A/N -- Yes, the story lives! (laughs). I was going to withhold this until Saturday out of sheer perversity, lol, but I decided to plsy nice. For once. Anyways, I know there are tons of fabulous reviews for the last chapter, and I wanted to reply to each and every one of them... but you've been kept waiting for a month for this chapter, so I'm going to go ahead and upload it now. (grins).

I'ts UBERLONG though, be warned. 23 pages in MS Word, because I can't guarantee when the next installment will make an appearence. LoLs.

Anyways, thank you to everyone who's kind reviews make writing that much more fun. I really appreciate every single one of your comments!

TM: This one is for you, lovely. Pure HJL and mush from the original Divas' OTP. (hugs). I love you, twinny!

Suggested Soundtrack:
Fallen, Sarah McLaughlan
Counting the Stars, Waking Ashland (both of which will be uploaded on LJ when I post this chapter there Saturday.wink)

IX – Anakin is 25 years old.

"But I, being poor, have only my dreams.
I spread my dreams under your feet.
Tread softly, for you tread on my dreams."

William Butler Yeates

Anakin stared at Obi-Wan in silence for a second, memory after memory flooding his system with longing and desire and sadness. Instinctively his body began to sway forwards, craving contact with his former lover, but Anakin held himself firmly in check.

His heart, however, was not so easily mastered. Upon seeing Obi-Wan, it began to ache, to tingle with the faintest beginnings of hope. Had Obi-Wan finally come to see him? What other reason would he have to show up at Anakin's apartment late in the evening? On this night of all nights?

Obi-Wan's expression was coldly neutral, displaying so little emotion as his eyes flickered vaguely over Anakin's face that it might as well have been Master Windu standing at the door. But Anakin couldn't contain the spark of pleasure that raced through him at the sight of Obi-Wan, his Obi-Wan, standing at the door on Solstice Night. Finally, they could reconcile. Finally, Obi-Wan would listen to Anakin's apologies and explanations, and they could be together again….

Anakin caught hold of his rampant thoughts before they got too far ahead of him. All the same, hope had mastered his rational mind, and Anakin felt the beginnings of a giddy smile spread across his features as he stared at Obi-Wan.

"Master Obi-Wan!" came a cheerful voice from behind Anakin, breaking the momentary spell and crushing the fragile stirrings of hope into dust. His smile froze, faltered, and fell away completely to be replaced by deep bitterness. Oh. Obi-Wan was here for her. Of course. How silly of Anakin to think otherwise.

With a tight, forced smile, Anakin stepped aside to let Obi-Wan sweep past him into the apartment, even though his heart cried out at being so near and yet so far away. Anakin closed his eyes as the edge of Obi-Wan's robe brushed against his skin – Anakin had removed his tunic while working out the kata with Padmé – the unintentional touch incredibly sensual.

Unconsciously, Anakin stretched out with the Force, seeking automatically the comfort and warmth of Obi-Wan's Force signature. The presence that had always made him feel comforted and protected and loved. Even if their bond was gone, just the sensation of Obi-Wan in the Force could soothe some of Anakin's loneliness.

He staggered slightly, caught off balance when he met nothing. Anakin blinked, reaching again for the bright light that he knew was there. Nothing. Not even a muted glow, as Anakin would expect to encounter if Obi-Wan was shielding against him. It was as though Obi-Wan were dead – there was no resonance in the Force around him at all. If Anakin closed his eyes, it would be as though his former Master wasn't even in the room.

Anakin felt sick, realizing that this was another defence against him. Obi-Wan had drawn tightly into himself to avoid any contact whatsoever with his former Padawan.

But how could he manage to form a training bond with Padmé, when he was so tightly shielded? Anakin stole a quick glance at the girl, trying to see if she was as unnerved by the absence in the Force as he was.

But no… the young girl was listening attentively to Obi-Wan, head tilted slightly to one side. Padmé was strong enough in the living Force that she should have noticed the sudden closing off of her training bond with her Master. But by the way she was acting; it was as though there was nothing out of the ordinary going on.

Anakin did not hear what Obi-Wan was saying to his Padawan; he didn't think he could take seeing them together. Not only was there the sense of blind jealousy that hit him when they were together, but now Anakin was plagued by guilt. Padawan Naberrie would never know what it was like to have that unique bond to her Master. All because Anakin had destroyed what trust Obi-Wan had been willing to offer.

Feeling like a coward, Anakin turned away and closed his eyes, traitorous tears rising under his tightly-shut eyelids as he leaned heavily against the kitchen counter. The murmur of Obi-Wan's voice, his distinctive scent… even without the comforting feel of Obi-Wan's Force presence, the combination was enough to make Anakin's heart start to pound. With his eyes closed, he could momentarily pretend that everything was the way it used to be. Anakin could remember those hands, skilful and gentle on his body, that perfect mouth pressed over Anakin's own, the scrape of his beard and the softness of his hair and –

"Master Skywalker?"

Anakin forced his eyes open and plastered a smile on his face immediately at the sound of Padawan Naberrie's voice. "Sorry… yes?"

The young girl looked concerned, staring up at Anakin with a faint frown on her features. Anakin snuck a glance at Obi-Wan, only to find that his former Master – his former lover – was making a point not to look at him. Anakin sighed to himself, tearing his eyes away from the sight of his Master outlined in the gleam of the Coruscanti skyline, focusing on the Padawan once again.

"I just wanted to thank you for helping me with my katas, Master Skywalker."

Anakin smiled at her; a true smile this time, rather than his former forced cheer. She really was a lot like the way he remembered Jamilla Amidala. All that spirit and energy mastered under a deceptively polite composure.

"Call me Anakin, please. And it was my pleasure. Come by any time."

"Thank you Anakin-"

"Master Skywalker, Padawan," Obi-Wan cut in sharply, finally seeming to come out of his reverie to look disapprovingly at the girl. Anakin felt a momentary flash of anger heat his cheeks; it wasn't enough that Obi-Wan wouldn't call him by name any more, but now he would enforce Anakin's sense of isolation by pushing strict protocol on his Padawan as well?

"Master Kenobi," Anakin said coolly, awkward on the title when his lips were so used to forming the syllables of Obi-Wan's name, "I really don't mind if the Padawan calls me by name. After all, I'm not her Master." Anakin's hands were clenched tightly on the edge of the counter as he spoke, holding back from flinging himself at Obi-Wan and kissing him or punching him or something. Anything to make the Jedi Master acknowledge his existence, anything to break the wall between them.

But he held himself perfectly still, staring in mute plea at Obi-Wan.

"You're quite correct, Master Skywalker," Obi-Wan's voice was stiff and cold, echoing his unyielding posture as he flashed a quick glare in Anakin's direction. Anakin could not quite repress the faint shiver that frosty look provoked. "You're not her Master, so I would thank you to allow me to make the decisions when it comes to my Padawan."

Anakin flinched, bowing his head and biting his lip sharply at the unspoken blow. There had been more than just the question of protocol in their exchange. Sith, this was the first time they had talked in almost three years. And Obi-Wan allowing Padmé to call Anakin by name would have been a concession, a starting point for them to work from to try and rebuild their relationship. A concession that Obi-Wan coldly and casually denied, shutting Anakin out once again.

"Obi-Wan…" Anakin whispered, unsure of what he wanted to say, how to express himself before it was too late. Obi-Wan would walk out Anakin's door and that would be the end. Padmé would be barred from visiting him, and even that small connection to his former Master would be completely lost, taking with it even the feeblest hopes of reconciliation.

Obi-Wan cut him off before he could find the words, herding a reluctant Padmé towards the door without glancing at Anakin. "We shouldn't take up any more of your time; it is the Solstice after all."

Aloof, detached, disinterested. No more than an automatic response borne of Obi-Wan's ingrained politesse, rather than any real concern for occupying Anakin's time.

"Yes. Yes it is," Anakin whispered softly, slumping back against the counter top.

Obi-Wan turned at those words, and his eyes met Anakin's own.

