Jango hadn't been looking forward to his new job. Looking down at the planet from the viewport of his ship only solidified the feeling.
Kamino was wet.
He snorted a little at the understatement. Kamino reminded him of Mon Cala, except the whole planet seemed darker. Maybe it was the storm clouds, maybe it was the fact that he was here to be cloned, maybe Tyranus' looming presence had already spread here.
Or maybe, Jango considered, he was just in a sour mood.
He sent in a request for landing space and almost instantly received instructions to dock at platform C2.
He didn't move his ship immediately. This was it, his last real chance to back out. He shook his head at the foolishness of the thought. His last chance to back out had been before he'd known what he was supposed to be backing out of. But Vosa had been a target he hadn't been able to resist, and now Jango was here.
He set his ship down carefully. From the viewport he could see two tall figures, pale and long-necked, waiting for him just within the doorway.
He frowned as he stared at them, and then started on his after-flight routine. They could wait a little longer, Jango wasn't going to get lazy with ship routines just to make their lives easier.
Unfortunately, his post-flight checks went quickly and there were no good excuses, other than rudeness, to delay him.
The rain was heavy, the water streaming down his visor in a way that would be a nuisance in a fight. He made a mental note to practice fighting in the rain, it had been quite some time since he'd fought in the element, and now that he was going to be spending time on this blasted planet, he might as well get some use of it.
The door slid open as he approached and Jango stepped in, eyes darting around the area to take it in.
Everything was a bright white. The walls, the floor, the ceiling. Even the Kaminoans were white, their clothes soft shades of white, light blue and gray.
He disliked it instantly. It was sterile, lifeless.
"Jango Fett." One of the figures stepped toward him, their voice as slow and smooth as their graceful glide forward. "It's a pleasure to have you here with us. Master Sifo-Dyas told us we should be expecting you. I am Taun We, and will be your regular point of contact." She waved gently at the figure next to her. "This is our Prime Minister Lama Su."
Jango felt his eyebrows raise. Who was Sifo-Dyas? "I'm afraid I never met with Sifo-Dyas,” he stated carefully. A warning pain in his head was enough to convince him not to speak of who he had met with.
Taun We reacted with a slow blink. "Another of the Masters, then,” she concluded. "Come, let us begin." She turned and began walking, Lama Su perfectly in step with her.
Jango followed after them. Masters, she'd said. Slave masters? Though most of them wouldn't use the title Master in a situation like this. Guild masters? That was possible, but still unlikely. He thought of Obi-Wan, Jedi Masters? Jango snorted lightly. As much as he hated the Jetii, he couldn't imagine they would be part in cloning an army.
Though the man who'd hired him had had the Force.
But as much as he hated the Jedi, surely they wouldn't sink to the depths that that man had? Except... he thought of Galidraan and dismissed the ridiculous thought. He would never doubt the depths the Jedi might sink to if they thought it necessary.
But still, a clone army? It felt nearly impossible.
What did that leave? There were some planets, he was sure, that used Master as a designation of their role within society, and Jango was sure that one of them would want to start a war. Someone always did.
The problem was that everything seemed too far-fetched once cloning came into play. Who would go to the lengths to clone an army?
Lama Su spoke. "We were initially unsure of the request. It's a grand endeavor, to create any army. We've had a few successes in the past, but nothing so large as a Grand Army for the Republic."
Jango almost stumbled. What? An army for the Republic? "What does the Republic need an army for?"
The Republic hadn't had a standing army in centuries. There hadn't been need of one. There still wasn't need of one. What did Tyranus expect to happen in the next decade that would require one?
A shiver ran down his spine. What did Tyranus plan to do to force the need for one?
"Kamino does not distract itself with the politics and wars of the Republic, though we have set our researchers to gathering information in preparation for teaching the clones, matters of Republic Policy and the Jedi Order are a top priority for the moment."
Jango felt his breath catch. "The Jedi Order?"
"Indeed." Lama Su sounded calm. "It's important that our clones be prepared to adapt to their Generals. We had expected that Sifo-Dyas would ask us to clone one of them, it would have made for a terrifying army, but he chose you instead."
"I see." Jango answered, tone neutral while his mind raced. "I'm honored."
Who was Sifo-Dyas? Why had he chosen Jango?
Had he chosen Jango?
What exactly was this Sifo-Dyas' relation to the Tyranus he'd met on Kohlma?
There were too many questions. While Jango didn't need to know everything about the jobs he took, he certainly wouldn't engage himself to something of this nature without far more information.
Not that he really had a choice at this point, or that he'd had much of a choice to start with.
It was eerily silent as they moved through the hallways. Lifeless except for their own movements. "Is this not one of your main cities?" He asked carefully.
"Our more populated cities are on the other side of Kamino." Lama Su said as they headed down yet another plain white hallway. "This city has always been used for cloning projects, though the size of this project has encouraged some of those who lived here to move to other cities to make space. The contract is for several million units, far more than we've ever contracted for before."
"Units?" Several million men was certainly a large amount, but spread throughout the entire Republic? That was hardly enough to make a dent. Unless of course they weren't needed in the Republic. Perhaps Tyranus was simply planning on finishing Republic Expansion. Taking Hutt Space was no easy feat, or Mandalorian space, for that matter.
Well, given how Mandalorian Space had changed under the current Duchess they might fall easily. Especially if he'd understood Tyranus correctly and Jango was going to be in charge of the training of the army.
"One unit, I believe the military equivalent is a squad?" Taun We clarified.
Jango felt his eyebrows raise. Several million squads, well, that certainly wasn't something to scoff at.
Subjugating Hutt Space, Mandalorian Space, and the other sectors currently independent of the Republic may not be easy—subjugation never was—but it would happen.
If that was what Tyranus' plot was about in the first place, Jango reminded himself.
Too many questions. Not enough information.
Jango hated situations like this, especially when his hands were tied and he had to act despite knowing he was going into a situation he genuinely didn't know nearly enough about.
He let them lead him on.
Jango had expected that it wouldn't be as simple as showing up, giving some DNA and then being free to go. He'd assumed it would be a little more complicated than that. But he hadn't fully expected just how many tests they were determined to put him through.
Given it was a cloning project, he hadn't been surprised by the very thorough medical exam they put him through. They'd drawn enough blood that Jango had started to get dizzy when he tried to stand. Not a pleasant experience, but not wholly unexpected. Their questionnaire about his medical history had also been incredibly thorough.
And how was he supposed to know if he'd ever come in 'passing contact' with someone who was in late-stage Mirialin Wasting Sickness? Did they not realize just how many people Jango crossed paths with as he ventured around the galaxy?
But then there had been the physical tests: endurance, flexibility, strength, combat, the like. Jango considered himself to be a fit individual. But after a week of rigorous and constant testing he was starting to get twitchy with annoyance.
That, of course, was followed up by extreme psychological testing. Part of him was genuinely curious what would happen if he happened to fail whatever criteria they were looking for. They'd already hired him. Would they try to get rid of him if he failed? Replace him with someone else? While in theory, he wouldn't particularly mind someone else being hired to do this job, in practice he found he was more concerned about what would happen if they decided he wasn't an acceptable progenitor.
Not that he didn't think he could get himself out of any trouble they might try to start, but he had genuine concerns that he'd end up having to spend the rest of his life trying to stay one step ahead of Tyranus and whoever Tyranus sent after him.
Needless to say, he got very little rest, waiting on edge for the testing to be done and for the Kaminoans to decide whether he was a viable cloning subject. His nerves were not helped by the way the Kaminoans insisted he sleep in a room they provided for him, when what he really wanted to do was escape to his ship. There, at least, he trusted that his locks would do what they were designed to do.
Testing took over a month before the Kaminoans seemed satisfied.
Taun We, who seemed to have been chosen to act as the intermediary between Jango and the rest of the scientists, was the one to inform him. "We believe we have what we need to begin cloning. The first batch or two always has its share of issues, but by the third batch we'll have worked out the kinks inherent to your particular strand of genome."
"Is that when my son will be born?" Jango asked, he was already more than ready to get off of this planet. He was fairly certain that it had been raining non-stop since he'd arrived here a month ago. There had been maybe an hour with no rain, but he wouldn't place any bets on that.
He liked rain as much as the next person. This was just excessive.
Taun We nodded. "Yes, it'll take about eight weeks. In the meantime, we've prepared more extensive rooms for you during your stay with us over the next decade or so. We will—”
"Excuse me?" Jango interrupted. "If I'm not needed here, I have no intention of just staying here." The very idea of staying here and doing nothing left him with hives.
Taun We frowned at him. "We will need a regular supply of your DNA."
"How regular?" Jango demanded.
"At least three times a Galactic year."
Jango raised an eyebrow, unimpressed. "And when will you begin training the soldiers?"
"Current plans have us starting the clones in training as soon as they reach the two year mark."
Jango felt something sick stir in his stomach. Yes, Tyranus had said the clones would have accelerated aging, but even then, Jango couldn't imagine that they'd still be anything but young, they'd still be children. He had to clench his fist. "When the training starts I will reconsider staying on Kamino. But for now, I'll return when my son is born."
Taun We was clearly not pleased. "Kamino is safe and secure. If you leave Kamino you open yourself and this project to disaster. Should you die, be incarcerated, contract any disease that would contaminate your blood, or any other number of mishaps, it could completely throw off the project."
"If I remain trapped here on Kamino I'll be inclined to shoot someone." Jango responded. "I imagine that might throw off your project as well."
Taun We blinked at him, obviously trying to determine whether Jango was serious.
Jango was deadly serious.
Taun We nodded. "Of course, we'll see you back here in eight weeks."
Jango smiled at her, more a baring of teeth than anything else. "I'm glad we could come to an agreement."
Taun We looked a little stiff.
Jango walked past her, headed towards his ship. It was time to get off this karkin' planet.
How did he always forget how hot Tatooine was? Jango wondered as he closed his ship behind him. And dry?
The dry heat was worse than he remembered it, probably since he'd spent the last several weeks on a planet that was more rain than planet. He wished he was in his armor, at least that had temperature regulation.
A head poked out of the entryway of the Lars Homestead and Jango paused in his steps.
"Who are you?" The zabrak asked, looking appropriately suspicious.
"Jango Fett." Jango answered. "I take it you're either Savage or Feral?"
The boy narrowed his eyes, obviously even more suspicious. "Savage."
"Shmi or Obi-Wan around?" Jango asked easily, a little amused.
The boy's eyes went wide. "Oh. You're him. Yes." The boy turned a little. "Shmi! Obi-Wan’s friend finally showed up!"
Jango raised an eyebrow at that, but didn't move any further forward, instead he waited halfway between his ship and the homestead. It didn't take long for Shmi to make it from wherever she'd been to the entryway. "What are you doing out there?" She gave Savage a firm look. "You should have invited him in." The look she gave Jango was even more pointed. "And you should know better than to have to wait for an invitation."
Jango shrugged. "Always good to be polite."
Shmi snorted. "Politeness is for strangers."
She crossed the sand and pulled Jango in for a hug, which Jango did his best to return, though he suspected his attempt was still on the awkward side.
