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Negotiator

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Obi-Wan paused, blinking at the bandages in his hand. A cloth gauze the likes of which he hadn't seen in a long while, was held stretched between his hand and his ankle. Clean and thin, it's fibre structure uniform and very nearly transparent. Nothing like the over used straps of random cloth he'd been using for… years now. And what more, he'd wrapped it around a patch of bacta that was pressed against the outside of his ankle.

It had been… well over a decade since he'd been able to afford bacta.

Confused, he unwound the bandage around his ankle and examined the injury he'd been treating. It was all very strange. It was nothing more than a small burn he'd used the near priceless bacta on, but that wasn't the worst of it. It was the skin of his ankle – of his leg, of his foot. Pale and smooth, very nearly hairless. The veins didn't stand out the way he remembered. His scars… were all gone. And the foot itself, his ankle, his whole leg – they were so very… small.

And then it landed on him – like a heavy rain that he was only now aware of, washing over him and through him, filling his every recess with what he'd very nearly forgotten. The feel of the Force – the Force of others.

Alarmed he looked up, and stared in dumbfounded befuddlement at the room around him – cramped, clean quarters the likes of which he had not seen in so very long. The architecture was immediately recognisable though, and as familiar as breathing – the smooth, white walls, the design of the window sill, the bed, the table, the chair. All of it held that distinctive signature of home. Not his home on Tatooine, though, no, the home he'd lost, the home that had been burned, raped, and crushed to ruin.

He sat frozen on the floor of what couldn't be a chamber in the JediTemple on Coruscant, with the Force signatures of… dozens, hundreds of Jedi all around him.

"A dream," he murmured, his gaze going from the undone bed to the desk, eying the datapads stacked there. In front of him lay an open medpac, the sort that cost more on Tatooine than an average family's monthly food intake. "No… a death vision."

He'd died, after all.

There was a beep before he could try and sort his feelings or thoughts further – the door. Before Obi-Wan could even marvel at the sound – it was so familiar, for all that he'd not heard it in so long – the warning signal was followed by the door opening. A Rutian Twi'lek stood there in Jedi garb, her face faintly familiar and name all but forgotten.

She looked… disappointed.

"Well," she said, looking at him, at the medpac, and then holding out a datapad towards him. "With your burns still so fresh, this should not come as a surprise."

Obi-Wan blinked, trying to place a name to her face even as he reached and took the datapad – trying not to get distracted by how odd the move was, how strange his hand, his shoulders, his whole body felt. He twisted in a way he had not been able to in a long while, reached further, and yet could not quite make the distance before she reached in return. The datapad felt heavier in his hand than it reasonably should've.

On it there was a set of orders, and a flight plan, informing him that Jedi Initiate Obi-Wan Kenobi, you are hereby assigned to the Agricultural branch of the Jedi Service Corps, effective immediately. Your first posting will be on the service station at Bandomeer… before detailing the people he'd be reporting to, and some of the studies and duties that would follow.

He stared at the orders in bewilderment for long enough for the Twi'lek to soften her disappointment and smile at him. "There now, it's not so bad," she said. "Not everyone is meant to be a Jedi Knight, you know, and there is no dishonour in feeding people. With your abilities, you can do great things in the AgriCorps."

"The… AgriCorps," Obi-Wan repeated dully. He thought of the reports he'd glanced at over the course of the Clone Wars, mentions of ransacked service stations, burned fields and laboratories and clinics – Service Corps members vanishing left and right. And then… the order, that had slain those that were left.

He remembered that one stop by a service station on an agricultural planet, where AgriCorps had been present for decades. It had been a simple supply run – the usual supply route had been compromised and they'd been cut off from their supply stations, so they'd had to figure out another resource for necessary goods, rations and whatnot. It had seemed like the whole planet had been burned, with the bodies of young and old Jedi strewn all across the station, fallen among the broken droids that had killed them.

"It's a nice, peaceful life," the Twi'lek Jedi said gently. "And judging by your recent actions, you could use a bit of peace and quiet to calm down."

