The first message was obviously sent to him by mistake, Obi-Wan was sure of that. He'd returned to his quarters for a precious couple of hours rest between being released from medical and the forthcoming urgent council meeting, knowing that if he did something as foolish as actually sleeping he was just going to end up even more exhausted when he inevitably had to get up. In the end he decided to make a cup of tea and try to wade through his personal correspondence.
The cup was warm between his hands. He breathed deep, closing his eyes as he listened to the messages. It was all more of the same; Bail requesting another meeting about the Cloned Sentients' Rights Bill; Feemor begging him to approach the rest of the council to get more support for the agricorp hydroponic ships, because eventually the war was going to be over, and they were going to have to rebuild, force-damnit Obi-Wan; Padme warning him that all the hard work he'd put into persuading the representative from Bacrides that they wanted to stay in the Republic was in danger of being under by the separatist victory in the Dianope Belt; the senate-mandated public relations expert - who he privately suspected was secretly employed by Dooku to torment him - asking for an inspiring statement and a couple of holos where he looked less tired; a few journal articles he was subscribed to and was never, ever going to get a chance to read; and finally a short message from an unknown sender.
It might be an anonymous tip-off – or a trap. It wouldn't be the first time for either. He leaned forwards and let it play, finding himself looking at a holo image of a golden zinnia tree in full bloom while a low, musical voice spoke.
“I saw this and thought of you. It reminded me of the wonderful evening we spent together. My life has lost all colour and meaning since you went away. I can only hope we will be together soon.”
Obi-Wan blinked. Goodness, that was awkward. Evidently someone had the wrong comm code. He hoped they'd realised it and managed to get in contact with their lover, because he couldn't even send a message to let them know - all the sender details were missing, even the originating planet. An illicit affair, he imagined. The best he could say was that the voice had sounded male and was probably human. Oh, well. At least it was only a picture of some flowers and nothing less civilised.
Beautiful flowers as well.
With a chuckle he deleted the message and turned his attention back to his tea and to Padme's request.
He received a dozen more of the messages during the siege of Bostyria; the same soft voice over holos of flowers or waterfalls or candles, the same lack of identifying details. The first few he deleted immediately, but there was a murky feeling of unease in the force, and he took to listening to all of them for anything that would help him pinpoint who the messages were intended for. They were in the middle of a war; people deserved to connect. Honestly, though, the man didn't seem to even notice that he wasn't getting any replies. Perhaps his intended was held up on the front lines.
There was much more to be concerned over though. There was still a large population of civilians here; they had to hold the city, but the separatists had them surrounded and their constant bombardment made it impossible to evacuate the wounded or send for reinforcements or more supplies. At least Anakin was in orbit, preventing any more separatists from landing, but on the ground it was a war of attrition. They were creating narrow holes in their defences, luring small groups of droids in at a time to be destroyed, and by all his calculations the separatists would run out of droids long before they ran out of supplies, but it was slow and with him the only Jedi on planet, it was exhausting.
Following a fight that had lasted sixteen hours, he took shelter from the rain beneath the wing of a tank and found himself playing one of the mystery holos on mute, watching vacantly as butterflies danced through the air.
“General,” Cody called as a series of footsteps crunched closer.
The force whispered a warning and he avoided banging his head as he sat up. “Yes, Commander.”
The footsteps paused, and a second later Cody was bending down to look at him. “Should I be warning the men to check beneath their vehicles for any sleeping Jedi?”
“In this rain I hardly imagine I'm the only one taking shelter where I can,” he pointed out, neatly rolling out and bouncing to his feet as though he was ready to fight for another full day. He didn't imagine Cody was fooled for a moment, but fortunately, with Waxer and Elsewhere standing right there, his loyal commander wasn't going to scold him. “What's going on?”
“Movement,” Cody answered laconically. “We've got three squads of clankers scouting along the river.”
Was it possible that after four weeks of the same tactics the droids had finally realised they were going to have to try something new if they were going to win? “Show me,” he ordered, cutting off his holo.
Waxer had been watching it. “What was that, General?”
He hesitated for a fraction of a second, really not wanting to explain that he was watching someone else's love letter, but that hadn't really been what Waxer had been asking about. “Giant jewel-winged butterflies, on Aenia, I believe” he said, as he followed Cody towards the city wall. “Every seven years or so they come together in a vast mating display that completely covers the sky, blocking out the sun for several days. I saw it many years ago as a young padawan.” He remembered standing with Qui-Gon on the shore, looking up at an ocean of colour spiralling overhead, his master smiling at the wonder and awe in his eyes, and for a moment the memory brought him a feeling of peace.
Waxer nodded slightly. “It's beautiful. Why does the war never take us anywhere nice?”
He could point out that many of the planets they had fought across had doubtless been extremely nice before they got there, but that was the first not-strictly-professional remark Waxer had made since Boil had been shot in the first attack, so he smiled instead and patted the clone's arm instead. “Maybe someday.”
“I hope not,” Elsewhere muttered behind them. “I hate bugs.”
“General Skywalker would tell you they are an excellent source of protein,” Obi-Wan said mischievously, glancing back over his shoulder.
Even behind the helmet he could picture Elsewhere's appalled expression. “Well, General Skywalker is...uh - “
“ - the droids are six klicks that way, sir,” Cody interrupted, though by the frost in his tone it was less him taking mercy on the trooper and more him deferring the chewing-out for a future date.
Obi-Wan nodded and looked out across the plain. Back to the war.
