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the water behind a thousand mirages

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The man was nothing more than a crumpled heap in the shadows when Obi-Wan first saw him. A little further down the street, Owen and Beru bickered about which merchant had the best ration prices, and which had the highest quality. Obi-Wan only distantly heard their voices. His attention was fixed on the man, the ghost, who had come to Tatooine to haunt him.

Obi-Wan only came back to himself when the four-year-old boy he was attached to gave his hand a firm tug. "Uncle Ben," Luke said urgently, "they're leaving us behind!"

"Oh, I…" Obi-Wan tried to respond to Luke, but found he couldn't, his attention drawn back to the impossible figure.

The hair was different. There were hundreds, thousands of things that were different, really, but Obi-Wan found his attention was caught on the hair. His textured hair hung in a ragged, uneven halo around his face. It was wrong. It should have been neat, close-cropped.

"Ben, you alright?" Beru's voice filtered in, as if from a great distance.

The clothes were wrong—mismatched travellers attire, grungy and torn. It should have been neater. It should have been a uniform. Everything was wrong. Everything except the swooping shape crossing the man's left eyebrow, the one that Obi-Wan knew better than even his own scars.

Cody. Here.

"Know him?" Owen asked from Obi-Wan's left elbow. Obi-Wan jumped slightly, turning back to Owen, only then realizing just how lost to thought he had become. Luke, no-doubt unnerved by Obi-Wan's strangeness, let go of Obi-Wan's hand and grabbed at Owen's, hiding slightly behind his uncle's legs.

Obi-Wan smiled a faint apology. "Yes. I'm sorry, I must have gotten lost in…" Obi-Wan trailed off, looking back over to Cody.

"He's not in good shape," Beru said, beginning to move forward.

Obi-Wan blocked her movement before he was entirely certain what he was doing. He took her elbow, and moved her gently away. "No, he could be—stay back."

"What?" Owen asked, even as he and Luke backed up a few paces.

"I—this man may be working for—" Obi-Wan flinched at his own words, and tried again. "He may be a tool of the Emperor. I will…"

What. Kill Cody? Obi-Wan may not understand what had happened, but he knew Cody down to the blood and bones. Cody had turned on Obi-Wan, all the clones had turned on all the Jedi. That wasn't—it didn't make any sense. It was an action that left huge, gaping questions, and Obi-Wan was afraid of the damnation that might lurk in the answers.

"Who is he, Ben?" Beru asked, laying her hand along the small of Obi-Wan's back, her voice calm and steadying.

"Cody. He was a friend," Obi-Wan answered. "But he was also…" Obi-Wan considered and discarded word after word, until he circled around to the ugly truth that anyone raised on Tatooine would understand. "...a slave. And I didn't think to free him, until it was far too late."

"The Emperor's slave?" Owen asked, wariness in his tone.

"Yes." It was a gross oversimplification. It was the simple truth.

"Well, if he was an old friend of yours, we can't leave him in an alley. But if he's the Emperor's slave, we need to be careful, don't we?" Beru sucked her lower lip in and stared at the man.

"There is no, we," Obi-Wan said, firmly. After a moment, he softened his tone, and said. "I'm sorry, Owen, Beru, I have to take care of him. Take Luke and go. I'll see no danger comes to you."

"And when you say take care of him, do you mean…" Beru raised an eyebrow.

"I sincerely hope not. I'll patch him up, and then see what he has to say." Obi-Wan swallowed hard, letting his eyes linger over the two people that had become his home, his loves. "I hate to leave you two. But this must be done."

"And where are you going?" Owen asked, reaching down to scoop Luke up.

Obi-Wan gave a thin smile. "Back to the cave, I'm afraid."

Beru groaned. "After all the work we did to get you out of it!" She leaned into Obi-Wan's line of sight and, once she was sure of his attention, fixed him with a firm stare. "You are not leaving us. You are not staying out there. Get this Cody settled, figure out the danger, and then come back, you hear?"

Obi-Wan nodded, grateful for both the release to go and the order to come back. After a moment, reached out and laid his hand on her cheek. "I hear. And I will be back."

Beru covered Obi-Wan's hand with hers, and closed her eyes for a long second. "Good," she said, softly, then leaned forward and gave him a kiss. It was solid and warm, just like her presence. "We'll be waiting."

"Don't be stupid about this," Owen said gruffly. "If you need us, call us. You're not alone."

No, he wasn't. They had told him so, in words and actions, spent long hours and days and months repeating it until finally, Obi-Wan had believed it.

"I know," Obi-Wan said, trusting Owen would hear the truth of it.

Owen didn't kiss him, but Owen had never been one for public affection. He reached out and grabbed Obi-Wan's shoulder and squeezed it, and that was more than enough. "Take the speeder," Owen said gruffly. "We've got another, and we can get a ride home."

"Thank you." Now for the hardest goodbye. Obi-Wan crouched down and looked at Luke. "I'm going to go away for a little while."

"No," Luke protested, reaching for him. Obi-Wan let Luke wind his arms around Obi-Wan's neck and burrow his face against the loose fabric of Obi-Wan's tunic.

"I need to take care of my friend," Obi-Wan said, knowing as he said the words that Luke would never understand them. He was four. There was only so much empathy available to a four-year-old.

"So he comes home too!" Luke said instantly, like he had solved all the problems of the world.

"Not right now," Obi-Wan squeezed Luke one more time, before unwinding Luke's arms and standing.

"Soon," Luke insisted.

"Yes," Owen agreed, lifting Luke up into his arms. "Soon."

Obi-Wan inclined his head. "Go," he insisted.

They went.

