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Don’t be afraid.

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Don’t fret, dear one, Obi-Wan remembers the crèchemaster saying to him, when he was very young. Dry your eyes. You are with the Jedi now. There is nothing in the ’verse that can hurt you here.

He had believed it, is the thing. Believed wholeheartedly in the safety and belonging that the Jedi Order provided, the peace and propserity that they were sworn to protect. Believed in their principles: serenity, unattachment, oneness in the Force.

It was slightly more difficult to continue believing once he turned thirteen and they shipped him off for the AgriCorps, but even then he was amongst the Order, so he was able to join some of the older farmhands in their morning meditation, and drill katas with energetic teenagers in the evenings, and convince himself that this was what the Force required of him. A quiet, humble life.

Then Qui-Gon came along, raw with grief at the loss of his padawan, cautious to the point of paranoia, and carved Obi-Wan into the perfect model of a Jedi: rigid, self-disciplined, cooler in a firefight than most of the masters on the council. And it was easy to believe in the Jedi again, even more deeply than before, because it was all he knew. It was what Qui-Gon expected, what he demanded.

And now--Now, he sits outside the Council chamber while they deliberate his fate, fresh off a transport from Naboo, his master’s blood still on his robes, and finds for the first time since he was thirteen that it is difficult for him to believe. There is nothing in the ’verse that can hurt you here. It’s true, so long as he’s home, but he’s been cast out before, hasn’t he?

He heard enough, before the masters sent him away, to know that his killing the Sith has presented them with a difficult conundrum. On the one hand, such an ordeal should be enough to earn him his knighting. On the other, he is only eighteen.

With Qui-Gon dead, no one will want to take him on as padawan. No one wanted to before Qui-Gon, and Obi-Wan may be a better Jedi now, but he is the same person. He is the same Obi-Wan who sat waiting in the crèche like a tooka in the city pound that no one wanted to adopt. The same Obi-Wan he overheard Master Qui-Gon calling too earnest, too logical, too reserved even once he had agreed to take him on as his padawan. The only difference now is that he has killed a Sith; he hardly thinks that will count in his favor. What master wants a padawan who has encountered such darkness, who has taken a life? What master wants a padawan who failed to save their own?

Staring at the bland carpet in the hall outside the Council chamber, the whizzing traffic of Coruscant a blur in the windows, Obi-Wan tries to convince himself that he will be content returning to the AgriCorps. This is more than he was ever meant to have in the first place, being Qui-Gon’s padawan for five years. He will return to his meditation, and his katas, and tending the fields. He will be one with the Force.

The Force, at least, will never abandon him.

Don’t fret.He tries to conjure a memory of the crèchemaster’s face, but finds that he cannot. Did she know, then, that she might be lying to him? That not all younglings became padawans? That the Order only kept nine out of ten?

The chamber doors open. Master Windu waves him back inside without a word.

Obi-Wan stands with his heart in his throat. He tries to release his emotions into the Force, but it feels like coughing out smoke. He slips his hands into the sleeves of his robes, hoping the masters do not realize that he’s trembling--that he’s failed to center himself--and stands in front of them, awaiting his judgement. Tainted by your encounter with the Sith, you are, he imagines Master Yoda saying. Fix you, we cannot. To the AgriCorps, you shall return.

“Padawan Kenobi,” Yoda says, after a moment. “Complete your training, Master Skywalker will.”

The words take a long moment to reach Obi-Wan’s brain. When they do, he’s struck with relief so strong he thinks his body goes into shock; he can’t feel a thing. He barely hears himself thanking the Council. Barely remembers leaving the room.

The next thing he remembers is sitting on Qui-Gon’s bed, in their quarters, staring at the remnants of his master’s life. He hasn’t been able to bring himself to clean up, yet. Qui-Gon’s meditation mat is still on the floor next to the bed, left out from the last time he had a nightmare about Xanatos and rolled down straight onto his knees. Obi-Wan, woken by the turmoil in their training bond, used to peer through the cracked door at Qui-Gon’s massive form, his head bowed in supplication, long hair hanging around his face. It would calm him to see his master like that. To see that even a personality as reckless and hypocritical and unfailingly human as Qui-Gon could give himself over completely to the Force--there was something very calming in the trust that his master placed in the teachings of the Order.

Obi-Wan realizes, somehow for the first time, that he will never again feel Qui-Gon through their training bond. The bond itself won’t even be around much longer. Soon enough there will be a new one in its place--one linking him to Master Skywalker.

His eyes feel hot. He scrubs his tears away, frustrated with himself. Qui-Gon is one with the Force; it is not the Jedi way to mourn him. He has a new master now. Qui-Gon would be disappointed in him for this show of emotion.

Obi-Wan steps into the ’fresher to splash cold water on his face, then picks up Qui-Gon’s meditation mat and rolls it up. The quartermaster will be coming for it soon, coming for all of Qui-Gon’s things. Soon there will be no trace of him except in memory.

Master Skywalker has a reputation around the temple for being a bit of a hothead. Everyone knows he spent the first six years of his life racing homemade pods in the scorching deserts of Tatooine, everyone remembers the scandal that swept the Order when the Council granted him the rank of master but refused him membership, everyone’s seen the war holos from the frontlines, Skywalker in black robes and patchwork clone armor, mowing down droves of battle droids with sweeps of his metallic hand.

He’s larger than life. He’s a 26-year-old master who’s only ever taken one padawan and somehow has the clout to go toe-to-toe with the Council on a weekly basis. There was a rumor in the crèche, when Anakin was still a padawan, that Master Yoda decided to train him personally because by age nine Anakin had already mastered Djem So. Obi-Wan knows that particular story is a load of bantha poodoo, but he once watched Anakin spar with Master Windu, lightsabers flying so fast he could hardly track them, and he’s heard people say that Anakin is the best ’saber fighter in the Order, so he knows nine probably isn’t too bad an estimate. He’s also heard people say that Anakin’s the best crash-lander in the Order, and he’s not sure if that’s good or bad, but he figures he won’t have to wait long to find out.

Anakin’s on the last day of a mandatory seven-day medical leave when Obi-Wan meets with the Council. Obi-Wan himself has been back from Naboo for less than a day, but he’s not injured, so they’re scheduled to leave immediately the next morning.

Obi-Wan wakes for the last time in his and Qui-Gon’s quarters. He takes his morning meditation while it’s still black out, then brews a cup of tarine tea--the only tea that Qui-Gon ever kept in their kitchen, haggled monthly from an Alderaanian merchant twelve levels down--and sips it while he looks out at the empty, silent room. Even if he comes back here someday he knows that it won’t be the same. Someone else will live here. It won’t bear the marks of his and Qui-Gon’s shared life. He knows that it’s useless and childish to mourn such things, but he doesn’t think it will hurt to allow himself a moment to simply absorb, to remember.

When he’s done, he releases his grief to the Force. With his eyes closed he can almost convince himself it works.

Master Skywalker meets him on the landing pad. It’s misty, a fine, humid moisture that sticks to Obi-Wan’s skin and shirt as he walks to join him. It’s a long walk down the strut from the temple, and Anakin’s eyes are on him the whole time. He’s dressed in all black, almost a shadow except for the string of battered clone armor hanging over one shoulder. His hair is long and tied back in a knot at the base of his skull, and even to Obi-Wan, whose late master was not exactly a paragon of carefulness, he looks dangerous. Obi-Wan swallows thickly and tries not to look like he’s thinking what he’s thinking: that Master Skywalker looks more like a Sith than a Jedi.

When he’s close enough, he holds out his hand and says, “Master Skywalker.”

There’s a moment when Anakin doesn’t move, just staring at him, when Obi-Wan thinks he’s going to have to lower his hand awkwardly and follow his new master onto their transport without a word. Then Anakin breaks into a smile and yanks Obi-Wan into a hug.

“Obi-Wan,” he says, somewhere above Obi-Wan’s head. “It’s great to meet you.”

