thy unimaginable wings, where dwells the breath of all persisting stars
-e. e. Cummings
A bright light burned into his eyes. He blinked at it, and realized that he could see. The light hurt in a way that was familiar. He turned his head away from it, surprised to find that he could. The sun burned now on the side of his face. His face...
He reached up, with trembling hands, and traced brow, nose, eyelids, cheeks and chin. Unfamiliar was the beard that had grown on his face. Just as strange was the length of his hair. He ran his hands through it, trailing through locks long enough to reach his chin.
His senses seemed to be awakening one by one. His eyes were undecided, but his skin was fully aware; besides the sun burning down on him, he could feel wind caressing his body, ruffling his hair, chilling his sun-warmed face. His skin also told him he was lying on the ground, in loose sand peppered with rocks. He twitched in response, rolled onto his side. Less rocks, but still uncomfortable.
Better on the eyes, too. He could see now, quite well. The view was not spectacular, composed of the rocks and sand he lay on. What he saw was as unfamiliar as the length of his hair—he had been on many planets, but this was not one of them.
His nose now began informing him of its assessment: dry climate, acrid-smelling atmosphere, no green smells to speak of. If he was alone on this planet, he was probably going to die of exposure before he enjoyed his privacy.
Someone was sniggering.
He normally didn't differentiate on laughter, but what he was hearing was most definitely sniggering. He got the distinct impression that it was at his expense. He sat up, cautious, eyes wide as he sought the source.
-I love watching you people wake up- a voice said, followed by more sniggering. -I swear, the blank staring just makes my day.-
He jerked his head around, in what he was sure was the direction of the voice. On a nearby rock perched the only living thing in the area, its ebony feathers ruffling in the breeze. A blackbird.
-Stupid humans,- the voice muttered. -I'm a crow, idiot. Blackbirds are a different species. They're also just about as stupid as humans are.-
“I see,” he said, even though he really didn't see. He couldn't be sitting here talking to a bird, could he?
-Hah!- the voice cackled, and the crow cocked its head to regard him with a shiny golden eye. -You shouldn't be here talking to anyone, but you are. Shouldn't that strike you as a bit more concerning?-
“Why?” he said, head starting to spin in confusion. His voice was strong, steady, in direct opposition to his state of mind. “You're strange enough for us both, I would say.”
The crow fluffed its wings, hopping from one foot to the other in what seemed to be agitation. -This isn't getting us anywhere. Usually you fools remember your jobs on your own.-
“Job?” he repeated blankly.
The crow opened its–his–beak and released a sigh. -What's your name, golden boy?-
“My name is…” he stopped, drawing a blank. “I—I don't know.”
He had the impression of someone dropping his head into his hands. -Then it's a good thing we get briefed on our targets, or we'd both be screwed. Stupid humans.- The bird twisted its head around to look at him with its other eye. -Obi-Wan ring a bell?-
He straightened, the name setting off a chain reaction in his memory. “Yes. That's right...my name...is Obi-Wan Kenobi.”
That wasn't all he was remembering. He clambered to his feet, almost tumbling back down onto the ground before he caught his balance. The position was strange, as if it had been a long time since he had stood on his own two feet. “I remember—Naboo. I was on Naboo.” He cast another glance about the area, raising an eyebrow. “This doesn't look very much like Naboo.”
-Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!- the crow said, flapping its wings in a pleased manner. -And you're right. Naboo's a number of parsecs away, as you people currently measure distance.-
Obi-Wan looked down at himself, fingers tugging hesitantly at the clothing he wore. It was as familiar to him as this planet was unfamiliar, beige tunics and leggings, worn brown boots. No belt, no cloak. Realizing its absence, the lack of a lightsaber on his hip felt wrong. He felt unbalanced. His lightsaber—
He sank to his knees as the events of the last few days came rushing back. The mission to Naboo, requested by Chancellor Valorum. The Gungans, the imprisoned Naboo. Hiding on Tatooine because of the hyperdrive. The boy...
He shut his eyes. The Council meeting. He couldn't help the moan of despair that emerged from his throat, remembering. His Master had taken Anakin Skywalker as his Padawan, which left Obi-Wan—where? Adrift, yet still willing to stand by the side of the man he'd called Master for over twelve years, his strong-voiced declaration holding nothing of what he’d truly felt in that moment. Willing to do anything for the man he’d fallen in love with.
They had returned to Naboo, all of them...and... And what? His hand unconsciously drifted back to the place where his lightsaber should have hung. Lightsabers. Blue. Green. Two blades of spinning red, all three lightsabers dancing together in a blur of memory.
With a sharp cry he ripped at his outer tunic, pulling it over his head fiercely enough to scrub his skin and give his ear a painful yank. He went after his undertunic, ripping a seam in the sleeve before removing it. His body was just as he remembered it—scars from hundreds of dangerous missions crossing here and there. If it weren't for bacta, he imagined there would have been many more.
There was one scar that was new. Small and circular, it was just above his heart. A burn with rough edges, colored a dull ugly red that stood out in stark relief against the rest of his skin.
He touched it with trembling fingers, feeling the smooth, silky skin typical of old lightsaber burn scars. He didn't have to look to know that there was a matching burn on his back, where the Sith's blade had pierced his body.
He raised shocked, wounded eyes back to the crow. It hadn't moved, and was regarding him with infinite patience. “I died,” he croaked.
“Where—” He coughed, trying to force words past a now-tight throat. “Where am I? Hell?”
-Heh. Close representation to it, at least for your Republic. This is Geonosis. Ring any bells?-
“Geonosis.” He closed his eyes, consulting his internal map. Close to Naboo, even closer to Tatooine. He shuddered. “So Geonosis is where we go when we die? I was right. This is hell.”
The crow laughed, hopping around on its rock perch a bit. -Well, I can't speak for everyone, but I can tell you this. You're not in the land of the dead. Or one with the Force. Or whatever crap currently featured as the afterlife special of the millennium.- The crow flapped its wings in a stretch. To Obi-Wan the bird was beginning to look uncomfortable spending so much time on the ground.
“So, I'm not dead?” Obi-Wan asked, hopeful. He didn't feel dead. He was breathing, with a pulse (he took a moment to press two fingers to his wrist, double-checking) could feel, think, smell... He didn't know what being dead meant, but he didn't think it meant waking up to rocks poking you in the backside.
-Eh. Sorry, Kid. You're most definitely dead, pulse or no pulse. You died on Naboo ten years ago, speared by one ugly Sith.-
Killed on Naboo. By a Sith. Obi-Wan blinked in astonishment. "TEN YEARS?!"
-Don't yell at me- the crow said huffily. -I didn't stab you. Though if it makes you feel any better, that Master fellow of yours sliced the ugly one in half.-
“But—but—” Obi-Wan clenched his hands, counted to ten, and ran himself through the most basic of calming exercises. He knew that he was beginning to sound rather pathetic. “If I've been dead for ten years...” he drew in a breath. “What am I doing here? Why now?”
The crow went still, looking at him with unblinking amber eyes. -You remember.-
He writhed in the silence, striking out in any direction. There was nothing to touch, nothing to see, nothing to feel. If this was what was meant by being one with the Force, then he now believed that the saying was highly overrated. He strained to connect to any thing, any moment, any thought. What was most on his mind was Qui-Gon, his Master's shaking hands touching and burning his icy face with their warmth. The despair etched into Qui-Gon's features, even as his Master gathered him into his arms, rocking him as numbness began to seep into Obi-Wan's entire body. He flinched away from the memory, but memories were all he had in this place.
Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon whispered, tears falling unheeded down his cheeks. Why...?
Obi-Wan reached up with one trembling hand, touching Qui-Gon's face and catching tears on the tips of his fingers. Strength fading, his hand dropped away only to be captured by one of his Master's. Obi-Wan took a moment to marvel at the feeling. So much warmth. So much life. He was grateful for that.
Entering the fray only as himself, no longer as the man's Padawan, Obi-Wan had opened himself to the Force. It came to him, filling his mind and freeing his thoughts. He had let the prescience that Qui-Gon disdained flow through him. He had seen his Master's death at the Sith's hands, leaving him and Anakin bereft and alone. That would have been intolerable, mired in his own guilt with a boy he was not capable of teaching.
When the opening had occurred in the fighting, he had ducked a blow from the Sith, knowing it would catch his Master instead. Qui-Gon had tumbled off the catwalk, not him. It left Obi-Wan alone to bear the fight, to give his Master precious moments of recovery.
He looked up into Qui-Gon's eyes, so shockingly blue and vibrant it almost took what little remained of his breath.
Worth it, he thought. Worth it. He lives, I die. Small price to pay for the galaxy to retain its light. He swallowed against his own despair, knowing that he loved Qui-Gon, knowing that he had been right never to speak of it. His Master's affection had been for a Padawan Learner. The man named Obi-Wan Kenobi was of little consequence, especially in light of a prophecy.
He took a breath, wanting to speak, not wanting to leave his Master in silence. “Train Anakin,” he found himself whispering instead. His prescience, he thought distantly, had very annoying timing. “He… needs you, Qui-Gon.” He smiled. “...like... I...” He couldn't finish. His breath was gone. He shuddered, fighting for air that would not come, and heard his Master calling his name. Then he was falling away, falling and gone…
Obi-Wan screamed, hunched over in the sand, clenched hands filled with bits of rock and dirt. He took a deep, rasping breath, blinked grit from his eyes, and unclenched his fists. His throat felt raw and sore, as if he'd been screaming for a long time.
There was a dark shape next to him. He raised his eyes to find the crow had moved closer, and was now perched rather precariously on a smaller rock that jutted out of the sand. -Well?-
“Yes,” Obi-Wan whispered, bowing his head again and letting his forehead rest on the sand. “I remember.”
Please! he screamed, feeling as though he was beating himself senseless against an invisible wall. PleasePleasePlease!
What a racket, someone said. You're screaming loud enough to wake the dead, youngling. And I should know.
The voice was female, warm and comforting. Obi-Wan went quiet, trying to find the voice's owner. Hello?
Hello, youngling, she replied. She was everywhere, even as he was one tiny consciousness in a vast sea of nothing. What's got you so worked up? There was a pause, and she continued speaking without waiting for a response. What are you doing here, anyway? Your place is beyond all this. You should have passed on long ago.
Obi-Wan didn't have the faintest idea what she was talking about. I've always been here. Well. Not always. But I've never been anywhere else since...since—you know.
She sounded amused when she spoke next. Yes. I know. But you've spent all your time hanging around the borderlands when you should have moved on.
Borderlands? Obi-Wan looked around, or as close to looking around as he thought he was getting. I don't see any land, he muttered.
She laughed. For a Jedi, you're terribly literal.
Thanks? He wasn't sure if it was a compliment or not.
Still. Back to my earlier question. What are you yelling about? You've been rather incomprehensible.
Something's wrong, he said. When she was silent, waiting, he tried to explain. I… something feels wrong, in my head. Out… out there, he said, wondering if she would understand where he meant. He wasn't sure he understood it, himself.
You want to go back.
I'm dead. I can't go back.
When his mysterious companion spoke next, Obi-Wan had the impression that she was being very patient with him. Dearheart, if you're half the Jedi I think you are, then you should realize that there are a great many things that are not impossible. Answer the question, love.
Yes, I want to go back. Obi-Wan sighed. I know it sounds shallow and selfish, but I need to go back. Something—something is... He hesitated, striving to put what he felt into words. Something is unbalanced. I think it's my fault, and if it's my fault, then I need to fix it.
Doesn't have anything to do with unrequited love?
Obi-Wan knew he was blushing. I have unrequited love, yes. But I think even if I went back to balance things, it would remain unrequited love.
He smiled. He doesn't love me. And even if, by some perverse miracle, he did love me, it wouldn't be fair.
Why? she repeated.
I'm dead. I'd have to return here. What right do I have, to give someone my heart and then take it back from them?
I think that's rather silly of you. Love, even love shared only for a moment... Obi-Wan felt the equivalent of a mental shrug. No matter. I think you're going to be the first case I've handled in a long time that isn't about vengeance.
Jedi do not seek revenge, Obi-Wan replied, bewildered. He still had no idea who he was speaking to, and had just confessed to feelings he had never admitted to anyone without the slightest qualm. Worse, he felt like he had just passed some sort of test, but he wasn't sure of the subject matter.
Admiral quality, that, she said cheerfully. Especially considering the nature of humans. You're a very violent lot.