Cody was too light as Obi-Wan lifted him, and not only because the familiar bulk of his armor was gone. Obi-Wan could feel the man's ribs underneath his ragged tunic. "What happened to you?" Obi-Wan murmured, as he started to make his way back to the cave.

Cody slept for almost sixty hours. Obi-Wan was responsible for the first forty-eight, when he had realized that Cody was mottled with bruises. Fresh ones, too. Whatever else had led him to that moment, it was clear that the immediate reason Cody was unconscious in an alley was a vicious beating. Obi-Wan used the Force to put Cody in a healing trance, covered Cody with bacta patches, and kept checking in until he was sure Cody was well on the mend.

But even after Obi-Wan had lifted the trance from Cody, Cody slept. Clearly, the man was exhausted. Obi-Wan nudged Cody into enough consciousness to swallow water or thin nutribroth, but aside from that, let him sleep.

It was partly care and partly cowardice. It was good that he was resting. It also meant that Obi-Wan could put off the inevitable confrontation.

Because it would be a confrontation, one way or another. If Cody still had programming to kill Obi-Wan, they'd fight, and Obi-Wan would have to try to incapacitate Cody without killing him. But Obi-Wan figured that if Cody had come to Tatooine still in the Emperor's service, he'd have come with a thousand men and a Star Destroyer or two. Which meant it was more likely that he'd managed to escape the Emperor, somehow.

In which case, a much more justified confrontation would happen. Of all the many guilts that found their home in Obi-Wan's chest, one of the heaviest was the fact that he had never tried to free the clones. He had found them! He should have asked questions. But they had seemed content as soldiers, and Obi-Wan and the Jedi had needed soldiers desperately.

Selfish. And it had damned the Jedi. But somehow, Obi-Wan had survived it. And now Cody was here.

Well, whatever came next, there was no point facing it sleep-deprived. Obi-Wan settled into the uncomfortable makeshift bed he made out of two chairs shoved together, and went to sleep.

When he woke, Cody's steady brown eyes were blinking back at him. Obi-Wan and Cody looked at each other for a long moment, before Obi-Wan got to his feet and asked, "Water?"

Cody gave a small nod, and Obi-Wan went to the kitchen.

Cody drank the water, and the nutribroth that Obi-Wan offered next, all without saying a word. He wasn't immediately murdering Obi-Wan, and Obi-Wan chose to take that as a good sign. He muttered something about finding Cody some clean clothes, and turned to leave again.

The sudden grip on his wrist was weaker than it should have been. Still, it was firm, and Obi-Wan turned to look down at the figure on his bed.

"You're real," Cody croaked, his trembling fingers squeezing Obi-Wan's wrist.

Obi-Wan closed his eyes and felt his heart break. "Yes."

"Been trying to find you. So long…" Cody seemed to run out of words, lapsing into silence again."

Obi-Wan reached down and covered the hand on his wrist. "You succeeded. And I'm not going anywhere. I promise."

Cody nodded, and his eyes slid shut again.

Cody slept another few hours, and the next time he woke he was able to make a trip to the small outhouse Obi-Wan had set up in a nearby cave with only minimal assistance. It was enough to tire him out, and he collapsed right back into bed again. He slept, he woke, and Obi-Wan finally felt he was coherent enough to ask, "What happened?"

Cody grimaced. "Too long with too little food. Group of street toughs jumped me. Frankly, sir, it was embarrassing."

"Please," Obi-Wan said faintly. "Don't call me, 'sir.'"

Cody's jaw twitched, and he looked away. "Suppose I lost that right."

Obi-Wan couldn't help his bitter laugh. It was enough to make Cody look over his way again. "I rather thought that I had lost the honor."

"I killed you!" Cody spat.

"Evidently," Obi-Wan gestured over his very-much-still-living form.

Cody clenched his fist and looked away.

"I'm sorry, not the time for humor," Obi-Wan said, feeling a stab of panic. All wrong, he was handling this all wrong.

"No, si—" Cody stopped and swallowed hard, before rolling over, putting Obi-Wan deliberately at his back. "No. I'm just tired." Cody closed his eyes and resolutely faked sleep. Obi-Wan knew it was fake. He had watched Cody actually sleep often enough. Still, he got up, and let Cody keep his dignity.

It was twenty minutes later that Cody gave up the pretense and said. "I expected you to kill me, if I ever did find you."

"I'm not going to do that," Obi-Wan said. Then, he thought of Luke, of Owen and Beru, of the family he had been building, and left behind for this. If Cody hurt them…Obi-Wan couldn't think about it. He decided to sidestep that particular ethical dilemma. "I think if anyone is owed some vengeance, it's you," he said instead.

Cody tilted his head to the side in a considering gesture. "Why?" he said levelly.

A test. Cody had some idea that vengeance may be owed, but he wanted to know what Obi-Wan thought.

Obi-Wan closed his eyes. "I know the clones turned on the Jedi, en masse, at the same time. That's too closely coordinated for it to be a mistake. And since then…there aren't many stormtroopers, out this way, but there's enough. Something stripped away your individuality. Something made you turn on us. One or two being frustrated, rebelling, I could understand that…but all together? No. Something went wrong, and I missed it."

"Palpatine had a kill switch installed in us. Literally, in that he flipped the switch and we killed you." Cody said the words levelly, a deep pain wrapped inside them.

"Oh, Force." Obi-Wan closed his eyes. It was monstrous. And Obi-Wan had allowed it to happen. He never should have served with clones. He should have fought them being turned into an army. He should have known what it meant. He should have known where it would lead.

"You didn't know," Cody said, almost conversationally. "I wondered…"

"Why did you find me, Cody?" Obi-Wan had to ask, in the face of that. "Why…if you thought I might…"

"Why'd you scoop me up off the street? Suspect it's the same answer." Cody sighed. "I managed to get free of the chip. I could do whatever I wanted next but…I had to know. You were too important to give up on."