"Calm down?" Obi-Wan asked, blinking, trying to shake the smell of burning grain from his memory.

"You didn't think that your fight with Bruck wouldn't be noticed?" She asked flatly, giving him a look and folding her arms. "Bruck barely made it to the healers before passing out. You've always had trouble controlling your anger, Obi-Wan, but this is the worst you've done. If you can't control your emotions yet, so far into your training…"

She left it open and Obi-Wan just stared at her. After a moment, she shook her head and turned to leave. "Start packing your things, and say goodbye to your friends, Obi-Wan. The Monument leaves tomorrow. You do not want to miss it."

And with that, she'd left Obi-Wan alone in the room that couldn't be real, with a body too small and too limber to be his, with orders to go to a world that burned long ago, to a service branch that had been butchered – in an Order of Jedi that was no more.

Obi-Wan's hands shook as he clutched onto the datapad, looking down at the orders that he'd gotten more than forty five years ago. Then he closed his eyes and breathed in, and centred himself. The minor burns and their stinging faded, the confusion of his body faded, the Force signatures of long-dead Jedi faded, and he was calm.

Then he took the experience he'd just had and began to break it apart into understandable chunks, analysing everything he'd just taken into his memory. The room and its furniture and architecture, the unmade bed and the table, the medpac and the gauze that now lay across his feet forgotten. Then the Twi'lek – he remembered her, almost could recall her name. She'd been… the Docent of his dormitory in the Temple, and one of his instructors before he'd became a Padawan. He thought her name begun with a V.

Bruck he remembered better. Bruck Chun, a fellow Initiate, they'd been the same age, in most of the same lessons, very nearly matched in skill. Obi-Wan remembered him more from his nightmares, than from those actual times he'd interacted with the boys – from the guilt that had gnawed at him, and taken so long to heal. Bruck had been twelve years old and so strong, and so easily seduced to the Dark Side. What a waste.

He'd sent Bruck to the healers? Yes, he had, hadn't he? Just before Qui-Gon, before Bandomeer, before… before everything. He couldn't quite remember why he and Bruck had fought, just that it had been bitter and angry and the result had been the Masters giving up on him, and sending him to Bandomeer. It had had something… to do with Qui-Gon's presence in the Temple.

But that was all in the past. Forty five years and more in the past, in a whole different era, a whole different universe. That and Qui-Gon, and the Jedi Order itself – lost in the sands of time, vanished and crumbled to ruin long before him. And Obi-Wan… Obi-Wan was dead.

Was he reliving his life in his memories now – was this what he had to do, before he could become one with the Force?

He considered it long and hard, looking at it from every angle, turning it over and over. It would make sense, to join the Force one would have to come to terms with one's life, and his troubles with his own life and his dissatisfactions and regrets had begun here, at the ending of his years as an Initiate and at the start of his years as a Padawan. And yet…

And yet.

Obi-Wan went over the room carefully and methodically, using the order to pack as an excuse to examine his surroundings. It was all familiar and yet not. The feel of the bed, the way the datapad sat in his hands, the chair when he sat on it – it all echoed with situational familiarity, his body content with the feel of it all even though his mind couldn't meet the familiarity in kind. The things he'd been studying on the datapads – lightsaber forms and katas, some random subjects he'd probably thought would help him be selected as a Padawan.

He'd been old for an Initiate. That he remembered without any reminders – he'd very nearly been thirteen. Was thirteen here, now, in whatever this was, a dream or hallucination or vision. He could remember the bitter fear of it, of being so old and not yet chosen. The unfathomable uncertainty of his future, the desperate hope and then the crushing disappointment when he failed. Qui-Gon had been his only hope for Knighthood and before that small spark of hope, there had been very little hope to cling to.

His last year or so as an Initiate was painted with that desperate hope and fear. Trying to strive for something he couldn't quite achieve, and the bitter disappointment whenever a Jedi Master looked over his progress, and then turned away. Many had – Qui-Gon was far from the first one. He'd just been the last one.

