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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.

Chapter Text

Anakin is quietly working on his Basic handwriting at their caff table after a late dinner while Obi-Wan nurses a cup of tea, glad to finally have the chance to sit down and rest after his latest hectic mission, when Anakin suddenly asks, “Do I have to call the senators Master?”

 

It takes a few moments for Obi-Wan’s tired brain to parse that and all he can manage is a confused “What?” in response.

 

“Since the Senate owns us. Do I have to call them Master?”

 

Obi-Wan drops his teacup in shock.

 

Thirty minutes, a very confusing (and distressing) conversation, and a slightly desperate comm message to his crèche clan’s groupchat later, Anakin has been sent to bed and Obi-Wan is slumping face-down over the kitchen table with a headache and contemplating pulling out his emergency bottle of tihaar when Quinlan unceremoniously lets himself into the apartment. “So,” Quinlan says, propping a shoulder against the kitchen doorway and folding his arms across his chest. “Your kid thinks the Jedi are slaves of the Senate.”

 

Obi-Wan groans into the table in response.

 

“How did the kid come to that conclusion? Like, what’s his thought process there?” Quinlan waves a hand in the air, “Clearly, he has some reason to think that or he wouldn’t have brought it up.”

 

Obi-Wan sighs and peels himself off the tabletop. Clearly, there was no stopping this conversation anymore than the one he had with Anakin earlier. “He says the way the Jedi interact with the senators and senate staff is a lot like the way certain kinds of slaves interact with slave-owners on Tatooine. And his lessons covering the historical relationship between the Order and the Republic have done nothing to dissuade him from that viewpoint. From his perspective, they just confirm it.” Obi-Wan rubs his forehead with a pained expression. “I really don’t know how to explain or clarify it to him in a way that won’t perpetuate this misunderstanding.”

 

Quinlan is quiet for a long moment. When Obi-Wan glances over, his crèchemate has a thoughtful, slightly distant look on his face that gives him a familiar sense of resigned dread. “You know,” Quinlan says slowly, “From a certain point of view, kid’s not actually wrong.” Obi-Wan opens his mouth to refute that but Quinlan shakes his head. “No, seriously, think about it. When the Senate tells us to do something, even if we don’t like it, we can’t actually say no. Most of the time, the best we can do is try to work around their orders without letting on that that’s what we’re doing. Actual defiance gets sanctions put on either the specific Jedi involved or the entire Order if the Senate thinks whatever that Jedi did was bad enough in their eyes. Even if it’s something dumb like letting an unmanned Trade Federation cargo ship get destroyed in favor of saving a refugee vessel.” Obi-Wan makes a face, not able to actually disagree given that that exact scenario had actually happened.

 

A gentle pulse in the Force and a knock on the door heralds the arrival of Bant and Luminara, who also don’t bother to wait for anyone to get the door for them and just let themselves in.

 

“So what’s this I hear about us being slaves?” Luminara asks dryly, thumping a bottle on the table while Bant starts rummaging around in the cabinets for glasses. It’s a bottle of concentrated Outer Rim-style sweetleaf liquor, of course, because Luminara’s taste in alcohol is terrible. Obi-Wan despairs but he’s still going to drink it anyway.

 

“My padawan seems to be under the impression that because the Jedi Order answers to the Senate, that means the Jedi Order is owned by the Senate. Which is just…” Obi-Wan makes another despairing noise. “I’m good with words, usually, if I wasn’t I wouldn’t be a Consular, but I have no idea how to explain this in a way he understands. And with his background, he isn’t inclined to change his mind on the subject.” He makes grabby hands at the glass of alcohol Bant just poured and drains the whole thing in one go before thumping his head back down onto the table. Quinlan and Bant share a concerned look while Luminara steals the bottle and the rest of the glasses from Bant to pour some for the rest of them.

 

Obi-Wan mumbles something indistinctly against the tabletop and Luminara chokes on her first sip of liquor.

 

“I’m sorry, your padawan was what?” she asks incredulously.

 

Obi-Wan raises his head just enough to answer her before thumping his head back down again. “He was a slave on Tatooine. His mother still is a slave on Tatooine. Master Qui-Gon won him in a bet on a podrace that Anakin won but didn’t free his mother and now Anakin is under the impression that he’s not been freed, he’s been sold on and is now owned by the Senate and so are the rest of us.” His voice is shaky and his shoulders have curled inward, a posture his friends are very familiar with; Obi-Wan is trying not to cry. “I didn’t even know and he’s been calling people Master this entire time. I’m a terrible person.

 

“Stop that,” Bant interjects firmly. “You didn’t know. That’s the kind of mission-pertinent information that Master Jinn should have shared with you, but clearly he didn’t, and that’s not your fault. That was his failure, not yours.” Obi-Wan feels gentle webbed fingers card through his hair, still growing out of his padawan cut, as her voice softens. “You’re not omniscient, Obi. Cut yourself some slack.”

