Anakin could hear Master Yoda's voice through the dura steel of Obi-wan's door and stopped in his tracks. It had been a very long time since he had heard the Jedi Master sound so… Utterly infuriated. Not since he was fourteen at least. Additionally, he was using all kinds of adjectives not normally associated with Obi-wan, like irresponsible and- this was a bit harsh- selfish. Though usually Anakin would take maniac glee from hearing his perfect, "by the book and the small print" master so mercilessly chastised, he could not help but feel a surge of protective indignance.

True, he had told Obi-wan off in that tone half a dozen times in the past two months, but he had known the man for close to fifteen years now. He knew Obi-wan Kenobi better than he knew himself, from his expressions to the passions he kept on such a tight lock that normally the universe just placed him into the category of emotionally stunted. Including Anakin, when he was having a particularly bad day. Point being, only he could speak to Obi-wan that way because when all was said and done… He knew Obi-wan. He knew his limits and when to push. He knew when Obi-wan was close to snapping and what not to say so that he would not internally beat himself up for weeks to come.

It didn't seem like Yoda had caught on.

"Is Master Yoda telling Master Obi-wan off?" Ahsoka whispered from next to him, sounding appropriately shocked and likewise personally affronted. It took Anakin a moment to recall that Ahsoka and Obi-wan were pretty close too, having a shared complaint and regard for Anakin himself.

Anakin growled low in his throat. "Not for long he isn't." Then (because he was the Chosen One, Hero with No fear and Obi-wan's self-appointed best friend) he raised his hand and a slight nudge with the Force opened the doors automatically. Ahsoka inhaled sharply, alarm going off in their bond as he strode into the small quarters confidently.

"Obi-wan… Oh, Master Yoda! Forgive me. Am I interrupting something?" he asked, deceptively, contritely innocent. Obi-wan was kneeling on a meditation pillow before a small table, two cooled cups of tea before him while Master Yoda stood on the other side, his cane held in one hand. He looked ready to smack Obi-wan with it. Anakin gave Yoda one quelling look and the Jedi Master harrumphed, tense shoulders relaxing minimally.

"No," he huffed, giving Anakin a suspicious look. "Done, we were," Obi-wan's expression didn't change ostensibly but Anakin could feel relief waft from him in waves through their bond. "Talk more later we will, Obi-wan," Yoda informed him with a sigh. Obi-wan gave a single nod of acquiescence.

"Yes master," he said, with utmost calm. "Will you at least take my words into consideration?" he asked, softly.

Yoda narrowed his eyes at him, and Anakin could have smacked his forehead in exasperation. Even he knew not ask Yoda for anything more when he was angry enough as it was. But where he was thoughtless militarily, Obi-wan was even more so when it came to what he wanted for someone else. It was one reason Anakin so respected him.

"Perhaps," was all Yoda would say. Obi-wan bowed his head again with a final shake of his head, Yoda turned on his heel and vacated the room as Anakin and Ahsoka bowed. When the door had closed behind him, Ahsoka exhaled with relief.

"That was risky, master," she pointed out.

"Yes," Obi-wan agreed in a drawl, slowly pushing himself to his feet. "But I suppose I should have expected it from you, Anakin. Eavesdropping is impolite, might I remind you," he said, running a hand over his eyes tiredly. There were bags underneath his eyes, and the light usually in them was gone as well.

Anakin snorted. "Hey, we practically live here too," he pointed out, jerking his head to indicate Ahsoka, who nodded in agreement. "It was not eavesdropping. It was… Taking part in conversations beyond ourselves. Nobly."

Obi-wan's mouth quirked at the edges. "Obviously."

"A thank you wouldn't be out of place here, master," Anakin replied, a bit sharper than he had intended. Now that Yoda was gone, he was ready to give Obi-wan a piece of his mind.

"How are you, Master Kenobi? We heard about what happened on Mandalore, and Duchess Satine…" Ahsoka interrupted before they could get into another one of their arguments.

Obi-wan gave her a gentle smile, the same that he would have given the media when asked about the war effort. "I'm fine, young one. Thank you. Don't worry for me. I've heard rumors from a certain Master Plo that your success in the dojo has been miraculous," Anakin felt pride glow in his chest as Obi-wan included him in the praise with a single glance. Ahsoka blushed.

"I try, master," she replied.

"There is no try," Obi-wan corrected, with a flash of pleasure at her humility.

Ahsoka gave a half shrug, smiling. "Yeah, well… Sky-guy might have had a hand in it too," she pointed out, bumping her shoulder with his affectionately. Anakin grinned.

