It was hot. Everything was hot, a mass of inferno that licked at his skin, working to consume him with a fervency that terrified him more than the fire itself. Soon, there would be nothing left. He was burning, being eaten away, and it hurt so terribly, but he couldn't cry out. He *wouldn't* cry out. He will die without begging for help, because his dignity will not allow that, even now.
Beneath the fire, hot tears leaked from his eyes, evaporating in the heat before they ever had the chance to fall.
This was his end
He wanted to escape. More than anything, he did, but there was something tangled about his legs, pulling him back down, back towards the fire. He couldn't flee the confines of his own mind, even as he felt hands on his shoulders, shaking him. There was a voice, soothing, but firm-
"Wake up, Anakin!"
With a final cry of denial, Anakin felt himself finally plunge back into awareness. No fire clung to him, and he *could* cry out. He *was* crying out. Here, there was nothing but the dark of a bedroom; a soft bed; and the quiet of night, interrupted only by his own harsh breathing. He was himself. Just himself, and not a man burning to death.
"Master?" he choked out, reaching out toward the form above him, expecting to be pulled up and away from the covers that were clinging restrictively.
"No, Ani. Obi-Wan is still away. You know that."
Anakin choked back the sudden lump rising in his throat. Obi-Wan had been gone for a week now on a mission to a Mid-Rim planet in order to mediate a border dispute. Anakin, his padawan of six months, had been unable to go-coming into the Order so late had already put him at a disadvantage. Obi-Wan had felt that he shouldn't miss any more classes until he was a little closer to being caught up.
"Was it another nightmare, Ani?"
Looking up into the kind face of Bant Eerin, Anakin had to admit that he felt horrible that she wasn't whom he wanted to see. She was kind-she had been wonderful to him over this past week, but she was not the person he wanted.
"I-can I call Obi-Wan?"
Bant blinked. "Obi-Wan will be home tomorrow night. The last time you talked to him, I heard him tell you that he was going to be very busy for these final few days. I—"
"He said I could call him!" Anakin protested, fisting his hands into the sheets. "He said I could!"
Anakin could never quite explain why he wanted his master—and Bant had certainly asked the first few times this had happened. Attachment, as he had come to learn, was forbidden in the Jedi Order, and so one master should have been as good a comfort for a nightmare as any other. Bant should have been sufficient... but she wasn't. She just wasn't.
Obi-Wan had tried to dissuade Anakin from making any attachment to him. At first, he had attempted to discourage Anakin from climbing into his bed when he had a nightmare or from snuggling up against his side when they were watching a holovid. The attempts were largely feeble and short-lived—though Obi-Wan could withstand fake tears and attempts at childish manipulation with a virtuosity that left Anakin often times looking very foolish, he had very few defenses against real hurt and pain... especially when the root of it was Anakin's longing for his mother.
Anakin suspected that was likely because Obi-Wan knew exactly what it felt like to lose a parent.
They both missed Qui-Gon.
Whatever the reason, Obi-Wan had eventually given in and allowed Anakin the comfort he wanted. It hadn't taken long for his master to become the one who held him when he had a nightmare. On occasion, he even let Anakin sit on his lap and cry after the other boys made fun of where he'd come from and how behind in his studies he was. There were even some times—most often if Anakin had experienced a hard day—when, after they got their training done, Obi-Wan would take them for a meal at Dex's Diner. That was just who Obi-Wan was: he was always there. He made things better.
But not now. Now, Obi-Wan was gone on a mission, and Anakin felt very, very alone.
"He won't be mad!"
Bant sighed. "Anakin—"
Anakin had a sneaking suspicion that Obi-Wan had left him with Bant largely because he worried about anyone else witnessing Anakin's growing attachment. The thought of what Mace Windu might say to him if he asked to call Obi-Wan after a nightmare was literally the stuff of nightmares itself. At least Bant was understanding—more than likely, Obi-Wan had probably hoped that she could calm Anakin's nighttime fears just as well as he himself could, thereby banishing a little of Anakin's growing attachment.
"It's not daytime on the part of the planet he's on anyway! I won't be interrupting anything!"
Looking a little overwhelmed, Bant ran her hand over her face. "Other than his sleep..."
"He won't mind!"
