“Obi-Wan. There you are. Seriously, old man, you've got to—”
His master stared up at him in— terror ?
Obi-Wan scrambled backwards, eyes wide, cowering against the wall. “You're so full of anger— so full of hate— ”
“What?” Anakin choked, staring at him. It was true, but— “What's going on?”
Obi-Wan shook his head, searching the room frantically with his gaze. “Where is Qui-Gon?”
Anakin's heart turned to ice. “Master?” he asked, dread spilling through him.
Obi-Wan gave him a blank look. “Qui-Gon,” he repeated. “Please, I— He will be so disappointed; I forgot what I was supposed to—” Obi-Wan squinted up at his surroundings, clearly bewildered. “I—”
“What do you remember?” Anakin asked, trying not to panic. He could sense how afraid Obi-Wan was of him. Because of what's inside me.
It hurt like hell.
“Firebeetles. I—” understanding dawned. “They must have— I passed out. Did you save me from them?”
Firebeetles? What the hell are you talking about? “Rescuing you is part of my job description.”
Obi-Wan looked at him with such helpless incomprehension that Anakin nearly exploded. He had to stifle the urge to bombard Obi-Wan with a flood of questions.
Don't scare him. More than you already have .
“Where is Qui-Gon?”
The panic in Anakin's heart quickened. If he reaches out to that bond and finds Qui-Gon dead—
“It's been a long time since you last ate. Let's get some food in you, and then we can—”
Obi-Wan's slightly-unfocused gaze flooded with disbelief, then horror, and then grief punched through Anakin's soul like a lightsaber's blade.
“What did you do to him !” Obi-Wan's utterly betrayed, utterly heartbroken reproach tore Anakin's soul.
“Why do you think I did— I didn't do anything, Obi-Wan!”
“Am I next?” Obi-Wan whispered. “Are you going to kill me now?”
Anakin's eyes widened. “What?
! No one is going to kill you!”
“May I see his body?” Obi-Wan's watchful gaze was flat, distrustful—
It was going to kill Anakin—
“I don't know where his body is,” Anakin lied. “But I promise you you're safe.”
“You've killed before.”
“There's— there's a war—”
“Innocents. It's marked you.” Obi-Wan's keen sight, the demand for truth in grieving eyes— “Children?”
Anakin's jaw snapped shut.
“You have,” Obi-Wan murmured. “What makes me so different from them?”
So many, so many ways—
Anakin looked up to find Cody.
“Is he alright?”
“No,” Obi-Wan spoke up. “I'm not.”
“Is there anything I can do—”
“You can tell me if you also were party to the murder of my master.”
Cody's eyes widened and darted to Anakin's face.
“He— ahm—” Anakin fought for words. “Don't worry about it.”
That earned him a
look. “All due respect, Sir.”
“Yeah. He seems to have forgotten growing up. And he just reached out for Qui-Gon Jinn.”
“Growing up? What are you—? I'm thirteen years old, I'm on a training exercise with my master, who is now dead. ”
“Apparently he had a run-in with firebeetles.”
Horror took over Cody. “ Sir ?”
“Is... I should know this?”
“The mission briefing? The files on this planet, they were discussed in great detail—”
“Oh. Obi-Wan read all that.”
“ What are you talking about ?” Obi-Wan demanded.
“You've got a beard,” Anakin pointed out.
Obi-Wan's hand flew to his face, and then an oath came spilling out that burned Anakin's ears. “What happened to me?” He stared down at himself, at armor and tunics and lightsaber—
“You grew up,” Anakin repeated. “You grew up, you had a Padawan— that's me— and I now have a Padawan, you're a general in a war, and your master died a decade ago, and I promise, it wasn't me.”
Obi-Wan shivered, his expression going vulnerable. He looked earnest, as if the sober look could hide his terror...
But Anakin could see it. Could see a child desperately afraid and alone and grieving—
Compassion flooded his system as he repented of his prior brusque manner. “Hey. It's okay, Obi-Wan. We'll figure it out.”
Obi-Wan sent him an unconvinced glance, afraid of him, and still convinced he'd murdered Qui-Gon.
You look at me and think me capable of it.
But Anakin knew it had nothing to do with Obi-Wan's eyes.
You see me in the Force and think me capable.
