“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.”
Brain sparkles are funny things. I asked those of you who requested more to this story to set out sparkle traps, and you diligently did so.
The sparkle trap that succeeded was simply the word “Mace.” The rest of the idea was wonderful and solid, but the sparkles saw that one word and went nuts. What if, what if, what if, what if.
Moral to the story? If you ever want something to continue, ask questions of what this means for characters, of what happened next. Because I never like being told “I don't know” when I ask those questions of other authors, I always try to invent something on the spot. And suggest ideas, should any occur to you, because a single word in there may start me off again. Not in the direction the trap was aimed, perhaps, but moving all the same?
In the middle of this chapter there will be an insert with author information about how long it took me to write that far, and how long it took me to read it aloud. It might pull you out of the story a bit, and for that I apologize, but for various personal reasons I need it to stay there.
Anakin Skywalker wasn't sure how much more his heart could take. He was fairly certain the muscle was going to stutter and just give up here soon, leaving him dead on the floor from a heart attack at the age of twenty-one.
But he knocked on Obi-Wan's door anyway. Let's face it: the kid inside his master's body was probably scared. He couldn't just leave him to brave his first night alone in this new terrifying world.
I at least need to apologize.
Though if was for murder or his persecution of the man Obi-Wan didn't remember being, he wasn't sure...
Footsteps moved toward the door, so at least Rex's promise that Obi-Wan and Ahsoka would be here was accurate.
The door slid open, revealing—
“ Holy frip! ” Anakin screeched, reeling backwards.
Obi-Wan's pensive expression tightened, a worry so clearly lined in his forehead and clean-shaven jaw that it looked like he might melt apart from anxiety.
It had been awful to see his master and know there was a young mind trapped inside.
But without the beard, Obi-Wan Kenobi looked...
Scary young, Anakin's brain offered up helplessly.
“You— remembered how to shave?” Anakin stammered. His master had been working on the beard for almost as long as Anakin had known him, but this youngerself cut the whole damn thing off.
Obi-Wan's fingers leaped to a couple of cuts on his chin. “No.”
“...I got the bacta to put on the slices. Oh. Hi, Master.”
Anakin squinted at her. “You let him shave ?”
Ahsoka shrugged. “Well, neither of us were particularly sure how it was supposed to go, but—”
“I asked for her to show me how.”
Anakin stared at them both in utter shock. “You asked a member of a
species for a tutorial on how to shave?” And then an empty feeling opened up inside him, a low pang of distress. “Why didn't you ask me?”
Obi-Wan froze, then his chin lowered, he stared at Anakin's boots, and murmured, “I apologize, Master.”
“I—” Anakin tried to breathe. “I'm not— don't call me that.”
“You outrank me.” Obi-Wan sent a swift, fearful glance at Ahsoka, as if for moral support. “At least, right now you do.”
Don't panic, Skywalker.
“Okay. Let me see the cuts, alright? Ahsoka, give me the bacta.”
She handed it over without a word.
Anakin stepped closer to his master, still bewildered by the apparent years that had been shorn from his face. You look younger than I do. You look barely older than Ahsoka.
He took Obi-Wan's chin between his thumb and forefinger, the pad of his thumb resting in the dimple of Obi-Wan's chin. He gently turned the younger-older Jedi's head so he could examine the small wounds.
Only this close could he now see the tiny lines thirty-six years had carved beside the eyes.
Anakin dabbed bacta onto the scratches, then left his hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder as he searched for something to say. “I don't... I don't want you to be afraid of me.”
“I'm afraid of everything,” Obi-Wan said simply. “I just want to go home.”
“You just want your master back.”
The words fell from his mouth, and then they hit him in the gut. Tears burned his eyes, his grip on the thin shoulder tightened.
“So do I,” he whispered.
Obi-Wan's gaze snapped up to his, searching and unsure.
“I love you. I don't get how you could look this way, forget me completely, forget everything. But I love you, listen to me while I say it, tell me if I'm lying. I'm— I've done things that... I just... your olderself didn't know. He didn't. And his perceptions aren't as sharp as yours. I don't know why, but they just weren't. He was tired. And... and sad. And it wasn't what he did that made me what I am. He gave me everything I needed to be able to make the right choices. But I only made them when he was looking. And when he was far away, I made different choices.”
Obi-Wan didn't interrupt him, and the lines in the forehead didn't shift from a worried searching to indignation at being lied to, so Anakin kept on.
“And you didn't get to this place, this war, in one leap. You didn't say here's something awful, let's go do that. I just... I wish you could trust yourself enough to believe that you had reasons, well-thought reasons for why you've taken the steps you have. And you're not enslaving the clones. Whether you were here or not, they would be out here, fighting and dying, with no one to stand between them and the Senate, or them and the droids. You stepped into this mess to do that. To provide a buffer between those who have enslaved them and the men, and to save as many as you can so they can live to see the end of the war, and hopefully, freedom. You're doing everything you can to save them. Your friends in the Senate are fighting to see them granted rights as sentient beings, and you're working with them to that end. It's not... if you just walked away, it would not be the right thing to do, Obi-Wan. Yes, war is wrong. And hell knows what I think of slavery. But you were faced with an impossible choice, and every step of the way you have done everything you can to make sure we survive it.”
Obi-Wan's eyes widened at Anakin's fervency.
“If I was a tenth as good as the man you've become, I'd be twenty times better than the man I am. You are the best thing that has ever happened to me, and I'm never going to walk away from you.”
Obi-Wan looked away, clearly thinking hard.
Anakin waited, not sure what he hoped for, but holding his breath anyway.
“I don't understand this place,” Obi-Wan finally said. “It's difficult to breathe through all the death and malice in the Force. I'm not sure... I don't think I'm ready.” He raised grieving eyes to Anakin's face. “If you truly mean me no harm, take me to Master Yoda.”
* * *
In the end, Anakin decided to leave Ahsoka, Cody, and Rex to deal with Satine, spiriting Obi-Wan back to Coruscant.
Yoda stood on the empty platform, waiting for them.
Anakin held back as Obi-Wan flew down the ramp and came to a stop only when he knelt at the ancient one's feet.
Small hands gathered Obi-Wan's own between green fingers, squeezing lightly. For a long moment Yoda simply searched his face, and then he nodded to himself. “These eyes, seen in a long time I have not. In this face they do not belong.”
A sob tore free from Obi-Wan's throat.
“Expect you to carry a master's burden, we will not. The burdens you carry, heavy enough are they already.”
“Master Jinn is long dead?”
“Know it, you already do.”
“I keep hoping I'll just wake up. Please, Master. I cannot. This burden is too much, it will crush me.”
Tears burned Anakin's eyes at the hopelessness he could feel in that tone.
1 hour 20 minutes to write from the beginning of the chapter to here.
Took 8 minutes to read aloud to one of my friends]
“Alone, endure it you cannot.”
Obi-Wan's head sank lower.
“But alone, you need not be.”
“I appreciate the thought, Master, but you must be so busy with the war and everyone else—”
“Myself I did not mean. Your other half, I do. In Skywalker, misplaced your trust would not be.”
Anakin's jaw dropped. What?
Obi-Wan's head snapped up. “ What ?”
“Your greatest champion will he be.”
“He hates me.”
“Struggles, he does, against many demons. But struggles, not gives in freely. Within us all, possibility for cruelty exists. Acknowledge it and not let it rule us, all we can do against it is. Yes. Hope there is for you. Hope there is for Skywalker. Hope there is for me.”
* * *
Anakin was anything but prepared for Windu's response to Obi-Wan.
The Council was gentle with the again-child, and now, the three of them alone in the Council chamber after the others had dispersed, Windu spoke up.
“While we fight to find a way to bring back your memory, we must also prepare against the possibility that this may be irreversible.”
“I need a new master,” Obi-Wan concluded, sounding sad.
“I am willing to take you.”
Anakin's eyes widened even as he blurted, “What? No! If anything, it should be me taking care of him.”
“What about Ahsoka?” Mace asked.
“She's almost ready, Master Windu. She'll be fine if I focus on Obi-Wan for a—”
Sheer disgust spilled through the force, shocking both Windu and Anakin.
“How could you do that to her?” Obi-Wan asked, disbelieving and scornful. “Just shove her aside for someone new ? Someone you have a connection with?” He spoke of the bond as if it were a thing of Anakin's word with no proof to back it up. “It's vile. You clearly have no concept of what a master means to a Padawan.”
Any retort Anakin might have tried to make fell out of his brain as pieces clicked together.
“Kark,” he breathed.
Windu's gaze shifted to his face even as Obi-Wan arched an eyebrow viciously at him.
He doesn't remember that happened to him. But Force, if this is how he sees that bond...
My entrance into his life must have been hell. He remembered the low edge of hostility from Obi-Wan to Qui-Gon. Remembered the cold distance that had fallen between Obi-Wan and Anakin himself.
“Padawan Kenobi, you are dismissed. I need to have a word with Knight Skywalker.”
Obi-Wan bowed to Windu and hurried away.
Anakin sent Mace a funny look. “What are we talking about?”
Windu sent a glance after Obi-Wan as if not quite sure he'd really left.
