Just call my name,
'cause I'll hear you scream:
Anakin was conscious but, Obi-Wan judged, it was a near thing. He was blurred in the Force - no better word for it, a smeared and indistinct sensation. His eyes were open but glazed, when Obi-Wan crossed the grotty little room in two strides to reach his side. Obi-Wan said his name, lifted his head with one hand cradling the back of his skull. Anakin's body seemed to dangle from that point, head tilting back into Obi-Wan's hand, limbs slithering beneath the rough blanket under which, Obi-Wan realised, the boy was naked. The movement lifted Anakin's chin; there was a band of something dark and restrictive around his throat, and when Obi-Wan touched it (some sort of hide, pliable but stiff) Anakin's lips parted in a gasp that was entirely inaudible over the sounds from the corridor - the footfalls of clones, distant firing, shouted commands.
"What have they done to you?" Obi-Wan muttered.
Footsteps stopped in the doorway behind him, and a clone said, "General Kenobi? General Secura reports that she's recovered the plans."
Obi-Wan moved, bundling Anakin up in the blanket, ignoring the aspirated moan as he hefted the boy's weight. "Then we return to the ship. As fast as we can."
The clone tilted his helmeted head, stepping back out of the doorway to make room. "Is that Skywalker, sir?"
"Yes," Obi-Wan replied shortly.
Their ships were crawling with clones, and the med-bays were full, so Obi-Wan took Anakin to his quarters. As he lay the bundled boy down on the bed, Anakin's breath was coming fast and shallow. His eyes stared through Obi-Wan, through the walls, through space, when they were even open at all, but Obi-Wan could find no major injuries as he pushed back the blanket from naked skin to examine his former Padawan.
The door hissed open behind him, and Aayla said, "You have him?"
"Yes," Obi-Wan said, glancing over his shoulder.
"Good." She was brisk but satisfied, mud-splattered and rolling her shoulder somewhat gingerly. He'd had no doubt she would perform her half of their two-tiered mission admirably. "We're getting underway," she noted. "I'll report in, if you prefer."
Obi-Wan nodded absently, his attention back on Anakin by the time the door hissed closed again behind her.
The boy had lost weight; it was obvious in the press of his ribs against his skin, the stretch of it over his hips. Obi-Wan's eyes slid over him, clinical and cataloguing. He'd been restrained at some point, but not in the last few days; the bruises on his wrist (ankles too) were yellowing, edges rubbed into welts and now halfway healed. He had other bruises - his shin, outer thigh, a purple splash across his torso, under his ribs. There was a graze across his upper arm.
Nothing at all to warrant him being in this state. Anakin had done worse to himself in an afternoon off.
Obi-Wan framed the bruise on Anakin's side with his fingers, stretching mottled skin up towards the light, trying to gauge if it were deeper than it appeared. Anakin twitched, muttered, eyelashes fluttering and chin lifting. Obi-Wan's eyes were drawn again to the band around his neck. A collar - it could not be mistaken for anything else - clinging to his throat. Obi-Wan touched a finger to it: smooth hide. Hooked the tip of his finger between it and Anakin's skin, testing the give. It was rough on the underside, and did not stretch at all. Anakin shifted, arching up a little off the bed.
Obi-Wan slid his finger along, found the catch of the collar, hidden on the underside. But even as he brought his other hand up to work it, Anakin's eyes sprang open, bright but unfocussed, and his hand came up, grabbing Obi-Wan's wrist. "No," he gasped. "Don't."
"Anakin," Obi-Wan said, but he was gone again, falling back on the bed. Actually unconscious this time.
The door hissed open again. "How is he?" Aayla asked, stepping up by Obi-Wan's shoulder.
He pulled his hands back, tucking them into his sleeves. "I don't know," he admitted as he frowned down at Anakin.
Aayla stepped forward to examine Anakin more closely for herself. Though the rest of her was still battle-grimed, she'd taken the time to wash her face, and the hand she held up in query was clean. "May I?"
Obi-Wan gestured his approbation, and she laid her palm to Anakin's forehead, closing her eyes. A frown slowly cut its way down between her eyebrows. "Something unnatural," she said, barely above a mutter, and then more firmly, "He has been drugged."
A conclusion Obi-Wan had more or less reached for himself. "Yes, but what with?" he prodded.
"I'm trying--" Aayla began, with a hint of answering impatience, and then broke off with a sound somewhere between a gasp and a grunt, as though she'd been poked hard in the solar plexus. She jerked back from Anakin, and Obi-Wan caught her arm.
"What?" he demanded. "What is it?"
"An abomination," she spat, and then surprise flickered across her face. Straightening, she drew her arm from his grip, recalling composure. "Pardon. It was unexpected."
"Evidently," Obi-Wan said. "But you recognise whatever is affecting him?"
Aayla smoothed twitching fingers against her thighs, not taking her eyes off Anakin. "Yes, though I've only ever encountered it once before, and not ingested. It's a Twi'lek substance, but... little known. I don't even know if it has an official name, but some who make use of it call it 'the whip'. It--" She hesitated, took a breath and finally met Obi-Wan's gaze. "It makes the victim more pliable. More submissive. I find the very idea of it deeply unpleasant."
Her smile was faint, and fleeting. "I don't know of any antidote, Master Kenobi. And I suspect the drug will interfere with his ability to use the Force to purge his system."
Obi-Wan released a breath with perhaps more vigour than necessary. "Then we must wait for it to work its way through his system. However long that may take." He closed his eyes a moment, letting the fretwork of anger that had him surrounded dissipate. He was not angry at Anakin; not even indirectly, at the time that this would take, the care it may require. Aayla certainly seemed to agree that a certain vehemence against those who used this drug was warranted, but Obi-Wan knew - was sure - that anger was never truly justified.
When he opened his eyes again, she was watching him. "You will need," she said quietly, "to be very gentle with him."
There was a delicate emphasis in her voice that Obi-Wan was, at this point, incapable of deciphering. He smoothed the frown from his face, and inclined his head. "I was intending nothing otherwise."
Aayla would not leave until Obi-Wan was composed to rest on the other bunk in the room. She battered him down with reassurances - Anakin would be fine; the drug was never fatal; when Obi-Wan awoke, they would be docking at Melasaton.
