He didn’t know what was happening at first—just that one moment, there was nothing, and in the next, there was a suffocating sensation in his chest, and he knew that something was wrong.
Anakin was still sitting in the cockpit—he hadn’t moved, just as Qui-Gon had instructed—but the joy and pride of winning the battle had suddenly drained away. In the hangar of the Theed Royal Palace, the air felt stale.
And then the door opened, and Qui-Gon Jinn’s Padawan emerged alone.
Anakin sat up, already searching in the space beyond. Where was—
And then he was getting up, slipping out of the ship, landing on the tiled ground as Obi-Wan made his way across the hanger. He saw Obi-Wan pause by the cluster of guards, say a few words, but Anakin was too far away to make out what was being said. But he saw the grim set of the guards’ faces, the slight hunch in Obi-Wan’s shoulders, and Anakin was suddenly walking forward, and with each step closer, that suffocation in his chest made it harder and harder to breathe until he was standing right behind Obi-Wan and waiting—
Anakin heard himself ask the question. But at the same time, the answer was already resounding in his mind as Obi-Wan turned, slowly, as if he’d aged ten years since he’d seen him last.
Anakin had seen that look before in other people, he remembered dully. When there had been too-long stretches of time of losing and losing and losing until loss seemed like the only thing that existed in the galaxy.
But then Obi-Wan was turning to Anakin fully. He was lowering himself by his knee so that they were eye-to-eye. Up this close, Anakin noticed that Obi-Wan’s eyes were a strange combination of blue and grey, and they looked oddly clear.
“He’s dead, isn’t he?” Anakin asked at last. His own voice sounded distant in his ears. “Something hurt him.” His mind flashed to a cloaked figure, a flash of red light. “That thing.”
He searched Obi-Wan’s face, found all the confirmation he needed.
“He is gone,” Obi-Wan said at last, and for a moment, Anakin thought that Obi-Wan’s voice was lower than he remembered. But then Obi-Wan was looking at Anakin again, his eyes still oddly clear. “And so is that creature.” This time, Anakin knew that Obi-Wan’s voice didn’t have that brittle heat underlying it a moment ago.
“Did you…” Anakin started to ask, looking at the hilt of the lightsaber dangling at Obi-Wan’s side.
Obi-Wan followed Anakin’s gaze, looked back at him. “I did,” he said simply, and there was no heat there anymore—just a hollowness.
“What’s going to happen now?” Anakin asked, looking to where the guards were still rushing around the hanger.
Obi-Wan looked, and Anakin had the feeling—not just a feeling, Anakin knew—that he wasn’t looking at the guards. “We greet Naboo,” he said. “We celebrate a victory.”
Anakin wasn’t sure this felt like a victory for Obi-Wan. But he nodded and straightened himself as Obi-Wan stood up. They started across the hangar, and the sound of their footsteps against the marble echoed like a heartbeat.
Anakin glanced back only once, to the place where Obi-Wan had emerged a moment ago.
Anakin turned back around to look at Obi-Wan. “Coming,” he said, and he quickened his pace to meet Obi-Wan’s stride.
They walked out of the hanger together.
Anakin had always suspected the Council loved to hear itself talk, but this was getting ridiculous.
He was supposed to meet Obi-Wan and Ahsoka for dinner—stretches of time at the Temple were few and far between, and they were all eager for a home-cooked meal instead of ration bars. But still, the war found a way to keep them from it. Obi-Wan had been in the briefing for ages, and as Anakin sat in the hall outside, the drone of muffled voices nearly put him to sleep.
And then he heard the screams.
“There will be more innocent blood on your hands, Kenobi, unless you come here. Face me.”
A voice—one Anakin didn’t recognize—loud enough to ring clearly through the durasteel door. And suddenly Anakin was scrambling to his feet, pressing his ear up against the wall, filled with a dread he couldn’t quite name. Something’s off. Wrong.
The voice screeched in his ears.
“Come alone, and if you do not...this world burns.”
Anakin’s chest was tight. He took a breath, but felt suffocated—as if he’d been sucked out into the vacuum of space, lungs crushed from the pressure as his heart pumped empty blood through his veins. But he remembered. He’d felt this way once before, years ago.
No. It couldn’t be...it couldn’t...
Anakin realized he was still pressing his cheek up against the door in an effort to hear. He straightened, finding Ahsoka behind him with an arched brow.
“Are you eavesdropping on the Council?”
“No. Yes. Just give me a second, alright?”
And they both heard it then—Master Yoda’s voice wisping through the durasteel.
“Finish what he started long ago, Obi-Wan must.”
“What’s he talking about?” Ahsoka whispered, looking at Anakin. “What did Master Kenobi start? What’s going—”
But before Anakin could tell Ahsoka off completely, the doors slid open. Anakin just barely caught Ahsoka and yanked them both backwards before they could topple straight into Obi-Wan.
For a moment, the three only looked at each other. Anakin was distinctly aware of some of the Council members in front of him, pointedly pretending that they didn’t just see Ahsoka and himself at the door.
“Anakin,” Obi-Wan said wearily. “What are you doing here?”
Outwardly, Obi-Wan wore a straight face like a mask. To a stranger, he looked like a picture of calm. But the tightness in Anakin’s chest kept growing, and Obi-Wan’s eyes were dull and dark, and Anakin was no stranger.
“Nevermind,” Obi-Wan said. “I believe we have dinner plans, don’t we?”
Obi-Wan tried to step past him, but Anakin blocked his path.
