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freedom is a red bird that perches in the soul

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Obi-Wan fussily straightens Anakin’s tabards for the third time, a pinched, worried look on his face that Anakin didn’t like. It makes Obi-Wan look older than he is and reminds him of the look Mom would always get before a race.

“--And remember, be polite, and be careful with your words. Politicians are easy to offend. If you feel uncomfortable, find an excuse to leave but--”

“Obi?” Anakin interrupts, “If you’re this worried about me meeting with the Chancellor, why are you letting me go?”

Obi-Wan’s hands fall still on Anakin’s shoulders, and his eyes go far away for a moment. “...Because we don’t have the option of saying no.” His voice is soft and the words come slowly. “Because if we did say that no, he can’t see you, or insist that no, he can only see you if I or another Jedi adult is present, he has the power to hurt the Jedi Order very badly if he so chooses. And make no mistake,” Obi-Wan’s hands tighten minutely, “A politician is always willing to use that kind of power to get what they want. Even ones that seem kind. A politician’s kindness is often only skin-deep, Padawan, and it is always good to remember that.” His eyes turn stormy and there’s a sense of a distant rumbling in the Force. “And I can think of no good reason for a politician to insist on seeing a child alone without supervision by that child’s guardian or other trusted adult. So Anakin, if he does or says anything, anything, that makes you uncomfortable or that you don’t like, tell me. If you don’t want to see him again then I will find a way to make that happen.”

There’s a lump in Anakin’s throat as he nods solemnly. Not even Mom had ever made that kind of promise to him, but he could tell that Obi-Wan meant it. That kind of promise was dangerous, but the fierce-crackling-warm-affection Obi-Wan so often surrounded him with, even when his face was blank and his hands were hidden in his sleeves (the same kind of mask all slaves learned to wear after enough punishments), made Anakin believe him. Obi-Wan was reckless enough to try, even if he’d probably fail and be punished for it.

Anakin knows that there’s likely very little Obi-Wan could actually do to protect him from the Chancellor if he decided to do something like Obi-Wan seemed to think he would (and Anakin knew what happened to slave kids with certain kinds of masters, he wasn’t stupid) but that Obi-Wan would try anyways made Anakin feel warm inside. Obi-Wan cares, even if he wasn’t always very good at showing it. (Anakin had seen the stilted way Obi-Wan and Master Qui-Gon had interacted, and felt the quickly-stifled flare of pain-betrayal-resignation when Qui-Gon had declared he’d train Anakin when Obi-Wan was standing right there like Obi-Wan couldn’t even hear him--

So no, Anakin wasn’t very surprised that Obi-Wan didn’t know how to show affection very well. He still tried, and that was enough. Anakin had time to teach him.)

Anakin makes the decision right then that even if the Chancellor was very nice and kind, he’d still be the kind of careful his mom taught him to be around unfamiliar Depur, the ones you couldn’t predict and had to step lightly around with eyes down and ears open. If his Obi was this worried, there must be a good reason, and Anakin trusts him. He might be wrong about the Chancellor, but Anakin knows that you listen when another slave warns you about this kind of thing. Better to be careful without need than careless and regret it, that’s what the Grandmothers always say, and Anakin has always done his best to listen to their stories and remember (after all, you never knew when it would save your life).

(Anakin makes the decision and faintly he hears the sound of a krayt roaring in triumph in the distance, hears the rush of wind-under-wings, sees a flash of red feathers, and knows in his hidden heart of hearts that he made the right choice.)

Later, after the Chancellor dismisses him and he and Obi-Wan are back in their apartment, Anakin snuggles into Obi-Wan on the couch and tells him everything that happened during the meeting. The more he talks, the less tense Obi-Wan gets, just like Mom would when he’d tell her about a good day where everything went well and Watto stayed in a good mood. Anakin quietly decides then that Obi-Wan is Family, not just an older slave of the same master looking after a newer, younger one. Tomorrow morning, he’d teach him how to make tzai, the same way his mom had taught him, using the ingredients she’d hidden in his bag before he’d been sold on.

But tonight, he’d cuddle his big brother and treasure the momentary happiness, just like his Mom had taught him.