Their battle seems to take a lifetime to end, but once it does Anakin feels the toll it's already taken deep in his bones, as he allows himself the luxury of catching his breath.
The air of Mustafar makes Tattoine seem like a paradise in comparison, and he'll be more than glad to be rid of it as soon as possible.
Not two meters away from where he stands, Obi-Wan lays unmoving against black stone and sand.
Anakin doesn't give his next few actions much thought. He simply does; a tactic he's always excelled at. He gathers up his old Master carefully in his arms, reaching out with the Force to pry open the unconscious man's shields and secure their old bond tightly, before quickly severing every other link Obi-Wan has to the Force.
He groans in relief even as Obi-Wan gasps in pain.
The journey back to the landing platform is silent, save for the roar of the fires that boil the air all around them. Anakin strides confidently up the ramp of the Naboo star skiff, past both Artoo and Threepio. Neither droid makes a move to stop him.
He lays Obi-Wan down on a bunk in the rear compartment, across from Padmé. His Padmé, he thinks. His Obi-Wan. Where he can keep them both safe. With one lingering touch to each, he makes his way into the cockpit.
Anakin enters the coordinates for Coruscant into the navicomputer, before switching the skiff to autopilot. He's eager to return to the back of the tiny craft. He can never stand to be alone for too long, after all.
For what seemed like an eternity within a place of soft emptiness, his mind and body felt as one. Is this death, he wondered. Was he now one with the Force, as Qui-Gon had always suggested he would be, once his end finally met him?
Instinctively, he reached out in search of his old Master. Perhaps, perhaps...but the seeking tendrils found nothing, save the quiet echo of a voice as Obi-Wan began to wake.
The Force is always with you. Be strong, Obi-Wan.
He wasn't sure that he could be. As Obi-Wan became dizzily conscious to his surroundings, he was only vaguely aware of being pulled from a bacta tank and laid upon an operating table. He shivered violently against the cold metal as he was toweled off, then injected in his shoulder with the Force only knows what. It sent molten fingers down his left arm, and he cried out pitifully as they crawled throughout his entire body, burning everything in their wake. His back arched as if to escape the flames coursing through him, but hands -- droid and humanoid alike -- held him fast.
His cries eventually settled into feeble whimpers as the pain subsided, and the molten fingers hardened in his veins. He fell back against the operating table of his own accord, suddenly feeling as though his entire body was too heavy to move.
A breathing mask was placed across the bottom of his face, and he was glad for it. He wasn't certain he could breathe on his own anymore. His chest felt like it was made of ferrocrete.
The various hands holding him down pulled away, save one. A flesh hand smoothed the hair from Obi-Wan's forehead, a soothing gesture incredibly at odds with such a sterile and impersonal place. He pressed into the warm, welcoming touch -- even going so far as to whine when it, too, finally lifted away.
The world faded along with it, and the welcome emptiness beckoned to him once more.
When he awoke a second time, Obi-Wan was much more aware of himself. Instead of cold metal beneath him, he felt the soft touch of bed sheets. Everything about him felt stiff and unused, and when he attempted to move, his head swam. He managed to shift a little beneath the heavy blanket atop him, every movement another nail jabbing into his skull. He would have lost himself blindly to that pain of waking, if a small hand hadn't stilled him.
"Careful, or you'll open up your wound again."
Obi-Wan cracked an eye open, immediately regretting it when the bedside light left spots dancing in his dark-accustomed eyes.
"Padmé?" he rasped.
The blurry figure flashed white teeth at him. As his vision adjusted, he began to make out large, brown eyes, and dark, curly hair. It fell messily around the Senator's head. In fact, her entire demeanor seemed remarkably unadorned compared to her usual haute appearance. Obi-Wan tried to place why that might be, but his brain was so fuddled he could barely string two words together.
He licked at his badly chapped lips. "Water?" he managed.
She nodded, leaning away for a moment. He heard the sounds of a pitcher being emptied before she straightened back up with a small cup in one hand, and helped Obi-Wan to sit up with the other.
