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Realign the Stars

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Anakin swore as he dodged and repelled blaster bolts from the droids closing in on his position. When the Council had sent the 501st and 212th to investigate a powerful Force object in what appeared to be an ancient Sith temple, he had expected heavy Separatist resistance. And, predictably, no sooner had they begun to make their way into the main temple chamber than Ventress had sprung her trap. Blaster fire from both sides had rapidly taken it’s toll on the temple’s structure, causing half of the main room to collapse, cutting himself, Ahsoka, Obi-Wan, Cody, and Rex from the rest of their men and forcing the fight deeper into the rapidly destabilizing building.

He became so focused on dodging his way through the falling debris to help Obi-Wan fend off Ventress, that he barely managed to catch what happened.

A well placed Force Push from Obi-Wan sent Ventress crashing into one of the alter-like structures lining the room. Cody and Rex moved in closer behind them, even as Ahsoka fought to shield them all from the remaining droids. Ventress lashed out, fragments of the alter she had just hit flying towards Obi-Wan’s face – only among them was something larger, sleeker and with a blaring shriek of DANGER in the Force following it’s path. Obi-Wan instinctively ducked, only for it to catch Rex’s arm, sending him off balance and crashing to the ground with a sickening crack. The object itself shattered where it hit the ground, and both sides could only watch in growing horror as the fragments began to glow.

Anakin didn’t remember collapsing, didn’t feel the impact as his knees met the ground. He didn’t see Cody collapse at Rex’s side, still trying to defend his fallen brother despite the fact that he was struggling to stand. He didn’t hear Obi-Wan’s pained gasp or Ahsoka’s panicked cry as the Force fluctuated wildly, only to snap so harshly he felt it as a physical blow, stars exploding behind his eyes.

The last thing he knew was a blinding light, and the Force dragging him into oblivion.


**Twelve Years Previous…**

All around the galaxy, Force-sensitive’s of all training and capacity felt something in the Force – stop. As if it were still there, yet untouchable for a handful of terrible moments. Individuals felt as though a wall of transpera-steel stood between it and them, leaving the Force still visible, but unreachable. Masters and Padawans reaching across their bonds felt as though they were suddenly speaking across dead comm. channels. Those in meditation found themselves frozen, trapped in a limbo, unable to do anything other than wait for the Force to return.

And when it did, it left those attuned to it scrambling.

Mace Windu jolted out of his Council seat, his head whipping around as he searched for attackers, even though he logically knew that he was in the High Council Chamber, that nothing could conceivably attack him here. He barely stood for a moment before his legs gave out, the Force still fluctuating wildly as he fell to the floor.

Many of his fellow Councilors had joined him in staggering to their feet, only to find they could not support their own weight. The only one who managed to remain upright was Shaak Ti, and she had drawn her lightsaber in her panic.

Master Yoda swayed forward in his seat, black spots dancing across his vision as the sudden, volatile shift in the balance of the Force nearly forced the Grandmaster of the Jedi Order into unconsciousness.

Darth Sidious paused in his stride, closing his eyes and drawing in a deep breath before continuing on to his senatorial office, perfectly masking his reactions alongside everything else. He would have to seek out the source of this anomaly, even as his other plans moved forward, for if something strong enough to shatter the Force, even momentarily, existed, then he either needed it on his side, or destroyed.

Qui-Gon Jinn and his Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi, had been in meditation, communicating through their bond and strengthening it before they received their next assignment. Once he was finally able to pull free of the trance, Qui-Gon swayed, nausea clawing at his throat. He blinked drunkenly, trying to force his eyes to focus even as the Living Force continued to shift and scream inharmoniously. Something had drastically changed the Primal Nature of the Force, and it left him so out of order, it took Qui-Gon a full minute to notice his Padawan’s reaction.

Obi-Wan was lost in the feeling of a future imploding, thousands upon thousands of possibilities crushed and reborn in an instant. He unknowingly curled in on himself, fingers cinching in his short hair, and a spine chilling keen emitting from his throat. When Qui-Gon could finally focus enough to reach out to his Padawan, physically and through the Force, Obi-Wan flinched away, his cries graduating to a full fledged scream as the pain of the future crumbling to dust and scrambling to rebuild finally became too much and he passed out.

On the Outer Rim Planet of Tatooine, a little nine-year-old boy whimpered in pain, muffling his cries into his pillow while his mother tried to calm him down by carding her fingers through his hair. Neither of them would get much sleep this night.

On the planet Mortis, the only three inhabitants found themselves suddenly all but incorporeal, brought down to their most Primal Natures and attempting to reassert themselves in their respective domains of the Force. The being once known as the Father was the only one with enough sense of self to reach out to the Force for an answer, and when he had it, he settled back, realizing his reforming would be some time in coming.

The Force had lost its Chosen One in one timeline. Now, in this time, it had to adjust for two.

Chapter Text

** Re-meeting R2-D2 **

Ashoka huffed as Padawan Kenobi herded the five of them into the Astromech storage room of the Queen’s star cruiser with an almost un-Jedi-like distrustful glare. “Now you five,” he growled, making eye contact with Master’s Kenobi and Skywalker, “Stay. Here.” His gaze skimmed briefly over Cody and Rex, who were already ignoring everything else in favor of taking stock of their injuries and ammo. Finally, he turned to her, his frown deepening, and Ashoka found herself crossing her arms defensively. “And keep out of trouble.” She barely had time to go rigid from the implied insult before the door slid closed in her face.

Near silence filled the small space for a moment. “Well, that went well,” Master Skywalker said, sarcasm dripping off of his voice like oil from a leaky fuel line.

Ashoka rolled her eyes and turned to face her Master, hands migrating to rest on her hips. “Yeah. No thanks to you, Sky-guy, they actually let us onto the ship!”

Rex cleared his throat. “To be fair, Commander Tano, I think that was more you than General Skywalker. You did help the Padawan free those pilots.”

Cody snorted in amusement as he removed his helmet and set it aside before moving to help Rex with removing his chest guard. “Not that the Padawan seemed terribly pleased for the assistance. Look on his face, he might as well have just bit into an unripe Muja fruit.” Ashoka snickered with her Master and the clones, until she noticed Master Kenobi frowning thoughtfully at the walls.

“That,” he began in a troubled voice that served to immediately sober the mood, “was at least double, if not triple, the amount of droids that were present during the initial occupation of Naboo last time. Though, to be fair, I wasn’t exactly concerned with keeping a running tally the last time I lived through this.” Ashoka watched as Master Kenobi began to pace as much as he could between the rows of Astromechs and the group of Jedi and clones on the other side of the room. “I am sure, however, that there was only supposed to be the one squad immediately guarding the Queen and her entourage, and not the additional two flanking.”

“Well, there was that additional droid control station we saw over then swamplands,” Master Skywalker interrupted, moving forward to effectively block Master Kenobi’s pacing. “That might have also had something to do with it.”

“But that still gives us no explanation for why the Trade Federation’s occupation force is so much more aggressive this time,” Master Kenobi insisted. “The only thing that’s changed so far has been us, and the scale of the occupation would have had to have been altered long before our presence became known to them. They would have had to have sensed the shift in the Force, and none of them are Force Sensitive.”

“So,” Ashoka spoke up hesitantly, “what your saying is that our favorite, Future-Separatist Toadies might already be in contact with a Force Sensitive, most likely a Sith, who might already have some idea about what’s happened to us.” Dread made her stomach clench as Master Kenobi and Sky-guy shared a glance. Looks like that had never boded well before.

“Unfortunately, Ashoka,” Master Kenobi began, “that is exactly what may have happened.”

She heard Rex hiss several vicious Mando’a curses behind her.

“That’s…” She hesitated before finally settling for, “… not good.”

Master Skywalker let out a hysterical laugh. “Not good. Not good. Yes, ‘not good’ pretty much sums up our entire situation, Snips!” She leaned back a little as her Master began to gesture emphatically. “In particular, our current situation – we are about to attempt to run a reinforced Trade Federation blockade, in a ship with no weapons, barely adequate shielding…. And we are stuck down here in - !”

A series of confused beeps and whirls rang out as the Astromechs all suddenly came on line. Ashoka’s eyes widened as she recognized one set of beeps in particular, and her cry of “Artooie!” came in nearly perfect sync with Master Skywalker’s joyful “R2!” and Master Kenobi’s groan of long suffering exasperation.

Master Skywalker managed to beat her to their favorite Astromech, a massive grin on his face as he kneeled and set a hand on R2’s dome. “Hey buddy! It’s good to see you!” R2 let out another string of confused sounding beeps and whirs, and Ashoka saw her Master’s smile dim. Master Kenobi’s explanation to Cody and Rex that this was where the infamous R2-D2 came from became background noise as the reality of the situation began to sink in to her as well. R2 didn’t recognize them, because they hadn’t met yet. The Clone Wars hadn’t happened yet. Force, not even the majority of the Occupation of Naboo had happened yet. A distant part of her mind recognized Rex crying out moments before her legs finished folding and she sat down on the ground hard.

Somehow, they had been thrown through time, back to where it all began.


** Roll With It **

“Will you hold still,” Cody hissed, struggling to keep Rex from bolting to Commander Tano’s side without further injuring his brother. “Your shoulder’s determined to pop out of joint as it is without you being a stubborn di’kut!” Rex glared at him, jaw set in the way that promised a stand off, until they saw General Kenobi move to settle between the two other Jedi, hands coming up to rest on their shoulders. Rex slowly relaxed, leaning back into Cody to give his brother better access to the armor clasps he couldn’t reach because of his injured shoulder. Cody refocused all is attention on Rex, forcibly drowning out everything that wasn’t his brother, and a single sentence he repeated to himself like a mantra.

‘If the Jedi get weird, you roll with it.’

It was an unspoken Rule of the GAR, especially for those clones who worked closely with the Jedi. If you worked with the Jedi, you had to be flexible. You had to adapt, because if you couldn’t you got brothers killed. If the Jedi got weird, you rolled with it, and having one of the most unorthodox Jedi Generals in the GAR had made Cody damn good at rolling with it, but this was pushing it, even for him.

The last catch on Rex’s armor released, and his brother’s shoulder injury had all of his attention.

“So, this is where Skywalker got his little Astromech,” Rex grunted as Cody began to probe at his shoulder. Not dislocated, by some miracle, but it had probably come dangerously close to it, and Rex was definitely sporting some hellish bruising under his Blacks. Rex hissed as the ship gave a sudden jolt, forcing him to momentarily lean harder on Cody’s still armored form. Cody had to grit his teeth as he saw Rex’s shoulder move more than it normally should have in the wrong direction, and reminded himself that, while not specifically a Rule, the officers of the 212th did their best to keep their cursing to a minimum around General Kenobi. With Rex next to him, injured, and precious little of their emergency medical supplies left, it was getting to be a hard thing to remember. A second, more violent jolt had Cody shifting so Rex’s back was braced against his chest. General Kenobi rose from the floor moments before a third, even more violent motion rocked the ship.

“That,” his General said, not even looking slightly worried as the ship continued to re-stabilize after what Cody could only assume had been a direct hit, “will have been the shields.” Not even a second later, an alarm went off and General Skywalker and Commander Tano had to scramble out of the way as half a dozen Astromechs swarmed towards their lift.

Sometimes, Cody really hated how blasé the Jedi could be about shit like this.

General Skywalker’s - what had been General Skywalker’s – personal Astromech stopped and swerved it’s dome around, issuing a series of beeps that Cody could only assume were a question. General Skywalker gave the droid a shaky smile, reaching out to pat its dome again. “I’ll explain when you get back, buddy. Promise. And – well, how about a tune up while I’m at it?” The General received a high whistle in response before the droid rolled into the lift. “Were there this many last time? I could have sworn I only ever saw… R… 2” General Skywalker, Droid Empathic of the Galaxy, then proceeded to round on General Kenobi with a stricken expression, General Kenobi raising his hands in a placating gesture.

“Now dear one, you know there’s not much cover on a ship hull like this, and the shields really do need to be repaired –“

“That is no excuse! They didn’t all need to –“

The ship shuddered and rocked, effectively ending the argument before it could begin in earnest. Commander Tano, who had been edging around towards Cody and Rex, was knocked off balance, crashing into General Skywalker’s back, sending him pitching forward into General Kenobi, which ended in all three Jedi in an undignified heap on the floor by the droid lift. General Kenobi’s muffled “And that will have been the hyper-drive motivator,” was the last straw. Cody buried his face against Rex’s uninjured shoulder in a frantic bid to muffle his rush of uncontrollable amusement. Rex didn’t even bother, and if his laughter was heavily tinged with hysteria, well, Cody felt it could be justified at this point.

“Well, at least someone is finding this amusing,” Commander Tano groused as she and the two Generals got back to their feet.

“Somebody has to, Sir,” Cody replied when he felt he was mostly back in control of himself. “The entire situation’s just mad otherwise.” That got him a small smile from the Commander and a grateful nudge from Rex. The lighter mood only lasted a moment before all three of the Jedi abruptly froze up, all color draining from their faces as they stared blankly ahead. This time, Rex did manage to break out of Cody’s hold, catching Commander Tano as she pitched forward dangerously. He dragged her back onto the bench with them, glancing worriedly over at Cody as the Jedi Commander curled into his uninjured side with an indistinct noise. Her distress seemed to spur the Generals out of whatever trance they’d been in, General Skywalker’s face twisting into a snarl as General Kenobi closed his eyes in a way that Cody knew meant he was struggling to pull himself back into his Jedi calm. “Sirs?”

“It’s fine, Cody.” Cody was sorely tempted to tell General Kenobi exactly what he thought of that bantha shit. “R2 has fixed the shields, and we’re past the blockade. We should all settle in for a hyper-drive jump.” General Kenobi finally opened his eyes, and Cody grudgingly let the subject drop. A hiss from the droid lift revealed a fairly unscathed, if absolutely filthy, R2-D2, which was thankfully enough of a distraction to begin calming down General Skywalker.

Just when it seemed that things might quiet down again, the door to the droid room slid open, revealing the Captain of the Queens Guard, and two Jedi. Commander Tano, apparently recovered enough from whatever had happened, stood to greet them as Cody felt himself instinctively settle into attention. “Captain Panaka, Master Jinn,” she greeted brightly, her voice going flat for, “Padawan Kenobi.”

Cody froze.

Padawan Kenobi. As in Padawan Commander Kenobi. But Kenobi was Jedi Master General Kenobi, and he was literally standing right there –

Oh.

Kriffing hells.

Cody to a deep breath and repeated his mantra.

‘If the Jedi get weird, you roll with it.’

Cody could do this. He was made for the Jedi. He was made for this.

He stared at a decade younger version of his General, and the younger not-General Kenobi stared back.


** Strange and Impossible Realities **

“Worry not, padawan, the negotiations will be short.” That was going to be the very last time Jedi Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi ever listened to his Master instead of the blaring warning signs going off in his head. Oh, the negotiations were short. Negotiations, apparently, were not even expected to occur, since the Master-Padawan team managed to land on a docking station that had a literal full invasion force on board preparing to launch. As if the Force imploding on itself a week ago weren’t bad enough! Now look at where they were: on the run, hyperdrive motivator damaged, with the Queen of Naboo and her entourage on board, an unknown Dark Force presence becoming fixated on their ship just before they escaped – and, oh yes. Three unknown Jedi and two armed, armored, and highly trained Mandalorians aboard with them!

This had not been Obi-Wan’s day. Not at all.

Obi-Wan crossed his arms and shifted his weight, glancing around the droid bay at the faces of their, ah, unexpected passengers. Why hadn’t the Council informed them of the presence of three Jedi already on Naboo? Had Master Qui-Gon known about this? Why did these three fight like a fully functional unit, especially in tandem with the Mandalorians that were with them? Obi-Wan shot a long glance at the two armored men, and grimaced internally. He hadn’t even realized they were injured; much less how concerned the one with orange markings was for the one in blue. What kind of Jedi did that make him, if he couldn’t even sense when someone was in pain?

Qui-Gon’s voice cut through Obi-Wan’s bout of self-depreciation. “Well, I do believe introductions are in order, since you know of the two of us and yet we do not know yourselves,” Qui-Gon said in his most neutral, calm voice possible. Obi-Wan buried a smile as he correctly read his Master’s frustration and subtle jab at the group from his words and tone. Good to know that his Master was just as aggravated by the circumstances as Obi-Wan was. – and that Qui-Gon hadn’t kept something this big from him in the mission details.

The Mando with the orange markings made an aborted move as if to salute, which drew Obi-Wan’s eye immediately. “I’m Commander Cody, sir. My vod here is Captain Rex,” the Mando said, gesturing towards the man with blue marked armor and an eerily similar face. Obi-Wan squinted at the white-and-orange armored man. Mandalorian in appearance, armor, and language, but they used military designations? Mandalore didn’t have a standing army; it never had, unless the literal army of bounty hunters and mercenaries it had in the past counted. They never needed military designations. So why did these two, who barely looked in their mid twenties, have them? What’s more, where did they get their level of training? And why were they accompanying Jedi on Naboo, of all places?

Obi-Wan’s attention moved to the taller human of the group as he stepped forward. “I’m Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker.” Knight? Knight?! He couldn’t have been older than Obi-Wan! (Granted, Obi-Wan had been a padawan for longer than was normal, but this man still would have been close to his age group, and Obi-Wan doubted he would have ever been able to miss how this man’s presence sang in the Force.) “This is my Padawan,” Obi-Wan let his breath stutter as he stared at the scarred man incredulously, “Ashoka Tano.” The “Knight” gestured to the Togruta of the group, the one who had been so cold when they entered the bay, who now bowed respectfully to himself and Master Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan could feel his patience fraying at this point. A Knight, who might have been the same age as Obi-Wan himself, whom he had somehow never met, and who already had a Padawan?

He spared the Togruta (Ashoka, her name was Ashoka) a longer look, noticing again how young she looked (old enough to be a Padawan, but still young). Obi-Wan’s eyes drifted down to the twin lightsabers on her belt, remembering her skill, and how hard he’d had to work to beat her to even half the droids guarding the pilots. He could (grudgingly) respect her ability with Jar’Kai, and he could sense that she was strong in the Force, but that didn’t mean he believed she and the others were Jedi.

Everyone turned their attention to the last unnamed person in the room. Obi-Wan eyed the ginger hair cut close, bangs swept to the side out of the face, and the neatly trimmed beard, the pale skin that was turning red under the combined scrutiny, before finally zeroing in on the beginnings of dark circles bruising under gray-blue eyes. He probed the Force surrounding the man, hoping to find some hint as to this group’s intentions, only to grind his teeth when he felt only a wall of impenetrable shields. “Ah,” the remaining Jedi said in a crisp Coruscanti accent. “Well. This will be… awkward.”

…And there went Obi-Wan Kenobi’s final fuck for the week, flying straight out the airlock.

“Awkward,” he hissed, arms uncrossing as he took half a step forward to place himself in the limited space between these strangers and his Master. “Awkward, he says. Awkward does not even begin to come close to the word I would use, Master Jedi.”

He barely heard Master Qui-Gon’s sharp reprimand of, “Padawan!” through the roaring storm that was the Force within him.

“Discovering a full scale invasion in progress when we were sent on a diplomatic mission – awkward. Smuggling ourselves to the planets surface with said invasion force – awkward. Getting captured by patrolling Gungans and accused of being part of said invasion force – awkward. But this?” He gestured between the five of them, and part of Obi-Wan knew he’s losing control, but the Force was a shifting, chaotic flux where it had been steady and soothing, and Obi-Wan wanted answers. “Three Jedi we were never informed of? Working with Mandalorians? And now one of you won’t even –“

The man dropped his mental shields, and Obi-Wan’s rant stuttered out, first in disbelief, then confusion, and finally a slowly growing horror.

No.

No. That– This was impossible. It couldn’t be.

The Knight (Anakin, he’d said his name was Anakin) shot a wary look over to the unidentified man whose shields had just dropped. “Master? Are you sure?”

“It’s alright, dear one.” The man took a shaky breath before bowing to Obi-Wan and Master Qui-Gon. “My sincerest apologies. I am Jedi Master Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi, of the Jedi High Council.”

Obi-Wan felt Master Qui-Gon move behind him and gently rest a hand on his shaking shoulder. He couldn’t breath. This wasn’t possible. This wasn’t right, couldn’t be right. This man couldn’t be him. Couldn’t be everything that Obi-Wan had ever wanted, only for it all to be so very wrong.

This couldn’t be him, but he knew, the Force knew, that it was.

“Obi-Wan?”

A shaky smile came across Master Kenobi’s face. “Ben, if you please. Hello, Master Qui-Gon. It – it has been some time.”

Obi-Wan was vaguely aware of Master Qui-Gon encouraging the other four to leave, something about seeking medical attention. When they were finally alone, Master Qui-Gon turned his full attention to the both of them. “Obi –“he said, reaching out to place a hand on each of their shoulders. “Ben, what happened?”

“The short answer, Master?” Master Kenobi gave a humorless laugh that made dread claw at Obi-Wan’s chest.

“You died.”

Chapter Text

**Ghosts and Phantoms**

‘You died.’

If someone had told Qui-Gon a week ago that a standard diplomatic mission would result in his death, he would have brushed them off. But hearing that serious voice, seeing the grave, almost dead look in familiar slate eyes, and witnessing the defeated form of the man who his Padawan was to become… Well. That certainly put things into perspective for him.

They had all sat down in the droid bay, Obi-Wan keeping as close as possible to Qui-Gon while also maintaining his decorum. Though granted, by the end of Ben’s (relatively vague) tale, Obi-Wan was pressed tight to Qui-Gon’s side in a way that the young man hadn’t since his early Padawan years. Qui-Gon wrapped a protective arm around his young Padawan’s shoulders, sending reassurance and comfort in waves down their training bond. A flash of almost tangible longing surged through the Force, and Qui-Gon focused his attention on Ben Kenobi just in time to see the man’s face smooth over into an impeccable mask befitting a Jedi Master. Qui-Gon frowned. That wouldn’t do at all. His Obi-Wan was clearly shaken by his older self’s tale, he could only imagine what the man himself must be feeling, in the presence of his younger, comparatively more innocent self, and a Master he had seen die before his eyes on this very mission – over a decade ago, for Ben now, by his story. Qui-Gon still had many questions, and he was still uncertain why this man, this older, almost world-weary version of his Padawan would appear here and now. But he knew this man was his Obi-Wan as much as the Padawan pressed into his side was. And really, there was only one suitable thing to do.

He extended his other hand to Ben.

Ben’s eyes widened, darting between Qui-Gon’s outstretched hand, his face, and Obi-Wan, who was watching for his older self’s reaction with anticipation. When it seemed his older self was about to refuse (And oh, Qui-Gon could almost hear it, “I wouldn’t wish to impose” echoing in his mind, and it hurt to think that any version of Obi-Wan felt as though he could not seek comfort from his Master.), Obi-Wan reached out himself, and Qui-Gon had the most unsettling experience of watching his Padawan have a battle of wills against himself.

Ben finally relented, shuffling forward until they could both put an arm around his shoulders, drawing him into their circle of comfort even though he remained stiff. How long they stayed like that, Qui-Gon didn’t know, but slowly the rigid set of Ben’s shoulders began to ease, the tension bleeding out in slow increments, as though each muscle in his body had to relearn how to relax, and his head drooped forward to rest on Qui-Gon’s shoulder. A hand hesitantly came up to tangle in Qui-Gon’s robes, somehow managing to not get any of his long hair caught in the folds, and Qui-Gon marveled that such a small habit could have stayed with his Padawan, even after so many years apart. Taking a deep breath, Qui-Gon began to sink into meditation, feeling Obi-Wan do the same, the reassurance Qui-Gon had been sending him down their training bond now being echoed back, ‘I’m alright, we’re alright, everything is going to be alright,’ a gentle hum being passed between them. A hesitant push in the Force brought their attention back to Ben, who had joined them in meditation. Qui-Gon reached out in the Force, seeking out where his training bond with Ben must have been, only when he found it – the difference in the two bonds was almost as jarring as the moment he had realized he was seeing two different versions of his Padawan.

Where his bond with Obi-Wan was bright and strong and healthy, what remained of Ben’s was withered, scarred and knotted like an old tree root. The edges of it were frayed, ragged as though someone had been digging their nails into it, deadened, dull, lifeless –

‘You died.’

Hearing was one thing, but seeing the results shook Qui-Gon to his core.

Distress shivered through his bond with Obi-Wan, and Qui-Gon knew his Padawan had found the severed bond as well. He felt Ben flinch away from them in the Force, felt him begin to retreat behind his mental shields again (and what had happened to his Padawan, that he found such impenetrable defenses necessary?), and that simply would not do. Qui-Gon gently, slow enough that Ben could pull away if he truly wished, wrapped his Force presence around his Pada– his former Padawan, and resonated reassurance into the Force once more. He carefully reached out to the severed bond again, Obi-Wan gently nudging Ben with steady pulses of comfort in the Force, and he slowly began to gather together the frayed edges.

He carefully found every tattered end, every twisted scar. He soothed them, smoothed them down, and threaded himself through them, all the while sending a gentle, steady message down the slowly reforming bond. ‘I’m here. I’m fine. I’m alive.’ He felt the first hesitant answering pulses from Ben, and he couldn’t help but send a wave of affection down the still healing bond, and almost broke out of the meditation when Ben let out a shaky sob.

The hand in his robes tightened, and Qui-Gon was suddenly bombarded with emotions – sorrow, and joy, and despair, and longing, and relief, finally relief – and Qui-Gon felt Obi-Wan gasp against his other shoulder, and he held both of them tighter. Images began to come on the heels of the emotions, and Qui-Gon could see everything that Ben had just told them, overlaid with his own memories and Obi-Wan’s. Their landing on the Trade Federation blockade, almost identical until the hanger, where droids almost seemed to double and triple. The race through the Naboo swamplands, once interrupted by only one Gungan, this time halted by a whole patrol. The droid squads guarding the queen, again seeming to multiply before them as the memories laid out in sync, one moment dispatched by two Jedi, the next by five, joined by the blasters of two Mandalorians. The flight to the ship, the run on the blockade, and – even the phantom memory of the Dark presence that they had all sensed made a cold chill creep down Qui-Gon’s back, and now Ben could put a face to it. Red skin, jagged black tattoos, yellow eyes and sharp horns – Zabrak. Qui-Gon felt Obi-Wan’s almost morbid curiosity through their bond as the memory Ben was sharing ignited a red saber-staff. Sith, Qui-Gon realized with horror as a name came down the bond.

Darth Maul.

The images suddenly stopped, Ben pulling back from the meditation suddenly, and almost escaping Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan’s hold in the process. Qui-Gon gave him space, watching his former Padawan closely as Ben raised a shaky hand to swipe at the tears till running down his face. They were both surprised when it was Obi-Wan who reached out to draw Ben back in, and when he shifted enough to lay his head on Ben’s shoulder instead of Qui-Gon’s. “Not again,” he promised, determination and confidence and protectiveness surging down the training bond. “It won’t happen this time. We’ll stop it. We’ll stop him.” Qui-Gon pulled them both closer, radiating calm into the Force, but also a hint of his own determination.

‘You died.’

“Not again,” he echoed. “I promise, Ben. Not again.”


** How Hutts Value Life **

Anakin Skywalker was certain that the Force had it out for him.

“Look at it,” he muttered, glaring at the view screen projection of their inevitable destination. Tatooine rotated lazily, climate and planetary system data that Anakin could have recited in his sleep scrolling beneath it. No one else was present to witness his dark mood, Ashoka having gone off with Cody and Rex in search of medical supplies and a place for the two clone troopers to rest. “Every time I think I’m done with this planet, the galaxy conspires to bring me back! Disgusting, sun bleached, Hutt infested dust ball.”

“I think it looks rather beautiful.”

Anakin would deny to his death that one of the Queens Handmaidens had managed to sneak up on him in the midst of his brooding.

“With respect, Handmaiden, a lot of things that should never be approached are nice enough to look at from a safe distance. It is unfortunate that the only safe distance from Tatooine is as far away as you can manage.” A chain of cheerful beeps finally succeeded in dragging Anakin’s attention away from the screen displaying the bane of his existence. He grinned and crouched down next to his favorite astromech. “Hey, buddy! All finished with your big meeting?”

More cheerful beeps, and a small huff of laughter from the Handmaiden. “Her Highness requested that I clean this little one up as best I could, as thanks for it’s work, but it was rather insistent that we come find you first. Something about a… tune up?” R2 continued to beep happily, clearly pleased with himself, which caused Anakin’s mood to lighten further. “I’ll admit, I know little about droids, so if you’re willing to assist, I would be grateful.”

“Well, an extra set of hands is always appreciated…” He looked up and his heart jumped into his throat.

The Handmaiden smiled down at him. “Padme. My name is Padme.”

“Padme,” he whispered, like he had a hundred times before, only when she smiled at him, as she always did, there was no knowing glint in her eyes. And, for the second time within a day, Anakin felt as though someone had forced all the air from his lungs. Padme didn’t know him, because she wasn’t his Padme, the same way R2 didn’t know him because he wasn’t his R2. This was Padme, but not his Wife, his Angel. This Padme didn’t know him, didn’t love him…

“Hey, Skyguy!”

Anakin yelped (he refused to call it a squeak), flailed, overbalanced, and ended up flat on the floor because of Ashoka for the second time in one day.

The two young women stared down at him for a moment before they both burst into a fit of giggles, with R2 traitorously chirping his amusement along with them. Anakin just glared up at Ashoka (he was not pouting, no matter what his old Master would have had to say on the matter). “Something I can do for you, Snips?” he asked testily as he pushed himself up into a standing position again.

Ashoka let out a few more snorts of laughter before finally managing to assume her ‘Dutiful Padawan’ look. “Just thought you should know that Cody and Rex are settling in with the medical supplies we found aboard.”

The last of Padme’s amusement vanished in the face of Ashoka’s report. “Your friends were injured?” she asked, concern now written on every line of her body. “What happened? Are they going to be all right? How bad - ?”

Ashoka gently touched her arm, something that had comforted his Padme and that seemed to help this one calm down as well. “It’s nothing too serious,” she insisted gently. “Some minor cuts and abrasions, Cody took a few glancing blaster bolts to his armor that left some burns and bruising. Rex had a shoulder injury from – from before we reached Theed.” Anakin gave Ashoka an approving glance for her quick recovery, though the thought of not telling Padme everything nearly made him physically ill. She had been the one he had trusted with everything for so long, how was he going to manage without her? Ashoka continued, though Anakin could feel her concern traveling through their training bond. “No injuries they both can’t handle on their own, though Rex should have a real Medic look at his shoulder as soon as he can. Until then, there’s not much to do other than Bacta and pain killers.” Padme still looked concerned, but it was no longer the near panic of thinking someone was in mortal peril that it had been. Ashoka gave her a lop-sided smile. “In fact, I was also coming to inform Master Skywalker of the rare occurrence of Commander Cody actually putting his feet up and looking like he might sleep without triple checking the ship.”

Anakin didn’t bother to stop his snort of amusement. “Dependable Cody, taking a break? What is the galaxy coming to?”

Ashoka grinned up at him. “Aw, let him have some rest! He took out almost as many clankers as Rex this time!” Anakin rolled his eyes at her, and Padme seemed amused by their antics, even if she seemed concerned by how easily they joked about the fighting. (And why shouldn’t she be concerned, when the Jedi, defenders of the peace, joked and laughed about war because if they didn’t they would lose themselves to it.) “Besides, who knows what will happen when we get planet-side, so it’s best if they rest up – “

“You’re not going planet-side.”

Both women were taken aback by Anakin’s sudden shift from amused to dead serious, but Ashoka rallied quickly, arms crossing and a stubborn glare taking up residence on her brow. “What do you mean, I’m not going planet-side? I – “

“You’re staying here, on the ship, with the Queen.” Anakin interrupted, mirroring her pose. “You’re going to protect the ship and everyone on it, and you will not be setting foot on Tatooine. At all.” He held up a hand as Ashoka opened her mouth to begin arguing again. “It’s not up for discussion, Ashoka.”

“But I’ve been there before! You know, it was our first mission! You didn’t stop me then, so why are you holding me back now?!”

“I didn’t have a choice then,” he snapped, and he felt a flash of guilt as he saw Padme take a step back, one hand on R2’s dome, but he needed Ashoka to understand why he couldn’t bear the thought of her being anywhere near this planet and the beings who held it in their greedy hands. “If I had had a choice, I never would have let you be anywhere near Hutt space, because for all you are my Padawan, for all that you have accomplished, it means nothing to a Slaver that thinks he can turn a profit, and I cannot even begin to explain to you how many of them stop on Tatooine!”

“Slavers?!”

Anakin had expected the outcry of mixed horror and outrage to be Padme. Instead he found himself spinning around to see Masters Qui-Gon and Ben (he doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to his Master Obi-Wan using that name) flanking Padawan Obi-Wan, who looked like he might have only just gotten a hold on the emotions that had been unleashed in the astromech compartment before walking in on their conversation, and who looked like he might just start losing control again at the thought of anyone on their ship falling prey to the vices of the Outer Rim.

(Anakin lost his breath again, a tiny voice whispering that this was the reason he’d fallen in love with Padme before, this righteous outrage that anyone could claim to own another sentient being. He’d never thought he’d see it on Obi-Wan’s face.)

“I don’t understand,” Padme said. “The Republic’s anti-slavery laws are very – “

“The Republic doesn’t exist out here,” Anakin interrupted again (he’s doing that a lot today, and he catches a disapproving glare from Ben for it). “Or, more precisely, it only exists in the capacity in which it is enforced.” He scrubbed his real hand over his face. Qui-Gon and Ben were radiating concern for him, Ashoka was somewhere between concerned and confused, Padme’s emotions were changing so quickly it’s giving him a headache, and Obi-Wan…

Anakin can’t help but think that it’s nice to finally know that this righteous fury was how his Master felt about the subject of slavery, even if he wasn’t exactly his Master anymore.

“So, since I have everyone here, I’m going to give you all a crash course. It’s called ‘The Value of Sentient Life in the Outer Rim’, though you, Ahsoka, are welcome to just think of it as why you are absolutely, under no circumstances, setting foot off this ship.” Anakin took a deep breath and braced himself. This was a part of his mind he hated, information he’d tried to scrub and bury, but always seemed to circle back into usefulness when he least expected it. Kind of like how he kept having to return to Tatooine.

Perhaps he would stay on the ship too. He needed to find his center, and there had to be things that needed fixing.


 ** We Do What We Can (It’s Not Enough) **

Ben sat down heavily in the small commissary of the ship, mind still reeling from what Anakin had revealed to the lot of them. He rubbed a hand over his face, feeling twice his age and utterly disgusted with himself. How had he not realized? How had he not seen that his Padawan - former Padawan now – still had this sort of information buried in his mind? That it was such an integral part of what made Anakin who he was that there was likely no chance of it ever leaving? How had he failed to see how much hurt Anakin was carrying with him still?

What kind of Jedi Master was he, to have failed his student so badly?

Padme settled into the seat across from Ben, her features a mixture of shocked, outraged, and scandalized. Ben couldn’t help but wince as he met her gaze. “Just one of the handmaidens would be worth fifty thousand Corellians. Young, pretty, and female, three of the biggest and most profitable categories for Hutts. The Queen? No price tag. She’d be put up for auction as a political hostage for the highest bidder.”

They both sat in uneasy silence for some moments, just staring at each other. “Obi-Wan would be between thirty and forty thousand, depending on how much it cost to subdue him. Again, young and pretty, force-sensitive, which could be a plus for the right buyer. Ashoka would be a bit pricier, being Togruta and female, but not by much. Maybe around fifty thousand, give or take the effort needed to capture her.” Ben shuddered and found himself looking away first, his gaze drifting down to study his hands. “You, Master… it would depend on how much it cost them. They wouldn’t bother with Master Jinn. Most likely, they would try to avoid him, or prevent him from interfering. At worst –“

“Does he always think of this?”

Ben’s head jerked up at the sound of Padme’s voice, finding that her gaze had not wavered. Only now, sorrow had joined the parade of emotions in her Force presence, and no small amount of concern as well. He sighed and dragged his hand through his hair, mussing it slightly. “Honestly, I… I had no idea he thought of it at all until today. Anakin was never one to approach me with any problems he was having during his Padawan years.” Ben sighed, gaze once again lowering. He felt so tired. “Anakin’s situation was… very unorthodox. He came to the Temple much later than usual, and became my Padawan immediately afterwards, which also came close on the heels of me reaching my Knighthood. It was – it was a difficult transition. For both of us.”

“How old is considered unusually old?” Padme asked, leaning forward with her elbows braced against the table and fingers laced together. “Don’t the Jedi take everyone they find?”

Ben frowned. He’d known that the ways of the Order were not exactly common knowledge, but surely the age restrictions were no secret? “The oldest Initiates to be brought to the Temple are four years old, respective to their race.” When Padme stared at him, startled, Ben quickly continued. “Anakin was nine when he came to us. There were… many exceptions made for him, because of how much… potential he had.” He glanced in the general direction of the droid bay, where he was certain his former Padawan was patching every loose wire and faulty circuit he could find. “Perhaps too many. Or perhaps… we were so blinded by his potential, we never stopped to think about what it must have all looked like to a child – to anyone – with his history.” He closed his eyes and focused on his breathing for a moment, arguing bitterly with himself over what he was about to reveal. Anakin had made him promise never to speak of his past, but the Force kept nudging his mind, whispering that Padme had to know. She would find out eventually – they were to land on Tatooine as before, after all – but that knowledge didn’t quiet the insistent push that told him she needed to know now. “Anakin,” Ben began quietly, his eyes still closed, “came to us after being freed. He was a slave. On Tatooine.”

