Phaylenn, Han decides quickly enough, is rapidly turning out to be one of his least favorite planets to be on.
He’s sure it’s probably a perfectly lovely planet, usually. In his time, it most likely is.
But right now--right then, no, right now, two weeks have gone by and he’s still not quite used to the tense shift that time travel requires--it’s currently being disputed over by Republic and Separatist forces. Han should know, he’s currently stuck in a Separatist cell.
Really shouldn’t have snuck onto that transport, Solo, he thinks.
All right. He can’t talk his way out of this cell easy--it’s guarded by incredibly single-minded droids, and Han hasn’t seen the transport’s burly cook since the guy tried to force his way out. Han himself is about--eight or so, physically, for all that he’s got seventy years’ worth of memory and a really bad feeling about literally everything.
There’s an advantage to being eight, though, and that’s the fact that Han keeps being underestimated. Eight-year-olds can’t recognize patterns in their droid guards’ movements, nor do they have a possibly-deceased cook’s blaster stuffed in their pants. Not typically, anyway.
It’s just a matter of waiting for the next shift change.
“How long do you think we got until we can move on from Phaylenn?” one of the two droids guarding his cell says.
“Dunno,” says the other droid.
Damn, are these guys dumb. Han shifts on his cot, his back to the droids, keeps his eyes open and his ears alert, listening for the sound of footsteps.
Step one of his brilliant escape plan: wait. So far so good.
Then the alarm starts blaring.
“Intruders!” says one droid, sounding panicked.
“Jedi!” says the other, sounding even more freaked out. “Quick, the prisoners--”
Han rolls off the cot when the cell door opens, drawing the blaster, aiming, and squeezing in one smooth motion. The battle droid goes down with a loud clatter, just as its companion steps in to aim and fire.
Another advantage to being eight besides the size is how fast he is, not to mention how much pain his joints aren’t in. He ducks and rolls as blaster shots pepper his cot, his own blaster coming up just as the battle-droid says stay still--
He doesn’t steal their blaster rifles on the way out. He’s too small, for one thing, the recoil would be hell on arms that haven’t learned how to take it yet, and how is he going to carry them? Too much trouble, that’s what they are.
Man, he misses Chewie. He’d have loved a hairy Wookiee on his side right about now.
No. Don’t think about it, don’t. He can’t afford to think about everyone he’s left behind now, he has to get out of here first.
He hurries up the stairs, blaster held ready. He can hear voices from here, he realizes, and he presses himself flat against the wall and listens.
“--all clear on the first floor, Rex,” someone’s saying. There’s something weirdly familiar about that voice, something that reminds Han of--Luke, for some reason. Maybe it’s the faded Tattooine accent, he thinks. “We’ll sweep the basements, then let’s rendezvous at the staircase.”
“Copy that, General,” comes the staticky response--a comm, then. “We’ll meet you there.”
“I still say I have a bad feeling about this,” someone else says, and Han knows an Imperial Center--a Coruscant accent when he hears one. Imperial Center doesn’t exist yet. He wonders, wildly, if his presence here means it never will.
“It’s not going to be that bad, Master,” says the first voice, and Han’s pretty sure now that these are the Jedi the droids were talking about, earlier.
“You said that about Rizel, and look what happened,” says the Jedi master, teasing.
“Ugh, don’t remind me,” says the other Jedi. “Bad enough Ahsoka keeps ribbing me about it, I don’t want to hear it from you either.”
“Then how are you ever going to improve, Anakin?”
Anakin. Han knows that name somewhat. Actually, he knows the other name--Darth Vader. Darth fucking Vader himself is here, and Han’s got a blaster and the element of surprise on his side. Just a few more seconds--
“I’d improve faster if you weren’t riding my ass about it all the time,” Anakin (Vader) says, sounding distinctly grumpy.
“And I wouldn’t ride your ass, as you so eloquently put it, if you did,” says the other Jedi, with a huff of laughter.
Han leaps out then, squeezing the trigger--
There’s a lot of things Anakin expects to find, on his way down to the basement. Prisoners, probably, innocents who got caught up in the mess on Phaylenn. At worst, corpses of prisoners.
What he doesn’t expect is to get shot at by an eight-year-old kid holding a stolen blaster.
