and leaving the room, motioning for Anakin to follow him.

They find Ventress pacing the sitting room, and Kenobi walks up to her immediately, waving a hand at Anakin to stay back. Anakin leans against a wall, watches them talk in hushed whispers, quiet enough that he can’t hear them. It’s clear enough that Ventress is angry, and Kenobi… Kenobi almost looks like he’s pleading, trying to convince her to do something.

Not that Anakin cares. The only thing he cares about is that he doesn’t have his lightsaber with him. He’d have to snatch Kenobi’s, or one of Ventress’, and then—

Kenobi turns to look at Anakin, his glare forceful enough that Anakin’s eyes snap to him immediately. They hold each other’s gaze, intense and full of things unspoken, for what feels like an eternity, until the hissing sound of an opening door makes them look away.

When Dooku enters the room, it’s like the air shifts, somehow, like the Force trembles slightly. He carries himself with a distant, disdainful pride, a dormant power in his every step and glance. Darkness follows him, creeps along the walls and ceiling. Both Kenobi and Ventress drop onto one knee before him.

“Master,” they greet him in unison, and Anakin hates this.

“Lord Lumis. Ventress. And… Skywalker.” Dooku’s lightsaber immediately flies to his hand, igniting in red. He’s not even looking at Anakin, though; he keeps staring at Kenobi. “What’s this?”

“I’m… really not entirely sure how to explain it,” Kenobi says, already back on his feet and gently positioning himself between Dooku and Anakin. “Only that I do have this under control, Master, and that Skywalker is harmless for now.”

Harml—“ Anakin seethes, but Kenobi very pointedly steps on his foot.

“He will not be a problem,” Kenobi continues. His fingers reach back, out of Dooku’s sight, finding Anakin’s wrist and wrapping around it. Anakin stops being angry for three seconds, confused as to the meaning of the gesture. “I can sense your disapproval, Master, and I won’t beg forgiveness; but I do believe Skywalker’s presence here could be… of some use to us.”

“Let go of me,” Anakin hisses, leaning into Kenobi’s ear, and the man obliges, a quiet exasperated sigh leaving his mouth.

“This isn’t what I expected when I came here,” Dooku says, disappointment clear in his tone. “One would think that when given a task, both of you would put all of your sincere efforts into it.” He points his lightsaber between Kenobi and Ventress, a malicious flash in his eyes. “And yet, this mockery is what I get instead. Care to explain why neither of you have done anything for the past two standard weeks? You both had assignments, yet I have not heard from you.”

“Master,” Ventress says softly, moving to stand next to Kenobi, a step behind him, as if trying to hide from Dooku’s stare, “there were—“

“Quiet, assassin.” Dooku turns to finally grace Anakin with a look full of contempt. “And this. What are you doing here, Skywalker? You don’t seem a prisoner, and you’re certainly not dead, and those, I feel, are the only states of existence I could possibly tolerate you in. So—“

Anakin feels his lips curl into an angry snarl as he sidesteps Kenobi and tries to walk closer to Dooku. “It’s none of your damn business what I’m—“

Kenobi catches him by the collar of his tunic and yanks him back, holding him in place. Anakin opens his mouth as he stares at him, outraged, but Kenobi doesn’t even glance at him.

“Master, please,” he says, his eyes fixed on Dooku, “let us discuss this in private. We do have some good news for you, despite what might seem.”

“You’d better.”

“Follow me, then,” Ventress says, moving towards one of the doors. Dooku finally powers down his lightsaber and walks after her.

Anakin tries to reach around Kenobi to wrap his fingers around the man’s saber hooked on his belt, bur Kenobi catches his wrist again and pulls him close, ignores Anakin’s attempts to shuffle free.

“I am trying to keep you alive, Anakin.” His eyes are desperately honest as they search for the smallest hint of understanding in Anakin’s face. “Let me.”

He lets go of Anakin’s hand, still looking at him intently, then follows Ventress and Dooku out of the room, leaving Anakin alone with his anger.

Anakin paces the sitting room for what feels like hours, doesn’t know what to do with himself. The helplessness makes him want to scream, claw at the walls; he doesn’t have a plan, he doesn’t have a weapon, there’s literally nothing he can do. Dooku’s right there, and Anakin has to suffer his presence; even if he was prepared for that fight, there’s still the matter of Ventress and Kenobi. Anakin has a feeling that as friendly as they’re acting towards him, in the end they wouldn’t take his side.

They’re all Sith, he’s a Jedi; there can be no friendship like this, especially when there’s a war raging across the galaxy. Why is that so difficult to grasp? Why is remembering it taking so much effort?

The door unlocks and he jumps to his feet from the sofa, locks eyes with Kenobi, who gives him a small nod. Dooku comes out next, glances at Anakin with an arrogant little smile; Anakin feels like his blood is going to boil.

“Well then, Skywalker,” Dooku calls, and Anakin never wants to hear his name from the Sith Lord’s mouth again, “seems like you’ll be leaving with all of your limbs intact this time.”

“As will you, Count,” Anakin answers, his tone perfectly insolent. He notices amused pride briefly flicking through Kenobi’s face and feels a sudden rush of fondness for the man.

Dooku scoffs and heads for the exit, leaving Ventress and Kenobi behind. Ventress gently pats Kenobi’s back, then disappears in the doorway leading to the bedrooms. Kenobi looks at Anakin again, his face lighting up.

“Well, that could’ve gone considerably worse,” he says, walking over to Anakin and dropping onto the sofa next to him with a sigh. “Could’ve gone better, too, but we’re all alive, so there’s that.”

“I suppose,” Anakin mutters, looking at him. He’s somewhat surprised that he’s not really… mad at Kenobi. All of his anger is focused on Dooku, and even though Kenobi is Dooku’s apprentice, he’s…

Well, he’s not Dooku.

Anakin moves to sit closer to him, stares at him curiously. “Lord Lumis, huh?”

Kenobi straightens up and gives him a smug smile and an elaborate bow, as much as one can give an elaborate bow while sitting down.

“Indeed. Darth Lumis. I suppose we’ve never been… formally introduced, as it was.”

“Darth Lumis,” Anakin repeats quietly.

Like he needed more reminders that the man is a Sith Lord.

“Not to you, though. I am Lord Lumis only to those who don’t know me, who fear me, to those I don’t much care about. To you, though, I am— well, I suppose that depends on you, doesn’t it.”

“Kenobi,” Anakin says, watching him closely.

Kenobi smiles at him. It seems genuine. “Yes, that does work. For now.”

 


 

Kenobi doesn’t call him for an evening training session, and while Anakin is glad, having significant trouble moving the entire right side of his body after what Kenobi’s done to him during the afternoon training, it’s… unusual. Worrying, in the way that he doesn’t know what Kenobi’s doing right now, and so the man could potentially be preparing something even worse for Anakin to suffer through. Which Anakin would rather not do.

Anakin paces his room. Well, paces. More like slowly limps back and forth, his right leg so damn sore he thinks it’d be a better idea to just cut it off at this point. Kenobi isn’t one to change plans without a warning, and Anakin has no idea how to react to any of it. Did something happen? Surely Kenobi isn’t giving him the evening off.

He can’t stop himself from wondering, so he decides to do something logical for once in his life and simply go and ask.

He finds Kenobi and Ventress lounging on his favourite sofa in the sitting room, the both of them wrapped in blankets. Ventress has got to be covered in at least five; her head is the only part of her body that sticks out of the colourful bundle. Kenobi has just one, casually thrown over his shoulders like a cape. The blanket is a royal shade of crimson, and Kenobi looks… regal; wearing just a simple tunic, with his hair slightly mussed and with a blanket over his shoulders. Regal. Anakin can’t even look away.

Kenobi gives him an easy smile. “Ah, Anakin. Finally. We’re watching a holomovie, care to join us?”

“You’re... what?” Anakin asks, blinking at them as his mind refuses to process the information.

“Watching a holomovie, Skywalker. And I swear, if you say that the Sith don’t watch holomovies, I’m going to Force-throw you out this very window right now, Kenobi’s opinion on the matter be damned.”

Anakin, who was very much going to say that the Sith don’t watch holomovies, closes his mouth and swallows nervously.

“Ventress, darling,” Kenobi shoots her a disapproving glance, “please.”

She snorts, then pulls the blankets tighter around herself. “Of course.”

Kenobi’s eyes flick back to Anakin’s face. “So. Would you like to…?”

“No,” Anakin says reflexively, without thinking, before he even realises that he’s speaking at all.

Kenobi raises an eyebrow and gives him another smile. “Please?”

“Okay,” Anakin says. There’s not much thinking involved in that answer, either.

Kenobi beams at him and pats the space on the sofa between himself and Ventress. “Come on, then. I promise we don’t bite.”

“Speak for yourself, Kenobi,” Ventress says, amusement in her sharp voice.

Kenobi’s golden eyes are flickering. “I promise I don’t bite, then.”

Anakin hesitantly settles between them, as far from Ventress as he can while still trying not to touch Kenobi. The man immediately leans closer to him.

“Unless you’d like that, of course,” he purrs into Anakin’s ear, and Anakin tenses up, because— now that Kenobi’s mentioned it, now that the thought is in his head and he’s tired and sore and quite possibly completely out of his mind, he wouldn’t actually be entirely opposed—

He swallows nervously as all the heat of Mustafar decides to pool low in his stomach at once. Kenobi breathes a puff of warm air onto his neck, then catches his earlobe between his teeth, nips at it gently, and Anakin’s mouth goes completely dry. Kenobi moves to bite his neck, and— oh, Force

“You two are disgusting,” Ventress comments idly, watching them with a thoroughly disinterested expression. Kenobi chuckles into Anakin’s ear just as Anakin’s mind finally catches up with the situation and immediately starts panicking.

Anakin intends to jump to his feet and run back to his room, maybe throw himself into the lava just for good measure, but Kenobi catches his arm and holds him in place with a gentle yet firm grasp.

“Fine, fine, you sweet, restless thing,” he says, his voice amused, “calm down and sit. The holomovie isn’t going to watch itself.”

Anakin lets out a long breath, then flops back onto the sofa with a somewhat defeated sigh. This is fine, he tell himself. He has this completely under control.

“The offer still stands, of course,” Kenobi informs him in a nonchalant whisper.

Yeah, well, it’s not the only thing standing right now. Anakin shifts his legs slightly, trying to find a position that won’t be intensely uncomfortable. He’s nothing if not stubborn; he decides that leaving now would be admitting defeat, and there’s no way he’s going to do that. And anyway, the prospect of spending the evening watching a holomovie with Kenobi and Ventress… isn’t really the worst possible way to spend an evening, as far as he’s concerned.

He settles on the sofa with determination, willing his entire body to calm the hell down.

The holomovie is some kind of musical romance story, something uncomplicated enough that Anakin doesn’t have to be paying much attention to it. He focuses on himself, on breathing, on not thinking, keeps himself concentrated and slowly feels the excitement drain out of him.

“Now, now, Anakin,” comes Kenobi’s soft voice, “are you going to be this stressed throughout the entire thing? You’re projecting the tension so vividly, my own muscles are starting to ache; you won’t be able to move at all tomorrow if you keep this up.” He gently nudges Anakin’s side, then leans into his ear with a grin. “Relax. You’re not in any danger here, I promise.”

His arm hooks around Anakin and pulls him closer, and Anakin allows it, because Kenobi’s right, because he’s starting to feel an uncomfortable strain in his body, and…. just because. He tentatively rests his head on Kenobi’s shoulder.

He slowly lets himself relax, huddled up against Kenobi’s warmth. Kenobi’s arm is still loosely wrapped around him, absently tracing patterns on his shoulder, and… it’s both calming his restless thoughts and fuelling them. Sith Lord, his mind reminds him, but his body is comfortable, and he really can’t be bothered to be upset about this all the damn time. Yes, yes, Sith Lord, danger, Dark Side, whatever. Right now, they’re just people watching a holomovie. Surely there’s no harm in that.

He snuggles even closer to Kenobi, hiding his face in the man’s shoulder, and Kenobi laughs at him, light and quiet as he presses his lips to the top of Anakin’s head.

Anakin almost feels like he could trust Kenobi, as bad an idea as that probably is. He’s certainly sure that he’s in no danger from the man; no point in pretending he’s not aware of this. As for Ventress, well, she’s probably not above accidentally shoving him into the lava when Kenobi isn’t looking. Still, she hasn’t killed him yet, either.

The protagonists of the holomovie sing out their declarations of undying love to each other, and Anakin doesn’t really care much. Somehow, he’s ended up lying across the sofa with his head in Kenobi’s lap and his feet carefully settled over Ventress’ legs. She keeps glaring at him whenever he tries to move a bit and he quickly stops. She’s the only one really paying any attention to the holomovie, too; Anakin’s feeling somewhat hazy, focused on how comfortable he is, and Kenobi…

Kenobi dips his fingers into Anakin’s hair and Anakin closes his eyes, gives in to the sensation. Kenobi plays with his hair, wraps it around his fingers and tugs lightly, then lets go of it, massages circles into his temples. Anakin’s having to actively search for his self-control, because it’s all really very pleasant, and he can’t decide whether he wants to fall asleep, start purring, or press his face into Kenobi’s stomach and see where things go from there.

Kenobi slides his blanket off one of his shoulders and shares it with Anakin, tipping the scales towards sleep. Anakin turns away from the holomovie completely—he wasn’t paying attention, anyway—and blinks up at Kenobi. He decides to reach out towards Kenobi’s face, his fingers gently tracing the man’s collarbone before moving up to his cup his face, and Kenobi kisses his outstretched fingers.

Or maybe he doesn’t. Maybe Anakin’s already dreaming. He’s not quite sure, but he is warm, and he is comfortable, and Kenobi’s fingers are in his hair, and honestly, what else could he ever want from life?

When he wakes, he’s back in his own bed, the crimson blanket over him the only proof that the evening wasn’t a dream. He feels strangely soft even as he listens to Artoo’s exasperated-bordering-on-hysterical story of how Kenobi brought Anakin into the room, carried him sleeping in his arms, and of how poor Artoo had to fight him in an epic battle to actually get him to leave, and almost died in the process—

Anakin listens to it with a fond smile. He’s not entirely sure if he’s smiling at Artoo or at Kenobi.

 


 

“Doing anything?”

Anakin glances up from the floor where he’s seated, busy polishing Artoo’s frame, to look at Kenobi standing on the threshold of his room. Artoo immediately beeps a warning, and Anakin pats him gently. “No, it’s fine, you don’t need to fight him,” he whispers to the droid, then speaks up. “Uh, not really? I’m almost finished with Artoo here.”

Kenobi enters and sits down on his bed. Anakin stares at him, ready to get angry if the need arises, but Kenobi sighs and falls back onto the bed with his eyes closed, spreading his arms to the sides.

“Uh, that’s my bed,” Anakin notes, brow furrowed in offence.

“Well, technically speaking, it’s mine, as is everything else in this facility.”

Anakin wonders whether that includes him, too.

“So if you’re suggesting that I should get out, you better be straightforward about it.”

Anakin doesn’t say anything, because he still has some sense of self-preservation left. Artoo, who evidently doesn’t, beats him to it, beeping out a long and rather creative string of curses. Anakin snorts, really glad that Kenobi seems to have no knowledge of binary.

“You think I don’t know your droid is actively trying to offend me?” Kenobi asks, still staring into the ceiling. “I don’t need to understand it to realise that. I just truly don’t care about its little threats or whatever it is that it’s trying to say.”

Artoo slowly turns towards Kenobi, and Anakin hurriedly shakes his head at him. He really doesn’t need a screaming match between a droid and a Sith Lord, considering that Artoo would probably end up being launched out the window at terminal velocity if Kenobi decided that he’s had enough. All in all, a terrible idea. The droid whirrs, upset, but shuts up.

There’s a faint rustling of sheets as Kenobi shuffles across the bed to face Anakin, then rolls onto his stomach and props himself on his elbows, staring at Anakin intently.

“You seem awfully attached to that droid,” he says, seemingly innocent.

“Artoo is a friend.”

“I thought Jedi weren’t allowed to form attachments.”

“Not to Sith Lords, that’s for sure.”

Kenobi yawns ostensibly. “Yes, yes, of course, whatever you say. Force, but the attachments rule is still one of the cruellest things the Jedi ever came up with.”

“Cruel?” Anakin asks. He gives Artoo’s head one last gentle pat, then sets down the polishing kit with a contented sigh. The droid chirps at him softly, something about needing to reorganise his memory banks, and tunes out; Anakin turns around to rest his back against Artoo’s frame and face Kenobi.

“Is it not? How can you expect a Padawan to never put his Master’s well-being above the well-being of others, to regard everyone in an equally distant way, be they strangers or beings closest to them? How can you spend over ten years raising someone, then tell them they’re not allowed to love you? The Jedi would always have you choose the greater good and pretend that what happens to your loved ones doesn’t concern you, but it’s a lie.”

Kenobi’s eyes are wide open as he leans forward, closer to Anakin. He sounds genuinely upset.

“The thing about attachments is that none of it is up to you. They form anyway, no matter how much you will them not to. The Jedi like to ignore this, spend their time pretending feelings don’t exist.” There’s a soulful honesty in Kenobi’s features that Anakin can’t look away from. “At least the Sith don’t lie to themselves. We aren’t more passionate or more angry than the Jedi, no. I’d argue sometimes we’re even less so. We just face the truth with our heads held high, instead of pretending we’re better than everyone else because we’re clear of all emotions. We’re not, none of us.”

Anakin doesn’t like where this conversation is going, yet can’t force himself to interrupt Kenobi or disagree with him. He hates that he wants to listen to it, hates that Kenobi’s words make sense to him, but can’t help it. He’s just listening, though; it doesn’t have to mean anything. Nobody gets seduced to Dark Side through simple conversations. Surely that’s not how it works.

“We are beings of the Force, yes,” Kenobi continues, “but the Force is energy, is passion, is life; to isolate yourself from emotions is to isolate yourself from a significant part of the Force. I suppose it could work for some. Master Yoda has been alive for such a long time, he might’ve figured out a way to rid himself of all emotion after all. But the rest of us? We can’t afford such luxury.”

“The Jedi know what they’re doing,” Anakin manages. “Emotions and attachments lead one astray.”

“And the Code doesn’t?”

Anakin preferred the Sith as the Jedi told stories about them; unreasonable, dangerous, wily, but at the end of the day clearly wrong, lost in their beliefs. Kenobi is anything but that; silvertongued and goldeneyed, confident, inevitable, like he knows he’s right and it’s just a matter of time before everyone else admits it. His arguments reflect the talks Anakin used to have with Qui-Gon way back, and the later discussions he’d hold with himself when nobody else would listen.

And now there he is, talking to a Sith Lord, all of his willpower spent on trying not to nod at the man’s words. There’s a strange sort of understanding threaded between them; Anakin is keeping his mind locked in defence but Kenobi’s thoughts still somehow find their way into Anakin’s head, his presence seeping into it not because it’s persistently trying to do so, but because it seems to belong there. When he looks up into Kenobi’s eyes, the man gives him a smile.

“I used to wonder, you know, if the Jedi are at all aware of just how cruel their rules can be. I think some of them know; Master Yoda does, but he’s long past the point of caring. He thinks everyone should interact with the Force exactly as he does. Reconsider his ways, he should, hmm.” His impression of Yoda’s voice is ridiculously accurate, and Anakin snorts. Kenobi gives him a cheeky grin, like they’re both young Padawans at the Temple making fun of Yoda’s antics. “Master Windu knows, too, but he’s tired. Most of the Masters know, I think, some Knights, too, but they all resign themselves into compliance because they believe there is no other way than suffering through each day, hating yourself for being human and hating yourself for hating it because you’re not allowed to hate.”

Anakin feels the hairs on his arms stand up, stares at Kenobi, soaks up his words, the validation for everything he’s been thinking about the Jedi order pretty much ever since he learned how to think.

“It doesn’t need to be like this. There’s another way. A way that doesn’t make you lie to everyone including yourself while claiming that you’re not a liar. We call it the Dark Side, yes, but it’s a description that desperately lacks depth. What’s dark about being true to yourself? What’s evil about love and passion? Tell me, if you still think yourself a Jedi. Tell me.”

“The Dark Side consumes, destroys, makes you want power,” Anakin says, because that’s what he’s supposed to say, because that’s what he’s been taught, because… that’s what he believes? Maybe.

Kenobi shakes his head. “It only destroys you if you allow it. And how many Jedi have lost their minds to the Force because they didn’t know how to wield it, tried to tame it like a wild animal? They like to claim mastery and understanding of the Force when they’re barely scratching at the surface. If they spent half as much time studying it as they do lying to themselves and repeating the hypocritical Code they don’t understand… perhaps the Jedi Order would be something to behold after all.”

Anakin looks away, doesn’t want to open his mouth, mostly because he feels like what would come out of it would be an agreement. And—

“Tell me I’m wrong, young one,” Kenobi murmurs, his voice soft in the anticipatory silence filling the room. “Look me in the eye and tell me I’m wrong.”

Anakin’s heart is racing. He can’t— he can’t agree with a Sith Lord, that much he knows. So what’s one lie told to someone who doesn’t matter, who shouldn’t matter?

He catches his lower lip between his teeth, takes a deep breath, turns to look at Kenobi, ready to say something, anything, disagree. Kenobi is still lying propped on his elbows; there’s a small, strangely sad smile playing on his lips as he tilts his head to the side, watching Anakin, waiting.

Anakin opens his mouth, but finds that he can’t speak. Doesn’t want to speak. Because the Force is quiet all of a sudden, as if holding its breath; everything slows down, then stops, and their breaths are the only sound echoing through the whole galaxy. Kenobi is fiery, incandescent; a shimmering beacon of everything Anakin shouldn’t want but does, everything he should oppose but can’t bring himself to do so. Hidden in the shadows and darkness, yet burning with the brightest of all lights, he’s beautiful, he’s golden, and he’s right.

Anakin slowly pushes himself forward, climbs onto his knees. It doesn’t even feel like he’s moving; it’s as if the Force itself carries him. He kneels at the side of his bed, right before Kenobi’s face.

Anakin draws in a shaky breath, slowly raises his gloved hand, hesitant yet wishful. The man smiles as Anakin’s fingers brush his bearded cheek.

Their eyes meet, and Anakin closes the distance.

Kenobi sighs, his eyes drifting shut, his lips pliant as they part before Anakin. There’s something tired about the way he yields under Anakin’s touch, lets Anakin take the lead; Anakin whispers a gentle oh into his mouth, wants nothing more than to kiss the man’s exhaustion away. He closes his eyes too, overwhelmed by the feelings flowing from Kenobi’s mind.

They find a rhythm that’s unhurried, gentle, one that has nothing to do with desperation, one that is full of yearning. Anakin’s left hand slowly trails along the line of Kenobi’s neck, then tangles into his hair. His gloved hand rests against Kenobi’s cheek, holding him lightly.

Kenobi’s eyes flutter as he pulls away, breathing deeply. Anakin watches him as he moves and sits back on the bed; his eyes still have that strange softness in them. Anakin follows him before he even realises what he’s doing. He climbs onto the bed and into Kenobi’s lap and they meet in the middle, bodies pressed to each other, fingers memorising faces with feather-light touches and hands running through hair. The air is heavy with the Force, with them, just the two of them, just as they are. Not a Sith Lord and a Jedi Knight, not enemies but not exactly friends, either; something else, something different, something Anakin doesn’t quite know what to call yet.

Kenobi’s arms wrap around his back and pull him closer. Without breaking the kiss Anakin raises to his knees; he leans down and Kenobi cranes his head up to reach him, until they taste of nothing but each other, of the warmth shared between them, of the Force swirling around them in curls of ethereal smoke, of the crimson glow draped over the curves of their bodies like a soft blanket. Them, just them, with no obligations to anyone but each other, with nothing to do but kiss, move with each other and sigh and whisper, with time brought to a stop and a serene, inevitable kind of passion, like they don’t need to rush anything.

Like they’ve done this a thousand times already, and they’ll do it a thousand times more, across the stars and lifetimes and galaxies. Like the world turns on its axis and everything falls into place, as easy as if it’s always been waiting for it.

There’s heat and darkness crowding at the edges of Anakin’s mind again, and perhaps this is the Force’s way of reminding him that— he can’t have this. That it’s not his to have. He’s not even sure if there is anything to be had; Anakin’s heard of how the Dark Side works, how it sneaks its fingers into one’s mind, how it clouds and confuses until it gains control.

He can’t—

He breaks the kiss but can’t force himself to move away. He sits down in Kenobi’s lap again, their faces lined up, and lets his forehead rest against Kenobi’s as he looks the man in the eye.

Molten gold stares back at him.

There.

A reminder.

“Am I wrong, then?” Kenobi asks in a whisper, his voice smooth, if a bit out of breath. “My sweet apprentice, am I wrong?”

“I’m not your apprentice,” Anakin mutters, somehow manages to hold Kenobi’s gaze.

Kenobi smirks, the vulnerable expression gone from his eyes. “My, aren’t you a stubborn one.”

Anakin looks away as he climbs off the man, the moment broken, chaos and confusion creeping back into his mind like old unwelcome friends. The world swings back into uncertainty, into war, into obligations and regrets. Kenobi slides off the bed in one smooth motion, glances back at Anakin still seated on it. Anakin has to fight himself to stay still, to not reach out to him, to not ask him to stay.

Kenobi whirls closer suddenly, one knee dipping onto the bed, his hands in Anakin’s hair and on Anakin’s neck, his mouth on Anakin’s lips again. This kiss isn’t gentle; it’s deep, searing, and when Anakin closes his eyes and gasps into it he sees red on the edges of his consciousness. His hands move to grab onto Kenobi, pull him closer, regrets and everything else be damned, but before he has a chance, Kenobi is gone, already halfway through the door.

Anakin is somewhat pleased to find out that he still has enough self-control not to chase after him. He falls back onto the bed with a groan.

None of it matters, anyway. This time tomorrow, he’ll be on his way.

 


 

It doesn’t feel as freeing as he’d thought it would when he first agreed to Kenobi’s conditions.

He’d thought he’d spend the two weeks snarling and angry, fighting Kenobi over everything; defiance has always been a part of his nature. He’d thought he’d hate his stay on Mustafar, every hour, every second.

He hadn’t expected to be… sad, over the fact that he has to leave.

Has to leave. Like it’s an unwelcome obligation, like it’s something he doesn’t want to do.

He should consider it freeing. A return to his life, to normalcy, to things he should’ve missed. To his obligations, to the war and the galaxy and the real world, but he can’t find it in himself to care about any of these things.

Perhaps such is the influence of the Dark Side. Perhaps this is what spending his time with Kenobi has done to him. He’s learned new things, yes, and he feels… stronger, somehow, more grounded in the Force, but even though it’s not like he’s changed all that much, Kenobi might’ve done something to him. Perhaps this, too, is how the Dark Side works; makes one doubt his beliefs, have second thoughts, forget the promises he’s made to himself and others.

Others. Now there’s the one responsibility he can’t ignore, the one thought that will have to be enough motivation for him to leave. Ahsoka, Padmé, Aayla; people he cares about. His obligation to return is to his friends and to the memory of Qui-Gon, if not to the whole galaxy and the Jedi Order.

“Come on, Artoo.” He gathers his things and doesn’t look back at the room— his room, not even a last glance over his shoulder as he leaves. “We’re going home.”

The droid beeps loudly and quickly rolls into the corridor, and Anakin’s mouth curls into a small smile. At least one of them is excited and certain in his intention to leave.

When he enters the sitting room, the atmosphere isn’t any different from what he got used to during his stay. Ventress and Kenobi are having breakfast at the table, talking. Anakin clears his throat and they both turn to look at him. Kenobi’s brow furrows in confusion as he meets Anakin’s eyes.

“Anakin?”

“The two weeks are done,” Anakin says, immediately looking away. He can’t handle looking straight at the man all of a sudden.

“You… Oh. Oh. You actually still want to leave.” There’s disbelief in Kenobi’s voice, and something else. Disappointment?

“That was the agreement, Kenobi. I stay here for two weeks and you let me leave with the holocron.”

“Right. That.”

There’s a bad feeling about this whole thing forming in Anakin’s mind all of a sudden. “Yes, that. You promised me.” He notices Ventress shaking her head and looks at Kenobi again as the bad feeling intensifies. “Kenobi?”

“Well, Anakin,” Kenobi says, his face unreadable, “didn’t the Jedi Council warn you not to trust the Sith?”

Kenobi—”

“I don’t have your holocron, young one.”

“You what?”

Artoo whirrs aggressively, rolling closer to the table, but Ventress whistles at him, catching his attention. “Don’t interfere, droid,” she warns him. Artoo beeps at her softly, strangely meek all of a sudden, and actually moves out of Kenobi’s way, almost as if he’s trying to hide. Anakin would probably be surprised if he remembered how to feel anything else than the sharp burn of fury swirling in his veins right now.

“I gave the holocron to Dooku,” Kenobi says. “What did you expect, really? That I would go through all the trouble of stealing it just to return it to you?”

“You—“

“Truthfully, I didn’t think you’d actually want to leave after those two weeks. I’d thought—“

“We had an agreement, Kenobi!” Anakin yells, takes two steps towards the table. He feels cold, for the first time in his entire stay on Mustafar. “You promised—“

“I have my obligations, Anakin,” Kenobi raises his voice, “ones that I cannot ignore, no matter how much I might want to.”

“And what’s that supposed to— no, you know what, I don’t care.”

“Anakin—“

“I can’t believe I let you trick me like this—“

“You think it was all a trick? You think I lied to you?” Kenobi gets up from his chair, starts walking towards Anakin and Anakin steps back, almost trips over his own feet. Kenobi’s eyes are a wildfire, his whole presence flaring up, burning like flames. He’s controlled even in anger, barely, but he is, and Anakin feels his heart beat faster. Not in fear; in awe that for a moment overshadows even his fury. “My allegiance is to the Sith, Anakin, to their principles and their goals, but if you for one second think I wouldn’t betray anyone, anything for you—“

“A bit too dramatic, Kenobi,” Ventress calls from where she’s still seated at the table. Artoo chirps his tentative agreement, but it’s like Kenobi doesn’t even hear anything. He’s still coming for Anakin, and they’re both almost at the other side of the sitting room now, by the window.

“You want to know why I gave Dooku the holocron?”

“I don’t care, Sith Lord,” Anakin seethes as his back finally hits the transparisteel panel.

“For you, Anakin,” Kenobi says in a whisper, closing the distance between them and trapping Anakin against the window. Anakin wants to shove him away and pull him closer, kiss him and kill him all at once. “The Count would’ve killed you if I had nothing to show him, if he found out that instead of doing exactly what he ordered me to do, I’d done everything in my power to get you here. Anakin, I—“

“I don’t want to hear this,” Anakin interrupts and tries to push him away, but Kenobi catches both his wrists and slams him against the window, the Force roaring around them, almost audible. “Let go of me!”

“When Dooku came here, I told you I was trying to save your life, and that is what I did, Anakin. I had to give him the damn holocron because it was the only way. I had to give it away, and I had to tell him I was keeping you here to confuse you, to get information from you, but you know damn well that’s not true. I had to give him something, though, I had to convince him that you were harmless; it was either that or watch him kill you. And whatever you may think of my choice…” Kenobi sighs, then briefly rests his forehead against Anakin’s shoulder, gentle and vulnerable despite the durasteel grip his hands have on Anakin’s wrists, pinning him in place. “I couldn’t have handled the other option. I couldn’t let him— Anakin, I had to do this.”

Anakin’s breaths are short and irregular as he strains against Kenobi’s hold. “You’re a traitor and a liar, Kenobi, just like all the Sith are,” he begins in a low tone, forcing himself to meet Kenobi’s eyes. “The Jedi were right after all. I can’t believe I fell for a trick like that, for your lies, for any of it! You will answer, Sith Lord, you will answer for everything you’ve done, to the galaxy, to me—“

“The only things I’ve done to you, Anakin, were things you wanted,” Kenobi says, his voice sweet yet dripping with poison, as his presence wraps around Anakin and reminds him. The trainings, the bickering, the long conversations. The touches, the gentleness, the kiss, and Anakin’s mind answers, a confession; his dreams, his reaching out towards Kenobi, his doubts. Kenobi grins at that, his face very close to Anakin’s. “Well, well. Look me in the eye and tell me that was all a trick, Anakin.”

Anakin closes his eyes, warmth falling over him in waves, and grits his teeth.

He tries to free himself from Kenobi’s grip again, puts all of his strength into it, tries to reach into the Force, too, but— they’re both there, their grasps on the Force interweaved and clashing, sharp and bright and too much yet not enough, because they’re against each other, not together, and the Force fights them as they’re fighting each other—

The transparisteel panel behind Anakin’s back shatters into a million pieces, and Anakin can’t tell if this is Kenobi’s doing or his own. The lava outside erupts in a fiery explosion of heat and light, reflecting in Kenobi’s golden eyes as Anakin finally looks at him, barely keeping his balance, with fiery death behind his back and a man with fire in his eyes the only thing keeping him from falling into it.

They look at each other, their minds open, twisted together in the Force; neither can contain his emotions as they hold on to each other in a desperate grasp, their confusion and seething anger making the planet boil.

Kenobi pulls Anakin back into the room, then throws him to the floor.

“Don’t you— turn your back on me,” Anakin growls, panting as he moves to lift himself onto his knees.

Kenobi turns on his heel, tails of his tunic whirling around him. “You dare say that to me? After this?” His eyes are red-rimmed, dark; there seems to be no friendly spark in them, and Anakin bites the inside of his cheek. This isn’t— this isn’t what he wants, at all. None of it.

He looks up at the man, defiant and insolent and hurt, raw and as deep as if Kenobi’s cut off a part of him. “You promised, Kenobi. Obi-Wan,” he whispers softly, not quite sure why. The name sounds strange on his lips, foreign, like it doesn’t really belong to the man standing before him.

Something flickers back into Kenobi’s eyes, though. Warmth. Regret. “Forgive me.”

Anakin looks away and climbs to his feet, smooths the material of his tunic and shakes his head. He feels betrayed, plain and simple; even though Kenobi’s words make sense, he doesn’t want to listen to them, he doesn’t want to think about it, he wants nothing to do with Kenobi, his explanations, Mustafar and the Sith.

To think he almost managed to forget that he’s a Jedi.

He motions for Artoo to follow him and heads for the exit leading out to the landing platforms; he hears soft steps following him, but doesn’t turn around.

“Leave me alone, Kenobi.”

“It’s you who’s leaving, young one.”

“Well, you’ve given me an excellent reason, haven’t you,” Anakin snarls over his shoulder.

Kenobi stays quiet after that, walks a few steps behind Anakin until they reach the outside. Unforgiving heat blows into Anakin’s face as soon as he leaves the facility but he doesn’t even slow down, headed straight for his shuttle. Seems like nobody’s touched it for two weeks; it looks just like he’s left it. At least there’s that.

“Anakin,” he hears Kenobi’s voice behind him, and stops.

Artoo beeps at him. “Get on the ship, set navigation for Coruscant. I’ll be there in a second,” Anakin says, then slowly turns around to face Kenobi.

“You might need this.” Kenobi’s holding his lightsaber in an outstretched hand.

Anakin reaches out with his own hand as another explosion breaks the surface of the lava, lighting them up in shades of red; it’s as if they’re reaching out towards each other, and Anakin wonders whether Kenobi is feeling as lost as he is.

Like, despite it all, this isn’t what’s supposed to happen.

Anakin’s lightsaber obediently flies into his hand. Anakin ignites it and swings, its familiar weight and low hum of power giving him at least some much needed strength and certainty.

“Anakin.” Kenobi’s voice sounds exhausted, but Anakin doesn’t care. “This won’t change anything, you know.”

Anakin knows. But it matters little.

They clash against each other, and— it’s different this time, quicker, but as angry and hurt as all of their duels seem to be. And— Force, Anakin hates duelling Kenobi. It doesn’t feel right.

Anakin doesn’t even think as he parries an attack the way Kenobi taught him, and a fond smile flashes across Kenobi’s face.

“Perfectly done, young one,” he praises him lightly, just as he used to during their trainings, then ducks under Anakin’s attack and Force-pushes him back before bringing forward another blow.

Anakin manages to parry that one too and kicks Kenobi in the chest, follows with another wide swing that Kenobi barely dodges and they swirl around each other, back to back for a split second before their weapons collide again.

The exchange blows swiftly, like it’s a dance they both learned, like this is what Kenobi trained Anakin for. Anakin helps himself with the Force when he feels like he can, parrying and attacking, lightsaber blades exploding in sparks whenever they meet. He uses another one of Kenobi’s moves; watching the pride in the man’s face is agonising.

The Force is furious around them, crackling; bursts of lava keep exploding around the platform they’re on, and Anakin catches one of Kenobi’s hands just as Kenobi grips his other one. They hold on to each other, emotions flowing between them even though neither of them wants them to, lightsabers humming in their hands. They hold on to each other, each trying to break the other’s hold, each trying to grasp the other more firmly; Anakin feels like somehow the grip of Kenobi’s hand around his cybernetic wrist is burning, just his other hand holding Kenobi is.

Kenobi crowds the Force around him in a remarkable show of skill and overpowers him, knocking him to the ground.

There’s a shimmering crimson blade at his throat and the somewhat familiar weight of Kenobi’s knee on his chest; a reflection of their very first meeting. Anakin almost wants to laugh.

“Better, much better, but you still have so much to learn, young one,” Kenobi tells him softy. “I wish you’d let me teach you.”

“Get off me.”

Kenobi gets up and moves a few steps away; Anakin watches him, angry.

“The way I see it,” Kenobi says, “this can end two ways. Either you can attack me again and lose, risking losing a limb or several, or you can accept your defeat with honour and get back to the Jedi Temple. The choice is yours.”

Kenobi swings his lightsaber one more time and powers it down, then turns around to walk back into the mining facility.

And… Anakin feels the Force around him, angry but promising. He has a feeling that if he attacked Kenobi again, he… could actually have a fair chance of winning. He imagines himself disarming the man, toppling him to the ground, taking his lightsaber and straddling him, a crimson blade at his throat. Leaning down, to look him in the eye, to mock, to…

Kenobi is almost at the door of the facility.

“Don’t turn your back on your enemy!” Anakin yells after him, frozen in place.

“I never do, young one.”

The door closes behind him, and Anakin’s hand falls to his side. He hooks his lightsaber back on his belt with a long sigh. He wishes he knew how to be genuinely furious at Kenobi, but he can’t. He’s hurt, the ache almost physical, but…

He shakes his head.

Coruscant has waited long enough.

Chapter Text

Once far enough from the Outer Rim, Anakin tentatively turns the communication systems back on and waits for all hell to break loose.

Now that he’s on his way to Coruscant, he’s starting to have second thoughts. He’s been gone for over two standard weeks without a word and has nothing to show for it, Force help him; bearing that in mind, the thought of facing the Council right now is not a cheery one. They’re going to kill him, this time for sure, but he has no other choice but to return. And anyway, he’s beginning to think that at this point being murdered wouldn’t exactly be the worst option.

He’s trying not to dwell on everything that’s happened on Mustafar, but his mind keeps coming back to it, his thoughts focused on Kenobi and refusing to move on to anything else.

To think that he almost trusted the man, that he almost… That’s what he gets for believing a Sith Lord’s promises. He has nobody to blame but himself; yes, the Jedi Code doesn’t explicitly state to not trust Sith Lords, but that’s probably because it’s a sentiment that seems rather obvious to every Jedi in existence. Every single one, except for Anakin Skywalker.

Why does he always have to be the exception? The odd one out? The one who breaks all the rules, the one who knows exactly what he should be doing yet somehow ends up not doing it anyway, just because? Defiance is in his nature, yes, but there’s a fine line between defying ridiculous pointless rules and being an absolute damn moron, and he seems to just have dived off that line and crashed on its wrong side.

His Master used to tell him that he’s the Chosen One, but never really explained just what that meant, apart from the Council’s distrust following him every step of the way ever since he became Qui-Gon’s Padawan, and the vague prophecies of him bringing balance to the Force. Yeah, he’s the ideal man for that job, perfectly balanced between idiocy and naivety. Most of his fellow Jedi honestly wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry if he told them of his recent adventures.

Oh, wait. They’d do neither, because they’re not supposed to show emotions.

Anakin scoffs. When did he get so angry at the Jedi?

It’s because of Kenobi, he knows this. He really doesn’t want to be having those thoughts, but it’s like his mind doesn’t even care, like he can’t control himself. He can still feel the angry buzz of the Force around him, even though it’s been a few hours and most of his anger has dissipated into regret and sorrow.

Anakin Skywalker, the one Jedi who was caught off guard by the treachery of the Sith not once, but twice. This is how history is going to remember him, this is what his legacy is going to be. Anakin Skywalker, the Chosen One; chosen to be an idiot, to be tricked by illusions of kindness of the Dark Side.

He probably deserves it all for being so stupidly trusting.

A light blinking insistently on the console tells him that somebody’s trying to comm him.

“Oh, here we go,” he mutters, his hand hovering just above the link. He turns over his shoulder to glance at Artoo. “How much do you want to bet that this is Mace Windu about to tell me they’re going to shoot the shuttle down if I try to dock at the hangar?” Artoo beeps an answer. “True, no point in betting on something if we both know it’s true.”

A holoprojection of Mace Windu flickers into existence. Unsurprisingly, the Jedi Master does not look amused at all.

“Master Windu,” Anakin begins hurriedly, before Mace has a chance to tell him just how much trouble he’s going to be in. “This is Anakin Skywalker, reporting that—“

“Where in the hell have you been, Skywalker?” Mace all but hisses at him.

Well, that’s that for hoping maybe the Council won’t want to murder him after all.

“I can explain,” Anakin says and bites his tongue, but it’s not like it matters. He’s going to have to lie anyway; might as well begin now.

Mace’s holoprojection crosses his arms on his chest. “I certainly hope so. Get to the Temple as soon as you’re able, the Council has a few questions to ask you.”

Anakin winces. Having given it some thought and considered his options, as any decent Jedi would, he decides that he would really prefer to be shot down, or even exiled. Quick and simple solutions both, and with the added bonus of him not having to see or listen to the Council ever again. “Of course, Master Windu.”

The holoprojection disappears, and Anakin sighs deeply.

He has a few hours left before he reaches Coruscant. He might as well try and get some sleep, leave the shuttle to Artoo and the autopilot. They’re on one of the main trade routes, so nothing surprising should happen, and if he spends his entire nap silently hoping that somehow the shuttle will crash into some unexpected obstacle, well, that’s nobody’s business.

 


 

Approaching the ever illuminated surface of Coruscant feels like coming back to a cage, to be locked up and questioned and doubted. Then again, Coruscant has never felt like home to him. Neither has Tatooine, for that matter, even though he’s spent most of his life between those two planets. The five spires of the Jedi Temple are familiar, as was the sand back on Tatooine, but he has no fondness in his heart for either of those things.

Mace is already waiting for him in the hangar bay, arms crossed, expression stern as he watches Anakin rotate the shuttle into the landing position and set it on the ground.

“Think of me fondly, Artoo,” Anakin mutters to the droid, powering down all the systems. Artoo beeps at him disgruntledly and Anakin rolls his eyes. Yeah, just what he needed on top of an imminent lecture from the Council; a lecture from his own droid. “Thanks a lot, buddy. Why don’t you just go to the Council meeting instead of me, huh?”

Artoo chirps an amused forget it, then rolls into the hangar, passes Mace with a polite whistle, and disappears between the starfighters, headed for… wherever the hell it is that he’s going. As far from the shuttle as he can, probably, before Mace gets to Anakin and starts cutting all of his limbs off, which is definitely what’s going to happen.

Anakin sighs, then steps out of the shuttle.

“Skywalker,” Mace greets him coldly. Nothing in his posture or expression bodes well for Anakin’s fate. “Council Chamber. Right now.” He turns on his heel and storms off, obviously expecting Anakin to follow him.

Anakin nods to himself. He hasn’t been murdered or exiled on the spot. Not bad.

The walk to the High Council Tower passes in complete, intensely uncomfortable silence, during which Anakin concentrates on keeping all his defences focused in place, and Mace probably concentrates on not trying to kill Anakin. An exercise in Jedi patience, for certain; the thought curls Anakin’s lips into the smallest of mischievous smiles.

He probably shouldn’t be considering driving Council members up the wall a personal goal and achievement, but he can’t help it. Or, well, he probably could. He just doesn’t want to.

As he enters the Council Chamber after Mace, he notices that half the seats are empty. Seems that the war has forced even the Masters to move out into the field. Plo Koon is missing, so are Mundi, Gallia, and Koth, and— Yoda. Yoda isn’t there. Yoda isn’t on Coruscant.

A strange feeling of calm washes over Anakin. He stands in the middle of the room, back straight, head held high, hands clasped behind his back, looks Mace right in the eye as holoprojections of some of the absent Masters appear in their respective seats.

He can do this.

“So, Skywalker. Mind telling us where the hell you’ve been?” Mace begins, his tone toeing the line between composure and cold fury. Anakin can’t remember if he’s ever seen the Jedi Master this angry. “You disappeared Force knows where for two weeks without a word, leaving us no way of reaching or locating you. Did you decide to take a damn vacation in the middle of the war? Explain yourself.”

“I was trying to locate and retrieve the holocron, as you asked of me, Masters.”

“Do you have it, then?”

Anakin opens his mouth, then closes it. “Well, no. But I—”

It’s Agen Kolar who speaks first, before Mace even has a chance to open his mouth. “So you’ve been missing for two standard weeks, trying to do something only to end up not doing it? That’s a feeble excuse, Skywalker, even for you.”

Anakin feels a stinging prickle in his bones, a distant echo of fury. “I’ve been all over the damn Outer Rim trying to find it,” he spits, the words coming to him as easy as if they were true, “chasing clues and leads and shadows. I was tracking the holocron, for Force’s sake; I didn’t have the time to report to the Council every few hours. I did everything in my power to—“

“And yet you don’t have it,” Kolar says, slowly articulating every word, cruel in how emotionless he sounds.

Anakin’s hands curl into fists.

Yeah, he doesn’t have it. Because Kenobi lied to him. Because he was tricked into staying on Mustafar for two weeks only to—

He could actually tell the Council where the Sith are, he realises, and almost takes a step back, finally recognising exactly what that means. This is absolutely vital information; something that could potentially help the Jedi capture some of the most dangerous people in the whole galaxy. Anakin could tell the Council about Mustafar, about Kenobi and Ventress, about everything he’s found out about them; Kenobi’s fighting style, his relationship with Dooku, anything.

“So that’s all you have to tell us?” Kolar asks. “Just claim you did everything in your power when in reality you did nothing at all?”

Anakin draws in a deep breath, then exhales slowly. “I was trying—“

“Do, or do not,” Yoda interrupts him, voice crackling as his holoprojection flickers in and out of view. “There is no try.”

“So that’s all you have to tell us,” Mace repeats.

And that’s that for hoping the Council will understand anything, or at least appreciate his efforts. Of course not. Of course they’d treat him like this. Of course they wouldn’t even let him speak. Anakin slowly runs his tongue over his teeth.

“Yes, that’s all,” he says.

They don’t deserve to know.

Kolar leans forward, his stare ice cold. The short hairs on Anakin’s arms stand up; he almost feels like the temperature in the Council Chamber drops.

“We’ve lost two damn planets to the Separatists just yesterday, Skywalker. You think this is a game? You think you can disappear for two weeks without a word and everything’s going to be fine, and we’re going to welcome you back with our arms wide open just because some prophecy claims you might be the Chosen One?”

“I don’t expect special treatment for that, I was just—“

“You have no respect, Skywalker, none, neither for your fellow Jedi nor for the people you are sworn to protect. You’re a disgrace to the Jedi Order, irresponsible and reckless.”