Padme remained silent for a minute, before the sound of rustling fabric reached Ben’s ears. He opened his eyes to see her pacing the floor, muttering to herself under her breath. This continued on for about five more minutes, and the longer she paced the more worried over the upcoming explosion that was bound to ensue Ben became. Padme had been a storm of righteous fury about Tatooine - and slavery, and how little the Republic seemed to care about it all - the first time around. But now, thanks to Anakin, she had cold, ruthless facts to build her emotions on. Now she knew it, not just as a concept, but as a reality, as a system… as a man who still carried the scars of it in his mind, like he had never stopped living it.

“When I was brought to the Order, I had been worth around fifteen thousand Corellians. Young, brilliant mechanic, and a Podracer, even if I had never won a race before. Now? Even with all of the, ah, deficiencies that might depreciate my price, I’m probably double or triple that amount. Because I just got better as a mechanic and pilot, I’m a trained fighter, and still young and decently attractive.” Ben held in another flinch at the reminder of his former Padawan’s rather stark and blunt evaluation of himself.

Padme finally whirled around and loudly said, “How can the Republic permit this? How does slavery still exist in the Galaxy, despite everything we have done to put a stop to it? How can the Senate sit by and not uphold it’s own laws? Why are we not protecting our people?” She continued to pace, a hand over her mouth, whether to stem the flow of words or a physical indication of her distress, Ben was hard pressed to say. For a moment, he wished that Anakin were there. His former Padawan had always been particularly in tune with Padme’s emotions.

Padme took her seat across from him again, no longer muttering, but looking no less thoughtful as she focused on her loosely clasped hands. It was incredibly strange, to see her like this again, a young woman – a girl, really, she was only fourteen – who was unsure what her next step should be, when Ben could clearly conjure memories of a self assured, indomitable Senator who had earned his respect, and who was one of the few non-Jedi he was proud to call a friend. (He wonders, briefly, how it must be for Ashoka, or Cody, or Rex, who had only known her as Senator Amidala, to see someone so different wearing such a familiar face.) The strangeness continued when she looked up at him again, wearing the look of someone looking up to a mentor, rather than an equal. “Could the Jedi do something? If the Senate – “

“I’m afraid, Handmaiden, that with the requests the Jedi Order already receives from the Senate, we may not have the resources to give an appropriate response to such a petition for aid, no matter how much we might personally agree with it.”

Padme jumped and turned to face their new companion, while Ben did his best to stifle an eye-roll and a sigh of exasperation, though from the amused glint in his former Master’s eyes, he didn’t succeed fully. “Master Qui-Gon, is this truly the best time?” Qui-Gon gave Ben his best Jedi Negotiator Smile, and Ben responded with an unimpressed glower. Ben surrendered the staring contest first, standing and offering his seat to his former Master. “Very well then, shall I make tea? Since this will take some time, no doubt.”

Padme gave him a small smile and a quiet, “Thank you,” while Qui-Gon, the ass, settled serenely into the chair with a, “Yes, that would be much appreciated, former Padawan mine.” Ben pointedly turned his back on the two and began rattling around the commissary in search of what he would need.

“Are you familiar with the Ruusan Reformation?” Ben imagines Padme must have nodded, because Qui-Gon continued without much pause. “After the Order de-militarized, we placed ourselves under the power of the Supreme Chancellor and the Judicial System, and the Supreme Chancellor then gave much of the position’s power to the Senate, which included the ability to make requests of the Jedi Order directly. This was, initially, a good thing. The Republic was just recently free of wartime, the Order was seeking to prove that we had no intention of becoming a conquering army, and this simply streamlined what could have very quickly become a corrupt process.” Ben smiled at the attentive interest Padme was radiating in the Force as he filled the kettle with water. “However, as that era became further and further away in our history, the Senate began to make more requests of the Order, ones that normally would not require Jedi, which meant less and less that the Jedi could accomplish on our own.”

“What could the Senate be requesting of the Order to make your numbers so thinly stretched?” Padme asked, and Ben could practically see the small furrow between her eyebrows that normally came about when she was thinking deeply.

“Well, there are negotiations of various kinds of treaties, along with treaty revisits and renewals, a Jedi is normally requested to be present at all stages of those as a means of ensuring the negotiations are fair and equal. Investigating various intergalactic incidents of smuggling and trafficking. Being present at various cultural events such as coronations and funerals. Mediating disputes of various scales, from full-blown planetary disputes–“

Ben couldn’t help but cut in with, “To your absolute favorite, Master: familial disputes.” And if he meant something far more personal to that, well, Padme certainly didn’t need to know that.

Besides, she seemed far more interested in being shocked and scandalized at that. “You- you’re…” she stuttered, before finally spitting out, “You’re galactic peace keepers, not security officers!”

“And yet, Handmaiden, the Senate prefers to turn to the Jedi rather than the Galactic Security Bureau,” Qui-Gon drawled. “I’m fairly certain they’re far too bored with their usual crimes, and would probably love to take some of the Order's if only to get out of the monotony.” Another rustling of cloth, and Ben tracked, with some difficulty – how did Anakin maintain such a constant trace on her Force signature – as Padme once again began pacing the floor, muttering to herself.

This continued until the tea had been poured over the leaves and left to steep, and their respective glasses set out on the table.

“How can they expect you to keep up,” Padme hissed, cradling her cup in her hands. “How can they even expect you to maintain neutrality, if the Senate is so frequently making personal…” Ben took a careful sip of his own tea, savoring the flavors as Padme stared Qui-Gon Jinn down. Qui-Gon also took a slow sip from his own cup, meeting Padme’s gaze without flinching, and Ben thought he saw a familiar spark of pride in his old Master’s eyes.

“How indeed, Handmaiden.” Qui-Gon carefully set his cup down and leaned forward. Ben hid a smirk behind another careful sip. His former Master looked downright delighted. Ben spared a brief moment to be grateful Master Qui-Gon didn’t have any members of the High Council present to be a captive audience this time.

It wasn’t often that the Maverick Jedi had such a receptive ear for his complaints about the relationship between the Order and the Senate.

Chapter Text

** It Runs In The Family **

Obi-Wan bit back a sigh as he made his way through the halls of the Queen’s starship. He was in desperate need of somewhere quiet to meditate and find his center, yet with their arrival on Tatooine fast approaching, it seemed everywhere that might be suitable was occupied by someone already. At this point, it would likely be better to wait until they had landed and everyone had had a chance to settle down – or, settle down as much as they could while stranded on an outlaw planet, with no safe way to contact any allies, and who knows what possibly hunting them –

Obi-Wan really needed to meditate.

Which was why he could absolutely be forgiven for literally running face first into his time-traveled, older self as Ben Kenobi made what could only be described as a hasty retreat from the ship’s commissary.

Neither of them fell over, but it was a near thing. Obi-Wan winced as he rubbed his smarting forehead. They both stared at each other awkwardly for some moments before a belated “Sorry,” came in unison. Ben’s mouth pressed into a thin line, though that did little to hide his mirth, and Obi-Wan found himself giving a small smile in response. “What has Master done now?” He could sense his – their – Master in the commissary with someone, and in all he seemed… rather pleased, which would typically be no great cause for alarm. The fact that Master Qui-Gon’s enthusiasm had sent any version of Obi-Wan (And it was still so strange, to know that this man was him, but not.) fleeing the scene, however, did raise some concerns.

Ben groaned, and cast a half-hearted glare over his shoulder in the direction of the commissary. “Master Qui-Gon has found a like mind and sympathetic ear. They have been discussing the many flaws of the Senate, the Order, and the relationship between the two, for over an hour now, and I fear they are only just getting started.” Obi-Wan echoed the groan, but frowned in confusion when he caught Ben’s expression turning almost wistful. “I had… I’d almost forgotten. How he was, like this.”

Obi-Wan struggled to find a response, only to find no adequate words. The mere thought of losing Maser Qui-Gon as Ben had shook the younger man to his core, and he instinctively reached out along his training bond even though he could sense his Master in the next room without it. (A cold feeling settles in his chest, when he thinks of how often he must have done this, after Master Qui-Gon’s death, only to find the dead remains of a once thriving bond.) Master Qui-Gon responded, and his gentle reassurance was enough to settle Obi-Wan on a response.

“Did we come to be so nostalgic of all of Master’s habits?” Ben turned back to him, and Obi-Wan adopted an expression of mock horror. “Please tell me we haven’t actually missed the adoption of all the pathetic life-forms?” Ben’s eyes widened, and then he was almost doubled over with laughter, leaning against the wall for support. Obi-Wan could practically feel a layer of tension leaving Ben as he laughed, and his own face gained a happy little grin at that. Good. Ben had been far too wound up ever since they met.

Once Ben’s laughter died down, though his eyes still had a happy little crinkle at their corners and a smile tugged at his lips, he stated, “No, not quite yet. Though we shall, unfortunately, have to allow Master to adopt a pathetic life-form on this mission.” Obi-Wan blinked once, and true horror flashed across his face.

“What?” he asked, accent thickening in the face of true confusion and astonishment.

“In fact,” Ben continued, as though he had not just suggested utter blasphemy, “we should not only allow Master Qui-Gon to adopt this particular pathetic life-form, we should encourage it.”

… Perhaps losing Master Qui-Gon had driven Ben mad. “Why,” he asked, his Core accent strained at the very thought of actively encouraging Master Qui-Gon’s propensity to find the saddest organism in his vicinity and insist that it required his personal care and attention.

“Because the pathetic life-form in question is our former Padawan.”

Obi-Wan blinked. Opened his mouth. Closed it. Blinked again. Finally he gestured vaguely behind him, towards the droid bay, where the former Padawan in question was tinkering away at the astromech designated R2-D2. “You mean,” he held his other hand down towards the floor, as though measuring a youngling’s height, “he is -?” Ben took hold of his hand and raised it closer to his hip before nodding.

“Yes.”

Another vague gesture, this time towards the commissary. “And Master Qui-Gon -?” Another nod.

“Yes.”

A more frantic gesture between the two of them. “And we -?!” An amused snort and an eye roll.

“As usual.”

Obi-Wan didn’t know how to describe the noise he made, other than ‘distress’. “Why?”

Ben looked him dead in the eye and said, “The short answer.”

Oh.

Right.

A laugh interrupted them before Obi-Wan could respond. He turned to find one of the Queen’s Handmaidens behind him, struggling to regain her composure, and Obi-Wan felt a blush creep up his neck as he realized how ridiculous their conversation must have looked. “I – I’m sorry, Master Jedi,” the Handmaiden finally said, hands smoothing down her cloths and a shy smile taking up residence on her face. “I’m Handmaiden Sabé. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. I was asked to inform Master Jinn that we are approaching Tatooine.” Obi-Wan bowed slightly and moved out of her way, and was mirrored by Ben, who added a charming smile. She paused as she moved past them, then turned back looking almost perplexed. “I… don’t mean to pry but – it’s just, we’re all curious… are you family?” Obi-Wan jerked slightly, and caught Ben glancing at him out of the corner of his eye. The Handmaiden blushed scarlet. “I – I’m sorry, that must have sounded rude. But, you have the same surname, you look so similar, and seeing how familiar you are with each other – “ She glanced away, biting her lip. “We didn’t think Jedi had families, is all…” she muttered.

“W-well,” Obi-Wan could feel the blush burning his ears as he stuttered. “That is – we’re… it’s a bit –“

“He’s my nephew.”

Obi-Wan clenched his jaw in an effort to not having it hanging open in front of the Handmaiden, who simply blinked at the statement. “O-oh? Truly?”

A glance showed Ben to be holding onto his charming smile from earlier. “Yes, we haven’t been able to spend much time together recently, what with Master Jinn’s propensity to remain outside of the Temple for months on end. I wish the circumstances were more agreeable, but it will be nice to see what my old Master has taught you in my absence this time, dearest nephew.”

Obi-Wan glared at Ben as the man continued to beam at him with the patented Jedi Negotiator Smile. And then, he smirked. “I certainly look forward to showing you all I’ve learned, most venerable Uncle.” His smirk graduated to a full on grin as the Handmaiden giggled and Ben began to sputter with indignity.

“Venerable – I am only twelve years older than you!”

Obi-Wan bowed, still grinning. “And yet so much more ancient in experience, Uncle.” He fled down the hall as quickly as Jedi dignity would allow, the laughter of Handmaiden Sabé and Ben’s indignant grumbling of “Uncivilized,” following him.


** Changes Within and Without **

Ashoka bit back a growl as she paced the halls of the small transport cruiser they were on. It was nothing like either the Negotiator or the Resolute, too small for her to properly pace and no area where she could just disappear into and be left alone. And the lack of her boys was starting to really get to her.

Mid-stride, she turned and strode down another hallway to the room that Cody and Rex had claimed, needing to check on them, make sure they were okay and there. Unlike the rest of the vode, a traitorous voice in the back of her mind whispered. Ashoka quickly stomped on it, not ready to contemplate a universe where her boys weren’t there. If this was just before the Battle of Naboo, then her boys would be back.

Even if they might not be her boys.

That thought just made her stride longer and quicker. She was just reaching their door when she caught Cody’s unmistakable growl. “ – so quit being an ass about it and settle in!”

“I’m. Fine. Cody,” she heard Rex’s muffled voice snap back. “My shoulder did not, in fact, dislocate!”

“It came too karking close to it!” Ashoka froze, hand hovering over the door controls. Cody… she’d never heard Cody sound like that. He sounded… scared? “Hells, Rex, just… just settle in, for a few hours. For me?”

Ashoka hesitated a moment more before rapping her knuckles against the door instead of using the chime, or just palming it open. “Guys? Ok if I come in?” She though she heard shuffling, and then the door was opening, Cody standing on the other side.

“Com – Sir,” he acknowledged, looking lost for a moment as he corrected himself from greeting her as ‘Commander Tano’. (She felt a pang of loss for the easy camaraderie that had come when her boys called her that. ‘Sir’ just sounded so impersonal, like she hadn’t fought, and bled, and survived with her men.) “Is everything alright? You only left a short while ago…”

She gave Cody a small, lopsided smile. “Yeah, everything’s good. We’re due to arrive soon though, so everyone is all over the ship and…” And what? She was worried about them? She felt lost? That wasn’t something a Jedi should feel, and it certainly wasn’t something she should be putting on them. She was supposed to lead them, not the other way around. Cody seemed to understand what she didn’t (or couldn’t) put into words, because he stood aside and gestured her in.

“You can wait here with us. I could certainly use the help convincing my stubborn vod that he needs rest.”

Ashoka chuckled as she stepped through the door to Rex picking up his argument right where he’d left off, if a bit more light-hearted than before Ashoka had been present. “Rex, old boy, you’ll take it easy even if I have to pull a Hardcase and sit on you.” Rex made an indignant sounding noise, but he moved his legs so she had more room to perch on the edge of the mattress. She willingly settled down, tucking herself into his side and resting her head against his good shoulder. He obligingly wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her in tighter, prompting a sigh and a bit of tension bleeding out of her. This, this was what she needed.

Silence reigned for a minute, before Cody shifted and asked, “Something wrong, Commander Tano? You were rather tense when you came in.”

Ashoka opened her mouth to speak when Rex snorted harshly. “You mean besides the obvious, vod?”

“Rex,” Cody hissed, glaring at the Captain.

“No, Cody. You won’t ask it, so I will.” Ashoka shifted to meet Rex’s gaze when he tilted his head down to look at her. “Commander Tano, what the kriffing feck is going on? I know we somehow arrived on Naboo, but… nothing is as it should be. And Senator Amidala, she looks like a cadet five years out of the tank, everyone is calling her Queen, and she’s not acting like herself.” Ashoka sucked in a sharp breath at the confusion and off-centered feelings swirling around the Captain. “Sir, what is going on?”

“Rex…” She didn’t know how to handle this. It should have been Master Kenobi or Skyguy. She swallowed hard and did her best anyway. “Rex, what’s going on is exactly what it looks like. We’re not where we’re supposed to be. We’re not even when we’re supposed to be.” She couldn’t meet his eyes anymore, so she stared at the Republic Cog on his Blacks, in the center of his chest. “We time traveled, Rex. This is the start of the Occupation of Naboo.”

“But– But that is…” Cody stuttered, making Ashoka’s gut twist and clench in guilt.

“Considered the first staging ground leading up to the Clone Wars. The GAR doesn’t exist yet. You boys… You haven’t been… haven’t even been born yet,” she said quietly. She bit her lip as Rex’s breathing hitched, finally managing to look back at his face. Rex was staring blankly ahead, and when she looked over at Cody, the ever-dependable Commander was wearing a similar expression. She had to do something. She couldn’t leave them looking so lost.

“Cody… Rex, I –“

A shrill beep from the door startled the three of them, and suddenly it was as though Cody and Rex had never been anything other than battle-ready soldiers. Cody immediately rose to his feet, stance at ease, helmet resting on his hip. Rex’s arm vanished from around her shoulders and somehow a sizable gap seemed to appear between them in the split seconds it took the door to slide open. Ashoka flinched at the abrupt removal of contact, startled and hurt that it was so easy for Rex to just… pull away from her like that – to go from treating her like a friend, to treating her like just another superior.

(It didn’t used to be like this. Rex used to be so proud of how close he was to his Jedi. When had everything changed? What happened to her Captain?)

Artooie came rolling into the room, none the wiser, with Captain Panaka following, and Ashoka dragged herself back into the expected role of the Dutiful Jedi Padawan again.


** Stranger Things Can Happen **

Cody had quickly taken Captain Panaka up on the request of assistance in making a patrol route for when they landed on Tatooine, needing to feel useful after the period of resting his feet for the first time in a week. When he had left the small room he and Rex had taken over, he purposefully shoved Commander Tano’s revelation into his mental box labeled “weird Jedi Force shit” for further examination at a much later date. Setting a patrol route and schedule was a familiar task, and right now, Cody desperately needed something familiar. But now, standing amongst the security team after having finished detailing the type of patrol route he’d typically suggest to General Kenobi, he wasn’t too sure if this was a better idea than staying with Rex to contemplate time travel would have been. The men around him were alternating between side-eyeing him and exchanging long looks with each other. Cody grit his teeth and kept his expression neutral, determined to not show how their uncertainty with his plan was getting to him. He knew what he was doing. His General trusted him with things like this all the time.

He was a competent Soldier of the GAR. He was General Kenobi’s reliable Commander. He could keep these people safe, would keep them safe. This was his job.

He was made for this.

Captain Panaka was the one to respond, a full minute after Cody finished his explanation (not that he was keeping track, because there was no need to keep track). The Captain nodded once and said, “We’ll take your suggestions under consideration, Commander.” Cody froze and, unsettled by the response, could only nod his head in reply and step back. “Now, anyone else have ideas? Maybe ways we could adapt Commander Cody’s suggestions?”

The following conversation floored Cody as his suggested patrol route was taken apart, and by the end of the talk only the most basic parts of it remained in the finished route, with much smaller shifts in more frequent changes than what Cody was used to. He knew he and his brothers were different from those birth-born non-Jedi, but it couldn’t be this different, could it?

Once the meeting was over, Cody approached Captain Panaka. He gave a salute and said, “Sir. I was wondering what was wrong with my patrol route? Rex and I normally follow a similar one.” Which was true, it was (had been) a standard GAR patrol route for when in unknown hostile territory, modified appropriately (or so Cody had thought) for the terrain.

Captain Panaka blinked, as if surprised. “Don’t get me wrong, if I had about a dozen more uninjured men, your route would have been ideal, Commander. I’ve honestly never seen a better planned out patrol route than what you suggested. But most of the people we have are injured in some way, too untrained to go in smaller groups, or too important to send on patrol at all. Believe me, I wish I could follow your recommendations. I just don’t have the men.”

…Okay, so apparently he and Rex really were that different. He’d seen the injuries that most of those on board had, and normally he and his Brothers would just take an extra dose of painkillers and sleep it off, if they even needed that. The brief rest and Bacta Cody had gotten earlier already had him feeling ready to face another rotation, and he could only imagine how antsy Rex must be getting, with everyone hovering and insisting he stay off his feet. If Captain Panaka was concerned about not having enough men, then he and Rex just needed to step up. They were made for this, after all. “If you need, sir, Rex and I can take up extra shifts in the patrol. You’re men wouldn’t have to–“

“Cody, listen,” Captain Panaka said, causing Cody to mentally jerk back. As it was, he blinked at the abrupt and almost familiar shift to his chosen name. (Normally, only General’s Kenobi and Skywalker and Commander Tano used his Name on a regular basis, and his Brothers only when they were off duty. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d heard it from a stranger.) “I don’t know what kind of work you and your brother were doing with the Jedi, but you don’t have to do this on your own. Much less run yourself into the ground while trying to.” Cody felt like he was frozen as Panaka rested a hand on his shoulder. “Besides, I don’t think your brother would be able to help much with his shoulder and… well, everything else, it looked like. Why don’t you go check on him and rest up, since you took one of the first shifts? There’ll be a ship-wide announcement when we land in a little while.”

Mechanically, Cody nodded and said, “Yes sir.” Captain Panaka searched his face for something, and after ten seconds didn’t seem to find it, but accepted Cody’s acknowledgement anyways and left, troubled features completely slipping past Cody at the moment. Why… why did that feel like he’d just been told he wasn’t good enough? Why did he feel like he was a Cadet on Kamino again, standing at attention even as his Sargent’s picked apart his performance for every possible and hypothetical flaw? He was fine, he could keep going still, had kept going for longer dozens of times before. He wasn’t running himself into the ground. He knew how to do this. This was his job. This was what he had been made for.

Maybe his route really was that bad and Captain Panaka didn’t want to insult him? He’d heard from Brothers in other battalions that Birth-borns in the GAR had done that a few times before. Or maybe Cody really had underestimated the differences between his Brothers and the Captain’s men, and Panaka was just trying to keep his men working at the pace they were accustomed to. But Cody was fine, so he didn’t understand why the Captain seemed to think he needed to rest, or that Rex couldn’t keep going as he was. A few more painkillers, a few hours sleep, and he’d be fine. So why did Captain Panaka feel like they both needed time?

It had to be something he said in the meeting. Or maybe Captain Panaka didn’t think he was good enough at his job, and thus was trying to keep him from the decision making of the final routes? But that didn’t make sense. This was his job. He was good at his job. Captain Panaka had said there was nothing wrong with the route, so why wouldn’t he let Cody and his Brothers do their…

This is the start of the Occupation of Naboo.

Commander Tano’s words from earlier resurfaced unbidden, and Cody had to fight down a wave of terror.

The Occupation of Naboo. Ten years before the First Battle of Geonosis. Ten years before the GAR.

The GAR didn’t exist.

His Brothers didn’t exist.

Cody hadn’t been made yet.

What was he supposed to do if he couldn’t do his job, because his job wasn’t around yet?

What was he if he couldn’t serve the Republic?

What was he made for now?


** Departing for Mos Espa **

Qui-Gon met with Ben in the cargo hold, and accepted the lighter tunic from the other Jedi with a nod of thanks. Ben gave him a smile that made Qui-Gon think of his young Padawan, staying behind on the ship to protect the Queen and keep an eye on the others. While he may believe their story, for now, that didn’t mean he entirely trusted them.

Though that was rather difficult to hold up in the face of Ben acting much like his younger counterpart.

“Since this is the Outer Rim, Republic Credits are practically only good for kindling. Luckily, we’ve been all over the Outer Rim for the past year and a half,” and that got Qui-Gon wondering about just what his former Padawan, grand-Padawan, and apparently great-grand-Padawan had been getting up to, to spend such a period of time in the Outer Rim territories. “Between Anakin, Ashoka, and myself, there are more than enough Correllian Credits to pay for the parts dealer to not just sell the part we need before we can acquire an alternate payment method, preferably without having to make contact with anyone off-planet.” Qui-Gon couldn’t help but glance uneasily over at Ben. Qui-Gon’s instincts warred between seeing the man as his former Padawan and as a fellow Jedi Master, as what the man’s powerful and potent Force presence suggested. Ben seemed oblivious to Qui-Gon’s inner turmoil, though, as he pulled his poncho over his head and followed Qui-Gon down the ramp. “I’m fairly certain that Captain Panaka and her Majesty would be willing to allow Anakin to poke around the ship and see if there’s anything on board that could help pay for the hyperdrive motivator we need. What’s more, if I remember correctly from the reports, the parts dealer himself will be a bit of an issue. A slimy Toydarian named Watto, only dealer in town, and he’s more likely to attempt to overcharge for the part if we even think of waving around Republic Credits or trying a Mind trick on him. I’ve already done research on the average pricing and the respective conversion into Correllian Credits, so I’m fairly certain I could haggle a good price for it–“

Finally, his instincts had had enough. Qui-Gon turned around to Obi– Ben, this was Ben, his Padawan-but-not, a Jedi Master in his own right, and quietly stated, “I understand what you are attempting to do, former Padawan, however need I remind you that I am the one in charge of this mission? And that despite our talk on the ship, I do not entirely know, and thus shouldn’t trust, you? Your advice is welcome, but the final decision rests with me.”

Ben stood there, blinking blue-green eyes at Qui-Gon and staring at him as if startled by the comment. Truthfully, so was Qui-Gon, to some extent. But then Ben’s eyes darkened to a slate gray, in the way that normally meant a downward turn in emotion in his Padawan, which was mirrored in the small burst of bitterness that was quickly stifled, accompanied by the raising of those durasteel mental shields, and Qui-Gon felt a cold weight settle in his gut. The next Ben spoke, his tone was much more distant than it ever had been on the ship, and now held just the slightest bit of coldness. “Ah. My apologies, Master Jinn. I was going to add ‘if you would allow it’ to my statement, however since my advice is as unnecessary as ever, I shall remain silent unless the mission is about to blow up in our faces, as always.” He gave a polite bow, looking for all the Galaxy to be an impeccable, unflappable Jedi Master, and turned to start the walk off into the desert.

Qui-Gon stared after him for a minute, mind racing over the almost-but-not-quite sharp comments his Pada– former Padawan gave. What had he done to Obi– to Ben that he had felt such potent bitterness, that he could pull away from the man who had effectively raised and helped shape him into the man he was so easily? And then Qui-Gon winced as he realized that this Obi-Wan, this Ben, had never been able to grow out of being Qui-Gon’s Padawan, and was probably feeling as off-center as Qui-Gon felt. What’s more, this man was most likely not one brought about by Qui-Gon, not entirely. This man was brought about by the death of his Master, by taking a Padawan to early in his Knighthood, by leaving a husk of a training bond to fester silently. Qui-Gon stood by his chosen words—stubborn to the last and with no way to take them back—but something had happened between him and Ben before. And whatever it was, Qui-Gon felt that he had to make amends.

Which would be easier to do, if his former Padawan were even fractionally less stubborn than him when it came to saying what troubled him.

He was shocked out of his thoughts when Anakin poked his head out from inside the cargo hold and called out, “Remember, Master! Be the Negotiator!” Qui-Gon blinked at the almost cheeky tone, and at how Ben whirled around looking indignant and flushed.

“Anakin! Must you be so uncivilized as to use that insufferable moniker?” Ben sputtered, seemingly pushing the argument between himself and Qui-Gon to the side. For now, Qui-Gon decided to follow his former Padawan’s lead, though he would not forget the encounter. He didn’t need the Force to tell him that his relationship with his former Padawan should be repaired if possible.

Anakin’s grin was mischievous in the way normally only Initiates or young Padawan’s were. “Aw, but you were feeling so grumpy over the bond! Besides, with that sleemo Watto, you’re going to need to pull out all the stops. Good luck, Masters!” With a final, almost teasing wave, Anakin ducked back into the ship. Qui-Gon could almost swear he heard the young man say something about, “And now, there’s going to be sand in my hair for a month. Great.”

Qui-Gon turned to Ben and raised an eyebrow. “The Negotiator?” he asked, keeping his tone calm and even, with only the slightest bit of teasing. Ben’s flush rose.

“A ridiculous moniker that the media decided to grace me with, supposedly because of my skill at negotiations. Completely unjustified, of course; there are far better negotiators in the Order than myself,” Ben said quickly, before sighing. “Well. Let’s go and get this over with.” Qui-Gon tilted his head and frowned at the slightly apprehensive note in Ben’s voice.

“Wait,” Captain Panaka called out just as the two Jedi Masters were about to walk off. Qui-Gon turned, and stiffened as he spotted young Padme trailing along behind Panaka, dressed in a simple blue tunic and loose trousers.

“Oh, you must be joking,” Qui-Gon muttered under his breath. He shot a small glare towards Ben, who had snickered slightly and was now giving him an innocent look that did not match his gleeful feelings radiating in the Force around him.

“She’s a stubborn one,” Ben muttered back, before sliding effortlessly into the Perfect Jedi Master once more. Qui-Gon honestly found that more disconcerting than their encounter not minutes prior.

Chapter Text

** Watto’s Shop**

Ben spent much of their trek into Mos Espa in contemplative silence, turning his earlier exchange with Qui-Gon over in his head. The words had hurt, there was no doubting that fact, even if all of Ben’s Jedi training was trying to get him to push the feeling out into the Force and ignore it. Primarily, he felt, because it was an old, almost forgotten pain. One he hadn’t felt since their early days as Master and Padawan, when Qui-Gon had tried his hardest to push Obi-Wan – Ben away, forced him to continually prove himself to be worthy, or different from Xanatos, or whatever it was that Qui-Gon had been searching for back then.

“Have you spent much time in the Outer Rim?”

Ben blinked rapidly, drawn out of his spiraling thoughts by Padme’s curiosity. He’d been so preoccupied that he hadn’t realized she had fallen in step with him as they walked, rather than joining Qui-Gon some steps ahead to continue their conversation from the ship. He considered briefly how much he should tell her (they had all decided that until they could report to the High Council, the concept of Time Travel should be kept a closely guarded secret). “I have,” he finally responded. “Anakin, Ashoka and I have been traveling the Mid and Outer Rims for the better part of two years now.” Padme’s curious head tilt brought forth a slight smile. “A long series of inter-related missions. I can count on one hand the number of times we have returned to the Jedi Temple, and none of those stays were for any notable length of time.” A wave of startled concern flooded his newly reformed Training Bond with Qui-Gon, and Ben found himself closing himself off behind his mental shields before his former Master could demand to know what had kept him away from the Temple for so long. He had only told Qui-Gon about Naboo, and it had been a brief explanation at that, all things considered. Everything else, from how Anakin came to be his Padawan to the Clone Wars, could wait until they reported to the Council, no matter the flash of hurt he saw in his old Master’s eyes when he glanced over his shoulder at them. This was hardly the time or the place for the whole, drawn out tale.

His former Master should know that, given all the times he’d said as much to Ben when he would ask Qui-Gon to explain himself on a mission, back when he was still Qui-Gon’s dutiful Padawan.

The bitterness of the thought startled him, and Ben quickly shoved it as far back as he could. It was unbecoming of a Jedi, to think such a thing.

If Padme noticed his distraction, she made no comment on it. “Do you know much about Tatooine in particular? You mentioned that Knight Skywalker came from here.“ Certainly a delicate enough way to put it, far more than Anakin himself had earlier.

Another prod from Qui-Gon, another tightening of his shields in a firm message of later, another flash of hurt.

“Tatooine is an outlaw planet,” Qui-Gon answered instead, not stopping his long stride, or turning to face either of them. “It is the sort of place where it is unwise to draw attention or ask questions. Many who come here – or end up here – do not wish to be known, or found.”

“Like us,” Padme muttered, and Ben found himself resting a comforting hand on her shoulder, much like he would Anakin or Ashoka when they became melancholic. Padme rallied quickly and, having apparently decided that traveling in awkward silence with two Jedi Masters was unacceptable, continued with her questioning. “I noticed Knight Skywalker kept referring to ‘Correllian Credits’ during his… lecture.” Ben didn’t know whether to be amused at her continued delicate phrasing of Anakin’s frank assessment of their potential value in the eyes of Slavers or not. Instead of trying to figure out which he was most, he nodded.

“It’s one of the more standardized units of payment in the Outer Rim. As a general rule, hard currency becomes more preferred the further away from the Core Worlds and the Republic you get. The Correllian Credit is a value that anyone doing business out here is expected to know, so no matter what hard currency you’re dealing with, you can give it’s ‘standard’ value,” Ben explained, taking the conversation back from Qui-Gon.

“But what about Republic Credits? That’s all we have with us.”

Ben grimaced. “There is an exchange rate between Correllian and Republic Credits, so they are not entirely worthless. However, this far into the Outer Rim, it’s unlikely we will find someone willing to take Republic currency, if only because they would then have to go through the trouble of having it converted themselves.” Seeing Padme’s worried frown, Ben flashed her his most charming smile. “Worry not, dear Handmaiden. I’m sure Master Jinn will find us a solution.” He glanced over at Qui-Gon, and his grin turned mischievous as he caught his former Master sending a suspicious glare over his shoulder. “He is, after all, Chancellor Vallorum’s favorite Jedi Negotiator.” Qui-Gon scoffed and dramatically rolled his eyes, causing Padme to burst into a small fit of giggles. “And,” Ben continued, tone more serious but still trying for light-hearted, “should Master Jinn’s considerable skills prove somehow less than ideal –“ His old Master actually groaned, and finally turned fully to face them, his expression long-suffering. Padme had graduated to a full on laugh, startling the few other sentients wandering into Mos Espa at this time of day. They stared at each other for some time, before Qui-Gon rolled his eyes again, and turned to Padme.

“Please forgive my former student, Padme.” And though he seemed entirely serious, Ben felt a thread of teasing in the Force… and perhaps something that might almost be an apology. “Ben is much like his Nephew, always had something of a penchant for dramatics.” Padme finally caught her breath and smiled at them both.

“And here everyone has always insisted that Jedi are nothing but entirely serious.”

Ben returned her smile. “Which is, of course, why you must tell no one of this, dear. Truly, if the Galaxy ever found out that the Order had a sense of humor… why, we’d never be taken seriously again!”

“I wouldn’t be so sure.” Ben blinked; startled by the sudden seriousness in her, and for a moment, he felt he was no longer looking at Handmaiden Padme, but Senator Amidala. “Sometimes it’s good to know that you can relate to the one’s you reach out to for help.” The moment suddenly passed as she pointed over Qui-Gon’s shoulder. “But I believe we were supposed to be searching for a parts dealer.” Sure enough, just across the street was a storefront positively littered with parts, scraps, and droids of all kinds, and Ben caught sight of the rapid movement of Toydarian wings flickering past the open door.

He and Qui-Gon shared a look, some of the earlier tension returning. “Well then,” Ben finally said, bowing his head slightly to Qui-Gon. “Shall we?”


**Angels and Droids**

Padme didn’t know what happened between the two Jedi who she travelled into town with between when she had last seen them together and now, but she did not like the resulting tension one bit. Masters Jinn and Kenobi had barely spoken a word to each other before she had intervened, which stood completely at odds with the almost familial relationship they had shown on the ship. After she had pointed out the parts dealer, it got even worse, and she wondered just what Master Kenobi had been about to say when he brought up Master Jinn’s abilities potentially not being enough that could have caused such icy tension.

The interior of the shop was dark, and it took Padme’s eyes a few moments to adjust from being out in the blinding light of the double suns. Mechanical parts lined the walls and every available surface in what must have been some form of organization, but to her untrained eye only appeared a cluttered mess. She hadn’t been exaggerating when she told Knight Skywalker that she was unfamiliar with droids. The shop owner called out from behind a counter, and Master Jinn made his way over to him, an uncharacteristically quiet R2-D2 rolling along behind him.

(She’d seen Knight Skywalker chirp at this same little droid for almost five minutes before noticing she was in the room. “They’re very chatty, when they realize someone other than another droid knows how to talk to them,” he’d said, shrugging as though knowing and speaking Binary were nothing. “They appreciate effort, like everyone else.”)

She pretended to browse the nearest shelf while watching Master Jinn from the corner of her eye. A scuff of boots on the floor alerted her to Master Kenobi’s presence on her other side. A sudden bark in an unknown language caused her to jump slightly, and she felt Master Kenobi gently brush a reassuring hand against her shoulder. “Huttese,” he murmured lowly. “Nothing to worry about, he just called for someone to watch the shop while –“ A small, childish voice replied to the shop owner in the same unfamiliar language, and Padme felt Master Kenobi tense and heard a soft “Oh.” Padme turned around slightly and took in the sight of a young boy with light blonde hair and simple un-dyed synthawool clothes that had stepped inside the store. She felt her breath catch as her mind pieced together the implications. If the Toydarian had called the boy in to watch the shop, was he someone just looking for work, or was he…

Padme really hoped it was just an instance of a young boy looking to make a few extra credits for his family, instead of what Knight Skywalker had warned them about. She glanced back at Master Kenobi, hoping he would provide some insight, only to feel a cold weight settle in her chest at his expression. Master Kenobi looked as though he would like to do nothing more than scoop the young boy now seated on the counter into his arms and bundle him off somewhere safe. (And Knight Skywalker’s words echoed in her mind again, “The only safe distance from Tatooine is as far away as you can manage.”)

