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Scorch the Earth

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Obi-Wan woke slowly, in snatches—one moment, he was dreaming, sunlight and the dust of Mandalore, the civil war he had lived in for five years as a padawan, the sand of Geonosis and the thunder of crawling tanks, the next, a quiet den, in the depths of the night. In the northern hemisphere of Naboo, it was winter, and in the foothills of the mountains there was snow a few inches thick to cotton the world. The night had the thickness and tang of ice even on the inside. He’d complained of it, when he’d landed planetside, and Padmé Naberrie Amidala had scrunched her nose at him, and said, it’s just a little cold, Obi-Wan, you’ll certainly survive. You fought in a war, didn’t you?


Obi-Wan had nearly offered a rejoinder for that—and then his words had failed him, because Padmé’s hair had been shorn close to her skull, a buzzcut that showed off a scar that curled upwards from her temple and crossed her hairline and skittered backwards, where she must have split her head something fierce once upon a time. Knowing Padmé, the story behind the scar could’ve been perfectly mundane, unimaginably fantastical, or, these days, a little bit of both at the same time. Obi-Wan had brought her Alderaanian sweetwine—if he plied her with that, he could ask, and possibly even get a story that was true, but that was never a given with Padmé. The woman was rather used to lying. Somehow all of her strange shades had caught the eye of his almost unconscionably honest padawan. If you had asked me directly, Anakin had said, once, if you had asked me directly, Anakin Skywalker, are you illicitly married? I would have said, it is actually Anakin Naberrie Amidala Skywalker. Did you know that only the betrothed of the monarch shares the royal house name as well as the family house name? It has made my name a mouthful. But you never asked me that directly, so I never told you. I thought about the look on your face at least once a day.


It had been several months since Obi-Wan had last seen her, so the development had startled him, but not overly so; ever since Padmé had fled the late Republic in its dying hours, wanted for high treason, having flooded the Republic’s news-makers with damning evidence of the corruption of thousands of senators, a tangled web of information that she had apparently been collecting since she was first named the esteemed Senator of Naboo, Padmé had seemed to change all the time. She sheared her hair short, she grew it out, she dyed it red, she dyed it back, then dyed it black; she went from immaculate, flowing and regal dress to working jumpsuits to somewhere between to back again, went from loud, bold colors to muted natural tones to all white to all black and then back again and then to somewhere else. She changed like a molting bird—instead of preening, she ripped out her feathers, and started anew, scorched the earth behind her and then crawled out of it smoldering still. Obi-Wan had once expressed curiosity, about the constant change, to his padawan—and Anakin, who wore the same shades of black he'd always used, in the same loose style he'd always used, with the same straight-backed posture he'd always used, had said, imagine being one thing your entire life, and then finding out you hated yourself for it the entire time. Let her change, she likes it. I like it. My wife is someone new every three months, and I get the blessing of meeting her all over again.


The den Obi-Wan had fallen asleep in faced the wind, and the cold had slithered in through the windows, curled in through the floor; beneath a throw blanket, he was shivering, but in the odd way that felt like he had been born with a shiver in him, that he had simply been trembling for all his life long. The cold was of no consequence—it had always been there, and always would be. He had arrived in the late evening, exhausted, and Padmé had packed him upstairs with a blanket and told him to take his room, that Anakin would be back later. Obi-Wan had not made it to the guest room that was officially-unofficially his own, and instead stumbled into the den.


In the darkness, he saw what had awoken him—Hobelos, the dog. The anooba had been a whelp the last time Obi-Wan had seen him; now the animal was as tall as Obi-Wan’s hip, long legs and dull claws adapted for digging clacking on dark lacquered hardwood floors. Anooba had a crest several inches high of gold fur, and then over their darker skin they had black patterned florets, and long, long muzzles sharp as blades, crests of bone beneath their chin that jutted out and long, tall ears, clean-cut and triangular. Hobelos was domesticated stock, and therefore smaller than the ones that ran wildly through Tatooine, howling into the windstorms and the rainless thunder that rolled over the land. But, then, it was the domesticated anooba Anakin would have poor memories of. Obi-Wan didn’t know how Anakin could stand to keep Hobelos around—but his padawan loved the dog, despite the gleam of black, beady eyes, and despite all of Anakin’s own griping, so when Hobelos wandered forward with clicks of his nails on the wood, Obi-Wan offered a hand. Hobelos shoved his snout into it—thin but flat, with nostrils that sealed off to prevent sand blocking the airway—and warbled a bit, blowing hot air over Obi-Wan’s palm, tickling it with whiskers no less than six inches long.


