Rain soaked through the hood of Quinlan’s stolen cloak as he crouched on top of the pier nearest the GAR camp, peering through the night gloom as he tried to make out the battalion designations on the tents and equipment. It didn’t really matter who was in charge as long as it was another Jedi, but if it was someone he knew this would go faster.
From what he could tell, there didn’t seem to be enough clones in the camp to account for the two battalion numbers he had so far identified, which meant that either the rest of them were somewhere else or some of the equipment had been borrowed from another battalion. Wearily, Quinlan racked his brain as he tried to remember who was commanding either the 212th or the 501st; he didn’t know all, or even most, of the battalions in the GAR, but both those numbers sounded vaguely familiar.
Kenobi and Skywalker, Quinlan realized after a moment, feeling relief spread through him. If Obi-Wan and Anakin were still in command of their respective battalions, then this would go a lot faster. And Obi-Wan was on the Council; that would speed things up even more.
Bracing himself, he dropped off the edge of the pier into the dark water below. The shock made him gasp; the seas in this part of Telerath were relatively warm, comparatively speaking, but that didn’t make this any more pleasant. Surfacing to take a breath of the marine-scented air, Quinlan cut out across the bay towards the camp, feeling the weight of his water-logged cloak and heavy boots threaten to drag him down. It wasn’t far; even in his exhausted state Quinlan reached the opposite side of the bay within a few minutes, catching himself against the base of a pier. The metal was slippery beneath his fingers, coated in streaks of grayish-blue algae that climbed up to the dock above him. Quinlan listened for the tread of the clone troopers on guard duty, hearing the rain bounce off their armor, and reached tentatively out through the Force with a slight touch of mental persuasion. He heard the clone troopers turn away, continuing on their patrol.
Quinlan hauled himself dripping out of the water and over the side of the pier, finally glad for the rain, since the already soaked docks wouldn’t betray his presence with suspicious wet spots. Keeping an eye out for more patrols, he ran across the dock towards the dubious shelter of the nearest tent. It was late, well into the planet’s night cycle, and none of the tents were illuminated, the Force telling him that their occupants were all deep in slumber. Quinlan darted from one tent to another, making his way inwards towards the center of the camp where the commanders’ quarters would be.
There was no visible difference between this tent and the others – it was a little smaller, since it had been designed for a single occupant, or maybe a pair of occupants, rather than a squadron of clone troopers, but Quinlan had the vague memory from his heretofore unused training in the inner workings of the GAR that command meetings were probably held in there as well, which accounted for the tent’s still-large size. Quinlan squinted at it, trying to make certain that it wasn’t just another clone tent, and found himself wishing that the Jedi were suicidal enough to just tack their symbol onto the side of the blasted thing, which currently boasted the GAR spoked wheel instead. After a moment, he recognized the Force presence inside, which at least pretty unequivocally identified whose tent it was.
Quinlan had to wait for another clone trooper patrol to pass before he could cross to the tent, ducking quickly inside into blessed warmth from the portable heater in the corner. He barely had a moment to appreciate it.
The Force grabbed him by the throat, tossing him sideways. Quinlan hit the floor and rolled, shaking his concealed lightsaber out of his sleeve-holster into his hand as he came up on one knee. “Blast it, Obi-Wan, it’s me!”
Obi-Wan Kenobi’s familiar face was illuminated by the blue glow of his ignited lightsaber. He blinked at Quinlan over the blade. “Quin?”
Quinlan held up his hands so that Obi-Wan could see the lightsaber hilt, making no move to get to his feet. “Yeah, me.”
“You could have knocked.” Obi-Wan deactivated his lightsaber and set it aside, looking around with a distracted air before he waved his hand, lumas springing into life around the top of the tent.
Quinlan got to his feet, his knees protesting the motion, and returned his lightsaber to its holster. “Could have. Didn’t.”
“Are you being pursued?” Obi-Wan asked practically. “Do I need to wake up my men?”
“I don’t think so,” Quinlan said, looking around for somewhere to sit – preferably as near the heater as possible. Obi-Wan reached out and hooked a folding chair with one hand, pushing it towards him, and Quinlan collapsed into it gratefully. “I’ve been running for weeks – my cover got blown on the Wheel and I’ve been bouncing from system to system, but I don’t think the Seppies followed me here yet. Could have, though.”
Obi-Wan nodded, leaning down to pick up his comlink. “Cody, this is Kenobi,” he said after the sleepy response. “Get Rex up and double the patrols on our perimeter.” He glanced at Quinlan. “And send a medic over to my tent.”
“I don’t need –”
Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow, and Quinlan subsided, muttering, “Fine, whatever makes mother hen Kenobi happy.”
