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Now where is he? He can't remember this place off hand. Captured, obviously – he's floating a good meter in air over a ray shield generator, bound up in its force field, unable to move so much as a finger. The only part of him still mobile is his head, and even that he can only turn the slightest amount while the ray shield gently turns him around, spinning him leisurely on an invisible axis like a mannequin on a display case.

Ben looks around himself, trying to place the setting. How many times had he been captured in this exact entrapment during the clone wars? Too many to really wish to count it, really. This doesn't look like a ship which narrows the options down somewhat, though he can't place the architecture around himself. Stone, carefully carved, alien. He can almost recognize it – but it's been so many years now… it's been decades.

Closing his eyes, Ben tries to reach for the Force – but that doesn't help much. All he can sense is… chaos. That old, clouded chaos of the Pre-Empire times, when Force had been so muddy and so strange, filled with mixed signals and false premonitions. It's odd, feeling it now with the power of hindsight and nearly twenty years of training in opening himself to the Force in ways that went beyond the Jedi Order's teachings. It almost makes him feel dirty.

There are life forms about. Thousands, hundreds of thousands of life forms. A planet, then – but which one, at what point of time?

He'd aimed for a time when he could make the biggest difference into the course of future, to change it for better. He'd expected to find himself a padawan again, meeting Anakin Skywalker for the first time on that dated Naboo Mission, where pieces started falling to their damned, destined places and their doom was set into motion. Qui-Gon dead, Senator Palpatine just starting his reign over the Senate and the Republic… Anakin bitter with freedom with Padme Amidala standing as his shining, perfect, impossible goal. Opening notes of a symphony that turned into cacophony which turned into Imperial March one day.

That, Ben had felt, was the point where future could be derailed – where everything could be changed. It would happen at the cost of Luke and his sister, perhaps at the cost of thousands and millions of lives that would not be born, but… to stop the Empire before it could ever be conceived would be worth everything.

But that is not where he is.

He's not the padawan he had hoped to find himself as. He can feel it on his face alone – he has a beard. That places him at the very least five years after Qui-Gon's death. Perhaps more. That… changes things.

But when – and for that matter, where – is he?

His surroundings offer no more clues so Ben looks down at himself. Jedi tunics, utility belt, boots – nothing helpful there, he's never worn anything else and only switched to longer robes in Tatooine. He doesn't have armour on, though, therefore it's not the worst of Clone Wars yet – or it is and he's been stripped of the armour. Unhelpful.

Sighing Ben leans his head back a little – and then he feels it. His own hair, curling at the base of his neck. It's long. From the time when he'd thought to grow it out. But then that would mean –

A door opens and for a moment Ben can see creatures, spindly and insectoid – Geonosians? And moment later, a white haired and bearded man in black steps into the chamber and the door closes behind him.

"Dooku?" Ben asks slowly.

Oh. He's in Geonosis, at the very beginning of the Clone Wars?

"Oh my friend," Dooku says. "This is a mistake, a terrible mistake. They've gone too far – it's madness."

Ben stares at him in confusion, trying to place the words. Had he met Dooku before now? And who had gone too far – oh, the man means the imprisonment. Obviously Ben has been captured.

Frowning a little Ben tries to remember why did he enter Geonosis in the first place before the first battle of Geonosis, he'd been the first Jedi there. The whole thing had rather lost its importance after, with the Clone Wars themselves, but he had… right, he had been in pursuit and pursued his target to Geonosis. Jango Fett – the template of the clones.

An important moment in history, completely overshadowed by the hellish battle that begun right after. He can almost see why he'd be here, instead of his Padawan years, but not quite. At this time, the Emperor is already the High Chancellor, well onto his way to emergency powers he'd never forfeit again. The senate is already mostly under Sidious' control.

Why is he here? This time makes no sense. He's too late here.

Dooku watches him strangely when Ben says nothing, and in the end the captor speaks again. "Are you well?" Dooku says and walks around him as if to check he's unharmed. "I will petition immediately to have you released, I assure you – but if you have been mistreated."

"I feel no injuries," Ben says, rather distractedly while trying to scan his memories as to why this would be the key turning point in history. "So I suppose I'm fine."

"You are taking this rather well," Dooku says, frowning slightly, as if this calm is unexpected. Probably is – in his youth Ben would have been more annoyed by the whole thing.

"Becoming emotional will hardly help me here," Ben says and gives him a thoughtful look. Dooku, Qui-Gon Jinn's master, Yoda's apprentice. One of the Lost Twenty. Obi-Wan had… not quite hated him, but he had disapproved him, severely, even before the Clone Wars. And in Clone Wars, Dooku had been the Enemy, plain and simple.

It had never made sense to him that one of Dooku's standing in the Jedi Order, with his Teaching Lineage, would fall to the dark side. Later, Ben hadn't paid much thought to it, it was merely one of those things that were part of the past and thus lost to his influence one way or the other, but now…

Dooku is older than Sidious – and yet Darth Tyranus was one of Sidious' unfortunate apprentices. Why? How?

"You have become a fine Jedi, Obi-Wan," Dooku says, giving him a solemn look. "It is a great pity we never had the time to come face to face before. Qui-Gon always spoke very highly of you."

"Did he, indeed?" Ben asks noncommittally – he can't for the life of him remember of Qui-Gon had ever mentioned Dooku.

"He did, we talked of you often," Dooku says and looks away – and his grief feels… genuine. "I wish he was still alive. I could use his help now, and his wisdom."

Ben says nothing for a moment, wondering. Qui-Gon's wisdom had been considerable – and utterly unorthodox. What kind of Jedi went after the Secrets of Immortality, after all? What kind of Jedi achieved it? Had Dooku known about Qui-Gon's… extracurricular studies, his search for mastery over powers that went so wildly beyond the scope of Jedi, even beyond the scope of the Sith? Had Qui-Gon spoken with Dooku about it?

"What would you need Qui-Gon's help with?" Ben asks slowly.

Dooku frowns a little and turns away, lifting his hands and then lowering them. "Qui-Gon knew all about the corruption of the senate," Dooku says slowly. "He would have never gone along with it if he knew the true extend of it. If he learned the truth as I have."

Ben arches an eyebrow but says nothing.

Dooku glances at him, gauges his attentiveness, and then continues, looking away again. "What if I told you that the Republic is now under the control of a Dark Lord of the Sith?" he asks.

Ben's arched brow descends and he frowns. That was… unexpected. Had Dooku told him that before? Had this happened in past – had he hung here, helpless while Dooku admitted that to him? How had he reacted?

With disbelief, Ben thinks wryly. At this point in time, his reaction would have been disbelief and denial and quite bit of suspicion.

Dooku looks to him for a reaction and Ben schools his expression into more neutral arrangement. "A Sith," he repeats.

"A Sith Lord," Dooku says slowly. "Hundreds of Senators are now influenced by the Dark Side, doing as he wills them – voting as Darth Sidious requires them. And each day his power within the Senate grows."

Ben stares at him silently for a long time, wondering. It could very well be a ploy – but to what end? Why would Dooku tell him this, why would he reveal this terrible truth? He was a Sith himself and under Sidious' control, isn't he? Revealing this now, at the verge of the Clone Wars, doesn't make any sense…

Unless he isn't under Sidious' control, yet.

"Why are you telling me this?" Ben asks quietly.

Dooku frowns up at him. "I need your help," he says and scowls, a sudden feverishness coming to his face at Ben's apparent compliance. "You must join me, Obi-Wan – and together we will destroy the Sith!"

Ben says nothing for a while, just watching him. Well that, if nothing else, is the Dark Side speaking. Dooku might not be fully under Sidious' control yet, but there is Dark within him. And yet, this whole set up, revealing Sidious like this…

This had happened before, Ben is starting to remember now. And last time, Obi-Wan had denied everything, disregarded every word, and happily mistrusted everything. The Jedi couldn't possibly miss something as big as this, he thought; surely they would've sensed it…

But in this murky atmosphere of the Force, how could anyone sense anything?

"What say you, my friend?" Dooku says and straightens his shoulders.

"I think I am likely here for a reason," Ben muses. Obi-Wan Kenobi – the Separatist. That would change the history, wouldn't it?

Chapter Text

After Geonosis, Master Obi-Wan is quiet and thoughtful. Anakin can't quite pinpoint the cause. The battle, the oncoming war – whatever had happened between him and Dooku that had made Dooku give him such strange, annoyed looks… or maybe something Master Obi-Wan shouldn't even be aware of, something that happened entirely outside his view.

Whatever it is, it makes Obi-Wan strange and oddly elusive. He's silent and contemplative after the battle, on their way back to Coruscant, and even his report to the High Council after the war has been declared is… meditative. Obi-Wan has never been the most excitable master, of course, but this is an unprecedented level of… dark contemplation even he's going through.

"In light of what is about to come, Masters," Obi-Wan says at the end. "I would like to propose Anakin Skywalker for the Knights Trials."

That's not entirely unexpected – hell, Anakin has been waiting for it with baited breath for months now. For over a year they've been working more apart than together, Anakin having been trusted with more and more solo missions, something he's always thought was the sign of being ready Knighthood… it's long time coming in his opinion.

"His readiness this council will decide," the Grand Master says. "Clone Wars alone reason is not."

"No, but it is the time," Obi-Wan says and looks at Anakin. His expression is unreadable. "And you are going to knight him soon. I only propose it now that so that I may take him to Seclusion before hand."

That Anakin doesn't know about. Seclusion? As he frowns with confusion at his masters, the High Council exchange surprised looks.

"Old tradition that is," Yoda hums.

"One we don't have time for," Mace says grimly. "The Jedi Order is being assigned with the care of the Clone Army, and you've been named one of the Generals, Master Kenobi. You, specifically, don't have the time for Seclusion."

Obi-Wan's eyes slide from Anakin to Windu. "Is the care and teaching of their apprentice not the most important task of a Master?" he asks, eyebrows arching. "Or will this war take priority over this Order – and its students and children - entirely?"

"You do not approve?" Ki-Adi-Mundi asks, sounding surprised. "Master Kenobi, you were at the very start of this war."

"One could call you it's instigator," Mace Windu points out, which makes Anakin turn to him in astonishment – and he's not the only one. Most everyone in the High Council look at him with disapproval.

Master Obi-Wan says nothing for a moment, folding his hands into his sleeves. "Things are about to change drastically, either way," he says, expressionless. "And I wish to make absolutely certain I've done my level best to prepare my apprentice for what's about to come. That should be my first duty as Anakin Skywalker's master."

Anakin has to actually bite his tongue to keep from saying anything. This is – really unprecedented. Obi-Wan had made demands to the council before, he knows that – it's why he's Obi-Wan's padawan at all. But he's never done something like this with Anakin there, to hear his… insubordination. Usually Obi-Wan was so careful about presenting the perfect humble Jedi appearance that Anakin only heard of his more audacious stunts second hand.

"Still more there is to teach to Anakin Skywalker after all these years?" Yoda asks thoughtfully.

Obi-Wan's eyebrows arch even higher. "Anakin's apprenticeship has been one of the shortest in recorded history," he points out.

The Council rumbles in disapproval – it was another thing that everyone knew but no one was supposed to point out to Anakin, else he'd get a big head or whatever it was they thought. As if he didn't already know his path as a Jedi is unorthodox beyond belief.

"Time matters not," Yoda says, frowning a little. "Teacher matters. Teachings matter. Still more time you need?"

"A month," Obi-Wan says. "Hell, a week. Just give me a period of Seclusion to tell Anakin what he needs to hear now."

"A month?" Anakin mouths. They're headed into a war – and he's, he's… oh, damn, if he's taken to this Seclusion now, would he even have time to warn Padmé? They had plans for the upcoming month, which he thought he'd be able to do because technically he was still in bodyguard duty and –

"Your apprentice is on a mission," Mace says thoughtfully. "He's still on guard for Senator Amidala's attacker."

Obi-Wan smiles faintly at that. "That's fine as it is," he says and glances at Anakin. "Naboo will do well for a Seclusion."

Anakin stares at him in mounting horror. Obi-Wan has a glint in his eyes. A dangerous glint. A knowing glint. Oh no, he can't possibly know, can he? He wasn't even there, he wasn't there for any of it, how the hell would he know?

"I for one vote to allow Master Kenobi his Seclusion," Plo Koon says. "He is entirely correct – a Master's first priority should be his student. If he feels he must prepare Skywalker for the upcoming trials… he should be given the chance."

Obi-Wan smiles at Anakin and then looks away and bows in gratitude as the masters allow him the opportunity to ruin Anakin's life entirely.


 

"He's talking with Yoda right now – the Grand Master – about something important," Anakin says while pacing the length of his and Obi-Wan's quarters. "But when we leave fore Naboo tomorrow, he's going to be with us – every damn step of the way. And, and – I don't know what the Seclusion is, I've never heard of it, but it sounds a bit like we're going to get holed up somewhere and meditate for days on end."

"Oh, Ani," Padmé says on the other end of the transmission. "We knew it wouldn't be easy. If this pushes our plans back a few weeks, then I say we let it. What we have – it shouldn't come ahead of our duties."

"Don't you think it already is?" Anakin asks with a frown, glancing at her hologram. "I'm going against Jedi Code, Padmé, and you're risking censure."

"Neither at the expense of what we must do to fulfil our duties, whatever those are," she says gently and shakes her head. "Anakin, we can wait, what we have won't go away – your time as Obi-Wan's apprentice on other hand sounds like it's coming to an end. You'll be knighted soon. I think you should enjoy being his padawan while you can."

Anakin scowls and looks away. She's right, he knows she's right. Soon he'd be a knight and couldn't rely on Obi-Wan to watch over him anymore. This was his last chance to be… to pretend to be… to pretend that Obi-Wan is more than he ever was.

His shoulders slump a little, and for a while Anakin stares at nothing. Somewhere in the back of his head, his mother's death sits like hard weight of pain dragging him down, and in contrast Obi-Wan stands on distant pedestal, entirely unreachable. Between mother he lost and father he never had, Anakin feels a bit like he's stuck in quicksand, sinking fast.

Soon, Obi-Wan wouldn't be his master anymore. His duty to Qui-Gon would be fulfilled. Anakin wouldn't be his responsibility anymore. Anakin knows Obi-Wan wouldn't just forget him, but like his master said, once knighted… Anakin wouldn't be Obi-Wan's responsibility anymore.

"It's funny. I've always wanted to become a Jedi Knight," Anakin murmurs. "I've thought I'm ready for it for months now. But now that the time's here, I'm… afraid."

And fear leads to all sorts of things he shouldn't allow.

"I think that's understandable," Padmé says, looking away from the datapad she's holding and at him. "You have been together for a long time. It's always hard, leaving the nest."

"You're one to talk – you left your nest when you were fourteen to become a queen of a planet," Anakin mutters and sends her a smile.

Padmé's smile brightens a little. "Well that just gives me a wealth of experience, doesn't it?" she asks. "And my experience says that you should cherish this time. Even if it is a little inconvenient – it is the last chance you will get. What we have will be forever. It will hold."


 

The day they leave for Naboo, Grand Master Yoda sees them off, and it's immediately clear it's not because of Anakin. The look he gives to Obi-Wan is full of troubled thought.

"Unclear the future is," the Grandmaster says. "Forever in flux."

"Yes," Obi-Wan agreed, shouldering his is bag and smiling. "Which is why we should try to always change it for the better."

"Different our opinions on this matter are," Yoda says disapprovingly. "Take care you must. Clouded your path is. May the Force be with you, Obi-Wan Kenobi."

Obi-Wan bows his head. "And you, Master Yoda."

Anakin looks between them strangely while the little Grand Master turns and heads off, harrumphing to himself as he does. "What was that about?" he asks.

"We had a slight disagreement on world views," Obi-Wan says and shrugs, turning to the ship. "Nothing to worry about now, though."

Anakin hesitates and then follows him, shouldering his own bag. "So, are you finally going to tell me what this Seclusion is?" he asks. "Because right now I am expecting you to make us hermits for a month. Or lock us up in some meditation chamber and I'm not sure Naboo even has those. And I'm not sure that really works with bodyguard duty, either."

Obi-Wan chuckles. "It's a fancy word for a holiday," he says and casts Anakin a smile. "And for time when Masters can impart some… unconventional wisdoms to their students."

"Unconventional," Anakin repeats dubiously.

"Unconventional. Come along now, my young padawan," Obi-Wan say, sounding oddly nostalgic as he says it. "I do believe there is a senator we need to pick up."


 

Padmé and Obi-Wan get along well and Anakin despairs over it.

There'd been a time – well, there still are times – when he wonders if Padmé had… liked Obi-Wan.

Obi-Wan is extremely likeable, after all, charismatic and warm and welcoming in way lot of Jedi just aren't. It makes him one hell of a diplomat and what his natural charm doesn't cover, his calm nature and his easy understanding over other people easily picks up for. And he's one of the strongest duellists in the order, which means he is given all the toughest missions, which makes him a bit famous in way Jedi usually aren't.

Obi-Wan isn't one of the youngest Jedi Masters for no reason and Anakin wouldn't be surprised to see Obi-Wan in the Jedi council in a year or two, really. If there ever was a Jedi that would improve the High Council, it's Obi-Wan Kenobi. So… so if Padmé did end up developing some sort of interest in Obi-Wan, well, it wouldn't be surprising.

It's not like Anakin isn't aware of how damn awkward he is in compared to his increasingly perfect master. He knows he shouldn't be jealous, he doesn't have any reason to be jealous, Obi-Wan isn't like that, but still…

"He didn't," Padmé laughs at something Obi-Wan said, while the Jedi Master hides his own smile behind an open palm.

"Oh he did," Obi-Wan says, eyes sparkling with mirth and glances at Anakin's way. "In full confidence straight over the edge and right into the pit."

Wait, what? "No, no, no," Anakin says in horror. "You are not telling tales about me!"

"Already told it, I'm afraid," Obi-Wan says, grinning at him. "You looked so triumphant too, laughing like lunatic all the way down into the cesspool."

Padmé's laugher sounds like songbirds in the cabin while Anakin stares at his master in betrayal. "Y-you," he says and points a finger. "You ran after me. And jumped in after me right into the cesspool."

"Well, it was before you learned to swim, I believe," Obi-Wan agrees, smiling. "I couldn't very well let you drown after such a successful save. What would that look like on my report?"

"Yeah, the report where you bit – complained about it in four full paragraphs. Never mind about all the lectures afterwards. Because of all the terrible horrible unmentionable things in your hair," Anakin recalls and then shudders. "Oh no, now the smell is coming back to me. Ugh."

"You deserve it," Obi-Wan says without a hint of remorse, while Padmé keeps on laughing at both of them. Shaking his head, the Jedi Master stands up. "Now, I believe it's time for me to retire for the night. I will see you two tomorrow."

"Yes, thank heaves, please leave and take your horror stories with you," Anakin mutters after him.

Obi-Wan chuckles. "I could stay and share the one about the red carpet, you remember that one, with the governor and her -?"

"Please leave!"

Padmé is wheezing for breath by the time the door closes on Obi-Wan's laughter and Anakin shakes his head in disbelief. Betrayed, by his own master!

"You never told me about the cesspools," Padmé laughs. "Oh, that was funny. I guess even Jedi get into ridiculous situations."

"It wasn't ridiculous, it was mortifying and if I had my way, you would've never ever heard about it," Anakin mutters.

Then it dawns on him what Obi-Wan had just done – left him alone with Padmé, while saying he'd see them next morning.

"Um," Anakin says.

"What?" Padmé asks, still chuckling a little.

"I – uhh… think my master just told me not to –" Anakin stops and looks at the door. He's supposed to share cabin with Obi-Wan. But Obi-Wan had… "Oh, shit," he says.

"What is it?" Padmé asks, her smile fading a little. "Ani, what is it, what's wrong?"

"Obi-Wan knows," Anakin says and looks at her. "He just – I'm sharing a cabin with him and he just told us – he thinks I'll be staying here, with you. He expects I'll stay here, with you. He knows."

Padmé's smile fades entirely and for a moment she looks nervous, glancing at the door and then at him.  "He – yes, I think you might be right," she says. "He didn't… seem to disapprove?"

Anakin can feel his expression twisting a little. "He's going to," he whispers in mounting horror. "He's going to – he has to, he's going to – what am I going to do? What if he gives me away to the council, what if he -"

"Peace, Ani," Padmé says and takes his hands. "Think about it. He asked for this Seclusion with you and you're having it on my planet, while staying with me. He must've known before making that decision, it only makes sense. Did he tell the council? Did he seem to disapprove?"

Anakin shakes his head mutely.

"Then there must be a reason," Padmé says and squeezes his hands. "Obi-Wan loves you. I don't think he'd hurt you."

"You don't know what the Jedi are like," Anakin mutters, not believing that for a moment. Obi-Wan held… affection for him, as Jedi does. But Jedi didn't love. "You don't know how strict they are. How they look at some things down their noses."

"I know you," she says gently. "And no one who raised you to be such a good man could be so cruel."


 

They land in Padmé's lakeside house and make themselves home. Anakin, testing the waters a little, just carries his things to Padmé's bedroom. Obi-Wan, if he even notices, says nothing about it, settling into one of the guest rooms and looking around with interest.

"I'll have to work while we're here," Padmé tells them over dinner. "There's a lot of things to consider now that… that the Republic is at war. So, I will be mostly in my office, doing paper work."

"That is entirely fine," Obi-Wan agrees. "You will do as you feel necessary."

"And you two?" Padmé asks. "What does this Seclusion of yours entail?"

"It's not really a specific thing," Obi-Wan says calmly. "Just whatever the master deems necessary for the student's benefit. Right now, I just want privacy to talk with my student at length," he says and looks to Anakin. "And I think that's perfectly possible here."

"We can't just leave Padmé," Anakin objects. "We're on a mission."

"We won't leave the premises," Obi-Wan says and glances as Padmé. "Your garden is unmonitored, correct?"

Padmé blinks slowly. "There are no recording devices in the house, aside from the communications relay in my office and the holotheatre in the living room," she says slowly. "This is where I come to relax, I don't want my ever move monitored here.

"Excellent," Obi-Wan nods. "We should have no problem finding privacy here, then."

Anakin looks between him and Padmé, fiddling with his eating utensils for a moment. "Right," he says then. "I can't wait. This sounds like bucket of fun."

Obi-Wan smiles. "It won't be," he promises and looks down to his food.

"Great," Anakin mutters, casting a nervous look at Padmé. She offers an awkward but supportive smile and with a shake of his head, Anakin turns his attention to his food as well.


 

Later that day, he and Obi-Wan have their first, difficult discussion. And it opens with… a terrifying concept.

"I don't think I ever told you about the time I left Jedi Order, did I?" Obi-Wan asks.

Oh shit, Anakin things. "What?" he asks faintly. "You did what?!"

Obi-Wan looks over Padmé's garden and smiles. "It wasn't for very long, mind you, but I did and I was fully prepared to live with that decision for the rest of my life," he says. "I was fourteen, still Qui-Gon's padawan, obviously. It had to do with a war on a planet then called Melida/Daan, which had raged for centuries. It was a difficult conflict and when Jedi counsel failed and our efforts to help to settle the conflict were withdrawn… I chose to leave my master, and the Jedi Order, and stay to fight the war."

Anakin stares at him in horror. "You," he says. "You left the Jedi? What?"

"Is it really so hard to believe?" Obi-Wan asks, faintly amused.

"Yes!" Anakin cries. "You – you're the poster boy of the perfect Jedi! No way you left the Jedi just like that!"

"I did," Obi-Wan shrugs and looks away, smiling almost painfully. "Do you want to hear the whole story?"

"Uh, yes," Anakin says emphatically. "Yes, I do."

Obi-Wan nods and then sits down on a near by garden bench, sighing as he does. "First, perhaps I should tell you another story – otherwise the difficulties between Qui-Gon and myself will not make sense," he says thoughtfully. "I very nearly did not become a padawan at all, you see. Qui-Gon initially – and repeatedly – rejected me as his student. It was only under duress and difficult circumstances that he finally accepted me."

"What the hell?" Anakin mouths. "Why haven't I ever heard about this?"

"Because I have tried all too hard to be a perfect master for you," Obi-Wan shrugs and looks up at him. "You're about to become a Knight yourself, so it's time for you to understand… that nobody is perfect, and pretending otherwise is not healthy. Now sit down, I have quite a number of stories to tell – and not nearly enough time."

Anakin hesitates and then sits down. "You're worrying me a little, Master," he admits quietly.

"For a good reason, I assure you," Obi-Wan smiles and looks away, his eyes distant and sad. "Now. Qui-Gon was once Count Dooku's – then Master Dooku's – apprentice…"


 

By the end of the day, Anakin has a headache and heart-ache and terrible bad feeling sitting deep in his gut. Obi-Wan hadn't just told him about his own, abysmal start as Jedi Padawan, but of Qui-Gon Jinn… and his difficulties as master. Anakin would've never expected it, had anyone other than Obi-Wan told him, he never would've believed it…

"I never knew," Anakin whispers later to Padmé. "I never knew any of it. There's so much I don't know about Obi-Wan and I never realised… I never thought to ask."

"Well, he's telling you now, isn't he?" Padmé asks, leaning her cheek to his chest, stroking a hand over his stomach. "That's good, isn't it?"

"I don't know. I am worried about why he's telling me all this," Anakin says and frowns at the ceiling. When Obi-Wan had started talking about his leaving the Order, Anakin's heart had stopped and he thought it was a subtle nudge to make that decision himself. Like Obi-Wan was telling him in a roundabout way that it was alright to leave the Order for Padmé…

But never once had Obi-Wan mentioned him or Padmé or whatever their relationship was, though he is obviously aware. Hell, Obi-Wan had bid him good night right at Padmé's bedroom door, and then continued on his way to the guest room without backward glance. Whether he approved, Anakin isn't sure. He doubts it. But Padmé was right – Obi-Wan doesn't disapprove, at least.

And yet…

Anakin searches his feelings, searches the Force, and his blood runs a little colder. He has a bad feeling, a very, very bad feeling, about all of this.

Chapter Text

Anakin wakes up to a feeling of absence. For a moment he stays still, feeling Padmé at his side and all the lush life of Naboo all around him, cool and soothing and beautiful just as it is, felt through the Force. But something is missing.

Obi-Wan isn't there anymore. He can't feel his presence. Only, there is something… something off about it.

"Mm, Ani?" Padmé hums against his side.

"It's okay – go back to sleep," he murmurs, pressing a kiss to her bare neck before standing up and grabbing an evening robe from by the door. Then he goes to investigate, scowling to himself as he marches up to the guest room door to make sure his Master hasn't just up and disappeared mere days into their mythical Seclusion.

All his things are still there – bed made, but not with the precision of a departing guess. His cloak is still hung on the rack, waiting for him, and beside it his bag, half opened.

Anakin feels for the Force and it whispers back, still and calm and – and he still can't feel Obi-Wan anywhere.

The house is empty, but he can see the signs of Obi-Wan's movements across it. There is hint of moisture in the fresher window, and single stray hair in the sink – Obi-Wan's, judging by the colour. Tea pot sits by the kitchen counter, still warm. Cup, set aside politely to be picked up later for another drink. He hasn't eaten yet, the old fashioned stove hasn't seen use that day, but he'd definitely been there, and not too long ago.

And finally, the garden.

They've been spending a lot of time in the garden. Anakin has grown to both look forward to and to dread them, those times while Padmé was working and Obi-Wan could pull him aside with a deceptively warm smile before telling him another bit of uncomfortable history. Their discussions happen mostly in the garden, which Anakin fears might one day mean he won't be able to step under the cooling shade of these trees without remembering Obi-Wan telling him of all the failings he had as a student, the failings Qui-Gon had had as a teacher.

Anakin takes a breath and releases it slowly.

Obi-Wan is sitting cross-legged on the stone garden bench where they often talk, deep in meditation. Anakin traces him with his eyes and then reaches for him in the Force – and he feels… the garden, more than he feels Obi-Wan.

"Good morning, Anakin," Obi-Wan says without opening his eyes.

"You scared the hell out of me," Anakin admits. "What are you doing? How are you doing that?"

Obi-Wan smiles and opens his eyes. Despite feeling not there, he looks oddly calm and content, and not merely in the usual post meditation calm way. He looks like you could plop him on top of still waters and he'd probably float.

"It's a technique difficult to learn," Obi-Wan admits and takes a deep breath. He releases it slowly, and with it his presence trickles back in – and if Anakin isn't entirely mistaken, it feels… less. "I haven't had the chance to try it on a planet as full of life as Naboo. It's… easier here."

"Uh-huh," Anakin says dubiously. "I've definitely never felt you do this on Coruscant."

"Haven't you? Hmm," Obi-Wan answers and looks away, at the decorative stream that runs through the garden. He smiles a little. "This place is so full of water," he murmurs and gets up, walking towards the stream. "There are so many planets turned into wastelands and deserts by their own histories – but Naboo… is mostly water."

"That happens when the core of the planet is an underground ocean," Anakin mutters and folds his arms. "You're acting weird, you know. You've been acting weird all this time, it's starting to freak me out to be honest."

Obi-Wan kneels by the brook and scoops up a handful of water, running it over his face with a sigh. "When I was given the pleasure of becoming your Master, I was also given… restrictions," he says and settles down to sit there instead, by the water, "concerning how you were to be trained. For years we were being watched – myself more than you in the beginning – and our movements were being judged. Had I stepped a single foot out of line… you probably would have been taken away from me."

Anakin stares at him for a moment, that by now all too familiar oh-shit feeling coming up again. "It's too early for this," he bemoans, but goes to his Master, collapsing to sit down beside him. "Because of the whole chosen one stuff?"

"Yes," Obi-Wan agrees, glancing at him. "Majority of the council felt you were too old, that you would be too easily tempted to the dark side. So, I was given very little leeway in… deviating from the accepted course of a Master, concerning their padawan. My performance as your Master came up for review monthly."

Anakin stares at him in a sort of hopeless realisation and sighs, running a hand over his face. After all the stuff he'd learned about Qui-Gon – how cold and harsh he'd been in the beginning with Obi-Wan, how long it had taken for him to warm up, and how it had left Obi-Wan in the shadow of doubt and self-distrust throughout his time as padawan…

Honestly, he's not surprised the council would make such demands. Nor is he surprised that Obi-Wan might've very well moulded himself into their wishes. He always does. Or did. What the hell is happening now, Anakin still isn't sure – but it's definitely not that.

Obi-Wan smiles at him and reaches out to clasp his shoulder compassionately. "You are so powerful, Anakin," he says, with a gentle sort of wonder. "And you know you are. It makes people nervous. It made me err on the side of council's wisdom, on the side of caution, all too much."

He glances meaningfully at Padmé's house and Anakin sighs, bowing his head a little. "So, are we talking about that now?" he asks, dreading that conversation too.

"Oh, I don't know – I'm enjoying your squirming all too much," Obi-Wan admits, stroking his beard.

"Master," Anakin sighs. "Please."

Obi-Wan chuckles and looks away. "There are stories to cover before that conversation," he says and watches the decorative stream. "One of Qui-Gon – and one of me."

"And they have connotations that got to be covered first and with luck I might hear the actual story you want to tell maybe four hours in?" Anakin asks dubiously.

"No, I think you have the context more or less down now," Obi-Wan says and falls into thoughtful quiet for a moment, searching for the right words. "Qui-Gon had a… I wouldn't quite call her a lover, I don't think they ever got that far, but he had a beloved within the Jedi Order. Jedi Master Tahl – they were younglings together, graduated to padawans right after each other, and remained close for years, for decades. They were deeply in love for most of that time, I believe."

Anakin frowns a little at that. Couple days back he would've faced such a bold claim with disbelief and shock and wonder, but by now… Obi-Wan has imparted him with some unexpected truths about the failings of the Jedi Order, if in somewhat roundabout away, that though this is surprising it's not unbelievable to hear his Master speak of such things.

He also knows better than to interject with comments before Obi-Wan is finished with the anecdote, so he settles down to listen silently.

Obi-Wan glances at him and smiles briefly before looking away again. "Of course, they never acted on it. How could they, within the Jedi Order?" he wonders. "It wasn't until she faced her own death and he was forced to reconcile with how quickly he might lose her that they admitted anything out loud. I was still very fresh as Qui-Gon's padawan then, and it all happened around that disastrous Melida/Daan mess, obviously I neither told outright what I was witnessing nor welcome to speculate on it. I did anyway."

Obi-Wan sighs and shakes her head. "Less than year later, Master Tahl was captured, imprisoned, tortured and eventually died on another mission," he says quietly. "And losing her very nearly broke my Master. The loss, the anger… he came very close to falling to the dark side that day."

Anakin swallows at that and looks away. Obi-Wan glances at him. "He didn't," he says reassuringly. "He reined it in and managed to find stability – but some of it stayed within him, I think. And of course, he never got over her death. He'd loved her for most of his life. Such loss isn't something you can recover from."

"And that's why we're forbidden," Anakin mutters.

Obi-Wan shrugs, noncommittal.

Anakin looks at him, frowning. "You – you don't approve it being forbidden?" he asks with shock. "Or – you don't care, or –"

"I think it's useless and detrimental to forbid something that will happen regardless of our input," Obi-Wan shrugs and sighs, closing his eyes. "What I disapprove is the utter lack of any sort of support structure for those who lose loved ones. We aren't meant to grow attachments, and when we do it's abhorrent to the Order. When those attachments break… the Jedi nods their heads and feel vindicated, after all it's only to be expected. And no one helps."

Anakin just stares in stunned astonishment.

Obi-Wan takes a breath as if to add more and then sighs. "In the wake of Tahl's death, Qui-Gon needed counselling," he says almost bitterly. "And he never got it because it is not the Jedi way. All he did was meditate and mull on it, and spiral down in his own loss. In hindsight, it really is wonder he didn't give into his own grief and managed to rise above it."

Anakin stares at his Master wide eyed for a moment. That was – that sounded like honest frustration and grief, irritation even. It was the most emotional he'd heard his Master be, during this Seclusion. Hell.

Obi-Wan shakes his head. "But know that I too am biased in this," he says and glances at Anakin. "Having seen what love and loss did to Qui-Gon I steeled myself against it, swore to follow the Code and never allow such thing to happen to me. But, like I said… it rather happens without your input, doesn't it?"

"No," Anakin says in horror and wonder. "You? You of all people?"

"Of all people –" Obi-Wan scoffs and then laughs. "Anakin, I'm only human, with all the flaws there in. Yes, me too, me of all people," he says with sort of self deprecating amusement and shakes his head. "Her name is Satine Kryze – and had she asked, I would have left the Jedi Order for her."


 

It takes effort to not bang his head on Padmé's desk. Padmé sends him a wave of sympathetic understanding, even while she keeps on working on the analysis or report or whatever she's doing with her datapad.

"No wonder he figured the whole thing out in a kriffin heartbeat," Anakin mutters against the rich wood of the desk. "He has experience."

"You sound so mortified," Padmé says with some amusement. "Why is it so horrific to you? You and your Master have lot in common, it turns out – and he understands. That should be a good thing."

"But it's Obi-Wan," Anakin almost whines. "He's supposed to be –" he stops with a sigh and then bags his forehead against the wood. "He's supposed to be the perfect Jedi," he mutters bitterly.

And he had been too, or pretended to be, because the High Council had been watching, because Anakin made them nervous and they couldn't allow anything but the perfect example for their worrisome Chosen One. So, Obi-Wan had set aside everything that made him human to become a living statue instead, an ideal for everyone to strive towards. Nowadays everyone always went on about what a perfect and exemplary Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi was – and it was all fake.

Well, not a fake. Obi-Wan hadn't really faked it – just… suppressed everything else under it. And no wonder Obi-Wan feels so weird now – for the first time, Anakin is seeing him without the restraints present. And he is very human under it all.

Anakin is pretty damn sure that if the Council knew, there'd be disapproval by the bucket load.

"I hate this," Anakin grumbles at the desk. "He feels like a different person."

Padmé says nothing for a moment and then Anakin feels her hand in the back of his neck. "There comes a time when every child looks at their parents and realise they're just… people, same as anyone else," she says gently. "You Jedi take it a little too far, but you're all still living beings under all the training."

Anakin sighs and tilts his head, enjoying the way her hand trails over his neck, to the side of his jaw. "I like this Obi-Wan better," he admits quietly. "I wish he'd been like this since the beginning."

"Better late than never," Padmé says, stroking her fingers up to his short hair again.

Anakin closes his eyes for a moment. "I feel like I'm about to lose him, though," he says.

Padmé says nothing, just strokes his hair gently and lets him mourn for all the years he could've had, had the council just let Obi-Wan be human.


 

Obi-Wan talks with Padmé too. Anakin comes by them one day, sitting in the living room together, speaking quietly. Padmé is listening seriously to what Obi-Wan is saying, and for a moment he wants to sneak in to spy on them, just to make sure that…

"… never be easy," Obi-Wan is saying. "It was never my intention, never the intention of the Jedi Order, but he's been taught to be wary of his own emotions. I would never tell you what you must do or be with him, but I hope you can be patient and understanding. He loves you very much, I can feel it, but it is difficult for him."

Padmé nods, her eyes glistening with unshed tears. "I love him, so much," she whispers shakily. "I swear, Obi-Wan, I will do right by him."

"Do right by yourself, too," he tells her gently. "Whatever you have, it must be a union of equality, Padmé. Always. Anything else is unfair for you both."

She smiles a little and Anakin backs away slowly while Obi-Wan embraces her.


 

"Can we have just a normal day for once?" Anakin asks a bit plaintively the next day. The atmosphere has been getting stranger and stranger – sadder and sadder – by the day and he feels… antsy and uneasy and strange. "I don't want any stories today. I just want…" things to be normal, for a day.

"Alright," Obi-Wan agrees quietly. "What would you consider a normal day then?"

"I don't even know anymore," Anakin mutters and runs a hand over his hair. "Can we just… spar, maybe?"

The look Obi-Wan gives him is a little strange but he nods. "Certainly we can," he says. "Let's spar, Anakin."

They rid themselves of their over cloaks and get their lightsabers, set to the lowest setting where they don't even burn. While Anakin lights his to do couple of swings to warm up a little – it's been a few days now – Obi-Wan considers his own silently, turning it unlit in his hand.

"What?" Anakin asks, watching him.

"Hm," Obi-Wan answers, and lights the blue blade. "It's been a while, that's all."

Obi-Wan hadn't really taken part in the battle of Geonosis, Anakin recalls, not like other Jedi had. They hadn't even found him until towards the very end of the battle, sat in Dooku's secret study in the Geonosian palace, chained and stuck listening Dooku's speeches and spiels, whatever those were.

"Well then," Obi-Wan says and takes a pose.

Anakin stares. It's not… Obi-Wan's usual opening. He's using a low front guard, blade held up in front of him, near centre – not the usual, rather extravagant horizontal upper guard. Obi-Wan usually goes for the horizontal upper guard with Anakin – and with lightsaber duels in general – because people fall for it easily. It the horizontal guard looks like he's leaving himself completely open for attack. Usually.

Now Anakin can see no easy openings in Obi-Wan's guard.

"Is this another thing you've been holding back?" Anakin asks uneasily. He can usually tell the first twenty to fifty moves of his and Obi-Wan's duels – it's become less a fight and more a dance, they're so in tuned with each other's movements. But with this, he can't tell what Obi-Wan will do next. Anakin looks at his Master, who's fighting style he knows as well as his own… and he can't tell what he's going to do, how this fight will go.

Obi-Wan smiles sadly and says nothing. Answer enough.

Anakin attacks – and in less than four moves, the fight is over. Anakin freezes with Obi-Wan's lightsaber at the side of his throat, his own stalled in air after the blocks that had nearly rattled it off his hands. He – he knows all those blocks Obi-Wan had used, they are basic Soresu blocks, but…

"What was that?" Anakin asks with half a laugh.

Obi-Wan eyes him without an expression for a moment then steps back. "Do you want to try again?" he asks and takes the front guard again.

Anakin steps back, frowning a little. "Training thrusters are off now, huh?" he asks. Obi-Wan doesn't answer, just waits for his move. Right, Anakin thinks and swings his lightsaber in a quick circle and then takes a pose.

It's not his Master he's facing now – but an opponent.

The next clash lasts for seven moves – and then Anakin gets Obi-Wan's lightsaber hilt to the face. If it hadn't been a sparring match, it would've been the blade.

Anakin falters for a moment, shaking his head at the blow. It wasn't hard – but it was harder than Obi-Wan's usual blows. It stings in the middle of his forehead and he can already feel a bruise forming. It would take a healing trance to remove.

"Okay then," Anakin mutters and eyes his Master – soon to be former Master – warily. Obi-Wan calmly shifts back to the front guard and waits for him to attack – and this time Anakin doesn't, waiting for his move instead. And he waits… and waits.

"I'm not going to attack you, Anakin," Obi-Wan says after a moment and smiles a little. "I chose Soresu for a reason."

"This isn't much of a duel if you're just defending," Anakin complains. "Your defence is stronger than my offence."

"And that is why I am using it," Obi-Wan points out. "I know I am slower attacking than you are, and the moment I go for an attack, you will have upper hand. Why would I give it to you? I want to win."

And that's the difference.

Anakin considers it for a moment and then shuts down his lightsaber.

"Hm?" Obi-Wan asks, arching an eyebrow.

"If it's me only on offence and you never shifting off from defence, it becomes a waiting game – and you got benefit of stamina over me. I'm just going to end up wearing myself out," Anakin says and scowls at him. "You've been holding back on me. A lot."

"No – I've been teaching you," Obi-Wan says and after a moment shuts off his lightsaber as well. "And you've learned well."

"Doesn't feel like it right now," Anakin mutters at him and clips his lightsaber to his waist. He's left weirdly off balance by this. Usually his and Obi-Wan's duels are long and – well, enjoyable. They go at each other with all the tricks in their arsenal and it's fun. This, on other hand, this feels… cold, somehow. Like Obi-Wan is suddenly changing the rules.

Obi-Wan sighs and walks over to him. "We're about to enter a war," he says quietly. "It is only natural our perspective changes with it."

"What does that mean?" Anakin demands in annoyance.

"Lightsaber is a deadly weapon, Anakin. Perhaps one of the deadliest there are," Obi-Wan says gently. "You should only attack with it when you are aiming to kill someone."

Anakin stares at him in silent confusion for a moment. "But –" he starts to say and then frowns. But lightsaber duels are supposed to be fun, he thinks. They've always been fun, his favourite part of being trained as a Jedi, easily…

Except now he's thinking about the Tuskens, how he used lightsaber combat against them, and… and suddenly it doesn't seem like fun at all.

Obi-Wan eyes him seriously and clasps his shoulder. "Things are about to change, Anakin," he says quietly, regretfully. "And I am changing my thinking accordingly. I'm sorry. I don't think I will be much of a sparring partner for you from here on out."

After a gentle squeeze, he turns and walks away, leaving Anakin staring after him in unease.