“Ah--You too, Master.”

Anakin releases him after what feels like minutes. He’s grinning as they part, the picture of the maverick ace. Obi-Wan feels slightly off-balance. He’s not sure anyone has ever hugged him for so long, or with such feeling.

He must look as shaken as he feels, because Anakin gives him a concerned look and says, “Alright?”

Mortified, Obi-Wan manages to nod. “Yes, Master. I’m fine. Just a bit tired.”

This is where Qui-Gon would’ve told him that Jedi had to learn to operate without sleep, but Anakin’s concerned look only intensifies. He takes Obi-Wan’s shoulders. “How long have you been back from Naboo?” he asks.

Obi-Wan very carefully does not lean into the warmth of his hands. It’s no small act of self-restraint. “Ah, I’m not sure. Twenty hours, maybe.”

“Stars,” Anakin mutters. “Kriffing Council. Those inconsiderate nerf-herders.”

“Master?” Obi-Wan asks, bewildered.

“You stopped an uprising by the Trade Federation, killed a Sith, and lost your master all in one day. Leave it to the Council not to think that requires more than twenty hours’ mental health leave.”

“I’m really alright,” Obi-Wan lies. He doesn’t want his new master to think that he’s some sort of unstable baby. “You don’t have to worry about me. A few hours sleep and I’ll be able to keep up with you, wherever we’re going.”

Anakin’s concerned look doesn’t go away. He squeezes Obi-Wan’s shoulders once and lets him go. “We’re going to the frontlines, padawan.”

He leads the way up the ramp onto the transport. At the top he pauses and looks back, waiting for Obi-Wan to follow him. It takes Obi-Wan another moment to get over the realization that he’s about to go to war. Then he hikes his pack up on his shoulder and joins his new master. “Come on,” Anakin says, as the ramp starts to close. “You can catch some shuteye while we wait for exit clearance.”

Obi-Wan sleeps fitfully on the transport, twisted in the co-pilot’s seat with his head pillowed on his pack. He dreams, as he frequently does, of being alone on an uninhabited planet. Bare, desolate rock. Howling winds. An atmosphere so thin he can hardly breathe it. He’s freezing, and in pain, and there is something like a black hole in his chest that threatens to consume him, but he doesn’t make a sound. He knows he’s alone. He knows there’s no one here to hear him. His master is not coming for him. The Order is not coming for him.

He shocks awake noiselessly, pulled by something he can’t identify.

“Sorry,” Anakin says softly beside him. “I was looking for the base of your training bond. You know you sleep with your shields up? Like, all the way up?”

Obi-Wan nods. “I have…disturbing dreams. Master Jinn taught me to keep them to myself.”

A muscle jumps in Anakin’s jaw. Obi-Wan hopes he’s not regretting his decision to take him on as padawan. He knows he has a lot more problems than the average Jedi, but he’s able to take care of them himself. He won’t be a burden.

He’s about to say as much to his master when Anakin speaks, his voice tight. “Qui-Gon shouldn’t have made you deal with nightmares by yourself,” he says. “It’s a master’s job to be there when their padawan needs them.”

Obi-Wan isn’t sure how to respond to that. After a moment he says, “Thank you for agreeing to take me on, Master Skywalker. I know I’m not exactly what most masters want in a padawan.”

That stormy frown from the landing pad is back. “What do you mean?” Anakin asks.

Before Obi-Wan can answer, their comms come to life and the hangar control on the Resolutesays, “General Skywalker! Good to see you back, sir. Why’re you flying like you’ve got a baby asleep in the back seat?”

“Kriff off, Rex,” Anakin mutters.

Before Obi-Wan can try to figure out what ‘Rex’ is talking about, they’re swallowed up by the landing procedures. Obi-Wan rubs sleep from his eyes to assist from the co-pilot’s seat. They set down among three dozen smaller craft in the hangar bay, and then someone’s pounding on the closed ramp and Anakin’s standing, stretching, giving Obi-Wan a level stare and saying, “I know it can be kind of intimidating meeting 7,000 clones for the first time. But they’re good guys. Just take it easy, try to remember some names, and I’ll get us to our quarters ASAP.”

Obi-Wan nods wordlessly, unable to think of an adequate reply. 7,000 clones?

Rex is the first one up the ramp, grinning widely and seizing Anakin in a brotherly hug. He pumps Obi-Wan’s hand with enthusiasm when they’re introduced, then grills Anakin for details on his ‘R & R’ in a teasing way that has Anakin swearing at him and bemoaning the severity of taking three blaster bolts to the stomach while they set off into the body of the ship.

TheResolute is the first star destroyer Obi-Wan’s ever been aboard, and he tries not to stare too obviously as he’s led down the wide, crowded halls, but from the amused look he notices Anakin shooting him over Rex’s shoulder, he’s not sure he succeeds. It’s just so big. And so obviously a warship, its halls full of soldiers coming back from the running track and spilling in and out of showers snapping towels at each other’s asses and swearing at the top of their lungs.

Anakin goes through some subtle shift that Obi-Wan doesn’t know him well enough yet to codify, but that he thinks is Jedi master to soldier, stepping down from the lofty reaches of the temple to live amongst his men. It’s something that Obi-Wan’s former master could never do. Watching Qui-Gon walk through a crowd was akin to watching a fathier pick its way curiously through a field. Anakin, on the other hand, seems to become a blade of grass. It’s oddly comforting to watch. Anakin is kind. He’s good with his men. He’s not at all what temple rumors suggested he would be.

By the time they get underway for Umbara, Obi-Wan’s been carrying his pack around for four hours, and though he wouldn’t dream of saying anything, his feet are beginning to ache. He tries to release his tiredness into the Force, but it feels like shooting sparks from his fingertips, a zing that doesn’t disippate so much as redistribute itself throughout his body. Still, he waits quietly on the bridge as Anakin assists a few of the clones with a problem with their nav system.

The moment they’ve made the jump to hyperspace, Anakin claps his hands together--flesh against metal--and turns to Obi-Wan. His eyes soften when he spots him back by the door, and he makes his way over. “Sorry about that. What do you say I have dinner delivered to our quarters?”

“That sounds nice, Master,” Obi-Wan agrees. The idea of crowding into a canteen with 7,000 rowdy clones feels like a bit much right now.

Anakin’s quarters are sparse, utilitarian, but clearly well-loved. There are posters for famous podracers on the wall, slat blinds covering the night-day lamp, a meditation mat covered in droid parts in one corner. He shows Obi-Wan into a smaller room that connects to his. “My old padawan’s room. Snips was a slob, so don’t be surprised if you find half-eaten ration packs under the bed.”

Obi-Wan sets his pack down gently on a chair. He knows the outline of Anakin’s last padawan--brilliant warrior, too headstrong for her own good, left the Order of her own volition--and even just that makes him feel that it’s dangerous to say anything. Still, Anakin’s standing there in the door, he’s clearly expecting an answer of some sort, so Obi-Wan says, “Thank you. This is a fine room, I’m sure it will do nicely.”

Anakin nods, but doesn’t leave. “Back on the transport,” he says, after a minute, “you said you weren’t what most masters want in a padawan.”

Blood rushes to Obi-Wan’s cheeks. “I remember.”

“What did you mean?”

“I…” Obi-Wan trails off. If Master Skywalker doesn’t know  what he means, Obi-Wan certainly doesn’t want to be the one to tell him. He doesn’t want to be the catalyst for Anakin shipping him back to the temple. But he also doesn’t want to start his relationship with his new master by lying. “Well, for one thing, I’m eighteen. It’s like adopting tookacats--no one wants the old ones.”

“I will admit, I’m surprised the Council didn’t just knight you. I was only a year older than you when I passed my Trials, and I hardly did anything as impressive as kill a Sith in single combat.”