"Thank the Force he did not pass along his rather unlikeable traits," Obi-wan joked, half-heartedly. Then, smile faltering, he cleared his throat. Anakin got the message immediately.

"Snips, why don't you go find some poor sucker to defeat in the dojo? Make us proud," he told her. Ahsoka shook her head. After three years, she had grown crafty in their ways, but it was for that reason that she did not argue when he dismissed her.

"Yeah. Sure master. Bye Master Kenobi," she tossed over her shoulder, already swaggering on her way out like she owned the whole Temple. Anakin couldn't help but chuckle. As soon as the door had closed softly behind her, Anakin turned back to Obi-wan, who had returned to kneeling at the small table. His vein-lined knuckles were white on his knees, shaking slightly. His icy blue eyes were trained on the table as if in deep concentration.

Anakin exhaled through his nose slowly. Now was not the time for an argument. "You didn't tell me you were going to Mandalore," he reminded him gently, trying not to think of the day when Obi-wan had contacted him over their private channel, requesting a fast and unregistered vessel. He and Ahsoka had been finishing up their rescue assignment on Christophsis, and upon hearing the urgency and staunch determination in Obi-wan's voice, had not hesitated to loan him The Twilight. Speaking of which, where was that? He walked over and sat on the other side of Obi-wan, legs crossed.

Obi-wan didn't look at him. "What purpose would that have served, Anakin? You were halfway across the galaxy, and the Council had no idea where I was going. I didn't want to involve you in my… Plot," he made it sound like he had just committed treason.

"So you took my ship to ensure no one would know I helped you?"

"In my defense, it was a terrible ship," of course. Leave it to Obi-wan to insult his belongings after he had borrowed them. Anakin was hard pressed not to pinch the edge of his nose. Patience was not his strong suit.

"In my defense, even had the Council asked, I would have covered for you," he tasted bitterness in his mouth. "Or did you not trust me to have your back… Again?" At the obvious reminder of the whole Rako Hardeen debacle, Obi-wan sighed.

"I know you would have, Anakin, but it wouldn't have been right for me to place you in that situation," Anakin threw his hands up.

"Why? I go against the Council all the time…"

"Don't remind me please."

"They practically expect it out of me by now. Besides, Darth Maul was there! You neglected to mention that too, and once again went in there without back up. That scum is as much my fight as…"

"No," Obi-wan interrupted, with such seriousness that Anakin instantly quieted, surprised by the force of his friend's vehemence. "You are not to go near that monster, Anakin, and I will be well into my grave before I ever allow you two to meet again."

"I'll say! He nearly killed you last time!"

"And he did kill Qui-gon. A full Jedi Master years ahead of us both in wisdom and skill. I handled him once, Anakin. It is only safe for me to handle him now. May I remind you his mission was to find you last time too?" At that, Anakin shivered. If Qui-gon had failed, if he had not found Anakin in time, would he have been on the opposite end from his master now? Would he have been like Dooku or worse?

It didn't matter and besides, Anakin was very adept at not thinking about certain things. That was one. Qui-gon had found him, freed him, believed him when no one else had. He had changed him like no one ever could, and now Obi-wan was denying him the right to bring his killer to justice.

"He was my master too, Obi-wan. I cared about him, and I want to see that monster gone as much as you do," he told him stubbornly.

"I know you did," he replied, wearily. "I know what he meant to you Anakin, I really do. But while he was your mentor, he was my master. And I know you know what I mean by that," Anakin did, even if he loathed to admit it. Qui-gon was a key figure in his life, a man he had loved in his own right, but Obi-wan had owned him in a way that was unique to Jedi bonds. He had been his charge and been charged with that utmost sacred vow between master and apprentice that Anakin could now identify with deeply.

He had been both apprentice and master. He knew the difference between a mentor and a master, a teacher and a parent.

He nodded begrudgingly. "I don't like you sometimes, you know."

"You aren't alone. Is this a bad time to mention I might have accidentally gotten your ship destroyed?" Anakin couldn't say he was surprised. There was a reason he had given Obi-wan The Twilight. He couldn't be trusted with nice ships.

Still… It was the principle of the thing. And he liked pulling Obi-wan's string. "Accidentally?"

"A better word would be incidentally, in all truth. It was valiant vehicle, really, but no match for ballistic missiles… or much of anything really. Might we also reexamine the fact that it was a terrible ship?" And this was what their bond was made of. Pure disregard for all things important.

"You're such a barve. How can you apologize and insult me at the same time?" Anakin demanded. Obi-wan chuckled softly, before guilt whiplashed in the Force, carried on winds of a memory Anakin could just faintly detect in the Force… Sounds? Of someone being choked, an ultimatum with impossible consequences… A defeat with devastating effects.