It was so strange to see that fearful hope and dreaded disappointment here, now, in the studies on the datapads and awkwardly scribbled notes on flimsies that seemed to fill his desk. There was a sense of desperation on all of it. If I learn this, if I learn that, if I master this, then maybe, maybe, maybe…

It had taken Obi-Wan years to figure out why so many Masters had refused to even consider him. He'd taught himself too much in his strive to be better – he'd taught himself too many bad habits. When a Jedi Master went out looking for a potential Padawan, they didn't look for already established skills – they looked for potential that could be shaped to their liking. A Padawan already set in his ways was simply too much trouble.

He should know – he'd definitely learned how much trouble it was with Anakin.

He packed, examining each physical memory and considering their impact then and now on him, how they had shaped him.  He'd learned humility in Qui-Gon's tutelage, but he'd been a head strong, passionate youth in his Initiate years, and it showed in his possessions. Desperate to be, and to learn, and to grow, so much so that he rarely if ever stopped to really think. So many impulsive decisions, so many times he'd led his feelings not just guide him, but string him along by the nose.

Still, the memories were fond – and sad. If he could return to those times, to that age of innocence… as foolish as had young Initiate Kenobi been, his life had been immeasurably better than that of Old Ben had been.

He was packing away his clothing, methodically folding the tough, well made Initiate tunics, when a soft knock sounded in the room. Another memory, he supposed, about to make an appearance for his perusal.

 It was one he should've, and yet hadn't, anticipated.

"Bant," he murmured at the sight of the Mon Calamari outside the door. She stood there hesitantly in the already darkened corridor of the Initiate dormitory, her force signature sweet and glowing in the darkness. All of ten years old, and already he could see the great Master she'd one day become.

"You weren't going to leave without saying good bye, were you?" she asked, and without word Obi-Wan stepped aside to let her in. The soft smell of the ocean that wafted around her made his eyes sting with tears he'd never truly shed for her and he looked away.

He hadn't been there when she'd died – he didn't even know where she'd been, when it had happened. He'd felt it, though. She'd always been a spark of life, so strong and secure and always there, somewhere in the back of his mind, and then… then she'd simply been gone. Another great Jedi Master – another General – cut down by the troops she'd commanded and trusted.

"They say you've been signed to the AgriCorps?" she said hesitantly and then looked him over, taking in the burns and bruises. "You're all beaten up. Have you even tried to treat these?"

"They're nothing," Obi-Wan said, shaking his head, and she glared at him.

"They're not nothing. Let me have a look at them," she said and grabbed the medpac he'd set aside. Opening it, she grabbed a jar of salve and then turned to him. "I hear you're assigned to some place called Bandomeer."

"Hm," he answered, watching, trying not to tear up as she dabbed the salve onto the minor little burns. He'd honestly forgotten they were even there – they were such minor, insignificant little things. "You're wasting salve," he said, the long years on Tatooine screaming at him for the waste of it. "They'll heal on their own."

She just snorted at him. "Stop being so proud," she said dabbed another bead of salve onto another burn, hard enough to make Obi-Wan wince. "See?"

Obi-Wan just sighed, staring at her. The last time he'd seen her had been in a holomeeting. She had been giving a report of her squadron's recent battles to the Jedi High Council – a rushed, half bitten off litany of losses and victories. She'd looked hollowed out then. Still strong and vigorous, but like some key part of her had been taken from her, like something of her had been lost.

She'd looked like he'd felt, towards the end.

"Well?" she asked, putting the salve away and looking at him. There was water in her eyes, more than there should be. Unshed tears.

Shaking his head, Obi-Wan hugged her, and pressed a soft, dry kiss on her forehead. "Thank you," he said, thinking of all the times he'd gone to her, all the troubles he'd laid at her feet, all the times she'd helped him. She'd helped him through Qui-Gon and his loss, through Anakin and all the frustration and heart break, and during the war… Had he ever thanked her enough?

Bant took a shivery breath and then stepped back. "You'll be okay, right?" she asked.

"I don't know," Obi-Wan admitted honestly. He still wasn't sure what was going on. What this was. What he was supposed to do here, in this odd in-between place of memory and regret. "I'll try to be."