“Let's get you back up to the Resolute, and fed, first thing.”
“What is a Resolute?”
“Big ship.” Anakin gestured to Cody. “Let's go.”
For a moment Obi-Wan hesitated, then he muttered, “Might as well die there rather than here,” and followed.
His words made Anakin wince.
How little do you know. It doesn't matter what age you are, I could never kill you, Obi-Wan.
“So... Sir,” Cody spoke up, grim but hesitant, “you don't remember
Obi-Wan sent him a worried look. “I am thirteen years old, I remember everything about growing up in the Temple, and Master Jinn. I do not know why I'm in these clothes, or why I seem to have a beard. I'm hoping this is some terrible joke.”
“It still might be,” Cody offered.
Anakin sighed. “We're in the middle of a war, and our best tactical mind just got reverted into a useless kid. I'm leaning more towards attack than prank. ”
“Useless kid?” Obi-Wan bristled. “Your biggest complaint about me is uselessness? Has it occurred to you that you wouldn't be stuck with such a useless burden if you hadn't murdered my master?”
“I didn't kill Qui-Gon Jinn,” Anakin growled. “You've got a severe case of memory loss or blockage. We're going to hope blockage. That can be fixed.”
The expression on Obi-Wan's face turned vicious for a fleeting second before disappearing.
The flight up to the ship was taken in grim silence, Obi-Wan steadfastly refusing to speak another word, and Anakin having no idea what to say.
That lasted until they were walking through the hallways, and Obi-Wan saw several more Codys running around.
His eyes went wide, he froze, lips parting in disbelief and fear. He rubbed at his eyes once, twice—
His personal holodisk chimed. Obi-Wan pulled it from his belt and triggered it, still looking bewildered.
“ Obi-Wan. Why is there a Republic cruiser in my airspace ? One calling itself the Negotiator ?”
“I—” Obi-Wan stuttered. “I don't know.”
“How do you not know ? Your flagship is running off on its own now?”
“He's on the Resolute at the moment,” Anakin called. “And the Negotiator is in your system because we have intel giving us reason to think the Sep fleet is going to use Mandalore as a staging area.”
“So you thought to use it first? This is a violation of our neutrality, and I will not stand for it, even for you.”
Obi-Wan squinted. “I'm sorry, do I know you?”
Satine looked like she'd been slapped. “Excuse me?”
“You're speaking as if I should know who you are.”
I shouldn't have let him answer it, Anakin realized, a bit late, trying to snatch the disk from him, but Obi-Wan was quick and pivoted away, ducking under his reach.
“Are you alright?” Satine asked.
“ No !” Obi-Wan blurted as Anakin tried again. “My Master's been murdered and I'm being held prisoner aboard this man's ship. I don't know who he is. Please help me— ”
And then Anakin had the disk, scowling down at a stubbornly glaring Obi-Wan, who was clearly bracing himself for physical violence to be aimed his way for attempting to call for help.
“Yeah... Duchess? Obi-Wan seems to have a massive case of amnesia, and thinks he's fourteen.”
“ Thirteen, ” Obi-Wan snarled. “I'm thirteen, and I'm not who you claim I am !”
“So how do you explain the beard and armor?”
“I— I'm hallucinating. From the firebeetle venom.”
“Then you haven't been kidnapped, have you?”
The look of pure venom Obi-Wan sent him shocked Anakin. There was a heat of anger as deep as that which simmered inside Anakin's soul at all times.
Anakin looked away, trying to hide his amazement. What has happened to you for you to have this much rage? And why don't you have it when I know you?
Most uncomfortable of all...
I guess this means he did know what he was saying. Why did he never fight back when I told him he should shut up because he didn't know what he was talking about? Didn't know how I felt?
Anakin felt a shiver run down his back and his gaze snapped to the holo in disbelief at the danger in that tone.
“I would suggest you begin again, and explain, clearly and slowly, what's going on.”
A tingle of fear in his fingers left Anakin more baffled than before.
Satine is scary and Obi-Wan is angry.
He half expected to be told he'd had a run-in with enhanced spice, and this was one very bad trip.
“We don't know what happened. We split up to take some scans after the battle, and Obi-Wan was going to take a shuttle to go rejoin the Negotiator. He didn't check in, so I went looking for him, and found him convinced he's thirteen and recently attacked by firebeetles.”