“Obi-Wan,” Anakin repeated, trying to catch his former master’s eye. “That was his voice. He left a message for you—after all this time, he’s alive—”
“We don’t know that for sure,” Obi-Wan interrupted. And then he sighed, straightened himself. Each movement slow, precise, careful in the way they always were right before battle. Or a particularly challenging negotiation.
Negotiating with me, Anakin realized.
“How can we not know for sure?” Anakin asked. “He left a hologram message for you—”
“Holograms can be faked,” Obi-Wan countered.
“That was his voice—you can’t fake a voice—”
“To his exact—”
“Anakin,” Obi-Wan said sharply. “Stop. We can’t jump to conclusions.”
“Jump to conclusions about what?”
Obi-Wan and Anakin both turned. Ahsoka had pushed her way forward, arms crossed, tapping her foot. “Whose voice?”
Anakin’s eyes trailed back to Obi-Wan’s. And for just a moment, he saw the mask crack. Looking away, he gave Anakin an almost imperceptible nod.
Anakin decided that was the best he was going to get for now. He looked back to Ahsoka, whose arms had unfolded just slightly, her foot no longer tapping as she registered the strange silence between them all.
“Darth Maul,” Anakin said. He looked at Ahsoka, tried to calculate exactly how old she must have been when the events of Naboo happened—if Ahsoka might have any memories herself. But looking at Ahsoka’s still clueless expression, he decided that she probably didn’t. “Before the war,” Anakin started slowly, “there was an apprentice of the Dark Side. He was dangerous.”
Ahsoka’s eyes flicked over to Obi-Wan briefly, then back to Anakin.
“He killed a Jedi, actually,” Anakin said, and he saw Ahsoka’s eyes flick to Obi-Wan again. He could see the thoughts slowly turning in her head, and he realized that even if she didn’t remember the events of Naboo, she most certainly had to have learned of some of it in a class somewhere.
“Master Qui-Gon Jinn,” Ahsoka remembered.
Anakin didn’t reply. He stole a glance at Obi-Wan—noticed his hands tucked into his sleeves, imagined they were closed into fists—though his face was still carefully blank. And then he saw the way Ahsoka was looking at Obi-Wan.
“You were the one who killed him,” Ahsoka said slowly. “And...he’s back.”
“We don’t know that,” Obi-Wan said, though now the sharpness had drained from his voice. He wasn’t negotiating now—just repeating empty words, like a mantra. “We don’t know anything.”
Anakin felt a pang at the exhaustion in Obi-Wan’s voice. “Obi-Wan...are you—”
Anakin winced. “I was going to ask if you’re going after him.”
“Ah.” For a moment, Obi-Wan almost looked as though he had been caught—but before Anakin could say anything else, Obi-Wan shook his head. “Someone has to find the source of that message.”
“And that someone has to be you,” Anakin said. “That’s what Master Yoda implied. Basically said.”
“You really should stop eavesdropping—it’s not a good habit.”
“Don’t change the subject.”
Obi-Wan looked at Anakin. “Yes, Anakin,” he said after another beat of too-loud silence. “I’m going to find out what I can about whoever sent that message. Darth Maul or not.”
“Then I’ll go with you.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Obi-Wan said. “Or possible, in fact. The Council has another assignment for you.”
“But you can’t go alone.”
“I will do what I must.”
“You’ll do what you—” Anakin stopped himself, broke off with a sigh. And then he registered Obi-Wan’s other words. “Wait, what do you mean, the Council has another assignment—”
“For Ahsoka and yourself,” Obi-Wan clarified. “You’ll get the details later today, I assume. So you must remain here and wait.”
Anakin stared. Then he turned back around to the Council chambers, and already he knew that Ahsoka was prepared to go in there with him, but then—
“Don’t even think about it,” Obi-Wan said.
“Don’t even think—” Anakin turned back around to Obi-Wan. And he found, with no small amount of frustration, that there was no crack in Obi-Wan’s mask now. Except for the eyes—Anakin could always tell from the eyes.
It was Ahsoka who broke the silence at last.
“Even if the message isn’t coming from Maul,” she said slowly, “wouldn’t it be wise to have backup?”
Briefly, Obi-Wan managed to look smug. “You heard it yourself, didn’t you?” he said, then sobered. “I’m to go alone. And as long as there are lives at stake, that is what I’ll do.”
“Anakin,” Obi-Wan said. “Wait for your assignment. May the Force be with you.”
He left them there, open-mouthed, unuttered arguments on their lips. And as he watched Obi-Wan disappear down the hall, the tightness in Anakin’s chest only grew.
“He’s really doing this by himself,” Ahsoka said long after Obi-Wan had gone. She turned to Anakin, her lips pursed and brows furrowed. “But Master Kenobi can…” Her voice drifted as she looked back down the hall, as though looking alone might provide a solution. “He can handle it, right?”
Anakin folded his arms over his chest. Decided that didn’t help. He dropped his arms back to his sides. “He’ll handle it,” he decided to say. He looked down at Ahsoka. “Come on. We better get ready for whatever the Council has for us.”
Ahsoka nodded, and they started down the hall.
All the while, Anakin tried to answer Ahsoka’s question for himself: he can handle it, Anakin thought. But what about after?
