Deep in the guts of the starfighter, something went thunk, which was never a good sign. The ship came out of hyperspace, and Obi-Wan realised he was not where he wanted to be, and lucky not to be in the middle of a sun, and then he started to swear.
Communications appeared to still be working, and eventually Obi-Wan made it through to the comms room at the Jedi Temple. When he explained what had happened, dispatch starting swearing too.
"I already said that," Obi-Wan told him.
"Can you make it through?" the fellow demanded.
"Don't fancy trying."
"Well, where are you?"
"Damned if I know. Check the co-ordinates; you tell me."
Silence for a long moment. Obi-Wan ran diagnostics that gave him all sorts of stupid answers. Eventually dispatch said, "What are you doing out there?"
"Not my idea," Obi-Wan reminded him.
"Well, the nearest inhabited planet is Tatooine. Could be worse. It's not Republic, but they do at least have decent mechanics. I'm sending you the details. Keep a low profile, get your repairs and get out of there. Soon as you can. They need you on Belderon."
"Tell me something I don't know," Obi-Wan muttered, flicking the transmission off.
As far as he could ascertain, 'middle of nowhere' was a good description for the vast majority of Tatooine. The skin of the planet shivered beneath his skimming ship, sand hissing and pinging off the hull in unpredictable gusts of wind. Fortunately, the bit of nowhere Obi-Wan encountered had a flyspeck township in its middle, and he even managed a reasonable docking in the hangar.
Keep a low profile. Not that swaggering about as a Jedi was ever an entirely wise idea in the wilder systems of the Outer Rim. Obi-Wan sighed, tugged his hood up against the sun and sand, and went in search of what assistance could be garnered.
An hour in a cantina gave Obi-Wan directions and names for a competent mechanic, and an agent of the Hutts who'd convert credits to local currency. It also left him with a pernicious twinge in his head and a suspicion that the local liquor would not pass the intoxicant standards of the Republic.
"Watto" turned out to be a grizzled Toydarian junk dealer with a sideline in mechanics. He didn't inspire confidence, but his workshop was large, though cluttered, and half a dozen more competent-looking workers were engaged in something that made so much noise, Obi-Wan suggested they step outside to talk.
Once he could hear himself think, Obi-Wan explained, as best he could, the problem, emphasising that time was of the essence.
"Really?" Watto rasped, and Obi-Wan resigned himself to an extortionate bill. Watto turned, looking down the street to where a small group of youths skulked in the shadow of a wall. "Anakin!" he yelled, and one of them turned. His gaze was lazy and arrogant, verging on insolent. And the Force was so strong with him that it hit Obi-Wan like a physical blow.
"I thought you said I could have a break," the youth said, as Obi-Wan reeled, gripped his forearms inside the sleeves of his robe.
"Well, now I'm telling you to get back to work," Watto called.
The youth turned back to his friends, pushed off the wall. There was a ripple of grumbling and leavetaking, the huddle dribbling off down the street. By the time he came loping up the street, squinting against the suns, Obi-Wan had almost recovered his balance.
As he came nearer, Obi-Wan realized the boy was older than he had guessed, aged by the desert perhaps. Lines carved around his eyes from squinting, his face tanned, his hair blond and bleached blonder. He was tall, broad across the shoulders, and he moved like he was comfortable with himself. Obi-Wan knew Jedi Knights with years of training who didn't even come near that casual ease.
He acknowledged Obi-Wan with a lift of his chin. "Anakin Skywalker," he said. His eyes were blue and sharp.
"Ben Kenobi," Obi-Wan replied.
"What's the problem?"
"I was rather hoping you could tell me."
Anakin's first response to Obi-Wan's starfighter was a low admiring whistle. "Now she's a beauty. Don't see ships like her out here often. Bet she handles like mind control, yeah?" He laid a hand against the hull.
"I'd be happy if it worked," Obi-Wan said.
"Always so demanding," Anakin said, talking, Obi-Wan realised, to the ship. "Alright, let's have a look."
He knocked about in the cockpit for a while, more to satisfy his own curiosity, Obi-Wan suspected. And then he sprawled out beneath the ship, ripped open the casing, and disappeared up to the shoulder in the innards of the thing, his voice echoing metallically when he said things like, "The diagnostics said what?" and "You cannot be serious."
"Can you fix it?" Obi-Wan called down to him, impatient. He was on a deadline here, and just being in the same hangar as the youth was making his nerves jangle. It felt as though Anakin should be incandescent, but he simply looked like any other worker on this sun-blasted rock of a planet. Obi-Wan supposed, from what he knew of Tatooine, that he was a slave. It seemed incongruous.
"Keep your shirt on," Anakin said, sliding out from under the ship. "I don't know what you've been doing to her, but she's many new and unusual sorts of fucked up. Serious attention required."
