Disclaimer: It all belongs to George Lucas. No profit was made.
Author notes: Written for Elke Tanzer in Jedi Santa 2006. This was beta read by Queen Meep, and I owe her many thanks for her help. This is based solely on film canon and does not take into account the EU version of the events leading up to Anakin becoming a Jedi Knight. For the record, I do like the EU take in The Clone Wars, but simply wanted to explore the events in a different, slashy light.
There were not many Jedi Masters who trusted Anakin. Ki-Adi-Mundi may not have been among them, but he at least gave Anakin more consideration than most.
The sun dipped behind the jagged Coruscant horizon, its rays casting a dark golden glow about the Jedi Council room. Ki-Adi-Mundi stood inside the circle of empty chairs, his hands folded before him. He gazed at Anakin with steady, unblinking eyes. Though his eyes were at the same level of Anakin's, his ridged, conical head gave him an imposing height that made Anakin feel small.
"You were injured on your last mission," Ki-Adi-Mundi observed.
Anakin glanced down at his left arm. There had been no bacta on Kildar, and he'd been forced to heal naturally. A long, thin scar ran down the inside of his bicep. It still ached from remembered pain. The bounty hunter who had cut him had gotten away in the confusion of the battle, and Anakin still regretted being hampered by his injury and unable to give proper chase.
"Yes, Master. I'm nearly healed now."
"Master Kenobi is also nearly recovered from his wounds."
Anakin nodded. Obi-Wan had taken a blaster bolt to the stomach when they'd stormed the Doom Gazer before Anakin's mission to Kildar. The wound had been serious enough that even after a few days in the bacta tank, Obi-Wan still needed recovery time.
Ki-Adi-Mundi put his hands behind his back and turned to gaze out of the panoramic windows of the Council room. Off in the distance, speeders flew to and fro, like tiny insects flying from one flower to the next, collecting pollen. The room became so silent that Anakin's ears hurt.
"Did you want my report on the mission, Master?" Anakin asked when he could take the silence no more.
Ki-Adi-Mundi shook his head. "No, not right now." He turned back to face Anakin. "It's been twelve years since you became a Jedi, hasn't it?"
"You've come far and done well, Anakin. I've watched you closely since you joined our Order. It seems like only yesterday you were knee-high to a Jawa." Ki-Adi-Mundi's smile was thin. "Master Kenobi was opposed to you going on a solo mission while he was injured, but I had faith you would do well."
Anakin worked his jaw, trying to shove away the resentment. "Yes. He told me."
"He knows how close you are to becoming a Jedi Knight. All Masters get a little edgy at this time. I was the same way with A'Sharad."
Anakin nodded, though this didn't ease his resentment. He still felt like Obi-Wan was holding him back, refusing to trust him. Even after all this time, Obi-Wan still thought he was a dangerous little boy.
"I'm giving you one more mission before I discuss you facing the Trials with the Council. One that will not be physically strenuous, so that you may heal fully."
Shocked, Anakin looked up. He didn't know whether to smile or not, so settled for half of a smile. "Another solo mission?"
"No, with Master Kenobi. I'm going to discuss it with him. He will be your observer. I want you making the decisions on the mission. He'll just be support."
"What's the mission?"
"It may not seem like much, but I want you to remember that things are not always what they seem. I'm sending you to the Nitrasse Lunar Observation Center. We've detected some unusual activity on the planet's surface, possibly Separatist. I want you to investigate it – if it is Separatist, we will dispatch a clone battalion to deal with it."
"All right. Who is our contact?"
"That's the thing. The Lunar Observation Center is abandoned. You'll have to go through all the data files, sort it out, and then decide where to start investigating before you ever step foot on the planet – Nitrasse is neutral, and we don't to push them towards the Separatists by showing up unannounced to wage war on their planet. It may simply be a natural geological occurrence on the planet – not much is known about Nitrasse. Nitrassians are notoriously xenophobic."
"Shouldn't this mission be given to a geologist, then?"
"A Jedi Knight wears many masks – geologist amongst them. You only need sort out the information to help us make a decision."
"And this… this is supposed to prove I'm worthy of facing the Trials?"
Ki-Adi-Mundi ran a hand over the back of his ridged head. "Yes. We already know you can fight, Anakin – you've established that fact many a time. We're more concerned with your patience and ability to control yourself."
"I see. I… just expected something more active."
"Expect nothing. I'll give you more details tomorrow, when you give me the report on your solo mission." Ki-Adi-Mundi smiled. "For now, go back to your Master – I'm sure he's missed you."
Anakin bowed. There was no telling if Obi-Wan had missed him or not. Trying to understand Obi-Wan was like trying to understand antimatter. He defied explanation.
"Thank you, Master. I'll see you tomorrow at…?"
"Dawn. Don't be late."
"When have I ever?"
Ki-Adi-Mundi raised an eyebrow. "I'm sure Master Kenobi has a list somewhere for reference."
Anakin laughed. "Of course, Master. I'll be on time. Good night."