His left leg had become oddly numb since getting off the ship, and judging by the pain that flared whenever he took breath, Obi-Wan guessed he had broken a rib somewhere. Ventress had even grumbled something about his face looking “particularly miserable,” so best he try to make himself appear “semi-tolerable” again. Which Obi-Wan would have found amusing—he had nearly laughed at that, moreso out of the sheer strangeness of the fact that it was Ventress, of all people, who had appeared at his side. But any amusement Obi-Wan had felt in the last few hours had long since faded, replaced only by the need to see to whatever damage he had actually taken—
Obi-Wan only just reached the Halls of Healing, still struggling around the unpleasant pain that came with walking even a short distance. He was prepared to walk inside—steeled himself to go inside, moreso, because he knew the healers wouldn’t be very pleased, but he at least anticipated that.
He didn’t, however, anticipate hearing Anakin and Ahsoka’s voices in the room.
Obi-Wan turned around faster than he thought his worn body could take him. He didn’t think they’d seen him—though he’d just caught a glimpse of Ahsoka’s lekku when he turned the corner. He’d come back later. He couldn’t let them see—not when he looked like this, not when he’d failed so miserably…
He had nearly hobbled back out the door when he heard it.
He didn’t dare turn around. He could feel Ahsoka in the hall behind him, her eyes boring holes into the back of his head, as Anakin appeared beside her. The Force swam with their fear.
Obi-Wan let out a breath. He could hear their footsteps now, quiet but quick, urgent—
Obi-Wan felt a hand touch his elbow, start to turn him around, but before he could be forced around himself, he took a small step away. He let out another small breath—one that he was sure Anakin and Ahsoka could hear, but—
He turned himself around.
He wasn’t sure whose reaction was worse: Ahsoka, whose lips parted before she lifted a hand up to her mouth—or Anakin, whose expression changed from fear and bewilderment to shock to anger to something like grief. It couldn’t really be called grief—it wasn’t as though Obi-Wan had died, but Anakin was looking at him like he might have.
“What happened?” Anakin’s voice was low, his eyes darting over Obi-Wan’s face.
Obi-Wan tried to smile, though he feared it was more of a grimace. “What, isn’t this how I always look?”
“You always look like you’re on death’s door?” Ahsoka said.
Obi-Wan waved her away. “I’m fine. I’ll just go look for Master Che—”
“It was him, then,” Anakin said. “Maul.”
Obi-Wan forced himself to look at Anakin, to meet the worry in his eyes.
“Yes,” he said quietly.
“Still out there.” Obi-Wan broke eye contact then, knowing if he didn’t, Anakin would read the darkness in them.
A heavy silence blanketed them all. Obi-Wan was too aware of the eyes still watching him, the words struggling to get out. He tried to think of his own words, something to fill the silence for them all, but he found nothing there, just a blankness and a blackness that he wasn’t sure came out of exhaustion or the knowledge that Maul was alive or that perhaps he really should sit down, because—
Ahsoka broke the silence first. “I can go get Master Che,” she said. She looked at Obi-Wan, bright eyes searching his face in the same way that Anakin had just a few moments ago. The same furrowed brows, the same intent written over the face. Obi-Wan was struck not for the first time by how similar the two had grown.
Obi-Wan managed a nod of thanks, and Ahsoka gave him a tight-lipped smile.
And then she turned to find Vokara Che, leaving Obi-Wan alone with Anakin.
“You should…” Anakin gestured to one of the cots.
Obi-Wan was too tired to protest. He felt his joints creak as he sank down, muscles screaming.
“They can’t send you after him again,” Anakin said. “Not alone. I should’ve been there—”
“No,” Obi-Wan said sharply. “And we’re not having this discussion again.”
“Next time,” Obi-Wan said, “I won’t fail.”
He pretended not to notice the way Anakin’s eyebrows went up, the way Anakin’s hand reached for his shoulder but faltered on its way. And as silence overtook them, there was a moment where Obi-Wan felt his throat getting tight, felt himself on the verge of telling Anakin everything, felt himself start to break.
But then Ahsoka returned with Vokara Che, and the moment was gone.
“Master Kenobi! And here I thought I’d see a full week without you in my waiting room. What have you done this time? I can sense your concussion from here…”
She shooed Anakin and Ahsoka out of the room, but not before Anakin caught his eye one final time, with a look so piercing Obi-Wan almost had to look away. And as he read the grief in Anakin’s face, felt his body ache as he laid back on the cot, Obi-Wan thought vaguely that perhaps he had died after all.
Obi-Wan didn’t remember falling asleep, but he must have, because suddenly he could hear voices above him that he was fairly certain he hadn’t been hearing just a moment ago.
“He looks awful. What exactly—”
“You don’t want to know.”
“Master, his face—that wasn’t just dueling, that was...personal.”
“I know—” An abrupt silence, and then, quieter, “I know. I’m worried too.”
“I know you are.” That was definitely Ahsoka’s voice, Obi-Wan could tell now. Ahsoka and Anakin, sitting somewhere down the cot. He could feel the prickle of their gazes over him right now, could practically see the expressions on their faces. Obi-Wan tried to keep his breathing even. Hoped that would be enough to give off the impression that he was still asleep. He couldn’t bring himself to open his eyes anyways, but even if he did, something in him twisted at the idea of seeing their pained faces again.
But then he heard Ahsoka’s quiet, “I just...I haven’t seen him that bad before—and this—” Obi-Wan heard the slight drag and skip of her voice, and he wished there was a way he really could fall back asleep, because he didn’t want to hear that pain.