“Awful mutt,” Obi-Wan told him, warmly. Anooba had a long, stiff tail—they were peerless runners, and the tail stabilized them so they could turn at a moment’s notice—and Hobelos sat, and thumped his against the ground, once, then twice. Obi-Wan rubbed the space between his eyes so that Hobelos leaned his skull, warm and solid, into the touch, melting.


There was the clicking of another set of nails—because the Naberrie-Skywalkers did everything in pairs—and the second dog, bigger than the first and gruffer, with one ear mostly torn off, blew hot air over Obi-Wan’s face, a blue tongue slipping out to lap at his hair.


“Nauterposa,” Obi-Wan huffed. “Go away.”


Nauterposa only intensified her licking. Obi-Wan swatted at her, and Hobelos whined low in his throat, and then shoved his dagger-like head into Obi-Wan’s chest, his tail thumping against the ground in earnest. In response, Nauterposa pressed her face to Obi-Wan’s, the sway of her long tail creating almost a breeze.


From the hallway, there was a thump against the floor, and both dogs leapt away like Obi-Wan’s touch could burn.


“Leave it!” Anakin snapped. The end of his black cane was hovering an inch in the air, poised to hit the ground again. “Obi-Wan Kenobi does not smell nearly pleasant enough for this. I promise it is true—I lived with him. Go away.”


The dogs hesitated, momentarily, and then Nauterposa gave Obi-Wan a miserable farewell sniff, before trudging over and knocking her side against Anakin’s leg. Hobelos sat, and tilted his head, and then swung his long face backwards to stare at Anakin beseechingly.


“He’s fine,” Obi-Wan said.


Anakin gestured Hobelos forward. “Come, creature,” he said, and Hobelos, as if it were the hardest thing he’d ever done, pulled himself off of the ground and moved forward to pool on the ground several feet away, watching Obi-Wan with intense, needy eyes.


Anakin tangled a hand in Nauterposa’s ears, and then pointed at Hobelos with the other. “That is my wife’s dog. That is not my dog, this is my dog. I’ll tell my beloved to come get her animal. Isn’t that right, Nauterposa?”


Nauterposa leaned her full weight against Anakin’s leg—she was at even Anakin’s hip, so she was no small anooba, but Anakin didn’t budge, just roved his hand down to her shoulder and tangled his fingers in the crest of golden fur. Not much moved a man with two durasteel legs. Privately, Obi-Wan thought neither of the dogs were especially different, but Anakin grousing about the dogs had existed as long as they had.


“Good to see you,” Obi-Wan rasped, pulling himself upright. Cold air hit his skin and he shuddered—Anakin flicked a hand and a basket at the end of the couch opened itself, and a thick, fleece blanket smacked Obi-Wan in the face. “Teaching you the ways of the Force was a mistake,” Obi-Wan said, around a mouthful of fabric.


“Almost certainly,” Anakin said. His cane tapped against the ground as he made his way to the couch, and Obi-Wan settled into a cross-legged position to give him room to sit. Anakin sat heavily, leaning his cane beside him.


“Bad day?” Obi-Wan asked.


Anakin didn’t use the cane often. Both of his legs were metal, now; both of them black and blue and gold and durable, designed to withstand damage, to withstand force. He would always be a fighter, but now he designed himself, created his own strengths, his own weaknesses, and he had chosen endurance above all other qualities—a steadfastness that lent itself to Djem So, a form that drew its power from the volcanic energy at the molten cores of planets, that drew its power from infinitesmal, indomitable movement. If the stumps of his legs were painful, and gave him trouble, it was typically a day he did not get up at all; it was only if one leg gave him trouble that he used the cane for anything other than thwacking the back of Obi-Wan’s head. Obi-Wan left a note of that, in his mind.


Anakin blew out a breath. “I spent the last several days on Tatooine. I somewhat overdid it.”


“Oh, truly? I never would have expected something like that from you. Whoever could accuse Anakin Naberrie Amidala Skywalker of overdoing it—”


Anakin lifted his cane, glaring. “I will hit you with this, and it will be painful.”


Obi-Wan snorted. “Oh, most definitely. Is there anything you need?”