Obi-Wan didn't know what to say to that. Trained diplomat or not, there weren't many ways to respond when an invisible entity insulted your entire species. Then he blinked, realizing that the presence was fading. Wait! he yelled, unable to follow. What do I do?
He felt warmth, a radiant presence. Light seemed to seep into his mind, and the darkness around him began to fade. Silly Jedi, she said, voice sparkling with amusement. All you have to do is wake up.
It is a very mixed blessing to be brought back from the dead.
The crow cackled, making soft noises as its beak opened and closed. -She's great, isn't she?-
Obi-Wan sat back, legs folded under him, and regarded the crow that was still, against all definitions of reality, talking to him. “I suppose. I mean, she sent me here.” He blinked a few times, still dazed from the rush of memory as he reached for his tunics.
-Bah.- The crow hopped up to him, then gazed up at Obi-Wan expectantly as he finished dressing. Obi-Wan held out an arm, and the crow jumped up and clamped its feet around his wrist. The bird was heavier than it looked.
Obi-Wan wiggled his shoulder in invitation, and the crow shuffled its way slowly up his arm and settled on his shoulder. The small talons punctured cloth but not skin.
Obi-Wan stroked one finger through the silky soft feathers, and the crow leaned into the caress. “You're my guide,” he whispered.
-Pretty much- said the crow. -I'm just around to fill in a few blanks, keep you from doing anything stupid.-
Obi-Wan nodded. He had no memory of discussing the crow's ties to him. The knowledge was simply there.
-So, you know what you're doing here now?-
Obi-Wan nodded again as he stood up. The crow spread his wings for balance. “I think so. I'm working mostly on instinct here, so we might do a bit of exploring first.”
-Fine by me. I've got all the time in the world, Kid.- The crow blinked its amber eyes and turned its beak into the wind. -Though you might not. I hear fighting.-
Obi-Wan lifted his head, straining his ears. Crows obviously had better auditory skills, so he used the Force to sharpen his hearing. Then he heard it as well; muted blaster fire, and the hum of lightsabers. “That...” he said, listening to the myriad blend of distant humming, “...is a lot of lightsabers.”
-Battle royal, huh Kid?- the crow shook itself, feathers raising and settling back into smooth and glossy black lines.
“I suppose so.” He walked carefully at first, unsure of the weight on his shoulder, until the crow smacked him in the face with a raised wing.
-You could run at top speed and not dislodge me. And even if I did fall off, I do have wings. Come on. Let's get this show on the road.-
Obi-Wan felt himself smile. “As you wish,” he said, and set off in a Force-enhanced run. He hadn't even had to think about it, the Force had flowed to him so easily. He almost laughed, exhilarated at the speed in which he pelted across the landscape.
-Holy shit!- the crow cried, and Obi-Wan felt talons pierce his flesh. The blood’s going to stain my tunics, he grumbled.
And then: Who cares about a little blood? I’m dead! he thought, and laughed, and it was the strangest, most exhilarating sense of freedom he’d ever felt.
He came to a stop at the edge of a cliff, not willing to go over at full speed without seeing what he would land on. He took a deep breath and released it, feeling fresh, like he could run forever. He could have been strolling through the Temple gardens, not running at full-speed over the natural obstacle course that was Geonosis’ surface. “What do I call you?”
-You want my name?-
“Well, yes,” Obi-Wan said, eyes catching the outline of a single fighter on the ground far below, the only thing in the confines of the valley that stretched out before him. The shape looked familiar. “You're a sentient creature, and you're helping me. Simply calling you 'Hey, Bird,' seems impolite.”
The crow cackled again, a short caw emerging from its throat. -Call me Jeimor. A distinctly male member of the crow family, Obi-Wan.-
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Jeimor,” Obi-Wan replied. “Even if the circumstances are—”
Obi-Wan could only nod in agreement before he jumped off the cliff.
-Hey!- Jeimor yelled, launching himself from Obi-Wan's shoulder and spreading his wings. -Give a guy a little warning, why don't you?-
Obi-Wan laughed, slowing his fall with the Force and coming to a stop, resting on the ground in a partial crouch. “My apologies, but you did say you had wings.”
He heard Jeimor mutter rude comments about Jedi under his breath as he jogged towards the fighter. It was triangular in shape, marked in tan and red. The emblem of the Jedi Order graced the side, and the dome of an astromech droid was visible, tucked in next to the cockpit. “It's one of ours,” he said, drawing closer to the craft. The lights on the little astromech unit switched on, and it swiveled its dome head to look at Obi-Wan. It beeped in warning, recognizing him as an intruder.
He caught sight of the restraining bolt the little droid wore on its head. “That must be uncomfortable,” he said, trying to make conversation with the distrusting little droid. The droid beeped a long, mournful tone. “That's a beautiful little fighter you've got there.”
This time the droid bristled, chirping at him in anger and ending the tirade with a resounding raspberry. “Relax,” Obi-Wan soothed. “I'm not here to steal it. I'm a Jedi—we don't steal from our own.”
The droid beeped, hesitant.
“Yes. Really. In fact, I'll even remove your restraining bolt as long as you promise not to blast me into oblivion once I do so.”
-Jedi- the crow muttered, settling down to perch on the nose of the craft. -You guys would negotiate with a rancor while it was eating you.-
Obi-Wan glared in Jeimor's direction. “Probably. Still.” He reached out and grasped the edge of the fighter's wing.
Images assaulted him, flowing unceasingly through his mind at the contact.
Platform at the Temple on Coruscant.
A water world, pelted unceasingly by heavy rains.
Qui-Gon standing in front of the ship, huddled inside soaked robes as he spoke to the little astromech.
Asteroids and mind-numbing, fierce explosions.
Qui-Gon again, speaking to the droid though he couldn't make out the words.
He gasped and ripped his hand away, wrapping both arms around his chest as he struggled to process what he had just seen. “Force gods,” he whispered, straightening up as his mind began to settle once more. “What the hell was that?”
-Sorry- Jeimor said, sounding contrite. -I suppose I should have warned you. You're sensitive to psychic impressions now. People and objects, sometimes even places. Comes with the job.-
Obi-Wan stared at Jeimor in dismay. Psychometry. By the Force, that was one talent he’d never been interested in! “Will that happen every time I touch something?” It would be crippling for that to happen in the middle of a fight.
The crow cocked his head, considering. -Not really. It depends on some interesting variables. Usually you won't get the same rush of feedback touching the same thing twice. The more it involves something important to you, the stronger it will be.- The crow tapped his beak on the fighter's hull. -What did you see?-
Obi-Wan closed his eyes, focusing on the flashes of physical memory he'd seen. Qui-Gon. He focused on the second image, clearer without the rain. There was more silver in the beard, definitely more silver in the hair. It didn't make him look older, surprisingly, just…regal. It was the only word Obi-Wan could think of. There were more lines on his face, and there was a tired resignation in Qui-Gon's eyes that Obi-Wan had never seen before. He felt his eyes filling with tears before he could help himself.
His Master was here, on this planet.
I can't face him, his mind gibbered at him, his sense of place tilting swiftly out of balance. I can't, I can't, I can't!
Obi-Wan slapped his hands together, running through a calming technique and finding his center before his brain could paralyze him. "This is Qui-Gon Jinn's vessel," he answered Jeimor. “He's here, somewhere. Judging by the destroyer droids I saw, probably in trouble.”
-Your Master- Jeimor said, half-closing his eyes. -Does it involve us?-
Obi-Wan touched the Force, but no advice was forthcoming. “I don't know yet.”
Reaching down, he picked up a flat, strong rock in his hands, before climbing up on the wing of the fighter. No images assaulted him this time, for which he was thankful.
-What are you doing?-
“Doing as I said I would,” Obi-Wan replied, studying the restraining bolt on the astromech droid. Then he struck it with the rock. The bolt fell away, and the droid began cheeping, pleased with its new freedom. “There you are,” Obi-Wan said, patting the little droid. “Better?”
The droid burbled an enthusiastic affirmative.
He stood and turned, ready to head back in the direction of the fighting. Agitated beeping halted his steps. “What?”
The droid chattered at him for a moment, and then the cockpit canopy began to rise. It was an invitation if he’d ever seen one. Obi-Wan frowned and looked at Jeimor. “It would be faster.”
The crow seemed to wilt. -I prefer my own wings- he retorted. When Obi-Wan only waited, he sighed. -Damn Jedi.- With that the crow made his way up the nose of the fighter with clumsy hops, waiting at the edge of the cockpit as Obi-Wan dropped into the pilot's seat.
The fighter was roomy for someone of his size, but for Qui-Gon the cockpit would have been cramped. Obi-Wan took a moment to study the controls. The basic layout of the Jedi fighter's controls had changed little since his last use of one, and the upgrades, though numerous, were easy to understand. He began a short preflight, bringing up engines and systems from the stand-by they'd been left in. The astromech interface screen on the console lit up, filled with the droid's excited narration. “Pleasure to meet you, R-4,” Obi-Wan smiled. He had a feeling his list of new acquaintances was going to be rather long before the day was over. “There's some kind of fight going on several miles from here. Perhaps you could fill us in on the situation as we fly.”
R-4 scrolled a compliance. Jeimor looked hesitantly down into the cockpit, cocking his head this way and that. -Where's the bird perch?-
Obi-Wan couldn't help but grin. He held out his arm to Jeimor, who jumped on it, and transferred the crow to the small but adequate space behind his right shoulder. “Hang on to something,” he said, grabbing the pilot's interface and placing it on his head.
-Yeah. Sure I will.- Jeimor sounded put-out. -There was nothing in my job description about this.-
Obi-Wan kicked in the repulsors, and felt remembered pleasure as the craft rose into the air. He'd forgotten that he liked flying—as long as no one was shooting at him, anyway. [Where should I begin?] R4 asked as the craft rose past the cliffs. Now signs of an intense firefight were visible several kliks to the south. Transports were involved, and what looked like vessels of the Trade Federation and… was that the Techno Union army? Wonderful.
“Start ten years ago, but give me information only relevant to the current situation.”
There was a long pause on the display, offset by R4's thoughtful beeping. Then the astromech screen lit up again as R4 transmitted a lengthy and detailed explanation. Obi-Wan felt himself go pale as he read through the information. A separatist movement, led by Count Dooku, had been forming for several years. He frowned, remembering the slight displeasure that had always been in Qui-Gon's voice when his old Master had been mentioned. He kept reading while R4 listed the parties known to be involved. The list was long—far too long for Obi-Wan’s liking. “The galaxy has gone through some rather significant changes since my departure,” Obi-Wan murmured.
-The more things change, the more things really change- Jeimor said, his voice flat.
[There is a motion on the Senate floor to create an army of the Republic to meet the Separatist threat. A group known as the Loyalists, led by Senator Amidala of Naboo, has been in strict opposition to the vote.]
-Smart droid- said Jeimor.
“They have to be,” Obi-Wan said, throttling back on their speed as they approached the battle lines. “Droids need to keep up with a lot of information in their service to the Jedi.” He read though the last of R4's information.
[There have been multiple attempts made on her life. Padawan Skywalker was assigned by the Council to be Senator Amidala’s guardian. So far I have not been informed as to the outcome of the vote, to be decided three days ago. My Pilot, Master Jinn, was sent by the Council to track down the identity of those that would wish her harm. Evidence was traced to Kamino, a hidden planet, where my Pilot uncovered a cloning facility. Within it is a clone army. The Kaminoans were certain that the army was created at the request of the Council. This is not the case, but the Kaminoans were not given this information.]
Obi-Wan's eyes widened. “Oh, dear.”
[My Pilot also uncovered the identity of the Senator's attacker, a bounty hunter named Jango Fett. We traced Jango Fett to Geonosis. Master Jinn went to investigate, returned and sent a message to the Council to inform them that the Separatists were building their army here. Then he was attacked and captured. The restraining bolt was placed, and I have received no news since that time.]
-That's a hell of a lot to swallow at once- Jeimor commented, and Obi-Wan felt feathers brush his neck as the crow shook himself. Attacked and captured. Not killed, then. Not yet. Obi-Wan resisted the urge to search the Force for his Master. Better not to.
“It is indeed,” he said, turning his attention back to the controls. He topped the next rise, and flew them straight into a war zone.
R4 shrieked in alarm, trying to catalogue the presence of ten different projectiles, all headed in their direction. Obi-Wan sighed and sank into the Force, piloting them with easy efficiency through the danger. He banked the craft, dropping low and allowing a droid-controlled fighter to zip past them. “They're dying,” he muttered, zipping the nimble craft around a lumbering droid control ship as it rose from the earth.
