The Twilight, approaching Coruscant
The beeping of his chrono and the scrape of boot across the floor of the Twilight bring him from consciousness, eyes cracking open to the glare of hyperspace, the sound of Ahsoka snoring congestedly from beside him in the co-pilot's seat, the Force feeling at once clouded and sharp with muted tension. He remembers vaguely setting his alarm a few hours previously, wanting to be awake in plenty of time to supervise their approach to Coruscant. He shuts the chrono off blearily, blinking away the grit in his eyes.
He doesn't bother to look at it. He knows what day it is.
He swivels the chair to find Anakin, a looming, rumpled shadow leaned against the cockpit door, bangs curly with dried sweat, the skin underneath bleached of colour, and represses a sigh. Evidently the sleep has done none of them any good. The Force prods at him insistently, a hint of roiling discomfort making itself known through their undissolved training bond, the slightest, miserable, ridiculous whisper of 'make it better'.
“'S cold,” his former apprentice complains, and the tone of voice hasn't changed one bit since he was nine. Come to think of it, neither has the complaint. Though in this particular incidence the claim has less basis in actual fact than it might normally.
“You're not cold, you just think you are,” Obi-Wan says matter-of-factly, taking in the spots of red high on Anakin's cheekbones. And good morning to you, too. “Besides, there's nothing more I can do about it. I've already given you my robe.” Which his apprentice is wearing as a pseudo blanket, wrapped around his shoulders over top of his own robe. The effect is an exasperating combination of endearing and slightly ridiculous. “Are you feeling any better?”
“Yeah,” Anakin says, though his knuckles are white against the frame of the door that he hasn't moved from. A 'no', then, though Obi-Wan suspects admittance of the fact would have to be pried from his former apprentice's cold and dead lips. The knot of worry lodged in his stomach still loosens slightly, however. Cold and dead seem farther away than they did last night, amid the strained hum of the engines and Anakin's incoherent mutterings, which had ranged from the humorous to the stomach-turning.
It wasn't anything serious, of course. Some sort of virus, picked up on the streets of Corellia's capital city, no doubt. Just another wrench the galaxy has decided to throw into his day. They'd been sent to Corellia at the request of Senator Bel Iblis, concerned about recent rumours of possible terrorist activity, connected to the unrest brought about by the unsettlement at nearby Duro. As usual, they'd stumbled into far more than they'd bargained for.
“Are we almost there?”
R-2 beeps an affirmative before Obi-Wan can answer, rattling off a string of additional (and likely superfluous) information in binary, too quick for him to catch. Anakin huffs a congested laugh, patting the droid on its domed head as he steps closer to Obi-Wan.
“I've contacted the Council,” Obi-Wan says, knuckles gripping the sides of the pilot's seat as R-2 brings them out of hyperspace with a jolt. Coruscant fills the viewscreen, bright and big, teeming with life. “The organizers of the event have been informed, but I've been told they won't cancel.”
“Ugh,” Anakin groans, scrubbing a hand down his face resignedly. “She wouldn't.”
'She' being, of course, Senator Amidala, the host of said event. A ball for the Senate in celebration of some Nubian festival he can't remember the name of (and, he thinks, darkly and with a grim sort of weariness, in recognition of their victory against the Trade Federation all those years ago. It's anniversary has a remarkably inconvenient tendency to coincide with said festival. And his own – well. He knows what day it is). While on Corellia investigating they'd inadvertently stumbled across a plot to disrupt it. Dropped everything and come running back home at Anakin's fevered insistence, the vehemence of which he is sourly certain has almost nothing to do with the nature of the attack and all too much to do with its intended victim.
He sighs. Insurgencies and acts of terrorism are everywhere these days. Separatists undercover, sometimes, but more and more often he finds that the perpetrators are members of the Republic, unwilling to defect entirely but all too willing to cooperate with the Separatist forces supplying them with arms and goods. Coruscant may be far from the actual war (and truthfully, he can't imagine a day when the actual war might breach its doorway with success), but terrorism is a far more insidious and immediate threat.
Ahsoka finally snuffles awake beside them, uncurling herself from the co-pilot's seat with an audible crack and a deafening sneeze.
“Oh, no.” Blue eyes turn accusingly to his apprentice. “I blame you for this,” she announces congestedly. “I was fine yesterday!”
Anakin brings a hand to his chest in mock outrage. “Hey, we were both snooping around that grungy old marketplace, Snips.”
“Yeah,” Ahsoka agrees, sniffling. “And if you washed your hands like a normal person we probably could have escaped this – this – ”
“Hell-plague?” Obi-Wan suggests, helpfully.
“This is not a hell-plague,” Anakin insists, wrapping Obi-Wan's robe more tightly around his shoulders. “And washing your hands when they're just going to get covered in dirt and engine oil again is a waste of water! We've had this discussion.”
“And you've clearly learned nothing from it,” Obi-Wan comments mildly, biting the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing as Ahsoka levels an exasperated expression in his direction. Coruscant looms before them, filling the viewscreen, the Temple hangar swerving into view. “Buckle in, you two. We're landing.”