“Perhaps Master Yoda wanted to be rid of you,” Obi-Wan says, before he can help himself. He tenses, unsure how Anakin will respond to teasing, but where Qui-Gon would’ve responded with a quietly amused look, Anakin full-on laughs.

“You’re probably right,” he says. “Stars, I was a terror. Master Yoda used to make me carry him around like a backpack on off-planet missions. One time I told an innkeeper he was my pet. She requested that I keep him on a leash.”

Obi-Wan smiles, then tries to school the expression before it can turn into a laugh. He knows it’s improper to laugh at masters. But with Anakin smiling at him it’s only a matter of seconds before he’s laughing quietly, too.

“Is that all you were worried about?” Anakin asks, when they get a hold of themselves. “Being too old?”

Obi-Wan shakes his head, suddenly sober. “No. I was--Well, Qui-Gon was the only master who was willing to take me, and even that wasn’t until after I aged out to the AgriCorps. He happened to be on his way to a mission on Bandomeer, on the same transport as me. There were some complications involving his former padawan, Xanatos--“

“The one who fell,” Anakin interrupts.

“Yes,” Obi-Wan agrees. “The one who fell. He was functioning as the head of the Offworld Mining Corporation. Qui-Gon intended to negotiate with him on the Republic’s behalf, but it was a trap. I was--At that point, I was enslaved in a mine shaft, but--“

“You were what?” Anakin’s Force signature thrums with barely-controlled fury. It’s shocking. Obi-Wan startles back a step, but Anakin gets himself under control in a matter of seconds, breathing hard through his nose. “Sorry, Obi. Sorry. Slavery’s a bit of a soft spot.”

Obi-Wan, wide-eyed, has no idea what to say to that. “I don’t need to finish the story, Master. It’s not important.”

“Like pfassk it’s not.” His master crosses the space between them to put his hands on Obi-Wan’s shoulders again, instantly grounding. “The things that happen to you are important to me. Everything that happens to you is important. You’re my padawan.”

Obi-Wan swallows. Something very delicate is pulsing inside his chest, fluttering like a bird’s wings. He’s afraid that if he doesn’t force it back down it will come up out of his throat and ruin everything. You are a Jedi, he reminds himself in the privacy of his own mind. The rising tides of pain and suffering crash against you like waves against rocks.

“Perhaps I should tell you the rest over dinner,” he says out loud.

Dinner is nothing more than some warmed ration packs and a kettle of tarine tea that Obi-Wan brews on the hot plate that his predecessor has left in the ’fresher. He and Anakin sit cross-legged at the low table in the kitchen and eat while Obi-Wan recounts the rest of the Bandomeer mission, his near-death at being cast from the deep sea platform, being rescued by a lucky net and then by Qui-Gon, facing Xanatos and being left for dead in a cave. He admits to Anakin, feeing childish and silly as he does, that half of him had still expected Qui-Gon to send him back to the AgriCorps, after everything. That he was surprised when Qui-Gon said he would take him on as his padawan.

It’s warm in their quarters, the hum of the ship’s engine like the purr of a living thing around them. Obi-Wan’s stomach is full, he’s exhausted, and he feels safer here than he felt in the temple last night, sleeping next to Qui-Gon’s ghost. It loosens something inside him, lowers some emotional wall, so that when Anakin sets his fork down and says, “I wish I’d been a master, then. I’d have taken you as my padawan the second you were old enough,” it hits him like a fist in the solar plexus.

For what feels like the millionth time since he met Anakin, he has no idea what to say.

Luckily he doesn’t have to come up with anything, because Anakin stands and dumps his dishes in the sink. “Why don’t we see about that training bond?”

In the Theed generator complex, cradling Qui-Gon in his arms while he became one with the Living Force, Obi-Wan had felt the excruciating pain of a training bond ripped unceremoniously in two. He expects to feel at least a phantom of that pain, now--some tenderness, sensitivity, as Anakin begins to sift through his mind. But there is nothing, no pain. There are only Anakin’s hands clasped firmly in his, one palm up, one palm down. The slow, steady sync of their breathing. The gold contented calm of shared meditation, washing over him in waves.

Anakin’s Force signature is strong and distinct. Having his mind touch Obi-Wan’s is a bit like being grabbed and pulled forward--like what Anakin did when they met on the landing pad. It’s decisive, determined, but still careful, like he’s giving Obi-Wan time to push away.

He doesn’t. He lets Anakin take the ragged ends of Qui-Gon’s training bond and braid them into something new: a tether, more intricate and more durable than anything Obi-Wan’s ever felt, binding padawan to master.

On Umbara, they don’t see the sun for seventy-eight days.

Strange, behemoth creatures move in the dark; they fight battles where the glow of their ’sabers and the flash of blaster fire is the only light. Obi-Wan learns to rely on the Force when he can no longer rely on his eyes, placing his trust in intuition in a way that he never has before.

He also learns to rely on his new master, who is just as mad and reckless as the rumor mongers said, but is much wiser and more capable than they ever gave him credit for. He is fearless in battle, but Obi-Wan spent many years as Qui-Gon’s padawan, and is no stranger to fearlessness. What strikes him more about Anakin is his fearlessness in life, his easy cameraderie with his men and his battle cries and his glaringly obvious emotional attachment to his astromech droid, of all bloody things. He plays it fast and loose with the Code, and it knocks Obi-Wan off-balance.

Once--morning or night, it’s impossible to tell unless they’re on board the Resolute--the sky opens up in the eleventh hour of a losing battle. Suddenly Obi-Wan is inundated with the Living Force, the hundreds of thousands of clones surrounding him lit up like lightning bugs as they heave against the oncoming tide of a million droids, his own awareness of every tiny thing on the planetwide battlefield dialled up to eleven. He can feel his master, a brighter spot than the rest, like a naked flame, sweeping through droves of the enemy with a single motion of his hand, and can feel himself attached by a sturdy tether, the two of them separated in reality by miles of craggy landscape but in the Force joined as close as two people can be.

The sensation fills him with a rush of certainty unlike anything he’s ever felt.

Obi-Wan knows in that moment that he and Anakin are something beyond master and padawan. They’re unbeatable.

Lightning strikes, and the Living Force slams through Obi-Wan like a blow; for a brief, brilliant moment he can see all that Anakin is. He can see the deep red ocean of his love and the tangled veins of his attachments and an undercurrent of darkness which terrifies him.

When he comes back into himself he can’t breathe. He narrowly avoids taking a blaser bolt to the head by taking it in the shoulder instead.

There’s an urgent, panicked yank at his training bond. Fine, is all he manages to send back, gasping and blinking frantically through the pain, and then the next wave of droids is on him. Cody and Rex are yelling, blaster fire arcs red and blazing over his shoulder, and he plunges into the fray.

Later, when the battle is over (not won, but not lost either), Obi-Wan repairs to the ’fresher in his bunk on the Resolute and peels out of his robes. He hisses in pain as the wet fabric comes away from his wound--it’s been long enough that the two have stuck together like sodden tissue. Residue from his encounter with the Living Force is still singing under his skin, and he feels more alive than he has since he last turned his face up under the light of a real, true sun, instead of the awful night-day lamps they have on the ship, but he’s soaked to the bone and shivering pitifully. It’s an odd combination. He frowns at the livid mark of his blaster wound in the mirror. It’s still oozing blood.

There’s only a sonic, not anything that could warm him like a genuine water shower, but he still hops in quickly to make sure there’s no dirt in his wound. He’s had infected blaster burns before, and he’s not eager to repeat the experience, especially not in the Resolute’s frontlines medbay.

When he’s done, he opens the medkit and gets to work. There’s not much to do except slather the wound in bacta, wrap it in a watertight bandage, and hope that he has enough time for a healing trance sometime in the next few days. Qui-Gon was always helpless as a healer; he was too powerful, had no patience for the intricate, focused work required to wind muscles and sinews back together. It had fallen to Obi-Wan to tend to both their wounds, often trailing Qui-Gon around their transport trying to badger him into sitting still long enough to submit to a few stitches.