“No, I’m fine,” Obi-Wan said into the comlink. “I’ve got company.” He clicked the comlink off and put it down. “You look awful,” he said to Quinlan.
“I could say the same for you,” Quinlan said; Obi-Wan looked like sixty miles of bad road, and there was a scar on his face that definitely hadn’t been there the last time Quinlan had seen him. “I’ve been running from Black Sun and Dooku’s thugs, what’s your excuse?”
Obi-Wan glanced aside. He sat down on the edge of his rumpled bed, pushing a hand back through his hair, and said, “Do you need me to call the Council? Or Tholme?”
“Yeah,” Quinlan said. He started to stretch, flinched, and said, “Yeah, as soon as possible. Get Skywalker in here, both of you should hear this.”
Quinlan blinked at him. “He’s not here? He’s got the Five-Oh-First, right, I saw them outside –”
Quinlan stared at him, too surprised to respond immediately, because Skywalker had always seemed even more invulnerable than was usual for Jedi. But the grief on Obi-Wan’s face was too raw and too clear, all his usual defenses stripped away, and Quinlan thought, sithspit, he’s not lying.
“Oh, stang, Obi-Wan, I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t know. I’ve been out of touch.”
Obi-Wan nodded, looking away.
“When?” Quinlan asked, gentling his voice. Surely the Council wouldn’t have sent Obi-Wan out again immediately after his partner had been killed. The Jedi were spread thin, but not, as far as Quinlan knew, that thin.
“Six weeks ago.” Obi-Wan’s voice had gone dull. “We’re not – there was no body. We had to exfil before we could search the area. He could still – but I felt the backlash.” He rubbed his hands over his face. “Officially he’s listed as MIA, but I think the Council’s going to move him to the KIA list within the month. If Dooku had him, we’d know by now…”
He trailed off, pressing a hand to his forehead. Quinlan could feel his grief in the Force like an open wound, the burned-out places in the mind where the psychic backlash from his partner’s death had scorched the channels normally used to handle those parts of the Force. He shouldn’t be on the battlefield. He should be back in the Temple with a consular putting what’s left of his mind back together.
Obi-Wan must have caught the thought, because he looked up and frowned at Quinlan. A moment later his shields slammed down hard enough to make Quinlan flinch back.
“I’m fine,” Obi-Wan said.
Like hell you are, Quinlan was about to say, but the words were cut off by the arrival of Obi-Wan’s clone commander and a medic, both of whom eyed Quinlan suspiciously.
Obi-Wan rose to his feet. “Cody, you remember Master Vos? Quinlan, this is Commander Cody.”
The clone commander shot Quinlan a startled look. Quinlan stared back at him, eventually remembering him as if from a lifetime ago, long before he’d left Coruscant for the assignment whose cover had been blown to shreds four weeks earlier. “How’s it hanging, commander?” he said, raising his eyebrows, and saw Cody grin slowly as he recognized him.
“I’m Kix,” said the medic, coming over and looking disapprovingly at Quinlan’s soaking wet clothes. In contrast to the yellow markings on Cody’s armor, his had slashes of blue; Quinlan couldn’t remember what, if anything, that signified. The aurebesh letters tattooed onto his shaved head spelled out the only good droid is a dead one. “Where are you injured, sir?”
“I’m not,” Quinlan said, watching over his shoulder as Obi-Wan drew Cody aside to speak to him briefly. “Obi-Wan worries too much, that’s all.”
“I’m going to advise that you let me figure that out,” Kix said. “Get out of those wet clothes, at least. General –”
“We’re about the same size. I’ll get him a change of clothes,” Obi-Wan said, glancing over his shoulder at them. “Cody, can you get Admiral Yularen on the horn? We’re going to need to punch through a communique to Coruscant and I think we’ll need the boosted signal capacity on the star destroyers, since I’ve been having trouble getting through to the Core from planetside.” He looked at Quinlan again and explained, “It seems like Dooku’s got some sort of new signal-jamming device. I’ve heard rumors that some of the other Jedi have been problems too. Telerath isn’t so far distant that it could be natural.”
Kix moved back as Quinlan reached inside his shirt and pulled out the waterproof case he’d been carrying for weeks now. “Not a rumor,” he said, tossing it to Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan plucked it out of the air, flicking the case open with his thumb and pouring out the datacrystals into the palm of his hand. “This is all on the signal jamming?” he asked, returning them to the case.
“Nope,” Quinlan said. “Troop movements, ship plans, some other stuff – and there’s a holo in there on Dooku’s new general too.”