They don't, as expected. He doesn't know what he was thinking. The primacy of safety regulations has (to his great and eternal chagrin) never made much of an impact on either of them.
“What's the local time?” Ahsoka asks as he and R-2 set them down on the Temple landing bay, the sun hanging low enough in the sky that morning is clearly long-past. “The Senate ball – ”
“ – is one hour from now,” Anakin replies, snagging Obi-Wan's arms to look at his chrono. “Kriff. That's not a lot of time. Hey,” he pauses, a moment of weakness wherein Obi-Wan snatches back his repurposed arm with a scowl, “isn't today – ”
“No,” Obi-Wan retorts. “It most certainly is not.”
Anakin looks at him dubiously. “But – ”
“There will be no further discussion of the matter,” Obi-Wan says frostily, leveraging himself up from his seat, knees creaking in protest. Another reminder of the date that he doesn't need. He's planned to ignore it completely this year. A last-ditch attempt to mitigate its curse. Because it is cursed – make no mistake, though he knows the thought is irrational. Jedi don't believe in curses. Of course, Jedi don't really believe in life days either, so he supposes in this case the two cancel each other out.
Qui-Gon Jinn had believed in life days. Had enjoyed the spectacle of them, if only because that enjoyment had never failed to make the Council raise a disapproving eyebrow.
“A Jedi wants not and needs not,” he had explained to Obi-Wan once, over a shared dessert at Dex's, one life day almost too long ago for him to remember, “but that doesn't necessarily mean that a Jedi should not.” His eyes had twinkled in a way that was decidedly subversive. “Happy Life Day, padawan. You've survived another year. I should think that to be something worth celebrating.”
It had been, once. And then, of course, his master had failed to survive another year. Now, there are some days, mired in weeks' worth of grunge and dirt, blasters firing above his head, the Force dark and heavy and clouded, that Obi-Wan wonders. He doesn't feel like celebrating. He just feels old.
And the day really is cursed.
“You two should head inside,” he suggests, exiting the Twilight and relishing the fresh air after the staleness of the ship's recycled oxygen. “I'll contact the organizers and the Council, see what can be arranged.”
“Whoa, whoa,” Anakin protests, jumping out of the ship after him in lieu of taking the ramp like a reasonable person. “No way, not alone. We're coming with you, right Snips?”
“Yeah!” Ahsoka adds from behind him, R-2 trundling along after her and adding a few aggressive sounding beeps, presumably in their support.
“I don't think so,” Obi-Wan says, turning to face them, brow set sternly. They look pale and bedraggled and ridiculous, and not at all fit to lead an investigation into a potential terrorist threat. “You two look like a strong breeze could knock you over. Go inside and rest – I have every faith the Council will assign some equally competent replacement.”
“Weren't you just complaining the other day that Temple resources are stretched thinly this week?”
“And that we should endeavour to 'do our job as efficiently as possible so as not to jeopardize those thinly-stretched resources'?”
It's barely the afternoon. Far too early for a drink, he tells himself sternly.
“You're both ill,” he emphasizes with admirable restraint. “I can handle this. Senator Amidala,” he levels a pointed look at his erstwhile apprentice, “will be fine. You'd only be a hindrance.”
“Hindrance? It's just a hell-plague – ”
“ – it's not a hell-plague, Snips – ”
“ – whatever, the point is we're fine – ”
“ – she's right about that, Master – ”
“You can't come,” he insists tiredly, interrupting the congested tirade. “If the Council could see you right now, they'd tell you the same thing.” Actually, they probably wouldn't, though he has no intention of admitting that particular fact. Resources are stretched thinly this week – and the Council has a much-loathed tendency to devalue his apprentice in worth and overvalue him in stamina. He has no doubt the same is true when it comes to Ahsoka, now tainted by his association. “Go inside and rest, you two. I won't tell you again.”
But it's the wrong way to go about it and he knows it, should know better after all these years, that statements like that (the kind that most padawans (even former) would obey without question and certainly without defiance) are not seen as orders but as challenges. Under other circumstances, it might have worked. But he's tired and frustrated and Anakin –
– Anakin knows how to break him.
“No,” he says, “no, Anakin, don't make that face, don't do it – ”
It's too late. Somewhere, somehow, his old master is laughing at him mercilessly.
“Oh, fine,” he concedes through gritted teeth. It's those damnable eyes – they make it so hard to say no. They're practically weaponized. Dear Padmé has her work cut out for her. He sighs. At least he won't be forced to navigate through the tedious political cesspool of a Senate function alone. “Come along, then,” he says, resigned. “But keep your hands to yourself. And don't sneeze on any politicians.”
“Please don't think I'm not grateful for your assistance, Master Kenobi,” Padmé says, the very picture of elegant propriety, though the slight turn of her mouth says volumes about the amount of stress she appears to be under, “and for your presence here tonight, but I have been planning this function and working around the requests of my fellow senators for months,” her voice cracks just slightly, “and I have no intention of cancelling it.”
Obi-Wan and his bedraggled companions trail after her as she makes her way briskly through the Senate halls, a flower arrangement clenched white-knuckled in her hands.