Shmi let him go and Jango straightened a little, smiling down at the shorter woman. "I don't suppose Obi-Wan is around?"
Shmi shook her head. "He took Feral, Owen, and R2 to Anchorage to get some parts for Cliegg." She glanced at the sun. "I'd say he'd be back within the hour, but he doesn't always have a proper respect for what hours are safe to roam the desert."
“He is an offworlder." Jango offered with a little smile.
Shmi frowned. "That's what I'd normally say, but—" she sighed, frowning. "He's an oddity, that's for sure." She shook her head. "But come in. Come in."
Jango followed Shmi in, noting that Savage hadn't moved from the entryway, watching Jango interact with Shmi protectively, only scampering down the stairs and into the house when Shmi reached him.
By the time Shmi and Jango had made it down the stairs the teenager was gone and Jango followed Shmi as she led them to the small kitchen.
"So, how's the adoption going?"
Shmi laughed a little. "Fairly well, I'd say. Obi-Wan seems fond of the boys, the boys both seem equally fond of him. More importantly, they seem to trust him to take care of them. The only time we really have a problem is when R2 and Savage are left alone together. Those two are a disaster waiting to happen."
Jango raised an eyebrow at that. So he wasn’t the only one that R2 was unreasonable about. He’d never thought a droid played favorites, but this one clearly did.
Shmi sighed. "Owen's going to miss them when they take off again. It's been good for him, I think, having other kids so close around." Her smile was a little wistful and it wasn't hard to guess that she was thinking about a scenario where Anakin was there as well. "The Whitesuns are our closest neighbors, and we don't see them nearly often enough for Owen to get as much socialization as I think he'd like."
"Anakin did okay, and he only had you and Obi-Wan for a long time." Jango pointed out, even as his own mind went to his future son. Would he be happy, always with Jango on his ship? Would he wish he had more socialization? Would he look at the rest of the clones and wonder what made him different?
A little guiltily Jango considered that it would give him even more reasons to see Obi-Wan. It was natural that he would want his son to know people other than him, and there were few people as good as Obi-Wan. And fewer people that Jango would trust with his child.
But that was a thought for another time.
Shmi nodded. "It's true. I hope he's doing okay. The temple must seem so very different."
Jango hesitated. "I did happen to see him, when I was on Coruscant a few months ago."
Shmi whirled to look at him, her eyes wide, taking two eager, almost desperate steps toward him. "You did? Obi-Wan shared his concerns, but what did you think?"
Jango hesitated. He still thought the whole thing was a mistake. But he was also aware that that wasn't even the slightest bit helpful. The choice had been made, and focusing on that would help no one. "He was struggling." Jango admitted. "The Jedi Order is—" he cleared his throat. "Well, it was a harder transition, I think, than he expected. But he also seemed determined to keep going." He smiled at Shmi. "And with the way you raised him, I suspect there are very few things Anakin can't do if he's determined. I think, with a little more time, he'll be fine."
Shmi nodded, her shoulders slumping a little in relief. "Thank you, Jango." Her lip quirked up a little. "I'm sure that was very difficult for you."
Jango laughed. "The things I do for you, Shmi Skywalker." He supposed it was a sign of consideration, of friendship, that he would ignore the opportunity to bash the Jedi Order, even when it was well deserved. Not that it wasn't always well deserved, in Jango's opinion.
Shmi hummed. "I'm very grateful, I assure you." She smiled at him as she handed him a cup of tea. "Although, that reminds me. We're running a little low on space in the homestead."
"I can sleep in my ship, no prob—"
Shmi gave him a sharp glare. "You could, of course. I promise not to be offended by your lack of desire to accept my hospitality. But the boys are bunked with Owen, and Obi-Wan's been taking the guest room, there's certainly room enough for another person in there."
Jango paused and stared at Shmi with what he hoped was the proper amount of incredulity. "You want me to share with Obi-Wan." It wasn't that he had a problem sharing. And he certainly didn't have a problem sharing with Obi-Wan. He didn't want to infringe on Obi-Wan's space. Didn't want Obi-Wan to think Jango was trying to push him.
"I'm offering." Shmi said, and she somehow managed to perfectly mimic the sort of politician’s intonation she had to have learned from listening to Obi-Wan. "A free offer."
"I don't suppose you mentioned this to Obi-Wan?" Jango asked carefully.
Shmi shrugged. “I’ve spoken with him. He’s aware that things will be a little tight until Cliegg can get some renovations done. He’s more concerned that you’d be uncomfortable.“ She raised an eyebrow at Jango. Jango raised an eyebrow right back.
“If that’s what works best for you, and if Obi-Wan doesn’t mind, then of course I’m adaptable.”
“Excellent.” She shook her head, looking aghast. "Did you know Obi-Wan thought the best answer would be to buy a little hut out in the Jundland Wastes? As though I would want him to have to make the trip through that desolate death trap constantly."
"That sounds like just the sort of thought process I'd expect from Obi-Wan." Jango admitted. "Technically viable, but also completely ridiculous."
Shmi nodded, a hint of a smile on her face. "He takes surprisingly well to the desert, even if I sometimes worry that he doesn’t take some of the threats as seriously as he should. Cliegg's been hearing the calls of a Krayt early every few mornings, and yet Obi-Wan still insists on going out and doing his meditation in the dunes."
Jango frowned, it wasn't like Obi-Wan wasn't aware that krayt dragons were dangerous. Jango had listened to Obi-Wan go on about the creatures for over an hour. Not that Jango would ever complain about that, it had been an incredibly soothing hour and Jango would gladly listen to Obi-Wan talk about krayt dragons, or anything else that happened to cross his mind, for an even longer time.
That wasn't the point, he reminded himself.
The point was that Obi-Wan wasn't an idiot. There were some people who thought they were unkillable, though Obi-Wan had never struck Jango as the sort of person who fell into that trap. Not that Obi-Wan wasn't confident; he was. But it was a deserved confidence in Jango's opinion.
"I can talk to him, if you'd like,” Jango offered. He wasn’t sure it would do much good, except to remind Obi-Wan that there were people who cared and were concerned for him.
Shmi paused, looking at him discerningly. "You know, he might actually listen to you."
"He listens to you,” Jango answered back. "He respects and trusts your opinion."
"With everything except his own self-care,” Shmi agreed. “He thinks I worry too much."
Jango shrugged a little. When it came down to it, Shmi was an incredibly practical woman and generally Jango would say that she worried a reasonable amount. But Obi-Wan thought anyone who worried about him worried too much.
Shmi pushed herself up from where she was leaning against the table. "Let me take you to the room you'll be staying in."
Jango quickly swallowed the rest of his drink and followed her.
Obi-Wan arrived just as the second son was setting, Owen, R2-D2, and another young Zabrak boy trailing after him. Owen and the zabrak boy, Feral, both had what looked like the remains of frozen blue milk around their lips.
“I put the parts in the storage shed, Cliegg and I should be able to fix the east vaporator tomorrow morning.”
Shim nodded. “Thank you again for being willing to pick up the parts. Cliegg and Rish Darklighter have been meaning to get together, they’d have needed to postpone again.”
Obi-Wan waved it away. “It was nothing. Will Cliegg be getting in tonight?”
Shmi glance at a chromo. “He should be back soon, just in time for dinner.”
“Do you need any help with that?” Obi-Wan asked.
Shmi hummed. “Perhaps the boys could help me?”
Savage and Feral both straightened, while Owen sighed a little dramatically.
Jango saw Obi-Wan and Shmi exchange amused looks.
“Well then, in that case.” Obi-Wan moved back, and sent a bright smile at Jango. “I think that means we’re not needed.”
Jango adopted a disappointed look. “I’m starting to think Shmi doesn’t trust my cooking abilities.”
Both Shmi and Obi-Wan gave him thoughtful, considering looks. “I wouldn’t,” Obi-Wan concluded.
“Maybe if we had sandwiches.” Shmi added. “That would be safe enough.”
Jango rolled his eyes. “I’ll have you know, I’m not half bad with a knife.”
“There’s a difference between stabbing people and cutting vegetables,” Obi-Wan said pointedly and Feral giggled while R2 let out a very condescending sounding beep. “But I could use your help with a few things. If you’re willing.”
Jango crossed the room to join Obi-Wan, sending R2 a dark look as he did so. “What do you need?”
Obi-Wan turned down the hallway. “Politics actually.”
Jango gave Obi-Wan’s back a skeptical look “Not sure—”
“Underground politics,” Obi-Wan clarified, turning his head to give Jango a grin over his shoulder.
“Those I can probably help with,” Jango admitted, returning Obi-Wan’s smile with one of his own.
“There seems to have been some sort of disturbance in the death stick industry.” Obi-Wan led him into the room they were going to be sharing, and quite without Jango’s permission he found his eyes darting to the single bed. He shook his head, concentrating on what Obi-Wan was saying. “Prices skyrocketed almost overnight, and shipments have been hoarded instead of following their normal distribution routes.”
Jango shrugged. “That’s fairly easy to track. The Bando Gora Gang was behind much of the death stick production, and they just took a significant hit a little over a month ago.”
Obi-Wan paused from where he was moving a stack of flimsi from a small box under the bed. Looking over the bed at Jango with narrowed eyes. “Oh? Why do I feel like you have something to do with that?”
Jango couldn’t help but smile a little. “Probably because I did.”
Obi-Wan narrowed his eyes, giving Jango an assessing look. “Impressive.”
Jango lifted a shoulder, feeling ridiculous for how pleased Obi-Wan’s assessment made him feel. “Not as impressive as it sounds.” Time to change the subject. “Why are you looking into death stick sales? Isn’t your current fight with the slave system?”
“It is.” Obi-Wan started shifting the different films sheets over the bed, though Jango noted that there were a few that Obi-Wan discreetly shifted beneath other sheets. “I’m tracking Krayn and his shipments: slaves, death sticks, containment tools, and other drugs that increase passivity and submission. Of course, there are a few shipments that are actually legal as well, of course, as a cover.”
Jango moved to join Obi-Wan as he looked over the flimsi, he had rather detailed notes of shipments over the past several years, starting a year before Obi-Wan’s Freedom Coalition had really started taking off, and Jango could practically track when the agreement went through.
“We’ve freed the slaves here on Tatooine, or at least the ones the Hutts kept here. The Hutts controlling Hutt Space weren’t a part of the treaty, but they were smart enough to realize that Tatooine wasn’t a one off and that the intent was always to go further; a fair number of them started using Krayn as a slave broker of sorts.”
“What sort of treaty were you thinking of using for this?” Jango asked, sorting through the different information. There was even a somewhat detailed, though slightly outdated, map of what looked like a compound somewhere on Nar Shaddaa.
