Obi-Wan’s sixteen-year-old padawan crossed his arms, and the annoyed glare made Obi-Wan feel like the misbehaving padawan, only exacerbated by the bright life-sign monitors glaring out Obi-Wan’s vitals for Anakin to worry over.
“I am not breaking you out of the Halls, Master,” Anakin said, frown only growing when Obi-Wan shifted on the hospital bed and couldn’t quite hold back a wince.
“Now, Anakin, I did not say—”
“You’re right. You made it sound worse, if that’s possible.”
“I did no—”
“Worse and so uppity.”
“Who says abscond? Seriously. Abscond.”
“Abscond is a perfectly fine word, Padawan, and I merely suggested—”
“That I abscond with you out the door in a hoverchair.” Anakin’s glare became even more heated. “Not happening. Master Vokara says you need to recover here at least four more days before she’ll even think about releasing you.”
Obi-Wan plopped his head back on the raised back of the bed with a frustrated huff. He should’ve expected Anakin’s rigid denial. Master Vokara had quite effectively turned Anakin into her ever-watchful agent, the traitor, making sure that Obi-Wan couldn’t even yawn without someone being in the room.
It was tiresome.
Anakin clicked his tongue. “No matter how many times you moan and groan, we’re not letting you leave.”
“And that’s precisely why I’m moaning and groaning.”
His padawan only rolled his eyes before resuming his project atop the rolling sidetable in front of him. Master Vokara had brought another in for Anakin so he wouldn’t grease up Obi-Wan’s, which was pushed to the side of the bed, waiting ever so patiently for his next appetizing meal of broth.
The rhythmic clinks and taps brought Obi-Wan’s attention to whatever mechanical knickknack Anakin was fiddling with—as well as the bags still sitting stubbornly underneath his eyes. Obi-Wan’s frustration softened. Anakin had barely left his side since he’d been injured, spending every spare moment he had in Obi-Wan’s recovery room. And Obi-Wan knew the proceeding days weren’t particularly easy for Anakin either.
Irritating though everyone’s hovering may be, their concern was understandable. After all, Obi-Wan was surprised that he was even alive let alone in the confines of the Jedi Temple’s Halls of Healing.
When Obi-Wan woke to that tangy smell of bacta that made his nose wrinkle, he knew where he was—he’d been trapped in these rooms enough times to be familiar—but he was unaware of how or why.
Obi-Wan could distinctly recall the metal pole lodged in his stomach before he lost consciousness, but he had been off-world. There was an explosion, and the tunnel they were in collapsed. He was dying. So when he awoke, he was understandably blinking in confusion at the glaring lights of the life-sign machines and low light of the Temple’s recovery room.
Then he saw Anakin, arms cushioning his slumbering head on the edge of Obi-Wan’s bed, hair slightly damp from a shower. His padawan must have saved him—and he had. Master Vokara and Anakin told him he’d been in the Halls over a week, in the medbay during transit longer, and a few more days even longer still on the tunnel-collapsing planet before he was well enough to travel. Not to mention how he had been in and out with fever after surgery and bacta treatment before being submerged for further tissue regeneration. He was awake a few times in the weeks of healing, but he didn’t remember, so Anakin was left with a uselessly unconscious master for almost a month.
No wonder he was still tired. Anakin was likely only just catching up on sleep now that Obi-Wan was awake.
Only Anakin’s project filled the room with noise, the outside hubbub of the clinic muffled from behind the closed privacy door. Obi-Wan opened his mouth.
Footsteps clicked across the hallway. Master Vokara was stopping by at some point, Obi-Wan remembered. Anakin was biting his lip, engrossed in his project. He felt a padawan’s nerves just a few doors down.
He closed his mouth. Then shame curdled his stomach.
There was another reason he wanted to leave the Halls—and not just because he loathed them on principle. When he woke up, alive, Anakin sitting vigil at his bedside, Obi-Wan made himself a promise. Which he was finding infinitely difficult from this recovery room, healers and machines and droids circling him like scavenger birds.
He sighed, which Anakin must’ve taken as more discontent because he dropped his small screwdriver on the table with a growl of annoyance.
And the tone was so reminiscent of when Anakin was younger and pouting about something or other with that round-cheeked scowl that Obi-Wan couldn’t help the amusement that tugged his lips up. Perhaps the image came to mind because Anakin was growing out his hair like when he was a child so he could put it in a ponytail, though it was getting progressively more wavy and darker as he got older.
“Nope.” He shook his head. “Not listening to anymore bitching.”
His only response was a snort dripping with the attitude every teenager seemed to entirely consist of.
“Besides,” Obi-Wan said, generously ignoring the retort, “I’m admitting defeat. I will stay if I must.”
Anakin, the dramatic thing that he was, sagged in his chair. “Finally. We’ve conquered the stubborn Jedi!”
Obi-Wan wished Anakin had his feet up on the bed like he normally did so he could push them off.
“Yes, yes, report your victory to my jailer.”
Anakin grinned then picked his screwdriver back up and leaned over his project, sweeping up a smattering of screws close to him. “Eh, sounds too much like dessert. I like warden better.”
For a moment, Obi-Wan wondered if he was in the Halls for brain damage as well, but the realization of what Anakin was talking about came to him a moment later.
“Oh, you mean jela.” Frankly, Obi-Wan was surprised Anakin had brought it up. The more he was growing up, the less he mentioned anything from Tatooine, barely even using Huttese, Anakin’s first language. Obi-Wan couldn’t remember the last time Anakin had shared anything from when he was young, which made Obi-Wan frown then straighten in determination.
“Yeah,” Anakin said, attention more on his small sheets of metal than Obi-Wan. “The sticky cactus jam.”
Obi-Wan swallowed then asked, “You had it…often?”
