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Unchained Hearts and Homes

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Anakin swallowed the last gulp of milkshake, but he didn’t taste it. It was like the porridge Mom made, the kind he always hated—tasteless and thick. It settled in his belly like a sticky paste, and he tried to ignore the nausea swirling in his gut. Never puke up food, no matter what. 

He happily shoved the to-go cup near his feet now that it was empty. It quickly tipped over and knocked against his boot when the speeder veered to the right. His stomach swooped.

“I hope you had a good time, my boy.”

Anakin glanced over at the driver. The Chancellor smiled at him while weaving slowly through traffic. It was just the two of them out that night, so the speeder was a small one, just big enough to hold two people. Anakin had offered to drive, but…he was glad he wasn’t now.

One time during a sandstorm, he remembered being alone in the house when he was really little. Mom didn’t leave the shop soon enough, so Anakin was left waiting for her, and he sat right next to the entrance of their hut. The wind pounded against the walls, and he remembered closing his eyes, leaning his head against the door. His ear was right against it. The sound at once dulled and echoed in his skull, moaning a distant sound of discord.  

The passing chaos of traffic was like that, as if he’d stuck his whole face against the door. But this time it was like the storm was raking along the outskirts of his brain before it traveled down his spine into the rest of his body. A coating of dust barricaded his body from everything, and his brain felt muffled, as did his arms, blinks, and feet.

He watched distantly as the cup tapped his toe after another turn. His voice sounded far away when he said, “Yes, sir.”

“Good, good,” he said. “I just knew you’d do well. There’s a lot to learn in the lower levels.”

He breathed through his mouth, and the lights of the night streaked in his peripherals like the stars in hyperspace. He was moving both too slow and too fast, and the Chancellor’s words entered his brain only long enough for him to answer before the sand wore them down to dust.

His blink was gritty, and he dimly realized time had passed and he was standing in front of his and Obi-Wan’s rooms, but he made no move to enter, not yet. The door felt far away just like him, and he thought he could maybe open it with his drifting brain since they were both so distant. Instead, he redirected his mind like steering a feather with just his breath to scan the apartment until he found what he was looking for, and he clung to the presence.

Obi-Wan.

Just like a sandstorm covered some structures and revealed others, the sand parted so it was just him and Obi-Wan, and he stared at that warm light which was his teacher like he’d found a distant fire during a cold desert night, and he stumbled forward, numbly palming open the door, suddenly desperate to see him.

And there he was, turned away at the kitchen sink, running water. He said something to Anakin, but the words were worn away before they could even make it to his ears, so Anakin clumsily felt along the bond. The campfire brushed some sand away, and Anakin visibly exhaled, but a fluttering, antsy feeling caused his heart to beat faster when Obi-Wan wouldn’t turn around.

This time he clawed at the bond and tugged sharply, so much so that Obi-Wan dropped whatever was in his hands with a clatter and whipped around in alarm. His eyes darted around Anakin like he was looking for an enemy, but when he couldn’t find anything, he turned his concerned gaze to his padawan.

Anakin was just standing there, staring at Obi-Wan, which caused his teacher to frown further in concern.

“Anakin? What’s wrong?” he asked with a grave worry, and when those words actually reached Anakin, filtered through his brain for him to comprehend, they blew through his sand like a calming breath, and the world settled back, piece by piece. Like the inner mechanics of a droid, the sights and sounds and his blinks and feelings twisted and pushed into place as if Obi-Wan were using a wrench and screwdriver to fasten his brain back together.

Anakin darted forward.

His teacher let out a breath of surprise when Anakin catapulted himself and wrapped his arms around him. Anakin pressed his forehead, hard, against Obi-Wan’s ribs and practically tried to jump into the fire, be as close to it as he could. This was exactly what he wanted. The whole time he was gone, he just wanted to come home.

“Anakin?” Obi-Wan asked again, landing a gentle hand on his back while using the other to try leaning Anakin slightly away from him, but the moment he felt Obi-Wan push against his shoulder, he clung tighter and shook his head against the fabric.