That wasn't entirely correct. Obi-Wan would likely be concerned by the fact that Anakin apparently couldn't make it through a nightmare without him, and while Anakin felt badly about the prospect of giving his master another thing to worry about, he knew that Obi-Wan wouldn't really be angry with him.
"We both know that isn't true. I—Anakin, attachment is forbidden for a Jedi. Master Obi-Wan would tell you this."
"He has," he muttered a little petulantly. "But he's still always there when I need him."
"Yes, he would be," Bant murmured, her features softening out a little. "That's Obi-Wan: always there when you need him, even if that may not be best in the long-term."
It wasn't nothing. It was likely something she'd talk with Obi-Wan about when he got back. Anakin knew those kinds of conversations—adult-only conversations. Sometimes his mother had engaged in them with the other neighborhood kids' parents. Usually, those conversations led to someone getting in trouble.
"Please, Master Eerin?"
He knew the moment that she gave in. Apparently, she was no more stalwart than Obi-Wan in matters like these.
Not really even waiting for a verbal confirmation, Anakin took off for the living area where Bant's comlink was. As soon as his hands closed around it, he began dialing Obi-Wan's number. His master would answer. He always did, even if he lectured after.
"Master?" he asked a little tentatively. "Master?"
A few moment's later, a rumpled looking Obi-Wan appeared on the screen. "Anakin?" Yawning, he ran a hand through his mussed hair in a futile attempt to straighten it. It had only just started growing out, but it had gotten long enough in the past six months for it to be a little messy. "Anakin, what could you possibly need at this hour?" he asked, crossing his arms over his chest. The motion wrinkled the robe that Anakin was sure he'd just thrown on.
Obi-Wan's words stung a little—he would have preferred a warmer greeting—but Anakin resolved not to let it show. "I had another nightmare, Master," he murmured, his tone sliding a little towards plaintive.
"Oh, Anakin." Not exasperation, but almost... sad. "Anakin, you know there's nothing I can do right now. Can't Bant help you through it? Bant, couldn't you help him meditate-release his anxieties to the Force?"
Sometime in the last few seconds, Bant had apparently come to stand behind him, peering over his shoulder. Anakin hadn't noticed her, but when he did, it was impossible not to see the weariness on her face.
Bant sighed. "Obi-Wan..."
Obi-Wan scrubbed a hand through his hair again. "All right. Anakin, I'll be home tomorrow. In the meantime, please just try to get some sleep?" When he received no confirmation, he added a beleaguered, "Yes, Padawan?"
Blinking back the tears that had suddenly formed in his eyes, Anakin gave a tiny nod. This wasn't what he wanted from Obi-Wan. He didn't know exactly what he expected, really, but this—it wasn't enough. "Yes, Master."
Anakin thought his answer sounded acceptable, but Obi-Wan just sighed, brow wrinkling. Detection of Anakin's hurt wasn't uncommon with Obi-Wan anymore, nor was, Anakin had found, the way his demeanor seemed to soften in the face of that hurt. "Anakin, I know it's hard, but please just *try*," he said quietly, tired affection seeping through into his voice.
"Yes, Master." It still wasn't enough, but at least now Obi-Wan sounded like he cared for *Anakin*, and not just about finding a quick solution to Anakin's *problems*. It was a bit better, anyway.
"Good. I'll see you tomorrow, Anakin."
The comlink shut off.
"Try to do what he says, Anakin?" Bant asked quietly from behind him. "He told you to try to sleep."
Anakin gave another tiny nod and wiped his nose on his sleeve. His master would tell him not to do that if he were here, that it was a waste of clothing, and that he shouldn't dirty it like that... but his master was *not* here, and that line of thinking only made him wish even more that Obi-Wan was. He missed him enough to even desire a scolding, so long as it was in person.
"You shouldn't be this attached to him, Anakin."
"I-I'm not attached! I just want to see him!"
His words sounded foolish even to his own ears, but how could he possibly explain that ever since he'd left his mother, he hadn't felt safe any time other than when Obi-Wan was there? His mother wasn't around to tell him that it was all right-that was Obi-Wan's job now, and even if he wasn't quite as good as Anakin's mother, Anakin was pretty well satisfied with him.
