The first one was Luke.
It had taken Obi-Wan two days to reach Tatooine and he did not put little Luke down for longer than an hour. He looked at him, noted familiar features, trying to guess which ones belonged to Padmé and which ones to Anakin. (And did not that thought hurt) Obi-Wan soothed Luke when he cried and wrapped him in the Force, making the baby project his excitement so strongly, it even made Obi-Wan smile for the first time since Utapau.
Bail had promised to take care of Leia and Obi-Wan had full intention to give Luke to Owen and Beru. The twins would be safe.
But he had stepped out of the ship, looked at the farm in the distance, then down at the tiny squirming bundle in his arms and realized that he could not do it. Luke was the only one left from his family - not counting Yoda since the old troll had wandered off to who knows where - it just felt wrong to give him to some unknown people. Even if they were related to Anakin. What did he even know about them? Would they want to take a child? And what if they turned out to be cruel? How could people who have never so much seen what a Force-sensitive was capable of, raise one so strong? Call it attachment, stubbornness or whatever you want, Obi-Wan had made a decision. He tightened his hold on Luke, turned away from the looming building and went into town.
And if deep down in his soul Obi-Wan hoped that Anakin would have wanted him to raise his child, well, no one needed to know that.
He spent two weeks securing a hut in the desert. Not too far away from civilization but not close to it either. If Luke was as powerful as his father, and Obi-Wan was sure he was even stronger, he shone so bright… when it would show pretty early. And he couldn’t allow it to be seen. There would be no way to explain levitating rocks or exploding mugs. Younglings always struggled with their control over the Force. And if someone made a connection, they might sell them to the Empire.
During the next three months Obi-Wan thanked every deity he knew for Yoda being so pushy. If it weren’t for him, Obi-Wan would not have spent his fair share of free time in the Crèche with Younglings and would not have a single clue of how to take care of one.
Now it was an easy task. He did not even mind waking up too late at night or too early in the morning. He had gotten quite used to it during the war. Various reports kept him up in odd hours. And the Separatists did not send them notifications about their new attack. So waking up due to a loud noise making his ears want to run away was not a new experience.
It was a struggle to get supplies, since Obi-Wan did not have any credits and they were not accepted here anyway. And he could not get himself a job, not wanting to leave Luke in care of some stranger. But the Force helped him once again.
During his wandering in the desert he had stumbled upon a cave hidden too good for most species to notice it. Obi-Wan would have missed it too if not for insisting nudges from the Force.
The cave entrance was in a gorge, practically six feet down from the edge. Even the most inveterate daredevils would not dare to go there. Especially if they weren’t paid for it. But Obi-Wan was always curious. And considering the fact that the Force directed him there, he simply could not ignore its call.
Luke was sleeping peacefully in his sling on Obi-Wan’s chest, bundled snugly into the cooling cloth to keep him from overheating. Obi-Wan envied him slightly. He himself was draped into many layers which had no resemblance to his Jedi robes. He did not expect to miss them so much. Obi-Wan shook his head, checked whether the sling was holding tight. Satisfied, he dared to descend.
Using the vibroblade - it was a present from his battalion, after he had lost his ‘saber for twelfth time. Boil looked so smug when he gave it to him. The troopers cheered. Cody pretended to be indifferent but Obi-Wan knew he was pleased too. And it made it even more painful to look at the blade without Obi-Wan’s heart feeling like a light breeze would shutter it - he carefully slid down the gorge’s side and gave himself a little Force push to land right in the cave.
He stayed crouching, keeping his hold over the blade and surveyed the cave. It was dark and dry. The limited light from the blade allowed Obi-Wan to see very little. The walls were cracked and there was sand on the floor. There was no trace of local fauna. But something still bothered Obi-Wan. He inched his head, straining his ears to hear at least something. Nothing.
Any other time it would have made Obi-Wan suspicious. But the Force was quiet and the cave did not feel dangerous. Only… curious?
Obi-Wan frowned, slowly getting up on his feet. He was about to take a step forward when something nudged his mind. He looked down and meet innocent blue eyes. Luke was watching him with curiosity, reaching out to him through the Force and with his tiny hand. Obi-Wan smiled at him, holding his own hand for Luke. Small fingers firmly curled themselves over his middle finger. Obi-Wan chuckled. Luke’s delight buzzed in the Force.
There was a change in the atmosphere around them. Obi-Wan raised his head and turned off the blade, plunging the cave into darkness. But it was not for long. On the walls, on the floor, and even on the ceiling of the cave, hundreds of flickering dots appeared right in front of the awed Obi-Wan. Slowly, they grew, turning from buds into amazingly beautiful flowers.
