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who cares about your lonely heart

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Part I

***

Obi-Wan sighed as he looked over the report about the absence of any intel on Grievous’ location for the third time. The droid general was all that stood in the way of a finally ending the war, but he’d simply vanished into thin air. And the Jedi were spread too thin to devote the resources they should to find him, instead having to rely on clone intelligence.

His comlink buzzed on the table and he didn’t need the Force to know who was calling.

“Where are you, Anakin?” he asked, somewhat irritable. “You were supposed to be at the briefing.”

He was expecting some manner of teasing in return, but Anakin’s voice was completely serious. “I’m at the Senate. Chancellor Palpatine wants to talk to me.”

“About what?”

“No idea, but…” Anakin hesitated, his voice going curiously tight. “I have a bad feeling about things, Obi-Wan. Something’s wrong.”

Obi-Wan frowned. He was experienced enough not to immediately dismiss such concerns out of hand. “Anything specific?”

“Padmé is in danger,” Anakin said, and suddenly his agitation made perfect sense to Obi-Wan. “I can feel it. And I’m still waiting for the Chancellor. Could you go make sure she’s all right?”

“You know that air-traffic is still highly restricted after the battle. It would take me hours to get to 500 Republica.”

Anakin made a sound of annoyance and Obi-Wan could almost see him brushing a hand through his hair in frustration. “What about the Jedi privileges?”

Obi-Wan sighed. “Did you not read the last political briefing? The recent security act that your friend Palpatine pushed through revoked almost all our special rights on Coruscant.”

He could hear the frown in Anakin’s voice. “What? Why? What does the Senate gain from that?”

“I wish I knew. I told you things between the Chancellor and the Jedi are tense.”

Anakin was silent for a moment. “You could fly.”

Now it was Obi-Wan’s turn to frown. “I’m trying to be inconspicuous, Anakin. Flying through Coruscant in broad daylight isn’t exactly subtle.”

“Master, please,” Anakin said, and there was no mistaking the plea in his voice. “I really feel that there is danger, and you’re the only one I can ask.”

Obi-Wan suppressed a sigh. Anakin knew full well that it was very hard for Obi-Wan to say no to him, especially when he unpacked that tone of voice. “Fine. But you owe me dinner for this.”

“I rather think you still owe me,” Anakin returned, his flippancy doing nothing to disguise his stark relief. “And Master? Please hurry.”

“I’ll leave immediately,” Obi-Wan promised, already tugging off his robe. It would only get in the way of his wings, though he loathed losing the anonymity a low hood could afford him.

While he’d always appreciated the balcony that came attached to many of the rooms put aside for Masters, now he had a more practical reason to be glad for the small space outside from which to launch himself. His face tensed slightly in concentration as he altered his appearance, great wings bursting forth from his back. The best he could describe the process was that it was like flipping a switch in his brain – a switch that he could only find with intense focus, and once flipped it took a similar amount of concentration to switch back. For a while after he’d discovered his unique physiology on a mission with Qui-Gon he’d tried to find explanations for it, tried to figure out the physics behind wings capable of bearing a fully grown human, but in the end he’d had to make do with Qui-Gon’s reminder that in the Force, all things are possible.

He perched on the railing for a moment, then with one big flap took off into the darkening sky.

There was something other about gliding through Coruscant’s glittering sky without the noise of an engine, cutting through the air purely under his own power – a freedom that Obi-Wan would deny wanting quite so badly if anyone asked, but wanted nonetheless. Swift as a gleaming shadow he passed through airlanes and past innumerable windows, cloaked in the Force as to avoid detection.

Padmé was out on the balcony when he landed, staring at him with wide eyes.

Obi-Wan folded his wings behind his back somewhat self-consciously before vanishing them completely.

“Milady,” he murmured, dipping into an aborted bow.

Padmé’s gaze hung in the space behind his shoulder blades for another moment, then she visibly shook herself out of her daze. She puffed up, no doubt ready to give him a piece of her mind about his continued insistence on titles, then noticed the twinkle in his eyes and deflated again with a slightly rueful laugh.

“Obi-Wan, it’s good to see you. This is… something of a shock.”

“Oh, so you don’t routinely have winged men landing on your private balcony?” Obi-Wan inquired innocently.

She gave him a dirty look, then motioned inside. “Do you want anything? Refreshments, tea?”

“Tea would be lovely.” Obi-Wan inclined his head. “It is good to see you, Padmé, all teasing aside. I just wish it were under better circumstances.”

She froze in mid-motion, her voice strangled when she asked, “Has something happened to Anakin?”

He shook his head and could see the sudden tension leaving her slight frame once more. “No, but he is worried about you. His feelings tell him you’re in danger.” He smiled wryly. “I’ve learned the hard way to take Anakin’s feelings seriously.”

“And so he sent you to make sure I’m alright.”

“Just as you say.”

Padmé frowned for a moment, then clearly came to the conclusion that what Anakin wanted to do, Anakin did and there was little use arguing about it.

“In that case, make yourself comfortable. I haven’t seen you in far too long.” She was clearly trying to suppress her anxiety in typical Padmé fashion, but even as she busied herself leading Obi-Wan to the sofa and calling for C-3PO to bring refreshments there was a slightly pinched expression on her face that told of her concerns.

“Did Anakin say anything more specific?” she finally asked, settling down next to Obi-Wan. “Not that I’m not grateful for your presence, I’m sure you can deal with whatever danger there is, but – ”

“It’s understandable to be concerned,” Obi-Wan gently interrupted her sentence before it could entirely run away from her. “In all honesty, so am I. Anakin’s feeling wasn’t very specific, and not knowing what to expect always puts me on edge.”

It was C-3PO’s exclamation of ‘Oh my, what are you – ’ and then a guttering electronic sigh that alerted Obi-Wan to the possible danger. He jumped up, pushing Padmé behind him in the same motion as he scanned for attackers.

He came face to face with a squad of clones. He had fought beside them for years now and there was a complete lack of malice in their presences even as they pointed blasters at him.

His split second hesitation cost him dearly. A first shot grazed his arm and as his lightsaber began to move in a dizzying blur that kept more shots at bay, pain suddenly flooded his link with Anakin – pain so visceral it was all he could do not to let it bring him to his knees. It felt like someone was attempting to saw through their bond with a rusty nail.

His guard dropped.

Obi-Wan barely heard Padmé’s concerned shout before three stun bolts hit him straight on and his nerveless fingers opened around the hilt of his lightsaber. He hit the ground shortly after his weapon did.

*

Waking up from being stunned was never a pleasant affair, generally accompanied by muscle spasms and the taste of blood in one’s mouth as it was. However, Obi-Wan felt that being dragged along a hard, cold floor by former comrades in arms with his hands shackled behind him came especially close to the top of the ever-growing list of ‘situations Obi-Wan Kenobi (Jedi Master) would rather not wake up in’.

The Force was still there, thank the gods, though the pounding in his head was hardly conducive to focus. His mind ached where the psychic wound still lingered; at least his bond with Anakin was still mostly intact – the attack must’ve been meant as a distraction more than anything else. A quick mental stretch revealed that Padmé was near him and conscious, also moving in the same troop of clones. The bright presence they were moving towards was also familiar. Normally Obi-Wan would be happy about shortly being in Anakin’s company – it tended to make escapes ever so much easier – but a bad feeling had lodged itself deep in his gut. There was no scenario in which a decently smart captor would want him and Padmé reunited with Anakin that was in any way reassuring. Instead it was just very worrying.

Obi-Wan chanced a glance upwards and frowned. The hallway they were currently traversing looked suspiciously like the ones in the Senate building, except that that made absolutely no sense. While generally quiet at night, it would still be a tremendous risk to forcefully escort a well-known Senator and a Jedi Master on the High Council through the seat of the Galactic Senate.

His bad feeling was quickly morphing into a very bad feeling, and then only got worse when he realized that the door the clones were dragging them towards led to the Supreme Chancellor’s Office. He allowed himself a moment of absolute disbelief before putting it aside – denial would not help them here.

