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Obi-Wan is infuriated by Qui-Gon’s stunt in the Council chamber. He apologizes, but gods, it burns, and the lackluster response Qui-Gon gives him doesn’t things much better. They’ve been together seven years. Obi-Wan was an ass to the kid, yes, but he hasn’t done a damn thing to warrant this—this distance.

Then the Sith shows up again. Obi-Wan takes a kick to the face that he should have seen coming, and they’re separated. Qui-Gon rushes ahead, on his own, just as he always does, and it gets him killed by that bastard Zabrak Sith.

Obi-Wan lets the burn roam free, anger churning in his gut. It becomes rage when Maul taunts him over Qui-Gon’s prone form. That is his Master. His friend. His—well, he’s never going to be anything else, now. That is a fatal wound. Gods damn it.

He almost Falls. Maybe he actually does. Either way, Obi-Wan knows that it’s the anger that gives him the means to make the Sith very dead. He wouldn’t have made it through the fight; he knows that.

Damned Sith.

Obi-Wan is trying to figure out how to cope with the last twenty-six hours when the Council arrives. They Knight him, which he finds laughable.

He presents them with two halves of a dead Sith and the Council is still arguing about how it cannot possibly be a Sith. Obi-Wan loses all of his faith in the Council in a single day. Perhaps individual members have more sense, but as a group body, Obi-Wan can’t believe what he’s hearing.

The only bright spot is that they grant him Anakin as a Padawan. He has to fight for it, tooth and nail, but it’s finally his insistence that he’s damned well going to do it anyway that makes them give in. He promised Qui-Gon that he would train that child, and dammit, Anakin Skywalker is going to be a Jedi.

Obi-Wan is staring at the ashes of Qui-Gon’s pyre when he realizes he has an idea. A terrible, awful, very bad idea, but he can’t stop thinking about it.

Dooku leaves the Order the moment he was made aware of his former Padawan’s death. It’s what Dooku is recorded as having said during his departure that really snags Obi-Wan’s attention. Dooku is just as disgusted as Obi-Wan about the Order’s refusal to recognize the threat of the Sith. Before this, Dooku hadn’t publicly disagreed with the Order about anything. There had been no whisper or rumor or gossip that the Jedi Master had found any fault with the Order at all.

Interesting.

Obi-Wan spends time reassuring Anakin that he is not being abandoned. He can get some of his basic classwork done in the week or two that Obi-Wan will be gone. Anakin is doubtful, but nods his acceptance. It’s not like the poor kid can do anything else, and they both know it. Obi-Wan is going to make it up to him, but this has to come first.

It’s not hard to get permission to visit his grand-Master on Serenno. Dooku has as much reason to grieve as Obi-Wan, after all, and had no opportunity to attend the funeral on Naboo. Yoda must have been thinking that Obi-Wan’s visit might convince Dooku to return to the Order, and agrees to let him go with little fuss.

Obi-Wan knew that Dooku’s family was wealthy, but the Count’s home on Serenno is ostentatious even by Coruscant standards. Dooku welcomes him personally, despite the servants and lesser-ranked family members that should have greeted him as per Serenno’s protocol. Dooku does a good job of hiding how surprised he is by Obi-Wan’s appearance, but Obi-Wan can tell. He was trained by one of the best.

It takes some prying, conversations about the fight, discussions about Maul, political perceptions, and some mutual bitching about the Council before Obi-Wan breaks Dooku down enough to get him to admit why he left the Order: Darth Sidious, Maul's Master, revealed himself to Dooku.

Obi-Wan is surprised by this, and yet he’s also not. His instincts have always been good, and Dooku’s timing fit the pattern of the Sith’s emergence far too well.

Sidious wants to rule the Republic, to destroy the Jedi. Dooku believes that joining the Sith will enable him to undermine them from within. He is honest enough to express concern about what Sidious will ask of him; he is learned enough in Sith lore that he knows of something called a Sacrifice. There are very few now whom Dooku knows would qualify as a proper Sacrifice in Sidious’s eyes, and Obi-Wan, Dooku says, is one of those few.

“Well, that’s reassuring,” Obi-Wan says.

“Indeed.” Dooku eyes him curiously. “What do you intend to do with all of this information, Obi-Wan? Will you take all of my misdeeds to the Council?”

“No. I want you to introduce me to Sidious.”

“I know that look on your face,” Obi-Wan continues, when Dooku says nothing. “You're wondering what Qui-Gon could have done, now that it appears that two of his students are seeking out Darkness.”

Dooku nods. “I am, yes.”

“Did you ever meet Xanatos, after he Fell?” Obi-Wan asks.

“I did not.”

“Xanatos was bug-fucking insane,” Obi-Wan says in a flat voice. “He did a good job of impersonating your flair, but underneath the good manners and the fancy clothes, he'd lost his damned mind.”

Dooku maintains his silence. Obi-Wan tries one more time; he wants this. If he doesn’t explain himself properly, if he doesn’t convince Dooku, he’s never going to meet this Sith Lord. “I want what you want, in a sense. But whereas you want to expose the Sith to save the Order and the Republic, I just want to learn the skills required to fucking kill him.”

That gains him an eyebrow raise, but not a disparaging one. “You also believe that it will not be possible to destroy the Sith without gaining an understanding of their teachings.”

“If I had not given in to my anger to the extent that I did on Naboo, I wouldn't be sitting here speaking to you,” Obi-Wan replies. “That's something else I'm certain of.”

Dooku looks grieved. “Two of the best fighters in the Order stood no chance against a single Sith Apprentice,” he says in a low voice. “I wish you had realized that, and had defeated Darth Maul, before the fatal blow was struck.”

“So do I,” Obi-Wan says, and doesn’t hesitate to let his utter heartbreak color his words. He would deal with Qui-Gon’s disappointment and the Council’s condemnation a thousand times over if it meant his idiot Master was still alive.

“Would you leave the Order, then, as I did?” Dooku asks.

Obi-Wan shakes his head. “No. I promised to turn that child into a Jedi Knight, and that's exactly what I'm going to do.”

Dooku frowns. “You would attempt to learn the ways of the Sith, yet still remain an active Jedi?”

“As best I can. It's not as if I don't know what being a Jedi entails,” Obi-Wan returns dryly.

“Fair enough,” Dooku grants him. “I will introduce you to him. You might even live through the experience.”

Obi-Wan nods. Realistically, it’s the best he can expect.

“Do not thank me,” Dooku says, when Obi-Wan opens his mouth to do exactly that. “You are all that is left of my Padawan's legacy, and I am not fond of the idea that I am about to have a hand in destroying it.”

Obi-Wan snorts, amused. “I’m not his legacy, anyway. That’s what Anakin will be.” That’s just what Qui-Gon wanted, anyway, so Obi-Wan thinks that it’s pretty damned appropriate.

 

*           *           *           *

 

Sidious is the newest Chancellor of the Republic.

Dear gods above and below, Obi-Wan knew there was a reason he couldn’t stand Palpatine. He’d just thought it to be oily, unwanted political overtures, not outright evil.

Sidious is delighted with Obi-Wan’s presence. A second Jedi from Yoda’s dynasty is volunteering to become a Sith, to be his apprentice. Obi-Wan hadn’t thought of it that way, and in retrospect, it’s a depressing thought. Maybe the other Jedi are in the right, and it’s he and Dooku who are flawed.

Then Obi-Wan remembers the Council’s pointless, ridiculous debate over Maul’s true identity, and hardens his heart. Maybe this isn’t the best path, but dammit, at least he isn’t blind.

It’s not that easy, of course. Sidious sends Dooku away and then pins Obi-Wan in place with the Force. It’s terrifying, more so when Palpatine unmasks himself, his glowing amber eyes staring into Obi-Wan’s own.

“This is a very unexpected development,” Sidious says in a voice that turns Obi-Wan’s blood to ice. “Maul was my pride, my greatest accomplishment aside from the political games that have wrought me control over the Republic. Why should I take a second apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi? Why would you be worth my time?”

“Because I fucking hate you,” Obi-Wan says in complete sincerity.

There is glee in the Sith’s eyes when he breaks the Law of Two. Now there are three Sith when mere days ago, there had been only one.

Obi-Wan can tell that Sidious plans for Obi-Wan to be his method of infiltrating the Jedi, given his intent to remain a Jedi while also secretly serving as the Sith’s second apprentice. Obi-Wan has no intention of that ever being the case, but it’s very useful to let the Sith Lord believe it to be true.

Over the weeks and months, he learns that Sidious is interested in Anakin. Sidious sees the boy as yet another tool to eventually use against the Jedi. Obi-Wan has first-hand knowledge of what the Sith will do to earn Anakin’s trust, and what plans are in place to turn Anakin against the Order. It leaves Obi-Wan in the perfect position to counter every single fucking attempt, and he is honest when he tells Sidious that to do otherwise would make him suspect. He is supposed to be acting as a Jedi in regards to Anakin, is he not? Obi-Wan also can’t resist pointing out that it’s Sidious’s job to convince his next apprentice to join him.

Sidious beats the hell out of him without ever lifting a finger. That’s one of the unforeseen problems of being a Sith’s apprentice; Sidious has no qualms about inflicting pain and serious injury upon his chosen tools. It means that there are days when much of Obi-Wan’s energies are directed towards hiding just how badly he’s been injured. He has more scars than he should, but his and Anakin’s missions turn sour so often that no one looks askance at him. Anakin fares better, but that’s because Obi-Wan often acts as his brash Padawan’s human shield—much to Anakin’s horrified dismay.

Sidious is still waiting for Obi-Wan to perform his Sacrifice, as Dooku had. Dooku told Obi-Wan when it happened, and who it had been, shuddering as he’d tried to come to terms with killing his second Padawan. The only thing Obi-Wan had been able to do for the man was point out that Komari Vosa was broken, that her death was a mercy.

It wasn’t enough, and they both knew it.

Then he gets word that Quinlan Vos and Aayla Secura have disappeared, and the Council fears for them both. Anakin is laid up in the Healers’ Ward with a compound leg fracture, an injury so well-timed that Obi-Wan couldn’t have planned it better himself.

Obi-Wan still isn’t sure what convinces the Council to let him join the hunt to search, but it works, and he joins Master Tholme and Master Sora Bulq in the search. Thankfully, it is not expected that they travel together.

Obi-Wan sees the worry and the concern shining in the Master Tholme’s eyes, and has to excuse himself. He knows this is the opportunity he needs, he can sense it, but gods, gods, this is not all right.

Then don’t do it, a quiet inner voice says.

Obi-Wan bashes his fist against a bulkhead, and then rests his head against the wall. There is no choice, not if he wants to see a future where the Order thrives and Sidious is dead.

He doesn’t search for Aayla Secura. He leaves it that to Sora Bulq, who thinks he has a lead on her current location. There might be slavers involved, and the Weequay has a reputation for swift, merciless justice where that lot is concerned.

Obi-Wan refuses to ask a Padawan to sacrifice herself. That is not for a youngling to decide.

He finds Vos before Tholme does. Quinlan doesn’t recognize him at first. Obi-Wan dispatches the Devaronian, then he has to hunt down Vos. Again. The Kiffar is partially Fallen, partially amnesiac, and half-mad from whatever the fuck the Devaronian did to him. Obi-Wan winds up losing a rear molar and having the bones of his instep crushed as he subdues the other Knight. Quinlan always fought dirty, dammit.

Obi-Wan sits down and waits for Quinlan to stop struggling against his bonds, physical and Force-created. It takes a while. Then, he does what Dooku did not—he tells Quinlan everything.

“Fuck, Obi-Wan,” Quinlan whispers. “I’m insane, and even I know that you’re out of you’re damned mind. Do you really think that will work?”

Vos deserves the truth. “I have no idea. I just know that it’s one of the few ideas I had with the most chance of a successful outcome.”

“How the hell do you know that?”

Obi-Wan’s smile is grim. “How do we know anything, Quinlan? We listen to the Force.”