"I wouldn't have blamed you if you had," Obi-Wan said, feeling the bitter truth of it. "I didn't know, but I should have. I should have questioned. I should have stopped the Republic from creating the clone army. Making you fight for us. The Jedi never should have—"

"Sir." Cody paused, then tried again. "Obi-Wan. If you had done that, the Kamoians probably would have killed us all."

Obi-Wan didn't have an answer for that. It may be true, but it didn't make it right.

"Come here," Cody insisted, propping himself up on an elbow.

Obi-Wan hesitated, before Cody started to move to swing his legs over the side of the bed. Halfway worried Cody would manage to spill over onto the ground, Obi-Wan hurried over to Cody's bedside. "What, no, stay in bed, I'll get you whatev—"

As soon as Obi-Wan got in range, Cody reached out with sudden speed and grabbed Obi-Wan's forearm, pulling him down. Cody had a second hand behind Obi-Wan's head and held Obi-Wan firmly in place. Then, almost gently, Cody brought their foreheads together. They breathed slowly together, sharing the same breath.

"What's done is done." Cody didn't pull away as he spoke, but stayed close, his breath from his words brushing against Obi-Wan's chin. "We can't undo it. We can only learn. I'm sorry, Obi-Wan. And I forgive you."

Obi-Wan felt the hot prick of tears burn in his eyes, at the unwarranted grace. "Thank you, Cody," he said, emotion thick in his throat. Inhaling slowly, he decided to be brave, to follow his commander into this personal battle. "I am also sorry. And while I don't think you need forgiveness, it's yours, however much you desire."

"Good," Cody released him, and then a minute later, Obi-Wan felt Cody's thumb brush along Obi-Wan's cheek, catching a tear that had escaped there. "Now, will you help me over to the table? I think I'm up for eating something more than just gruel."

Cody's recovery took a sharp change for the better after that. He moved more, he ate more, and with the worst of the tension between them broken, Obi-Wan's little cave filled with comfortable camaraderie.

One downside to Cody's turn for the better was that he finally became coherent enough to recognize the issue with their sleeping arrangements.

"What is that?" Cody said, pointing at the two chairs shoved together with a blanket across them.

"Not the worst thing I've slept on," Obi-Wan said, truthfully, but not that truthfully. It was a pretty abysmal bed.

"We'll share," Cody said firmly. "Won't be the first time."

No, it would not. Two men with the rank and privilege to be given their own rooms, Obi-Wan and Cody had learned fairly early in the war that they both slept better in company. With someone watching their back, specifically. Obi-Wan's room went abandoned. It was more important that the brothers knew where to find Cody, and this made it all the easier for Cody to find Obi-Wan.

But that was before, while Obi-Wan was still blithely mistaking slavery for duty. Things were more difficult, now. "I don't mind—"

"I do," Cody said, and that was that.

Obi-Wan felt prickly with awkward hesitation as he crawled into bed. What's done was done, Cody had made that clear. But what came next was something they'd need to figure out together. It seemed arrogant to assume they'd be able to lean back on their old easy intimacy.

"We can trade off, if you'd rather," Cody said, his mind apparently turning towards the same thoughts, carefully keeping himself away from the narrow strip of bed that divided them. "If it's not…I didn't think that maybe you wouldn't want—"

Obi-Wan gave a rough laugh. "What a pair we make." He turned, deliberately stretching a leg out so his foot brushed Cody's calf, the little 'I'm here' gesture that they had used before. "I was worried you're feeling obligated."

"Not obligated. Just know I won't be able to sleep knowing you've folded yourself into a knot across the room." Cody turned, slanting towards Obi-Wan slightly. "I've never felt obligated," he said, his voice strangely tender, "by any beds we've shared, or things we shared in bed."

Obi-Wan closed his eyes, the worry he'd been trying to not even think about crashing over him. They'd shared a soldier's understanding of hands and bodies touching in the dark. It had been fast, clothes always staying half-on in case they got called away. Despite that it was still comforting and good and safe in a way not much else had been during that time. At least, it had been for Obi-Wan. They'd fallen into each other without much in the way of conversation or explanation, and Obi-Wan had been seized with fear that he'd taken advantage.

Next to him, Cody gave a sadly amused chuckle. "Knew it. You've been tying yourself into knots about this, haven't you." Warm lips brushed the side of Obi-Wan's forehead. "Stop it. And get some sleep."

Obi-Wan pressed his foot more firmly against Cody's thigh in answer. He followed Cody's very sound advice, and went to sleep.

"So," Cody said, out of the blue, holding up a small sealed ration pack from Obi-Wan's shelf with a thoughtful expression on his face. "What happened eight months ago?"

Obi-Wan looked up from where he sat mending a tunic and raised his eyebrows. "Hm?"

Cody tossed the ration pack up and down. "All your supplies are either brand new or more than eight months old. So I assume you abandoned this as a safe house about eight months ago. Any threats we need to worry about?"

Obi-Wan blinked, Beru's face suddenly superimposed over Cody's in his memory. The look on her face when she'd realized exactly how he'd been living between his occasional trips to their homestead shone bright in his mind. For two years he'd managed to get away with being a welcomed-but-periodic houseguest, but six months after Beru realized he lived in a cave, she had convinced Obi-Wan to move in with them full time.

"Not…a threat," he said, a second too late. He was struck with sudden longing. He missed her. Her and Owen and Luke and the hope and promise of the future they had been building. But now he had Cody back and he couldn't regret his choices. He'd sacrifice far more than his own contentment for the man in front of him.