Obi-Wan? Seriously? There's no way he'd listen in to somethi— holy kark. Maybe as a kid he used to!
With that thought alarmingly fixed in his head, Anakin Skywalker followed Mace back into the Council chamber and felt only slightly surprised when Yoda hobbled in a few moments later.
The door sealed behind them, and Anakin narrowed his eyes at them both. “What is it? What's gone wrong now?”
Windu and Yoda exchanged a meaningful glance.
“Slipped me this, young Obi-Wan did, when on the platform we met.” Yoda held out a small disk. Anakin's holodisk.
His hand flew to his belt as he twisted around to look—
Why that sneaky little bastard!
“What's on it?” Anakin asked.
Windu gave a grim nod. “It will be up to you whether you decide to listen or not. Suffice it to say, he leveled some pretty heavy accusations against you, and begged Yoda to rescue him, that he was being held against his will. He seemed absolutely terrified of you.”
“Yeah... there may have been some consternation when we discovered what had been done to him, and I certainly wasn't going to let him stay onplanet. So dismay combined with
you will come with me
combined with his master suddenly being dead... I'm not surprised it scared the hell out of him,” Anakin grimaced.
Yoda looked like he weighed a thousand pounds, leaning heavily against his gimer stick and sighing. “The only accusation, the one of kidnapping was not.”
Anakin felt his blood run cold.
“Confront you, did he?”
“He said a lot of really hurtful things,” Anakin replied, knowing he had to tread carefully. He turned me in. He actually turned me in. The warm concern he'd been feeling for Obi-Wan's youngerself curdled into something uncomfortable. “He made a lot of assumptions that he claimed to be facts he'd gleaned from the Force. He called Satine a murderer, he said the clones were twisted and wrong and vile in the Force—” Anakin was warming to his topic, knowing his annoyance might mask his fear. “And I just thank the Force the men weren't there to hear him say those things. They struggle already with feeling sentient, to have someone who looks and sounds like their General turning them into canon fodder like that—? I don't get it, Masters. I don't remember Obi-Wan judging strangers without knowing them.”
“You met him after Qui-Gon got through with him.” Mace shook his head, looking grim. “It's clear he doesn't trust you. I think it would be unwise to put him officially in your care at this time; we might have a runaway on our hands if we do.”
The words left Anakin feeling even colder than before.
He betrayed me, and now he would leave me?
He left the Council chamber with his thoughts churning uneasily and finding their mirror in the queasiness in his gut.
The problem was...
About me, he was right.
Yeah, maybe he'd gotten it wrong about the clones and Satine, and that could act as a smokescreen, but—
He got so much right about me.
It was only a matter of time before he discovered the marriage, and if he was a sneak at this age too, and wanting to find proof of Anakin's guilt...
The thought kindled Anakin's anger.
What did I ever do to him to convince him to set out to destroy my life?
This Obi-Wan needed to give his Obi-Wan back.
He nearly bumped into a bundle of brown cloth in the hall, discovered blue eyes peering up at him.
The nasty thing within coiled and sprang.
With a scowl, Anakin shoved Obi-Wan into an alcove, allowing a pillar to conceal them from the hallway. He took a step forward, and Obi-Wan retreated.
“Surprised to see me?” Anakin hissed. “Did you think they'd lock me up somewhere for your overactive imagination?”
Obi-Wan stared up at him, wide-eyed. “I had to make sure you were who you said you were. You kidnapped me!”
“I did not, you little kark. It's not okay to try to wreck someone's life like that because you think you know something you couldn't possibly know about a stranger! You keep that up, and someone's going to lock you away.”
“ I'm not crazy! ” Obi-Wan shrieked at him, startling Anakin.
It only deepened his scowl and made him take a step closer, feeling significantly threatened by this Obi-Wan. The other man attempted to make another retreat, but ran into the wall instead, back pressed there and shivering.
“ My Obi-Wan didn't judge people without knowing them first. And neither did Qui-Gon Jinn.”
Obi-Wan's eyes widened, then flooded with tears. His face blushed crimson with humiliation, and a single tear slipped down his cheek, clearly mortifying him.
Anakin felt an unkind urge to menace him just one more time, to make sure he understood he needed to stay out of Anakin's business, but refrained, storming away instead.
* * *
“Neither did Qui-Gon Jinn.”
Why did he do it to me, then? The one exception to a kind man's rule?
And now... he couldn't even ask him why. Couldn't ask if there was something wrong with Obi-Wan Kenobi that everyone could see except for the boy in question....
Obi-Wan tried to escape the alcove, but he discovered he was shaking, his legs didn't want to work, and as he moved, he tried to bury himself in the cloak and hoped desperately that no one could see how distraught he was.
The last thing he could do was answer any questions.
And Anakin Skywalker was out to get him.
He knows I know.
Obi-Wan had given Yoda the help me disk before the old one had told him to trust the man with the scar over his eye. He'd begun to wonder, after Yoda's earnest promise, if maybe it was safe to take that advice, to put faith in the man who knew this body and the mind it was supposed to hold—
But if he was about to abandon his Padawan in order to get close to Obi-Wan...
It's to make sure I keep silent.
Or maybe to silence me permanently.
Not for the last time, Obi-Wan Kenobi wondered how his master had died, and just where Anakin Skywalker had been at the time.
He needed a safe place, a sacred place—
He stumbled back to his rooms, keyed the door on autopilot, stepped inside—
Qui-Gon's sense was almost completely gone from the room. Even Obi-Wan's own was starting to wear away.
But there, where Qui-Gon Jinn had lived just a day ago, the Force rang of Anakin Skywalker.
All of the little knickknacks Qui-Gon had collected were gone, replaced with foreign ones. Skywalker's.
A sob welled up in Obi-Wan's throat as he felt a sudden fear seize hold that Skywalker would discover him here.
He slid the door shut, holding his breath and hoping the faint imprint of himself would not remain, or at least go unnoticed, and then he slunk back into the shadows of the hall, wondering where he would go now that even his last place of refuge had been stolen by Anakin Skywalker.
“They both want me to go with them.” Obi-Wan dragged a shaking hand down his face. “But when I asked Master Yoda for help, someone told Master Skywalker. And I'm afraid I won't be safe with Master Windu, if Master Skywalker's hold is so strong. Master Yoda said I should trust Master Skywalker, but you should have seen him, M'Lady.”
“It's alright to call me Satine, Obi-Wan.”
“You're a lot older than me,” Obi-Wan countered. “I'm supposed to be polite.”
The small holo Satine smiled, something both terribly sad and fond in her eyes at once. “Very proper.”
“I know you've done.... There's terrible things written all over you,” Obi-Wan confessed, feeling miserable. “But I trust you, and I don't know why. There's just something saying I should, and I really think I shouldn't.”
Satine watched him in compassion. “I have done terrible things.”
Obi-Wan's eyes widened in shock. “What?”
“You are very keen in your senses, Obi-Wan. And that skill deserves to be honed. It's your strength.”
“But— you feel like home in the Force. Your mind is like— I don't understand.”
Satine gave a grave nod. “What do you know of Mandalorians, Obi-Wan?”
Obi-Wan's gaze faltered, and he felt himself blush.
“It's alright,” she soothed. “Please tell me?”
“I looked, once. The files. On— what Mandalorians have done to captive Jedi, or the wounded Jedi on battlefields. It was a dare.” He felt his stomach turning slowly, wanting to be sick all over again. “I could hear their screams. It was a still image, but I could feel— ” His voice choked as his eyes blurred with tears.
“They're all true.”
Obi-Wan's gaze snapped to her face and found itself horribly trapped there. “Why? Why would they hunt us for sport? We're people. ”
“The answer is in the question. My people were hunters of men. Some killed as early as four years old, guided by their parents. We grew up torturing our enemies, taking pride in it. I can't remember a moment I
the violence and cruelty, because it had always been there. I can't remember a time before I knew blood. The only thing I feared was weakness, and the way to prove you
was to be more cruel than everyone around you. It escalates endlessly, Obi-Wan. And when hunting animals became too tame for my ancient ancestors, they began to hunt sentients. For money. For fame. For pride. For boredom. Or simply to hone their craft. Jedi were the best of the best; and they were also the ones who would intervene when we hunted in the grounds they protected. They weren't interested in letting us murder whoever we saw fit, on any planet we chose. But my people are very clan focused, there was no way it could be anything but personal.”
“Is that why they hunted Jedi even when we weren't interfering with your affairs?”
“Yes. It became a rite of passage. A mark of adulthood. A measure of strength. To be perceived to be a coward is to be thrown out, ostracized, destroyed. You have nothing left.”
Obi-Wan watched her, seeing so much heartache there, borne so bravely— “But you're a pacifist.”
“The momentum was too great. I couldn't stop them by dragging my heels.” Satine gave a sad smile. “It had been tried before, and those brave souls had been erased from their families. The only way to stop this headlong descent was to get running in the opposite direction and hit it head-on.”
Obi-Wan's breath caught, as in the Force her mind seemed to sparkle. Dear Force. “And you did it. You risked it all. You... lost it all.”
“My name became a curse on the lips of those I loved most.”