Someone exhaled slowly—Anakin—and there was a shifting at the foot of the cot. And in the silence that followed, Obi-Wan wondered what he was thinking—maybe reliving the days after Naboo, or the sight of Obi-Wan collapsing at Point Rain, or his raw skin in the wake of Kadavo. But even so, they both knew it:
This, somehow, was worse.
“He’ll pull through.” At last, Obi-Wan heard Anakin’s voice again. “He’s Obi-Wan—it’s what he does.”
He heard Ahsoka start to say something else. But then he felt it—a twinge in his lungs, still tight and prickling with the ghost of broken ribs, and felt a cough building in his chest. He tried to stifle it—and very nearly succeeded—but then his breathing hitched anyway.
Ahsoka and Anakin fell silent.
Obi-Wan could practically feel them exchange a glance, the air suddenly charged and tense. He forced his breathing steady—or as steady as he could manage—until he felt the cot shift again, and there was nothing.
Nothing except a flutter of dread in the Force, and Anakin’s words echoing in his mind—he’ll pull through.
As sleep reclaimed him, Obi-Wan found himself wondering whether this time, Anakin might have been wrong.
Obi-Wan’s body had mostly healed—Anakin noticed he could walk without limping, at least, and he only winced a little when he coughed. Or laughed—but Obi-Wan wasn’t doing much laughing these days. Anakin kept searching his eyes, waiting for that familiar light to return, but found none.
He wasn’t the only one watching, either. He’d caught Ahsoka’s gaze lingering a little bit longer than necessary, noticed Master Yoda stop in the hall when Obi-Wan went past. They, too, seemed to notice that his body wasn’t the only part of him that was wounded.
And still—and still, Anakin watched Obi-Wan hold lessons for younglings in all topics ranging from saber forms to literature. Anakin nearly interrupted one of Obi-Wan’s classes just because he was sure that that had been the fourth class Obi-Wan had taught in the day, but Ahsoka had yanked him back last second.
“I want to help him as much as you do,” Ahsoka hissed when Anakin started to twist out of her grip, “but I don’t think interrupting his class is going to work.”
“Well, he can’t just keep that up,” Anakin hissed back, gesturing to the door.
Ahsoka glanced at the door behind Anakin and puffed out a sigh. “I know,” she said. “We have to think of something else.”
Anakin paused. And then he stared at Ahsoka accusingly. “You were going to interrupt his class too, weren’t you?”
“Yeah, and then I saw that you were doing the same thing, and then I figured that maybe it was a bad idea,” Ahsoka replied without missing a beat. Anakin let out a small sound, but Ahsoka ignored him, instead looking at the door again. “There has to be some other way to make him relax. Or feel better. Preferably both.”
Anakin glanced back at the door. He could hear Obi-Wan’s voice cutting above the younglings’ excited babble, and again, Anakin wondered if it was too late to interrupt the class anyways. He would even be willing to take over for the remaining hour—but then he remembered that the last time he had tried to take over a class, it mostly ended with Anakin teaching the younglings something that was completely off-topic. (The younglings hadn’t minded, but the teacher had. Just slightly.)
“Wait,” Anakin said. “I think I know just the thing.”
They ambushed him the second he came out of the classroom—the younglings dispersed, and when Obi-Wan emerged with sagging shoulders a few moments later, Anakin was already throwing an arm around his shoulder while Ahsoka pulled his wrist.
“What are you two doing?” Obi-Wan said. Seeing the purple bags beneath his eyes, Anakin wondered if he’d even managed to sleep at all since the Halls.
“Just keep walking,” Ahsoka chirped.
“I have reports to file. Lesson plans to write—”
“Which can wait,” Anakin said, “until you’ve had dinner.”
Obi-Wan was still grumbling as they shoved him through the passenger door of Anakin’s favorite speeder. Ahsoka climbed in the back, leaning forward between the two front seats.
“Hey, Skyguy...don’t you think it’s a perfect night to break our speed record?”
Anakin leaned back, smirking. “I think it is.”
“Please, Anakin,” Obi-Wan moaned. “It’s called a speed limit, and it’s not meant to be broken—”
“Buckle your seatbelts.”
“And also, Master Kenobi,” Ahsoka said cheerfully, “plenty of things are meant to be broken. Like eggs, stereotypes—”
“Expectations,” Anakin added.
“You can’t break an expectation, Anakin—” Obi-Wan started, but Ahsoka was still going.
“—glass in case of emergency, and—”
“Records,” Anakin said smugly.
Obi-Wan sighed, resting his forehead against a barely curled fist. “Why do I even bother.”
“You really shouldn’t,” Ahsoka said.
Anakin saw Obi-Wan shake his head a little, and he took that as the signal to start up the speeder. He at least graced them with a slow ascent—the engine needed some time to warm up anyways, but in almost no time at all, they were in the air and joining the lanes of other rushing speeders.
“See, there’s too many people here,” Obi-Wan said, just barely lifting his forehead from his fist. “So no breaking any speed records today.”
“Only on this level,” Anakin said. He revved up the engine again, tossed both Obi-Wan and Ahsoka his most winning smile. “There’s a shortcut.”
“Anakin, no shortcut—”
“Yes, shortcut,” Ahsoka enthused.
“Shortcut it is,” Anakin said.
Sorry, Master, Anakin thought, already pressing the speeder forward. But you need this.
And then he was driving them up in a burst of energy and light and sound, and he heard shouts from both confused and angry drivers around him as he lifted their speeder higher and higher—
“Hold on!” Anakin shouted over his shoulder.
“Do we have a choice?” came Obi-Wan’s response.
“Are you holding on?”