Obi-Wan’s head jerked up, both clone troopers swinging around to look at him. Quinlan felt the Force shiver, the temperature in the room dropping a few degrees. His voice soft and dangerous, Obi-Wan said, “Darth Vader? You’ve seen him?”
“You have?” Quinlan said, fighting back the urge to reach for his lightsaber, because in the Force Obi-Wan had just gone from friend to threat.
Cody and Kix were watching Obi-Wan, their tension evident in the Force but almost swamped by Obi-Wan’s fury. Obi-Wan said, “He killed Anakin.”
Oh, stang, Vos, you really put your foot in it this time.
“Is he coming here?” Obi-Wan went on, rolling his shoulders back as if preparing to fight Vader here and now. The subtext was clear: if Vader came within a light-year of them, Obi-Wan was going to lose whatever fragile hold he had on his own sanity and either hunt him down or die trying. Obi-Wan had a nasty vindictive streak that he had mostly managed to squelch by the time he’d been knighted, but it still came through on occasion, usually at the worst possible moment.
“I don’t know,” Quinlan said, shrugging and then wincing as the movement pulled at his abused muscles. “Maybe. Obi-Wan –”
Obi-Wan’s hands flexed, like he was thinking about ripping Vader’s heart – or whatever passed for one – out of his chest. Maybe he was; Quinlan wasn’t getting anything from him through the Force except ugly, vicious rage that was utterly out of character for a Jedi master. It blanked out everything else in the Force; Quinlan sometimes forgot just how strong Obi-Wan was, since Obi-Wan didn’t advertise it.
Cody’s comlink chirped, breaking the moment. Quinlan felt the coiled Force energy in the tent release, Obi-Wan letting out his breath as he leaned close to listen in on the message. After a moment he straightened up. “I’d better deal with this,” he told Quinlan. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. There are extra robes in there.” He pointed at a footlocker, then leaned over to put the datacrystal case down and pick up his lightsaber.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Quinlan said, finally starting to shrug off his cloak. He waited until Obi-Wan and Cody had gone before turning to Kix and saying, “How did Skywalker die?”
The clone trooper hesitated. This close, Quinlan could make out the battalion markings on his armor; he’d come from the 501st, from Skywalker’s battalion. Obi-Wan must have gotten the 501st transferred over to his command.
“There was an explosion,” Kix said at last. “We’re pretty sure that General Skywalker was at the epicenter; all the clones that got caught in the blast died.” He grimaced. “Anyone close by got killed by Darth Vader. General Kenobi and the 212th were still a few klicks off; they were close enough to see the explosion, but they couldn’t reach us in time for – well, we had a lot of casualties. More than sixty percent.”
Quinlan hissed through his teeth. He might not have been filling the usual role of a Jedi general in this war, but he could do basic math, and that was a hell of a lot of losses for a single battalion to take, especially if they’d been as depleted as most of the other Republic forces were. It was harder to replace fallen clones than it was battle droids.
Kix was still talking. “General Kenobi held off Vader while we got the wounded out, but more clankers had already shown up. We had to evacuate under heavy fire. There was no time to look for survivors, or for General Skywalker…” He trailed off. “Almost everyone was injured,” he finished awkwardly. “Even General Kenobi. The medics had to knock him out once we were back on Resolute, and then he went AWOL on Coruscant for almost a day.”
Quinlan stared. “Obi-Wan went AWOL?”
Kix nodded. “The rumor is he was with Senator – with a senator he and General Skywalker know.”
Quinlan hadn’t realized Obi-Wan was fucking a senator, but he was so behind on Jedi gossip that Obi-Wan could have gotten married and he wouldn’t know about it.
Kix cleared his throat. “You really should get out of those wet things, General.”
I’m not actually a general, Quinlan thought about pointing out, but it probably wouldn’t have any effect. He went back to shrugging out of his sodden clothes, listening to Kix click his tongue reprovingly when he saw the half-healed blaster burns on Quinlan’s right arm and across his back. “I thought you said you weren’t hurt.”
“This is just a scratch,” Quinlan said.
Kix gave him a dry look. “Jedi,” he snorted. “You’re as bad as General Kenobi.”
“Hey, there’s no need to be insulting,” Quinlan said, which startled the clone into a laugh.
After Kix had patched up the burns and a couple of other scrapes, he offered Quinlan a couple of pain tablets. Quinlan refused, since he wanted his head clear as possible, and went to find Obi-Wan’s spare robes while Kix packed up his medical kit. The robes on top were old and mended in several places, but clean and dry, which were all Quinlan cared about at this point. He left his boots to dry by the heater, picking up a datapad at random to look at. He didn’t know what he had been expecting, but it definitely hadn’t been a treatise on a theorized cache of Sith artifacts from the Mandalorian Wars.