Obi-Wan didn’t answer immediately, and his voice was carefully controlled when he did. “I doubt there’s any offer I could find that they’d want or accept, and the coalition itself is going to branch out to see what aid they can give Ryloth to help clean up the slave trade there.” Obi-Wan was nervously shuffling the flimsi sheets, and Jango frowned; Obi-Wan rarely gave such clear signs of nerves. “Ryloth seems eager, the majority of Ryloth citizens want nothing to do with the slave trade, but it also provides financial stability, so no one has moved against it either. In fact—”
Obi-Wan was pointedly not looking at him as he started putting the flimsi sheets back away. “I’m glad that Ryloth will be getting some help.” Jango interrupted. “That’s wonderful news.”
Obi-Wan nodded, shoulders losing some of their tension.
“So what, exactly, do you not want to tell me about Nar Shaddaa?”
Obi-Wan closed his eyes and turned his head away. “Nothing. It’s—I had a plan, but it needs a little bit of reworking.”
Jango tilted his head, waving a hand in a clear gesture for more.
“Look.” Obi-Wan stopped. “It was a good plan. And viable. And it’s not like I was going to—it’d be a different situation from—. It would have been for a thoroughly worthy cause.” Jango felt his frown deepening the longer Obi-Wan spoke without saying anything. “And if it weren’t for Savage and Feral, then it wouldn’t really be a problem. It’s not—” Obi-Wan sighed. “It doesn’t matter. I’m not going to do it.”
“That sounds like it might be for the best.” Jango said slowly, even as he tried to figure out just what sort of plan Obi-Wan had concocted. Every idea he came up was worse than the last, and without a doubt something he was glad that Obi-Wan wouldn’t be doing.
Obi-Wan snorted. “Now you sound like R2.”
“Well, if R2 and I are agreeing on anything, that’s the surest sign I can think of that we’re probably right.”
“It would have been different,” Obi-Wan said under his breath.
“Different than what?”
Obi-Wan made a face. “Nothing, it’s—” Obi-Wan sighed, shoulders sagging a little. “It’s complicated and a long story.”
“We have time,” Jango coaxed.
Obi-Wan paused, and the look he gave Jango was strangely intense. “Someday,” Obi-Wan conceded quietly. “I think someday I will tell you.”
Jango felt his heart beating unreasonably fast in his chest.
The moment ended when Obi-Wan turned, replacing all the flimsi he’d gathered into the box and putting it back under the bed. Jango’s heart was mostly back to beating at a normal pace when Obi-Wan turned back to him.
“Was that all you needed? To know why the death stick industry took a hit?” Jango asked, voice completely normal.
Obi-Wan sighed. “No, there’s—not tonight. I, I need to take tonight off, I think.”
Jango stepped closer. “Hey.” He smiled down at Obi-Wan. “You can relax every now and then, you know. The weight of the galaxy isn’t on your shoulders.”
Obi-Wan didn’t smile, just looked away, his face pensive.
Jango took the smallest step forward again, and there was almost no space between them. “Have you thought about sharing the burden, sometime?”
Obi-Wan leaned forward a little, close enough that Jango could feel Obi-Wan’s warmth, but then he was pulling back again. “Someday.” Obi-Wan stepped back. “Maybe, if you’re still around then.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
Obi-Wan didn’t quite manage a smile. Obi-Wan didn’t seem to fully believe him. It was also clear that Obi-Wan desperately wanted to. It was all right, Jango would show him.
Obi-Wan took another step back. “There was something else I wanted to talk to you about.”
Jango nodded. “What is it?”
Obi-Wan was looking at him again, eyes full of concern. “You said something, last time we talked,” Obi-Wan said carefully. “About needing to protect your mind.”
Jango felt his heart lurch, the feeling unwelcome. He hated how even thinking of it brought the phantom feel of oil in his mind and words stuck in his throat as his mind ached and screamed in pain.
“Yes.” His voice was strangely hoarse. “I said something about that.”
Obi-Wan’s eyes narrowed, sharp and assessing, and somehow Obi-Wan had realized that something was wrong.
“Tomorrow morning,” Obi-Wan said quietly. “We’ll get started. If that’s okay with you.”
Jango nodded. “Yes. That’s more than okay with me.”
They waited for Cliegg to come home before sitting down for dinner, and the suns had nearly set completely before Cliegg arrived, apologizing for being late and pulling Shmi in for a kiss.
Dinner had been comfortable and easy, Obi-Wan was an excellent storyteller, and he and Feral had given a rather energetic retelling of their day.
Jango, Obi-Wan, and Cliegg, the only ones who hadn’t helped with dinner, took the responsibility of cleaning up after it and Jango found he didn’t even mind when Cliegg gave Jango a wink and left them alone.
Jango rolled his eyes, but couldn’t help but smile a little.
Obi-Wan snorted. “Those two are still very much in what I’ve been told is called the honeymoon period.”
“Oh?” Jango prompted.
“Any minute they can get together.” He gestured at where Cliegg had disappeared. “They take it.”
“They make each other happy,” Jango said quietly. “When you find someone who makes you happy that way, you’ll take any minute you can.”
Obi-Wan hummed a little, handing Jango a container full of leftover food that would probably be used for tomorrow’s lunch and Jango slid it into the cooling unit, shuffling the contents of the cooling unit around a little to get it to fit better.
When Jango turned back around Obi-Wan was watching him, a thoughtful frown on his face.
“You never had someone like that?” Jango asked.
Obi-Wan turned away, moving dishes to the sink. “Most people would say that it’s not the Jedi way.” Obi-Wan’s voice was devoid of anything that would show his actual thoughts, which was a pretty clear sign that whatever he was thinking was unhappy.
Jango snorted. “Maybe not, but it’s true for most sentients I’ve met, so I’m pretty sure that includes Jedi.”
Obi-Wan shrugged. “Well then, what about you? Have you ever had someone like that?”
Jango stared at Obi-Wan’s back for a moment, trying to figure out if Obi-Wan was being serious or not. “Well, I don’t come back here for no reason,” he said finally.
Obi-Wan glanced at him, a quick, darting thing, almost like he was afraid of being caught. Jango did him the courtesy of pretending not to notice, taking some of the plates Obi-Wan had cleaned in the sonic and putting them away.
“Well, I’m sure Shmi will always keep a place open for you.” Obi-Wan glanced at him again. “And despite what R2 might tell you, there’s always space on my ship.”
Jango snorted. “I never did figure out what I did to make that droid dislike me quite as much as he does.”
Obi-Wan laughed a little. “I think he’s warming up to you.”
Not likely, Jango thought, since he was pretty sure R2 had taken to swearing at him whenever Jango so much as walked into the same room as him. Though the droid did seem to be split on who he disliked more, Jango or Savage.
Jango put the last dish away and Obi-Wan turned around. “I’m going to go check on the boys, see if they need anything.” He gave Jango an assessing look. “I’d make an early night of it, if I were you. I plan on waking you up early.”
Jango felt a strange lump in his throat and he mentally berated himself for being an absolute, ridiculously love-struck idiot. “Are you coming to bed?”
Obi-Wan nodded. “I’m planning on it.” He gave Jango another smile before heading down the hallway calling for Feral.
Jango made his own way back to the bedroom Shim had shown him earlier. He’d dropped a few things in there, and it was easy to quickly slip into a sleep tunic. He took a minute to figure out the best place to put his weapons so that they were in easy reach.
Obi-Wan’s voice came from behind. “A blaster actually fits almost perfectly behind the head board.”
“Already put one there,” Jango responded. “Saw you had one there yourself.”
“This is Tatooine.”
Jango conceded the point.
He slid a final vibroblade into a desk drawer and glanced up only to look away when he saw Obi-Wan was changing into a sleep tunic.
He was sitting on the edge of the bed now, once again feeling like an idiot. He’d forced Obi-Wan to sleep several times, and technically shared a sleeping space with Obi-Wan a few times. But one of them had either been on watch, or it had been—well, the only time they’d actually slept beside each other had been on Naboo, after Obi-Wan’s heart had stopped beating.
“I can sleep on my ship, if this is making you uncomfortable.
Jango looked up to see Obi-Wan standing a few steps away, watching him with narrowed, concerned eyes.
“No.” He looked at Obi-Wan, alive and real. “Just got lost in thought. You sure you don’t mind?”
Obi-Wan shrugged. “Of course not.”
Obi-Wan turned the light off, moving to the opposite side of the bed. Jango slid under the light covers, and he could feel the space between them.
A part of him wanted to erase that space, shift closer and hold Obi-Wan close, but he ignored the desire. He wasn’t going to push Obi-Wan past what he was ready for.
Obi-Wan fell asleep first, and Jango used the deep, sleepy heavy breathing to help himself fall asleep.
Jango groaned a little as he forced himself awake, Obi-Wan’s soft chuckle pulling him to the surface of wakefulness. He was comfortably warm, especially along his left side, the phantom of feeling of a body pressed against his.
“Is there a reason we’re getting up so early?” Jango asked. He already missed Obi-Wan’s warmth.
“We’re going to start working on creating shields in your mind.” Obi-Wan poked him a little, finger digging into his shoulder, and Jango moved, catching Obi-Wan’s wrist before he pulled away completely. Obi-Wan shifted in his grip, until he was holding Jango’s wrist as much as Jango was holding his and pulled, dragging Jango out of his very comfortable position.
Jango cracked an eye open to see that Obi-Wan was very much wide awake, and was looking down at him with a soft smile.
Jango sighed and let Obi-Wan pull him upright. If he held onto Obi-Wan’s hand after, well, he blamed it on the fact that he was tired and the fact that Obi-Wan didn’t seem to mind.
“Why, exactly, do we have to do this so early in the morning?” If there was the smallest note of whining in his voice, well, it was early enough that he wasn’t even sure that morning was an appropriate word, it was closer to very, very late night. He had nothing against getting up early, if that was even the right word for this, at least not in the grand scheme of things. He just also liked being able to sleep in when the opportunity arose.
Obi-Wan was grinning, “According to the Jedi, it builds character.” Jango narrowed his eyes at Obi-Wan, and Obi-Wan’s smile grew wider. “And I want to show you something, and this is the best time for it.”
Jango sighed, pushing fully out of bed, finally letting Obi-Wan’s hand slip from his. “I wouldn’t do this for just anyone, you know.”
Obi-Wan snorted. “Lie. All Shmi would have to do would be to ask nicely, and you wouldn’t even whine at her like you do me.”
Jango shrugged. “Well, it’s Shmi.”
Obi-Wan smiled, before moving away. “A winning argument if I’ve ever heard one.”
Jango dressed quickly, arming himself quickly, blasters and vibroblade. Obi-Wan was watching him, something vaguely amused in his eyes.
“I’m not going into the desert unarmed,” Jango said pointedly.
Obi-Wan gestured to his belt where both lightsabers were resting. “I wouldn’t ask you to. I’m honestly surprised you’re willing to go out with so few weapons.”
Jango raised an eyebrow. “You saying you wouldn’t protect me?”
A hint of pink brushed across Obi-Wan’s face, it was endearing. “I don’t think you much need my protection, Jango.”
Jango hummed, widening his eyes in mock pain. “Not an answer. I’m hurt.”
Obi-Wan rolled his eyes and turned towards the door. “You’re ridiculous. But if the terrifying Mandalorian Bounty Hunter needs protection, then by all means, I’ll protect you.”