Ki-Adi-Mundi dipped his head, watching Anakin as he left. As soon as the door to Council room closed, Anakin breathed a little easier. There was a flutter in his belly at the thought of being so close to the Trials, but it was quickly dampened by thoughts of Obi-Wan. Anakin's Master was surely not going to make this last mission easy, despite its nature. He hadn't even thought Anakin ready for a solo mission.
Sighing, Anakin wondered if Obi-Wan was part of the Trials. If he wasn't, Anakin was positive whatever the Council cooked up for him, it wouldn't be nearly as difficult as proving himself to Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan did not talk much during their trip to the Nitrasse Lunar Observation Center. He kept to his own quarters while they were onboard the Lowdancer, and even after boarding the small shuttle Anakin flew to dock with the observation center, he said nothing. The silent treatment was, Anakin decided, Obi-Wan's most annoying form of punishment.
Anakin thought briefly of Padmé, wondering what she was doing. He hated being apart from her, especially for a mission that was nothing but drudgework. He loved Obi-Wan every bit as much as he loved Padmé, but when Obi-Wan was so testy, it made spending time with him very hard. And Anakin had always had to spend a lot of time with Obi-Wan. Until he'd been assigned to guard Padmé on Naboo two years ago, they'd practically been joined at the lightsaber.
Through the transparisteel covering of the shuttle, Anakin could see the observation center. It floated in orbit of Nitrasse's dark moon, a green sphere with dark metal towers emerging from either end – probably storage and communication centers. The docking vane at the southern end blinked, awaiting Anakin. It was the only notable light in the area – the Nitrasse system's sun was far behind them.
It was rather sobering to realize that Anakin could spend weeks on that tiny space station with no company but his irritable Master.
"So," said Anakin, "do you feel any better?"
"I feel fine," Obi-Wan answered.
Anakin nodded, stung by Obi-Wan's abrupt manner. He wondered what he'd expected. "Sorry I asked."
"Look." Anakin turned to face Obi-Wan, though he kept his hands on the control panel. They had several kilometers before they reached the docking vane. "If you're upset with me, then tell me what I'm doing wrong. I'm tired of this passive-aggressive rancorshit. Just get it out in the open."
Obi-Wan crossed his arms. He studied Anakin for a moment, his expression as cold as a Hoth winter. "You want to know what you're doing wrong?"
"You're flying our shuttle towards a space station, and you're not looking where you're going."
Anakin spun to face front, realizing with a sickening feeling that they were about to crash into the observation center. He whipped the steering sticks to the right, narrowly avoiding killing himself and Obi-Wan. The very tip of the right wing sparked against the underside of the green durasteel sphere, sending the whole craft shuddering. Two more flicks of Anakin's wrists, and he steered the shuttle to the docking vane. There was another shudder, that of the space station's entrance port latching onto their outer hatch and equalizing the pressure. The control panel blinked at Anakin. He'd successfully docked.
"Well, that wasn't so bad." Anakin flashed Obi-Wan a grin.
Scowling, Obi-Wan stood up and moved to the back to pick up his carryall cases. Anakin watched him move. Despite the bulk of Obi-Wan's robes, Anakin could see the curve of Obi-Wan's arm through his sleeve. He'd once thought Obi-Wan a big man, but the older Anakin got, the smaller Obi-Wan seemed. Of course, the logical explanation was that Anakin got bigger, but that seemed too easy an answer.
"You still need to talk to me," Anakin called. The hatch opened with a soft hiss, spilling light into their dark cabin.
"Why you're so angry with me."
Obi-Wan glanced back at him. His eyes seemed very blue. "I'm not angry. I don't get angry."
"Maybe you should."
"Focus less on your imagined concerns with my emotions and more on your mission."
Hefting his cases, Obi-Wan stepped through the hatch and into the observation center.
As far as space stations went, Anakin was positive he could have put together a better one at age nine. The Nitrasse Lunar Observation Center was, to put it mildly, a floating piece of junk. It had working life support systems, but that seemed to be the only thing that did work properly.
Anakin slapped his palm against the side of the computer terminal in front of him. It blinked, until the screen finally pulled up a hazy readout. Lines of static interfered with the text, and Anakin had a hard time making anything out.
Obi-Wan walked into the information center. He ran his fingers through his wet hair, and the smell of fresh soap wafted past Anakin's nose. He was only wearing a single tunic and his trousers – no shoes. He said nothing as he passed Anakin, instead walking over to the large window overlooking Nitrasse.
While Nitrasse's moon was dead and dark, the planet itself was covered in red rocks. Little flora and fauna covered its dry surface, but deep beneath the rust-colored surface were fresh springs of water. Its native sentient species had moved underground thousands of years ago, shortly after nearly obliterating their entire race in protonuclear warfare. The planet itself had been so badly damaged that it no longer rotated on its axis – it was always the same time of day in any spot on the planet. Pink and gray clouds swirled over the surface, glowing slightly from the dim light of its sun.