The memory was suddenly snatched from his tenuous grip, shoved back behind mental shields. "Obi-wan…"

"I really am sorry, Anakin."

Anakin waved a dismissive hand. "I don't care about the ship," he declared, firmly. "At all. Look at me, Obi-wan," for once, the older man obeyed, and the turmoil in his eyes made him look young… Younger than he had been when he had first taken Anakin to be his Padawan. "I don't care about the ship," Anakin repeated. "I can always build a new one. Updated. Better. Faster. I'm a prodigy with machines, you know…"

"Anakin."

"Anyway, I'm just…" He was interrupted when both of their comm-links went off. They looked down, the spell of unity that always seemed to wrap around their bond during times of adversity falling away to reveal reality.

The Universe needed them.

"I-I'm being called before the Council," Obi-wan said, sounding more apprehensive about that than Anakin had ever heard him. His heart softened with sympathy as he checked the message. The Chancellor.

"Do you want me to… Take part in the conversation? Nobly of course," he offered, hesitantly. He had never declined a visit with the Supreme Chancellor before, but if Obi-wan needed him, he would make an exception. The Council Member favored him with a dry look.

"I don't think Master Yoda will overlook that trick twice, my friend," he pointed out.

Anakin could care less about what Yoda thought. He protected the ones he cared about. Always. "Let's test the theory," Obi-wan shook his head, fingers tapping at the tabletop.

"No. I appreciate the offer Anakin but I'll be fine. Go on and attend to your other duties. I shan't keep you," he glanced pointedly at the summons, standing. Anakin stood with him, nodding.

"Alright. I'll… See you later?" Obi-wan sighed and flung his cloak over his shoulder, seemingly swamped beneath its dark weight.

"Whenever the Force grants, absolutely. Take care of yourself, Anakin," because Force knew that they could be separated for a few months, at least, and that made Anakin's chest constrict. He did not want to leave Obi-wan like this. He would be too broody… But he knew that the problem went above them, beyond them. So the two of them bowed to each other- the act holding lifetimes of respect and friendship- before heading back into the light of day and down two separate paths.


He didn't see Obi-wan again that day. He spent a few hours with the Chancellor, Ahsoka and Padme, in that order. Training, talking, laughing…. And other things. He had fallen asleep, all thoughts of his former master banished by Padme's warm presence by his side. He did not hear again of Obi-wan or Mandalore until he returned to the Temple sometime in the early afternoon the next day.

As was customary, Ahsoka acted as his news reporter.

"Master!" She cried, before he had even landed his small hastily stolen hover vehicle back inside of the Temple's main hangar.

"Ahsoka?" He asked, surprised and a bit wary. She had never met him on the landing pad before. Usually he was required to track her down when he returned to the Temple after time alone with Padme. Not that he minded. It gave him the period he needed to formulate a good excuse as to why he had been gone. Had she deduced something?

His vehicle landed with a dull thud. Ahsoka was at his side immediately, eyes wide as the maintenance droids crowded at his feet. "Listen, I know things have been tense between you and Master Obi-wan lately but could you please go… Do something? Like now? I mean it isn't fair. He didn't do anything wrong, per se! It wasn't his fault!" She ended her rant with that exclamation of anger, spat with conviction. Anakin blinked, taken aback by his normally calm Padawan's outburst. He climbed out of the ship and put a hand on her shoulder, steering her towards a less crowded part of the hangar bay.

"Lower your voice," he instructed.

"But…!"

"Now, Padawan," she knew better than to disobey when he used that tone of voice. Ahsoka bit her bottom lip to control her emotional eruption, allowing Anakin to lead her into the empty hallway outside the hangar.

"Now," he began when he had made sure they were alone. "Tell me exactly what's wrong. What are you talking about?" Ahsoka groaned.

"You haven't heard? Do you live underneath a secret rock I don't know about?!" She demanded.

"Maybe. Heard what?"

"Master Kenobi, Anakin. Mandalore is in shambles right now. Infrastructure is down and it is without a leader. Since Duchess Satine was the coalition head of all neutral systems, that whole sector is shutting down… The Senate blames Master Kenobi," of course they did. Because they needed a Jedi to blame and he didn't happen to cover his tracks very well about the fact that he had been there.

"So? They don't have any jurisdiction over…"

"The Jedi Council expelled him!"

Anakin's vision went red. "WHAT?!"

Ahsoka quickly back-tracked. "Wait- I said that wrong. Not from the Order. And not expulsion, I guess, but he's been "temporarily discharged from the rank of Master," and they announced it publicly to appease the Senate. Master Plo said the alternative was prison," her description didn't help lessen the red from his vision. Anakin felt rage- burning hot and all-consuming- make his blood boil.