Padmé’s presence had gone from frightened to tumultuous when she’d realized the same thing, a dark streak of betrayal lancing through her artificial calm. Obi-Wan was almost glad that he couldn’t see her face – and then halted mentally in his tracks when he realized that Anakin was in that room. Anakin, who’d always counted Chancellor Palpatine as his friend, as a confidante when he couldn’t talk to Obi-Wan, no matter how much the latter had tried to prohibit that habit.

Oh, Anakin.

The door opened.

Obi-Wan wouldn’t soon forget the look of impotent rage on Anakin’s face, as he stared towards them in the doorway. The other person in the room was indeed Palpatine, and though he didn’t seem to be outwardly threatening Anakin, the aura of darkness had thickened and there was a small cruel smile on his face that couldn’t have been more unsettling if it’d tried.

Obi-Wan was almost too preoccupied to realize the short drop was coming as the clones let his limp body fall to the floor. He grunted – with his hands bound behind him, cushioning his fall proved a tad difficult.

His new eye line proved unenlightening, save for one thing. Obi-Wan squinted. Was that Rex’s blaster pistol on the ground? The clone himself was nowhere to be seen, which wasn’t a good sign. Rex never willingly let go of his trusted weapons. Somewhere out of his field of vision the clomp clomp clomp of the clones’ booted feet receded, leaving only stifling silence.

His throat constricted around a startled noise as an invisible force tightened around him, raising his body until he stood. The binders fell away.

“You’ll hardly need those,” Palpatine said, voice smooth satin.

Obi-Wan suppressed a shiver that became a full-blown twitch when he tried to move and found that he couldn’t. Not even a single finger would obey his command; the whole scenario was unsettlingly close to a few of the nightmares that had plagued him over the years.

Palpatine was now standing so close to him that Obi-Wan could smell his rancid breath, could count the lines marring his face and he wouldn’t be ashamed to say that it was one of the most intensely uncomfortable situations he’d ever found himself in.

Palpatine smiled, an expression of such viciousness that Obi-Wan half thought he would’ve taken a step back had he been able to. Next to him Padmé was frozen with a similar expression of horror on her face, her fear coiling in the Force, only overshadowed by the darkness radiating from Palpatine.

Great Force, how could we not have sensed this before?

Obi-Wan’s hand twitched with the force of his need for a lightsaber in his hand – he had faced down Maul and Dooku more times than he ever could’ve wished and yet their darkness had been nothing, nothing compared to Palpatine’s. Obi-Wan had wondered, sometimes, in the privacy of his own mind, how the Sith Master they’d been searching for could possible feel worse to the senses than Maul’s putrid decay and Dooku’s ice cold rage, but even then he’d not been foolish enough to want to find out.

His fingers twitched again, this time as much with anger as with instinct because this was the man who’d made the galaxy suffer for years, made the Jedi suffer, made Anakin suffer, made him suffer. This man had stolen the lives of so many and Obi-Wan wanted the fucker to be as dead as could be, right now, preferably with fire and he still fucking couldn’t move. Perhaps he would’ve lost himself in this moment of unforgiving rage, if Palpatine had not smiled at him, slow and satisfied, as if he enjoyed Obi-Wan’s anger. The thought might as well have been a shower of ice water, dousing the flames with tiredness. The last thing he wanted to do was give Palpatine the satisfaction.

Finally the Sith Lord turned away from him, his attention refocusing on Anakin. No matter how uncomfortable his scrutiny had been, Obi-Wan would’ve preferred that to having to watch Palpatine turn that attention on his… on Anakin instead.

“Now, my future apprentice, time to make a choice.” Palpatine’s smile widened. “Kill one of them, or I will kill them both.”

At Obi-Wan’s side, a blood-red lightsaber sprang into life, close enough to his arm that he could feel it scorching his tunics.

Anakin’s disbelieving horror burst into Obi-Wan’s senses like a supernova. “What?”

“You heard me.” Palpatine’s eyes glinted in the half-darkness. His hand moved ever so slightly, and Obi-Wan hissed as the red blade left an actual burn on his skin. As far as demonstrations of power went, it was convincing enough. One swipe of his arm and Obi-Wan would be dead, and Padmé would follow less than a second later. Not even Anakin would be fast enough to save them.

Anakin’s eyes locked onto Obi-Wan’s, wide and desperate.

/Anakin, you have to choose me. Remember what you learned about me not long ago./ Obi-Wan didn’t dare send more than that – bonds between Jedi were sacred for those in the light, and as far as they knew what was said through them couldn’t be overheard, but he wasn’t inclined to take any chances. Palpatine had already proven that he had powers the Jedi had never conceived of. The still raw spot in his mind where his bond with Anakin resided was proof enough of that

He did his best to send gentle warmth and the impression of a smile. /And whatever happens, Anakin, I will always forgive you. You know that./

Anakin’s features twisted in sorrow and horrible doubt, but one shaking hand rose, summoning Rex’s blaster to his palm. His fingers clenched tightly enough to make the blaster handle creak, and then, before anyone could say anything else, he fired.

Burning pain exploded in Obi-Wan’s stomach, overshadowing his thought of thank the Force. The force holding him in place vanished and he fell to the floor, eyes pressed shut to prevent tears of agony from escaping.

Somewhere far away, Palpatine was laughing and Anakin was drowning in guilt.

It was the second realization that made him stave off shock from setting in long enough to act. The amount of concentration needed to force his change was almost beyond him, and what he planned to do was even harder. He couldn’t alert Palpatine to what he was doing, which meant that a full change was out of the question, but he needed his slightly different physique to have any chance of surviving a blaster shot to the stomach. If it weren’t for the knowledge burning in his heart that he had to do this or everything was lost, it would’ve been impossible. But with Anakin’s pain and guilt creeping into his mind through the bond, the man that was Obi-Wan Kenobi could not surrender – would not surrender. The need to help his former Padawan was so intrinsic to his being that there simply was no other choice.

When Obi-Wan laboriously opened his eyes, Palpatine appeared in his field of vision, but the Sith Lord was paying him no heed. Light began to gather around Obi-Wan’s midsection, the curves of his body growing ever so slightly more slender, his bones losing weight. At the same time, half his concentration was needed to keep his wings from erupting from his back. No matter how distracted, there was no way Palpatine wouldn’t notice that.

As soon as the pain had lessened enough for him to move without blacking out, Obi-Wan jumped. Towering wings fanned out behind him, propelling him towards Palpatine. The Sith half turned, eyes widening. Obi-Wan didn’t afford him the split-second that he would’ve needed to raise his lightsaber.

Light and dark collided, Jedi and Sith tumbling to the floor in an uncontrolled heap. Palpatine’s lightsaber rolled away and he screeched as pure Force light touched his skin in all the places where Obi-Wan had wrapped himself around him. The sound raised the hairs on the back of Obi-Wan’s neck and his wings shuddered where they had folded around his adversary, blocking his movements.

Palpatine continued howling, but even in his agony he brought the Force to bear and then it was Obi-Wan who was screaming as darkness bit into his wings, his hands, his legs, acidic and burning.

“Anakin!” he screamed around the pain clogging his throat, fighting the rising black in his vision. “Now!”

A beam of blue light struck once, barely avoiding various flailing limbs before it cut cleanly through Palpatine’s neck.

In a second their struggle ceased, Palpatine falling limp as Obi-Wan released his hold.

The Force wrapped around him, soothing even as it whispered a warning. With a strangled shout, Obi-Wan gathered his last vestiges of energy and grabbed Anakin by the lapel, propelling them both backwards towards Padmé. They went down hard on the carpeted floor and Obi-Wan’s wings flared in a protective shield just as Palpatine’s body exploded in a burst of dark energy powerful enough to slam them all into the nearest wall.

The Sith Lord left only ash behind.

“Well, that could’ve been worse,” Obi-Wan groaned and promptly lost consciousness.