He deflects the shot nearly instinctively, then reaches out with the Force to yank the blaster out of the kid’s grip.
And that, of course, is when the kid nearly charges him.
Nearly, because then Obi-wan’s got him, and Anakin blinks at the sight of Obi-wan holding a particularly grimy, possibly feral eight-year-old kicking and screaming angrily.
“Let go of me!” the kid shrieks.
“Don’t let go of him,” says Anakin, lowering the blaster.
“Considering how his first reaction was to shoot you, I’m rather disinclined to let him go,” says Obi-wan.
“Let go,” the kid snaps.
“Nope, sorry, kid,” says Anakin.
“I’m not a kid!”
Only a kid would say something like that, he thinks.
“I’ll let go of you if I can trust you not to go after my friend,” says Obi-wan, reasonably. “Can I?”
The kid stops struggling for a moment, then gives a sullen nod. Obi-wan sets him down, and Anakin takes a step to the side and holsters the blaster as the boy glares at him.
“What did I ever do to him, huh?” Anakin mutters. To the boy, he says, “Are your parents here? We’ll find them and get you home, kiddo--”
“I’m not a kid,” the boy says again, sounding offended, “and my parents aren’t here. ‘Sides, I don’t think you can get me back home anyway.”
“Oh,” says Obi-wan, soft and sad, understanding. “I’m sorry.”
Anakin sighs, says, “Well, clearly you know something about the basements. What’s down there waiting for us?”
The boy shrugs, holds out his hand to Anakin, says, “Gimme my blaster back first. I ain’t going down there with nothing to fight with.”
“Considering that the first thing you did when you saw us was try to shoot us,” says Obi-wan, dryly, “I’m not quite sure we should.”
“Besides, we’ll keep you safe,” says Anakin, looking the kid over. There’s something--off here, something the kid’s keeping back, but he’s not sure what it is. Maybe it’s got something to do with the downright distrustful looks the kid keeps shooting him, as if Anakin’s wronged him somehow. “Promise.”
“Blaster,” says the kid, again.
“Later,” says Obi-wan, in a tone that Anakin recognizes as the one that really means probably never. “But I rather think it won’t be necessary.”
(An interlude, a year or so down the line:
“I rather think it won’t be necessary,” says Han, in an exaggerated imitation of Obi-wan’s voice, before he tosses back a shot of blue milk. “Yeah, well, I think it is, just ‘cause you think slicing somebody’s hand off’s more civilized than nailing them in the head with a blaster bolt--”
“I know,” says Cody, consolingly, patting his general’s nine-year-old padawan on the back. “Less of a mess that way too.”
“What happened next?” asks one of the newer recruits--Niner, Han remembers, the one with a fancy little tattoo curling around his right eye.
Han downs the rest of his drink and says, “Well, I ended up needing it.”)
“Why is there a dianoga down here?” yells Vader--not Vader yet, Han thinks, more like a baby version of the black-clad monster that tortured him on Bespin.
“I don’t kriffing know!” Han yells back, kicking angrily at the tentacle trying to drag him into the canal. Why’s there even a damn canal down here, what kinda star-burned idiot puts a kriffing--
“Anakin!” yells the other Jedi, blue blade slicing through the tentacle that’s trying to wrap around him.
“I’m trying,” shouts baby-Vader, just as a tentacle wraps around him. Han’s blaster clatters to the ground, as the tentacle slams baby-Vader into a wall.
Han kicks harder, slams his foot against the ground hard enough that the tentacle slides off, and scrambles back. At least we’re not gonna get any thinner, he thinks, then races to the other Jedi’s side to get his blaster, just as a tentacle slithers across the floor, slow but sure, ready to wrap around the Jedi’s leg to drag him into the water along with his friend.
And it will, Han realizes suddenly, an unsettlingly realistic image of both baby-Vader and the other Jedi sliding into dark murky waters, drowning drowning drowning, slipping into his head. Overactive imagination, he tells himself, and knows it for a lie.
Only one thing for it, then.
He dives for his blaster before the dianoga can grab him again, then charges the Jedi, knocking him off his feet, and shoots out the tentacle slithering closer to them.
And just like that, time speeds back up.