“You’re a Sith, you asshole,” Vos says.

“Well, one of the advantages of pretending to be a Jedi is having to act as a Jedi, in all ways,” Obi-Wan retorts. “I’m sitting on a damned fence, listening to both sides shout directions at me, and hearing the same answer every fucking time. If I can’t trust that, then what the hell else am I supposed to have faith in?”

Jedi, that annoying whisper says. He is going to track down that part of his consciousness and scrape it out with a knife.

Vos doesn’t answer. Obi-Wan sighs and gestures, freeing Quinlan from both types of restraint. “I can’t make this fucking decision, Quin.”

Quinlan rubs the raw skin at his wrists from where he’d fought the cuffs. “Is Aayla all right?”

“If not yet, then she will be. Master Sora was pretty certain he was going to be able to find her.”

Quinlan nods. “You make sure he does, Obi-Wan. You find her if he doesn’t. You make sure that she gets her mind back, and gets to become the Jedi she was always meant to be,” he says, and then kneels.

“You complete bastard,” Obi-Wan whispers, his vision blurring.

Quinlan cracks a smile. “Come on, what kind of fucking wuss of a Sith are you?”

“Quin—”

“Obi-Wan, I know my future, and I don’t like what I’ve seen. Better to serve the greater good than to end up being a crazy pawn of the Sith, right?”

Obi-Wan makes sure his death is as painless as it can be without mutilating Quinlan’s body. His Padawan doesn’t deserve to stand over that sort of pyre. His lightsaber burns through Quinlan’s heart in the space of a blink. He holds his friend as Quinlan dies, and he can’t fucking see anything for tears.

With his last breath, Quinlan whispers, “Don’t stop pretending.”

 

*           *           *           *

 

A willing Sacrifice is not quite what the Sith have in mind, but it’s close enough to fool Sidious. The Sith Lord contacts him via holographic communication using his public identity. Ostensibly, the Chancellor is calling out of concern for Anakin’s recent injury. In actuality, he’s well aware of what has been done; Obi-Wan sent word already.

Sidious smiles at him in approval after a perfunctory conversation about Anakin’s recovery. “The Jedi sacrifice much for the good of the Republic.”

“They do, yes,” Obi-Wan replies, thinking about how much he wants to kill this man.

He can’t go back and tell the Order that Quinlan attacked him. Aside from the fact that it is borderline unbelievable, Obi-Wan refuses to do that to his friend’s reputation. Obi-Wan tells Tholme and the Council that Vos recognized himself as Fallen and suicided to protect the Order and his Padawan. It’s not even a lie.

Sora Bulq comes back without Aayla Secura. Unacceptable. What the fuck was that man doing for two weeks straight?

Not what he says.

There is something about Bulq that Obi-Wan no longer trusts. If like recognizes like, then Bulq recently swallowed Darkness whole and is hiding it beneath very good shields.

Like someone else I could think of.

Shut the entire hell up, Obi-Wan tells that damned voice, and then informs the Council that he will be going to fetch Secura. Tholme looks surprised, and then gratified.

Vos’s death hit him hard. Obi-Wan wonders if he’ll ever be able to tell Tholme the truth.

Then Tholme confronts him in the hallway outside the Council Chamber, and Obi-Wan has to resist the urge to hold his breath.

“What makes you believe that a young Knight will succeed in finding Padawan Secura when an accomplished Jedi Master could not?” Tholme asks in a quiet voice.

Obi-Wan glances over to where Bulq is talking with Anakin. His Padawan has recovered from his training injury and insists upon going with him. Given the saber moves that Anakin is miming, they’re talking about sparring, or possibly the vapaad. Anakin wants to learn it; Obi-Wan thinks that is the worst idea ever. Anakin needs to learn to control, cope with, and conquer his anger, not actively channel it.

Fuck. He is such a damned hypocrite.

“I don’t believe that Master Sora looked very hard,” Obi-Wan says.

Tholme nods. “No, I do not believe he did either, and I do not understand why. Still, others could search. I am not without resources. Why you, Obi-Wan?”

Obi-Wan flinches and looks away. “I promised him I would, Master Tholme.”

They find Padawan Secura on Ryloth, still suffering from the same amnesiac spells that had helped fell Vos. Obi-Wan and Anakin retrieve her, though Obi-Wan has a bad moment when he thinks his Padawan is going to snap and kill off a large group of slavers. Again.

“Anakin, you cannot just kill anyone you think is doing wrong.”

Anakin scowls. “But it is wrong! You can’t—you don’t get it. You’ve never been a slave.”

Obi-Wan has Anakin pinned against the wall. Dammit, when did this kid get so tall? They’re all but matched for height already. “No, I haven’t,” he says, which isn’t quite true any longer. It’s willing servitude, but that doesn’t make it pleasant. “But these people you want to execute—and don’t argue with me, that’s exactly what this would be—you do not have the means to understand the course of their entire lives. You don’t know what led them to this point, or why. As a Jedi, you cannot afford to make snap judgments.”

“Are you defending them?” Anakin asks in disbelief.

“No.” Obi-Wan sighs and lets Anakin go. “Fine. Go. Kill all of them. That will end an entire culture’s dependence on slavery for economic stability and survival.”

Anakin stares at him. “Dependence?”

“What? Why aren’t they dead yet? I thought you were certain about what needed to be done.”

“Master, I—I don’t understand,” Anakin admits, his shoulders slumping.

“Ryloth is a member of the Republic. Slavery is illegal in the Republic. Slavery is an active and known part of Twi’lek culture.” Obi-Wan crosses his arms. “You’re intelligent enough to put the pieces together, Anakin.”

“But what they did to Aayla is wrong,” Anakin whispers.

“Yes, it is,” Obi-Wan agrees. “But you cannot judge the whole by a single event. Much of this planet is a desert with even fewer resources than Tatooine. Ryloth’s slavery is the best solution an entire people could find in order to escape rampant poverty and starvation.”

“Are they trying to stop it, though? At all?”

“Now that they’ve access to greater resources than the planet alone can provide? Of course they are,” Obi-Wan replies. He’s encouraged by the fact that his Padawan seems to be listening to him for once. “But widespread cultural change takes time, and there are always a bunch of complete fucking assholes trying to wreck the process.”

Anakin makes a face. “Like Aayla’s uncle. Can we stab him?

“Don’t tempt me,” Obi-Wan says. “We’re not executioners, Anakin.”

“Fine, fine. No stabbing. Can we at least arrest him?”

“Now you’re thinking like a Jedi.” Obi-Wan can’t resist adding, “Besides, he will be rotting in a cell for the next decade until his case comes up in the courts. That is so much better than stabbing.”

“That’s mean, Master,” Anakin says, starting to smile.

Anakin is Obi-Wan’s visible, constant reminder of why he puts up with Sidious, pain, and really horrific nightmares, let alone that damned annoying whisper of his conscience. Obi-Wan can wordsmith his way around the Sith and keep all the half-truths straight in his head because he can look at his Padawan and remember what the fuck he’s doing.

There are side effects he didn’t intend. He’s let his guard down enough that he and Anakin are genuinely friends well before the boy hits Senior Padawan status. By the time Palpatine maneuvers them into becoming Senator Amidala’s unwanted guardians, Obi-Wan is more rabid than ever about keeping him from Sidious’s influence. He can only do so much, and Anakin still views the man as his friend…but at least Anakin comes to Obi-Wan after those visits with the Chancellor and asks questions about what he’s seen, what he’s been told.

Anakin dreaming of his mother is terrible, terrible—

No, wait, that is the best damned timing Obi-Wan could ever conceive of. When it’s decided that Padmé should leave Coruscant for her own protection, the Order and everyone else involved is told that the Senator will be returning to Naboo.

If there’s a leak anywhere in the information chain, or if Sidious really does want Amidala dead, an assassin going to Naboo won’t find Padmé. They’ll find Sabé wielding a really nice blaster, and that woman has no compunctions against using it.

Obi-Wan sends the Senator and his Padawan to Tatooine. “The Nemoidians didn’t think to look there last time, and they sure as hell don’t have a reason to look that way now.”

“You must have gotten your deviousness from Master Qui-Gon,” Padmé says, after they have seen “Senator Amidala” off on her public transport with Captain Typho. Beneath that cloak, there’s not a damned way to tell the difference between Dormé and Padmé without digging around in the Force.

“I think it’s the other way around, really,” Obi-Wan says, and smiles. “I was a manipulative little shit.”

Was?

“You’re sure it’s okay that we do this?” Anakin asks, once Padmé is aboard the ship, helping R2-D2 to ready it for takeoff. Dexter Jettster’s willingness to loan out small freighters with falsified records is just as useful as his willingness to blither about Kaminoan saber darts. Hello, easily traceable evidence trail. “The Council is going to be really pissed when they find out you sent me home.”

“The Council will just have to cope,” Obi-Wan says. “You are technically not going home. I’m sending you into hiding, not to a family reunion.”

Anakin smiles at him, gratitude shining in his eyes. He’s still enamored of the fact that Obi-Wan believes in him, which is a stark reminder that so few Jedi put any stake in Anakin Skywalker’s capability.

It infuriates Obi-Wan. It gives Sidious too much leeway to drive a wedge between his Padawan and the rest of the Jedi Order. Obi-Wan knows what can be done with that kind of hero worship. Some days the temptation to give in and manipulate Anakin for his own selfish ends is so fucking strong.

And you won’t do that.

No, that is one thing Obi-Wan and that annoying voice agree on wholeheartedly.

Anakin is also grateful that Obi-Wan is giving him the opportunity to make certain that dreams are all he’s experiencing, that his mother is safe. Obi-Wan refuses to adopt the new Council standard response to danger, which is to sit around with both thumbs secured in one’s ass.

Some days Obi-Wan isn't so sure he's making Anakin into the perfect Jedi, but he is going to be a good man, and at this point, Obi-Wan thinks that's close enough.

Obi-Wan is very polite to the Kaminoans. Taun We never recognizes him, bless her gentle heart.

The tour of the facility is impressive. He’d never before had the opportunity to look in on all the clones, for damned good reasons, and the sight of so many identical faces is sobering.

They all glow differently in the Force, hundreds of thousands of individual lights. That is why full-body cloning is illegal, thank you very fucking much. Too many assholes view created beings as low-budget organ replacement vessels, not the new and unique people they are.

“May I speak to one of the officers?” Obi-Wan asks Taun We. She smiles gracefully and complies, introducing himself to a clone numbered CT-2224.

“A pleasure to meet you, sir,” the clone says, after saluting.

Obi-Wan tries not to grimace. “Please don’t do that. What’s your name?”

“CT-22—” The clone breaks off upon seeing the look on Obi-Wan’s face. “Uh—Cody, sir.”

“Much better. What are you in charge of, Cody?”

Cody still has enough shine on him to beam, for all that he doesn’t smile. “The 212th Battalion, sir, ground-based combat. We’re still working out the kinks in the command structure, but we’re damned good.”

Cody is professional, honest, and dead certain about his battalion’s capabilities. “Excellent. When shit hits the fan in a couple of days, make sure you get your battalion assigned to me.”

The clone’s expression twitches, the only surprise he allows himself to show. “I knew that we were an army created for the Jedi, sir, but I didn’t know that war was a certainty.”

“At this point, it would take a major miracle to avoid a war. I don’t work in miracles; I just break things,” Obi-Wan says. “I would like it very much if you would recommend another competent commander for my Padawan. I need someone who is flexible enough to deal with a commanding officer who routinely does things that are batshit insane.”

Cody’s lip twitches. “In complete honesty, sir?”

“That would be nice, yes.”

“I’d suggest CT-7567. Captain Rex. He’s a bit younger than I am, but he commands the 501st Legion. The legion groups are a bit more flexible—they work ground support, air support, and a bunch of shit inbetween. More than half of them are crazy.”

“That sounds like Anakin,” Obi-Wan says, biting back a smile.