*

“ – just because you’re an angel now doesn’t mean that your self-sacrificial streak is validated, you stubborn –”

The voice carried on in a similar vein, demonstrating a vast vocabulary of insults and general profanity that brought a small smile to Obi-Wan’s lips. He drifted for a while, letting Anakin’s babble wash over him, secure in the knowledge that whatever had happened after he’d passed out his former Padawan seemed to be just fine, judging by the fact that he could sit next to Obi-Wan in what had to be the medical wing in the Temple bitching at him about almost dying again for minutes on end.

With this degree of consciousness, however, other concerns also made themselves known – among them the fact that he seemed to be… floating? There was certainly nothing solid below him. His body gave an instinctual twitch, not comfortable with the absence of steady surface beneath it. The resulting clatter made him wince and also made it very clear that Anakin had not missed the small motion.

“Master! Can you hear me?”

His head pounded sluggishly at the added volume assaulting his sensitive ears. “Not so loud, Anakin. Your shouting could wake the dead.”

Obi-Wan’s eyes opened to find Anakin’s face hovering only centimetres above his own. In one of his less glorious moments, he yelped.

Anakin frowned. “I wasn’t speaking that loudly.”

Obi-Wan’s head gave another angry throb, though perhaps this time it was more his eyes complaining about the golden halo around everything. He might be very fond of his former Padawan but he really didn’t need to see him lit up with an inner fire like some sort of romantic storybook hero. He blinked once, twice, and the effect dimmed somewhat.

Still feeling somewhat detached from most of his body, Obi-Wan attempted to clear his parched throat and asked, “Why do I appear to be floating?”

A glass of water was thrust in front of his face with all the subtlety of a herd of stampeding banthas, but for once he didn’t complain and only accepted the offering gratefully.

“Um,” Anakin said, vaguely motioning with his hands. “You’ve still got wings, Master. They couldn’t figure out how to let you lie down without damaging them further so the healers used a suspension field.”

Obi-Wan pushed aside his first immediate reaction to make himself as small as possible in the Force in an attempt to hide in favour of sighing. That certainly explained why his hearing was so sensitive and his eyes gone all weird.

“Ah,” he said, unenthusiastically. “I assume that means everyone knows now?”

Anakin shrugged, only looking somewhat guilty. “In between us getting you here from the Senate and through half the Temple? Yeah, I’d say so.” He pointed a stern finger at Obi-Wan. “And before you get ideas about changing back right this instant, and don’t try to tell me you weren’t thinking it, I know you better than that” – Obi-Wan subsided with a grumble – “the healers wouldn’t advise it. Your wings aren’t healed up fully and since no one knows what happens to them when you’re, um, you, they’d rather be able to keep them under observation. They want you to keep your form as it is right now, actually, to avoid you accidentally interfering with the healing process.”

Obi-Wan sighed again. Oh Force – more time with the healers, just what he’d always dreamed of.

Clearly anticipating Obi-Wan’s grumpiness, Anakin grinned. “Look at it this way, Master. At least you don’t have to deal with all the politicians and committees mobbing everyone else about what happened. I swear, if one more journalist attempts to ask Master Windu whether the Jedi Order was aware of Palpatine’s affiliation with the Sith he’s going to kill someone.”

In retrospect, Obi-Wan wasn’t really all that cut up about having slept through most of the aftermath.

As it turned out, when Anakin said ‘your wings aren’t fully healed’, what he meant was ‘there are great big black swirls on them’.

The first time Obi-Wan managed to stand unassisted, the hole in his stomach reduced to a mild throbbing annoyance, and walked the short distance to the fresher, he found himself in front of the mirror, staring at his altered reflection. At the moment he looked like a cross between his usual form and what Anakin had termed – much to Obi-Wan’s annoyance – his ‘angelic’ form. While his features were still undeniably him, there was a slight golden sheen to his skin, his cheekbones were a bit more prominent, much as the rest of his body felt lighter than usual and his eyes glowed slightly, though still in their customary blue-grey colour. His wings flexed behind his back, an unconscious gesture of discomfort, dragging his gaze to the golden feathers. They weren’t entirely light anymore. Expansive swirls of black now crisscrossed what had once been a unified colour; they looked like he imagined a tattoo would look like that had been burned on instead of inked. One wing curled forward and his fingertips reached out to feel along the smooth ridges. It perhaps unsettled him even more than their existence that he could feel absolutely no difference between the healthy part of his wings and the burned part.

He could still remember Palpatine’s dark energy spilling from his body, wrapping around Obi-Wan in a desperate defence. Obi-Wan’s body still bore the marks of the dark fire, burns slow to heal and easily aggravated, but at least they were, as far as the healers could tell, normal burns. No one knew what to make of the changes to his wings.

From a certain point of view one might look upon the marks as decoration, their elegant swirls not displeasing to the eye. From another, they could be scars, born of the fight that determined the future of the Republic. For Obi-Wan, they would always be memories, both of the pain that Palpatine’s darkness inflicted and of the burning relief in Anakin’s eyes when the Sith Lord finally died.

He sighed quietly and closed his eyes for a moment before turning away from the mirror. There was nothing he could do about it at the moment, so he might as well try to rest some more so that the Healers finally deemed him recovered enough to leave this blasted place.

*

Obi-Wan was quite aware that his irritation was leaking through his shields, forming into the Force equivalent of a thundercloud hovering above his head as he made his way back to his rooms from the Temple commissary. He disliked having to eat there on principle, preferring to make his own food (a trait happily fostered by Qui-Gon who’d shared his suspicions about some of the ingredients of the communal meals – and, incidentally, had had little in the way of culinary talents himself), though these last few years he’d been forced to do so more often than not due to time constraints. Lately however the experience had become nigh unbearable. Though Jedi were taught enough control early on not to approach him outright, whispers and stares followed Obi-Wan wherever he went in the Temple; the only reason the commissary was particularly bad was that by the nature of its function he couldn’t opt for a strategic retreat if he wanted to eat his food, however unappetizing.

Obi-Wan hated being the centre of attention – except that Jedi didn’t hate, so he strongly disliked it instead. Suffice to say the last two weeks had been very trying. There was a bloody good reason why he didn’t usually run around with great shining wings on his back. They weren’t exactly inconspicuous and quite ran counter to Obi-Wan’s intrinsic taste for subtlety. At least their conspicuousness drew attention away from his changed features.

Said wings twitched in irritation as he passed another pair of gawking Padawans. If the healers didn’t lift their restriction on not letting him vanish his wings again soon, they’d have to deal with one very pissed off Jedi Master. He’d already been pushed rather close to the edge of his endurance when even his fellow Council members had kept glancing at the appendages hanging somewhat awkwardly over the back of his seat. The urge to wipe that annoying little smirk from Mace’s face would’ve made a lesser Jedi buckle. Yoda hadn’t been much better with his oh-so innocent query whether they should invest in a new chair to fit his altered physique. Just because the little troll required a special seat didn’t mean he had to rub everyone else’s face in it.

As horrible as all this was, that was only within the temple, where people at least knew him personally, as Obi-Wan Kenobi – not as General Kenobi or the Negotiator or some other rubbish title someone had seen fit to saddle him with during the war. He hadn’t dared to go outside ever since he’d been released from the halls of healing. Between Anakin’s stories about being all but mobbed by the press on his way to the Senate and Obi-Wan’s own current inability to sustain a powerful enough see-me-not to hide his wings for longer than a few minutes at his depleted energy levels, he really wasn’t keen to show his face anywhere outside the Temple. He knew well the fickleness of the media spotlight and was quite certain that most would forget all about him when the next big news story rolled along, but in his humble opinion, that new story could really hurry the kriff up.

It was entirely possible that he was in dire need of an extended mediation session.

Or maybe he just needed to get off Coruscant for a while – surely the rest of the galaxy couldn’t be so hell-bent on hounding the ‘saviours of the Republic’ as the people here seemed to be?

The more he thought about the idea, the more he grew to like it. Force knew he’d earned some downtime at this stage, and Anakin too. The war was as good as over after the capitulation of the majority of the Separatist council, and a watchful peace had fallen over the galaxy, which meant that finally they weren’t needed as badly anymore – and they could always play the Sith Killer card if the Council tried to protest. Grievous was still at large, but it would only be a matter of time until they ran him off his durasteel claws.