“Pad – Senator, you must understand the serious nature of this threat,” Anakin insists hoarsely, speaking up for the first time since they arrived. Obi-Wan has re-appropriated his robe, and so his former apprentice has taken to sullenly jamming his hands into the sleeves of his own in an effort to conserve heat. “The intelligence we've gathered suggests that the terrorists will attack tonight.”
“And if we cancel, we'll only be showing weakness in the face of the Separatist agenda and fuelling their propaganda,” Padmé retorts, stopping in the middle of the hall to face them. “I'm sure the Chancellor would tell you the same thing. Besides, if not here, they'll only find some other target. And they don't know that you know they're coming. I'm sure we – ” She pauses. “You two look terrible.” Dark eyes turn (accusingly, to his great offense) in Obi-Wan's direction. “Should they even be here?”
“No,” he states tiredly, amid a chorus of congested protestation from behind him. “They really shouldn't.”
An expression of amused exasperation flits briefly across her face, hidden slightly by the bulk of the complicated flower arrangement.
“Like I said,” she continues on, turning to continue her admirably brisk march towards the Senate ballroom, “I very much appreciate your presence but I won't be cancelling. Let me finish overseeing the setup and we can coordinate some kind of security. The safety of our guests is paramount, of course.” She smiles reassuringly over her shoulder, and they lose her as she disappears into the throng of decorators and caterers and Force-knows who else populating the entrance to the ballroom.
“Your safety,” Anakin sputters helplessly, dragging the sleeve of his robe under his nose. “That's what's – paramount – kriff.” He turns to Obi-Wan in exasperation. “She has no self-preservation instincts whatsoever.”
“How frustrating that must be for you,” Obi-Wan replies, a tad bitingly, as Ahsoka hastily disguises a laugh as an ill-timed coughing fit. “Come on. Let's find Captain Panaka and see if we can't drum up some kind of extra security.”
He'd contacted the Council on their way here, but, barring any of the other highly-ranked masters returning unexpectedly from their own missions, it looks like they're going to be on their own. Assistance in the from of clones had been offered, masters without military ranking, but he had declined them, for now. The threat is still only that – a threat. And he has a feeling that subtlety is going to be more important than force, tonight. A battalion of clones and a crowd of visible Jedi would only alert the attackers to their presence. Obi-Wan and Anakin, at least, won't attract that same kind of suspicion, given the nature of the event. Perhaps they'd even been officially invited. He's made a habit (ill-advised and probably a bit rude) of purposefully ignoring any invitations to events that deal with their victory over the Trade Federation, except for the ones that the Council insists he attend. If anyone were to ask him why, he could easily claim that the gesture is in Qui-Gon's spirit, a kind of homage to a man who defied polite expectation at every turn and with joyful impertinence. Obi-Wan is, after all, a very different man than his master.
Truthfully, however, in this he finds his views more often than not align more closely with his master's. He has no patience for showmanship, lip service, events that are purely ceremonial. He's no politician, after all, and the role he played in that victory –
Well. The cost was high. And his killing of Maul was not the act of heroism the media would so like to be able to claim.
Anakin jostles him deliberately as they make towards Captain Panaka's contingent, poking him across their bond and drawing him from his thoughts before he can become mired in them.
“Don't worry, Master,” he says, tone light though Obi-Wan can sense that familiar though often unexpected grounding of warm sincerity backing it up. “We'll keep you from the grasp of any nosy politicians.”
Funny, how that sentiment seems to so often exclude the company of dear Padmé and the Chancellor. Exceptions to the rule, he supposes, with a hint of something like chagrin. He doesn't make a habit of examining Anakin's relationships with people outside of the Order with any degree of scrutiny. For both of their sakes.
“I'll leave it to you, then,” he replies, ducking out from the mental grasp with less subtlety than he'd like. Today of all days is not one for other people to be poking about in his head. Even Anakin, who fits in there so comfortably he hardly notices his presence. He pokes him back lightly, to let him know he's not hard done by, but shields the rest, conceals it neatly.
But for the firmly pressed line of his lips, his mood might be nearly unnoticeable. He intends to keep it that way. With any luck, the danger the rest of the evening poses will be neatly averted and he can return home to the Temple and brood in peace for the rest of it. The Force ought to be inclined to grant him that much.
A very, very tall ledge, attached to the aforementioned Galactic Senate
The Force, unfortunately, does not at the moment seem overly inclined to grant him much of anything.
“I know what you're thinking,” Anakin says congestedly, pressed up against his side, leaking heat like an engine, “and I'm telling you, it's not the date. Dates can't be unlucky.”
“And yet, this one always is,” Obi-Wan retorts through gritted teeth, waiting for the Force to stop blaring with alarm, having given up denying the true nature of today's date. The duracrete wall digs into his back, helps to prove his point. Coruscant's depths loom underneath them. “Nothing on this date will ever go right. Mark my words.”
“What is he talking about?” Ahsoka asks around him, brow crinkled inquisitively.
“Today's Obi-Wan's life day,” Anakin explains, suppressing a smirk, but badly. “He thinks it's unlucky. I think he just doesn't like admitting that he's getting old.”