Everything faded for a moment. Anakin could hear the sound of his heartbeat pounding loudly in his ears, his breathing speeding up automatically as those eyes pierced him. Obi-Wan had always seemed to be able to see right through him, to know Anakin's secrets and innermost thoughts with a single glance. Of course, that was an illusion that he had been forced to discard years ago. Obi-Wan hadn't been able to see that Anakin had been hurting, that the only person he could run to was Palpatine. He hadn't seen the way the Dark Side was coiling around his young lover's heart, choking him. It had made Anakin wonder whether Obi-Wan had ever truly known him at all.

All the same, there had been moments of perfect clarity in their life together, when they could communicate without words, could know each other's thoughts almost before they had been fully formed. And so Anakin wondered if Obi-Wan could see straight through to his broken heart now, if his former Master could see the anguish and loneliness that lay so close underneath Anakin's calm veneer. Making eye contact for the first time in three years, would Obi-Wan see how much Anakin missed him, needed him?

Would he even care?

For a second, he thought he saw a flicker of longing in Obi-Wan's eyes as they stared at each other, a reflection of his own maelstrom of emotions in a silvery-grey mirror. But it was gone in an instant as Padmé tugged at her Master's arm. Anakin sagged back slightly as the intense contact was broken, feeling his heart racing and cursing his foolish, hopeful imagination for making the illusion of what he wanted to see in Obi-Wan's eyes.

Ignoring them both, Anakin staggered over to the couch. He mechanically grabbed his discarded tunic and pulled it back on, before collapsing heavily onto the couch.

Anakin closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the cushions. He hated this. Hated this stupid uncertainty and damnable hope that flourished in his heart, no matter how hard he tried to stamp it out. He wasn't an optimist by nature; he had seen too much in the galaxy to maintain that kind of innocence. And Obi-Wan had never been anything but perfectly clear in his new disgust regarding Anakin, so there was no reason to try and read into every look, every movement.

"Sith damn it, he doesn't love you, and he never will again. Get over it!' Anakin mentally berated himself. But at the same time, though he ranted and raved, cursing himself for being seven kinds of a romantic idiot, Anakin knew that he never would get over Obi-Wan. Because he didn't want to. He didn't want to forget, he didn't want move on. His heart was set, and there was no changing it.

Dimly, Anakin heard Padmé say something to her Master, but kept his eyes firmly shut. What did it matter now, anyways? The two of them would go off and celebrate the Solstice together, and Anakin would be left alone, just like he always was.

"Please, Master… no one should be alone tonight; you told me that, remember?"

"But Padawan, I'm sure that Master Skywalker has…."

Anakin could not suppress the soft, bitter laugh that escaped him at those words. Master Skywalker didn't have anything he needed to do this evening, and he knew Obi-Wan was well aware of that. This night held too many memories for both of them now. Obi-Wan could move past that, forge new connections with the brilliant child at his side. But Anakin? He was left in the shadows, starting longingly back at his past: unable to go back, yet unwilling to push onwards.

"It's the thought that counts, Master. Please? Please?"

Anakin opened his eyes a crack just in time to see Obi-Wan make a gesture of defeat and turn away, conceding to his Padawan's whims. The rigid set of Obi-Wan's shoulders as he crossed his arms over his chest fairly screamed his disapproval, but Padmé was oblivious to that irritation, turning to Anakin with an expectant grin.

He hesitated. Rationally, he knew that one evening spent together in stiffly formal civility would not change Obi-Wan's opinion of him. In that sense, it didn't matter one way or another; the only person he would be pleasing was the exuberant Padawan who was fairly bouncing up and down in front of him.

Anakin sent one swift, searching glance in Obi-Wan's direction.


Had Obi-Wan met his eyes, had he silently asked Anakin not to spoil the evening, using the wordless communication that they had developed over years of partnership, Anakin would have declined the invitation without question. There was no reason for both Anakin and Obi-Wan to spend a terrible Solstice. Had Obi-Wan bothered to ask it of him, Anakin would have let Padmé and her Master celebrate together and be happy, without a spectre of the past casting a pall over the evening.

But the silent Jedi Master remained staring fixedly ahead, seeming to be completely indifferent. As if it didn't matter one way or another what Anakin's response was.

So Anakin smiled shyly, rising and grasping Padmé's hand. Obi-Wan's apathy was painful, but he would endure for no other reason than to see the young girl smile. She was the only person in a long time who made him feel wanted, not like some dark Force ghost that persisted in haunting a cold and unfeeling Temple. He would go for her sake, then, Obi-Wan be damned.

The rationalization sounded noble in Anakin's head, but his heart knew otherwise.


Anakin felt awkward and clumsy, an odd sense of displacement that he had not felt since the day Qui-Gon had brought him to the Jedi Temple. He wasn't sure what he was doing here, why he had acquiesced so quickly to Padmé's guileless invitation. If he had wondered before how much she knew of his and Obi-Wan's history, that had answered his question. Clearly, Obi-Wan had never mentioned the details to her, or else she wouldn't have risked stirring up painful memories by asking Anakin to join in their Solstice celebration.

But setting that question to rest only raised a new one. Why hadn't Obi-Wan objected more strongly to Anakin's intruding on this holiday? Did the older Jedi care that much about his new Padawan, or was it that --?

No. Anakin denied the thought before it could fully form. Obi-Wan's feelings towards him had never been any less than perfectly clear. Anakin's presence was tolerated for Padmé's sake. Nothing more.

Anakin smiled sadly, running his hand over the kitchen counter. It had always been Obi-Wan's domain, the kitchen. Apparently Padmé was allowed to venture into that sacred territory now. She had done her level best to play hostess to Anakin, trying to ease the tension between her Master and Anakin with strained small talk as she made some hot chocolate for them all.

With a frown, Anakin noticed the jar of bacta salve that lay open on the counter next to the stove top. Had he and Obi-Wan had been so focused on being polite to each other that neither one noticed when the girl burned herself? Or was Padawan Naberrie just that good at shielding her emotions?

Anakin sighed, drumming his fingers against the counter top. Of course, without a true training bond, it wouldn't take much shielding to prevent Obi-Wan from picking up what she was feeling. Anakin felt a rush of pity for the girl as he called the bacta into his hand, pensively screwing the lid back on.

He felt like a stranger here. That was the problem; Anakin mused as he picked up his wine glass once more and surveyed the empty common room. In accepting Padmé's invitation, Anakin had naively assumed that returning to these apartments would feel like coming home. But he was an outsider now.

The rooms were so familiar – so achingly familiar – and yet they were completely different. Even now that Padmé had been gently eased off to bed, falling asleep against Obi-Wan's arm as he guided her into her bedroom, Anakin could still sense her Force signature in the air. It stood out, vivid and vibrant against the backdrop of so many male signatures. Qui-Gon's, Obi-Wan's… Anakin's own. Faint yet, but still there. No more than an echo. Someday, it would fade completely, and there would be no trace of him left in this place he had once considered home.

Nothing but memories….

"Memories fade in time." Obi-Wan's terse voice broke Anakin from his reverie, making him blink, disoriented. Had he been speaking aloud?

"It was in your face…" Obi-Wan sounded almost uncertain, hesitating at the edge of the dark hallway that lead away from the common room. Anakin pushed himself off the counter against which he had been leaning immediately, aware of the strained tension that suddenly existed between them. He felt trapped, exposed under the fluorescent glare of the kitchen lights, and quickly took a sip of his wine to hide his confusion.

The silence stretched between them, Obi-Wan vacillating at the edge of the room, Anakin hardly daring to move under the intensity of his former Master's attention. Swiftly he turned away, breaking the uncomfortable moment as he set his glass back onto the counter. It rattled against the surface, tinkling in the silence, and Anakin cursed his hands for shaking.

Mustering up a falsely cheerful smile, he turned back to the still-motionless Obi-Wan with forced insouciance.

"You always were able to read me too well." Anakin quipped, feeling disgustingly banal. However, he regretted the words instantly, as Obi-Wan flinched and seemed to pull back into himself. The mask of the Jedi Master snapped back into place automatically, hiding the moment of tentative vulnerability that Anakin had seen. The words hung in the silence for a moment, mocking in their soundless echoes. A reminder of the one time when Obi-Wan hadn't been able to read Anakin at all, and it had lead to heartache for both of them.

"You should probably leave." Obi-Wan said instantly, striding into the room and over to the kitchen, reaching past Anakin to grab the empty wineglass from the counter. Anakin reacted instinctively, trapping Obi-Wan's hand under his own, his other hand rising to caress that beloved face.