“Okay, okay,” he said in placating fashion, placing the hand now in Anakin’s hair. “You’re worrying me, Padawan. What’s the matter?”

With just a noise of protest and another shake of the head, Anakin realized maybe everything wasn’t as put back together as he thought; he felt like he couldn’t talk, and if he wanted to, his throat would tighten like a vice. Or it would only allow the mantra Anakin was chanting in his brain to come out. Home, home, home, home.  

“You’re shaking.” This was said at the same time Anakin felt a brief buzz of distress along their bond, but it was quickly overshadowed by a calming blanket over his mind. Anakin grasped onto it desperately.

Obi-Wan seemed to give up at the moment getting answers and settled for rubbing his hand along Anakin’s back. 

“You’re home,” he said, and Anakin let out a breath at the words, vaguely wondering if Obi-Wan had heard that looping word in his head to feel like he needed to repeat it aloud. 

Bunky dunko,” he whispered, too, after a few beats.

“Yes, home.” Obi-Wan’s hand patted his back. 

“I just wanted to come home.”

“And you are home.” There was a pause. “What was it you wanted to come home from?”

As quickly as the relief set in upon seeing Obi-Wan, shame burst forth, and he winced. How could he say he was being a big baby? He was just in the lower levels. He’d been to plenty of places like it when he had to trail behind Watto on Tatooine, so why was this trip so different? Why did this one make him so desperately want to come home to see Obi-Wan?

Purple eyes raked up and down his body.

He sucked in a breath at the memory, and only the scent of Obi-Wan—tea leaves and soap—allowed him to exhale somewhat normally, and he shook his head again. Obi-Wan sighed, though he still brushed a hand through Anakin’s hair, always following down to his braid with each movement. 

Anakin unconsciously tightened his hands around the fabric of Obi-Wan’s tunic when he felt him remove his hand from Anakin’s back and lean away.

“It's okay,” he said. “I'm just turning off the faucet.” 

What he thought was white noise in his own head suddenly stopped; the silence seemed to echo, and he was all too aware of every sound in the apartment, or lack thereof. Obi-Wan didn’t have the TV or radio on, so the only sound was the heater which he could only hear if he strained his ears for the faint blowing from the vents. Besides that, it was the occasional drip-drop of the faucet and Obi-Wan’s hand running through his hair.

He could hear Obi-Wan. His breaths were even, patient, just as he was, and there was a slight creak from Obi-Wan’s boots he hadn’t taken off yet. His foot rolled to the side then back, a habit Anakin had noticed if Obi-Wan stood for a long while.

Anakin still had his shoes on too, and the soles felt sticky from spilled drinks.

He wanted them off.

An unknown panic violently flared to life, and he wrenched himself away from Obi-Wan to pull his boots off, but then he wanted everything off. He wanted to rip his tunic off that smelled like smoke and alcohol and he wanted to scrape his skin red with soap and dunk his whole head in water and— Purple eyes raked up and down his body.

He made a noise. He didn’t know what noise it was, but he made it, and his heart beat wildly in his chest, and he was starting to feel sick. His chest felt funny and he wanted to move and not move and flutter his hands in front of him like the feeling in his chest and—and—

He never got to change before—he wasn’t allowed; he only had two shirts—so he wanted them off, he wanted them off

He made a noise again, and he clawed at his tunic, tugging at his sleeve, but when he tried to pull the belt, something clamped over his arm, and he whimpered and flinched and panicked. That hot vice against his wrist pulled him forward, and his face fell into something both soft and coarse, and he tried to lean away, get away, and he sucked in a breath of—

Tea and soap.

Tea and soap.

Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan.

The breath that finally filled his lungs was tea and soap, and he dimly registered his teacher—home, home, home—telling him to breathe, and so he did, and the more tea and soap he breathed, the more he felt like when he first came into the apartment and just wanted Obi-Wan.