"Thank you," he said, and lifted up his left hand to grab it from her...
...only to find it gone.
Shock lanced through him, and he lowered the stump back down deliberately slow. His arm (or at least, what remained of it) was wrapped down to elbow in medical dressings. It felt abnormally heavy, and hot to the touch when he wrapped his other hand around it. Memory followed soon after, swift and unforgiving.
That's right. This is Anakin's doing. Obi-Wan remembered--
the hot, choking ash of Mustafar; Anakin drunk with the power of the Dark Side; Padmé nearly dead upon the landing platform; their battle; his advantage.
Oh yes, that was something he knew even then would haunt him always. Anakin was far from a dullard when it came to tactics, some even called him a genius with them -- especially ones involved in lightsaber combat, like Sokan -- but at that moment, he was too blinded by his own rage to see that he'd been beat.
Obi-Wan had the higher ground, yet still Anakin leapt. The headstrong fool.
And Obi-Wan allowed his advantage to sieve through his fingers, like the black sands of that horrid planet.
He couldn't do it. He was weak and he knew the galaxy would suffer for it, but that hadn't mattered. He would not have Anakin Skywalker's blood on his hands. Even if they were already irreversibly stained by proxy from his former apprentice's actions, Obi-Wan still paused.
Did Anakin see his hesitation? Did he even care?
Anakin landed just short of him, and in that breath time stood still. His friend's Sith-sick eyes seemed to clear for a single, wonderful moment. They were as blue as the waters in the Room of a Thousand Fountains; a patch of the past amid the infernal present now swirling around them.
They'd both lowered their lightsabers -- Obi-Wan even dropped his when that tiny moment of hope fluttered before him.
He brought up his hand, and stepped toward Anakin. His dearest friend, his brother...if there was even a sliver of a chance he could bring him back, Obi-Wan would reach for it. He'd always been stubborn like that. He was so certain in that brief instance, and Anakin rewarded that optimism by bringing his 'saber up in a vicious uppercut, and slicing half of Obi-Wan's arm away...
"Obi-Wan? Obi-Wan! Hey!"
Obi-Wan blinked and found himself again in the room he'd woken up in, far away from the suffocating darkness of Mustafar. Padmé was shaking him with a terrified expression on her face.
Obi-Wan didn't realize he was shaking, nor that tears had sprung from his eyes, and were collecting in his beard. He took a shaky, gasping breath and willed himself to calm down. He couldn't understand why it was so much more difficult to achieve than usual.
"I'm-I'm fine." he finally said, once the shaking had run its course. He squeezed one of Padmé's hands comfortingly, and offered her what must have been a rather weak smile, if her face was any judge.
"No, you're not." she said simply.
Obi-Wan took in another breath, and let it out slowly. "I will be." he answered.
That seemed to satisfy her, and she leaned back into her seat beside the bed. She picked up the cup of water again and brought it to his mouth.
"Drink," she said.
Obi-Wan closed his lips around the edge, and swallowed gratefully. The cool liquid did wonders for his parched throat, and for his muzzy mind.
"Thank you," he repeated.
She placed the empty cup on the side table beside the pitcher. "Of course. Are you hungry?"
Obi-Wan shook his head, taking a moment to look around the room. It definitely wasn't a medical facility, judging by the lack of medical equipment..
"Where are we?" he asked.
"Coruscant," replied Padmé. "I'm not sure where on the planet exactly."
Obi-Wan's brow furrowed and he leaned back against his pillows. His back knotted uncomfortably beneath his sleep tunic with the movement. "How long have I been asleep?" he asked.
Padmé answered him with surprising calm. "Almost three weeks now."
Obi-Wan sat straight back up and gaped at her. "Weeks?" he repeated, incredulously. A few days, with a wound like this, he could understand, but weeks? "How?"
Padmé lifted her thin shoulders up and let them drop in one of the most informal reactions Obi-Wan had ever seen the young politician give.