He did not even attempt to deny his need for rest. Nor did she try to suggest it would come easier now that Anakin was regained. Simple refusal of disquiet, an almost violent seizing of sleep, had become something of a habit in the past three weeks.
The door slipped closed behind Aayla. The ceiling of the chamber received the barest consideration before Obi-Wan closed his eyes; the inside of his eyelids scarcely more before he was dropping into a sleep so strictly regimented it was almost meditation.
He had been asleep - or near enough - for some time when the dream came to him, so clear and unexpected that Obi-Wan knew immediately that it was not his own. Some distant, quiet corner of his mind observed that he would have to work with Anakin on his projection problems.
There was a haze over the dream, something that elongated the corners of objects, drawing them forward, and cross-hatched the planes with jarring shades of oranges and greens that slipped into each other as the scene wavered. His attention was caught by his skin (not his, Anakin's) so pale and shaded in the most delicate blue around the curve of his arm - both arms - stretching up above his head, towards the oily, nacreous crawl of restraint at his wrists. He pulled gently down, and there was a clink of chain, a burr of restriction that was (arresting, chilling, hateful, beautiful) complicated.
Noises behind him (not him, Anakin) scratched around the edges of his awareness, his head too full to take in more, too full to think, too full--
Something exploded across him, across his back, a searing white lick of simplicity, and he knew he'd gasped even as he knew nothing, nothing but the liquid, hissing ricochet of that starbright pain. It arced across his body (not his, Anakin's!) and wiped him clean, hushed him in the taut expectation of the next, straining for the sound of it falling.
When it came, there had never been a moment so perfect.
Obi-Wan was standing before he was aware of moving. Anakin lay on his bunk, breath steady, but fingers twitching. It was barely two steps across the room, and Obi-Wan's hands were gentle as he made slight arrangements to the boy's body, drawing his knee up, splaying one arm out, folding the other across his chest. One hand at Anakin's knee, the other cradling his neck, forearm lifting the boy's shoulder, Obi-Wan rolled Anakin smoothly onto his side.
Even expectation could not prevent his breath catching painfully in his throat.
When Aayla returned, she found him kneeling beside the bunk, hands lifted but hovering, not touching. She said something, something wrenched out of her, but Obi-Wan found the words did not reach him through the screen of anger he was trying without success to dissolve.
Anakin's back was a ruin, from shoulder to base, striped welts laid alongside and over each other, a careful weaving of damage. Of pain, of sensation. Each mark as wide as Obi-Wan's smallest finger, and there were about a dozen of them, he thought. He thought. It was hard to be certain, hard to judge the count precisely, interwoven as they were. Where welts crossed each other, sometimes the skin had lifted entirely, torn away, exposing raw flesh.
Aayla's hands closed over his, and Obi-Wan realised his fingers were clenched in the blanket. He blinked, looked up at her.
"We're docking now," she said.
Anakin's shoulder jerked, and he rolled over, crying out as his back touched the blanket. His hand snatched at the blanket near Obi-Wan's grip, and his body arched a little, but he did not roll back. "Master," he said, eyes open and clear, and though his face was bound tight, he managed a small smile, beautiful for all it was edged. "I thought I was dreaming."
"You were," Obi-Wan said. "But you're awake now."
Obi-Wan had brought spare clothes with him, so sure he had been of recovering Anakin. The boy accepted only a pair of trousers, keeping the unpleasant blanket wrapped around him against the faint shivers that occasionally danced along his shoulders. The chill of space, Obi-Wan assumed. Hoped.
Before she'd left to supervise the unloading of the ships, Aayla had suggested healers - there were very good ones at the palace, where they'd been given quarters. But Anakin had refused, point blank, barely waiting until she'd finished speaking. "No," he'd said. "I don't want--" He'd paused for one of those attacks of shivers. "I don't want anyone touching me."
If anyone was likely to tell Anakin when he was being ridiculous, Obi-Wan would have supposed it to be Aayla, but the other Jedi merely nodded and suggested that bacta bandages, applied soon, would be nearly as good. She'd see about having some sent to them.
In the silence of the room after she left, they sat on their respective bunks, each as rumpled as the other. Obi-Wan said, "I brought your lightsaber as well."
Anakin smiled, his eyes carved deep with shadows of fatigue, but full of fond familiarity and self-deprecation. "What, no lecture?"
Obi-Wan just shook his head.
Anakin pulled the blanket tighter around his shoulders, fingers knotted in it. "I think it would be best if you hung onto it a while longer."
A nod this time, more a thoughtful ducking of his head. "How are you feeling?" he asked, looking up to gauge Anakin's face, always an accurate barometer to the truth of what the boy said.
All it showed now was that he was troubled. Disquietened. Hardly unexpected. Concerns and uneases rippled across his face, but all he said was, "I've been better."
Obi-Wan managed a smile. "I imagine that would be the case, yes." The smile faded as he picked at the edge of his own blanket (clean, impersonal, no emotive connections whatsoever). "You've been dosed with a Twi'lek will suppressant, or so I am informed. It seems there is no antidote, so we will have to wait for it to dissipate naturally."
"I'll be fine," Anakin insisted, squaring his shoulders, and wincing.
"Of course," Obi-Wan agreed. "What about the - ah -?" He touched his throat.
Anakin's hand flew up in mimicry, but he barely grazed his fingertips against the collar before pulling his arm back inside the blanket. "I think-" he rasped, and paused to run his tongue over dry lips. "I think it would be best for now if I kept it on," he said. No other explanation.
"Of course," Obi-Wan repeated.
Anakin didn't need help to stand, nor to walk. He was perfectly steady, though there was something odd in his stance, something tentative. He followed Obi-Wan closely, loitering just behind one shoulder, even when Obi-Wan paused to let him draw alongside, anxious to keep an eye on him. When he looked back, Anakin's eyes were downcast, focussed on Obi-Wan's heels if not the floor. There were many of the locals - small and delicate, bird-quick and industrious - scurrying about the corridors around them, and with every one that approached them, Obi-Wan felt some tight tension in his former Padawan ratchet higher.
Not even the click of the door to Obi-Wan's apartments closing behind them seemed to diminish the energy thrumming through the boy. He was both entirely himself and not at all, looking around the room and saying flippantly, "Not crazy about the décor", but remaining standing in the centre of the room, stiff-shouldered. Not throwing himself onto the couch, scattering cushions, not sauntering across to the window to admire the view, not conducting a personal tour of the apartment. Just standing.