“I guess?” Anakin shrugged then didn’t say anything further.
Obi-Wan fiddled with the blanket between his fingers until he realized he was doing it then stopped, clearing his throat.
“Right, uh, cool.”
That made Anakin pause what he was doing and lift his head. His lips were pulled up in a disbelieving smile. He laughed.
“Did you just say cool?”
“I—” Obi-Wan scowled at the mocking face of his padawan. “Yes, yes, I did.”
Anakin merely laughed again, and Obi-Wan huffed an embarrassed breath through his nose.
“Cool is a perfectly fine word—”
Obi-Wan pursed his lips. The humility of having a cheeky little monster as a padawan.
“Just like abscond, thank you.”
“Okay.” And there was that teenage tone again, coupled with Anakin’s usual snark.
The determination from earlier, though, still pushed Obi-Wan forward, so he ignored the urge to scatter Anakin’s tools with a flick of the wrist. He had a promise to fulfill, and Obi-Wan would take any opportunity he could find.
“I want to try jela,” he said.
“You do?” Anakin furrowed his brow. “Why? You’re always so—so picky about food.”
“Just because I have preferences hardly means I’m picky.” Before Anakin could retort, he interrupted with, “Regardless, I…well, I’m rather curious. You spoke about it so often as a child.”
“I…did?” His voice was quiet, and the previous amusement disappeared from his face, replaced by an unreadable expression. And like Obi-Wan suspected with a tentative probing of their Force bond, something roiled under the surface of his padawan’s mind. Anakin was getting better at smothering his emotions—not hiding or shielding them, and certainly not letting them go—so while Obi-Wan couldn’t precisely glean what was wrong, he did understand when something was wrong, almost like trapping an animal under a rug. He couldn’t see the animal, but he knew something was there. And there it was, quivering and unseen.
Obi-Wan matched the volume of his voice, speaking softly, “Yes, you did. You wanted it for your first Life Day, remember?”
“Oh.” Just a small squeak of sound as Anakin’s eyes turned downward. He bit his lip. “Right.”
Then he was standing, pocketing his screwdriver, and mumbling that he was leaving to get something to drink. The door didn’t even slam behind him, just shuddering closed with a cushioned snap. Obi-Wan heard his footsteps get quieter, mixing with the indiscernible movements of the healers.
Then he was completely gone.
Obi-Wan cursed—then cursed his skewered stomach for keeping him trapped to his bed.
He wanted to be healed, he wanted to be gone from the Halls, he wanted to be able to run after Anakin and try the conversation over again.
Obi-Wan closed his eyes, grimacing. He wanted the last memory before waking to stop incessantly running through his head.
Anakin, a stream of blood smearing the left side of his face as he leaned over Obi-Wan, the tears in his eyes. Tears mixing with his blood and streaking a pink line down his dirt-smudged face. The way his voice cracked. His hands shaking as they gripped Obi-Wan’s tunic.
“Master, please! O-Obi-Wan…no, no, no, no…!”
Anakin was sixteen.
“Train the boy…”
Obi-Wan had been twenty-five, almost ten years older.
Every time he looked at Anakin, that was all he could see, all he could remember. Anakin’s face, and the unsheltered panic and grief that blasted Obi-Wan’s brain through their connection. And Obi-Wan certainly remembered the devastation he himself had felt. He couldn’t even tell Anakin to run to safety, to take the families they’d been escorting through the tunnels and leave him. All that came out was a disgusting gurgle of blood and stomach acid and saliva.
Obi-Wan looked at the empty seat his padawan had left behind, and something in his chest tightened. He screwed his eyes shut.
Out of everything to say to his padawan, he was going to tell him to go, to save himself. A horribly urgent and dramatic last line, no doubt, but not something he ever expected to utter in his dying moments. Perhaps to another knight, but not to Anakin. Not to Anakin.
Sometimes, Obi-Wan wondered if Master Qui-Gon had thought the same before he…
That was usually where his musings ended, though.
Obi-Wan opened his eyes to the dimming lights overhead. It must be evening now.
The promise he made to himself…all Obi-Wan wanted was for Anakin to be sure if…they were put in a similar situation again. He wanted him to know, to not have to wonder when his eyes wouldn’t close for the night, when his hands shook at the memories.
Obi-Wan didn’t want Anakin to be like…
He ran a hand down his face, his stubble now a full-grown beard.
Needless to say, his promise wasn’t going particularly well. Every time he’d tried to talk, to really talk, conversations usually devolved into banter or awkwardness or silence, and Obi-Wan just wanted to leave.
When Anakin didn’t return after an hour, Obi-Wan sighed then settled in for the night. It seemed he’d have to try again tomorrow.
Obi-Wan woke to Anakin’s feet propped on the edge of the bed, a sandwich in his hand, and a tablet in his lap. Obi-Wan could hear Anakin chewing, the crunch of those tangy toppings he liked no doubt being the culprit of the noise. It was a warm sandwich, probably toasted or baked before coming here; oh, it smelled good.
“Must you taunt me with food?” he grumbled, rubbing his crusty eyes.
Anakin looked anything but when he apologized.
“You have food,” he said. “Kyla’s coming with your morning broth.”
“Joy.” Obi-Wan grasped for the bed’s remote to lift his torso, but Anakin slapped his hand away after shoveling down the last bite.
“We go through this every morning. Just let me do it, Master.”
“Shut it.” He took the remote in one hand and the other looped around Obi-Wan’s shoulders. While Anakin’s assistance made the move less uncomfortable, he could admit, Obi-Wan didn’t particularly enjoy being scooped up like a doll.
When he was finally sitting up and the ache in his stomach started receding, Obi-Wan crossed his arms.
“Master Vokara has given you too much freedom here.”