 

Obi-Wan blinks burning eyes, turning the words over in his head. Bant was probably right, but it was hard to make himself believe that. It was almost always his fault, Master Qui-Gon had reminded him of his many mistakes often, but Bant’s logic makes sense. He rolls his head to the side to look at her. “Thanks, Bantee.”

 

She crinkles her large eyes at him in a smile. “No problem, Obi.”

 

Luminara reaches over and refills Obi-Wan’s glass. “I agree with Bant. I do have a question, though. Has your padawan been to the healers yet? I know things have been hectic for you but if he’s from that kind of situation, he definitely needs to be given a thorough check-up.”

 

“Oh!” Bant said, “Yes, definitely! You should bring him by when I’m on shift!”

 

“I don’t think any of us have actually met your baby padawan yet, have we?” Quinlan teases, trying to lighten the mood of the conversation. “I call dibs on ‘Favorite Uncle.’”

 

“I bet Garen and Reeft will have something to say about that,” Luminara snorts.

 

Quinlan waves that off with a faux-haughty sniff. “They’re barely ever in-Temple, I’m clearly the superior choice.”

 

Obi-Wan points blindly in his direction. “You are not allowed around Anakin unsupervised. You’ll teach him how to pick locks, or hotwire a speeder, or something. I know exactly what you and Aayla got up to when she was his age and I refuse.

 

“Bold of you to assume you can stop me,” Quinlan says with a shit-eating grin.

 

The conversation descends into friendly shit-talk and banter from there, and Obi-Wan feels the tension slowly ease from his shoulders as he relaxes into the familiar sensefeel of his crèchemates’ minds and emotions rippling comfortingly around him in the Force. He’d missed this. With how busy and overwhelmed he’d been since Naboo, there’d been precious few opportunities for more than two or three of them to spend any real amount of time together. He hadn’t realized just how much he’d needed the chance to just unwind with his friends and not have to play the part of the responsible adult.

 

At some point later in the evening, they move from sitting around his kitchen table to sprawling in a loose-limbed pile on the old, worn-in couch in his living room. The thing was enormous and incredibly comfortable, a relic from Qui-Gon’s own early knighthood that he’d once told Obi-Wan he’d chosen mainly because he could lie down on it and not have half his legs hanging over the arm at the far end. It took up a solid third of the small living room, but Obi-Wan wasn’t sure how he’d remove the thing even if he wanted to. He didn’t know how Master Qui-Gon had even gotten it in here in the first place. Regardless, it was big enough that all four of them could pile themselves onto it and not have to worry much about accidentally shoving each other off, once they sorted out what limbs went where in their messy tangle of a cuddle.

 

“I missed this,” Luminara confides in an overly-loud whisper, decidedly tipsy. Bant giggles, and Obi-Wan shoves his face into Quinlan’s neck and makes a sleepy grumbling noise. Quinlan shushes him, running gloved fingers through his hair, and Obi-Wan feels someone reach out in the Force to flick off the lights. Good, Obi-Wan wants to sleep. He’s warm and comfortable and it had been far too long since the last time they’d done this. Bant giggles again, this time joined by Luminara and Quinlan, and oh, he’d said that out loud, hadn’t he? Quinlan laughs again, chest shaking under Obi-Wan, and Obi-Wan thumps him. Pillows were supposed to stay still. He drifts off to the sound of smothered laughter and the brightsoft sense of cozy contentment in the Force.

 

The next morning, when Anakin crawls out of bed at his habitual pre-dawn hour to go check on Obi-Wan and make breakfast before settling down to work on something quiet until his big brother wakes up, he’s nonplussed to find a mostly-unfamiliar jumble of snoring limbs on their couch. After a long moment of consideration, he shrugs to himself and decides to crawl into the pile to join them. Obi-Wan, still entirely asleep, latches on and pulls him in to snuggle, and Anakin happily burrows right in to return the favor. They all feel softcalmsleepywarm and his Obi doesn’t have any of the jagged edges that come from the nightmares Anakin knows he’s had almost every night since Master Qui-Gon died, so Anakin doesn’t want to wake them up. He’s happy enough to go back to sleep, surrounded by the minds of his brother and the people his brother clearly trusts deeply.

 

(Obi-Wan is mortified that his padawan found them cuddling like crèchelings when they all wake up a few hours later, but he can’t be too unhappy about it, watching his padawan and crèchemates introduce themselves to each other and clatter around the kitchen laughing and chattering and making breakfast. Everything feels right and for once, the aching hollow in his chest feels full of sunlight instead.)