 

In the end the discussion Anakin fears the most, the one about him and Padmé, is short and to the point. It stands firmly on top of all the previous ones, on all the stories and anecdotes and because of that it has security Anakin hadn't even realised he desperately craved.

Now he knows with all the surety of fact that, yes, Obi-Wan understands.

"And it is not up to me to disapprove your wishes and desires, Anakin," Obi-Wan says and claps him securely be the shoulder. "All I want is for you to be happy. Does she make you happy?"

"Yes," Anakin whispers. More so now that loving her doesn't fill him with that terrible guilt and the horrible fear of Obi-Wan's disapproval. The Jedi Order and the High Council would still not approve, they would still forbid it – but Anakin doesn't care. So as long as Obi-Wan doesn't hate him, it's fine.

"Then I am happy for you," Obi-Wan says

Anakin waits, but Obi-Wan doesn't say it. "Do you think I should leave the Order?" Anakin finally asks quietly.

Obi-Wan eyes him seriously and he smile gives nothing away. "That's a decision only you can make for yourself, I'm afraid," he says and releases Anakin's shoulder. "Your circumstances are unique."

"Why didn't you leave for Satine?"

"She didn't ask me," Obi-Wan says. "And I didn't dare to ask her and risk her rejection. It was most likely the same for her. In the end however... we both felt our duties had to come first."

Anakin frowns a little. "Do you regret it?"

"I have, on occasion," Obi-Wan admits quietly. "It would have been a different life, a life unlike anything I can imagine. I don't regret my path as a Jedi but I have regretted never knowing anything else. Perhaps I would have been happier – perhaps it would have all ended in tragedy. I will never know."

Anakin nods slowly, listening closely to the soft tone of regret. Obi-Wan had never gotten the chance to have both – Satine lived far away on Mandalore and their paths wouldn't have crossed for months on end, if even so often. Padmé, on other hand, lives mostly in Coruscant.

"Are you going to tell the Council?" Anakin asks finally, the last fear he has worded.

"No," Obi-Wan says simply.

Anakin swallows and nods and releases a slow breath. He can have this. He can have this. "I want to marry her," he blurts out. "Will you be there?"

The look Obi-Wan gives him is full if such mingled feeling that it's impossible to identify. It looks like pride. It looks like loss.

Something is wrong, Anakin thinks, as the by now constant bad-feeling rears its ugly head again. Obi-Wan is going to say no.

But then Obi-Wan pulls him into a hug. "I would be honoured," he says, and Anakin can hear his voice shake.


 

Their Seclusion ends two weeks after it started – it ends in the wedding, for which Obi-Wan is the only witness to. The wedding itself is quiet, quick affair, it's just them and the priest and Obi-Wan – no ceremony, no celebration, just quiet words in the garden and then they're together, then they're forever.

Padmé is unspeakably beautiful, dressed in white. Anakin can't quite remember anything else about the whole event, except how beautiful she looks, glowing and happy and alive and perfect. He can't believe she's his, that he can have this – and all without guilt.

After, Obi-Wan embraces them both, and he radiates happiness and sorrow in equal parts.

"It means more than we can say that you approve this," Padmé tells him quietly. "That you're here, Obi-Wan."

The Jedi Master smiles and it looks like it hurts before he hides it in a kiss on her forehead. Then he turns to Anakin.

"I am so proud of you," he says quietly and draws a shaky, almost teary breath. "I don't think I've said it enough, but I am. I always have been."

"It's my wedding day, Obi-Wan, don't make it mushier than it already has to be," Anakin complains and grabs him for a hug. "Thank you," he whispers against Obi-Wan's shoulder. "Thank you for being here."

"I love you," Obi-Wan says and embraces him tight enough to hurt.


 

 

The day after they get ready to leave for Coruscant, Anakin feeling over-energized and giddy and Padmé glowing like a star. It would be difficult, balancing this secret, these two lives, but with Padmé on one side and Obi-Wan on other, he could do this. It still feels like he's teetering on the cusp of disaster, but he can do this.

And then the other shoe drops in form of a second transport ship that comes in to land on Padmé's private landing pad.

"What's going on?" Anakin asks, trying to identify the transport. "We can't have another mission already, can we? Why'd they send two transports?"

He has a terrible suspicion though.

"This one is just for me, I'm afraid," Obi-Wan says, and shoulders his bag. He looks at Anakin and Padmé and sighs. "I hoped to prepare you a bit better for this but there's no more time. I'm sorry, Anakin, but I fear I'm not going to see your Knight's Trials."

"Master?" Anakin says in mounting alarm.

Obi-Wan smiles painfully and takes out his lightsaber. "I handed in my resignation from the Jedi Order to Master Yoda before we left Coruscant," he says and hands the lightsaber over while the bottom of Anakin's world collapses. "I'm afraid I'm no longer your Master."

Chapter Text

"Count Dooku," a robotic voice calls from the doorway. "Obi-Wan Kenobi's transport has landed."

"Finally," Dooku says, looking up from the holographic table. "Have him directed here straight away."

"As you wish my lord," the protocol droid bows and then backs out of the war room, leaving Dooku once more alone with the map of Geonosis, and his thoughts.

Two weeks, since the start of the war. It was going slower than he had hoped, and faster than he had expected, all at once – and not at all like he had planned. So far, Geonosis is their only battle field – and despite the superiority of numbers, their droid armies are being slowly pushed back by the constant reinforcement by the Republic clone army. It was… tedious.

Geonosis had never meant to become a battleground, is the problem. They have droids aplenty in the planet, they have some battlements and defensive weaponry on the planet – but it hadn't been designed for one of the campaigns of the upcoming war. And the droids present aren't quiet battle ready – fresh of the assembly line, they have hardly time to patch in the proper protocols and battle simulations.

So far the droid losses are somewhere in the neighbourhood of utterly catastrophic – tens of thousands lost each passing day. They are assembled, they march to the battlefield – and they're shot down. Average age of a geonosian battle droid has so far been less than twenty four hours.

Though of course, Geonosis is only one planet of many where they have factories for the battle droids, the losses can be recovered from. They just hadn't expected the first battle to be this damn expensive.

There's a sound at the door, steps and the clatter of droid feet on the hard stone, and Dooku looks up. Obi-Wan Kenobi walks in, still dressed in full Jedi regalia from boots to the heavy brown cloak. On his shoulder he has a bag, his personal belongings most likely.

"All done then, Master Kenobi?" Dooku asks, and the disapproval creeps into his voice without his meaning to.

"I have left my padawan as well prepared as I could manage, in mere two weeks," Kenobi says and drops his bag of belongings – meagre even for a Jedi – by the doorway. "Thank you for your patience."

"Hm," Dooku answers. His displeasure is two fold. His first plan had included Kenobi joining him right away and never returning to Jedi Order again. The shock of it would've made for a good blow against the Republic – never mind, it would've been vindictively pleasing to see the reaction to it. His second plan, the one he had actually proposed, would have had Kenobi stay in the Jedi Order, and serve as his spy.

Kenobi had rejected both ideas.

"You should have made the attempt to persuade him to our side instead – I hear he's quite powerful," Dooku says.

Kenobi gives him a look utterly void of humour. He doesn't look very impressed either. "That's a decision he will make for himself as he feels it just – I will not persuade him one way or the other."

"That's a very Jedi mindset," Dooku comments rather disapprovingly.

"And it was a very Sith like thing to demand," Kenobi retorts. "And I think I already made my views of that clear – or shall we rehash the argument?"

Dooku scoffs. "You really are your Master's student – just as headstrong as Qui-Gon. And twice as opinionated."

Kenobi smiles at that. "Thank you," he says with a graceful dip of his head, and then looks at the hologram table. "Geonosis?" he asks and steps closer to see the holographic representation of the main battleground of the planet. "Still going strong I see."

"You haven't been following the news?" Dooku asks.

"I have been in Seclusion," Kenobi says and looks down at the battlefield, running a hand over his chin. "How up to date is this?"

"It is current," Dooku answers and folds his arms. "We have just passed the tipping point of droids – the reserves have nearly been spent and we are no longer able to balance out the losses with production."

Kenobi eyes the battlefield for a moment and then leans back, looking pleased. "Excellent," he says.

Dooku turns to him, frowning. "I beg your pardon?" he says coldly.

"You're still on defensive and still losing," Kenobi says. "You haven't sent in reinforcements from off world yet, and the Republic has the offensive. That is excellent news."

Dooku narrows his eyes. "Master Kenobi," he says harshly. "You do recall whose side you are now on, surely. Our losses are not excellent."

Kenobi blinks with surprise and looks up. "Apologies – I got ahead of myself," he then says somewhat sheepishly. "I have been thinking about this during my and Anakin's Seclusion – about what the outcome of battle of Geonosis will be. I'm sympathetic to the losses, apologies for seeming otherwise – but loss of Geonosis is the best outcome. And bigger the loss, the better the overall outcome."

Dooku eyes him for a moment, gauging his expression, the feel of him in the Force. He's kept an eye on Kenobi ever since Qui-Gon took him on as an apprentice, and after Qui-Gon's death the interest has been two fold – both to watch over his Grandpadawan, and to watch how the machinations of the Jedi High Council changed him. Kenobi had outshined all their expectations and Dooku knows that Kenobi is an excellent Jedi. The Negotiator they call him on some worlds for his numerous political and diplomatic achievements. He has a way of finding solutions to… social problems most people find insurmountable.

Kenobi isn't a fool. There is a reason why Dooku wanted him by his side. And right now he feels… confident and self assured

"Explain," Dooku orders slowly.

Kenobi glances at him and then folds his arms. "From the perspective of your – our – side, the most important victory that will come from Geonosis will be one of morale," he starts. "How big is the support you have? How many planets are in the Confederation currently?"

"Twenty eight," Dooku answers.

"And most of those are planets controlled by the Trade Federation, the Banker Guild and the Techno Union?" Kenobi asks, to which Dooku nods slowly. "Not an alliance that garners much sympathy, you realise."

"It is one capable of producing the greatest armies this galaxy has ever seen," Dooku says with a slight frown.

Kenobi gives him a look, a very strange look. One of near pity. "Your side is by design terrifying," he says slowly. "You plotted this with the Sith lord – to create the Republic an enemy they can rally against. Union of mega corporations known for abusing those under their power, and their terrifying, unstoppable mechanical army. You're by design easy to hate."

"Hmm," Dooku says, noncommittal, even as his eyes narrow. He hadn't told Kenobi this, especially not in so many words. It's curious how fast he picked up on it.

Kenobi says nothing for a moment, watching him, trying to read his expression. "Are you still aiming to work with the Sith lord – or are we going to go against him?" he asks then. "Because this," he motions at the battle raging on Geonosis. "Can become one of our greatest weapons against the Republic, if we dare make use of it – and go against his design."

Dooku runs a hand over his beard and glances at the battle. "Hmm," he says. The battle had been utterly unplanned – not entirely unexpected, but it definitely wasn't part of Sidious' designs. And, when one really thinks about it… "I think I see what you might be after," Dooku says slowly. "In this battle… the Republic is the attacker."

"Worse," Kenobi says quietly. "The Jedi Order is the attacker here."

Dooku turns to him with slight surprise and Kenobi smiles a little.

"A single Jedi sneaks in, followed by most of the active knights of the Jedi Order, I believe," Kenobi says slowly, meaningfully. "Scout, and then the forward attack force. After that, the entire Clone Army's forces are brought to bear – an army which, by the by, took over nine years to grow. And the Jedi High Council, the moral backbone of the Republic, is now supplying their Jedi to be officers in that custom build army, becoming its commanders and generals. You see?"

Dooku eyes the young man with sort detached realisation and wonder. He'd hoped to gain his side a powerful Jedi, one to be slowly persuaded to the dark side, to becoming his apprentice, to becoming his servant. But this…

"You are making it sound like the Jedi are behind it," Dooku says.

Kenobi arches an eyebrow. "The Jedi are the symbol of the Republic. Peace, justice, security and, worse yet, diplomacy are all embodied in the Jedi Order. They keep the peace. And they were just given the command of an army. What it says about the Jedi Order is bad – what it says about the Republic is worse. And the first thing they did… was attack Geonosis."

Dooku leans back a little. That, too, was by Sidious' design, to expose the Jedi to war, to taint them with it – to get destroyed by it. If they weren't killed on the battlefield or traumatised beyond recovery, the public would slowly learn to fear them and hate them and their supposed abuse of power and influence…

But Kenobi is painting that picture with slight different hues here, with the backdrop of Geonosis.

"Yes, yes, I see," Dooku murmurs and turns back to the hologram. "We market this as Republic attack – the geonosians are only defending themselves from this terrible invasion. That changes… everything."

It would too. The plan had been for the Confederation of Independent Systems to attack Republic worlds, to try and persuade them – by force – to turn to Separatist cause, which would by its nature make them more enemies than friends. Like Kenobi said, they had been designed to be hateful, to be the perfect enemy for Republic to wage easily justifiable war against. In its shadow, Sidious could grow his power beyond what he could in peacetime, and eventually take over what remained once the war had taken out his enemies. A good plan… if one wants Sidious to win.

But if they go by a different route now – one of justifiable defence against unprovoked invasion… And better still, Sidious needs this war, he needs it desperately. If Separatist fail to offer him his perfect, easy target for the custom build army he now has… Sidious would be forced to become the attacker instead. Which, if managed properly, really could work for Separatists advantage.

It would get them what neither Dooku nor Sidious had planned for. Sympathy.

Dooku stares at the holographic battlefield in sudden, heavy realisation that he really is no longer Sidious' servant. He is about to become his enemy. "This whole war needs to be redesigned," he murmurs in alarm.

"Yes, it does," Kenobi agrees, startling him out of his thoughts. "And it must start with the evacuation of Geonosis," he add and motions at the map. "And widespread publication of all the horrors that happened there."

Dooku nods and runs a hand over his chin. "Republic will refute it," he mutters.

"Naturally, victors always do. But the make up of this war works to our advantage," Kenobi says and glances at him. "You were designed to be easy target. Your armies are made of droids – no one will cry over the loss of droids. Your casualties are always going to be negligible because you don't have living people on the battlefield – theirs on other hand…" Kenobi's expression darkens. "Their armies are custom order slaves, human slaves. And they've already died by the thousands, haven't they?"

Dooku looks at him with surprise. Kenobi looks back, all but daring him to make a comment. It's a bit of sentimentality Dooku hadn't expected, though perhaps he should have. Kenobi is a Jedi, after all. And having been trained by Qui-Gon, of course he would harbour sentiment even for such insignificant things as clones. Qui-Gon's softness for all sorts of pathetic life forms had always been a nuisance too.

Honestly, Dooku had expected that having a Jedi at his side would be more a hindrance than benefit until he managed to turn Kenobi to the dark side. But this is something else entirely.

"You really have been thinking this quite a bit, haven't you, my friend?" Dooku asks, noncommittal.

"More than you can imagine," Kenobi mutters and scowls at the hologram.

Still, sentimentality aside…

Dooku folds his arms, watching the young Jedi. Another thing he'd expected was for Kenobi to become a spy against him. His desire to go back to Jedi Order – and yet not stay there as Dooku's spy – had been suspect. It wouldn't have surprised Dooku in the slightest to find himself encouraging afterwards a meek yes-man in place of the strong Jedi he met, a slithering sycophant worming his way to his side where he could overhear all his plans – and report them to his masters in Coruscant. He'd expected it, even.

"Why did you join me, Obi-Wan?" Dooku asks thoughtfully. "From what I've seen so far… you would've made an exemplary General for the Republic. Perhaps you could have even achieved victory."

Kenobi looks at him seriously. "Strip away the dark veil the Sith wrapped the Separatists with, and your cause is entirely justified. You seek freedom from oppressive Empire to be," he says and taps a finger against the holographic table. "Do it right, manage this one battle right and every battle after that… and you have the moral high ground from here on out. To put it simply – you are the good guys. That is why I joined you."

Dooku considers him and then smiles, reaching out to grasp the young man by the shoulder. He can use this, he thinks. He can use Kenobi, after all. "I have feeling I am going to be very lucky to have you, my friend. Now join me – I believe we have an evacuation to plan."

Kenobi smiles a little at that, and turns to the holographic table. His eyes might not have the dark glow of a Sith, they might never have it – but the glint in them is as sharp as edge of a blade.


 

To change his view on the entire war is not easy. They have been planning this conflict for years and Dooku finds it oddly difficult to change his plans on it. It still feels as if he should attack, to make decisive strikes, to make… examples out of the damn clones on Geonosis. It still irks him somewhat that they are there at all.

Dark side's influence. Dooku had managed his own fall to the Dark side with masterful precision – it is irritating to find how truly badly he is warped by it, even after all the care he's taken to make sure it will not influence his decision making ability. Part of him thirsts to dominate, to make his power known and feared. It makes caution… awkward.

And he has to present the change in strategy to the Separatist Council too.

"I thought we were going to make our first battle a decisive victory," Nute Gunray says nervously when they meet, safely in hologram conference. "What has changed? Why are we retreating?"

"The opposition changed everything when they took the first offensive. The attack of the clones on an independent system that offered the Galactic republic no provocation lends us... a different avenue of battle," Dooku explains. "We are now victims of a terrible, unmitigated assault and war, my friends. All for the sin of independent thought."

"I do not understand," Gunray complains and looks at the others. "Is this not bad for us?"

"The Count means to use this to gain us sympathy," Shu Mai of the Corporate Guild murmurs softly.

"Before our only option was to attack to get our voices heard," Dooku tells them. "To get our demands answered to, we had to resort to force. The Republic has now done it for us – it has showed the Galaxy as whole what will happen to those that oppose its peaceful," he scoffs, "unity and harmony. Their message now says, stay silent and complacent or be silenced."

He stands up to look over the seated holograms. "My friends, make no mistake – they will blame this on us. What are we to them but soulless corporations only looking for our interest, looking to make ourselves richer?" He looks from one councillor to the next. "What do they care about the industries we support, the hundreds of thousands of people in our employ whose interest we are looking out for? No, corporations aren't people, they're just machines for the Republic to destroy – like the hundreds of thousands of battle droids they've already destroyed on Geonosis and for what? We did not attack them so why did they, what do they have to gain?"

He waits a beat and no one answers. "Our subjugation," Dooku says. "They mean to make an example of us. So let us become an example. Example of what the Republic is really like – what they really want. Obedient silent subservience to their laws and their taxes – and threat of untold destruction should we ever dare to deviate."

The others exchange uncertain looks, but Shu Mai is looking at him with wariness. "This might turn people against our cause," she warns. "Out of fear of retribution. Geonosis is a disaster. Who would want to join us at the risk that?"

Poggle clicks angrily. "We will take Geonosis back," he snarls in the Geonosian tongue.

"We will – when we're certain the Republic will not be able to demonise us for it," Dooku says and looks at the others. "We are balancing on a fine line now, my dear friends, and the Republic will do it's best to paint us red with the blood in their own hands. We must not let them. Geonosis is a military loss – so we must make it a moral victory. And it already is."

He glances to the side and nods – and Obi-Wan Kenobi, still in perfect Jedi attire, steps into the view if the hologram projector.

"This is Obi-Wan Kenobi, formerly a Jedi Master," Dooku introduces him, much to the astonishment of the listeners. "Who, much like myself years ago, has now awakened to the reality of the Republic's failings and has joined me in Serenno."

"Councillors," Kenobi says and bows his head.

"You," Nute Gunray blusters. "I know you – you were in Naboo!"

"It's a pleasure to see you again as well, Viceroy," Kenobi says mildly.

Dooku hides a smile behind his palm and schools his expression. "Master Kenobi has left the Jedi Order and he has brought me some… enlightening news about the Republic and their clone armies," Dooku tells and nods to Kenobi.

Kenobi takes a breath and then folds his hands into his sleeves, the perfect personification of a Jedi giving a report. "During a Republic sanctioned mission, I was the one to discover the Cloning facilities…"

None of it is news to Dooku – he's known of all of it much longer than Obi-Wan Kenobi has. But to hear him tell it, it sounds like quite the shocking adventure. Kenobi makes a good story teller too, all baffled outrage and confusion and betrayal.

"I then chased Jango Fett to Geonosis," Kenobi says and glances his way with a slight smile. "Where I ran into Count Dooku."

"Luckily for all of us," Dooku says grimly and looks at the council. "I recently came in contact with Jango Fett. He promised me some key information on Republic's plans for this Confederation – for a right price, of course. His contract with the Cloners had just ended and he was looking to get even more money out of the whole damn thing. Bounty hunters are bounty hunters after all."

Dooku laughs derisively. "I barely got anything out of him in time – before the Republic attacked and Jedi Master Windu went quite out his way to specifically behead our money hungry informant."

It all worked rather well together, didn't it? Dooku casts Kenobi a sideways glance and Kenobi very carefully doesn't smile.

"But you learned something? What information did he have for you?" Nute Gunray asks nervously.

"The Republic commissioned the Clone Army ten years ago," Dooku says. "Geonosis was no accident, my friends – it was a plan decade in works coming to fruition. Using tax payer money – our money – they bought a custom made army to once and for all subjugate this whole galaxy under their will. And the only thing standing in their way… is our little Confederation."

There's a moment of silence and exchanged glances. Dooku watches the Separatist Council thoughtfully. They, like everything else, had been designed according to Sidious plans. They are exactly the sort of greedy, ruthless people who make good enemies for masses – who people could hate and if possible kill with no qualms. An artificial council of despicable villains, ready made for war.

He needed their backing, their production capabilities and their money – but more than that, he needed them out of the Separatist Council and fast. For Separatists to become a true cause for rebellion and freedom from the Republic, they needed legitimacy which a bunch of corporate cretins would never give them. They needed idealists and visionaries.

Casting a look at Kenobi, Dooku narrows his eyes. That would work quite well, wouldn't it? Especially in light of the Jedi becoming generals for the Grand Army if the Republic.

"My friends, we have a war to prepare and it's about more than we ever could have imagined," Dooku says. "The Republic mustn't be allowed to make us the villains of this first stage, there will be no stopping them if that happens. So we will become victims instead, victims of their tyranny and their brutal assault. And we will make our voices heard."

Dooku turns his head and nods towards the other hologram projector. "I am naming Obi-Wan Kenobi as my second in command," he says in tone that brooks no arguments. "He will be the General of our armies." And he would be either useful and bring others to the cause – or he'd be removed in quick succession, Dooku think and continues. "Together in time… we will take back what has been stolen from us. For Geonosis."

"For Geonosis!" Poggle rattles promptly and waves a spindly fist angrily in the air. "For Geonosis!"

"For Geonosis," the others agree, with varying level of enthusiasm – but it's catching on quickly. It would take more than this to set their plans properly into motion, but this is a start Dooku thinks and casts a look at Kenobi – who looks neither surprised nor dismayed.

He looks satisfied.


 

Kenobi's presence, though firmly rooted on the Light side, is strange. He doesn't feel like a Jedi. Sometimes, Dooku has hard time sensing his presence at all. He doesn't feel like a Sith either, of course, and part of Dooku is still angry about that. The sting of his rejection on Geonosis still hasn't quite faded.

"I am never going to be your apprentice, Dooku. You have nothing to teach me that I'd wish to learn."

Rationally, Dooku can see the benefit of it. With this new outlook on the war – this new campaign… ideal, having a Jedi rooted to the Light side works to their advantage far better than a Jedi seduced to the Dark side would. It lends credibility – never mind it will sow seeds of doubt into hearts and minds of those watching. After all… a Jedi must have a reason to go against his fellows like this.

"Not quite a Jedi anymore, I'm afraid," Kenobi says when he comments on it. "I left my Lightsaber to Anakin before I left, and handed in my resignation weeks before that."

"Hm. It would be the Lost Twenty-One now, then," Dooku comments.

"Doesn't have quite the same ring as Lost Twenty, does it?" Kenobi muses with a slight smile. Then he makes a face. "Force, I hope they don't make a bust of me too, that would be mortifying."

Dooku chuckles. "Oh, but it is the highest honour the Jedi Council can grant you – public shame and a scary story to tell the younglings," he says with amusement. "Though speaking of the matter – you do need a lightsaber."

"Hm," Kenobi answers, frowning a little at that and then looking down at himself. "Considering this, I have a dreadful feeling about the colour you might suggest."

Dooku glances him over and smiles a little. Kenobi looks well in his black and red coat, cut in Serenno style with a high collar. The only demand Kenobi had made for his new outfit was that it should be militaristic. As a military officer he should look the part – and he does. They'd even designed military insignia just for him – which from here on out would be replicated through the armies of the Confederation of Independent Systems.

Some designer involved with the matter hadn't been able to restrain themselves – Kenobi's uniform has a decorative red sash that runs from shoulder of the black coat to opposite waist, for no other purpose except aesthetics. It looks very striking.

"I have a collection of kyber crystals for you to choose from," Dooku says. "Whichever works best for you, I cannot say. That's entirely up to you, General Kenobi."

"Hm," Kenobi says and adjusts the dark red sash idly. "I would be happy to take a look," he says finally. "But I will not have a red lightsaber, you may be certain of that."

Rationally, a Light side General is only for benefit for their cause, for the new direction they're taking. Especially so since Kenobi is already exhibiting unforeseen military understanding and a strategic mind which Dooku had already suspected, but which goes far past his expectations.

Still, the subconscious urge to try and turn him is still there, ever present. And Kenobi is entirely right – the colour Dooku would like to see him with is definitely not blue. And neither are any of the kyper crystals in his collection.

Kenobi takes one look around the chamber of his crystal collection and sighs sadly. "All of these have been bled," he says quietly.

"Hm," Dooku agrees and folds his arms. He'd been given most of the crystals as a gift from his former Sith Master. In hindsight, Sidious seduction of him had been long winded and masterful, full of gifts of forbidden knowledge and secret artefacts. When Dooku had expressed a desire to reconstruct himself a lightsaber… of course, the Sith had encouraged him to make it the right way.

And Dooku had. His lightsaber now hangs from his waist, the curved hilt silver and black and the blade vivid red when lit. And part of him wants to see Kenobi's lightsaber become similar – part of him wants to force it.

Saying nothing, doing nothing and keeping the urge to influence chained takes unforeseen effort, and Dooku doesn't like it.

Kenobi walks into the chamber of bled kyber crystals and for a moment he just looks at the shelves where the red crystals sit on beds of black velvet cloth. The whole room hums with the Dark side – it makes Dooku really wonder what Kenobi feels there. What it might be, to be a lightsider, surrounded by all this darkness?

The former Jedi breathes in and out slowly and then he goes down to sit cross-legged at the centre of the chamber. And then he begins to meditate.

A little surprised that Kenobi would even attempt to try and form a connection with the bled crystals, Dooku settles in, to wait and watch.


 

Geonosis is a loss, but it becomes a calculated loss – and Dooku makes full use of it, bending the Confederation slowly to his will to spread their new message. One of invasion and loss and cruelty, the misfortune and horror they've suffered…

And the terrible thing the Republic has created.

"Nine years they've planned this," Dooku speaks – officially only to the people of his own planet, to Serenno, but money and influence would spread the recording wider. "That is how long it took for them to grow their army. An army of clones – and army of obedient, indoctrinated slaves. Their blood now paints the beautiful, natural theatres of stone in Geonosis and why? Why? Because geonosians dared to dream of freedom, of independence from the chains of Republic? Is this what it is to be part of the Republic – living under their will… or suffering a forceful subjugation to it?"

He has many speeches on the matter – Kenobi's input shapes all of them. It's hard for Dooku to think in the ways demanded by their new course, to exhibit this weakness, this sentimentality in public. To play the victim goes against not only all their plans, but his own nature. It's intolerable.

"We must be seen weaker here," Kenobi reminds him, over and over. "Republic will try and paint Geonosis as the offender – we cannot let them succeed."

"I know –" Dooku growls back. "To show this weakness is a calculated move, but it grates."

Kenobi chuckles at that. "Funnily enough, it only lends you credibility," he comments. "You're so furious in all of those speeches. It makes you sound so affected, my lord, so emotional. Honestly, helplessly angry about all this… injustice."

"Oh do be quiet," Dooku grumbles as the former Jedi laughs and then looks at him. "So far your plan isn't having as much of an effect as we hoped."

"It's still early days and the war is still too new," Kenobi answers with a shrug. "There has only been one battle so far, and people prefer to mind their own business – and Republic works against our message. It will take time – and perseverance."

Dooku eyes him for a moment and then looks away. Another thing that makes it so difficult – the patience, the waiting of it. Decisive actions – like attacking – get immediate results. Playing the defensive strategy on other hand was a long winded gambit. And he'd never been good with those.

"The Republic will attack eventually," Kenobi says almost soothingly. "Sidious has to act; otherwise people will start wondering what the Clone Army is needed for anyway."

"Yes. But I'm starting to think we should invite them to it," Dooku mutters and glances at him. "The Confederation and its army were designed to be a target. I say we use it."

Kenobi looks to him. "How do you mean?"

"We reveal them a strategic location – another droid factory perhaps," Dooku says. "Republic will swoop in to take it, or destroy it… and we will have another battle to use as a warning in our public campaign. Sidious is lacking a target right now, since we're not making ourselves the devil in his play. He will have to take what he can get."

Kenobi runs a hand over his beard and then nods. "Yes, I suspect you're right," he says and looks to him. "Do you want me to take a lead on this?"

Dooku considers it. It could work as a test of the man's capabilities. Strategic planning is one thing – handling a battlefield something else entirely. It would also work as final proof of Kenobi's allegiances, something the Confederation is still a little leery about. And if Kenobi failed on one or the other…

He'd make a fine martyr to their cause.

"Have you familiarised yourself with your troops to your satisfaction?' Dooku asks.

"Yes," Kenobi says, with no embellishments or hesitations. "I will however have make one demand beforehand."

Dooku frowns. "Which is?"

"That I will be allowed to set my own rules of engagement," Kenobi says and watches him closely for a reaction.

Dooku carefully gives him none. "How do you mean?"

"Treatment of enemies, of captured soldiers, that sort of thing," Kenobi says still watching him. "I will never accept an order to take no prisoners. There will be no torture, no abuse, and no firing squads. In fact when possible, I will have my troops shoot to stun and take prisoners when possibly they can."

Dooku can't quite keep the frown from his face. "Kenobi, this is war," he says sharply. "Not a training exercise."

"Yes," Kenobi agrees. "But we're fighting for a moral victory, yes?"

"So it's another bit of light propaganda?" Dooku muses, frowning at him.

"We're banking a lot of our propaganda on their use of enslaved, indoctrinated armies," Kenobi points out. "Lives are now currency. Statistics of loss of life. Ours will always be close to none because droids do not count as living troops – but say we add another statistic in. Of lives saved."

Dooku gives him a look. "I know what you're doing," he says amusedly. "You sentimental Jedi fool."

"If it works," Kenobi shrugs without a shred of shame. "Will you allow me my own rules of engagement?"

Dooku runs a hand over his chin and thinks about it, wondering for a moment what Kenobi would say if he knew of Dooku's own involvement in the creation of the clone army. Chances are the man has guessed it already, though.

"The clones cannot be turned to our cause," Dooku finally says, warning him. "They are more than indoctrinated. They aren't capable of deserting the Republic."

"Perhaps not," Kenobi agrees and looks away. "But they will still look more attractive as statistic of prisoners of war… rather than as list of human casualties. If you ever feel like taking the propaganda that step further, in certain sense the clones are entirely innocent," he comments sadly. "They never were given a choice."

Dooku scoffs and looks away. "You may have your rules of engagement, General Kenobi – but remember; we are still aiming to win. Do not let your sympathy get better of you."

"Thank you, my lord," Kenobi says and bows his head.

Chapter Text

 In few short weeks everything has gotten completely out of hand.

Things had been getting increasingly… worse of late. Last few months, last few years – last few decades – things had been slowly but inexorably changing. Small alterations to the standard that, at the time, didn't seem to matter much. A new chancellor comes about every so often. New laws are argued over and passed all the time. New mission is handed over to the Jedi Order. Trickling changes disturbing the still waters and because the surface didn't seem to so much as ripple they let it all pass.

Now the pond is flooding and spilling over and he's not entirely sure how and when it happened. Now suddenly the Galaxy stands at the cusp of war – no, already past it. Now, the Jedi Order has become the Republic's prized warriors instead of its peacekeepers. Now, they have an Army. Now, they have war. And it all happened quite naturally. Like pieces falling into their destined places except… except it's all wrong. It should be wrong – it feels wrong. And yet he too clicks into his place like it was custom made for him.

Mace sighs and runs a hand over his scalp, staring at space as it zoom past at faster than light speeds High General Mace Windu of the Grand Army of the Republic. It's been official for weeks now, and it still doesn't feel real. Appointed by the High Chancellor and the Republic Senate itself, to do this important duty to the Republic… hah.

How did they end up here, to this place, where Jedi can be appointed into leadership roles of an army and no one – no one within the Order or outside it – so much as bats an eye? As far as he's been able to gauge, the reaction to the Jedi's new appointment had been largely positive and mostly neutral. That seems about right, seems to be the popular thought. So, as far as the people of the Republic go… Jedi are apparently war mongering warriors.

When had they become this?

"General," a voice of a clone trooper, already all too familiar to all the Jedi, speaks from behind him, from the open doorway. "We're approaching Hypori – the admiral told me to inform you that we will be dropping out of hyperspace in ten minutes."

Mace nods and takes a deep breath. Hypori, where the second droid manufacturing facility had been discovered. Thankfully… a lifeless planet, unlike Geonosis.

Mace doesn't particularly regret Geonosis – but every time he looks back to the war there, he gets the sensation of mistakes made, opportunities missed and future in terrible, unstoppable motion. It's more than he's been able to feel about everything else these past few weeks – there is only the ever present atmosphere of misfortune and disaster but Geonosis was a particularly murky moment in time. They'd made a terrible mistake in Geonosis and he can't put a finger on how. All he knows is that it will most likely come back to bite them all in the ass before all this would be over.

In comparison, Hypori should be a straight forward event. The planet was lifeless, worthless and not even geologically interesting – only thing it had on it… was the battle droid factory. There should be no consequences.

"The fleet?" Mace asks.

"Should be there within five minutes of our ETA."

"Good," Mace says and lifts his chin. "We've no full idea about what to expect here, commander, but chances are it will be something very much like Geonosis," he says and folds his arms into his sleeves. "Have the men prepare for the worst."

"Yes, general," the clone commander – whose number Mace can't quite recall, there's been so many of them to memorise – salutes and then backs away from the doorway. Mace glances after him and then looks out of the window again, and into the blur of stars passing by.

When had they tipped past the point where war was not only inevitable, but entirely acceptable solution to… to diplomatic problems? To the point where even he, a Jedi High Council Member, can't think of a suitable counter argument to it?

Mace thinks of Kenobi, the shock of Anakin Skywalker coming back home with his Master's lightsaber and look of terrible loss, and scowls.

That, he knows, isn't the right argument. It can't be.


 

 

The fleet drops out of hyperspace nearly in unison, and it's hard to not be affected by it. The star destroyers as they are unfortunately named are some of the most impressive ships Mace has ever seen – and to know that each and every one of them had at least one Jedi on the bridge is…

It is certainly something.

There are half a dozen of them here, half a dozen clone battalions, half a dozen Jedi, just to take this one facility. It seems something of overkill even to Mace's unadjusted opinion – but the sting of Geonosis still burns painfully in all their hearts. So many clones had been lost; so many Jedi had been slain. After it erring on the side of too much rather than too little seems right.

"Contact the fleet," Mace says and the clone by a hologram table nods and activates the thing, sending Mace's image onto the bridge of every star destroyer that now looms overt the planet of Hypori. In turn, the Jedi on board the other ship send their images, who appear to stand around the table in glowing blue holograms

Ki-Adi-Mundi, the only other member of the Jedi High Council, looks troubled.

"This is tense and uncomfortable situation for all of us, so I will make this brief," Mace says. "As far as we know, Hypori should have little in way of life forms – the planet is barren. The droid factory is the only point of interest on the planet and we know little about it – only of its location and its existence. And that it must be destroyed."

"It's not much to go on," Ki-Adi-Mundi murmurs, running his fingers over his chin.

"No it isn't," Mace agrees. "We're lucky we know that much – being this far from any hyperlanes, this place could've gone undiscovered for years." Probably has, too. Finding the place had been a bit of dumb luck – apparently a deep space pilot had punched into wrong coordinates and almost crashed into the planet, discovering the factory in the process.

They were lucky the man had gotten out of there without making himself known first. Hopefully that would mean that the droids down on the planet weren't yet expecting company.

"General, we have visual," one of the clones says and then reaches out to activate the hologram table, bringing up a three dimensional representation of the droid factory down on Hypori.

Unlike in Geonosis, here the factory isn't buried completely underground. There's no knowing if the factory continues below ground, it most likely does, but they have buildings above ground too, hangars and a launch bay. And on the launch bay, there is a ship, a rather massive one, the design of which Mace can't recognise off hand.

As they watch, a droid transport slowly rolls out of one of the hangars, and towards the transport.

"Do we have identification on that transport?" Aayla Secura asks, folding her arms.

"Checking, ma'am," the droid says and runs a check. "It's – has no records on file, ma'am. It looks new."

"So, the Confederation isn't just making new types of droids, they're also making new types of ships to carry those droids in," Shaak Ti says quietly.

"All the more reason for us to make a decisive strike here, and stop this factory from producing any more," Mace says grimly and zooms the hologram out. "We'll drop down on two fronts, pinning the factory between us. Ki-Adi, you take half of the fleet and take drop ships to the northern sight, I will take the other hand and take the southern side…"


 

 

Their landing is opposed. At least that's what Mace thinks it's called – he still hasn't quite managed to adjust his thinking to these new, military lines. The moment they breach the planet's atmosphere, they're under fire coming down from the factory, and as he watches, helpless on board of one of the drop ships, two of them are brought down, their wings shot, forced to veer off course to land too far back.

"Return fire! And get me a damage report on those drop ships!" Mace demands, and then his own drop ship takes fire as well. There is an explosion that rocks the drop ship to the side, sending him crashing to a clone, and then they too are veering towards ground too fast, too early.

"We're going down – brace yourselves!"

"Drop ships 3 and 5 are going down, no casualties, minor injuries!" one of the clone shout.

"General Mundi reports they're also under fire –!"

They crash down, and even with the hatches shut, Mace can feel the crash kick up dust and dirt and rock, as they skid along the ground and burrow a groove in it. One clone bangs his head on a wall and other is send tumbling over him, but aside from that it doesn't look like anyone takes injuries – the pilot managed to land, somehow.

"Pilot!" Mace calls, quickly manoeuvring around the other clones. "What's happening out there?"

"They're grounding and scattering us," the pilot says, hitting buttons and banging his fist against emergency release, opening the hatched behind them. "They shot out our manoeuvring, sir – it was precision fire. Looks like it's the same for everyone else –"

As they watch, another very precise burst of laser blasts comes in from the droid factory and brings down another drop ship, destroying its manoeuvring flaps and stilling its forward approach, forcing it, too, to land far too early.

"They were expecting us," Mace guesses.

The clone doesn't answer, checking the systems quickly and then turning to him, his helmet face completely plank and alien. "Sir, I don't think we're getting off this rock on this ship again."

"We'll get off this world, trooper," Mace says firmly. "We'll have a star destroyer touch down if need be. First we need to take that factory."

He turns to the others. "Everybody out – we're little further out than we'd like to be, but the plan still holds. Let's get moving and let's get those droids."

"Sir, yes sir!"

The clones file out in orderly rush of two's, covering for each other as they touch down on the planet's soil. Mace watches at the military precision of their movements, how they match each other and cover for each other's blind spots and not for the first time he feels like the odd man out.

He doesn't belong here, with these men. He will never belong here.

"Call the other drop ships, let's converge and move in on the factory," Mace says and then hits his communicator. "Aayla, Shaak Ti – we're little behind you, so hold your ground until we catch up."

"Yes, Master Windu," they both answer.

It's going wrong already. He'd hoped they could just rush in on the factory and take it before the droids had the chance to prepare for battle – he hadn't counted on them having anti-air-support guns. He should've though. He really should have. It had been one of the leading causes of losses at Geonosis – the geonosian long range anti-air guns, shooting down drop ships before they ever got the chance to land. They'd learned from it, started dropping down troops further and further out, out of gun range... but the initial losses were severe.

Next time they'd bring star fighters in first, Mace thinks furiously. Take out the anti-air-support, if at all possible. If not, then land much further out.

They move in on the others, hurriedly running across the dry, ochre coloured rock and sand. The atmosphere of Hypori smells like dust and metal and there is a hint of smoke – and in the distance, Mace can hear the whir of something.

"Master," Aayla calls when they finally meet, after good half a kilometre dash. "They're sending out monitor droids – look."

She hands him a pair of macro binoculars and Mace looks towards the droid factory. Hovering droids are veering off the factory, spreading into all directions – to monitor the battlefield, to give whoever's in it a bird's eye view.

Another thing he really should've considered – if nothing else, one of them should've stayed on board one of the destroyers, keeping eye on the situation from above. Damn it.

Next time, he thinks. Next time.

"Shoot them down," Mace orders, waving at the clones to go forward and take the monitors down. Then he hits his comlink. "Admiral, I want someone at the holotable, giving me overall view of the battlefield. Are they sending out droids yet?"

"Not yet, sir," comes the voice of a clone. "We'll keep you up to date. Ki-Adi-Mundi has landed – with four clone casualties."

Mace scowls. They have hundreds of clones with them, and in Geonosis they lost thousands before the first clone even touched the ground. Four isn't much. In fact… four isn't enough.

"Sir," his own clone commander comments quietly, lowering his own binoculars. "Those guns are the same they had on Geonosis. They could've shot us dead – and they didn't."

"I am aware," Mace says grimly. And he doesn't like it. Still, they're on ground now – and not only are they on ground, but they're grounded as well, with most of their drop ships disabled. There is no other way to go, but forward. "Is everyone here? Then let's move out. We have a factory to take!"

And that's when the blaster fire starts.


 

 

It should've been a massacre.

That's what Mace thinks later on, while standing surrounded by downed clones, with all contact with Ki-Adi-Mundi's forces lost and with droids on all sides, pinning him and Aayla Secura and Shaak Ti down.

They'd gotten… almost everything wrong about this. The landing was just the beginning of a long line of failures.

Forward approach was a mistake – it made them an easy target for the blaster fire from the factory, and there was too many of the clones for the Jedi to cover them entirely with their lightsabers. There was no cover to take on the open plain around the factory, and their returning fire seemed to have little effect on the droids up ahead. When one of the droids fell, another simply stood up to take its place in the firing line in endless stream of reinforcements.