He palmed open his door, not in the least surprised to find Anakin and Padmé waiting for him – the former with a knowing smile on his lips that testified to his knowledge of Obi-Wan’s current mood.

“Wait a moment, will you?” Obi-Wan directed, sweeping past them towards the comm-console.

He barely paid attention to Anakin’s mutter of, “Uh-oh, that’s his determined face – there’re going to be explosions soon.”

Neither of them had made a big fuss of Obi-Wan’s current appearance, which he was grateful for, even if it meant suffering through their collective impertinence.

“I do believe the usual expression is ‘fireworks’?” Padmé murmured, one eyebrow raised.

“Believe me, explosions is way more accurate,” Anakin replied wryly.

“Quiet you two, “Obi-Wan admonished absent-mindedly, punching in a sequence he could rattle off in his sleep at this point.

Mace Windu replied almost instantly and didn’t look too happy about it. “What is it, Obi-Wan? We’ve only just finished the last Council meeting.”

“This isn’t Council business, Mace,” Obi-Wan said, which was at least half true. “This is me requesting leave for myself and Knight Skywalker. And by requesting I hope you understand that I mean we’re going to go on leave because we’ve earned it whatever you have to say about it.” He inclined his head. “Of course I’d rather it be sanctioned.”

Mace sighed, clearly already seeing any chance at foisting some of the public relations nightmares off onto Obi-Wan go out the window.

“Is this really necessary?”

Obi-Wan gritted his teeth. “Unless you want to have an investigation into a Jedi Master murdering spree on your hands, yes it’s necessary.”

“Fine. Yoda has been harping on about ‘rest even Jedi need’ anyway. Just remain contactable in case of an emergency, Obi-Wan.”

He nodded. “Of course.”

“May the Force be with you.”

Mace signed off before Obi-Wan could reply, probably to go complain to Yoda. Those two took a strange glee in their little tiffs. Well, Obi-Wan had always thought – privately – that Yoda could be quite a contrary bastard and happily so.

Obi-Wan released a long breath, and with it some of his brewing tension.

“The Naboo value the privacy of our citizens,” Padmé said from the sofa, casually enough that Obi-Wan immediately looked up suspiciously.

“While wonderful for the Naboo, last I checked I wasn’t a Naboo citizen, Senator.”

She scowled at his use of her title, but only for a moment, before something rather more mischievous took up residence on her features. “Did no one tell you? The heroes of Naboo were awarded honorary citizen status years ago.”

Obi-Wan’s wings flared in surprise. While he had decades of practice keeping his tells in entirely human form to a minimum, he hadn’t yet mastered the same skill with his wings – inconveniently emotive as they insisted on being.

“What? I’m quite certain you at least have to ask the person in question before bestowing citizenship.”

“All necessary papers were provided,” Padmé said. Her tone of pure innocence was only matched by the expression on Anakin’s face.

Obi-Wan sighed in exasperation. “Does your Master know he raised a manipulative sneak, Knight Skywalker?”

Anakin smirked. “He knows I learned from the best.”

“Brat.”

“Stodgy old man.”

Obi-Wan cleared his throat to hide his smile. “So, Naboo. When can we leave?”

“We were making plans to go there to visit Padmé’s family anyway,” Anakin spoke up, leaning comfortably against his wife’s shoulder, “since I was never really officially introduced to them. But we have to wait until the healers have cleared you.”

Obi-Wan scowled. “When did you become the responsible one? As you can see I’m perfectly fine.”

“Except for the fact that you’re projecting enough irritation to scare off even the bravest of Padawans,” Anakin pointed out wryly, making Padmé muffle a snigger behind her hand.

Said irritation flared along with his wings. “If they would just stop staring –”

“Master,” Anakin interrupted with remarkable patience, “you’re a human running around with glowing Force wings. Of course they’re going to stare.”

“Well, they could be less blatant about it,” Obi-Wan grumbled, but let the matter drop, aware that at this point he was just flogging a dead bantha.

“I’ll make arrangements for travelling to Naboo,” Padmé said decisively before grumbling about a different topic could start and rose from the sofa.

Anakin immediately jumped up as well. “Right, I’ll just, uh, come with you then.”

Obi-Wan sighed. It was getting harder and harder to resist the urge to roll his eyes around these two.

*

Afternoon tea was interrupted by the gentle chiming of the doorbell. The young Padawan on the other side of the door looked rather intimidated to be faced with two of the most well-known Jedi all at once, one of whom completely blocked the doorway by virtue of sporting huge wings on his back – and wasn’t Master Kenobi supposed to be human? – and stumbled over her words. “There’s a clone at the entrance asking for Generals Skywalker and Kenobi?”

The poor Padawan was clearly out of her depth, nervous gaze flittering between their faces as she hovered in the doorway.

Obi-Wan exchanged a glance with Anakin, and then they both said at the same time, “Show him here!”

Neither of them voiced their thoughts, but Obi-Wan knew they were both thinking the same thing: Rex.

When the door opened to the Captain, Obi-Wan sighed quietly in relief.

He could physically see another bit of the burden Anakin had carried since that day fall away. Truth be told he was rather glad to see the clone captain himself – one didn’t fight alongside such a man for years without forming some bonds of friendship, never mind the no attachment clause. There was only so far one could detach oneself from the world around one without consequences.

“Generals,” Rex saluted, always proper, but Obi-Wan would swear to a relieved glint in his dark eyes.

“What happened, Rex?” Anakin asked, smile still wide enough to light the room. “We thought you were dead.”

Rex looked uncomfortable for a moment, scratching the back of his head with an almost sheepish expression on his face.

“Some superior gave the order to have me arrested. Jesse got me out. Everyone had their orders, but in the absence of any kind of convincing argument as to why…” Rex shrugged. “He got me out before less independent-minded clones could be sent. I laid low for a while, and the army is in disarray anyway.”

His distaste at the notion was clear.

Anakin had slipped away at some point into the explanation, reappearing as quickly as he’d gone with a familiar blaster pistol in his hand.

He offered it to Rex, who grinned and took it – gentle fingers immediately went through the routine check, entirely on autopilot.

“Why did you leave it?”

Rex shrugged, still looking rather embarrassed. “I figured it’d make its way to you at some point, Generals, and that you’d know something was wrong.”

The simple trust in the statement was staggering, and not for the first time Obi-Wan felt torn between helplessly shaking his head and an overflowing heart at these troops that he’d never expected to come to value so much.

Rex was staring at Obi-Wan in a way that definitely went beyond the usual fond feelings at finding his generals still in one piece. It was a testament to how used he’d already got to the situation that it took him a moment to realise why. His wings twitched ever so slightly in an aborted effort to hide themselves from view. He’d been sending out light waves of Force suggestion for anyone not resistant to that kind of thing to not notice his unusual appendages completely instinctually, but the suggestion must’ve failed when he relaxed too far in Rex’s familiar presence.

“With all due respect, sir,” Rex said, still staring – and when had a sentence starting with that ever been one Obi-Wan wanted to hear the rest of – “why do you have glowing wings the size of a bantha?”

Obi-Wan bit back his first instinct to snap because Force gods was he getting tired of that question. Rex deserved better than that, not only as a comrade who’d served loyally by his side for years and saved his skin more than a few times, but as a friend.

“Genetics. I’m half Iegan.”

Rex frowned, clearly trying to place the race.

“Angels from the moon of Iego,” Anakin said helpfully, not at all daunted by the glare Obi-Wan threw his way. Oh how he missed the days when his Padawan had been a little shrimp still intimidated by Obi-Wan’s masterliness – not that those days had lasted long in the first place, but a man could dream.

Rex’s eyebrows twitched. “You’re half angel.”

“Yes,” Obi-Wan ground out through gritted teeth, resisting the urge to kick Anakin somewhere sensitive.

Of all the reactions he’d faced so far, Obi-Wan wasn’t sure whether he liked this one the most or the least because Rex burst out in deep, full-bodied guffaws. Somewhere in the laughter Obi-Wan thought he heard the words ‘only you, General’, but he couldn’t be sure, and later on Rex pled plausible deniability.