He glanced up as Kix made to leave. “You know Obi-Wan’s probably going to get himself killed chasing Vader.”
“Everyone knows that,” Kix said, then saluted and left.
Quinlan sat down on the side of the cot to try and figure out why Obi-Wan had been reading about Sith artifacts, since that didn’t seem even remotely like a good thing. It wasn’t in Obi-Wan’s area of academic curiosity, at least as far as Quinlan knew.
He didn’t make it more than a few paragraphs in before he started to nod off, setting the datapad aside to lie down in the tangled mess of Obi-Wan’s sheets. They smelled a little like Obi-Wan, which made a nice change from the places Quinlan had been sleeping lately. He closed his eyes, just for a few moments…
He woke up again when Obi-Wan sat down beside him, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Mmph?” he managed.
“I got through to the Temple,” Obi-Wan said. “Or to Mace, anyway. He’s rounding up enough other Council members for a quorum and they’ll call back. Tholme’s there too.”
“Good.” Quinlan sat up, blinking and rubbing at his eyes. “What happened? You got called away.”
“It’s not important.” At the look Quinlan gave him, Obi-Wan relented and said, “The Separatist forces on one of the outer island chains are moving, but they’re not an immediate threat to us. We’re tracking their movement.”
“Moving?” Quinlan repeated. “In this weather?”
“Battle droids don’t care much one way or another,” Obi-Wan said.
“You’d know better than me,” Quinlan admitted. He scrubbed his hands over his face again, trying to make himself wake up properly.
Obi-Wan leaned over him to pick something up off the folding table next to the cot and offer it to him. “Eat something. You’ll feel better.”
Quinlan took the bowl, bemused. “Sometimes it’s really obvious you trained a padawan.”
He blanched a moment later, waiting for Obi-Wan’s response, but Obi-Wan, who hated being predictable, just gave him a thin sliver of a smile and said, “It’s not exactly gourmet, but it’s hot, at least.”
The contents of the bowl turned out to be greenish-gray protein mush, which tasted faintly of citrus. Since Quinlan had mostly been scavenging for the past few weeks, it was the best thing he’d tasted in days.
Obi-Wan got up, collecting the discarded datapad as he did so, then paused and looked down at it, registering which one it was. His gaze flicked up at Quinlan, one eyebrow arching slightly.
“I’m too tired to yell at you right now,” Quinlan told him.
“It’s not what you think,” Obi-Wan said, then flicked the datapad off with his thumb and set it aside.
“I don’t think anything,” Quinlan said, but just then they were interrupted by the chime of the holoconferencing equipment activating. He put the now empty bowl aside and went to stand in pickup range alongside Obi-Wan, watching as a dozen holograms sprang up in miniature on the display pad. Counting Obi-Wan, most of the High Council was there, except for –
“Where are Adi Gallia and Eeth Koth?” he asked Obi-Wan, lowering his voice.
Obi-Wan glanced at him. “Dead.”
Quinlan winced. He’d heard about Even Piell’s death, but not Eeth’s and Adi’s.
After a few seconds, Tholme’s familiar form shimmered into existence, and Quinlan felt something in his stomach unclench. He hadn’t been Tholme’s padawan for a while now, but some things never completely went away.
He couldn’t help looking at Obi-Wan again. No master, no padawan, no master’s master or padawan’s padawan, not anymore. Yoda was in his lineage, but that was so far distant it hardly counted. Whether or not a Knight’s lineage actually mattered was a topic of great debate in the Order – or at least it had been before they’d gotten more important things to worry about – but Tholme had had very firm ideas on that. Admittedly, they were controversial ideas, but Tholme had never cared about that sort of thing. Attachments were discouraged, but connections kept the Jedi grounded. Not that you could get many other Jedi to admit that.
“Quinlan,” Tholme said. “You’re well?”
“I’ve been better, but I’m more or less whole at the moment,” Quinlan said, folding his hands into the sleeves of his borrowed robes. “Sorry for the short notice,” he added to the members of the Council who were present.
They all looked resigned to it, though he could tell a few of them must have been hastily roused from sleep. Through the holograms it was impossible to tell who was present on Coruscant and who was offworld; Quinlan had no idea of the time difference between Telerath and Coruscant, so he didn’t know whether Obi-Wan had called in the middle of the night or the middle of the afternoon.
Obi-Wan squeezed his shoulder, then went to sit down in a folding chair, the conferencing software making it look like he had taken his seat in his council chair. Quinlan hadn’t actually been up in front of the Council since Obi-Wan had been appointed, so it was more jarring than he had expected to see him there, the double-image of the holoconferencing software and Obi-Wan himself confusing him for an instant. He must have been more tired than he’d thought.