Then he was crying.

He was crying and he didn't know why, just that everything seemed to tumble out of him at once, and he turned into Obi-Wan's waiting arms. With each shuddered breath, tea and soap came with it, and that just made him cry more, and he couldn't stop.

He was vaguely aware of being picked up, but Anakin was conscious enough to wrap his arms and legs around his teacher, and his words were muffled like speaking through water, so he couldn't make out what he was saying.

All he knew was when they leaned down, his orientation shifting and dipping down with it, Anakin tightened his arms around Obi-Wan's neck.

The shock of a couch cushion underneath part of him caused him to gasp, and that extra oxygen was like turning the sensors on in a droid, life buzzing into clarity. Obi-Wan's hand was knotted in the back of his tunic near his shoulder while his other held Anakin near his lap, rubbing soothing circles against his back. Anakin's leg had been maneuvered so they curled across Obi-Wan's lap, and he shifted one heel to press against his teacher's leg.

“We're on the couch. You're okay. You're okay, little one,” he mumbled into his hair, repeating the phrases in no particular order.

As soon as Anakin's crying started to die off, Obi-Wan noticed and patted his back.

“Good, that's it.”

Anakin nuzzled into Obi-Wan's shoulder, but he winced at how the fabric scraped against his moist, raw cheek. He also grimaced at the thickness in his nose, and he sniffled up what he could, but before he was able to again, Obi-Wan pushed a tissue into his hands, and Anakin mumbled a quick thanks.

He blew his nose, and without hesitation, Obi-Wan grabbed the dirty tissue once he was finished. Anakin had half a mind to be mortified at how much he was acting like a baby and how much Obi-Wan was treating him like one, but the warmth and shelter of being in his arms nulled the feeling into something too distant to think about.

That didn't mean it was any easier to look up at Obi-Wan's face, though.

So he didn't, leaning back into Obi-Wan's shoulder. The man had since loosened his grip on Anakin's tunic, but the hand still settled there, a solid weight which Anakin didn't want to leave. The other hand held in place, too, and the two were left again to the silence of the room.

At least, until Obi-Wan broke it with a whispered, “Alright now?”

Anakin nodded into his tunic.

Obi-Wan seemed to breathe a sigh of relief at that; his whole body shifted under Anakin with his inhale, and a piece of Anakin's hair wiggled at the exhale.

Anakin himself settled in further, his body pulling him more fully into both Obi-Wan and the couch, and he found it difficult to lift his head, his muscles giving up their strength in favor of rest.

“Anakin.” Obi-Wan disturbed the silence once more with a soft utterance, and Anakin hummed in response.

“Tell me what's wrong.”

Anakin didn't respond, not right away. Instead, he closed his eyes, his eyelashes brushing against the material of Obi-Wan's tunic, and he waited. For what, he wasn't sure—to feel brave, to feel less tired, maybe. Regardless, Obi-Wan waited too, a stable, patient presence who only moved to lean his head against the back cushion; a lock of hair tickled Anakin's ear as he did.

The vent pushed out more air, Obi-Wan's heart beat in his chest, and Anakin breathed in tea and soap.

Finally, he whispered, “He kept looking at me.”

“Looking at you?”

“Like Topal.”

“Okay,” Obi-Wan said, pausing a moment before he continued, “And how did Topal look at you?”

Anakin fisted some of Obi-Wan's tunic in his hand, the fabric filling in the creases of his palm. “Topal’s an assessor.”

“An assessor,” he repeated. “Can you tell me what that means?”

Obi-Wan's thumb stroked against Anakin's shoulder as Anakin pushed his head against Obi-Wan again.

“I don't like assessors.”

“I don't imagine I will either.” Obi-Wan's voice was even and slow. “I'd like to know, though.” 

When Anakin didn't respond, he spoke again, this time his voice a little lighter. “Come now, if you tell me, I'll agree with you. Weren't you just telling me I argue with you about everything?”

That pulled a smile out of Anakin. “You do. All the time.”