“I need my children to wake up,” Anakin said. “I miss them. Theoretically I know it is five in the morning and I would be awful to wake them now, but I miss them.”


“Five in the morning?” Obi-Wan squawked. “I did not sleep that long, did I? Oh, stars, I only meant to nap.”


Anakin patted Obi-Wan’s knee. “You’re getting old. That’s alright.”


Obi-Wan yelped, and brushed Anakin’s hand away. “I am not! You use a cane. You are getting old.”


Anakin scowled. It rippled the scars on his face; when he had dueled the Sith Master at the end of the Clone War, the two of them had leveled half of the Republic’s Senate rotunda. In the battle, the Sith Master had taken Anakin’s other arm, and his legs were lost after being pinned by a reinforced duracrete support structure, in the heart of the fire that had consumed the wasted building. The burns had been extensive—one of his eyes had been damaged so badly his pupil was now entirely a pale gray, like an overcast sky. Anakin had never sought surgery to replace the damaged eye, even though he’d injured the opposite one during the Clone Wars, at the end of Ventress’ lightsaber—that one was entirely artificial, and had been since Anakin was nineteen. It occurred to Obi-Wan that he could ask Anakin why he’d never wanted to replace it. Anakin could be a more honest storyteller than his wife; but he, too, needed to be a little drunk, first, before he would become emotionally honest. Obi-Wan had always wondered, idly, how well Anakin could actually see. He’d seen Nauterposa, once or twice, push Anakin out of the way of table edges or wall corners. He was unsure if Nauterposa had been trained to do so.


“You are a useless leg-having dolt,” Anakin said. “I use a cane because I have no fucking legs. It is an enlightened life you wouldn’t know a thing about.”


But Anakin was laughing under his breath; Obi-Wan’s brother had always had a macabre sense of humor, and Anakin liked it better, being allowed to joke about it.


Obi-Wan bumped his shoulder. “How are they, the little ones?”


Anakin waved a hand. “Leia has learned how to use the Force to manipulate the dogs, and she wants to ride them, but anooba were not designed for riding. You can imagine the difficulties. She fell and cracked her head a week ago and Padmé and I spent three hours in an emergency center to make sure she had not managed to break herself, and our four year old girl was just sitting there, staring at us like we were insane. And Luke—fucking Luke—little lukkali slept through the entire thing. I held him, because of course there was no setting him down, and he did not stir for even a minute. This might have been a poor parenting move on my part, but I tried to wake him, to make sure he was still alive and not in some sort of permanent coma, and still he did not move. Of course he only woke up when we were home, and everyone else was ready to sleep at last. That was when he chose to make his opinions known.”


Obi-Wan barked a laugh. “Sounds like someone I know.”


Anakin glared. “He sounds like Padmé. That is exactly who he sounds like.”


“Oh, that’s not quite what I was thinking, but I’m sure Padmé will love it when I tell her you said that.”


Anakin raised the cane in an implicit threat once again. “I refuse to take any blame for the irascibility of my son. Have you eaten? Offense fully intended, you look awful. You’ve looked better in the middle of warzones.”


Obi-Wan grunted. “Not today,” he said, aware that his voice was petulant, but he had never borne it well, when Anakin turned that keen sense in the Force on him. These days, the more time Anakin spent working on Tatooine’s liberation project, the more the presence of him in the Force tasted like the arid desert, felt like hot, howling wind, heat licking down Obi-Wan’s arms like fire. Intense as ever, but different, lighter, and still missing none of Obi-Wan’s attempts to hide from his attentions, keen and ravenous for something to sink his teeth into. It wouldn’t go over well if Obi-Wan confessed he didn’t remember the last time he’d eaten anything; but, judging from Anakin’s flat, unimpressed gray eyes, his old padawan had already guessed that.

Anakin pushed himself to his feet, stiffly. The wicked scars on the back of his head, the ones visible above the veil that tied in the back, rumpled as he shifted—Obi-Wan’s heart still hurt to look at him, sometimes, to know that there was so much of his padawan he had lost to the Sith. More than he would ever even realize, in all likelihood. The dead Chancellor was a wound between them they couldn’t touch. Obi-Wan had tried. Not while you still work with a fucking Chancellor, Anakin had answered.


Then you should eat,” Anakin said. He left the cane leaning against the couch.