Anakin feels anger swell up in his very core, a sharp, almost painful heat trying to burst from his chest, filling his lungs, sliding between his ribs. His heart is drumming out a rhythm of sizzling fury, echoing in his ears. He has to fight it, he knows he does, and it’s there for but a split second before he forces himself to calm down. Can’t have the Council seeing him like this, out of control; they’re already mad enough at him. He clenches his fists, eyes locked with Agen Kolar; calm on the outside, a raging storm on the inside.

He hates the Council. He hates that they won’t listen, that they refuse to let him talk, that they still treat him like the nine-year-old child he was when Qui-Gon first brought him before them. He hates that they’ve never even considered that he might’ve changed, grown, that he might have opinions and ideas of his own now. No, it’s always Skywalker do this, Skywalker do that, like he’s still a slave, a tool and not a person, like he’s not allowed to think for himself. He should just blindly follow the Jedi Code, apparently; whenever he doesn’t, they say he’s wrong, lost, a disgrace.

Irresponsible they call him. If only they knew that he risked his life and loyalty to try and get their damn holocron back. If only they knew anything of the decisions he’s had to make.

“I’m sorry, Masters,” he tells them, his tone overflowing with the false sweetness of an apology he doesn’t mean. “I recognise the… error of my ways. I was only trying to do exactly what you’ve ordered me to do.”

He watches Mace send Kolar a long, heavy look.

“You should’ve asked for the Council’s approval, Skywalker,” Mace sighs, “and you know it.”

“Of course,” Anakin says, slipping back into angry insolence with ease. “Should I also consult the Council before I shoot down a vulture droid attacking my starfighter? Ignite my lighhtsaber to deflect blaster bolts? Choose what to have for breakfast in the morning?”

“Skywalker—“ Mace’s tone is a warning, but Anakin has had enough, thank you very much, and he can’t be bothered to listen to thinly veiled threats without even knowing what exactly he’s being threatened with any more.

He crosses his hands over his chest, fully aware of how appalled at his behaviour the Council members are already. He can’t find it in himself to care.

“With respect, Master Windu,”Anakin says, the words falling off his tongue serpentine and seething, “time was of the essence. I had a lead, and so I decided to try and track the holocron. This was the very task you assigned me just several hours earlier. I’d assumed—“

“There’s no place for assumptions in the Jedi Order, Skywalker,” Mace hisses.

Anakin feels his lips curl into a bitter smile. “Isn’t there.”

And yet the Council does nothing but that. They assume that no Jedi will ever question their orders, they assume their Code is always right. Hilariously enough, right now they assume Anakin’s telling the truth, at least mostly. Maybe it’s because Yoda is away, and he’s always been the best at sensing lies, but it’s like they have no idea at all, like they’re not even suspecting anything.

“No, there isn’t.” Mace slumps against the back of his chair with a heavy sigh. “We have a Code to uphold, and a duty to the Republic. We’re trying to protect civilians from fighting, from the horrors of war. We can’t afford to be distracted, to make decisions without considering how they’re going to affect everything around us. You can’t just assume it’s completely fine to disappear for two weeks, no matter how good you might think your intentions were.”

Anakin is very tired of considering all of his damn options and always being mindful of everything.

“And how long have you been in the Order, anyway? It’s ridiculous that you need a reminder of the most basic rules governing our existence. The younglings know this.”

Anakin scoffs. “It’s only fair, considering that you treat me no different than them.”

The silence that follows his words tells him he’s gone too far. Mace leans forward in his seat, and his eyes aren’t angry; they’re just tired. “Are you done mouthing off, Skywalker? There’s a war out there. If you don’t want to be treated like a youngling, stop acting like one.”

Anakin feels his mouth curl into a snarl, ready to keep arguing for the respect that he deserves, but an unexpected warm wave of calm washes over him, soothing his mind until he no longer wants to fight every Council member in the chamber. He furrows his brow in confusion; he has no idea where the sudden rush of patience came from. Seems like some part of his mind still has some reason within it after all. He takes a deep breath and finally breaks eye contact with Mace, looks out the window, into the endless skyline of Coruscant.

“Forgive me, Masters, that was unworthy of me,” he hears himself say, voice calm and collected. “I only wanted to report that right before I returned to Coruscant, I managed to find out the holocron has just been passed onto Count Dooku.”

As an excited murmur arises among the Masters and makes its way around the chamber, Anakin instantly realises that there’s something the Council isn’t telling him. Mace exchanges a long look with Yoda’s holoprojection, then slowly turns his attention back to Anakin.

“Are you sure?” he asks.

“Of course I’m sure. What is it?”

Mace shakes his head. “You’re done here, Skywalker. Go to your quarters, get some rest, whatever, as long as you don’t leave the Temple; we might still have some questions for you—”

“But what’s this about Dooku?” Anakin interrupts him, taking half a step forward.

Mace leans forward again. “Let me rephrase that: get out.”

“Whatever it is, I can help.”

“No.”

“You can’t just tell me to leave like that—”

“It’s not up to you to decide what the Council can or cannot do, Skywalker. Now—“

“Perhaps hear of this, Skywalker should,” Yoda’s holoprojection interrupts. Mace turns to send him a very tired look. He’s practically radiating exasperation, but Yoda just gives him a nod.

“Fine,” Mace says with a heavy sigh. “We’ve just been contacted by a gang of Weequay pirates of planet Florrum. They claim that they’ve managed to down Count Dooku’s ship and capture him, and are now holding him hostage. They demand a ransom for him, a ransom that the Republic is more than willing to pay, but first we have to be absolutely sure that Dooku is indeed there, that this isn’t just some elaborate plot to deceive and trick us. A hologram can be faked; we need concrete proof.”

“Go to Florrum, somebody must,” Yoda says. “Confirm the pirates’ claims, hmm.”

Anakin takes a deep breath to try and calm himself. He feels like his head is spinning, barely can focus his eyes on anything. His hands are shaking where he’s clasped them behind his back again. “Let me.”

“Absolutely not,” Mace says, not even looking at him; he seems to be holding a staring contest with Yoda. He also seems to be losing.

“Please. I won’t fail you.” The this time hangs unspoken in the air, a heavy weight upon Anakin’s shoulders.

Yes, he spends more time disagreeing with the Council than actually listening to them. Yes, he thinks the Republic and the Galactic Senate are wrong more often than they’re willing to admit and don’t work the way they should. But he’s still a Jedi. He still has responsibilities he can’t ignore, teachings he can’t forget, no matter how annoyed they make him sometimes.

“Skywalker, we are not sending you anywhere, not after what you’ve just pulled.”

“I found out that it’s Dooku who has the holocron. Maybe he didn’t manage to hide it anywhere before he was captured. He could still have it; I could get it back. Just consider—“

“No,” Mace says, a power in his voice that makes arguing with him seem unreasonable at best. “We’ll send someone else. Perhaps Master Secura and her Padawan; they are somewhere in the area, aren’t they?”

Anakin feels himself smile gently. Aayla and Ahsoka aren't in the Temple, then; shame that he won’t have a chance to talk to them, even just for a bit. Ahsoka does complain a lot about not getting to see more action, though. She’s probably having way more fun away from Coruscant than on it. He can relate.

“Actually,” Anakin hears Mundi’s voice and blinks up at his holoprojection, “Master Secura and her Padawan are securing several treaties with Mandalore; I don’t think it would be reasonable to call them away from that task now. It’s not that close to Florrum, anyway.”

“Well, what about Master Fisto?”

“He’s just left for Rodia; that’s halfway across the galaxy.”

Anakin looks over the Masters’ faces. So many of them aren’t here, and the Temple halls seemed strangely empty, too. Could it be that everyone else is simply too busy to go to Florrum? Could it be that the Force would be so merciful for once?

“Please give me a chance,” Anakin says, taking a step forward. “It’s a simple mission, right? Just check whether Dooku has been captured or not, whether the pirates are telling the truth. Surely you can trust me with something so mundane.”

“The only way, this might be.”

“True,” Mundi says. “Our forces are spread thin, and we don’t have the time to wait.”

The atmosphere in the chamber leaves no doubt as to how much trust the Council has in him, none at all that is. Anakin doesn’t even care, though. As long as he’s allowed to prove himself and show that he can do this, that he can get the holocron back, that he can throw all traces of Kenobi away from his mind, then—

“Fine, Skywalker. Seems like we simply can’t afford to be disappointed in you right now,” Mace says. Just because he can’t afford to be disappointed doesn’t seem to stop him from being exactly that, though. “How soon can you set off?”

Anakin shakes his head. “I slept on my way here; I’m good. I can fly out as soon as you give the word.”

Mace sighs, then nods. “Go, then.”

Anakin gives the Council a shallow bow and turns to leave.

“Don’t disappoint us again” he hears Kolar’s voice, and he’s so tired of this, of his efforts never being recognised. He tried to get the holocron back. Couldn’t the Council at least appreciate that?

He almost turns on his heel to shoot something back, but decides against it; it’s just not worth it, especially since he’s just been given the mission he wanted. As he steps out if the Council Chamber, a hand catches his elbow, stopping him. He looks over his shoulder, surprised, and finds himself face to face with Mace Windu.

“Yes?” he asks, surprised. He thought that Mace would have enough of him now, that he’d rather have a talk with Yoda on why the Council was acting so strangely, couldn’t agree on anything. Maybe it’s just the war taking its toll on them.

Mace takes a deep breath. “You’ve never given us any reasons to doubt your loyalty to the Jedi Order before, Skywalker.” His eyes are sharp but tired, so tired. Anakin’s never seen Mace like this before. “Don’t start giving us any now.”

“I’m sorry, Master Windu.”

Mace shakes his head. “Just go already.”

 


 

Anakin is beginning to think that if he never sees the Outer Rim again it will be too soon. The long shuttle journeys are really starting to get to him. Florrum is almost as far away from Coruscant as Mustafar; it’s ridiculous the Council couldn’t find a single Jedi in the area who could be sent on this mission.

Then again, Anakin isn’t complaining. Well, he is, but he doesn’t really mean it.

It doesn’t even matter that the Council is disappointed, that they’ve lost their trust in him; it’s not like they ever had a lot of trust for him to begin with. Do they not realise that he knows? That he remembers the very first time Qui-Gon brought him before them, the way they treated him back then? He remembers they refused to believe in him from the very beginning. He’s used to the Council’s distrust; it’s a part of his life just like all the trainings and meditation.

Anakin remembers Yoda’s voice, not the exact words but his tone, telling Qui-Gon that taking Anakin as an apprentice would be against the rules. He remembers Yoda’s eyes, cold and calculating as they stared at him, back when he didn’t know how to hide his emotions. He remembers it all.

Even Kenobi, though his old memories of the man are hazy at best.

Still, he remembers what Kenobi told him on Mustafar, and tries to imagine it. Himself, a child, a slave found among the sands of Tatooine, standing in the middle of the Council Chamber with the reassuring touch of Qui-Gon’s hands on his shoulders. The Council, angry, denying Qui-Gon’s request to train him. And… Kenobi must’ve been there, too. Standing two steps back, already halfway in the shadows, eyes flickering in the darkness. They wouldn’t have been gold yet. Green, perhaps? Or blue? Blue would suit him, Anakin thinks. He would’ve been Anakin’s age, maybe a few years older. Anakin tries to imagine him as he must’ve been back then, a young man with a long Padawan braid still brushing his ear, blue-gray eyes looking at his Master with confusion turned jealousy turned betrayal.

Anakin catches himself almost feeling sorry for the man. Because that’s just what he does in his spare time, apparently; feels sorry for Sith Lords. Next thing he knows he’ll be feeling sorry for Dooku.

Or not.

He sincerely hopes the Count did somehow get captured by a bunch of pirates, as unlikely as that sounds. One, it would give Anakin a chance to redeem himself and finally retrieve the holocron, and two, it would be a hilarious show of carelessness and incompetence on Dooku’s part, and Anakin is hardly above feeling spiteful satisfaction because of that.

The autopilot beeps, informing him that he’s almost in the Sertar sector now. Anakin sighs and walks back into the cockpit, rubbing the back of his hand over his tired eyes. Naps in shuttles are hardly the best way to rest.

He slides into the pilot seat, patting Artoo’s head on the way.

“At least this one shouldn’t take long, buddy. And yes, I know I said the same last time,” he says, raising his voice over the droid’s exasperated beeping, “but… well. I didn’t exactly know what to expect on Mustafar. This here will be a simple mission; it’s just pirates. They can’t do anything to a Jedi.”

Artoo whirrs something mildly offensive. Anakin just shakes his head fondly and begins the preparation to drop out of hyperspace and begin his approach.

As stars stop rushing past the nose of the shuttle, Anakin remembers Mustafar yet again. The faraway points of light remind him of how it felt to hold light in his hand. Pure energy, pure power contained at his fingertips, sending shivers down his spine. Reflecting in Kenobi’s proud eyes, illuminating his wild smile. Force, it was a beautiful sight to behold. And exactly not what he should be thinking about, ever.

“What is wrong with you, Skywalker,” he mutters to himself, quiet enough that he hopes Artoo doesn’t hear.

There’s another ship approaching the planet’s surface ahead of him, definitely not Republic. Could probably be one of the pirates’ ships. It certainly seems like it knows where it’s headed, and Anakin could use some help in locating the pirates’ headquarters; it’s not like they left directions for him. He decides to follow the unfamiliar ship at a safe distance.

Florrum is a desert planet, with a dry climate and a rocky surface; at first glance it seems exactly like the kind of place he’d rather actively avoid. It somewhat resembles Tatooine, and that’s never a positive comparison. Anakin stares out the shuttle’s viewport with a wry expression. He’s tired, annoyed, and now will have to hold careful negotiations with pirates on a planet that reminds him of one of his least favourite places in the whole galaxy a little too much.

Great.

The other ship leads him to a complex of weathered buildings the bleak, yellowish colour of the desert they’re standing in. It lands in the wide empty space in front of them, and Anakin sets his shuttle on the ground right next to it. He shuts the engines down and nods at Artoo.

 “Stay here. I shouldn’t be long; just don’t contact the Council without me.”

The droid scoffs and beeps back what he thinks about it, but Anakin doesn’t react, already on his way out of the shuttle. It’s going to be fine. There’s nothing bad that could possibly happen to him here, in the literal middle of nowhere. There’s nothing but pirates and the desert out here, and…

There’s the quietest touch of something in the Force, something warm, something familiar, like a whisper of wind tangling into his hair. Anakin closes his eyes and breathes it in. It feels like—

No.

Anakin’s eyes shoot open.

Kenobi is standing in the entryway of the ship that landed just before Anakin’s shuttle. He’s nonchalantly resting one arm against the ship hull, a bright, almost blindingly hopeful smile playing at his lips.

“Hello, dear one,” he calls, pushing away from the ship and taking a few steps towards Anakin. “What an incredible coincidence, seeing you here.”

Oh kriffing hell.

 

Chapter Text

It’s not that Anakin wants to run.

He’s just… considering his options. Walking back into his shuttle and leaving Florrum never to be seen again is, potentially, one of those options. Perhaps not the best one, but for the moment he really doesn’t care much. He could just… get out of there, hide somewhere, wait this absolute hell out. Not on Tatooine, though; as good for an exile as that planet would undoubtedly be, it seems way too close to everything all of a sudden. The Wild Space might be a safer bet; maybe he’d finally stop bumping into Kenobi no matter where he goes.

It’s like the damn Sith Lord follows him everywhere. Well, technically it seems like it’s Anakin who’s following him, but that’s completely beside the point. The point is that they were apart for, what, a day, two? Anakin didn’t even have time to stop thinking about the man before the Force threw Kenobi right back at him, all warm smiles and open arms as if they hadn’t parted in anger.

Kenobi is still moving towards him, which is just thoroughly and genuinely unasked for. Biting the inside of his cheek in frustration, Anakin jumps out of the shuttle before the man can corner him into it. He fumbles for his lightsaber and ignites it, pointing it straight at the Sith Lord’s face.

“Not another step,” he warns, straightening his back, trying to make himself seem bigger.

“Nice to see you, too, Anakin.” Kenobi seems completely unfazed, the blue blade mere inches from his nose as he stares Anakin down, his expression still bright and nonchalant. “There you go, breaking the Jedi rules again! A Jedi only ignites his lightsaber if he’s ready to take a life. So what do you think you’re doing?”

“Why are you here?” Anakin demands. He’s pretty sure his hands are shaking a bit.

“Same reason you are, I’d suspect. I happened to find out that a certain group of pirates claims they’ve managed to capture someone I should care about.”

The pirates also claimed that they’ve contacted only the Jedi Council and nobody else, at least that’s what Anakin’s been told. There’s no way Kenobi should know about this, let alone be here. Anakin narrows his eyes in suspicion.

“How could you possibly find out about that, huh?”

Kenobi raises an eyebrow. “I have my ways, Anakin. Now put your weapon down.”

“I’m not putting anything down, Kenobi, you’re not talking me out of anything this time. Either you leave this place right now, or we’re going to have a duel, and I’m going to win,” Anakin says, reckless anger painting his words in sharp tones.

“I’m afraid not. Unless you miss being pinned against a wall with a lightsaber at your throat so much, in which case, well, I do believe we could arrange that.”

Kenobi ignites his weapon in the blink of an eye, knocks Anakin’s to the side before Anakin’s confused mind even realises what’s happening, and closes the distance between them. One of his hands locks itself around Anakin’s cybernetic wrist, holding his lightsaber away from the both of them as the other one brings the crimson blade close to Anakin’s neck.

Anakin nearly stops breathing, instantly forgetting whatever he was going to say. The only thought in his mind is that he is tired, and also that this would be a really good time for the ground to open up and swallow him. He curiously twists his gloved hand in Kenobi’s grasp, but can’t wrestle it free.

Kenobi tilts his head to the side, watching him. “Do we really, really need to go through all this again? You can’t beat me in a duel yet, Anakin, and you know this.”

Anakin scoffs and tries to move, to put at least a few more inches between his throat and the crackling lightsaber blade. He’s stubbornly refusing to look Kenobi in the eye.

“Anakin.”

Kenobi’s tone is soft, pleading. It reminds Anakin of everything that happened on Mustafar, as clear and warm in his mind as if he’s never left, as if he was still there, in Kenobi’s affectionate graces. Even the hold the man has on him now seems careful, almost gentle.

“Anakin, I don’t want to injure you, but I will if you force me to.”

“Oh, you can try, that’s for sure,” Anakin hisses, attempting to struggle free, but Kenobi just increases the pressure on his cybernetic hand and moves even closer, and— Anakin would really rather he didn’t do that. The feeling of Kenobi’s body pressed against his is… distracting. Agonisingly so.

His gaze drops to Kenobi’s lips; he barely manages to look away.

“Anakin, listen to me. If we try to either fight here or storm the place as enemies, the situation will turn against us rather quickly. Us against each other against a bunch of pirates? Be reasonable.”

“I’m plenty reasonable,” Anakin snaps, “and teaming up with a Sith Lord seems… irrational, at best.”

Kenobi arches an eyebrow at him. “Like you care about that.”

Anakin wants to argue, wants to fight, but Kenobi’s lightsaber is still at his damn throat, and as much as he hates all this, there’s not much he can do. Seems to be the case quite often whenever Kenobi is involved. Anakin clenches his teeth and exhales slowly, irritably tapping his foot.

“We both have the same goal here, Anakin, as much as you might want to claim otherwise. I’ve lost all contact with the Count and I cannot seem to sense him at all. I need to get inside to check whether the pirates were telling the truth, whether they’re indeed holding him captive.”

“And then you betray me again and break him out? Nice try.”

“Betray you? Again? You can’t be serious.”

Anakin, who is completely serious, doesn’t even grace that with a response; he just keeps staring, mouth pulled into a thin line.

“I told you I had no choice. I told you I did this for you.” Kenobi’s voice drops to a whisper, almost inaudible over the low hum of his lightsaber blade still held between them. “Anakin, I’m sorry.”

He sounds genuine, the softest notes of sorrow weaved into his words, and Anakin can’t make himself look the man in the eye. He has a feeling he doesn’t want to see whatever might be reflected there. “Good. You should be sorry,” he mutters quietly, and Kenobi sighs.

“Anakin, please. Think about this. About right now, if you don’t want to think about… everything else. If we try to approach this as enemies, it will take longer, and we will have a significantly smaller chance of surviving.”

Surviving?” Anakin scoffs. “Those are pirates, Kenobi. What can pirates do to us?”

“If they captured the Count, we can’t afford to underestimate them.”

Anakin doesn’t trust Kenobi as far as he can throw the man, but he does seem to have a point, as much as Anakin hates the very thought of him being right about anything. There’s something suspicious about this whole situation, something overshadowing even the fact that Kenobi’s— here, still pressed close against Anakin like he doesn’t have anything better to do. Anakin swallows loudly and clears his throat.

“Let’s say I… agree to work with you. Theoretically. Just for a little while.” He can’t believe he’s saying this, any of it. The Council would kill him if they ever found out. “Do you have a plan of any sort, or do you just intend to barge in and murder everyone?”

Kenobi feigns offence. “Murder everyone? Who do you take me for?”

“A damn Sith Lord, that’s who. Do you have a plan or not?”

“I… suppose?” Kenobi takes a deep breath. “I had a different one before you came, but that won’t work now. So I propose this: we just walk into the pirates’ den like we were invited, which, we kind of were—“

I was invited,” Anakin points out innocently, lifting his chin and raising his eyebrows. “I have a strange feeling that you weren’t.”

“Nonsense.” Kenobi grins at him, warmth reaching all the way up to his eyes. It takes effort not to smile back at him. “We’ve both been invited, as representatives of the Jedi Order—“

Anakin inhales sharply. “No.”

“Petulance is an ugly trait, Anakin.”

“I’m not allowing you to impersonate a Jedi. You can’t do that, that’s—“

Kenobi rolls his eyes and moves his lightsaber a bit closer to Anakin’s neck. Anakin glances down at it, then back at Kenobi, and stops talking.

“As I was saying,” Kenobi continues with a triumphant smirk, “we’ll introduce ourselves as Jedi, and the pirates will… hopefully prove to us that they’ve captured the Count. Nobody gets hurt, we part as friends, if everything goes according to the plan… Well, I might even let you signal your dear Council.”

“How very kind of you.”

Kenobi has the audacity to wink at him. “Do we have an agreement, then?”

Anakin looks away, every muscle in his body tense and hurting. His mind is all over the place, confused thoughts filling his head, passing too quick to focus on a single one of them. His mind is nothing but chaos and noise, and—

“Anakin,” Kenobi says in a singsong tone; Anakin can hear him smirking, and he hates this.

But Kenobi’s voice is the only thing louder than his own mind.

Anakin takes a deep breath and forces himself to look into Kenobi’s eyes, into their golden warmth and fond, amused familiarity. He swallows and quickly moves his gaze to some faraway point over Kenobi’s shoulder, can’t handle the emotions spilling from the man.

“Fine,” he says, trying his best to ignore the unmistakable spark of excitement he can feel all through his body. He’s not excited to work with a lying Sith Lord. He’s not.

Kenobi powers down his lightsaber and gently pats Anakin’s shoulder. “Well then. This should be fun.”

Kenobi takes a step back and turns to curiously peek out from behind the shuttle. They’ve been standing between their ships all this time; their argument must’ve been hidden from potential pirate eyes rather well, all things considered.

Anakin hooks his own lightsaber back on his belt, distractedly rubs at his cybernetic wrist even though it doesn’t actually hurt. He keeps his eyes angrily fixed on the back of Kenobi’s head.

Kenobi glances back at him and motions for him to move closer. Which Anakin does, of course. Reluctantly so. Kenobi immediately steps into his personal space again, and Anakin doesn’t even have the energy to keep fighting him about it any more.

He doesn’t have the energy to think about the fact that he doesn’t really mind Kenobi’s closeness, either.

“Nobody seems to be expecting us, so I suppose we’ll just have to knock politely.”

“Seems… reasonable,” Anakin says, trying to shove the image of him and Kenobi breaking down the door and attacking the pirate headquarters together out of his head. Just the two of them, fighting back to back, Kenobi flashing his wild grin at him as they Force-throw their opponents against the walls. He clears his throat and focuses on something else, anything else. Breathing. Breathing’s a good thing to focus on.

He could really use a drink right about now.

Kenobi smiles at him, briefly touching his shoulder, then sliding his hand down along Anakin’s arm. “Let’s go, then.”

It’s just temporary, Anakin tells himself. It’s just for this one mission. Not even the entire mission, just this, just to do what the Council ordered him, and—

The Force hisses a belated warning into his ear just as he hears Kenobi mutter a string of curses under his breath. Anakin’s distracted, not paying attention; it’s the only warning he gets before they both get surrounded by pirates, all of them armed.

They’re mostly Weequayans, with skin wrinkled from the desert sun and deep set eyes throwing suspicious glances between what they probably assume is two Jedi. They’ve got scavenging and piracy all but written on their faces; both the jewellery adorning their necks and wrists and the blasters in their hands are no doubt stolen. Most of them seem more than ready to start shooting, but the few who are smirking look triumphant; they think they’ve already managed to surprise their guests and win.

Anakin would love to prove them wrong.

He’s already in a battle stance with his ignited lightsaber in hand, counting the opponents in his head. There’s a lot of them, the blaster bolts would be difficult to avoid, but… His eyes dart to the side; Kenobi’s right there, Anakin can sense his warmth. If Kenobi helps him, they should manage to defend themselves—

One of the pirates closest to them steps forward and extends an open palm towards them. “Your weapons, Jedi.”

Anakin scoffs. “Forget it.”

Kenobi gently nudges his side, earning a confused sideways look from him, then raises an eyebrow at the pirates. “Gentlemen, please. Is this what passes for a warm welcome in these parts?”

The pirate narrows his eyes. “You can have a warm welcome when you’re not armed. For now, though… one wrong move and we’ll shoot. Weapons. Now.”

Anakin tightens his grip on his lightsaber in response, careful, measured breaths the only thing keeping him calm. “We’re not walking into a trap defenceless.”

He hears Kenobi chuckle and glances at the man, racing thoughts muddling his mind. Kenobi would have his back, right? Surely he wouldn’t just… Kenobi slowly raises a hand and sets it on the back of Anakin’s neck, then leans close to him to whisper into his ear.

“Doesn’t seem like we have much choice here, darling. What are you going to do, slaughter them all?” His tone is light, but there’s something dangerous flitting on the edges of his words, and when Anakin glances into Kenobi’s eyes, there’s a strange, feral glint in them that sends a shiver down his spine. “’Cause I’m up for it if you are.”

Anakin clenches his jaw, then slowly lowers his lightsaber and powers it down. Kenobi holds out a hand; Anakin gives him the weapon without thinking.

“Smart decision,” the pirate says as Kenobi hands over both his and Anakin’s sabers. “Now follow me.”

“Smart, yes,” Kenobi murmurs into Anakin’s ear as they trail after the man. “Reasonable. I’m sure the Council would be proud of you. If they knew how to appreciate it, that is. Appreciate anything. Appreciate you.”

“I don’t need anything from them,” Anakin snaps, barely managing to keep his voice quiet, “least of all that.”

As soon as the words leave his mouth he realises he shouldn’t have said them, but it’s too late now. He gives himself a mental kick. Great. Just great. Another thing that’s going to end up being his legacy. Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight and the Chosen One who accidentally befriends Sith Lords and doesn’t need anything from the Jedi Council, apparently. Apart from a leash to be kept on and a gag to stop his irresponsible lying mouth from getting him in trouble.

Kenobi just chuckles, his breath ghosting Anakin’s neck. “My, Anakin, that’s good to know. Anything you might need from me, then? Remember, good things come to those who ask.”

Anakin feels a wave of warmth wash over him, embarrassment and excitement and something else, something he’s not quite interested in naming or acknowledging at all. “I need you to stop talking, Kenobi.”

It’s almost dusk, a breath of cold air sweeping around them as they follow the pirate into the biggest of the buildings. It almost feels like walking into a fishy club of sorts; there’s music and noise, silhouettes of countless pirates looming in the darkness, only a faint, warm light illuminating them. Some of them seem to be just lying on the tables and on the floor under them, no doubt completely drunk. Not exactly what Anakin would expect from people claiming they managed to capture one of the most powerful Sith Lords in the galaxy.

Both the place and everyone in it feels more focused on celebration and drinking than on murder.

Which, Anakin supposes, really isn’t a bad thing at all.

There’s a Weequayan man sitting at the biggest table right opposite the entrance, with ridiculous goggles on his face and a red-coloured monkey-like animal on his shoulder. As they approach him, he uncrosses his legs from where he’s been keeping them on top of the table and sets his feet back on the floor, leaning towards his new guests with a wide, crooked grin of a professional con man.

“Gentlemen! Welcome to Florrum!” he calls out with a wide, theatrical sweep of his hand. The creature sitting on his shoulder gives them a distrustful look. “Can I offer you something to drink?”

He catches the mug standing in front of him and takes a swig from it, then slides another mug towards them, spilling half of its contents on the way. Anakin raises a sceptical eyebrow at it. Disgusting.

“Thank you, I think we’ll pass,” Kenobi begins with a gentle bow of his head and a wild, lopsided smile that sends a spark of… something… through Anakin’s veins when it’s not directed at him. It’s just a something. Surely not jealousy. “I am Obi-Wan Kenobi, and this is Anakin Skywalker—”

“Hondo Ohnaka, at your service!”

“We’ve been sent here on behalf of the Jedi Council and the Republic to—“

“Yes yes yes, the Jedi don’t trust me,” Hondo interrupts again, shaking his head as if the very thought offends him. “Me, an honest pirate!”

“You know, I don’t think those two words belong together,” Anakin comments. Kenobi sends him an amused sideways glance, and Anakin feels the corner of his mouth twitch.

Hondo slams his mug down on the table, feigning offense; his monkey yelps in surprise and runs off. “Calling me dishonest already? I’m wounded.”

“Are you not a pirate—“

“Anyway,” Kenobi cuts in, and Anakin feels a gentle but rather pointed nudge to the side. Kenobi’s keeping his arms crossed on his chest, so he must be… nudging him with the Force; what an outrageous misuse. Anakin barely stops himself from laughing. “You’ve notified the Republic that you’ve managed to capture Count Dooku.”

Hondo leans back with a triumphant grin. “That I did! And let me tell you, it was all rather impressive. All the— the fighting, blasters and cannons and everything. But in the end, even a Sith Lord is no match for my warriors!”

He proudly points to a group of pirates passed out drunk, half-sitting, half-lying on top of the nearest table. His monkey is sat between their heads, tangling all of the pirates’ braids together and laughing to itself.

Kenobi turns to look at the rather pathetic display, slowly raises an eyebrow, then faces Hondo again. “Yes, I don’t… doubt that.” He doesn’t sound impressed, and Anakin grins. “You also claimed that you could provide proof of it. Proof, as in the Count himself, alive and in custody.”

“I… might’ve said that too, yes.”

“We’d like to see him, just to… confirm your claims, and then we’ll be on our way.”

“On your—“ Hondo gasps. “Gentlemen, we’re having a banquet here! Surely you wouldn’t want to miss that!”

Anakin is already opening his mouth to say that there aren’t many things he’d like to miss more than a suspicious pirate banquet held on a backwater desert planet, but Kenobi nudges him in the side again and speaks up.

“Why don’t you lead us to the Count, then? We will, ah, signal the Jedi Council to send the ransom, and… consider staying for this banquet of yours.”

“But, see, the banquet’s starting already, and it’s really terribly late; I don’t think the great Count Dooku should be bothered at such a late hour.”

“Oh, for—“ Anakin rolls his eyes. He was just supposed to come to Florrum, confirm that Dooku’s there, and leave. Everything else is just trying his already thin patience. “He’s your prisoner, isn’t he? What do you care?”

“He’s my guest,” Hondo informs him, pretending to be insulted again. “Forcibly so, I admit, but it’s not like it matters all that much. Gentlemen, I propose this: I let you meet up with the Count first thing in the morning, and then you can be on your merry way out of here. But for now,” he spreads his hands in a welcoming gesture and grins, “have a drink!”

Anakin slams both his hands on the table, exasperation, confusion, and anger finally hitting him all at once. “We don’t have the time for such—“

Kenobi immediately grabs him by the tunic and pulls him back. “Do forgive him, Hondo, he’s been terribly nervous of late—”

Kenobi—“

“We’d love to stay,” Kenobi just talks over Anakin, not even sparing him a look. “As long as you do show us that the Count is here. You wouldn’t be lying to two Jedi Knights, would you? Surely you know we can sense it.”

“I have no interest in deceiving you, I’m just being generous with my hospitality.”

“We appreciate that,” Kenobi says, his hand still fisted in the material of Anakin’s tunic.

Anakin idly wonders exactly which one of his numerous bad decisions was the worst one, the one that ultimately caused this mess to end up being his life.

But there is a breath of cool air around his mind all of a sudden, almost as if something was gently calming him, and— was he not just wishing for a drink? For a pause? For an occasion to rest while still being able to tell the Council that he’s doing what they ordered him to? He takes a step back and glances at Kenobi, at beaming, warm Kenobi who’s not even threatening anyone, but instead cheerfully agrees to stay and drink with a bunch of pirates for no apparent reason.

A very small part of Anakin’s mind is telling him that this is a potentially disastrous idea, but he pretends that he can’t hear its warning and slowly nods.

Just a moment of calm, just an occasion to relax for a little while. Surely nothing bad will happen. It’s not like he’s alone among enemies. Not… not entirely, anyway.

Hondo congratulates them on their excellent life decisions, then leads them to two empty seats at a table nearby. They hesitantly sit down; one of the other pirates brings them mugs of alcohol.

“It’s a tradition,” Hondo tells them, nudging the drinks towards them. “In the name of friendship! Enjoy.” He leaves them, walking over to one of the tables at the other end of the hall.

Anakin glances into his mug, regards the bright green concoction with little enthusiasm. “So how much do you want to bet that it’s poisoned or drugged or both?”

Kenobi chuckles. “You really don’t trust anyone, do you.”

“I just don’t trust people unworthy of my trust,” Anakin shoots back, his eyes darting to boldly meet Kenobi’s.

“Oh, Anakin—“

“You tricked me, lied to me, you think I’m just going to forget it?”

Kenobi sighs and shakes his head. For the briefest of moments he looks very tired. Maybe it’s just the light reflecting on his face. “Look into my mind, then,” he says earnestly. “Reach out and tell me whether I’m worthy of your trust.”

“No.”

“Because you’re scared to admit that I’m right.”

“I’m—“ Anakin stops, and glances into his mug again. Drinking whatever’s in it, whether it’s poisoned or not, is starting to seem like a good option. Much better than trying to argue with Kenobi about… anything, really.

Kenobi leans closer to him. “Swap your mug with the one the pirate next to you has. Just to be safe.”

Anakin nods. They both do that, the Force dancing across their fingertips, and raise their new mugs into the air in a toast. In the darkness of the grand hall Kenobi’s eyes almost seem to glow; he’s staring at Anakin with a small smile playing at his lips, and Anakin’s angry expression softens.

He could almost believe Kenobi. He… he wants to believe him. The man seems so genuine in all of his claims that he means Anakin no harm, that he… Anakin shakes his head. Force help him. Again and again he’s having the same confused, strangely hopeful thoughts, like his mind is incapable of grasping that Kenobi is supposed to be his enemy. He’s a soft-spoken, silver-tongued Sith Lord who’s somehow more familiar than anyone Anakin’s ever known, but a Sith Lord nonetheless.

Kenobi keeps softly smiling at him, and Anakin bites the inside of his cheek but knows there’s already warmth in his own eyes. They both take their first sips; it’s damn strong, Anakin will have to be careful. At least that’s what he tells himself.

Here he is, Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker, the Chosen One, truly the pride and joy of the Jedi Order, sincerely considering getting completely drunk with a Sith Lord in a den of hostile pirates, as one does.

He’d probably care about it if he was less tired.

 


 

“You know, Anakin,” Kenobi tells him halfway through their third drink, “we should do this more often. Go out drinking together, that is.”

Anakin snorts. “You’re a Sith Lord, Kenobi. You can’t just… go out for drinks with people.”

“Oh? And who’s going to stop me? Are you going to stop me?”

There’s a challenge in his expression, one that Anakin almost wants to take up. He thought it would be more… awkward, getting drunk with a Sith Lord of his own free will, but there’s nothing awkward about it. They’ve spent the time talking, Kenobi casually telling him of the Sith (which, Anakin is relatively sure, he shouldn’t be doing) and apologising. Nobody’s even paying any attention to them; there’s just the occasional interruptions from Hondo or his monkey pet, but Anakin doesn’t mind any of it. He’s warm, hopes that the darkness hides at least some of the emotions no doubt showing on his face, and—

And he has Kenobi at his side. Not an enemy, not a Sith Lord, just Kenobi, smiling and already more than a little tipsy by the looks of it, not that Anakin’s any more sober. It feels fine; being on a faraway planet in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by pirates, away from his responsibilities and the war, talking to Kenobi, drinking, slowly leaning into his space.

Anakin lightly knocks his mug against Kenobi’s, then takes another sip. His eyelids feel heavy, everything is warm and slowing down; it’s a good feeling. The alcohol, Kenobi’s closeness—

“Run away with me,” Kenobi says.

Anakin nearly chokes on his drink. “What?”

Kenobi’s eyes are fixed on his face, a sincere depth in them. “Run away with me, Anakin. Away from this war, away from the Jedi and the Sith, from their petty conflicts that won’t lead to anything in the end.”

He moves closer to Anakin, slides his hand up Anakin’s arm to rest it at the side of his neck. Anakin’s breath catches at the touch, his mind confused and yet wanting more; he tilts his head ever so slightly into Kenobi’s palm.

“We could hide deep in the Wild Space, just the two of us, just you and me, Anakin, and nobody to command or control us.”

They’re sitting very close now, side by side, Kenobi’s warm breath in his ear, one of his hands still on Anakin’s neck and the other sneaking around his side. He’s so warm, so genuine, so real; so much kinder than the Jedi Council, so much more understanding. He’s brimming with the Force, powerful and captivating and tempting. And maybe Anakin’s drunk… no, he’s definitely drunk, very drunk, what kind of hell alcohol is this, but when Kenobi leans in and gently pecks the skin just below his ear, Anakin hums contentedly; there’s nothing in his mind but Kenobi again.

Kenobi, with his honeyed words and honey-coloured eyes, alluring and intense and… he’s not lying, Anakin realises, the thought warm, freeing. There’s no way anyone could lie so beautifully, set a trap so masterful. Kenobi does care, despite it all; he’s telling the truth now, and he’s been telling at least a part of the truth the whole time. Anakin raises a hand to gently cup his cheek.

“I’d train you, teach you,” Kenobi breathes into his ear, beard scratching Anakin’s neck lightly, his fingers impatiently tangling into Anakin’s hair. “I’d tell you of the Force, its beauty and power, all of it, of things neither the Jedi nor the Sith would want you to know. I’d love you, absolutely and unapologetically; I’d be your Master, your lover, your friend. I’d be yours, Anakin, if you only said the word, if you only let me.”

Anakin loses himself in the words, in the sweet promises of things he’s not allowed no matter how much he wants them. He can’t agree to any of that, he can’t, but— he can have this, can he not? This moment, suspended in time. Just the two of them, drinking and enjoying what little time together they can have, free of their obligations for the shortest of whiles.

Anakin turns his head to finally face Kenobi, to catch the man’s mouth with his own, breathe with him; Kenobi’s hand twists in his hair to pull him closer and Anakin barely stops himself from moaning—

Kenobi breaks the kiss and drags his teeth across Anakin’s lower lip, his eyes fond, affectionate. “Hondo’s back,” he whispers, pushing Anakin away to create at least an arm’s length distance between them.

The pirate comes up behind them and leans down to put his arms over their shoulders. Kenobi gives him a grin. Anakin just glares.

“You two are pretty close,” Hondo says, his tone falsely innocent.

“That’s none—“ Anakin starts, but Kenobi kicks his ankle under the table.

“Ah, Hondo,” the man says, sending Anakin a very pointed, yet still amused look, “I do like this place of yours quite a lot.”

The pirate beams. “The best pirate den this side of the Outer Rim,” he assures them, shaking their shoulders for emphasis. Anakin rolls his eyes.

“Oh, I don’t doubt that… Fantastic drinks, too.” Kenobi’s definitely drunk; he’s still himself, all confident words and nonchalant poise, just… slower. Anakin stifles a giggle. “Now, when can we expect to see Dooku tomorrow?”

Hondo straightens up, pretending to consider the question carefully. “Hmm, as soon as you wake up, I’d say.”

“So how about we just don’t go to sleep and you take us to see him now?”

“Ah, but we have to wait until he wakes up, too. He has to be… ready to receive guests.”

Kenobi blinks up at him. “You’re holding him captive, Hondo.”

“What if we find him still sleeping? What if he sleeps naked? The horror,” Hondo exclaims, scandalised, dramatically throwing an arm over his eyes.

“Now there’s a mental image I didn’t need,” Anakin groans, hiding his face in his hands.

“Imagine if you had to actually see that, with your eyes!”

“No, listen,” Anakin disgruntledly glances at Hondo, “I don’t want to imagine any of that.”

“You probably don’t want to witness it in real life even more,” the pirate grins at him triumphantly, and Anakin decides he’s a bit too drunk to be arguing with the man. “So, it’s best if you two just wait until tomorrow. Have another drink, too.”

“Right,” Kenobi says, raising an eyebrow.

Hondo pats his back then turns away, waving a hand around. “I’ll get someone to show you to your rooms later. I’m hospitable like that.”

Anakin watches him leave with a somewhat irritated expression, until Kenobi leans in again and rests his head on Anakin’s shoulder. Anakin can’t help but grin at him; his drunken mind is captivated by how Kenobi glances up at him, lazily smiles back.

He could get used to this, he realises all of a sudden, and heat rises in his cheeks.

“I meant it, you know,” Kenobi says quietly. “You don’t have to answer me right now, you don’t have to answer me at all if you don’t want to. But know that I only ever lied to you to try and protect you. I know now that I shouldn’t have, and—“

“It’s okay,” Anakin says. His whole chest feels tight, like something way too big to fit there is stuck between his ribs. The sincerity in Kenobi’s voice is overwhelming, and—

Anakin leans down to kiss him again. Because his heart is beating wild, but also because it’s, somehow, a distraction from the emotions he doesn’t know what to do with.

Best kind of distraction, probably.

His hands gather Kenobi closer to him, arms wrapping around his back, wishing for this moment to never end. Kenobi’s beard is a pleasant scratch against his skin, his hands tangling back into Anakin’s hair and Anakin smiles into the kiss but Kenobi moves away again. Anakin purses his lips at the loss.

“I have an idea,” Kenobi says lightly. “Let’s sneak out of here.”

Anakin is pretty sure his own eyes light up at that suggestion.

“And find the Count.”

Oh.

“Hondo isn’t paying attention to us anyway; I’m sure he won’t mind if we disappear for a little while,” Kenobi continues, seemingly oblivious to Anakin’s disappointment. “We could just… Check if he’s here, that’s all, and then… get back to drinking.”

“Okay, that’s…” Anakin desperately tries to remind himself that this is actually what he’s here for: he’s been sent to confirm whether the pirates are holding Dooku. He should at least try to do his damn job. He clears his throat. “Yeah. We could do that.”

Kenobi gets up, keeping his balance almost perfectly, and grins down at Anakin. “Let’s go, then.”

Anakin climbs to his feet, trying his best to ignore the fact that the entire hall sways before his eyes. He feels open, with his emotions and thoughts and the Force spilling out of him. It’s strangely enjoyable, with nobody there to tell him that he’s not allowed to do it; it’s like he doesn’t have to keep himself in check at all.

He stumbles over to Kenobi and falls into the man’s arms with a giggle. Kenobi catches him, pulling him close, and a second later his mouth is on Anakin’s neck, sucking a very insistent hickey right below his ear. Anakin moans quietly, his eyes fluttering shut at the sensation, at the wave of thrilled pleasure rolling through his entire body.

“Just drive me mad, why don’t you,” Kenobi murmurs into his ear, then closes teeth on his earlobe, and Anakin grasps his shoulders to keep himself upright, eyes wide open again, breathing heavily.

“Who’s driving who mad, huh?” He’s half-aware that while they’re mostly in the darkness, they’re still in the middle of the damn pirate hall. He pushes Kenobi back and points his chin towards one of the side corridors; Kenobi nods and they start backing away in that direction, both unwilling to let go of one another.

“You have no idea,” Kenobi’s voice drops even lower as his hand clenches into a fist in Anakin’s hair and his mouth moves right back to the place he sucked on to bite it. Anakin yelps in surprised pleasure. “Force, they never even told you how bright you were, did they,” Kenobi whispers between the bites and kisses. Anakin tilts his head to the side to allow the man better access to his neck. “They told you to rein it in, to control yourself when you’re overflowing with it all, with Force itself, when you can’t even contain the power that you could wield, and why should you? Oh, Anakin, you could bring the galaxy to its knees, if only somebody told you how.”

“Kenobi—“

Kenobi moves away from him, wraps his fingers around Anakin’s wrist and drags him towards the passage they’ve noticed earlier. They sneak into an empty, darkened corridor that somehow isn’t being watched by any of the pirates and look around curiously. Anakin, at least, is pretending to look curiously. He’s feeling warm, a very particular kind of warmth which seems to be attached exclusively to Kenobi. The kind of warmth that reaches into his very being and curls itself around his mind, but leaves him wanting something else, something more— his eyes meet the flickering gold of Kenobi’s and he swallows loudly.

“We’re supposed to be… looking for Dooku,” are the words that leave his mouth for whatever reason. He doesn’t want to be looking for Dooku. At all.

Kenobi gives him a small smirk. “Right.”

They move down the corridor, trying to sense anything, but it seems that either they’re too drunk or Dooku’s whereabouts are too cleverly shielded for them to find out anything at all.

There’s a faint sound of footsteps heading in their direction. Kenobi grabs Anakin and pulls him into a darkened nook behind a pillar of sorts; Anakin’s back hits the wall and Kenobi steps into his space, presses him into the shadows and shoves a hand over his mouth.

“Quiet, Anakin,” he hisses, glancing over his shoulder.

“You think this is going to stop me from telling you what a terrible idea all of this is?” Anakin talks into his palm, thoroughly amused by how muffled his voice sounds like this and fascinated by how quickly warmth gathers between Kenobi’s palm and his lips. “Because it’s a… terrible idea. And—“

Kenobi takes his hand away and leans in, standing on his toes until his eyes are at Anakin’s level. “I told you to be quiet.”

“I’m not the quiet type.”

Kenobi’s smirk is feral as he leans even closer. “Oh, I know.”

Anakin feels heat rise in his cheeks, but he’s relatively sure it’s not embarrassment. It’s anticipation.

“We’re searching for Dooku,” he says, again, like his mind just can’t let the thought go. It’s probably an important thought. Or it should be. Not that Anakin cares much.

“Of course,” Kenobi answers, swiftly sneaking one hand under Anakin’s tunic and dragging his nails across Anakin’s stomach. Anakin whimpers. “So disrespectful,” Kenobi hisses with a promising flicker in his eyes.

“Am I, now,” Anakin teases; his mind is humming pleasantly.

“I told you to be quiet, did I not?”

Anakin smirks. “Make me.”

Kenobi’s hand slides up Anakin’s neck before his fingers lightly close around Anakin’s throat, pushing his head further back until it’s resting against the wall. The pressure is gentle, just enough to make Anakin’s breath catch a little and send a slow wave of warmth all through his body, drawing a low, pleased purr from him. Kenobi’s grasp becomes more forceful at that, but before Anakin can start worrying, Kenobi lets go of his neck and grabs his chin instead, keeping him in place. Anakin can’t help but glance down at Kenobi’s mouth, watches a distracting smile spread on his lips.

Everything’s slow around him, heavy and blurred, the edges of his vision soft, out of focus. Kenobi’s fingers are firmly digging into his chin and Anakin forces himself to look the man in the eye again, hold his gaze, almost a challenge.