"He's your master, Anakin-not your father." Bant's words were said kindly, but the message was still very clear.
Anakin wasn't about to concede his opinion so easily. "Why can't the Jedi have parents? My mom always made me follow the rules and stuff! Isn't that what the Jedi do for the entire universe? They make the bad guys follow the rules!"
Bant took a deep breath. "It isn't the same thing. If we are attached to other people, that can stop us from doing our duty correctly. Our emotions will cloud our judgment."
"But can't love give us strength?"
"The Jedi's strength comes from the Force. We do not draw strength from our emotions, because they are too unstable and likely to change. Love *can* give us strength, but it can also destroy us. The Force is far more consistent."
Maybe it was, but Anakin thought that Bant sounded like she was reciting a well-practiced answer. He didn't think that he agreed anyway. Love was everything that was good about the world. His mother had always told him so, and she was never wrong.
"So, you don't love Obi-Wan?" he asked, allowing her to guide him back to his room and into bed.
Bant's hand stilled over the blankets as she moved to tuck him in. "He is my dear friend, but if he were to die tomorrow, I would continue on with my life."
"So why can't that be love? If you can let him go even if you love him, why is that forbidden?"
"Because very few people can love like that, Anakin. It is the nature of any creature to want to hold on to what they care for most. Love is both the most selfless and the most selfish of emotions: it can drive people to do terrible things. And those things—well, sometimes, the protection of a loved-one comes at a cost that can be far too high."
"My mother always said that loving someone was wanting what was the very best for them. That doesn't sound selfish to me."
"I-it's complicated, Anakin," she murmured as she pulled the blanket up and over his body. "But imagine if someone killed Obi-Wan. How would you feel?"
"I'd... feel very upset. Sad. I'd want him back."
"And I expect you'd be very angry at the person who killed him, wouldn't you?"
Anakin paused. Yes, he supposed he would. Was that what the Jedi were afraid of? Were they afraid that love could make people turn to anger? If that was the only reason they banned loved, then that just seemed… stupid. He couldn't understand it. Just last week, he'd seen two of his classmates get in a fight because one bested the other in a sparring match. Should the Temple forbid sparring matches because they could create those feelings? *Anything* could create angry feelings.
"Yes, I suppose," he conceded. But the point was already set in his mind. This ban on love was foolish.
Bant nodded and gave him a light pat on the head. "Goodnight, Anakin. Obi-Wan can explain it to you further when he gets home tomorrow."
Yes, he would, Anakin decided as he curled into his pillow and prepared to try and sleep again. Obi-Wan *would* explain it further, because Anakin was not satisfied with the explanation he'd received so far. Truthfully, he doubted he'd be any more satisfied with Obi-Wan's take on the subject than he was with Bant's insight.
"Anakin, Obi-Wan will be home later tonight. Just try to go back to sleep until then."
It had been the same dream as the night before. There had been so much fire-so much heat, and he'd been burning, burning, *burning*.
"I c-can't, Bant! I-I'm sorry," he choked out, trying to hold back his sobs. He wanted his mother most of all, but if he couldn't have her, his master was the next best thing. But Obi-Wan wasn't here either, and Anakin so desperately wanted him to be. Now. He wanted him *now*. "The nightmares-I-I just want to see m-my m-master-"
What if he truly ended up dying like that? What if he burned to death? Why did he keep dreaming about it? Why? All he wanted to know was why, and how he could stop it. It was just—it was *terrifying*.
A sound at the door startled him enough to shake him out of his near-panic.
"In that case, Anakin, I suppose you're in luck," a tired voice declared. "Your master is back, in need of sleep and desiring a good meal, but here nonetheless."
And he was. Obi-Wan was standing in the doorway of the bedroom. There were dark circles under his eyes and a weariness in his posture, but he was *there*, and he was smiling.
"Master!" Sleep instantly became a distant memory, and an even more distant possibility.
Obi-Wan caught him with a soft "omph" when Anakin hurled himself into his master's arms hard enough to force him to take a few steps back. "I-Master, I was burning, and choking, and I thought I was going to *die*-"
His master felt so solid under his arms. He was so *real*. The flames couldn't get Anakin here, and he knew that was an illogical line of thought, but he just felt so much safer.