“I don't think it's unlucky, I know it's unlucky,” Obi-Wan insists mildly. “You'd feel the same way about your own day if you knew when it was.”
“Well, I don't,” his former apprentice says, today free of the bitterness that sometimes characterizes discussions regarding his past. Obi-Wan can feel the overheated muddied confusion that is his brain right now, nudging at the edges of his own consciousness, and assumes that it's to blame for his uncharacteristic nonchalance. “So I just treat every day like it's my life day.”
“That explains a lot,” Ahsoka deadpans.
“All of this is superfluous to our real problem,” Obi-Wan interrupts before their bickering can devolve into something even less civilized. “We need to find a way back in.” They'd encountered the attackers in the southern wing and been forced out the window, only to find themselves – well. A bit hemmed in.
The outer wall shudders from a blast originating inside.
“Before we get blown off the side of the building,” he adds, watches what little blood there had been in his apprentice's face leave it. “I'm sure she's alright,” he says quietly, mildly, as they wait for the shaking to subside. “She was down in the ballroom, not up on this level. We distracted them before they could make their way to their target, remember?”
“Why are they exploding things up here anyway?” Ahsoka demands, cheeks unnaturally flushed, twisting around them in a vain attempt at peering inside, far too unconcerned with the looming distance below them. Where there was a large pane of glass is now a giant, gaping hole in the wall. It was how they'd escaped onto the ledge in the first place, only to find that the ledge was rather shorter than previously anticipated. “Master Kenobi's right, all the people are in the ballroom. It doesn't make any sense to waste their weapons on three people.”
“Trial run?” Anakin suggests, grasping hold of her sleeve before she can topple off of their shallow ledge. “Maybe they're just incompetent. We know it's no one big behind it.”
“I hate to say it, but you might be right,” Obi-Wan admits, ignoring the indignant mutter that results. “Cad Bane or the Hutts, for all their faults, tend to come across as a little more –”
“Polished?” Ahsoka suggests, still attempting to see through the hole in the wall, still leaning precariously close to the edge. She sniffs contemplatively. “It's true. This attack, it's poorly planned, but it could wreck a lot of stuff.”
“And what does that tell you?” Anakin asks, knuckles white where they're still clamped around the fabric of her sleeve, predictably taking their near-death and attempting (clumsily) to turn it into a teachable moment.
She pauses, still hanging nonchalantly off of the edge. “That they're desperate?”
“Exactly,” he says. “Ideologues, terrorists, insurgents. That's what they all have in common. Hopefully, we can turn that around and make it work in our favour.”
Another blast shakes the wall.
“Sooner, rather than later I should think,” Obi-Wan says grimly, pressing himself more firmly into the shuddering duracrete. “We're no use to anyone out here. Let's make a break for inside, proceeding cautiously –”
“Finally. Ready, Snips?” Anakin asks, ignoring him completely. She nods and ignites her lightsabers, readies herself in a crouching position. “Whatever you do, don't sneeze. One, two, – ”
She jumps, and he stands and wraps the Force around her, flinging her, lightsabers extended, teeth bared, through the hole in the wall. Listens with a smile of his own at the immediately ensuing clash of lightsaber and blaster-fire. He looks to Obi-Wan with proud but glassy eyes, glinting. “You were saying?”
“I'm not throwing you,” Obi-Wan says, lips twitching. “Go on, then. Don't let your padawan have all the fun.”
Anakin bares his teeth. “Never.” He flings himself haphazardly through the wall after his apprentice, the blue of his saber igniting in midair. Obi-Wan takes another all too brief moment to wish for a drink before doing the same, though his entrance is the product of quick but precise calculation rather than brash self-assurance that he only wishes could be blamed on the fever. He lands in chaos, a bright and loud cataclysm of blaster and lightsaber. Sinks into the Force with familiar ease, allows it to guide his saber, works alongside the brutally efficient machine that is Anakin and Ahsoka until only one of their attackers remains standing, sweating, blaster clutched in shaking hands. The three lightsabers pointed in his direction do little to alleviate it.
Anakin strides forward, a shadow. Knocks the blaster out of the man's hand and draws the Force around him, holds him up against the wall with it. Lips curled back, as Obi-Wan and Ahsoka step closer.
“How many of you are there?”
“No choking, Anakin,” he interrupts, “we have talked about this –”
Ahsoka steps closer, lightsaber still ignited, eyes glinting. “You hold him there, Skyguy, I'll hold the lightsaber –”
“Please be careful with that – ”
“Snips has got this, Master. We've done this before.”
“How comforting. I don't suppose this is the right moment to wonder where exactly your haphazard and ethically questionable interrogation tactics fall on the approved Padawan Learner Curriculum – ”
“Hey! I'm improving the curriculum – yeah, like that Snips. A little closer to his neck. Don't sneeze. It's best if he can smell the hairs on his neck start to sizzle a little bit – ”
“Hey, how is this any worse than digging around in this sleemo's brain for the information?”