"Obi-Wan…." Anakin couldn't finish the sentence, didn't know what he wanted to say. Everything that he loved, everything that he cared about, worried about, and dreamed of; everything that he had lost was contained within those syllables.

He could feel Obi-Wan tense instantly under the touch, felt the brief shiver that ran through the other Jedi's body before being ruthlessly mastered into stillness.

"Don't." Obi-Wan shrugged away the hand with an icy glare and a low growl. But when he tried to reclaim his hand from Anakin's grasp, Anakin tightened his grip subtly. Not enough to hurt – that would be unthinkable – just enough that Obi-Wan could not pull away.

"Anakin –"

"So you've finally remembered my name?" Anakin retorted sharply, caught between laughing and crying as he stared at Obi-Wan. The Jedi Master didn't return his gaze, keeping his eyes fixed on their joined hands. He did not bother to struggle any longer, all the tensions drained out of his body with an abruptness that scared Anakin. He had expected a fight, had wanted to force all their emotions out into the open. Anakin was used to his severe, prickly Obi-Wan, the exasperated, dignified, irritable Obi-Wan whom he adored. Not this resigned man who dully stared at his trapped hand as though it belonged to somebody else.

"Anakin, please. Just let me go." The words were barely spoken, a whisper that startled Anakin more than if his normally reserved Master had screamed at him. Mutely, he released Obi-Wan's hand, stepping back as Obi-Wan leaned heavily against the counter, his head bowed. The posture was so weary that Anakin wanted nothing more than to sweep Obi-Wan into his arms and hold him tightly, to stroke his soft hair and whisper that everything would be all right. He was equally possessed with wild anger, directed at the person who had dared to hurt Obi-Wan this much.

Anger directed entirely at himself.

He couldn't stay here, Anakin saw that all too clearly now. For almost his entire life, he had gone out of his way to protect Obi-Wan, to keep safe the man that he cared about. Now he was the one who was causing Obi-Wan pain. And that was unacceptable.

Biting his lip hard, Anakin studied Obi-Wan intently, committing every line of the older Jedi's body to memory. The way the harsh kitchen lights were softened on his coppery hair, silvered now at his temples. The way the shadows cast by those lights defined his face, highlighting cheekbones and the curve of his lips. The flow of coarse Jedi robes over his graceful figure.

"Enough," Anakin whispered to himself, turning away. It would have to be enough. He would request a transfer to another planet, another Temple, far away from Coruscant. Where Obi-Wan would become no more than a memory, a name to whisper to the darkness.

"Why did you do it?"

Anakin froze, hand hovering over the opening mechanism on the door, breath hitching in his throat. There was so much hurt in that question, so much confusion and despair – a perfect counterpoint to the emotions he had been living with for the years they had spent apart. Anakin hesitated. He didn't want to answer that question, didn't want to be forced to revisit everything he had tried to block out of his mind. He didn't want to think of Palpatine, to remember the Jedi who had died because of his stupidity.

Anakin studied the door intently, feeling tension flare through his body. If he walked away right now, he could just forget everything that ever happened. They would both forget; any overtones of reconciliation established between them would be shattered beyond repair. He wouldn't be able to hurt Obi-Wan any more, and wouldn't be able to be hurt.

He slowly pulled his hand back, and turned to face Obi-Wan. And gasped, feeling as though the floor had dropped out from under him.

Obi-Wan's cold mask was completely gone, the indifference and apathy that had created an insurmountable chasm between them vanished. In its place, there was only naked vulnerability, a despondency that made Anakin ache. Obi-Wan wasn't generally demonstrative with his emotions – he felt everything intensely, Anakin knew, but kept it all bottled up inside under a façade of perfect Jedi tranquility.

It had scared Anakin sometimes that Obi-Wan could pretend so well, and could maintain that pretence effortlessly: an ease that was equally feigned. Anakin knew first hand the emotional toll of trying to keep everything inside. It was exhausting to have to pretend, to assume a strong façade so that no one else would know how broken you were behind that mask. Anakin had seen it in Obi-Wan after Qui-Gon's death, and he had felt it himself in his years of unrequited love for his Master.

He felt it now, struggling furiously to keep his emotions in check behind a calm veneer as he faced Obi-Wan.

There had to be an outlet, some form of release. Anakin had been able to cry in Obi-Wan's arms, to feel safe and secure and loved, once upon a time. Failing that, he had found another source of comfort, another sympathetic ear to which he could confide all his fears. Anakin shivered, pushing the way the memory of that folly. He hadn't been wise in his choice of confidants, but at least he had always had somebody. Palpatine had always been there to be a sympathetic ear when Anakin didn't know where else to go. But Obi-Wan…. Obi-Wan hated to let anyone see him as being less than perfect, as being human.

And it scared Anakin.

'Why do you never cry in front of me?'

'A Jedi shouldn't cry. We shouldn't indulge in grief, but rejoice that the soul has rejoined –'

'That's Sithspit and you know it.'


'I won't think any less of you, Master. You're only human.'

'But it-it's my fault… I-I should have been able to…'

'Shhh…it's all right. I'm here, Obi-Wan. I'm here.'

To whom did Obi-Wan confess now? Who held him and let him cry, to ease the pain in his soul before it festered and poisoned his heart? Whom did he let close now that Anakin had broken his trust?

In four quick strides, Anakin had closed the distance between them and captured Obi-Wan's lips with his own, bringing up one hand to caress the older Jedi's cheek. One stolen moment – like the kisses Anakin had once taken while Obi-Wan slept – before a firm hand flat against his chest shoved him away.

Anakin tensed, expecting fury, a tirade that would batter him down for daring to be so presumptuous. But Obi-Wan said nothing. The Jedi Master's face was flushed, and he had quickly hugged his arms tightly across his chest as though to protect himself. Staring in shock at Anakin with his changeable eyes.

Soul-bruising eyes.

The few feet between them seemed to grow exponentially with every second passed in silence. Anakin leaned against the back of the sofa, digging his fingers into the yielding fabric.

Obi-Wan bit his lip, dropping his gaze to the floor momentarily before darting a quick glance back Anakin. A reluctant, sad smile tugged at one corner of his lips for a moment before slipping back into impassivity.

"That wasn't an answer," Obi-Wan murmured with hollow amusement. He breathed in deeply, closing his eyes for a second as though seeking what he wanted to say. Anakin found himself holding his breath as well, waiting.

"You…" Obi-Wan hesitated, brow furrowed in a faint frown. His eyes were earnest when they met Anakin's once again. "You owe me that much. An explanation, I…." his voice petered out into a self-mocking laugh. "Why, Anakin?"

Anakin's breath hitched in his throat, remembering the last time Obi-Wan had spoken those despairing words to him. Anakin had rushed his Knighting ceremony in Obi-Wan's absence, inadvertently hurting his Master. The same night that Anakin had managed to confess his love for Obi-Wan. Haja, but it all felt so long ago now.

He felt as inadequate now as he had back then, just as incapable of expressing the love and fear and need to be recognized that had driven him then as now.

"I…." Anakin began helplessly, unable to fully meet Obi-Wan's eyes.

Obi-Wan sighed quietly, shaking his head. "I suppose it doesn't matter now, does it?"

"I…I was scared."

There was a moment of silence after Anakin blurted out those words, voice cracking slightly under the strain of unspoken words and emotions. He could feel a lump of unshed tears forming in his throat, and swallowed hard to push them away.

"I-I was dreaming again. Nightmares…like from… from before my mother died. And… and I-I knew that they weren't just dreams, though Master Yoda and the Council and… and you would tell me that was all they were." Anakin's fists clenched at his sides, his breathing harsh as he pushed back the old anger that seethed through him at the thought. Dreams pass in time, Anakin. That was what everyone had told him before his mother had died on Tatooine. He had seen her death in his nightmares, but no one had believed him.

Dreams pass in time. They were wrong. Dreams didn't pass. Dreams died, and took with them everything you wanted or desired or dared to hope for.