Obi-Wan took a step closer, bending down to examine the nearest blossom.
It was not big, slightly smaller than Obi Wan’s fist. The shade of it reminded Obi-Wan of the dark moonless sky on Yavin IV, when the stars shine brightest. The flower was shaped like a ball, numerous delicate petals curled around its center.
And the smell was magnificent.
Luke reached out to touch it but Obi-Wan gently caught his hand, pressing a soft kiss to it.
“Don’t touch it, little one. We were allowed only to look, would not be polite to overstep the boundaries.”
Obi-Wan could swear the Force laughed at him.
With one last parting glance at the glowing flowers, Obi-Wan turned around. He still needed to figure out how to get back to the top of the gorge.
Two days later he learned the name of the flowers.
Dinera-leus. The glow of hope.
Their petals had great healing ability and healers were ready to pay a lot for even one flower.
Obi-Wan did not hesitate for long. The Force showed him the cave for a reason. And he would use the given opportunity wisely.
Looking at the raising Tatooine suns, Obi-Wan let himself hope.
Anakin groaned trying to get his arms to cooperate and lift him up. His head was pounding like something had hit him. Hard. He curled into himself, wincing when the move jostled him and the pain doubled.
Anakin reached out to the Force and his breath hitched, eyes flying open in shock. There was so much Darkness around him, it was almost suffocating. Anakin had never felt anything like that. Sure, during the last few years the Force darkened significantly but this…
Frantically, Anakin widened his reach, searching for familiar force signatures. He could not be alone here, he just cou- There! Rex and Commander Cody were nearby as well as a couple of troopers from 212th. But Obi-Wan was nowhere to be found. What the kriff?..
After two minutes Anakin finally sat up and braved a look around. He was sitting on a sand (ugh, why?! Why?) dune, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Rex was lying flat on his back to Anakin’s right. He seemed unharmed and the Force confirmed it.
Commander Cody was sprawled on his side to his left. His bucket fell off, letting Anakin see his face. The troopers were lying next to their Commander. Anakin was not sure who exactly they were. His head was hurting almost as bad as that one time he fell from the speeder and it was making it hard to think.
He gritted his teeth touching the troopers’ signatures. They were alright, just asleep. Anakin let out a sigh of relief. Everyone was fine. Well, as fine as you could be, waking up on an unknown planet in a desert. Especially if you previously were on Actlyon. Don’t get him wrong, it was very nice to get away from that nasty smelling dirt-ball but Anakin preferred leaving planets on his own accord and remembering it.
Anakin stood up and stumbled toward Rex, dropping down on his knees next to him. He shook him a little. The Captain groaned, batting his hand away. He tilted his head to look at Anakin. “What the hell happened to my head?” He growled, sitting up with Anakin’s help.
Anakin snorted, relieved. “If you are talking, then you’re fine. You see anything?” He asked nodding at Rex’s visor. The Captain shook his head. He took off his bucket, hitting it a couple of times.
“Something fired it.” He muttered angrily, scanning their surroundings with quick eyes and turned back to look at Anakin.
“Any thoughts on where the hell are we and how we got here?” He asked bluntly, standing up on wobbly legs. Anakin shook his head, running a hand over his hair.
“No idea. I’m the first one to wake up and it happened literally just a few minutes ago. And my memory is kinda fuzzy.” Judging by the grimace he got from Rex, his Captain had holes in his memory too. He threw Rex’s arm other his shoulder, stabilizing the man and helped him hobble over to his brothers.
“Cody?” Rex called while reaching down to feel the pulse. Anakin felt him relax a bit upon finding it, so he scrambled away to check the other two troopers. “Come on, wake up, you’re not a princess to sleep all day.” Rex grumbled, shaking the Commander. He woke up with a moan of pain, clutching his head.
“Rex? What the- did I get drunk and made a bet with Wolffe that I can break the wall with my head?” Rex snorted, clapping Cody on the back.
“Nope. At least not this time.” He informed the clone with a smirk.
Cody shoot him a nasty glare but took Rex’s extended hand and stood up. Anakin was helping Peel take off his bucket since something in it broke and it got stuck. The other trooper – Crys – happily stretched on the ground, breathing deeply. “Ooooh, sweet Force, fresh air! I thought I would never smell you again!” He exclaimed dramatically, making Anakin and Peel laugh. Rex hid a smirk and Cody only shook his head a little.