"I'm not sure," she said apologetically. "It has something to do with the Force, that's all I know. At least, that's what Anakin tells me. He says...he had to sever your link to the Force. Apparently, the way it was done has very intense after-effects."
Obi-Wan hardly heard her words as his mind swirled with worry. Cut off from the Force...Was that why it took so much effort to calm himself? He allowed his awareness to expand, as he'd been taught to do as a youngling. He should have been able to immerse in that inherent power that had been his closest companion since birth, but all that greeted him was a block. Large, imposing, and completely impenetrable.
He'd never felt so helpless.
When he realized that Padmé was waiting for his reply, he spoke, his voice stiff and low. "Is he here as well?"
He must have let more of his unease seep into his voice then he intended, because Padmé shook her head, understanding immediately what he'd left unsaid.
"Not at the moment, and he won't be for a few hours yet," she answered reassuringly. "Sometimes, he's even gone for days." As she said that, however, her eyes glanced warily around the room.
Obi-Wan's did the same, spotting the tell-tale flash of a security holorecorder hidden in the paneling of one of the walls.
"He'll be back sooner then that." he said, matter-of-factly. He wondered if Anakin was even watching them right now, or already speeding his way over as they spoke.
Padmé nodded solemnly. "He'll be happy to see you awake."
Obi-Wan laughed caustically, so harsh and sudden that Padmé twitched in astonishment (she wasn't the type of person that would jump at any surprise).
"I'm sure," Obi-Wan continued. "He was perfectly delighted to see me on Mustafar, after all."
Padme's face hardened. "Actually, I believe I still need to speak to you about that."
Obi-Wan looked sidelong at her and sighed. "I'm not going to apologize. If I hadn't been there, Anakin could have killed you."
"He very nearly did, and you as well."
Obi-Wan tilted his head away from her deep gaze, suddenly unable to meet it. "So what is there left to talk about, then?"
"Would you prefer to act as if it never happened?" Padmé demanded coolly.
Obi-Wan pulled his knees up to his chest beneath the blanket and didn't answer her.
Padmé didn't miss a beat. "Whatever either of us wishes, there's nothing we can do to change what happened. We can only focus on what's to come. I shouldn't have gone off on my own, I'm sorry for that, but you should've asked before you stowed away upon my ship," she smiled ever so slightly. "It might have saved you an uncomfortable ride, at the very least."
Obi-Wan glanced at her and smiled into his knees. Senator Amidala had an uncanny ability to cut to the heart of any matter, yet enough compassion to try and make others comfortable with her bluntness. It was an odd combination indeed, but one Obi-Wan found rather refreshing.
"Alright, I apologize for stowing away. I'll make sure to ask your permission next time."
Padmé leaned forward in her chair. "See that you do," she stated in the overly monotone voice she'd used during her reign as Queen of Naboo. It threw them both into giggling fits. It felt good to laugh.
A chime echoed through the room, and Padmé stood, turning toward the door panel.
"He's never gotten back this quickly before."
She didn't need to say whom she meant.
The warmth of the last hour froze in Obi-Wan's chest, and he would've given anything in that moment to be able to melt into the wall, or even to simply close his eyes and pretend like none of this was happening. He never thought he could fear his own Padawan, the boy he'd raised since childhood, but the dread settling within him was as close to pure fear as one could get.
Padmé turned to him with one last reassuring look, "I won't leave you alone with him." she promised, just as the door slid open across from them.
The man who passed across the threshold was obviously Anakin, and yet not. Everything about him seemed ever so slightly off, like a picture hanging crooked. Obi-Wan couldn't figure out what it was. This man was still tall, and had to stoop slightly as he entered; still had that maddeningly tousled hair that couldn't seem to decide between blond or brunet; still had that scar across his eye, and that lopsided way of smiling when something pleased him. Even his voice sounded the same as he took wide, eager steps over to the bedside.