“That's considered a last resort only, and we are at war –”
“Exactly – ”
“Okay, I'll talk!” the man blurts out, face bloodless. Obi-Wan wonders, grimly, if the smell of his burning neck hair has finally reached his nose. “There's – there's seven of us. Five up here, two down on the main level. We were sup-supposed to rig the whole joint to blow, but then you three showed up. Ch-changed our plans. Distract you up here, while Mr. M-Milo finishes the real work d-downstairs.”
Ahsoka deactivates her lightsaber and bashes him solidly in the face with it. The three of them watch as he slides bonelessly to the floor.
“Thanks for your help,” she says dryly, muffling a cough into her elbow. “Sounds like the other two haven't made themselves known yet. Think we have time to catch them before they pull anything?”
Anakin leans against the wall, face looking pinched. “You tell me, Snips.”
She scowls, fastening her lightsabers back to her belt. “Well – you said they were terrorists, right? Desperate. So they're not doing this for no reason. Which means – they won't just blow everything up right away. They've got a captive audience in the ballroom. They'll probably give a long, dramatic speech first.”
Anakin smirks and peels himself from the wall, clapping his apprentice on the shoulder. “Exactly. That's our window.”
“Let's go, then,” Obi-Wan suggests, knuckles whitening around the hilt of his saber. A long night ahead of them, still. “Before that window closes.”
“I don't like keeping people in the dark any more than you do,” Padmé had said, brow wrinkled, before the three of them had been drawn to the upper levels and separated. “Especially when it might put them at risk. But the Chancellor was quite – insistent that we keep all of this as under wraps as possible.” She had smoothed her well-manicured hands over the intricate folds of her dress. “This is an important event, for the Senate and for the Naboo. It has ceremonial value. This disruption – it doesn't bode well for the war effort and for public morale. He said that a true victory against these attackers would prevent them from getting the kind of attention they're looking for. I'm not sure I completely agree, but,” her lips had thinned. “I don't have much of a choice.”
“You understand that the best protection we can offer you involves the cancellation of this event and the evacuation of everyone inside the building?” Obi-Wan had asked in turn. “I'm confident in our ability to stop the attack, but not at the cost of keeping it 'under wraps'. Are you and the Chancellor prepared to deal with the media fallout if we're unable to deal with the problem,” he had kept his face firmly forward, resisting the urge to look pointedly at his former apprentice, “discreetly?”
“I'm prepared,” she had said firmly, though she had looked faintly disquieted. “I'm not cancelling. I have the utmost faith in you three.”
He hopes that faith isn't about to be tested. The ballroom, decorated just a standard inch past tasteful and veering into gaudy, glitters below them from their position on one of its many balconies. The bomb and its associates are nowhere to be seen, though he can see Padmé about to take a stand at the main podium.
“They must have already placed it,” he hisses to Anakin, who seems to be flagging, slumped against a pillar, though his expression is still sharp. “Can you feel it? Something is about to happen.”
If they're going to act, they need to do it soon. If they'd cancelled the event in the first place, like he'd recommended – well. A fruitless exercise, he supposes. And they would have lost their opportunity to catch the terrorists in the act. Though, if they don't catch the leader in time, they're going to have to evacuate everyone regardless. He scowls. Typical life day nonsense.
“Something,” Anakin agrees, dragging his sleeve underneath his nose. Obi-Wan gags internally, but keeps his mouth shut, just this once. “Where could he have placed it? Underneath?”
“It would make sense,” Ahsoka chimes in, sniffling. “There's only storage on the floor underneath. It would have been easy enough for them to reach.”
“Then all we have to do is wait for this sleemo to make an appearance,” Anakin says. “And then stab him.”
“No,” Obi-Wan hisses. “No stabbing. Anakin. We've talked about this.”
“He's planning on killing everybody!” Anakin hisses back. Planning on killing Padmé, he doesn't have to say. “What use is he to the Republic anyway? These people are clearly working alone, and this plan is the most unsophisticated thing we've ever had to foil. If the Chancellor wants a morale boost – ”
“Then he can stab a terrorist himself,” Obi-Wan insists. “We've got a moral code to uphold.” Not to mention the head of Intelligence would throw a fit if they killed the leader of a potential terrorist cell without interrogating them first. Again. “No stabbing unless we've exhausted all of our other options. Don't forget these people more than likely have their fingers on a trigger. Perhaps they can be reasoned with.”
“I think you mean flirted with,” he thinks he hears in a grumbled mutter, but pretends that he hasn't. Wishes desperately for a drink.
Besides. He doesn't – flirt with their enemies. The very suggestion is – absolutely ridiculous –
Below them, Padmé has begun what looks to be a very long and potentially boring speech, thanking their donors and sponsors and the Senators who have chosen to attend – though he can hear that she's moved on now. To acknowledging the Trade Federation Blockade and all they had won there. All they had lost. She has no idea that they're even in the room, but the words are just as sincere as if she were speaking to him herself.
“Our victory against the Trade Federation came at a great cost, and thanks to many beings who gave their lives in the process of that victory.” Her face looks suitably grave, but there is a hint of warmth in her eyes. “Their sacrifice is not forgotten,” she says. Obi-Wan stills. Feels Anakin and Ahsoka beside him, truly silent for what feels like the first time all day. The Force stills too, growing momentarily calm and bright – before blaring deeply with alarm.