“Have you considered that you argue with me?”

Anakin merely shook his head, mumbling “uh-uh ” under his breath, and he smiled at the familiar tug on his braid.

“Then what was that?”

“Disagreeing, not arguing.”

Another tug. “Oh, yes, completely different.”

They fell into silence once more, and Anakin relaxed further into the couch and Obi-Wan, bringing his hands to rest in his lap. Obi-Wan still had an arm around Anakin’s shoulder, but he also retracted his free hand to settle at his side.

This was nice. 

Anakin could count on his hands how many times Obi-Wan had hugged him, and it wasn’t many. With his mom, there was no way he could count how many, but with Obi-Wan, there were very few occasions. When he had nightmares, yeah, or when Anakin would suction to him after he got hurt, but Anakin usually got the sense he was being clingy, so he wouldn’t for long. 

There was one time he actually surprised Anakin, though. He’d been tinkering with a droid in his room when Obi-Wan came in, dropped next to him, and tugged him to his chest. It all only lasted a few moments, and Obi-Wan had quickly straightened up and cleared his throat, all awkward-like, before he left. 

Anakin remembered blinking in confusion at the closed door after he swooped back out.

Besides that, there were only a handful, and they were getting less and less now that he was twelve.

His eyes closed, but as soon as they did, Obi-Wan asked, “Haven’t fallen asleep yet, have you?”

Anakin shook his head.

“Then how about I ask you a different question for now?”

He fiddled with a little string poking out from the seam of Obi-Wan’s tunic collar. It was long, so it bundled up into a little ball, which he rolled between his thumb and forefinger. 

“You smell like smoke and alcohol, Anakin.”

He held in a whimper at that.

“I’d like to know where you were tonight.”

He licked his lips. “I got a milkshake.” It still curdled in his stomach.

Silence greeted him, and a feeling he couldn’t identify coiled between them in the bond for a moment before Obi-Wan wiped it away. He was good at doing that.

“Alright,” he said, lengthening the word, and he seemed to consider his words. “Did—Did the man who looked at you like Topal, did he buy it for you?”

Anakin shook his head. “No.”

Relief trickled through the connection this time, just enough for Anakin to notice. He also caught the staining of worry Obi-Wan couldn’t help but let pass, and Anakin bit his lip.

“Then the man, where did you see him?”

Anakin opened his mouth, but no words came out.

“I wouldn’t want you to get in trouble, my boy.”

He snapped his jaw shut.

“That Master of yours…well, all the Masters, really, they wouldn’t understand. Not like you.”

He shook his head.

“Anakin,” Obi-Wan sighed, all disappointed and sad, which made Anakin’s heart clench. 

His teacher’s hand, the one on his shoulder, started tapping, but it wasn’t a soothing, constant rhythm; it was chaotic, a nervous tic. 

“Was it…Did something happen with Master Leeds?”

This caused Anakin to blink in confusion. “Master Leeds?”

A tense silence hovered between them, Obi-Wan growing even more rigid.

“You weren’t with Master Leeds tonight,” he realized, and Anakin’s heart thundered in his chest. Right. Right, last week they’d made plans for Anakin to help out Master Leeds in the Temple garage but Anakin had canceled, saying he was busy a few days ago.

Obi-Wan pushed Anakin back, hands on both of his shoulders, and Anakin rearranged himself so he sat on his knees, though still touching Obi-Wan’s thigh for that extra bit of contact. His expression was serious, strained around the edges.

“Anakin, where were you?”

His gaze was intense, grasping for answers, and Anakin didn’t have the heart to say no again, so he turned his head. A hand came up to tap his cheek.

“No, Anakin, look at me.”

He didn’t, tilting his eyes down.

Anakin.” That frustrated tone caused a streak of rebellion, and he grasped onto it, refusing. But his teacher’s next words were soft, pleading, and Anakin’s heart trembled at the tone.

“Please, little one.”