The factory was surrounded by droids – and they weren't the sort of dumb machines they'd seen in Geonosis. Their conformation is the same, the same skeletal design – but they fight smarter here. For one they have cover, and they make use of it. The factory is surrounded by a ring of intermittent barriers and the droids are firing from behind them. Past are the days of advancing in formation that was easy pickings for anyone with a blaster, it seems. Worse yet, some of the droids even have shields they're holding up – and with how thin the droids are, each shield is good enough to cover three of them at a time, leaving one droid holding the shield, and the others firing safely from its shelter.

Mace thinks back to how the droids were just mowed down in Geonosis by droves, because they made themselves such easy targets. It seems like the Separatists had learned from that and are little more cautious with their droids now.

Droids using cover isn't the only change in tactics.

Mace had only just noticed that the men gunned down by the droids hadn't actually been killed on impact – before the droids started throwing smoke grenades at them and flash grenades right after them – covering the entire are first with smoke, and then blinding them all by lighting the smoke in bright white light.

What had been systematic fire from before turned then into a complete chaos – that was when the droids started really coming at them, jumping over their barriers and rushing in, firing, firing, firing endlessly, tirelessly.

Mace did all he could to deflect the blaster fire right back at droids – but on stun setting it did little to stop them, stalling them only momentarily before they went right back to firing at them. And, much to his annoyance, they were too spread out to take out efficiently, never getting to those handy clusters they did in Geonosis – never making themselves an easy target. They even backed away from him, keeping their distance – as if knowing better than to engage a Jedi.

Before Mace had even realised that some of the droids were using the opportunity to capture fallen clones, he is already surrounded – and he isn't the only one. While the droids drag away the unconscious troopers, he is standing surrounded by small battalion of them on all sides. And all Mace can think is…

This should have been a massacre.

They'd done almost everything wrong in this battle. Approach without air support. Opposed landing and opposed approach on obviously fortified location, with no cover in sight. Because they had so many drop ships they hadn't even though to bring tanks. And now…

"Put down your weapon and surrender," one of the droids surrounding him says – and there is far too many of them for him to deflect all their bolts if they start firing on him.

"I demand to see the person in charge here," Mace says, not putting down his lightsaber.

"Put down your weapon and surrender," the droid repeats. "And the General will see you."

General. The separatist have a General now. And the General is here, on Hypori, which was supposed to be just a droid factory.

It had been an ambush.

Mace grimaces and turns off his lightsaber. The droids don't move until he's thrown it away to the ground, and as he watches one of them picks it up – and then walks away with it, heading to the factory. Damn – he'd hoped they'd do him the favour of keeping it close enough to Force pull it if necessary. No such luck, then.

Mace holds up his hands while near by Shaak Ti and Aayla Secura both surrender their weapons as well. Around them, the droids keep dragging unconscious clones away, removing their weaponry as they do. Like the lightsabers, blasters and grenades all also carried away – removing any chance of retaking them from the battlefield.

The whole thing was an unmitigated disaster, Mace thinks, as they're marched into the factory.


 

 

The General does not see them, after all – not until after they'd been put into cells in the belly of the factory, behind force fields. Everything around them is metal and rock, and the cell controls have no buttons – nothing to press. There's nothing in the corridor outside their cells either, no handy crates or items just lying about – even the droids simply left after putting them behind barriers. There's nothing to summon with the Force to try and use to make their escape from these prisons.

Whoever the General is, they know how to hold a Jedi behind bars. He's just Force binders away from being perfectly prepared for them.

"We should be dead," Aayla says quietly from her own cell. "We did everything wrong. They could've shot us out of the sky; they could've shot us on the ground. Why didn't they? They were all firing to stun – why?"

"Those cannons, they were on very low setting as well," Shaak Ti comments. "Only high enough to damage, but not so strong as to destroy the drop ships. And they knew exactly where to fire to disable them, too."

"They wanted hostages," Mace says darkly. "And we gave them three Jedi. Six, if the others have been captured too." Six Jedi, two of whom were High Council members too. And now that the Separatist had them to use as hostages. Republic had six star destroyers on orbit, easily enough to take this facility – and they couldn't do anything because Mace had delivered the Separatist a bargaining chip on a silver platter.

Sighing, Mace falls to sit on the bed imbedded in the cell wall, running a hand over his face. He should've spent more time studying battle tactics. He should've consulted the clone commanders. He should've done this better. They should've had air support, they should've had tanks, they should've…

"Well hello there," a voice speaks, not in the corridor but through unseen speakers all around it. "And welcome to Hypori."

Mace looks up and frowns. That's… a vaguely familiar voice.

"I am the General of the Confederation of Independent Systems militaries," the voice continues calmly, almost pleasantly. "Congratulations; you are now prisoners of war. As prisoners of war under my charge you are entitled to certain rights, which I will detail in a moment, but before that let me tell you what will happen to you now."

Mace frowns, sharing a look with Shaak Ti, whose cell is across from his. She shakes her head, looking just as confused and alarmed as he feels.

"First, word of your capture will be send to your Republic – which has already done, I have informed the star destroyers on orbit the numbers of captives we have. Second, seeing that hostilities in this location have ceased and your ships on orbit have agreed not to fire and kill us all, we will negotiate a settlement for your surrender – or the republic's retreat."

Mace stands up as the voice goes from coming through the speakers to coming from down the hall, where he can hear the steps of someone approaching. The one talking is coming.

"Third," the voice continues and then Mace sees him – and stares in horror.

Obi-Wan Kenobi stands there with a communicator in hand, his eyes sliding across the corridor and to him. "Eventually you will be ransomed back to the Republic," the former Jedi says to the communicator, his voice still echoing across the facility while he meets Mace's eyes. "Your ransom will depend on your rank – the higher the rank, the bigger the ransom. If the Republic pays your ransom, you will be released back into Republic custody. If they don't… you will remain a prisoner of war under the Confederation custody until your ransom is either paid, or the war ends."

Mace stares, the shock washing over him like cold water until he gets it restrained, gets his emotions under control and properly released into the Force. Kenobi smiles faintly.

"Until then, you will be treated according to the Basic Sentient Rights Act," the traitor continues speaking into the communicator while watching Mace thoughtfully. "Medical care will be supplied, you will be fed, you will be given chance to wash once a day, and once a week you will have the opportunity to communicate via untraceable transmission with whomever you wish. Should your time as prisoner of war under Confederation custody extend beyond few weeks, other rights will be detailed according to the duration of your captivity.

"All cells here are monitored – if you have complaints, you may voice them, and they will be addressed accordingly," Kenobi finishes his spiel. "And of course, any hostilities will be met with disciplinary action. So, for your sakes… do try to refrain."

With that said, he turns the communicator off and clips it to his waist. "Well done," he says. "That was the worst frontal assault I've seen, almost as bad as the start of the Battle of Geonosis. If it was any other general but me… your troops would be dead now."

"Traitor," Mace answers harshly, glaring at him through the energy barrier.

"Traitor?" Kenobi asks, arching an eyebrow. "To what? To the Jedi? I resigned peacefully, and my resignation was approved by the Grandmaster of the Jedi Order. What I do with my life after is entirely up to me and has nothing to do with the Jedi."

"Then you're a traitor to the Republic," Mace answers. "You sided with the Separatists! With Dooku – with the Sith! You were a Jedi – how could you?"

The look Kenobi gives him is – odd. Sad. He doesn't even try to defend himself, just shakes his head.

"Master Kenobi, please, you can't do this," Aayla says, from another cell, put of Mace's view range. "Please, you must release us."

"No, I don't... and I won't," Kenobi says, glancing her way with a slight smile. "I'm sorry, Aayla."

"What about your Padawan?" Aayla asks.

"This will break young Skywalker's heart," Shaak Ti comments quietly.

"I'd like to think that he of all people would understand," Kenobi says with a shrug. "And if he doesn't, then I'm satisfied that I have done best I can for him and that I did not take him... down with me, shall we say."

"Understand? Master Kenobi, your padawan is a former slave, and you're talking about ransoming people, asking a price of them, like they're things!" Aayla says, sounding alarmed. "Dooku cannot think he can profit from war like this, it is evil."

"Actually that one's on me – well, on the Mandalorians, actually," Kenobi says calmly, folding his arms. "Count Dooku has nothing to do with it."

"...what?" Aayla asks, confused. "You?"

"What do you mean, Mandalorians?" Shaak Ti asks worriedly while Mace frowns – Mandalore had been one of the first systems to declare neutrality in the war.

"It was how prisoners of war were handled during the Mandalorian-Jedi wars," Kenobi explains. "Both sides of the conflict ransomed their prisoners of war back to their respective armies. It was considered to be… less wasteful than just shooting their prisoners dead, you see, and it gave the combatants incentive to fight well and capture enemies – they got a share of the bounty. And of course prisoners can be expensive to keep in comfort." He turns to Mace. "Naturally, your side doesn't have to worry about that here, since Confederation doesn't send its people to battlefield."

"Yeah, you use machines," Mace growls, even as he frowns at Kenobi, angry and confused. This – all of this – is unexpected, but the last thing he'd been expecting was a lesson of ancient warfare.

"Yes, how terrible of us," Kenobi agrees dryly, "not to put our people in harm's way. How dare we, indeed."

"Don't try to pretend you have moral superiority, Kenobi," Mace scoffs at him. "You're a traitor to the Republic, you sided with our enemies. You are committing treason."

Kenobi stares at him. "Treason," he repeats slowly. "Traitor to the Republic?"
 
Mace narrows his eyes, trying to read the man's emotions. He can't sense anger, or hate, not even annoyance. It doesn't feel like Kenobi has turned to the dark side, for all that he wears black and red uniform. Maybe there's a chance to save him yet, maybe it isn't too late for him yet.

"Whatever Dooku offered you, it can't be worth this," Mace says. "We can still make this right, Kenobi. Let us go and come back to the Republic. No one knows about your – infraction yet –"

"Infraction," Kenobi says, a little sharper now, and steps closer to the force shield. "Infraction?"

"You're – probably confused," Mace tries, desperately looking for the right words. Kenobi still feels nothing like a Sith – in fact he feels like nothing at all, and it's throwing him off. This – this feels like uncharted territory, shaky and treacherous. But there must be some way to reach Kenobi still –

Kenobi let's out a laugh.

"Traitor – to a Republic that behind the Senate's back, behind backs of countless systems and hundreds of trillions of its citizens, went and mass produced a clone army – a massive group indoctrinated, brain washed custom order slaves," he says slowly. "Traitor to the Jedi Order, who has now taken command of this army of slaves and leads them in to a war you instigated, in behest of the Republic – tell me, Master Jedi, why did you attack Geonosis?"

Mace stares at him in disbelief. "You were there – you saw the whole thing!"

"What I saw was Jedi Order swooping in to attack a system that had declared itself independent," Kenobi says flatly. "Without any provocation."

"Without provo – no. No, what you saw was us coming to rescue you from an army of droids! They were building a droid army, Kenobi!" Mace almost shouts at him, furiously incredulous. Had the man gone blind as well as mad in his time outside the Order?

"I wonder why that is," Kenobi says coldly. "Did you know that the droid armies on Geonosis went into production only months before you attacked the planet? Ever wonder why they were so easy to beat? Because the production was rushed out in desperate haste, cutting all possible corners to speed it up. And why would the geonosians and the Separatists possibly feel the need for an army of their own? Hm? What did they have to fear from a peaceful Republic?"

"They were going to attack us!"

"Says who?" Kenobi asks with an arched eyebrow. "Where did you get that bit of information from, where did you get the evidence of it – what world were they going to attack and why? Compared to the Confederation of Independent Systems, the Republic is massive. What could the Separatists possibly gain from attacking it, except enraging the masses of Republic and making damn sure the Republic would be dead set against their pleas for independence?"

Mace frowns and before he can think of a solid answer, Kenobi shakes his head and speaks again. "Your clone army took nine years to grow," he says, his voice flat and humourless. "I was the one who discovered it, the kaminoans were happy to tell me all about it. Nine years – close to ten, if you count the foetal growth stage. The Separatist cause hadn't even been thought up back when the first patch of clones was inseminated."

Kenobi steps closer to the force field, almost close enough to press his face against it. "Tell me, Master Windu. Who was the Republic planning to go to war with?"

Silence follows the question as Mace stares at Kenobi and refuses to give him the satisfaction of his unease and disquiet. Kenobi seems to sense it anyway, nodding his head is grim satisfaction.

"In six hours you'll get a chance to make one transmission each," he says and turns to leave. "I suggest you think hard on what you're going to say. Also, Master Windu? I might be a traitor," Kenobi says over his shoulder. "But at least I'm not a slaver."

Chapter Text

Shaak Ti is deep in meditation. Her presence in the Force is like a rising mountain, still and strong and growing taller with each slow breath she takes. Aayla Secura is following her to the meditation, her presence like a river running smoothly around Shaak Ti's more mountainous form. Together they form a soothing harmony, two masters of very different kind working together. It would be easy to get swept into their meditation.

Mace doesn't allow himself to. He needs his emotions now more than he needs the soothing calm of the Force to dull them away. There is… too much happening now, too fast, and he cannot set his mind at ease – it will only dull his natural, reasonable reactions. He needs the sharp precision of more…human intuition.

The Force hasn't been much help in making decisions of late anyway. Unclear, Yoda called it. To Mace it's more like a fog these days. They still reach for it for help and guidance, but it's stopped guiding them these last few… decades, easily. Rather than guide them, its fogginess only confuses them.

As it is, Shaak Ti and Aayla Secura are both trying to reach wisdom to understand what Kenobi meant, whether he was speaking the truth, whether he could be trusted. Mace doesn't need to bother with that.

He already knows.

Being as he is part of the Jedi High Council, he'd been there when Kenobi had reported his initial findings on Kamino. He'd also been the first to hear what Yoda had discovered when he'd made his way to the distant world of the Cloners – and when he'd came back with the clone army in tow. Clone army which had been custom build not only for the Republic, by the Republic… but for the Jedi, by Jedi.

They just hadn't had the time to figure out how, yet.

Ten years ago, a Jedi Master Sifo Dyas had commissioned the army. Not the Republic, not the senate – no. It was a single Jedi Master, a former member Jedi High Council then already released from the position because of his views, his visions… his troubling warnings. Dead for ten years now, he still managed to make a nuisance of himself. Ten years ago, he'd gone to Kamino, and he'd ordered the clone army – somehow, he even paid for it.

Kenobi knows all of this – Kenobi had been the one to discover it, the one to report it. Yet he'd made no mention of Sifo Dyas, or the Jedi, in the clone army's inception. No, he'd blamed the Republic as whole. Why? Because it was more convenient target in the Separatist campaign? Likely, and yet…

Running a hand over his chin, Mace stares at the floor.

Sifo Dyas and Dooku had been good friends, he thinks grimly. When Dooku had left the Order, Sifo Dyas was the one who reported it. Back then they'd all expected Master Dyas to follow Master Dooku into civilian life, whatever that would be for the two… but instead, Sifo Dyas had ended up dead. And Dooku had claimed his own family's fortunes and became a Count instead of a Master – eventually, leader of an entire system. Count Dooku of Serenno.

Now Count Dooku of the Confederation of Independent Systems… with his own padawan's padawan at his side. Master Kenobi had become General Kenobi of Independent Systems and he'd grown a spine made of metal and razor blades in the short duration of that particular career.

What in Force's name had Dooku told Kenobi to prompt this… change?

Clasping his hands together to keep himself from wringing at them, Mace looks up. Shaak Ti is all but humming in the Force now, her robes floating gently around her. Closing his eyes for a moment, Mace feels at the Force.

Four hours.

Two more to go until their scheduled transmissions. Mace would contact the Jedi High Council, as would they all no doubt. The information of their capture would be out by now, but probably not by whom they'd been captured… or how easily it had been accomplished.

Part of that – large part of it – is on Mace, he knows. He'd conducted the battle poorly, not that it really could be called a battle. The droids on Geonosis, though dangerous, had been predictable in their stupidity, in their lack of tactics, and their suicidal tendency to walk right into blaster fire. He'd expected the same here.

He has a feeling that the battle of Geonosis went as it did not because the droids were conducted poorly – but rather because they weren't being conducted at all. Had the Separatist had any sort of proper military leadership in place yet? Unlikely, if what Kenobi said was true.

And how had Kenobi achieved that particular position so fast after leaving the Order? He'd certainly joined Dooku's cause when they'd met in Geonosis, so it has been in the works for nearly a month now. But two weeks of that time had been spent in Seclusion on Naboo with Anakin Skywalker. When the hell had the man had any time to acquire any sort of military knowledge?

"He told me about stuff, that happened to him when he was padawan," Skywalker had admitted to the Council, after much avoiding and hemming and hawing. "What sort of stuff? Well, just… stuff. Kind of awkward stuff, really. Like… couple of times when he almost left Jedi Order…"

Trying to get a straight answer from Skywalker had been like trying to get a protocol droid to dance – awkward and clunky and almost physically impossible. The one thing they had gotten out of Skywalker about his and Kenobi's Seclusion, which had seemed important… had been mention of Melida/Daan.

A small incident in grand scheme of things – even on a Jedi's career, it was barely a blip. But as a young padawan, barely a padawan at all in fact, Kenobi had left the Order. Mace hadn't yet been a Master on the High Council yet, and Kenobi's past hadn't ever been terribly interesting to him – just the fact that Qui-Gon was his Master made Kenobi troublesome enough to careful keep an eye on. Surely nothing in Kenobi's past would make it any worse, Mace had thought…

Except after that discussion Mace had looked into it – and Kenobi hadn't just almost left the order. Kenobi had left the Order, he'd been outside it for months and why? To fight a war. And it was only under duress that he returned to the temple at all – once the war had ended, with peace negotiated largely by Qui-Gon.

After that talk with Skywalker and his cursory glance over the incident Reports, Mace had assumed that the incident had left Kenobi perhaps… slight more traumatised than he'd ever let on. He'd been fourteen when he'd fought in the Civil War of Melida/Daan, he'd seen people die – perhaps killed them himself. It wouldn't be surprising, if the event had left scars. So, Mace had assumed that now, with this new war looming… Kenobi had simply been unable to stomach it again and so had turned his back to it.

Except here Kenobi is, the General of the Confederation of Independent Systems and, from what little Mace had seen so far… it's not without cause.

If he would ever get out of this, he would damn well look into Kenobi's past with more length – and pin Skywalker down for a proper interrogation about that damn Seclusion they had. Because the Kenobi that had stood on other side of the force barrier and called him a slaver was definitely not the same man who had meekly bowed his head in the council chambers and bend to their order without a complaint.


 

"Master Windu," a droid's voice comes from the doorways. It's not a battle droid – it's a protocol droid, painted black and red. "It is time for your scheduled transmission. Please wait until the force field deactivates and then follow me."

Mace stands up and waits. The droid does nothing to deactivate the shield, so the controls must be elsewhere, Mace muses and then steps out. Shaak Ti and Aayla Secura both look up from their cells, their expressions grim, but they say anything as Mace follows the protocol droid down the corridor, and out of it.

He could easily crush this droid and try to make his escape. It wouldn't even be an effort – protocol droids haven't exactly been designed to take punishment, all one needs to do is push them over and they'd be useless for the next five minutes.

Mace looks around and behind, at the door closing and locking in place between him and his fellow Jedi and he does nothing. "Are there other Jedi here?" he asks. Ki-Adi-Mundi and the others hadn't been brought to join them – had they gotten away?

"This way, sir," the protocol droid says, and continues on. Ordered not to answer questions then, Mace thinks, and narrows his eyes.

He could try and force it… and then risk the potential disciplinary measures followed by failure. The fact that Kenobi hadn't send battle droids is telling. It's a power move. He believes he has Mace under his control. He doesn't, and yet he does. So as long as the other Jedi remain captured…

Though, would Kenobi punish them in his stead, if he managed to escape?

Mace considers it and then decides against it for now. It wouldn't be worth the risk of losing his chance to transmit to the Jedi Order. If Kenobi indeed has any intention of sending the message – something Mace doubts very much, and will continue doubting until he sees proof.

The protocol droid leads him to a large room and there is Kenobi himself, standing by a hologram table. And on the table is Count Dooku's visage, standing with his arms folded.

"… you're doing," the Count is saying to the young General. "The likelihood of Republic bending to your demands is low to say at least."

"Do have a little trust in me, my lord," Kenobi is smiling a little. "And it's not a demand. It's how things are going to be from here on out – or do you disagree with my conduct so far?"

Dooku strokes a hand over his beard. "You did well on your first battle," he admits. "Better than I thought you would."

"Thank you. It helps to have an utterly inexperienced enemy commander," Kenobi says and shakes his head, glancing Mace's way. "And this was hardly my first battle. Will you allow my rules of engagement stand?"

"I will admit I am curious to see what the Republic will do," Dooku says. "Play this one out, General, and we'll see."

"Thank you, my lord," Kenobi says and bows his head as the transmission cuts off.

Mace narrows his eyes and then steps closer while the protocol droid bows out. "You let me see that on purpose," Mace says suspiciously

"Did I?" Kenobi asks, pressing a few buttons before stepping back from the table. "The Jedi High Council's channel is programmed to four – but feel free to check the ID tags," he says and motions him to go ahead. "You are keyed in to send a one way transmission – not to open a channel."

Of course not. "I don't suppose you'd be willing to give me privacy?" Mace asks wryly.

Kenobi doesn't answer, merely folds his arms.

Shaking his head Mace steps to the table and checks the fourth button's programming – it is indeed the keyed to the Jedi Council's com channels. Taking a breath, Mace presses the button, and the hologram projector begins to scan him.

He still doubts this ever getting to the Council at all, but… might as well make the attempt.

"This is Jedi Master Mace Windu of the Jedi High Council," he begins. "By this time you must be aware of my capture on Hypori so I will skip to the essentials. I am not fully certain of our losses and I haven't had contact with Master Mundi, or Master's Barrek and K'Kruhk – our forces were split before our assault. Master Ti and Knight Secura are well and have suffered no injuries."

Feeling Kenobi's eyes on him, judging him, is distracting. Mace ignores it the best he can and tries not to wonder what the man might be thinking. "The enemy commander here is Obi-Wan Kenobi, now General Kenobi of the Separatist armies. Under his command the droids are conducting themselves differently in battle than they did in Geonosis, using more elaborate defensive strategies. Unprepared to such, our forces were… overwhelmed."

He frowns, hesitating over the last bit he has to report back. With Kenobi there it's… impossible to say it. He can't repeat the man's words and give them true legitimacy. "Master Yoda. Look again into the matter of Master Sifo Dyas – and why the clone armies were build," he settles on saying. "It is… important. With any luck I will be joining you soon and may explain why. If not, then may the Force be with you."

With that said, he bows out of the recording.

"That's it?" Kenobi asks.

Mace casts him a glare and then schools his expression. He won't give him the satisfaction.

"Fine then. Move away from the holotable, please," Kenobi says and Mace backs away while the Separatist General walks up to the table, taking his place by it – and then he opens transmission.

As Mace watches with dismay, the shapes of the Jedi High Council members appear around the table, all of them frowning with unease – and then staring with surprise.

"Since Master Windu doesn't seem to care," Kenobi says rather briskly, clasping his hands behind his back and standing in military attention. "His men are also here and well. Five hundred and eleven clones were captured alive during your unprovoked assault on our facility – the clones suffered total of twenty nine casualties, the bodies of whom we have also recovered from the battlefield. All captured clones have been given medical attention and the clone commanders will be reporting in as soon as the Jedi have made their transmissions."

"Kenobi," someone murmurs in the council – but they don't sound shocked. They already knew, then.

Kenobi ignores their exchanged looks of concern. "I don't know if you've been yet informed, but the captured soldiers and their commanders will be ransomed back to the Republic," he continues, staring at no one in particular. "If you choose to pay you can have them back as soon as within few days. Once the Republic's forces' retreat and cease of hostilities on Hypori will be agreed upon, of course."

"You're selling our people back to us?" Plo Koon asks slowly, grimly.

"I suppose killing them would be simpler for you?" Kenobi asks calmly. "The Confederation of Independent Systems isn't made of barbarians, but it is not as endlessly, opulently rich as the Republic – and keeping prisoners isn't cheap."

"Give them back to us, you should, if such trouble they are," Yoda says with a frown.

Kenobi smiles grimly back at him, and doesn't answer. "I have transmitted my demands to the Republic. But in case you missed it – Republic credits are little use in the Outer Rim, so we will deal in universal currency of platinum," he explains and then begins to list his prices in increasingly sharp tones of demand. "Fifty kilograms of platinum for a Jedi High Council member. Forty for a Jedi Master. Twenty five for a Jedi Knight. Fifteen for a Jedi Padawan. Twelve for clone Marshal Commander. Eleven for clone Senior Commander. Ten for clone Regimental Commander…" and the list goes on, all the way down to Clone trooper, and his one kilogram of platinum price tag.

"You can't do this," someone in the council says, standing up in outrage. "Kenobi, this is too much!"

"This is evil! You can't put a price tag on people!"

"Then you may expect to see your people again only after the conflict is over and we have peace once more," Kenobi says coolly and leans in. "This is war, Masters. There is always a price to pay."

He turns off the transmission and stands there for a moment, staring at nothing while Mace watches him from the side warily. "Not so fun when it's literal, is it?" Kenobi mutters and then glances at Mace. "It takes money to produce the clones – they all come with a price tag and inherent monetary value. Now, so do you."

Mace does a quick calculation in his head, trying to remember how much platinum is worth currently. Fifty kilos of platinum would be… around million credits. Him and Ki-Adi-Mundi, if he was captured as well, together they would be worth two million with these ransom demands. Add to that the three Jedi masters and one knight, and it'd be all together almost five million credits. And then the clones, every single one of whom is now worth twenty thousand credits and, some of whom are higher ranking and worth more…

Mace's shaking hands clench at his sides. All told, their whole group would be now worth over fifteen million credits, most likely more. "Republic will never pay," he says in dawning alarm as he starts to realise the full expanse of Kenobi's plans.

Kenobi smiles. "Well see," he says coolly and nods to the awaiting protocol droid. "Take him back to his cell and then fetch Master Mundi for his transmission."


 

Mace gets to know his cell in the belly of the droid factory far better than he truly likes. He scours every square centimetre of it, trying to find not only something to break but something to take his mind off the damn numbers whirling in his head now.

One million for a Jedi High Council member. Eight hundred thousand, or there about, for a Jedi Master. That was their price tag. A single clone trooper on other hand was worth twenty thousand credits. A high price as well – though not quite as high as the total sum of funds it took to produce a clone trooper.

Kenobi's plan is insidious. He's put a concrete number on their worth and value to this war, and is now forcing the Republic to consider it – and if this war would continue and Kenobi's new – old – ransom system would hold, they would keep the thinking about the value of it. The very real monetary price tag of war.

In his time as Master on the High Council Mace had had to do more to do with the budget of the Jedi Order than he would've liked and he can see where this will very quickly lead. If the Republic ever pays and this becomes a wide spread practice, it will change the economics of this war very fast.

Jedi might become too pricy to put on the field entirely – at the very least the Republic would start regulating which one of them gets put on field. High Council Members certainly wouldn't be put out there again. Jedi Masters would be kept within safe positions. It would be Jedi Knights and Padawans out in the field instead of their Masters – if any at all.

Kenobi doesn't approve their involvement in the war – so he is trying to force them out of it by using the one thing that the Senate still listens to. Money.

However, Mace doubts the Senate will pay at all.

They have clones by the tens of thousands, so the few captured in Hypori do not weight much in grand scheme of things. They could be counted as casualties very easily and simply left where they are. The Jedi might be a tougher to swallow – but with these price tags, this early into the war? It would be too much like giving up, giving into enemy demands… and the Senate is far too proud for that,

And should that become public knowledge, it would force a more worrisome realisation upon the greater Republic. That the Senate did not care about its captured soldiers. And with things being as they are, and with Jedi involved… Senate can't afford that kind of public backlash.

So, one of two things would happen now. Either the Senate would be forced to pay – which they wouldn't… or they would be forced to try and rescue their captured people, even at the risk of them being used as human shields and then becoming collateral damage.

So, Kenobi is forcing Republic either pay or fight – and for the life of him Mace isn't sure which would lead to a worse outcome. Neither one of them is good. Both with have terrible consequences.

"What do you think will happen?" Shaak Ti asks quietly from her cell. "Do you think the Senate will bend to his demands?"

Mace shakes his head silently. Maybe, if the price he put on Jedi heads had been lower… but eight hundred thousand, and million is too steep a price to put on the table this suddenly. Jedi Council could pay for it, perhaps they even would if push came to shove – they have the funds… but would be a bitter pill to swallow even for Jedi.

"I don't understand how he can do this," Aayla says from her cell, unseen from Mace's point of view as their cells are on the same side of the hall. "How can he be so ruthless? When did he become this? I have known Master Kenobi for years, he and his padawan often worked together with my Master and me – he's never been… like this. How can he do this?"

"He thinks he's in the right," Mace says simply. "People who think their cause is justified can do… anything they damn well please and never feel guilty for it."

"But he can't be in the right here. Can he?" Aayla asks desperately. "Can he?" she asks again, quieter, uneasy.

The words, at least I'm not a slaver, echo unheard but loud in the silence that follows, now so much heavier and stranger because of these recent… machinations. Is what Kenobi is doing now slavery? Mace isn't really sure. Putting price on living, sentient beings – putting different price on different people depending on their military worth… it seems like slavery. If nothing else, it was trafficking of sentient lives for profit. And yet…

It's not quite the same is it? Like Kenobi said… they are at war. And already war is turning everything so murky all around them. Including this. And though the fact that Kenobi could've simply had them executed is no justification – you can't justify one amoral act with the lack of a worse one… it is still very real fact.

The droids hadn't been shooting to kill – they'd all been set to stun, on Kenobi's commands. Why?

…less wasteful than just shooting their prisoners dead.

Mace doesn't say anything for a moment, staring at his hands instead, wondering where his lightsaber is – wondering what it really means that he is worth more alive than dead to a man who has declared himself the enemy.

Then he looks up at Shaak Ti. "Does Kenobi feel dark to you?" he asks quietly. "Did either of you feel the darkness within him?"

Shaak Ti frowns a little, folding her hands into the wide sleeves of her robes.

"No," Aayla admits from her cell, unseen. "He feels… strange, but not dark."

"He feels elusive," Shaak Ti says. "Searching his Force is like looking into a foggy mirror – it reflects what I expect to see, but even that faintly. But no, I did not sense darkness within him."

Mace nods, frowning a little. He hadn't either. And he isn't sure what it means.


 

Time passes slowly in the cells, and there is no sight or sound of the outside world. Whatever is happening out there, what kind of negotiations are happening, Mace has no idea. Jedi Master and Council member or not, Kenobi seems to see no point in informing them how the situation proceeds. If it even does.

The waiting isn't nearly as bad as the lack of information. Mace can out wait the best of them – he's a Jedi, his life is meditation, he can handle sitting around doing nothing. Often, he even enjoys it. But to not know anything about what's happening…

They could be having an all out space battle above them for all that he knows. Well, no probably not that – it would echo into the Force and he cannot feel anything that might indicate that the situation had escalated to warfare once more. But that's just one thing that he knows in relatively certain terms is not happening. Million other things could be, and he'd never know.

Mace is used to being the first informed and the last to approve an action and here... here he has no power. It's a humbling experience, to be so helpless, so unable to do anything at all.

"I can feel the clone troopers," Shaak Ti murmurs softly from another bout of meditation. "They are getting anxious but they feel well. No pain, no fear, no anger. Boredom."

"I wonder if they have been allotted with similar accommodations," Aayla wonders. "And similar rights."

"Kenobi's speeches would be left hollow if they weren't," Shaak Ti muses and opens her eyes. "And he meant every word of them."

"Meaning something isn't the same as being truthful about it," Mace warns her.

"Master Kenobi has never been dishonest in nature," Aayla says quietly.

"Things have changed," Mace says grimly. "Change your impression of him accordingly, Knight Secura. I don't think we can rely on what he used to be like."

Aayla says nothing, just sighs.

Mace considers her presence in the force. "Knight Secura, how is it that you know Kenobi so well?" he then asks. "You're younger than him – correct?"

"I wouldn't say I know him well, Master Windu. Master Kenobi and Master Vos have – had a strange relationship," Aayla says quietly. "I suppose you could call them rivals, perhaps. Back when I was still a padawan, my master and I worked often with Master Kenobi and Padawan Skywalker. Our two masters are very different and they do everything so differently and it made all our missions together exciting. I suppose I looked up to Master Kenobi. He's so much more… patient and calm… than Master Vos…" She trails away sadly.

Mace frowns at nothing for a moment, wondering about it. Kenobi is still calm. And judging by the waiting they're now doing, patient too. So that, at least hasn't changed – mores the pity. Calm and patient isn't something Mace particularly enjoys in an enemy.


 

Three times a day, protocol droid brings them food. Once a day, they are taken one by one to an enclosed fresher to wash and shave if need be. Those are the only times their cell doors open. Each time, Mace is tempted to try… something. Crush the droid, try to escape, try and release the others…

However, their cellblock has no door controls, and they have no weapons, no lightsabers, to break through them. And the droids that visit them are always protocol droids – not battle droids. They never bring weaponry in. The doors on either end of the corridor lock not with magnetism, but with analogue mechanisms that imbed locking hooks into the walls – it would take more than Force push to get them open. If he crushed the droid, all he would have is a crushed droid – and still no way out.

Yet, if he did, perhaps another droid would come in to remove the crushed one, and that could be used to escape…

There would be a battle here soon. They don't know when or how it would begin, how valuable keeping them alive would be to either side, but it would be better that once it came to pass, they'd be free again. Staying locked up in cells… is not an option anymore.

Mace plots it out carefully. During trip to the washer, he would crush the droid. That would leave him in the hall, rather than within the force field enclosed cell. Even if the corridor was monitored and they'd see his escape, they would eventually have to get in, if not for any other reason, then to bring them food. Kenobi didn't want to starve them, after all – he was all about treating his unwilling guests right. Eventually, a droid would have to be sent in. And when the doors would open, Mace would rush out of the hall, to the corridor beyond – there he would find the controls for the cellblock and release the others…

He can't communicate the plan with the others, not with the cells monitored – it would give the whole thing away. Instead Mace plays the meek prisoner for another day, until the time comes for him to be allowed into the fresher for a wash – and then he makes his move.

Lifting the droid into the air and crushing it with Force is very satisfying.

"Master?" Shaak Ti asks with surprise from her cell, standing up quickly as Mace throws the droid away.

"The doors are locked," Aayla says, also standing up in her cell. "You can't Force push them – I tried it before."

"I know. But eventually they're going to have to send someone in to feed us," Mace says under his breath and looks up to any potential recording devices. If he could find them, he could destroy them too. "Once they do, I'll be able to get out of here. I'll find controls for the doors and force fields here and get you out as well – after that we'll get the clones and –"

And that's when a small ventilation shaft above his head starts spilling knockout gas at him.


 

"I hope that was fun for you," Kenobi says amusedly from other side of the force field while recently awoken Mace tries to force the pounding headache out of his skull. "Destroying a poor defenceless protocol droid. You got almost as far as the clones did – they managed to make it to the other side of the corridor before they were knocked out."

"Tch," Mace answers and rubs at his forehead.

"Congratulations, by the way," Kenobi says. "The Republic, predictably, refused to pay your ransom. There's going to be a battle here soon, and I will not have it with prisoners under foot. You will be transferred to a permanent prisoner camp, now."

Mace looks up. "Excuse me?" he asks and then Kenobi shows him something that makes his blood run cold.

A set of Force binders.

"You didn't think I'd just keep you in a cell here, cosily waiting to be rescued when Republic launches it's inevitable offensive?" Kenobi asks, arching an eyebrow.

Chapter Text

There are no personal quarters on board the ship they're taken away from Hypori in. It's a retrofitted transport ship, judging by the looks of it designed for short flights of few hours at most, because there are no luxuries – just a row upon row of seats where the Jedi are chained to their seats along with what seems like sea of clones.

"General," the first one of them greets Mace, in strange tones. "We – didn't know for sure that you were still held captive."

"Seems like our fate is same as yours, trooper," Mace answers and watches the battle droid – unarmed, of course, Kenobi isn't about to put a weapon anywhere near where they can grab one – attach his chains to the seat.

"How have you been, trooper?" Shaak Ti asks, while she is chained to her seat as well. "What has this been like for you?"

"It wasn't bad. Cramped quarters, bunk beds, regimented schedule… not so different being on board a ship, really," the trooper says – already chained to his seat by shackles around his wrists and ankles. Their armour has been removed, as has all their gear – they're all only in their black under-armour body gloves. It makes them all look naked and… human.

Mace looks down to the chains on his wrists, now locked onto metal rings at the bottom of his seat. He tests the slack they leave him with – which is not much at all. He wouldn't be able to stand up straight with the chains attached.

"Do you know where they're taking us?" one of the troopers asks. "All we heard is that it's a permanent prison camp."

"Then you know as much as we do," Shaak Ti says. "General Kenobi hasn't seen it fit to inform us any further either."

Mace scowls and leans back against the backrest of his seat. Aayla Secura is chained to her seat, the force binder collar around her neck starkly light against her blue skin, and Mace looks away.

He tries to think of a way to escape. But unless Republic forces attacked now… there is not much they can do. By this time, he's starting to realise how far ahead Kenobi is thinking – and how determined he is to not give them opportunity to rebel. There would be no weapons on board this vessel to try and grab to take the ship. Chances are, if they'd try to so much as pick the locks of their chains – which they wouldn't be able to do anyway, they're all magnetic locks – then the whole group would just be gassed and safely knocked out for the flight.

All they can do, really, the best they can do is wait and see and try and figure out where they're sent. Maybe once there, there would be other opportunities.

The ship jostles under them and somewhere within it engines hum to life.

"Trooper, can you tell me how you were treated?" Shaak Ti asks. "Can you tell me what happened to you after you were captured?"

"Well, we were all knocked out for the most part, ma'am, so we don't know much about the start," the trooper says and tugs at his chains – Mace is no the only one testing their bounds. "We woke up in our cells, few hours later. Some were brought in later though – once they were out of bacta."

"Bacta?" Mace asks, looking up.

"Some guys from the second team got caught in their own grenade blasts," another one of the clone troopers says and then cranes his neck. "Oi, Grisly, can you hear me."

"What?"  Another trooper further to the front asks.

"Show general your arm?"

The other trooper lifts an arm over the heads of other clones – and Mace quickly sees why it isn't chained up. It ends just little under the elbow in a stump already healed to perfection – just smooth healthy skin over the point of amputation.

Mace does a quick calculation on how long they'd been held captive and how long it would take for something like that to be healed. The trooper must've been given not only bacta, but surgery as well, to close up any severed veins and seal the bone. That's…

Actually it only fits with what Kenobi has been preaching, doesn't it? Treatment of troops, and treatment of clones. Mace still keeps expecting to find proof of his dishonesty, but of course Kenobi can't give him that satisfaction.

"Everyone else that got blown up got treated too," the first trooper says. "Some case it took a day or two. I wasn't injured, just knocked out, but I hear I got examined too. Everyone who got knocked out did, I think."

Shaak Ti nods her head slowly, frowning a little. "That is… heartening to hear," she says quietly and then looks at the trooper. "You called that other trooper Grisly?" she then says, curious. "You have names other than your number?"

The clones all sit up a little straighter at that around them, exchanging looks or just looking away. There's a rigidly that comes to the first clone's face that's hard to identify. At first, Mace thinks it looks like shame. But no – it's more akin to stubbornness.

"Well, when everyone looks the same and sounds the same and has similar designation… You got to differentiate somehow," the clone says, in very carefully measured words.

Mace looks his way – and judging by Shaak Ti's expression, he isn't the only one who hears echo of Kenobi's voice in the clone's words.

"Do you have a name then, trooper?" Shaak Ti asks, carefully keeping any judgement she might feel to herself, and only sounding curious.

"… Slick, ma'am," the trooper says and then lifts his chin a little. "My name is Slick."

Shaak Ti reads his expression, the defiance of it, and she smiles. "It's very good to meet you, Slick," she says gently. "I'm sorry I didn't ask your name before, it was rude of me. I am Shaak Ti."

"I know who you are, ma'am," the clone says and then relaxes just minutely. "And… to be fair, ma'am, I don't think we've ever talked before. And I didn't really have a name before," he admits and glances at the other clones – who are watching warily, but also relaxing just a bit now that a Jedi has… refrained from disapproval.

"It's an interesting name, Slick," Shaak Ti says politely. "Does it come from something?"

"Er," Slick says and looks away while another clone near by lets out a snort. "It's from back when we were training – I uh…"

"He's a slippery bastard, ma'am," another clone says. "And we all hated him for it."

"Oh shut your face, Rot," Slick says, looking embarrassed and then turns to Shaak Ti who's brows rise in interest. "He ate rotten rations once on dare," Slick says almost vindictively. "Had to be sent to the infirmary,"

"Tattletale," Rot answers, good natured.

Mace looks away for a moment, searching for the Force – but of course, it's not there. All he feels is the distributive hum of the binder. Even if it wasn't there, he has a feeling that Force probably wouldn't have been much help in trying to figure out the right way react to this, however.

There is a feeling of unease in his belly, though – and it has nothing to do with the awareness that this too is a seed of dissent that Kenobi has sowed amidst the clones. Distinctiveness in an army of duplicates – it seems like dangerous thing, when considered with cold, harsh logic. Like something that might prompt not only individuality and hint of defiance, but insubordination, maybe even rebelliousness. It is, at least in spirit, disobedience. The clones were only given number designation for a reason.

And yet… looking at these people and how defensive the trooper is of his name, it makes Mace wonder if it is actually the only – perhaps the first – thing the trooper has ever owned that is solely his.

Taking a breath, Mace turns to the clone at his side. "How about you, trooper?" he asks. "Do you have a name?"

The clone scowls at nothing for a long moment. "Tally, sir," he then says. "I… chose my name to be Tally."

"It's a pleasure to meet you Tally," Mace says. "Do you mind if I ask where it comes from?"

"I – started to keep track of all the clankers I shot down with tally marks," the clone says and shrugs embarrassedly. "It seemed as good a name as any."

Mace nods slowly, wondering how childish names sounds – and how oddly sad. Reaching for any distinctive moment, something that made them unique, and pinning it down as the one defining feature for themselves. He doesn't even know what to say to it – what do you say to something like this?

"It is a good name, Tally," he says, somewhat awkwardly – it doesn't feel quite enough. It makes the trooper smile, though, makes his eyes shine. Something about the whole thing aches though.

Kenobi is right, Mace thinks and looks away. These men are all slaves.

Around them, the transport jostles, and then they're off.


 

The battle of Hypori is a long and bloody one. Mace doesn't hear about it until later, much later – about how bad it gets, how long it lasts, and how devastating the end result ultimately is.

The Republic launches an all out offensive on the factory – their troops touching down just in time before Separatist ships arrive on orbit and join in the fight. While on the ground the assault of clones, of tanks, of star fighters and even walkers sets out for the factory and the factory starts spilling out droids after droids, in space the Separatists and the Republic engage in their very first proper space battle.