“M-Ben?” she whispered when he remained frozen, hoping the sound of Master Jinn discussing their ship and the parts they needed hid their conversation. Master Kenobi shuddered and pointedly turned to a shelf of deactivated service droids, and Padme shifted, glancing between his back and the boy who was now perched on the counter top, studiously polishing parts. The longer she watched the boy, the heavier the weight in her chest seemed to become, and the more certain she was that this was exactly what Knight Skywalker had warned them about (she couldn’t decided if she’s grateful or bitter, to be able to look at this and know that something is very wrong). The boy seemed to be ignoring the conversations around him, but Padme did not become Queen of Naboo at fourteen by being unobservant – his eyes flickered away from his task in small rapid intervals, no doubt still managing to take in most if not all of the shop; his head tilted subtly, tracking Master Jinn and the shop owner as they moved towards a back entrance. He acted like someone who already knew that others talk when they think you aren’t listening – and that what they say in those moments could have a deep impact on you.

“Are you two Angels?”

She and Master Kenobi both jump and turn fully to the boy at his sudden question. He’s set his parts aside and looks at them both so earnestly (so much brightness, so much awe and hope despite what Padme fears may be the truth) that Padme couldn’t help but smile at him. “What,” she asked in unison with Master Kenobi, and they both stared at each other for some moments before the tension that had been surrounding them since they had entered the shop broke as Padme grinned and Master Kenobi shook his head, a slow smile spreading across his face.

The boy (and she really did need to learn his name) seemed neither deterred nor bothered by their strange behavior. If anything, he took their smiles as encouragement, letting his legs swing off the edge of the counter and leaning towards them, giving them his full attention. “Angels,” he repeated, “I’ve heard the spacers talk about them! They’re supposed to be the most beautiful beings in the Galaxy. They’re from the Moons of Iego… I think.” Master Kenobi moved closer to the counter, and the smile on his face was… fond, Padme thought.

“Indeed they are, young one,” Master Kenobi said, the fondness in his expression tinting his voice. The boy puffed up, clearly pleased with himself.

“How do you know so much,” Padme asked, and her heart melted a bit when the boy turned his brilliant smile on her (there’s something familiar in his smile, but she couldn’t quite say what it was).

“I talk to all the spacers who come in for repairs,” he answered proudly. “Watto is the only reliable parts dealer in Mos Espa, so they all come here, and some of them share stories when they’re really happy with a repair job! Got the Angels from a smuggler after I fixed a patch job on his astromech one of the other shops botched up.” He shrugged, as if being able to fix something as complicated looking (to Padme, at least, since she didn’t know anything about droids) as an astromech at such a young age was normal. To him, maybe it was. “So, are you?”

Master Kenobi chuckled and shook his head. “No, young one, we are not from Iego. However we are certainly not from around here.” He looked back to one of the parts on the counter next to him and started fiddling with it. “Nor do either of us particularly understand just what we are looking at. Perhaps you could assist? I’d like some ideas for a friend’s next life day present, and he’s a bit of a droid fanatic.” Padme had the feeling that Master Kenobi just wanted the boy to keep talking, and interacting with someone who actually cared about what he thinks and knows.

Honestly, Padme couldn’t quite fault him. This young one was quite bright, and knowledgeable.

Padme listened with one ear as the boy and Master Kenobi spoke about various parts and what sort of droids Master Kenobi’s friend (Knight Skywalker, no doubt) tinkered with and/or built on a regular basis, and glanced over to a window that looked out into the courtyard that the owner had led Master Jinn to. The much taller human appeared annoyed, however she did see him pocketing what looked like a Republic credit chit while speaking with the owner in a very low yet intense tone, so low she couldn’t quite make out the words. Master Jinn must have taken Master Kenobi’s words on the walk to the shop seriously, despite whatever disagreement they may have had before.

She zoned back in on the conversation right next to her when Master Kenobi said, “I’ll certainly keep an eye out for those parts you mentioned, young one. Oh, where are my manners. Ben Kenobi, and this is Padme.” The mentioned girl looked back and smiled at the boy. Master Kenobi added, “And what would be your name, young one?”

The boy kind of puffed up slightly, but Padme could tell it wasn’t in anger. If anything, it looked like pride to her. “I’m a person, and my name is Anakin Skywalker,” he said, his voice loud enough for them to hear but not enough to carry much further.

Padme felt like her brain had frozen over. Anakin… Skywalker? But… but that’s what Knight Skywalker had said his name was. Now that she had a name, she realized where she had seen that smile before, when Knight Skywalker was talking with R2-D2 before they left the ship. And that shrug, the way he had so nonchalantly acted about being able to work and interact with droids, it was exactly the same as Knight Skywalker’s. But then… How were there two Anakin Skywalker’s? It shouldn’t be possible.

And yet…

A slave from Tattooine, knowledgeable of droids of all kinds, could make Master Kenobi look that mixture of fond, protective, and loving with just a smile… Was it possible?

Padme decided as Master Jinn led herself and Master Kenobi out of the shop that she would hold her own counsel, until she had more pieces to fit together, or she was back somewhere with a long period of privacy with her handmaidens. Something was going on, and she intended to find out what.


**Sandstorms and Shelter**

Qui-Gon frowned as he lead the way out of the Toydarian parts dealer’s shop, silently admitting that yes, Ben had been correct about this Watto. He had been slimy, the only dealer in town, and definitely gave a higher price than Qui-Gon was certain the part was worth (though granted, he wasn’t exactly interested in learning about starship parts, much less the very specific part of a certain class of ship). Qui-Gon didn’t even let himself fall for the instinctive reaction of a Mind Trick, and had quietly slipped away the Republic Credits he had in his palm. Trying to talk Watto down in price had been a trial and a half, much like many of the more difficult treaty negotiations that Qui-Gon had been a representative for.

His Padawan had grown into a shrewd judge of character, if he had gotten Watto’s personality down from a formal mission report.

Qui-Gon stifled a sigh as he realized he had done it again. Ben was not his Padawan. He was Qui-Gon’s former Padawan, a Jedi Master in his own right, even if he was no longer recognized by the Order as such (since to the Order, Ben – Obi-Wan – was still Qui-Gon’s Padawan). He chanced a glance at the man in question as they made their way through the markets, searching for supplies to bring back to the ship. Ben was speaking to an elderly woman by a stall that sold rations, the rough syllables of Huttese tripping off the other Jedi’s tongue as though it were his mother language, and the woman becoming more at ease the longer the conversation went on, despite the fact that, from what Qui-Gon could hear, they were discussing the pricing of the rations. Qui-Gon felt a knot of emotion tighten in his chest before he could stifle it. If this was all true, if Ben was truly Obi-Wan, then his Padawan was destined to grow into a truly remarkable Jedi.

And Qui-Gon had missed it.

Commotion behind them snapped Qui-Gon back into the present moment (And oh, the irony, that only days ago Qui-Gon had been admonishing Obi-Wan for dwelling on the future, instead of the here and now), and he immediately cursed his distraction in a manner that had even the locals around him glancing at him sideways. Even more so when he realized that a Dug had a hand wrapped around Padme’s arm in what must have been a crushing grip.

Just great, Jinn, your own distraction is going to end with one of the Queen’s handmaidens being hurt in some way, he scolded himself within his mind, even as he began moving through the crowds towards Padme. From how those in his path quickly moved out of it, he probably had his ‘move-or-be-moved’ expression on, as Obi-Wan often called it (which was far better than the teasing moniker ‘thundercloud’). He noticed that Ben had also seen the incident and was moving closer, a hand reaching back as if readying to grab his lightsaber, a move that normally Obi-Wan would put off for the last second if simply talking the issue out didn’t work. Qui-Gon forced such thoughts from his mind, and readied himself to have to firmly shake off the now leering Dug from the surprisingly-combat-ready-but-still-acting-helpless Padme.

As it turned out, all that was unnecessary, because the blonde boy from Watto’s shop stepped out of the crowd and said, “Careful, Sebulba. She’s with a big-time outlander.” Qui-Gon was not shocked when the boy jerked his chin over Padme’s shoulder to the taller Jedi, considering Qui-Gon was, according to most everyone, a very intimidating sight, with his almost inhuman height. “Wouldn’t want you to get smeared by the Hutt’s before we get the chance to race again,” the boy added, his young voice teasing, baiting the Dug to take his attention away from Padme.

And sure enough, it worked. Sebulba, as the Dug was apparently named, sneered before releasing Padme to make his way closer to the boy. Qui-Gon spared a second to ensure she made it safely to Ben, but kept the majority of his attention on the scene playing out before him, should he need to intervene. Sebulba leaned in close to the boy, hissing Huttese sharply in the youngling’s face. The young one didn’t even flinch, responding in kind in the same almost teasing voice as before. Sebulba sneered one more time before stalking off, leaving the way clear for the boy to approach.

Well. To approach Ben and Padme, at any rate. For some reason, he refrained from even glancing in Qui-Gon’s direction. Which, again, was understandable, considering how physically intimidating the older Jedi was.

“Are you okay? He didn’t hurt you, did he? Sebulba’s a Dug, and they’re bad enough without knowing that he can get away with anything as long as he doesn’t piss off the Hutts,” the boy babbled, worryingly checking Padme over for injuries and the like. Padme quietly assured the boy that she was all right, and Qui-Gon gave a stern glare at a few lingering pedestrians that left them quickly scuttling away from the scene. Ben shifting to kneel beside the two drew Qui-Gon’s gaze, and he found he had to do a double take because… he could not remember ever seeing his Obi-Wan with such an expression. It was warmth, and sorrow, and a longing that was almost tangible even with the mental shields between them. Qui-Gon turned his attention back to the boy, reaching out tentatively in the Force to see what had captured his former Padawan’s attention so, only to be figuratively blinded.

The boy’s presence practically glowed in the Force.

“That was a very brave thing you did, for someone you’d only just met,” Qui-Gon forced out while mentally blinking and rubbing at his eyes, hoping to clear his Force Sight. Holy sweet stars, he was not prepared for that.

The boy’s eyes jerked up, shock writing itself clear on his face before smoothing into blankness as he looked back at Padme. “It was the right thing to do. Besides, you guys could have gotten in trouble if you fought him, even if he had started it,” he muttered, scuffing his boot in the sand.

Ben smiled and placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Be that as it may, Anakin, it does not make your actions any less brave,” Ben said, his voice tender and heartfelt. Qui-Gon felt his own heart jerk as it finally clicked that this boy was the Knight back on the ship. Was this where Ben learned the Huttese? Where Knight Skywalker had been found?

Was this the very mission that brought Knight Skywalker to the Order in the first place?

While Qui-Gon processed that revelation, Ben continued with, “Especially since you practically dared him to try and kill you. That was just as dangerous as the situation Padme was in.”

“Well, yeah, but he can’t kill me,” Anakin said plainly. “He’d have to buy me first, and we both knew he couldn’t actually afford me.” Qui-Gon’s heart practically shattered at that, and oh, he had figured that was the case from Knight Skywalker’s lecture, but to have the proof right in front of him hurt. “Anyways, since you’re not hurt, I’d better get going,” Anakin stated, giving Ben and Padme both a bright smile. “It was nice to see you again.”

“What’re you hurrying off for? Larger numbers for protection,” Padme said, clearly not wanting Anakin to just disappear like that. Qui-Gon, honestly, felt the same way, and could also tell that Ben agreed.

Anakin’s smile somehow got brighter at that. “I was just off to get our weekly water rations, there’s a potential sandstorm coming so we’re allowed to pick it up early, but Mom wasn’t able to go. I said I would after Watto let me go for the day.”

One of the nearby stall workers, the old lady that Ben had been haggling with, scoffed at that. “Potential nothing, Ani Skywalker. Can feel it in my bones. Not a long one, but just as rough as the height of the season, and hitting before the first sun begins to set, certain as the sand in your boots.”

That seemed to get Anakin worried, considering he hesitated before asking, “Uh, you guys have somewhere to stay, right? Sandstorms are very, very dangerous.”

“We were gathering supplies before heading back to our ship,” Qui-Gon said, watching Anakin shift slightly in nervousness.

“Where is it?”

“On the other side of town,” Padme answered this time, her eyebrows coming together worriedly. Qui-Gon glanced at Ben, who gave a small shake of his head almost in time with young Anakin’s more emphatic one.

“You guys aren’t going to make it there in time,” Anakin said, his tone extremely worried. He bit his lip for a second, before blurting out, “You can come stay at my place! I mean, Mom’s let my friends stay over when we had to stay inside for long periods of time, so she shouldn’t have a problem with it.”

Qui-Gon flickered his eyes to Ben, who shrugged slightly, and at Padme, who looked like she would much rather stay with Anakin than risk getting caught in a storm, especially after the scare they just had. Qui-Gon mentally shrugged, figuring that this would be a good chance to get to know the boy better. “Well then, I suppose it would be prudent for us to split the list, then, wouldn’t it?” he stated, handing over what they had agreed previously would be Ben’s half of the list to his former Padawan, purposefully flicking his poncho so that Anakin would see the lightsaber on Qui-Gon’s hip and, hopefully, realize that he was a Jedi.

Of course, he knew instantly that the plan backfired when, despite this, Anakin still scooted closer to Ben and tried to get a look at his list. Not all that surprising, considering the Bond Qui-Gon had felt between Ben and Knight Skywalker on the ship, but it was still aggravating that it didn’t work. “So, what do you have on there?” Anakin asked. Ben blinked at Anakin for a second, before explaining the different items Qui-Gon had tasked him with gathering

Anakin’s face lit up, and yes, Qui-Gon wasn’t going to be going with the young one. Oh well, he at least trusted that Ben knew what he was doing with the young one, having managed it once before. “I know some vendors who sell those for cheap! They’re on the way to the water rations stall, come on, I’ll show you!” The boy then grabbed Ben’s wrist, which Qui-Gon was startled to see was, for some reason, thin enough for the nine-year-old to wrap his fingers around comfortably, and proceeded to drag the younger Jedi along behind him.

The motion was enough for Ben’s durasteel shields to slip slightly, along with his expression falling into surprised confusion, which was mirrored in the Force. A slight feeling of “he chose me?” reverberated down the bond, before those shields were back in place, but it was enough for Qui-Gon to be worried. After all, Ben and Knight Skywalker didn’t seem to have that strained of a relationship, but clearly there was enough strain that Ben had thought that the younger version of his own former Padawan would not want to spend time with him.

Qui-Gon resolved to put this revelation to the back corner of his mind for now, until he could safely meditate on it for longer than an hour or two.


 **Darkness Incarnate**

Maul’s lip curled as he took in the dimly lit sand dunes that stretched as far as the eye could see. This barely habitable dust ball was hardly the worst place he had ever ventured to in his service to Master Sidious, despite the sand he could already feel settling into every crease of his robes. The prickles of frustration and annoyance skittering across his skin echoed into the planets own undercurrents of darkness, mingling with low hums of deception and corruption, fear and hopelessness. Hutt controlled worlds always had a rich layer of darkness under their gilded exteriors, though Maul often found it left a sour taste at the back of his mouth when he lingered too long. There were worse places to be at the moment, he supposed.

At least he was free of those witless Trade Federation amphibians.

Flashback

“It would appear the toads cannot count, Master,” Maul snarled as he stalked towards the Holo-projection of Darth Sidious and the weak stuttering mess of a Viceroy. “Security from the Queen’s hanger proved there to be five Jedi, not two. Accompanied by what appear to be two Mandalorian Commandos, of all things.”

“Impossible!” Viceroy Gunray shrank back as Maul’s glare turned fully to him, but the fool apparently had as much self-preservation instinct as he had honesty. “All of our readings showed only four life-forms aboard the Jedi’s ship! The two pilots were killed in the blast, and the two Jedi escaped to the surface! There were no others!”

“If you are not a liar, Viceroy, then you are at best incompetent, and at worst a traitor,” Sidious hissed, rage dripping from his words like venom. Maul bowed his head, instinctively submitting to his Master’s rage, though he continued to relish in the waves of terror Gunray projected. “If these three Jedi and their pets did not arrive with the others, then they were either allowed to slip past your supposedly impassible blockade – much as the Queen herself now has. Or they were already on Naboo before your blockade was in place, and you failed to apprehend them. And regardless of how they came to be there, the fact remains that you have failed.” Maul could feel the dark press of his Master’s Force Presence even through the holo as his voice dropped into something even darker and more sinister than usual. “I do not tolerate failure. You will bring me the identities of these interlopers, Gunray. And you will find that ship.”

“My lord,” Gunray pleaded, his panic tangible, “it is impossible for us to track the ship! It’s out of our reach…”

“Not. For. The Sith.”

End Flashback

Maul watched as the last of his probe droids skimmed over the dunes, these turning deeper into the desert rather than towards civilization. The damage the Trade Federation blockade had done to the Queen’s ship would necessitate repairs, but the trick communication his Master had broadcasted had been picked up somewhere out in the surrounding wasteland. Maul sneered.

Clearly the fools were not terrified enough, if they were still capable of using their heads.

Instead of returning to his ship, Maul settled cross-legged on the sand, settling into meditation and riding the Dark undercurrents of the Force. Something had been off about that ship, Maul had sensed it even as it somehow slipped past the blockade. The Jedi had been aboard, no doubt, but until he had seen the security footage from the hanger, he had been unable to determine how many individual Jedi there were. It had been as though they had all blended together, engulfing the Queen’s ship in a nebula of Force energy that practically burned with the Light, concealing the individuals within.

No Jedi, no matter how many, should have been capable of such a feat.

No Jedi was powerful enough.

Chapter Text

** Plans for a Better Tomorrow **

Ben was both confused and exhilarated at the attention that young Anakin was bestowing upon him. If this was what his former padawan was like before their official meeting on board the Queen’s ship, then Ben wanted to make sure that the little ray of sunshine that was now leading them to his home in the Slave District didn’t lose his brightness. Ben never remembered Anakin ever feeling so bright, even back before the mess in the Council chambers (before Qui-Gon abandoned him for the Chosen One). He certainly didn’t remember Anakin having any interest in him at all, much less actually wanting to spend time with him. As he recalls, Anakin was far more enamoured with Qui-Gon than boring Obi-Wan, who was 16 years his senior.

Somewhere, Ben realized, something had happened do dim that Light. And, as the one who had raised Anakin for so long, he could only conclude that it must have happened during their time together as Master and Padawan, which made him responsible. Therefore, it was clearly his responsibility to ensure that this Light never goes out. Which meant making a list of all that had gone wrong and thus should, if possible, be averted this time around was going to become a top priority.

Anakin swung open the door to his home, carefully juggling the large jug of water with a practiced ease (Ben had always wondered why Anakin had more upper body strength than someone with his childhood frame should have, and now he supposed he knew the why), and called out, “Mom, I’m home!”

Ben very quickly realized that point one in Keeping Anakin Light was going to be ensuring Anakin’s mother did not remain on Tatooine, considering the boy’s presence brightened even further with joy and relief when she stepped inside the small hallway they were all now crowding. “Ani, you’re a little later than I expected,” she said in a quiet voice, though her eyes cautiously ran over the four (counting R2-D2) newcomers in her home. “And these four are…?”

As if it were possible, Anakin’s Force presence shone even brighter. “Oh, these are my new friends!” he said, turning back to smile at Ben and Padme. Ben got the distinct impression that if his hands weren’t full of that water jug, he’d have also reached out to pat R2-D2 on the dome.

Before Anakin could continue, Qui-Gon shifted his load of supplies in his arms so he could mimic bowing, a hand over his heart. “I am Qui-Gon Jinn, my lady,” he said, as pleasant as ever. Ben wouldn’t be surprised if Qui-Gon managed to win Anakin’s mother over within a short amount of time. Already he could see a cautious relaxing of her shoulders at his former Master’s deferring behavior.

“And this is Padme, and R2-D2, and Ben!” Anakin said excitedly, practically bouncing on his toes in excitement. “Their ship’s on the other side of town, and with the sandstorm coming they don’t have anywhere else to go.”

“I’m fairly certain they could have introduced themselves, Ani,” Lady Skywalker chided as she examined the small group. Ben smiled, radiating sincerity into the Force in the hopes that it would permeate and help her come to trust them better. Anakin mumbled a quiet apology, and finally Lady Skywalker’s posture finished relaxing from the tense anxiety she had carried with her since seeing strangers in her home. “You were right to bring them home, though. We’ll certainly not leave anyone outdoors if we can help it. Sandstorms are, after all, very, very dangerous.” Ben smothered a smile as Anakin puffed up slightly at his mother’s approval, or as much as he could while still holding the large jug of water. Lady Skywalker stooped to take the jug from him then, and turned her attention to the others. “Welcome, I’m Shmi Skywalker. It is a pleasure to meet you.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you as well, my lady,” Qui-Gon said. “Though we would hardly dare to impose on such short notice and become a burden on your household.” Ben blinked, and gave Qui-Gon a hard stare from the corner of his eyes. If the court manners had come out the first time and Qui-Gon hadn’t mentioned anything, then Ben was going to have some serious words with his former Master. Then again, that might have to happen anyways, considering no matter whether it happened before or not, it was happening now.

It was almost like whenever Qui-Gon and Tahl would flirt in front of everyone.

“Oh, well, thank you,” Lady Skywalker stated, a bright smile on her face at the mention of the gathered rations. “Though, please, just Shmi.” Simply because Ben was giving Qui-Gon such a hard look, he spotted his former Master’s pleased smile at that comment. “Now, why don’t you bring those into the kitchen with me, Ani, if you could help set up some cots and blankets for them overnight?”

“Yes, Mom,” Anakin said, before perking up. “Oh! I can show you C-3PO!”

Ben’s mind froze as Anakin grabbed his hand and began to drag him along. Honestly, how could he have forgotten about the nanny droid? Anakin had stated that C-3PO had been built for his mother, of course he would be around during this mission. Anakin released his hand when they reached a doorway that could only lead to his room, and Padme actually ran into Ben’s back as he refused to move forward. She peered around him, only to gasp a soft “Oh my.”

It was like looking at half of Watto’s shop compressed into one room. Parts hung off of parts. Bundles of wires everywhere. Ben was fairly certain a piece of plating was balancing the leg of the only chair in the room. And the mostly completed, and almost unrecognizable to Ben, C-3PO took pride of place on what could only have been Anakin’s bed.

And Ben had thought his former Padawan’s room at the Temple had been a nightmare maze of hoarded droid parts.

It was a combination of R2-D2 beeping at them impatiently, and Anakin’s, “Sorry about the mess, I didn’t have time to clean up before I needed to be at the shop this morning,” that had Ben, and thus Padme, entering the cluttered room.

Ben carefully picked his way across the floor, years of practice giving him the ability to find the path with the least amount of steppable droid parts that could poke through his boots. He eventually made his way to the cubby where Anakin was digging out a stack of blankets, while Padme stopped closer to the bed, peering at C-3PO.

“This is the droid you wanted to show us?”

Anakin perked up and made his way over to her, a stack of blankets tucked under one arm. “Uh-huh! That’s C-3PO! He’s a protocol droid, to help Mom around the house. Here, I’ll turn him on!” Ben could only watch in horror as Anakin reached over, pressed something, and C-3PO jolted to life. Though he noticed that one of the eyes wasn’t lighting up like the other had. Oh, that wouldn’t end well…

“Oh! Oh my… where is everybody?” came the overly-sophisticated Coruscanti accent Ben associated with C-3PO from the audio processors, indicating their full functionality. Anakin yelped and reached up to adjust the errant optic, causing them to both blink to full power. “Ah! Hello!” C-3PO said, turning to identify everyone in the room. “I am C-3PO, Human-Cyborg Relations! How might I serve you?”

“He’s perfect,” Padme said, a grin stretching across her face. Ben wanted to groan in un-Jedi-like despair as 3PO began to flutter at her praise. Only the fact that it was actually quite impressive that Anakin had gotten this far on the protocol droid at 9 year old with only what appeared to be salvaged parts kept him in check enough to begin piecing together more pieces of the puzzle that was Anakin Skywalker.

Despite the apparent messiness, Ben could spy an organization to all the parts in the room. Undoubtedly, the appearance of a mess was only due to a lack of storage space… which if he remembered correctly, Anakin’s room at the Temple had also lacked. And looking back on that, there was an organization to everything, which probably made Ben’s constant nagging about cleaning up all the more irksome than whenever Qui-Gon had ever done so during Ben’s Padawan years. Some of those parts he could see, as well, were for various droids, speeders, and ships that Anakin in this part of his life would not have access to. Why would he keep those if he would never be able to use them?

A glance at C-3PO, and then at the cubby with the blankets, gave a little more insight. There were enough blankets to comfortably cover a small squadron of troopers in there, and even Ben could tell some of the parts used in C-3PO were not standard protocol droid parts. Since Anakin wasn’t being paid, or what he was receiving was hardly enough to be used for anything beyond rations, water, and other household necessities, he’d have to scavenge what he could and… hoard what he… found. In case he could use it later.

Oh. That made so much more sense now.

It hadn’t been distraction, or greed, or even attachment that had had Anakin gathering everything from droid parts to food and clothing in those early Padawan months. He’d been following instincts driven into him by nine years of necessity. Nine years of saving everything he conceivably could for a day when he might need it, because if he didn’t it wouldn’t be there. What everyone, including Ben, had thought of as an overindulgence in the face of sudden plenty, was survival to Anakin. If they had been wrong about this, Ben wondered, what else had they been wrong about?

How badly had the Jedi Order misunderstood Anakin Skywalker?

Apparently point two was going to have to be having the Order and Anakin Skywalker come to a better understanding – quickly.

Lady Skywalker’s call for Anakin to come help with dinner jarred him out of his thoughts, and he watched as Anakin handed of the blankets to C-3PO. “When the storm is over, I’ll show you the pod-racer I built!” He grinned up at Ben proudly. “It’s the fastest ever!” He then darted out of the room, nimbly dodging parts as C-3PO shakily stood.

“Oh dear,” the droid muttered as it shuffled after it’s creator. Ben gathered up the remaining blankets in the cubby and split them with Padme as they both struggled not to laugh. “I don’t believe this floor is entirely stable…” A curious beep from the door drew their sight to R2-D2, who had remained in the hall. “Oh, hello there,” C-3PO cried, seemingly pleased at seeing another droid in residence (though that could just be Ben projecting his former Padawan’s opinion on the protocol droid). “I am C-3PO, Human-Cyborg Relations!” More beeps from the R2 unit had 3PO continuing (and really, Anakin must have improved his peripheral manners programing at some point, because they were having this conversation in a doorway, keeping both Ben and Padme hostage in the process…). “R2-D2, a pleasure to meet you!” R2 suddenly chirped and swiveled, and… Ben was not the expert in binary that Anakin was, but he’s fairly certain that what was said was fairly rude. “I beg your pardon, what do you mean ‘naked ’?!” Ben couldn’t help it; he let out an undignified snort.

Of course this was how they met; it explained so much about every interaction he’d ever seen between the two droids.

After Ben and Padme finished doubling over on each other, howling like feral loth-cats in laughter at C-3PO bemoaning that his parts were showing, they finally managed to stumble out of Anakin’s room and into the main living area. Qui-Gon looked over to the two, who were barely holding it together, and raised an eyebrow at them. “Having fun back there?” he asked, his voice tinged with humor.

Padme gave a very unlady like snort and muttered, “His parts are showing,” in a high pitched enough voice that Qui-Gon, Anakin, and Lady Skywalker were sure to hear it anyways.

“My dear, I need to breath,” Ben pleaded, his voice breathless and barely containing the laughter from earlier.

It took a couple seconds, in which Qui-Gon and Lady Skywalker had very confused looks on their faces, but then C-3PO was shuffling in, still muttering about being “naked,” and “how rude, for that to be the first thing said.” After that, it perhaps took Qui-Gon two whole seconds for him to realize what had occurred, and then he began howling as well. Lady Skywalker slapped a hand over her mouth, clearly in an attempt to not join Qui-Gon in falling apart.

Anakin looked between the adults (and near-adults) in the room, and understanding dawned in bright blue eyes. “Oh! You guys mean something dirty!”

“Anakin!” Lady Skywalker said, her voice strained from withholding her laughter.

Ben walked over to the child and patted him on the head. “Yes, we do, now listen to your mother and don’t go repeating it.”

Anakin nodded his head quickly, his eyes still wide. “I’m sorry, 3PO, I’ll try and get you some plating as soon as I can. It’s just that hardly anyone tosses out functional plating for protocol droids.”

C-3PO gave a droid huff at that. “I understand, Master Anakin. It’s hardly your fault.” R2-D2 beeped and chirped a couple times, to which C-3PO answered, “Well, it’s a bit late to apologize for it now!” Ben shook his head at the droids, and focused back on the humans, all of whom were gathering their wits once more.

“Well Mom, it looks like 3PO found himself a friend!” Anakin stated with all the enthusiasm of a nine year old.

Lady Skywalker snorted then, pushing herself away from the counter she had been using to support herself earlier. “Certainly better than some of the other droids that migrate through these parts. One of them said something rather crass to him just three day cycles ago.”

“More crass than being told he’s naked?” Padme asked, laughter still evident in her voice.

“I refuse to repeat the words while in my son’s hearing,” Lady Skywalker stated. “Suffice it to say, there is apparently a form of binary Huttese.”

Ben shuddered at the reminder, and quickly turned to Padme. “If I may make a request, should R2-D2 begin spouting off in this binary Huttese, his memory banks should most likely be purged of it.”

“You really think that necessary?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

“My dear,” Ben stated, placing a hand on her shoulder. “This is the same droid that, after introducing its designation, proceeded to inform C-3PO that he was missing plating.” He looked at her imploringly with both his eyebrows raised, and was pleased when he saw her look off to the side and take a deep breath at the memory.

“Oh, come now, Ben, surely it isn’t as bad as that time you accidentally called the Guard Captain of–”

“It most certainly IS,” Ben objected, sending Qui-Gon a scathing glare, only for his old Master to look completely unrepentant. “And this is hardly the time to be recounting–”

“But Ben, it ties in so well,” Qui-Gon said, before launching into the tale of one of their escapades with the others as an entranced audience. Ben took one look at Anakin’s excited, awed expression and fought down a wave of sadness. This was to be the moment this time , he thought as the others dissolved into helpless peals of laughter and Qui-Gon launched into another tale. This was to be the moment where Anakin Skywalker chose Qui-Gon Jinn.

Point three, it seemed, was to be the same as Ben’s motivation to intervene in this timeline back on Naboo.

Qui-Gon Jinn was not allowed to die on this mission.


** He Can Help You **

“... all slaves have a tracking device somewhere inside them,” Shmi called over her shoulder as she collected the final serving plate of food. She was still a bit in awe, she and Ani had never had so much food in the house at one time before. But while she was grateful, she still felt wary. Too many years seeing the worst sentients had to offer made her cautious of what these strangers could possibly want with her and her son. She shook herself slightly before turning back to the table. “Any attempt to escape–”

“And they blow you up! BOOM!”

“Ani,” Shmi scolded quietly, causing her son to duck his head and mumble an apology.

“That’s awful,” the young woman, Padme, said as she glared down at her plate. “You’re- you’re people, that’s… it’s not right. I thought… the Republic…” Shmi felt a sliver of pity for the girl who was clearly having many of her ideals challenged. She’d seen others struggle with this reality many times during her years as a slave, but it never got easier. Padme, at least, would have the chance to walk away from it.

At least, she would, if her and her companions could convince Watto to sell them the parts they needed.

“The Republic doesn’t exist out here,” she said gently, looking across the table with pity. Padme looked back up at her, and here gaze held such sorrow (and anger, so much anger too), that Shmi was at a loss for words for a moment. “We must survive on our own,” she finally said, and Padme returned her glare to her plate, carefully picking at the food in front of her. Her gaze was unfocused, and Shmi got the feeling that she was watching someone think very hard on how to go about fixing a large problem.

What if she could,’ a small, hopeful part of Shmi whispered, a part that had been silent for so very long. Shmi firmly turned her attention to her own food. Padme and her companions, strange though they were, were only a few, against a system that had stood for longer than anyone on Tatooine could remember. To think that they alone could change everything was a nice thought, but that’s all it was. And yet, as they ate, the tiny, hopeful voice continued.

‘What if they could?’

They had almost finished eating when her son spoke up again. Ani had been watching the two men of the group carefully since they had all sat down. Shmi couldn’t help but worry at how attached he was to these strangers already, and they to him. Her son had a big heart, despite the hand he’d been dealt in life, and when he loved it was with everything he had. (And when he raged, it was with everything he had as well - she could still remember when his first friend had been sold, a young girl shipped off in the middle of the night. Ani had screamed himself hoarse all night, demanding to know why , and Shmi could only hold him close with no answers.) She felt certain they wouldn’t hurt him intentionally - Padme seemed like she would put them all on the first ship to the Core Worlds if given the chance, and she suspected Ben would help her, and while it was harder to get a read on Qui-Gon, she somehow suspected he would not be above swindling the Hutts blind if it meant righting an injustice.

But there were different ways to hurt people, she firmly reminded herself, and one of the most prevalent in her life had been the gift of false hope.

“You’re Jedi Knights, aren’t you?”

Well. Shmi couldn’t exactly say she had been expecting that to be what her son would say. She braced herself for the inevitable rebuttal, for the possible anger despite how kind these strangers had been so far, an apology hovering on the tip of her tongue, because really - Jedi, on Tatooine of all planets? What was her son thinking?

‘What if they are,’ the small part of her whispered again, louder, less a question, more a statement. She watched as Ben and Qui-Gon shared a look, and the whisper continued. ‘What if they are? What if they could?’

“What makes you think that,” Qui-Gon finally asked, face carefully blank.

Her Ani was having none of it.

“I saw both your laser-swords in the market,” he stated very matter-of-factly. “When you gave Ben the list,” he gestured at Qui-Gon at that, before turning to Ben, “and when you went to save Padme from Sebulba. Only Jedi have those, everybody knows that. Even way out here.”

“Perhaps,” Qui-Gon said slowly, “they are not ours. Perhaps we killed Jedi and took them.” Shmi caught Ben shooting Qui-Gon an indecipherable look, but Qui-Gon’s attention was wholly on her son as Ani shook his head.

“I don’t think so. Nobody can kill a Jedi.”

Shmi watched curiously as Ben’s expression - she wasn’t exactly sure what his expression was, other than a frankly frightening lack of expression. “If only that were true, Anakin,” he said, and somehow his voice was managing that same lack of expression that his face was, and Shmi felt an unnatural prickling crawling up her spine. Qui-Gon and Padme both seemed to be in a similar state of shock that Shmi was, and she dearly wished one of them would say or do something to get rid of that terrifying expression-that-wasn’t.

“So… you’re not a Jedi?”

Ben blinked and the not-expression was gone in the face of her son’s rapidly wilting enthusiasm. “Did we say that?” Shmi watched with relief as a spark returned to Ben’s eyes, his expression becoming mischievous as he met Qui-Gon’s gaze across the table. Suddenly something was flying at the older man’s face, only for Qui-Gon’s hand to snap up with unnatural speed, a small fruit held delicately between his fingers.

“Ben,” he said, his tone long suffering but his eyes now glittering with the same spark of mischief. “Don’t do that again.” A flick of his fingers sent the fruit flying back at Ben, and Shmi watched in awe as Ben’s hand came up with the same unnatural speed to intercept it, only - he didn’t catch it.

Or rather, he didn’t touch it.

The fruit was floating barely an inch from Ben’s hand.

“Show off,” Qui-Gon scoffed, though Shmi couldn’t tear her eyes away from Ben, who was now making the little fruit dance in a circle over his palm. “I seem to recall receiving a rather pointed lecture about ‘gross misuse of the Force’ last I tried such a stunt.”

“You summoned your robe from across the room when you would have been within grabbing distance of it in a few steps, all to add a bit of drama because you were bored to tears.” Ben flicked his wrist, tossing the fruit in the air before catching it in his mouth. “It doesn’t count,” he said after swallowing, mischief now tinged with smugness as Qui-Gon rolled his eyes.

She and Padme eventually left the three males to do the dishes, as Ben and Qui-Gon both volunteered and Anakin was pestering them both with a stream of questions that barely paused long enough to afford one word answers.

“They are Jedi?” she asked Padme quietly, though she already knew. The small, questioning whisper had become a certain chant in her mind. ‘They are. They could.’ Padme nodded, and Shmi stared through the doorway to the small kitchen area where Ani was directing Qui-Gon to return a pot to the highest shelf.

“We meant what we said earlier,” Padme said, clearly concerned that Shmi was questioning their integrity after this revelation. “Our ship is damaged. We can’t call for help easily. We… we need to find a way to get the parts for our ship, preferably without anyone knowing we were here.” Shmi finally turned back to her as Padme pressed on, “Is there anyone here who might be friendly to the Republic?”

“No,” Shmi said, and she watched Padme’s shoulders droop. She looked between her, and her son, before straightening her spine and folding her hands, resolve settling deep in her bones. She didn’t like it. She never liked it. But something very much like that small hopeful whisper told her this was how it was meant to be. Anakin could help them.

He was meant to help them.

“There is, however, a race.”