Satine gave a nod. “Obi-Wan. Look at your skin.”
He narrowed his eyes at her.
“Darling, what do you feel when you see me?”
Worry and confusion stole his grim facade, leaving gray eyes looking large in the grown man's face.
“I don't know who you are, but it feels like—” Obi-Wan stole a swift glance at her, found her expression encouraging. “I feel like I'm supposed to trust you. Which is an excellent reason to not. ”
“Look at you. So cynical already.” Satine seemed to think the situation vaguely amusing now. Anakin did
agree. “Pull up your sleeve and look at your arm. How many hours ago did the firebeetles attack?”
Obi-Wan slowly pulled at the fabric, stared at his unmarked forearms and for a long moment simply considered.
And then he stepped forward, turning so Anakin was nearly edged out of the conversation, while Obi-Wan's full attention focused on Satine.
Holy kark, Kid.
“None of this is possible. My height. My appearance. And I would never have healed from the venom and skin loss this swiftly. I should be in a bacta tank and on life support.”
Anakin's eyes bulged. Wait... what? Why do I know nothing of this incident from your past?
“I can only conclude this is an elaborate illusion of some form, or I am no longer in my time.”
Satine watched him, expression sober once more.
“Either way, it is expedient for me to learn how to survive until something changes. What do you say happened to my master?”
Satine gave him a grave nod, an old sorrow in her eyes. “Master Jinn died twelve years ago.”
A shiver passed through Obi-Wan's shoulders, along with a wave of grief that hit Anakin like an obliterating force, though it couldn't be seen in the not-child's face.
Apparently his expression control had been fully in place at age thirteen, but not his shields.
Is that what he feels inside? Anakin shuddered.
“How old am I now?” he asked, quiet.
He gave a nod, murmuring, “So I was twenty-five when he...” He drew in a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and changed topic. “This man claims to have been my Padawan.”
Obi-Wan arched an eyebrow. “I clearly did a terrible job. If I ever get to go back home, I'm going to remember to not take that path a second time.”
Anakin's jaw dropped open. “What?” was all he managed gasp out.
“Please tell me I don't have a Padawan now.”
“N-no— tell me what you meant by that!”
Anakin found his own anger, hurt and confusion had met its match in Obi-Wan's eyes.
“I clearly destroyed you,” Obi-Wan said. “If the man I raised could do the things you've done, either you're the sort who would frip over anybody or I failed in a truly spectacular fashion. If the first is true, and I continue to stand by your side, knowing what you've done and doing nothing about it, I've grown utterly corrupt, so with either option, I should never be allowed near another child again.”
The walls twisted weirdly around Anakin's head as he struggled to keep his gaze focused on Obi-Wan.
“I— those aren't the only two options, ” Anakin choked. “I'm— I'm a good man who has made some mistakes.”
“Mistake. Is that what we're calling cold-blooded murder these days?”
“I didn't kill your master! ”
“I'm not speaking of Qui-Gon!” Obi-Wan yelled back, and Anakin recoiled, feeling slapped in the face.
Obi-Wan didn't yell at him. Not unless he was trying to be heard over the thunder of gunships.
In fact, come to think of it, Obi-Wan never yelled at children, and whenever someone did it near him he went cold and cruel.
He thinks it borders on abuse.
Why would he think that? Mom yelled at me sometimes.
“You don't even know me,” Anakin somehow managed to say. “You have no right to accuse me of murder.”
“I can see it on you.”
Two heads turned to the holographic Satine.
“When you look at me, what do you see?”
He eyed her, then shook his head. “I don't know.”
“I think that's not true,” she chided, tone gentle but firm.
Obi-Wan's gaze skittered away.
After a moment his chin dropped, his shoulders sagged, and tears filled his eyes.
They horrified Anakin beyond his own hurting soul as he realized this Obi-Wan might be just as wounded as he was.
“I wanted to help people,” he choked. “I wanted to be a Jedi. Everyone thought I would fail, even Bant, but I had hope. I thought I could—” Tears spilled from his eyes, a look of such complete misery on his face that Anakin felt his own heart break. “But clearly they were right. Qui-Gon was right. Because here I am, harboring murderers, fighting a war, invading neutral territories—” his hand waved vaguely in Satine's direction, “violating the political rights of independent peoples, dragging them into a conflict where they'll be killed and their way of life disrupted if not destroyed.”