Anakin hadn't told any other Jedi about the existence of these new nightmares for fear that Obi-Wan would be taken from him, the attachment between he and Obi-Wan deemed too strong, too close to the Dark Side. Anakin had feared that Obi-Wan would dismiss the visions as nothing more than dreams, or believe them, and distance himself from Anakin as a result. So he had lied, had covered up the visions that haunted him and pretended that everything would be fine, even as the dragon of terror started to consume his heart. He had lied to keep Obi-Wan with him, to keep their relationship from changing.

But he had lost Obi-Wan anyways. He had lost everything important that night.

"So you went to Palpatine." Obi-Wan's voice was curiously flat; eyes dull as he pushed one hand through his short, greying hair.

"He listened to me, Obi-Wan," Anakin insisted, willing his former Master understand him. To no effect it seemed, as Obi-Wan's expression only darkened.

"He coddled you, feeding you exactly what you wanted to hear," Obi-Wan retorted, cheeks flushing slightly in temper.

"What I wanted to hear…?" Anakin began, incredulity tingeing his words. "Of course, Master. I wanted to hear that you were incapable of falling in love with me. I wanted to hear that I was no more than a convenient fuck for you –" Anakin bit back the rest of his better words, hands fisting on the back of the couch as Obi-Wan flinched.

"He told you ..." Obi-Wan repeated with soft incredulity, eyes clouded in anger. Only for a moment, before he looked away and took a deep breath, as though trying to keep from saying far more than that. Anakin could see the constrained rage flaring behind the calm façade, and knew that if Palpatine hadn't already been dead, Obi-Wan would have rectified that problem on Anakin's words alone.

It was strangely gratifying for a moment; that instinctive protectiveness in Obi-Wan, before the Jedi's piercing eyes locked back on Anakin's own. He realized, with a sick lurching sensation, that Obi-Wan was equally furious with him.

"He told you that, and you believed him?" Obi-Wan's voice was heavily laden with sarcasm and disbelief. "Did I never teach you to think, Anakin? For Force's sake, he was a Sith Lord! Did it never occur to you that he might be lying?"

Anakin straightened instantly, stung by the irritable condescension. Yes, he had been an idiot, he was well aware of that and had paid for it for the past three years, but he would not allow Obi-Wan to rip into him as though he were no more than a green Padawan. His listening to Palpatine hadn't been completely unfounded. The Sith Lord had been adept at taking grains of truth and twisting them to suit his needs, and Anakin, feeling scared and isolated, had fallen headlong into his tangle of lies.

Not without reason. There had always been a strict division between the way Obi-Wan treated Anakin in private and in public. To the eyes of the Republic and the Council, he had always been the perfectly reserved Master. Anakin hadn't expected Obi-Wan to be publicly affectionate – although it had always been an amusing fantasy to kiss his implacable lover in front of a gaggle of HoloNet reporters – but he wanted to be acknowledged. To be reassured that he was loved, no matter what the precepts of the Jedi Order had to say about attachment.

Seeing Obi-Wan's disturbing ability to suspend emotion the moment he left their shared apartments, it was no wonder that Palpatine's ostensibly idle musings had taken root in Anakin's heart, saturating his spirit with their honeyed poison.

"'Take your Master Kenobi for instance, my friend...I cannot imagine him ever soul bonding with another Knight, or even allowing himself to be attached to someone. It would go against the very Order he lives for….'"

Those words had torn a hole in Anakin's heart, and still made him ache at the memory. He had always believed Obi-Wan to be incapable of putting his own wants and desires before the greater good, and had thought that he admired that quality in his Master. Obi-Wan Kenobi, the paragon of Jedi virtue. Anakin's idol, his hero. But he hadn't realized how much that detachment bothered him until Palpatine had made the gentle suggestion that it ought to. The realization had left him speechless, standing numbly in the Chancellor's sumptuous office while the entire world seemed to crash down around him.

That much hadn't changed, even with his return to the Light. It was selfish, but Anakin didn't care: he wanted to be the most important aspect of Obi-Wan's life, just as the Jedi Master was everything to him. That was all Anakin had ever wanted, from the moment he had been taken as Obi-Wan's Padawan. He wanted to matter.

"If you had set aside your perfect Jedi act for a second, maybe I would have had less reason to believe him, did you think about that?" Anakin spat bitterly.

Obi-Wan made a furious gesture, sweeping his hand in the air as though to indicate how removed from the situation he had been. "You never came to me! You never told me anything!" he pushed one hand through his hair, frustrated beyond measure. "By the stars, Anakin, I can't read your mind! Why would you go to him? Didn't I teach you anything about –?"

"Yes, you taught me plenty of things, Master," Anakin shot back, overriding Obi-Wan and sneering on the older Jedi's title. "And you never stopped trying to teach me. You couldn't set aside being a Jedi long enough to listen to me as an equal. Palpatine did. And I trusted him with everything."

It was a cheap shot, one that was designed to cut Obi-Wan deeply. Anakin couldn't help the almost painful burn of satisfaction that swelled inside of him as the remark hit home. Seeing Obi-Wan's involuntary flinch, Anakin knew that he had gained the upper hand in the argument, if only for a second. Something that had always been rare in his debates with The Negotiator.

It was a singularly hollow victory.

Obi-Wan opened his mouth as though to snap back some furious comment, but stopped as a small voice interrupted them.

"Master? I… I heard voices…" Padmé stood in the hallway uncertainly, hair mussed from sleep and hands twisted anxiously in her sleep shirt.

"It's nothing Padawan. Go back to bed." Obi-Wan replied sharply, without turning to look at her. He never broke his eye contact with Anakin, the tension between them still palpable in the air. But it had faded, moving from a surface filled with rash words and empty accusations, to simmering hurt and resentment. The anger was still present, Anakin could sense it in his former Master's Force-signature: vibrant lines that were jarring, outside the rhythm of the living Force. But as Padmé's footsteps receded down the hallway, those lines in the Force blurred and bled out, as though Obi-Wan simply did not have the energy to keep fighting such a meaningless battle.

And it was meaningless, Anakin knew. Screaming hateful words at each other could not possibly do anything more than unleash the pain that both of them had been bottling up for so long. But at the same time, knowing that the verbal combat would only wound them more, Anakin was loathe to have it end. It was better than being a ghost, as he had been in Obi-Wan's eyes for the past three years. At least screaming at him, Obi-Wan was forced to acknowledge Anakin's existence.

"I suppose therein lies the problem, Anakin." Obi-Wan said softly, turning his eyes at last to the now-empty hallway where Padmé had just disappeared. "I was supposed to be the one that you loved, and yet you trusted him more than you trusted me." When he brought his gaze to rest again on Anakin, Obi-Wan's eyes were lustreless, his voice flat. "And love without trust… well…" he laughed cynically. "That's hardly love, is it?"

The question was purely rhetorical, but compelled Anakin to cross the gap between them. He grabbed Obi-Wan's arm roughly when the Jedi tried to turn away, spinning Obi-Wan to face him.

"Can you blame me?" Anakin demanded angrily, gripping Obi-Wan's shoulders tight enough to bruise and shaking him slightly. He could feel angry tears rising in his eyes and blinked hard to dispel them. "All my life I've wanted to be… to be good enough for you. I-I had to make you want to keep me, to make you like me, to-to make you…to make you love me. And..." he looked down and bit his lip, seeking the words to express the detestable jealousy he had lived with for most of his life.

Anakin laughed quietly, desperately, feeling the tears start to slide down his cheeks as he met Obi-Wan's impassive gaze once more. "I've never quite been able to get out of Qui-Gon's shadow. I-I have never been able to live up to him in..." he gestured angrily with one hand, taking in the entire room that still resonated softly with Qui-Gon's Force signature "…in anything!"

The picture that Obi-Wan had taken with him on missions, had kept close to his heart or under his pillow. The soft, sad smile that he always wore when Qui-Gon was mentioned. The way he still murmured the dead Jedi Knight's name in his dreams, even when curled up in Anakin's arms.

Although he wanted nothing more than to bury his head in his Master's shoulder to be comforted, as he had always done as a Padawan, Anakin slowly let his hands fall away from Obi-Wan's shoulders. They slid down the fabric of his former Master's robes almost possessively for a moment before dropping loosely to his side. "You've never loved me as much as you loved him," he finished with quiet, defeated certainty, taking a step back. "And now you never will, will you?"