** Puzzles and Mazes of a Jedi Kind **

Qui-Gon sighed as he sat down in the little area that counted as the Skywalker’s living space in preparation for meditation. He had discretely taken a blood sample from young Anakin—with his and his mother’s full knowledge and permission—and had it ready to send off to Obi-Wan back on the ship so he could run a midichlorian count on it. Everyone else had bunkered down after discussing Anakin racing in this upcoming festival, and Qui-Gon had gotten the unsettling feeling that Ben had approved of Shmi Skywalker’s plan as much as Padme had, though he seemed far more resigned to the idea of a nine year old racing in such a dangerous event. Padme was sleeping on a cot in Lady Skywalker’s room, and young Anakin had insisted that Ben join him for the night, leaving Qui-Gon a cot out in the living area, which he fully planned to use.

As soon as he sorted out his thoughts.

He settled into his normal meditation pose and closed his eyes, letting his breathing and pulse slow, his thoughts quiet, until he felt just the slightest bit removed from them so he could examine each one and look for– something. Why his and Ben’s relationship was so strained, when Qui-Gon had thought he and Obi-Wan were finally becoming what they should always have been. Why each time young Anakin looks at Ben like he hung the moon and stars, Ben was always so shocked and happy and sad all at once.

Why his death seemed to somehow be a central point in it all.

His death at the hands of a Sith Lord , beings that were thought wiped from the Galaxy by the majority of the Jedi Order. There had been no mistaking the Darkness Qui-Gon had felt, though, neither as they fled the Federation's blockade or in the memory Ben had shared when their training bond reformed. A tremor shuddered through the Living Force; somehow, the Sith had returned to the Galaxy, and the Jedi had missed it.

Qui-Gon pulled away from these thoughts reluctantly; it seemed unwise to meditate on the return of the Sith when they were very likely being hunted by him at the moment.

A shuffling in the rooms behind him drew his attention, and Qui-Gon focused on the two beings he was most contemplating with amusement. Apparently, at some point, young Anakin had decided sleeping with Ben on the floor was preferable, and their Force presences now curled around each other contentedly. How could Ben think that this boy wouldn’t want to be close to him , Qui-Gon wondered. All Ben had said with regards to Knight Skywalker was that he had been Ben’s Padawan. Qui-Gon hadn’t had much opportunity to see them interact on the ship, but what little he had seen suggested they had a stable friendship, at least.

Perhaps last time they had been forced to leave young Anakin behind. Perhaps he had been put in the path of the Sith. If things were progressing similarly this time as they had before, they would have been in a hurry to return to Coruscant. If Qui-Gon had been more impatient, if he’d attempted any of the numerous tricks Ben had warned him about when they were leaving the ship, there was a chance something happened that caused them to seek help in a way that drew the Sith’s attention.

Qui-Gon released a slow, careful breath. The only conclusion he could draw, from his own intuition and the Force, was that Anakin Skywalker could not remain on Tatooine. And, though this thought came far more reluctantly, Obi-Wan could not remain his Padawan. He was ready for the Trials, more than ready, if Qui-Gon were to be honest with himself. But he’d been selfish. They had, in the past few years, finally achieved the easy camaraderie they had both been struggling for, and Qui-Gon had been loath to let it go so soon. But now there was tension, a strain that Qui-Gon could no longer ignore with two near identical bonds before him, only one now bearing marks of distress and distrust before the ragged scarring that was the result of his death. Qui-Gon took another slow breath, struggling to release the crushing weight of raw emotion in his chest into the Force.

Something had happened, and he had died before he could reconcile with Obi-Wan.

Something had happened, and he had died before Obi-Wan could be Knighted.

Something had happened, and his dear Padawan had become a brilliant Master without him.

He had to get Anakin off of Tatooine.

He had to recommend Obi-Wan for the Trials as soon as they reached Coruscant.

He had to not die this time.

The Living Force released him from his deep meditation at the sandstorm’s end, and Qui-Gon carefully pulled away, tucking each thought away as he resurfaced. He pulled his comm unit from his belt without opening his eyes, keying in Obi-Wan’s frequency on memory alone. A moment passed before the lines connected.

“Yes, Master?”

Qui-Gon felt a tension he hadn’t know he was still carrying release at the sound of his Padawan’s voice.

“Obi-Wan, I’m sending you a blood sample from one of the locals. I need you give me a midichlorian count.”

“Of course, Master.” Qui-Gon plugged the data chip into his comm unit, and waited patiently as Obi-Wan shuffled around on the other end of the line, no doubt running the test. Qui-Gon felt another unsettling pang in his chest, the knowledge that something had gone horribly wrong to upset the relationship he and Obi-Wan had built for so long rearing up from where he had tucked it away, until a wave of reassuring certainty soothed down their bond.

What happened, happened. It does not mean it will happen again. Ever in motion, the future is, as Master Yoda would say. Focus on the here and now.

“… Master, are you certain this is correct?” Qui-Gon raised his eyebrow at his comm unit even though his Padawan couldn’t see him. “According to these readings, this person’s count is over 20,000. Even Master Yoda doesn’t have a midichlorian count that high!"

“No Jedi has,” Qui-Gon muttered as he gazed back towards the room where he knew Anakin Skywalker was curled up against his time-traveling former Padawan.

“…what does that mean? Who is this sample from?”

Qui-Gon took a deep breath. Everything that happens is the will of the Force. “The sample is from Anakin Skywalker, age nine.”

Your Padawan found his way to the Order once, Obi-Wan. I’ll make sure he does again.


** Midichlorian Count **

Ashoka peered over Kenobi’s shoulder as he fiddled with one of the consoles on the bridge. She raised an eyebrow at the confusing algorithm flashing across the screen, and asked, “What’re you up to, Kenobi?”

Kenobi jerked and twisted his head around to look at her. “Oh, hello there, Tano. Master simply asked me to run a midichlorian test from a sample taken from one of the locals,” he said, his voice sounding rather breathless. She must have given him a bit of a scare, since she’s gotten so used to moving silently, and keeping her Force presence concealed, thanks to the war. “I’m just not quite understanding the results of it, though,” he continued on, sounding a bit more even-keeled than before.

Ashoka plopped down on the empty seat next to him and asked, “Talk me through it? Maybe a second head will help figure it out.”

While he gave her a slightly doubtful look—which just grated on her nerves oh so slightly—he still sighed and ran a hand over his face. “The sample came from a nine year old boy, who Master is certain is, well…” Kenobi waved a hand at the entrance to the bridge. It took Ashoka a second for her to connect the dots, counting back the years a bit. If this was twelve years before when they were originally, then Skyguy was only nine right now. Kenobi nodded his head when her eyes widened as she connected the dots. “Exactly. But I’ve run the test thrice, just to make sure the numbers were correct, and…” He trailed off, blinking rapidly with a slight shake of his head. “It honestly shouldn’t be possible for a nine year old to have such a high count.”

Fearing slightly what his answer will be, Ashoka asked, “What’s the count?”

Kenobi gave a slightly off look, but said, “It’s a count of over 20,000. Not even Master Yoda has such a high count.”

Ashoka leaned back in her seat, whistling slightly under her breath. “No wonder Skyguy insisted on the Healers blacking out that part of all his medical files,” she murmured, rubbing at her temple. She bit her lip, and frowned. “Wait, if that’s his count when he’s nine, and the midichlorian count changes and adapts as we age…”

“…Then what’s his count at his current age,” Kenobi finished, his eyes widening.

They stared at each other for a moment before slowly glancing back to the bridge exit. A few seconds passed in silence, before Ashoka let out a mix of a sigh and a groan. “Okay, no, I can’t let go of it now.” She stood up and looked to Kenobi, who was giving her an incredulous look. “Curiosity killed the loth-cat, satisfaction brought it back. Do you have a blood sample thingymajigger?”

Kenobi’s expression at having the small piece of equipment called a “thingymajigger” was priceless.

Ashoka waited patiently with her hand outstretched, and when Kenobi hesitated, she smirked a little and wiggled her fingers. “C’mon. You’re not even the tiniest bit curious?” She decided that watching Padawan Kenobi argue with himself was far more fun than watching Master Kenobi - Padawan Kenobi still let his whole expression move and twitch while Master Kenobi’s only real tell was the changing color of his eyes. “I bet Master Qui-Gon would be curious,” she said, a slight sing-song quality to her words. Padawan Kenobi huffed a little at that, but he did reach down to his belt and remove the device in question, dropping it into her hand.

“How do you even intend to get him to cooperate?” he grumbled as he followed her through the ship to the droid bay. “If he convinced the Healers to block general access to his count, I doubt he’ll just let you test it. And if you think I’ll just stand by while you trick your own Master–”

“I’m not going to trick him,” Ashoka said pointedly. “I’m going to ask. And if he says no, then that’s it.” She could feel Padawan Kenobi’s incredulous stare burning into her montrals as they reached the door. She rolled her eyes and tapped the keypad. “Just sit back and watch.” She strode inside the droid bay calmly, her eyes easily going to where her Master was hunched over… a miniature astromech? She decided that she wasn’t going to ask, if it kept him distracted and sane, then who was she to question it. “Hey Skyguy, need your flesh-hand for a second,” she called out, stealthily preparing the instrument out of his potential line of sight.

“Yeah, gimmie a second, Snips…” he muttered, still hyperfocused on the droid he was building. He twisted the tools he was using until he could hold them in his right hand, extending his left. “Here, make it quick.” Ashoka darted forward, peeling off the glove and setting the device while her master focused on not dropping the tools into the half-formed mess of droid parts. He frowned as he felt the device press against his finger. “Wait, wha- OW!” Anakin yanked his hand back and finally turned his full attention to her, frowning accusingly as she smugly tucked the device away. “What was that for?!”

“Medic’s orders,” she assured, putting on her best innocent look. “Wouldn’t do for your stress levels to get too high because of all the sand .” Skyguy rolled his eyes at her and gave her back his hand so she could put the glove back on, muttering all the while about how she and Kix were horrible and needed to never make jokes about his stress levels again - but also never denying the fact that, if he were here, Kix would have absolutely taken advantage of the relative “down time” to force them all through a basic medical evaluation.

Ashoka mentally shook her head at that thought. Kix would have, yes, but there was the little issue of Kix not being here because Kix wasn’t even in the gestation tube yet . She sternly forced herself to repeat that fact even as she strode out of the room and smiled at Kenobi.

He gave her a very unamused look once the doors were closed. “You lied to him,” he accused.

Ashoka gave Kenobi an offended look. “I did not! I do, in fact, plan on running a basic test to check his stress levels… after you run the test to check his midichlorian count,” she said, a hand splayed across her chest.

“That’s still lying.”

“Correction, that’s omission. Isn’t that the first thing most Jedi Masters teach their Padawans? It was the very first thing that Skyguy taught me, and he said he learned that early on in his Padawan years with Master Kenobi,” she stated, truly curious over how other Masters instruct their Padawans outside of wartime.

She could practically feel when Kenobi’s initial indignation through the Force melted away to strained contemplation. “Fine,” he admitted. “What was he even doing in there?”

Ashoka shrugged as she led the way back to the bridge. “Building another astromech? It looked a bit small, but given that he probably doesn’t have a lot of spare parts to work with right now… at least it’s keeping him centered.”

“If he needs to center himself, why isn’t he meditating?” Ashoka rolled her eyes and wondered for the dozenth how this Padawan ever became Master Kenobi.

“He was. He was just building a mini astromech while he was meditating.” Silence met her statement. “… did Master Jinn not teach you moving meditation? It’s all Master Skywalker does. He can’t really sit still long enough for still meditation to help—at least, not without Master Kenobi meditating with him.”

“… you do realize that being able to properly do moving meditation is very rare, yes?”

“… no? The way Skyguy taught me, it was actually pretty easy to pick up.” They entered the bridge and Padawan Kenobi settled down in front of his terminal again, setting up the test to run on her Master’s blood sample. Ashoka leaned against the console next to him and crossed her arms as she continued, “Though we usually did it with katas, so maybe it was easier because it was serving a double purpose?”

Padawan Kenobi shot her a disbelieving look. “You meditate. While doing katas ?”

“Form Three, Kata One, infinite loop.” The double take Padawan Kenobi did was hilarious, and Ashoka couldn’t have stopped the snicker that escaped if she had wanted to. “Yes, that, that face was me, half an hour in.”

Why?!”

“I think at first, Master Kenobi just wanted to test Skyguy’s dedication to moving meditation? But then he got really good at it and Master Kenobi started doing it too because he seemed to think Skyguy was getting a big head and needed to be taken down a notch. And Soresu is his prefered Form, so…” She faded off as Padawan Kenobi just looked at her confused. “Soresu is your preferred Form, isn’t it?”

“No, I’ve been studying Ataru, like Master Qui-Gon. Why would I - my Uncle have switched to Soresu of all Forms?”

Ashoka frowned, trying to find an answer and coming up short. She… couldn’t really think of why Master Kenobi would make such a drastic change. It must have had something to do with Master Qui-Gon’s death, because Skyguy had always seemed to imply that Master Kenobi had used Soresu for as long as he’d been his Padawan. But if Master Qui-Gon had taught him Ataru, why didn’t Master Kenobi use that Form anymore?

A distressed beeping from the console drew her out of her troubled thoughts. “Um… is that supposed to happen?”

Padawan Kenobi began frantically tapping away at the console, which was flashing lines of code that Ashoka was pretty sure were a bad sign. Suddenly Padawan Kenobi stopped, his hands frozen over the console, eyes wide and opening and closing his mouth like a rollerfish. “He broke it,” he whispered. “Your Master’s midichlorian count. It broke the test.


** Good Soldier (Follow Orders) **

Stay on the ship. Rest up. You’re hurt. We’ll manage.

Rex envied Cody so much right now.

Cody, who was out there right now patrolling. Doing his job. Keeping everyone safe, while Rex… Rex was stuck here, in an unfamiliar bunk, on an unfamiliar ship, with people who were both familiar and not hovering over him, telling him to “take it easy” when he was fine -

You’re hurt. Stay on the ship.

He wanted to scream, but that would just draw attention. He couldn’t draw attention, not when he was like this. If they saw him like this, they’d think something was wrong with him. They’d think he couldn’t handle his job anymore, that he was used up, broken -

Some clones are just… defective.

He clamped a hand over his mouth just in time to cut off the noise that managed to escape. No, not that, he wasn’t defective, he was -

CT-7567 -

Rex . He was Captain Rex, of the 501st Legion, under General Anakin Skywalker and Commander Ashoka Tano. He was one of the best Officers in the GAR. ( You won’t find a finer or more capable trooper, Skywalker had said. He’d even sounded like he meant it.)

You’re not where you’re supposed to be - when you’re supposed to be.

But there was no GAR, not here and now. No war, no 501st, no vod’e -

No Brothers.

You’re useless here.

Rex was distantly aware of his breath coming faster, of the burning in his lungs as he failed to get enough oxygen. He tried to curb his thoughts, direct them at anything else to stave off the mounting panic, but after a whole day of-

You’re nothing.

- taking it easy, he couldn’t.

You’re expendable. It’s what you were made for.

He was made for the Republic. He was made for the Jedi.

You were made to die.

He had a job to do.

Your job doesn’t exist. You don’t exist. You never should have. You’re only a Clone, after all.

He was a good soldier.

Good soldiers follow orders.

Rex finally managed to take a full, deep breath. Then another, and another, as the dark, spiraling thoughts finally quieted.

Good soldiers follow orders.

He may not want to stay on the ship, but his orders were to stay on the ship. He may not think he needed rest, but his orders were to rest. It may be easier to let this panic consume him, but his orders were to protect the ship and it’s occupants, and he could not protect them if he was panicking.

Good soldiers follow orders.

He sat up on the bunk and turned his gaze to his armor, neatly stacked at the foot of the mattress. It needed to be cleaned and gone over for damage and repaired. Same for his blasters. His orders were to protect the ship, and he couldn’t do that if his gear failed him.

Good soldiers follow orders.

Rex was a good soldier.


All he needed to do for now was follow orders.

Chapter Text

** Do You Want to Build a Pod Racer? **

“Third from the - no, other way… yeah that one! Thanks, Ben!”

Anakin promptly disappeared back under the pod-racer with the tool in tow, more determined than ever to get his most ambitious project to work . He had to - Ben, Padme, and Qui-Gon were all counting on him. He struggled to get the bolt he’d been fighting with back in place. He would get his pod-racer to work in time, he would win a race for the first time in his life, he would help Ben, and Padme, and Qui-Gon - if only he could get this stupid bolt-

“Patience, young one,” Ben admonished gently from where he lay at the edge of the pod, a set of tools at his elbow. Anakin stopped and took a breath, before trying the bolt again, this time teasing it back and forth instead of attempting to force it all at once. He was rewarded with the satisfying click of the piece finally setting properly, and glanced back at Ben with a grin of triumph. Ben smiled back at him, and moved so Anakin could wiggle his way back out. “Perhaps we should take a moment, before trying again,” Ben suggested, and Anakin sighed and nodded. They’d been working on the pod since a little before his mom and Qui-Gon had left for Watto’s shop early that morning, and judging by the second sun almost peaking over the roofs into the courtyard where Anakin kept the pod, it had been a few hours.

They began to gather the tools Anakin had been using to move them back with the crate in the shade with the rest. “What has you so on edge?” Ben asked, and Anakin frowned at him. Wasn’t it obvious? There was so much at stake, so much riding on him… “Anakin.” Ben’s voice cut through his thoughts, and he refocused on the man in front of him. Ben stared at him for a long moment, and Anakin couldn’t help but think the man looked a little lost. “Anakin,” he finally began slowly, as though he were unsure of himself (and really, that was silly, Ben was a Jedi , Jedi were always sure, always right ). “You knew that bolt belonged there, but it wouldn’t fit when you forced it, yes?” Anakin’s frown deepened, but he nodded anyway. “And what could have happened if you had kept forcing it?”

Anakin considered for a moment before answering. “The bolt could have cracked. Or the casing. Wires could have gotten pinched, which might have meant we’d need a whole new secondary mag-coil…”

Ben nodded and gave Anakin one of those almost-sad smiles. “It’s not just parts that break under pressure. Putting too much on yourself can cause problems, just like forcing that bolt.”

Anakin was trying to come up with a response when a handful of children came barrelling around the corner, shrieking joyfully at the tops of their lungs. “Ani,” Kitster, Anakin’s best friend, yelled from the center of the pack. “Ani, c’mon and play!”

Anakin was briefly torn between wanting to join them, and continuing to work on his pod-racer. Only the incessant reminder of his own mind (and Ben’s presence right next to him) kept him from giving in to the urge to play with his age mates. So instead, Anakin set his hands on his hips and proudly proclaimed, “I can’t. I’m entering in the Boonta Boonta Eve Pod Race, and need to finish my racer.”

A lot of the other kids’ jaws dropped, Kitster’s included, and one of the ones that Anakin really didn’t spend a lot of time with yelped, “With that hunk of scrap?”

A tinge of annoyance and hurt fluttered at Anakin’s heart, but he refused to let it show, especially in front of Ben. Jedi weren’t supposed to do emotions like that, if the stories were right, so Ben might not appreciate it so much. “Uh-huh. You got it,” he said with as much bravado as he could manage (which, considering he was not really certain he could win even with a better, professionally built pod-racer, was not really much, but he had to try). Most of them just rolled their eyes at him and left the courtyard at the same tumbling speed they had entered it with. All of them, actually, except Kitster. Ben patted Anakin on the head and went over to the steps where Padme was sitting, probably to check in on her, leaving the two boys alone.

Kitster closed the distance on a few strides, and hissed, “What do you mean you’re entering the race? You’ve never won a race before! Do they know that?”

Anakin shook his head as something lodged in his throat. “No, they don’t, and don’t go telling them,” he hissed right back. “I have to win, Kitster, the prize money–”

“Would be enough to buy you and your Mom’s freedom twice over!” Kitster waved a hand emphatically to make his point, but kept his volume to the same quiet level as before.

“Or make sure they get the parts they need to get off Tatooine,” Anakin said stubbornly. “C’mon, Kitster, I’m not going to free Mom and I just to leave others in our place. They’re stuck here and need to leave.”

Kitster stared at Anakin for a minute before groaning and covering his eyes. “Ani, you’re too nice sometimes! I swear, one day you’re going to get in major poodoo because of this habit!”

Anakin rolled his eyes and shoved Kitster in the shoulder. “Don’t let Mom hear you use that language,” he snarked back. “Besides, me being too nice kept you from getting all scarred up that one time.”

“Too nice,” Kitster groaned dramatically as they moved to grab calibration tools for the cockpit controls. “Okay, so what do you need help with?”

Anakin heaved himself up into the cockpit, and took the toolbox from Kitster. “Well first I have to see if this will even turn on, then calibrate the controls so I have better reaction times with the engines, vents, and trap triggers.” He settled down into the seat, toolbox set across his lap, and reached over to key in the ignition sequence. It was, admittedly, an easy one based off of previous racers that he had ridden before. The last four times he had tried with his own pod-racer, it had just coughed out smoke in his face. He closed his eyes right before flipping the final switch, and took a deep breath, praying that it would work properly.

Someone up there must have been listening to him for once. Or maybe the Force really was real.

The pod-racer rumbled to life, exactly how it should have.

Anakin couldn’t contain the ecstatic grin that spread across his lips even if he wanted to, which he most certainly hadn’t. He whooped joyously, and grinned down at Kitster, who was jumping and hollering as well, his eyes wide as he took in the now hovering pod-racer. Anakin whipped his head around and saw that Ben and Padme had both stood up for a better look. He waved over a them and cried out, “It’s working!”

If they had an answer to that (probably something like, “yes, we can see,” it would be what Mom would have said), Anakin couldn’t hear it over the sudden uptick in his heart rate. It was working. He could do this.

He could win.

Well… as soon as he finished these calibrations, he supposed, eyeing the outputs he was seeing on the controls. But that wouldn’t knock him out of this mood, not with a giddy happiness beating at the inside of his ribcage.

He could win.

He would win, and make sure Ben, and Padme, and Qui-Gon all got to leave safely.

 


** The Guns Are Silent (Not Ready for War) **

Obi-Wan Kenobi tiredly ran a hand over his face. He’d finally gotten to sleep after unfreezing and rebooting the terminal (after Knight Skywalker broke the Midichlorian Test ), only to be woken a few hours later by an unmistakable feeling of wrongness in the Force. He’d checked with Captain Panaka, who reported nothing unusual, and that Commander Cody was out on one of the evening patrols, and he was now in search of his fellow Jedi. Knight Skywalker was still hunched over a mess of parts and wires in the droid bay (and now that Obi-Wan had gotten a better look at it, it was a miniature Astromech, just like Padawan Tano had said), and had only acknowledged Obi-Wan’s suggestion that he get some sleep with a lazy wave of his hand and a distracted “In a minute.” Padawan Tano hadn’t been resting in the room the five time travelers seemed to have claimed, and neither was Captain Rex, so his next stop was the ship's commissary.

The sense of wrongness increased the closer he got, and Obi-Wan braced himself for whatever he might find within. He was not expecting to see Padawan Tano half slumped over a cold cup of what appeared to be tea, eyelids drooping and looking like she hadn’t slept properly in the past forty-eight hours, at least. (How had he missed that? She hadn’t looked so tired only a few hours before.) Before he could say anything, or even step further into the room, she suddenly jerked upright, eyes going wide, scanning the corners of the room as her lekku twitched in a way that suggested she was listening very hard for something. Obi-Wan stretched his own senses out, seeking what could have set the young Togruta off, only to pause in confusion when she slumped over again when her eyes locked onto him.

“Oh. ‘Morning, Kenobi,” she greeted listlessly, turning her drooping gaze back to her cup. Obi-Wan stepped forward cautiously, sliding into the seat across from her.

“It certainly doesn’t appear to be for you,” he finally said after Padawan Tano continued to stare silently at the cup cradled between her hands. “If anything, I’d say you look like you spent the night being chased by a Nexu pack.” He frowned slightly when Padawan Tano didn’t so much as twitch. “Padawan Tano? …Ashoka?” She suddenly jolted again, shaking her head this time as though attempting to clear it.

“Sorry, I- I didn’t sleep well.” And then so quietly he was sure she hadn’t meant for him to hear, “Couldn’t sleep at all, really.”

“Why couldn’t you sleep?” She shrugged and mumbled something about the ship being “too quiet”, and Obi-Wan wondered if something had happened to her montrals that affected her hearing. Between the Queen’s guards coming and going on patrols, the Handmaidens, the Queen herself, not to mention Obi-Wan, Padawan Tano, and the two Mandalorians, there was hardly a quiet corner on the ship, and he said as much.

Ashoka just shook her head. “Too quiet,” she insisted, eyelids drooping a bit again. “Guard’s supposed to pass in the hall every half hour.”

Obi-Wan was very confused right now. Perhaps Padawan Tano was sick? “What guard? The patrols have only been operating outside the ship.”

Ashoka squinted up at him. “The vode ,” she said slowly, as though he were the one being confusing. “They’re precise like that. We’re on ship, so two guards pass in the hall every half hour. If they don’t something’s wrong.”

Vode . Obi-Wan had to dig through his Mando’a for a moment - Brothers. “Cody and Rex?” he asked, getting more confused by the second. What were these five doing that required such a rigorous guard rotation with such frequency that Padawan Tano assumed something was wrong when it didn’t happen? And why Cody and Rex? Padawan Tano just frowned.

“No… yes? All of them.” Obi-Wan wanted to pull his hair out in frustration. It may have been exhaustion, but Padawan Tano was making no sense to him. Padawan Tano didn’t look much happier with him. “ All of the vode , not just Cody and Rex.” Obi-Wan groaned.

“So they have more siblings? Or their Clan? Were they with you before?” His older self hadn’t taken the time to explain much of what they had been doing before . Had these unknown siblings traveled through time with them? Were they still back on Naboo?

“‘Course they had more siblings, but it’s kinda hard to have a few million clones in one area. Not all of the vode were with us,” she said, still in that blunt you-should-know-this voice from before. And seemingly ignoring that Obi-Wan was suddenly choking on his own spit.

“Clones?! Millions?!

Padawan Tano snorted as she finally picked up her tea. “It was being called the ‘Clone Wars’ for a reason.” She made a face at the cold tea before looking back at him. “Didn’t Master Kenobi…” She trailed off when she saw the look on his face. “… he didn’t tell you.”

Obi-Wan took a moment to collect himself. “My Uncle certainly said nothing about participating in a war, no.” Padawan Tano was shaking her head at him again and Obi-Wan felt cold dread creep over him like a thick fog - like the seething darkness he had felt from what he now knew was the Sith as they fled Naboo.

“The Republic was at war. The Senate split, and the Separatists started attacking worlds that wouldn’t join them willingly. About ten years before, a Jedi Master had a vision of it all, and went to have an army made for the Republic, so it wouldn’t fall. The Grand Army of the Republic. The vode .” Sorrow suddenly swamped the Force around them, and the cup Padawan Tano had been holding clattered as she dropped it. She somehow curled in on herself in the chair, knees to her chest with her arms wrapped around them, hiding her face. Obi-Wan was suddenly reminded of what he had thought when he had first been introduced to her - that she was too young to be a Padawan. Now… “My boys,” she gasped out, the tears obvious in her voice even though he couldn’t see them. “All of my boys.”

Obi-Wan came over to her side, curling an arm over her shoulders, encouraging her to lean into him. Ashoka may not be too young to be a Padawan, he thought, but she was most certainly too young for this. Too young to have gone to war, too young to have seen so much death.

Too young to be forced to face the consequences of it.

( So were you , a quiet voice hissed in the back of his mind that he promptly ignored.)

Obi-Wan dearly wished his Master would hurry up and return with the parts they needed. He didn’t know what to make of all of these revelations. He didn’t know what to think of the Republic he had sworn to protect crumbling within his lifetime. He didn’t know what to think about an army of people being made , as though they were droids– being treated as though they were expendable . He didn’t know what to think about the Jedi going to war.

They weren’t ready for war.

So he took a deep breath and pushed it to the side. There was nothing he could do now about a war ten years in the future that may or may not even happen now. For now, he had a highly distressed Padawan who had, effectively, just come out of a war zone of who-knows what level of intensity and consistency on his hands. And while he himself may not know what Ashoka needed, he had some idea of who might. “Ashoka? Let’s go find Cody and Rex.” Clearly, these two were part of “her boys”, and likely the only ones that she has left, so getting her around them would potentially be better than trying to send her off to meditate or get some rest, warnings of attachment be damned.

Obi-Wan gently coaxed Ashoka into standing, and led her out of the commissary, breathing a sigh of relief when he spotted the Handmaiden that had caught himself and Ben conversing just before they landed. “Handmaiden Sabe, would you happen to know where Captain Rex is?” Obi-Wan quietly asked.

Handmaiden Sabe glanced from his face to Ashoka, who was clinging onto Obi-Wan like he was the only thing keeping her upright, and nodded her head firmly. “Right this way, Padawan Kenobi.”

 


** Brothers All (We’re All We Have) **

When Rex finally resurfaced from the haze he had fallen into, his blasters were as pristine as they’re ever going to get, his armor was clean and patched, and his hands had stopped shaking whenever he looks at anything other than his gear and the floor of the cargo bay. He glanced at the chrono on his gauntlet and winced, slowly rolling his neck and shoulders to alleviate the gathered tension, and wished Cody would hurry up and get back from his patrol for the dozenth time.

The Kaminoan’s may have built the Clones to withstand any stress, but they also built them to rely on each other, and some things could only be endured with a Brother.

“Rex?”

Rex nearly jumped a foot in the air, hissing under his breath as the sudden movement reminded him that while he shoulder may only be an extended bruise, it still hurt like hell. He blinked when a hand fell firmly on his good shoulder, and was surprised to see Cody standing in front of him. “Cody? When - How long…?”

“Just got back. The others went straight in to report.” Cody kneeled down next to him, hands coming up to cup Rex’s jaw. He frowned as he took in Rex’s state, before sighing and leaning forward to press their foreheads together. “Damn Rex, why didn’t you comm me if it was getting this bad? I’d have found a reason to come back.”

Rex struggled for a moment, trying to find the words to explain why he hadn’t done just that, when the sound of soft footsteps on the durasteel floor made them both jerk back slightly.

Turning back towards the doorway that led deeper into the ship, he was startled to see Ashoka already standing only half way across the cargo bay from him. How deep in his own head had he been, to not hear her approaching? How long had she been there? He saw Padawan Kenobi lurking in the entrance, and a cold shiver slid down his spine.

How much of his break down had they seen?

They all stayed frozen, staring at each other for several long moments before Ashoka shuffled slightly, seeming to shrink in on herself as her arms crossed over her chest and her gaze dropped to the floor. Rex felt a new spike of dread hit him, only vaguely aware of Cody standing back up as all of his focus zeroed in on his Commander. It might have been because of the low light, but he could have sworn…

“Ashoka,” Cody probed, taking half a step forward, only for Ashoka to shake her head and shuffled back.

“I’m sorry,” she mumbled, and Rex felt something constrict in his chest. It hadn’t been a trick of the fading light - her eyes were red rimmed, her voice rough. She looked just as bad as Rex had felt only a few short hours ago.

“I didn’t mean to…” She continued to shuffle back, still looking at the ground. “I’ll just -”

“Hey, kid.”

The words were out of Rex’s mouth before he had a chance to talk himself out of them. Ashoka turned back, finally looking at him. I should let her go. She’s Jedi. They deal with this shit their own way. He should let her leave, but instead he shifts so he’s leaning against the wall, and reaches out with his good arm. “Come here.”

She’s next to him almost faster than he can follow, curling into his side just like she had before, not crying, but definitely shaking and clinging to him like a lifeline. He curls his arm a bit tighter around her shoulders, and mentally chucks the GAR regulations out the proverbial airlock. Some things could only be endured with a Brother, which for Ashoka should have been Jedi. But all the Jedi she’d ever known were now as gone as the vode , except for Skywalker and Kenobi. And they weren’t here. Rex was.

Cody’s boots entered his line of sight as the Commander approached, carefully coming to settle on Ashoka’s other side. He pressed close, sliding his arm over her shoulders to rest his hand on the back of Rex’s neck. Rex glanced around, noting that Padawan Kenobi appeared to have left as quietly as he’d arrived, before sharing a glance with Cody, who nodded slightly before beginning to hum quietly as Ashoka’s shaking slowly subsided.

Rex wasn’t sure how much time passed, but between the emotional toll the day had been and Cody’s humming, he felt himself finally beginning to drift off.

Rex’s last thought of the night was that it was appropriate that Cody had chosen Vode An as a lullaby.

 


** Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Jedi **

Anakin didn’t know when he had slumped over next to M1-N1 (as he was mentally dubbing the astromech he was stress building, he really wished he had the parts to give her plating or make her bigger), but he woke up on the floor of the Astromech bay with the body of the semi-operational miniature Astromech chirping curiously at him. He quickly checked his chronometer, and huffed out a sigh when he saw it was late in the evening. Great. Perfect.

Probably would have been better to do the nebulous plan floating around in his head at night anyways.

After a quick stretch to limber up his muscles (and deal with the pain sleeping on the hard metal floor of the Astromech bay caused) and a check for privacy, he quickly and efficiently started pulling at a small portion of the seams of his robe. A couple careful shakes later, and several small credit chips fell out onto his waiting hand. He repeated this on the other side of his robes, before making quick work of repairing the seams.

Thanks to Ben reacting poorly to Anakin’s hoarding tendencies early on in his time as Padawan, the young man had taken to creatively and strategically hiding both credits and food on his person and in his living space. He was very thankful for the habit now, even if he had been highly annoyed about having to cultivate it in the beginning. You never know when you need more credits than what the Order (your Master) would give you to spend, and so keeping a hold of what you can in case you need it was the smart thing to do, Mom taught him that early on in his life. Ben thought Anakin had finally broken of the habit years ago.

Instead, there were the stashes of Correllian credits in his robes, and in the soles of his boots, and hidden compartments in the pouches on his belt. All of which were varied between small and mid value credit chips. The larger ones, he had used to hide in a seam in his tabard right over his heart, but ever since Dooku had relieved Anakin of his right forearm, the prosthesis was used to hold that stash.

A stash which would be a pain to get to in the first place, considering it was underneath two layers of panelling and Anakin would have to temporarily turn off motor functions in the hand in order to reach it. Still, it was better than living off of a Jedi stipend with only the robes on your back, the Force, and the power of sarcasm like his former Master so often did.

M1-N1 made a concerned noise when Anakin’s prosthesis gave a jerk before going limp. “It’s ok,” he reassured as he first pulled off an external panel that hid a collection of small tools for tuning and repairing in the field. “Need to go a bit deep for this, and it’s best to not have nerve response simulators going when I do.” He pulled the tools out, only keeping two in hand. After fiddling for a second, he gently coaxed M1-N1 to hold one of the tools that would keep a loose wire out of the way while he unscrewed the plating protecting the inner workings of the arm from the more easily removable plating. “Ah, see, there we go,” he murmured as the final plating came loose. He removed both tools from the area before gently prying the plating out of the opening. He picked up a slender pair of pliers and reached into the opening, gently tugging three small credit chits out from between the metal “bones” he had included to protect the wiring. The reverse process went smoothly, and before he knew it he was tugging his glove back into place and patting M1-N1 on top of her un-plated dome. “Thanks for the help, Mini. Can I trust you to stay in here while I’m gone? It won’t be good for you to get anything in your circuitry, like sand or something.” M1-N1’s positive beeping made a soft smile cross Anakin’s face. “I’ll introduce you to Mom when she gets on the ship, no doubt she’d love you.”

He straightened and pulled his robe on, feeling odd without the added weight of the credit chips. A sudden fit of anxiety hit him. He was going to use his entire stash in this plan of his. What was he thinking? He probably didn’t need it all, he could save a couple, the smaller ones at least.

Anakin shook his head harshly. No. If he wanted to get Mom off of Tatooine, he needed all the help he could get. Which meant he needed every last credit chip that he had kept in his stash. So if his hoarding instincts could just die down right about now, that would be great .

He breathed out shakily, letting his shoulders slump in on himself. On his next inhale, he straightened his spine and moved as swiftly and stealthily as two years of war had taught him to.

He was most of the way off the ship when he froze at the sight of Cody, Rex, and Ashoka all sitting against the wall near the exit. They couldn’t know what he was planning! He’d been asleep until a just a minute ago, for Force sake! He carefully crept forward when they didn’t acknowledge him, eventually getting close enough to see that they were all asleep, the two clones curled protectively around his Padawan while Ashoka clung to Rex like the Captain was an over sized teddy bear.

He only hesitated a moment before slipping his communicator off his belt to snap a holo-pic of the adorable scene. After that, it was only a few quiet steps before he was outside the ship with no one the wiser, and amongst the—ugh— sand .

Honestly, if he never had to look at this particular planet ever again, it would be too soon.

Just as he was about to walk off towards Mos Espa—a trek that he didn’t doubt he would remember no matter how much he tried to forget—he paused and looked back at the ship. “Tomorrow will be an important day for you, Snips,” he mused. “Tomorrow, you will get a new Master.” He sighed and turned to begin trudging through the darkened dunes, glad that there wasn’t a sand storm tonight. “Because Ben’s going to kill me when he finds out about this.”

Chapter Text

** Wait, Where’s Skyguy? **

Ashoka was officially in panic mode. She had woken up in the cargo bay, still curled up against Rex, when Cody had extracted himself from the cuddle-pile to join the morning patrol. Rex was still leaning against her, snoring softly. As the Commander and the patrol had left, she had reached out to the Force, finding everyone’s signatures. Padawan Kenobi was deep inside the ship, wrapped in the almost cottony contentment of deep sleep. Cody, already awake and ready for anything as ever, and feeling more stable now than he had just the other day. Rex beside her, not quite awake but not fully asleep anymore either. And Anakin—

… Skyguy’s Force signature was missing.