If Anakin hadn't been so disturbed by the meaning, he would have been amazed at the words his master had apparently been using when even younger than Ahsoka.
“There's blood on this armor I wear. It's been washed away but it remains. I can hear screams. The Force feels cruel and suffocating and dark, as if all light was dying. There's suffering everywhere. And this whole ship is filled with something wrong— something—”
“They're not wrong,” Anakin protested. “The clones? They're good people, Obi-Wan.”
“Clones. That's what they are?”
“Yeah. The Republic's army.”
Obi-Wan's eyes squeezed shut. “That I would uphold the Republic having a military— hold a rank in it—”
“The clones can't help it!” Anakin protested. “They were made for the Republic and it's not—”
Obi-Wan recoiled, alarm and such despair rolling off him in tortured waves.
“Slaves?” he nearly keened. “My Force, I'm a slaver too?”
His hand clawed for his neck, yanking at armor and bodyglove and robes—
“ Anakin! ” Satine barked, but Anakin was already moving.
“ Hey !” He stepped forward to try to stop Obi-Wan's panicked movements, he was going to hurt himself—
Obi-Wan ducked out of his path, crashing into the wall and half-falling, half-sliding to the floor, hyperventilating and blood marring the white.
“ Stop !” Anakin demanded. “You're cutting yourself on the edges! You just have to unlatch it—” he reached for Obi-Wan's throat again, and Obi-Wan's body lunged the inch between himself and the wall, crashing into so hard the floor vibrated.
Wide, terrified eyes met Anakin's.
“Obi-Wan,” called a quiet voice, almost lilting, near singing. “Obi-Wan.”
Obi-Wan clearly didn't dare take his gaze off of the now-frozen Anakin.
“Breathe for me, Obi-Wan.”
Obi-Wan, trembling, didn't move.
“K'uur, warrior-heart,” Satine crooned.
Yet one more startled realization for Anakin.
“Let him free you of the armor. He'll take it off. Trust me, Obi.”
Fresh tears welled up, as if Obi-Wan was utterly broken by the fact she asked this of him. He raised his chin, a slow, tortured movement, baring his throat to the murderer.
“Udesi, you are safe, Obi-Wan.”
Moving carefully, moving slowly, Anakin released latches and lifted the armor away. He slipped the hooks of the body glove as well, allowing it to peel back from its tight hug of Obi-Wan's neck.
Obi-Wan curled in on himself, still shaking, low sobbing escaping him in ragged gasps.
“I would never hurt you,” Anakin swore, deep feeling in his voice. “
“But you have,” came the whispered rejoinder. “Again and again. It's written all over you. And the future is so grim, I think you're going to kill me.”
Anakin's eyes widened. Obi-Wan had startling claims to make about both future and present, the sort of claims his Obi-Wan would never make. His Obi-Wan never offered up anything more than a bad feeling.
What took away your confidence in what you sense?
But he'd gotten one thing wrong, at least.
“Killing you would be impossible. It would be like killing myself.”
Obi-Wan remained silent a long moment, clearly suffering.
And then he whispered, “I'm not sure you won't do that too.”
A chill ran down Anakin's back.
No, no. The kid had an overactive imagination. This is why Obi-Wan refuses to speculate, because when he does allow himself to it gets out of hand quick.
Though Anakin couldn't help but wonder why it hadn't been honed instead of shoved aside...
“Nothing's going to happen to you.”
Obi-Wan shook his head, looking away. “It already has. My master's dead. And it's because I wasn't strong enough, fast enough. Wasn't it.”
Panic seized Anakin's throat. “No,” he lied, because while he'd always blamed Obi-Wan for Qui-Gon's death, he couldn't let this broken child know that—
“You hate me so much,” Obi-Wan whispered. “What have I done?”
“I don't hate you, I love you—”
“It's lurking there, just waiting for a chance.”
“That's not true. ”
“I proved him right,” Obi-Wan mused to himself. “He shouldn't have taken me. He should have left me to die.”