Obi-Wan clenched his teeth over the urge to swear. "I just need to get to Belderon. After that it can spend three weeks with the techs, if need be, but I have to get there, and fast."
Anakin pulled a face, wiping grease from his hands on the front of his tunic. "Well, I can get her working good enough for that, I guess. But it's going to take--" he paused, thinking. "A week."
"A week!" Obi-Wan grimaced. "Which part of 'fast' didn't get through? I have to get to Belderon."
"And I have to get parts from Mos Ardu," Anakin shot back. "And that's before I start recalibrating your whole damn flux system. Which is all before I can even start figuring out what's up with the--"
"I get the picture," Obi-Wan interrupted. "I can pay extra."
Anakin laughed as he stood up. "Watto'll love to hear it. But it's still going to take a week."
Obi-Wan wanted to kick the ship. With great effort, he refrained, fumbling the serenity of the Force around him. Anyway, the way things were going, he'd just break his toe.
"You need a place to stay?" Anakin asked. "They have rooms at the cantina. My mother works there."
"I know," Obi-Wan admitted. "She's the one who sent me to Watto."
That night, for the first time in a long time, Obi-Wan's sleep was disturbed. He could not remember the details in the morning, but the heaviness in his head, in his heart, was not the familiar distress of the old dreams of Qui-Gon. Something less well known, and somehow simultaneously more so.
He was still puzzling over it when he went downstairs for breakfast in the cantina. Shmi was clearing tables along the far wall, but apart from her, he was the only person in the place. Strange; it wasn't that early.
Shmi caught his eye as he looked around, and came over with her arms full of dishes and a smile on her face. (It seemed odd, somehow, that she could be Anakin's mother. She was so still, so calm, the rock the desert blew against but had no effect upon.) "Everyone's at the racing," she said.
"Racing?" Obi-Wan repeated.
"You really haven't been here before, have you?" She grinned. "The podracing."
He blinked in surprise. "I thought that was illegal."
"Very few things are illegal on Tatooine," she pointed out, depositing her load of crockery with a clank, and wiping her hands on her apron. "At least, not if there's a profit for the Hutts in it. Podracing is less of a sport here and more of a planet-wide vocation. And it's a big race today, though I can't remember the name of it." She smiled apologetically, bringing over a steaming cup of something, the fumes of which seemed to clear Obi-Wan's head a little. "It's not really my thing, but I'll be going down as soon as I'm finished here as well." She set to wiping the table nearby as Obi-Wan sipped at the cup. "Anakin wanted me to take you with me, if you're interested. He was quite insistent, in fact. Oh, and he said the parts from Mos Ardu wouldn't be arriving until tomorrow morning in any case."
She smiled, and Obi-Wan matched it. How very Anakin, really, counteracting objections as though he'd known they'd be raised.
The thought made him frown again. How would he know what was typical of the Skywalker boy?
Taking another swallow, he asked, "Will Anakin be there too?"
"Oh yes," Shmi said. "He's in the race."
"Really," he said. Podracing was a sport so demanding it was generally considered impossible for a species possessing fewer than four hands to successfully compete. Obi-Wan couldn't remember where he'd heard that - somewhere else in the Outer Rim, where the Republic's ban on the sport was less observed. And yet Anakin was competing. Obi-Wan was not even slightly surprised.
By the time they reached the stands, the noise was enveloping, a roar like surf or a battlefield. It certainly did seem, just looking around, that the majority of the population of Mos Espa - and even further afield, no doubt - was present. Everything was colour, movement, bright and loud in the doubled sunlight.
Someone in the midst of it was waving, shouting to Shmi. As they worked their way along a row of seats, apologising to the owners of crushed toes and kicked shins, Obi-Wan suspected it was one of the youths he'd seen with Anakin the day before. The boy greeted Shmi with a hug, and Obi-Wan with a nod. "You've cut it fine," he bellowed over the ruckus. "They've just called the track clear."
On the sand below, crews were scurrying away from a welter of machinery. It looked a little like the contents of Watto's shop, rendered mobile and lined up. Sunlight glinted off metalwork, spangling up and down the line as the pods bobbed impatiently.
Shmi turned to him, and Obi-Wan had to lean close to hear her say, "Anakin is third from the right."
"Really?" Obi-Wan said, as though he hadn't known that the moment he ran his gaze along the assembled pods. He could feel the Force pulled taut over the racecourse, spiralling tightly in to the sleek pod Shmi had indicated. So different from the languid, shimmering emanation he'd sensed around Skywalker the day before. Was the boy even aware he was doing this? Did he think it was just nerves or adrenaline, that tingle of his senses expanding?
What a Jedi he would have made.
"And they're off!" Anakin's friend bellowed, but his words were eclipsed by the scream of the crowd, and in any case it didn't matter, because Obi-Wan had felt it, like an arc under pressure snapping to a straight line, and everything was colour and movement and noise, noise in his ears and head, and the sunlight off sand was dazzling.