Obi-Wan had stiffened at Anakin's words, arching back. "I-I never…?" he hissed furiously, some unnamed mixture of emotions sparking in his eyes. Shoving past Anakin, he stormed down the hallway into his room. Anakin followed tentatively behind and hesitated in the doorway of the bedroom, uncertain whether Obi-Wan was trying to put distance between them or if he wanted to prove something.

His question was answered a moment later when a small package was thrust roughly into his hand.

"Take it," Obi-Wan snapped, not meeting Anakin's eyes. "It's yours anyways; I don't have a use for it any longer. Consider it a belated Solstice Night and," he laughed hoarsely, "two-year anniversary present."

Startled, Anakin opened his mouth to make some reply, but was cut off by an irritated gesture from his former Master.

Obi-Wan took a slow breath, steadying himself "Don't…" he pinched the bridge of his nose as though warding off a headache, and then finally met Anakin's eyes. His voice was so soft as to almost be inaudible, but the intense mixture of emotion behind the words made them fall heavily into the silence of the room. "Don't dare to presume to know what I do and do not feel, Anakin."

Anakin stared at the small parcel in his hand, heart thudding in his ears. Obi-Wan moved past him without another word. His footsteps, muted on the plush carpeting, faded into the common room. There was a soft bell-like sound, the clink of a bottle meeting a glass, and then silence. Anakin registered the sounds in the part of his mind that had been developed in years of war, where every noise could mean approaching droids and death. But the automatic acknowledgement of the quiet noises seemed to be far away, disconnected from Anakin's mind which had gone completely blank.

His eyes were fixed on the box, which trembled faintly. Anakin belatedly realized that it was a motion caused by his hand shaking.

Unwrapping the plain paper – silvery blue-grey, like pinear needles or Obi-Wan's eyes – Anakin's breath hitched at the velvet-covered box within. Tears blurred his sight as he gently opened the lid.

It was a plain band, of course. Not because the stipend of a Jedi Knight was meagre at best, because Anakin knew from experience that Obi-Wan would go to any lengths to secure the best Solstice present possible. It was plain simply because Anakin didn't care much for flashy adornments. White gold, unmarked and perfect. And a message in stark black ink against a gleaming white piece of paper.

Marry me.

Marriage wasn't a custom amongst the Jedi, of course. There were bonded Knight pairs, but they were few and far between. And bonding didn't require a ceremony or any physical symbol of the union. But it was a tradition for the humans on Tatooine; the exchange of tokens, the ceremony, the title. In the end, it meant the same thing as being bonded, but somehow the difference in that one word meant everything.

And Obi-Wan had known that, had known that one word would make all the difference to Anakin. It was putting Anakin before the Jedi, before everything that had bound and shaped their lives.

Don't dare to presume to know what I do and do not feel.

How would Obi-Wan's face have reacted three years ago, had Anakin greeted him with a hug rather than a lit sabre? Would he have been nervous, or calm, his eyes green or blue or grey in that moment? Would he have given Anakin the ring immediately, dropping to one knee in front of the main doors of the Temple, where anyone could see them? Anakin could imagine the tentative half-smile on his lover's face, the way Obi-Wan would bite his lower lip and duck his head when nervous, blue eyes wide in entreaty and love.

Or maybe Obi-Wan would have waited until the following morning, when they were curled contentedly around each other, dosing in the early dawn's light. Anakin closed his eyes tightly, holding back his tears. Obi-Wan had always purred soft endearments as Anakin slowly woke in the morning, so that the first sound Anakin would hear was the voice of his lover. It had always made Anakin wake with a smile, wrapped in warm, strong arms, to be greeted with a gentle kiss.

Was that how Obi-Wan had planned to propose, kissing Anakin's neck softly before whispering the words in his young lover's ear?

Marry me….

Shaking, Anakin slipped the ring onto his finger, gasping softly. It fit perfectly, of course, settling comfortably around his finger as though it was a part of him. He closed his hand into a gentle fist, and then opened it again, twisting it to watch the play of light across the metallic surface, and to feel the unaccustomed sensation of the band against his flesh. It just felt right there, though it was completely new.

And though common sense dictated that he remove the ring immediately, Anakin knew he would never willingly let it off his finger again. It marked him as being Obi-Wan's. And even if his former Master no longer wanted to stake that claim, it didn't change the fact that Anakin had wilfully given his heart away long ago.

Obi-Wan didn't turn as Anakin re-entered the common room, sitting on the edge of the couch and swirling some amber liquid in his glass almost absently. Anakin could see the older Jedi's shoulders tense at his approach, and knew the nonchalance was a façade. Anakin saw how tightly Obi-Wan's hand was clenched around the glass, and worried that it might shatter in his grip. Glancing down at his own hand once more to gain some strength from the plain band, Anakin took a hesitant step forwards.

"Obi-Wan, I –"

"Don't, Anakin…" Obi-Wan shook his head, tossing back the last of his drink in a single swallow. "Don't apologize to me. It hardly makes a difference now anyways." His voice was quiet and bitter, and made Anakin pull back. It didn't matter any more; Obi-Wan was right. What was done was done; there was no going back and altering the past.

But Obi-Wan would try to deny them the right to a future.

"No, listen to me," Anakin interjected, hearing the desperation that tinged his words. This was the last chance he had to make Obi-Wan understand him; after this moment there would be no hope of making amends. "Sidious… he… I didn't want to listen to him, Obi-Wan. But… it was easier." Anakin sucked in a deep breath, biting the inside of his lip. How could he possibly put this into words? Obi-Wan had never been there, he didn't know how the Dark Side pulled inexorably at your mind, until you forgot everything that was good and happy in your life. Until only the painful memories remained.

"I was…" Anakin laughed self-depreciatingly, "I was terrified of losing… it was as though… as though everything I had in my life was too good to last. As though we were too good to last. I didn't want to be left behind by you, once…once you realized that you didn't need me any more." Anakin heard his voice grow smaller and more feeble with each successive justification, until it petered out into silence.

Obi-Wan wasn't looking at him, still facing obstinately out the window as though the traffic of Coruscant was the most captivating spectacle in the world.

It was too late, then. Anakin twisted the ring around his finger hopelessly. No matter what he said, it would never make a difference, would not even register against his former Master's impassivity.

But Obi-Wan had asked him for an explanation, before they had started screaming at each other. And Anakin would give him what he asked for. He owed Obi-Wan that much.

"Sidious told me that the pain would stop if I set myself above emotional attachments. If I destroyed them before I could be destroyed." Anakin bowed his head, cast around for something to focus on. "It was like I was drowning," he whispered finally, feeling tears rise in his eyes. He had been drowning alone, struggling in silence to reach solid ground once more. "And… and no one was there to catch me, or save me, Obi-Wan, I –" He cut himself off sharply, voice cracking.

"As Vader, there was… there was some part of me that could still hear you, could remember –" Anakin spoke with difficulty now, feeling more vulnerable than he had ever been before in his life. He had presented this same story to the solemn members of the Council, before the flat eyes of Master Windu and the knowing gaze of Yoda, and he hadn't been this scared. He was laying his soul bare, laying his fragile hopes for forgiveness at Obi-Wan's feet. Praying that his former Master would tread softly upon them, rather than stamping them out completely. "I could still remember being happy here, but there was a wall that prevented me from touching that happiness. It-it was like there was someone else there, controlling my mind, and speaking with my voice…."

Vader. Anakin shivered at the memory of that cold presence dominating him. The cruel amusement with which the Sith had listened to his pleas, before crushing them beneath the weight of the Dark Side.

It had been himself, a darker side of his own personality finally given voice. Anakin knew he could place the blame for his actions on no one else, even though he had felt the distinct difference between Anakin and Vader. It had been his own choice.

Anakin hadn't meant to voice that final thought aloud, didn't realize that he had spoken until the echo of his own words reached his ears.

"I know." Obi-Wan's voice sounded hollow. "It's always a choice to submit to the Dark Side. I just… I fail to see how anyone would willingly –" he broke off the tirade with a resigned sigh, rising to pour himself another drink. Anakin noticed dimly that the Jedi Master still refused to face him, as though afraid that his facial expression would reveal some hint to his emotions.