“Jedi,” Obi-Wan whispered. “Many Jedi. It's been happening since I remembered. But it took me a while to remember what death felt like. And there were so many of them, I couldn't believe that's what I was sensing.”
-Mourn later, Kid- Jeimor said. -I don't want to blow up.-
Obi-Wan silently agreed. “R4, is anyone broadcasting data for tagging friendlies? If they are, translate it to your system. I want to know who's doing what. Then broadcast out your own signal so no one shoots us by accident.”
The droid beeped compliance. Obi-Wan jinked the craft into combat maneuvers to avoid a trio of ships flying in tandem, firing at him in solid lines. He marked them as droid-controlled ships and activated the fighter's weapons system. One well-timed shot obliterated two of the ships, with the resulting fireball taking out the third.
When he glanced back at the astromech screen, Obi-Wan smiled in relief; the Separatist army was not outnumbered, but a vast number of their ships were disappearing as he watched. He didn't know what army he was fighting with, but the flashes of lightsabers he saw on the battlefield alongside the armored troopers confirmed that he was on their side.
-Don't know? Bullshit- Jeimor grumbled. -I think that Senate vote passed, Obi-Wan.-
Obi-Wan nodded, not very surprised, and jerked the craft to the right. Laser blasts streaked by the canopy. Obi-Wan grimaced, tucking the ship into a looping dive, followed by the drone fighter on his tail. The crow stayed silent as Obi-Wan veered to one side, then the other, trying to avoid the blasts that were becoming more and more precise.
Gritting his teeth and hoping the little ship was up for it, Obi-Wan decreased the ship's speed, rolling to the left. The droid ship sailed past. He rolled the fighter back to the right, aiming on Force-guided instinct and firing. The other ship blew apart.
-I'm starting to like you, Kid.- Jeimor snapped his beak in satisfaction.
“Thanks,” Obi-Wan replied, distracted, his attention focused on a far corner of the battlefield. He pulled back on the stick, gaining altitude and escaping the worst of the fighting as he banked around. A speeder, escorted by two small droid ships, was headed east and away from the fighting. For one clear moment, the Force sang to him in recognition of the next task.
Without hesitation he followed, accelerating. He was too high up to be perceived as a threat to the droids escorting the speeder.
-I do believe the battle is the other way?- Jeimor sounded more interested than concerned.
“We have to stop him,” Obi-Wan replied, reaching out with his Force-sense to get a better feel for why. He jerked back, slamming up his shields in one of the most complex patterns he'd ever been taught, shuddering in reaction.
“He's Dark,” Obi-Wan explained, biting his lip in sudden fear. The last time he'd gone up against one of Darkness, it had not gone well. The sense he had received from this one was much more powerful, controlled and modulated in a way that was familiar, if tainted. “I—I think it's Count Dooku.”
If Qui-Gon was here, then he was already well-aware of his old Master's fall. Obi-Wan wished he could have spared Qui-Gon that realization—his teacher had been hurt enough by Xanatos' betrayal so many years before.
-Ah, the host departs before the party is over.- Jeimor's beak clamped around Obi-Wan's earlobe and tugged. -Relax, Kid. You're not the same person you once were. This Count Dork is in for a surprise.-
That surprised a laugh out of Obi-Wan. “Dork?”
-What, that wasn't his name? Seems appropriate enough.-
Obi-Wan smiled and coaxed more speed out of the nimble fighter, passing and outdistancing the Count's speeder.
-Hmm. We seem to be abandoning the bad guy.-
“I know where he's going.” His destination had been the Count's primary focus during Obi-Wan's moment of contact. He communicated with R4, and the fighter went even faster as the droid borrowed power from non-essential systems. “We just need to get there first.”
[That’s easy,] R4 blatted, unconcerned.
The hangar bay had been carved into the mountain, and was all but deserted as Obi-Wan landed inside. He popped the canopy, leaving the astromech droid to cool down the ship from its breakneck flight across the desert. A small craft was the only other thing in the hangar; it was a solar sailer, humming in stand-by mode.
-What's the plan, Kid?- Jeimor hopped up on the cockpit edge, stretching his wings and giving himself a good shake.
“Disable the solar sailer first,” Obi-Wan replied, running through his limited knowledge he had of that ship type for the quickest way to cripple it. “Keep him from making it off-planet. If worst comes to worst, we'll just blow it up.”
-All right. And the Dork?-
Obi-Wan's lips twisted in a quick smile. He rummaged around in the cockpit, then pulled the seat down to reach the storage compartment behind it. “Him I'll need some sort of weapon for. Or I could just stand there with you on my shoulder, threaten him, and when he laughs himself into unconsciousness we can roll him off of a cliff.”
Jeimor laughed, cawing gleefully. -A sense of humor. Bless my stars, the Knight is funny!-
Obi-Wan stopped short. “Padawan,” he said, voice frosty. “The word you're looking for is Padawan. And really, I'm not that, either.”
Jeimor blinked several times, beak gaping as he turned his head around to look at Obi-Wan. -Sure, Kid- he said meekly. -Whatever you say.-
Obi-Wan nodded and hauled the medical kit out of its hiding place. Next was a container of dried foods, distasteful but edible. Next was a plain leather case, surface marred, the edges worn soft from long years of use. He clenched his hands, wondering if touching this object that was so intimately Qui-Gon's would send him into another psychic tailspin.
He was wrong; the sense of images and feelings he got from the case were faint and easy to ignore. There's not going to be a weapon in this, he told himself, then opened it anyway. Inside was a change of clothes, folded into the tiny space so well that not even a wrinkle would exist when the tunics and leggings were unpacked for wear.
Sitting on top of the clothing was Obi-Wan's lightsaber.
For a moment he just stared at it, not even breathing. That's not possible.
His eyes traveled the length of the hilt, taking in the handgrips and controls along with the tiny dints and scratches that revealed its hard use. As far as looks went, it was exactly like his own. He touched the hilt with hesitant fingers.
Oh dear sweet Force, no, he moaned, even as the images hurtled through his mind at the speed of light. He had wielded this lightsaber from the age of fifteen, and he flashed through five years of memories in less than five seconds. Katas, blaster bolts, Xanatos, his Master guiding him through a new movement when his own feet kept tripping him up, laughing through a multiple spar with Bant and Garen, engagements beyond number, and the Sith, always the Sith that he had battled. His chest ached with phantom pain.
Gritting his teeth, he forced the rush of memories away. He wrapped his hand around the hilt and lifted it out of the case. Obi-Wan waited a moment until he was sure that the surge wasn't going to repeat itself, then put everything back into storage like he'd found it.
He had no idea what Qui-Gon was doing, carrying around his old lightsaber. It was frightening in a way that he could not explain. A potential battle with a powerful Dark-sider felt like a carnival ride in comparison to the emotions that discovery unearthed.
Obi-Wan felt a moment's guilt for taking the lightsaber before forcing himself to ignore the emotion. If he was still around when this day was over, he would apologize to Qui-Gon for the liberty and make sure it was returned. It was no longer his to keep.
-Better hurry, Kid- Jeimor spoke up. The crow cocked his head this way and that. -I hear engines.-
Obi-Wan nodded and leapt out of the cockpit, hitting the floor and running across the bay. The solar sailer. He ignited the lightsaber in his hands, his face bathed in the familiar pale blue glow. Knowing he didn't have time for anything complicated, he settled for general mayhem. Holding out the lit saber, he locked the power on and lifted it into the air with the Force.
Several quick, exacting cuts, and the ship's sails were useless. Those weren't needed to fly the ship in atmosphere, only space, so he dipped the blade and sent it whizzing along the underside of the dainty craft. The lightsaber cut into the ship's delicate innards, taking out the cooling system and several vital power junctions. It could all be repaired, but it would take time.
He didn't intend to allow Dooku that time. The Force was beating against his mind, letting him know with absolute certainty that the old Jedi had to be stopped. He just didn't have the time to sit down and figure out why.
-When you destroy something, you sure do a good job.- Jeimor launched himself from the ship and flew towards Obi-Wan, flapping his wings in several sharp bursts before settling on Obi-Wan's shoulder once more. -Time for the big confrontation, Kid. Ready?-
“No,” Obi-Wan replied.
-Smart Kid. You'll go far.- Jeimor shuffled his feet. One large amber eye looked up at Obi-Wan speculatively. -Why are you so intent on facing this guy? Impression I got from your mind is you've never even met him before.-
Obi-Wan made himself stand calmly, unmoving. Giving in to nerves and pacing would only wear him out before the fight began. “I had a flash when we saw him. I'm prescient,” he explained with a terse smile. “Very annoying talent. Qui-Gon and his Padawan—” He blinked back sudden tears. It still hurt. It still hurt to be cast aside.
Dammit, I was worth more than that!
He shoved away the spike of hurt, releasing as much as he could to the Force. It didn't matter now, anyway. “Qui-Gon and Anakin were going to face Dooku in this hangar. They're on their way here now, but Dooku's got quite a lead on them.”
-Okay, so your Master and his scrawny Apprentice were supposed to be the one to kick Dooku in the ass. Why are you circumventing that?-
“Did you just use real vocabulary? I'm impressed.” Jeimor managed to make a sound very much like a derisive snort. “And I'm circumventing it because they wouldn’t have done very well.”
Obi-Wan shook his head, hearing the whine of a speeder. The Count was very close, now. “No. And I don't want anything to happen to either of them.” For a moment he remembered the smiling young boy Qui-Gon had rescued from slavery. He wondered what kind of man the boy had grown up to be.
-So you're going to play sacrificial lamb?-
Obi-Wan held his ignited lightsaber by his side, finding his place in the Force as he heard the speeder engines go silent. Someone began walking in his direction, coupled with the distinct air of Darkness approaching. “I really hope not.”
Count Dooku swept his cloak away from his arms, striding across the silent hangar bay. Things were going exactly to plan. The Confederation was embroiled in conflict with the new army of the Republic, a great number of Jedi were dead, and war would soon engulf a large part of the galaxy. His Master would be pleased, even as he was. Great plans were coming to fruition, setting the stage for years to come.
Something impinged on his Force sense, and he slowed his pace, wary. He could see his ship, but not anything beyond it. The state of the mutilated sails, however, told him everything he needed to know.
Dooku frowned. He could sense his old Apprentice approaching, with his new Padawan: the powerful one, Skywalker, whom his Master had high hopes for. But this development had not been foreseen.
He stepped around a shred of mutilated sail, taking in the sight before him.
A human male stood there, a full head shorter than he was, dressed in the simple tan garb of a Jedi. Coppery blond hair grown long framed a bearded face, offsetting a pair of cool blue-green eyes. His face was smeared with gray and black dust, especially around the eyes, leaving them in intense shadow. A large black bird perched on the young man's shoulder, shuffling its feet as it regarded the Count with amber eyes that seemed far too intelligent.
A lit lightsaber was held in the man's left hand, blade pointing down at the floor. The light threw the young man's features into stark relief, which made the mingled dust on his face all the more disconcerting. The eyes gazing up at Dooku held fierce determination.
It was a Jedi Knight facing Count Dooku, one that felt not a trace of fear. “You don't seem to be one of the Jedi from the arena,” the Count mused, not yet reaching for his own lightsaber. There was power in this one, restrained, but just waiting to crackle to the surface. It would be possible to lose to the strength that stood before him.
Now was the time to test that resolve. Then weaknesses could be exploited.
The Jedi gave him a quick smile, the expression not reaching his eyes. “I'm a late arrival, Dooku.”
The Count smiled genially in return. “I'm afraid you have me at a loss. You know my name, but I do not know yours.”
“It's not important.” The young man shrugged, the gesture not dislodging the bird. The amber eyes that stared at him, unblinking, were beginning to disturb Dooku. “I'm just here to stop you, and that's all you need to know.”
“Indeed,” Dooku replied, lacing his fingers together and letting calm envelop him like a cloak. He cast one eye on his damaged ship, seeing the fluids that leaked out the underside. The young Jedi had crippled his means off-planet, but there were still other avenues of escape to consider. “I do not think you will succeed, my young friend.”
Another shrug. “Think what you like.” Then his head tilted to one side, listening. Dooku could hear the approaching whine of a transport. “Two more Jedi approach, Count Dooku. Between the three of us, you may find escape difficult.”
Dooku smiled, derisive, spreading his hands. “A Padawan who cannot control his emotions, and my own old apprentice? I am not worried about the two of them. Qui-Gon Jinn has lost two Padawans in disgrace and will soon lose a third.” He shook his head. “A failed Jedi Master does not concern me.”