Then he goes to “meet” Jango Fett. The bounty hunter puts on a good show in front of the Kaminoan. Obi-Wan walks out and then begs off on accompanying Taun We to dinner, doubling back to return to Fett’s quarters.

“Hi, again,” Boba says, and lifts his hand for a first bump. “This spy stuff is really cool.”

“I’m glad you’re enjoying it. I think it’s a pain in the ass.”

Boba smirks. “You and Dad are gonna be gross again, right?”

Obi-Wan smiles. “Maybe.” He’d put aside his anger about the near-successful assassinations, but the moment Boba runs off to prep the ship, Obi-Wan calls it back up and lets it fly. Killing Senator Amidala was not part of the plan, and he is fucking pissed off. Jango Fett receives the bitching out of his life.

That man’s testicles are trying to retreat into his body.

Good, Obi-Wan snarls, stalking away from Fett. He needs to calm the hell down.

“Damn,” Jango says, after giving Obi-Wan a few moments to breathe. “That was seriously hot.”

Obi-Wan glares at him. “Killing Senators that are supposed to be under my protection will not net you blow jobs.”

Jango shrugs. “Good thing she was bad at her job, then, isn’t it,” he says, as Obi-Wan lets his head thump back against the wall. “How are you planning to throw suspicion off your trail once the rest of the Jedi get involved here?”

Obi-Wan isn't concerned about that. “Not only do the Kaminoans have a terrible time determining human appearance, Dooku and I have been swapping back and forth so often that the only thing they really know about Sifo-Dyas is that he's human, and now they've been informed that he's dead.”

“Such a shame.”

“We're going to have to go out and flirt on the landing pad,” Obi-Wan says.

Jango grins. “I look forward to it.”

“If you pull your punches, I'll neuter you.”

“No, you won't,” Jango says, and then there is a bounty hunter pressing him against the wall and shoving a hand into his trousers. All right, so Jango was apparently being very honest about his turn-ons. Holy fuck, that is a wonderful, talented tongue.

“I got some new missiles I wanted to try out, by the way,” Jango says, licking at Obi-Wan’s ear after making Obi-Wan come so hard he’s pretty damn sure his brain rebooted. “Think me trying to blow you up will throw the Jedi off the trail?”

“Was that a pun? That was fucking terrible.”

Flirting on the landing pad is fun, and Jango does not pull his punches, which is why Obi-Wan winds up swinging from a cable in the rain over the fucking ocean. Glorious bastard.

He would have been a lot less sanguine about the new missiles if he’d known the type Fett had in mind. Seismic charges are not missiles.

Worse is the realization that Dooku can’t pull his punches either, for all that they get along decently enough. It’s nice to have compatible goals, but sometimes Obi-Wan suspects that his presence is the only thing that keeps Dooku from following in Xanatos's footsteps.  Obi-Wan has Anakin, but Dooku doesn't have anyone but Obi-Wan.

Obi-Wan gets “captured,” but he might as well call it the real thing. He's still got to hang out in a cage and possibly face torture.

He is a damned good actor—part diplomatic background, part natural talent, and part of his ongoing quest to maintain the air of a Jedi while learning how to be an effective Sith. He still almost loses his shit laughing when Dooku invites him to join forces against the Sith threat. Even Dooku's lip twitches, recognizing the ridiculousness of the script.

Obi-Wan decides after an entire night of torture that he really doesn't like the Geonosians, and he's seriously considering poisoning the whole fucking lot of them.

You can't actually commit genocide against an entire species, his inner voice says.

“Watch me,” Obi-Wan grumbles, trying to clear his head enough to face his imminent execution without passing out on his feet.

Gods damn it. Obi-Wan knew how ill-prepared the Order was to face the Sith threat. He knows because it’s the entire damned reason he volunteered to be a fucking Sith in the first place. It’s still a horrific shock when one hundred ninety Jedi die in less than ten minutes in the Geonosian arena.

There’s no way to convince Anakin not to go after Dooku when the latter escapes as the clones arrive. Obi-Wan expected as much. Anakin’s blood runs hot, not yet fully tempered by a Jedi’s serenity.

Plus, Count Dooku tried to kill his new girlfriend. Obi-Wan understands that kind of impetus.

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Padmé says, just as Anakin voices a weak, token, “She’s not my girlfriend.”

“Right,” Obi-Wan says dryly, and then swears a blue streak when heavy fire knocks the Senator from the transport. Fuck, they are terrible body guards. Thank the gods she lived through that.

All things considered, it's nice of Dooku to eject Obi-Wan from the fight with nothing more life-threatening than a lightsaber through the femur. Anakin does not do as well. Obi-Wan is going to have serious words with Dooku about leaving his apprentice in one damn piece next time, thank you very much.

When the opportunity does arise, months later, Dooku protests that it protected Obi-Wan's cover, and his own. Obi-Wan is supremely irritated by the fact that Dooku is correct.

In the meantime, he is not fucking happy, especially when he discovers that Mace beheaded Jango Fett in the arena. “For fuck’s sake!” Obi-Wan yells. His voice is hoarse with exhaustion and dehydration. “Why the hell did you do that, you damned idiot?”

Mace’s eyes narrow, and he obliges Obi-Wan by yelling right back at him. “I was defending myself and others—”

“You are a fucking Jedi Master! I thought you knew how to do that without taking someone’s head off!”

“Obi-Wan, he was a bounty hunter allied with the Separatists, a group we are now at war with.”

“For fuck’s sake, Mace!” Obi-Wan shouts. He is in no mood for political bullshit. “You orphaned a ten-year-old boy!”

That cracks Mace's calm. “What?”

“You. Orphaned. A. Child.” Obi-Wan has to clench his hands into fists, a gesture hidden by his tunic sleeves. Cannot murder a Jedi Councilor. Cannot. No.

It is generally inadvisable, that inner voice says, but even it sounds frustrated.

Obi-Wan manages not to shout his next words. “Fett had a child, and that child was in the arena crowd, Mace.”

“Oh, gods,” Mace whispers, stunned.

“Indeed,” Obi-Wan growls back. He's glad he's got the excuse of torture, of exhaustion, of being in fucking pain and worried about his injured Padawan, or else he'd probably have earned himself censure at this point. “I think it might be a good idea to find him, don't you?”

“If he's Mandalorian-raised, he's going to want my head in return,” Mace says.

“Well, you can’t give it to him.” If anyone gets to kill you, it’s me, Obi-Wan thinks. “But perhaps you can lift a hand to make certain he gets placed with family.”

“Fett doesn’t have any surviving family.”

Obi-Wan stares at Mace in polite disbelief. He’s used to the Council overlooking the obvious, but what in the entire fuck. “Right now, he has several hundred thousand family members. Kamino was his home. Do the damned math,” Obi-Wan snarls, and stalks off. Well, limps off, because he has a lightsaber burn through his thigh, but at least the sentiment is there.

Gods damn it all, he’d liked Jango Fett. The man was a complete bastard, but then, so is Obi-Wan. They’d gotten along pretty well after Dooku recruited him to be the clones’ template.

They find Boba Fett before he can vanish. It's clear that the boy thinks he's a prisoner, and acts the part, surly and uncooperative. Obi-Wan doesn’t say it aloud where any Jedi can hear, but Boba is just like his father. Others might cite genetics, but DNA won’t make you a stubborn bastard—it just assists in the process.

Obi-Wan manages to convince the Council representatives on site that no, the Order cannot confiscate Jango Fett's ship. It's inherited property under Republic and Mandalorian law. They do not get to steal Boba’s last link to his father.

It takes Obi-Wan a lot longer to escape the entire process of the Geonosis clean-up (and a few stubborn, annoying Healers) to speak to Boba alone.

“I'm so sorry,” Obi-Wan says, after kneeling down in front of the boy.

Boba stares at him, anger glinting in his dark eyes. “Fuck you.”

Ob-Wan sighs. “That should not have happened. It was not part of any plan, ours or theirs.”

Boba's lower lip protrudes. Grief is starting to override stubbornness. “What are they going to do to me?”

“We're taking you back to Kamino. Taun We will help look after you, and you'll be among your very extended family.”

“As a prisoner, right?” Boba scoffs.

“No, but right now, you're still young enough that you need to be with people you trust. Taun We and the clones are sure as fuck not going to let anyone hurt you. I'd rip their hearts out if they dared to try.”

Boba smiles a little at the threat. “You promise?”

“Absolutely,” Obi-Wan says. He means it.

Boba hesitates a moment longer, and then flings himself into Obi-Wan's arms. Obi-Wan holds the child while he cries. Dooku would accuse him of too much sentiment, a dangerous emotion that neither of them can afford.

Sidious will hurt you, badly, if he finds out about this.

Fuck them both. Boba deserves the chance to grow up and choose his own damned path.

 

*           *           *           *

 

Anakin doesn’t seem to mind his new bionic replacement. Weird damned kid, Obi-Wan thinks fondly. It won’t be long before he’ll be disassembling it and putting it back together, and it will likely be ten times as good as the original.

His Padawan still surprises him by telling Obi-Wan that when he escorts Amidala home, they're going to marry. Obi-Wan is gratified by Anakin’s trust, but he should really tell Anakin that it’s a stupid idea. The Council would have both of their heads on a platter, then boot them from the Order.

Instead of any of the things he's supposed to do, Obi-Wan just asks, “Why?”

Anakin glances at his new arm, swallows, and looks at Obi-Wan. “Because I could die tomorrow.”

Obi-Wan stares at him. He feels like his entire core has been scooped out and replaced with ice and acid.

“You have my blessing,” he says in a quiet voice. “Just try not to get caught, and if you do get caught, don't flaunt it. Also, I didn't know a thing about it.”

Anakin smiles. “Yes, Master.”

The Council doesn't need him after Yoda’s grim prediction of ongoing war, which isn't a prediction at all. That is just a rare display of common fucking sense.

Anakin is off to Naboo and his illicit wedding. Dooku is rallying the Separatists for the upcoming, extended campaign. Sidious is busy doing the same for the Republic.

Obi-Wan likes brandy, but when he wants to be an utterly miserable drunk, he finds a liter of the most horrific rotgut he can find on Coruscant. He sits alone in his quarters and attempts to become stone blind drunk.

It never works. Damn his metabolism.

Obi-Wan has already developed the bad habit of talking to himself when he's sober, and being drunk just makes the tendency worse. He puts his head back on the couch and stares up at the ceiling.

“Fuck, what in the entire hell am I doing?”

It's not the first time he's asked the question in the last ten years. The answer is usually the same.

You could try to do something different.

“Flinging myself from a tower is different,” Obi-Wan mutters.

Yes, but not helpful.

Given that his subconscious has no compunction about giving him shit, Obi-Wan has started to wonder if he's developed a form of dissociation. Right now it could be argued that it's alcohol-derived, but that doesn’t explain the times when he’s dead sober and that voice develops really distinct opinions about things.

What about Anakin? that damn voice asks. What are you going to do about him?

“Keep him the fuck away from Sidious,” Obi-Wan says, idly twirling the empty bottle in the air. Damn his metabolism, he should have bought two.

And what of keeping yourself away from Sidious?

“Oh, it is far too late for that,” Obi-Wan whispers, and lets the bottle fall onto the carpet. Fuck, why is he sad? He is not sad. He is going to get exactly what he wants, and Sidious isn't going to see it coming until he's been dead for a full minute and a half.

Obi-Wan all but tears his own hair out when the Council decides to Knight Anakin three months after Geonosis, citing their desperate need for generals in the field and Anakin's thus-far exemplary military leadership and skills.

“He isn’t ready!”

“Do you not have faith in your Padawan, Master Obi-Wan?” Mace asks. Obi-Wan wants to strangle him.

Fuck Sidious; the Sith can wait. Obi-Wan is going to wind up killing Mace Windu first and foremost.

“I have more faith in my Padawan at the moment than I do this Council's collective wisdom,” Obi-Wan retorts. He can't quite contain his anger, not in this, but he can make sure it's properly directed.