The battle lasts for nearly a full day. By the time it's finished, Mace and all the other prisoners of war have long since been removed from the situation, however. At that time, they never hear any of it. The losses are catastrophic.

Another four thousand clone troopers are captured by Separatist forces during the battle – while in space, two Venators are disabled and one is destroyed, killing over seven thousand souls on board. According to Separatist propaganda that Mace hears later, Kenobi kept calling for a ceasefire throughout the whole battle and kept getting rejected at every turn.

In the end, though, the droid factory is destroyed and estimated twenty thousand battle droids are disabled. Republic totes it as a great victory, while Separatist call it terrible waste and horrible loss of human lives for machines. In the end, the Republic losses at the Battle of Hypori reach over ten thousand – plus three Venator Class Star Destroyers, two of which are evacuated and are then captured by the Separatist forces.

It's the loss of lives that Separatist propaganda concentrates on, however.

Separatists' side did not loose a single life – and they do not count the destroyed droids as casualties. It makes for some stark numbers, when reported by their news casters. Republic ones just compare clones to droids – which, if captured prisoners of war are discounted, puts Separatist losses higher.

Watching those reports makes Mace feel vaguely ill.

In the end Republic fails to retrieve their captured soldiers who remain prisoners of war under the care of the Confederation of Independent Systems while the aftermath of the Battle of Hypori – and the backlash of the ensuing publication of the results of it – reshapes the entire war.


 

The prisoner camp they're taken is on a rough planet they're never given the name or the coordinates of, or even the general location. It's somewhere in the Outer Rim, that much is obvious just from the night sky, however, and the how sparse the stars are around the streak of light that is the Inner Core of the Galaxy. It makes for a beautiful night sky, especially since there is no light pollution to block it.

The planet is wild and untamed – recently added to some system that's within Confederation's purview, Mace suspects. There are no cities, there aren't even any settlements – there is only the camp, and a weekly drop of supplies to the camp.

Ki-Adi-Mundi is there, along with Barrek and K'Kruhk, and, Mace is somewhat dismayed to find, they've been there for longer.

"General Kenobi started shipping people out of Hypori pretty much immediately," Ki-Adi-Mundi explains when Mace is finally released of his shackles and has the chance to greet his fellow High Council member. "My self and number of clones were the first ones sent here."

"He tricked me," Mace mutters.

"How so?"

"I thought you were still in Hypori," Mace admits and sighs. "If I knew you weren't, I would've tried harder to escape. Why did he send you here early?"

"I requested it," Ki-Adi admits and clasps his hands behind his back. "When I asked after our troops and found out they were being sent off world, I requested I be sent with them. General Kenobi allowed it."

Mace frowns a little at that and then looks away. He'd never once asked after the troops – would it really have been so easy? If he had, if he had shown… interest and concern over the troops, would Kenobi have given him allowances as well?

Perhaps, he thinks grimly. But Mace hadn't, and so Kenobi had treated him with equal amount of respect as he'd given to his men.

"We are glad to see you well, Master Mundi," Shaak Ti says to the silence as Mace ponders on it. "But this doesn't look like what we were expecting," she admits, looking around in the camp. "How is this a prison?"

Mundi sighs and looks around. "There are no ships here, no communications relays, the only way to contact outside is via by one way transmissions which are monitored and probably censored. We get messages back though – I've gotten several from the High Council – so at least we know our messages are getting through. Any information we try to relay on what we've figured out about our location is taken out from our messages, however."

"You're allowed communication?" Mace asks with surprise.

"We even get holonet – read only, though," Ki-Adi says. "I know the place looks rough, but we've been given lot of unexpected luxuries, considering that this place is a prison."

It does look rough. Most of the camp is made of tents, with array of ready made shelters between them which look like they've been just dropped out of orbit and left where ever they happened to land. There are hand made signs marking each one out – Communications, Recreation, Commissary – "Cantina?" Mace asks with surprise. "Really?"

"Mmm," Ki-Adi nods. "Come, I will show you around."

The camp is… surprising. There are no walls, no boundaries – there need not be, after all, since they seem to be the only ones on the planet. There is a sort of perimeter though, created by the stomping of hundreds of feet that have crushed the grass under them, creating pathways around the camp.

Ki-Adi shows them the facilities Kenobi has given them – and there are plenty of them. They've been given several units of sonic fresher, and one more luxurious steam room which, according to Ki-Adi, they've set rotation of use with so that everyone gets a go at least once a week. Communications unit is a round metal building and only has a single holotable – apparently everyone gets to sent one message a day if they choose to – and receive as many as they're sent. Most Clones, after making their initial reports, don't bother with communications at all, though.

And why would they? They have no one out there to send messages to, Mace thinks grimly.

The Recreation is also a dome, with not only a holotheatre and several holonet terminals, but also a number of games, Dejarik tables and so on. There are several clones there on what seems to be downtime, watching movies or playing games – some, judging by the looks of it, are watching news on holonet

Commissary is a basic canteen where everyone eats – for free, Ki-Adi points, which makes Mace frown.

"That sounds like something isn't free here," he comments.

"The Cantina isn't free," Ki-Adi admits.

"But… we came here with nothing," Aayla says. "How do they expect us to be able to pay?"

Ki-Adi clasps his hands behind his back and considers them for a moment. "From what we can gather, this planet is slated for colonisation," he says then and continues on, nodding them to continue. "Or at least settlement. We're the first ones here, but the plan likely is to one day settle other people here. To that end…"

He nods up ahead – where there is a dome with a sign that reads Employment on top of its entrance.

"There are number of jobs to be had around here," Ki-Adi says thoughtfully. "Clearing the land, building, setting up farms, and so on and so on, the basic tasks of preparing a planet for settlement. They are all voluntary, no one is forced to work – but if they do… they are paid for it."

Shaak Ti hums quietly as they eye the building. "Have any taken the opportunity?"

"We've tested the waters, doing small tasks, clearing small areas of the forest," Ki-Adi admits. "We've given tools for it when we do, and we're paid by the hour. It's not much, granted, as far as I can judge suitable fees for such things… but…"

He looks at a small group of clones, loitering not far from them, who are casting thoughtful looks at the employment office.

"But it is more than anyone has ever paid these people," Aayla finishes quietly.

"Quite so," Ki-Adi agrees.

Aside from those buildings, there is also one for an infirmary – with a droid doctor, naturally – and another for a gym, which is packed to the brim with clones exercising. According to Ki-Adi, they're still adding in buildings – the gym had been a most recent addition, and judging by the sound of it, it had been added in n some clone's request.

They are still prisoners and not getting off the planet easily. All the technology on the planet has been carefully selected – and then shielded – so that it couldn't be used to plan escape or send unmonitored messages. Aside from heavily monitored single transmissions and the carefully restricted holonet connection, all communications on the planet are blocked. According to Ki-Adi, there are also satellites monitoring the place constantly.

It's a prison without walls, though, one with array of comforts and distractions and all their basic needs met. They can come and go as they please; they can even just walk into the forest and just leave the whole thing behind if they want. So far, no one has, but the opportunity is there any time they choose to utilise it. There is a strange kindness to it.

"This place is designed to hold us for months," Shaak Ti says quietly.

"No," Ki-Adi says with a sigh. "It's designed to hold us indefinitely, if need be. We've been encouraged to start farming – in case something happens and the Confederation can't send any more shipments in on time. We've already been given all necessary tools and whole array of seeds and seedlings. According to recent transmissions, we should be getting couple of green houses soon, too, and we've been encouraged to learn how to tend to them, just in case."

Mace runs a hand over his scalp. "I expected worse," he admits. "And somehow this is even worse than that."

"How so?" Ki-Adi asks with a slight frown.

"This place isn't just designed for long duration – it's designed for expansion. And from what you're saying, it is being expanded constantly," Mace says grimly. "Kenobi is preparing for thousands and thousands of prisoners."

And they all know where those prisoners will be coming from.


 

And thousand and thousands of prisoners they get. They start arriving from Hypori just few days after them, dropped down on to the planet on containers which, once they've landed, become new shelters. From them they hear about how the battle of Hypori went first hand. From them, they learn how badly Kenobi had schooled the Republic in art of War.

It was a learning experience for all of them, worse even than the battle of Geonosis.

"Gone over General Kenobi's records we have, and talked with Knight Skywalker on the matter. Accuse us of forcing his Master to conform Knight Skywalker did," Yoda tells them grimly in another recorded transmission from Coruscrant. "Hidden many of his interests General Kenobi has, in favour of presenting the appearance of a perfect Jedi. Suspect we do that for years studying war in secret he has been. Look into the Melida/Daan incident we did – suspect we do that correct Knight Skywalker might be. Since that time discontent with the Jedi Order Obi-Wan Kenobi might have been."

"They made Skywalker a knight," Ki-Adi-Mundi murmurs. "That is... surprising. And early."

"They're going to try and temper Kenobi's actions by setting him against his own student," Mace muses.

"Why do you think that?"

"It's what I would have done – if I hadn't met the man recently," Mace says. "It's seems like viable plan, nor many masters will go all out against their students, even after they've been knighted. Kenobi won't hold back, though."

"He might," Aayla says. "They are very fond of each other."

"Kenobi is fond of the clones – didn't stop him from shooting them down by the hundreds and thousands. As it is, his strategies are defensive, he's not the one to attack first," Mace points out. "Besides, the likelihood of Skywalker going all out on Kenobi is even less likely than Kenobi going easy. Just consider what Kenobi is doing now."

"And what Skywalker was," Aayla agrees with a sigh.

"Should we advice them against sending Skywalker onto the field?" Ki-Adi wonders.

"Kenobi might not go easy on him but the resulting clash might teach us something new. And Skywalker is not only Kenobi's student but one of the brightest pada – knights of the Order. He might very rise up to the occasion," Mace admits with a sigh. "As it is, from here we are working on incomplete information spoon fed to us through heavy scrutiny and censorship. We don't have all the facts and can't really offer informed input. I'm afraid that until we get out of here, we won't be much use at all."

There was a moment of silence between them as they eyed the frozen recording of their Grandmaster.

"Do you think they will ever pay our ransom, Master Windu?" Barrek asks, looking at Mace.

Mace runs a hand over his chin. "The Senate won't pay until they absolutely have to. And with the clone army, that point won't come anytime soon," he says grimly. "However, if more Jedi are captured, if another High Council member is captured... then it might become unavoidable for the Jedi Order. They might have to go out their way to pay ransoms for us themselves."

"Which then will put forth an awkward precedence," Ki-Adi comments and glances at the doorway. "I'm sure you all have realised we are far from General Kenobi's top priority."

"The care he has for the clones is... heartening," Shaak Ti comments. "If confusing in its origin."

Mace hums and doesn't answer. For a long while he suspected it was only a convenient thing to blame them for, a reason to fight them all the while giving Kenobi a supposed moral superiority. Now though... it's one thing to claim sympathy – another to set up a comfortable prison colony with all their needs met and with plenty entertainment. More so, paid employment.

It's a small thing to a man used to the luxury of a Jedi Temple where every need is naturally, expectedly met – to the clones, this might be the best treatment they have yet gotten.

Now the question is... are the clones capable of defecting to enemy side? Mace doesn't know. Before he would have said no. Before, he didn't know any clones on personal level – now he does, and the discovery of how much their personalities can wary, how different their values can be…

They are extremely loyal – but they aren't automatons. And Kenobi is giving them an unforeseen kindness.

One thing is for certain though – if Jedi are released and clones kept imprisoned? The odds of clone defection will rise drastically


 

The first few days in the camp are tense and strange. It's odd to go from being prepared for war and fighting… to go to a life of waiting, life of just sitting around and doing nothing. Though, of course, they don't simply do nothing.

As the Jedi watch, the clones efficiently scour every inch of the camp for anything useful. They almost dismantle the Communications centre just in case they might be able to make a transmitter out of its components and the Recreation hub almost suffers a similar fate, but cursory examination determines that it's more valuable doing what it's doing rather than sitting around dismantled. No one in the camp wants to risk their few precious sources of entertainment.

They spend nights on end scanning the night sky to try and identify their location. The Jedi join this, but though they can roughly identify certain particularly bright stars and clusters – and the angle of the streak of light that's the Galactic Core puts them near the very outer reaches of the Outer Rim, their estimated location covers an area hundreds of light years in every direction. It's not a particularly precise piece of star navigation.

And even that much information never gets through the censorship of communications. The Jedi Council always let's them know when they get an edited message – "unfortunately part of you message didn't come through " – and it's every single time Mace tries to slip in any key information. Even when coded, it gets tampered with – so eventually Mace stops bothering with that.

He concentrates, instead, on trying to get the damn collar off.

It's a solid piece of metal, with no seams and no visible nuts of bolts – nothing to get as much as a knifes edge in. One of the clones who has an employment – and who therefore has access to tools – tries to cut Aayla's collar with bolt cutters but they don't make as much as a scratch.

"Whatever this stuff is, I don't think we can cut through it," Bly admits grimly. "Looks like the stuff you make starship's armour with. We'd need a plasma torch to cut it – and we don't get access to those. They're not something I'd like to put to your neck anyway, General. I'm sorry."

"No, I would rather not have a plasma torch anywhere near my neck either," Aayla says with a faint laugh and shakes her head. "Thank you for trying, Commander."

"How do these things work anyway? Isn't the Force like..." Tally wiggles his fingers at the Jedi. "You know?"

"They have shards of kyber crystals in them," Shaak Ti explains. "With energy current running through them. It creates a sort of disruptive field – think of it as our communications being blocked."

"It's like being forced to experience life through a foggy lens and missing an arm – no offence meant of course, Grisly," Mace says.

"None taken, General," Grisly says, giving Aayla uneasy look as she rubs at the silver shaded collar around her neck. "I don't get why you guys gotta be collared like this, though. What's so bad about letting you have the Force – or however that works? You'd still be just as stuck here as the rest of us."

"We still have the Force, the Force is eternal and everywhere – we simply cannot connect to it with the interference from these," Shaak Ti says, and touches the collar which is only barely visible under her cloak. "And the reason is quite simple. If we could connect to the Force normally, our Grandmaster would be able to find us."

The clones look at her with surprise and she explains. "All things are connected with and by the Force. Our connection to it is... noticeable to those who share our sensitivity with the Force and are trained in its use. The Grandmaster of our Order, Yoda, is the strongest of us and he can trace our presence within the Force – no matter how far from him we are.

"It's one of the requirements of becoming the Grandmaster," Mace adds. "There are other reasons to binding us like this, I imagine, but to our predicament that would be the most important one." Other probably forcing them to an equal footing with the clones, to share this experience just like them – without Force's soothing presence cushioning the fall.

Looking at the clones and their dark expressions, though... it might end up being double edged sword for Kenobi. They're all imprisoned here all stuck on same world – but only the Jedi are forced to wear collars. It hasn't escaped the clones' notice.

... unless of course that too was all part of Kenobi's plan. Honestly though, how far can one man's machinations go?




Days pass, and turn to weeks. Hundreds of prisoners turn into thousands of prisoners, as the Battle of Hypori is cleaned up and all the captured prisoners of war are sent to join their earlier fellows in the prison colony. As they do, the camp expands, with more shelters, more tents, more everything added in. It stops looking like a mere camp and starts looking like a beginning of a frontier town.

More and more clones start taking up some small jobs at the camp. There's always little something to be done, be it making a stretch of road, or clearing out another bit of forest for the camp's expansion. They are now starting to farm, and with the green houses added in – and more being sent in every so often – and some clones have taken up jobs tending to them. Shaak Ti joins them often, while Aayla Secura has joined the foresters and is quickly getting the hang of handing the machinery required to haul away the logs.

They are becoming closer and closer with the clones. Aayla and Bly are all but inseparable now, and by now almost every single clone on the camp knows that if they need something from a Jedi, Shaak Ti is the one to go to. The other Jedi are finding themselves in similar situations – including Mace.

The work around the camp isn't quite enough to keep the clones entertained though. They are literally bred for military action, and some of that seems to be keyed to their very genes – and the peaceful existence of the camp does not seem ideal for them. They get antsy and anxious and eventually irritable – and, inevitably, it starts affecting the atmosphere of the camp.

The first time a fight breaks out between the clones, it's nothing serious, barely a scuffle.

The second time a clone is knocked out, one suffers a broken nose, and somehow a clone who had nothing to do with the whole thing got a broken rib.

After the third time, Mace decides it's time to do something about it. And the fact that he is starting to feel a little cooped up in the camp is probably a factor to how he decides to go about it.

"I don't suppose you two could use those tools of yours to fashion me a couple dozen practice sabers?" he asks Aayla and Bly.

"Why?" Aayla asks worriedly while Bly looks him thoughtfully.

"I'm… bored," Mace admits almost embarrassedly. "And honestly curious if these men will pick up saber skills as fast as they seem to pick up everything else," he adds and cast a look at Tally and Grisly, who are arms wrestling near by – Grisly with his lone remaining hand has become something of an arm wrestling champion in the camp.

"They can never use a lightsaber," Aayla comments. "It is impossible to do safely without the guidance of the Force."

"Maybe not," Mace shrugs. "But it definitely can't hurt. And like said… I'm starting to get bored."

Mock-up lightsaber skills turns out to be surprisingly popular among the clones. Or maybe there is nothing surprising about it. They are warriors, after all. And though sparring with them with the use of wooden poles isn't quite like sparring a Jedi with a lightsaber, it is… certainly something.

Somehow, Mace isn't surprised in the least that of all the clones, Grisly picks the skills up fastest.


 

"Dire the situation is becoming," Yoda's recorded form speaks grimly. "Joining the Confederation of Independent systems more and more planets are. Anxious the Senate is to stop this. Inevitable the escalation of the war now seems. I'm afraid need you we do, Master Windu. To this end pay your ransom the Jedi Council will."

Windu watches the message several times in a row and then stands still by the holotable, scowling at the Grandmaster's visage.

There is dirt under his fingernails and a bruise on his cheek from recent bout of sparring with the clones. Outside he can hear the snap of wooden poles against each other and further still the sound of machinery, as some clones continue building roads and setting up foundations for new buildings, as Aayla and the others clear the forest.

There is a scent in the air, freshly cooked food. Their first harvest from the green houses is in – some of the clones are trying their hand at cooking.

Mace closes his eyes for a moment and then presses his finger on the reader. "Mace Windu. I want to send a message."

"Mace Windu, confirmed," the holotable answers in a robotic voice. "You have one message slot open – your maximum message length is two minutes. Please know that your message will be on hold until review and will be sent once it's has been reviewed and approved. Please enter recipient."

"Jedi High Council in Coruscant."

"Message to Jedi High Council in Coruscant. You may begin when ready."

Mace looks ahead as the holotable scans him. "I strongly advice against paying my ransom," he says quietly. "Not unless you are also paying the ransoms of everyone captured by the Separatists. If you can possible avoid it, do not single the Jedi out. The consequences will be too severe if you do," he hesitates and then straightens his back, making a decision.

If he got released now, it would not only send the worst possible message – but it would prove Kenobi right. And damn it, the man might be right, but Mace isn't about to give him that satisfaction, nor isn't he about to let the Jedi council shoot them all in the foot. As it is…

Mace can't just leave. Not now. Not anymore.

"Masters, I'm sorry," he says to the recorder and takes a deep breath, resigning himself to his new fate – his new future. "I respectfully decline the opportunity to be released."

Chapter Text

It's good to stand on a line again. They might not be wearing proper armour, or look much like soldiers. Most of them aren't even wearing the body gloves anymore, having switched over to wearing overalls and work clothes of the camp instead to keep the body gloves from being ruined by whatever labour they're doing around base camp. But it's good to stand in line, in formation – in order.

It's been a long… long down time on the prisoner camp. Maybe not long for a Jedi, they seem to be perfectly fine sitting around doing nothing, lot of the time they do exactly that. But for a clone… Lot of them had gone straight from Kamino to fight on Hypori to being captured and sent to the POW camp – the juxtaposition of preparing for a short life filled with action to spending a long stretch of time in this lull is weird and startling.

So, when General Windu calls them to order to hear what he has to say – it's weirdly welcome.

"The Jedi Council has informed me that they will be paying the ransom of number of us here," the General opens, brisk and to the point. "Unfortunately they do not have the funds to pay all our ransoms, our number are high, but they are going to get as many of us as they can."

He looks displeased.

The Jedi takes a breath and then motions to the other Jedi. "All the Jedi here have refused to be ransomed," he says. "Unfortunately Master Mundi and myself have been given little choice on the matter, the Jedi High Council demands our return. But Masters Shaak Ti, Barruk and K'Kruhk and Knight Secura will remain here. Their ransoms will be used also used to release clones instead. Therefore, the total sum of funds comes to three million and nine hundred – enough only to get a total of hundred and ninety five troopers released… or twenty four captains.

"We Jedi can't make the decision on which one of you is worthy of going – especially seeing that most of you men must stay," Windu continues and clasps his hands behind his back. "To that end we leave the decision up to you. There is only certain amount of funds to be used to release people here, and we have different ransom demands depending on our ranks, so… it won't be easy decision. Whether you want to do it by voting, we leave the decision up to you.

"I'm sorry I don't have better news," Windu says apologetically. "If I could I would rather all of us were released – but some is at least better than none."

He falls quiet for moment while the news settle – but their discipline is still, even after all this time, perfect, and no one says anything. Windu nods. "You have two days to decide," he says. "Our transport arrives in thirty six hours. Dismissed."


 

There are lot of clones who refuse the chance to go outright, taking themselves out of the pool of candidates.

"I don't have much to offer that any other clone here can't bright to the table," they say, or, "If my whole squad is not going, then I'm not going either." All perfectly understandable reasons, that no one argues against.

Slick kind of wants to stay too. Not necessarily because he has nothing to offer – he is a clone captain, and he's been going around the camp in rotation, testing out every occupation the protocol droids in the employment centre have to offer. He knows the ins and outs of the place better than most, and he's been watching and listening the generals too, so his views of the whole thing might be little more… informed than that of his brothers.

Most clones here still think the place is just a prisoner camp, maybe a future colony at best. Even the Jedi probably haven't realised how damn well it's been designed specifically for clones. Every addition to it has only made it better. The only thing the place is missing now is firing range and obstacle course and maybe battle simulator and it'd be like Kamino. Only better. And Slick has a feeling the addition of an obstacle course and a simulation room are just inevitable at this point.

So, he's pretty sure he's figured out stuff about this place others haven't yet considered. It would be valuable information to people outside in figuring out the actual reasons for the whole thing. Not that it's hard to figure it out. It's all there, all these tactics – all over history texts and recordings, if you go out looking. And Slick had. He had top damn marks on military history back in Kamino, and one thing they have unrestricted access to over holonet… are history books.

Kenobi is trying to convert them and make them desert. And that's the damn problem Slick has. Because he's pretty sure the guy has already succeeded on him – he doesn't really want to go.

"I think you should be one of the guys to go," Grisly says, making Slick look up from his hands.

"Yeah?" Slick asks.

"You're one of our better captains. And you're… you know," Grisly motions at him. "Top of the class teacher's pet slimy son of a bitch."

"Don't call my vat a bitch, she's a beautiful sleek lady," Slick answers automatically, to hide the indecision.

Grisly smiles faintly and sits down beside him. "Made you, didn't she?" he says and nudges his shoulder against Slick's. "You should go. You're smart – you can figure it out."

"Figure what out?"

"I don't know. Kenobi, maybe," Grisly says and tilts his head back to peer up at the sky. "That guy isn't at all like they taught us. He isn't at all like the Jedi either. He's like… you know back when we had Jango teach us, about Mandalorian wars? About the great generals – and about the Mandalore?"

Slick looks at him and then turns his eyes back to his hands, calloused from using tools rather than blasters. "You think Kenobi is the Mandalore?" he asks with a frown.

"If it was still a thing and covered the whole galaxy… yeah," Grisly says and glances at him. "Or if nothing else, he's making a damn good bid for it. That guy is…" he searches for words and then just shakes his head, unable to put to words.

"Yeah," Slick agrees quietly, because yeah, he gets it. "He really is."

They'd all been watching – not just the aftermath of Hypori, but the battles since. Whether their access there is unrestricted is hard to say, they can't exactly know what bits of news are being omitted. But if Kenobi is doing what Slick thinks he's doing, and if he's doing it how Slick thinks he's doing it, then he doubts they're being restricted on this front at all. Lies, even ones of omission, won't work to Kenobi's advantage after all.

Kenobi is dominating the battlefield. And it's obvious why. It's not just because the guy is a decent military leader – and he's more than decent. But the Jedi…

Slick looks up. Barruk is sitting with some clones weaving together a net made of what looks like vines for… whatever purpose. Windu is, once more, sparring with number of clones, one on ten fight which he handing pretty well, if not dominating with the same ease he did in the beginning. Both of them are chatting as they do it, Barruk talking quietly with the clones while Windu gives instructions and the occasional encouragement and even a rare compliment.

Slick has some mixed feelings about the Jedi. He likes them as people, now that he actually knows they are people under all of that Jedi nonsense. But they are useless as military leaders.

Windu walked them head long into an ambush after what to Slick had looked like several warning signs that they were against something new. Ki-Adi-Mundi and the others did the exact same damn thing without a second thought. And the clones had followed them blindly, had trusted them because… because they were told the Jedi knew what they were doing.

They'd been made to follow the Jedi, to trust them and follow their orders. But the Jedi aren't military. Not only are they unfamiliar with the structure of military, they know next to nothing about tactics or warfare in general – and they don't know how to lead men. Sure they can point and finger and say, go there, do that. They can even trust the clones to know what to do in that case. But ordering people around – and leading them… are two different things.

The only reason Slick hasn't gone out his way to… do something about them is because it turns out they're just as blind to their own uselessness as were the clones. The Jedi are used to be the best warriors of the Galaxy, they're used to being respected and listened to, used to winning every battle. They're Jedi, after all. The peacekeepers of the galaxy. That got them lot of power and influence. And they'd thought – same as apparently everyone else – that was equal to being good leaders for men.

The Jedi here are realising now how wrong they are about that – though slowly. They're also starting to see clones as something else than as expendable cannon fodder, which is a funny realisation to have in hindsight. Like everyone else, Slick hadn't realised what that really meant. What it meant to be taught… that they're all expendable.

Not until Kenobi stood in front of them, and asked for their names, and for their surrender.

Out there though…

Judging by how the first few battles of the war are going, out there the Jedi are still considered the end all be all authority on warfare. And it would get so many clones killed and captured when they'd be thrown against Kenobi – who is a General and actually knows what the hell he's doing.

Slick clasps his hands together and feels Grisly's eyes shift to him again. "I guess I'll put my name forward," Slick says and stands up.

"Thanks," Grisly says and looks towards Windu, who is showing bunch of clones couple of parries. "Hey Slick?"

"Hm?"

"When we got first captured, you got knocked out, right?"

Slick looks down at him and arches an eyebrow. "Yeah, I did, same as everyone else," he says and then hesitates, looking at Grisly's arm. "Wait, you weren't?"

Grisly runs a hand over his stump and turns his eyes down. "I was still conscious when the droids surrounded us, I was conscious when they took us in. They knocked me out eventually though, and I woke up in cell six hours later, no longer spewing blood everywhere thankfully…" he trails away and then shakes his head, looking up at Slick. "I don't know if it means anything, but there were hundreds of medical droids there and hundreds of gurneys. Almost enough for a droid for every clone – there definitely were enough gurneys for all of us."

"That's… weird. Maybe they'd produced them at the place?" Slick asks thoughtfully.

"It didn't look like it," Grisly answers and leans in a little, talking quietly. "And also I've been asking around. No one knows for sure, but I think we all were knocked out for at least four hours. That's a long time to be knocked out just from a stun shot, you know?"

Slick frowns. "Why haven't you told this before," he asks quietly.

"I didn't think it was important, just… a bit weird," Grisly admits. "Later I figured it was just extension on Kenobi's POW policies, making sure everyone got medical treatment right anyway. I don't know."

Slick runs a hand over his chin and then nods. "Thanks for letting me know," he says, wondering. "It might be important."

"Well, if anyone can figure it out, it'll be you probably," Grisly nods and stands up. "Now then. I feel like beating up a Jedi," he says, rolling his lone remaining wrist and setting out towards Windu and the sparring group.

"Yeah, good luck with that," Slick snorts, and then turns to head for the makeshift office they set up, to hand in his application to being released.


 

The transport that comes in is an unarmed one with only unarmed astromech droids as crew – now weapons, and no humanoid controls, nothing to take over. Automated voice directs the selected prisoners in, testing the Jedi's finger prints, DNA scans and voice imprints, and reading the Clone's wrist codes to make sure only the right people get on board.

Not that they even try to take the ship over – they've all by now figured better than to think Kenobi would ever give them that sort of opportunity.

Slick takes a seat in the ship, looking around. There are seats for more people than are actually present. In total only hundred and ten clones are getting their release – of which ninety four are regular troopers, others are higher ranking officers. Choosing between numbers and between ranks had been hard, so they'd done a compromise – choosing as few higher ranks as they could.

Slick is one of only 5 captains to get released – and though they had others of higher ranks in the camp, only one battalion commander was chosen. Everyone else declined the offer, because one battalion commander is worth nine regular troopers in the messed up rankings of their ransoms.   

"What do you think will happen now, sir?" the trooper at Slick's left side asks, frowning in concentration as he clips his seatbelt on.

"I don't know. The money – or the platinum – has probably exchanged hands already," Slick answers. "Chances are they're going to drop us off somewhere where the Republic forces can pick us up. After that we'll probably get questioned about our time on the planet, what we figured out about its location, and so forth. Eventually, we go back to our duties, reassigned to near posts."

"If you men don't have any complaints, I am going to have you with me," General Windu says from his seat, little further ahead on the row. "In my battalion."

Slick frowns a little, while the battalion commander – Tracks – says, "I think we'd like that, sir," quietly.

And he's not entirely wrong. After what they've been through, being put under some other Jedi except one of the guys from the prison planet… to seems wrong. And yet, working under General Windu especially… Well, maybe he'd learned enough by now to know what a terrible commander he is – and would do better in future. As it is though, Slick can't say he's looking forward to it. All things considered, Windu, like all the Jedi, are still no military commanders.

Slick closes his eyes and sighs. Everything seems to be teeter on the edge now, he muses. Lot of things have changed.

Time would tell which way they'd tip over when everything finally came crashing down.


 

They aren't taken to some independent, neutral system to wait for a Republic pick up, it turns out. Where they've taken is impossible to say – it's not like they're privy to the flight plans, and the ship has nothing in way of view ports so there's no saying which area of the galaxy they jump to. But, the feel of being brought into another, larger ship's hanger – that's unmistakeable.

"We're on board a cruiser," Slick murmurs.

"A Star Destroyer?" the clone at his side – Retcon – asks quietly.

"Doubt it."

"Landing procedures complete. Please step out of the transport in orderly fashion," an automated voice of the transport says and slowly everyone unbuckles their belts and gets up. Ki-Adi-Mundi goes ahead of everyone else, and after him the clones file out of the ship in orderly pairs, automatically falling into a march.

Slick steps out soon too, and has a quick glance around. A separatist warship, obviously – the hangar bay is full of droids and droid star fighters, all in near, mechanical lines. Slick has ever seen the new droid star fighters in action, but he's seen the news reports and heard them being used in the space battle over Hypori – apparently they change shapes.

Then he sees the people waiting for them, and forgets all about the droids.

General Kenobi stands there, in his black and red military uniform, looking as neat and firm as he did the day he informed them of their future internment at the prison camp. At his side is a young, bald woman in similar uniform, though while Kenobi has a red sash that runs across his chest from left shoulder to right hip, the woman has her sash around her waist.

"General Kenobi," Ki-Adi-Mundi says, while the clones fall into military lines, and Windu steps forward, to join Mundi at the head of the group.

"General Mundi, General Windu," Kenobi says, with a faint smile. "Congratulations on your release. It took longer than I expected."

"Well, you have rather muddled the politics of it all, haven't you, Kenobi?" Windu answers, looking at the woman at Kenobi's side curiously. "A new apprentice?" he asks, glancing down to her waist and up again, eyes narrowed.

Kenobi smiles a little and motions to the woman. "This is Commander Asajj Ventress," he says and the woman bows sharply. "She is indeed learning under me but not the way you assume, I believe."

"Is not really their business, is it?" Ventress mutters.

"Now now, Asajj," Kenobi says, amused. "We must try to be civil."

"Must we, indeed?" She doesn't sound particularly amused – or civil – but she mimics Kenobi's posture and falls silent again, staring at them with cool sort of interest. If Kenobi is teaching her how to be a military commander…

Slick carefully presses her face to his memory, just in case.

"Hmm," Windu answers with an arched brow and folds his arms. "Right. I thought we were being released; why are we here?"

Kenobi arches an eyebrow. "I assumed you'd all want your gear back," he says and motions behind them. There are dozens of crates there, couple of which one of the droids standing guard opens.

Inside each crate is neatly arranged clone armour, looking just as they had the day they'd been captured. Off hand Slick can't see his own armour among the few revealed, but judging by the sharply drawn breaths, there are clones among them who recognize theirs.

"It should be all there and accounted for," Kenobi says and turns to the woman at his side. "Also – if you would, my dear."

"Right," she answers and steps back, going to get something from the tables where the crates sit. She comes back with a smaller container and opens it while holding it out to the two Jedi.

Inside are two lightsabers, sitting on a bed of black packing foam.

"That's…" Windu frowns a little. "I'm not sure why I'm even bothering to be surprised. Kenobi, you live to be confusing, don't you?"

"If it works," Kenobi answers calmly and motions them to go ahead and take them, not looking least bit worried about handing his enemies weapons. And why would he, Slick wonders, when they're surrounded by the man's armies. Then he glances down at Kenobi's waist.

The Separatist general too has a lightsaber at his side – and so does the woman who has now stepped back to his side. She has two in fact. Both of them have are similarly designed lightsabers, sleek silver and black, though hers are oddly curved while Kenobi's is straight.

"The crates are all marked by clone designations," Kenobi says, motioning to the armours as he turns to address the clones instead while the droids close the crates again. "So if someone would kindly go and read them out, we can start distributing everyone's possessions back to them."

There's a moment of hesitation – and then Slick steps forward. The ranks close in after him as he marches over to the crates and looks them over. They are indeed all of them marked with clone designation.

"CT-5527," he reads the first number out, and immediately a clone steps out of the lines, to receive his gear back. The clone takes the crate, and then goes back into the line, holding the crate in his hands without opening it. Slick nods and then reads the next number. "CT-7735."

One by one the armours are redistributed to their owners. Slick skips is own armour in the line and picks it up only after he's sure everyone's gotten their gear back – and they have, like Kenobi said, it's all there.

"Good. Next," Kenobi says and then takes out something from his pocket, a small silver controller. He points it at the two Jedi Masters – and with click, the silver collars around their necks snap open, loosening around their neck. "There. I'm sure that's a little better."

Windu takes in a slow breath which even at this distance Slick can hear shuddering. Then Jedi takes the collar off, almost tearing it off, before thrusting it at Kenobi, while Mundi does the same much slower. Kenobi collects them both without a word of apology or sympathy, simply nodding his head.

Not for the first time, Slick wonders what the Force really feels like, how it works – and what it might be like to have it returned after being months without.

"What happens now?" Ki-Adi-Mundi asks, lightsaber clipped to his side once more, rubbing at his now bare neck.

 "A Republic transport will be here in a moment, to take you to Coruscant," Kenobi answers, clasping his hands behind his back while still holding the collars and the controller. Then he looks at the clones. "What happens after that is entirely up to you. And rest assured – I'll be looking forward to seeing it."

Mundi sighs and Windu narrows his eyes. "Why?" he asks. "Why all of this, Kenobi?"

"If you still need to ask that, General Windu, then you haven't learned as much as I hoped," Kenobi answers with a shake of his head. "I'm done trying to explain myself to you – words seem to mean so little in Republic these days. Actions… seem to speak louder than words."

"That and money," Ventress mutters, casting Kenobi a crooked smile.

"Yes, unfortunately, that is a thing too," Kenobi agrees with a sigh and then motions to the hangar mouth where a transport ship is coming in through the air shield. "Your ride, Generals, troopers. Welcome back to the war," he says briskly and looks at the clones. "Let's hope you brought something new with you, this time."


 

Slick checks his armour slowly, same as every other clone, going every plate slowly and methodically. He can't find anything wrong with it, it hasn't been tampered or sabotaged, everything is as it should be. Honestly, he hadn't expected anything else. Kenobi wouldn't resort to such underhanded, small tactics. Especially not after going through all the trouble of making sure they lived, and in such comfort too.

They're in the Outer Rim territories, not surprising, and the transport back to Coruscant would take around three days. Thanks to that, they have been assigned bunks in the transport ship – and it's decidedly strange, to go from the beds of the prison colony to the near rock hard mattresses of this transport ship.

They'd slept in bunk beds too, in the prison colony – everyone had ended up customising their bunks, lot had even added curtains for little bit of privacy. There had been talks of private, personal tents too, maybe, one day. There'd been talks of… homes.

Running his hand over the faceplate of his armour, Slick frowns. His armour doesn't have any customisation, he hasn't added any paints on it – all it has is the captain's colours and insignias and nothing else. The only thing that makes it unique is the burn mark of the blaster bolt that took him down and even that is very slight.

His bed in the colony had had marks for every occupation he'd tried out – and then a tally mark for every… realisation he had.

My Brothers are Slaves was the first one, and the ones that had followed were of similar nature.

Before the colony he'd in a way distained the idea customising your armour, thinking that singling yourself out on the battlefield like that was stupid – he'd felt it just make you a better, more enticing target to the enemy. Droids didn't care about how shiny your paintjob was or what it means – but if it made you easier to spot…

Slick wants to mark his armour now, though. He wants to mark it with the experience of the colony, with everything he learned there, with all the changes he went through. He's not sure how, though. Because he'd never cared for the markings before, he hasn't really looked into how they're made. Is there a specific way to do it?

"Something wrong, sir?" his bunkmate, a trooper named Tally, asks, while Slick keeps staring at his armour's face plate.

"I think I need some armour paint," Slick says.

Tally arches his eyebrows and then goes serious. "Right," he nods and then goes to check his armour. "I don't have paint, sir, sorry, but – here, maybe this will do."

He hands over a black marker, and as Slick accepts it, he sees the other clone's armour has tally marks on the gauntlets. Ah, right. Tally. "Thanks," Slick says and sits down to look his armour over, trying to decide how to do this. He still thinks putting out huge symbols on your plate is stupid and likely to get you killed – he wants something subtler, something small.

Something… simple, but significant.

What would cover the whole experience in single, small symbol? Line around the neck maybe, like the Force binding collars the Jedi were forced to wear? No, that… that doesn't mean much to him and won't mean anything to anyone who hasn't been imprisoned with Jedi. It has to be something more universal.

A small K somewhere maybe, for Kenobi? Slick scoffs at himself and then frowns. Kenobi is the unifying feature though, isn't he? All this is because of him. The whole war is changing because of him. He is… a symbol on his own right, isn't he?

Turning the helmet in hand, Slick tilts his head in thought.

Then he puts in a single dot just on the edge of the right "cheek bone", under the eye slid, making it large enough to be clear to the onlooker that it's there by design but not so large that it's blatantly obvious.

Tally watches him with interest, letting out an inquisitive hum.

"I'm going to call it the Kenobi," Slick says, smiling crookedly.

The other clone's eyebrows rise a little and then he lets out a snort when he gets it. "Nice, sir," he says in agreement and when Slick hands the marker back, Tally uncaps it again and then takes it to his own face plate, adding in a Kenobi as well.

Before they land in Coruscant three days later, every clone from the prison colony has a Kenobi on their face plates.

Chapter Text

"We're about to drop out of hyperspace, Ma'am," the droid at the controls says, turning to her. "Judging by the readings we are getting, they're in combat."

"Do what you need to make sure we're not blown to bits," Asajj answers and folds her arms. "Wouldn't want to make a bad impression on our esteemed General. And get me a scan of the blockade as fast as you have it."

"Roger roger. We will execute evasive manoeuvres as soon as we are out of hyperspace," the droid answers and turns back to the controls. Asajj turns her eyes up and forward screen and takes a deep breath.

This isn't what she's been trained for. Dooku had never said it outright, but she's not an idiot and the skills he'd taught her over years, the ideals he passed down on her… She was supposed to be his assassin, hidden and unseen and taking out his more annoying enemies without anyone being the wiser. It wasn't precisely the future she'd envisioned for herself before meeting him, but… but it was better than what she had before. She hadn't minded.

Then the war had started and plans had… changed. Dooku had changed tracks and fast and now was more concentrated onto giving fiery speeches to the insipid masses of the Outer Rim, leaving the management of the war itself to his General – his former Jedi General. After months of specific training on how to fight and kill Jedi…

Asajj harrumphs to herself and turns away from the screen and to the holotable as it lights up. Outside the whirl of hyperspace passes and they return to normal space with a small jolt, and the battle ahead of them is quickly revealed on the holotable. Number of Republic star destroyers with their escort going against number of mixed Separatist cruisers and their escort, who were blockading the planet.

Fire was being exchanged, there were fighters in the air, but Asajj can't really tell at a glance if either side is winning. It doesn't look like any of the bigger cruisers have yet taken much damage.

"Looks like they've just started," she mutters. "Which ship is the General on?"

"He's on board the Reroll – the captured Republic Star Destroyer," one of the droids says and the ship is highlighted.

Asajj scoffs as the ship sits there, over the arching plain of the planet's surface, perfectly still. She knows that visually it's different from the republic cruisers – Kenobi repaints the ships he captures to make sure they're easy to identify, and his would be all black and red by this point. On the blue hologram, however, it looks – aside from the different thrusters – the same as every other Republic Cruiser in the place.

"I thought he'd have more class than this," Asajj mutters and tsks. "To sit on board a Republic tub like that, how embarrassing. Open a channel; I want to speak with him."

It takes a moment but soon there is a hologram standing on the other side of the table. Asajj has seen pictures and holographic videos of the General, of course, and standing there he doesn't look that much different from the man seen standing next to Dooku on various public outings. Hair brushed back, beard neat, dressed in the uniform that's now become the standard uniform of all Separatist armies – aside from droids off course – he looks pretty much how Asajj expected him to.

Except he's looking right at her, arching an eyebrow at her.

Asajj considers him and then gives a somewhat exaggerated bow. "With compliments from my lord Count Dooku; a gift for you, General Kenobi."

Kenobi folds his arms. "Asajj Ventress," he says slowly. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you. I'm assuming you mean the dreadnought you're on."

The man has a much more… pleasant voice than she'd assumed, from the recordings. He looks always so severe, but he sounds amused. Considering how much Dooku seems to enjoy the General's company, she hadn't been expecting that.