He looked up into stormy blue eyes. Yesterday, those eyes rolled at Anakin’s shaky excuse to delay his homework. The day before, they twinkled as Obi-Wan teased Anakin. They’d been narrowed and wide, glaring and laughing. Every day, Anakin saw them.

He breathed in tea leaves and soap. 

Before he could lose his nerve, he rushed out, already wincing, “A gambling den.” 

Obi-Wan tensed. “A what? You were in a gambling den?”

Anakin nodded, his words leaving him just as quickly as they’d come out.

“What in the world were you doing there? How did you—” Obi-Wan cut himself off with a steadying, large breath, and a moment more went by before he said, “The man who looked at you like Topal, he was there, wasn’t he?”

Anakin nodded again, biting the inside of his cheek.

“Did you go with him?”

Despite his tight throat, he managed a vehement, “No!”

“Okay.” The tone was placating. “So you saw him there.”

A quick nod. Then silence on both ends until Obi-Wan said, quiet, “He frightened you.”

Anakin couldn’t deny it, merely stared fixedly at their wrinkled pant legs.

“Because Topal frightened you,” he continued.

“Topal’s an assessor,” Anakin repeated, and his heart hammered in his chest like he was face-to-face with some monster.

Obi-Wan seemed to ponder his words, not speaking for a moment and getting that expression on his face he’d get when he ran a hand over his beard. Then he spoke.

“An assessor, someone who evaluates or appraises.” Obi-Wan paused, then asked, “Someone who was on Tatooine?”

Anakin didn’t know if he needed confirmation, but he nodded anyway, feeling the steadily increasing thrum in his chest.

Obi-Wan bit the inside of his cheek, seeming to consider how he’d word the next question, but Anakin suspected what he’d ask, what he’d figured out. He gripped his hands together, swelling them white and red.

“Topal assessed slaves,” Obi-Wan said, more grave than Anakin wanted him to be, “didn’t he?”

His breath hitched, but he managed, “Y-Yeah.”

Obi-Wan’s thumb stroked his arm, shifting the fabric every cycle, the material soft against his skin. 

“Did he assess you?” His voice was quiet, like he knew if he was any louder, Anakin would break.

This time, Anakin couldn’t speak, just nodded, but not because words didn’t want to come out; too many did. If he opened his mouth, he thought everything might erupt out, and…he didn’t want Obi-Wan to know. He didn’t know why. He just didn’t.

He didn’t want Obi-Wan to know about the brightly lit bar with the small stage to the side where Topal would shove the slaves, make them strip, and poke and prod at them as he determined whether they were good livestock. Anakin’s clothes always got tossed in someone’s spilled beer. Topal’s hands were always cold and rough and touched places he didn't want them to. 

So unlike Obi-Wan’s touch. He remembered the first time Obi-Wan grabbed his hand as he led him through the busy Temple. His hands were so big, so much larger than his or his mom’s or Kitster’s—and so much more gentle. He had calluses, which brushed up against Anakin’s own, but his hand was warm and light, just barely cresting over Anakin’s to keep them together. If Anakin tugged, he could free his hand if he wanted, and he imagined Obi-Wan merely blinking in surprise, raising an eyebrow, then suggesting he follow close so he wouldn’t get lost.

That was all he would’ve done, and something in the Temple, in Anakin, in the air itself knew that with a ring of certainty. Looking back, maybe it was the Force that told him to trust Obi-Wan. Maybe it was just Anakin. 

Maybe it was Obi-Wan over time, extending his hand for Anakin to take.

He was waiting now, he realized. 

His heart thundered in his chest, but Anakin felt it was more purposeful this time, more like it was pushing him forward rather than back. He took in a deep breath—and released.

“Topal said I wasn’t worth much the first time.”

Obi-Wan’s eyes widened, but he was silent, letting Anakin continue if he wanted.

“Watto always made me think he was selling me. He even left Mom behind.” Anakin licked his lips before saying, “The gambling den. There were prostitutes, and these guys at the next table kept talking about buying her, and then that man…I-I just—I just kept thinking about Topal and Watto.”