"How dare they?!" he stormed, though a tiny part of him screamed how could they? How could they humiliate Obi-wan this way? Strip him of his rank? Of his seat on the Council? How could they announce it to the public? Besmirch his good name like he was just another puppet of theirs? In the Jedi, a stripping of rank was akin to personal disgrace from the Council, a step below expulsion. How could the Jedi Council even think of…?

He was going to kill them.

But first, he had to see someone. "Where is Obi-wan now?" He asked, already charging through the halls of the Jedi Temple. Ahsoka jogged to keep up with him.

"I- I don't know. I haven't seen him since yesterday and I can't find him in the Force. I think he's shielding. Anakin, what are we going to do?" That was a good question. Anakin personally favored the idea of taking Windu, Yoda and the nine other arrogant sons of vetches and stuffing them all down a rancor's pit until they repealed their idiocy. And apologized to his friend. Profusely. But he couldn't in all conscience do that. It would probably make things worse and it wouldn't set a good precedent for Ahsoka.

Blast it all.

So Anakin slowed, releasing several soothing breaths as he did so. "We," he stressed. "Are going to think about this rationally."

"Now you want to be rational?" She had a point.

"Snips… Just do as I say. For once in your apprenticeship, please? Go back to Obi-wan's quarters. Make his favorite tea and wait for us. I'll bring him home," and then I'm going to straight to the Chancellor and demanding that he restore Obi-wan's rank himself. And the Council can go to the Hells.

Ahsoka sighed unhappily but nodded. "And then can we do something?"

"What do you suggest?"

"Truthfully? That we ram speeders into the Council windows, but that isn't the Jedi Way," I've taught you so well.

"True. Good plan, though. I'll think about it. In the meantime, go," he ordered. Ahsoka turned on her heel and started back towards Obi-wan's quarters. Anakin spread the Force out wide, searching its vast halls and rooms for that familiar signature but Ahsoka was right. Either Obi-wan wasn't here or he was intentionally shielding himself, even from Anakin.

He really ought to know better than that by now.

Obi-wan! Anakin called through their bond, none-too-politely. If you can hear me, if you don't let me know where you are right now, I swear I will get into a starfighter, block all communications and ram myself right into the sun. See if I'm bluffing, and at this point? He was on fire anyway, so he really, really wasn't.

I'm not exactly in the mood right now, Anakin, came the carefully controlled response. Not angry or weary just… Matter of fact. Anakin crossed his arms.

Right into the sun. I swear to you.

Anakin…

Five…. He started back towards the hangar bay, ignoring the curious looks he got as he went.

It isn't fair to use yourself as leverage Anakin. It totally was. He knew his life was a fool proof bribe.

Four…

And I am severely unfit to deal with this at this exact…He was at the hangar now. He pushed past the crew and bots towards his fighter. He knew Obi-wan was tracking him by the pure exasperation he could feel bleeding through the bond.

Three…

For Force sakes! He sat in the pilot's seat, fluttering his fingers over the buttons threateningly.

Right into the sun. Bye master. Two… A quick image, stained with frustration. A simple sign, hanging by two thin wires above a restaurant.

Dex's Diner.

That made sense. The second he saw Obi-wan, Dex would have cloistered him away from prying eyes, upstairs above the diner where the noises of civilization and the deranged cluster of Dex's living room would keep Obi-wan away from his own despair. There, Obi-wan would dust and organize and clean until the room shone or until his soul did. Whichever came first. It would not be the first time (But Force above, please let it be the last!) that Anakin would find him passed out on Dex's rug, an old crinkled star chart that he and Anakin used to study after especially taxing missions lying beneath his face, their minds on a singular promise that bound two souls that never truly forgot that first rush of adventure.

"I'm gonna be the first to see them all!"

Anakin exhaled slowly. This was bad.

Thanks, Obi-wan. On my way, don't break out the star chart until I get there, ok?

No response, but he had not actually expected one. Obi-wan was probably sulking, not that Anakin particularly cared right now. He would let his master lecture him on impatience and getting his way later. When he had the rank to do it.

Powering up the star fighter (sometimes his master was such a sucker) Anakin took off from the Temple towards the city.

"Ani!" Dex bellowed happily when he stepped inside the minimally crowded diner. Anakin smiled at his old friend from the other side of the grill.

"Hey Dex. He upstairs?" Dex snorted, not at all surprised that Anakin knew that Obi-wan was hiding in his living room.