Later. The cantina. Shmi pressed a cup into his hand. When Obi-Wan lifted it to his lips, he realised it contained water - brackish, barely a double mouthful, but pure water nonetheless. He was not insensible to the honour. Nodded his thanks to Shmi even as he downed the lot.
"Are you sure you’re alright?" she asked quietly. "I was worried you might be going to faint, back at the track."
"Fine," Obi-Wan managed. "I’m fine." He’d been worried himself, for a moment there. But he hadn’t fainted. Had made it through the whole race, made it back here, even if he hadn’t really taken in the results of the race.
The door burst open, letting in a bundle of youthful enthusiasm with a familiar tall, blond figure at its centre, and the already sparking atmosphere in the cantina ratcheted up another level. Anakin was seized, hoisted aloft on shoulders. He was laughing, arms spread wide, whooping with energy.
He hadn’t won. Obi-Wan had picked up that much from the excited chatter on the way back to the cantina. But he’d been second by less than a length, and that was no mean feat for the biggest purse of the Tatooine racing year, and in a race where half the competitors had failed to finished altogether.
The core of celebrators were on a victory lap, it seemed, surging around the cantina. Toasts were being lifted from the corners. Obi-Wan could see Watto hovering with a knot of older men. Gamblers, he imagined, and wondered how much Watto made from his slave's wins.
With an ear-splitting bellow, Anakin slithered down off the shoulders he'd been ensconced upon, catching someone up in a bear hug. (Leaning around the next figure at the bar, Obi-Wan made out that it was the youth they'd been sitting with at the racing.) Back slapping, congratulations called from everywhere, someone started up a rowdy song the words of which Obi-Wan couldn't make out. Out of the crowd, a girl slipped up to Anakin, going up on tip-toe to kiss him; he caught her around the waist, lifted her a little to kiss her more thoroughly, to a chorus of whistles and cat-calls, but once he set her back on her feet she scampered back into the crowd, and he turned away, accepting a brimming cup from someone. He drank the lot in one long, extended gulp, and Obi-Wan watched him, the room erupting into more cheers, and he thought, an hour, no more. That's it.
Obi-Wan was unlocking the door to his room when feet on the stairs made him look back. "Anakin," he said.
The youth bounded up the last half-flight two at a time. His grin was excited, but assured, languid but somehow sharp. "Ben," he returned. "Leaving the celebrations so soon?"
"I’m just an interloper," Obi-Wan said with a smile. "Thought I’d leave you to it."
"Oh, don’t be like that." Anakin came down the corridor, stopping closer than Obi-Wan expected. He pressed one hand against the doorframe, and leaning in, added in a voice barely above a murmur, "You’ve been watching me all night."
Obi-Wan felt as though he’d been winged in his starfighter, spinning just out of control. How could he say that it wasn’t his fault? That his eyes had been drawn almost against their will by how Anakin sparked in a way Obi-Wan just couldn’t see with physical senses? "Well, I--"
He didn’t have to; Anakin interrupted. "You know," he said, voice something like a purr. "There’s those that pay quite handsomely for an... adventure with the only human podracing star." He leaned his other hand against the other side of the doorframe, and Obi-Wan felt the door cold and hard against his shoulder blades. "Since you are just a visitor, I’ll do you a special rate."
The humour and heat in Anakin’s eyes was heady. Obi-Wan realised he was hanging onto composure by the edges, the whole day just too much and now this, now this... "I don’t think," he tried, but that was going nowhere. "I’m not really..."
"Don’t try to tell me you’re not into this," Anakin said, sure to the point of smug. He pressed forwards, his whole body invading Obi-Wan’s space, and Obi-Wan felt his own breath trip. A hand curled around Obi-Wan’s neck, tilting his head up, to meet Anakin’s mouth coming down. Firm lips on his, used to wanting, used to taking. Obi-Wan lifted a hand, unsure if he was going to push Anakin away or pull him closer; never knowing, because the moment his fingers touched Anakin’s shoulder there was a--
flash, like a spark earthing, deep below the level of the tangible
--and Anakin was staggering away, his back hitting the wall across the corridor, his hands flat on the surface. Eyes wild. "What the fuck was that?"
Obi-Wan shook his head, his hand still up, his breath tight and fast. There was something burnt in his head. Too bright, too quick to be seen, but--
"For a moment there," Anakin said, "I was sure I knew you."
It was gone. Whatever it had been. Gone entirely, leaving this lingering unease between them in the corridor. Obi-Wan lowered his hand. The door was cold against his palm, reassuringly so. "Go back to your celebration," he said, lacing the words with the barest hint of compulsion.
Anakin didn't need much convincing. He strode away down the corridor. Stopped at the top of the stairs and looked back, but Obi-Wan was staring at the wall.