“Peel, Crys, you alright?” He asked, quickly assessing their armor for new scratches or holes. When he found none, he did the same with Rex, ignoring his displeased grumble.
“Yep. Never been better.” Crys replied cheerfully from his place on the sand. Peel snorted, poking Crys’ arm with a tip of his boot.
“I’m fine, Commander.” He said, jumping back a little when Crys tried to hit him in the ankle. “But where is the rest of the company? And General Kenobi?” The trooper asked, frowning when his comm showed that it could not reach anyone from 212th or 501st. He tried a few different channels but the result was the same. Anakin’s face fell, as he observed Peel’s struggles.
“Alright, men. What is the last thing you remember?” Anakin questioned grimly, and reached out to take the comm from Peel.
“There was that rumor about a possible Sith temple on Actlyon. We were sent to check it.” Crys responded immediately, sitting up. Rex nodded, frowning in concentration.
“We rendezvoused with 212th and General Kenobi took command.” He recalled, looking at Cody for confirmation. The Commander inched his head, thinking.
“We camped near the ruins. General Kenobi selected several troopers to accompany us, ordering the rest to stand guard.” Cody said, looking around, searching for the rest of his men. "Wooley, Threepwood, Boil, Fives and Coric were with us.” His tone was calm but Rex could hear the underline of worry in it.
Anakin frowned at the comm, rubbing the back of his head in frustration. “Well, they are not here now. I think we got separated?” He offered helplessly, shrugging and giving up on the comm, deeming it a lost cause.
“Yep.” Crys cheered from the ground. “When we entered the ruins, General Kenobi took the rest with him and walked to the left. We went to the right.” The trooper snorted. “I heard Fives and Wooley were bickering so hard, Boil had to drag them away by their ears so they would not interfere with the General’s research.”
Anakin snickered. “Alright, we’ve got this part clear. But why were you with us?” He turned to Cody. “Aren’t you always two steps behind Obi-Wan?” Anakin jested the stoic Commander.
Cody raised an eyebrow. “The General asked me to watch over you.” He replied steadily. Anakin sputtered but Cody ignored him. “And he especially clarified that you are not to touch anything.” He said with a pointed look. An offended expression appeared on Anakin’s face. He crossed his arms and huffed.
“I did not touch it! The thing just started glowing when I came near!” Anakin protested loudly. He was subjected to four unimpressed stares. Recoiling a bit under their intensity, Anakin shifted. “Well, I, umm. I might have poked it? Just a little!” He rushed to say. Commander Cody folded his arms and leveled him a flat look.
Anakin fidgeted with a hem of his tunic, then dropped it abruptly. He looked up and rubbed his temple. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter now. We need to figure out where we are and find a way to contact the Council, seeing that our comms do not work.” The Jedi pondered, glaring at the device like it had personally offended him.
A chorus of exasperated ‘Sir, yes, sir’ from the troopers echoed his statement. Anakin nodded, satisfied. He looked around; his enthusiasm dimmed a bit. “Sooo, any idea which way we should go?” He was not looking forward to the track through the desert. Ugh, and the sand, the sand! And his blazing headache did not lessen, making Anakin grit his teeth and push the pain away.
Peel looked around and shrugged. “Take your pick, sir, I don’t think it matters. We’re in the middle of nowhere.” He tried to shake the sand out of his bucket, ignoring the futility of it. Rex frowned, watching Anakin intensely.
“Can’t you sense the way?” The Captain questioned. Anakin’s face fell and he bit his lip.
Shaking his head slowly, the Jedi tried to explain. "I… Something is wrong with the Force here. It is too Dark. And I’m not sure if I should announce my presence.” Anakin glanced over to the horizon, watching the seemingly endless desert. Something nudged his mind, some clue he could not grasp was slipping right through his fingers like the damn sand.
He wiped his brow angrily. It was too kriffing hot here. He had not felt so hot since he left-
Anakin froze. No. It could not be… Slowly, he raised his head up and looked at the sky. He stared in disbelief at the two familiar suns of the planet he had vowed never to set foot on again.
“Tatooine." Anakin rasped, his throat suddenly dry. “We are on Tatooine.”
Crys wrinkled his nose in distaste. “Ugh. We exchanged a dirt-ball for a dust-ball. Great.” He huffed, throwing an arm over his eyes.
Peel looked curiously at Anakin. “How do you know? Have you been here before?” The trooper tilted his head, dump hair plastered all over his face.