“I can wait until—”


Stars forbid Obi-Wan Kenobi let any one damned person do a single thing in his favor,” Anakin growled, turning. His brow was furrowed deep over his eyes. He could glare rather well even without eyebrows, and the extensive scarring had destroyed what had once been a youthful face, that mitigated any power of Anakin’s glare—his boy had grown up intimidating, somehow.


“You are one to preach about stubbornness.”


Indeed the fuck I am,” Anakin huffed, and he waved his hand. “One of these days, you rancid old bavva, someone will do something for you and you will manage to not have a cardiac infarction about it, and I insist that that day is fucking today. Off your ass, old man. I have no limbs and I’m moving faster than you. Do they not keep you in shape in the Core? Distasteful. And to think you were one of the Order’s most skilled duelists. What has become of the Jedi?”


“You unbelievable, incorrigible maggot,” Obi-Wan muttered, but he stood. One of his knees popped as he did. He was grateful Anakin either failed to hear it or ignored it; likely failed to hear it, over the whirring of his own prosthetics. Obi-Wan thought Anakin had somehow designed them to sound louder than normal, just to remind everyone in his immediate vicinity that if he got the urge to punch someone, they would require a litany of reconstructive surgeries afterward.


Anakin started forward, heavy footsteps creaking the dark, nearly black, wood floors. He waved a hand dismissively. “Your complaints are useless to me. How long do you have?”


“Alive? I suppose only the Force knows.”


“Your career as a comedian will fail at this rate,” Anakin said, dryly. “I mean, Obi-Wan, how long will you be here?”


They turned into the hall, the rich wood floors now covered by a long, sprawling carpet, dark blue and teal and green, woven to look like the seas of Naboo that dominated so much of its culture. It was rich with history; if Obi-Wan cared to reach into the Force, close his eyes and open his mind, he could hear generations of Naberries trampling down the halls, the nervous scuttling of waitstaff, the roll of droids, girlish laughter from Sola and Padmé when they were young. Sola had inherited the estate when Padmé’s parents had been murdered, and now it housed her sister and her brother-in-law, both of whom were banned from Republic space entirely, standing warrants for their arrest. But of course, Naboo was no longer part of the Republic, so what did those warrants even matter? They were four years old, anyway. They were just a day older than Luke and Leia.


The Naberrie estate was made with a dark, rich wood from the jo’oballe trees native to Naboo; a fine grain and black, and the walls were painted in shimmering teal-blue. The top floor had a domed transparisteel ceiling that opened to the sky, and in direct sunlight the shimmering walls and blue accents almost glowed; but with inches of snow covering the lights, the hall was quiet and dark. Vines planted in recessed planters in the floor grew along the walls and wrapped over the table at the far end of the hall, holding a green-glass lamp and a stack of ransacked children’s books. Above the table, breaking the old, reverent beauty of the interior were brightly-splotched children’s paintings, Ryoo’s and Pooja’s and Luke’s and Leia’s, all taped up with a sort of warm affection that Obi-Wan could still feel, gentle smiles Obi-Wan could still see. Sola and her family no longer lived there, instead living somewhere in the rustic lands of Naboo’s lake country, but Padmé had left her family’s things precisely as they were.


Anakin had never made such cheerful drawings as a child, Obi-Wan remembered. Multiple general studies masters had pulled him aside to talk to him in a concerned voice about the childish scribbles of beheaded stick-figures and smoldering guts and skulls and rats Anakin liked to draw in the margins of his databooks. He looks to be having some issues with adjustment. It appears he thinks a lot about violence. All Obi-Wan, too young, too little experience, terrified he was steering his apprentice in the wrong direction, had been able to say was, I had no idea he was such a gifted artist. At the end of the hall the little drawings depicted families and drawings of the house and the dogs, all things they saw, things they lived with, and Obi-Wan wondered how he and all those general studies masters had missed that Anakin had just been drawing the things he’d known.


“You have not answered me,” Anakin said.


“To be frank, I am not sure how.”


“I considered it a simple enough question.”


“Then a simple enough answer would be I don’t know.”


Anakin stopped, and turned to look at Obi-Wan. “What do you mean, you don’t know? What in the ever-beneath happened?”


Nubian swear, he thought. Ever-beneath was a Nubian turn of phrase. He is horrifically married, Obi-Wan thought. He rubbed the bridge of his nose. “It is somewhat complicated.”