His tension bound up the whole room, Obi-Wan feeling it almost as pervasively as the Force. He cast aside the few items he'd brought from the ship and slung his cloak on top of the pile. "Anakin," he said, "relax."
"I'm fine," Anakin said, too fast, turning around. He grinned. "You, on the other hand, look like something spat you out."
Obi-Wan stepped closer, lifted his hand - but stopped short of laying it on Anakin's shoulder. Watched Anakin brace himself anyway, a flinch lashed down across his shoulders, up to his jaw, and denial of it in his eyes. "Anakin," Obi-Wan repeated. "Relax."
His convulsion was small, just a shudder, and the sound he made more a cough than a sob, but there was relief in it, and in his voice even as he cried, "I can't!"
He sat on the couch not unlike falling, the strain not gone from him, but less stifling in motion, given expression. His head dropped into his hands. Obi-Wan crouched before him, leaning in to hear his muffled words, mutterings of, "too much, it's too much."
Anakin looked up, hands crawling up into his hair, eyes raw but dry. "I feel like a spring wound too tight," he said, words like grains of sand between his teeth. "Or a droid whose programming's gone a little screwy. I feel like I could go off." He laughed, nervous and breathy and on the edge of panic. "I don't know what I might do."
His fingers were shaking as they scraped through his hair, down to the back of his neck. The blanket was loosened, hanging off his bare shoulders.
Anakin, Obi-Wan thought, had never been good at being out of control.
"It's the drug," he said. "It will dissipate, but it will take time." He watched Anakin's hands cupping the back of his neck, covering the collar. "We don't have to stay here, if you'd prefer. We could return to Coruscant. Maybe someone-"
"No," Anakin said, whipcrack, before Obi-Wan could say the name, and perhaps that was just as well. "No, I can't, not like this." His head dropped lower still, but Obi-Wan heard him whisper, "I can't face her like this," and pretended he hadn't, moving away again.
"You'll feel better when you're clean," Obi-Wan said, and Anakin nodded, visibly pulling himself together. Always better with a purpose. Never distracted, but better channelled than free-flooding.
He disappeared into the refresher, finally shedding the blanket, which snagged on his back before slumping on the floor.
Obi-Wan left it there. He wanted to burn it. It seemed a little bit of an over-reaction. He wasn't surprised to hear the water come on - a comfort for the boy from the desert. There was more than a body to be cleaned. Obi-Wan fidgeted about, running out of things to put away until finally he did pick up the blanket, folding it quickly and dropping it on the end of the couch. It had been Anakin's only comfort, perhaps, for this time. Hating an inanimate object was ridiculous; for such a reason, doubly so.
There came a chime, and when Obi-Wan opened the door, it was to reveal one of the dainty palace servants, holding up a package. "General Secura," she trilled, "said I should bring this -"
"Yes," Obi-Wan said. "Thank you."
The water had shut off with the doorchime. Unwrapping the promised bandages, Obi-Wan crossed the room, rapping his knuckles against the door to the refresher. No answer, but when he tried it, the door gave under his hand. Not locked.
Anakin was standing at the bench, in front of the mirror, wearing his trousers again. He was, Obi-Wan noticed, still damp, but he didn't think the shivers prickling across Anakin's skin were from chill. His back was raw and etched, the welts even starker than before, and Obi-Wan had to consciously ease his fingers out of their fist.
"The bandages," he said, lifting the package.
Anakin's eyes were hard in the mirror, somehow clenched and almost grim. "I can't reach to do it myself," he said.
Obi-Wan felt off-balance - had been expecting a direct request, he realised; an appeal like an order. "I'll do it," he said, coming into the room. Leaned around Anakin to set the bundle on the counter, lifting one bandage out. Anakin's teeth were grit, and Obi-Wan had never felt him so focussed inwards. He'd never felt so helpless. "This might sting," he warned, and the brace of Anakin's shoulders seemed disproportionate.
The first touch of bandage against his back sent Anakin hissing to the floor, his knees buckling. He barely caught himself, one hand and one knee on the floor, the other hand gripping the counter. He swore, just once, like an act of violence.
"It's all right," Obi-Wan said, and Anakin spat, "It's not," but Obi-Wan was kneeling behind him, saying again, "No, it's fine, shh, just stay." Anakin's shoulders were shaking, and not touching him was actually hard. But the tremours subsided, and Obi-Wan said, "We can do it this way. Might be easier, even, you're too damn tall." This time the shake of Anakin's shoulders was laughter, and that made Obi-Wan breathe more easily as he added, "Sit back on your heels."
The boy did as he was bid, settling on his heels, hands on his knees. His shoulders relaxed, and his head dropped forward a little, and Obi-Wan hesitated, bandage in hand, disturbed by the submissiveness of the pose. Even as a Padawan, Anakin had not knelt like this. No Padawan did, not quite.
Obi-Wan's hands seemed suddenly too big, too capable of violence, and he swallowed hard against it, busying himself with the bandage. The sounds of their breathing ricocheted around the enclosed space.
He brought the package down to the floor and began from the lowest swathe of damage on Anakin's back. Anakin sucked in a harsh breath as the bandage touched, fingers gripping his knees. Obi-Wan did his best to ignore it, and worked on.
Halfway up Anakin's back, there was a tremour under his skin, beneath Obi-Wan's hands. As though the boy was vibrating. He did not move, but his stillness shimmered. Obi-Wan had never been more aware of the younger Knight as flesh. He let out his breath. "Does it hurt?" he asked, his voice a small shock in the quiet, a twitch in the damaged skin beneath his ministrations.
"Yes," Anakin said, voice ground out between his teeth. The tremour in his muscles briefly became a shudder through the shoulder beneath Obi-Wan's palm. "Don't -" His breath hitched. "Don't stop."
Moving higher, across his shoulder blades, Obi-Wan rose up on his knees behind Anakin, leaning forward against him to move the depleted package of bandages to the counter. Anakin twitched, brushing against Obi-Wan's front, and he looked down, at Anakin's body below his.