It should have been rather easy to pick up on Skyguy, he kind of shone in the Force brighter than a sun. And yet even when she spread her awareness as far as she could, she couldn’t sense him anywhere. He’d vanished from the ship and the surrounding area, apparently without being seen by anyone, including herself and the boys. Which meant only one thing.

Her Master was off implementing a plan that was absolutely going to get him in deep trouble.

She nudged Rex with her shoulder, getting a tired groan as her Captain drifted more towards wakefulness. She felt bad about adding another problem onto what he was already dealing with, but he was one of three people that could help her plan out what to do when Skyguy eventually needed their help, and the other two weren’t on the ship. “Rex ol’ boy, get up,” she hissed. “We’ve got a situation.”

Rex immediately went rigid, head snapping up and eyes darting around the cargo bay before settling on her. “What is it, Sir? What’s wrong?” Rex was on his feet, one of his blasters was already halfway out of it’s holster before she could shake her head.

“Anakin’s not on the ship.”

“What do you mean, General Skywalker’s not on the ship?!”

“Shhh!” She gestured for him to keep his voice down before getting up herself and moving closer. “I mean, he somehow snuck off for some reason last night, and nobody seems to have noticed or been told, because the patrol didn’t mention him when they were filling Cody in before they all left! And since nobody seems to have noticed, he’s definitely doing something he’s not strictly supposed to, so we need a backup plan.”

She watched as Rex closed his eyes and took a slow, deep breath. “You think nobody knows?”

Ashoka snorted. “It’s Skyguy. If he’s got a plan that he thinks will work but he knows others will object to, he tells people about it as he’s doing it, or after it’s done so they can’t argue with him.”

“So Cody doesn’t know he’s gone?”

Ashoka frowned. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure Cody doesn’t know he’s gone yet. Why?”

“Good. The first step is that, until it’s absolutely necessary, Cody isn’t going to know.”

“Are you out of your mind?!” Ashoka flinched as her raised voice echoed slightly, before continuing in a low hiss. “We need to tell Cody! We need a plan , and Cody always has a plan for when Skyguy does things like this!”

“The 212th always has a plan for when General Skywalker does thing’s he’s not expressly supposed to. Cody doesn’t currently have enough men available to implement even the most basic of the plans, let alone a more specific one, such as ‘General Skywalker has gone off after General Kenobi in a misguided attempt to help’. So we are going to come up with a plan, and hope that for once, General Skywalker’s ‘help’ doesn’t get General Kenobi shot at.”

Ashoka groaned and rubbed at her temples. Leave it to her Master to make an already tense and complicated situation even worse, because he had an idea to help but didn’t want to share it with anyone because he thought they would stop him. But Rex was right. They didn’t have a lot to work with, so they were stuck hoping whatever Anakin had planned didn’t draw too much attention. And in the meantime, they should take advantage of the fact that everyone thought he was still holed up in the droid bay to figure out what they could do, in the likely event that he did draw his usual amount of attention.

“If Cody doesn’t punch him when he get’s back, I will,” she grumbled under her breath, getting a snort of agreement from Rex.

 


**Should Have, Would Have, Could Have**

Ben weaved his way through the growing crowds of the Boonta Boonta Eve Festival, slowly making his way to the hanger where the pod racers were waiting before their races began. The days main event was set to begin in an hour, when the twin suns were highest, so Ani and the others should be arriving shortly, if they weren’t there already, making final adjustments to the pod. He’d arrived earlier in the morning, before many of the day's other events had even begun, ostensibly to keep watch for any signs that the Hutts, Trade Federation, or Sith had found them. Ani had been disappointed Ben wouldn’t be helping them move the pod, but Qui-Gon had agreed it was a wise thing to do.

It just so happened that scouting wasn’t his only motivation.

“Luck’s tilting your way, off-worlder,” chuckled a gaunt Rodian male as he handed Ben his winnings from a bet on one of the shorter swoop bike races. “Careful she doesn’t tilt too far on ya.”

“Oh, she will,” he replied, adopting a rougher, non-descript spacer’s accent he’d perfected early in his Padawan days. “Fortune only really favors the Hutts.” He left as the Rodian cackled, making room for the next better and making a mental tally of everything he’d made so far today. It was a good start, considering he’d only kept a few Correllian Credits for himself out of everything he, Anakin, and Ashoka had had on them. Even with keeping his bets small in cost and risk, and losing once or twice so as not to seem more suspicious than the general company he found himself in, Ben had steadily made his way up from pocket change bets with those surrounding him, to being allowed into the “official” betting pools sanctioned by the Hutts.

And he still wasn’t sure it would be enough.

It would have to be enough, he told himself, pausing at a set of screens showing replays from the last Swoop races before the pod racing began. For Anakin’s sake, he could not leave Shmi Skywalker on Tatooine again. At best, his former Padawan would do something horribly ill-advised in his own bid to free her. At worst…

‘It’s your fault she’s dead!’

He flinched at the memory, luckily in time with one racer forcing another into a skidding crash, so no one paid him any mind. He had sworn to Anakin last time that if he had known, if Anakin had told him that Shmi was in mortal peril, he would have done everything he could have to help. And he knew now, that Shmi Skywalker remaining on Tatooine would result in her death. So now, Ben was prepared to use every skill he had at his disposal to save her.

One of the remaining racers made a particularly complicated and spectacular dodge as another tried to ram them from behind, and Ben felt a tug of nostalgia. Anakin loved that move, loved the way gravity shifted around him as he spun away from a pursuer, loved the involuntary noise Ben always made when he did it with Ben in the vehicle with him. He loved flying , and no matter how insanely hazardous Ben had always insisted his risk taking was, he never really tried to stop Anakin from getting into the pilot's seat first.

He had to remember to tell Qui-Gon about that. While Ben—Obi-Wan—was a skilled enough pilot, he didn’t revel in it the way Anakin did. Perhaps there was a way for Anakin to indulge his preference for racing and near-death arial acrobatics without getting half of Coruscant Security chasing him back to the Temple. And then there was the fact that Anakin always got cold on space flights. And that there were certain foods he couldn’t eat. And—

He turned away from the screens and continued towards the pods hanger. Anakin was supposed to be Qui-Gon’s Padawan, he reminded himself. Ben had been a stand in that had done his best when Qui-Gon had died, though in hindsight there was so much that Ben wished he had done differently. And that was before he’d met Ani. Now…

There was so much he knew about Anakin now. Things he was good at and things he struggled with, hopes and fears, likes and dislikes… He could do so much more for Ani now, now that he knew what he was getting into, now that he wasn’t a man grieving what had then been the greatest loss of his life, now that he could choose Anakin Skywalker and dedicate himself the way he should have the first time but couldn’t bring himself to until too late.

And he had to let it go, because Obi-Wan - Ben - Kenobi was not supposed to be Anakin Skywalker’s Master.

Ben steps into the shade of the hanger, and it didn’t take him more than a few seconds to find the space Ani’s pod waited in, the young boy’s star-bright Force presence practically dancing with nerves, and anticipation, and a familiar giddiness that Ben would always associate with Anakin’s love for flight. He was chattering at Padme as he, the young boy Kitster, and Shmi moved over the pod, making last minute adjustments as Padme stood by, taking and giving tools as requested. Padme saw him first and waved, before leaning close as she handed something to Ani. The boy’s head popped up immediately, and the blinding pulse of joy Ben felt from him nearly took his breath away. He heard Lady Skywalker laugh from her position half way under the pod’s cockpit, and young Kitster beckoned him over eagerly.

He stopped when he saw Qui-Gon speaking heatedly with Watto further down the line, a determined set in his old Master’s shoulders as the Toydarian flitted about indecisively and then he pulled something from his belt and tossed it on the ground, looking smug and Qui-Gon’s hand moved, oh so subtly by his side—

The chance cube.

Qui-Gon was betting with Watto to free Anakin.

Ben had known it was coming—had been counting on it, in fact, from the moment Qui-Gon had met little Ani. But something about watching the event unfold before him made something bitter rear up from where it had been buried beneath the scars of his severed bond with his old Master. ‘There he goes again, abandoning you for the Chosen One,’ it hissed, and Ben firmly ignored the two, marching determinedly towards where Ani’s pod was waiting.

It was never Anakin’s fault that Qui-Gon had chosen him over Obi-Wan.

It was never Anakin’s fault that Ben was as failed an Apprentice as he was a Master.

 


** Second Thoughts? (Not a Chance) **

Something was wrong with Ben.

He was hiding it, but Anakin could tell. It was like when he tried to hide a cough from his mom - she noticed even though nobody else seemed to. But he couldn’t help but wonder why Ben’s friends hadn’t noticed when Ani had. Padme was busy, moving between helping his mom and Kitster, so maybe she hadn’t had the chance to. (He’s sure she would notice, if she had the chance. Padme noticed everything, because she was amazing. ) But Qui-Gon was helping him and Ben with final calibrations in the cockpit, so surely he must have noticed how… un-Ben-like Ben was being. But he hadn’t said anything, and that couldn’t be right. When you saw someone who was upset or struggling, you made sure they were ok, especially if they were your friend.

The biggest problem with this Galaxy is that no one helps each other.

… Maybe Ben was just better at hiding things from Qui-Gon than Anakin was at hiding things from his mom. That had to be it. Qui-Gon would help if he knew Ben was upset. Ani knew he would.

But Ani had noticed, and Ben was his friend.

So when the call came for the pilots to prepare to head to the starting line, he waved to Padme and Kitster, hugged his mom as tightly as she hugged him, listened to Qui-Gon’s advice (“Feel, don’t think. Use your instincts.” No problem, he could do that.), and grabbed Ben’s wrist before the man could slip away.

“What’s wrong? Those guys you were worried about didn’t find you, did they?”

Ben sighed and then kneeled down so he was at eye level with Anakin. “No, they didn’t. Everything’s fine.” That was complete poodoo, and Ani knew it. And he’s pretty sure Ben knew it too, because he wasn’t looking right at Ani, he was looking just past him, at the pod racer. Ani frowned. Something was wrong, but Ben wouldn’t say what. It was something about the race, but until now Ben had seemed to believe that Ani could win, like Qui-Gon did. Ben shifted and Ani caught a brief glimpse of Ben’s laser sword, and something starts to click together. He reaches up and taps Ben’s cheek, bringing the man’s attention back to him.

“Too much stress cracks the bolt,” he says as seriously as he can, and Ben looks… surprised, so he must have been at least a little right. Jedi were supposed to help people. But a pod race was dangerous, and Ani was the one piloting, not Ben or Qui-Gon. Ben probably thought he wasn’t being a good Jedi, letting Ani go into danger.

Ben was wrong - he was the best Jedi ever.

Ani knew he was.

He wrapped his arms around Ben in a hug, hugging him as tightly as he had his mom earlier, and after a moment, Ben hugged him back. Not quite as hard, but somehow just as fierce, and like he never wanted to let go. “Trust me,” Ani asked, and Ben inhaled sharply.

“Yes, Anakin. I trust you.”

Ani pulled back and grinned up at him, projecting as much confidence as he could. “Then I’ll worry about the race, and you worry about Watto.” He held out his hand for Ben to shake. “Deal?”

And suddenly Ben was smiling again, his usual spark coming back as he took Ani’s offered hand, and somehow, he knew everything was going to be ok.

“Deal.”

 


** A Bounty Hunter Made Me Do It **

Hate was not the Jedi way. Anakin kept reminding himself of this as he made his way through the crowded streets of Mos Espa. Extreme dislike , however, was not specifically covered by the Code, so he felt completely justified in his extreme dislike of this planet, the majority of the people inhabiting it, and the damnable sand that was getting everywhere despite his best efforts. But if he wanted to get his mom off this terrible Hutt-infested dust ball, then he needed to make it to the podracing stands and get this whole thing over with.

Finding a bookie was actually easier than he thought it would be, though in hindsight, he supposed “follow the scent of cheap alcohol” should have been one of his first insights. Anakin paused just in sight of the bar where the bets were being placed and forced himself to take what should have been a steadying breath. All right. He could do this. Just like in an infiltration mission. He could work this crowd, easily, knew what would get them off his back and sympathize with him a bit. Nothing to it.

Just like how Master Kenobi did all the time.

His heart could stop pounding any time now.

“Hey, buddy, ya in or not?” The rough call of the Bith managing the betting books dragged his thoughts away from their anxious spiral. Anakin forced his shoulders to slump and shuffled forward, keeping his head down to hide most of his features in his hood. He could do this, for his mom. Just a little longer, and she’d finally be safe. Just a little longer tolerating these people, this place, and she would be free.

He sighed as he got up to the counter. “Yeah, got some bets that’ll probably make a few swindlers all too happy to take chunks outta me,” he said, slipping out of the cadence Ben had all but forced him to learn so he wouldn’t offend any delegate while during negotiations. “Never piss off a Mando, man, this is just sadistic.”

That got a few of the closer drunks, and the bookie, laughing raucously at him. The Bith leaned forward and said, “All right, let’s hear it, kid.”

Anakin forced a sideways pout as the others around the stand quieted down so they could listen, and placed the Corellians he had removed from his stash the night before on the counter. “All right, he told me to make three bets. First is that Anakin Skywalker will win the race. Next, the Skywalker kid’ll be the only one to cross the finish line. And finally, Skywalker’ll take out Sebulba.” Dead silence met his statements, followed by obnoxious laughter from all sides. Anakin forcibly quashed the spike of anger he felt as everyone else in the area began mocking his younger self, falsely sympathising with his “poor choices”.

“Who in all hell’s did you piss of for that to be your punishment?” one of the more drunk patrons slurred. “Bets like that get ya a collar or worse ‘round here, kid.” They made a wavering slicing motion across their neck, which spiked more laughter, more crude remarks and gestures, and a part of Anakin couldn’t wait to see the looks on their faces when they were all wrong.

But that still left him with a problem - he hadn’t actually expected anyone to ask that question, hoping that the general reputation almost every Mandalorian that would come to Tatooine would have was enough to deter them. Luckily, it wasn’t for very long, and he managed to scramble up a vague description he remembered hearing from a few of the 501st about one of their instructors. “Ah, black armor, a drooling six-legged thing that he really didn’t like anyone tripping over dogging his heels? Didn’t catch a name, but–”

“Oh kid,” the bookie’s sympathy might have been almost sincere, if there hadn’t been a big-ass grin on every patron's face by now. “You’re lucky that Mando just sent you here. Vau’s more known for shooting people in the face when they piss him off.”

“With the way those odds are lookin’, he’d’a been kinder ta shoot ‘im!”

With a few more drunk heckles, Anakin’s bets were put in the books, he was handed a datapad to keep track of who was betting against him, and he was able to slip away and find a place he could watch the race from. He caught sight of Ben across the stands from where Anakin had decided to bunker down, and made sure to tighten down on his shields enough to, hopefully, coast under his former Master’s radar for a little while longer. Movement behind his former Master drew his attention, and his shields nearly crumbled entirely when -

“Mom,” he whispered as Shmi Skywalker stepped onto the platform followed by Master Qui-Gon. He only got to see her for a few seconds before the platform raised, long enough to see her settle between Padme and Ben. He took a deep breath. He was doing the right thing. Ben would understand (he had to understand, Anakin didn’t know what he would do if he didn’t ). The racers and their pods rolled up to the starting line, and Anakin focused on the one pod that was so achingly familiar, he almost felt himself back in the seat of it. “C’mon, mini-me,” he muttered under the roar of the crowd as the engines fired and the countdown started. “You can do this.”

Chapter Text

** …And by Unexpected, I Mean Completely Expected **

By the time the race moved into its last lap, Ben was certain he would carry the imprint of Shmi Skywalker’s nails on his arm for a month at least. He didn’t blame her at all - he’d gripped the railing of their platform when the first pod had exploded and hadn’t let go since. Reading Qui-Gon’s report had been one thing. Hearing Anakin’s retellings of it over the years had been another.

And watching the nine year old boy that had been his Padawan nearly die multiple times right in front of him while he could only watch was something else entirely.

His respect for Lady Skywalker, already high, skyrocketed. Ben never had asked just how many races Anakin had been in prior to this one, and she’d probably watched every one, knowing that her son may die at any time.

Ben jerked as another pod exploded, leaving just young Anakin and Sebulba’s pods streaking for the finish line, and was not shocked when his other arm—the one clenching onto the railing like his life depended on it—became home to Padme’s searching hand. Her grip was almost as tight as Lady Skywalker’s. He spared a glance to Qui-Gon, only to huff in exasperation—the man was leaning back in his seat, eyes closed, as though he were taking an afternoon nap. To the untrained eye, he looked completely unaffected by the events around him.

To his former Padawan, his serenity was almost painfully forced.

A gasp from Padme and Shmi turning to hide her face against his shoulder drew him back to the race, and Ben felt something icy grip his heart. One of the arms of Anakin’s pod had become detached, forcing him to slow down and split his attention so that he could attempt to reattach it. It felt like hours, but in reality only took a few precious moments for Anakin to make the fix, and Ben felt Shmi slump slightly in momentary relief as Ani once again gained ground on Sebulba.

No wonder he was always frustrated when you yelled at him for multitasking while flying, a distant, detached part of Ben’s brain noted, only to be silenced in panic and near outrage as Ani began antagonizing Sebulba again. Sebulba didn’t have to crash for Anakin to win, but from the looks of it, Ani wouldn’t accept any other outcome. He never could stand not having the last say in an argument.

And suddenly, Ani veered off, leaving Sebulba to scramble, and ultimately fail to dodge a final outcropping of rock. Ben almost sagged in relief when Sebulba’s pod only wound up skidding along the sand, stopping just shy of the finish line as Ani passed by to win, instead of exploding like several other pod’s had in the race. The Dug was repulsive, but that didn’t mean Ben wanted anyone to die in this race.

The crowds around them cheered wildly as Anakin’s pod crossed the finish line, beginning a shorter loop to slow it down. Ben had only a moment to register their platform lowering before he suddenly had Shmi’s arms around his neck, her bright, relieved laughter ringing in his ears. “He did it,” she gasped against his shoulder, “He finally did it!” Ben finally brought his hands up to rest on her shoulders, returning her hug just as the platform returned to the ground. A warm laugh behind them drew his attention to Qui-Gon, who was watching the scene with far too much amusement for Ben’s taste.

“We should make for the track, I think,” he said as Shmi pulled away from Ben. “It wouldn’t do for Ani to get trampled by his new fans. And I suspect he will be most displeased if you aren’t there at least, Lady Skywalker.”

“Oh, he’ll likely refuse to stop the pod until he sees me,” Shmi agreed, taking Padme’s hand. Qui-Gon made a grand “after you” gesture towards the exit, following the two women while Ben just shook his head and trailed after them. The path to the edge of the race track was fairly short, and they found themselves waiting with young Kitster for Ani to finish his victory lap.

The pod only barely came to a stop before Ani was standing up in the cockpit, waving excitedly as everyone who had gathered raced out to congratulate him. Ben hadn’t made it more than a step onto the track when a vibration from his communicator stopped him. He unhooked it from his belt and froze when he saw the call ID flashing.

Anakin. His Anakin. What could be happening at the ship for his former padawan to not be in his meditation, determinedly ignoring the planet they were on?

“Ben? Is everything alright?” He nearly jumped, and was startled to see Shmi standing in front of him when he looked up. He would have thought she would have been leading the charge to Ani. She smiled and stepped closer, gently taking his hand to lead him out. “Ani will want to see you too. He won because of you, after all.”

Ben shook his head. “He was always capable of winning,” he began to insist, only for Shmi to interrupt him with a raised hand.

“He alway could have, yes. He felt that he had to, yes. And he wanted to, more than anything, every time he raced. But… I don’t think he truly believed he could win. Not until he met you. You believed in him, so much so that he finally believed in himself.” Ben tried to breath around the knot of emotion tightening in his chest, and he found himself being hugged by a Skywalker for the third time that day. “You gave him hope, Ben. You gave us both hope.”

Ben struggled to process the idea of giving Anakin, any version of Anakin, hope, even as his eyes were drawn to the image of Qui-Gon hauling Ani out of the pod and onto his shoulders so the boy wouldn’t be literally trampled, and his communicator buzzed once more, insisting on being paid attention to. He pulled away from Shmi, still hesitant, glancing between the communicator held in the palm of his hand, the strong woman who had raised his former padawan for nine years, and to the bright young boy who radiated such Light it took Ben’s breath away.

Shmi seemed to sense his hesitation, and smiled kindly at him. She gently took hold of the hand holding his buzzing communicator and curled his fingers solidly around it. “Go, do what you need to. I’ll make sure Ani understands, though do make sure to come see him before you leave, yes?”

Ben found it was even harder to tell Shmi “no” than it was her adult son, nodding his head and giving her his thanks quietly as he stepped off the tracks and to a bit of shade away from the crowd. He sucked in a slow, meditative breath, and answered his communicator as he felt it begin to buzz for the third time. “Yes, Anakin? Is everything all right at the ship?”

“- You can’t be mad at me- ,” was the initial, almost defensive response he received. Ben felt one of his eyebrows jerk up instinctively in response.

“Anakin,” he said, voice quieter but carrying a great deal of patience, sternness, and exasperation. “What happened with the ship that I should know about?”

“- Nothing—everything was fine at the ship the last time I was there. Just… you can’t be mad at me. -” Ben almost reached up and pinched the bridge of his nose. Oh sweet stars, what brought his former padawan out of reclusive stress meditation and onto his most hated planet?

“Unless someone is dead, dying, or wrongfully imprisoned as a result of your actions, I am not angry. Now, what happened?” Ben said in his calmest voice, hoping that it wouldn’t set his still-defensive former padawan off even worse.

“- Well, there are all kinds of events and bets being made at these kinds of things, especially when the Hutts are involved, -” Anakin started saying, his voice still defensive and hesitant as he continued to avoid explaining himself. “- So I– Look, you know what, be mad at me, I don’t care. I’m not leaving mom here again. I don’t care about what the Code says about attachments. -”

Ben blinked once, twice. Ah. So that’s what this was about—though in hindsight, he supposed he should have expected Anakin taking saving his mother into his own hands. He felt a bitter stinging sensation as he realized that Anakin had absolutely expected for them to leave Shmi Skywalker behind again—that Anakin thought his former Master wouldn’t even consider saving her.

( You told him to. You left her here when you could have helped. No wonder he doesn’t trust you— that wasn’t true, Anakin trusted him, this was just… complicated.)

“I never expected you to do so again, dear one, not after how it turned out last time. What did you think I was doing?” He had managed to win a tidy sum, though it probably wasn’t quite enough to buy off Watto’s debt and free Shmi. “If we put together our winnings, we should have more than enough to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

Anakin was silent, and Ben almost smiled at the flutter of shock-surprise-guilt-happiness that sped down their old training bond. “- Oh, -” was all he said at first, his voice small even through the communicator. Then: “- Uh, that’s… great. Really great... but… well, having enough is... not exactly the issue. I may have, umm… fixed the race. -”

Ben felt like he had been doused in a bucket of cold water, or tossed into one of the pools in the Room of a Thousand Fountains by a very enthusiastic Quinlan Vos.

What?!

 


**Deal with the Devil You Know**

Anakin winced at the almost-hysterical, voice-cracking response to his admission Ben gave, and huddled deeper into the shadowed corner he had ducked into once he realized exactly how deep of a hole he had dug himself into. “Well, I already knew how things were going to happen, so it all depended on Mini doing exactly what I - he did! How was I supposed to know this would happen?” When Ben didn’t immediately start reprimanding him for his actions—which, yes, he had gotten in deep over his head again, and had to call his Master to help him get out of it again, and he really did need to stop doing that, but it was for a good cause—Anakin took advantage and continued on. “And you know, the fixing and the Hutts probably planning on killing me as we speak is bad, but well... all kinds of… property… is used as collateral to place the bets in these kinds of events…”

“- How many? -” Ben’s voice sounded so... tired. Tired and done. Anakin cringed a little, feeling familiar guilt settle heavily in his chest. He didn’t mean to keep dragging his Master into these messes...

“Coruscanti baker’s dozen,” he admitted quickly. “They’re all getting their chip’s signals transferred to a new transmitter, so all it would take was turning that off once we’re off-planet and getting the chips themselves removed when we reach Coruscant. I’d prefer to get them removed completely before we left, but considering how the Hutt’s don’t like anyone but them fixing the competitions…”

“- We are limited on time, and you need to get to Watto and free your mother. I see. -” Anakin felt a weight shift off his shoulders. Ben was handling it, Ben would know what to do. He could practically see the calculating gleam in his old Master’s eyes, the shift in stance as he started to switch over to his Negotiator mode as he thought it over. “- I’ll inform Qui-Gon to take the parts and Ani at the same time, it should cut down on how long we are on planet. You can get to Watto and negotiate your mother’s freedom afterwards. Send me the coordinates to where the transfer is occurring and I’ll handle that for you, get them all onto the ship safely before anything happens. -”

“Right, I– I’ll do that,” Anakin said. Then, quietly, “Thanks, Ben.”

“- Of course, dear one, -” Ben said fondly, his voice causing another sharp pang of guilt to form in Anakin’s heart for all the trouble he put Ben through. They cut the call shortly thereafter, and Anakin sent a short message with the coordinates of the place, before making a quick call to inform the workers of a proxy arriving to take the thirteen people Anakin just… won.

The mere thought made him sick to his stomach. The only consolation he had was that Anakin was not going to let them go back into slavery, not if he could help it.

He fleetingly thought of the fact that Ben hadn’t asked how many credits Anakin had won, or how many properties and other hard assets were being liquidated even as they spoke. A giddy feeling rushed through him as he realized he had effectively just stolen a fortune and a half right out from under the Hutt’s noses. Gardulla was going to be in as much trouble as Watto was in, and while he didn’t like the fact he just helped Jabba effectively gain control over Tatooine that fat slug was also down a significant portion of his investment as well. The buzz kept him going as he gathered up the credits he would need before finalizing the transfer of everything else into a temporary Correllian trust fund. It stayed with him as he navigated the energized crowds that were still buzzing in the stands, and somehow made it easier to wait in the shadows as the Toydarian he was looking for dogged, distracted, and outright lied to every sentient that came up to him with a debt to settle. It wouldn’t do him any good in the long run—Anakin remembered how he’d looked when he’d returned to Tatooine before—but it didn’t stop the slippery bastard from trying. Anakin snorted as another being left with another false promise of swift payment. Watto wouldn’t have survived as long and as successfully as he had on Tatooine if he weren’t a shrewd businessman and excellent liar.

Looking at him now, Anakin was reminded of a lot of Senators that had disagreed with Padme.

He nearly lost his grip on his mental shield when Qui-Gon approached. It was a short and terse conversation, one that Anakin didn’t actually hear much of, but that didn’t stop his giddy excitement from reaching new heights as he watched Qui-Gon Jinn free him - well, mini-him - from Watto.

He’d make sure Qui-Gon lived this time. Mini-him would get the chance Anakin never had—to be trained by Qui-Gon Jinn. Chancellor Palpatine had always said it was a shame Qui-Gon had died, had always assured him that Qui-Gon would have been proud of him, and now there was a chance for everything to happen as it should have. Qui-Gon would take Mini as a Padawan, Mom would be safe on Coruscant, and Obi-Wan…

Obi-Wan would choose a Padawan of his own, instead of having one forced on him. One that he saw potential in and cared about. One he was proud of, instead of—

Instead of being stuck with Anakin Skywalker.

He pulled his hood up further and stepped in behind Watto as Qui-Gon slipped away, causing the Toydarian to spin around in surprise.

“Hello, Watto,” he greeted, with a grin that was all teeth. “I hear you’re in a bit of trouble.” A slight shift and the case full of credits peaked out from under his cloak, catching the parts-dealer’s attention, and Anakin had to remind himself to sound a bit more like Ben, instead of just slamming the case into the Toydarian’s snout and demanding he free his mother.

“But I think we can come to a… mutually beneficial arrangement.”

 


** My Sweet Baby Boy, All Grown Up **

Shmi made her way back to her home in a daze. The dull throbbing in her calf, the healing incision that had been made to remove her tracking chip, was the only thing that was keeping her grounded. Her chip was gone. It was too good to be real—Jedi on Tatooine; her son on his way to the Core Worlds to become one of them; and now someone had purchased her freedom.

She was free.

It couldn’t have been the Jedi. Qui-Gon had taken Ani with him in a hurry—Shmi could only assume it was because of that call Ben had received. If it had been the Jedi, wouldn’t they have taken her with her son? But if not the Jedi, then who would have done this?

She was so lost in her thoughts that she bumped into someone just outside of her home. “Oh! I’m so sorry, I wasn’t watching where I was going,” she said, flustered.

“No, no it’s quite all right, M- ah, Miss Skywalker,” the tall man in what almost looked like a black and dark brown version of what Qui-Gon and Ben wore—robe and all, though he kept his hood up over his head so the shadows would hide his face—said, sounding almost as flustered as she felt. “I, um, was actually waiting for you. To help you pack and bring you and your things to the ship.” Shmi felt her heart sink a little. Was this the man that had purchased her freedom? She knew it was too much to hope for, but she had still held some small measure of it… As if he could tell exactly what she was thinking, the man continued, “Things had gotten– really confusing, and Ma-Mister Qui-Gon would have brought you along with the parts and– and your son if he had the chance, but, uh–”

Shmi narrowed her eyes at the tall young man before her even as hope started to bloom in her heart once more. So he did know the Jedi, might even be one of them, but was keeping his identity secret from her? Either a trap, or he was truly as nervous about something as he appeared to be. But… he felt startlingly familiar to her. Like she already knew him, but hadn’t seen him for a long time.

She tilted her head towards the door, and led the way inside the small home where she had raised Ani, her raised suspicions mixing with the doubts and disbelief rushing through her. She turned back as the man closed the door, his back to her as she did, and she took a deep breath before boldly stepping forward as he turned, reaching up to push the hood back and reveal the young, startled face it concealed.

It was like the breath was punched out of her. Here, standing before her… was what could only be her Little Ani, but not so little anymore. Older, at least early twenties, with his hair a dirty blonde that was cut short close to his head and a scar next to his right eye, and cringing slightly, as if expecting her to react badly to him. But… but it couldn’t possibly be her Ani, her Ani was a little boy who had only just left with Qui-Gon a short while ago! She carefully breathed through the confusion, and decided that she would be getting answers on what in the ever-sweet-loving stars was happening, because this was all too much, but for now…

For now, her son was here, older and taller and more tired than he had any right to be. But it was Anakin, no matter how impossible that seemed.

She’d know those eyes anywhere.

She just had to make sure, and so she reached up and cupped his cheeks, staring into those familiar blue eyes that looked like they’d seen even worse than what her Little Ani had while living on this horrid planet. Quietly, and she’d even be willing to admit a little brokenly, she asked, “Ani?”

He flinched at the nickname, but the small smile she received was just this side of broken, the final piece to the puzzle, because that was exactly the smile Ani graced her with when she told him that she was proud of him over the past nine years, just before he’d left. “Hi mom,” he whispered, just as hoarse and broken as she had sounded. “Its… I kept my promise.”

I’ll come back and free you, mom. I swear. That’s what Ani had said as he left, as Qui-Gon took him away. Now that she had confirmation to the impossible fact that this was really her son , Shmi didn’t quite know where to start her questions, how to phrase them in any manner that would make sense. So instead, she took a different path, and rubbed her thumbs below his eyes. “Oh, look at you. You’re so handsome.*”

Shmi was not expecting for his eyes to fly wide open and suddenly fill with tears. She definitely was not expecting Anakin to fold like a house of cards, sobbing into her shoulder and clinging to her as though if he let go she would disappear, muttering, “I missed you, I missed you so much, mom,” through his tears.

She gently carded her fingers through his hair, still wrapping her head around this new twist in her reality even as a new sense of dread crept up on her. Everything was strange, like something out of her best and worst dreams, and she needed answers. “Ani,” she said as she gently pushed at his shoulders, and felt a pang of loss as the young man (her son, somehow her son, but not) pulled back, hastily rubbing at his eyes. “Ani, what happened? What’s going on? You just -” she had to swallow past a sudden swell of emotion before continuing. “- just left, with Qui-Gon. He said you would be a Jedi, and now you’re…”

“I did,” he said, ducking his head in the way her Ani always did when he was so proud he was embarrassed. “You did see me leave, and I am a Jedi, and…” He struggled a bit before sighing. “Ben would know how to explain,” he grumbled before shaking his head. “It’s- it’s a long story. And really complicated. And we really need to go–”

Shmi held up her hand, and he immediately quieted. “Then we should go.” She gave him a small smile as he nodded enthusiastically at her statement. “And you’ll do your best to explain on the way to your ship.” Another nod was joined by a blinding smile as the young man that her son was to become followed her further into her home.

“Oh, and Anakin? You’re carrying C-3P0.”

Shmi might have smiled a bit too smugly when Anakin groaned.

 


** Freak Outs and Freedom **

Shuri had been a slave for long enough for this to not be the first time she’d been sold, or used to pay a debt her Master owned. Having been shipped off to a brothel when she was young to pay for her own parents debts, she barely even remembered what it was like to not have to keep an eye out for her Master’s moods, or if she’d be the next one on the selling block. Though this had to be the largest collection of slaves won in a bet that she’d ever been a part of.

Thirteen in total, including herself, some of them still in their youngling years, though if Shuri had to guess she was probably the oldest of the group—not like someone would know it just by looking at her. She’d been implanted with an age and growth modifier and a hormone manager back when she had first been sold, so despite being probably in her late thirties or early forties—she lost track of just how old she was years ago—she looked somewhere in her late teens to early twenties, and would continue to look that age for years to come. Some of the older women in the group seemed to recognize Shuri, and in the slave signs referred to her as “matriarch”, so she probably was the oldest here. It didn’t happen often that this was the case, but since most everyone in the slave quarters knew that a young-looking Twi’lek with green skin and mottled pink-tipped lekku was actually closer to the higher-end of their life expectancy it made setting up their unofficial hierarchy in a group easier.

She just wondered for how long they’d be together. Not many groups of this size originally won through the races ever stayed together, normally being sold in order to pay debts or because their “talents” weren’t what their new owner required. It all depended on their new master.

Shuri watched the entrance to the pens for any sign of someone approaching the one herself and the others were in, hoping to get a look at their new Master in order to figure out what kind of being they were. Their chips signals had already been transferred to a new transmitter, so all that was needed was the Master to arrive and pick them up or decide what to do with them. Considering how the group was all won, she didn’t doubt that many of them would wind up back on the selling block by the end of the day.

Her eyes caught on one human in particular as he entered, undyed poncho and average height not doing anything to counteract the sheer presence that the man all but commanded. Shuri felt her breath catch as the human approached the Toydarian in charge of the pen herself and her group were in. So this was their new Master… She swallowed harshly, wondering just what he would do with them all.

There was a sudden bout of excited whispering behind her. She half turned to see one of the adults hushing one of the youngest members of the group, a young human boy with dark hair. “But I know him,” he kept insisting, getting louder even as the adult gestured for him to be quiet. “He was with Ani, he helped with the pod-racer! He’s a good person!” Shuri turned back to watching the man in question, as he retrieved the temporary transmitter and approached their group. He paused as they all stood at his approach, taking each one of them in turn and looking… well, if Shuri were to be honest, the man looked downright overwhelmed.

She could work with that.

Only before she could do much of anything, the man gave them all a smile that could only be described as “charming”. “Apologies for the wait, everyone.” Shuri was too well trained to let her jaw drop, but she did blink rapidly in utter disbelief. Apologies? To a group of slaves? What in the name of stars and sand…?

“Hello, Mister Ben!”

The man - Ben - turned his attention to the young boy, his smile going a bit fond. “Yes, hello Kitster. I am sorry, but we have to get moving. I’ll explain everything on the way. If you would all follow me?”

Shuri leads the small group as they follow Ben through the streets, and, much to her confusion, out towards the desert. It doesn’t take the young human, Kitster, long to dart past everyone to walk beside him, and Shuri reaches out to pull him back before he can anger the man, but the man just rests a hand on the boy’s shoulder and continues walking as Kitster charters at him excitedly. ( Too young, too naive, good people didn’t come to the Outer Rim. )

Ben stopped them just past the city outskirts, once again giving them that charming smile. “Again, apologies.” Why did he keep apologizing to them? He was the master, they were the slaves. What was going on? “I expect this is something of an unprecedented situation, at least in some regards. But, now that we are relatively out of earshot of the Hutts, allow me to introduce myself.” Shuri felt her stomach twist with nerves. What was this man getting at?

“I am Jedi Master Ben Kenobi. As of this moment,” he held up the transmitter and made a show of turning it off and dropping it, slamming the heel of his boot down on the device, “you are all free. If you agree, I have a ship waiting to take us all to Coruscant."

Nothing could have prevented Shuri’s jaw from dropping at that.

Jedi? Coruscant?!

… Free?