Anakin crossed his arms. His prosthetics were black at the fingertips, but faded to a midnight blue at the root; it was some complicated treatment process for the steel that Anakin had explained once, but Obi-Wan had been nearly asleep, and hadn’t much paid attention. The mechanisms beneath the dark casing were gold and bright; they were eye-catching, beautiful. Obi-Wan always wanted to touch them, study the small etchings he could see in the casing, butit never felt appropriate to ask what they meant. They were a part of Anakin’s body. It would have been like asking why was your hair so blond when you were a boy?


Complicated is the only setting the galaxy seems to have,” Anakin said, gruffly. He pointed a finger squarely at Obi-Wan’s chest. “You will answer my question in exchange for pancakes. It is useless to resist.”


Obi-Wan’s stomach cramped, and his mouth flooded with saliva; he actually could not recall the last time he’d eaten anything. “Pancakes, you say?”


Anakin pulled down the black veil he wore over his face , and beamed at him. “You should see how excited you get for pancakes. You look like a child. Yes, that is exactly what I said. Do they not have auditory processing in the Republic any longer?”


“They never did,” Obi-Wan said.


Anakin snorted. “A fair sentiment.”


The weight of Anakin’s hand—considerable, considering it was reinforced durasteel—landed on Obi-Wan’s shoulder, and steered him past the grand staircase to the repulsorlift right by it, impossibly warm, impossibly heavy. Obi-Wan couldn’t help but notice that Anakin had skipped the stairs, and that his cane was still in the den, and that Anakin had said he’d been on Tatooine.


“You weren’t injured, were you?”


“The hired meat of the Hutts cannot touch me,” Anakin said, in a way that Obi-Wan could hear the curl of his lip, even over the veil that covered the lower half of his face. It was both for comfort and because the material helped filter pathogens—Anakin’s lungs, horribly damaged in the fire, and his heart, which had failed along with his lungs, had long since been replaced with a pulmonode implant, but his immune system would never quite recover. On Tatooine, Anakin covered his face entirely for protection from the sun, with a gruesome-looking mask, like a dog’s skull. It made it easy for the news outlets in the Republic to paint Anakin’s work in the Outer Rim as the work of a raving madman disrupting decades old economic chains, the failed Jedi who had turned against the Republic and murdered the former Supreme Chancellor and now marched through the bloodsoaked desert baying like a hound. Every so often news outlets ran pieces with shocking headlines like FORMER JEDI MASSACRES HUTT SHADDA COUNCIL, LEAVES SEVERED HEADS BEHIND and Obi-Wan would know that Anakin had done it, and that all those pieces conveniently left out that everyone on the Shadda Council had ratified the use of implanted bombs in enslaved sentients, and refused to take them out and release their sentient property. As such Anakin wholeheartedly embraced the negative publicity.

Let them fear, he’d said, once.


That sounds very little like a Jedi, Obi-Wan had responded. It was back when he had still thought Anakin’s methods too extreme, had still thought that the systemic slavery in the Rim could be negotiated politely away. He’d had more faith, then.


Anakin had shaken his head. I am a free man and a Jedi but I am a free man first. And if I want to scare my masters and make them run then they will run.


Obi-Wan hadn’t pressed further. Not then. Now he might be tempted to, but he’d need a glass of that Alderaanian sweetwine.


“Then let me rephrase,” Obi-Wan said, as the repulsorlift doors opened to the first level, “you didn’t injure yourself, did you?”


Anakin flicked a hand, both beckoning Obi-Wan forward and pushing Obi-Wan’s statement away. “And if I had my wife would be seeking compensation for the worrying she would be doing in the form of pancakes, but she’s safely asleep, so now the pancakes will be all yours.”


The double doors at the end of the hall led to a grand kitchen of pale blue stone countertops and black basalt floors, rich dark wood walls and broad windows streaming in the whiteness of the sun reflecting on the snow and the grayness of the still-early morning. The brass cookware gleamed and everything about this room was old and busy, the minds of frenzied cookstaff scoured into the walls through the Force, an enormous kitchen that had once been prepared to serve Naboo’s aristocracy at formal parties, an extended family of blue-bloods slinking in the revolving doors. Now those revolving doors invited in retired Grand Army soldiers and freed slaves and whatever wayward Jedi slipped in to see what Anakin could have possibly been up to, to see if he had really become what the Republic feared he had or if it was smoke and mirrors, and Padmé’s family, and the endless list of people she miraculously knew seemingly from every corner of the galaxy. If they fail to use a coaster, Anakin had said, once, I tell them that Nauterposa will eat them. Master Plo forgets to use his fucking coasters.