“He's moving,” Obi-Wan barks, no longer bothering to whisper. “Ahsoka, comm Captain Panaka.” He searches vainly for movement in the crowd, where the last two attackers must surely be hiding. Reaches out into the Force and feels Anakin do the same, his presence dimmer than usual.
“Panaka's ready to move on your order,” Ahsoka says. “I don't see these guys, though.”
“There,” Anakin points, lips curling back. “Those two, moving towards the podium. It has to be.”
It feels right to Obi-Wan, the Force settling about their shoulders in agreement.
“What's our play?”
“They're about to interrupt Senator Amidala,” Obi-Wan remarks mildly, watching the two disguised figures approach the podium. “That's rather rude. I should think it in the best interest of everyone involved if we get to them before they reach her.” Public morale be damned. He can't see a subtler way to do it.
“Sounds good to me,” Anakin replies, and swings himself off the balcony and down into the crowd without another thought. Ahsoka pauses. Shrugs. Jumps after him.
“Always on the move,” Obi-Wan mutters, more fondly than he'd like, before leaping after them.
It's funny how the combination of blaster fire and drawn lightsabers can so quickly clear a room of people. Upon their landing into the crowd, the ballroom's occupants had wisely made themselves scarce. He had watched out of the corner of his eye as Captain Panaka had all but wrestled Senator Amidala to safety, caught the silvery glint of a small blaster somehow concealed within the folds of her gown as she was lead unwillingly out of the hall. Anakin had darted after the second-in-command, leaving himself and Ahsoka to face what he assumes is the leader.
The insurgent – what is his name? Limo? Milo? Something suitably ridiculous sounding, Obi-Wan is sure – takes a step back, hands raised in the air far too casually.
“You won't take me without a fight,” he warns, smirking. “I imagine even with everyone gone from the centre of the blast this could still cause a good amount of damage.” A thin, flat device is fished effortlessly out from his sleeve, dangled tauntingly, catching silver in the warm lights of the hallway. A detonator.
“If your only goal is terror, then wouldn't you have already detonated it?” Ahsoka asks bluntly, the aggressive tone of voice made less terrifying by its lack of clearly discernible consonants. She sniffs. “I think he's bluffing, Master Kenobi. He won't blow himself up, too.”
“You might be right,” Obi-Wan concedes, finding it hard to read the man through the Force. Either he's mildly Force-sensitive himself, or he's been trained to resist common Jedi tactics. The uncertainty makes things more complicated – if there really is another bomb, they can't take the risk, but allowing a dangerous insurgent to escape and strike again is simply unacceptable. He quirks an eyebrow, hoping to stall. Hoping the Force will present a solution before anyone loses their life. Anakin is still out there, after all, and he has to assume that Captain Panaka's team and Senate security are on their way. “Either way, you're not much of an ideologue. What do your friends happen to think of your strategy? They'll have been rounded up by Senate security by now.”
The man's – Nimo's? Lomo's? – lips draw into a sneer, knuckles tightening around the detonator. “My friends,” he spits, “understand the necessity of survival. The Republic's corruption must be revealed. We are the only ones willing to do something about it.”
“If you have legitimate concerns about the Republic, you could have addressed them through the proper channels,” Obi-Wan counters measuredly, biding his time. He holds no respect for this being, who would have blown up a room full of (mostly) innocent people in order to prove his point. But he understands, on some level, the frustration, the disillusionment felt by many of the galaxy's citizens. That the Senate is corrupt is not a secret, though he would swear on his own grave that Padmé Amidala has nothing to do with it. “If you think you have information that we don't, perhaps we can arrange some sort of clemency in return for your information. It doesn't have to be like this.”
“There will be no clemency for me,” the man says, face tight. The Force twinges a warning. “That you think it possible is proof enough to me that you know nothing of what is really going on. It's not merely the Senate that's corrupt. It's the system.” His lips twist, bitterly. “All the way to the top. A system you and your companions are entrenched in. If you think you have the benefit of neutrality, Jedi, then you are blind. You are complicit.”
Another twinge, and his knuckles tighten around the hilt of his saber. Ahsoka tenses beside him. Running out of time, the Force says.
“You don't know what you're talking about,” Ahsoka retorts belligerently, familiarly. It's a belligerence born of uncertainty and insecurity and he's seen it before, knows exactly who she learned it from. “Turn yourself in and face justice.”
“There will be no justice!” he throws back, hands still raised casually at his ears, fist clenched around the potential instrument of their destruction. “But you won't take me anyway. Even if I wasn't holding this detonator, I'm unarmed. I know all about you Jedi.” His lip curls. “You're principled. If you try to take me alive, you won't succeed, I promise you – but I'm unarmed and so you won't take me. You won't kill me.”
The Force twinges a final warning, a familiar presence brushing up against the back of Obi-Wan's mind, and he knows now what solution has presented itself, can see it happening though he'd much rather not. No, he takes a moment to think, wait –
“You won't kill me,” the man states again, confidently, the blue of Anakin's lightsaber illuminating his face as it plunges through his chest. He falls as the lightsaber disengages, detonator clattering across the ornate tiles of the floor. Anakin steps over him, tosses the remains of the bomb at Obi-Wan's feet, self-satisfaction bleeding through the Force.