The siege ended in victory for their side, and with a few days respite the Bostyrian provisional government insisted that they stayed for the celebration. Even now troopers mixed with civilians and as Obi-Wan leaned over the balustrade he could pick out gold, blue and maroon armour as the three battalions celebrated their victory.
Victory. And it only took six weeks and a few hundred lives. It didn't matter that all estimates had said the price would be far higher, the guilt and grief and loss were still threaded through his soul and no amount of meditation seemed to help him release those feelings any more. They were part of him; woven into his very force presence and now that Anakin, Ahsoka and Plo Koon were back on the planet he was careful to keep his shields solid.
Focus on the present. He was here with most of his men, with Anakin, Cody, Rex and Ahsoka, they had been successful, and he had a fine sunset and this rather nice honey wine to enjoy. And Waxer and Boil were reunited, swinging each other around in some sort of exuberant dance that the locals were trying to teach them. He smiled; hopefully the night wouldn't end in too many dance-related injuries. Those were always awkward to account for.
He felt Anakin approaching and sighed inwardly. He had hoped that this unlit and out-of-the-way terrace would give him peace for a little while at least.
“What are you doing creeping off by yourself, master?” Anakin's voice was carefully cheerful, a sure sign that this wasn't a chance encounter.
“Enjoying the silence,” he said dryly, as the other joined him, looking down across the square. It wasn't altogether a lie. He was still half waiting to hear the bombardment start up again and the peace from the constant cannon fire was as unsettling as it was welcome.
Anakin was looking at him. He carefully kept his expression placid and waited for his former padawan to grow restless. “Cody said it was bad down here.”
That caused a pang somewhere deep in his chest. He'd need to try and make sure Cody got some downtime. In the last few days of the siege there had been little chance for either of them to rest, and he'd be willing to bet that Cody had carried on working since then. The man worked too hard and there was no-one better, he was irreplaceable. But the anxiety Anakin was feeling was aimed at him, so he smiled. “I'm fine. I just wanted to take a few minutes.”
There was an awkward silence. “A few minutes?” Anakin said at last.
He turned to look quickly, frowning at the worried look on his former padawan's face. “What?”
“You've been gone nearly two hours. I was getting concerned.”
Ah. He must have lost track of time along the way. He smiled reassuringly. “I'm fine, Anakin.”
Unsurprisingly, Anakin didn't seem convinced. “Are you sure? Because if you want to go and get some sleep, I can cover for you.”
He didn't even let himself consider the temptation. “I said I'm fine. Now, did anyone seem to notice my absence?”
“I heard a couple of journalists asking the prime minister about it,” Anakin admitted.
And that was everyone he most wanted to be convinced that everything was running smoothly. “Acting prime minister, Anakin,” he said with a sigh. “The Bostyrians are very particular about proper titles and protocol.” Just because they had saved this planet from invasion didn't mean that it couldn't all be ruined by the wrong word falling in the wrong ear.
“Right.” Anakin rolled his eyes. “Acting prime minister. Well, General Kenobi, we had best get back to the party then. We can't have the great Negotiator missing out on his own victory celebrations, can we?”
He winced a little, once he was certain Anakin's back was turned. That was his proper title now, wasn't it? General, not Master. All his life he'd struggled to be worthy of titles – Padawan, Knight, Master – and now the one hung round his neck, the one he was famous for, was the one he would never have wished for. He remembered when few outside the Order had even heard his name, when he was recognisable only as a Jedi, one among thousands. People asked for Jedi help and a Jedi was sent; impersonal, interchangeable. Now his face was plastered over holoboards the length of the galaxy. Younglings pretended to be him while play-fighting, and he wished he could say it didn't bother him. Wished he could treat it with true Jedi dispassion...but he hated it. He hated it and it made him sick to his stomach.
Focus on the present, he reminded himself again. None of that was important right now. What mattered was that he get back to charming the prime minister and the rest of the provisional government so that they would put pressure on the Bostyrian senator to support the Cloned Sentients' Rights Bill.
He ignored the dull throbbing in his head with the ease of long practice.
Being back on the Negotiator was a relief. Having over a week in hyperspace until their next destination was even more so. He'd finished his reports, he'd sent all the supply requisitions, he'd done an initial read through of the paperwork for their next mission, he'd eaten in the mess hall with his men, and now there was nothing else he absolutely needed to do for at least twelve hours. He was going to sleep, meditate and enjoy a water shower, not necessarily in that order. Six days in hyperspace. He might even have a chance to show Cody the next series of katas, and he smiled at the thought as he lay back on his bunk.
There was another message from the mysterious sender, and with a guilty start he realised he was hoping it would show animals again. Honestly, he was taking advantage of this situation - if he wanted to indulge himself he should just find the time to catch up on some nature documentaries. Decided, and a little embarrassed, he made to delete the message without playing it, only to pause at a sudden scream of warning in the force.
He paused, confused. What harm could there be in not listening to a message that wasn't for him? It didn't make sense. And yet the force continued to be insistent and agitated.
Well, he followed the will of the force, and with a shrug he pressed play and lay down to watch another idyllic scene, this one of water flowing over smooth pebbles, while that same musical voice washed over him.
“I saw you on the news today. Congratulations on your victory in Bostyria – I hope you're taking a few days to rest and relax. Everyone is so very impressed with you, my clever one, and I am so very proud but I can't help but worry. Are you looking after yourself? They all expect so much of you. Please, for my sake, don't push yourself so hard. Until we meet again, my Obi.”
The agitation in the force reached a crescendo as he sat bolt upright, staring at the holo as he played the message over again.