It was too warm in here, the two of them, the lingering steam of Anakin's shower. Obi-Wan leaned back, last bandage in hand, and Anakin made a noise, a choked noise in the back of his throat, and Obi-Wan could see, over his bare shoulders, that his knuckles were white where he gripped his knees. Obi-Wan tried to make his hands more gentle as he applied the bandage, incredibly aware of the brush of his fingers against Anakin's skin.
As he smoothed it down, palms flat, Anakin grunted, and before he could think, Obi-Wan's fingers were on the boy's shoulder, Anakin's name past his lips wreathed with all his concern. Anakin moved, his hand coming off his own knee and reaching back to hook behind Obi-Wan's, as desperate a clinging as Anakin had indulged in during their long years together.
He let his hand rest on Anakin's shoulder, leant forward to fold up the package. And felt Anakin flex beneath him. His hand slipped up Obi-Wan's thigh, fingers gripping, his other matching it, and he arched a little, pressing back against Obi-Wan, his thighs, up his stomach, head tilting, and Obi-Wan gripped the edge of the counter. Gasped. Force help him.
But the Force was silent, and his body was not, stirring against the shivering pressure of Anakin's, and Obi-Wan thought, wildly, that surely that must hurt. His fingers tightened on Anakin's shoulder, and that shoulder flexed against the grip, flexed against him where he was hardening. The sound of breath was faster, harsher in the room. "Anakin," Obi-Wan said, trying for stern and achieving - he suspected - desperate.
The response was wordless, barely articulated, a moan that shimmered from Anakin's skin to Obi-Wan's. His hand tugged at Obi-Wan's thigh, and he muttered, "I don't, I can't..."
Moving was more difficult than Obi-Wan had expected, reaching for Anakin's wrists with a firm grip, pulling his hands away, holding them out, away from both their bodies. "Anakin, stop it," he half gasped, and Anakin rolled his shoulders against the grip, leaning backwards. Obi-Wan grit his teeth. "Stop it," he snapped, a sharp crack of authority he didn't recall ever having used with Anakin before. He pushed Anakin's hands forward, pressed them against the counter in front of them. Pinned him.
And Anakin shuddered and went limp, his head falling forwards between his shoulders. His neck arched, perfect and supplicant, broken by the line of the collar. Obi-Wan pressed at Anakin's wrists, and the boy stretched further, that curve of his neck, sweep of muscle bound by the restraint, and an urge like need beat at Obi-Wan's veins, in his head, to lean forward with his breath hot against Anakin's skin. To sink his teeth into the tendon, below the collar. Press his teeth against the skin until it threatened to give and Anakin mewled...
The doorchime sounded.
Obi-Wan leant his forehead against the door, the metal blissfully cold. The chime sounded again, and he jerked the door open.
"Quin!" His surprise was stark in his voice, as the other Jedi turned to him.
A single sweep of his gaze took in everything - the slight breathiness that wasn't from surprise, the dampness that had seeped into Obi-Wan's robes, the lingering traces of bacta on his hands. But he didn't say a thing, and that was part of the flood of relief that went through Obi-Wan. He'd had no reason to even suspect Quinlan Vos might show up on his doorstep, looming large and dark in the corridor, but now he could think of no one else he'd rather see.
"So how is he?" was all the other Jedi said.
"Well," Obi-Wan answered reflexively, which they both ignored as he sought a way to adequately phrase the truth, harder with his mind skittering. "Reasonably sound in body," he finally said, letting the omissions speak for themselves. "I am somewhat troubled," he admitted.
An understatement in the extreme. He could still feel Anakin's grip on his thigh. He could still conjure up the phantom taste of Anakin's skin.
Quinlan just nodded, as if unsurprised. "Come for a drink," he commanded.
Obi-Wan blinked. "I don't want to leave Ana-"
"He'll be fine," Quinlan declared, "as long as you tell him to stay put." He leaned back against the corridor wall, arms folded over his chest. "I'll wait here, shall I?"
Obi-Wan watched him levelly, this mix of frustration and amusement very familiar. "This had better be good," he said warningly, and closed the door on Quin's grin.
He knew it would be. There was no Jedi more likely to turn the universe upside down for his own amusement, and no Jedi Obi-Wan would prefer to have at his back. None he would trust more.
Except the one now standing in the 'fresher doorway, still shirtless, but calm now, his face shuttered. "Master Vos," Obi-Wan said. "I think he has some information that might prove useful."
Anakin just nodded.
Obi-Wan reached for his cloak. "Stay here." Nothing he hadn't said a hundred times, when Anakin was a Padawan. Had it ever sounded so much like a command? "Try to sleep."
Anakin nodded again, and Obi-Wan went.
Quinlan didn't speak on the way to the bar. The locals were raucous drunks, given to games and fits of hilarity, but Quin managed to find them a quiet corner, and something they could actually drink, albeit a something that gave off noxious fumes that made Obi-Wan's eyes water. It tasted all right.
"How've you been?" Quinlan asked about halfway down the first beaker of the stuff.
"Busy," Obi-Wan said, tilting his beaker, watching the alcohol cling to the sides.
"Aren't we all?" Quin agreed. He didn't look it. Never did. Could come from fighting viciously for his life with precisely the same grim aplomb as a month's solitary meditation. "Too few opportunities to enjoy a quiet moment."
Obi-Wan smiled at that, lifting his beaker to knock against Quin's.
"That's better," Quin said, and they drank. "A smile's good. You got him back, didn't you?"
"Aayla's told you," Obi-Wan said; not a question.
"Aayla's told me," Quin agreed. He propped a boot indolently on the empty chair at their table. "All twitchy about it. I thought the Force had brought me here for her. But then she told me about young Skywalker, and I thought, ah, maybe not. How's he holding up?"
Obi-Wan tilted his head back against the wall. "Didn't you ask that already?"
Evasion never worked with some people. "I'm asking it again."
Setting down his drink, Obi-Wan rubbed both hands over his face. The scene in the 'fresher seemed surreal, impossible, but his hands still smelt faintly of bacta, and he could never have imagined Anakin making that noise.
When he looked again, Quinlan was watching him steadily. "I don't know," Obi-Wan admitted. Almost always true, more so now. "He said he felt wound tight." I don't know what I might do. His hand around Obi-Wan's thigh. Obi-Wan reached for his drink again. "You know something." It sounded like an accusation, which was not entirely unintentional.