Narrowed eyes regarded him. “Perhaps the failure was not his own. Perhaps you underestimate him.”
Dooku allowed himself a measure of satisfaction. He had stumbled across a subject that broke through this Jedi's calm. It was the barest flinch, but it mattered little; its only importance was that Dooku could use it to destroy him. “Perhaps,” he allowed himself to agree. He began to move, and the younger man moved as well. Jedi and Fallen circled each other warily. The blue lightsaber never raised, never sought to begin the attack.
Weak fool, Dooku thought, feeling a moment's sympathy for the young Jedi, still mired in the Order's impractical philosophies. “You are familiar with my old student, then?”
“By reputation,” the Jedi replied, glancing once at the bird perched on his shoulder. The bird cocked its head and looked up at the man with one amber eye. “You might want to find a new perch.”
To Dooku's surprise, the bird cawed once and launched itself into the air. It landed on a small fighter on the other side of the hangar bay. Dooku smiled; once the man had been dispatched with, a method of escape had presented itself. He turned his attention back to the Jedi. “By reputation only? Then surely you must have heard that Master Jinn is a broken man, a pale shadow of his former self.”
“I have heard nothing of the sort,” the Jedi replied, cocking his head to one side in mimicry of his bird. “I had not heard, however, that you speak in bad clichés.”
Dooku widened his eyes, his only acknowledgement of the insult. “I speak only the truth, my young friend.”
Fear is pain arising from the anticipation of evil.
-What are you going to do? Talk him to death? Slice his head off already and get this over with.-
No, Obi-Wan replied, forcing himself to breathe deeply, nerves singing and muscles screaming with repressed tension. That is not the Jedi way. I can't just strike him down. Not like this. He's not even attacking me.
The crow cawed, the sound echoing in the otherwise silent bay. -You Force-brained idiot. What do you think he's doing?-
Obi-Wan switched his lightsaber to his right hand, wiping his sweaty palm on his leggings. He's baiting me. Trying to goad me into attacking him.
Jeimor snorted. -Got a headache?-
Obi-Wan paused. His head did feel funny, now that he considered it. Even as the realization sank in a new, subtle spike of pressure touched his mind. Through the Force, he could sense his shields were being tested, prodded. Several blazing points revealed where his defenses had already been wounded.
He growled, frustrated with himself, and gripped his lightsaber in both hands. "I know what you're trying to do, and it won't work."
Dooku merely gazed at him with an innocent, proprietary smile. "Do?"
-Damn, but he's full of it.-
Obi-Wan concentrated for a moment, healing over the damaged parts of his shields before creating a new level of the layered shielding over what already existed. He felt better as soon as he’d finished, his thoughts running free and clear. Now, he could feel the Darkness that radiated off of the old man, cloying and sickening in its intensity. He wasn’t going to win a fight with the fallen Jedi in the mental arena; his strengths had always lain elsewhere.
Obi-Wan raised his lightsaber, decision made, and the tension in his frame eased. At last, his scattered memory supplied one final, vital detail: Obi-Wan had triumphed against the Sith on Naboo, even though it had cost him his life.
Dooku had trained his Master in lightsaber techniques. Qui-Gon had passed those techniques on to him. In a sense, he should be familiar with his opponent's skill with a blade.
Obi-Wan smiled and swung his lightsaber in a tight arc, not surprised when a lightsaber appeared in Dooku's hand, blocking the pale blue blade with a dark red one. The attack on his shields lessened and then vanished as he thrust his lightsaber at the Darkened Jedi. Dooku was powerful, but not powerful enough to assault Obi-Wan’s mind during a lightsaber battle.
Dooku was no longer smiling. "You will die, Jedi."
Obi-Wan laughed, spinning around to deliver a high arc that Dooku parried away. "That's the most amusing thing I've heard all day."
When we two parted
In silence and tears,
To sever for years
Qui-Gon Jinn leapt off the transport, Anakin Skywalker just behind him. He landed without a sound, the Force easing the impact. His Padawan hit the edge of the launch platform behind him with a bone-jarring thud, but uttered no word of complaint. Lightsabers ignited, they hurried inside. Dimly, Qui-Gon was aware of the twisted shriek in the Force when their transport was destroyed by an attacking vessel, but most of his attention was focused elsewhere.
His old Master had, with skillful manipulation, tried to convince him to join the Separatists. Then, that failing, had attempted to execute him instead. Despite their early successes in the arena, Qui-Gon was certain that only the intervention of the other Jedi, and then Master Yoda and the clone army's arrival, had saved himself, Anakin, and Padmé Amidala from certain death.
Qui-Gon cared little about his own death, and sometimes wished desperately for it, but he would not lead anyone else to the same fate. As he and Anakin entered the hangar proper, he only hoped that he was not doing that very thing now.
He took in the sight of the mutilated solar sailer, letting his eyes roam across the hangar bay. His own ship was parked on the opposite side of the hangar. A large black bird perched on the nose, sedate, watching something blocked from Qui-Gon’s view with avid interest.
"Master," Anakin whispered, lightsaber dipping in surprise. And then, as the roar of wind and laser fire finally faded from his ears, he heard it: the sounds of a pitched lightsaber battle.
"Come," he said, and strode forward. Anakin followed without a sound, focused and intense. Qui-Gon could readily admit it, now; he was afraid for the boy. After dealing with a fallen Padawan, and now a fallen Master, Qui-Gon recognized all too well the darkness that loomed over Anakin like a dirty cloud. He hoped that he could still reach Anakin, pull him back from the path before it was too late. He prayed he would be granted the time to do so.
When they came around the corner of the sailship, both men stopped in surprise. Count Dooku, cloak flying, was engaged in a furious lightsaber battle with someone unknown to Qui-Gon. He took in the long copper hair, Jedi tunics, and the blue lightsaber that flashed through the air in a flurry of strikes and parries. The dirt marring the strange Jedi’s face was strange, as if there was a pattern that wanted to emerge. It was focused around the eyes, spreading outward in dark streaks.
Before Qui-Gon could get a closer look, the redhead was on the move, flipping backwards over a pile of crates before Dooku could trap him against them. Dooku followed in a Force-assisted leap, lightsaber already swinging down in a move meant to cleave the other fighter's head from his shoulders.
The other man ducked aside, eel-like, already moving into a new offensive position as Dooku followed. Anakin was staring, confusion warring with frank admiration on his features. "Who in the Force is that?"
Qui-Gon shook his head, realizing his own expression was much the same. "I don't know. But we should not leave him to fight Dooku alone." He took a step forward, only to be stopped by Anakin's hand on his arm. He glanced at his Padawan, suppressing a brief surge of irritation.
"Wait, Master," Anakin said, but he was not looking at Qui-Gon. His attention was fixed, his gaze locked with the bird that still sat on the fighter. Light blue and soft amber eyes stared at each other for a long moment, unblinking.
"Anakin?" Qui-Gon questioned, looking back and forth in puzzlement. Anakin seemed frozen, rooted to the spot. Qui-Gon half turned, placing his hand on the boy's shoulder. "Padawan?"
His Apprentice jerked, startled, as he looked at Qui-Gon with wide, shocked eyes. "This fight is not for us."
Qui-Gon dropped his hand in surprise. Out of the corner of his eye he saw his old Master and his opponent cross the room, lightsabers flashing at a maddening pace. "What do you mean?" He looked back; the bird cocked its head, looking at him. Qui-Gon's eyes were caught by a mesmerizing pull. Amber seemed to fill his vision.
Gritting his teeth, he forced his gaze away. "Something is happening here, Master," Anakin was saying, disengaging his lightsaber and attaching it to his belt. "I don't know what."
"Nor I," Qui-Gon admitted. He lowered his lightsaber but did not shut it down, still unsure. The Force was no help. The currents of the Living Force were tangled and twisted together. The future was always uncertain, but now the moment was just as much a mystery.
Dooku was pressing his advantage, hammering furious strikes against the other man's guard and forcing him closer to the hangar wall. If Dooku thought to trap the younger man, he was wrong. As Qui-Gon watched, the smaller man turned and leapt, kicking off of the wall hard. Turning in the air, he somersaulted and landed in a battle-ready crouch a few meters away from Anakin. He was close enough for Qui-Gon to see the sweat that beaded his skin, soaking his hair.
The Count strode forward, lightsaber raised, and then paused. He met Qui-Gon's gaze, and smiled with false warmth. "I see my old Padawan has decided to join us at last."
The younger man jerked around in surprise. Qui-Gon felt all of the air rush out of his lungs as startled blue-green eyes met his own. Offset by the dirt that shadowed his gaze, they were wide, fever bright.
He shook his head—it couldn’t be!—but the man had already moved on, resuming his dance with Dooku. Qui-Gon glanced at the lightsaber the man held in his right hand, eyes caught by the familiar design.
The strange Jedi was swinging the lightsaber up to block as Dooku returned to the fray, pushing with all of his strength against the younger man’s blade in an attempt to overpower him. Again, the mystery duelist would not be so easily beaten, twisting his lightsaber away and forcing Dooku to attack once more. Qui-Gon felt his stomach twist in sudden revelation. The lightsaber was familiar because he had packed it away himself, not very long ago. Obi-Wan's lightsaber, kept for all these years because he could not bear to let it go.
It was just a lightsaber, being put to good use. He watched as Dooku and the strange man parried a few more times, neither gaining any ground.
It was something private. Qui-Gon had kept the lightsaber all of these years, a private thing, all that remained of his last Padawan. No one knew. Not even Anakin.
It was an intrusion. He was unprepared for the rage that seemed to explode from somewhere within.
Dooku’s opponent stumbled in the midst of a block, dropping his guard as he curled in on himself. Dooku smiled, and with a feral hiss, struck.
* * * *
Obi-Wan was unprepared for the sudden burst of rage that beat against his shields simply due to the shocking nature of its source. Qui-Gon tore into him as Dooku could not have, and Obi-Wan crumpled against the onslaught, too hurt and bewildered to defend himself. Then white-hot, searing pain lanced through his body, and he did crumble, falling to his knees. For a moment he was blinded by the familiar agony.
Dooku's laughter cut through his senses, and he raised his eyes. The Count stood there, lightsaber raised, ready to deliver the killing blow. Failed. He had failed again. He closed his eyes, not wanting to watch his own death a second time.
-Oh, suck it up, you big baby- Jeimor's said, sounding faint and distant. -You're not hurt.-
I am! he wailed in response, clutching the wound with his free hand. He was, he realized in surprise, still holding on to his own lightsaber. I can't—
-No wonder they also called you Obi-whine- the crow said jeeringly. -Get up and kill him before he kills you. Burns are one thing, but I don't know if I can heal you a new head.-
Jeimor's words were like ice water dumped on his psyche. He gasped and launched himself up, catching Dooku's lightsaber on his own. The pain was gone, as if it had never been, and he threw himself back into the fight with a ferocity that was surprising.
It shocked Dooku even more, who had thought the battle over. The old human stumbled backwards before recovering, and with a snarl, threw himself against Obi-Wan in a series of offensive maneuvers that were meant to be terrifying in their intensity.
Obi-Wan settled into the fight, countering each one, his balance restored. It didn't matter what happened to him, or what he would say to Qui-Gon when the fight was over. He was here to do this, had begged for the chance to put things right, and that was what he was going to do. The Force was with him, and Obi-Wan let it flow through him like he had never allowed before.
It felt like flying.
Then, instead of continuing with the form that the Count favored, he went back to his own style of fighting. Dooku fought grounded, lightsaber dancing out to catch his opponents unaware. Obi-Wan had always favored a style of acrobatic fighting that left him rarely on the ground, always moving. Combined with the techniques that he had learned from his Master, it was a blur of activity.
Dooku broke away from him. The old fallen Jedi's calm had disintegrated, and his face a furious mask. His voice was still smooth and controlled, though, even as he panted for breath. "You are quite skilled with the blade, my friend, but surely you know that you cannot win." Dooku flipped the lightsaber over in his hand, oozing self-confidence even as his eyes glittered with Darkness.
Obi-Wan snorted. "What are you going to do, impress me to death?" He grinned crookedly, flipping his own lightsaber over in his hand. It was a favorite move, meant to be flashy, but it was also difficult, and worked as a simple way to convey depth of skill.
Not really. It just looks better when I do it.
-Humans!- the crow snorted, but he sounded pleased rather than disgusted.