Again Obi-Wan couldn't see through the pain that blurred his vision. Why was he so attuned to her? It was like her soul vibrated on a frequency that pierced right through his own.
“But Obi-Wan, it has been worth every tear. My people have changed. My land has changed. Everyone said it couldn't be done, that we were too far gone, but I believed in them, and they proved me right. And my sister may be bombing civilian targets to try to restart the endless bloodshed, and the Republic and Separatists may try to bribe my people into becoming mercenaries again, but we have stood firm. And I will continue to fight for our peace, because it would be too easy to slip back into that trap again. The memories in our minds are too fresh. We need a generation or two to grow up without that fog of war before we risk it.”
“That ship has to get out of your airspace.”
Something like pleasure lit her eyes, then faded in a look so loving it made Obi-Wan blush again. “What... were you to me?” he asked, terrified his voice might break.
Thank the Force for a body that had left that behind.
“I'm the keeper of your soul,” Satine replied, her gaze so steady, “and you hold my heart.”
“I can't... have it.”
“No, but you keep it in trust for me. You can hold it as long as you keep your fingers open, and you have.”
“Is that why I called you for help?” Because that had sounded terribly wrong even while it felt absolutely right, confusing the hell out of him. The urge had been too strong to resist, and he'd spilled everything into her ear, even telling her about Skywalker's threats.
Satine reached out, the holo's miniature fingers brushing against his cheek. His eyes widened as his heart leaped into his throat, and he fought the urge to lean into the nonexistent caress. He felt utterly vulnerable and so safe at the same time. Treasured.
“Your heart bears the answer to that question,” Satine murmured. “As it does for what you should do next.”
“I can't go with him, Satine. I don't understand. If he truly believes what he did wasn't so wrong, why won't he just tell me, instead of threatening to end me if I try to find out what it was?”
“Anakin has not made peace with where he has been. He hates himself for it, but to admit to fault... he has not the strength. He cannot have been wrong.”
Obi-Wan frowned. “But you— you are calm. You have done the unforgivable, but the turmoil in him is not in you.”
“I cannot undo what I have done, but I can fight to see it never happen to anyone else. I do not fight for redemption, Obi-Wan. I fight for those still living, not those who have died.”
“Should you— should you not have stood trial?” he asked, feeling just a bit timid. If her face turned, if she did what Anakin had in the hallway, he wasn't sure he could bear it—
“We're a sovereign system, and if we had attempted to seek justice for the crimes of the war, we would never have found peace. We had to leave everything behind, step forward anew. Those who tried to destroy the hospitals and schools we were building, those individuals we took steps against, but everything from before the day Mandalore rose from her ashes had to be left behind... or every one of us would be in a cell.”
Obi-Wan nodded. “Skywalker should be in prison for life.”
“Perhaps. Or perhaps there is another option for him. Do not condemn him before his trial, Obi-Wan.”
“He'll never face a jury. He'll just get away with everything because he's the Chosen One, and too powerful. It's wrong. He's a killer. ”
“I deserve prison for life too. What I do know, Obi-Wan, is that Anakin Skywalker loves you.”
Obi-Wan shook his head. “You say that...”
“I know it, dear heart. I have no doubt the threat came from a place of fear. Perhaps fear of that prison sentence you speak of. Perhaps fear of losing the good opinion of the people he loves. Perhaps fear of admitting he has done things that he despises others for doing.”
Obi-Wan nodded, allowing her words to sink in.
Alright. But I'm staying away from him because I'm afraid of him.
* * *
Anakin crushed the edge of the table with his metal hand when he received the news that Obi-Wan had chosen Mace to be his master.
Horrid little suck-up.
Ahsoka frowned in confusion. “I don't get it. Why would he do that?”
“He doesn't like me.”
Ahsoka sent him a skeptical look. “He's a bit intimidated, but you can't blame him, right? I just don't see why Master Windu is less terrifying.”
Anakin felt all color drain from his face.
Kark. That— that's not why he chose that way, is it?
He thought of the terror in the young eyes.
It made him feel ill.
What have I done?
“Master? Are you alright?”
“Yeah. 'Course I'm alright. You go ahead and take some time off, Snips. I'll be in my room.”
okay,” she muttered as he walked away, but he ignored her.
He had bigger problems.
* * *
“He seems to trust you ! He came up with ridiculous accusations about you too, but for some reason that didn't matter.” Anakin huffed a sigh, trying to promise himself the empty grief in his heart wasn't there. “I just don't know how to win his trust.”
The Duchess watched him with a calm, unreadable gaze.
“So... any ideas? I kind of called for advice.” Anakin felt his face flush just a little. He didn't... ask... for help. It wasn't easy.
Satine gave a small nod. “It's not the kind of advice you're looking for.”
“What do you mean?”
“You'll simply tell me you already have, and that it's not helpful.”
“I don't— I do need something new. So if I've already tried it, how helpful would it be?”
“Have you?” Satine mused. “If you say so.”
Anakin frowned. “I don't even know what we're talking about.”
“Do you want my advice?”
“ Yes. ”
“Be honest with him.”
Anakin opened his mouth to protest, realized she'd called it right. His teeth snapped shut again. Then he chuckled, just a little. “Yeah. Okay. But I was. ”
“ Yes. ”
Anakin frowned. “Why? Why would you think I lied to him?”
“Because you still bear the look of a man who is hiding.”
What the hell?
“May you find the courage you need to be honest with him. He needs you, Anakin Skywalker. Farewell.” She cut the connection before he had a chance to reply.
He couldn't find it in himself to be angry she'd hung up on him since he'd felt his lip twitching, knew the mask of innocence looked brittle, knew his eyes probably betrayed him.
But how could she know ? And what did she know?
Maybe she just meant that I resent young Obi-Wan for older Obi-Wan disappearing.
* * *
It was months before Anakin saw him again.
It was bizarre to watch him fighting by Mace's side, to see the way Obi-Wan watched out for him, fought for him, looked to him with...
That should have been me.
When Obi-Wan caught sight of Anakin, he didn't cower. He met Anakin's gaze calmly, almost disinterestedly.
He's not afraid anymore.
It both relieved and unnerved Anakin.
Why is he no longer afraid?
Obi-Wan looked away from Anakin to find Ahsoka walking towards him. A sunbeam of delight shone from his face. They greeted one another with a hug, and Ahsoka grinned back. “You're looking better.”
Mace stepped forward to confer with Anakin, and he could no longer listen to the... Padawans...
He felt just a spark of jealousy that Ahsoka would get a free pass into a relationship with Obi-Wan, who seemed quite satisfied to not have one with Anakin.
It was late when he realized he hadn't seen Ahsoka retire to her tent. Mildly concerned, he went searching for her.
Working his way around the AT-TEs, he heard a faint gasp, then giggle.
He paused, squinted up, realized they must be sitting up on the top of the tank.
“Do you think we ever... you know ,” Obi-Wan's voice murmured.
Ahsoka sounded shocked and intrigued. “Like... kiss ? Or... sex ?”
Again the low chuckle from Ahsoka. “I don't know. But the way she looks at you, she's crazy in love with you.”
“Yeah, but every time I talk to her, I'm just wondering
she knows about me.”
“ Obi-Wan! ” Ahsoka chided with the light sound of a hand smacking an arm. Then, in a lower, risky tone she murmured, “She does have one hell of a rack.”
“ Ahsoka! ”
“ What? She does, and I was made to appreciate the feminine form. Don't tell me you haven't thought about it.”
When Obi-Wan replied, he sounded grave. “I try not to.”
“ Why ?”
“She hasn't given me permission to.” The words were said with such belief, and without having to think about it at all, just welling up from within him.
Anakin felt both shocked and mournful. He's such a decent human being... and he knows I'm not.
Ahsoka sounded just as stunned as Anakin when she finally replied, “You are a catch .”
“What do you mean?” he asked, sounding just a little worried.
“You refuse to use her body in your wet fantasies because she hasn't consented? Do you know how rare that is? She'd be crazy to not want you.”
Embarrassment radiated from Obi-Wan in the Force. “You don't suppose it's why... you know.”
“Ah... no? I don't know?”
“You don't think I wooed her because of her... assets... right?” He sounded genuinely worried. “I wasn't... that kind of person?”
Warmth joined the sadness whispering through Anakin.
“Obi-Wan, the two of you were so damn in love it was just pouring out of you guys. I think it's okay to appreciate her figure without fear you're that kind of person. And damn, Obi-Wan, just bask for a moment in the fact that adult you is someone a woman like that fell in love with. Doesn't that make you feel proud?”
“A little bit... but also a little bit scared. She's dangerous, Ahsoka. I'm not even really sure how much. And I'm not the man who fell in love with her, or she with me. I don't really know who that man is. And yes. Maybe she chose that me, and she is... certainly... amazing, and maybe she let me touch her or maybe she didn't, but it feels so strange to speak to her, Ahsoka. I dread it every time, but I can't seem to help myself.”
“Are you still in love with her? Or maybe falling for her again?”
“I don't know.”
“Or maybe you're falling for her assets. ”
“ Stop! You're supposed to be helping! ”
“I know, I know. Listen. I don't think you need to be too worried. She seems a pretty good judge of character. Just make sure to look her in the eye when you're speaking to her instead of on her—”
“Tell me something I don't know?”