"What else could I possibly mean?" Asajj asks, arching a brow at him.

"Yourself," Kenobi says simply.

Definitely not what she'd been expecting. "… Excuse me?" Asajj asks dangerously.

Kenobi arches a brow at her. "You're Force sensitive and Lord Dooku's apprentice, and therefore can't be as stupid and useless as some of the Generals and Admirals I've been presented with as of late. I could use someone with a…" he considers for a moment, "with a sharper edge at my side."

"I am Count Dooku's apprentice," Asajj says with a scowl. "No yours."

"And yet you're here," Kenobi says, motioning around them, though he couldn't possibly see the dreadnought's bridge from where he is. "Why would Lord Dooku send you here, except to stay? If he wanted to send me reinforcements, he could've just sent them – he didn't need to send you with them." Asajj frowns a little and then Kenobi looks up. "Looks like the Republic forces have noticed your arrival," he says with a small smile.

Asajj looks down on the holographic representation of the battle, and smirks a little – the Star Destroyers are backing up. "It is a very big ship, I'd be worried if they hadn't," she comments and then folds her arms. "And it's all yours – the new flagship of our fleet. Would you care to take it for a spin, General?"

"What's the ship's name?" Kenobi asks, running a hand over his beard thoughtfully.

"They've named it the Subjugator class heavy cruiser," Asajj says. "But I understand that its actual name is entirely up to you."

Kenobi hums in agreement as he looks down at the holotable and then nods thoughtfully. "I think I will name her the Abolitionist," he says and then looks up at Asajj. "Bring her over here, and I'll be with you momentarily."

"I'll roll out the red carpet," Asajj says with a nod, and Kenobi smiles and turns off the transmission. "Abolitionist," she murmurs and then shakes her head before looking up at the droids. "Take the ship in – and prepare to receive the General."

"Yes, ma'am."


 

In real life Kenobi is… unsurprisingly more colourful than he is on the flat blue hues of a recording. His hair is both lighter and darker than Asajj had been expecting and despite the fact that he seems to spend most of his time these days locked on bridge of a ship and in space battles, he's not pale the way some human spacers became.

He is also much warmer in person than she'd been expecting from someone who has constant dealings with Count Dooku.

"I had been wondering when I'd be seeing you," Kenobi says when they meet in the hangar bay. "It's not like Count Dooku to let good assets rot on the sidelines."

"I suppose I should take that as a compliment," Asajj says and frowns. "I wasn't aware you even knew about me. No one does."

"I have my ways," Kenobi says and looks around them, at the droids all around, the high ceilings and walls, the painted metal of the flat wide floor. "This is going to take some getting used to," he mutters and shakes his head in wonder. "I would love to have a closer look, but there isn't quite the time right now. Would you like to show me to the bridge, my dear?"

Asajj arches an eyebrow at that. "Right this way, darling," she answers dangerously and narrows her eyes.

Kenobi glances at her and smiles briefly. "Sorry," he says. "I'm a little excited I guess."

"Right," she answers dubiously and then motions. "The speed lift is right this way."

She leads her to the lifts and then steps in after him while he looks around with a small smile. "So, has our estimable lord Dooku given you an assignment, or did he just tell you to come here and bring me this wonderful gift?" he asks.

Asajj hesitates and then rests a hand on her hip. "He did tell me to keep an eye on you," she says, giving him an uneasy look. "Apparently you're interesting, if terribly sentimental."

"Me? Banish the thought," Kenobi grins a little and then gives her a look over. "I suppose there is not much call for an assassin anymore," he muses then. "With the change of plans."

She doesn't answer immediately, eying him and for a moment hating how this peon knows more about her Lord's plans than she, his apprentice, does. She knows she's a tool for her Master to use, but she is supposed to be a treasured, informed tool. Now this… Jedi knows more, is better informed, while she's left in the dark.

Kenobi arches an eyebrow at her and smiles knowingly at whatever he sees on her face. "I suppose Count Dooku hasn't seen it fit to explain."

"Hmm," Asajj answers, feeling the tightness around her eyes. "Count Dooku doesn't explain his plans."

"Hmm," Kenobi mimics her, tilting his head a little to the side. "We've gone from the ultimate goal of destroying the Republic, to building the Confederation instead," he says. "The galaxy is already split – but where as before the idea was to splinter it further and destroy what remains, now we are the creators of a nation. And you cannot build anything truly permanent on destroyed remains of what came before."

Asajj frowns at him with confusion. "What do you mean?" she asks sharply, uneasily.

"We're no longer the bad guys, my dear Ventress," Kenobi says and smiles. "We're the good guys now. And I'm sorry to say, but good guys don't assassinate their enemies. I won't say that there will never be need for the skills Count Dooku so carefully imparted on you, but as things stand now… I'm afraid you're a little out of a job."

"That's… ridiculous," Asajj answers, to hide the sudden unease. "Why would Count Dooku change his plans like that?"

"Because now he knows he can win," Kenobi shrugs. "And at heart our estimated leader is more of an ambitious politician than he is a terrorist. The idea of ruling the galaxy appeals to him more than destroying it."

Asajj blinks at that and then looks away, frowning. The politics of this war or the reasons behind it had never particularly interested her. All she'd cared about was that she had a purpose. Dooku had made her existence mean something; he'd given her a reason to move forwards. That was all she'd cared about. She didn't particularly care if the Jedi lived or died, if the Republic fell or not, it didn't really matter to her that much – but to have a place in the galaxy that wasn't either stolen or forced but earned…

Now Kenobi is saying her place is an obsolete one.

"Why?" she asks with a scowl.

"Hmm?" Kenobi asks.

She glares at him and then shakes her head and looks away. Kenobi is a Jedi – he'd never understand.

The General eyes her thoughtfully for a moment. "Dooku might not have a use for you now," he says. "But I do, if you choose to accept it. It depends entirely on what you want."

"What I want," Asajj growls and rests a hand on one of her lightsabers, "is to serve my lord."

"A fine aspiration," Kenobi comments. "But is it all you want, Ventress? What do you want from life, what do you want for yourself?"

Asajj throws him a glare and then looks away, torn. Kenobi is Dooku's most trusted ally and though all these space battles are of little interest to her, even she can tell how well he's been doing on the battlefield. Count Dooku expounded on Kenobi's military victories all the time in his speeches to the Confederation – on his defensive strategies and how valiantly he stood as a stalwart protector of their allied worlds, defending them from Republic's cruel retribution and invasions. It's the reason why already the Confederation is twice the size it was in the beginning, and is now growing at increasing speed.

Kenobi is good at what he does, and Dooku is good at taking advantage of that.

"What do you want?" she asks in return. "You're a Jedi. Why are you doing this?"

Kenobi looks at her and his smile fades a little, his face becoming serious – becoming more like that of the man who stood at Dooku's side, strong and severe. "I want to stop the Republic from tearing the galaxy apart," he says. "I want to save as many lives as I possibly can."

"So you do it by tearing the Republic apart yourself and killing as many people as you possibly can?" Ventress asks wryly.

"It's all matter of perspective," Kenobi says and looks away and for a moment he looks – odd. It's not grief or determination, but… vacancy, like he's not quite there anymore. "The republic is crumbling, and it will not remain for long," he says in a voice that echoes a little hollow in the speed lift. "I want to make sure that whatever succeeds it isn't worse."

Asajj shakes her head. She couldn't give less of a damn about the state of the galaxy – it isn't like the galaxy cares about her. "I don't care," she says out loud.

Kenobi glances at her, and the terrible expression passes and he's smiling again. "What do you care about then, my dear?"

Stupid thing is, he actually sounds like he wants to know. Like he's honestly, openly interested – like it matters to him. Fine then. "Power," Asajj says, like a dare. "I care about power."

"Power of what, to do what?" Kenobi asks and folds his arms. "Power of the Dark side of the Force, maybe? Power to dominate and destroy, to kill your enemies, to make them fear you? Or… the power to control your own destiny?"

She hesitates, looking at him warily.

"I can give you the latter," Kenobi says quietly. "But my power isn't that of the Dark side, my dear Ventress. My domain of power is that of leadership and authority, not fear or destruction. My power…" he trails away as the lift doors open ahead of them to reveal a corridor. It's flanked on both side by battle droids, and on the other end, there is the bridge of the newly named Abolitionist.

"General on deck!" one of the droids calls and they all stand quickly on attention. There is an almost rhythmic beat to it, as their heels hit the floor and they lift their weapons to their sides.

Kenobi lifts his chin a little and breathes in. "My power is respect," he says, a sharp intensity coming to his face as he takes in what he sees and then steps forward.

Yeah, respect from droids, the very height of power and influence, Asajj thinks derisively, and then she sees what got Kenobi's attention now – the battle raging on the bridge screens. The Republic forces are attacking again.

And Kenobi is already moving in to answer their challenge.


 

The blockade of Christophis holds. The careful manoeuvring Kenobi has his fleet do, the battle over the planet and all the losses and victories there in, they mostly go over Asajj's head. It feels like it lasts for ever, however, with wide stretches of waiting and silence in between as the two sides vie for dominance over each other. Ships are lost on both sides and the Abolitionist takes her first hits, but ultimately Kenobi holds the world.

"Just as well – we don't yet have troops on ground," Kenobi muses.

"Why are we blockading this world anyway?" Asajj asks, peering out a view port. "It's just a mining world, isn't it?"

"We're not blockading it, we're protecting it. Christophis the first proper, independent mining system that sided with the Confederation and which is quite valuable as source of essential elements for weapons production," Kenobi says from the holotable. "Christophis is the source of nearly a quarter of the galaxy's dedlanite. Having it on our side is invaluable."

"Dedlanite?" Asajj asks irritably.

"It's used to power blasters," Kenobi explains. "Anyway, losing Christophis at this early stage to the Republic would be a terrible setback to Separatist morale. We need to prove to the Confederation that we can defend it's systems against Republic's attempts of reclaiming them – and that we can protect future allies similarly. Plus, if we manage to hold Christophis, eventually we can build factories on it."

"Ah," Asajj says, leaning her chin to her palm and eying him. "Count Dooku insinuated that you instigated this battle."

Kenobi glances up and then smiles. "Oh, I did," he agrees and leans back a little. "When you put a bunch of ships around a planet, it tends to send a message. And Republic Senate can't just let that sort of thing pass – they can't afford it."

Asajj frowns at that. "Why not?"

"Because of their public image, my dear, because of reputation," Kenobi explains. "Republic is starting to loose territories to the Confederation. In the Outer Rim more and more planets are turning to our cause, or at least becoming sympathetic – every day, another system declares itself either Neutral, or Separatist. It doesn't look good for the Republic Senate. They are losing influence, people are starting to doubt them and thus… people are starting to wake up to Senate's failings. Complacency has held the Republic together for decades now and without it the Senate is losing power."

Asajj leans back a little. "And those with power will do anything to keep it," she muses.

"Precisely," Kenobi says and turns back to the holotable. "Republic is still massive compared to the Confederation – thousands of worlds compared the few handfuls of ours. But that only makes the losses more noticeable, because there haven't been any until now. So, the Republic Senate has to send a message – not to the worlds that have already been lost, but those who are considering it. Leave the Republic and we will retake you back with force."

"Except they failed here," Asajj says.

"They failed for now," Kenobi corrects. "This is only one minor skirmish in a very long and very expansive war we're about to fight."

Asajj is quiet for a moment, watching Kenobi work over the holotable, moving ships around like pieces on Dejarik board, planning strategies. She's still not sure she really cares about the politics of the whole thing. Dooku had always made it sound so dry and dreary – sitting in halls talking and trying to manipulate people to your way of thinking. Asajj isn't sure she can think of anything more boring. She'd rather just put a lightsaber on their throats and be done with it.

But this sounds different. This sounds like Kenobi is playing a game, a massive, galaxy wide game with planets as his game board and ships and troops as his game pieces – and the goal of the game is influence, getting more of it and holding it. And not the sort of influence Dooku deals with, where turns people into his sycophants and minions and has them do his bidding – but respect earned through action. Military action, even.

Asajj looks down at her hands and then at her waist, where her lightsabers sit. She is feeling antsy for some actions – she's been trained to fight and that's what she wants. But before that, before Dooku, before Rattatak and Master Narec… she'd been taught to respect power.

And looking at Kenobi now, peering over the game board of his blockade, moving ships and fleets around like he's controlling the very space itself... Kenobi might be an idealist Jedi fool with all too much sympathy – she's heard him call his troops to hold fire all too many times here considering that it's a battle they were having. But he's not weak. And for all that he's showing ridiculous amount of restraint and mercy, he is winning here. He had been winning before. He'd probably keep on winning for a while longer yet.

Had Dooku send her here to be useful to Kenobi? Maybe. Was Kenobi right about this battle and this war? Probably. Would it hurt to see what she could learn from this former Jedi, what she could learn from his supposed power?

"I'm not going to be a foot soldier in your army," Asajj says.

"We do have droids just for that," Kenobi answers and looks up, looking her over. Whatever he sees, or thinks he sees, makes him smile. "This is a military, however. You, my dear, are going to need a uniform."

Just like that? It feels almost too easy.

"And you need a lightsaber," Asajj answers and frowns. "You're a Jedi, aren't you?"

Kenobi smiles and looks away. "It's not quite as simple as just getting a replacement," he says quietly, "when you've left the order."

"What's so difficult about it? I know Count Dooku has plenty of kyber crystals to choose from – I bet you've seen the chamber too," Asajj says. "So pick one and make one. You should know how, as a Jedi."

Kenobi stares at the holotable, expressionless. "I refuse to use a lightsaber with a bled crystal," he says. "Red is not my colour, really."

Asajj arches an eyebrow at his uniform – the red sash across it. "Well aren't you high and mighty," she says and walks over to him, taking one of her lightsabers in hand. As Kenobi looks up, she lights the thing, ignoring the way the battle droids around them stop and hesitate. "Red or blue or green – lightsaber is a lightsaber. Only difference is that red crystals aren't nearly so picky about their users."

"Yes – because they've been broken," Kenobi says, eying her lightsaber grimly.

"Being broken and being broken in are two different things," Asajj says with a scoff, idly swinging the glowing red blade from side to side. "But if you're so damn leery about red blade, then pick a crystal and heal it. That should fix the problem right up."

Kenobi stares at her. "I'm sorry?"

"You can do it, can't you?" Asajj mocks him gently. "You are a Jedi after all. Surely it's easily within your powers as a Jedi Master to heal one little crystal."

"I'm sorry, my dear, but I haven't the slightest notion about what you're talking about," Kenobi says slowly. "You mean to say there's a way to heal a bled kyber crystal?"

Asajj stares at him with surprise and then starts to laugh. "Oh please tell me that's universal bit of ignorance – please tell me you Jedi really don't know!" she all but cackles. "Because that would make my day – my whole month even!"

Kenobi says nothing – just watches her, his blue eyes shining like edge of a blade. At first Asajj mistakes it for irritation and insult and only laughs harder – but then the silence stretches and she's left facing a level of intensity that strangles her laughter and leaves her uneasy.

"How, exactly, do you heal a kyber crystal that had been bled?" Kenobi asks very seriously.

"Tch, how should I know?" Asajj says, a little uneasy now. "I'm not a Jedi. Apparently you can do it with the Light side of the Force. I don't see why you would, though," she adds, "when red crystal works just as well. Probably better even"

"Did Dooku teach you about this?" Kenobi asks grimly.

Asajj opens her mouth to say no and then looks at Kenobi more closely. Oh? A hint of dissent between Kenobi and Count Dooku? How very interesting. Perhaps even useful, if she plays her cards right.

Asajj smiles and doesn't answer, shutting off her lightsaber and snapping it to the magnetic holder at her waist. "I'm sure you can figure it out for yourself, my dear General Kenobi," she says sweetly.

"Hmm," Kenobi answers with narrowed eyes. "I suppose I will have to," he says and then turns away and back to the holotable. Asajj eyes him and then settles down to watch him play God with the battlefield.

This might turn out more interesting than first expected.


 

"I have no use for you at this time," Count Dooku says calmly. "General Kenobi on other hand should be able utilise your abilities to great a benefit for the Confederation – and if while under his leadership you happened to learn a thing or two of discipline, all the better."

"Discipline?" Asajj asks at the hologram. "Master, you've taught me discipline – have I ever rebelled against you?"

"Not quite what I mean, my apprentice," Dooku says and lowers his chin a little. "General Kenobi shows a certain useful level of composure and precision in all his actions, which I have found to be an immense advantage. You, my apprentice, can be rash in your actions and Kenobi's equanimity might work well for you – if you can assimilate even a smidgen of it."

"Equanimity – but Master, the Dark side –"

"The Dark side is a power not to be treated lightly," Dooku snaps and then shakes his head. "A balance must be struck, Asajj. The Dark side is a great tool when properly harnessed, but its influence can lead you astray if you do not exercise the proper caution with it. If you let it, it will enhance your emotions to a point where you can no longer control their flow and then the Dark side will dominate you, and not the other way around."

Asajj just stares at his image, unable to think of what to say.

Dooku stares back for a moment, his expression severe. Then it eases a little. "We must be still in control our own actions, my apprentice, and in charge of our destinies," he says. "Otherwise, what is the use of it? We might as well be Jedi and let our own trust in their insipid belief in the Will of the Force lead us by the nose."

Asajj frowns. "What about the code you taught me?" she asks. "Force shall set me free – is it wrong?"

Dooku considers it. "Not wrong – rather I believe it to be incomplete," he says. "With Force I shall set myself free. But for that you must control the Force – not let it control you."

Asajj nods slowly – it makes sense, and it aligns with her own beliefs better. Trusting the Force to do her justice had never worked, the Force had never saved her – only her own actions had. "And Kenobi can teach me this," she says dubiously. "He's a Jedi."

"He was a Jedi, my apprentice, until he saw... the light," Dooku says, smiling crookedly at her. "Like I did in my time, he has risen above his history. You must watch him now, my apprentice, and study his actions and decisions. Join his military. There is much to be learned in his fall from grace; he is not as Light as he first appears."

"Yes, Master."


 

It would take some time to get used to the uniform. It might be made to her measurements and thus fits her perfectly down to the last seam... but it's not exactly her preferred style of clothing.

And of course Kenobi has the audacity to tell her, "You look good in that – it suits you," like he actually means it.

"Of course you think I look good – I look like you," Asajj mutters and plucks at the red sash. It falls pretty much squarely between her breasts, the stupid thing.

"Oh Force forbid that," Kenobi says with a laugh and runs a hand over his bearded chin. "I'm sorry to say it, but I don't think facial hair would be your thing."

Asajj gives him a look. "You don't say," she says sarcastically and then tugs at the sash. "What is the purpose of this damn thing? It doesn't even have pockets."

"I don't think it has a function – I think it's there just to look good," Kenobi admits with a little laugh. "Clothiers in Serenno designed the uniforms and I can't say I'm terribly impressed by the functionality of them either. They do serve their purpose though."

"Except when they don't," Asajj mutters and then rips the damn sash off. Thankfully the thing isn't actually attached to the jacket, though she probably wouldn't have let that stop her. As Kenobi watches on amusement, Asajj ties the sash around her hips instead. "There," she says and spreads her hands, tilting her hips. "Much better, wouldn't you say?"

"If you say so," the General says with a smile and shakes his head.

"So what is today's agenda, sir?" Asajj asks in only slightly mocking tones and glances Kenobi over. "More waiting? And waiting? And little bit more of… waiting, perhaps?"

Kenobi smiles a little. "No, we're in luck. Today we are going to be relieved of duty," he says and claps his hands behind his back. "Now that the perimeter around the planet is secure and the Republic forces have backed up a little, a new admiral will be taking over for us here for the time being. I will be going down to the planet, making friends with the locals we hope. Whether you stay here or join me in entirely up to you."

"Up to me, is it? I though this," Asajj motions to the uniform in distaste, "means that I am under your command. Aren't you the ultimate military leader of the Confederation forces?"

Kenobi arches an eyebrow at her and then folds his arms. "Whether you are under my command depends on whether you can follow my orders. Can you? Will you?"

Asajj opens her mouth to give a reply that the words deserve – but the serious expression on his face stops her. "I put on the uniform, didn't I?" she asks with a scowl.

"There's difference between putting a uniform on – and wearing it," Kenobi says seriously. "And there is difference between having someone in the field – and trusting them on it. If I give you an order, Asajj Ventress, will I be secure in the knowledge that you comply or will you only be an unpredictable hindrance I can never trust?"

Asajj says nothing for a moment, eying Kenobi just as seriously as he's eying her. "And will I be able to trust you not to order me to my death?" she asks in return. "Will I be secure in the knowledge that when you command me to do whatever, it will be for a good reason and not just because you happen to like ordering people around, Kenobi?"

Kenobi arches a surprised eyebrow at her and then, astonishingly, he looks pleased with her. "Well then. I suppose trust and respect have to be earned," he says, smiling and then looks away. "Prepare to depart, Commander Ventress. We're going planeside."

Chapter Text

Asajj is not the most social person, never have been. Not in the level Dooku is social, anyway, where he meets the high and mighty and holds speeches and talks around the key issues like it's a dance, where words are subtle and manipulations overt and everything is talked in careful code of politics. Thankfully, he's never required her to attend to meetings like that, that's not what she's for.

Walking at Kenobi's side as he meets the high and mighty of Christophis is something else, though.

"Governor," the General says and bows his head. "Apologies about the light show up above."

"Yes, yes, quite a show," the governor, a christophean human named Calleisa or something, says and nods his head. He looks harassed and – awed. At Kenobi? "But we always knew it would come to this, wouldn't we? Please, General Kenobi – right this way."

Kenobi follows the governor into the crystalline building ahead of them, and Asajj keeps pace with them, glancing at Kenobi and then mimicking his ramrod straight posture, clasping her hands behind her back. Kenobi glances at her and gives a little smile which might've been approval, might have been amusement. It doesn't matter.

She's selected her role in this and she's sticking to it.

"Have the Senate's representatives contacted you yet?"  Kenobi asks the Governor, as they enter the cool, faintly green shaded halls of the christophean government building.

"Oh, only constantly," Governor Calleisa answers with a sigh. "From the sound of it you've attacked me and are blockading the planet – our people are in danger, we need Republic support, and so on and so on. Worse yet, we have a republic senator here – he is not making things any easier with the Council here."

"Oh?" Kenobi asks.

"He's convinced that it will come to a ground battle and that our people are in danger," the Governor says. "That we should start organising for it. And some of the councillors are listening to him, getting nervous." He stops abruptly and looks at Kenobi. "Will it come to ground battle?"

"I can't promise you something beyond my control," Kenobi says calmly. "The Republic might yet rally and push through our perimeter. But I assure you, ground battle isn't my intention."

"It had better not," the Governor says and continues moving. "We can't afford it. The support I have with the council is tenuous at best, and any pushback from the other side –" he shakes his head again and scowls. "This would be easier if we had the Lane."

"Governor," Kenobi says warningly.

"If we had the Lane, there'd be no opposition," Governor Calleisa says and points a finger at him. "We don't want war, General, but we want to be drained dry even less. Free trade, with no sanctions, no republic taxation, none of that checkpoint nonsense they have going on now – if we had that then I'd have all the support I need here."

Kenobi says nothing for a moment and Asajj looks at him closely. There's a hyperspace lane that runs through the Christophis system. She knows that there's been talk in the Separatist side of taking the hyper lanes of the outer rim, at least the major trade routes. According to Dooku, it was only matter of time, and he seems to look forward to it – to slicing the galaxy apart by cutting pieces of it off.

What Kenobi thinks of it, though…

"I understand the desire, Governor. But if we take the hyperspace lane here, Governor, it will cut off over ten sectors of the Outer Rim. Hundreds of systems," Kenobi says quietly. "And taking this lane will demand we take the lanes expanding out from Arkanis, otherwise the whole thing is meaningless. While the campaign itself is entirely possible – the toll it might have on the Confederation of Independent systems…"

"You could take the lanes and keep them?" Governor Calleisa asks, stopping and turning to him.

"The campaign is possible, success is not guaranteed – but Governor," Kenobi says cautiously. "In this region, Christophis is the only system fully in support of the Separatist movement. Scarif and Arkanis are both neutral, Dalchon is… what it is and Ryloth -"

"Ryloth is entirely inconsequential," Governor Calleisa says, waving a dismissive hand.

"Perhaps, in terms of galactic economy – but it's a system easy to sympathise with and even easier to abuse," Kenobi says. "Cutting it off from what little support Republic gives it will leave it vulnerable to the systems beyond and they will jump at the chance. And if Ryloth is ransacked – and it will be – it will be our fault and will become the banner for Republic to rally behind."

The governor hesitates for a moment and stops again – they're never going to get where they're going at this rate, Asajj thinks in irritation. "So, what you're saying is that we need more support locally," Calleisa says.

"Yes," Kenobi says plainly. "Any campaign started here will spiral to a fully fledged conflict and every system near about will be dragged into it. If even half of them side with the republic on it, and they very well might at this early point…" he shakes his head. "Rest assured, Governor – we will take the lanes, eventually. But when we begin that portion of the war, it must be done with careful planning, not out on a whim."

"I see," the Governor says and bites at his nail – he starts moving again, and so does Kenobi, Asajj falling in to step with him. "Yes, I see. But the systems here are still mostly undecided on the Separatist cause – and it doesn't help that our Council here is split," he says then. "Getting support here will take a paradigm shift."

"How do you mean, Governor?"

"My people are still not convinced we're any better off with the Separatists than we are with the Republic," Governor Calleisa says. "And it's same for everyone in this region. Fence sitters by the dozen. What they need is a definite proof which side is the right one."

Kenobi hums. "Our success here should do some good."

"Your success here has cut us off," the Governor says bitterly and shakes his head. "That's why we need the Lane. Otherwise we've just shot ourselves in the foot and besieged ourselves. You need to get those ships off my planets orbit, General Kenobi – or take the lane. I don't think anything else will do."

Kenobi draws a breath and then falls silent as they finally arrive somewhere. It's a large, well furnished – naturally crystalline – hall, with tables and comfortable looking chairs, and some men and women who even at a distance smell of politician.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the Governmental Council of Christophis," Governor Calleisa says and motions to Kenobi. "Allow me to introduce to you General Kenobi of the Confederation of Independent Systems."

"Councillors, it is a pleasure finally to meet you face to face – apologies for the mess," Kenobi says with a slight bow, which Asajj mimics to perfection. "Well this is a little unexpected," Kenobi then says quietly, with a mild frown.

He's looking at a man who stands out a little, amidst the other people. Where most of the christopheans are pale and wear light tones, this man is dark and wears much darker clothes too, much heavier robes – obviously not a local.

"General Kenobi," the dark toned senator says, his voice cold. "Long time no see. I hear you've been busy."

"Oh you know each other?" Governor Calleisa asks, looking thoughtful, calculative.

"We've met," Kenobi agrees, eying the senator up and down. Behind his back, Asajj can see how he's clutching his own hand, fingernails digging into the meat of his palm. Whatever reaction he's suppressing, it has to be pretty powerful. "Senator Organa," he says then and bows his head. "A pleasure, as always."


 

Asajj sighs with relief and throws herself onto the divan.

For a moment there she'd thought that Kenobi would be better than Dooku when it cam to politicking – but no, they were just as bad, only Kenobi was even worse. All polite calm and cool self assuredness, with none of Dooku's subtle threats or jabs at weak points. Kenobi was still a master of words – but the talking itself…

Grief, it was boring listening to him and the senator and the councillors and the insipid little governor just talk around each other.

"Is it always like this?" Asajj asks with irritation.

"Unfortunately," Kenobi agrees, rubbing at the side of his palm with his fingers, looking out and through the window over looking the city. The City of Chaleydonia sits below them, in all of its green, crystalline glory. Asajj is starting to get sick of green. "That's why I tend to leave the politics of it to our esteemed Lord Dooku, he is far more patient with it than I am."

"Count Dooku, patient?" Asajj asks, arching an eyebrow. "Perhaps you're speaking of a different Count Dooku, my dear, because the one I know is far from patient."

Kenobi offers her a fleeting smile and walks to the window. "He's very patient with things he wants," he says. "And politics is his element – it's not mine," he admits and looks down to his hand.

Asajj looks too. Looks like he's worn permanent grooves into his palm with his fingernails. "What's the deal with Senator Organa, then?" she asks and leans an elbow to the backrest of the divan. "Because darling, you were shook."

Kenobi doesn't answer, rubbing at his palm and staring at the city, expressionless.

"Fine then," Asajj says and leans back. "So where are we at with… all of it?" she asks. "Are we going to start a war over the hyperlane?"

"Hmm," Kenobi answers. "We need support from other local systems before we can even dream of taking the hyperlane and Christophis is more divided than I'd like," he admits. "If we lose the planet now, to politics or to Republic forces, it's all a moot point."

Asajj waits, watching him. "So?"

"So, it's time to start putting boots on ground," Kenobi says and takes out a communicator. "Admiral," he says, hitting the switch.

"Yes, General Kenobi?" the new Admiral who'd taken over for them in space asks.

"Start preparing the troops for a landing," Kenobi orders. "Be subtle about it, I don't want the republic forces to get idea. But when I give to go ahead, I want at least ten troop carriers down here."

"I will make it twenty," the Admiral snarls. "We will be ready in an hour."

"Very efficient. Thank you," Kenobi says. "How do things look up there?"

"The Republic scum is hiding behind the moon, General, but they are showing no sign of attack," the Admiral says. "We could take them now."

"We won't. Don't do anything unless they attack, Admiral, that's an order," Kenobi says and frowns, leaning his head back a little. "Just get ready to send the troops down on my command."

"As you wish, General Kenobi," the Admiral answers, sounding irritated, and the communication cuts off.

Asajj arches an eyebrow as Kenobi sighs. "Sounds like you don't much like our new Admiral," she comments.

"How well I like him is inconsequential," Kenobi says, though his expression plainly states that, no, he really doesn't. "So as long as he follows my lead."

"Mm-hmm," Asajj agrees and then glances up as someone knocks the door.

"Come," Kenobi calls, and a christophean security officer steps in.

"Sir, there is a Bail Organa here to see you," the security officer says. "He has cleared the checkpoint – should I let him in?"

Kenobi hesitates and then turns away from the window. "Yes," he says and looks at Asajj. "Would you mind giving me a little privacy, my dear?"

"I would, dearest, I would indeed," Asajj says and makes no move to get up. "This looks like it will be a whole bucket of fun and I wouldn't want to miss it for the world."

Kenobi's eyes narrow. "Commander," he says sharply and clasps his hands behind his back, standing very straight and looking at her very severely. "You're dismissed."

Asajj smiles faintly and stands. "Yes sir, General," she says and snaps her heels together for good measure. The christophean security officer is just showing the senator in as she turns to leave, and she gives the man a long, thoughtful look. He doesn't look like much – definitely no fighter. And still, enough to make Obi-Wan Kenobi nervous.

For a moment, for a very strong and very tempting moment, she considers finding a place to eavesdrop their conversation. Whatever the Republic Senator would have to say to the Separatist General – especially with that delicious under current of tension and unspoken history… it would surely be good. Never mind the fact that it would likely give her some insights to Kenobi's character and his true motivations, something she's still not entirely sold on.

Asajj stops as the door closes behind her and glances at it over her shoulder. Kenobi feels like a void in Force, whatever emotions he's suppressing aren't getting through at all. Organa however feels – hurt, betrayed, confused and determined. Oh, it would be good, whatever argument they would have. They were at least friends, if not more, before Kenobi switched sides.

Asajj hesitates, so tempted to try and see if there'd be a handy ventilation duct that might carry voices from the guest suite. However…

Trust and respect have to be earned.

"Ugh," she mutters and turns to leave. "I'll get it out of him later."


 

In the following day there's a lot of talking. And then some more talking. And then some more talking, as Kenobi tries to persuade the Christophis Governmental Council to his side, and Senator Organa works against him tirelessly to do the opposite. They meet in those discussion rooms like duellers, eying each other across the distance and never quite talking at each other, speaking to the people around them instead.

They're a bit like a couple going through a bad break up. Asajj muses, not that she knows much about that. It's almost as hilarious as it is boring, because their break up is over politics. It's all careful beating around the bush and careful manoeuvring to try and keep the other side from gaining any ground and so, it mostly looks like no one is getting anywhere anytime soon.

"How long is this going to take?" Asajj asks later, rather plaintively, while Kenobi is grabbing a glass of water to ease his throat – he'd started going little hoarse around the sixth hour mark.

"Days, possibly weeks," Kenobi sighs and runs a hand over his beard. "Unfortunately our Lord is busy in the Japrael system, which is slightly more important, so we're stuck here until we either have this sector or we lose it completely."

Asajj stares at him with disbelief and then groans. "You're kidding me," she says. "Can't we just invade and take the damn place? We have the forces for it, don't we? We could just take Christophis and be done with all this talking."

"Not if we want to win the war, my dear," Kenobi says with a smile and takes another sip of the water. "Battles, unfortunately, only win conflicts. Backroom politics win wars, battles are only a way to force them. And yes, we could force this system under our control, but it might lose us the campaign over the hyperlanes."

"The campaign which we're not even fighting yet," Asajj says with disbelief.

"You must think ahead in warfare – no battle is without reason, and everything affects something," Kenobi says. "And we need to win here, on this particularly boring battlefield, properly. If we take Christophis by force, we make enemies in this region. The battle for the hyper lanes is only inevitable, but if we do it by force, it will be far more difficult – never mind expensive – than it would be with local support."

"Expensive," Asajj repeats and sighs. Of course.

"Quite so," Kenobi says almost apologetically. "We could afford it, monetarily, the armies have already been paid for after all," he says and turns away. "And perhaps at the end of it we could even afford it morally, once we have the region secured and have the time to persuade the people we've conquered to siding with us willingly. But I rather not waste the expenses on it, when there is cheaper, if slower, way to go about it."

"And in the mean while your friend from Alderaan works against you at every turn," Asajj points out and watches his expression as Kenobi sighs in agreement.

"Bad luck on our part that he happened to be here before," Kenobi sighs and rubs at his neck. "Nothing we can do about it – and no, we can't remove him from the situation. That's the worst message we can send to all the politicians watching."

Asajj sighs. "This business of being good is tiresome," she mutters. "I don't know how people manage it."

"With dedication and preservation," Kenobi says and then frowns, tilting his head to the side as if he's listening to something only he can hear. "Ah," he says, his tone odd and closes his eyes.

"What?" Asajj asks.

"We'll be having company soon," Kenobi says with a sigh and opens his eyes. He turns briskly back to the door. "Time to talk to the Governor – I need to start getting troops down."

"Oh?" Asajj asks and jumps to her feet, taking her place at his side. "What is it?" she asks, eying the new, sharper tension on Kenobi's shoulders with interest. "You're sensing something – something in the Force. Something's changed, what is it?"

"My – former student. He just arrived on orbit," Kenobi says tightly. "Bail must've reported my presence here back to the Republic." He takes out his communicator. "Admiral," he calls to it. "I take it we have more guests now?"

"Three Star Destroyers just jumped out of hyperspace, General Kenobi," the admiral reports. "They are backing away to behind the moon."

"No full frontal assault then. Good. Keep an eye on them," Kenobi says. "With any luck, I'll be giving landing orders soon."

"The troops are ready, General."

"Good," Kenobi says. "Keep me appraised if our new arrivals do anything. Kenobi out."

"Your student?" Asajj asks with interest while Kenobi shoves the communicator back to his pocket. "Your student – your Jedi student. Oh, I think I've heard of him. Skywalker, right?"

"Yes," Kenobi says. "It won't take him long to figure out a way to pierce through our defences on orbit. Few days at most. We need to be prepared when he does."

Asajj eyes him with interest. "All the effort you put in this blockade and you think it's going to be breached, just like that? My dear General, you have a lot of trust in your student's abilities."

Kenobi says nothing, just walks faster.


 

"The Republic reinforcements only mean one thing, Governor," Kenobi says plainly. "An attack is coming. They aren't going to back out and they aren't going to leave – and Star Destroyers aren't blockade ships. As good as they are for space battles, they are designed for landing troops and taking worlds – each one carries assortment of land vehicles and up to seven thousand clone troopers. It's bit much for mere blockade duty."

"My lord Governor, I must object," Organa says. "The separatists brought in their own reinforcements when General Kenobi's flag ship arrived, the Republic forces are only answering in kind, bolstering the defences of their fleet. If you let the separatist troops land on Christophis now, it will send a very clear message – that you're preparing for a battle."

"Well obviously we are preparing for a battle," Kenobi comments flatly and motions upwards. "The battle Republic is bringing us. And it is bringing it here, due to no fault of ours. One can't miss the fact that the moment we put up defences around Christopher, Republic rose to challenge them."

"Yes, and if you put up defences on the ground, Republic will rise to challenge those as well," Organa says and turns to the Governor. "Surely you see this will only escalate things and throw your world into a war – and not just a space war, Governor, but a ground war."

"So we should just lay down and just surrender to what the Republic decides to throw at us?" Kenobi asks, arching an eyebrow. "All their demands and accusations of this oh so terrible invasion we launched on a confirmed Separatist world and which the Republic is oh so graciously now coming to free from the burden of free will."

Organa gives him a dark look. "Their demands are the same demands that are in place for all the Republic worlds," he says. "There are rules and laws we all follow – none are exempt from them."

"Only Christophis isn't a Republic world, Senator," the Governor says. "Christophis is part of the Confederation of Independent Systems. Republic has no right to make demands here."

Organa hesitates and the Governor turns to Kenobi. "Land your troops," he says grimly.

"Yes, sir," Kenobi says, snapping to attention momentarily. "Right away."

"My lord Governor, please, you must reconsider," Organa says imploringly. "This will put your people in terrible risk, surely you can see that."

"We will begin evacuation Chaleydonia immediately," Governor Calleisa says and turns away. "Senator Organa, I respectfully ask for you to take your leave. I understand you mean well – but it's time for you to leave."

Organa bows his head and then straightens his back. "I'm sorry to hear that, Governor," he says and folds his hands gracefully. "I wish you the very best and hope your people will come through this conflict alright," he says and then bows his head. "General Kenobi."

"Senator Organa," Kenobi says with strange tone, and watches him go without moving, without looking away.

"He's a good man," Governor Calleisa says, bitterly, as the door closes on the Senator's heels

"Yes," Kenobi says in a distant tone. "And unfortunately one who will never side with Separatist ideals."

"You think not?"

Kenobi sighs and shakes his head. "Alderaan is one of the founding worlds of the Republic," he says almost sadly. "Bail cannot go against that, even if he wanted to. He's a Prince of Alderaan. He's duty bound to support the Republic to the bitter end."

Asajj arches an eyebrow and looks after the departing senator, wondering.


 

The droids start landing less than half an hour later, coming down in huge drop ships and rolling out onto the streets of Chaleydonia in force. Dozens of tanks take the streets while the people of the city evacuate, leaving it empty but for the droids that now populate its streets.

"Why here?" Asajj asks curiously, watching as Kenobi organises barriers and boarders, barricading some streets and leaving others open. "I mean, going by your philosophy, wouldn't fighting in the city itself be a… bad thing? All that property destruction, all the destroyed homes…"

"Unfortunately Christophis is mined to the point where only certain places are stable," Kenobi says, waving a hand through a hologram, moving symbols around – organising the droid forces where he wants them. "The cities are build on the securest terrain of the planet and of them Chaleydonia is the largest. Property destruction aside, it's the safest place to fight. As it is, the Republic will need to capture the capital to capture Christophis."

Asajj frowns. "Why?" she asks. "There aren't even anyone here, anymore."

"Ah, symbolism. Also the main power generators for the planet are here," Kenobi says and flicks the hologram around. "Turn them off and it puts half of the world in darkness."

"Ah," Asajj says and folds her arms. "What are you doing now?" she asks, motioning the hologram.

"Creating all the potential bottlenecks I can," Kenobi says and flips the hologram around again. "Anakin will land troops here," he motions to a section of the city near the edge. "Since we've taken the actual landing strip, here is only place with enough space for landing several crafts with ease, and it offers good enough staging ground for his troops. After that they will secure a perimeter and then begin advancing towards city centre, here," he motions. "Blocking off these bigger streets will force his forces into smaller spaces. Easier to take out."

"I thought we had superiority in numbers," Asajj says, frowning. "We have over hundred thousand battle droids here and dozens and dozens of star fighters with the Abolitionist on orbit, and you've already landed good five thousand of them. Why the sneaky tactics?"

Kenobi leans back and folds his arms. "Because," he says. "Marching full battalions into their deaths in orderly fashion is stupid."

Asajj blinks.

"Sorry," Kenobi says and shakes his head with a sigh, running a hand over his face. "Before I came along the Separatist military had some… ludicrous notions about how to conduct ground warfare. Forward march is very impressive, but ultimately it's wasteful. Even if we're fighting with droids and even if we have superiority in numbers, I have no intention of wasting my resources. Chances are we won't have endless supply of them."

"But we have on our side the wealthiest sectors in the galaxy, don't we? The Trade Federation, the Banking Clan – the Commerce Guild. Hell, the Techno Union," Asajj says with a slight frown. "They have the means to pay for this army twice over, don't they?"

"Everyone's funds are always limited to by their willingness to pay – and we're not conducting this war quite how they wanted it to go," Kenobi says with a faint smile. "They think this war will bring them profit – but in the long run, I doubt it will. Eventually, their wallets will slam shut for us."

Asajj eyes him with surprise. "That's why you capture ships, instead of just destroying them," she says in realisation. "That's why the ransoms."

"There are other reasons – but sadly… money is an issue," Kenobi sighs and turns to the hologram. "And how well I manage the monetary cost of this war on my end determines how long I get to run it. And I intend to run it for a long time."

Asajj frowns a little, looking at hologram between them. So many things Kenobi is juggling in his head. The politics, the reputation of the Confederation, its influence, the money, the costs and benefit's of action – the future plans of taking future worlds, hyperspace lanes… He's managing it all somehow, but it's a lot. Lot more than she thought – maybe even lot more than Dooku realises. Dooku, after all, is only concentrating onto the politics and the publicity, giving rousing speeches and fighting in courts. Behind the scenes Kenobi is thinking all of it.

No wonder everything about this war had changed when Kenobi had turned to their side.

Asajj looks up to the esteemed General Kenobi and really takes him in. He's in what, his mid thirties? He looks older though. He looks tired, there are bags under his eyes and wrinkles at the corners. He looks very neatly put together – beard trimmed, hair pushed back, uniform clean lined and perfectly pressed. But under it, his complexion is a tiny bit shallower than it was before.

How long would it take until the man would burn out? And what would happen to the war when the impetus given to it by General Kenobi would collapse in on itself?

"What?" Kenobi asks, glancing up at her. "Something on my face?"

Yes. Stress, Asajj thinks and rests a hand on her hip. And on top of everything else, they're about to go to war against Kenobi's student. What a great combination.

"What can I do to help?" she asks instead of commenting on it.