Dreams. Dreams he could almost grasp, almost hold in his hand, knew enough to know that Anakin had been in them and when he'd looked at him there had been love and hope and joy and pride, but also fear, anger, violence, an anguish that plummeted so deep it was as though there was no bottom to it, and he could fall forever. It felt like a decade of his life - more - in one instant, and he woke gasping.
Obi-Wan hadn't been going to ask. He didn't ask. Shmi just served up breakfast and pointed him towards the hangar.
Even with that, he was not expecting to see what he did when he poked his head around the door of the hangar. Which was Anakin lying beneath the starfighter, parts and tools and what seemed to be random items of junk strewn around him. Obi-Wan came inside entirely, closed the door carefully enough to make it go click.
Anakin's foot twitched. "That you?" he called, ringing off metal.
Obi-Wan considered. "For some value of the term 'you', ah, yes?"
"Yeah, you," Anakin confirmed. There was a clank, and he swore.
Obi-Wan took a seat on a crate near the ship. Still couldn't see anything of Anakin above the ribs, for the curve of the ship's hull. Still, the fact that he was here at all was surprising. "I didn't expect you to be down here this early," he said.
"I haven't slept yet." He pushed out from beneath the ship, his grin broad and cheerful, a smear of grease on his forehead. "Never do, after a race. Then the parts got in, so I figured I might as well get to work."
"Very good of you." It was easier to be around the boy today. He wasn't as... as bright, for want of a better word. He was bearable. Not likely to make him do anything stupid. He watched Anakin pick up a gadget, apparently at random, and heave himself up onto the body of the starfighter, propping a panel open with his shoulder. "Can I help?" Obi-Wan asked. Anakin gave him a surprised look, and Obi-Wan shrugged. "It's not as though I have anything else to do."
Anakin grinned. "Sure. There's a hydrogrip over there," he waved a hand. "Get in underneath and hold the inverse pressure on the flux coupling."
Obi-Wan picked his way across the floor. "I know what a hydrogrip is," he said, fishing it out of a slither of other tools. "But can I have the rest of that in Basic?"
"Incompetent assistants!" Anakin bellowed from inside the guts of the ship, but Obi-Wan thought he was laughing.
Just like he thought most of the swearing emanating from wherever Anakin was working on the starfighter probably wasn't directed at him. And he thought that once he got involved, things seemed to move quicker. Or maybe it was just that he had something to do, now. Once they'd finished with the flux coupling, there were connections that needed checking, and diagnostics to run, the results slowly starting to make sense.
Obi-Wan was re-tuning the sensor array - fiddly work - when Anakin's head appeared around the hatch, gravity pulling his hair up on end. "So are we just not talking about it?" he asked. "Is that how we're dealing with this?
When Obi-Wan looked up, Anakin was grinning, but there was the shadow of something sharp in his eyes. And actually, Obi-Wan had been doing rather well at forgetting what the boy had tasted like. "I thought it might be best," he said.
"This experience talking?" Anakin asked, grin broadening, and it was actually hard not to return it. "You get propositioned often?"
"No," Obi-Wan admitted. "Not really."
"Can't think why not," he said, and disappeared.
Obi-Wan heard him slithering up, over the hull, the low resonance of his feet on the surface. He stared at the sensor array, trying to remember what he'd been doing. This was ridiculous. No Sensitive, no matter how strongly the Force was with him, should be able to do this to a Jedi Knight. With an effort of will, Obi-Wan drew serenity around him. Found where he'd been up to. Pay handsomely, he remembered the boy saying. He wondered where Anakin had spent the night, not sleeping. "What do you do with the money?" he asked, unsure whether he'd been intending to.
Laughter from somewhere above his head. "Podracing's an expensive hobby. You think those things build themselves?"
Obi-Wan realised he didn't quite approve. He couldn't think why. He'd been on planets where far more reprehensible acts were a regular occurrence. A way of life.
Later, in the afternoon, Obi-Wan thought, though it was hard to tell the time, they started on recalibrating the system. Anakin perched on the hull of the starfighter, manhandling the mechanics, while Obi-Wan got the relative comfort of the cockpit, slightly uneasy at laying hands on the wires and dials behind the control panels.
"So do you work for the Republic?" Anakin asked, entirely without precursor, though that was nothing less than Obi-Wan had come to expect.
As the meaning of the question sank in, Obi-Wan felt his guard go up. Realised it had, really, been down. "What makes you say that?"
"Well, this ain't a cargo ship, and you're in a hurry, which adds up to criminal or government to me." He grinned absently, shoulders set as he twisted something Obi-Wan couldn't see. "I gave you the benefit of the doubt. Set it to six."
"You're too kind," Obi-Wan said, fiddling with a dial.
A spark shot; Anakin didn't even flinch. "Well, that's not it." He reached in again. "So?"