“Tell me what’s complicated,” Anakin said, gesturing to a stool by the kitchen’s island. “Sit there. I’ll make your breakfast but I expect a gesture in return, and the gesture is the telling.”


Obi-Wan rubbed at his jaw. His spine twinged at the base and he almost invented some sort of excuse to crawl back upstairs and go back to sleep in the den that faced the wind, even with Hobelos’ insistent company. He loved his padawan and always had—even when he couldn’t admit it to himself—but Anakin was all sharp edges and intensity that burned like a fire, and Obi-Wan thought that if he tried to hang on he was going to slice his palms and fingers and then Anakin would reach for him and a knife would carve open his gut, bloated bags of organs slipping out. A Jedi should not think of violence this often, he thought.


“Tell me how Ahsoka is, first,” Obi-Wan said.


He hadn’t meant to say it. Possibly that should not have been the first thing out of his mouth. Possibly he should have eased into it, or maybe not even said it at all—Ahsoka was an ache that burned beneath his heart, nestling there like a cockroach burrowing into the wood. Obi-Wan was infested with so many such little aches—apologies he could never form with his mouth—but Ahsoka was the wound that bled and bled and bled. Distantly Obi-Wan remembered the shape of his face, smiling down at her, during the Clone War and she had been so much shorter—had not grown into the height of a togruta—and she rumbled in surprise in the back of her throat the way togruta did when he reached out and touched her shoulder, and the vibration rattled up his arm. Hi, Master Kenobi, she’d chirp, and then grin, and in one fell move she had once decapitated five men, and then after that he’d found her in a dimly-lit Dreadnought hallway bawling into her hands. He’d sat beside her, knees cracking, and she’d leaned into his chest and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. The smell, the smellI didn’t even think I’d killed them until they were dead and then they wereand they were dead, and stars, she’d only been fourteen. Then she had said, and it had frozen Obi-Wan’s blood, it doesn’t matter to Skyguy. He said you have to kill people in war.


And that was what had happened to the Jedi.


Anakin, in the middle of pulling a mixing bowl out from beneath the counter, paused. “You could ask her,” he said.


Obi-Wan settled into the stool, and slumped forward with his elbows pressed to the blue stone. “I don’t believe she would answer me honestly,” he said.


“Then I would not answer you honestly,” Anakin said, setting a mixing bowl on the counter entirely too roughly. “I would not answer you honestly, if she won’t, because I am not giving you information she would not. So why ask if you won’t ask her?”


Obi-Wan rubbed beneath his eyes. “Anakin—”


Anakin pulled a commlink out of his belt and slammed it in front of Obi-Wan. It was a wonder the thing didn’t shatter under the force of it. “Fix it with her on your own time.”


“You need this.”


“All the more reason then to fix it quickly,” Anakin said. “But what I will tell you, and I won’t discuss this further, is that it has been four years. Four fucking years! She was on trial four years ago. Ahsoka is more forgiving than you assume. You mattered more to her than you think. If you so much as tried it will not be the death of you and in all likelihood it would go better than you think because you are under this unfathomable belief that nothing is fixable. Learn to take ‘yes’ for a fucking answer, Obi-Wan Kenobi.”


Obi-Wan raised a brow. “Are you quite done?”


Anakin blew out a breath, ruffling his veil. “Are you quite done dodging my question?”


“I’m dodging nothing.”


Anakin crossed to the cooling unit and pulled out a glass jar of shaak milk and a carton of eggs. “You’re still dodging my question, and poorly. What happened, Obi-Wan?”


“I am supposed to be in an engagement on Sullust,” Obi-Wan said, quietly. “As you can see, I am quite far from Sullust.”


His voice was hoarse and seemed to sink pathetically to the floor. Obi-Wan fought the urge to slouch in his chair, slump his shoulders; he had raised the man across from him and as cranky as Anakin could be, there was nothing his former padawan could do that would so much as get under Obi-Wan’s skin. But always there was that urge. Confessing to a dereliction of duty—it felt as if Qui-Gon, tall and imposing like the sheer cliff of a mountain, was looking down at him expectantly, and Obi-Wan was nothing but an apprentice who wanted nothing more than to throw himself off that cliff. Failurethe name of the cockroaches that lived in his ribs, burrowing deep into his bone.