"I told you before…" Anakin began haltingly, gesturing ineffectively.

"That you were scared. That you were afraid to lose me." Obi-Wan parroted the words back with venom, staring hard at the bottle of liqueur as he slammed it back down on top of the cabinet. "Anakin…."

The young Jedi Knight saw the tremor that shook Obi-Wan's body, as though some violent emotion was being furiously suppressed.

"There was no surer way to lose me, Anakin." Obi-Wan's voice was very quiet, very calm, belying the surge of feeling that Anakin had just witnessed. "I lost Qui-Gon to a Sith's blade… to see you willingly become the thing that I despised more than anything else. To… to lose you to a Sith just as I lost him…Anakin…."

Obi-Wan was trembling again, and Anakin sense the overwhelming emotions that his former Master was trying so hard to shield. He didn't manage to finish the sentence; he didn't have to. Anakin felt his heart like duracrete in his chest, heavy and cold. Of course; it had been the ultimate betrayal for Anakin to turn to the Dark Side, after Obi-Wan had already lost one man that he loved to it. But Qui-Gon's death had been that of a Jedi Knight, fighting against the Sith.

Anakin had become that evil.

It was no wonder that Obi-Wan could barely stand to look at him.

"What do you want me to say?" he begged quietly of the now-silent Obi-Wan. "That I'm sorry?" Anakin couldn't stop the pained laugh that escaped him. "I am, you know that I am, but I could say it a thousand times over, and I still don't think that you would hear me!"

All I need is forgiveness, acceptance… some kind of redemption. Even if we can be nothing more than cordial to each other, I don't want you to ignore me any longer. I don't want to be invisible to you.

"What do I want." Obi-Wan's scornful tone made the question into a statement. Turning at last to face Anakin, he advanced deliberately, eyes burning. "What I want is to forget. To be able to sleep through one night without being haunted by your face. I want to wake in the mornings and not reach for where you should be."

"Obi-Wan –" Anakin's heart ached, and he took an involuntary step forwards, wanting to sweep Obi-Wan into his arms. Quickly, Anakin crossed his arms tightly over his chest, as though that physical gesture would somehow keep him from breaking apart.

He done the same every night for the past three years; had tried to curl up to an absent lover when he first started to wake in the morning, after dreaming of Obi-Wan's touch all night. But unlike Obi-Wan, he didn't want to be free of that instinctive response. It hurt, Sith it hurt more than anything else could, but it was a memory of Obi-Wan. And memories were all he had left now.

"I can't do this again, Anakin. I'm not strong enough," Obi-Wan said dully, crossing his arms over his chest in a subconscious imitation of Anakin's posture, before looking away. "Three years ago, I drew my 'sabre with the intention of killing you. We tried to kill each other, Anakin. That's not something that can just be erased."

Anakin saw the mask slip for a second, tried to reach out to Obi-Wan, but was sharply rebuffed.

"I…" Obi-Wan's voice cracked slightly, but he shook his head and pressed on. "I knew I couldn't… I couldn't kill you, Anakin. No matter what you did, no matter who you killed, I knew…." Obi-Wan paused for a moment as though trying to recover his composure. "It terrified me to look into your eyes and… and not see you there, Anakin. But I would have let you live, even if you hadn't turned back to the Light." Obi-Wan laughed: a harsh sound, staring bitterly at his hands. "What does that say about me?" he whispered, as an afterthought. "That I would have let you live, even had you destroyed the Jedi… because killing you would have destroyed me."

"Will you never forgive?" Anakin whispered as his former Master turned away irrevocably. The words were pitched quietly, making it a rhetorical question. He didn't think Obi-Wan would answer even had he heard. He didn't think he would want to hear the answer anyways.

But Obi-Wan's shoulders tensed slightly after Anakin spoke, as he sat down facing away from Anakin once again, Force-summoning his abandoned drink into his hand.

"I'm sorry, Anakin."

So that was how it would end. With an empty apology and an unanswerable question. Anakin hesitated for a second, feeling only a sense of regret for everything that might have been between them. But there were no more words to say, it seemed. This was it, then. He started to turn away, when Obi-Wan spoke again, barely more than a whisper.

"I'm sorry…"

Anakin whirled instantly, eyes wide.

"I… I'm sorry that I failed you." Obi-Wan gestured helplessly with the empty glass, his hand trembling. "I should have…I should have… oh Sith; I should have done everything differently." Obi-Wan's shoulders started to shake; he was crying, curling forward and hugging his arms tightly across his chest.

"No –" Anakin tried to protest, moving to him, but Obi-Wan shrugged away his hands when he tried to offer comfort. Anakin stood powerlessly, seeing the defeated cast of Obi-Wan's tear-streaked expression.

"I have failed you, Anakin. As a Master, as a friend… as someone who loves you. I failed completely." His face twisted into a mockery of a smile. "I seem to fail everybody I care about." He laughed, a sound almost bordering on hysteric. "I don't know if it's any better that my inadequacies lead you to almost become a Sith rather than being murdered by one. It all amounts to the same thing in the end, doesn't it? I pity Padmé – Force only knows how I'll end up betraying her trust. Just like I did yours. Because I could never tell you that I… I…oh, Anakin…."

Anakin moved without thinking, taking the glass from Obi-Wan's hand and blindly setting it aside as he swept the older Jedi into his arms, feeling tears of his own burning against the back of his eyes as Obi-Wan's head pressed against his shoulder, as those familiar arms wound around him again. Anakin started to sob, muffled as he blindly sought Obi-Wan's mouth, a gasping, desperate kiss: tongues twining, hands twisting in robes and rising to tangle in hair. Rough, needy, and absolutely perfect. Anakin could taste salt, and wondered for a second whether it was from his own tears or Obi-Wan's.

They tumbled backwards onto the couch still intertwined, entangled in a careless embrace. Holding each other tightly, unwilling to ever let go again.

Anakin pulled back momentarily, pressing his lips against Obi-Wan's flushed cheeks, kissing away the tears that continued to fall.

The Jedi Master shook his head tightly, his eyes clenched tightly shut. Anakin could feel the fear in him through the Force, the fear of letting himself become susceptible to another person once again. Obi-Wan had loved twice, and had had his heart broken each time. Anakin wanted nothing more than to tear away the walls that the Jedi Master had built around his heart, but that defence was the only way Obi-Wan had learned to protect himself.

Instead, Anakin would have to find a door into that impenetrable fortress, to lead Obi-Wan out of the prison he had created around himself, and teach him to feel once more.

Still brushing Obi-Wan's face with gentle kisses, Anakin let his own shields fall, allowing Obi-Wan to see straight through him. No deception, no secrets. Not this time. Not ever again.

"I know that there are still a lot of things we'll need to work out," he whispered huskily, forcing a smile through his own tears. "After everything that I've done… Obi-Wan, I… I know that things can never go back to the way they were." The tears were staring anew, a lump in Anakin's throat that he spoke through with difficulty.

"We'll never be perfect together… but do you think we could at least be happy?"

Obi-Wan raised his hands to caress Anakin's cheeks tremulously. Anakin held his breath, heart pounding loudly in his ears as he studied the older Jedi's facial expression.

Finally, there was a faint easing of Obi-Wan's shields, enough that Anakin could sense his emotions again. Blue eyes filled with tears met his own as Obi-Wan smiled.

"Yes," he murmured softly, "I would like that…."

Anakin laughed sharply, a disbelieving sound that caught in his throat. It was as though a sudden weight had been lifted from his heart, leaving him feeling as though he could dance through the air without the Force supporting him. He was suddenly possessed with the wild thought of running through the Temple halls, skipping and laughing and yelling for the sheer joy of life.

But instead he crushed Obi-Wan more tightly against him, letting the other Jedi sense through the Force the magnitude of emotion that Anakin couldn't hope to put into words.

"I love you," he whispered hoarsely, resting his forehead against Obi-Wan's own. Starting to laugh through his tears, Anakin kissed Obi-Wan thoroughly again, running his tongue over Obi-Wan's own, tasting every inch of his mouth. Sweeping his hands down the length of his Master's back, Anakin pulled Obi-Wan to straddle his hips, kissing and biting his way down the column of Obi-Wan's neck. As Obi-Wan cried out softly, letting his head fall back, Anakin nuzzled the hollow of the older Jedi's throat. He breathed in deeply; revelling in the scent of Obi-Wan's skin, so familiar even after three years.