"I don't know that I can help," Quinlan said, unperturbed but serious. "But I do know a little, yes." Both feet on the floor now, he leaned forward, elbows on the table. "The drug's not quite a will suppressant. Or rather, it's a bit more than that. But you've already figured that out yourself."
Obi-Wan met Quinlan's black gaze. "A disruption of certain synaptic pathways," he hazarded.
"Pleasure and pain," Quin stated. "And a heightening of sensation, a craving for contact, lessening of inhibitions - it's variable, hits everyone a little differently." His mouth twisted. "There haven't been what you might call exhaustive tests carried out."
"But it dissipates," Obi-Wan said.
And almost swore when Quinlan hesitated. "It stops eventually," he said. Looking down now, his thumb in the condensation from his almost-empty beaker. "But in a non-Twi'lek physiology it can last days, a week, I don't know. And it gets worse, not better. It intensifies."
He did swear then, resting his knuckles against the table, pressing bone on wood. "How do you know all this?" he demanded.
Quinlan looked up at that, his gaze very direct. "Do you really want to know?" he asked quietly. Obi-Wan looked away, across the bar, the locals clustered in bright clumps. After a pause, Quin said, "It's a drug for a specific purpose. That's the antidote."
Obi-Wan had figured it out for himself. He didn't really need Quinlan to spell it out.
Seemed the local liquor had a vicious aftertaste. He finished it off anyway.
The palace was quiet, their apartments dark when Obi-Wan got back. He didn't turn on a lamp, but sat heavily in the moonlight that spilled through the windows. The doors to the bedchambers were still open; he was as quiet as he could be in taking off his boots, unbelting his tunics, slumping back on the chair with a hand over his eyes.
What he'd wanted to hear was that this would be over. Soon. Simply. That what had happened could slip away, into the quiet store of other somewhat inappropriate reactions, done with, no harm caused, unregretted.
At the moment... well, there was always a challenge in the moment, wasn't there? That was what made it worth aspiring to. Live in the moment. Yes.
Could he solve this? Should he solve this? Could he trust his own judgment here? Too hopelessly entangled.
There were ways. People who could be approached. People who specialised in bestowing what was necessary in this instance. (Obi-Wan's fingers curled into his hair, pressed at his scalp.) But Obi-Wan had offered a return to Coruscant, knowing who he was suggesting, the one he'd thought Anakin could trust, and Anakin had rejected it out of hand. Which left a more professional approach. Impossible. He would never put himself in the power of a complete stranger. Never be entirely at their mercy. Sooner die.
Never come to that. ("It's not fatal," Quin had said. "That's not how it was made.")
Another option, of course. Someone else who could. (Memory sparked: his shoulder under Obi-Wan's hand.) Just as quick, the response: no. He couldn't. Not take advantage, not press it upon him, not let this thing twist. Not even suggest it, for acceptance, encouragement, insistance was implicit in the very presentation.
Too hopelessly entangled.
The faintest sound - bare feet on carpeting - made him look up. Anakin was standing at the edge of the moonlight, shirtless for sleep, but entirely clear, not blurred by fatigue. He shifted his weight, clapped hands to his arms, a shiver coursing down his spine.
It wasn't cold, but Obi-Wan said, "You'll get chilled; you should go back to bed."
Anakin shook his head jerkily. "I wanted to apologise. For - for earlier."
"No," Obi-Wan said. "No, it doesn't -" He ran out of words, and there was silence for a moment, stretching between them in the darkness.
Then Anakin said, "What did Master Vos have to say?"
What did Master Vos have to say? He'd said, even though Obi-Wan hadn't wanted him to, "Sexual release will remove every trace. It can't be self-administered; the grip of the drug doesn't let that be enough. Another person."
Obi-Wan said, "It won't kill you. It will pass." He stood, and Anakin watched him still, as he said, "It's late."
Anakin gave way, turning aside to let Obi-Wan past, and it was ridiculous to feel his eyes like a physical presence until the door snicked shut behind him.
Obi-Wan undressed without dawdling, without listening for sounds from the main room. He was five minutes lying in the dark before he realised that the bed was warm.
Anakin had been sleeping in it.
He lay another unfelt time, unable even to reach for oblivion until the temperature of the sheets was only his own.
The next morning Anakin was more himself. Delighted by strange breakfast choices, impressed by the violently beautiful sunrise, exhorting Obi-Wan to come out onto the balcony and bear witness.
"I've seen it already," Obi-Wan called back, looking over the communications from Coruscant that had come with breakfast.
"Well, see it again!"
Obi-Wan smiled, set aside the datapad, and went out onto the balcony. The planet's hot sun, blurred by the atmospheric shield, was being born in blood, daubing the horizon with scarlet. It was really too bright to watch, so Obi-Wan watched Anakin instead, hair twitching in the breeze, face all easy delight.
As the day progressed, however, he grew more withdrawn, beginning a slow prowling circuit of the apartments, from the balcony, to his room, around the main room, to a pause, lengthening with each iteration, across from where Obi-Wan sat, increasingly distracted from the reports he was trying to read.
"Do you want something to do?" Obi-Wan asked at one of these pauses. "We could go somewhere. We could see if the locals could scrounge up a droid for you to alter in some annoying way."
That drew a smile, but it was half-formed and fleeting. "No," Anakin said. He came around the chair opposite Obi-Wan, sat down on the edge of it. "I can't concentrate on anything."
Obi-Wan resisted the temptation to point out that this was not a new problem. The facetiousness did not, in this instance, cover a truth; Anakin never had trouble directing his entire focus at one point. The challenge had always been to make him pay attention where his inclination did not tend. Now, he looked fidgety. Twitchy. And Obi-Wan didn't suppose that it was because he'd broken something and was trying to figure out how to mention it.
Anakin seemed to notice his hands picking at the sleeve of his robe at the same time, and forcefully flattened his hands on his knees. Looking up, he said, "I want to meditate."
Obi-Wan couldn't help the surprised lift of his eyebrows. How many times had they had this conversation? Obi-Wan had attempted to instill some appreciation of tranquility in his Padawan, while Anakin had resisted the whole idea the way most boys avoided baths. His practice of "moving meditation" - hands busy, mind at rest - had been a hard-fought compromise. And now... "You want to meditate," he repeated.
Anakin's smile was tight, but reassuring. "Special circumstances. Don't get used to it."