“He is!” Ahsoka confirmed.
Anakin smiled to himself. “Great,” he said, and the speeder dove.
Cold wind whipped past Anakin’s face, and his heart was suddenly in his throat as they fell down, down, and he heard both Obi-Wan and Ahsoka’s shouts—well, Obi-Wan’s shout, Ahsoka’s little whoop of glee. Anakin managed to turn his head back in time to catch the look on their faces. Ahsoka was laughing, her smile wide enough for Anakin to make out her canines; Obi-Wan only looked a mixture of exasperation and mild concern, especially when he noticed that Anakin had turned to look at him.
“Anakin, eyes forward,” Obi-Wan said.
“As you wish, Master,” Anakin said, turning back around. And then, at the last second, he pulled the speeder back up.
Speeders and citi-bikes streaked past. Anakin took the speeder in a loop, sweeping through a traffic lane and narrowly missing a bus of tourists, laughing when they raised their fists in his direction. Coruscant’s bustling streets below became nothing but a blur, a whirl of color and light, and there was nothing but this—wind, and sky, and Ahsoka’s laughter.
Well, that, and the sound of Obi-Wan yelling at him to stop.
“Come on, this is fun!”
“Uh, Master?” Ahsoka suddenly said. “Maybe...don’t spin this time.”
“Don’t spin? But spinning’s the best part—”
Ahsoka elbowed him and nodded toward Obi-Wan—who was squeezing his eyes shut now, gripping the side of the speeder so hard his knuckles were white.
“Please don’t,” he said quietly. He swallowed hard, looking a little green.
Anakin shrugged. “We’re almost there, anyway,” he said. “Doing alright, Master?”
Obi-Wan’s only response was to moan into his hands.
When they pulled up to Dex’s at last, Anakin felt his heart sink—nothing could beat the high of flying, and he longed to hit the pedal, to soar through the skies for a few hours longer.
But he sighed and put the speeder in park. Ahsoka hopped out, grinning with adrenaline, her cheeks flushed from the wind. Obi-Wan sat still for a moment, breathing deeply, one arm wrapped around his stomach until he slowly stood up—legs a little wobbly as he did.
Anakin felt a small bit of guilt at that. Even if he wished they were still in the air…
He pushed himself out of the speeder and came around to Obi-Wan’s side. “Alright?” he asked.
“I will be,” Obi-Wan said. He shot Anakin a sidelong glance. “One day, Anakin…”
Anakin managed a smile. “One day what?”
“One day,” Obi-Wan said, shaking his head, “you’re going to be the death of me.”
Anakin huffed out a breath and patted Obi-Wan’s shoulder. “And one day,” he said, leading Obi-Wan to the doors of the diner (where Ahsoka was already waiting for them), “you’ll stop saying that.”
The small sound Obi-Wan made told Anakin that his former master clearly thought otherwise, but really, that was good enough for Anakin. That small sound meant that there was still some humor left in Obi-Wan, and some humor meant that more could be salvaged tonight.
“Obi-Wan!” Dex’s voice boomed once the doors slipped shut behind them. “Good to see you again!”
Anakin didn’t bother hiding his grin as the Besalisk stepped out from behind the counter. As always, Dex was wearing his signature wide grin, all four of his arms already waving as he lumbered forward.
“Dex,” Obi-Wan said, smiling. Anakin was glad to see that smile emerge now—still tired, perhaps, but genuine. “It’s good to see you, too.”
“Sit, sit,” Dex said, patting a heavy hand on Obi-Wan’s shoulder. It had to be heavy, Anakin knew, because he had been on the receiving end a few times—but now, he watched as Obi-Wan sank a little under the sudden weight. “Right over there, take your booth. Your usuals?”
“Always,” Anakin said before Obi-Wan could open his mouth. “Come on,” he said, nudging Obi-Wan towards the booth.
As he and Ahsoka trailed behind, they exchanged a smile—so far, so good. They followed him to the booth, sinking into the familiar seats as FLO brought over their drinks.
“So, buddy,” Dex said when he’d returned. He dropped down beside Ahsoka, nearly squishing her as she scooted over. “I haven’t seen you in a while. Where you been?”
Obi-Wan shrugged. “The war doesn’t rest, unfortunately.”
“And neither does he,” Anakin said.
At that, Dex’s brow furrowed. “You look skinny. Don’t they feed their prized generals in this Grand Army?”
Obi-Wan shifted in his seat, eyes skirting away. “I’ve been...otherwise occupied,” he said. “Classified mission.”
“Classified, eh? You don’t say.” He studied Obi-Wan, eyes narrowing. “Because I’ve heard of some...trouble over on Felucia…”
“Classified,” Obi-Wan repeated quietly. His tone was light enough, but the words carried a heaviness. The smile he’d worn since they arrived had faded now, and Anakin noticed the shadows returning to his face—he could practically see the memories flickering through his mind.
Dex seemed to notice the change, too. “Well,” he said, “we’ll just have to fatten you up again, then, eh?”
He stood, patting Obi-Wan on the shoulder as he did so, but this time, Obi-Wan winced.
Ahsoka was shooting a look at Anakin—things were going downhill, and they needed to slow the descent. Anakin cleared his throat, leaning over to Obi-Wan.
“So,” Anakin said, clasping his hands together. “You have more lesson plans to write, huh? Coming up with new and creative ways to bore younglings to sleep?”
He’d hoped that would get at least a chuckle, but Obi-Wan just shrugged. “Some galactic literature lectures. That’s all.”