"I love you," Anakin whispered against the sensitive skin, following the pronouncement with a gentle kiss. "I love you." Over and over again, as he traced his way back up Obi-Wan's exposed throat, sealing the words with soft kisses and his tears.

Obi-Wan trembled in his arms, crying silently. Anakin murmured soothing noises as Obi-Wan clumsily returned his kisses, though he knew he was shaking just as badly with the release of emotions that had been pent up for far too long.

"I missed you," Obi-Wan whispered against Anakin's mouth, "I missed you so much, Anakin…."

Anakin kissed him again as Obi-Wan's voice trailed off into silence. There was so much between them that couldn't easily be put into words. But he pulled back sharply, surprised by the psychic brush against his mind.

Obi-Wan met his eyes, smiling faintly as he lowered his shields, letting Anakin sense how hurt and lonely and isolated he had been for the past three years. How scared he had been of letting anyone else get too close.

The love and desire that flooded his soul with light now that Anakin was back in his arms.

Anakin smiled softly, feeling the shadows that had lurked in his own heart for so long pushed back by the glow of Obi-Wan's Force Signature. Obi-Wan didn't merely walk in the light. To Anakin, he was the light. He was everything.

When Obi-Wan's hands slid underneath his tunics, Anakin arched automatically into the caress, moaning softly at the feather-light touches over his skin. His hands fumbled awkwardly on Obi-Wan's robes, pushing at them in frustration to expose more skin to his questing mouth. He wanted to taste every inch of Obi-Wan's body, to map out once more every scar, every freckle.

Sliding the coarse tan fabric of Obi-Wan's tunic back off of his shoulders, Anakin paused, brushing his thumb over the raised scar tissue that lay over Obi-Wan's heart. He remembered how it had felt under his cheek when he had just been a kid and Obi-Wan had carried him off to bed. How he would later sleep with his head pillowed against Obi-Wan's chest, hearing the older Jedi's heartbeat and feeling the smooth and shiny patch of skin.

With a faint smile Anakin lowered his lips to the scar, kissing it reverently as though he could erase it with love. Perhaps not the physical wound, but there was another scar on Obi-Wan's heart, one that Anakin had put there. That one he could remove, and would spend the rest of his life doing so if Obi-Wan would give him the chance.

Obi-Wan gasped softly as Anakin moved his mouth lower, to run his tongue slowly around one dusky nipple, feeling it harden deliciously under the teasing caress. Anakin smirked against Obi-Wan's skin, loving the breathless moan that his actions provoked from his Master. Obi-Wan's fingers tightened in Anakin's hair, forcing him to raise his head once more, to be met in a bruising kiss. Anakin found himself pressed back firmly against the couch cushions as Obi-Wan's hands slid down over his chest. He moaned loudly, the sound muffled against Obi-Wan's mouth as the Jedi Master took control of the kiss and danced his tongue against Anakin's own, flicking it softly against the roof of Anakin's mouth.

Anakin lifted his hips as Obi-Wan hooked his fingers into the waistband of his pants, awkwardly wriggling them down. He broke away from the kiss sharply, breathless from Obi-Wan's fingers stroking his exposed skin, dizzy from lack of oxygen.

"Wa-wait… Padmé, she –"

Obi-Wan blindly flung out one hand in the direction of the hallway, and Anakin felt the powerful surge of a sleep-compulsion ripple through the Force. A sleep-compulsion strong enough to knock out an entire wing of squalling crèchelings. Anakin laughed, catching Obi-Wan's face in his hands and kissing him thoroughly once again, sending waves of love through the Force to his lover.

His lover. Being able to call Obi-Wan that once again, even only in his own mind, made Anakin's heart race with euphoria.

Nuzzling the base of Obi-Wan's ear, skimming his fingers along the length of Obi-Wan's bare back, Anakin was startled by Obi-Wan's hand placed flat on his chest; a silent entreaty to stop. Jerking his head back, he saw that his lover's eyes were a pained silver grey, his expression shocked.

"Anakin…" Obi-Wan whispered, running his index finger over an angry red scar low on Anakin's hip.

Obi-Wan's low chuckle brought Anakin reluctantly back to reality, hard to do when those 'sabre-calloused fingers were tracing bewitching patterns on the sensitive skin of his hips.

"This is your tattoo, Anakin?" Obi-Wan laughed, lowering his head to press a chaste kiss on the spot. "OB1, hmm?"

Anakin couldn't help wriggling; when Obi-Wan had bent over like that, his Master's soft auburn hair had brushed maddeningly against his painfully hard cock. Still, Anakin couldn't help the smirk that split his features, even when Obi-Wan's hands and mouth were driving him mad. "It-it's… it's my… my – oh Sith – my favourite brand of speeder, Master," he panted, back arching against his volition as Obi-Wan's lips skimmed lightly over the letters, tracing them with gentle fluttering kisses.

He could feel Obi-Wan's smile against his skin. "Impudent runt."

Then all conscious thought was driven from his mind as Obi-Wan licked, nibbled and sucked on that tender patch of skin until Anakin was an incoherent puddle of lust, begging helplessly for release.

Drunk and despondent after returning from that last disastrous mission, Anakin had dialled his lightsabre down to its lowest setting and burned his ex-lover's name from his skin. It had hurt, by the stars, it had hurt far more than he had anticipated; but it was a physical pain. And physical pain was much easier to block out than emotional wounds were.

Anakin didn't know what he had hoped to achieve by the rash action – maybe he had thought that purging his skin of Obi-Wan's mark would somehow purge the ever-present desire for the man from his heart. It hadn't worked, of course. And now Anakin was painfully aware of Obi-Wan's hand resting gently against the scar, and could feel his cheeks flare bright red with shame.

"Anakin?" Obi-Wan spoke again quietly. The young Jedi Knight flinched at the depth of sadness in that voice, the muted shock. He looked away, unable to meet Obi-Wan's eyes. He didn't want to see the tear tracks on his former Master's cheeks, didn't want to see the pain in those haunting eyes. Shaking his head, Anakin pressed his face against the base of Obi-Wan's neck, and closed his eyes.

Familiar hands stroked his hair soothingly, rubbing his back in slow circles. "Oh, Anakin…I'm so, so sorry."

Anakin brushed away the apology, pulling back and smiling faintly. "It's past now," he whispered, kissing the corner of Obi-Wan's mouth, "and weren't you the one who taught me to live in the moment?" He smiled crookedly, hands resting uncertainly on Obi-Wan's waist, absently stroking his bare sides.

The Jedi Master gently grabbed Anakin's left hand, bringing it up to his lips. Anakin saw the spark of pleasure that lit his eyes and flushed his cheeks when he noticed the ring on Anakin's finger. It was an irresistible expression; Anakin found that he just had to kiss him again.

It was like relearning the forms of a kata almost forgotten, slow and awkward at first, but coming smoother and more naturally as they learned to move together once again. A kata enacted to the counterpoint of throaty moans and panted gasps, of whispered endearments and passionate kisses. Anakin's hands slid down Obi-Wan's back, pushing away the thin trousers he was still wearing as his mouth continued to ravish the older Jedi's neck.

Anakin revelled in each caress, each kiss, each sigh of passion, and found himself wishing that time could stand still so that he could spend eternity like this: loving Obi-Wan and being loved. The knowledge that he was being given a second chance to do so for the rest of his life made his heart ache strangely, as though it couldn't contain the love and sheer joy that raced through him.

He wanted to stay like this forever, driving Obi-Wan slowly, tortuously mad with gentle caresses while his lover similarly made him wriggle with desire. But Obi-Wan pulled back, lips swollen and bruised with kisses, eyes dark with passion as they fixed on Anakin's own; an expression that sent a bolt of pure lust through Anakin.

Obi-Wan whispered Anakin's name softly, shifting his hips so that his erection slid against Anakin's own. Anakin clenched his jaw tightly to keep from crying out. Sith, but it had been too long. Being this close to Obi-Wan, being free to touch and taste the man that he loved, was enough to almost send him over the edge.