Mace smiles at him in that particular way that tells Obi-Wan that he's just walked into a trap. “Depa has announced her intention to leave the Council and focus her attention on her new Padawan.”

“A Council seat, we feel you should take,” Yoda says, with slow, innocuous blinking that doesn’t fool Obi-Wan one damned bit.

“It is thought we need our own devil's advocate, and you have been volunteering for the role for some time, “Adi Gallia adds, with a carefully disguised smirk on her face.

“Oh, for fuck's sake,” Obi-Wan mutters, and knows that he's been caught before he had any real chance at mustering a defense.

“Qui-Gon taught you well,” Plo Koon says. “He would be proud of you, Obi-Wan.”

“No, Qui-Gon would be laughing at me for not being able to figure out how to get out of this mess,” Obi-Wan retorts, and gives in to the inevitable.

Sidious is frightening when he is told. Obi-Wan has to remind himself that some people can look pleased without also immediately becoming the scariest fucking thing in the entire quadrant.

Then, a month later, the Council tells him in secrecy that Anakin is going to be granted a Padawan. Obi-Wan stares at them with his mouth hanging open before putting his head in his hands. “Sure. Why not.”

He is watching the Council blunder, and blunder hard, and fast, and often. There is little he can do about it except play the role that Adi named for him. It doesn't do much good, but at least he gets to rant at them for their idiocy and have it be an expected action.

Then there are no more Council meetings for a while, because the war takes up all their time. Obi-Wan doesn’t even have the chance to show up via holographic transmission, the front lines get hammered so damned hard.

Thank goodness Ahsoka Tano is both skilled and sensible. If the Council had sent Anakin a twit, Obi-Wan would have sent them right back. As it is, Obi-Wan thinks that Yoda has lost his damned ancient mind. This girl is supposed to counterbalance Anakin’s recklessness? It’s more like it becomes magnified tenfold.

Anakin laughs at him and says that Obi-Wan started it. Obi-Wan refuses to dignify that with a response.

Bandomeer.

Fuck you.

That is a response.

Fuck you sideways, Obi-Wan grumbles.

Obi-Wan and Dooku fight on several different occasions, trading insults over crossed lightsabers. The code they’ve worked out for subtle communication is a thing of beauty. Obi-Wan calls Dooku’s entire biological lineage into question in a way that says, “We can't let this war keep raging. These idiots are going to get themselves all killed.”

Dooku mutters things about Obi-Wan’s ridiculous devotion to a dying Order. “We are still missing part of the puzzle, Obi-Wan.”

Obi-Wan rolls his eyes to ask, “What now?”

Dooku's code is more broken after that, once Anakin arrives to “help,” but Obi-Wan manages to piece together that Sidious has yet another trap for the Jedi lined up, one that could still be activated even if Sidious is dead. Gods, yet another problem. Just what Obi-Wan needs.

Dooku's newest apprentice, Asajj Ventress, is a fucking crazy person. She is intense and driven, but lacks Komari Vosa’s inclination towards mental shattering the first time she’s pushed too hard. Obi-Wan decides about three seconds into their first encounter that he likes her.

You have odd taste in romantic partners.

For fuck’s sake, not that way. His inner voice is an idiot.

Considering how much this war is trying his now Sithly temper, Obi-Wan thinks he's balancing all of his obligations rather well. Then some damned sniper gets lucky during a pitched battle, nailing Rex, Ahsoka, and Anakin in rapid succession as each turned to help the other. None of the wounds are fatal, but Obi-Wan almost blacks out from rage before he channels it into green lightning that decimates the entire field of battle droids.

 “Whoops,” he whispers, and hits the ground in a dead faint while everyone else is still staring at sparking droid parts.

He wakes up to Anakin yelling at him to breathe or he’s going to punch Obi-Wan in the face.

“Bedside manner is lacking,” Obi-Wan rasps, before Anakin can carry out his threat.

“Gods, Obi-Wan,” Anakin gasps out, and pulls him into a hug. Ahsoka is fretting while keeping Fives at bay with one hand. Rex is getting his blaster wound patched up while Cody shouts at him for not paying attention and allowing his General to take a dirt nap.

“What the hell happened?” Obi-Wan asks, after he can pry Anakin off of him. Ahsoka immediately takes his place, so Obi-Wan gives up on the idea of not having a Padawan growth.

“You blew up everything,” Rex says with a huge grin. “That was fucking fantastic.”

“The General did say at our first meeting that this is what he does,” Cody says.

Anakin is shaking his head. “This is not fair. Do you know how much shit I’m going to have to destroy before I can catch up with these numbers?”

Of all the things to save him from an accounting before the Council, it’s the fact that the lightning was green. Apparently “Emerald Lightning” is a thing. Obi-Wan knows he’s giving Plo Koon a blank look when the Master tries to explain the concept to him.

“I've done it before, myself,” Plo says, which makes him double-take. The Kel Dor does not strike him as being remotely Sith material. He’s never seen Sidious produce anything but violet corruption, and the Sith Lord insists that Force Lightning is solely a Dark power.

“You were acting in defense of others, Obi-Wan,” Plo says gently, mistaking the expression on his face. “That is the act of a Jedi, not an evil man.

“However, I would avoid doing it again,” Plo continues. “It makes certain members of the Council nervous.” He walks away and Obi-Wan stares after him, trying to figure out if that just happened and what.

Plo is like that, his inner voice says.

“Everyone has lost their fucking minds,” Obi-Wan mutters, “including me.”

At first, I thought you had, the voice muses. Now I'm not so sure.

Obi-Wan stops short in the corridor, heart pounding. “Qui-Gon?” he whispers, but there isn't an answer, not even from his traitorous subconscious.

Aside from skirmishes, Obi-Wan doesn't hear from Dooku again until after Onderon. It's an unmarked communication sent straight to his terminal, and all it says is, [Clones, Obi-Wan. HE has them.]

Obi-Wan stares at the missive for a full ten minutes, certain that Dooku must have cracked under the strain at last. Sidious is Palpatine. He's had the clones under his control since the start of the fucking war.

Then he sits back and kicks his brain into thinking this through. Even if he cracked, Dooku would not be the sort to repeat the very obvious. Thus, he meant something else.

Something terrible, that damned traitor voice says.

“Unless you're going to be useful, stop being a damned tease,” Obi-Wan snaps.

Essence transfer, the voice says, and then falls silent again.

Obi-Wan decides that he’s probably cracking under the strain, too. It can’t hurt to look up the term when they return to the Temple, though.

“Holy FUCK.”

He almost gets kicked out of the library for the outburst, but it's just as well. Aside from a rather short and blithe explanation of what Essence Transfer is, there are no other details. Not how to do it (of course not) and not how to keep someone from doing it. (WHY THE HELL NOT?)

He finally understands the tone of Dooku's message. The man was panicked. Well, no fucking wonder.

Obi-Wan paces up and down his quarters until it's almost dawn, thinking. He knows that he and Dooku have never been shown the whole of Sidious's empire. Not even remotely. Those clones could be anywhere. Obi-Wan would have to do something drastic to convince the Sith to trust him with that information. What would be drastic enough to—

The easiest option—to co-opt Anakin—he rejects so quickly, so fiercely, that he winds up vomiting until he's dry heaving. No, that is not even an option. He'll blow up the whole of Coruscant first.

That is also probably not a good option.

Shit. He knows what he would need to do.

Oh, gods.

 

*           *           *           *

 

Obi-Wan does not need any more problems. He does not. The appearance of a clone of Darth Maul is one of the most unwelcome events of the entire fucking war. Even Dooku is surprised by the clone’s appearance, and his viciousness.

He gets to meet Maul on Florrum, along with Maul’s new best friend, Savage.

What the fuck is up with these ridiculous names?

Duck, you idiot.

Obi-Wan ducks a lightsaber that would have taken his head off and shoves Adi into a retreat. “We need to move!” he shouts. The Zabraks are damned good at what they do, and dueling is not the Corellian Master’s strength.

Adi Gallia falls to their blades anyway. Gods fucking damn everything.

The clone of Maul blithers at Obi-Wan about revenge and defeating Sidious and revenge and oh, revenge. Obi-Wan stares at him, head tilted, and realizes what’s been so disturbing about this encounter.

Essence Transfer.

It is Maul.

Obi-Wan feels wide grin spread over his face. “Sidious actually granted me the means to kill you twice. That’s excellent.”

That causes Maul to pause his diatribe. “You know my Master’s name.”

Obi-Wan.

Shut up.

It won’t help.

Who cares?

“You know, your Master would probably love to have three apprentices instead of two,” Obi-Wan says, and enjoys the flicker of rage in Maul’s eyes. “But he’s insufferable enough as it is.”

Obi-Wan doesn’t get to kill Maul, after all. Dammit. He and Ventress are skilled enough to match the Zabraks, but not skilled enough to gain the upper hand. He’s going to have to tackle them individually.

Fuck, this does not bode well for his attempt to kill Sidious. He will have to bear that in mind.

Sharing a transport with Ventress, now that she’s no longer Dooku’s Apprentice, is interesting. He can tell it disturbs her when Ventress realizes that she doesn’t actually want Obi-Wan dead. After three years of intense belief and several dozen valid attempts, it’s probably not the easiest pill to swallow.

“How did you know the Sith Lord’s name?” Ventress asks, after the silence becomes less tense. “Dooku never spoke of it.”

Obi-Wan can’t resist. He smiles at her and lowers part of his shielding.

Ventress stares at him. Then she bursts into shocked laughter. “A true wolf in sheep’s clothing! I should have known.”

“Some days more than others,” Obi-Wan says. Gods, but it’s nice to be himself for once, and have no one around to judge him for it.

“Is Skywalker like you, a little proto-Sith in hiding?” Ventress asks him in a mocking voice.

“No. Anakin is a Jedi.” Obi-Wan smiles. “Be grateful. I’ve seen the fate the galaxy would have if it were otherwise.”

You still cannot blow up Mortis.

I can damned well fucking try, Obi-Wan thinks. Enough explosives can destroy anything, even a planet-sized octahedron.

“Why such a discrepancy?”

Obi-Wan sits down on the floor across from Ventress. This tiny ship doesn’t even have a damned ’fresher. At least they’re not far from a way station. “I promised someone that he would be, and then I promised Anakin the same.”

Ventress eyes him curiously. “Skywalker has been a Jedi Knight for several years now, dear Obi-Wan. Why are you still hiding the wolf?”

“Why am I still a part of the Order?” Obi-Wan blinks in consternation. “Fuck, I don’t know. Habit.”

“Do you think me evil, Obi-Wan?” Ventress asks.

“No.”

She smiles, and for once the expression has no sharp edge. “There is more to this galaxy than Light and Dark. You should bear that in mind.”

They part ways at the station, leaving behind the commandeered ship by silent, mutual agreement. Obi-Wan is glad to see her go; she asked some extremely uncomfortable questions.

The opportunity he’s been waiting for arrives in the same month. Dooku sends a communique to the Jedi Council, asking for Yoda to meet with him under the white flag of temporary truce. Obi-Wan asks to go, instead.

“Why?” Ki-Adi says, looking baffled. “You and your Padawan have faced him more often than most, Obi-Wan. I would think you would like to avoid the opportunity.”

“He could have killed me on Geonosis,” Obi-Wan points out in a quiet voice. “Easily. He did not do so. If he is asking for Yoda, then it's possible that sentiment is overcoming whatever drove him to wage war against the Order in the first place.”

“That's not a convincing argument, Obi-Wan,” Mace says.

Obi-Wan draws in a deep breath. “Fine, then think of it this way. Of the two of us, Yoda is far less dispensable than I am if this turns out to be a trap.”

“Dispensable, you are not,” Yoda says, frowning.

Oh, that won’t do at all. “Who let him go on Geonosis, again?” Obi-Wan says, and regrets that the barb strikes so hard.

Dooku is surprised to see him. “I had expected Yoda would respond to me personally.”

“He would have,” Obi-Wan says, keeping his distance. “I asked to come in his place.”

