Obi-Wan was seriously contemplating the need for a set of earplugs.
He knew children talked a lot—especially this particular child, his ten-year-old Padawan, who he’d come to affectionally call ‘chatty-kin’ on his more boisterous days. But this was excessive. The boy literally would not shut up about this podracing something-or-other that was happening on Tatooine, and while Obi-Wan had tried to offer his attention at the beginning, he was now very rapidly approaching the end of his legendary patience.
Which seemed to grow less legendary by the day.
“…it only happens once a year, and it’s like, a wizard deal. Even the slaves get the day off because everyone’s at the race. I mean, nobody misses the Boonta Eve Classic. You just don’t,” Anakin was saying as they walked through the halls of the Jedi Temple. “Except me, now, cause I’m here instead. Which is great except also not great, because it’s the first year I won’t get to watch the race with Kitster and we always watch together. Well, except for last year when I was in the race. But anyway, it’s fine because I’ve been working on building a long-range holo that connects to the Hologlide J57 cam droids on Tatooine, so I can watch from here instead, and I know it won’t be the same but it’s better than nothing, as long as I can pick up the signal with my—”
Earplugs. Yes, Obi-Wan decided, it was time for earplugs.
But really, Obi-Wan didn’t even need them to tune Anakin out. He was still reeling from the moment he’d glanced at the calendar this morning and noticed the date, and almost decided to crawl right back into bed at the realization—
Almost a year had gone by.
A year since the mission to Naboo, since their emergency landing on Tatooine, since the Battle of Theed. A year since he’d been too slow—no, he corrected himself, since it had been the will of the Force—for his Master to die at the hand of the Sith. Since the boy became his to teach, to guide, to raise. Since he’d been Knighted alone.
They arrived at the Room of a Thousand Fountains, where they always met for afternoon meditation. And though Obi-Wan’s mind was elsewhere, it suddenly snapped back to attention as Anakin’s words trickled into his consciousness:
“…so maybe I can organize my own podrace here at the Temple!”
“Um, no,” Obi-Wan said immediately. “For a massive quantity of reasons. Least of all the fact that you’re not even old enough to pilot a pod. Or any form of transportation, actually.”
Anakin’s head swiveled to look at him. “What are you talking about? On Tatooine, there were—”
“No traffic laws? A lack of general public safety? Disregard for the value of sentient life?” Obi-Wan supplied, and Anakin shot him a look. “In any case, here on Coruscant you need a license to operate a vehicle.”
“Vehicle, it’s another word for—”
“No, no. I mean, what’s a license?”
“Oh,” Obi-Wan said, then hesitated as he tried to come up with an explanation. “It’s a little holo that says you’re allowed to pilot a ship or speeder.”
“Okay. Well, how do I get one of those?”
“Anakin, I don’t know if—”
“Master, this is literally the single most important question I will ever ask you in my entire life: how do I get one of those?”
And then, Obi-Wan hesitated as the conflict presented itself. The boy was so young. Although technically, Obi-Wan was also piloting ships at ten years old, but he wasn’t nearly as impulsive as Anakin was now—
Okay, so maybe that part’s not exactly true, he thought, as a memory surfaced of stealing—ah, borrowing—a J-type star skiff from the Senate parking lot once with Quin…
But anyway, Obi-Wan pondered—maybe it would be good for the boy. He did have so much energy, and would benefit from something to channel it into. And what better than something he was already passionate about?
They’d arrived at their usual meditation spot beneath the grand fountain, and Obi-Wan looked down at Anakin. He was bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet.
Obi-Wan was fairly certain he felt a bit of his soul disintegrate as he said, “Fine. We’ll go to the Department of Repulsorlift Vehicles tomorrow.”
“But first you need to pass the exam.”
“No problem,” Anakin said, puffing out his chest. “I’m good at tests. Master Sinube tells me all the time that I’m a smartass.”
Obi-Wan briefly considered telling Anakin that didn’t mean what he thought it did. But if he’d learned one thing in the past year, it was this: pick your battles, Master Kenobi.
“Well then,” Obi-Wan said, lowering himself to the standard meditative form. “You’d best meditate well. Flying in Coruscant requires an unshakable resolve. And lots of patience.”
Anakin huffed and closed his eyes. Smartass indeed, Obi-Wan thought with a wry grin.
But as he too opened himself to the Force, another thought surfaced, one far less pleasant and warm:
I have a bad feeling about this.