Anakin turned away sharply. “I was born here.” Was his curt answer as he started walking briskly, wanting to be done with this conversation. The mountains in the distance clued him about their location. “I recognize this place now. If we go this way, we’ll reach the city by the end of the day.” He announced, not even pausing to face the troopers.
The clones glanced at each other, shrugged and moved after the Jedi. Crys groaned dramatically and heaved up to his feet with Peel’s help. He patted his shoulder in thanks and placed his bucket back on his head.
Anakin was silent, his shoulders tense. He did not once take his eyes off the path he had set. Too many thoughts swirled in his head. Most of them unpleasant and painful memories. He tried to distract himself by focusing on his men.
Rex and Cody walked right after him, Peel and Crys a few steps behind them. Crys was whistling some carefree tune, pouncing a little. Peel looked around, scanning their surroundings for any sign of danger. Cody and Rex were talking quietly, too low to be overheard. Anakin closed his eyes, took a deep breath and pressed on.
They walked for two hours before Anakin suddenly halted on top of one dune. He gasped, his eyes became glazed. The Light he felt was fleeing from his reach. The Force around him swirled but he chased the sensation nonetheless. Something inside Anakin told him it was important. He just could not understand why yet and it frustrated him. The Light blinked out and Anakin growled.
Rex stopped as well, reaching out for his blaster with one hand. They worked together long enough to understand each other without words. And Rex reacted instantly, knowing by now that this particular look meant danger. “General?” He started. “Where’s it?” The rest of the troopers caught up quickly, Peel and Crys dropped down on one knee blasters out and ready to fire. Cody took position behind Anakin, covering his back.
Rex inched closer to Anakin who still did not say a word, staring blankly into the distance. “Sir?” The Captain called quietly, giving Anakin a sidelong glance. He was ignored.
Abruptly, Anakin’s hand flew up to his head. He gasped and swayed in place. Rex deftly caught him, holding him upright. “General!” Rex exclaimed worriedly. Anakin waved his hand at Rex, scowling.
“I’m fine, Rex.” He muttered, righting himself. “This place is just kriffing with my head.” Rex gave him a disbelieving look. Anakin rolled his eyes, huffing. “Really, Rex, have a little faith in me.” He complained with and gave the clone his best winning smile.
“I always have faith in you. Just not when it concerns your well-being.” Rex said with a deadpan. Anakin gasped in mock outrage, clutching his heart dramatically.
“Sir, did you find anything useful?” Cody cut in before the two of them could start wrestling. Anakin momentarily sobered, all mirth fleeing from his eyes.
He glanced in the direction from which the sense of Light had come. “I’m not sure…” Anakin said slowly. This whole situation was bizarre. “But I can swear that I felt Obi-Wan’s presence for a moment. I just can’t figure out why he is hiding from me.” Anakin growled in frustration. Cody frowned, lowering his blaster but gestured for Crys and Peel to stay on guard.
“If General Kenobi is somewhere here, then he is most likely moving towards civilization.” The Commander mused. Crys nodded in agreement. “So if we want to find him we should keep moving.” Cody concluded, looking at Anakin for final decision.
The Jedi furrowed his brow, staring down at the sand. “I suppose you are right, Commander.” He admitted after a moment. Anakin looked up at the sky again and groaned. “That’s why I hate this place.” He muttered, swiping his dump hair away from his face, glaring at two blazing suns. Turning around, he stalked forward, throwing up his hood. “Come on, we don't have all day.”
By the end of the day they reached a big city. “Mos Eisley. The home for the society’s worst scum.” Anakin announced grimly. And promptly started stripping down his Jedi robes, earning himself questioning looks from the troopers. With a sigh he explained: “These people have no moral principles. They will do everything for money. In less than five minutes after we enter, the half of the city will sell us to the Separatists without a second thought.”
“Sooo, you’re saying we need to stop being recognizable?” Crys asked doubtfully. “And how do you propose we do that? I mean,” he gestured between himself and Peel, “look at us! If not our armor, then our faces will give us away, because who are we? That’s right - clones. Only someone blind will not recognize us.” Crys exclaimed. Then frowned, distracted. “Although, I can’t be sure about that. With all this crap that happens to us on regular basis-”
“Crys.” Cody said sternly. The trooper swiftly closed his mouth. “While your point is valid,” the Commander started calmly, “it is not a good reason to start panicking. Plus, we all don’t have to go into the city. If the situation is indeed as General Skywalker described it, then it would be wise not to reveal our cards right away.”