“Why?” Dooku asks, after glancing around, as if expecting eavesdroppers. “Have you learned something new?”

“No,” Obi-Wan says. He should be nervous, or upset. Instead, he just feels an intense disquiet and a deep chill. “That's the entire problem.”

Dooku's eyes narrow. “Explain.”

“You and I both know that we're never going to get anything further out of Sidious with things as they are. With two apprentices who act as allies, he has no reason to trust one over the other, or either of us at all. His sights are on Anakin, and I cannot and will not give him that.”

Not even that damned annoying voice is protesting. Obi-Wan doesn’t know if it’s because his subconscious recognizes the necessity of what he’s doing, or if it’s just one final horror too much.

Dooku understands immediately. “I see. If you are looking for a willing sacrifice, you will not find one here.” He ignites his lightsaber. “I will not let you kill me, Obi-Wan, no matter the truth of your words.”

Obi-Wan regards him calmly, not yet moving to ignite his own blade. “Would you kill me, then, and use my death to sway Sidious?”

For a moment, he thinks Dooku will actually do it. Damn, would that save him some grief, not to mention save his sanity.

Then Dooku's shoulders sag. “No. I would not. As I said during our first meeting as equals, Obi-Wan—I will not willfully destroy my dear Padawan's legacy.”

Obi-Wan finally palms his lightsaber and ignites it. He's never hated that pale blue glow more than he does now. He feels like he's going to cry, scream, tear his hair out, rend his skin, gouge out his eyes, but his voice is steady when he speaks: “Then it's a good thing for the Order and the galaxy that I am more of a complete fucking bastard than you will ever be.”

Dooku had been a consummate Jedi Master. He is a masterful politician, a kingmaker overseeing a brand-new empire that is meant to fall. He plans long-term, but Obi-Wan has seen that he never quite plans long-term enough.

He also trusts in Jedi to be honest. He gave that same trust to Obi-Wan, despite their mutual position as apprentices to a terrifying Sith Lord.

Every time they’ve fought, Obi-Wan has never once revealed the whole of his skills with a lightsaber.

This isn’t like fighting Maul and Savage. He takes no pleasure in the flash of surprise in Dooku’s eyes. It's the only thing that enables Obi-Wan to give the man a clean death.

It is not hard to fake emotional upset when he comms the Council with the news.

He is emotionally upset. He is about to lose his damned mind.

The Council at large does not seem surprised by the “traitorous” account that Obi-Wan gives them. It's even true, from a certain point of view.

It's Yoda, his head bowed, his entire being radiating sadness, who makes Obi-Wan's voice break. When he says, “I'm so sorry,” it is the ancient Master he's speaking to, not the others.

He sits on the ramp of his ship long after the call is done. Maybe he screams, maybe he cries, but he does know that he shakes for the entire time.

Obi-Wan knew when he started walking this path that he wasn't getting out of it with his soul intact. He thought killing Quin, a willing victim, a friend, would be the most horrible part of it.

It isn't.

Killing his grandmaster, a man who has ever been his ally in this war, if not his friend, is so much fucking worse.

His only consolation is that Ventress and Dooku had already parted. He would hate to have to kill her, too. He doesn’t want that—he likes the idea of someone else in the galaxy who’s standing on that boundary line the same way he is, listening to both sides of the Force try to claim him.

That damned voice still isn’t saying a word. Thank fuck for small favors.

When he sees Anakin again, there is a desire to congratulate Obi-Wan resting on his lips. Then he sees the expression on Obi-Wan’s face. “Master? Are you all right? You weren’t hurt, were you?”

Obi-Wan manages to smile. “I’m just tired, Anakin.” That isn't a lie, either.

Chancellor Palpatine calls Obi-Wan with a request to come to his office when he returns to Coruscant after Dooku's death. Obi-Wan meditates until he thinks he can actually hold himself together in the face of abject terror before complying with the carefully masked demand.

Palpatine herds all of his aides and sycophants out of his office, seals the doors, and activates the security measures. When he turns to face Obi-Wan, it is Sidious staring at him, not Palpatine.

“I did not give you leave to kill Dooku.”

Obi-Wan affects a nonchalance he never really feels when trapped in the Sith Lord's company. “If another Jedi had managed to kill him, would you be confronting them and complaining about how they didn't have permission to get rid of the Republic's enemy?”

“But I am not talking to a Jedi, am I, Apprentice?” Sidious says in a low, pleased voice.

“No,” Obi-Wan says, his voice hard. He looks up at Sidious, and for the first time, he knows it's true, knows that he really means it: “No, you're not.”

“You have done what Dooku never moved himself to do. He was too attached to sentiment, too enamored of romantic ideas about bringing a Jedi's peace back to the Republic while fighting in the name of the Sith.” Sidious smiles. “I have long held a name in reserve for the man who proved himself my true apprentice. Rise, Lord Tyrannus. We have many things to do together, you and I.”

It doesn't assuage his guilt to discover that he was correct. Sidious gives him access to secrets that fill Obi-Wan with a numb sort of horror.

Gods above and below. The control chips. Order 66.

He doesn't even know how to even begin coping with that. Sidious has at least eighteen different measures in place that will cause the Order to be enacted if he dies.

Eighteen. For fuck’s sake, he’s had enough of paranoid overkill.

Obi-Wan is so damned angry now, all the time. Like the lightning, his saving grace is that he isn’t the only one. The Order is falling apart. He isn’t castigated for being angry, but praised for being able to control it when so many have shattered on the tide of war.

The problem is that he knows how close he is to shattering, too, and in his case, there is a Sith Lord waiting to reshape the pieces.

By the time the news comes in that Death Watch has taken over Mandalore, Obi-Wan is all but begging to be sent out to the front just so he can blow something the hell up and relieve the pressure in his head. Then Maul comms the Council with Satine Kryze as a prisoner, and calls him out.

Holy gods, he could not have asked for a better opportunity.

The Chancellor and the Council do Obi-Wan the second favor of dubbing it a personal matter. It takes a lot of effort not to smile when he tells them that he'll deal with it, even though he knows what Sidious is thinking. Pitting current and former apprentices against each other will give him the strongest of the two.

Death Watch and two Zabrak Sith brothers are not good odds. Strength is not just about the physical.

He doesn't go to Mandalore first. He uses Dex's contacts to hunt down Hondo.

“Remember that favor you owe me?”

“I owe you no such favor,” Hondo says. He doesn't sound very convincing, but lightsabers at the throat aren't that great for confidence.

“I recall differently. Or have you forgotten Maul and Savage's attempt to kill you?”

Hondo pretends to consider it. “They did not do a very good job.”

Obi-Wan steps back. “I'm about to go pay them a visit. I am not above telling them how to find you.”

“All right, all right. You Jedi are so overbearing of late.” Hondo sighs. “What do you want?”

“Transportation,” Obi-Wan says, “and bounty hunters.”

“I hope you are not expecting me to pay for these mysterious bounty hunters that I do not know of and don't know how to find,” Hondo says, regaining a bit of his swagger.

“I wouldn't dream of it.” Two years ago, he would be taking this so damned seriously. Now he just wants to laugh. Fuck, what is he doing?

“What are you going to do with a pocket full of these imaginary bounty hunters?”

“Invade Mandalore.”

Hondo stares at him. “Oh, good. You went insane, and I get to deal with it. No no no no. This is no good at all.”

“Money, Hondo.”

Hondo brightens immediately. “But who cares!”

Hondo finds him Aurra Sing (fuck) a Trandoshan named Bossk, and Ventress. “Everyone else seems to be unavailable,” Hondo says with a shrug. “If money won't draw them out, they will not be coming out.”

“What do you want, my wolf?” Ventress purrs the moment she sees him. She must have already proven her reputation to Sing and Bossk, who wait for Obi-Wan to respond to the question.

“How would you like to help me kill off the entirety of Death Watch?”

“Why does the Order want Death Watch gone?” Sing asks, suspicious.

Obi-Wan smiles. “Who said anything about the Order?”

“Really, Aurra. Do pay more attention,” Ventress says.

Sing doesn’t look convinced. “If you betray me, I will put a knife in your back, Jedi,” she hisses.

“If you ever threaten me again, I will leave your head on a pike,” Obi-Wan counters.

Sing is taken aback. “You bluff.”

“He does not,” Ventress says in approval. “My dear Obi-Wan, I would almost volunteer to do this for free.”

If the threats weren't enough to sway them, the money certainly is. “Where did you get all this?” Hondo asks, watching Sing and Bossk squabble over weaponry as they prepare to depart. “Did you rob a bank, Kenobi?”

“No, just a Senator.” He doesn't like Orn Free Taa, anyway.

He's getting nervous about prep time, but this cannot be rushed. At least Maul won't kill Satine in a fit of impatience. Maul likes grand gestures, just like his fucking Master. Satine is safe until Obi-Wan is there to witness her death.

“I'll pay you double if you take down the yellow-skinned Zabrak,” Obi-Wan tells Sing and Bossk upon arrival on Mandalore.

“That is a lot of money,” Ventress says in a low voice, after the other two have agreed and scampered off to begin a lovely campaign of sniper assault and blatant daylight murders.

“They'll either succeed or they’ll die.” Obi-Wan finds that he doesn’t much care either way. “At least Sing and Bossk will keep Savage busy while we deal with Pre Vizsla and Maul.”

Ventress nods. “You want Maul.”

“I want to wrap his intestines around the entirety of Sundari, yes,” Obi-Wan says.

She gives him a fond pat on the arm. “I will make certain Vizsla is dead. Do I get paid extra for keeping your pretty girlfriend out of danger?”

Obi-Wan scowls. “Oh, gods dammit—she is not—you know what? Never mind.”

It only takes about a day for Sing and Bossk to clear out ninety-nine percent of Death Watch. That only leaves the command structure inside the capitol building.

“Vizsla's dead,” Sing hisses in delight, when they regroup the next morning.

Obi-Wan stares at her in dismay. “What? When the fuck did that happen?”

“Sometime in the afternoon,” Sing translates for Bossk. “There was a power grab. The red-skinned Zabrak won, and has claimed Vizsla's lightsaber.”

“It's a darksaber,” Obi-Wan mutters, preoccupied with trying to shift plans on the fly.

“Now who the hell am I going to kill?” Ventress asks, miffed.

“Death Watch's remaining command structure walked out,” Sing says, when Bossk continues rumbling in Trandoshan. “We might have the beginnings of a planetary rebellion forming.” Both bits of news are good, but dammit, this changes the balance of power in a way that could leave Obi-Wan with Sing and Bossk trying to stab him in the back.

“Let's go,” Obi-Wan says, giving up. Fuck plans. He's just going to kill a Zabrak and move on with his life.

“I know it's not as much fun as killing something,” Obi-Wan says to Ventress in a low voice as they approach the capitol building. “But I would like it if you would do your best to keep Savage the hell out of the fight.” The set of guards on duty—Mandalore's security corps, not Death Watch—try to intercept them. Obi-Wan buries his lightsaber in one while Ventress dispatches the other. If they're serving Maul, then they're the fucking enemy.

Ventress grumbles but agrees. “And if Savage kills the other two?”

“Then by all means, put a lightsaber through his head.”

Inside, things quickly devolve into complete chaos. They can't get the Zabraks to separate far enough to turn it into two different fights.

Dammit. Obi-Wan steps into the thick of it and resolves not to mourn if he kills Sing or Bossk by mistake.

It takes both Obi-Wan and Ventress Force-shoving at Savage to break the duel apart. Obi-Wan wastes no time in going after Maul, who is trying to pull Satine back into harm's way. No, we will not be doing that, he thinks, infuriated.

“Obi-Wan!” Satine shouts the warning.

Obi-Wan turns and winds up burying his lightsaber into Savage's chest. They both stare at each other in surprise. Savage had not expected defeat, and Obi-Wan hadn’t expected Maul’s brother to walk right into his damned lightsaber.

Maul has to ruin it by running Obi-Wan through with the darksaber.