───── ⋆⋅☆⋅⋆ ─────
All too soon, they were sitting in the parking lot. Obi-Wan clicked his seatbelt firmly into place—checking twice to make sure it was secure—while Anakin just sat behind the wheel and marveled. His eyes were on the sky, gleaming with the light of passing speeder headlights, his mind clearly anywhere but here. Obi-Wan sighed.
“Alright, Padawan,” he said, trying to channel his inner Qui-Gon Jinn. What had Qui-Gon even told him when he’d learned to drive? He huffed, unable to remember now. “So this lever here—”
“Controls the repulsorlift, yes, I know,” Anakin finished, practically bouncing on the driver’s side.
Obi-Wan blinked. Alright, so maybe this will be easier than I thought.
“And this one down here—”
“—is the break. Got it. Anything else?”
Obi-Wan opened his mouth, then closed it again. “Well, yes. I mean, you should know how to steer…”
“Master. Please tell me you’re trying to be funny.”
“What? No, I’m just making sure you—”
“Master, I navigated the Mos Espa Grand Arena. When I was nine.”
Obi-Wan exhaled. Briefly considered lecturing the boy on humility, before deciding—well, he was right.
“Alright,” he said. “Well, then, there’s signaling—”
There we go, Obi-Wan thought, finally something I can teach him.
“It’s when you gesture to other drivers to—”
“Like this?” Anakin said.
And then promptly flipped off a passing speeder.
“No!” Obi-Wan said, slapping Anakin’s middle finger down. “No. Not like that.” He tried to shoot an apologetic smile at the angry driver passing them by. “Gesturing, like, you let others know which way you’re going to turn.”
“Why should they care where I’m going?”
“It’s so you don’t crash,” Obi-Wan said. “If people don’t know what you’re going to do, they might misinterpret your movements and you’ll collide.”
“Can’t people just…not collide?” Anakin said. “I mean, you can sense what other speeders are about to do before they do it, so that shouldn’t be a problem.”
“No, Padawan, that’s just you.” Obi-Wan let out a long breath. Force, sometimes he forgot he was raising the Chosen One. “So let’s remember to use our turn signals. Okay?”
“Seems like a stupid rule to me. But okay, I guess. Whatever you say.”
“Actually it’s whatever the law says, Anakin.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Anakin drummed his hands on the steering wheel. “Okay, do you have any other longwinded explanations, or can we just fly the ship?”
Obi-Wan fought the urge to roll his eyes. But before he could let his impatience get the better of him, he looked to the boy and nodded. This would be fine.
And for a moment, it was—the engine hummed to life, and Anakin lifted the speeder gently into the air. He easily merged into the traffic lane with only minimal prompting, and Obi-Wan thought—well. Look at that. You’ve taught the boy to drive. Certainly you must be doing something right if you’ve taught the boy to drive—
And then Anakin stepped on the gas, and the moment was over.
Wind, and light, and honking horns—that was all Obi-Wan could process. That, and the churning of his stomach, and his own voice shrieking out—
“Anakin! Anakin, I forgot to explain—SPEED LIMITS—”
“Limits?” The boy threw his head back and laughed. “Never heard of them!”
“Slow down,” Obi-Wan said between clenched teeth. “Slow down—”
“But it’s not like I’ll crash! I can predict where everyone’s going to go—”
“But the law, Anakin, the law—”
“—can’t really be that important if we didn’t have it on Tatooine.”
“Tatooine is controlled by the Hutts, I wouldn’t exactly call it a pristine example of lawful and effective government wait Anakin—Anakin stopstopstop—”
Anakin whooped as they narrowly missed a hoverbus, looping in the air at a far faster velocity than a speeder was meant to go, and certainly far faster than was legal. Citibikes passed. Headlights streaked by. Like a ship in hyperspace, like asteroids, they shot through the sky with no thought of stopping, no thought at all—
No thought except this:
We’re out of control.
“Anakin—watch the tunnel, the tunnel—”
“It’s one way! You’re going the wrong direct—”
“Oh, relax. Look, we’re fine! We’ll just—”
As they entered the tunnel, on a collision course with an airtaxi, Anakin suddenly flipped them upside down and shot up to the top of the tunnel.
Now, they were driving on the ceiling.
As the airtaxi flew by beneath them, Obi-Wan clung to the handles of the speeder with two sets of white knuckles. “Anakin,” he said, breathless, wanting to shut his eyes but afraid of what he might miss if he did. “This is not the way it’s supposed to—”
“Who cares about supposed to? It’s working, right?”
“We need to stop.”
“Come on, Obi-Wan. Everyone knows you’re not supposed to stop in a tunnel.”
“Oh, so now he cares about the law.”