He looked considerably at the city. “General, I think, as the only person familiar with the area and locals, you should go. Take Crys and Rex with you. They can pass for twins. Peel and I will find some shelter and wait for you here.” Cody proposed, nodding toward the nearest cliffs. Anakin looked up from the boot he was taking off and nodded.
“A sound plan, Commander. All we have to do is disguise ourselves.” He said cheerfully, dropping the boot. A wicked smirk appeared on his face as he eyed Rex.
The Captain narrowed his eyes. “I don’t like that look.” He declared gruffly. Anakin’s smirk grew.
“Oh, come on, Rex. Just take off your armor and let me work my magic.” He persuaded. Rex looked at Cody.
“I want my memorial made from R2.” Cody nodded, ignoring Anakin’s outraged ‘Hey!’ and reached out to take Rex’s chest-plate.
“Deal. But only if you make mine from Grievous.” Cody asked in turn. Rex whistled.
“Go big or go home, right?” He nagged Cody, while struggling to take off his belt. “Aren’t you afraid that your request will turn against you and bite you in the ass? What if he’s radioactive or something and your corpse will rise from the grave and terrorize the surrounding area giving poor souls it had caught lectures about droid rights?” Rex wondered out loud, with a wicked smirk.
Cody gave Rex his best flat look. “Would not be my problem.” Crys snorted, dumping his bucket into Peel’s waiting hands. He bended down to take off his boot.
“Have you ever thought about becoming a comedian after the war, Commander? I am sure you will be a hit.” Crys asked mock serious. Peel huffed shoving the armor pieces into his bag.
“Right, as if our Commander would want to be so far away from General Kenobi.” The trooper uttered under his breath. Crys snickered. Cody leveled them both a murderous glare which sent shinies covering in fear but had no effect whatsoever over these two.
Anakin loudly clapped his hands and took a step back from Rex. “All done!” He declared with a proud expression.
Rex took a deep breath, as if preparing himself for the worst, and asked in a tired tone: “On a scale of a smuggler from Coruscant lower levels to Ohnaka, how creepy do I look?”
Cody actually paused, thinking, while Peel and Crys tried to suppress their laughter, making Anakin gasp in faux offend. “You have no fashion sense!” He condemned the clones in an overdramatic tone.
“Said a guy who wears the same clothes all his life.” Peel muttered lowly.
“And whose girlfriend needs an army of handmaids just to fit into a dress.” Crys backed him up just as quietly and the pair snickered until Cody shushed them with a stern look.
“It’s not that bad.” Cody argued lightly. Rex gave him a sceptic look. The corner of Commander’s mouth twitched up in a smirk. “You just look like a dirty pile of trash a Bantha had chewed up and spat out.” He added in a perfectly even tone without betraying his amusement. Rex groaned dropping his face into his hands.
Anakin rolled his eyes, wrapping a piece of cloth that he had torn from his tabard over his head to protect it from the sun and to hide his face. “He looks perfect for our venture.” Peel raised an eyebrow and considered Rex’s appearance dubiously.
Anakin had done impossible with limited resources. Over the blacks Rex wore he had wrapped pieces of his own tunics in such a way that it was now impossible to determine who or what was under all these layers. It masked Rex’s figure and physique perfectly, as well as the number of weapons he had on his person. A few grenades, several vibroblades and his blaster.
Rex glared at his General but Anakin gave him no mind. He was trying to catch Crys who was doing his best to avoid Anakin by hiding behind Peel and Commander Cody. “Come on, trooper, you can’t run forever!” Anakin tried to appeal to the clone. Crys made a considering noise.
“Nothing prevents me from trying.” He countered, peeking at Anakin from behind Peel. He yelped suddenly when Cody gripped him by his ear and dragged out of his hiding place. Anakin rubbed his hands together in anticipation.
Ten minutes later all three were unrecognizable. Anakin smirked proudly and turned around, starting his trek toward the city. “Come on, the sooner we get there, the sooner we can get out.” He said with faux cheer. Rex and Crys dutifully trailed after their Jedi.
Cody shook his head, gathering the rest of the ammunition and followed Peel, who was marching toward the cliffs. They found a semi-comfortable looking nook and hid there.
All the time they were waiting for the ‘scouting party’ to return, Peel was trying to readjust the comm to get at least some sort of signal. Cody glanced at him from time to time, while mostly watching the surroundings.
It’s been two hours before Cody noticed a movement on his right. He shifted a little to get a better view but overwise gave no indication that he had seen anything. The person moved closer. They were cautious, slowly climbing over the cliffside, closer to the two troopers.