"Well, go ahead," Obi-Wan said, waving a hand, and it was worth it for the exasperated look it got him.
"A little support?" Anakin prompted, shifting back into a comfortable pose on the seat, drawing his legs up.
Obi-Wan smiled, doing the same. When Anakin said, "Ready?" he considered mentioning that meditation was not a race. But instead, he simply closed his eyes and let himself fall into stillness.
When was the last time he'd meditated properly? Not desperately shunted the galaxy aside for a brief gasp of serenity, like lifting out of water after being submerged. But actually embracing the deepest contemplation. Relaxing into it.
How long since Anakin had gone missing?
He was relieved to have him back. Certainly, the present circumstances were troubling, somewhat disconcerting, but from the first moment, Anakin had not been a person who brought calm and ease with him. Obi-Wan had come to welcome his challenges, to feel himself shift to meet them.
These weeks past, when he'd thought Anakin dead, had been unpleasant. It would be useful to say that the loss of the Chosen One perturbed him. It would be truthful to say it was merely the loss of Anakin.
His eyes were open, and he was seeing again, though balanced yet in internal stillness. The sunlight had shifted. The time that had past was almost visible in the room, like unravelled twine. Anakin, opposite him, was a pillar of dark silence in its spangled, spun tangle. Obi-Wan felt a burnished glow of pride for the boy; stillness had never come easily for him.
Gaze wandering over his features, Obi-Wan wondered if it became him. Maybe it was simply the novelty of seeing him in repose that made him so beautiful. When had he last watched Anakin sleep? Not for years. The opportunity had not presented itself; Anakin was no longer the bright-eyed boy who slept when he was tired, even if there was nothing more comfortable than Obi-Wan's shoulder available. But even in sleep, at least as that child, he had not been inclined to stillness.
"Don't," Anakin mumbled, lips barely moving.
The word shattered Obi-Wan's trance. "What?"
Eyes clenching a little tighter closed, Anakin said, "Don't watch me." A hoarse whisper, close to cracking.
Obi-Wan dragged his gaze away, forced breath into his lungs. It was difficult, coming back to his body, making it stand and move limbs that had grown still and quiet. He managed; went out onto the balcony.
The sunsets here were as awe-inspiring as the sunrises, the entire arch of the sky stained with artists' shades. This one was particularly impressive. But Obi-Wan didn't call Anakin out to see it.
When Obi-Wan rose the next day, significantly after the beautiful sunrise, Anakin was awake, and dressed, and sitting in the main room, two-thirds of a droid slumped in front of him and the rest scattered around. Obi-Wan recognised it as one of the simple messenger droids used in the palace. Anakin had taken up that suggestion, then.
"Up already," Obi-Wan said.
He watched Anakin's hands move. A bolt came loose, and Anakin dropped it beside him. He wasn't usually one to completely disassemble something, but he seemed determined to reduce this droid to its constituent parts. He was full of something like grim determination, and not the usual dance of dexterity. There were quite a number of bits of droid on the floor. "Couldn't sleep?" Obi-Wan asked.
Anakin did not look away from the droid. Obi-Wan didn't pursue it further. He made himself breakfast to the occasional accompaniment of a new droid-part hitting the steadily mounting pile of same.
It was not soothing. It was too irregular, too bound up with Anakin's frustration, his restlessness coming off him in almost tangible waves, not noticeably disrupted by the focus of his concentration on destroying the droid.
Obi-Wan escaped back to his room, but couldn't close the door, couldn't shut Anakin out (not now) and there was no escape from the creeping infection of his jangling unease. Obi-Wan found his own fingers tapping, his thoughts skittering off to physical activities, potential purges of these jitters. But lightsaber practice was impossible with Anakin's blade still in Obi-Wan's possession, and unarmed sparring (hands on his skin, grappling grip, Anakin yielding as he had in the 'fresher, that sound in his mouth) seemed a bad idea.
He tried to meditate, but it didn't really work. He'd rather blame the noise from the main room than the turmoil in his head, but the one was as much a failure as the other.
The day trickled by. When he noticed the percussion had ceased, it was dark and he was not sure how old the silence was.
And then it was broken. A metallic crash, a succession of small skitters and thuds. Without much urgency, Obi-Wan went into the main room.
Anakin was standing in the centre of a circle of metallic debris, an extra fan of metallic parts sprayed out from him - bolts, panel parts, circuit arrays. Some were still settling, whirring gently with momentum, and Anakin - Anakin was not settling. Hands in fists by his sides, shoulders heaving with the breaths he was wrestling into his lungs. His eyes were closed, but his face was open and writ with roiling desperation.
"Anakin," Obi-Wan said, the word jerked out of him without clear intention. It burst the younger Knight's eyes open, and he was close to wild, something burning there, and Obi-Wan had to keep talking, had to somehow keep the flood at bay, because if he didn't, if he didn't... "Aren't you going to put it back together?" he asked, gesturing at the scattered remnants of the droid. Not removing his gaze from Anakin's. Not capable of it.
Anakin shook his head slowly, and then again, with more force, more denial, his eyes closing again, his clenched hands coming up to his temples. "I can't," he muttered through grit teeth. "I can't. I can't concentrate on anything. I can only... take apart."
The words were torn from him, so much distress in them that Obi-Wan was moving before he thought of it, striding carefully between the debris until he stood before Anakin. At the touch of his hand to shoulder, Anakin's eyes opened again, and Obi-Wan remembered that perhaps that was not wise. He did not withdraw, however. Said, "No, it's just the drug. You'll be fine. You will."
He seemed to waver, just the smallest undulation of movement beneath Obi-Wan's palm on his shoulder. Obi-Wan was very aware that he was touching a living thing - a troubled living thing. Anakin's hands had lowered, no longer fists. There was pressure against Obi-Wan's hand; Anakin was leaning forward, just a little, and no matter how much he tried to block it out, there was something like desperation in the boy's eyes.
"Tell me what to do," Anakin muttered, close enough that Obi-Wan could feel the passage of the words through the air.
His grip tightened, and Anakin's eyes blurred. No, he thought, and he said, "Just the drug." He couldn't, he shouldn't, he mustn't.
"Master." The word was a breath, stealing Obi-Wan's. Dragging air into his lungs, he stepped back, pushing off Anakin's shoulder with an open palm. It was like launching into space. Fighting against gravity.