Obi-Wan gasps and presses his hand to the right side of his chest. He’s now down a functional lung, but it’s not a fatal hit—at least not yet. It is screaming damned pain, but otherwise it’s not that bad. Force Lightning is worse.

Maul's act seems to have also really pissed off Asajj Ventress. Obi-Wan hasn’t seen her that ferocious in a lightsaber fight since the second year of the war.

“Oh, just fucking kill him,” Obi-Wan says. Ventress obliges him.

“Obi?”

Obi-Wan turns around to regard Satine. She is standing alone, unharmed, with a shocked look on her face.

“Hello,” Obi-Wan says, and then everything goes dark.

Mandalore is one of the few neutral systems that maintained access to bacta imports. It means Obi-Wan gets to live. Excellent.

He wakes up to discover Sing dead. No great loss. Ventress tells him that Sing tried to double-cross both her and Bossk. It didn't go over well. Bossk is apparently not above chewing his prey into submission.

Satine visits him in the capitol’s infirmary, but only after Ventress departs. Obi-Wan has the feeling that they don’t care for each other. She’s accompanied by the red-haired woman from Death Watch, one of Vizla's lieutenants. Obi-Wan glances back and forth between them and says, “Fuck. Katarina.”

Satine's sister flushes dull red. “Bo-Katan. I haven't gone by that ridiculous name in years.”

“Is this a temporary reunion, or has one or both of you suffered a dramatic shift in political ideology?”

“We have not decided upon any of that,” Satine says. She looks exhausted, as if she hasn’t slept since the incursion began. “How are you feeling, Obi?”

Obi-Wan tilts his head back and forth, considering. “Remarkably not dead.”

Bo-Katan smirks. “Lucky Jedi,” she says.

“Would you give us a moment, sister?” Satine asks, pressing Bo Katan's hand.

“Sure. Don't be rough with him, sister, he hasn't recovered yet.”

“We're not—”

“Fuck dammit!

Bo Katan laughs at them and leaves the room. Satine rolls her eyes before sitting down on the edge of the bed. “That was quite a display, Obi.”

He understands exactly what she is referring to. “I'm not sorry.”

Satine nods. “I did not think you would be. I do appreciate that you came to help me, but Obi-Wan…that was not the temperament of the Jedi I know and love.”

Obi-Wan tries to figure out how to explain in such a way that Satine will understand. Not having his actions reported to the Council would be nice, too.

In the end, he settles on the truth. He's too damned drugged to think of anything useful, anyway. “A Jedi's temperament would not have ensured your survival, or Mandalore's continued independence.”

“You cannot know that,” Satine says in a soft voice, and Obi-Wan has to clench his jaw to keep from shouting at her that yes, he very much does know that. He learned that lesson a long time ago.

“Sati. Mandalore's plight was declared a personal matter by the Order and the Chancellor. I did not come here as a Jedi.”

Satine's eyes widen. “My world is invaded by a Sith and it is a personal matter?” she bites out, enraged. “What madness is that?”

The decision might have fit into Obi-Wan's plans, but Satine has a point. “I don't know, Sati,” he says, and takes her hand. She allows it; apparently they are still friends, even if he’s crazy. “But it’s not the only foul decision I’ve seen made of late.”

Bacta is a double-edged sword, and he really doesn't intend the pun. It means that he is recovered enough to walk by the next day, but it also means he has to be fucking responsible for things again.

He pays Bossk, who grunts in surprise at being given the credits for Savage's death despite not fulfilling the terms of the contract. He nods and leaves without a word. It's just as well; Obi-Wan can't speak Trandoshan.

Ventress collects what she's earned, gives him a kiss on the forehead that feels like it's been delivered by a younger sibling, and saunters off to steal a ship.

“You could just take the one we arrived in!” Obi-Wan shouts after her.

“That is not nearly as much fun.”

He has to call the Council and inform them of what's happened. He doesn't want to, and he isn't required to do so, given the personal nature of the events, but Yoda and Mace won't let him be until he says something. Best to get it over and done with.

It's not until Mace is asking him, “Well? What happened, Obi-Wan?” that Obi-Wan realizes he has no fucking idea what to say.

Anakin and Ahsoka are standing with Mace. Anakin's eyes narrow suspiciously. “Annnnnd how badly did you get hurt?”

Obi-Wan holds up the darksaber hilt. “New scars,” he says.

Anakin face-palms. “I'm just going to have a med droid start following you around.”

“I take it the situation is resolved,” Mace says, after glancing at Anakin.

“Death Watch is decimated, the Sith is dead—again—and apparently Savage turned into green mist when he died. Oh, and Satine's long-lost sister turned up.”

Mace looks as if he's about to copy Anakin's face-palm. “I am never letting you out of this Temple again.”

“You asked,” Obi-Wan says.

Anakin is fighting a smile. Honestly, Ahsoka is doing a better job of hiding how amused she is by Mace’s frustration. “Do you need us to come get you?”

“No, I can manage,” Obi-Wan replies. “I'll see you in a few days.”

He refuses to be responsible for restructuring Mandalore. It was a thankless job when he was fifteen, and it would be an atrocious task now. Satine doesn't ask it of him, either, even though he knows she wants to.

Obi-Wan is not mediating a long-standing family dispute, either. Satine and Katarina can figure this out on their own.

Korkie shows up asking after Ahsoka. He’s Satine's nephew from a long-dead brother, killed during the same insurrection that almost killed Satine—and Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan along with her. It’s been almost nineteen years, and aside from Naboo, that still stands out as the worst damned mission he saw throughout his entire apprenticeship.

“They should both rule Mandalore,” Korkie says, after Obi-Wan gives him the most basic of answers about Ahsoka. That is also not his fucking job.

“Why?” Obi-Wan asks, surprised by the sudden change of subject.

“Well, my aunts are sitting at extreme ends of the political spectrum.” Korkie shrugs. “Maybe they'd balance each other out.”

“I thought you were devoted to your aunt's pacifist ideals?”

Korkie looks away. “Pacifist ideals didn't save her. You did.”

The one thing he did not expect to encounter on Mandalore was Sidious. He keeps forgetting how fast the fucker can move.

Obi-Wan is slammed against a duracrete wall. The Sith's hand unerringly finds the place where the darksaber burnt through his lung and presses hard. Obi-Wan gasps through his clenched teeth.

“You let another kill Maul,” Sidious says. He never sounds like Palpatine in these moments, just the Sith that he is.

“Dead is dead, no matter who actually performs the act,” Obi-Wan says, and shrieks when the Sith presses harder against the still-healing wound.

“Why did you not confront him alone?” Sidious asks.

“Because he was not alone, and I am not fucking stupid,” Obi-Wan spits. “Put me down, or you're going to be the next lucky bastard who gets to learn what this feels like.”

Sidious glances down to regard the hilt that Obi-Wan has pressed up against his robes. “Very good, Apprentice.”

“Go get fucked,” Obi-Wan retorts.

“Careful, Tyranus,” Sidious warns him. “You would be wise not to test my patience.”

Obi-Wan presses his hand to his chest as Sidious steps away from him. “Yes, well, if you kill me here, you're without an apprentice again, and Anakin isn't going to be inclined to join you at this juncture.”

“No, he isn't,” Sidious says thoughtfully, and then he's gone just as fast as he appeared.

Obi-Wan slumps against the wall. He's too damned tired to contemplate how much he wants to kill Sidious. At this point, it will be enough just to go home.

 

*           *           *           *

 

It takes months to figure out how he's going to counter those Orders, the contingencies, destroy Sidious’s clones, and make Sidious stay dead—especially as all of those things have to happen in the same damned moment.

Obi-Wan almost gives in and tells the Council on three different occasions, but each time he holds back. He isn't in the mood to write their death warrants, no matter how much he still wants to strangle Mace.

He's almost got it. He's so close.

Then the thrice-damned bastard Sith moves to get Ahsoka arrested and lined up for execution. No. Hell no. Anything that affects Anakin like this is not to be borne. He is not going to see the continuation of Qui-Gon's legacy butchered by military tribunal.

Obi-Wan gets to decimate the detention facility, and he hates it. The clones on duty deserve better than that kind of betrayal.

He lets Ahsoka make her own way out. She is unwittingly playing right into Sidious's plans for her. That is as far as he allows those plans to proceed.

Obi-Wan finds her after she escapes Anakin. Damn, but Anakin has taught her so well. She’s only sixteen, but Ahsoka is already a senior Padawan who has faced more in two years of war than the Trials could ever offer.

“You need to get offworld,” Obi-Wan says in a quiet voice, stepping out of the shadows.

Ahsoka squeaks and jumps. He's worked hard to remain invisible in the Force, when he wishes to be. “Master Obi-Wan! You scared me!”

“Sorry,” he says, not really sorry at all. He's so damned cold at the moment, and he has no idea why. “I repeat—you need to get offworld.”

“I can't clear my name if I leave Coruscant!” Ahsoka protests.

“For once, leave that to me, and to Anakin,” Obi-Wan tells her. “It doesn't do us any good to clear your name if they've already executed you, Ahsoka.”

“They're not going to—”

“They are, and they will. Tarkin is a ruthless fucking bastard.”

Ahsoka's eyes widen. Right; he doesn't really swear in front of her and Anakin. Obi-Wan tried to be a good influence in some respects, at least.

Oh, well. By the time this is done he will be well and truly tarnished in her eyes. A little swearing won't hurt her.

“Master Obi-Wan, I—isn't it my duty to stay?” she asks. She's all soft-eyed innocence, despite several years of war. Obi-Wan wonders how the hell she's managed to hang onto that. He dropped his innocence somewhere around Xanatos's slave collar and never went back to get it.

“Not this time. Right now it is your duty to your Master to survive.” Obi-Wan stares at her. “Promise me you will leave Coruscant, and you will not return until I or Anakin send for you.”

Ahsoka raises both hands to her mouth. “Oh. Oh, gods. I had thought—the Council is going to let them execute me, aren't they?”

Obi-Wan nods. “Yes. They are.”

Ahsoka drops her hands, indignant. “But—but that's wrong! It goes against the Code, the Force—”

Obi-Wan smiles. Gods, she is so Anakin's Padawan. “It is, yes. That's why you need to go and let us fix this mess. We need Jedi like you, those who will be unafraid to stand up against injustice even when it's amongst our own. But you cannot stand up if you are dead. Go. Live. Survive. Give Anakin the chance to Knight you.”

Ahsoka darts forward and hugs him. She manages to startle him, and it takes a moment to remember that he's supposed to hug her back.

“Go,” he says, when she hesitates again. “Right now. That's an order, Commander.” He hands her a datachip with the details of the ship expecting her. She doesn't need to know that it's Ventress; that just spoils the surprise.

Ahsoka grins at him, salutes with one of her lightsabers, and darts off into the night. Force bless it, Obi-Wan thinks she might actually do what he says.

He's walked at least a full klik before he realizes he is crying openly, a flow of stupid, useless tears that will not stop. Fuck, just what he needs.

Please don't, Obi-Wan.

“Oh, so you are speaking to me again,” Obi-Wan says, finding the ladder by Force and by feel, hidden against the crumbled corner of a building. He slides down it, avoiding the rungs.

I've never actually stopped.

Obi-Wan pauses. That makes sense, actually. After all, it's not the Force that's the problem—the problem lies within himself. Always has.

Obi-Wan keeps walking. Sidious invariably visits his favorite bolt hole beneath 500 Republica once the business of governing is done for the day, a precursor to returning to his more public apartment when he retires for the night.

I am begging you. Please do not do this.

Obi-Wan smiles. “You know, there were a lot of times when you didn't listen to me, and you were right not to do so.” He swallows. “Vice versa, Master. I love you,” he says, and deliberately shuts out his perception of that part of the Force.

 

*           *           *           *

 

Obi-Wan doesn't remember much of the battle against Sidious, once it's done and over with. He knows he performed the misdirection that kept Sidious from noticing certain changes in his infrastructure, because he has the physical damage to prove it.