"Anakin…" Obi-Wan breathed again, nuzzling his face against the curve of Anakin's neck, hands pinning Anakin's shoulders back against the couch. "I… I need…" he breathed out slowly, the puff of warm air on Anakin's neck raising goose bumps all over his body. "I want you, Anakin."

Anakin groaned softly, unable to form a coherent reply. But when he tried to shift, to lay them both down fully on the couch, Obi-Wan pressed him back more firmly against the cushions.

"No. I… I want you here, like this." Obi-Wan growled softly, fingers skimming lightly over Anakin's cock. "Please, Anakin, I… I need…" he gasped, rocking his hips against Anakin's insistently.

Anakin ran his hand down the length of Obi-Wan's back, over the curve of his ass, wanting nothing more than to claim Obi-Wan as his own right away, to push deep inside of him and –

His thoughts must have bled into the Force, as Obi-Wan moaned tightly, his head falling back as he gasped. Anakin tried to calm his breathing, to maintain some sense of reality as he brushed one finger over the entrance to Obi-Wan's body.

"Do you…" Anakin swallowed thickly, his pulse thundering in his ears. "Do you have anything to….?"

Obi-Wan stared a moment at him blankly, before the lust cleared from his eyes. Realization came swiftly, and Anakin saw his lover's cheeks flare with embarrassment as Obi-Wan ducked his head.

"I… I got rid of… everything. I-I didn't think I would need…." Obi-Wan shrugged half-heartedly, glancing quickly at Anakin. "I didn't want anyone else."

Anakin caressed Obi-Wan's cheek, brushing back the tousled strands of hair from that beloved face. "I… I don't want to hurt you." he whispered quietly. This could wait. They had waited three years to be together again; it didn't matter if they had to wait one more day.

"You won't." Obi-Wan replied softly, a faint smile crinkling the lines at the corner of his eyes. "I trust you, Anakin."

Those simple words were enough to undo Anakin completely. Trust. Anakin could feel it shining in the Force between them, something he hadn't thought to ever receive from Obi-Wan ever again. With a muffled curse, he cast around the room with desperation, his eyes finally landing on the jar of bacta salve that Padmé had left on the kitchen counter. It wasn't perfect, but it would do.

Obi-Wan half-twisted around, following Anakin's line of sight. The wicked smirk that he shot quickly in Anakin's direction made the younger Jedi Knight shiver deliciously, ripples of desire running through his entire body and pooling at his groin. With a drawn out moan, Anakin stretched out one hand, calling the bacta into his hand. He felt Obi-Wan reach into the Force at the same time, and the jar smacked into his hand hard enough to sting from the strength of their combined desire.

Obi-Wan met Anakin's eyes impishly, chuckling low in his throat. Anakin captured his lips in a bruising kiss once more; caressing the length of Obi-Wan's back in long firm strokes while using the Force to open the jar of bacta. Quickly he slicked it over his fingers, gently brushing the pad of his finger over Obi-Wan's entrance in mute question.

Obi-Wan shivered, nodding tightly as his hands clenched convulsively on Anakin's shoulders. Anakin pressed his lips against the base of Obi-Wan's neck, kissing him softly, tenderly.

Obi-Wan ground his hips against Anakin's own, throwing his head back and whimpering harshly as Anakin gently worked two fingers inside of him, scissoring them apart. His back arched, pressing his sweat-slick chest against Anakin's own, still covered in a thin black tunic.

"Anakin -!" Oh, that voice was addicting, breathless and rough with lust as Anakin added a third finger. He wanted to prepare Obi-Wan thoroughly, anxious even through the desire that made his blood froth in his veins not to hurt Obi-Wan at all. Already achingly hard from Obi-Wan pressed against him so tightly, Anakin felt an incredible wave of heat surge to his groin at Obi-Wan's gasping cry of his name.

For a brief instant, Anakin was half tempted to keep teasing, if only to have his usually reserved lover gasp and wriggle more. But then their positions were reversed as Obi-Wan slicked the cool salve over Anakin's erect cock. The older Jedi teased him with gentle strokes of his fingers, until Anakin was panting and moaning incoherently, desperate for more contact.

Pulling Obi-Wan more firmly against him, Anakin nuzzled and licked the hollow of his lover's throat. When Obi-Wan arched enthusiastically against him, Anakin slid his hands down the back of Obi-Wan's legs, giving him more leverage and effectively blocking his own range of movements. He knew what Obi-Wan wanted – what he needed – from him, and was offering himself soundlessly, letting Obi-Wan take control. It wasn't a sacrifice at all – the Jedi Master already owned his heart and soul.

Obi-Wan kissed Anakin languidly, pushing up against his hands before lowering himself back down, taking Anakin's cock inside of him slowly. Anakin cried out sharply at the sensation of that tight heat encasing him, echoing Obi-Wan's sharp moan as their bodies came together. The sight of Obi-Wan's face, eyes closed and head thrown back in pleasure made Anakin wild with the need to touch and taste him. His fingers tightened reflexively against the back of Obi-Wan's legs, hard enough to bruise, but neither one noticed.

Anakin felt a profound shudder of pleasure ripple through him as his cock was fully taken into Obi-Wan's body. Obi-Wan held still for a moment, resting his forehead against Anakin's own, breathing heavily. Anakin could feel their Force signatures slide against each other with sensuous friction, beginning to entwine in an echo of their physical bodies.

"I love you," Obi-Wan whispered quietly, voice trailing off into a quiet moan as he began to move. Anakin thrust upwards against him, kissing Obi-Wan again as the tempo of this lover's kata became faster, more passionate. He felt Obi-Wan's fingers dig deeply into his shoulders, and rested his head against Obi-Wan's shoulder, moaning loudly against his pale skin.

Anakin felt that there should have been some explosion of light, a chorus of voices in the Force celebrating as their bond burst back into life. But it was a quiet realization that still shook him soundly. A sudden feeling of completion that made tears well up in Anakin's eyes once again. Obi-Wan gasped softly at the same time, eyes opening and locking on Anakin's own as his body tensed in climax. Anakin held that gaze, pouring all his love for Obi-Wan into the connection between them as he was swept away by the force of his own orgasm.

Obi-Wan slumped bonelessly, pressing a tired kiss on Anakin's forehead before pillowing his head on his lover's shoulder. Anakin could feel the tired smile on Obi-Wan's lips, pressed against his skin.

Feeling a similar smile curving his lips, Anakin closed his eyes and rested his head against Obi-Wan's own, while reaching out through the tenuous bond. It was still fragile, still new and faint. But it was there.

(I love you so much.)

(I love you too, Anakin. More than anything, I love you.)


A leaden weight landing on Anakin's chest made him wake up suddenly; gasping as all the air was driven from his lungs.

Windu glared down at him, pausing in washing one paw as though irate that his chosen mattress would dare to complain at the honour of being chosen for a resting spot. Anakin tried to glower back for a moment – Sith damn it, but he hadn't known the Force-forsaken cat was still alive – but he couldn't maintain the pretence of anger. Against his volition, he felt a lazy grin spread over his features, a grin that widened as the slumbering Jedi who was using his shoulder as a pillow muttered and curled closer in his sleep. They had almost fallen asleep on the couch the night before, an uncomfortable tangle of limbs that Anakin had been reluctant to leave. He had to admit that the bed was much more comfortable, as Obi-Wan had promised, and gave him more room to wrap himself around his lover's body.

If it was a dream, Anakin knew he never wanted to wake up from it. He still half expected to blink and find himself back in his empty apartments, curled up alone in his sad little bed. But Obi-Wan's cheek snuggled against his shoulder felt real, the soft puff of warm air across Anakin's bare skin a tangible reminder that he was where he belonged once again.

Freeing one hand from the tangle of blankets, Anakin absently stroked Windu's fur; ready to snatch it back should the cat decide to take a swipe at him. But the vicious animal only opened one golden eye sleepily, and curled himself up tighter; a fuzzy black hole on Anakin's chest.

Anakin smiled, closing his eyes and letting sleep gently tug him back under. He was home again.


"I don't want to lose you,
I don't want to become a memory,
So hold on to me.
You're a million miles away,
But I am still the same as yesterday..."

Counting the Stars, Waking Ashland