Peel finally put down the comm with a frustrated sigh and flopped down on the sand. “This is hopeless.” He muttered. “I have no idea why it is not working, since everything is in order. No fried parts, no sand inside, nothing!” Peel ranted, ruffling his own hair with a groan. Cody hummed in leu of answer, still tracking the small figure. Peel seemed to notice it and froze for a bit, before relaxing.
‘A threat?’ He signed casually, making it look like he was just flexing his fingers.
‘Possibly, keep an eye on it.’ Cody replied. He did not know much about locals but he heard enough about Jawas from Skywalker and his astromech to know that those little desert rats always meant trouble. He gripped his blaster tighter and forced himself to stay still. No need to provoke them.
“Are you stormtrupes?” A young sounding voice suddenly chimed in. Cody almost jumped in surprise.
He looked up and saw what seemed to be a little humanoid boy dangling down from the cliffside above them. Cody relaxed a little. It was just a child, not a Jawa. Peel cocked his head up to examine the kid closely, Cody followed his example.
The kid was dressed in a light tunic and had a scarf wrapped around his head. The lower half of his face was hidden behind it too, so Cody only saw curious blue eyes which looked between him and Peel with interest. He did not seem afraid so it was a plus.
“What’s a stormtrooper?” Peel asked in return. The kid scrunched his nose.
“Dunno. Uncle Ben said they are Imperial army. They wear white armor and have blasters just like you! But uncle said they’re dangerous and you don’t seem dangerous so you can’t be str- strom- eh, storm-troop-ers.” The kid finally said, beaming at them. Then he tilted his head. “Who are you?” He asked again.
Cody shared a helpless look with Peel. Did this kid have no self-preservation? “No, we are not stormtroopers.” Cody told the kid, carefully weighing his words. “We are simple mercenaries.” He finally decided on a legend. The kid did not seem discouraged by this.
He gasped and almost fell down. “Really? Have you seen the space? Do you have a spaceship? Can I see it? Do you have a droid? I do have Buddy, but he does not count since he is not really mine. Can I touch your armor? It looks so wizard!” The kid rumbled, sliding down the cliff and landing neatly next to Cody.
The clones were a little taken aback by the sheer enthusiasm. They did not interact with natborn shinies often and mostly those were Jedi shinies. And well, they were slightly different from the non-Jedi shinies, if what Cody heard was true.
The kid was hanging off Peel now, chatting a mile a minute, asking questions about his blaster and actually waited for answers. He seemed really interested and when he saw Peel’s comm, he squeaked in delight and asked to take a closer look. With the kid successfully distracted, Cody decided to mull over the new information.
There was some kind of Empire here, with an army and enough money to outfit them with plastoid armor. They certainly were dangerous. Cody was glad that Skywalker insisted on disguising. He did not want to think that might have happened if they had just walked into the town.
Speak of the Devil. The sounds of multiple footsteps and groans reached Cody. He stood up and peeked out of their hiding place. Skywalker was frowning and leading Rex and Crys who carried three packs toward them. Cody saluted and let them pass inside. He would have to ask if they found anything later.
It was an indication of how deep Anakin was in his thoughts that he didn’t immediately notice an outsider in their camp. Rex raised an eyebrow at Cody when the kid waved at them in greeting. Cody shrugged and took one pack from him. Rex rolled his eyes and bended down, hands on his knees, to look kid in the face.
“Hello, kiddo. What are you doing here alone?” He questioned, snapping Anakin out of his brooding.
The kid looked up at Rex, eyes wide, jaw hanging open. He glanced at Cody then at Peel then at Crys and them returned his gaze back to Rex.
“Are you all brothers? Uncle Ban said that people who look very much alike are almost always twins but there are four of you, so you can’t be twins and your hair is different and eye color too, but you still so similar it’s sooo wizard! I’ve never seen four twins before, you don’t see a lot of huma- hum- humanoids here and it’s alright, I have my family but at the same time-”
“Whoa, kid, don’t forget to breathe!” Crys cut in, a little panicked. The kid smiled at him sheepishly. Crys snorted and ruffled his hair. “Now, back on track. Don’t you need to get back home?” He looked out on the sky and frowned. “It’s pretty late.” The kid gasped.
“I forgot about time! Uncle Ben is going to be sooo worried!” He cried out, jumping up. Cody stepped aside to let the kid out but he had stopped abruptly and turned back to them, looking concerned. “Are you going to stay here?”
“Perhaps.” Cody answered cautiously. They did not need the kid to go and tell the whole city about them. But the kid only gasped again.