"So?" Obi-Wan repeated.
"Do you work for the Republic?"
He hadn't really thought Anakin would be dissuaded or distracted. The boy had a wide streak of stubbornness. Or not so much stubbornness as persistence. "Yes. In a manner of speaking."
"Don't worry, I'm not going to spread it around. Try it at seven." Obi-Wan flicked the dial one notch further, and for a long moment, nothing at all happened. "Right," Anakin said, all business-like satisfaction. He slid down the hatch to the next connection, and Obi-Wan began connecting wiring to the dial. "How do you like that, then?"
"Working for the Republic?" Obi-Wan blinked, fingers stilling on wire. "It's... what I do. Who I am. What I've always done."
"Depressing," Anakin said, bracing a foot against the edge of the open hatch. "Sounds like being a slave. Just another life. Do as you're told. Let's start this one at three."
Obi-Wan set the next dial absently, watching Anakin. "Do you dream of freedom?"
"I never dream." Anakin was frowning down into the ship, focussed on his work. He glanced up with the twitch of a smile. "But no. Too abstract. I want things I can grip. To get off this dustball. Pilot a pod in one of the big races, the pro ones, like Fire Mountain." He leaned back, hands bracing against the starfighter's hull. "Once I thought I'd like to be a pilot, but I've met enough pilots now to know that it's just more people telling you where to go, what to do. What's the point?" The frown deepened as he looked at Obi-Wan. "Why am I telling you all this?"
Before Obi-Wan could answer - could find an answer - there were voices outside, and footsteps. A shout, and the door opened, two heads poking around. Obi-Wan recognised them from the race and celebrations yesterday, friends of Anakin.
"Vano!" Anakin called with a laugh, sliding down off the starfighter.
He jogged across to the door, one of the heads disappearing, the other one saying, "The fuck, man? How are you so chipper?"
In a moment there was a huddle of youth at the door, a babble of voices. Obi-Wan picked out little beyond tones, and the occasional lament for the problems of having a hangover on a planet with such bright sunlight. He was watching Anakin - an easy task, since the boy was a head taller than his friends, standing out even in their midst. Animated, laughing, pointing and jeering.
He'd thought, yesterday, witnessing Anakin cradling himself in the Force, that the boy would have made a good Jedi. If they'd got to him in time, of course. A terrible waste, never finding him when he was young enough for the training.
But was it? No matter how young they'd found him, could even the Jedi Order ever have moulded this - this, scuffling with his friends, shrieking laughter - into the proper shape? (Just another form of slavery, he thought.)
He had a sinking feeling that the answer might be yes. An even worse feeling that he was viewing the whole business entirely the wrong way. An idea that really, he needed to get off Tatooine as soon as possible, and not just because his brethren were fighting without him halfway across the galaxy.
Anakin looked over his shoulder, back towards the starfighter, and Obi-Wan looked down, catching his reflection in the silver hull.
The next day Anakin was subdued. No chatter, no antics, he was even keeping his colourful language more or less to himself. Perhaps the celebrations were catching up with him belatedly.
Obi-Wan had never been one to lament solitary time, and the monotony of gasket-changing was as close to meditation as anything else. But, for whatever reason, it was not soothing today.
Chafing at the delay, perhaps. Time was slithering past, like sand into cracks, filling up the moments where he should be engaged in his job. He wondered if Jedi were dying, on Belderon, without him. So many had died already. Their numbers were being whittled away.
He knew the impatience, no matter how understandable, should not be allowed to move him like this. But his urgings to calm didn't seem to have much power, and the Force was surprisingly little help. It was there, of course, and the resonance of Anakin's presence had settled with remarkable alacrity into the landscape. But it was somehow aloof. The first comparison that sprang to mind was an old memory of Qui-Gon, waiting with infinite patience while his Padawan struggled towards an answer for himself.
It had irritated Obi-Wan at the time, no matter how much he understood that it was essential he claim certain things for his own. He was only slightly surprised to find that apparently it still irritated him.
The last gasket changed and screwed back into place, Obi-Wan slid down off the ship. Anakin was sitting, leaning against the landing support of the ship, waiting while the liquid drained out of the flux hydraulics. Staring into space. He felt contained, but beneath that were tremours. A disturbance. Obi-Wan barely restrained himself from demanding what was wrong.
Anakin looked up anyway, his eyes clearing. "Know how I said I never dream?" he said. Obi-Wan nodded. "Well, I did last night." He watched Obi-Wan for a long moment, with blue eyes that seemed to know him far too well. "Why do I get the idea I'm not telling you anything you don't already know?"
Obi-Wan smiled faintly. "I don't know what you mean. Was I in these dreams?" He was trying for light; wasn't sure if he made it.
"Yes," Anakin said. "You were there. Always there. And some old guy who I think was important. And a girl - a woman."