Obi-Wan crossed his arms over his chest, a smile tugging at his own lips.

Rex sobered again. “I feel it is my duty to point out, General Kenobi, that this is the kind of thing the officers directly under your command should know.”

“I didn’t exactly go around telling anyone, Captain,” Obi-Wan said, expecting that to be the end of it, but Rex didn’t back down.

“It’s crucial information about your capabilities that could’ve saved troopers’ lives. Sir.”

Unexpectedly, it was Anakin who tried to smooth over the situation. “I didn’t know Rex, not until a short while ago, and I was his Padawan for ten years.”

Rex turned dark eyes to him. “When did you find out?”

Anakin’s lip twitched up. “Remember the Rako Hardeen affair? I was a bit distracted and took a tumble off a cliff – Obi-Wan jumped after me, or I would’ve had a rather terminal reunion with the ground.”

“You never did take the easy way,” Obi-Wan snorted.

Rex, on the other hand, wasn’t so easily distracted. Anakin had calmed his temper somewhat, but he still had that ‘why did I get stuck with you two idiots as my commanding officers’ look just with more glower than usual. “You still should’ve told us, General Kenobi.”

Obi-Wan sighed, dragging a hand through his already slightly mussed hair. “I wasn’t exactly in the right place to tell anyone about it, Captain. I’m not in the habit of keeping secrets from Anakin, or for that matter, you.”

Rex looked slightly mollified, though at the expense of a glint of curiosity in his eyes – curiosity that Obi-Wan had no intention of indulging at the moment. He coughed lightly. “My lying, scheming person aside, have you heard the news, Rex?”

Rex’s posture straightened, all business again. “About the Supreme Chancellor, sir? They haven’t told us much, though I’m not exactly surprised that you two were involved.”

“We killed him,” Anakin said bluntly, staring Obi-Wan down when he moved to object. “He took Padmé and Obi-Wan hostage to get to me. Obi-Wan nearly died. I cut off the barve’s head and I don’t regret it.”

His expression was dark, a flicker of grief painted over by pain and betrayal, and Obi-Wan shifted a little closer to him, silently offering comfort.

Rex’s dark eyes were flitting between the two of them, and he nodded. “I understand, Generals. He may have been our supreme commander, but I speak for many of my brothers when I say that you have more than earned our loyalty.” He paused meaningfully. “Hidden ancestry or not.”

Obi-Wan was caught between a wince at the pointed addition, and being warmed all over again. After a moment, he settled on the latter, fully recognising that it was Rex’s way of extending an olive branch. Once hurts became gently barbed jokes, everything would be all right. “Thank you, Rex.”

When Rex saluted the both of them, it was more out of respect than formality.

*

For once Obi-Wan was glad to be in the Halls of Healing and under the scrutiny of no less than three Jedi Healers and his former Padawan.

“Now, Obi-Wan,” Bant said, eyes focused intently on his bare back, “try hiding your wings.”

All right, so maybe he was only 95 percent glad about the situation; he really could do without all the staring, but had accepted that this was a rather necessary part of the procedure. However much he wanted to do this alone, in private, he was aware that absolutely no one else would spring for that option.

He concentrated, felt for the switch in his mind – and halted in surprise. At first questing touch it seemed to have disappeared entirely. Some straining later, he finally did feel the familiar sensation of wings melting back into his skin, but it felt different somehow. It was almost like the default composition of his body had been changed, as if the delicate balance between his heritages had tilted in favour of his Diathim blood. A quick glance behind him fortunately showed that he could indeed still change back and the glow had finally faded from his features, returning them to their normal human configuration, but the process had been harder than ever before.

He was so wrapped up in his worries that it took him a moment to notice the storm of hushed whispers behind him.

/Anakin,/ he prodded silently, a sinking feeling making itself known in his gut, /what’s wrong?/

Anakin didn’t question his sudden use of the bond, but there was definite hesitation in his reply, and his concern was leaking through his shields. /It’s the markings, Obi-Wan. They kind of… sank into your skin from your wings?/

What?” Obi-Wan said aloud, and without waiting for permission slid of the examination table. He reached the small adjoining fresher cubicle before the healers could gather steam in their shouting at him to sit down now! and turned his bare back towards the mirror.

The exact same patterns that had been burned into his wings now adorned his back, shifting with each movement of muscle and bone.

 This couldn’t be good.

Several hours of supposedly medically minded poking and prodding followed, without results. In the end the healers cleared him out of sheer frustration – they just couldn’t find anything physically wrong with him, despite the strange markings. Mental scans, too, turned up nothing.

Obi-Wan mostly pretended not to notice the worried looks Anakin and Bant especially kept shooting him anyway.

*

They’d landed at Theed in Padmé’s sleek Nubian Cruiser, and she’d insisted they take a walk through the city first before making their way to the Lake Country house Padmé and Anakin had stayed in before, courtesy of Queen Apailana.

Padmé had said that she wanted to see how the city was doing after the war. Obi-Wan secretly suspected that she just wanted to enjoy her newfound freedom of movement as much as possible, instead of retreating to a remote location with all due haste.

As they exited the cruiser, Obi-Wan shared a look with Anakin; both of them were thinking the same  thing: Padmé might be optimistic about the current threat level, but they would remain alert nonetheless. Too often had a false sense of security precipitated disaster before.

Theed, Obi-Wan thought quietly to himself as they made their way through wide avenues planted with streets, was beautiful as ever. Most of the times he’d been here, the air had been fraught with tension, but he dearly hoped that this would prove to be the vacation they desperately needed.

He smiled at Captain Typho’s discontented grumbling behind him. The smile slipped off his face when the back of his neck tingled slightly, the Force pinging his senses in a pay attention sort of way.

A quick glance at Anakin proved that his partner had also felt something and was looking at Obi-Wan with a raised eyebrow that clearly said so what’s the plan? Obi-Wan jerked his head in Padmé’s direction, and though Anakin scowled a bit he nodded. All this had taken place without either Padmé or Typho noticing.

They turned a corner, and while Anakin continued along with Padmé and Typho, Obi-Wan jumped to the top of the wall on their left, crouching to make himself less conspicuous. For about a minute nothing happened, then a shadow detached from a wall farther back on the street, hurrying after their party.

The man looked up just as Obi-Wan descended upon him from above, unignited lightsaber coming to rest near their stalker’s ribs.

Quinlan Vos grinned ruefully. “Damn, I owe Mace and Tholme credits now.”

Obi-Wan raised a brow, letting go of Quinlan’s neck and returning his lightsaber to his belt.

Quinlan didn’t even have the grace to look sheepish or repentant in the slightest. “Mace bet me I wouldn’t make it a day without being discovered. Tholme said I wouldn’t last two hours after planetfall.”

“A few years ago you would’ve been right,” Obi-Wan said quietly, a darkness passing over his face. “The war has made us all wary.”

Realizing that Quinlan was gazing at him with some concern, he shook himself out of his musings and attempted a smile. “I’ll have to have a word with Mace about his lack of faith in our abilities. I assume the Council sent you?”

“Yep. Haven’t run a protection detail in a while, but I’m sure it will be exciting enough with you three around.”

“I hope not,” Obi-Wan sighed, but his expression clearly conveyed his lack of conviction. “I have to go catch up with Anakin before he gets worried and starts tearing Theed apart to find me.”

Quinlan half turned away, then hesitated. “My mission was supposed to be a secret.”

“Quin, I am going to tell Anakin and Padmé,” Obi-Wan said immediately, eyebrows drawing together warningly. “Anything else is inviting disaster. I’ve learned that much.”

Quinlan put up his hands in the universal no harm intended sign. “Fine, but keep it quiet otherwise, yes?”

“I have been on undercover missions myself, Knight Vos,” Obi-Wan reminded him somewhat pointedly, and then bit back a sigh when Quinlan only gave him a shit-eating grin in response and promptly disappeared down the alley. Quinlan had never been one for polite conversation – or goodbyes.

By the time Obi-Wan caught up with the rest of the group, Anakin looked to be strung unbearably tight, but most of the tension left his frame when he caught sight of Obi-Wan approaching.