* * * *
Qui-Gon was certain that the fight was over when the man fell to his knees, eyes wide in pain and shock. He was frozen in place, knowing that it was his own fault. His mind was rampant with guilt, paralyzed by it. All he knew was that his own anger had somehow distracted Dooku's opponent, left him open for the strike. The red lightsaber had pierced the young man's body just above the hip, darting in and out before either he or Anakin could intervene.
All he could think was I killed him, I killed him again, which was ludicrous, because this could not be Obi-Wan. This man’s physical appearance was just a coincidence.
Qui-Gon watched as Dooku raised his lightsaber for the killing blow and could not think of a thing to do to stop it.
He saw Anakin raise his hand, felt his young apprentice gather the Force to him. Before Anakin could release the burst of energy, the wounded man leapt up like a coiled spring, lightsaber meeting lightsaber in a sharp crack of energy.
Qui-Gon let out the breath he didn't know he'd been holding. He tore his gaze away from the resumed fight only when he heard a familiar tapping sound come from the hangar entrance.
"Master Qui-Gon," Yoda greeted him, walking up to him and leaning on his gimer stick. "What happens here?"
"Battle royal," Anakin answered, all of his attention fixed on the duel.
Yoda gave the Padawan a quick glance before turning back to Qui-Gon expectantly.
Qui-Gon found he couldn't come up with a better explanation than Anakin's. "Do you know who that is?" he asked instead. “The younger man, the one who fights Dooku. I’ve never seen him before.”
“Could be someone from one of the satellite temples,” Anakin ventured. The two combatants were locked together, lightsabers creaking in strain as both sought to overpower the other.
Yoda never answered him. Qui-Gon glanced back down to find the old Jedi staring in wide-eyed wonder, as if he had never seen a lightsaber battle before.
* * * *
Locked body to body, Obi-Wan gritted his teeth at the vibrations running through his hands as both lightsabers hissed and crackled against each other. Dooku's eyes were soulless black depths. There was nothing calm or controlled about the man now.
Obi-Wan was shoved backwards by an invisible hand. He recovered his balance only long enough to stagger back again, falling to one knee as a vicious wave of energy washed through him. He heard himself cry out in surprised pain, all of his extremities tingling as the Dark energy tried to ground itself within him. He gasped at the attack, but the pain was already fading. He stood back up, lightsaber raised.
Dooku frowned petulantly. Obi-Wan smiled; he supposed he was meant to be on the floor, screaming and writhing in pain. The Count lifted his hand and purple lightning blazed from his fingertips, hitting Obi-Wan before he could come up with any counter to it. He flinched, but forced himself to remain standing, only taking a single step back in recognition of the assault. Once more, the pain was fading before it had a chance to take hold.
He glared at Dooku, flexing his grip on his lightsaber to overcome the pins and needles sensation in his fingers. "Ow." He glared up at the fallen Jedi. "You know, that could really hurt someone."
Dooku growled in thwarted fury and raised his hand again. Obi-Wan tensed, calling on the Force. He didn't think he'd be able to hold on to his lightsaber if he was hit again.
He felt dark currents of energy stirring, and began to build a wall of energy in response. It was an invisible shield, enough to stave off the Force-created lightning. Just because it wasn’t killing him didn’t mean that he wanted to marinate in the sensation. Too late he sensed the direction of the attack, as rocks were torn from the ceiling above the watching Jedi.
Without thought he threw his lightsaber at Dooku. The lit blade hummed as it flew through the air. Aim and speed enhanced by the Force, the blade sank hilt-deep into the older man's chest before Dooku could defend himself.
Dooku's eyes widened in shock, mouth open in a soundless cry of surprise. He sank to his knees as Obi-Wan ripped his weapon free with the Force. Dooku dropped his lightsaber, the blade disengaging as it fell from his hand. Obi-Wan called his own lightsaber back to his hand and turned, fearing the worst.
He need not have. Master Yoda stood with Qui-Gon and Anakin, eyes closed in concentration. One clawed hand hovered in the air, fingers splayed. The boulders that Count Dooku had ripped from the ceiling floated to the ground, settling with gentle clacks. Obi-Wan closed his eyes in relief. Over. He'd done it. He had one giddy moment to congratulate himself on not dying—again—before a hand closed around his ankle.
He looked down to find the Count staring up at him with baleful black eyes. His skin was gray, cheeks sunken, but hatred still blazed from the old man in palpable waves as life fled his body. "…Jedi..." he hissed, spitting the word.
Obi-Wan jerked free, stepping back. Dooku's hand fell away, dropping down on the floor. He lowered his head, his eyes closing.
"Oh. Good," he heard himself say, without any thought beforehand. Uttering a short laugh, he stumbled backwards and sat down hard on his rear. He bit his tongue hard enough for stars of pain to explode in his vision. After that he couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry.
-Do a little of both. It's healthy for you- Jeimor advised.
Obi-Wan blinked in surprise and turned to look at the crow. "I thought you said you were here to keep me from doing anything stupid," he rasped out. Taking on Dooku certainly ranked up as one of the least intelligent things he had ever done.
-Kept you from getting yourself beheaded, didn't I?-
Obi-Wan nodded, staring at the Dark Jedi on the ground before him. One last hissing breath passed his lips, and Count Dooku was no more.
He had enough time to relax and wonder how he was going to explain things when the Count's body exploded in a burst of dark energy. Obi-Wan screamed as he was caught in a wave of expanding fire, ten times worse than the lightning Dooku had used against him. He fell back, aware of Jeimor's voice in his mind as his vision grayed out.
-Sorry, Kid! Overload!-
He even sounds surprised, Obi-Wan thought, and darkness took him.
Yoda shielded them all, a fortunate thing, because Qui-Gon was too busy staring in disbelief at the Dark energy that exploded from his former Master’s body upon his death. What jarred him, brought him to his senses, was the horrible, pain-filled scream that came from the copper-haired Jedi that had defeated Dooku. Even through the conflagration of energy, Qui-Gon could see that the man’s teeth were bared, his eyes squeezed shut, as lightning crackled over his lean frame, scorching his tunics, burning his skin.
Then the nimbus was gone, and the strange Jedi fell back, sprawled out onto the floor, mouth parted. No sign of movement, no hint of life. Qui-Gon’s heart lurched in his chest. “Go,” he whispered to Anakin.
Anakin needed no further instruction. He darted over and slid to his knees at the strange man’s side, pressing two fingers to the pulse-point in his throat. “Still alive,” Anakin confirmed after a moment, looking relieved. He bent down and turned his head, listening with his ear just above the other man’s mouth. “Still breathing, too, but he doesn’t sound that good—Padmé!” he cried, standing up, a delighted grin on his face. “You’re all right!”
Qui-Gon watched the Senator approach, flanked by several of the clone troopers, all of them wielding blasters. “Soft sand,” Padmé said, smiling reassurance at Anakin, before nodding at Qui-Gon and Yoda. Anakin, relieved, went back to aid the fallen Jedi. “We came to help you, but there doesn’t seem to be much left to do,” Padmé said. “Where’s Dooku?”
Yoda hobbled forward, and Qui-Gon followed, feeling numb despite his relief to hear that the strange Jedi still lived. Where Dooku had been, there was nothing but a blackened patch of floor, the faint hint of dust in the air, and the darkened hilt of his lightsaber.
“Dooku is no more,” Yoda said, while Qui-Gon stared at the marred duracrete. His Master was dead—worse, his Master had died in Darkness, died a Sith. Even after the events of the past few days, it was still a shock. While they had never really gotten along, it had never once occurred to Qui-Gon to think that his Master would choose this path.
“Hey—hey, stop that!” Anakin yelped. Qui-Gon turned; the large black bird had flown over to perch on the wounded man’s chest, and was pecking at Anakin’s hands every time his Padawan tried to dislodge him.
“Come on, I can’t help him if you won’t move!” Anakin scolded the bird. The bird, in response, rose up on its feet, spread its wings, and cawed so loudly at Anakin that the sound echoed through the hangar. Then the crow settled back down, made itself comfortable, and glared at Anakin. Its entire posture said clearly: I’m not moving.
“Who’s that?” Padmé asked, shouldering her blaster rifle and stepping closer.
“I don’t know,” Qui-Gon answered. “But he is the reason we did not have to dispatch Dooku ourselves,” he said, and felt a moment of perverse gratitude. Raising his lightsaber against his Master was not something he’d been looking forward to.
Yoda leaned on his gimer stick, peering down at the unconscious man. “Separate them, you should not,” he told Anakin, blinking thoughtful, considering eyes at Qui-Gon’s Padawan. “Hmm. A long time it has been, since such a thing I have seen. A long, long time—and a Jedi, she was not. Curious. Very curious…”
“Seen what, Master Yoda?” Qui-Gon asked, after he, Anakin, and Padmé exchanged speculative looks.
Yoda lifted his head. “Helping him, the crow is,” he announced. “Bonded companions they are. Look. Healing, his injuries are,” he said, pointing with his gimer stick.
Qui-Gon glanced down, sucking in a surprised breath. The copper-haired man’s burns were healing with what seemed to be Force-enhanced speed, becoming red, then pink, before fading into the paleness of his skin as if they had never been. “I had… no idea that such things were possible,” he whispered, gazing at the crow. The crow stared back, but the intensity of its amber gaze was no longer so strong, and he did not feel like he was drowning in it. Is that how he could continue fighting after being impaled on a lightsaber?
The crow clacked its beak once, as if answering the unspoken question, but before Qui-Gon could contemplate that, his commlink chirped for attention. He recognized the incoming signal and activated the comm. “Mace?”
“Yes,” the other Master confirmed, his voice cracking as the stone walls of the hangar tried to interrupt the signal. “Most of the Separatist troops have either been detained or have escaped. We’re mopping things up now. How are things on your end?”
Qui-Gon looked at the crow, the unconscious Jedi, his Padawan, Padmé Amidala, Yoda, and the cloned soldiers, and in that moment felt so weary it was almost too intense to be borne. Days of wakefulness, the torture, and the arena battle were all catching up to him at once. “Everything’s been taken care of,” he said, his voice rough with his sudden exhaustion. “But we have wounded.”
“Don’t we all,” Mace replied. “Use the transport that the Senator commandeered. We’ll see you soon.”
“With us, they should go,” Yoda instructed once Qui-Gon had shut down the comm. The tiny being had collected Dooku’s lightsaber, and was holding the cracked, ruined casing like it was distasteful. “Return to Coruscant we shall. Many questions I have,” he said, solemn-voiced, still gazing at the mysterious man and his companion. “Many questions.”
When Anakin lifted the man up, the crow went with them, muttering and clacking its beak as weight shifted. It was only then that the strange Jedi’s hand went lax, and the lightsaber he’d wielded came loose from his white-knuckled grip. It rolled across the floor, coming to a gentle stop near Qui-Gon’s right boot.
Qui-Gon bent and picked it up, running his thumb down the hilt. He swallowed; the impression of Obi-Wan he’d always felt from the blade had grown even more distant, overwhelmed by the death of a Sith.
“Sentimental, you are,” Yoda said. He had stopped, half-turned, waiting for Qui-Gon to join him. The others were already out of sight, making their way to the waiting transport.
Qui-Gon nodded. Why deny it, when the evidence now rested in his hand?
To his surprise, the ancient Master smiled at him. “A good thing, that is.”
Any relic of the dead is precious, if they were valued living.
-You sleep like something dead, Obi-Wan- the crow joked, and the bird’s harsh laughter echoed in his head. -Open your eyes, Kid.-
Obi-Wan did so, and found the ceiling of a starship over his head. He recognized it, of course; he’d spent enough time on the Nubian craft during the last days of his life. He felt a moment’s grogginess before the sensation vanished, and energy flooded his system. That would be your doing?
-Uh huh. There wouldn’t have been a problem, but I had no idea that Sith exploded upon dying.-
Obi-Wan grimaced. Nor did I. His hand crept to his waist, where a lightsaber wound should have resided. He slipped his fingers through the hole in his tunics, feeling nothing but bare skin. He’d felt himself burn in the Sith’s fire, too, but there seemed to be no trace of that, either. And I find that I’m fully healed. Anything else you're going to forget to inform me of?
-Nothing pressing- Jeimor said. -By the way, you might want to pay some attention to the troll. He's been waiting for you.-
What?! Obi-Wan sat bolt-upright. Now that he’d been alerted to it, the old Master’s presence was unmistakable.
Master Yoda was sitting on the floor, resting on a cushion, gimer stick held in both hands. His gaze was calm, open and welcoming, though his ears raised as he watched Obi-wan regain control over himself. “Been waiting for you to awaken, I have.”