Jango followed him out of the small bedroom and through the rest of the dark, quiet homestead. Everyone else was still fast asleep. Jango would be jealous—he liked his sleep—but it also meant that he was alone with Obi-Wan. One of the moons was already sliding below the horizon, but the other two moons still shone over the desert.
Obi-Wan led them to a speeder, taking them deeper into the desert, stopping a short distance from the dune.
“Why here?” Jango asked, as he followed Obi-Wan up the dune. Walking through the sand took a specific talent. Obi-Wan seemed to be capable of practically walking over the sand, where Jango felt like he was trudging, the sand pulling him down with each step.
“It’s peaceful out here,” Obi-Wan said quietly. “The desert will show a person who they are.”
Jango made a face at that. “I know myself well enough.”
Obi-Wan turned, walking up the dune backwards. “Do you?” There wasn’t any skepticism in the words, just curiosity.
Jango wasn’t sure how to answer. “I suppose it’s a necessity, then? To shield my mind.” He didn’t actually like the idea of delving too deeply into himself. Oh, he was fine knowing and understanding his weaknesses. The person unwilling to know their weaknesses wouldn’t last long.
Obi-Wan frowned, looking thoughtful. “It would definitely help. But it’s less necessary than you might think. You think all Jedi know themselves?”
Jango scoffed immediately. Not a chance.
Obi-Wan rolled his eyes. “Anyways, I didn’t say you were the one who needed the desert to show you who you were. I can multi-task.”
They reached the top of the dune not much later. “I would have thought you were rather self-aware,” Jango said.
Obi-Wan slipped to sit cross-legged on the sand, on the edge of the dune siding along the ravine, looking up at Jango expectantly. Jango sat next to him, grimacing a little. He expected he’d find sand everywhere after this.
“I do try to be.” There was something in the way he looked at Jango. “I’m not sure I’m always successful.” He shook his head. “But protecting your mind from Force Users.” Obi-Wan pursed his lip a little. “You have to understand, not everyone can do it. And it’s not necessarily needing a fierce enough desire, or having a strong enough will. I’ve known men of practically indomitable will and a fierce desire to protect their minds who’ve simply not been able to do so.”
Jango felt a sharp twist of anxiety. “I understand.”
“You’ve got a good chance,” Obi-Wan said quietly. “You’re already very good at concealing your emotions, and you’d be difficult to control with a mind trick.” Obi-Wan smiled a little. “You’re very stubborn.”
“I do try,” Jango said dryly.
“But keeping someone out of your mind, especially someone who’s Fallen.” Obi-Wan grimaced. “Is not easy.”
Jango didn’t need Obi-Wan to explain, he could remember clearly enough the touch of Tyranus in his mind. “Could you tell?” Jango asked. “If someone’s been in my mind?”
“There’s a good chance you’d know,” Obi-Wan said slowly. “The mind does what it can to protect itself, and even if it can’t stop the intrusion, it’ll let you know, so that you can fight it as well as you’re able.”
Jango grimaced. “But could you tell?”
“Not just by looking at you.” Obi-Wan’s voice was a little dry. “I’d have to go in myself. You can see why I wouldn’t be doing that.”
Jango trusted Obi-Wan fully, but he was honest enough to know that, even with that trust, the idea of just letting someone, even Obi-Wan, into his mind still made him uncomfortable. It was necessary though.
“The first step to building shields is being able to clear your mind,” Obi-Wan said. “Which is easier said than done.”
“I can imagine,” Jango said wryly. “I admit I’m surprised you can manage it, with the way you’re always thinking.”
Obi-Wan laughed. “Do you want to try?”
Jango sighed. “I suppose.”
“It can be hard, to jump to completely emptying your mind. Especially if you’re not used to it. To start, choose a sensation. Touch, smell, hearing. Focus all of your attention on that, and let everything else fade away.”
“What do you choose?”
Obi-Wan gave him a guilty smile. “I choose something in the Force to focus on, I’m not sure that will work for you.”
Jango ceded the point. “What do I do then?”
“Nothing,” Obi-Wan said quietly. “Not yet. This isn’t going to be a one morning process, you need to get used to clearing your mind before we can really start building defenses around it.”
It made sense, at least in the way that anything that was worthwhile never seemed to come easily. “All right.”
“Choose something to focus on.” Obi-Wan closed his eyes and Jango followed his lead.
He had never really realized just how many thoughts there were constantly slipping through his mind. Normally it was easy enough to ignore them, to push everything away for a singular purpose, a drive. Everything could be dealt with after the mission. But now his mission was to clear his mind, and the same principle didn’t seem to be working.
Tyranus and the Kaminoans, their cloning project; Mandalore and his people, what Jango’s next step was supposed to be; the sand shifting beneath him, uncomfortable and getting everywhere; the son he was about to have, a mix of terror and elation, because Jango was going to be a father, and he wasn’t sure he was ready for that; the desert was almost silent, right now, but that didn’t mean that it was safe, Jango couldn’t let himself be distracted in a place like this; and then there was—
“Breathe, Jango.” Obi-Wan’s voice was soft.”You’re overthinking it.” The sensation of fingers against the back of his hand pulled all of his focus. Jango twitched, catching the fingers in his own hand. Obi-Wan allowed it. “It’s natural, in those first moments after you try to clear your mind, for your mind to try and force everything to the surface. Don’t engage, let them drift pass you. Find something to focus on and let yourself center on that.”
Obi-Wan’s fingers were warm in his hand. They weren’t necessarily soft; he knew that if he let his own fingers trace Obi-Wan’s hand that he’d find callouses from constant saber practice. They were strong hands, powerful hands, but there was also something gentle about them. He ran his thumb up and down one of Obi-Wan’s fingers, and let himself focus only on that sensation. He let everything else slip away. Focusing entirely on Obi-Wan’s hand caught in his own.
It was almost easy to let time slip by that way. Obi-Wan’s warm hand in his, knowing that Obi-Wan would be on the watch for danger, and for this moment, he could trust in that.
“All right.” The hand in his own twitched and Jango let himself be pulled back to the moment. “You did very well.”
Jango blinked his eyes open. The final moon was starting to slip below the horizon, the first sun rising along the desert dunes. He hadn’t realized quite that much time had passed.
“I can’t believe you woke me up as early as this, just to have me think about nothing.” He stretched, hissing a little as his back popped, they’d been sitting here longer than he’d realized. “I could have thought of nothing just as easily while sleeping.”
Obi-Wan smiled a little. “I’m sure you could have.” Obi-Wan’s smile slipped away. “I’m sorry, that this isn’t something you can just do. But this basic form of meditation will help, I promise. Once you’ve gotten used to clearing your mind, we’ll be able to start building shields.”
“What if,” Jango started slowly, “there’s already something in my mind.”
Obi-Wan’s eyes flashed sharply. “That could be problematic. You seemed fairly certain that she didn’t manage anything.”
“I don’t think she did.” His voice choked a little, and nothing more came out. “But perhaps she was more talented than I thought she was.”
Obi-Wan hesitated. “Shields can’t protect you from something if it’s already inside your mind, though the discipline of it might help mitigate it.”
Jango waited, but Obi-Wan didn’t offer to check. Though Jango was unsure if he’d even be capable of giving Obi-Wan permission, if the thing in his head would let him, he could already feel his throat closing around the words.
But then Obi-Wan had probably felt how uncomfortable Jango had been with the idea of anyone in his mind, even, unfortunately, Obi-Wan. Except he couldn’t ask Obi-Wan to check. The words were stuck in his throat and his head hurt.
He rubbed at his right temple, trying to push the pain away.
“Are you all right, Jango?”
He heard Obi-Wan shift, moving closer. Obi-Wan’s hand touched Jango’s were he was pushing and rubbing at his forehead, and Jango let Obi-Wan tilt his head up. Obi-Wan was kneeling in front of him and his eyes were stormy and serious. “Jango.”
“You asked me to protect you, this morning. Do you trust me to do that, now?”
Jango felt something in him settle. Obi-Wan realized something was wrong. They may have been joking this morning, but that didn’t make it untrue. “Yes.”
Obi-Wan nodded, and Jango waited impatiently, surely, surely now. But then Obi-Wan just stood, reaching a hand out to help Jango up.
Jango wanted to scream a little. He’d thought Obi-Wan understood. They’d been so close. He let Obi-Wan pull him up to his feet, everything stuck in his throat, and he felt almost dizzy from a lack of air, despite the fact that he was breathing fine.
Obi-Wan turned away from him. “I had wanted to show you something,” Obi-Wan sighed. “But I don’t think it’ll be happening this morning.”
“What did you want to show me?” Jango asked, pushing past his frustration.
Obi-Wan turned to look at him, smile almost impish. “That’d ruin the surprise. Hopefully it will work out next time.”
Obi-Wan started heading down the dune and back to the speeder and Jango followed. Tomorrow morning, he would push it again as much as he could. Obi-Wan wasn’t an idiot, he’d figure out what Jango was pushing at eventually.
Jango actually yelped as his feet tangled in something, and he slipped, falling backwards. The sand, it was going to be everywhere. He looked around, but couldn’t figure out what had tripped him. Obi-Wan was laughing at him. Jango kicked out with a leg, catching Obi-Wan’s ankle and pulling.
He had the feeling that Obi-Wan was almost humoring him, as the man came falling down in the sand next to him.
Still, Jango laughed. Obi-Wan was making offended little noises and was pushing himself up so that he was almost hovering over Jango. “That was rude.”
“Laughing at my poor misfortune was rude,” Jango said pointedly. “I was returning the favor.”
“Returning the favor, is it?” Obi-Wan was smiling. “Then I probably shouldn’t tell you that—”
Obi-Wan froze and Jango watched as absolute fury crossed Obi-Wan’s face, his eyes darkening. “What was Dooku doing near you? What did he—” Obi-Wan pulled in a sharp breath, and the silence that followed was almost harsh.
Jango felt like he was going to get whiplash. “Dooku?” Jango only knew one Dooku, and Jango hadn’t seen him since Galidraan, and frankly, he hoped he never saw the man again unless it involved Jango killing him.
Obi-Wan was pushing away from Jango, standing and moving back up the dune. Leaving Jango laying in the sand, whirling from everything.
“Jedi Master Dooku, now Count Dooku. He left the Jedi Order. I had thought that—” Obi-Wan didn’t finish saying what Obi-Wan had thought. Pacing back and forth at the top of the dune.
Jango pushed himself to his feet, following Obi-Wan back up the dune.
Obi-Wan was pacing back and forth, movements sharp and jerky. He was angry. Absolutely furious.
Jango didn’t think he’d ever seen Obi-Wan angry. Not truly. It was odd, strange. In some ways it didn’t seem to fit Obi-Wan—peaceful, calm, settled Obi-Wan. At the same time, it felt like Jango was finally seeing some essential bit of Obi-Wan that had been long hidden. It was a little beautiful.
“What does Dooku have to do with anything?”