"You know it. Probably alphabetized my entire collection of priceless tour guides by now, eh? Dreadful business that's 'appened at that temple o' yours," he told Anakin conspiratorially, leaning in to let Anakin see the shine of concern in his amphibian eyes.

"Yeah, it took me by surprise too," Anakin agreed cynically. "Thanks for letting him do damage control here," he then said, smiling gratefully. Dex snorted.

"Please! You and that old bugger are like family to me. Go on now to him! He needs a good squeeze if you ask me, but far be it from Obi-wan to ask for any kind o comfort," yeah, well, he was gonna get it.

Anakin gave a quick salute. "Yes, sir," before heading up the stairs behind the kitchen to the second floor. He noticed Obi-wan immediately, sitting on the plush carpet surrounded by piles of dirty clothes, half-washed dishes, maps and small knick-knacks that faintly resembled chronos. He was compiling separate piles of these items with the Force, focus obviously centered inward.

Anakin watched him for a minute, his heart squeezing painfully. He could still see the day when Obi-wan had been asked to take a seat on the Council. How he had told Anakin the news with such awe and delight that Anakin could not help but smile even as his own heart had selfishly sneered with jealousy. Now, he would do anything to restore that sense of pride back into Obi-wan even if it meant he never got to the Council himself. Who needed them, anyway?

"You've barely made a dent in the mess," he noted quietly. Obi-wan jumped -a rarity- and looked up.

"What?" He glanced at his piles. "Oh, yes. Well, I was a bit busy trying to stop you from ramming yourself into the sun. Really, Anakin, how old are you?" Said person took careful steps inside, vigilant to avoid stepping on anything that looked even vaguely alive.

"Old enough to know that trick always works," he quipped. Then, softening his tone he added; "Listen, Ahsoka just told me what happened. I know you aren't going to like this master but hear me out; me and Snips are ready to wage war. It won't even be as bad as you think. It'll just require some tweaking with the Force, the window shields to be powered down around the Council chambers and a rancor pit…"

"Anakin," Obi-wan interrupted, exhaustedly. "Please stop," he sounded so defeated. Anakin clapped his mouth shut at once, waiting.

At length, Obi-wan composed himself with a shaking inhale. "It's fine," he said, then repeated it in a stronger voice. "I'm fine," he lied.

Anakin hated being lied too. He rolled his eyes. "By Force, Obi-wan, how can you be? What the Council has done is wrong! If you just let me..."

"What the Council has done is temporary and best for everyone involved. My.." Obi-wan floundered for words. "Mistakes on Mandalore have left… A difficult situation for everyone involved. It's only fair I receive some kind of punishment."

"Are you joking me? Stripping you of your rank is crossing three kinds of lines, Obi-wan! It isn't punishment, it's public humiliation, and for what? To appease a bunch of ungrateful, over-fed politicians who don't give a kriff about the Jedi as a whole? How can you even defend them?" He almost shrieked. Obi-wan returned to his organization, stroking his beard.

"I am not talking about this with you right now," he decided, placid as untouched water.

Anakin could have slapped him. "Don't you treat me like a child, Obi-wan…"

"Then stop acting like one, Anakin."

"Better a child than a mindless lackey! Are you just going to let them do this to you? Just lie down and take it?"

"You make it sound as if I'm being publicly whipped at dawn."

"You might as well be. You always do this! Lay down the minute the Council tells you too. If you won't do anything to put the Council in their place then I…" Obi-wan's head snapped up so quickly that the flash of madness in his eyes shone like a beacon in the Force, a shot of pure energy so hot and consuming that Anakin was momentarily stunned by its strength.

"Then you'll what, Anakin?" Obi-wan hissed, with deceptive calm that hid storm clouds beneath his civility. "What's your solution? Throw a tantrum on my behalf? Wage a war within our own Order? How helpful you are! I know that you don't often look outside the gates of your own rising popularity but not everyone holds the public's esteem so easily. Not all of us are Chosen Ones, untouchable and irreplaceable. The alternative for my meddling was jail for me and the Republic denying Mandalore the help it so desperately needs. Believe it or not, the Council gave me leniency. But if you'd like, throw that all away. If it makes you feel better, go out there and decry the unfairness of it all! Force knows you do what you want anyway. I'm no longer your master and I can hardly advise you from jail. Perhaps it'll be a victory all around," Anakin recoiled, the breath stolen from him by Obi-wan's merciless assessment. He was… A supernova in the Force. A churning flame of resentment and hurt and guilt and anger.

Anakin was speechless.

Obi-wan didn't look at him. He went back to his cleaning with renewed vigor, summoning a basket with the Force so hard the handle crumpled in his hand. Then, he stood and began collecting the dirty clothes, stuffing them into his basket violently. Anakin had rarely ever seen him so blatantly… Out of control. He felt as if he were watching a stranger.

