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Stone in a Dam

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All Jango had wanted was a drink. He had left his armor on Slave I because he was known on Tatooine, the few jobs he’d done for Jabba the Hutt had paid well, but he had no desire to deal with the Hutts today. All he wanted was a drink. When someone ran into him just as he reached the corner he almost just kept pushing past, the people of Mos Espa were hardly worth the effort necessary to feel annoyed by them. He would have too, if it weren’t for that brief moment when the man had met his eyes and there had been a flash of something. He scanned the man. A little shorter than Jango himself, thin and worn. He carried a blaster, but it certainly wasn’t well used, he carried it as though he thought it expected of him, not so much as though he was used to using it. His clothing was clean and well kept, if not also well worn. At first glance there was nothing about him worth stopping for, but still Jango didn’t move on, because there was something. Maybe it was the sharpness of his eyes, that whispered of knowing things he couldn’t, that had seen things they shouldn’t have. That whispered of pain and suffering and more.

The silent moment was broken by the man, “Teach me to be a bounty hunter?” For the first time a real expression crossed the man’s face, although not the one that Jango would have expected, the man looked as though he was surprised to find the words coming out of his mouth.

It hardly mattered to Jango, in his opinion there was only one answer to such a brazen ridiculous request. “No.”

The man nodded, as though that was what he had expected. “Alright then. Have a good day.” Jango didn’t move and let the man move past him, turning slightly to continue watching the man as he walked away from him. Jango noted that there was a second weapon hidden along his back, noted the confidence of his walk. Maybe it was the brazenness of the request, maybe it was the fact that there was something other about the man. But Jango found that he suddenly wasn’t quite as willing to just let him walk away. It was with only half a thought that he pulled his blaster and shot at the man, nothing fatal, it would be at most a scratch. He was only a little surprised when the man moved out of the way, already turned to face him, his blaster in his hand, pointed at Jango. It had been a good draw, smooth and confident. Jango could see that while the blaster itself wasn’t well used, the man did know how to use it. But he hadn’t, and he’d have been dead if Jango had really wanted him dead.

“You should have shot back.” He told him.

“I figured you were making a point. If you really wanted me dead you’d have done a lot more than shoot at my shoulder.” The man responded wryly, Jango rewarded him with a second shot at his shoulder. The man threw himself out of the way of the shot, this time returning fire. Jango had half expected that he would and had stepped and shifted out of the way. The man was either an awful shot, or was returning the favor of not actually trying to kill him.

“You’d make an awful bounty hunter.” He told the man. The man who wouldn’t shoot first, the man who put fair play before survival.

That man wouldn’t survive as a bounty hunter. A strangely wry smile crossed the man’s face at his words.

“Yes, well, I hardly see how that matters now.” The words, ‘you already said no.’ went unsaid.

The two men stood there in silence, blasters aimed at each other. “No, I don’t suppose it does.” Jango re-holstered his blaster and watched as the other man did the same, he had no intention of helping this man figure out how to be a bounty hunter. But at the same time he could recognize that this man could one day be dangerous. It was always better to know the players; he could see that the man was about to continue on his way. Jango wasn’t quite done with him yet. “If you keep walking I’ll be tempted to shoot you again.”

The man raised an eyebrow. “Shoot at me. You haven’t actually shot me yet.”

“Don’t tempt me.”

“I would never.” The sarcasm was only strengthened by the obvious core-world accent. Coruscanti if Jango didn't miss his guess.

“How’d you recognize me?” He asked the man. Jango was good. But not to the degree where he should be easily recognized by just anyone walking along. Especially not when he was out of his armor.

The redhead just laughed, shaking his head, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

Jango considered the benefits of shooting the man, before deciding that it would probably yield him nothing, “That’s not an answer.”

“That doesn’t change the fact that you wouldn’t believe me. I almost don’t believe me and I’m insane enough for it.”

Jango considered that and nodded. It wasn’t an answer, and Jango wasn’t quite done with his question, but he’d let it go for now. There was just something about the man though, that made him unwilling to just end their encounter.

“Why would you want to be a bounty hunter?”

The man tilted his head in a way to show he was thinking, his face remained still, but Jango had already realized that the man was unable to guard his eyes. That the key to reading him lay there. He was far enough away however, that the knowledge did him little good. Finally, after a long minute of silence the man answered.

“In the split second that the idea came to me before I voiced the thought it seemed like a good idea.”

Jango rolled his eyes, and noted that the man’s lip quirked at that, apparently he took great delight in being frustrating. The idea that someone would ask to be taught to be a bounty hunter as a spur of the moment decision. The man was right when he had said he was slightly insane.

“And now? Still seem like a good idea.” He asked.

“You just tried to shoot me twice.”

Jango resisted the temptation to roll his eyes again, he wasn’t going to give the man the satisfaction. “Neither were lethal, and you avoided it both times. Answer the question.”

“I have continued to consider the benefits, yes.”

“Still not an answer.”

“It seems like an absolutely awful idea, nevertheless it’s one I’m likely to find a way to pursue.” It was an honest answer, Jango decided. If they parted ways now then Jango would likely cross paths with the man again, bounty hunters tended to flow through the same circles. There was no real reason to continue this conversation. Jango had no intention of teaching this man anything.