Obi-Wan wasn’t listening to him, or if he was, he wasn’t responding. He was pacing back and forth, hands running through his hair, muttering under his breath, sending concerned looks at Jango every few moments.
“Obi-Wan.” Jango stepped forward, blocking Obi-Wan’s path and resting his hands on Obi-Wan’s shoulders. Obi-Wan was literally trembling beneath his fingers. “What’s going on?”
“Don’t try to answer yes,” Obi-Wan said carefully. “If I’m wrong, tell me. But otherwise, stay silent.”
Jango furrowed his brows. He didn’t like the sound of this, but he nodded. “All right.”
“When you took the bounty on the former Jedi, the one who’d been on Galidraan, when you caught up to the Former Jedi, there was a man there.” Jango felt his eyes widen. “He used another name, probably—” Obi-Wan shook his head. “No, not going there. But he gave you a false name and hired you for a job, a big one. And then he used the Force on you, to ensure that you couldn’t tell anyone about it.”
“An interesting theory.” Jango forced out, a bad feeling filling him. How did Obi-Wan know all of that. Had he seen it in Jango’s mind? “What does that have to do with Dooku?”
Obi-Wan’s voice was soft, apologetic, answering the question without actually answering the question at all. “I’m sorry, Jango. I won’t ever let him touch you again.”
Dooku. Dooku was Tyranus. Tyranus was the man who had led the slaughter on Galidraan. It was Dooku who had let himself into Jango’s mind and twisted things in there like he was allowed.
He had to step away from Obi-Wan, hands clenching as the fury coursed through him.
Jango was going to kill him. Was going to put a hole in his head. Dooku was a dead man walking. Jango had let the past go, as much as he was able. And granted, that wasn’t as much as he was probably supposed to. But he’d never gone after revenge, even when he’d wanted to. Even when the Jedi had more than deserved it.
He hadn’t even gone after Vosa until she’d had a bounty on her head and her life was forfeit anyways.
And look where that had gotten him. Mandalore was in the hands of a hut’uun Auretti, with Death Watch still alive and lurking. Dooku had been allowed to walk free and had walked straight back into Jango’s life, twisting it around as he saw fit. The Jetii were still—
Obi-Wan’s hand was on his cheek, a thumb running a soothing trail over his cheekbone. “Jango, please. Calm down.”
Jango closed his eyes, pushing his anger down, or trying. “I’m going to kill him.”
“I know.” Obi-Wan’s voice was tender. “I know. But please, just…”
“How did you know?”
Obi-Wan looked uncertain. “You wanted me to check your mind, but you weren’t able to ask me.”
Jango nodded. “I thought you’d understand, and then you… well you didn’t seem to?”
“I was trying to make sure you didn’t know when I was going to act,” Obi-Wan admitted. “If you did, it might have alerted the Force trick stopping you from asking for help outright. Once you thought I’d failed to understand, well…” Obi-Wan paused. “I’m sorry. I tried to ask permission as best as I could. I would never just—”
“No.” Jango soothed him. “No, I was asking as well as I could. I needed you to. Can you get it out?”
“He’ll know, the next time he sees you, that it’s gone,” Obi-Wan said quietly. “It’s a strong compulsion, but it’ll fade on its own, faster if you fight it the way you have been. I’ll take it out, if you want me to, or try. But that might put you in danger, if he realizes you went to someone for help to get it removed.”
It had been Dooku in his mind. It had been bad enough when it had been a dangerous stranger, but now, knowing who it had really been? Jango wanted the trace destroyed as soon as possible. “I don’t care.”
Obi-Wan hesitated, and Jango saw a dozen different thoughts make there way across his face, complicated emotions that Jango couldn’t name or determine the source of.
“Will you remove it?” Jango asked, and he hated the way he felt like he was pleading.
Obi-Wan closed his eyes, looking away. Jango felt his heart drop. “Yes, I can remove it.” Obi-Wan’s voice was quiet.
Obi-Wan stepped forward, right into Jango’s space, and Jango needed him closer.
“We should sit down, for this,” Obi-Wan said quietly.
It was different than before, no amusement hidden beneath their actions, nothing easy or comfortable about it.
Jango’s mind was screaming at him, and it was as though the trap in his mind had realized what was going on, digging into his brain with a vibro-blade.
Obi-Wan’s hand was on his arm, tracing up to Jango’s shoulder and neck. “Don’t think about it, Jango.”
“What, exactly, am I supposed to think about?” Jango bit back, the pain sharpening his words, glaring up at Obi-Wan kneeling over him.
Obi-Wan’s eyes were soft. “Tell me about Jaster, Jango.”
Jango felt his heart stop, his every thought stopping in its track.
“I didn’t know you knew—”
“I know his name, I know he was considered a good Mand’alor. Tell me about the man, Jango.”
Could he? Jango wondered. Could he tell Obi-Wan about the man who’d raised him? About that part of his life he’d hidden away and protected?
“He was grumpy in the mornings.” It felt like a stupid thing to start with, but Obi-Wan just smiled a little.
“Is that where you get it from?”
“I’m not grumpy in the mornings,” Jango protested. “Jaster one time threw his helmet at Miles, because Miles was trying to hide the caf from him and it was too early for a more diplomatic solution.”
Obi-Wan laughed, and Jango frowned, the laugh almost echoing inside of him, inside his mind—
“Tell me more about Jaster.”
Right. Jango swallowed, forcing his mind back in that direction.
“He could silence a room without even saying a word,” Jango started slowly. “And it wasn’t out of fear, it was always respect. All he had to do was step between an argument and people would calm down, would step back and handle things rationally.” He swallowed hard, longing swelling within him. “As mercenaries, we were a fighting force that couldn’t be stopped. But we were more than a group of mercenaries, we were a people, a family.”
And so many of them had been killed, killed because of—
“Did Miles ever try to hide the caf again?” Obi-Wan interrupted, derailing his thoughts and Jango let it happen. “After getting a helmet thrown at him?”
Jango felt a laugh wanting to escape him. “I think he took the thrown helmet as a challenge. The caf was never safe after that. Sometimes he’d hide the caf, sometimes he’d replace it with that awful caf alternative, sometimes he’d add spices to it and you’d take a sip of caf and would end up crying from the heat of it.” Which was saying something, since most Mandalorians liked their food spicy.
Obi-Wan laughed, the sound echoing over the desert, and alongside his bones. “This is why I stick to tea.”
“He did that once, too. Took all of the caf in the camp and left that sickly sweet ruby tea in its place. I think Lorien almost murdered him that time.”
Obi-Wan snorted. “Well, of course. Ruby tea is by far an inferior tea.”
“All tea is inferior,” Jango argued back.
“Heathen,” Obi-Wan muttered. He was frowning now, a hint of strain showing up around his eyes.
“I hated him.” The words spilled out, desperate for something to say. “At first.” He swallowed hard. “He’d been injured, it was why he was hiding in our wheat field. And my parents died, protecting him. They burned our house, with my sister still in it. I wanted to go after her, wanted to save her. I could hear her screaming. But Jaster stopped me. He couldn’t even stand, was practically bleeding out, but he grabbed me and forced me to stay hidden. Almost had to knock me out.” He wanted to look away, but Obi-Wan was staring into his eyes, and Jango couldn’t look away, setting his weakness on display for Obi-Wan to see it all. “He saved my life, Death Watch would have killed me too.”
“And you hated him for it,” Obi-Wan whispered quietly, and there was a quiet understanding. “Because you were the one who survived.”
It had been the first time Jango was the only survivor.
It wasn’t the last, and that knowledge echoed between them.
“When did you stop hating him?” Obi-Wan asked, his voice careful.
“Took me nearly a year. I was a bitter, spiteful, sarcastic whelp the whole time. Lashing out at every opportunity.” He could remember how gentle Jaster had been with him. Remembered Jaster holding him when he cried, remembered Jaster helping him find a way to honor his family’s death. “He was patient. Don’t know how many times he offered to bring me somewhere else.”
“Why didn’t you take the offer?” Obi-Wan asked.
Jango frowned. “I’m not sure I really know.” He’d been such a mess of emotions, wanting to belong somewhere, but afraid to move on, to move past what he’d lost, as though it would erase where he’d come from. “I wanted to understand, I think, why my parents had thought this man and these people were worth protecting. And I guess maybe I’d always been Manda, I could feel that it was where I was supposed to be.”
Obi-Wan nodded, and there was a bead of sweat on his forehead. Jango had to distract himself from what Obi-Wan was straining against.
Obi-Wan was the most welcome distraction that had ever slipped into Jango’s life. Was more than that, now.
“I thought I’d never feel that way again, after my parents, and then again after Galidraan. Never feel like there was somewhere I was meant to be.” Jango admitted. And then he’d found Obi-Wan, or maybe Obi-Wan had found him. And Jango didn’t really believe in destiny, he believed in choices and consequences.
But sometimes, rarely, the galaxy was kind, and things felt right.
Obi-Wan breathed in sharply. A moment later there was a sharp, brief pain in the back of Jango’s mind, enough to make him feel like he was seeing stars, and then it was gone and Jango could breathe, a soothing, soft touch brushing across him, wiping the stain of every other touch with it.
Obi-Wan fell backwards, breathing a little heavily, one hand coming up to rub at his own forehead.
Obi-Wan nodded. “It should be gone.”
Jango swallowed, hard. “He called himself Tyranus.” The words came out easily, not sticking in his throat, no pain.
Obi-Wan nodded. “I know.”
“Did you see it?” Jango asked. “In my mind?”
Obi-Wan paused, but then shook his head. “No, I wasn’t rummaging around in your memories, Jango. I got a sense of your thoughts and feelings, at least a little. But nothing that concrete.”
Then how had he known? Jango wondered. If Obi-Wan said he hadn’t been in his memories, then Jango believed him.
So how did he know?
Obi-Wan jerked forward, hand coming to rest across Jango’s mouth. “I need… I need to figure some things out. And you… you can’t tell me.” Obi-Wan shook his head, eyes wide and a little frantic. “You can’t tell me this. Not yet.”
Jango stared at Obi-Wan in surprise.
“Obi-Wan?” Jango’s lips brushed against Obi-Wan’s finger, some of the sand that had been stuck to Obi-Wan’s hand slipping into his mouth.
“Please. I—” Obi-Wan sighed. “I—just give me a little more time, Jango.”
Jango didn’t understand.
Obi-Wan didn’t even know what Jango was going to tell him. What did he need more time for?
There was something heavy in Obi-Wan’s eyes though, that strange franticness, something afraid and confused and hurting.
Jango had seen that look what felt like a thousand times now.
“I wouldn’t believe you, even if you told me?” Jango asked, the muffled words an echo of the same words Obi-Wan had said so many times now. From the very first time they’d met and even now it still hung over them.
Obi-Wan looked away. “I’m sorry. Please, Jango.”
Jango reached up, pulling Obi-Wan’s hand away from where it still covered Jango’s mouth, tangling their fingers together. I love you. Maybe it was a completely inappropriate moment for the thought, but it was still true. “However much time you need, Obi-Wan.” Even if Jango didn’t understand. “Thank you. For getting him out of my head.”