“Well, excuse me for helping.” Annoyance flickered in the Force, and Obi-Wan winced. Guilt squirmed in his stomach.
“I know you are, Anakin,” he said, voice soft. “I’m sorry.”
His padawan flicked his eyes up then down. He fiddled with the cuff of his sleeve. He didn’t say anything.
Obi-Wan bit his cheek. The guilt continued to cycle, so he took a deep breath and acknowledged it. He was acting ungrateful. He was taking his frustrations out on Anakin. He let the feeling go. He would do better.
“Your tablet,” Obi-Wan said. “What are you working on?”
“Oh, uh…” Anakin lifted it. “Homework.”
“What class? Your schedule hasn’t changed so much since I’ve been asleep that you have different courses, correct?”
Anakin relaxed at the light question and shook his head.
“Just Master Killi.”
“Ah, your favorite if I recall.”
The look he received was unamused, and Obi-Wan laughed.
“Alright,” Obi-Wan said, “show me which laws he’s got you studying now.”
“Stupid laws,” he grumbled, but he scooted his chair next to Obi-Wan and showed him the hyperspace lanes—and which ones were used for large planetary shipments and commercial purposes. Anakin had the most trouble with any courses relating to regulations and law. At first, Obi-Wan assumed it was because Basic was his second language and he had difficulty with the specific wording, and while that was true in some areas depending on the vocabulary, he soon discovered Anakin merely found it boring. And when he was bored, he procrastinated—to the detriment of his schoolwork.
“What’s troubling you?” he asked, glancing through the list of regulations. “And, more importantly, when is it due?”
Anakin scoffed. “More importantly?”
“For the sake of my sanity, yes. I thought I would’ve escaped Master Killi’s incessant hounding when I became a knight. Alas, now he does because of your homework.”
This caused Anakin to lean back, crossing his arms with smugness.
“So he nagged you about your homework, too,” he said.
Obi-Wan rolled his eyes. “Oh, dear, you’ve uncovered my dark secret.” He clicked his tongue. “Of course he did, Anakin. I was a teenager like you once.”
Obi-Wan pursed his lips. There was that tone again. But he sniffed imperiously and graciously ignored it as any respectable elder would when faced with an aggravating teenager. Though he didn’t have much of a choice when a young padawan, only a couple of years older than Anakin, walked through the door, pushing a cart of food in.
He sighed. There was his broth.
“Hello, Knight Kenobi,” young Kyla said. “Time for your morning grub!”
Obi-Wan smiled at the Tholothian. It was hardly her fault he wasn’t allowed anything more than glorified liquids. “As punctual as ever, Padawan.”
She beamed at that, lifting her head up and stopping the cart in front of his bed. “Thank you!”
Without spilling a drop, she placed the bowl on his table, lining up his spoon and napkin just right before turning her attention to Anakin.
“Hello, Padawan Skywalker!”
He lifted his eyes up briefly from his tablet he’d taken back to smile at her. “Hey, Kyla.”
She grabbed her cart and wheeled away, calling behind her with a wave, “Goodbye, Padawan Skywalker!”
Anakin let out a chuckle, and Obi-Wan let himself smile at their odd ritual every morning. “Bye, Kyla.”
“Always on the move, that one,” Obi-Wan said.
“Yeah, she’s like that in class too.” Anakin shrugged. “Always wants to get back here to the Halls.”
The bemusement in his tone made Obi-Wan nod in agreement. Why anyone would want to come here was beyond him. But her enthusiasm did remind him of Anakin in a way.
Obi-Wan took a heaping amount of broth—though pitifully still little—on his spoon and drank it. Then sighed. It was just as bland as ever.
“You were like that, too, if you recall,” Obi-Wan said once he’d made it through most of his bowl. “You practically skipped to the training salles every day.”
Anakin scowled. “I did not skip.”
“Prance, hop, spring—”
Obi-Wan cracked a smile, though he pulled back on the teasing. “It’s just nice to see you’ve found areas of study you enjoy as well.”
A tapping sound filled the room, and Obi-Wan noticed it was Anakin’s fingers against his tablet; his face was turned down to it.
“Sure, I guess,” he mumbled, shrugging.
The discomfort in his padawan shot something into his chest that made Obi-Wan grip his spoon harder. He licked his lips.
“You do…enjoy it still, don’t you?”
Anakin’s startled blink up at Obi-Wan eased the pressure in his lungs.
“Yeah, of course,” he said.
“Oh, okay.” Obi-Wan cleared his throat. “Good. Good.”
They both looked away, Anakin’s attention shifting to his tablet once more before Obi-Wan turned to his now-cold soup. He skimmed it onto his spoon and sipped the remainder, all too aware of the tapping once more fluttering against the plastic edge of the tablet. That was all Obi-Wan could concentrate on, the flurry of the sound and that Anakin was even doing it.
Tap-tap-tap. Tap. Tap. Tap-tap. Tap. Tap-tap-tap.
Obi-Wan pushed the rolling cart with his finished meal to the side, and the tapping stopped for a moment before continuing.
Tap-tap. Tap. Tap. Tap-tap. Tap. Tap.
Tap-tap. Tap. Tap. Tap-tap. Tap. Tap.
His eyes shifted to Anakin still fluttering his fingers over his tablet, not even pretending to look at the screen, instead tracing his eyes over the wall.
Obi-Wan bit the inside of his cheek. What was he doing wrong? He would’ve thought mentioning Anakin’s interests would be good, but Anakin was clearly uncomfortable. Did Obi-Wan not talk about them enough? Did Anakin not think he noticed? Was he ignoring Anakin? Did—
Silence made Obi-Wan pause. The tapping had stopped.
“What—” Anakin cleared his throat, holding the tablet to his chest. “What did…you like?” Before Obi-Wan could answer, Anakin blurted, “Classes, I mean.”