Chapter Text

** There’s A Shiny On My Starship **


In hindsight, Rex should have been expecting it

He’d seen General Kenobi and Padawan Kenobi standing only a few feet away from each other at most. He’d spent the majority of their time on Tatooine wrapping his head around Time Travel, which included the reality that there were now two Kenobi’s. He’d watched Cody force himself to apply Clone mentality to his General. ( Sharing a face doesn’t make you the same person, CT-7567 - you’re not a Commander, you’re not an ARC, and you sure as Hell aren’t Fett. ) He should have expected that, at some point, he would find himself in the presence of a young General Skywalker.

Apparently, Rex had somehow managed to overlook just how young a young General Skywalker would actually be.

There were a lot of words Rex had never associated with his General. Small. Timid. Cautious.

Scared.

But somehow, the little boy that General Jinn had introduced as “ Young Skywalker” seemed to be the physical manifestation of all of those words. The kid was still standing where General Jinn had left him, in the shadow of some supply crates that had yet to be loaded, watching as everyone else made the ship prepared for flight. He was fidgeting, and clenching his tiny hands, and generally acting so un-Skywalker-like that Rex felt his world inverting every time he looked at him.

Alright, Rex, think. He glanced around, watching as everyone else went about preparing the ship for take off… while ignoring the boy who was looking more anxious by the moment. He’s not a General, he’s a... traumatized Shiny. Don’t let him wallow, keep his mind and hands busy. What does General Skywalker do to keep busy? Lightsaber work, no good. Droids, also no. A scuffing sound in the ship hull above him drew his attention to a pile of tools and a gap. Ashoka had crawled in there earlier to avoid talking to Cody about General Skywalker’s absence, and thus had missed General Jinn’s return. Rex grinned.

Perfect.

He reached up and managed to rap his knuckles on the hull, jerking when a tool fell out of the gap followed by some inventive swearing that he’s sure Commander Tano wasn’t supposed to know. Ahsoka's head appeared a moment later as she dangled upside down from the gap, her frown smoothing out when she saw him. “Hey, Rex, what’s…” Her gaze suddenly tracked over his shoulder, right to where Rex knew mini-Skywalker was still standing. “Oh,” she glanced back over to him, “oh no. That’s…?”

“Yes.”

“How?! Skyguy is so tall, how is mini-Skyguy so tiny? And why is he just standing over there? Even if there’s nothing for him to do, it’s still way cooler on the ship.”

Rex grimaced. “I don’t think anyone’s told him he can go on the ship, sir.”

Ahsoka frowned at him. “Why would someone have to tell… him… never mind, I’m an idiot.” Rex opened his mouth to object, only to close it when she shook her head. “He needs a distraction, right? I’ll handle it.” She cleared her throat. “HEY! Skyg… kid. Skykid.” Mini-Skywalker looked up, despite the mangling of his name. Rex barely managed to muffle a snicker behind his hand, but the glare his Commander tossed his way said she knew anyway. “Got a minute? Need an extra small pair of hands here.”

The kid immediately perked up and came jogging over to them as Ahsoka twisted around to get herself out of the gap in the ship hull. “How can I help, Sir?” Rex felt his world flip sideways again. General Skywalker only ever sounded so… eager to please when he was talking to his supposedly secret wife. And he never called anyone ‘Sir’.

Ahsoka dropping to the ground saved his brain from imploding. “First, no Sir. The last person that called me ‘Sir’ as soon as we met was Rex here, and I still think he spent the longest time thinking it was my first name.”

“Sir!” The indignant exclamation was out of Rex’s mouth before he could think better of it.

“See, there he goes again!”

Rex feels an embarrassed flush heating up the back of his neck, until mini-Skywalker lets out a tiny snort of a laugh and quickly covers his grin with his hands. Of course she was just trying to make him feel at ease. It’s just a bit of brotherly ribbing. You’ve gotten worse from Cody for as long as you’ve know him, Rex. Get a grip.

Ahsoka is grinning as she extends her hand. “I’m Padawan Ahsoka Tano, and this,” she gestures with her other hand, “is the amazing Captain Rex.” The flush crawls further up his neck to burn his ears, but Rex’s shoulders straighten with pride as mini-Skywalker looks up at him with no small amount of awe before taking Ahsoka’s offered hand.

“You’re a Jedi too?” he asks, eyes wide, and Rex can’t help but feel a little vindication at how thrown Ahsoka looks when all that awe is suddenly directed at her.

“Not… yet. But I will be! Soon. But I’m still learning for now.”

Mini-Skywalker was suddenly grinning, and all but vibrating like a cadet that got to try his first detonator. Ahsoka suddenly looked nervous and Rex was feeling more amused by the second.

“You’re learning? From who? Is it Mister Ben? I’ll bet it’s him. He’s so wizard.

Ashoka was definitely looking more than a bit shell shocked by now, and Rex was having to bite the inside of his cheek to stop himself from bursting out laughing. Nothing could have stopped him from grinning as he slowly backed away, leaving Ahsoka with a starry-eyed mini-Skywalker who was still acting very un-Skywalker-like, but in a much better way now.

Besides, someone should comm Cody about General Skywalkers… absence, now that everyone was returning.

 

**All Aboard for Coruscant**


“Right. I’ll keep an eye out for him. … I’m holding you to that. We’ll cut the patrol short, E.T.A. ten minutes standard.”

One day, one glorious day, Cody would know what it felt like to not have Anakin Skywalker be the direct antithesis of Cody’s primary goal of keeping General Kenobi sound of mind and body for a full standard 48 hours.

Today was not going to be that day.

Honestly, he’s a little hurt that Rex hadn’t expected him to be prepared for this.

Granted, it had been amusing to watch Commander Tano and Rex dodge around him to avoid having to explain that General Skywalker had gone off on another one of his infamous “Plans”. As though Cody hadn’t anticipated “Plans” happening despite current circumstances. As though Cody hadn’t  plotted out three viable responses to a potential “Plan” before Generals Kenobi and Jinn had set foot off the ship. As though Cody hadn’t already formulated half a dozen more while patrolling with the Queen’s Guard. The only real surprise so far was how long Skywalker had waited before charging off.

He had just passed on the call to return to the ship, when movement along the base of the closest dune drew Cody’s attention, and he felt all of his nervous tension bleed out as General Kenobi came into view. Chatter from the Queen’s Guards on patrol with him faded out as General Kenobi raised a hand in greeting, which Cody mirrored, HUD display zooming in on his Jedi.

… his Jedi, who was accompanied by far more people than Cody had been expecting.

Thirteen people, to be precise.

And no General Skywalker.

Cody took one deep breath. Then another. This wasn’t the worst that could have happened. General Kenobi appeared to be uninjured and in good spirits. The people following him probably needed to be rescued anyway. ( And oh, did his Jedi love to multitask, to the point of self neglect sometimes. Cody was going to have Words with Skywalker about encouraging this behaviour. ) No one was getting shot at, and the situation was under control. Everything was going to be fine-

After Cody was done giving General Skywalker the most polite dressing down of his life.

General Kenobi at least seemed sympathetic to his frustration, his smile crooked in the way that said he knew his Commander had been worrying for him, and was at least somewhat apologetic for it. He approached Cody, the thirteen others hovering behind him at a slight distance - much like the Queen’s Guards were hovering behind Cody, mouths hanging open in a way that guaranteed they would be flossing sand out of their teeth later. Cody shook his head. Poor Shinies, they wouldn’t have lasted a week on the Negotiator. He refocused on his General, who was still giving him that crooked smile.

“Commander.”

“Sir. Good to see that you’re back. I see you’ve brought… company.”

General Kenobi sighed. “Cody. Go ahead, out with it.”

“...Then with all due respect, sir. What was he thinking?! Was he thinking?”

General Kenobi shook his head, his expression now the mix of fond exasperation Cody has learned belonged to Jedi Masters and parents galaxy wide when it came to the children they raised. “He was thinking. Just… not of the consequences.”

“So the usual then.”

General Kenobi hummed in what Cody supposes is a noncommittal way, which only set off alarm bells in his head.

A Skywalker Plan had resulted in his General leading thirteen people who needed rescuing, likely from the Hutts, to their ship, leaving General Skywalker to his own devices. And now General Kenobi was pretending this wasn’t a spectacularly bad move to have made?

“Sir, were you followed?” The Queen’s guard sprang to suspicious attention at that.

“Oh, if we weren’t, he most certainly was.”

Cody was going to shove a reg manual down Skywalker’s throat.

“Form up,” he snapped at the Guard, who were right back to gaping at his Jedi. “Defensive formation!” As they scrambled to follow his order, Cody turned to their new… refugees. “Is there anyone in charge?” A tiny, green skinned Twi’lek shuffled forward, her gaze focussing on the orange visor of Cody’s helmet.

“I am, Sir.”

“Keep your people together.” He tried to soften the order, tried to remember she was a civilian, even as his HUD scanned for hostiles in his peripheral vision. “We’ll get you to the ship safely, but we need you to stay together and stay calm.” She nodded, returning to the others, and Cody turned back to his Jedi as the last Guard took up position. “Ready to move out, Sir.”

“I’m afraid I have to ask you to return without me, Cody. I should make sure Anakin returns from his… business safely.”

It was against GAR regulations to grab his Jedi by the scruff of his neck and drag him back to the relative safety of the ship, and if Cody wanted the moral high ground with Skywalker, he really should be following protocol. That didn’t stop his jaw from clenching. At least General Kenobi offered an explanation - unlike some Generals.

“Commander? Sir?”

Cody glared at the young Guard beside him from behind his helmet, but nodded for him to continue.

“Are all Jedi like this, Sirs?”

General Kenobi laughed and began to move back towards the desert. Cody just shook his head.

“Just saddle up, Shiny.”

 

**Personality Paradox**


“... And there! Well, that looks like all we can do for the shield generator…”

Ahsoka shifted back as Skykid shuffled around to peek over his shoulder at her. She offered him a grin and began the process of backing out of the gap she had worked herself into to help him. “We should head out and let them know, then. The Hyperdrive’s probably fixed by now, too.”

Skykid’s head dipped to the side, and he nodded slowly in agreement. “Yeah, probably. But, uh, how’re we getting out?”

“Don’t worry, Skykid, I can catch you,” Ahsoka said, grinning even brighter at her tiny twelve-years-too-young Master. She glanced down quickly to check her footing, before moving to the gap and out of the ship’s hull.

Ahsoka had learned a lot about her Master in the last half hour. Like the fact that the Anakin Skywalker she knew was almost a complete opposite to the one crawling around the ship hull with her. Anakin had once been tiny. Anakin had once had a Force Presence bright enough to rival a sun. Anakin had once been optimistic.

More importantly though, Anakin had once used the word wizard unironically, and while she wouldn’t dream of picking on Skykid, Sky guy was never going to live this down.

She landed with a soft thump and a cloud of sand that quickly settled into her boots. Skyguy definitely was not kidding when he said it got everywhere , she mentally grumbled before turning her face up towards the gap. Before she could call up the all-clear to Skykid, footsteps approached behind her.

“Ah, Padawan Tano. There you are. Obi-Wan thought you might be out here.” She turned around to see Master Jinn behind her, the man glancing around as a few crewmen finished moving things onto the ship. “I don’t suppose you’ve seen young Skywalker, have you? I haven’t found him on the ship…” She had to think for a moment before she recognized his expression, and had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. Master Jinn looked just like Master Kenobi did when he was trying to be calm after one of Skyguy’s “Plans” blew up. It seemed any version of her Master was destined to give those who cared about him worry lines.

“Ahsoka! Are you ready yet?”

She held up a finger to Master Jinn and turned back to the hull, spotting the toes of Skykid’s boots hanging just beyond the metal. “Yeah, I’m ready for you,” she called out, holding her arms in preparation to catch the young boy. Skykid carefully shimmied further, his legs sliding free just as Ahsoka felt a wave of concern from Master Jinn as he realized what she planned to do. “It’s ok,” she said, to reassure both him and Skykid. “I’ve done this plenty of times. I’m working up to being able to lift Rex in full armor. Now c’mon, Skykid! In three… two… one!”

Skykid slid free and dropped, and Ahsoka caught him exactly as planned. He grinned up at her as she set him on his feet. “That was fun! Can we…” He suddenly drifted off as he spotted Master Jinn hovering behind her. “Oh. Hello, Mister Qui-Gon, Sir.”

“Hello, Ani. I see you and Padawan Tano have kept busy.”

Ahsoka frowned. Something weird was going on here. Anakin didn’t talk about Master Jinn much, but he always made it sound like he really liked and admired him, and had looked forward to being taught by him. Skykid didn’t seem to want anything to do with Master Jinn.

If anything… she’d say he was afraid of Master Jinn.

Ahsoka turned back to Master Jinn, carefully wrapping an arm around Skykid’s shoulders. Master Jinn was now smiling kindly at them both, seemingly pleased that they were alright and had been helping, but now Ahsoka was studying him with a more critical eye. He’d left Skykid to his own devices, without thinking about how to help someone that had just come out of Anakin’s situation. He hadn’t even asked anyone else to keep an eye on him, assuming Skykid would… do what? Follow him without question? She didn’t think any version of Anakin Skywalker would do anything like that, though Skykid and Skyguy definitely had different reasons.

In all, the Qui-Gon Jinn she was seeing really didn’t seem like the man her Master had so enthusiastically endorsed, and Ahsoka wanted to know why.

“Oh, you know how it is,” she shrugged, trying to seem casual. “Better to keep busy. And besides, the shield generator needed some tweaking before we headed out.” It likely would have lasted until Coruscant, but Master Jinn didn’t need to know that. “And Skykid is wizard with machines.”

Skykid grinned up at her, even as Master Jinn frowned at her sudden protectiveness.

A sudden flurry of noise and activity prevented her and Master Jinn from getting into a stand off, as Cody’s patrol arrived. Ahsoka perked up upon seeing the white and orange armor, before her eyes scanned over the rest of the group following behind.

…the much, much larger group than what Cody’s patrol should have been.

Which meant that Skyguy’s plan had gotten blown out of proportion. Again.

She barely managed to keep her, “Oh, no,” to a quiet groan. No need to worry Skykid without due cause, after all. It took her a second sweep of the group to realize that Master Kenobi had not returned with them, and thus was probably aiding Master Skywalker in finishing whatever other business he could possibly have.

Cody must be so stressed out right now.

“What in the name of the Force…?”

Apparently, so was Master Jinn. Ahsoka watched as he made his way over to Cody, his frown seeming to deepen as he noticed that Master Kenobi hadn’t returned with the patrol. They were far enough away that she could only make out a few words - “refugee’s” and “Skywalker” among  them - and she couldn’t help but shake her head. Cody hated making excuses for her Master. Looks like the 501st owed him another drink…

“Kitster?!” Skykid suddenly darted away from Ahsoka, towards the cluster of people Cody was leading. Another boy, about Skykid’s age with black hair, broke free and met him halfway, the two colliding and falling over each other, shrieking with laughter, the Force ringing with their joy. Ahsoka blinked rapidly, suddenly feeling a tightness in her chest. Was this… one of Anakin’s friends, from before Master Jinn saved him last time? Was he free now, too?

… What had her Master done?

“... gonna be smug about it now, aren’t you,” she heard the dark haired by - Kitster, Skykid had called him - ask as Ani dragged him over. “You always said it would be Jedi.”

Skykid grinned. “And you never believed me! But it’s true, they are! See, this is Miss Ahsoka - she’s learning to be a Jedi! And that’s Mister Qui-Gon, he came into town with Ben! And Ahsoka said Mister Qui-Gon is teaching someone too!”

Kitster looked up at her with wide eyes, and Ahsoka smiled, trying to seem as unimposing as she could. “Mister Ben said… you’re taking us to Coruscant? Is that true? Are we really…?” She nodded, and suddenly Kitster was hugging her around her waist, tiny shoulders shaking with a sudden overload of emotion. Ahsoka carefully lay her hands on his shoulders, unsure of exactly how she should be dealing with this. She’d helped with refugee’s a bit during the Clone Wars, but this felt… bigger. Deeper. The refugees had known freedom, but Kitster and Skykid and all of the others… to them it must seem like a dream. And now they were in the middle of it, with no waking up in sight.

It must be terrifying.

“Let’s get on the ship, ok?” Kitster pulled away from her, but she kept a hand on his shoulder, and Skykid moved to press against his other side. “We’ll need to leave as soon as Ma - Mister Ben gets back…” The Force was tugging at the back of her mind, the now familiar sensation of imminent danger itching and making her wish for her lightsabers to be in hand. She started to usher the two towards the ramp that Rex was directing the other freed slaves up, even as her eyes rapidly scanned the area. Cody and Rex were both picking up on her tension, their stances deceptively loose so as to respond to an attack from an direction at a moment’s notice. The Queen’s Guard seemed to be taking their que’s from them, Captain Panaka’s orders taking on an extra edge of urgency as others shifted nervously, hands on their weapons. Even Master Jinn, staring out at the dunes, unmoving except for the gusting of the warming engines making his cloak flare an billow dramatically, gave her the feeling of contained energy, like a plasma bolt frozen in mid air.

A storm was about to break.

“Hey, someone else is coming!”

Ahsoka quickly turned and spotted the slim, fast moving form bolting around the dune towards the ship. Her eyes narrowed as she stood more solidly between the dunes and the kids, even as a wave of incredulous-disbelief-hope sang through the Force from Skykid. A desperate sounding, “Mom?” reached Ahsoka’s montrals right before Skykid tried to run past her. She placed a restraining hand on his shoulder as she searched the dunes, finding a glint of metal poking just over the rise.

“Get on the ship! Get on the ship!” Ahsoka faintly heard Skymom call out. She was scooping Skykid over a shoulder as Master Jinn took off for Skymom, right as the first blaster bolt was loosed.

“What, but– Mom!” Skykid called out as Ahsoka grabbed Kitster’s wrist and bolted for the ramp.

“Qui-Gon will make sure she gets on board, we’re being shot at right now!” Ahsoka said a little too forcefully, but considering the circumstances she was hoping to get a little breathing room on her behavior. She slipped past Rex hovering at the top of the ramp, and locked eyes on Kenobi. “Obi-Wan, get these two back with the others,” she ordered, passing Skykid over to the older Padawan. Before she got any form of confirmation—though she didn’t doubt Kenobi would do exactly that, he seemed to like kids—she turned on her heel and sprinted down the ramp. “C’mon, Rex ol’ boy! Let’s let ‘em have it!”

She’s sure that if Rex weren’t wearing his helmet, she’d see a battle-sharp grin.

“Right behind you, Sir!”

Chapter Text

**Trouble on the Dunes**

They had been followed.

Though honestly, being followed had been the expected part. Anakin knew the Hutts would never let something like what he had done go unpunished. He’d felt the first Enforcers tailing them as he and his Mom left the Slave Quarters, more gathering like flies as they left, until a pack of them had trailed them out into the desert and spread out. He’d been keeping tabs on them in the Force, in case any got too close to the ship, hoping to get there in time for them to leave before they could make a coordinated attack. He’d been surprised when he heard the whine of a speeder engine approaching behind them - it didn’t make sense for them to attack him and Mom, not before they got past the last dune to the ship - but he spun around, lightsaber drawn to defend them, but -

Maul.

Anakin had focused so much on the Enforcers, he’d all but forgotten that Maul had been on Tatooine last time, too.

And now, Darth Maul was bearing down on them, teeth bared and murder on his mind.

And Anakin’s lightsaber just made them the biggest target on the planet.

“Mom, get to the ship!” Shmi balked, clearly not wanting to leave him. “I can hold him! The ship’s just past the dune! GO!” He spared a second to watch as Shmi finally began to sprint for safety - it nearly cost him his head as Maul lept off the speeder towards him, lightsaber igniting. Their blades clashed, blue sparking against red, and then Maul shoved with more strength than Anakin had anticipated him having, sending them both skidding back in the sand. They circled each other, sizing each other up.

Anakin settled into his preferred fighting stance, feeling confident. He’d fought the simulation he’d made of Maul dozens of times. He’d fought Ventress and Dooku repeatedly in the Clone Wars. He could handle Maul.

Or he thought he could.

Only a few heartbeats into the fight, and Anakin realized that no simulation, no matter how he had tweaked it away from Temple standards, had ever come close to the reality of fighting Darth Maul. He was completely different from Dooku and Ventress. Where they were precise and methodical, Maul was wild, untamed, and volatile. And while Dooku may have been a Sith, holdovers from his training as a Jedi remained in his Force Presence, presenting like a cold, smooth obelisk, an insurmountable obstacle unaffected by the events around him as he strived towards his goal. Maul was a firestorm, an overwhelming fury, seeming to suck strength from the flow of the Force around him to lash out in wild burst that left Anakin unbalanced. Their blades clashed and locked, Maul bearing down on him, teeth bared and yellow eyes gleaming. Anakin kicked him off, hissing instinctively when the edge of Maul’s saber glanced against the back of his robotic hand, slicing through the glove. He reached out with the Force and pushed, not at Maul, but at the sand beneath the Sith’s feet, causing him to stumble briefly. Anakin lunged, intent on finishing the confrontation quickly, only for Maul to twist and roll away, springing back up and darting in, putting Anakin on the defensive again.

“In a hurry, little Jedi? Did your Order fail to teach you patience?”

Anakin snarled, twisting Mauls blade away, and when he faced the Zabrak again, the Sith’s feral grin had taken on a satisfied edge.

“Such a poor excuse for a Jedi, running off alone. Your Master didn’t teach you much, did they?”

Anakin saw red.

“You know nothing about him!”

He lunged and slashed and blocked, all as a roar of un-Jedi-like rage thundered in his ears. How dare he?! How dare this thing- this Sith talk about his Master? How dare he belittle him! His Master was the perfect Jedi, greater than Maul could ever hope to become!

How dare he?!

Maul laughed as he spun away again. “Such anger from a Jedi! You might have been successful, as one of us.” Anakin suddenly felt pressure around his throat, squeezing his windpipe shut. He tried to focus, to break Maul’s hold, but his emotions were scattered, and there wasn’t enough air, and the edges of his vision were blurring already… Maul sneered at him, twirling his lightsaber idly as he approached. “A pity, you will die as nothing.

And suddenly, Maul was flying sideways, and Anakin took desperate gulps of air as the pressure on his throat suddenly released. A familiar, soothing calm washed over his mind. “Unfortunately, Darth, I must disagree.” Anakin smirked as his Master stepped up beside him, stance casual and tone mildly disappointed despite his drawn and ignited lightsaber, as though lecturing an unruly youngling rather than facing off against a Sith Lord. “After all, when you only deal in absolutes, you will always be wrong.”

Maul snarled as he glanced between the two of them, sizing up this new threat. Anakin fell into a battle stance in time with his Master.

Now he could handle Maul.

He could conquer anything, with his Master at his side.

 


**A Loss of Control**

Everything was in chaos.

Qui-Gon had deflected a flurry of blaster bolts as he ran to Shmi, which had suddenly died down as a rapid barrage of cover fire rattled off from behind him. The occasional bolt still came over the crest of the dunes, and grew in number as he and Shmi approached the ship, though most of them went wide of them, as though…

They weren’t the targets.

They meant to stop the ship from leaving.

He got Shmi to the base of the ramp just as Ashoka darts out, followed closely by Rex, both of whom immediately began barking orders as soon as their feet hit the sand. Cody joined in, the three falling into what could almost be described as routine, leaving Qui-Gon feeling… adrift, as he realized that, chaotic as it looked, everything was under control without his input.

“Sniper on the left! Get down!”

“Cover fire, keep them on the defensive!”

“Move back in pairs! Watch each other!”

“Qui-Gon! We need the ship moving!”

That last one made him dart up the ramp with Shmi and two of the Queen’s Guard, one leaning on the other, a blaster wound to his thigh. Obi-Wan waited for them inside, lightsaber in hand but not ignited, directing the Guard further into the ship as he tried to hold back -

“Mom!”

“Ani!” Shmi scooped her son up into her arms, shushing him even as the young boy pelted her with questions ranging from “How are you here?” to “What’s going on?”

“Lady Skywalker, you should move further into the ship. Obi-Wan, please escort them, and tell the pilot we need to leave now. Have them fire up the shields, and make a low pass towards Mos Espa to pick up Ben and Anakin.” Obi-Wan nodded, even as Little Ani’s head whipped towards him in confusion. Qui-Gon took Obi-Wan’s defensive position, lightsaber drawn.

More of the Queen’s guard made their way up the ramp, most uninjured, moving further in to secure the Queen and Handmaidens. It took several too-long minutes for the ship to begin to rise, Cody and Rex moving onto the ramp just as it lifted off the ground, while Ashoka remained on the ground, backflipping up at the last second, Rex placing a stabilizing hand on her shoulder a moment after she landed. They moved to clear the ramp, but Cody stayed, crouched and with his blaster rifle at the ready. Qui-Gon shifted to a better position to cover him from any stray shots the Hutt enforcers might try, though they seemed to have mostly given up with the ship in motion. Now they simply had to get Ben and Anakin without drawing even more unwanted attention...

They didn’t have to go far before Qui-Gon caught sight of the glowing blades of three lightsabers - two blue, one double-ended red. Cody cursed beside him. Qui-Gon readied his lightsaber, prepared to leap in if needed.

The two Knights were fighting a Sith

 


**Dancing with Darkness**

Maul was, Ben thought, exactly the opponent he remembered him being.

Certainly, this fight was nothing like the first; Anakin was not Qui-Gon, and the Tatooine desert was certainly a far cry from the Naboo Reactor where he had first dueled Maul. Yet Maul himself was unchanged. Aggressive, cunning, wild, vicious, all wrapped under a coating of seething Darkness that seemed to swallow the Light in the Force around him. He lunged and slashed, twisted and snarled, and Ben felt eerie echoes of his first fight with the Sith Lord almost seeming to travel across time.

Suddenly, Maul’s eyes met his as the three circled each other, and Ben felt sharp dread fill him as the Sith Lord gave him his full focus.

Anakin lunged forward, trying to take advantage of the Sith’s distraction, only for Maul to kick him in the gut and Force Throw him aside. Ben darted forward and around, a warning cry of Your Padawan is in danger chasing down his old bond with Anakin, only to lock blades with Maul. The Zabrak leaned close, teeth bared and eyes wild, snarling over the crackling of their lightsabers.

“How do I know you?!”

Ben’s eyes widened in panic. It was impossible, Maul shouldn’t have picked up anything regarding Ben’s original meeting with the Sith! The only way it could have been possible was–

He shunted the thought to the side to contemplate later at the same time he Pushed hard on Maul’s chest, sending him flying back several paces and into Anakin’s range. Maul twisted to face the other Knight right as Anakin’s lightsaber came crashing down, sending sparks flying. Maul’s Force Presence twisted, searching for a gap in the Mental Shielding Ben was extending to his former Padawan.

Maul fought like Mace, using the emotional backlash of a battle to his advantage, and Anakin’s emotions were all over the battlefield on a good day, bolstering his allies and undermining his enemies with almost thoughtless ease. For someone like Maul, it made him the easier target to manipulate in battle, sending him into spirals of panic or anger. Something cold scraped against Ben’s awareness in the Force, but he shook it off. It was too distant, and Maul was too present, even if he was losing ground against the two Knights. Now, he had an immediate threat to deal with.

Right now, Anakin needed him.

Suddenly, a hot gust of wind and sand slammed into them, and when Ben chanced a glance up, he saw the obscured gleam of the Naboo cruiser. Anakin made the jump for the ramp extending down towards them still, just as Maul realized what he was doing. He snarled, throwing his lightsaber in an arc that would cost Anakin his other arm, at least, and Ben reached out with the Force -

A shot rang out from above them, sending the Sith’s lightsaber whirling off course, to land deactivated at Ben’s feet -

Ben changed the direction of his Force pull, pulling down instead of back -

Maul snarled as the sand beneath his feet gave way, even as he tried to jump -

Ben scooped up the lightsaber at his feet, leaping after Anakin as a howl of rage chased his heels. He stopped on the ramp, giving a jaunty little salute to the half-buried Zabrak with the pilfered lightsaber as the ramp hissed closed.

 


**Coarse, Rough, and Irritating**

Maul roared as he pulled himself from the sand, the Naboo cruiser giving a final glint as it escaped Tatooine. Curse this planet, curse the stubborn, defiant Queen of Naboo, twice curse every self-righteous Jedi!

And thrice curse that smug, red-haired Knight that had stolen his lightsaber!

… to say his Master would not be pleased would be an understatement unworthy of being voiced.

“Looks like they left one.”

Maul slowly turned to glare at the three beings that approached him. Two, a Rodian and a Human kept back with their blasters pointed at him. A second Human approached him with far too much confidence, blaster hanging at his side. “Let’s go, buddy ,” the confident one sneered. “Jabba wants some answers.”

“As do I.”

The confident one was thrown aside like flimsi, and Maul rushed the prepared human just as the Rodian shot the spot he was just standing. The human screamed as Maul snapped his arm once, twice, before dropping him and grabbing the Rodian in a Force Choke. He let the pathetic thing dangle there for a moment, reedy fearful gasps for air giving him some satisfaction out of this whole mess.

“What do you know of those Jedi?”

Chapter Text

**A Family Reunion (Of Sorts)**

“A big brother?”

Ani was very confused. First, Mister Qui-Gon had said that Mom wouldn’t be coming with them because Watto would only bet one of them. Then Ben had disappeared. Then Kitster and a bunch of the others from the Slave Quarters showed up, saying they had been freed by a Jedi, and while Ani was glad they were free too, why would they save all these people and not his Mom -

Only, they had.

Mom had come running towards the ship out of nowhere, and Ani had almost ignored the strange throbbing behind his eyes that had always meant bad things were coming because Mom was here and they were free and -

And he would have gotten hurt if not for Ashoka.

He owed her an apology. And the other Jedi, too - The one who felt like Ben, but wasn’t, couldn’t be, but still felt so right Ani’s heart ached. He’d been trying to help, and Ani hadn’t been nice until Mom had shown up on the ship.

But now was the most confusing part, because Mom was saying that Ben had helped another Jedi free them, and this other Jedi… was Ani’s older brother.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Ani was tired, and hurt, and so, so confused. Mom would have told him if he had a Jedi brother… wouldn’t she? Why wouldn’t she? It would explain the dreams - all those times he’d dreamed of becoming a Jedi, freeing the slaves, that hadn’t been him, it had been this ‘brother’ - but Mom had alway said they were just dreams, to leave them be, and eventually Ani had stopped telling her when they happened. If she’d known… wouldn’t she have thought he would eventually come back for her? Ani would have. The thought of leaving Mom on Tatooine made something cold prickle down his spine. Mom had to know he was coming, had to know what Ani’s dreams meant… and she hadn’t told him.

Why?

“Hope’s like water on Tatooine, son.” Ani tuned to one of the other freed slaves, a green skinned Twi'lek he thinks he recognizes from Gardula’s “favorites”. She smiled crookedly at him before continuing. “Everyone tries to take it for themselves, even when you all need it.”

Ani looked down, chastised. Of course Mom hadn’t done it to hurt him. She’d been trying to protect him. Who knows what someone would have done to them, if they knew they had hope for freedom. They might have sent them somewhere worse than Tatooine or… separated them.

Mom sighed, gently cupping his face so that he looked at her. “It’s… complicated, Ani. And I will tell you everything one day, I swear. But I promise, I would never keep something like this from you without good reason. This is as much a shock to me as it is to you.” Ani nodded slowly, still not sure how to feel about everything that was happening

(He wishes Ben was here. It was easier to think when Ben was here.)

“So… when do we get to meet him?”

Mom smiled, though she still seemed a little sad. “Soon. He said he was going to store C-3P0 -”

Ani instantly brightened. “You remembered to grab 3P0!”

The mood lightened considerably as the adults laughed at Ani’s enthusiasm, the kids groaned, and the last of the sadness left his Mom’s eyes. “Of course I remembered! You made him for me, after all. He promised he would come right after putting 3P0 with R2.” Ani grinned at that. He was glad that 3P0 had made a friend in the Astromech. None of the droids on Tatooine had ever been particularly nice to him.

Maybe everything would really be ok, like the good feeling buzzing in his chest promised it would be. Even with a brother who shared his name, even if Mom couldn’t tell him why just yet. Even if, as the door hisses open, Ani feels as though he’s looking at his reflection in curved durasteel, as his new brother steps into the cramped space, his sheer presence settling over everything like a blanket.

His brother stands there for a moment, seeming to shrink a bit as everyone stares at him (Ani thinks he sees one of the adults close Kitsters mouth, and it would be funny at any other time but now -). “Ani,” Shmi begins, “everyone. This is my eldest son.” She smiles up at him and his brother smiles back. “He brought us here. He freed us.” The man that is his brother looks around at everyone, as though memorizing each face (he spends longer on Kitster, and looks so sad for a moment, Ani wonders if he had a friend like him once, and what happened to them) until he stops at Ani. Slowly he kneels down, impossibly long legs folding up impossibly small, until he’s at Ani’s level.

“Hey,” the man says, and then a startled noise as Ani lunges in for a hug.

It’s ok , he wants to say. I know. I don’t know how I know. But it’s ok.

… Maybe it was ok, that his family was a bit bigger than he had always thought.

 


**I’ll Just Be Over Here Then**

This was hardly the first time Qui-Gon had jumped straight from one project to the next. It was definitely far from the first time he’d done so without a word to Obi-Wan on the matter. It wasn’t even the first time Obi-Wan had found himself usurped in importance by the latest pathetic life form his Master always seemed to pick up. It was certainly the first time he had ever been the pathetic life form.

Or, he thought just a bit sadly, some version of him, at least.

It was ironic, that it took a completely different version of himself to attain pathetic-life-form-care levels of focus from his Master.

And he didn’t even benefit from it.

He sighed and rose from his position kneeling on the floor of the room he and Qui-Gon had claimed. These thoughts were unbecoming of a Jedi. Qui-Gon cared for him as a teacher did his student, and had proven this many times over the years. That he still feared Qui-Gon’s rejection was a poor reflection on Obi-Wan, not his Master. They had a more difficult start than most, but Qui-Gon had been dedicated to his training, even if he didn’t believe Obi-Wan was ready for Knighthood just yet. A part of Obi-Wan hoped it was sentimentality, a desire to make up for the years they had struggled to work together.

A louder part of him (the part that still felt like a child being sent away from the only home he knew) still worried that Qui-Gon didn’t think he would ever be ready.

But he should make sure that his Master wasn’t smothering his… Uncle in well-meaning attention. Strange as it was for Obi-Wan to watch, surely it must be equally strange for Ben to experience. And he could at least reassure himself with a more concrete proof that nothing terrible had happened to his Master while he’d been away from the ship.

Away from Obi-Wan.

He was just shrugging on his cloak when he heard a firm rapping on the door. He waited for the person to enter, only they seemed content to wait him out. After a few moments, he moved forward and keyed the door to slide open, and was greeted with the sight of Cody’s white and orange armored form preparing to turn away. Obi-Wan thought he saw something like relief before Cody straightened.

“Comma- Sir,” Cody’s professionalism faltered again, and Obi-Wan remembered that they weren’t just Mandalorians. They were soldiers, clones, from an army the Jedi had been leading, if what Ashoka had said was to be believed. Coming out of that couldn’t be easy, so instead of correcting him, Obi-Wan gave a reassuring smile.

“Commander. I trust everything is well?”

That expression Obi-Wan thought was relief appeared again, lasting a bit longer this time, before Cody nodded. “Yes, Sir. Rex and I assisted with the remaining loose cargo, along with Comm- Ashoka.” Obi-Wan nodded, even as he filed away this new bit of information. Ashoka hadn’t mentioned she had been a Commander in this Grand Army of the Republic. She was only a Padawan, and a young one at that! Surely things couldn’t have been so dire the Jedi would send children out to fight!

… right?

Cody seemed unsure for a moment, then continued in a lower voice. “She also mentioned speaking to you. About our… situation.” Obi-Wan could only nod. “I’d be happy to fill in anything she left out. If you have questions, that is. Sir.”

It was refreshing, in it’s own way. For whatever inexplicable reason, Cody seemed to have absolute faith in him. No second guessing, no incredulity, no questioning the motivations of “the Padawan Who Left.” Cody genuinely believed that he, Obi-Wan Kenobi, knew what he was doing.

It was nice. Terrifying, but nice.

“I… I believe Master Qui-Gon should be here for this.”

 


**The Words Unsaid Are Loudest**

“You’re certain you are uninjured?”

Ben bit back a very un-Jedi-like sigh. The ship had been underway to Coruscant for almost two hours now. There were things that needed to be done (sleeping accommodations for the ex-slaves, logistics for when they reached Coruscant, mission reports…), explanations that needed to be given (Ben suspected Padme would not tolerate this ruse for much longer, and it might be a little unfair to leave Qui-Gon completely in the dark about the Clone Wars…), people who needed seeing to (Anakin was with his Mother and “little brother”, but Ben should check in on Ashoka, Cody would want to speak with him, and then there was his own younger self…). Yet Ben was still sitting in the tiny ship commissary, sipping a second cup of tea in as many hours, being fussed over like a youngling by Qui-Gon bloody Jinn.

He refused to acknowledge that any part of him was enjoying being the center of his Master’s considerable focus and care. That was preposterous. Ben was a Jedi Master, a (former) High Consular. Masters and (former) High Consulars did not soak up any scrap of attention from their former Masters like water deprived flowers. They were above such things.

