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Villain of a Different Story

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What am I doing?

That was all he could think, staring down at this youngling, knowing that there was an entire legion storming the Jedi Temple and that if he didn't take care of the stragglers here, the rest of the 501st would.

It had been so clear to him until just a second ago. Serve his Master, eliminate the Jedi, save Padmé. So straightforward.

But now he felt like he had just been hit by a speeder. A speeder the size of the Senate Building.

What am I doing?

“What are we going to do, Master Skywalker?”

What am I doing here?

“Run,” Anakin said, pushing back the hood of his cloak. “I'll hold them off.”

The younglings scattered.

I came here to kill them. I almost did.

“Sir?” He didn't know which clone commander it was. Not Rex. Rex was gone.

“Stand down,” Anakin said. His teeth were chattering. There was a man who led them all into the Temple, someone who was completely certain, someone named Darth Vader—

I let him rename me.

Why did I do that?

What am I doing here?

“Sir… we have our orders,” the commander said. His voice held a note of what Anakin desperately hoped was confusion… but that he knew was actually suspicion.

If he wasn't here as an enemy of the Jedi then he was here as their ally. And any ally of the Jedi was now an enemy of the Republic.

There were six of them here in the room with him. More were on their way. Their body language shifted ever so slightly: getting into position for a clear shot.

They know.

Anakin reached for the Force and shoved hard as he could. He was out of the room before the troopers hit the ground.

What am I doing?

It was as though the entire universe had suddenly opened its eye and stared at him.

It was a feeling of total perspective.

What am I doing?

What have I done?

He led an army to slaughter children. He knelt before a Sith Lord. He joined the Sith. He helped Palpatine kill Mace Windu. He stood by and ignored the other dead Jedi in the Chancellor's office.

He killed Dooku.

On Palpatine's orders.

No. He did that on his own. All of those things were his own decisions.

What have I done?

What am I doing?

What am I going to do?

Run. Lead the troops away from the main parts of the Temple. Hope that the surviving Jedi found a way to safety.

He made it to a turbolift. His usual strategy would be to cut a hole in the ceiling of the lift and find a way out by climbing up, but these were his own soldiers and they probably expected him to do that.

He cut a hole in the ceiling anyway, but used the Force to raise the lift up a few feet, leaving him just enough room to shimmy into the turbolift shaft underneath.

And then he jumped.

The levels here went so far down that Anakin didn't even know what the bottom floor even was. He might end up as nothing more than a Jedi-shaped smear on the stone or duracrete or who-knows-what the lowest levels of the Temple were made of.

What do I do next?

In the span of only a few weeks, he had managed to ruin everything: his marriage, his friendships, his sense of right and wrong, his entire future…

How do I fix this?

The answer, logically, was that he couldn't. There was no way to fix this, not after everything that happened. It was far too late for him. He should have just followed the path to damnation that he was already on, embraced the Dark Side, become the most powerful Sith alive, forgotten everything else…

But if Anakin Skywalker had just accepted things the way that they were, he would still be a junkyard slave.

I have to fix this, but the only way to fix it now is if it never happened. I have to find a way to take it back, take it all back, change what happened, make the right choices this time, fix everything. I'm the Chosen One, damn it, why can't I be powerful enough to stop things from going wrong, I just want to take everything back and keep this awful day from happening—

But it wasn't just today: Anakin could see, stretching out behind him into the distance, the vast parade of terrible choices that transformed a scared kid into a broken man who was willing to steep himself in blood just to feel safe… just to have a purpose…

How far back would I need to go? Before killing Dooku? Before the war? Before my mother died?

Years. He would have to change years of bad decisions.

He realized that he had been falling for ages. How far down did the Temple go?

Should he even try to save himself before he hit rock bottom?

I already feel like I've hit rock bottom.

He heard crumbling stone. The walls of the turbolift shaft were collapsing.

Did the troopers detonate something?

He didn't feel like he was falling anymore. It was as though he was suspended in space.

What is happening to—

A wave of force hit him and he blacked out.

Even after all this time, Obi-Wan thought to himself with a smile, returning to the Jedi Temple still felt like coming home.

The floors seemed to swallow the sound of footsteps. The light was gentle and soft. Everything here was so peaceful and, for a long time, that peace had been a sign of home.

But what really made it feel like home was the man in brown robes who met him at the door.

“Master Qui-Gon,” he greeted the older man, attempting to keep his face solemn.

Qui-Gon looked equally serene. “Welcome back to the Jedi Temple, Your Grace.”

Obi-Wan snorted. “I’ve told you before: I don't actually have a title.”

His former Master's smile was more than a little teasing. “You are married to the Duchess of Mandalore; I assumed some nobility rubbed off.”

“In comparison to Satine, I remain a scruffy nerfherder,” Obi-Wan replied with a laugh. He gave Qui-Gon a hug, an action that continued to take the Jedi Master by surprise even after all these years, but at least he only made a single slightly-embarrassed sigh before hugging Obi-Wan back.

“I won't pretend that you're really here to see me, of course,” Qui-Gon said as they walked further into the Temple.

“I am here to visit you,” Obi-Wan protested.

“But that isn't the primary reason.” It took Obi-Wan a moment to determine whether or not Qui-Gon was upset with him or still teasing him—he was fairly certain it was the latter. “I checked before you came, by the way, so you wouldn't have to wander around trying to find her.”

They were heading to the training salles. The hum of lightsaber blades filled Obi-Wan's hearing. This had always been one of his favorite places in the Temple, but that wasn't the reason why his chest was tightening with anticipation.

They stopped outside a salle where about a dozen Initiates were practicing katas. A few of them looked a little bored, which was a common side effect of practicing the same lightsaber form over and over, in Obi-Wan's experience; however, that same experience taught him that the hours spent practicing paid off.

Which was why he almost glowed with pride when he noticed one particular Initiate focusing very intently on the exercises. Her form was excellent as well.

Obi-Wan resisted the urge to get out his camera and take holos.

He hovered in the doorway with Qui-Gon until the instructor called for a short break. It was only then that she noticed he was there.

“Daddy!” she squealed as she ran to meet him. Rather than letting him sweep her up in his arms, she practically crashed into him as she hugged him around the waist.

Pasha had come to the Jedi Order shortly before her fifth birthday. She had almost been too old to join, but Obi-Wan knew that, despite the fact that he was one of the Lost Twenty (well, Twenty-One now), the Order would still be willing to grant his daughter a little leeway.

He had, of course, exploited that lingering sentimentality for all he could get, which was why he was even able to visit her at all. He was no longer a Jedi but, in a way, he would always be one of them. As long as he kept his visits brief and rare enough to not be too disruptive, the Order was willing to turn a blind eye to the fact that he wasn't actually there to reminisce with his old Master.

Even though, as he pointed out to Qui-Gon only minutes ago, it wasn't not the reason he was here.

“My dear girl,” he said, gently ruffling her hair, which was (on almost a strand-by-strand basis) a mix of his own auburn and her mother's blond locks. When she finally loosened her grip, he knelt down and wrapped her in a hug. “How you've grown.”

When did she get so tall? It had only been a few months since he last visited.

“Did you see me practicing?” she asked eagerly once he (reluctantly) let go.

“I did,” he said. “You were doing quite well, better than I was at your age.”

“I beat all the other students in my group when we sparred yesterday,” she announced proudly; humility was not among his daughter's innate virtues. “Well, ‘cept Vallas, but their arms are really long so it wasn't a fair fight.”

“In my experience, fights are rarely fair,” Obi-Wan pointed out. “Better to determine your own strengths and use them to your advantage.”

“I know,” Pasha sighed impatiently; apparently she had heard this piece of advice before, though he was pretty sure he wasn’t the source of it. Most likely, one of his own instructors had said the same thing when he was an Initiate and he had unconsciously repeated it.

“Well, aside from trouncing your crechemates in lightsaber duels, what else have you been up to?”

“Lots,” she said with a shrug, “but most of it’s boring.”

Obi-Wan smiled. Although Pasha could bring quite a bit of focus to a situation when she needed to, patience was not necessarily her strong suit either. But he knew that she would learn patience eventually; after all, he had. “Well, I have my doubts that you could come up with anything that would bore me,” he said. When she gave him a skeptical look (a nearly perfect imitation of her mother, in fact), he added: “but I will brace myself for the impact. Now,” he looked over her shoulder at the Initiates beginning to gather together, “it looks like your break is wrapping up. I’ll see you in the commissary for lunch, all right?”

She nodded and, as she turned to rejoin her fellow students, he couldn’t help saying “Remember to drink some water before you start.”

Pasha actually rolled her eyes; she really was growing up. However, when he got to his feet, she turned back around and stuck her tongue out at him.

Well, apparently not entirely grown up, he thought, trying to hide a laugh.

Qui-Gon was waiting for him in the hallway. For a moment, it reminded Obi-Wan of his days as a Padawan, sneaking out of the Archives to head to the salles to duel whoever happened to be there. No matter how well Obi-Wan thought he had covered his tracks, his Master always ended up waiting outside the door for him.

Obi-Wan knew now, with the benefit of hindsight, that he hadn’t been the ideal apprentice: a little too contrary, a little too unfocused, and prone to making fairly rash decisions at a moment’s notice.

Decisions such as leaving the Order at the age of twenty.

He suspected that he would have been a fine Jedi Knight, even though he was still several years away from facing the Trials at the time. On the other hand, that year he spent on the run with Satine as her protector was, in a way, his first Trial and, from a certain point of view, he had failed it.

But from a different point of view, he had succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

“Thank you,” he said to Qui-Gon, his voice carrying perhaps a little more emotion than he had intended.

“Is there anywhere you wanted to revisit while you wait?” the Jedi Master asked.

“There is, in fact,” Obi-Wan said with a cheeky smile. “I'd like to revisit that argument we were having about whether or not I was actually here to see you as well.”

This wasn't the first time Anakin had woken up under a pile of rubble.

In fact, at this point in his life he was more or less used to it. If the war had taught him anything, it was that he was surprisingly difficult to incapacitate.

Still, it wasn't ideal.

He tried to piece together what had just happened: storming the Temple, running from the troopers, jumping down a turbolift shaft, and then everything seemed to have collapsed around him.

Anakin heaved himself up from under the pieces of rock with a groan, and discovered that he wasn't alone: about half a dozen Temple guards wielding pikes were surrounding him in a semicircle.

Temple guards?

But he had… they were all dead. He had—

What did I do?

He even recognized one of the guards standing here now as one he had killed less than an hour ago. Although, now that he was looking at her properly…

She looks younger.


He had wished for a way to take it all back, after all… and the Force was nothing if not annoyingly weird at times.

“Hey,” he said awkwardly, brushing some chips of stone out of his hair, “could someone tell me what year it is?”

One of the guards nervously answered him: “7953.”

Anakin's eyes widened. It had worked. He had traveled five years into the past.

Perks of being the Chosen One, I guess…

They hadn't lowered their pikes, though. “Oh come on,” he said as he stood up. “You must recognize me.”

A ripple of gasps filled the dark room (which Anakin only now realized that he had never seen before despite living in the Temple for over a decade). He heard a few of them whisper “Anakin Skywalker.”

“Great,” he said, relieved despite feeling vaguely annoyed that he apparently hadn't changed all that much since he was seventeen. “So, is Obi-Wan here?”

Everyone suddenly looked even more anxious.

That was when Anakin realized that they were all reaching for their lightsabers.

“I'm starting to get the feeling that there's been a misunderstanding,” he said, before making a break for the door.

“From what I have heard, she is making phenomenal progress,” Qui-Gon said as he brought two cups over to the table where the two of them had sat together for so many years. “Just as obsessed with dueling as you were, which I suppose isn't surprising. Are you sure you don't want caf instead?”

Obi-Wan gave a brief laugh. “I think that might be akin to blasphemy here.”

“They have it in the commissary.”

“Oh, I wasn't referring to the Temple in general,” he replied. “I was referring to it being blasphemy here, in your quarters. Besides, I… well, I miss it. The tea, drinking it with you… all of that.”

Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow. “Not all of it, I would imagine.”

“Well, no,” Obi-Wan admitted. This was one of those times when he could have sworn that he caught a note of bitterness in his former Master's tone. This was an argument that was over and done with years ago; and yet, Qui-Gon was still hanging on to it.

Still, if Obi-Wan hadn't left when he did, Qui-Gon may not have encountered his current apprentice. “Does your Padawan enjoy the tea?”

Qui-Gon sighed. “She has adjusted to many things since she joined the Order, but the food is still not one of them. And she tends to not be very forthcoming with details on what she does like.”

“I suppose that's to be expected, given her former circumstances.” Qui-Gon's apprentice was a very rare case in the Jedi Order: she had been far too old to join the Order when he found her on some backwater world in the Outer Rim, even though it was discovered that she had received a little instruction from a Jedi Master who had settled in the area years ago. His violent death left her alone and vulnerable to the influence of the Dark Side which, Qui-Gon pointed out, was all the more reason to let her join the Order. The Council hadn't been thrilled with the idea, but Qui-Gon had been surprisingly stubborn on the matter, and they eventually relented on the condition that he take full responsibility for her.

“She is at least speaking to the other Padawans without being prompted now. It is slow progress, but progress nonetheless.”

“How is she coping with all your heresies?” Obi-Wan asked, trying to make it obvious that he was teasing the older man.

“Strangely enough, she seems to understand the Living Force more than anything else I have taught her… she claims that there was a similar concept among her people.” Apparently he couldn't resist adding: “and it isn't a heresy.”

Obi-Wan grinned and sipped his tea. Another thing that brought back feelings of home: drinking tea and arguing with his Master about the Force.

There was a very faint rumble. The liquid in his cup shook and nearly spilled.

“What was that?” he asked.

Qui-Gon frowned. “I’m not sure.” He concentrated for a moment. “I don’t sense danger, just… something strange.”

“I suppose if it isn’t an emergency…” Obi-Wan said, although some part of him began to worry about Pasha.

“How do things fare on Mandalore now?” Qui-Gon asked, trying to bring Obi-Wan’s thoughts back to the present moment. “From what I've heard, there have been a few incursions on the edges of the system.”

“For now, things are stable,” Obi-Wan said wearily, “but I suspect that they are testing our defenses… which are admittedly few. If the Warlord tries to launch a direct attack, we may not be able to effectively counter it. One of the other reasons I am here, in fact: getting a sense of what our options are as a system independent of the Republic.” He sighed. “Truth be told, we may have to prepare to increase our armed forces soon.”

“Which I suspect the Duchess is reluctant to support?”

“Your suspicions are correct: she has grown a little more pragmatic over the years but she still detests the idea of war and thinks that a larger army is the first step toward another one. I feel as though I'm going behind her back on this… but our people are growing anxious and some are looking for ways to fight back—the warrior traditions never entirely vanished—”

“Jedi are able to defend themselves while still being committed to peace,” Qui-Gon pointed out.

“Precisely,” Obi-Wan agreed, though he still felt a little disloyal to his wife even discussing this, “and if we don't offer them an opportunity to defend themselves and Mandalore, groups like the Death Watch will instead.”

“I thought that the Death Watch had been eliminated.”

“If only they were,” Obi-Wan sighed again. “My worst fear is the possibility of them joining forces with the Warlord and giving the Broken Fleet a base of operations.”

“Is your sister-in-law still acting as a go-between, then?” Qui-Gon asked.

“Not as much as she used to. Too much time has passed. Besides,” he added, trying to lighten the mood, “she’s spending most of her time these days trying to give Ka-Riita jetpack lessons.”

“I’m sure the Duchess is thrilled about that,” Qui-Gon said, amused.

Obi-Wan smiled ruefully. “Well, there isn’t much she can do about it: Ka-Riita is twelve now and nearly as obstinate as Satine is. At least it’s only been a few lessons; most of her time lately has been taken up with school, and I think Satine is planning on packing her off to an exchange program in a few months before Bo-Katan makes our daughter an honorary Nite Owl. Which is, incidentally, the other other reason why I’m on Coruscant: as a non-Republic system, Mandalore doesn’t participate in the Apprentice Legislature, but we are friendly with a few systems that may be willing to sponsor Ka-Riita for a spot in the program. I have a meeting with Senator Organa from Alderaan this afternoon about that, and hopefully he’ll agree to it.”

“There would have been opportunities for learning diplomacy if she had joined the Order.”

Obi-Wan had the sudden feeling of being scolded and tried to hold back his irritation. “Well, she didn’t want to be a Jedi and I wasn’t going to force her to go. It worked out for the best anyway: she’s the heir presumptive for House Kryze and this way we don’t have to have some frantic scramble about succession.”

“If she has as much potential as her sister, it would be a waste—”

“My daughter is not a waste,” Obi-Wan snapped. “Neither was I, which is who I think you’re really talking about.”

“Of course I regret what happened,” Qui-Gon said, still calm but beginning to show a few cracks in that serenity. “I neglected to teach you as much about the Code as I should have. I failed you as a Master.”

Obi-Wan groaned. “You did not fail me. It was my decision to leave; not because I didn’t want to be a Jedi, but because I wanted to be with her more than I wanted to be a Jedi. And I’m happier for it: I have a wife and a family and a role to play in something bigger than myself, even if it isn’t the Jedi. There are two people who would never have existed if I had stayed with the Order. How is any of that a failure?”

They seemed to have some version of this argument every time he came to the Temple and he was growing sick of it.

Before Qui-Gon could respond, there was a chime at the door to his quarters. A pair of Temple guards stood outside.

They were here to see Obi-Wan, it turned out.

“There has been an… incident,” one of them began before Obi-Wan interrupted:

“Is Pasha all right?” He was already halfway to the the door.

After a moment of confusion, the guard hastily replied, “All of the younglings have been moved to a secure location. She’s fine. No, this concerns you in particular: there is an intruder in the Temple, one we are still trying to apprehend… and one of the first things he asked when we spotted him—”

“Aside from what year it was,” the other guard noted with a shrug.

“He asked if you were here,” the first guard finished.

“Who is it?” Obi-Wan asked. Who would go to all the trouble of sneaking into the Jedi Temple just to talk to him ?

The two guards hesitated and Obi-Wan sensed a sudden spike of fear.

One of them finally worked up the courage to tell him: “Anakin Skywalker.”

The entire room froze.

Chapter Text

There were apparently still parts of the Temple that Anakin knew better than anyone else, even if he had no idea what room he had woken up in. It was somewhere in one of the sub-basements, but anything beyond that would have to wait until later to figure out.

He kept his Force presence hidden and tried to determine where in the Temple Obi-Wan would be right about now. The training salles? Maybe, if his past self had dragged him there for more lightsaber sparring. The Council chambers? No, it was still too early: Obi-Wan wouldn’t become a member of the Council for another few years.

His quarters? Anakin felt a little nudge from the Force.

Guess I have my answer…

It took a little bit of maneuvering and hiding so that no one caught sight of him, but he finally came to the hallway where Obi-Wan’s quarters were located. His own were nearby too, but Anakin shuddered to think about the state that his past self had left it in.

He also wasn’t quite ready to confront his past self yet. He needed to talk to Obi-Wan first and figure out a plan.

Obi-Wan’s good at plans. He’ll know what to do.

He could hear Obi-Wan’s voice, coming from the inside of his quarters. As Anakin peeked out from his hiding spot, he saw a pair of Temple guards standing right outside the door, next to a familiar-looking Jedi Master whose face he couldn’t quite see.

Time for another Force push.

Anakin telekinetically shoved the Temple guards and the other Jedi into a tangled heap on the floor.

I’ll apologize later.

When he arrived in the doorway, he pushed Obi-Wan back inside and followed him in, closing and locking the door behind him.

As Anakin knelt by the door controls to disable any unlocking mechanism that the Temple guards could bring to bear (short of cutting the door open with a lightsaber… which was possible), he started his attempt at an explanation:

“I know that this is going to sound really bizarre, but I promise I can explain. See, I was running from a bunch of clo—wait, that’s not a thing yet, hang on—basically I was in trouble as usual and I ended up jumping down a turbolift shaft. Then everything more or less exploded—I know, as usual—and then I woke up in a random room in the basement and for some reason all the Temple guards freaked out.” He finished his work and then stood up to face his Master. “So, what I think happened is—” He squinted in confusion. “What happened to your beard?”

In fact, Obi-Wan’s entire appearance was… weird. He was clean-shaven, he actually looked like he had gotten a haircut in the last galactic standard year, and was wearing what Anakin could only describe as ‘civilian’ clothes instead of his usual Jedi robes.

He was also, Anakin realized, more than a little frightened.

“You’re Anakin Skywalker,” he said, his voice shaking slightly.

“I know, I look a little different, but it’s kind of a long story,” Anakin said. He looked around at their surroundings. “Hang on, these aren’t your quarters.”

“Of course they aren’t,” Obi-Wan said, his own confusion beginning to override whatever anxiety he was feeling. He examined Anakin warily. “I suppose it wouldn’t have been hard to make some Jedi robes, but how did you acquire a lightsaber?”

Anakin frowned. “I, uh, made it? Oh, shoot,” he said, remembering. “Okay, I know you’re going to be mad, but I kind of broke my old one. Or I’m going to? Another long story—and, by the way, even though I built a new one, you have literally never let the issue drop. I swear, the number of times you’ve said ‘This weapon is your life, Anakin’—” He was admittedly pretty satisfied with his Obi-Wan impression. “—let’s just say I remember and leave it at that, okay?”

Now Obi-Wan looked completely confused. “I told you that?”

“Yes?” Anakin said. This was making less and less sense with every passing minute.

“I’ve… I have never met you before. We have never spoken until this exact moment.”

“Wait, what?” Anakin said incredulously. “But you know who I am: Anakin Skywalker! You were my Master for over a decade!”

Obi-Wan’s face suddenly went deathly pale. “Slavery has always been illegal on Mandalore. I have never owned anyone in my entire life—”

Anakin decided to postpone addressing most of the words in that first sentence for a few minutes. “I mean you were my Jedi Master! I was your Padawan! Do you not… what is going on here?”

“I could ask you the same question,” Obi-Wan said, his usual exasperation returning to his voice. “I have not been a member of the Order in years, and I know that you have never been a member. You’re…” He was apparently trying to find the appropriate words. “What are you doing here?”

“I came here to find you! I need your help!”

“How did you know I would even be here?”

“Because you’re always here!”

Obi-Wan went pale again, this time with anger rather than fear. “I swear, if you harm her—” he hissed.

But Anakin was barely listening as he tried to make sense of the other things Obi-Wan had said. “I’m not here to harm anyone. What do you mean, you aren’t a Jedi anymore?” Anakin demanded.

His Master looked like he was struggling to stay upright during a gravity systems malfunction. “I left the Order when I was a Padawan,” he said.

“No you didn’t!” This didn’t make any sense. Anakin had only gone back in time five years, this wasn’t—

Maybe I didn’t just travel back in time…

“This is another timeline,” Anakin realized. “This is five years ago in… in some kind of parallel universe? One where you left the Order and—wait, then whose quarters are we in?”

Now Obi-Wan was just looking at him like he was crazy… which, admittedly, was an expression that Anakin had seen on his face more than a few times over the years. “We’re in Qui-Gon Jinn’s quarters.”

“Qui-Gon’s alive?” Anakin was actually yelling at this point and Obi-Wan flinched back a few steps. “I swear, I’m not going to hurt you, I just want to talk.” He groaned as a thought occurred to him. “Oh no… was he one of the people I pushed over in the hallway?”

“I… assume that he was,” Obi-Wan said faintly. “Can you explain again what you’re doing here?”

Anakin took a deep breath and calmed down. Yelling at situations was usually his go-to tactic, but it obviously wasn’t going to work here. “I’m from five years in the future. Things went… badly. There was a war and there’s a Sith in charge of the Republic now and he’s killing all the Jedi and I—”

But he couldn’t say it. The words wouldn’t leave his mouth.

He’s killing all the Jedi and I was going to help him do it.

He couldn’t tell Obi-Wan. Not when he was looking at Anakin like that.

“I came back in time to fix it. I'm not sure how I came back, but hey, perks of being the Chosen One, I guess.”

“The what?” At this point Obi-Wan had apparently run out of any damns he had left to give and sat down at the small table that Anakin actually recognized from his Obi-Wan's quarters. He rested his head in his hands and sighed wearily. “They said that you were a bit… volatile, but I didn't expect you to be completely unhinged."

Anakin laughed, but then a thought occurred to him. “You aren't a Jedi, but you recognized me. How do you know who I am?”

Obi-Wan looked up at him, his expression incredulous. “You're Anakin Skywalker. Everyone knows who you are.”

“Yes, but how? I'm only seventeen at this point in time—how do people know who I am?”

Realization dawned on Obi-Wan's face. “You really don't know, do you?”

“Well, apparently not,” Anakin said testily. Even this timeline's Obi-Wan took an annoyingly long amount of time to get to the point.

There was a sudden banging on the door. “What have you done with Kenobi?” someone said from the other side.

“I'm all right,” Obi-Wan called back. “He said he just wanted to talk.”

“Release him immediately, Skywalker,” the voice on the other side of the door demanded, which is when Anakin figured out who it was. Something in the pit of his stomach felt like it was being stabbed with a shard of ice.

Mace Windu.

I helped kill him. I cut off his hand and Palpatine threw him out a window to his death.

“All right,” Anakin said, raising his voice so that it could be heard through the door. “We're coming out.”

He reassembled the parts of the locking mechanism he had taken apart earlier and opened the door to a surreal tableau:

In addition to at least eight Temple guards, there was also Qui-Gon Jinn, Mace Windu, Adi Gallia and—

Anakin inhaled sharply and ignited his lightsaber. “Asajj Ventress.”

“Skywalker,” the former Sith acolyte spat. The hallway was suddenly full of lightsaber blades.

However, the thing that sent him crashing senseless to the ground came from behind him, where Obi-Wan was standing.

“How did he get a lightsaber?” Mace Windu asked as they all stared down at the unconscious form of Anakin Skywalker.

“He claims that he built it,” Obi-Wan said, putting his holdout blaster back into its holster. Satine wasn't thrilled with the idea of him carrying one around, but he felt that it was better to be prepared; besides, as he just demonstrated, it had a stun setting.

“Likely stolen from a Jedi,” Mace said, picking up the lightsaber and shaking his head, “but I don't recognize the design.”

“Although it does look…” Qui-Gon began, but then stopped.

“What?” Mace asked.

Qui-Gon frowned as he examined the weapon. “It isn't the same design, but some parts of it look… well, a little like your old lightsaber, Obi-Wan.”

Obi-Wan's mind was still reeling from the onslaught of the last few minutes and he barely had room to absorb this latest observation.

He said that he was my Padawan. That he was from the future. A future where I had stayed with the Order.

Obi-Wan knew that these were all just the ravings of a very sick young man but…

It didn't feel like a lie. Not only did Skywalker obviously believe what he was saying… Obi-Wan somehow couldn't dismiss it either.

It isn't because…

It can't be because…

This is absurd.

But the thing that made Obi-Wan entertain even the slightest possibility that this might be true was the fact that Skywalker's imitation of him was nearly flawless.

We never met before today and yet he thinks that he's known me for years.

It almost feels like I know him too.

Well, this version of Anakin Skywalker at least. The one that everyone knew didn't seem anything like this man.

Time travel… parallel universes… it was impossible and yet… if he searched his feelings, Obi-Wan could believe that it was true.

“Why did he want to talk to you, Kenobi?” Mace asked.

“I'm still not entirely sure,” Obi-Wan admitted. “Most of what he said didn't make any sense. Perhaps when he wakes up—”

"Before he wakes up, we're going to turn him over to Coruscant Security,” Mace interrupted. “If he was able to infiltrate the Temple, there's no guarantee that we have the resources to keep him restrained.”

“Wait.” He didn't know why his heart had started to race at the thought of sending Skywalker off with law enforcement, but trusting his instincts had led him this far, so: “He said that he wasn't here to hurt anyone. I believe him. All he wanted to do was talk. Just… could I have a few more minutes with him before you turn him in?”

“Obi-Wan…” Mace said, in a rare instance of calling him by his given name, “he's Anakin Skywalker.”

“It is possible,” Obi-Wan said, choosing his words carefully, “that he doesn't know who he is.”

“Amnesia?” Adi Gallia asked.

“More like an entirely different set of memories. Given some of the things he told me…” Obi-Wan braced himself. “I think he believes that he is a Jedi.”

“I still don't think it's safe to keep him here,” Mace said after a brief silence. “He just tried to attack someone. He may not be a danger to you, Kenobi, but there are hundreds of Jedi here who he might—”

“I know,” Obi-Wan said quietly. “You know that I know. But if there's a chance we could reach him… it might bring an end to it. To everything.”

The ensuing silence was longer than the last one. Obi-Wan knew that they were all considering the implications: the horrors of the last four years could be over. The galaxy could finally be at peace.

And all because Anakin Skywalker thought he was a Jedi.

“All right,” Mace said at last. “You can try.”

“But first,” Qui-Gon added, “we really can't just leave him lying on the floor like this.”




To the Dark Side.

Into the depths of the Temple.

Through space and time.

Maybe this was all a dream: something that his mind invented to keep him from thinking about the atrocities he was committing.

He could even see it: cutting down the younglings one by one and killing any other Jedi who remained at the Temple. Calling Palpatine his Master. Obeying and obeying and obeying. Thinking of nothing but obedience.

Not even Padmé.

He saw himself on a world of lava. He saw himself attacking Padmé, her eyes filling with terror and tears, while he silently screamed at himself to stop but was unable to do anything to change his actions.

He saw Obi-Wan. He saw them fighting, desperate, furious, hating one another.

He had done the impossible: turned on the Jedi, hurt his wife, and tried to kill his best friend.

What was a little inter-dimensional travel compared to that?

They had just finished securing the binders around his wrists when Anakin Skywalker woke up.

Still a little groggy, it took him a moment to notice his restraints. “Oh,” he grumbled. “Great.”

While he adjusted to his surroundings, Obi-Wan took the opportunity to examine him more closely. Even with the life he had led, the Anakin Skywalker that everyone knew from holos still looked younger than the man currently cuffed to a bench anchored to the wall of the closest thing to a detention cell that the Jedi Temple possessed. He didn’t look like a teenager. He looked… well, exhausted, as though he hadn’t slept in weeks and had given up on ever sleeping again.

He looked up at Obi-Wan with a frown. “Hey,” he said, sounding more hurt than anything else, “you shot me!”

“You were about to attack someone,” Obi-Wan replied, keeping his voice as light as he could. Upsetting Skywalker could be extremely dangerous, restraints or no. “What did you think would happen?”

Skywalker’s eyes widened as the memory came back. “That was Asajj Ventress,” he said urgently. “She’s dangerous, she’s Dooku’s apprentice, she—”

“She isn’t Dooku’s apprentice,” the third person in the room interrupted. “She’s mine.”

Skywalker’s expression somehow became even more astonished. “Qui-Gon?” Obi-Wan tried to determine the strange note that his voice held when he said the Jedi Master’s name. Fear? Confusion?


The lines on Qui-Gon’s face became just a little more pronounced; his version of a frown, Obi-Wan knew. “How is it that you know who I am?”

“I…” Skywalker suddenly looked tired again. “You aren’t going to believe any of this.”

“Perhaps I won’t,” Qui-Gon agreed, “but you can’t know for sure unless you say it.”

Skywalker actually laughed a little at that. “You have a point.” He took a deep breath. “I traveled here from the future: five years in the future, to be exact. But that version of the future—hell, that version of right now—is radically different from this one.” He fixed Qui-Gon with a look that was, in Obi-Wan’s assessment, one of awe. “In the timeline that I came from, you changed my life.”

“How?” Qui-Gon said warily.

“When I was nine years old, you and Obi-Wan came to Tatooine, freed me, and then brought me to the Jedi Order. You argued with the Council that I should be admitted even though I was too old—”

“Apparently some things aren’t that different,” Obi-Wan said drily. “You brought Asajj here when she was fourteen.”

Qui-Gon smiled ruefully at that and then turned back to Skywalker. “Did you become my Padawan, then?”

Skywalker’s face froze in an expression of grief. He looked away, then said quietly, “Where I’m from, you didn’t live long enough to take me as your apprentice. You died on Naboo only a few days after bringing me to Coruscant.”

Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon exchanged a look as they both did the math in their heads. If Skywalker was seventeen now and he apparently joined the Order at the age of nine… it would have been during the Naboo crisis.

“What was I doing on Naboo?” Qui-Gon asked carefully.

Skywalker sighed. “It was sort of how this whole thing started: you and Obi-Wan were sent to Naboo to negotiate with the Trade Federation, only they tried to kill you. You both escaped to the planet’s surface, rescued the Queen, and brought her to Coruscant to appear before the Senate. But on the way, the ship needed repairs, so you stopped on Tatooine and that’s where you met me. After…” His jaw tightened briefly. “Queen Amidala spoke to the Senate but they did nothing to help, so you both accompanied her back to Naboo to fight the Trade Federation’s occupation. There was… there was a Sith waiting for you there.” He finally dragged his eyes back to Qui-Gon’s face. “Obi-Wan defeated him, but not before he killed you, Qui-Gon.”

“A Sith?” Qui-Gon blinked in surprise. “The Sith have been extinct for centuries.”

“It turns out that they weren’t,” Skywalker said. Something in his eyes went very far away.

Obi-Wan suddenly remembered something Skywalker had told him earlier: There was a war and there’s a Sith in charge of the Republic now and he’s killing all the Jedi…

“What happened next?” he asked, trying to bring the young man back to the here and now. Qui-Gon would have (for once) been pleased with him for that.

Skywalker exhaled. “The Council made you a Knight,” he told Obi-Wan, “and I became your Padawan. I passed the Trials about ten years later, when the war started. I—” He breath suddenly caught in his throat. “Is the Senator from Naboo on Coruscant right now?”

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan exchanged another wary look.

“What?” Skywalker demanded. “Where is she?”

Obi-Wan tried to work out the best way to phrase it; he probably failed. “Naboo has not had a Senator for eight years. Not since the occupation.”

“But…” Skywalker looked confused. “Why?”

“It was part of the Trade Federation,” Obi-Wan explained. “They no longer needed one, at least in the Federation’s opinion.”

Skywalker’s expression changed to one of horror. “You mean, you never defeated them?”

“By the time we learned about what happened there, it was far too late,” Qui-Gon said. “Unlike your… timeline… the two Jedi that we sent to Naboo vanished. Queen Amidala never made it to Coruscant and she… disappeared shortly after the Federation forced her to sign the treaty.”

Skywalker began to tremble. “She… she—no!” he cried. “That can’t have been what happened! You were there, you saved her!”

“Not in this timeline,” Obi-Wan said gently.

Skywalker looked close to tears. “I can’t believe it,” he whispered. “Padmé… she was…” He noticed the look on Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon’s faces. “What?” he said cautiously.

“Do you mean,” Qui-Gon asked, “that Queen Amidala’s name was Padmé?”

“Yes,” Skywalker said. A sudden spark of hope began to glow in his eyes. “Why?”

Obi-Wan actually chewed his lower lip while he tried to work out a way to respond. “There is… someone… by that name. She is…” He sighed. “You really don’t know who you are in this timeline?”

Skywalker shook his head impatiently.

Obi-Wan felt as though there was a slab of stone lodged in his chest. “In our version of history,” he began, “Anakin Skywalker led an uprising on Tatooine when he was thirteen. Not just an uprising: by the end of it, he had conquered the entire planet. No one knows how he acquired his ships, but once he did, he began a crusade against every system in the galaxy where slavery was practiced.”

Skywalker actually looked impressed, which made Obi-Wan feel very uneasy. “So, what’s the problem?” he asked.

“The problem is that he never stopped,” Obi-Wan said. “His forces grew, he expanded his list of targets… the Broken Fleet now controls the majority of the Outer Rim. At first, the Republic turned a blind eye to it because Skywalker was focusing on worlds controlled by criminals, Hutts, cartels… but once word got out about what he was actually doing…”

“Which is…?” Skywalker prompted. He was beginning to look a little more uncertain.

“He wasn’t just conquering worlds. He was destroying them.” Obi-Wan couldn’t quite meet his eyes. “Tatooine is completely uninhabitable; once he had a large enough fleet, he bombarded the planet until there was nothing left. They say that the surface is more glass than sand now. Nothing survived; even the nomads who were indigenous to the planet. And he did this to dozens of worlds.”

There had been holos. He had seen them. He had nightmares for weeks afterwards about Mandalore meeting the same fate.

“And now,” Obi-Wan continued, his voice less steady than before, “his forces are so massive that any system he attacks is helpless to defend itself. The Republic has delayed for so long that…” He shuddered. "They might not be able to stop him.”

Skywalker appeared to still be taking this all in. He looked a little dizzy. “So you’re saying that here, I’m…”

“The Warlord of the Broken Fleet. The most feared individual in the galaxy.”

Skywalker swore quietly in what Obi-Wan was fairly sure was Huttese. Given what the Warlord had done to Hutt Space, Obi-Wan reflected, that language might completely vanish within a generation.

Another thought appeared to occur to Skywalker: “What does this have to do with Padmé?”

“During the Trade Federation occupation of Naboo, there remained pockets of resistance. Not enough to expel the Federation, but enough to slow them down and make things difficult. It went on for six years, growing increasingly violent in response to the Federation’s oppression. Then the planet was finally liberated—by the Broken Fleet.”

“And Padmé?” Skywalker prompted.

“Shortly after the Warlord conquered Naboo, he acquired a new lieutenant. Not much is known about her, but we do have a name: Padmé.”

To Obi-Wan’s surprise, Skywalker grinned. “So she’s alive,” he said, relieved.

“Yes,” Obi-Wan said cautiously, “but she is almost as dangerous as Skywalker is.” He had seen holos of other planets… anyone with ties to the Trade Federation had met a gruesome fate.

Skywalker snorted. “I don’t doubt it.”

“Who is she in your timeline?” Qui-Gon asked.

Skywalker grinned again, wider this time. “My wife.”

Obi-Wan frowned. “I thought you said that you were a Jedi Knight,” he pointed out.

“Well…” Skywalker was actually blushing. “I didn’t exactly mention it to the Order. Following an assassination attempt, the Council assigned me as her bodyguard. We went into hiding and…” He smiled as though he had just drawn a full sabacc. “One thing led to another.”

Obi-Wan realized that Qui-Gon was now looking at him. “At least I didn’t do that,” Obi-Wan said, exasperated. Skywalker’s situation was unnervingly like his own, though.

“You know,” Skywalker said, “it’s actually kind of a relief to tell you. I never got a chance in my timeline.” Apparently Obi-Wan’s expression had changed, because Skywalker quickly added, “because I came here before that could happen! You’re fine. I just… didn’t know how to tell you. I wish I had.”

“I think you’ll find that this version of Obi-Wan is rather sympathetic to your dilemma,” Qui-Gon said; Obi-Wan could hear him obviously trying to suppress a laugh.

“Why?” Skywalker asked, curious.

“It was the reason why I left the Jedi Order,” Obi-Wan said, suddenly uncomfortable. “I fell in love with someone and wanted to marry her.”

“Who?” the young man demanded eagerly. Then a delighted smile appeared on his face. “Did you marry Satine?”

It almost sounded like he was teasing Obi-Wan. “How did you know that?”

Skywalker smirked. “I saw the way you two acted around each other. You didn’t tell me much, but I could guess at a bit of it. Huh,” he said, puzzling something over, “maybe that was the point of divergence?”

“What do you mean?” Obi-Wan asked. He suddenly had a dozen questions about that timeline’s version of himself, especially where Satine was concerned, but he supposed they would have to wait.

“The point where my timeline split off from your timeline.” He began tapping his fingers on the bench as he considered it. “In my version, you stayed with the Jedi Order; in your version, you left to be with Satine. Which means that they didn’t send Qui-Gon to Naboo—I assume you didn’t have an apprentice at the time?”

Qui-Gon nodded.

“Right,” Skywalker said, nodding in return. “So the two of you never went to Naboo, the planet was never liberated, and you never went to Tatooine. Which means that instead of becoming a Jedi, I stayed a slave for another few years, until… well, until I reached some kind of breaking point, I guess.” He exhaled heavily and ran a hand through his hair—

Which was when Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon both realized that Skywalker’s hands were no longer in their binders.

He must have sensed their alarm; he shrugged as he held up the unlocked cuffs. “It wasn’t like it was hard to trigger the release mechanism.”

That was when the other obvious thing that they had missed hit Obi-Wan: Skywalker was a Jedi.

Which meant that he could use the Force.

“Of course,” Obi-Wan said, trying to hide a groan, “the Warlord is Force-sensitive.”

“It does explain a few things,” Qui-Gon agreed.

“Like what?” Skywalker asked.

“When the Jedi or the Republic send people after him, none of them come back,” Qui-Gon said, “and there is reason to believe that not all of them died: some appear to have joined his cause. In spite of the atrocities he is responsible for, the Warlord does have a talent for attracting followers. We’ve never encountered a single defector in the four years he has been active.”

Skywalker’s eyes widened slightly. “I’m manipulating their minds with the Force?” His face paled. “I’m using the Dark Side.”

Qui-Gon turned to Obi-Wan. “We should inform the Chancellor’s office.”

An icy chill filled the room. Skywalker’s face had gone hard as stone. “Chancellor Palpatine?” he asked through clenched teeth.

“Yes,” Obi-Wan said, confused. “There have been discussions regarding a possible meeting between the Chancellor and Skywalker—”

Skywalker suddenly looked frantic. “You can’t let them meet!”

“The Chancellor would have been well-protected; there were arrangements—”

“I’m not worried about the Chancellor!” Skywalker snapped. “I’m worried about me.” He put his head in his hands and let out a frustrated groan. “This is what I came back here to prevent.”

“What are you talking about?” Obi-Wan couldn’t shake the feeling of cold.

Skywalker fixed him with a stare that almost looked right through him. “Chancellor Palpatine is a Sith.”

Chapter Text

They didn't believe him. Of course they didn't believe him. Anakin wouldn't have believed it himself, except that Palpatine had manipulated him so skillfully that, by the time he revealed who he really was, Anakin was desperate enough to accept it as a viable alternative to the Jedi.

“The Sith who killed Qui-Gon on Naboo was his apprentice. After that, he…” Anakin suddenly realized that the next thing he was going to say would be painful for Qui-Gon in particular to hear: “He took Dooku as his next Sith apprentice. They started a civil war, one where they played both sides against each other, and caused billions of deaths. He… that was how I recognized Asajj Ventress: she was Dooku's apprentice.”

He watched Qui-Gon attempt to grapple with the idea that both his Master and his Padawan could have fallen to the Dark Side.

“By the time the war was over, it was too late,” Anakin continued. “Palpatine had absolute power over the Republic. His troops turned on the Jedi and killed them.”

His troops… and me.

No. There wasn’t time for him to dwell on his mistakes. He just had to fix them. Guilt could come later.

Obi-Wan hadn’t said a word since Anakin dropped that verbal detonator into the room. Anakin silently pleaded with him to say something, anything.

If only Anakin had found out about Palpatine before his Obi-Wan went to Utapau. They would have been able to come up with a plan together: something that would let Anakin save Padmé without falling to the Dark Side.

And without his Obi-Wan, Anakin would need to rely on this one. Right now, in this room, were two of the few people in the galaxy who he trusted with his life.

He had wondered, especially early on, what it would have been like to have Qui-Gon as his Master. It would have been different: he was a lot more patient than Obi-Wan was, but he was also a lot more distant. With Obi-Wan, it always felt like they were growing together , in spite of one of them being the teacher and one of them being the student; Anakin was pretty sure that Qui-Gon was done growing. Of course, he couldn’t be sure: he had only known Qui-Gon for a few days.

Eventually, he stopped wondering. The idea of being with anyone other than Obi-Wan was inconceivable.

Please, say something.

It was as though Obi-Wan heard him (which, given their history, he may very well have). He opened his mouth to say—

There was a quiet knock at the door.

Anakin reached out with the Force, expecting to sense someone familiar like Mace Windu or even Asajj Ventress… but it wasn’t anyone that he recognized. It was someone young.

For a brief moment he wondered if it was Ahsoka, but realized that he would have recognized her presence as well.

Obi-Wan looked a bit startled and slightly nervous as he went to the door and opened it.

He gave a tired sigh at the sight of the little girl on the other side. “How did you get here?” he asked her.

“Walked,” she said, a little snottily. Anakin liked her already.

“You know what I mean,” Obi-Wan said, exasperated. “You’re supposed to be with the other younglings.”

“You missed lunch,” she said accusingly. She peeked around Obi-Wan and looked at Anakin. “Oh, hello there.”

Anakin knew that he probably would have figured it out eventually, but the answer was immediately obvious in this case.

Apparently he wasn’t the only one who could do a spot-on imitation of Obi-Wan.

He was probably grinning like an idiot as he replied: “Hello there yourself. I’m A—” He caught himself just in time. “I’m a friend of your father’s.”

Obi-Wan turned and looked at him with an expression of dawning horror. “Oh come on,” Anakin said to him with a snort, “who else could she be?”

He really needed to think of a pseudonym, and quickly. Something ordinary, something he would recognize and respond to but no one else knew except… Well, it wasn’t a great idea, but it was at least an idea: who knows what had happened to him in this timeline?

“I’m Owen Lars,” he said to the girl. “What's your name?”

“Pasha Kryze,” she replied politely, then addressed her father again. “You’re going to starve if you stay here,” she insisted melodramatically.

Anakin couldn’t see Obi-Wan’s face at the moment, but he knew the exact facial expression that his Master was making. Anakin had been the cause of that facial expression quite a few times over the years.

“Pasha, please,” Obi-Wan said softly. “I'm sorry that I missed lunch. There was…” He cast about for an explanation that wouldn't alarm her. “…a mystery that I had to help solve.”

She looked skeptical. “What kind of mystery?”

“It's me,” Anakin piped up, ignoring Obi-Wan's very pointed glare (something that he had a lot of experience ignoring). “I'm the mystery.”

Pasha's expression indicated that she didn't think he was a very interesting one. That look, Anakin was pretty sure, was all Satine.

“I'll be along soon, all right?” Obi-Wan said.

“I have classes,” she pointed out.

Obi-Wan smiled at that. “I'm sure I can be persuasive enough to let you skip out for a little while, at least.” He gave her a kiss on the forehead. “But I'll have a better shot at it if you go back before they notice that you're missing.”

Pasha scoffed. “I never get caught.”

“And that,” Obi-Wan said with a sigh, “is a conversation for another time.” He leaned in and whispered something in his daughter's ear, something that made her giggle. “Now go on,” he concluded, ushering her out the door and closing it behind her.

He took a deep breath and then turned back to where Anakin was sitting. “Are you all right?” Obi-Wan asked him. He looked concerned—why would he look concerned like that?

Anakin suddenly realized that, at some point while watching Obi-Wan and his daughter, he had started to cry.

He has a child—he left the Order and he has a child and he's happy—is he happier than my Obi-Wan was?—what have I done to him, what have I done—all those younglings in the Temple, I was going to kill them, children just like her—I'm a monster, no matter what timeline it is I somehow manage to screw everything up—Padmé was pregnant, we were going to have a baby, only I kept having visions and was going crazy and that was how Palpatine trapped me—I never thought about what our child would be like, we never even discussed names, I had no idea—what have I done?—I remember her asking me when I told her about my dreams if the baby was going to be okay and I thought she was just being naive, who cares about children when your soulmate is right there and in danger?—maybe I guaranteed that my vision would come true when I sided with Palpatine—I saw myself attacking her, only a Sith would be that stupid—if everything had turned out alright then this could have been me in a few years, arguing with my Force-sensitive kid about avoiding trouble—and if they're anything like me and Padmé they're going to be in constant trouble—Padmé, where are you?—what am I going to do—what am I going to do—what am I going to do—what am I—

“Anakin, what's wrong?”

Anakin was desperately trying to get himself to calm down. He couldn't tell Obi-Wan about all the things he had done, not now, but there were other things that he could tell him… and yet, “You have a kid was all he could manage to say at the moment.

“Two, in fact,” Obi-Wan said, almost sheepishly. “Her older sister is busy raising hell on Mandalore.”

“Two…” Anakin said. He began to feel the weight of it. “This is everything you gave up in order to train me.”

Obi-Wan shook his head. “I left the Order years before we would have met. Whatever you think you did… at least in this case, none of it was your fault. That version of me made a choice, fully aware of the consequences. Just like I was fully aware of the consequences of my choice.”

“Not all of them,” Anakin shot back. “Since you never went to Tatooine, I …”

He trailed off as he realized what he was about to say. A very ugly silence filled the room.

When Obi-Wan finally spoke, it was in a voice that Anakin knew was concealing a fair amount of anger. “No. You do not get to pin that on me. I am not responsible for the things… the things that man has done. I am not responsible for the deaths he has caused, or the atrocities he has committed, or the danger he poses to my world and countless others.” He clenched his hands at his sides. “That is your fault, not mine. Do you want to feel guilty about something, Anakin? Feel guilty about that.”

His words hit Anakin like a physical blow. He had seen Obi-Wan this angry before, but never at him. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

It doesn’t matter that I didn’t make those choices in my timeline… I have so much darkness in me that I could have.

I slaughtered an entire settlement of Raiders after my mother died.

That must have been what happened in this timeline: something happened to her and I just… snapped.

I am capable of those things. I always was.

“And now,” Obi-Wan continued, “you sit here and accuse the Chancellor of the Republic of being…” he laughed in disbelief, “of being a Sith bent on conquering the galaxy. How do you know that it’s even true?”

“I just know, okay?” Anakin snapped.

“Tell me that your plan isn’t to march over to the Senate building and cut him in half,” Obi-Wan said. When Anakin didn’t respond, he let out an exhale of disgust. “I thought as much.”

“Obi-Wan, you have to trust me.”

“Why?” he demanded. “Why do I have to trust you? You’re…” he gave another disbelieving laugh, one on the edge of hysteria, “you’re terrifying. Not because you’re the same person as the nightmare currently conquering the Outer Rim—but because you keep acting as though you know me and it is impossible for me to believe that you don’t. The only reason I’m sure that you aren’t somehow manipulating my mind with the Force is because the things I am starting to believe make no sense. You traveled through time and space to tell me that I created a psychopath by getting married? Who could possibly cope with something like that?”

“Obi-Wan, please,” Anakin said desperately. “I have no idea what to do. I need your help.”

Obi-Wan leaned in. He was still angry but at least looked less intense than he did a moment ago. “Maybe he would have helped you, Anakin… but I cannot.”

When he left the room, it was as though he took a piece of Anakin with him.

Qui-Gon had been watching the entire exchange without any sign of a reaction. As Anakin sank forward until he was resting his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands, the older man finally spoke:

“You were close, I assume.”

Anakin looked up, annoyed. “He was my Master.”

“That doesn’t always mean that you were close,” Qui-Gon pointed out. “I certainly wasn’t with Master Dooku.”

Anakin snorted. “Yeah, he never exactly came off as… cuddly.”

The memory came back, nearly as vivid as when it happened: I killed him.

It wasn’t what a Jedi would do but I didn’t care. I just wanted to kill something.

“What was he like?” Qui-Gon asked.

“An arrogant jerk who cut off my hand.”

Qui-Gon winced very slightly. “I meant Obi-Wan. What was he like as a Jedi?”

Anakin sighed. How could he describe it? How could he explain their relationship of over a decade, a complicated mixture of brother and father figure and best friend, the constant push and pull of wanting to make him proud while also wishing that Obi-Wan would treat him as something other than a kid. The non-stop arguments and disagreements and bickering, until push came to shove and they were an unstoppable team. Them against the galaxy: Kenobi and Skywalker, perfectly balanced on either side of an ampersand.

“It was strange, sometimes,” Anakin said. “I was always struggling with doubts and fears and the Dark Side… but I don't think he ever did. Not that I saw, at least. He always seemed so certain. He was… sometimes it was like he was the perfect Jedi. Listening to the Force has always been hard for me—well, getting any clarity out of what I’m hearing, at least—but Obi-Wan would always seem to just know. I’m smart, I know I’m smart, but he’s… wise, I guess.” Something in Qui-Gon’s eyes looked a little brighter than before. “I think you’d be proud of him,” Anakin added.

The Jedi Master frowned. “What makes you think that I’m not already proud of him?”

Anakin smiled a little ruefully. “Because if I had left the Order when I was twenty, he never would have let me hear the end of it. And he’d feel guilty, which isn’t exactly a good foundation for pride.”

Qui-Gon stared at him for a moment, as though analyzing him in some way. “I understand now why Obi-Wan found you so terrifying,” he said at last. “You seem to have a knack for being uncannily perceptive at the worst possible moment.”

Anakin let out a bark of laughter. “Yeah, that’s me,” he admitted. “Bad timing and explosions: the Anakin Skywalker story.”

“I'll save my questions about the explosions for another time, I think.” Anakin recognized the look on his face: that was the Qui-Gon he remembered from all those years ago. Serene, but with amusement lurking just under the surface.

“Well, if you head down to one of the sub-basements, you'll find a pretty good example of my work.” Anakin sighed. “Do you believe any of the stuff I said before?”

“About the Chancellor, you mean?” Qui-Gon's expression was neutral.

“Yes.” After the day he just had, Anakin was even starting to doubt it himself.

“I am skeptical, of course,” Qui-Gon admitted, “but there is something that won't let me dismiss it entirely.”

“What?” Anakin asked eagerly.

The Jedi Master looked troubled. “Master Dooku's departure from the Order was… less than pleasant. Even before it reached that point, he had been behaving in a way that was unlike himself. His patience vanished, his emotional state would switch on a moment's notice, he grew paranoid about the Jedi and the Republic… He had always been a little… cold, but he had grown—” He sighed, sadly. “I sound like a youngling: he was mean. Our final conversation was a painful one.”

“I'm sorry,” Anakin said.

“And now,” Qui-Gon continued, “he seems to have disappeared.”

Anakin narrowed his eyes. “He's not on Serenno?”

“Not anymore.” The words hung ominously in the air between them.

“In my timeline, he was leading the Separatists by now,” Anakin said.

“The civil war you mentioned earlier?”

Anakin nodded.

“I have not heard of any similar movement here,” Qui-Gon said. “I suppose that the situation in the Outer Rim would discourage systems from seceding.”

Wherever Dooku was now, Anakin couldn't envision it being anywhere good. “I have a bad feeling about this,” he said.

“As do I.”

One more thing I have to fix.

“So the galaxy has two major problems now,” Anakin said. “Palpatine in the Republic and… me… in the Outer Rim. I don’t know where to even start.” He paused before asking Qui-Gon, “Is the Warlord really a possible threat to the Republic?”

“Yes,” Qui-Gon replied solemnly. “There has not been a galactic civil war in almost a millennium, not since the Sith Empire… I am not sure if the Broken Fleet quite matches that level of strength yet, but it may soon if it is not stopped.”

Anakin shuddered. It would be the war against the Separatists all over again; only this time, the Republic didn’t have the clone army yet. Even with the Grand Army of the Republic and the Jedi (especially the legendary team of Kenobi and Skywalker), the Republic had only barely managed to defeat Dooku’s forces. They're not ready for something like this. “Then that’s going to have to be my top priority,” he said. Palpatine was playing a long game anyway; confronting him could wait.

“Stopping the Broken Fleet?” Qui-Gon looked mildly skeptical. “I have little reason to doubt your abilities, but… no one we have sent after the Warlord has ever returned.”

Anakin grinned. Another impossible scenario that would most likely result in his death? He was made for scenarios like that. “I’m definitely my own worst enemy,” he said cheerfully. “Obi-Wan would have been the first to tell you—”

Something wrenched in his heart as he remembered what had just transpired between them. “Why did I say that to him?” he groaned. “I needed his help… but I just screwed everything up again.”

“Perhaps not as badly as you think,” Qui-Gon said.

“What do you mean?”

The Jedi Master gave the barest suggestion of a shrug. “He called you Anakin.”


“If your timeline’s version of Obi-Wan is anything like the one I know, you would recall that he is typically much more formal with someone he had only just met.”

“Even if it’s someone that he hates?” Anakin said glumly.

“He doesn’t hate you,” Qui-Gon said. “He’s angry, certainly—you implied that he made the wrong choice by leaving the Order, and he tends to take such implications as attacks on his family.” A look of pain flashed in his eyes. “It is a sore spot I have encountered nearly every time we have spoken over the last thirteen years.”

“He has a family.” Anakin was still grappling with that to some degree. Sure, he could picture Obi-Wan with Satine—it fit with what he saw of their interactions during the war—but there was a difference between that and actually leaving the Jedi Order to be with her.

Anakin never really had that option with Padmé. By the time they reunited as adults, they both had duties that neither of them could walk away from: he had a war to fight and she had her position in the Senate. They always talked about “after”: after the war, after her term was over, after things were quieter… but it was a time that never arrived. It was always just out of reach until, suddenly, they ran out of time entirely.

But Obi-Wan had managed to just leave without looking back and, for some reason, Anakin was completely unable to understand it.

In a way, focusing on this bizarre timeline was easier for him to do than thinking about what he left behind in the other one. Would it appear to everyone else that he had just vanished somewhere in the Temple? That he was merely another Jedi killed by the clone troopers under his command? Did any Jedi survive? He couldn't imagine Obi-Wan not surviving.

Most importantly: what was going to happen to Padmé?

Fix things first. Then figure out how to return to her side and help her.

But before he could do any of that, he needed help himself. “What are they planning on doing with me?” Anakin asked Qui-Gon. “I assume there's a plan of some kind.”

“The original plan was to turn you over to Coruscant Security,” Qui-Gon said.


“Obi-Wan asked them to delay until he had a chance to talk to you,” he explained.

Anakin sighed. “Well, he's had his chance… I guess they'll be coming to get me any minute now.”

“Perhaps,” Qui-Gon said… in a tone that Anakin remembered very distinctly from many years ago:

“I have acquired a pod in a game of chance… the fastest ever built…”

Here was the man who somehow convinced Watto to place a bet so ridiculous that no one would have ever considered it if they had a moment to think about it.

Here was the man who, for no good reason other than a nudge from the Force, believed that a little kid could win a podrace.

Anakin grinned. “So what's your plan for getting me out of here?”

Obi-Wan was still too agitated to see Pasha, so he spent the next few minutes pacing the hall outside of the Archives.

How dare he? How dare he? First Qui-Gon had tried to make him feel as though he was throwing his life away by leaving the Order, then the Jedi tried to make him feel as though he was a moral failure for leaving the Order… he had spent years trying to drown out those doubts in his mind, and now, the impossible person who both was and was not Anakin Skywalker accused him of creating the galaxy's worst nightmare by leaving the Order.

This is not my fault.

But it was yet another voice in the chorus of voices that had followed Obi-Wan for the last thirteen years, the voices that wouldn't stop telling him over and over: You do not deserve to be happy.

You do not deserve the life you have. You do not deserve the woman you love, or the home that you share, or the children you created together.

You are selfish.

You should regret the choice that you made.

But he didn't. He never did and he never would. Every day since the day he left was a reminder of why it had been worth it.

“Not the peaceful visit you had expected, hmm?”

“Master Yoda.” Obi-Wan's greeting was more than a little sullen.

“Told me, Master Windu did, of our intruder… and his claimed connection to you.” Yoda's voice indicated that his curiosity was still far from satisfied.

“Yes, in a timeline I'm sure you've fantasized about,” Obi-Wan said bitterly. “Living up to my potential at last.”

The Jedi Master opted to ignore his complaint. “Anakin Skywalker, he claims to be?”

“Someone with that name and description… but not the one we are familiar with. He is a different version. An alternate outcome, perhaps, if things had happened differently.” He sighed. “He can use the Force… which implies that the Warlord can as well.”

Yoda was silent for a moment. “Troubling, this news is.”

“It is,” Obi-Wan agreed. The man named Anakin Skywalker that he had just spoken to was intense enough; he couldn’t imagine what that man would be like if he was angry.

Obi-Wan was still trying to shake the bone-deep feeling of cold that had filled the room when he first mentioned Chancellor Palpatine. To have a strong enough connection to the Force that his emotions alone could resonate like that…

“Hey, perks of being the Chosen One, I guess…”

The Chosen One.

Of all the unbelievable things Obi-Wan had heard today, that—actually, it barely registered. But it would certainly matter to Qui-Gon and Yoda.

Which was precisely why Obi-Wan was not going to tell them about it.

“Please thank Master Windu for allowing me the opportunity to speak with Skywalker again. Master Jinn will be able to tell you about the conversation.” He had finally calmed down enough that he could go find Pasha.

“Finished you are with this matter?” Yoda inquired.

“I am,” he confirmed. Anakin was the Jedi Order’s problem, not his. He had other things to worry about. “If you’ll excuse me, Master Yoda, I would like to see my daughter before I leave.”

Yoda gave him a nod but said nothing more. His expression, as usual, was inscrutable.

Now, Obi-Wan thought to himself, he could get back to what he had planned to do today: spend time with Pasha, meet with Senator Organa, wrangle an assurance of possible assistance out of someone in the Republic Navy, act as Satine's representative at a meeting of some economic bloc or other… and then go home and forget about the very bizarre events he had just experienced.

He did his best to ignore the way that his heart was pounding again at the thought of leaving Anakin behind.

Chapter Text

“And they confirmed it?”

“Yes, Your Highness: all communication out of Stygeon Prime has ceased. Furthermore, Garos, Aargonar, and Gromas have all reported sightings of ships, just as we have.” Prime Minister Almec’s voice was even, but Satine had known him long enough to recognize the tension underscoring it.

“So our suspicions were correct,” she said, wishing that she had been wrong. “They are moving in this direction.”

This was not news. Everyone had known this for weeks. But saying it out loud made it seem so much more final.