Kenobi traces a finger along his jawline, then without a warning drags him down into a rough, open mouthed kiss; Anakin half-sighs, half-moans into it, his hands finding Kenobi’s arms and pulling him closer, then sliding around his back. Kenobi keeps his grip on Anakin’s chin, forces him to tilt his head further down and to the side to have better access to his mouth. It’s all tongue and wet, sloppy warmth, pressing into him with an insistence that sends electricity through his veins.

It’s like a spark of pure energy passing through him, lighting up in shades of warmth and desire. Kenobi presses himself to Anakin, his very presence and closeness igniting every nerve in Anakin’s body, making him want— more. More of this, more of Kenobi. Preferably with less clothes involved, but Anakin wouldn’t be all that picky. Anything. Everything.

Kenobi’s hand moves to the back of his neck, tugging at the short hairs there, and a small sound escapes Anakin’s mouth. He catches himself being almost upset that he no longer has a Padawan braid behind his right ear; the thought of Kenobi holding him by it, pulling him closer—

Kenobi breaks the kiss, and Anakin hisses, tries to chase the man’s mouth with his own but Kenobi holds him with the hand clenched in his hair, doesn’t let him move.

He presses his mouth to Anakin’s neck, just below his jaw, and bites lightly; Anakin nearly melts, eyes fluttering shut and arms roaming Kenobi’s back. Kenobi’s hands start pulling at Anakin’s tunics, undo his belt and let it fall to the floor. Kenobi pulls his tunics apart, hands sliding along the lines of Anakin’s muscles while his mouth still moves under Anakin’s jaw, trailing wet kisses down his neck until he reaches Anakin’s shoulder. His hands wrap around Anakin’s back in a gently affectionate gesture and he freezes in place all of a sudden. Anakin pulls him closer, not oblivious to the strange softness surrounding them.

Kenobi doesn’t move for a long moment, warm breath tingling Anakin’s shoulder, then murmurs something into the crook of his neck, harsh, sharp words he doesn’t understand.

“What language is that?” Anakin tangles his hand into Kenobi’s soft ginger-gold hair, his heart beating wild.

“The language of the Sith. I will teach you one day.”

The way he says it sounds so calm, so natural, like he’d do anything for Anakin if Anakin only asked him to. He’s warm in the Force, and no matter how intoxicated and confused, Anakin recognises him: powerful and proud and dangerous, almost blinding, yet Anakin just wants to get closer. More. He leans down into Kenobi’s ear.

“Teach me now,” Anakin whispers, his hands eagerly finding their way under Kenobi’s tunics. He presses a gentle kiss to Kenobi’s cheek, then to the corner to his mouth.

“Would you like that, Anakin?” Kenobi’s voice is dark, heavy with lust and promise.

He doesn’t just mean the language, and Anakin knows.

Kenobi’s asking him about their trainings and talks, about all the knowledge he has that’s forbidden to Anakin, about this strange, warm connection that they share even though they shouldn’t. And Anakin knows this, knows he should say no and storm off and never approach Kenobi without an ignited lightsaber again, but…

Kenobi’s breath is warm on his neck, and this is real, this is happening. Here he is, Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker, the Chosen One, pinned against a wall by a Sith Lord’s embrace, by his hands and mouth promising affection and pleasure if only Anakin agrees and gives in. Gives in to what? To the Dark Side itself?

Their faces are close, their breaths tangling into one, Force’s low, luminous hum weaved into their very bones.

Not to darkness. To Kenobi.

And maybe Anakin’s drunk, but right now, none of it matters.

“Yes,” Anakin breathes, and Kenobi’s mouth finds his again as one of his hands tangles into Anakin’s hair, pulling at it. Anakin whines as Kenobi’s fingers brush across his stomach, a featherlight touch, a promise of things to come. Kenobi leans away, just enough to catch a breath.

“There is no word for love in the Sith language,” he says, his tone calm. Anakin’s own expression softens as he moves in for a kiss, but Kenobi stops him with a hand to his lips. “There is shâsot, though: passion.”

There is no passion, there is serenity.

Shâsot,” Anakin repeats, lips brushing Kenobi’s fingers, and the Sith Lord hums approvingly and lets their mouths meet again. His hand is still tracing patterns on Anakin’s stomach, and Anakin tries to move, press himself to it. Closer. Closer. More.

Kenobi tells him more words as his hand slowly sneaks down, under the hem of Anakin’s pants, and Anakin’s breath catches as he moves his hips forward. He repeats everything, drinks the words from Kenobi’s lips, and the man gives him a smirk.

Kenobi leans down to drag his mouth down Anakin’s chest, then slowly, deliberately drops to his knees just before Anakin. He glances up, his gaze almost nonchalant, curious, yet with his pupils dilated so wide there’s but a thin ring of gold left shimmering around them in the darkness.

Anakin forgets how to breathe for a solid moment.

There’s a familiar pressure at the back of his mind, warm, purring into his ear. The Force wraps around him, works itself into his muscles, kneading at the knots of tension. Anakin sighs, slow and deep. He feels like he’s sinking. He feels like—

Kenobi nuzzles his face into Anakin’s stomach, tongue flicking out to lick a lazy stripe over his navel. Anakin shudders, eyes drifting closed.

“Eyes on me,” Kenobi murmurs, lightly biting at the skin, and Anakin obediently forces his eyes open again and looks at him. “There we go. Good boy.”

Kenobi gives him a smirk, then moves down, agonisingly slow, leaving a trail of wet kisses on Anakin’s exposed skin before pulling the hem of Anakin’s pants further down to press his nose into the dark curls below Anakin’s navel.

“Just one more thing, then,” Kenobi says, looking up at him.

Anakin swallows, his breaths coming in shallow and excited. He’s not sure if he’d be able to refuse Kenobi anything at this point. If Kenobi asked him to pledge himself to the Dark Side right there and then, Anakin probably wouldn’t even hesitate.

Kenobi just smirks. “Repeat after me. Wonoksh Qyâsik nun,” he instructs him instead, moving to mouth at Anakin’s hipbone.

“And whaahhh— what does that mean, huh?”

“It’s about trusting yourself, trusting the Force, understanding it,” Kenobi whispers. “Nothing you’d disagree with, I assure you.”

“Say it again.”

Kenobi repeats the phrase and Anakin follows; the words taste like electricity on his tongue. Kenobi grins at him, gorgeous and wicked, then pulls Anakin’s pants down and takes him into his mouth in one smooth motion.

Anakin’s hands grasp at the wall, at nothing, as a breathy hiss escapes his lips. Kenobi’s mouth is warm and wet on him, obscene and beautiful, with strands of his perfect hair falling into his eyes as he doesn’t look away, doesn’t even blink, just stares up at Anakin with curiosity and lust and pride all mixed up into one intense feeling, spilling out from him and into Anakin’s mind, and— it’s not like Anakin wants to keep him out, anyway.

He opens himself up completely and lets their minds tangle together, and he’s missed this, the feeling of Kenobi’s presence finding its way into his mind, tendrils of darkness like smoke curling around him and he breathes it in, invites it, calls it closer; Kenobi hums his approval and Anakin’s legs nearly buckle at the sensation.

Kenobi just grins around him, lazy, contented, eyes half-lidded, and then takes him even deeper, until his nose is buried in Anakin’s wiry hairs and Anakin moans. For a moment he’s pretty sure he’s going to black out; his mind is at a loss for words or any coherent thoughts at the sight that Kenobi is.

Even like this, it’s still Kenobi who’s in control, who’s leading, who’s… wrapping his presence around Anakin more tightly now; he begins a steady rhythm of excitement and calm warmth spilling into Anakin’s mind, mirroring the rhythm of his mouth on Anakin. Anakin can’t keep himself focused; small, strained sounds escape his mouth with every wave of Kenobi’s feelings and thoughts hitting him.

Kenobi pulls away with an obscene pop all of a sudden, slides a finger up and down Anakin’s length, a lazy afterthought. Anakin whimpers, not entirely sure how he’s still managing to keep himself upright.

Kenobi’s tongue flicks out to lightly lap at the tip. “Look at me,” he whispers, and it’s almost like his voice echoes inside Anakin’s mind. It’s hard to keep his eyes open, his mind drowning in waves of warmth and pleasure, but he blinks and looks at Kenobi. Oh, what a sight the man is; on his knees, looking up, flushed and knowing exactly what he’s doing. “Keep your eyes on me, or we’ll have to make this more difficult.”

“Difficult— nghh… how?” Anakin’s voice catches as Kenobi takes him in his hand again, in a rhythm too slow, too gentle to satisfy.

“Oh, you know,” Kenobi says conversationally, pressing a kiss to the tip, “I do have some ideas.”

His voice gets dark but it’s not a threat but a promise, and Anakin bites back a moan. “Please, Mmm— Kenobi, just—” he manages, and Kenobi smirks, before taking him into his mouth again.

Their eyes are locked together, blue and golden, staring into each other with a wild intensity. The warmth of Kenobi’s mouth on him, his tongue deftly working around him, it’s almost too much to handle; one of Anakin’s hands finally finds its way into Kenobi’s hair and tangles into it and he’s pretty sure the man moans at that, a small, pleased sound vibrating low somewhere at the back of his throat.

The power radiating from him, the authority, is intoxicating; pure, blinding energy focused entirely on Anakin, and Anakin feels slow, overwhelming pressure building up in him, an answer to Kenobi’s touch. He thrusts his hips forward and Kenobi takes it without a stutter or hesitation. The sight is what pushes Anakin over the edge; a spark of pleasure rolls through his body in waves and he comes into Kenobi’s mouth, pretty sure that only Force itself is keeping him standing on his feet.

Kenobi pulls away when he’s done, wiping the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand, a smug smirk dancing on his lips. He climbs to his feet and moves to kiss Anakin’s again; Anakin’s arms wrap around his shoulders to steady himself. He barely registers anything in the pure bliss falling over his mind but when Kenobi’s mouth meets his, he answers, kissing back with a hazy passion, pulling the man closer.

Kenobi leans away, watching him through half lidded eyes. Anakin moves his hands to cup the man’s face gently, tracing his fingers over his beard.

“We should return to the main hall,” Kenobi says, quiet, calm. “Hondo’s probably going to start looking for us soon.”

Anakin frowns at him. “But—“

“I am a very patient man, Anakin,” Kenobi whispers, leaning into his ear, his presence still lightly working at Anakin’s mind, leaving him breathless. “Let’s go back to drinking for now.” He calls Anakin’s belt from the floor and wraps it around him, buckles it again and fixes Anakin’s tunics as Anakin watches him curiously. “Come on, then.”

 


 

Something’s not right.

Anakin’s woken up by drumming. A methodical, abysmally loud noise echoing inside his head, its continued pounding almost painful. It somehow feels like it’s coming from within him— Wait, it is coming from within him. It’s his damn heartbeat, Anakin realises, and groans internally.

He’s never going to drink again, he’s told himself. He’s never going to be so completely irresponsible, he’s told himself. Great. Kriffing fantastic.

Anakin huffs weakly and immediately regrets the decision to make any sounds at all; everything’s too loud. Everything. The air he’s breathing in is too loud. His thoughts could sure turn down their volume, too.

He tries to establish where he is without moving at all, reasonably sure that if he tries to get up or open his eyes right now he’s literally going to die. He seems to be lying flat on something cold and hard, his nose unpleasantly squished into it. Which is strange, because he’s pretty sure he wasn’t falling asleep on anything like that.

He has a vague memory of tumbling into a room with Kenobi late at night. Or was it early morning already? He thinks they made it to a bed. Beds? Bed. He remembers pressing his face into a pillow, but that’s about it. Still. A pillow is soft. Whatever he’s lying on right now is not. Did he fall off the bed? It’s not out of the question, considering his state.

He wonders if he could just… kindly ask for death to take him. His heartbeat is still three times louder than his own thoughts, and he feels like something’s died in his mouth. Like a bantha. Or whatever was left of his dignity.

Maybe if he lies there and pretends he’s dead his body will catch up with his wishes and, well, die.

He hears a miserable groan somewhere next to him; it sounds familiar. Is that… Kenobi? Did he fall off the bed, too?

Anakin gathers all of his strength, grits his teeth and opens his eyes. The light nearly blinds him and he hisses, but blinks it away until he can see again. He seems to be indeed lying on the floor. Which is unfortunate, and uncomfortable, but he’s pretty sure that if he manages to climb back into the bed, he’ll feel better. Eventually.

He turns his head to look at Kenobi, who’s already managed to sit up and is looking somewhat rough and rather confused, which Anakin finds thoroughly endearing. Maybe he should just crawl over to him. He feels like Kenobi could help him. He feels like Kenobi is his only hope at this point.

That’s when he notices Kenobi has his wrists bound together. The man raises the cuffs closer to his face, looks at them curiously. There’s a thin chain around his waist, too, and it connects him to— to Anakin. Anakin makes the effort to crane his neck to glance at his own wrists in disbelief. He’s chained? He’s chained to Kenobi? What the hell—

“What happened?” Anakin demands, pulling a face at how loud he sounds and how much his head hurts, but he needs to know. He forces himself to sit up, trying to ignore how the only thing his mind seems to be interested in is dying.

Kenobi looks at him, but immediately his gaze falls on something behind Anakin’s shoulder, and his eyes widen in shock. “Oh. Oh, Force.”

Anakin frowns. “Oh Force what? Is there something behind—“ He turns to look over his shoulder, and forgets what he was going to say.

It’s Dooku.

Dooku’s just sitting there, leaning against a wall with a very annoyed expression and the same chain around his wrists and his waist, binding him to them.

They’ve been tricked and captured by the pirates.

And now they’re in a cell, chained together, with Dooku.

Anakin takes a deep breath.

Death. Death would be kinder.

Chapter Text

As Anakin stares at Dooku with a blank expression, he almost feels like time has slowed down. No, that’s not quite right; he feels like time has stopped altogether, giving him a generous infinity to recount and reconsider every single decision he’s ever made in his miserable life, every wrong turn, every idiotic thought that ever appeared in his recklessly stupid mind that should never have been allowed to try and think for itself in the first place.

Kenobi was right; he should be locked up in the Jedi Temple at all times. Strange that the Council has not yet realised this; then again, they’re not exactly the most observant, Anakin’s noticed. He can’t count on them, so he’s going to have to help himself, apparently, and that’s exactly what he shall do, starting right now. He’s got to make some decisions, resolutions, so that this never happens again.

First, no more drinking ever again, no matter the circumstances, or the company, or literally anything else. Even if at some point in the future the only way to save the entire galaxy from caving in on itself turns out to be him taking a sip of any sort of alcohol, he’s not going to do it. He should’ve learned this lesson well enough the first time around, when he got so damn drunk he managed to convince himself he was dreaming instead of actually leading an actual Sith Lord into the actual Jedi Temple. But no, of course he didn’t, and now he’s locked in a pirate cell and chained to two Sith Lords. Just his kriffing luck.

Second, no more fraternising with Sith Lords. With one, specific Sith Lord to be precise. No more Kenobi. Kenobi is literally forbidden to him as of now, as is fraternising with the man in any and all senses of the word; all it does is get him in trouble. This shouldn’t even have to be mentioned on any list, this shouldn’t be a resolution that he has to make; no normal Jedi would consider this a point they’d struggle with in any way. Sith Lord. Enemy. It’s not that hard to understand, except of course it is, for whatever damn reason.

Third, he has to stop assuming that surely things will not get any worse; every time he does this, his life spirals further out of control and into utter raging chaos. At this point it’s like he’s begging for the Force to prove him wrong, to show him exactly how much worse everything can get. And, as he’s recently learned, the Force has a very particular sense of humour, and is both very resilient and incredibly creative in making up new ways to make his life a living hell.

Which Anakin really doesn’t appreciate.

“Lord Lumis,” Dooku speaks up, his annoyed and annoying voice harshly pulling Anakin back into reality. “Yet again we meet in strange circumstances, and yet again I see Skywalker following you like an unpleasant smell—“

“It’s bad enough we have to be in the same cell,” Anakin snarls, clumsily gathering himself off the floor and taking a step towards Dooku, “but could you at least spare me the sound of your constant chatter?”

He takes another shaky step, his hazy, hungover mind not entirely sure what for, only that he will not listen to Dooku’s words for a second longer. He notices Kenobi reaching out a hand towards him, as if to push him back with the Force. The Sith doesn’t do anything, though, just frowns and brings his own hand close to his face to blink at it in confusion before scrambling to his feet with a quiet groan and grabbing Anakin’s shoulder to physically restrain him. Anakin makes a face, pushing himself into the pressure of Kenobi’s hold lightly, but turns away. Dooku scoffs at him and for a moment Anakin considers turning around and kicking him in the face after all. So what if he’s supposed to stay calm? He’s supposed to do a lot of things. Seems to struggle with every single one of them anyway.

“Care to… explain yourself to me, Lumis?”

Anakin doesn’t want to look at Dooku, so he decides to glance back at Kenobi instead. Kenobi looks… uncertain. Kenobi looks downright distressed. This doesn’t bode well for either of them.

“Please, I simply can’t wait to hear it,” Dooku continues. “To hear why, instead of doing away with the pirates in whichever way convenient and letting me out of here, you’ve been captured. Oh, wait, I know exactly why. Clearly you’re neither drugged nor hurt, just completely drunk, and so is Skywalker. Now why do I get the feeling it’s not a coincidence? This calls for at least some explanation, don’t you think?”

“Master,” Kenobi says. He sounds exactly like Anakin’s feeling; weak, tired, and full of a wide variety of regrets. “There’s been a… situation. Circumstance. Of sorts.”

Anakin snorts. Both Dooku and Kenobi shoot him a murderous look, and his laughter dies somewhere in his throat under the combined death glare of two Sith Lords.

“Of sorts,” Dooku repeats mockingly after a moment of silence, his gaze flicking back to Kenobi.

“…yes.”

“Lumis, I am very disappointed. And every second you spend not explaining yourself to me is a second foolishly wasted. You’re in no position to be—”

Kenobi sits down on the floor again, takes a deep breath, closes his eyes for a moment, then starts talking quickly in the strange, harsh language Anakin hazily remembers from the night before. He remembers that it exists, that is; he can’t understand a word. This is bad.

Anakin sits down too, his suspicious gaze immediately fixing itself on Kenobi. “What are you telling him, huh? Sith secrets?”

“Quiet, Skywalker, the adults are talking,” Kenobi snaps at him and Anakin recoils in shock.

It’s behaviour he should expect from a Sith Lord, yes, but… not from Kenobi. Not any more, not after everything they’ve been through together. Still, Anakin does remember what Kenobi said the last time they faced Dooku together. I am trying to keep you alive, Anakin. Let me. And Anakin knows he shouldn’t be trusting the man. But he really can’t be bothered to care about any of this when his head feels like it’s about to explode.

Dooku answers something in Sith. Kenobi nods and starts talking again, presumably explaining himself to Dooku and hopefully not sharing any of their… adventures…

Of course he wouldn’t; they’d put him in just as much trouble before Dooku as they would Anakin before the Council, Anakin realises, the thought disproportionately hilarious to him. Kenobi’s hardly the perfect Sith, then, what with everything he’s been doing, with how dismissive of his obligations and responsibilities he is.

With how… interested he seems in Anakin. Anakin feels warmth creeping up his cheeks at the thought, at the memory. He really needs to stop drinking, and definitely never do it when Kenobi is around; he loses all of his damn self-restraint around the man. Not that Kenobi seemed to have… much of it… Anakin’s thoughts idly wander further and further away from him, and he absently rubs at his neck before a rather pointed memory strikes him.

A hickey.

He’s sure he has a hickey, high up on his neck for everyone to see. How is he going to explain that to the Council? How is he going to— He feels eyes boring into him insistently and turns his head to look at Dooku. Dooku, who was most definitely staring at his hickey with a disdainfully disgusted expression. Anakin covers it with his hand, cheeks burning up in embarrassment mixed with anger. Yes, exactly what he needs to make his day even more terrible: Dooku judging him for his drunken decisions. Great.

Dooku shifts his gaze to Kenobi and raises an eyebrow. At least Kenobi doesn’t have any damn hickeys anywhere; Anakin wants to congratulate himself for that. Except Dooku seems to be strangely suspicious… surely he doesn’t know. Surely—

“Seems like you’ve had an… eventful evening, Skywalker,” Dooku says in Basic again, eyes still fixed on Kenobi. “Enjoyed yourself?”

Anakin scoffs and takes a deep breath. “I’d enjoy myself more if you were already on your way to Republic space for trial.” And even more if he was allowed to kill Dooku right here, right now, but he’s not going to say it out loud. Nobody in this cell, least of all himself, needs to hear that thought.

“I am going to generously assume,” Dooku says slowly, still staring at Kenobi with the most pointed of scowls, “that you’ve spent your time doing… whatever disgusting activities… with the pirates here, you do seem like the type after all, and that my own apprentice would never—“

“Master, what are you insinuating?” Kenobi cuts in in an offended tone, then switches to Sith to add something more.

Anakin wants to say something too, he really does, but decides against it. Considering the intensity of the death stare Dooku is directing at Kenobi, he feels like at this point any word he’d say would end up being his last, and he really doesn’t want to have Dooku’s cold fury concentrated on himself. Let it concentrate on Kenobi. All of this is his fault, after all.

“Not a single word more, Lumis, or I’ll lose my damn patience, and it’s already running thin. We’ll have a talk once we’re out of here. You’re damn lucky there’s nothing I can do now; the cell is designed to hold Force users. But—”

“Wait, what do you mean…” Kenobi trails off, then his face brightens up. Anakin is looking at him and can tell; it’s relief, before Kenobi masks it as surprise. “Of course. I thought something felt… off. It’s like the Force is completely blocked. This is probably why w— I couldn’t sense you when you got captured, Master.”

Probably,” Dooku mutters under his breath.

Anakin finally realises that he indeed can’t feel Kenobi’s presence at all, a cold, dark emptiness settled at the back of his mind where something bright and warm has been. He focuses on it, confused, but even then there’s nothing, like Kenobi doesn’t even exist. Anakin feels his heart beat faster; this makes him realise three things.

First, the cell must be, indeed, somehow shielded against Force users.

Second, there is a connection between him and Kenobi after all, one so damn strong that he used to be able to constantly sense it without even realising. A… a bond? Training bond? How? Surely he hasn’t accidentally… No, that’s impossible, it has to be something different; he’s just not entirely sure what.

Third… he misses that thin, gold-lined string connecting them. Hell, the fact that he can’t sense it right now is making him intensely anxious; Dooku’s obnoxious presence is the only thing stopping him from crawling over to Kenobi and catching his arm, shoulder, anything, to make sure that the man’s here with him. Anakin takes a deep breath, trying to calm himself, but his mind is panicking, reaching out, fighting against that cold feeling until he can sense the slightest of somethings, a gentle brush of a familiar presence against his own, and he breathes out slowly as Kenobi’s eyes shoot up to look at him, amazed, surprised… impressed? Possibly. Proud, maybe? Anakin isn’t entirely sure why, but he’ll take it.

He’s tired and hungover and locked in a cell with two Sith Lords. The quiet hate for Dooku burning up in every cell of his body leaves neither any room nor any energy for pretending that Kenobi is his enemy and that he doesn’t care for the man. It’s just the exhaustion, Anakin tells himself. It’s just the alcohol. It’ll pass.

“So is escaping this place out of the question?” Kenobi wonders aloud. “Might be a bit hard if we can’t use the Force, but…”

“If it was possible to break out of here, Lumis, do you think I’d still be sitting in this cell and any of the pirates would be alive? Who do you take me for?”

Kenobi’s expression very clearly spells out that he takes Dooku exactly for the blind, pretentious idiot that he is, but his mouth opens to say, “My Master,” in a falsely respectful tone. Anakin allows himself a small smirk.

There’s footsteps and self-assured laughter in the corridor just outside their cell, and Anakin honestly can’t tell whether that’s an improvement. Yes, there’s something distracting him from the fact that he’s chained to two Sith Lords and locked in a cell on a backwater pirate planet, which is good. But the something in question is almost definitely Hondo, and Anakin really, really doesn’t want to see the pirate’s smug face right now. Or ever, for that matter. Hondo tricked and captured him; that alone would be more than enough to stir Anakin’s anger, but that’s not all of it. Hondo knows entirely too much about him now. Anakin glances over at Kenobi and swallows. Yeah. Entirely too much.

“Gentlemen!” comes the pirate’s easy, singsong voice, another thing on the already long and rapidly growing list of things that are way too kriffing loud. Hondo appears behind the bars of the cell a second later, his grin almost blinding.

“Such excellent company visiting my humble planet!” he muses, his cunning eyes jumping between the three of them. “I’m so deeply honoured that you illustrious gentlemen allowed me to… regale you like this. I trust you’ve enjoyed your evening?”

Anakin glares at him, doesn’t trust himself to talk; he has a feeling that nothing but profanities would leave his mouth. It’s Kenobi who decides to speak up, probably only because he doesn’t want Dooku to do so.

“Hondo, you might want to… reconsider how you host your parties.”

“You wound me.”

“Oh, I wish I could,” Kenobi mutters under his breath.

“Now, I’m very glad to be having such important guests, but I think the Republic might be curious about your whereabouts, wouldn’t you agree?”

“I doubt that,” Dooku says. He sounds tired. He sounds defeated. Anakin wants to laugh in his face.

“And here’s where you’re wrong, dear Count! The Republic would definitely like to know that I’ve got two Sith Lords and a lost Jedi wrapped up like presents, just waiting to be delivered to Coruscant.”

“There must be a mistake,” Kenobi says, his voice clear and sure, “there’s just one Sith Lord here.” He points his chin back at Dooku.

Hondo laughs. “Lying to my face! Not that I’d expect anything less from a Sith. You don’t survive in the Outer Rim by being stupid, gentlemen. I know exactly who each of you is, and just how much the Republic is going to pay me for you. I’ll be a rich man until the end of my days!”

“Which won’t be a terribly long time, if I have my way,” Kenobi hisses, again too quiet for Hondo to hear.

“Anyway, I really think it’s high time to comm the Republic.” Hondo takes a portable holoprojector out of his pocket, disregarding Anakin’s quietly muttered disagreement. “I’m sure they’re very worried about their stray Jedi, too.”

Anakin is pretty sure they aren’t. The only person currently worried about him is himself; worried about the fact that he’ll have to face the Council and tell them just how badly he’s failed the task he’s been given. A simple mission. Go to Florrum, talk to the pirates, contact the Republic. Nobody could possibly mess this up. Nobody.

He just can’t wait to have to explain… everything that happened. Where would he even begin? What—

Mace Windu’s distorted image flickers into view, arms crossed on his chest and exhaustion in his posture. “Hondo,” he says, tone as disgusted as if he was speaking to something slimy he’d found on the sole of his boot. Hondo beams at him.

“Master Windu,” he trills excitedly, “looking serious and dashing as always, truly a shining beacon of honour and integrity, setting an example of righteousness for the entire Jedi Order… It’s so very good to see you again!”

Mace nods, then clears his throat and takes a deep breath. “Right. Now, Hondo, I’m sure you’re contacting the Republic for a reason. You wouldn’t happen to know what happened to one Anakin Skywalker we sent your way to check whether your claims about having captured Count Dooku were genuine, would you?”

“I… might know something about that, yes. But let me just tell you, Mace— may I call you Mace? You really seem very tired. Troubled, too; I’m honestly starting to worry about your well-being. The Jedi lifestyle just isn’t treating you well, is it. You look like you could use a break, some time away from all that serious Jedi business. Perhaps some time… on Florrum…?”

Anakin exchanges a look with Kenobi. He doesn’t understand what’s happening here, because something is definitely happening; Hondo is even more suspiciously nice to Mace than he was to them last night. He also seems very intent on dragging the conversation on, to Mace’s visible discomfort. Or… Anakin’s not entirely sure if it’s discomfort. Could it be… amusement? Surely not—

“Hondo,” Mace says, his voice completely neutral.

The pirate grins. “I’m just saying, I’m very good at entertaining the Jedi—”

“Hondo.”

“—and Florrum is a very hospitable planet—”

“Hondo, you had something to tell m— the Jedi Council?”

“Yes, yes, of course. I’ve… happened upon some more unfortunate souls you Republic people might be interested in!” the pirate exclaims cheerfully. Seems like he’s the only person who remembers how to feel positive emotions any more.

“Have you, now,” Mace says. He sounds like he too would prefer to be dead than have to listen to Hondo’s words, something Anakin can relate to, at least.

“There they are! We’ve got two Sith Lords here now, and a Jedi Knight too!” Hondo flips the holoprojector to catch the rather pathetic image of all three of them sitting on the floor, chained together.

Kenobi stares right at his holoprojection as Mace stares back, and Anakin remembers that— Kenobi used to be a Jedi. Kenobi probably personally knew Mace back then, and this might be the first time they’re seeing each other in, what, six, seven years? The thought brings a strange chill down his spine.

The unreadable mask on Mace’s face almost seems to falter for a moment, like the surprise at finally seeing the traitorous Kenobi is too much even for the Jedi Master to handle.

Hondo flips the projector back to focus on himself, seemingly unaware of just how shocking the news of his prisoners was. Or maybe he knows. Anakin already underestimated him once, and it landed him in a pirate cell; he’d do well not to forget that.

“Well, seems like they’re unwilling to say hello, terribly rude, you really should teach them better. But, well, seeing as I have two Sith Lords here, I think the ransom should be… doubled, at the very least. Considering the lengths I had to go to while capturing them. It wasn’t easy at all, Mace, let me tell you…”

Anakin scoffs quietly. Lengths. Hondo got him and Kenobi drunk, and probably just tricked Dooku somehow, maybe drugged him. Must’ve been an impressive feat, indeed.

“I’ll be keeping Skywalker here as… a failsafe of sorts,” the pirate continues.

“Hey—“ Anakin yells, frowning, and immediately regrets raising his voice as it rings back into his ears and hits his hungover mind with a wave of pain.

“Now, shall we discuss the new ransom and the rules and all that? Also, any chance you’ll be making an appearance yourself, Mace?”

“The Republic will be sending a convoy, two senators—“

“And a Jedi Master to guard them, surely?”

Mace just stares for a long moment. He doesn’t… actually look annoyed or shocked any more. If Anakin didn’t know any better, he’d say the man looks amused. “No, I really don’t think that will be necessary.”

“Ah, but it might be. It’s a very dangerous neighbourhood, you know. Lots of pirates around.”

Mace actually chuckles at that, and Anakin feels like he’s in some kind of absurd fever dream. He got drunk with a Sith Lord on a pirate planet, got thrown into a cell and chained to two Sith Lords, and now he’s witnessing a pirate… trying to flirt… with a Jedi Master… What kind of nightmare—

Hondo waves a goodbye at them, then slowly starts walking away, still talking to Mace, who seems… significantly less disgusted and much more interested in the conversation than he was a moment ago.

Anakin refuses to believe any of this is happening.

The pirates accompanying Hondo leave as well, leaving Anakin, Kenobi, and Dooku alone in the cell again. The atmosphere is… uncomfortable, to say the least.

“So,” Kenobi says after a long, painfully awkward moment of silence. “Am I the only person who thinks we need to get out of here?”

Dooku scoffs. “There’s no way, Lumis.”

Kenobi glances at Anakin as the smallest of sly smiles appears on his lips again, and it’s like a missing piece settles itself back into place. There he is, Kenobi, Lord of the Sith, who’s nothing if not resourceful, who presumably managed to convince Dooku that he’s still completely loyal to him, and who now has a plan to get them out of here.

Absurdly enough, Anakin feels fine about this. About trusting him.

“That can’t be right,” Kenobi says, faking a pensive tone. “Skywalker.” His name sounds strangely harsh on the man’s lips like this, when Kenobi’s setting up a game to make Dooku believe they hate each other. “I vaguely recall you being good with droids.”

“What’s it to you?” Anakin snaps, reining in an amused smile. He can play along. It’s simple enough.

“Don’t play stupid,” Kenobi hisses at him. “Or, well, I suppose you’re not playing, are you. Let me explain, then: if you can fix or break a droid, you can also break the door holding us here, or at least do something about this damn disruptive field that’s keeping up from using the Force.”

“I… suppose,” Anakin says, getting up slowly to glance around the cell. The fact that his head is still painfully pounding and feels three sizes too big really isn’t helping him concentrate.

The access panels are probably somewhere in the floor, perhaps hidden in one of the corners. Anakin tries to walk over to one, but there’s something stopping him; Kenobi and Dooku haven’t moved.

“You’re going to have to work with me here if you want out,” Anakin informs them dryly. He yanks on the chain, and Kenobi obediently climbs to his feet in response, pulling Dooku after himself.

Anakin drags the two Sith Lords along the walls, his head throbbing in pain any time he moves it too quickly. He can’t even misuse the Force to rid himself of the hangover. At least he’s somehow regained the thinnest of connections to Kenobi, a whispered secret Dooku can’t hear; it makes him feel a little bit better.

“There,” he mutters to himself, crouching next to the door and digging his nails into the barely visible edges of a switch cover hidden in the floor. He feels Kenobi kneel right behind him, looking over his shoulder carefully.

“Is that it?” the man asks, warm breath in Anakin’s ear, and Anakin feels so damn tired all of a sudden, has to fight himself not to lean back into the comfort of Kenobi’s chest. Dooku is with them, for Force’s sake. They’re prisoners in a pirate cell, for Force’s sake. Kenobi is a Sith Lord, for Force’s sake. Those aren’t exactly favourable circumstances.

“Yeah.” Anakin passes him the cover, opening up some kind of control panel. “I don’t have any complex tools on me, so this might take a moment. Also, I’ll… probably get shocked. By electricity. So that’s… fun.” It’s not. He hates when that happens.

Kenobi chuckles into his ear. “Fun indeed. Well, then, Skywalker,” he swiftly changes his tone from fond back to disdainful, “best you get to work.”

“You really think he can do anything with that?” comes Dooku’s sceptical voice somewhere from behind Kenobi’s back.

“Do you have any better ideas, Dooku?” Anakin speaks up, reaching for the bundle of colourful wires and trying to disconnect them from one another. “Would you prefer to wait for the Republic to get here and…” He realises that this is probably what he should do. That he probably shouldn’t help Sith Lords escape, but swallow his damn embarrassment and wait.

So what if the Council would be mad at him? They’d have captured two Sith Lords, too. He should do it. For the good of the Republic.

Anakin takes a deep breath. Or he can just break out, hope that the Republic support comes on time, and be hailed as a hero for bringing two Sith Lords before the Jedi Council and saving the Republic from having to pay a ridiculously high ransom to a pirate.

Yeah. That’s definitely a better plan.

He gets back to tinkering, feels gentle tugs of the chain around his middle whenever Kenobi moves.

“This is pointless,” Dooku mutters after a while.

“Lord Lumis,” Anakin says very loudly.

“Yes, Skywalker?”

“Could you control your Master’s insolence? I’m trying to concentrate.”

The atmosphere in the cell gets heavy with Dooku’s anger and Kenobi’s impressed amusement. Anakin can feel echoes of how much effort it was for Kenobi not to laugh out loud at his words even without looking at the man.

“Master, please,” Kenobi says slowly. Anakin would bet everything that he’s physically holding Dooku back right now; he grins to himself mischievously at the thought. Later, he’ll need to ask Kenobi exactly how mad Dooku was, how deeply offended; his angry face must’ve been something to behold.

He finally manages to reach the wire he needs, untangles it from the rest and breathes out slowly. It shouldn’t be a powerful charge, but it’s going to be unpleasant anyway; Force, he hates electric shocks.

He digs his nails into the wire and pulls; there’s an audible pop as a charge much stronger than he anticipated hits his fingers. He yelps, jumping up, but Force flows back into his veins at the very same moment; the quick sting of pain is a fair price for having that back. He quickly sets up the defences around his mind and breathes out slowly.

He turns to give Kenobi a sly grin.

“Well, Skywalker, seems you’re not completely useless after all,” Kenobi says. Anakin wonders whether he’s quoting what Ventress once told him on purpose. Not that it matters; Anakin can feel him again and… Force, this is ridiculous, how right this feels for something so damn wrong. A connection. With a Sith Lord. And he’s missed it.

It’s only because he’s weak and hungover, Anakin tells himself, reaching into the Force to get rid of that feeling, thank you very much. Misuse? Of course it is, but the Jedi Council is too far away to reprimand him for it. He closes his eyes, slowly forcing the thumping pain out of his head. When he blinks at Kenobi again, he can see that the man’s eyes are clear, too. Clear, golden, and thoroughly amused. Which neither Kenobi or Anakin should be, considering that they’re still chained to Dooku.

They make for a hilariously terrible team right now, really, with Dooku being Anakin’s enemy but Kenobi’s Master, and with Kenobi pretending to be an obedient apprentice while secretly… possibly actually being on Anakin’s side. Meanwhile, Anakin’s blood boils whenever he so much as glances at Dooku and he shouldn’t be trusting Kenobi, but it’s not like he can afford to be leery of the man right now. He needs an ally when surrounded by enemies, and hell, he could probably land worse than Kenobi.

“Move, then,” Dooku hisses at them as soon as the cell bars slide open. “I wish I could leave you here to rot, but sadly we’re chained together. I tried separating us while you were unconscious and useless; to no avail.”

“That is directed at Skywalker, yes?” Kenobi asks, following Dooku like a duckling would follow its mother. Dooku shoots him a murderous stare over his shoulder. Anakin snorts.

“Don’t test me, Lumis.”

They slowly creep along the corridor, with Dooku leading the column, Kenobi in the middle, and Anakin with an increasingly annoyed expression closing the peculiar procession.

“Do we even know where we’re going?” Anakin whispers.

“Be quiet, Skywalker,” Kenobi whispers back, then turns to Dooku; Anakin sees his mischievous grin for half a second before the man leans closer to his Master. “Do we know where we’re going?”

“Force help me, Lumis, I’ll leave you here for the Republic to collect.”

Kenobi huffs quietly but drops the bickering.

They hide behind a stack of crates as a pair of pirates passes them in the corridor, Anakin flattened against a wall with both Kenobi and Dooku in his personal space. He needs to focus all of his self-restraint to keep himself from trying to strangle Dooku with the very chain connecting all three of them. Kenobi seems to sense his anger and sets a hand on his waist where Dooku can’t see, gives him a quick smile; Anakin bites down on his lower lip to stop himself from smiling back.

The pirates pass, and so does the moment. All three of them sneak out from behind the crates and keep following the corridor. Assuming they can locate a ship, they actually seem to have a fair chance of escaping—

“I can’t believe you got caught,” Dooku says quietly, his voice seething. “It’s pirates, Lumis, and you got drunk with them? Unbecoming. Unworthy. I expected better from you.”

“Forgive me, Master,” Kenobi says sweetly. Anakin bites down on the inside of his cheek; he recognises Kenobi’s tone from his own experience of talking to the Council whenever he’s angry. It’s the tone of someone who is forced to respect an authority but plans to argue anyway. “Of course I wouldn’t know what I was doing and would get caught; I am, after all, but an apprentice… Except, it seems to me you got captured as well, didn’t you.”

“You think jokes will make your situation any better? The only reason I haven’t done anything to you yet is that I can’t afford to be dragging your unconscious body behind me. Or Skywalker’s dead one, for that matter.”

Anakin draws in a sharp, offended breath. “Might I remind you that I’m the person who got you out of your cell, Dooku?”

Dooku gives him a condescending glance over his shoulder. “Good for you. Now, Lumis. I feel like you need to be told this for some incomprehensible reason: you are not a Jedi any more. You’re not supposed to negotiate if your Master has been captured. You’re also not supposed to get drunk.”

“As a Lord of the Sith and a Master, I’d imagine you shouldn’t be captured by pirates, either,” Kenobi answers conversationally. Anakin shoves a hand over his own mouth to stop himself from laughing. “And yet, here we are. But no, no, you’re right, Master, I probably still know nothing about the ways of the Sith. That is why I am but an apprentice and you are… hmm, but that’s an interesting point. What do you call someone who’s a Master to one and an apprentice to another at once?”

“A violator of the Sith Code, probably,” Anakin chimes in, thoroughly enjoying himself. “Don’t you people have a rule for this?”

Kenobi tugs on Anakin’s chain to pull him closer, until his mouth is at Anakin’s ear. “One to embody power and one to crave it,” Kenobi murmurs, dangerously close. “Not that the Sith have adhered to it lately, but… Didn’t know you cared for the rules of the Sith, young one.”

Anakin’s throat gets strangely dry all of a sudden, but before he has a chance to react or answer, Kenobi is back to his bickering with Dooku. Playing with fire doesn’t even begin to cover it; it’s like he wants to find out exactly how much trouble he can possibly land himself in. Then again, Anakin isn’t about to judge him for it. Not in this situation, anyway.

He thinks about what he’s just heard, another scrap of proof that there is another Sith above Dooku, his Master and probably the mastermind behind the entirety of the Clone Wars. Anakin exhales slowly. He’ll have to tell the Council their suspicions were right, when he gets the chance.

“Lumis, it’s like you’re intent on digging yourself a grave. A very, very deep one at that.”

“Master, I am simply trying to focus on anything other than the fact that we’re chained to a Jedi, and don’t have our weapons with us, and got captured by pirates, and—“

“Quiet,” Anakin hisses, pulling at Kenobi’s chain, but Kenobi doesn’t seem to notice him, oblivious to both Anakin’s warning and the fact that they’ve stopped right before a door, and Anakin has a very bad feeling about this—

“—and the fact that—“ Kenobi keeps going as the door in front of them opens to a corridor full of pirates. They all stare at each other in silence for half a second before the pirates scramble for their blasters and point them at the three escapees.

Anakin doesn’t even need to look at Dooku to know the force of his murder stare focused on Kenobi could probably level a small city.

 


 

They get thrown back into the cell rather unceremoniously, the sheer number of blasters being aimed at their faces enough to stop them from trying anything. Not that Anakin doesn’t consider trying something. He managed to stop a charge of electricity mid-air once, back on Mustafar. How hard could it be to stop a blaster bolt?

The cell’s systems seem to be fixed, Force flowing away from their minds and bodies as soon as the door shuts, locking them in.

One of the pirates stays behind the rest, blaster pointed at them. “Any of you so much as looks towards the wires in the corner, I’m told to shoot you in the faces. The Republic will pay for a dead Sith Lord, too.”

“Ridiculous,” Dooku mutters under his breath.

Anakin decides that he’s prepared to stay in the cell just to spite him.

Kenobi is the one to break the silence yet again. “Skywalker. Do you think we could manage to escape by sacrificing you?”

Anakin’s head snaps up to send the man an offended look, but when their eyes meet, Kenobi gives him a quick grin. Does he have a plan, then? Does he—

“I asked you a question, Jedi.”

“You don’t actually expect me to answer it, do you?”

“Well, Skywalker, you’re somewhat infamous for being reckless, you know. For stupidly daring plans and endangering yourself so that others have a better chance of succeeding. Thought you might want to do that again.”

Anakin scoffs. “Don't count on it.”

Kenobi chuckles. “Count,” he repeats, grinning, as he glances to the side at Dooku. Anakin makes a face and takes a deep breath, trying not to laugh.

Dooku just sighs deeply.

He probably never expected that in a situation like this it’d be his own apprentice driving him mad.

Kenobi winks at Anakin, then pulls on both his and Dooku’s chains to get them to move. He nonchalantly saunters over to the cell bars, leaning his forearms against them and looking the pirate on the other side in the eye with a small smirk.

He looks like he has a plan. Anakin takes a step closer to him, curious.

“Back into the cell,” the pirate warns.

“Oh, but I am in the cell. There’s no reason for you to get angry.”

“I will shoot.”

“You might miss from all the way over there,” Kenobi says sweetly.

The pirate takes a step forward. “Don’t test my patience. Pirates aren’t famous for it.”

Kenobi just grins. “They’re not exactly famous for their aim, either.”

Two more steps. “I’ll pay Hondo myself just to kill you.”

“Better come over here, then.”

“Kenobi, he’s not joking, he’s going to shoot you,” Anakin says quietly, moving to stand close at Kenobi’s side.

Kenobi glances at him, quick and intense. There’s something deadly in the slight curl of his mouth and in the gleam of his eyes, in the way he’s curving his fingers and tilting his head; he looks wild, like a force of nature, like a predator just before a kill. “Oh, he’s going to try,” he whispers with a feral smile, his every word a threat.

The pirate makes the mistake of moving within arm’s reach and Kenobi lunges forward, swiftly reaching out both arms through the bars of the cell and grabbing at the man’s blaster. Anakin jumps away as the pirate fires, once, twice, the shots exploding on the floor right next to his feet before Kenobi wrestles the weapon from the pirate’s hands and throws it aside. He violently yanks the pirate closer, making him hit his head on the bars.

“You kriffing—“ the pirate seethes, but Kenobi, still holding onto him, forces him to turn around and hooks the chain binding him to Anakin around the pirate’s neck, ruthless and efficient. Anakin can’t even move away, just stands mesmerised at Kenobi’s side as the Sith Lord strangles the pirate against the bars.

This is not the Jedi way. Anakin should stop this.

But it’s a pirate, someone who wouldn’t have hesitated to kill them if only given the chance. Hell, he was going to shoot Kenobi, he actually did shoot at Anakin, too. And anyway, they need to get out. How else are they going to—

The pirate struggles, trying to reach behind himself, but he’s no match for Kenobi, firmly holding the chain, pulling it back, his expression one of cold, focused ferocity. There’s no spark of amusement in his golden eyes, just a sharp gleam truly worthy of a Sith Lord.

Anakin probably shouldn’t be finding this attractive.

The pirate wheezes one last time, then goes limp against the bars, and Anakin steps back as Kenobi finally lets go of the chain.

“Good, my apprentice,” Anakin hears Dooku murmur; he glances to the side to see the Count setting a hand on Kenobi’s shoulder and squeezing it gently. Anakin’s cybernetic hand curls into a fist. “Effective, if uncivilised.”

Kenobi smiles up at Dooku; it seems strangely genuine. “If I had a choice, Master—“

“Of course.” Dooku’s calculating eyes shoot up to meet Anakin’s. “The pirate should have a key on him. Make yourself useful for once, Skywalker.”

Anakin opens his mouth to argue but Kenobi nods his head at him minutely and Anakin looks away but complies, crouching to rifle through the pirate’s pockets. He fishes a key out of one of them, then leans out of the cell and manages to stuff it into the slit in the wall.

“We have to be more careful this time,” Dooku instructs them in an annoyed tone as the bars slide open again, his hand still holding on to Kenobi’s shoulder.

“You don’t say,” escapes Anakin’s lips. Dooku gives him a long exasperated look.

“We cannot afford any more of this pointless quarrelling, either. Lumis, you want to argue with me further, which I know you do, you can try to do that once we’re out of here. Skywalker, you try to mouth off, I’ll have Lumis kill you and carry your body.”

“Hey—“

“Do not test my patience,” Dooku hisses, finally letting go of Kenobi. He steps out of the cell first, mildly disgusted at the body of the pirate at his feet. “Move, and keep quiet, if you enjoy your miserable existence enough to continue it.”

Kenobi shoots Anakin a look that’s clearly meant to stop him from talking, then walks out after Dooku. “Do we have a plan, then?” he asks, tone ever so slightly amused. He’s still trying to piss Dooku off, if subtly.

“The plan, Lumis, is that you follow your Master’s lead and don’t try to pointlessly anger him because you know damn well how it’s going to end for you.”

They follow the same corridor, quieter this time, carefully avoiding the pirate patrols. Even Kenobi mostly keeps his mouth shut, probably having finally realised the full extent of trouble they’d be in if the Republic was to actually capture them. The pirates seem to be none the wiser, completely unaware of two Sith and a Jedi sneaking right under their noses. Anakin smirks. For all the might of their blasters, in the end they’re no real match for a Force user.