“Found the bomb,” he says, eyes glittering. With fever or something else, Obi-Wan can't tell. “Right where we thought it would be.” He glances up at Obi-Wan, looking for – something. Approval, maybe. Reassurance. He finds neither, covers up the instant of vulnerability with an arrogant quirk of the lips. “I heard everything. Told you we should have stabbed him to begin with.”
“Yes, well,” Obi-Wan says, crouching to retrieve the pieces of explosive. They've been cauterized, neatly, by a lightsaber. “You, my dear apprentice, can be the one to explain that in the Council report.”
Anakin's expression sours, mouth open to retort, the words swallowed in a sneeze hastily muffled in his elbow. “Ugh,” he says instead, snags a hand casually on Obi-Wan's elbow for balance. “Never mind. You okay, Snips?” And Obi-Wan watches, the crawling tension in his neck seeping away as Anakin's face softens, as the Force calms like the sea after storm. A reminder that the boy he trained is still in there, even when he's sometimes hard to find. As long as that hint of kindness is there, he has no doubt that Anakin will always manage to find his way back, somehow, from whatever dark places he might find himself.
“Fine,” Ahsoka says, sniffing, though her gaze is shifted pointedly away from the body on the floor. “Except for this hell-plague you gave me. Why don't you ever give me anything nice, Skyguy?”
“Keep it up and I'll give you the gift of writing the next Council report, too – ”
“Hey, Master Kenobi just said that was your job – ”
“And? It's called delegation, Padawan mine. One day you'll learn to love it.”
Obi-Wan scrubs his free hand down his face, wishes desperately for a drink. Captain Panaka and the rest of the Naboo Royal Guard take that moment to flood in from the adjacent hallway belatedly, stop dead at the sight of the body on the floor. Obi-Wan heads toward them, leaving his bickering companions behind him for the moment.
“All taken care of,” he explains with some regret. Presses the remains of the other bomb into the Captain's hands. “Though your investigative committee might find use for this. Will you want the assistance of the Jedi Council?” It's his duty to offer, though his back is aching and, Jedi stamina aside, he has the vague sense that if this night goes on for any longer, he might fall asleep on his feet.
All part of getting older, he supposes.
“We'll handle it from here,” Panaka says, perhaps catching on to this fact. “If you'd stay in the building, we'd appreciate it, however. The investigative team will want to get your side of things at some point tonight.”
“Certainly,” Obi-Wan replies. “Thank you, Captain.”
He turns back to his erstwhile apprentice and grand-padawan, still bickering like brother and sister might, and represses a sigh. Family, he thinks, exasperatedly, illicitly. Not allowed, whispers the same voice that always does, but he's rather too tired to listen. Not tonight. He gets between Anakin and Ahsoka instead, left eyebrow raised at the exact angle that shuts them both up, and marches them from the scene, a hand at either back.
“I think the paperwork should be completed by both of you,” he offers as they turn the corner, biting back a smirk at the groans the suggestion elicits. “As a bonding exercise. After all, the team that does paperwork together – ”
“ – stays together,” they finish exasperatedly in tandem, having heard the phrase before. It's one of his favourites.
“Quite right,” he says. It was a favourite of Qui-Gon's as well, though he can't say he ever really appreciated it in the moment. “Come on, you two.” In the building, Panaka had said, though he hadn't exactly specified where. Somehow, Obi-Wan thinks as he corrals his two companions into Padmé's office, he thinks the Captain will know where to find them.
“Are we allowed to be in here?” Ahsoka wonders, the question devolving into a slightly terrifying yawn. He sometimes forgets exactly how sharp Ahsoka's incisors are. “Without Senator Amidala, I mean.”
“She won't mind,” Anakin reassures, stifling a yawn of his own, leaning into Obi-Wan tiredly. He's no longer leaking heat but he's still warm at his side, his presence in the Force hazy. Ahsoka's hardly better, eyes red-rimmed, face pale. His own bones ache with tiredness.
“She won't,” he agrees, guiding them to the couch the Senator keeps for visitors and depositing them there, letting a hint of fondness curl out and colour the Force as they settle. “Don't worry.”
Ahsoka mumbles what he assumes is meant to be an acknowledgement, eyes sliding shut as she leans against Anakin's shoulder.
“'Night, Snips,” Anakin mumbles, unconcerned and unsurprised, his own eyelids fluttering closed as he gives up at last. Obi-Wan can almost feel the last thread of tension in the Force dissipate as he finally allows himself to relax. He allows himself a small smile. It's a familiar sight, the two of them slumped against one another, dead to the world, though slightly jarring out of the context of the Resolute's silver innards, away from the front. They look more peaceful and less thinly worn here, bathed in the hazy light of Coruscant's night that pours quietly in through the window. Softer. Younger.
It won't last. Nothing does. They'll be back on the front soon enough, or sent behind enemy lines, or sent Force knows where else at the whim of the Council. Flung from one conflict to the next, one battle to the next, until the war ends. Perhaps even after. They'll keep growing older, stronger, sadder. It is the way of things.