This time, Obi-Wan’s hand came up to rest on his head, and Anakin blinked at his teacher, who just looked so sad

“Oh, Anakin,” he whispered, and Anakin wasn’t completely sure if he was supposed to hear that or not. But he liked the solid weight of Obi-Wan’s hand on his head, the way his fingers threaded through his short hair. 

“I hated going.” 

“I can only imagine.”

“I’d go if I was bad”—Obi-Wan’s fingers twitched—“and Watto would say I was lucky to be with him since I was barely worth anything. So I started tinkering with stuff, and I got really good, and I made sure I was good.” Anakin’s voice lowered. “Topal said I was worth more than my mom after that. Watto stopped taking me then. So I-I…I haven’t seen Topal since I was seven. Then I saw that man.” His voice was barely even a whisper when he said, “I just wanted to come home.”

The soft touch of Obi-Wan’s hands against his arms startled his gaze up, and he was met with an expression he hadn’t seen before, one he couldn’t even name, but one that made him feel like Obi-Wan’s fire in the desert was lapping at the connection between them—or more like streaking outward, whipping a stream of flame at the world outside this room.

His grip tightened a little. “Always come home when you’re frightened, Anakin. I—” He noticeably swallowed, took a breath in, then released it. “I will protect you. I promise.”

A feeling of surety rang between their bond, so without thinking, Anakin desperately flung his mind out to grab onto the certainty, the warmth of those words between them before it went away. But as soon as he did, he inwardly winced, preparing himself to bump up against Obi-Wan’s chastising wall. Obi-Wan taught him it was rude to intrude on another Jedi’s mind like that, even with a training bond. Never without permission, he’d said, but Anakin sometimes forgot and would leap over any polite barriers Jedi had known about their whole lives. 

He expected a nudge of Obi-Wan’s shields and a raised eyebrow like he usually got if he forgot, but Anakin found the conviction of the promise open and waiting for him, a warm presence which gently held it out for him to cradle in his mind. 

It was like it was alive, thrumming like a little heartbeat for Anakin to place his palm on.

“I promise,” Obi-Wan repeated with a light smile. He smoothed a hand over Anakin’s hair, and Anakin almost cried at how similar the motion was to what his mom did.

He remembered her doing that when he was crying once—about not having anything of his own, not having anything he could give her like he saw someone in town do for a birthday. She’d swiped her hand over his long hair and said, “But you give me something every day, Ani. Just as I give you. Our wrists may be bound, but no one can chain our hearts, and we are free to give those to anyone we choose.”

Obi-Wan’s promise hummed with life.

“Yeah?” he squeaked out, holding it to him as tightly and gently as he could, and Obi-Wan nodded.

“Yes.” Such a simple word, but one said with such sincerity.

Anakin placed it next to his heart and then gave a little piece of his own as he grabbed onto Obi-Wan’s tunic. “I promise too.”

Another swipe of his hand over Anakin’s hair, and Obi-Wan’s smile was a crooked thing, tinged with a bunch of different emotions Anakin couldn’t identify. 

“I think you’ve protected me enough, little one.”

A pleased thrum warmed Anakin’s chest at the nickname, but he furrowed his brow, unsure of what Obi-Wan meant, especially when he noticed the sadness layered along with the other emotions in his gaze.

“I mean it!” Anakin said. “I’ll protect you too.”

“I know,” he said. “I know.” Obi-Wan patted the hand clutching his tunic. 

Anakin gave a decisive nod, releasing the material from his fingers. “Good. Then we’ll protect each other.”

Obi-Wan’s lips twitched up. “It appears we will.”

Another grin lit Anakin’s face before he shifted his legs. He sat normally on the couch, shoulder to Obi-Wan’s arm. Anakin reached forward to rest his feet on the coffee table, but he pouted when his teacher pointed down, and he reluctantly let them hang in front of him instead. His sock had gotten twisted, so he tried righting it with his other foot.