Dooku stops them at some kind of side entrance, a door leading out onto a high platform that overlooks the open space where the pirates seem to be keeping their ships. He peeks out from behind the doorway, scanning the messy area cluttered with ship parts and various vessels that have definitely seen better days. Kenobi climbs to his toes behind Dooku’s back to try and see over his shoulder. Anakin stands as far from the two of them as his chain allows, trying to glance outside too and thinking of a plan of sorts.

The whole area is surrounded by a tall wall with several pirates wandering along its length aimlessly, but nobody seems to be looking for them yet. If they can sneak over to one of the ships and hijack it…

“There seems to be a ship in fairly good condition there, across on that wall,” Kenobi says, pointing at it, arm over Dooku’s shoulder. Dooku irritably swats it away. “If we can reach it, we could probably escape—”

“It’s across the wall,” Dooku points out, mouth upturned in a sneer. “Considering how keen you seem on being captured, Lumis, your ideas will no longer be taken into consideration. No, what we’re going to do is…”

Anakin stops listening to Dooku as his eyes and thoughts are drawn to a pile of long poles lying near the door they’re at and a tentative idea starts forming on the edges of his mind. They do need a good ship to escape, not some pile of junk. And the best ship around seems to be, indeed, the one Kenobi suggested. And the fastest way to cross over to the wall would be… to vault over the whole area. So if they could—

“Get ‘em, boys!”

An unexpected blaster shot swishes right next to his ear and he hurriedly glances over his shoulder to see several pirates running towards them, blaster pistols and rifles pointed in their direction. They really do have bad aim, Anakin thinks idly before another bolt nearly hits him and he decides that the time for thinking is over.

It’s time for action.

“I have a plan!” Anakin yells, breaking into a sprint. He tears past Kenobi and Dooku, forcibly pulling them behind himself and heading straight for the pile of poles and the ledge.

“Oh, no, no, this isn’t a plan!” he hears Kenobi’s indignant voice.

Well, as far as Anakin is concerned, that’s just the matter of point of view. Subjective. Philosophical. Currently mostly irrelevant.

He dashes past the poles and grabs one of them, leans forward as he hears more and more blasters being fired behind himself; it’s now or never. If they run fast enough, propel themselves with the Force and launch into the air, if everything goes the way he wants it to—

“Hold on!” he yells, angles the pole downwards, then drives it into the verge of the ledge with all of his strength and pushes off.

All three of them swing into the air, the Force pushing them up and forward in a wide arc, blaster shots swishing past them as they soar through the clear, sand-coloured sky of Florrum, free and victorious, Force winning over force.

They’re about halfway over when Anakin realises, perhaps slightly belatedly, that they’re going too slowly, and that they’re not high enough, and that there’s no way they’re going to make the jump.

Judging by the quiet oh, no muttered right behind his back, Kenobi realises this at just about the same time.

All three of them collide with the wall, Anakin landing just high enough to catch onto the very edge of it, even though the sheer force of the crash knocks all the air out of his lungs. Loud pained grunts from below tell him that both Sith Lords slammed into the wall at full speed and he grins, overcome with mischievous spite; the thought of Dooku hitting his terrible old man self on the wall fills him with a vicious kind of delight.

He gathers his strength and tries to grab at anything, to haul himself up onto the wall; they still haven’t lost, they still have a chance—

The Sith Lords below him start swinging back and forth, trying not to get their heads shot off, which is becoming increasingly difficult with the amount of blasters being fired at them. Anakin groans, barely holding on; the combined, moving weight of Kenobi and Dooku really isn’t helping him climb. One of the bolts grazes his side, another one his arm and he hisses at the sharp, burning feeling, nearly losing his hold on the wall.

He glances over his shoulder to scream something at the Sith Lords, but instead stops as he sees a stray bolt land itself in the chain connecting Dooku to Kenobi, shattering it.

Well, apparently the Force does decide to be kind every now and then.

He tries to pull himself back up now that the additional weight he doesn’t care about is finally off him, except he doesn’t feel lighter at all. He looks down again, perplexed, to witness Kenobi hanging upside down, hair dangling in his face as he holds onto one of Dooku’s legs with both hands.

Unbelievable. “Drop Dooku!” Anakin wheezes, but Kenobi just glances up at him, for a moment looking so lost and unlike himself that Anakin almost doesn’t recognise him.

Damn him to all Sith hells.

Using the last of his strength, Anakin manages to lift himself up onto his elbows, just in time to see a pair of heavy pirate boots stopping right in front of his nose. He can sense about a million blasters being pointed at him, too.

Oh, that’s just. Just. Stellar.

The boots stomp impatiently, their owner demanding Anakin’s full attention. Anakin forces himself to lift his head, gaze slowly sliding up into Hondo’s solemn, offended face.

“You keep trying to escape,” the pirate says, shaking his head and gesturing wildly, “now you kill one of my boys, how’s a man supposed to stay hospitable with guests like that, hmm? In this economy?”

Anakin stares at him, his mind completely empty of all thought and filled only with regret.

He doesn’t even care that Florrum isn’t in Republic space; when he gets back to Coruscant (and, presumably, survives the Council meeting that’s coming), he’s going to petition the Senate to have the planet renamed to Hell.

 


 

The pirates drag Dooku away, probably back into the cell, but they lead Anakin and Kenobi, still bound together by the chain, somewhere else for a change. Anakin doesn’t much care where they’re being taken. At this point, the situation can’t possibly get worse.

There’s a strange, tall device standing at the centre of the main pirate hall, a podium with two arched upright beams of energy in the middle of it. It almost looks like a whimsical decoration, but Anakin doubts any of the pirates would set the… whatever it is… up for no reason whatsoever. Considering the fact that him and Kenobi are still being led directly towards it, and the fact that there’s electricity arcing between the tips of the beams, it’s probably something far from harmless.

One of the pirates frees them from the chain binding them together, but it’s not like they can do anything; there’s more than enough blasters being constantly pointed in their direction to remind them that they’re at the pirates’ mercy. The only thing left for them to do is curiously stare at the device, wondering what it is. A containment field of sorts? Something meant to keep them from escaping more effectively? Why just them, then, and not Dooku?

Anakin rolls his eyes as the pirates string him and Kenobi from the ends of the energy beams by their hands, hanging them up back to back. Other than the strain of his muscles at being suspended in the uncomfortable position, nothing seems to be happening.

He’s having an awfully bad feeling about it, though.

He glances over his shoulder at Kenobi hanging off the other end of the device. Kenobi, with an expression of utter exasperation slowly starting to border on regret, seems to be watching Hondo walking among the pirates very intently.

“Hondo,” he calls out, voice careful. “Hondo. What are you doing?”

“Just a little show for my boys,” Hondo says nonchalantly, gesturing at the pirates with the drink he’s holding, “something to pass the time while we wait for the Republic ships, which might take a while to get here, I’ve been told. That, and I need to keep my guests—that’s you by the way—occupied, since they are so uninterested in waiting like I’ve asked them to.”

Anakin shifts his shoulders. “That doesn’t sound like we’ll enjoy it.”

“You should appreciate the favour I’m doing you here! I’ve locked the Count away in a simple containment field, but you? You’re going to be the highlight of our day, gentlemen!”

“Uh, you might want to rethink your definition of the word favour,” Anakin says, Hondo’s words stirring his barely contained anger. “Because this? This isn’t a favour, this is—“

Hondo takes a deep, offended breath and nearly spills his drink. “You reject my hospitality, refuse to wait in your cell, and now you’re going to insult me?”

“I’m just saying—“

“Anakin.” Kenobi’s tone is a warning, but Anakin really doesn’t care. He’s so tired of it all. And he definitely doesn’t fancy being strung by his wrists like some prize for the pirates’ enjoyment.

“You know I’m right!” he groans, struggling against the restraints even though he’s well aware he can’t do anything. He’s not just being held in place, the device is restricting his connection to the Force a little, too. Why the pirates would even own technology like that is beyond him.

Own. They’re pirates, for Force’s sake. They probably just stole it.

“Yes,” Kenobi says, sounding almost worried all of a sudden, “but this may not be the best time for you to speak.”

“But you—“

At all, Anakin—“

Anakin opens his mouth to argue, but before he manages to get a single word out, Hondo presses a button on a remote control he’s fished out of one of his pockets. A powerful charge of electricity bursts from the device, going through Anakin’s entire body from his fingertips to his toes, like a million needles viciously and continuously driving themselves into every single one of his muscles.

He hears screaming. It might be his own.

The pain stops for a moment, enough for him to catch a shaky breath and hear Hondo disgruntledly muttering that he didn’t even want to torture anyone before another charge hits. Anakin screws his eyes shut and clenches his jaw, wishing desperately that he’d paid more attention to meditative techniques he’s been supposed to learn about in the past. Wasn’t there something that allowed to withstand pain somewhere within the Jedi teachings? Or any teachings, for that matter, he really wouldn’t be picky, anything to stop this—

He groans and forces his eyes open when Hondo shuts the device down again. He can hear Kenobi’s heavy, laboured breaths behind himself, but it’s no fun laughing at the Sith Lord’s misfortune when he’s actually sharing it with the man.

Force, if the Republic convoy finds him like this, strung up and tortured for the pirates’ amusement…

Hondo seems to be mercifully giving them a break, so Anakin blinks away the tears gathering in his eyes to look around the grand hall. The pirates are drinking and laughing, pointing their fingers at them like this is just a normal form of entertainment for them, which it probably is. Anakin sighs and looks away, too unfocused to even try and listen to whatever Hondo is saying.

His gaze falls to a short droid rolling among the pirates, balancing a tray full of drinks in its outstretched arm. Anakin frowns at the sight, something about it seeming incredibly strange to him. It’s… it’s an astromech droid, why would the pirates even have one? It looks terribly familiar, too—

It’s Artoo.

Artoo is passing out drinks to the pirates.

What the f—

Artoo rotates his head around and ducks under a swaying pirate, then looks straight at Anakin and beeps, a shrill signal loud enough to be heard, but not enough to draw the pirates’ attention too much. One of the pirates kicks the poor droid anyway, but Artoo just quickly rolls away; Anakin loses sight of him in the crowd.

He said to get ready.

Anakin blinks owlishly. Get ready? For kriffing what?

Hondo is still talking, making an entire show of them as he does with everything else, too. He seems distracted enough, so Anakin leans his head back, towards Kenobi. He opens his mouth, not entirely sure what he wants to say. Hey, Kenobi, so I might’ve hallucinated my droid telling me to get ready for something, no idea what for, but—

“Something’s happening,” he decides to say. Precise. To the point. He’s managing this so well.

“What’s happening,” Kenobi hisses, his voice strained, “is that we’re being tortured by pirates, and I’m running out of plans very quickly.”

Anakin makes a face Kenobi can’t even see, then glances around again, his eyes quickly locating the friendly shape of Artoo again. Artoo, who now doesn’t have the drink tray with him and is sneaking over to where the device controls are. Anakin’s eyes widen in understanding. He tries to reach towards Kenobi in the Force, warn him, anything, and he feels a thin strand of understanding from Kenobi’s mind seconds before Artoo rolls up to the machine and stuffs his computer interface arm into it.

A lot of things happen at once.

All lights go out as a huge electric discharge explodes into bright sparks, shocking Anakin and Kenobi, Artoo, and a few of the pirates standing closest to the device, including Hondo. Anakin yelps and hisses as the device violently shuts down; he hits his knees on the podium when it drops him. His cybernetic hand seems to be fine, at least, miraculously unaffected by the burst. He looks over his shoulder to see Kenobi landing on his feet, shaky and far from graceful, but still faring better than Anakin.

The pirates stare at them in stunned silence.

They all reach for their blasters.

The main door on the far side of the hall bursts open, the noise and the sudden flash of light drawing the pirates’ attention. A single figure stands tall in the doorway, a silhouette against the nearly blinding brightness of the outside. Wind rushes in, blowing swirls of sand and dust into the hall, tiny particles reflecting the sun, a stark contrast to the darkness.

Hondo mouths a single what as he gathers himself from the floor, having been knocked off his feet by the shockwave from the device.

The strange figure takes a single step inside and ignites two red lightsabers.

“Ventress,” Kenobi whispers, eyes wide with wonder.

“What is going on here?” one of the pirates yells. “Who the hell is this?”

Ventress spins her lightsabers around herself and shifts into a battle stance. “Your new biggest nightmare.”

The pirates start shooting at her as she dives into the crowd, a swirl of red and agonised screaming. Anakin and Kenobi both stare at her, stunned, until Artoo whistles at them to get their attention and ejects two lightsabers from a hidden compartment as soon as they turn towards him.

Anakin notices his, flying through the air, recognises Kenobi’s, too. He doesn’t even want to know where Artoo got them, or how. The only thing that matters is—

Kenobi pushes him aside as several blaster pistol rounds pierce the air where their heads just were. They swirl around each other, changing places, Anakin blindly reaching out for his lightsaber, but it’s not his that lands in his hand.

It’s Kenobi’s.

Anakin stares at it, dumbfounded, before looking over his shoulder to see Kenobi catch his saber and ignite it. A beam of bright, blue energy materialises into existence, making him a luminescent target for any of the pirates who aren’t currently too busy trying not to get killed by Ventress.

Most of them are.

Kenobi spins Anakin’s weapon around like it belongs to him, laughing as he deflects stray bolts into the walls and back into the pirates.

“That’s mine, Kenobi!” Anakin yells.

Kenobi turns around to deflect a blaster bolt headed for Anakin’s face. “We don’t exactly have the time to be arguing about this, don’t you think?” He gives Anakin a lopsided grin, then whirls back into place, his back touching Anakin’s.

Anakin glances at the lightsaber hilt in his hand, elegant and lethal. A Sith Lord’s weapon. But Kenobi’s right; he doesn’t exactly have much choice.

He finally ignites the crimson blade and feels the familiar rush of excitement flow into his veins. Now it’s even; he has a lightsaber in hand.

He has Kenobi at his back, too. Kenobi, warm and bright, burning up like a wildfire, a blue lightsaber in his hand just as deadly as the crimson one would’ve been; Anakin doesn’t even have to look at the man to know that the mischievous golden gleam is back in his eyes.

They rotate on the podium, back to back, and Anakin shouldn’t be smiling, shouldn’t be enjoying this, but when Kenobi whispers a simple good job into his ear as they turn in tandem and jump off onto the ground, well. It’s not like controlling his facial expressions is high up on his priority list right now, anyway. It definitely ranks lower than staying alive.

Bolt deflected, bolt dodged, absolute chaos around them as they fight their way through the crowd of confused pirates with Ventress heading towards them, the pirates’ bolts and all four of their sabers the only points of light illuminating the hall. It’s all one big mess of fighting, noise, and screaming, and…

Anakin’s never felt so alive.

They meet Ventress in the very middle of the hall, all three of them back to back for a split second before darting aside, heading for one of the side corridors while still dancing and dodging around the bolts.

“You utter idiots,” Ventress yells.

Kenobi laughs in response, sounding nothing short of delighted. “Glad you’ve managed to find us, dear! Not that we didn’t have the situation under control—”

“I’ll shove this lightsaber up your—“

“Hey!” Anakin bellows, drowning out Ventress’ threats. They’re almost in the corridor now; Kenobi Force-slams a pirate standing between them and their goal into a wall, but Anakin spots Artoo at the far end of the hall, trying to electrocute a lone pirate fighting him. “We have to go back, Artoo is stuck in there!”

Kenobi pulls a face but nods. “We’ve got to get to the Count, anyway.”

“What, Darth Old Man?” Ventress groans, and Anakin snorts in surprised laughter. “What if we just left him here?”

“We can’t do that,” Kenobi protests.

“I know, but what if… we did?”

“Darling—”

Fine,” Ventress huffs, exasperated, before pushing them both into the corridor and shutting the door behind them, then driving a lightsaber through the lock. “But we’re absolutely not going through the main hall. I’ve got several scratches from bolts that nearly got to me already and I have no intention of laying my life down for Dooku of all people.”

She swings both lightsabers around before hooking them back on her belt. She almost looks more Sith than Kenobi; certainly more angry and serious, the skirt of her long dark robe swishing behind her as she starts pacing the corridor back and forth. She’s absently rubbing at her bare shoulder, where one of the bolts must’ve hit her. Kenobi tilts his head, then walks up to her and puts his hand over hers, closing his eyes. Anakin feels a surge in the Force, and Ventress’ expression softens.

“That was unnecessary,” she tells Kenobi quietly. The man smiles and takes his hand off her healed shoulder. “Anyway, we’re not safe yet,” Ventress shakes her head, quickly finding her annoyed tone again, “we don’t have time to be pointlessly soft. We need to get the hell out of here, and there’s an entire compound of pirates on our backs right now.”

“There has to be some way around,” Anakin says.

Ventress nods. “There is. Come on, you’ll thank me profusely and profess your undying loyalty to me on the way.”

“What? No—“

There’s a red lightsaber at his neck in an instant. “Just shut your mouth, Skywalker.”

Anakin breathes in and nods. “Okay.”

Ventress quickly leads the way through the strangely deserted corridors of the pirate base, glancing at a holomap she’s carrying with her, apparently a detailed plan of the entire pirate compound. She’s incredibly focused in the Force, Anakin realises; he’s never really noticed it before, but now, when he has to trust her words as she stops to let panicked pirates pass as they remain unseen, he has to appreciate it. And trust her, at least partially. Kenobi does, after all, and she did just help them get free.

Speaking of Kenobi… “Where did he go?” Anakin hisses, stopping and tentatively reaching out to tap Ventress’ shoulder. She turns to look at him, irritated.

“What?”

“Kenobi’s missing. He was just behind me, and then—“

Ventress rolls her eyes. “He’ll be fine, kid, will you just focus?”

“Did—did you just call me kid?”

“Shut up,” she warns him, then clicks her tongue loudly and whistles, a two-note high pitched sound that sounds uncannily like something a droid would say.

Anakin’s mouth falls open. “Did you just. Did you just speak in Binary?”

Ventress sends him an unimpressed look over her shoulder. “Sure did. What of it? And anyway, how else do you think me and your stupid droid would’ve organised this whole thing? Where do you think I got this map?”

“Organ— This is an organised plan? That you and Artoo had?”

Ventress raises her arms impatiently. “Yeah, what of it, Skywalker, now will you get yourself together and focus, help me out here or—“

“When did you organise this?!”

“When I came to this middle of kriffing nowhere planet after Kenobi signalled me he’d located Dooku, and after I found a Republic shuttle sitting here unattended,” she hisses. “Skywalker I will hand you over to the damn pirates if you ask me a single more idiotic, irrelevant question.”

Anakin swallows nervously. She wouldn’t give him to the pirates. She’d straight up murder him. It’s just not worth it. “Sorry.”

Ventress just scoffs. “You deserve each other, Force…”

“Who deserves who?”

Anakin turns at the sound of the familiar voice to see Kenobi dart out from one of the side corridors, slightly breathless, but smiling.

“I thought I could get to Hondo, show him the full extent of my gratitude for his hospitality, but he seems to be where the bulk of the pirates is, and this place isn’t exactly easy to navigate, so I think that’ll have to wait.”

Anakin breathes out, heart racing, too excited and emotional to care about anything any more. He moves towards Kenobi with every intention of kissing the man, but before he manages to reach him, he hears a prolonged groan from behind his back before Ventress snatches his arm and forcefully yanks him back.

“Ow—“

“I swear to the kriffing Force,” she nearly yells, holding him back and sending Kenobi a murderous look that Dooku would surely be proud of, “I will break this entire backwater planet in half! There’s a time and place for those things and it’s not now!

Kenobi tries to bite back a grin, but the fondness doesn’t disappear from his eyes for even a second. “Of course, Ventress, you’re right, as usually.”

“That doesn’t stop you from not listening to me, does it.” She shakes her head, letting go of Anakin as violently as she’s caught him, then whistles for Artoo again, the same clear sound as before.

She’s really good at making the right sounds for someone who’s, well, not a droid. Most people never even bother to do it. No, Anakin’s not impressed.

At least Artoo reacts to the call this time. He’s heard before he’s seen; the rapidly approaching sound of screaming coming from one of the corridors accompanied by blaster shots announces his presence. Anakin exchanges a look with Kenobi, then, tentatively, with Ventress, before reaching for his—no, Kenobi’s, they still haven’t switched them back—lightsaber.

Artoo rushes into the corridor they’re in, desperately yelling for help, followed by at least ten pirates who immediately start shooting at them. Four lightsabers ignite simultaneously and Kenobi gives Anakin a quick, wild smile before jumping straight into the fight, deflecting the pirates’ bolts back into them effortlessly. Anakin and Ventress both join him.

Anakin tries to direct the bolts into the pirates’ knees, shoulders, anywhere that wouldn’t be lethal; there’s a distant thought in his head that he probably shouldn’t be killing them, but it’s hardly an easy task.

“You need lightsaber practice,” Kenobi tells him, as casually as if he wasn’t in the middle of a fight.

“And you need to stop underestimating me,” Anakin growls, then jumps forward and deflects two bolts straight into the pirates’ chests, the force of the attack and of his anger sending them flying into the walls. Kenobi and Ventress take care of the few pirates that are still standing.

“I’m not saying you’re bad at it, young one.” Kenobi sets a hand on his shoulder once he’s done, lets his thumb rub at the skin of Anakin’s neck, earning himself a smile. “I’m saying you could be so much better.”

Ventress clears her throat. “Kenobi, if I have to remind you one more time that this isn’t the time, I’ll knock you out and leave you here. You and Skywalker both. Hell, I’ll make sure to lock you in a cell with your dear Master Darth Complaint, wherever the hell he is right now—“

Anakin snorts again, noting that Ventress has excellent taste in insults when it comes to Dooku. She glances at him, eyes narrowed in suspicion, and he decides he’s just never going to make a single sound in her presence again.

They start moving again, this time with Artoo trailing behind them with a running commentary on exactly what he thinks of this entire situation. Anakin agrees that it’s ridiculous, but he doesn’t agree that it’s his fault. Because it’s not. It’s Kenobi’s.

They enter a familiar corridor, one that Anakin’s certain he’s seen before. Not that he hasn’t had the exact same thought in every single one of the other corridors; they all look the same, especially in the darkness. No wonder Ventress is using a map.

She looks over her shoulder to shush them, then waves her hand at them to hide behind the corner of the corridor. She leans out to look, Kenobi leans out from behind her, Artoo pushes forward, too, and Anakin resigns himself to joining the ridiculous scene.

There’s a lone pirate standing— no, floating, wheezing and clutching at the invisible force holding him up by the neck. One of the cell doors slides open and Dooku comes out, arm held out, fingers squeezing the air around the pirate’s throat. The Sith Lord raises him higher up into the air, then slams him into the wall, probably hard enough to kill him. He looks around, then starts walking, thankfully headed away from them.

Ventress exchanges a long look with Kenobi. “Well, that’s that for him,” she says. “We should—“

Kenobi faces her, then takes hold of both her shoulders, staring her in the eyes intently. “Ventress, please.”

Anakin has no idea what he’s asking, but it seems terribly important.

Ventress groans in response. “Oh, Force. You’ll be in trouble, you know this, right? That, and you’ll owe me for this, Kenobi. You will owe me so damn much—“

Kenobi grins at her, excited and genuine, then climbs to his toes and kisses her forehead. “Thank you, thank you, yes, whatever you say.”

Ventress rolls her eyes. “You’re getting soft. Disgustingly so.”

Kenobi takes half a step forward, almost as if he wanted to embrace her, but stops, still smiling. “Meet you back on Mustafar for a training session. We shall see who’s soft.”

Ventress smiles back at him, a reluctant, slight curve of her lips, a rare sight. “Move, before I change my damn mind.”

She nods at him, then dashes out from behind the corner, running in the direction of where Dooku’s disappeared. She whistles a simple goodbye at Artoo and the droid chirps, offended, but then beeps it back. Anakin raises an eyebrow at him, but before he has a chance to demand the explanation that he deserves, Kenobi waves a hand to follow him.

“What just happened? Where is she going?”

“She’s going to get Dooku on a ship and away from here.”

Anakin clenches his fists but doesn’t comment. Escape this place first, be angry about Dooku later. “And us? Do we know where we’re going? For once?”

Kenobi shrugs with one shoulder. “More or less.”

He leads them back through the labyrinth of corridors, stopping several times to let angry pirates pass. Artoo disgruntledly follows them.

They reach a familiar closed door with a broken lock that bears the marks of a lightsaber being stabbed through it not too long ago, sparks still falling from it. Anakin glances at Kenobi in disbelief.

“Wait, isn’t this the door to the main hall?”

“It would seem that way, indeed.”

Anakin stares at him, brows furrowed. “You just brought us back? How is any of this a plan?”

“Anakin, the pirates are probably all over the place now, trying to find us, realising that Dooku has escaped them too and also trying to find him. The main hall is the last place they’d expect us to be. And I’m relatively sure that the best ships we can find would be the ones we came here in. So—“

“So we’re just hoping that they all left.”

Kenobi huffs. “Do you have a better plan?”

“Well… No.” Anakin ignites his—Kenobi’s—lightsaber. “Let’s get this door open, then.”

They cut a hole in the door and kick it in, then jump out, weapons in hand.

At least thirty pirates turn to look at them, including Hondo standing right in the middle of the hall, ever so slightly losing his mind judging by his expression. As soon as their eyes meet, he opens his mouth in an outraged expression.

“You!” he yells, but there seems to be no anger in his voice. He almost sounds amused, which makes no sense to Anakin, but also he really doesn’t care about it. He doesn’t have the energy to be trying to work out what the double-crossing, no-good swindler might be thinking.

He has just about enough energy to fight the man, though, which he’s going to do right now, and—

He manages to take half a step forward before Kenobi yanks him back by the collar of his robe. “Run.

“What—“

“Run! Unless you want to murder all of them, but I feel like we don’t exactly have time for that!”

Kenobi dashes towards the exit, where both their ships are hopefully still standing, and Anakin throws one last angry glance at Hondo before following the Sith Lord. Hondo screams something and the pirates immediately start shooting at them. A shot from a kriffing blaster cannon rushes out over Anakin’s head and lands itself right in the middle of one of his shuttle’s engines; the explosion knocks him backwards, nearly making him lose his footing.

Oh for the love of—

“Into my ship,” Kenobi bellows, “quick!”

Anakin doesn’t even argue, just tears past the remains of the Republic shuttle and follows Kenobi on board of his ship at full speed, Artoo rolling right behind him, signalling his presence with panicked screaming. Another blaster cannon shot hits the ruined Republic shuttle, sending pieces of flaming debris flying. The next shot is going to break through it and hit Kenobi’s ship, they’re almost out of time.

Anakin doesn’t recognise the ship’s model, but he’s flown too many ships in his lifetime to even care any more. He knows he’ll be able to pilot it, and he’s pretty sure he’ll be able to pilot it better than Kenobi. He grabs Kenobi’s arm before the man sits in the main pilot seat and forcibly drags him away from it.

“Anakin—“

Anakin stops to look him in the eye for a split second. “Trust me.

Kenobi searches his face then nods, hurriedly moving to settle in the co-pilot seat. Anakin jumps into the main one, already turning all the switches, starting the engines and yelling at Artoo to help him. He lifts the shuttle up, making a sharp turn before it’s even fully off the ground. The pirates still try to shoot at him, but it no longer matters. He’s got a ship now, and flying’s always been like breathing to him. The shuttle rises and Anakin immediately takes swift evasive manoeuvres.

“Anakin—“ Kenobi sounds terrified, and Anakin flashes him a delighted grin.

“Hold on!”

The shuttle shoots up, the surge of speed singing in Anakin’s veins as the engines finally reach full power. Kenobi shouts something as Anakin breaks to the side and does a barrel roll just for the hell of it, just to let his ecstatic happiness show. He brings the ship back around to half-heartedly shoot at the feet of the pirates standing in front of the compound, then hurries away, keeping to the planet’s surface for now but leaving the pirates far behind.

Anakin turns to smile at Kenobi.

They’re free.

Chapter Text

“Anakin, could you maybe stop doing barrel rolls—“

“I can’t hear you,” Anakin says as he sharply pulls the ship into another spiral, grinning so wide his mouth almost hurts, “I’m doing barrel rolls.”

Kenobi’s groan, surely the hundredth one by now, is drowned out by the roar of the engines. Well, it’s not Anakin’s fault that Kenobi’s ship is so wonderfully agile; he couldn’t possibly not try out its capabilities. He’s simply having fun flying; the slightly terrified glances Kenobi is sending him are just a bonus.

He finally levels the shuttle again and stifles a laugh at the long sigh of relief that leaves Kenobi’s mouth.

“Not a fan of flying, then?” he asks lightly.

“Flying’s for droids,” Kenobi says, sounding delightfully disgruntled. Anakin laughs in response, still euphoric from their escape.

He takes a deep, contented breath; as far as he’s concerned, the air in the shuttle smells of freedom. The embarrassment of being captured by pirates is over, and what lies ahead is… Anakin’s smile falters when he realises that his next step should be incapacitating Kenobi somehow and heading straight for the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. He shakes his head a little and pushes the frankly appalling thought as far away from himself as he can, locks it away in the furthest corner of his mind.

Not now.

The boring, dusty Florrum landscape rushes past the nose of the ship. It’s mostly mountains and geysers, with occasional disgusting desert-like expanses of sand. Anakin flies low over another huge geyser explosion just because he can, earning an undignified, hilariously high-pitched yelp from Kenobi’s mouth. Past the geyser there’s a large flat area, a long valley-like passage between two mountain ranges. Both Anakin and Kenobi notice something lying at the far end of it, strangely reminiscent of a wrecked ship.

“That… that looks like it might’ve been Dooku’s,” Kenobi says, curiously craning his head, eyes narrowed in an attempt to see the ship better. “Land beside it. I want to have a look.”

Anakin sets the shuttle on the ground right next to the ruined ship and gets up from his seat, but Kenobi’s hand on his shoulder stops him from moving. When Anakin opens his mouth to argue, Kenobi just shakes his head at him.

“It’d be better if you stay here,” the man says, his expression turning serious as he squeezes Anakin’s shoulder a little. “I’ll just take a quick look, see if there’s anything of interest left on it, then return here. We still aren’t safe, and should anything happen, I’d rather have a trustworthy place to retreat into.”

Anakin rolls his eyes but wordlessly settles back into the pilot seat. He doesn’t exactly lose anything by agreeing to this request; Kenobi is leaving him alone with the ship, trusting him enough to do so, counting on him not to fly away. Anakin bites his lower lip before his treacherous face decides to smile.

The door slides open and Kenobi steps out, heading for the remains of Dooku’s ship.

Anakin takes a deep breath and turns to look at Artoo, who’s been almost disturbingly quiet ever since they got into Kenobi’s ship. Even now he’s just rolling his head around in complete silence, pointedly refusing to grace Anakin with a beep or even just a single look.

Anakin clears his throat. “Now might be a good time to explain some things, don’t you agree?”

Artoo turns his head towards Anakin very slowly. His beeps and whistles sound thoroughly offended as he suggests that perhaps it’s Anakin who should explain himself first.

“Hey, I’m not the one who was working with a—“

Artoo straight up screams in exasperation and Anakin quickly realises his mistake.

“Okay, fine, yes, you have a point,” he admits hastily, “I’m sorry, but still. Buddy. That was Ventress. Ventress?” Anakin knows his voice sounds slightly hysterical, but he can’t be bothered to care about that right now. “You teamed up with Ventress, what—“

Artoo seems to grow more annoyed with every beep as he explains, slowly, as if he was talking to a complete idiot, that he’s done that to save Anakin’s ass.

“But how did it even happen? How did she convince—“

Artoo rolls a bit closer to him, shaking; Anakin’s never seen him this agitated. How dare you ask me this, Artoo begins, his beeping so low it becomes a threatening buzz, and Anakin instantly knows he’s crossed the line somehow. Artoo all but yells at him after that, scolding him for getting captured and for just about everything that he’s been doing lately. The droid whirrs, almost as if he’s taking another deep breath. You ungrateful little—

“Hey,” Anakin intervenes, “you don’t get to call me that.” Another series of mercilessly offensive beeps. “Or that.” Several chirps and a low whistle, and Anakin draws in a sharp breath. “Artoo!”

Instead of replying the droid just stomps around angrily and rolls away a little, apparently done being outrageously disrespectful for the moment.

Anakin sighs. “All right, you know what, forget I ever said anything.”

An uncomfortable silence falls between them and Anakin turns to look out the viewport, his mouth pulled into a thin line as he tries to keep his mind empty. The talk made him feel bad enough already; he really doesn’t need to be thinking about anything, especially about the fact that his droid, hell, his friend, is mad at him. Rightfully so, too.

When Artoo chirps at him again, he sounds softer, if still angry. Choosing his beeps carefully, he tells Anakin that Kenobi is a Sith, and no matter what he does, he’s not on Anakin’s side. Never will be. Anakin just scoffs, still stubbornly looking away. He’s well kriffing aware Kenobi is a Sith. He doesn’t need to be reminded of that every few seconds. He’s not a lost child any more, struggling to survive, hoping for someone to tell him what to do. He can make his own damn decisions, and—

The door slides open again and as soon as Kenobi walks in and sits down in his seat, Artoo whirrs angrily before going quiet again and storming off to sulk in some furthest compartment of the ship, probably. Kenobi watches him over his shoulder, raises an eyebrow but doesn’t say anything.

Anakin starts the engines again, listens to the familiar, calming hum of a ship entirely under his control. Feels good to have something under his control; a pleasant change, considering his whole entire life at the present moment. He lightly lifts the shuttle off the ground, beginning preparations to leave the planet.

“So how about Dooku’s ship?” he asks idly, not caring for the answer, but incapable of sitting in silence after the argument with Artoo.

“Completely ruined. Didn’t find much in it, but seems like it’s definitely been shot off. Must’ve been the pirates, I suppose; brave of them, if foolish.” Kenobi stretches in his seat lazily. “Time for us to leave this place, I think.”

Anakin nods absently, focusing exclusively on steering the ship until they enter the orbit and he can no longer pretend that anything is fine or that he knows what he wants to do now. The thought of going back to Coruscant fills him with unbearable dread, ice cold claws scraping at his heart, eating away at his confidence until there’s nothing left.

He shouldn’t even be hesitating. He should already be on his way, with Kenobi as his apology present for the Council, but—

He notices an unfamiliar ship ahead of them, and he’s never been so glad for a distraction before.

Kenobi immediately brightens up a little. “That’s Banshee, Ventress’ ship. She managed to get out of there, then.” He’s trying to keep his voice neutral, but Anakin can sense his relief and almost smiles before his mind catches up to the situation and realises that if this is indeed Ventress’ ship, then that’s where Dooku is.

And Anakin’s watched him escape too many times to let this happen again.

“Anakin,” Kenobi says, a warning.

“I’m going to shoot Dooku down and capture him,” Anakin says, anger bubbling inside him hot and relentless. “I’ve had enough of this. I’ll bring him before the Council, and then—”

“You will do no such thing.”

The words feel like a punch to the face. Anakin was sure that Kenobi would be with him on this now, that he’d let Anakin chase Dooku down and… He looks at the man, hurt. “Taking his side after all, huh? Sith Lords just got to stay together, is that it?”

Kenobi takes a deep breath, but when he speaks again, there’s a new strength in his voice, one that wouldn’t abide disobedience. “Ventress is on that ship, Anakin, not just the Count. I won’t allow you to attack her.”

And he means it; Anakin can feel the Force shifting around him slightly, flaring up over his shoulders, little sparks of it framing his face in a halo of power.

Anakin looks away from him and keeps the ship headed for Ventress’, but tentatively slows down a little, no longer entirely sure if attacking it is really the best course of action. He wants to do it, to get Dooku, but…

“I have a proposition for you, Anakin,” Kenobi says, slowly, as if he’s unsure how to phrase it. “An offer, if you will.”

“Whatever it is, I’m not interested,” Anakin shoots back. “Unless you intend to let me chase and k—capture Dooku.”

Kenobi sighs, exasperated. “I’ve already told you, I can’t let you do that, Anakin. Not yet.”

Anakin frowns, then turns to look at Kenobi as he realises what he’s heard, his full attention immediately focusing on the man. He absently reaches for the ship controls with the Force and brings it to a complete stop, letting it drift through space.

“Did you just say yet?”

The emotions in Kenobi’s face are clear and striking. Honesty. Affection. An exhausted, desperate need for understanding that mirrors Anakin’s own.

“You think I care for the Count?” Kenobi asks quietly. Somehow it seems like speaking the words doesn’t come easy to him. “I respect him and his skill, he is my Master, and we used to agree on many matters, but you think I care for him? You think I care for the person who killed my former Master, the man I held so dear that it drove me away from the Jedi? You think I care for the person who tried to order me to kill you? Anakin.”

Anakin feels his heart rate pick up considerably. “What are you saying?”

“It wouldn’t be wise to attack the Count now, because I don’t want to hurt Ventress, and also because I’d rather not draw the attention of Dooku’s Master to me. To us. So, yes, unwise. But not a thoroughly bad concept, all things considered.”

Anakin blinks. “You’re saying you want to kill Dooku.”

I’m saying that in the right circumstances, I wouldn’t be entirely opposed to the idea.”

Anakin looks away, trying to digest what he’s just heard. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to him. He’s been told many times that treachery is the way of the Sith; he’s even witnessed it first-hand. He should’ve expected this, and he most definitely shouldn’t be… excited about it? No, that has to be some… leftover emotion from the Florrum escape. He watches Ventress’ ship jump into hyperspace with Dooku aboard it. Not yet.

The warmth of Kenobi’s hand gently grasping his shoulder brings him out of his thoughts. Anakin’s eyes meet Kenobi’s again, and he doesn’t shake the man’s hand off. Once Kenobi gets Anakin’s attention, he straightens up in his seat again, folding his arms over his chest.

“So, as I was saying, I have an offer for you. There’s a planet that I’ve needed to visit for a long while, and I feel like now would be an excellent time. I want you to come with me to that planet and stay there for… two, maybe three days.”

Anakin shakes his head. “I can’t. The Council already has more than enough reasons to kill me, I shouldn’t give them even more.” He turns back to the ship’s controls and starts plotting the simplest course towards the Core Worlds into the navicomputer.

“And what do you think you’re doing?”

“Heading for Coruscant is what.”

“Anakin. You know that if I enter Coruscant’s space I won’t be coming back.”

Anakin feels his hands clench into fists and slams them both on the ship’s console as hard as he can. Kenobi doesn’t flinch.

“What do you expect me to do, then, hmm?” Anakin’s voice sounds harsh and too angry even to him, but he can’t control himself. It’s all spilling from him in waves, the confusion, the uncertainty, the despair, every muscle in his body tense, fingernails of his left hand painfully digging into his palm. “I have to contact the Republic and go back to Coruscant. I’m in trouble, the Council hates me, the galaxy is at war, do you even— do you even care about any of this?”

“I care about you,” Kenobi says, and the honest simplicity of the words makes Anakin stop and look at him, heart fluttering, throat dry. Kenobi reaches towards him in the Force and tugs at their connection lightly, a reassuring gesture. “What I expect you to do, I don’t know. What do you want to do, Anakin?”

Kenobi is sitting almost sideways, turned to face him, leaning on one elbow lightly propped on the console. There’s a strange gentleness in his golden eyes as he waits and Anakin wonders how is it possible that a Lord of the Sith seems to have more patience than all the Jedi Masters he knows combined.

He wants to go with Kenobi.

“It doesn’t matter what I want,” he says finally, looking away, biting down on his lower lip. “Never did.”

“Oh, but it does matter, sweet thing,” Kenobi whispers, reaching out a hand to rest it on Anakin’s shoulder again. Anakin just clenches his jaw and rolls his eyes, and Kenobi playfully flicks his thumb against Anakin’s ear before taking the hand away. “It’s the only thing that matters. But all right, let me ask you a different question. Do you have a death wish?”

This catches Anakin’s off-guard and makes him curious, enough to glance at Kenobi again. Kenobi winks, then sends out warmth towards him, a gentle wave of calm emotions. Anakin closes his eyes.

“Do you think the Council won’t notice this?”

It’s like Kenobi’s voice is echoing within his mind, resonating through him. Anakin allows the strange feeling to relax him. “Won’t notice... what?”

Kenobi chuckles. “You know exactly what, young one. This connection that we share, our minds bound in the Force, tightly threaded together. The very thing you’ve used back on Florrum to ground yourself. The very thing you missed so desperately that you punched through a dampening field nobody has any right breaking just to feel it again.”

“I— well.” Anakin blinks his eyes open, forcing himself to focus. “I was drunk, Kenobi, drunk and… confused, I had no idea what I was doing—“

A smug grin slowly spreads over Kenobi’s lips. “Is that so?”

Anakin opens his mouth to argue and closes it, realising that he doesn’t really have anything to say.

“You didn’t try to shield yourself from me even after you cleared your mind and body with the Force. You’re not doing anything to keep me out now, either. You’ve consciously used it to warn me back when we were being tortured. Does the Jedi Code condone lying, Anakin?”

Anakin makes a face. “Don’t you bring the Jedi or the Code into this, this has nothing to do with—“

“Precisely,” Kenobi cuts him off, sharp but amused. The conversation seems to be going exactly the way Kenobi wants it to. It’s driving Anakin mad a little. “You think they’re going to enjoy finding out that one of their Knights has his mind tangled to a Sith Lord like this? You think they’re going to be understanding about it? You have to learn shielding, Anakin, if you want to survive.”

“I know shielding.” Anakin argues, immediately offended at the implication. Has he not fooled the Jedi Council multiple times? He can keep his mind well defended if he chooses to. “And besides, why now? I’ve faced the Council and the other Jedi when I came back from Mustafar; why would now be different?”

“Why, I’ve been protecting you, Anakin, using this very connection of ours to lend you my defences, to hide you from the Jedi and the Sith both. The Jedi know nothing, and hopefully the Sith believe I’m messing with your mind to make you harmless and get information from you.”

Anakin bites his lower lip absently. The idea of Kenobi watching over him, keeping him in his thoughts and helping him out whenever he needs it, is something he wouldn’t even dare think of, but now… It feels like a warm embrace, Kenobi’s presence in the Force comfortably folding itself in his lap and purring. Anakin wraps his arms around himself and looks into Kenobi’s eyes.

“If that’s true, why can’t you just keep doing it?”

Kenobi gives him a slow, proud smile. “It’s growing too strong for me to control.”

Anakin straightens up in the seat, confusion rolling through his mind. The idea that anything could possibly be powerful enough to slip from Kenobi’s firm grasp seems to him unlikely at best. Anakin’s seen the man in action, with his arrogantly perfect fighting technique and light, easy use of the Force. He seems like he must’ve been born already wielding this power and grace, for surely no being could ever learn to be so effortlessly impressive.

To Anakin, everything Kenobi does seems heavy in the Force, but the weight is a pleasant one, a familiar presence as welcome in his mind as his own. Kenobi is unlike anyone he’s ever met; not a Jedi, but not quite a Sith either, a singularity, a bright point of darkness, something that should not be allowed to exist but does, someone who should’ve been broken by the darkness but leashed it and commanded it to lay at his feet instead.

Anakin thinks of space, of flying, tries to recall a celestial body half as fascinating as Kenobi. Black holes don’t have a pull nearly as powerful, nebulae aren’t as beautiful and complex, supernovas and flare stars both seem dull and dim compared to him.

And he can’t control a simple connection he has to Anakin’s mind?

“Doesn’t seem right,” Anakin says, sneaking a careful look at Kenobi’s face.

Kenobi shakes his head in amused disbelief. “You don’t know how much power you carry within you, young one, they robbed you of that knowledge. You don’t even know what you are, do you.”

A Jedi, Anakin wants to answer, but the word grows into a lump in his throat and refuses to leave his lips, stuck somewhere on the back of his tongue. A Jedi. Is he?

“Anakin, I…” Kenobi sighs softly. “There’s no way for me to show you the true extent of what you can do if you don’t accept my training.”

“I recall accepting it at least two times,” Anakin says, unthinking, then immediately bites his own tongue. How come he didn’t choke on those words?

Kenobi laughs lightly. “I don’t recall you actually agreeing to become my apprentice.”

“Well, that’s because I… didn’t. But…”

“I don’t want to trick you or lie to you, Anakin. To me, promises and pledges carry meaning only when you fully mean them.” Kenobi leans back in the seat, closing his eyes for a moment. “I could forcefully bind you to me, but I don’t want that. I’d never do that to you. You deserve to have a choice.”

Anakin looks away.

“Come with me. Two, maybe three days, and then you can do whatever you please. But first, do this. Indulge me. Indulge yourself. Stay with me a little longer.” Kenobi voice is low, silky, and Anakin can feel its low rumble at the back of his mind.

Excitement buzzes in his ears, flows into him and spills into his chest. He remembers Mustafar, and now their adventure at Florrum. How alive it made him feel.

He knows perfectly well agreeing to Kenobi’s request is not the right choice, and yet…

He’d have to stop all communication with the Council again; Mace would be furious. But then, Yoda might be back on Coruscant by the time Anakin returns, and Kenobi is right. If the Masters realise how confused Anakin is, how close to the Dark Side he’s treading, he’s going to end up in even bigger trouble, as impossible as that even sounds to him right now. They might have him locked up for all he knows. So…

“Do the Jedi have any way of locating or tracking you?” Kenobi asks.

“My communicator, probably? It didn’t work in the pirate compound but I think they could use it to find out where I am now.”

“Anything you might do about that?”

Anakin feels another rush of excitement, eyes bright, mind sparkling, considers his options for just another second, then decides and starts talking, quicker and quicker as a plan appears in his head. “I could… scramble the signal, hard enough for it to seem like it’s coming from all over the place. I could tell them I’m chasing Dooku, decline their help. They won’t be happy about it, but it might just be enough to placate them for long enough.”

Kenobi gives him a smile, golden pride flickering in his eyes. “Do it.”

Anakin is already out of his seat, filled with an energy he can’t contain; Kenobi points him towards a tool compartment within the ship and Anakin immediately gets to work. He sits cross-legged on the floor, taking the comm apart with a steady, skilful hand. He can feel Kenobi watching him curiously and grins to himself, reaching out a hand to the man. “I’ll need your communicator too for this to work.”

“But I like my communicator.”

Anakin stops his tinkering to look at Kenobi with disbelief, wiggling his fingers impatiently; the man laughs, then places the device in his open palm. Anakin turns it over in his hand, examining it, then removes its casing. It doesn’t take him long to retrieve the transmitter and attach it back to his own half disassembled comm.

He climbs to his feet, the parts he didn’t need falling off his lap, and settles back into his seat. He carefully connects the communicator to the ship’s console and turns it on, along with a holoprojector, cautiously adjusting it so it doesn’t accidentally include the image of Kenobi. “Well, here goes nothing.”

The projection of Mace Windu that appears before him is completely distorted, meaning that the image of Anakin on the other side is looking just as unclear; exactly what he hoped for. It’s barely more than a flash of shapeless blue, but Anakin doesn’t need to see Mace’s face to know that he’s angry.

“Skywalker! Mind telling us what—“

“Order the ransom convoy headed for Florrum to turn back,” Anakin cuts in, surprised at how calm and commanding his voice sounds. Out the corner of his eye he sees Kenobi nod at him. “The Sith Lords have both escaped; I am in pursuit of Dooku.”

“The— What? You’re— Absolutely not. Get back to Coruscant immediately, Skywalker. You’ll explain yourself here.”

“I won’t do that, Master Windu, I’m right on Dooku’s tail, I cannot turn back now.”

Mace sighs deeply. “You can and you will, this is not a request, Skywalker, this is an order. Where are you? We’ll send someone else to pick the Sith Lord’s trail up.”

“No,” Anakin says, ending the discussion as far as he’s concerned. “I’ll chase him down and hopefully capture, I’m too close to just let him go again. I’ll contact you when I’m done; remember not to let the ransom money get to Florrum.”