Anakin set the milk and eggs on the counter and glared at them for a long moment like he was trying to divine the future from the combination. “Absent without leave,” he said, finally.


Obi-Wan flattened his palms against the stone. “That perhaps seems to be the case,” he said, hoarsely.


Anakin looked up. His gaze flicked all over Obi-Wan. “You do not look injured. Don’t get me wrong, you look like absolute hell. Those robes are hanging off of you and it makes me want to throttle you. Let me guess, the last time you remember sleeping was in my wife’s den?”


Obi-Wan licked his lips. He wanted to snap, and is that any concern of yours, but he had, more or less, made it Anakin’s concern. He was in the man’s house, after all. “If I say yes, will I be getting strangled?”


“The jury,” Anakin said, evenly, “is decidedly out on that. But you are not hurt. You don’t look like a man who, I don’t know, needs transport out of the Republic for fear of being arrested and tried unfairly. So I cannot figure in my mind a reason. Can you fill me in?”


“I,” Obi-Wan began, and then his words failed him all at once.


Anakin waited for a moment, watching, and then sighed and began measuring milk into the bowl, cracking the eggs, adding the oil and the vinegar and the vanilla and what looked like pumpkin puree, before shifting to the second bowl and mixing the dry ingredients, flour and brown sugar and nutmeg and cinnamon and ginger and salt and allspice and several other things, the names Obi-Wan couldn’t quite grapple for. He was mixing the dry and wet ingredients when he snapped his fingers with a metal clang and then strode off to the pantry, swearing in Huttese, shoving boxes and bins about, before he returned with a bag of white chocolate chips.


“Consider this an apology for that time I set your robe on fire,” Anakin said, shaking the bag into the mix.


“Which time,” Obi-Wan said, dryly.


Anakin, to his credit, actually paused to consider it. “That time when I was ten and tried to tell you it was Aayla Secura who had done it instead.”


Obi-Wan snorted, and rubbed at his eyes, which burned and ached. “You were such a hideous liar. You are still such a hideous liar.”


“But I make good pancakes,” Anakin said.


Obi-Wan’s brows crawled to his hairline. “Ah, yes, that most imperative mission of the Jedi; pancakes.”


Anakin pointed the dripping whisk at him. “If I had made these pancakes for Chancellor Palpatine he would have died from delight instantly. All there is to being the Chosen One is having a fucking good pancake recipe.”


Obi-Wan snorted. “How did you arrive at that theological conclusion?”


Anakin tossed the whisk in the sink and set it by the stove, and then bent to rifle through the cabinets, searching for a pan. “My beloved said so,” he said, knocking the pan on the stove with a rattle, spreading some butter on the bottom of it by rocking it back and forth as it heated.


“You are a horribly married man,” Obi-Wan said. “Really, terribly married.”


Anakin turned to him, eyes folded at the corners in such a way that meant he was grinning, and said, “Truly.”


Anakin doled out the batter, two small pancakes at a time, while a pot of maple syrup heated up slowly, and then the batter was gone and the whole kitchen smelled of cinnamon and pumpkin and Obi-Wan’s stomach was turning in knots so badly he thought he might be sick. Anakin slid a couple onto an empty plate and crossed to the fridge to slather apple butter on top and then poured some of the warmed syrup from the pot over that, stabbed a fork into it, and shoved it in front of Obi-Wan. A few seconds later, a glass of milk followed.


“This is unnecessary,” Obi-Wan said.


Anakin snapped his fingers, with the same sharp, metallic clang. “Correct. You have a raging caf addiction, I should have put a pot on. Do you still like hazelnut?”


Anakin didn’t wait for an answer to his own question; rather, he filled a kettle with water and set it on the still-hot stove eye while the water rattled inside, and then from a cupboard pulled out a vaguely hourglass-shaped decanter and then fixed a mesh lid to it and doled a few scoops of grounds into it.


“I rather get the sense I’m being spoiled.”


Anakin waved a dark hand. “Be silent and eat your pancakes.”


