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Holding My Breath (Makes Me Choke)

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He said, turning away, “Take him away.” He added, as he heard them dragging Obi-Wan towards the doors, “To the med-droids. But tell all the troopers to enjoy themselves. After all, one of you is the same as all the rest.” --A Treatise on Breaking and Repairs, by glimmerglanger

Obi-Wan slowly, regretfully blinked back into consciousness. He was sprawled out on the hot, damp stone floor of his cell on Mustafar, right in the center of the room. Without thought he scrambled into the corner farthest from the door, and choked back a semi-hysterical laugh at the thought that it might be safer there. Obi-Wan couldn’t quite remember the last time he’d felt safe anywhere. Certainly not in the past weeks, trapped at the mercy of this twisted, evil version of his former Padawan. Not in the three years before that either, miserably crouching among the gritty pragmatism and harsh cynicism of Tatooine. Even father back, and the war haunted his memories, when only a few, shining moments with Cody and the men had made his life worth living at all.

Shaking his head clear of memories, Obi-Wan slowly moved to take stock of his injuries. Surprisingly, and disconcertingly, there were none. Someone had patched him up and cleaned him off so thoroughly that there was no evidence left at all of what he had endured. Anakin must have sent him to be healed so that he could continue to torture him at his convenience, Obi-Wan guessed, shuddering at the thought.

Anakin had already injured him in every possible way. He was certain he’d passed out on the way back to his cell. A fuzzy memory reminded him of pleading with his former Commander to please, please come back to himself. He shuddered. Anakin could do nothing crueler than use Cody’s shell to administer torture in his stead.

Thinking of Cody drew his mind back to what had happened in the throne room before he had lost consciousness, however long ago that had been. Anakin had ordered, forced whatever was left of Cody to rape him, mechanically and without feeling. He remembered the pain, the horrid feeling of friction burning through him, and his one respite, the irregular tap, press, tap of Cody’s fingers against his hip. It had been the only touch that hadn’t hurt.

The rhythm stuck in his mind for some reason. Tap, press, tap. Tap, press, tap over and over until it clicked suddenly in his mind, and he had to clamp down the urge to throw up out of combined elation and horror. The command staff of the 212th had developed a battle code, only known to themselves and the battalion, so that they could communicate securely over long distances or without words when the situation required it. The code had come in so useful and so often that soon it was as automatic as speaking out loud for him.

Cody had been tapping no, no, no, no, no, against his hip for as long as they’d been touching. He was still in there. His commander was still alive and aware and trapped in his own body.

Had Obi-Wan reassured him that it wasn’t his fault? That Anakin was to blame for everything he’d commanded Cody to do? He couldn’t recall, no matter how desperately he tried. He did, however, remember Anakin’s final words to the clones before he’d dramatically swept away: “tell all the troopers to let themselves loose and enjoy as much as they want. After all, one of you is the same as all the rest.”

Were they going to-- would he have to endure-- from the unwilling bodies of his own men--?

He stifled a gasp when the door opened and a blank-faced trooper stepped inside, helmet removed and fists clenched. His name was Trip. Obi-Wan knew him immediately by his long hair and the scar across his forehead from tripping over the stairs back in another life. It almost surprised him that Anakin had allowed that individual expression to continue, but then again, perhaps he assumed seeing the men as he had known them would hurt Obi-Wan all the worse. Truthfully, he hadn’t the fortitude to contemplate whether he was right at the moment. “Hello,” he tried.

Trip said nothing. The door creaked as it thumped shut, leaving them in total silence. Obi-Wan tried to control his breathing. Slowly, as if terrified of his own actions, Trip lowered himself to the ground. The clone opened his mouth and closed it several times, as if fighting with himself, then simply shook his head sharply. He cast one long, regretful look at Obi-Wan, removed his gauntlets and gloves, and pulled from his belt… a hairbrush?

“What exactly are you planning to do with that?” Obi-Wan murmured, suddenly struck by several vivid imaginings of what could be done with such a thing. None of them were remotely pleasant.