“Right. You're a good guy, Obi-Wan. Give yourself a little credit.”
There was a pregnant moment of silence, and then Obi-Wan murmured, “Not everyone thinks that.”
“What? I don't think you'll find a clone in the army with a poor opinion of you. And the other Jedi love you. And—”
“Your master,” Obi-Wan whispered.
“He doesn't think I'm a good person.”
Ahsoka seemed stunned into silence, and then she was assuring Obi-Wan he was seeing shadows, that wasn't true, Anakin thought the world of him—
But Anakin crept away, feeling guilty.
In the Force it had been clear that the idea of Anakin's rejection had been eating at him, even if he had overcome his fear somehow.
Satine's words echoed through Anakin's head like a condemning bell toll.
Honesty... honesty... honesty.
He wasn't ready for it, but he wasn't sure the universe would wait for him.
* * *
Obi-Wan found his master's quarters, and was admitted after his soft knock.
Now near Skywalker again, Obi-Wan felt very much in need of keeping this part of their routine strong.
He knelt opposite Windu and rested his hands on his knees.
“Did you dream?”
They fell into a breathing pattern, Obi-Wan relaxing his mind, allowing it to open like a flower in the predawn's promise of a new day. He diverted all attention away from shields, trusting Mace to protect his mind, and turned himself loose into the drifting currents of the Cosmic Force.
He saw bits of things, as usual. One potential path of the day had a mist-formed Anakin Skywalker yelling in his face, though as usual, the details and words were missing.
A different path led to a battle...
A third one to him crying alone in his room.
A fourth to what appeared to be himself and Ahsoka playing a prank on Skywalker.
He turned his attention more outwards, knowing that if he stayed here the options would keep streaming by, endless.
He could feel the war as if it were a solid thing, a creature made of suffering, fear, pain, and death. He trembled, and he probably had tears streaming down his face, if the past was anything to go on.
I see you, he swore. I will never let myself become comfortable with this.
He probed, searching for an answer, for something that could bring an end to the bloodshed without having to spill any more. He followed path after path, knowing Windu followed behind him, testing shatterpoints, trying to discern ramifications.
Please, he begged the Force, let us find how to end this. Even if it takes my death, show me how to bring back peace, how to save the clones, the Jedi, and everyone else.
“Come back, Padawan,” his master's voice, lined with grief called. “You will not find it if you die in here.”
“Please, just a few minutes longer,” Obi-Wan begged. “Their suffering is too much, I cannot take another day of it, it's breaking them and it's going to break me— ”
“Then come back and change the suffering of those around you who you can save now, Obi-Wan. We'll try again tomorrow.”
Dragging himself back to his body felt a bit more rough than usual. Still sitting, his torso toppled forward and he barely braced his hands on the floor to keep from striking his nose against his ankles.
A warm hand gripped his shoulder as he gagged, and yes, sure enough— tears again.
“Did you find anything ?” Obi-Wan pleaded, voice raw.
The sadness filling the room told him the answer.
“Why, Master? Why would the Force refuse to help us stop this? We know it's terrible, we want to stop it, so why won't it help ? Doesn't it know that even if the answer was you and I walking out there and letting them kill us without a fight, we'd do it if that would end this war ?”
“I don't know why the Force has gone silent,” Windu murmured. “I wish I had the answers for you, my Padawan.”
Obi-Wan could feel the echoes of a baby somewhere screaming, its little heart broken for the loss of its mother. He dragged in a shaky breath. “Is it because we're fighting? Is it punishing us?”
“The Force is not punitive, Obi-Wan. And each step of this path, we've taken the only option open to us without completely abandoning the people who need us most.”
“The clones,” Obi-Wan whispered.
Slaves the Republic wasn't about to release. Slaves the Jedi couldn't force the Republic to release.
If I cannot free you, I will not leave you until you are freed. Your path is mine.
But to stand with those most in need of protecting meant to add to the conflict that fed the dark side's hold on the galaxy.
“Each step of the way,” Obi-Wan murmured. Something... something...
Mace, about to stand up, settled back to the floor again, silent as he allowed his Padawan to think.
“There's only two Sith. They have to fight smart. They can't try what they did the first thousand times they tried. The Sith master chose to turn Dooku, not a young man, as his apprentice. A poor move, if one is trying to extend the life of their Order. You want your next generation to last, not age out shortly after they've finished training.”
Mace kept his thoughts in his head, his spectacular shields keeping everything silent so Obi-Wan could focus.
“So why him ? Had to be for something else. He was susceptible, yes, but so were others. But Dooku was the only one with political power. There weren't enough Sith to blot out the galaxy's light by themselves, so they had to find a factory of darkness. A galaxy-wide war and three million slaves ought to do it. But the only way to be sure there would be a war from where they stood, eleven years ago , was if you made one. And the only way to time the clones for being ready for that war was to control exactly when it would happen.”
Obi-Wan shook his head, trying to catch the pieces before they flickered out in his consciousness. “I don't think this war is about taxes, or freedom, corruption in the Senate. I think none of those things have anything to do with this, except to distract people from what is really happening here, to convince everyone to fight. Someone is manipulating both sides into this. Someone made the Confederacy, and someone made the clones, and all of that could only hit at the right time if it was organized together. I think the Sith made the clones. But they're good men, and despite the war being terrible, the Sith knew the Jedi would have to get involved, or completely burn their consciences. We couldn't stand this one out, because the pieces were all in place. It's not an accident. We were forced into this war. To thin our numbers, wear us out so we can't figure out where the Sith master is, what he's doing. It's all smoke and mirrors, but since there's dying and enslaved people, we trapped. We can't just let them drown to hunt down the one behind this, but if we keep doing what we are, everything will be lost.”
And with that, the last threads disappeared, leaving Obi-Wan folded in half on the floor, head pressed to the cool metal, breathing just a bit difficult.
Gentle arms lifted him from the floor and carried him out the door, just as his world spun and began to gray at the edges.
“Rest, Obi-Wan,” his master's voice crooned. “Rest now.”
Obi-Wan pressed his forehead into Mace's shoulder and complied.
* * *
Anakin was on his way to the command center when he saw Mace Windu headed for medical, a limp Obi-Wan in his arms.
Anakin's heart lunged into his throat. “What's wrong? What happened to him?”
“He's been chasing his bad feelings.”
Windu kept walking, and Anakin had to fall in beside him to be able to catch his answer. “Obi-Wan's gift is finding distant connections and the big picture. We've been training with that specifically, along with his saber form.”
“He looks terrible,” Anakin worried. “A vision did this?”
“He chased this one too long.”
Anakin moved so he could catch a glimpse of the older master's face, was shocked by the self-reproach there.
“I should have insisted he stop, but he had a thread, and he was following it, and we got farther than we ever had before, and he wanted so badly to chase it through to the end.”
Anger flooded Anakin's system. “You let him do this to himself? For what— the greater good ?”
“You don't realize what the war is doing to him, do you,” Mace muttered. “You blind, self-focused child.” His pace quickened, nearly leaving Anakin behind.
What? “It's hard on him. Like on all of us,” Anakin growled, refusing to let Windu just walk away with Anakin's Obi-Wan.
“It's unraveling him from the inside out because he carries the pain of every being suffering because of this war. He can't shut them out, he can't hide. He just endures it, but the longer this goes on, the closer to shattering he's going to come. I let him try to find a way out because if we don't, and soon, we're going to lose him. ”
Anakin couldn't quite believe his ears. “He would never go dark .”
“We wouldn't lose him because he decided to inflict more suffering. We'd lose him because he would implode. The Force within him will consume him alive, and he will be left an empty husk, if he survives.”
“That's not possible. Is it? I've never heard of it—”
“Cosmic-Force gifted Jedi only come around once in several generations. The Living Force is much more common, and much more resilient. While suffering might appall you and eat at you, it won't destroy your mind.”
Anakin's anger fled in favor of fear. “But he's so strong, I don't understand.”
“Qui-Gon taught him how to function as if he did not have this gift. I don't know if the bastard was aware of it or not, but that allowed Obi-Wan to operate with a bit of a barrier between himself and the raw Force. Disbelief in his own abilities offered him some protection, if you will.”
pull back that veil?” Anakin hovered near as Mace lowered Obi-Wan onto a sick bed, with all the tenderness of a parent. “Maybe he's less powerful that way, but if it would keep him
“It was his choice.” Mace brushed his hand over Obi-Wan's forehead and hair. “He wants so desperately to save you all.”
“Can't you do what he does, just with your shatterpoints? It's not going to destroy you, right?”
“His gift is different. He can see specifics. Can make connections involving influence and strategy. I can see when a situation will lead to the falling apart of something in the future, but it is difficult for me to trace them into the past. Obi-Wan can feel something wrong elsewhere that is connected to what is happening now, he can trace influences back to their origin points. Find out why things happen, instead of my seeing what will come in the future if this happens.”
Anakin felt his gut sink.
Windu's medic bustled in, busied himself with checking Obi-Wan's vitals, and when it became clear the Padawan simply needed rest, he showed himself out again.
“Why did you hate me so much as a kid?” Anakin asked in a whisper.