It wasn't even that much of a sacrifice. More of a trade, one happiness for another.

Cody tapped the ration pack against his free palm, giving Obi-Wan an interrogative gaze. He wasn't going to leave it at that.

"I found a better living situation," Obi-Wan admitted. "But there were others nearby. I didn't want to bring the Empire down on them when I brought you home."

"Or a half-mad clone, either," Cody said, with wry self-depreciation.

Obi-Wan felt a prickle of shame run through him. Cody wasn't a danger, and Obi-Wan shouldn't have—

"No, don't apologize," Cody said quickly, in response to whatever was showing on Obi-Wan's face. "I'm never going to fault you for a good tactical decision."

"No, you never did." Even if it meant sacrificing themselves for the greater good. How much of that diligence had been Cody, and how much had been whatever was in that kill switch?

"Still." Cody broke through Obi-Wan's recriminations. Obi-Wan looked up to find Cody grimacing down at the ration pack. "I'm keeping you from something important."

"You're important." Obi-Wan shook his head. "I'm where I should be."

Cody tilted his head to the side, giving Obi-Wan a piercing look. Abruptly, he said, "You're not what I expected."

Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow and tilted his head. Go on.

Cody, still able to read Obi-Wan as well as ever, continued. "I wasn't sure what I would find. It was luck, you know, that I heard about you at all. After I—" Cody cut off, his lips pressing into a flat line as he visibly struggled with words. Obi-Wan bit back any impatience and waited for Cody to sort through it. "I can't describe how, but the programming was wrong. I figured out—a bit, of how to fight it. Kept practicing. Built a road back to myself. And then I—I ran."

Cody stumbled over his words, and after a moment he darted a glance up at Obi-Wan. The emotions on his face were plain to read. Shame. Running was not what a dutiful soldier did.

"Good," Obi-Wan said firmly, banishing that ugly guilt as firmly as he could. "You know how to read a tactical situation. Getting out was the only sensible response."

Cody swallowed, and inclined his head in a brief gesture—maybe acknowledgement, maybe gratitude. "And then I just…did what I could. I tried to find brothers where I could, see if I could help them break free. Mostly I just tried to survive. I heard a troop of clones had been deployed to Tatooine. So I came here. And then I heard about the wildman of the wastes, old Ben Kenobi." Cody narrowed his eyes at Obi-Wan. "You didn't even change your last name?"

"It's not that uncommon of a name." Obi-Wan shifted, feeling defensive. Maybe he should have had more of a thought for security.

"Well, I'm glad you didn't, I guess," Cody said. "I probably never would have found you if you had used basic operational security."

Obi-Wan gave a lopsided smile at the barb wrapped in appreciation. He had missed having friendships where he could be mocked and cared for at the same time.

"Still, I thought…" Cody paused, worrying at his lower lip with his teeth, a gesture of deep thought. "I thought you'd be broken. Either that or secretly waging a one-man war against the Empire. Instead you're just…you. But here."

Obi-Wan took a deep breath. "It's been four years. I spent some time broken. But I think I've managed to patch myself up again." Obi-Wan paused, and ducked his head in acknowledgement. "I had some help."

"The 'others' that were nearby?" Cody asked.

Obi-Wan nodded.

Cody didn't ask. Not with words. There was something in his posture, though, an offering to listen if Obi-Wan wanted to share more.

Obi-Wan found that he did. "I came here because there was…a child. And that child needed to be kept safe. He has family in the desert. I brought him to be with his family and then came to this cave."

Cody nodded and looked around. "I'm guessing you weren't just hiding. Keeping an eye on things?"

Obi-Wan gave a small smile. "You know me too well, friend. Yes. I wanted to make sure the boy was safe."

"So what happened eight months ago?" Cody tossed the ration pack one more time, then caught it and turned to put it in the cabinet.

"Actually three years ago. There was a gang war brewing between two factions of the Hutt criminal empire. Normally it doesn't get out this far, but one side had the bright idea of choking off the water supply. The boy's family are moisture farmers."

Cody turned back around. "I think it's safe to assume that means they have something to do with the water supply."

"Yes. And normally I'd be able to handle some angry local criminal element without even alerting the family, but they brought a speeder-mounted blast canon that gave me some difficulty." Obi-Wan reached down and tugged off his left boot, revealing the whorles of scarred, burned skin that patterned his leg and foot.

"Sir," Cody said reproachfully, leaning in to get a closer look.

Obi-Wan decided not to chide the slip. It had been Cody's job to prevent him from getting injuries like this, he had the right to fall back into his old fussing.

"Looks bad. Did you lose mobility? I didn't notice a limp." Cody's face furrowed as he visibility tried to think through Obi-Wan's motions up until then.

"No. Some numbness is the only lingering damage. But at the time it was enough to knock me out of the fight entirely. I expected to die two second later. But before I could, the boy's aunt and uncle broke over the nearby ridge and flattened the remaining three fighters with the blaster rifles they normally use to keep the local rat population down."

"They killed three gang members with a pair of ratter blasters?" Cody's voice was the same one he had used to gently suggest to one of his men that perhaps the droid that he had killed was not, in fact, twelve feet tall with a flamethrower.

"You haven't seen the local rats," Obi-Wan said, in the face of that incredulity. "They took me in and patched me up. And then they let me go, with strict instructions to return next month to make sure the leg was healing properly. I did. And then I came back the month after that and the month after that until…"

"Until eight months ago when you moved in," Cody filled in.

Obi-Wan shook his head. "Until six months before that, when Beru—the boy's aunt—found this cave. I was quite happy with the arrangement, and she seemed to deem the living quarters unsuitable. She began a campaign to get me to move in. I held out as long as I could but I ultimately crumbled in the face of her and Owen's persistent hospitality."