All he needed was to Fall far enough, to allow Sidious to stir his rage to that specific, beautiful, exhilarating point. That's the only thing he remembers with any real clarity, aside from Sidious's death—pouring that odd green lightning into the power terminal. The conduits had been reconnected, rewired. The transfer of raw power blew out the computers that had been loaded with all of Sidious's post-death contingencies. Granted, this means he destroys half of the server banks on Coruscant, including a major one in the Temple Archives, but oh well.

Lightning through that same patchwork of conduits blows out every single fucking one of Sidious's hoarded cloning tanks, killing the genetic templates that sleep within. He can only hope he found them all.

Obi-Wan feels like he's fried himself from the inside out when it's done, and he can taste blood in his mouth. That isn’t a good sign, but then, he doesn’t actually expect to survive this.

Sidious is regarding him with a mixture of curiosity, rage, and lilting amusement. “You are more powerful than you led me to believe, Tyrannus. Yet now you are weakened, and I still live.”

Obi-Wan starts laughing. He sounds like a lunatic. “Do you know what I learned from you?”

Aside from certain useful things he’d learned on his own. Force Lightning, for example. Plo Koon’s so-called Emerald Lightning plays hell on mental perception.

“What is that, foolish apprentice?”

 “Subordinates are fucking useful,” Obi-Wan says, and then grins like a fool when Cody's rifle shot nails Sidious directly between the eyes.

Everything else is hazy because Sidious explodes.

What the hell. Nobody ever told him that Sith explode. That is vital, useful information, and there's not a hint of it in the Jedi Archives. If he lives, he's going to lodge a formal complaint.

Obi-Wan drifts in and out of consciousness. He hurts, but fuck, who cares.

“What happened?” he asks at one point. He's propped up in an aircar. Cody is piloting without his helmet. Obi-Wan's vision clears enough that he can see the tiny scar that disappears into the man's hairline, souvenir of life without a control chip.

“Well, sir, you caught on fire, for starters,” Cody says grimly.

“Fantastic,” Obi-Wan says. His vision blurs and darkens.

The next thing he knows, Cody is carrying him. “C'n walk,” he protests sluggishly.

“Sir, men who are bleeding to death don't walk very well,” Cody retorts, his voice taut with fear.

The particular hushed peace of the Temple intrudes on his consciousness, enough to bring him around again. “Th'fuck, Cody?” he rasps.

“Shut the entire hell up, sir,” Cody snaps at him, just as someone else shouts, “What the hell happened?

“Sith Lord, sir,” Cody says. Obi-Wan closes his eyes. He hopes someone will take Cody at his word and stab him before Sidious gets the final victory and causes his death.

 

*           *           *           *

 

Obi-Wan wakes up in pain and stinking of bacta. He stares up at the Ward ceiling and groans, “Oh, fuck, why?”

“Because we didn't want you to die, you asshole,” Anakin retorts.

Obi-Wan rolls his head over to regard his former Padawan. Anakin has a truly magnificent glower in progress, arms crossed and everything.

Huh. He is remarkably unrestrained and not executed. Weird.

Obi-Wan must have reacted properly. Or perhaps not; Anakin's still pissed. “You complete fucker. How could you find the Sith Lord and then not tell anyone? And what’s this shit about killing him all by yourself?”

“I don't think I'm conscious enough for this conversation,” Obi-Wan manages to say.

Anakin's glower vanishes. Obi-Wan notes red-rimmed eyes and exhausted features. Oh. Right. Anakin is going to throttle him because Anakin is…is worried about him.

Why?

They don't know.

Obi-Wan blinks, all he can manage in response to hearing that voice again. “I'm sorry,” he says to Anakin, since it’s expected. “Except I'm really not, because the fucker is dead.”

Anakin smiles. “You are a terrible Jedi, Master.”

Obi-Wan sighs. “You don't know the half of it,” he mutters. He's having trouble maintaining two threads of conversation at once.

What the fuck do you mean, they don't know?

Cody did not tell them, and…Obi-Wan, there is no body. No record of the fight exists but what lies in your memory, and even that is not complete. All the Order knows is that the Chancellor has vanished.

Are they fucking stupid?

Would you like for them to execute you? Qui-Gon retorts.

YES.

Oh, gods, Padawan.

Anakin takes Obi-Wan's hand in the meantime. It’s a well-timed distraction. Obi-Wan has no idea what to do about the audible pain and distress in his Master’s voice.

“So, do you want the bad news, good news, or the terrible news first?”

“Surprise me.”

“Well,” grief flashes across Anakin's features, “They think the Sith you confronted killed the Chancellor, given the stink of Darkness the Council could sense in the Chancellor's office.”

Obi-Wan blinks at his Padawan in amazement. Gods all, everyone really is that fucking dumb. “Is that the good news, the bad news, or the terrible news?”

Anakin makes a face. “Look, I know you didn't like him, but the Chancellor's dead. Be nice, Obi-Wan.”

Obi-Wan wiggles his fingers noncommittally. Whatever.

“The good news is twofold. One, the war has kind of ground itself to a standstill, so there's no need to rush back out to the front,” Anakin says. “The other good thing is that you're going to live.”

Obi-Wan grimaces. Point of fucking view.

“The bad news is that…well, you were hurt really fucking badly.” Anakin’s eyes tear up. “You asshole. You've just been dumped onto the injured list for at least the next two months.”

“Eh.” Obi-Wan smiles. He doesn’t want to look at a battle droid for at least twice that length of time, but he'll take what he can get. “If I'm not going to die, why are you still so upset?”

Anakin scowls at him. “You go up against a Sith Lord, and you take Cody as backup instead of me?”

Obi-Wan snorts out a laugh. “You have a bad habit of collecting scars and losing limbs whenever you fight Sith. I decided I liked the fact that you still had three biological limbs remaining to you and wanted to keep it that way.”

“That is—that—that—” Anakin keeps sputtering indignantly.

Obi-Wan smiles again. “Sound reasoning wins again.”

“Bullshit. The only reason I'm not yelling at you is because you saved my Padawan,” Anakin says, crossing his arms. “Jerk.”

“The tribunal?”

“Someone else confessed,” Anakin tells him grimly, but doesn’t elaborate.

“Your ten minutes are up, Skywalker,” a passing Healer says. Obi-Wan thinks he recognizes her, but then she's gone before he gets a clear idea of her features.

“Yeah, yeah.” Anakin sighs. “Look, I'll be back later. You just…don't run off and find any more Sith to kill, all right? I am seriously making it a rule—you are done killing Sith. Promise me.”

Fuck. Anakin has no idea what he's just asked of him. “Padawan—”

“No ifs, ands, or buts,” Anakin says, narrow-eyed. “I don't care if a hundred Sith turn up tomorrow. No. You're done. You got two Sith Apprentices and a Sith Lord. Your belt is notched. Let someone else have a turn.”

Fucking say it, Qui-Gon growls at him.

Obi-Wan's eyes widen in alarm. “All right, all right! No more killing Sith!”

“Promise,” Anakin repeats sternly.

Obi-Wan rolls his eyes. Gods damn it. “I promise.”

Anakin gives him a wide, sunny smile. “Great! You get some rest, Master. I'll be back with Ahsoka when the tyrants who call themselves Healers let me visit again.”

“All right.” It's all Obi-Wan can think to say.

Fortunately, Anakin doesn't seem to require anything else. He departs in what looks to be good spirits. Fuck. Everything. Even that annoying damned voice is radiating pleasure.

Stop being so fucking smug.

I didn't say anything.

Stop it immediately.

No.

Seriously. Fuck everything.

Obi-Wan falls asleep mid argument with what is either a truly epic dissociative split in his consciousness or a ghost. He still isn't sure. He wakes up to Mace Windu sitting where Anakin had been before, arms crossed and regarding him with his typical stern, closed expression.

“I would like you to tell me in simple syllables why in the hell you ignored the Code, and your duties to the Order, and went after a Sith Lord on your own.”

Obi-Wan stares at him in disbelief. At this point, it should be pretty damned obvious. “Motherfucking revenge.”

Mace glances away. “I suspected as much. If you had lied to me just then, you would be stripped and barred from the Order the moment you were well enough to walk out on you own two feet.”

“Is there a reason we're not doing that anyway?”

“You mean aside from the fact that half of the Order would tar and feather me for expelling their hero from our halls?” Mace snorts. “Skywalker put it best, Obi-Wan: two Sith Apprentices and a Sith Lord.”

Obi-Wan sighs and rolls his eyes towards the ceiling. “Everyone has lost their godsdamned minds.”

“That, too,” Mace agrees.

“Dammit, Mace, I'm—”

Don't. You. Dare.

Obi-Wan starts coughing mid-word when something slaps him hard, right on the damned darksaber scar. “Ow, fuck! That hurt!”

What the hell is your problem! Obi-Wan demands while Mace goes to fetch a Healer to make sure he isn't falling to bits.

You are not telling them that you're a Sith!

It's true.

No, it isn't.

Oh, good. The definition of “Sith” has changed in the last four days.

Sith train Jedi, do they? Oh, that is Qui-Gon at his most caustic.

Well, every rule has fucking exceptions.

Dammit, Obi-Wan. Do you want to die? Do you want Anakin and Ahsoka to stand over your pyre and know that this time, it's the real thing?

I—

They need you here. Alive. They do not want a corpse.

They don't need me—

They need you just as much as you needed me, Qui-Gon says in a soft voice.

“Oh, fuck—dammit,” Obi-Wan snarls, which is why Mace and the Healer find him curled up in bed, keening and crying his fucking eyes out.

Cody covers up for him, the brilliant little shit. There is no way that he stared through a rifle's scope at Sidious's face and failed to recognize him, but when the Council asks him if he knows the identity of the Sith, Cody says, “No sir, I didn't recognize him at all,” without the slightest flinch, physical or metaphysical. It’s too damned bad Cody is a happy asexual, or else that man would be getting the best sex of his life.

Obi-Wan's spotty memory works in his favor, too, even though he'd still sort of prefer it otherwise. Hell, except for his stunt with the green lightning, Cody fills in more blank spots than he does.

“I thought I warned you against repeat performances,” Plo says.

Obi-Wan shrugs. “Fucking fire me.” He's too tired, and still far too damned sore, for diplomatic responses.

“Did you know the Sith Lord’s true identity, Obi-Wan?” Ki-Adi asks him. “Was he anyone the Jedi would recognize?”

That is the best out anyone could give him, and it isn't deliberate at all. “No,” Obi-Wan says in complete honesty. “I don't think anyone in the Order would have recognized that man.”

It's exhaustion that gets him through the full briefing, when he might not have had the patience otherwise. At least twice he wants to bolt upright and shout that he is a fucking Sith, he'd been named one, dammit! Then he feels a hand tighten on his shoulder to the point of pain, holding him in place. After the second set of bruises, Obi-Wan gives up on the idea.

You promised.

Shut up, Obi-Wan mutters back, but he doesn't mean it.

“We're putting you on sixth month's mandatory sabbatical,” Mace says, calling his attention back to the briefing.

“We can do that?” Obi-Wan asks, bewildered. No one's been able to take time off except for literal life-or-death situations since the war started.

“Ground to a halt, remember?” Anakin says. “There hasn't been action on the front in days.”

“Did someone kill Grievous and forget to tell us?” That would be nice.

“Nobody's seen him,” Mace says, before Anakin can answer. “But yes, we can. The Healers wouldn't battle certify you for at least two months regardless, Obi-Wan.”

“At the end of those six months, come back to us and resume your seat,” Shaak Ti says. “We will need you.”

Obi-Wan blinks at her in abject shock. “Wait, what?”

“Why are you so surprised?” Mace asks.

“I thought it was a given, and I'd just dozed off through that part of the meeting,” Obi-Wan says. “But I—”

“No, you don't get to quit. Sorry,” Mace says, looking not sorry at all.

“Fuck dammit.”