He terminates and blocks the connection before Mace can tell him exactly how much trouble he’s in and takes a deep breath.

“That should do it,” he mutters, absently poking the modified comm with a finger. “The signal will be randomly transmitted over at least several sectors, bouncing off here and there, untraceable and impossible to connect to. They’ll see me, but won’t know where I am and won’t be able to contact me.” He turns to look at Kenobi, to see that the man is watching him with a grin, and feels his heart flutter excitedly. “So, what’s that planet we’re going to?”

“Korriban, just in the next sector,” Kenobi answers after a moment.

Anakin’s expression falls a little. “Are you out of your mind, Kenobi? That’s a Sith planet.”

“I won’t let it hurt you or affect you in any way, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Kenobi says quickly, his expression turning serious in the blink of an eye. “Trust me.”

Anakin bites his inner cheek. The idea suddenly doesn’t sound as good to him as it did just a moment ago, but he’s made a decision and committed to it; it’s not like he can turn back now. Or, well, maybe he could, but… He hesitantly sets a course for Korriban and turns on the autopilot on a whim.

He reclines in the seat with a huff, thankful for how comfortable it is, and rests his head against the back. As soon as he does that, he realises he’s feeling strange all of a sudden, a very particular warmth nudging its way into his mind. Anakin starts wondering on whose whim exactly did he turn on that autopilot. He could’ve flown to the planet himself, it’s not that far, why—

“Kenobi,” he tries for a warning, but what leaves his lips sounds more like a long sigh.

“Yes?” Kenobi murmurs innocently, leaning back in his seat, watching.

Anakin closes his eyes. The heat spills through him, tongues of soft flame sliding down his body, a phantom touch, an intangible breath of warmth, a feeling barely contained. Nothing compares to it, nothing is even remotely similar; Anakin could easily drown in it, let himself sink into the exquisite feeling, into the heavy, sparkling darkness crowding in the corners of his vision and into the snug warmth of Kenobi’s presence.

“Anakin.” Kenobi’s smooth voice calls for his attention, and Anakin benevolently obliges, opening his eyes to look at the man, a lazy, contented smile spreading over his lips. “Stop me from accessing your mind like this. Let’s consider this… a part of the training I promised you, which you really do need, by the way.”

“Mhm.”

“At least try,” Kenobi says, amusement in his tone.

Anakin breathes out slowly, a decision slowly crystallising somewhere at the back of his mind. “I don’t... want to.”

He’s looking into Kenobi’s eyes, so he sees the flash of something in them when Kenobi gets up from his seat and saunters over.

Anakin swallows, suddenly nervous. “Um—”

Kenobi throws one leg over Anakin’s so that he’s standing above him, hands sneaking up Anakin’s arms.

“Kenobi?”

“I guess the training could… wait a little,” Kenobi murmurs, slowly sitting down in Anakin’s lap, straddling him, fingers tracing the lines of his neck.

Oh. Well, then.

Anakin feels heat burning through him at the closeness, at the power radiating off Kenobi. His own hands move of their own accord, one settling at Kenobi’s hips, the other coming up to touch the man’s bearded cheek. Kenobi smirks at him as he slowly, intently rolls his hips forward, his heavy gaze fixed on Anakin’s parted lips, definitely enjoying the strained gasp leaving Anakin’s mouth, his fingers splayed over Anakin’s throat. Anakin tries to grind his hips up against him, but the man chides him with a quiet, amused click of his tongue.

Kenobi’s fingers move to comb through Anakin’s hair, brushing the curls away from his forehead before sliding down to his nape, slipping under the collar of his tunic, and even the brief, light tough is enough to make Anakin’s eyelids flutter— no, it’s not just the touch; it’s the luscious warmth Kenobi is still slowly pushing into his mind, heavy waves of heat falling over him, Kenobi’s intoxicating allure surrounding him completely, clouding his mind with a smoke-like haze.

Anakin lets out a heavy breath, looking up at Kenobi through his eyelashes, lips parted and teeth catching on his own lower lip as his mouth stretches into a wickedly insolent smile.

His gaze flicks to Kenobi’s mouth as he licks his lips and leans forward.

“Ah, ah,” Kenobi murmurs lightly, warm breath ghosting Anakin’s lips.

Anakin looks into Kenobi’s eyes again, letting out a low, delighted growl as the man’s fingers curl into a fist in his hair and hold him in place, not allowing him to lean in.

Kenobi’s infuriatingly close, his nose brushing Anakin’s, eyes boring into him with arrogant pride. Anakin strains against his grasp, testing its strength, and purrs when Kenobi’s hand just closes tighter in response, the pull strong enough to sting but not forceful enough to hurt, the sharp pinpricks of feeling more pleasure than pain; Anakin’s eyelids flutter at the sensation. He flicks his tongue out to lick at Kenobi’s upper lip, daring the man to do something about it.

Kenobi growls and chases Anakin’s tongue, crashing their mouths in a ferocious, biting kiss, sucking on Anakin’s tongue as his hand still pulls Anakin’s hair mercilessly. Anakin moans into the kiss, his mind reaching out towards Kenobi, following the gold traces of the Sith Lord’s presence and sending his own emotions out, projecting them back at Kenobi. The desperation, the excitement, the aching need burning up in his gut.

The surge of Anakin’s emotions makes Kenobi relax against him and purr into Anakin’s mouth, letting go of the hair on his nape only to move his hand up and gather another fistful of it, grabbing more stray strands and drawing a sharp hiss from Anakin’s mouth.

Kenobi rolls his hips forward again, their bodies almost pressed flush against each other now; Anakin’s pants are getting increasingly uncomfortable. He tries to sneak his hands under Kenobi’s tunic, but the man just playfully slaps them away.

“Hands off,” he whispers, voice low and smooth. He leans into Anakin’s ear, then closes his teeth on Anakin’s earlobe and sucks it into his mouth. “Don’t make me bind you.”

Anakin scrambles to hook both his hands behind the back of the seat before he even fully realises that he’s moving, Kenobi’s soft yet commanding tone far too overwhelming to even try resisting. He mouths at Kenobi’s neck wherever he can reach as his breath catches in his throat at the thought. “What if I want you to?” His voice is hoarse, shaky, lust dripping off the words.

Kenobi laughs, low, knowing. “Do you, now.”

Anakin just moans in response as Kenobi strengthens the hold on his hair and tilts his head to the side, his other hand pulling Anakin’s tunics apart, allowing himself better access to Anakin’s neck. He finally lets go of Anakin’s hair and Anakin would be disappointed at the loss but his mind is all but drowning in Kenobi and he can’t even focus his thoughts enough to remember what disappointment is. He gives Kenobi another hazy smile, entranced.

Kenobi’s index and middle finger press down on Anakin’s lips, then slowly slide into his mouth and Anakin hums, hooded eyes not leaving Kenobi’s face as he laps his tongue around the man’s fingers, leaning forward to push them further into his mouth, to taste more.

“Oh, you’re gorgeous,” Kenobi murmurs, licking his lips. His eyes are dark, the fingers of his free hand working to undo the clasps on his and Anakin’s belts, and Anakin wishes he’d be quicker about it because he’s hot, needy, and just about out of patience. Darkness is all but pouring out of Kenobi and Anakin drinks it all in, the darkness and the mischief and the promises he can’t even fully focus on.

Kenobi is finally done ridding them of redundant layers of clothing and takes both of them in his hand, accompanied by Anakin’s sharp intake of breath. He starts a slow rhythm, sliding closer and away, and his fingers are barely grazing Anakin but Anakin is relatively sure this is what losing his mind feels like. Pleasure is travelling through his whole body, charged with so much intense energy he feels like it’s going to burst out of him. He needs more, he needs so much more and he needs it now.

Their connection is brimming with something beautifully bright and it’s the most powerful like this, when Anakin lets go, breathlessly calling Kenobi’s name and biting his tongue on every Master trying to leave his mouth. The strain is overwhelming, the need to touch, to do anything as Kenobi’s fingers slide out of his mouth and flutter across his chest and his other hand moves slightly to focus entirely on Anakin.

Kenobi’s stroking him slow, too slow, but there something exquisitely delightful about it, about the way his fingers feel on the sensitive skin, about the way he slides his thumb over the tip, about the way he twists his fist, squeezing slightly. Anakin thrusts his hips into it, lips parted, eyes half lidded, sighs escaping his mouth, almost incapable of keeping his hands to himself but the need to be obedient, to be good, overpowers everything else.

“Such a good boy,” Kenobi whispers, voice low and heavy, lips at his ear, leaving a trail of biting kisses along his jaw, and Anakin just hums at the praise, delightful heat drowning his mind and body.

Kenobi reaches around the seat until his fingers close around Anakin’s left wrist and pull it back. Anakin watches, mesmerised, as Kenobi guides that hand towards himself, finally giving Anakin permission. He’s as hot to the touch as his mind always seems to be, and Anakin can’t help but wonder how it’d feel to– he licks his lips, barely able to string coherent thoughts together, Kenobi’s hand still sliding up and down, sending pleasure throughout him in waves.

Anakin wraps his fingers around him and starts a rhythm mirroring the one Kenobi’s setting. With each stroke Kenobi projects more pleasure through their bond, flooding Anakin with it, and Anakin breathes it all in as if it’s air. Kenobi steadies himself against Anakin’s waist as Anakin picks up the pace and brings his other hand around to firmly grasp Kenobi’s shoulder.

He’d be spilling by now, the mere sight of Kenobi with his mouth slightly parted, sighing, holding on to Anakin and working at him with his other hand would be more than enough. Kenobi seems to be holding him back, though, letting the pressure within him build until it’s almost unbearable yet perfect, their minds one golden haze of pleasure.

Kenobi’s hand moves to rest against his throat, squeezing just hard enough to make Anakin cough and arch his back. Kenobi hums approvingly, lets go and leans forward to kiss him again, all but devouring him completely. Anakin’s cybernetic hand moves to cup the back of his neck almost tenderly. Kenobi leans down to bite at his neck, hard, and Anakin hisses at how delightful that pain is.

“Let me look at you,” Kenobi demands in a whisper and Anakin shudders.

He straightens up, throws his head against the back of the seat, biting his lower lip, panting and begging until Kenobi grins slowly and unlocks their connection in full.

If Anakin thought he was drowning before, he doesn’t know a word for this feeling.

Pure bliss fills his mind to the brim, all of his feelings and sensations shared with Kenobi on every possible and impossible level, a connection so absolute that for a short second he can’t tell where he ends and Kenobi begins. He can feel Kenobi’s heart beating, he can feel the pleasure travelling through the man’s body almost as vividly as he feels his own. They both come at the same time and Anakin can’t catch a breath or find a single thought in his mind for a long moment, lost in the overwhelmingly perfect feeling.

The quiet, beeping sound of the autopilot shutting off is what slowly pulls his mind into coherence again. He blinks his eyes open to see Kenobi still sitting in his lap, smirking down at him, and Anakin smiles at him blissfully before glancing over his shoulder to see what’s happening.

The ship is hovering high above the reddish surface of a planet that Anakin doesn’t know but instantly recognises as dangerous. There’s something malevolent about it and Anakin can’t fight the absurd feeling that the planet knows he’s there and that he doesn’t belong. The whole space around it feels wrong, off; Anakin would never choose to land on it of his own free will.

Instead of thinking about it any further, he just groans quietly and hides his face in Kenobi’s shoulder. “Please tell me this ship has a ‘fresher.”

Kenobi laughs in response and presses his lips to Anakin’s temple.

Chapter Text

Kenobi’s ship is floating high above Korriban, but even at such a great distance Anakin can sense that something’s wrong. There’s a black hole in the Force right where the planet is, a space that’s seemingly empty yet dense with something. Anakin wouldn’t normally say that a planet has a presence, but this one does; a lull of darkness, a distant threat, a pull so strong Anakin wonders how come their ship isn’t plummeting towards the planet’s surface yet. Korriban seems alive in the worst, most disturbing of ways, pulsing with a dim but sick, sinister energy.

It’s making Anakin’s head throb unpleasantly but he’s relatively sure he can handle it. It’s just a minor headache, and he’s under Kenobi’s protection, apparently; as long as Kenobi is fine, Anakin will be safe, too.

Safe really shouldn’t be a word he even considers in those circumstances; he’s headed to a Sith planet, with a Sith Lord, for reasons unknown but probably Sith-related. He can just about imagine the faces of the entire Jedi Council if he tried to tell them that.

Well, if it all goes according to plan, they’ll never hear of it.

Anakin gets out of the sonic shower and turns around, suspiciously eyeing the stack of neatly folded dark robes that Kenobi handed him before shoving him into the ship’s tiny refresher.

Ah, what the hell. He does look good in black.

He dresses up and hooks a lightsaber on his belt (still Kenobi’s, he realises with a grin) then stares himself down in the mirror and blushes at the sight: his neck is a right mess, speckled with hickeys and teeth marks. He drags his fingers over the sensitive skin and bites down on his lower lip, then slowly, curiously undoes two buttons on the collar of the black robe to make Kenobi’s marks on him more visible. He runs a hand through the hair framing his face in a cascade of curls and gives his reflection a tentative wink. It’s not a bad look for him.

He walks out of the ‘fresher and into the pilot cabin to see Kenobi leaning over the back of his seat and staring out the viewport, looking as impeccable as always. For a second Anakin wants to walk up behind him and just press his chest along the man’s back but he chides himself for the ridiculous thoughts and just leans over the other seat.

Kenobi glances at him, gaze sliding down over Anakin’s neck, and Anakin congratulates himself for the excellent idea of leaving it exposed like this.

“So what’s on Korriban?” he asks almost nonchalantly.

Kenobi turns to look at the planet again, his expression pensive. “Ruins of history, of a civilisation that’s long lost. A lot of knowledge, too, waiting to be claimed.”

“Are we landing, then?”

Kenobi shakes his head. “We’ve got to start your training before we land, otherwise I might not be able to help you shield yourself completely, and Korriban is… not a nice planet.”

“Isn’t it nice for you? You’re a Sith Lord, after all”

Kenobi’s expression and tone remain unchanged, but his presence in the Force trembles a little. “Not really.”

Anakin opens his mouth to ask, but Kenobi just points him to the seat he’s leaned over.

“Focus now. Sit. Clear your mind.”

Easier said than done. Anakin has so many questions he feels like his head is going to burst, and the fact that Kenobi is right there next to him really isn’t helping keep his mind clear.

“Anakin, come now. Do you want me to teach you or not?”

Anakin nods absently, caught off guard. He does want the knowledge that Kenobi has; whatever it is, it seems to be something that the Jedi would never share with him. Anakin wonders whether it’s forbidden or just forbidden to him, specifically; he has little trust left for the Jedi Council, and it’s not like its members are here to stop him, anyway. He has to be prepared for anything, and if the Jedi won’t help him with that…

Kenobi smirks.

“Focus, then.”

 


 

The training isn’t particularly pleasant, and goes on for at least three hours before Kenobi decides that Anakin’s defences won’t falter completely as soon as the ship touches down on the surface of Korriban. Anakin feels strangely exhausted but stronger, already much more aware of the shields he used to build half-consciously.

“I wish we had more time, but this will have to do. You’ll have to make the planet believe you’re a Sith apprentice, otherwise it’s going to devour you whole,” Kenobi tells him matter-of-factly. “A fairly simple thought kept at the front of your mind should be enough for now; the planet will never fully believe you anyway, and it won’t be kind to you, but at least it won’t actively attack your thoughts as it would treat a Jedi. Hopefully. I’ll help you hold your focus, but this task is yours.”

Anakin nods quickly, igniting the ship’s engines again, his attention already on flying and not on Kenobi’s warnings. “Do you want me to land anywhere in particular, or…”

Kenobi brings up a holomap of the planet, then presses several buttons on the console to enter a course leading to some kind of cluster of ruins on the far side of the planet into the ship’s systems. Anakin studies it for a moment and starts the approach.

“Here. The biggest building right in the middle is an ancient Sith temple.” Kenobi points at a structure resembling a half-collapsed pyramid. “I’m hoping it’ll allow me to steal away some Korribanian incense, perhaps some texts as well, if the Force is feeling generous and the archives are still intact.”

“What do you need that for?”

“Incense for rituals, texts for knowledge. The ancient Sith were fascinating, if terrifying, and many of their techniques and teachings have been forgotten.”

“Probably for good reason,” Anakin mutters.

“Some of them, certainly. But others… shouldn’t all Force users strive to understand the Force in more detail?”

Anakin just shrugs.

Their conversation dies down as they near the planet’s surface. Anakin reduces the ship’s speed and frowns, glancing at the holomap, then looking back out through the viewport. Korriban is a desert, barren and unwelcoming; the flat area they’re approaching seems to be empty of all plants and wildlife completely. There’s nothing but mountains and reddish sand as far as eye can see, the wind picking it up and blowing across the surface with nothing to stop it. The way the planet looks is hardly what affects Anakin the most, though.

He’d thought the Force felt wrong from a distance, but it was nothing compared to what it is up close. His connection to it seems weakened, as if the Force has been moved far away from him; reaching for it becomes harder the closer to the surface the ship is. He can barely sense anything, and the things he can sense are distressing at the very least. Anakin hurriedly strengthens his defences, but the feeling that something’s off remains clear at the edges of his mind, skirting around him like a predator searching for any sign of weakness, waiting to strike at him when he least expects it. Something’s pressing down on him, a foreign, aggressive presence.

“Is the whole planet like this?” Anakin asks to take his mind off it.

Kenobi nods. “There’s nothing out here, nothing could possibly survive. We won’t stay a second longer than we have to, I assure you.”

They both fall quiet again. Anakin keeps following the path charted by the navigational system and trying his best to ignore the insistently bad feeling he’s having about it all.

They seem to be approaching something, a welcome change from the exhaustingly dull landscape they’ve been flying over so far. Anakin can just about make out the shapes of four, no, six gigantic statues of men with their heads bowed, whether in sadness or reverence he cannot know. They’re guarding the entrance to a valley, wide enough to easily fit Kenobi’s ship three times over and so long that Anakin can’t see its other end. Ruins line the bottom of the valley and the steep canyon walls, some clearly remains of buildings, others little more than half collapsed cave entrances. Tombs?

A pang of cold, hysterical fear hits him from Kenobi’s side of their bond, so sudden and intense Anakin nearly jumps in his seat.

“What’s going—”

“Turn away, Anakin,” Kenobi says hurriedly, scrambling for words, his voice strained and terrified. “Turn away right now, we’ll go around this place. Whatever you do, do not fly through this valley—”

They’re already at the mouth of the valley, passing low between the statues. Anakin frowns but doesn’t ask why Kenobi’s reacting so strangely. Instead, he immediately lifts the ship to try and fly out of the canyon, worried by Kenobi’s outburst and suspicious of how eerily quiet the Force feels.

The ship is almost over the edge when the Force snarls at Anakin, fearful and full of hate. A flash of bright red explodes before his eyes out of nowhere, blinding him, and he screams, the moment of lost focus enough for the ship to fall right back into the valley.

“Anakin!”

Another explosion, so loud he doesn’t even register it as a sound but only as pain, a cruel, unknown force thrumming through his mind, and he swerves the ship to the side, doesn’t even know who’s attacking them or why or how— didn’t Kenobi say this was a deserted planet?

The ship shakes violently, its left wing scraping over something. Anakin manoeuvres it right, away from the wall, hoping to avoid another attack but it hits them dead centre; an explosion of noise and brightness, forcing itself into his eyes and ears until he can’t even hear his own heartbeat over the ringing in his ears and can’t see anything. He steers the ship completely blind, the Force fighting him whenever he desperately tries to reach for it. Kenobi’s yelling but Anakin can’t even recognise the words, diving under something he barely manages to notice; whatever it was, it rolls right over the ship with a long, threatening growl.

The door to the pilot cabin slides open and Artoo rolls in, screaming in panic; Anakin just shouts at him to hold on. He can almost see again and immediately tries to pull the speeding ship up but something slams into it from above, sending it plummeting towards the ground; Anakin curses and pulls it back up.

Artoo tries to ask what’s happening; Anakin, distracted, flies the ship right into another phantom explosion, and then he can’t see anything any more.

There are voices whispering to him, shoving themselves into his brain, stepping over his defences like Anakin’s built them out of sand. They roll over his mind, catching their rough edges on Anakin’s thoughts at every turn. Some speak to him in alluring tones, telling him they have a tombstone and eternal glory waiting for him at the bottom of the valley; others dig into him painfully, ripping at his mind until they find his memories of Jedi life and tear at those mockingly, digging their teeth and claws into whatever they can.

The ship slams its left wing into the canyon wall again and Anakin comes to his senses for long enough to jump away from it.

He hears Kenobi scream in pain and snaps his head to the side to look at the man. Kenobi’s eyes are screwed shut, face twisted in an expression of anguish, hands balled into fists; Anakin’s world goes from fearful to furious, from lost to focused, from red to searing white.

Not him. Never him.

He senses another assault before it happens and reins the Force in, drags it back towards himself kicking and screaming, then pushes out, blocking the attack. He pulls the ship into a spiral of four brilliantly tight rolls to avoid another series of explosions. He can’t understand why the Force feels so unfamiliar here but he doesn’t care; he needs to help Kenobi and he’d do anything—

“Fly out of here, Anakin, force the ship up,” Kenobi yells, half breathless, terrified and overwhelmed but still so damn strong; Anakin grits his teeth and threads his own presence through Kenobi’s, both looking for support and giving it. “Now!

Anakin shoots up, engines in full thrust, but he might as well be trying to get through a ray shield; there’s a barrier of some unknown, impossibly powerful energy keeping the ship from leaving. Anakin does another quick roll then dives to dodge more and more of the attacks, Artoo’s hysterical screaming accompanying his every manoeuvre.

Kenobi helps him focus and Anakin can almost see what’s attacking them now, clouds of strange smoke in the Force, homing in on their ship with terrifying precision.

"Up ahead, Anakin!” Kenobi yells, pointing at the huge overhanging rock in their way. “I’ll shoot it down and then—”

“How is that helpful?! I’ll have to dodge a falling rock on top of everything else? Why—”

“The tombs, Anakin! What’s attacking us is tied to them!”

Anakin glances back at the rock, then at what’s below it, and his mind clicks with Kenobi’s.

Half a second later he angles the ship and Kenobi blasts the rock off the wall. Anakin tries to speed up, but one of the engines on the ship’s left wing is all but done for; he desperately reaches for it in the Force and ignites it again for a precious moment.

They slip between the falling rock and the ground beneath it and shoot up, surrounded by confusion and a storm of fury raging around them; the rock hits several of the tombs, destroying them completely. It’s Kenobi who gathers the Force to him this time and Anakin joins him; they both send a bright burst of their power right before the ship’s nose, shattering whatever was keeping them inside the valley. The ship soars through, Anakin immediately taking a turn to get as far from the place as they possibly can.

Angry hisses follow them, Sith curses and anger but questions, too, before Anakin speeds up and even that falls away.

“They said…” Kenobi frowns.

“I hope they said don’t lie to your pilot, Kenobi! This planet was supposed to be deserted, what the hell was that?”

“I told you not to fly through there.” Kenobi groans quietly.

“A little bit too kriffing late!” Anakin yells. Artoo agrees with him for once, beeping out a string of curses so creative it’s really a damn shame Kenobi doesn’t understand binary.

The man just sighs. “I didn’t… realise…” He groans again, then rubs a hand over his nape. He looks hurt and exhausted, a strange, sad sight, and Anakin looks away.

“What was that place, anyway?” Anakin asks once they’re far enough from the valley that he remembers how to think of other things than escaping. He gestures for Artoo to stop beeping; the droid whistles an exasperated I’m done, then rolls out of the pilot cabin again. “What the hell attacked us?”

“Valley of the Dark Lords,” Kenobi says, voice strained. “Burial ground of half the ancient Sith Order.”

“Wh—“ Anakin nearly loses control over the ship for half a second. “Why did we fly into that?!”

“I didn’t realise it was in the way. I’d never— have you go through there willingly. It’s where the ghosts and shadows of the ancient Sith are the most powerful.”

Anakin huffs but drops the topic, too tired by the attack to argue further. The rest of the way passes in silence, both of them exhausted and deep in thought. Anakin can sense Kenobi’s agitation about something, but he has enough problems of his own to be focusing on that.

He has to fly low and much slower than he’d like because one engine on the left wing of the ship completely refuses to work; once they land, he’ll have to fix it if they ever want to leave the planet. It takes them another hour or so to finally reach their destination. Anakin draws in a deep breath as they fly over the last mountain range separating them from the place.

Even though half-collapsed, the pyramid still stands tall, impressive and menacing. It reminds Anakin of the Jedi Temple a little, both its shape and, he assumes, the purpose it used to serve. The huge structure cut from rough red stone looks simple only at first glance, but it’s probably full of traps, hidden passages and secrets nobody should ever touch.

Anakin hopes they won’t be finding too many of those.

He circles the pyramid, then sets the ship down right in front of it, in the empty area in the middle of the ruins. Dust flies around them as the ship touches down, the red cloud so thick that Anakin has to land blindly; the ship hits the ground with a little more force than he’d like. When he shuts the engines down he almost feels the ship sigh in relief. He pats the console fondly, then stretches his arms before himself.

The dust slowly settles, making the pyramid visible again; it seems even bigger when seen at this angle. More dangerous, too.

“We should be fairly safe here, but it won’t hurt to look around,” Kenobi says, getting out of his seat.

Fairly safe?”

Kenobi, already halfway out, turns to give Anakin a tired smile. “It’s a Sith planet, young one. Fairly safe is truly the best bargain we can get here.”

Anakin grumbles a half-hearted curse but follows Kenobi, making an appalled face at the hot wind blowing in his face as soon as he steps outside. There’s nothing to give his eyes a rest; the whole area is dusty, reddish, and all but dead, with dry heat settling over everything in a layer so thick he can barely breathe.

“You need to stop taking me to disgustingly hot and sandy planets, Kenobi.”

Kenobi looks over his shoulder and opens his mouth, and then Anakin’s vision goes completely dark.

Where there was a monotonous, red landscape there is now a cold emptiness, and Anakin yelps and takes several steps backwards in shock and fear. He feels himself lose his balance and tumbles back, a curse slipping past his lips.

He blinks helplessly, hoping the darkness will disappear, but that only makes it worse; faces appear in the emptiness, and Anakin screams. He tries to move away, blindly hitting his head on something, but the faces stay close, leaning down over him. They’re half dead, with glossy, completely black eyes, monstrously deformed and terrifying, grinning at him liplessly. Another blink, and their eyes disappear completely, hollow pits where they should be. Anakin can almost hear them, whispered words he can’t understand, hissed threats.

A blink, and he’s sitting on the ground right next to the ship, with Kenobi next to him, kneeling in the sand, one hand cradling the back of his neck.

“I’m fine,” Anakin mutters.

“Don’t lie to me. What did you see?”

Anakin looks away, biting down on his cheek. The feeling of unease settles deep into his bones, and something laughs, far away but right there in his head, too. He clenches his hands into fists.

“Anakin.” Kenobi moves his hand to cup Anakin’s cheek and Anakin leans into the touch lightly, forcing himself to look Kenobi in the eye.

“I don’t want to stay here.”

Kenobi sighs and moves closer, holding Anakin’s gaze. “Neither do I, not really. And I especially don’t want to keep you here. But I have to teach you shielding to protect you, and we simply don’t have time for anything else, so it has to be now, has to be here. Consider this another training exercise; this is a good way to prepare you for the kind of mind attacks you might experience in the near future, especially from the Sith. Dooku, Sidious, they’re cruel people, Anakin, and you are strong enough to defend yourself; you only need to learn.”

Anakin grits his teeth, looking away but still pressing his cheek into Kenobi’s hand. The Force refuses to listen to him, something’s trying to attack his mind, he’s tired and absolutely hates this. But Kenobi’s there, trying to help, trying to teach him something he’ll need. And Anakin trusts him.

“This is awful,” Anakin says, finally meeting Kenobi’s eyes again.

“I know. I didn’t expect the planet would focus on you that much, though upon reflection I really should’ve seen this coming. Hell, it went after me, too, just because of our connection.”

“Serves you right,” Anakin mutters without really meaning it.

Kenobi chuckles mirthlessly. “Probably. Now, Anakin; focus on me. I know what to expect now, I should be able to help you with your defences until you can fully build ones that are strong enough. We won’t stay here long, I promise; I’m not exactly enjoying myself, either.”

Anakin nods and allows Kenobi to pull him to his feet.

He can do this.

 


 

A quick search of the nearby ruins confirms that the area is completely empty. There seem to be no ancient Sith Lord tombs anywhere, either, which is a somewhat comforting thought. Anakin and Kenobi decide to stay inside the ship for the rest of the day, though, both way too tired to even consider exploring anything further.

Anakin tries to speak with Artoo when he gets back, but the droid all but ignores him, half-hibernated in the corner of the pilot cabin. Anakin sits down on the floor next to him and talks anyway, apologises, asks for his trust and patience. Promises that he does intend to go back to Coruscant, that this is only temporary. Artoo doesn’t react, though, and Anakin leaves him alone.

Another hour or two passes on shielding lessons. After that, Anakin and Kenobi sit in silence on the open ramp, looking out; Anakin’s repositioned the ship so that the wind doesn’t try to shove the entirety of the planet’s dust deposits inside.

“There’s nothing here,” Anakin whispers. “Everything’s dead.”

Kenobi nods. “It’s what the Force does to places, to people, when out of control.”

“You mean the Dark Side.”

“No, I mean the Force. Anakin, the Force is much more complex than anyone seems to think. What we call the Dark Side isn’t somehow separate from the Light Side. They’re one and the same thing, not even parts of a whole but one whole.”

Kenobi moves so that his back is leaned against the ship entrance and he’s facing Anakin; Anakin glances at him curiously.

“That’s not what the Jedi teach.”

“I don’t think the Jedi understand the Force,” Kenobi says. Anakin rolls his eyes. “But I don’t think the Sith understand it, either.”

Anakin raises his eyebrows. “Oh?”

“The Dark Side isn’t inherently evil or destructive. It is the Force unbridled and uncontrolled, sometimes twisted by rituals caused by a misdirected curiosity to understand but to exploit, too; and when you try to exploit the Force, it replies in kind. The Force itself isn’t good or evil, either. It simply is. But it’s not mindless and passive, a source of power to draw from endlessly. It’s clever, sometimes mischievous, almost seems to have a personality. It has its quirks and its favourites and its chosen ones. It gives some purity of thought and others an insatiable hunger for power, playing with them just as they play with it. Doesn’t it feel alive to you, Anakin?”

“Of course it does. That’s what the Jedi teach, too. The living Force and all that.”

“The Jedi are afraid of just how alive the Force is. They don’t let themselves explore, holding on to what they call the Light Side, only scratching the surface. They focus on peace and serenity and fight emotions because they fear the full potential that lies in the living Force. And it’s such a beautiful potential. I’m sure you’ve felt its call many times, because the Force adores you, Anakin Skywalker.”

Anakin scoffs. “Feels like the only thing it adores is embarrassing me.”

“Has it not helped you many times in ways you haven’t expected? Has it not bent to your will when it shouldn’t have? Has it not allowed you to reach for it, has it not exploded in your hands, pure energy, glimmering with possibilities? It recognises and accepts your command of it and your power.”

“The power to be an idiot who makes all the bad decisions.”

Kenobi laughs at that, looking away and shaking his head. “Stubborn beyond belief. Do you regret your decision to come here?”

Anakin thinks about it, about the attack, the strange vision, about the inhospitable, barren planet. He thinks about the endless headache troubling him, but about the new strength of his mind, too, and about Kenobi. “No,” he says.

They sit in silence for another while; there’s not much of a view to be enjoyed, but they settle for enjoying each other’s company.

Kenobi climbs to his feet once it starts getting dark, motioning for Anakin to follow him back into the ship. Anakin does so, closing the ramp behind them, sealing them in the relative safety of the ship. Kenobi suggests they should try and get some rest and heads for the sleeping cabin. Anakin checks on Artoo, but the droid still doesn’t seem too willing to talk to him, so Anakin gets back to where Kenobi is with a long sigh.

He finds the man spreading blankets on the floor and stands in the doorway, raising an eyebrow. “What’s this?”

“It’s going to be pretty damn cold here once the night falls, even inside the ship. That, and the best way for me to help you keep your defences up is if I’m physically close, ideally touching you,” Kenobi replies without sparing him a look, apparently too focused on his task. “Half of those blankets are Ventress’, I hope she doesn’t murder me for this—“

Anakin nearly chokes on air. “I’m not sleeping with you.”

That earns him an amused sideways glance from Kenobi. “Since when, exactly?”

“No, seriously—“

Kenobi throws a rolled-up blanket at his face to shut him up and settles on the floor comfortably. Well, as comfortably as one can settle on the floor, anyway. “Anakin, I’m doing all of this for you. So stop complaining and just lie down; I promise I’ll stay away, if that’s what you want, but I do need to be close.”

Anakin desperately searches his head for another excuse.

Anakin.” Kenobi’s voice is soft, and the blankets look soft, too, and Anakin’s never really claimed he was a strong person anyway, especially when tired.

He undresses, trying not to think about Kenobi’s lazy gaze fixed on his back and trying to keep his cybernetic hand away from the man’s eyes. He reluctantly lies down next to Kenobi without touching the man, and flicks his wrist to turn off the lights. He can almost feel Kenobi’s smile behind his back.

“Goodnight, Anakin.”

 


 

Vicious darkness seeps into his dreams.

Fear envelops his mind, fear and panic, curling over him like tendrils of stifling, acrid smoke, forcing itself into him until he nearly forgets how to breathe. A heartbeat, and the smoke turns into heavy chains holding him in place, cruel and cold, so cold they almost seem to burn into the skin of his wrists and his neck. A heartbeat, and the chains turn into black, ruby-eyed serpents, sinking their venomous fangs into his skin, coiling their long, slithering bodies around him. He tries to struggle but can’t move, he knows he’s dreaming but can’t shake himself awake. He can’t do anything but let it happen, terrified and paralysed by the darkness gathered over his mind.

He dreams of pain and loss, of betrayal and regret, of a life he knows doesn’t belong to him but one that almost feels like it could. He watches himself desperately struggle against the darkness but give up and fall to it; he watches himself walk into the Jedi Temple, tears in his eyes, the lightsaber in his hand a lying blue as he turns against the Jedi, murders them all mercilessly and wants to stop but cannot—

He startles awake with a terrified gasp, heart panicked and pounding, breaths ragged as if he was just saved from drowning. There’s cold sweat on the back of his neck and tears gathered in his eyes; he blinks those away and slides a hand down his face before another cold, terrifying realisation hits him.

Something’s wrapped around his waist, something that wasn’t there when he was falling asleep, something that’s not supposed to be there—

It takes him a long, fearful second to remember where he is, to recognise the soft presence snugly nestled in his mind, and connect those facts together.

The realisation does little to stop the shock; Anakin opens his eyes wide and bites down on the inside of his cheek to stop himself from yelping.

It’s Kenobi, cuddled close to him as if it’s the most normal thing to do. Throughout the night he seems to have closed the distance between them completely and pressed himself along Anakin’s back. His beard is tickling the nape of Anakin’s neck and his chest rises and falls with his calm breaths, each exhale a pleasant puff of warm air against Anakin’s shoulderblades.

What Anakin initially took for some unknown threat seems to be Kenobi’s arm sneaked over his waist, fingers splayed against the bare skin of his chest, lightly holding him close.

Just another day in the life of a perfect Jedi Knight, Anakin thinks, his mind nearly in full hysteria. Sleeping with a Sith Lord. Literally sleeping with him. Well, Anakin’s too panicked to fall asleep now, but he has a feeling that doesn’t exactly redeem him, considering he’s making no move to actually, well, move. It’s because he doesn’t want to risk waking Kenobi up and having to look at his smug smile, Anakin tells himself hurriedly. The explanation almost helps calm his panicked thoughts, except not really, because he’s still locked in Kenobi’s soft embrace, and…

He should get up and leave. He knows he should.

But Kenobi is warm against him; the simple, comforting warmth of having someone at his back is making him feel safe, despite it all, calming his panicked mind down one breath at a time. He focuses on Kenobi, on his heartbeat, on how peaceful his presence in the Force is, despite it all. Like this, it’s hard to remember that he’s supposed to be Anakin’s enemy. Like this, he almost seems like the only person in the whole universe who’s on Anakin’s side, like the only thing grounding Anakin in reality, keeping the darkness at bay.

Anakin sighs softly, then absently slides his fingers over the hand Kenobi is keeping on his chest before he even realises what he’s doing. Kenobi moves against him at that and Anakin nearly dies on the spot, but the man just hums something softly and sleepily pulls him closer, nuzzling his face into Anakin’s shoulder.

Anakin breathes out and closes his eyes, heart beating wild but not quite in fear.

It doesn’t have to mean anything, he tells himself.

He lets the warmth lull him to sleep.

 


 

Anakin has no idea what wakes him up. His back feels a little sore from sleeping on the floor, but otherwise he’s mostly fine, if he doesn’t count the unpleasant tingle at the back of his mind, the constant awareness that he’s on a Sith planet. Something seems to be missing, too, though he can’t quite figure out what that might be. He flips onto his back and stares into the ceiling, his thoughts sleepily settling themselves back into place. He remembers Florrum and the escape from it, the arrival on Korriban, remembers where he is and why.

Frowning, he sits up to glance around, but Kenobi isn’t in the cabin at all, and he’s definitely no longer pressed against Anakin’s back, which Anakin finds… surprisingly unpleasant. He catches himself missing the warmth and the feeling of safety, and—

Force. Has he lost his mind completely? He shakes his head, then rolls his eyes in exasperation at himself once he realises he’s trying to sense where Kenobi is.

He’s handling this so well.

The connection between him and Kenobi seems dim, distant, and he moves in sleepy panic, worried. He’s halfway up when the door slides open. Kenobi walks in, yawning; he gives Anakin a strangely sad smile, and Anakin’s heart jumps a little. He’s here. He’s fine. It’s fine.

Kenobi throws something small at Anakin; his reflexes kick in and his cybernetic hand catches the mysterious object. He opens his fingers to look at it; it looks alarmingly similar to a regular ration bar, and Anakin makes a face. “Oh, no, I hate those.”

“I don’t exactly have room for a kitchen here,” Kenobi says, amusement in his voice. “I thought you should be used to those by now, with the war and all that.”

Anakin bites into the bar. It’s exactly as tasteless and disgusting as he expected.

“Anyway, you should get ready. We have a Sith temple to explore.”

“That is the least appealing thing you’ve ever said to me.”

Kenobi laughs, and the corners of Anakin’s mouth twitch in a small smile. “Come on, get up. You agreed to this, remember.”

Of course he remembers. That doesn’t make this any less terrible.

Kenobi throws him something else and Anakin’s fingers close over the familiar shape and weight of a lightsaber, his lightsaber. “Thought you might want yours back, since I’m taking mine.”

“Right.”

The weather doesn’t seem to have changed since they landed, the wind still mercilessly throwing clouds of dust in nearly every direction. The distance between the ship and the temple entrance is short, but Anakin swears he has sand everywhere by the time they reach the doorway. The door itself has long since crumbled, leaving just the wide, impressive frame inscribed with symbols Anakin doesn’t recognise; perhaps the Sith language. He’s reasonably sure he doesn’t want to know what the symbols mean. Abandon all hope, probably.

He follows Kenobi deeper into the temple, through tall, winding corridors, over mounds of sand blown in from the outside. There’s a strange light inside the temple, a dim glow seemingly coming from within the walls, just enough that they don’t have to ignite their lightsabers to see. Anakin tries to focus on those delicate flashes of white and red, mostly because anything is a distraction from how uneasy he’s feeling. He knows he doesn’t belong there, not on Korriban and certainly not in an ancient Sith temple. He knows it, the Force knows it, he fears the whole planet might know it, too.

He’s hoping it won’t tear through his defences again. He throws the memories of whispers and dead faces aside, buries them deep within his mind.

Kenobi leads him out into a wide hallway that somehow seems more important than the ones they’ve walked so far, one that still bears marks of ancient greatness. Golden ornaments decorate the walls, harsh, geometric shapes giving the hallway a cold kind of beauty, a memory of something that must’ve been breathtaking a long time ago. There’s a heavy, ornamented door at the very end of the hallway, and they both stop before it.

Kenobi glances over at Anakin, then slowly brings his hands up to rest them against both panels of the door.

He takes a deep breath, then pushes it open and strides into the hall, back set straight, head held high. His steps are smooth and sweeping, as if his whole body was guided by some unknown rhythm, a melody known only to him, a long forgotten dance of grace and power. The light shining in through the entrance illuminates his way and his silhouette, the cape he’s thrown over one shoulder almost touching the floor and kicking up puffs of silvery smoke-like dust with his every move. The sound of his boots hitting the floor reverberates around the hall, reaching the walls hidden in the darkness and echoing off them; repeated again and again, the sound becomes a rhythm of its own, adding a strange ceremonial magnificence to each of Kenobi’s steps.

The man doesn’t stop as he looks over his shoulder and reaches a hand towards Anakin, movements elegant and flowing, palm open, fingers beckoning him closer. He smiles before turning forward again, walking on.

Anakin tilts his head to the side, bites his lower lip, then follows.

Kenobi looks like he was born to walk through grand halls and great temples, Anakin thinks, watching him. He looks like he belongs in them. He looks like he should be surrounded by crowds of beings hurriedly parting to let him pass, bowing down and kneeling to him with equal parts fear and awe. He looks like he should be lazily sprawled on a throne, leaning against gold-trimmed pillows, smiling. Watching everything with infinite patience and fiery passion both. Wielding his power as nonchalantly and effortlessly as if it’s asked him to do it.

With Anakin standing a step behind him, one hand always curled on the back of the throne, an apprentice and a guardian, eyes glimmering in the darkness, half in the shadows but always there; a reminder of the power Kenobi truly holds in the palm of his hand. A flash of teeth. A smile. A threat.

Climbing into his Master’s lap behind closed doors, throwing himself into the exquisite warmth, into the incomparable pleasure, moving against him with a mouthful of sighs, everything around them dark as their shared power, crimson as their lightsabers, golden as their eyes.

Darth Lumis, the brightest of all Lords of the Sith, and his apprentice with a bold grin who could level half the galaxy with a single thought if his Master wanted him to—

“This must’ve been the main hall of the temple,” Kenobi calls, his tone casual, conversational, and Anakin draws in a sharp breath as he realises exactly how much his thoughts have strayed from him just now.

Force damned Sith planet, messing with his mind like this.

He catches up to Kenobi standing right in the middle of the hall as his eyes slowly get used to the darkness. The place seems completely empty, apart from the pillars supporting the ceiling and a peculiar podium across from the door, at the far side of the hall. Anakin walks up to the structure, curious.

It looks like a pyramid of tall stairs set in black stone, towering over the hall, covered in a thick layer of dust just like everything else in the temple. Anakin slides a hand over the lowest step to dust it off, and almost gasps in surprise; the surface is warm to the touch, pleasantly smooth, polished and shiny. Tiny luminescent particles reflect what little light falls through the door Anakin and Kenobi left open, looking almost like the night sky.

“I do hope there’s a working archive that we could access,” Kenobi wonders out loud. Anakin can’t even see him, his voice seemingly coming from everywhere at once. “This is an exceptionally old and well-preserved structure. We could find so much—“

Anakin tunes out again, his gaze drawn up the stairs. There’s a throne at the very top, a heavy ornamented stone chair, broken in half.

Shame.

Kenobi would look so good sitting in it, one leg swung over one of the wide armrests, beckoning Anakin with a knowing smirk on his face, and Anakin sinking to his knees at the base of the throne, smiling up at him—

Anakin opens his mouth in a silent what, then frantically clears his mind, calls up simple mouse droid repair manuals from his memory and desperately focuses his attention on those. First, deactivate the droid by pressing a switch located beneath its shell, between the wheels, then carefully remove its outer shell… Anakin repeats all the familiar steps in his head, and takes a deep breath. Force, what the f—

He finds Kenobi carefully studying some carvings on one of the pillars, and clears his throat. “When are we leaving this planet?” he asks, his tone just this side of hysterical.

Kenobi glances over his shoulder. “Why?”

“Because I’m having… thoughts.”

Thoughts. That’s one way to put it.

Kenobi slowly raises an eyebrow, almost like he knows exactly the kind of thoughts Anakin is having. Anakin really hopes he doesn’t. Otherwise he might as well just die immediately.

“Share?”

Anakin shifts on his feet slightly. “I, ah, would really rather not.”

“Interesting,” Kenobi murmurs. Anakin’s really hoping he’s referring to whatever he’s seeing written on the pillar. “How’s your shielding, then?”

“I’m trying,” Anakin snaps, “but even when I focus all of my attention on it, something still seems to be messing with my mind. You might as well be keeping a hundred half-dead Sith Lords hidden around the area, that’s how terrible this feels.”

Kenobi sighs and moves away from the pillar, sending Anakin a long, exasperated look. He walks over to the podium, then starts climbing it, still without a word. Anakin watches, mesmerised, as Kenobi reaches the top and slides a finger over the stone armrest of the broken throne, then walks two steps down and sits, leaning his elbows against the top of the platform. Anakin isn’t sure whether he’s relieved or disappointed at the fact that he didn’t sit on that throne after all.

Kenobi sighs again. “They’re dead, Anakin,” he says emphatically, “all of them. They’ve been dead for centuries, and whatever they believed themselves to be in the past doesn’t matter. The time of the ancient Sith is over.”

“It feels like they’re still here, somehow,” Anakin mutters. “Like somebody’s still watching.”

“Traces of their presence in the Force, yes, memories of who they were and what they’ve done. Their hold on this planet is powerful, but I’m keeping them away as best I can; you don’t want to see the full extent of what they’re capable of, trust me. The ancient Sith were terrifying, Anakin, ruthless, murderous, and vicious, so caught up in their search for absolute power that they let the Force destroy both them and the planet.”

“They sound just great.

Kenobi shakes his head and leans forward.

“Once upon a time, the name Sith used to belong to a race, one enslaved and twisted by Force users who thought they knew everything there was to be known. Now, the Sith are but three beings, bound by old rules they don’t truly understand, more similar to the Jedi than they care to admit. The name remains, but the beliefs have changed many times already, and they could change again.”

Anakin crosses his arms on his chest, listening to Kenobi with a curiosity he doesn’t want to admit.

“We don’t have to be like them, Anakin. We don’t have to be anything.” There’s a new, beautiful power in Kenobi’s tone, amplified a thousandfold by the acoustics of the hall. Kenobi drops his voice to a whisper, but Anakin can still hear him loud and clear. “We could be the new Sith, make our own rules, use our power however we see fit. We don’t need the galaxy at our feet; isn’t the knowledge that we could have it there enough?”

We could be the new Sith. That’s an offer and a promise and far more than Anakin can take. The Force trembles around him, for a moment powerful beyond compare, rife with possibilities, but then it all stops, dimmed by the angry hiss of Korriban’s presence. It’s becoming harder to focus; there’s something ancient and malevolent pulsing around Anakin’s head, humming and whispering. He tells Kenobi as much; the man just nods.

“I had a feeling it wouldn’t be easy for you even with my protection; this really is a horrible planet, all things considered. Well, no matter. Come closer, Anakin. Set your defences like I’ve taught you, but open yourself up to me.” Kenobi extends a hand to him. “Come.”

Anakin nods and obliges, climbs up slowly, one step at a time. The strange presence looming over his mind is upsetting but he’s hypnotised by Kenobi, can’t take his eyes off the man; something about this whole place suits him. He looks good seated like this, overlooking the hall, gaze fixed on Anakin.

“Kneel here, you’re too tall,” Kenobi instructs him in a light tone once he comes to a stop right before where the man’s sitting. Anakin does as he’s told without sparing even half a thought for the action, obediently sinks to his knees between Kenobi’s spread legs, watching a slow smile curl the man’s lips.