Cody gave a soft laugh. Then his face fell, lines in his skin getting more drawn and serious. "They must be furious you moved back here."

Obi-Wan shook his head. "They understand. They were with me when I found you."

"I'm undoing all their hard work," Cody said, sounding bitter. He paused a long moment, before adding, "You can go back Obi-Wan. I'm fine, I see that you're safe, I'll just—"

"Cody, don't be an idiot," Obi-Wan said bluntly. "I'm not letting you go."

"And what if I have business I need to get back to?"

Obi-Wan raised one eyebrow, figuring that would convey the skepticism that Cody would end up half-starved and beaten in an alley if he had actual pressing business. "Do you?"

Cody looked away.

"Cody," Obi-Wan closed his eyes. There was a door locked inside him where he kept all his grief, all his loss and sorrow and sadness. He let it out every now and then, when he really had time to weep and wail and mourn. He usually only turned to the door when he needed to, when what was inside was howling at the door, demanding release. Today, it was quiet, but Obi-Wan still turned to the door and wrenched it open, not so much for his sake, but for the sake of his friend. "In a day, I lost everything. The Jedi were gone. The temple was gone. I lost my brothers and sisters. I lost Anakin. I thought I lost you too. I'm afraid I've lost too much to be anything but selfish over this."

Cody took that in with a blink, and then folded himself into something like an awkward parade rest.

Obi-Wan gave a sad smile. Expressing emotions had never been either of their forte. "Cody, don't mistake me, if you honestly need to go, you'll go with my blessing. But I'm so grateful that you found me. As long as you want to be here, this is where I want you to be."

Cody shook himself loose, paced over to Obi-Wan, and sat down in the second chair. "Your family, though."

"I can visit."

"They'll want you back."

"Then I'll take you too," Obi-Wan said with finality.

Cody tensed his jaw and looked away, like he couldn't believe it was that simple.

It wasn't Cody's fault. He didn't know Owen and Beru. He didn't understand how they were…solid, that was the best word. Obi-Wan wasn't ruining his relationship with them by being here. This was something that needed doing, and so it would be done. However long it took to do it well.

"I'm glad I found you," Cody finally said, the words coming out quiet, but sure. "I don't know about the rest, but I'm glad of that, at least."

"We'll go from there," Obi-Wan said. After a moment, he reached out and took Cody's hand. He squeezed it. Cody squeezed back.

Two days later Cody went out for a jog, of all the ridiculous things. He came back to the cave with a fierce smile on his face and bleeding tooth marks in his arm. "Alright," he said, his grin showing his teeth. "I believe you about the rats."

Obi-Wan applied bacta, terse lectures about the dangers of wandering around Tatooine, and snapped off curse words in equal measure. Cody bore them all with good grace and a smile that refused to fade.

"I brought back one of the devils for lunch." Cody gestured to the mouth of the cave. "Fresh meat!"

Obi-Wan made a face.

"We can't live on rations forever," Cody pointed out, like Obi-Wan wasn't painfully aware of that already. "It's this or…"

"Or?" Obi-Wan asked.

"Or we go to dinner with your family."

Obi-Wan looked from the mouth of the cave, to Cody's still-smiling face. "Did you do all this as part of a plan to—"

"Not a plan, exactly." Cody's smile finally faded, and he looked seriously at Obi-Wan. "I can't keep you out here forever. You need to see them again and it's not going to get less awkward by putting it off."

"You could have just asked. You didn't need to go terrorizing the local wildlife," Obi-Wan muttered.

"Well, honestly, the not-plan only really came together when I was jumped by the bastard. But I'm good at improvising." Cody said with a small, self-important nod.

Obi-Wan let out a low chuckle. "Very well, then. I'll make the call, you bring the rat inside. If you think it's bad, you really don't want to see the wildlife its corpse attracts."

He felt a little friction of nervous energy as he paced over to the holocom and keyed in a familiar code. After a few seconds, Owen's fuzzy blue face sprang into view.

"Everything alright?" he asked without preamble.

"Yes it's…going well, actually. Well enough that I actually wondered how you'd feel about me bringing him by. To um, well, yes, meet you two. And Luke."

Owen gave him an even look, no words were needed. You're sure he's not a danger, then? mixed with a side of You really trust him around Luke? But Owen knew that Obi-Wan never would have called if he had thought Cody meant trouble. "Tonight?"

Obi-Wan nodded, and gave Owen a small smile. "Yes."

"Alright then." Owen paused a moment longer, half-reaching for the call terminate button before he added, uncharacteristically. "We've missed you."

Obi-Wan put his fingers to his lips, and brushed the small figure of Owen. "I've missed you too."

"Be good to have you home," Owen said, and then the call shut off.

Obi-Wan turned to find Cody watching him. Cody's eyes flicked from Obi-Wan to where the now-still commlink sat. "You really care about them," Cody said softly, something aching in his tone.

"Yes," Obi-Wan replied. "I'll be happy to have you meet them."

"Right," Cody said, like he was bracing for battle. "Right."

The speeder ride over to the Lars household was quiet in an uncomfortable sort of way. Cody was uncharacteristically still in the passenger seat. Obi-Wan wanted to know what was going on in his head, and though he had more tools than most to figure out that sort of thing, he wasn't going to pry. Cody could tell him what he wanted, when he was ready.

Beru was outside as they pulled the speeder up, Luke on her hip. Obi-Wan nearly tripped out of the speeder in his haste to greet the boy, who had his arms out and was waving excitedly.