“I saw Obi-Wan Kenobi weeping as if his heart had been torn out and utterly alone with no one left to even feel sorry for his grief, let alone soothe him. He was barely more than a child then, one who had suffered enough already. And you being trained as a Jedi was the domino toppling that would start the chain reaction that would lead to him losing everything. If we sent you back to your mother, we saved Obi-Wan, and you were not deprived of everything, since it was very clear in our examination of you that she was a large part of your world. We could save both of you if you just went home.”
Anakin found he was trembling. “What?”
“You asked, Skywalker. And Yoda will bash my knees in for telling you.”
“ Why ?”
“Because he agreed with Qui-Gon more often than not. Don't look so shocked. You forget that you only knew Qui-Gon Jinn for a few days at most. He was more complicated than you think. Yoda wanted you treated the same as everyone else, because just because training you set off events, it doesn't mean you were responsible for those events. Yoda didn't want you to bear the weight of thinking you were to blame when the day came when Obi-Wan lost it all.”
Anakin stared at the pale, still face on the bed. “I was just a kid,” he whispered.
“I didn't think you were going to hurt him,” Windu explained. “Maybe you being taken by Qui-Gon would have had Obi-Wan knighted sooner than he would have been otherwise, and perhaps a mission he took because of the early knighthood would put him in the path of someone who would be responsible for his devastation. Do you understand, Skywalker?”
It took him a moment, but Anakin nodded. “You're saying it's not my fault.”
“He— he felt something coming.” Anakin tried to swallow, found it hurt. “I asked him once what he believed he had been made for. He said infinite sadness. ”
Windu's shoulders sagged. “I have never been able to protect him. I have tried so hard, but I fear it will amount to nothing in the end.”
“What is he to you?” Anakin asked in a low murmur, confused by the grief sloughing off of Windu.
“He is a Jedi.”
The tags have changed.
Obi-Wan felt warm and content, his first conscious emotion one of desire to stay in bed. He snuggled deeper, appreciating the sheets and the drowsiness, having absolutely no need to face the day. No. Just going to go back to sleep now, thank you—
A now-familiar Force signature felt like a bucket of ice water splashing into his face.
Squinting one eye open, he found Anakin Skywalker sitting in the chair by his bed, looking worried, staring at the lifesign readouts near the ceiling.
It took the other Jedi a moment, but then he froze, his gaze inching to meet Obi-Wan's own.
The not-teen's heart thumped in panic, but he steadied himself with a breath.
He wouldn't dare hurt me while my master is on this very ship. Master would tear him limb from limb.
“I know why you're not scared of me anymore,” Anakin spoke.
Obi-Wan's eyebrow popped up, a reaction he couldn't help. He refused to speak, concerned the words or tone might betray he hadn't completely overcome it yet.
But he'd learned early on it was important to not let bullies know you feared them.
“You routinely see things a hell of a lot scarier than me now.”
Ah... wrong again.
Anakin Skywalker still ranked as the most terrifying thing Obi-Wan had in his universe right now. Even against being transported into a body and world that were nothing like what he had lived before.
Anakin's gaze dropped to his hands, twitching in his lap. “You passed out. Windu needed to check with the men, so I offered to watch you until he got back.”
Sith. I was hunting Sith.
Urgency gave a feeble thrash in his mind, wanting to drag him into paranoid action.
It's not safe for me to go that deep without Master there to pull me out when I lose the exit.
Getting lost in there forever seemed like a horrifying fate, even compared to being lost here , which at the beginning had looked very similar.
“You said Satine had done terrible things, but you don't fear her. Why?”
Obi-Wan blinked. “Because I know she won't do them again.”
“You're right. I did something.” Anakin looked down at his hands. “Something I should have told my Obi-Wan, but that I can't tell you.”
Obi-Wan's wariness did not abate.
“The reason I can't tell you is because you are not the man I love like a father. I don't know you, and you don't know me. I understand that I can't just ask you to trust me. Do you think Satine is a good judge of character?”
For some reason, Obi-Wan felt more scared now than when he'd first woke up. He managed a nod, unwilling to trust his voice. Should I call for Mace yet? No. Qui-Gon would want me to be brave and listen even when it seems like someone doesn't deserve it. Compassion.
“I'm going to tell Satine what I did. Then you and she can decide if I'm worthy of your trust, that I'll never do it again.”
Was that... fear in Skywalker's eyes?
You look almost as scared as I feel. “Why would you do that?”
“Because I want your trust. Because I love a version of you, and even if that one never comes back, I don't want to be without an Obi-Wan Kenobi in my life. Because I've run for a really long time, and thought that if I could just forget, I'd be able to move on. But I can't forget. Those voices aren't going to go away. I don't want to go mad, I don't want to be the person who does it again, and you're worth it. No matter what brain is inside that body, you are one of the most important people in my life, and I hate that I scare you just by being in the same room. I have a lot to lose, but it's worth it if I end up no longer the reason you don't feel safe.”
Obi-Wan found he couldn't see. What—?
His hand flew up to his face, found tears on his cheek.
Startled, he whispered, “Why am I crying?” His gaze snapped up to find Anakin's own eyes obscured and his jaw trembling.
“I never told him how much he meant to me.” Anakin looked down at his hands. “He was always fighting for me, but I never did the same for him. Not in any way that could really cost me.”
Obi-Wan tried to swallow. “This could cost you something?”
“My freedom. Perhaps my life. I haven't studied the laws. I'm not quite sure.”
They looked away almost at the same time, Obi-Wan breaking away just a moment before the Not-Older-But- Yes -Older man. “I don't want you to die,” Obi-Wan whispered. “I don't believe in capital punishment. For anything.”
“Maybe it won't come to that. We'll see if the Duchess decides she has to turn me in.”
“Do you trust her so much?”
Anakin stood with a shrug. “No. But you do. And you're the one I want.”
The words would have felt alarmingly creepy if Obi-Wan hadn't sensed the quiet truth behind them.
He hunkered down beneath the covers, wiping away his tears and wondering if he would ever feel at home in this strange, broken universe.
* * *
The Duchess did not look pleased.
“This is not my burden to bear. You have a justice system there.”
“For crimes committed outside of the Republic's jurisdiction? What I did isn't actually a crime according to Tatooine laws.”
“But the Republic and Jedi would see it differently,” Satine sighed. “Hence your reluctance. Knight Skywalker, it is not my place to evaluate you.”
“He can't trust me because he doesn't know if I'm safe right now.”
“You expect me to be able to tell, from a holo ?”
Anakin's shoulders sagged. “This isn't going to work, is it.” He dragged his hand down his face. “I'm never getting him back.”
For a long moment there was silence, and Anakin couldn't bring himself to look at the small blue duchess.
“I know what it is to be estranged from family.”
“Yeah?” Anakin swiped at his nose, reluctant to sniff but not particularly keen on the idea of mucus drizzling out of it either.
“Yes. But I cannot take this burden from you, and I cannot absolve you.”
* * *
It was Ponds who brought him a holodisk.
Obi-Wan managed a grateful smile, accepted the hand that lightly touched the top of his head, and then curled up on his side as the clone left the room.
He wasn't quite sure why his master's men doted on him the way they did. He'd seen other Padawans his age being treated with more distance and respect, so something was clearly different here.
501 st clones certainly did not try to ruffle Ahsoka's montrals.
Satine didn't look surprised to see him.
“Did he tell you?” Obi-Wan asked, feeling an odd hope.
Why should I care? Why does he matter so much?
“No, Obi-Wan.” Satine's voice sounded gentle but her expression was grim. “I cannot accept his confession and then wave a wand and declare him forgiven.”
Obi-Wan sagged deeper into his pillows. “I know,” he murmured. “But surely there is a difference between a person who has done something and will not again, and someone who has done the same and will again? Aren't... aren't your people proof that you can come back from things? Aren't you proof?”
“I am not a deity or a judge, Obi-Wan. And Anakin is not my subject; I have no authority with him.”
“I don't need to know if he's guilty or not. I just need to know if he's going to repeat. If he is, I will keep as much distance between us as I can. I will listen to my fears and refuse to listen to any of his silver words. But if he's really different, now, if he's walking a new path...”
Satine's gaze sharpened. “You are beginning to feel it.”
“I don't know what it is. I want... and I don't know what I want.”
“You want to be whole again. He is your other half, Obi-Wan.”
“What? No, I don't think we were romantic!” Obi-Wan choked out, feeling mildly horrified by the thought.
Satine smiled. “Not all life partnerships are romantic, Obi-Wan. You and Anakin Skywalker meant to stay together to the end. There was a wholeness to your bond, Obi-Wan. Even those without the Force could see it.”
“I cannot let myself be comfortable with a man who might murder again, if the mood just catches his fancy, or the moment someone gives him permission to. If he's chafing at the bit to taste blood again? No. I will have no part of that. There are those who kill and are haunted, horrified by it for the rest of their lives, and then there are those who want to again, and just wait for the next justifiable opportunity. The justification becomes ever more flimsy... and then disappears entirely. It's how a killer is made, Satine.”
“Oh, I'm aware. But darling, I hunger too.”
“Which is why you've chosen total abstinence from violence.”