The Broken Fleet was coming.

Outside the window of her throne room was Sundari, and outside of the domed city of Sundari was a vast white desert.

It was not always a desert. It had once been green and full of life, centuries before Satine was born. It had been destroyed in the Dral’Han, the Annihilation, the long-ago attack that had devastated the surface of Mandalore. The final battle of a horrific war.

And yet, her people had been willing to go to war again.

She had not always been the head of House Kryze. It had once been her father, the one who sent her to Coruscant at sixteen in order to learn diplomacy and be spared the violence of the Great Clan Wars. That violence ultimately killed him and Satine swore that she would spend the rest of her life making sure that such violence never happened again.

And yet, violence was coming anyway.

In the Clan Wars, and the Mandalorian Civil War that preceded it, the fighting had been over disagreements. Differences of opinion. Things that could be resolved if people were willing to talk instead of fight. Satine knew that even extremists could be reasoned with.

This was different. The Broken Fleet was more like a force of nature. A sandstorm that devastated everything in its path.

How does one reason with a force of nature?

“The Protectors on Concord Dawn have not reported any new sightings since the last skirmish,” Almec continued, “but they do request additional aid.”

“What do we have to offer them?” Satine asked.

One of the other Ministers answered her. “We may be able to spare some of the Protectors currently stationed on Kalevala, perhaps a few from Mandalore itself—though in the latter case, it will have to wait until after tomorrow’s event.”

Satine sighed. As usual, she had been dreading tomorrow’s celebration for several weeks now. “Send the ones we can spare—including the ones from Mandalore—today,” she said.

“Your Highness,” Almec said, almost reprovingly.

She fought the urge to roll her eyes at the uniformly skeptical expressions on the faces of her Ruling Council. “We will be fine, Prime Minister. Concord Dawn will likely make better use of them.”

In fact, the whole point of tomorrow was that her Protectors would not be necessary.

“Very well, Your Highness,” Almec said, in a tone that very clearly indicated what he actually thought about it.

“Thank you, Prime Minister,” Satine said, in an equally transparent tone of voice. She regarded the Council at large. “What is the next order of business?”

Deputy Minister Jerec looked extremely uncomfortable as he began to speak. “My Lady… I know that we have discussed this before, but I urge you to reconsider the idea of expanding our system’s armed forces. We have the resources, we have plenty of people willing to join; we merely need to mobilize them.”

“Not yet,” Satine said. In years past, her answer would have been a flat-out refusal, but things were changing and now all she could do was delay. “The Broken Fleet is nowhere near our doorstep—” yet, she thought, trying to keep the feeling of despair at bay, “—and therefore we have time to consider our options.”

“With all due respect, Your Highness,” another Minister spoke up, “but better that we gather our own forces than rely on the Republic for assistance.”

“Things move so slowly on Coruscant that Mandalore might be reduced to ashes before they even receive the message,” her Minister of the Interior said in disgust.

“We are in communication with the Republic about the issue,” Satine reminded them, “and we will have more information to work with once Obi-Wan returns from Coruscant.”

Only a few hours until he came back to her. Not soon enough, in her opinion; it had been a trying day and she needed a way to decompress.

“But until then,” she said, “we wait. A decision made in fear is no decision at all.”

“Very well, Your Highness,” Jerec said, echoing Almec’s words and tone from before.

Satine opted to ignore the impertinence for the moment. “Are there any other matters to discuss?”

“No, my Lady,” Almec said.

“Then we are concluded for the day,” she said, and dismissed them.

Almec stayed behind. “What is it, Prime Minister?” she asked wearily.

“Your Highness, I strongly urge you to act more swiftly on the Deputy Minister’s suggestion.”

“I have not yet reached a decision on the matter,” Satine reminded him. “War is intolerable, and any step we take may bring about another one. I would prefer to tread carefully.”

Almec’s gaze nearly cut right through her. “We may not have a choice in whether or not war comes to our worlds.”

She exhaled slowly. “I know,” she said at last.

“You caution against acting in fear, but the fact remains that our people are already afraid. Unrest is growing and, without some reassurance of strength and unity, we may fracture without the Broken Fleet ever firing a shot.” A tiny smirk appeared on his face. “Though I think the optics of tomorrow’s event may help things a little.”

Satine sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose between her finger and thumb. All she wanted to do was get through tomorrow with as little fuss as possible, but perhaps she and Obi-Wan could think of something to do.

Almec’s voice softened slightly. “My Lady, I know that you believe a nonviolent solution is possible… but I do not think that they can be reasoned with.”

“No,” Satine said, and felt her heart breaking as she spoke, “neither do I.”

The stars over Coruscant stretched into lines as Obi-Wan’s ship entered hyperspace and he released a breath that he hadn't realized he was holding.

At last, he was going home. Ironic that he was heading there from the only other place he had ever called home.

His ears were still full of Pasha’s voice: her excited recounting of her friend Ahsoka’s trip to Ilum to acquire a kyber crystal (“she even let me try her lightsaber before Master Drallig caught us!”), her slightly sullen admission that she wasn’t doing as well in some of her classes as she had originally claimed (“why do we even need to know astrogation when there’s a computer right there on the ship?”), and her barely-concealed glee at having snuck out of her creche at night yet again to meet up with Ahsoka for some mischief or other (“…they said we moved it but we didn’t even touch it, but if we had we definitely would have put it back, and anyway we were on the other side of the Temple at the time, but we weren’t going to tell them that because then they would have found the thing that we did touch and we haven’t figured out how to fix it yet…”).

She was also eager to hear whether or not her sister would be completing her verd’goten next year, which had been a contentious topic in their home for quite some time because Ka-Riita was going to be thirteen soon, the traditional age for the Mandalorian rite of passage. Satine viewed it as yet another relic of Mandalore’s violent past, while Bo-Katan insisted that it would make the more conservative Mandalorians happy to have the Duchess’ heir demonstrate her respect for their people’s traditions. Ka-Riita was busy with too many other things to notice and Obi-Wan, for his part, did his best to stay out of the way of his wife’s arguments with her sister.

Pasha’s fascination with the subject was mostly because, if Ka-Riita completed her verd’goten, there was a chance that Pasha would be allowed to do it too when she was old enough, even though Obi-Wan was fairly certain that the Jedi Order would object. Secretly, he was also fairly certain that she could pass those trials without breaking a sweat.

Now that the ship was in hyperspace, Obi-Wan could finally relax. He should probably meditate but, after the day he just had, a nap actually sounded like a better idea. He headed back to the small berth towards the rear of the ship.

Anakin Skywalker was sitting on his bunk.

The noise that Obi-Wan made, although it wasn’t a shriek, was definitely not dignified.

“Surprised?” Anakin asked with a smirk on his face.

“What are you doing here?” Obi-Wan demanded. He had somehow managed to draw his blaster from his holster and point it vaguely in the direction of the young man who should definitely still be on Coruscant.

“I need your help.”

“I told you that I would not be helping you,” Obi-Wan snapped. “I don’t know how that could have been interpreted as an invitation to sneak onto my ship!”

“You’re one of the only people I can trust,” Anakin protested. “Anyone else who sees me is just going to see the Warlord and I'll be vaped before I even open my mouth. I have to figure out a way to stop him. You know who I am, you know I’m not him, and I trust you with my life.”

Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow. “You trust someone who has already shot you once and is currently pointing that same blaster in your direction?”

Anakin actually scoffed. “Please. The number of times I’ve been shot in my life, I barely notice at this point.”

“And yet you don’t seem to grasp why I might be hesitant to be around you,” Obi-Wan said drily.

“But you know what I mean, right?” he asked, eyes hopeful. “If I’m locked in a Coruscant prison somewhere, there’s nothing I can do to fix things. I’m good at fixing things.”

“It sounds more like you’re good at—”

Anakin finished the rest of the sentence: “—at breaking them to begin with.” He grinned. “Not the first time I’ve heard you say that.”

Obi-Wan sighed. He was growing sick of being constantly compared to this other version of himself. “I’m not him.”

Anakin seemed to deflate a little. “I know,” he said quietly. “But if I’m going to get from one moment to the next, I need to believe that I’m not completely alone. When I—when things went wrong in my timeline, it was because I had isolated myself.” Anakin locked eyes with him. “Obi-Wan… you’re my only hope.”

Something—either the sincerity in his voice, or the pleading look in his eyes, or a strange resonance in the Force itself—hit Obi-Wan like a punch to the stomach.

He didn’t even stop to think about it. “What kind of help could I even offer you?” he asked Anakin as he put his blaster away.

The young man’s relief and happiness radiated through the Force so strongly that Obi-Wan could practically taste it. “You’re good at plans,” Anakin said. “I mean, so am I, but mine tend to be a little more… ambitious. You’re better at thinking things through. I need to figure out a way to get to the Warlord without getting blasted into atoms first.”

“What makes you think that I would even know how to do that?”

“Well, for one thing, unlike me, you actually know something about the Crooked Fleet—”

“The Broken Fleet,” Obi-Wan corrected him.

“Right, sure, the Broken Fleet—what I’m getting at is that I don’t know much about this particular timeline. Mandalore’s an Outer Rim world, you must be keeping an eye on what they’re doing, so I bet you have information that I could use. Second,” he started listing items on his fingers, “is that there’s a very good chance that you have the resources on Mandalore to let me at least lay low for a few days while I figure out a plan to begin with. Plus, if it turns out that I have to infiltrate the Busted Fleet—”

“The Broken Fleet.” Obi-Wan had a sneaking suspicion that Anakin had deliberately gotten it wrong that time.

“Yeah, that—I’m going to need a cover story a little less flimsy than ‘I just thought of a fake name’ and that probably means documents of some kind. Not to mention, I’ll probably need a ship, supplies, weapons, stuff like that.” He gave Obi-Wan a cocky smile. “Nice to have friends in high places.”

Obi-Wan blinked in surprise. One minute, this irritation wearing Jedi robes was utterly oblivious; the next minute, he was thinking tactically. “You seem to have most of a plan already in place.”

Anakin laughed. “Not even a little. This is basic stuff, nothing like a real battle plan.”

Obi-Wan frowned. “You’ve been in battles?”

The younger man nodded. “Remember that civil war I said Dooku and Palpatine started? The Jedi acted as Generals of the GAR—the Grand Army of the Republic. They gave each of us a massive capital ship and an army and sent us out to crush the Separatists.” Obi-Wan couldn’t tell if he looked troubled or wistful. “And we did. Just barely.”

“If I recall correctly, commanding an army wasn't part of the standard Jedi curriculum,” Obi-Wan pointed out. It also seemed to be the complete antithesis of everything Obi-Wan had been taught about a Jedi's purpose.

Anakin shrugged. “We managed. What was really crazy was that they put some of the Padawans in charge too. My fourteen-year-old apprentice was suddenly commanding a battalion with almost no training at all.”

"You had a Padawan?” Who would possibly trust this man with that kind of responsibility?

Anakin’s smile was definitely wistful in this instance. “Ahsoka Tano. She’s still an Initiate now. Your daughter might know her—”

“She does, in fact,” Obi-Wan said, feeling a little disturbed by this new information. “They seem to have a knack for getting into trouble together.”

He laughed. “Yeah, that sounds like Snips. She’s probably a terrible influence.”

“I still can’t quite believe that someone trusted you with both an army and a child.

Anakin looked a little sad. “I wasn't exactly an ideal Master.” His expression suddenly morphed into an extremely smug grin. “But I was very good at being a General. You and me, we pretty much won the war singlehandedly.”

That was also rather disquieting. “I was a General too, then.”

“One of the best,” Anakin said.

The look on his face, that eager smile, how completely relaxed he was even when Obi-Wan was pointing a blaster at him… “I wasn’t just your Master, was I?” Obi-Wan asked.

“You were my best friend.” Anakin's eyes grew a little distant. “We were the perfect team.”

Once again, Obi-Wan felt as though he had been punched in the gut. “I’m not him,” he said again, in a voice so quiet that it was almost a whisper. “I could never be him, not the way you want me to.”

“You don’t have to be,” Anakin insisted. “I can’t imagine you being so different that we wouldn’t have become friends eventually. Just… just be you, and it’ll work out.”

Work out to what? Obi-Wan thought but did not ask out loud.

Satine had resided in the Royal Palace for over a decade now. For her daughters, it was the only home they had ever known.

Still, the fact remained that she hadn't grown up on Mandalore herself and, on days like these, she missed Kalevala.

The domed city of Sundari where she lived now was beautiful—a glowing tribute to the success of the New Mandalorian movement—but Kalevala had not experienced as much of the devastation of the Dral’Han as the other Mandalorian worlds, leaving it a greener, less harsh planet to live on. Unlike many people on Mandalore, Satine had actually seen a few trees in person.

She missed it.

She still owned a residence there, a small retreat that Obi-Wan often took the girls to stay for vacations when they were younger, but Satine had rarely been there herself. There were too many matters of state for her to easily slip away, even for a few days, and she often used what days she could spare to visit Pasha on Coruscant.

She wondered if it would cause too much of an uproar if she took Ka-Riita and had Obi-Wan meet them on Kalevala instead of going through tomorrow's ordeal. She sighed and shook her head: no, it was impossible. Tomorrow was unavoidable—a necessary pantomime to appease some of the more conservative Mandalorians and provide the rest with some measure of distraction in these increasingly troubled times—so she and Obi-Wan would just have to grit their teeth and get through it. Maybe she could take some time off afterwards.

She headed back towards the area of the Palace where her residences were located, feeling a little more frustrated than usual. For the first time in days, she had a few hours of uninterrupted free time, but her daughter was busy at school and her husband was off-planet. She could really do without the solitude right about now.

Her sister seemed to materialize out of nowhere. “You're free now, I assume?” Bo-Katan asked. As usual, she skipped the usual pleasantries and had gone straight to the topic that she really wanted to discuss. Satine would have found that trait more refreshing if it wasn't accompanied by an attitude that implied Bo-Katan had already wasted enough time even showing up for this conversation.

“Yes,” Satine said, continuing down the hall without bothering to stop. She noticed Bo-Katan's clothes: athletic gear. “Ka-Riita is in classes until later this afternoon.”

“I'm not here to see her,” her sister said impatiently, following her.

“Obi-Wan won't be back in Sundari until late tonight.”

“I'm not here to see him either.”

Satine raised an eyebrow. “You can't possibly be here to see me, can you?” she asked drily.

“You need to prepare for tomorrow,” Bo-Katan said. She held up a bundle of fabric that Satine recognized as her own workout clothes. “Your staff was very helpful, by the way. Let's go.”

“This is completely unnecessary,” Satine protested. “It will be exactly the same as last year.”

“And what if it isn't?” her sister demanded. “Are you willing to take that risk?”

Satine found herself being led towards the Palace's training facilities almost against her will. “You know that I don't enjoy this.”

“It's not shockball,” Bo-Katan said disdainfully. “It's not about enjoyment. You're out of practice and it's a disgrace.”

“This kind of violence is what's disgraceful,” she grumbled.

“Whether or not it's violent isn't your decision.” She tossed the bundle at Satine. “Go change.”

It was one thing to tutor Ka-Riita on the basics, Satine thought as she removed the jewelry from her hair and ears, it was quite another for Bo-Katan to drag Satine back into all this.

Like practically everyone else before the Great Clan Wars began, Satine and her siblings had grown up with the Resol'nare, the traditional Mandalorian code: forging and wearing the beskar armor, defending one's self and one's clan, defending Mandalore if the Mand'Alor required it, preserving the Mando'a language, and raising one's own children in the same traditions.

Some traditions were not worth keeping, in Satine's opinion, and a tradition based on violence was one of them. The new Mandalore, the future of her people that she had sacrificed so much to create, was better than that.

Even if nearly everyone still had armor hidden away in the back of their closets. Even her.

Even if they all still spoke Mando'a on formal occasions, occasions where even Ka-Riita and Obi-Wan wore some shoulder plating over their outfits.

But she knew that her people could be better than this. She just had to show them the way.

Things like tomorrow's event didn't help matters, and the fact that Bo-Katan had a point was even more irritating. She did need the practice.

“Again,” Bo-Katan said as she knocked Satine flat onto her back for the eighth time in a row. “Don’t just stand there, do something.”

“I was doing something,” Satine muttered, hauling herself back onto her feet.

“You were waiting,” Bo-Katan said disdainfully. “You can’t strike back if you don’t survive the first hit. Anticipate your enemy’s attack.”

“I am not striking back against anyone,” she countered with a glare. “This is merely to buy time until help can arrive.”

Bo-Katan stepped forward and knocked her down again. “Striking back is how you buy time.”

“What part of ‘I am a pacifist’ escaped your recollection, Bo?” Satine snapped, standing up again. She was going to ache all over in a few hours.

“The part where you’re a hypocrite,” her sister said.

Satine was appalled. “How am I a hypocrite?”

She came into range again; this time, Satine was able to dodge her first two attempts before Bo-Katan hooked her leg around hers and sent her sprawling onto the floor. “You’re a hypocrite because you make everyone else do the fighting for you—Obi-Wan, your guards, me on occasion—all so that you can claim that your hands are clean. That’s not pacifism: that’s the kind of thing a Black Sun capo would do.” Bo-Katan held out a hand to help her up.

Satine swatted it aside and stayed where she was. “I’m not making anyone commit violence. I’m perfectly willing to die for my beliefs.”

Bo-Katan rolled her eyes as she drew back her hand. “As entertaining as it would be for me to be Regent until Ka-Riita comes of age, I think you’re out of luck on that one. No matter how much you’d like to be a martyr, you’re surrounded by too many people who won’t let you.”

Satine narrowed her eyes. “I’m trying to show our people a better way.”

“And maybe it’ll even work; stranger things have happened. But you don’t get the luxury of being a pacifist—”

“It’s not a luxury!”

“It is absolutely a luxury—you have people to defend you day and night! Do you think the average Mandalorian has that?” Satine glared up at her but did not reply. Bo-Katan sighed. “Look, I know you want to be the perfect New Mandalorian and make Father proud, but this is what the job is. Other people can live by their beliefs, but you have to set that aside if you’re going to lead us. You’re the Mand’Alor —”

“I’m the Duchess,” Satine said icily.

Bo-Katan snorted in derision. “You’re the damn Mand’Alor. Sure, you’re not exactly following the Resol’nare and Pre Vizsla is still hauling around the Darksaber, but in most places outside Sundari, that’s what they call you.”

“Unless they’re the traditionalists,” Satine pointed out wearily. “Then they say I’m a pretender and impostor.”

“And that’s just when they’re being polite,” her sister added. “You seem to forget that you’re not just the leader of the New Mandalorians. There are other people here too.”

“Like you?”

Her sister replied with an enigmatic smile. It was really more luck than anything that Bo-Katan had left the Death Watch. She certainly didn’t care about pacifism. Satine rarely if ever got along with her sister, but she suspected that constantly criticizing Satine while beating the osik out of her was Bo-Katan’s way of showing affection.

She was so tired. Maybe she could just lie down on the floor for awhile and rest.

Instead, Satine brought her foot around as hard as she could and swept Bo-Katan’s legs out from under her.

Her sister didn’t exactly land on her rear-end, but it wasn’t the most graceful she had ever been. She gave Satine a brief laugh. “Nicely done.”

“Approval,” Satine said, pretending to be astonished. “That’s new.”

“Don’t get used to it,” Bo-Katan said, though there was a slight smile on her face that hadn’t been there a moment ago. She stood up and offered Satine a hand again. “Let’s see if you can do that without getting knocked on your ass first.”

Satine rolled her eyes, but took her sister’s hand anyway.

Chapter Text

“This is going to be awkward, isn't it?” Anakin asked as Obi-Wan guided the ship down through the atmosphere toward Sundari.

“How very perceptive of you,” Obi-Wan said drily. “I still haven't come up with a way to explain who you are, incidentally.”

“Do you have a mask or something handy?” Anakin asked. “Maybe a helmet? This is Mandalore, after all.”

Obi-Wan gave him a look of mild incredulity. “I don't even have a full set of beskar'gam, much less keep it on my ship.”

“Why not—I mean, why wouldn't you have armor? You're married to the Duchess.”

He was honestly rather tired of explaining this to off-worlders. “Mandalorian armor is typically passed down through families. I'm not Mandalorian by birth or adoption, so I would have to go through the process of forging my own. Which I have not done,” he added, knowing what Anakin's next question would be, “because there isn't a need for it, not since Satine became Duchess.”

“The pacifism thing, right?” When Obi-Wan nodded, the young Jedi asked another question that Obi-Wan was sick of having to answer: “So does that make you a Duke?”

He couldn't hold back a weary sigh. “I suppose the closest term would be ‘Duke Consort,’ but no, I don't have an official title.”

“Then what do people call you?”

“Her husband.” That wasn't the only thing they called him, of course, but he wasn't about to tell Anakin those nicknames; they were embarrassing at best.

Anakin covered his mouth to muffle a laugh. “I suppose you're entertaining yourself by envisioning your timeline's version of me in these circumstances?” Obi-Wan asked.

“How very perceptive of you,” Anakin said, mocking Obi-Wan's earlier words.

There was a pattern to this kind of banter, Obi-Wan noticed, as though he was listening to half of a melody and trying to puzzle out the rest. A duet that he had never learned.

If his alternate self had met Anakin when he was nine and this version of Anakin was now… twenty-two, if his math was right… then they had known one another for thirteen years. Almost as long as he had known Satine.

Thirteen years. Over a third of his life. He hadn't even been Qui-Gon's Padawan for that long.

They must have been close, but Obi-Wan didn't want to get any closer to this young man. It was safer that way, he told himself.

Safer how?

Not because he was bringing this person into his home, where there was a very strong possibility that Anakin would continue to demand his help and attention. Not because it ran the risk of drawing Obi-Wan (and all of Mandalore along with him) into dangerous proximity with the Warlord and the Broken Fleet. Not because it would look very very bad if he was caught sheltering Anakin Skywalker of all people.

No, it was safer to keep his distance because the version of Obi-Wan Kenobi that Anakin kept wishing was at his side must have been absolutely miserable.

That version of Obi-Wan chose the Jedi Order over the woman he loved, lost his Master in a horrible attack, spent years taking care of what sounded like a very difficult child, and was evidently so talented at warfare that his apprentice looked back on it as a happy period in his life.

Getting close to Anakin would mean acknowledging a version of himself that only existed in Obi-Wan’s nightmares. No Satine. No Ka-Riita. No Pasha. No home. Just Jedi robes and a thousand sacrifices, most of them in blood.

What kind of Jedi Order would send its members to war?

This timeline might contain the Broken Fleet and all the devastation that accompanied it, but it paled in comparison to the horrors of the one Anakin came from: Qui-Gon murdered, Palpatine and Asajj and Dooku all fallen to the Dark Side (though Obi-Wan was still skeptical that this timeline’s version of the Chancellor was even Force-sensitive), a galaxy-spanning civil war, the Jedi Order facing its destruction at the hands of the Sith, and himself somehow in the middle of it all, side by side with this impending disaster of a person.

Anakin finally seemed to realize that Obi-Wan was not going to reply; he slumped a little in the co-pilot's seat. “Guess I’ll just have to use the cloak I brought with me.”

“Fortunately for both of us, it’s the middle of the night in Sundari,” Obi-Wan replied. “We should be able to leave the ship without attracting attention.”

Well… without attracting much attention. It wasn’t as though he could travel in complete anonymity anymore.

“Then what are you so worried about? You won’t have to explain who I am to anyone.”

Obi-Wan gave him yet another incredulous look. “I don’t live alone, you know. I’m going to have to give Satine some kind of explanation, at least.”

“Oh, right.”

Obi-Wan turned back towards the viewport. They were encountering a little bit of traffic now that they were closer to Sundari; he needed to pay closer attention to where he was piloting.

He keeps forgetting that I’m not him.

I suppose that’s to be expected: I encountered him in the Jedi Temple and now we’re on a shipplaces where they likely spent a lot of time together. He doesn’t have the context.

Hopefully it won’t be too much of a shock for him.

Obi-Wan held back a snort. Whatever shock awaited Anakin on Mandalore was nothing compared to the one that Obi-Wan was about to unleash on his wife.

Anakin had been to Mandalore before, but so many things had happened in the meantime that it might as well have been a lifetime ago instead of just two years.

Flying over the endless desert that surrounded the domed city reminded him a little too much of Tatooine.

They said that the Warlord blasted the sand into glass. That nothing survived.

He shivered.

It was easier to forget those things once they entered Sundari itself. It was just another capital city, in Anakin's opinion, with nothing too unique about it.

They set down in a landing bay attached to the the massive structure that Anakin only now remembered was the Royal Palace.

He lives here.

This is so weird.

The idea of Obi-Wan living anywhere but his quarters in the Temple was inherently confusing. Even during the war, Anakin was pretty sure that (on the rare occasions) when Obi-Wan actually slept, it was more or less wherever he happened to find a flat surface. There was a story from some of the clone troopers in the 212th that Obi-Wan had once gone missing on his own ship for two hours until Cody found the general passed out in a turbolift.

Anakin began to feel same prickles of discomfort that he felt back at the Temple, when the door to his “cell” opened and he saw the blend of familiar facial features and body language in the form of a small girl in Initiate robes.

Things are different here.

It took a few minutes before Anakin identified the cause of his discomfort for what it really was: in this timeline, unlike the one he traveled here from, he wasn't at the center of Obi-Wan's life.

Sure, by the time Anakin became a Knight, they had other responsibilities and duties, but the fact remained that from the moment Anakin became his Padawan, Obi-Wan's focus—his entire purpose, really—had revolved around Anakin. Not the Republic, not the war, not even the Order or the Council (something Anakin had realized too late)—Anakin had always been his top priority.

And here, in this strange other universe, he wasn't. Obi-Wan had other people to take care of, other people who mattered more to him than Anakin did.

It hurt. It hurt almost the same way that it hurt whenever he fell into a paranoid spiral at the thought of Padmé and other men—even Obi-Wan, during those last few days when Palpatine was twisting his mind beyond recognition. He was jealous and angry at himself for being jealous.

What kind of conceited idiot am I that I'm falling apart over the idea that everything isn't all about me?

Anakin shoved those thoughts away for later. They had arrived.

“I'm going to claim that you're an ambassador,” Obi-Wan said as they headed towards the ramp leading off of the ship. “Just keep your face as hidden under the hood as you can and try not to draw attention to yourself.”

“Fine,” Anakin said. He had already put the cloak on.

“Assuming it's possible for you to keep from drawing attention to yourself,” Obi-Wan added as an afterthought.

Anakin smirked. Some things here weren't entirely different. “Don’t worry. I’ve got this.”

They walked down the ramp into a brightly-lit landing bay. A few people in coveralls were heading in their direction.

For the moment, they ignored him in favor of Obi-Wan. “Welcome back, sir,” one of them said. “We’ve notified the Duchess of your arrival and she’s on her way.”

Obi-Wan looked relieved. “I think I’ll go on ahead and meet her halfway,” he said with a smile.

A few of the workers snickered quietly. “Of course, sir,” the one who had spoken previously said. She looked at Anakin. “Who’s this?”

“An ambassador from Coruscant,” Obi-Wan said quickly. “No need to worry; I will take care of his accommodations myself.”

Anakin could feel their attention starting to focus in on him; he reached for the Force and touched their minds. His talent at mind tricks wasn’t great, but it wasn’t like this one would be difficult: Nothing interesting here. Forget about him.

It worked; most of them wandered off to work on the ship. The remaining person gave Obi-Wan a sly half-smile. “Very well. I'm sure you'll run into the Duchess shortly. Goodnight, sir.”

“Goodnight,” Obi-Wan said, heading toward the doors leading inside the Palace.

He lives here… this is still incredibly weird.

As Anakin followed him, he overheard one of the workers call after them: “Kaysh cabur!”

A few of the other works replied, like it was some kind of call and response: “Kaysh kad’dha!”

Anakin heard Obi-Wan groan. “What was that?” he asked. Anything that made Obi-Wan react like that was very likely to be hilarious.

“Nothing,” Obi-Wan insisted in what was almost a growl. Anakin knew that tone: it was usually in response to someone making what his Master thought was a rather embarrassing amount of fuss.

“Oh, come on,” he said, aware that he was probably grinning. “Tell me.” He really wished he spoke Mando’a right about now.

“Absolutely not.”

Most of the interior of the Palace was dark; Anakin didn't know what time it was exactly but Obi-Wan had said it was the middle of the night. What he was able to see was fairly opulent; apparently Mandalore could be just as excessive as Naboo when it came to interior decorating.

He didn't see Satine at first when she rounded the corner of the hallway they were in. Obi-Wan knew immediately, however, and through the Force Anakin was suddenly hit with an emotion he had never before sensed from his Master: joy.

As Obi-Wan hurried forward to meet her, Anakin hid behind some kind of sculpture that decorated the hall and found himself missing Padmé with a ferocity he hadn't felt since before he arrived in this timeline. He knew exactly what it was like to reunite with the person you adored after being apart: that sudden jolt of surprise at the realization that they're there, they're actually right there in front of you, that you aren't dreaming. He knew the feeling of impatience, how having to wait a single second longer felt like the difference between life and death. He knew about that first touch after an absence, how it wasn't enough, how it still felt too new. Anakin also knew that, in this particular moment, he might as well have not even been there as he witnessed the still-completely-surreal image of Obi-Wan kissing his wife.

This is so weird.

when I kiss Padmé, does it take this much time? How long have I been standing here?

Anakin resisted the urge to tell them to hurry up.

When they finally let go of one another, Anakin got a look at Satine and realized that the last time he had seen her was at Obi-Wan’s funeral. Of course, it wasn’t really his funeral—he had faked his death in order to complete a mission for the Council—but neither Anakin nor Satine knew that. Anakin didn’t remember much of that horrible time other than the pain and anger that were the only things keeping him upright (Ahsoka being the other reason for him to keep going), but he did remember Satine’s face in the firelight of his Master’s pyre: she looked completely shattered.

Anakin didn’t know what her reaction had been when it was revealed that Obi-Wan was actually alive, but he suspected that it was probably pretty frightening. Truthfully, he had always been a little bit afraid of her; for someone so vocal about rejecting violence, Satine was formidable to an almost dangerous extent.

Once again, he was nearly overcome with how much he missed Padmé.

He overheard some of the quiet murmurs they were exchanging: “…on Coruscant, at the Temple.”

“How is that possible?”

Anakin stifled a groan. Obi-Wan was supposed to be hiding him, and instead he was just going to tell her?

“This is going to sound impossible, but…” The rest was too quiet to make out, though Anakin could hear a few of Satine's reactions.

“…but not the same one?” she asked after Obi-Wan's explanation apparently reached a conclusion.

“We're in no danger from him, I promise you. He won't—”

“I know, my love,” Satine interrupted. “Where is—ah.” She looked over and saw Anakin immediately. “There's no need for you to hide back there,” she called.

Anakin awkwardly climbed out from behind the sculpture. “Your Highness,” he said, feeling a little silly.

“A Jedi,” she said, examining him. She was actually taking this better than Anakin expected, and he realized that must have been the reason why Obi-Wan had flat-out told her what was happening instead of trying to hide it. “How strange.”

“Not half as strange as time travel and parallel universes,” Anakin pointed out.

“How you arrived here isn't half as interesting to me as who you are,” Satine replied.

“What do you mean by that?” Obi-Wan asked her.

“You said that they aren't the exact same person: that they have different memories and experiences,” she explained, “but they may still be similar enough for this to offer an opportunity. We could find out what he wants, what sorts of things motivate him—even work out the best way communicate with him.”

“You want to try talking the Warlord into surrendering?” Anakin asked. He remembered Satine saying these kinds of weird pacifist things back in his timeline and still couldn't believe that someone could be so naive.

She smiled ruefully. “I am not so vain about my powers of persuasion to think that outcome is a likely one, but any information on how he thinks could be quite valuable.” She looked at her husband (a word that was still disorienting to Anakin's ears). “We might have a chance at stopping him.”

“We can start in the morning,” Obi-Wan said.

“Tomorrow?” she asked, sounding surprised. Then her eyes widened slightly as she realized something. “You forgot, didn't you.”

“Forgot—?” Obi-Wan echoed before his eyes similarly widened. “Oh no… It's tomorrow?”

“In roughly fourteen hours,” she said.

“So that's why the mechanics were—” He groaned the same way that he did back in the landing bay. “We haven't even discussed what we're going to—”

“What you're going to do, you mean,” Satine corrected him. “If you recall, my role is primarily to sit there and look haughty.”

“Which you do quite well,” he teased.

She laughed, blushing a little. “It's the least I can do, I suppose.” She sighed. “Fortunately, it's predictable by now. We know what to expect.”

“We'll just have to muddle through it, as usual,” Obi-Wan agreed. He reached out, took her hand, and kissed it. “I’m going to find him a place to sleep and then I'll be along.”

She leaned in and kissed him gently on the lips. “Don't take too long,” she said, a smile growing on her face.

“I won't, I promise,” he said with a matching expression that Anakin didn't have to work very hard to interpret.

They parted ways, with Satine heading back in the direction she had originally come from, and Obi-Wan leading Anakin to another hallway, this one a little less aggressively decorated than the last one.

“So what's happening tomorrow?” Anakin asked as they walked. Obi-Wan looked a little frazzled about it, which was usually a good sign that it was going to be entertaining, at least from Anakin's point of view.

“It's a rather long story to tell at the moment,” Obi-Wan replied.

“Oh come on,” Anakin protested. “It can't be that long.”

Obi-Wan was silent for a moment. Finally, he sighed. “Tomorrow is our wedding anniversary.”

Anakin frowned. “And that's not a happy thing?”

He could see Obi-Wan trying not to wince. “Our wedding was a bit… chaotic. The Jedi have never had the best reputation on Mandalore which, combined with the fact that I wasn't Mandalorian, made our marriage controversial among the more conservative clans. We had expected some kind of protest…” He sighed again, wearily this time. “What we didn't expect was the governor of Concordia showing up with the Darksaber and trying to kill us.”

“Pre Vizsla, right?” Anakin asked. “The leader of the Death Watch?”

Obi-Wan nodded. “The very same… I assume he revealed himself as such in your timeline as well?”

“Yeah,” Anakin confirmed. “It wasn't pretty.”

“It's hard to tell what was more of a surprise: that one of Satine's closest supporters was the leader of a terrorist organization, or that my mere presence on Mandalore was enough to make him snap in such a public setting. Fortunately for us, I was still wearing my lightsaber—it was literally the only thing I owned after leaving the Order—and was able to fend him off. Unfortunately, he escaped and is openly leading the Death Watch now.”

“So, what happened next?” Anakin asked.

“The next year, we had a small gathering to celebrate, and it was interrupted by the arrival of another Death Watch member attempting to assassinate Satine. I defeated that one and he was arrested and jailed. The same thing happened the following year, and the year after that…” He emitted the same groan as before. “It's become… a bit of a tradition. People travel to Sundari from all over the system to watch.”

Anakin was trying and mostly succeeding at not bursting into giggles. “So you're saying that once a year, on your anniversary, you get to duel someone in public? That sounds amazing.”

Obi-Wan didn't share Anakin's levity. “If you mean that once a year, someone shows up and attempts to kill my wife, then yes,” he said in exasperation. “How amazing.”

“Yeah, but you win every year,” Anakin pointed out. It was reassuring to know that leaving the Jedi Order hadn't completely dulled his Master's combat skills.

Any answer that Obi-Wan might have given was interrupted when they arrived at the door to a bedroom. “You'll have to put the sheets on the bed yourself,” he told Anakin as he flipped on the glowpanel. “The refresher is through that door.”

Anakin nodded. “Hiding or no hiding, I'm definitely going to come watch you beat up a Mando assassin tomorrow.”

He sighed. “I really wish you wouldn't. It's all rather embarrassing.”

Anakin grinned. “Which is exactly why I'll be there.”

Obi-Wan sighed one last time, said “goodnight,” and then left.

Anakin closed the door and snickered. This whole situation was hilarious. He was going to have to think of a way to arrange something like that with Padmé once he fixed everything in his timeline.

Pre Vizsla exited his quarters to discover his sentries lying in a heap on the ground.

He did not have time to determine whether they were alive or dead, because there was a blur of motion in his peripheral vision and he was slammed to the ground beside them.

A boot rested on his neck. “Are you the leader of the Death Watch?” the boot’s owner asked. Their voice was obscured: a whisper muffled behind a mask meant that it could have been any gender or species.

He had a blaster on his hip and the Darksaber was only about two meters away, but for the moment he was pinned in place. More prudent to wait for the opportunity to strike, he decided. “I am,” Pre said, irritated at the way the pressure on his throat made his voice sound desperate.

“He wishes to speak to you.”

There was no mistaking the ‘he’ that was being referred to in this instance. Someone in those clothes, with that mask, standing over a clearing strewn with defeated Mandalorian warriors… there was only one ‘he’ that it could be.

“What about?” Pre asked, hoping that he had managed to keep his reaction from showing.

“About the upcoming… celebration. You have not sent someone to Sundari yet, have you?”

“No,” he said. Who he could afford to lose for a few weeks to the Royal Prison was a challenging decision, even though over the years he had been running low on people and, therefore, options. The representative was selected but had not left yet.

“Good.” The pressure on his neck eased slightly.

“Why does he want to talk to me about that?” Pre was admittedly confused as to why this was of interest to anyone outside of Mandalore. It was more for entertainment now than anything else; a way of reminding people who the real Mandalorians were.

“He would like to make sure that you do it properly this time.”

Chapter Text

Alone at last. It had only been a handful of days, but the weight of the approaching threat to their home, as well as the knowledge that tomorrow could go horribly wrong, made his absence feel like an eternity. Satine knew that they both needed rest, but she needed this more than sleep. They both needed this.

The door closes, leaving them alone together in the quiet. Their public personas, their duties, the challenges both great and small that define their years together… all of it is left outside. This is their space. Nothing exists here but one another.

In these moments of solitude, every time that their eyes meet for the first time, she remembers how it began.

It had been three days and the silence was driving Satine crazy. Yet another meeting with the leaders of House Vizsla had to be canceled because her Jedi protectors deemed the risk to be too great. She was doing her best not to be furious at them, because they were there to keep her from being assassinated, but how could she possibly unite the clans and end this terrible war without meeting anyone face to face? She was more than willing to take the risk.

The older Jedi kept dropping hints that perhaps the three of them should return to Coruscant, where her safety would be guaranteed. She ignored those hints.

Meanwhile, his apprentice was being extremely irritating. Not because of anything that he was doing, but because of what he was not doing: namely, acknowledging her existence in any way. They had been traveling together for months at this point and in the last three days Obi-Wan hadn’t said a word to her, not even small talk. It wasn’t as though there were any bounty hunters on the ship for him to watch out for, Satine thought with annoyance. He could at least make an effort to be polite… or at the very least look at her once in awhile.

At last, Qui-Gon arranged a possible meeting that he believed would be safe enough. Satine resented him for doing things like that—she was an adult and more than capable of arranging a meeting herself—but at least it was a step forward, not to mention an opportunity to leave this ship.

One of the nephews of the clan leader owned a series of industrial facilities, and was planning on visiting one of their refineries on Gargon shortly. Satine would meet him there and attempt to bring him around to her way of thinking. House Vizsla had been difficult to negotiate with, and the constantly canceled meetings did not make this process any easier.

Qui-Gon would meet the representative at the landing site while Obi-Wan and Satine made their way to the facility to prepare.

For a world in the Mandalore sector, Gargon wasn’t in particularly bad shape, but it was rather grimy. The mining facilities that covered the planet gave the air an unpleasant odor.

She and Obi-Wan had been walking for nearly fifteen minutes when Satine’s patience finally ran out. “Stop ignoring me,” she demanded.

“I am trying to keep an eye out for any possible threats,” Obi-Wan said testily. He still didn’t look at her and she found herself getting even more annoyed for some reason.

Why does it matter if he looks at me?

“Well, you could probably do that just as well by keeping an eye on me,” she said, “seeing as I seem to be responsible for most of the dangerous situations we’ve been in so far, according to you.”

Now he did look at her: a pointed glare. As their eyes met, however, a jolt ran through her.

Oh, that’s why.

They stared at one another in silence. His earlier irritation was gone, replaced by something closer to fascination.

I forgot how nice his eyes were.

“We’re getting close to the refinery,” he said at last, returning his gaze to the rusted warehouses that seemed to be the only other structures in this area.

But something in his voice was different than before.

Her hand rests on his cheek, feeling the slight growth of stubble on his face. His hands draw her nearer, his touch sating a hunger that cannot be described in words alone: the need for contact, for connection… They are careful and deliberate, as though they would both vanish like vapor if they went too quickly.

It was a trap. Likely not a betrayal by House Vizsla—more likely that their communications were not as secure as had been originally assumed.

Not that it mattered at the moment: Satine and Obi-Wan were running for their lives through the halls of a factory containing far more bounty hunters than they could possibly confront directly. Well, in terms of confronting anyone, “they” really just meant Obi-Wan; Satine knew how to defend herself, but not to the extent that she could do much against the heavy weapons aimed in her direction.

They darted into a nearby room that appeared to be an office. No windows; nothing that would get them outside. They had managed to corner themselves.

“What do we do now?” she asked. She was more annoyed than afraid.

Obi-Wan was searching the room, trying to find anything that might be an asset in this moment. Nothing: they were out of good options. “Wait,” he finally said, looking up at the ceiling.

“The vents?” Satine said skeptically. “Are we even going to fit?”

“We’ll have to,” Obi-Wan said. “We don’t have much choice.” He pulled the grate off the ceiling panel. “I think this will work. If I can fit, I imagine you can too.” He jumped up and grabbed the edge of the opening and pulled himself up, then scooted backwards a little until his head and arms were the only part visible. “Come on,” he said, extending his arms.

She did have to jump a little, but not too much (she and Obi-Wan were the same height, after all), and he pulled her up into the vent. It was extremely cramped, but she fit. Using the Force, he lifted the grate back into place.

“Now what?” she whispered.

“We need to get away from any of the openings,” he said. The vent creaked very slightly as he craned his neck to see what was behind him. “There’s another passage leading off of this one. Judging by the airflow, I think it probably leads to the area where the intake is chilled to the right temperature. Come on.” He started scooting backwards, went slightly past the t-shaped intersection, and then turned and continued forward into it.

“You’re making a racket,” she hissed. “They’re going to hear us.”

“I’m moving as quietly as I can,” he hissed back.

She followed his route, finally ending up in a much darker area of the ventilation system. They were facing the same direction now, meaning that all that Satine could really see in the dim light were his boots, which were still barely visible despite being only a few centimeters from the top of her head. “So now what?” she asked again.

“We wait,” he said. “I sent a narrow-band signal to Master Qui-Gon when we first encountered those bounty hunters, but it will obviously take him a little time to get here and find us.”

“We can’t just make our way to a vent leading outside?”

“We’re in the outlet vents. They don’t connect to the outside; only the intake ones do that.”

“Are you sure?” she asked.

There was a brief pause. “No,” he admitted. “They don't exactly teach us environmental control systems in the Jedi Order.”

“How unfortunate,” she said drily. Now that they were no longer moving, she realized how chilly it was. “Can we at least move somewhere a little warmer?”

“If they’re using any sensors, this is the best way to disguise our body heat.”

“We’re going to turn into icicles,” she snapped.

“How do you even know what icicles are?” he countered. “Your worlds are mostly deserts.”

“I’ve watched holos,” she shot back. “Though I suppose that Jedi apprentices wouldn’t know anything about popular culture. It turns out that you can actually learn things without having to witness them in person.

“I’m amazed you’re so cold,” he said sarcastically. “You’d think your anger would be enough to warm you up.”

“Oh, be quiet,” she said, knowing that she sounded immature. With a grimace, she began to climb forward.

“What are you doing?” Obi-Wan asked.

“I’m freezing,” she said, “and am attempting to come up with a solution. Now scoot over.”

“There isn’t room,” he protested.

He was half-right, Satine eventually realized: there wasn’t quite enough room for her to be side by side with him. She ended up practically lying on top of him, with both of them doing their best not to look at each other.

It helped a little, but she still began to shiver.

“You really are cold,” he realized.

“Why would I lie about that?” she asked. Neither of them had really figured out what to do with their hands yet, so when he put his arms around her she reflexively did the same in return and rested her head on his shoulder.

They both suddenly tensed in what was something between alarm and nervousness. They had never been this close to one another before. Not like this.

Satine took a deep breath and forced herself to relax. After another moment, Obi-Wan did the same.

These last few months, unless it was in the form of being hauled out of the way of danger, she hadn't been touched by anyone at all, much less held like this.

This isn’t unpleasant… it’s rather nice, in fact.

It occurred to her that he probably hadn't been touched in a very long time either.

She noticed that their breathing was slowing down… even synchronizing. She had relaxed even more by the time she noticed that their hands were beginning to move, almost of their own volition.

It was slow, gradual, gentle… their fingers running up and down each others’ arms and back, sometimes down to their hips, other times brushing each other’s hands. So gentle, in fact, that when their lips finally met, it felt completely seamless.

They had to keep quiet, and there wasn’t much room in there, but it didn’t change the fact that they were in one another’s arms, in the dark, and making out in a ventilation duct of all places. As an added bonus, Satine no longer felt cold.

Years later, Obi-Wan would insist that neither of them were in any real danger of freezing to death in there. Satine argued otherwise, but who was right didn’t actually matter in this case. What happened there had only been the beginning.

His lips are everywhere: her mouth, her neck, her breasts, moving down and down and down… there is no part of her that he hasn’t explored before. Everything between them is familiar and yet new at the same time.

The familiarity has its advantages: he knows where to go, knows all the right spots, knows exactly what to do… how fast, how slow…

She brings his face back up to meet hers. It was strange but, in those few minutes, she had missed him.

It was a week before they had an opportunity to be alone again. Qui-Gon rescued them from the refinery in particular and the planet in general, it took time for Satine to set up another meeting with one of the Vizslas—although this time it actually worked and she was able to make some progress—and then it suddenly seemed as though Qui-Gon was everywhere on the ship.

She and Obi-Wan spent that time trying not to meet each other’s eyes. She knew that if they did, it would be immediately obvious to Qui-Gon what had happened.

However, after those few awkward days, they stopped on Celanon to refuel and, for once, finally got to stay somewhere other than on the ship. It was really no better than a series of closets (in fact, Satine had had bigger closets than these), but at least everyone got their own room.

She went to Obi-Wan’s room almost immediately and knocked on the door.

He didn’t look especially surprised to see her, but he did look a little anxious. Before he could figure out what to say, however, Satine delivered her planned explanation: “It’s your job to protect me, isn't it?”

Obi-Wan nodded. He kept peeking over her shoulder to see if Qui-Gon was there.

“And,” Satine continued, “if I am in danger, you would have to come to my aid, correct?”

He nodded again.

“Well,” she said, unable to keep a straight face much longer, “I am in extreme peril and will definitely require a bodyguard immediately.”

He started to smile. “I’ll have to examine this danger personally, of course.”

“Oh, of course,” she agreed. “Right this way.”

He was halfway out of his boots before they even closed the door to her room.

Their hands tangle in one another’s hair, in their clothes, in the sheets. She traces those well-known routes down his chest, his back, his hips. His mouth is now just beside her ear, his breath warming her neck, acquiring a steady rhythm as they hold each other closer and closer.

“Does he know?” Satine asked. They were on Celanon longer than planned, and at no point during their stay did Obi-Wan spend an entire night in his own bed.

“He doesn’t know,” Obi-Wan said. His fingers felt like they were writing an invisible message on her stomach as they lay on their sides, her back resting against his chest while he held her in his arms. “He might suspect something, though… there have been a few times where he looks like he’s about to say something and then thinks better of it.”

“Are you worried?”

Obi-Wan didn’t answer.

She sighed. “What is the worst he could do if he found out? Scold you?”

“He might send me back to Coruscant.” His arms briefly tightened around her. “It’s attachment. Jedi are supposed avoid attachments.”

Satine tried to think of something to say. She wasn’t quite ready yet to argue against the doctrine that he had grown up with. Convincing Mandalorians to reconsider their views on warfare was difficult enough.

“But what he doesn’t realize,” Obi-Wan whispered, “is that it’s too late.”

At this point, time begins to slow down. It becomes cloudy, indistinct, as all either of them can sense is one another. Even the room, their private space, contracts into a single spot: all the places where they touch. In these moments, outside of time and space, nothing else exists.

Qui-Gon was being called away by the Jedi Council for a mission elsewhere. Satine tried to hide her glee.

“It may take as much as a month, possibly more,” he warned them. “During this time, the two of you will need to remain in one location and avoid attracting attention.”

She caught Obi-Wan's eye: they already had plenty of practice in keeping hidden.

“Where are you sending us?” Obi-Wan asked, still looking at Satine.

Qui-Gon paused for a moment before answering. Satine suppressed a wince; they let something slip and the Jedi Master had noticed. “Serenno,” he said. “I have never been there, but it is supposed to be a prosperous world; Master Dooku was born there. You'll stay in one of its major cities, which should allow you to blend in and keep out of trouble.” He looked briefly amused. “It's unlikely that you'll encounter any venom-mites there, for example.”

Satine wasn't sure whether to laugh or glare at him. Or possibly glare at Obi-Wan: he was the one who dropped her while they were escaping that swarm on Draboon, after all.

“I suppose we should prepare, then,” she said, and headed to her quarters to pack what little she had with her.

Later, after Qui-Gon dropped them off in what Satine had to admit was a rather beautiful city, she noticed that Obi-Wan was a little more subdued than expected.

“What happened?” she asked, lacing her fingers through his as they walked.

“He gave me a somewhat… extensive lecture,” he admitted. “He still doesn't know, but he definitely suspects that it could happen.”

“It's just words,” she reminded him. “He's not here now. See?” She lifted his hand a little. “We can act normally for once.”

He started to smile. “The Padawan braid might raise a few eyebrows.”

“True, you still look rather… monastic,” she admitted, “but a change of clothes can fix that. I have some hairclips: we could pin the braid back so it's less obvious.”

She wasn't thrilled with being stuck on a single planet, unable to continue her work, but she decided to make the best of it. As long as she was with him, it wouldn't be unbearable.

When they reached the obvious tourist trap of a hotel, she got a great deal of amusement out of informing the droid at the front desk that she was here with her husband.

Most of that amusement was due to the expression on Obi-Wan's face when she said it.

A relationship that started in secrecy, plus years of young children sleeping nearby and a residence full of staff, means that they have a habit of being quiet during these encounters. Not that they are silent: whispers of affection and gasps of pleasure fill their ears, things kept away from polite conversation. Sounds meant for this space alone.

It turned out to be a good cover story: by pretending to be newlyweds, they were left largely alone and their odd behavior could be easily explained as giddiness.

It also meant that they could kiss in almost any circumstance without it being remarked on too much.

Now that the bulk of their attention was no longer taken up with avoiding bounty hunters and the inconvenient timing of Jedi Masters, they finally had a chance to get to know one another. He taught her how to meditate. She taught him how to play dejarik. They gave one another space when they could, though it was challenging given the events that brought them there to begin with; it took Obi-Wan a little time to accept that Satine having dinner by herself once in awhile wasn’t likely to result in her death.

Their focus in the weeks since that first encounter on Gargon had mostly been on the sex, plus the rush of excitement that accompanies any new relationship and glosses over shortcomings that become obvious later on. Now that some of the newness had worn off, they disagreed and made up and argued and changed each other’s minds on a near daily basis, a strange back-and-forth verbal sparring that, over time, challenged their assumptions and caused them to grow as people.

Obi-Wan was skeptical that a nonviolent movement could win a war once it had started, and Satine was skeptical that an Order whose members wielded weapons that can only maim or kill could reasonably stand for peace and justice. To their surprise, even though they were both passionate about their particular viewpoints, their debates were unexpectedly free of cruelty, and they had yet to find an argument that could tear them apart.

A dramatic declaration of her feelings was beginning to form in Satine’s mind, and she began to plan out the perfect way to tell him.

But before she got the chance, Obi-Wan ended up just saying it: “I love you,” right in the middle of a conversation about something completely trivial.

Satine emitted a noise of frustration before she realized what that must have looked like from his perspective. They both began frantically backtracking at the same time until Satine finally explained that she had a plan and a speech and he ruined it, at which point they started giggling like children.

She loved him and he loved her and it was so ridiculous and absurd and wonderful all at once.

That was when their conversations began to include references to dangerous things like later and after and someday. The future. Their future. Because of course this situation was meant to be temporary: the war on Mandalore would end and then Obi-Wan’s duty would be discharged, at which point they would both return to where they belonged.

But the What Ifs began to grow and multiply.

Until the day that Satine turned to him and said, “What if we stopped pretending to be married?”

Obi-Wan looked a little stricken, but did his best to hide his disappointment. “Of course,” he said uncomfortably. “We could go somewhere else, to another city, and I could introduce myself as your bodyguard, perhaps, or—”

“Not that,” she interrupted hastily. She took his hand in hers and pulled him a little closer. “I meant: what if we stopped pretending to be married and actually got married?”

When he enters her, it feels like a change in perspective, like maneuvering around an obstacle and seeing the magnificent vista on the other side. A feeling of dizzying height. A feeling of vertigo.

The rhythm of their movement comes easily, its familiar tempo pounding in their bones, in their blood, in their breath.

She holds onto him, whispers heated words into his skin: in Basic, in Mando’a, in sighs and moans.

In this moment, she cannot imagine ever letting go.

It wasn’t an easy question at all. If she had thought it through before asking him, she would have remembered the awful situation she was placing him in.

Once the war was over, she would return to Mandalore as its Duchess (she refused to accept any other outcome), its rightful ruler, and she could do as she pleased. There was nothing to stop her from getting married if she wanted to.

But for Obi-Wan, it would mean giving up his entire life. Everything he had ever known, every oath he had ever sworn, everything—all for her. She didn't know if either of them was strong enough to carry that kind of burden.

They agreed to wait, to think carefully about it before coming to a decision. They still had time.

The tempo increases. They race towards a sharp point, an intersection, a collision so deafening that she can’t believe the entire galaxy isn’t hearing it too. In a way, it can: it is still just the two of them. They are the only things that exist, that have ever existed, that could ever exist—the two of them and the acceleration of everything that has ever been, faster and faster, stretching on and on into infinity.

Once Qui-Gon returned, it was as though time suddenly sped up. Satine threw herself back into her work (and back into danger) and tried not to notice the fact that she was aching all over for an answer, a touch, a look. It was as if she and Obi-Wan were trying hold on while starving to death.

Later, Obi-Wan would say that those final agonizing weeks ultimately made his decision easy. He couldn’t go back to his old life, not anymore. It would kill him. Being apart like that forever would kill both of them.

And then, seemingly all at once, the war was over. She had united the clans and stopped the fighting. The bounty hunters were called off when the ones who hired them were sent to prison.

She could go home.

And yet…

“Don't worry about me,” Obi-Wan whispered as the ship approached Mandalore, during one of the brief moments they were able to speak alone. “Focus on your people, on your duties—”

“I know,” she said, unsure whether she was about to roll her eyes in exasperation or embrace him or just start crying. “That's why they're duties.” They had run out of time, this might be their last chance, someone would be along any minute… did it even matter now if they were discovered? They were supposed to have thought of a solution or at least some kind of plan, and they hadn’t.

“If you say the word,” he said, “I would leave the Or—”

Satine stopped him with a finger on his lips. “It can’t be my decision… it’s your life. Your future.”

“I don’t know what to do,” he confessed.

“Neither do I,” she said. No longer caring if anyone saw, she wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her head on his shoulder. “But no matter what happens,” she murmured, “I will always love you.”

Obi-Wan put one arm around her and used his other hand to gently bring her face up to meet his.

This might be our last kiss.

All too soon, they landed in Sundari and she stepped off of the ship, alone.

She cannot use the Force, but even so, sometimes she can imagine that she feels it: surrounding her, binding everything together in an energy field of a scope without boundaries or limits. Binding them both together.

His mind reaches for hers, holding her as tightly as his hands are holding her now. Their thoughts mingle and they begin to blur into one another, a single being looking out of two pairs of eyes, breathing with two sets of lungs, aligning its two bodies in such a way that—

Connected like this, she can feel his climax as well as her own. The utter bliss moves through them like a circle, feeding into itself over and over, a cycle of ecstasy that drives every thought from their heads other than this, this, this…

What was victory if there was no one to share it with?

There were celebrations marking the end of the war and she moved through them as though she was in a daze. There was endless work to do—rebuilding a government, rebuilding a people, rebuilding their worlds—and she collapsed into a dreamless sleep every night, too exhausted to grieve over the fact that she was alone in a bed that could fit more than one person.

There had been no goodbye. Perhaps it was better that way: a clean break. Her heart would heal in time. She had survived many things in her life; this horrible feeling of losing a limb would surely fade eventually.

And then one day she returned to her residence and found him sitting there.

“We had barely exited the atmosphere when I demanded that he turn the ship around,” Obi-Wan said quietly as he stood up and came to meet her. He didn't have a chance to finish the story: their arms were around one another in an instant.

When she at last drew her lips away from his, she realized that his Padawan braid was missing and that he had recently been crying.

“We argued for days,” he whispered. “I told him everything: all the things we had done right under his nose. I had never seen him so upset before… I'm the second one of his apprentices to have left the Order… I thought he might actually tie me up and drag me back to Coruscant regardless of my wishes. He looked so desperate to keep me from leaving… but in the end, he couldn't stop me.”

“I can't imagine how painful that must have been,” she said, brushing the side of his face with her hand. “Your whole life…”

“It isn't just my life anymore,” Obi-Wan said softly. “Now it's our life. Our future.”

It had finally happened: later and after and someday were all now. The future was only just beginning.

“Then welcome home, my love,” Satine said as she pulled him in for another kiss.

She needed this. They had both needed this: connection and release.

Sleepy and content, she snuggles closer to him and whispers in his ear:

“Welcome home, my love.”

Chapter Text

Anakin woke up to the sight of a red-haired woman in Mandalorian armor standing in his bedroom.

He reached for his lightsaber, only to find that it was in her hand. He pulled on it with telekinesis, but she held on with a surprisingly strong grip.

“Relax,” she said. “Just a precaution: I'd rather not lose a limb because you woke up in a panic.”

“I wouldn't have woken up in a panic if you hadn't been standing over me holding my weapon,” he said irritably. “What are you doing in here?”

“I volunteered to be your babysitter. Satine and Obi-Wan have enough to worry about today and they don't need you getting in the way, especially since they're going to be the most closely-watched people in the entire system for the next few hours and you bear a very strong resemblance to Anakin Skywalker.”

“I am Anakin Skywalker,” he growled. Maybe if he was intimidating enough, she would panic and leave.

“So I've been told,” she said, resting the hand that wasn't holding his lightsaber on the blaster on her hip. “That's why I'm the one they sent: because when my brother-in-law says completely crazy things, I'm at least willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.”

“You're Satine's sister?”

“Bo-Katan Kryze,” she confirmed.

Something clicked in Anakin's memory. “You're with the Death Watch.” This time, he managed to yank the lightsaber out of her hand.

“Not anymore,” she said quickly. “I left years ago.”

“How could you have joined a terrorist group that wanted to depose your own sister?” Anakin demanded.

Bo-Katan shrugged, which was an odd motion in armor. “My father had recently died. I was young and lonely, and they offered me a way to feel like I was in control again.”

“So why did you leave?”

“A few reasons. Mostly because it wasn't what I thought it would be like: they were all too petty and patriarchal. Plus, I didn't hate Satine… and watching our leader have a complete meltdown at her wedding wasn't exactly inspiring.”

“What was that even about, anyway? Because she was marrying a Jedi?”

“And one that was as far from being a Mandalorian as possible. At least, that's what Vizsla claimed—personally, I suspect he had probably pictured himself as the one who would be up there with Satine, but he never admitted it. Which actually brings me to the other reason why I left: because my sister, despite having what I think are the worst political instincts in the known universe, somehow managed to find a husband that the majority of our people could actually agree on.”

“What do you mean?” Anakin asked.

Bo-Katan shook her head. “First we need to find you some kind of disguise before I can take you out in public.”

Anakin caught the implication. “We're going to go watch the duel?”

“It's far more than a duel,” she said, “but yes: I'm not going to let some shu'shuk like you ruin my fun today.”

“What's taking so long?” Anakin hissed. He didn't have a good sense of how far his voice was carrying through the helmet. How did Mandalorians wear this stuff for longer than five minutes without going crazy?

“I told you it was more than just a duel,” Bo-Katan said. She didn’t have to wear her helmet, Anakin noted with annoyance. “At this point, it’s practically a system-wide holiday.”

She was right about that: the main square outside of the Royal Palace was crowded with people in spectator stands that were set up for the occasion. Other people were watching from nearby buildings or from floating platforms that reminded Anakin of the pods in the Senate. HoloNews camera droids were everywhere.

And, unlike his previous visit to Mandalore, Anakin noticed that the majority of the spectators were wearing armor. Fortunately, it had given him a plausible way to disguise himself so that he could sit with Bo-Katan in seats that were relatively close to the action… or where the action was supposed to be.

His disguise wasn’t a full set of armor: just the helmet and plating for the chest and back, both black, coupled with shoulder armor, which was light blue and obviously from a different set.

“Lots of the New Mandalorians got rid of their armor,” Bo-Katan said as she handed it to him back at the Palace, “so there will be plenty of people there wearing bits and pieces instead of proper beskar’gam. You won’t stick out too much.”

“Why would they wear it again now?” Anakin asked. “Aren’t they pacifists?”