Carefully, Obi-Wan reached down and picked him up, letting Anakin wrap his arms around his neck and hold on. "It was only a dream, padawan," he murmured gently as Anakin buried his face against Obi-Wan's neck, finally letting his sobs spill out. "Just a dream."
"M-Master, I was b-burning-"
"Hush, Anakin, I know."
How? How could he know? Had he seen it through their bond? Had Obi-Wan seen his dreams through their bond?
"What if it ac-actually h-happens?" he choked out, closing his fists in Obi-Wan's tunic. His master's hair and skin smelled good, sort of masculine, with just a hint of sweat. It didn't smell like Mom, but it was still comforting, and he inhaled deeply. It reminded him of home. Not his home on Tatooine, but just... home. "What if I die like that?"
"It's just a dream, Ani," Obi-Wan reassured him again, running a gentle hand through his hair before settling it on his back, rubbing gentle circles.
It was calming.
Bant's soft voice interrupted them. "Obi-Wan, we need to talk." There was a tinge of stress in her voice; Anakin was sure she was going to talk about how difficult he'd been. He hadn't meant to be—he'd really tried very hard to be good. It was only at night that he had been a problem...
Obi-Wan nodded. "All right. Let me put Anakin to bed first."
She glanced at Anakin, lips pursing. "I-Obi-Wan-"
"I'm putting him to bed, Bant," he replied, finality in his voice.
Bant didn't protest, but as Obi-Wan carried him towards the bedroom, Anakin was sure that he saw something close to frustration on her face. He didn't understand the people here. No one. Not even Obi-Wan, really. Why were they all so set against attachment? If Qui-Gon hadn't died, would Obi-Wan be the same way? Except, he'd loved Qui-Gon, Anakin was pretty sure, so maybe he was always like this.
Anakin hugged him a little harder.
"Force, Anakin, stop squeezing," his master told him shortly as they walked into Anakin's sleeping quarters. "You're too big for me to be carrying anyway."
"You say that, but I'm not sure you listen."
A tired sigh escaped Obi-Wan's mouth as he set Anakin down on the bed, pushing him back until he settled down against the pillows. There was a reprimand in his words-an only partially spoken one—but the weariness in his voice took the bite out of it. Instead, he just ended up sounding a little helpless… sort of lost, like he didn't quite know what to do.
"Master, I'm sorry-"
He was silenced when Obi-Wan reached out and gave his braid a gentle tug. His frustration and exhaustion were still there, but Anakin could see something else in his eyes, too: he wasn't angry at *Anakin*, but merely worn out by the situation. "No, Anakin. You-you were raised to look at things this way. To change so quickly-no one could expect it of you."
Anakin began to fiddle with the corner of his blanket, pulling at it with his small fingers, just so that he wouldn't have to meet his master's eyes. "But everyone *does*."
"They just don't understand you, and their lack of understanding makes them intolerant. It's not intentional."
The blanket suddenly seemed far less interesting: he abandoned it in favor of looking up at Obi-Wan instead. "Do *you* understand me?"
"Not always. But I'm trying."
"I-Master-I'm sorry I called you. But the nightmares-I was scared, and I just-just wanted-" He'd wanted Obi-Wan... and he still did. He felt safe when Obi-Wan was around, and it seemed completely natural to wrap his arms around Obi-Wan's waist and lean in against him. Anakin had always done what came naturally to him, and so that was exactly what he did now. But when Obi-Wan stiffened, he knew he'd been wrong. Jedi didn't do this.
Then, Obi-Wan hugged back. "I know your nightmares are bad, Anakin. I know. And I'm sorry, but eventually you're going to have to learn to deal with them on your own."
No, he wouldn't. Obi-Wan was always going to be there, and as much as his master protested, Anakin was beginning to see that he would *continue* to be there.
"Anakin, are you listening to me?"
Obi-Wan ran a hand through his copper hair. "Anakin, why do I get the impression that you're hearing without really listening?"
"I *am* listening, Master!" he protested earnestly, pulling a little at Obi-Wan's tunic. "I promise!"
"Yes, but do you *understand* what I say?"
Obi-Wan still didn't look anywhere close to convinced. Anakin wasn't surprised. Obi-Wan always was good at discerning when he was lying.