“Little help here!” yells baby-Vader, having gotten one hand free and summoned his lightsaber to him. There’s already a few scorch marks on the dianoga’s particularly thick appendage, but the way it keeps thrashing around keeps baby-Vader from being able to take the tentacle fully off.
“Coming,” says the other Jedi, blue blade springing back to life.
He’s almost tempted to let the dianoga have baby-Vader, but if that happens, Luke and Leia won’t be born. He can’t have that. He can’t.
He starts firing, keeping the dianoga’s tentacles from reaching the Jedi and from pulling baby-Vader into the canal. Tricky thing to do, when the damn thing’s desperately trying to eat him as well, but whatever dumped the--the vision, dammit, into his head is clearly looking out for him as well (and he very deliberately does not think the Force), because he manages to escape each attempt every time by the skin of his teeth.
The other Jedi slashes through the tentacle holding baby-Vader hostage. Baby-Vader falls to the ground, looking particularly slimy and gross, but otherwise all right.
The dianoga lets out a watery scream, retreating back into the depths of the canal from whence it came. Han fires off one last shot at a retreating tentacle, then holsters the blaster and slumps down to the ground, half-expecting to feel his joints and his back start complaining after the adrenaline recedes.
“I never got your name,” says the other Jedi, and Han looks up suddenly, a little distantly surprised that his joints aren’t complaining. Advantages of being eight, he supposes.
The man kneels down, sticks his hand out. Just beyond them, baby-Vader’s ineffectually wringing the slime out of his robes.
“Han,” says Han, eventually. “Han Solo.”
“Obi-wan Kenobi,” says the Jedi, and Han’s jaw drops just a little.
Rancor shit, he thinks.
He’s kind of exhausted when he, baby-Vader, and the younger version of Luke’s dead mentor finally get onto a Republic transport, along with a squadron of clone troopers and a young Togrutan of about fourteen, both of whom squinted and wondered what the hell an eight-year-old boy had been doing in a Separatist base.
There’s a battery of medical tests, of course--the clone medic on board, what’s his name, Kix, had flipped when he’d seen Han, and any other time Han would be right up for arguing with the medic over just how much time he should have between lying down and standing up, but with the last two weeks of his life? He’d really rather rest, thanks.
He lies down on an actual bed--a hard one, sure, but it’s got a pillow and he finally feels clean for the first time in two weeks, maybe even longer than that, so he’s asleep nearly as soon as his head hits the pillow.
Dreams of Ben, and a flash of red light. Dreams of Leia, old and weary and sad. Dreams of Chewie, of the Falcon, of Rey and Finn and--
--he wakes up sobbing, his pillow wet with tears. Damn, he hates being eight.
He wipes the tears away, lets out a breath, then swings his legs over the edge of the bed and steps off. Well, sleep’s a lost cause anyway, he wonders if this transport’s got anything in the way of food. Hopefully, it’s better food than the last transport he snuck on had.
He’s not expecting to see anyone else in the mess, this early. Certainly not Kenobi, sipping tea from a tacky mug that reads Galaxy’s Okayest Pilot, reading a datapad.
Han gets his food, first. Then, because he doesn’t have anything else to do, he sits down across from Kenobi and says, “You’re a pilot?”
Kenobi makes a face. “I try not to fly often,” he says, “but sometimes--yes, when the situation calls for it.” He sets the mug down and says, “This was a gift. Or, well, Anakin’s idea of a gift.”
Baby-Vader gives stuff. As a joke. Han wonders, briefly, if the black-clad asshole who tortured him on Bespin did that, and immediately discounts the image that pops up.
Instead he says, “What’s he like?”
Kenobi props his head up on his hand, deceptively casual. “Not the sort of person who warrants getting shot at first thing,” he says, dryly. “At least if you’re not a Separatist.”
“I said I was sorry,” Han huffs. “He just--reminded me of somebody, was all.” That’s not much of a lie, or at least it qualifies as the truth enough that Kenobi doesn’t seem too suspicious about it. “And I’m not a Separatist,” he adds.
“No,” Kenobi agrees amiably, “you aren’t. But so far, that’s the only thing we know about you.” He takes a sip of his tea, and adds, “That, and you’re rather strong in the Force.”
Han nearly chokes on his mashed banzon.