His new master was trying to kill him. And he was doing it in a way that would have made Gardulla the Hutt proud.
Below the nerve numbing terror was a well of disappointment. He’d naively thought Obi-Wan was going to be one of those good masters the slaves back on Tatooine had whispered of in the same way they’d talked about wish-granting djinn and angels full of mercy. A myth they hoped was real. But no, he was just as bad as the rest. Worse even, for lulling Anakin into a false sense of security.
The water rippled before him like a mirage. He could smell the salt thick in the air. That they could waste so much water was sickening. That they would use such ostentation to rid themselves of a mere slave was pure Hutt. The salt meant he wouldn’t even have the pleasure of finally quenching his never-ending thirst before he drowned.
He’d expected better of the Jedi.
Obi-Wan had ordered him to strip in that kind way he had and Anakin now stood shivering in the shorts he’d been given to replace his Padawan robes. It was a silly thing but he missed the previously stifling layers of fabric that had been nicer than anything he’d ever been allowed to wear in the past. He’d felt almost like a normal freeborn in them.
He wished his mother had been able to see it.
Oh kark now he’d done it.
Anakin bit sharply at the inside of his lip to distract himself of the pain he felt deep inside whenever he thought of his mother. The Jedi always seemed to know and they all disapproved of his attachment, frowning down on him and telling him to let it (let her) go.
He took a deep breath, refusing to waste water on tears or let his murderers see him cry lest they think they’d been the cause.
Never let the masters see you cry, Ani. Not because they don’t like it, but because some of them do.
Reaching out with desperate, clumsy hands Anakin gathered the Force and used it to comfort and distract himself, smoothing away the urge to cry like a warm embrace and slowing his heart rate down so he no longer felt quite so dizzy.
“Very good, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said approvingly, laying a warm hand briefly on his shoulder.
Something inside twisted sickeningly at the praise.
He couldn’t bring himself to look away from the water to see his master’s expression. He didn’t think he wanted to see it anyway. If he had to look away, he’d rather look at the flowers in the pots all around the pool of salt-poisoned water. His last bit of green.
He wracked his brains trying to think what he’d done wrong. Had he eaten too much? Not studied hard enough? Been too loud, too demanding? Too cheeky? Watto had liked a little impudence and Qui-Gon had seemed to as well but maybe the other Jedi were more like Gardulla who demanded silence and fear and awe. He should have had it figured out long before this point.
“Some favour the direct approach,” said Obi-Wan, considerate and polite even as he killed him. “And jump in. Others prefer to ease themselves into it.”
Anakin couldn’t decide whether having the choice was a good thing or not. Was he supposed to be grateful they didn’t just push him in? Drag him over and hold his head under until he stopped thrashing?
He’d seen Gardulla have a slave killed that way before he’d been lost in a bet to Watto. Only, it had been a bowl of wine, not pool of water. He figured it was basically the same thing. At least he didn’t have a cheering, baying audience.
Fear had robbed him of the feeling in his fingers and toes. He couldn’t stop shaking. Despite everything, he hoped Obi-Wan didn’t say anything about it. The Council had disapproved of it so deeply. Was that why they were doing this? Because he couldn’t stop being afraid?
And that’s when it hit him. Were they making Obi-Wan do this?
He knew Obi-Wan had to do whatever they told him. He may be Anakin’s personal master. But they were his. Anakin shuddered to think what punishment a whole group of masters could pass out. On Tatooine punishment ended when the master got bored or tired. A whole group of them could draw it out for days and days. Weeks even. Obi-Wan had been good to him. He couldn’t let that happen to him.
A quick glance up confirmed the sadness in Obi-Wan‘s eyes, the sympathy on his face. The reluctance.
Obi-Wan had been as good as he could have been to Anakin. Had fed him three meals a day - let him have desert even. Had read stories about legendary Jedi heroes to him before bed and played hide-and-seek between lessons. He’d been a good master. The best.
Anakin could do this for him. Couldn’t he? He was brave. He drove in pod races and he had helped the Naboo pilots fight. He’d walked away from his mother without looking back. If he had to die anyway…
“Personally, I recommend-“
Anakin didn’t hear what Obi-Wan recommended. He raced towards the water before he lost his courage and threw himself in.
The water stung as he hit it, like a full body slap. It immediately rushed up his nose, burning his sinuses, making him gasp. Water rushed into his mouth, down his throat. Salt stung his eyes, burned his throat, his lungs. He coughed and that only made things worse. Made the pressure in his chest increase to something painful.
Drowning hurt more than he thought it would. It was as unrelenting as a sandstorm. He could no longer tell up from down. Could taste nothing but salt as he swallowed and gasped for air that wasn’t there.
Things started to get fuzzy around the edges. The panic a little less sharp, his movements a little less frantic.
A durasteel band wrapped around his chest and hauled him backwards into something solid. Anakin grabbed at it; the only solid thing in a whirlwind of motion.
The world roared. Light swam in a dizzying nebula. Cold air nipped along every inch of exposed skin.
Still, he could not breathe.
Hands hot as fire brands grabbed his shoulders and hips, rolled him into his stomach.
Anakin fought blindly, weakly.
He was still drowning.
Hands under his sternum. Pressure. And then he was being sick. Water and vomit searing his nose and throat. Burning hot hands rubbing his back. Making him sick again. And then-
Just a wisp of it.
Anakin chased after it instinctively. His chest and lungs and throat burned and spasmed sharply as he coughed and gasped and heaved.
Hot hands held him against an equally hot body. Continued to alternately rub and beat at his back.
His head throbbed unmercifully. His limbs felt weak as those of a new born lothcat. Water kept streaming from his nose and mouth.
Realising his eyes were closed, Anakin prised them open to see the panicked face of his master close to his own. Water dripped off the end of his nose, ran down his neck from his saturated hair.
Obi-Wan had saved him.
Anakin groaned then immediately carried on coughing. He didn’t understand. Couldn’t Obi-Wan go through with it even when he’d done the hard part for him?
“Thank the Force,” Obi-Wan gasped, gathering Anakin close and tucking his head under his chin.
Anakin held on to him as he continued to gasp and cough. Obi-Wan felt so warm against his shivering body. His arms were a welcome anchor. He rocked him just like his mother used to when he crashed out of a pod race. The Force rang with relief; Obi-Wan’s emotions bleeding out from under his tight control.
“Slowly. I was going to recommend slowly,” Obi-Wan admonished. “You’d never even seen a swimming pool before. What were you thinking ?”
Something of his confusion must have filtered into the Force because Obi-Wan‘s arms tightened around him.
“I was just introducing you to the idea today. We were going to paddle in the shallow end, maybe do some floating exercises if you were up to it.”
Floating exercises? Anakin had no idea what he was on about. Things floated in space when there was zero gravity. Little things like leaves could float on the surface of a puddle as Padmé had shown him on Naboo. Heavy things like people didn’t float. Drop a wupiupi in a tankard of beer and it sank. Anakin was a lot heavier than a single coin.
Obi-Wan sighed and clutched him even tighter and Anakin could feel his emotions pressed up against him, skin to skin and mental barriers completely dissolved. Fear, panic, relief, confusion.
“What were you thinking?” Obi-Wan repeated, voice hoarse, burying his face into Anakin’s wet hair.
Anakin didn’t answer. He felt raw inside and out. Breathing hurt. And he was starting to think maybe he’d been wrong. Maybe Obi-Wan hadn’t been trying to kill him after all. Maybe... maybe Obi-Wan wanted to keep him around? Maybe he was even willing to defy their masters to keep him.
Anakin held on as tightly as his rubbery fingers could and sobbed.