"I'm just glad you're home, Master." And he was. Glad enough to show it by continuing to pull at the cloth of Obi-Wan's tunic. Obi-Wan would understand that meant he liked him, right? He wouldn't be doing that with someone he didn't like—he'd be punching them or something, and he definitely wouldn't be hugging them. Plus, he liked the feel of Obi-Wan's clothing anyway. It reminded him of his own clothes on Tatooine-rough, practical, and without decoration. This, at least, felt like home. "I want to go with you next time. I can help! You'll see. It'll be wizard!"
Obi-Wan ducked his head and looked away, though Anakin could see the beginnings of an amused smile tugging at the corners of his lips. "Yes, well, we'll see. For now, I need to go speak with Master Eerin. Try to get some sleep, all right?" It was by no means a suggestion, but rather a hopeful command, and as Obi-Wan slipped off the bed, pausing to rest his hand very briefly on the crown of Anakin's head in an affectionate gesture, Anakin decided that he'd try to obey it. After all, he did want to make Obi-Wan proud, and he was thankful to his master for bothering to be there when he needed him.
"Yes, Master," he replied, meaning it this time.
Obi-Wan gave him a tired smile. "Thank you, padawan."
As soon as Obi-Wan was gone, Anakin did his best to keep his promise; he curled up in his blankets and buried his face in his pillows, attempting to will himself to sleep. He was tired, since the nightmares had been keeping him awake. Surely, he could drop off to sleep. He could...
Any chance he had of sleeping was banished when he heard an angry exclamation in the general area where Bant and Obi-Wan were.
A good apprentice would simply roll over and forget that he'd heard anything. He would try to obey his master's command and go back to sleep. A good Jedi apprentice would certainly not consider slipping out of bed to listen at the door.
Carefully, Anakin slid out from under the covers and pressed his feet down onto the cold floor.
"Not right... Obi-Wan... against... not acceptable..."
He only caught bits and pieces until he slid the door open a few inches. Once he had, though, the rest of the conversation started making it through to him.
"Obi-Wan, you know this can't continue. Attachment is forbidden by the Jedi. You're not doing Anakin any favors."
"He's a little boy, Bant. He's had his mother all his life. How can it be fair to suddenly thrust him into a world where the kind of attachment he's always known is completely against the rules?"
"If he's going to be a Jedi, he might as well get used to it. When do you think it will be easier for him, Obi-Wan? The rules aren't going to change!"
"But Anakin will. He'll get better. He just needs time."
"Time? Time won't fix this, Obi-Wan. He's not going to miraculously wake up one day and decide that he no longer needs attachments. That's something he has to be taught!"
Obi-Wan's irritated sigh was loud enough that Anakin caught it. "How, Bant? By allowing a little boy to deal with terrifying nightmares on his own? I've seen his nightmares—they frighten *me*. How do you expect me to turn a blind eye to that?"
"I don't!" she replied, her voice rising in pitch, though not in volume. Clearly, she didn't want anyone besides Obi-Wan to hear. Too bad. Anakin wasn't going to turn away now. "I don't expect you to ignore it! But instead of letting him sleep with you, help him release his anxieties to the Force and then send him back to bed. Be a master, Obi-Wan—not a parent."
"There's an awfully fine line between the two." This time, Anakin could swear he was hearing a bit of anger in his master's voice.
"And you're not helping him by crossing it!"
"Anakin is not like other children!"
"He's going to have to learn to be!"
"You can't expect that so quickly. He's—!"
"Obi-Wan, seeing Anakin as a connection to Qui-Gon Jinn is not going to help you!"
Silence. Anakin's breath caught at the absence of sound, because he knew—just knew—how Obi-Wan's face would look right now, all closed down and emotionless. When he became silent like this, it was never good. The quieter he became, the angrier he was, and the angrier he was, the deeper he hid that emotion.
"Please leave, Bant."
"Obi, I didn't mean-"
Another short silence, and then, "I'm sorry."
"There's nothing to apologize for. You were only speaking what you thought."
"But I shouldn't have—"
"Thank you for watching Anakin, Bant."