Obi-Wan turned, letting his booted feet rest on the floor so that he could sit on the edge of the bunk. His clothing was in even worse shape than his body must have been, scorched and blackened by Dooku’s death. He touched one of the burns and felt cloth disintegrate under his fingertip, leaving a tiny hole behind.
“I don’t know what to say,” he whispered at last.
Yoda tilted his head. “Strange, it is. Consigned young Obi-Wan to the flames on Naboo, did we. Yet here, Obi-Wan is. Not so young, perhaps, but still it is the youngling from the creche I remember.”
Yoda recognized him and knew him for who he was, unquestionably. Obi-Wan could have laughed at the relief that knowledge brought him. He knelt on the floor, bowing reverently to the small Jedi Master. “Strange is a very good word for this, Master Yoda,” he said.
“Hmm. Yes. Yes, it is." Yoda said, and touched Obi-Wan’s hair, his clawed hands gentle. “Tell me you must, how this has come to be. Felt your passing, I did.”
Obi-Wan sat back on his heels. “You sensed my...death?” Impossible, he thought. Yoda might have been one of the strongest Jedi known, but the distance from Naboo to Coruscant...
Yoda snorted, amused, sensing his thoughts. “Not so unusual, is it, when one so strong in the Force passes on. Tell me,” he said again, and there was a hint of pleading in the elder's voice.
“There's not much to tell, Master,” Obi-Wan hesitated. He was not sure how to explain, when he barely understood it himself. “I'm not a clone, if that's any help.”
Yoda smiled. “Knew that, I did. Seen one like you before, I have, ages ago. A companion she had, and a violent path they walked together before her crow flew on alone.”
Obi-Wan opened his mouth, closed it, and then just sat there, thoughts whirring. He was not the first. Someone else, some when, had crossed back over, just as he had. Was that you as well, Jeimor? The one who flew on alone?
-Eh, that was before my time. Relax, Kid. Just tell the troll what you know- Jeimor advised. -There's nothing wrong with that. And I like him. He keeps feeding me.-
Obi-Wan finally caught sight of Jeimor, huddled on the floor in a dark corner. What are you doing over there?
-Hiding from the blond. He gives me a headache. Keeps trying to prod my mind. Smacking impertinent teenagers takes effort.- Jeimor's voice trailed off into a grumble.
Obi-Wan turned his attention back to Yoda, and began to speak. It wasn't his most confident recital, as he told the old Master about his pleas, about the woman's voice, and about waking up on Geonosis with only Jeimor for company. But he was honest, leaving out nothing about his own thoughts and reactions. When he got to the fight, he hesitated at the sadness that appeared in Yoda's eyes, then plowed forward. At last he fell silent, knowing from long years of experience that Yoda was thinking long and hard about all that Obi-Wan had told him.
“Unexpected, this was,” Yoda said at last, tracing the deck plates with his gimer stick. “Think you that it was right, to interfere in this manner?”
Obi-Wan hesitated. Yoda did have a point; it was rather audacious of him. He shrugged and said, “I only know what my own feelings on the matter are, Master. It seems someone agreed with me.”
Yoda grunted noncommittally. “And here you are, then. What should we do with you, hmm?”
He smiled. “I'm not sure. I hadn't thought this far ahead. And, well.” He paused and considered his surroundings. "Why are we on Queen—er, Senator Amidala’s vessel?”
“Returning to Coruscant, we are. Slept through most of the flight, you did,” Yoda informed him.
Obi-Wan scrambled to his feet, panicked. “Coruscant? Master Yoda, no, I—”
Yoda waved his stick at him. “Calm, Obi-Wan. Calm. All right, it is.”
“All right?” Obi-Wan stared at him, slack-jawed. “It's not all right. I'm not—I'm not supposed to...” He trailed off, while Yoda waited for him to continue. “I don't know,” he whispered, sinking back down onto his knees. “I was supposed to—to balance something. Didn't I do that?” He looked at Jeimor, pleading.
-Well, come on. You know the lore, golden boy. 'Always two there are.' Or however it goes.-
Obi-Wan jumped up again, turning a startled, shocked stare on Jeimor. “What do you mean, two?!” he asked, his voice a shocked hiss of breath.
The crow huffed in annoyance, shuffling his feet, but it was Yoda who answered. “Always two, there are,” he intoned. “A Master, and an Apprentice. Such is the way of the Sith.”
-No job is ever that easy, Kid- Jeimor said, regretfully. -Sorry, but your task is far from over.-
Obi-Wan bit his lip, then made himself stop. He needed to think, and think quickly. “Jeimor told me that...that Qui-Gon killed the Sith we fought on Naboo. But Dooku was still a member of the Order at the time. Wasn't he?” Yoda nodded. “Then Dooku must have been a replacement. The new Apprentice?”
Yoda sighed, lowering his ears. “Similar thoughts we have had. Discussed them while you healed, we did. Only a Sith knows of the abilities that my old Padawan used against you. If true, this is, then once again only the Master remains. Seek a new Apprentice, he will.”
Obi-Wan stood there on shaking legs, and wavered in place for a moment. The energy he’d found upon waking was gone. He felt tired, bone-weary, and had just discovered that his reason for being here was more complicated than he could have ever imagined. There was no doubt in his mind that finding the Master of the Sith was going to turn into the greatest challenge of his existence. “Perfect,” he muttered.
* * * *
Anakin stopped in front of the door, hesitating in the process of knocking. “Ready, Master?”
Qui-Gon managed a terse smile, grateful for his Padawan’s concern. “Go ahead, Ani.”
Anakin ducked his head, a faint blush staining his cheeks. “You haven’t called me that in a long time, Master.”
“Perhaps I should remember to do it more often, then,” Qui-Gon mused, taking a moment to rest his hand on Anakin’s shoulder. “Besides, I see that I am not the only one.”
“You mean Padmé,” Anakin said, and if anything, the blush on his cheeks darkened. Qui-Gon had never been able to school Anakin in the art of attaining a blank diplomatic mask, but that was no real failing—it was just the boy’s nature. What saved Anakin from being an utter failure at diplomacy was his earnestness, his genuine desire to help, and his ability to listen. “I…she…we want to be together,” he admitted in a rushed mumble. “But—the Code, and—”
“Anakin.” Qui-Gon squeezed the young man’s shoulder in a firm, reassuring grip. “I understand the nature of your feelings. I have known of them since the day the two of you met. However, I am not the best person to seek counsel from in this situation.”
Anakin lifted his head, and the sadness reflected in his blue eyes was almost a match for what lurked in Qui-Gon’s heart. “You mean because of what you told me before.”
Qui-Gon nodded. “I will support you in whatever decision you make, Padawan. When we get back to Coruscant, and there is time, perhaps you should discuss this with Aayla Secura. She has had some insight into the matter.”
Anakin winced. “I think Knight Secura might be possessed of far too much honesty for my taste, Master. But thank you. I will consider your words. Shall we?” he asked.
He motioned with his hand for Anakin to proceed, and they waited for Yoda’s clear mindspeech to give them an invitation. Enter, you may.
They stood next to each other in silence as they regarded the tableau that awaited them. Yoda was seated on the floor, blinking calm, sleepy eyes and watching the unknown Jedi pace the room.
The younger man’s eyes seemed to lack that blue-green quality that had startled Qui-Gon so badly, and in this light their color was more gray than blue, which was a relief. The gray and black dust on his face was gone, revealing fair skin, and his scruffy beard was the same copper-blond as the man’s hair. His clothing looked like it was almost ready to fall apart, but the man underneath was intact, moving with swift, easy grace, even though a frown of concentration marred his brow. Dressed in the full robes of the Order, Qui-Gon knew the man would strike an imposing figure, despite his slender form.
Anakin coughed, trying to be discreet in the face of his Master’s abject staring. “We could come back later,” he offered.
The strange Jedi froze in place, glancing up at them in something close to alarm. “N—no. No, that’s all right. Forgive me,” he said, bowing to them in greeting. “I didn’t realize you were there. I was…occupied.”
Qui-Gon stiffened, every muscle in his back going rigid with tension. Even as hoarse as the man’s voice was, it was as familiar as his own breath, despite the years that had passed since he had last heard it. The same cultured tones, the same lilt, a hint of brogue. “Who are you?” Qui-Gon asked, his voice sharp and demanding.
Yoda gave him a disapproving glare. The younger man was still standing locked in place, and at Qui-Gon’s question his eyes widened in surprise.
“Been a long time, it has,” Yoda spoke, “since I have seen this young one.” He tapped his gimer stick on the floor, drawing Qui-Gon and Anakin’s attention. “Ben Lars, this is.”
Qui-Gon frowned. He knew he had spent far too little time in the Temple over the past twenty years, but the name Ben Lars was alien to him. He should have been aware of any Jedi Knight by that name, especially one that fought so well. He swallowed. Especially one that so closely resembled Obi-Wan Kenobi, in speech and appearance. “I am not familiar with that name.”
Yoda nodded, unconcerned. “Left the Jedi some years ago he did, though by choice it was not. Happening all at once, many things were. Slipped through the cracks, this youngling did.” Lars said nothing, but gave Yoda a lopsided smile that eased the lines of stress on his face. “Master Qui-Gon Jinn this is,” Yoda went on, introducing them for Lars’s benefit. “Anakin Skywalker, his Padawan is.”
Lars bowed again with fluid grace. “A pleasure to meet you both,” he murmured.
There was a jumble of surprise and shock from the link he shared with his Padawan. “Forgive me,” Anakin said, his voice cracking. “But your family name is Lars?”
Lars nodded. “Well, yes. Why?”
“You look—you look like I should know you,” Anakin said, his brow furrowed. “Does…do you know a Cliegg Lars? Or Owen Lars? I mean, I know it’s a big galaxy, but—” he halted his words, both of them noticing the stunned look on Lars’s face. “You do know them?”
Ben Lars nodded again. “I should say so. Cliegg is my father. Owen is my younger brother. I haven’t spoken to them in ages. How do you know them?”
Anakin's mouth worked soundlessly for a moment, his eyes clouded with something almost like remorse. And…guilt? More than ever, Qui-Gon wanted to know what had happened on Tatooine, but now was not the time.
“My mother—she married Cliegg Lars,” Anakin said.
Qui-Gon hadn't expected that. He stared at Anakin, even as Lars went pale.
“Married?” Lars whispered. “My father…married your mother?”
Yoda looked back and forth between them, smiling. “Hmm. Family that makes you.” Anakin nodded, still staring at Lars in mute surprise.
“Uh—yes. Yes, I suppose it does.” Lars took two steps back and collapsed onto the bunk. “I… Hell. Small galaxy.” He turned and stared into the corner; Qui-Gon followed his gaze and saw the large black crow huddled there. Lars’s forehead creased as he frowned. “You stay out of this.”
It would take death to defeat Anakin Skywalker’s innate curiosity. “Are you really speaking to it?”
Lars looked annoyed. “Yes, I am. Be grateful that you can’t hear him. He’s an ass—yes, I know he’s my stepbrother! What do you think I am, deaf?”
Anakin grinned a little, the earlier emotion disappearing back behind iron shields. The crow cawed and flapped his wings at them. Qui-Gon couldn't decide if the bird was insulted or delighted by the perceived praise. “What is he called?”
Lars pressed his lips together before holding out his arm. The crow launched himself into the air, landing on the man's arm. “This is Jeimor.” The crow shifted his weight until he was properly settled, then turned to them and bobbed its head in recognition. “He is...well, for all that he is a bird, he is quite sentient.” Lars smiled and ruffled the bird’s ebony feathers with his fingertips. “He’s my friend,” he said, and sighed. “The only one I have.”
Yoda's ears dropped at the loneliness audible in Lars’s voice. “Leave you to rest, we shall,” he said, getting to his feet. “Call you I will, when arrive we do. Speak with you, the Council will.”
Lars didn’t look pleased at that pronouncement. Qui-Gon couldn’t blame him, considering how often those instructions had left him with a splitting headache. “Yes, Master,” Lars said. His eyes flickered up at Qui-Gon and Anakin before he glanced away once more, looking for all the world like he wanted to bury his face in the crow’s feathers.
Yoda effectively shooed Anakin and Qui-Gon out of the room, letting the door slide shut behind him. Qui-Gon wasted no time in finding his voice. “Master, what happened to him? How could a Knight of such talent have left the Order unwillingly?”
“He sounded so lonely,” Anakin said, his arms wrapped around himself as if warding off the chill of space.