"She was an angel." He closed his eyes, but Obi-Wan could still see what he was feeling on his face, the questions, the baffled frustration. He could empathise. "What's going on?"
Obi-Wan shook his head, even though Anakin couldn't see it. "I wish I knew."
He did. Wished he knew what it meant that he could feel Anakin like a splinter in some appendage he didn't have, not painful, just there. That when he stopped thinking, they moved in intrinsic counterpoint, a part sliding into place with a jangling gap where twenty minutes of trying to get it right should have been. That when Anakin's wrenching grip on a tricky connection slipped and he wavered on the edge of balance, Obi-Wan's hand was already up, just the barest touch in the small of his back and all that was required to steady him.
He tried to remember things his Master had said, comments about potentialities, a very old and barely half-understood lecture Master Yoda had given once on convergent realities.
None of it helped.
He crouched beside Anakin, laid a hand on his shoulder, because it felt right. Anakin's eyes opened, met Obi-Wan's. "I wish I knew," Obi-Wan repeated.
Obi-Wan woke late the next morning, clinging to dreams that lingered even as he lay on his bed, blinking in the lines of light slanting through the not-quite closed shutters.
When he made it down to the hangar, Anakin grinned at him from his perch atop the ship, that grin of his like sun on sand. "I was starting to think you weren't going to show up today."
"Where else would I go?" Obi-Wan asked, grinning back.
Anakin shrugged. "Might have got a better offer."
"Unlikely." He reached up, and Anakin leaned down, and they gripped wrists, Anakin not really pulling, Obi-Wan not really leaning on him, the manoeuvre smooth and easy.
Obi-Wan couldn't be bothered being troubled by that.
The repairs were going well. There were moments when there was nothing for Obi-Wan to do, nothing he could do but find a relatively comfortable place to sit and watch Anakin at work, the sure movement of hands and grease-smeared forearms. The supreme confidence Anakin had with his hands on machinery that never seemed misplaced, even when something slipped, something went wrong, and he spat a pithy curse.
The repairs were going very well. Obi-Wan suspected it even before Anakin came over to him at the end of the day, wiping his hands on a bit of rag, squinting thoughtfully. "We've done surprisingly well," he said.
Anakin tossed the rag aside, missing the toolbox he'd been aiming for and not seeming to care. "Reckon you're going to be ready to leave by tomorrow afternoon," he said, blandly.
He'd suspected it, but the words were still a shock. A week, he thought, you promised a week. And there, poised on the tip of his tongue, barely swallowed in time, I might as well stay another night.
There were Jedi - good men and women - fighting and probably dying somewhere a very long way from here. There was Anakin here, watching Obi-Wan with eyes that he knew, any rational explanation be damned. Somehow this whole detour felt like it had been lifted out of time, out of reality, but it hadn't been, he knew that. He could not linger here.
He could not say anything. In the end, he just nodded again. Anakin nodded as well, like an echo, looking away across the hangar.
Obi-Wan was still awake, waiting (for sleep, he would have said), when the door to his room hissed quietly open. He rolled over, finding the lamp control by instinct in the dark. He was sitting up, covers pooling around his waist, blinking in the tepid light before he realised who it was. Who it must be.
Anakin smirked, closing the door again. "Twitchy, Ben?"
Yes, and it was a damning thought. "What are you doing here?" Though he knew.
Anakin's robe was wide at the neck, collarbones casting shadows. He was unbelting it, letting it fall from his shoulders. He was clad in only trousers beneath, bare feet not making a sound on the floor. Only a few steps across the room. His knee on the bed beside Obi-Wan's hip, his hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder. He was straddling him in one smooth movement, and the sheets felt cold, shifting against Obi-Wan's skin.
"Anakin," he said, hands coming up to the boy's hips, and both of them flinched slightly at the contact, but nothing crackled between them this time, nothing but the air, the heat that coiled in Obi-Wan's stomach at the feel of Anakin's skin under his thumbs.
"Yes," Anakin whispered, bending down, leaning over Obi-Wan and smiling, that smile unrestrained, full of mischief, full of pure joy. "Consider this a gift."
Obi-Wan curled his hand around Anakin's neck, threaded his fingers into the boy's hair. Their breath mingled, Anakin's bare chest close to Obi-Wan's, but they weren't touching anywhere but that hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder, Obi-Wan's hands on him. He'd pushed, Obi-Wan knew him, knew how he could be, but he was stilled here, bunched muscles quivering beneath Obi-Wan's hands. He could tell him to go, he suspected, and Anakin would, that obedience nothing of who he was here.
There is no passion; there is serenity, Obi-Wan thought. And pulled Anakin down, to him.
Because he sensed, he knew, what they had been in some other time, some other place. Knew how impossible this would have been. Didn't know how he felt about that, about Anakin and potential and repercussions, but that was difficult and this was easy, this was right, Anakin's head in his hands, his mouth on Obi-Wan's both hungry and giving.