“What is your Anakin ready to do to save himself?”
“I don't know.”
“Obi-Wan, if I know what he has done, then I will have a responsibility. I will have to decide what to do with that knowledge. To withhold certain knowledge of murder is to become an accessory after the fact. Can you understand why I would refuse to be placed in that situation? To either have to turn in your other half, or be that person again ?”
He nodded. “I'm sorry.”
“I do not blame you, dear heart.”
* * *
Anakin paced the short length of his room, heart aching.
A tiny blue Padmé watched him.
“What if they lock me up ?”
She looked sorrowful. “Ani... part of being an adult is accepting responsibility for our actions. Not just the good ones, but the bad ones too.”
“But what sense is there in me suffering for it when it's done and nothing can change it?”
“Should Dooku escape without punishment for what he's done?”
“No,” Anakin snarled. “But it's different. The people Dooku's killed had people who loved them. They matter. Nobody's going to miss those Tuskens. And at least they can't kill people now either.”
“You're still placing yourself in the position to decide who are real people and who aren't. Deciding that you get to choose who lives and who deserves death. Isn't that exactly what the Tuskens do? People not like them deserve to die?”
“I am nothing like those raiders! ”
Padmé shook her head. “I've stood by you, haven't I? I even married you. But Anakin, what you did was wrong. And Satine has a point. By hiding this, you've made me responsible for the blood you shed that day too.”
Anakin's heart fell out his stomach. He paled.
“And if I'm fully honest, it eats at me. I don't want to be comfortable with murder, Anakin. I don't want to just forget about it and carry on with my life like nothing happened.”
“Padmé.” Dear Force, what had he done to his angel? He'd... I made her guilty of murder. How could I do that to my pure, sweet angel? What is wrong with me? “I'm scared.”
“So were those little kids,” she whispered.
He looked away. “You think I should turn myself in.”
“I think the secret has been eating you from the inside out, poisoning your relationships and holding you back from being the best you can be. It leaves you feeling ashamed. I want you to be able to hold your head up, look the world in the face, and know you have fought well. ”
“I can't. I can't ever. It's never going to leave me, Padmé.”
“Then you have to decide, Anakin. Obi-Wan is a wise child to shy away from an adult he knows has done something terrible. Either you face up to what you've done and accept the consequences— whatever they may be— so he can see you as a man who is worthy of his trust... or you need to decide if protecting him from your secret is more important. Because if somehow you manage to win his trust through telling him, it will not be just me that you've made guilty of your crime. You will have placed the weight of your murders on a child as well.”
Anakin's eyes burned with tears. “Why aren't you comforting me?” In the past she always told him he was a good man, not to think about it, to just do good now, and that she loved him.
“I'm afraid that if I speak truth to you and hold to what I believe, you may leave me,” Padmé's voice choked. “But I can't live in that fear anymore. I love you , and part of loving you means I can't just stroke your ego when you've chosen something wrong. I can't just let go of myself, my identity, to just be a bed of praise for you to fall back on. You don't want me to become a droid.”
He shook his head. “I just— my first kill was at age twelve. Obi-Wan wasn't there. He never knew. No one did. The only witness never spoke of it. I just... I've been hiding for so long.”
“Anakin, Obi-Wan is afraid of you because he sees a man who refuses to take responsibility for his crimes. Be someone he can be proud of. Not to win his love, but because it's the right thing to do. And you are a good person.”
“Your definition of good is a bit twisted, Padmé.”
“Prove me right.”
“And when they lock me away for life? And I never see you again? Never fly again?”
“Anakin.” Padmé's expression went grim. “Those children you killed. They'll never have a chance to fly either. Or fall in love. You didn't just take out the guilty. You took out those who were absolutely innocent of your mother's death. And you believe in protecting the innocent. Or don't you?”
Anakin sank to his knees, head drooping.
* * *
Anakin stepped into Windu's office aboard the Master's ship.
He found Mace sitting at the desk, pouring over datapads, Obi-Wan leaning over his shoulder and pointing out various things.
Both looked up when he entered, their comfortable expressions melting into professional distance as Mace sat up straight and Obi-Wan squared his shoulders, falling silent and still behind his master.
Anakin stepped forward, placing his saber on the desk, then stepping back.
“I am here to turn myself in.”
Confusion drew Windu's brows together.
Anakin couldn't look at Obi-Wan. It took every ounce of courage he possessed to stand here and do this. It would be easier to face a canon's mouth.
Mainly because he knew he could escape death. He'd done it a thousand times.
This was like walking into a building you knew you would never come out of.
Obi-Wan has that kind of courage. I never have.
Well. I guess today. Be proud of me, master, if you ever find out.
Or... maybe just forgive me for everything. I'd settle for that. Force knows I don't deserve it.
“Before I received Master Kenobi's message from Geonosis, and I was protecting Senator Amidala on Naboo, I received visions of my mother. I saw her suffering. I went to Tatooine to try to discover the truth of my visions. I discovered that she had been taken captive by local savages, and had been tortured for a month.”
Obi-Wan's breath caught, an audible betrayal of pain.
It surprised Anakin, but he realized it really shouldn't.
It never mattered to you if the person suffering was someone you loved or a stranger.
You tended them both with the same care and compassion.
“Thirty settlers had tried to rescue her, and only four survived. Her new husband lost his leg in the attempt. I set out alone to find her. I did. Just in time to see her die.”
Was that... sorrow in Windu's eyes as well?
Oh. Right. Innocent death. Yes. I suppose he would regret Mom's death.
Mouth dry, Anakin swallowed and forced himself to continue. “The sand people are primitive. But they know how to use projectile weapons, build— build homes from cured bantha hide, and— and have a language. They're at least semi-sentient.”
“They are fully sentient,” Windu confirmed.
The last of Anakin's hope died, and with it, the shreds of a facade he'd been holding up to defend himself with.
“I could see the brutalization they had inflicted on my mother. And I— I killed them. The entire village. The warriors. The civilians. Down to— the toddlers and babies.”
He risked a glance at Obi-Wan, saw all color had fled from the beloved face.
Anakin braced himself. “I carried my mother back to her home. Her new family buried her, and then I received the emergency signal from Obi-Wan. I sent it on to the Council, and planned to take Senator Amidala back to Naboo. She refused to cooperate, and instead went to go rescue Obi-Wan. I went with her instead of returning to Naboo alone.”
“Master Kenobi knew nothing of my actions then, or after. He is innocent in this.”
Obi-Wan was trembling like a leaf now.
“I submit myself for trial. I will cooperate.”
“Why would you admit to this now?” Windu asked, his expression and tone impossible to read. “You could have kept this hidden indefinitely.”
“I can't live with myself anymore.”
Windu's eyes narrowed. “For two years you've operated just fine, looking each of us in the face. Why the sudden change of heart?”
It's a fair question.
The concern in Windu's eyes deepened. “What about him?”
Oh, the protective watchfulness of a master for his Padawan. It made Anakin's heart ache to see it.
Once upon a time, he'd seen it in Obi-Wan's face for him.
“I couldn't stand knowing I'm the monster he thinks I am.” Anakin forced himself to look Windu in the eye. “So I'm taking responsibility for what I've done.”
Windu searched his eyes for long, quiet moments.
“What— what is going to happen to him?” Obi-Wan asked, his voice quavering. He looked torn, both sickened by the confession, and afraid.
Why are you afraid? I've surrendered, given over my weapon.
“Tatooine is not a member world of the Republic. The Republic, unless it wishes to conquer and force the allegiance of the world, has no right to inflict its laws upon it. On Tatooine, murder of the native denizens— Jawas, Sand People— is not a crime.”
Anakin's eyes widened at Windu's knowledge.
A tiny smirk escaped Windu. “I was searching for something I could use against Jabba.”
Anakin felt surprised, but also just a bit ashamed. When the Council had asked him to rescue Jabba's son, he'd felt furious they were helping the Hutt.
Of course they tried to find out if there was another option.
“Who has jurisdiction, then?” Obi-Wan asked, eyes definitely sad now.
You hate me. Why are you grieving?
“Anakin was not a Republic officer at the time, and Republic citizens were not harmed, and the laws of another nation were not violated. This would be a matter for a Jedi tribunal, since according to Republic and Hutt law, no crime has been committed. Though a clever lawyer and the organizations protecting sentient life would be happy to try to prosecute. I doubt the Council will turn it over to the court of public opinion.”
Anakin's heart quickened. Oh, dear Force, I'm going to be caged for life.
“You won't kill him,” Obi-Wan whimpered, “will you?”
Windu looked startled, turning to look at his Padawan. “ Kill him? Certainly not!”
Obi-Wan looked on the verge of tears. “I don't know what to think,” he choked. “I don't...”
“Here is what will happen. We will finish this campaign. If Skywalker gives us his word that he will not run, his saber will be returned to him, and he will continue to act as General for the duration of it. We will then return to Coruscant, where mind healers will examine him. Depending on their analysis, we will then assemble a court, hear what Skywalker has to say for himself, and then reach a conclusion.”
A tear slipped down Obi-Wan's cheek. “How— how bad will it be?”