“False alarm,” Obi-Wan said.

Anakin regarded him with narrow eyes, then asked with somewhat more insight than usual, “Who did they send?”

“Quinlan Vos.”

“You like Knight Vos, don’t you?”

Obi-Wan frowned a little. “Let me see. Whenever he’s around lots of things explode and I end up having to run for my life.”

Anakin looked like he was mentally running down the list of his recent missions with Obi-Wan and found all boxes ticked. He grinned.

“Ah, you must like him then.”

His smug face clearly said after all you like me and I’m as much of a disaster. Obi-Wan pulled the face that Anakin’d once described as his ‘Force help me my life is a mess’-face.

Anakin clapped a hand on his shoulder, still grinning. “Don’t worry about it, Master. You’re as crazy as the rest of us. I think Mace and Yoda have a betting pool going as to which of us is going to come up with the most insane mission plan.” Impossibly his grin grew even wider. “I told them they should bet on you, considering your track record.”

That just made Obi-Wan grumpier. Was everyone in the Temple betting on him in some way or another? Standards really were slipping. Qui-Gon at least had had the manners to be discrete about it whenever he indulged in a little wager.

Obi-Wan sniffed haughtily. “Most of the time that’s just you getting into trouble and me having to do some… creative thinking to get you out of it again.”

“Keep telling yourself that. I’m not the one who decided that it would be a genius idea to distract Grievous by letting my ship get captured because he’s personally invested in killing me.”

With wisdom born from experience, Obi-Wan realized the futility of his efforts and performed a conversational retreat.

“The Jedi Order’s general betting habits aside, I am worried that the Council felt it necessary to send a Shadow after us.”

Anakin shrugged. “It’s us, of course they’re paranoid.”

“That doesn’t actually make me feel better, Anakin,” Obi-Wan said dryly.

Someone sighed behind them, and they turned in unison.

“If you two are quite finished?” Padmé said, expression less annoyed than her tone might suggest, but certainly somewhere along on the spectrum of long-suffering.

Jedi didn’t exchange sheepish looks, as a rule – the handbook would probably say ‘maintain dignity at all times’ – but Obi-Wan and Anakin came close.

*

Obi-Wan looked up to study the house at whose pier they’d just alighted, feeling a sense of contentment envelop him at the sheer glow of life emanating from their surroundings. Compared to Coruscant and its mighty durasteel structures, the lake-country in Naboo teemed with organic life.

“As beautiful as I remember,” Anakin murmured beside him, despite– or perhaps because of – the fact that he’d spent most of the ride staring at Padmé rather than the surrounding abundance of nature.

Obi-Wan stifled a groan. When agreeing to this trip with the two lovebirds he’d mostly been thinking about safety and a chance to relax – it hadn’t occurred to him that he’d have to suffer through Anakin and Padmé dripping romance all over each other, and him by proximity, the entire time.

Anakin remained blissfully oblivious to his former Master’s grumpiness in the face of Anakin’s soppy tendencies, but Padmé at least deigned to send him a vaguely apologetic look. It was only slightly tinged with amusement as she took Anakin’s hand to climb out of the speeder boat.

Obi-Wan took his time exiting the vehicle, double-checking that the fastenings to the dock were secure to give the two of them some time to go ahead. They had spent the entire journey from Coruscant in rather close quarters after all and Obi-Wan was given to belief that that might lead to some repressed urges being acted upon once the opportunity presented itself. Surely it wasn’t enough to hope that the universe would take pity on him and let that opportunity arise when Obi-Wan wasn’t around?

He threw another glance at the house, delicately erecting a few additional shields around his bond with Anakin. Perhaps it was time for a walk around the estate – after all, it wasn’t brooding if he was admiring the scenery.

An hour later Obi-Wan had circled back to the house and, reluctant to leave the peaceful outside just yet, was leaning against the balustrade looking out towards the lake and its single lush island.

Even if he could’ve failed to notice Anakin’s arrival in the space next to him, the company wasn’t unexpected.

The thoughtfulness radiating from Anakin’s Force signature was enough to send alarm bells ringing. Obi-Wan always regarded the moments when Anakin put his ‘insightful hat’ on with a mixture of ruefulness and annoyance – the latter mostly because Anakin chose to do so at the most inconvenient times, and invariably when Obi-Wan did not want to talk about it.

 “Perhaps you should find someone and settle down,” Anakin suggested quietly. He wasn’t looking at Obi-Wan, gaze trained on the faraway island with deliberate casualness.

Obi-Wan only just managed not to splutter – even Anakin usually employed more subtlety than this.

 “If the Council can make an exception for me because I killed the Sith Lord, surely they would have to for you as well,” Anakin went on. “And Yoda likes you, anyway.”

Assaulted by the sudden urge to pinch the bridge of his nose, Obi-Wan sighed. “The Council didn’t make an exception for you because you killed the Sith Lord, Anakin. They created a precedent that not even the staunchest supporter of tradition could argue against. You proved that even when Padmé was in considerable danger it didn’t distract you enough to stop you from doing your duty, despite your reputation of listening to your feelings more than most deem wise.”

Anakin looked to the ground, shoulder suddenly tense. “I did still shoot you.”

“Because I told you to do so, Anakin,” Obi-Wan reminded him gently. He truly felt no anger at Anakin, nor did he blame him for what he did. “And she is a civilian anyway.”

Anakin must’ve caught some of those thoughts, for he shook his head and muttered something that sounded suspiciously like ‘only you, Master’. While Obi-Wan doubted that his friend would ever stop feeling guilty about what he’d done, that seemed like progress and he was content to believe that most of these emotions would sort themselves out with time.

“Some on the Council have been discussing loosening the non-attachment rules for a while now. War can be… surprising in how it opens one’s eyes. You just gave them a chance to bring the matter to the attention of a greater number of Jedi.”

Anakin waved this aside. “I don’t care about the politics, Obi-Wan. I just mean you should consider it. I’ve never been as happy as when I’m with Padmé.”

“I know,” Obi-Wan said, with no small amount of sadness. “You were never one to be satisfied by the life of a Jedi only.”

Anakin flinched, his hand reaching out to his former Master reflexively before falling to his side. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“I know,” Obi-Wan repeated, with a true smile despite the sadness lingering at the corners. “I’ve learned to accept that, Anakin.”

Silence fell for a moment, in which Anakin, if consciously or not, shifted a little closer to Obi-Wan until their arms were almost touching on the balustrade. It didn’t last long.

“So how about it?” Anakin asked and now Obi-Wan did have to grin at his former Padawan’s inability to let the matter go.

“Not really my area, Anakin,” he said gently, and perhaps not entirely without regret.

*

Dinner turned out to be a somewhat strained affair, not because of the company but rather the topic of conversation.

“After some digging, the intelligence bureau isn’t even certain he is from Naboo,” Padmé said grimly, stabbing an innocent piece of fruit with rather more force than necessary. “They could find no trace of him in any of our systems beyond twenty years ago, when he first entered our political arena.”

Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow. His own meal lay largely untouched. “You’re well informed.”

“I’m the Senator from Naboo, Obi-Wan, and someone associated with my homeworld has just been revealed as a Sith Lord,” she pointed out, giving him a wry look. “Of course I’ve been kept informed.

Obi-Wan acknowledged her point with a nod. He stroked his beard absent-mindedly. “Did they find any other trace of him? Some piece of property maybe?”

She shook her head. “Nothing. But the search is still ongoing.”

Anakin, who’d stayed uncharacteristically quiet so far, also only pushing around his food without actually eating anything, spoke up, his face pinched. “They won’t. He was always very… thorough.”

Obi-Wan and Padmé traded an unhappy look. Both of them were concerned about how Anakin dealt with the fact that one of his most trusted friends had betrayed him so thoroughly, had never really been his friend in the first place – or rather his lack of dealing with the situation.

Neither of them could look without grief at the shattered expression that still entered Anakin’s eyes when Palpatine was mentioned or he thought no one was looking.