Trip shot him a faintly horrified look and pointedly dragged the brush through his own hair, maintaining eye contact. Obi-Wan relaxed slightly. “Oh,” he said.

Trip efficiently removed all the knots from his hair and braided it into a plait down his back. He tied it off with a dirty bit of string that appeared to be salvaged from the trash and examined his work with every indication of pride. Obi-Wan caught his breath as Trip grinned at him, gesturing to the new style. No one had smiled at him, just him, in something like years.

“It becomes you well, my dear,” he said, strangled.

Trip nodded, bouncing, and then slanted his eyes toward Obi-Wan again, this time with an inquiring tilt to his eyebrows. He held up the brush and gestured between it and Obi-Wan with a hopeful expression.

“You want to… brush my hair?” he hazarded. Trip nodded vigorously and gestured again to his braid. “And you want to style it?” More nodding.

Obi-Wan considered the offer. Truly, it had been far too long since anyone had touched him with gentleness, and Trip seemed genuine enough. Obi-Wan couldn’t fathom how he was resisting Anakin’s direct orders with the chip in his head. He had clearly also been ordered not to speak with Obi-Wan, and that was obviously still in effect. Tell all the troopers to let themselves loose and enjoy as much as they want, he remembered again, and a spark of hope lit in his chest. Taken literally, Anakin’s orders may have actually granted the clones some measure of freedom when visiting him.

Trip was still waiting for a response. Obi-Wan hesitated, opened his mouth, hesitated again, and finally said, “alright.”

Trip shot over to him and Obi-Wan flinched hard. “No, no, it’s okay,” he said as the man recoiled. “You startled me.”

Slowly, much more hesitant this time, Trip crept forward and gently tilted Obi-Wan’s head for a better angle. An involuntary sigh escaped him as Trip began running the brush through his filthy, matted hair. Before Trip was even half finished, Obi-Wan felt himself melting into his side. It was almost painful, how good it felt to simply be touched, and he wanted to savor it.

Despite his best efforts, his eyes closed and he fell asleep before Trip could even start working on a braid.

His dreams were deep and restless. Obi-Wan could feel himself tossing and turning for what seemed to be hours on the uncomfortable cell floor. At one point it felt as though a hairbrush was digging into him, drawing blood, before the sensation whirled away. For another minute he thought he was back home in the Temple, but when he looked around everyone was dead. He jerked awake with a cry to find himself alone in the dark, with only his soul-deep wounds for company.

He didn’t sleep again for a long time.

Bones was the next one to enter the cell, cautious but steady, the same way he treated injuries. Obi-Wan wondered whether Bones had been the one to patch him up after Anakin had ordered him beaten and violated within an inch of his life. He decided not to think about it.

Bones did not seem to have brought anything with him, and he didn’t bother to settle far away as Trip had done. Instead he stepped right up to Obi-Wan, who was still crouching in the corner in his half-shredded robes, and reached out with a wordless question. “What do you want?” Obi-Wan said.

Bones pressed his lips together and reached his hand down to the ground. Tap, press, tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap, press. Medical check, he interpreted silently. Urgent. He met Bones’ eyes and saw something like a plea, the way his face twisted into a shape Obi-Wan couldn’t define without the Force.

“If you must,” he whispered, and braced for the impersonal check-over he remembered so well from the war. This time, however, Bones reached out with light caresses. He felt Obi-Wan’s head for bumps or scabs, fluttered his hands down Obi-Wan’s arms, and flicked the joints of his elbows and knees. After another careful look for permission, he reached over and prodded Obi-Wan’s stomach and chest, probably gauging his reactions for signs of internal harm. Obi-Wan already knew there was nothing to be found anymore, but he saw the way Bones’ shoulders relaxed and his mouth softened with each healthy result.

Once he had finished his examination, Bones sat back with an air of satisfaction, Before Obi-Wan could react, he reached out and bopped him right on the nose. Obi-Wan let out a startled bark of laughter that surprised him as much as the medic. He hadn’t laughed in… it must have been months. It felt like decades. He vaguely wondered if anyone had dared laugh in this miserable cell before. Likely not.