They shot out the other side and streaked upward through the sky, Anakin whooping as he merged them into another traffic lane. He zipped between speeders and bikes and ships—without signaling once—ignoring the angry honks and shouts and quite a few identical “gestures” to the one he’d given earlier.
“Break, Anakin, break—”
“I can’t break now, I’m changing lanes. Don’t you know you’re supposed to match the speed of the lane you’re—”
“You shouldn’t be changing lanes. Take the next exit, we need to—”
Obi-Wan sucked in a breath, but felt like he was choking on wind. This was too fast. He wanted to step on the break, but no, he couldn’t—because he wasn’t driving, because he didn’t have to power to do that. He wasn’t in control. Oh, not good. He wasn’t—couldn’t—if something were to happen and he couldn’t stop—
His stomach lurched. Blast. Oh, blast. Bile stung in his throat. This was not okay. They were out of control. Flying faster than his heartrate, which was saying something, because—
“Anakin, we need to stop.”
He needed to stop.
“I said enough! Pull over. We’re done.”
His voice was loud and sharp and barbed, and they both realized at once that it was the first and only time Obi-Wan had ever yelled at him.
Though at the moment, he couldn’t bring himself to care.
Obi-Wan closed his eyes as he felt the speeder begin, at last, to slow down.
When Anakin had pulled them over to the side of a landing platform, Obi-Wan immediately pushed open the speeder door. He swung his legs out the side and hung his head over his knees, fully expecting to be sick between his shoes.
Obi-Wan just shook his head, eyes closed. Didn’t trust himself to speak without throwing up.
He was vaguely aware of Anakin asking him if he was alright, but he truthfully didn’t have an answer. His heart was racing—one more thing he couldn’t control. That, and the way his hands were shaking and everything felt like it was spinning and the blood was rushing in his ears and—oh Force, what was going on? He didn’t feel well. He really didn’t feel well—
And then suddenly, it was there.
A little hand on his back.
“It’s okay.” Anakin’s thumb moved in circles between his shoulder blades. “It’ll pass. Take your time.”
He could only manage a one-word answer. “Sorry.”
“I’m sorry,” Anakin said. “I didn’t realize you didn’t feel good.” When Obi-Wan didn’t reply, he hesitantly continued. “Do you…get speeder sick a lot?”
Obi-Wan gave a tight shake of his head. “It’s not that,” he replied softly. “I mean, it was kind of that. But also—”
A wave of nausea overcame him, and he stopped. Squeezed his eyes shut, tried to breathe, swallowed the bile.
It was a long moment before he could speak again. Even longer before he actually wanted to.
He ran his hands down his face, trembling as they went, and exhaled. “I…I like to have control,” he said at last, so softly the shaky words were nearly carried away by passing traffic. “And recently…well, there’s not been a lot in my life that I am in control of.”
He shut his eyes, and the passing headlights lit up the insides of his eyelids in sparks of color. But in them, he saw flickers—Qui-Gon, a lightsaber sticking out of his chest as he crumpled, Obi-Wan powerless to help. Anakin, a hurting little boy who he felt powerless to guide. A new life, his and yet not his, familiar yet foreign, that he felt powerless to navigate.
He exhaled. Sometimes it felt like his life was living him, rather than the other way around.
Confident enough that he wasn’t about to lose his lunch on the side of the road, Obi-Wan pushed himself upright again. But still, he couldn’t quite bring himself to face the boy as he said:
“And I suppose…well, I don’t care much for flying because I don’t feel like I have control then, either.”
The words were an admission—a surrender—and he almost wished he could take them back. It wasn’t his place to dump his fears and insecurities on a child. He was supposed to be a Master. The Master of the Chosen One, at that. Yet, over his shoulder, Anakin’s voice came back thoughtful.
“That’s funny,” he said. “I like flying because it’s the only time I’ve ever felt like I do.”
At that, Obi-Wan looked up. He turned his head just so, where he could see the boy out of the corner of his eye. But Anakin’s eyes were cast up, past the traffic, straight through to what lie above it.
“I was a slave,” he said. “Everything I did was out of my control—where I went, what I did, who I talked to, what I ate for breakfast—if I got breakfast…” He sucked in a breath, then let it out slowly. “Except in the sky. It was different. It wasn’t freedom—at least not for long. But it was a taste. I could pick where I went and how fast I got there, whether I did loops or barrel rolls through the air. I could imagine I was actually going somewhere, instead of always ending up in the same place I’d started.”
His voice dropped off, and Obi-Wan let his eyes fall back to his lap. He stared down at his shoes, listening to the hum of city life and the whirr of passing ships. And he realized then that it was still there—Anakin’s hand on his shoulder, still and warm and small.