"Hello there you," Obi-Wan said, hustling over to grab Luke before he tipped out of Beru's hold. "How are you?" He looked from Luke over to Beru, trying to make it clear the question was for both of them.

"We've been managing here," Beru said with a warm little smile. Luke started eagerly babbling about a skittermouse he had been chasing across the garage and Obi-Wan very seriously nodded along, though more than half his attention was on the cautious meeting of Beru and Cody.

"You must be Cody," Obi-Wan heard Beru say. "It's such a pleasure to finally meet you."

Cody gave her a formal nod. "Likewise, ma'am."

Beru gave Cody a warm smile. "Should have known any friend of Obi-Wan's would be chock full of manners. We don't need to rest on formality, though. You can call me Beru, come on in, I don't like the look of that horizon. Suspect we're going to get a duststorm rolling in during dinner."

They all went inside to find Owen at the table. He gave one of his rare smiles to Obi-Wan when he walked in. Obi-Wan smiled back. He hadn't even been gone all that long. Still, it was good to be greeted.

Owen gave Cody a nod that was positively warm and open, by Owen standards. Obi-Wan handled introductions, that time, and then took the time to introduce Cody and Luke. Luke gave Cody a considering look, then asked, "Do you want to see my room?"

"Um," Cody shot Obi-Wan a frantic look.

"It's a mark of approval, by toddler standards," Obi-Wan informed him. "Come on, let's go while Owen and Beru finish getting everything set up. Kindest thing we can do is keep this one"—Obi-Wan scooped Luke up and gave him a rough bounce that yielded high pitched laughter—"out of their hair."

Luke took his duties as tour guide seriously, showing Cody around his small room. Cody wound up squatting with his elbows on his knees, engaged in a surprisingly serious debate about the engine capabilities of a troop transport. Obi-Wan was struck with a sudden sense of right watching the two of them.

Owen and Beru had helped pull him together after he'd lost everything. Obi-Wan had his nights where he woke up screaming, but they were fewer and fewer, and the solidity of his family was a lifeline to hold on to when it felt like he was getting swept away by the storm of his past. They were his future, he had decided it, and he made a choice every day to keep building with them.

Having Cody show up should have felt like a blaster bolt tearing through the fragile foundations of that future, but it didn't. Instead, it was a strange and pervasive peace that settled over Obi-Wan, watching his past and his future seriously consider a model of an Acclamator-class assault ship.

"Dinner's ready!" Beru called up the stairs, and the moment broke. Cody straightened, and Obi-Wan cleared his throat, gesturing that all of them should make their way to the dining room.

Dinner was pleasant. Obi-Wan got the chance to get caught up on how the moisture farm was doing in his absence. "Same as always," Owen said with a shrug, which really seemed to capture most of it, but a little pressing got him to spill details of water yields and how the neighbors were doing and any shifts in the local power.

When the dinner was wrapping up, Obi-Wan started considering how best to gracefully extract himself and Cody. He made the mistake of looking too long at where the speeder was parked (or else thinking too hard about it, which was the trouble with young Force sensitives) and Luke launched himself into a wailing fit.

"You're not leaving again!"

Obi-Wan turned to talk to Luke, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw Cody's face, looking absolutely stricken. Obi-Wan would have to have a conversation with him, soon, about how to not let a four-year-old control the situation. It would be wildly hypocritical, since Luke had Obi-Wan wrapped around his pinkie finger, but Obi-Wan still had the duty to try.

"It's okay, Luke," Obi-Wan reached for him. He tucked Luke to his chest and mouthed back at Owen and Beru and Cody, I'll put him to bed.

Beru nodded and turned to Cody. "I'm sorry, we've been talking about ourselves the whole time. Tell me, how are you finding Tatooine? Anything tried to eat you yet?"

Obi-Wan listened to Cody start telling the story of the Womp Rat and he walked Luke up the stairs.

Luke had calmed down from the worst of his wails by the time he and Obi-Wan reached his room. Obi-Wan sat Luke down on the bed and sat down cross-legged on the floor next to him.

"I just don't see why you have to go." Luke sniffed. "Your friend is fine, he can stay here."

"It's not as easy as that, Luke. But I love that your big heart wants him to stay. And I miss being around. I promise, even when I'm not living here, I'll come visit all the time, alright?"

Luke sighed. "It's not as good."

"I know. But sometimes we have to do things slowly and carefully, so we make sure we're doing them right. That's one of those things I taught you, remember."

"Go slower," Luke said, in a shockingly good impression of Obi-Wan, "and you'll crash less."

Obi-Wan rubbed his shin dramatically, and Luke gave a reluctant giggle.

"Let's spend some time meditating, okay? That'll be good for slowing us down and making sure our mind is clear."

Luke followed Obi-Wan into the meditation willingly enough, and after working through some exercises, started dropping off to sleep. Obi-Wan stayed with him until Luke went to sleep, then stayed a little longer, his own thoughts feeling more clear and rested since he had spent some time meditating with Luke. Strange how that worked. In teaching others, we teach ourselves.

As he approached the top of the stairs, he heard Cody's voice. Good. He was glad they hadn't lapsed into awkward silence. Then, the gentle hum of conversation resolved itself into words, and Obi-Wan tripped over his feet, coming to a sudden halt just before the first step.

"It was like that part of me that cared, that part of me that I thought was the bedrock of who I was was gone. And I ordered him killed without a second thought. The last thing I remember, he was falling. For the longest time I wondered if he thought—did he know it was me? I went back and forth. Sometimes I hoped he had died not knowing. Most of the time I hoped he did know. That he hated me, in his last moments. I deserved that hatred."