What in hells—
“Obi-Wan,” Satine spoke up again, voice still soothing in its command. “The armor around your throat. Bandomeer was recent. Wasn't it.”
Obi-Wan's body jolted, his eyes went wide again, his pulse fluttered frantically in his throat.
Satine nodded. “It reminded you of the slave collar.”
“What?” Anakin gasped again, staring at Obi-Wan in utter disbelief.
The child in a man's body cringed, trying to turn his face away from the murderer crouched so close.
“How do you not know about this?” Satine demanded.
Anakin shifted his utterly overwhelmed gaze to her face. “He was a slave?”
“I'm sitting right here !” Obi-Wan yelled at him, voice breaking with tears. “Is that all I am to you, some curiosity ?”
Anakin backed away, his emotions too loud, too confusing, too conflicting to find any sense in any of this— Obi-Wan thought he was the one hallucinating?
I'm losing my mind.
Obi-Wan was still glaring at him, his gaze burning through Anakin's face, his soul—
Dear Force, what have I done?
“I never knew,” Anakin choked. “He never said.”
Satine sighed. “I think I understand now. What is two weeks against nine years? Can
see why he didn't bring it up?”
He hadn't wanted to be that person, the one who told someone chronically ill with incapacitating agony, “ I have joint pain too. ”
He didn't want to tell me he understood, because he believed he couldn't.
And then Anakin's blood ran cold.
Kadavo. That wasn't his first collar.
It explained how silent Obi-Wan had been for a week once they'd rescued him.
And I glossed over his trauma there because what was a few days, compared to nine years? Even if he considered telling me, once he saw my response, he would have refused to ever admit to it.
His own voice, the voice of a child, drifted through his mind. “You don't know what it's like to be a slave for years!”
Anakin felt sick.
He stood, hand shaking.
“Where is Ahsoka?” Satine asked.
“You're not leaving him alone, Anakin Skywalker. And he's not ready to be alone with the clones.”
It would probably scare the kark out of him.
He commed Ahsoka, asked her to come to the bridge. Anakin sent a near-breaking glance at Satine, asked, “Will you tell her—?”
* * *
Obi-Wan saw the Togruta young woman walk in. She looked to be a couple years older than himself.
Than he was supposed to be.
The woman with the voice spoke to her, soothed away the girl's horrified questions, and then the woman was gone.
And Obi-Wan braced himself to endure hell.
He reached to his tunics, wondering if he had a pocket for his riverstone— he didn't—
I don't even have that anymore?
He'd survived being thrown out, he'd survived slavery and an attempt to blow himself up, he'd survived men combing through his mind and trying to utterly destroy it, he'd survived torture and firebeetles and heartbreak and terror—
The girl sat beside him.
I can survive this.
“You're his Padawan, aren't you.”
Obi-Wan gave a nod, trying desperately not to look like he'd been crying. Embarrassing enough to have two adults see it, but someone his own age— worse, a little older—
I'm not a little kid anymore. I can be brave.
“Are you hungry?”
He doubted he would be hungry for days. And Qui-Gon wouldn't be here to force him to eat now, so maybe he keep beneath the radar. As long as the woman didn't return. He doubted he would be able to hide from her.
She sees straight through me.
And that was scary in its own right. There was something wrong about her, something not right—
She's not safe, alarms wailed in his head. Stay very far away.
“Bet you're thirsty.”
“No, thank you.”
For a long time Ahsoka didn't say a word, and Obi-Wan waited, silently begging her to leave, to let him be alone—
“I'm sorry about your master,” she murmured.
A whine escaped Obi-Wan's throat, and then he was weeping again.
She reached out a hand, catching his and squeezing it tight.
He clung to the hand, not knowing why he did.
Is this hell? Did I succeed in the cave? Did I blow myself up? Was I not good enough, and the Force has rejected me, and now I wander insane dreams?
It was a long time before he managed to corral his sobs enough to speak. Her hand had at some point moved from holding his to stroking his hair, guiding his head down to her lap. He lay curled on the floor, her fingers gentle over his head.
“I don't know you,” he whispered, sniffing hard.
Ahsoka's fingers didn't still. “True. But I know you, and you've made me feel safe and loved when I was terrified and alone and new to all of this.”
“That's not me.”
“That's okay,” she murmured. “I'm going to be here for you anyway.”