Yoda sighed, leaning heavily on his gimer stick. “A Knight he was not, but my story to tell, this is not. His privacy, we should respect. For now, Master Qui-Gon,” he said, when Qui-Gon would have protested. “Time, he needs.”
Qui-Gon stared at the door before nodding. “Of course. Though it seems as if...”
Anakin quirked his lips into a half-smile and finished his Master's sentence. “It seems as if he could use some company more than he could use time, Master Yoda.”
Yoda tilted his head sideways and regarded them both. “Soon enough. Soon enough.”
Death but the Drift of Eastern Gray,
Dissolving into Dawn away
Mace Windu stared down at Yoda in disbelief. “You're not serious.”
Yoda thumped his cane down on the floor of the Council Chamber, which was currently empty of all presences save their own. “Serious I am, Master Windu. Obi-Wan he is.”
Mace sank down into his chair in a slump, rubbing at his temples with both hands. “Force, Master. The man is dead! We both attended his funeral!” The memory was clear enough, that was certain. Losing Obi-Wan had been terrible enough, but worse had been the sight of Qui-Gon Jinn, standing before the pyre.
Xanatos’s fall had been harsh enough on the man’s gentle soul, but Obi-Wan, sacrificing himself in order to stop the Sith… Qui-Gon had been shattered. When he’d pulled himself back together there were more pieces missing than found, for he had simply been unable to recover from Kenobi’s loss. He did his best with Skywalker, but some vital part of Qui-Gon had gone up with the smoke from the pyre. It was only Skywalker’s innate trust of Qui-Gon that allowed them to function as a Master-Padawan team.
Yoda was watching him, expectant, his ears twitching with repressed impatience. “Yes, Master Windu—dead, he is. But stand before us today, he will.”
Mace sat up. “I can handle ghosts, Master, but this is a living being we’re talking about. How are such things possible?”
Yoda sighed, his eyes drifting to the sight of Coruscant’s sunset, which filled the Council chambers with a soft, golden glow. “A tale I was once told, by one far older than even I am now. Of old legends did this ancient one speak, of how great black birds were the carriers of souls. Crows, he called them. On the wings of such birds, spirits find refuge in the Force. Find crows, you can, under many different names on worlds scattered throughout the galaxy. But different, these particular crows are; see this yourself, you will.” He smiled, chuckling. “Obi-Wan you will also know, when see him you do. Others will know this, but will reject the truth even as the Force whispers his name to them. Possible it could not be, after all. To the pyre, Obi-Wan was given.”
“What do Qui-Gon and Skywalker think?” Mace asked, feeling the beginnings of a headache stir behind his eyes. “It's bound to be hard on Qui-Gon, seeing Obi-Wan again. Especially like this.”
Yoda frowned. “Know, they do not. Recognizes his Padawan, Master Qui-Gon does, even as he tells himself that it cannot be. Like this, I do not, but push a confrontation between them, I dare not.”
Mace rested his chin on his hand. “I can't say as I blame him. I don't even know how I'm reacting, Master. I need more information. I need to see him, talk to him.”
Yoda nodded. “Resorted to Obi-Wan's birth name, we did. Know of it, only Obi-Wan and I did. Ben Lars he has become, for now.”
“That was in Padawan Skywalker's initial mission report. It seems as if they’re step-brothers now.” Mace shook his head, amused despite the situation. “Funny how things work out.” He lifted his head, sensing the approach of the other Masters. It was almost time. “Master Yoda, what do we tell the others?”
“The truth,” Yoda said, “even if, wish to hear it, they do not. Too important this is, Master Windu, to let fall to chance. The end of the Sith, Obi-Wan’s task is. Help him, we must.”
Lost time is never found again.
-Will you relax?- Jeimor looked up from his perch on the back of a chair, clacking his beak in annoyance. -You're going to make me nervous, and I'm supposed to be above that sort of thing.-
Obi-Wan stopped pacing and came to a halt in front of the window. He stared out at the dark cityscape, taking in the sight of millions of beings going about their lives. Shopping, laughing, crying, stealing, badgering, teasing—perhaps even making love. He shut his eyes against a sudden feeling of loss. Mundane things. Everyday things. Things that he had once taken for granted, and could never have again.
“Strange,” he said. They were alone in the antechamber to the Council, waiting to be called in. Considering the strong current of emotion he could sense, despite the shielded nature of the Council chamber, they were likely talking about him.
“It’s just strange. I feel like no time has passed since the last time I stood here, when the Council sent us back to Naboo. But at the same time?” He rested his forehead against the glass, feeling that press of weariness once more. “I feel as if it's been forever.”
-Forever is a long time, Obi-Wan- Jeimor said, his voice surprisingly soft.
Obi-Wan looked up and met the crow's eyes. “Have you always been a guide, Jeimor?”
The crow pecked at a loose thread on the chair cushion. -Time has little meaning for me, Kid.-
The Council doors opened, and Yoda's voice in his head bade them to enter. "It's time." Obi-Wan held out his arm and Jeimor hopped aboard, walking up to perch upon Obi-Wan's shoulder. As they crossed the threshold, Obi-Wan realized that Jeimor hadn't answered his question at all.
He walked into the chamber with slow, cautious steps, not sure what to expect. The lamps that circled the room had been turned on, sending back the darkness that had fallen while he was rummaging around by himself in Stores, trying to find clothing in his size that wasn’t crisp white. He didn’t want that, not at all. Jeimor had found something at last—black leggings, black undertunic and overtunic, black tabards. The very sight of them might once have unnerved him, for very few Jedi in the Order chose to wear black. Instead, he’d touched the cloth and felt the rightness of it. The only exception he had made was the cloak he’d found in his size, made of a soft gray material that reminded him of the eerie light of pre-dawn.
There were only six Council members in attendance. Two members of the Council had just lost their lives on Geonosis. Other members of the Council remained there, supervising cleanup and preparing to follow the Separatist leaders. Those who had returned to Coruscant sat together in a line of six chairs: Mace Windu, Master Yoda, Adi Gallia, Ki-Adi Mundi, Saesee Tiin, and Shaak Ti, who’d still been a Knight when he’d died.
They stared at him; he stared back. Jeimor shifted on his shoulder, restless under the weight of so many gazes. After an interminable silence, Shaak Ti grinned at him. “Nice hair, Obi-Wan.”
The comment was so unexpected that he burst out laughing, finally bowing to all of those present. Jeimor was becoming adept at staying on his shoulder through such motions. “Nice chair, Shaak,” he replied, smiling.
“It is shiny, isn’t it?” the Togrutan woman agreed.
“Thank you,” he said. “I think I needed that.”
“I think I just want a drink,” Master Gallia said, tilting her head at him. “By the gods, boy. Just—look at you!”
Obi-Wan still had the mad urge to laugh, and found himself biting his tongue in effort not to do so. Part of him was also tempted to step close and let the Masters pinch him, just to prove that yes, he really was standing there. “I take it you told them, Master,” he said, looking at Yoda.
Yoda nodded. “Needed to know, at least half of the Council did. Our help you may need; your help we need.”
“Master Yoda has told us that you have apparently…” Master Windu waved his hand, looking frustrated, “returned to deal with the Sith.” He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers. “Force. Obi-Wan Kenobi, how in the hell are you standing there?”
“I don’t know,” he said honestly. “I… spoke with someone, insisted to someone that things were unbalanced, not as they should be. And then I woke up on Geonosis like this, with a sarcastic bird for a companion.”
Jeimor cawed once and then tugged on Obi-Wan’s ear. -Sardonic is what I prefer.-
Ki-Adi Mundi looked like he wanted a drink just as much as Master Gallia. “I am a Cerean Jedi Master, and this… this is incredible, Obi-Wan. And what I can sense from you is just…” He trailed off, shaking his head.
Obi-Wan frowned, puzzled. “What can you sense?”
“Power,” said Master Tiin, regarding Obi-Wan with curious eyes. “Raw, elemental, untamed power.”
“It seems to lurk just below your skin,” Shaak murmured, her eyes closed. “As if I were to look at you in just the right way, I would be able to see it.”
“Of the Light, this power is not,” Master Yoda said, gazing up at Obi-Wan. “But Dark, it also is not. It exists; it waits. For you to use, this is, to help you. Understand it, others may not. Fear you, they may.”
“Well, if people are driven to avoid me, all to the better,” Obi-Wan said, tucking his arms into the soft sleeves of the gray cloak. “The less people running around trying to figure out why I’m…not dead, the better.”
Master Windu pursed his lips. “Indeed. Yoda has dubbed you Ben Lars, per your old file before your parents changed your name. After much conversation, we are inclined to agree with you; the less stir you create in the Temple, the better.”
“If only to make sure the Sith does not notice you,” Master Mundi said. “Alerting the Sith Lord will not make your task any easier.”
Obi-Wan nodded. His parents had ordered the change in his name when he was two years-old, though never had he been told why. Since he had been Obi-Wan as long as he could remember, he’d never bothered to tell Qui-Gon, either. There would be no association for his former Master to find. He was glad of the lapse; Obi-Wan Kenobi could stay dead.
Master Windu was watching him, his piercing dark eyes studying Obi-Wan with interest. “We are curious, though: What drove you to seek out Dooku on Geonosis?”
“If I didn’t know any better, I would have called it coincidence, Master Windu,” he said, choosing his words with care. “I found Qu–Master Jinn’s transport, and…” He closed his eyes, the memory of that first spike of information still a shock. “I’m psychometric now. I could sense what had happened. The droid, R4, offered me a lift after I freed him of his restraining bolt, and he gave me an update of what had been happening. During the battle, I noticed Dooku, and followed him, because that was what I was supposed to do.”
“What you were supposed to do,” Master Tiin repeated, frowning. “Your emotions demanded your involvement in the battle?”
“I don’t trust my emotions, I trust the Force,” Obi-Wan retorted. This was familiar, this mental war with the Council. This dance he knew.
To his surprise, Master Tiin grinned and inclined his head. “Wise answer. Please, continue.”
Obi-Wan repeated to the Council what he had told to Master Yoda, then, at Master Windu’s direction, began a full accounting of the duel. As he spoke, he heard the doors open, but ignored it. It was common, when so much had happened, for Council sessions to be stacked together, with Knights, Masters, and Padawans sent in for debriefing in staggered clusters.
“So he mentioned nothing of the Sith before his death,” Shaak Ti said, disappointed.
“I’m afraid not,” Obi-Wan replied. “He seemed more inclined towards taunts than sharing anything useful.”
“Outside of Master Jinn, you spent the most time in Dooku’s presence. What was your opinion of the man?” Saesee Tiin asked him.
“He was insane,” Obi-Wan said flatly. “The Darkness in him I could understand, but he was…off-balance. When he lost control, there was nothing of a Jedi Master within him.”
“That’s true,” a familiar voice said, and Obi-Wan froze in place. “There was very little of the man I once knew left to be found.”
He turned his head to find Anakin Skywalker and Qui-Gon Jinn standing several steps to the left and behind him, obviously summoned by the Council to share in the discussion of Dooku’s defeat. Oh, damn damn damn damn damn, he thought, turning his gaze back to the front and resisting the urge to glare at Yoda. Sneaky little troll. You’re not going to catch me off-balance that way. He was not surprised to see a glint of amusement in the ancient Master’s green eyes.
Obi-Wan was forced to listen, then, to Qui-Gon’s full accounting of his time on Geonosis. To say it was unpleasant was an understatement, and he was relieved that both Dooku and Jango Fett, who had also participated in Qui-Gon’s torture, were dead. It meant that Obi-Wan wouldn’t be tempted by thoughts of hunting down the bounty hunter and ripping his head off.
His mouth was dry; his only focus for almost half of his life stood just a few steps away from him, solid, warm, real—and he could do nothing. Instead, Obi-Wan listened to the rest of the recitation with half an ear, staring out of the window and watching the distant lights of traffic patterns, letting his jagged emotions be soothed by the motion and the multitude of life forms he could feel. Truly he was closer to the Living Force than he had ever been, and if that wasn't the greatest of ironies, he didn't know what was.
He’d fallen into a light trance without realizing it, and came back to himself to realize that he was being spoken to. Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan looked up and forced himself to focus on a crease in Qui-Gon’s tunic, unable to bear the thought of looking him in the eyes. “I’m sorry. I must still be tired. What did you say?”
Qui-Gon sighed. "I asked why we should trust you, Ben Lars. Forgive me, but your fight with my Mast—with Count Dooku had very convenient timing."