Bones leaned forward and clasped Obi-Wan’s shoulders, not quite a hug, but just enough to give him a brief squeeze of comfort before he ghosted back out the door and shut it behind him with a quiet click.

For what felt like several days, the clones continued to surprise Obi-Wan with their ingenuity and wiley twisting of Anakin’s orders. Shiver slipped in, looking odd without his old fur coat. He held a piece of discarded flimsy in his hands and came to sit beside Obi-Wan as he folded and refolded it into a tiny crane, a frog, a spider, and a swan. He tried to offer the swan, but Obi-Wan gently pushed it away. “I cannot be caught with it,” he explained at Shiver’s dejected look. “Anakin would have someone killed.”

Shiver closed his eyes and didn’t offer again.

Stomper arrived late at night with nothing but his armor and a pen. He took Obi-Wan’s hand as if he were a small, trembling woodland creature and drew a tiny likeness of a cup of tea in his palm. With a crooked little smile and a shrug he folded Obi-Wan’s fingers over. As long as he kept his fist clenched, Anakin would never see it. Obi-Wan felt the corners of his mouth twitch up, and he even managed to give Stomper a little wink. The poor man blushed as he backed out of the cell.

Obi-Wan could only fight his exhaustion for so long, and after hours of dragging his heavy eyelids open again and again he finally lost the battle with sleep. He dreamed of gasping for breath, facing Anakin, whose bright blue eyes had changed to a glinting gold that reflected the pits of lava threatening to swallow them both whole. He ran with a twin in each arm, panting, and delivered them into safe hands even as they took his heart with them. A hand gripped his shoulder too tight and he turned to find Cody, face blank and eyes empty as Anakin directed his every move. “No,” he tried to scream. “No, Cody, please!” His words did nothing. All the air was sucked out of his lungs.

Obi-Wan shot awake, breathing heavily with Cody’s name still on his lips. It took about two seconds for his situation to hit him again, like a brick to the face, and he moaned and put his face in his hands. It was still a reflex to hide his agony, even when the room was empty.

...But was it empty?

Obi-Wan gradually became aware of another small sound, just barely audible from across the room. Someone was making a great effort to breathe evenly. He tensed immediately and raised his head, only to catch a glimpse of Cody sitting in the opposite corner, silent, with tears streaming unchecked down his face. He was staring unwaveringly at Obi-Wan, apparently frozen and devastated.

Obi-Wan felt as though he’d been stabbed in the heart. He reached out a hand before he was consciously aware of it. “My dear,” he said quietly, “I am so terribly, terribly sorry.”

Cody stilled, and his look changed to one of shock. The tears flowed faster, and Cody closed his eyes and shook his head almost violently. Obi-Wan’s breath hitched. Of course Cody wouldn’t want to forgive him or come any closer, no matter how comforting it would be for one of Cody’s warm, gentle hugs to overwrite the harsh touches from before. Cody would probably leave for another planet this minute just to get away from him if he was able. He must have come in to check on Obi-Wan because he was a lovely man, but just the sight of him had caused Cody to break down.

“Oh,” he said, and looked away, retracting his hand and clenching it somewhere near his heart. “Now I’ve gone and made it worse. You can--can leave now, if you want. Force knows you’ve suffered enough without having to see me again after,” he waved a hand vaguely, “all that.”

He expected to hear the door swing shut as soon as he got the words out, so Obi-Wan was surprised when he looked up to find Cody stumbling not back towards the door, but closer to his corner. “Cody?” he whispered.

Cody knelt down beside him, hands trembling a few inches away from his skin. For a moment a look of steely-eyed determination lit his features, the same look Obi-Wan used to see just before a difficult battle. Cody leaned forward and tapped gently, precisely, on the back of his right hand. You hurt?