“You can’t stay here!” He exclaimed, throwing his hands up. “There is a big storm coming and it’s bigger than every other one I’ve seen. Uncle Ben said we will have to stay home for at least four days!” The troopers shared a look. Anakin grimaced.
“Another reason why I hate this planet.” He muttered and stood up with a groan. He stared at the kid a little awkwardly. “Thank you for the warning, kiddo. Do you need help to get back to your home?” Anakin asked, sounding more serious. The kid shook his head.
“Nah, I’ll just go through the caves. It’ll be faster.” He gestured to the cliffs vaguely and Anakin frowned.
“Caves? Wait, you mean the Whispering caves?” He asked in slight horror. The kid did not seem to notice that. He just nodded and smiled.
“Yeah! They are sooo huge and the sounds are funny there. Bo usually comes with me and we shoot womp rats.” He said cheerfully. Anakin blanched.
“Womp rats? Oh no. We are escorting you back home.” He told the kid matter-of-factly and barked an order: “Gather the camp, we need to move.”
Crys groaned but stood up, muttering curses under his breath and complaining about his poor tired legs. Peel just whacked him over his head and he shut up.
They quickly donned their armor back on and ten minutes later were following a happy child down into the cave tunnels. The kid seemed pretty comfortable and knew very well where he was going. He was tugging Anakin forward and asking questions about his metal hand.
Cody decided to spent their unexpected free time asking some questions. He signaled to Crys and Peel to take the watch and pulled Rex closer to him.
“Anything to report?” He whispered, trying not to distract the kid from Anakin who looked mildly uncomfortable but oddly pleased with attention at the same time. Rex shook his head with a sigh.
“Nothing much. The city is a Sith-hole with criminals and bandits crawling out of every nook. General managed to bargain for some rations but that’s all. We did not see other troopers or any sign of General Kenobi.”
Cody suppressed a sigh and gestured for Rex to continue. “And those… citizens,” Rex spat the word out like it was a rotten egg, “are mostly smugglers, slavers and spice-jackers. So no parting with any information for free.” He finished bitterly. Cody nodded grimly and was about to aske another question when the kid yelled: “We are here!”
Cody glanced up just in time to see the kid rush over to the crude carved stone ladder in the wall and climb up. Judging by the sound he also opened the hatch or something similar in the celling to clear the passage. Anakin ran after the kid, screaming for him to wait and disappeared into the passage. With a sigh, Cody positioned himself to cover his men while they climbed, and hastily followed them after Rex yelled at him.
He had to blink a couple of times to readjust his vision to the outside light. It was getting darker but Cody still could see the others. They all were standing on the top of the mountain on some kind of platform. Cody looked back at the pass he had just climbed out and closed it with a hatch. He nodded to himself and glanced up again.
The kid was bouncing on his feet, his scarf now wrapped around his neck revealing a cloud of light blond hair. He tugged at Anakin’s hand, calling: “Come on, come on, come on! You’ve gotta meet uncle Ben, he’s the best!” The kid said, skipping down the well-used path.
“Oh yeah. We surely need to meet this uncle Ben.” Anakin grumbled, gripping the kid’s hand tighter. “Someone needs to tell him about appropriate games for young children.” He muttered angrily, not noticing amused looks his troopers shared. “Womp rats! Whoever thought it was a good past time for a kid?” Rex rolled his eyes fondly and picked up his pace a bit to catch up with Anakin.
The kid led them down to the foot of the mountain and confidently turned to the right into the narrow empty space between two mountains. Soon, he turned to the left and the group emerged into a small clearing.
Cody could see a vague shape of a hut that stood on the far side of the clearing and seemed to blend into the mountain behind it. The hut’s door opened and a cloaked figure stepped into the night air. The kid let out a happy shriek and ran forward.
“Uncle Ben, I’m home!” He announced as he reached the figure.
The figure dropped down to their knees and seemed to check the kid over, who let them do it without a fuss, leading Cody to think that it was their usual routine. Waving his hands excitedly the kid pointed at the clones. “And I made friends! They are mer- mar- mercen- marc- ugh, mercenaries and wanted to-” The figure followed the kid’s gesture and immediately tensed when they saw the clones.
They said something to the kid, cutting his chatter off. He looked up at them in confusion but did not ask any questions, hurrying inside the hut and slamming the door shut behind him.
The figure slowly straightened up and turned to face the group. Their hood was up, hiding their face but experience let Cody see the tension in their shoulders. He tried to reason with himself that it was simply because the kid’s guardian was wary of strangers but again, something told Cody that it was not the case here.