“Ah,” she said with a knowing smile. “See, that’s where my sister got lucky: by letting this event get to such massive a scale—not that she could really stop it—she gave people an outlet for expressing our traditional customs while still maintaining her commitment to pacifism… or at least giving her the appearance of pacifism.”

Anakin was surprised. “She doesn’t really believe it?”

Bo-Katan snorted in amusement. “Oh, she definitely does—or at least believes her version of the definition, which is mostly just scolding people—but it’s not like she has a choice in whether or not people attack her, and it isn’t as though everyone’s just going to stand aside and let her die. Now come on, we're going to be late.”

In the present, a pair of Mandalorians in full armor (including jetpacks, Anakin noticed with a hint of envy) entered the makeshift arena and began sparring. It continued for a few minutes, until one of the combatants got in a kick to a spot behind the knee and sent their opponent stumbling to the ground. Planting a boot on the defeated fighter’s chest, the victor waited for some kind of signal, which was given in the form of a nod from their opponent. Stepping back, both fighters removed their helmets, clapped each other on the shoulder, and exited the arena to the roar of the crowd. Soon, another pair of combatants entered and a new round commenced.

“I can see why this is popular,” Anakin admitted.

“Like I said, my sister got very lucky. She probably wouldn’t be half as popular herself if Obi-Wan hadn’t been such a good political cipher.”

“You mentioned that before,” he said. “What did you mean by that?” He knew that Obi-Wan could be pretty charming when he put in the effort, but Anakin couldn’t really imagine him getting involved in politics.

“Well, holding his own against a clan leader in single combat during his own wedding was a very good first impression,” she pointed out, “and the end result was that people saw in him whatever they wanted to see: the New Mandalorians see him as a peaceful monk—they’ve always been more tolerant of the Jedi than the rest of us were—and the traditionalists see him as a noble warrior who turned his back on the Jedi to follow our ways.” She grinned. “It’s led to some fantastic conspiracy theories, incidentally: apparently Satine is a secret True Mandalorian pretending to be a pacifist while sending her husband to do her dirty work. According to rumors, several people—always some nameless friend-of-a-friend in another clan, of course—have witnessed Obi-Wan showing up at a clan leader’s residence with a drawn lightsaber and a list of demands from the Duchess.”

Anakin laughed. “I’m sure he loves hearing that.”

“Oh, absolutely,” Bo-Katan agreed. “They’re both utterly mortified by it, but haven’t been able to convince anyone that they’re not political geniuses solidifying their hold on power by giving a wink and a nod to both sides. Which is what makes things like today hilarious.”

“If he’s anything like my Obi-Wan,” Anakin said, “he would rather jump out a window than be the center of attention.”

“So does this one. The entire week leading up to this is incredibly entertaining, in my opinion: Obi-Wan has to endure a constant barrage of attention, and Satine has to sit there and watch her people celebrate all the traditions that she despises.” Before Anakin could reply, she held up a hand. “Hang on, I’ve been looking forward to this match.”

They watched the next several rounds mostly in silence. For a few of them, Bo-Katan explained some of the rules and strategies, but Anakin was quickly growing bored and, if he was being honest, a little anxious. Plus, the helmet had pressed down on his hair in such a way that it was beginning to tickle the back of his neck. He couldn’t imagine having to wear a helmet all the time; it sounded awful.

After the end of a match between a pair of fighters wielding stun pikes, the energy of the crowd suddenly shifted. “Here we go,” Bo-Katan said.

At one end of the arena, a raised platform had been empty during the exhibitions; now, a handful of what Anakin was pretty sure were members of the Ruling Council (if he remembered correctly) assembled towards the back of the platform. They were then followed by Satine, now dressed in the elaborate outfit and headdress that he remembered from his timeline, and a young woman with hair almost as blonde as Satine’s.

“Is that their daughter?” he asked Bo-Katan.

“Yes, that’s Ka-Riita,” she said. “As much as I’ve been trying to get her out from under her mother’s influence—and she’s not a bad fighter at this point—I’m not thrilled with the idea of her being here, even though it wouldn’t look good for her to be somewhere else while this is happening.”

“Why shouldn’t she be here?” Anakin asked, confused.

She gave him an equally perplexed look. “Because if things go badly today, she’s going to have to watch both of her parents die.”

“Wait, what?” he cried, loudly enough to get a few glances from people sitting nearby. “But you were just telling me the rules!”

“The rules are for the exhibition,” she explained. “This is different: whoever shows up is definitely going to try to kill him, and Satine too once he’s out of the way.” She gave him a half-smile. “Relax. He's won every year so far.”

So far. Anakin’s anxiety over the situation skyrocketed. Sure, he had seen Obi-Wan fight for his life hundreds of times, but this was the first time that it truly hit him that his Obi-Wan was not the same as this one. This one hadn’t been a Jedi in over a decade. He had never dueled a Sith. He had never fought in a war.

It was completely possible that this Obi-Wan might die today.

“If you move from this spot,” Bo-Katan said, almost casually, “I will fire stun bolts into you until my blaster runs out of power.”

Anakin felt an inferno beginning to build in the back of his mind. Who was she to tell him that he couldn’t intervene? He would do whatever he had to do to protect his friends. Who was going to stop him?

Before Anakin could harness his rage, though, Obi-Wan entered the arena.

He may not have had a full set of armor, but he was wearing armor on his shoulders, upper chest, and arms that, other than the fact that it was dark green instead of white, was nearly identical to the armor that was part of Obi-Wan’s standard uniform during the war; it even had the forearm guards.

For a moment, the tight feeling in Anakin’s chest eased just a little and the inferno in his head began to fade away. He took a deep breath and tried to ignore the way that his heart was still pounding.

As someone handed Obi-Wan a stun pike, Anakin could hear the noise of the crowd change into a chant that he couldn’t quite make out. “What are they saying?” he asked Bo-Katan.

To his surprise, she started laughing. “What you are hearing is the zenith of poor Obi-Wan’s embarrassment. Have you ever heard of the Darksaber?”

Anakin searched his memory. “Some Mandalorian version of a lightsaber, right?”

“Exactly,” she said. “It’s also one of the traditional symbols of the Mand’Alor: the ruler of the Mandalorians in the old days. I mean, theoretically; in reality, House Vizsla has been hanging onto the thing for generations, waiting for their chance to return to power over the other clans. Not that they didn’t have a claim on it: the Jedi who built it was Tarre Vizsla—”

“Ironic that Pre Vizsla was the one who was so upset that Satine was marrying a Jedi,” Anakin noted.

“Bitterly ironic,” Bo-Katan agreed. “But anyway, the chanting you’re hearing are Mandalore's nicknames for Obi-Wan: ‘Kaysh Cabur, Kaysh Kad’dha,’ which is Mando’a for ‘Her Protector, Her Darksaber.’”

Anakin laughed so hard that the sound resonating in his helmet was loud enough to make his ears hurt. “They’re not referring to his—?”

“I’m sure that’s one interpretation,” she said, snickering a little herself, “but it’s mostly a sign of how far that conspiracy theory has spread—that he’s her weapon, basically.”

“I think I heard that chant from some of the mechanics at the ship last night.”

“It’s catchy—and, as an added bonus, it makes him squirm with discomfort.”

Anakin remembered Obi-Wan’s face from the previous evening and laughed again. “Doesn’t anyone notice?”

“Oh, they do—though he’s gotten better at hiding it over the years—but everyone just interprets it as modesty. He’s a much better Mandalorian than he realizes: if they hadn’t sent Pasha to Coruscant and if he ever got around to forging some beskar’gam, he’d be following the Resol’nare almost to the letter. Though I’ve got to say,” she added, “his Mando’a is a disgrace.”

“Who’s his opponent?” Anakin asked.

“We’re about to find out,” Bo-Katan said. Someone was making their way through the crowd at the opposite end of the arena.

The last few spectators moved aside, making room for someone in dark armor with blue designs painted across the chest.

“Oh no…” Bo-Katan whispered. “No no no no no…”

“What? Who is it?”

The newcomer removed his mask, revealing a pale face, receding blond hair, and an extremely unpleasant expression.

“Is that Pre Vizsla?” Anakin asked, frowning.

“Yes,” she said, looking suddenly anxious, “which means he brought the Darksaber.”

“So?” Anakin didn’t see why this was such a big deal. “Obi-Wan fought him before.”

She turned and glared at him. “The last time they fought, Obi-Wan had his lightsaber.”

“He doesn’t have his lightsaber?” Anakin was almost too appalled to be worried. “Why wouldn’t he have it for something like this?”

Bo-Katan was still glaring at him. “Because against literally every other opponent, he would be overpowered.”

“Against someone who’s trying to kill him? Who cares if he’s overpowered? You said it yourself: there aren’t rules for this.”

“There aren’t rules,” she snapped, “but there are plenty of expectations around this—enough that they might as well be rules.” She leaned in until her forehead was almost in contact with his helmet. “I told you, this is more than just a duel: right now, this is one of the few things keeping people from going into revolt. Everyone is terrified of the Broken Fleet, Satine’s barely holding the system together, and there is a very good chance that if people don’t like what happens today, there might be an actual uprising.”

Down below them, Vizsla was approaching the spot where Obi-Wan was standing.

“Welcome back, Governor Vizsla,” Obi-Wan said genially; something was apparently amplifying his voice to a volume that could be heard by the crowd. “I hope you’re enjoying your time in Sundari.”

Anakin groaned; Obi-Wan was doing that thing that he always did, where he was almost offensively polite in the face of mortal peril while also making it completely obvious that he was mocking the hell out of the person he was addressing.

“Save the pleasantries, Kenobi,” Vizsla snarled, his voice similarly amplified.

“You have come here as the Death Watch’s challenger, then?” Anakin suspected that it was some kind of formality that had to be gotten out of the way.

“I have come,” Vizsla said, this time directed more at the crowd than at Obi-Wan, “to end this obscenity once and for all. This betrayal of our traditions, our culture, our people—betrayals by that pretender who styles herself as nobility.” Behind Obi-Wan, sitting in a chair on the platform, Satine appeared to be holding back her temper… just barely. “ I am the true Mand'Alor, and I have come here to take what is mine and restore our people to glory.” Vizsla ignited the saber in his hand, which produced a strange black blade, outlined in white, almost crackling with energy. In spite of himself, a part of Anakin’s mind was trying to figure out how the weapon was even constructed.

“That pike isn’t going to be able to fend it off, is it?” he asked Bo-Katan. Panic was beginning to rise in his throat.

“Maybe a strike or two,” she said grimly, “but no more than that. It’s still not impossible that he could win if he’s quick enough on his feet… but I don’t think he’s going to make it out of this unharmed.”

The inferno was back: Anakin could feel his muscles tensing and his jaw starting to clench. He had to do something. He had to save Obi-Wan. No matter what it took, he had to do something.

Vizsla held the Darksaber out in front of him; he was only around fifteen meters away and getting closer. “This lightsaber was stolen from your Jedi Temple by my ancestors during the fall of the Old Republic. Since then, many Jedi have died upon its blade. Prepare yourself to join them.”

“I suppose it would be useless to point out that I’m no longer a Jedi,” Obi-Wan said. His posture started to change, his weight shifting into a stance that would let him move in an instant.

“Useless is exactly the word I would use for this entire farce of a regime,” Vizsla sneered.

Ten meters. Anakin was using every ounce of willpower he possessed to not jump down there and cut Vizsla down himself.

I’m not going to let Obi-Wan die.

I’m powerful enough to save him. I know I am.

Surely the fallout wouldn’t be as bad as Bo-Katan was implying.

It was as though she could hear what he was thinking. “If you try to intervene, it won’t be me who shoots you: it’ll be everyone here. You’d be dead before you made it halfway there.”

His fury grew… into something familiar, welcoming…

Palpatine told me that my anger gave me focus… that it made me stronger. That one day I could be strong enough to stop death itself.

It’s the Dark Side.

But if it makes me powerful enough to stop this… to keep him from dying…

Then he felt it again, just like he did in the Jedi Temple: the entire universe suddenly opening its eye and staring at him.


This was just like the last time.

What am I doing?

It was like trying to stop a starfighter with his bare hands, but Anakin somehow managed to rein in his anger.

Which was when he got an idea.

Five meters. Anakin stood up and pulled his lightsaber out from where he had hidden it under his armor.

“I told you—” Bo-Katan warned, but Anakin shook his head.

“I’m not going down there,” he said, and felt a grin start to grow on his face.

Anakin could name a few events in his life that he would always cherish: winning the Boonta Eve Classic, marrying Padmé, passing the Trials…

But he was definitely going to remember this as one of the best moments of his entire life.

“Hey, Obi-Wan!” Anakin bellowed at the top of his lungs. “THIS WEAPON IS YOUR LIFE!!!”

With an assist from the Force, he threw his lightsaber as hard as he could.

Vizsla ran forward, saber already drawn back for an initial strike. Obi-Wan turned toward the sound of Anakin’s voice.

The Darksaber was already moving towards Obi-Wan’s head—

In a flash of blue, he ignited Anakin’s lightsaber and parried the blade.

The crowd roared, and the duel began in earnest.

“Mar’e,” Bo-Katan said, obviously relieved. She gave Anakin a pat on the shoulder as he sat back down. “Not bad for a shu’shuk.”

“What does that mean?” Anakin asked.

“A disaster.”

Anakin gave her a sulky look and then turned his attention back to the fight, where he got a look at Obi-Wan’s face and felt his heart almost stop in his chest.

It’s him.

General Kenobi.

The war hero. Commander of the 212th Battalion. The terror of Sith and Separatists alike.

Anakin’s best friend.

The same strange mixture of unwavering focus and mild amusement on his face. The same way he was always one step ahead of his opponent, making use of the split-second warnings that the Force provided. The same set of his shoulders, the same grip on his lightsaber, the same flash of ice in his eyes while his opponent tried to get around his defenses.

It took Anakin a minute to notice that his fighting style wasn’t exactly the same. His Obi-Wan was a master of Soresu, and this version relied far more on Ataru… not only that, but there were other elements to his style that Anakin didn’t recognize at all until he thought back to the sparring matches he had just watched.

“He's fighting like a Mandalorian,” Anakin said aloud.

“He damn well better be,” Bo-Katan replied with a smirk, “given the amount of time I spent training him.”

Quick footwork that rarely kept him in one place for more than a moment, using the acrobatic style of Ataru to compensate for the fact that he didn't have a jetpack and Vizsla did, moving in and out of range with almost surgical precision… and he was starting to get the upper hand.

Anakin actually let out a cheer himself when Obi-Wan ducked a wild slash from the Darksaber, landed in a crouch behind Vizsla, and drove his lightsaber upward into the main part of the jetpack.

“Clever,” Bo-Katan murmured. “A few centimeters in either direction and he would have blown Vizsla into a cloud of shrapnel.”

“He’d deserve it,” Anakin muttered.

“Where's the fun in that?”

“Where's the fun in any of this?” he retorted.

“I heard the excited squeal you made when he caught that lightsaber,” Bo-Katan said with a knowing smile. “Admit it: you're enjoying this.”

“As long as he wins,” he replied.

There was apparently some kind of quick release for the straps holding the pack: Vizsla tossed it aside and resumed the fight, but it was obvious that he was stuck on the defensive.

Anakin gave a sigh of relief. This was going to turn out just fine.

Suddenly, as Obi-Wan brought his saber around in a wide arc, Vizsla froze in place.

Obi-Wan managed to halt his swing before he cut Vizsla in half; nevertheless, the Death Watch leader received a gruesome slash on his left side.

He collapsed to his knees with a cry of pain. The blade of the Darksaber vanished. The crowd cheered… but only for a moment.

Vizsla, clutching his side with his free hand, looked up at Obi-Wan.

And grinned as he held out the hilt of the Darksaber.

The crowd went deathly quiet.

“What happened?” Anakin whispered to Bo-Katan, who was hissing a stream of what Anakin could only assume was the worst profanity that Mando'a had to offer. “He won, didn't he?”

“Oh, he won,” she said through clenched teeth. “It was an undisputed victory—even though that shabuir technically threw the fight, it still counts since Vizsla took a wound in the process.”

Obi-Wan clipped his borrowed saber to his belt, and then hesitantly reached out and took the Darksaber.

“So what’s the problem?” Anakin said, still confused. Whispers began to fill the arena.

“Obi-Wan just won the Darksaber. That’s a big problem,” she said. “Remember what I said about the Darksaber being one of the traditional symbols of the Mand’Alor?

“Yeah…” Anakin confirmed.

“Well, Vizsla’s spent the last thirteen years proclaiming himself to be the real leader of Mandalore, and his possession of the Darksaber was part of that claim.”

Anakin still felt out of his depth. “Which means…?” he prompted.

“Which means,” she said, “that Vizsla just made Satine’s rival her own husband.

“Once again, I don’t see what the issue is. Can’t he just give it to Satine?”

“Remember, we’re dealing with traditional Mandalorian stuff here,” Bo-Katan said as they watched Obi-Wan turn away from Vizsla and towards the platform where Satine and the others were waiting. A pair of guards entered the arena and dragged a still-grinning Vizsla out. “The Darksaber can only be won in combat.”

“Oh.” He began to understand. “And it’s not like Satine’s going to duel him for it.”

“Right. If Vizsla couldn’t win the normal way, he’d settle for destabilizing her entire government instead.”

“Obi-Wan wouldn’t try and overthrow her,” Anakin said, suddenly realizing how ridiculous this whole problem was. “It’s just some old-fashioned symbol. It can’t possibly mean that much to people.”

Bo-Katan didn’t reply. Her expression was grim.

Obi-Wan approached the platform. By the time he was within range, Satine had come down to meet him.

Bo-Katan groaned. “He’s going to give it to her, then. The traditionalists are going to riot.”

A riot was a definite possibility; Anakin could feel the mood of the crowd start to shift.

Satine and Obi-Wan stood face to face, eyes locked for what seemed like an eternity.

Then she slapped him across the face.

It wasn’t gentle: Obi-Wan’s head snapped to one side. After a moment, during which all of Sundari seemed to be holding its collective breath, he slowly returned his gaze to hers.

She slapped him with her other hand. The crack was loud enough to echo off the stands.

Obi-Wan barely seemed to react. His facial expression remained blank as he slowly turned to face her again, at which point Satine backhanded him with enough force to drop him to one knee.

Anakin was halfway out of his seat before Bo-Katan grabbed his arm. “Wait,” she said. “Look closer.”

He fought back the red mist that threatened to overwhelm him with rage and tried to do as she said.

Still kneeling, Obi-Wan looked up at his wife and, without a word, held out the Darksaber.

“That brilliant bitch,” Bo-Katan whispered as Satine took the saber. “They already had a plan in place for if this happened.”

That was when Anakin noticed the expression on both of their faces: adoration.

With the slightest hint of a smile at a shared joke. Satine held out a hand and helped Obi-Wan to his feet.

Anakin still felt a little uncomfortable. That had been hard to watch.

“Come on,” Bo-Katan said, standing as the crowd began to chant again. “I need to check on Ka-Riita and you need to get your lightsaber back.”

This time, the chant was “Oya Manda!” which Anakin was fairly certain wasn’t an embarrassing nickname.

“So let me get this straight,” Bo-Katan said, practically shouting, once the five of them were all back inside the Palace. “You had a plan for if you somehow got the Darksaber, but you didn’t think to bring your damn lightsaber?”

Obi-Wan felt a little sheepish. “We thought he might show up for our tenth anniversary,” he admitted, “and when he didn’t, we assumed that he had no plans to ever come back.”

“What kind of jaro move is that?” she demanded. “He would have cut you in half if your shu’shuk friend hadn’t been there.”

“Weren’t you the one lecturing me about how bringing it would be unfair?” Obi-Wan pointed out. “I don’t see how I was the one being reckless.” His muscles were still shaking a little with excess tension…

But if he was being honest with himself, he also felt fantastic.

He had won. Pre Vizsla was imprisoned and the Death Watch would never send another person. They would never have to go through this ridiculous ordeal again.

For the first time, however, Obi-Wan wanted to do it again. He wanted to push himself to the limit, to ride that blade’s edge between life and death, to feel more alive than he had felt since… well, since he was a Padawan.

It’s just adrenaline. You’re just relieved to have survived. It will wear off.

Satine gave him a worried frown as they walked towards the residences. “How is your face feeling?” she asked, sounding guilty.

He smiled. “It still stings a little, but I’ll be fine.” He gave her a kiss on the cheek.

“Now that you have two sabers,” Ka-Riita pointed out, doing her best to sound nonchalant, “does that mean you can teach me how to use one?”

Obi-Wan heard the muffled sound of Anakin snickering inside his borrowed helmet.

“Eventually,” he told his daughter. “But, right now, I think I’m going to sleep for a solid week.”

Satine gave him a sly look. “Eventually,” he repeated, but this time it was with an entirely different meaning: neither of them would be going to sleep for quite awhile tonight.

Chapter Text

He was relieved. Of course he was relieved. Although, in retrospect, Anakin really should have known better: Jedi or no Jedi, it was still the same Obi-Wan, who never met a problem that he couldn’t charm or fight his way out of. It was still Obi-Wan, and the Force always ensured that when things were at their most dire, Anakin would be there. It might have been putting things too simply but, in his opinion, it was destiny.

Even though Anakin had very nearly ruined everything yet again.

The whole reason he had even wanted to go back in time was to stop himself from falling to the Dark Side, but how was he supposed to do that when he could barely manage to keep his current self under control when faced with even the slightest hint of fear?

It was the terror that had haunted him for years: the fear that, no matter what he did, death would come for him and everyone he loved.

Padmé. Obi-Wan. I can’t lose them.

But if I lose myself in the process, the outcome is exactly the same.

His dreams the previous night had been the same as before, when he was knocked unconscious in the Jedi Temple: cutting down anyone who got in his way, attacking Padmé, and fighting Obi-Wan as the world burned around them.

The Force was warning him of the future that would come to pass if he stayed on that path. The future that he had to prevent. Somehow.

What he really wanted to do at the moment was talk to Obi-Wan about all this, but he was off with Satine now—the two of them practically ran away the first chance they got—leaving Anakin alone with his thoughts and a really irritating helmet.

Bo-Katan had gone somewhere with Ka-Riita, meaning that there wasn’t anyone around that Anakin could even talk to at all. Sleep just meant more dreams of all of the ways that he could screw everything up. There was nothing mechanical he could tinker with, no one he could spar with, no Padmé to curl up with…

So Anakin defaulted to what he did when he was bored and lonely as a Padawan: he wandered around until something happened.

There were still lights on in most of the hallways that he walked through, since it wasn’t as late as it had been when he first arrived the night before. He passed works of art on the walls, furniture that looked far too fancy to actually use, and bits and pieces of what his mind only classified as “architecture?”

Padmé would know what all this stuff was. She’d probably have a lot of opinions about it too.

The place in his heart where she lived began to ache.

Maybe I can find her in this timeline. She could help me fix things.

As horrible as the Broken Fleet sounded, he kind of liked the idea of her commanding armies and taking on the Trade Federation.

The war with the Separatists would have been so much more exciting. She probably would have been amazing at it.

He felt a flash of not-exactly-danger through the Force right before he turned a corner.

It was faint, but moving in his direction: a pair of voices in casual conversation. Anakin groaned silently: guards. He really didn’t feel like trying to come up with an explanation for his presence right now, even with his face hidden under a helmet.

He looked around for somewhere to hide and found an empty room nearby with a few chairs and a table. Some kind of dining room, perhaps, which was a good sign: it was too late in the day for anyone to have a need for it. It would be annoying to be stuck in one room without any other exits, but as soon as the coast was clear he would leave.

Besides, now he could take off his helmet for a few minutes.

As Anakin was reflecting how nice it was to have air on his face again, the door opened and a young woman walked in, carrying a datapad and stack of flimsi.

They both froze in surprise for a moment, until the girl collected herself enough to say, “Oh, hello there.”

“Uh… hi,” was all that Anakin could think to say. “Ka-Riita, right?”

Obi-Wan’s daughter nodded. She looked a lot like Satine, except around the eyes, which were eerily similar to her father’s. “Would it be all right if I sat down?” she asked, sounding relatively calm.

She wasn’t pointing at him and screaming, so maybe his resemblance to the Warlord wasn't as strong as he thought. “Sure,” Anakin said with a shrug.

Ka-Riita closed the door behind her, set down the items she had brought with her, then took a seat in the nearest chair. She looked up at Anakin, who was still standing there awkwardly, and then appeared to suddenly remember something. “Excuse me,” she said, looking apologetic, “I should have done a proper introduction. My name is Ka-Riita Kryze of Mandalore. I use the pronouns ‘she’ and ‘her.’”

“Pronouns?” he asked, a little confused.

“Determining the gender of humans is tricky enough, let alone of members of other species,” she said. “Disclosure of pronouns helps avoid potential future awkwardness, especially when you don’t have a protocol droid around to assist.”

She kind of sounded like she was reciting something, Anakin thought to himself. “Where did you learn that?”

“My Interpersonal Skills and Rhetoric class at the Academy. I like to practice, even if it’s just a casual conversation.” She gave him a slight frown. “Aren’t you going to introduce yourself?” There was a very familiar note of scolding in her voice, one that Anakin had heard all too often since the day he became Obi-Wan’s apprentice.

And, much like when he heard it from Obi-Wan, Anakin felt the same mixture of annoyance and chastisement. “I’m Owen Lars,” he said, sitting down at the table, “and, uh, ‘he’ pronouns.”

Ka-Riita’s frown actually deepened, and Anakin could see her visibly struggling to decide if it was worth being appropriately formal in her response. “What?” he finally demanded impatiently.

She appeared to arrive at a decision. “Why did you lie about your name?”

“I didn’t lie,” Anakin said defensively.

“Yeah, you did.” She gave him another weirdly-familiar sigh of annoyance. “You know, people aren’t going to trust you if you lie like that, and you’re already in a lot of trouble to begin with.”

“So you know who I am, then?”

The withering glare Ka-Riita gave him was one-hundred-percent Satine. “Everyone knows who you are.” Anakin could hear the unspoken “duh” at the end of that statement. “Even though your scars are different,” she added.

He reflexively touched the one that ran from his forehead to his cheek. “But you don’t seem afraid,” he pointed out.

“Of course not,” she replied. “Mother and Father obviously know who you are and they’re not bothered about it, so why should I? Besides, if you were dangerous I’d be able to tell.”

She started paging through the sheets of flimsi she had brought with her until she found a blank page. “But you’re not dangerous, you’re just… complicated. Do you mind if I draw something?”

“Uh… sure.” That was a bit of an abrupt subject change, in Anakin’s opinion, but she was also still a little kid, even with all the rhetoric classes. “What do you mean, I’m complicated?” He didn’t disagree, obviously, but it was still a weird thing to call someone.

From where he was sitting, he could see her using a stylus to draw a series of straight lines between almost a dozen different points on the page.

Glancing up at him briefly, Ka-Riita appeared to analyze him for a moment, and then turned her attention back to her pattern of dots and lines. “You’re connected to a lot of things,” she said with a shrug. “More connected than most people.”

“Connected?” The lines were starting to center in on one point in particular.

Ka-Riita frowned at her work so far and began to erase some of the lines. “It’s like you’re a circuit, but you’ve got too many wires coming out of you.” She glanced at him again. “Like, way too many wires.”

Anakin usually liked analogies about mechanics, but in this case it was just confusing. “What are they connected to, then?”

She continued drawing lines, looked up at Anakin, then erased those new lines again. “Some stuff that’s here, but also some stuff that’s… not. I don’t know where it is. Where are you even from?”

Since she already knew who he was, Anakin figured that it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to explain what else was going on. “I’m from another version of the future,” he said. “Like a parallel universe: almost the same as this one, only in that future I’m a Jedi.” He decided to hold off on telling her that her father was one too… that might be a little awkward to explain.

Ka-Riita stared at him for a few seconds, then nodded and stood up. “If you will excuse me,” she said in the same overly-formal tone she had used earlier, “I need to go get something.”

While she was gone, Anakin realized that she was probably about the same age that Padmé was when they first met. Maybe this was Ka-Riita’s version of what Anakin had later nicknamed Padmé’s “Your Worshipfulness” voice, the one she had used when out in public as Queen of Naboo.

If our kid ends up being a girl, she’s probably going to be a lot like her mother… I wonder if this version of Obi-Wan could give me some advice. Actually, no matter what, our child is going to be learning about politics and diplomacy before they can even walk.

Once I fix things and get back to where I’m supposed to be, at least.

Ka-Riita returned with another stack of flimsi, but this time the sheets were transparent instead of opaque. She resumed drawing, switching back and forth between two different sheets.

“What are you doing?” he finally asked.

“You wanted to know why you were complicated,” she said. “I’m trying to tell you… and now I think I’m doing it right.” She looked back up at him and nodded. “Yes, this makes a lot more sense.”

“What does this have to do with wires?” Although, now that he looked at it, it wasn’t too different from the schematic of a circuit board.

She rolled her eyes. “It’s just a metaphor.”

Anakin smiled. “It’s an analogy.”

Ka-Riita glared at him. “Do you want to know the answer or not?”

He laughed. “Sorry, sorry. Explain.”

She held up one of the transparent sheets of flimsi. “So this,” she said, pointing at the dot in the center, “is you. And these,” she indicated a pair of dots elsewhere on the page, “are Father and Mother.”

Anakin noticed a lot of lines between his dot and Obi-Wan’s dot. “Who are the other dots supposed to be?”

Ka-Ritta shrugged. “I haven’t met them.”

This was starting to sound familiar, Anakin realized.

She held up the other piece of transparent flimsi and aligned them so that the center dot of the first page was in the center of the second page. “But, because you’re from a different universe, you’re also the center of a lot of other connections over there.”

The second page was almost full of lines between dozens of points, with Anakin’s dot trapped in the center of a web.

“So it’s bad for both places,” she continued, “because it’s like you’re at the center of everything.” She gave him a serious look. “You could break a lot of stuff if you do something wrong.”

Anakin sighed, thinking of the mess he had left behind in his timeline. “You have no idea.”

Something she said jumped out at him: break.

Combined with all those connections…

“You’re sensing shatterpoints,” he said as the realization hit him. “Points of significance in the Force.”

“Well… yeah,” she said, as if it were obvious.

“You know what they are?” he asked.

The look of ‘obviously’ intensified. “Father explained them to me.” She grinned. “I’m really good at it. I make charts like these all the time… it’s easier to explain to people if there's something I can show them.”

“Then why didn’t you join the Order?” Anakin asked.

“I didn’t want to,” she said with a shrug. “Besides, someone’s going to have to take over for Mother one day and I’m the next in line, so it made more sense for me to stay here. And anyway,” she added, “it’s not like I can’t use the Force even if I’m not in the Order. They can’t come and take it away from me, and they can’t keep Father from teaching me either.” She gave him another grin, one that Anakin recognized as the smile that got her father the nickname ‘The Negotiator’ during the war. “And Force powers come in very handy for diplomacy sometimes.”

Anakin got a little nervous. “You’re not mind-tricking people, are you?”

Ka-Riita snorted with laughter. “No, that would be bad. But I can see what people want, who they would listen to, even their weaknesses. Father always says that fights usually aren’t fair and that it’s better to know what you’re good at and make sure that you’re in a place where you have the high ground.”

Obi-Wan used to tell him that about lightsaber combat, Anakin reflected. “It’s good advice.”

“Although Auntie Bo always says that the high ground doesn’t matter if you’ve got a jetpack.” She giggled, and Anakin found himself laughing along with her.

“You know,” he said, “I’ve never used a jetpack before.”

“I’ve never used a lightsaber before,” she replied. She pointed at the saber clipped to his belt. “Teach me how to use one and I’ll tell you where you can find a jetpack to borrow.”

“You are a good negotiator,” he said, only slightly teasing her, “but we’ll have to start small. Do you have any sticks or something we could use?”

Ka-Riita started gathering up the sheets of flimsi and her datapad. “There are some staffs in the training facility. We can go there once you put your helmet back on.”

Anakin sighed and shoved the helmet back onto his head.

As they made their way down the hall, she added, “I’m not going to show you where the jetpacks are until I get to try out a real lightsaber, though.”

Anakin laughed again. “Sure thing, Sni—”

He stopped before he said the entire thing. Snips. The nickname he had for his former apprentice.

But she wasn’t Ahsoka.

Things are different here.

Why do I keep forgetting that?

On any other night, they were gentle with one another. Careful and deliberate. Tender and quiet.

But on this night, every year, it was different. They were frantic, starving, trembling with the utter relief of having faced a terrible danger and survived.

And this year, they had not only survived: they had won.

Had it been any other night, Satine would have rejoiced in the fact that there was finally peace, that without its leader the Death Watch would finally surrender, that the violence among her people would end at last.

But it wasn’t any other night. Tonight, she rejoiced at something else: We are victorious.

She remembered the old songs and stories from when she was a girl: tales of victory and triumph over Mandalore’s enemies. Battles won and foes vanquished. The songs that hummed in her blood and resonated in the armor she used to wear, armor passed down from her mother and altered by Satine’s own hands to fit perfectly.

We are triumphant.

They had made it only just inside their bedroom—far enough to close the door behind them, but no further. She felt like there was a fire burning under her skin. It was completely possible that they wouldn’t even make it to the bed. On the carpeted floor, up against the wall… there were options.

Locked in each other’s arms, kissing so intensely that she barely had time to breathe—not that either of them were breathing in anything other than desperate gasps. No time to think, no time to wait, just the pounding in her chest of now now now

“You’re still holding it,” Obi-Wan said, once he could get enough air to speak.

Satine paused, confused until she realized that he was referring to the Darksaber.

It was still in her hand. She hadn’t noticed it: the hilt was perfectly balanced and a comforting weight—and her thoughts had been so full of other things that she forgot she even had it.

She laughed, embarrassed. “I don’t even know where to put this,” she admitted.

“I’m not sure it matters right now,” he murmured as he drew her in again. Semi-blindly, as he was cupping her chin in his hands and savoring the taste of her lips, Satine set the saber down on a nearby side table.

They managed to get all the way to the bed before she noticed something that he had forgotten: “You’re still wearing your armor.”

“I might not have the concentration necessary to take it off at the moment,” he said, burying his face in the soft skin between her neck and shoulder.

“If you leave it on, you’ll have to leave your shirt on too,” she reminded him, “and I have a definite opinion on that matter.”

He was exaggerating either the difficulty of removing the armor or his current level of distraction, Satine thought as she helped him undo the straps. It really wasn’t that hard, though perhaps that was because she had grown up with such things.

“Our bed is a battleground and we are warriors…”

If it had been any other night…

“Not a duel but a dual: my side by your side…”

It was a love poem, one she learned as a young woman, back when she wore armor and followed the Resol’nare and sat at clan gatherings hearing the music and listening to her aunts and uncles drink and boast.

Any other night, she wouldn’t have remembered it. Any other night, she would have found the idea of bringing weapons and armor into their bedroom, even on accident, to be highly distasteful. Any other night, she would have done anything to not have to think about violence.

But tonight, she couldn’t get it out of her head: the poem or the thoughts.

“Our hands clasped as fellow soldiers, who face alone, yet together, the armies of time…”

She couldn’t stop thinking about the roar of the crowd, or how Obi-Wan looked standing over a defeated Pre Vizsla, or even how her palms were still tingling from before—when they finally carried out the plan they had made years ago, just in case…

“On this ground is a war of you and I…”

She couldn’t stop thinking about the weight of the Darksaber in her hand, or how it felt to remove her husband’s armor just now.

Armor he had worn for her sake, putting his life on the line for her yet again. Standing between her and danger hundreds and hundreds of times.

(Bo-Katan's words from yesterday: “You make everyone else do the fighting for you!”)

All of the sacrifices he had made over the years, all for her: a debt she would never be able to repay.

“Our hearts full of lust and blood a lust for blood that only our bodies can satisfy…”

She and Obi-Wan somehow managed to pull off their plan to keep Vizsla from destabilizing everything she had worked so hard to build. She was now the rightful owner of the Darksaber.

The Darksaber: a weapon of legend, the possession of countless Mand’Alors over the centuries, a rallying point for all Mandalorians in the face of uncertainty and danger… and there was so much uncertainty and danger these days…

“Our mouths are full of battle cries, long and loud…”

And now, she was the Mand’Alor. Not just the Duchess. Not just the head of state. Not just the leader of the New Mandalorians.

Bo-Katan told her that most people outside of Sundari called her that anyway, but now it was indisputable: she was the absolute and unchallenged ruler of her people. Something that went deeper than politics or Ruling Councils or written laws. Something that lived right at the core of Mandalorian identity. One of the Six Actions of the Resol’nare: all Mandalorians rally to their leader’s call, no matter the cause.

The traditions she had left behind in order to show her people a better way.

“As one, we fall in life and rise in death…”

“You were magnificent,” she told Obi-Wan, now that the pesky issue of clothing was out of the way. “Incredible.”

“I feel incredible,” he said, starting to shudder as her hands moved further down. “It was almost… it felt so much like back then…”

“Back when we were on the run,” she breathed. Back when they were dodging bounty hunters and pulling each other out of danger… and then finding stolen moments afterwards to celebrate the fact that they were alive, high on adrenaline and desire, making the most of their time alone before Qui-Gon inevitably returned. “And now it’s finally over.”

“I may actually end up missing it,” he admitted.

Her breath caught in her chest. The songs and the poems and the memories and the thoughts… and one of those thoughts was one that she was trying to ignore: she was going to miss this as well.

What happened to the woman who deplored violence and war? Satine couldn’t find her. Tonight, she had somehow gone missing.

“There is no armor that can withstand these blows…”

Obi-Wan noticed her sudden hesitation. “Are you all right?” he asked, taking her hand in his.

“I’m fine,” she reassured him, even though she hadn’t quite managed to reassure herself. “Just a little overwhelmed.”

He brought her hand to his lips and kissed it, then moved it slightly, so that her palm was resting on his cheek.

The exact same place where she had—

“It’s all right,” he whispered. “We did it, just like we planned.”

She hadn’t enjoyed that part of the plan, but they had agreed it would be necessary in order to make the transfer appear legitimate. She hadn’t been sure how she would summon up the resolve to actually go through with it, but when the time came she found it surprisingly easy.

All she had to do was think about how blindingly furious she was with Vizsla: his constant attacks on her, how close he had come to killing Obi-Wan this time (What if Anakin hadn’t been there? had haunted her thoughts ever since), and that nasty grin on his face as he held out the Darksaber, so certain that he had finally won.

She thought about how much she hated him, how much she wanted to run him through with his own damn weapon, and it was as though her arm moved on its own.

“Our stories are told as pairs: of lips, of fists, of breath…”

If it had been any other night, she wouldn’t have dared admit it to herself, but the truth was that if it had been Vizsla standing in front of her with the Darksaber instead of Obi-Wan, she might not have been able to stop hitting him. She might very well have beaten him—the closest thing she had to a nemesis, really—to death while all of Mandalore watched.

Most of them would have cheered her on while she did it, in fact.

Tomorrow, she was going to wake up and feel like a complete hypocrite. But tonight… tonight was different.

“Of green in a desert where nothing grows…”

She moved her hand back until her fingers were in his hair and drew him closer, drinking him in. His hands gripped her waist as she straddled his hips.

Her thoughts were still spinning with the memory of how the Darksaber felt in her hand, the weight of the armor, the sound of thousands of voices chanting ‘Oya Manda’ over and over again, all of those traditions, all of those things that she refused to think about in the light of day—

And over all of it, that damned poem. The final stanza in the original Mando’a was a chant:

“Cyar'ika.” Beloved. “Ner aliit, ner riduur, ner parjai, ner morut, ner cabur.”  My clan. My partner. My victory. My stronghold. My protector.

(Thousands of voices chanting “Kaysh cabur! Kaysh kad’dha!”)

“Ner kar’ta.” My heart.

“Ner runi.” My soul.

“Ner kar'am.”  My breath.

And the final line, one that she remembered complaining about to her aunt: “It doesn’t follow the same rhythm as the other lines… it only has two syllables each, not three.”

Her aunt had laughed at her. “Ad’ika, darling, that’s the whole point.” And then she explained to Satine that it was meant to imitate the acceleration of intercourse, and then laughed again when Satine blushed. “You’ll understand one day.”

And the day did eventually come when she understood, but tonight it was as if the words were beating in time with her heartbeat, in time with the rhythm of their movement as she rocked against him.

Speaking them out loud, her eyes closed, speaking them faster and faster while he moaned her name.

“Cyar’ika, ner aliit, ner riduur, ner parjai, ner morut, ner cabur…”

Over and over and over, accelerating…

“…ner kar’ta, ner runi, ner kar'am…”

The final lines, the faster tempo: “…ner kot, ner verd—”

Her eyes flew open.

She hadn’t meant to say that.

If it hadn’t been for the events of today, if it hadn’t been for the cheers and the duel and the Darksaber and the look in her husband’s eyes as he knelt before her—if it had been any other day, she never would have said that.

They slowed, and she looked at him, feeling a blush growing on her cheeks.

He wasn’t fluent in Mando’a, but he knew enough to know that word.

“I…” She didn’t know what his response would be. She felt so embarrassed, she felt like such a hypocrite—the word had just stumbled out of her mouth without thinking about it…

He gave her a sly smile, then leaned in until her forehead rested against his. “Your secret is safe with me,” he whispered, and kissed her.


She repeated it in Basic, stroking the side of his face with her hand: “My warrior.”

“Always,” he said, holding her close. “Always, my love.”

Chapter Text

Obi-Wan meditated first thing in the morning; he found that it was a good way to center his thoughts, to strengthen his connection to the Force, and to find that place of calm before the usual chaos of the day tried to grind all of those things down.

Most days, by the time he was finished, Satine would already be up and often halfway to the administrative area of the Palace if he wasn’t able to intercept her first and remind her to eat. This morning, however, she was still in their bedroom, sitting on the edge of the bed. “I still don’t know what to do with this,” she said quietly, looking down at the Darksaber in her hands.

Obi-Wan sat down beside her. “I’m sure we could arrange to have it on display somewhere.” He smiled. “It’s a bit impractical for everyday use.”

She laughed briefly, then her expression returned to what Obi-Wan now realized was troubled. She hesitated for a moment, then asked, “Do you think I’m a hypocrite?”

“Why would I think that?” he asked.

“I say that I'm a pacifist… even before I became the Duchess, it was something I knew I would give up my life for. I have never wanted anything but peace, but it seems like everything is changing… and I am changing along with it.”

“Is this about the Broken Fleet?”

She shook her head. “Not all of it. Yesterday… last night, when I said…”

Obi-Wan couldn't help laughing, even though he did it gently. “Dearest, it was the heat of the moment… pet names, that's all.” He put an arm around her. “I thought it was rather sweet, actually. Well,” he amended as he gave her a wink, “maybe more exciting than sweet.”

Satine laughed in spite of herself. “Well, that's encouraging.” Her smile soon faded, though, and she looked troubled again. “I used to be so certain of what I believed, but now I am no longer sure. I feel… adrift.” She stared down at the saber on her lap.

He placed a hand over one of her hands and gave it a gentle squeeze. “You don't have to be certain. Beliefs change. People change. Doubts are a part of the process.” His other arm was still wrapped around her shoulders. “You know that I understand.”

She leaned into his embrace and was silent for a few minutes, lost in thought. At last, at a volume so low that he almost couldn't hear it, Satine said, “We have to mobilize our forces. We no longer have a choice.”

“I know,” he said softly. “Is that why you're worried about being a hypocrite?”

“I lost myself yesterday.” She sounded like she was confessing to some sort of crime, Obi-Wan noticed. “During that… during the duel… I wanted to kill him so badly.”

“An understandable reaction, really, given everything he’s done to you—”

“To both of us,” she said. “And even now, I still don't feel as bad about that as I should.”

She seemed determined to beat herself up about this, Obi-Wan thought with a sigh. It wouldn't be the first time: his wife had a tendency to demand perfection from everyone, but demanded it from herself most of all. She could be compassionate, and often was, but rarely did she extend that compassion to herself.

And it was a signal of how frustrated she was over her perceived shortcomings when she started using the word ‘should.’ “Pacifism, non-violence… those are all actions, Satine. People have control over their actions, but no one can control all the thoughts in their head or all the emotions in their heart.” He thought about that distinction so often: it hadn't been his choice to fall in love with her, but it had been his choice to be with her.

He felt a twinge at the back of his mind: And there was every possibility that you could have made a different choice. Remember all the things that Anakin told you…

Obi-Wan fought back a shudder and held Satine a little tighter. He had told her that Anakin was from a timeline where Qui-Gon had brought him to the Order, but Obi-Wan hadn't yet mentioned what had become of himself in that timeline.

“I saw the way you two acted around each other,” Anakin said when they first met, which Obi-Wan assumed meant that he had seen her again, years later, long after he returned to the Order. And it was clear that he still had feelings for her—that both of them did—that perhaps she never married anyone at all… that both of them spent all those years so lonely…

Obi-Wan had a sudden urge to throttle his alternate self.

“This is going to lead to war,” Satine whispered. “The last thing I want to happen.”

“That's not true,” he said. “The last thing you want is for your people to suffer.”

“Even if it means compromising my own beliefs,” she said sadly. She looked very far away for a moment. “Bo-Katan called them a luxury.”

“Your position has never been easy,” Obi-Wan pointed out. “There have always been sacrifices… and this time, given the situation, it might mean sacrificing your peace of mind in order to protect everyone else.”

She smiled wryly. “You're sounding a lot like a Jedi, you know.”

Years ago, an observation like that might have stung, but by now it was just affectionate ribbing. “Neither of us can fully escape our upbringing, I suppose.” He gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Our warrior pasts,” he whispered teasingly.

She blushed. “I still can't believe that I—”

“As I said before,” he reminded her, his face still close from when he had kissed her, “I did find it rather exciting.” His mouth was now just barely brushing against her skin. “I wouldn't mind hearing what other things you've been hiding from me…”

He felt her shiver and, without knowing exactly why, he remembered the time she showed him the set of Mandalorian armor she had worn when she was younger. Unbidden, his imagination began to conjure thoughts of what it would be like to take it off of her, slowly, piece by piece, in the afterglow of some triumphant battle…

Maybe it isn't just the leftover adrenaline.

Satine might not be the only one who is starting to lose herself. Perhaps I should be worried too.

(…now who's using unnecessary ‘should's?)

He gave her another kiss on the cheek and then stood up. “I need to go discover what happened to Anakin… hopefully there won't be a trail of chaos for me to follow.”

Satine raised an eyebrow. “It almost sounds like you're talking about Pasha.”

“I'm beginning to wonder if the Force just enjoys throwing me together with charming disasters. Incidentally,” he said, “I took quite a few pictures of her when I was visiting. Would you like to see them now, or later?”

“Now, if it's not too much trouble,” she said, finally setting down the Darksaber. “You mentioned that she's gotten taller?”

“And beginning to catch up with her sister in terms of sheer obstinacy,” he replied with a smile. “If Master Yoda didn't already have gray hair, I would think Pasha will end up giving him quite a few in the next few years.”

“She's nearly old enough to become an apprentice, isn't she?” He couldn't tell if Satine was apprehensive or merely curious.

“Nearly,” he confirmed. “But since she entered the Order late, it will probably be another year or two.” He had been privately wondering who she might be apprenticed to… but tried not to speculate too much. The Force would provide an answer soon enough.

And if she didn't continue on as a Padawan, that would be all right too: she could always join the Jedi Service Corps, or even return home to Mandalore. Whatever happened, he knew it would be entirely her decision—Pasha rarely listened to anyone’s opinion but her own.

“I'll be right back,” he told Satine. He gestured toward the Darksaber. “Should I take that with me?”

“No,” she said, a little more forcefully than he expected. Even she blinked in surprise for a moment, then continued in a calmer voice, “I'll figure something out myself.”

Perhaps I should be worried about both of us.

“It's a beautiful weapon,” he said, unsure of why he sounded so hesitant.

“Yes.” She ran her fingers along the hilt, but did not pick it back up. “It is.”

Ka-Riita was certainly acting alert, but the faint circles under her eyes, combined with the slight droop in her posture as she ate breakfast, was a clear signal that she had not slept very much the night before.

Obi-Wan worried that it had been due to the stress of the previous day—the older she got, the more anxious Ka-Riita became over it, due to understanding the stakes a little more each year. It was a lot for someone who was only twelve to cope with, and she had woken up with nightmares more than a few times over the years; usually in the days leading up to the fight, but sometimes in the days that followed.

“Did you sleep well last night?” he asked, trying to sound less concerned than he was. He needed to find out what happened to Anakin, but he wanted to check on his daughter first. The lack of alarms and guards was probably a good sign that he had found somewhere out of the way to spend his time, or that he may have moved on altogether. Obi-Wan wasn’t sure how he felt about that latter possibility.

“Oh yes,” Ka-Riita said, straightening up a little. “I was just up late. I talked to…” She paused, trying to convey her meaning through her facial expression.

“Our guest,” Obi-Wan said, not feeling any more reassured than he was a moment ago.

“Yes,” she confirmed. “He was teaching me the basics of Form III.” She smiled proudly. “I even got to use his lightsaber a few times.”

Obi-Wan sighed. “Well, at least you still have all your fingers.” He gave her a stern look. “But that was a very reckless thing to do.”

“You said ‘eventually’ when I asked you about it yesterday,” she pointed out. “That wasn’t a ‘no.’”

His expression didn’t change. “The use of deadly weapons does not fall under the heading of ‘Things Ka’Riita Can Be Technically Correct About.’”

She emitted an exasperated sigh. “Well, there was nothing to worry about anyway: he said he taught it to lots of people before. I think he’s asleep in the training facility at the moment, if you’re looking for him. By the way,” she added, seemingly unable to resist, “did you know he’s got a prosthetic hand?”

Obi-Wan had admittedly suspected as much, but his conversations with Anakin were typically so distracting that he hadn’t gotten a chance to look very closely. “I’m not sure that mentioning missing limbs is helping your case.”

“Pasha’s learning this stuff. Why can’t I?”

“You and your sister are on very different paths,” Obi-Wan said. “Wielding a lightsaber isn’t going come up very often when you’re ruling Mandalore one day.”

Ka-Riita crossed her arms and gave him a glare that was a little too much like her mother’s. “It certainly came in handy for you yesterday,” she retorted. “If I’m learning about Mandalorian combat from Auntie Bo, why can’t I learn what you know too?”

“You had the choice on whether or not to join the Order,” he reminded her, realizing a fraction of a second too late that his tone contained a rather nasty echo of Qui-Gon’s admonishment only a few days before.

“When I was four years old,” she snapped. “All I knew was that I didn’t want to leave home. It’s not much of a choice when you’re that little.”

It was more of a choice than I ever got, Obi-Wan very nearly snapped back. Instead, he asked with a somewhat strained air of calm, “Do you regret it?”

To her credit, Ka-Riita took a moment to consider the question. “No,” she said at last, “but… even though you teach me a lot about the Force, Pasha’s always going to know more .”

“You know that it isn’t a competition,” he said gently.

“I know,” she agreed, then gave a brief laugh. “At least I’ll be able to date people. Speaking of which, I need to get ready for school.”

It actually took until five seconds after his daughter had left the room for Obi-Wan to catch the segue.

Anakin Skywalker woke up in an unfamiliar location.

It was far from a new experience.

Once he sat up, he realized that he was still in the training facility where he had been teaching Ka-Riita the basics of Soresu. He didn’t remember falling asleep, but that wasn’t a new experience either.

As he realized what a miracle it was that someone hadn’t walked in on him while he was sleeping, the door opened and Obi-Wan came in.

“I suppose I should scold you for putting Ka-Riita into a position where she could cut her own nose off, but I suspect that she either harangued or blackmailed you into it,” he said wearily.

“More like attempted bribery,” Anakin admitted, only now remembering that she hadn’t actually followed through on her end of the deal, which was to tell him where he could find a jetpack. Not that he needed one, he just wanted to look at it.

Although you never know when a jetpack might come in handy…

Focus, damn it. You have more important things to worry about.

“I didn’t mean to spend the night in here,” he said. “I’m kind of amazed that no one opened the door.”

Obi-Wan held up a piece of flimsi. “Ka-Riita left a note.”

She had written in very precise letters: “Mr. Lars is a guest. Please do not disturb him. —K. Kryze”

Anakin grinned. “I have no idea what to make of your kid, but I think I like her. She picked up the kata I taught her pretty quickly, too.”

He expected Obi-Wan to sigh and say something about how Anakin was being impulsive again and how he should be patient and think for five seconds before deciding to give someone lightsaber lessons in the middle of the night… but instead, Obi-Wan smiled in what Anakin realized was pride.

Anakin's next words slipped out without any input from his brain: “Padmé's pregnant. The one from my timeline, I mean.” He realized that he hadn't told anyone… not even Palpatine, now that he thought about it—all the Chancellor knew was that Padmé's life was in danger, although Anakin was now beginning to suspect that Palpatine might have known anyway. But Anakin had never come right out and just said it.

Which meant that the next words out of his mouth nearly took the air out of his lungs along with them: “I'm going to be a father.”

“Congratulations,” Obi-Wan said amiably, then paused for a moment. “Ah,” he said. “I'm beginning to understand why you've been so eager to muck around with the fabric of time and space.”

Anakin frowned. “I wasn't trying to prevent that,” he said.

Obi-Wan shook his head. “My suspicions were more along the lines of wanting to ensure that your child didn't grow up in the kind of circumstances you described in your timeline. Civil wars and Sith Lords and such.”

“Yeah…” Anakin still felt a little like he was being slowly crushed under some kind of invisible weight.

It took him a minute to identify its source: memories of the events right before he was sent back in time, and how he had nearly let his anger get the better of him yesterday. Anakin had finally gained Obi-Wan's trust… telling him what happened might destroy that trust for good.

On the other hand, if Anakin was still in danger of slipping back towards the Dark Side, Obi-Wan deserved to know the risk he was taking by helping him.

He could almost sense his Obi-Wan's approval of Anakin actually considering other people's perspectives for once, and thought of three different snarky retorts in reply.

“I need to tell you something… kind of a big ‘something,’” he said.

I guess I'm doing this.

Obi-Wan looked concerned, but held up a hand to keep Anakin from speaking further. “Perhaps we should relocate to a place where we're less likely to be interrupted.”

Anakin once again put on the irritating helmet and followed Obi-Wan through the Palace as though he was heading to his own execution.

I might end up facing a literal execution back in my timeline if I don't fix things.

I can't remember how many Temple Guards I killed… but it was more than a few. I helped kill Mace Windu and was going to help Palpatine kill the other Jedi and take over the Republic.

Jedi Knights have been sentenced to death for less.

That was when it finally occurred to Anakin that, ever since he jumped down that turbolift shaft, he had assumed that Palpatine would eventually be stopped. That, without Anakin's assistance in destroying them, it would only be a matter of time before the Jedi regrouped and somebody—probably Obi-Wan—would save the day. The Senate would finally regain their collective spines and put someone else—Padmé, he hoped—in power, and then the war would end and everything would be okay, even if it meant that Anakin would be punished.

Except, now that he considered it, even without Anakin helping him, Palpatine still had the entire Grand Army of the Republic at his command, not to mention Dark Side powers, and the Senate might just let him take over, and Padmé might still die in childbirth, and the 212th might have shot Obi-Wan before he had a chance to react, and Anakin had killed so many people—

He had become so lost in his own anxious thoughts that, when Obi-Wan stopped to open a door, Anakin walked right into him.

“Sorry,” he said, and was greeted with a look that, although not annoyed, was an expression that Anakin had seen quite often on his Master’s face: exhaustion. “Are you okay?”

Obi-Wan didn’t answer, but ushered him into a small room that turned out to be, once he had closed the door, surprisingly soundproof. It was also, aside from a small bench on one wall, completely empty, although something about it seemed familiar…

Obi-Wan said, “I typically meditate in here. The staff know not to disturb me, so we should be able to talk without interruption.” That was when it clicked: it felt familiar because it reminded Anakin of the Jedi Temple: the lighting, the material of the floor, even the smell.

Sitting down cross-legged on the floor across from the man who for all intents and purposes was his Jedi Master, Anakin felt a little less apprehensive.

Maybe things would have been better in my timeline if I had just told him when everything started falling apart.

Obi-Wan still looked exhausted, and so Anakin couldn’t help repeating his question: “Are you okay?”

His Obi-Wan would have shrugged the question off, claimed to be fine, and then readjusted the expression on his face to something more like a typical serene Jedi Master.

This, then, was the difference between this Obi-Wan and the one that Anakin had known for years: this one answered honestly. “Not entirely. Everyone is still recovering from yesterday, physically and emotionally, so it’s been a rather trying morning so far.” He gave Anakin a wry half-smile. “Even if we hadn’t needed to converse in private, I might have come here anyway just to hide.”

Anakin made a sound that wasn’t quite a laugh… he was still too anxious to do much more than that. “Well, I’m sorry. This isn’t going to make things easier.”

“If I end up having all of my intense emotional discussions before lunch, that would be rather efficient,” Obi-Wan said with a tired smile, “so you might as well get it over with.”

Anakin took a deep breath and tried to center himself in the Force.

Here goes nothing.

“I told you that Palpatine was a Sith Lord,” he began. “I told you that he took over the Republic and launched an attack on the Jedi. That was true—all of it was true.”

He’s not going to look at you the same way after this.

It’s not too late to stop. He doesn’t have to know the truth.

“But what I didn’t tell you,” Anakin continued, feeling as though he was trying stay on his feet during a sandstorm, “is that I helped him do it.”

He braced himself for the explosion… but none came. Obi-Wan seemed to barely react. “Go on,” was all that he said.

Anakin didn’t want to say any of this out loud. Not just because he didn’t want Obi-Wan to know… but because he didn’t want to acknowledge any of these things about himself and what he had done.

“I killed Dooku and then, after only a few weeks—or maybe it was just days… everything blurred together so much at the time—I took his place as Palpatine’s apprentice. I sided with him against everyone: the Jedi, the Senate… even Padmé by the end of it. I don’t know when he started manipulating me… definitely by the time the war was in full swing, but it’s possible that he had been grooming me for this for years.” He couldn’t look at Obi-Wan. “I watched him murder three Jedi Masters and did nothing. I attacked Master Windu—wounded him badly enough that Palpatine was able to kill him too. I…” He felt his stomach twist in revulsion. “I knelt before him. I called him Master. I promised to obey him. He—” Anakin shut his eyes. “For the next few hours, I wasn’t Anakin Skywalker anymore: I was Darth Vader. I was a Sith apprentice. And then I…” He didn’t know if he was about to throw up or start crying or have a panic attack… possibly all three simultaneously. “Most of the Jedi were still with their troops, scattered around the galaxy. They didn’t know that Palpatine was able to force those troops to kill them. And back at the Temple… the war meant that anyone who was still at the Temple were instructors, Healers, non-combatants… and…”

He could still see it: that one youngling looking up at him and asking “What are we going to do, Master Skywalker?” not knowing that Anakin Skywalker was long gone.

“I led a battalion of my own troops to the Temple. The Guards were outnumbered. Everyone was outnumbered, and with all the adults out of the way… the children were the only ones left. And my Master had said everyone, he said to kill everyone there, and I had already done so many things that there was no turning back, and Vader was so certain, he knew that it had to be done, that there wasn’t a choice anymore, and he didn’t care how many people he had to kill in order to get what he wanted… but I cared.”

It was as though the entire universe had suddenly opened its eye and stared at him…

I was supposed to destroy the Sith, not join them.

“So I stopped myself. I told them to run. I ran too… and then I ended up here.”

Anakin forced his eyes open and looked at Obi-Wan, expecting to see fury or terror or disgust… something that would make the accusations Obi-Wan had leveled at him back on Coruscant feel like a gentle breeze by comparison.

But he was just sitting there, listening to Anakin, taking it all in.

Please, say something.

“What did he want?” Obi-Wan asked. Not an accusation, just curiosity. “Vader, I mean… you said that he didn’t care how many people he killed in order to get what he wanted. What did the… what did Palpatine offer you?”

“Padmé,” Anakin said quietly. “When she told me that she was pregnant, I started having dreams of her dying in childbirth. Every single night. When I have dreams like that… they always come true. She was going to die and I didn’t know how to help her. I stopped sleeping, I couldn’t think about anything else, I had no one else I could confide in, and Palpatine said that he could save her: that there were Dark Side powers that could stop someone from dying. And I believed him.”

It was a trick. Palpatine didn’t admit it until after I was already under his influence, until I had already agreed to obey him: “To cheat death is a power only one has achieved, but if we work together, I know we can discover the secret.”

And I believed him.

“Show no mercy. Only then will you be strong enough with the Dark Side to save Padmé.”

And I believed him.

“During all of this,” Obi-Wan asked, “where was I?”

“The High Council sent you on a mission. You were practically on the other side of the galaxy. But at that point, everything felt so twisted that I might not have even listened.”

All those dreams where I attack Padmé, where I try to kill Obi-Wan, where everything is on fire and no solid ground exists.

Is that dream destined to come true too?

“And yesterday,” Anakin continued, “I almost slipped again. I was so afraid that you might—when he had the Darksaber and you just had a pike—I let my fear take control—”

“But you took that control back,” Obi-Wan said. “And saved my life, incidentally.”

“What if it happens again?”

“Then it happens again,” he said gently, “and you choose to reject the Dark Side again. You—” He suddenly looked faintly amused, as though he was remembering a joke he had heard ages ago. “You have control over your actions, but no one can control all the thoughts in their head or all the emotions in their heart. Even Jedi. You’ll have to make that choice every single day.”

“How do you know?” Anakin asked.

Obi-Wan almost looked surprised. “Do you really think I haven’t experienced that sort of thing myself?”