Obi-Wan tucked into the pancakes; they were hot and tasted deeply of pumpkin, rich and moist with soft bites of melted white chocolate spread throughout, and the cinnamon was heavy and sweet and rich and with the whole thing wrapped in sweet apple butter and thick maple syrup, they were nearly addictive. By the time he was done Obi-Wan was warm to the tips of his fingers and nearly half-asleep, so when Anakin thumped a mug of hazelnut coffee by his hand, Obi-Wan snatched it and took a deep drink of it, gratefully—the coffee, too, was wonderful, and the cold wind leaching through the windows and the gray of the snow outside somehow seemed so far away.


“Since you ate those in less than five minutes, I’m considering that a ringing endorsement,” Anakin said, amused.


Obi-Wan lifted his gaze from the mug of coffee, and, fully aware that he likely had syrup in his beard, said, “These—should be considered a controlled substance.”


Anakin laughed, and then forked another two on his plate. “Padmé has a sweet tooth. I suppose you match.”


Obi-Wan gestured vaguely with his hand. “When I drink less, you know.”


Anakin’s eyes folded at the corners, in a fashion that meant he was frowning. “Why aren’t you on Sullust, Master?”


Obi-Wan closed his eyes, and took another sip of his coffee. “Because,” he said, slowly, “because I—have you ever woken, and simply wished you hadn’t?”


Anakin crossed his arms, considering, and then said, “Early after my injuries, every day. Some days still but I never mean it. It’s just that—pain, pain like that, it messes with the wires in your brain. You are different after. I wake up and I hurt and I think that if I die it will stop, but I don’t… want it, particularly. It’s just there because I did want it for so long. Before that, some days. Most days. I wasn’t… whole, then. But your answer is yes.”


“Oh,” Obi-Wan said.


“In that case,” Anakin said, “I’m glad you’re here, and not on a battlefield. You can keep the den, if you like it, or a room, if you want it. Luke and Leia will be glad for you.”


Obi-Wan’s mouth thinned. “I am sorry for the—imposition, Anakin. I wasn’t… thinking. All I could decide was that—if there was one place that might not be intolerable, it would be here.”


“Imposition?” Anakin snapped. “My beloved’s house is enormous. You could take five bedrooms and no one would notice. Imposition? I lived with you for ten years. We went to war together. You think you will bother me by being here?”


Obi-Wan huffed. “Well, when you put it like that.”


Anakin gestured Obi-Wan to stand. “Get up,” he said.


“I’m perfectly comfortable,” Obi-Wan said, because he had a singular, sharp fear as to what Anakin was planning.


Anakin crossed around the kitchen island and stood by Obi-Wan’s stool, and then grabbed Obi-Wan roughly by the collar and pulled him into a tight, solid hug—it was more or less like hugging a very warm astromech, but it came with a prevailing sense that nothing could find him while he was in it, that no monster could challenge the one wrapping him up.


“This will sound practically psychotic to you,” Anakin murmured, his cheek pressed against Obi-Wan’s hair, “as do most things I say. But if you do not like it, perhaps it’s for the best to loose it. I hated who I was. As much as I would have preferred to not be burned alive, I am happy that I at least I lost who I had been, because I fucking hated him. If you do not like Obi-Wan Kenobi, High General of the Republic, then maybe you should cut him out.”


Anakin pulled away, and cupped Obi-Wan’s chin, turning his face side to side. Some part of Obi-Wan had lost his muscles and tendons and bone, all melted through him, useless, and he moved with the touch, and then Anakin clicked his tongue and said, “Bavva.”


“What does that even mean,” Obi-Wan murmured.


“It means bantha in Huttese,” Anakin said, eyes glinting. “Therefore, it means you need to trim your beard. And this is the longest your hair has ever been, and yet I can’t imagine it’s ever seen a comb in your life. What is wrong with you? E chu ta.”


Obi-Wan closed his eyes and let out a breath. “You are lucky that I still have my patience.”


“You are lucky that I have not dragged you to a shower,” Anakin said. He jerked his head to the repulsorlift through the double doors. “Go on, down the hall where we were. Towels are in the closet and you can use the shampoo and conditioner my wife no longer needs. She shaved her head again.”


“I saw. It looks… interesting.”


Anakin’s brows folded. “She didn’t do it to look good to you. Go on, before you give my children ideas that they don’t have to bathe, either. If you inflict that suffering on me I will kill you.”


Obi-Wan turned to leave, but tossed a, “I would haunt you endlessly,” over his shoulder, and then started towards the repulsorlift, hopefully on his way to feeling a little more alive when he came out. Maybe by then the twins would be awake; he’d missed them.