Obi-Wan has never particularly liked having to see to his own wounds when he’s exhausted and in pain, but he has gotten used to it. He always bore it with peaceful quiet, far too grateful for Qui-Gon’s grudging tutelage to dream of making a fuss over something so minor. He is a jedi; he is meant to be a whole and singular entity within himself. Wound care is a frustrating but ultimately very small part of that.

Only, when he’s about to leave the ’fresher, there’s a knock on the door. “Obi?” Anakin calls. “You okay in there? Can I come in?”

Bewildered, Obi-Wan presses the button to open the door. “I’m quite alright, Master,” he says.

Anakin’s eyes rake over his bare chest, the fresh yellow bruises that span his ribs and the neat, tidy work he’s done on his shoulder. “Did you dress your own blaster wound?” he asks, as if that is a perplexing and inexplicable thing to do.

“Yes,” Obi-Wan answers. “I’m all finished, if you have any wounds you’d like me to see to.” Sith spit. He realizes to late that Anakin might have wanted him to see to his wounds before tending to his own. Qui-Gon always preferred Obi-Wan patch himself up first, but he hadn’t thought to ask. Maybe Anakin and his old padawan had done things differently. Maybe he was unhappy with Obi-Wan’s presumption.

But Anakin makes a noise halfway between confusion and sadness and says, “I could’ve helped you with that. Stars, Obi, you don’t have to--Did you heal it?”

“Just bacta.” Obi-Wan is embarrassed by his incompetence. “I don’t think I can focus enough for a trance right now.”

Anakin rolls up his sleeves. “Come out here, let me take a look at it.”

Obligingly, Obi-Wan sits on his narrow bunk and lets Anakin unwrap his wound. His master’s hands are very gentle, ’saber calluses skimming over his skin, and as Obi-Wan’s wound is revealed to the cool, recycled air, he hisses in sympathy. “I’ve seen worse,” he comments, tone light, “but not muchworse. Kriff, Obi, this looks painful.”

“It is, a bit,” Obi-Wan admits.

Anakin settles his cool palm over the wound, lowering skin-to-skin slowly enough that Obi-Wan is prepared for the inevitable sting. A moment later, he feels the whispering machinations of Force healing begin to tug at his skin and the underlying tissue, weaving it back together. “Why didn’t you ask for my help?” Anakin asks softly. “Or better yet, why didn’t you head down to medbay?”

They have very different opinions on the quality of care available in the medbay, but Obi-Wan understands what Anakin is asking, even if he doesn’t particularly know why he’s asking it. “Qui-Gon struggled with Force healing,” he answers. “He was stronger in other areas, so he preferred that I do all the healing. Normally I’m quite good at it, but I’m…very tired, at the moment.”

“I wonder why,” Anakin teased. Then his expression turned serious. “I want you to come to me whenever you’re hurt. It’s true that I might need your help sometimes as well, but that doesn’t mean the burden falls solely to you. We can look after each other, alright?”

His face is very close to Obi-Wan’s, and Obi-Wan remembers two things at once: how it felt the first time he met Anakin, when he hugged him for a long time on the landing pad at the temple, and that moment on the battlefield when he saw the deep ocean of Anakin’s love and, fleetingly, wanted to drown in it. He knows that love is against the Code, knows that Anakin’s love is not for him, but for a moment, sitting there with his flayed shoulder in Anakin’s hand and their eyes locked and their souls braided together in the bond, he forgets all that.

Then, like he did after the lightning, he comes back to himself. “Yes, Master,” he croaks.

“Good,” Anakin draws his hand away. “Now, tell me how that feels.”

“Better,” Obi-Wan says honestly. “A lot better.”

Anakin smiles in a way that’s almost a laugh, huffing. “Don’t sound so surprised, padawan.”

“I’m not,” Obi-Wan swears. “Well, maybe a bit. But pleasantly.”

Anakin shakes his head, muttering something about getting teased for his trouble, and goes back to his own bunk.

When he’s alone, lying in bed that night, he closes his eyes and tries to release this worrying new affection into the Force. It clings to him like fleshglue, sticking to his elbows and his fingertips and the knobs of his ankles. He dreams of Anakin’s sharp, maverick smile, peering through the door to see Qui-Gon kneeling by his bedside and giving himself over completely to the Living Force, the crèchemaster calling him dear one.

Days later, when Obi-Wan closes his eyes and finds himself back in the Theed generator complex, cradling Qui-Gon in his arms as their training bond rips in two and Obi-Wan’s whole world tilts and lurches under his feet, his master is there. His master sits with him over Qui-Gon’s body while Obi-Wan shakes and shakes, unwilling to let himself sob, the sounds of his shaky breaths echoing off the smooth walls of the complex for what feels like hours as he tries and fails to let go of his grief and his anger and his screaming sense that this is unfair.

When he wakes up he won’t be able to recall exactly what Anakin said to him, metal fingers touching the red overheated skin of his face, but he’ll remember the sentiment: that even though they are Jedi, they cannot stop themselves from feeling. That it is natural to feel. That he has to let it wash over him, has to let it run its course, because otherwise it will consume him. That Anakin knows what Obi-Wan is feeling, and that they will get through this together--that he will drag Obi-Wan through it if he has to, one arm around his chest, lugging him one step at a time like a clone with both his legs blown off.

Obi-Wan wakes up to find his master asleep on the floor beside his bed, meditation mat rolled up for a pillow. He rolls over and reaches one hand down to skim his fingers over the underside of Anakin’s forearm, feeling something like reverence.

They’re summoned before the Council within minutes of landing on Coruscant. Obi-Wan’s a bit thrown--even with Qui-Gon’s tenuous grasp on paperwork, they had rarely been asked to report on their missions in person--but as they make their way to the Council room, Anakin assures him that this is business as usual as far as he’s concerned. “They call them post-op reports, but really it’s just a long list of every mistake I’ve made since the last time we met. Makes them feel better about how they basically dumped the whole war effort on my shoulders.”

He’s right. The Council keeps them standing for three hours while they run down a tally of what feels like every single casualty, every credit over budget, and every instance in which they lost ground when they could, theoretically, have gained it. Anakin tries to insist, voice tight and frustrated despite the fact that he’s clearly done this before, that war is unpredictable, that he has to adapt to changing circumstances, and that they can hardly expect him to win a war without losing a single man, but the Council--especially Master Windu--barely seem to hear him.

Obi-Wan, for the first time, catches himself questioning their wisdom. How can they imply that Anakin Skywalker--the most caring man he’s ever met, who takes every lost clone as personally as he did his own mother--is being reckless with their troops’ lives? How can they believe that Anakin deserves anything but their praise and heartfelt thanks? It’s true what he said in the hall: the entire war effort is on his shoulders.

“Making progress, Padawan Kenobi is?” Master Yoda asks, once they’ve run out of things to grill Anakin on.

The sun is low and syrupy red in the sky. Anakin has deep bags under his eyes, and Obi-Wan thinks that if his head were to hit a pillow in the next minute or so he would never ask for anything again. “Master Jinn was a wise teacher,” Anakin tells the Council, “and Obi-Wan was an exceptional Jedi well before I got my hands on him. Honestly, I’m not sure why you didn’t knight him when he got back from Naboo.”

Obi-Wan drops his eyes to the floor, blood rushing to his face.

“Hmm,” Yoda says. “Suited to war, Kenobi is. Drawn to it, he seems to be.”

Anakin frowns. “I’m not sure I know what you mean, Master. None of us are suited for war. We’re peacekeepers.”

Master Yoda’s wizened gaze finds Obi-Wan, as if Anakin hasn’t spoken. “Understand my meaning, don’t you, Padawan Kenobi?”

Obi-Wan’s face is flushed now not with pleasure at being given a compliment by his master, but with shame. He does not enjoy the war, even though some of the men on the Resolutehave commented that he has taken to it like a fish to water, never once complaining about the sleepless nights or the meager rations or the misery of slogging ten klicks on foot through knee-high mud.