Anakin very nearly said ‘yes.’ Trying to imagine his Master struggling with the Dark Side was almost as impossible as imagining him with two heads. His Obi-Wan just… never did that.

Or he never admitted it.

After I get back and fix things, maybe we’ll be able to talk about that.

Obi-Wan slowly got to his feet, then held out a hand to help Anakin up. Even with the assistance, Anakin still felt a little unsteady, but before he could do anything else, something very unexpected happened: Obi-Wan gave him a hug.

In all the years that Anakin had known him, after all of the things that they had been through together… Obi-Wan Kenobi had never hugged him. Ever.

Anakin hadn’t realized how badly he needed it.

I just confessed to some of the most heinous crimes imaginable… and he’s hugging me.

I just admitted that I might fall to the Dark Side again… and he’s hugging me.

I barged into his life and demanded his help and attention… and he’s hugging me.

Anakin returned the embrace and did his best not to cry on the man’s shoulder.

“I don’t know why you’re doing this,” he admitted.

“Doing what?” Obi-Wan asked.

“Being nice to me after everything I just told you. I haven’t earned that kind of forgiveness.”

Obi-Wan finally released him and stepped back. “It isn’t forgiveness, Anakin—I’m not the one who you harmed—but it is acceptance. I’ll admit that I will probably need a nap and about two stiff drinks to fully comprehend all of it, but I appreciate you telling me. That took a lot of courage.”

Anakin suspected that Obi-Wan had probably used that response with his children more than a few times over the years, but at this point he really didn’t mind being… parented at? Whatever the term was. “You know,” he said, “during the war, the holos nicknamed me ‘The Hero With No Fear.’”

“Which I’m sure was no pressure at all,” Obi-Wan said, a slightly sarcastic drawl in his voice. “Out of curiosity… did I get some silly nickname as well?”

“They called you ‘The Darksaber,’” Anakin said with a straight face… which he managed to maintain only as long as it took for an expression of mortified horror to overtake Obi-Wan’s features, at which point Anakin collapsed into a fit of laughter. “No, they actually called you ‘The Negotiator.’”

“By comparison,” Obi-Wan said with a sigh of relief, “that’s a rather pleasant surprise.”

“So, do you want to keep hiding in here?” Anakin asked.

“Perhaps for a little while longer,” he said. “We aren’t done talking, after all.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you’ve admitted your mistakes,” Obi-Wan said, “now let’s see if we can come up with a plan for you to learn from them.”

Chapter Text

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Release your anxieties into the Force.

Well, maybe not anxieties at the moment… more like irritation.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

A Jedi can feel the Force flowing through them.

It had been three years and sometimes it still didn't feel real; Asajj occasionally worried that, if she turned her head too quickly or walked through the wrong door, it would all turn out to have been a dream and she would wake up alone on some filthy world with no hope and no future.

But so far, it was all real: she was a member of the Jedi Order, a Padawan apprenticed to one of the only Jedi Masters eccentric enough to think that a nearly-feral girl on a lawless Outer Rim planet had the potential to be anything other than a menace to herself and everyone around her.

And now, this same Jedi Master was apparently so trusting that he let Anakin Skywalker escape.

No amount of deference and respect was enough for Asajj to let that incident slide. In her opinion, Master Qui-Gon should count himself lucky that Asajj hadn't gone to the Council about it, and count himself even luckier that she hadn't just thrown something at his head when he told her what happened.

Instead, she was planning on avoiding him until the ‘throwing-things’ urge had passed.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Release your utter annoyance with your Master into the Force.

Skywalker had recognized her. Even now, days later, that still sent a chill down her spine. He knew her name.

How could he possibly know who she was? She wasn't a Jedi Master with a list of heroic acts stretching from here to the Unknown Regions. She wasn't some fancy Duchess’s pet male. She wasn't anyone special—which would have bothered her when she was younger, before she understood that she had worth no matter what—so how did he know her name?

After Kenobi stunned Skywalker into unconsciousness, the Temple guards shooed Asajj away, so she never found out what happened after that. When she asked Qui-Gon for an explanation, he evaded the question, which may have been the most annoying part of it all.

Not that she was immune to that kind of avoidance herself; it was one of the shortcomings that she and her Master shared. Qui-Gon's habit was to merely sidestep any issue that he preferred not to deal with, dodging it the way that Asajj dodged out of the path of over-excited younglings running through the halls of the Temple. Asajj, meanwhile, distracted herself by focusing instead on how irritating she found the entire issue, rather than addressing her true concerns about it.

Meaning that, at the moment, neither of them were acting like their best selves.

Qui-Gon was the one to break the silence, while they were alone in a turbolift of all places. She had a strong suspicion that she was being ambushed.

“The Council is looking for volunteers to accompany the next group of Initiates to Ilum for the Gathering,” he said without preamble.

“I am not interested in spending time with a herd of squabbling younglings,” she replied.

“I thought you might appreciate the time away from the Temple.”

“Away from you, you mean.”

“That was certainly a factor that I took into account.” His tone was still mild, but Asajj knew that it was masking a growing amount of frustration.

There was no point in avoiding it, now that they were speaking again. “He tried to attack me and you let him go.”

“It was a case of mistaken identity.”

“He knew my name,” she snapped. “How many people named Asajj Ventress do you think are out there?”

“It is a rather long explanation,” he said.

“Oh yes, because I’ve never heard you talk about something at great length before,” she said icily. She was not going to let him get out of this one; Qui-Gon wasn't the only one who could use this brief enforced isolation to their advantage.

“It will also sound completely impossible.”

“You think that a being's consciousness can persist after death with the right training,” she pointed out. “What could top that?”

Qui-Gon sighed and surrendered. “The man who you saw is a different person than the one we believed him to be. He is Anakin Skywalker… but a version from a parallel universe, brought here by the Force from an alternate timeline: one where he joined the Jedi Order.”

Asajj was far from convinced, but decided to go along with it for the moment because the alternative was that her Master had completely lost his mind. What he said was impossible, but it at least provided some explanation for why he knew her name.

Except… “Why did he draw his weapon, then?”

What would make one Jedi attack another Jedi?

For a brief second, Qui-Gon's expression was… pained. “That was why I was hesitant to tell you: in his timeline, I found him as a child and brought him to the Order… which meant that I never went to Rattatak.”

She knew what that implied. Asajj had spent her entire life asking herself ‘what if’—what if the Nightsisters hadn't been forced to give her to Hal'Sted as a child? What if the pirates hadn't killed him and she had remained a slave forever? What if Master Ky had survived?

And most of all: what if Master Qui-Gon hadn't found her at the point in her life when she was so lost?

I would have become a monster.

She remembered the growing pit of rage that had been consuming her heart at the time… without guidance, it would have drawn her into the darkness and she never would have escaped.

And if Anakin Skywalker could conquer a planet at that age… why couldn't she have done so as well?

“Our places were switched, then,” she said quietly. “He became a Jedi and I became… what, exactly?”

The turbolift stopped and its doors opened.

“It's better that you don't know,” he said.

She didn't press him on it. They walked back to their quarters in silence.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Release your fears into the Force.

Fears of what might have been.

“If they didn't want us to come down here, they shouldn't have made it so easy to access this turbolift,” Ahsoka pointed out as the doors closed and the lift began to descend.

Pasha was privately skeptical of her friend's argument, but it wasn't like it changed anything: she was a strong believer in the philosophy that it was easier to ask forgiveness than permission, and even easier to adopt a slightly dreamy expression and claim that you were being guided by the wisdom of the Force.

Of course, like most philosophies, it didn't work in every single situation. Hopefully, if they were caught, it would be by someone a little less skeptical than, say, Master Windu.

Their latest area of exploration was down in one of the lowest levels of the Temple: the site of the commotion (an actual explosion, they had overheard someone say in passing) that everyone in the Order seemed to be aware of but unwilling to discuss.

Pasha knew what had happened—well, she knew a little about what had happened: something to do with the strange man (though he did look familiar…) who had been talking with her father and Master Qui-Gon. He said his name was Owen Lars, but when she asked her father about it later, the look on his face told her that the stranger must have made the name up because her father obviously didn't recognize it when she first said it, even though he pretended that he did.

And then, after her father left and things had calmed down, Ahsoka showed her the note.

“Master Qui-Gon handed it to me and didn't explain where he got it and then he just left, which was a pretty rude thing to do,” she complained. “Especially considering… well, just look at it.”

The handwriting was messy; Pasha had seen younglings write more legibly, but it was at least possible to read it, if not necessarily understand it because what it said was bizarre:

Hey Snips, no time to explain, but there are things you have to know:

Followed by a bulleted list:

  • People you can trust: Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Jocasta, Plo, Mace (sometimes), Yoda (also sometimes)
  • People you shouldn’t trust: Chancellor Palpatine, Dooku, Barriss, Asajj
  • You won’t know what I’m talking about but just know that I’m really sorry
  • If I manage to fix everything I’ll be back and tell you what’s going on I promise

And at the very end: Stay safe, Snips. Love, Skyguy

“So we have a name, at least,” Pasha pointed out. “Or a nickname, anyway.”

“Is ‘Snips’ supposed to be me?” Ahsoka asked, looking more insulted than confused.

The list of people to trust and the list of people not to trust was… interesting. Pasha understood the first list: those were all people who she knew and obviously her father was trustworthy and the rest of them were Jedi so why wouldn’t they be trustworthy too? But the second list was ridiculous: the odds that any of them would ever see the Chancellor of the Republic in person was laughably small, Master Dooku left the Order before Pasha had even joined, and Barriss Offee—

That one was really weird. Barriss was a very quiet Mirialan Padawan who was only a few years older than they were. Why was some stranger warning Ahsoka about her?

And then the weirdest of all: he had put Qui-Gon’s Padawan on the list of people not to trust and then crossed her name out. True, Pasha had always found Asajj Ventress to be a little spooky—one of her crechemates said that she used to be a witch, but Pasha was pretty sure that was just because Asajj was a Zabrak and everyone always assumed the worst about them—and she never worked up the nerve to talk to the young woman because she looked kind of cranky most of the time.

But if she was Qui-Gon’s Padawan and he was the one who brought Ahsoka the note, maybe he was the one who crossed it out? Or maybe he told that Skyguy person that he was wrong about her, so Skyguy crossed it out. But why was her name on that list to begin with?

“What am I supposed to do with this?” Ahsoka said, almost despairingly. That was when they came up with the plan to go investigate the lower levels of the Temple and find the source of the loud noise that happened right before Skyguy showed up.

It was obvious which level was the one they were looking for, because it really did look like a detonator had gone off in there. The floor was covered in rubble and huge chunks of the stone walls were missing.

“Do you think it's going to collapse?” Pasha asked, finally feeling a tiny bit apprehensive. They were a long way down…

“I don't think so,” Ahsoka said. She sounded distracted, like she was trying to hear something very far away.

“Are you sensing something?” she asked. Ahsoka had always been better at listening to the Force.

She nodded. “Something familiar… but distant.”

“Distant…” came the faint rasp of a voice that belonged to neither of them.

“Who's there?” Pasha demanded.

“A ghost… run away, puny Jedi, before I eat your bones for breakfast…”

Pasha picked up a small piece of rubble—no bigger than the length of her thumb—and threw it in the direction of the voice.

Just as she suspected: the projectile hit its target, which emitted a squeak of “ow!”

“What are you doing down here?” she asked, angry that the deception had almost succeeded in actually scaring her.

A scowling tan face peeked out from behind a particularly large piece of stone. “I could ask you the same thing,” Caleb said as he rubbed the sore spot on his head where Pasha had managed to hit him.

"We have a reason to be down here,” she shot back. “We're on a mission for Master Qui-Gon.”

“He has a Padawan, why would he bother sending you?” Caleb Dume was one of Pasha's crechemates, and her general opinion of him was that he was great when he was bothering other people but absolutely unbearable when that person happened to be her.

“Because if Asajj was gone for too long, someone would notice,” Ahsoka said, playing along with Pasha's cover story.

“They'd notice if you were gone for too long, too,” Caleb pointed out, but he sounded a little less dismissive than he did before.

“How long have you been down here?” Ahsoka was obviously trying to put every bit of mature authority into her voice as she could, which wasn't a bad strategy in Pasha's opinion: she was one of the oldest Initiates, after all, and could easily boss around a lot of the younger kids if she put her mind to it.

(Although she never bossed around Pasha, even though Ahsoka was two years older than her, because they were friends. You weren't really supposed to have a best friend in the Order—the Masters would say disapproving things about attachment which Pasha largely ignored—but she and Ahsoka were best friends.)

(Besides, as she once told Ahsoka, if it wasn't for Jedi getting attachments, Pasha wouldn't even exist.)

Ahsoka's attempt at intimidation probably would have worked on Caleb if he hadn't been so smug: “I've been down here for over an hour,” he proclaimed.

“You've just been sitting here in a crater by yourself?” Ahsoka asked skeptically.

“I've been investigating,” he said, now a little defensive. “And I did find out some things.” He paused dramatically. “Like how this wasn't an explosion.”

“Then what do you call all this?” Pasha said, gesturing at all the rubble in the room.

“I mean that nothing in here looks or smells burnt, so it wasn't like a detonator exploded. But something crashed into all the walls, and the floor, and the ceiling… only there's nothing in here but broken rocks.”

Pasha frowned. That actually was good information. So, what kind of thing could damage a whole room without— “Maybe it was the Force,” she suggested. “Like the stone was hit with telekinesis.”

Caleb looked a little nervous. “That would take a lot of power to do all this.”

“I think that's what happened,” Ahsoka said. “It feels like a bunch of energy seeped into the walls here.”

“Anything else?” Pasha asked Caleb.

He grinned. “Yup, and it's the best part: if you get close to the very center, you can hear voices.”

“Maybe it's from the level right below us,” Pasha suggested, “or the one above us.” When Caleb gave her a look of incredulity, she scowled. “What? I'm just trying to keep an open mind here.”

“Trust me, once you get close enough, you'll know it's nothing boring like that.”

Pasha had a sudden urge to throw another rock at him.

Ahsoka picked her way through the rubble and, once she neared the center of the room, her expression grew distant again, the way it had when they first came down here.

After a few seconds, she frowned. “I can hear… me,” she said.

“What are you saying?” Pasha asked.

“She said that she can hear—hey!” Caleb's snarky comment was cut off by the need to dodge the rock Pasha was no longer bothering to restrain herself from throwing. “I was just kidding!”

“I can't make out what I'm saying,” Ahsoka said, still frowning. She sat down on a piece of stone.

“Maybe because some people won't shut up,” Caleb said sulkily.

“Look who's talking,” Pasha retorted, before she saw Ahsoka's eyes widen in surprise. “What is it?”

“I was calling somebody Master,” she said excitedly.

“So?” Caleb asked. “We call practically everyone Master.”

“Not like that,” she said. “Whoever it was… they were my Master.”

Caleb didn't understand, but Pasha did: Ahsoka was one of the oldest Initiates because no one had chosen her as a Padawan yet. She almost thirteen and only had another year or two left before the Order sent her to the Service Corps.

And Pasha knew how badly Ahsoka wanted to be a Jedi Knight.

“Did you hear their voice too?” Pasha asked.

“No,” she said, shaking her head. She still looked a little starry-eyed. “Maybe this place is so strong in the Force that it can help Jedi see the future.”

"Hear the future, you mean,” Caleb said, but flinched when Pasha glared at him.

“What did you hear, then?” Pasha demanded.

The boy shrugged. “Nothing much. There were a bunch of people all talking at once: adults and kids, some human, some other species too… I think there was even a droid. It didn't make a lot of sense.”

“So I guess your future is going to be really loud and confusing,” Pasha said. “Sounds about right.”

He raised an eyebrow and grinned. Sounds about right?”

Pasha rolled her eyes. “That wasn't intentional. Okay,” she said, making her way through the piles of stone towards where Ahsoka was sitting, “let's find out what my future sounds like…”

At first, it was quiet. Deathly quiet: even quieter than the room had been just a moment ago. Emptiness. An abyss that had no end, no echo, nothing at all—

The future is always in motion…

Everything erupted into a dizzying storm of voices. It was like she was hearing two different broadcasts, transmitted through two different channels:

“If you had said the word—” “Welcome home—”

“Be brave, and don't look back—” “The surface is more sand than glass now—”

“This weapon is your life—” “The entire Trade Federation, gone—”

“I've loved you always… I always will—” “Our love is strong enough to survive the Dark—”

“Show no mercy—” “Your chains are broken—”

“More powerful than you can possibly imagine—” “There is no escape—”

And growing louder and louder, drowning out the voices, was the horrible dissonant scream of the Force being torn apart.

Pasha was screaming too, though she didn't understand what was happening until she heard the sound of the turbolift doors closing.

“Are you okay?” Caleb looked terrified; so did Ahsoka. “What did you hear?”

She was sitting on the floor of the lift, hugging her knees to her chest. “I don't know… something horrible…” was all she could manage to say.

At first, Pasha thought that the crowd of people in the hall where they exited the turbolift had something to do with them, that they were in so much trouble that the entire Temple was up in arms, but no one noticed that they were even there. In fact, everyone sounded excited.

“You okay?” asked a Twi'lek Padawan whose name Pasha couldn't remember right now. “Your nose is bleeding.”

“Caleb threw a rock at me,” Pasha said. Ignoring Caleb's protests to the contrary, she asked, “What's going on?”

The Padawan leaned in as if she was going to share an amazing secret. “You're not going to believe this,” she said, “but Master Dooku just asked to be readmitted to the Order.”

Pasha exchanged a worried look with Ahsoka.

She had a bad feeling about this.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Release your anxieties into the Force.

But the anxieties kept coming: from the moment that he overheard the voice of his former Master asking to meet with the High Council, Qui-Gon had to fight off the terrible feeling of an invisible hand squeezing his throat, his lungs, and his stomach.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Control your fears. Keep your mind on the present where it belongs.

But in the present, it was possible that what Anakin Skywalker had told him was true: Master Dooku had fallen to the Dark Side and joined the Sith.

Impossible. If he is back and meeting with the Council, they would be able to tell if something was wrong. They would know.

But if Anakin was correct, Chancellor Palpatine had managed to hide in plain sight all these years. No one even knew that he was Force-sensitive, let alone a Dark Lord of the Sith.

And Dooku might be his apprentice at this very moment, sent here to infiltrate the Jedi Order…

Qui-Gon reminded himself that there was no proof that Anakin's information was correct in this timeline. The young man had left him with a list of information, one that Qui-Gon was still trying to piece together before he could even think about confirming any of it. After all, so many other things were different here that it was completely possible that the Sith were still extinct.

But he couldn't shake off the fear that was digging its icy nails into his back.

There are other reasons why I might be feeling this way, of course…

Just the sound of Dooku's voice from a distance was enough to bring it all back. It had been a joke when Qui-Gon was an Initiate that it was impossible for Master Dooku to sneak up on anyone because his voice was so loud that it could be heard from the Outer Rim.

But Qui-Gon soon learned otherwise. From the moment Dooku took him as an apprentice until the moment that Qui-Gon cut off his Padawan braid, his ears had been full of Dooku's words, ones that no one else seemed to be able to hear:

Undisciplined. Disrespectful. Disgraceful.

And most often: Disappointing.

There was nothing in the Code that said a Jedi had to be kind.

There were stories—the Order had existed for over a thousand generations, so of course there were stories—of Padawans who had it far worse than Qui-Gon did: stories of beatings and starvation and even more heinous things, which was why it took him so many years to understand why he still wanted to run and hide whenever Dooku was near.

He had faced his fear every day as an apprentice, and every day that fear had whispered at him that he was still a disappointment.

It wasn't perfection that Dooku demanded of him—it was something beyond perfection, some impossible point always just outside of reach. He pushed and pushed and pushed, and nothing Qui-Gon did was good enough… and Dooku made sure that he knew that.

You are an embarrassment.

But because he said it in whispers, because everyone else in the Order constantly congratulated Qui-Gon and Dooku on his accomplishments, because Qui-Gon didn't have a scratch on him… no one noticed the reason why Qui-Gon never seemed to relax or even smile.

He mastered his emotions until the first line of the Code was always true for him: there is no emotion. It wasn't the entirety of the first line—there is no emotion, there is peace—but Qui-Gon had hoped that by adhering to the former, the latter would come eventually.

With the benefit of several decades of hindsight and distance, Qui-Gon did find some measure of peace. He passed his Trials and became a Knight and then a Master, so he obviously couldn’t have been that much of a failure. It was possible that Dooku believed that his methods were correct, that Qui-Gon would not have excelled had it not been for those incredibly high standards, that he was just trying to make his apprentice a better Jedi. It was possible that the High Council agreed with that assessment.

But Qui-Gon was certain that the Council didn’t know just how many things Dooku had demanded that he do perfectly.

Stand up straight. Speak properly. Conduct yourself like a gentleman. Your robes are a mess, which is not surprising given the state of your room. I have given you a comb for a reason, one that should be obvious if you would bother to look in a mirror. When I order you to be somewhere at a particular place and time, that is not a matter for interpretation. Take that look off of your face. Pay attention. No excuses. Failure is not an option.

The Council likely didn’t know how many sleepless nights Qui-Gon had spent being drilled over and over on lightsaber forms, to the point where he now refused to ever use Form II.

Again. Your elbow was bent—this is not a matter for debate: your elbow was bent. Again. Move faster: if that had been a real duel, you would have been skewered and your opponent would be half a kilometer away by now. Again. Fix your posture. Again. Your form is so disastrous that I assume you have a death wish. Again. If you refuse to listen to my instructions then I do not see the point in teaching you. Again. Do not make me regret the effort I am putting into trying to cram knowledge into that block of duracrete you call a skull. Again. Your failures are a reflection on me and the entire Order. Again. Wipe that expression off of your face. Again. If you would do this properly then we would not have to be here. Again. You have managed to reach a new low in terms of disappointment. Again.

When Qui-Gon completed the Trials and his Padawan braid was cut off, it felt like being set free. He used that freedom to avoid his former Master whenever possible.

And yet, his voice seemed to follow Qui-Gon anyway. He even heard it from his own mouth, as he pushed his first Padawan in the exact same way, until Xanatos finally fled the Order and returned to his home planet, at which point calamity after calamity ensued until there was nothing left of his former apprentice, until Qui-Gon lied to the Council and told them that he had died, until that final horrible confrontation when, rather than surrender, Xanatos had leapt—

Qui-Gon didn’t know which of them had more nightmares of the incident in the weeks that followed: Obi-Wan or himself.

He had been too strict with his first apprentice and ended up being too permissive with his second one. Using the excuse that his Padawan should be allowed to make his own choices, Qui-Gon abdicated his responsibilities time after time until it was too late, until Obi-Wan revealed the depth of his attachment to the young Duchess, until Qui-Gon tried to exert his authority and discovered that his apprentice had stopped listening to him a long time ago.

When Qui-Gon returned from Mandalore without Obi-Wan, all Dooku said to him was “Again, I see.”

It was one of the things he had thrown back in Qui-Gon’s face before he left the Order eight years ago: A more competent Master would have kept his apprentices in line…

Qui-Gon had avoided him in the Temple for so long that he didn’t know about Dooku’s increasingly erratic behavior until things had reached a breaking point. What he had described to Anakin as their “final conversation” was less of a conversation and more of a tirade on Dooku’s part, while Qui-Gon stood there and did his best not to flinch.

An Order full of failures, full of weak Jedi who never should have passed the Trials…

The years that I wasted on you…

You were nothing but a disappointment to me, and no doubt to countless others…

And now, he was back.

Qui-Gon thought about his current Padawan, about the horrible other life that she might have led if he hadn’t found her… one where Dooku was her Master. That part shouldn’t have been what bothered him the most, but it did.

Dooku had returned to the Jedi Order and was possibly even more frightening than Qui-Gon could ever have imagined.

Chapter Text

“We have finished our analysis of the navicomputer on Vizsla's ship, Your Highness,” Prime Minister Almec said once all the members of the Ruling Council were assembled in the throne room. “His point of origin was a moon in the Vyndaran system.”

“Does that fit with what we already know about the Death Watch's current base?” Satine asked. Following Pre Vizsla's exposure as the head of the Death Watch all those years ago, the group lost their original haven on Concordia. They then spent a few years on Carlac, but the assassin from the duel four years ago had not covered her tracks and they had to flee the planet before the Protectors caught up with them. After that, no one had been able to determine where they had gone, and Bo-Katan was no longer able to contact them.

“It is unclear, Your Highness,” Almec admitted. “The Protectors also reported finding the remains of an encampment on the far side of Carlac. It appears to have been abandoned relatively recently…” He winced. “They say it is possible that the Death Watch had rebuilt their former base on another part of the planet.”

Satine felt her fists clenching. If they had missed it, if the Protectors had not noticed the Death Watch on the exact same planet they had hidden themselves before… She tried to relax her hands. Careless. Someone had been careless. She hoped it wasn't true, because if it was and she discovered who was responsible, there would be severe consequences.

The one bright spot was that the Death Watch appeared to have been careless as well. Pre Vizsla's foolish pride and obsession had finally been his undoing.

Only there wasn't time for the Protectors to hunt down the last of his followers. The Vyndaran system was too far away for it to be a simple investigation, and Mandalore needed every Protector it had while its military mobilized.

“As long as they stay out of our system, I see no reason to expend any more effort on them,” she said. “We have more important things to deal with. How is the recruitment progressing?” she asked, addressing Deputy Minister Jerec.

Jerec had looked slightly bewildered ever since yesterday, when Satine had approved his request to expand Mandalore’s armed forces.

He’s probably wondering if I’ve been replaced with some kind of droid replicant, she thought, trying not to smile.

She hadn’t liked her decision, but now that it had been made there was nothing to do but carry it out to the best of her ability. If Mandalore was going to defend itself, Satine was going to make sure that it was defended as strongly as possible.

If I am going to compromise my principles, I might as well do it properly.

It had stung a little, of course, to have to make that concession, and it stung more to see how little resistance there was to the idea, even among the most hard-line New Mandalorian pacifists. In fact, the sense of relief from the rest of her government was growing into a kind of excitement. Satine was beginning to wonder if she was the only person on Mandalore who had any hesitancy about this course of action.

Jerec may have been confused by her decision, but he certainly wasn’t disappointed with it. “There are far more recruits than we had predicted, Your Highness—to the point where we have more people than we have equipment to supply them with. We are attempting to modify the industrial facilities that we have in order to accommodate the increased demand, but it will take time.”

The rise of the New Mandalorians hadn’t eliminated all weapons manufacturers in the system, but they had been greatly reduced in size over the years. The machinery of war couldn’t be created in a single day, even if it seemed like it was amassing far quicker than Satine had anticipated.

Her ministers began debating the relative costs of investing in additional facilities in-system versus importing ships and weapons from other manufacturers, but Satine was barely listening.

People want this. They wanted it for so long… and I ignored them.

Does that make me a bad leader, for wanting Mandalorians to be more than warriors?

The word “warrior” brought back a rush of memories from the other night. She pushed them away; not gone (never gone, it seemed), but exiled somewhere in the back of her mind where she could examine them later… and try to make sense of it all.

Satine knew that she could have stuck to her ideals and refused to commit to a plan that would lead Mandalore off the path she had kept it on for so many years… she could have made everyone listen, possibly even weathered the inevitable uprising that would have followed… but when she tried to focus on those ideals it was as though her thoughts kept slipping away from her, lost in roars of the crowd and old songs from her childhood.

She felt adrift.

“Your Highness?” Almec asked. He looked concerned; she must have been so lost in her thoughts that she had ignored several prompts from him.

“Yes, Prime Minister?” she said, recovering.

“I was saying that our reports are concluded for the day, Your Highness.”

“Ah, yes,” Satine said, feeling a little uneasy. She had been zoning out more and more lately when she should have been listening; these matters were important. “You are all dismissed, then, until tomorrow.”

How long had she been sitting there? She suspected that it had been much longer than she thought.

If I am going to compromise my principles, I need to at least pay attention while I do it.

As usual, Almec stayed behind. “Are you all right, My Lady?” he asked. Satine did not enjoy the look of concern that was still on his face.

“Yes,” she said, “merely tired, that’s all. Is there something you wanted to discuss, Prime Minister?”

He sighed; apparently this was not going to be good news. “Pre Vizsla has not been cooperating with the Protectors that are questioning him.”

“It doesn’t matter if he is cooperative or not,” Satine pointed out. “Either he tells us something useful, or he begins his new residency in an even more unpleasant prison than the one he is in now.”

“He wants to talk to you.”

Satine glared at him. “I am not going to be ordered around by a terrorist.”

Almec looked worried, and she suspected that it had little to do with her reaction. “According to the Protectors, he claims to have information that he will divulge only to you.”

She scoffed. “I’m sure he does. Remind him that I am not at his beck and call.”

“There may be a possibility that his information would lead us to the rest of the Death Watch, or perhaps avert a possible retaliatory attack.”

Satine couldn’t help but smile a little. “If the Death Watch wishes to cause trouble on Mandalore, they are going to have to deal with several thousand very excitable military recruits first. Besides,” she added, “the cost of sending Protectors to locate them outweighs any possible benefits that such a search would obtain.”

“The Vyndaran system borders the territory controlled by the Broken Fleet,” Almec pointed out.

“We are already preparing for the Broken Fleet, Prime Minister,” Satine said, “and I doubt that the Death Watch could provide them with much in the way of useful information.” Still, it wasn't a thought that she was comfortable with.

But then she dismissed the idea as ridiculous: Vizsla thought that he deserved to rule Mandalore. As obsessed as he was with deposing her, he would never deign to ally himself with anyone but other Mandalorians.

“Very well, Your Highness,” Almec said, though he as usual sounded less than satisfied with her decision.

“We can discuss it later if Vizsla decides to offer us anything of use.” As Satine stood up, she felt a slight bump as the Darksaber shifted to rest on her hip.

She had been carrying it with her ever since the duel, clipped to whatever belt she happened to be wearing each day, and she couldn’t explain why. She supposed it was a nice symbol, especially now that Mandalore had united against a common foe, but it wasn’t why she seemed unable to let it out of her sight.

It was because every time she tried to put it down, a feeling of unknown dread blossomed in her chest, a dread that was only relieved when she picked the saber up again.

She wondered if it had some kind of malign influence—some ability to warp her thoughts and emotions—but she knew that such a possibility was absurd.

It’s only because I’ve apparently been repressing a few too many things.

Thinking of sabers, however, gave her an idea: Mandalore could not spare any Protectors to investigate the Vyndaran system… but perhaps there was someone else that she could send…

Obi-Wan’s voice over the comm sounded as though he was speaking through clenched teeth. “I would like to state for the record—”

“There is no record,” Anakin pointed out.

“If there were a record, I would like to state for this hypothetical record that I think this is a terrible idea.”

Anakin grinned, even though he knew that Obi-Wan couldn’t see it. “ This is a Terrible Idea: Part One of the Anakin Skywalker Story,” he said, bringing his ship around and heading towards the far side of the planet—moon, to be more accurate. It was times like these that Anakin missed Artoo; he'd had to calculate the hyperspace vector from Mandalore to Vyn III using the ship's computer, and was certain that Artoo would have found a more efficient route.

“And anyway,” Anakin continued, “this wasn’t even my idea. It was Satine’s suggestion.”

“It was Satine’s idea that we go, but it was your idea to come here in a pair of starfighters. Anyone seeing us will automatically know that we aren’t here for a benign purpose. We’ll be fired on immediately.”

“So we dodge,” Anakin replied with a shrug, “and then shoot back, obviously.”

“Which is why I am reminding you, yet again, that I am not combat-certified.”

Anakin hadn't understood it the first time Obi-Wan told him, and it didn't make any more sense no matter how many times he repeated it. “But you've piloted one of these before,” he said.

“Yes,” Obi-Wan said, his voice carrying a tone of quickly eroding patience.

“Several times, you said.”


“And this is a starfighter.”

“Which is not the same as passing a flight test—surely you had to take one yourself?”

Anakin frowned. He couldn't remember if he had or not, which was probably a sign that he hadn't. Much like being the Chosen One, there were apparently perks to being a child prodigy when it came to flying. “Does it even matter, since you already know how to pilot one? It's just a note on a datapad.”

“There is a difference between knowing how to fly and knowing how to fly in combat.” At this point, Obi-Wan sounded completely exasperated. “Which is why—”

Anakin was feeling some exasperation of his own. “Just use the Force, Obi-Wan. It'll be fine. Besides,” he added, “we probably won't even encounter anyone at all.”

His ship's scanner sounded an alert. Four small fighters—interceptors, by the look of them—were heading in their direction, their shapes silhouetted against the thick clouds covering the surface below.

“I couldn't quite hear you just then,” Obi-Wan said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “Could you repeat the part where you said that we probably wouldn't encounter anyone—”

“Ha ha, very funny,” Anakin grumbled as he increased power to the ship's meager shields. Although, if he was being honest with himself, he was thrilled to be back in his element: him and Obi-Wan, jumping into danger while bickering like younglings. “Look on the bright side: if they're planetary defense forces, they're not just going to fire on us without saying—”

He had to bank quickly to his left to avoid the red streaks of laser fire that cut through the space where his ship had just been.

“As gratifying as it is to be correct, I was hoping to have more time to enjoy it.” There was a growing note of anxiety behind the sarcasm in Obi-Wan’s voice. “Do you have a plan for how to get out of this?”

“Of course I do,” Anakin said cheerfully. He had been in situations like these more times than he could count. The plan was simple: “I’ll take the three on the right, you take the one on the left.”

“I was afraid you would say that,” Obi-Wan sighed.

“All right, we’ll split them,” Anakin offered. It was just like the battle over Coruscant: their last battle at one another’s side, making their way to General Grievous’ ship to rescue the Chancellor.

Even though Palpatine probably arranged the whole thing, Anakin realized with a shiver.

(Don't think about how he kept suggesting that you leave Obi-Wan behind.)

“It isn’t too late to leave, you know,” Obi-Wan pointed out.

Anakin checked his scanner again, trying to find a signal that broadcast the ships’ identities. “They’re disguising their IFF transponders,” he said, “which probably means that they’re not part of any official defense fleet… and that means they’re defending something else.” He adjusted the ship’s power again, putting a little more into the laser cannons. “What do you think: Death Watch, Broken Fleet, or just your run-of-the-mill pirates?”

Obi-Wan paused for a moment before responding: “Those are M1-A fighters,” he said finally. There was another pause as he maneuvered his ship away from a spray of laser fire. “One of MandalMotors’ older models. We know the Death Watch had at least a few.”

Anakin frowned at the ships while he flew in a wide arc, trying to get to one side of the group rather than take them head on. “They kind of look like sandhawks,” he said. “They’re these flying animals on Tatooine that—”

“The similarity is intentional,” Obi-Wan interrupted. “The M1-As are more commonly known as Sandhawk fighters. Apparently at least one executive at MandalMotors has an odd fascination with Tatooine, so they design and name the ships after the planet’s creatures.”

Anakin grinned. “So you know about their design process, then?” Only a few more seconds and they would be close enough for a real dogfight; he had been in firing range for a while now, as the laser fire from the other ships made obvious, but shots at that distance were so imprecise as to be pointless.

“Yes, well,” Obi-Wan said hastily in what Anakin recognized as embarrassment, “I've had an, er, relationship with MandalMotors for a few years now.”

Anakin stifled a snort of laughter as he evaded another burst of fire from the ships. “What kind of relationship?”

“Do we have to talk during this?” Obi-Wan demanded. “We’re about to fight for our lives, you know.”

“You’d be surprised how boring that can get.” Anakin gave the steering yoke a hard pull to the right, which shot his ship to the side so abruptly that it was as if it had pivoted on a single spot. “These ships you got us fly better than I thought. Same manufacturer, right?”

“Yes,” Obi-Wan said. “Now will you please let me concentrate?” Rather than dodging another series of shots by moving left or right, he increased his speed, rapidly closing the distance between his ship and the nearest Sandhawk in a head-on maneuver that Anakin briefly worried was a collision course, before breaking off at the last minute and darting underneath the Sandhawk with only a handful of meters to spare. His opponent, clearly shaken, did their best to turn back around and start firing again, but at that point Obi-Wan was out of range once more.

Anakin gave a low whistle, then returned his attention to his own part of the fight. This was the most interesting part of ship-to-ship combat for him: the challenge of getting into an ideal position to take a shot without getting shot to pieces himself. “Nice flying,” he said.

“The ship is doing most of the work, honestly,” Obi-Wan replied.

“How often have you flown one of these?” Anakin asked.

“Enough to know what they’re capable of. It’s a very promising prototype.”

“And they just let you take a pair of them?” Apparently being married to a Duchess had its advantages.

“I’m not comfortable with the idea of killing these pilots,” Obi-Wan said, ignoring the question.

“They’re the ones who fired on us without saying anything, so I think this is really on them.” Though Anakin did feel a little uneasy: he had spent most of the war fighting battle droids. Even though to him droids were every bit as important and sentient as organic beings, now that he thought about it he realized that he might have been a little less enthusiastic about blowing up Separatist ships if there had been more ‘people’ on them.

(Don't think about how many people you killed at the Temple.)

Anakin shook his head as he brought his focus back to the present. “They can leave any time they want to.”

Obi-Wan didn’t reply, but in the few moments of attention Anakin was able to spare, he noticed that his friend was concentrating more of his fire on the parts of the Sandhawk that could be disabled than on the center of the ship’s mass, which would have ended the fight more quickly.

Anakin sighed impatiently. Well, if he’s going to do it…

Besides, I’m a much better shot than he is. This should be easy.

It added another minute to his attack on the other ship, which felt like an eternity in space combat and meant that he also had to evade another Sandhawk that had opened fire on him, but soon Anakin had two disabled Sandhawks and only one collapsed section of his own shields.

Not bad for my first time in one of these.

He headed in Obi-Wan’s direction, which ended up being much further away than expected. It took Anakin a moment to figure out why: Obi-Wan’s strategy had been to draw one of the Sandhawks away from its companions through a rapid series of the same disorienting head-on charges Anakin had witnessed before, while slowly chipping away at the ship’s shields with almost surgically-precise shots.

Right before Anakin got close enough to help, Obi-Wan’s laser fire caused a small explosion to erupt in the Sandhawk’s sublight engines, sending the ship adrift in space.

“You know, for someone who’s not ‘combat certified,’” Anakin said drily as he engaged the remaining ship in what ended up being a very brief exchange of fire before he disabled it, “you’re pretty good at this.”

“As seems to be the case for quite a number of things that I dislike doing,” Obi-Wan said with a sigh.

Yet another quality that he shared with his counterpart, Anakin thought with a grin. “We’ll split them evenly next time, I promise.”

“An opportunity that is happening sooner than you think,” Obi-Wan said; he sounded tired. “I’m picking up four more ships heading up from the planet’s surface. They’re not visible yet—still too many clouds—but the energy signatures match the ones already up here.”

Anakin wasn’t especially concerned—he’d had worse fights, after all—but then something occurred to him. “Can you tell their point of origin?”

“Give me a moment… yes. We’re apparently close enough to that side of the planet that my scanners caught them only a few moments after they took off.”

“Then let’s take the fight to them,” Anakin said. “How do these things handle in atmosphere?”

“Nearly as well; vertical movement suffers a little, though. Are you sure about this?”

“We handled the last group without a problem,” he pointed out. “Relax.”

He could almost hear Obi-Wan roll his eyes. “Why is it every time you tell me to ‘relax,’ it has the exact opposite effect?”

“Obviously you needed to meditate longer this morning,” Anakin said. “And anyway, this is how I relax.”

“Anakin, I mean no offense when I ask this, but how in blazes did you get Knighted?”

“I had a really good Master,” he replied with a laugh. Their ships were entering the atmosphere; Anakin could feel the slight pressure on the hull as it encountered the friction that had been absent in the vacuum of space. The clouds covering the planet were thicker than he expected: soon his visibility was so limited that he couldn’t even see Obi-Wan’s ship anymore.

Therefore, it was only through the Force that Anakin had enough warning to dodge what turned out to be a small proton torpedo. “They’re firing!”

“I noticed.” Obi-Wan’s reply was nearly a growl, which was probably a sign that he was dealing with an attack of his own.

“So we split them this time?” They were finally below the clouds, which revealed the latest group of Sandhawks and, far below them on the surface, the hints of some kind of encampment. “I can see where they launched from, by the way.”

“As long as they don’t send any more ships, it can wait until we disable these.” Obi-Wan was once again putting his fighter's agility to good use as he started to lure one of the Death Watch ships away from the main formation.

One other ship took the bait and followed him, leaving Anakin with the other two. The first ship he disabled almost too easily: it already had some existing damage, which left its movements sluggish, and the pilot was obviously inexperienced, confining the ship's maneuvers to only swerving left and right.

The second ship had a surprise for him: another proton torpedo, followed by a pair of concussion missiles. Anakin dodged them, but he hadn’t compensated for the slight reduction in vertical speed quite as well as he thought, and the blast from one took down another section of his shields and briefly disabled his port stabilizer before Anakin was able to reroute some of the power from his engines. He locked onto the other ship and damaged its wing, forcing it back down to the ground.

“Guess we won’t be splitting this batch after all,” he said as he approached the third fighter, which had come to the aid of the one that Obi-Wan was dueling with. A single salvo of laser fire was all it took for Anakin to attract its attention.

“Think of it as you saving my life yet again,” Obi-Wan said, dodging a concussion missile and leading his opponent up towards the edge of the clouds, where the reduced visibility could give his ship an additional advantage.

“I usually do,” Anakin said. The ship he was currently engaged with had a better pilot than the others, and was timing their laser fire to the moments immediately after Anakin dodged each missile.

In the distance, he could see a cloud of smoke trailing from the engine of the Sandhawk that had followed Obi-Wan.

These pilots were good, but he and Obi-Wan were better. Anakin aimed and fired.

His shot must have hit the spot where the Sandhawk’s concussion missiles were stored, because the ship practically disintegrated, sending fragments of its hull and wings in every direction, including directly into Anakin’s path. He swung hard to the left, trying to get out of range—

Not fast enough, apparently: the debris slammed into his ship, including a sizable section of the Sandhawk’s wing, which damaged a section of Anakin’s engines and triggered a massive power surge of ionized energy, shorting out most of the electronic systems on his ship.

His comms were still working, thankfully: “Got the last one,” he said, “but I’m hit.”

“What happened? Can you bring your ship down to the surface?” From the sound of Obi-Wan’s voice, he was trying not to let his anxiety take over.

Anakin was trying to do the same, actually, as he checked his ship’s systems and felt his stomach sink. “S-foils are damaged… my steering controls are completely fried,” he said. “So are my sublights and one of my stabilizers…” The atmosphere would slow him down, but without being able to steer he would have to fly for ages before he could land safely. “No chance of killing my thrust… I’m going in the wrong direction and too fast. I’ll have to…” He trailed off.

“To what?” Obi-Wan asked.

Anakin had an idea.

“I’m going to need you to ram my ship,” he said.


“Listen—get close enough so that the forward edge of one of your wings is resting right in front of my sublight engines, and then hit it."

“How could that possibly help?” Obi-Wan asked, flabbergasted.

“As you hit me,” Anakin continued, “cut your speed just a little: it should pull my ship back along with it. Just keep doing that over and over, and you can guide my ship down to the surface, slowing it down enough that I can land near the Death Watch camp.”

“If I do that, I risk damaging your cockpit’s canopy. You might not be able to eject if you need to bail out.”

“I won’t have to bail out if we do this right.”

“It’s the safest option, Anakin—I’ll follow you until the friction from the atmosphere slows you down and you get close enough to the surface to eject.”

“But we’ll be practically on the other side of the planet if we do that!” Anakin protested.

“At least we won’t explode in the process!”

“We’ve done this before, I know it’ll work—” Granted, it was with a different version of Obi-Wan, and their positions were reversed, but this was exactly how Anakin had gotten him onboard the Invisible Hand during the battle over Coruscant.

Of course, in this case as well, Obi-Wan had to keep arguing with him about it. “This is going to get us both killed, Anakin.”

"This is Going to Get Us Both Killed: Part Two of the Anakin Skywalker Story,” he quipped as he removed one of the panels beneath the controls and began rummaging around in the wires. If he could at least get the port stabilizer back online…

“Just bail out—”

“No!” Anakin said, still trying to reroute power through a tangle of unfamiliar circuitry. “Unless you guide me down, I could end up landing hundreds of kilometers away from the site. It’ll make the whole trip pointless.”

“Anakin,” Obi-Wan said, his voice surprisingly gentle despite the gravity of the situation, “we don’t have to complete this mission. Not at the cost of your life.”

Anakin wanted to argue with him, to say that every mission was important, to say that they had been sent here for a reason, and above all, that he never ever accepted defeat, even when the odds were so stacked against him that it might as well be impossible.

He didn’t believe in the impossible. His entire life was doing things that everyone else said were impossible, even though a tiny part of him was beginning to wonder if this was maybe a little too much determination for a simple reconnaissance mission.

No: Anakin refused to fail here because if he failed here then he might have to consider that he could fail at other things, more important things, things like fixing the mess in both this timeline and his original timeline, like saving Padmé, like stopping the Sith, like saving himself—

I’m the Chosen One, damn it.

“You know these ships,” he said to Obi-Wan, as usual ignoring his friend's attempt at reasoning with him, “so tell me: is what I’m proposing possible?”

“The odds of pulling this off are—”

“Are you one-hundred percent certain that it wouldn’t work?” Anakin demanded.

“Well… no,” Obi-Wan admitted reluctantly. “But it’s—”

“Then do it,” he ordered. He finished the rewiring and heard the port stabilizer hum as it came back online.


"Trust me,” Anakin said, and with those words came a sudden resonance in the Force: one that wasn’t from him, or from Obi-Wan, but instead from the connection between them. The dozens of lines that Ka-Riita had drawn between their two dots, wires now full of power, the two of them fitting together like components in a single machine.

It doesn’t matter that he’s not the Obi-Wan I grew up with. This is destiny.

This moment of clarity was interrupted by a bone-jarring thud as Obi-Wan’s fighter collided with his.

“Is this what you had in mind?” Obi-Wan asked.

“It’s exactly what I had in mind,” Anakin confirmed. “Just keep doing that, once every… three seconds or so. I’ll keep track of the coordinates and tell you when to adjust.” He still couldn’t steer, but at least now that the stabilizers were both working, the ship wouldn’t flip over.

Another collision, jolting Anakin in his seat in a way that was starting to get very uncomfortable. He did his best to brace himself so that his head wouldn’t slam into the canopy.

The part of him that loved ships was admittedly fretting over how much damage his ship was taking in the process, but this was far from the first time he’d been in a crash… this month.

At least I’m not in a capital ship this time.

They drew closer and closer to the ground, with each impact slowing Anakin’s ship down and nudging him in the direction of the Death Watch camp.

“Still there?” Obi-Wan asked.

“Always,” Anakin said, before his ship was hit again and slammed him back against his seat. He suspected that the ion surge had also damaged the ship’s gravity compensators, which meant that he was feeling more of the g-forces than he normally would. “One more nudge to the left and I think we can start our approach.”

"Start our approach?” Obi-Wan asked skeptically as Anakin’s ship shook with another impact. “I would think ‘finishing’ would be more appropriate at this point.”

“Either way, we’re going down,” Anakin said with a shrug.

In fact, they were going down rather quickly—not so fast that he couldn’t eject safely (well, relatively safely), but enough that there would still probably be an explosion when the ship hit the ground. “Get ready to pull away,” he told Obi-Wan.

“Ready,” came the confirmation.

“Now!” As Obi-Wan’s ship moved away from his own, Anakin got ready to make his exit.

Much to Anakin's annoyance, Obi-Wan ended up being right: the repeated impacts had damaged the cockpit badly enough that the explosive bolts wouldn’t activate, but Anakin had anticipated that possibility: he drew his lightsaber and cut his way out.

His jump carried him far away enough that he wasn’t able to see the impact of his ship hitting the ground and, from the sound of it, exploding.

He was soon joined by Obi-Wan, who had landed his own ship a few dozen meters away from where Anakin ended up. The two of them made their way towards the wreckage.

Obi-Wan looked at the heap of metal that just barely qualified as a ship with an expression of utter astonishment. “I can’t believe that worked.”

“And that,” Anakin said with a grin, “is the third and final part of the Anakin Skywalker Story.”

As a Lotonan, Drll Xchati did not have a solid grasp on humanoid physical characteristics. In his experience, any species with an exterior casing that soft and oily might as well be newly-emerged hatchlings, which all looked the same until they grew their first carapace.

But Drll was also observant, a quality necessary for a Proclaimer of his standing, and so he had been able to ascertain that the being standing next to him was a human female, one surprisingly young to be in such a high position.

He did not know what an Angel was, but given everything he had heard about this woman, it must be a terrifying creature for her to take its name as her title.

“You have spoken with him, yes?” the Angel asked.

Drll clicked his thoracic joints together in acknowledgement. “I have.”

“And you understand the gift that you have been given?”

He clicked his joints again. “I do.” But it was a lie: he did not understand it at all. They had spoken, but Drll did not remember exactly what was said, and then something changed, but Drll did not know exactly what had changed.

And now he was here, standing next to the Angel on the command deck of a ship larger than any he had ever seen before, looking out of its viewport at a world that he knew very well.

“The Ik'anans always had more ships, more weapons, more soldiers than the Lotonans, didn't they?” She did not seem to expect a reply, because she continued: “They came to your moon, again and again, with more ships and more weapons, carried by more soldiers… and why?”

He knew the answer. All Lotonans did. “There was no reason,” he said.

“There was a reason,” she countered. Her voice was surprisingly soft—almost kind, he thought. “They did it because they could. Because they saw a world of peaceful farmers and their first desire was to put them in chains.”

Drll clicked his joints a third time. There had not been literal chains, not since the very first raids over five generations ago, but the violence, the famines, the constant patrols and purges and despoiling of what had once been a lush paradise… they might as well have been.

“But now,” the Angel said, “you are free. The Ik'anans will never again threaten your people or anyone else. We will see to that.”

Drll did his best to disguise the buzzing noise that accompanied all strong Lotonan emotion. The sight of all those ships in the sky, setting the Ik'anan armada ablaze, would live on in Lotonan stories and songs forever.

And yet…

“It doesn't feel like enough, does it?” she asked him. Drll drew his anterior wings in tighter around him—had she read his thoughts somehow?

No, she did not need to: merely removing the Ik'anans from Lotona would not undo the damage they had caused or the lives they had taken through violence and deprivation.

“This is why he called you here, Proclaimer Xchati, and why he gave you a gift. This is your choice.”

“I do not know what the choice is,” he admitted.

Her face moved in such a way that her teeth were now visible. “No need to worry: it is a straightforward one.”

The Angel gestured toward the viewport, where Drll could see Ika, the homeworld of the Ik'anans. “In one outcome, we will send our ships down to the surface. We can find ways to use the planet for our purposes and share those resources with your people. The Ik'anans will lose all sovereignty, of course, but most of them would survive.”

“However,” she continued, “there is another option.”

Drll, being very observant indeed, understood what she meant.

The Lotonan way was to forgive, to endure, to resist through the radical act of surviving in the face of oppressors that wanted them to vanish. His people would be repelled at the very thought of what the Angel was proposing.

And yet…

Somehow, Drll was not repelled. He was not horrified. He was… he was considering it.

He knew that it was antithetical to everything he had been taught and everything he had preached to his own people.

He knew… but he could not feel it. That feeling was somehow absent, like a forgotten memory, like a gap in his mind.

“He gave you a gift, Proclaimer Xchati,” the Angel reminded him, even more gentle than she was before. “This is your choice.”

“Will they know that I was the one who chose?” he asked. “My people: will they know?”

The Angel showed her teeth again. “Not unless you tell them yourself.”

“Will it just be the armies? The leaders?”

She shook her head. “You know that it won't. It will be everyone, Proclaimer. Now, what do you choose?”

Drll remembered being taken to this ship. He remembered talking to its leader. He remembered something changing… something that kept tugging at his thoughts… something that he would be able to identify immediately if only it wasn't so dark inside his mind…

He remembered every dying Lotonan that was his responsibility. He remembered every Ik'anan who ever set foot on his world.

He could not remember why he should show mercy.

Drll could no longer hide the buzz of emotion as he answered: “Do it.”

The Angel nodded to someone else on the command deck. “Move the Fleet into position,” she said. “Prepare all turbolaser batteries to fire on my command.” She turned back to look at Drll. “Would you like to stay and watch?”

Drll could not remember why he would refuse. He clicked his joints as he said, “Yes. I would.”

She showed her teeth again. “Congratulations, Proclaimer Xchati: your chains are broken.”

Chapter Text

There were new guards in the hallway of the cell block, Pre Vizsla noticed with a private smile. That must mean that she had finally given in to her curiosity and come to see him.

Her absence until now had been intentional, he knew—a way of reminding him who had the power in this situation.

But Pre knew it was a power that wouldn't last. All he had to do was be patient, and then he would be free and things would happen the way they were supposed to happen. He would finally have what he deserved.

This was a long time coming.

His original plan had been nearly perfect: unlike many in Clan Vizsla, Pre knew the direction the war was headed: that people were weakened enough from years of fighting that the naive dreams of a self-righteous girl were appealing—at least for the moment. The New Mandalorians would win temporarily, and even though it would be a small setback in a larger war for the soul of their people, Pre knew that the only way to ensure that Clan Vizsla triumphed in the end was if he became part of the Duchess's inner circle.

So he did what he could to get her attention: he kept his clan at an aloof distance during the war, extracting promise after promise from her until she couldn't win without him, and then brought dozens of other clans in line behind him. His help had been invaluable: she had said so herself.

Which meant that when the war ended, Pre was in the perfect position: finally leader of his House and Clan, newly-appointed Governor of Concordia, and the Duchess's closest confidant. It would take a little time to guide her back onto the right path, of course, but Pre could be patient. If he played his cards right, he thought, he could get even closer: she was an attractive woman and the union of two great clans would be appealing.

And then that Jedi whelp ruined everything.

Of course he had heard the rumors—everyone had heard the rumors of the Jedi bodyguard with the boyish smile, far too young and pretty to be anything but ornamental while his Master did all the real work. Pre wasn’t even surprised that the Duchess had fallen for him, but he reassured himself that once the war was over, nothing would come of it. She may be young and foolish, but she was still a Mandalorian and the Jedi were still their ancient foes. She would never stoop so low.

Pre kept repeating it to himself, over and over: She would never go through with this obscenity.

He repeated it until the day of the wedding, hoping against all hope that she would realize what an abominable mistake she was making. Until he saw his careful plans falling to pieces around him. Until the red mist descended over his vision and the Darksaber was in his hand and he no longer cared that he was showing his true colors in front of all of Mandalore. He had nothing to be ashamed of: he was doing what was best for everyone.

He could not stand aside and let her do such a heinous thing. She was sullying their traditions, making a mockery of what it meant to be a Mandalorian—to be a warrior—and all for the sake of someone who by all rights should have been killed the second he arrived in Sundari.

He remembered the pitiful soothing statements that everyone else made in the days before the wedding: that the boy had left the Jedi Order, that it didn’t matter where he was from—someone even dared to use the old saying, “no one cares who your father was, only the father you’ll be,” which sent Pre into an even deeper rage because it reminded him that she was planning on having that piece of filth’s children

It should have been easy for Pre to put an end to it. It would have been easy, had that foreign weakling been as useless as he appeared.

Instead, Pre found himself facing someone who could actually fight, and his plans went up in smoke yet again.

It was agony to have to retreat, but the alternative was losing the Darksaber on top of everything else he had lost that day.

He made sure that they both remembered him, though. Year after year, Pre sent them a deadly reminder that he was still out there and still a force to be reckoned with.

And this year, at last, something finally changed.

He hadn’t needed much encouragement, of course, but the offer he received had helped with his decision: this would be the final year. Pre would deliver one last challenge and he would either win the duel… or win what was to follow.

It wasn’t impossible that Pre would have won the duel outright: years of pampered domestic life and raising their mongrel brats would have dulled the Jedi’s edge, and for a moment it looked like Pre would win, until that mysterious stranger wearing scraps of beskar’gam threw a lightsaber while shouting incoherently. No doubt part of some plan on the Duchess’s part: they must have prepared for the possibility of his eventual return, year after year—it was good to know that they had not forgotten the threat he posed.

The memory of placing the Darksaber into that hut’uun’s hand still made his stomach churn with disgust, but Pre comforted himself with the knowledge that it would soon be back in his own hands, at which point he would use it to behead the man who had thwarted his plans at every turn.

Pre just had to be patient.

They were approaching a camp of what in all likelihood contained dozens of angry Mandalorian terrorists, but all that Anakin could think of at the moment was how much his chin itched.

He had gotten sick of putting on a helmet every time he had to go out in public (or be around anyone who wasn’t part of Obi-Wan’s family), but he still needed some way to disguise the fact that he looked eerily similar to the most feared individual in the galaxy, so Obi-Wan had suggested that Anakin consider growing a beard. The idea wasn’t very appealing—in Anakin’s opinion, facial hair was for ancient stuffy Jedi or for Jedi who might as well have been ancient, in particular his Obi-Wan, who sometimes seemed like he was already 100 years old on the inside and was just waiting for his body to catch up—but it was better than a helmet, so all Anakin could do was hope that the end result looked more like Bail Organa than Ki-Adi-Mundi.

So far, it didn’t look like much, other than an annoyance.

But it wasn’t like it mattered if a bunch of Death Watch members mistook him for the Warlord, Anakin thought. It might even help.

“Are you sensing anyone?” he asked Obi-Wan. His own danger sense wasn’t warning him of anything, which was actually making him more nervous than if it had been. They still had another ten minutes or so until they got within visual range of the camp; the foliage in the surrounding area was surprisingly difficult to move through, but at least they had the cover of trees.

“Nothing more than that there are people there,” Obi-Wan replied. Obviously, the crash had gotten their attention; he was surprised that the Death Watch hadn’t tried bombarding the area. The fact that they hadn’t, though, implied that they might have sent all the armed ships they had to spare when he and Obi-Wan arrived in-system.

“Hopefully they’ll have a ship left that we can steal,” Anakin said.

It was another instance of feeling back on familiar ground, Anakin thought: the two of them about to take on some new danger, the way they always did.

Telling Obi-Wan the truth about what happened before he traveled back in time had lifted a massive weight from Anakin’s mind, to the extent that something happened for the first time since he returned to Coruscant after defeating (killing, he corrected himself) Count Dooku on the Invisible Hand: Anakin had slept without having a single nightmare.

To fall asleep and not have that horrible pressure on his chest, to wake up and just be awake without having to sift through his memories of what was real and what had only happened in his head, to not dread the idea of resting… it would have been an understatement to say that it had helped.

This is going to work. I can do this. We can do this.

This is destiny.

There had been a brief argument when they started off from the wreckage, during which Anakin had suggested subduing the entire base, “since we’re already here,” but Obi-Wan pointed out that the point of the mission was reconnaissance and they had just confirmed that the Death Watch was based here and, for once, Anakin decided to let him win the argument.

The closer they got to the encampment, the quieter they needed to be, which meant that by the time they heard the first Death Watch patrol, Anakin was practically whispering right into Obi-Wan’s ear. “Over there,” he hissed, pointing in the direction of a pair of voices, slightly muffled by their helmets.

“—think he’s even Mando?” one of them said.

“Myles called him vod, so at least he thinks so,” the other replied. “But I don’t know… anyone as dangerous as him could probably just take someone’s beskar’gam if he wanted to.”

The first one made a noise of disgust. “If he did—”

“We can deal with that later, after he gives us a ride off this rock. Let’s just clean this up so we can go already.”

Anakin heard Obi-Wan’s sigh of dismay. “I didn’t realize they were so young," he whispered to Anakin.

“They don’t sound much older than I am,” Anakin whispered back.


Anakin frowned at him. “Weren’t you younger than me when you left the Order?”

“When I was that age, no one was asking me to die honorably in the name of some idealized version of the past.”

Anakin thought back to some of the things he had done during the war. “Are you sure?”

Obi-Wan turned to look at him with an expression that Anakin couldn’t quite interpret but suspected was mostly concern. Possibly with a hint of dread.

“Come on,” Anakin whispered, starting to pick his way through the underbrush again. “If most of them are out on patrol, we might have a shot of outnumbering the ones who are left.”

Something was starting to tug at the edge of Anakin’s senses… something strangely familiar.

The feeling got worse when they reached the edge of the clearing. There were some speeder bikes and a few Sandhawks that looked only barely functional, but the largest craft was a Firespray transport, judging by the unique curve of its hull and the way its engines were flat against the ground underneath the rest of the craft.

He had a nagging suspicion that he had seen this ship before.

“Can you sense anyone on board?” Obi-Wan whispered.

Anakin concentrated for a moment. “Two people. It looks like it’s here to pick the rest of them up.”

“I wonder how they got here to begin with?” Obi-Wan mused.

“Vizsla probably took their only passenger ship when he left for Sundari,” Anakin suggested.

Obi-Wan sighed again. “Stranding his own followers here.”

“Sounds in-character for him,” Anakin said. He unclipped the lightsaber from his belt. “We probably won’t get a better shot than this; let’s go.”

“Wait,” Obi-Wan said, putting a hand on his shoulder to stop him. “If this is the only ship that can fly, we’ll be leaving those Sandhawk pilots drifting in space.”

Anakin winced. The pilots who had been disabled in the planet’s atmosphere could land and make their way back to the camp eventually, but the ones they encountered first would be stranded in orbit until someone was able to come retrieve them… which could be days from now. The Death Watch had wrecked a lot of things, but they didn’t deserve to starve to death in a cockpit. He sighed. “What’s the nearest Republic world?”