“That depends entirely on how much effort Skywalker is willing to put into rehabilitation. If he is willing to work with professionals to heal the wounds he inflicted on his soul when he took innocent life, and is willing to take steps to ensure it does not happen again, his sentence will be much lighter than if he defends himself, does not consider his actions to have been wrong, and has no intention of protecting others from himself in the future.”
Brokenhearted, begging eyes lifted to Anakin's face, shocking him with their intensity. “Please,” Obi-Wan whispered. “Please.”
Anakin felt tears escape him.
“Skywalker, you may have the rest of the day off to compose yourself, but tomorrow morning we need to press forward the attack—”
A low moan escaped Obi-Wan, his hands flailed, and he fell backwards, eyes rolling up in his head.
A horrified shout escaped Windu and he lunged from the desk to crouch by his Padawan.
“No, no, no, no— ” Obi-Wan begged.
Fear thundered in Anakin's heart. “What is it?” he demanded.
“Another vision.” Windu placed his hand on Obi-Wan's chest, closing his eyes.
Obi-Wan fell silent, eyes staring at nothing, lungs falling still.
After a terrifying moment, his eyes refocused, blinking, and he rolled onto his side, curling in on himself as Windu placed a hand on his head. Obi-Wan's fingers, thin and pale reached up, curling around his wrist.
“It wasn't an accident,” Obi-Wan whispered. “It wasn't a coincidence.”
Windu gently stroked his hair. “What wasn't?”
“Anakin's mother being taken.”
Anakin's blood ran cold.
“The visions, the kidnapping, Anakin himself— there is a dark influence, and I can't— it's— it feels like the other one. ”
“You think the Tuskens were stirred up and aimed in that direction? To... unhinge Skywalker?”
Obi-Wan nodded, shuddering.
Anakin couldn't believe his ears. “The
? Dooku doesn't
that kind of power!”
“Not Dooku. Dooku's master.” Windu looked up. “The Sith who has his fingers in the Senate. The one orchestrating everything.”
Horror seized Anakin. “But why ? Why wasn't he trying to kill me ?”
“Rule of Two,” Obi-Wan muttered. “Why choose an apprentice old, too old to carry on your line?”
“Because he's a placeholder,” Windu murmured back.
And somehow, this was worse, so much worse than Anakin had been anticipating. “ What ? You think— you think I'm being groomed to be the next apprentice? But I would never trust the person behind all of this!”
“You wouldn't trust the Sith Master, no,” Obi-Wan agreed. “So... so...”
Windu helped him sit up when Obi-Wan reached for him.
Obi-Wan's eyes unfocused as he chased the thread. “So he would need to come to you with not the face of the Sith Master, but one of someone you trust. Of a friend. Someone you would listen to. Someone... who even once you discovered his true identity... you would still be loyal to.”
“There's no one, ” Anakin replied, tone flat. “It doesn't matter who it is, if they're the Sith Master, we're done. ”
But Windu appeared to be considering.
Then his eyes went wide, and a shockingly obscene curse slipped from his lips.
“What?” Anakin demanded.
“There's only four people, aren't there.”
“ What are you talking about? ”
Windu pivoted on his heel, still crouched, peering up at Skywalker. “What you said is true. If anyone you knew was revealed to be Sith, you'd fight them in a heartbeat. Me. Yoda. Anyone. Except for four people.” He looked down at Obi-Wan again. “His Padawan, his master, his lover, his mentor.”
“My—” Anakin sputtered, going red and ashy white in turn. “I don't—”
“Ahsoka is too young to fit. I've been inside your mind, so it isn't you,” Windu continued, Obi-Wan nodding and looking worried. “That leaves just two.”
“You think Padmé is the Sith Lord ?” Anakin blurted.
Windu shook his head. “No. I think you would still feel loyalty to her even if she were. It's not the same thing.”
Anakin felt anger flood him. “The frip ?”
“ Relax, ” Windu snapped. “I don't think it's Senator Amidala!”
“ Who then ? Obi-Wan is my mentor!”
“ Is he? Is there anyone you trust who insinuates wedges between you and the other people you trust?”
“Padmé wanted me to confess!”
“Please try to keep up, Skywalker, we've moved past the Senator!”
Obi-Wan gripped Windu's wrist so tight the Master winced. “I don't feel— I don't— Master— ”
Windu's sleuthing died as he saw Obi-Wan shaking, sweat beading his brow, his eyes going red with ruptured vessels.
“What's wrong?” Anakin asked, fear pushing his severe dislike of Mace Windu back from the forefront. “What's happening to him?”
Obi-Wan thrashed, eyes trembling, an odd vibration that made Anakin's own head hurt.
“Obi-Wan!” Windu lowered the Padawan to the floor again, pinning his arms down when the boy continued convulsing. “Skywalker, get Kix!”
Anakin tapped his comlink and complied, never once taking his eyes off Obi-Wan.
“I don't want to go,” Obi-Wan whispered, a tear spilling from his eye. “Please, Master, I don't want to go.”
Windu placed his large palm against the side of Obi-Wan's face. “You need to let me in, Obi-Wan. Let me see.”
Anakin held his breath, watching Obi-Wan continue to twist against the floor.
“Oh,” Windu breathed. “Obi-Wan, it's your older self, coming back. I need you to be brave, my Padawan.”
Obi-Wan's face twisted in grief. “It's
is he coming back now?”
“To save Skywalker. He would bend reality, time, and life itself to save him.”
“What about me?” Obi-Wan wailed, voice barely above a whisper. “I want to live, Master!”
“Do you remember when we searched for the Sith, you and I? What you were willing to give?” Windu asked, voice thick with pain.
Some of the panic drained from Obi-Wan's expression as he gripped a tight fistful of Windu's sleeve. “Will he be able to find the Sith? Will he have the pieces I don't have?”
“I don't know, Padawan. But there is hope for Skywalker. He came to us for help. He can escape the Sith's influence.”
“Does hope for him have to mean death for me?” Obi-Wan choked, shuddering with a new wave of pain.
Windu closed his eyes, expression twisting. “Obi-Wan, a version of you will live. The version that technically owns this body.”
“But not me. Master... oh— no, no, no— he's too strong— so much stronger than me— Master—” Obi-Wan squeezed his eyes tight shut.
“Obi-Wan, he's had training to destroy presences in his mind. He will kill you.”
“ Why ?” Obi-Wan wailed, his voice barely a whisper.
Windu brushed Obi-Wan's cheek with his thumb, and Obi-Wan dragged his eyelids open so he could see his master.
“Your olderself isn't the one sustaining your body right now. You are. You can fight to the end, but this body will die, and neither of you will survive it. Or, you can let him in, let him do as he will, and focus all your effort on keeping this body alive until he can sustain it himself.”
A sob ripped through Obi-Wan's wracked body. “You would ask me to lie down and die ?”
“Oh, my Padawan,” Windu choked, hand smoothing over his head. “This is not how I'd hoped we'd part. I'd hoped we'd go together.”
Obi-Wan thrashed, still fighting. “I haven't found the Sith yet. How will you find the Sith?”
“I'll find the Sith,” Anakin swore, heart in his throat.
Tears escaped the teen in an adult's body. “I was right. You are killing me.”
The words rocked Anakin, leaving him feeling like an explosion had blasted his soul into an arid wasteland.
“I don't want to go,” Obi-Wan pleaded again, staring into his master's eyes. “Will I see Qui-Gon?”
* * *
Windu had no time to reply, for Anakin was on the floor, holding Obi-Wan's body tight to him.
“Don't give in,” Skywalker begged. “Please. Hold on. We'll find a way to save both of you, just hold on !”
Startled, Obi-Wan shook his head as best as he could with the grip holding him. “Why? You never wanted me. You always wanted him back.”
“I don't want you to die to bring him back. We'll find another way.”
A sob tore at Obi-Wan's throat, and his arms moved to cling to Anakin. “Who are you to me, Anakin Skywalker?” he asked.
“I'm the other half of your soul. And I am not going to let you die for me.”
Windu felt the inroads being made, felt the body beginning to fail.
Obi-Wan's eyes found his over Anakin's shoulder. Tears still escaped him, but he met Windu's grieved gaze with a calm one of his own.
“I didn't get to say goodbye,” he whispered.
Windu gave as steady a nod as he could manage. “We'll tell them,” he choked.
Anakin was still demanding Obi-Wan hold on, that they would find something— make a clone of this body, perhaps, so they each could have one, he just had to last long enough for it to work—
But Obi-Wan was no longer listening.
Windu watched as his brave, beautiful Padawan turned to face his killer, and threw open the doors.
Watched as he allowed it all to be dragged from his fingers as he focused only on keeping the heart beating, keeping the lungs breathing—
Tears escaped Windu, silent and agonized.
Obi-Wan sent one last feeble brush against his shields, and Windu caressed back—
And then he was gone.
Windu bit down hard to keep from sobbing aloud—
Anakin stilled, pulling back from the body—
Kix raced in the door, dropping beside them. “His vitals are dropping! What happened?” He tried scanning the Jedi, looked up in horror. “I can't tell what's wrong!”
The pulse stilled. Glazed eyes stared at nothing.
Goodbye, my Padawan.