“Ah, galactic literature,” Ahsoka said, “I remember how much I loved that class. I always had the best dreams while my head was down on that desk.”
Anakin laughed, and one of the corners of Obi-Wan’s mouth pulled up. But then he looked down, fiddling with the silverware at the table, looking at his reflection in the silver spoon—and in it, Anakin wondered what he saw.
They didn’t speak again until Dex returned with a platter, setting the steaming food down in front of them. Anakin’s mouth started to water at the sight of his nerfburger, and Ahsoka was already eating before her plate had even left Dex’s meaty hand, but Obi-Wan took his slowly. He sipped his drink, stirred the liquid with his straw. Took one bite of his giju slider, then set it down.
He didn’t touch it again.
“Come on, you’ve gotta be hungry,” Anakin said between mouthfuls. “Teaching younglings all day would give anybody an appetite.”
Obi-Wan smiled weakly. “After your flying stunt, I don’t think my stomach can handle much tonight.”
Anakin’s chewing slowed as he contemplated Obi-Wan’s pallor. Fine, some of that could probably be credited to his flying, but Anakin had seen Obi-Wan manage down food after more disastrous flights.
He watched Obi-Wan push the slider to a corner of the plate, rearrange other parts of the plate with his fork.
Anakin bit down on the inside of his cheek—not on purpose, but he hadn’t been paying attention, and now he winced, briefly bringing his hand up to the side of his face. Ahsoka shot him a questioning glance, but Anakin shook his head. He cleared his throat, scooted Obi-Wan’s plate closer to him. “I think your stomach can handle at least a little more than that.”
“It really can’t.”
Anakin set down his burger. “Obi-Wan—”
Before Anakin could continue, an additional plate of food that no one had ordered appeared in front of them.
“On the house,” Dex said, giving them all a nod.
Anakin grinned. “Thanks,” he said.
“You didn’t have—” Obi-Wan started, but then, after a moment, he managed a wry smile of his own. “Thank you, Dex.”
Dex flashed them all a toothy smile, but when he turned to go, Anakin noticed the extra glance he tossed their booth.
Anakin refocused on Obi-Wan.
“Well,” Ahsoka said, gesturing to the plate of scalefish fillet. “Seems like Dex wants us fed.” But she was looking at Obi-Wan, and Anakin could hear the underlying message there.
“You two eat,” Obi-Wan said, leaning back against his seat. “I’m not quite—”
“We’re not eating that,” Anakin said, nodding to the scalefish fillet, “until you have at least a few bites.”
Obi-Wan gave Anakin an unimpressed look. “Negotiating, are we?”
“Is it working?”
“Fine. Ahsoka, you’re up—”
“Really,” Obi-Wan interrupted. “I’ll eat later.”
Anakin bit on the inside of his cheek again, only to forget that he had actually bit down on it a second ago. He winced again, and this time, when Obi-Wan frowned at him, Anakin said, “Do you see this?” He gestured at his cheek. “This is because of you.”
“Seems like you just weren’t paying attention.”
“Yeah, because I was paying attention to you—”
“Anakin, keep your voice down—”
“You could at least eat more than that first—”
“How about take-out boxes?” Ahsoka blurted. “Yes? Take-out boxes?”
Anakin looked at Ahsoka. She had shoved her own plate away, her elbows resting on the table. But she wasn’t looking at either Anakin or Obi-Wan. Her head was craned up, eyes darting around the diner until she suddenly perked up and waved her hand, saying, “Dex! Can you get us some take-out boxes?”
“Coming right up!” came Dex’s cheerful reply.
“Thank you!” Ahsoka ducked back down into the booth. She looked at both Anakin and Obi-Wan. “No point in arguing,” she only said.
They were silent as they scraped their plates clean. Dex looked like he was about to say something, eyeing Obi-Wan closely as they rose from the booth and started for the door, but settled for squeezing Obi-Wan’s arm on the way out.
The streets of Coruscant were still crowded, but the traffic had died down with the passing of rush hour. Obi-Wan moved slowly, Anakin and Ahsoka trailing behind him as they approached the speeder.
Sliding into the driver’s seat, Anakin passed his take-out box to Ahsoka. “Here, hold this, would you?”
She stumbled as the box plopped on top of her own. “Geez, is this the scalefish fillet? It’s heavy. I’ve never seen such a big fish.”
Anakin buckled his seatbelt. “There’s always a bigger fish.”
He didn’t expect to hear laughter from the passenger’s side.
His head swiveled.
Anakin found Obi-Wan with his face slightly tilted away, but he noticed the smile as quickly as if it were his own. Obi-Wan’s eyes were closed, and he had the side of his face propped up with a hand, and even though he still looked tired, he was laughing, and Anakin was suddenly glad.
Anakin glanced over at Ahsoka. She was watching Obi-Wan too, her face brighter than it had been all day. And then she looked over at Anakin too, and without either of them saying anything, Ahsoka turned back around. “Master Kenobi, did I ever tell you about the time Master Skywalker and I went to Mon Cala?”
“Wait, Ahsoka, don’t—” But Anakin was only partially protesting, because Obi-Wan lifted his head up to Ahsoka with a bemused curiosity—which was so much more and so much better than Anakin would have asked for.
“He lost his helmet for a second,” Ahsoka said. “I got it for him, of course, but you should have seen his face—like—” She blew out her cheeks until they were round and stiff. She crossed her eyes, flapped her hands as though she were a bird trying to take flight.