Obi-Wan’s thoughts stuttered, unprepared for the question, and his mouth dropped open dumbly.
But something like relief blew through his chest, and he shook his head and smiled. Talking, yes! Obi-Wan didn’t actually spoil the conversation as he’d thought!
“Actually,” he said, “when I was your age, my answer wouldn’t have been much different from yours.”
Anakin brightened, and Obi-Wan’s smile widened.
“Oh, yes. I, too, would skip, prance, hop—”
Anakin laughed. “Stop.”
His amusement bled into the Force, a pitter-patter of lightness over Obi-Wan’s skin, which made him chuckle as well, and Obi-Wan’s smile was soft as their laughter quieted. The feeling of Anakin’s joy, though, made Obi-Wan’s lips press together in thought.
Anakin was uncomfortable asking Obi-Wan a question—which made a swirl of feelings clog his insides. Obi-Wan clenched the hand on the other side of Anakin in the blankets.
He swallowed thickly, concentrating on the fact that Anakin asked, that he seemed happy they liked the same lessons.
“I think…” Obi-Wan licked his lips then restarted, “I think I enjoyed sparring so much because it wasn’t until then that I could use the Force to the extent of my peers.”
Anakin frowned, furrowing his brow, and the unguarded puzzlement seeping from him almost made Obi-Wan chuckle if not for the faint feeling of discomposure in his limbs. Obi-Wan was sure Anakin had very little concept of limited Force abilities. From the moment he was born, Anakin had a raw fountain of energy to tap into, only more powerful with the proper training and guidance.
“So, what, you couldn’t use the Force?” Anakin asked.
“No, I could use it.” Obi-Wan hesitated as his mental shields unconsciously tightened around him. Everything in him told him to stop talking, steer the conversation away, but as always lately…the image of Anakin’s face in that tunnel superseded his ingrained habits. He breathed in then said, “But it quickly became apparent that I couldn’t as easily as my friends. It was…difficult for me. Or, at the very least, it took more concentration.”
“I wondered that for a long time, actually. Because the unconscious parts of the Force—knowing when something felt wrong—I could always hear that since childhood unconsciously.”
“The Cosmic Force.”
Obi-Wan nodded. “Yes, that is where I’ve found my natural connection. But everything else…” He paused.
“Everything else…?” Anakin prompted, not hiding his interest, and Obi-Wan was surprised to find him leaning forward, perched on the edge of his seat. Obi-Wan shifted his legs, though he wanted to move his whole body.
Obi-Wan cleared his throat. “Well, frankly, when floating rocks didn’t come easily to me, I lost interest.”
That caused Anakin to sputter. “What? You’re telling me you, Mr. Respect the Force or Be Doomed, didn’t care about learning to use the Living Force.”
Obi-Wan flushed, and shame curdled in his stomach. He wanted to run a hand down his itchy skin. “W-Well, I—”
“And fighting made you change?” Anakin’s eye glittered, and Obi-Wan frowned. He brought his hand up to scratch at his arm. “How come?”
“I—” He stopped. That wasn’t discomfort wriggling over his skin, not from him at all. It was…happiness. The same lightness from Anakin was bouncing over Obi-Wan’s tight shields, prickling at his senses, begging for entry. Furrowing his brow, he lowered his defenses just a touch, and the unfettered excitement skipped around him. There was no disappointment, no irritation, not even confusion anymore—just giddy interest. That was it.
Obi-Wan swallowed thickly—but for another reason this time. Why did Anakin want to know about him before he was…competent? He cleared his throat, considering his words.
Finally, tentatively, he said, “Sparring with others…it was easier to understand the practicality, I suppose, of the Living Force, how to channel it and be in the present. If I didn’t, there were consequences, immediate ones I could understand better than the spiritual lessons in class.” He lifted his arm, watching as his hand clenched into a fist. “The Force flows through one’s entire body, through the ground and air, one’s opponent. It courses through muscle and soil, movement and reaction. That realization, how connected and intertwined the galaxy is, was both electrifying and humbling.”
When he looked over at Anakin, hand falling back to his lap, his padawan had those same emotions reflected on his face as he nodded. The bond between them pulsed with understanding.
“I love that feeling,” Anakin said. “I can just be, you know?”
“Be present in the moment,” Obi-Wan echoed quietly, his master’s voice curling around the syllables as he said them aloud, and though he repeated his teacher’s lessons to Anakin often, today felt different.
The past couple of weeks had felt different.
Shaking his head, Obi-Wan shifted to tread on more light ground.
“Once I’ve recovered more, I’ll need a sparring partner,” he said as Anakin leaned back in his chair. The dancing emotions in the room were fading. Anakin must have realized how much he was projecting. Obi-Wan kind of missed it.
“Like I wasn’t going to be the first one to trounce you,” Anakin huffed.
“I hope I didn’t just hear you threatening my patient with violence, Anakin Skywalker,” Master Vokara said as she waltzed in, sending a pointed glare toward Anakin who sat up so quickly in his chair that Obi-Wan might have wondered if he’d gotten zapped. That is, if Obi-Wan didn’t know the healer stepping toward his bed with purpose as well as he did.
Anakin should probably grovel.
“Sure didn’t, Miss Che!”
Obi-Wan snorted, earning his own glare from Master Vokara. It was a testament to how flustered Vokara made Anakin that he reverted to “miss.” Obi-Wan remembered Anakin referring to everyone as Mister and Miss when he first got there, not fully understanding the term “master” in the context of the Temple.
His amusement died off. Being with Anakin for so long, Obi-Wan sometimes…forgot that he wasn’t in the Temple his whole life like the rest of them.