Anakin held almost as still as the corpse, eyes wide and crying still—
A gasp of air filled the dead lungs, the body jolted, and the Force signature accompanying it felt familiar.
Alarmed blue eyes blinked up at them, and then a hoarse voice rasped, “What happened? Where am I?”
And then the surviving Kenobi passed out.
* * *
They stood together by Obi-Wan's bedside, watching the unconscious breaths being drawn in.
“I asked him to lower his guard and let himself be killed,” Windu whispered, heart so broken .
Skywalker brushed his hands over his eyes, but it didn't clear his voice of the tears as he answered, “If you hadn't, we would have lost both of them. He was no match for— for him.”
“How serious were you, when you said you would find the Sith?”
“I promised a dying Obi-Wan. I'm serious as death.”
“Even if the search requires looking closely at everyone you love?”
Anakin's gaze dropped. “You really think they're close to me?”
“I think if Obi-Wan was right, and you are being groomed, they'd have been a fool to not spend years making you believe them to be on your side. And whatever I think of the Sith Master who played us like puppets the last twelve years, I do not think him a fool.”
Anakin gave a nod. “Why did he have to die?”
Mace knew exactly who he meant.
Bitterness surged through his soul. Why did Depa have to lie in a broken coma in the Temple? Why did Obi-Wan have to die? Qui-Gon, Micah, Eeth—
“It's one of those things that doesn't have a reason. It's just senseless, pointless, a kick in the throat. You're not going to find any answer that makes this suddenly alright.”
Anakin stared at him in wide-eyed horror. “What?” he choked out.
“What do you mean, what ? You're a smart person, Skywalker. One Obi-Wan died because the other one didn't know he wasn't posing a threat. Who knows if he was released to the Force, or if he just ceased to be. Did he find Qui-Gon? Probably not. Are we ever going to stop missing him? No. Do you want to be coddled like a youngling, Skywalker?”
Tears of agony streamed from the other man's eyes. “How do you function ?” Anakin asked.
“Railing against injustice doesn't make it go away.” Windu folded his arms and stared at the still form on the bed. “You either push forward, or you let it crush you.”
“Is that even a choice ?”
“We better hope it is, or the Obi-Wan we just got back isn't going to have a Skywalker or Windu at his side.”
Anakin seemed stunned by the words, but his animosity eased at the same time.
Windu didn't the frip care.
Precious, radiant souled Obi-Wan was gone. In his place the scarred, hobbled, regret-laden man Windu had hoped maybe he could prevent from ever coming to be.
How many times does that make it that I've failed you?
“I was in his mind. I saw it.” Windu shook his head. “He wanted so badly to live. He could have taken our Obi-Wan with him out of spite. Who would blame him? But at the end, he thought of you. Ahsoka. The Duchess. He decided it was better for you to have a different Obi-Wan than no Obi-Wan at all.”
Anakin's head bowed, and tears slipped freely down his cheeks. “It's not as meaningless as you think. I mean, it was. But he gave his own meaningless death meaning. He didn't have to wait for better circumstances. He just... he was just him. ”
“Stubborn little bastard,” Mace murmured, aching with loss.
Anakin huffed a chuckle. “Even more stubborn than me.”
Windu glanced at him. Were they going to make it out? Skywalker and Windu, broken and damaged as they might be...
Might we make it?
Obi-Wan dragged in a ragged gasp, sitting bolt upright and flailing.
“It's okay, it's okay,” Anakin barked, rushing to reach him. “You're okay.”
Obi-Wan looked to him with wild eyes. “Don't let me go under again! I couldn't move, couldn't speak , couldn't see— there was something else in here!” The panic twisted his Force signature. “What did my— did my body— tell me it didn't do anything terrible! Are you safe? Ahsoka? Is she—”
“You didn't do anything terrible,” Anakin murmured, hand rubbing down his arm to soothe him, a gentle smile touching Skywalker's face. “You were perfect.”
“It seems he was loved.”
Anakin hated the grief in Obi-Wan's eyes as his master stared into the mirror at his cleanshaven face. He couldn't just leave it there. “So are you.”
“Hmm.” Obi-Wan looked down at his hands. “If I'd known what it was— who he was, but—” He peered back at Anakin, eyes filling with tears. “I murdered him.”
Anakin's throat closed in pain. “You didn't know what you were doing.”
“I couldn't see while it was happening. Everything was so cut off.” Obi-Wan shivered. “You know the sensory deprivation tank, to train against that form of torture?” His head bowed. “It wasn't enough.”
Anakin held his silence, not sure anything he could say would help. They'd seen the signs in Obi-Wan, in the two days that had passed since his return. The scars left from being lost for months.
“I can remember... pieces. Of that final conversation,” Obi-Wan whispered. “At the time, I only heard your voice in distress. I couldn't process any of the words. I just had to get out. It was the first time I'd seen a chink of light, and I— but since I have these memories and I can hear the words, it makes me think I should have been able to make sense of them at the time. But I panicked. And I murdered that poor boy—” Obi-Wan's face crumpled.
“He couldn't resist me. How could he? The monster that tore life from his fingers because he wasn't strong enough to stop me? He could have denied me the body. Should have. ”
Anakin stared at him in horror. “Then you would both be dead!”
“At least he would have died fighting. Taken out his betrayer with him.”
“Force... no, Obi-Wan. Windu was in contact with the other Obi-Wan the whole time. In his head. He chose to give Satine and Ahsoka and— me— you. ”
Obi-Wan's shoulders hitched forward and he turned his face away.
“He was brave, Obi-Wan. So brave.”
“He's dead , Anakin! A scared, little boy, and I killed him! ” Obi-Wan tried to walk away from him, but the man could barely see through silent tears. Anakin easily caught him and dragged him into a hug.
Obi-Wan pressed his fist into Anakin's chest, shaking his head. “ No, ” he whispered.
And then Anakin remembered what Mace had said, and how it had helped—
“It's awful. And you feel guilty. And it's never going to get better.”
Obi-Wan raised shocked, drowning eyes to his face and glared. “Why, thank you for the help.”
Oh. That didn't quite go how I meant it to.
“I mean— I'm sorry, Obi-Wan. None of us wanted him dead, but... at the same time, we're so grateful you're alive. That was his last gift to us. And he gave us many. And don't you dare make light of a gift a little boy gave, in spite of being scared as hell.”
Anakin saw it, the way his words hit Obi-Wan deep.
The moment he stopped seeing his own guilt, and saw instead a way to honor the lost one.
The moment the tears shifted from bitter guilt, to pained recognition.
Obi-Wan leaned his head against Anakin's chest, startling the younger Jedi.
“Anakin... he was right. I do have a piece he didn't have.”
Anakin's heart lunged into his throat.
“I know who the Sith Lord is. But you're going to hate me for it.”
I swore to the little Obi-Wan that I would face this, no matter how painful—
and he would
His master pulled back, looking a thousand years old. “If it's not me, not Ahsoka, not Padmé— who is left, who you trust more than anything?”
Horror seized Anakin, followed by anger, then fear , then doubt, then no, it couldn't be—
“No,” he whispered.
But Obi-Wan just shivered and whispered, “I'm sorry.”
* * *
Anakin realized he was still trembling as he stepped out the door, to find Obi-Wan standing there. He saw Ahsoka, just a ways down the hall, waiting.
Obi-Wan dragged him into a hug, and Anakin felt tears against his neck. “You were humble,” Obi-Wan whispered. “They were impressed, Anakin. They've decreed time with a Mind Healer outside the Order, and time away from violent missions. But you're free. You've been cleared.”
Anakin's arms came up to hold Obi-Wan close, and a tear escaped him.
Obi-Wan stepped back, gripped his shoulder, then looked to Ahsoka.
It took everything Anakin had in him to meet her questioning gaze.
And then she flew down the hall and launched into his arms.
“I'm proud of you,” she sniffled. “And he would have been too.”
“He's the only reason I'm here.” Anakin looked over her shoulder to Obi-Wan. “Did you and Mace find the last threads?”
Obi-Wan gave a nod. “With extreme difficulty. But he knew how to direct me, so we did find it. The clones have chips in their heads, with orders that will override their will and force them to kill their Jedi.”
Ahsoka stilled and Anakin blinked, horror taking possession of them both.
“What?” Anakin rasped.
“We're finding a way to safely disable them now. Removing them would be too large an endeavor— there is no way we could hide it from the Sith. We have to gather evidence, reveal him to the Senate. If we can prove he and Dooku conspired, we can overthrow him, and the Separatist Parliament will be willing to sit to peace talks again. We can end this war.”
The other Obi-Wan was willing to die, if that's what it took, to find the answer to stop the Sith's plot and to save us all.
And dear Force, please let him know he succeeded. Please.
We needed both of them. And when the time was right, we needed a being who would be willing to allow another to finish the plan, even if it meant losing his life.
You were beautiful, other Obi-Wan. It was an honor to know you.
* * *
And deep within the Force, a small Obi-Wan nestled in Qui-Gon Jinn's arms, breathing in the presence of a man he'd missed so much.
Qui-Gon cradled him like he was something of infinite value.
And in the silent acceptance of the Force, Obi-Wan thought that maybe...
He might actually be.