Obi-Wan shook his head. “I’m not sure: the Vyndaran system is close enough to the Outer Rim that the Republic might be hesitant to send anyone here at all. We’ll have to check once we get on the ship.”

“Hopefully we can contact someone who’ll arrive before the Broken Fleet does,” Anakin said grimly. “But first we have to get the ship.” He groaned as he saw Obi-Wan draw a blaster. “Don't tell me you didn't bring your lightsaber again.”

Obi-Wan actually looked confused. “I did bring it, but I would prefer to use something with a stun setting.” He frowned when Anakin snorted with laughter. “What?”

“So uncivilized,” Anakin said with an exaggerated sigh. He was pleased to get a chance to demonstrate his Obi-Wan impression again.

“Did I say that?” Obi-Wan asked.

Anakin couldn’t help counting them on his fingers: “‘Uncivilized, clumsy and random, inelegant—”

Obi-Wan appeared to be holding back a groan. “You make me sound like a snob.”

“You’re the one married to a Duchess,” Anakin said. “Go figure.”

“Didn’t you marry a Queen?” Obi-Wan asked incredulously.

“She wasn’t still a Queen when I married her!”

“Shh!” Obi-Wan hissed. “We’re going to be overheard.”

"I’m not the one who spent over a decade being loudly smug about my choice of weapons!” Anakin whispered in reply.

“Well, neither am I!”

Anakin blinked. “Oh. Right.” He felt suddenly uncomfortable at the realization that he had forgotten yet again that this was a different person than his Master. He went back to analyzing the camp. “Hey, look,” he said, indicating a large metal disc on the far side of the camp, “there’s a communications array. That must be how they called for a ride.”

“I suppose we should disable it before we leave.”

“Let’s split up,” Anakin suggested. “I’ll take care of the array, you head for the ship.” He couldn’t help adding: “seeing as you can’t exactly stun the machinery with a blaster.”

Obi-Wan rolled his eyes so hard that Anakin wouldn’t have been surprised if he pulled a muscle in the process. “Try not to crash into anything on your way there,” he replied drily.

“Oh ha ha," Anakin said with a grin as he jogged towards his target.

It only took a few slashes to damage the main portions of the array, but by the time Anakin had finished, he heard the sound of several blasters firing.

I hope I wasn’t wrong about there only being two people on the ship.

Anakin ran in a direct line towards the still-annoyingly-familiar ship, which meant that he was able to see the first Death Watch members emerging from the trees and heading in his direction.

“Time to go,” he muttered to himself. He reached the ship, headed up the ramp, and nearly tripped over the unconscious person in armor that was lying on the deck. He tossed them out onto the ground and then hit the controls to raise the ramp.

At least no one can attack us from behind now.

More blaster fire echoed through the ship. Anakin ran faster, his lightsaber lit and ready, heading in the direction of the sound.

He arrived in the cockpit just in time to see the remaining Mandalorian—probably the pilot—fire a cable from a device on his wrist, which wrapped around Obi-Wan, pinning his arms to his sides and causing him to drop his blaster.

Before Anakin could decide whether he wanted to tease Obi-Wan about his predicament before freeing him or afterwards, he saw Obi-Wan make a small gesture with his hand and felt a quick flash through the Force.

The pilot’s head suddenly twisted to one side so abruptly that Anakin was briefly terrified that Obi-Wan had broken his neck with the Force, until the man’s hands reached up to remove the helmet and it became obvious that Obi-Wan had used telekinesis to turn just the helmet around, rather than the head it contained.

“Nice trick,” Anakin said, breathing a silent sigh of relief… which froze halfway out of his lungs as the pilot finished taking off his helmet and Anakin found himself staring at a face he recognized. One that he had seen thousands of times on hundreds of different people over the last three years.

It was Jango Fett.

Of course the Darksaber was the first thing he noticed. Satine knew that it would be, but she decided to wear it anyway.

Without the Darksaber or his armor, the Pre Vizsla sitting in this detention cell almost looked like the person she had once called a friend all those years ago. As much as she despised him now, it would have made the last dozen or so years easier to bear if she had always seen him as an enemy.

No one can hate a stranger this deeply.

His betrayal began years before she realized what had happened; now, with the benefit of hindsight, Satine could see the signs of it in every supposedly-helpful action he had taken during the Great Clan Wars. The constantly postponed meetings that kept her from fully turning her attention anywhere else. His offers of assistance in dealing with other clans as an intermediary, putting just a little more distance between her and any other allies every time. He worked so hard to make her dependent on him. He reminded her, over and over, of how much he had done for her. She found herself agreeing with him. She was so grateful for his help, to the point where she wondered if she ever could have ended the war without him.

He worked so hard to isolate her, not realizing that she hadn’t been truly alone since that day on Gargon when she yelled at a Jedi apprentice until he finally looked at her.

That knowledge—that she didn’t need him, that she didn’t depend on him—was likely what broke Vizsla, and his inability to let go had caused nothing but pain for everyone, including himself. Some of that pain was even physical: Satine could see the bandages over the lightsaber slash to his side that he had received during the duel.

If he hadn’t spent the last thirteen years trying to kill her and her husband, she might have felt sorry for him.

She stood outside his detention cell, watching him through the transparent door. His wrists were bound together in stun cuffs and his ankles were similarly restrained, connected by magnetic cuffs to the floor of the cell. He had no privacy here—which, in Satine’s opinion, was an added bonus: if Vizsla wanted to be noticed so badly, he now had every guard in the Royal Prison for an audience.

“If you have something to tell me,” she said, “you might as well get on with it.”

He was still looking at the Darksaber on her belt. “The noble pacifist, carrying a weapon,” he laughed mockingly. “How does it feel?”

Ignoring him, she asked the question again. “What information was so important that I had to come here in person?”

He still looked amused. “I heard that you beat your husband bloody for it in front of everyone in Sundari.”

Satine felt a sharp spike of anger. He was drawing this ordeal out for as long as he could, and trying to get a rise out of her in the process.

“I don't believe it, of course,” he said. “You don't have the stomach for that kind of violence.”

“I am not here for idle conversation,” she snapped. “Get to the point.”

He acted as if she hadn't even spoken. “Have you activated it yet? Listened to it hum, stared at the energy crawling over it like lightning?” He smiled; it was not a nice smile. “It responds to your emotional state, you know… the more intense your emotions are, the more powerful the blade becomes.”

Satine rolled her eyes. “I hope, for your sake, that you didn’t beg me to visit you just to offer me saber lessons.”

The use of the word ‘beg’ apparently touched a nerve, she noticed, because his smile faded. “As if I would grovel before someone like you,” he hissed. “Knowing that your fingerprints are all over my saber makes me sick. Yours and that weakling’s.”

She felt her anger return, like bile rising in the back of her throat. “And yet, that saber is on this side of the door.”

“A pointless taunt,” he scoffed. “I won't be here forever—”

“Planning a daring escape, are you?”

“—and once I’m free and have reclaimed what is mine—”

“You’ll kill me, you’ll kill Obi-Wan—the same dull threats you've been making for years.” She tried to sound dismissive, but she couldn’t shake the feeling of rage that was growing with every word out of Vizsla’s mouth.

Thirteen years of assassins. Any one of them could have gotten lucky.

Even if her husband didn’t believe in luck.

Obi-Wan could have died, trying to protect me.

If Anakin had not been there, if he had not been carrying his lightsaber, if he hadn’t thrown it to Obi-Wan in time… she would have lost him.

All because of this monster in front of me.

“Oh, I’ll leave you for last,” he said, a sick grin twisting his features, “so you can watch me correct all your mistakes: your traitorous sister, that piece of Jedi filth, your little half-breed—”

“More words,” she said, suddenly aware that she was trembling with fury, “and none of them worth the breath you’re wasting on them.”

“But you still came to hear what I have to say,” he said with a sneer.

“We don’t necessarily need you in one piece in order for you to talk,” she snapped.

“Ordering your Protectors to torture me so that you can keep your hands clean? Take these cuffs off of me and prove that you’re a real warrior,” he demanded.

For a moment, she was tempted to do it: to open the door, undo the binders on his wrists, run him through with the Darksaber, and prove that she could take care of herself without relying on Obi-Wan or Bo-Katan or her Protectors to do the fighting for her…

And then I would be victorious.

Her hand rested on the hilt of the saber.

The things that he said about Ka-Riita… about Obi-Wan and Bo-Katan…

It would just take a moment to unclip it from her belt.

No one would fault me for killing him. It would be easy.

But it would give Vizsla exactly what he wanted.

“I have nothing to prove to you,” she said, reining in her temper and dropping her hand to her side. “You are nothing but a small, petty man who thought he was a hero and then settled for being a villain instead. I once thought of you as my friend, even my nemesis… but you’re not. You’re nothing.”

That seemed to hurt Vizsla even more than the lightsaber wound.

“All these years,” she continued, shaking her head, “all of those idiotic duels, they were merely… annoying. An irritant. A little tantrum to get our attention—to get my attention. As if we were equals.” She couldn’t help laughing in disbelief. “We are not equals. You don’t deserve the validation—the privilege—of a fight.” She took a deep breath. “And apparently you have nothing to tell me,” she said, beginning to turn and walk away.

One step, two steps…

“Wait.” From the sound of his voice, it was obviously agony for him to say it. One more blow to his pride, Satine thought with a smile: even now, she still didn’t need him.

Hiding her satisfaction under a look of contempt, she returned to the cell. “Did you remember what it was, then?”

“I have information about the Broken Fleet,” he said. His expression was more downcast than before.

“Then say it.”

“They are coming here.”

“That isn’t news,” Satine pointed out. “We have known this for weeks.” She gave a quiet snort of laughter. “Though I suppose that news might not have reached the Death Watch yet.”

“They knew where to find us.” Vizsla’s voice was almost a growl. “They came to our camp and knocked our sentries out before we even knew that they were there.”

“Who, exactly?” she asked. This was at least beginning to get interesting.

“Someone in a mask… highly placed in their ranks.”

Satine was skeptical. “A single person incapacitated the entire Death Watch?”

“If there was more than one, I didn’t see them. But the one that was there… they moved too fast to even follow. And,” he said, “they had a lightsaber.”

Satine began to feel a prickle of anxiety on the back of her neck. She knew from her conversations with Anakin that the Warlord was Force-sensitive, and she knew from Obi-Wan that the Jedi had sent more than one person to obtain information about the Broken Fleet… and that no one had ever returned.

Fallen Jedi? Brainwashed captives? Or were they one of the Sith that Anakin had warned them about (like the Chancellor himself, according to Anakin… a claim that she was still not sure she believed)?

“And they left you alive?” she asked.

"He wanted to talk to me,” Vizsla said; his voice carried the faintest hint of pride, which made Satine’s stomach churn in disgust. Who could possibly be proud that a demagolka like the Warlord would pay attention to them?


He still looked smug; Satine had a sudden urge to slap him. “He had questions about Mandalore: about the Death Watch, about the duel, even the Darksaber… but he was most interested in hearing about how you and your Jetii husband have made a mockery of our traditions and ruined our people.”

That prickling feeling on the back of her neck grew even stronger. The Warlord of the Broken Fleet was asking Vizsla about her.

Satine knew that she was not unknown outside of the Mandalore system, but a mentally disturbed teenager who had never left the Outer Rim went to the trouble of finding a group that even her own Protectors were unable to locate, just to interrogate their—

If he had been interrogated…

The only wounds that Vizsla had were the ones that Obi-Wan had given him during the duel.

An unpleasant suspicion began to grow in the back of Satine’s mind, but she quickly dismissed it as absurd. He was a petty and vain terrorist, but Vizsla was a Mandalorian through and through. He would never stoop so low.

“And you just answered his questions, then,” she said.

“He made it worth my while.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“I mean, enjoy your chance to play dress-up, Satine,” he said, his expression somewhere between a grin and a snarl. “The Broken Fleet is coming to put me where I belong.”

It was as though the blood froze in her veins. “You… you allied with them?” she said, trying to keep the air moving in and out of her lungs even though she felt like there was a durasteel band wrapped around her ribcage.

“Our interests aligned,” he said, still smiling nastily. “He wanted a new Mand’Alor and so did I. He encouraged me to go to Sundari myself, said that we would win no matter what, and that his forces would support my claim. With their help, I will finally be able to repair all the damage you have done to our people.”

The feeling of being encased in metal intensified. “You joined our enemies, the people who are coming here to destroy us… all for a little taste of power?”

“It is what I deserve!”

“What you deserve?” She was suddenly inside the cell and the Darksaber was in her hand, ignited and mere centimeters from his throat. “What you deserve is…”

Just cut his head off and end it.

“What you deserve…” Her hand, which had been shaking, suddenly went perfectly still.

Remember that feeling of triumph?

“You can’t bring yourself to do it, can you?” he sneered.

...what am I doing?

“No,” she said, turning off the saber and returning it to her belt, “because you don’t even deserve that. You deserve nothing. You are nothing.” She stood just inside the cell, with the door still open behind her. His cuffs were the only thing keeping Vizsla from attacking her or escaping, but she was too furious to care. “You accuse me of betraying our people? You allied with the Broken Fleet! How dare you claim to be a Mandalorian! You value nothing but your own greed and cowardice!”

“I did what I knew was best for—”

Satine interrupted his feeble protest. “—for you! What was best for you!” She was certain that half of the prison could hear her yelling at this point. “Why did you bother to bring me down here at all? To brag?”

The look on his face was all the answer she needed.

That arrogant fool.

“You don’t deserve the dignity of an execution,” she hissed. “In fact, I am going to make sure that you live for as long as possible.” She barely had to think about what to say: her anger was doing the talking for her. “You claimed for so long to uphold our traditions, so I will give you what you do deserve, according to tradition: from now on, you are dar’manda."

He flinched.


“Do you know what that means, or have you drifted so far from our ways that you can’t remember?” Her hands were clenched at her sides. “You are no longer a warrior. You are no longer a Mandalorian. From now on, you are without honor or a home or a soul.”

That was the true meaning of dar’manda: soulless. A fate worse than death if one believed in such things.

A few days ago, Satine would have said without hesitation that it was nothing but relics of an old religion that no one practiced in this modern age. Just myths and stories. Even the most traditional Mandalorians didn’t place much stock in it anymore.

But for a single moment, she and Vizsla stared at one another and both knew that it was true.

“I am the leader of House Vizsla,” he said, his voice containing a little more desperation than it did before.


“Former leader,” she corrected him. “They moved on without you.”

“But they would still never allow—”

“Do you really think that House Vizsla would object, after everything you have done?” she asked incredulously. “They barely acknowledged you after you ran off with the Death Watch—what do you think they will do once I tell them about your treachery?”

“You have no power to just declare—” She could hear the growing fear in his voice.


“Of course I have the power!” she cried. “I am the Mand’Alor, you spineless little worm, and if I declare it to be so, it will be so.”

“You have no right—”

“No right? I have every right: I won, remember? All of this is mine: my worlds, my people—” She flicked a finger against the doorframe. “My little row of detention cells where you will be spending the rest of your life, forgotten and nameless.”

She leaned in—still out of range, but just barely—and spoke in a voice so soft that it was almost a whisper. “And my Darksaber. You can console yourself with that, at least: if it hadn’t been for you, I would still be a mere Duchess. But now I am the Mand’Alor, all thanks to you and your foolish obsession with revenge.” She laughed. “You gave away everything… and even better, you gave it all to me.”

He must have forgotten about the binders on his ankles, Satine realized, as Vizsla attempted to lunge at her and instead lost his balance and fell to his knees.

Right where he belongs.

She looked down at him with undisguised disgust. “You have lost everything you ever had: your House, your Clan, your armor—in fact,” she added with a smirk, “I can’t wait to see what it will look like once Obi-Wan’s done reforging it.”

She was certain that he meant to roar some kind of profanity or threat at her… but all that came out was a howl of despair.

“Goodbye, Pre,” Satine said as she left the cell and closed the door, “and thank you… for everything.”

She continued down the hall, leaving him alone with the shattered remains of his dignity and hope.

Chapter Text

It took Obi-Wan a moment to free himself, but even after he had kicked away the last of the cable and retrieved his blaster, Anakin and the pilot were still staring at one another.

It was no mystery as to why this stranger recognized Anakin—he was Anakin Skywalker, and the stubble on his face had done little to disguise that fact—but what Obi-Wan was unable to understand was why Anakin was looking back at him with a similar level of recognition—and alarm.

“Were you followed?” Obi-Wan asked, trying to jolt Anakin out of whatever shock he was experiencing.

Anakin didn’t take his eyes off the Mandalorian. “They weren’t far behind. We can’t stay here for long.”

“I need to retrieve something from my ship,” Obi-Wan said as he sat down in the pilot’s seat; he had been considering this idea ever since he realized that the Death Watch pilots were going to be stranded in space, “so we can drop him off there… unless you plan to take him with us?”

“No,” Anakin confirmed. “He’s staying here.” He frowned at the pilot. “We haven’t met before, have we?”

The pilot shook his head. He didn’t appear to be afraid, but still looked extremely wary.

“But you know who I am, right?” Anakin asked.

“Everyone knows who you are,” the pilot said; Obi-Wan couldn’t quite place his accent, though it had a slight drawl to it that was common on Concord Dawn. His armor appeared to be in good shape, if heavily-used. Obi-Wan didn’t understand why the Death Watch members he overheard were so skeptical that he was a Mandalorian.

“So then tell me,” Anakin said with a smirk, “why would one of the galaxy’s best bounty hunters agree to give a ride to the remnants of the Death Watch?”

"Owed someone a favor," the pilot said.

A bounty hunter? That was rare among Mandalorians, Obi-Wan knew—it was considered tacky at best and obscene at worst to try and profit off of the trappings of traditional Mandalorian culture. For a bounty hunter to openly wear the armor…

He remembered: “You’re Jango Fett?” Obi-Wan asked, trying not to sound incredulous.

“You recognize him?” Anakin asked.

“Let’s just say that he wouldn’t get the warmest reception in Sundari,” Obi-Wan replied as the ship’s repulsorlifts kicked in and he tried to figure out where they had landed their fighters.

Well… where he had landed his fighter. What Anakin had done in order to reach the ground did not fit even the most generous definition of ‘landing.’

Fett appeared to be giving Anakin a closer look than before. “You’re not the Warlord,” he said, suspicion overtaking whatever fear he had previously experienced. “He isn’t this old.”

“How would you know?” Anakin asked. Obi-Wan could hear the slight tension in his voice; he was obviously stalling while he tried to think of an explanation.

“If you haven’t met before,” Obi-Wan pointed out, “then you would be relying on holos and hearsay, wouldn’t you? Your information is obviously out of date.”

Fett shook his head. “Not a chance. No seventeen year old looks like that.” He snorted with derision. “Besides, the leader of the Broken Fleet, with only one lieutenant, trying to swipe a ship like a common pirate? Who are you really?”

Obi-Wan risked taking his eyes off where he was flying, and caught the flash of inspiration in Anakin’s eyes. “Isn’t it obvious?” Anakin said condescendingly. “I’m a clone.”

It took all the control that Obi-Wan possessed at the moment to not give Anakin a look of utter bafflement. He kept his attention on their flight path instead.

He knew that cloning wasn’t impossible; the HoloNews would occasionally report on advancements in genetic science at some Republic research institute or other, but it was purely theoretical and never done on sentient species due to it being legally dubious at best. He couldn’t believe that Anakin would resort to such a ridiculous explanation.

To his surprise, though, Fett appeared to take it seriously. “How?”

“Oh, you know how,” Anakin scoffed. “Do you really think you were the only one they used? They tried with him first—that’s why I’m older than yours are. Sure, the flash-learning process wasn’t really possible since they only had DNA samples to work with… not like all the procedures they’re putting you through.”

“How many did they make?” Fett actually sounded nervous.

“Just me.” He was obviously enjoying himself, Obi-Wan noticed. “They weren’t satisfied with the results: even with the behavioral modification chips, I was too defiant to suit their purposes.”

At least that last bit was true, Obi-Wan couldn’t help silently snarking to himself, but he was still puzzled. Where was Anakin getting the material for such an unexpectedly convincing bluff? He certainly didn’t strike Obi-Wan as the sort of person who had any interest in genetics.

Anakin continued, laughing at Fett. “But I hear you’re much more pliable. So, who recruited you: Sifo-Dyas or Tyranus?” When Fett responded with a stony glare, Anakin merely shrugged. “I guess it doesn’t matter—I can always ask the Kaminoans the next time I check in. I’m long overdue anyway—plus, I'm sure they’ll be thrilled to finally talk to a Jedi.”

“Why would they possibly think you were a Jedi?”

“Oh, I’m not,” Anakin said. “But he is.”

He was apparently pointing at Obi-Wan. There was a moment’s silence, then Fett scoffed. “I recognize that face: that’s Duchess Satine's husband. He left the Jedi years ago.”

Anakin laughed. “Oh, is that the story they’re telling now? Come on, do you really think that the Jedi Order just lets people leave?”

Obi-Wan caught the smallest note of bitterness behind Anakin’s words, and after a moment realized its source.

That must have been why he married his wife in secret: he believed that the Order could keep him from her.

Combined with his question from earlier…

(“No one was asking me to die honorably in the name of some idealized version of the past.”)

(“Are you sure?”)

Obi-Wan was beginning to wonder what exactly the Jedi Order was like in Anakin’s timeline. Were they anything like the Order he had grown up in?

Did they go to war because they had changed… or did they change because they went to war?

Whichever happened first, he was also beginning to suspect that it had something to do with the reason Anakin knew so much about how cloning worked.

“We’re about to land,” Obi-Wan said.

“Thank you, Master Kenobi,” Anakin said. The sheer glee with which he said that particular word somehow made Obi-Wan even more uncomfortable than he already was.

He’s forgetting again.

Worse, Obi-Wan couldn’t shake the discomfort over his own immediate reaction to being referred to as ‘Master Kenobi’: the fact that he hadn’t been uncomfortable with it at all. It had felt… right.

I’m not him. I could never be him, I could never have made the choice that he made, I could never have lived with the consequences the way that he did…

I am not him.

But there was still that moment from earlier: when Anakin was far too obsessed with completing their mission, obsessed enough that he was willing to risk death in order to see it through, while Obi-Wan pleaded with him to just bail out—and then Anakin said ‘trust me’ and suddenly the Force was a blinding light, illuminating a connection that Obi-Wan didn’t understand but couldn’t deny was there.

It was a connection that had been there since the moment the Force deposited Anakin Skywalker in a forgotten room in the basement of the Jedi Temple, hurled through time and space to the exact moment when Obi-Wan happened to be in the exact location where his counterpart had resided in the Temple.

And then everything that happened since, all of the things that Obi-Wan couldn’t explain: the sudden impulse that made him beg Mace Windu for a chance to talk to Anakin again before the Jedi turned him over to Coruscant Security, the ache when he left for Mandalore at the thought of leaving Anakin behind, his inexplicable decision to help Anakin in his mad plan to save two timelines at once—

Trust me.

On the trip home from Coruscant, Obi-Wan had vowed not to get close to him, but it had happened anyway. Anakin saved his life and then confessed his darkest secrets to him, and now it was too late to back away. There would be no more distance between them.

Trust me.

And he did. Within only a handful of days, he trusted Anakin with his life and knew that it was reciprocated to just as powerful a degree.

Trust me.

Because the damned Force didn’t give Obi-Wan a choice in the matter.

He kept trying to conjure up feelings of resentment at the way that Anakin had upended his entire life and put him in danger, but the resentment wouldn’t come. All he could feel was the thrill of yet another adventure, the rock-solid camaraderie of brotherhood, the instinctive need to support and protect this young man at all costs—an affection for him nearly as strong as what Obi-Wan felt for his own family.

He didn’t even have a choice in how he was reacting to it.

The so-called Chosen One decided that Obi-Wan was the most important person in his life, and the Force had just… complied?

No wonder Anakin Skywalker was so dangerous—both the one standing beside him and the one at the helm of the Broken Fleet. All he had to do was want something badly enough and the entire universe would change to accommodate him.

Obi-Wan landed the ship and then gathered up the tangle of cable from the deck. “We can tie him up with this,” he said.

Anakin grinned at him. “Good idea.” He turned to Fett without changing his expression. “Don’t worry, we’ll untie you before we leave. But first,” he said as the idea occurred to him, “let’s get that armor off. I bet you’ve got a few tricks hiding up your sleeve and I’d rather not find out about them the hard way.”

As Obi-Wan looped the cable around the bounty hunter’s wrists, he noticed that his own hands were trembling.

I’m not him… but the longer I spend around Anakin, the more likely I am to become him.

And worse, I would end up being completely fine with that.

It was strange to wander around one’s own residence like this, but it really did feel as though Satine had never been there before. She was somehow a stranger here—more than that: an intruder.

What have I done?

She had nearly killed him. She kept waiting for someone to intercept her, to tell her that it was wrong, to force her to account for her actions. Attempted murder was a crime, even if the victim was a prisoner. There were laws about that sort of thing.

But not for her. None of those rules applied to her. She could have killed Pre Vizsla and no one would have batted an eye. She was the Mand’Alor. There were no rules for her but the Resol’nare.

Perhaps the rules had never applied to her at all, and she was only now beginning to realize that.

(“If I declare it to be so, it will be so!”)

The only check on her actions was herself. And she was rapidly losing control.

It was like a new civil war had erupted, only this time the war was an internal one. The Mand’Alor versus the Duchess. The warrior versus the pacifist.

The strong versus the weak.

No, she told herself, recoiling from that thought as though it were a detonator. Real strength was staying true to one’s principles, not giving in to violent impulses.

But those impulses were there: a voice now always in the back of her mind, whispering poisonous thoughts about how easy it would be to just let go, to give in to that anger that never seemed to leave her blood these days, to fight and win, to always win because there was no one who could stop her, not anymore…

Her anger had been useful: it provided her with the inspiration to destroy Vizsla more thoroughly and painfully than any physical attack ever could. It was a beautiful weapon, sleeker and even more deadly than the saber on her belt (one that she could never put down, never, it was hers and no one would ever take it from her), begging her to use it again and again.

She remembered the first time Obi-Wan had explained the Dark Side of the Force to her. It was during their time on Serenno, back when they were hiding in plain sight, pretending to be newlyweds while exploring the possibility that perhaps one day their lives could be like that all the time, hand in hand, side by side.

(A different memory surfaces: "Not a duel but a dual: my side by your side, our hands clasped as fellow soldiers…")

“What does that even mean?” she had asked him. “How can one ‘fall’ to the Dark Side?”

He looked troubled and was silent for a moment. “I’m not sure if it’s a single incident or just a slow process, but eventually there comes a point where one’s anger has so much control that they become nearly unrecognizable to their former self.”

“A point of no return?”

Obi-Wan shrugged uncomfortably. “Master Yoda says that once someone starts down the dark path, it will forever dominate their destiny… but I’m not sure if he means that it’s impossible for someone who has fallen to return to the light.”

Satine secretly thought that the whole idea of destiny was little more than superstition, but this wasn’t the time to argue with him about it.

(Another memory, more recent: "From now on, you are dar'manda.")

“I don’t think that’s true,” she said. “I think anyone can be redeemed, no matter what they have done.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Because otherwise what is the point of negotiating with an enemy? What is the point of trying to achieve peace at all?” She shook her head. “If even the most morally upright person can turn to evil, then surely a wrongdoer can change their ways as well.”

He frowned. “No matter what horrible things they have done? That seems a bit extreme.”

“The galaxy isn’t so easily divided into heroes and villains, my love. True justice and reconciliation are much more difficult than that.”

“It’s more complicated if one has Force powers,” Obi-Wan protested. “The temptation to use that power for corrupt ends is very real.”

“All power runs the risk of corrupting the one who wields it,” she pointed out.

“This is worse. The Dark Side of the Force is like… like a malevolent entity of its own, with its own agenda. There are places—wounds in the Force itself—where the Dark Side is so powerful that it can corrupt or even destroy all life nearby.”

“So are you telling me that, if you were to fall to the Dark Side—truly fall—then you would…?”

He didn’t meet her eyes. “I would become a monster, and the amount of suffering I could leave in my wake would be catastrophic.”

“You don’t know that for sure,” she said.

“Neither do you,” he said quietly, “and I would rather not have the opportunity to find out which one of us is correct.”

She tried to imagine him being corrupted like that, but her mind refused to even consider it.

In retrospect, it was a relief that Pasha joined the Jedi Order: unlike her older sister, she had inherited every bit of her mother’s temper, and Satine and Obi-Wan both worried that without the proper training, her connection to the Force could go in a very dangerous direction.

But was it possible for someone to fall to the Dark Side if they couldn’t use the Force?

Satine shook her head and tried to get a hold of herself. It didn’t matter, she told herself, because she was never going to give herself an opportunity to find out.

She would stay in control. She would remain the same. She would not change.

“You know, they could just swap in a hyperdrive from one of their damaged ships,” Anakin pointed out.

“Not easily,” Obi-Wan countered. “Not with the mess I’m leaving behind.” He made another careful cut with his lightsaber, carving out a section of the circuitry that connected his fighter’s hyperdrive with the rest of the ship’s systems. It would still fly, enabling the Death Watch to retrieve their companions from orbit, but it would also keep them in the Vyndaran system until they could be dealt with.

Anakin peeked over his shoulder. “I could probably jury-rig something out of that in a couple of hours.”

Obi-Wan pulled out a handful of wires and tossed them to the ground below. “I’m beginning to get the feeling that you are a rather massive exception to the rule.”

An exception to the rule in nearly everything, it seems.

Further away, next to the crater that Anakin’s doomed fighter had made in the ground, a tied-up Jango Fett appeared to be doing his best to get within range of something that could assist in freeing him. When he realized that he couldn’t, he settled for shouting profanity at them instead.

“Besides,” Obi-Wan added as he returned the panel to its original location on the underside of the ship, “their fighters are M-1s; MandalMotors did a complete redesign of the electrical systems after the M-3s. They’ll have to rewire the entire ship from scratch to get enough power to the hyperdrive but not short it out in the process.”

Anakin looked somewhere between amused and bewildered. “How do you know so much about these ships?”

“I’ll explain later,” Obi-Wan said, picking up the extracted hyperdrive and heading towards Fett’s ship. “We need to leave before any patrols arrive. Can you handle untying him?”

“Sure,” Anakin said. He gestured in Fett’s general direction and Obi-Wan saw the cables loosen, unwind from around the bounty hunter, and then settle into a slightly-messy coil on the ground. He couldn’t help but be impressed; to do that so casually must have taken a level of finesse that he wouldn’t normally have associated with Anakin, especially since the young man appeared to only be half paying attention to what he was doing.

No wonder he was able to travel back in time: his strength in the Force is apparently enough to compensate for his total lack of subtlety.

For the first time, he wondered what had been going through his counterpart’s head while trying to train someone like that.

Anakin practically ran to the cockpit. “What was that about?” Obi-Wan asked as he hurried to follow him.

The young man grinned as he sat down in the pilot’s seat. “I wanted to fly it this time.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t yell ‘dibs’ on your way there,” Obi-Wan remarked drily. Ka-Riita and Pasha had started doing that in the months leading up to the latter’s departure for Coruscant, and had given him a perpetual headache in the process. “So,” he said, setting down the hyperdrive and taking a seat in the co-pilot’s chair, “where are we heading now?”

Anakin was busy with the navicomputer. “Let’s see… I bet he came straight here from… Aha!” he exclaimed triumphantly. “There it is.” He turned to look at Obi-Wan. “We’re going to Kamino.”

He had mentioned that place before, Obi-Wan recalled, while talking to Fett. “For any particular reason?”

“My first attempt at fixing something in this timeline,” he said, taking the ship up through the atmosphere. “Remember that war I mentioned before? The one against Dooku and the Separatists?”

Obi-Wan nodded.

“Well, our army wasn’t exactly made up of volunteers,” Anakin said grimly. “The Kaminoans are cloners, the best ones in the galaxy, and Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas commissioned an army from them. They made millions of clones, using Jango Fett as the template.”

“Him?” Obi-Wan said, a little stunned. Actually, the whole thing had him feeling like he had been hit in the head with something heavy. Millions of clones, created for battle?

“There were behavioral modification chips implanted in their heads to make them less aggressive.” Anakin’s expression grew even darker. “And more willing to follow orders.”

Like slaves, Obi-Wan realized. “How could a Jedi Master even consider such a thing?”

“I’m not sure,” Anakin admitted. “We never got an answer, because he was killed shortly after commissioning the army. Dooku stepped in and took over the project after that… we didn’t even know they existed until you followed Fett to Kamino after he tried to assassinate Padmé.”

Obi-Wan frowned. I’m not him.

Something else caught his attention, though: “You said that Dooku took over the project? Why didn’t he use them for his army?”

“Palpatine,” Anakin growled. They were exiting the planet’s orbit and he was briefly occupied with the ship’s navicomputer before continuing. “He and Dooku were playing both sides against each other. The idea was to encourage the Jedi Generals to depend on their soldiers, to trust them implicitly, to never suspect a thing… It worked, too: I trusted Rex and the rest of the 501st with my life. But the modification chips weren’t just to make them more…" He grimaced. "…compliant. They contained secret orders, ones known only to the Chancellor. The moment the war was over, the second Palpatine had solidified his hold over the galaxy… he issued the order to eliminate the Jedi.” He shuddered. “The clones followed the orders. They didn’t have a choice.”

“They didn’t have free will,” Obi-Wan said, horrified.

“No,” Anakin said. “They didn’t.”

His words from when they first met: “There’s a Sith in charge of the Republic and he’s killing all the Jedi—”

And then later on: “They didn’t know that Palpatine was able to force those troops to kill them.”

Anakin had already told Obi-Wan. He just hadn’t put it together until this moment.

The bit about the clones was new, though. "So we’re going to Kamino to stop it somehow?” he asked.

Anakin nodded. “Palpatine can’t be allowed to get his hands on them. We have to at least remove the chips so they have a choice.”

Obi-Wan thought back to what Anakin had told Jango Fett. “And you want me to pretend to still be a Jedi?”

Anakin gave him a half-smile as he activated the hyperdrive. “It worked last time.”

Obi-Wan felt his eye twitch. I’m not him. “And what will you be doing?”

Now that the ship had entered hyperspace, Anakin turned and gestured at the armor they had taken from Fett. “I mean, they’re expecting Jango Fett to return on this ship. It’s a disguise in more ways than one.” He laughed. “I can’t believe he fell for that, though: they’d been working on him for about… seven or eight years now, I guess? The Warlord would have been ridiculously young if they cloned him before they cloned Fett.”

Obi-Wan examined the armor a little more closely. “It’s not even real beskar alloy,” he said dismissively, realizing that he sounded a little more judgmental than he had intended.

Memories of the other night, of Satine, stirred briefly in the back of his mind.

“My warrior…”

Another change in himself… in both of them.

Too many changes.

“Sorry about wrecking the fighters, by the way,” Anakin said, though not quite as apologetically as Obi-Wan would have liked.

“Yes, well,” he sighed, “at least now we’ve confirmed that they work well in combat conditions. Incidentally, when we get back to Mandalore, I’m going to suggest that the next batch of prototypes come with a pair of ion cannons installed.”

Anakin raised his eyebrows. “Okay, I’ve waited long enough: what’s the deal with you and that manufacturer?”

Obi-Wan could feel himself squirming uncomfortably in the co-pilot's chair. “At some point a few years ago, it happened to come up that I didn't entirely dislike flying, and MandalMotors offered to let me consult on some of their newest designs… to… try them out… if I wanted. And, due to my—due to Satine’s position, I mean—I’ve sort of become a… well, a sort of patron of the company… in a way.”

Anakin started laughing and Obi-Wan felt a slight flush of embarrassment on his cheeks. “Well, what was I supposed to do when Pasha went to Coruscant and Ka-Riita started school?” he demanded. “Get a job?”

“So you’re some kind of test pilot, then?”

“Something like that. Behind the scenes.”

“Yeah, you’ve never liked being the center of attention,” Anakin laughed, and Obi-Wan suddenly found his temper flaring.

“You don’t know that,” he snapped.

Anakin looked surprised. “I mean, just that the Obi-Wan that I know—”

“—is not me!” He couldn’t stay in his seat, sitting next to this young man who kept assuming over and over— “You can’t even be bothered to remember that.” Obi-Wan began pacing back and forth, trying to keep from losing his composure entirely.

“I do remember!” Anakin protested, though Obi-Wan caught the very distinct note in his voice that his daughters sometimes had when they weren’t being completely honest.

I shouldn’t be able to know when he’s lying, not this soon.

“You want me around because it’s easy,” Obi-Wan pointed out. “Because it means that you don’t have to go through the hard work of getting to know someone and earning their trust. Instead, you’ve just decided that I trust you—”

“Do you trust me?” Anakin looked genuinely worried.

“Of course I do! But I didn’t get a say in it!” He ran a hand over his face and calmed down a little. “You want me to be him so badly that I’m beginning to forget.”

Anakin’s worry turned into outright alarm. “What do you mean, you’re beginning to forget? Forget what?”

“That I haven’t known you for years, that you’re practically a stranger, that I would rather stay at home and have a quiet life with my family.” He groaned. “I hated those duels, hated having to go through that ridiculous ordeal year after year while someone tried to kill me, not to mention kill Satine… but now I can’t stop wishing that I could do it again. Do you understand?” he asked, feeling desperation coiling in his stomach like a tangle of wires. “I despise fighting—”

“But you’re amazing at it! The way you were flying before—”

“Being talented at something is not the same as enjoying it, Anakin!” He took a shuddering breath, trying to keep the fear he was feeling at bay. “Only now, I’m beginning to. I’m changing, and the only explanation I can come up with… is you.”

Anakin looked disgusted; whether it was with Obi-Wan or with himself wasn’t immediately clear. “So you think I’m, what, manipulating your mind with the Force? Changing your personality?”

“Maybe not intentionally, but—”

“If I was really that powerful, do you think I would even be in this mess?” he demanded. “I’m not doing anything to you—except maybe making your life a little less dull!”

Obi-Wan’s temper rose again. “My life is not the issue—”

“Oh come on!” Anakin said derisively. “You mope around a palace all day, you moonlight as a corporate test pilot, you spar with a bunch of idiots for the entertainment of an audience—the highlight of your day is breakfast. And you really wonder why you’re feeling nostalgic for a more exciting life? For the kind of life you had when you were a Jedi? Sure, mortal peril isn’t great, but it’s at least better than being bored all the time.”

“You know nothing about my life!” Obi-Wan retorted. “This is all wishful thinking for you: that you’re, what, rescuing me? Do you think this is dull, Anakin? Well, guess what: when you become a parent, you’re going to have to get used to that! You won’t be able to do things like that stunt you pulled earlier with your ship, because there are going to be people who depend on you—”

“Plenty of people depend on me already,” Anakin snapped. “That’s why I do things like that—because if I don’t, who will? Who’s going to protect them?”

“You can’t exactly protect someone when you’re dead!”

“What do you even know about protecting people, Obi-Wan?” Anakin was out of his seat as well, practically snarling at him. “Because from what I can see, you only care about three people: Satine and your kids. You’re only ever around them—do you even have friends? Are you close to anyone that you’re not related to? Maybe the reason why you’re freaking out is because I’m the first friend you’ve had in years and you don't know how to handle that. You’re changing? Of course you’re changing, that’s what happens when you let someone into your life!” Anakin stepped away, started towards the door of the cockpit, but then spun back around to face him. “The version of Obi-Wan that I knew—sure, his life was harder, but at least he knew how to be a friend!”

Him, him, him, it’s always him! Obi-Wan was nearly seeing red at this point. “Well, unlike that apparently perfect version of me, I didn’t have a choice in whether or not to be friends with you!”

“Like hell you didn’t!”

“You practically kidnapped me in the Temple, you snuck onto my ship and followed me home, you haven’t left me alone for more than a few hours at a time—”

"You agreed to talk to me, you agreed to help me, I didn’t force you to do any of that!” He was back in range again, the two of them back to yelling in each other’s faces.

“How do you even know what you can do?” Obi-Wan demanded. “How do you know that you aren’t causing all of this?”

“Because I am not a villain!” Anakin screamed.

They stood in silence, glaring at one another, both of them breathing as hard as if they had been running.

“I’m not a bad person,” Anakin whispered, desperation draining all the fury and volume from his voice. “I’m not a bad person… I’m not, I’m just… I’m trying… isn’t it enough that I’m trying?”

Obi-Wan shook his head, not in disagreement but exhaustion. “I don’t know.” He could still feel that connection between them, something begging him to make everything okay, to hug Anakin and tell him that he was a hero, to make him happy again.

It would have been easy, he thought to himself, if he was certain that these were his own impulses, or even if he was certain that it was just something that Anakin was making him feel.

But it wasn’t easy at all. Maybe neither of them had control over what was happening.

“I don’t know,” Obi-Wan repeated quietly.

“I guess we need some space,” Anakin said, looking away.

“How long until we reach Kamino?”

“A few hours. I’ll have to check to see exactly how many.”

“We’ll talk again when we get closer, and go over the plan,” Obi-Wan said. “I’ll head to the back of the ship until then—you can have the cockpit to yourself.”

Anakin nodded and slowly sat down in the pilot’s chair. Both of their anger had vanished and in its place was a weary, threadbare sadness.

He’s so young.

He killed a pilot today and barely seemed to notice. He blew up his own ship and laughed it off. He won a war and helped overthrow a Republic almost simultaneously. Killed hundreds but probably saved thousands more.

How can someone who has done those things be this young?

“Anakin,” Obi-Wan couldn’t help saying before he left, “we almost died today. Both of us.”

“I know,” Anakin said flatly, his eyes fixed on the console.

“That isn’t normal. Almost dying every day… that isn’t normal… it shouldn't be normal.” He sighed. “You deserve better than that.”

Anakin didn’t answer. He just kept staring out at the blue and white glow of hyperspace, expressionless, as Obi-Wan left the cockpit.

Chapter Text

Ka-Riita was often busy in the evenings visiting friends or participating in some extracurricular activity or other—sometimes even busier than Satine herself was. Her daughter had a type of resilience that seemed to provide her with the ability to not just endure the chaos of a thousand responsibilities, but to move through that chaos as though she had lived there all her life.

All Satine could manage was to jump from one oasis of calm to the next and hope that solid ground would be waiting for her when she landed. It had served her well for most of her life, but it was taking its toll. She sometimes longed for the day when she could abdicate and let Ka-Riita take her place as Duchess, even though it would be many more years before that was even a possibility.

What would her life be like if she no longer had duties and responsibilities? Satine had considered it: moving back to Kalevala with Obi-Wan, perhaps splitting their time between there and Coruscant, traveling wherever they wanted to go, not to mention finally getting some sleep for what would feel like the first time in years.

In the meantime, there was still so much that she needed to do.

Like lead an army to war.

She had spent today touring the industrial facilities for the new line of starfighters that MandalMotors was churning out—she wished Obi-Wan could have been there with her, pointing out the features and designs that he liked best, perhaps even suggested himself—and then visiting the training grounds of the 54th Battalion, the largest one in Sundari. Most of the soldiers were wearing the mass-produced armor and uniforms, but a surprising number of them were wearing their own beskar’gam, repainted to match the colors of the battalion.

Even in the streets of Sundari, she noticed, more and more people were wearing the traditional armor on a daily basis, the way that they used to back before—

Back before her.

People were happier than they had been in ages. Their excitement was infectious; Satine could still recall the glow of pride that she felt when she bid farewell to the battalion and heard their chants of ‘Oya Manda!’ Full-throated cries of Mandalorian solidarity.

One of Deputy Minister Jerec’s undersecretaries, a severe-looking young woman from Clan Wren, had been the one to guide Satine through the day’s events. At the very end of it, once they had returned to the Palace and were wrapping up their notes for the day, she told Satine: “for the next tour, you should consider wearing your beskar’gam. It would be a good symbol.”

Satine sighed. “That’s going a bit too far, don’t you think?”

“Not at all,” Undersecretary Wren said crisply. “You are carrying the Darksaber; some additional acknowledgement of tradition would—”

“Does it matter?” she said impatiently.

“Of course it matters.” Wren was looking at her like she had grown an extra head. “Right now, your Highness, tradition is all we have.”

Now it was Satine’s turn to be confused. “What do you mean?”

The undersecretary appeared to be weighing her words carefully. “You may speak candidly, Wren,” Satine said.

It still took her a moment to begin. “No one—well, perhaps some of the younger recruits, but other than that—no one believes that Mandalore can defeat the Broken Fleet in the event of a direct attack. Even mobilized, we are outnumbered, but… people think back to the old days, to the old songs and stories about all the times that Mandalore triumphed over impossible odds.”

“Led by a Mand’Alor wielding the Darksaber,” Satine sighed again. “A symbol.”

“Haven’t you always been a symbol, your Highness?”

And Satine did not have an answer to that.

Ka-Riita was, in a rare instance, home for dinner that night. It was just as rare for Satine to be the sole parent present; more often that not, she was busy with matters of state and Obi-Wan was the one who was there with their daughter.

This was, in fact, the first time they had spent more than a few minutes alone with one another since before the duel with Pre Vizsla—before the nature of Satine’s position as the ruler of Mandalore changed. One day, Ka-Riita would not only take her mother’s place as Duchess; she would also take her place as the Mand’Alor.

Assuming the Broken Fleet left anything behind for her to inherit, of course.

Satine was at a loss for how to broach the topic. Aside from a few cursory questions about each other’s day, the majority of the meal was in silence.

Ka-Riita was the one to speak first: “My birthday is in three months, you know.”

There was something perhaps a little too casual in her daughter’s voice; Satine had a sneaking suspicion of where this was heading. “Is there anything special you would like to do to celebrate it?”

“I want to complete my verd’goten,” she said.

Apparently Bo-Katan had finally convinced her, and now that Ka-Riita had made a decision, there was little Satine would be able to do to change her mind. But that wouldn’t prevent her from delaying it if she could. “A verd’goten involves several years of training first. You will have to spend a significant amount of time preparing.”

“Auntie Bo has been teaching me,” Ka-Riita pointed out. “Survival skills, combat, the proper rituals and trials… all of it. She says that I’m ready.”

Satine silently bristled at the idea that her own sister was apparently conspiring against her. “It’s no longer necessary, Ka’Riita,” she said. “Merely an outdated practice.”

“Did you do it?”

“Yes,” Satine said, trying to keep from showing just how irritated she felt; she knew that Ka’Riita was well aware of how Satine had been raised, which meant that her daughter was using the question as a rhetorical point. “Which is why I think that it isn’t relevant anymore.”

“Like how the Darksaber isn’t relevant anymore?”

Satine felt her hand twitch slightly and just barely kept herself from touching the hilt that was still hanging from her belt, to reassure herself that it was still there.

Ka-Riita continued her argument: “I’m not stupid, Mother. I know that things changed after the duel. The traditions are coming back… so I should probably start practicing them, shouldn’t I?”

“Did my sister tell you that?” Satine snapped.

“She didn’t have to,” Ka-Riita shot back. “It’s one of the Six Actions, isn’t it? You’re supposed to raise your children in the traditions of our people, and that includes undergoing the rite of passage.”

“It sounds more like Bo-Katan is the one raising you.” She tried to ignore the feeling of guilt as she spoke; Bo had been spending more time around Ka-Riita lately than Satine herself had.

Ka-Riita ignored the comment. “So if I do this, it’s only going to help your image.”

“What makes you think that I care about my image?”

Instead of answering, Ka-Riita gave her a look of such withering skepticism that Satine had a sudden urge to send her daughter to her room, as if she were still a small child.

But she isn’t a small child anymore, is she?

She's far more politically savvy than I was at that age… or even now.

She thought back to Wren’s words: “Right now, your Highness, tradition is all we have.”

Satine sighed. “I suppose that symbols can be just as effective as words, can’t they?”

An excited smile began to grow on Ka-Riita’s face. “Does that mean I can do it?”

“I will… I will see what I can arrange,” Satine said reluctantly. “But, ad’ika, please: your safety is more important than any symbol.”

“Don’t worry,” Ka-Riita said cheerfully, “I won’t screw up the line of succession.”

“That is not the reason,” Satine said, the ferocity in her voice causing her daughter to jump in her seat. She took a deep breath and continued: “My dear heart, it is because I love you with all my soul, and I would do anything to keep you from harm.”

Her fingers brushed the saber at her side.

I would do anything.

Nine years on a desert planet didn’t leave one’s memories easily, and meant that, even now, Anakin was still fascinated by the sight of rain.

And Kamino had a lot of it.

Compared to when he had visited during the war, Tipoca City seemed almost quiet now, despite the never-ending rain and its status as the planet’s capital. Anakin kept looking over his shoulder, expecting to see clone troopers coming in and out of transports or exiting the various facilities created for their training and upbringing.

Rex, Fives, Kix, Echo, Tup, Cody… they’re all in there somewhere.

It was familiar enough to almost be comforting.

Even though I'm apparently getting too comfortable, according to Obi-Wan.

Anakin was still turning their conversation—fight , more accurately—over in his head ever since they stepped off of the ship and went their separate ways. He still didn’t understand why Obi-Wan was so… well, so scared of him.

It wasn’t a great feeling, to have someone he loved look at him like that.

I’m not a villain.

Well, I’m not a villain anymore. Don’t I get credit for that?

Besides, if I was messing with Obi-Wan’s mind, I would have made him a lot more exciting than that.

Who could possibly prefer a life that was nothing but… well, whatever it was that Obi-Wan did all day? Meditate. Exercise. Make public appearances where he smiled and waved. Deal with everyone else’s drama. Ignore all the things that were going on in the galaxy, because it apparently wasn’t any of his business.

There is no way I’m going to let my life turn into that if I end up leaving the Order to be with Padmé. I would lose my mind if I ever had to be that… ordinary.

Though there was something that Obi-Wan said that had nagged at him ever since: “Almost dying every day… that isn’t normal… it shouldn’t be normal. You deserve better than that.”

At this point, Anakin wasn’t sure what he deserved, but he couldn’t imagine what his life would look like without someone (or something) trying to kill him.

There wasn’t time to deal with any of that right now, though: they had work to do. While they were planning out what to do once they arrived on Kamino, Obi-Wan had been surprisingly friendly and willing to put their earlier meltdown behind them, at least for the moment. That was familiar too—Anakin had lost count of the number of arguments or concerns or complications that he and his Obi-Wan had resolved by… not actually resolving it at all, because there wasn’t ever time. Difficult conversations would just wait until later, and then later never came.

In fact, now that he thought about it, that was how he and Padmé resolved their disagreements too. It wasn’t as though Anakin had to deal with his jealousy over Padmé’s interactions with Rush Clovis when his wife’s ex was busy pointing a blaster at them, for example.

Anakin couldn’t deny that it was easier… but now that he thought about it, maybe it wasn’t healthy either.

Well, it’s not like I can fix that right now, so let’s focus on the things that I can fix.

Trying to appear as though he knew where he was going, Anakin made his way towards the location where Jango Fett probably lived. While Obi-Wan impersonated a Jedi and convinced the Kaminoan Prime Minister that was showing him around to alter the cloning project, Anakin would look for evidence that Fett had been contacted by Dooku.

It ended up not being too difficult to find: there weren’t many humans on Kamino who weren’t clone troopers, so the doorway being sized for human proportions rather than the towering height of the Kaminoans was a pretty big clue.

It also didn’t take much effort to get the door unlocked. Anakin walked into Fett’s empty apartment and, once the door shut behind him, finally took off that irritating helmet.

He was starting to get really sick of Mandalorian armor. It turned out to be even more uncomfortable in the rain.

There was a noise from behind the door to the apartment’s bedroom, and a boy who barely came up to Anakin’s waist pointed a small blaster at him. “Who are you?” the boy demanded.

Anakin could have kicked himself; he forgot that Fett had a kid. In fact, now that he remembered, this particular kid had been an annoying distraction throughout the war—if one counted “attempting to kill Mace Windu several times in revenge for his father’s death” as “an annoying distraction.”

“Your father’s fine,” he said quickly. “He just got… held up. He’ll be back soon.” Unless the Mandalorians threw him in prison, but that was a problem he could solve later.

The boy kept the blaster trained on him. “Why are you wearing his armor?”

“I needed a disguise,” Anakin said, feeling awkward. “I’m going to leave it here with you, I promise. I just need to take a look at his call logs and then I’ll be out of here, okay?”

“I’m going to tell the long-necks that you’re here,” the kid said.

“No, you’re not,” Anakin said, staring him down, “because not only would I have to tie you up and toss you in a closet, I’m also the only one who knows where your father is right now.”

The boy’s eyes widened briefly in fear, and Anakin hated himself just a little bit for it.

I’m not a villain.

That was what becoming Palpatine’s Sith apprentice would have meant: everyone being afraid of Anakin for the rest of his life.

He grabbed the blaster out of the boy’s hand. “Does your father have a comm unit?”

The boy nodded and pointed wordlessly at a console on the far wall. Keeping one eye on him, Anakin worked his way into the files that logged all of the calls that Fett had made or received, and transmitted the whole dataset over to Slave I (he still couldn’t believe that Fett named his ship that… it left a bitter taste in his mouth to even think about it).

“That’s all I needed, kid,” Anakin said. “I’ll leave you alone now.”

“You’re still wearing the armor,” the boy pointed out.

“Oh, right,” Anakin said, and then felt even more awkward. “I’m going to have to borrow some clothes from your father, okay?”

The boy’s expression made it clear that it was not okay, but it wasn’t as though Anakin had a lot of other options. He wasn’t going to run around Tipoca City in his underwear.

It wasn’t until he had changed into a tunic and pants that he realized that Fett’s kid was the first person Anakin had encountered in this timeline who didn’t appear to recognize him.

He must be pretty isolated here.

Anakin gave the kid a closer look. Obviously, he looked like Jango Fett, since he was a clone as well, but unlike the version of the boy that he had encountered during the war, he didn’t have that look in his eye that Anakin remembered: something angry and alone, with nothing left to do but lash out at whoever came close. It was strange for Anakin to realize that he hadn’t always been like that.

“Hey,” he asked the boy, “do you ever spend time with the other people here?”

“No,” the boy said, more confused than sullen. “The long-necks only want to talk to Dad, and the trooper kids only want to talk about fighting. And then they get too old.”

“That sounds pretty lonely.”

The boy shrugged. “It’s okay. I don’t care—I’ve got Dad. That’s all I need.”

Anakin remembered saying the same thing about his mother, a long time ago.

Back before she—

She’s probably dead in this timeline too. That must have been what started the uprising.

It happened the same way as it did with me: she died and I snapped.

Anakin dragged his thoughts back to the present. “He’ll be back soon,” he told the boy, and left the apartment.

Now all he had to do was get back to the ship without—

He turned a corner too fast and almost collided face-first with Nala Se. Well, his face, it least: she was taller than he was, so he probably would have hit her in the neck.

Anakin remembered Nala Se from the war: she was the chief medical scientist on Kamino, and had played a crucial role in the creation of the clone army. Even for a Kaminoan, Anakin had found her to be a little on the cold side, so he shouldn’t have been surprised by how calm she was when she looked him over and said “You are Anakin Skywalker, are you not?”

“I just look an awful lot like him,” Anakin said. He knew that Kaminoans weren’t exactly the best at distinguishing human faces, and hoped that this would work in his favor.

“How unfortunate,” she said. “He is not welcome in most places.”

“I noticed,” he grumbled. He couldn’t go anywhere without someone recognizing him and panicking, so how was he supposed to do anything to fix this mess?

I need a better disguise… something that doesn’t involve helmets or masks or lame attempts at facial hair.

Wait, hang on…

“I actually came to Kamino to find you, Dr. Se,” he said. “I’ve heard great things about your work with genetic alterations… I was wondering if you did anything with facial transformation through nanotechnology?”

She stared at him for an uncomfortable amount of time. Anakin was beginning to wonder if he should just start running and hope that Obi-Wan was ready to go. But when she spoke, it wasn’t in the tone of someone about to raise an alarm, but of someone who was perplexed. “Nanotechnology is one of the most basic forms of genetic manipulation,” she said. “You traveled all the way to Kamino for something that I could assemble in the span of fifteen minutes?”

Anakin hadn’t been there when the Jedi Council acquired the technology that they used to disguise Obi-Wan as the bounty hunter Rako Hardeen—because Anakin was too busy believing that Obi-Wan was dead— but he had assumed that it was fairly niche tech. Apparently not, at least on Kamino. “I can’t exactly walk into the nearest Republic Institute of Science and ask nicely,” he pointed out. “As you said, I do look a lot like Anakin Skywalker. But I understand that Kaminoans are known for their discretion.”

There was another uncomfortable pause, until Nala Se finally answered him. “I suppose, given your unique situation, I could spare some time to address your problem. Is this meant to be a permanent alteration?”

“No,” Anakin said, admittedly a little confused that this had actually worked. “A few weeks, maybe?”

“Is it merely facial transformation, or do you wish to have the entire body transformed?”

“Just the face.” Even having a different face was going to be weird; Anakin didn’t want to get used to a whole new body.

“Human?” she asked.

“Yes,” Anakin confirmed. He really didn’t want to have to adjust to another species’ body either.

“And are you hoping to look like someone in particular?”

As tempting as that was, Anakin suspected that it would only cause problems down the line. Besides, he wasn’t great at remembering all of the details he would need to know in order to impersonate someone. “No one specific. Just scramble my features a little so I don’t look like him.”

“Then I was mistaken in my earlier estimate that the process would take fifteen minutes,” she said. “It will take five. Follow me.”

The next few minutes were a blur of scans, blood tests, medical devices, and Nala Se muttering quietly to herself as she worked. At last, she held out two items. “This,” she said, indicating a small hypospray, “will induce the transformation. I recommend injecting it below the ear; either side will do. The change will take place over the next minute or so, and the effects will last for roughly one galactic standard month and then gradually wear off as the nanostructures are absorbed back into your system.” She indicated the other item, which was a silver mesh bag with a capsule inside. “If you wish to reverse the transformation before the month is up, this capsule will accelerate the absorption process. I recommend taking it orally.”

“Wizard,” Anakin couldn’t help whispering. This was pretty impressive for two minutes of work.

“And now, if you are satisfied, let us discuss payment.”

Anakin tensed in alarm. This was one of the stranger things that years in the Jedi Order had changed for him: he kept forgetting that he was supposed to pay for things. The Order or the Republic usually took care of that sort of thing for him.

And he was pretty sure that Nala Se’s services were anything but cheap.

He could have thought this through a little more—right now, he didn’t even have his own clothes.

But… perhaps there was something he could bargain with…

Obi-Wan felt like he needed to take a shower as soon as possible. Not due to anything hygiene-related, but because nearly every sentence he heard from Lama Su made him want to vomit.

The things that he had said in response were nearly as disgusting.

Units. Production lines. Order fulfillment. Enhancements. He might as well be touring a MandalMotors factory.

And worse: the Kaminoans claimed that they had been contacted by Master Sifo-Dyas. Anakin had warned him it was possible that it had been Dooku all along, but admitted that the original idea had probably been the Jedi Master’s.

Regardless, Dooku was the one who likely provided the rather exorbitant level of funding for the project while pretending to be Sifo-Dyas, and if the Kaminoans still believed that they had been commissioned by the Jedi Order, then Obi-Wan would have to play the part.

Anakin’s Jedi robes weren’t an ideal fit—the young man was a few inches taller than Obi-Wan was—but they were close enough that no one would notice. He felt like he was wearing a costume… which, in a way, he was.

With every breath that he took, Obi-Wan wanted to scream ‘They’re people!’ Every single clone that they passed was a unique individual; having identical faces didn’t change that.

He couldn’t let his own squeamishness get in the way of what he had to do, though. Anakin had provided him with the main objective: have them remove the behavioral modification chips.

It was the way he had to go about completing that objective that was testing his composure.

“We have modified their genetic structure to make them less independent than their original host,” Lama Su protested. “They are totally obedient and will take any order without question. Surely that is an asset in creating an army of this size, not a liability?”

“There are concerns among the Jedi about the interference that the chips will cause in their connection to the Force,” Obi-Wan said. “I will need to test this theory in person.” Obi-Wan despised the words as he spoke them, but Anakin had assured him that it was an argument that the Kaminoans, especially Lama Su, would accept easily.

“I will send for a sample immediately.” It was nearly impossible to read Lama Su’s expression; at least for Obi-Wan. He had never encountered this species before.

When a clone trooper, who appeared to be in his late teens, arrived in the company of one of the Prime Minister’s aides, Obi-Wan did what Anakin had instructed: he waved his hand around vaguely and pretended to use the Force.

The clone’s expression didn’t change; of course, it wasn’t supposed to. “Just as I suspected,” Obi-Wan said, making sure that the irritation in his voice was as obvious as possible. “The chip makes them susceptible to more… commonplace forms of influence, but negates any capacity for influence through the Force.”

“In what way?”

Obi-Wan did his best to look condescendingly amused. “Prime Minister Su, surely you have heard about the Jedi’s ability to dominate weak-minded individuals? This is one of the reasons why Master Sifo-Dyas commissioned this project in the first place: regular recruits are too variable to be easily influenced, and the Republic cannot afford to take chances with possible defection, not with the threat that the Broken Fleet represents.”

Lama Su nodded. “I see. However, it may be possible for us to reconfigure them so that—”

Obi-Wan interrupted him. “Remove the chips. We will use our own methods to ensure their obedience.”

Lama Su nodded, a little reluctantly. “I will direct our chief medical scientist to make the alterations. Is there anything else, Master Kenobi?”

“Not at the moment. I will be in contact again soon to check on your progress.”