“Good,” Vokara said, shaking Obi-Wan out of his thoughts. She filtered through some of the results on the screen next to Obi-Wan’s bed. “Because even when your master is discharged, he’ll still be on bed rest and light physical therapy. No sparring.”
“Yes, Master,” Anakin said, even bowing his head a little to the healer.
From her lighter gaze, it seemed that was all it took to get Anakin back into her good graces. It would’ve taken a blood sacrifice for Obi-Wan at this point, but Master Vokara did have a soft spot for Anakin, Obi-Wan had noticed. The woman would complain about their injury-prone lineage until her dying day, but she did always have a warmer bedside manner for Anakin than Obi-Wan.
No wonder Anakin practically had free reign of Obi-Wan’s room.
When Vokara was finished with the monitors, she turned to him, and annoyance at what was to come made him press his lips together.
“Oh, don’t give me that look, Kenobi.” As forcefully as she could, she undid the ties of his hospital robe. “Stop pouting and let me change your bandages.”
“I am not pouting,” he said, scowling. Obi-Wan frowned further when both Anakin and Vokara helped him push the robe off his shoulders and sit up, though he was quite capable of doing so himself.
“Set a good example for your padawan and stop complaining.”
“Yeah, Master,” Anakin chimed in, teasing. “Best behavior, Padawan.”
Obi-Wan wrinkled his nose at Anakin’s impression of him but didn’t respond back as Vokara unwound the bandages around his stomach then the gauze on both the front and back. Obi-Wan didn’t bother looking down; he’d already satisfied that morbid curiosity one of the first times. But he did see Anakin’s eyes trained on his torso.
“It—It looks better, right?” Anakin’s voice was quiet, a little rough, as he addressed the healer.
Vokara’s hands stilled, just for a moment, before she tossed the soiled wrappings away.
“Much better, Anakin,” she said, and there was that gentleness to her voice that she’d had since he was a boy shaking on her table, not used to the Coruscanti air. Obi-Wan was glad for it now. “Your master can leave earlier than expected if healing progresses the way it has been.”
Obi-Wan whipped his head toward Vokara. “I can finally leave?”
Vokara pursed her lips, all the warmth replaced with irritation as she turned to Obi-Wan. “In two days. And not a moment sooner. Your wound is healing nicely, but I want you here as we reintroduce solid foods into your diet.” She unwrapped gauze, reapplying it to his skin, then she started winding cloth around his torso. “Easy to digest foods, a little lower on fiber so we don’t irritate your digestive system right away, then you can introduce whole grains and certain vegetables. I’ll give you and Anakin a list when you’re released. For now, I’ll have Kyla bring your first meal midday.”
The thought of not having broth again made him grin, and he took a page from Anakin’s book and bowed his head. “Thank you, Master Vokara.”
Pinning the bandages closed, she nodded. “You’re welcome.” Once she and Anakin had finished putting the robe back on him, Master Vokara stood and pointed a stern finger at Obi-Wan. “Now, don’t strain yourself or you’ll be here an extra week. Don’t test me, Kenobi.”
“I’ll make sure he doesn’t,” Anakin promised, sending a smug grin to his master, which made Obi-Wan scowl at him.
Master Vokara smiled. “I’ll hold you to it, Padawan.”
“Ma’am.” Anakin saluted her, and amusement danced on her features before she departed.
Obi-Wan lifted an eyebrow at his padawan, but he didn’t comment this time. Not much could dampen his mood now that Obi-Wan knew he could have food again. Just the thought of actual substance in his meals made his stomach growl.
But food wasn’t coming for another few hours, so he drifted his attention to something else. Anakin’s tablet, lights dim from disuse, sat in his hands once more.
“It seems we let ourselves get distracted.” Obi-Wan lifted his hand expectantly, and Anakin tossed him the tablet without complaint, almost whirling it off the bed with how carelessly he threw it.
“Yeah, because it’s hyperspace lane trade routes,” Anakin said with enough disgust to make Obi-Wan want to roll his eyes. And his padawan called him dramatic.
“Still an important aspect of your training, Padawan. You shouldn’t disregard something because you don’t immediately see the benefit.”
Anakin waved a dismissive hand. “Yes, I know, Master. But they’re still karking stupid.”
The teenager glared and crossed his arms. Obi-Wan pressed his lips together and handed the tablet back to him since he was clearly in no mind to work, which the young man promptly dropped onto his side table with a loud clatter, and it teetered on the edge.
“Oh, please, like it’s going to break.”
“That’s no reason to toss it around the room without a care.”
“Force, I didn’t chuck it!”
Obi-Wan pinched the bridge of his nose, taking in a deep breath before he more calmly said, “No, you didn’t. But that tablet, loaned to you from the Archives, is still under your care, and you shouldn’t abuse it so needlessly because you’re frustrated with your assignment.”
Anger twisted Anakin’s expression, and he straightened. “Oh my—abuse? Seriously? Why do you always have to—”
He stopped, mouth frozen open, and as quickly as Anakin’s temper flared up, it fizzled away, and Obi-Wan could swear the room cooled by a degree. Though it didn’t clear. Again, Obi-Wan could feel the unnamed, shuddering emotions leaking off of his padawan, and his brow furrowed with concern, especially when Anakin turned his face away, curling his arms around his stomach.
“I—I, uh…” Anakin’s voice cracked, then he stood. “I don’t—I’m sorry…”
Obi-Wan frowned, confused by the reaction, but he gestured to the seat. “Anakin, it’s alright. Please, sit. You—”
Alarm shot through him when he saw the shine of tears in Anakin’s eyes.
“Oh, Anakin, what’s wrong?” Obi-Wan wanted to reach for the boy, but he was too far away, so only the Force could reach him, Obi-Wan’s comfort stretching across the room to his padawan.
Anakin flinched, and he almost tripped over the chair as he bolted for the door.