Windu leaned forward in his seat. “Master Vos. It’s good to see you again. When you didn’t check in, we expected the worst.”
“You and me both, Master,” Quinlan said. He paused, collecting his thoughts, and finally said, “My cover on the Wheel got blown. Khaleen – one of my contacts – warned me before the battle droids started kicking down my door, but they were already all over the place. Dooku sent one of his Jedi-killers after me, Darth Vader –”
He stopped as Obi-Wan made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a growl, his hands folding into fists. The masters seated nearest to him looked around at him, disapproving and worried. Tholme, standing by Adi Gallia’s empty chair, made a movement like he was about to go over to him before remembering that Obi-Wan wasn’t actually there. Quinlan stared at him, wondering why in blazes the Council had let him off Coruscant when it was obvious he was hanging on by a thread. A fraying thread.
That alone wouldn’t send a Jedi Knight – a Jedi Master, he might as well give Obi-Wan his due – to the Dark Side, but if the High Council didn’t recognize that was a possibility then they were all idiots. Obi-Wan had gone from calm to so brilliantly, scintillatingly angry within seconds that Quinlan’s head was ringing from the strength of his fury and grief.
Sometimes it wasn’t hard to remember that Dooku was in Obi-Wan’s lineage too, not just Qui-Gon and Yoda.
“Quinlan,” Plo Koon said, getting his attention, and Quinlan dragged his mind away from Obi-Wan and back to the present.
He continued his report, feeling Obi-Wan settle slowly in the Force, though his agitation ratcheted upwards every time Quinlan said Darth Vader’s name. It made it hard to concentrate, but Quinlan had given reports half-dead, high on painkillers, drunk, drugged, and hungover, and sometimes all of them at once, so Obi-Wan’s psychic distress wasn’t the worst distraction he’d had before.
“I sent Khaleen on to Coruscant with half the datachips,” he finished. “That way, even if I didn’t get through, at least some of the information would get to the Temple. Did she –”
Tholme gave him a knowing look, but said, “Your friend arrived last week. She’s being looked after now.” He considered Quinlan thoughtfully. “She’s been very worried about you.”
Obi-Wan’s gaze flicked to Quinlan, one eyebrow arching up in faint amusement.
“That’s good,” Quinlan said, hoping that his relief didn’t show too clearly on his face. He’d hated having to leave Khaleen, but as far as they’d been able to determine neither Black Sun nor the Separatists cared about her, just him. She was safer on her own that she had been with him.
Obi-Wan said, “I can’t spare a ship to get you to Coruscant right now. Maybe in a day or so, but right now even a shuttle isn’t going to make it through the Separatist blockade. A small ship or a starfighter will just get their attention, let them know we’re trying to get someone or something important out.”
“Can you transmit the information?” Ki-Adi-Mundi asked.
“That wouldn’t be wise,” Tholme said. “We know our communications channels are compromised and we haven’t managed to find the leak yet. Intel this sensitive shouldn’t be trusted to the HoloNet.”
“I agree,” Quinlan said. “If I’d felt comfortable transmitting it, I would have done that already.”
Yoda and Windu glanced at each other, then Windu said, “Stay with Obi-Wan for now, Master Vos. The situation on Telerath should stabilize soon.”
Obi-Wan rolled his eyes at that, but said, “I could use the company.”
A few of the other masters threw uneasy glances towards him at this, but Obi-Wan didn’t look at them, apparently meaning it in earnest.
Quinlan dropped his gaze. Of course he’s lonely. He’s never been on his own for long; he was with Qui-Gon, then with Skywalker, even after Skywalker was knighted. Jedi almost never went immediately from being padawans themselves to taking their own padawans; it happened from time to time – Obi-Wan had been the only one to do so in living memory of anyone save Yoda and T’ra Saa – but it was very rare. The current school of thought in the Temple was that doing so fostered attachment, which had been the subject of several of Tholme’s angry rants over the past few years. Quinlan still wasn’t sure why the Council had permitted Obi-Wan to take a padawan so soon after his own knighthood, except that they had probably thought either or both of them would wash out.
“Then it’s settled,” Windu said. “We’ll be in contact. May the Force be with you, Master Vos.”
Quinlan bowed, murmuring the appropriate response.
As the holographic images of the councilors began to blink out, Obi-Wan got to his feet, rolling his shoulders as his back popped audibly. Quinlan grabbed him by the arm and pulled him close. “What the hell was that?”
“You know what I’m talking about. Don’t play stupid with me, Obi-Wan, we’ve known each other too long for that.”