But he knows that Master Yoda’s question has a veiled double meaning. It was Master Yoda who told him he had been excommunicated from the Order when he elected to stay on Melida/Daan instead of accompanying Qui-Gon back to the temple.

Yoda isn’t just inquiring after his progress as a padawan, he’s reminding Obi-Wan why the Council doesn’t trust him enough to knight him. For a moment Obi-Wan wonders what will happen if they never knight him--Can they send him back to Bandomeer, the AgriCorps?

You okay? Anakin sends through their bond.

Obi-Wan blinks. His master is frowning at him, concern in the lines of his face. Fine, Obi-Wan returns, and then says out loud to Master Yoda, “I understand what you mean, Master, and I thank you for the compliment.”

It wasn’t a compliment at all, and Obi-Wan can see in Yoda’s eyes that the old master knows he knows, but he doesn’t say anything more as Master Windu dismisses them and they step into the hall. The doors to the Council room close behind them. Anakin opens his mouth, and Obi-Wan can tell he’s about to demand answers.

“Not here,” he pleads, before Anakin can say anything. “Please, Master.”

Anakin’s expression softens. He nods.

Back in his quarters--which Obi-Wan has never set foot in until this very moment, but which smell and feel like his master and immediately slot into place in his mind as home--Anakin stands with his arms crossed over his chest while Obi-Wan bustles about in the kitchen brewing a pot of tarine tea.

“You’re going to tell me what all that pfassk with Master Yoda was about,” Anakin says. His voice has the dangerous, tight edge that usually means they’re losing a battle and he’s getting desperate--the only time he ever resorts to giving Obi-Wan a direct order.  

Obi-Wan sighs. He pours them each a cup of tea and sits down at the table, cupping his between his hands. His stomach is turning over and over in his gut like he’s doing barrel rolls in a fighter, but thankfully Anakin drops the tough-general act in short order. He pulls out the other chair and joins Obi-Wan at the table, suddenly patient. Probably he recognizes, through their bond or through his familiarity with his padawan, that Obi-Wan is not disobeying, only trying to collect the words to say what Anakin has asked him to.

“You don’t have to,” Anakin backtracks, after a minute of silence. “I shouldn’t have snapped at you.”

“No.” Obi-Wan sips his tea. His hands are trembling; he can see the motion in the surface of the liquid. “You deserve to know. You’re my master, you agreed to take me on when no one else would. You deserve to know what you’re dealing with.”

He says the last with a self-deprecating little smile, but no hint of mirth crosses Anakin’s face. He’s staring at Obi-Wan intensely, single-mindedly, like he stares at battle plans. Just waiting for him to speak.

So Obi-Wan speaks. “Early on in my apprenticeship, Qui-Gon and I were sent to a planet that was being ravaged by civil war, called Melida/Daan. We were… Our mission had nothing to do with the conflict, but we became involved in it nonetheless. Another Jedi had been injured, and Master Jinn wanted to return with her to the temple. They were lovers, I believe.”

He still remembers the shock of that realization: that his master, so concerned with the Jedi Code, so determined to hold Obi-Wan to each and every item, felt attachment to the weak, injured woman lying on the cot in their transport. He remembers Qui-Gon’s huge hand swallowing hers as gently as cradling a baby bird, and the sick, shameful swell of jealousy that he had felt watching it, Qui-Gon’s gaze cutting to him in the open door and Obi-Wan whipping around the corner out of sight, heart beating like a rabbit and humiliated tears in his eyes.

Anakin’s watching him. Obi-Wan feels that same humiliation now, and he looks away from his master. He doesn’t like that Anakin should know this about him. He wants Anakin to think better of him. He wants Anakin to hold him like Qui-Gon never had.

“I was… entangled with a group of young freedom fighters. I had sworn to help them in an upcoming operation, and I told Master Jinn that I couldn’t accompany him back to the temple. He told me that if I didn’t come with him, I would no longer be his padawan.” A lump in his throat. He washes it down with tea. “I felt I had a responsibility to keep my promise, so I stayed. Master Yoda called a day later to tell me I had been expelled from the Order. Eventually I was allowed to return on a probationary status, but…”

He presses a knuckle to his orbital bone, willing himself not to cry. “He was reminding me, that’s all.”

“Reminding you of what?” Anakin asks.

Obi-Wan laughs mirthlessly. “That they can’t trust me. That I betrayed the Order, that… That I can never be a knight.”

“Obi,” Anakin’s voice sounds strange, but Obi-Wan doesn’t dare look at him. “Kriffing nerf herders,” he hears him mutter, and then there’s the scraping of a chair over the floor, and Anakin is sitting right next to him. He takes Obi-Wan’s face in his hands. “Obi,” he says again. “Look at me, please.”

Obi-Wan does.

Anakin looks both bereft and terrified at once. He looks as if someone has taken the thing he loves most in the world and threatened to wring its neck. There’s an undercurrent of dark, boiling rage in his Force signature that wraps around Obi-Wan like a protective shield the second he so much as looks in its direction. Anakin is not mad at him, he realizes. Anakin is mad for him. It’s a completely alien concept, and it makes his stomach flip over again.

His master’s thumbs--metal and flesh--brush tears from Obi-Wan’s face. “You didn’t betray the Order,” he says. “The Order betrayed you. So did your master. No padawan should ever have to choose between what they think is right and having a home to come back to.”

The lump is back in Obi-Wan’s throat. His eyes water again. Without thinking, he reaches up and grabs onto the front of Anakin’s robes. “Master.

“I take back what I said in front of the Council about Qui-Gon being a wise teacher. He was a kriffing awful teacher. He never should have put you in that position, especially not when you were--How old were you?”

“Ah,” Obi-Wan says, “thirteen.”

Thirteen,” Anakin echoes, then swears a blue streak that would’ve made Obi-Wan blush a few months ago, before clone-sponsored immersion therapy. “Never, Obi,” Anakin says. “He never should have done that. Pfassk, I’m so sorry I wasn’t there.”

“You didn’t know I existed,” Obi-Wan protests. “You were probably still a padawan yourself, carrying Master Yoda around like a backpack.”

“I should’ve dropped him,” Anakin says decisively.

Obi-Wan breaks into a watery laugh.

Anakin smiles back at him from mere inches away. “They’re going to knight you,” he says, serious. “You’re going to be one of the greatest knights ever to live, Obi-Wan. I can see that in the Force clear as day. But even if they don’t, you’re always going to have a place with me, okay? You’re my padawan.”

Obi-Wan’s hands tighten in Anakin’s robes. He’s filled with such a swell of gratitude that he has no idea what to say--and is quite sure he wouldn’t be able to say it even if he did--so he only nods wordlessly. He feels like a youngling again, startled by the slightest sign of friendship.

He’s about to let go when Anakin leans up and presses a kiss to his forehead. Obi-Wan thinks for a moment that he freezes, but then he realizes that everything has gone still in the Force. It’s as if neither of them are breathing, like their hearts have ceased to beat. Anakin’s fingertips dig into the side of his head, his nose brushes his hairline. Obi-Wan has never felt anything so clearly, obviously pre-ordained as the shape of them here together in the Living Force.

Anakin draws away. He looks badly shaken, and as soon as he meets Obi-Wan’s eyes he drops his hands and gets out of his chair.

“I need to meditate,” he says, with a casualness that Obi-Wan immediately senses is faked, and badly-faked to boot. “You should enjoy sleeping in a bed where your feet don’t hang off the end while you can. There’s no telling when they’ll need us to ship out again.”

Obi-Wan feels as rattled as Anakin looks, and though he wants to ask his master whether he might sleep on the meditation mat next to his bed, he doesn’t dare.

“Yes, Master,” he says instead, and watches Anakin’s back as he leaves.