“Come on, Snips, I didn’t look like that—”
“Yes you did,” Ahsoka replied, but her voice came out slightly garbled because of the effort to hold the air in her cheeks—so instead, what came out was something that sounded like, “‘esh yew dith”.
But it didn’t matter, because Obi-Wan was laughing again, pushing a hand up to his face at the mock-betrayed look Anakin gave him.
“Enough of that,” Anakin said, reaching over to poke at Ahsoka’s puffed cheek.
The air dissolved from Ahsoka’s cheeks instantly, creating a high whistling sound that, for once, Anakin didn’t expect. And neither did Obi-Wan either, apparently, because he lifted his head, clearly astonished.
Ahsoka looked only partially embarrassed. “Oops?”
But then she was giggling, and Anakin couldn’t help himself: a small laugh slipped out of him too, and then Obi-Wan was laughing, which made them all laugh more, and then they were all leaning forward, resting their foreheads against the headrests and ignoring the strange looks some civilians shot their way.
They were laughing so hard that they almost didn’t hear the ping of Obi-Wan’s com.
He was still chuckling as he pulled it out of his pocket. But then his eyes skimmed the message, and the blue light illuminated his face as his smile melted away.
Anakin’s own laughter died as Obi-Wan shoved the com in his robe again. “What is it?”
“Nothing,” he said.
“We’d best get back to the Temple,” he said. “As you so kindly reminded me, I have lesson plans to write.”
Ahsoka leaned forward between the seats again, looking back and forth from Anakin to Obi-Wan. And though the ghost of her smile still remained, the moment was gone. Obi-Wan turned away, looking out into the teeming Coruscant traffic.
“Master Kenobi, is something wrong?” Ahsoka asked. “The pain isn’t back, is it?”
“Then why—” Anakin said.
“I have another mission,” Obi-Wan said quietly. “On Florrum.”
Anakin and Ahsoka met eyes. “They found Maul,” Anakin said.
Obi-Wan didn’t reply.
“I’m coming with you.”
“No.” Obi-Wan kept his eyes fixed on ahead, though they didn’t follow the speeders that passed before them. “Adi Gallia has been assigned to accompany—”
“I’ll go instead.”
“No, you won’t.”
“Yes, I will.” Anakin leaned forward, and Obi-Wan’s gaze was sharp as he turned. “After last time—”
“It’s not going to be like last time.”
“Then why won’t you let me come with you?”
“Because I can’t let Maul take my Padawan the way he took my Master.”
The words tumbled out so quickly that Anakin could hardly process them. Obi-Wan’s face was stony as he looked down, looked ahead, looked anywhere but beside him, his eyes dark and dull.
Anakin opened his mouth. Closed it.
He thought of two things: first, that Obi-Wan wasn’t going to argue about this any further, and second, that Obi-Wan had just—
He could feel Ahsoka’s eyes flicking between them both, feel her need to say something now, just as Anakin himself did.
But right now, he could only just sit and stare at Obi-Wan, who still wasn’t looking at him.
“We should go,” Obi-Wan said. “I—please, Anakin.”
Anakin stopped. He let his gaze linger over Obi-Wan for a few seconds longer. A strand of Obi-Wan’s hair had come loose at some point, slipped past his forehead. It only made him look more tired.
Anakin turned back around to face the speeder’s controls. He started up the engine. Took the speeder up into the air.
They rode back to the Temple in silence.
With every step, Adi Gallia’s limp frame bumped against his chest like a second heartbeat—except it wasn’t a heartbeat. It couldn’t be.
Adi was dead, and Obi-Wan’s heart thumped alone.
When he left her with the mortician, his arms suddenly numb with her absence, he somehow felt even more weighed down. But then he was walking—one step, another, one empty breath, his lungs shuddering—hardly knowing how he managed to move at all.
The Council was silent as he entered—as if they held one collective breath, waiting—
His voice shattered the air.
“I regret to report that Master Adi Gallia,” he said, careful to keep his voice steady, his hands still, his face drawn, “was struck down at the hand of Savage Opress.”
There were a few sharp intakes of breath, a few eyes fluttered closed, a shared pain at the loss. Obi-Wan could just stand at the center of the chambers, forcing his hands together behind his back. As though that alone could keep them from trembling.
“Sad news, this is,” Yoda said at last, and his eyes were indeed mournful. “With the Force, she now will be.”
A reassurance—that was meant to be a reassurance, and Obi-Wan felt himself nod, but only just. One with the Force, yes, but he was the one who could have prevented the death, and that was something he couldn’t be easily reassured from.
“As for...Savage and Maul?” Windu’s voice was slow, heavy, but searching. Someone had to do it, Obi-Wan knew.
“I was unable to stop them,” Obi-Wan said, aware of the hollow quality of his own voice. Round and round, his own words seemed to chase each other in his head. He cleared his throat, tried to find his next words. “They left Florrum, and I managed to injure Savage Opress. He’ll need medical attention. That might make finding the two easier. In the meantime, we’ll need to warn the rest of the Republic of this...threat.”
A few slow nods.
“Then in that case,” Windu began, but he never got to finish what he was going to say, because the doors suddenly slid open.
Obi-Wan turned around to the blur of color and sound that was Anakin and Ahsoka.
“Is Master Kenobi—” Ahsoka was saying, and then she lifted her head. “Oh.”
Anakin lifted his head too, and then he let out a breath of relief. “Obi—”
“In a moment, you two,” Obi-Wan said. He was aware of the Council members’ eyes on them as Obi-Wan walked one, two steps forward. He gestured out the door.