“I have—have to go. I-I’m sorry. I just—”
The door whooshed closed behind him.
And with that suctioning barrier, it plunged noise and heat and air and everything from the room.
Anakin didn’t come back for the rest of the day.
When Obi-Wan woke the next morning, it was to an empty chair beside him, the first time since he’d been back at the Temple. And his chest constricted at the realization—and that Anakin had indeed been back, but only to grab his tablet, now missing from the side table. Everything else was just as he left it: a few screws, a pocket-sized wrench, and a bulky block of metal and wires scattered around the surface. He’d even left the wrapper from his sandwich that morning crumpled underneath his tools.
Obi-Wan didn’t have the heart to clean it up, so he let it sit, even when he noticed Padawan Kyla eyeing the mess as she brought him his breakfast, then his lunch, too.
When he ate too quickly, and nausea turned his stomach, he could distinctly smell the crusted sauce still on the sandwich paper, but still, he left it. Anakin would likely claim it was so Obi-Wan would make Anakin clean it up when he returned.
If he ever would.
Obi-Wan sighed, pushing his own tablet away from him. He had nothing to accomplish, not even an errant report he hadn’t submitted yet. Not that he ever had any of those, but Obi-Wan wished he would have procrastinated so he would have something to do.
He’d even completed the latest mission report, spotty though it may be. Obi-Wan admittedly couldn’t remember much about the incident, save for—
“Master, please! O-Obi-Wan…no, no, no, no…!”
Obi-Wan shook his head.
Unconsciously, he reached outward with his senses, but that gaping chair, plastic and dull, was the only thing to meet his probing.
Obi-Wan ran a hand down his face. How could he have screwed up his promise enough to make his padawan cry? Make him apologize and cry and leave like he couldn’t get away from Obi-Wan fast enough?
What was he doing wrong?
He considered that question for a long while—long enough for his next meal to come and go. And when he wasn’t any closer to an answer outside of a litany of failures, it made him hurt down to the cells in his bones, a weary ache he couldn’t even fathom how to extricate from his limbs.
Because he still didn’t know, and it made him feel like a desperate twenty-five-year-old knight with a scared and too skinny padawan awaiting him—him, and not someone it should’ve been.
Because all Obi-Wan wanted to do—with a longing need that castrated his heart even after all this time—was ask his master what to do, hear that light, deep voice say, Come along, Padawan, I’ll show you the way.
Anakin wasn’t the only person on Obi-Wan’s mind lately.
His hand drifted to his stomach, fingers lightly touching the bulge of bandages. Was this where…where Master Qui-Gon was…?
Obi-Wan couldn’t remember. He could only remember Master’s face—train the boy—just like he could only remember Anakin’s.
“Kenobi,” a voice snapped, startling Obi-Wan from his thoughts.
Master Vokara Che stood at the foot of his bed, arms crossed, and frowning in both annoyance and concern.
“Good,” she said when he brought his hand to his lap. “You’re not brain dead.”
He frowned. “That was uncalled for.”
“Well, I said you weren’t, didn’t I? Though I wondered when you didn’t notice me calling you three times.”
Knowing how long that meant she had been in the room, he flushed.
“Apologies, Master Che,” he said, but she waved him off, moving to sit in the vacant chair. There was a small urge to ask her to sit somewhere else, but even hearing it in his own head, he realized how silly the sentiment was. So he stayed silent, only raising an eyebrow at her.
“He’ll be back,” she said, and Obi-Wan didn’t need explanation about who she meant. He swallowed thickly.
“Just give him time,” the healer continued—and with sympathy, no less, which made Obi-Wan want to curl away from the woman and hide his face. “He’ll come to you.”
When Obi-Wan didn’t respond, she sighed, clicking her tongue on the exhale. The noise was as familiar as Master Yoda’s cane against the tiled floor, and Obi-Wan’s mind lightened ever so slightly. While not a kind sound, it spoke to Master Vokara’s particular brand of patience—strained yet contained, and still brushed with that doctor’s concern. He’d heard it enough times as a padawan to know it well.
So he nodded to her, giving her a weak, appreciative smile that she returned before she stood. On her way out, though, she said over her shoulder, “Talk to him, Obi-Wan. The two of you will be fine.”
He was becoming accustomed to that deafening, suctioning slide of the door by this point, attention keenly pointed toward the stillness. The footsteps outside the room were muffled, as were the few voices.
His attention drifted to the empty chair. “Talk to him,” he whispered her words. Then he closed his eyes. Not to sleep, no. No, he meditated, something he should’ve done days ago. He meditated on the mission. On Anakin, on himself.
He meditated on his promise.
Only then did he sleep.
The room was still dark when he awoke. Obi-Wan furrowed his brow at the sight. Cataloging, he couldn’t find a discernible reason for waking up.
Then he heard a shift of fabric to his left.
Blinking bleary eyes to the side, he found his padawan in his usual chair. He had his sleep clothes on, and his loosened braid clung to his shirt, untidy tendrils of hair streaking over his baggy shirt. Glancing down, Obi-Wan noticed how Anakin hadn’t even bothered with shoes, his feet covered only in his black socks.
Anakin’s wide blue eyes met Obi-Wan’s, and Obi-Wan saw him shift in his plastic seat, wrapping arms around his torso. The image from two days ago flashed in Obi-Wan’s mind, and he prayed Anakin would stay this time.
Obi-Wan didn’t bother to say anything, acknowledging Anakin instead through their bond, and Anakin looked away.
“I didn’t mean to wake you,” Anakin whispered.
“You shouldn’t be awake, either.” Obi-Wan’s voice was no stronger than Anakin’s. There was something delicate about the space between them, and Obi-Wan didn’t want to shatter it.