Anakin’s Djem So is just as good as the stories always said, and his Vaapad is better. Obi-Wan’s always preferred Soresu himself, even against Qui-Gon’s more precise, concentrated Makashi, but he’s proficient in six of the seven forms and getting better at Niman with every day that Anakin wakes him at the crack of dawn to head down to the temple sparring rooms and spend the hours before firstmeal beating each other with staffs.

Niman’s dual-wielding forms are difficult, much more physically demanding than the other forms, and even though Obi-Wan managed to kill a Sith while dual-wielding his lightsaber and his injured master’s, he has considerable trouble on the mat. It frustrates him more than it should, and when he tries to release the frustration into the force it zings through his body like an electric shock and leaves him more worked up than before.

His master assures him that Jedi often accomplish great feats in the heat of battle that they’re later unable to replicate in more benign settings. Some combination of adrenaline and the Force. But try as he might to integrate Anakin’s coaching, Obi-Wan takes his slow progress as a personal failing. He thinks it must have something to do with their nearness in age. He never chafed at Qui-Gon moving him around like a doll on the mat, tutting and prodding.

What he fails to take into account is that his master is one of the best ’saber fighters ever to live. Just the fact that Obi-Wan is able to keep pace with him, to win nearly half their bouts, is a testament to his ability--as he realizes when, after one particularly well-matched round, they both stagger away sweaty and gasping, and Obi-Wan turns to see that they have attracted quite an audience. He spots Master Windu and Master Fisto watching from the mezzanine, and Master Billaba has sat her entire class of younglings down on one of the padded mats to watch.

Obi-Wan looks back to Anakin, suddenly self-conscious. Anakin just grins and claps him on the back on the way to the showers.

Qui-Gon seemed to feel some sort of subtle satisfaction whenever Obi-Wan beat him in a sparring match, as all teachers felt when their students surpassed them, but he had never taken as much obvious joy in ’saber fighting as Anakin does, laughing and shouting and flying over Obi-Wan’s head in gravity-defying flips, like he’s daring Obi-Wan to outdo him.

For all that Qui-Gon taught him, for all that he gave him, it wasn’t often that he had fun, that he made Obi-Wan rejoice in being a Jedi. Obi-Wan was always too busy watching what he said, what he did, tempering his hope so it didn’t get out of hand.

He forgets to do that, with Anakin. His hope runs wild. He gets so comfortable with the present that he starts thinking about the future.

Maybe, he thinks, when he remembers how it had felt to have his master’s lips on his forehead. Maybe, when he imagines he can feel his master’s eyes lingering in the showers. Maybe, Anakin relating a hilarious story about a podracer named Sebulba over a dinner of dumplings that Obi-Wan cooked in their kitchen, both of them laughing so hard they forget about eating entirely. Maybe, how Anakin took him to the mat in Niman practice and kept him there just a little too long, Obi-Wan’s knees framing his hips and their chests heaving together.

Maybe, a faint whisper over their bond.

Then Senator Amidala returns from her reelection campaign on Naboo, and it all comes crashing down on Obi-Wan’s head. Anakin does not tell him explicitly, but Obi-Wan is the one to drive him to the senator’s landing pad, and without some serious distance it’s very difficult to keep that sort of secret, with a training bond. Anakin and Senator Amidala don’t touch; clearly they’re old pros at this sort of thing. But they stand very close together and Anakin smiles down at her like she’s the sun, and Obi-Wan knows.

Anakin glances over his shoulder and meets Obi-Wan’s eyes where he’s sitting in the speeder they took from the temple. Obi-Wan can see on his master’s face that he knows Obi-Wan knows, but there’s no trace of guilt. He just puts a hand on his wife’s arm and turns his back on his padawan.

Obi-Wan remembers, driving back to the temple alone, why he was always so careful not to let his expectations or his desires get ahead of him. It hurts much more to have his hopes crushed than to never bother hoping at all.

Logically, he knows that it’s not Anakin’s fault. He can hardly be held accountable for Obi-Wan’s childishness.

Anakin does not come back to their quarters that night, and Obi-Wan putters aimlessly from the kitchen to the bookshelf to the holovision and back again, not sure what to do with himself in his master’s absence. In the end he abandons his cup of tea and goes down to the sparring room to see if anyone’s looking for a partner. A few of his old crèchemates, padawans and knights now themselves, are fooling around with Vaapad, but as soon as Obi-Wan joins in it becomes apparent to him that he’s far beyond them in terms of ability. It’s not arrogance. He’s far beyond everyone but masters, now.

Not wanting to ruin their fun, he bows out with as little ceremony as he can manage and goes to wander some more. When he blinks and looks up, he realizes he’s in the Room of a Thousand Fountains.

The fountains burble quietly. The far-off lights of Coruscant’s busy shipping lanes glitter like stars overhead. Obi-Wan can feel in the Force that he is completely alone. He lets his knees give out and folds down in a cross-legged seat. The grass is cool and wet beneath him. He closes his eyes.

Qui-Gon took Obi-Wan here for guided meditation, a few times. Obi-Wan never asked for it without his old master offering. He knew that this was an almost sacred space for Qui-Gon, and he had never wanted to impose himself where he was not wanted.

Now, he almost imagines he can feel Qui-Gon’s presence.

Tears clog the back of his throat. He’s suddenly desperate to know what counsel his old master might give him, if he were here. You are a Jedi, he knows Qui-Gon would have said. The rising tides of pain and suffering crash against you like waves against rocks.

But then there would’ve been a sly wink, a hint of that rebellious streak everyone was always warning Obi-Wan about, and Qui-Gon would have delivered his real advice--not about being a Jedi, but about being a man. For all that he believed in the Order, in his fellow Jedi and what they stood for, Qui-Gon had always had a knack for finding the gray areas. He had always seemed to Obi-Wan to be an expert in matters of the heart.

Older and a bit wiser, Obi-Wan suspects there might not be any such thing as an expert in matters of the heart.

He gathers up his love for Anakin, picking it up piece by piece. Anakin lying asleep beside his bed on the Resolute. Anakin sitting with him in dreams, enduring with him the small snotty indignities and the poleaxing terrors alike. Anakin first thing in the morning, hair pulled back in a knot. Anakin moving smoothly through the steps of a high-level Djem So kata, his ’saber like an extension of self. Anakin saying slavery’s a bit of a soft spot, declining to elaborate and nursing this hard festering knot of pain at the center of his being. Anakin charging into a legion of droidekas to drag Rex back to safety, trusting Obi-Wan to cover him without a word of communication between them. Anakin, hugging him on that landing pad. Anakin dive-bombing a stolen Umbaran fighter from the upper atmosphere with a whoop of joy and a rudimentary understanding of the controls. Anakin calling him Obi, calling him padawan, calling him a kriffing idiot with fear in his voice after a close call.

You are with the Jedi now, Obi-Wan reminds himself. It isn’t the Jedi way to mourn loss, even an emotional loss. He wrestles with himself now in the same way that he did standing in front of his old master’s funeral pyre, fighting off a great sadness with one hand and grasping at serentity with the other.  

He gathers Anakin up and tries to release him into the Force. But it feels like he’s trying to stuff a bag down an overstuffed laundry chute.

The Force doesn’t want to take this from him, he realizes. The Force wants him to keep this.

“Padawan Kenobi,” someone says behind him.

Obi-Wan blinks out of his meditative trance and turns to find Mace Windu standing over him. The master has his hands tucked in the sleeves of his robes, the picture of propriety, but his expression is grim. “Master Windu,” Obi-Wan says. He stands and brushes grass off his pants.

“Where is Master Skywalker?” Master Windu asks.

Fear seizes Obi-Wan’s heart for a moment--does Master Windu know about Senator Amidala?--but he does his level best not to let it show. “I think he went for a drive,” he lies. He lies, to a Council member. “He doesn’t always notify me.”

Master Windu seems to accept that. “I hear you speak Zabrak,” he says.