He didn’t get to finish before Obi-Wan said his name.

“Anakin,” he repeated, voice quiet. “Who took you to the gambling den?”

His mouth opened up, and nothing came out at first, just a tiny croak of air. But he concentrated on Obi-Wan’s warmth on his shoulder, tea and soap, and the fire in the cold desert night.

This time, he forced the words out, like pushing air through a clogged pipe.

“Mr. Palpatine.” 

And the moment it released into the air, he felt he’d just thrashed a gong the way the sound, as small as it was, filled their apartment. He swallowed as Obi-Wan stared at him.

“The Chancellor,” he said.

He winced. “Right, sorry. Chancellor Palpatine.”

“No, that wasn’t what I—” His lips screwed up, and he seemed to be biting his cheek. Obi-Wan looked away from Anakin, turning his contemplative gaze to the floor.

“Chancellor Palpatine.” His fist clenched in his lap. “The Chancellor. I always thought it was odd, all the attention he’s given you. Now this. I knew I should’ve never…” Obi-Wan said this under his breath like a curse, and panic seized Anakin enough to grasp at his teacher’s hand, pulling the sleeve so Obi-Wan would transfer his attention back to his apprentice.

“I-It’s fine, really!” Obi-Wan still frowned. “He was—He was just being nice!”

Being nice.”

Anakin nodded, though he gulped at the tone. Obi-Wan always repeated when he was angry. “He was just teaching me stuff. And…And it’s not his fault that I…that the man…” He ducked his head down. “Topal wasn’t supposed to be there…”

A few moments went by before Anakin heard Obi-Wan sigh. Then, with a softer voice, he said, “I know he wasn’t.” Anakin peeked up at his teacher. “But I want you to understand that the Chancellor’s actions were…misguided.”

“But—”

“Anakin.” Obi-Wan’s face was serious. “Anakin, whether he took you to a seedy gambling den out of good intentions or not, that’s hardly the point. You’re twelve.” He held a hand up before Anakin could argue that point. “Yes, I know. I won’t deny you’ve experienced more of the world than others your age, but as old as you feel sometimes, you’re still a child, and I’m still your guardian, which means Palpatine should have told me where you were. I was under the impression you were with Master Leeds.”

Obi-Wan breathed in deeply. “But besides all that”—here, Obi-Wan’s lip pressed together, and he brought a finger up to touch the end of Anakin’s braid—“whatever happened there upset you. Frightened you. As the adult in that situation, he shouldn’t have just plopped you on our doorstep without a word when you clearly weren’t well.”

Anakin ducked his head down again. “B-But it’s not his fault that I…If that guy hadn’t been there, it would’ve been fine.”

There was silence, a lengthy enough amount that Anakin peeked his head up, and Obi-Wan’s expression was a collection of so much, but the overall message was anger at Mr. Palpatine and concern for Anakin.

His fingers ran down Anakin’s braid. 

Was it fine?”

And Anakin’s first thought was to say of course it was, but…the words didn’t come out. In fact, they didn’t even go so far as to form on his tongue. They swirled around his brain, heavy and slow, but Anakin realized he didn’t want to grab them.

Mr. Palpatine had taken him to the lower levels to see podracing initially, and Anakin was thrilled to see every vehicle zip past him and the buildings; it was fun and something he’d never be able to do with Obi-Wan because it was in the lower levels so there was illegal gambling and other shady stuff. But Mr. Palpatine said he was brave and clever and could handle himself down there. He even said Anakin could protect him if something went wrong.

Then Mr. Palpatine had taken him to the gambling den after the race. 

Anakin tried to remember how exactly they’d gotten there, what his friend had said. He just knew he was supposed to be brave and clever and stay by Mr. Palpatine's side. 

The first time he thought he wanted to go home was when he felt the sticky floors on his boots. The second was when Mr. Palatine guided him over to a smelly bounty hunter, but he tried not to think it when Mr. Palpatine explained that many officials needed to enlist help from all walks of life to gather information.