Obi-Wan hurried away as quickly as he could.

He had already contacted Satine to let her know to send a group to retrieve the Death Watch members on Vyn III. All he had to do now was wait for Anakin to complete his part of the mission, and then they would head back to Mandalore. 

And in all likelihood have another uncomfortable conversation.

At this point, Obi-Wan wasn’t sure what aspects of their strange, not-entirely-voluntary bond could even be altered. Something had stuck them together—either the Force or Anakin’s wishes or a thousand other upheavals in Obi-Wan’s life—and no amount of resentment or complaining could fix that.

He couldn’t do anything about this connection or the way that he felt about it, but he did at least have a say in his own actions.

So perhaps there are better things I could do than screaming at Anakin over something that he may have no control over.

I could at least not be a… well, not be a jerk about it. I could at least be kind.

And it wasn’t the worst thing, he admitted, to have a friend, even if the origins of this friendship were completely bizarre. It wasn’t the worst thing to care about someone or to trust them… especially someone like Anakin, who really did need a friend during all of this. Obi-Wan of all people knew that attachments were something to be embraced rather than avoided.

I can make this right again. I can choose to face this head on.

He was, on the other hand, attempting to ignore the rather uncomfortable possibility that Anakin may have been correct about the general lack of excitement that Obi-Wan was feeling lately.

He loved being a husband and a father, and loved the home he had created with his family, but it had been nice to do something, especially during a period of time when so many people felt powerless in the face of the Broken Fleet.

He and Satine were both disturbed by their growing comfort with the idea of violence, but that was to be expected under the circumstances. Mandalore had no choice but to defend itself, and they couldn’t let their own squeamishness get in the way of what they had to do.

I can choose to face that head on as well.

At last, a rather excited Anakin joined him in the hall outside the exit to the docking bay.

“Did you do it?” Anakin asked.

Obi-Wan nodded. “They agreed to remove the chips… though if I never have to pretend to view sentient creatures as a commodity again it will be too soon.”

Anakin nodded as well. “Yeah, the Kaminoans are a little… heartless, I guess. But they might have to be, given the business that they’re in.”

“Did you get access to Fett’s call logs?” Obi-Wan asked, hastily changing the subject.

“Not only that: I managed to solve another problem along with it. Check it out,” Anakin said proudly, holding up what looked like a compact hypospray and a tiny capsule. “Reconstructive nanotechnology—it’ll alter my facial structure enough that I won’t look like myself. Beats growing a beard, right?”

“How on earth did you acquire something like this?” Biotech like that was likely extremely expensive.

Anakin smirked. “Traded the only thing I had available: myself. I let them take a genetic sample; I figured that having the material to clone someone who looked like the Warlord could be pretty profitable for them.”

Obi-Wan was horrified. “You’re just going to let them make clones of you?”

“Sure, why not?”

“Do you realize what they could do with that?”

Anakin waved a hand dismissively. “Don’t worry, midichlorians can’t be replicated through cloning, so any clone of me won’t be much use anyway.”

Obi-Wan felt sick to his stomach all over again. “Anakin… your connection to the Force is not the thing that gives you value.”

“You might be the only person to hold that opinion,” Anakin said grimly. “Qui-Gon probably would have left me behind in Mos Espa if I wasn’t Force-sensitive.” He shrugged. “On the other hand, if I hadn’t been able to use the Force, he would have been stuck on Tatooine with me.”

Once again, Obi-Wan felt a chill at the callousness of the Jedi Order in Anakin’s timeline. Even his former Master had apparently not been immune to such behavior, and Anakin didn't appear to see anything wrong with it.

He forced his attention back to the matter at hand: “You were so adamant that clones were individuals, that they were people— and now you’re just going to let the Kaminoans auction yours off to the highest bidder?”

Anakin glared at him, fiercely enough that Obi-Wan flinched. “Don’t you dare pretend that you know anything about slavery, Obi-Wan,” he snapped.

“But is it any different?”

A tense silence ensued, as Obi-Wan began to wonder just how close Anakin was to the edge at that moment. With an angry exhale that was more growl than breath, Anakin stormed off in the direction of the medical facility.

It’s really no wonder that he ended up as such a troubled young man. The Jedi Order seems to have done everything in its power to fail him completely.

For one absolutely horrible moment, Obi-Wan wondered if perhaps the Order in Anakin’s timeline deserved to be destroyed.

He shuddered and shook his head. Whatever its failures, no one deserved what Palpatine had apparently done to the Jedi.

But Obi-Wan was growing less and less surprised that Anakin had been turned against them so easily.

They took a boy out of slavery, made him call everyone around him ‘master,’ and then sent him off to fight a war.

He couldn’t understand how his counterpart could have been so horribly complicit in it.

I am not him. I could never be a part of something that monstrous.

Anakin suddenly reappeared, rounding the corner at a pace that was just barely short of a run. “Let’s go.”

“What did you do?”

“Broke the vial of genetic material with the Force. Hurry, before they notice.”

Obi-Wan didn't know whether to be proud or shocked. Perhaps both. “Did you just rip off an entire planet?”

“On the bright side, I’m going undercover anyway, so it’s not like they can arrest me,” Anakin said, “but I’d rather not stick around to find out.”

“You go on ahead,” Obi-Wan said. “I need to convince them that I had nothing to do with it, otherwise they may proceed with Dooku’s previous instructions.”

“Or worse, call him to confirm,” Anakin agreed. “Sorry to strand you here.”

“This isn’t Vyn III; I assume they have other ships.”

Anakin smiled a little. “Besides, it serves you right for being so principled and conscientious. See you back on Mandalore?”

It was almost all right again. “See you there,” he confirmed. As Anakin turned to leave, he cleared his throat.

“What?” Anakin asked, turning back around.

Obi-Wan grinned. “Care to give me a push?”

Anakin grinned back, and with a wave of his hand, telekinetically tossed Obi-Wan backwards hard enough to slam him into the nearby wall.

The impact hurt like hell, but on the plus side, it would certainly look convincing.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise that she dreamed about it that night.

She was thirteen, making her way up the rock face, heading for a spot high enough that she could get a better look at the terrain. It was a risky choice—but what verd’goten was without risk?—not because of the danger of falling but because she might be spotted.

You obviously weren’t allowed to kill your fellow participants in the Hunt, but you were certainly permitted to stop them from reaching the target first.

She was flat on her stomach the moment she reached the top. No bolts rang out, but that meant little. A warrior could be patient.

Peering over a cluster of boulders, she could see the lay of the land: the barren wasteland that had long ago been a city, before the Dral’Han turned it into sand and craters.

Off to the southeast: movement. She looked through her scopes… but no, the dust that each motion raised came in too precise a pattern to be anything but from a sentient being. She was tempted to take a shot anyway, just to scare them off, but decided against it: any shot would give away her position.

She continued scanning the canyons created by the orbital bombardments of so long ago. They were hunting prey while the bones of millions of their ancestors lay buried beneath their feet.

In her dream, she could hear them whispering to her, telling her that the anger in her blood would make her more powerful than she could possibly imagine.

In her memories, she merely looked through her scopes until she saw another sign of movement, this time from the east.

That was it. Prey could be just as patient as the predator that hunted it, but any living creature had to move eventually. She made her way back down the side of the rock formation, still tensed and waiting for an attack.

None came. If anyone was watching her, they must be waiting for her to show them the way.

Making for her quarry directly would be a foolish move anyway. While observing the terrain, she had memorized the route through the maze-like canyons to where she needed to go. Anyone following her would be forced to take the same route.

She was halfway there when she heard the faint sounds of someone behind her. Not too close, but she could hear the distant noise of stones shifting underfoot.

Ahead of her, the path split in two; she left enough of a trace to indicate that she had taken the path to the right… while she made sure to head to the left and lie in wait.

The young boy from Clan Drassett never heard her coming. She caught him from behind, brought her arm around until she had it wrapped around his throat, choking off his airway until he collapsed limply to the ground, unconscious. A stun bolt would have been faster, but it also would have been louder. A warrior often had to choose between stealth and expediency.

Nevertheless, she needed to hurry. She quickly tore off a strip of cloth from his tunic and bound his hands behind his back, then went back and took the path on the left.

Br’teks were nasty creatures, more weapon than beast, one of the rare animals that could survive in such a desolate place. They fed on anything they could find, but preferred soft things.

Anyone who dared to hunt one could not afford to be soft. She drew her crossbow and could almost feel her mother’s hands guiding her arms into the proper position.

It was possible to complete the verd’goten without winning the Hunt—participants were judged by the skills and resourcefulness displayed in the attempt, not just in the result—but she was the eldest child of the chieftain of Clan Kryze. She refused to accept anything but absolute victory.

She crept through the canyons, weapon ready to fire, every sense on alert.

There it was. Skin hard as armor, black with blue markings, crouching to leap at her, foolishly believing itself to be the predator.

It was no predator, though. Compared to her, it was nothing.

Her training and instincts kicked in and she fired without having to think about it. Her aim ended up being slightly off: rather than hit it directly in the chest, her bolt caught the beast in the side.

It collapsed with a whimper. She drew her blade and moved in to strike the killing blow.

In her memories, it was an easy (though messy) cut across the neck with a vibroblade.

In her dream, however, the black and blue armor shifted and a wounded Pre Vizsla stared up at her.

In her memories, she smiled and pressed the beacon on her armor to signal her victory.

In her dream, she smiled and used the Darksaber to cut off his head.

Yoda was not so presumptuous as to assume that he would live to be a thousand years old—he had noticed himself slowing down over the decades, and knew that he was in the twilight of his life and that soon night would come, as it did for everyone eventually—but his near-millennium of experience had given him an understanding of the Force that surpassed many other Jedi in the Order.

Of course, knowledge came in many forms, and skills manifested in many different ways. Although he was attuned to the motion and tides of the Force, Yoda had never mastered the art of sensing shatterpoints, and certainly never mastered it as well as the Jedi Master who sat before him.

“Qui-Gon still claims that this… other version… of Skywalker merely vanished into thin air, as if he was some sort of apparition,” Mace Windu said.

“Doubt his claim, do you?” Yoda asked. He was certainly skeptical, at least privately: ever since his Padawan days, Qui-Gon Jinn had hidden many things from the rest of the Order. He was certainly capable of lying if necessary, though for what reason in this case Yoda could not determine.

“The idea that an ‘apparition’ could telekinetically knock down a group of Temple Guards, not to mention fall unconscious from a stun bolt… well, the Force is strange, but I’m not sure it’s that strange.”

“Full of surprises, the Force is,” Yoda pointed out, then sighed. “But yes, more probable, another explanation is.”

Mace looked troubled. “That Qui-Gon helped Skywalker escape. And, given Skywalker’s apparent interest in Kenobi…”

Yoda nodded. “To Mandalore, Skywalker has likely followed. Heard, have we, from Kenobi since his departure?"

“No, though I assume his own people would have informed us of any incidents that would have occurred. I’m not sensing that Kenobi was in any danger,” Mace admitted, “but something was put in motion when Skywalker appeared… something connecting them.”

“His Master, Skywalker believed Kenobi to be.”

“Something more than that. Skywalker’s arrival seems to have created connections between other things too, even right here in the Order. Destinies are bound together now in a way they weren’t before.” Mace paused and almost seemed hesitant to continue.

“Specific points of significance, do you sense?” Yoda prompted.

He nodded slowly. “Qui-Gon, his Padawan, Kenobi’s daughter… and Dooku.”

He understood Mace’s hesitancy. Although he had rejoiced at the return of his former apprentice, Yoda was not entirely free of concern. Dooku’s return from parts unknown, with little to no explanation for what had happened, so soon after the incident with Skywalker… this was unlikely to be a coincidence. Yoda had been troubled by the path Dooku was on prior to his departure from the Order, how close the man had been to the Dark Side, and knew that the Dark was rarely willing to give up what it had taken away. Dooku may not have fallen, but Yoda suspected that he had come close.

He was also troubled by the matter of Kenobi’s daughter. Even for relatively short-lived humans, ten years old was quite young. To have her destiny tied up with two Jedi Masters and a Padawan who once had her own brush with the Dark Side… there were many ways that this could end badly.

“Have you sensed anything yourself?” Mace asked.

He had. “Shadows have I sensed in the Force for many years. Dark clouds that obscure our wisdom and insight… but darker, they have become recently. Your concerns, years ago, regarding an impending crisis… the time may be approaching faster than we thought.”

“The Warlord,” Mace said grimly. “If he is Force-sensitive, as his counterpart is, he may be doing more harm than we had assumed. The shadows you spoke of… I’ve sensed them as well, but in recent years it has been more than that: not just darkness, but damage.”

“Damage to the Force, you mean?”

“Yes. And it’s getting worse.”

To have lived through so much, to have memories of so many centuries, meant that Yoda could be patient. He could wait and see things through, act without haste, and discern the will of the Force.

But the Force had given him no answer to the question everyone seemed to be asking:

What do we do now? What can we do?

“It is as though cracks have appeared in the Force itself… and with too much pressure…” Mace trailed off.

Yoda finished his thought: “Shattered, the Force may become.”

Mace nodded again, tension surrounding him like a swarm of venom mites. “Perhaps even destroyed completely.”

Chapter Text

Asajj knew that she was the subject of plenty of stories and whispers among the younglings in the Jedi Order. Perhaps among the older Jedi as well, but at the very least they were better at hiding their curiosity. 

She was certain that Master Qui-Gon had meant well when he explained her past to some of the other Jedi Masters—she was a rare case to have entered the Jedi Order at such a late age—but word had spread throughout the Order and now there were more questions and, in the absence of answers, theories.

It was absurd: she was so young when Hal’Sted took her from her mother that Asajj had almost no memories of Dathomir at all. She remembered the colors green and yellow, a certain smell in the air, the flicker of firelight, the comforting texture of women’s voices soothing her when she cried… but little else. She was gone too soon for anything more than that.

And yet, the whispers from the younglings still invariably included the word witch.

Master Qui-Gon had always had a fascination with other Force traditions, but there was little one could learn about the Nightsisters without traveling to Dathomir in person, something that was very risky for an offworlder—especially a male—to attempt on his own. Perhaps when she was older she would go there herself, to satisfy her Master’s curiosity if nothing else.

If only that indulgence of curiosity went both ways, she grumbled silently to herself. After the brief revelation that Skywalker had traveled to the Temple from some strange other timeline in which both of their lives had played out in radically different ways, Master Qui-Gon had told her nothing more. However, three years as his apprentice had given Asajj the ability to read between the lines of her Master’s habit of avoiding an issue, and she was growing increasingly certain that he was planning something—that he had been given some task or mission and was attempting to figure out where to begin.

This, of course, made Asajj even more frustrated with him. She was his apprentice, surely she could be helpful, and the fact that he was excluding her made her feel inadequate. It was as though he didn’t trust her, and she worried that it had something to do with what had happened to her alternate self. It was unfair: why was she being blamed for something that she didn’t do?

So, instead, she brooded. If Qui-Gon wanted to keep his plans a secret, then Asajj would give him plenty of time to do it on his own.

Fortunately, it was easy to make brooding look like meditating, at least visually, so people would leave her alone.

Most people, apparently, because a pair of exceptions had just appeared in front of her. Two Initiates: a female Togruta with white markings on her orange skin, and a human girl with reddish-blonde hair.

“Is there a problem?” Asajj asked them, hoping that they weren’t approaching her to complete some kind of dare from the other children—it wouldn’t be the first time that had happened.

“You’re Master Qui-Gon’s Padawan, right?” the Togruta asked. 

She was in no mood to be polite. “I see that they’ve finally started giving Initiates lessons in stating the obvious.”

The human girl’s face flushed with anger, but her companion was the one who continued: “Back when that weird guy showed up after the explosion, he talked to Master Qui-Gon for awhile. Do you know what they talked about?”

“Why would I know anything about that?”

The two girls exchanged a look. “Well, wouldn’t Master Qui-Gon have told you?” the Togruta girl asked.

Apparently not, Asajj thought as her frustration reached a new level of intensity.

But she had no intention of venting to a pair of nosy Initiates. “I am not here to provide you with gossip.”

“We aren’t here for gossip!” the human girl protested. “This is important!”

“And who are you,” Asajj asked scornfully, “that the activities of a Jedi Master would be so important?” She mimicked the girl’s high-pitched voice.

At least the Togruta looked like she was reconsidering coming over at all, but the girl at her side looked even more angry than before. Asajj watched her straighten up and say, a little haughtily, “My name is Pasha Kryze.”

Asajj rolled her eyes. That Duchess’s girl, the one whose father was Qui-Gon’s former Padawan (the former Padawan her Master dropped everything in order to spend time with when he visited), and, judging by the look on her face, someone who was used to the rules not applying to her.

“Just because your parents are rich and famous doesn’t make you special,” Asajj said icily.

“I don’t think I’m special!” Pasha snapped. “I was just introducing myself because you asked! I’m Pasha and that’s Ahsoka Tano.” 

“Come on, Pasha, let’s go,” Ahsoka said.

“Not yet,” Pasha said. She glared at Asajj. “What’s your problem?”

My “problem” is that no one ever talks to me unless they want something. 

Except for Qui-Gon… but even he seemed to be fine with keeping her in the dark.

Apparently she didn’t deserve to know. Apparently she still hadn’t proven that she was trustworthy, or capable, or… or whatever it was that she needed to be in order to count as a real Jedi.

And if she didn’t deserve to know, then these little brats deserved to know even less.

She returned Pasha’s glare. “You interrupted my meditation and then wasted my time.”

”It was just a question—”

“About something that is none of your business. Now run along back to your creche, Initiates.”

Pasha looked like she was ready to continue arguing, but Ahsoka gave her a tug on her sleeve. “Let’s go,” the latter said, more insistent this time.

The other girl made a noise of disgust. “I bet we can find out more from someone else anyway,” she muttered.

Asajj didn’t feel entirely comfortable with herself as she watched them leave. She hadn’t exactly behaved well, and it was likely going to do her more harm than good, as it would only give fuel to the stories about what a nasty witch she was.

Asajj didn’t care about being special; in fact, she wished that she could be a little less unique. All she wanted was to be something other than a tale used to frighten younglings. 

But apparently she couldn’t even manage to do that.

Qui-Gon was well aware that his Padawan would object to the news that it was her turn to lead lightsaber instruction with the Initiates… which was why he held off on informing her about it until the very last minute.

“I have had my fill of bratty children today, thank you,” Asajj said, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Size does not matter to the Force, my young Padawan,” Qui-Gon said, managing to keep a straight face even as Asajj gave his attempt at humor her usual reaction: that of a long-suffering sigh. “I am sure you can find some room within yourself for such things.”

“I think I feel a bout of Balmorra flu coming on, Master.”

Qui-Gon did smile at that. “You’ll have to try harder than that flimsy excuse, Asajj.”

Her scowl gave way to an expression of slight anxiety. “I am not convinced that my instruction would be… adequate.”

She had been doubting herself more and more, Qui-Gon realized, ever since he had spoken to her about the circumstances of Anakin Skywalker’s arrival. Many Jedi (even himself at times) tended to center their anxieties on possible future calamities; Asajj, on the other hand, was more prone to worrying about the ways in which the past could have gone differently. Hearing about a timeline in which those terrible things did occur had only made things worse and, for the hundredth time, Qui-Gon regretted telling her at all.

“Your saber skills are impressive, Asajj, as is your diligence. The Initiates can learn much from you.”

“I am not well-suited to this kind of interaction,” she protested. “They won’t listen to me.”

“I have no doubt that you can hold their attention.”

She finally said it flat-out: “I am not a good teacher.”

He wished he had something to say that would solve this, that would reassure her once and for all that she was enough, that she was more than enough, that in the span of only three years she had grown so much, that she belonged here and deserved all the kindness and respect that she received, and that he was more proud of her than words could ever convey.

The Force could provide wisdom, even inspiration, but it rarely provided a script.

He tried his best. “It is often said that Masters learn as much from teaching their Padawans as their apprentices learn from their instruction. You are an excellent student, and it is a quality that will also make you an excellent teacher.”

She was silent for a few moments, then sighed. “I don’t really have a choice in this, do I?”

“Well… no,” Qui-Gon admitted, “but I suggest that you regard it as an opportunity for growth. They will have the chance to practice lightsaber forms and you will have the chance to practice patience.”

On the way to the salles, Qui-Gon could hear his apprentice grumble something about how her Trials were apparently starting this very day.

The class assembled and the lesson began, with Qui-Gon standing off to the side and observing. To her credit, Asajj was at least trying to be patient, but the results were still a bit mixed.

She corrected yet another Initiate’s stance, going so far as to physically move the poor Trandoshan’s legs into position. “If you move your feet again, I will find a way to solder your shoes to the floor,” she warned him.

Qui-Gon made a mental note to have a talk with his Padawan about teaching lightsaber exercises without actually terrifying her students.

“You two! Pay attention!” she snapped at Ahsoka and Pasha, who had been whispering to one another; the girls adopted nearly-identical expressions of innocence, and the lesson resumed. 

After several iterations of Asajj scolding Initiates for not heeding her instructions and at one point actually taking away someone’s training saber, Pasha exchanged a look with Ahsoka and asked, “Padawan Ventress, could we practice dueling now?”

Qui-Gon watched Asajj think of and then stifle an automatic refusal; she looked over at him and he gave her a slight nod. “Fine,” she said at last. “Perhaps the importance of actually utilizing defensive techniques will finally sink in for a few of you.” She fixed the now very anxious Trandoshan Initiate with a glare. “You’re going first, Rassk. Vallas, you too.”

A few other Jedi Masters stopped by the salle to watch; dueling exercises were one of the ways that an Initiate could demonstrate their abilities and gain the attention of a Master that may be willing to take them as a Padawan. Besides, what the Initiates lacked in finesse they more than made up for in enthusiasm, making the whole thing rather entertaining.

Though Asajj’s constant rebukes throughout the process did make several of her students a little more stressed out than usual.

“Your Padawan has quite a lot of spirit,” Master Dooku said, standing behind him.

Qui-Gon did his best not to jump, though he found himself straightening his posture by sheer reflex. “She does,” was all he could bring himself to say.

In another timeline, she was his apprentice, Qui-Gon remembered with a chill.

“Not to mention a low tolerance for failure, I see,” Dooku added.

“She holds herself to a very high standard,” Qui-Gon said as mildly as he could manage. “It’s only natural that she would have similar expectations for those around her.”

“Including you, I suspect.”

Only three sentences and he’s already slipped in a criticism. “Yes, well,” Qui-Gon said, trying to keep the irritation he felt out of his voice, “she wouldn’t be the first.”

The watched the next few duels in a tense silence. 

“Padawan Ventress!” Pasha called from the back of the group. “Can Ahsoka and I go next?”

Asajj crossed her arms. “So that the two of you can go easy on each other? I think not. You’re dueling Dume.”

Pasha made a noise of disgust. “He’s not going to last five seconds.”

“Am too!” Caleb shot back.

“Did I give you an option, Initiate? ” Asajj asked her icily. 

Pasha glared at her. “When I win,” she said, “I want to pick my next opponent.”

“Tano, I assume.”

“No,” she said, temper flaring. “I want to duel you.”

Asajj snorted with laughter. “Let’s see if you can back that up with skill rather than words.”

Pasha and Caleb faced one another and readied their opening stances. 

“I can too last more than five seconds,” Caleb said, a tad sulkily.

He ended up making it to ten seconds before Pasha’s blade landed a hit on his chest. “Ugh, fine,” he grumbled, more from irritation than the slight zap he had received from the training saber. “I yield.”

Rather than delivering the proper response to a surrender, which was to acknowledge the yield and deliver a parting salute, Pasha turned directly to Asajj. “Come on, then.”

There was a cockiness behind her words that was beginning to make Qui-Gon a little concerned. 

Asajj, for her part, rolled her eyes. “Maybe this will teach you some humility, at least.”

They squared off, and the duel began. It wasn’t much of a duel, but Qui-Gon noticed that his Padawan was at least going easy on the girl… or possibly just toying with her.

He couldn’t help but think of Obi-Wan and how much he enjoyed things like this. Pasha certainly shared her father’s enthusiasm and focus.

She evaded a few of Asajj’s swings, but her impatience eventually got the better of her and, in her haste to attack, neglected her own defenses. With a deft slash to the girl’s forearm, Asajj disarmed her.

A few of the Initiates cheered supportively—even challenging a Padawan to a lightsaber duel was impressively daring, much less holding her own for a few strikes—but Pasha herself scowled as she rubbed the spot where Asajj’s saber had hit; set to its lowest power, it couldn’t do much more than sting, and often stung one’s pride more than one’s skin.

“You forgot to yield,” Asajj reminded her after an uncomfortable silence had ensued.

“I want to try again,” Pasha said, pulling the saber back into her hand with the Force. 

“You had your chance,” Asajj said, waving a hand dismissively. “Save it for when you’ve learned more. Tano, you’re next.”

“No!” Pasha yelled. She reignited her saber and swung it at her instructor.

Asajj parried. “This is a classroom, not a place for little girls to throw temper tantrums.”

Pasha growled in frustration and kept swinging. Asajj, for her part, was showing some signs of frustration herself. The atmosphere in the room, which had been fairly upbeat until now, grew increasingly unsettled. It was obvious at this point that Pasha had lost her temper and was losing control of herself.

“That’s enough,” Asajj snapped, giving Pasha a telekinetic push hard enough to make the girl stumble backwards a few steps. “Get a hold of yourself, Kryze.”

A snarl of fury twisted Pasha’s features and she threw her lit saber at Asajj’s face.

His Padawan dodged, but the room was already in an uproar. Two Masters—one of them Master Drallig, the primary saber instructor in the Temple—took the young Initiate by the arms and guided her out of the salle. “Asajj,” Qui-Gon called over the din, “I recommend ending the lesson early.”

Asajj stared at the retreating form of Pasha Kryze with a mixture of irritation and confusion. “Agreed,” she said.

Master Dooku, who had moved to stand next to Qui-Gon during the momentary chaos, chuckled quietly. “I don’t recall Initiate training being quite this exciting.”

“Neither do I,” Qui-Gon said. He had seen frustrated pupils before, but rarely did one snap like that. He had kept an eye on Pasha from a distance ever since Obi-Wan brought her to the Order; she was high-spirited, but most younglings her age were like that. 

This had been different. This was real anger… the kind of anger that made most Jedi extremely nervous.

It seems I haven’t been watching over her as closely as I should have.

“Who was that little spitfire?” Dooku asked, still sounding amused.

Qui-Gon would have given anything to not have to tell him, but couldn't think of a lie or an excuse quickly enough. “Pasha Kryze,” he said quietly.

“She wouldn’t happen to be Mandalorian, would she?” Dooku asked, a bit too knowingly in Qui-Gon’s opinion. He must have taken Qui-Gon’s silence as a confirmation, because he continued: “It would explain the temper—they are fierce warriors, her people… but rare among the Jedi. How did she end up here?”

“She is Obi-Wan’s daughter,” Qui-Gon said stiffly. He didn’t like that Dooku had noticed her, and wished he could come up with a way to tell his former Master to drop the subject.

Dooku nodded; he had known all along, Qui-Gon realized. “So her mother is the Duchess of Mandalore, then?”

“Yes.” He didn’t like where this was going at all.

“A noble daughter of Mandalore, here in the Order… how interesting. Tell me,” he said, turning to look at Qui-Gon, “has anyone inquired about taking her as an apprentice yet?”

“She’s only ten,” Qui-Gon said sharply.

“Initiates have become Padawans far younger than that.”

“She has been with the Order barely more than five years.” Qui-Gon could feel his pulse starting to race in time with his thoughts: no no no no no—

“You’re not thinking of taking her yourself, are you?” There was no mistaking the scorn in Dooku’s voice. “Your apprentice won’t be ready for the Trials for many years yet. Young Pasha will have aged out by that point. Besides,” he continued, “a Duchess’s daughter needs someone who would understand the two worlds that she was born into. Most Jedi here wouldn’t recognize nobility if they tripped over it.”

Qui-Gon bit back his distaste. Apparently his time away from the Order had made his former Master even more of an elitist snob.

But it was true that he had fantasized about one day having her as a Padawan, and not just due to his guilt over having failed her father. Pasha was a bright, talented child who would one day make an excellent Jedi. 

Dooku shouldn’t be anywhere near her.

He didn’t want to think about what she would be like after years of Dooku’s training, his constant demands for perfection, his criticism and cruelty, every horrible thing he had ever told Qui-Gon…

“She still has much to learn before she is ready to be a Padawan,” he said, desperately hoping that his voice wasn’t shaking as much as he thought it was, “especially to someone as demanding as you.”

Dooku was silent for a moment. At first, Qui-Gon thought that he was readying a blistering retort, but the older man’s reply was almost gentle. “I know that my methods with you were… not an ideal fit. Perhaps you would have fared better under another Master’s tutelage. I suppose it is too late to do anything about that now, but I… I apologize.”

Qui-Gon was still wary. It wasn’t as though he hadn’t imagined the possibility of Dooku acknowledging the way he had treated him, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that his former Master had another reason for apologizing. “It’s all right,” he said, knowing that he really shouldn’t have said that. It wasn’t all right. It would probably never be all right.

“The past eight years have taught me many things,” Dooku said, his eyes growing distant. “I hope to one day pass those lessons on to another.”

Had it not been for the decades he spent keeping his emotions locked down, Qui-Gon was certain that Dooku would have been able to sense the utter terror those words elicited. 

If Anakin was right… if Dooku was a Sith… if he had truly fallen to the Dark Side… 

If he saw those seeds of anger inside of Pasha and made them bloom…

Obi-Wan would never forgive me.

His imagination conjured up dozens of horrible futures.

(A voice from nowhere, one cold as the void: ‘Wipe them out. All of them.’)

(Another voice, higher pitched but no less cold: ‘Yes, Master.’)

(not her voice not her voice please no not her)

A new Sith Order, right here in the Temple, destroying it from within. 

I can’t let that happen.

The end of the Jedi. The end of hope. The end of everything.

I have to do something.

Qui-Gon couldn’t do anything to stop the Broken Fleet. He might not be able to stop the Sith Lord disguised as the Chancellor.

But he could stop Dooku.

He had no choice.

Pasha saw the look on Ahsoka’s face as her friend made her way across the dining hall: it was the same expression as someone approaching a rabid dewback.

It was the same look everyone was giving her.

“Are you okay?” Ahsoka asked, sitting down across the table from her. 

“I’m fine,” Pasha said sullenly, “but I have to go straight to the creche after dinner and stay there till tomorrow.”

Her friend indicated the empty space on the table in front of Pasha. “Did you eat yet?”

“I’m not hungry.” The idea of having to walk across the dining hall to get a tray while everybody stared at her… it was better to just stay where she was. 

“I can grab you something, if you want,” Ahsoka offered hesitantly. “I have to get mine anyway.”

“I’m not going to bite you, you know,” Pasha grumbled.

Ahoska looked confused. “What?”

“Everyone’s acting like I’m about to explode or something!”

“People are just worried about you—”

“You’re doing it too!” Pasha exclaimed. “Like I’m so scary —”

“Well, you scared people, Pasha!” Ahsoka said, her voice now more upset than hesitant. “One second you were fine and the next second you were attacking Asajj and—”

“She’s a bully!” Pasha snapped, and realized that she had probably been a little too loud when she said it. “She was mean to us this morning, she was mean to everyone there, but I’m the one they’re worried about?” She leaned across the table and whispered urgently, “What if Skyguy was right about her? What if there’s something wrong with her?”

“Okay, she was mean, but you threw a lightsaber at her!”

“It was a training saber!”

“Pasha, you didn’t see your face—you were really mad.”

“I was really mad,” Pasha said impatiently.

Ahsoka appeared to be bracing herself for an eruption. “Yeah, but, like… the bad kind of mad.”

It took Pasha a second to get it. “Like the Dark Side?” she asked, incredulous. “Is that what they’re saying about me?” She looked more closely at Ahsoka’s expression. “Is that what you’re saying about me?”

“I’m just worried, Pasha—”

“Well, if I’m some kind of evil Sith or something, maybe you should just leave me alone!” She slammed her hand on the table and Ahsoka flinched. A few Padawans at the next table turned to look at her. In fact, it was like everyone was turning to look at her.

She had to get out of here… but leaving the dining hall meant going back to her creche and soon all the other Initiates would be back and they would all start staring at her just like everyone was staring at her now, like she was some kind of villain—

“Pasha, is it?” The voice coming from behind her was surprisingly loud, but not angry or upset. Pasha turned to see a Jedi Master that she didn’t immediately recognize, a tall old man with a beard, although he looked familiar… 

Oh! “Yes, Master Dooku,” she said.

“Would you care to join me for a walk?” He didn’t talk like most of the other Jedi, Pasha noticed. He sounded more like one of her mother’s advisors, the fancier ones that her sister was always trying to imitate.

But Skyguy’s note…

Pasha shoved that thought out of her head. Anything was better than sitting here with everyone staring at her. And if there was something wrong with Master Dooku… well, everyone thought that there was something wrong with her, so who cared what some weird stranger said?

“Yes, Master Dooku,” Pasha said politely, standing up and following him out of the dining hall. She made a point of not looking in Ahsoka’s direction.

One of the other Jedi Masters tried to stop her from leaving, but Master Dooku quickly stepped in: “Initiate Kryze and I will be taking a brief stroll around the Temple grounds, that’s all,” he said. “I will make sure that she returns to her dormitory safe and sound before curfew.” Something in his tone made it sort of sound like a joke, but it felt like the kind of joke that Pasha was in on, not one that was about her.

The other Master nodded and let them pass. 

When they had gotten far away enough to speak without being overheard, he said the thing that Pasha had been dreading: “I saw your performance in the training salles today.”

She grimaced. “So did everybody in the Temple, I guess.”

To her surprise, he laughed. “You needn’t worry that I am here to scold you, my dear. In fact, I wanted to tell you how impressed I was with your bladework. Your duel against that boy, for instance—”

“Caleb,” Pasha supplied. 

“Ah, yes. Your movements were precise, efficient… you would be a natural fit for Makashi.”

“I don’t know much about Form II,” Pasha admitted. “They don’t really teach it.”

Dooku sniffed in derision. “Of course they don’t: it is a style based on finesse and elegance, rather than brute strength. Most Jedi would rather stick to more unrefined methods.”

Pasha thought back to Asajj’s lessons this afternoon. “Yeah,” she agreed. “It’s pretty boring sometimes.”

“I would be happy to teach you, if you like.”

“I don’t know if they’re going to let me have a lightsaber ever again,” she said glumly.

Dooku smiled and gave her a pat on the shoulder. “Leave that to me, my dear. It would be a shame to watch someone of your blood sit on the sidelines.”

“Blood?” Pasha was confused. No one had ever said that before.

“You have inherited much of your father’s potential, that much is obvious.”

“Oh.” Something occurred to her: “You knew my father?”

“I have many memories of his time with the Order,” Dooku said. He seemed to be remembering some of the more pleasant memories as he said it. “He was my former Padawan’s apprentice, after all.”

Pasha could feel her eyebrows rise. “You taught Master Qui-Gon?”

“Indeed I did,” he confirmed, then laughed. “I suppose, in a way, that would make me your great-grandfather, wouldn’t it?”

Pasha laughed too, although she wasn’t sure why. “I guess so. So, you’d really teach me Form II, then?”

His face grew stern. “I never make offers that I am unprepared to fulfill, young one.”

“Sorry, Master Dooku. It’s just…” She tried to think of the right words. “It just seemed too good to be true, that you’d want to teach me.”

His expression softened into one of sympathy. “It seems that you have been made to doubt your own abilities. You are something very special, Pasha. I hope that the rest of the Order one day recognizes that.”

“Well, now they all think I’m a Sith or something,” she grumbled.

Dooku looked amused. “For a mere fit of temper? That is hardly a reason for concern. I saw nothing wrong with what you did.”

That was pretty great to hear… even though Pasha wasn’t sure she believed it. “Jedi aren’t supposed to let their anger out like that.”

“You are a descendant of a proud race of noble warriors,” Dooku said. “Your anger is your strength, not something to fear.”

“Yeah, but—”

His response was unexpectedly fierce. “The Jedi are afraid of their anger because they are too weak to master it.” They had stopped walking and were now standing right by one of the large windows looking out over Coruscant’s skyline, where the sun was beginning to set. 

Dooku turned to face her. “We have a great many things in common, Pasha. We both inhabit two worlds: one of the Jedi and the other of nobility. This is something that the rest of the Order will never understand. They have no connection to their homes or their families or their people. It makes them all the same, all alike, common. But you and I, we are not like them—we are better. Stronger. You have the ability to control your anger, Pasha, to use it, because you are special. Never forget that: you are better than them, and you always will be.”

Dooku was saying things that she hadn’t ever heard a Jedi say before. This stuff was… well, it sounded like a compliment but…

But the way Master Dooku was talking, it was like he was saying that he wasn’t a Jedi.

She thought back to the looks everyone was giving her in the dining hall and how even Ahsoka was scared of her. 

Was that just because they don’t understand me? Because I’m different?

“Pasha,” Dooku said, his voice surprisingly quiet, “there are many things I can teach you, if you are willing to learn.”

It took her a second to realize what he was saying: Dooku wanted her to be his apprentice.

Skyguy’s note—

But what if Skyguy was wrong? 

Everyone else seemed to be thrilled that Master Dooku had returned to the Jedi Order. How could he possibly be untrustworthy if the High Council let him back in? He trained Master Qui-Gon, who was a great Jedi Master himself. For Dooku to offer to train her… it was a huge honor.

Besides, after today, maybe no one else would want her as a Padawan. Maybe this was the only chance she had to be a Jedi Knight.

She tried to picture what it would be like: no more living in the creche with everyone whispering about her, no more dull lessons with the other Initiates, no more having to look over her shoulder to see if a Master was watching her and judging her, no more having Asajj push her around, because they would both be the same rank… 

And she’d be a Padawan before anyone else in her creche. She’d be special.


“Pasha!” It was Master Qui-Gon, heading in their direction. He looked… not as calm as he usually was, which was pretty calm in Pasha’s experience.

Dooku’s face, right before he turned to look at Qui-Gon… Pasha wasn’t entirely sure what she saw, but it looked like Master Dooku was angry at him for interrupting them.

“Pasha, it is time for you to return to your creche for the night,” Qui-Gon said, even though he wasn’t looking at her. He and Dooku were staring at one another like they were both about to start yelling.

“We were merely taking a stroll around the Temple,” Dooku said. He shifted his stance so that he was standing in between her and Qui-Gon. “She was under my supervision the entire time.”

“Her crechemaster did not know where she had gone. She—”

“I hadn’t realized that you were keeping such a close eye on the Initiates, Master Qui-Gon.” The way Dooku said ‘Master’ gave Pasha the feeling that he didn’t mean it as a title of respect.

“I happened to be walking by and saw—”

“Oh you did, did you?” Dooku asked. 

“It’s okay,” Pasha said quickly, stepping out from behind Dooku. “I’m pretty tired. I should go back.” She gave Dooku a bow. “Thank you, Master Dooku. Goodnight.”

“Until our next meeting, Initiate Kryze,” Dooku said, inclining his head in return.

She followed Qui-Gon back towards the dormitories, feeling like something really bad had happened.

“Pasha,” Master Qui-Gon said, once they were far enough away from Dooku that they wouldn’t be overheard, “I would advise you to avoid Master Dooku in the future.”

Pasha wasn’t exactly surprised that he said that, not after what she just saw, but she still had to ask: “Why? Wasn’t he your Master?”

She noticed something around his eyes tense up, like he was flinching. “That is exactly why I am telling you this. You would not be happy as his student.”

“Were you unhappy?” she asked. She’d never heard of a Padawan who didn’t get along with their Master like that.

Qui-Gon was silent for a little too long, which Pasha knew meant that the answer to her question was yes. She had another question ready: “Was that why Skyguy told Ahsoka not to trust him?”

“Ah,” Qui-Gon said, looking a little relieved. “So she showed you the note, did she?”

“Well, yeah,” Pasha said, just barely keeping herself from adding ‘duh.’ They were best friends, of course she would have shown Pasha—

Oh no… I forgot about Ahsoka. I’ll need to apologize when I get back.

“Why did he give her that list? Who is he?” Pasha asked. Qui-Gon’s expression had returned to his usual one, which meant that he probably wasn’t going to tell her anything unless she gave him a good reason to. 

I’m already in trouble, after all.

“If you tell me what’s going on with that Skyguy person, then I’ll promise to stay away from Master Dooku,” she said. 

He frowned. “This is a very serious matter, Pasha.”

“So then tell me and I’ll know what to watch out for.”

There were more people in the halls now, meaning that their conversation would probably be over soon. Qui-Gon watched her as they walked the rest of the way to her creche, as though studying her in some way. “I will consider it,” Qui-Gon finally said as they reached the dormitory, “but regardless of my decision… Pasha, please be careful.”

“All right,” she said, trying to sound unconcerned. “Good night, Master Qui-Gon.”

All she could do now was hope that Ahsoka accepted her apology… and that the other Initiates moved on to some new topic of fascination as soon as possible.

But what if you really are better than all of them? Would that be so bad?

It took Pasha a very long time to fall asleep that night.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t until Anakin was out of range of Kamino that he realized he didn’t know how to get in touch with anyone. There were a few comm frequencies that he knew by heart, but he couldn’t think of any that even existed at this point in time: Padmé, Ahsoka, the Resolute, and the Negotiator were all years in the future. He couldn’t call the Jedi Temple directly because he was technically the Republic’s number-one enemy, and Obi-Wan, who was the one person who he didn’t need to talk to, was back on Kamino and almost certainly had a different frequency now that he had left the Jedi—

But if his Obi-Wan was living in Qui-Gon Jinn’s old quarters, then maybe he had been using Qui-Gon’s old comm frequency too…

And Anakin definitely knew that one.

This was perfect: he really needed to find out what was going on back at the Temple, anyway—hopefully Qui-Gon was already making progress on exposing Palpatine as a Sith—and he would be the ideal person to share Jango Fett’s comm logs with, because he would be on Coruscant and could actually do something about it.

The call connected and Anakin realized that he had miscalculated something very badly.

At the time that Qui-Gon was killed in Anakin's timeline, Obi-Wan had been his Padawan for over a decade, so Obi-Wan probably just kept the frequency that he already had…

…which was the comm frequency for Qui-Gon’s Padawan.

Anakin then realized that he had miscalculated two things: he should have made the call audio-only.

A very startled Asajj Ventress stared at him. “Skywalker?”

This time, she didn’t seem angry, merely wary. He was so used to seeing her angry that seeing her otherwise was strange. 

“I… uh, I thought I was calling Qui-Gon,” Anakin said, feeling a little silly. 

“Well,” she said carefully, “I suppose if you had to comm the wrong frequency, you could have done much worse.”

“‘You Could Have Done Much Worse: The Anakin Skywalker Story,’” he muttered, almost by reflex. “Is he around?”

“He’s nearby,” Asajj said, but made no move to get him.

“Can I talk to him?” Anakin prompted.

Asajj hesitated for a moment, during which Anakin wondered if she was trying to stall him for some reason, but then she appeared to arrive at a decision. Her next words were not hesitant at all: “Tell me what is going on.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

She looked at him like he was crazy, which was actually a look he had seen on her face before, back in his own timeline. “You, a duplicate version of the Warlord, appeared in the basement of the Jedi Temple, eluded about a dozen Temple Guards, and told my Master that you were from an alternate timeline. And now—” she grit her teeth in a frustrated scowl, and then took a deep breath to calm down, “and now,” she continued more calmly, but with obvious hurt still in her eyes, “Master Qui-Gon won’t tell me anything. So I want you to tell me: who am I in your timeline?”

“Why do you want to know?” Anakin asked, uneasily.

“I want to know because every time my Master looks at me now, he’s obviously seeing someone else. I don’t even know what I did.”

Anakin felt something that he hadn’t expected to ever feel: sympathy for Asajj Ventress.

He also realized for the first time just how young she was. He knew, vaguely, that they were about the same age in his timeline, which would mean that she was probably around seventeen years old.

She’s the same age that Snips is, back in my timeline.

But it wasn’t Ahsoka that he was thinking about now:

Shouting at Obi-Wan after the Hardeen mission. “You lied to me! How many other lies have I been told by the Council?”

Unloading his frustrations onto Padmé. “Obi-Wan and the Council don’t trust me!”

Confiding in the Chancellor, the only friend he felt like he had left. “More and more I get the feeling that I am being excluded from the Council. I know there are things about the Force that they are not telling me.”

Palpatine playing on his fears and insecurities. “Anakin, you must break through the fog of lies the Jedi have created around you.”

Anakin knew what it was like to not feel trusted, especially by the people he depended on the most.

He knew where that feeling could lead.

It didn’t change the fact that he still really didn’t want to say this, though—

But if someone had been able to warn me about what I might have become, wouldn’t I have tried to change it?

Isn’t that what I'm doing right now?

“You were a Sith,” he blurted out. 

“A Sith,” she repeated, freezing in place.

He sighed in frustration. “Sort of… you were the apprentice of another Sith apprentice? I’m not entirely sure how it worked—”

(I would have known all about the Sith by now, if I hadn’t changed my mind.)

“The Sith are extinct,” Asajj said, but Anakin could hear the doubt in her voice.

“That’s what we thought.”

Her eyes widened slightly. “You know who they are. That’s why you’re here.”

“I…” Anakin wasn’t sure what to do. The more people who knew about Palpatine, the riskier it would be… but Anakin also knew how horrible it felt to have information kept from him.

“There’s a former Jedi named Dooku—” he began, but Asajj interrupted him.

“He’s here,” she said urgently, "in the Temple."

“Dooku?” Anakin asked, feeling his stomach tie itself in knots.

“He asked to be readmitted into the Jedi Order only a few days ago.” Her eyes widened. “He is the Sith Lord?”

Anakin nodded. “He was the apprentice.”

“And if Master Qui-Gon knows…” She froze again. “…then he knows that I was Dooku’s apprentice in your timeline.” Her hands closed into fists. “I still don’t understand why he didn’t tell me. Did he think I would…”

Anakin recognized that feeling as well: wondering if he was just doomed to fall no matter what he did.

“I don’t know a lot about your past,” he admitted, “so I don’t know what happened exactly… but from what I understand, you were alone and hurting for a really long time—”

“Lots of people are hurting,” she snapped. “They don’t all become Sith.”

“And lots of kids are enslaved,” Anakin said. “They don’t all become Warlords.”

She looked away. “I don’t like that we have things in common.”

“Me either,” Anakin admitted.

What would I tell my past self if I had the chance, to make sure he wouldn’t fall to the Dark Side?

“Don’t isolate yourself,” he said. “You’ve got Qui-Gon, even if he’s shutting you out right now.” He thought about Ahsoka and Obi-Wan. “And screw the Order’s opinion on attachments—you can’t have a Padawan without getting attached to them. If it comes down to it, I’ll bet that Qui-Gon’s on your side every time—so ask for his help.”

She still looked skeptical, but Anakin got the feeling that ‘skeptical’ might be Asajj’s default setting. “I’ll try,” she said.

“Hey,” Anakin mock-admonished her, “‘do or do not, there is no—’”

“Shut the hell up, Skywalker,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I’ll go get Master Qui-Gon.”

“I’m already here, actually.” Anakin could hear Qui-Gon’s voice in the background. 

Asajj turned in surprise. “Master… I, er… I’ll go see if—”

“Please stay, Asajj,” Qui-Gon said, sounding a little awkward. “I should have known better than to… to shut you out.”

Asajj looked as uneasy as Anakin himself felt. How much of their conversation had Qui-Gon overheard? 

But his face gave no indication either way as he joined Asajj by the comm unit, so Anakin forged ahead with his reason for calling. “I think I acquired some information that would help expose Dooku for what he really is.”

Something in Qui-Gon’s expression twitched when Anakin said the name of his former Master. “The Council allowed him to return to the Order,” he said. “Whatever information you have, it will need to be beyond a doubt.”

“I haven’t looked at it yet,” Anakin admitted, “but hopefully it is. There was something I didn’t mention to you before, because I didn’t think it was important compared to all the other stuff going on: in my timeline, Dooku commissioned a clone army—for the Republic. And he’s probably doing the same thing in this timeline too.”

Qui-Gon’s face remained still as sandstone as Anakin explained what happened on Kamino, as well as the steps he and Obi-Wan had taken to prevent the worst-case scenario from occurring.

“So they would be able to resist any orders to attack the Jedi?” Qui-Gon asked.

“Assuming the chips are removed.”

“But the army still exists.”

Anakin shut his eyes for a moment and sighed. Opening them again, he continued: “It does. And not only does Dooku know about it, so does P—so does his Master, I mean.” He decided to leave it up to Qui-Gon whether or not to drop that detonator on his apprentice. “How far have you gotten in stopping either of them, by the way?”

Qui-Gon actually paused, and Anakin realized that he was trying to think of a positive spin on what he was about to say. “You haven’t done anything?” Anakin demanded.

“I am still trying to confirm whether Dooku had truly fallen, not to mention if his supposed-Master is even Force-sensitive—”

“Are you kidding me?” Anakin was appalled. “You’ve just been sitting here all this time, doing nothing? There are two Sith on Coruscant who could end the Republic and the Jedi in a heartbeat if they wanted to—”

“Then why haven’t they done so already?” Qui-Gon asked, sounding a bit defensive. “You followed Obi-Wan to Mandalore because you believed that the Warlord was the greater threat.”

“That doesn't mean that the Sith aren’t a threat!”

“You don’t know for sure that they are Sith in this universe—”

“Of course they are! If the point of divergence here is when Obi-Wan left the Order, then Palpatine had already become a Sith—possibly decades before that—”

“Wait, the Chancellor is the other Sith Lord?” Asajj said, horrified.


“That is what Anakin believes,” Qui-Gon replied.

Anakin felt himself losing his temper. “That’s what I know! I saw him kill four Jedi with my own eyes—he was throwing around lightning and talking about the power of the Dark Side and gave me a damn Sith name—”

Qui-Gon froze. “He what?”

Normally, Anakin would have frozen as well, but he was still too pissed off to care. “That’s how I know what he is!” he snapped. “So stop sitting on your ass and go stop him!”

Anakin began keying in the codes on his ship’s comm unit… perhaps a little too forcefully. “I’m transmitting a copy of the call logs to you now—well, to you, Asajj.” He glared at Qui-Gon. “Maybe she’ll actually do something with it.”

It really shouldn’t have surprised him that Qui-Gon would be hesitant—it was pretty typical behavior from a Jedi Master these days, to just hide their heads in the sand while the galaxy fell apart around them—but it was still a disappointment. 

I thought he was better than the rest of them.

Anakin realized that he had probably put Qui-Gon on a pedestal—after all, Qui-Gon had freed him, had argued with the Jedi Council to let him take Anakin as an apprentice, and went back to Naboo to help Padmé even when it seemed like a lost cause. There hadn’t been time for Qui-Gon to demonstrate that he was just as flawed as the next Jedi.

“Enough with the tantrums, Skywalker,” Asajj cut in. “You’re the one who kept everything a secret, so you shouldn’t be surprised when the rest of us aren’t acting the way you want us to act.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “If you wanted this so badly, you should have done it yourself and saved the rest of us the headache.”

Anakin was tempted to set a course for Coruscant and do just that. He had defeated Dooku before—


—and Palpatine certainly wouldn’t be expecting him. He could even pin the assassination of the Chancellor on his counterpart in this timeline, leaving the Jedi Order blameless in the eyes of the Republic.

Anakin sighed as he realized that it wasn’t really an option at the moment: the second the Chancellor was dead, the entire Republic would probably be thrown into chaos—which the Warlord would almost certainly take advantage of.

Bad Timing and Explosions: The Anakin Skywalker Story.

“Look,” he said, trying to bring his frustration under control, “one of the reasons why things went wrong in my timeline was that the Jedi Order ignored the problem until it was too late. You’ve got a head start here: don’t waste it.”

“I have not been ignoring the problem,” Qui-Gon said, still sounding a little hurt. “Dooku is already causing trouble within the Order, and stopping him needs to take priority at the moment.”

Anakin frowned. “What kind of trouble?” Asajj looked equally curious.

Qui-Gon seemed unable to meet his eyes. “He is seeking a new apprentice.”

“Who?” Anakin and Asajj both demanded simultaneously. 

He hesitated far longer than Anakin was comfortable with. “Pasha Kryze.”

“Her?” Asajj sounded like she was holding back a scoff.

“I have already warned her about him—not that he may be a Sith—”

“He is a Sith,” Anakin wearily interjected.

“—but enough that she understands the danger. I will be keeping a close eye on her. Anakin,” Qui-Gon said, finally looking at him, “you cannot tell Obi-Wan about this.”

“Why not? It’s his daughter!”

Qui-Gon’s jaw tightened. “I do not know what the Obi-Wan from your timeline is like, but this one is… somewhat irrational when it comes to his family.”

Anakin clenched his fists and hoped that it wasn’t visible over the comm. 

I really thought Qui-Gon was better than this.

Qui-Gon continued. “Think about what would happen if Obi-Wan showed up on Coruscant. Dooku is a master duelist: he would kill Obi-Wan with little trouble, and the Jedi Order would probably let him get away with it since it would be in self-defense. Any attempt at proving that Dooku is a Sith would be interpreted as my attempt at revenge, and I would likely be expelled from the Order in the process, leaving him free to continue with whatever plans he had in mind when he returned.”

“I still think he should know.” Anakin had worked so hard to earn Obi-Wan’s trust; keeping this a secret would risk all of it.

“Give me time to get the situation under control,” Qui-Gon said. “It will not be long, I promise.”

That was when Anakin realized something he had missed before: Qui-Gon was terrified.

No one had encountered a Sith in hundreds of years. No one believed they still existed. In his own timeline, Qui-Gon hadn’t even considered the possibility until one directly attacked him on Tatooine.

Anakin had been aware of the Sith since he was nine years old. The Jedi and the Force were all new to him at the time, and so he had no preconceptions to challenge. That was just the way things were: there were Jedi and there were Sith and sometimes they would fight each other. 

But for Qui-Gon and the other Jedi, this would have shattered their entire worldview. No wonder he was hesitant to act on it.

Anakin felt a little bad for him… but not for very long. There was too much to do.

Anakin allowed himself another few seconds to seethe, and then sighed. “I guess there isn’t much I can do about it anyway—this will probably be the last you’ll hear from me for awhile,” he said. “Based on the information the Mandalorians have collected about the Warlord, the only way I’m going to get close to my alternate self is if I infiltrate the Broken Fleet. I’ve got a way to disguise myself, but I’m not sure how long it will take.”

He was still tempted to head to Coruscant anyway—to listen to the voice in the back of his head, the one that kept saying: If you don’t save the galaxy, who will?

Or the other voice: You can’t save everyone, Anakin. Everything dies; in time, even the stars burn out.

He felt his hands clench again. Maybe he couldn’t save everyone simultaneously, but given enough time, he could do it.

I’m the Chosen One, damn it. Isn’t that my destiny?

“Until then,” Anakin said with difficulty, “may the Force be with you.”

“And with you,” Qui-Gon said. His expression was a little too knowing, and Anakin wondered what he had let slip just now.

Anakin disconnected the call and tried not to think about what might be going wrong on Coruscant without him there to fix it.

Obi-Wan was fairly certain the Kaminoans believed his claim that he had no prior knowledge of Anakin’s plans. Pretending to know more than one actually did was difficult, but not nearly as difficult as pretending to know less, and his years on Mandalore had given him plenty of experience with the latter: it was amazing how much people were willing to let slip in front of the Duchess’s dim-witted jock husband. He had long ago learned to stop caring if someone thought him less intelligent, or less dangerous, or less interesting than he really was.

I know who I am.

Somehow, the most irritating consequence of Anakin’s departure was that Obi-Wan’s actual clothes were still on Slave I, so he was stuck with the borrowed set of Jedi robes and an uncomfortable feeling that Anakin probably preferred him in those.

I know who I am.

And I am not him.

His existential spiral was mercifully halted by the appearance of a small figure attempting to creep up behind him. Had it not been for the Force, they might have succeeded: Obi-Wan was sitting on a bench inside a small vestibule by Tipoca City’s main spaceport, and the torrential downpour of rain was nearly deafening against the transparisteel roof of the shelter.

The boy was younger than the clones Obi-Wan had seen on his tour of the facilities earlier that day, but he was definitely from the same genetic source.

“Hello there,” Obi-Wan said as the boy peeked around the side of the vestibule, clad in a clear plastic cloak to keep off the rain. “What brings you all the way out here?” He couldn’t quite keep himself from sounding like he had just caught one of his daughters in a game of hide-and-seek.

The boy looked less than amused. “Did you come here with that other guy?”

“I did,” Obi-Wan sighed a little dramatically, “but he seems to have abandoned me here.”

The boy’s lip curled into a snarl and he raised what Obi-Wan realized was a small holdout blaster. “That was my dad’s ship.”

“Careful,” Obi-Wan said, keeping his voice calm. “I don’t think that is going to solve the problem that you believe it will.” He was surprised to hear the young clone referring to Jango Fett as his father; that sounded like the sort of thing that the Kaminoans would have taken steps to discourage.

No attachments… that sounds rather familiar, doesn’t it?

“Where’s my dad?” the boy demanded; his voice was shaking slightly. “Did the Jedi get him?”

“No,” Obi-Wan reassured him. “He was merely delayed in returning to Kamino.”

“That’s what the other guy said, but he was there in Dad’s armor—and Dad always told me that no real Mandalorian would give up his armor unless he was dead.”

Even stranger: Jango Fett was teaching his clones about Mandalorian culture? Well, that puzzle could be resolved later; right now, Obi-Wan had to worry about the fact that a very distraught child was still pointing a blaster at him. “Your father is safe, I promise. Did he tell you why he left?”

The boy shook his head, still wary but looking at least a little reassured. “Just that he owed someone a favor.”

Obi-Wan nodded. “That is true, but the people he went to help were criminals, so your father got in some trouble. Once things are sorted out, he will come home.”

“The other guy was a jerk,” the boy grumbled as he lowered the blaster. “Plus, he stole a bunch of stuff—they should have arrested him, not Dad.”

Obi-Wan couldn’t help laughing. “Well, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. What’s your name?”

“Boba Fett,” the boy said. “Are you a Jedi?”

He shrugged. “I am today, at least. My name is Obi-Wan Kenobi. I’m from Mandalore.”

Boba looked skeptical. “You don’t look Mandalorian. Where’s your beskar?”

Obi-Wan patted the spot next to him on the bench. “I wasn’t born there; I moved to Mandalore when I married my wife.” He smiled. “She’s the one who has the armor.”

“Is that where you’re going?” Boba asked, his eyes lighting up with interest as he took a seat. “Back to Mandalore?”

“As soon as—ah,” Obi-Wan squinted up at the lights of an approaching ship, barely visible through the rain. “As soon as that ship lands.”

As if on cue, his comlink chimed. “I’m not going out there in that rain,” Bo-Katan said. “Nobody warned me about the rain.”

“Would you at least do your best to land nearby, please?” Obi-Wan asked. “I don’t have a change of clothes and would prefer to not spend the entire trip back to Sundari soaking wet.”

He could almost hear his sister-in-law shudder. “If it means you keep your clothes on, I’ll park the damn ship on top of you if I have to.”

“I was rather hoping for a third option,” he said drily.

“Is she Mando too?” Boba asked.

“Yes,” Obi-Wan said. “She is my wife’s sister, in fact.”

“You know, your shu’shuk friend sounds a lot younger over the comms,” Bo-Katan remarked—sarcastically, Obi-Wan knew, since she was well aware that Anakin had left separately. That was why she was here, after all.

“I seem to have made friends with one of the young troopers,” he replied.

“I’m not a trooper kid,” Boba protested. “They don’t even have names, just numbers and stuff.”


“Yeah. Plus, they all age really quick. They’re my dad’s clones. I’m his son.”

“Have you been living separately from the rest of them, then?” Obi-Wan asked. 

Boba nodded. “It’s just me and Dad at our place.”

Obi-Wan’s heart ached a little; the boy sounded so lonely, and was likely to remain lonely for a while yet.

An idea began to take shape in the back of his thoughts, but he decided to wait until he had spoken with Bo-Katan in private. 

When the ramp to the ship lowered, Obi-Wan hurried up to meet her, leaving Boba waiting in the vestibule.

“Who was that kid?” she asked.

“He says that he’s Jango Fett’s son,” Obi-Wan told her.

Bo-Katan winced. “Haar’chak,” she cursed under her breath. “Well, that’s awkward: the Protectors just picked Fett up with the Death Watch stragglers on Vyn III. As you might expect, he’s got about a dozen warrants out on him for various crimes, and that’s just the ones on Mandalore.”

Obi-Wan sighed. “So he’s likely to be imprisoned for quite some time.” He glanced back at Boba, who was still sitting on the bench watching them.

Whatever expression Obi-Wan had on his face, it was apparently enough to convey his idea. “Oh no,” Bo-Katan said with a groan. “No, we are not taking him back with us. You’ve already adopted a deranged shu’shuk Jedi, that’s more than enough.”

“With Fett in custody, Boba is on his own now,” Obi-Wan pointed out. “The Kaminoans certainly aren’t going to care for him. And he is technically Mandalorian, you know.”

Bo-Katan sniffed. “Debatable. I think Fett assumed he could charge more credits if people thought he was some kind of dangerous Mandalorian bounty hunter.”

Obi-Wan smiled and crossed his arms over his chest. “Well, you know the old saying: aliit ori’sh—”

She held up a hand. “Spare me your mangled attempt at Mando’a proverbs. I yield.” She leaned forward and yelled down at the boy. “Hey kid! If you want to see your father, get up here!”