Obi-Wan sighed, shoulders falling a little. “I won’t let him hurt you, Jango.” Obi-Wan paused. “Don’t go after him yet, please. There are factors, I—I need to figure things out.”
The thought of leaving Dooku wandering about, his rather-obviously-nefarious plans in the works, was not a comforting one. “For now.”
He needed time to plan how to kill the man, anyways.
Obi-Wan didn’t mention Dooku again, and if it weren’t for the fact that sometimes Obi-Wan would give him troubled, thoughtful looks, Jango might have been able to pretend that that first morning had gone like all the ones that followed it.
With Obi-Wan waking him up early and dragging him out into the darkness of the desert and directing him to clear his mind.
He still hadn’t discovered what it was that Obi-Wan wanted to show him. Obi-Wan always just shrugged and said that it hadn’t worked out yet.
Part of him wondered if Obi-Wan was pulling his leg, except Obi-Wan seemed genuine about wanting to show Jango, well, whatever it was that Obi-Wan wanted to show Jango.
He’d been on Tatooine just over a week when he received the message on his work communicator, asking to meet—or rather, demanding to meet—in a tavern in Mos Espa.
It wasn’t signed, which wasn’t completely out of the norm, but nor was it the most reassuring sign.
“What do you think?” he asked absently as they got ready for the night. They’d spent the evening with the boys, teaching them the basics of how to use a blaster.
Jango had been a little surprised when Obi-Wan had suggested it, looking at Jango in a way that had been almost shy. Jango had been quick to agree. Anyone growing up on Tatooine needed to know how to shoot, and if Feral and Savage were going to be living with Obi-Wan, well, the sooner they learned to shoot the better. Obi-Wan was decent with a blaster. Jango was better, though.
“What do I think about what?”
Jango tossed his comm to Obi-Wan, who caught it without looking, frowning down at his data pad. Jango waited a minute for Obi-Wan to finish what he’d been doing before taking a look at Jango’s comm.
“Sounds like someone wants to meet you,” Obi-Wan said slowly. “I’m surprised anyone knows you’re here.”
Jango shrugged. That bothered him less than it probably should. But then, he’d made a habit of being able to find people who were trying to stay hidden. And since he wasn’t personally trying to stay hidden at the moment, he thought it was reasonable that anyone remotely talented and serious about finding him would be able to.
“Tatooine isn’t a bad place to hang around, if you’re looking for a bounty hunter.”
Obi-Wan conceded the point with a small grin. “True.” He gave Jango a curious look. “Why are you asking me? I think you’d have a better idea of this sort of thing.”
“No bad feelings about this?” Jango asked. “And I value your opinion.”
Obi-Wan looked back down at the comm, eyebrows furrowed. “No,” He said slowly. “No bad feelings.”
Jango raised an eyebrow at that. “But?”
Obi-Wan looked up at him, eyes a little distant. “You should go, I think.” He frowned a little, and then tossed the comm back at Jango.
Jango looked down at the message demanding his presence and back at Obi-Wan who was sticking his data pad away with a frown. He typed out a quick acceptance, stowing the comm away and sliding into bed.
Obi-Wan waved his hand, and the light turned off. And really, it was at times like this that the Force actually seemed dreadfully convenient. It would be nice to never have to walk to turn off the lights.
Obi-Wan slid into the bed, and Jango could feel his heat, a scant few inches from where he was lying.
They always seemed to start like this, a few inches apart. Like always, Jango wanted to cross the distance, hold Obi-Wan close.
Obi-Wan slipped a little closer. And that was different.
“What’s bothering you?” Jango asked quietly. Sometimes he thought it was easier for Obi-Wan to be honest in the dark, when he didn’t have to worry about looking like he had everything under control.
“I think…” Obi-Wan paused. “I think a choice is coming.” Obi-Wan sighed a little. “Choices.”
“Not so unusual,” Jango said carefully.
Obi-Wan didn’t answer, silence stretching out into the dark, and Jango had to carefully control his breathing when Obi-Wan slid closer still, hands hesitant as they touched Jango’s chest. Normally Obi-Wan didn’t end up against him until after they’d both fallen asleep.
“Is this okay?” Obi-Wan’s voice was barely above a whisper.
Jango slipped an arm around Obi-Wan’s waist, pulling him closer. “Of course.”
The moment was almost perfect. Except Obi-Wan was holding him like he thought Jango was about to disappear.
Obi-Wan just held on tighter.
"I'll take what he's having."
Jango paused, glass a few inches from his lips, but then sighed and finished drinking. He set the glass down firmly and turned to look at the woman who'd sat herself beside him.
This was clearly the person who had been sending him anonymous messages to meet him. It took a moment to place her. He was far more familiar with the face of her sister.
"You better have a good reason to be here, Kyr'tsad.” It was difficult to not spit the word. “Or I will put a hole in your head, Kryze."
Bo Katan Kryze met his eyes coolly. "Fett. I'm not sure why you think I need a reason. Perhaps I'm just here for a drink."
Jango snorted, and pulled out his blaster, keeping it at his hip, but making it clear that he was more than willing to follow through with his threat. Around him a few people moved away, clearing away from possible trouble. "Find a drink somewhere else." Kryze gave the blaster a dismissive glance, and raised an eyebrow. Yes, definitely related to the other Kryze, self assured, overly assuming, and completely certain they could push their way into places they weren’t wanted.
"You know, my sister refuses to even acknowledge that Death Watch is still around, I don't think she's even willing to acknowledge my existence, too old Mandalore for her, and that's without her realizing where my loyalties lie." Kryze stared at him, and Jango gave her his best disinterested look. "How did you know I was Death Watch."
Jango raised an eyebrow. "You think I haven't kept an eye on Kyr'tsad? I know exactly who your cousin is. You didn't join your sister in her crusade to strip Mandalore of its identity. You're certainly not one of mine. Your cousin's done a remarkable job biding his time. But you're his."
"Pre is willing to do what is necessary to not fall prey to the weakness my sister is trying to spread through Mandalore. And I want Mandalore to be what it was.” Kryze spit the words. “That's more than you can say. You don't seem to want anything for Mandalore at all."
Jango clenched his jaw, and waved his fingers at the bartender for another drink. "You know nothing, Kryze, of what I want."
Bo Katan leaned forward, pressing into his space and Jango had to restrain himself from shooting her. Her lips spread in a mockery of a victorious smile. “Exactly. Whose fault is that, Fett."
The barb hit home, undoubtedly just as intended. "What are you here for, Kryze?"
It was only the smallest moment, but for a split second Jango saw something that might have been uncertainty cross Kryze's face; it occurred to him that Kryze was young, older than Jango had been when Galidraan had happened, yes, but still young. Certain of the galaxy and her place in it, still so blissfully unaware of how little the galaxy cared.
"I was young, when Galidraan happened, only just an adult by Mandalorian standards,” she started carefully. "I wasn't Death Watch, not then."
"I've already been given the lecture on not judging those who were too young to be personally involved in the Galidraan tragedy,” Jango informed her. "But you know what they've done and yet you follow Death Watch."
Kryze narrowed her eyes. "What choice do I have?"
Jango opened his mouth to retort, but Kryze spoke again.
"That, that is why I'm here, Fett." That uncertainty was back. "You disappeared from sight after Galidraan, for years the people of Mandalore thought you were dead. And then rumors that you were alive started spreading, and I thought…” She shook her head. "We lost hope in you all over again. I lost hope in you."
It hurt, but her accusations were more than fair. “Why are you here?” he repeated.
"There are rumors."
"There always are." Jango said wryly, a fact that he'd been well aware of when he'd said and done the things he'd said and done, at least of late.
"There are rumors that you're preparing to call for Mandalore again, that you're preparing to take your role as Mand'alor."
Well, that was a bit of a jump, he'd wanted his people to see that he was present still, that he was willing to fight for causes above himself and his money. He had said nothing, to anyone, of Mandalore, of his people. But then, perhaps his people had been waiting so long that they were eager for even the smallest sign.
Guilt and rage were an uncomfortable mix.
"I suppose that would add quite the crimp in whatever Kyr'stad's plans are." He eyed her. "You here to try to kill me, Kryze? Prove yourself loyal to Death Watch."
"Is it true?"
Jango stared at her for a long moment. "I don't know that my vision for Mandalore matches yours, Kryze. It certainly doesn't match the vision Death Watch has." He scoffed a little. "Neither does it match the vision your sister has." It didn't answer her question, not completely, anyway. But it was still an answer.
Kryze grimaced at that. "Yes, well Satine's most Manda trait has always been her passion. She's just always been passionate about the wrong sort of things. Reform, pacifism, Jedi padawans." Kryze snorted. "Though rumor has it, she's not alone in that." She gave him a knowing look that might have been an attempt at friendly teasing.
"Jedi Padawans aren't my thing."
Kryze snorted. "But Kenobi is, apparently. Looks like you and my sister have something in common after all." Kryze made a face. "Never really understood it, myself. But to each their own, I suppose."
Jango kept his face empty of the thoughts racing through his mind.
That was a new one. Obi-Wan had never mentioned knowing the Duchess. He wasn't, however, inclined to let Kryze realize that Jango was unaware of that facet of Obi-Wan's past. Especially since Kryze was hinting at something that Jango would have never thought to guess. What exactly was Obi-Wan's relationship with the Duchess?
Jango couldn't think about that. Not right now.
Kryze seemed to have already moved past that point, though, and was staring at Jango with searching eyes. "Pre doesn't believe the rumors. He thinks that Death Watch destroyed your spirit, destroyed you. He doesn't think you have what it takes to fight for anything other than money now."
Jango clenched his jaw. That hadn't been meant as a barb, but it had struck true all the same. Death Watch had broken his spirit, it had been so much easier to fight alone, money his only goal. The only way he could be hurt then, was physically.
Jango had still cared for his people, but from a far enough distance that his inability to lead them, his inability to help them, couldn't hurt him.
"Your cousin should know better than to assume things like that."
"So he's wrong?" There was a gleam in Kryze's eyes and Jango wondered again just why she was here.
Jango stared at her. He thought of Naboo and Obi-Wan and fights that were worth fighting. He thought of Kamino and clones that were being created and threats on the horizon.
It would be risky, to be honest to a member of Kyr'tsad. "A man can't be Mand'alor if no one follows him." Jango said quietly. "And my people have every reason to doubt me. It's been ten years since Galidraan. But I'm not beaten or broken, Kryze, and if there are any out there who still trust me, who are still waiting for me—" And he knew there were, no matter how little Jango deserved their loyalty. "Then I can assure you, and you can feel free to warn your cousin, I'll fight for them and with them. The True Mandalorians aren't dead, Kryze. Kyr'tsad hasn't won."
Kryze leaned back and then tossed her drink back in one smooth motion. "Mando'ad draar digu, Fett." She stood up. "Pre might have ignored your True Mandalorians after Galidraan, but I never did. And not all of those who follow Pre want Mandalore to be nothing more than destruction without a cause."