Anakin just shrugged in response, the movement barely visible in the dark. He didn’t speak, but Obi-Wan didn’t know what to say either. Instead, Obi-Wan sent a tentative prod through the Force, quizzical in nature, and Anakin’s shoulders tightened. The chair scraped back an inch, and Obi-Wan’s heart leaped.
“Don’t go,” he said, and the noise, no louder than his last words, were a booming roar of thunder in the stark, silent room. Anakin’s eyes, blown wide, were staring at his teacher.
Obi-Wan whispered again. “Stay.” He tried to lighten the tension by smiling. “I won’t be nodding off anytime soon.”
“Yes, you will.”
Obi-Wan blinked in surprise.
“You sleep a lot now.”
That sobered Obi-Wan even further, and he nodded slowly. “Yes, I…suppose I would be. Lately.”
When Anakin didn’t respond, Obi-Wan decided to press.
“And you haven’t been. Not just tonight either, Padawan.”
Anakin frowned. “I sleep.”
“From the purple stains you’ve been sporting under your eyes, I would have to disagree.”
“You could just say I look tired.” Though the tone was petulant, it was familiar ground, and Obi-Wan latched onto it, purposely turning his tone into something lighter, teasing. Banter he and Anakin could do.
“Basic gives us a wide vocabulary for a reason. I merely choose the most appropriate for the situation.” Obi-Wan paused, and if Anakin said it was to be dramatic, he would deny it. “Like abscond.”
An equal combination of shock and mirth shimmered through the air, and Anakin’s eyebrows flew up in disbelief.
Obi-Wan smiled when Anakin sputtered out something that was half-groan, half-laughter.
“Force, please don’t start, Master.”
“I seem to recall you having an issue with luminous, as well.”
“Yes! Just say it’s karking bright!”
Anakin sniffed, leaning back in his chair. “What? Basic gives us a wide vocabulary for a reason, Master.”
“That wasn’t Basic.”
“Fine. Then just say it’s fucking bright.”
Obi-Wan shook his head, but there was no denying the merriment dancing in the air. “Cheeky little thing.”
Anakin grinned, and the anxiety as well as worry upon seeing Anakin again eased almost completely. And Anakin appeared more relaxed too. His hands rested in his lap, and though his smile faded with the sound of their banter, it was still there slightly. The expression made Anakin look younger.
Obi-Wan’s eyes drifted from his face down to his padawan braid—or what was left of it. Unbidden, the image of a scrawny nine-year-old boy impatiently waiting for Obi-Wan to finish braiding his hair for the fourth time that month came to mind. Anakin never could keep it from falling out when he was young.
Obi-Wan lifted himself up, ignoring Anakin’s protest, and he shifted until he was sitting up, legs hanging off the side of the bed. Though his stomach ached and he was embarrassingly winded from the small act, Obi-Wan could tell his physical therapy was working. He could actually make it up on his own now, thank the Force. Obi-Wan didn’t know if he would’ve been able to handle the mortifying plop back down to the mattress if he’d failed.
“Master!” Anakin scolded. “What are you doing?”
“Sitting up,” he said simply. “I’ve made much progress since you’ve been away.”
Anakin recoiled at that, and Obi-Wan internally winced, but he patted the spot next to him. “Sit, Padawan.”
Surprisingly, Anakin did without comment. In light of the silence, Obi-Wan copied him and gently reached for the loose hair on Anakin’s shoulder. A sharp inhale came from his padawan, but Obi-Wan merely smoothed the wavy strand in between his fingers and thumb. He sectioned it off, one piece, two, then three.
“Where are your bands?” Obi-Wan asked as he started braiding, lowering his voice like earlier. Anakin unconsciously leaned forward as he did. But Obi-Wan noted the way his eyes skittered to the side.
“In my room.”
Anakin hummed, and his fingers twiddled together. “Forgot ’em.”
Obi-Wan nodded. “Okay.”
A flicker of surprise tweaked the air between them, and Anakin asked, “Okay? You’re…that’s it?”
“Is there more?”
Anakin frowned in response. Obi-Wan lay one strand over the other over the other, leaving Anakin to speak. He did, after a few moments.
“You haven’t done this since I was a kid,” he whispered.
“I haven’t needed to.”
A surge of emotion ballooned, pushing against Obi-Wan’s chest, but Anakin smothered it in time with the downward pull of his eyebrows. It lingered, though, a sheet hanging over a hovering apparition.
“I'll always need you to,” Anakin choked out, barely discernible it was so quiet. But Obi-Wan heard him, and he had to swallow thickly over the lump in his throat.
Obi-Wan stopped, but he didn’t take his gaze away from the unfinished braid, only a few cycles left to complete.
“Anakin…” Obi-Wan’s voice crackled more than he was expecting, and he swallowed again. There were no more monitors beeping in the room, but their presence still echoed. “I…” Fingers still holding on, he brushed his mind against the swelled mass between them, and Anakin’s breath shuddered. Another small push, like a soft graze of his thumb on a cheek, and Anakin whimpered. Finally looking up, there were the tears he’d seen in Anakin’s eyes once again.
Anakin whipped his head away, tearing the braid from Obi-Wan’s hands, so Obi-Wan left them to settle in his lap.
Shifting so he faced Anakin more, he said, “I realized something lately.”
He didn’t get an immediate answer, probably because Anakin expected Obi-Wan to continue. The boy blinked heavily, using his shoulder to wipe at his left eye. “What?”
“I almost died.” Anakin’s eyes flew open, and Obi-Wan gave him a wry smile. “That wasn’t a new realization, of course. But it did…well, it made me think about things I hadn’t. Not in a long time.” Obi-Wan pressed a couple of fingers to the small bandage on his torso, no longer wrapped around, just an adhesive on both sides. “I thought of Master Qui-Gon,” he admitted softly.