Kenobi looks at her, searching her eyes, and then he smiles a little. "Find me a place to put few thousand prisoners comfortably, and arrange all necessarily security detail for it."

Asajj arches her eyebrows. Right, Kenobi's droids shoot to stun, and to ransom prisoners you need to take prisoners alive. "I'll get right on it," she says.

"There's a contingent of medical droids arriving inside an hour," Kenobi says and turns to the map. "They will take over every clone prisoner we capture – they know their business and what they need to get their job done. Please make sure they have what they need."

"Yes, sir," Asajj says, arching an eyebrow. "Anything else?"

Kenobi considers. "The Republic forces haven't yet made it through the security perimeter and chances are they won't for a couple of days," he says. "If you're willing, I have a message I need taken to Lord Dooku – and I can't risk it being transmitted and picked up by Republic scanners. He will be in Onderon right about now, which is about as close as he will be for months on end."

"It would still take me two days to get to Onderon," Asajj comments with a frown. "And two more days to get back."

"And by that time we will likely be in full combat, yes," Kenobi agrees with a nod and a sigh. "But this is important."

Asajj considers it and then nods. It probably has to do with the hyperlanes. And she would like to have a face to face talk with Count Dooku as well. Kenobi is proving out to be… not what she'd imagined. "Alright," she says. "Do you want me to arrange your little medical prison before I leave or…?"

"Yes, I would like that," Kenobi says. "I need to make the message anyway. We still have some time, and full control of the orbit – for now. There's time."


 

Asajj arranges the prison in what looks to be some sort of office building. With a battalion of battle droids, they first secure the building, removing everything and anything in way of furniture or anything that might in any way be used as weapon, before all entrances, exits and windows are carefully covered and secured.

Then the medical droids arrive. Contingent of medical droids, Kenobi has said. There's, all together, five hundred of them. Five hundred fully equipped surgical droids with all the bells and whistles, each with a crate of foldable gurneys and various medical devices in row.

"Thank you, Commander, we will take it over from here," the head surgical droid says, one of the few of them with actual feet.

"Alright," Asajj says and folds her arms. "The building's all yours."

As she watches, they start setting up the prison a lot less like a prison – and more like a field hospital. Almost every room – most of which Asajj had envisioned as holding cells – is turned into a make shift hospital room, with gurneys set up in neat rows, awaiting for patients. Though the battle droids are told to stick around, the security of the place isn't given that much thought, really – it doesn't look like any of the medical droids expect their prisoners to be awake even for a moment.

Well, it explains how Kenobi can handle the sums of POWs he deals with. He just keeps them knocked out, handling them without them ever being awake enough to object never mind fight back or attempt to escape. And judging by the transports that park right in front of the medical hospital, the POWs captured won't be sticking around for long enough to be rescued either.

The efficiency of the whole operation is rather impressive. It's very surgical, if it really works like how Asajj imagines it does. She can't quite decide if it's cruel or kind, though – it has almost mechanical, very factorial feel to it. Like the whole operation is a production line.

No, it is a production line. Turning enemies into prisoners and then into ransoms.

Kenobi is not as Light as he first appears, Dooku had said. Asajj rests a hand on her hip and watches one of the droids take out a box of restraints, to use to bind prisoners to their gurneys and shakes her head. It's not darkness that Kenobi has. Kenobi sees his actions as neither Light nor Dark.

It's just pragmatism, straight forward and efficient.

And somehow this Dooku's bouts of dark cruelty and vicious malice seem almost warm in comparison.

Asajj runs a hand over her neck, not quite sure how she feels about this, and then looks away from the droids, to one of the windows that is still yet to be covered. There's a glimpse of light in the distance, in the side of a building good half a kilometre away, and Asajj narrows her eyes.

A lens, catching the light of the sun.


 

Later that day, Asajj accepts Kenobi's message – recorded in a hologram reader and stored in a chip that would fit any number of chip readers. Asajj arches an eyebrow at it and then tugs the little chip away, wondering whether Kenobi put any security features to it.

"We're going to arrange a little light show to send you on your way," Kenobi says and smiles. "The Admiral is going to test out the guns on board the Abolitionist. It should hide your departure in the weapons interference, so hopefully no one will even notice you're gone. Still, be swift Commander."

"I'll do my very best, my dear General," Asajj says and cocks her hips at him. "Try not to win the war before I get back. I want to see you fight."

Kenobi smiles, somewhat weary. "I'm sure there will be plenty of fighting left when you get back. May the Force be with you, my dear."

Asajj arches an eyebrow. "You too, darling," she says and turns to leave. "By the way," she says over her shoulder. "That Senator friend of yours?"

"Hm?"

"He's still here," Asajj says. "Spotted him before, spying on us while we were securing the prison for you."

Kenobi smiles. "I wouldn't expect anything less of him," he says grimly.

"You're going to have to deal with him somehow," Asajj points out and heads towards the door. "Before he deals away with you."

Kenobi sighs behind her and then she hears him talking to a communicator. "Admiral, it's time to block off communications to the planet."

Chapter Text

Count Dooku is waiting for her when Asajj exits her ship, standing by the side of the landing pad with a droid at his side. Amusingly, he has his hands clasped behind his back not unlike the way Kenobi tends to stand, and there is something very military about it, now that Asajj thinks about it. Not that she still knows that much about military, it hadn't been more than handful of days so far and Kenobi is the only person who was actually a person and not a droid in their military that she's met, but still.

Count Dooku looks like a military commander.

"My Master," Asajj says and bows her head in front of him.

"My apprentice," Dooku answers, looking her over. "General Kenobi sent a word ahead of your arrival before he blocked local communications in Christophis – I understand you have a message for me."

"Yes, my Lord," Asajj says and hands over the chip.

It had taken effort not to check the chip out herself. In the long hours of flying, the chip had burned a hole in her pocket, and she'd examined it thoroughly – it didn't seem to have extra security features. She could've just snapped it into a reader and watched Kenobi's message. She hadn't, but damn, it had been tempting.

"Good," Dooku says, turning the chip in hand and then turning on his heel. "Come. Tell me of your time with our General."

Asajj falls automatically into step with him, as they head inside and towards the private house he's staying at in Onderon. It's not very grandiose as the estates of Count Dooku go, but it does have a private landing strip and generous garden, so, it's private at least.

"I don't know where to begin, Master," Asajj says, glancing at the grounds and sending out her senses – no one but droids near. "Kenobi is… more complicated than I first assumed."

"What is your impression of his personality?"

"Straight forward, determined, pragmatic," Asajj answers and considers it for a moment. "Shameless."

Dooku glances at her with an arched brow. "Shameless?"

Asajj thinks of the pet names which by now have become as easy as breathing. Kenobi doesn't have interest in her, not like that – she'd feel it if he did. He's reaching for something else in her when he calls her my dear, not for lust or passion, and it always sounds more like a dare and a challenge than put down it might be coming from some other man. But no, that's not it.

"He doesn't feel shame in his actions, even when they go against things he might consider… just," Asajj thinks. "He is a good man, but he will do terrible things to get his job done, and he won't feel sorry for it afterwards." The hospital medical was a proof of that. "And if he does, he won't let that stop him."

"Hmm," Dooku answers. "You have a good eye," he compliments her as they enter the house, where air is little bit drier, more like in Serenno. "It is one of General Kenobi's better qualities. It also has a chance of being his downfall. Now, tell me of Christophis."

She does, detailing all the events that had led them down to the planet, and what had occurred there. Dooku casts her a look when she admits she probably could've spied on Kenobi and Organa – but had chosen not to – but he doesn't criticise the choice. She ends with the establishment of the prison, and her departure from the planet with Kenobi's message.

"Well then," Dooku says and leads her to an office and there, to a hologram table. "Let's have a look what our esteemed General has to say."

Asajj's eyebrows lift with surprise, but she says nothing as he slots the chip into the reader, and presses a few buttons. Immediately, General Kenobi appears to stand before them, his posture military straight, his face calm – hands, naturally, clasped behind his back.

"My lord," Kenobi says and bows his head. "I hope this message finds you well and your campaign in the Japrael system is going well. We have begun fortifying the city of Chaleydonia in Christophis for the inevitable invasion. Governor Calleisa isn't happy about the proceedings, but with the Jedi on the orbit, it's only matter of time before they find a way through our defences."

The General hesitates for a moment. "And if they won't," he says and smiles briefly. "I suppose I will have to give them one."

Asajj arches an eyebrow at that and Dooku folds his arms, narrowing his eyes at the recording.

"I have a new campaign plan, for which I fear I am going to need your approval for," Kenobi says, and waves a hand at the hologram table. Theirs light up with a star map. "I mean to begin taking the hyperspace lanes, starting with the end of the Corellian run. And I am going to use Christophis to do it. The planet is in a good position, and from what I've been able to glean of the local politics, people in these parts are waiting for a sign – and they are waiting to see what will best benefit them. I'm going to show them."

The General's hologram walks around the table. "There is going to be war over Christophis, that's inevitable. It's location and it's resources are too important for Republic not to go to war," he says. "Defending Christophis from Republic blockade is one thing – having it invaded, having that invasion turn bloody, and then beating that invasion back… that's a bigger message. And of course, it will give me ammunition for our Moral War," he adds and runs a hand over his chin thoughtfully.

"Of course there is a chance I will fail here," Kenobi says. "And Christophis will be a loss, at which point all of this is moot. But if it isn't, and I succeed in dragging this out, if I can make this costly enough for the Republic, and meaningful enough for the local systems that they begin finally taking sides… we can use it as distraction for the real goal."

He draws a line onto the map, from Christophis to Ryloth. Then he draws another one, from Arkanis in the middle of his line to a planet Asajj doesn't know. "A section of the Corellian Run, and section of the Triellus trade route," Kenobi says. "Arkanis is in the crossroads of two longest hyperlanes in the galaxy – and it's neutral. If we can persuade it to our side, we will have the control of this," he draws a circle around the area, "whole territory, as far as trade routes go. And it will put this world," he taps the planet Asajj doesn't know, "Right within our purview."

"What is that world?" Asajj asks with a frown and Dooku shakes his head – he doesn't know either.

"This," General Kenobi says and taps the planet, "is Tatooine. Not very major in the galactic scheme of things. It is how ever part of the biggest smuggling circle in the galaxy, which annoys the local law makers and which is used by the local merchants and traders. It is also the location for one of the biggest free trade slave markets in the galaxy."

"Oh, I see," Dooku murmurs, frowning a little.

"If we capture this area, and do it in a way that doesn't make the locals hate us," Kenobi continues with a small smile, circling the area again. "We'll have a number of wealthy systems like Christophis and we'll have Ryloth, and we have Tatooine. And if we treat these two worlds right…" Kenobi trails away and glances up. "It's not a bad banner to rally under, is it?"

"What's so special about Ryloth?" Asajj asks. "It's just twi-leks."

"Ryloth is more of a symbol than it's a society, at this point – and it's a symbol of neglect and complacency," Dooku says, reaching to pause the recording. "For centuries now it has been under nearly constant raiding by slavers and other lowlifes, because twi-leks are popular slaves. There are more twi-leks outside Ryloth than within because of their slavery has proliferated the galaxy with them. Everyone knows it – and no one has ever done much anything about it."

Asajj folds her arms. "And that's important to us… why?"

"I see General Kenobi has yet to conduct you into his Moral War," Dooku says with a smile. "The thing that will make us win this war, my apprentice, is slavery. Republic's use of slavery. It has already given us great victories – this very system, for one."

Asajj's eyebrows rise. "Japrael allied with us?"

"It did indeed, and gladly," Dooku says with great satisfaction. "The people of the Onderon are very righteous and idealistic people, and like all civilised people they abhor the abuse of sentient life for benefit of others. Their Senator Bonteri is very vehement about it. The Clone Armies of the Republic… the Slave Armies of the Republic are the banner we have started rallying under.

"However," Dooku continues. "You can only expound on one message for so long before it starts growing stale – and clones are clones. Most do not see them as people at all, seeing as they are all mass produced, little more than things to some. The message needs to be broadened, which I feel is what the General is after here."

He reaches for the hologram table, and resumes the recording.

"It's a little bit something for everyone," Kenobi says, eying the star map. "Trade routes for the merchants, shunning of Republic for the rebellious, freeing of slaves for the righteous… and behind it all, tax breaks for all that join the Separatist cause. And at the end, if we succeed, it will give us control over large swathes of the galaxy, just because of the hyperspace lanes. For now it's only an idea, though."

The General looks up, not quite at them but in their general direction. "Make no mistake though, this will be a hard campaign, a long one – a costly one. For all of this to work, Christophis has to be bad enough to draw attention to it – and away from the lane it sits on. And to take the lanes, I am going to need ships. I'm going to need hundreds of ships."

"Hmm," Dooku hums.

"I have included in this message the full details of the campaign plan I have sketched out," Kenobi says, leaning back and clasping his hands behind his back again. "It is only an outline for now, but with the Admiral Griveous here, I am sure we can fully flesh it out – with your approval, my lord."

The General bows his head. "I will wait eagerly for your response. May the Force be with you."

The hologram trembles and then cuts off, leaving them staring at a darkened hologram table.

"Very interesting," Dooku says and reaches to take the chip from the reader, turning it between his fingers. "He's quite the planner, our General."

"Yeah," Asajj agrees and runs a hand over her face. She's not surprised that Kenobi had plotted all of this out, it's by now pretty obvious there is always more going on behind the scenes than Kenobi is letting on. But when the hell had he done it, when had he had the time? "My Lord," she says and turns to Dooku. "Do we have other henerals yet, other admirals?"

"Not many that Kenobi has approved of," Dooku admits and puts the chip into his pocket. "The General has high standards and it took quite a bit of arguing for him to agree on Admiral Griveous at least. Why?"

Asajj hesitates and then looks away. She can't quite say that Kenobi is wearing himself out – that would be exposing a weakness in a… associate, and even if it would be to her Master, it seems a bit like betrayal.

"Kenobi needs more men," she says finally. "He needs commanders to delegate to. He needs a lot of them."

Dooku eyes her and then turns away. "The man has discerning tastes, unfortunately," he says. "And inferior underlings would only hold him back. There will be more potential candidates now, however," he says. "With Japrael and if Christophis works out… yes, there will be more candidates to come."


 

Asajj stays with Count Dooku in his estate for a day, idly perusing the holonet and catching up on her Master's political victories. He'd made the headlines in Onderon, his image the first every news network showed, clips of his speeches being played out throughout the sites.

"… and rise up against complacency and corruption and bring order and justice to those that have seen none," Count Dooku speaks to what looks like half a kilometre wide auditorium full of politicians. "The time to act is not now – the time to act was decades ago. And waiting for Republic Senate's action, we have landed here, decades later, at a cusp of a war of greed and malice…"

Her Master has a very good speaking voice, Asajj thinks. Resonant and powerful, every word measured and weighed and delivered with precise vocal control. Kenobi is more even toned and soothing in comparison – where as Dooku stimulates excitement, Kenobi levels it. Outwardly, the Separatist movement is fire and brimstone – but it sits still on hard, solid surface of Kenobi's calm.

Her two Lords make one hell of a team, Asajj muses and leans back.

Her investment in the war had always been one duty and action. She's a tool made to fit her Master's hand, to be used against his enemies. She hadn't cared why or how, just that she served her Master's plan and had a place in it. Now though, now she cares.

Kenobi had made her care about this war. Kenobi had made her want to win it.

And for the war to be won, Kenobi couldn't burn out. Or worse yet, get killed by the Jedi because he was being an idiot and letting them off easy. Which he might, at least in Skywalker's case.

Closing the holonet, Asajj stands and then leaves her guestroom. Lord Dooku is on the premises – the politics of Onderon take place mostly in the evening time now, in celebrations and parties and dinners, now that the courtroom actions have been dealt with. Rubbing elbows, making friends, Asajj mused. Count Dooku's best battlefield.

"Master," Asajj says, knocking at the door.

"Yes, my apprentice?" Dooku asks, not looking up from the datapad he's perusing.

"With your permission, I would like to visit Serenno and retrieve kyber crystals for General Kenobi," she says. "He needs a lightsaber."

Count Dooku glances up and lowers the datapad slightly. "Kenobi has meditated on those crystals at length," he says. "He rejected all of them."

"He won't this time," Asajj says determinedly. "I'll have him make a lightsaber, at the point of my own if I have to. He needs one." And she'd feel much better knowing he had one.

Dooku considers her for a moment and then stands up. "How very caring of you, Asajj," he says and turns away from the desk, to walk to the back wall. "You sound almost protective of him."

"If Kenobi dies because he's being an idiot, this war will turn into a mess," Asajj says and rests a hand on her hip, on the red sash there. "We need him alive."

Dooku smiles darkly. "You think so?"

"I would never diminish your power or accomplishments, my Master," Asajj says firmly. "Without you there are no Separatists at all. But General Kenobi is…" she searches for a term that won't be too insulting to her Master's strengths or dismissing of his importance. "His survival is vital," she settles on saying.

"There are other military commanders," Dooku comments idly. "Some rivalling, even surpassing General Kenobi's abilities."

"What about his vision?" Asajj asks.

Dooku hums and doesn't answer as he waves his hand at the wall. There is a resonating click somewhere below ground and then the back wall of the office splits open, revealing an armoured door. Dooku presses a hand on a panel there for a moment, and the armoured door opens as well, slipping into the door.

Behind it there is a vault, mostly empty except for few choice items. Couple of holocrons, some flimsiplast, datapads – and a dark metal box, which Dooku takes in hand and opens.

Inside it, there are three blood red kyber crystals sitting on black packing foam.

"These are the ones our General spent the longest time looking over," Count Dooku says, turning around and walking over to set the box onto his desk. "I had hoped for him to see the reason sooner or later, so I've taken to bringing them with me as I travel, as he is more likely to see me in person than he is to visit Serenno."

Asajj releases a breath and relaxes. "Very prescient of you, my lord."

Dooku smiles and closes the box again. Then he takes the datapad, presses few buttons, and then takes out a chip from it, setting it on top of the box. "Do give my respects to the General when you see him," he says and pushes the box and the chip over. "And tell him that eventually I will see him on Christophis – after he's taken it once and for all."

"Yes, my Lord," Asajj says and bows her head. "As you wish."


 

Another two days in space, and then she's back on Christophis, just in time to see the very end of the space battle. One of the Republic cruisers has already gone to land on Chaleydonia, escorted by fighters and bombers, and everything is a chaos of plasma blasts as the Republic fighters engage the droid bombers in air and in space, and the anti air craft cannons on the ground oppose the Republic at every turn.

It's hard to see whether the Republic broke through the perimeter or if the General and the Admiral engineered their breakthrough. Asajj ignores the battle for now, veering to the side of it and spinning away whenever either fighter type makes a go at her. No Force sensitives in air, it seems – no one here can keep up with her and she is only on a skiff.

Kenobi welcomes her to land with a barrage of cannons from the city centre, that send the fighters chasing her fleeing to all directions.

"Welcome back, Commander," the General's voice echoes through her cabin the moment she's close enough for communications to get through the blockade. "How was the trip?"

"Long and boring," Asajj answers and brings the ship to land in the closest open area, running through the post flight sequence as she does. "Where are you? I have Lord Dooku's message and little something extra for you, dearest."

"Oh, that sounds promising," Kenobi answers. "Just land, commander, and I'll be right out to meet you. Mind your step, my dear. It's a bit hectic out there."

Bit hectic is about right. The dogfight up in the air doesn't quite reach the ground level – Kenobi has the area shielded, and covered not just with artillery and fighters of his own but battalions of droids, taking cover behind the barriers and barricades he'd erected. Lot of them seem to have rocket launchers. Not a very starfighter safe environment, it seems.

Asajj jumps down from her ship and meets Kenobi halfway up the steps to the government building, Kenobi's selected head quarters apparently. "You started without me, darling," Asajj says with a little pout.

"Well, opportunity presented itself," Kenobi answers, and in the distance something thrums heavily as something enormous touches down, making the whole city tremble a little. "You've not missed much yet, and you're in good time. Sounds like they've finally landed," Kenobi says, shaking his head. "Come on, let's head inside and I'll bring you up to speed."

Kenobi hadn't, in the end, let the Republic forces through – though he and the Admiral had baited them ferociously. The first two days had been spent in a skirmish over the planet's surface, star fighter against droid fighter. "Looked like it would be the same today, but Anakin pulled a fast one on us. We lost the Reroll," Kenobi reports with a sigh. "I really liked that ship too."

"It was a Republic ship," Asajj comments as they walk into the spacious – green hued, of course – building. The place is covered in droids, regular battle droids, droid destroyers, and more heavily armoured super battle droids. It really looks like a war, now.

"A Republic ship which I took with minimal damage and minimal casualties. Do you how hard it is to capture battle cruiser in space?" Kenobi asks. "They have tragic tendency of self destructing before you can land a boarding party."

"Tragic," Asajj says wryly. "How are the Republic forces doing?"

Kenobi hesitates and sighs. "They lost two – one of the Star Destroyers and a cruiser," he says quietly. "Approximately five thousand souls lost, all together. Would be more but they evacuated the Star Destroyer before hand. Still…"

Asajj arches an eyebrow at the very real grief in his voice. Kenobi glances at her and looks away. "Aside from that, one of the enemy Star Destroyers has been disabled, but it backed behind enemy lines before the admiral could attempt boarding – which is just as well," he says. "Chances are Anakin would have just blown it up to our faces. That's how he got through – he attempted to ram a ship against the Abolitionist. Almost succeeded too – it hit the Reroll full on and while everyone was blinded by the light show, Anakin's ship rammed right through the blockade."

"That would've been a fine bit of propaganda, your brand new flag ship blown up in its real fight," Asajj says flatly.

"Yes, well, all the better that it didn't happen," Kenobi says and then stops and turns to her. "Now, Count Dooku's message?"

She holds out the box. "For you my dear, with the Respects of our Lord Count Dooku," she says and gives a theatrical little bow. "Who says he will be with you – once you have taken Christophis."

Kenobi looks at her and accepts the chip first – and then opens the box. For a moment he just eyes the three red crystals sitting there, his face expressionless. "You couldn't have gotten these from Serenno, not with the time you were gone," he says.

"Luckily Count Dooku thinks ahead," Asajj says. "You need a lightsaber, and you will make one even if I have to force you."

"So harsh, dear Commander," Kenobi says but reaches to touch the crystals. There's a soft hum of resonance in reaction, but they don't light up like they would at the touch of the Dark side. He shakes his head. "I don't have the time to figure out how to heal a bled crystal," he says regretfully.

"I'm sorry, did I stutter?" Asajj asks flatly. "My dearest darling, we're going against Jedi, on the ground, where they are sadly in their element. You need a lightsaber – and you will construct one. Make time."

Kenobi blinks at that a little and leans back to look at her fully. "My dear," he says and then trails off at her expression. "The battle here –" he then starts to say.

"Tell me what you want, and I will do it for you," she says. "Tell me how you want this battle conducted, and I will make it so. Unless you don't trust me yet?" she glances down at the chip in his hand and arches a brow.

It had been a test, a very obvious test, of her trustworthiness. Unprotected chip – and then another from Dooku, just as easy to read if she chose to. She hadn't. And he knows it – why else would've Dooku let her see the message, unless it was in one way or another meant also for her?

"I – do," Kenobi says slowly. "But you are still new to military action."

"You've prepared the battlefield," Asajj says. "You've planned it all, set the pieces where they need to be. Everything is ready, no?"

"Nothing in a battlefield ever goes perfectly according to plan," Kenobi says warningly. "And Anakin Skywalker, though not yet quite the military commander he will be one day, is cunning and excellent at thinking on the fly. This battle needs to be managed carefully."

Asajj takes a breath and releases it slowly. "Then I will manage it and if something beyond my control crops up I will bring it straight to you," she snaps. Kenobi still hesitates, looking between her and the crystals. "Please," Asajj says, softer. "Let me prove to you that I have been listening."

For a long moment Kenobi just watches her, serious, searching – and so tired. If he has gotten much – or in fact any – sleep in the past four days since Skywalker arrived on orbit, she'd be very surprised indeed. He definitely doesn't look like he has.

"Not today," he says then. "Today is crucial, with Anakin just landed. I can't step out today." He takes a deep breath and releases it slowly. Then he takes the box of crystals and snaps it shut, turning sharply on his heel as he does. "Walk with me, commander – I need to talk you through our strategy. And pay close attention and press everything to your memory. I'm going to give you a crash course on warfare and unfortunately there is no time for me to repeat myself or to test you on it."

Asajj watches him closely and then nods. "I'm a fast learner," she promises as she falls, once more, into step with him.

"Good – you're going to have to be," Kenobi says darkly and leads her to the command centre.


 

Skywalker wastes no time launching his first assault on Chaleydonia. Asajj and Kenobi watch it unfold from the command centre, where a large four meter diameter holotable shows them live feed of the entire city. Around them the room is full of droids – some of them battle droids but most of them are tactical and analysis droids who are keeping track of the minutiae of the battlefield and commanding the battle droid battalions around, as they move to answer Skywalker's attack.

And as the whole progresses, Kenobi talks Asajj through it step by step.

"We have advantage on almost all sectors," Kenobi explains. "We got the time to set up artillery and shielding, so they can't come at us by air – they are setting up their own defences here," he motions at the shape of cruiser sitting in the warehouse district, good five kilometres from where they are. "Heavy cannons here and anti aircraft here – to keep us from launching an attack on their base, see? First thing you must do in any prolonged combat – set up and fortify base camp and secure supplies."

"Well that's obvious," Asajj says. "Could you have attacked the ship just after it landed, before they had time to fortify?"

"No. They didn't land where I assumed so our artillery wasn't in position, and the ship's cannons would've made quick work of them anyway. They did with every other set they ran across. Anakin predicted my moves well there," Kenobi says with a smile. "He's been studying."

"Don't sound so proud," Asajj says flatly. "He's attacking us."

"Apologies," Kenobi says, not sounding apologetic at all, and points at the assault. "Now, this. They're trying to gain as much ground as early as they can, here. Capturing the main road will give them – and their tanks and walkers – easiest access to the city. So that's what they are pushing for first, trying to get heavy cannons here where they can advance further."

Asajj nods. "You're not letting them, right?"

"Of course not. We have road blocks in place on all the main roads – five on the main one alone. We also have good fifty tanks on the streets. We have droids on all these buildings here," Kenobi motions around the main street, "with sniper rifles. That will stop the forward march on foot. The artillery here, here and here, all have clear view of the road. There are also enough droid starfighters on stand by to take out their tanks and walkers if need be."

Asajj eyes him. "Only that?" she asks wryly. "It's like they caught you completely off guard."

Kenobi smiles a little sheepishly. "… and the bridge here is wired with explosives," he motions about kilometre in. "Which will put an end to their advance on the main road if nothing else will."

Asajj sighs. "Okay," she agrees. "And the reason why you won't just light up the place right now and be done with it because you're looking to take live prisoners and prolong the battle here," she assumes.

Kenobi smiles. "Precisely," he agrees.

"What do the christopheans think about all of this?"

Kenobi leans back and folds his arms "They're not happy, but we're not to blame here, so, there unhappy at the Republic and not us," he admits and looks at her seriously. "And they aren't going to know any different. They aren't going to know why this battle will take a long as it will."

"Of course," Asajj agrees. If they knew Kenobi was using them as flashy, exploding distraction for his actual goals… Yes, that would go down well.

Asajj considers her General while Kenobi turns his eyes back to the map, looking grim but not guilty, not even hesitant. Christophis is an important world and would be a great benefit to the Separatist cause – but Kenobi would sacrifice it for a bigger victory in the war if he had to. He would do it easily – obviously the goal here is to win Christophis and the eventual campaign for the hyperlanes. But if sacrifices had to be made…

It's a very delicate balance Kenobi is teetering on, it seems.

"What is Skywalker going to do, then? Is he with the assault?" Asajj asks.

Kenobi runs a hand over his beard thoughtfully. "I don't know," he admits. "The surveillance hasn't spotted him yet, and he's shielding his presence from me – and I don't know how he was conducted into this war, what priorities he's following. He might be in the thick of it – or he might be coming straight for me."

"You don't sound worried," Asajj comments dubiously. If anything he sounds excited.

"I'm not – and I'm looking forward to seeing how he's grown, if he learned anything new."

Asajj shakes her head. "Just remember that he's the enemy," she says grimly.

"Oh, I do. I couldn't possibly forget," Kenobi murmurs and looks away. He inhales and then recovers. "Now," he says. "Let's talk about the Clones."


 

They start getting prisoners just few hours into the Republic forces' attempt of taking the main street. They're captured while mounting an attack, they get captured while they're trying to take out the snipers, while they're trying to destroy tanks or artillery. They're the battlefield fallen, left behind by their compatriots who were forced to retreat or move on. They are brought in by specially assigned squadrons of droids, who carry in unconscious clones on hovering stretchers into the prison building and deposit them into waiting hands of the medical droids.

All of Kenobi's forces, be they on the ground or in air, shoot to stun and disable first and foremost. Even the snipers up in the skyscrapers shoot to stun. It means that some downed forces return to the battlefield to oppose them again in few hours – but according to Kenobi there is a very real proven statistical benefit of stunning enemies that already shows.

"Republic forces are already growing reckless with us," he says while they watch the medical droids strip a clone of his armour and stack it neatly into a box marked with the clone's identifying code. "They know that droids aren't shooting to kill, so they aren't as cautious about walking into weapons fire as they would be with their lives on the line. For the clones it's almost conditioned."

"How so?" Asajj asks, frowning as the medical droid administers a sedative to the clone.

"They are grown and raised in battle simulations," Kenobi explains, looking down at the clone's face. The medical droid is fitting the clone's head into a frame of some kind to keep it in place. "Any given clone has been stunned in a battlefield conditions a thousand times before he even enters the war. They don't fear it and they don't know to fear capture – it hasn't been taught to them. That will change in time, as they grow older and more experienced, but right now they're still shiny and new and they don't know any better. And I am abusing that inexperience to the fullest."

He sounds sad as he says it. Asajj frowns a little at it and at the clone. She's never much thought about them either – they're just cannon fodder in the war, just like droids.

"He's ready for the procedure, General," the medical droid says after securing a strap over the clones forehead.

"Good," Kenobi says and turns to leave. "You may proceed when ready."

Asajj hesitates before following him just long enough to see the medical droid take out a utensil that aims a sharp red light on the clones head. A laser.

Outside the makeshift surgical room there is a hall hull of gurneys, full of captured clones – full of medical droids piercing red light into their immobilised head. Some of them are moving the laser around, shutting it of, repositioning it and then firing it again – but as far as Asajj can see, they're not doing any actual damage. At least on surface. Whatever they're doing on the inside, she can't say – she's not sure she wants to know.

It's beyond uneasy sight, though. Strapped to the gurneys the clones look like bodies, like dolls, and there's so many of them, dozens at a glance, all in neat lines… like products on an assembly line.

"Oh," Kenobi murmurs, drawing Asajj's attention from the room and to him – and then to the clone he's staring at. At first he looks no different from the rest of the clones, but when Kenobi reaches out to touch the man's face, tracing his fingers around his eye, Asajj can see a scar on the man's temple, curling around the brow and half hidden under the strap across his forehead.

The medical droid pauses, turning off the laser. "Can I do something for you, General Kenobi?"

"What's his identification code?" Kenobi asks, still tracing the scar.

"CC-2224," the droid answers. "Rank: Battalion Commander. He was taken down trying to sabotage the artillery in sector 45-B."

"He wouldn't have been alone – his squad?"

"I understand they got away while he was laying covering fire."

Kenobi says nothing for a moment, staring at the unconscious man's face. Then he draws a sharp breath and turns away. "Resume the procedure," he says, his voice shaking just a little before growing more stable again. "Come along, Commander."

Asajj arches an eyebrow and follows. "You know that one," she says. "Who is he? Someone special?"

Kenobi says nothing for a moment and it looks like he won't answer at all. Then he sighs. "He was one of mine – would have been the commander of my battalion… if I had stayed in the Jedi Order."

For a moment Asajj says nothing, wondering. If Kenobi had, then their side would be been doomed to failure. True, Kenobi wouldn't have gotten to lead the whole Republic military and choose how the war was being run like he is now, Jedi are under more restrictions than General Kenobi, but still. Lack of Kenobi on their side and his addition to the numbers of their enemies…

Asajj shudders to think it.

"Do you regret it?" she can't help but ask.

"I regret the bonds I lost," Kenobi says, calm and collected once more. "That's all." With that said he continues on like nothing happened – as if it wasn't a friend of his on that slap with a droid poking around his head.

Asajj hesitates and looks back to clone, CC-2224, and sighs. Clones and senator friends and Padawans – never mind who knows how many Jedi.

They're all very small pieces on the board of Kenobi's galactic war game, aren't they?

… no, damn it all, she can't leave it be, she has to know. "Kenobi," she calls after him and motions around them, at the clones and at the droids messing with their heads. "What is this? What are you doing to them?"

Kenobi pauses and turns to look at her. His expression is odd – unreadable, but not cold. "Inside every clone's brain there is a bio chip, completely organic and almost undetectable by regular scanners. At most it will read as a benign tumour," he says then, his voice steady, inflectionless. "It's an inhibitor that regulates some of their brain functions – hormone levels, chemical balance, and so on. There are also hundred and fifty commands coded in to it which clones are physically incapable of disobeying, so as long as the inhibitor chip is active."

Asajj stares at him and then looks at the clones. Kenobi does the same, and his expression is still odd. "That's…" she trails off. Their propaganda called the clones slaves, but this… this is a bit much. "You're frying them, aren't you?" she asks.

"Surgical laser treatment. A little old fashioned, but it still works well on tumours. I'd have them completely removed – but the scar would be rather obvious," Kenobi sighs and leans his head back a little, looking up at the ceiling. "Call it an apology for sending them off to prison. Freewill for their freedom. Sounds almost like a fair trade, don't you think?"

"It… shouldn't be a trade," Asajj answers quietly, thinking of Hal'Sted and of collars and chains – and a past she'd hoped to leave behind years ago. She doesn't care, she shouldn't care, all that is years behind her and she doesn't care – except she does. "It shouldn't be a trade," she repeats.

Kenobi smiles and it's a weary, sad thing. "No, it shouldn't, but under the circumstances it's the best I can do for them," he says and turns away. "Now come along, my dear. We have work to do."

After casting another look back at CC-2224, Asajj follows – wondering if Kenobi's reaction to having captured the clone had been grief after all or if it had been joy.

Chapter Text

The first day of fighting on the ground goes pretty much how Kenobi expects it to, from what Asajj can tell. The man is nervous and anxious and keeping a hard eye on all the proceedings, but in the end the Republic forces don't make much further from the warehouse district, hampered in all turns by the Separatist forces Kenobi has sown carefully all around the city.

Sure, there are attempts aplenty. As they watch the fighting take place from the command centre, the Republic forces try to take out artillery, they try to clear out the snipers in the towers and there is even a bombing run which Kenobi ends by shooting the ship down. Skywalker is, according to Kenobi, testing the limits of their protective fortifications, and in Asajj's opinion they seem to be damn near impenetrable. They have a larger force in Chaleydonia than Skywalker does, more troops, more artillery, more everything. They should by all rights be able to sweep Skywalker right off the map.

But they don't, because that's not the goal. The goal is to get all eyes on Christophis.

"We can't be too fast in our movements here, and we can't give in too easily," Kenobi had said. "Thankfully I already got a reputation as a defensive strategist, not an offensive one. People expect me to turtle rather than attack so none of this will seem out of character. But prolong that for too long with obvious superior firepower and forces on our side and it will flip around and I will appear weak and indecisive instead. So, a careful back and forth – and we must not let them know how outmanned they really are."

By their estimation Skywalker had managed to land only roughly four thousand men in a cruiser packed full of them. On orbit the Republic fleet is now trying to figure out to a way to get through the separatist perimeter again, to send in supplies and reinforcements, but Griveous is harassing them on the Abolitionist. That too is going to be a careful balancing act of teetering on the edge of status quo without letting people know that's what they're doing.

Thankfully for now, Asajj doesn't have to worry about that, though. All she has to do is make sure the Republic forces don't advance further into the city, and if they do, they're pushed back accordingly.

"Now, go," she says, after Kenobi has given her his last, half anxious orders. "Go and meditate and make a lightsaber and maybe even sleep, for Force's sake. I can handle this."

"You will come to me something anything unexpected occurs," Kenobi says firmly. "No matter how small. When Anakin goes off the beaten path, it always starts out small."

"Yes, yes, darling, you've told me," Asajj says and pushes at his shoulder to spin him around. Then she gives a shove at his back. "Away with you. And try and set a foot on this command centre again in at least eight hours and I will beat you back with a lightsaber."

"You would not," Kenobi says. "Your lightsabers have no blade strength control."

"All the more reason for you to make your own – now go!" Asajj says and gives him another good shove. It's a testament to how long Kenobi has been awake, how the man stumbles, but Asajj makes no mention of it, only stands in his way imperiously until he gives up and heads off with an amused sigh.

Then she's left alone, surrounded by analysis and technical droids, with battle droids exchanging nervous looks. They say nothing, and the silence grates.

"Back to work," Asajj snaps at them and as they quickly turn to the holotable to keep on keeping track of their forces, Asajj does the same.

Her first time running a battlefield, she muses. She is going to make it a good one.

 


 

During the second day, the Republic forces dig their heels in around the warehouse district. Probably taking example from Kenobi's use of barriers and barricades, behind which he's hidden the droid forces from the incoming blaster fire, the clones erect their own barriers and barricades, making themselves some cover where the local buildings don't offer any. Since their advance has been slow – nonexistent – they're fortifying what ground they have, just like Kenobi said they would.

Of course, they don't know that Kenobi isn't going to even try getting them off Chaleydonia and so their little base isn't probably ever going to come under a proper attack at all. At least, not yet, not until Kenobi has everything in position and no longer needs the distraction of Christophis.

There are few exchanges of fire over the city streets – the clones testing to see if the Separatists defences are holding, but they don't venture out beyond their fortifications much. The previous day's battle over the main street – during which the Republic forces lost two tanks and a walker – taught them better, it seems.

Skywalker is preparing for a prolonged engagement too. If he is running the show, if he really is as good as Kenobi believes he is. Asajj has her doubts. There hasn't been any sign of the Jedi so far, without Kenobi's word she wouldn't even believe he's on the planet at all.

Bail Organa, on other hand, has been seen.

"He was spotted before at the city edge, and is now with the Republic Forces in their base camp," one of the technical droids. "By my estimation he is helping them organise the camp."

"No more spying for our good Senator, then," Asajj muses, narrowing her eyes. Organa knows about the prison – or if he doesn't, he knows that one of the buildings near the city centre has been fortified, though maybe not why. It wouldn't take much to draw the conclusion from there, though, and with droids still bringing in the occasional stunned clone in to be processed…

"How many clone prisoners do we have now?" Asajj asks.

"Two hundred and fifty nine," the droid answers.

"Have all of them been processed? Have they gotten the procedure?"

"Yes, Commander."

Asajj nods slowly and folds her arms. She's not sure what to do with the prison, but she wants to do something with it. Republic forces know it's there, know what's in there probably, which makes it a target. Of course the Republic forces might not care – it's not like they've cared enough to actually pay clone ransoms so far – but it's… important.

"I want to move the prison – discreetly," she decides. "Get me a list of suitable buildings close by where we can transport everyone in the prison without being noticed."

"Yes, Commander," the droid says and turns to the holotable, to begin processing the request.

"Commander, movement in sector 42-C," one of the other droids reports and points at the map. "Clones are advancing."

"Tanks, walkers?"

"None, ma'am," the droid says and pulls a section of the map up to zoom in on it. To keep everything updating without much delay, the map has been rendered in lower quality and the clones are only represented on it by glowing red dots. "They are approaching sector 41-C on foot."

"Moving away from the city centre?" Asajj asks and leans in to look. That's new. "What do we have in that sector?"

"Half a battalion of droids, ma'am – no artillery or vehicles."

Asajj narrows her eyes. "Get me snipers on that sector and start picking them out – but not all of them. I want to see what they will do."

"Yes, ma'am."

In the end it turns out that there is a water treatment plant in sector 10-C, which is what the clones go for – after losing about half of their little scout force to snipers. Asajj considers it for a moment and then checks the warehouse area – they can't have shortage on water there, there are plenty of places to get it from.

"Why would they want the water treatment plant?" Asajj wonders while the droids in the area report the clones fortifying the plant.

"If I may, ma'am?" one of the spindly analysis droids asks. "We could have cut them off from water, until now. There are no treatment plants in the sector where they've fortified so far – and without access clean water their position would, eventually, become tenuous. That ship they have can't have enough to support the numbers they have, it's not big enough."

"And they don't have a supply line yet," another analysis droid pipes up. "So they should try securing local resources. Like local water plants."

"We can still cut them off, though," the first one droid says. "We control the power."

"They have a spaceship – they could use the engines to power the plant," the second says, and then they're off, considering the potential avenues the clones could take with the water treatment plant.

Asajj arches a brow at them. So that's why Kenobi has analysis droids along with tactical droids in his command centre, she muses and then looks down at the map. "They'll bring heavy guns to protect the treatment plant," she muses – at least, that's what she'd do, maybe. If it's so important, it would need to be protected.

"Yes, ma'am," the tactical droid says. "They are already preparing a set for transport."

"Harass them," she says to the tactical droid. "Let's not make it too easy for them – but for now we'll let them have the plant."

"Yes, ma'am."

 


 

As the hours wear on during that second day, Asajj occasionally checks on Kenobi. The man has taken residence in one of the office rooms, which with a bed and table has been turned into a somewhat makeshift bedroom. The first couple of times she goes in to see, he's meditating with the kyber crystals sitting in their box in front of him.

The third time she goes in, he's lying curled up in his bed, still in full uniform, fast asleep.

Feeling quietly vindicated, Asajj leaves him to it, and heads back to the command centre.

 


 

In the end, the "fight" for the water treatment plant is all the action she sees that first day. Kenobi had apparently done well in setting up the battle conditions, and now that the battle lines have been drawn with blaster fire and artillery, the Republic forces are a little bit shy about getting out. They are, instead, concentrating on securing supplies.

Whether it was by luck or design, turns out the warehouse district is an ideal place for the Republic army. The warehouses, while not full to the brim, offer them a little bit of extra supplies in terms of food. Christophis is primarily human world so it's all edible for the clones, which according to the analysis droids will extend their supplies by as much as two months, on top of whatever supplies they had on the cruiser they landed on.

"If they don't get reinforcements before that, mind you – but if they do, they will likely bring more supplies as well," the droid amends.

Looks like the Republic is preparing for a lengthy campaign. Good. Asajj has droids pester all their efforts in fortifying and securing the plant, can't make it seem too easy after all, but overall it's probably only a good thing that they're settling in.