Finally, after a stretch of time in which nothing else changed but the amount of clothes strewn about the floor, Anakin reached out as Obi-wan brushed past, catching his sleeve like a wayward child. "That isn't what I want," he whispered, so quietly even he strained to hear himself. "Look at me, Obi-wan… That isn't…" It wasn't what he meant. Stars, he could never condemn Obi-wan to jail, to anywhere he might get hurt.

Obi-wan didn't look at him, merely snatched his sleeve from Anakin's grip with such efficiency he might as well have been blocking bolts from droids. His gaze was vacant- cold. It made Anakin shiver. "Master," was all he could manage to say. Plead. Command. "Master!"

Obi-wan swiveled irately. "What, Anakin?" His anger was… It hurt. It hurt because Anakin could feel the dragon that so often curled in his chest reaching its black claws across their bond, one of the most sacred and one of the only safe places Anakin had to go from his darkness. He couldn't let this thing go- he couldn't lose this person to that dragon. Force above, he felt sick at the very notion.

"Your anger… Please…" You're my best friend. Don't let it consume you. I know I'm a hypocrite for thinking it but I need you not to be like me. I need your light. I need you to be controlled and steady and alright. I need it like air. I don't want to fight you. I can't lose my master. Don't you leave me too. I couldn't bear it if I was too late to save you too…

He didn't say any of this, but he was sure the sentiments must have rushed out from his psyche, because in the next few seconds, the burning thunder of Obi-wan's fury died beneath the pattering rain of remorse, followed quickly by identical horror at his own lapse in control and the knowledge that he was hurting Anakin. It was perhaps this last point that made the supernova collapse, the Darkness eating itself inside out as Light rushed back in, on the coattails of shame and unhappiness. He took a staggering step backwards, as if repulsed by the sight of his own face in Anakin's wide eyes.

"Anakin," he breathed, dismayed. "I…" Anakin could not care less right now. He reached out and pulled Obi-wan into his embrace so quickly even he was surprised when a warm and compact body made contact with his front. Two strong hands gripped the back of his tunic like a lifeline. "I'm sorry," Obi-wan choked out, into his shoulder.

"Force," Anakin replied, swallowing past the lump in his throat. "Force, I have come way too close to losing you lately. Gives me heart attacks every kriffing time. With the whole Rako Hardeen thing…"

"Sorry again,"

"And Darth Maul…"

"I'm sorry."

"And now with the Duchess and the Council and… Master, it's all a mess. It's all a stupid mess and I don't know how to fix it," he clung to Obi-wan tighter, trying to will his love into being good enough to fix this. Please, let me be strong enough this time.

Obi-wan sighed and stroked the back of his head comfortingly. Why was he trying to comfort right now? Seriously? "I don't know either," and now he was admitting to not being omniscient? Boshooda. They were in it bad this time. No rescue missions. No going in, lightsabers blazing and bond singing. The Team couldn't turn back time and… Save everyone. Including each other. Maybe that was why this hurt so much. Even if he could not save the innocents, Anakin had always been able to save Obi-wan. And vice versa, but now there was too much between them… Too much around them and he would not be enough and their friendship wasn't enough and suddenly despair was surrounding him, darkness threatening to drown him beneath its waters…

But Obi-wan bounced back faster than the waters could lift.

He pried Anakin's arms from around him, holding them in his own tightly as he forced Anakin to look him in the eyes. "Hey," he called, softly. Anakin stared up at him, eyes stinging with tears. He expected Obi-wan to spout a Jedi aphorism or maybe recite some anecdote that would make Anakin laugh, but when Obi-wan knew what was needed, he delivered. He delivered completely. "I will never abandon you," he vowed, with utmost surety. "You know that, Anakin," his shoulders slouched with relief.

"I-I know," he whispered shakily. "I just… I hate that I can't protect you," he admitted. Obi-wan sighed and released his wrists. Anakin missed the contact.

Obi-wan took a step back, glanced around the room despondently and sighed. "Help me clean this place up," he requested. Anakin nodded, and turned around, extending a hand so that he could lift the dishes with the Force. A few drips of something resembling muja juice dripped from the pile as Anakin gently wafted them to sit by the door. Obi-wan returned to his laundry duty.

They worked in silence for awhile. Then, without turning around, Anakin spoke.

"So, the whole Council thing…. Its more to save Mandalore than anything else, isn't it?"

"I couldn't let Satine's sacrifice go in vain," Anakin nodded. That, at least, he could understand.

"There wasn't another way?"