“How about this, then. I’ll give you ten minutes, you get to disappear, while staying here on Tatooine. If I don’t find you in four days, I’ll consider teaching you how to survive being a bounty hunter.” It was a lie. Or mostly a lie. He’d consider it. It would be good though, to have some idea of the man’s talents in a non-obtrusive way.

“And if you do find me? Will you be shooting at me again?” He asked dryly.

Jango considered this, “Possibly.” Probably.

“Couldn’t I get twenty minutes?”

“You get ten.”

The man looked to consider it, “Alright then. I suppose I’ll be seeing you here in four days then.”

Jango laughed, wasn’t that self-assured, “We’ll see.” He’d almost certainly shoot at him if he found him.

The man nodded his head in farewell before turning and leaving. Jango watched him slip out of the alley and towards the more crowded area of Mos Espa. He gave him exactly ten minutes before following after him.

No one remembered having seen him recently, although one young boy told him that he’d seen someone like that earlier this morning at a shop owned by a Toydarian named Watto. Jango made his way to the shop. The toydarian looked somewhat annoyed when he realized who he was looking for. “Just waltzed in yesterday and bought my slaves, he brought them in this morning and got their chips removed. He didn’t say it, but I’m pretty sure that he bought them just to set them free. Don’t know why though, Shmi’s too old for him.” Jango raised his eyebrow at that, but merely got the place of residence for the two slaves before leaving the toydarian to continue his rant.

It didn’t take him long to find the residence for the Skywalker’s. The woman, Shmi, let him in, although she was hesitant to answer his questions about the man that had bought her.

“So is it true that he freed you?”

She hesitated, “Yes. He did.”

“How long have you known him?”

She laughed, somewhat bemusedly at that, “I met him yesterday after he’d purchased us from Watto.”

“And when did you last see him.”

She shrugged, “Perhaps half an hour before you arrived, he said he’d be out of contact for the next four days, had some things to do.”

“And when he gets back.”

She eyed him, and Jango got the feeling she was deciding whether he was a threat. She had been a slave long enough that he was certain she would be rather good at figuring such things out. “He’ll help me move wherever I decide to go.”

He nodded. “I don’t suppose you know his name?”

For a brief moment she looked embarrassed, “He hasn’t told us, I didn’t think it my place to ask.” Watto hadn’t known either. The man had just walked in and bought the two Skywalkers. No introduction. And while buying slaves was still a process, it was one that the man had managed to do without ever revealing his name. It wasn’t exactly out of the norm for slavers, but this man wasn’t a slaver, that was obvious.

He left the Skywalkers and considered what he knew. The man was still quite young. A core-worlder. He was either paranoid or very bad at social niceties, or both. He acted with little forethought, was possibly slightly insane. He was certainly not worth the time and effort of actually dealing with.

But Jango enjoyed a challenge.

On the second day he decided that the man wasn’t in Mos Espa, he was also fairly certain that he had left Mos Espa on foot. It was highly doubtful that he’d make it to any of the settlements if he didn’t already know where they were, and it was unlikely that he’d make it to any of the other cities. Not on foot. Jango wondered if he would die of dehydration in the desert. That would be disappointing.

The final morning, he actually caught the man’s trail. He was rather certain that the man had been in the cantina mere moments before he himself entered. The man at the bar waved him towards the back entrance. The rest of the morning felt as though he were playing an elongated game. Several people would agree that they had just seen the man, now in a hooded robe, not long before. He never quite caught up. In the end he returned to the alley. As a game of hide and seek the man had done well. At the very least the man knew how to disappear.

Just after the four days had passed the man entered the alley, hood still drawn up, something about the cloak sent warning bells off in his mind, Jango let the thought simmer in the back of his mind. He waited until the man drew up to where he stood in the shadows before he stepped out. The man turned almost simultaneously and Jango found them a few inches from each other, face to face. It was a mirror of the first time they’d met four days ago.

For the longest moment they just stood there, in each other’s personal space, both of them watching the other. This close, Jango realized that his earlier idea that the man was young was truer than he’d realized. He took the man’s, or was it a boy’s, chin into his hand and tilted his head. He really was young. Not that age really meant anything. Jango’s own life could attest to that.

“You’re practically a child, aren’t you?”

The boy shrugged, “Nineteen. Hardly a child.”

Jango scoffed, “Age and experience make a man. You barely have age and I doubt a great deal of experience. What is a core-worlder like you doing here anyways?” Except he was looking into eyes that had seen more than his age would indicate.

The boy, man, raised an eyebrow at that, “You don’t already know?”

Jango would concede to that, he did know, at least to some degree. “Fine, why’d you come here just to free two slaves?”

“That would be another of my spur of the moment decisions. I’ll be finding transport and helping them move to wherever they please, so soon as Shmi decides where she wants to go.”

Jango nodded slowly, his hand was still holding the boy’s chin. Noting, observing, the paleness of his skin, the shadows under his eyes, the almost hollow cheeks. It wasn’t that Jango cared, he didn’t, but he still couldn’t shake that feeling that there was something important here.