"It's pretty from up here. Though I'll bet it's dusty and cold down there. The air's thin, too," said Anakin.
Obi-Wan nodded, leaning against the bar off the window. He seemed lost in his own thoughts.
Anakin sighed and turned back to the computer screen. It had gone dark again. He had to smack it twice for it to work. "How am I supposed to do research on the planet's phenomena if I can't get the damn computers to work?"
"I don't know," said Obi-Wan. "You're in charge here, remember?"
"Right." Anakin wondered if he smacked Obi-Wan upside his head, if maybe he'd work better, too. "Well, then why don't you go make me a cup of caf while I get to work rewiring all the systems just so I can read a report?"
Obi-Wan didn't respond immediately. He turned and bowed after a moment. "Of course, Master. Your usual extra sweetener?"
Anakin licked his lips. He was treading dangerous territory. "Of course. And maybe some snapcakes, if they have any."
"Your wish is my command, my Master." Obi-Wan swept off without looking back. He had no expression on his face, but Anakin would have bet the entire Republic armada that Obi-Wan was karked off.
Anakin slammed the computer terminal so hard that it shuddered and went completely dark. "This is going to be so much fun," he said. With a sigh, he moved over to the control panel on the left wall.
He wondered how long it would take before he and Obi-Wan pulled lightsabers on each other.
Dark halls, dark walls, dark rooms – Anakin was tired of all the darkness. The main power generator was probably older than Master Yoda and needed to be replaced. All Anakin could do was patch it up. Though the lights had finally stopped flickering, they were very dim, giving the space station an appearance of gloom. Anakin wished someone had at least painted the walls to give them some color.
Rubbing his face, Anakin leaned forward into generator's pit, double-checking the connections. Rewiring things while a system was live was considered extremely dangerous, but Anakin had always managed to do it without a problem.
However, the moment he felt toes poking his thigh, his hand almost slipped onto a live power cord. Crying out in alarm, Anakin floundered for the handle bar at the edge of the hole he was leaning through. He pulled himself up so fast he banged his head on the lip of the hole.
"Ouch!" Anakin screamed, the back of his head exploding in pain.
"Your caf and snapcakes, my Master," said Obi-Wan. He held out a steaming mug of caf and a bag of chocolate snapcakes.
Anakin took it carefully, wondering what the chances were that Obi-Wan had poisoned him. He set the snapcakes down and rubbed his head. To his surprise, it was still intact and wasn't bleeding.
"I'm fine. Thanks for asking," said Anakin, glaring up at Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan moved back to the window. "Good," he said. He couldn't have sounded more insincere if he was a politician.
Anakin took a sip of the caf. It had just the right amount of sweetener, mixing nicely with the bitter taste of the caf. "Thanks," he told Obi-Wan.
Sipping at his own caf – no doubt loaded with enough cream and sweetener to make anyone wonder why he bothered drinking caf at all – Obi-Wan nodded.
Checking the power generator one last time, Anakin closed the control panel and stood up. He moved over next to Obi-Wan and set his food on the window's ledge. Obi-Wan made no reaction. Anakin sighed and popped a snapcake into his mouth. It was a bit stale, but tasted all right.
"Want one?" Anakin rattled the bag.
"Don't talk with your mouth full." Obi-Wan took another sip of his caf, staring out at the planet. "And no."
Anakin plucked out another snapcake and nibbled on it. He studied Obi-Wan's profile for a moment. It was straight and clean, boyish despite his beard. Before he could think better of it, Anakin brushed his fingers across Obi-Wan's beard.
The Force seemed to flare at their proximity, giving Anakin a glimpse of Obi-Wan's feelings. Anakin sensed unease and unhappiness. Obi-Wan wasn't angry; instead, he was hurt and full of longing for… something. Anakin sucked in a breath, moving closer, until Obi-Wan jerked away. Caf spilled out over his hand, and he winced.
Anakin took the mug from Obi-Wan's hand. Obi-Wan shook his hand then licked the brown liquid off his hand. His eyes were smoky when he looked up at Anakin.
"Is that why you're upset with me?" Anakin demanded. "You'll miss me when I'm gone?"
"I'm not upset with you, Anakin."
Obi-Wan walked away before Anakin could say anything, like he always did.
There was only one bedroom.
The space station had been built by a married couple, and it was designed solely for them. They'd grown too old to manage on their own and had left several years ago, but the reports said they'd spent forty years here and had rarely left. Anakin wondered how they pulled that off without killing each other.
Anakin helped Obi-Wan put sheets on the large bed. It was big enough for both of them, with room to spare, so there was unspoken agreement that they would share. They'd been in even more cramped quarters before, and it made no sense for one of them to sleep on the floor.
After the white sheets had been stretched across the mattress and the pillows covered, Obi-Wan sat down on the edge of the bed. There was little else to the room outside of the bed and two bedside tables. Anakin changed into his sleeping shorts and dropped onto the bed. He bounced a little and smiled.
"Remember that bed we were given on Horanan? The one I bounced on for an hour before you dragged me off?" Anakin asked.