Obi-Wan reached back and placed his own hand on top of it.
“You do now,” he said softly. “You have control.”
“So do you.”
Anakin’s tone was matter-of-fact. But for some reason Obi-Wan found his throat growing tight at the words. He nodded once. Again, blinking hard at the warmth that rimmed his eyes. And though his heartrate was still a little too fast, Obi-Wan forced himself to turn around. He smiled.
Anakin was smiling back.
“How do you feel?” the boy said at last, when Obi-Wan had sighed away the last of the nausea. “We can wait as long as you need, or if you think you’re ready I can—”
“Yes,” Obi-Wan said. “I’m ready. And, Padawan—”
“I got it, I got it. Speed limits.” Anakin managed to look smug and earnest all at once. “I’ll go really slow, I promise.”
Obi-Wan let a warm smile find its way to his face. “Actually, I was going to say you can step on it a little. So long as you’re within the legal mandate,” he said. “And as long as you’re in control.”
“We are. Both of us.”
───── ⋆⋅☆⋅⋆ ─────
Anakin Skywalker was probably the only person in the galaxy who was excited to wait in line at the DRV.
The boy was bouncing on his heels, occasionally standing on tiptoe to see over the shoulders of those in front of him. Coruscant’s Department of Repulsorlift Vehicles wasn’t particularly crowded for a weekday, but to Obi-Wan, it felt as if they’d been there for hours.
To Anakin, however, it felt more like an eternity.
“Calm down, Padawan,” Obi-Wan said, after Anakin had sighed emphatically for the fourth time that minute. “It’ll be your turn soon enough.”
“Why is the line so long? All I gotta do is get my holo taken and sign the stupid thing—”
“That’s the DRV for you,” said Obi-Wan. “And anyway, don’t get too excited. License photos are notorious for being unflattering.”
“Mine? No, mine is fine—”
“Let me see.”
“Oh, it’s definitely unflattering, then. I bet you look like a sick bantha.”
Obi-Wan scoffed. “What does that even mean?”
“It means you’re too skinny with too much hair.”
“Well then,” Obi-Wan said. “I can assure you I looked like a very similar creature—but this one was much more repulsive.”
Anakin’s eyes widened. “Like what?”
“A seventeen-year-old boy.”
Anakin was still laughing when his name was finally called.
The next part went quickly—Anakin walked with his head held high as he sat down in the chair, and let the attendant take his photo. Then he scribbled his signature and filled out the form, and it wasn’t long before he was being handed a flimsy holo—his license.
“WIZARD! It looks so official—look, Master! I look like a real pilot, oh, imagine Kitser’s face if he saw this—”
“Anakin, stop yelling—no one at the DRV is in the mood for a scene—”
“Who cares, I have a license! And anyway, I know a good signal I could give anyone who has a problem with—”
He was laughing as Obi-Wan slapped down his middle finger again, and as they started for the door of the DRV, Obi-Wan found himself laughing, too.
Anakin slid into the driver’s seat of the speeder this time. He ran his fingertips along the control panels and eased out a sigh, the satisfaction evident in his face, before starting the ignition. He revved the engine.
“Ready?” He was looking at Obi-Wan with earnest eyes, and Obi-Wan felt himself smile back.
“Of course, Padawan,” he said. “In control?”
“In control,” Anakin echoed, and his face softened. “Always.”
And as they lifted off the ground, for the first time in nearly a year, Obi-Wan started to believe it.
“Now, about that Boonta Eve Race…” Anakin said once they were in the air. “Now that I have a license, theoretically I could host my own races, right? I mean, as long as we abide by traffic laws—”
“Anakin, I’m fairly certain that drag racing is against traffic laws in and of itself—”
“Okay, so what I’m hearing is, it’s legal as long as I don’t get caught.”
“Keep talking, old man, and you won’t be invited.”
“I don’t want to be—hold on, old man? I am only twenty-six years old, I hardly think that qualifies as an old man—”
“Well, Master, then maybe you should stop driving like one.”
They merged into the air traffic, laughter carried away now by the wind and hiss of passing ships. In spite of all the time that had gone by, Obi-Wan’s chest still felt tight at the sudden memory of a similar moment between he and his old Master—just laughter and sky and the thrum of the Force. But just as quickly, the knot loosened—not much, but enough. Because Anakin was smiling. The wind was warm and the city was alive, and they were going to be okay.
And although Obi-Wan Kenobi did not like flying, as the speeder looped and Anakin let out a whoop of joy and laughter, he realized this:
He did like flying with Anakin.