"No other way which would not have taken valuable time, time that Mandalore does not have. Besides, you know how resources can vanish overnight, and I couldn't risk us not being able to help four months from now when the Senate reached a verdict, so this is… A compromise of sorts, a way for the Senate to strut its power over the Jedi and a supply run to Mandalore," and this was why Anakin hated politics. It was so messy, never truly staying to the path of right or wrong but operating in an area where someone was always hurt…

"Doesn't seem like a good deal for you," Obi-wan shrugged.

"I'll do what I must to make sure Dooku doesn't enslave Mandalore…. It's the least I can do, for Satine," Anakin turned to see Obi-wan standing a few feet away, head bowed.

"I don't think I ever gave you my condolences for her death. I know you two were…. Friends," he said kindly. Obi-wan snorted softly.

"Yes, friends," he agreed with lackluster, dragging his basket to rest near the amassed dishes.

"I really am sorry, master."

"I know. I'm really quite sorry about your ship," Anakin smiled. Back to that again.

"Wasn't your fault," he grunted as he lifted a particularly heavy pile of dishes mixed with spices and knick knacks and for goodness sakes, Dex, was there a slug crawling around in there? Anakin wasn't typically squeamish but…. Gross. "Besides, I can build a new ship. I'm just grateful you got home safe," because to me, you're irreplaceable.

He knew Obi-wan understood his implication, but ignored it in favor of staying within their acceptable boundaries of sentiment. "I suppose that is reason to rejoice," he brushed his bangs away from his face, looking about at their work. The room was still… Well, Dex's, but their expert cleaning had left it considerably more organized. It was all they could do for now. "Where's Ahsoka?" Obi-wan inquired.

"At your quarters, worrying and planning sedition against the Council. Should I tell her to stand down?"

Obi-wan sank into the now emptied couch limply. "If you'd be so kind," Anakin lowered himself at his side, their eyes trained on the ceiling. They sat so close Anakin could hear Obi-wan's shallow breathing.

"I hate it when I can't protect you," Anakin repeated after a moment in which they didn't look at each other nor speak. He felt more than saw Obi-wan's feeble smile.

"If the past day has been any indication, Anakin…. The very fact that you deem me worthy of protection keeps me safe," Anakin felt warmth spread through his chest. He smiled. "I-" Obi-wan's voice cracked. "Anakin, I can't do this without you." The admission was startling in its honest simplicity. Anakin gave a start and stared at him. Obi-wan's eyes did not leave the ceiling, but his Force signature shook with defeat and vulnerability.

Obi-wan Kenobi didn't break. Anakin wasn't sure that he could, but he did bend, and he had been bowed to a level he couldn't get free from alone. The warmth in Anakin's chest was a full fire of fidelity so strong he was quickly caught up in the waves of it.

"Hey," he said, reaching up to grip the back of Obi-wan's neck. Sapphire eyes slowly moved to meet his, despondently. "You'll never have too," Anakin promised seriously, squeezing the back of Obi-wan's neck. "Obi-wan, you know that," The Jedi Master nodded and Anakin just couldn't stop himself. He pulled Obi-wan down, cradling his head in his lap.

For once, the older man went willingly. He laid his head down and made not a sound as he wept. Wept for Satine and Mandalore. For Qui-gon and unfinished business, Adi Gallia and his mastership. He wept because they were at war and he had found Kamino and because he was an idiot barve who blamed himself for everything.

Anakin could count on one hand the number of times his master had been so low as to allow this to happen. The first time had been after Jabiim, during the weeks of his recovery from Ventress. Sleepless and ashamed, reliving his torture every second, he had finally reached a breaking point and Anakin thanked the Force he had been there. He had gripped his master's hand and pulled him close like Obi-wan had when he was just a little kid, shivering from Courascant's mild climate and missing his mother. The older man had not gone willingly that time, Anakin had nearly suffocated him trying to get him to just accept help.

In the end, he had succeeded and for a reason he did not think on too much, that day he had finally, truly felt like a man. When he could give his master the comfort and support he so desperately craved on a daily basis, when he could be the guardian for once and in some small way repay the debt he owed Obi-wan for taking him in when no one else would. The feeling had not changed. Anakin sighed and let the fingers of his real hand gently card through Obi-wan's silky curls as the other rested between his shoulder blades, rubbing lightly.

He didn't say anything. This was a sacred moment, deeper than the Code or words could convey. He just sat there and let Obi-wan take from him anything he needed.

It was perhaps two centuries later when it ended. Anakin curled his fingers into the migraine points on the back of Obi-wan's upper neck, soothingly easing the pressure with expert care. Obi-wan didn't move, nor seek anything more. He just… Allowed this to happen and far be it from Anakin to put an end to it.