"Do or do not," Bant said.

"There is no try," Obi-Wan agreed and sighed. He nodded. "I'll be fine."

She looked at him for a moment and then nodded. She hugged him again, tighter. It made the bruises sting and the reality of it was strange, too real, too strong. It threw him off balance for a moment and he could think that maybe, maybe this was real, maybe he was here, maybe…

He hugged back and swallowed, and for a moment he was taken by a strange vertigo of indecision and mad hope. If, if this would be real, if this really was the past and this was really Bant as she'd been, a ten year old Initiate, then… then he could've done things differently.

He could've done so many things differently.

It was so many years before everything had gone so horribly wrong – if this had been real, he could've fixed everything. Save the republic, save the Jedi – save so many innocent lives.

"If this was real," he murmured, voice full of regret. "I could change everything"

Bant stilled in his arms and then pulled back to look at him. "What did you say?" she asked, confused.

"Nothing," Obi-Wan sighed. "Just thinking too much. Thank you, Bant," he said, and squeezed her hand. "Thank you for everything."

"You're… Obi-Wan, you're just going to go to the AgriCorps," she said slowly. "We will see each other again, right? You will contact me at least, won't you?"

"We will see each other again," he agreed and smiled. "It just won't be the same."

She looked at him worriedly. "Is something wrong?" she asked. "Was it Bruck – did he say something? You know he always does – he always says something and it's never true and yet you always let it get to you."

"It's not Bruck," Obi-Wan laughed – he couldn't remember a single thing Bruck had ever said to him, not really. He could remember the general concepts and feelings, but not the actual words. "I'm just entertaining a bit of make believe when I really should know better. Never mind me, I'm just an ol… I'm just a fool."

"You're not a fool," Bant answered, now looking really worried as she eyed him. "Did you get hit over the head? Did Bruck tip you over? Have you seen the healers – no wait, what am I saying, of course you haven't. Maybe you should."

Obi-Wan laughed helplessly at that – it was so very much like her. Vision or memory, it had captured her spirit from their Initiate years perfectly. "No, I'm fine," he said. "Honestly."

She eyed him suspiciously for a moment. "I thought you'd be angry," she said. "About the AgriCorps."

Oh, He had been. Bitter and crushed and beyond frustrated. But that was long ago. "I'm fine," he said. "Whatever will be, will be." Bant didn't look at all happy with that but Obi-Wan just shook his head and squeezed her hands gently before releasing them. "You're a good friend, Bant. You've always been a good friend. Thank you."

She nodded, still looking dissatisfied. "I'll miss you," she said.

"I'll see you eventually," Obi-Wan promised. "I don't know how long it will take me. But I'll get there."

Bant nodded and then, taking a breath and obviously trying not to cry, she turned and left, leaving him alone again with the physical memories of days long gone. Obi-Wan stood there for a moment, breathing in the scent of ocean still lingering in the air.

Then he considered the conversation in detail, Bant's reactions and his own words. He was fairly certain that the conversation, if it had really played out in his past, hadn't gone as this one had – he had changed it with his incorrect reactions. If a conversation could be different, then…

Would he have to go through his memories and recollections and experiences like this, one by one? Was that really the point of this? Or could he change events? Perhaps the point of this was not to examine the past as it had been, but as it could've been?

He turned it over in his head for a moment, examining the idea from both sides until he saw the merits and failings of both. He could learn much from the examination of his past as it had been – but the idea of exploring avenues he never had taken, and later wished he might have had its allure, certainly. He'd gone by a select set of choices in his life, and he had seen the outcome. A Jedi should not muddle his decisions by concerning himself with would be's and could be's that never came to pass and yet…

Still, it was impossible to say which was right and what he was meant to do. Not, he suspected, without actually trying.

So, he picked up the datapad with his orders and then scrolled through the assignment, reading it through. There, on the bottom, was the contact for those who had issues with their orders.

With would be's and could be's very thoroughly muddling his decision, Obi-Wan declined his assignment to Bandomeer – and with it, his place in the Jedi Order.