Ice runs down Obi-Wan’s spine. He gives a tight-lipped nod.

“Good,” Windu says. “There’s an urgent mission on the Outer Rim. You’re coming with me.”

The first glimpse he catches of the Zabrak darksider paralyzes him. Distantly, he hears Master Windu yelling, hears the hum of his purple ’saber and the sound as Asajj Ventress ignites her own--twin blades, just like Maul. But his training bond with Anakin is stretched thin by the distance, and his connection to the Living Force suddenly surges with so much uncontrolled power that it sends him reeling. For a moment he thinks he sees a ghostly blue form standing next to him, tall and hulking with long gray hair, holding his old master’s blade, but then he blinks and it’s gone.

Ventress is on them.

In the absence of coherent thought, Obi-Wan falls back on his training. He digs in his heels and moves through forms faster than his conscious mind can keep up with, lightsaber zinging as he meets Ventress’ savage, graceful assault. The corridor of the abandoned space station where they’ve found themselves pinned down must be near the generator room, because the air seems to quaver with heat, and Obi-Wan’s brow drips with sweat. He attacks with a backhanded strike Anakin drilled into him on the mats, but Ventress just laughs and parries. At some point Master Windu falls with a cry, clutching his side, and Obi-Wan calls his purple ’saber to him with the Force, stepping easily into Niman as he and the Zabrak duel with four blades.

He doesn’t remember much of how the battle ends. Master Windu gets back up, but Obi-Wan spends most of it unconscious. When he comes to, he’s laying on a metal bench in a pitch black room, and he can’t feel the Force.

His training bond with Anakin is completely shut out. For a moment he panics--Is Anakin dead? Where did he get off dying while Obi-Wan wasn’t even in the same kriffing quadrant?--but then he forces himself to slow down and think.

He sits up and finds his meditation position. Closes his eyes and looks inward.

The base of the training bond is intact, and when he probes along it he can feel that it hasn’t frayed, that the strands are all still there. It’s like someone has put a clamp around the middle, blocking anything that might travel along the bond. It’s the same with Obi-Wan’s connection to the Force. He stretches the tendrils of his mind down to where the it usually is, but it’s as if there’s something blocking him. A sheet of durasteel pulled over the well.

He has heard of Force dampeners before, but he’s never had the misfortune of experiencing one; few Jedi have. The fact that Ventress has chosen to use one on him now makes him nervous. Obi-Wan is only a padawan. He’s nobody. What does she want with him?

The door clangs open. Ventress stands silhouetted in red light. “Time to go,” she says in Zabrak. “Get up.”

Obi-Wan sees no reason to create a problem for himself. He gets up.

As it turns out, what the darksider wants from him is not himat all. She wants his master. Or rather—her master wants his master. Obi-Wan stares down at a puddle of his own blood thickening and drying on the ground and struggles to get a handle on the pain so he can think.

She’s opened his connection to Anakin just far enough to let general sensation flow through. The general sensation Obi-Wan is feeling right now is agony, and no matter how much he tries to send Fine, Fine, Fineback to Anakin, he can’t help it when he’s screaming. He can’t feel a thing from his master, and in his darker moments he wonders if Anakin has severed the bond on his end. If he’s given up on his padawan.

Obi-Wan never sees Master Windu in the halls, never hears him screaming. He hopes that the master is alive, and he feels shame that he’s unable to do anything to mount a rescue, but by the time he makes it back to his cell each night he barely has the energy to fall into a healing trance.

Even with the Force dampener that he suspects is integrated into the walls of the cell and into his leg irons, Obi-Wan can still reach the Living Force. He cannot control his connection to it, and he knows that it’s risky to cast himself into it without being able to find his way back, but after Ventress takes all the fingernails on his right hand, he does anyway. Curled into a tight ball around his injured hand, he feels a sudden yearning for his old master, for his steadiness and his calm. If he cannot have the protective shield of Anakin’s barely-tempered rage, he wants the cool serenity of Qui-Gon’s wisdom, the unwavering strength of his presence in the Force.

Yearning for Anakin, he gave up early on. It makes no sense for his master to come for him. He’s in the hands of a dangerous darksider, so far in the Outer Rim he’s practically in the Unknown Regions. Anakin has men who depend on him. He has a duty to the Order. He has a wife.

Obi-Wan tries to accept this truth, but in the lightless pit of his cell, shivering in the filth of his own blood and sweat, it is difficult. He dreams of Anakin sitting in the dark with him, murmuring words he can’t hear and stroking his overlong hair, but he knows that it’s not real, because he cannot feel Anakin over their bond. He dreams that he never left Bandomeer, that he spends his days tending the fields and meditating with the older farmhands and drilling with staffs as the sun sets. He dreams of his uninhabited planet. Bare rock, winds strong enough to dislodge him into space, the maw of something huge and terrifying opening up in his chest, threatening to consume him. He knows there, as he knows in reality, that no one is coming for him.

But then, on what Obi-Wan will later discover is the hundredth day, someone does.

He hears the blaster fire first, and muffled voices shouting on the deck below. Then he feels a wave of energy ripple through the whole station, strong enough that he can feel it even with his Force-sense weak as it is. Extraordinarly powerful, with an undercurrent of darkness.

It’s his master. He recognizes Anakin’s Force signature immediately.

The door to Obi-Wan’s cell opens, but it isn’t Anakin. It isn’t Ventress, either. It’s R2-D2.

The sight is so unexpected that Obi-Wan laughs out loud. R2 chirps happily in response, and ejects something at him. Obi-Wan catches his own lightsaber before he even registers what it is. “Thank you,” he says politely to the droid.

Then he ignites the ’saber, cuts the irons around his legs, and steps out of the cell, back into the Force.

R2 guides him through the halls of the space station down to the hangar bay, where Anakin is taking on a rather large army of battle droids single-handedly. Ventress, thank the stars, is nowhere to be seen, and despite the fact that his limbs feel like jelly, Obi-Wan plunges into the fray without a moment of hesitation. His bond with Anakin flares up like a live wire, and he feels the answering zingof Anakin’s ecstatic recognition before his master even turns to see him. Obi-Wan mows down battle droids to get to him. He feels invincible, so flooded with relief and adrenaline and gratitude that he can do anything.

Obi-Wan!” Anakin shouts, when they’re in hearing distance.

Obi-Wan slices a battle droid cleanly from head to toe. The two halves of it clatter to the floor, and he steps over into Anakin’s pocket of space.

There’s no time for a tearful reunion. Anakin clearly came in here without a plan, and they’re pinned to the wall. They can’t take off in the battered transport Anakin brought until the droids are dealt with, otherwise they’ll be shot out of the sky.

Obi-Wan and Anakin pivot at the same time, backs crashing together in a familiar defensive stance.

“You good to go?” Anakin asks, deflecting a blaster bolt.

“Good to go,” Obi-Wan confirms.

And they dance.

It’s R2 who saves them in the end, powering down all the battle droids at once from the control station above the hangar bay. As the deafening clang of hundreds of droids falling at once echoes through the hangar, Obi-Wan turns to his master. “Have you located Master Windu?”

Anakin scowls. “Yeah,” he says. “Safely ensconced in the temple. Kriffing coward.”

Obi-Wan frowns. “I don’t understand. I thought he was taken captive as well.”

“He escaped,” Anakin spits. “He left you here, and then tried to convince me that I should leave you to die.”

Obi-Wan feels like his entire spirit stumbles. Master Windu left him here? He chose to leave him here? Obi-Wan could understand the reasoning behind not returning for him if the risks outweighed the reward, but the idea that a Jedi master was well within reach of saving him and elected instead to leave him at the mercy of a darksider…

Before he can come to any sort of understanding, Anakin seizes him in a crushing hug. They’re almost of a height, but Anakin presses Obi-Wan’s face into his shoulder and holds him there, arms wrapped as tight around him as they’ll go. Obi-Wan clings to him in return. His master feels strong and solid, and unlike the countless times that Obi-Wan dreamed him over the course of his captivity, he can feel him over their training bond. It feels tighter than normal, like the tether has gotten shorter, like Anakin’s reeling it in. Obi-Wan finds that he doesn’t mind at all. The nearness is like a balm. He turns his face into the skin of Anakin’s neck, wanting to feel him without the barrier of robes, and Anakin makes a noise like he’s been stabbed.