"I think I could grow to like this command thing," she muses. Which is a lie. She already does. There's an intricacy to it that she hadn't thought she would ever enjoy but she does, and there is power to it that's not so much seductive as it is downright gratifying. Being behind the scenes like this, moving pieces around, she though it would be boring – she's always been more hands on type of combatant. But while it feels a bit like she's playing a hologame and moving pieces around on a game board… it also feels a bit like playing god, manipulating events to her liking,

She likes that. It might not be much in comparison to a good saber fight – and victory – but it's certainly something. How must it feel to Kenobi, who is playing this game, but on galactic scale?

When Kenobi emerges from his rooms nine hours later, looking still a bit tired but not like he's about to fall dead on his feet, she asks him. "Stressful," he answers, accepting a cup of tea from a nearby droid and ration bar from another. "How goes the good fight, my dear?"

"Slowly," Asajj reports, and then runs him down the events of the day – of which there hadn't been that many. Kenobi listens while chewing on the ration bar, nodding a few times here and there and sipping his tea. "Looks like they're turtling as well," she comments. "I thought Skywalker was more straightforward than this."

"He knows who he's up against and he knows my style," Kenobi answers and smiles a little. "It will be interesting to see which way he will go from here, he can't out wait us forever here, so he will have to do something eventually… but for now it makes sense that he too is bolstering his defences and settling in for the long haul."

Asajj arches an eyebrow.

Kenobi smiles and sips his tea. "Anything else to report?" he asks.

"I'm moving the prison," Asajj says. "With your permission. Organa at least knows where it is, and he's with the Republic forces. They might target the prison to try and get their men back."

Kenobi considers that. "That's a good idea, yes," he says. "Have you taken more prisoners?"

"Only twenty or so. They haven't launched any big offensives so far today."

"Hmm. Well, we will have to start shipping the prisoners out soon anyway," Kenobi says. "We don't have the supplies to sustain them here indefinitely, nor the supplies to keep them knocked out indefinitely, and we have more prisoners to take. So no need to move the prisoners we have, just put the newer ones to the new prison when you have it set."

"Yes, sir," Asajj says and looks him over. "Are you going to keep the one you know?"

Kenobi glances at her sharply and then looks away. "No," he says and takes another dainty sip of tea. "No favouritism and no singling anyone out. He will go out with the rest of them."

He sounds almost regretful when he says it. Asajj folds her arms a little, considering him, the Republic turn coat, with all his friends turned enemies. "You should go… do something about him," she says. "Talk to him. Before we ship him out with the rest of them." Sever the bond, or whatever.

The General hesitates for a moment, considering his tea cup.

"Or if not, then go back there and heal the damn crystal," Asajj says and turns away.

"It's proving… difficult." Kenobi admits with a frown. "Could you tell me what you know about the process of healing a bled crystal?"

Asajj frowns a little and then shakes her head. "I don't actually know anything about it. I only know that it's possible and that there was a time when Jedi knew how to do it," she says and glances at the General. "Do you know the Night Sisters of Dathomir?"

Kenobi's expression twitches, but gives away nothing. "I've heard of them," he says noncommittally.

"That's where I learned about it," Asajj says and looks away again. "It was just a mention, though. A story they told me" that you can bleed a kyber crystal with the Dark side of the Force – and heal it with the Light. Something about purifying the darkness."

Kenobi frowns a little, looking at her and then looking at the cup in his hand. "Purifying the darkness," he muses and then throws back the last of his tea, setting the cup back down on the droid's awaiting tray. "I'm going to inspect the prison. I trust you can hold the fort."

Asajj smiles smugly. "Yes, dear."

 


 

At night the activity quiets down – now that they're concentrating on setting up fortifications it doesn't seem the Republic forces are in hurry attack. After making sure the droids in the command centre know what to do – which they do, Kenobi chose them for their tasks for a reason – Asajj heads to the prison – the older prison. The esteemed General hadn't returned yet, so…

The new prison is being set up in a slightly less noticeable museum building in the city centre, not far from the governmental building. It's both more and less inconspicuous – and it already has better defences than the office building Asajj had chosen before, as the museum has it's own security features, blast doors and such in case of robbery. It also has lot bigger rooms, which make storing of hundreds of clones easier. So far, though, there are no prisoners there – the fighting has quieted down for now.

"Where's the General?" Asajj asks the nearest medical droid as she arrives at the first prison and gets directed to one of the upper floors. While taking the elevator up she pokes at a data pad, which is being fed in with the reports coming in from the command centre – automated annotations from the droids there, listing a lot of "no change in sector so and so".

She's quickly starting to understand Kenobi's unease at leaving the command position. She's not quite that deep in yet, and her day was much quieter than the previous one, but still… they really need more people here.

Asajj knocks on the door of the room where the General was reported to be, and then opens the door. Kenobi is sitting cross-legged on an office chair, his back straight, shoulders relaxed, hands resting on his lap and eyes shut. Meditating. The metal box from Count Dooku lies on the floor, discarded – and there are three kyber crystals hovering in the air around Kenobi, slowly orbiting him as he meditates.

In front of him lies CC-2224, hooked into IV drip and with gas mask over his face, keeping him sedated, keeping him unaware and unconscious. Asajj wonders for a moment if Kenobi had let him wake up, if Kenobi had talked to him – but she doubts it.

Asajj folds her arms and leans onto the door frame, watching Kenobi for a moment as the kyber crystals slowly circle the man. They are all three of them humming now, one of them louder than the others. Kenobi must be aware of her, but he says nothing, his face calm and his presence – is not there at all.

She feels nothing from him. Nothing but the hum of the kyber crystals and the universal presence of the Force. Kenobi himself is just gone.

Asajj has felt Jedi meditate before – she'd even meditated like a Jedi, before. It had never felt like this. Whatever Kenobi is doing, it… it doesn't feel normal.

For a long time nothing happens and Kenobi barely even breathes. Then, as Asajj tries to puzzle out his lack in the Force, Kenobi finally moves, lifts his hand towards the kyber crystal humming in front of him – and –

"What the…?" Asajj mouths, silent.

When Kenobi moves he has an after image – a glow that follows his arm as it lifts, ghostly fingers lagging just few centimetres behind his real, physical ones. It's just for a split of a second, until the after image of his hand catches up with real one and sinks into his body, disappearing from sight. But it was definitely there – she saw it.

Kenobi's Force manifested visibly outside his body – and it didn't feel like anything.

Then Kenobi's fingers close around the kyber crystal that's humming the loudest, and it glows through the gaps of his fingers – and it doesn't glow red.

When Kenobi opens his eyes, the other two kyber crystals fall to the ground – not quite as red as they were before, more pinkish in hue. The one in his hand has changed the most though and when he opens his fingers, there's no sight of red anywhere in its depths.

It's been perfectly bleached of all colour. It's not even white – it's just clear, completely transparent.

Kenobi eyes the crystal for a moment and then breathes in and out and looks up. "Seems like I will be making a lightsaber after all," he says.

Asajj says nothing, staring at him as he stands up. The after image is gone now, no glow in sight – outside his meditation Kenobi is all in his body. But for a moment, Asajj grasps at the edges of a concept she isn't sure she knows how to feel about, what to think of. Even now Kenobi's Force presence blends into the background hum of the Force itself, as if he's more part of it than he is of the living world.

The man has always felt odd, vacant – not quite there. Elusive. She'd thought it was just some technique that hid him from the other Jedi, masked his presence in the Force to keep them from tracking him in the Force, but now…

Asajj narrows her eyes at Kenobi, tries to figure it out. That's not a Jedi ability. It's definitely not a Sith ability. Hell, it doesn't even seem like an ability at all. What was it then?

"My dear?" Kenobi asks, glancing at her. "Something the matter – did something happen?"

Yeah, your soul sort of slipped out of your body for a moment there, Asajj thinks ruefully and then takes a deep breath. "Why can't I feel your presence?" she asks. "It's like you're not here, how do you do that?"

Kenobi arches a brow and then looks down at the clear crystal. "I match my Force presence with my surroundings," he says then with a shrug. "It's as good as invisibility, for a Force sensitive."

"How?" Asajj asks suspiciously.

"With lot and lot of practice," Kenobi chuckles and shakes his head. "It took me years to learn it, and I'm afraid it's not easily explained. It's just… practice."

Asajj eyes him dubiously, but it doesn't feel like he's lying. Just that he's not really telling all of it. Fine. "Do you have all the parts you need to construct your lightsaber?" she asks.

Kenobi searches her face for a moment and then looks away, thinking. "It feels as though I will be able to find them, yes," he says and then turns to look at CC-2224. Nothing about the man had changed, still perfectly, peacefully unconscious. "Thank you, Cody," Kenobi murmurs with a wistful smile, and then turns to pick up the pink kyber crystals from the floor.

"What are you going to do with those?" Asajj asks.

"I have no idea to be honest," Kenobi admits with a small laugh and puts them back into the box. "I'm sure I'll figure something out."

The clear crystal he keeps tightly in his hand.

 


 

While Kenobi hunts parts for his lightsaber in the various stores and supply depots of Chaleydonia, Asajj keeps covering the command centre. It's starting to wear her out a little at this point, however – it's getting late and she's been on her feet since early in the morning.

Not that she let it ever show. Kenobi had been up for far longer with little to no rest and if he can take it then so can she. But damn, watching a holotable when nothing is happening is boring. Even the blockade skirmishes have quieted down.

"Ma'am," one of the tactical droids calls. "Movement in sector 37-C."

That's close to the main road, Asajj thinks. Night attack? "Show me," she orders and the droid zooms in. There is a single blue dot on the map. As Asajj scowls at it – it doesn't actually tell her anything about what it is – the tactical droid brings up surveillance footage from the main road.

It's a droid, weaving through the wreckage scattered about – a single astromech droid, an R2 unit if she's not mistaken. Not one of theirs – with whole army of droids, Separatist military doesn't need astromech droids. Might be that Skywalker doesn't know and is trying to sneak a spy through enemy lines. No, he can't be stupid enough to send it down the main road out in the open if that's the case. A decoy then? A bomb?

As she watches, the droid's head turns and a little hatch opens – and from it a tiny white flag sticks out, waving frantically in the air.

Asajj snorts at the image, hitting her comlink. "General, there is movement on the main road – an astromech droid. I take it this is Skywalker's unusual little something?"

"No doubt. It's an R2 unit, I assume?" Kenobi's voice comes through with a hint of static. "Blue one?"

"It's on hologram, I wouldn't know. It's Skywalker's, then?" Asajj asks flatly.

"He's sending his personal astromech droid," Kenobi says thoughtfully. "I'm honoured. Have droids stop him and check him over – see what Anakin's up to."

"I think I'd rather blow it up."

"Please don't – I believe R2 was a gift and he'd think I was the one who ordered it. Anakin would never forgive me."

"Why do I need to keep reminding he's the enemy? Who cares if he forgives you or not?" Asajj asks irritably.

"I do," Kenobi answers with a sigh. "Now my dear, please see what Anakin has to say. I'll be returning to the command centre momentarily."

Asajj rolls her eyes but does as asked, ordering the droid stopped and inspected. It is indeed carrying a message just like Kenobi thinks it is, a single short hologram of a person Asajj assumes is Skywalker himself. A short haired human man in full Jedi garb, cloak and all, and there are two lightsabers at his waist, half hidden under the cloak.

"Obi-Wan," he says and runs a hand over his nose. "I want to parley."

Asajj blinks and waits, but apparently that's it – the hologram is really just that short line. "He wants to what?" she asks, incredulous and baffled.

"To parlay is a have a talk between enemies concerning surrender, truce or other matters, without actually constituting as official surrender or as truce," one of the analysis droids, RT-6, pipes up. "Most commonly used during the Jedi-Mandalore wars when surrendering led to hostage bartering and ransoms – an enemy under parlay could not be taken as captive."

Asajj blinks at that. "Oh really? And what's to stop people?"

"Law and commonly agreed rules of engagement – parley rules were used by both sides and they could be used by both sides only for as long as both sides agreed to them. And so they did," RT-6 answers.

"Hm," Asajj hums. "And let me guess, the reason you know about this is because General Kenobi is using the parley rules too."

"He uses the system of POW ransoming from the Jedi-Mandalore wars, so it was assumed other aspects might be integrated as well," the droid agrees. "For better efficiency, all available data from the Jedi-Mandalore wars was downloaded."

"Of course it was," Asajj mutters and then looks up as Kenobi comes into the control room, carrying with him a box of scrap. "Your lightsaber?" Asajj asks. "It looks wonderful, darling, really well put together."

He gives her a look. "Do you know rare lightsaber quality power packs are?"

"I'm sure I have no idea," Asajj says and motions at the holotable. "Your student has a message for you."

Kenobi's attention sharpens and he sets his box of scrap down. "Play it," he says briskly and folds his arms.

Asajj replays it, all six seconds of it, watching Kenobi closely as he watches the message. His expression twitches. "Did you get footage of R2?" he asks and it's brought up. He narrows his eyes at it. "Play Anakin's message again," he orders and then he orders them to replay it again, and then again. "Stop it there," he says and then frowns at Skywalker's image, frozen in the action of running his hand over his nose.

"It was six seconds," Asajj says. "He wants to talk. What are you so worried about?"

"Anakin and I have a number of nonverbal codes, and that one," Kenobi says, "is for one for untrustworthy allies. That, his usage of my first name, the word parley, that he send this message at night, on the main road, and with R2-D2 as well… and the there is that…" he motions at Skywalker's waist. "He's carrying my old lightsaber and he wanted me to know it."

Asajj arches an eyebrow and looks up at Skywalker's image. "All it that's code?" she asks dubiously.

"Not all of it, but it is telling. He's been my student for over a decade, you know, we hardly need to speak to communicate," Kenobi says, running a hand over his lips thoughtfully.

"So what is he saying?" Asajj asks.

"Hm? Oh, that he wants to meet me alone without the Republic forces knowing about it – except the Republic forces already know about it and it's a trap," Kenobi shrugs. "Which he is not supposed to know of, much less warn me about."

"Okay," Asajj says slowly.

"Of course it's been a while and Anakin could very well be setting a trap himself – a trap with a trap… though he's never been that subtle," Kenobi muses. "Still, it's possible."

Asajj eyes him and then shakes her head. "Well either way you know about it so it's moot point. It's not like you're going to walk into a trap just like that."

"Oh of course I am," Kenobi says plainly.

"What?"

"That's what you do with traps, my dear," Kenobi says with a smile. "You spring them. Besides that flag," he motions at the footage from the road, "is wrong. The flag of parley is black – white flag means surrender."

Asajj stares at him incredulously for a moment. "You are not going," she then says.

"Yes I am," Kenobi says calmly.

Asajj punches him.

It's not a very hard punch, she barely puts any Force behind it at all, but it is hard enough to be felt. Kenobi recoils a little, looking more stunned by the act than the pain, turning to look at her in astonished betrayal.

"General Kenobi," Asajj growls and advances on him. "You are the key to this war – this conflict, the future conflicts, the whole of Separatist movement depends on your continued survival and work. You are not walking head long into an obvious trap, not on my watch."

"My dear, that's not how –"

"I don't care if that's not how you did things on the Jedi Order, I don't care if that's not how you did things with your apprentice," Asajj snaps at his stunned face. "You are not in the Jedi Order and he is not your apprentice any more – I am! And I am not going to lose you to an obvious fucking trap!"

Kenobi just stares at her.

Asajj breathes and straightens her uniform sharply. "If someone is springing this trap, it's going to be me," she says, little calmer now, but still firm. "You, the utterly indispensable military head and visionary of our cause, are staying here, where you are safe. And no, this is not up for discussion."

Kenobi is quiet for a long while, just staring her. Asajj lifts her chin and stands her ground, feeling younger and older than she is, fighting a battle in unknown territory and if she loses this one…

Then, finally, Kenobi sighs. "Alright," he says softly. "I'm sorry, my dear, you are right. I need to stay here."

Asajj releases the breath she was holding. "Good," she says.

Kenobi smiles quietly and pats her shoulder apologetically. "Thank you, Asajj," he says softly, though she's not sure for what. "Now excuse me. I do believe I have a lightsaber to construct."

Asajj nods and watches him go. He doesn't look or feel happy, but she doesn't particularly care. He's gotten under her skin and now she's going to damn well keep him alive, kicking and screaming if she has to.

Chapter Text

Obi-Wan looks well.

Why that is the first thing that comes to Bail's mind when he meets the Traitor General of the Separatists at last in private, he isn't sure, but there it is. Obi-Wan Kenobi looks well, trimmed and polished under the uniform that is so unlike anything he ever wore as a Jedi. Gone are the soft lines and earthly hues, instead his uniform is all strict cuts and stark black and red. Having known the man as a soft spoken Jedi first… one would think it wouldn't fit. But it does.

Obi-Wan Kenobi wears the uniform like it's all he's ever wanted to wear, no sign of discomfort or unease in sight, no awkward motions as if he's missing the more abundant cloth of his robes, nothing of the sort. His shoulders sit at ease – but firm – under the harsh cut of the shoulders and he grasps his hands behind his back now, military firm, not in the front, soft and open.

He looks well, and somehow Bail hadn't been expecting that.

"Well, this is awkward," the General says and motions into the private ready room he's been given by the christopheans – much like Bail's own guest quarters. "Would you like a drink?"

Bail takes a breath and for a moment he holds the posture he had when entering, holds the straight back and shoulders, for a moment he stands firm. Then he relaxes into a more natural posture, watching the former Jedi glance down, noting it. "Yes, I believe I'd like that," Bail admits.

Obi-Wan – Kenobi – offers him a slight smile that gives away little of his thoughts, and then turns away – turns his back to him. Bail watches the move and then steps forward. Like in his own rooms, there are divans here and a low table between them – Bail takes seat in one of them with a sigh.

It's been months now since General Kenobi first appeared on the news casts, standing beside Count Dooku of the Confederation of Independent Systems or captured at a distance by a daring reporter. Bail hadn't quite believed it at the time – he'd thought something must be wrong with him. There had been talks of Master Kenobi having been corrupted, a Jedi turned over to the Dark side, twisted from the Light of the Jedi Order and the goodness of the Republic.

But then there was Hypori. Then there were Prisoners of War and ransoms. The word of the prison colony leaked out, and though the Republic tried to spin it in the darkest lights possible, General Kenobi did his machinations there well – he gave anyone and everyone open access to send and receive messages from the colony, so as long as they knew a identification codes. And one reporter had gotten through to a clone, possibly by just guessing their identification code.

Bail runs a hand over his chin and then looks up as the General returns with two glasses and a pitcher of something amber, all of them intricately cut crystal. Obi-Wan sits across from him, and there's a hint of the Jedi there, the way he almost lifts a leg as if to sit down cross legged – but in the end he keeps his feet on the floor, keeps his shoulders straight.

Not quite ingrained, this new posture, this new body language – but it's getting there. Bail narrows his eyes at that – at the conscious effort to appear less like a Jedi. And he doesn't, either – if Bail didn't know he was one, he would never be able to tell by body language or appearance alone. Of course there would never be distancing himself from that past for Obi-Wan Kenobi – he'd always be the turncoat Jedi. But he's made effort not to appear as such.

"How are you, then?" the former Jedi asks while he sets the crystal glasses down and pours. Whatever it is, it smells honeyed.

"Let's not," Bail says and accepts his glass. "There are more important things to talk about than small talk and there's only so much time."

The other man hums, agreeing and little bit sad, and takes his own glass. "To old friends," he says, and without waiting for Bail to agree, he tosses it back.

Stressed, then, Bail thinks and watches him pour another glass. Possibly also showing him the drink isn't poisoned, not that Bail thinks Obi-Wan Kenobi would do something like that, sink that low even now. "Why?" he asks.

"Why I left the Jedi Order, why I became Separatist?" the former Jedi asks, looking at the glass in hand, not drinking yet. "Why am I here? Why don't you tell me?"

"Don't turn my lessons against me," Bail says, frowning a little.

The General smiles, glancing at him. "But they were such good lessons," he says and leans back a little. "The why doesn't really matter, Bail. It won't change anything."

"It might change my thinking of you," Bail comments.

"But it won't change your actions, nor mine," the General comments and looks down at the glasd again. "I will still be Separatist General working for a Separatist cause. You will still be Republic Senator working for a Republic cause. Only this time the waters will be muddied, your judgement will be clouded, and I will take advantage of it."

Bail narrows his eyes a little. "So sure I'll be affected," he comments.

"Like you said, it might change your thinking of me," the former Jedi says and smiles a little. "Besides, if you haven't figured it all by now, then you're not as much of a politician than I thought you were."

It's Bail's turn to look do at his own glass, uneasy and awkward. Shaking his head he takes a drink. Crisendi, he thinks, approximately forty years old. Apparently the Separatists had been given the good stuff. "How could you just leave?" he asks. "How did you do it?"

"Easily – I just left," the General says. "I severed my connection to the Jedi Order, I said goodbyes to those that mattered the most – and I walked away. That's how easy it's for Jedi – we don't have home worlds and our citizenship to Coruscant is tied to the Jedi Temple. Leave that behind and we become… immigrants," he snorts and shakes his head. "Jedi aren't persons in a sense."

Bail frowns at that and looks up. The other man doesn't sound bitter or even sad, just darkly amused, like it's a joke, a terrible, dark joke.

"We don't have personal histories, no home worlds, no families and Jedi don't get formal education," the other man explains. "Our records aren't public, our abilities aren't something you can write on a resume, our credentials start and end with they're a Jedi. Once that connection is severed and we're no longer Jedi, we become… nothing. Without the Order, there is little left of us. It's a system designed to keep Jedi right where they are because they have no place else to go."

"That's a little harsh," Bail comments, a cold feeling in his belly which, thankfully, a swig of the crisendi washes away.

The Separatist General shrugs. "We're tied down by that single, solid thread, and it's enough to keep most of us rooted," he says. "We're not like other people, held by a myriad of attachments. Family, politics, social standing… tradition…" he looks to Bail and offers him a smile that's a little sympathetic. "How goes things in Alderaan?"

Bail shakes his head and doesn't answer.

Alderaan is a peaceful world, a Core world untouched by war for as long as anyone could remember. It enjoyes the prosperity and peace of the Republic and has done so pretty much since its founding. His people do not know war, they do not understand it. And if Bail could have his way, they'd never learn.

So far, the Republic has managed to put a spin on the war that made it very black and white. Separatists were bad, greedy, disturbing the peace of the Galaxy with their childish antics and they needed to be stopped. Things are leaking into that, though, doubts – like a recording of a clone from a prison world, saying easy as anything that he rather enjoys it there, it's very peaceful and no one is trying to shoot at him, so there's that.

Bail turns the crystal glass in his hands. The Senate could spin it however it liked it, but Dooku had found an upstanding nail in its façade and is beating it to hell and back. Clones, mass produced humans… Its one thing to market the army as something that would prevent casualties – there would be no compulsory drafting of militaries because the Republic has the Clone Army, ready made and ready for action. But that's a thin veneer over a very dark truth.

That two hundred thousand humans with diminished free will were produced to fight – and die if necessary – for the Republic. Two hundred thousand humans, who would never be given a chance to lead another life, who were never given a choice.

Factory made human slaves. And Republic paraded them in the streets of Coruscant to the cheering joy of the citizens because, hooray, now we don't have to go to war, these clones will fight it for us!

Bail had had his doubts from the first, but he'd looked up the line up of the Separatist Council and thought, we're against something worse, perhaps it won't come to head on our side. Business men, trade tycoons, greedy bankers – surely they are worse.

Then Dooku started giving speeches about slavery and corruption and a highly respected Master Jedi turned traitor to join Separatist cause and everything shifted subtly southward. The bad feeling turned into an enemy propaganda, and that propaganda started shedding light on Republic failings – of which the production of the clone army is the biggest, loudest point… but far from the first one.

Now, there are nearly forty systems in the Confederation of Independent Systems. Good hundred have declared themselves neutral in the conflict – parking themselves on the fence until they see things come to head. And there are… suspicions about others who are considering the changing galactic winds.

Bail looks up at the Separatist General across from him, clasping the crystal glass between both palms. The other man watches him calmly, idly spinning the amber liquid in his glass and saying nothing.

"The Republic has made mistakes," Bail says softly. "I won't deny that. But it hasn't failed." Not yet.

"Republic is extremely successful as an institution. It is still the greatest accomplishment in galactic history," the other agrees. "Tens of thousands of worlds working together for common goals, that's an accomplishment that no one can belittle. Thing is – they aren't working together for even semi-common goals anymore, are they?"

Bail frowns. "They are now," he comments. "They're working against you."

"Some are. Others hesitate, some leave. And they do it for a reason," the former Jedi says calmly and reaches forward to put his glass down. "You've felt it too, right? There's something… wrong with the Republic."

For a moment Bail says nothing, for a moment Bail isn't sure he can confirm that. Yes, he'd felt it. He's seen it. After the war started and they voted Emergency Powers for the High Chancellor, he started putting together a timeline. Small steps and stepping stones that got them here.

Courts that didn't agree, senate meetings that dissolved into arguments, so much suspicion between former allies. There's less talking and more shouting in the parliament house nowadays – and small laws and slips and sues of clarity that turn into changes. Taxation that gets increasingly uneven.

Like hyperlanes taxed by length, which gives the Core worlds with their far shorter distances leagues of benefits compared to the Outer Rim planets, where the distances can be easily ten times as long and longer.

The dissatisfaction is systematic and increasing and it has been for decades now. The wealthier parties get wealthier and the poorer shrivel. Smaller worlds have less and less say, while things like the Commerce Guild can shout their demands and get them not just heard but answered to.

It's like the Republic is pushing planets away, intentionally and methodically abusing the Outer Rim regions with taxes and demands, laws and legislations. Over ninety percent of the planets who had declared themselves neutral are in the Outer Rim. Of those who have declared themselves Separatist… all are. For now. There's whispers of change though - in Japrael, and other Mid Rim worlds and systems who are just waiting for a sign. 

And now they have Christophis, relatively wealthy mining system who had the misfortune of sitting just at the edge of the Mid and Outer Rim, who first made claims, then made pleas, then stopped talking, stopped appearing at the Senate – and finally, declared itself Separatist. And Christophis isn't like Serenno, far removed and far from wealthy – Christophis is useful, it brings in revenue, never mind various useful and valuable materials.

Republic can't let it just slip away.

The silence stretches, solemn and dark.

Bail looks up, looks at the former Jedi and for a moment, just for a moment, he wishes their places were switched – that he could sit there, a righteous Separatist, and it would be Obi-Wan in his place, the devoted Republican. But it isn't and it can't be and Bail is a devoted Republican.

Unlike a Jedi, his roots run deep. They run down the eons, to the very start of the Republic, and he can't severe them anymore than he can severe his own head and expect to live.

He sets his glass down.

"There will be war here," Bail says.

"Yes," the other agrees quietly.

Bail nods. He'll do his very best to stop it, he would try to persuade the Governor to return to Republic, but after having had that talk half a dozen times, he knows it won't go anywhere. Christopheans are divided, but more than that they are frustrated with the Republic, and they want their freedom, and the Confederation would be happy to make it so, at blaster point if necessary. And it would be.

So there would be war over Christophis. And the outcome would probably change everything. Hypori was small in comparison to this – a weapons depot on uninhabited world, destroyed for righteous reasons. Christophis is an inhabited, living world – and if turned Republic it would be subjugated… and if it remained with the Confederation…

Bail looks up. "How did we get here?" he asks finally. "What went wrong with the Republic?" He can see the result, he can see the steps that took them here – but he can't see the cause. Obi-Wan is on the outside though – he looked at what was happening and he left. He must know.

The former Jedi gives him a look and sighs. "There's an old theory in Mandalore," he says. "That war is the natural state of all sentient life. As soon as a creature gets smart enough to want something, it will also be smart enough to fight for that thing – as taking something by force is the most efficient way to achieve your goals and of course the party you want to take that thing from will fight to keep it. And because of this, the very concept of sentience will always inevitably lead to war."

Bail shakes his head. "That's ludicrous," he says. "In almost every species that has achieved sentience, the very first thing they do is form communities – working together to achieve larger goals, that's the result of sentience, not… fighting against each other."

The Separatist General smiles a little at that and allows it with a tilt of his head. "Both philosophies have merit," he agrees. "And in light of them… I don't think you're asking the right question. Don't ask yourself why the Republic is failing now – ask why it didn't before now. For over thousand years we did everything right and the galaxy was in peace. What happened to that?"

Bail takes a breath to answer and then releases it in a slow sigh. "Whatever it is, I don't think splitting the galaxy and waging a pan-galactic war is the answer," he mutters bitterly.

"War is never the answer," the other man agrees. "War is a demand and a question. It's means to an end."

"And what's your end, then?" Bail asks. "Why are you doing this, Obi-Wan?"

The former Jedi trails off into silence for a moment and then reaches for his drink. "It's how I can make the largest difference," he says simply. "And the Republic is failing, Bail. It's a slow process of committee meetings and complacency and now war, but it is still inexorably failing. It's turning into something dark and crooked. And I don't want to see the galaxy taken over by it. It I can prevent it from tainting even a sliver of the galaxy, then that's… that's something."

Bail eyes him for a moment, searching his face. There's sharpness to Obi-Wan's eyes he's never seen before, steel in his core that has never been there. Obi-Wan had always been such a soft spoken man, even as an impulsive young boy on a diplomatic mission with his master, he'd been so… amiable.

That's all gone now. The man sitting in front of him is made of harsh edges and sharp insights and he's not softening them with kind words anymore. And the funny thing is, Obi-Wan had always bemoaned how he hated politics, how bad he was at them. Now look at him.

"The Republic hasn't failed, yet," Bail says quietly. "There's still a way to save it, turn it around, make it right again."

Obi-Wan smiles and looks away. "I wish there was," he says. "But I can't see it anymore."

Neither can Bail, but that doesn't mean he's just going to stop trying. "I won't give up on it just yet," he says. "You might've forfeited, given it up for a lost cause, but I won't. I can't," he says with a shake of his head.

"No, I suppose you can't," Obi-Wan agrees and bows his head for a moment. Then he looks up and smiles sadly. "Looks like we're enemies, then."

"Looks like we are," Bail agrees faintly and stands up. "I wish it wasn't so, though. You make hell of a better ally than you make an enemy, Obi-Wan."

The General of the Confederation of Independent Systems chuckles and stands up as well. "I do wish all the best for you, Bail. And I hope you succeed." But he doesn't believe he will.

Bail smiles wryly and holds out his hand. "See you on the battlefield, then, my friend," he says. Obi-Wan looks at his hand and then accepts it. His grip is warm and firm.

They shake – and then they part ways.

Chapter Text

The career of Clone Captain CT-7567 hadn't begun how he'd expected it – and in some ways, entirely how he'd expected it. It started with Geonosis.

The 501st wasn't the first battalion to land on Geonosis, but it had been one of the first – and that's not an experience you go through unchanged. Going from the pristine, sterile simulations and eternally polished hallways of Kamino to that dust, that grime and grit… it still seems sometimes that maybe there is still a bit of Geonosis dust, lingering in his armour. Certainly the smell stuck with him.

Dry desert dust and sand, the burnt ozone of blaster fire, his own and the enemy's… the smell of a body torn open at the gut.

Nothing compares to that one.

Sometimes it still strikes him that he survived that, all of it – the mess of battle lines and the terrible landing – their drop ship got hit, they went down hard and right into the midst of it. No cover, no fortifications – just tanks and walkers and guns left and right, and blaster fire in the air, so often, so plenty that if you blinked too fast it seemed suspended in place, like it had always been there, like it always would.

That thought came lot later though. At the time there was no time to do anything but stand, and fight. And so they stood and they fought, and fought and fought, until finally, hours and days later, the announcement finally went out. Geonosis had been won – the enemy forces were finally fleeing.

And then they had the aftermath.

Hundreds of thousands of battledroid thrown into massive piles to be gathered up and transported somewhere to be picked apart for spare parts and useful intelligence before the rest would melted down and recycled for other purposes. Most of the enemy vehicles would go through the same thing.

And… thousands of dead clones laid out in long, straight rows, their armour being removed and stashed away for repair and if need be recycling while their bodies would be – he hadn't quite gotten the chance to learn what happened right then, there'd been still too much to work, but incineration was only the last part of the process.

That moment had stuck with him. Of all of the terrible moments, that's the one he saw when he closed his eyes, those lines, his dead brothers, being stripped of armour for the last time. Even as his squad had been led away, to deal with a minor skirmish with a pocket of geonosians, still lingering near the surface, it stuck with him. Most of the bugs had by that point retreated either into space or below ground where had been deemed too much damn trouble to chase, but the droid factory was theirs, and there was still some opposition. CT-7567 had been determined to do his job right and had kept his eyes firmly on it – but in the back of his mind it remained.

That moment, looking over all those bodies, while medical droids scanned them for what he assumed… were viable organs for transplantation.

Over the weeks that followed, they cleaned it all up. By the end of it they had their own guns and tanks in defence of the captured assets, they had the planet and they had brand new troops on the ground – and they had a whole bunch of antsy veterans, starting to itch for another fight. Only, it didn't come.

It was a long wait for the next employment. At first the morale was easy to keep up – they were finally out there, doing the things they were build and bred for, they were all excited. But the wait was… surprisingly long. They all thought the war would start with a bang and spread like a flash fire, consuming all nearby systems and sending them all spiralling down into a battle after battle. That was what they'd been taught to expect – that once they got out there and simulations would be left behind for the real thing, there'd be no downtime, no waiting, no hesitation. They'd be busy, so busy, for as long as it took to get the job down.

After Geonosis, it's downtime for almost a straight month. Enough time to get bored, to get anxious. They all did what they could to alleviate that boredom – in the end, drills were authorised on board all the Star Destroyers just to keep bored clones from getting rusty. But the tedium left its marks. During that time there were whispers and murmurs, there was suspicion and there were rumours.

When a Jedi Master, one of their hallowed Generals, up and deserts and joins the enemy side and is then promptly and publicly declared a General for the said enemy side, it's news. And CT-7567 thinks that the higher ups probably tried to stem the spread of that news, but once a clone got wind of it, eventually all clones knew about it.

They'd been taught with mechanical precision how good and excellent and loyal Jedi were – and for one of their best to just… walk away…

Then there was Hypori, the first proper action of General Kenobi and the waters muddied even further. CT-7567 wasn't part of that battle in any way, but he watched it progress – everyone watched it progress. And there isn't a clone in the Republic Army who can look at the Battle of Hypori and claim it wasn't a complete cock up. Hundreds of clones captured, eventually thousands of them, and six Jedi taken as prisoners of war. The losses were high too, if nowhere near Geonosis' level, but the captured soldiers… that was new. New and entirely unexpected.

They'd been taught to fight and if need be die. No one had ever taught them what to do if they were captured.

Republic forces took Hypori eventually; there was never any doubt that they would. But before they did, there were massive losses, losses which were turned into POWs, which were turned into ransoms and eventually, into politics.

It's not CT-7567's place to doubt the Republic, he knows jack all about politics. But when the announcement went out that "Republic does not negotiate with Traitors," and that the ransoms wouldn't be paid… it stung. It still stings. Even if he doesn't know any of those clones personally – he doubts they were even grown in the same facility than him – it stings to think all those brothers, left to rot in a prison camp.

"Republic wasn't the one who captured them," a Jedi said, at one point or another. "Republic isn't the one who's keeping them. Any time now Kenobi could just as well release them, but he does not. That's on him, not on the Republic."

Yeah, because that's what you do in a war – you patch up your enemies, pat them on the head and send them off with a slap on the wrist. It works on some clones, that message – the Jedi and the Republic officers eventually figure out how to say it right, "It's the Separatists who keep your brothers prisoners!" but it doesn't soothe the sting completely.

CT-7567 has heard the prices Kenobi demands. Twenty thousand for a clone Trooper and two hundred and forty thousand for a Marshal Commander, with all his brothers falling somewhere in between. From a clone's perspective it's a lot. From the Republic's perspective… he'd glanced at the Republic's annual budget once on the Holonet during downtime. It was in the quadrillions.

But it's not his place to criticize his higher ups.

And now there is Christophis – and this time, it's his boots on the ground from the first.

 


 

"You men are bit more experienced than the 212th Battalion, so, you'll be put under General Skywalker – he's bit newer to the job than I am," the Jedi General in charge tells them, as the 501st stand in line in the hangar bay of the Star Destroyer. "That should balance out any deficiencies of experience, we hope. Feel free to tell him off if he does something stupid."

CT-7567 stands firm in the line, same as everyone else, but hidden under his helmet he allows his eyes to switch over to Skywalker, the younger of the two human males in front of him. He's probably not supposed to know Skywalker – but he does. Everyone does.

The Traitor's Padawan.

Skywalker stands in front of them in Jedi robes and Jedi cloaks, hood brought up to half hide his face. What he thinks of the whole thing – or the comment aimed at him not so kindly – is impossible to tell. His lips are – and have been this whole time – drawn in tight line and nothing seems to get through the expression.

To be put under command of the Traitor's Padawan – now, the Traitor's Knighted Padawan – would be… interesting. Strange, though, that the man is here now. If the intel is correct, Kenobi is down there, on Christophis, after all. That's not a healthy mix, even by Jedi standards.

"Now, our task is to get down on Christophis by any means necessary. The admirals up here can handle the space battle, they got experience with that, but we're the ground forces," the Jedi General says and rests a hand on his hip. "It's not going to be easy getting down there and it might take a while – but once we go down, chances are we go down hard. Be prepared at all times, and when the call comes I want you on your drop ships, STAT. Is that understood?"

"Sir, yes, sir!"

"Good," the Jedi says, looking them over. Then he turns to Skywalker. "They're all yours, Skywalker."

"Master," the younger man says with a nod and then, as the elder Jedi steps back to watch, Skywalker steps forward. He finally lifts his head enough for CT-7567 to see his eyes – and they're full of steel.

"Once we get down there, our first priority is to fortify our position," he says, while the elder Jedi folds his arms behind him and watches him judgementally. "We do not want repeat of Geonosis – when we get a bit of ground, we're going to dig our heels in and we're going to hold it. Take this time to familiarise yourself with the heavy cannons if you haven't yet, and I want all walker pilots and tank technicians near their positions – chances are you're going to be jumping right into it."

CT-7567 narrows his eyes slightly.

"I'm open to suggestions on how to run this operation the smoothest," Skywalker continues. "But as Master Vos said, first we need to get down on the ground and that might take a while. Take this time to rest and prepare."

There's a moment of silence. "If you have any comments to make or questions to ask, you're free to bring them to me. For now, you're dismissed," he then says, and turns away.

Not the most rousing of speeches from a new commander, CT-7567 thinks. But then Skywalker's position is awkward. At least it seems that at least someone has learned something of Geonosis and Hypori.

The 501st stays in firm line until the Jedi have removed themselves of their prescience and then there's a crackle of static on CT-7567's ear.

"Well, what do you think?"

CT-7567 stands still with his hands at his side for a moment and then hits the coms. "You knew," he says almost accusingly

"The 212th Battalion got assigned to General Vos – it was given you got Skywalker," CC-2224 comments almost apologetically, from where ever he is right now. "All things considered, if Skywalker has to be given a Battalion, it would be one like yours. Tested and proven veterans."

CT-7567 says nothing for a moment, staring at mid distance while around him his men fall out of file and start talking the turn of events between them. Like him, they knew the name, and enough of the history to be worried.

"He might turn out decent," Rex says and folds his arms. "His first order was to fortify our positions down on Christophis once we touch down. It was a little loose in terms of details, but heavy cannons were mentioned."

CC-2224 is quiet for a moment. "General Vos told us to spread out and take out any nearby opposition as soon as we could," he says quietly. "Securing as much ground as fast as we can."

There's a moment of silence as they weight these two commands in their minds – and what they might imply.

"This is going to be interesting," CT-7567 says eventually.

"Yes," CC-2224 agrees. "Given that we actually ever make it down there."

 


 

Who the hell comes up with the plan that finally breaks through the Separatist blockade, CT-7567 doesn't know, but it's absolutely insane.

One of the Star Destroyers is evacuated. General Vos' Ship, CT-7567 suspects, but he doesn't know for sure until CC-2224 is there, with their new orders.

"We're boarding a cruiser," he says. "With all possible land vehicles we can manage to shove on board – they're going to try and break the blockade by force."

They don't have much time to really look into the tactics of it – or even stop and think of what the hell is actually going on. It's a mad scramble to get the smaller cruiser loaded up with all the walkers and tanks and guns they can manage to get on board on short notice, which in the end leaves little room for the actual men. Definitely not enough crew compartments for all of them, CT-7567 thinks, but there's no time to wonder about how that would turn out.

Around them it seems like the whole universe is lit with cannon fire. The warning alarms are blaring non-stop and the order to brace themselves is by now come so often that it's lost all of it's meaning. And then, "Brace for impact!" comes through the speakers and –

The impact shakes not only the cruiser, but the whole Star Destroyer around them. The floor jerks to the side and most of the Clones are knocked on off their feet as the inertial dampeners fail to block out the impact forces entirely, and for a moment CT-7567 thinks they're hit.

Everything trembles and somewhere metal groans. They're moving, he thinks, half hanging onto a nearby tank for balance – they're speeding up. And then the cruiser is launched, all but catapulted out of the Star Destroyer's hanger bay, and they're going down. And like the Jedi had promised, they go down hard.

Turns out, the Jedi had slammed one of the Star Destroyers against the enemy dreadnoughts.

"Those mad bastards," an unknown brother mutters in CT-7567's ear.

CT-7567 privately agrees and wonders, just for a moment, which of the two Jedi planned it. Then he straightens up and hit his comlink, opening a channel to everyone in the 501st. "Everyone to stations!" he says. "I want walker drivers up and on their seats, ready to get out the moment we have the hatches open. Tank engineers, to your stations. CC-2224?"

"We can cover for you, at the start anyway," CC-2224 promises, and hits his com channel. "212th, station up at the hatches – we'll be going in hot!"

"See you on the other side, brother," CT-7567 says and clasps his arm for a moment – and then they turn to opposite ways, CT-7567 to prepare the cannons and tanks, and CC-2224 to plan his forward assault.

 


 

Landing turns out both easier and quicker than CT-7567 had expected. They land amidst enormous warehouses, surrounded by their bulk – it offers surprising amount of cover. While CC-2224 leads his men to secure and spread out from the warehouse district, CT-7567 rolls out the defensive, spreading out the walkers between the warehouses and spreading out the heavy guns. They have no orders on how to spread out, thankfully, so he can use his own judgement for it.

Above them, the sky is ablaze with the rain of the two crashed Star Destroyers, which are now raining into the atmosphere as blazing shrapnel. Below that glorious, terrible starfire, there are the fighters going at. The Republic clone controlled starfighters against the Separatist droid fighters, duking it out above their heads – or they do, until CT-7567 gets out the anti-aircraft guns.

"CT-7567," a voice speaks through his coms. "It's Skywalker. How does it look down there?"