Even if it had been so very long

“I’m fine,” he insisted. Again. Honestly, Qui-Gon was blowing this more than a bit out of proportion. The only times his former Master had ever… worried for him like this were when Ben’s (Obi-Wan’s) life had been endangered. And that hadn’t been the case. At least, no more so that was usual for Ben Kenobi lately.  “Shouldn’t you be seeing to your Padawan , Master Jinn?”

“Obi-Wan was safely on the ship. You, on the other hand, were dueling a Sith. Actively baiting a Sith, if that Lightsaber you came aboard with is any indication. The very Sith you claimed killed me, if I am not mistaken.” Qui-Gon slid into the seat across from Ben, folding his hands and looking at Ben with such earnest concern - “That could not have been an easy battle, no matter how you attempt to dismiss my concerns, former Padawan of mine.”

Ben did sigh at that, and took a careful sip of his tea to avoid looking directly at Qui-Gon and his overwhelming worry. “Anakin was with me, Qui-Gon. We were in control of the fight. I’ll not claim Maul is an easily bested opponent, because he isn’t. But he’s hardly the only Sith I’ve ever dueled -”

That was the wrong thing to say.

Qui-Gon’s overprotective concern flooded down their Bond, and Ben had to actively prevent himself from booting his former Master out of his mind. As it was, he tightened his barriers a bit in retaliation, giving Qui-Gon a hard look. “Your concern is appreciated, but uncalled for, Master. I am fine.

“Fine? You have been fighting Sith! Multiple Sith, after what happened - and you think I wouldn’t be concerned for you?”

“I would hope you would have more faith in the training you gave your Padawan, Master Jinn!”

“So I should be unconcerned for the boy I’ve raised? Do you have any idea how I worry for you? For him?”

“And you think he doesn’t worry for you?!” Ben clenched his jaw, regretting the words even as they still hung in the air. You think I didn’t worry, every second you were off this ship? That I didn’t fear that every time you left, you would be gone? You left so many times, and you didn’t think I worried every time that this time would be the last? Every time Qui-Gon left him behind was torture, and every time he returned was pure relief, but of course the man didn’t see it that way. Be mindful of the present moment. As though the past cast no echos on the future. As though the Living and Unifying Force were separate entities that had no effect on each other.

As though Qui-Gon didn’t understand the pain of being left behind.

Green clashing against red, a sea of boiling rage beneath him, like he’d never felt before; he should jump, his Master needed him he should jump but he couldn’t, he was afraid -

He hadn’t wanted this to be an argument.

He shouldn’t have felt so grateful when the door hissed open. Shouldn’t have been so relieved when Obi-Wan called for Qui-Gon’s attention, claiming Cody needed to speak with him urgently . Shouldn’t have taken the easy way out and insisted that Cody did not use urgently lightly when his Master hesitated. Shouldn’t have felt such dread when his former Master assured him “We will speak of this later.”

Ben sighed again as the door hissed closed behind his Master. In the end, Qui-Gon’s… concern was appreciated, but misplaced. Ben had been in no more danger than he had been the numerous times he had dueled Ventress and Dooku. If anything, between Cody and Anakin, he’d been in considerably less danger than he had been the first time he’d dueled Maul.

Perhaps if he kept telling himself that, it would feel more true.

Ben was not the one Qui-Gon should be fussing over. Ben had lived this mission once and endured the consequences of it. Obi-Wan hadn’t. Obi-Wan didn’t bare the scars of being abandoned in every sense of the word by a man whose approval meant everything to him. Obi-Wan deserved more than what happened before, and Ben Kenobi was determined he would have more this time, and that included his Master’s care. Obi-Wan would be the Padawan his Master had always deserved.

Obi-Wan would be what Ben could never.

Chapter Text

**Proud to Serve, General (Wait, What?!)**

Qui-Gon tried not to be unreasonable when it came to his Padawan. Obi-Wan was no longer a child - he had grown into a wise and talented young man, one that would make a spectacular Knight (soon, as soon as they were back in the Temple, he would speak with Mace and Master Yoda, tell them they were right, Obi-Wan was ready- ). But what Ben had said resonated in him, stung more than he thought possible. You think he doesn’t worry for you. He hadn’t thought Obi-Wan would be worried, but then, why wouldn’t he be? True, many of their missions were dangerous, and took unexpected turns that often lead to one or both of them being put in harm's way, but no mission thus far had begun with an almost certain statement of Qui-Gon’s imminent death. He should have paid more attention. He should have brought Obi-Wan with him, when he went to speak with Ben, instead of leaving him behind. Ben had so far seemed more receptive to him when Obi-Wan was near (and Qui-Gon still didn’t know why, still didn’t know what to do to make it right ). He should have taken the time to see to them both, and instead he had rushed ahead, and now he might have hurt them both instead.

It had been a relief when Obi-Wan had stood at the entrance to the commissary.

It was significantly less of a relief when Obi-Wan insisted Commander Cody had something urgent he had to speak with him about.

What could be urgent at this point? The ship was safe, at the moment. Did it have something to do with the Sith Ben had been fighting?

Obi-Wan led him back to their quarters with barely a word.

“Obi-Wan, wait.” His Padawan turned to him, curious and confused, but Qui-Gon can feel it clearly now, an almost nervous fidget in their bond, like a hand twisting the fibers of it around to be sure of it’s sturdiness. Ben’s accusation echoed in his mind. You think he doesn’t worry for you . “Obi-Wan are you… alright?”

Obi-Wan blinked at him, surprised, and Qui-Gon felt something in his chest twist. Had he truly been so remiss? Had he truly cared for Obi-Wan’s concerns so little that asking such a simple question was cause for surprise?

“Of course, Master. I -” Obi-Wan hesitated for a moment. “... we should speak later. Cody is waiting for us.”

You think he doesn’t worry for you.

How could he have ever been so wrong?

“Obi-Wan…”

“I’m fine, Master. I was never in any real danger, after all.” Obi-Wan hesitates, the nervous twisting sensation in their Bond turning to a reassuring caress. “I… I’m grateful, for your concern. And I’m glad to see you well, as well.”

Qui-Gon sighed ruefully, returning the reassurance across their Bond. “I’m sorry, Obi-Wan. I should have asked you to come with us. I was… wrong.”

Obi-Wan’s eyes widened. “What’s this? The great Qui-Gon Jinn, admitting to fault?” Qui-Gon groaned, but submitted to the ribbing. It was the least he had earned after all, and that Obi-Wan chose to tease him rather than scorn him as Ben had was a welcome relief. “Should I mark this day on the calendar? Alert Master Windu to an imposter? Get a recording?”

“Obi-Wan…” Qui-Gon finally growled, good naturedly. Obi-Wan just gave him a cheeky grin, relief and amusement bright in the Force around him.

“Oh, very well, Master. Back to the matter at hand…” His Padawan sighed a bit dramatically before continuing the short way to their room. The door hissed open to reveal Commander Cody standing at ease. The man straightened as they entered, giving them each a polite nod. “Cody, I hope we didn’t keep you waiting too long. You’re welcome to take a seat, you know.”

“Thank you, Sir, but regulation says I’m to remain standing during a debrief.” Qui-Gon frowned. What regulations? What debrief? He glanced at Obi-Wan, who also looked out of his depth. What was going on? Apparently sensing their concern, Cody continued, albeit hesitantly. “Although, if you would… prefer, sir…”

“Please, Cody, sit. Neither of us objects,” Qui-Gon finally said. Cody took the only chair in the room as Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan settled on the edge of the bed. Cody still looked incredibly tense. Qui-Gon put on his most open expression as he waited for the man to begin. Whatever he felt he had to share with the two Jedi, it clearly troubled him. Hopefully Qui-Gon could help alleviate some of those troubles.

Qui-Gon also hoped the man had some answers for him, as well.

“There was some… misunderstanding, as to what information had been shared while you were gone, Sir. Commander Tano filled your Padawan in on the basics, but we thought it prudent for you to have all the details before we arrived at our destination. As High General Kenobi’s Second in Command, the duty falls to me.” Silence stretched between them as Qui-Gon tried to process what was happening. “I could go retrieve Commander Tano or General Skywalker if that would be more agreeable to you, Sir.”

There was too much in that simple statement to take in at once. Commander Tano? High General Kenobi? What in the world happened to his former Padawan, after Qui-Gon’s death?

“Perhaps you should start at the beginning, Commander.”

“With respect, Sir, we are at the beginning.”

 


**Friendship as an Act of Insubordination**

“How do you think he’s taking it?”

Rex makes a vague questioning sound as he strips down to his blacks. Sand is itching along the seams, and he would kill for a real shower to get rid of it, but that’s the state the whole ship is in right now. He’d live - it was hardly the least comfortable he’d ever been.

“I mean,” Ashoka carries on from her bunk behind him, “It all sounds kind of weird when you just… say it? ‘Hello, we five have time traveled from a future where the Republic was falling apart, the Jedi were leading a Clone army, and the Sith returned!’ It sounds like a bit much. I wouldn’t believe, and I was there!”

Rex makes another vague noise as he stacks his gear, this one more affirmative. He eyed the floor. It would be close, but he and Cody could take the floor, and the Generals and Commander could take the bunks.

“... Hey, Rex?”

He turned to Ashoka, taken aback by her sudden mood change from excited speculation to uncertainty. She sat crossed legged on the bunk, and was glaring at the floor as though it would answer whatever question was on her mind. Rex waited a few moments. Nothing. “Sir?” Still nothing. If anything Ashoka seemed to shrink in on herself, shoulders hunching and fingers fidgeting with the blanket beneath her. “... Ashoka?” She finally looks at him at that.

“Rex, are we ok?”

Rex blinked. “Of course, sir. The ships well into hyperspace by now, we shouldn’t be -” She shook her head and Rex stopped, feeling confused. Ashoka gestured between the two of them frustratedly.

“No, I mean… are we ok? I know- “ She stopped, turning her gaze back to the floor. “Skyguy wouldn’t let me see the full report, but I know a lot of things went south on the last mission. On Umbara.” Rex felt as though she had dumped a bucket of ice water on him. “And I know it must have been even worse than that because… you’re not yourself, Rex. Well, you are, most of the time. But sometimes, when we’re not on the clock… you close up again. Like you did at the beginning.”

She can’t be your friend, a stern voice that sounds like all of his Sargent’s back on Kamino at once hissed. She’s your Jedi. Your Commander. One day, your General. She can’t be your friend.

You’re only a Clone, after all. Another voice. Newer, deeper, sneering, condescending. Hated.

He tries to think of something to say, only for Ashoka to beat him to it. “I just… I want you to know that, whatever happened… whatever you did… whatever Krell,” she spat out the name like it was poison, and part of Rex was glad for it, “did, or said… I don’t care.” She looks up at him again, a determined set to her jaw, her lekku twitching in agitation. “You’re my best friend, Rex.”

You’re my best friend.

He was her best friend.

You can’t -

He , Captain Rex of the 501st, was Ashoka’s best friend.

You’re a clone, not -

She was his Commander, he couldn’t -

The regs -

Ashoka’s shoulders started to slump again.

Hang the regs.

“I… Thank you. Ashoka.”

She finally smiled, and Rex could only smile back, somehow feeling lighter than ever.

“You’re my friend, too.”

 


**System Failure**

Shuri sighed as she watched the children of the group. Everything had been so chaotic since the pod race, it was nice to have a moment to stop and think. Though, now that the chaos had passed, it left behind an entirely new set of problems, all with one name - freedom. Most of the adults of their group were in shock, mechanically helping the Queen of Naboo’s Handmaidens (royalty, they had been saved by royalty, this was a spice dream, it had to be) set up the cargo bay so they would all be more comfortable during the trip.  What were they supposed to do? Where were they even supposed to begin? The thought that they could go anywhere, do anything… it was daunting. And impossible. And the furthest thing any of them could have expected when the day began.

At least the children seemed to be taking it better.

“Do you think we won’t have to ration water anymore?” asked a little human girl, Beru, Shuri thinks her name was.

“I’m gonna eat a whole muja fruit, not just the rind,” declared Kitster.

“You will not, you’ll get sick,” scolded the eldest, a gangly Togruta male of about 12 years.

“If we don’t have to ration water, do you think we could learn how to swim in it?” asked the youngest, a little Twi’lek girl that reminded Shuri of herself when she had first been sold. “I heard some offworlder say there were worlds with enough water to swim in, like the sandfish do in the dunes.

“There can’t possibly be that much water!”

Shuri just shook her head, and wandered over to the adults, content with the knowledge that the children were wrapped up in their game of impossible possibilities for now. She makes her rounds of the room, checking on everyone, as was her duty as the eldest of their group. The only Zabrak in their group, a young girl with pink skin that made her markings stand out even more than usual, was talking with one of the Handmaidens as Shuri made her way past. “Do you think… I could grow my horns out?” she asked the Handmaiden, who looked confused, glancing at the filed down nubs. “I know it will be harder to get them this short again, but I’ve seen other Zabrak, and their horns are always so much longer, and… I think I’d like it.” A look of dawning understanding and barely contained horror flashed on the Handmaiden’s face before she assured the girl that “of course she could grow her horns out, why ever wouldn’t she, they would look wonderful”. Shuri sighed. Poor naive soul. Of course the girl had never had the option to grow her horns out before.

She makes her way around before coming to another conversation, this one between a Human male she didn’t recognize and another Twi’lek female, one that she recognizes as one of Gardula’s accountants. “...so, no, technically I wasn’t a slave. ‘Indentured Servants’ is what they like to call us. My family had a debt, so I had to work it off for a set amount of time.” They both let out a disbelieving huff, and Shuri had to agree. If the man was valuable enough, that set amount of time could grow indefinite in a heartbeat. “So what was won was the time on my contract that I had left.” The man suddenly looks wistful, and his voice drops to a whisper. “Do you think I should ask… My wife was six months pregnant when I left, and it’s been almost two years now. I just… I’d like to know how she’s doing, her and my kid. Just a call, do you think?”

Shuri smiled to herself, moving along. At least someone had an idea of what to do next. She startles a bit when one of the Handmaidens beckons her over, but quietly makes her way over to where the girl is waiting, looking anxious.

The Handmaiden gives her a smile when Shuri approaches. “I’m Padme. Her Highness wanted to know if everyone is settling in alright? Do you need anything?” Shuri still didn’t understand why these people fussed so over her and the others. They were hardly made of glass, they were just a bit… unsettled. They would adapt. They would always adapt.

“We’re doing well, miss. Thank you, for all of your help.” The girl smiles, but hesitates before leaving, so Shuri remains where she is. She’d grown up reading people, and right now the girl before her was conflicted. So Shuri stayed, waiting for whatever request would come. Finally, Padme squared her shoulders.

“I’m sorry.”

Shuri blinked. She… had not been expecting that. She’d been expecting… she didn’t know what. No, that was wrong. She’s been expecting someone to ask after everyone's skills and health. She’s been expecting this all to be a ruse, or a dream. She’s been expecting someone to act like a Master already.

She never would have expected an apology.

“Your situation shouldn’t have happened,” Padme continued, when Shuri didn’t respond. “The Republic should have protected you better than we did. I’m sorry we failed you.”

Shuri blinked again. “The Republic didn’t fail us, miss. The Republic was never meant to help us .” Padme looks hurt, and Shuri bows her head, thinking of something to say to fix her slip up. “It’s not your fault, of course. It’s just… how it is.” She bows and makes her way back to the children, who are still engrossed in deciding what their going to do first, now that they have options.

Shuri still felt she needed a moment to understand that she even had options.

 


**Space is Cold, But Our Hearts Are Warmer**

Padme sat in front of the ship’s communications console, fighting to hold back tears. Her people were suffering. Her people were dying . And her only hope of saving them was a Republic she was slowly losing faith in. Where had it all gone wrong? The Republic had stood for everything she believed in, for so long. But Shuri’s words wouldn’t leave her, no matter what she tried. The Republic was never meant to help us. Except that was exactly what the Republic was supposed to do! They served the people, looked out for them, protected them if need be.

The Republic doesn’t exist out here.

It’s not your fault, it’s just how it is.

The Republic was never meant to help us.

It was wrong.

The Republic was for the people. It had to be. She needed it to be. The Senate couldn’t just sit by while people were suffering.

Except they did, didn’t they?

The Republic was never meant to help us.

Why would the Senate help her people, when they were willing to turn a blind eye to so much evil already? Why would they hear her plight over the suffering of so many? Why was the Senate allowed to thrive, when the people suffered?

“Padme?”

She gasped and spun around. She hadn’t even heard Ani come in. The little boy stood just inside the door, fidgeting nervously. “I’m sorry,” he said, ducking his head a bit. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I just… thought this room would be empty. I’ll just… go find somewhere else…”

“No, no, it’s ok,” she assured, closing out the recorded communications the ship had received. “You’re allowed to be here, and I shouldn’t be… I should be with her Highness…” Ani crept forward and Padme tried to give him a reassuring smile.

“Are you… Ok? You look sad.”

Her smile trembles. “I… I am. We all are.” She shouldn’t be telling him this. Ani had enough to worry about, had his whole life ahead of him. She shouldn’t weigh him down, but she just… needed someone to talk to, so badly… “Her Highness is sad. Her people are hurting, dying, and she… we aren’t sure if the Senate will help.” Ani settles against her side, and Padme wrapped her arm around his shoulders when she felt him shivering.

“Why wouldn’t they help?”

“I don’t know. I… we all thought they would. Still hope they will. But after all I’ve seen… I can’t help but wonder.”

They stay in silence together for some time. Finally Ani pulls away slightly to look her in the eye. “You know, the whole Republic didn’t come to save me and mom. It was you. And Ben, and Mister Qui-Gon, and everyone. Yeah, if the whole Republic came, you could’ve done more. But they didn’t come. You did.” She blinks at him as he shifts a bit, seeming nervous but also determined to say what’s on his mind. “I guess what I’m trying to say is… maybe the whole Republic doesn’t need to come. Maybe just the right people do.”

Padme smiles, a true, bright smile this time. She realizes, in a distant way, that the tears she’s been holding back are starting to fall, but she can’t seem to bring herself to stop them now. Ani just curls closer to her again, his smaller frame tucked against her side, little arms wrapping around her in a hug. She’s not sure how long they stay like that, wrapped around each other, but finally she finds it in herself to pull back and wipe away the tears.

“Thank you,” she says, smiling again. “I think… I think I needed that.” Ani smiles back at her, before putting on a mock serious expression.

“It’s like Ben says, ‘too much strain cracks the bolt.’ So sometimes, you have to take the time to do it right.” That startles a laugh out of Padme, and Ani grins, pleased with himself. Suddenly he reaches into a pocket, pulling out a small object. “Oh! I made this for you!” He hands it to her, and Padme turns the little bead over in her hand. “It’s a Japor bead. You make them for important people. There’s different symbols, for different wishes for the person we give them to. This one, it’s for Good Fortune.”

Padme runs her fingers over the carving again, before tucking it away. “I’ll have to find something to put it on, so I can wear it then. We could all use some good fortune, it seems.” Ani nods eagerly, then launches into an explanation of all the beads he wants to make for everyone. Padme listenes attentively, enjoying the simple happiness Ani is exuding.

Perhaps Ani will be right. Perhaps she doesn’t need the whole Republic behind her.

Perhaps she just needs the right people.

Chapter Text

**Last Place Comes First**

“You look like something stepped on you.”

Obi-Wan looked up from his tea to see Ashoka looking down at him, a datapad in her hands, in a complete inverse of their meeting before. “Good morning, Ashoka.” She just crossed her arms and waited. Obi-Wan sighed. “I suppose I feel rather ‘stepped on’, as you put it. Master and I were up early to continue our discussion with Commander Cody this morning.” While Cody had done an excellent job explaining the war itself, he admitted he hadn’t been privy to many of the politics that lead to it, or continued it.

I’m a soldier that fights for the Republic. That’s… all the Clones were ever supposed to be, Sir.

Needless to say, Qui-Gon was most displeased with how the Republic had seemed to be treating their “soldiers”. But they needed to know how it came to war if they were to try and… fix any of it. And the person most likely to know about that information… was Obi-Wan’s “Uncle”, whom Qui-Gon seemed surprisingly reluctant to speak to at the moment. Instead, after Cody departed, Qui-Gon had spent the morning… not quite fussing over Obi-Wan, but certainly staying closer than he usually did. Perhaps it was whatever conversation his Master had been having with his “Uncle”, or Cody’s information troubled him more than he was letting on. Most likely it was some combination of the two, and Obi-Wan couldn’t help but feel that he’s the wrong person to help his Master in this situation.

(It’s a horrible feeling. He’d always been able to help his Master before, even when the stubborn man didn’t want his help. To suddenly find himself lacking…)

Luckily, Qui-Gon had been distracted by Captain Panaka that morning before he could overdo his strange… not-fussing . Unfortunately, that left Obi-Wan with time on his hands that he had no idea how to use. The ship was in good hands, Knight Skywalker was looking after their “refugee’s” along with Cody and Rex, and no one had seen his “Uncle” as of yet, which likely meant Ben was meditating. Which Obi-Wan had tried, only the soothing calm of the Force seemed just out of reach that morning, no matter what he tried.

He wished he could talk with his Master about this. But Qui-Gon was clearly stressed enough without Obi-Wan begging him for answers. Obi-Wan would just have to handle this himself.

At least, that had been the plan, until Ashoka had found him.

“Cody mentioned you needed some clarification before Skyguy dragged him off.” Ashoka slid into the seat next to him, setting her datapad aside. “But I don’t think that’s why you’re upset.”

“I’m not upset.”

“Yes, you are,” she insisted. “You’re sitting off by yourself, staring at your tea like it’s got all the answers in the galaxy, insisting nothing is wrong when literally everything is going wrong. You may not be your Uncle, but I know Kenobi speak for ‘I’m beating myself up for something I likely have no control over, but blame myself for anyway.’ “ Obi-Wan glared at his tea. “And… I’m no Skyguy. I don’t know how to distract you from whatever you’re blaming yourself for. But I like to think we’re friends. And friends help sort each other’s heads out when they’ve got things on their minds. So.”

Obi-Wan sighed again, his head slumping forward slightly. “...So. Everything has just been… not how it’s supposed to be. And I’m feeling… lost, I suppose. I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing. Or if I’m already doing it. If I’m prepared for what’s coming. Or if I can ever be prepared at all.” He took a deep breath. “And I don’t want to worry Master Qui-Gon about it, because he’s going through the same thing. And… honestly, I would very much like the chance to meditate until the Force made sense again , because it hasn’t since… “

Since the incident. Since these five had appeared, dragged through space and time and the very fabric of the universe.

“... I get that. I really do. There were a lot of times in the Clone Wars when I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing, but I had to act like I did because people were counting on me. And…” She hesitated a moment, as though questioning whether she was overstepping some unsaid boundary, before continuing,” I know how it feels, a bit. Wanting to feel ready, but not knowing if you can ever feel ready. I mean, for the first few months after I was assigned to Skyguy, I was sure he was still going to send me back to the Temple, and there were times where I wanted him to.”

Obi-Wan frowned at that. “Assigned? He didn’t… choose you?” Ashoka shook her head.

“I’m sure Cody told you we were… shorthanded.” Obi-Wan flinched at the stark reminder - Jedi falling so fast they couldn’t be replaced, children being sent out to war before their time. “They stopped sending initiates to the Agri Corps when the war started. When I turned fourteen and still didn’t have a Master they… picked one for me. And Skyguy eventually agreed I was worth keeping around.” She shrugged, but Obi-Wan knew the look of hurt that flashed in her eyes. He’d felt it with every refusal from every Master he’d sought out in those final months before his thirteenth birthday, desperately hoping they would take him only to be turned away time and again.

He knew the pain of never being chosen.

“... Qui-Gon didn’t choose me, either.” She looked surprised at that and Obi-Wan could only shrug much as she had. “Well, he did. Eventually. It took a great deal of effort, on my part.” He smiled, but it was strained. “I eventually proved to stubborn for him to resist.”

They both sat in silence for a while. Finally Ashoka reached over, her fingers nudging his. “It sucks. Never getting chosen.” She smiled at him, even if it was a bit sad. “But, that’s why we have friends. Right?”

Obi-Wan smiled and nudged her hand back. “Yes. That’s why we have friends.”

Ashoka’s smile turned mischievous. “Great! Now, great as this talk’s been, it’s not why I was looking for you.” Ashoka pulled the datapad she’d set aside closer, and Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow quizzically. “Want to look at all the stuff my Master won at the pod race and judge him on how Extra some of them are?” Obi-Wan laughed.

“I would very much like, that, Ashoka.”

 


**Counting Stars and Spare Parts**

Anakin knew he was in trouble as soon as he saw Ashoka and Obi-Wan hunched over a datapad together.

They were muttering, and occasionally snickering, and Obi-Wan kept doing that thing where he shook his head whenever Anakin pulled off something that should have gotten him killed. And all this, he could have overlooked. Except that when he got close enough, they flipped the datapad over, and gave him their most innocent expressions, which Anakin knew to be nothing but deception and lies.

They were plotting something.

“... Morning, Snips. Obi-Wan.” He seriously contemplated a retreat, but their refugees needed food, and it was all stored in the commissary, and he had volunteered to gather supplies for everyone, so he resigned himself to edging past the two conspirators to grab the ration packs. He could feel them staring at his back the whole time he selected the packets, gathering enough water to rehydrate them. Force, he couldn’t wait to get back to the Temple and have real food.

Oh stars, he couldn’t wait to get back to the Temple? Maybe he had gotten sunstroke on Tatooine. Yeah, that had to be it.

Once he’d gathered all the ration packs and water he would need, Anakin made to scurry for the door, hoping that whatever Ashoka and Obi-Wan were planning, they would just go back to it and ignore him. At least until he could hide out in the droid bay. He could always count on R2 and 3P0 to back him up. Especially if he bribed R2 with an upgrade to his rocket boosters...

“Where are you going in such a hurry, Skyguy?”

Anakin froze.

“Yes, it’s rude to run off like that when we’ve been waiting for you. Here, let us help with those.”

He was trapped.

He turned partially to assure the two Padawan’s that he had everything under control, only for them both to swoop in and nab the supplies that he had stacked up in his hands, leaving him with two medium boxes of rations and a liter bottle of water. They both grinned at him like Loth Cats that had gotten into a creamery as they waited for him to lead the way. Slowly he turned his back to them and began heading back to the cargo bay, the conspirators trailing closely behind him.

He really was trapped.

“Impressive work on Tatooine, Knight Skywalker.”

“Yeah, Skyguy, you really out did yourself.”

Anakin determinedly did not react. He had done a good job on Tatooine. And yes, he’d overdone the job, but thanks to Ben’s help it had all turned out great. His Mother, new “little brother”, and thirteen other people were going to get a new life, far away from twin suns and sand.

“Truly, I don’t believe there’s a Jedi in recent memory who so successfully swindled the Hutts.”

“Yep, they are definitely feeling the loss.”

…They were up to something. Definitely. Maybe? That didn’t stop him from preening a little.

“I mean, a moon Skyguy.”

…There it was. He groaned. “The mining rights on a moon -”

“Which is all the moon is really good for, by all accounts.”

“So, yeah, you own a moon.”

“I do not own a moon! I told them to liquidate all assets except the people!”

“Which isn’t official until the credit transfer enters the Correllian Trust Fund you set up.” Obi-Wan sounded far too gleeful. “So, until we exit Hyperspace and see the date of transfer, you own a moon.” Anakin groaned again, then glared at Obi-Wan when he patted his shoulder. The younger Kenobi was having too much fun. “It’s impressive, really.”

“No, what’s impressive is that he let them take those professional racing bikes. Usually if it flies, he wants it.”

Anakin turned his glare on his Padawan. Ashoka just grinned. Honestly, where was the respect? He outranked them both! “And where would we have put them, Snips? Your bunk?” She made a face at him. Hah, he won.

“Now Ashoka, give your Master some credit. Though his methods are… something to behold, he did put his life on the line to free those people, possibly making himself a target for the Hutts for some time to come, and that is something to be commended.”

Anakin tried not to squirm happily at Obi-Wan’s praise, even if there was still a teasing lit to his voice. He’d done good. He’d saved people. Sure, the Hutt’s would kill him if they ever… saw him… on Tatooine…

Obi-Wan and Ashoka gave him weird looks as he suddenly began cackling.

“So glad that you think the Hutts putting out a hit for you is amusing, Skyguy?”

“No, Snips, you don’t understand! It’s great!” They both definitely looked concerned now, so Anakin tried to explain. “I can never enter Hutt Space again, or they’ll kill me! I can never return to Tatooine! ” Ashoka groans and Anakin enjoys her embarrassed expression just a bit more than he should. Obi-Wan just looked more concerned for him, and Anakin was too giddy from this new revelation to reassure him.

This was likely his downfall.

“I’m sure the Duchess of Mandalore wouldn’t mind a visit, if you would care to accompany me, Knight Skywalker.” He blinked at Obi-Wan, not comprehending the suddenly smug look on his face. “Though I admit, Mandalore is a cold desert, so perhaps not what you’d prefer. There is always Ryloth,” Anakin felt dread creep up on him as Ashoka began to snicker again. “It runs closer to Tatooine in climate, though it’s more rock than desert. But the Republic is large, I’m sure there are a sufficient number of planets within its boundaries so you never have to go without seeing sand.”

Anakin stared at Obi-Wan, who stared smugly back, while Ashoka glanced between them, shaking with silent laughter, until she apparently couldn’t contain herself anymore. “Maybe the moon you won will have sand, too!” Now Obi-Wan was trying to hold back laughter, leaving Anakin to look between the two with as much disappointment as he could muster.

It had no effect.

Finally, Anakin spoke, with much exasperation and disbelief.

Why are you like this!?”

They doubled over, laughing at him. Anakin would have thrown his hands up in defeat, if they weren’t full of rations and water. The Padawans had won this round.

 


**Brave is Living**

Rex has no idea what they’re supposed to be doing here.

After Cody had returned from speaking with General Jinn that morning, General Skywalker had asked them to come to the cargo bay to “help with the refugee’s”. Only, no one seemed to need any help. Any time he and Cody asked, they were quickly assured that all was well, they understood that the situation was unexpected, but really, they were doing just fine. The only thing they needed was food and water, and General Skywalker had promptly bolted off to retrieve both, leaving the clones and the freed slaves to eye each other in awkward silence.

They probably found the clones intimidating. A lot of civilians did. It probably didn’t help that he and Cody were in full kit. But, General Skywalker would have said if that was a problem… wouldn’t he?

Movement drew Rex’s attention. Mini-Skywalker seemed to be trying to lead one of the girls over to them. “... trust me, they’re not scary at all,” Rex heard him whisper, and it almost made him laugh. They were soldiers, it was their job to be “scary”, but that didn’t seem to deter his mini-General. Finally, mini-Skywalker managed to coerce the child across the cargo bay to where Cody and Rex were. “Beru had some questions for you. Is that ok?” Rex could only nod, and the little girl (Beru - he took a moment to memorize her face and file it away) stood up a bit straighter and took a deep breath.

“Are you two Mandalorians?”

Rex glanced over at Cody, who gave an almost invisible shake of his head. “It’s… complicated.”

Beru seemed to deflate a bit at that. “Oh. It’s just… your armor and stuff looked like…” She looked down at her feet. “Everyone says Mandalorian’s hate Jedi and I just thought… you don’t seem to, so…” She glanced back up at them before trying to hide behind mini-Skywalker.

Rex looked back at Cody, who seemed just as lost as he was. Their training didn’t cover interactions with Civies beyond what was necessary to keep them safe . It definitely didn’t cover what to do when a child asked if you were a… nice Mandalorian?

“We were… raised with some of the traditions,” Cody finally tried. “And our… parent was Mandalorian. So, yes, you could say we’re Mandalorian. But we don’t hate Jedi,” he hurried to assure her, and Rex felt ridiculously better as she edged back out from behind mini-Skywalker.

“Oh, that’s good. Because Ani is going to be a Jedi, and he would be sad if you hated him.” Mini-Skywalker grumbled and bumped Beru with his shoulder, but she seemed undeterred. In fact, she stepped even closer and clambered up onto a box of cargo to sit, so she didn’t have to look up as much. The other children were now edging closer too, as were some of the adults. “Why is your armor all white?”

Rex shrugged. “It came this way. It was the same for all of our Brothers.”

“I think it’s really pretty!” Rex tried not to preen at the compliment, but he knew he was failing. It wasn’t very often that someone other than a Brother complimented their armor. “Does your whole family wear white armor? Do they all decorate it as pretty as yours?”

“... They used to.”

Awkward silence returned. Rex tried to think of something to say. Beru was looking upset, but Rex had no idea how to make her not upset. Finally a boy with dark hair that had moved up to stand next to mini-Skywalker piped up. “Have you been to Coruscant?” Rex and Cody could barely nod before the next question came. “Is it true the whole planet is a city? And that it keeps getting built up on itself? It must be huge!”

The questions kept coming after that, mostly from the children, but a few from the adults as well. Some were easy, some harder, and Rex soon found himself with a little Twi’lek examining the Jaig Eyes on his helmet, while Cody was surrounded by the other children after revealing he worked with “Mister Ben”.

“I like these best,” the little girl before him declared, still tracing the markings with a finger.

Rex chuckled. “I do too. Had to go through a lot to earn them.”

“Like what?”

“... things that I’m supposed to protect you from, ad’ika.”

She pouted at him, before turning back to count the tally marks lining the sides of his helmet. Rex took a moment to check on his brother. Poor Cody had mini-Skywalker perched on his knee, pelting him with questions about General Kenobi. The others occasionally chimed in with questions about “Ani’s big brother”, and while Rex is sure the younglings don’t understand the subtle shifts in Cody’s expression, he can’t help but be amused at his Brother’s expense. General’s Skywalker and Kenobi were a hell of a pair - a brilliant, insane, ridiculous pair. But Rex would never have asked for any other. But they were definitely insane, and somehow that only seemed to endear them to the younglings (and some of the adults) even more.

Poor, loyal, dependable Cody. Praising his General’s insanity must be both killing him and filling him with pride. That is, as long as the younglings didn’t get any ideas…

“He’s doing quite well with them.”

Rex turned away from his Brother to find Lady Skywalker in front of him, and the young Twi’lek gone - she was now sitting with two other Twi’leks across the room, showing them Rex’s helmet and reciting everything he had just told her.

“I’m… glad you think so, ma’am. We don’t exactly have much experience with…” Children. Civilians. Recently freed slaves.

Lady Skywalker just smiled and shook her head, following his distracted gaze to where the three Twi’leks were tracing his Jaig Eyes. “You’re doing fine, Rex. Everyone is a bit at odds with this situation.” She sat down across from him, and they watched as, after the two Twi’leks were sufficiently instructed on the markings of Rex’s helmet, the little girl hauled it over to the next group of adults to repeat the process. “You served with Anakin, yes?”

Rex nodded. “Yes, ma’am. It was an honor.”

Lady Skywalker smiled at him again. “He said the same thing about you.” Rex couldn’t help it - his back straightened, shoulders pulling back a bit as he puffed up at the praise. General Skywalker was never shy about telling his troops that he was proud of them but… praise was still something Rex couldn’t help but preen at. “I… wanted to thank you. For staying with him. For protecting him. For being his friend.” She reached over and took one of his hand’s in both of hers. “ Thank you, Rex. I’m glad Anakin found someone like you. Thank you.”

Rex was feeling a bit giddy. “Of course ma’am. We all would have -” Lady Skywalker shook her head, leaving Rex confused.

“Do you know he calls you the bravest man he’s ever known? He told me what happened - some of it, I’m sure he left things out he doesn’t want me to know - but I have to agree with him. What you’ve survived is incredible, and what you’ve accomplished in spite of it should have been impossible.” She carefully handed him back his helmet - he’d been so shell shocked that he hadn’t even noticed the little Twi’lek girl coming over to return it.

“Sometimes, to be brave is to live, Rex.”

 


**Family is More Than Blood**

Now that she was looking at them all together in one place, Ashoka had to admit it was pretty impressive that Skyguy had managed to pull this off.

Until she had looked at the datapad, she hadn’t really appreciated how much her Master had won. Even as ridiculous as some of the things were ( a moon, really?! ) it all added up to a massive amount of money all on its own. And now, seeing the group of ex-slaves filling up the cargo bay, she knew they had denied them something even more important in the long run.

The sheer amount of implications these thirteen made simply by existing made her head spin.

They were greeted warmly, the sight of the ration packets and water likely doing wonders for everyone’s affection levels. She grinned when she saw Skykid approach, only to be confused when he went to Obi-Wan instead of her. “I’m sorry,” he said, looking as solemn as a nine year old could. “I was mean when you were trying to help, and that was wrong.”

Obi-Wan kneeled down so they were at eye level. “Well, to be fair, everything was a bit out of control. I don’t blame you at all, Ani.” He held out a ration packet, a little smile on his face. “Truce?”

Ani took it with a grin. “Truce.” And suddenly he was hauling Obi-Wan away from her to go sit with the other younglings. She couldn’t help but laugh a bit at his poor confused expression as he was sat down next to Cody. If things were still following what had happened before, even a bit, that meant that there was a time when her Master had gotten along with Master Kenobi. She wondered when all the troubles between them started.

She wonders if there was anything she could do to stop it.

“C’mon, Snips. Need to introduce you to someone.” She makes a sound of surprise as Skyguy suddenly ushered her forward, guiding her around groups of adults to where Rex was sitting with…

“Hey, mom!”