Obi-Wan shook his head. “Bones already checked.” It took significant effort to restrain himself, but he managed not to latch onto Cody like a limpet to prevent him from taking his hand back again. He saw Cody’s eyes flicker to his fingers when they twitched, but the commander only pulled away faster after that. There was only so much the battlesign taps could do, after all. He could communicate any number of complex plans and strategies, but for a conversation about feelings, apologies, and explaining the nuances of living on Mustafar, their language was virtually useless.

Cody nodded in acknowledgement. He kept leaning toward Obi-Wan and then pulling himself back, as if he knew he was supposed to check on him but couldn't make himself come any closer. Obi-Wan didn’t blame him, but it still hurt to see. He shut his eyes instead and summoned all his courage. “You’ve done your duty, Commander. I can see you don’t want to be near me, so don’t hurt yourself on my account.”

Something like a whine came from the man across from him, and Obi-Wan couldn’t stop himself from squinting his eyes open again. Cody was crying again, or perhaps he had never stopped. He was opening and closing his mouth, but no words passed his lips. Instead he reached for Obi-Wan again, hands faintly trembling, and touched him lighter than a feather. I hurt you, he tapped.

Was that what this was about? Could Cody possibly be afraid of Obi-Wan’s anger? He thought he’d managed to let it go enough in the past, but his barriers had always been lower when it came to Cody.

“My dear, you have nothing to fear from me,” he said. “It was not your fault, and I am not angry at you. I apologize if I have done something to make you think so.”

Cody shook his head again, more gently this time. I… he paused. A wrinkle appeared between his eyebrows, which Obi-Wan knew meant he was thinking. Probably attempting to put his thoughts into their limited tapped words. Bad odds.

Obi-Wan caught his breath. If there had been any doubt that this was really Cody, that settled it. The phrase “bad odds” had become something of a code within a code between them. It meant be careful, and come back, and I don’t want you to be hurt. Above all, it meant I’m scared for you. They’d never discussed it, but both of them knew. Cody continued tapping words, and Obi-Wan wrenched his mind back into paying attention. You think you have bad odds against me.

Cody looked up at him, eyes full of something unidentifiable, and Obi-Wan tried to parse out the message. “You believe I will be hurt,” he said aloud, turning the words over and over in his mind. “You think… I am frightened of--” his throat closed of its own accord and he couldn’t finish the sentence. He met Cody’s stare and found his own eyes filling with water.

Slowly, deliberately, Cody nodded once and shifted several inches farther away. It looked almost physically painful for him.

“Wait,” Obi-Wan whispered, reaching out again. Cody froze. Obi-Wan didn’t stop to think, or he knew he would talk himself out of any action. Instead he moved out of the corner for the first time since he’d been thrown back in the cell and crawled carefully toward Cody.

“Tap no if you want me to stop,” he said, and hesitantly leaned over and put his arms around him.

Cody’s entire body shuddered, and Obi-Wan would have pulled back at once if his commander’s hand had not settled ever so gently on his back, so light he could barely feel it. A second later and Cody began to methodically tap his fingers: yes, he said. Safe, yes, safe. He repeated it every few seconds, as though afraid Obi-Wan would stop if he didn’t.

With that confirmation, Obi-Wan’s entire body sagged into a relieved heap against Cody’s side. It took both of them by surprise, but then Cody got both arms more firmly around him and gently arranged them more comfortably, sitting against the wall with Obi-Wan practically in his lap. Obi-Wan sniffed a little and wound his hands tightly into the folds of Cody’s blacks. It was undignified, but they were so far past that now that it was laughable.

“Thank you,” he whispered somewhere into Cody’s chest. The arms around him tightened in response, and what felt like Cody’s nose smooshed itself against his greasy hair. Cody tapped again, lightly, always lightly, against his shoulder blade. We will break free.

He couldn’t really believe it anymore. He’d seen and suffered too much for that. But somehow Cody’s words still managed to light a tiny ember of hope in his heart, and Obi-Wan’s lips twitched into a tiny smile. Yes, he tapped back.

Perhaps they could come up with some semblance of a plan later, but for that night the two of them curled up on the damp, moldy dungeon floor and slept.