Boba walked up the ramp carefully; Obi-Wan was fairly certain that he was still clutching his blaster in one hand. “Is he here?” he asked.

Bo-Katan shook her head. “He’s on Mandalore now, and probably will be for a while, so we’re taking you to him. You ready?”

“Hang on,” Boba said. “I have to go get something first.” He ran back out into the rain and vanished.

“He better not be grabbing whatever these people use for law enforcement,” Bo-Katan sighed. She gestured further inside the ship. “There’s a towel in the refresher; go dry off.”

By the time Obi-Wan had wrung most of the water out of Anakin’s robes, Boba had returned, carrying a large bundle over his shoulder. “It’s my dad’s armor,” he explained to Bo-Katan as he dropped it in the ship’s passenger area.

Bo-Katan visibly flinched at the sound the armor made hitting the deck. “Listen, kid, rule number one with beskar’gam: treat it with some respect. ” She opened the bundle and eyed the pieces of armor critically. “Hmm. Okay, while I get us out of here, you’re going to do three things: you’re going to go grab a couple of those pieces of cloth from the food prep area over there, and then you’re going to clean this stuff up until you can practically see your face in it, got it?”

Boba looked up at her, a little awed, especially by the armor she was wearing. “What’s the third thing?” he asked.

She held out her hand. “It’s the first thing, actually: you’re going to hand over that blaster you’re carrying.”

The boy grimaced and reluctantly placed it in her palm. “Good,” Bo-Katan continued. “For everything else, you can ask Obi-Wan… even if he doesn’t know the difference between a helmet and his own shebs.” She turned and headed to the cockpit.

Obi-Wan suppressed a laugh; she might not have been thrilled with the idea of semi-kidnapping a child they had only just met, but Bo-Katan was already falling into the usual cadences that she used with Pasha and Ka-Riita.

Something in the Force, some tension that Obi-Wan hadn’t noticed before, eased slightly as he watched Boba polishing Fett’s helmet. There was still so much chaos in the galaxy, but he couldn’t shake the sensation that, somehow, a minor crisis had been averted.

Chapter Text

After twenty frustrating minutes spent trying to convince a bunch of Mandalorian Protectors to pass along a message to the Duchess from “Owen Lars,” Anakin finally received landing coordinates for an anonymous landing bay near the Royal Palace.

As Slave I made its approach into Sundari, he was once again struck by the same barrage of confusing thoughts that he experienced during his previous arrival:

He lives here. On Mandalore. In a palace. With his family.

Anakin paused to imagine the kind of hilarious expression his timeline’s Obi-Wan would make if Anakin tried to tell him about it.

Not ‘if’—when I tell him about it.

Anakin still had no idea how he was supposed to return to his own timeline. He hoped that, since the Force brought him here, he could figure out a way to do it in reverse… ideally without having to jump down a turbolift shaft this time. He wasn’t meant to be in this timeline anyway—sure, he was still going to fix things here, but afterwards the Force should balance itself out and send him back to where he was supposed to be.

I’m the Chosen One, right? Balance is supposed to be my destiny.

On the other hand, maybe the Force brought him here because this timeline needed him more than his own timeline did.

Maybe I’m stuck here.

He shivered. It wasn’t a pleasant thought.

But all he could do now was deal with the problem right in front of him. Time travel and dimension-hopping would have to wait until later.

To his surprise, Satine was waiting for him when he landed.

“The area is deserted,” Satine called as Anakin nervously lowered the ship’s ramp, “so there is no need for a disguise. Although,” she added with an amused smile, “I suppose walking around in my husband’s clothes technically counts as one.”

Anakin felt unexpectedly embarrassed as he followed her to an enclosed speeder. “Just borrowing them. He needed some Jedi robes, so we swapped.” He hadn’t particularly wanted to keep wearing Jango Fett’s clothes, so he changed into the ones that Obi-Wan left behind on the ship when they arrived on Kamino.

Satine still looked amused. “I see.” 

They spent the brief trip to the Palace in silence until they arrived at what appeared to be a hidden entrance. “Do you do this sort of thing a lot?” he asked, climbing out of the speeder.

“Occasionally,” she said. “Back when there were more frequent assassination attempts, it helped to have a way to come and go unobserved.”

Anakin followed her inside. “Yeah, I guess it would be hard to go anywhere without being noticed.”

“Something I assume you’re growing increasingly familiar with,” she pointed out. “There are very few people in the galaxy who do not know who Anakin Skywalker is or what he looks like.”

“I finally found a way around that,” he said. “I managed to get some nanotech out of the Kaminoans, which should change my appearance enough that I can find a way into the Broken Fleet.”

“Well,” Satine said, “that’s a relief.”

“What do you mean?”

She sighed. “I know it’s rather selfish, but I’m relieved to hear that Obi-Wan won’t be risking himself by going with you. He would if you asked him, so I appreciate the fact that you didn’t.”

Anakin blinked in something that felt like a cross between surprise and confusion. He had been assuming that Obi-Wan would come along with him. 

Satine noticed. “Ah, I see.”

“I mean, he doesn’t have to come, but—”

She looked sympathetic. “I think you knew that he wasn’t going with you, even if you didn’t realize it consciously.”


“How many people will that nanotechnology work on?”

Anakin’s heart sank. He had known; he just didn’t want to admit it. “Just me.”

“You didn’t do many things without him, did you?” Her voice was gentle. “The one in your timeline, I mean.”

“No,” he said quietly. “I didn’t.” Even when they were on separate missions during the war, Anakin always knew that he could call on Obi-Wan and he would rush to his side. They were a team. They were the team.

Except… maybe we’re not. Not in this timeline.

But Satine was right about something else: if Anakin asked, this version of Obi-Wan would go with him. 

He remembered their argument on the way to Kamino: Obi-Wan’s fear that he didn’t have a choice in whether or not he trusted Anakin. It was ridiculous, of course—even with all of Anakin’s power in the Force, there was no way that he could make anyone like him without realizing it. The Jedi Council’s treatment of him was proof enough of that.

But the level of influence that he had over Obi-Wan was still a little worrying.

“I understand, you know,” Satine said. “It’s a frightening thing, feeling alone.”

Anakin nodded. 

Wasn’t I just telling Asajj the same thing?

But he couldn’t think of any other way to do it: if he wanted to get close enough to the Warlord that he could do something to stop him, Anakin would have to infiltrate the Broken Fleet. And if he wanted to infiltrate the Broken Fleet, he would have to do it alone.

He just really wished that he didn’t.

“I have a question,” Satine said; her tone made it obvious that she was attempting to change the subject, though Anakin couldn’t tell if it was for his sake or for hers. “Well, more of a request, I suppose.”

“What is it?” They stopped walking and stood alone in the empty hallway leading back into the Palace.

“Ka-Riita said that you instructed her on one of the basic lightsaber forms. I was wondering if…” She sighed, sounding a little frustrated, and unclipped the Darksaber from her belt. “I was wondering if you could give me a lesson or two before you leave.”

“Why aren’t you asking Obi-Wan to teach you?” he asked. 

Satine looked away. “You don’t want him to know,” Anakin realized.

She flushed in what Anakin realized was embarrassment. “It’s possible that, after a single lesson, I wouldn’t want to continue. I would rather not have to… to backtrack. It would add another stressor to an already stressful period of time.”

“And since I’m not going to be here for long, I might be willing to keep it a secret?” Anakin was getting pretty sick of people asking him to keep information from Obi-Wan.

“I do plan to tell him eventually,” Satine insisted, “but I would rather not have to explain things until I’m sure that this is what I want.”

“Why are you so weird about fighting?” Anakin demanded, annoyed. This was the same person who he once watched argue with his Master about violence to the point where even Obi-Wan lost his composure.

Now she was definitely looking at him, this time with a gaze so fierce that he flinched. “War destroyed my family: it killed my father and countless other relatives, forced me to flee for my life, and sent my sister down a dark path from which she was lucky to return. My oldest child is nearly the same age I was when the Great Clan Wars began, and I would do almost anything to keep her from having to live through such an experience.”

“Fighting isn’t the same thing as a war!” he protested. “Everyone should know how to defend themselves and those around them.”

“I know,” she snapped, “and I am trying to adjust to that reality, but I am also aware that this—” She held up the Darksaber, “—does not have a stun setting. Very few weapons do.”

They glared at one another; Anakin blinked first. “Okay, fine,” he said, “but I probably won’t have time to do much in just one or two lessons. The rest of it, you’ll need to ask Obi-Wan.”

“Thank you,” she said, resuming their walk. “I know that I can’t leave the responsibility for protecting myself in everyone else’s hands… but that doesn’t stop me from wishing that it could be otherwise.”

Anakin still thought that the Duchess’ pacifism was naive, but it wasn’t his problem to deal with. 

Finally, one thing that’s not my responsibility to fix.

Seeing Boba Fett face to face with his father, knowing that the boy was Jango’s genetic clone, was a little disorienting in Obi-Wan’s opinion. 

“And there are thousands of clones, you said?” Bo-Katan asked him quietly as they stood at a distance, watching the Fetts speak to one another across the transparisteel barrier that kept the bounty hunter imprisoned in the Royal Prison. It was only due to the Duchess’ intervention that Fett was being held here at all; the Death Watch members the Protectors had captured on Vyn III were all awaiting trial in a much less comfortable prison elsewhere in Sundari.

Obi-Wan nodded. “Possibly millions,” he said. “Most of them look like teenagers—maybe a little older, though not by much—but they’re all the same chronological age that Boba is.”

“An army.” She was stunned, but her tone quickly grew thoughtful. “I suppose that would put a stop to the Broken Fleet.”

“If the Republic—or anyone else, for that matter—deployed them, the clones would likely have little choice in whether or not to fight,” Obi-Wan pointed out. “It may be squeamish of me to say so, but using slaves to win a war would be worse than losing it without them.”

“It is squeamish,” Bo-Katan argued. “How is it any different from conscripting an army?”

“At least the conscripts have names and aren’t under ten years of age.” He shook his head. “If you had seen what it was like on Kamino… no one there viewed them as people, just products. It was horrifying.”

“If you want to talk horror, think about what the Warlord would do if he saw the chance to ‘liberate’ an entire planet of soldiers.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Finding Kamino is like dropping a turbolaser into the middle of a fistfight: it would be better if it wasn’t there at all, but now that it is you don’t want the other side to get their hands on it.”

“I’m not sure having it under the control of the Republic would be much better,” Obi-Wan said, thinking of Chancellor Palpatine. Even with the chips disabled, that level of force in the hands of a Sith Lord would be disastrous. 

Bo-Katan exhaled sharply in disgust. “Yeah, I bet it would suddenly become a lot harder to remain a neutral system.” She looked at Boba. “What are we going to do with him? Fett’s not getting out of here anytime soon, and it’s not like the kid can sleep here in the Prison.”

“We aren't lacking space in our residences,” Obi-Wan replied, “or in yours, for that matter. He seems to trust you more than he trusts me.”

“You’re the one who wanted to—” Bo-Katan’s argument was cut off, however, by Boba waving her over. Giving Obi-Wan a parting glare, she went to join the elder and younger Fett.

Obi-Wan’s sister-in-law had never been the best at disguising her emotions, something that Obi-Wan had noticed with many of the more traditional Mandalorians—wearing a helmet on a regular basis obviously reduced the need to maintain a deadpan expression—and therefore it was obvious that whatever she and Jango Fett were discussing was something that Bo-Katan was not especially thrilled to hear but that she also had no way to avoid.

Which was why, when she returned to where Obi-Wan was standing, with Boba at her side, and muttered that it was time to leave, Obi-Wan knew exactly what had transpired.

“I assume you told him that Satine and I were more than willing—” he began, before Bo-Katan interrupted him.

“He saw me in the armor and decided I was the perfect role model,” she grumbled. “Even called me vod when he asked.” She glared down at Boba, who looked fairly pleased with the outcome of the situation. “I don’t want to hear you calling me ba’vodu or anything like that, got it? I’m not your aunt, I’m your…”

“Guardian?” Obi-Wan supplied.

“Tutor,” she snapped. “And only until your father gets released—which, if I have anything to say about it, is going to be as soon as possible, even if I have to break him out of prison myself.”

Boba grinned. “Am I going to go on my verd’goten?” he asked eagerly.

“Listen, vaar’ika, you’re what, eight? You’ve got a few years… which is good because I’m pretty sure you’ve got a lot to learn first.”

The boy bristled at the diminutive. “Dad taught me since I was old enough to walk!” he protested. “I know plenty of stuff!”

“Yeah, well, I can’t wait for you to prove it,” Bo-Katan replied skeptically. She looked at Obi-Wan. “You know, I had plans, plans that did not involve a little kid following me everywhere.”

Obi-Wan smiled. “Well, parenthood often works like that: you have all sorts of plans and then—”

“Don’t listen to him,” Bo-Katan hastily told Boba. “You’re not my kid.”

“Yes, he is,” Obi-Wan said cheerfully, thoroughly enjoying the utter exasperation he was causing her. “Come on, let’s introduce him to the rest of the family.”

“Absolutely not,” she growled, and stormed off, with Boba running after her.

When Obi-Wan finally returned to his residence in the Palace, Satine was absent and Ka-Riita was in her room packing her things.

“If you’re running away, you’re being awfully blatant about it, you know,” Obi-Wan remarked with a smile, standing in the doorway. “I thought your aunt had taught you better stealth than that.”

“Did Mother tell you?” his daughter asked, tossing a dress on top of what appeared to be a very generous pile of clothes.

“I only just got back,” he said. “Why don’t you tell me what happened instead?”

Ka-Riita pulled another garment out of her closet. “Senator Organa contacted Mother and said that he would sponsor me for a spot in the Apprentice Legislature, but I would have to go through their prep courses before the program officially starts. So,” she said as she threw a pair of shoes on top of the pile with a slight flourish, “I’m leaving for Alderaan tomorrow night.”

“That’s rather fast,” Obi-Wan said, surprised. “We only just asked him about the program the other day.”

She frowned at him in confusion. “You were on Coruscant two weeks ago.”

He blinked. “Has it really been that long?” Apparently Anakin’s presence was so disruptive that Obi-Wan had lost track of time.

“Yes.” Ka-Riita sounded a little smug, but her eyes lit up with sudden interest. “Did you really capture the whole Death Watch while you were gone?”

“Not exactly,” he said wearily. “We merely disabled their ships and communications array. Everything else was done by the Protectors.”

“Can I come next time?” she asked eagerly.

Obi-Wan couldn’t help it: he looked at his daughter as though she had lost her mind. “You’re twelve.”

“Fine,” she sighed, obviously doing her best to look as melodramatic as possible. “After my verd’goten, then.”

She was teasing him, but Obi-Wan noticed something a little anxious behind her eyes. “Are you all right, Ka-Riita?” he asked.

“I…” She hesitated. “I don’t know. I have a really bad feeling about something happening while I’m gone. And I don’t know if it’s real or just in my head.”

That was the trouble with the Force, Obi-Wan reflected: it was often difficult to tell the difference between premonitions and anxiety, or between visions and bad dreams. “Come here,” he said gently, opening his arms. 

Enfolding her in a hug, Obi-Wan repeated what Yoda told nearly every youngling who lived in the Temple at one point or another: “You will know,” he said, “when you are calm and at peace.”

“I am calm,” she grumbled.

“Calm, at peace, and patient,” he added with a smile. “Whatever happens, it will be as the Force wills it, so keep your mind on the present rather than the uncertain future.”

“It’s hard.” 

“I know, dear heart.” Obi-Wan gave her a kiss on the forehead. “It’s difficult for me as well. We have that in common.”

His daughter often kept her presence in the Force to herself: with so many people around, mental shields were a necessity from a young age. But on occasion, such as now, Ka-Riita reached out for a connection and their minds met. Through that bond, Obi-Wan did his best to send her feelings of reassurance and calm, the way he used to when she cried as an infant: I’m here, you’re safe, I promise.

“I’m going to miss you,” Ka-Riita said quietly. “It’s two weeks of classes, and then three weeks at the first session.”

“Your mother and I will miss you as well,” Obi-Wan said, “but I suspect you’re going to be so busy that the time will pass quickly, and then you’ll be home again and dreadfully bored.”

She laughed at that. “I guess.”

He looked over at the pile of clothes she had assembled. “For now, however, I should warn you that I don’t think we have a suitcase large enough for all of that.”

Ka-Riita left his embrace and crossed her arms over her chest. “I could pack more than one, you know.”

“Just one more,” he said, picking up a pair of slacks that had fallen to the floor. “We don’t want to give Senator Organa the impression that you’re planning to move in.”

It was extremely bizarre teaching someone to wield the same weapon that had killed them in another timeline.

“…and then step forward, put your arm out straight—a little higher than that, parallel to the ground, just raise it a little.” Anakin stepped back to get a better look at how accurately Satine was matching the positions needed for this part of the exercise. “Lower the angle of the blade, though: it should follow the same line as your arm. Exactly, that same angle.”  

In spite of its gruesome associations, Anakin had to admit that he was enjoying the opportunity to see the Darksaber up close—though what he really wanted to do was take it apart and see how it worked.

“Now, while you’re holding that pose, raise your left arm up like this.” He repositioned Satine’s arm. “It’s not just for show—it keeps you in balance, which is why you need to get the position exactly right.”

If this were a regular training session at the Temple, Anakin would have added an instruction to use that balance to channel the Force and to picture it moving through the body and into the saber, all the way to the tip of the blade. Teaching someone who wasn’t Force-sensitive presented a few extra challenges.

“Slower,” he cautioned. “Keep it slow for now; just focus on getting the positions right. After enough practice, once it becomes second-nature, then you can start increasing the speed. Try that step again.”

“It’s strange,” Satine remarked, repeating that piece of the form. “Moving so slowly is almost more exhausting than if I were going faster.”

“I’ve heard some people describe it as feeling like they’re moving through water.” He laughed. “I wouldn’t know, though, being from Tatooine.”

“Is it like moving through sand, then?” she asked.

Anakin grimaced. “No: this is actually pleasant, while sand is anything but that. It’s like water wants you to move, but sand wants to keep you perfectly still.”

She smiled. “I suspect that staying in one spot is not your strong suit.”

He shrugged. “It’s easier for me to focus when I’m moving than when I’m sitting still.” He returned his attention to the lesson. “Okay, now that you’ve got that pose, bring your right foot back in together with your left. Rotate your body to the left a little, like this.” He demonstrated. “While you’re doing that, draw the saber back towards your body, holding it with the blade pointing straight up.”

Satine followed his example. “Good,” Anakin said. “Then bring it up and around in an arc. No, like this.” He repeated the motion with his lightsaber.

“It seems like this position would be useful for blocking overhead strikes, correct?” Satine asked, holding the Darksaber up over her head with the blade parallel to the floor.

“As long as you’ve got a good grip on it,” he confirmed. “It’s also good for deflecting blaster bolts.”

“That might be a little outside my abilities,” she pointed out, laughing.

“Let’s do those last few parts again. Now, arm straight out like this.” To demonstrate the correct position, Anakin moved until he was standing right next to her, holding his saber out only a few centimeters to the right of hers.

The Darksaber suddenly twitched and struck Anakin’s lightsaber with a crackle of energy. “Hey!” he said, annoyed. “You’ve got to keep it still.”

“I was,” Satine replied, nearly as annoyed. “It was as though the it moved on its own. Like it was being pulled toward yours.”

“Lightsabers don’t do that. You just need to focus more.”

“This isn’t a lightsaber,” she pointed out. “In fact…” She appeared to remember something. “Pre Vizsla told me something very odd: he said that it responds to the wielder’s emotions. Before today, it felt very unstable, as though it was wreathed in lightning, but now…”

“It was calmer while you were working through the form,” Anakin realized. He grinned as he stepped back and raised his saber in a guard position. “Care to show me what it does when you get really ticked off?”

Satine faced him, mirroring his pose, and closed her eyes as though drawing on a memory. It apparently worked: through the Force, Anakin could sense the white-hot flare of anger, one that was confirmed when she opened her eyes and Anakin nearly jumped.

Whatever it was that she was remembering, it had obviously left an impression: the black blade was crackling loudly enough that he wasn’t sure if he would be able to speak over it without shouting.

Time to test his theory. Anakin swung his lightsaber at her.

With a speed that he wouldn’t have expected from a non-Force-user, Satine brought the Darksaber up and blocked the strike. He tried again, and a third time—the result was the same: she blocked each one quickly and precisely.

After a few more attempts, Anakin stepped back and deactivated his lightsaber. “This is probably the only time I’ll ever say this, but I think Vizsla was right: it responds to your emotions, especially when other sabers are involved.” He wondered what the Darksaber’s creator had done to give it those qualities. “That’s pretty wizard.”

Satine, no longer angry, now looked a little stunned. “It was like before: as though it was moving on its own. I barely had to think about it.” She frowned. “I don’t think wielding a deadly weapon in anger is a good idea, though.”

“It probably isn’t limited to anger alone, I bet. Any strong emotions would probably work.” Anakin paused as something occurred to him. “I know it’s a weird question, but are you sure you’re not Force-sensitive?” He really didn't want to find out that he had accidentally taught Obi-Wan's wife how to use the Dark Side.

Satine smiled as she shook her head. “I had a midichlorian test as a young girl like everyone else on Mandalore, and it registered nothing out of the ordinary. My daughters inherited their abilities from Obi-Wan, not me.” She switched off the Darksaber. “But I suppose I’ll take that question as a compliment.”

“It was meant to be one,” he said, relieved. “With enough practice, you could be pretty formidable.”

She raised an eyebrow. “I’m not already formidable?”

Anakin snorted with laughter. “You’ve got a point: I was already a little scared of your counterpart in my universe, and I never even saw her use a weapon.”

Satine clipped the Darksaber to her belt. “I know that you have other things to attend to before you leave on your mission, but I want to thank you for taking the time to teach me.”

She had ignored his remark, Anakin realized, and now appeared to be in a sudden hurry to leave. “You know, you’ve never asked about the Satine from my timeline. Neither has Obi-Wan. Aren’t you curious about her?”

Satine took a moment to consider her answer. “I have given quite a bit of thought over the years about what my life would have been like without Obi-Wan. I suspect it isn’t a story I would enjoy hearing.”

Anakin remembered Obi-Wan's face when he returned from Mandalore after trying and failing to rescue Satine from the trap Maul had set for them both. Obi-Wan made his report to the Jedi Council while sounding and looking like he was made of stone, still wearing the red Mandalorian armor he had stolen for a disguise.

Aside from a single instance while cautioning Anakin about the dangers of attachment, Obi-Wan never mentioned her again, and Anakin didn't know how to ask.

Anakin wondered if Maul was still alive in this timeline. Probably not: if Dooku was Palpatine's apprentice, his predecessor was almost certainly out of the way, and Anakin was pretty sure that former Sith apprentices didn't get the option of retiring.

Anakin shuddered. Like how I was supposed to replace Dooku.

He wondered who Palpatine had in mind to replace him.

He would deal with that later: right now, there were other things for him to focus on. “This was fun,” he admitted. “Training, I mean.”

“It reminded you of home, didn’t it?” Satine asked, her tone relaxing slightly. 

“Yes,” he said quietly. Sparring in the training salles in the Jedi Temple was, aside from tinkering with mechanical parts, one of the things that Anakin had always enjoyed doing to pass the time. Especially when Obi-Wan was there with him.

“I sympathize,” she went on. “The last few weeks have been overwhelming for me as well. As distasteful as I find combat, this was refreshingly normal compared to everything else.”

“And it’s all about to get even more overwhelming,” Anakin said with a sigh. He was exhausted just thinking about what he was going to have to do in order to fix things and get home again.

She nodded grimly. “Hopefully, if we both do our duties, we will be able to restore peace and rediscover what ‘normal’ means for each of us.”

“Hopefully,” he agreed. “Thanks, by the way, for letting me hide out here. I know it wasn’t the easiest thing to do.”

“Obi-Wan cares for you a great deal,” she said, “and after getting to know you, I have begun to understand why. I don’t know what happened to the Warlord to make him the way that he is, but you are a brave and kind person, Anakin Skywalker, and I am very glad to have met you.”

“To be honest, most of my good qualities are probably because of Obi-Wan,” Anakin admitted. As much as he had chafed under Obi-Wan’s constant lectures and restrictions, he had more or less kept Anakin on the right path.

Everything started going wrong after I stopped listening to him.

Satine smiled. “I will admit that the signs of his parenting are hard to miss. In a way, I can see some of him in you.”

Anakin laughed, feeling a little embarrassed. “I wish I was as good of a person as he is.”

“So take it as a compliment.” She sighed. “I need to return to my work. Thank you again, Anakin.”

After Satine left the training facility, Anakin went to find Obi-Wan. He wasn’t entirely surprised to discover that Obi-Wan had been looking for him as well. Taking refuge in the room that Obi-Wan used to meditate, they caught each other up on what had happened since leaving Kamino.

After Obi-Wan told him the story of how Bo-Katan became the somewhat-unwilling guardian to Boba Fett of all people, Anakin filled him in on the information he had shared with Qui-Gon and Asajj—leaving out, still feeling a bit irritated at Qui-Gon, the fact that Dooku had returned and was now setting his sights on Pasha for an apprentice. 

Obi-Wan nodded. “I’ll be sure to keep in touch with the Temple while you’re gone.”

Anakin flinched; Obi-Wan noticed. “Anakin, you know that I—”

“I know,” Anakin said, trying not to hang his head in shame, but unable to look directly at Obi-Wan. “I know that you can’t come with me… but I still wish that you could.”

Obi-Wan hesitated before answering. “I know that you have been a Jedi Knight for many years, Anakin… but I can’t help but wonder if, in a way, this is one of your Trials. You have relied on my counterpart for so long and obviously made him a large part of your life… but I think this is a challenge that you need: to discover what you are without him, and who you are when you are on your own. You need to learn to trust yourself.”

Anakin felt something in his chest tighten. “You know why I don’t trust myself.”

“That’s why I said ‘learn to trust yourself.’ It won’t all happen over the course of a single day.”

“‘Patience, my young Padawan,’” Anakin couldn’t help drawling.

Obi-Wan smiled ruefully. “I know that you’re imitating me, but I can’t help but hear those words in Master Qui-Gon’s voice.”

Anakin finally looked at him. “He told you that too? It’s hard to believe that we have that issue in common.”

“Which is why I suspect that my counterpart made a point of passing that advice along to you.”

Anakin laughed a little at that, but quickly sobered. “I’m going to miss you. I know that technically we only met a month ago—”

“Two weeks,” Obi-Wan interjected.

“Really? It’s only been that long?” Apparently things were so busy that Anakin had lost track of time. “Huh. Well, anyway, I know we only met two weeks ago, but it’s been pretty great getting to know this version of you.”

“I suppose I’ll take that as a compliment, given how highly you regard my counterpart.” His expression was reassuring, but Anakin still noticed the slight discomfort in Obi-Wan’s eyes every time his version of Obi-Wan was mentioned. “How soon until you depart?”

“I’ve got all the information I’m likely to get, I have a pretty good idea of where I need to go in order to find a way in, and now I’ve got a way to disguise myself. All I need is an old Sandhawk to overhaul and a way to hide my lightsaber. Oh,” he added with a grimace, “and a scalpel.”

Obi-Wan matched his expression; they had discussed that part, and Anakin wasn’t looking forward to it. The incision from when his tracker had been removed had been unpleasant enough when he was nine. Having to reopen it wasn’t going to be much better, but it was the best cover he could think of: a newly escaped slave had a lot of good reasons to join the Broken Fleet, and a lot of excuses for why there was no record of him anywhere.

“Have you decided on your name yet?”

Anakin grinned at that. “Ka-Riita helped me pick one out this morning. The surname’s a little too on-the-nose, since, as you said, I’ve got to do this on my own.”

“And the first name?” Obi-Wan asked.

“She suggested ‘Ben.’” 

Obi-Wan got an odd look on his face. “What?” Anakin asked.

He smiled a little shyly. “When Satine was pregnant with Ka-Riita and we were discussing names… if it turned out to be a boy, we were going to name him Ben.”

Anakin laughed, feeling a bit awkward. “I guess she really wants a brother, huh?”

The odd look on Obi-Wan’s face was still there. “I’m beginning to wonder if she has one now.”

Anakin thought back to what Satine had said earlier: “The signs of his parenting are hard to miss… in a way, I can see some of him in you.”

Whatever Anakin’s relationship with Obi-Wan was—especially with the one from his timeline—he was pretty sure it was far too complicated to be anything as simple as that of a parent and a child.

On the other hand, Anakin never had a father, so what did he know? Maybe it felt like this.

Regardless, it didn’t change what Anakin did next: he gave Obi-Wan a hug.

“I don’t know if I can do this without screwing up,” he admitted after a few seconds of silence.

Obi-Wan hugged him back a little harder. “If there is anyone out there who can take down an entire fleet single-handed, I am fairly certain that it’s you. I believe in your ability to pull off the impossible.” He pulled away and looked Anakin in the eyes. “And I believe in you.”

“At least one of us does,” Anakin sighed. “If I can get everything together, I’ll probably be ready to leave in a day or so.”

And then he would find out if he could do the most impossible thing of all: save the galaxy—by himself.

At last: Ka-Riita had arrived safely on Alderaan earlier that day, Anakin had left on his mission the night before, matters in Sundari were being handled by her ministers, and the brand new First Protectorate had been deployed to patrol the edges of the Mandalore system… which meant that, for the next week, Satine could take a break.

The walk from the shuttle to their retreat on Kalevala was wonderfully quiet: not the smooth silence of the Royal Palace, but the kind of quiet that was full of life. The wind rustled the leaves of trees, small animals called sweetly to one another, and insects faintly hummed in the distance. 

It was a relatively small house, a short distance from a nearby lake, and it was perfect: no responsibilities at all, nothing but time alone with Obi-Wan, relaxing together and putting the chaos of the last few weeks aside for a little while. 

“The first thing I’m going to do when we get inside,” she said, giving his hand a gentle squeeze as they walked, “is head straight to the bedroom.”

“For a nap, or something a bit less restful?” he asked.

“I will leave that part up to you,” she replied with a wink.

His laugh, mixed with the sound of the wind in the trees, was one of the most beautiful things she had ever heard.

At last…

They set their bags down just inside the door—there would be time to deal with them later (at last: plenty of time), and were about to head toward the bedroom when Obi-Wan froze.

“Someone’s here,” he said urgently. 

“It could just be the cleaners,” she replied, but couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong, very wrong…

Neither of them were carrying weapons—why would they? This was their retreat, their space. 

She had brought the Darksaber with her, still unable to leave it behind, but it was packed away in her bag. Before she could return to the door and retrieve it, she went tumbling to the floor as an invisible force knocked her over.

Her sparring sessions with Bo-Katan had awakened a few old instincts, and Satine kicked out at the booted feet that appeared next to her. They stumbled briefly, but then recovered and hauled her to her feet, pinning her arms behind her back. She could hear her husband struggling nearby. 

Obi-Wan fought off assassins on a yearly basis, but they had somehow both been captured in their own home with ease.

She really should be more afraid for her life at the moment, Satine reflected, feeling strangely calm in the middle of this assault, but she was mainly just insulted that they had been shoved to the ground only to be picked back up again. It was so… pointless.

It was also the sort of petty thing that the Death Watch would do. Some of them must have escaped the Protectors; perhaps they intended to hold her and Obi-Wan hostage to bargain for Pre Vizsla’s release.

However, as she was dragged into the sitting room near the back of the house, she realized that she was wrong: it wasn’t the Death Watch at all.

Flanked by a pair of silent figures in black masks with a horizontal blood-red stripe along the opening where their eyes were just barely visible, sat a young man.

Years of harsh living had not yet robbed his face of all of its boyish softness, but the rest was nearly identical: the severe set of his jaw, sporting the traces of light brown stubble that was unlikely to get much longer at this age, the faint hint of a smirk on his lips, the same long limbs and utter lack of posture or decorum.

Satine was shoved down onto the empty couch across from him. Obi-Wan joined her a second later and as she reached for his hand, she realized that both of their hands were shaking. 

The young man’s hair was longer than his counterpart’s, tied back at the nape of his neck, and his scars were different: the most prominent one was a long slash stretching from just below his right eye, across the bridge of his nose, and then down his left cheek and the side of his neck until it vanished beneath the collar of his shirt.

He wore no mask. He didn’t need one.

Everyone knew who he was.

“Hey there,” said Anakin Skywalker, the Warlord of the Broken Fleet, draping one leg casually over the arm of his chair, “I think it’s about time we had a chat, don’t you?”

Chapter Text

They looked exactly alike.

Except in the eyes, Obi-Wan silently corrected himself: Anakin’s eyes were never this cold.

It wasn’t until meeting this teenaged version of Anakin Skywalker that Obi-Wan realized how much the young man’s older counterpart had managed to keep himself under control. Lacking that control, the Warlord’s presence in the Force filled the room with a storm of emotions so intense that Obi-Wan could feel them pressing in on him from all sides.

Not just that: jet black threads of casual cruelty and a barely restrained temper suffused the Force with the unmistakable chill of the Dark Side.

Anakin was right: he must be using the Dark Side to influence his followers.

And yet, something about it felt crude and untrained, as though it had been pulled together piecemeal through years of experimentation, his raw power compensating for the lack of instruction. 

So at least he isn’t a Sith. It could be worse.

Not much worse, though.

“Nice place,” the Warlord remarked, leaning back in his chair to get a better look at the rest of the room. “Awful security, of course, but it’s not like that would have stopped us. You’ll be needing new guards, by the way.”

“Why are you here?” Obi-Wan managed to say, hoping that his voice didn’t sound as terrified as he felt. 

Apparently, the Warlord could tell—or perhaps this was what he heard every time he talked to someone for the first time. He returned his gaze to them as his expression grew dark. “Isn’t it obvious? You’re both about to die.”

Obi-Wan remembered his initial terror when Anakin—the other Anakin—arrived at the Jedi Temple and locked them both in Qui-Gon’s quarters.

This is exactly what he had feared.

Obi-Wan desperately tried to say something but his mind was so overwhelmed by the thought of a monster with his friend’s face murdering him and his wife that the words wouldn’t come.

He began to calculate what he would have to do next: get between Satine and the guards, use telekinesis to grab an improvised weapon of some kind, find a way to hold off their attackers until she could escape—probably out the far window, but she might have a better idea, being more familiar with the area than he was… either way, he would do everything he could to buy her as much time as possible. Since the Warlord had gone to the trouble of having his guards capture them and drag them into his presence rather than simply shooting them the instant they arrived, Obi-Wan’s impending death would likely be slow—and he could find ways to draw it out even longer, to give Satine even more time—

The Warlord swung his leg back to the ground and, with a sudden motion, lunged towards them—

—only to come to a sudden stop, yell “Boo!” in their faces, and then collapse back into his chair, laughing.

“Relax, you two,” he said, still giggling. “Like I said, I’m here to talk.”

Anakin had said that as well when they first met: “I swear, I’m not going to hurt you, I just want to talk.”

Although, Obi-Wan noted, this version made no promises about not hurting them.

“What do you want to talk about?” Satine demanded; evidently the Warlord’s attempt at humor was enough of a jolt for her to regain most of her composure.

The young man was still amused. “Well, first I want to congratulate you—both of you. I mean, I knew you’d pull it off, but it was still great to watch—over a holofeed, obviously, though I would have loved to have been there in person.” His eyes lit up with excitement. “That bit where you caught the lightsaber at the very last second? Amazing! Did you plan that part out in advance?”

“You watched the duel?” Obi-Wan asked, bewildered.

“Watched it? I’ve been looking forward to it for months. Seriously, I drove some of my lieutenants crazy because I wouldn’t shut up about it.” The Warlord looked to one of the masked figures at his side for confirmation—and evidently got it, judging by his expression, despite neither of the lieutenants having moved a muscle since they arrived in the room.

“I don’t know why you’re so pleased with the outcome,” Satine said, her voice growing colder, “seeing as you’re the one who promised Pre Vizsla that you would put him in charge of Mandalore regardless of the outcome of the duel.”

The Warlord burst out laughing again. “Is that what he told you?” He turned to the same lieutenant as before. “I can’t believe he fell for that!” He faced Obi-Wan and Satine again, his expression now slightly annoyed. “Ugh, except I owe someone twenty credits now.”

Obi-Wan exchanged a nervous glance with his wife. If the Warlord had lied about making Vizsla the new leader of Mandalore, then it was likely that the Broken Fleet saw no need for one at all. Whether they meant to conquer the system or just destroy it was a question that had haunted both Satine and Obi-Wan for months.

After an awkward silence, the Warlord groaned in impatience. “Oh, come on, you know you’re curious. Say it.”

“What did you tell him?” Satine asked wearily.

He actually applauded her. “There we go! See? This is a conversation, you two. You’ve got to hold up your end of it, or else I’m going to get bored—and trust me,” he added with a smirk, “you do not want to see what I’m like when I’m bored.”

“Well, now we’ve asked the question,” Satine pointed out. “What is the answer?”

The Warlord scooted his chair forward, towards the couch, putting himself within arms’ reach of them. “This is brilliant—at least I think it’s brilliant, so let’s all just agree that it is—we barge into his camp, practically stomp his face into the ground, and then I tell him that he should go to Mandalore and challenge you himself this year. And he’s into it, obviously—what did the two of you do to piss him off that badly anyway?—but he wants to know what the catch is—because it’s not like it’s a surprise that we’re going to get to this system eventually—and so I tell him that, ahem—” He adopted an exaggerated formal voice: “‘The Broken Fleet will support the new Mand’Alor.’” He laughed again. “And he bought it! I barely had to convince him: he couldn’t wait to scurry off to his ship and go.”

“I still don’t understand,” Satine said. “You said that you would support his claim.”

The Warlord wagged a finger at her in disapproval. “Ah-ah, no, that’s not what I said. I didn’t say anything about supporting him—I said I would support the Mand’Alor. ” His expression was smug. “You’re welcome, by the way.”

“Why would something like that matter to you?” she asked skeptically.

The Warlord’s face lit up in obvious glee. “Because,” he said, “I have a plan, and the first step was putting you in charge of Mandalore.”

“I was already in charge of Mandalore,” Satine objected, but Obi-Wan noticed a note of dawning horror in her voice. Whatever the Warlord was implying, Satine already knew what it was.

“But not like this,” the Warlord said, still smiling. “Now you’re really in charge. They’ll do whatever you say—not that they weren’t before; I mean, I can’t believe you managed to convince Mandalorians to stop fighting!” He laughed, leaning back in his chair again. “An ex-Jedi and a pacifist Mandalorian: that’s what got me interested in you—in both of you. And then I got an idea.” He paused, looking at them expectantly. “Come on, don’t you want to hear it?”

“What was your idea?” Obi-Wan asked hesitantly. He had a bad feeling about this… somehow. He didn’t think it was possible to feel any worse about what was happening.

The Warlord grinned. “All right, so I’ve conquered, what… most of the Outer Rim? Something like that?” When Obi-Wan and Satine nodded, he continued. “Eventually, someone—” he smiled fondly for some reason, “—pointed out to me that I basically just created an empire out of nothing, and that I’d probably have to think about actually leading it at some point.” He shrugged. “But ruling an empire sounds really irritating and I don’t feel like dealing with it, so I want you to do it instead.”

Obi-Wan could feel Satine go completely still next to him. “You want… you want what?”

Their confusion and shock were apparently part of the performance: the Warlord laughed uproariously. “I want the two of you to run my empire. You’d be free to do whatever you want with it—hell, you can even name it, I’m sure you can come up with something catchy.”

“Why in the Nine Planets would you ask us?” Satine demanded, no longer seeming to care that this delusional teenager could have them both killed at any moment. “You do know that we’re assembling an army to oppose you, don’t you?”

The Warlord shrugged. “So what? If they want to fight so badly they can fight on our side. Tell them you changed your mind—”

“Changed my mind?” Satine had somehow managed to reach a point beyond incredulity. “Do you really believe that I can just order everyone to switch sides? At best, they would laugh in my face; at worst, I would be deposed and probably executed before the day was over.”

“Are you listening to yourself?” The Warlord sounded nearly as incredulous. “Did you remember the part where you convinced the entire Mandalore system—a people whose galactic reputation is built on being the first one in the room to throw a punch—to become pacifists? That’s impossible—that’s what you two are: impossible.”

“I think you may have gotten the wrong idea about us,” Obi-Wan said, knowing that if he didn’t interject the situation would likely escalate to a very dangerous level. “From the outside, I know it looks as though those sorts of decisions can happen overnight, but it’s a much longer process. The end of the war between the clans took many years of hard work by both Satine and many other people.”

“But she was just a Duchess then!” the Warlord objected. He turned to Satine. “Just imagine what you could do with all of the power you have now. Trust me, I’ve been doing this kind of thing for years: all you have to do is declare that something’s going to happen—and then it happens!”

Satine did something that Obi-Wan didn’t expect: she flinched, not out of fear but out of… shame? Obi-Wan tried not to visibly frown. Surely she didn’t believe that things had changed that much, did she?

“Nevertheless,” Obi-Wan continued, resolving to ignore what he had noticed on his wife’s face, “whatever mental picture you have of us, I think you’re going to be disappointed by the reality. We are not the allies you’re looking for.”

“Yes, you are,” the Warlord insisted. “It’s you, it has to be you.”

“I know that the public perception of our lives sounds very exciting, but you don’t know us—”

“I do know you!” he interrupted with a growl of frustration. “You think I stumbled across you in some holodrama and became a fan, but that’s not it.” His expression grew serious. “This had nothing to do with luck or chance. You know that, don’t you?”

That last sentence was directed at Obi-Wan alone.

The Warlord leaned in closer to him. “Listen, this is going to sound crazy, but the second I learned about you, I felt this… like this connection, you know? Like we’re supposed to be on the same side, bringing freedom to the galaxy together.” His eyes, though no less cold, were now imploring as they stared into Obi-Wan’s eyes, desperate for confirmation. “You feel it too, right?”

The safest thing to do would be to lie and agree with him in an effort to buy a little more time, but as Obi-Wan opened his mouth to reply, the words froze in his throat.

He did feel it.

That resonance in the Force… the strange connection that he felt with the version of Anakin from the other timeline… it was the same.

In fact, it was stronger.

Would it have been this obvious if I hadn’t bonded with the other Anakin first? Was that bond just an echo of what was going to happen in this version of events? Or was it the cause: did it pave the way for this one?

He didn’t know, but he did know this: their destinies were bound up together, and there was no escape.

Trust me.

Once again, Anakin Skywalker decided that Obi-Wan was the most important person in his life.

Trust me.

Once again, Obi-Wan had no choice in the matter.

Trust me.

He nodded.

“I knew it,” the Warlord exclaimed, obviously thrilled, his emotions flaring so strongly that, for a moment, they overwhelmed the horror that Obi-Wan was feeling. “I knew it! This—you, me,” he shifted slightly to bring Satine back into the conversation, “the three of us—this is destiny! We’re going to be unstoppable. We’ll be the perfect team.”

The perfect team. Obi-Wan remembered the other Anakin saying that as well. That enthusiasm, that confidence, that desperate neediness: it was the same voice.

Not quite the same voice, Obi-Wan reflected: despite sharing an Outer Rim accent, the older version of Anakin spoke in a slightly more formal tone—which was to be expected after years among the Jedi, not to mention…

Not to mention years around Obi-Wan himself. That was the difference, he realized with a heavy heart: all the ways that the other Anakin’s voice differed from the Warlord’s were in the minor vocal inflections and vocabulary he had picked up over the course of thirteen years spent with Obi-Wan’s counterpart.

He had suggested to Anakin only the other day that his upcoming challenge would be figuring out who he was without his Jedi Master.

One answer to that hypothetical scenario was sitting right in front of him.

This is who he became without me.

Obi-Wan knew that he was not to blame for any of the atrocities that the Warlord had committed, but the realization hit him all the same, and what he felt most of all in this moment was not guilt or even horror… it was grief.

Years ago, there was a boy in pain and, due to a cascade of unforeseen consequences, Obi-Wan had not been there to help him. And so that boy had vanished and been replaced with this: a cruel and petulant child strong enough in the Force to warp reality itself.

Obi-Wan looked at the Warlord and mourned the person that he might have become—the person who he had met only weeks before.

But that grief was not enough to make Obi-Wan support the Broken Fleet.

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly, squeezing Satine’s hand and knowing that he was likely ensuring their imminent deaths, “but we can’t help you. What you’re doing, what you’ve done: it isn’t right.”

A blaze of fury flashed in the Warlord’s eyes. “Okay,” he said through gritted teeth, “I get it. This is a lot to take in, so you’re not thinking clearly. Once you’ve had some time to think it over, you’ll understand. Everyone does eventually. You just need time.”

“You’re conquering the galaxy,” Satine snapped. “You’re murdering billions, destroying systems and governments and throwing everything into chaos—”

“I’m tearing down the things that need to be torn down, or else no one will ever be free!” the Warlord snarled. “That’s what this whole thing is about! There are too many masters and bullies out there, and no one ever told them no, not until I did. I’m helping all the people who can’t fight back because they’re all in chains: setting them free and giving them the power to fight back!”

“By killing innocent people!” 

“Innocent?” The Warlord laughed incredulously. “Do you know how much blood those people have on their hands? Do you know how many people they’ve killed, or how many worlds they’ve invaded, or how many people they’ve oppressed?”

“What about Kellux?” Satine demanded. “The mines burned for months, they said, not to mention the seismic activity that turned half of the main continent into a volcanic wasteland—it’s completely uninhabitable now. And you did all that—killed millions—just to get rid of a few hundred members of the Trade Federation?”

“It was justified,” he insisted. “Even if they weren’t the ones firing the blasters or piloting the ships or passing the laws, they’re the ones who stood aside and let it happen.” He sneered at her, the expression twisting his facial scar into a jagged line. “You’re appalled because, what, you care so much about the Trade Federation? About the Hutts? I haven’t killed anyone who didn’t deserve it.”

“No one deserves to die like that!”

“Yes, they do!” he shouted, getting to his feet so quickly that he knocked the chair backwards. “You think you’re safe, that the masters and bullies will never come for you, but you’re wrong! They’ve already got you. What you’re feeling—that’s how they get you, that’s how they put you in chains: they make you feel sorry for them. It makes you weak.”

“You’re wrong,” Satine said. “Compassion is not a weakness.”

“Of course it is: it keeps you from doing the right thing, from making the right choices, from giving them the punishment they deserve.” He took a deep breath, obviously trying to keep his temper in check. “But I can help with that. I can help you make the right choice.” He made a hand gesture, and his guards joined them. “Her first,” he said, indicating Satine.

Before Obi-Wan could get between them, the pair of masked individuals behind him, the ones who had dragged them into the room earlier, pulled him backwards and pinned him to the couch. The guard who had been standing next to the Warlord grabbed Satine and held her still by the back of her neck.

“It’ll just take a moment,” the Warlord said. He placed his fingers on each side of her face and closed his eyes.

An overwhelming roar in the Force filled the room like a sudden storm, somehow deafening despite having no sound. Every ounce of power that Obi-Wan had sensed from the other timeline’s Anakin was now in full force, concentrated on a single person.

Satine screamed and went limp. The guard let go of her and she collapsed to the floor.

“What did you do to her?” Obi-Wan cried out. She was alive, but had curled in on herself and was whimpering, her pain so intense in the Force that Obi-Wan felt physically ill.

The Warlord looked almost serene. “I gave her a gift.”

“What kind of gift?” Obi-Wan demanded.

“The same one I’m about to give to you.” He grabbed Obi-Wan’s face in his hands.

What Obi-Wan had sensed before… he had been wrong. It wasn’t a roar.

It was a rift.

Icy fingers plunged into his thoughts, breaking through his mental shields, pushing aside any defenses Obi-Wan might have had, and tore something open in his mind.

Through that tear rushed a darkness deeper than anything he had ever encountered before.

The Dark Side of the Force.

Like everyone, Obi-Wan had experienced his own struggle with the Dark Side: the fires of anger, the chill of fear, all of the times when the darkness whispered to him that power beyond anything he could imagine was there if only he would let it have free rein.

In this moment, however, his emotions didn’t matter. His intentions didn’t matter. The darkness was simply there, burning through him like fire through fuel. 

He was probably screaming as well, but he couldn’t hear it.

He tried to hold onto the Light, but it was like trying to hold onto a piece of ice in a lava flow—it faded away almost instantly.

There was nothing but the Dark now.

He wasn’t even able to block his connection to the Force: whatever the Warlord had done, it left a part of Obi-Wan’s mind permanently open and exposed.

It was too much. He couldn’t hold it back. It was devouring his thoughts and memories… everything that made him himself, now lost in an endless void.

Faintly, he knew that he had fallen to the floor, just as Satine had. She was there—she had to be there, he wouldn’t accept any other outcome—but all of his senses were still so consumed by darkness that he couldn’t find her in the Force.

Mercifully, he was beginning to lose consciousness.

“Congratulations, you two.” The Warlord’s words sounded as though they were coming from lightyears away. “Your chains are broken.”

She was drowning in the dark.

I can’t feel anything. There is nothing left to feel.

No, she could still feel: something at her very core was in agony.

I’ve been stabbed. The Darksaber—someone must have used it—I’m bleeding out, I’m dying—

She was drowning in blood.

Perhaps it’s for the best that I can’t remember what happened.

It was so dark.

Am I afraid? I can’t remember that either.

She could hear voices now: murmurs at the edge of her senses, hiding in the darkness, pulling her in.

Where is my armor? I should have worn it, I should have been ready for a fight, I should have struck first—but instead, I’m dying in the dark like a ne’kaan, weak and pathetic—

She was back in the canyons created by the Dral’Han, laying under the broken earth where the bones of millions of her ancestors were buried.

As I bleed, so do they. We are all dying. We are already dead. Others are coming to replace us, to stand over our remains.

Someone was standing over her.

She has come here to replace me.

She could see her, somehow, despite it being too dark to see anything: the one who made different choices—

(better choices)

—who wore the beskar’gam proudly, who carried the Kad’dha, who followed the Six Actions, who—

She’s beautiful.

The Mand’Alor leaned down and whispered in her ear:

“If I declare it to be so, it will be so…”

The Mand’Alor versus the Duchess. The warrior versus the pacifist.

The strong versus the weak.  

She was still bleeding, still dying from the wound she had received.

I can’t remember… 

The Mand’Alor pulled the Darksaber out of the Duchess’s heart and whispered again:

“There is no escape.”

Satine jerked awake with a cry. She was in her bed, still at their retreat on Kalevala—and still alive.

Obi-Wan was curled up next to her, drenched in sweat and shivering as though he had a fever. Satine couldn’t tell if he was awake, unconscious, or trapped between the two in a state of delirium.

She felt more than a little delirious herself. Something in her head felt like it was still asleep, or like she was straining to see something at a great distance. Everything seemed to be moving, rocking up and down like a boat caught in violent waves, and making her mildly nauseous.

What happened?

The Warlord. He had been here, he had done something to her mind—to both of their minds. 

She lay a hand gently on her husband’s cheek. With a shudder, he slowly opened his eyes.

“What did he do to us?” she whispered.

“Is he gone?” He looked like he was struggling to focus on her face. 

“I don’t know,” she admitted. Still fighting off nausea, she sat up and looked through the open door of their bedroom. The absence of any other people didn’t guarantee that they were alone, but at least no one was eavesdropping in person.

Her gaze landed on the bedside table, where a small device was blinking with a small blue light. “He seems to have left us a message.”

“Wait.” Obi-Wan caught hold of her arm before she could reach out and activate the device. Guiding her back down until she was lying next to him, he took a few shaky breaths before asking her, “What do you feel?”

She tried to describe it. “Lost… as if I’ve gone missing and I can’t find my way back, or as if I’ve forgotten something important. It feels like an absence…” She felt panic rising in her throat. “What happened to us?”

“A wound in the Force.” The hand on her arm squeezed a little tighter. “He somehow tore a hole in the fabric of our minds… opened us up to the Dark Side of the Force… broke something.” His terrified breathing increased to the point where he was nearly hyperventilating. “I can’t block it, my shields are gone, I feel like I’m drowning…”

A wound in the Force. The Dark Side.

Like I’m drowning… 

Her fear was just as intense, and for a few minutes neither of them could do much more than cling to one another as emotions they could no longer control flooded through them.

She tried to pull herself together—what was left of her, at least—which she finally managed to do when a question occurred to her: “But I’m not Force-sensitive,” she said. “How could he have managed this?”

Apparently knowing the answer was the thing Obi-Wan needed in order to ground himself back in reality. “The Force is an energy field created by all living things. It exists in and around you regardless of whether you can use it.” He pressed his forehead to hers. “But what that means in this case, I have no idea. This should have been impossible.”

She couldn’t help laughing just a little. “Well, it is Anakin, after all.”

Obi-Wan shuddered again. “They looked and sounded so much alike. Picturing him doing something like this—” His expression froze. “This must have been what happened to the people that the Jedi sent to stop him: he ripped open their minds… caused them to fall…” 

He trailed off in horror, but Satine knew the words he hadn’t said: the Warlord somehow caused fully-trained Jedi Knights to fall to the Dark Side.

And her husband left the Order when he was still an apprentice.

She remembered what Obi-Wan told her years ago about that possibility: “I would become a monster, and the amount of suffering I could leave in my wake would be catastrophic.”

She looked into his eyes. There was a strangely jaundiced quality to them, but in the iris rather than the sclera: a hint of gold hiding in the blue-grey, barely visible until she examined them closely. “Are you—”

“No,” he said quickly. “I’m keeping it at bay, just barely… but I can hardly focus on anything else. It’s so much…” He made a sound that was nearly a sob. “It keeps telling me to let go.”

“In words?”

“I don’t know… does it matter? There isn’t any separation now: it’s always there, always pushing.” He started to shiver again.

“I’m here,” was all she could say, despite knowing that it was inadequate in the face of what they were dealing with. “I’m here.”

She took a deep breath and sat up again. “Are you ready to find out what he wants?”

Obi-Wan nodded; Satine pressed the button on the device.

After almost twenty seconds of silence, during which Satine wondered if it was even a communication device at all, a small projection of the Warlord appeared above it. “Good morning, you two—not that it’s actually morning where you are… unless you slept for a lot longer than I thought. Anyway, if you’re watching this, you’re probably freaking out and asking the question that everyone asks at this point.” He mimicked a higher-pitched voice: “What did you do to us?” He laughed. “Like I said, I gave you a gift. You weren’t thinking clearly: you were letting pointless things influence your decisions. Now you won’t have that problem.” 

He looked so smug, Satine thought to herself, fighting off the urge to grab the communication device and smash it on the ground.

“So here’s the deal,” the Warlord continued. “You two—and the rest of Mandalore, obviously—join us, and you can do whatever you want with what we’ve conquered so far. I don’t really care what, though I’d be pretty ticked off if you decided to do something stupid… or worse, something boring. And hey, if you have some old grudges you want to take out on a neighboring system or two, we’d be happy to help with that. So you can really only come out ahead by joining us.”

Satine could remember the anger she felt earlier when the Warlord first made his offer, she remembered her fury at Pre Vizsla when he revealed that he had allied with the Broken Fleet, she remembered all of her words over the years in which she vowed that she would rather die than compromise her ideals.

She could remember, but she couldn’t feel any of it.

“But if you decide to be foolish and say no: well, you did say that you had assembled an army to oppose us… and we can’t have that, can we?” He crossed his arms over his chest. “So, it should be an easy choice, right? Think it over—but don’t take too long: the device sent a signal to the ship the moment you turned it on, so we’ll be checking in on you soon.” He smirked. “And remember: you’re welcome.”

The projected image froze.

Satine once again wanted to throw the device against the nearest wall, but held off; this was likely the method that the Warlord would use to contact them for their answer. 

Whatever their answer was.

“What are we going to do?” she whispered. She couldn’t move, could barely speak: everything was frozen. “Either we serve a monster or everyone dies.”

“No one would blame you,” Obi-Wan said, sitting up and taking her hands in his; she could feel them trembling. “He didn’t give you a choice.”

“No,” she said, “we do have a choice. That’s the problem.”

“Satine,” he said gently, “this isn’t our decision. It’s yours.”

“It affects you.”

“It affects all of Mandalore. Everyone who follows you.” He smiled faintly. “I’m just your husband.”

Satine’s heart sank as she realized the truth: her answer would determine the fate of all of Mandalore. Hers alone.

With more time, she could have consulted with her people, or at least with her advisors, but there wasn’t time.

She would have to make the choice and then lead Mandalore through the consequences.

It explained why that damned demagolka orchestrated events to make her the Mand’Alor. According to tradition and the Resol’nare, she had the authority to make such unilateral decisions.

(Even though a voice in the back of her mind pointed out that she always possessed that power but had refused to acknowledge it until now.)

She waited for the agony to arrive: disgust at herself for daring to consider compromising her ideals, guilt for being so weak, or at least the righteous conviction that had guided her all her life… but it never came.

She knew it, but she couldn’t feel it.

In the end, her answer wasn’t based on the desire to protect Mandalore from annihilation at the hands of the Broken Fleet, or the knowledge that she might be able to find a way out of this eventually, or the reminder that as a leader she needed to set aside her own beliefs for the good of her people.

It wasn’t even because Obi-Wan’s life was at stake.

The reason for her choice was a small shameful voice inside of her, a voice now speaking out loud, so broken and hopeless:

“…I don’t want to die.”

Obi-Wan’s answer wasn’t in words; instead, he wrapped his arms around her and held her close while she wept on his shoulder.

He’s going to hate me. They’re all going to hate me.

How do I even convince them to follow me?

It’s impossible.

A strange calm settled over her.

But you do know how to convince them.

She understood what Obi-Wan meant earlier, when he said he could hear the darkness speaking to him.

You’ve always known.

Satine slowly pulled herself out of her husband’s embrace. “I know what to do.”

“You’re sure?” he asked.

She nodded. “We join them. We survive. We make the best of it.”

“Finally,” the projection of the Warlord said. “I was beginning to get pretty tired of standing still like that.”

Satine couldn’t help emitting a tiny scream of surprise. 

The Warlord started giggling. “You should see your faces. Anyway, good job, you two. This is going to be great.” He sighed in exasperation. “I want to keep talking, but somebody—” he appeared to be glaring at someone off-camera, though more in fond annoyance than in anger, “—reminded me that there are other things I need to take care of first. You’ll be hearing from me later.” 

“How?” Satine asked. “No one can know that you’re talking to us until we’ve worked out what to do.”

The Warlord didn’t seem to hear her. “Hey, you’re looking a little rough, Obi-Wan,” he said, apparently trying to look sympathetic and failing. “You wouldn’t be the first—Jedi usually need some time to get used to it. I’ll send over someone to help you with that.” He looked back at Satine. “That’s how you’ll hear from me. Give it a few days. Rest up.”

Satine nodded grimly. She would need a few days—at minimum—to put the pieces into position.

I know what to do. I’ve always known.  

“Oh,” he added, almost as an afterthought, “you can go ahead and kill Pre Vizsla. It’s not like he’s useful to anyone now.”

“Did you do this to him as well?” Satine demanded. “Did you alter his mind like this?”

The Warlord looked unexpectedly offended. “Of course not. I gave you a gift.” He sneered. “Scum like him don’t deserve that. He’s a bully who’s served his purpose, that’s all.”

This seemed to be the way that he viewed the universe, Satine reflected: bullies and masters and the people who enabled them, versus the people who he decided were worthy. She heard inconsistencies in nearly everything he said: claiming to only kill those who deserved it while murdering their home’s guards and offering to attack whatever systems Satine requested, giving them the ‘opportunity’ to choose while destroying their ability to consider all of the implications, and threatening their lives while talking about how they were destined to be together.

He’s worse than a demagolka.

He’s a mad god in the body of a capricious teenager.

How does one reason with something like that?

“Besides,” he continued, “I’m sure you’ve wanted to kill him for ages. Have fun with it—it’ll be a nice romantic bonding experience for you.” He winked. “I can’t wait to hear how it goes.”

She heard Obi-Wan inhale sharply.

“Then I suppose our conversation is over for the moment,” Satine said, feeling even more on edge than before.

“You’re welcome,” the Warlord replied with another smirk.

The projection went dark.

Before Satine could reach for it to find a way to deactivate it, the device crumpled in on itself, emitting a shower of sparks.

She looked back at Obi-Wan just in time to see him uncurl his fist. “I…” he said shakily, looking down at his hand as though seeing it for the first time, “I didn’t want him to be able to eavesdrop any more than he already has.” 

His eyes were a little too bright, Satine realized. Whatever he had intended to do to the device, it wasn’t that. He was losing control.

She didn’t know what to do. She wasn’t a Force-user, this wasn’t anything that she could puzzle through, all she could do was be by his side and hope—

Could she even feel hope anymore?

What was she still able to feel, other than fear and anger and defeat?

Satine reached for the only solace she could think of: him.

She pulled him in for a kiss, which quickly grew more heated than she originally intended as they clung to one another, trying to find an escape in each other’s arms. Soon, they were lying down again, and Satine did her best to shut out everything else except the feeling of her lips on his lips, his hands on her waist, her fingers in his hair… 

…and for a few moments almost felt like herself again, as though something was helping to banish some of the clouds obscuring her mind. 

Obi-Wan seemed to be breathing a little easier as well. “Did things start feeling clearer all of a sudden?” he asked, sounding almost confused.

“Yes… I wonder if—” Her speculation was abruptly cut off by a soft gasp as his mouth began to work its way down her neck towards her collarbone and his hand ran up her thigh.