Obi-Wan turned towards him, blue eyes glinting in the tent’s artificial light. “Darth Vader killed Anakin,” he said, his voice very calm. “If I get the chance, I’m going to rip out his heart and feed it to him.”
Quinlan stared at him in stunned horror. It took him a moment before he could get himself back together, his fingers digging into Obi-Wan’s arm as he said, “Are you out of your Force-damned mind?”
“That remains to be seen,” Obi-Wan said. “Maybe more literally than you meant.”
Quinlan dragged him closer. “You’re a Jedi Knight, Obi-Wan!”
“I don’t care!” Obi-Wan spat.
“Yeah, you do, or you would have gone rogue already.” He could feel Obi-Wan in the Force, his fury – at Vader, at Dooku, at the Council and the Order – tangled up with his terrible grief and the thin threads of hope and fear wound through it all. “Maybe you fooled the Council enough to get assigned out here –”
“Do you really think this is my first deployment since Odryn, Quin?” Obi-Wan demanded; Odryn must have been the engagement where Skywalker had died. “It’s my fifth. We weren’t even back on Coruscant for a week before they sent us out again.”
Quinlan was stunned into silence.
“You haven’t been here,” Obi-Wan said, his voice smoothing out as though it hadn’t been filled with ugly rage a few moments earlier. “We need every Knight on the front lines. The Council couldn’t afford to lock me up in the Temple for the next year and hope I got over the backlash. It wasn’t that bad, anyway.”
“You and I both know the backlash isn’t the problem,” Quinlan said. It was a problem, sure, but Obi-Wan was functional and coherent and could still use the Force, none of which were a given when it came to backlash.
Even after millennia, no one really knew how psychic backlash worked. Records in the Jedi Archives said that Jedi – and Sith, for that matter – had been driven mad and even killed when the Force backfired on them. Other Jedi had had their ability to use the Force permanently burned out of them, which usually drove them mad anyway. The prevalent theory about Depa Billaba’s coma was that it was a result of the backlash from turning on Mace Windu on Haruun Kal, but no one knew for sure.
“Quin, I had to go back to the front with an arm that was still broken in three places because there wasn’t enough time for it to heal properly at the Temple,” Obi-Wan said. “I’m fine.”
“Like hell you are. Vengeance isn’t going to get you anything but dead, Obi-Wan –”
“I don’t care.”
“– or worse,” Quinlan finished, then registered what Obi-Wan had said. He felt his grip tighten on Obi-Wan’s arm, fingers digging into the flesh beneath. It took him a moment to force his voice to enough steadiness to say, “You might not care about yourself, but you damned well care about your troopers and you still care enough about the Order and the Republic that you’re here. If you didn’t –”
“Anakin wouldn’t forgive me if I got his men killed,” Obi-Wan said, his voice surprisingly even.
“You think he’d forgive you if you got yourself killed?”
“I think he’d do exactly the same thing if our places were reversed,” Obi-Wan said.
Quinlan knew Anakin Skywalker well enough to acknowledge that that was probably true, but he’d thought better of Obi-Wan. “And that wasn’t your first hint that you might be doing something wrong?”
Obi-Wan glared at him. “Let go of me, Quin. I’m not about to go running off screaming into the night. I haven’t done so yet and I’m not about to start now.”
“Were you sleeping with him?”
“What?” He’d finally managed to take Obi-Wan by surprise. His mouth worked silently for a moment, then he said, “No, Quin, I wasn’t fucking my partner. Anakin used to be my padawan, for love of the Force!”
“So? Wouldn’t be the first time.”
Obi-Wan gave him an irritated look. “Were you hoping the answer was going to be yes or no?”
“I don’t know,” Quinlan told him. “‘Yes’ might have explained a few things.”
Obi-Wan rolled his eyes. “Sorry to disappoint you.”
Someone cleared their throat behind them, and both Obi-Wan and Quinlan swung around to see who it was, Obi-Wan finally pulling his arm free of Quinlan’s grip. Tholme’s hologram was still there, grown to life-size now that the rest of the Jedi had gone.
“Can I have a moment with Quinlan, Obi-Wan?”
“Of course.” Obi-Wan’s voice was calm. “I’ll be in the command tent with Commander Cody and Captain Rex,” he added to Quinlan. “Try and get some sleep. I’ll send someone for you if something happens.”
“This isn’t over, Kenobi,” Quinlan told his retreating back, and Obi-Wan made a dismissive gesture at him before picking up his cloak and leaving the tent.
Quinlan looked back at Tholme, who was frowning a little. “Did you hear all that?”
“Yes.” Tholme folded his hands into the sleeves of his cloak. “It’s not exactly news.”
“And the Council’s just going to let him – he’s going to get himself killed.”