“Anakin,” she responded, reaching up to give Skyguy a hug. Skyguy looked… happy. The kind of happy she’d only ever seen around Padme before now. “Rex and I were just talking about you.”

Anakin laughed nervously. “Only the good things, I hope.”

Skymom’s face took on an all too familiar expression of mischief. “Oh, I was just telling him what you said, about him being the ‘bravest man you’ve ever met, seriously mom, he’s awesome.’”

Both Skyguy and Rex went bright red.

Ashoka laughed. “Well, Rex is awesome. And you’d have to be pretty brave, to run after this all day.” She playfully elbowed Anakin in the side, only to have him reach over and haul her into a light headlock.

“Take it back!”

“Never!”

Anakin finally released her, putting on his most put out expression. Ashoka just grinned at him as Skymom laughed. Finally he sighed, turning back to his mother. “Mom, I wanted to introduce you to Ashoka Tano, my Padawan. Snips, mom.”

Ashoka bowed, only to find herself pulled into a hug. “None of that now. We’re family.” She glanced at Skyguy. Jedi weren’t supposed to do ‘family’ like this, right? Skyguy just kept looking at them with that genuinely happy look on his face, and Ashoka carefully wrapped her arms around Skymom in return.

Maybe Jedi didn’t do family the same way, but this was Skyguy’s family. And she was a part of it.

She didn’t mind that at all.

Chapter Text

** Growing Up and Apart **

Qui-Gon Jinn was many things. A sought after diplomat. A skilled lightsaber duelist. A Jedi well versed in the ways of the Living Force. A stubborn ass, according to many.

But if there was one thing Qui-Gon had never thought he was, it was a coward.

He certainly felt like one now, hesitating as he was to knock on the door he could feel Ben’s Force Presence behind. They couldn’t keep avoiding each other, couldn’t keep dancing around this unspoken tension between them. Qui-Gon couldn’t continue to not know what had happened to make his former Padawan pull away from him like this. Yet, when it came to confronting him about it, all Qui-Gon wanted to do was avoid speaking of it. It was ridiculous.

He had no reason to want to avoid Ben. Even in spite of what happened, in spite of Qui-Gon’s death, Ben had become a marvelous Jedi, and Qui-Gon was so proud of him, of the man his Obi-Wan would become. And yet…

Something was horribly wrong.

He had to know.

He had to not make the same mistake, and drive Obi-Wan away too.

Just as he was about to raise his hand to finally knock, Qui-Gon felt a tugging on his Bond with Ben. An invitation, to come in, to talk, and… Qui-Gon had to focus a bit more to get the feel of the image Ben was sending, but when he did he had to stifle a laugh. Apparently, his former Padawan felt he must look quite ridiculous, hovering as he had been. The door hissed open and he found Ben seated on the floor, legs crossed and hands resting on his knees. “Was that entirely necessary,” he asked as the door closed and he joined the man.

Ben’s eyes opened, a spark of mirth dancing behind them. “I couldn’t help myself. You stood out there so long, I thought you had frozen in place.”

They were silent for several moments, each waiting for the other to raise this long avoided topic. “Ben,” Qui-Gon started, but stopped himself with a sigh. “Ben, what happened? Truly.”

Ben’s eyes blinked rapidly, as if confused at the question. “I already told you, Qui-Gon—”

“Not the short answer,” Qui-Gon said, perhaps a little too sharply from the flinch Ben gave. He took a calming breath before speaking once more. “Between us. This tension… it hasn’t been present since when we first became Master and Padawan. What happened, Ben?”

Ben’s shoulders were tense under his robes, and his eyes began shifting away from Qui-Gon. “Really, it’s nothing. Just the normal issues between Master-Padawan pairs that work together after a long time apart.”

Qui-Gon narrowed his eyes at that. While it was true, Master-Padawan pairs didn’t tend to work entirely cohesively after approximately five years of not working with one another, that couldn’t have been all of it. And so, he pressed the issue. “You’ve surely seen Mace and Depa interact on missions together before, you know that this is not entirely the strain of a decade’s absence. Something happened, I did something to cause this, I can feel it.”

Ben grimaced at the comment, but looked Qui-Gon in the eye once more. “What do you want me to say, Master Jinn? That I’ve grown up, and am no longer the Padawan you are accustomed to having at your side, that you do have at your side and are responsible for as we speak? That your death wounded me so horribly that the mind healers were unable to do more than help the bond scab over and make sure the scarring didn’t negatively interact with my other bonds, and that having it reopened hurt almost as badly as having it severed?”

“I want the truth Ben,” Qui-Gon said quietly, through the tight pain his former Padawan’s words had brought on. “I want to know what I did to hurt you so. I want to not do it again. I would like to make up for it, if I can.”

Ben broke eye contact with him, staring instead at the floor for several long minutes.

“Anakin happened,” he finally said, reluctantly, and Qui-Gon could admit he was surprised. Ben and Anakin seemed so close, fighting together almost flawlessly, fretting over each other like siblings afterwards. “You found him last time. I… stayed on the ship.” Qui-Gon felt a heavy sensation settle in the pit of his stomach. “He was your new project. How could he not be? A child with more active midichlorians than any five Jedi Master’s combined? You were enamored with him and I was… jealous. You fought so hard to have him accepted into the Order, even against the High Council, and…”

… and you never fought like that for me.

Qui-Gon knows he wasn’t meant to know that last part, but Ben’s emotional state was taking a toll on his otherwise impregnable shields. He feels like he can’t quite breath properly. Ben is curled in on himself, still looking at the floor, and Qui-Gon feels as though he actually were frozen in place now. All he can think of is how this is his fault, he did this, he hurt Obi-Wan this way, he made him feel unworthy, he-

“It doesn’t matter now.” Ben straightened back up, though he still wouldn’t meet Qui-Gon’s eyes. “Things have changed. Things are still changing. And Ani still needs to be trained.”

“Doesn’t - of course it matters! ” Qui-Gon couldn’t honestly believe his own ears. He truly had hurt Ben if his self-esteem was this shot. How deep did this run? Was it only because of what happened in that other timeline with Anakin, or did this all start years ago? Feeling his throat tighten harshly, Qui-Gon reached across the space between them and gently gripped Ben’s shoulders, stooping to catch those mystifying eyes of his former Padawan’s. “The events may not currently be occurring as they had in your past, but you still lived through them . They affected you, shaped you into who you are now. It matters.”

Ben still wouldn’t look at him.

“You left me.”

He didn’t give Qui-Gon time to respond. “The Council didn’t want to train Anakin. Said he was too old, too afraid. You didn’t even - you could have argued them down, I’ve seen you do it! But instead you said you would teach him, and - you hadn’t talked to me, or recommended me for the Trials - Half of them didn’t even want to Knight me after that, because you all but declared I was unfit! And after all that,” Ben’s breath hitched, “after all that you died, and you asked me to train him instead. You died in my arms, and all you could say was ‘Train the boy’.”

It was so much worse than he could have thought.

“And I did. Master Yoda Knighted me, and I told him then and there what you had asked of me. He didn’t want me to. He tried to tell me the Council would find another way, but I couldn’t -” Ben shuddered, and Qui-Gon pulled him closer, resting his former Padawan’s head on his shoulder. “He was all I had left of you. I couldn’t let him go. After all my jealousy, all the conflict I felt because of him, I couldn’t bare the thought of him being trained by anyone but you. But you - you asked me to…

“So I did. I… I tried. I hope I did well enough that you can be proud of him.”

“Oh, Ben,” Qui-Gon sighed, resting his chin on his former Padawan’s head. “I’m proud of both of you .”

 


**How We Used To Be**

Cody missed his Brothers.

True, he still had Rex, and he kept glancing over to where the other was sitting with the Skywalker Clan surrounding him to remind himself of that fact. But he was beginning to feel the ache of it, a pain that reared up every time he used the past tense to refer to them, every time a name passed his lips and he remembered they weren’t here . It shouldn’t have been any different. He’d lost Brothers before ( so many , General Kenobi tried, and Cody was grateful, but every day he had lost so many Brothers ), lost them to training, and Culling, and war. He’d lost them one at a time, and in whole batches.

He’d never thought he’d ever be the last one left.

No, not the last. He glances over at Rex again, who’s laughing at something Ashoka said. He’s not the only one. He has Rex. He’s not alone.

“Is everything alright, Cody?”

Cody immediately focuses in on that familiar voice. General - Padawan Kenobi is looking at him with mild concern, a young Skywalker curled up asleep against his side, Kitster’s head in his lap. At some point, after consuming their rations and pelting the two of them with questions, the younglings had unanimously decided it was “nap time”, and had proceeded to curl up around himself and Padawan Kenobi in a heap that reminded him of his early cadet days on Kamino, when he and his batch-mates would slip out of their beds and curl up together.

(He tries to only focus on the warmth of the memory, tries to ignore the aching reminder that so many of his batch-mates had died even before they traveled through time.)

“Everything’s fine, sir. Down time is just…” Painful. Nerve-wracking. “... uncommon.”

Padawan Kenobi frowns at him, and he looks so much like Cody’s General in that moment. He is Cody’s General, in some ways. He looks like him, sounds like him, even moves like him most of the time. Cody knows his General’s habits almost as well as he knows his Brothers by now, and there are so many things the two Kenobi’s have in common, it baffles Cody that anyone has bought the story about them being merely related.

He knew, for example, that no Kenobi would dare move a sleeping youngling from their person, no matter if they themselves needed to sleep, or eat. A fact proven when Padawan Kenobi’s stomach gives an unsatisfied rumble. Cody could only shake his head. They were rationing until they reached Coruscant, but the ship wasn’t so stretched for rations that his fool Jedi needed to forgo eating. He reached down to his belt with his free hand, and pulled out a ration bar. He’d started carrying extra when he’d noticed that his General would get so caught up in work he would miss meals. Now he offered it to his… not his General, but still his Jedi , still his to look after, to protect.

Padawan Kenobi took the bar with a small nod of thanks. Ani suddenly shuffled and moved closer, seeming to wrap all four limbs around Kenobi’s arm, as though he knew the other was about to remove it, even momentarily. Kenobi just huffed and used his teeth to open the wrapper instead. It was… so much like what Cody knew of his General and General Skywalker’s relationship, but… more like before, early in the Clone Wars. Mini-Skywalker was as clingy as his adult counterpart, and Padawan Kenobi endured the clinginess with the same fond kind of exasperation. And yet… Cody can’t put his finger on it, but there’s something better about this than what he’s seen before. Here, there’s no witty sarcasm from his General, no almost acidic response from Skywalker. No barbs, no sharp corners, no cutting edges. It’s just… good.

It needed to stay that way, Cody decided. He was a Clone. It wasn’t his place, to go prying into Jedi Business. But he was General Kenobi’s Commander, and that had to count for something. General Kenobi, at least, would understand that Cody was looking out for his Jedi’s best interest.

His General had so little that made him genuinely happy anymore, Cody could at least give him this.

Whatever he had to do to protect Padawan Kenobi, Cody would do it gladly.

Chapter Text

** Communication is Key **

Qui-Gon could not believe it. For as long as Obi-Wan had been his Padawan, he had bemoaned being given creche duty as punishment. And yet there he sat, with every youngling they had rescued, including young Skywalker, curled up about him, snoozing away, looking as content as Qui-Gon has ever seen him. His little imp of a Padawan!

It didn’t take Obi-Wan long to notice him, and he carefully began redistributing the younglings to the surrounding adults. Cody helped him pry young Skywalker off his arm last, and Qui-Gon smiled at the sight. Already, they were close, and he could see the beginnings of the care that Ben gave Anakin in how Obi-Wan shushed a drowsy Ani as the boy resettled in Cody’s arms. Finally his Padawan made his way over to him, and they left the cargo bay behind.

“How are they doing?”

“Well enough, for now,” Obi-Wan answered honestly. “The shock is wearing off on the adults, allowing them to find hope in their new situation. But alongside the hope, I felt a well placed and deep fear for what is to come. I tried to explain what I could of the assistance they would receive from the Order, given that Knight Skywalker was the one who freed them, but I think it best if you and Captain Panaka speak to them soon, so they know who will be responsible for their well being. While the situation on Naboo must take priority for her, I suspect the Queen will wish to extend some form of aid to them.”

Qui-Gon nodded, pleased with his Padawan’s assessment. “And what of young Skywalker?”  Obi-Wan looked at him, clearly not quite understanding. “You and he seemed to be getting along. What do you make of him?”

Obi-Wan was silent, a sign that he was gathering his thoughts for a moment. “He’s strong in the Force, that much no one can deny; even the traditionalists of the Order would have to see the benefits of teaching him how to control even a fraction of his strength, if only for the safety of others. He is… enthusiastic about the idea of becoming a Jedi.” Qui-Gon chuckled at that. “He had some concerns though, particularly about his mother, when I explained that most Jedi had no contact with our birth families.”

“I see.” It would make sense. Shmi was all young Skywalker had ever had for support, in a galaxy that had dealt him a particularly cruel hand. When Watto hadn’t been willing to bet them both on the pod race, Qui-Gon had been concerned that losing her would be too much destabilization, but had hoped that Ben and Knight Skywalker would be able to help. Now though, Shmi was free and safe, and that raised even more questions. “What would you recommend to the Council, Obi-Wan, if they agreed to train young Skywalker?”

Obi-Wan seemed surprised, but recovered himself quickly. “I… if they agreed, I would insist he requires full training. He was freed by a Knight of the Order, and that affords him and his mother our protection until they are stable. I would recommend that Ani be allowed to receive training until he turned 13, with no expectation that he join the Order, and that he be allowed to remain in contact with his Mother throughout. I believe he requires stability, and time to understand what has happened, and how it truly affects him, and I believe that Jedi training can give him that. But… I also believe he needs the option to leave. If he feels that becoming a Jedi is… required of him, I fear he will come to resent the Order, feel that he’s only traded one servitude for another in order to protect himself. But, if becoming a Jedi is his choice… “ Obi-Wan shrugged. “I feel he would make any Master proud.”

“Any Master? Not yourself?”

Obi-Wan seemed startled, but recovered quickly. “I… hadn’t thought of it, Master. I know Ben taught Anakin, but I still have much to learn, and -”

Obi-Wan stopped, frowning to himself. Qui-Gon waited. Finally, his Padawan sighed.

“... Ben - my Uncle clearly cares for him. I thought, given how things happened last time, he might… want to try again.”

What happened last time. Qui-Gon knew Obi-Wan was likely referring to Qui-Gon’s death, but his own mind couldn’t help but return to Ben, and the conversation they had had only a short time ago. “A Padawan can choose a Master as much as a Master might choose a Padawan. Or so I have learned from you, Obi-Wan.” Obi-Wan ducked his head, a warm happiness radiating into the Force around him. “Would you train him, if he asked?”

“I… perhaps I would. I would have to pass the trials first though, and I understand -”

“I have been thinking about that.” Obi-Wan looked up at him, startled. “I… It has been made clear to me, of late, that you have… grown, considerably. That you are no longer the young, hot-headed initiate I first took as my Padawan. And though I agree you have much to learn, I feel that… you deserve the room to teach yourself.” This was harder than he thought it would be. For all his reluctance when he had first taken Obi-Wan on, he now found himself even more reluctant to let him go. “When we reach Coruscant, I - I would like to present you to the Council. As a candidate for the Trials of Knighthood.”

 


** Secrets are Contagious **

“Someone is lying to us.”

Padme couldn’t help but agree with Sabe’s estimation of the situation. As much as she wanted to trust the Jedi, so many of the things they were saying just weren’t adding up.

She had known the Chancellor intended to send Jedi Negotiators immediately, and Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan certainly fit that description, if not entirely in the way Padme would have expected. But then there were Ben, Anakin, and Ashoka. From what her Handmaidens had gathered, they and Cody and Rex had been on Naboo before Master Jinn and his Padawan had arrived. How they had come to Naboo, and why, still remained a mystery.

Captain Panaka had also raised some concerns about Cody and Rex, though they were mostly for them rather than about them. On the surface it might have been nothing - they were both highly trained warriors, they cared greatly for the wellbeing of others, they were on good terms with the Jedi. But according to Panaka, there was… an edge to it all. They were highly trained, but Cody had seemed almost devastated when his patrol hadn’t worked out, and Rex had been anxious and twitchy when he had been told he wouldn’t be on the patrols at all. They both ignored injuries in favor of members of the Queen’s Guard getting treatment, insisting it was nothing they hadn’t lived with before - as though any being should ever have to live with being injured! And sometimes the way they looked at the Jedi… it was almost like reverence.

Beyond that, it was happy coincidence after happy coincidence. Knight Skywalker’s family; the freed slaves; even their escape from Tatooine. Padme didn’t want to seem ungrateful, but it was just too much, even for Jedi. Someone had to know something, someone somehow knew what was happening before it happened, and was playing events to some unknown gain.

It couldn’t be tolerated. There was too much at risk. Her people were at risk. She couldn’t justify possibly failing them just to let the Jedi do… whatever it was they were doing.

“What do we do?”

Padme looked around the room, at her Handmaiden’s and Panaka.

“We find the truth. Captain, when we exit hyperspace, please retrieve the public files of our Jedi escort for me. Take a bioscan and search for Cody and Rex as well.” Padme didn’t want to believe such kind young men could be untrustworthy, but it was a risk she couldn’t take. “Otherwise… talk to them. Listen to them. We have another two days before we reach Coruscant. We should know what we’ve been brought into before then.”

Chapter Text

**What We Have Seen**

“Master is going to recommend me for the Trials!”

Ahsoka liked to think she had learned to be prepared for just about anything first thing in the morning during the Clone Wars. Artillery bombardment? Check. Ambush? Done that more times than she could count. The rare mornings she woke up and the camp was silent, only for the silence to be broken moments later by the outraged cry of a pranked Clone? Some of her best mornings. But even time travel hadn’t prepared her for Padawan Kenobi to drag her aside first thing in the morning, practically buzzing with happiness. Still, she grinned back at him. The Trials were a big deal, even if you had proof that you’d passed them once before walking around on a ship with you, she supposed. She held out for a few heartbeats before giving into her first instinct and wrapping her arms around Obi-Wan in a tight hug. He only hesitated a bit before returning it.

“He’s going to recommend me for the Trials,” he whispered, like he still couldn’t believe it, and Ahsoka held him a little tighter. “I’m going to be a Knight.”

“Damn right you are,” she confirmed, ignoring his sound of protest at her language. “One of the best.”

They finally broke apart, both of them still grinning. Obi-Wan fidgeted, straightening his robes. “Thank you. I… I’m sorry about suddenly…” Ahsoka waved him off before he could finish his apology.

“If it had been me, I would have jumped into your arms out of excitement. Or failed to tackle Rex to the ground. Depends on who I found first.” Obi-Wan laughed at that, and the two finally made their way out of the niche they had moved into to head towards breakfast. “So… Knight Kenobi, huh?”

“I still have to pass the Trials,” he sniffed, and Ahsoka laughed at his overly formal expression. It didn’t last long before he was grinning again. “But… soon, hopefully, yes.” He ducked his head a bit, as though embarrassed by his own enthusiasm, and Ahsoka elbowed him sharply in the ribs.

“Hey, none of that. This is a big deal. You’re allowed to get happy about it, you know?” Obi-Wan muttered something about how she sounded like ‘Quinlan’, which she chose to take as a good thing. “Are you going to tell Skyguy? Or your ‘Uncle’? You could always tell Cody and Rex; they don’t always know about Jedi traditions, but they definitely understand getting a promotion, so they’ll be happy for you.”

“No, I… I think not yet. Not until I’ve been recommended, at least. Master could still change his mind…”

Ahsoka frowned at Obi-Wan’s sudden change of mood. “Hey, stop that. He’s not going to change his mind. Master Jinn doesn’t seem like the type of man to go around saying he’ll do something only to not do it.” Obi-Wan still looked apprehensive, and Ahsoka didn’t like it one bit. “Obi-Wan, look at me.” She grabbed his shoulders, giving them a firm shake. “You’re ready. You know it. He knows it. He’s not going to change his mind.” Obi-Wan finally relaxed, and Ahsoka punched him lightly on the shoulder. “And if he does, then me, Skyguy, and Cody will set him straight.”

Obi-Wan shook his head, not quite back to his previous level of happiness before his doubts had set in, but still seeming lighter. “Only you three? Not my Uncle or Rex? And why Cody? I barely know him.”

“Rex goes wherever Anakin and I go, so he’s a given,” she replied as the entered the commissary. Two of the Handmaidens were there already, talking quietly. “You may barely know Cody, but trust me, no one believes in you more. And you haven’t seen a Skywalker raise a fuss yet. If Skyguy gets going, your Uncle won’t get a word in edge-wise.”

“Why would Knight Skywalker be raising a fuss?”

Ahsoka jumped. She hadn’t been expecting the Handmaidens to be interested in their conversation, but this could be a great opportunity to show Obi-Wan that more people were supportive of him than he thought.

“It’s nothing so drastic,” Obi-Wan tried to start, only to yelp when Ahsoka stepped on his toes.

“Master Jinn is planning on recommending Obi-Wan for Knighthood once we reach Coruscant.”

“Truly? We were just talking to him not a moment ago, he didn’t mention!”

“It’s not something we normally bring up,” Obi-Wan muttered, looking embarrassed.

“But it is definitely a big deal,” Ahsoka piped up, grinning at Obi-Wan when he tried to glare at her.

“Why are you doing this to me,” he hissed.

“Friends don’t let friends make light of their achievements,” she replied smugly as the Handmaidens began peppering Obi-Wan with congratulations. Nothing could go wrong today, it seemed.

“What. Is. That?!”

Ahsoka jumped at the sound of Rex’s voice suddenly behind her.

“Sir, why haven’t you gotten a bacta patch on that burn?!”

Uh oh.

 


**Pulling Rank**

Rex wasn’t used to so much attention from so many non-Clones.

It seemed as though everyone wanted to talk to him and Cody, asking how they were doing, about their time with the Jedi, about their Brothers, about what they had been doing… before. It was getting harder to give satisfactory answers. The Handmaidens in particular had been pressing them today, and Rex wasn’t sure how to categorize their reactions. They seemed distressed when they had found out that Cody and Rex’s family were “dead”, (Not dead, not really, just marching far away, and not for long, unlike before they could still return-). But other than that, none of what they did seemed to match what they said today.

Rex had a sneaking suspicion that their secret was being found out.

He had thought some time with their Jedi would do them some good. The Generals needed to know that their excuses weren’t going to cut it for much longer anyway, so he and Cody had made their escape when some of the freed slaves had approached with questions for the Handmaidens. They had found the Padawan’s first, also with Handmaidens (How were they everywhere today, something was definitely up). Commander Tano at least didn’t seem to be involved with conversation for now, so he should be able to ask her where the Generals were without drawing too much attention –

That was the plan at least.

“What. Is. That?!”

‘That’ appeared to be a burn along the edge of Ahsoka’s shirt, on the back of her shoulder, still an angry red despite the fact that it had been at least two days since they had escaped Tatooine. Why hadn’t she gotten that seen to yet?!

“Sir, why haven’t you gotten a bacta patch on that burn?!”

Ahsoka half turned to him, a sheepish expression on her face. “Um… oops?” She shrunk a little when he continued to glower. “I was going to… but one of the guards has an injury on his leg that needs the patches way more, not to mention everyone else, and there’s not much on the ship to begin with, so… I was just numbing it with the Force?”

“The ship is not so stretched for supplies that we can’t spare a single bacta patch,” argued one of the Handmaidens as Padawan Kenobi ushered Ahsoka into a chair so he could get a better look at the burn.

“You should have at least let Master Qui-Gon look at this,” he muttered as Rex bullied his way into hovering at his Commander’s side. “He’s not as talented as the Temple Healers, but he does know some tricks for reducing inflammation and the like. You’re lucky it’s not blistered, otherwise numbing it could have done more harm than good.” Cody rapped Rex’s shoulder gently, handing over a bacta patch even as Ahsoka insisted she would have “definitely gotten help if it was that bad”. Bless his ever prepared Brother, and curse General Kenobi for making Cody feel he had to have such things on him at all times.

“Hold still, Sir,” he warned as he peeled off the back of the patch, revealing the sticky healing paste beneath. Padawan Kenobi carefully held Ahsoka’s shirt away from the burn as Rex applied the patch, Ahsoka sighing as he smoothed the edges down. He listened with one ear as Padawan Kenobi continued to lecture Ahsoka on the dangers of overusing the Force to manage injuries without proper medical care. He and Cody shared a pointed look as the lecture went on. Both of their Jedi had been guilty of doing exactly that for most of the war, and if the tightening of Cody’s shoulders was any indication, the Commander was going to be having some choice words with his General later.

“Ok, I get it. I should have gotten medical attention, and it was wrong of me to hide it from everyone. I’m sorry, I won’t do it again,” Ahsoka grumbled, trying to slink off. “How about I go make sure Skyguy isn’t doing the same thing, yeah?”

“I’m sorry, Sir, but since you were willing to hide this injury from us, I’m afraid I’ll have to come with you.” She stared at Rex in disbelief. He smirked. “Just to make sure you’re well, of course. Can’t have you collapsing or anything like that. In fact, you should be in bed.”

Ahsoka squawked indignantly at him, only for Padawan Kenobi to nod in over exaggerated seriousness at Rex’s statement. “Indeed, Padawan Tano. We all care for your health very much, and that you didn’t seek aid when you were injured has us all concerned.” Both the Handmaidens and Cody nodded with the same grave expressions, though Rex caught the mischievous gleam in his Brother’s eyes. “Until we’re sure you have no further injuries, I’m afraid it would be best if you remained on bed rest.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me!”

“Sorry, Sir. It’s for your own good, really.”

Ahsoka glared at him before throwing her hands in the air. “This is revenge, isn’t it?”

“I would never, Sir.”

 


**Spilling the Tea**

“Knight Skywalker.”

Anakin jumped, nearly dropping the tool he was using into M1-N1’s body. Glancing over his shoulder, a scowl and reprimand ready for whoever had snuck up on him, he found himself relaxing when he saw Padme closing the door behind her. He set his tools aside and cleaned off his hands as best he could before giving her a wide grin. “Yes? How can I help, Padme?”

“I was hoping you could tell me what exactly is going on.”

His smile slipped. This… this could be a problem. This was defiantly a problem. Padme wanted to know what was going on. Padme suspected. This was bad. This was very bad. He couldn’t tell her about time travel. But he couldn’t lie to Padme!

This was very, very bad.

“Could you… clarify?” He winced at how weak his own voice sounded, and at Padme’s scowl. She had to know something was up now, if she hadn’t before.

“Her Majesty believes there are some inconsistencies in the story she’s been given,” Padme replies, voice calm and clipped. “While she understands that you and your companions were on a separate mission when you helped us escape, she hopes you will understand that she must ensure the safety of our mission.”

“We would never endanger you, Padme,” Anakin responds instinctively, hoping she can see the honesty in his statement. He would never do anything to hurt her. Padme was too important to him. “I know things got… out of hand, on Tatooine, but please, trust me when I say I would never deliberately put you in danger.” Padme watched him for a moment before her shoulders relaxed slightly.

“I want to believe that, Anakin. But Her Majesty worries. There’s too much at stake for us. We can’t have your mission endangering Her Majesty’s efforts to remove the Trade Federation’s blockade.”

“We wouldn’t -!”

Padme held up a hand, and Anakin instinctively shut up. “Not on purpose, we know. But can you understand Her Majesty’s concern, Anakin? Knowing so little about why you were on Naboo in the first place… someone in the Senate could use it against us. Her Majesty has to know how to respond to such accusations, and she can’t know that if she doesn’t know why you were there.” She looked at him pleadingly, and Anakin knew he was lost. “Please, Knight Skywalker.”

“I… I shouldn’t… our mission was supposed to be secret…”

“How secret?”

Anakin frowned. “Ben wanted to speak with the High Council, before giving y- Her Majesty a proper explanation.” He ran a hand through his hair, sighing in frustration. “You have to understand. The things we were doing, the reason we were on Naboo… you wouldn’t believe me if I told you. The High Council might not even believe us.”

“Does it have something to do with the slaves you freed?”

“… Not exactly…”

“With your Mother?”

“… That was… personal. Honestly, I’m probably going to get reprimanded for that.”

Padme frowned but pressed on with her questioning rather than be distracted. “You and your companions arrived on Naboo just before the blockade began?”

“Yes.”

“Did you know it was going to happen?”

“… From a certain point of view, I suppose we did.”

“’From a certain point of view’?”

“We had some… forewarning, that something wasn’t right. We… didn’t expect to arrive on Naboo. We were retrieving an… artifact. For the High Council. We encountered complications, the artifact was destroyed, and we all regained consciousness on Naboo. We saw the Federation Battle Stations shortly after we woke.”

“’Complications’ like the being you and Master Kenobi were fighting?”

“Sith.”

Padme startled. “I’m sorry?”

Anakin sighed. “That thing… I shouldn’t be telling you this… that thing you saw me and Master fighting is a Sith Lord. And no, he wasn’t the one who destroyed the artifact. That was another Sith.”

“… The Sith were supposed to be wiped out of the Galaxy a thousand years ago.”

“That was part of our mission. The High Council no longer believes that to be true.” He was almost proud of how certain he sounded of that half-truth. Maul had been a Sith Lord, and the High Council he had known had certainly believed there were more Sith than Dooku and Ventress. “Padme, I’m sorry we can’t tell you everything, but please understand. The Council doesn’t want to make a statement about the Sith until they have proof,” they hadn’t, “and we hate that we may have brought you into further danger,” he certainly did, “but you have to believe me. The Sith was already involved with what is happening on Naboo. He didn’t attack Naboo because of us.”

“What could he want with Naboo?”

“… We don’t know yet.” Honestly, he’d asked himself that for years. Why Naboo? Why start there when any other planet could have done? Why the Trade Federation and not the Banking Clan, or the Hutts even? “I wish I could tell you.”

Padme stared at him for a moment before looking away. “I… I should go inform Her Majesty.” She turned away from him sharply, and Anakin found himself reaching out to wrap his arms around her, to comfort her like he always had –

“Thank you for your honesty, Knight Skywalker.”

- only he never had, because she wasn’t his. Not his Padme. Not his Wife. Not his Angel.

Not his.

She was long gone when he found his voice again.

“Of course, Padme. Anything for you.”

 


**Loss Echos**

Shmi knew the moment something was wrong.

She hadn’t felt such distress overwhelm her since Ani was a toddler and had gotten sick with a horrible fever that left him delirious. To feel such a thing now, when they should have been safe… she found herself rushing to the source without thought, nearly running Ben over in her haste, a door sliding open beneath her hands and –

Anakin.

Anakin was curled up on the ground next to a half finished droid, broad shoulders shaking and breath choking out in great sobs. “She’s gone, gone, she’s gone, -“

Shmi dropped to her knees beside her eldest, reaching out to tug on his shoulders. “Anakin? Ani, my boy, my dear heart, what’s wrong? Anakin –“ He suddenly reached out, clinging to her like she was a lifeline, and she began gently running her fingers through his hair, desperately wishing she could do more for him.

“Oh, Anakin.

Shmi turned as much as she could to see Ben standing in the doorway, looking at her son so sadly, Shmi wondered if he knew what had caused Anakin to be in such distress. Anakin didn’t even react, just continued to cry into her shoulder, still repeating those same words over and over.

“She’s gone, she’s gone-

“Anakin, dear heart, tell us what’s wrong. We can’t make it right until we know,” Shmi whispered.

A rustling at her side drew her attention back to Ben, who was now kneeling down beside her, one hand gently reaching out to rub at Anakin’s shoulder. “Hush, dear one. Breathe with me. In… hold… out… again…”

Slowly Anakin’s breathing slowed, almost as though he were in a trance. Ben suddenly pulled away, and Shmi grabbed his sleeve. “Where are you going? He needs you.”

Ben hesitated, looking between her and Anakin, seeming lost.

As though he thought he were unwelcome.

That was ridiculous. Ben had taught Anakin. Had raised Anakin from the age of nine. Surely Ben knew Anakin loved him? Surely Anakin would welcome his presence when he was so upset?

Anakin shifted sluggishly against her, reaching out and curling his hand in Ben’s other sleeve. “Stay,” he whispered, voice hoarse, eyes red-rimmed and pleading. “Please, stay?”

Whatever remained of Ben’s resolve to leave crumbled before Shmi’s eyes, and the man returned to her son’s side.

“Do you want to talk about it,” she asked, when it became apparent that Anakin would not speak without prompting, and Ben seemed reluctant to ask himself.

Anakin shook his head. “It’s nothing…” he mumbled, and Shmi huffed indignantly at that. To think that her son still believed that such words would convince her!

“’Nothing’ sent you into a massive emotional spiral that effected everyone on the ship, Anakin,” Ben said gently.

“Oh.” Anakin now looked embarrassed as well as miserable. “… Sorry.”

Ben sighed. “It’s not your fault, Anakin. It was bound to happen eventually. I had hoped we would be in the Temple when it did, but… it’s not your fault. Now tell your Mother, what has you so upset.”

“… Just realized they’re all gone, is all.”

“This is about Padme, isn’t it?”

Both Ben and Anakin looked at her with surprise. “Please don’t tell me you thought no one noticed,” she sighed. “Ani is over the moon for her, anyone can tell.”

“I…” Anakin’s gaze shifted nervously between her and Ben. “It’s not…”

“Jedi are not supposed to form attachments, Lady Skywalker,” Ben said carefully. Shmi huffed.

“You’re people. People need ‘attachments’ to be healthy and sane, and they happen naturally every day besides. We are ‘attached’ to those we love, those we loath, and those who’s lives we only barely touch. And I would think that an attachment to someone who saved your life would be stronger than most.” She turned fully to Anakin, who was looking at her with a heart aching amount of relief. “She’s not gone, Anakin. She’s still the Padme you knew, if not quite how you left her.”

“Attachment can lead to obsession,” Ben pressed, and Shmi honestly wondered who had put such thoughts in such a level-headed man’s mind.

“Attachment in and of itself is not the root of obsession, the same way it is not the root of greed or malice. Fixation on attachment leads to obsession – both fixation on the attachment itself and on the desire to avoid said attachment,” Shmi said reproachfully. Ben bowed his head, a frown marring his features. “We cannot stop ourselves from needing others,” she said gently. “We need only to understand that they belong to themselves before sharing themselves with us.”

 


**Reporting In**

Everyone was staring at her. Padme couldn’t exactly blame them. She could hardly believe the words that had just come out of her mouth. And yet, they were the only explanation, impossible though it was.

“He said it was a Sith,” Rabe hissed, looking pale. Sabe and Eriate were sitting close to each other, looking grim. Captain Panaka, who had looked very grave ever since they had sequestered themselves away to discuss the days findings, was outright glaring at a spot on the wall, as though he could burn through the durasteel. So far it seemed that only Padme had had any luck with their search for answers.

“Even if it is a Sith, what could it want?”

“Knight Skywalker claims not to know.” Padme frowned, deep in thought. “He seemed to believe that the High Council wouldn’t believe their conclusions, despite his certainty, though.”

“Then why send someone out looking for something, if your only going to disregard any proof they bring you,” Panaka growled, still glaring at the wall. “On top of everything else…”

That got Padme’s undivided attention. “You found something, Captain?”

“Yes, Your Majesty. I did as you requested – from the files I was able to acquire, Master Jinn and his Padawan are in the clear. Nothing indicates they were sent for duplicitous purposes, and Qui-Gon Jinn does in fact seem to be the Chancellors preferred Jedi Negotiator at the time. The others…” He sighed, finally meeting Padme’s gaze. “I’m sorry, Your Majesty, but I wasn’t able to find any record of the other three Jedi. Nothing exists of them publicly.”

Padme frowned. This couldn’t be right. “And what of Cody and Rex? Did you find anything about them?”

Captain Panaka’s frown only seemed to deepen. “I did. And I find it almost as believable as I normally would find the Sith returning and attacking Naboo. Their bio-scans returned as –“ He suddenly shook his head. “I’m sorry, your Majesty. Both of their scans came back as a near perfect match for a Mandalorian bounty hunter currently wanted on Coruscant. A man going by the name of Jango Fett.”

Padme froze. “Both scans?”

“Yes. Both scans returned as a more than 95% match. I ran the scans against each other because I couldn’t believe it myself, but they are within the same range of matching each other.” Panaka finally broke decorum and ran a hand over his face. “Your Majesty, the only conclusion I can draw is that Cody and Rex are clones of Jango Fett. How, I have no idea. Why they’re here, working with Jedi, even less so.“

“Is fully sentient cloning even legal within the Republic?”

“It’s heavily regulated. Most who provide the service operate far beyond the Core, and the contracts involved usually have enough red tape around them to sink a starship, and cost enough that it’s practically unheard of. Where someone like Fett would even come up with the credits to have one clone of himself made, I can’t begin to speculate.”

“Cody and Rex are always talking about brothers,” Rabe interjected, fingers tapping against her knee. “As though it weren’t just them. And I’ve heard at least half a dozen names in passing, from each of them. But they also said they were all dead.”

“They both also only said they had a parent who was Mandalorian. That at least fits,” Sabe added.

“So, we have clones of a wanted man and Jedi who don’t exist on board,” Padme sighed. “And a supposed Sith attempting to subjugate our home.”

Padme was certain of one thing – the Jedi High Council had some explaining to do.