Obi-Wan was already in his sleeping shorts, his bare back presented to Anakin. Anakin rolled onto his side and propped himself up by an elbow. He could see the faint dusting of freckles on Obi-Wan's back, along the ridges of his spine. The slide of his shoulder blades working beneath his skin was like watching waves on the water.
"I miss those days," said Anakin. "Do you?"
Anakin ran his fingers over Obi-Wan's spine. Obi-Wan arched at the touch; his skin was smooth and firm. It gave Anakin a thrill to be touching Obi-Wan.
"Stop it," Obi-Wan snapped after a moment.
Anakin's paused, but didn't lift his fingers from Obi-Wan's back. "Why? You seem tense. I could rub your back if you –"
"No. I'm fine."
Removing his hand, Anakin leaned back against the pillow. Obi-Wan had never let him touch for very long. Anakin wondered it would be like, if Obi-Wan just relaxed and let Anakin touch him as long as he wanted. In as many places as he wanted. Just fingers and smooth skin.
Anakin clasped his hands behind his head, reflecting on that strange desire to touch Obi-Wan. It bordered on absurdity that it persisted even after Anakin had married the most beautiful woman in the entire galaxy. All those helpful sexual education datapads Obi-Wan had given him during early adolescence had said young boys were apt to develop a stray sexual fascination for an older man they respected. None of them had imparted any wisdom on what to do when that stray sexual fascination persisted at age twenty-two.
Obi-Wan finally lay down, his back still Anakin. He pulled the sheets over himself and curled his legs a bit. Anakin could have easily rolled over and spooned him, but he already knew how badly that would go. The three feet of empty mattress between their bodies suddenly felt like an entire galaxy's worth of distance.
"Are we ever going to be like we were again, Obi-Wan?"
"I don't think we can be," Obi-Wan said after a brief span of eternity. "There's too much changing around us."
"And between us. And in us."
Anakin ran his fingers through Obi-Wan's auburn hair, trying to close the distance between them. Obi-Wan tilted his head away and grabbed his pillow tightly. It was an old, familiar act. Anakin would touch Obi-Wan; Obi-Wan pulled away. Anakin wondered if that could ever change.
"I'll miss you when I'm gone, too," Anakin whispered as the lights faded for the night cycle.
Obi-Wan didn't answer.
Anakin felt as if he were trapped in a bubble – a large, metal bubble, but a bubble nonetheless. Between all the technical problems on the Nitrasse Lunar Observation Center and Obi-Wan's moodiness, Anakin felt alone. He busied himself with repairing the space station, though he wondered if he'd been assigned to this "mission" solely because they knew he did good mechanical work.
After finding a working audioplayer, Anakin was able to at least put on some music. It was a drastic improvement over the sound of the vents filtering in recycled air, which had been Anakin's previous background noise. Obi-Wan scowled as soon as the audioplayer was put on, as Anakin's taste in music tended to be both louder and more metallic than he preferred. Anakin waited for him to complain, but he never did.
Obi-Wan spent most of his time in the data tower, collecting what information the systems were willing to spit out before crashing. Anakin had "ordered" him to do it, but he'd felt ridiculous. Regardless of his position for this mission, Obi-Wan was still his Master.
Anakin would have given his right arm – or rather, what was left of it – to be able to walk around in fresh air. Unfortunately, all that was within walking distance was the vacuum of space, which rather put his aspirations of clearing his head aside – space would clear out a lot more than his head. The water had the peculiar tang of being recycled, the air had the powdery odor that was commonly used in spaceship filters, and there was no room to walk around. After a week of working on faulty computers and rickety power systems, Anakin felt like he might burst out of his skin.
Deciding he needed a break, Anakin left the main computer terminal ripped apart and headed down to the small galley. He found Obi-Wan sitting at the round metal table, working on a plate of fari and greens. Obi-Wan was reading from a datapad, seemingly absorbed. Anakin fixed himself a plate of food as well and sat across from Obi-Wan. When Obi-Wan didn't acknowledge him, Anakin realized it was up to him to break the silence – it always was.
"So… what are you reading?" asked Anakin.
"Nothing that would interest you."
"It's a sociopolitical examination of the events that led to the internecine war of the Trans-Jubal War three hundred years ago."
Anakin blinked. "I'm sorry, you lost me right around the word 'it's'."
"This is boring, isn't it?"
"I happen to find it fascinating."
"No, I mean this." Anakin waved around the room for emphasis with his fork; his greens were attached to the end. A bit of sauce spilled onto Obi-Wan's hand. He licked it off, distracting Anakin with the movement of his tongue.
"I like it. It's a nice change of pace from having to carve up something with our lightsabers or having to dodge detonators," said Obi-Wan.
"It would be less boring if you talked with me."
"I'm talking to you now."
"No, I mean talked with me. We could do something together while we're waiting for systems to reboot. Something interesting."
"Anakin, you know as well as I do that anything you deem interesting – which will probably involve sparring – is a very bad idea on a cramped space station like this."