But he'll enjoy the moment while he can.
“Sleep well, you two,” he says softly, arms slipping out of his robe. “You've earned it.”
As he tucks his robe around them, Anakin's hand snatches out to grab his own, calloused fingers rough and familiar. He reaches into his belt and places a parcel into Obi-Wan's hand, a soft and fragrant package the size of his palm. The scent – he can't quite place it, but –
“Almost forgot,” Anakin says quietly, eyes cracking open just slightly. “I know you don't celebrate it, but. Happy Life Day, Master.” He smiles, roguish, though a bit too kind and knowing to make the act entirely convincing. The eyes slip closed again, contentment, safety, prodding at him through the Force, asking to be let in. Obi-Wan sighs. Relents. Pulls the string holding the parcel closed and opens it, throat clogging, the familiar smell wrapping around him like an old, worn blanket.
Tea, on the inside. The kind that Qui-Gon used to drink, before the war. Before everything. The planet it came from had joined the Confederacy and practically overnight it had become both unreasonably expensive and hard to procure. In the year following the outbreak of the Clone War, Obi-Wan's own supply of it had gradually dwindled, though he can't remember ever talking about it.
He'd made Anakin drink the last pot of it with him, just as he'd made him do every evening as an apprentice. Just as Qui-Gon had made him do in turn. He hasn't tasted it for years.
“Thank you,” he says, quietly, belatedly, closing the precious pouch and placing it carefully in his belt. A thoughtful gift, likely procured at great expense. That awful market on Corellia. It has to have been. He wonders dryly if the virus was included or purchased separately. Typical life day luck, of course.
“I thought I might find you three here.” A small, elegant shadow steps softly up to his side, dark eyes glittering in the evening glow, tone quietly amused.
“Senator,” he acknowledges, voice pitched low. Ignores the way her eyes linger just slightly too long on his apprentice. How their softness has nothing to do with the ambient light.
“Hello, Obi-Wan.” She smiles. “I'm glad you're alright. You have my thanks for taking care of the terrorists. The Chancellor extends his gratitude as well. You got to them before they had a chance to pontificate.”
“I'm afraid I can't take all the credit. It was Anakin who dispatched their leader.”
A pause, thick and heavy in the slight gloom. Her voice is quiet. “He's good at that.” But she huffs a soft laugh in the moment after, gaze still fixed on his apprentice's sleeping face, a thin trail of drool seeping out of the corner of his mouth. He and Ahsoka snore quietly, congestedly, in tandem. “I wish I had a holocamera.”
“Oh, this is far from a rare occurrence,” Obi-Wan assures her. “I might have amassed a small collection of holograms myself. For blackmail purposes, you see.”
“Oh, I see,” she says, grinning, finally tearing her eyes away. Her gaze softens. “You all look exhausted.” Precisely groomed eyebrows raise innocently, but he knows better. “If you want to join them, I'm happy to keep an eye out.”
“And allow a politician such potent blackmail material? My master taught me better than that, Senator.”
“I'm sure he did,” she retorts quietly, laughing. The eyebrows lower. “In that case, Master Kenobi, might I suggest a celebratory glass of the wine I may or may not have hidden in the back of my desk?”
“For emergency senatorial business?”
The wine is unearthed from the mysterious and frightening depths of Padmé's desk, and two glasses. It's some sort of vintage, tasting layered and pleasant on his tongue, though beyond that he can't describe it. He's no lightweight (unlike dear Anakin, despite his claims to the contrary) but also no connoisseur. It warms his throat and his stomach, though, brings a hint of colour back to his cheeks, bloodless with exhaustion. The desk lamp Padmé turns on bathes the room and his friends in a warm, yellow glow. He is suddenly, pathetically, grateful that they are alive. That the bad luck of the day hasn't taken their lives the way he always irrationally fears it might.
“Thank you, Padmé,” he says quietly. Gratefully. “It's been a rather long day.”
“I can only imagine,” she replies, smiling. “The three of you have had quite the exciting week.”
“Well,” he admits with some reluctance, “truthfully, none of it feels particularly out of the ordinary. We attract trouble. Just not usually so much at once. And those two –” He pauses. Takes a long sip of wine. Continues on fondly, despite himself. “Their enthusiasm is –”
He pauses again, staring down at Anakin and his partner in crime. Comes to the slow realization that he's been kept so outrageously busy he's hardly had time to sit and brood all day. “ – not usually quite so...distracting.”
Distracting. He wonders –
Padmé hmms in reply, taking a measured sip of her wine. “I'd tend to agree with you.” Her eyes meet his over the rim of the glass, one eyebrow raised slightly. She always had been rather more quick on the uptake than people tended to credit her for.
“Oh,” he says.
“Happy Life Day, Obi-Wan Kenobi,” Padmé says quietly, with a smile.
He looks out the window, at the twilight world below him teeming with life. The glint of Padmé's wine glass catching in the quiet light. Listens to the congested snores coming from behind him and feels something warm fill his chest. Older, but not less, Qui-Gon's voice echoes in his ear. Not alone.
“Oh, I suppose,” he says. But, then –