“When was the last time you ate?”

The boy shrugged, “I had a drink this morning, ate some scrag at some point.” Jango couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at that, scrag? Really. Desert weed was hardly edible, and certainly not nutritious unless you were a bantha.

\“And when was the last time you slept?” The boy hesitated, and this close Jango could practically see the thoughts chasing each other across the boy’s eyes. What had happened Jango didn’t know, but something haunted the boy in front of him.

“About a week ago.”

Jango finally dropped the boy’s chin, eying him, cautiously, that little sleep was hardly healthy, definitely not conducive towards health nor sanity. “That’s a long time to go without sleep.”

He shrugged, “I supplement myself with meditation.”

The memory of a weapon hidden underneath a tunic flashed through Jango’s mind, the warning bells from earlier when he’d seen the man in his robe. He felt something like anger begin to build in him. He reached behind the man, hand going unerringly to where the weapon was. He pulled it out. The man caught his hand while it was still between the two of them. Jango allowed it, for the moment. It only took a single glance before his suspicions were met. The core world accent suddenly made a great deal more sense.

“Hmm, meditation, a lightsaber, that’d make you a Jedi, wouldn’t it?” Jango didn’t spare much energy for hate. It was pointless, but the Jedi and Death Watch. He could spare the energy to hate them. If the Jedi realized that he was suddenly on tumultuous ground, he showed no indication of it.

“It made me one, once. I left the order two months ago.”

“Why’d you leave?”

“My path lay elsewhere.”

“As a bounty hunter?”

The Jedi shrugged, “Perhaps.”

“What do you know about Galidraan?” He asked, his voice still calm, even as the memory of that fight echoed through his mind. Jetii.

The boy was quiet, “It was a slaughter. A mistake. A disaster. It was everything done wrong.” The calmness of the answer, the evasiveness of it. The inability to face his guilt… it grated on Jango.

“It was you Jedi, killing my people on the word of a politician.” Jango spit out, he didn’t move, even as his hand tightened around the weapon in his hand, even as his other hand ached to reach for his blaster and put a shot through this Jedi’s heart.

“You were Mand'alor.”

“Yes.” Jango had been. He’d been the leader; he’d been in charge. They had been his men that had fallen that day.

“Who do you hate more, the Jedi or yourself for falling into Death Watch’s trap?”

The words, brazen as they were, echoed and twisted through Jango, and he twisted the two of them until the Jedi was pushed against the wall, the two hands holding the lightsaber above their heads, Jango’s arm across the Jedi’s throat, he didn’t press, not to kill, not yet. “I killed six of you Jedi with my bare hands. It would be nothing to kill you.” He didn’t let his voice raise, didn’t let his anger show. He wanted the Jedi to know the entirety of his contempt for him.

The eyes that met his blazed for a brief moment. “For what crime? For my parents choosing to give me to the Jedi? For loving the Jedi, when they are the only family I have ever had? Because all I wanted was to help people? What, then, Jango Fett, is the crime for which you’ll kill me?”

“The Jedi killed my family. My people.” You call the Jedi your family, he thought, well, then you are culpable in the death of mine.

“I was thirteen when the battle of Galidraan happened.”

And should that pardon you? Jango thought, bitter. Perhaps you aren’t guilty for Galidraan, but you were taught to be just like those that were. “And you were sitting in your precious temple being told that as a Jedi you have the right to thoughtlessly kill men when they don’t do what you think is right. Learning to be self-righteous and proud.”

The Jedi’s eyes bored into his, “You don’t know me Jango Fett. Don’t presume that you do. I was fighting my own battles. I was a temple reject with a collar set to explode around my neck. A boy left behind by my Master in a warzone watching as children were mowed down in a pointless civil war. I fought for my friend as she was chained to the bottom of a pool and ended the life of a fellow child who was just as hurt, lost and confused as I was in an attempt to save her life. I learned that life is cruel and ugly and the people are worse. I learned that sometimes you can’t save everyone. I learned that sometimes surviving is the better part of valor. I followed my heart and paid the consequences of doing so. So I am sorry for what you suffered, for what the Jedi cost you. But I was hardly in a position to do anything about that.” There were messages hidden in the words, beyond the idea that Jango couldn’t hold this boy responsible for the deaths of the True Mandalorians. His anger slid away, back to a simmer that never seemed to leave him.

Jango let his arm move a fraction of an inch away from the boy’s neck. The anger wasn’t gone. But for now he would hold it back. “What’s your name, boy?”

“Obi-Wan Kenobi.” The name sent a tingle of that something down Jango’s back.

He let his arm drop away from his neck, but didn’t move away, keeping the boy, man, former Jedi pressed against the wall. “I’ll teach you to be a bounty hunter. Or at least how to survive.” And why, he wasn’t sure, except his instincts whispered that he should, and Jango’s instincts were what kept him alive. “But understand, Kenobi, that that means nothing. For the right price, maybe someday I’ll kill you.”

Kenobi snorted, as though the idea that someone he knew would turn around and kill him was something he was used to. “Yes, of that much I am aware.”