"Satine had a sister," Obi-wan's voice was muffled by Anakin's pants.

"She what? Who?"

"Bo-Katan. She was a Death Watch lieutenant,"

"Didn't Death Watch want to usurp and kill Satine?"

"I suppose they had a complicated relationship," Anakin snorted. Understatement extraordinaire, his master.

"Is she in charge now?"

"I don't know."

"I'll ask Padme and the Chancellor about it."

"Thank you."

"Imagine if we were siblings. Force, I'd kill you," he softened the accusation by squeezing Obi-wan's shoulder. He received a quick swat on the leg for his statement.

"Anakin, you and Ahsoka have yet to relocate from my quarters. We basically are siblings," he grouched, finally sitting up. Anakin was always amazed at how quickly Obi-wan could pull himself together. Anyone who would walk in now would never know what had just happened, how close his master had come to not coming back the same. He looked like the man Anakin had grown up with.

"Me and Ahsoka have so moved out! We spend every other day in our own quarters."

"No, you don't."

"Well, we would if you didn't hog all the good food in your quarters. I have a growing Padawan, you know. You remember how hard that was, don't you master?"

"I'm not your master anymore, Anakin. Or anyone's for that matter."

"There is not a single thing you could say to me that would make me stop calling you master. Master," they grinned at each other, unabashedly sibling-like. It was at that moment that the door happened to open and standing there with a tray of cups and a pot of steaming tea in her hands was none other than Ahsoka Tano, Padme Amidala and standing behind them was Bail Organa and Dex with piles of very-nice smelling food on trays of their own.

Obi-wan's eyebrows shot up with astonishment. "Mission accomplished, master!" Ahsoka announced happily, leading her small army inside the room with debonair. Anakin met Padme's eyes and couldn't help the smile of pure delight that split his face when she just winked. Force, he loved her.

"Well done, my Padawan." Anakin stood to take the tray from Padme with a gallant bow. "My Lady," then, to cover the obvious love glowing on his face he turned to Dex curiously. He couldn't sense anyone downstairs. "You closed early, Dex?"

"All the exciting people are up here," Dex explained nonchalantly, shrugging an enormous shoulder. Anakin chuckled.

"Cheers to that," Bail agreed jovially. He set his tray down and plucked a bottle from Ahsoka's tray, popping the lid off expertly. "I, for one, need and deserve this drink. Obi-wan?"

"None of you would listen if I objected to this, would you?" Anakin answered for them all.

"Shut up, Obi-wan," said man sighed at his rudeness but could only smile as he gestured for Bail to pour him a drink as well.

"Very well. I see you've procured tea, Ahsoka. Is my stash empty, then?"

"Completely, master."

"You're a product of Anakin's training alright. Always stealing my food. None the matter," he lifted the tea pot and added the steaming liquid to the drink Bail handed him as charmingly as if he were merely serving himself water. He handed Anakin a cup of the same. Anakin saluted gratefully.

"So, you've been developing this all along, have you?" Obi-wan asked him suspiciously.

Anakin shrugged. "I've got to give my Padawan most of the credit here, master. I only told her to make tea. The rest was her idea," and he could not have been prouder of her for it. Padme was an earnest and reassuring presence at his side.

"I figured you'd appreciate this a little more than the original plan to chuck furniture at the Council chamber windows," Ahsoka explained to Obi-wan, mildly.

"This is appreciated much more, yes."

Padme cleared her throat, promptly interposing their exchange. "If I may propose a toast?" She wondered, but didn't wait for permission (That's my girl, Anakin thought proudly) before she raised her glass. "To honoring old friends," she stated, sharing a glance full of meaning with Obi-wan. She had known Satine almost as well. In a different life, they would have been bridesmaids at each other's weddings…

Obi-wan swallowed but gave a small smile as he nodded. "Cheers," they clinked glasses elegantly.

"Now that we're done bein sad," Dex grunted after a moment of silence. The way he said it made Anakin sober, as if sadness were a temporary thing, as it ever just stopped. But looking around at the faces of those who had come, he knew that sadness was inevitable and eternal… But it did not have to be something that broke you. "A toast to this. To family!" He raised his glass, and Anakin could have cringed. Didn't he know that….?

Obi-wan, after fifteen kriffing years, still managed to surprise him. He grinned, exposing bearded dimples. "To family," he echoed. Anakin and Ahsoka stared at one another wide-eyed but no one else seemed at all surprised. In fact, they raised their glasses in unison and the call rang out as testament to shatterproof spirits.

"To family!"