Padawan,” he breathes, pulling back. It has been a long captivity; Obi-Wan suspects he may have lost the capacity to blush. He only stares back at Anakin, unabashed, as Anakin grabs his skull and presses a harsh kiss to his forehead.

It feels like he’s holding himself back. It feels like he wants to do a lot more than kiss Obi-Wan’s forehead. Obi-Wan’s grip on the back of his robes intensifies, but nothing more happens.

They don’t let go of each other as they make their way up the ramp into the transport.

As Anakin gets them underway, shooting out into the vast starmap of Outer Rim space, the weight of exhaustion catches up with Obi-Wan all at once. He passes out in the co-pilot’s seat and wakes up in a bunk that smells of Anakin.

His master is bent over him, palm pressed to an open wound on Obi-Wan’s side. It was something like a corkscrew, Obi-Wan remembers. Ventress had spent what felt like hours twisting it deeper and deeper into his flesh, while Obi-Wan screamed and his pain rippled over their training bond. Suddenly he realizes that Anakin must have felt every instant of what was done to him as if he himself was the one being tortured, and the pain of that is almost worse than the memory of Ventress twisting her bare gray fingers into the wound. He hurt his master.

“I’m sorry,” he croaks.

Anakin looks up at him. Obi-Wan couldn’t see it while his head was bent, but he realizes now that his master’s face is wet with tears. “What could you possibly have to be sorry for?” Anakin asks. His voice is rough.

“You felt my pain,” Obi-Wan says. “You--Did you come here alone?”

Anakin pushes his padawan’s hair away from his face. “Sorry it took me so long.”

“The Council ordered you not to,” Obi-Wan intuits.

Anakin doesn’t deny it. “They won’t expel me. They won’t even ground me to the temple. After all, without me, who would fight their kriffing war?” The last comes out bitterly, like Anakin would rather be grounded than fight one more battle, but Obi-Wan knows that’s not true. Anakin certainly has no trouble shirking duty, but he would never leave his men. Case in point: Obi-Wan.

“Me, probably,” Obi-Wan says, after an awkward moment. “But I don’t fancy doing it alone.”

Anakin shakes his head, face tense. “No. You’re never going near a fight again, I swear to kriffing--”

“Master.” Obi-Wan grabs Anakin’s wrist. “I’m alright.”

Anakin stares at him, breathing short and hard. It’s only then that Obi-Wan realizes the intimacy of their position, his flesh knitting back together under Anakin’s hand while he lies there in nothing but his breeches. His master has his hair pulled back in a knot, like he wears it for sparring, and Obi-Wan has a sudden urge to reach up and tug it loose, so he can sink his fingers in it.

Anakin’s metal thumb moves over Obi-Wan’s face, down to the corner of his mouth. Obi-Wan discovers he has not lost the capacity to blush.

“Master,” he murmurs again.

“Stars, Obi,” Anakin says, like a sigh. “I was so scared. I thought I was gonna lose you.” His flesh hand leaves the wound at Obi-Wan’s side, sliding up his naked skin to press along the other side of his face, so Anakin is leaning over him, cradling his head. Obi-Wan melts into the touch. He has long since given up trying not to lean into the warmth of his hands.

Anakin’s mouth rests against his cheek. “I can’t lose you.”

“You have a wife,” Obi-Wan says, only distantly processing the train of thought. Anakin is very, very close. Obi-Wan can taste his breath.

“Not anymore,” Anakin says, and Obi-Wan can taste that too. “A lot changed while you were away.”

Away,” Obi-Wan huffs. “You make it sound like I was on vacation.”

Anakin laughs, but halfway through the laugh turns into something that sounds like a sob. Obi-Wan feels the warm wetness of teardrops smeared between their faces, where Anakin’s eyelashes skim his temple. Spurred by a sudden spike of desperation, he tugs the tie out of Anakin’s hair and sinks his hands in, holding his master like his master is holding him.

Anakin sucks in a breath. “Obi-Wan,” he says. “Sith spit, I thought I was in love before. I really did. But then you…”

“The Code,” Obi-Wan protests, but it sounds weak even to his ears, and he’s aware that the way he’s clinging to Anakin like a lifeline undercuts his argument. “It is not the Jedi way--”

“Stars, kark the Jedi,” Anakin says, and kisses him.

Obi-Wan has been kissed before, clumsy fumbling bumps of lips by awkward thirteen-year-olds, but he has not been kissed like this. The taste of Anakin’s mouth, the feeling of his tongue pressing Obi-Wan’s jaw open to lick inside--it causes a swell of affection and want to rise up so fast inside Obi-Wan that he grasps desperately at their bond for balance, for serenity. He feels Anakin grab back, using their bond to pull Obi-Wan even deeper against him, swinging his legs up on the bunk to lean over Obi-Wan on his hands and knees.

Obi-Wan feels surrounded by him. He feels safer and more cherished than he’s ever felt, and as long minutes pass with their mouths moving desperately together he realizes that he could lose himself in this. He could lose himself completely in Anakin Skywalker.

A hurt noise against his master’s tongue. Anakin pulls away, just far enough to stare down at him. “Obi?” he asks.

Obi-Wan scrambles out from underneath him and gets up fast enough that all the blood rushes to his head, nearly making him fall over. He stumbles into the ’fresher and slams his hand against the button to close the door.

A moment later, Anakin pounds on the other side. “Obi-Wan?” he calls. “Are you okay? Are you hurt? Did I hurt you?”

Fine, Obi-Wan sends along their bond.

Anakin says something else, but Obi-Wan doesn’t hear it. He’s braced against the sink, staring at his own reflection in the mirror--his gaunt cheeks, his shaggy hair, the thin line of his padawan braid. There’s a slimy line of bacta smeared over a cut on his jawline, near his ear. His lips are red and swollen from kissing, and he hardly recognizes himself after so many months in the dark, but he stares into his own eyes as the raging panic of his heartbeat calms down to a more manageable pace.

He is a Jedi. He believes in the Jedi, in the Order, which means that he follows the Code. He does not form attachments. He does not love.

He is one with the Force.

Only, he reaches for the Force now--the Living Force, with its almost-overwhelming depth and breadth. He has been carefully managing his contact with it, not wanting to get swept away by his newly-regained Force-sense, but now he drops the barriers and lets it wash over him.

The Force is singing.

Obi-Wan gathers up his love for his master, but for the first time he doesn’t try to release it, and the Force swarms around him like a pack of happy tookacats, pawing at his legs and falling over itself in its eagerness to show its approval. Obi-Wan chokes out a sob, collapsing forward onto his elbows, nearly knocking his head against the sink ledge.

Even when the Order abandoned him, shipping him off to the AgriCorps, the Force stayed with him.

He trusts it more than he ever trusted the Order, or its teachings. And though the Code may forbid his love for Anakin, the Force does not.

Don’t be afraid, the Force whispers to him. There is nothing in the ’verse that can hurt you here.

Obi-Wan takes a deep breath and straightens up, rubbing at his eyes. Anakin is still banging on the door, promising to keep his distance if Obi-Wan will just come out and let Anakin see if he’s okay, and as he pulls his wits back about him Obi-Wan is seized by the sudden need to see him immediately. He presses the button to open the door, and finds himself face-to-face with his distressed master.

With the great love of his life.

“Obi-Wan,” Anakin starts, sounding miserable. “Are you--”

Before he can say anything else, Obi-Wan reaches for him with the Force, pulls him in, and kisses him.