“Anything to help the Republic, Young Skywalker,” he had said.

The third was when he heard the table next to him bartering for the prostitute. 

He stopped counting after the fourth when those purple eyes locked on to his.

“I think…” Obi-Wan said as he twisted his hand to hold Anakin's lightly. Always gently. “I think it may be best to—well, to limit the time you're with the Chancellor.”

“But he's my friend!”

Obi-Wan's expression pinched. “I am…quite aware of that fact. Regardless, until I'm confident the Chancellor can be trusted with you, I would feel better if you spent some time apart. Or had supervision.”

Anakin wanted to protest, to rally against Obi-Wan controlling who he could hang out with, tearing a friend away from him.

But the promise from earlier was still slotted in Anakin's heart, right where Anakin had given up a piece of his own. 

“You're protecting me?” he asked.

Obi-Wan squeezed his hand. “I am.”

Anakin bit his lip and looked down, pausing. Finally, after a few moments, he said, voice quiet, “Okay.”

Relief trickled through the bond, and Anakin blinked in surprise, not expecting to feel it so strongly. He furrowed his brow, then his eyes widened.

That was some of his relief too.

Anakin didn't really know what to think of that, so he didn't—not now anyway. Instead, he thought of Obi-Wan being with them the next time he visited the Chancellor, and snorted.

Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow. “What was that for?”

“Just thinking of you being there at the podracing tournament today.”

“Ah, so that’s what enticed you to go.”

“Yeah, because it’s fun.”

Obi-Wan chuckled. “You say that like I have no idea what fun is, Padawan.”

Anakin feigned a look of surprise. “You do?” He laughed when Obi-Wan shoved him, and he collapsed back on the couch, giggling at Obi-Wan’s unamused glower.

“You would’ve been all grumpy in the stands!” Anakin exaggerated his frown, and Obi-Wan rolled his eyes.

“Perhaps it’s because I have more worthwhile things to do with my time.”

“Like what?”

“Oh, maybe going to Dex’s for lunch tomorrow.”

Anakin bolted up with a grin. “Really?”

“Really.” Obi-Wan smiled. “I think it would do both of us some good to do something fun. And maybe if I feel like putting my life in your hands, you can drive the speeder home.”

Before Anakin could get too excited, Obi-Wan brought a stern finger up to point at him. “Slowly.”

It was Anakin’s turn to roll his eyes. “Fine.” 

“Good. Now, off to bed.” He paused. “Unless you want to talk about something else before?”

Anakin shook his head. “I think I might be talked out for the night. But…” He blushed, skirting his eyes away.

“But…?”

“Talking was…talking was kind of nice?” He darted his eyes over to see Obi-Wan’s expression soften.

“Talking was nice. And you can talk to me about anything, Anakin.”

He licked his lips before whispering, “Stuff like Topal?”

“Especially that.”

Anakin’s smile was small, but it felt big as his heart warmed. It simultaneously thrashed in panic at the thought of sharing anything about…about before, but it still felt warm and nice and safe. He liked it.

“Okay,” he said, then he leaned forward to hug Obi-Wan around the waist. “Goodnight, Obi-Wan.”

His teacher’s arms came around him and patted his back. “Goodnight, Anakin.”

And the next day after lessons, Anakin darted through the door to Dex’s diner and plopped down at their usual booth. He waved to the besalisk, who grinned and greeted Master and Padawan. Only a few minutes after Obi-Wan had sat down across from him, Dex came out from the kitchen to place a blue milkshake in front of Anakin.

“The usual,” he said, ruffling Anakin’s hair before turning to speak to Obi-Wan.

Anakin stared at the drink. He heard Dex’s loud, thundering chortle. Then he heard Obi-Wan’s laugh, and the knot in his stomach he hadn’t realized was there eased. He picked up the glass and took a sip, the sweetness and cold hitting his tongue.

He smiled.