"We'll have the area secured in an approximately twenty minutes, sir," CT-7567 promises, even while motioning the tanks to go ahead. In the distance he can see the men of the 212th head forward, hugging the walls of the warehouses as they push out, to try and take the surrounding areas. "The warehouses offer some cover, and what they don't cover I'm filling with our artillery. We'll have our heels dig in nice and proper in no time, sir."

"Good," Skywalker says. "We have some intel on the city – the enemy has had the roads barricaded in places and the main road is covered in road blocks. It doesn't look like we're within range of their artillery positions, thankfully, we probably would have been hit if we were. Any forward movement will be hampered, though, so there's no point in trying to spread out just yet. Just concentrate on fortifying for now."

CT-7567 frowns a little at that. "The 212th have been ordered to advance," he points out. "They've taken some walkers and tanks with them – their main force is aiming for the main road, I think."

Skywalker doesn't answer for a moment. "I see," he says finally, his voice utterly void of expression. "Offer them whatever cover fire you can from our position, but fortifying our base camp here is the priority. Do not tempt any unnecessary losses."

CT-7567's eyebrows lift slightly at that. "Yes, sir."

It seems their two Jedi commanders aren't working with same set of orders. Oh boy.

 


 

In the end the forward assault fails utterly. CC-2224 returns with losses, with tanks and walkers and men left behind, to the consternation of the survivors and the ire of his commander. CC-2224 brings back everyone he can; there's not a man in the retreating forces who isn't carrying a stunned brother on his shoulders – but there were more of them than they could safely retrieve. Some were left behind – to be picked up by the droids.

And CT-7567 has the pleasure of witnessing the whole miserable thing.

"I told you to advance!" General Vos says. "Our priority is to get Kenobi, not set up bases! The quicker we advance to the city centre the better – the faster we get there, the faster we get this done!"

"Sir," CC-2224 says, his voice level. "We can't. The main road is covered in barriers and the buildings around it are full of snipers – and for the first stretch of it, there's no cover from them. By the time we made to the first road block, we were within their artillery – there is no way to advance down the main road, sir, it just can't be done with what we have."

Vos lets out a hiss through his teeth but he seems to listen, seems to even think on it. "Kenobi's been preparing for us," he says bitterly.

"Obviously," Skywalker mutters, once more half hidden under his hood.

Vos throws him a glare. "If you have something to say, Skywalker, say it."

"The enemy controls the battlefield," Skywalker says, his voice grim. "He's had the time to lay it out just like he wants it, and he's a defensive strategist. Forward assault will never work against him."

"So we go at him from the side," Vos says and turns to the holotable, to the see through representation of what they know of the city. "We go at the buildings and take out the snipers – circle around here, to take out the artillery. We clear out the main road – and if we can't, one of the side roads, until we get to the city center."

Skywalker hesitates, chewing his lip.

"We're not here just to sit around doing nothing," Vos says sharply. "Capturing Kenobi is our top most priority. You do understand that, right, Skywalker?"

"Yes, I do," the Traitor's Padawan says, his voice harsh, his arms straight at his sides, his shoulders high. "But I think our best option is to secure the ground we have here," he says firmly. "Our offence won't work against him, not without careful planning, not while he has the forces in place to sweep us off the map. We need to make sure he can't just roll us over before we do anything else."

"Tch," Vos says and gives him a hard, disgusted look. "You really are his Padawan through and through, aren't you?"

Skywalker's cheek flexes, but he says nothing.

"Fine," Vos snarls and turns around. "Fortify, burrow yourself in here, make yourself right at home. In the mean while, I will plan our offensive. CC-2224, with me."

CT-7567 swallows and says nothing, and neither does CC-2224 while Vos spins around and stalks away, CC-2224 following after him. Skywalker stands very still for a long moment before his shoulders lower just minutely and he sighs.

Then, finally, he lowers his hood and CT-7567 sees his face fully. "Sorry about that," the Traitor's Padawan says. "And apologies for Master Vos – he's… understandably tense."

"Sir," CT-7567 says, not quite noncommittal.

Skywalker smiles faintly, an expression entirely void of anything that might be called humour or good will, and looks at the holotable. "His former Padawan is one of the Jedi that were captured on Hypori," he explains. "And I am… you know," he waves a hand, encompassing the whole sorry concept of his status. "It's a messy situation and Master Vos is somewhat emotional about it. How are the fortifications coming along?"

"We've set up the anti-aircraft cannons, and the heavy cannons are in good position – I think we're about as secure as we can get," CT-7567 says and relaxes a little. There are… things going on that go a little beyond both his experience and understanding, but Skywalker doesn't seem as bad as advertised. "With your permission, I'd like to set up some barricades as well. We're little open for gunfire from those towers, if the snipers decide to start harassing us."

"Yes, good, go right ahead," Skywalker says. "Captain – I'm sorry, I don't know your name. What are you called?"

"… my name is CT-7567," the Clone Captain says with a slight hesitation

"Is that what you prefer to be called?" Skywalker asks. "I can call you that if you like, but if you have a name… it's alright too."

"I – a name? No, sir, I don't have a name," CT-7567 says, a little confused now. "I'm sorry, I only have a number."

The look Skywalker gives him is strange. It almost looks sad. "Alright, Captain CT-7567," he says and turns to the holotable. "You're a veteran of Geonosis, right? I want to hear what you think of our position here – and what you've seen of the enemy's strategies."

CT-7567 frowns a little behind his helmet, eying his Jedi commander. Skywalker isn't what he'd been expecting, not at all. Everyone knew he was the Traitor's Padawan, after all – there were expectations about him. For some reason, despite all they'd learned about Kenobi and how damn good a General he was, somehow military strategy and wisdom wasn't part of them.

It's almost funny, in hindsight. After all, who would make a better general, than The General's student?

He shakes the thought away and then, after moment of thought, takes off his helmet. Skywalker glances at him and something in his expression shifts – some of its miserable tightness eases. "Well, sir," CT-7567 says and steps forward. "I have some suggestions."

"I'll be happy to hear them," Skywalker says determinedly, and some bit of unease that's lived in CT-7567's gut since Geonosis starts to ease.

 


 

The next day, CC-2224 doesn't come back from the field.

"We were trying to take out the gun positions overlooking the main road," one of the men from 212th Battalion reports to CT-7567 quietly, a Captain from CC-2224's forces. "Snipers fucking everywhere – sorry. It looked like we could do it, we were just about to get there and plant the explosives, but then the droids started coming out of the buildings. We got almost surrounded… the Commander got us through though. He laid hell of a cover fire for us."

"He would," CT-7567 says quietly. "How did… the General take it?"

They all know who he's talking about. Vos is the General – Skywalker is just Skywalker.

"Not well," CC-5576-39 says and sighs. "We didn't even manage to take out the guns, in the end. Took out some droids, one of their tanks, but…" he trails off uneasily. "I wanted to stay back," he says then, his hands curling to fists. "The Commander was pinned, but if I'd stayed, I might've been able to help, I could've gotten him out."

"If CC-2224 ordered you back, then there was nothing you could've done," CC-7567 says firmly. "It just could've gotten you both captured."

CC-5576-39's shoulders slump a little. "Yeah," he agrees bitterly – so he'd figured it out too. He just didn't like it.

Neither did CT-7567 really, but he nods with a sigh and looks over their barricades. They've managed to fortify pretty damn well here – Skywalker had taken his suggestions to the heart, and they got as good as a fortress now – it would take one hell of an assault for the Separatist forces to take them out, and there is no way they will catch them unguarded.

Vos is right, though – they're not here to make burrows. They're here to fight. Problem is, the only intel they have of the enemy so far is how good his defences are – not their precise locations or lay out, or how many droids there are. Vos doesn't seem to care. He's just throwing men at Kenobi's defences, looking for an opening. And Skywalker is right – Kenobi isn't going to give them one that easily.

"It's a tricky situation," CT-7567 says and pats the other Captain on the shoulder. "But we get through this. And your commander was taken alive, wasn't he?"

"Yes, he was," CC-5576-39 says, bowing his head a little. "His vitals were still going strong, until the armour was disabled."

"That's good," CT-7567 says, even through the twinge of grief. He'd probably never see CC-2224 again, the man would be lost in Kenobi's prisoner camps, and the Republic wouldn't pay for him. Still, he'd be alive, somewhere. It's a cold comfort, but one nonetheless.

"Captain," the other clone says. "Did you know, the 212th was originally assigned to Kenobi?"

CT-7567 blinks and turns to him. "No, I didn't know that." CC-2224 had never mentioned it.

"We never even met him – we weren't in Geonosis, and he left for a holiday or something immediately after that," CC-5576-39 explains. "We were waiting for him in Coruscant when the word came through that he'd up and left. He would've been our General, though… if he hadn't turned Traitor."

CT-7567 doesn't really know what to say to that. There's – something about this though. All of this. Skywalker, the Traitor's Padawan. General Vos, whose former Padawan Kenobi has had imprisoned in his prison colony and is asking ransoms for. Now this. 212th, who were supposed to be under Kenobi's command.

Of all of them, only the 501st have no ties to Kenobi. Except maybe for Geonosis, which according to all the newscasts… is all Kenobi's fault.

"Well," CC-5576-39 says and shakes his head. "Maybe once Commander CC-2224 gets there, he can send us messages. I hear they can, you know – send messages from the prison."

"Yeah, though just one a day, and it's heavily screened," CT-7567 agrees and runs a hand over his chin and frowns. Commander CC-2224... "Tell me something, Captain – do you have a name?"

"A name?" CC-5576-39 asks, giving him a look. "My code is –"

"I know your code, I mean a name," CT-7567 says and folds his arms. "Skywalker asked me for one. I couldn't give it to him, I don't… have one. Just a code."

It had never bothered him. All he and his brothers had ever had were their codes. Now though, now he wishes he had something else to call CC-2224, than a number.

CC-5576-39 looks at him for a moment uneasily. "Gregor," he says then, abrupt and unapologetic. "If I had a name, it'd be Gregor."

"Gregor," CT-7567 repeats. "That come from anything special?"

CC-5576-39 shrugs. "Not really. I just like it. I think I might've read it from somewhere during training. It just seems right."

"Hmm," CC-7567 hums, nodding slowly. "Anyone else in your troops have a name?"

"Not that I know of, sir. They might," trooper admits and scratches the back of his head. "I haven't really asked. Do you think I should ask?"

"Not if you don't want to," CT-7567 says and sighs. "Never mind, Gregor."

The trooper startles a little at that and glances at him, and then away, blinking. Then he gets a thoughtful look to his face. "If you had a name, sir," he says thoughtfully. "What would it be?"

CT-7567 looks at him and then sighs. It's not like he hasn't been thinking about it since Skywalker had asked about it. "...I don't know," he says finally, even while thinking, Rex. It would be Rex.

Gregor nods slowly. "I guess it's not that easy for everyone," he muses and then shakes his head. "I should go see about the men. With the Commander gone..." he sighs and then snaps briefly to attention. "Captain CT-7567."

"Captain Gregor," CT-7567 answers and looks away.

His name is Rex. And it changes nothing, really, nothing at all. CC-2224 is still captured by the enemy. Vos is still planning to throw men at Kenobi's walls, just to see if they'd stick. They're still in relatively unknown situation and Kenobi has the high ground.

It doesn't really mean anything.

It is something, though.

 


 

"We've been strictly forbidden from entering combat," Skywalker says suddenly, while they've putting together whatever intel they've been able to glean from the surrounding city. "The ransoms the enemy demands make it too... complicated. So we have been, under the threat of disciplinary action, ordered to stay behind and supervise and strategize."

"That sounds... reasonable," Rex comments, noncommittal.

"It isn't," Skywalker says and folds his hands into the sleeves of his cloak, his expression dark. "Jedi aren't military tacticians. Outside actual battlefield – where we actually might know what we're doing – we're not that much use."

Rex says nothing for a moment as they stare at the hologram. "Sir," he then says, slowly. "May I ask...?"

"About General Kenobi?" Skywalker asks darkly.

"I mean no insult," Rex says awkwardly. But the fact is – he's curious. The men are curious. And the way General Vos behaves is certainly not helping matters.

Skywalker says nothing for a while. "We assume lot about him," he says then. "And people assume lot about me because of what they assume about him. Fact is, Captain, we don't know. We don't know anything. Why he left, why he sided with the Separatists, why he's now fighting everything he spent his entire life preserving and defending – we don't know. And since he's now blocked all but the closest of communications, we can't even ask him. He just walked away, and he didn't stick around long enough to explain. And I'm not going to assume I know... before I hear it from him."

Rex watches his General silently, wondering at his tone. He doesn't sound bitter or betrayed, he doesn't even sound angry. He sound – weary.

Skywalker glances at him and sighs. "I know," he says, quiet. "Why didn't I go with him? Why didn't I see it coming? Why didn't I do anything?"

Rex looks away.

"I couldn't," Skywalker says and looks down. "He walked away – and I couldn't say anything at all."

There's a moment of silence, tense and tight between them.

"If you could say something to him... would you?" Rex asks. Would he – and would Kenobi answer?

Skywalker glances at him and then looks back at the hologram, silently frowning. He doesn't answer – but in his weary eyes there's a spark of steel.

Chapter Text

"I've been here since the beginning," Senator Organa explains to the Jedi while Rex watches from the side. "I was having talks with the christopheans, I was hoping to change their minds about joining the Confederation before it was too late – but then the blockade started. I was there, the Governor's house, when Kenobi landed."

"Did you see him?" General Vos asks sharply.

"I did, several times," Organa agrees with a sigh and runs a hand over his neatly trimmed goatee. "I was right in the thick of it until Governor Calleisa permitted Kenobi to land his troops and ordered me to leave. Obviously I didn't – I hoped to establish a relief effort pre-emptively, in case worse came to worse."

Vos folds his arms while Skywalker eyes the Senator silently from under his hood. "Tell me about Kenobi. What did he do, what moves did he make? Did you see his forces?"

"At first, he argued me more than anything," Organa admits and then explains, "The christopheans were still divided on the matter of the Confederation – the blockade of their planet didn't exactly make them happy, and as far as I can tell no one here looked forward to any sort of land warfare. Kenobi argued that it would be inevitable, as long as they wanted their independence. We butted heads about it until finally… the Governor took his side."

"And his troops?"

"I saw the drop ships land, I saw some of the barricades being made. I couldn't tell you exact numbers, though, I'm sorry – I only saw them afar. One of the buildings downtown was fortified and secured heavily for what I assume was to be some sort of command centre, but…" Organa trails away. "Soon after they started securing the streets and I had to move further and further back. Unfortunately I can't really tell anything more about their forces – nothing you don't already know."

"Hmm," Vos hums, frowning.

Skywalker clears his throat. "Can you tell us anything else?" he asks. "About him?"

Organa glances at him, looks him over, and judging by the look on his face, recognizes him. "He wasn't alone," he says then. "He had a woman with him – Commander Asajj Ventress she was introduced as. Dathomirian, I believe, judging by the tattoos. I suspect she's his second in command. She… has a set of two lightsabers."

That catches both of the Jedi's attention. "Lightsabers," Vos says and folds his arms. "Red?"

"I couldn't tell – they were never used. I just know she has them," Organa says apologetically. "They were obviously designed as a set, though."

"Did Kenobi have a lightsaber?" Vos asks.

"Not that I ever saw," Organa says with a shake of his head.

Skywalker looks down at the floor while Vos thinks about it, looking grim. "Could be a new apprentice," he muses, casting a look at Skywalker. "Strange, though, for her to carry lightsabers – but not him."

Skywalker says nothing, folding his arms into his sleeves.

"Well, we'll deal with it when it comes down to it," Vos says and looks up at the Senator. "Thank you, Senator Organa. I don't think it's an option for you to leave the planet now – it'll be a while before the orbit is safe again. Stay here, at the base camp – it's safest here."

"Thank you, Master Jedi," Organa says and bows his head. "I am still hoping to reach the christopheans, maybe even Kenobi himself and perhaps bring some order to this chaos, but… hopefully I will be of some use in the meanwhile."

"I'm sure you will be," Vos says and glances at Skywalker. His eyes narrow a little and then he turns to Organa again. "You think you could reach Kenobi?" he then asks.

"We talked briefly in private. He seemed reasonable, if… ideological opposed," the senator muses and looks away – not so surreptitiously, at Skywalker. "Peace might yet be an option, if an avenue of communication can be established."

Vos narrows his eyes for a moment, glancing at Skywalker, and the silence that stands between the two Jedi is charged with unspoken spoken meaning that Rex can't begin to tangle – but can very well imagine. And Vos' next words certainly put them into perspective.

"Well, Skywalker?" the elder Jedi asks, the skin around his eyes tight. "Could you reach your Master?"

Skywalker turns, his face impassive in the shadows of his hood. "The communications are cut," he says, his voice very level.

"I'm sure you could figure out another way," Vos says and makes a sort of roundabout motion with his hand. "You and Kenobi went on number of undercover assignments – I'm sure you have means to communicate beyond mere comlinks."

Skywalker looks away.

"Think about it," Vos orders and turns to Organa. "Come, Senator. Let me show you around the base camp."

He leads the alderaanian Senator away, leaving Skywalker alone with the few clones about, most of whom hover about awkwardly and then head back to their tasks. The younger General doesn't even try to follow his fellow Jedi or the Senator, looking away instead.

"Sir," Rex says quietly.

"Yeah," Skywalker agrees and bows his head for a moment. "Open lines of communication. Very diplomatic."

Rex says nothing for a moment. It's not like he's blind, it's not like Vos has made any efforts to hide his agenda. He doesn't care about Christophis, beyond duty – what he wants is Kenobi. If Skywalker came up with means to communicate with Kenobi, Vos would try to use it to lay a trap.

"Sir," Rex says quietly. "General Kenobi is our enemy."

Skywalker's shoulders slump a little, and for a moment Rex imagines he can actually see the pressure the man is under as the Traitor's Padawan. For all that their superiors had expounded on the importance of Christophis, it's obvious that his whole engagement has been planned from the first to get at Kenobi specifically. Vos, Skywalker, 212th – they'd all been diverted to this place the moment they'd known for sure Kenobi was present.

And Skywalker is the bait in their trap-to-be. A very awkwardly positioned bait, teetering on the edge of loyalties. Skywalker puts a good front, he acts beaten in the face of Vos' anger – but there is steel in his core. He might hide in his cloaks – but his back is always straight.

The Jedi Order seems suspicious of Skywalker's allegiances is Vos is anything to go by and in Rex' opinion, it's not without cause. Would the man join his Master on the enemy side, if given the chance?

"Yes," Skywalker finally says, his voice low. "He is the enemy. He's the enemy."

Rex says nothing, clasping his hands behind his back and waiting on him, as good soldier should. When Skywalker turns to head further into the cruiser, look of grim determination on his shadowed face, Rex quietly follows.

 


 

"I am terribly sorry to inform you that General Kenobi isn't available to walk into your obvious trap at this moment, General Skywalker," the bald woman in Separatist uniform says, bowing theatrically in the hologram recording. "If you're serious about wanting to parley, however, you're welcome to come to the city centre. So as long as your intention really is to parley, you won't be harmed and you will be returned to your fellows once the parley is done."

She lifts her head and smiles, the tattoos on the corners of her lips stretching. "Come on foot and unarmed and you will walk safely. You may bring one other, Skywalker – but not another Jedi," she adds sharply. "I'll look forward to hearing your answer."

The little astromech droid carrying the message peeps sadly as the hologram sputters and cuts off, leaving them all staring at nothing for a moment before they exchange looks.

"Skywalker?" Vos asks, eyes narrowed.

The younger Jedi reaches forward to rest a hand on the droid's dome head. "I told you it was obvious," he says, though he's frowning.

"Yes, but you also said he'd come anyway, that's what he does, he walks into traps," Vos says dangerously while Organa folds his arms, eying the droid thoughtfully.

"Obviously something's changed," Skywalker says and crouches down. "Did you see him, R2? Did you see either of them?" The droid beeps and whirs and spins his head from side to side. "Just droids. Hm."

"Kenobi is military head of the Confederation," Organa comments. "Naturally his priorities are a little different than those of a Jedi."

Vos scoffs and paces back and forth a few steps while Skywalker tinkers with the droid, checking something. He bows his head a little and then stands up, running a hand over his chin. "I should go," he then says.

"Out of the question," Vos snaps.

"Master, I invoked the rule of parley," Skywalker says carefully. "It's an archaic rule from bygone era, but Obi – the enemy is deploying lot of archaic rules. We can't make use of it, we can't use it to trap him, but if we fail to live up to our own demands now – then the rule becomes void. And no one will be able to use it again."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Vos asks, frowning.

"These rules are informal," Skywalker explains. "They aren't laws, there's nothing out there enforcing them – they only apply for as long as we live up to them. If we now invoke it and then waste it and turn it meaningless –" he trails off, pressing his lips together.

"He's right," Organa says, running his fingers around goatee. "It is an informal rule – but if we can make it standard… it can be invoked again. It might be invaluable in future, to have this avenue of communication available. And it is, it was, designed for active combatants to try and reach some sort of settlement in wartime. Isn't that exactly what we should be trying to do?"

"Parley," Vos mutters with a scoff but he's thinking about it, frowning at mid distance. Then he looks at Skywalker, eyes narrowed. Skywalker stares back, holding the man's gaze longer than he usually does.

Rex clasps his hands tighter behind his back, to keep himself from giving away his thoughts. The other clones in the room are similarly standing stock still and immobile as they watch the silent battle of wills take place. Rex thinks Gregor, who has now taken CC-2224's place in the 212th Battalion, is probably looking at him.

They'd all heard of the… argument by now. And it isn't as if they needed it to know what Vos was thinking about Skywalker's state of alliances. But surely Vos wouldn't start giving Skywalker a dressing down about it in company, right?

He would.

"And what's to say you won't just… slip away during it?" Vos asks dangerously. "You want to, Skywalker. I can feel it on you, it echoes in everything you touch. You want to go to him, don't you?"

Skywalker's eyes widen and then narrow and his hands clench. He takes a breath and releases it slowly. "I want to demand answers from him," he says very clearly. "I want to hear his reasons. That's all."

"You hate that he didn't take you with him," Vos says with a disgusted scoff and turns to face him fully. "You feel betrayed. If he asked you to go with him, now, would you?"

Skywalker glares. "No, I wouldn't and no… he won't," he says, very firm. "Because he didn't before – and there's a reason for that."

"And that reason is?" Vos asks sharply.

Skywalker presses his lips together and doesn't answer.

"Gentlemen," Organa says quietly, looking between them awkwardly. "I understand there are some standing issues here, but…"

Vos glances at him and then looks back at Skywalker for a long while. "Hand me your lightsaber," he then demands, and holds out his hand. "And Kenobi's, too."

Skywalker hesitates just for a moment and then wrenches the two lightsabers from his utility belt, holding them out. Vos summons them to him with his Jedi tricks and catches them from the air, one in each hand. He glares at Skywalker for a moment longer and then closes his eyes, concentrating.

Rex frowns. Now what the hell is this?

For a moment, nothing happens. Skywalker stares at the elder Jedi in silent anticipation and Organa looks just as confused as Rex feels, but neither seems willing to break the strange, charged silence. It stretches on, growing tighter by the moment.

Finally, Vos releases a breath and looks up. Without word, he hands the lightsabers back over to Skywalker, who accepts them slowly. "Captain, go with him," he orders, glancing at Rex. "And make sure you have recording devices with you. I want to know every word spoken there, you hear?"

"Yes, sir," Rex says, standing in attention.

Without another word, Vos nods, turns and leaves, leaving Skywalker and Organa staring after him. Rex keeps his eyes up front – on Skywalker.

"Might I ask what that was about?" Organa asks, glancing at the remaining Jedi.

"Psychometry," Skywalker says and slowly clips the lightsabers back to his side. "Master Vos' particular talent – he can sense the history of objects, the emotions of those who handled them… that sort of thing."

"Hmm," Organa says, looking him over and then looking away. "Seems like you're in a difficult position, my friend," he says. "You have my condolences."

"Yeah," Skywalker mutters. "Thanks."

"Do you know what you're going to say to him?" And they all know he's not talking about Vos anymore.

Skywalker says nothing for a moment and then tugs his hood further down. "I have a pretty good idea."

 


 

Hour later, they leave the safety of the base camp. It's one of them tensest walks Rex has had, to leave the shelter of the cannons and barricades, and all without so much as a hand blaster. Skywalker doesn't have his lightsabers and though Rex normally doesn't pay much attention to the things – it seems off, to see Skywalker without them.

In Geonosis, the Jedi had fought in the field. Rex hadn't ever seen it in person, but he'd seen vids of it – Jedi going against a cacophony of blaster fire, reflecting it back to the shooters or just sending it careening off to the sky safely. He'd seen droids mowed down by swings of glowing blades, he'd even seen one particularly impressive shot of a Jedi – General Windu, judging by the colour of the blade, though the video had been taken at considerable distance and it's hard to be sure – tearing through a whole tank with a lightsaber.

Now Jedi don't fight on the field, never might again. Rex knows why, but it's bit shame. Never mind the fact that Skywalker is right – it makes them bit useless.

Well, right now both of them are a bit useless.

"We're coming in to parley," Skywalker calls to the droids across the street. "We've been invited to by Commander Ventress – we're unarmed. Don't shoot."

The clankers mill about for a moment, exchanging looks before one of them turns to a communications unit to get further orders from it's superiors. Then they turn to look at them again. "Stay right where you are," one of the battle droids calls. "Check them out," it then orders another of its fellows, who nods twice, and heads forward, approaching them without hesitation.

Rex itches to punch the clanker in it's metal face, but holds it back, settling to glare at it through his helmet instead. Beside him Skywalker spreads out his cloaks to show that he's not carrying a lightsaber, and after checking him over, the droid checks Rex as well, checking his belt, where Rex has nothing, not even a grenade pack.

"They're clear," the droid finally pronounces.

"No funny business now, Jedi," the droid from across the street – a higher ranking one, apparently – says. "Get a speeder."

Moment later, a droid driven speeder careens towards them down the street and pulls to a halt not far away. It's a local vehicle, judging by the colour and make – Separatist things are rarely painted with crystal patterns.

"Well, at least we don't have to walk the whole way," Skywalker mutters. "Come on, Captain."

"Sir," Rex answers and follows him. "I would like it to be noted that I don't like any of this."

"It's been noted," Skywalker agrees, and jumps onto the speeder, Rex following close behind. The droid barely checks to see that they've seated before spinning the speeder around, and then all but blasting down the main street, over the barricades and cannons and tanks. As they do, Rex tries to press all their locations to his mind as quickly as he can – but the speed they're going to makes it difficult. Probably on purpose.

In seemingly no time at all, they pull to a sharp, stomach jerking stop in front of a slightly grander green crystal building. All around them there are droids and tanks and even more droids, and on the steps of the grand building there is a bald woman in black and red uniform, hands clasped at her back and droids flanking her at both sides.

"General Skywalker," she greets and smiles. "I have to admit, I'm pleasantly surprised. I didn't think you'd take it."

"Your bait?" Skywalker asks, eyes narrowed.

"The high road. Considering we did not spring your trap as it was, I was quite honestly expecting you to let the whole parley thing pass," she says and looks at Rex. For some reason, she bows her head at him briefly, before turning back to the Jedi General. "This way," she says and motions behind her.

Skywalker jumps down from the speeder, and again Rex follows. Immediately after the speeder careens away again, leaving them alone surrounded by legions of battle droids, and this woman, with her lightsabers.

She smiles, sharp and satisfied, and turns. The droids don't move – not until Skywalker moves to follow her between them and Rex follows him. Then the droids fall into order around them, like an honour guard – like a prison guard. Great.

Rex watches Commander Ventress closely, gauging her. It's impossible to say how capable she is, but as far as he can tell, she's not perfectly at ease with them – her shoulders are little too straight, her chin held high little too forcefully. Nervous or at least tense. Even surrounded by her battle droids, her armies and all her forces, she's still on her guard as she leads them inside.

"I took the… liberty of providing some refreshments. I hope you're hungry," Ventress says into the increasingly tense silence, and pushes open a set of intricately carved double doors. Inside there is some sort of meeting room with enormous crystal windows in the back, and long table dominating the middle of the room. The table is covered in plates and trays, all of them full of local food stuff.

"We didn't come here to eat," Skywalker says tightly.

Ventress glances at him. "No, I suppose not," she agrees, amused. "What you did come here for then, Skywalker?" she asks and walks over to the tables, to pick up a strange looking, diamond shaped fruit. "To tell us to lay down our arms, to give up our, what is it you call us, invasion?" she hums inquisitively and turns the fruit in her fingers. "Attacker parleying with the defender – I've looked into the rules of parley and that's a little unusual, you know."

Skywalker frowns. "It happened," he says and then steps forward. "And we all want to end this conflict peacefully."

"No, you don't. You want to end this conflict in your victory," Ventress says and bites into the fruit. "And after that you want to put a delightful little spin on the story – how you… liberated the poor unfortunate christopheans from their terrible invaders, those terrible, evil Separatists."

Skywalker's cheek flexes. "We just want to preserve as many lives as we can," he says.

Ventress smiles at that, almost pityingly. "Funny, I almost think you actually believe that," she muses. "Or maybe you want to believe it. Tell me, how many casualties so far? I can tell how many we have. It starts and ends with a zero."

"What casualties we got you caused," Rex mutters under his breath.

Ventress' eyes slide over to him, pale and perceptive. "By defending ourselves – and this city – from your attacks, Captain," she says sharply. "Our droids shoot to disable and stun, it doesn't always work how we intend to, you ships don't always have a clear landing site when they come down, and I am sorry for that. But this is still war and we will defend ourselves. Surely you can't blame us for that, Captain."

Rex's frowns a little behind his helmet.

Skywalker's sleeves twitch and after a moment of clenching his hands, he lifts them and pushes his hood down. "How many prisoners have you taken?" he asks then, his eyes narrowed.

"Now that would be telling," Ventress says and offers him a sly smile. "Ransom demands will be delivered upon first ceasefire, that's the rule. You'll have a list of all the captured prisoners of war then."

Rex's fingers twitch and then he clenches them into fists. He knows that CC-2224 was taken alive and relatively healthy when his armour was disabled. That's a good indication that he's still alive and well. It's more than they know for sure about most of the MIA clones.

Still, knowing for sure would've been appreciated.

"Is that going to be before or after you ship them off world?" Skywalker asks grimly.

Ventress smiles wide enough for her cheeks to dimple. "You're almost cute," she says. "Flailing about, no idea what to do."

"Excuse me?" Skywalker asks.

"You know we won't stand down and you're not going to stand down either – and considering this meeting was a sham originally, you have no actual demands to make, no offers, nothing. Nothing to negotiate with, nothing to really negotiate about…" Ventress says amusedly and shakes her head. "You're just wasting both our time because… Why exactly?"

Skywalker scowls at her.

"Because you want to meet our esteemed General?" Ventress asks and pouts exaggeratedly. "I see where I rate."

"Is he coming?" Skywalker asks.

"What if I say no?" Ventress muses, tilting her head. "Will you turn around and leave? How very rude that would be, to demand parley and then just walk out of it, all high and mighty just because you didn't get to see –"

"Is he coming?" Skywalker demands again.

Ventress' lips press together for a moment and then she takes a bite of her fruit. "Careful, Jedi," she says, somehow both amused and threatening all at once. "That's quite bit of aggression in your voice. You might watch out for that – has bad connotations for your lot, I hear."

"Well, you seem to have a skill at bringing out the best of me, Commander Ventress," Skywalker mutters.

"Not just you, I think," Ventress says and tilts her head to the side, to look past Skywalker entirely. "Lovely of you to join us, darling."

"You, my dear, are a headache and a half," another voice says, behind them, and Rex automatically reaches for a blaster that isn't there as he and Skywalker both spin around.

General Kenobi is… not as tall in real life as Rex had assumed. Not exactly short – but shorter than he is, shorter than Skywalker is. Though physically not quite as imposing as all the recordings made him out to be, there is something about him that goes beyond stature – sharpness in his eyes, a cunning and determination, that makes the hair in the back of Rex's neck stand on edge.

This man will walk right through him if he gets in his way.

Then the General smiles, and it's odd, warm and fond. "Hello, Anakin," he says gently.

"Obi-Wan," Skywalker says, his voice rough.

"This should be interesting," Ventress muses, leaning her hip onto the meeting table and watching with great interest.

Kenobi's eyes don't move from Skywalker. "Yes, quite," he agrees dryly. "You invited them here? I wasn't expecting that."

"Well, I wasn't expecting them to come, so we're agreed there," Ventress agrees. "But you did give me free rein to spring the trap how I chose – I chose this way. Infinitely more interesting than walking right in and getting yourself captured like an idiot."

"So harsh, my dear," Kenobi says and then steps fully into the room. The doors close behind them, and Skywalker's chin lifts slightly. Kenobi searches his face for a moment and then smiles. "You look terrible," he comments.

"You look worse, you look five years older," Skywalker answers. "At least."

"War ages you like nothing else, I'm afraid," Kenobi says and runs a hand over his neatly trimmed beard. "It's all the stress, you see."

"Well perhaps you shouldn't have run off to fight for the enemy side."

Kenobi arches an eyebrow at that and smiles amusedly. "Come now," he says, admonishing. "You can do better than that, Anakin."

"Can I," Skywalker mutters and his fingers twitch and curl into fists. "How about why?"

Kenobi smiles and lowers his face a little. "Well, that is a little better," he muses and turns away, glancing at Ventress and then at Rex and then back to Skywalker. "Shall we take a seat?

The moment of hesitation is tense, but Kenobi brushes through it without care, walking past them to the long table, and taking a seat. Ventress, giving him a look, sits beside him – neither of them sitting quite at the head of the table, but along the side, obviously leaving the other side to Skywalker and Rex.

"Why I left the Republic and joined the Separatists, hm?" Kenobi asks, as Skywalker finally takes a seat. "Because I want to save the galaxy, of course."

"That's bantha shit," Skywalker says with a scowl.

"No, sadly it isn't," Kenobi says and crosses his hands on the table in front of him, smiling. "You will believe it is, though, and so will everyone you ever tell about it – everyone who gets the good Captain Rex's recordings of this meeting," he nods to Rex briefly, smiling wider. "They will call me delusional and megalomaniacal and any number of things that will make them feel better and more justified. But it won't make it less true. I left the Republic and joined the Separatists because I want to save the galaxy."

Rex stares at the man, his mouth falling slightly open under his helmet.

"If you wanted to do that, you should've stayed," Skywalker says harshly and leans in. "Have you even seen the Separatists?! The Trade Federation is part of them!"

"True," Kenobi agrees. "As is the Banking Clan and the Commerce Guild and the Techno Union and number of other evil corporations. But so is Christophis," he points out. "And so was Geonosis, before the Republic invaded and all but destroyed it."

"They were building an army!"

"So was the Republic," Kenobi points out and motions to Rex. "And they started way ahead of the Separatist movement. And you know that, Anakin. I know you do, because I'm the one who told you about it."

Skywalker leans back, looking frustrated and conflicted. Kenobi watches him calmly while Ventress chews on her fruit, look of gleeful fascination on her face, like she was watching a show. Rex watches on silence, his mind drawn blank and empty.

"I'm sorry, I can't offer you a black and white war to feel justified in," Kenobi says. "The Separatist cause has greedy beginnings, perhaps, but when it is the greedy and the wealthy that feel impoverished under governmental rule – isn't that a proof that something is very wrong with it? Look at how many worlds are turning neutral now, when they might just as well stay within the Republic? Dozens of worlds already. And quite a number have joined the Confederation of Independent systems, and it's only racking up speed."

Skywalker draws a breath. "They're just following example of others," he mutters. "Jumping off a cliff because others are."

"And why would people content and happy in their situation in life do such a thing?" Kenobi asks. "No one jumps off a cliff willingly, Anakin, unless the cliff is crumbing down under them."

"Tch!" Skywalker answers and reaches for a fruit. "That's a shitty metaphor."

"Yes, but if it gets the message across…" Kenobi says and smiles. "You really do look terrible. You haven't been sleeping much, have you?"

"I wonder why that is?" Skywalker asks and takes a vicious bite of the fruit. "I mean it couldn't have possibly been a bit awkward for me to be left hanging around at loose ends while my Master goes and betrays everything our Order stands for, and I can't even tell them why or how or when? Do you have any idea what that did, what implications you left me with?"

Kenobi hesitates.

"Do you know what they call me now?" Skywalker asks cuttingly. "The Traitor's Padawan. Almost makes me miss all the Chosen One nonsense."

Kenobi frowns now. "They... really call you that?" he asks, sounding uncertain, even hurt. "They couldn't possibly."

"Well, not to my face, but they do," Skywalker scoffs at him. "They look at me and wonder why I didn't go with you. Did you leave me behind because I'm useless? Or because I'm your spy in the Order? Am I going to switch sides at drop of the hat, when I can do most damage to Republic cause? Why the hell they knighted me at all, I don't know – most of them want to lock me up."

Kenobi runs a hand over his face, covering his eyes for a moment. Then he sighs. "I didn't know they'd do that," he says quietly. "I'm sorry, Anakin – I didn't think my actions would reflect that badly on you."

"You – you spent ten years shielding me from the Jedi Order and now you're blind to it?!" Skywalker demands. "They've been waiting me to slip for years, you know that – this is just a damn fine proof for all their suspicions of me, only now you're not there to –" he stops sharply and abruptly, looking frustrated.

"I thought that by now we'd proved them wrong," Kenobi murmurs. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry – tell me why," Skywalker demands and slams his hand on the table, hard. "Why, Obi-Wan? Why didn't you ask me to come with you?"

The Separatist General looks at him seriously. "You know why," he says quietly and glances at Rex.

Skywalker does the same and straightens his back. Like through a fog, Rex pulls his mind into order again. The recording – whatever they want to talk about, they don't want it to get back to the other Jedi. So there is something going on.

Shit, he'd completely checked out for a moment there, hadn't he?

For a moment Skywalker is quiet, and then he lets out a frustrated breath. "No," he says and shakes his head. "No, see, that – that just makes me more useful. I'm influence – with me you have a bargaining chip against –"

"I have never used you to my advantage, Anakin, and I never will," the General snaps back. "You're not a bargaining chip, you're not a plaything on anyone's game board and least of all mine. I told you – that's a decision you can only make for yourself. I will never try to persuade you one way, or the other."

Skywalker inhales, holds it and then let's out another frustrated breath. Rex watches him with a strange sense of detachment – there's a lot going on here and he's having hard time keeping up with all the unspoken signals and bitten off sentences. More is being said than is actually being said, though.

Something wrong here.

"I made my decision," Kenobi says, a little calmer now. "And I tried my best to only make it for myself and not for you too. I'm sorry how it reflected on you, I truly, honestly am, it was never my intention to put you in such position. I thought better of the Jedi Order. But no, I would never ask you to come with me. I would never ask you to make that choice, not for me."

They fall silent, Kenobi watching Skywalker with a look that twists something in Rex's gut while Skywalker just – shakes. Whether it's frustration or grief or what is hard to say, but it looks – difficult. Kenobi says nothing and even Ventress has stopped chewing beside him, letting the silence stretch.

"I saw vids," Skywalker then says. "Dooku's speeches. You wrote some of them – I recognise the wording."

Kenobi leans back in his chair and says nothing, just sighs.

"Is – is that what you really believe?" Skywalker asks, looking at him. "And if – why didn't you –" he grits his teeth, glancing at Rex.

"I asked the Order, you know. Again and again," Kenobi says, looking at Rex and then away. "I petitioned for funds, I made pleas... but I was forbidden from acting. You'd already been singled out with enough special treatment, and it was an attachment too dangerous to encourage."

Skywalker bows his head. "Another thing you never told me," he mutters. "She's dead, you know? Happened just before the start of the war."

Across from Rex Ventress arches her brows with interest but says nothing, merely reaches for another fruit.

Kenobi sighs. "Too late then. I'm very sorry, Anakin."

"Yeah," Skywalker mutters. "But you're not sorry about walking away, are you?"

"I'm sorry about the way I did it – but no, not about doing it," Kenobi says apologetically "I'm afraid I believe in my cause, and I'm going to keep fighting for it, as much as it hurts."

Skywalker nods and stares down at the table in silence. "You're not going to stand down," he then stays.

"I'm afraid not," Kenobi agrees. "And you can't stand down either, can you?"

Skywalker shakes his head. "A day's worth of ceasefire," he says. "That sound agreeable for you?"

"That's entirely up to you," Kenobi says. "Try and advance on the city and the ceasefire will end. Try and land more troops and the ceasefire will end."

"I can agree to that," Skywalker says and sighs. "Same goes for you too, though. No landing more troops."

"Agreed," Kenobi says, watching him sadly.

Skywalker nods, looks at him desperately and then looks away. "I heard you named that Dreadnought on orbit the Abolitionist," he says suddenly. "The Abolitionist. Really."

"Yes, well. It's a bit sinister perhaps to the uninformed, but better than the Malevolence certainly," Kenobi muses somewhat sheepishly. "And your Star Destroyer? The Resolute, hmm?"

"The Negotiator, actually," Skywalker says and stands up while Kenobi stares him in astonishment. "Thanks for talking with us. I guess we can assume that parley rules will be honoured from now on?"

"So as long as you honour them, we will honour them," Kenobi says and stands slowly. "Anakin..." he starts to say and then trails off. "Take care," he settles on saying, his voice heavy. "May the Force be with you."

"Yeah – you too," Skywalker says, hesitates, and then turns away.

"Will you send them on their way, my dear?" Kenobi asks and Ventress stands again.

"Right this way, gentlemen," she says, her voice thoughtful and turns to lead them out, the droid guard outside quickly standing in attention, red to escort them back.

Rex hesitates momentarily at the door, looking back at Kenobi who is now leaning onto the table, his head bowed.

"General Kenobi," Rex says.

"Captain Rex," the General answers, glancing up, forcing a calm expression back to his face.

Rex's head throbs with the first pulse of an oncoming headache. He hadn't imagined it then – Kenobi really did call him by name. The name which he had yet to ever say out loud, never mind tell anyone. Was it some sort of Jedi mind trick? Reading minds? They always said it's impossible and yet...

Kenobi is watching him and Skywalker is waiting on him – he needs to speak. Rex inhales sharply through the sudden dizziness. "There was a clone commander, CC-2224, captured –"

"Commander Cody is fine," Kenobi says gently. "I'm sorry I can't tell you more than that."

Rex's vision blurs momentarily, darkening at the edges and then he nods. "Thank you, sir," he says and turns away, Kenobi watching him go with an unreadable expression.

Cody, Rex thinks through the headache as he joins the distracted General Skywalker and Ventress, who is frowning curiously at him. He ignores them both and thinks, Commander Cody. It sounds right.

Somehow, Kenobi knows their names. He knows their names.