There was no malice in the words. None of that snarling, spitting hatred he'd witnessed on Mustafar. It was so eerily normal that Obi-Wan found himself unable to formulate an answer back.
He needn't have worried. Anakin didn't seem to care if he answered or not, at least for the moment. He pressed a quick kiss to Padmé's cheek (and even glanced at Obi-Wan as he did. Why? Did he expect him to be scandalized by one bloody kiss? He was chaste, but not that chaste) as he unclasped his cape. It was large, black, and excessively theatrical -- completely Anakin. He draped it across the back of her chair and took a seat himself.
"Honey, do you think you could get us something to drink?" he asked.
Padmé smiled sweetly and gestured to the side table, "Already did, dear."
"Try checking in the tureen. It's right there."
Anakin sighed. "Do you really need to be like this? Just go."
Padmé stood her ground. "I'd rather not, if it's all the same to you."
Obi-Wan felt a dark quiver in the room. Nearly imperceptible.
"Padmé--" Anakin warned softly.
"I'm staying, Anakin."
"No, you're not."
Padmé stepped closer, until she seemed to loom over Anakin. "I'm staying," she said with finality. "Or are you going to force me to leave?"
The dark quiver became a constant thrum, heavy and thick. The fact that Padmé could stand there and act as if it were nothing astonished Obi-Wan. He didn't think he could ever respect her more than he did in that moment.
Anakin tapped on his knee impatiently, "You know I couldn't make you even if I tried. I'll only ask you nicely one more time: please, just leave."
Padmé lifted her chin defiantly. "No, I will not."
Obi-Wan's hand shot out to grasp Anakin's wrist tightly, just as it had begun to lift. He wasn't sure what he had expected to happen, but he knew it wasn't good. He had to put an end to this. Now.
"It's okay, Padmé," Obi-Wan swallowed dryly when he felt Anakin's eyes settle on him. He refused to take his own away from Padmé's. "I'll be alright."
Padmé was even prepared to argue with him. "But you don't--"
"I promise." Obi-Wan felt his hand begin to tremble slightly where it gripped Anakin, and the effort it took to keep his fingers curled around the leather glove made him begin to ache. Even this small action tired him out; that wasn't a good sign. "I'm not alone."
"He has me." Anakin added in.
Padmé looked at Obi-Wan a moment longer, the urge to disobey plain in her dark eyes, but when Obi-Wan silently mouthed 'please' she finally relented. Placing a hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder, she said, "I'll be just a room away," before leaving without another word to Anakin.
Once she was gone, and the door had slid completely shut behind her, Obi-Wan released Anakin's wrist and tucked his hand underneath the covers. It refused to stop shaking.
Anakin's eyes lingered on the doorway a few seconds longer than necessary, then flicked back to Obi-Wan.
"You didn't have to do that," he said, rolling his wrist around. "I would never hurt her."
"How can you be so sure?" Obi-Wan replied, unable to get himself to meet Anakin's gaze. He was terrified of what he might see. "Last I recall, you nearly choked her to death because she refused to rule the galaxy with you."
He realized he shouldn't have mentioned that even before he'd finished, but he was unable to make himself stop. Phantom fingers began to close around his windpipe, and he took a great breath, waiting for them to inevitably tighten.
They didn't, but they didn't leave either. They lingered, like an illness.
"We all made mistakes on Mustafar, but that's in the past, and it shall stay there," Anakin said, threateningly. "Don't mention it again in my presence. Understand?"
And there was the imperious Sith Lord Obi-Wan had only glimpsed on Mustafar. The one that expected his every order to be followed to the letter, regardless what one thought of them. Anakin had been an arrogant Jedi Knight, but at least he'd been able to admit he could be wrong.
Obi-Wan clenched his jaw against the scathing remarks just waiting to be given voice, and nodded.
"There. That wasn't so hard now was it, Master?" Anakin laughed lightly, and suddenly Obi-Wan felt a gloved hand envelop his own over the covers. It was Anakin's mechanical one. The morbidly curious part of Obi-Wan's mind wondered how much effort it would take for his flesh hand to be crushed by it.