Obi-Wan resisted the urge to bite his lip again. He had, after all, killed the man's Master, twisted though he was. "I suppose there is no reason why you should. I have been gone a long time, after all. I don't even know if our paths would have ever crossed. But, I’m… I'm prescient, to a certain extent. The Force called to me, told me I was needed. Of course, if I had known exactly what it needed me for, I might not have answered," he replied with no little self-deprecation. He’d dueled enough Sith for one lifetime, and here he was, about to start a hunt for another one. He had to be insane.
-Nah, just dead- Jeimor said, and a manic giggle tried to climb out of Obi-Wan’s throat. He forced it back with effort.
Master Yoda snorted. "Answered, you would have." He tilted his head. "Gravely injured, you were. But healed you did, with no help from others. Your companion is to blame, hmm?"
Obi-Wan dropped his eyes, inexplicably embarrassed, as the Council turned their regard back to him. “Yes.”
“I saw Dooku wound you,” Qui-Gon rumbled, and Obi-Wan could almost feel his piercing stare. “You should have been incapacitated, at the very least.”
I guess you can't die the same way twice, he thought, and this time almost choked as he suppressed his laughter. Once he was sure he wasn’t going to lose it, he spoke. “I don't understand how the bond works; it’s a new thing, and we’re both still learning. I don't know a lot of things, really. I don't pretend to, either."
"Hmmm." Yoda regarded him with kind eyes. "How feel you?"
"Bewildered, Master," he replied, feeling no need to lie. "I'm not sure what place I have here.”
"Let others decide that, you should," Yoda retorted. "Well, you fought, against a powerful enemy for the protection of others. No small thing is this."
Suddenly, too late, he had a good idea of where this was going. "Master, no. I'm just a failed Padawan. I only did..." He trailed off, realizing how neatly he’d been caught, how well he’d fallen into their trap. They’d even made sure Qui-Gon and Anakin witnessed it.
"You only did what you were supposed to do as a Jedi," Master Windu finished for him, smiling. "Agree with Master Yoda, this Council does. Restored you are to the Jedi, Ben Lars, as a full Knight with all of the privileges therein."
Obi-Wan stared at them. He’d never… he hadn’t come back from the dead for a blasted Knighthood! "But… but…”
Master Yoda cackled at him. So did Jeimor. Anakin offered him a shy, approving smile. Strangely enough, it was that smile that restored his equilibrium. "Thank you, Masters," he said, managing a bow that was more shaky than not. "I shall do my best to live up to the faith that you place in me."
Master Windu leaned back in his chair, looking pleased. “See that you do.”
Qui-Gon watched surreptitiously, seeing a multitude of conflicting emotions pass over Ben Lars’ face. Pride, hope, disbelief, even a touch of anger flashed in his gray eyes. The clothing was an interesting choice, ditching beige for black, but Qui-Gon had been right—in the full robes of the Order, the copper-haired man did indeed make a striking figure.
At last the serene mask of a Jedi settled into place, though Lars did reach up to stroke the crow’s glossy black feathers. The crow murmured soothing nonsense in reply, rubbing his cheek with his closed beak. Despite what Lars had said about Jeimor’s attitude, there was genuine affection between them. Qui-Gon was startled to realize that he was glad of that warmth. No one should have to be alone in the universe.
"There is little we can do at the moment about the Sith but wait," Mace said, frowning after giving Qui-Gon a stern glance. "Dooku was the leader of the Separatists, and the driving force behind the formation of their army. With that power vacuum in place, there is no way to tell what may happen next. Chancellor Palpatine is preparing the clone army for a possible war, but it is our hope that the war will not come to pass."
"Clouded the future is, more than before," Yoda said, his eyes half-closed, a spark of anger lurking in his gaze. "Prepare we must, as well."
"May the Force be with us all," Mace said, the simple phrase dismissing both the summoned Jedi and the Council as well.
Qui-Gon touched the second lightsaber hanging from his belt, where it had stayed from the moment he’d retrieved it on the hangar bay floor. The impression of Obi-Wan, the last sense of his Padawan, had faded away. It was nothing more than a tool, now, for all he still treasured the memory of the hands that had built it. “Knight Lars,” he said, his voice hesitant as he stepped closer to the man, who hadn’t bothered to move after the dismissal. “Congratulations.”
Lars jerked and looked up in surprise, glancing away before their eyes could meet. “Thank you,” he said, nervousness visible in every line of Lars’s body. “I hope I am worthy of such a thing.”
"Well, I doubt they would give the rank of Knight to one they felt did not deserve it," Qui-Gon said dryly. "Though I'm sure they regret ever handing me my own."
Lars granted him a faint smile. Even without the blue-green flash Qui-Gon thought he’d seen, his eyes were clear and beautiful.
Qui-Gon kicked himself mentally. There was no good place that line of thought could go. "You can disassemble all you like, Knight Lars. But I've seen you fight, and you handled the Council with a grace I have never been able to manage. You are as worthy to be a Jedi as any man I have ever met."
Ben Lars finally looked up at him, allowing their gazes to meet. It would be so easy for those gray eyes to be cold, but they were warm. Yet beneath the warmth was a great deal of sadness, and Qui-Gon wondered at the cause. “Thank you,” Lars said, his voice soft. “That…that means a great deal to me.”
“You are welcome,” he said, aware that Anakin was at his shoulder, listening intently. “I was… curious about something, however,” he said, and unclipped Obi-Wan’s lightsaber fro his belt, holding it up.
Lars looked at the lightsaber and then averted his eyes as if the very sight of it burned him. “Forgive me for my use of the weapon,” he whispered. “I did not mean to upset you.”
Qui-Gon managed not to flinch, but it was a near thing. He had been the cause of Ben’s injury during the duel, after all. It would be a long time before he would be able to forgive himself for the lapse in control. “No. Forgive me, please. My reaction nearly got you killed. Despite that, you wielded it well. Perhaps it should be yours,” he offered, not certain he was going to until he spoke. It felt like the right thing to do. Perhaps it was time to let this attachment go, at last.
“I—there is nothing to forgive, Master Jinn,” Lars said, his tongue darting out to moisten his lips. It was a further display of nerves, and Qui-Gon cursed himself, knowing that he was the cause, that his anger had made an absolutely horrible first impression on Ben Lars. “And I thank you, but no. I feel like I must build my own. But I am grateful for your consideration,” Lars said, bowing.
Qui-Gon tucked the lightsaber away, feeling nonplussed and more than a little off-balance. Lars’s manners were court and Senate perfect, and whoever had trained the man needed to have their head examined for letting this former Padawan slip away from the Order.
Mace walked over, nodding at them before turning his attention to Lars. “Ben, if you’ll come with me, I can arrange living quarters for you. There is…” he hesitated. “After Geonosis, we have plenty of room to spare.”
Qui-Gon sighed. “Have they decided when the memorial is to be?” he asked.
Mace shook his head. “Not yet. We’ll send out a notice to every comm center in the Temple once a date has been decided, Qui-Gon. You and your apprentice need to go home. You still look like hell. Get some rest, and that’s an order.”
He scowled at the senior Councilor. “You are not my nursemaid, Mace Windu.”
“Yes, but some days I feel like it,” Mace shot back. “Come, Knight Lars.”
Both Mace and Lars turned, looking surprised, which was no less than what Qui-Gon was feeling. Once again he’d spoken without knowing of what he was going to say… and yet, he was loath to let the new Knight out of his sight. Ben Lars was, at the very least, a fascinating individual. “Perhaps you would join us in our quarters sometime, Knight Lars,” he said.
“Please,” Anakin added, stepping forward with an earnest expression. “I… your company would be welcome, and you’re family now, sort of. Can I have the chance to get to know you better, Knight Lars?”
Lars looked back and forth between them, hesitant. Then the crow clamped his beak around Lars' ear and pulled. Lars winced, glared at Jeimor, and then favored them both with a smile. "I've been told I would be an idiot to decline. Thank you, both of you. Do you mind if I bring a friend?”
"Jeimor is quite welcome in my home," Qui-Gon replied, nodding to the crow. The crow bobbed his head at Qui-Gon, mimicking him with eerie accuracy.
* * * *
Mace had a moment’s concern when he saw Qui-Gon and Skywalker approach Obi-Wan—No, he told himself. Ben Lars. He had to start thinking of the man that way, or he was going to open his mouth at the wrong time and the whole idea of stealth would come crashing down. His worry faded when he saw Ben smile, an expression that lit up his eyes. The invitation surprised Mace even more, but gods, he hadn’t seen Qui-Gon Jinn look so…so animated in years.
Mace led Ben out of the Council chamber, hoping that the two of them would be able to figure things out for themselves. If it was so obvious to him that Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon needed each other, then the rest of the Temple was going to notice soon enough.
He went to his office, certain that they would have privacy. It was too late in the day for the usual crowd of curious Initiates, seeking Padawans, and complaining Knights.
Ben waved the door closed behind them, settling down on a chair without needing to be asked. The crow hopped off of his shoulder, settled onto the back of the chair, and began preening his feathers. Mace watched, unnerved; half the time the crow, Jeimor, acted like a normal bird. The other half of the time, the crow seemed more like a living doorway, the ebony-winged carrier of souls that Yoda had spoken of.
Mace paused in front of Ben, managing a genuine smile. “I do have to say, despite the unusual situation, that it is good to see you again,” he said, and held out his hand.
Ben smiled and reached up. The moment their fingers brushed, Ben jerked his hand back, his eyes wide and unseeing. “What?” Mace asked, concerned. “What is it?”
“Sorry,” Ben rasped out, wrapping his arms around himself, his fingers tucked into his armpits. “I forgot that I…” he shook his head. “If I didn’t hate psychometry before, I certainly do now.” He shuddered. “I didn’t need to see that.”
“What was it?” Mace asked, kneeling down next to Ben.
“My… my funeral,” Ben said, taking a deep, calming breath. The crow teased Ben’s hair with a gentle beak. “You were thinking about it.”
“I had been,” Mace admitted, chilled. Not even Quinlan Vos’s psychometry was so accurate—not on living beings, at any rate. “I’m sorry.”
Ben laughed, but there was no humor in the sound. “Don’t be. I haven’t figured out how to gain any kind of control over it yet.”
Mace shook his head and got up, walking around his desk before sitting down. He keyed up available quarter listings, running down the list as he spoke. “You’re taking on one hell of a job, Obi-Wan,” he said, deciding it was wisest for both of them if he changed the subject. “We’ve been searching for signs of the Sith Lord for the last ten years and have found nothing.” It was a sore spot for him, one that galled him. Had the Order become so blind that one of their own could become a Sith’s Apprentice, and even those who knew him best felt nothing? At this rate, the Sith Master could live under their very noses and remain unnoticed.
“I know, Master Windu,” Ben said, shoulders slumping. “But both the Force and Jeimor tell me that this is what I’m here to do. I practically demanded to do this. I just… didn’t know exactly what I was getting into at the time. I didn’t expect so much time to have passed,” he whispered.
Mace took in the sudden hollow-eyed stare and pressed his lips together. He hadn’t realized that, didn’t even know if Yoda knew of it. “Much has changed,” he said gently. “But you will find that much is still the same.”
"I feel like I have nothing to connect to." Ben clasped his hands and rested them on his knee. Mace looked at the man, taking in how the Force, or whatever it was, had compensated for the decade Obi-Wan had lost and shook his head. Returning from the dead would have been traumatic enough, but coming back in a body ten years older was likely not helping the situation.
Then Ben looked up, and the expression was so wry, so familiar, that Mace was found it difficult to believe that Qui-Gon couldn’t admit that this was his Padawan, that it was Obi-Wan. “If you need anything, anything at all,” Mace offered, even as he highlighted his choice and began imputing the necessary information, “don’t hesitate in coming to see me. I’m not going to let you forget who you are.” He printed out a flimplast copy, which contained information about Ben Lars’s new quarters and his new Temple access codes. Jocasta Nu was going to try to take his head off once she realized Mace had given Ben Lars access to every vault in the Archives, even the restricted sections.
“Thank you, Master Windu,” Ben said, standing up and accepting the flimplast. “I will…I will bear that in mind.”
Mace watched him depart, once Jeimor had hopped back up onto his customary shoulder perch, and smiled. He’d managed to get Ben Lars into the same housing section as Qui-Gon Jinn and Anakin Skywalker. They were bound to cross paths again, and if they didn’t, Mace imagined the ancient troll would ensure it.
You must have been warned against letting the golden hours slip by; but some of them are golden only because we let them slip by.
-James M. Barrie