Obi-Wan felt his knees buckle, and he grabbed blindly at the wall. Cody hadn't—he hadn't shared that. And it wasn't true. It wasn't true. Cody hadn't had a choice. Obi-Wan needed to get down there, right now, and tell him that. But for some reason, his feet refused to move.

"Oh, Cody," Beru's voice was full of pained compassion. "I can't claim to speak for Ben, but I do remember the look on his face when he saw you. It was the furthest thing from hate I can imagine."

Good. Thank you Beru. Obi-Wan relaxed a little, and tried to convince his feet to make their way down the stairs. But Obi-Wan's feet remained still, and he had to admit his curiosity was winning over the nagging guilt that eavesdropping was wrong.

"I know," Cody said quickly. "I do. He's been good to me, I don't want you to get the wrong idea. We've had it out and found a peace, I think. But I had figured…when I heard he was alive, I thought it was a chance to settle some things. Either give him the chance to take a shot at me, or see how I could help."

"No shooting happened," Owen said.

"No. But I haven't helped anything, either."

Wrong. Cody being here was—a miracle, it was a gift from the Force that Obi-Wan hadn't even thought to ask for. Obi-Wan thought he had told Cody. Apparently he needed to tell him again. Again and again and again until he heard it and believed it.

Cody continued, "He's…you two don't understand, he's happy here. I've never seen him happy. Closest I got was something like seeing him at peace. But happy? And I took it away from him."

Okay. Clearly the time had come to be a part of this conversation. Obi-Wan resolved to take a step forward. He made it as far as lifting a foot, as he heard Beru push back against Cody's self-deprecating words.

"You didn't do any taking. As I remember it, you were unconscious at the time. He made a choice," Beru said.

"It's a choice you should be furious about," Cody shot back. "He had all this and he left it to go take care of me. I think he feels obligated because of…all the past. I wish I knew how to get him to cut me loose. He doesn't need me."

"Life's not just about need," Beru said firmly. "Or obligation."

Obi-Wan made it softly down two more stairs, moving slower and slower. He knew when he entered the room the conversation would be over, and it felt important that it continue.

"There are things you're not seeing, too," Owen said, his low voice steady. "You've never seen him happy? Well I've never seen him at peace. Not until tonight. He settled with you here. Maybe obligation's a piece of it, but Ben loves you."

Obi-Wan stopped again, closing his eyes and sighing. Owen. The man didn't say much, but he cut straight to the truth of the matter. Every time. Cody brought Obi-Wan peace. And Obi-Wan did love him.

Obi-Wan was normally so insightful. Not, apparently, when it came to himself. He paused, and let himself stop hiding from the truth Owen so plainly revealed. Love.

Obi-Wan could hear the pain in Cody's voice when he said, "Not like he loves you. We never had this. He's home, here."

What Cody was saying was right and not-right and Obi-Wan didn't know how to pull the threads of that apart. But it hurt him, that Cody was hurting. That Cody somehow thought he didn't have a right to Obi-Wan's heart.

"Obviously," Beru said dryly. "Of course he doesn't love us the same. You think he loves me and Owen the same? But that doesn't mean it's any less true. Listen, Cody, I don't know if you want Ben to be your brother or your lover or something else entirely. What I'm trying to make clear is that Owen and I aren't stopping that. In fact, we rather encourage it. Love isn't a finite resource, and it does not grow weaker for the sharing. Understood?"

"Yes," Cody said, sounding rather like he had been run over by a freight train.

Obi-Wan knew the feeling. He was feeling it himself.

It wasn't the first time he'd heard the sentiment. Beru had given him a very similar talk when she had first caught Obi-Wan trying to retreat from the love she and Owen were trying to share with him. The first time around that talk had included more Jedi philosophy, and also a rather direct proposition, but it was similarly overwhelming.

Enough lurking. He couldn't let Owen and Beru handle all his emotional tangle. Obi-Wan decisively trod down the next step, making some noise. Below, the three of them fell silent. "Luke's asleep," he said as he arrived, to cover any awkwardness. "If it's alright, I'd like to call tomorrow. Let him know I'm not disappearing again."

"Of course it's alright," Beru said. She shook her head. "You should be calling more often."

There was an awkward moment in the goodbyes when Beru kissed him, and Obi-Wan automatically found himself looking to Cody when they pulled apart. Without even thinking about it, he tried to read Cody's every little twitch, trying to see if there was—jealousy? Disapproval?

He was distracted enough that he missed Owen coming up to grab Obi-Wan for his own kiss. Obi-Wan startled, before he relaxed into it, feeling Owen's warm hand pressing against his hip in a steadying gesture. Owen didn't do public affection. Not outside of…


"Message received," Obi-Wan murmured softly when Owen pulled away.

Owen gave a crooked half-smile. "Take the time you need. But come by again soon."

Obi-Wan was filled with quiet conflict during the ride back to the cave. He knew he needed to let Cody know what he had heard. But he didn't want to have the conversation here. He wanted to look at Cody fully, and not have his attention split between the road and the conversation. Fortunately, Cody didn't seem inclined to talk either, just kept staring out the window and watching the desert skim by.

They pulled up in front of the cave, and Obi-Wan couldn't keep the secret any more.

"Cody—" he started, at the same time Cody said, "So how much did you hear?"

Obi-Wan opened his mouth, then ducked his head. "You knew?"

"Heard you when you started moving again. Not sure how long you were there for. But it doesn't take that long to put a kid to bed."

"I came in while you were sharing about the…the order."

Cody gave a rough sigh. "I really hoped you hadn't heard that."

Obi-Wan twisted in the seat, turning to face Cody fully. "I don't blame you. And I don't hate you. I don't think I could ever hate you."