"I'm not suggesting we spar. I was thinking we could play Dejarik or something."
"If you ever want to get off this space station, we'd better focus on our objective of collecting data and not on playing games."
It was Anakin's turn to sigh. "We get free time."
"If it were my mission –" Obi-Wan stabbed at a piece of fari with his fork. "– I would want to get it done as quickly as possible."
"I'm not as eager to get rid of you as you are of me."
Obi-Wan dropped his fork onto his plate. His eyes seemed very light, the blue standing out drastically against his dark eyelashes. "If that's what you think, then you really don't know me at all."
He walked out of the galley before Anakin could stop him.
Anakin wanted to touch Obi-Wan. He wanted to bridge that yawning chasm widening between them. He wanted to have their old camaraderie back, all the simple joys they'd shared before Padmé had come back to Anakin's life. Anakin didn't regret marrying her in secret, but it seemed like she was the pin upon which he and Obi-Wan's relationship had turned sour.
Getting that close to Obi-Wan wasn't so easy. Obi-Wan kept his sleep cycle short, so that he went to bed after Anakin feel asleep and woke up before Anakin did. He spent most of his time locked in the data tower, and every time Anakin tried to get close to him, he found somewhere else to stand. The only way to touch him would have to be obvious, and Anakin wasn't willing to be that obvious yet.
A routine quickly developed. Anakin would wake up, eat breakfast, and then start work on one of the systems. After usually discovering anywhere from five to fifteen new problems he would have to fix, he'd break for lunch. Obi-Wan sometimes ate with him, sometimes he didn't. Most of the time he was unresponsive to conversation. Anakin would go back to work until dinner, eat, then exercise before a shower. Since the HoloNet was not up and running yet, Anakin usually meditated then went to bed. Lather, rinse, and repeat the next day.
Being locked up in a tiny space station with a recalcitrant human being was difficult. Anakin found himself forgetting what it felt like to stand under the sun or breathe fresh air. Pure water was a distant memory, as well as the war he'd been fighting less than three weeks ago. He longed for Padmé, but he didn't dare contact her for fear Obi-Wan would overhear their conversation. He couldn't run or spar or hardly think. He spent his entire time tripping over wires, broken conduits, and Obi-Wan, who stole away the moment he got too close. Anakin couldn't do anything, it seemed.
He began to wonder if the point of the mission was to not go insane.
Anakin had just finished a lukewarm shower and decided to check on the power terminal he'd been reformatting all day long. Taking his towel with him to dry his hair, he padded down to the main information center in his sleeping pants.
To Anakin's surprise, Obi-Wan was there, sipping at a steaming mug of caf and staring out the window. He'd taken a shower before Anakin, so his hair was still wet, and his thin sleeping clothes clung to his still-damp skin. He didn't turn around when Anakin walked in.
"Hey," said Anakin, walking up next to him.
Obi-Wan cast him a glance. "Hello."
"I'm surprised to see you up here."
"This room has the largest observation window. It's helpful to see there's more to things than this tiny little metal ball we're stuck in."
"It's driving you laserbrained, too?"
Obi-Wan took another sip of his caf. "I feel like we should be doing something. I know we are, but it doesn't feel like it. Maybe it's because nothing works properly."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. I feel cut off from everything." Anakin propped his hip up on the ledge and crossed his arms. "I keep dreaming we've been here forever and we'll be here forever."
"It is a bit of a prison. No doubt why Master Ki-Adi-Mundi chose this mission."
"You mean you don't know for sure?"
Obi-Wan shook his head. "My only job is to support you and report on your progress to the Council when we return."
Anakin inched closer to him. Obi-Wan smelled like soap. He was always so neat and clean. To Anakin, he was like water itself – purity embodied, essential to life, but utterly mystifying in temperament.
"Be nice if you actually, you know, supported me," Anakin said, forcing himself back to the conversation.
"What do you think I've been doing up in the data tower this past week and a half?"
"Hiding. From me."
"I'm not hiding."
"Yes, you are. And I want to know why." Anakin leaned into Obi-Wan's space. Obi-Wan tilted his head away, trying to cover the action by sipping at his mug of caf. "What's so scary about me?"
"You're acting ridiculous."
"You've been like this ever since we met Padmé again. I mean, even after I become a Jedi Knight, we can still be friends, can't we?" Anakin's fingers itched to stroke Obi-Wan's bare arms, but he sensed this wasn't the right moment.
"Maybe. Things will be different then."
"How will things be different? I'm still the same person. So are you. We've been working as a team for a while now, and the last couple of years, I think we've been more partners than anything. We're fighting a war together."
"It will be different. Less clear. Complicated."
"What would be so complicated?"
Anakin stared into Obi-Wan's face, tilting his head. Obi-Wan stared back. He was handsome, but his eyes were beautiful. They were large, changing from blue to gray with his mood – in some lights they even looked green. At that moment, they seemed a sky blue. Obi-Wan's tongue darted out, swiping over his bottom lip. Anakin stared at his mouth.