“Don’t worry about Obi-Wan.”
“He’s my best friend,” Quinlan snapped. “And no one else seems to care that he’s falling apart at the seams.”
Tholme shut his eyes, letting his breath out in a sigh. “Has Obi-Wan told you what happened on Odryn yet?”
“No. One of his troopers gave me the story.”
“Tell me if he does.”
“Why?” Quinlan said warily.
“Because when he finally reported to the Council after the 212th and the 501st got back to Coruscant, he claimed he didn’t remember what happened. He was also out of his head on painkillers, so he might have actually been telling the truth.”
Quinlan raised his eyebrows. “You think he was lying?”
“No. But my opinion’s not the one that matters.” Tholme rubbed a hand over his jaw. “If Obi-Wan goes rogue, he goes rogue. If he does, at least we know where he’s going.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
Tholme gave him a meaningful look. “Obi-Wan wants to kill Darth Vader. There are no few people in the Order who are of a mind to let him.”
Quinlan swore, pacing back and forth in the tent before finally going over to drop to a seat in Obi-Wan’s abandoned chair. He’d lost enough friends to this war; he didn’t want to lose Obi-Wan too. Especially to the Dark Side.
Tholme came over to him, close enough that if he had hadn’t been a hologram Quinlan could have reached out and touched him. “I know you’re worried about Obi-Wan, Quinlan,” he said. “You aren’t the only one. But there’s nothing that can be done for him now. Under other circumstances the Order would be able to pull him back front the front and confine him to the Temple, but as it is –” He shook his head. “He’s right. We need every Knight on the battlefield, especially the ones who are as good at it as Obi-Wan is.”
“And if he dies out here?”
“That was a risk even before Skywalker was killed.” Tholme crossed his arms. “You might as well worry about yourself too, not just Obi-Wan. Dooku’s people will follow you to Telerath.”
“I know,” Quinlan grimaced. “Can’t say I don’t feel better about the fact I’ve got an army between me and them, though. And another Jedi, even if he is –” He hesitated, not wanting to say apparently going insane.
“You should probably be aware that Dooku has a capture alive order out on Obi-Wan,” Tholme added helpfully.
“I know.” He folded his hands together into fists and rested his chin on them, staring through Tholme at the tan-colored wall of the tent behind him. “But Obi-Wan isn’t what you wanted to talk to me about, is it?”
“No.” Tholme sighed, then settled himself in one of the abandoned Council chairs, leaning his cane against the arm. “You aren’t the only shadow whose cover was blown in the past five weeks.”
Quinlan frowned. “How many others?”
“All of them.”
“Is with her troops. She’s fine.”
Quinlan let out a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding. “The others?”
“They’re either dead or missing. You’re the only one who’s checked in.”
Quinlan stared at him, unable and unwilling to believe his ears. “What?”
Tholme’s face was grim. “All of the other shadows are dead,” he repeated. “A few haven’t been accounted for, but what we have been able to discover about their last whereabouts suggests that they were either killed or captured.”
The words slipped out before he could help himself. He and Shylar hadn’t been anything for a long time now, but he had to know. If it had been Obi-Wan or Luminara, he would have asked too.
Tholme’s expression was sympathetic but about as unyielding as granite. “Master Shylar is dead too, Quinlan. I’m sorry. As far as my agents have been able to tell, she was captured by Dooku and tortured to death.”
Quinlan slammed a fist down onto his knee, the only display of emotion that he allowed himself. “How did he know?” he asked. “How did so many shadows get burned so fast? I thought only you and the High Council knew who all of them were.”
“Not even the entire High Council,” Tholme said. “Windu and Yoda know – knew – and that’s it. A few of the others knew individual Knights, but no one else knew the entire list. That information wasn’t in any of the databases; an ordinary slicer couldn’t have found it.” He scratched at the scar on his face. “Mace tells me that the Supreme Chancellor’s been making noises about getting access to Jedi records, but they’ve been able to put him off so far. Even if he had gotten them – if it was someone in the Executive Office or the Special Operations Bureau – they shouldn’t have been able to go down the entire list and burn each and every shadow in the Jedi Order.”
He was quiet for a moment, while Quinlan tried to wrap his head around the enormity of what had happened. He’d assumed that his cover being blown was a freak accident; either he’d slipped up somehow or something, somewhere, had fallen into the wrong hands. But every shadow Knight in the Order, the entirety of the active Jedi intelligence community – it should have been impossible. It was impossible. Even if there was a traitor in the Order, another Dooku biding his time, that information simply wasn’t accessible. Too much of it only existed inside Tholme’s head, and if he had been the traitor, he could have done much more damage than simply burning all of his shadow Knights.