Obi-Wan gently cleared his throat, wordlessly offering Anakin warmth and compassion through the bond. Long used to his Master’s motherhenning ways, Anakin didn’t show surprise, but his features lightened a bit, and when Padmé leaned her head on his shoulder he began to relax again.

“With our track record,” Obi-Wan said with quiet humour, “if Palpatine has left anything behind on Naboo we’ll probably find it.”

Anakin looked physically pained at the thought. “Don’t say that, Master. Whenever you say something like that we end up in even deeper podoo than usual.”

Obi-Wan considered that for a moment, then came to the conclusion that, in this instance, Anakin was quite correct, despite the obvious logical fallacy that it weren’t his statements that caused trouble to find them – trouble managed just fine without assistance.

*

The next morning, Anakin had somehow got it into his head to start the day with a spar. Blinking the bleariness out of his eyes, Obi-Wan pulled a tunic over his head as Anakin hovered impatiently in the doorway.

“What’s got into you?” Obi-Wan demanded, hastening out the door as he tried to keep up with Anakin’s longer legs. “You never used to get up this early for anything, not even sparring.”

Anakin only shrugged his broad shoulders. “We’ve all got new habits. Besides it’s been so long since we were able to spar just for the joy of it.”

There was something wistful about Anakin’s voice that brought any other protest up short. Anakin was right after all – saber-play just for fun had long been buried beneath the grim reality of a war that only constant training enabled one to survive.

“Very well.” They’d reached the outside lawn, lush and even. Perfect for a little match. Obi-Wan smiled. “Are you ready for getting your ass kicked, Knight Skywalker?”

“In your dreams, Master Kenobi,” Anakin returned, a fierce smile of his own lighting his face.

This, too, was familiar.

Unsurprisingly, it was Anakin who attacked first, clearly having decided that warm-ups weren’t something he or Obi-Wan needed – a somewhat rude assumption, if not entirely inaccurate. Long used to this kind of behaviour, Obi-Wan matched his former Padawan step for step.

“Now that we’re appropriately warmed up,” Anakin half-panted fifteen minutes later, “Let’s have a match with your wings out.”

Obi-Wan almost scowled as he regarded his friend with a raised eyebrow. So that was why Anakin had been so keen on sparring.

He crossed his arms in front of his chest, heedless of the slight stickiness of the tunics on his skin. “Why?”

“Come on, Obi-Wan, it’s a part of you! What if you’re attacked while in your winged form and you don’t have the time and concentration to switch back? Or you get stuck like you were the last few weeks, anything could’ve happened and you’d have had to fight with them.”

As much as Obi-Wan hated to admit it, those were all valid points. The last time he’d truly trained with his wings as aid had been when he’d still been a Padawan – one who’d just realized that his heritage wasn’t quite as straightforward as previously believed – and Qui-Gon had urged him to incorporate his whole being in his learning.

If asked, he’d probably say that he’d neglected that side of himself because it wasn’t necessary to do otherwise. He functioned perfectly fine as a human, with something of an emergency red button he could press when entirely out of ideas. In truth, his reluctance stemmed from other factors; as a Jedi, Obi-Wan was used to having complete control of his body, and to think that he’d never known he wasn’t even fully human filled him with a dread he liked to bury instead of examining. As a man, he liked to fade into the background, become one with the hum of the Force all around and he simply could not do that when sporting huge wings of pure Force light.

In the end, it had been easier to simply ignore the issue. Flying, after all, had always been effortless.

“Fine,” he conceded, as graciously as he could. He drew a deep breath, let it out, and changed.

Though the faint light he now radiated, he could just make out a strange expression passing over Anakin’s face, something almost reverent. He pushed the observation aside.

Obi-Wan ignited his lightsaber, blue light mingling with gold, and waited for Anakin’s attack.

The first two minutes went – poorly. While the wings had no noticeable weight of their own, the way they caught the air, fluttering with every movement, affected Obi-Wan’s balance. Anakin, tactful for once, didn’t comment and made sure to pull his blows whenever his partner swayed in an unintended direction.

By minute five, his body was slowly starting to remember. Echoes of muscle memory from when Qui-Gon had drilled him and drilled him and drilled him despite his protests were beginning to coordinate with years of different conditioning. Wings fluttered and stretched in tandem with his movements, allowing him slightly larger leaps and counterbalancing twists. Qui-Gon had encouraged him to fly, truly fly at least once a week, citing something vague about how the living Force flowed through him freer when he did, and in truth Obi-Wan had enjoyed it then, whenever he could find space away from prying eyes. For now, however, on this field on Naboo with Anakin watching, he kept himself grounded still as he concentrated on forming his blade into an extension of his body.

The blows they exchanged became smoother.

Falling into familiar Ataru combinations, Obi-Wan jumped into the air, intending to fall upon Anakin from above when a sudden gust of wind caught the underside of his wings, sending him soaring higher up into the sky. Abruptly, the fight against letting himself run free was lost and his lightsaber powered down with a flick of a thought as he climbed into the azure above.

Obi-Wan couldn’t remember the last time he’d let himself be free, had forgotten what it felt like to have the wind rushing over his face and the air catching beneath his wings, what the world looked like from above, what it felt like to soar. Effortlessly, as he’d been born to do.

Below, Anakin shrank to a dark dot surrounded by green, and Obi-Wan let go of all sense of time.

He flew until his muscles complained, tasked in ways they hadn’t been for a long time, and he reluctantly circled back around to the Lakehouse.

Tucking his wings close to his body, Obi-Wan dived towards the ground, and just before impact, great wings spread wide, letting him settle gently onto the ground.

He’d landed, hair a ruffled mess on his head, cheeks rosy from the cold as their glow faded a little into a more human countenance, to an entirely unexpected view. Anakin looked to be meditating. It wasn’t that his friend never did so, but rarely without prodding and even rarer spontaneously. Perhaps even more striking, he looked to be at peace.

The reason why Anakin had never liked meditation, as he’d finally confessed after many a fruitless session that had left Obi-Wan at wits end, was that it was rarely peaceful for him, but overwhelming instead. At the time Obi-Wan could’ve kicked himself for not realising it sooner – for someone of Anakin’s strength in the Force, to open themselves so entirely to its flow was not only terrifying to a boy unaccustomed to such things but also potentially dangerous. It was easy to lose oneself in the Force’s embrace if it was given free reign. He’d altered the way he’d taught Anakin then, focusing on more physically grounded meditations that incorporated weapon dances and surroundings until Anakin had become sure enough in his grasp of himself in the Force to return to the typical motionless deep meditation. Still, Anakin had never quite found a liking for it after that.

Anakin’s eyes opened, as blue as the sky above them, and there was a calm in them that Obi-Wan could not remember ever seeing before.

“The Force danced around you,” Anakin said and Obi-Wan’s eyebrows threatened to climb into his hairline at the other’s dreamy tone. “I’ve never seen you glitter so much, Master.”

With a thought Obi-Wan’s wings disappeared, leaving him feeling both slightly bereft and relieved to be back in his usual body. There was something… crystal about the world when he was flying, but he was paradoxically more content when everything shrunk back to its proper size and clarity. He wasn’t too keen on losing himself in flights of fancy.

“I do not glitter,” he finally marshalled somewhat lamely.

Anakin’s gaze seared through him, then in the next moment faded to only his usual intensity. He shrugged, hands still lax on his knees. “It’s the best way I can describe it. I didn’t think you’d appreciate me talking about the Force giggling around you either.”

Obi-Wan blinked. Giggling? The Force did not giggle.

Judging by Anakin’s wry smile, he was well aware of Obi-Wan’s thoughts process.

“It felt good, didn’t it?”

The openness in the younger man’s face belied the undercurrent of ‘I told you so’ that could so easily have coloured the question – instead Obi-Wan only found honest gladness  all but radiating towards him. Anakin, despite what someone less familiar with his character might think, always knew when things were too important for smugness.

He couldn’t dissemble, in the face of that. “Yes,” he said quietly, face raised upwards to the sky, “yes, it felt good.”

*

He found Quinlan leaning against the wall at the lakeside.

“What have you been up to?” he asked, joining him.