“Come on, Master,” Ahsoka muttered, tugging at Anakin’s sleeve. She quickly bowed her head at the Council, but Anakin was still staring at Obi-Wan, eyes darting rapidly across his face.
“Right,” Anakin said at last. He bowed his head to the Council—just barely, more a nod than anything else, and then he was stumbling backwards with Ahsoka.
The doors slid shut, and Obi-Wan was left alone again.
He turned back around to the Council. Took another breath but didn’t let it go.
Anakin once again found himself outside the closed doors of the Council chamber.
He paced the hall, his footsteps echoing against the marble, while Ahsoka sat up against the wall.
“He looked bad,” Anakin said. “His eyes—”
“I know,” Ahsoka said.
“And he was alone.”
“We should go back in there, shouldn’t we? We—”
“Anakin.” He stopped walking. “He’ll be out soon. And when he is…” Ahsoka exhaled. “We’ll be here.”
Anakin’s legs felt heavy all of a sudden—as if his blood had turned to lead, and he couldn’t move. Couldn’t do anything but stand there, staring at the door, as if by looking hard enough he could see through it to meet Obi-Wan’s tired eyes.
He was still staring when the door slid open.
The other Council members filed out first—Yoda, the Mace, then Ki Adi Mundi and the others. They nodded as they passed, but it was solemn, forced. Anakin doubted his own face changed at all.
And then at last—
Obi-Wan emerged alone.
Anakin moved forward, but suddenly didn’t know what he intended to do. Obi-Wan stood in the doorway, covered in dirt and dust and blood, his eyes dull and his scarred skin pale, and the sight left both he and Ahsoka speechless.
“Obi-Wan—” Anakin started to say.
“I should go,” he said softly. “Get cleaned up. There are…” He swallowed, with difficulty. “There are funeral preparations to attend to.”
So Master Gallia—
A part of Anakin had hoped that maybe she had been in the Halls of Healing, but now, he knew—
Obi-Wan was already walking away now. Anakin could see the literal push, the forced strength behind his steps, and then Anakin was watching him go again, and suddenly he wasn’t just seeing Obi-Wan in this moment alone: he saw Obi-Wan from mere days ago, right when he had gone into the Temple after they had come back from Dex’s, and then he saw Obi-Wan from when he had come back from dueling Maul even before then, and then he saw Obi-Wan before he was sent off to fight Maul—time was unraveling in each step Obi-Wan took away from Anakin now, unraveling faster than Anakin could take hold.
Until Anakin suddenly saw something else—something else from a time so long ago, and Anakin suddenly felt like he was outside of himself now, seeing Obi-Wan—younger, with those same tired, pained eyes—and himself. Still looking up at Obi-Wan then, still watching and waiting and wondering what exactly had gone wrong.
Some things never changed.
“Obi-Wan,” Anakin started, and this time, he reached forward. Wrapped a hand around Obi-Wan’s elbow, and for a moment, he thought Obi-Wan would pull away, fight back, something, but Obi-Wan just stood still, his arm stiff under Anakin’s hold.
“You don’t have to—”
“I need to—”
“Not yet.” Anakin adjusted his grip on Obi-Wan’s arm, just barely. Just enough to let Obi-Wan know that he wasn’t going to let go, not right this moment.
And then Anakin felt the trembling in Obi-Wan’s arm, the trembling running even deeper still. He heard a quick inhaled breath, but he didn’t hear the exhale. Anakin took a small step forward, closed the distance between Obi-Wan and himself. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ahsoka move forward too. Saw the determined set of her face, that mixed with the light in her eyes.
And just as they heard it—the choked exhale—Anakin and Ahsoka pulled him inward.
With his hand on Obi-Wan’s back, Anakin felt the quaking through his ribcage, the breaths shuddering as they came. Anakin just pulled him in tighter, felt Ahsoka on the other side doing the same, felt the way they held him up like scaffolds, lest he fall. But they stayed there—and in the warmth and refuge of steady arms, Anakin felt Obi-Wan crumble.
Anakin rested his chin on Obi-Wan’s shoulder. Felt Obi-Wan do the same, saw Ahsoka resting her forehead on Obi-Wan’s other shoulder. And for a while, they breathed and breathed and breathed until the shuddering evened and all that was left were quiet sighs.
Anakin shifted himself against Obi-Wan’s shoulder. “We’re not going anywhere,” he said at last.
“Ever,” Ahsoka added. “You’re doomed, Master Kenobi—to a whole lifetime of us.”
There was a small sound that might have been a laugh, might have been a sigh. Anakin couldn’t tell, but he felt Obi-Wan’s arm tighten around him, and he knew that that was a good thing.
Obi-Wan shifted against Anakin’s shoulder, his head turning just barely to look at Ahsoka. “A whole lifetime, you say?”
“Absolutely,” Ahsoka said solemnly.
Anakin saw the curve of Obi-Wan’s lips, knew the smile there.
And then Obi-Wan turned to Anakin.
“You heard her,” Anakin said. “We’re in this for the long haul—just in case you didn’t know.”
And then Obi-Wan sighed against Anakin’s shoulder. “I know,” he said, but there was nothing particularly sad or weary about his voice when he said that now.
Anakin caught Ahsoka’s eye. He winked, and Ahsoka beamed back.
They stayed there.
And if time had before unraveled, now something was sewn back into place—a loose stitch repaired, a tear patched.