“Quinlan,” he said, and Quinlan glanced up at him.
“I’m very glad that you’re alive,” Tholme said.
The gentleness in his voice, the rough sincerity, was unexpected for some reason. Tholme knew all the Jedi shadows, had handpicked them and trained them and ran them on their missions, but Quinlan was the only one who had ever been his padawan.
There had been a few times over the years when he had thought he had lost Aayla, when he thought he had lost Tholme. He’d seen Obi-Wan after Qui-Gon had been killed and now in the wake of Skywalker’s death, how the loss had gutted him both times. Quinlan knew that he was very, very lucky: everyone he loved was still alive.
“I’m pretty glad too, master,” he said. “It was touch and go there for a while.”
After Tholme signed off, Quinlan prowled thoughtfully around the tent some more, but there really wasn’t anything to see except endless reports and holomaps. Under normal circumstances Quinlan probably would have found them interesting, but right now he was so tired that he could barely see straight, the long weeks of running finally catching up with him.
Try and get some sleep, Obi-Wan had said, as solicitous as if Quinlan had been his padawan rather than his best friend; usually his advice tended towards, there’s no way you can make that jump, Quin, you’ll break your neck, or, flirting with the Hutt lord is going to end in disaster, Quinlan, or, Quinlan, don’t. Just don’t. For once, Quinlan actually felt inclined to listen to him.
He sat down on the edge of the cot, scrubbing his hands over his face, dragging the tie out from his dreads. He wanted a shower and had the vague idea that they were probably available somewhere in the camp, if only because it seemed stupid to shove together several thousand soldiers without taking basic hygiene into account, but had no clue where they were and no desire to get up again now that he had sat down.
Quinlan shoved his bare toes against the cool floor of the tent, then flopped back onto the cot, staring up at the ceiling, watching rain patter down against the synthetic material. The sheets smelled like Obi-Wan, a little; Quinlan could feel the Force-memory of his nightmares hovering at the edges of his perception and pushed it gently aside, knowing that as strong as Obi-Wan was, as tired as Quinlan was now, he stood a good chance of getting lost in it.
He wrapped a blanket around himself, breathing in his best friend’s scent, and felt the Force settle out around him. The Jedi had never been meant to be alone; it was good to be back with his own kind.
Quinlan woke up a little while later when Obi-Wan came back, the Force telling him his friend was there even before he heard the tent flap open. He rolled over and opened one eye, seeing Obi-Wan hesitate.
“I don’t want to have sex,” Obi-Wan said.
Quinlan opened his other eye. “Good, neither do I, I’m too damn tired. Come here, Kenobi.”
“Your foreplay needs work,” Obi-Wan said, but he shed his cloak and pulled his boots off, dropping his lightsaber beside Quinlan’s on the folding table as he stripped out of the outer layers of his robes.
“If I’m engaging in foreplay, Obi-Wan, you’ll know it,” Quinlan said, watching him. He was too tired to be properly appreciative, still mostly asleep, but Obi-Wan shot him a tired grin anyway.
“I’ve seen your idea of foreplay.”
“Whatever works,” Quinlan said. He reached out and wrapped a hand around Obi-Wan’s wrist, pulling him down onto the cot. “And it does work.”
Obi-Wan came easily, somehow managing to give off an air of being too thin and too fragile despite being nearly solid muscle. “I’m not the best representative sample,” he said, as he and Quinlan arranged themselves on the cot, which really hadn’t been meant for two grown men but could fit them both if they were comfortable with each other. They ended up curled together like two younglings in the crèche, Obi-Wan half on top of him with his knee between Quinlan’s thighs, his head tucked against Quinlan’s shoulder. “You know me: I’m easy.”
“Yeah, you are.” He ruffled Obi-Wan’s hair with one hand, feeling Obi-Wan’s breathing even out. The lumas in the tent turned off with the barest touch of the Force.
The Force wrapped around them, cradling them in a warm, familiar embrace. Quinlan felt Obi-Wan’s Force-presence, jagged with grief and shot through with rage, twine around his. It hurt, a little; Quinlan could understand why the rest of the Council hadn’t wanted him at the Temple, because very few Jedi were equipped to handle that much raw emotion. Obi-Wan himself almost certainly wasn’t.
The edges of it began to dull as Obi-Wan fell asleep. Quinlan rested a hand on the back of his shoulderblade, feeling the bone through the skin and the thin fabric of his undershirt. The sharp spikes of Quinlan’s own anxiety faded away in the pulse of the Force, the comforting weight of another Jedi Knight against him, and for the first time in what felt like months he let himself relax.
Jedi weren’t meant to be alone. Everything was always better with two of them.