“Go away, heal up, put your mind in order, and come back with a functioning verbal filter,” Shaak Ti instructs him, and it takes everything in Obi-Wan's power not to start laughing at them. They have no idea what kind of verbal filter he really has.

“Peace, Obi-Wan,” Yoda says. “All will be well.”

Obi-Wan looks at him and wonders if the troll knows more about the situation than he's admitting to. “Perhaps.”

“Go. May the Force be with you.” Obi-Wan exits the Council Chambers with Anakin on his left and Ahsoka on his right, trying to figure out what in the hell just happened.

Anakin grumps and bitches about not getting to go with him, but Obi-Wan points out that he and Ahsoka get to go pry Grievous out of hiding and remove all of his limbs, so who's really going to be having more fun?

 “Naboo?” Obi-Wan asks, when he’s given his travel itinerary.

“Yeah. Padmé's idea.” Anakin grins. “You'll like the spot she picked. I got married there.”

“Padawan!” Obi-Wan bursts out, as Anakin announces his marriage right in front of Ahsoka.

“What? Oh. It's fine, Master. If anyone deserves to know that illicit fact about me, it's my Padawan,” Anakin says.

Obi-Wan feels like he's been gutted, but he just nods and smiles. “I imagine so. I'll see you in six months, Anakin.”

Anakin hugs him after Ahsoka does. Obi-Wan holds on and tries to pretend that this is normal.

“Not unless we sneak away from things and come for a visit.”

“Anakin.”

“Hey, what they don’t know won't hurt them,” Anakin says.

Indeed.

The house he's taken to by one of Padmé's people (Dormé? Eirtaé? Sabé? Fuck, some days it really is hard to tell) is in the lake country. It's quiet, remote, peaceful. Beautiful. It's the kind of place Qui-Gon would have given his left arm to stay in for a few days, let alone six months.

Right arm, not left.

Details.

There is nothing to do but walk, swim, poke around the cave system one of the lakes carved out, eat, or sleep. It is driving him fucking nuts.

The point of being here is to relax.

“There is nothing to do,” Obi-Wan snarls back, stalking up and down the width and breadth of the lake house. At least he managed to convince the Naboo not to keep a cadre of servants around. There's just a grocery delivery once a week to be concerned with.

“I'm not used to doing nothing.” Obi-Wan takes a breath when one of the windows cracks ominously. “I've never not done something,” he whispers.

Perhaps it is time to learn how to do nothing, then.

“Sure,” Obi-Wan says, and slumps down onto the floor and stares at the wall. Even he knows this isn't the right sort of doing-nothing, but it's better than screaming.

Sometimes his dissociative hallucination leaves him alone. Other times Qui-Gon asks questions that Obi-Wan would sooner eat his lightsaber than respond to, but he doesn't seem to expect answers when Obi-Wan can't manage to give them.

Did you ever want to be a Sith? Qui-Gon asks him one evening. Obi-Wan has his bare feet up on the outdoor table. There are phosphorescent insects blinking yellow, blue, and green in the grass around the lake.

“No.”

Honestly?

Obi-Wan swallows. “Accepting the necessity of something isn't the same as wanting it.”

You're talking about Dooku.

Obi-Wan scowls. “Weren't you?”

No. Hesitation. Though the same philosophy still applies.

Obi-Wan drops his feet down from the table and bends forward, biting his clasped knuckles. He doesn't know if he's going to say something he's not ready to face, something he would regret, or if it would just be more mindless screaming.

He feels like there are eyes on him, but it's a quiet regard. It’s still fucking weird.

When is the last time that you meditated?

Shit. “I don't know.”

His Qui-hallucination doesn't say anything else, which is good. He's already had to fix this stupid table once already.

Obi-Wan manages to meditate for ten solid minutes the next day, after several false starts. He doesn't know if he feels any better. It doesn't feel like…like anything.

“You asked me if I'd ever wanted to be a Sith,” Obi-Wan says, when he's finally managed to make tea without zoning out so much that he scorches the leaves into an undrinkable mess. “I only ever wanted to be a Jedi.” Obi-Wan glances down at his clenched fists. “And I'm not even that.”

You are.

“Am I?” Obi-Wan shakes his head. “I was Knighted because you died and they didn't know what the fuck else to do with a Padawan who killed a Sith.”

You do not think that success against a Sith is enough to signify readiness?

Obi-Wan responds with a mirthless laugh. “Even I know that killing a Sith in a blind rage means that you've failed your Trials.”

Perhaps, Qui-Gon admits, though I can't say that I would not have done the same, had our positions been reversed.

We are mortal, fallible beings, Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon continues, when Obi-Wan says nothing. For someone who claims to be a Sith, you trained a student who was too old, too cynical, too wild, too distrustful. You turned an incredibly gifted but partly broken child into a Jedi—not the sort of Knight that the Order wants, but the sort of Jedi Knight that it desperately needs. You'll pardon me if I continue to think that it takes a brilliant Jedi to accomplish what even Yoda thought would be impossible.

Obi-Wan wipes angrily at his face. “It wasn't impossible. They just weren't looking.

But you did, Qui-Gon says, and you will learn to see even further than you do now.

“What the fuck does that mean?”

You are the only Jedi who can hear me consistently, all the time, without struggling to do so.

“That's because you're a hallucination brought on by a dissociative break,” Obi-Wan grumbles. It’s disconcerting when Qui-Gon just laughs.

The next day, Obi-Wan goes out onto the massive pile of rocks that create an uneven, artificial landmass that trails out into the lake. One of the servants, making her weekly check of the house to make sure he hasn't burned the place down or swallowed his own tongue, tells him that the rocks had all been taken from the farms nearby. With every spring plow, the pile gets bigger. It means he can walk a significant way out into the lake and stay dry from the knees up. Some days he just wants to be out in such a remote spot, as removed from land as possible, without having to tread water to stay that way.

Then he slips on a patch of algae that he didn't see, falls sideways, cracks his skull on a rock, and almost fucking drowns.

Obi-Wan claws his way back onto the rock pile, vision doubling and tripling. Blood is dripping from his head. He has no idea how the hell he managed to righten himself in the water, much less surface.

Stop fucking pondering it and get out of the damned lake!

“Fine, fine,” Obi-Wan mumbles, and does manage to get far enough out of the water that he won't slip back in before he passes out.

When he wakes up sometime later, it’s still daylight, but the sun is much lower in the sky. “Oh, for fuck's sake,” he mutters, and then throws up as the concussion makes itself known. “I hate this damned planet.”

No, you don't.

Obi-Wan makes a noise that could have been agreement, or protest, or maybe he was just still gagging. He slips back into the water and lets the gentle lake tide carry him to the shore. It takes a long time, but there is no fucking way he’s going to be crossing the rock pile safely, not without risking another fall. He collects himself enough to stand, if only because he refuses to crawl all the way back up the beach and into the house. There is a med kit somewhere in the ’fresher. Maybe. He swore he'd seen one somewhere…

Obi-Wan blinks down at the kitchen table. “Yeah, I know it wasn't there,” he says, but it has anti-inflammatories in it, so he stops giving a fuck.

He strips off his wet clothes, falls into bed, and sleeps a full damned day. At least when he wakes up, he just feels bruised and sore. Gods, but he’s had enough of almost dying. It is a terrible damned habit.

I have been telling you that for years.

Obi-Wan trudges into the ’fresher and gingerly lifts his hair up out of an unfortunate crust of dried blood. The gash isn't bad, though it starts bleeding again the moment he dabs bacta on it. “Dammit.”

He goes to the kitchen, makes tea, sits down at the table, and proceeds to not think for a while as he tries to wake up.

Someone throws a ration bar at him.

“Fuck!”

Obi-Wan lifts his head, glancing around. Yes, there is indeed a ration bar on the floor.

Another one bounces off the side of his head when he’s still staring at the first one. “Ow! Fuck, okay, I get the godsdamned hint!”

Obi-Wan does feel better after eating. Feeling better doesn't explain the flying ration bars.

He’s so bothered by what happened that he actually leaves the first bar on the floor and walks around it. He is crazy, and he has poltergeists. Excellent.

Is insanity your explanation for everything?

“It's gotten me through the last fourteen years,” Obi-Wan says. His chest hurts from too many recent, traumatic injuries, and his heart is pounding. He feels like he’s going to have a fucking panic attack.

Obi-Wan sits down on the steps outside. There is only so much denial he can voice before he has to call bullshit on himself.

Obi-Wan?

It’s just—if it really is—

Why can it not be?

“Because,” Obi-Wan gasps out, wrapping his arms around his legs and burying his face against his knees, “I don't fucking deserve to have that chance.”

Because you've seen everything.

Because there is no way you would ever speak to me again if you were real.

I think I will be the one deciding whom I do and do not speak to.

Obi-Wan tries to laugh, but it’s choked off when he suddenly feels like he’s been enveloped in warmth, as if he’s being held by someone larger than he is.

No no no no no—

You already know that it's real, Qui-Gon says gently, at the same time as invisible fingers card through his hair. Breathe, Obi-Wan.

He does try, but it still comes out as more horrific sobbing.

 

*           *           *           *

 

Obi-Wan is a hell of a lot more sane, and he knows it, by the time Anakin, Padmé, and Ahsoka come for a visit two months later. He’s in his fourth month of sabbatical exile; he can meditate again, he hasn't broken anything in weeks, and he hasn't given himself any more damned concussions.

Thank goodness for small favors.

He also has a fucking sarcastic ghost hanging about, but he’s getting used to the idea.

Obi-Wan is ready to greet them as they walk up the steps from the dock, and then the greeting dies on his lips. “How in the fuck are you pregnant?

Padmé gives him an odd look. “I am not about to have to explain basic biology to a Jedi Master, am I?”

“ANAKIN!”

Anakin looks sheepish. “We were both on birth control, Master. It happened anyway. We kind of took it as a sign that some things are meant to be.” Ahsoka is giggling at him, possibly because Obi-Wan’s jaw is still hanging open.

“Twins, Anakin! Those are your things that are meant to be! What are you going to do with two children?”

Anakin's eyes are comically wide, as are Padmé's. “Uh. Shit. Panic?” Ahsoka bends over and howls with laughter.

“I didn't even sense—how did you know?” Anakin asks, after giving his Padawan an indignant look.

“Yes, really,” Padmé adds. “Not even the scans picked up on that!”

“I guess you just have to know how to see,” Obi-Wan says, and then holds up his hand, one finger raised, to his immediate right. “Not a damned word, you.”

“Er, Obi-Wan?”

“Don't worry, Padmé. Your lake house is just haunted.”

“Neat!” says Ahsoka, between giggles.

“Well, a haunted lake house is still better than you being crazy,” Anakin says, grinning.

“Oh, there's that, too, but it's apparently the useful sort of crazy,” Obi-Wan replies. “Come in; I promise that there are no bodies and nothing is broken.”

“Except the window,” Padmé says, the moment she steps inside.

“Oh, right. I forgot about that.”

Ahsoka follows Padmé into the house, but Anakin lingers. “You can see him too, huh?”

Obi-Wan side-eyes him. “So you're one of the other Jedi he's been pestering.”

“I think he's been after Yoda, too, because Yoda looks a lot more irritated than he used to,” Anakin says.

He just doesn't like inconvenient truths.

“Too damned bad.” At some point soon, Obi-Wan is going to make sure that at least part of Dooku's reputation gets cleaned up. He and Cody can point out that Sith explode upon dying…and Dooku had not.

Are you all right, Master?” Anakin asks, his smile dropping away. “I've been worried.”

Obi-Wan looks at him, at this Jedi Knight he somehow managed to train while half out of his mind, who is in turn training a brilliant student of his own. Qui-Gon has been after him for months, but Obi-Wan is finally—grudgingly—starting to admit that they’re his legacy, too.

“I will be, but I have a lot of things I'd like to speak with you about.”

“Uh, sure.” Anakin looks doubtful. “But I mean, you don't have to if you don't—”

“Anakin, you're my Padawan.” Obi-Wan smiles. “If anyone deserves to know illicit things about me, it's you.”