Then he heard a click. Five red dots appeared and settled on each member of their little group. They all landed right between their eyes. Cody did not dare to take a breath. He only watched, silently gritting his teeth as the figure pulled out their blaster and pointed it at General Skywalker.
The silence was deafening. No one said anything, even Skywalker kept his mouth shut. Cody watched their opponent who seemed to be eyeing them intently. Finally, they spoke up and Cody’s world shuttered:
“I will ask you only once.” A familiar voice - that used to be so full of warmth but now was icy cold - stated. Cody froze like a tooka in highlight, his jaw dropping. In front of him stood General Kenobi, who lowered his hood and was looking at them without a hint of emotion in his piercing grey eyes. “Who are you and how did you find us?”
“Obi-Wan?!” Skywalker blurted in surprise. “What are you doing here?” He tried to take a step closer to his former Master but General Kenobi deftly raised his blaster up and turned it on. Skywalker froze on his track. He gulped and slowly raised his hands up. “Obi-Wan, if you are trying to prank us, well, it is not funny.” His attempt to joke fell flat as not even one muscle moved on Cody’s General alienly blank face. Cody had never seen that expression on his face and it honestly scared him.
“Answer the question.” General Kenobi repeated in the same eerie tone. Skywalker frowned.
“Seriously? You know pretty damn well who we are, Obi-Wan. But alright, I’ll humor you.” He spat out, sarcasm lacing his voice heavily. General Kenobi did not react. Skywalker pointed at Rex. “This is Capitan Rex, he’s under my command. And I am, if you need a reminder, your former Padawan Anakin Skywalker.” He was getting irritated and Cody suppressed a tired sigh. How General Kenobi was able to deal with him was a mystery for all GAR.
“These two are Crys and Peel from 212th and this,” Skywalker pointed at him, “is your Commander – Cody.” He dropped his hands down to fold them on his chest. “Satisfied?” He quipped, clearly still thinking that it was some kind of prank.
But Cody was not so sure of it. He studied General Kenobi closely and did not like that he saw. His beard had more grey places in it and where was a purely white strand in his hair on his right side. The lines on his face hardened and cheeks hollowed. And the black bags under his eyes were very prominent.
Just what in the Sith name was going on? What did that blasted thing it the Templ- Cody’s mind halted. That’s it. He tried to catch Skywalker’s attention and signed quickly: ‘The artifact, strange behavior.’ Skywalker’s eyes widened and he nodded slightly in understanding.
Meanwhile, General Kenobi shook his head slowly as he watched their interactions. “You could have came up with a better legend.” He said to no one in particular. Skywalker huffed.
“Mercenaries are a great legend, it always works.” He grumbled under his breath. General Kenobi just continued to look at him.
“It is. But your little feigning maneuver is ridiculous. Did you really expect me to believe you to be Anakin Skywalker?” He asked, still detached. Skywalker gawked at him, offended.
“And why exactly can’t I be Anakin?” He asked just to be contrary. General Kenobi gave him a rueful smirk, showing emotions for the first time during this whole conversation. And his answer made Cody’s ears ring.
“Because Anakin Skywalker died five years ago. Along with the whole Jedi Order and the Republic.” General Kenobi snorted at their shocked faces. “Come on, don’t pretend like it’s a surprise to you.” He taunted with an eyeroll and a moment later his blank mask was back in place. “And now I want an honest answer – who are you?”
Suddenly Crys giggled a little hysterically behind Cody, making General Kenobi look at him. “Well, I guess you can call us a ‘blast from the past’. Get it?” He asked with a giggle and Cody watched the same realization down on Rex and Peel. Skywalker’s jaw fell. Crys just giggled harder.
Cody glanced at General Kenobi and abruptly found himself captured by his grey eyes. He suppressed a shudder. He did not need Force to know that he had a very bad feeling about this whole situation. Stars help them.
General Kenobi slowly shifted his gaze from Cody. He frowned slightly and made some hand sign. The red dots disappeared. General Kenobi hid his blaster back into his cloak. He took a step back and took the door’s handle. “The storm is coming.” He stated.
Skywalker cursed in Huttese. “Better get inside.” General Kenobi continued and stepped into the hut, leaving the door open in silent invitation. The troopers shared a glance and looked at Skywalker. He was still shocked so he simply followed General Kenobi inside. Rex, Crys and Peel hot on his heels. Cody was the last one. He took a deep breath to calm his shaking hands and took a step in, closing the door firmly behind him.