Jango raised an eyebrow. "And if I have a cause worth fighting for, Kryze? A fight worthy of the Mandalorian spirit?"
Kryze met his eyes. "Prove you're still Mand'alor, Fett. Prove that Naboo wasn't a fluke, that you still know how to fight for something that's not just money. Prove that you have Manda still."
Jango stared at her and then turned back to his drink. "Next time I see you, Kryze, if you're still Kyr'tsad, I will kill you."
"If you're not worth the title you've been given, you'll be dead before you can try."
Jango smirked a little into his drink.
Ah, there was the death threat he’d been waiting for. How were she and the Duchess even related?
He returned to the Lars Homestead with his mind turning over everything that Kryze had said. He wasn't sure he could trust her, she was Kyr'tsad after all. Trusting a member of Kyr'tsad was more dangerous than juggling with grenades, the only certainty with both was that eventually it would blow up on you.
Had he really pushed those who might have joined the True Mandalorians into Death Watch's hands with his silence? With his absence?
The thought was galling.
It wasn't too late. Not if he was willing to fight for the Mandalorian cause, not if he was willing to give the Mandalorians a cause.
He'd have to return to Mandalore.
He needed to gather his people, first. He needed to help the True Mandalorians become strong again.
It was tempting, in some ways, to leave Kyr'tsad and the New Mandalorians to fight amongst themselves.
They weren't his people.
Except how many of them were? How many of them would follow him, if he gave them a third option. Not mindless violence nor enforced and stringent peace.
He wouldn't ever force anyone to fight with him. There were many ways to answer the Mand'alor's call to arms, and fighting was only one of them.
He wandered through the kitchen to see Shmi cooking at the counter. She turned to look at him, smile fading a little as she looked at him. "You all right?"
Jango nodded. "I'm going to go out and practice the meditation Obi-Wan's been teaching me. I probably won't make it in for dinner."
Shmi's brow furrowed further in concern. "All right."
He left before she could ask anything more. He liked and respected Shmi. This wasn't something he was prepared to talk about though. Not with her.
He wanted to talk to Obi-Wan.
It was still a strange realization.
In the grand scheme of things he'd known Obi-Wan for five years, and so much of that time had been spent not together. So much of that time had been spent barely acknowledging they were friends.
And yet Jango wanted so much more than just friendship.
Jango wanted to fight Obi-Wan's fights with him.
And he wanted Obi-Wan to be willing to do the same.
He wanted to share a ship, to share a purpose, to share a name.
He wanted Obi-Wan to help raise his future son, was willing to step up and help Obi-Wan with his duties as guardian and protector for the two boys he’d taken in.
Sometimes, he was afraid of how much he wanted from Obi-Wan.
"You look far too bothered by something to be meditating." Obi-Wan's voice was quiet and Jango opened his eyes to see Obi-Wan settling into position in front of him.
"Wasn't trying to meditate,” Jango admitted.
"It will help,” Obi-Wan said quietly. "To protect your mind."
Jango nodded. "I believe you." He stared at Obi-Wan, and felt the impulse rise in him, almost impossible to deny. "Ni copaani mirjahaal. Gar dinu naak ori'shya mayen." (I need peace of mind. You give peace more than anything.)
Obi-Wan looked surprised at the Mando'a, looking up at Jango with a faint brush of color on his cheeks that hadn't come from the sun outside—so he did understand Mando'a. The brief moment on Naboo where Obi-Wan had thanked him in Mando'a hadn't been a fluke.
Obi-Wan's eyebrows furrowed, as if he was trying to decide on a course of action. “Me’liniba?” (What do you need?)
Jango felt a strange mix of warmth and hurt at the Mando'a coming from Obi-Wan's lips. "You never mentioned that you knew the Duchess." He tried to make the words come out completely neutral, but he suspected he hadn't managed as well as he wanted.
Obi-Wan blinked, looking thoroughly surprised at the shift. "I did know her, yes." Something complicated crossed Obi-Wan's face. "When Death Watch and the New Mandalorians were fighting after the True Mandalorians…” Obi-Wan hesitated. "Well, after what happened to the True Mandalorians. The Senate sided with the New Mandalorians."
Jango snorted. Pacifism. Of course the Senate had sided with them, the New Mandalorians were far less of a threat to the Senate, fell more in line with what the Senate and the Republic considered good and civilized. It was the same reason the Senate had been so willing to interfere in matters not their own on Gaildraan, and then look the other way when their overstep led to death, the True Mandalorians hadn't been worth caring about, too savage for the respectable members of the Senate to care about.
"The New Mandalorians asked for help and the Senate asked the Jedi to ensure that Satine wasn't killed."
Jango nodded, he'd known that much. That had been just over three years after Galidraan, and Jango had only recently freed himself from his time as a slave. He'd known what was going on, at least in a general sense.
"My Master and I were sent,” Obi-Wan said slowly. "I was sixteen, we ended up spending a year on the run, her, my Master, and I. Chased by Death Watch while her peacekeepers retook Sundari." Obi-Wan seemed a little hesitant. "We grew fond of each other, her and I."
Jango hated himself a little for the flash of jealousy that ran through him. "Fond?"
Obi-Wan shrugged, then stopped mid-motion. "I would have left the Jedi Order, had she asked."
It was a gut punch. That was more than just a little fond. That was. That was something Jango didn't really want to put into words, not when it was between Obi-Wan and the Duchess. The woman who was Jango's very antithesis. Who wanted to destroy what it meant to be Mandalorian.
"Her?" Jango couldn't help the way the word tore out of him. "And are you still fond of her?"
"Jango." Obi-Wan's voice was carefully neutral; it told Jango more than he really wanted to know.
"No." Jango interrupted. "I—" he shook his head. "You don't need to answer that. You're allowed your affections." Even if it was perhaps not Jango that had gained those affections. Hadn't even had a chance, it seemed.
"Jango." Obi-Wan looked so uncertain. "I can't—" Obi-Wan let out a heavy breath. "There's—" Obi-Wan was clenching his hands open and shut. "Jango. It's complicated."
"Complicated,” he repeated, a little incredulous. That was one word for it, he supposed.
Obi-Wan was a Jedi though, had been a Jedi, of course he would fall for a woman who sought peace above all else, who would destroy the traditions of an entire people to do it, and cast out anyone who disagreed with her in the process.
"She won't even let my people wear their armor." Jango felt a familiar rage burning. "But that's all right, isn't it. She can try to destroy the foundational tenets of my people, but so long as her cause is just, so long as her desires align so conveniently with the principles of your vaunted Jedi Order and your precious Republic. Why, if that's the case, you'll help her with a smile."
"Would you have rather we let Death Watch kill her?" Obi-Wan snapped back.
The answer seemed to ring clear through the cooling air of the desert, despite Jango not saying it aloud and Obi-Wan reared back as though he'd been struck. As though Jango had struck him.
"I hate Death Watch." Jango kept his voice quiet; some of his rage had buried itself again. "They tried to destroy my people, and someday I'll bring the fight back for them. But just because the Duchess claims her ways are peaceful, doesn't make them any less an act of destruction against my people. But unlike Death Watch she'd erase my people and our traditions from history itself if she could."
"You hate her just as much as them, then?"
Jango shrugged. "Sometimes less, sometimes more. Death Watch wants to ravage destruction with no cause. The Duchess wants to regulate us into being nothing but ghosts of ourselves. We're born with Manda in our souls, Obi-Wan, with fire and passion and life.” He needed Obi-Wan to understand this. Needed Obi-Wan to understand what the Duchess was trying to destroy. “That doesn't mean all of us want to fight, though most of us do. We're not bloodthirsty, not savage, but give us a cause, Obi-Wan, and you'll never find anyone who can match us in our passion, in our fight."
"And what's your cause?" Obi-Wan's voice was quiet.
You are, Jango thought. You and whatever impossible fight you're preparing for, you’re my cause. But that wasn’t what Obi-Wan was asking. “I don't know,” he answered instead, because Obi-Wan wasn't ready to hear that, and Jango was suddenly unsure he could say it aloud anyways, with the bitter realization of who Obi-Wan had already ceded his heart too. "I abandoned my people, after Galidraan. Galidraan broke me, and I had to put myself back together again. After that, well, I never seemed to be ready to face them again."
Obi-Wan reached out carefully, and Jango watched as his hand hovered over where Jango's own hand was resting on his knee, but Obi-Wan withdrew without touching. Was it because he was afraid that Jango wouldn't want his touch? Or was it, Jango wondered bitterly, because he couldn't bear to touch Jango. "You're a good man, Jango Fett."
Jango laughed a little. "No, I'm not, Obi-Wan. I'm a bounty hunter."
Obi-Wan shrugged. "Yes, you're that too. But you're a good man. You'd be a good leader, if you let yourself be."
"If they let me be,” Jango corrected.
Obi-Wan paused, but then nodded. "Yes, that too."
They fell quiet then, the silence not quite comfortable, the same way it'd been at the beginning, and Jango already missed the ease in which they'd use to share their silences.
"Why did you never tell me?" Jango asked, not sure if he wanted to know. "About you and the Duchess."
Obi-Wan frowned a little, looking away. "It never occurred to me. It was so long ago."
Jango wasn't sure what he thought of that. Was that a good thing? A bad thing?
"It was only two years before we met." Jango pointed out. And yes, Jango wouldn't have expected Obi-Wan to tell Jango then, surely since? Especially when Jango had, well when Jango had done everything he could to make it clear where he stood when it came to Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan laughed, a sharp sound, and Jango was transported back suddenly to the last time he'd heard that laugh escape Obi-Wan, it had been right before Naboo had happened. After Obi-Wan had been sick, when he'd looked at Jango and seen different men. The first time Jango had really asked Obi-Wan about his past and gotten answers that made no sense. They don’t exist, not now, maybe not ever. But they did, and they might, but for now they’re phantoms in my mind. Specters that are a haunting of a past that’s gone. I'm a crazy man, Jango.
"As long ago as Cody and Rex?" Jango wasn't quite sure what prompted the question, wasn't even sure what exactly he meant by it, but it froze Obi-Wan where he sat, eyes wide with confusion and shock and so much grief Jango couldn't breathe.
"How do you know about Cody and Rex?"
"You told me about them."
"I—" Obi-Wan shook his head. "No. I wouldn't have told you—No, not that." And that felt like the cold-clock of a blaster to the head. Obi-Wan trusted Jango, Jango knew that. He trusted Jango with Shmi, with Anakin, and now with Savage and Feral. But not with the secrets that hung around them, not his past with the Duchess, not with the truth about these two men that Obi-Wan clearly had trusted. "I haven't—not with anyone." The admission that Jango was not the only one being left in the dark did little to stem the hurt.
Cody and Rex. Satine. Dooku who was Tyranus. Secrets and stories and all of it left for ‘someday, if you’re still around.’
"You didn't tell me much. It was just after you first woke up after the fever broke, back before Naboo. I didn't realize you'd forgotten,” Jango said quietly. "All you said was that they looked like me, that you trusted them with your life. Only that you'd lost them. That they were nothing more than phantoms now."