"You should tidy this up, at least," he said.
Anakin folded his hands in front of him, bowed his head, eyes hidden. "Yes, Master."
There was not nearly enough darkness in the universe to muffle the things that kept Obi-Wan awake.
Sandy-eyed, he sat up again when the world was silvered by the anticipation of the dawn to follow. The sky was mercury-roiling, sliced through by the vapour trail of a shuttle heading for space.
Soon, Obi-Wan knew, they would have to be on one. They were needed in a war that gave no respite. Days, a week, I don't know, Quinlan had said.
That's the antidote, he'd said.
Obi-Wan knew, somehow, he'd make sure there was time. Even as he opened his bedroom door, he thought there would be something he could do.
He almost fell over Anakin.
The young man looked up as Obi-Wan caught himself on the doorframe. His eyes were dark, carved from the sleepless night not quite over. He was kneeling, hands on knees clad in trousers that were all he was wearing. His skin was tightened against the temperature of the room. "It's cold," Obi-Wan said, caught in the doorway.
"It's helped," Anakin replied.
Caught indeed. There was nowhere forward to go, Anakin at his feet. Stepping backwards was an unthinkable retreat. "How long have--"
He swallowed the rest of it, but Anakin answered as though he hadn't: "All night."
Silence stretched around them, pressed them together in its stillness. The bruises on Anakin's wrist, Obi-Wan noticed, were almost gone. So fast. Was that the drug as well? If someone were regularly dosed, they might need that, the ability to quickly recover the physical damage inflicted upon them. So that it could be done again.
Those weren't even his memories, of wrists bound, arms braced against restraint. They were never going to be.
Obi-Wan wanted to close his eyes. Couldn't break the hold Anakin's had upon him. All night, he'd been here. On his knees? The room beyond him was clean, clear of the mess it had held the evening before. It couldn't have taken that long, and then he was here, watching the plane of Obi-Wan's door.
"I couldn't even knock," Anakin said, voice low and blank. "I can't help myself. Can't knock to make you come and help me." His eyes burnt; he gripped his knees now, as he had in the refresher. "Master," he said, less a plea, more an accusation, "you know how to help me."
Obi-Wan did. He gripped the doorframe as if holding himself up. Back. Still. He felt his breath, aware of it and unable to stop it slipping out of his control. He knew. He knew, but he shook his head.
And Anakin shook his. "You taught me. Observe the effects, and you will understand the intention. And I want..." A shudder dragged his eyelids down, ricocheted along Obi-Wan's shoulders. He teetered, grip slipping him a little forward, and Anakin's eyes snapped open again, burning and not so much beckoning as demanding.
"Anakin," Obi-Wan said. Trying to fend this off.
He didn't move. Just said, "I can't concentrate. I can't hear for the noise inside me. And I can't hold on much longer." His breath was starting to come audibly, making his chest twitch. "I'm losing control, and if I lose it... I can't..."
Can't put it into words, but he didn't need to, because how long had they been together? Long enough for Obi-Wan to know, to realise, about Anakin and control.
His eyes weren't burning now. They were wild. Desperate. "I won't make it through. Obi-Wan. Please."
He had never, in all these years, heard Anakin beg. It (or something) jolted his fingers free of the doorframe. He knelt in front of his former Padawan; they'd faced each other like this before, even with Anakin shirtless (his predilection for casual nudity just one more annoyance of his teenage years). But this time, Anakin was trembling.
His hand lifted from his knee, and Obi-Wan said, quiet but firm, "No." Anakin stopped; movement, tremble, entirely. Stillness, that beautiful stillness, like he'd had beneath Obi-Wan in the 'fresher.
Obi-Wan reached, as Anakin waited. Shaped his hand behind Anakin's neck before he touched, wrapping his hand over the collar, curling fingers against his nape, into his hair. And gripped. Anakin's head fell back against his hand, eyes dropping closed, lips parting. He almost hung from Obi-Wan's hold, utterly malleable.
When he kissed him, Anakin was anything but limp, kissing him back, tilting his head between Obi-Wan's hand and his mouth. Breath on his tongue. Demand and yielding and anger and weakness, an offer and a need.
And Obi-Wan gave in.
The sun still loitered below the horizon. Obi-Wan's windows were open, and the light was the pale blue of suspension, the lilac of a breath held. It brought out the luminescence in pale things. The sheets of Obi-Wan's bed. Anakin's skin against them. He had settled on the bed, limbs quiet, body still.
Obi-Wan leant over him, straddling his hips, arms braced beside his shoulders. When Anakin moved - shrugged a shoulder, shifted his knee - Obi-Wan brushed him away, murmured a chastisement. Wondered how long that would be sufficient.
Relax, Obi-Wan had said, pushing him back onto the bed. I will be in control. Or had he never said it out loud? Maybe they just known that was what he was agreeing to. What he was taking on.
The breath he took was steady enough, as was the hand he laid on Anakin's bare arm, skimming its touch up towards the shoulder on the rippling shiver that ran over Anakin's skin. As Obi-Wan ran two fingers along Anakin's collarbone, the younger Knight lifted his chin, just a little. Just enough to make tendons flex against the black band at his throat.
Obi-Wan hooked a finger beneath it. Anakin made a small sound (pleased, arrested) and his head tilted back further. The barest tug against the collar lifted him from the bed, his body arching up towards Obi-Wan's. Obi-Wan lowered his head, brushed his cheek against Anakin's. Inhaled against his skin, feeling the blood beat in his own body.
Anakin whined more than whimpered, his hands sliding against the sheets until they braced above Obi-Wan's knees. "No," Obi-Wan whispered in Anakin's ear, but he simply arched more, chest brushing Obi-Wan's; fingers flexed tighter at his thighs.
Letting him fall, Obi-Wan gripped his wrists, pried his hands free. There was a bright, vicious glint in Anakin's eyes, and Obi-Wan understood that he had done this to force the response. He gave it anyway. He knew what game they were playing, what line they were walking.
Pinning Anakin's wrists to the bed, stretched out wide, brought them close together. Anakin's breath was warm and quick against Obi-Wan's face as he flexed against the restraint. He twisted his human wrist in Obi-Wan's grip, skin catching and smearing, and Obi-Wan wondered how that felt, inside Anakin's body. A heightening of sensation, Quinlan had said. He clenched his grip tighter, feeling bones creak and Anakin's breath catch.