Kenobi brings his hands up to each side of Anakin’s face, thumbs rubbing his temples in a soothing motion, and Anakin breathes out, instantly feeling himself quiet down. The simple touch and a whispered encouragement are enough to guide him, and he shuts the whole world off, building heavy shields around his mind again but allowing himself to focus on Kenobi, wrapping himself in the man’s bright presence.

Kenobi hums, eyes half lidded, watching Anakin, and as Anakin holds his heavy gaze something about the Force seems to shift slightly, like the whole universe shudders a little. Anakin licks his lips and moves both of his hands to rest them on Kenobi’s knees, then slowly, intently slides his fingers over the man’s thighs, looking up and feeling his breaths deepen. There’s anticipation slowly building over their bond, and Anakin is not quite sure who it even belongs to any more, but—

Kenobi catches Anakin’s wrists, his grip powerful enough to hurt a little, and shakes his head. He’s quiet for a second, then speaks up, his voice the strangest mixture of tension and amusement. “No, Anakin, not on the hellish Sith planet that wants us both dead.”

“I wasn’t–” Anakin tries quickly, cheeks burning up; Kenobi just arches an eyebrow at him and smirks. “Oh, no, no, don’t you look at me like that.”

It’s all because of this Force-damned planet, and the fact that he has to depend on Kenobi’s protection; it would make anyone’s decision-making skills a little confused. There’s no way he’d kneel to a Sith Lord of his own free will in any normal circumstances. And he definitely would not

Except he would. He literally just fell to his knees before Kenobi, and… Anakin frowns lightly, then hurriedly strangles the realisation before it can actually fully get to him. Instead of thinking on that, he decides that once he returns to Coruscant, he’s just going to get his brain surgically removed from his head and blasted off into the Unknown Regions. Seems to be the best, most reasonable option available to him at this moment.

Kenobi sighs, then finally lets go of Anakin’s wrists. The gesture serves as a gentle reminder that Anakin’s still just… right there, just casually kneeling before the man, kriffing Force; he immediately scrambles to his feet. He’s pretty sure that at this point his cheeks are redder than Kenobi’s lightsaber.

“Anakin—“

“No—“

Kenobi’s smug smile grows even wider. “Anakin, stopping you and myself right now is honestly taking all of my remarkable strength of will. It’s… almost painful to curb your beautiful enthusiasm like this, but we can’t afford to lose our focus while we’re here. And, well… you certainly know how to be distracting, I’ll give you that.”

He slides a single finger along Anakin’s jaw and then down his neck, looking up with a lopsided grin and playful sparkles in those wicked golden eyes of his.

Anakin can’t remember how did he ever tell the man no.

As they both climb down the stairs, Anakin pretends not to notice Kenobi’s amused smirk and Kenobi doesn’t comment on the red in Anakin’s cheeks.

They spend another hour, maybe two, exploring the temple. They get lost, spring several traps, nearly die in the process, but Anakin definitely prefers fighting to thinking. When their lives aren’t in immediate danger, he curiously listens to what Kenobi is saying, grateful for a topic that doesn’t concern him and the tricks his mind seems to be playing. Kenobi spins a story of ancient times and the fall of a civilisation, telling Anakin what he knows and what he’s hoping to find. His focus and genuine dedication to research and knowledge is remarkable, and Anakin almost feels like he’s following a Jedi Master on a lecture. Except not, because Kenobi isn’t distant or condescending like most Masters; he’s warm and open, excited even despite the obvious strain that keeping Anakin protected from the influence of the Sith planet is causing him. Anakin catches himself smiling when Kenobi triumphantly announces that he knows where the archives might be.

“We should head back for now, but a busy day awaits us tomorrow, if all goes well,” Kenobi says, enthusiasm in his voice.

Anakin is glad for it, even though he’s not sure why.

 


 

Once they return to the ship, they’re welcomed by Artoo who beeps out a sarcastic good to see you then rolls away. Anakin frowns, but a smile quickly creeps onto his face; anything is better than Artoo refusing to talk to him. Maybe he’ll forgive Anakin for his… questionable decisions after all.

Kenobi and Anakin share another ration bar, then climb out of the ship again, both reluctantly agreeing that the ship’s broken engine needs attention. Artoo stays inside, chirping merrily. Anakin would bet the droid is immensely enjoying not helping them.

Anakin ducks under the left wing, prodding at the engine carefully. It’s still in place and only a little scorched; he’s seen and repaired far worse, so this shouldn’t be all that hard.

“What ship model is this, anyway?” he asks Kenobi, who’s seated on top of the wing with his back against the hull of the ship. “It reminds me of something, but I can’t quite place it, and I’ve definitely never seen such a configuration of wing engines before.”

“Custom-made,” Kenobi says, a note of pride in his voice. “You won’t find another one like it in the galaxy. It was based on some Nubian designs I think, but heavily modified to be faster and far deadlier.”

Anakin whistles, looking up at Kenobi again. “Nubian, of course. It kind of looks like one of those fancy J-type yachts, but they’re nowhere near as agile.”

Kenobi nods. “Well, you should ask Ventress for the details, if you’re curious. It was her ship, before she had Banshee made. After that, she gifted Ray to me.”

Ray?”

“Ships do need names, do they not?” Kenobi grins, and Anakin feels a rush of fondness towards him.

“You don’t even like flying, Kenobi, I can’t believe Ventress gave such a great ship to you.”

Kenobi laughs. “Jealous? Why, Anakin—“

“Shut up.” Anakin laughs, too, and for a moment he almost doesn’t remember that he’s on a Sith planet. For a moment, there’s nothing but him and Kenobi and their bickering, and… He sends the man another warm smile, then waves a hand at him. “And get me the tools from the ship. I can’t fix this with the Force, you know.”

They talk lightly of ships and flying as Anakin works on the engine, and he finds that he doesn’t even mind the sand all that much. As time passes, though, Kenobi becomes quieter, replying to Anakin’s tales with single words or just staring off into nothingness. Anakin gathers his tools, grins at the fixed engine, then heaves himself onto the wing to glance at Kenobi, brows pulled together into a worried expression.

“Are you okay?”

Kenobi’s eyes shoot up to meet his, and the man’s expression softens a little. “I’ll be fine. Are you done with the repairs?”

“Yeah. I think I did a pretty good job, considering that it’s an unknown ship model and all that.”

“Let’s get back inside, then. It’s starting to get unpleasant out.”

Anakin huffs. “It’s always unpleasant out. And in. It’s a Sith planet full of sand, Kenobi.”

“You have an issue with sand, don’t you,” Kenobi asks in an amused tone, sliding off the wing and heading for the ship entrance.

“I don’t like sand.” Anakin mutters. “It’s coarse and rough and irritating, and it gets everywhere.”

He has plenty other reasons to dislike it, too, but he doesn’t mention any of them as he follows Kenobi back into the ship.

Anakin goes straight for the sleeping cabin, sits on the floor and wraps himself in a blanket, then takes off his glove, looking at his cybernetic hand wistfully. It’s been handling everything exceptionally well, didn’t shut down or short-circuit even when he was electrocuted. He curls and uncurls his fingers, then reaches for the precise tools he keeps on his belt to check if everything is fine with it.

When Kenobi walks in some time later, Anakin hurriedly shoves the hand back into the glove; by the time Kenobi sits down on the floor across from him, Anakin’s already fixing the straps on the glove with what he hopes is a nonchalant expression. Kenobi leans his back against the wall and pulls his knees close to his chest.

“I was on Korriban only once before,” he says; seems like he has a story to tell. Anakin hides the tools back into his belt pouch and leans forward a little. “It was… quite some time ago. I was younger, weaker, lost. About a month after I became Dooku’s apprentice, the Count decided to… test me. He didn’t tell me where we were going or why, only that I needed to prove my strength. I was angry back then, claimed that I’d prove whatever he damn wanted. The Count took me onto a ship and landed on Korriban. He kicked me out into the desert with only one word for goodbye: survive. As I watched the ship leave, I almost thought it was a joke.”

Anakin feels his hands curl into fists.

There isn’t even a trace of happiness in Kenobi’s smile. His eyes are cold, lost in the past. “I’ve only been the Count’s apprentice for a month. I was still questioning, untrained in the ways of the Sith, I only knew basic shielding, too. And once the planet realised this…”

He swallows thickly, then looks up to lock his eyes with Anakin. Anakin feels echoes of the man’s memories through their bond. Fear and pain, unending pain tearing at his mind, voices laughing at him. Visions of the past and all the worst futures, the ancient Sith standing over him, mocking him, taking away his power and his strength and his breath until he almost loses consciousness, then bringing him back. Him gasping for breath only to feel sticky, black liquid in his lungs; knowing it’s not there but still choking on it. Cold, then burning flames, then electricity; pain, more pain, then darkness.

“Some time after I’d been dropped on Korriban I managed to find something that wasn’t mountains or the desert,” Kenobi continues, eyes darting to the side. “From the distance I saw six statues overlooking a valley. I decided to choose that direction, hoping that the tall walls would provide me some semblance of safety. What little of the Force I could access promised me that it was a good decision.”

“Wait, wasn’t this the valley that we—”

“Yes. It lured me right to the middle of it, where the ancient Sith Academy used to stand, and then hit me with full force. I don’t really… remember much.”

Another echo: of suffering, of a man nearly broken, of voices telling him to end his life.

“Dooku left me here for almost a standard month,” Kenobi says, distant, pensive. “At least that’s what he claimed, later; to me, it felt like ages.”

Anakin feels his breaths coming in faster, anger flaring up around him, red tinting the edges of his vision. “I’ll kill him,” he hisses, every word an explosion of hate and fury. He crawls forward to where Kenobi’s seated, barely stops himself from climbing into the man’s lap. He wants to be close, closer; to never let any harm come to Kenobi again. He puts his crossed arms over Kenobi’s knees and leans into his space. “I’ll kill him for you.”

Kenobi looks into Anakin’s eyes and his mouth falls open, watching something on Anakin’s face with awe. Anakin briefly wonders what he’s seeing there, before Kenobi brings both his hands to Anakin’s face and cups his cheeks gently as the gold in his eyes flashes brighter. He traces a finger along the scar over Anakin’s right eye. “Oh, Anakin,” he murmurs. “You’re going to be so beautiful.”

The words ring out in Anakin’s ears, a promise he doesn’t entirely understand but longs for.

They stay like this, Anakin sitting in front of Kenobi, leaned into him, letting his anger at Dooku brew, and Kenobi gazing at him like he’s the most precious thing in the entire universe.

Anakin nuzzles his face into Kenobi’s palm and closes his eyes.

“Your hand,” Kenobi says, and Anakin lazily blinks his eyes open. “I’ve been curious about it for quite some time.”

“Dooku cut it off on Geonosis. Not much more to it.”

“May I see?”

Anakin looks away. He doesn’t let anyone see it if he doesn’t have to. And—

Kenobi slides his hand down, from Anakin’s face to his right forearm, closing fingers over his glove lightly. “Please?”

Anakin hesitates for a moment, then extends the arm, watches as Kenobi carefully undoes each strap on the glove and pulls it off. Anakin searches his face for signs of disappointment or disgust, but Kenobi’s expression is nothing but soft curiosity as he brings the hand closer to his eyes to inspect it.

“Does it hurt?”

“It used to,” Anakin says, curling and uncurling his cybernetic fingers a little. “It doesn’t actually have pain sensors, or heat sensors, or anything, really, but it used to… sting. A memory of feeling; I use the Force to get rid of it.”

Kenobi slides a finger over it, to the point where it meets Anakin’s real skin; Anakin gasps in surprise and Kenobi gives him a smile. “Clever. I imagine you don’t have problems with the maintenance, what with your rather impressive technical skill and all.”

Anakin nods. “It doesn’t need much, anyway, though I’ll admit magnets and electricity aren’t exactly my favourite things.”

“I’m amazed that you manage to fight with it. Normally, Force users need direct contact to a lightsaber to use if effectively, to truly feel it as an extension of themselves, but you…”

“It wasn’t that hard,” Anakin says, frowning. “The first month or so was a little weird, I couldn’t get used to it, but then it just…” He shrugs.

“It just came to you, didn’t it. Oh, Anakin.” Kenobi smiles at him again. He presses his lips to the back of Anakin’s cybernetic hand, then kisses each of his knuckles. Anakin watches him; he can’t feel the touch of Kenobi’s lips the way he would on his normal hand and Kenobi knows this, but there’s something mesmerising about the gentleness of gesture.

They sit in silence for a while again, almost motionless, calm. Despite the storm of Sith fury raging all over Korriban the inside of the ship feels like a safe haven from it all. They’re wrapped in each other’s presences, shielded from the outside world as best they can. A Sith Lord and a Jedi hidden out on a dead planet, neither quite loyal to his order. So much is unspoken between them, but Anakin feels that maybe some things don’t need to be said out loud.

 


 

If Kenobi sleeps pressed against him that night, too, Anakin doesn’t know it.

 


 

The second morning begins just as the first one; Kenobi walks in and throws Anakin a ration bar. Except Artoo rolls in right after him, beeping a good morning that’s loud bordering on obnoxious, then forcefully slams his whole body into Kenobi, almost causing the man to fall over. Anakin watches, eyes wide, as Kenobi slowly turns to send Artoo a murderous look and the droid cheerfully beeps out that he’s not even remotely sorry about it.

“What did he say, Anakin?” Kenobi demands.

“That he’s very sorry,” Anakin answers immediately. Artoo chirps at him.

Kenobi’s eyes narrow into thin suspicious slits as he looks between Anakin and Artoo, but it seems he decides to let it go for now. “Get ready. We’ll probably spend the whole day in the archives; you’ll be focusing on your mind’s defences, and I’ll be looking for the texts.”

Artoo stomps and beeps, demanding attention. Kenobi sends him a confused look.

“And you’ll, ah… stay in the ship and not get into any trouble?”

The droid rolls his head around and angrily stomps again. Kenobi glances at Anakin.

“He wants to go with us,” Anakin explains. Artoo chirps in confirmation.

“Absolutely not.”

“He could be useful,” Anakin suggests quickly, mostly because Artoo looks like he’s three seconds away from extending one of his arms and trying to electrocute Kenobi with it.

“Anakin—“

“Please?”

Kenobi rolls his eyes in exasperation. “Fine. But he’s your responsibility, should anything happen.”

“Nothing will happen,” Anakin assures him with a grin.

Artoo beeps a vaguely threatening insult in Kenobi’s general direction, then rolls out of the cabin, making sure to stumble into Kenobi on his way out.

Ow— Who pissed in your power supply?!” Kenobi yells after him. Anakin stifles a giggle.

 


 

Artoo does end up following them into the temple, screaming at everything that startles him, including darkened branches of corridors, a half-collapsed statue that from the distance kind of looks human-shaped, and, occasionally, his own shadow. Kenobi shoots him heavy glances over his shoulder whenever Artoo makes another shrill warning sound.

He’s just shouting gibberish, though, not even any concrete warnings, and he’s never been that easily scared, which brings Anakin to the conclusion that the droid is doing this solely to annoy Kenobi. Anakin would tell him to stop, but he has a feeling Artoo wouldn’t listen to him anyway. And he has to admit that Kenobi’s exasperation is rather amusing to watch.

They reach the archives without much incident; Anakin manages to stop Artoo and Kenobi from fighting each other.

They spend almost the entire day there; Kenobi instructs Anakin to do various mind exercises as he excitedly rushes all over the giant hall full of tall shelves, collecting whatever he can carry, reading some texts, stashing others for later. He finds a small box incrusted with gems and gasps in wonder. The Korribanian incense, he explains to Anakin who really doesn’t care because he’s busy trying to keep his focus while levitating an agitated Artoo a few feet off the ground.

They get back laden with strange texts and boxes of unknown origin or purpose. Kenobi’s eyes are beautifully bright as he tells Anakin of his research into the Sith language and ancient rituals.

 


 

“I guess we got what we came for,” Kenobi says when they start settling down for the night.

Anakin stops moving, feels worry creeping into his heart. “We’re leaving?”

“Tomorrow, as soon as we’re ready. No point in staying here any further; this planet is exhausting to both of us.”

Anakin nods. “I… I’ll have to get back to Coruscant, then. Explain myself to the Council. Hope they don’t murder me.”

“I can’t fly you to Coruscant, though,” Kenobi says, his voice sounding a little more tired than it was just a moment earlier. “Is there an outpost anywhere closer? Preferably not in Republic space. So that I can leave you there and not get captured.”

Anakin looks away. Exhaustion weighs down on him, but it’s not just the planet any more. Korriban is giving him a headache, but there’s something else settling over his mind again, another burden. He’s tired of the constant hiding, scheming, lying to the Jedi, lying to himself.

He wishes things could be different.

He searches his memory, then remembers the Council mentioning Aayla and Ahsoka before he’s left for Florrum. “Mandalore, perhaps? It’s close, and I think a Jedi friend of mine might still be there.”

“Mandalore, huh.” Anakin swears a shadow of sadness passes over Kenobi’s face before the man nods. “Yes, I suppose that could work. Seems we have a plan all set, then. We’d better get some sleep.”

It almost feels normal now, lying down in the same space as Kenobi, flicking off the lights, turning his back to the man and listening to his soft breaths.

There’s the distinct sound of shuffling of blankets and then Kenobi presses himself close to Anakin’s back, wrapping an arm around him and kissing the back of his neck.

Anakin freezes.

“You need rest, Anakin, we both do, please relax,” Kenobi murmurs into his skin; Anakin can actually feel his lips moving against his nape. “And remember, the closer I am to you, the better I can protect you.”

“We don’t need to be actually… cuddling for this, do we?” Anakin asks, definitely not in a slightly hysterical tone. How is any of this supposed to help him relax?

“Anakin, I’m exhausted. Quit trying to start something and just sleep, hmm?” Kenobi pulls Anakin even closer, and Anakin curses his treacherous body; he can’t help but relax into the warm embrace.

Kenobi goes quiet after that, settling along Anakin’s back more comfortably, then quickly drifting off to sleep; Anakin can tell, from how his whole presence quiets down, and from how his breaths become deeper, calmer. Anakin listens to the man’s breathing, feels it against his neck, and has a merry time reconsidering his whole entire life until he falls asleep too.

 


 

Leaving Korriban is far easier than arriving there was. The planet lets them go without much hassle, though they take the long way around to avoid the Valley of the Dark Lords just in case. It’s refreshingly pleasant to have his mind back to himself, Anakin thinks as they leave Korriban far behind.

Artoo is still a little angry, but calculates the hyperspace jump to Mandalore when Anakin asks him nicely. The flight passes mostly in silence, but it’s not awkward; both Kenobi and Anakin are just lost in their thoughts.

Anakin’s driven by the last shreds of responsibility within him. He reminds himself, time and again until it sticks, that he has an obligation to his friends and to the people of the Republic. Kenobi is wrong; it really doesn’t matter what he wants. The only thing that matters is what he has to do. And he has to get back to Coruscant, serve the Jedi order—

Serve. As if he was a slave again, back on Tatooine, a tool to be used however the Council and the Republic see fit. Skywalker do this, Skywalker do that, Skywalker do as you’re told and do not question. If you have doubts, remember that it’s all the will of the Force.

But the Force seems so much more to him now; Anakin rather likes Kenobi’s descriptions of it. Beautifully complex, wild and sometimes moody, curious, alive, almost a sentient being. He wishes he could trust any of the Jedi Masters enough to discuss those theories with them. He wonders if they’d ever even considered the Force in such ways. And if yes, why didn’t they share those thoughts with everyone.

“We’re here,” Kenobi says, and Anakin’s focus flicks back into the present, into flying and into what he has to do.

Has to. Must. Should. A bitter laugh tries to claw its way out of his throat, and he bites the side of his tongue.

Kenobi navigates him towards the capital city of Sundari, saying that if the Jedi are anywhere on Mandalore, it’s there.

They fly over a desert, a huge expanse of white sand, and Anakin almost wants to mention it to Kenobi; in the last week he’s seen enough deserts to last him a lifetime. He strains his eyes to spot anything resembling a city, but there’s nothing, except for a gigantic black dome sticking out from the ground in the middle of the desert. That’s the city, Kenobi explains, built this way as protection from the desert climate. Anakin slows down his approach, watching the domed capital curiously.

“There’s shipping docks all over the dome, you can land pretty much wherever,” Kenobi tells him. “I’ll be leaving quickly anyway, so…”

Anakin settles the Ray on one of the docks somewhere halfway between the dome’s top and its base, in what seems like a fairly busy area. He turns the engines off, then glances at Kenobi.

“I guess this is it, then.” He barely forces the words out of his throat.

Kenobi gives him a smile, bright, warm, a shining star contained. “You better hurry, find your Jedi friends.”

Anakin nods and climbs out of the seat, pats Artoo’s head on the way. “C’mon, buddy. Maybe we’ll get to see Ahsoka and Aayla here.”

Artoo chirps excitedly and rolls out of the pilot cabin and then out of the ship. Anakin heads after him, quickly, because if he looks back he might just stay with Kenobi, to hell with the Jedi and the Republic and the—

“Anakin?”

He stops right outside the ship and turns, cursing the stupid hope he’s feeling. Kenobi is standing inside the ship, arm leaned over the entrance, smiling. He brings his other hand from behind his back and throws a strangely familiar, shiny cube at Anakin. Anakin closes his fingers over its sharp edges, gaze still fixed on Kenobi.

“I thought this might be of some use to you.”

Anakin glances down into his hands.

The holocron.

The Jedi holocron that sent him tumbling into this whole mess.

He looks up at Kenobi, hears his own confused heartbeat in his ears. “How—“

Kenobi grins. “I found it in the wreck of Dooku’s ship, back on Florrum. The Count didn’t seem in a hurry to reclaim it, so… maybe it’ll help you, with the Council and all that.”

Anakin’s mouth falls open. “Thank you,” he says, barely above a whisper.

“Now, Anakin, listen to me carefully,” Kenobi says. “Don’t let your defences down before anyone, even if you think they’re a friend, even if you think they’re not Force-sensitive. You need to hide yourself from the Council, yes, but I have reasons to believe that Sith Lord Sidious is hiding out on Coruscant, and we live in desperate times. Don’t trust anyone, Anakin.”

Anakin nods, unsure what to say. Right now, he doesn’t even trust his voice.

“Good luck.” Kenobi tells him, backing into the ship and pressing a button on the ramp control panel. He gives Anakin one last smile. “And… you know where to find me.”

Anakin watches the Ray take off clutching the holocron in his hands, his mind at war with itself, his heart feeling warmer than it ever has.

Artoo chirps at him softly.

“Yeah, let’s go find them.”

Chapter Text

As the Mandalorian police lead him towards an automated transport into the city, Anakin clutches the holocron in his hand as hard as if his life depends on it. It just might, he thinks to himself, a mirthless smile curling the corners of his mouth but refusing to reach his eyes.

The news of two Jedi still residing in the city, a Twi’lek and a Togruta, does cheer him up a little, and seeing Artoo excited about getting to see Ahsoka always makes him feel better, but Anakin’s really, really not looking forward to the Council meeting that eventually awaits him back on Coruscant. Then again, he’s not coming back completely empty-handed for once; surely the Council will take that into account. They can’t call him useless if he brings back something they’ve ordered him to find. They can’t claim that he’s failed, either, at least not at this task.

Anakin tries to think of an excuse for his actions and winces. He has to tell the Council something; they’ll want to know why he’s been gone and where, why was his signal untraceable. He turned off and disassembled his modified comm before he left Kenobi’s ship at least, but he has enough to worry about anyway. The escaped Sith Lords, mysteriously recovered holocron, his disappearance and refusal to come back to Coruscant? Yeah. He has a fun Council meeting ahead of him.

The inside of the Mandalorian domed capital is beautiful, but Anakin doesn’t have the heart for it, way too distracted by his own thoughts. He thinks of deceit, of the elaborate web of lies he intends to keep carefully crafting, of how easy it is to fool the Council, in the end. Even now he can feel Kenobi’s presence at the back of his mind, but he’s keeping it and himself shielded, remembering the man’s words. Don’t trust anyone. There’s not a lot of people Anakin trusts anyway, and there’s absolutely no one he could trust with this. Padmé wouldn’t understand, neither would Ahsoka or Aayla, Artoo doesn’t even want to try, and… Anakin wonders what Qui-Gon would say to all this, but quickly cuts himself off. He can handle the Council’s disappointment, but the thought of disappointing his former Master is too much.

“We’re here,” one of the police officers says just as Anakin notices a familiar figure waiting at the station they’re approaching.

Ahsoka’s dressed in civilian clothes, their cut Mandalorian by the looks of it, probably so that she could better blend in, but her two lightsabers are still hooked on her belt, and she still watches the area with a sharpness that shows she’s no ordinary passer-by.

Anakin feels the creases on his forehead disappear and his mouth stretch into a grin as he stuffs the holocron, along with all of his worries, into a Force-proof pouch on his belt.

“Hey, Snips!” He waves a hand at her and jumps off the transport even before it comes to a halt, to the mild annoyance of the police officers accompanying him.

Ahsoka frowns, then grins back at him as he approaches. “Skyguy? What are you doing here? They told me there was someone claiming to be a Jedi at the docks, but I didn’t expect you—“

Anakin hasn’t seen her in weeks; he barely stops himself from sweeping her off her feet into a hug. Instead he just smiles as Artoo passes him hurriedly, beeping an excited welcome at Ahsoka. She immediately crouches and embraces the droid; Artoo shakes around and chirps.

Anakin clasps a hand on Ahsoka’s shoulder when she straightens up. “Let’s just say it’s a long story, Snips.”

“Oh, if you think I’ll let you off that easily, you’re dead wrong.” She folds her arms over her chest, still grinning.

“A very long story.”

She laughs and starts walking, motioning for him to follow her. “That’s not going to save you, you know.”

“What if I told you it was… important Jedi affairs?”

Affairs, huh.” There’s something in Ahsoka’s tone that instantly fills Anakin with bad feelings and regret. He realises three things.

One, Ahsoka is staring at him out the corner of her eye with a worryingly amused expression.

Two, he’s still wearing the black robes Kenobi gave him. Which wouldn’t be anything odd; Jedi mostly wear whatever they want, especially on missions, and nobody questions their fashion choices.

Except, three, the collar of his robes is still nonchalantly undone, meaning that Ahsoka can probably see the marks Kenobi left on his neck.

Anakin wants to die.

“I mean, sure, that’s none of my business,” Ahsoka says, the impish grin on her face all too telling of exactly how much she considers it her business, “but I don’t think the Council members are going to like this explanation.”

Anakin barely remembers how to form words, his fingers slipping off the collar buttons in panicked haste as he desperately tries to hide what’s already been noticed. “Snips—“

“Hey, I’m not here to judge—“

Snips—

“No, really, I get it, everyone needs a little vacation.” She laughs at his miserable expression. “By the way, did you know Padmé’s on Mandalore?”

“Oh?”

“Yup! She helped us with the negotiations a little. Apparently her and the Duchess are really close.”

Anakin nods absently, trying to focus on anything but the embarrassed heat rising in his cheeks. Seems like nearly everyone he cares about is on Mandalore. The prospect of coming back to Coruscant is less and less appealing to him by the minute; he wants to go anywhere but there. Hell, right now even Tatooine is beginning to sound more tempting.

At least his way back to Coruscant won’t be that bad if he gets to travel with his friends, he tries to comfort himself.

Artoo trails after them as they walk, Ahsoka telling Anakin of her time on Mandalore, of how her and Aayla came to negotiate some treaties but also stopped an attempt on Duchess Satine’s life, of Padmé’s unexpected but welcome arrival, of how good it was to be out of the Jedi Temple again. Anakin allows himself a smile; indeed, anything was more exciting than Temple life. He knew that especially well.

Ahsoka informs him that they’re headed towards the Royal Palace. Anakin hopes Aayla’s there; he can explain himself to her and ask her to contact the Council for him. He’s not entirely sure what he’s going to tell her yet but he’s good at improvising. Mostly. Usually. He can probably handle this.

“You still haven’t told me about, well, the thing.” Ahsoka grins at him knowingly and Anakin swallows, suddenly intensely uncomfortable. “I’m not going to let this go, you know. I’ll tell Master Secura and Padmé if I have to.”

“Ahsoka, no.”

She snorts. “Uh, Ahsoka, yes. Or you can just tell me now and save yourself the embarrassment. Hey, I don’t want the details, okay, I really super don’t, I’m just… curious. In general. Is this why the Council is so mad at you all the time?”

“In a way,” Anakin answers, quietly asking the Force why it’s being so cruel to him. “Listen, Snips, I’m not having some kind of secret affair if that’s what you’re asking—“

“You’re not exactly being secretive about it, that’s true—“

Snips!

She snorts again and leans over, almost folds herself in half, bracing her hands on her knees and laughing hysterically. Artoo beeps in agreement; somehow, he manages to sound smug about it. Anakin can’t even pretend to be mad at either of them; he smiles lightly. He’s missed the presence of friends he doesn’t feel guilty about liking.

The palace guards let them through after Ahsoka explains who they are. She seems terribly pleased with herself about apparently having more authority in the palace than Anakin, but he lets her have it; after all, he’s not even supposed to be on Mandalore. Ahsoka leads him and Artoo to what she says is one of the guest rooms. The door slides open to reveal a sensibly decorated chamber with two beds and some furnishings, and Aayla Secura sitting on the floor right in the middle of it, meditating.

“Master Secura!” Ahsoka says excitedly. “Look who I found at the docks!”

Aayla opens her eyes and frowns, gracefully climbing to her feet. She’s dressed in civilian Mandalorian robes too, but the balance and vigilance of a Jedi is clear in her every step. There’s a crease of worry on her forehead as she walks up to Anakin and puts a hand over his shoulder, a standard Jedi gesture of comfort and familiarity.

“Well, I haven’t seen you for quite a while,” Aayla says, a smile in every word. “Didn’t know you were in the area. Did the Council send you to help? I already told them everything was dealt with, why—“

“Yeah, the Council doesn’t know I’m here.”

Aayla takes a step back and tilts her head to the side. “Anakin.”

“It’s a long story.”

“Which I think I’d like to hear. But you, you need to contact the Council right away.”

“I might’ve… lost… my communicator.”

Aayla shakes her head, her lekku swaying with the movement. “A very long story, huh? Let me guess: you want me to contact them for you.”

Anakin grins. “Now that you mention it…”

“You are a menace, Anakin Skywalker,” Aayla tells him, her voice fond. “I don’t even want to know how much trouble you’re in right now.”

“I do,” Ahsoka says from where she’s sat cross-legged on the bed, watching them talk.

“That is classified information,” Anakin tells her immediately.

“Class— There’s no such thing, classified to who?”

“To you, you’re not allowed to know.”

Ahsoka just looks at him, a sly smile on her lips, and Anakin feels heat rise in his cheeks. So she’s decided to use the ancient Jedi technique of subtle blackmail on him yet again. How kind.

“Fine, fine,” he says with a sigh. “I was on Florrum; the pirates there claimed that they managed to capture Dooku and the Council sent me to negotiate. The pirates did have Dooku, but instead of negotiating, they tricked me, drugged me, and tossed me into a cell with him, trying to get a bigger ransom from the Council. Dooku managed to escape, though, and me along with him; I chased him over several systems but he got away in the end.”

It’s true enough, he decides.

“That sounds like the plot of a really bad action holomovie,” Ahsoka comments idly. Aayla sends her a pointed stare.

“I’m assuming the Council didn’t exactly approve of your decision to pursue Dooku,” she says, still staring at her Padawan who’s trying her best not to giggle and doing a poor job of it.

Anakin looks away. “Well.”

“Anakin.” Aayla takes a step forward and catches his arm again, tilting her head to look into his face. “You can’t do things like this. I know you… have your reasons, especially when it comes to Dooku, but it’s not the Jedi way.”

Anakin barely stops himself from angrily ripping his arm away from her grasp. Of course, and how could he have forgotten even for a second exactly how terrible he is at being a Jedi, how often he breaks the Code, what a bad example he sets for everyone around him. But nobody in the Jedi order is perfect; they all break the Code when it’s convenient for them, yet still claim that they follow it without fail.

Is this is what Kenobi meant when speaking of the hypocrisy of the Jedi?

Kenobi.

Anakin checks his mental defences as soon as the thought of the Sith Lord crosses his mind. He can’t help but wonder where the man is right now, what he’s doing. He can feel Kenobi’s presence, bright and comforting, if a little unfocused and far away. You know where to find me, he’d said before he left. He must be on his way to Mustafar, then, to meet up with Ventress and… and Dooku.

“Anakin?” It hurts to hear the genuine notes of worry in Aayla’s voice.

He’s known her ever since they were both Padawans. Anakin remembers Qui-Gon pushing him to make friends among the other Padawans as soon as he got used to the Temple life. Anakin’s never been a hermit and liked spending time with others, but a lot of the Padawans considered him lesser, a child who shouldn’t even be allowed the Jedi training. None of them would call him a friend.

During one of his first sparring matches he got beaten by a Twi’lek a few years older than him. He’d thought the playful flickers in her eyes were ones of arrogance and contempt, and considered her his archenemy for quite some time, until at some point he realised he really enjoyed their trainings together, as well as all the bickering. She’s become almost like a sister to him at some point.

She doesn’t chide him because she wants to make him feel bad. She does it because she cares, and of course she cares.

The thing about attachments is that none of it is up to you. They form anyway, no matter how much you will them not to.

He gives Aayla an apologetic smile. “I know I shouldn’t have done that, but it’s not exactly the first thing I’ve done without the permission of the Council. And anyway, you’re the one to talk! I’m pretty sure I could make a rather long list of all the times you’ve broken the Code one way or another. Remember Felucia, back when you just got knighted?”

“What happened on Felucia?” Ahsoka asks, her eyes wide open in curiosity.

“That is… classified information, my young Padawan,” Aayla tells her lightly.

Ahsoka groans, and Anakin laughs, genuine, easy.

Aayla meets his gaze. “You do know you have to contact them.”

“I don’t have my communicator.”

She rolls her eyes. “Fine, I will contact them for you, but you need to tell me what you want me to say to them. I’m not improvising before the Council, Anakin Skywalker, not even for you.”

“Improvising. Is that the official Jedi word for lying?” Ahsoka asks innocently. Anakin snorts.

“Padawan Tano, your behaviour is unacceptable,” Aayla says. There’s a smile hidden somewhere in the small crinkles around her eyes and in the soft fondness of her voice, and Anakin knows both him and Ahsoka can see it. “Don’t make me ask you to leave the room.”

“Forgive me, Master Secura.” There’s a smile, too, in Ahsoka’s lightly bowed head and in the quick amused glance she sends Aayla.

A pang of jealousy hits Anakin as his mind reaches for the faint memory of him and Qui-Gon bantering on missions, the easy familiarity and understanding threaded between a Master and a Padawan, the feeling that there’s somebody there to guide him. He’s all alone now, no Padawan to teach, no Master to teach him. He shuts his mind down before it even tries to think of Kenobi.

He needs to be focused now.

He tells Aayla his message to the Council; she nods at him once and activates her communicator, calling out the Jedi Temple and asking for a direct connection with the Council.

It’s Yoda who answers the call, and Anakin briefly considers running out of the room before he remembers that Yoda can’t actually see him. If he remains quiet, he’ll be fine.

“News you have, Master Secura?”

“I do, Master. Our mission on Mandalore is all but finished, the Duchess is safe, and we’d like to request a transport back to Coruscant, if there’s nothing else you’d ask of us for now.”

“A transport, you will have.”

“Also, Anakin Skywalker has arrived on Mandalore.” Silence, though a seemingly strained one. “He has… misplaced his communicator, which is why I’m making the call on his behalf, but he’s here, ready to give a report of his activities before the Council. We’ll take him to Coruscant with us, if that’s all right.”

“Travel with great haste, you should.”

The comm call is terminated and Aayla exchanges a long look with Anakin. They both know he’s in trouble; Yoda wouldn’t let it be heard, of course, but he’s angry. Or displeased, as the Jedi would prefer to call it.

“Well, now we just wait, don’t we,” Anakin says, trying for a humorous tone.

“Hopefully not too long.”

Anakin shrugs. The only hope he’s holding on to right now is that the holocron he’s retrieved will be enough to pacify the Council’s ire. They have a right to be upset, but surely they won’t forbid him from leaving the Temple or take his clone battalion away from him. He shudders at the thought. He hasn’t seen Rex or the rest of the 501st for almost a month; they’ve been sent on a mission with Plo Koon back when Anakin’s life began spiralling out of control, when he returned from the Rishi system without his lightsaber. Anakin is sure his men are fine, though. Probably missing their general and his ever-so-reasonable decision making.

He realises Aayla is talking to him and snaps back into reality.

“…if we made our goodbyes with the Duchess now, since Yoda wasn’t kind enough to inform us when the transport will come. But first, we might want to eat something. I bet Anakin hasn’t seen proper food in a while.”

Anakin brightens up immediately. “Get me anything that isn’t a ration bar and I’ll owe you the biggest of favours.”

Aayla laughs and wraps an arm around his shoulders, leading him out of the room and motioning for Ahsoka and Artoo to follow them. “What if I get you two ration bars?”

Anakin turns to her with pure betrayal in his eyes. “You—“

“Three, perhaps?”

“Aayla, I swear to the Force—“

She gives him another cheeky grin and they both laugh. Anakin can hear Ahsoka who’s trailing after them giggle and Artoo chirp fondly.

He wishes he could have both this easy calm and everything Kenobi makes him feel.

 


 

Aayla and Ahsoka take him for a trip around the city centre, showing him landmarks and telling him of their time on Mandalore. The time is filled with easy chatter and laughing, and Anakin dryly thinks that back at the Temple, such behaviour would get them sideways looks at the very least. But he’s infamous for breaking the Code, and so is Aayla, though she always jokes that it’s a direct consequence of growing up friends with him, and she doesn’t seem to do it quite as often as he does. Still, if they have an occasion to be themselves, they may as well take it.

Especially Anakin. He’s been doing nothing but acting like the worst Jedi in the galaxy for the past several days, anyway.

He honestly deserves however much fury and disappointment the Council decides to throw at him. Which is probably a lot. At least being with friends makes him forget about it, even if only for a moment.

In the evening he’s introduced to Duchess Satine during an official dinner. Padmé’s there, too; she welcomes him with a surprised but genuine smile, then sits at the Duchess’ right hand. The Duchess acknowledges Aayla and Ahsoka for saving her life and Padmé for assisting in the negotiations, then welcomes Anakin on Mandalore, though as she calls him an “unexpected guest” in a chilly tone it’s more than clear that she’d rather not have any unannounced Jedi visiting her planet.

The evening passes calmly, mostly thanks to Padmé who’s on rather friendly terms with the Duchess. Anakin glances at their discreet exchanges of soft smiles with a smile of his own. He needs to ask Padmé how she’s been as soon he gets the chance. She’s always so good to everyone, so caring, and she seems happy here. He wonders whether her visit on Mandalore is purely official or just something to get away from Coruscant. He wonders whether she still misses Naboo, sometimes. He wonders if anyone else in the room feels this pull, a longing for something, someone else, for another life, for things to be different.

He’s tired of the war; even though it’s barely been going on for several months it’s harder and harder to remember his life from before it started. He can’t say he doesn’t enjoy fighting or getting into dangerous situations or having more reasons to get away from the Jedi Temple. People are dying, though, the galaxy spiralling further and further into chaos, and… He wishes it would end.

The Duchess is kind enough to give Anakin his own room, but after dinner he lingers in Aayla and Ahsoka’s quarters. He doesn’t want to be left alone with himself; he knows that as soon as everything goes quiet around him, he’ll have to face the thoughts he really doesn’t want to. So he joins the gossiping about everyone in the Temple; it feels freeing to be able to say whatever he wants about Yoda and be met with understanding nods. He can’t stay there forever, though; in the end, he excuses himself, wishes his friends a good night, and leaves.

He decides against having a stroll around the palace; he has a feeling that if the guards found a stray Jedi aimlessly wandering around, the Duchess would no longer be as understanding about his presence on Mandalore. He reluctantly heads for his room and falls onto the bed as soon as he walks in. His head feels crowded, packed full with thoughts and fears and longings.

He thinks of Kenobi, reaches for his presence, wonders, again, where the man is. Probably at least halfway to Mustafar already, if he’s following the trade routes. Then again, he’d probably want to avoid Republic space, so the journey might take him more time than it normally would.

Anakin sighs and turns to the side, closes his eyes.

He misses Kenobi.

But he’s missed Aayla and Ahsoka and Padmé, too.

When he’s with Kenobi, he feels guilty for it, when he’s back in his Jedi life, he feels guilty for lying to his friends. He should just cut Kenobi out of his life; this would solve just about every single one of his problems. Forget the man, sever the connection, never let himself get this confused and distracted again. But he doesn’t want to. For all the guilt, there’s nothing that feels quite like being at Kenobi’s side, being guided to a purpose unknown but not at all evil, being taught and led by a careful hand curling fingers over his nape. Anakin closes his eyes and sighs, leaning his head back a little.

My sweet apprentice. How beautiful the words sound falling from Kenobi’s lips, dangerous and so full of promise. An oath of loyalty, swearing not to force but to guide, swearing not to take but to give and share, asking only for him to take a knee and yield, to understand and let go of the teachings he doesn’t care about anyway.

Warmth, purpose, power, freedom.

Master, Anakin mouths into the quiet darkness of the empty room, then shakes his head, feeling a wave of embarrassed anger wash over him. His hands curl into fists and he flips himself onto his back. No matter how much he’s tempted, who is he to betray his friends? He doesn’t care for the Jedi, he doesn’t even care for the Republic in the end, but… He imagines himself standing against Ahsoka and Aayla, their faces hurt, shocked. He imagines himself trying to explain it all to Padmé and her taking a step back in fear.

He imagines himself trying to convince Kenobi to come back into the Jedi Order. He imagines the Council sending the man to certain death in the name of the greater good, he imagines the beautifully bright light in Kenobi’s eyes extinguished, he tries to imagine the Sith Lord as a stoical Jedi Master and cannot.

Some things are meant to be.

And perhaps some people are never meant to find their way.

He bites his inner cheeks and screws his eyes even tighter shut, until he sees little flickers of light dancing in the corners of his vision. Soon, he’ll be back on Coruscant. Soon, he’ll stand before the Jedi Council again and lie to their faces, hoping his defences are strong enough. Soon, he’ll let them do whatever they decide to him, because he cannot decide.

Soon, yet again, none of it all will matter.

 


 

He doesn’t remember what he dreams about, and he’s grateful for it.

 


 

When he wakes, he doesn’t feel rested; he might as well not have slept at all. He stretches a little and sits up in the bed, wincing at the strain in his muscles. He doesn’t think about lying with Kenobi in sleeping cabin of Ray, about the fact that the floor with a blanket over it felt to him infinitely more comfortable than a soft bed in a Mandalorian royal palace. Soft, but lonely.

He doesn’t think about it.

He dresses himself, hooks a lightsaber on his belt, and sighs at his reflection. He doesn’t have time for any deep thoughts, though, because somebody bursts into his room right at that very moment. He jumps and turns, fingers already closing over his lightsaber, then rolls his eyes and throws his arms up in exasperation when he sees Ahsoka.

“Snips,” he nearly yells, “you can’t just— do that to people, what if I was standing here naked?”

Ahsoka gasps theatrically. “Don’t even say that to me.”

“There’s a reason rooms have doors, you know—“

She waves a dismissive hand at him and he wants to laugh at the gesture. Somehow, she became even more snippy under Aayla’s tutelage. He’s not quite sure whether he’s more proud of the Master or the Padawan.

“The transport’s here, Skyguy, you better get ready.”

She flashes him a grin and turns to leave, and Anakin opens his mouth to speak before he manages to give it any thought.

“Snips? Hey, Snips. ‘Soka. Can I talk to you for a second?”

She stops and takes a few steps back, then turns to him, friendly flickers in her eyes. “Yeah, sure! What is it?”

Anakin takes a deep breath and looks away. This definitely seemed a better idea in his head. He needs to talk to someone, yes, but Ahsoka is still so young, still a Padawan. Barely four years younger than him, yet far cleverer and wiser than him already. That doesn’t mean he gets to burden her with problems he’s not even supposed to have, though.

She walks up to him, eyes bright, a smile on her face. She’s so full of light, Anakin thinks. So unlike himself.

“Well?”

Anakin swallows, the words stuck in his mouth. What if he told her he’s doubting everything they’ve ever been taught? What if he told her he should already stand trial for treachery? “What if I told you… I’ve done something I wasn’t supposed to do?” he finally says. “What if I told you I’ve broken the Code?”

Ahsoka shrugs. “I’d ask you what it was this time.”

Anakin shakes his head. He never should’ve— “Forget I said anything.”

He passes her, headed for the door, but Ahsoka rounds him and stands in front of him again, reaching out a hand to stop him. “Hey. Skyguy. What’s going on?”

“It’s nothing, don’t worry about it.”

There’s concern in Ahsoka’s eyes that’s almost overwhelming, concern that Anakin knows he doesn’t deserve. “All right. You know you can tell me anything, though, right?”

Anakin nods and forces a smile.

He wishes he could.

 


 

Even though Padmé decides to stay on Mandalore for longer, the company of Ahsoka and Aayla is more than enough to distract Anakin from his gloomy thoughts. That is, until their transport makes the final approach towards the Jedi Temple, and nothing can possibly draw his attention away from the impending doom any more. The way back to Coruscant passed way too quickly for his liking.

To Anakin’s surprise, the hangar bay is mostly empty, save for a few maintenance droids. He was half expecting Mace Windu to be there, possibly accompanied by some Temple guards; the Jedi Master seems to have been acting as his personal Council handler for quite a while now, but he’s nowhere to be seen this time. Anakin wonders whether that means less trouble for him or more.

He hesitantly steps out of the ship, his mind scared but focused, defences carefully crafted the way Kenobi taught him. Everything depends on his shielding now, and on the holocron still safely hidden in the pouch hanging off his belt.

He waves a hand back at Aayla and Ahsoka already headed into the Temple; apparently the Council doesn’t need to debrief them immediately after they return from a mission. Anakin wonders whether that’s because right now the Council members want to focus all of their anger on him, or because the Council doesn’t actually call other Jedi into questioning as soon as they set foot in the Temple. Maybe such treatment is reserved just for him.

Soft chirping from behind his back tells him that Artoo is still there. Good luck, the droid beeps without a sarcastic undertone to it for once. He almost sounds sad and Anakin pats his head absently.

“I’ll be fine, buddy,” he sighs. The words don’t sound convincing even to him. “Just another Council meeting. You know, you really should come to one of those with me sometime.”

I really shouldn’t, Artoo replies, then gives Anakin’s leg a light, friendly bump before rolling away. He’s probably right, Anakin thinks, amused. He usually is.

Left alone in the middle of the hangar bay, Anakin has no choice but to head for the Council Chamber. The Masters are probably waiting for him already and the longer he lingers, the more exasperated they’re going to become. And as tempting as annoying the Council usually is, Anakin decides against it for once. Running away is just as tempting, but he throws that thought out of his mind.

Focus, Skywalker, he tells himself. You can do this.

The doors to the Council Chamber open before he even raises a hand to knock. Anakin swallows loudly, then steps through. The empty seat next to Yoda draws his attention first. Mace Windu isn’t in the Temple, then; that would explain why he hasn’t come to glare at Anakin personally as soon as the transport landed.

Yoda and Saesee Tiin are present however, Anakin notes, both known for their talent for sensing lies, so he’ll need to keep his defences extra strong to keep his thoughts shielded. He realises there’s no point in worrying about the Council’s disappointment, though. Almost none of the Masters he likes or at least tolerates seem to be in attendance, and Anakin couldn’t care less about what the rest of them think of him if he tried. They can’t tell him he’s useless just because he’s had a few adventures the Council doesn’t approve of. He’s won too many battles, saved too many lives for that. So what if the Council dislikes him? The feeling’s mutual anyway.