Cody flinched. But then he lifted his eyes to meet Obi-Wan's and his gaze was steady. After a moment of that deeply searching gaze, Cody leaned forward. Telegraphing the movement clearly, he tilted his head, and laid his lips on Obi-Wan's.

They hadn't done this before. Not exactly. Not deliberately. Their coming together was always borne out of a heady mix of convenience and affection. They'd kiss and grope and rub for easily explainable reasons: to have fun, to burn off some energy, to help the other person go to sleep. Not like this. They didn't kiss as a question.

But Cody was asking a question. If Obi-Wan had heard his confession of death, then Obi-Wan had heard Owen and Beru say 'love' too. Do you want this? From me? Now? Cody asked in that slight press of lips.

Obi-Wan answered as decisively as he knew how.

His hand came up to grip Cody's neck and he leaned into the kiss. He explored the soft curve of Cody's lips, sucking one in and biting. Cody groaned under his hands, deep and rich, and pushed forward again, nearly crawling into the driver's seat.

In the distance, something menacing sounding howled.

Obi-Wan and Cody broke away, quickly looking around the car.

"Inside?" Obi-Wan offered, and Cody nodded quickly.

Obi-Wan was half tempted just to tumble Cody into the bed and get them back on familiar ground. But this new gentleness was unexplored territory, and there was part of him that revelled in just this. Kissing, with no purpose or end goal, intimacy just for the sake of being close.

Cody's longer hair felt soft under his fingers. His fingers traced familiar lines along old scars, and explored new ones.

"What—" Cody couldn't quite get the words out, shivering and still trying to press closer to Obi-Wan. "You heard me. You heard the whole messy truth. I want you. I wanted you during the war and I never thought I could ask. I still don't really think I should, but you heard it anyway, so fine. I want you."

"Good," Obi-Wan growled, and swept Cody up in another kiss.

Cody returned it with enthusiasm, his hands starting to flirt with the edges of Obi-Wan's tunic, sending little pinpricks of heat through Obi-Wan at every brief touch. "What do you want?" Cody asked, his voice rough—with lust or emotion, Obi-Wan couldn't tell.

"I want this," Obi-Wan said, laying kisses along Cody's jaw, to his ear, taking the lobe between his teeth and worrying at it, listening to Cody gasp. "I want you to stay and I want this." He paused, and decided to put all his cards on the table. "I want you to move into the Lars homestead with me. I want you and I want them because I love you all, and I want to keep you all close to me."

Cody stilled, not quite growing stiff against Obi-Wan, but slower, more contemplative. He reached up and brushed some hair away from Obi-Wan's forehead. "That's quite the ask."

"I know," Obi-Wan said quickly. "I know, and I know it may not work that way, and I'm willing to take all the time you need—"

Cody moved forward and kissed him again. "Let's do dinner again. In a few days. Talk it through with everyone."

"I—really?" It was a strange feeling, after losing so much, having so much taken, to just be given a beautiful, good thing, with no strings attached.

"Yes," Cody's thumb traced Obi-Wan's eyebrow, across his cheek, down his jaw. "They're good people, and you should be home with them. And I think that I am home with you. We'll figure the rest out as we go."

"Alright," Obi-Wan said, suddenly having trouble forming sentences. There was too much joy bubbling in his chest to have room for words. "Yes."

"In a few days," Cody reiterated. "I have…some unfinished business with you first." He gave one of his rare smiles, a wicked curve to his lips, and started pulling Obi-Wan toward the bed.

"Oh! Oh yes," Obi-Wan said quickly, and happily followed.

Three Months Later

"Where is that boy," Beru said, bursting into the living room with her hands on her hips. "Luke! Luke!"

"Oh dear, what did he do now?" Obi-Wan asked, looking up from where he had and Cody had half the mechanical insides of a 'vaporator spread across the low table in front of the couch.

"Stole a half a yard of banthawool. He asked for it earlier and I said no. Looks like he decided to take it anyway. Luke!"

Cody tsked as he prodded at a broken servo. "I think I saw him run upstairs. Something was fluttering behind him."

"Thank you, Cody, you're a dear." She ambled over to the couch and dropped a quick kiss against Cody's hair. Obi-Wan watched as Cody turned slightly pink. Obi-Wan had a hunch that Owen and Beru were starting to feel out whether or not Cody was interested in making this romantic situation more of a balanced square. It'd be interesting to see how Cody held up in the face of their very straightforward seduction.

Beru straightened and turned towards the stairs, her voice bellowing out as she stalked forward, "Luke Skywalker we need to have a serious conversation about stealing."

Cody dropped the servo. Obi-Wan deftly reached out and caught it before it could shatter against the table. He grinned at Cody. Beru could certainly be distracting when she wanted to be.

"Skywalker," Cody said flatly.

"Oh." Obi-Wan felt a sudden flush of panic roll over him. "I could have sworn that came up already."

"I thought his name was Luke Lars," Cody hissed furiously.

"Well, we considered changing the name, but there's a heritage thing, Skywalker is an old Tatooine name—"

"Heritage my ass. It's Anakin's kid." Cody glared at Obi-Wan.


"You. Decided to hide from the Emperor. With Anakin's child. And you didn't bother to change either of your last names?" Cody's voice was starting to rise.

"I feel like it is very important right now, to remember that you love me," Obi-Wan said, offering Cody a winning smile.

"You're an idiot!" Cody stood up and stalked away. He turned and paced back, laying a kiss against the side of Obi-Wan's head. "I do love you. And you are an idiot."

"I can live with that," Obi-Wan said with a smile. He leaned his chin up for a kiss, and got a slight cuff to the back of his head for his trouble.

"Skywalker," Cody muttered, walking away.

Obi-Wan decided to wait at least a couple weeks before telling Cody about Luke's sister.