"Oh." The quiet sound echoed for a moment and then Obi-Wan slumped. "In some ways, yes, Satine was as long ago as them. In some ways, no." He closed his eyes. "I—I can't, Jango. Not yet."
Not yet. That wasn't the same as never. How many times had Obi-Wan said that recently? ‘Someday,’ ‘not yet,’ ‘I need more time.’
Jango wanted to give him that time, wanted to wait. But could Jango keep waiting, when it felt like every lesson learned from Obi-Wan's past was going to hurt the way this one had? "But someday?"
Obi-Wan's eyes flickered, questions and decisions and uncertainty. "You keep coming back,” Obi-Wan said quietly. "No one has ever done that before." He sighed, the silence pressing in on them both again.
It wasn't an answer. Jango was starting to wish he hadn't asked for one.
He's hiding things. He has secrets. Shmi had said. She had warned that they might tear at the two of them. That Jango would want to walk away.
Jango had acknowledged that she might be right, but had somehow convinced himself that she wouldn't be.
"If she asked you to come to her now, the Duchess, to leave everything behind for her, would you do it?" Obi-Wan had said he'd have left the Jedi Order for her, then. But now?
Obi-Wan didn't answer immediately. "I'd never be able to sit back and watch her die." Obi-Wan shuddered at that. "I love her, Jango. I don't—I don't know how to stop loving people once I've started. But Satine." Obi-Wan shook his head. "I've lost her, Jango. In so many different ways. I, I don't trust her, perhaps, the way I once did. There are some things I just can't go back to. Some things you can never go back to. And she's one of them."
"And if I said that I wanted to lead the True Mandalorians again, to take back Mandalore?"
Obi-Wan looked shattered. "Don't kill her, Jango. Please. Please don't make me see that. Not a—" Obi-Wan cut off. Jango had the strange feeling that he knew how that sentence would have finished. Not again.
Jango shoved it aside. Later. He'd figure this all out, later.
"My people deserve to be free."
"They do,” Obi-Wan agreed, quiet, so quiet. "I—" Obi-Wan sighed. "I don't agree with what Satine has done, what she will do. I don't, well, I don't fully understand what it means to be Mandalorian. I was there on Mandalore for a year, I watched as Satine's determination strengthened and evolved into what it is now. She changed that year; she'd always wanted something different for Mandalore, something she felt was better than what Death Watch was pushing for. But..." Obi-Wan's hands fidgeted. "She had never spoken kindly of many of the traditions, but she wouldn't speak of any of them at all, by the end."
Maybe it was better than what Death Watch wanted, but that didn't make it good. That didn't make it right.
"I've failed my people for so long, Obi-Wan,” Jango said quietly. "If they take me back, I won't fail them again. I want to give them a cause worth fighting for. I want them to be free to wear their armor. To follow the resol'nare. I want them to be able to teach their children how to fight and how to live. I want Mandalore to be what it was, welcoming to everyone who feels the Manda call, not just those who were born on our planet and in our system. I want my people to be able to step onto Mand'yaim without being made outcasts." I want you to be with me. But that was something else Jango couldn't say. "I won't kill her, Obi-Wan." Obi-Wan seemed to fall in on himself with relief at the words. "But when the time comes, I will oppose her." Jango swallowed, hard. "Can you accept that?"
Obi-Wan shifted a little, looking up at Jango, eyes piercing into Jango's own. "They're your people, Jango. You're supposed to protect them." Something dark seemed to pass over Obi-Wan's face. "And your people deserve someone who is willing to do what is necessary to protect them."
Jango thought that Obi-Wan probably meant it as an affirmation of Jango, but it still felt like a condemnation. Ten years now he'd abandoned them, eight of those years he'd been free but ultimately passive. He hadn't done what was necessary to protect them. And now Death Watch still lurked in the shadows and a Duchess stripped them of their identity and Jango would have to watch his every step in reclaiming what he'd let slip through his fingers.
"Would you stand with me?" Jango asked, hating himself a little for asking. Obi-Wan loved her, but Jango didn't know that he could take all of this on his own, and he wanted Obi-Wan to be at his side. He would wait however long, would never try to push Obi-Wan past what he was ready for. Would take this however slow Obi-Wan needed. But selfishly, he wanted to know that he wouldn't lose Obi-Wan by pursuing this path.
"Are you asking me to?" It was an echo of what Jango had asked Obi-Wan, when Obi-Wan had asked if he would keep coming back.
"Yes. Obi-Wan, I—“ He cut off, the hair on the back of his neck rising, as the ground trembled beneath them, sending a faint tremor up his back. He jerked to his feet, one hand going to his blaster, and the other grabbing Obi-Wan’s arm and pulling him up and towards him.
Obi-Wan stumbled, cursing and catching himself against Jango, as Jango started pulling them down the dune.
Kriff, Jango was a fool. Not even in his armor, all he had was two blasters, a few vibroblades, and a garrote, not that the garrote or vibroblades would do much good against what Jango was pretty sure was coming for them.
Obi-Wan at least had his lightsabers.
“Jango.” Obi-Wan caught his hand, pushing the blaster down, trying to move back up the dune.
“Obi-Wan.” Jango pulled him back, keeping his voice quiet. “Do you realize—”
“It’s all right.” Obi-Wan was smiling, looking at the top of the dune and Jango felt his blood run cold as a large head appeared over the top of the dune. He shifted his grip on his blaster, slowly raising it.
Obi-Wan pushed it down again. “No. Trust me.”
Jango clenched his blaster tighter, but kept it lowered.
A low, deep vibration filled the air, and Jango felt unnerved to realize it was coming from the Krayt Dragon that was standing in the ravine.
“Hello there.” Obi-Wan’s voice was quiet. “I was starting to think you were ignoring me.”
Jango stared at Obi-Wan as the man slowly stepped closer to the Krayt—not just a Krayt, he realized as he took a better look at the huge creature, a Greater Krayt.
The Greater Krayt’s head shifted, one large yellow eye seeming to stare at Jango.
“This is Jango.” Obi-Wan continued. “I wanted you to meet him.” Obi-Wan smiled back at Jango. “This is who I’ve been wanting to show you.”
Jango thought his mouth was probably gaping a little unflatteringly.
“During our morning meditations.” Obi-Wan clarified. “She normally comes to visit every couple of mornings, but she’s been staying away.”
Obi-Wan was stepping closer to the edge of the dune, only a few feet from the Great Krayt and Jango had to fight his instincts not to pull Obi-Wan away, instead moving carefully closer himself.
The Great Krayt followed his movements as he pressed against Obi-Wan, wrapping his free arm around Obi-Wan so that he could pull him back easily if necessary. He couldn’t quite bring himself to let go of his blaster with the other hand.
He had the strangest feeling that the Great Krayt found him amusing.
Shmi had said that they’d heard a Krayt call every few days, that Obi-Wan seemed unbothered by it.
This was not what Jango had expected.
Shmi was absolutely going to murder Obi-Wan. And then she was going to murder Jango for going along with this.
“I didn’t even invite you this time,” Obi-Wan was saying quietly. “Why now?”
The Greater Krayt shifted, moving closer, and Jango stepped back, pulling Obi-Wan with him. The Greater Krayt huffed, warm air moving across them, bringing with it the scent of blood and meat. At least that probably meant the creature had already eaten and wouldn’t necessarily be in a hurry to eat the two of them.
Obi-Wan let out a small breath. “Oh.”
“What does that mean?” Jango said quietly.
“She felt us fighting,” Obi-Wan said, and he sounded amused and soft.
“She felt us fighting?” Jango repeated, absolutely lost.
Obi-Wan nodded. “Well, me more than you. Greater Krayts are sensitive to the Force. Many people believe they’re Dark Side inclined, but that’s not true.”
The Greater Krayt had drawn back a little, and Jango felt a bit of relief. Not enough. Krayts could move with impressive speed and they were still far too close to the creature for Jango to feel comfortable.
“I would really like an explanation,” Jango said quietly, trying to carefully ease Obi-Wan backwards. “As to how you met, and apparently made friends with, a Great Krayt.”
Obi-Wan turned a little, not quite pushing out of Jango’s arm—and he was showing his back to the Krayt, was Obi-Wan mad?—to look up at Jango. Jango let his eyes flicker down to meet Obi-Wan’s before returning to keep careful watch on the Krayt, who was standing there, fierce and majestic, and completely unbothered by the two small, snack-sized humans.
“Jango.” Obi-Wan’s voice was soft. “What were you asking me, before our friend showed up?”
Our friend? Jango thought and in his own mind the words sounded a little hysterical, only Obi-Wan. The presence of the Greater Krayt had almost driven everything else out of his mind, and it took effort to send his focus to something not the current moment.
“I don’t want to lose you,” Jango said carefully. “Over this. Over Mandalore. I know you—” the words were bitter on his tongue. “I know you love her. But—” The Great Krayt had moved closer again, head tilted in what Jango would have sworn was curiosity. “Stand with me,” he finished. “Please. I, I want you to stand with me.”
Obi-Wan nodded, and there were so many emotions in Obi-Wan’s eyes. “You won’t lose me.” Obi-Wan said quietly. “I’ll be here, as long as you’ll have me.”
The Great Krayt shifted back, neck elongating as the creature seemed to reach up into the air, pulling Jango out of the moment and he pulled Obi-Wan closer and back a few steps. She let out a long, low sound that echoed over the desert as it rose into a higher, bone-shaking screech.
A moment later the Great Krayt was gone and Jango reached the edge of the dune in time to see the huge creature, over 100 yards from head to tail, disappearing into the sandy bottom of the ravine.
He turned and stared at Obi-Wan, who was staring at the bottom of the ravine, smiling like he’d just said goodbye to a friend and not a terrifying, desert predator.
Gods. Jango loved this man.
Shmi was going to kill them both.
He woke abruptly, senses on alert. "What?"
Obi-Wan was at the foot of the bed, trying to hastily dress himself, the man turned to look at him and in the dim light Jango could see that his eyes were hard and determined. “Sorry to disturb you, you can go back to sleep.”
"What are you doing?" The house seemed silent, no noise to indicate that something had gone wrong.
"I need to go. Someone's in trouble and I need to get to them."
"Who?" Jango pushed himself out of bed, reaching for his blaster, settled securely on the table beside the bed. "Shmi? One of the boys?"
Obi-Wan shook his head. "No, none of them. It's—" he hesitated. "It's—" Obi-Wan looked away.
"It's?" Jango repeated, trying to prompt Obi-Wan into continuing.
Obi-Wan just shook his head, going back to pulling his boots on.
Jango wanted to hit his head on something, because this felt like the start of another secret.
"Look, I need to go, I need to—" Obi-Wan paused, staring at Jango as though he'd just thought of something. "Does your ship have boarding capabilities?"
Jango raised an eyebrow, a little confused and not quite sure he liked where this was going. "Yes."
Obi-Wan stood frozen. “Jango, I know you’re upset, please, I—”
“What do you need?” He pushed himself from the bed, grabbing at clothes and weapons.
Obi-Wan seemed to sag in relief. “Thank you.”