This time, Obi-Wan felt surprise, unshielded and raw. That alone was a humbling experience, to know his padawan was so shocked to hear about his own grandmaster. And even though six years had gone by, Obi-Wan still missed him. He always would. But his old grief meant nothing when faced with the burning sun before him.
“I…never talked about it, you know,” Obi-Wan said. “His passing. I—I still haven’t. Not completely. And I…” Through his tight throat, he tried to take in a deep breath, but he only managed half. “I’m sorry, Anakin.” Obi-Wan reached for Anakin’s shoulder, making sure to look him in the eye. “I never thought to ask you about the mission. And I…should not have expected you to speak first when I never did. But I want you to know that I—” Anakin’s lip wobbled, and Obi-Wan’s already-tight throat almost didn’t allow him to breathe. But it didn’t matter. “I understand, and I am so, so sorry, my padawan.”
A few tears streaked down Anakin’s face, but his lips were clamped together, shields blisteringly tight.
“I am so proud of you, Anakin.” A cry wrenched from his padawan, and his hands came up to cling to Obi-Wan’s arm still gripping his shoulder. “You have been so strong this past month, but you don’t have to be anymore.” His other hand brushed tears from his cheek. “Let it go.”
An ache—terrible and drowning—pressed against Obi-Wan’s heart from the teenager, and Force, it hurt. But Obi-Wan accepted it, he cradled the thrashing, groaning thing like a precious life. With a nudge of the Force, Obi-Wan revealed what was underneath.
And Anakin sobbed.
“You—You almost died!”
“I know, Anakin.” Obi-Wan pulled the shaking padawan to him, and Anakin burrowed his face in Obi-Wan’s shoulder, wrapping his arms around the older man. Obi-Wan’s chest tightened as the crying worsened and the leftover grief squeezed at the air, but every shard of anguish, anger, and fear, Obi-Wan soothed as best as he could with a hand through Anakin’s hair or a brush of comfort over his mind.
It was hard. Every familiar, gnawing heartache brought Obi-Wan back to the days he spent alone in his room, teeth biting his fist as he hid his shuddering breaths from the nine-year-old gift he’d gotten.
Anakin’s recent experience clawed at scabbed-over hurts, but this time, Obi-Wan let them bleed. He allowed them to dribble down his heart as he tightened his grip on Anakin and closed his eyes.
“I-I’m sorry,” Anakin stuttered into Obi-Wan’s tunic. “I always fight with you.” A throb of regret burned, but Obi-Wan coaxed Anakin into letting it go. “I get mad at you.” Burn, then soothe. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
He rubbed his hand down Anakin’s back as, after a few more moments, the crying softened. The lashes of hurt came and went while Anakin calmed, but Obi-Wan stayed and Anakin stayed, and they held each other tightly.
Then a gentle, clumsy nudge against Obi-Wan’s mind—a blessed sunrise against gray—made Obi-Wan gape at his student. Warmth emanated from their bond, and Obi-Wan was reminded of Anakin’s pitter-patter against skin, directed this time toward Obi-Wan like a mental embrace.
“I—” Anakin sniffled. “I realized something too, Master.”
“Did you?” he whispered.
“I don’t know what your favorite color is.”
That made Obi-Wan draw back, raising an eyebrow in confusion, and now Obi-Wan could see Anakin’s swollen, tear-stained face which flushed at the scrutiny.
“I just mean that…well, you know a lot more about me than I thought. I…didn’t know you remembered I liked jela, and you know my favorite class and—and so many things. But I don’t know enough about you. So…” Anakin fully leaned away, using his sleeves to wipe at his face, then his expression was one of seriousness. “What is your favorite color, Master Obi-Wan?”
“Blue.” He said it simply, like his heart wasn’t absolutely bursting with fondness for this reckless, insolent, brilliant monster of a padawan.
“Like your lightsaber. Favorite dessert flavor?”
Obi-Wan’s hand found the unfinished edges of the padawan braid. “Vanilla.”
“How boring.” Anakin was grinning as he leaned his head toward Obi-Wan. “Favorite spice?”
Anakin snorted. “I knew you were bullshitting when you said you didn’t have a sweet tooth.”
“I was not.”
“You were if your favorite spice is cinnamon. You literally only use that for desserts.”
Obi-Wan huffed. “There are a variety of savory dishes one can utilize warm spices—”
“Please don’t say it’s a perfectly fine spice like abscond.”
Obi-Wan paused to flick Anakin’s temple. “I will now, you little moppet.”
The pitter-patter of lightness danced over both of the skin, and Anakin’s eyes twinkled with joy, even as he said, “Yeah, yeah, old man.”
But soon enough, Obi-Wan was pinching the end of the braid, and Anakin’s smile faded.
“I took the bands out,” Anakin said. The teasing was over, so Obi-Wan merely stayed silent, waiting for Anakin to continue. “I…had a nightmare tonight. You were…gone.” Anakin visibly swallowed. “And when I woke up, they were for a padawan who wasn’t strong enough to save you.”
“But you did save me. I’ve lived these past days because of you.”
Anakin nodded gently, barely disturbing his braid.
“And even had I not made it out of that cave,” Obi-Wan said, “you would still be worthy of this.” He tugged on Anakin’s braid. “I would still be proud.”
Anakin blinked blue eyes at him. “Yeah?”
The smile was small, but it pulled Anakin’s lips up, and Obi-Wan smiled back. He thought of Master Vokara, and then he thought, yes, they would be fine. Both of them off to sleep, Anakin with no nightmare and Obi-Wan feeling just a little lighter. Anakin would bring his bands tomorrow, and Obi-Wan would braid his hair just one more time, then they'd quip their way to Obi-Wan's room, discharged and alive.
They would be just fine now.