"I'm glad I get the chance to talk to you again."
Obi-Wan held his hand in a clenched fist, wishing it would just stay still.
"Well, then. Talk." he answered.
"How about you first? You must be confused," Anakin leaned forward. "Don't you want to know what's happened with the galaxy while you've been asleep?"
"I assume nothing good."
The hand over his tightened. "On the contrary, Master, it's been nothing but good. The Clone Wars are over. The galaxy is officially at peace."
"And the Order?" Obi-Wan whispered.
The invisible fingers tightened around his throat, just enough to make movement uncomfortable.
Anakin rubbed a stray curl of hair out of his face. "Don't worry yourself over that. The Jedi were traitorous and corrupt. You should be thankful that they're gone."
Obi-Wan couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Are you mad?" he snapped. "If that's the case, then I'm as much a traitor as any of them! Should I expect to have a battalion of clone troopers wake me up tomorrow morning for execution? Or will you wait until I least expect it, and stab me in t--"
The Force-hand around his throat constricted horribly, tightening until the last of his words became gurgling coughs. Obi-Wan's bare feet dug into the mattress, and he craned his neck in a vain attempt at escape. He would have brought his remaining hand to his neck, too, if Anakin had simply let it go. As it was, he couldn't move; he couldn't fight nor flee; he was trapped.
"You should be thankful that I showed you mercy," Anakin chastised him sharply. He'd stood up from his chair and was leaning over Obi-Wan, his right hand moving to tangle itself in the hem of Obi-Wan's tunic and pulling him up until his shoulders no longer rested against the mound of pillows. His voice was a dangerously fast murmur, dripping with contempt. "I don't want to kill you, Obi-Wan, and I won't need to as long as you behave and do as I say." he gave Obi-Wan a hard shake. "Which means you shouldn't make a habit of purposefully antagonizing me. You aren't a traitor; you were just an unwitting pawn for the other Masters. I know Yoda sent you to kill me, and I know...I know you couldn't do it."
Anakin's grip loosened, on Obi-Wan's tunic and around his neck, and Obi-Wan took the opportunity to guzzle down as much air as he could. He was dropped unceremoniously back onto the bed, still gasping like a fish, and Anakin pulled completely away from him.
His former Padawan sat back in his chair with a huff, and ran a hand down the length of his face. Obi-Wan thought he saw bright yellow peeking out between the fingers, but when he pulled his hand away, Anakin's eyes were only a dark, cloudy blue.
"You couldn't do it," he repeated, and smiled at Obi-Wan. "And that's why I let you live. Why I brought you back to Coruscant, patched you up, even found a safe place for you to stay," he gestured around the room. "I'm trying to apologize."
Everyone is today. Obi-Wan rubbed at his throat and coughed as Anakin watched him expectantly.
Obi-Wan couldn't help but ask in a scratchy voice, "What?"
Anakin sucked in his lips and shrugged, "Oh I dunno. Some gratitude would be nice. Maybe a 'thank you, Anakin'."
Anakin laughed. "What do you mean 'for'?" he asked, mimicking Obi-Wan's heavy Coruscanti accent. "For not leaving your ass back on Mustafar."
Obi-Wan leaned forward on his elbow, wobbling a bit because of how off balance his body was. "I thought this was supposed to be an apology. You shouldn't expect a thank you for an apology."
Anakin folded his arms over his chest. "It's common courtesy, and if there's anything I remember you teaching me, it's that courtesy is never wasted."
Obi-Wan straightened up in the bed, his mind numb and exhausted. He beckoned with his one hand,"Come a bit closer, and I'll show you some common courtesy."
"What?" Anakin brows furrowed, and he snorted as he leaned in again. "What are you--?"
Obi-Wan would be proud to say that he got in at least one good punch before Anakin had a hold of him again, and he didn't regret it in the slightest.