“Expecting you, we have been, hmm,” Yoda says.

Well, that’s not exactly news, Anakin wants to say, but bites his tongue. As much as he doesn’t care for the Council members’ opinion, there really is no reason to provoke their outrage, he reminds himself sharply.

“We simply can’t wait to hear your explanations,” Agen Kolar says, tilting his horned head to the side.

Anakin takes a deep breath. “Well—“

“You’ve failed the mission you’ve been given, Skywalker,” Kolar continues, raising his harsh voice, “disobeyed a direct Council order, disappeared Force knows where on some sort of personal whim, appeared out of nowhere on a planet you had no business in visiting, and probably have nothing to show for it yet again. So you’d better have some really good reasons.”

Anakin feels heat swirling in his fingertips. Anger. Because of course the Council wouldn’t let him say a single word before they made sure he was feeling like a complete failure. So that’s what Anakin projects; shame, regret. He keeps the fury locked inside his mind, lets its heat roll over him but doesn’t let it show. He almost hears a familiar, smooth hum of approval in his ear and bites down on his lower lip to stop himself from smiling.

He looks over the faces of the Masters present in the chamber. None of them look surprised, just disappointed in the never-ending string of Skywalker failures. His defences seem to be working, then.

“Waiting for your story, the Council is,” Yoda encourages him.

“If I may just ask—“

“You may not.”

“—where’s Master Windu?” Anakin finishes pointedly, staring down Kolar who interrupted him. “It’s just that he doesn’t seem to leave the Temple all that often, so I’ve been wondering if something’s happened.”

A distinct air of that’s none of your business, Skywalker arises in the Council Chamber, and Anakin probably shouldn’t be finding it as funny as he is. He turns to face Yoda and raises his eyebrows; one of Yoda’s ears is twitching minutely, and his stoical expression is gone, replaced by one of utter irritation.

“To Florrum, Master Windu has gone,” Yoda says, every syllable practically dripping with exasperation, but he sounds like he wants to get the words out. He’s not upset with him, Anakin realises. He’s upset with Mace. What the hell is happening with the Council?

“Important Jedi negotiations and affairs,” Adi Gallia adds casually. “Your transport must’ve passed him on the way.”

Anakin finds that he doesn’t know what to say. Negotiations and affairs, huh. Affairs. He remembers Ahsoka laughing at him for using that exact word, and then he remembers the comm call between Mace and Hondo that he witnessed on Florrum.

So Mace, who only ever goes out on big, important missions, randomly went to Florrum to negotiate with the pirates after Anakin, Kenobi, and Dooku escaped. Anakin can’t think of anything left there to negotiate. Except the amount of drinks Mace and Hondo are probably going to have together.

Anakin closes his eyes, trying his best not to burst out laughing in the Council members’ faces. Sweet Force. No wonder Yoda is acting this grumpy.

“Now, if you’re quite done changing the subject,” Kolar speaks up again.

Anakin nods, takes a deep breath, then begins his tale. He tells the Council of his arrival on Florrum but doesn’t mention working with Kenobi. Instead, he says that he accepted a single friendly drink from Hondo which then turned out to be drugged. He tells them that he woke up in a cell, disarmed and chained to two Sith Lords. He tells them that he wasn’t powerful enough to oppose them both, and so he couldn’t possibly stop them from attempting to escape, even though he really wanted to.

He tries not to roll his eyes as he listens to Kolar and Yoda telling him just how un-Jedi-like his behaviour was. As if he wasn’t aware of that already. He bows lightly and apologises; he’s feeling nothing but spiteful delight at the fact that barely anything he’s saying is true and yet the Council accepts it.

Because of course Anakin Skywalker would mess everything up like that. Because of course Anakin Skywalker would break the Code and fail his mission. He feeds the Council exactly what they expect to hear; they underestimate him, and he doesn’t feel bad about lying. Not when it’s this easy. And not any more. Not when they won’t even let him finish speaking, not when they’re sure that he’s failed even before he enters the Council Chamber.

He keeps talking, then, spins a tale of how one of the escape attempts turned out to be successful, of how he’d managed to follow Dooku closely enough that the Sith Lord couldn’t escape. He tells the Council that he chased the Sith Lord over several systems until he managed to catch up with him and actually did shoot his ship down. By the time he landed next to the wreck, though, Dooku’s managed to escape; he’s crashed on a planet in Separatist space, somewhere near Serenno. Separatist forces must’ve been there to escort him away.

The lies fall from his mouth smoothly, naturally; he makes himself seem embarrassed, but in his mind there’s nothing but amazement at how easy it is to trick the Council.

He glances around when he finishes. Kolar and some other Masters are visibly annoyed, Yoda just seems really tired, though. Anakin wonders whether that’s why he isn’t leading the meeting, just mostly keeping quiet, lost in thoughts, his disappointment seemingly equally divided between Anakin and Mace. Oh, what Anakin wouldn’t give to be in the Council Chamber when Mace returns from Florrum—

“So you have nothing to show for all this,” Kolar almost growls. “Such a… riveting story, and no ending to it. Another Council request failed, another mission unfinished?”

Anakin blinks and tilts his head to the side, allows himself the smallest of smiles. “I didn’t say that.”

He reaches to the pouch hanging off his belt and all the Masters straighten up in their seats as soon as he unwraps the material and takes out the holocron.

“I found this in Dooku’s crashed ship; seems that he was in quite a hurry to leave. It hasn’t been opened or tinkered with in any way.” Anakin can’t keep the satisfaction out of his voice, takes in the surprised faces of the Masters.

Even Yoda brightens up a little. “Much needed good news, this is. Deliver the holocron to the Archives, you should.”

Anakin nods. “Of course. If that’s all the Council would have of me, I think—“

“It’s not,” Adi Gallia speaks up, her voice soft but stern, and Anakin feels a phantom chill settle over his shoulders.

“Troubling, your behaviour has been, young Skywalker. A decision, the Council must make.”

Anakin squeezes the holocron a little tighter. Right. His punishment. Even though he brought back a present for the Council, they won’t just let him off so easily. Not this time. They have a point; he really has been acting strangely, even by the standards he’s set for himself over the years.

“Should I… leave? Give you a moment?”

Yoda shakes his head. “What to do, the Council already knows.”

Kolar takes a deep breath, but it’s Gallia who speaks first. “The Council and whole galaxy are thankful for you retrieving the holocron, Skywalker. However, your methods have been questionable at best, and the Council fears you’re not sharing everything that’s been happening. You’re shielding yourself very carefully, which leads us to believe that you do not trust us. Therefore, we’re asking you not to leave the Jedi Temple for several days. You might be called in for several more meetings, either with the whole Council or just with individual Masters, and—“

“You’re grounding me,” Anakin says slowly. “The galaxy is at war, most of the Jedi generals are out in the field trying to protect the Republic, and you want me to just stay here and do nothing?”

They didn’t even ask for a moment to discuss this, so they’d decided before he stepped into the Council Chamber, and nothing he could say or do would’ve changed their mind. Anakin listens to his own heartbeat; it seems louder and louder to him with each passing second.

“It is not your right to question the Council’s decisions,” Kolar reprimands him harshly.

“Seems like I don’t have a lot rights left any more,” Anakin snaps, the words burning on his tongue.

The Council Chamber goes quiet, and he can feel the Masters’ shock vibrating through the air.

“Considering your unacceptable behaviour and casual disregard for the Jedi Code—“

“How about you just keep me chained in the Temple, then? Wouldn’t that be easier for everyone?”

Kolar leans forward slowly. “You’re forgetting yourself.”

Anakin scoffs. “At least I’m not forgetting that there’s a war going on.”

“You think we’re forgetting? Skywalker, this is exactly why we cannot afford to have a war within our own ranks,” Gallia says, as if pleading. “This is exactly why we’re requesting that you stay here only for a few days as we think things over. As we try to understand you.”

“You will be assigned various tasks within the Temple, but you are not allowed to leave it until the Council decides so. Is that understood?”

Anakin looks away, his hands shaking slightly. They intend to keep him here and question him until his defences slip, then? Good luck with that. The walls around his mind are durasteel, and he won’t be letting any of the Council members anywhere near his thoughts.

“A question, you have been asked, young Skywalker.”

Anakin gives the Council members a shallow bow, wondering if they can read any of his emotions from his body language alone. “Yes, Masters.”

“Chancellor Palpatine has requested to speak to you, though. One of the Masters will accompany you to the Senate building after you visit the Archives to return the holocron. That is all.”

Anakin feels like he’s somewhere far away from the Council Chamber, dispassionately watching himself from behind the windows. He listens to the silence intently, his thoughts everywhere and nowhere at once. He doesn’t want to stay at the Temple. He doesn’t want to meet with the Council. He doesn’t want to—

“More to say you have?”

Anakin bites his tongue before he says exactly what else he wants to say. He shakes his head, then storms out of the Council Chamber and heads for the Archives.

So they’re locking him in the Temple.

It could’ve been worse, he tries to tell himself, but his hands curl into tight fists as soon as the Council Chamber doors shut behind him.

 


 

Once he leaves the Archives, he stops by the Jedi Temple quartermaster to request a set of dark-coloured robes and a new communicator to be delivered to his room. He finds Adi Gallia waiting outside and thanks the Force that it’s not Yoda who’s going to watch him.

Gallia doesn’t talk of his situation as she escorts him to the Senate building; she just gives him a seemingly friendly smile, then tells him of the duties he’ll be performing at the Temple. Mostly guard duty and helping out in the Archives, with breaks for training and meditation. Anakin bites his tongue to stop himself from asking when the break to torture him with more Council meetings will take place, whether they intend to keep him in the Council Chamber instead of letting him sleep.

As they approach the Senate building, Anakin finds himself wishing Padmé was on Coruscant; that way, perhaps he’d be able to visit her at least for a moment. She’s still on Mandalore, though, and so he’ll only get to see the Chancellor. He feels a pang of guilt; he does consider the man a friend, if a distant one. The Chancellor has always been kind to him; it’s just that Anakin’s never had much time to talk with the man. Qui-Gon had no fondness for politicians and only spared them as much of his time and attention as politeness required, and even though he was gone now, the war didn’t exactly leave Anakin with a lot of free time either. Apart from quick exchanges of pleasantries he hasn’t talked to the Chancellor at all in what feels like months.

Gallia stops in front of the doors to the Chancellor’s offices, telling him that she’ll wait for him there.

Anakin knocks, then enters. He finds Palpatine sitting behind his desk, reading from a datapad, but he puts it aside and gets up as soon as Anakin enters his office. Seeing someone smile at the sight of him is really rather pleasant after having just met with the Council, Anakin thinks.

“Ah, Anakin,” Palpatine says, his voice sweet. “How good of you to have come.”

“Chancellor.” Anakin bows lightly.

Palpatine beckons him closer, then turns to look out the window. Anakin approaches him and stands at his side, gaze sliding over the ever-busy skyline of Coruscant. He feels a strange, faint shadow pass over him and the short hairs on his arms stand up; for a moment, something feels off, but Anakin can’t quite tell what it is and he brushes the feeling away.

“Is everything all right, my boy?” Palpatine asks after a moment of silence. “You seem… troubled.”

“No, actually, I’m fine,” Anakin says, the words falling out of his mouth before he even gives them any thought. Considering the situation he’s currently in, the Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic is just about the last person Anakin wants to confide in. He strengthens his defences and gives Palpatine a half-smile. “The Council’s a little mad with me, more than a little, actually, but it’s hardly the first time. They’re keeping me grounded in the Temple for a while.”

“Ah, yes, the Council. See, they simply don’t know how to appreciate you, Anakin.”

Anakin nods absently.

“I hope you’ll forgive me for saying this, but the Jedi Council can’t possibly know everything. They’re not the ultimate judges of the entire galaxy, not the highest power. Perhaps…” Palpatine pauses, as if waiting for the words to come to him, studying Anakin’s face and his reactions. Anakin glances at him. “Perhaps listening to the Council isn’t always the best course of action, especially for you.”

“Perhaps it isn’t,” Anakin agrees, looking out the window again.

Without thinking about it much, he wraps his mind in another careful layer of complex shields, feels the bond between him and Kenobi light up a little, as if the Sith Lord is helping him craft the defences. He probably is; that what he’s been doing for a while now, after all. Anakin lets himself think of Kenobi, wonders if the man is going to be in as much trouble as him. Probably not; seems like he can talk himself out of just about anything. Anakin wishes Kenobi would teach him that skill.

Anakin and Palpatine talk for a while, discussing the war, the distribution of troops and Republic forces throughout the galaxy, the losses and the wins. Anakin is rather certain the Council wouldn’t tell him even half of all that, leaving him to find out on his own or not find out at all. He’s enjoying the strategic discussion, even tries to suggest a few solutions and manoeuvres. Palpatine thanks him profusely, but Anakin’s already getting distracted again, his thoughts far away from the Chancellor’s office, far from the Senate building, far from Coruscant.

Perhaps he shouldn’t be listening to the Council indeed.

Chapter Text

The first three days are uneventful.

By orders of the Council, Anakin spends most of his time stuck in the Archives, helping a beaming Jocasta Nu re-catalogue what feels like just about every single bit of information that’s stored there. The Chief Librarian tells him that only several datacards and datatapes need to be moved, but her and Anakin’s definitions of several seem to differ greatly.

“Don’t forget to cross-check those with the databases,” Jocasta Nu calls for what feels like the hundredth time already. Anakin briefly considers just walking out of the Archives, climbing the High Council Tower, and throwing the stack of datacards he’s carrying in his arms out the window.

Padawans could do this. Younglings could do this. But no, instead the Council deemed it appropriate to assign the task to him, Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker, General of the Grand Army of the Republic who’s proven his skill countless times and who should be out there, trying to end the war instead of performing the most mundane tasks at the Temple while waiting for the Masters to decide what to do with him.

What is it that they’re deciding, anyway? Do they intend to keep him on Archives duty forever, or just long enough to give him a lesson? They ask him questions, demand more details, and Anakin continues lying to them, wondering how much longer he can keep it all up. He bites his inner cheek, focusing on the stinging pain instead of the fury he’s feeling in his gut. He can’t help being angry, but it’s just not worth it. If this is what it takes to prove his worth as a Jedi, fine. He can do this. He can handle being away for a few days; he just hopes the galaxy can handle it, too.

When he’s not dying of boredom and restlessness in the Archives, the Council calls him in for meetings, mostly with Yoda and Saesee Tiin trying to subtly get past his defences and waiting for him to slip, or with Ki Adi Mundi and Luminara Unduli just talking to him in what Anakin assumes to be an attempt at regaining his trust.

Aside from endlessly asking Yoda about Mace Windu’s absence and delighting in every little slip in the Jedi Master’s perfect composure, Anakin tries to remain at least mostly civil. He’s keeping himself carefully shielded, though, and doesn’t let anyone anywhere near his mind. They want to keep him in the Temple and punish him without admitting they’re doing it? Fine. But he won’t allow them to break him. He keeps his distance, only giving the Masters the trust and the truth they deserve.

At least the Council doesn’t try to command his every waking moment. Once he’s done working at the Archives and wasting his time talking to the Masters, he’s free to do whatever he wants, as long as he stays within the Temple’s walls. He spends most of his remaining time either arrogantly practicing the moves Kenobi’s taught him, or trying to see Ahsoka and Aayla as much as he can.

Those moments in the Jedi Temple refectories feel almost stolen, as if he doesn’t deserve to have even that, but Anakin pushes the thoughts away, buries them somewhere deep. He smiles at Aayla’s offer to smuggle some alcohol into the Temple.

“You know, I don’t think the Code—“ Anakin begins with a lopsided smirk and leans over the table.

Aayla laughs. “Anakin Skywalker, look me in the eye and tell me you care about the Code at all.”

“We must, uh, all follow it,” Anakin says, trying and failing to hold a serious expression as his gaze slides over everything but his friend’s face. “It… guides our lives, and as Jedi we are obliged to— ow!”

Aayla punches his arm in what she considers to be a playful gesture and what Anakin considers to be a potential bruise. “You lying ass,” she laughs again, “aren’t you in enough trouble already?”

You’re the one who wants to smuggle liquor into the Temple!” Anakin points an accusatory finger at her.

“Don’t you sass me, Skywalker.”

Anakin shakes his head and opens his mouth to sass her more, but over her shoulder he notices that their mock argument seems to have drawn the attention of a bunch of Padawans sitting two tables away. Ahsoka and Barriss are among them, and judging by their expressions, they’re more than ready to join the conversation whether anyone wants them to or not. Anakin feels his smile grow even wider.

Ahsoka leans forward, a grin plastered over her face, eyes boring into Aayla’s back. “So what’s this I’m hearing about smuggling? What are we going to smuggle and where?”

Aayla raises her voice and without turning around answers, “Nosy Padawans, from the refectories to the main Temple entrance for their guard duty.”

“Master!”

Aayla shakes her head; there’s a small, fond smile on her face that only Anakin can see. He immediately winks at Ahsoka over Aayla’s shoulder.

Ahsoka beams, clearly taking that as a permission to continue. “No, but this is an excellent idea. What if we actually did that? What if we smuggled something ridiculous into the Temple? Like, say…”

“One of the repulsorpods from the Senate Hall,” Aayla suggests immediately, accompanied by the Padawans’ giggles. Something in her face tells Anakin that this isn’t the first time she’s considered that.

“How about something alive? Oh, wait, I know! Skyguy, you’ll love this: a herd of banthas.”

Anakin bursts into surprised laugher, then watches Ahsoka explain what a bantha is to those of her Padawan friends who’ve never seen one.

“I wonder if it would be possible to walk one of those into the Council Chamber. Or maybe more than one. Would they even fit in there?” Barriss asks, evidently fascinated by the concept of a bantha herd.

Ahsoka snorts. “Your Master is on the Council, ‘Riss.”

Barriss nearly chokes on her food and everyone laughs as Ahsoka, giggling, pats her back.

“How about something more extreme?” Anakin asks idly, gaze fixed somewhere away.

“More extreme than a herd of banthas? Sweet Force, Anakin, you’re not thinking of sand, are you?” Aayla teases him, and Ahsoka starts laughing even louder, but Anakin doesn’t react, lost in his thoughts.

“I was thinking something along the lines of a Sith Lord, actually—”

Barriss snorts her drink as another wave of roaring, if somewhat nervous laughter rolls over everyone listening in to the conversation. They’re being so loud now that several of the Jedi sitting at the other tables are glancing over at them, some with fond smiles, others with mild disdain. Anakin’s glad none of the members of the Council are there.

Ahsoka, grinning madly, slams her hand on the table. “Dooku riding a ban— no, wait, a bantha riding Dooku!”

Aayla, who was turning around presumably to scold her Padawan, almost folds in half, laughing; Anakin reaches over the table and takes the fork she was holding out of her hand. “Padawan Tano—“ Aayla attempts, then breaks into a fit of giggles again. “Force, that is a mental image I definitely didn’t need.”

“Do you really think it would be possible for a Sith Lord to just sneak into the Temple without anyone noticing?” Barriss asks, seeming strangely focused.

“Come on, ‘Riss,” Ahsoka laughs, “you worry too much about whether things are possible. Whether they’re funny is the right question!”

“Padawan Tano, it seems that I will be forced to test how well you remember the Jedi Code,” Aayla says mirthfully once she finally manages to call a serious note to her voice.

Ahsoka rolls her eyes. “Rule one: no fun allowed, ever.”

Everyone laughs yet again, and Anakin meets Barriss’ gaze. She’s staring right at him, head curiously tilted to the side as if trying to read something from him. Anakin remembers her innocent question. Would it be possible for a Sith Lord to sneak into the Temple? Probably not, though someone sneaking a Sith Lord into the Temple is another matter entirely. Anakin shrugs and forces himself to smile at Barriss. He’s certain about his defences; if Yoda and Tiin couldn’t break through them, no Padawan will be able to, either.

It gets him wondering, though. Just how quickly would his friends abandon him if they’d found out what he’s been doing? How quickly would the friendly smiles turn into disbelief, then resentment? Anakin Skywalker, the fallen one, traitor to the Jedi. But how is he a traitor? He’s never really done anything that would betray the Jedi Order or the Republic; not in any straightforward way. So what if—

He shakes his head. Ridiculous. There’s absolutely no justification for what he’s been doing, what he’s been feeling; he needs to stop lying to himself. There’s nothing but the simple fact that he’s betraying everything he’s ever been taught, everything he stands for, with every single thought he has about Kenobi.

Pick a side, Skywalker, he reminds himself bitterly.

As he watches his friends laugh in easy amusement, he feels his heart sink even deeper into his chest and wishes, yet again, that he wouldn’t have to choose.

He misses Kenobi, can’t help it. In the evenings, after he’s done with his duties and the Council meetings, he feels alone, empty. He lies in the silence, stares into the ceiling of his room and thinks he can almost hear Kenobi’s low voice murmuring in Sith right into his ear. He closes his eyes and tries to listen, but it’s probably just his mind playing tricks on him. In the end it doesn’t matter, though; whether real or imagined, it does help him fall asleep.

The first two nights, he dreams of nothing in particular: faint colours and sounds, starry skies and sunsets painted in soft hues and gentle songs calming his troubled mind. It’s the only rest he truly gets, and he’s infinitely grateful for it, for those precious few hours of his mind being completely empty of all worry, enveloped in clouds of gently flickering dust and smoke.

The first two nights, he sleeps easy.

On the third night, pain wakes him up.

It doesn’t happen all at once. First, there’s but a shadow of a bad feeling, a whisper somewhere at the back of his mind that he doesn’t even consciously register. He mutters something in his sleep, hardly coherent, and tries to settle on his mattress more comfortably. Then, fear crawls into his mind, an overwhelming realisation that something terrible is about to happen. He shudders in his sleep and thrashes around as cold seeps deep into his bones. It’s an uneasy rest; he’s overcome by worry, his mind stuck just this side of being awake.

And then, it hits.

Electricity shoots through his body without a warning, far more vicious than anything he’s ever experienced, shocking him awake and pushing a startled, anguished cry past his lips. Every charge seems focused, homing in on him with terrifying precision to cause as much pain as possible. Wave after wave of excruciating pain washes over him, takes his breath away until he’s nothing but suffering.

It’s not a dream, not a nightmare; he’s sure he’s awake and he can feel a furious, foreign presence somewhere within himself, set on hurting him.

He curls in on himself, tears falling from his eyes as he bites down on his tongue and begs for the pain to end, for the lightning-like charges to stop, wherever they’re coming from. He can’t even reach for his comm to call for help; every move causes the pain to hit with double intensity, harder, angrier, like it’s punishing him for even considering resistance.

He can hardly think any more; he tries to concentrate on the last half-coherent idea he has and reaches into himself, strengthens his defences as best he can, blocking his mind off from the world entirely.

The pain stops.

The electricity lets go of him and he heaves a deep, terrified breath, reluctant to move for fear of the pain returning. He blinks his eyes open to look around. His focus comes back slowly, but he’s certain of two things: first, he’s in his room at the Temple, and second, he’s alone.

It shouldn’t be possible for anyone or anything to attack him at a distance, not like this, not physically, and that pain was without a doubt physical; he can still feel his body’s hurt, fearful confusion. He’s alone. It’s not possible. So how—

His thoughts idly brush over his bond with Kenobi and he almost screams again.

The pain wasn’t his.

It was Kenobi’s.

Anakin crawls out of his bed, nearly falls out of it, climbs to his feet then immediately stumbles and loses his balance, almost hitting his head on the wall before he braces both his shaking hands against it. He hangs his head low between his arms, and breathes. He barely remembers how to keep his shields up but grasps at them desperately, knowing full well that they’re the only thing standing between him and the electrifying pain.

He groans and moves in the darkness, still leaned against the wall since he can’t keep himself upright otherwise. His muscles and very bones ache with every step, and the only thing he wants to do is collapse back onto the bed and pretend it was all a dream.

But it wasn’t a dream, he reminds himself sharply, gritting his teeth to touch upon the bond again. He immediately feels a phantom pressure around his neck, long, cruel fingers closing over his throat and taking his breath away from him; he recoils, stumbles away, catching himself against the bed as shock and understanding flow into his mind.

It wasn’t electricity, it was Force lightning. Force lightning and a Force choke; a Sith Lord’s weapons.

Dooku. Dooku’s torturing Kenobi.

A whimper escapes Anakin’s lips as another wave of electrifying pain rolls down his spine and he shuts himself off as much as he can; he has no way of shielding himself completely, not from Kenobi, but this will have to do. He winces and moves, walks along the walls of his room in sleepy panic. He needs to get dressed, he needs to go— go where? He has no guarantee Kenobi’s on Mustafar. There’s no way to check it; he can’t contact the man in any way.

It’s his best shot, though. He hastily dresses up for travel, cursing under his breath when he attempts to put his right boot on the left foot. The haze of sleep stubbornly lingers over him but he manages to get himself together somehow; he throws the hood of a long dark cloak over his face and heads for the door.

He’s already halfway out of his room by the time he remembers that he’s on strict orders not to leave the Temple under any circumstances. He stops, then turns and walks back into his room and starts pacing it nervously.

If he tries to leave, the Council will lose whatever little faith in him they have left, and if he’s caught, they just might chain him up, lock him in the Temple to keep him from escaping ever again.

None of the Masters have been assigned to guard him, though, in what was probably some kind of convoluted expression of trust by the Council’s standards. Other than the few meetings, the Council didn’t seem to bother him much, leaving him to do his work in peace. Anakin sits down at the edge of his bed, tapping his foot impatiently. It would take way too much time and effort to oversee everything that he does, and he can hardly be spared any more attention, with the Masters spread thin over the galaxy, fighting the war. Of course they’re watching him somehow, but not all the time.

They must be tracking him, Anakin realises with an exasperated sigh; as long as he doesn’t leave the Temple, they won’t suspect anything. He glances at the communicator he’s already attached onto his wrist, then sighs again. Of course. The simplest but most effective way, and if a single member of the Council knows how to think, it’s probably set with some kind of alarm if he tries to tinker with it in any way.

There’s no way they installed an alarm that would go off if he threw it onto his bed and left without it, though. And Anakin is quite sure he knows more secret entrances to the Temple than the Council does. They’d realise what he’s done pretty quickly, though, and he needs a ship to fly to Mustafar. He could probably get himself a ship while out in Coruscant, but that would take time; time that he doesn’t have.

He gets up again, walks up to his workbench and leans over it, too tired, panicked, and hurt to think of a plan. He picks up some of the spare parts scattered around, turns the familiar-shaped objects over in his hands trying to calm himself, to focus. His gaze finally fixes itself on the droid parts he’s holding as an idea appears in his mind.

He opens the door of his room again, leans out, and whistles a simple request for help in Binary.

It takes a moment that almost feels like an eternity, but finally the quiet sound of several pairs of tiny wheels rolling his way reaches his ears. He whistles again just as a bunch of mouse droids rounds the corner. They all beep a hello at him and he feels himself smile even despite the exhausted desperation he’s feeling.

He takes a step back into his room and the droids—he counts about ten of them—all roll inside.

“Hey, guys,” Anakin whispers fondly, looking over the numbers on their outer shells.

Mouse droids are simple-minded, barely equipped with any personality at all; Artoo would get downright offended if Anakin tried to compare him to the little things. They have just enough self-awareness to recognise friends, though, and Anakin’s always been friendly with all the Temple droids, whistling at them in their language and helping them with repairs.

And now they’re here, some drawn away from their responsibilities, others awakened from a stand-by state just because he called for them. He almost feels like crying as he kneels among the tiny, excitedly beeping things, and quietly whistles for their attention. They don’t know why he needs them, they don’t know he’s Anakin Skywalker, hell, they probably don’t even understand what a Jedi is. They know that he cares for them, though; they know he’s their friend, and they want to help. He half-consciously reaches out for one and picks it up, petting it like a small animal; the droid chirps at him in soft confusion.

Anakin tells the droids that he needs their assistance; all of them inform him that they’re programmed and happy to help.

That’s fair, Anakin whistles, even quieter, but which one of you is up for something against the protocols? Droidspeak for illegal, not allowed, pretty much a crime. Not that mouse droids would care about such things. Their software is too simple to be programmed against treason.

The bunch of droids goes quiet; some of them connect together, joining their computing power to process the question. Anakin waits, waits, waits until the droids all disconnect from one another again. Two of them chirp at him in agreement; the one he’s holding in his arms and another one down on the floor.

“Thank you,” Anakin whispers, even though they cannot actually understand that.

He puts down the droid he’s holding; it immediately connects to the other one and they both ask him what he needs in a soft chirp. Anakin explains in more detail, and the two droids whistle together. That’s against the protocols.

“You don’t say,” Anakin mutters. Will you help me or not?

They both beep a yes.

Even though that will get you wiped or even destroyed completely, should you get caught?

A pause, a whirr of the processors considering the idea, and then another beep. Yes.

Anakin closes his eyes and exhales, giving himself just a moment before he climbs to his feet, picking the droids up and setting them on his workbench. He shuts them down and gets to work. They’re mouse droids, he reminds himself, and they agreed to help him. Mouse droids get wiped periodically anyway. He’s not hurting them in any way, even if his plan works out and even if they get caught. He has to keep repeating that under his breath, over and over again, to stop himself from getting stupidly emotional. There is no emotion, there is peace. Anakin scoffs. Yeah, that sure is a comforting thought.

He lets the remaining droids out, urging them to get back to whatever it was that they were doing before he called for them. He watches them roll away, then hides the two reprogrammed ones under his robes and heads towards one of the secret Temple entrances.

He walks a few levels down, quiet and as focused as he can, avoiding the few Jedi wandering the corridors at night. He’s trying to keep himself concentrated on his way and nothing else; whenever he gets distracted, panic floods him, along with traces of Kenobi’s pain that make his breathing ragged and his mind lost.

He reaches one of the few unguarded underground passages without any trouble, though. He checks if he’s alone, then kneels down and puts the reprogrammed mouse droids on the ground. The faint lights on their shells flicker into life as they quietly beep, informing him that they’re ready. Anakin takes a deep breath, then carefully attaches his own comm to the joined droids.

He climbs to his feet and closes his eyes. Inhale. Exhale. And a single whistled command.

Go.

He gives himself a few seconds to watch the droids dash into the secret passage and hurry away, following the map he programmed into them and a single directive: leave the Temple, escaping far and deep into the streets of Coruscant. Make the Council believe he’s fleeing through there. Give him the time he needs to steal a shuttle from the hangar and get away.

Another moment. Another breath. And then he turns and starts running, and doesn’t look back.

He lets his feet carry him, lets the Force guide him, sprinting as fast as he can and still not fast enough. He’s silent as he sneaks amidst the shadows, the Force keeping his steps from being heard. Inhale, exhale, desperate, panicked breaths that seem to burn; the air in his lungs is on fire, and he no longer knows if the pain is his own or not. Faster. Faster.

He rushes into the hangar blindly, but the Force is merciful to him; the place is completely empty. Anakin bolts towards the row of shuttles standing close to the main hangar gate. He chooses one at random, climbs into it and begins shutting down all communications and tracking systems, just in case the Council figures out how to find him through those; when one of the wires refuses to cooperate, he just rips it out in desperation and continues his work.

He’s terrified; even something as familiar as reprogramming droids or rewiring a ship can’t take his mind off it. The pain he’s feeling now is but a shadow; he’s hoping it means that Dooku has finally left Kenobi alone, and not that— no. Anakin shakes his head violently. No. Kenobi’s fine, he has to be, but wishful thinking just isn’t enough any longer. Anakin needs to see him smile, needs to hear him breathe; he can’t bear the thought of Kenobi being in pain and him not being able to do anything about it.

He finally steps away from the panel in the shuttle’s wall he’s been tinkering with; it’ll have to be enough. If he knows his ships, and he does, once he leaves Coruscant space, there’s no way the Council will be able to locate him.

He leans out of the shuttle and looks around the hangar, eyes hopeful, then shakes his head, mad at himself. He can do this alone. He has to do it alone. He doesn’t have time to look for Artoo; besides, the droid wouldn’t approve of this choice anyway, and Anakin doesn’t want his friend to hate him even more.

He gets back into the shuttle and lifts it off the ground, then flies out of the hangar and away, already putting in the Mustafar coordinates into the navigational systems. It’ll be harder piloting the ship without his trusty droid, especially for such an amount of time, but he’ll manage. He’ll make it.

He has to.

 


 

With the ship put on autopilot, Anakin manages to catch one or two hours of uneasy sleep, uncomfortably leaned back into the shuttle seat, thrashing around until he startles himself awake and begrudgingly decides that he’s probably better off being conscious.

Nobody’s followed him out of Coruscant at least, so he doesn’t worry about that; whatever problems he’s leaving behind, well, they’re not exactly his problems any more. He tries his best not to think of Aayla and Ahsoka and the other Padawans, or of Padmé, or of Artoo. He focuses on steering the ship, or rather observing the autopilot carefully. Pain, though much weaker than what first woke him up in the Jedi Temple, keeps him awake through the long journey.

A single silent sob shakes his whole body when his shuttle finally jumps out of hyperspace and he sees the familiar crimson glow of Mustafar before him. There’s something comforting about the sight; the fiery planet looks just as he remembers it, as if he’s never even left the place, though Anakin feels like he hasn’t seen it in ages. But he’s here now, finally, and from the distance, the surface of Mustafar seems almost calm to him.

Surely the planet would look different if the one who seems to command all of its warmth was hurt, Anakin tells himself. The whole galaxy would shatter into pieces if anything happened to Kenobi.

Anakin takes the ship’s controls and speeds towards the surface, his memory and the Force leading him. He finds the Sith facility without much trouble and circles around it before spotting landing platforms hidden in the shadow of a volcanic mountain. He lets the shadows envelop him and lands his shuttle right next to what he immediately recognises as Kenobi’s Ray; the other ship must be the one belonging to Ventress. Banshee, he remembers Kenobi calling it and smiles to himself. How very fitting and overdramatic.

He has no time to think about it further, though; he’s out of the shuttle and headed for the back entrance of the facility before the engines of his ship even cool off. He follows a short unfamiliar corridor that turns into a wider, more familiar one, leading him right to the main chamber of the facility, the sitting room with its soft lighting and comfortable sofas and—

“Anakin?”

Kenobi. Alive, sitting on one of the sofas right in the middle of the room, staring at Anakin and blinking slowly as if he can’t quite believe what he’s seeing.

And just like that, Anakin’s restless, worried heart settles for what feels like the first time in weeks. Perhaps months. Perhaps his entire lifetime.

Kenobi heaves himself onto his feet and grimaces as he does so, but his eyes don’t leave Anakin’s face even for a second. “Anakin.” His voice is quiet, gentle, with the softest notes of fond, hopeful disbelief, and Anakin can’t pretend he doesn’t care about this any longer.

He walks, almost runs the distance between them, and throws himself into Kenobi’s embrace, buries his face in the man’s neck, breathes in his familiar scent and all but melts into his warmth. Kenobi is warmer even than the planet they’re on, and he groans in pain at the somewhat forceful display of affection but immediately pulls Anakin even closer, sneaking his arms under Anakin’s and holding onto his shoulders.

Anakin sighs, his breath shaky, and his heart is tumbling in his chest but he feels calm. He wraps his arms around Kenobi’s back. “You’re okay.”

Kenobi chuckles quietly. “I should be, if you just let me take a breath.”

“I’d thought—“

“It’s fine now, Anakin.”

“I’ve missed you,” Anakin whispers into the crook of Kenobi’s neck, and the Sith Lord sighs softly before pulling him even closer, fingers of one hand gently playing with the collar of Anakin’s robes.

“Welcome back,” Kenobi murmurs into his ear, and Anakin relaxes against him.

He can’t imagine letting go now.

“No, by all means, keep ignoring me,” comes the familiarly grumpy voice of Ventress from somewhere behind his back. “I’ll just sit here and suffer in silence, that’s fine.”

“And what exactly are you suffering from, darling?” Kenobi asks, laughter in his voice.

“The sight of you two, of course.”

Anakin finally looks over his shoulder, refusing to let go of Kenobi quite yet. Ventress is seated at the table in the corner, straddling a chair, both elbows leaned over its back. She’s dispassionately eating some kind of fruit out of a bowl she’s holding while staring at them. Seems like she’s watched the whole scene without a word just to comment on it now.

“Absolutely disgusting.”

The smallest hint of a smile graces her features for the shortest fraction of a second; Anakin might as well have imagined it, but he feels a tentative smile curl his own lips.

“Nice to see you too, Ventress,” he says, and is somewhat shocked to realise that he actually means it.

It feels good to be in Kenobi’s warm arms and to know that the man’s safe. It feels good to carefully bicker with Ventress, too, even if she still looks like she’s contemplating drowning him in the lava as soon as Kenobi stops watching. It feels good to be on Mustafar. It feels nothing like the Jedi Temple.

It feels like home.

Chapter Text

They sit on the sofa, Anakin clutching Kenobi’s arm as if he’s scared it’s all just a dream, as if he’s scared that as soon as he lets go, Kenobi will be in pain again or disappear completely. But Kenobi’s here, and at first glance he seems okay; though despite there being no immediately visible signs of injury, something about him feels slightly off.

“So,” Anakin finally finds his voice after a long moment of gazing at Kenobi without a word, “what… what happened?”

“Anakin—“

“Was it Dooku? What did he do to you? And why did I feel it halfway across the galaxy?”

Kenobi sighs and looks away, keeps silent for a while before answering. “I’m… My apologies about that. I had to focus all of my mental strength on keeping the connection that we share hidden from the Count and on convincing him to believe what I was telling him. I couldn’t spare even a single thought to shield you from the pain, young one, but I never would’ve expected you’d experience it so strongly.”

Anakin furrows his brow and blinks in slow confusion. “Don’t— don’t apologise for this. I’m angry at Dooku, not at you. What did he do, Kenobi?”

Another moment of silence. “The Count has always had… high expectations. And lately, I haven’t exactly been an obedient apprentice. After my failure to be useful on Florrum, I disappeared without a word, and once I came back to Mustafar, Dooku was already here, waiting. And he was… displeased.”

A faint memory of the pain rolls across Anakin’s shoulders and he shudders, trying to shake the feeling off.

It’s obvious enough that Kenobi is trying to avoid the topic; considering the sheer amount of pain he must’ve been in, Anakin can respect his decision. He doesn’t intend to push, but he still wishes he knew exactly what happened, or at least how to make Kenobi feel better.

“You seem… almost fine,” he says.

Kenobi graces him with a smile. “Almost, yes, that’s a rather fitting description. Ventress put me back together after the Count left.”

Ventress scoffs loudly from the corner of the room where she’s still seated. “I’m the only reason you’re up and walking, Kenobi. The only reason you can sit here and casually pretend you weren’t hurt nearly as much as you actually were.”

Anakin turns to look at her, eyes wide.

“Trust me, Skywalker, you really don’t want the details,” Ventress says, her voice going unusually quiet. Something soft flickers across her face; a memory of terrified relief. “It wasn’t pretty.”

“I just need a little rest, that’s all,” Kenobi says defiantly.

A lot of rest, you irresponsible kriffhead, even if I have to tie you to your bed and lock Skywalker out so you two don’t get any brilliant ideas,” Ventress retorts, a hint of the usual dry amusement back in her voice.

Kenobi arches an eyebrow at her. “A threat or a promise?”

“An ignited lightsaber up yours, Kenobi. Figure out which category that belongs to.”

Anakin bites down on his inner cheek to stop himself from grinning. Force, he’s already missed those two and their quick, sarcastic humour, even though he’s barely been away from them for a few days. He tries not to think about his Jedi friends, shuts his mind down before the thoughts manage to make him feel guilty. In his attempts to keep his focus in the present he realises that he’s still holding on to Kenobi; he lets go with a mildly nervous chuckle.

“I didn’t think you’d come,” Kenobi whispers. The soft notes in his voice are almost too much to handle. “When I saw you, I thought it was my mind playing tricks with me. I thought it wasn’t real.”

“I’m real,” Anakin whispers back, one of his hands drifting towards Kenobi again to rest against his hip. “I’m here.”

Another gentle smile lights up Kenobi’s face. “Whatever did you tell the Council, then? They must’ve been pretty happy with the holocron, I assume.”

Anakin takes a deep breath and looks up into the ceiling. Here goes. “They, uh… they grounded me.”

The moment he finishes his sentence, the atmosphere in the room becomes almost palpably heavier. He shifts on his seat, feeling so uncomfortably hot all of a sudden, the burning volcanic air might as well be blowing right into his face at full force.

“Then how—“

“I ran away.”

“You… you ran away from the Jedi—“

“You were in pain,” Anakin says stubbornly, finally finding the confidence to look Kenobi in the eye again. “I thought— I had to— I had to see. I had to know. I had to help you, if I could.”

Kenobi murmurs something that Anakin doesn’t quite catch, then simply leans forward to pull Anakin into his embrace.

Anakin doesn’t say anything more, mostly because he doesn’t know how to put into words just how grateful he is that Kenobi is alright, and that nobody’s asking him to explain himself or demanding to know his plans for the future. Running off to Mustafar to check on a suffering Sith Lord wasn’t exactly among his most carefully thought-out ideas; he doesn’t know what’s coming next, but for now, he’s more than content to stay in the present. Doesn’t he deserve a break sometimes? The universe didn’t crumble when the Jedi had him stay in the Temple; surely it won’t crumble if he spends a few more days away from it all.

 


 

Waking up in his room on Mustafar feels right, and so does finding Kenobi and Ventress at the table in the sitting room. Anakin takes his seat just as the kitchen droid rolls out into the room and beeps a greeting at him; with a bit of optimism, Anakin could even take it as an enthusiastic one. He amiably pats the droid on the back, then barely catches one of the plates the droid immediately lets go of.

“Yeah, this one does that a lot, don’t worry,” Ventress says, unmoved, fingers of one hand stretched out to hold the other two plates up with the Force. “It started happening a lot more often since you fixed them and then left. I think it might be their way of showing excitement to see someone. Or, well, of showing any emotion for that matter. They accidentally dumped an entire bowl of hot soup into Kenobi’s lap when you left Mustafar last time, you know—“

“Ventress—“

“What?” She grins at Kenobi. “It’s funny. And to be fair, you did call them a useless bucket of bolts earlier on. Poor droid has had enough.”

Kenobi rolls his eyes in response.

“They refuse to tell me their name, too,” Ventress continues. “Then again, they seem to communicate exclusively in greetings and plate-dropping, so I guess I shouldn’t expect all that much.”

Anakin listens to her with fond amusement. “You’re not missing Artoo, Ventress, are you?”

“Skywalker, how dare you address me directly,” Ventress snaps. The cold tone she immediately switches to and the long murderous look she gives him sends a chill down his spine and makes him genuinely regret opening his mouth. He closes it slowly and she snorts in response, her face lighting up again. “Too easy. Pass me the juice.”

Anakin, sulking, gives her the jug, then glances over at Kenobi, at him trying to hide his happy smile. They eat in silence for a moment, but there’s nothing awkward about it.

“I see you’ve fixed the window,” Anakin says after a while, pointing at the transparisteel panel across the sitting room.

The one Kenobi backed him against, when he left Mustafar in fury last time. The one that shattered under the pressure of their combined, fighting emotions.

“If you think that’s going to save you from being kicked into the burning lava if you annoy me, you’re wrong,” Ventress says idly. “But yes, we had it fixed. The unfiltered volcanic air is a little dry to my tastes.”

Anakin just stares at her.

“It was a broken window on a planet with volcanic explosions all over, Skywalker, of course we had it fixed or there probably wouldn’t be much of this facility left by now.”

Anakin nods. “That’s fair.”

“But if you could maybe refrain from breaking any more windows—“

“Since we’re on the topic of things broken,” Kenobi speaks up, leaning forward. Ventress immediately leans away, even though she’s sitting right at the other end of the table. “How’s our warning system going, Ventress?”

Ventress shrugs. “I’m, uh, working on it?”

Darling—“

She rolls her eyes in exaggerated exasperation. “It’s not like we’re in a hurry! Dooku barely just left, so he’s not coming back any time soon. He hates this place, and nobody else besides him even knows where this facility is.”

“You’re setting up a system to warn you of incoming ships?” Anakin interrupts, curious.

Kenobi nods. “This is a secret Sith facility, after all. We should be prepared for anything.”

Breakfast doesn’t take them long, but they stay at the table for a while after, just talking. Kenobi excuses himself for a moment and heads for his room; as the door closes behind him Anakin realises, perhaps slightly belatedly, that he has just been left in a room alone with Ventress. He can’t quite bring himself to turn his head to look at her.

“Skywalker.”

“Yes.” He bites his tongue on the ma’am that almost leaves his stupid mouth.

“There’s a warning system out there that needs to be set up.” Ventress’ voice is singsong sweet, and Anakin is having about three million bad feelings about it all at once. He carefully sneaks a glance at her.

She’s leaned forward, with her elbows on the table and her chin resting on top of her hands, a calm, slightly bored expression on her face. Somehow, she still looks perfectly threatening and murderous; she might as well be holding both her lightsabers ignited and pointed directly at Anakin’s neck.

“Weren’t you supposed to do that?” he tries, even though he’s already fully aware that there’s no point in arguing and that he’s already lost this.

Ventress slowly climbs to her feet and stretches her arms over her head. “Yes, but I’m telling you to do it, instead.”

“But—“

“Listen, kid. I know you enjoy those things, so I’m leaving it to you. Consider it… a gift.”

Anakin shakes his head in disbelief. “You Sith really need to rethink your definitions of gifts, and souvenirs, and—”

“Just go set up the damn system, Skywalker,” Ventress interrupts him. “The satellites are already working; you just need to calibrate them and finish the work in the control chamber close to the main entrance. I’m sure you can manage the simple task of locating it.” Anakin nods, defeated, and Ventress just flashes her teeth at him. “As for me, well, I have better things to do, for example nothing at all. Have fun.”

Anakin spends more than half the day in the control chamber, unscrambling wires and figuring out where each part of the setup fits. It doesn’t come to him as easily as fixing droids or ships, but it still feels familiar enough. Besides, as long as he can sense Kenobi somewhere nearby and knows that the man is safe, he doesn’t mind, even though Kenobi doesn’t come to see what he’s doing. Neither does Ventress, thank the Force. The kitchen droid makes an unexpected appearance, though; they just beep a hello, then sit in the corner in complete silence, watching Anakin work for a while before leaving again. Anakin shakes his head, trying not to think about Artoo.

He runs a few tests on the system once he’s certain it’s working, then sets up a drill alarm, driven by nothing but the intention of pissing Ventress off.

It goes off immediately, much louder than he expected, a high-pitched, dissonant siren that surely can be heard throughout the whole facility. Anakin’s heard alarms like this before, on war-torn planets; they signalled incoming attacks, brought nothing but panic and pain and destruction with them. The sound makes his damn skin crawl.

Anakin jumps back towards the console, desperate to shut it off, only to realise that he doesn’t… actually know how to do that.

Ventress rushes into the room, both lightsabers in hand. “Are you kriffing joking?” she bellows as soon as she crosses the threshold of the control centre, somehow louder even than the roaring siren. “It’s been working for, what, five minutes and already there’s someone headed here? Damn this whole planet to all Sith hells,” she hisses, pushing Anakin away from the console. She leans down over one of the screens, then frowns. “There’s… what?” She turns to look at Anakin. “There’s nothing here.”

Anakin swallows nervously. “Well, I… wanted to see if the warning system works, and—”

He sees imminent death in Ventress’ expression as she straightens up and takes a step towards him. “Skywalker, I will literally murder you.”

Anakin doesn’t doubt her for a second; he suspects that the only thing that saves him from being, well, literally murdered, is Kenobi picking that exact moment to walk in, confused misery on his face, a blanket hanging off one of his shoulders. Ventress takes one long look at him, closes her eyes, sighs deeply, then turns to the console to shut the sirens down.