Quinlan raised an eyebrow, keeping his gaze locked onto the gently lapping waves of water in front of his feet.

“Reconnaissance. We can’t all spent our time frolicking in the air like a displaying Goffbird.”

Obi-Wan refused to blush. “I was not… displaying anything.”

“Oh, Anakin certainly seemed impressed,” Quinlan went on blithely, his smirk as wicked as his tongue.

Obi-Wan paused, any tolerance of Quinlan’s teasing evaporating. “That’s unkind, Quin.”

Honest surprise glinted in the other’s gaze when he turned to meet Obi-Wan’s gaze. “I didn’t mean to offend.”

Obi-Wan sighed. “Anakin is married and very much devoted to his wife. You can’t just say things like that.”

“Obi-Wan,” Quinlan started with uncharacteristic hesitation and an expression on his face that very clearly conveyed his wish to never have gone down this particular conversational route, “far be it from me to tell you how to ruin your life, but perhaps you should talk to him about this? I’ve seen the way he looks at you, and from what I’ve observed, the Senator isn’t exactly opposed either.”

Obi-Wan stared at him. The mental hiccup when Quinlan had first brought up Anakin being impressed had expanded into catastrophic system failure. The words just wouldn’t register beyond the overwhelming feeling of that can’t be right.

“Anakin wouldn’t think of me that way,” he said firmly, mental walls piled high.

The other Jedi studied him for a moment, a sceptical wrinkle marring his brow. His gloved hand ran over the rough stone balustrade, absent-minded motion in his hands that told of long habit.

“If that’s want you want to believe, Obi-Wan,” Quinlan finally murmured, and took his leave.

Obi-Wan stayed behind, confused and muddled, wondering whether there would ever be a time when the universe stopped playing games with him.

*

Obi-Wan woke abruptly for the third time in as many days, staring up at the curved ceiling above. The slight tugging sensation on his back had returned, insistent for all that it wasn’t any more noticeable than a fly taking off from exposed skin. It wasn’t the physical aspect that drove Obi-Wan to distraction, but his ignorance in the matter. He didn’t know why this was happening, or really what it was, or where the pull wished to lead him, and he was sick of it.

Snatching his lightsaber from the bedside table where it lay in easy reach, Obi-Wan pulled on his tunics and headed towards the speeder-bay he’d spotted on his first walk around the house.

The tugging sensation on his wings led him as surely as a navcomp, even as he wound his way deeper and deeper into the lake country. Clearly Padmé wasn’t the only one with private retreats out here – he’d already passed three mansions by the time he was led onto a peninsula towards the stately house that perched on a rocky outcrop over the surrounding lake. The pull was so insistent now that Obi-Wan wasn’t sure he could turn back even if he wanted to.

The house appeared deserted both to his eyes and to his senses. Nothing stopped him from walking right up to the front door, not even an automated alarm. For a moment Obi-Wan considered the old-fashioned doorbell hanging from the arch above the door, then he shrugged to himself and took out his lightsaber. He took some care not to cut through the sigils hewn into the arch – they gave off a kind of stink in the Force and he would prefer not to get too close.

It took him a moment to orient himself in the dimly lit hallway, hung with strange portraits that captured faces contorted in agony. Obi-Wan shivered despite himself.

“Are you making a career of breaking and entering now?” Quinlan Vos asked, leaning casually against the wall where Obi-Wan had just cut through, unbothered by the molten flakes of durasteel swirling through the air around him..

If Obi-Wan hadn’t already been aware of his silent shadow, the other Jedi might’ve found himself tossed through a wall, but he knew how seriously Quinlan took his duties.

“Well, I asked nicely, but the door seemed disinclined to negotiate,” Obi-Wan quipped. “Besides, if I’m right about the identity of the owner of this house, I really don’t care.”

There was little doubt in his mind that he was right – the entire house felt steeped into the dark side, a roiling, sickening mass assaulting his Force sense from all sides.

Quinlan’s answering smile was grim. “Fair point.”

One of the Kiffar’s hands was resting on his lightsaber hilt, barely restrained tension flexing in his arm. After years of being acquainted with Anakin, it felt comforting to have someone trigger-happy guarding his back as they moved deeper into the house.

They passed more doorways, many of them inscribed in strange angular runes, and suddenly Obi-Wan had the very uncomfortable feeling that something was moving on his back. He stopped, barely resisting the urge to scratch and unwilling to walk further into this situation without knowing what the hell was happening to him.

“Obi-Wan?” Quinlan asked, halting behind him. His gaze had turned piercing, studying Obi-Wan’s tense posture with narrowed eyes.

“I’m not sure, Quin. Something isn’t ri – ”

He broke off as sudden pain flared on his back, fire burning in swirls across his skin. With a small gasp, he caught himself on the wall before he could slide to the floor. It was instinct that made him change, a primal conviction that it would stop the pain, and wings burst forth from his back.

The pain stopped.

Obi-Wan leaned against the wall for a moment more, panting and heedless of Quinlan’s swearing behind him. There should’ve been relief, but that crawling sensation of movement was still there, only transferred to his wings from his skin.

“ – fucking hell, Obi-Wan, warn me before you materialize those things right in my face next time,” Quinlan was still swearing, and then suddenly there was a moment of silence before he went on, “Holy Force those things are moving.”

Obi-Wan clenched his eyes closed. So he wasn’t imagining it then.

“May I?” Quinlan asked quietly, fingertips hovering over Obi-Wan’s left wing. For Kiffar, the act of touching someone was far more significant, and in many ways more intimate than for most races. There was no telling what his psychometry would see when making contact with the wing.

Obi-Wan took a deep breath. “Go ahead.”

The moment Quinlan laid a finger over one of the black marks, he went rigid, face scrunching up in discomfort. Then he moved his hand to an unblemished part of the wing and his expression relaxed again.

“The markings react to the dark side,” he said, pulling his hand away. “I can’t sense anything the like on the rest of your wings.” A flash of something uncomfortably close to awe raced across his face, quickly hidden. Quinlan Vos was not a person to be in awe of anything for long or anything less than grudgingly – he’d used to infuriate Obi-Wan with his disregard for authority and the Council when they were young, and Obi-Wan still a bit more naïve about the collective wisdom of Jedi Masters. “They’re pure Force light.”

It felt like ice being poured into his gut and around his heart, like the cold floor of a melting pit. That anything on his body, of his body was so intimately connected to the dark was equally chilling and terrifying, and even reaching for the light that the Force brought him did little to ease that shadow.

What if it affected him, like slow poison seeping into the being, insidious enough that he didn’t notice until it was too late and there was no going back?

Now Obi-Wan was the first to admit that he tended towards the pessimistic side of things – though he preferred to think of it as realistic, considering his dire predictions usually turned out correct – but anything that could potentially compromise his allegiance to the light… it didn’t bear thinking about.

When he looked up, there was a terrible kind of sympathy in Quinlan’s eyes

Obi-wan averted his eyes, voice only a little rough when he said, “Let’s go see if there’s anything here before we alert the Naboo security forces.”

Quinlan gazed at him for a moment longer, as if evaluating whether Obi-Wan was likely to have a nervous breakdown sometime in the next few minutes, then nodded.

They searched for two hours, every hidden door and crevice they could find – and there were many, most of which only Quinlan’s unique talents laid bare – without results. Save for the fact that no normal residence had this many concealed rooms, the house seemed entirely normal. They could feel the darkside all around them, permeating everything, and yet there were no artefacts, no suspicious furniture, no weapon arsenal, nothing.

Next to him Quinlan huffed, glaring at a sofa in a particularly horrific shade of purple. “This is a waste of time. We should alert the Naboo so they can fence off the area.”

Obi-Wan nodded wearily. He was still unsettled by what he’d learned, his wings twitching ever so often in worry. One try at retracting them had been enough to convince him – and a frantic Quinlan – that that probably wasn’t the smartest idea for the moment.

He followed Quinlan to their makeshift entrance. The sun peaked through the ragged edges of the impromptu door, gleaming in Quinlan’s dark hair as he stepped through.

Obi-Wan moved to follow, then –

Darkness.

***