Knocking Obi-Wan's mug of caf aside, Anakin closed the space between them. He kissed Obi-Wan quickly, before the other man could escape. He tasted the rich, sweet taste of caf on Obi-Wan's lips. Heat instantly rose between them. Anakin had never been brave enough to do this before, to risk everything for an expression of affection.
There was a muted tinkle of Obi-Wan's mug on the floor and then Obi-Wan's fingers ran through Anakin's hair. His lips moved against Anakin's hungrily. Emboldened by the reaction, Anakin slipped his tongue into Obi-Wan's mouth. He'd never actually kissed a man before. It didn't seem any different from kissing a woman, but for the scratch of Obi-Wan's beard against his chin. The feel of Obi-Wan gently sucking on his tongue went straight to his groin. Anakin moved closer and grabbed Obi-Wan's arms.
It was as if he'd broken a spell. Obi-Wan suddenly jerked away, wheeling backwards so quickly that he tripped over a power cord and nearly fell flat on his ass. He saved himself by clutching onto a nearby computer terminal. His eyes were very wide as he steadied himself.
Anakin reached out, but Obi-Wan shook his head. He licked his lips, staring at Anakin with what could only be described as alarm.
"We shouldn't have done that," he said. He walked away without another word.
Anakin sighed and leaned back against the window ledge. He stared down at the floor, watching the pool of brown liquid around Obi-Wan's cracked mug glitter in the weak light. He cleaned it up when he couldn't stand to look at it any longer.
Obi-Wan spent the night in the data tower.
If Anakin hadn't already believed in miracles, he would have when the observation center suddenly came to life in a single rush of energy. He cried out in joy as the computers started to hum with activity and stood up, grinning as he surveyed his handiwork. Finally, he could start getting more information on Nitrasse and get out of this tiny, metal hell he was trapped in.
As the data rolled in – some fed by Obi-Wan from the data tower – Anakin set about organizing it within the computer, trying to determine what exactly was the unusual activity on Nitrasse and where it was. With luck, he could get this done by the end of the day.
As Anakin watched Obi-Wan's carefully recorded and restored data strings appear on the terminal, he wondered what Obi-Wan was thinking. He hadn't seen him since the night before, when they'd kissed.
Obi-Wan drove Anakin crazy. He didn't believe in Anakin or trust him, but sometimes it felt like he might care about Anakin. And perhaps it was that affection, buried so deeply within Obi-Wan, which Anakin sought. Anakin wanted Obi-Wan to believe in him. He wasn't sure if it was possible, but he couldn't give up, not yet. He had to try to bring Obi-Wan back.
Anakin turned his face and stared out of the transparisteel window, down at the red planet of Nitrasse. He'd already lost his mother, and the war was eating the entire Jedi Order alive – everyone was on edge. He couldn't afford to lose Obi-Wan, especially now.
With a sigh, Anakin turned his attention back to his computer terminal. Just as he did so, the glow of the screen started fade. In another second, the lights winked out – not just the computer's lights, but the entire information center's lights. Anakin started pushing buttons and reached down to check the wires, but nothing seemed to be wrong.
In the darkness, he thought he felt something move.
"Master?" Anakin called. "Is that you?"
He suddenly felt a flare of danger through the Force that sent him running towards the wall, blindly diving for cover as the computer terminal he'd just been standing at exploded in a burst of light so bright that Anakin's eyes were dazzled.
A serpentine voice cursed in Huttese; Anakin instantly recognized it as belonging to the bounty hunter who'd cut his arm on Kildar. Alarmed, Anakin crept towards the exit, away from the noise. He still couldn't see, but he could feel his way through the Force. Several questions burned for answers within him, but he didn't want to give away his position by asking them.
A blaster bolt struck a console right by his head, warming his cheek as it passed by. Anakin sucked in his breath, swallowing his own string of Huttese curses. His lightsaber was in the bedroom – it hadn't occurred to him to wear it while fixing the computer terminal.
"You can't sssee me, human, but I can sssee you," hissed the bounty hunter. Anakin couldn't sense him at all, which was odd. A half-formed memory of Anakin's Xenobiology courses surfaced; there were some races that were nearly invisible to the Force, sensed only by someone completely centered.
Another blaster bolt sailed past Anakin, this time scorching his arm. He cried out in pain despite himself, the hot flash ruining any chance he had of centering himself in the Force. Contorting his body backwards, he managed to avoid another blast aimed for his head. He could only sense danger in the Force, not its source. He ducked behind a free-standing console. He was a couple of meters from the exit, but moving there would put him out in the open. And if the bounty hunter could see him – and it certainly seemed he could – there was a decent chance Anakin would be killed.
"Who sent you?" Anakin demanded, since the bounty hunter already knew his position.
The bounty hunter snorted in laughter. "Sssith Lordsss pay well for a Ssserentarian to rid them of their Jedi problemsss. You essscaped me on Kildar, but you won't get away thisss time."