Because at the end of all things, there was the Force, and he felt it now, wrapped around them, and maybe that was just Anakin. Maybe it was.
Anakin settling against him, skin searing together, their tongues tangling and Obi-Wan's breath gone from him, drawn close against Anakin's skin. Anakin was already half hard where he pressed against Obi-Wan, shifting his hips in a way that made Obi-Wan's lift to meet him. Too fast. Not nearly enough. He gripped Anakin's neck tight, pushed his other palm at the small of the boy's back, where trousers gave way to heated skin.
Anakin broke the kiss with a gasp, a sound that carved itself into Obi-Wan. The boy's head went up, back a little, pressing against Obi-Wan's hand. He leaned in, sucked at the side of Anakin's neck, dropped his mouth to where shoulder and neck met, close to where his fingers pressed into tendon. Anakin's hand clenched on Obi-Wan's shoulder, fingers digging in. His other hand skimmed down Obi-Wan's side, trailing a frisson of ticklish feeling in its wake. Two fingers hooked beneath the sheet, stretched taut over Obi-Wan's lap, teasing at the sensitive skin just inside his hip.
Obi-Wan pushed - Anakin gave way reluctantly, but he pushed, got up on his knees, the sheet falling away and the night air cool against his skin. Pressed up against Anakin, knees, hips, chests, and the boy made a sound that disappeared into a kiss, his mouth slanting hard across Obi-Wan's. They kissed, a long time, again, over and over, until their mouths tasted of each other, of the blood brought rushing beneath lips and teeth. Hands over skin, callused fingertips snagging, hands between them, Obi-Wan shoving aside the waistband of Anakin's trousers, a whine in the boy's throat as he swayed against Obi-Wan.
When he pushed this time, Anakin went, sprawling backwards, dragging Obi-Wan after him. Obi-Wan slid down Anakin's body, tugging the trousers off completely, crawled back up, his hands on the twitching muscles of Anakin's thighs. He was pale, where the sun didn't touch, where Obi-Wan touched now, spreading fingers not to take, not to have, but to know. (He could touch him forever, watch him forever, and still not know, not completely.) Pale skin over the muscle above his hip, where Obi-Wan bit, soothed with his tongue, Anakin's erection twitching hot against his shoulder. Obi-Wan looked up his body, Anakin's head back, his neck arched, arms spread wide with fingers knotted in the bedsheets. He moved up, covered him entirely, hands over clenched knuckles, his mouth over Anakin's, the incoherent noises he was making as their thighs twined together swallowed up by Obi-Wan's tongue. Anakin's hands turned over beneath his, gripping him, now, fingers interlocked and Obi-Wan leant, pressing their hands against the mattress. Pressing Anakin against the mattress.
Anakin moved beneath him, almost testing, not quite writhing. He muttered something against Obi-Wan's teeth; he edged back, and the boy tried again: "In my robe."
"Mmm," Obi-Wan mumbled, more interested in staying, but he shifted sideways, towards the edge of the bed, still half on Anakin (and the boy was taking the opportunity to scrape his teeth along Obi-Wan's jaw) as he reached for the fallen robe on the floor. Called it the last small distance into his hand and, juggling it, he felt something solid amidst the cloth. In a pocket; a small vial.
Obi-Wan slid back, kissing Anakin deep and hard, the vial warming in his palm. Gave way as Anakin pushed up. He sat back on his heels, letting his fingers trail over Anakin's skin as the boy turned over. On his knees. Gripping the foot of the bed. He shuddered when Obi-Wan covered him again, mouth on Anakin's shoulder blade, fingers splayed over his chest. Nudged backwards, and the arch of him was something sleek and beautiful, like the hull of a starship, but warm, of flesh and blood.
And when Obi-Wan pushed inside him, his breath stopped and started again, Anakin's muscles bunching beneath his hands. Anakin's skin was hot, sweat beading beneath Obi-Wan's lips between his shoulder blades. Anakin rocking back against him, in time to meet his thrusts, Obi-Wan felt the universe slipping away from him, a frantic whirl, but the Force a steady pulse. He slid a hand around Anakin's hip to wrap around him, found the boy's hand there already, and their fingers entwined brought him to juddering release, and as tensed, crying out, Obi-Wan came, open-mouthed against Anakin's back, surprised, gifted, full - of this and Anakin. Empty of regrets; they were burnt away entirely, here and now.
Collapsed in a tangle of limbs, Obi-Wan shifted, twisted, until he could reach Anakin's mouth. His lips were already swollen; one more kiss could hardly mark him more.
They crawled languidly back up to the pillow, and kicked the soiled sheet onto the floor. Well, Obi-Wan kicked; Anakin turned limp and sleepy and whiny. Curled up against Obi-Wan's back, mumbling in his ear. Was asleep, Obi-Wan suspected, before he even turned the light out.