After so much pain and fear, this was practically paradise.

Our bed is a battleground and we are warriors…  

This was their bed. Their home. Their space.

Even a monster like the Warlord couldn’t change that.

She pulled her dress over her head and tossed it to the floor, praying that the now-shattered communication device was the only way that they had been monitored.

Although, within a few moments, she stopped caring about that as well.

My heart, my soul, my breath, my—

Time stopped and her mind went completely blank.

Tangled up together in bed afterwards, she felt, for the first time in what seemed like her entire life, awake.

Obi-Wan looked similarly startled. “It worked,” he breathed in wonder. “I feel… not all the way, but…”

“More like ourselves again,” Satine finished. It was as though a window had opened, letting the fresh air in at last. 

He smiled, relieved. “We found a solution.”

“I don’t think we’re going to be able to screw our way back to the Light Side, cyar’ika,” she said, unable to keep from laughing. “Besides, it would probably become a bit impractical after awhile.”

He winked and the ache in her heart eased a little more. “But at least it would be enjoyable.”

“It’s more than that: it’s the connection between us that keeps us grounded.” She cradled his face in her hands. “Our love is strong enough to survive the Dark.”

She knew that much about the Force, at least: the Dark Side had no room for love, no understanding of it, and ultimately no way to triumph against it.

There it was: hope.

“We just have to hold on,” Obi-Wan whispered, “until we can find a way out of this.”

“And we will,” she said, holding him closer. “I promise.”

Chapter Text

“Unknown starfighter, please identify.”

“If I identified myself, I wouldn’t be an unknown ship, would I?” Anakin couldn’t help asking. 

The communications person on the orbital station wasn’t amused; in fact, she sounded more exhausted than anything else. “Last chance, smartass: identify yourself or be shot out of the sky.”

“Okay, okay,” Anakin said. “I’m a new recruit—or I want to be, at least. I heard you had a base of operations here and decided to take my chances. Can I at least land before I give you my life story?”

There was a pause; Anakin couldn’t help holding his breath in anticipation. Either they would agree and let him land, or they were now taking aim at his ship. The Force wasn’t screaming at him to dodge, so he wasn’t in imminent danger, at least.

“We don’t just let anyone join up, you know,” the voice over the comm warned him.

“So what do I have to do to prove that I’m worth it?”

“Three things.”

“Okay.” Anakin shrugged, even though he knew she couldn’t see it. “What are they?”

“That’s it: do three things. We’ll decide from there.”

“Just… any three things?” This was weird. “No hints?”

“Here’s your hint: you’ve already done one.”

“Great. A riddle.” Anakin could picture Obi-Wan laughing at him; this kind of stuff wasn’t his strong suit by a long shot. 

“Something like that.”

What had he done so far? All he did was show up and then—

He showed up. That was it: he found the Broken Fleet. Not that it was hard, even with the data the Mandalorian Protectors had provided him, but it still took effort.

And courage, I bet. Who runs toward this kind of danger?

Well… me, for one.

It at least proved to them that he wasn’t a coward or a complete idiot—

(Yes, ha ha, Obi-Wan, very funny)

So what else should he do?

What did he have to offer the Broken Fleet?

Piloting. That was his original plan, anyway: he would join the Broken Fleet as a fighter pilot and then find a way to where the Warlord was headquartered.

So let’s do what I do best when I’m flying: show off.

“Well, three things or not,” he said, “I’m landing. You want me to stay away, you’ll have to stop me.”

“Now you get it,” the communications person said, almost encouraging. “Let’s hope you’re decent: if we decide to space you in the end, it would be a shame to blow up an extra ship.”

“I’m not even worried about you scratching the paint,” Anakin said with a grin, starting his approach to an open landing bay.

The station launched its fighters in under two minutes. Even though they had almost certainly been on standby, it was painfully slow compared to the GAR. A minute was practically an eternity in combat: Anakin was sure he could have blasted a hole right through the station in the time before the fighters swarmed him.

As he expected, there wasn’t any uniformity to the ships in what he assumed was a squadron. They were a mixture of all kinds of one-person crafts, mostly on the older side or cobbled together from what looked like scrap from half a dozen other ships.

They seemed to have a vague idea of what a formation looked like, but once Anakin closed within range and abruptly pulled up, going in a straight line perpendicular to his original approach vector—which they apparently hadn’t expected—that discipline quickly fell apart.

That said, they were surprisingly good at getting in the way and preventing him from having enough room to land, though that was due more to their advantage in numbers than anything else. Anakin’s modifications to his Sandhawk fighter had given him a lot more agility, but every time he tried slipping by one fighter, another one would arrive to block his way.

He probably could have just blasted them into slag, but he had the feeling that it wouldn’t exactly endear him to whoever was watching from the station if he killed the rest of their pilots. Fortunately, he had managed to scrounge up an ion cannon from the MandalMotors surplus that Obi-Wan had provided him, and finally got enough distance from one of the fighters that he could shoot one without causing the fighter’s momentum to carry it on a collision course with anything in the vicinity. 

These pilots, on the other hand, had no such reason to keep from shooting lasers at him. One pilot in particular, flying what looked like an old Aurek interceptor with added stabilizer fins, managed to unload at least a few seconds of laser fire onto the same section of his shields with each pass they made. Ignoring them wasn’t an option, as another pass or two would collapse that portion of the shield entirely and take out one of his engines, so Anakin had to waste a few extra seconds pursuing that pilot before finally disabling them with an ion blast. The rest of them kept their distance after that, apparently unwilling to risk being even temporarily stranded in space.

He wasn’t sure if he was relieved or just annoyed: if these pilots were any better, he might have inadvertently killed them, but these were also likely to be the same people he would have to depend on in a combat situation.

It was a far cry from the efficiency of the GAR, that was for sure.

Setting his ship down in a hangar that looked mostly full of the parts of ships, rather than any functional spacecrafts, Anakin took a deep breath and ran a hand over his face. It was beyond weird to feel facial features that weren’t his own; he was fairly certain that he wouldn’t get over the new face in the mirror for at least another few days. 

Starting from the moment he injected the nanotechnology he had acquired (well, technically stolen) from the Kaminoans, he had a single month to be inducted into the ranks of the Broken Fleet, find a way to get within range of the Warlord, and stop him. 

Anakin didn’t want to think too hard about what that “stopping” might look like. He would figure it out when they finally met face to face.

Waiting a few dozen meters away from his ship was an orange-skinned Twi’lek in a flight jacket, examining him from a distance with her arms crossed over her chest.

“So, did that count as the second thing?” Anakin asked as he jumped down to the deck with his bag of possessions over his shoulder, doing his best to not sound too cocky. He had to remind himself that he wasn’t Anakin Skywalker, the Hero With No Fear—right now, he was nobody and if he acted like he had just strutted in from the Esplanade, he wasn’t likely to make any headway.

“Not bad,” she said, her voice confirming his suspicion that she was the one he had spoken to over the comms. “Where’d you learn all that?”

Time to see if his cover story was believable. “Mostly self-taught,” he said, “and through necessity: it was the only thing that kept me from being sold off to a mining crew.”

Now that he was closer, he could see the interest growing in her eyes. “Sold off?”

Anakin didn’t have to work very hard to make this part convincing. “The Toydarian that owned me would enter me in underground competitions: podracers, swoop bikes, high-altitude ships, you name it. As long as I brought in the prize money, he was happy. In between races, he would rent me out as a mechanic—so I have that to offer you too, by the way.”

Over a dozen years had passed since Qui-Gon freed him from Watto, but it didn’t change the fact that, for the first nine years of his life, Anakin hadn’t been treated as a person, but as a thing. He had been a commodity, something useful only for the profit that could be extracted from it and disposed of when it was no longer worth the investment.

During his first few years with the Jedi Order, Anakin occasionally fantasized about one day returning to Mos Espa and getting rid of every single master and bully that infested its streets. He told himself that it wasn’t vengeance that he wanted, but justice. 

Even now, years later, he still wasn’t sure which one it really was. 

If he hadn’t been so focused on finding his mother when he returned to Tatooine with Padmé and tracked down Watto, he might have used the opportunity to tear his former master limb from limb. Just like with the Tusken Raiders that he had slaughtered on the same trip, he was pretty sure that he wouldn’t have felt all that bad about it.

When the Order forced him to go on a mission to Tatooine shortly after the war started, Anakin stood in Jabba’s fortress and wondered what it would be like to stab the Hutt with his lightsaber, sinking the blade into the crime lord’s monstrous bulk over and over again. He stood there, surrounded by slaves, and wondered if he could find a way to deactivate the trackers implanted under their skin, give every single one of them a weapon, and then stand back and watch Jabba and his enforcers receive all the ‘justice’ that they deserved.

But he couldn’t act on those thoughts, because the Jedi Order and the Republic they served had decided that appeasing a Hutt was more important than the people who were suffering under the status quo.

Speaking of trackers: Anakin tugged down the collar of his tunic (which still felt odd after years in Jedi robes) and displayed the red line of the half-healed incision just below his collarbone, in the spot where his tracker used to be back when he was a— 

It was a word that he despised, a word that felt like poison on his lips, a word that made his fingers itch for his lightsaber and a convenient target to use it on. It was the phrase that, in spite of everything he had learned about the Warlord, had given Anakin a feeling of empathy (though not sympathy) for his counterpart in this universe:

I was a slave.

Reopening the old scar had been painful in both the physical and emotional sense, but both were necessary to make his story believable. “After he died, I managed to dig my tracker out and swipe one of the ships before someone else could get their hands on it. Joining the Fleet seemed like the obvious next step.” He let go of his shirt. “So here I am.”

The woman nodded and lifted up the bottom hem of her own shirt, briefly displaying a healed scar on her stomach. “You’re in good company.” She returned her arms to their previous position over her chest. “Samara Tann.”

“Ben Solo,” Anakin said, hoping that his new alias didn’t sound too awkward as he spoke.

He still thought that the surname was a little silly because it did sound like the kind of name that someone would make up on the fly. However, what made him agree to use Ka-Riita’s suggestion was the fact that Anakin was a rare case to have had a surname at all; a lot of the other slave kids he had grown up with on Tatooine didn’t have one.

“So, what happens next?” Anakin asked.

“That was your third thing,” Samara said. “Welcome to Seku Outpost.”

“That was a weird initiation process, you know.”

“It has to be.” She shrugged. “We’re not the kind of place with a lot of rules and regulations, so you have to demonstrate that you can think on your feet and take the initiative.” Her lips compressed into a thin line. “A surprising number of people have trouble adjusting to that. Freedom’s harder for some people than others.”

Anakin nodded. In a way, joining the Jedi Order had made the transition a little easier… though not necessarily in a good way. He still followed orders and called people ‘Master,’ after all.

On the other hand, it wasn’t as though he was any good at following orders.

(He could hear Obi-Wan laughing again.)

“I’m definitely looking forward to giving more people that chance,” Anakin said. “When do we start?”

She snorted, not unkindly. “At least wait for your future squadmates to be towed back in.”

“Are those the only pilots you’ve got?”

“There are another three squadrons based here,” Samara explained. “Spearhead and Comet are off on a mission and Mynock is out on patrol. The ones you just faced, Sundown Squadron, is station-side due to lower numbers, which is good for you since it means we’ve got an opening for a pilot.”

“What kind of missions?” Anakin asked, hoping that he could at least get some useful information out of this.

It was a long shot that failed: she obviously wasn’t eager to provide too many details to someone who had arrived only a few minutes ago. “Sometimes the main legions need backup. We’re technically attached to the Thorns, but they don’t call us up often.”

“The Thorns?”

“Most of the Fleet is divided up among the Warlord’s lieutenants. The Thorns started as one of the legions assembled during the battles against the Trade Federation.”

Lieutenants. Anakin recalled Obi-Wan telling him about them back when he first arrived in this timeline, and learning that Padmé was one of them. “Who’s the lieutenant in charge of this one?”

“Someone called the Harbinger. We’ve never seen them in person. Apparently they’re pretty physically imposing, though.” Anakin reassessed his earlier assumption that she was being guarded with information about the Fleet: instead, she seemed oddly uninterested in the topic.

You’re following someone whose face you’ve never seen, who goes by an ominous title, and whose real name you don’t know… and you’re not even a little curious?

The initiation was annoying and confusing, but that disinterest was just weird. Anakin tried to shake off a growing feeling of unease.

The other pilots, the ones who weren’t still being towed in, had landed and were now starting to climb out of their ships, grumbling among themselves. 

“You’re in luck,” Samara called to them. “He’s going to be fighting on your side from now on.” She looked back at Anakin. “Though you’re responsible for fixing the damage you did to Ryk’s ship.”

“What about the damage they did to my ship?” Anakin protested, even though his mind was already coming up with half a dozen modifications he could make on every single one of those fighters.

Samara raised an eyebrow. “What damage? Hell, I think you ended up cleaner when you landed than you were when you started your approach.”

One of the pilots, an Elomin by the looks of it, looked sulky. “We would have had a better chance we’d all been there.”

“No offense,” Anakin couldn’t help saying, “but another pilot wouldn’t have made much of a difference.”

The Elomin snarled at him but said nothing more. 

Anakin could vividly imagine Obi-Wan scolding him: “Why is it that whenever you say ‘no offense,’ you invariably follow it with something that is guaranteed to cause offense?”

“B’tral’s right, though,” said a Twi’lek who looked similar enough to Samara that Anakin suspected that they were sisters, “if he’s not going to drag his ass down to the hangar once in a while we should at least be allowed to take his ship.”

She gestured at a spot in the hangar behind Anakin, who turned and felt his breath catch in his throat.

It was covered in carbon scoring that looked like it was several centimeters thick, but there was no mistaking the shape: an N-1 starfighter, the backbone of the Royal Naboo Security Forces, and the first starfighter Anakin had ever flown on his own. 

“Not my call, Luna,” Samara said. “As long as he doesn’t miss the actual missions, no one gives a nat what he or any of you do with your downtime.”

“Who are you talking about?” Anakin finally asked, tearing his eyes away from the ship.

The other pilots started to snicker. “You’re about to find out,” Samara said, looking suddenly tired. “Grab your bag and come on.”

“Great timing, poy-boy,” Luna said with a smirk. “You get a front seat to the tragic opera.”

“My name is Ben,” Anakin said, annoyed that he was already getting nicknames that he didn’t understand.

He waited until Samara had led him out of the hangar and down a hallway that only seemed to have half of its lights in working order before he asked her: “What did she call me?”

Samara laughed briefly. “She called you Flyboy.” She looked Anakin up and down. “Take is as a sign that she likes you. At this point, she might be the only one.”

Anakin did his best to sulk in silence. “So where are we going?”

“Taking you to your new quarters. It’s almost time for the night shift, so you might as well crash for a few hours. You’ll probably have to clean it up a little first: your roommate’s not much of a housekeeper.”

Anakin thought back to the complaints from the other pilots. “This isn’t part of a hazing ritual, is it?”

“If only,” Samara said. “No, this is just the only spare bunk we have that’s suited for humanoids. The Outpost was originally built by an insectoid species that were a meter-tall at most—not only that, but they also breathed methane. Retrofitting this place into a base of operations was a nightmare, let me tell you.”

“The hangar looked standard enough to me,” he said. “How long have you been here?”

“About a year. Hopefully we’ll get transferred somewhere on an actual planet one of these days. We’re getting word that there’s a lot of expansion coming up, so the odds are good.”

Well, that was a potentially interesting piece of information—or it would be, if there was any way for Anakin to pass it along to someone who could make use of it. But any sign of a communication device would have put him under suspicion, so he hadn’t bothered to bring one.

All he had been able to take with him was his lightsaber, which he had broken down into its components and hidden in half a dozen places in his bag and clothes. The hardest part to conceal was the kyber crystal: he ended up having to cut a hole into the sole of his boot and stash it there. 

The only other item of any value he had with him was the capsule that would reverse the nanotech if he needed to shed his disguise before the month was up; he had put it in a piece of shielding metal and hung it on a chain around his neck. To an outside observer, it would look like a trinket crudely cobbled together from the kind of scraps that a junkyard slave would have on hand.

That was all he brought: a starfighter, a capsule, and a handful of lightsaber parts. Until he made it back to Mandalore, he was on his own.

They arrived at a door, one so crude that it was actually on hinges. “Is this mysterious roommate home?” Anakin asked.

“Probably.” Samara banged her fist against the door. “Horn, open up.”

Aside from the sound of what seemed like a meter-high pile of scrap metal tumbling to the floor, there was no other sign of life on the other side. Samara rolled her eyes and knocked again.

Finally, a voice, more groan than speech: “Izzit a mission?”

“Even better,” Samara called, her voice full of sarcasm. “We’ve got a brand new kiddie in the creche, why don’t you come out and say hello like a good little boy?”

Another clatter of falling debris. “Not up for socials,” the room’s occupant mumbled. “Come back t’morrow.”

“Unlock the damn door, Horn, or I'll kick it down again.” Her tone turned mockingly sweet. “And then you’ll end up with no end of visitors.”

After a moment of silence, Anakin heard footsteps shuffle towards the door, then fumbling as it was unlocked. The door swung inward to reveal a dark-haired human man around his own age with bags under his eyes, who utterly reeked of alcohol.

He glared at Anakin—or as close to a glare as he could get with his eyes unfocused like that—for a few seconds.

“Hi, I’m your roommate,” Anakin said, trying to figure out what the hell was even going on. “Nice to—”

The door slammed in his face.

“Well, that was a warm welcome,” Anakin said in annoyance. “I’ll go sleep in my ship—at least it smells better.” He made sure that last comment was loud enough to be heard by the room’s occupant.

“Have fun, komadi,” came the slurred reply, followed by the sound of the lock sliding back into place.

Anakin’s attempt at storming back down the hallway was halted by Samara blocking his way. “I wasn’t kidding about sleeping in my ship,” he told her.

“Not an option,” she said. “By now, Lira’s probably taken half of it apart.”

“What?” Anakin was nearly seeing red. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t set eyes on that particular Sandhawk fighter until a few days ago: that was his ship. His ship.

“Relax,” Samara replied with a smirk. Anakin had an unexpected moment of sympathy with Obi-Wan’s complaint when they went to Vyn III: “Why is it every time you tell me to ‘relax’ it has the exact opposite effect?”

“We need to make sure you’re not sneaking anything in here that would get us all in trouble,” Samara continued, still standing in the way of Anakin and the latest target of his fury. “She’ll put everything back together when she’s done.” She flicked the tip of one of her lekku in the direction of the door. “For now, go play with your new friend.”

“I think the door slam was a pretty big clue about the state of our ‘friendship.’” Anakin grumbled. 

“He’s just drunk and cranky,” Samara said. “Granted, he’s not really anything but drunk and cranky, but at least you don’t have any more surprises waiting for you.”

“You’re not going to order him to stop being a—” Anakin struggled to think of an appropriate expletive and gave up. “Aren’t you the squad leader?”

Samara shook her head. “I keep the squads supplied with food, fuel, and oxygen, so it gives me some pull, but the actual leader on Seku is Doneeta Blen. She was off on a mission with Spearhead when you showed up, which is why I got to be your welcoming party.” She banged on the door again.

“So he doesn’t have any reason to listen to you?”

“Not entirely. He pisses me off too much and I cut off his supply of ziv—the closest thing we have to an intoxicant around here. Fermented from whatever it’s possible to ferment, with a dash of engine coolant.” Apparently Anakin’s expression had changed, because she smirked again. “It’s not entirely poisonous. Anyway, Horn practically swims in the stuff, so I can usually keep him in line by threatening to take his best friend away.”

Anakin hadn’t expected to feel like such a stickler for military discipline, but this was ridiculous. “He spent the whole time in his quarters while I was fighting off the rest of the squadron! Why haven’t you just kicked him out?”

The look of weariness on her face from when they first met returned. “Because, as much of a disaster as he is, he’s still the best pilot in the squadron even when he’s half-blind from a bender.”

“Until now,” Anakin couldn’t help adding.

Samara still looked tired. “You asked about a hazing ritual? Well, here you go: your job as the new kid is to make sure Horn makes it to his ship for missions without taking an accidental spacewalk in the process. You’re his wingmate now.”

“What happened to his last one?” 

“Got promoted to one of the elite Thorn squadrons. Hell, every single wingmate he’s had since he got here has earned a promotion within a handful of months. I guess they had a lot of motivation to get away from him.”

“Well, at least there’s a bright side,” Anakin replied sourly.

“Listen, we’re lucky it’s just rotgut. Back when he first showed up, he was using death sticks.” She grimaced. “Fortunately, they’re a little hard to come by out here, so after the withdrawal symptoms subsided, he stuck with alcohol.”

Anakin decided to change the subject, if anything because it would keep him from being left alone with a locked door and an unpleasant social situation. “You said something about a promotion?”

“Some of the other squadrons have openings. If they ask, we hold a vote and send the best ones from our squads. More dangerous, obviously, but more glory too.” Seeing Anakin’s excited (he assumed) expression, she quickly added, “But don’t get ahead of yourself: it doesn’t happen very often. Every few months at best, and only after we’ve had a mission with the rest of the Thorns, which is itself pretty rare.”

Well, there went that plan out the airlock. “Why are the missions so rare?”

“Half the time I think they forget we’re out here. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re not exactly one of the elites. Hell, Seku Outpost’s so far from the action that the Warlord could transform into a dewback and it would be weeks before we heard about it.” She shrugged. “If Doneeta decides to let us in on the next mission, someone will come by to let you know. Good luck getting the door unlocked.” She turned and headed back in the direction of the hangar.

What Anakin really wanted to do at the present moment was groan while slapping his palm against his forehead, but he had to settle for silently grinding his teeth together instead. Of course the Mandalorian Protectors had managed to find this particular base: the Fleet members here probably weren’t competent enough to hide their location. The Broken Fleet might have been powerful enough to subjugate most of the Outer Rim, but this group was made up of the dregs.

He managed to infiltrate the exact wrong place.

How am I supposed to get close enough to the Warlord to stop him?

Well, at least he could try to find out how a Naboo starfighter had ended up in the hands of what was probably the worst unit in the Fleet.

Specifically, in the hands of the person who had just locked the door on him.

With Samara gone, however, Anakin no longer had a reason to hide his abilities, so he used the Force to slide the lock out of position again.

In the dim light on the other side of the door was a lot of ‘room’ packed into a very small space: two bunks stacked on top of one another, a pair of storage lockers that appeared to have taken a joyride through a supernova on their way to their current position, a shelving unit that was cracked down the middle and covered in a tangle of frayed wires and scrap metal—and, covering most of the floor and whatever other surface remained, about two dozen battered beverage containers.

One of which he got to examine in much greater detail as it was being flung at his head.

Anakin reacted in time to bat the item out of the way before it hit his face, but apparently it hadn’t been entirely empty, as he found himself unexpectedly drenched in the foul-smelling local excuse for liquor.

Well, that explains some of the smell in here…

“Are you karking stupid?” the man demanded, staggering to his feet from where he had been sitting on the lower bunk. “D’you even know where you are? Do you even know…” He gave up and sank back down onto the mattress. “Why’re you here?”

Wiping his face off on his sleeve, Anakin took a deep breath and released his irritation into the Force. It mostly worked, in spite of the look of disgust that he had received in the process.

“Since I didn’t get a chance to finish earlier,” Anakin said returning the look, “I figured I’d give the whole ‘introduction’ thing another try.” He didn't bother to extend his hand. "Ben Solo."

The other man grunted. “Hal Horn. Nice t’know our names’ll line up all pretty on a Life Day card.” His voice had a distinctly Corellian accent behind the slurring.

Anakin took a look at the state of the upper bunk, which was covered in a pile of clothes that only smelled slightly better than its surroundings. “I’m your wingmate, apparently,” he said as he tossed the offending items to the floor, an action that was made slightly more frustrating by the fact that he couldn’t use the Force that blatantly. His trick with the lock had been minor enough that Hal probably hadn’t noticed, but a floating flight jacket would be a little hard to miss.

“You’re in luck, then: I don’t need a wingmate,” Hal said, lying down on his bunk and opening another beverage. “One less thing for you to worry about.”

“It sounds more like you need a nanny droid,” Anakin muttered under his breath. Ka-Riita had been more mature than this, and she was twelve.

“Take my advice—”

“Yes, because you sound like a great role model,” Anakin spat as he climbed up onto the top bunk.

“My advice, acquired over the course of years of fantastic decision-making,” Hal said, a little louder than before, “is to get down from there, go back to your ship, and plot a course for literally anywhere else.

Anakin couldn’t help scoffing. “You really think I would just change my mind?”

“More like I was hoping you were smarter than you looked.”

If he was being truly honest with himself, though, Anakin had considered going back to Mandalore and trying again with another unit, or even trying again with a completely different plan. Right now, it would take him weeks to even get enough combat hours to gain access to the rest of the Broken Fleet’s operations, and he didn’t have weeks. He had a single month, no more than that. There was no time to waste.

The problem was that he had already used his only disguise and his only cover story. There wasn’t time to come up with another one. There wasn’t another batch of nanotechnology he could use to change his appearance. If he didn’t get this right, he might not get another chance.

But why should I care?

There was a third option that he was trying not to think about: Anakin didn’t have to do this at all. He didn’t have to stop the Warlord, or even stop Palpatine. He didn’t have to do anything in this timeline except find a way to leave it. It wasn’t his universe. It wasn’t his responsibility.

Except… it was his responsibility. Anakin had never really been loyal to an ideal or a cause: his loyalty belonged to people. The fact that these weren’t the people he had known for most of his life didn’t matter: this universe still had an Obi-Wan Kenobi in it, and as long as it did, Anakin was going to do whatever he could in order to save it.

Even if it meant throwing himself into yet another nearly-impossible situation.

I’ve battled entire armies. I can deal with an idiot roommate.

Anakin did his best to sound as offensively cheerful as he possibly could: “Well, too bad, you’re stuck with me.”

“You’re a terrible liar, y’know.”

“You just met me.”

“You think this is, what, your penance?” Anakin heard the sloshing of ziv in its container as Hal paused to take a drink. “Can’t fix your own life so you settle for fixing someone else’s?”

“That’s not—look, my ship is in pieces, I’ve got nowhere else to go, and Samara put me on babysitting duty.” A tiny amount of annoyance slipped back through. “It’s not like I begged for this.”

“Funny, you don’t look like you’ve ever begged for anything in your entire life.” 

“You don’t know anything about my life,” Anakin growled at him, his attempt at serenity failing once again.

“I’m sure it’ll be the inspiration for next season’s top holodrama. Win all the awards. A nice feel-good story.”

Something inside Anakin wanted to grab Hal by the neck and spit every single injustice he had ever witnessed into the other man’s face. Every loss he had ever experienced, every senseless death in the war, his mother’s empty eyes, Ahsoka dropping her Padawan braid into his hand as she left the Order forever, Qui-Gon’s funeral pyre, all of the times he was pointed like a battle droid at the Separatists or the Sith or the Jedi, and every time he was ordered to stand down or stand aside or ignore the fact that he could probably fix half of the problems in the galaxy if only he was allowed to make his own decisions—

But he couldn’t say any of that, because none of those things had happened to Ben Solo.

He would have to settle for saying nothing at all.

Is this what infiltration is actually like?

Anakin made a mental note to ask Quinlan Vos how he managed to get through his spy missions for the Order without strangling everyone in sight.

He thought about the pilots again. To have survived this long in the semi-functional ships that they had, they must be at least somewhat talented. Based on what he had witnessed while flying against them, they weren’t incompetent, just half-trained. If someone could organize them into a unit, they might be good enough to attract the notice of the rest of the Fleet and get Anakin closer to his next target.

However, judging by the lump of Corellian spite lying in the other bunk, Anakin was going to have to be the one to do the organizing.

He had never done this before… and it took longer than it should have for Anakin to realize that ‘this’ didn't refer just to the task of trying to impose some measure of order on an otherwise chaotic system, but to something even more uncomfortable to consider:

He had never been the most mature person in the room. He never had to be.

Sure, a lot of his life felt like a constant complaint that he wasn’t a little kid anymore, but ‘not being a kid’ was not the same thing as ‘being an adult.’

He had coasted for so many years on the fact that Obi-Wan would step up and take responsibility in any situation in which Anakin was out of his depth. His Master always had plans, convictions, and the unnerving ability to make everyone around him shut up and reconsider their choices for at least a second. As much as it drove Anakin crazy, the fact remained that Obi-Wan was adult enough for two of them, so Anakin never had to bother to be one himself.

Hell, even Padmé let him act like an immature brat most of the time.

Even with Ahsoka, Anakin left the majority of the actual responsibility to Rex and the rest of the 501st. He rationalized it with the thought that she wasn't really his Padawan, she was all of theirs, and when she argued with Anakin that she was mature enough to handle something, he usually let her win the argument in the end. 

Which meant that when she needed me the most, I didn’t know what to do. If I hadn’t caught Barriss when I did… 

Anakin assumed that there would come a day when he would run out of things to feel guilty about, but apparently today wasn’t that day.

He lay back on the filthy mattress and closed his eyes.

I have so much work to do.

Chapter Text

Was she awake? Asleep? Did it matter, really?

If the guards cared, they gave no notice. Perhaps it was the way that she walked or the expression on her face as she passed. 

That beautiful certainty.

She knew how she would save her people. Not just save: transform them. She would guarantee that Mandalore would never be at risk of annihilation again.

That survival, however, would have to be paid for in blood.

From one point of view, she was here because she needed to make sure that when the time came, she would not hesitate from doing what had to be done.

But from a different point of view, she was here because she wanted to do this, and because she finally realized that she could do whatever she wanted.

Who could stop her?

He walked by her side—her warrior, her solace in the darkness—so close to her that she could sense his anticipation and curiosity as if it were her own. 

What waited for them in the cell was no warrior. It was no predator. Not prey, not even sentient, not anymore.

Compared to her, it was nothing. Merely a piece of meat that had served its purpose.

An error to be remedied.

Make that a loud piece of meat, she corrected herself with a small smile. It kept making sounds that it likely thought were brilliant oratory, but might as well have been the sputtering of a failing engine for all the difference it made.

“Keep it still,” she ordered her companion (her triumph, her strength), and an invisible force slammed it into the wall and pinned it in place. It bellowed even louder now, in pain but also in desperation. Apparently it had deluded itself into believing that it would be treated like something with actual value.

It almost wasn’t worth the effort of drawing her weapon.

Of course, she drew it anyway. That was part of the reason she was here, after all. 

The pressure holding it against the wall increased, as did the noise, which now included the satisfying crack of broken bones. She could feel her companion’s enjoyment inside of her like she could feel the blood in her veins.

The black and white blade was hypnotic. In a way, it was a reflection of herself: so dark yet crackling with light, the way that afterimages burned ultraviolet after a bright flash.

She remembered that feeling of triumph, of victory, from what seemed like a lifetime ago. 

The piece of meat finally stopped making so much noise. Ah, it finally understood how it would end—how it should have ended long before now.

It still struggled. Disgusting, she thought to herself. Perhaps it didn’t understand after all.

She readied the blade.

Her voice was like polished steel. “There is no escape.”

There was no hesitation. The act was committed.

The next time would be easier.

“You did it,” her companion murmured, returning to her side, his voice full of wonder.

She drew him in—her warrior, her victory—and rested her hand on his cheek. His eyes were like golden fire and his breath on her lips was nearly as hot as he whispered to her: 

“I’m so proud of you.”

Satine woke up with a gasp. She was in her bed, back in the Royal Palace in Sundari—and could not remember falling asleep.

It wasn’t just that she couldn’t remember the moment that she fell asleep: she couldn’t remember going to bed. She couldn’t even remember heading back to her residences from the Palace. She had a vague recollection of meeting with her ministers, who were still unaware that Mandalore’s place in the galaxy was only days away from changing forever, while Satine pretended to care about the minutiae of trade negotiations and regional crime statistics… but she didn’t remember how the meeting ended. It became lost in a haze: a darkness that only receded when she woke up in bed. 

It had been three days since the Warlord ambushed them on Kalevala, and she felt as if she was slipping away with every step she took. Every time she woke up, she couldn’t remember how she got there. Hours of her life had vanished from her memory.

What am I doing?

Whatever it was, she suspected that it wasn’t good. 

Obi-Wan was curled up next to her, still asleep but restless—almost twitchy, in fact. As much as Satine had noticed gaps in her recollection and the drifting of her attention, he seemed to be in an even worse state. In a few instances, she actually saw him drift away mid-sentence, only to return to himself with a sudden jerk a few moments later, uncertain of where he was.

In one of those instances, he took her with him: the dark clouds in his mind wrapping around her own thoughts and plunging them both into a waking nightmare full of shadows and whispers and fear—until they woke up in bed, clinging to one another, and discovered that over an hour had passed.

They had begun influencing the other’s emotional state: a spike of fear from him the previous day had overwhelmed her until she was hyperventilating, Obi-Wan holding her in his arms as he whispered panicked apologies into her ear.

The day before that, a small annoyance had thrown Satine into a sudden rage (she could no longer feel any emotion without feeling it full-blown, all-consuming, uncontrollable), and the red mist in her vision had only cleared at the sound of the items in their sitting room rattling as Obi-Wan’s own fury manifested in the form of a telekinetic disturbance.

It wasn’t until those barriers were destroyed that Satine understood just how much her husband had been tempering his connection to the Force in everyday life. Now they were in each other’s thoughts and dreams and fears, twisted together into a blur.

Reaching for the other’s touch could push the clouds away, but there was only so much that it could do. Their love might be strong enough to survive the dark… but it was possible that they themselves lacked that strength. Their connection brought them a measure of stability, but it could easily end up drowning them both.

Satine tried to remember what had happened the previous evening, but the only thing that she could recall was yet another nightmare: 

(Compared to her, it was nothing—)

“Keep it still—”

(Remember that feeling of triumph?)

She shuddered. It was better to put those thoughts behind her as much as she could; she had enough unpleasant realities to face in her waking life.

She threw back the covers and started to get out of bed—

One of her feet landed on the hilt of the Darksaber. 

Satine frowned. Her desperation to keep her thoughts of violence at bay had finally overcome the anxiety she previously felt over letting the saber out of her sight, so she had left it in the other room. 

But apparently not. Apparently she had brought a weapon into her bedroom and could not remember doing so.

She shuddered again. 

What am I doing?

Should she ask the guards at the Prison if she—

“Pardon me, but did Obi-Wan and I happen to wander down here last night to murder a prisoner in cold blood? I can’t seem to recall if I had only imagined it.”

No, she couldn’t ask. Either way, they would think she had lost her mind or was cracking under the stress—even though she probably had and she probably was. But instability was the worst possible thing for her to project right now, not with the horrible task ahead of her, a task she had been practicing for since they returned to Mandalore three days ago.

The real reason that she decided not to ask, however, was because she didn’t want to know the truth of what happened.

What am I doing?

What have I done?

There may have been parts of the Broken Fleet that were full of mindless hordes bent on galactic conquest… but Seku Outpost wasn’t one of them. Life there had a rhythm of tedium that would have driven Anakin crazy even if he wasn’t in a race against time.

Now, he just wondered if this was actually his own personal hell.

The four squadrons at the Outpost rotated patrol duty, which for his squadron consisted of flying in the single formation that they knew and shooting stray asteroids and the occasional probe droid. Apparently Anakin’s arrival had been the only excitement that Sundown Squadron had experienced in weeks.

This quickly led to a frustrating discovery: even among the dregs of the Fleet that occupied the Outpost, Sundown was considered the worst of them all, and explained the even more frustrating development, which was that no one in the other squadrons had any interest in talking to him.

And his own squadron seemed to dislike him immensely.

B’Tral, the Elomin that Anakin had managed to offend almost immediately after he arrived by pointing out that an additional pilot would not have made much of a difference in stopping him, took every opportunity to remind Anakin about the repairs he owed to B’Tral’s wingmate, a Gank named Ryk. She never spoke, at least in Anakin’s earshot, and seemed content to let her wingmate be aggressive enough for the two of them. Of course, whenever Anakin offered to start working on her ship then and there, he was informed that there were no toolkits available at the moment; he didn’t need the Force to know that it was a lie.

The pilot who had given him the greatest challenge during their initial skirmish turned out to be a Duros named Nacha Luk, whose only interaction with Anakin was a silent stare that lasted a few seconds longer than it really should have, before she shrugged and proceeded to ignore everything he said and did from that moment on.

The person who had dismantled his ship after his arrival was a violet-furred Lasat named Lira; to Anakin’s irritation, she was cheerfully unrepentant about her interference: “Oh, come off it,” she said when he complained, “I put it all back. She’ll fly just fine, in spite of the number you pulled on her fuel lines.”

“What’s wrong with the fuel lines?” Anakin demanded.

She actually tried looking innocent. “Nothing…” After a second or two of Anakin glaring at her, she grinned. “Only you threaded it through the aft engine assembly. Next time your thrusters overheat, your whole tank’s going to blow up.”

“Maybe on a fossil like your ship,” Anakin replied scornfully, “but the insulation’s solid enough on mine that it’s never going to be an issue. Plus, trying to run the lines around the assembly adds another ten minutes to the fueling process.”

Lira emitted a low rumble. “Well, have fun with your extra ten minutes facing down a defense fleet on your own while the rest of us get ready.”

“You didn’t reroute the lines on mine, did you?”

“‘Course I did,” she said, sounding defensive. “Like I said: you were going to blow up.”

Anakin cursed in Huttese, which earned him some nasty looks from some of the other pilots in the hangar. “I’d tell you to put it back, but you’d probably end up taking the wing off next.” He stormed off to find a toolkit, but spun around after only a few steps. “Stay away from my ship,” he growled at her, then resumed his original heading.

“Looks like we’ve got another visitor on our hands, Sunnies!” she called after him.

Later, he found out what she meant. “In Twi’leki, the word for ‘visitor’ is haly,” Samara explained. “Your wingmate doesn’t like anyone touching his ship either.”

It also, Anakin realized, implied that the rest of the squadron viewed Hal—and Anakin—as an outsider.

Good job, Anakin: you managed to make the Jedi Council look warm and cuddly.

Basic was the most commonly-spoken language on the Outpost, but given that the majority of the pilots were Twi’leks, their native language was also used frequently, though primarily for slang and idioms. Anakin didn’t know quite enough to follow; although there had been a lot of Twi’leks on Tatooine because Ryloth was a frequent target of slavers, the unofficial second language there was Huttese.

Out of everyone on Seku, Samara seemed the most willing to talk to him as long as he lent a hand with whatever she was working on at the time, which was mostly moving crates and other supplies from one spot on the Outpost to another. It seemed to be almost at random from Anakin’s perspective, but apparently Samara had a system that made sense in her head, which he supposed was what mattered.

From her, he also learned that the squadrons on Seku came from a planet that had been home to a minor crime syndicate that traded in spice and slaves. Most of the former slaves, including Samara and her twin sister Luna, joined the Broken Fleet after it attacked the planet and turned it into a crater.

“Luna had never flown anything in her entire life before the Fleet came,” Samara said with a proud smile, “and now she’s in charge of half the squadron.”

In truth, Luna was really in charge of the entire squadron as, for some bizarre reason, the official head of Sundown Squadron was apparently Hal Horn, despite the fact that most of its members disliked him even more than they disliked Anakin. What Luna lacked in training and tactical knowledge, she made up for in leadership skills and her ability to generate rapport with anyone she chose.

Even if she never once called Anakin by his name. 

“Did Hal join when the rest of you did?” Anakin asked. 

Samara shook her head. “No, he was transferred in later—he used to be part of another one of the elite squadrons, but he washed out and the Angels kicked him out here instead.”

“Is that where he got the N-1 fighter?”

She shrugged. “Who knows? You’ll have to ask him. Not my business.”

Anytime Anakin tried to ask about anything outside of the day-to-day life of Seku Outpost, he was met with an almost-impenetrable wall of disinterest. Questions about the missions the other squadrons went on with the rest of the Fleet; questions about who Doneeta, the Twi’lek woman in charge of all the squadrons at Seku, reported to or received missions from; even questions about where the supplies he was helping Samara unload came from—every question elicited nothing more than a shrug and a blank stare.

He had a bad feeling about this.

Even though Sundari was encased in domes that were largely temperature-controlled, the night air still made Obi-Wan shiver as he waited for the courier ship to land.

He had been given only a name, a time, and a set of coordinates for his rendezvous with the individual that the Warlord had sent to help Obi-Wan manage the chaos in his now-damaged mind. Given what the Warlord thought a “gift” was, Obi-Wan wasn’t sure he wanted to know the young man’s definition of “help.”

It felt like there were nails digging into his skin at all times—no, not into his skin: under his skin, like an itch he would never be able to scratch. He had started seeing things that definitely were not there, hearing voices that definitely did not exist, and experiencing thoughts and emotions that he desperately hoped were not his.

(A nightmare from the evening before: pressing someone against a wall, feeling their bones shiver and crack under the weight of that pressure, waiting for the real fun to begin—)

He felt like he was constantly waking up after having drifted off. If he didn’t pay attention at every possible moment, he lost track of himself.

The only thing that seemed to give him even a moment’s ease was Satine, but he couldn’t be by her side every second of the day. And more troubling: even when he was near her, he ran the risk of making things worse—his presence in the Force was so unstable that he felt his own terrors infecting everything around him like a disease.

He ran through the breathing techniques he had learned as an Initiate and the meditation exercises that Qui-Gon taught him years ago. They didn’t work very well, but he could pretend, at least for a few minutes, that he was still a person who could exert control over himself and his emotions.

The loss of control was terrifying.

He tried to reassure himself that it was unlikely that an entire fleet could be kept operational by people who kept blacking out and having panic attacks every few hours. Whoever this newcomer was—the only name Obi-Wan had been given was the rather overwrought title ‘The Phantom’—there was a good chance that they had figured out some kind of balance.

If the Broken Fleet was a trashy holodrama, the individual who stepped off of the ship probably would have been one of its main characters. Clad in a black hooded cloak that billowed around them as they walked down the ramp, they practically radiated menace with every silent step; Obi-Wan wouldn’t have been surprised if the ship’s external comms started playing ominous orchestral music.

And then, of course, came the dramatic reveal: the newcomer finally came close enough for Obi-Wan to see their face—specifically, their eyes: a sulphurous yellow iris surrounded by a blood-red ring.

By reflex, Obi-Wan reached for his lightsaber, ignited it, and held it to this stranger’s throat (this Sith, his instincts kept screaming), before belatedly realizing that killing one of the Warlord’s lieutenants would risk undoing everything that Satine had sacrificed to keep Mandalore safe.

Still, the saber remained where it was.

The Zabrak, his red and black face illuminated by the blue glow of the blade, looked at Obi-Wan with an expression that was half wary and half impressed. “I see the reputation of Mandalorians has some truth to it after all,” he said.

“Are you the one he sent?” Obi-Wan asked, hearing his own voice shake a little. “The Phantom?”

“I am,” the newcomer confirmed. “You are Kenobi, I assume?”

“Yes.” After taking a deep breath and doing his best to calm down, Obi-Wan switched his saber off, but did not return it to his belt. No matter what the Warlord had said to them, he still didn’t trust the young man to send someone who was not a danger to himself or Satine. In fact, he had a feeling that the Warlord would find it funny if Obi-Wan was forced to fight off yet another assassin.

“My purpose here is twofold,” the Phantom explained once the weapon was out of his face. “First, to relay the Warlord’s message to the Mand’Alor regarding the furthering of your alliance, and second,” he looked faintly amused, “to provide you with assistance in managing your new-found freedom.”

“Freedom?” Obi-Wan repeated, incredulous. “That’s what you think he did?”

“Of course,” he replied, as if it were obvious. “You are no longer weakened by your reliance on the so-called Light Side of the Force. You were taught to submit to its orders, to exert no control over your own destiny, and to reject your own strength.”

“You’re wrong,” Obi-Wan snapped. “It takes strength to resist the Dark Side. You are the weak one.”

The Phantom's lips twisted into an amused sneer. “But I’m not the one who is jumping at shadows and lashing out like a half-feral creature, am I?” Obi-Wan must have flinched, because he continued: “You keep waking up in places you don’t remember going… you have lost the ability to distinguish between your dreams and waking life… when you touch the Force you damage things without meaning to… and your dear wife.” He grinned. “You’ve harmed her as well, haven’t you?”

Obi-Wan felt his hands tremble. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes, I do. I have seen this happen before: the two of you, twisting one another’s minds, driving each other’s cruelest impulses… you are torturing her, just as she is torturing you. Without my help, you will turn on one another—and whether you mean to or not, she will die at your hands.”

Obi-Wan nearly ignited his lightsaber again. 

I would never.

But he never thought that he would lose control like this. What if he—

I would never do such a thing. Not to her.

He pushed those thoughts away. 

“Not that I personally care what happens to either of you,” the Phantom added, “but the Warlord is rather invested in this relationship of yours, so I will follow his guidance.”

“What does this ‘assistance’ of yours even look like?” Obi-Wan asked as soon as he was sure that he would be able to speak without screaming.

“As I said, the Jedi taught you to give up control. If you use that approach with the Dark Side, it will destroy you. You must have realized by now that it cannot be pushed away. From now on, it is the only power that you have; therefore, your only option is to take control yourself.” He looked around disdainfully. “Is it your plan to have us stand here in this landing bay until we die of old age?”

Obi-Wan could hear the shadows in his mind urging him to reignite his lightsaber and dispatch this Sith (what else could he be, with those eyes and those words and that aura of cruelty?), perhaps not even needing his weapon at all, with the Force flowing through him like this—and wouldn’t it be worth it, to strike down an ancient enemy of the Jedi before it infected his thoughts with heresies and poison?

But how would those lies be any different than what I am thinking right now?

He couldn’t go on like this. 

I suppose that I’m damned either way.

“Follow me,” he said at last, leading the way to his own small shuttle.

Their brief flight to the Palace was in silence.

Once he had set the ship down in its usual spot, Obi-Wan turned to face his passenger. “Am I supposed to introduce you as ‘The Phantom,’ then?” he asked.

A corner of the Zabrak’s mouth twitched in something like a smile. “You may,” he said, “but it is a title, nothing more. I am also known as Maul.”

“Wait, that’s your name?”

Maul looked briefly annoyed. “I would think very carefully before you start criticizing the names of others, Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

Still, Obi-Wan couldn’t help muttering, “I think I preferred it when you were called the Phantom.”

“I see that your attempts at humor are going to be an ordeal,” Maul said drily. “Shall I continue with the explanation that you so clearly need?”

“Fine. What kind of ‘control’ were you talking about before?”

Apparently that was the right question; Maul nodded in approval. “Rather than submitting to the will of the Force, one must impose one’s own will upon it. You do not serve the Force: the Force serves you. If it discourages you from your chosen path, ignore it. If it resists your desires, compel it. If it orders you to submit, defy it. You are in command of your own power and, by embracing that power, your chains are broken.”

Those words… those were the same words that the Warlord used when he—

“You were the one who corrupted Anakin Skywalker, weren’t you?” Obi-Wan demanded. “You found him, filled his head with Sith teachings, and set him on this course— is he your apprentice?”

Maul laughed. “You know so little, don’t you, Kenobi? You’ve met young Skywalker: do you really believe that he could be bound like that? Yes, I did find him—shortly after his victory on Tatooine—but it was he who changed me.” His eyes blazed with a growing intensity. “He showed me what I had refused to see for so long: I was a slave myself, forced to serve a cruel Master who would cast me aside the moment that I no longer furthered his quest for power. And yes, I did teach Skywalker the Code of the Sith, but I merely taught him the words. He taught me what they meant.” He proceeded to recite:

“Peace is a lie. There is only passion.
Through Passion I gain Strength.
Through Strength I gain Power.
Through Power I gain Victory.
Through Victory my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me.”

“And that is precisely what Skywalker did: he helped me find freedom. I serve no Master now.”

“Are you sure you aren’t just the Warlord’s servant now?” Obi-Wan asked, skeptical.

“No. I control my own destiny. I fight for a cause that I believe in, far more than I believed in what I had been taught by the Sith.” He leaned forward in his seat and grabbed Obi-Wan’s shoulder. “Soon, you will understand.”

Obi-Wan was apparently face to face with the sort of person whose entire worldview could be upended by a thirteen-year-old.

And I’m supposed to learn from this person?

He shrugged off the hand on his shoulder. “I have no interest in becoming a Sith.”

Maul rolled his eyes in impatience. “No one was asking you to. Even I no longer regard myself as one.”

“You know what I mean,” Obi-Wan snapped. “All of this talk about passion and power—it’s destructive nonsense.”

“I have had this argument with countless other Jedi: if you wish to delude yourself into thinking that you still abide by their precious Code, then feel free to do so. But remember,” he said, “you are still using my methods, and for that you must be willing to look beyond what you were once taught.”

He couldn’t do this. This would only lead him down a path of even deeper horrors. 

(“…whether you mean to or not, she will die at your hands.”)

But he couldn’t let that happen either.

Even if he wasn’t a physical danger to others, there were still other dangers, other ways that he could destroy everything he ever cared about—

(“I'm so proud of you.”) 

What choice did he have?

Yet one more compromise in the name of survival. At least this time he knew what he was getting into.

And if it helped… “All right.” He couldn't help adding, “for now.”

Maul’s smile was a little too wide, in Obi-Wan’s opinion. “Excellent. The Warlord has spoken highly of you, Kenobi. I hope that his esteem has not been misplaced.”

“Maybe not misplaced, but perhaps a little exaggerated,” Obi-Wan said wearily. 

“We shall see.” Maul’s expression grew distant for a moment, and then that unsettling smile returned. “Perhaps in another life, we would have been enemies. But here, freed from our chains and united in common cause, we are brothers.”

Obi-Wan felt a fresh chill run down his spine. Something in the Force resonated at the sound of those words—nothing like the inescapable bonds tying him to the Warlord or his Jedi counterpart, but there was still a connection: something significant linking them together, for good or for ill. 

Given that this man was a Sith (no matter what he claimed), Obi-Wan was fairly certain that it was not a positive one.

“Satine is away from Sundari for the next few hours,” he said, trying not to visibly shiver. “I suppose this is as good a time as any for my first lesson.”

Maul clasped Obi-Wan by the shoulder once more. “Then let us begin, brother.”

Anakin still wasn’t making any headway in getting information out of anyone at Seku, in spite of his best efforts to be charming (or at least his best efforts to imitate Obi-Wan being charming, which apparently only worked for someone who happened to fit the same general standard for human attractiveness as Obi-Wan).

“Have you ever heard back from anyone who got promoted to one of the other squadrons?”

“Why would we?” asked Takana, the Klatoonian who flew under the call sign Sun Six.

“Have you ever wondered who the Warlord’s lieutenants are?”

“What difference would it make if we knew?” Luna said, looking at Anakin like he had grown an extra head.

“What do you think the next mission is going to be?”

“Easy, I hope,” Lira said with a laugh, then pushed by him to get to the mess hall.

“Where are these supplies coming from?”

“Who cares, as long as they send us enough of what we need?” Samara replied with a shrug, and handed him another crate to carry to one of the supply closets.

The only person who didn’t react that way was Hal, but he usually reacted by telling Anakin to shut up instead.

Although that was only when Anakin was able to even engage him in conversation at all: most of the time, his wingmate was either asleep, too drunk to carry on a conversation, or flat-out avoiding him.

Anakin did finally manage to corner him in the hangar a few hours after they returned from a patrol sweep of the outer system. The area had been full of clouds of floating sediment, which meant that their ships’ filters were soon clogged with enough particulate matter to start a small farm. Even Hal, who typically rejected every possible opportunity to perform maintenance on his starfighter, was forced to spend an hour or two cleaning up the mess.

Grabbing a small vac and a makeshift brush, Anakin wandered over to where Hal was using a spanner to remove the apparatus that held his ship’s filters in place. “Nice ship you’ve got there,” he said. “Where did you get it?”

“Life Day present last year,” Hal said without looking at him. “My mother had a hell of a time wrapping it.”

“No, really,” Anakin said, more insistent than before. “That’s a Naboo fighter, right?”

“How would you know what a Naboo ship even looks like?”

“I like ships,” he replied with a shrug that he hoped looked casual. “Samara said you were with some unit called the Angels before you came here.”

“Samara says a lot of stuff,” was Hal’s only reply.

“Was that where—”

The rest of his question was cut off by the sound of Hal slamming a fist against the hull.

He exhaled in frustration and turned to glare at Anakin. “What are you doing here?”

“Trying to clean the debris out of my ship’s filters,” Anakin replied, gesturing at the evidence on the ground next to his own fighter. “What does it look like?”

“No, I mean: what are you doing here, on Seku? Who are you really?”

Anakin forced the hated words out of his mouth: “I told you: I was a slave—”

“No, you’re not!” Hal retorted, throwing his spanner onto the deck. “Or at least not recently: you’re used to freedom, used to getting your own way—you’re used to being in charge.”

“You have no idea who—”

“Trust me, I can tell the difference.” Hal’s expression was far too certain. “You’re not here because you’re a believer, or even because you have nowhere else to go. You came here to investigate.”

“That’s ridiculous.” Even so, Anakin felt himself beginning to panic. He tried to release his emotions into the Force, but they didn’t seem to leave him at all.

Hal moved in until he was practically in Anakin’s face and hissed, “You’re spending all this time trying to blend in… and you’re obviously trying to blend in, which is even worse. The only reason why no one’s bothered to grill you is because most of them couldn’t care less as long as you fly right.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Anakin said, reaching for the Force. He wasn’t thrilled about the idea of tampering with Hal’s mind, but if he couldn’t maintain his cover, the plan would fall apart before it even got started. “I’m just another pilot—”

"Stop that!” Hal snapped, giving Anakin a two-handed shove that almost knocked himself over in the process. “You’re so karking bad at this, you have no idea—

“About what? It’s not my fault that you’re having delusions of—”

“You’re a Jedi,” Hal said. He looked almost… hurt? “C’mon, you think I haven’t noticed? The way you stare at people, that thing where you clasp your hands behind your back, the crystal you’ve got hidden on you, the breathing exercises when you’re trying to calm down… you couldn’t be anything else.”

Anakin froze. If this washed-up mess could figure it out, who else had guessed…


He hadn’t taken the kyber crystal out of its hiding spot inside the sole of his boot. Hal couldn’t have seen it.

Then how—


“You can use the Force too.” It wasn’t a question, and he could tell that Hal knew that, so he continued, now even more confused. “You look about my age but I don’t recognize you—why aren’t you in the Order?”

Hal’s expression was stony. “As far as the Jedi are concerned, I don’t exist.”

“Why? I can sense it now that I know to look for it: you’re not a minor talent. Plus, you’re Corellian—midichlorian tests are standard there, unless you were raised away from civilization or something.”

“Or had someone in the Acquisitions Division keep your name out of the official records.”

There was a pause as Anakin tried to puzzle out what that meant. The Acquisitions Division of the Order was tasked with identifying children who were Force-sensitive enough to be trained as Jedi. Why would they hide someone?

Hal grabbed the spanner off the deck, but Anakin spoke up before he could resume working on his ship. “You wouldn’t have said that unless you were going to tell me the rest,” he pointed out. “So spill it.”

Hal looked at him warily, then sighed in resignation. “You’re right, I guess… And since you’ve got as much to lose as I do by giving me away, I might as well.” He leaned back against the side of his ship. “You’re a Jedi, huh?” When Anakin nodded, he continued. “So you’re familiar with the whole ‘no marriage, no kids’ thing.”

“More than you know,” Anakin groaned.

“Well, I’m what happens when a Jedi breaks the rules. My father couldn’t exactly show up on Coruscant with me, not without it being immediately obvious why there’s a Force-sensitive kid with an uncanny resemblance to him, because then they’d expel him from the Order and he’d never see me again. So he decided to teach me himself back on Corellia, with the Order being none the wiser, until I was ready for the Trials and the whole thing could come out into the open. And if he was kicked out for it, well, at least he got to raise me himself.”

Anakin shifted uncomfortably. If he and Padmé decided to keep their relationship a secret after she gave birth, this might be what would happen to their child.

Unless I leave the Order like Obi-Wan did… so how badly do I want to stay a Jedi?

“I’m guessing that’s not what happened, though?” he asked Hal hesitantly.

Hal gave a bleak laugh. “Not really, no. When I was fourteen, the Order sent my father to mediate a trade dispute on Naboo. The Trade Federation claimed that he and the other Jedi Master never arrived.” His hands curled into fists. “We didn’t find out about the mission at all until a year later—for my mother and me, from our point of view, it was like he left Corellia to report to the Jedi Council and then vanished. The Order didn’t know we existed, so it wasn’t like they were going to inform us. My stepfather—they were friends when my father was liaison to Corellian Security—had to take his inquiry all the way to our Senator before the Order would tell him anything.” He shrugged. “And that was that.”

“What was your father’s name?” As far as Anakin was aware, there weren’t any Jedi with the last name of Horn.

“Nejaa Halcyon. You were probably a little kid when he died; I bet you didn’t know him.”

“I did. Well, I knew who he was, anyway.” Anakin could vaguely recall a Jedi Master with dark hair and a goatee who, now that he thought about it, kind of looked like Hal. And, like in this timeline, he was dead—not during the Naboo crisis, but during the war with the Separatists: one of dozens of Jedi Generals who died in one bloody battle or another.

Anakin wondered if the Hal in his timeline ever learned what happened to his father.

“How did you end up here?” he finally asked.

Hal chewed his bottom lip for a moment before answering. “Last place my father went was Naboo. It took me a few years to scrounge up enough for a ship, but I headed there the second I did, hoping to find answers. Problem was, the Trade Federation had occupied the planet for almost five years at that point, so there wasn’t much to find. There was, however,” he continued with an ironic drawl in his voice, “a Naboo resistance full of people who were just as pissed off at the Federation as I was.”

“Did you know someone there named Padmé?” Anakin asked, trying not to sound too eager.

He failed: Hal sighed wearily. “I knew of her, but we never met. And, trust me, you don’t want to go anywhere near her.”

Anakin gave up the pretense and grinned. “She’s pretty intimidating, huh?”

Hal rolled his eyes. “Spare me your danger fetish, okay? Try anything with her and she’ll kick you out an airlock—if you’re lucky. If you’re not, you’ll be missing a few limbs; I’ve seen plenty of new recruits learn that the hard way. She’s not some warrior princess: she’s ruthless and responsible for the deaths of more people than you’ve probably met in your entire life. And that was just what she was like on Naboo. Once she became one of the Warlord’s lieutenants it got worse: the entire Trade Federation—” he snapped his fingers, “—gone.”

Gone. Anakin tried to picture Padmé being responsible for that kind of devastation. He still liked the idea of her at the helm of a fleet—he understood battle tactics a lot more than he understood political tactics—but the implications of that scenario were beginning to occur to him in ways that he preferred not to think about.

He didn’t feel much sympathy for the Trade Federation: in his opinion, they were bullies at best and traitors at worst. After invading and occupying Naboo like that, he was pretty sure that they had gotten whatever was coming to them in terms of retribution.

It still didn’t keep him from feeling a little queasy.

Anakin thought back to what he had learned about Naboo in this timeline. “So that’s how you got here: you were there when the Broken Fleet showed up?”

“They made it pretty clear that there was only one way to show our gratitude for their assistance.” Hal shrugged again. “It’s not so bad. We win almost every battle, and nobody bothers you unless you go out of your way to cause trouble.” He gave Anakin a skeptical look that was oddly reminiscent of Obi-Wan. “I’m going to guess that you have a bad habit of doing that kind of thing. Jedi usually do.” His expression turned grim. “Just leave me out of it.”

“Don’t you want to leave, though?” Anakin asked. “You don’t have to fight for them.”

Another laugh, even bleaker than before. “Anywhere I’d go is going to get a visit from the Fleet eventually. Might as well stick with the winning side.”

“Someone will stop him.”

Hal raised an eyebrow. “What, you? That shows how little you know. You can’t stop him. No one can.”

“That’s just what they want you to believe,” Anakin insisted, but the look in Hal’s eyes silenced any additional arguments he would have made.

It was the look of despair. 

“You’ll figure it out eventually,” Hal said, turning back to his ship. “There’s no escape.”

Later, they would say that it was something out of the old songs and stories: a tale of Mandalore triumphing over impossible odds yet again, led by a Mand’Alor wielding the Darksaber.

This is how the tale was told:

The Broken Fleet, a mindless beast of infinite hunger, approached Mandalore with only one goal: to finish what the Dral’Han had begun. The complete annihilation of Mandalore was at hand. The small patrols of the new Protectorate were helpless to stop its advance.

But it could be stopped—because it was stopped. 

There would be a common saying later: te’habi beskad be sarad, “drawing a blade from a flower,” a phrase which described using excessive ornamentation to conceal one’s own deadly nature.

They used it to describe her.

A Duchess thought to be more mouth than Mando, whose foreign husband did the fighting for her, who no one had seen wield a weapon of any kind… she boarded a ship and confronted the Warlord personally.

Even if she had died instantly, it would have been enough to immortalize her in the stories of whatever Mandalorians survived the subsequent destruction of their worlds: the last Mand’Alor, clad in beskar’gam as blue as the sky, taking a final stand like a true warrior in the face of overwhelming odds.

And she won.

The holorecordings that circulated afterwards showed her defeating a trio of masked lieutenants, the black and white blade of the Darksaber meeting every strike with laser-like precision and speed, until she stood over three corpses without taking a single wound herself.

The Warlord of the Broken Fleet stood face to face with her and bowed.

She had tamed the mindless beast. 

The recordings ended there, but after hours of private conversation, an accord was reached: the Broken Fleet would be allowed into the Mandalore system—not as enemies but as allies.

The new Mandalorian Empire was born.