A sigh, and then, "All right. You're welcome. Goodnight, Obi-Wan." In all honesty, Anakin couldn't deny the slight burst of pleasure he felt at hearing how sorry she sounded. She should be sorry for bringing up Qui-Gon like that. She was one of Obi-Wan's closest friends—she had to know, just like Anakin did, that references to Qui-Gon made Obi-Wan sad.
The sound of the door shutting reached Anakin's ears. Then, the noise of Obi-Wan's feet on the floor.
Inhaling sharply, Anakin rushed back to his bed and buried down under the covers. He didn't want Obi-Wan to think that he was eavesdropping. He hadn't really meant to, after all. He'd only wanted to hear what Bant was saying—
"I know you're not asleep, Anakin."
Anakin squeezed his eyes shut a little tighter. Once, Kitster had told him that if he couldn't see something, it couldn't see him either. Maybe if he concentrated real hard—
Or maybe not. "Master?"
A heavy sigh, and then the bed shifted under Obi-Wan's weight as he slipped down onto it. Anakin could feel his master's hip through the blankets, solid and comforting, and Anakin reached a small hand out from under the blankets and wrapped it around his master's wrist, trying to ignore how Obi-Wan felt stiffer than his mother did when he'd leaned in against her.
"We'll work on these nightmares, Padawan. We will. But Master Eerin is right—you need to work on facing them like a Jedi would."
Right? Like a Jedi? He felt like snorting, sort of like Kitster did when he thought something was absolute poodoo. He'd sure think this was. Anakin definitely did. "I do try!"
"Do or do not—"
"There is no try." Carefully, he scooted his body out from under the covers and sat up to look Obi-Wan in the face. "Yeah, I know. But, Master, in my dreams I'm burning, and I can't breathe, and you've seen—"
Obi-Wan sighed again and ran a hand through his hair—he was doing it a lot tonight—looking away at the opposite wall. "I have, Anakin. I know, but I won't always be here. You have to learn to deal with your fear on your own. I can teach you how to do that, but only you can learn it, and you won't do that by sleeping in my bed every time you have a nightmare."
"You can sleep in mine."
That at least earned him a small smile, although Obi-Wan looked as though he was trying very hard to be cross. "You know that's not what I meant, Padawan. Don't be cheeky."
"M'not! I mean it! I just—Master, the nightmares don't stop when I'm alone, and I do try to meditate, but it's not the same!"
Finally, Obi-Wan raised both hands and scrubbed them over his face. He only ever did that when he was really tired, and Anakin didn't want him to feel like that, but he didn't want his master to leave, either. Right now, he really kind of hated Bant. If she hadn't made Obi-Wan feel bad, none of this would have happened.
"We'll talk about this in the morning," Obi-Wan said finally. "I just—I need to go to sleep, Anakin."
Anakin tightened his grip on Obi-Wan's wrist. "Don't go!"
"Just for tonight? Please? You've been gone, and I don't want to burn again—" Already, his breath was hitching, just from thinking about it.
Obi-Wan could see that too. Anakin could tell, because his face sort of softened, and he looked even more tired than before. He obviously didn't want to argue, and Anakin didn't either, but he just—he needed Obi-Wan to stay. He missed his mom, and he couldn't miss Obi-Wan too. He couldn't miss them both. It'd just be too much.
And Obi-Wan knew, because he always did, and because he could never deny Anakin when he was truly hurting.
"I'll stay until you fall asleep," he agreed quietly.
A compromise. Obi-Wan was always talking about those. About how important they were. Except, Anakin knew this wasn't really a compromise: this was him getting what he wanted, because Obi-Wan wasn't going to leave.
Nodding, he shifted over in the bed and let Obi-Wan lie down next to him on top of the covers, like he was trying to prove he wasn't really staying. Although, maybe, just like Anakin, he knew how much of a lie that was, because he didn't protest that Anakin still had a firm grip on his wrist.
Twenty minutes later when Obi-Wan had drifted off and Anakin was still awake, that grip hadn't slackened. It was okay now, though: he could let go. Obi-Wan wasn't going anywhere, no matter what Bant said. Tomorrow would be the same, because even if Obi-Wan was a Jedi and said he didn't believe in attachment, he was still always there when Anakin needed him.
Someday, he'd learn to deal with his nightmares on his own. Someday.
But that day was not today.