Obi-Wan didn't dream.
When he awoke, he was alone in the bed, but even before he opened his eyes, he sensed Anakin still in the room, a warm contentment and a curiosity almost childlike in its innocent idleness. Smiling, he opened his eyes--
--to see Anakin crouching down, flipping open the bundle he'd stashed beneath the chair. Rolled up in his Jedi cloak, all the items he didn't particularly want anyone on Tatooine to know about. (Keep a low profile.) His first inclination was to summon the lot, the second to say something. Instead, he merely lay there, watching Anakin pick up the lightsaber. He balanced it in his palm, tried the grip, a faint frown on his face, the look he got when examining a machine he was trying to figure out.
He found the control, and the blade sizzled into life. Anakin jerked to his feet, staggering back a step. In the faint blue light, his face was shocked into blankness. His gaze slid sideways, found Obi-Wan's.
"You're a Jedi," he said. There was shock in his voice, but also hurt.
"Or I killed one," Obi-Wan noted, bitterness in his.
Anakin shook his head slowly. "You're a Jedi," he repeated, no shock now, no hurt, just a stark certainty. "And I'm... I'm..."
He trailed off. The lightsaber crisped the air in the room, a slow menacing slither of sound. Slowly, Obi-Wan sat up on the bed, then stood. Took the step necessary to wrap his hand around Anakin's. The boy was holding the lightsaber, unthinking, in the first guard. Obi-Wan's fingers moved over his. Found the control. Returned silence to the room.
"You're Anakin Skywalker," he said.
Never controlled. Never enslaved. No matter what appeared to be the case.
After Anakin left, Obi-Wan took his time. Used the fresher. Dressed. Gathered his limited effects back together.
Sat for a long moment on the bed, lost in thought. Wondering. Useless to do so.
He came downstairs, settled up his bill with the eternally disinterested owner. Shmi was working behind the cantina counter. She paused a moment to smile at him, and Obi-Wan paused to smile back. "Thank you," he said. "For everything."
"You're very welcome," she replied. "Any time you're in the area, drop by." There was a twinkle of humour in her eyes. Anakin's twinkle.
Turning away, Obi-Wan suddenly had a thought. Looked back. "Have you been having strange dreams recently?"
"Yes." She was as serene as if he'd been asking about the weather.
She nodded, going back to wiping down the counter. "You - you're a lot younger, and there's another man, and sometimes a girl, I don't understand it - but you take Anakin away." Her chin lifted. "And the universe spirals into darkness."
There was a chill down Obi-Wan's spine. Hope and pride and fear and despair. But not here, not now. It had not happened, something else instead. Though the universe out there, the one waiting for him... Jedi fighting, Jedi dying, war and a shadow. "It might still," he said.
She tilted her head with a sad smile. "Some things are certain, perhaps."
There was little remaining to be done at the hangar. Minor systems to be reconnected. Final diagnostics to be run. The hull panelling to put back into place. Little enough before Obi-Wan was shrugging into his cloak, hooking his lightsaber into his belt.
He looked up, and Anakin was sitting on a drum, chin lifted, as challenging as the first moment Obi-Wan had seen him, looking life in the eye. And there was a small shadow at the neck of his tunic, the memory of Obi-Wan's mouth. "What's your real name?" Anakin asked. Lazy and arrogant, bordering on the insolent.
"Obi-Wan," he said. "Obi-Wan Kenobi."
"Anakin Skywalker," the boy said, holding out a hand.
Obi-Wan took it, took a step closer, and Anakin stood up. The hug was as firm as if they'd known each other a lifetime, not barely five days. Obi-Wan closed his eyes, felt Anakin's shoulders under his grip, Anakin's hands on his back.
"May the Force be with you," Obi-Wan said, meaning the words more than he had in long years of saying them.
"And with you, Master," Anakin replied.
Obi-Wan climbed into his starfighter, fired up the engines. He did not look down as he launched into space.
He did not think he would see Anakin again. These were uncertain times. There were Jedi dying every day in the galaxy. He suspected he would be one of them, one day. Perhaps soon. But not Anakin. Not Anakin.
Out of Tatooine's atmosphere, he pushed communications through to the Jedi Temple. It was someone else on dispatch today, a female voice, enthusiastic to hear from him.
"General Kenobi!" she said. "How was Tatooine?"
"Hot," he allowed. "Sandy."
She laughed. "So I hear. I'll relay your ETA to the command on Belderon. They'll be pleased to see you."
Space slipped away around him.
Some Things Are Certain by dee
This is a response to Crycrywolf's "Enslaved" challenge, whereby Anakin is still a slave and has never left Tatooine. With a nod and respect to Sophie, who did it first and snappier.