"Stay," he ordered, and sat up.
He could bind Anakin with the Force; he could summon something, his belt perhaps; but that wouldn't be... right. He pulled his tunic up and off over his head. It was old; it gave along the seams with ease. Ripping one panel in half was harder, but by the time he was done, Anakin had shifted, his hands gripping the bedposts. His body thrummed beneath Obi-Wan as the knots were tied. A flimsy restraint. A symbol. Enough.
Obi-Wan trailed his fingers over Anakin's bound wrists. Brought his head down again, his hair brushing Anakin's cheek as he said, "I saw your dream. Your memory. The whipping." Anakin shuddered, and Obi-Wan gripped him, fingers in his hair as he leaned back to hold his gaze. "I will not hurt you."
Short of breath, Anakin barely tugged against his grip. "You could."
Obi-Wan slid his legs straight, pressed himself down atop Anakin. Let gravity settle his weight, settle them together, the jut of his erection against Anakin's hip then, as he shifted slightly, against Anakin's own. Anakin's head went back on a groan, his skull pressed to Obi-Wan's knuckles, and Obi-Wan whispered into the hollow of his throat: "Never."
He pressed his mouth to Anakin's neck, and it arched further, stretching tendons, and there it was again, the beautiful sweep of muscle, and this time Obi-Wan did not resist. He closed his teeth against flesh, and Anakin jerked up against him. He sucked, tasting blood beneath the skin. Noise and breath commingled in Anakin's throat.
Obi-Wan lifted his head. "Careful," he said, the chiding tone easy to fall into. "You'll pull loose."
Anakin looked up, his eyes fogged and dark. As he opened his mouth, Obi-Wan covered it with his own. Less a kiss than a smothering. Anakin pushed up against him, as much as he could, and Obi-Wan pushed back, shoulders, hips and Anakin grunted into his mouth. Obi-Wan did it again; a shift, a roll of his weight. A moan this time, and as Anakin's mouth fell away, Obi-Wan caught Anakin's bottom lip between his teeth, and the moan became a whimper.
Obi-Wan let him go, chuckling, and Anakin fumbled his breath as Obi-Wan's hand slipped down his stomach, under the waistband of his pants. He was hot, hard, jerking against Obi-Wan's palm. Over-eager and furrow-browed, his eyes shut tight. Just one stroke, and then Obi-Wan was sliding down his body, ignoring Anakin's whine. He stripped Anakin's pants off - his own as well - and considered him from there, kneeling over his thighs. Anakin craned to see him, tugging against his restraints not nearly enough to pull them loose.
"Master," he said, voice wound tight with frustration bleeding into desperation.
Obi-Wan smiled - Anakin shivered - and he said, "Lie back. Close your eyes."
Anakin did, another tremour ghosting over his skin. Obi-Wan waited, watching it skitter, watching the lashes on Anakin's cheeks. The sun was rising now, painting Anakin's skin dusky orange. The room was on fire, the walls vermillion.
He leaned forward, resting his hand on the bed next to Anakin's thigh, close enough that Anakin could feel the shift of balance in the mattress. Not close enough to touch. Watched the muscle of his thigh twitch. Leaned forward further; breathed across his ribs. A shaky breath hissed in.
Obi-Wan smiled, and moved on. A slow, tantalising guerilla campaign of sensation; he'd let his hair brush over Anakin's shoulder, then bite the inside of his hip, suck blood to the surface. Lean his weight in one place, only to touch somewhere completely different. Each touch lifted a response from Anakin. Fingertips, palm, tongue, breath, eyelashes, fingernails; scoring lightly over the flexing muscle of Anakin's leg. Leaving the faintest red welts on his inner thigh as his legs parted obediently, eagerly, under the faintest pressure.
Until Anakin's breathing had little rhythm, the unwilling sounds from his lips no words, and Obi-Wan was too hard to ignore any longer.
"You can open your eyes," Obi-Wan said blandly, settling his hips between Anakin's thighs, watching those eyes burst open, wild and staring at the ceiling.
They fixed on him, and there was an explosive breath, the press of Anakin's knee against his side. "Please." The word was a gasp in the back of Anakin's mouth.
"What do you want?" Obi-Wan asked, smoothing his hands firm over Anakin's bare skin, hot beneath his palms.
The younger man was breathless, managing nothing more than a whimper. Obi-Wan removed first one hand, then the other, and he tossed his head. "Master!"
"What do you want?"
"You." Petulant. Frantic. Glaring.
Obi-Wan smiled, shaped his hands to Anakin's hips. "No. Say it."
Anakin's back arched, his body perfect, even not under his control, and he said, remarkably clear, "I want you to fuck me."
"Yes," Obi-Wan said. Like a promise. Like everything he wanted in this moment. So very like.
The words burned in his veins like the drug burned in Anakin's. If he closed his eyes he could fall, lost, into them, but even with his eyes open there was nothing so real as the feel of skin yielding everywhere Obi-Wan touched it. He pushed, and watched the slump of Anakin's head against his own arm, braced by external restraint and none of his own. Watched the last vestige of control slip from his face like shadows fleeing the sun.
Obi-Wan gathered him up; his to do with as he pleased, to set to his own beat, to drive forward, to touch, to taste. He pressed him with moulding fingertips, the tang of sweat on his tongue. "I want you to scream," he said, with the words flat against Anakin's flesh. And Anakin...
The sun was fully risen; it had completed the process some time when Obi-Wan wasn't really paying attention. Its light slanted bright across the room from the open windows, missing the bed and etching itself on the wall.
Anakin was asleep already, heavy-limbed and barely grizzling when Obi-Wan levered him off his arm.
Not a murmur when Obi-Wan slipped his fingers beneath the collar. The fastening opened with a faint click. The collar hadn't left so much as a mark on Anakin's neck. Obi-Wan slid it out from beneath his sleeping head, and wrapped it around his fingers. It was nothing more than a thin length of strange leather, now.
Anakin rolled towards Obi-Wan, pressing his face into the pillow. Obi-Wan brushed leather-wrapped knuckles down Anakin's cheek, and he muttered, shrugged his shoulder. All the grace of a sleeping bantha. But he was still beautiful. Grumbling, fidgeting, never still.