Anakin couldn't hear anything moving in the room, oddly enough. But if this bounty hunter was truly a Serentarian, it made sense. Anakin remembered them well from Mos Espa – a snake-like race of humanoids who excelled at stealth. The Hutts had been fond of hiring them. As wrapped up as Anakin had been in working on the computer terminals, he wouldn't have been able to detect a Serentarian ship, even while it docked. The ships were as silent and deadly as their makers.
The dazzle from the explosion had faded, and the starlight shining through the observation window gave Anakin enough light to see by. The bounty hunter was well-hidden in the shadows, but Anakin could see the exit now. He had to get to it if he was going to survive this. He only hoped there wasn't another hunter on the space station who was attacking Obi-Wan. He reached out through the Force to find out if Obi-Wan was safe, but a sudden burst of blaster fire destroyed his concentration.
"Come, human. Do what you will, so we can end thisss, one way or the other."
Anakin repressed a sigh and concentrated on the exit. He crouched low, ready to spring towards it. Danger surrounded him in the Force, but it ebbed and flowed. If Anakin moved when the danger was less acute, he might survive the escape.
Anakin darted forward, and rapid blaster fire dazzled his eyes again. He twisted as quickly as he could, trying to avoid the bolts. He hit the floor as he dived, sensing a bolt coming for his chest. Struggling to move fast enough to avoid it, Anakin jerked back, and –
– fell through the open door.
A burst of light blinded Anakin completely, but he heard the comforting thrum of a lightsaber swinging through the air. A sharp, almost metallic screech told him that the blaster bolt had been neatly deflected. Anakin felt Obi-Wan step over him and move into the room, blocking each blaster bolt coming his way. A moment later, there was a squeal – almost like that of some sort of swine – and a loud thump. The lightsaber thrumming ended, and the danger in the Force faded away.
Anakin's vision slowly returned to him. He sat up, blinking rapidly.
Obi-Wan crouched beside him and rested a hand on his shoulder. "Are you all right?" he asked. Anakin could not only hear concern in Obi-Wan's voice, but as his eyes cleared, he could see it in Obi-Wan's face.
"I'm fine. Thank you."
Obi-Wan frowned and glanced at Anakin's arm. It wasn't until Anakin looked down at it that it started hurting again. He winced.
"Come on," Obi-Wan said, pulling Anakin to his feet. "Let's get that wound treated."
Despite the fact that he'd nearly been killed, Anakin suddenly felt on top of the galaxy – Obi-Wan was back with him, concerned about him, touching him. It was as it should be.
The Nitrasse Lunar Observation Center's emergency lights cast an orange pallor over everything. Anakin sat quietly on the bed, staring at the shadows clinging to the corner of the room, away from the sickly glare of the light. They were oddly comforting.
After bandaging his arm, Obi-Wan had ordered him to get some rest. It was clear that Anakin wasn't in charge of the mission any longer, but for once, Anakin didn't care. At least Obi-Wan was talking to him.
The door to the bedroom slid open and Obi-Wan stepped in. "The Serentarian destroyed our ship, and his is only outfitted for one person, so I just sent out a distress signal. A Republic cruiser will be here within twelve hours to pick us up. We have enough life support until then."
"What about the mission?"
"Pointless. The data has been fried. Besides, the Jedi Council already knows that the activity on Nitrasse is seismic."
"What?" Anakin sat bolt upright. "What the kark was the point of the mission if you already knew?"
Obi-Wan met Anakin's gaze, his face a mask of calm. "To test your patience."
Anakin threw himself back against the pillows, ignoring the pain in his arm. "Let me guess. I failed."
"Actually, I'm recommending you go through the Trials."
As quickly as the anger had come, it was washed away by a sense of gratitude. "You are?"
"Even though…" Anakin trailed off and licked his lips, embarrassed to speak of their kiss aloud. It seemed so private, despite the fact that they'd shared the incident.
Obi-Wan sat down beside Anakin, staring at the blank wall ahead of him. "Even though," he answered.
Anakin burned to know what Obi-Wan thought of the kiss. He had kissed Anakin back, and for a moment, had seemed quite happy to do so. Yet, Anakin couldn't force the question past his teeth. Perhaps it was because he doubted Obi-Wan would answer him truthfully.
After a long silence, Anakin gathered his courage and ran his fingers across Obi-Wan's beard. When Obi-Wan didn't react, he gently turned Obi-Wan's head so he could see his face. Obi-Wan's gaze remained fixed on the wall.
Anakin knew Obi-Wan had initially responded truthfully when Anakin had first kissed him. Would he respond that way again, or would he push Anakin away? Deciding to see for himself, Anakin leaned forward and brushed his lips along Obi-Wan's. A sudden feeling took hold of him, much like the sense that had once warned him of sandstorms on Tatooine. He drew back a little, waiting for Obi-Wan's response.
Obi-Wan finally looked at him. His eyes were a smoky blue, his expression naked. He hesitated only for a moment before drawing Anakin closer. His kiss was gentle and quiet, but full of strength. Anakin kissed back and drew Obi-Wan down on the bed next to him.