She storms off, muttering something about being surrounded by idiots, and Anakin just smiles at Kenobi apologetically.

He doesn’t sleep very well that night.

 


 

When Kenobi tells him he needs to continue the training, Anakin violently objects. Kenobi is hardly in a state fit to be leading any kind of trainings, let alone lightsaber practice; he keeps stubbornly claiming he’s fine, but Anakin is half-convinced that any physical strain might just make the man snap in half. Whatever Dooku did to him must’ve really cut deep.

When Kenobi agrees that he’s too weak to lead the trainings, Anakin heaves a sigh of relief.

And then Kenobi says that Ventress will be in charge of the training until he gets better, and Anakin nearly chokes on air.

“You’re joking, right?” he asks. His voice is somewhere halfway between pleading and complete hysteria.

Ventress just grins slowly.

“Kenobi, please tell me you’re joking, she’s going to eat me alive.”

Kenobi isn’t joking.

“So, Skywalker,” Ventress drawls, her eyes following Anakin’s every move. She’s standing in the middle of the training room, two training lightsabers modelled after her own hooked on her belt, a slightly murderous smirk on her lips. It’s a wonder Dathomirians don’t have sharp, long tails, Anakin thinks; it would suit Ventress just right. “Ready?”

Kenobi is sitting cross legged on a pillow in the corner, looking up from a pile of scrolls and datapads with a soft smile.

“No,” Anakin says quickly, clutching his training saber in both hands as if his life depended on it.

“Stop panicking. You’ve faced me on the battlefield several times before, and it was my goal to actually kill you back then.”

“Yeah, but usually I had Aayla or Ahsoka with me.” A pang of guilt and sorrow, and Anakin bites his inner cheek in anger. “And besides, I didn’t know you back then.”

“I’m going to take that as a compliment. Kenobi, what do you think?”

“Oh, definitely,” Kenobi agrees.

Ventress motions for Anakin to stand opposite her, then ignites the twin lightsabers. Anakin takes a deep breath; he knows that logically, he shouldn’t be that afraid. He shouldn’t be afraid at all, he reminds himself. He’s in the company of… well, certainly not his enemies. And while he wouldn’t dare call Ventress his friend in a million years—

She lunges forward with an attack, and he frantically pulls a haphazard block at the last possible moment.

She fights different than Kenobi, vicious, violent; she doesn’t pass up on a single opening, and there’s no mercy in her movements. She’s quick and deadly, and it soon turns out that the techniques Anakin’s used against Kenobi so far aren’t as effective as he’d like them to be.

“You’re supposed to train me, not beat me up,” Anakin groans, trying to gather himself off the floor for what feels like the fifth time already at least.

Ventress grins. “Stop letting yourself get beaten, then.”

Anakin just takes a deep, offended breath, but she continues before he has a chance to speak.

“I’m trying to learn your style to help you, Skywalker.” She brings her lightsabers up, and Anakin does the same. “I’m not here to ruin your life, really.” She jumps forward and almost lands a blow over his arm; he’s barely quick enough to block it. “Not because I don’t like ruining lives, mind you,” another near-hit, “but because Kenobi asked me nicely and I just can’t say no to him sometimes.”

Kenobi looks up from his datapads, a hand over his heart. “Aww, Ventress—“

She shoots him a lopsided grin. “Shut up, Kenobi, go back to your research and stop looking at me with those big golden eyes. You’re going to make me feel an emotion, and you know I hate those.”

Kenobi just winks at her and picks up another reading.

Anakin is so overcome by sudden fondness for their friendship that the next attack catches him completely by surprise. Ventress smacks him over the head with the hilt of the training lightsaber. “Laughable. Are you even trying, Skywalker?”

He tries to protest, but that just gets him another hit.

He can’t believe he’d thought trainings with Kenobi were bad.

 


 

Anakin knocks on the door of Kenobi’s bedroom and waits but there’s no response, even though he’s certain he can sense the man’s presence coming from there. Strange. It hasn’t been long at all, but visiting Kenobi in his room has already become something of a habit for Anakin, and Kenobi sure didn’t seem to mind the few times that Anakin sought him out like this.

It’s been so easy to fall into the patterns of Mustafar life again. Anakin’s life quickly became trainings and talks and it’s proven to be a perfect distraction from his worries. He’s been managing to keep at bay the troubled thoughts that have been eating away at his mind, and he’s been managing it rather well.

Almost all of his focus belongs to Kenobi, now; Anakin can’t seem to get enough of the man’s presence, finally comfortable enough to admit just how much he appreciates it.

How much he misses it, apparently, because his knuckles knock against the door again without much conscious effort on his part. He nervously shifts on his feet; the sack full of droid parts he decided to bring with him to keep his hands busy gently rattles on his belt.

Oh, he’s being ridiculous. He can’t expect Kenobi to welcome him whenever he pleases. The man needs some time to himself too every now and then, and it’s not like he could spare Anakin any of his attention anyway if he was translating scrolls in a long-dead language or working on some mysterious ancient artifacts.

He should come back later, Anakin tells himself, or just wait until dinner; for Force’s sake, what, is he going to die if he doesn’t see Kenobi for a few hours? He can feel the man’s Force signature and it seems peaceful. There’s nothing for him in that room and no need to disturb whatever Kenobi might be doing.

Anakin turns on his heel, perfectly intent upon leaving, then turns right around again. Hell. He looks up and down the corridor, as if expecting someone to be standing there and judging him (which, frankly, someone should probably be doing) then slowly slides the door open.

He peeks into the room curiously, taking in the already familiar warm feeling of it. He expects to see Kenobi seated at his desk where he usually works, but the comfortable-looking armchair is empty. At a quick glance, the quiet bedroom seems completely empty— but there’s someone on the bed, curled into a ball, facing away from the door. Anakin frowns. Kenobi?

The sound of a nearby door sliding open somewhere behind his back rather effectively draws Anakin’s attention away; he slams Kenobi’s bedroom shut, maybe with a little too much slightly panicked force, and turns towards the source of the sound to see Ventress, standing further down the corridor with an unimpressed expression and a glass of something alarmingly pink and shiny in her hand.

Well, he was just asking for someone to stand there and judge him, wasn’t he? The Force listens, the Force delivers.

Ventress rolls her eyes, already more focused on her drink than on him. It has to be a drink of sorts, Anakin thinks; even though it looks entirely made out of glitter at best and highly poisonous at worst, there’s a straw sticking out of the glass—

“The hell do you think you’re doing here?” Ventress asks in a sharp tone, reminding him that apparently she’s not about to waste an opportunity to make him feel uneasy and question his life choices at least a bit.

“I, ah… I was looking for Kenobi?” Anakin says. He’s proud of himself for not asking about the glass.

Ventress looks like she’s going to roll her eyes again, but halfway through she seems to change her mind, instead settling for a light frown. She shoos him away from the door to Kenobi’s bedroom with a wave of her hand, knocks, then, when there’s no response, opens the door and glances inside.

Anakin watches her closely; something on her face softens when she spots Kenobi curled up asleep on the bed. She steps into the room and slowly walks up to the bed. She leans down to pull a blanket over Kenobi’s shoulders, then sits on the edge of the mattress, behind the man’s back, and beckons Anakin closer. He obliges, confused but curious.

“Dooku really hurt him far more than he’s willing to admit,” Ventress says; she sounds almost absent, lost in her own thoughts. “You needn’t worry. He’ll be fine, I made sure of that, but you wouldn’t normally catch him this exhausted. He still needs a lot of rest.”

She’s quiet for a moment, then leans down and kisses Kenobi’s forehead, the gesture so unexpected and so gentle that Anakin blinks and looks away; he almost feels like he shouldn’t be allowed to witness it. When he faces Ventress again, she’s looking right back at him, her expression guarded, unreadable, but the edges of her ever-sharp wit still somewhat softened. She climbs to her feet.

“You can stay here for now, if you want,” she tells him, headed towards the door. “I’m sure Kenobi won’t mind. I’ll make fun of you two when he’s awake.”

“Thank you,” Anakin says before she steps out of the room.

Not for her permission; it’s not like he needed that, anyway.

For keeping Kenobi alive.

She stops and nods slowly, then leaves, closing the door behind herself.

Anakin slowly sinks onto the bed. His mind is cluttered with thoughts but not at all in the way that makes him feel like he’s drowning. He distractedly runs a hand through Kenobi’s hair, brushing the stray strands out of the man’s face, and lets his touch linger for a little longer than necessary before moving to sit down on the floor. He props his back against the side of the bed and listens to Kenobi’s breaths as he starts tinkering with the droid parts he brought.

Chapter Text

Anakin leans against the transparisteel window of the sitting room and gazes outside, lets his eyes follow the lazy flow of lava and lets his thoughts wander aimlessly. He remembers looking at the fire burning outside the walls of the facility the first time he walked through here, with a fire burning in his angered heart. He remembers sitting on the floor in front of the window, meditating after a strange dream, with his mind so very full of questions. He remembers backing away until his back was pressed against the transparisteel, Kenobi’s fingers closed around his wrists, with their joined fury lashing out to shatter the window.

It hasn’t been long at all, and yet it feels like a lifetime since he first looked Kenobi in the eye in the cargo hold of a crumbling Star Destroyer half a galaxy away. So much fear, first. Then anxiety, then anger. There is no emotion, there is peace.

Anakin feels the corners of his lips curl into a small smile. Now, Mustafar does feel peaceful, the way Anakin’s everyday life in the Temple never did. For the first time in a long while he almost doesn’t feel like he’s waiting for something, some catastrophe lingering at the edges of his mind.

He doesn’t dare count the days he spends on Mustafar; when he’s busy talking to Kenobi or training he can almost pretend he doesn’t notice the passage of time. Almost; because somewhere at the back of his mind he knows that it’s already been a week. He also knows, with heartbreaking certainty, that this can’t possibly last.

But he takes what he can get, and now, right now, nothing bad is happening. Anakin’s smile gains a note of melancholy but doesn’t falter. He shakes his head at his own reflection, then steps away from the window and moves to sit on the sofa.

He was genuinely delighted to find out that holomovie nights on Mustafar were in fact a recurrent thing, and that Kenobi and Ventress both took them very seriously and made sure to hold them fairly regularly.

“It’s almost a ritual of our own, if you will,” Kenobi says, taking the seat between Anakin and Ventress and offering Anakin a bowl of popcorn. “We find time for it every two, three weeks or so if both of us happen to be here… and we usually try to be.”

Ventress snorts, lifting the bowl out of his hands and setting it next to herself, away from the two of them. Anakin blinks slowly, processing the words while also trying to count the amount of blankets she seems to be wrapped in. He’s thinking there’s got to be at least three. Four, maybe?

“Don’t you have some kind of… Sith responsibilities?” he finally says.

Ventress sends him a long sideways look. “Of course we do. We just really don’t care.”

Anakin supposes he shouldn’t have expected any other answer from her. He settles into Kenobi’s side comfortably and focuses on the screen, a smile on his face even as Ventress refuses to pass him the popcorn even once throughout the entire holomovie.

 


 

Training with Ventress feels like he’s genuinely fighting for his life.

Which, Anakin supposes, is kind of the whole point, but that doesn’t make him feel any better about it.

He can’t help but think back to his time as a Padawan. Qui-Gon never cared for lightsaber training that much; he taught Anakin a lot, yes, but it was never his main focus, and Anakin didn’t mind back then. It was enough, and he could always ask Aayla to be his sparring partner if he felt like he needed more practice. But now? Having fought Kenobi then Ventress one on one has made him realise just how much more skilled than him both of them are.

As if to confirm Anakin’s conclusion, Ventress trips him and he falls to the ground in the most undignified way possible for the third time within the span of five minutes.

“Wake up, kid,” Ventress calls, amused; surprising absolutely no one, she seems to be getting no small amount of enjoyment out of humiliating him. “Just because your name is Skywalker doesn’t mean you get to keep your head in the clouds during a fight.”

Anakin rolls his eyes, climbing to his feet. “Ah, ha, hilarious; Skywalker, head in the clouds. How long have you been waiting to use that one, huh?”

She grins. “Stop mouthing off if you don’t want me to get mad.”

“I thought you were mad all the time,” Anakin mutters, then ducks under another attack, this time managing to avoid the blow.

He takes a few steps back just in case, and chances a look at Kenobi, who’s moved on from passively sitting in the corner and reading to prowling around the training room, bickering with Ventress while giving Anakin suggestions on how he could improve his technique.

Ventress looks between the two of them, then snaps her fingers impatiently, pointing the lightsaber she’s holding in her other hand at Anakin. “Focus, Skywalker, what is it with you? Am I going to have to ask Kenobi to leave?”

Kenobi laughs. “You can certainly ask, darling, but I don’t think I’ll oblige this time.” He steps between her and Anakin, a playful smirk on his lips as he calls a training saber to his hand. “In fact, I have a much better idea.”

His golden eyes are shining with an energy that Anakin hasn’t seen since he came back to Mustafar; it sends a chill down his spine.

Ventress straightens up and smirks back at Kenobi’s challenge. “Oh, you’re on. You still owe me that training session you promised back on Florrum.”

Anakin slowly moves to the side, giving Ventress and Kenobi more space as they start circling around one another, eyes locked, both grinning. They ignite their lightsabers at the same time, and Anakin can tell they’ve done this a thousand times, trained so much until they knew each other’s tricks and techniques just as well as their own. They’re almost evenly matched; Kenobi’s brighter in the Force, but Anakin can’t tell if that’s because he’s actually more powerful, or because his presence is so closely threaded through Anakin’s own. Either way, Anakin expects a good show.

As soon as Anakin’s completely out of the way, Kenobi meets his gaze over Ventress’ shoulder, winks, then stops, bringing his lightsaber up in front of his face, then swinging it down to a low guard and tucking his free hand behind his back. Anakin recognises it as the Makashi salute, Ventress’ favoured form. Ventress laughs, then whirls her twin lightsabers together in front of herself and behind her back, ending up in a mockery of the Soresu battle stance, one lightsaber overhead, the other in her outstretched hand, both pointed at Kenobi.

They move at the same time, switching techniques before their lightsabers even meet, Kenobi back to Soresu and Ventress back to her mix of Makashi and Ataru. She jumps him, swinging both blades down in a power attack which Kenobi blocks, feet planted firmly on the ground, lightsaber sideways in a two-handed grip. They grin at one another over the crackling glow of their lightsabers before Kenobi knocks Ventress back.

They clash again before Anakin has a chance to blink, exchanging blows so quickly their sabers become a blur of crimson, all quick movements, little dashes and attempted stabs. Anakin watches them, eyes wide with wonder; they’re using the lightsaber combat forms he knows but it’s unlike any training he’s ever seen in the Temple, barring those few times he was lucky enough to see Mace battling Yoda.

Ventress somehow strikes a perfect balance between the deadly elegance of Makashi and the acrobatics of Ataru, two forms that don’t seem like they could even work together. Her dual-wielded twist on them makes her a whirlwind, but her movements are quick, focused. Kenobi’s mostly keeping to Soresu, but nothing about him is passive or defensive. He’s wild, vicious, keeping the pace and meeting Ventress halfway, pushing her back, pulling elements from other lightsaber combat forms when they suit him.

Training in the Jedi Temple was about learning the classic moves; mixing styles wasn’t exactly frowned upon, but Anakin’s heard many Masters say that focusing on one style at a time would help one understand and use it better.

Fighting out in the battlefields of the galaxy was about survival; half of it was spent on deflecting blaster bolts anyway, and there was neither need nor time to show off.

But this? Kenobi smoothly moving from an elaborate Makashi parry through a nimble Ataru dodge to an arrogant Soresu counterattack, calling the Force into his free hand to push Ventress back? Ventress digging her twin lightsabers into the ground, using them to launch herself forward and tripping Kenobi? Kenobi rolling forward with the movement, spinning on one heel to stand straight again a second later?

This is art, an elaborate dance of incredible skill; both Kenobi and Ventress are showing off, for one another but for Anakin, too, and he finds himself wishing he was skilled enough to be able to keep up. He catches sight of Kenobi’s face, the nonchalant smile on his lips and the excitement glimmering in his eyes.

Kenobi twists one lightsaber out of Ventress’ hand, a victorious gleam in his eyes. Ventress flashes her teeth in a feral grin, then pulls him forward as a powerful blow from her other saber reaches his shoulder, definitely leaving a nasty bruise there; a real lightsaber would’ve cut off his arm. Anakin whistles, low, watching Kenobi hiss and nearly drop his weapon. He Force-pushes Ventress away, almost strong enough to throw her against a wall but she steadies herself and lands on her feet, perfectly graceful.

She gives Kenobi a deep, mocking bow, and calls the lightsaber he took from her back into her hand, grinning. She powers down both sabers, and turns to leave.

“It’s a draw, then?” Kenobi calls after her.

Ventress waves a dismissive hand at him and laughs, catching Anakin by surprise; it’s not a sound that he hears often.

Kenobi watches her until she leaves; once the door shuts behind her, he sits down where he was standing, right in the middle of the training room, then just leans backwards until he’s lying down on the floor, with his face turned to the ceiling. His chest quickly rises and falls with his heavy breaths, but there’s a wide smile on his face.

“You could’ve won,” Anakin says, hesitantly walking closer and taking a seat cross legged on the floor next to Kenobi.

“Is that a professional Jedi opinion? You wouldn’t happen to be biased in any way, would you, Anakin?”

Anakin watches him, his ginger-gold hair spread over the dark floor, illuminated in rays of crimson. “You took one of her sabers—“

“And she would have taken my arm, were we fighting with real lightsabers. Careless, but I could afford it; it’s only training, after all.”

“And a show.”

Kenobi turns his bright, golden smile towards Anakin, catches him staring and grins slowly, stretches lazily and winks. “Oh, but you enjoyed it.” Anakin quickly looks away, but Kenobi doesn’t tease him about it, doesn’t have to; he just changes the topic. “I’ve been thinking that you should learn the seventh form of lightsaber combat eventually. I think it would suit you quite well.”

Anakin laughs. “Vaapad, was it? The Council would never let me. They say it’s the one that’s closest to the Dark Side.”

“Its original variation was called Juyo, but both variations are similar enough I suppose. My point is, it’s the most powerful form, when wielded by the right hands.” Kenobi reaches out and takes Anakin’s hand in his, as his expression gains a new note of intensity. “By your hands, for example.”

“You’ve seen me fight,” Anakin huffs, turning away and pulling his hand away from Kenobi. “I can barely hold my own against you in training. What makes you think I could ever—“

“Anakin,” Kenobi cuts in, disbelief in his tone. “Surely you’re joking?”

“And you’re not?”

Anakin.”

Anakin clenches his jaw, bites down on the anger rising from his chest through his throat, and looks at Kenobi again. There’s a gentle frown on the man’s face; he’s sitting cross-legged on the floor now, his pose mirroring Anakin’s. He tilts his head lightly to the side.

“You’ve seen me fight, Kenobi,” Anakin repeats, stubborn. “You, Ventress, Dooku, anyone can kick my ass if they want. I can handle myself just fine on the battlefield, but in a duel like this it’s just…”

Kenobi shakes his head slowly. “You are the most powerful Force user I’ve ever met.”

The words send a chill down Anakin’s spine, but he shakes the feeling off. “You haven’t met a lot of them, then.”

“I’ve met myself,” Kenobi says, his tone light; Anakin shoots him a sideways glance. “Ventress. Most of the Jedi Council. Dooku. Can’t say I’ve met Dooku’s Master, exactly, but I have been in one room with him once, and Anakin? You will become far more powerful than any of them could ever hope to be. You only need training and guidance, both in combat and in your use of the Force, and that’s exactly what I want to give you, what I’ve wanted to give you ever since the Force first threw you into my arms. You have so much potential.”

Anakin laughs, bitter, angry. “Yeah? I’ve been hearing that my whole kriffing life.” The words he desperately doesn’t want to say or hear leave Anakin’s mouth before he has the time to think, resentment and disappointment burning on his tongue. “Potential this, potential that. Skywalker, stop wasting your potential. Remember I used to be a slave? I was six years old when Watto first tried to sell me because he got tired of how useless I was to him, and he told the buyers I had potential but they didn’t care. When Qui-Gon first brought me before the Jedi Council, he said I had potential, too, but the Council didn’t care either.”

He scrambles to his feet, the fury in him burning hotter and hotter, out of control, like a dying star about to collapse. He’s so tired of everyone always knowing what’s best for him, what he should do, so tired of everyone’s expectations.

“I care,” Kenobi says, soft, quiet. “About you.”

The words echo through Anakin’s mind, making his head spin. This isn’t the first time Kenobi’s said this, raw and sincere, and Anakin doesn’t know how to react, almost can’t take it; he balls his hands into fists until they stop shaking, then slowly sinks down to sit on the floor again, eyes closed, shoulders slumped.

He hears Kenobi stand up and circle him, feels as Kenobi reaches down to touch his shoulders, then kneels behind him. Anakin doesn’t dare move.

“I have promised you power and freedom,” Kenobi says, leaning into Anakin’s space until his chest is pressed against Anakin’s back, “and I intend to deliver both, if you allow me, but I want it to be your choice. The Jedi Council thinks you too reckless, unpredictable, and they’d shut you down every step of the way, deny you every opportunity because they cannot comprehend you but they know you cannot ever be controlled. They fear what they do not understand; the Force sings prophecies into their ears and they don’t listen to what’s between the lines but I do.”

His voice is a warm whisper just behind Anakin’s ear, one of his arms sneaking around Anakin’s chest, fingers reaching up and brushing against Anakin’s neck ever so gently. Anakin just leans back into Kenobi, feels the bitter fury slowly drain out of him. I want it to be your choice.

“There is light in you, yes, but not quite the way they all think,” Kenobi murmurs. “You are a being of light itself, but light is never just gentle and warm. It is pure, unbridled power, not to be trifled with and not to be underestimated. This is who you already are, dear one. The living Force flows in your veins; feel it. Command it. Anything you want is yours to take.”

Anakin stays silent and still for a while, until the closeness of the embrace gets overwhelming, until he has to move away.

“I don’t know what to say to any of that,” he tells Kenobi, forces himself to turn around and look the man in the eye.

Kenobi is smiling, though it doesn’t seem to reach his eyes completely. “You don’t have to say anything at all, Anakin.” He climbs to his feet in one smooth motion and extends a hand to Anakin, and Anakin takes it, lets himself be pulled to his feet. “Come, then; I might be tired, but we could still train a little nonetheless.”

 


 

Driven by overwhelming curiosity, Anakin eventually finds in himself the confidence to talk to Ventress about her ships. He just climbs on top of Ray’s wing one morning when he finds Ventress tinkering, and sits there as he watches her work. He doesn’t dare help, but peers at Banshee’s unique wiring and control panels with great interest.

Ventress mostly ignores him, but answers his technical questions with the slightest notes of pride in her voice. She doesn’t threaten him or force him to go away, which by her standards seems to be a display of genuine friendliness.

Anakin’s touched.

“You know, one of Ray’s engines broke down when we were on Korriban,” he says conversationally.

Ventress spares him half a moderately interested glance. “I don’t suppose Kenobi fixed it, he’s absolutely hopeless with mechanics and technology… and everything else too, actually.”

She sounds fond even when she’s making fun of Kenobi, and Anakin laughs. “Yeah, I did the repairs.”

He also did the flying that ruined the engine in the first place, but Ventress doesn’t need to know that. It used to be her ship after all, and this is Ventress; Anakin still sort of expects to be thrown into the lava as soon as she decides she’s tired of his company.

He’s not scared, exactly; he’s just aware of his options. It’s a good habit to get into.

“Well,” Ventress says, her attention already back on Banshee, “you did a decent job of it. Kenobi’s lucky to have you.”

Heat crawls up Anakin’s cheeks and explodes in his chest; for a moment, that single throwaway comment renders him completely speechless. Considering the fact that his face goes through what feels like at least ten different emotions at once with absolutely no conscious effort on his part, he’s really glad Ventress doesn’t bother to look at him.

When he finds his voice again, he just asks another question about ships, but the strange, warm feeling settles into his bones and makes him smile, even if he’s not quite sure what to make of it.

 


 

Anakin takes a deep breath.

He’s tired, a little sore; another afternoon, another training session. Another evening standing in front of the door to Kenobi’s room and a soft, golden voice telling him to enter before he even raises a hand to knock.

The room smells faintly of incense, sweet and heavy but pleasant. Anakin wonders if it’s the incense that Kenobi brought from Korriban, but the thought of the Sith planet sends an unpleasant shiver down his spine, so he immediately shifts his focus back into the present, into the smile that Kenobi’s giving him. The man’s seated in his fancy, ornamented tall armchair near the largest desk in the room. There’s stacks of papers and several datapads piled all over the desk, along with some items that Anakin doesn’t recognise.

Kenobi winks at him, then goes back to his readings. In a different world, the man could’ve been a scholar; yet again Anakin finds himself admiring how dedicated Kenobi is to research. He’s making notes, focused completely on whatever he’s decrypting now. Anakin doesn’t mind it in the slightest; sitting in one room quietly enjoying one another’s company is more than enough for him, enough to keep his mind at peace and keep his worst thoughts at bay.

He takes a seat on the soft carpet, back leaned against the side of Kenobi’s armchair. The room, despite its fair size, doesn’t really provide much sitting space. Most horizontal surfaces are covered in more scrolls and artifacts; Anakin figures he’s better off not touching any of it.

“The bed’s all empty, Anakin, you could sit there,” Kenobi says without taking his eyes off the datapads.

“I like the carpet just fine.”

“Suit yourself.”

Anakin’s mind drifts in and out of focus as he tinkers, first with his own lightsaber, then with the spare parts he’s brought. Kenobi reads him fragments of the texts he’s translated out loud, mostly historical texts and descriptions of rituals. Anakin wouldn’t normally care for the history of the old Sith, but Kenobi’s explanations are genuinely interesting, and Anakin enjoys listening to the sound of his voice.

Whenever Kenobi goes quiet to focus on further translations, Anakin slowly finds himself growing more and more distracted and lets his mind drift further. He puts his lightsaber and the droid parts aside, and leans his head back against the armchair with a soft sigh. Warmth sits heavy on his eyelids, exhaustion and comfort weaved into one another, an indulgent laziness somewhere halfway between being sleepy and awake. He looks outside, watches the trickle of lava from one of the many fissure vents— but there’s something far more interesting within the room, right behind him.

Anakin finds a bold thought at the back of his mind, one that grows louder and more insistent with every second that passes.

He licks his lips and climbs to his feet, walks up to the window to stand at the foot of Kenobi’s bed and tries to focus on the fiery landscape. It only makes him even more restless, though, and as the Force’s hum grows more persistent, brimming with promises, Anakin takes a deep breath and lets go. With his heart beating fast and his lips curling into a smile, he goes back to Kenobi’s armchair, rounds it so that he’s standing right in front of the man, then slowly sinks to his knees.

Kenobi, who’s been sitting sideways with one leg nonchalantly hooked over the armrest, slowly straightens up and puts his research away, then places both his feet firmly on the ground. His eyes and all of his attention instantly turn to Anakin as the air around them becomes heavy. Anakin lets the intensity flood his senses, takes it as an invitation and moves even closer into the space between Kenobi’s legs, leaning forward into the man’s lap. He runs his hands up Kenobi’s thighs, over the soft fabric of his pants, and watches the gentle surprise on Kenobi’s face turn darker.

Kenobi leans back, eyes locked with Anakin as he wordlessly reaches out a hand to cup Anakin’s chin. Anakin’s still not quite sure how far he wants to take this, how far he’s allowed to take it, but rather sure that he likes the position he’s in, currently. He lets the thought roll away from his mind and directly into Kenobi’s, and the man’s nails dig into his chin in response. Kenobi’s thumb finds Anakin’s lips and Anakin smiles, closes his eyes and sucks the finger into his mouth, lets himself enjoy that almost familiar thrill, watching Kenobi through half lidded eyes.

“Do you want it?” Kenobi murmurs, lightly pressing his thumb down on Anakin’s tongue.

Anakin knows exactly what he’s asking about. The knowledge, the power, the freedom, and Kenobi himself; all of it, everything, and Anakin wouldn’t have it any other way.

“There is nothing I want more.” The Master lingers, unthought and unspoken, somewhere at the edges of his mind.

Kenobi hums, a wicked smile curling the corners of his lips. “Only a Sith deals in absolutes,” he says, voice low, silky. Anakin shivers but doesn’t answer, and something gorgeous flashes through Kenobi’s eyes. “Anything you want is yours to take.”

Those words again; and this time, here and now, on his knees at the feet of a Sith Lord, Anakin knows exactly what he wants. Kenobi.

He holds the man’s charged gaze and tugs at his robes; Kenobi raises his hips for a moment, allowing Anakin to pull his pants down. Anakin steadies his cybernetic hand against Kenobi’s hip, then leans in and takes him into his mouth.

Pleasure crowds his mind, the thrill of anticipation and defiance; this is his choice, to be here, to want so shamelessly and follow his desire, to be closing his lips around Kenobi and drinking in the heat. Breaths quick, shallow, but he is anything but shy; one of Kenobi’s hands finds its way into his hair and Anakin hums his pleasure, his whole body giving in to warmth, eyes almost drifting shut. He lets Kenobi’s hand in his hair guide him, drags his tongue and fingers up Kenobi’s length, half high off the desire burning in the man’s eyes. He can sense what the sheer sight of him on his knees is doing to Kenobi already, and Kenobi’s want loops into his own, hits both of them with double force.

“You’re gorgeous like this,” Kenobi murmurs, half breathless, and Anakin moans around him; Kenobi’s head lolls back to drop against the back of the armchair.

It’s hot, obscene, perfect; but Anakin wants more, all of it, everything.

He climbs to his feet, eager impatience thrumming through his veins, and steadies himself in the Force as he raises one leg to rest it against Kenobi’s seat. Kenobi hooks his fingers around the back of Anakin’s knee, pulls him closer, halfway into his lap and into a slow, open-mouthed kiss. They’ve both wanted this so desperately it’s a wonder they managed to stay away from one another for so long, but they intend to enjoy it now, draw the pleasure out until they can’t take it any more.

Kenobi pushes Anakin away, pulls at his clothes, as impatient as Anakin is; Anakin grins at him, quickly strips naked and hurries right back into his lap, rolls his hips against Kenobi. Their lips find each other in another desperately passionate kiss, claiming, almost devouring. Anakin loses himself in the heat building between them, in the friction weaved into his every move.

There’s nothing quite like this rush of excitement, Force wrapping itself around both of them, singing indulgences and promises into their minds. Mouths joined, fingers roaming; a small sound escapes Anakin’s mouth when another wave of heat passes over him. One of Kenobi’s hands is working between them, the other is exploring the bare skin of Anakin’s back as if he’s an uncharted region of space. Kenobi’s mouth is on his neck now, and Anakin throws his head to the side, eyes half closed in pleasure, deep breaths barely anchoring him in reality.

Kenobi’s nails scrape against the scar across Anakin’s back, the one Kenobi gave to him when he first came to Mustafar, back when Anakin was so uncertain, so angry, fighting himself every step of the way just as much as he was fighting Kenobi.

“I’d say I was sorry,” Kenobi murmurs into Anakin’s ear, low and dangerous, his fingers still tracing the shape of the scar, “but it does mark you as mine.” He bites a kiss into Anakin’s neck on the last word and Anakin moans, overwhelmed.

He wants this, and he wants more, all of it, everything.

And so does Kenobi; their minds are so close now their desires are the same. Anakin’s not sure where or when it is that Kenobi gets his hands on a bottle of oil, but he feels a finger trailing down his back; but he wants more, he wants everything, and he’s tired of waiting.

The oil helps; he wills himself to relax, gives himself over to the Force in the most delightful of misuses, slowly sinks down Kenobi’s length, eyes screwed shut, breaths shallow. Kenobi keeps one hand on Anakin’s neck, his lips at Anakin’s ear, murmuring praise and encouragement.

It’s uncomfortable only for a moment, until Anakin catches his breath again and moves a little, finding his focus, adjusting. It’s awkward only for a few more moments, until Kenobi angles his hips forward, until Anakin follows his movement, until they find the right angle and it clicks.

Kenobi’s eyes are open wide, the gold in them almost glowing as he looks at Anakin, so heavy that it makes Anakin sigh in pleasure and start moving.

Force and unbridled desire guide him as he yields to instinct and the Force completely, follows their sweet whispers. He lets the Force guide him, lets it make each of his movements more measured and smooth, more controlled; yet he’s losing himself in the sensations completely, sliding down and back up, low gasps leaving his lips.

With his hands and lips on Kenobi’s skin Anakin remembers the maddening strain of anticipation, being dared not to touch, not to do anything until Kenobi allowed it. “Don’t want me bound this time?”

Warmth seeps into his mind in response, dark, overpowering, almost hypnotic in its intensity; Anakin’s mouth falls open and his eyes flutter shut. Kenobi’s fingernails scrape down his back and Anakin arches into the pleasure of it.

“I want all of you,” Kenobi purrs, powerful and intense, for a moment perfectly, effortlessly in control until the Force and pleasure pull him back in, tangling his presence into Anakin’s in an endless thread of wild bliss.

Mind, body, and soul fused in perfect heat, intoxicating pleasure coursing through their veins, setting their senses on fire each time Anakin sinks into Kenobi’s lap. Anakin catches Kenobi’s lips in a possessive, needy kiss, and gets exactly what he wants back; Kenobi reaches up to grab a fistful of Anakin’s hair and pulls. Anakin’s breath catches and he tenses up, a string of pleasure pulled so taut it could almost snap, but he holds on to thin strands of consciousness, of himself, gives Kenobi a smirk and keeps moving.

He leans down into the man’s ear, voice pure distilled lust as he calls Kenobi’s name and picks up the pace. Kenobi moans, his breaths coming in quicker; his presence gathers and crowds around Anakin, pushing into him even more, gold-dipped fingers slipping into his mind, pressing themselves into all the right places, filling Anakin with even more eager fervour. The breathless moans of yes and Kenobi and Master sound so right sliding, slipping off his tongue like pleas and promises both; his mind belongs to Kenobi, searing hot, wild, golden.

Heat fills him, a burn of decadent pleasure, white at the edges of his vision.

The Force finally allows them both the release in a wave of impossible warmth, incomparable pleasure rolling over their bodies and minds both, joined, enjoying themselves and each other, lost in the feeling but feeling more found than ever; a series of all the wrong decisions led them to something so right, so perfect that the Force must’ve always known.

Anakin leans against Kenobi, exhausted breaths heaving his chest as he presses a smile into Kenobi’s neck. Kenobi opens his mouth as if to say something, but he stays silent. He just drags his fingernails down Anakin’s back one more time, earning another shiver and a contented sigh, then wraps his arms around Anakin, pulling him close.

They move after a while; Kenobi leads Anakin to his ‘fresher, then to his bed.

Anakin’s all hazy smiles and gentle touches; once he’s in bed, he pulls at Kenobi’s hand, urging him to follow. Kenobi promises to join him soon, a strange melancholy in his eyes, but when Anakin wakes in the morning, the space next to him is as empty as it was when he fell asleep.

 


 

With each passing day, little by little, Anakin feels himself falling, even with the uncertainty constantly chipping away at what little self-confidence he’d thought he finally found.

Kenobi gives him no reason to doubt; Anakin knows the man means every word he says, and there is no deceit hidden in his actions. He’s still as bright as ever, honest and more understanding than anyone Anakin’s ever known. There’s just the faintest shimmer of longing threaded through his presence; Anakin hates that he doesn’t know if it’s always been there and he simply didn’t notice, hates that he doesn’t know if there’s anything he could do to ease that distant ache. He doesn’t know what to think, so he does his best not to. He just sinks into the gentle warmth, smiles at Kenobi as they talk, bickers with him as they train. It’s familiar, it’s safe; what else could he possibly ask for?

He faces himself in the mirror of his ‘fresher, looks his reflection in the eye. Blue stares back at him, stubborn blue, despite everything that’s happened still the foolish, undecided Jedi caught between two worlds, with an impossible choice looming on the horizon. The Force has a sense of humour, Anakin knows this, he’s just not particularly fond of it.

He sighs and turns away, shaking his head.

The day goes by just like any other, and in the evening Anakin finds himself heading towards Kenobi’s bedroom. Even when troubled, he can’t imagine himself anywhere else; besides, he has questions to ask, lightsaber techniques to discuss, uncertain, strangely hopeful smiles to offer Kenobi in response to his teasing.

Kenobi invites him in, warm as ever, but Anakin remains frozen in front of the door.

Something shifts around him in the Force and the world becomes quieter, muffled; on the edges of his vision everything seems a little blurry. The weight of all his wants and hopes and doubts settles heavy upon his shoulders and Anakin realises just how exhausted he’s been, how weary from his own hopeless indecision.

He steadies himself against the wall, breathing strained, knees suddenly threatening to give out. He’s tired of the uncertainty, tired of not thinking, and he’s on the brink. He doesn’t know what’s happening right now, let alone what’s going to happen, but the Force whispers to him something he already knows: that he can’t go on like this.

“Anakin?” Kenobi calls from within the room again.

Anakin takes a deep breath, closes his eyes, and enters.

When he opens his eyes, he sees Kenobi sitting cross-legged on the bed across the room, bright, worried eyes fixed on Anakin.

“Is everything alright? You seem… upset.”

Anakin’s mind slips away from him yet again, going faster than the speed of light; the Force’s hum becomes almost deafening as his own thoughts and memories drown him. He thinks back to every time he’s agreed with Kenobi, to every time Kenobi’s words made him feel alive. He thinks about all the times they laughed together, all the teas and tales they’ve shared, all their trainings, all their talks. He thinks about their bond, the golden thread of unconditional understanding that pulls them towards one another like binary stars. He thinks about how much Kenobi’s taught him, how different he’s made Anakin feel. Like he could be something more. Like he could be free. Like he could… matter.

Anakin shuts the door behind himself with a forceful wave of his hand, takes two long, unsteady steps forward and stops in the middle of the room. His head is spinning, he can barely see straight, and his own heartbeat echoes through his head, loud, too loud, but Anakin knows what he needs to do.

What he wants to do.

He fixes his gaze on the floor, too anxious to look Kenobi in the eye, straightens his back, and drops onto one knee.

Master,” he says, the word heavy on his tongue. There’s an intensity to it that Anakin’s never tasted before; he knows what he’s asking and truly means it perhaps for the very first time in his life.

Silence falls over the room, unsettling and inexplicably cold. It feels like a lifetime passes before one soft question finally slips past Kenobi’s lips. “What?”

The word sends a shudder through Anakin’s body; he swallows nervously and tries again. “You said you wanted it to be my decision, you said pledges matter only when one fully means them. I know what I’m asking, I’m making my choice, and I mean it. I want you to be my Master, I want to be your apprentice and to follow you wherever you might lead me.”

Another beat of silence. “Why?” Kenobi asks in that same numb tone.

Panic sweeps over Anakin as he blinks and finally looks up.

There’s no smug pride in Kenobi’s eyes, not even a trace of what Anakin thought, hoped he would see. Kenobi doesn’t look victorious, he doesn’t even look happy. He hardly looks like himself, and his face is an empty, emotionless mask, but his whole presence feels distressed; the Force trembles.

“What— what do you mean, why—“

Kenobi jumps off the bed and makes for Anakin; Anakin scrambles to his feet and hurriedly takes a step back, stumbling over his own feet. He’s confused, terrified; is this not what Kenobi’s been offering all this time? Is this not what he wanted? Anakin reaches into the Force trying to steady himself in it, desperately searching for support, but it slips between his fingers; his mind is all over the place and his whole body hurts, stomach twisted into anxious coils, chest too tight to breathe.

Anakin’s back hits the wall, and Kenobi steps into his space. “Why now? Why like this? Why?”

He sounds distant, nothing like himself, and for a fraction of a second his unreadable expression slips. Anakin sees no anger in his face, and no disappointment either. Sadness, infinite sadness, yet there’s still a breath of hope in his eyes, and that same fearful longing that’s eating away at Anakin’s own heart.

The Force hums around them softly, and Anakin unthinkingly raises a hand to touch Kenobi’s face.

Why?

Because Kenobi’s so much better than the Jedi and the Council. He’s a Sith Lord, yes, but he’s not fallen; eyes the brightest shade of gold, head held high, the smug smile that he wears so often only teasing, never cruel. He holds the Force in the palm of his hand even now, his control over it absolute even when he’s barely in control of himself. Pure power, wild and electrifying, with a temper to match Anakin’s own, yet above all he’s kind, despite everything he’s been through he tries and tries again to be better, to understand and be understood. He could’ve manipulated Anakin, used him, ruined him, but instead he made a choice to be gentle, warm, offered Anakin freedom and that same power that he holds in his grasp, asking nothing in return.

Because he could teach Anakin so much about the Force and life and the galaxy. He already has; through their trainings and discussions Anakin’s grown so much stronger. Kenobi’s shown him how to shield his mind from those who’d hurt him, how to ground himself in the Force, how to feel and how to find his own way somewhere halfway between the rules they’ve both been taught and the new rules they’ve made for themselves. Anakin thinks of how he could spend hours and hours just talking to Kenobi, discussing anything and everything because he doesn’t have to guard himself, because he can speak his mind freely and trust Kenobi to listen.

Because Anakin can’t imagine his life without Kenobi in it. The bond they share is pure Force, a connection filled with so much warmth and compassion that Anakin can’t stay away, doesn’t want to. He thinks of how his own feelings changed, little by little, from the initial disbelief and anger to this strange yearning, from trying to run to wanting to stay, no matter how high a price he might have to pay. He thinks of how Kenobi’s changed too, little by little, from infuriating to curious to caring. How he’s offered himself to Anakin time and again, offered to teach him, offered to be his.

“Because I love you,” Anakin says, and the Force’s ever-present hum goes completely quiet.

The silence is deafening, and for a moment, it feels like the whole world stops, waiting.

“Anakin—” Kenobi says, barely above a whisper, voice almost breaking.

Anakin reaches for the Force and it sings back to him, golden and warm, and finally he realises what Kenobi’s longing was, his melancholy and strained detachment, why Anakin asking to his apprentice and nothing more wouldn’t have been enough. Anakin opens himself up, holds Kenobi’s gaze and smiles, slow but genuine. Uncertainty lies shattered at his feet; he’s made his choice, and he knows he chose well. “I love you.”

Emotions seep back into Kenobi’s face and his presence one by one; a gentle frown of disbelief, first, then relief and pride and happiness so overwhelming they nearly knock Anakin off his feet. Kenobi leans forward, careful, like he’s afraid one wrong move might ruin the moment, takes Anakin’s face into his hands and kisses him. Anakin closes his eyes and melts into the kiss, pulls Kenobi closer.

When he blinks his eyes open again, he sees Kenobi— his Kenobi, bright, bold, and golden, eyes wide with wonder and glimmering with something unspoken and unspeakable.

“You’re mine,” Kenobi whispers, a new power in his voice, and Anakin smiles, so wide it almost hurts.

“Master,” he says, and Kenobi laughs as he pulls Anakin into another embrace and doesn’t loosen his grip as he softly presses his lips to Anakin’s temple.

“Mine,” he says again in a whisper, and Anakin thinks that perhaps he always has been. “And I am yours, too.”

Anakin leans away to look at him again, at the pride and promise and power in his eyes.

Emotions flow through him, his own and Kenobi’s, and more; he feels the space around them, sparkling and electric, the lava below the facility hot and burning but not warmer than their embrace, their hearts beating in one wild rhythm.

They move across Kenobi’s bedroom refusing to let go, tangled into each other’s presence in the Force, fingers laced together, giggling when they trip over each other’s feet. They tumble into Kenobi’s bed unhurried, gentle, smiling.

If this is his fall, Anakin thinks, then he doesn’t regret a single thing.

 


 

Anakin wakes up surrounded by contented warmth.

Kenobi’s bedroom has an amazing view onto a fiery waterfall, the falling lava almost sparkling in the eerie yet somehow comforting light of the faraway star of the system. Anakin should be used to Mustafar’s landscapes by now, perhaps even bored of them, but there’s something endlessly alluring about them, and of course there is; after all, they remind him of Kenobi.

Kenobi, pressed along his back, one arm wrapped around him, their legs tangled together. Anakin closes his eyes again, breathes out, lets himself truly enjoy it. His dreams were uneasy, cruel; waking up into this blissful peace feels almost too good to be true.

Anakin turns so that he’s facing Kenobi, takes in the soft sleepiness in his face.

“Good morning, my sweet apprentice,” Kenobi whispers, a smile on his lips, fingers brushing Anakin’s cheek.

Anakin smiles back, eyes half closed, turns his head slightly to kiss Kenobi’s knuckles. “Good morning, Master.”

“Gold suits you,” Kenobi says softly; he’s looking at Anakin like he’s never seen anything more beautiful in his life. Anakin bites back a grin, closes his eyes. “Ah, ah, let me look at you.”

They stay like this, close together, overwhelmed by their own emotions, almost too happy to handle.

In this perfect warmth, Anakin almost doesn’t hear the Force’s whispered warning.

A shadow of a bad feeling passes over him; he notices Kenobi’s expression falling, too, before the siren of the facility’s warning system goes off, shrill, horrifying.

Deep, panicked dread fills Anakin, and he knows instantly that this isn’t a drill; the Force could only let him have this, this one moment of peace and happiness, before everything had to go to hell again.

They both stumble out of the bed, hurriedly get dressed, and all but run towards the control chamber. They find Ventress already there, leaning over the console.

“Do we have anything yet?” Kenobi yells over the dissonant sound of the alarm.

Ventress shakes her head. “Too early, whatever’s coming hasn’t passed the inner satellites yet. We’ll know more in just a few seconds.”

“Could it be one of the mining shipments?”

“The automated transports only run twice a standard year, this isn’t it.” Ventress taps the console impatiently. “Finally. One ship, looks like a Republic shuttle. Two life forms inside.”

Anakin almost stumbles back in shock. Republic. Not the Separatists, then, not even Dooku himself, and somehow this is much worse; any other ship could be headed here for a million different reasons. But the Republic? They’re here for him.

“What do we do?” Anakin asks quietly, his words almost drowned out by the siren; Ventress curses and finally shuts the alarm down. The silence hurts Anakin’s ears almost as much as the noise did. “They shouldn’t— they shouldn’t even know I’m here, I made sure they couldn’t find me, I—“

Ventress keeps looking at him, tilts her head; her expression softens for a moment. She glances at Kenobi, then back at Anakin. “So that’s what was happening with the Force yesterday?” She shakes her head and smiles, almost looking fond. “Took you long enough.”

Kenobi smiles, too, and for a moment it’s almost like Anakin’s world isn’t crashing down around him any more— but then Ventress looks down at the screens of the console again, and the feeling of dread comes back even more powerful.

Ventress frowns. “It’s still showing just the one ship. Skywalker, you sure the system is set up correctly?” Anakin nods. “Well, that makes two of them against the three of us. They’re outnumbered, and I don’t feel like cowering and running away before I’ve had my breakfast.” She straightens up, competent and commanding, and looks between Anakin and Kenobi as the warning system beeps. “The ship’s out of hyperspace. Let’s see who’s stupid enough to be headed here.”

Kenobi nods at her, and so does Anakin, trying not to think about the fact that he won’t be able to bring himself to stand against anyone, Republic or Jedi or otherwise.

They follow Ventress outside, into the unforgiving heat, and stop on the landing platform, Ventress with one ignited lightsaber held in a low guard, and Kenobi and Anakin standing together a step behind her. Kenobi reaches for Anakin’s hand, laces their fingers together. They share one long look, one that carries more meaning than they could ever fit into words.

They watch the shuttle come closer, until it sits on the far end of the platform.

For a moment, everything’s still; Ventress tightens her grasp on her lightsaber, and Kenobi squeezes Anakin’s hand.

The shuttle doors open, and as the first figure steps out, Anakin feels cold sweep over him.

“Ahsoka?”