Fingers tangled in hair and limbs wound around the other. Clothes were quickly stripped off so that bare flesh could slide along bare flesh. For the first time outside of Padmé's arms, Anakin felt at peace, even when his body shuddered in pleasure. What was difficult and complicated became simple for a time. When it was done, Obi-Wan lay quietly next to him, his eyes closed. Anakin stroked Obi-Wan's back, basking in the intimacy.
"The Council decided to keep us together, as a team," Obi-Wan suddenly said. "No matter whether you pass your Trials or not. We're to be assigned to the Outer Rim next."
Anakin paused. A sudden relief washed over him. A part of him wanted to be free from Obi-Wan's shadow, but the other part knew he wouldn't make it through this war without Obi-Wan at his side. "When did you find out?"
"A couple of hours ago, when I sent the distress signal to the Jedi Council."
Anakin smiled and resumed stroking Obi-Wan's skin. "I'm glad we'll be together."
Obi-Wan smiled, though his eyes remained close. "As am I."
Pleased by Obi-Wan's response, Anakin kissed Obi-Wan's lips and lay back on the bed to sleep until they were rescued.
"You seem… different."
Anakin looked up at Padmé. She stood by the open window of her bedroom, wearing only a sheer robe. A night breeze rustled her long, curled hair and sent the delicate cloth hugging her body aflutter. Anakin could see her tantalizing outline and wondered if she'd come back to bed with him soon.
"Did you hear me?" Padmé asked, frowning.
Anakin sighed. Padmé seemed more in the mood to talk than make love to him again. He rolled over onto his side and propped his head up with his cybernetic hand. "Yes. Different how?"
"Like you… made peace with something, but that peace isn't something you fully trust or expect to last long. Is it because you were made a Jedi Knight?"
Anakin traced a circle over the white cloth of Padmé's bed, trying to think of how to answer to Padmé's question. The Trials had gone simply enough when he and Obi-Wan had returned to Coruscant, but becoming a Jedi Knight seemed so natural that he couldn't equate the difference in his feeling to that. He knew what Padmé sensed was related to the change in his relationship with Obi-Wan, but he wasn't sure if he should tell her – or even what to tell her.
"Obi-Wan and I, we… resolved some differences, I guess." That wasn't strictly true, but it wasn't a lie, either. Sex with Obi-Wan seemed to ease a bit of the tension. When Obi-Wan let Anakin touch him, Anakin felt closer to him, more secure. He didn't know how long Obi-Wan would allow the intimacy to continue, but Anakin planned on enjoying it while he could.
Padmé smiled. "That's good, Anakin. Very good. When you're not here, with me, you're always with him. Let him take care of you – he'll keep you safe for me, I know he will."
Anakin looked up into Padmé's beautiful face. She seemed so perfect to him. Would she even understand how he felt about Obi-Wan, what this change meant for him and Obi-Wan, that he still loved her as much as he had and always would? "He's not my caretaker any longer."
"I know. But he's your best friend. Friends take care of each other."
"You're right. … You know, when Obi-Wan and I were on that space station, it felt like we were in a dream. Like nothing else was real in the galaxy, like it was just the two of us. I felt so cut off, even from you, and he was all I had." Anakin fell silent, wondering if Padmé understood, if she knew.
Padmé only looked away, turning back to the starless Coruscant sky behind her. "I suppose, when you're out there, he is all you have. But when you're here, Anakin, you're with me. And that's what matters."
Anakin stood up and wrapped his arms around Padmé. Her small body warmed him to the core. He smiled into her rose-scented hair and held her tight. "I'm here now. And I'm with you."
Padmé stroked his arms and leaned back into his touch. "I know, Anakin. I know."
Anakin ran his fingers through his wet hair as he hurried out of the air taxi. He'd taken a quick shower before leaving Padmé's apartment to meet Obi-Wan at the small transport waiting to take them aboard a Republic cruiser bound for the Outer Rim. He'd be gone from Padmé for months, but he'd made his peace with that. He'd have Obi-Wan with him.
Obi-Wan stood by the whirring transport, the wind from the other ships taking off from the landing pad whipping his robes about his legs. His gaze seemed steady and clear, and perhaps it was Anakin's imagination, but he seemed warmer than usual.
"You ready?" Obi-Wan asked. He didn't ask Anakin where he'd been the night before; for that, Anakin was grateful.
Anakin grabbed Obi-Wan's arm, not caring who saw. He had to make sure Obi-Wan was still with him, that what had happened on the Nitrasse Lunar Observation Center wasn't a dream.
Obi-Wan neither pushed him away nor drew back. Instead, he stroked Anakin's fingers and tilted his head towards the transport. "Time to go, Anakin."
Anakin smiled and relaxed. It had been real, or at least the dream wasn't over yet. And Obi-Wan was with him, at least for now.
If it was a dream, Anakin only hoped he didn't wake too soon.